Carmel, CA — Majestic redwood forests and roaring rivers, rugged coastline and soft sandy beaches, diverse wildlife, the rolling hills of wine country, seafood, and Clint Eastwood. While this may sound like three years of vacations spanning an entire continent and costing thousands of dollars, one can experience all of these delights relatively inexpensively and all within a few square miles in beautiful Carmel, California.
With only 48 hours to see as much of this diverse area as I could, first get the lay of the land with a sunrise walk along Ocean Avenue. This breath-taking walk begins just above a long white sandy beach south of Pebble Beach where surfers ride massive waves and dogs enjoy the unleashed company of other dogs while their owners walk along the shoreline.
The walk continues down Scenic Road around the elegant but understated oceanfront homes to the smaller Carmel River State Beach and around to a lagoon fed by the river, rich with avian and marine life.
Artists paint the epic landscape while children fly kites, their voices barely audible over the crashing of waves onto massive rocks just off the north end of beach. One can spend an entire day on the rocks where giant tide pools have formed and are home to countless hermit crabs, snails, colorful anemones, and small fish. While the busy tide pools can be hypnotizing, keep your eye on the tide as massive waves can creep up with a moment’s notice.
The sun a little higher, and appetite sparked, it’s time for lunch in Monterey and there is no place better to eat than The Liberty Fish Company. Located on the Monterrey Pier at Fisherman’s Wharf, if you aren’t paying attention, you could miss this culinary gem.
While it is hard not to notice owner Vince Liguori and co-worker Anthony Giammanco in the storefront hard at work over a fresh assortment of fish, clams, and oysters, at a glance, this place appears to be a just a well stocked and quaint market.
Go in, however, and they welcome you like family to the back of this wonderful fish market where there is an ample seating area that looks out onto the water and part of the marina. I enjoy a glass of wine and watch as sea otters playfully swim between buoyed houseboats and kayakers make their way out to the open sea, taunted by barking seal lions.
While the menu offers many items in the way of seafood, nothing is better than a perfectly cracked Dungeness crab, freshly drawn butter and a bread bowl of their delicious clam chowder served with a smile by one of Vince’s sisters.
Satisfied, I wave good-bye to Vince and Anthony, pop into Carousel Candies for a quick piece of chocolate then head to hike off my lunch at the epic Point Lobos.
Point Lobos is commonly known as the gem of the California State Parks system and lives up to the title. Located just south of Carmel, this beautiful park offers a variety of well maintained, accessible trails both along the high cliffs above shoreline and through the cypress groves and on into rich forests. Though the park can be crowded, the views are well worth fighting the masses to see.
While the dense green cypress canopy is stunning, what makes this forest even more unique is the electric orange moss that grows on the bark of the many species of trees that line the trail.
On quiet days, deer can be spotted just off the trail and woodpeckers flutter from tree to mossy tree.
At Whaler’s Cove, divers explore the dense kelp forests and during the winter as well as late summer, whale spouts rise from the water. Year round, sea lions and California Seals bark at one another as they lazily line the many sandy beaches. To get the best looks at the wildlife here, be sure to bring your binoculars.
After nearly three hours in the many magical worlds of Point Lobos, it’s time for dinner.
Owned by Clint Eastwood, The Mission Ranch is a stunning restaurant and Inn with a roadhouse feel that sits at the end of a grass meadow overlooking the Pacific across to Point Lobos. Sometimes, as legend has it, Mr. Eastwood himself stops in for a cocktail after a day golf. I hope that today is one of those days.
In front of a stone outdoor fireplace, I enjoy a cocktail and watch the sunset where in the foreground fluffy sheep bleat and a Peregrine Falcon dives for a mouse in the pasture that runs out into the ocean. I breathe in the crisp smell of sunset sea air and cypress and think life is good.
The temperature drops as the sun goes down and I make my way to my table. My table sits alongside a massive, ocean-facing window and on the other side of the restaurant is a large dark wooden bar and a piano where guests can enjoy a drink and appetizers and request their favorite songs.
After enjoying a prime rib with fresh horseradish and crème brulee with fresh berries, I sit down at the piano bar which is now rowdy as tourists and locals alike take the microphone, singing along with the piano player as she plays songs ranging from show tunes like Camelot and Oklahoma to the Beatles and Elton John. Exhausted from my day and ready for another, I sing my favorite George Harrison song and retire for the night.
The next day begins with at the Garrapata State Park. While just a few miles down the coast, from Point Lobos, Garrapata, because of it’s diverse vegetation, is much different park. After a relatively steep climb along side a roaring river two miles through dry brush, I find myself in a massive redwood forest. Trees along the river rise as high as skyscrapers with foliage so dense at the top that little light gets through the canopy. Once through these magical storybook-like trees, a steep climb and a gain of nearly 2000 feet take you to the top of a mountain where you can look north beyond Point Lobos and south to Big Sur.
After my hike, it’s time for some wine tasting. While there are many tasting rooms, I settle on the Julian Tasting room where I enjoy browsing their wine-centered gifts and enjoy a tasting which includes five different wines. Located in the heart of Carmel Valley just off of Carmel Valley Road, the staff is friendly and knowledgeable and the estate-crafted wines are wonderful. I pick up a bottle of their prize-winning Zinfandel and then wind back through the beautiful farm, vinyard and golf course lined valley back to Carmel.
The rest of the afternoon is spent browsing through many of the European style town’s incredible and diverse art galleries. Even with my full 48 hours, there is much left to be seen in this beautiful area, including the historic Cannery Row, Pebble Beach, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
For dinner, I return again to the Mission Ranch in hopes of catching a glimpse of Mr. Eastwood. Though he doesn’t show, I peacefully sip my Pinot Noir and look out onto Point Lobos and across the meadow to the beautiful houses and feel like in two short days I’ve seen the world and know also that there is much more world to be seen.
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