A Day Trip to Carmel-by-the-Sea

It had been raining all week in Santa Cruz, and while the weather didn’t look any more promising south of here, we thought a change of scenery might help us beat those blues. Carmel-by-the-Sea, a small town on the Monterey Peninsula that’s just under an hour away from us seemed like the perfect choice. It had been on my radar for a while as a town to day trip to, and a photo I saw a few days prior of picturesque, moss-covered cottages sealed the deal. So, we crossed our fingers (but still donned our rain boots) and started the pretty drive down the 1.

The Cottage of Sweets

Man – I was not disappointed. Carmel was full of these idyllic buildings and all of the recent rain really made the greenery come alive. The rain gave us a temporary reprieve so we walked around a bit with the intention of stopping at the first cute coffee shop we saw.

This decadent display of pastries and pretzels at Carmel Bakery easily lured us in. Spencer got a vanilla latte, and we shared a cannoli.

Lunchtime had passed by the time we finished our snack, so I started looking into a happy hour where we could pass some time before dinner. Unlike Santa Cruz, which is lousy with happy hours, even on the weekends, I only found two that looked like sure bets in Carmel. We picked one, and lazily set off in that direction.

Walking through the town leads you to discover a ton of these cobblestone alleyways. Many of them lead to a small courtyard, and almost all of them pass you by a ton of hidden businesses before spitting you out on a perpendicular street.

We stopped in some cute places along our way, including Bittner, a store that specialized in high quality pens and paper, and several art galleries.

The patio at Forge in the Forest ft fireplace #1

While the rain had behaved itself for most of our visit, the off-and-on showers meant this cozy patio at Forge in the Forest was a bit too wet for our tastes, though we did see some others braving it to sit near a second fireplace. Terraces like this are common in Carmel, with most having some sort of fire or other heating element, and almost all of them being incredibly dog-friendly. In fact, the town itself seems to pride itself as being a dog haven, with many of the inns allowing dogs and lots of businesses providing treats or water.

Roasted artichoke drizzled with balsamic

Luckily for us, there was a fireplace inside as well, as you might expect for a place that identifies themselves as a forge. We sidled up near it and ordered some drinks and half-price apps. The fried calamari we got was a tad overcooked, and the dijon mustard dip that accompanied this roasted artichoke was a bit lackluster, but at $5-$6 a pop it’s hard to complain too much.

We spent the rest of our daylight hours walking around the city and popping into shops when the rain picked up. I ended up getting a few much-needed new bras at Intima European Lingerie, and Spencer and I were both happy to see that Lush was now stocking shower bombs (RIP having access to a bathtub).

Another beautiful sweets display at Cafe Carmel
A cozy-looking bar called Sade’s Cocktails featuring the ubiquitous-to-Carmel Dutch door
Spencer admiring the lantern selection in Fine Art Turkish Gallery
The paloma must’ve said something funny

When it came time to eat dinner, we were both somewhat bored by the myriad of Cal-Italian/French restaurants available, so we eventually settled on a Mexican place called Villa Sombreros where we’d seen a woman making tortillas in the window earlier that day.

We were surprised to see that the palomas and margaritas were made with Sabe, a not-quite-tequila, not-quite-sake spirit that technically is not classified as a liquor, so venues with a license to sell only beer and wine can stock it. We had discovered Sabe a few months ago at a Play the Bay event, where we realized that taking a shot of it was dangerously smooth compared to regular tequila. Still, the drinks had a unique flavor and made a good pairing with tableside guacamole. I had fish tacos for my main, and Spencer enjoyed chicken with Pipián sauce, a mole that’s made primarily with pepitas.

One last cute alleyway for the road…

So, overall, it was a good use of a rainy Saturday. Would I come back? Probably. We definitely had a nice time, but it’s not very diverse, and there’s an undercurrent of NIMBYism/old money that I don’t think I’d vibe with if I was there any longer than a weekend. All the same, it’s hard to imagine a place that looks more charming, and there’s a restaurant where the chef is known to walk the beach foraging seaweed (Aubergine) so I imagine we’ll be back at least once before we leave the Santa Cruz area.

Have you ever been to Carmel-by-the-Sea?

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