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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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?