Carmel is a lovely small town on the southern part of the Monterey Peninsula.
In California, it is known for its up-market shops, restaurants, and hotels
(most seems to prefer to work "inn" somewhere into the name). Internationally,
it is probably best known as the town where Clint Eastwood once served as mayor.
(I doubt many realize just how small this town actually is.)
We loved Carmel from the first time we visited it years ago. Back then, sans
children, we could enjoy all its pleasures at the fullest. We could wander into
all the lovely, small shops without having to confirm the coverage of the
all-events insurance. We had several memorable dinners in those smart
restaurants where the average wine glass seems able to hold the full bottle,
should you slip up and try to fill it to the brim.
Downtown Carmel is full of narrow alleys and courtyards to explore. A lot of
greenery is ever-present, with many flower pots to complement the abundance of
trees. This time round, with a toddler and a stroller, it was physically
difficult to go into many courtyards and smaller shops, never mind mentally
insane to try to do so in the first place. However, just walking the streets and
doing window shopping are pleasures here.
Truth be told, downtown Carmel is basically a strip mall, but at the same time it's
a poster child for showing how beautifully it can be done, even in America, if a
little bit of planning and strict regulations are applied. Although it is shop
after shop after shop, the whole area is beautifully done. You never get the
impression that a whole block was built at the same time or specifically
designed to look differently. Styles vary widely from the modern to Victorian
and non-descript. Presently living in a country where half-timbered buildings
often still serves as family houses, the mock-Tudor efforts left me rather cold.
The shops are the natural trappings of the rich, I assume. Most are art
galleries, antiques shops, or small boutiques. We never bought much here, save
for a few postcards and books, but we loved looking around here. (For no-holds-barred shopping, we preferred outlets such as those found in
I enjoyed driving and walking along the back roads of Carmel – I guess it
would have been suburbs if the town were bigger. Although these must be some of
the most expensive and sought-after properties in the world, the area still offers a
healthy mixture of small and large houses, older and newer abodes in different
states of repair. Although we saw many fine cars – American, Japanese, and
German – many houses also have older cars that would have been regulated off
European roads years ago. I was not left with the impression that these served
as transportation to the staff, either.
Years ago, I picked up a free brochure with maps of Monterey and Carmel that
indicated scenic drives and walks in the area. Fortunately, I brought it with me on
this trip, as I could not find anything similar this time, despite looking
specifically for it at various hotels and tourist offices. Included was a drive
along the Carmel oceanfront – a system of one-way streets and cul-de-sacs makes
the best route less than obvious on most maps, or indeed once on the road. It is
like a mini 17 Mile Drive - just gratis, and with fewer people. It is a lovely
road and even better done on foot. We always visited in winter, and although it
has never been cold, we have not exactly made it out of the car and onto the
The Carmel Mission from Mexican times is interesting to visit and to the
south of the downtown area. It only takes a few minutes to see but does offer a
bit of history to balance out the commercial aspects of downtown and the natural
beauty of the whole region.