Magazine article Sunset

Carmel's Quiet Season: Explore the Original Art Town by the Sea on a Poster Budget

Magazine article Sunset

Carmel's Quiet Season: Explore the Original Art Town by the Sea on a Poster Budget

Article excerpt

My friend Sara is the perfect traveling partner--she's up for anything, never complains, loves food and wine, and doesn't wake up too early in the morning. So when she and I were both feeling overworked and under-relaxed, we headed off to Carmel-by-the-Sea for a weekend of rejuvenation. And because we didn't want a big credit card bill to undo the mellowing, we set out to spend less than $400, including tax and tips.

This is not usually a realistic goal here--after all, Carmel was the prototype for the quaint, artsy village catering to those who like to shoppe till they droppe.

By going off-season, though, we saved a lot. The town's lodging prices drop nicely in November and December, staying pleasantly low until the big Pebble Beach golf tournament in early February sends prices all over the Monterey Peninsula soaring.

We splurged on good food, but we kept costs down by assembling our own picnic one evening. And we maximized our renewal factor by spending lots of time on the beach--which, even in late fall, is utterly beautiful and completely free.

DAY 1: Spiritual enlightenment?

Our blue-and-white room at the Normandy Inn was small but cheery, and it didn't hurt that it was close to the shore. The off-season rate made it a great deal: For two nights with 10 percent hotel tax, the tab came to $173.80. We also left a $5 room tip.

We liked the Candlelight Inn too--the room we checked out had a small bathroom, but the corner window offered a wedge of ocean view. For discounts at other hotels, ask about the Holiday Bounty for Monterey County specials that are offered through the Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau (holiday specials available Nov 1-Dec 31; www.montereyinfo.org or 888/221-1010).

After checking in at our inn, Sara wanted to test her new running shoes, so we jogged down Ocean Avenue to Carmel Beach. People were out along the long stretch of white shoreline, surfing, walking their dogs, and sitting on blankets on the sand. And the waves were Carmel's trademark ethereal blue. One very tan, skinny man passed us, talking to his female companion. "To really achieve spiritual enlightenment," he told her, "you have to give up meat."

Sara, a vehemently reformed vegetarian, snorted.

The trip back, all uphill, was a little trickier. We ran some and walked some, taking a detour down Carmelo Street and Camino Real to check out the neighborhood's shake-roofed cottages, overhanging trees, and pretty gardens.

Then we did some window shopping downtown. I had thought we'd only find gimmick-laden tourist shops, but I was happily proved wrong. We liked the gorgeous furniture and garden gear at Homescapes, Carmel, and we also admired the photos at Weston Gallery.

The beach guy's comment had sparked Sara's appetite, so she decided we should go to Kurt's Carmel Chop House for dinner. The steakhouse (located next to Carmel Sands Lodge) has steaks and chops, of course, plus burgers, seafood, and a bar and wine menu. It was a splurge--totaling about $54 with tip--but we had excellent Kobe beef burgers.

DAY 2: Lost in the fog

The clock was already in the double digits when I slipped away to the Carmel Coffee & Cocoa Bar for a supplement to the hotel's breakfast. I got a latte for Sara and chose from 12 different kinds of hot chocolate for me, settling on a deluxe Scharffen Berger mocha--now that's a classy way to get caffeine.

Finally awake, we decided to drive inland to explore Carmel Valley. The cloud cover had burned off, and the fields were green with fresh grass and dotted with live oaks. In the town of Carmel Valley, we stopped at Chateau Julien Wine Estate, where you get a free tasting of Merlots and Chardonnays while taking a 30-minute tour of the French-Swiss estate. At Heller Estate, we tried organically grown wines and appreciated the whimsical sculptures. After wine tasting, we needed a light lunch, so we had a salad and sandwich at Corkscrew Bistro and Wine Bar. …

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