Los Angeles, Venice Beach, Santa Barbara, San Francisco. I had heard of these spots and longed to visit them. Carmel was the wildcard destination whose location I wasn’t even sure of. It looked pretty and broke up the long route between Santa Barbara and San Francisco.
Getting to Carmel without a car is a little bit of a faff but you can read about how I did it here.
When I arrived, it was nightfall. I knew there was a bit of a distance between the bus stop and the city, but I didn’t expect what I got. You see, I’m a city girl. A hardened Londoner. Mudchute is “out in the sticks”. Walking alone through a dark, rural residential area with no street lights is unsettling at best.
Then I had the chilling thought as I walked – “you know, this looks like the kind of place a serial killer might come to kidnap a woman.” Suddenly, my walk just got all the more horror movie. My mind kept flashing back to Get Out and every car that pulled up, I expected to hear a chanted “run rabbit run”. I decided to get to the first hotel and ask them to either accompany me or book a taxi. Under my breath I muttered “you’re a brave girl, you can do this” in the mean time. Streets passed, but I could still see no hotels. I saw two women and greeted them, so they could identify the pieces of my hacked up body. When my walk narrowed down to five minutes, I began to see lighted buildings and people! The adrenaline kicked in and I began to laugh. My hotel, The Village Inn, stood ahead of me, and in the lobby I laughed with relief.
The receptionist was a jolly woman with that cheerful enthusiasm I encounter again and again on this trip. She reassured me of how safe I am, and told me about how she was so disorganised this afternoon. She told me about the aquarium and how she loves it, and how great Bubba Gump and Ghirardelli is. Her warmth disarmed me, but I still stuck the chain on the door and turned the room television on for comfort.
Everyone knows Carmel is absolutely fine, I’m just really city. The next day proved I had absolutely nothing to worry about because Carmel looks like something off a chocolate box. It looks like I should have worried more about witches luring me in with trails of sweet treats.
The village centre of Carmel is made up “inns”, restaurants, art galleries, wine tasting rooms and little gift shops. The first time I walked around, all the wine tasting rooms were closed and I wasn’t grabbed by any of the galleries so I mainly just gawped at the restaurant and pinpointed a few places for lunch and dinner. I whizzed round in about an hour or half an hour and felt a bit flat and disappointed. I had so much time here.
With not much else to do with my time, I took a stroll down to the beach. There it was. A beach so beautiful it was up there with some of the beaches in Asia. Deep, rich, sapphire waters and pristine white sands. It was beyond beautiful. When they call it the crown jewel of the California coast, they are not lying. The chilly air warmed a little and I wrote in my journal, took obligatory selfies and paddled in the sea.
On the far left of the beach, you can climb some stairs and begin Scenic Drive, a long road that maps itself along the route of the coast. The houses perched along the coast were almost as much of an appeal as the beautiful ocean views.
I stopped to chat with some Mexican contractors and walked further down to the next beach, where I returned back along the road and up to 5th Avenue Deli, a “create your own sandwich” deli with friendly staff. I picked the bread, bacon and… monterey jack. Wait. I realised I was eating a local cheese. And the lunch was delicious!
I walked a little distance from there, and found this adorable little sweet shop where I indulged in a little pick-and-mix! I was a little sleepy, so I returned to my hotel to rest, change and listen to the soundtrack of Moana because the beautiful oceans had inspired me. Refreshed but still a little full from my late lunch, I returned to the village for dinner. I pinpointed a few places – Little Napoli, La Bicyclette and Dametra in particular. La Bicyclette was too pricey and Little Napoli was usually fully booked so I opted for the cheapest and nearest, Dametra.
It was lively and in the sun, which I really liked. It felt like I was dining out in Spain somewhere. I ordered the “four cheese ravioli” but they did bring me a lasagna. The staff were really friendly so this wasn’t a problem. I continued to eavesdrop and people watch until my food came. It was very good, but I’m realising, I spend so much time really full because the portions are so much bigger than what I’m used to here!
After dinner, I returned to my room for the night. My next day was spent at Big Sur and Monterey, which you can read about here.
My final morning, I dedicated to finding a local wine. I had heard good things about Caraccioli, a local Monterey winery. Luckily, it was open when I visited, and they guided me to a summery rosé which was light and would travel well. Again, the staff are so friendly, so I can recommend that winery. Later, I’ll tell you if the wine is any good!
On my way to re-finding my little deli, I “found” the not-so-secret garden. It was a bit of an open secret, but it’s a beautiful space that leads into Pilgrim’s Way Bookshop. Whether you’re spiritual or not, it’s a peaceful little spot that allows you to destress and think about life.
From there, it was time to say goodbye to Carmel. I bought my little deli sandwiches and headed back to collect my bag.
Carmel is really cute and photogenic and although it will burn a hole in your pocket, you’re paying for excellent quality and an excellent experience. It was by far the most expensive stop on my trip, but I don’t really regret it. The only thing I’ll say is that there aren’t a lot of solo travellers here, and if I wanted to meet more of the young traveller scene, I probably should have stayed in Monterey. Regardless, I prefer Carmel to Monterey, but I prefer Santa Barbara to Carmel. I would never trade in that breathtaking beach view, though!
Favourite sights: The beach, Caraccioli winery, scenic drive.
Positives: Comfortable, friendly staff, enormous breakfast buffet
Negatives: If you’re a solo female traveller, you’ll feel a little secluded.