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Carmel-by-the-Sea Might Be Cooler than the Beach Town Where I Grew Up

I went back home this past weekend to a town I’d never actually visited. In other words, I went to a place that took me back to my childhood. It so happens that Carmel-by-the-Sea is similar to my hometown of Hermosa Beach, which means I felt right at home and nostalgic, as well as being transported back in time.

Carmel-by-the-SeaBoth are beach towns with lots of morning fog. Both are about 1-square mile big. Both are full of poets, painters, actors, writers and photographers.

plein air show in Carmel

A plein air painting juried exhibit in Carmel.

Carmel was incorporated in 1916; Hermosa in 1907. Both attract surfers, though the water is definitely colder in Carmel. And both have small cottages that were built generations ago sitting next to award winning, “to the lot’s edge” architectural wonders on every street. Don’t ask the prices unless you aren’t daunted by California real estate.

homes in Carmel

Old and New Carmel homes

As part of a bloggers’ weekend, I drove up to Carmel with the simple expectation that I would have a good time. Since so many of you are similar to me in that we like history and the personal touch, I’ll share some of the things I did and discovered that I think YOU might also enjoy.

Hofsas House
A gutsy, go-getter woman founded the hotel where we stayed – Donna Hofsas. In 1947 she lived in the cottage where I stayed while adding more rooms over the years. In a town that only allows two-story buildings, she talked the city planners into letting her build a 4-story hotel. How’s that for moxie? Then she commissioned the same female painter who did the fresco at Coit Tower, Maxine Albro, to paint several murals and other works at the hotel.

Hofsas House Carmel

The living room in Donna Hofsas’ original cottage.

Donna’s granddaughter now runs the bright pink Hofsas House  (as well as being on the city council), so ask her for the hotel’s secrets when you stay there. Hofsas House is on San Carlos Street between 3rd and 4th Avenue (see below to discover why I’m not giving you a numbered address).

bed in Hofsas House cottage

My cozy bed nook in the original Hofsas House Cottage.

On the details side, Carmel is more affordable than I expected. Even in high season, room rates range from about $150 – $275, with no stupid ***@** resort fee snuck in. Wifi, breakfast and parking are free.

Town Quirks
Did you know it’s illegal to wear heels higher than 2 inches in Carmel? You won’t get a ticket: the law was created in the 1920s to protect the city from lawsuits from people who tripped on the sidewalks. Great excuse to put on sensible shoes, eh?

Carmel shoe shop

These definitely count as sensible shoes. I should have gotten them.

The town has no street light or addresses. Walk around and you’ll notice that homes all have names. Keep in mind that the town was founded by creative types. They wanted a forested, European feel to the town, so bourgeois things such as number plates were verboten. Everyone has to go to the post office to collect mail. Certainly means all 3,700 inhabitants get to know each other.

home in Carmel

This is the “address” system in Carmel: all names; no numbers

For now, you can still have fires in certain locales on the beach too. This was exciting for me to hear, as we used to dig sand pits and have fires on the beach in Hermosa in the 60s. They were banned by the time I hit middle school.
No big box inns or stores are in Carmel either. It’s mom and pop all the way. Actually, the town is so friendly, even your dogs are welcome. Even in the inns, restaurants, wine-tasting rooms and shops, where you’ll spot water dishes and treats everywhere. Annnnnd, free parking.

dogs at the beach, Carmel

Dogs are welcome and encouraged in Carmel

Shopping, Hiking and Dining
Compliments of the Hofsas House, I received four Wine Walk Tasting tickets, each good for a wine flight at any of the 14 wine tasting rooms in town. Yup, I left Santa Barbara County’s wine country and landed in Monterey County’s. I also discovered two designer consignment shops, an Alice in Wonderland shop, a chocolate shop, and enough bakeries to keep my bread-baking, carb-loving self happy.

designer sunglasses in Carmel

I wanted these designer sunglasses from Foxy Couture soooooo badly

Alice in Wonderland store, Carmel

White Rabbit Store, where I bought a load of Christmas gifts. I was in this play as a child. And my late older sister played the White Rabbit. Very nostalgic store for me.

For lunch or a snack, I recommend Carmel Belle on San Carlos Street between Ocean and 7th (get the ginger apricot scone, stat!), or the Cheese Shop on Ocean and Junipero.

Carmel Belle, Carmel

Get the apricot ginger scone. And wine to go with it, of course.

For dinner, a friend and I went to Beach House Restaurant at Lover’s Point in Pacific Grove (an 8-minute drive). It’s right on the beach, and our service and food were excellent. Plenty of options for vegetarians, too. FYI, the portions are huge, huger, hugest, so come hungry.

Pacific Grove

The view of some lovers from our seats at Beach House Restaurant at Lover’s Point

mud pie at Beach House Restaurant, Pacific Grove

I only ate half of this mud pie – the half above the plate.

Hiking is my meditation, so I walked along the beach, around town on the residential streets, Point Lobos, Big Sur, and about 20 different pull-out stops along Highway 1 as I drove south. On my next visit I might take one of the History Walks, though I could also be persuaded to do the art walks or food tours. I also want to hike along the Mission Trail Preserve. For those of you into birds, one of the secrets I learned from Carrie (co-owner of Hofsas House) is that the Carmel River is the place to be.

Final piece of good news that you will never think about in advance, but makes a big difference – Carmel-by-the-Sea is a safe place for women to walk alone, day and night. I went walking early in the morning, and felt at ease and quite peaceful. Even though I had my iPhone and Canon out (major tourist alerts), the locals out running and dog-walking all said hello. I truly had to resist the urge to say, “I grew up in a town that used to be just like this. Can we please chat about the good ol’ days?”

I want to go back soon. Preferably on a romantic getaway, but another girls’ getaway would work too.

by Alexandra Williams, MA

Photo credits: Alexandra Williams – Canon and iPhone

6

Covell’s Clydesdales: A hidden gem in Central California on Highway 1

Want to know about a hidden gem in Central California that is walking distance from downtown Cambria? You are probably already thinking “yes,” and once you read about it and see the pictures, you’ll be grabbing your phone to make a reservation at Covell’s Clydesdales. And yes, you can combine it with a trip to Hearst Castle, as they are both part of the Highway 1 Discovery Route.

Covell's Clydesdales rolling hillsWhen the tourism bureau booked the tour for us, we weren’t quite sure if it was a place where you ride the horses, ride a wagon behind the horses, pet them in a stable, or view them behind a fence. Turns out it’s none of these – it’s something way better.

two Clydesdale horses from Covell'sWe got a personal tour from Ralph, the owner of the approximately 2,000 acre ranch that stretches from the ocean to the mountains, and has over 80 (if I am remembering correctly) Clydesdales who roam the property. They aren’t exactly wild, nor are they tame – they are beautiful creatures with names who will happily come up to you (while you stay safely in the vehicle), let you pet them, sniff the vehicle hoping for hay, then wander off to roll in the grass or scratch their chests on a fence post.

Just a few bits of info about Covell’s:

pine conesIt’s one of five California locales for native Monterey pines and probably the healthiest, due to the care the owners took back in the 1800s.

The house Ralph lives in was built in 1860. When you take the tour, you’ll get a full history of the house, the horses, the property, the personalities of the various owners, stewards and visitors, and the legacy he is continuing forward. Along with the history, you’ll get quite a few entertaining anecdotes too, as Ralph is quite the raconteur.

Trees and hills at Covell's in CambriaExperts told Ralph he could take a portion of his ranch, turn it into 46 buildable parcels of land, and make a fortune. Something along the lines of $30 million. His reaction? He turned it into a nature conservation easement to protect it for future generations. The views will make you cry, they are so astounding, from pine forests to rolling pastures (and “rolling” really is the correct word). I swear you can almost see all the way to San Simeon.

Boy in Oak Tree, Covell'sWhen I went to Hearst Castle, I kept wishing I could walk instead of taking the tour bus, as the views were begging for me to photograph them. Even with a fast shutter speed, I was still frustrated, as the glare from the bus windows was a problem. But as soon as we got out on our first hillside stop at Covell’s, I got my wish. But better. I could have fit my whole family for a portrait onto one of the branches of the oak tree that my son climbed. I could zoom out for ocean and mountain landscapes, or zoom in for pine cone close-ups, and take my time.

Clydesdales horses at Covell's in Cambria

close-up of Clydesdale horseHorses!!!! These are champion Clydesdales, and it is obvious as soon as you see them. The horses know the sound of Ralph’s truck and come up to it when he arrives. Roll your windows down and keep your camera ready, as they will stick their heads in to check you out. I know nothing about horses, but for pure aesthetics and wonderment, these are the best (my favorite was Debutante, due to her freckles). And once Ralph tells you their stories you’ll be even more impressed. I took a quick 3-minute video that you’ll want to see (follow me on Periscope while you’re at it)

water barrel for horses at Covell's in Cambria

tree framing a hillFor various reasons, Covell’s Clydesdales isn’t easy to find on social media (and the website is temporarily down), but that just makes it easier for YOU to have it to yourself, because we know the secret to making a booking. You can call Ralph directly at (805) 927-3398 or follow the Highway 1 Discovery Route link. Once the website is back up, you can go to CovellsClydesdales.com too. Or email CovellsClydesdales@mac.com. A bit more work than a few computer clicks, yet that won’t deter you travel and nature lovers, right?

by Alexandra Williams, MA

Our visit to Covell’s Clydesdales was supported by California Highway 1 Discovery Route. We did a four-day inter-generational tour of some of Highway 1’s most stunning and accessible coastal towns in Central California. Contact them for suggested itineraries and all the other travel info that will make your trip as fun as ours was.

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7

The Perfect Getaway: The Oaks Spa in Ojai

Do you ever have the desire to go to a place where you can do nothing at all except relax, or perhaps do something active and enjoyable all day long? If you’re in California (or headed there), you may want to add The Oaks at Ojai to your plans.

Oaks at Ojai pool at sunset

We just spent a few nights there, and managed to relax and be active simultaneously. The Oaks at Ojai is a small, family-owned spa right in the middle of downtown Ojai. Does that mean it’s busy or noisy? Just the opposite, as Ojai is a mellow town of only 8,000 people. Our totally unscientific guess is that 5,000 of them are artists, and the other 3,000 are hikers and bicyclists.

Headed to The Oaks at Ojai? We may join you for a walk, swim, bike ride, massage, meal or retail therapy. @OaksSpa Click To Tweet

In just two days, we did the following:

Skin Authority Fit & Firm Treatments (Fit & Firm for Fun & Fit – perfect)
Bike Riding on a path that leads all the way to the ocean at Ventura

A sunset meditation on Mount MeditationMount Meditation, Ojai
Fitness classes (ever tried Glow in the Dark Qi Gong?)
Had 3 meals a day prepared to our specific diet
Walked downtown
Played Bingo (though we didn’t win the muffins, dang it)
Made new friends
Visited Bart’s Bookstore (which leaves books outdoors at night – you pay on the honor system)
Bart's Books in Ojai
Shopping
Lost a little weight
Relaxed
Hiked the Valley View Preserve (with absolutely stunning panoramic views)Ojai Valley midday

We even met a woman who was leaving after a 3-week stay. She said she wanted a place to recuperate and make new friends after going through knee surgery and rehab. Once she got there, she didn’t want to leave. So she didn’t.

We didn’t want to leave either, but it was time to go to L.A. to celebrate our mom’s 86th birthday. The drive to L.A. is just over an hour. From where we live in Santa Barbara it’s only a 45 minute drive, so we’ll be back. Heck, I need to put my brand new bike lock to use, though I never actually locked my bike while we were there. I just parked it in the private patio garden at our bungalow.Oaks at Ojai bedroom in bungalow


Let us know when you’re headed to The Oaks at Ojai. We’ll try to come down and join you for a walk or swim or bike ride or massage or meal or retail therapy. Bike riding at Oaks at Ojai

Alexandra Williams, MA

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We were not paid to write this post. We were invited guests of the Oaks at Ojai for 2 nights, and boy did we appreciate their hospitality. So much so that I even taught the guests the “Thriller” dance (insert wolf howl right here).