Carmel-by-the-Sea has long served as a haven for artists, writers, and intellectuals drawn to the inspiring atmosphere of this unique, oceanfront hamlet. Shaped at the turn of the 20th century by creative minds who embraced an arts-and- crafts aesthetic, Carmel continues to captivate.
A storybook atmosphere pervades the central, one square mile village where mid-1920s Tudor and Spanish Romantic Revival style buildings and cobblestone sidewalks delight visitors from around the globe.
Charming courtyards and secret passageways further contribute to a fairytale quality. The downtown streets are peppered with twinkle-lit corridors and fountain bedecked patios, each lined with unique shops, galleries, and more than two-dozen tasting rooms, wine bars, and bottle shops. Monterey County is one of the world’s top viticultural destinations, and the area’s wines and wineries are well represented here. Stroll from one tasting room to the next. Each provides a lively atmosphere to sample the region’s premium varietals while rubbing elbows with locals, visitors, and often the vintners themselves. Regulars and out-of-towners love Manzoni Cellars’ Hampton Court tasting room and patio where Mark Manzoni’s portfolio of small production wines can be sampled. Manzoni chooses quality over quantity in making his estate-grown Pinot Noir, Syrah and Rose, Santa Lucia Highlands AVA-grown Chardonnay, Zinfandel, and Bordeaux Blend. Enjoy wines by the glass or a flight of four tastes along with charcuterie and cheese plates.
Scheid Vineyards has farmed wine grapes in Monterey County since 1972. Its 12 sustainably certified estate vineyards totaling 4,000 acres are located along a 70-mile spread of the Salinas Valley. Scheid’s Carmel Village tasting room is an inviting haven in which to sample their full portfolio of both the familiar (Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir and Chardonnay) and the more exotic (Albariño, Grüner Veltliner, Grenache Blanc, Petit Manseng, Roussanne, Tannat, Tempranillo, and Touriga Nacional). Caraccioli Cellars is home to what is one of Carmel’s most beautiful tasting rooms. Designed by Si Teller, the sleek space resembles a French Champagne cave and features a lustrous Perota bar slab, the ideal spot from which to sample a flight of Caraccioli’s sparkling wines and Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs.
Taste wines from Monterey County’s ‘sweet spot’ at McIntyre Family Wines’ Tasting Studio, located in the elegant Carmel Crossroads shopping plaza. The McIntyre Estate Vineyard is within a renowned 12-mile stretch of benchland in the under-the-radar Santa Lucia AVA and was among the first properties in that AVA to become SIP (Sustainability in Practice) Certified. Enjoy their delicious Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays on their heated outdoor patio, or pre-order a bottle or two and take advantage of curbside pick-up.
Where to Stay
Of all of Carmel’s quaint hotel choices, only one is known as Carmel’s Grand Dame. Originally a luxurious mansion built in 1905 by an artist as a gift to his wife, the landmark La Playa Carmel features stained glass, shell ceiling light fixtures, Carmel stone, and sand-hued beams. Cozy gathering spots abound. Relax in the beautifully tended gardens and gather in the library for complimentary afternoon tea and lemonade served with a coastal view. Sangria is offered at check-in, and local reds and whites are poured every evening during wine hour. Chocolate chip cookies are freshly baked each night, and a Ghirardelli chocolate is placed upon each pillow at turndown. In the morning, enjoy a complimentary and bountiful breakfast. The hotel’s wood-paneled bar with its Frank Sinatra soundtrack is the locals’ favorite spot for a martini or Manhattan.
Where to Eat
Carmel’s dining scene is as much a draw as beautiful Carmel Beach, one of the most scenic spots on California’s Central Coast. Visitors will find flavors to sate every appetite. The menu at newly opened The Pocket, for instance, draws inspiration from around the globe. Find Carbonara Bucatini, Carne Asada, Octopus, and Chorizo. Owners Federico Rusciana (who also serves as executive chef) and Kent Ipsen have put together an impressive wine list featuring 400 international selections, in addition to a full bar with a selection of classic and specialty cocktails. The warm and inviting dining room features accordion windows that bring the outdoors inside.
When in dining doubt, follow the locals. Here, the locals love Carmel’s Bistro Giovanni for its unpretentious service, art adorned walls and exceptional food. Owner Firok Shield is well-known as a charming and hospitable host who has operated many acclaimed Carmel restaurants. His efforts now focus exclusively on Carmel’s Bistro Giovanni, where the kitchen serves-up tried and true recipes with a twist, such as slow- roasted short ribs that fall off the bone. Ask for a taste of his unique Block 57 and Da Giovanni wines.
Enzo features Italian sandwiches, flatbreads, and delicious main dishes like the customer-favorite Crab Ravioli, featuring scallops, sun-dried tomatoes, and ravioli in a creamy Champagne sauce. The recipe is Calabrian, just like owner Enzo Pagano. On warmer days, enjoy a meal on the sundrenched and bougainvillea bedecked patio. In cool weather, dine inside by the cozy fireplace.
Carmel is home to more than 100 art galleries featuring one-of-a-kind finds as well as the works of world-renowned artists who can often be found working in their galleries. Whether an avid art enthusiast or merely an admirer, don’t miss the monthly self-guided Saturday night Art Walk. And the annual Carmel Art Festival draws dozens of Plein Air painters each May.
For all of its offerings, a visit to Carmel-by-the-Sea is also noteworthy for what is not found. Visitors won’t encounter national brand hotels, branded coffee shops, or fast- food chains. Nor will they find street lights or addresses. (Mail is delivered to a central post office where residents maintain PO boxes.) Additional town edicts include the recently overturned ‘no ice cream cone’ ordinance and the unenforced ‘no high-heels’ law, for which going rogue is inadvisable; those cobblestone walkways can be a challenge in even the most sensible of footwear.
Find more wine tasting venues within Carmel Valley, a 20-minute drive east of Carmel Village. This pastoral hollow in the heart of the Santa Lucia Mountains is warmed by a sun that often evades its coastal cousin. Graced with chic resorts, lavender-covered hills, and ancient grapevines, Carmel Valley is in and of itself a top global wine destination. The area’s terroir yields stellar Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc grapes that create the varietals poured at its more than 20 wine tasting rooms, each with unique style and character, and many within walking distance of each other. Check out Bernardus and its luscious Pinot Noirs and Sauvignon Blanc. Joullian Vineyards makes Bordeaux varietals, which can be sampled in its distinctively classic stone building designed by local master mason Joseph DeMaria. Feel right at home on the farm at spunky Cowgirl Winery. At Georis, European winemaking traditions have been followed since 1982. Enjoy the beautiful garden patio at Boekenoogen, and don’t miss the French-inspired Folktale Winery at the former home of Chateau Julien Winery, situated on 15 acres of sustainably-farmed vineyards along the Carmel River.
Article By: Fran Miller