California Dreaming: Carmel

(Check out the 1st leg of our California Vacation: Los Angeles- here)

We woke up early & grabbed some food from the continental breakfast at our hotel in LA before hitting the road to try and avoid rush hour traffic. It took about an hour to simply get out of the city but before long we were passing Malibu & Santa Barbara and taking in some great views on route 1. We eventual lost sight of the ocean and passed through farm country and cute little towns. The strawberry fields seemed to go on forever.

Tip** For those of you taking the famous coast drive from LA to Carmel; I suggest taking the route 101 (route 1 and 101 join for a while but split off randomly) way after you pass Malibu until Pismo. Take a little breather/lunch break in Pismo THEN get back on Route 1 versus 101; which follows the ocean. After Malibu Route 1 takes you along the coast or you can go Route 101. It will cut out an hour or two if you bite the bullet and head on Route 101 to Pismo Beach. After Pismo beach head back on route 1 for some of those postcard views and some nice secluded beach stops along the way. It doesn’t seem long mileage wise, but because of the way the road is made it takes much longer than expected to drive. There is also zero cell phone service on many parts of the drive and gas stations are rare. In a nutshell make sure you are gassed up and know where you are going. **

We finally made it to Pismo Beach which really got us into relaxation mode. Pismo Beach was a cute little town with a wonderful combination of beach and mountain views with plenty of shops + restaurants. We found parking fairly easily and headed to the boardwalk to snag a picnic bench to eat our lunch we had brought with us from LA’s Joan’s on Third. I enjoyed a mozzarella, tomato & basil sandwich (w/ EVOO, salt & fresh cracked pepper); Wade, the Tarragon chicken salad w/ apples and pecans (ah-maz-ing!). We shared one of the best salads I have ever had, chinese chicken salad w/ crispy wontons, rice sticks & almonds. We sat and relaxed a bit before getting back on the road.
Almost as soon as we started driving we started witnessing nonstop incredible views. Believe me when I say we stopped every 5 minutes or so, so I could get out and snap some pictures. Soon we were arrived at our next stop in San Simeon; Piedras Blancas Beach where we saw hundreds of elephant seals who had come ashore to molt and reveal new skin. There were park rangers around and we learned that many look dead because they dig their heads into the sand and go into a unconscious state where they are barely breathing; sort of like bear hibernation; they do not drink or eat while they are molting. Pretty cool! 
We attempted to grab some free views of the exterior of Hearst Castle right before stopping at Piedras Blancas Beach but were unsuccessful. (We couldn’t see the Castle from the parking lot) Another wonderful spot to make sure you visit on the Pacific Coast Drive is Pfeiffer Beach State Park; we did not actually enter the park but were able to see the cliffs and beaches from the parks entrance which were gorgeous.

We arrived in Carmel around 7pm. Man, was that a long drive but oh so fun and extremely memorable. We checked into our adorable hotel and freshened up for dinner. All of the buildings in Carmel are designed to look like European cottages and need to follow a specific design code. Even our Comfort Inn hotel lacked a commercial feel and felt like we stepped back in time. After freshening up we headed to the Hog’s Breath Inn for dinner; which was owned (up until about a year ago)  by Carmel’s previous Mayor; Clint Eastwood! I was blown away by how amazing the outside area was. Nestled in between the Tavern and Restaurant buildings was a beautiful stoned patio area with a bunch intricate fireplaces; huge mature trees were around with lights wrapped around its branches to add an extra romantic touch.  For an appetizer we ordered the Ahi Tuna Poke w/ edamame, cucumber, avocado, scallions, crispy wontons & wasabi ginger vinaigrette. For our main dishes I ordered the Dirty Harry: Sirloin w/ mushrooms, whole grain mustard sauce, asparagus and mashed potatoes. (I loved!) Wade ordered the Salmon w/ potato gnocchi, sugar snap peas, tomato & miso-corn coulis. Both entrees were delicious.  We stayed and hung out for bit by the relaxing fire before calling it an early night. I could have stayed there all night long.

The next morning, we snagged a table right next to the fireplace and ate breakfast at the hotel. We decided to explore the side streets of Carmel a bit and grabbed a cup of coffee from Carmel Bakery. I could look at these cute cottages with pristine landscaping all day. Before heading back to our room to get ready to head to Pebble Beach, we checked out the local Farmer’s market which had set up shop nearby. The peaches looked amazing so we grabbed a few to snack on.

Next on the agenda was to do the famous 17-mile drive around Pebble Beach, which included a stop to see the Lone Cypress (my highlight of the Carmel trip!) It costs $10 per car to enter the drive but is worth it. There are about 20 stops along the 17 mile drive to take in the scenery and also learn a little about the history of the area as well as the wildlife. If you find yourselves near the Carmel/Monterey area, I highly recommend scheduling the 17 mile drive into your agenda. Plan it so your last stop is Pebble Beach Golf Club and grab lunch on the back terrace which overlooks the 18th hole + ocean.

For lunch we headed to Dametra Cafe; a Greek restaurant, back in Carmel Village. We started off with Spanakopita (Phyilo dough stuffed with feta & spinach) which was phenomenal. For our entrees; we both ordered the grilled chicken Greek salad. At one point the chef came into the dining room and started to sing to us in Greek. For dessert, we were brought out complimentary Baklava (Pylio dough with honey& nuts) which was a great surprise.

The rest of the day was filled with checking out all the adorable shops & houses. Our favorite was an exhibit all about the Art of Dr. Seuss. The exibit had drafts and original sketches displayed as well as various character sculptures. I was able to snag a few mementos to remind us of Carmel including; a gold lone cypress charm & a print of a beautiful seaside painting.  
For dinner we headed over to Flaherty’s where I ordered the fresh swordfish w/ potato spinach gnocchi with citrus pesto. We decided to grab a night cap from our favorite place, The Hog’s Breath. The place was about to close and pretty empty; so we were able to take our pick from all the beautiful fireplaces. I decided to be fancy and order the key lime martini before heading back to the room.

We were sad to leave Carmel the next morning but super excited to visit Yosemite National Park the next day for our 3rd leg of our California vacation! (and our favorite place of the trip) 

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