Carmel-by-the-Sea: A Storybook Destination

(KGTV) -- For years people have been visiting Carmel-by-the-Sea for a relaxing escape from everyday cares and stresses. It’s easy to see why—the gorgeous village is like something out of a storybook. Its quaint downtown area, beautiful homes—all of which have their own unique architectural elements and colors—and fantastic ocean views make it a “go to” spot for ocean lovers from all over the world. And many of these visitors specifically come to enjoy a stay at the historical La Playa Carmel.

The hotel is one the most famous properties of the village, with roots tracing back to 1905, when artist Christian Jorgenson built the property as a gift for his wife, a member of the famous Ghirardelli family. About a decade later, it would be converted into a luxurious boutique hotel perched above the Pacific Ocean. “This iconic property continues to lure and bring guests back because of its charm, beauty and hospitality since the turn-of-the-century. Guests continue to praise the bountiful gardens, tranquil patios and courtyards, a terrace, swimming pool and renovated interior spaces and guest rooms,” said Mary Crowe, La Playa Managing Director.

La Playa Carmel remains one of the oldest and most cherished landmarks in the seaside village, providing a lasting connection to the town’s heritage as an artists’ community. The hotel is just a block from Carmel beach and various restaurants and shops, the perfect setting for people looking to get the most out of their getaway. The grounds are decorated with impeccably manicured gardens perfect for enjoying a leisurely stroll or soaking in some incredible views.

There are a variety of accommodations, including rooms with ocean views and those that have lovely poolside casitas featuring sitting areas set around fireplaces. There are also village and garden views available.

Like all other hotels and inns in Carmel-by-the-Sea, La Playa offers a complimentary breakfast. Guests enjoy a made-to-order-omelette station, seasonal hot entrees, and an array of fresh pastries, fruits and cereals. A Bloody Mary bar is available on the weekends throughout tomato season, as well. The breakfast sets the tone for a relaxing day. Guests have the option to take morning walks on the white sandy beach and then come back to a hot cup of coffee or mimosa along with a hearty breakfast overlooking the flower-filled courtyards and misty ocean,” said La Playa Executive Chef Boris Ilabaca.

Much to see by the sea
La Playa is located in the perfect spot for visitors to investigate the village and the surrounding area. Carmel-by-the-Sea has earned praise for its boutique stores, wine tasting rooms and numerous art galleries. A quick stroll through downtown will reveal a surprising number of tucked-away gems that visitors would do well to explore. This is made all the more fun if you buy a wine-walk passport that provides a "Wine Walk Flight" of up to four 1 oz. pours at your choice of any 10 of the 13 participating tasting rooms. This is a self-paced, self-guided visit to 10 tasting rooms in the square mile of Carmel-by-the Sea. The Passport does not expire, so it can be used over several days, weeks or even months. Wine walk passports are available online through the Carmel Chamber of Commerce.

Art lovers who wish to truly indulge in the Carmel-by-the-Sea experience should try a Carmel Art Tour. The tour company offers packages that will highlight the entire arts scene in the village, including art galleries, edible art from award-winning chefs and storefronts with gorgeous pieces of art on display.

Enjoy a bite to eat at Flaherty’s
What would a gorgeous seaside village be without unique, romantic dining options? Carmel has restaurants of all types and all levels of formality that visitors love. Being right next to the ocean, you should try some of the local seafood. Flaherty’s Seafood Grill and Oyster Bar is a great stop for a bite. I enjoyed their baked brie, linquine with clams along with their lobster bisque. “Our lobster bisque has won many awards from the Monterey County Wine & Chowder Festival. We enhance it with a roasted heirloom tomato and artichoke puree,” said Flaherty’s owner Ken Spilfogel. “And for dessert we always recommend our amazing Key Lime pie – it’s our most popular dessert item on the menu and the homemade recipe is straight from Key West”.  

Cultura Carmel
Cultura is a newer restaurant that has already made its mark on the village. It features many delicious Mexican dishes with bar offerings heavily focused on Traditional-Artisanal Mezcales de Oaxaca, “Carmel-by-The-Sea has historically had little representation of Mexican cuisine as a genre. At Cultura, we aspired to create a modern-contemporary interpretation of the profound ingredients, culture and flavors we’ve experienced while visiting various states of Mexico but most frequently Oaxaca,” said Sarah Kabat-Marcy, Cultura Managing partner.

Chef Michelle Estigoy is a California native who grew up in a multigenerational hispanic home. Chef Michelle's recipes, although heavily influenced by Oaxaca, are also created with the memories of her grandmothers traditional cooking from northern Mexico. 

A couple of Estigoy's favorite dishes are the Calabacitas -- a dish comprised of finely puréed milk poached cauliflower, topped with ribboned, lightly grill-marked yellow and green zucchini squash, finished with a heirloom cherry tomato and corn ceviche. Chef also loves serving her Cultura Mole. “Each family's mole is special and unique to their home, village and region. My slow braised and smoked pork cheek mole is presented with segments of oranges, sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds and paired with house-made saffron infused masa tortillas,” said Estigoy.

No matter what you do and see in Carmel-by-the-Sea, you’ll appreciate this beautiful area, which is one of my favorite vacation destinations in California. Winter can be a great time to visit as well – less people traffic to compete with as you take in the many opportunities to enjoy the local offerings and recharge before returning to the hustle and bustle.

Jennifer Boden is a 10News travel contributor. She is the founder and publisher of Dine and Travel. Jennifer, a former news anchor, lives and plays in Northern California’s Wine Country.

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