When we were younger and a bit more carefree, my sister and I had the privilege of going on spontaneous vacations all the time. My mom was a flight attendant and would take us along with her on her trips, leaving us teenagers to bop around the hotel, take a dip in the pool, whatever. It was nice exploring new towns with little agenda, but as we've gotten older we've grown busier and haven't had as much time to flit away at a moment's notice. Especially with Some Boy in tow, it's hard to get away. But I'm making an effort to get back to those things we enjoyed so much. Most recently, we planned a quick little trip up the coast to Carmel by the Sea, California!
After an oh-so-fun nine hour car ride with the boy whining his teethy little head off in the backseat (poor thing is working on his upper two teeth right now), we arrived at Hofsas House hotel in Carmel by the Sea. I'm all about places with a family feel, so this was right up my alley. Our room in this third-generation hotel had a log-burning stove and Bavarian-inspired decor with pretty shutters on the windows, lace accents and funky striped wallpaper.
We even found some delicious wine and cheese left in our kitchen from The Cheese Shop when we arrived in the room. The wine was admittedly gone within an hour, but we continued to snack on the cheese throughout our trip over late-night movies. Colby and I quickly decided we'd come back to Carmel by the Sea JUST for the cheese, if nothing else.
Carrie, the granddaughter of the hotel's original owner, started working at the hotel when she was a teenager and now runs it. She happily gave us a tour, complete with a jaunt through the spacious banquet hall (perfect for family reunions or cozy company get-togethers) and the variously-sized rooms. Each one is decorated uniquely, with some of the furniture pieces coming from the family's own collection. I spent quite a bit of time ooohing and aaahing over chairs to the point that I'm sure Carrie thinks I'm nuts. I have a thing for a good chair, and this place had lots of them. They had cute conversational chairs in the cozy couple-oriented rooms and fun child chairs in the bigger, family-friendly spots. They had all sorts of rooms to fit any size group, and – of course – a pool. Pools are a “must” in my book, along with continental breakfast and stunning ocean views. Check! They had those, too.
We headed over to Mundaka our first night in town to enjoy some Spanish-style tapas. I was delighted when I took a seat and saw a little note on the menu, “We believe in serving REAL food only.” Fresh, local organic. My kind of food. I was even more excited when I got to try the inventive recipes with all my favorites ingredients: artisinal goat cheese, fried garbanzo beans, braised tuna, squash fritters and pancetta, oh my! My favorite were the bacon-wrapped dates. We ate like queens, can you tell? The food was so fresh and perfect that it was a little hard to slow down. Colby and I being total coffee connoisseurs, however, our favorite part of the night was the dark, rich espresso. Best coffee I've ever had, hands-down. The place isn't cheap with small plates averaging a little over $10 each, but I'd come back in a heartbeat to enjoy some tasty bites and delicious drinks with a few friends.
The next morning, Colby and I had the chance to take a stroll around the town and couldn't stop remarking about how much it reminded us of the island where we grew up. It was quaint and charming with small shops, and people who actually make conversation! We got a big kick out of the fact that all of the signs in the town have to be wooden to maintain the charm of the area, and they even have trees sticking up straight in the middle of some of the streets (the the proper warning signs to guide people around, of course…not that we actually saw many cars at all). The town is apparently well-known for it's wine-tasting walk, which features seven shops for just $30 and NO time limit. People can try various wines all in one day, one weekend, or they can browse over a few trips. Best of all, beach fires and alcohol are allowed on the beach. Hofsas House even offers a $60 s'mores package so visitors can take advantage of the scenery.
Carmel by the Sea was also one of the most pet-friendly towns I've seen. The beach is off-leash, dogs are allowed in open patios of many of the restaurants, and Hofsas House even allows dogs in certain rooms.
After checking out the town, we drove a few minutes over to Monterey for lunch at a cafe called Wild Plum. Judging by how busy it was, I got the feeling that this was a local favorite in the area, and I can see why: the food is plentiful, delicious and the price is right. Colby and I split the Roast Beef and Mediterranean sandwiches (both were about $9 each and came with our choice of large potato, pasta or house salads). The Mediterranean sandwich reminded me of on my mother-in-law makes. It had roasted peppers and onions, spinach, grilled eggplant, pesto, garlic aioli and provolone while the roast beef was served with the same cheese and aioli along with a gorgonzola spread and caramelized onions. If I lived nearby, this would DEFINITELY be a frequent stop for me.
Next up was the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium! I was worried there wouldn't be enough fun hands-on stuff there to keep Some Boy entertained, but this place has everything. There were various fun little play spaces for different age groups ranging from crawling babies to elementary-aged visitors. Some Boy and Colby had a fun time getting a feel for the waves on a waterbed-like crawl space. I enjoyed a behind-the-scenes tour that explained how the facility went from cannery to habitat-based aquarium with a mission to help save the oceans. Peering into any of their tanks is truly like taking a peek into the depths of our seas.
And, of course, Some Boy loved the jelly fish.
We walked along Cannery Row briefly, and it reminded me a lot of Pier 39 in San Francisco. Fun to see, with lots of little touristy shops and experiences, but nothing I would go particularly out of my way for. I was glad that it was right next to the aquarium so we could park once and experience both in a single afternoon.
Last but certainly not least, we enjoyed dinner at Fandango in Pacific Grove. It was pouring buckets when we arrived, but we felt nice and cozy seated in this atmosphere with bold, French-inspired decor while rain pummeled the gorgeous glass ceiling above. Fandango is and run by the charming Pierre and Marietta Bain, who stumbled into the house-turned restaurant shortly after it opened, fell in love with the place, and bought it off of the owner in 1986. They've made a few changes and expanded, including adding private dining rooms that can seat between eight and fifty people. I personally think their best move was hiring head chef Pedro De La Cruz, who works wonders with amazing dishes. We had a duo of tender and juicy petit filet mignon and salmon fettuccine with wide noodles and just a little bit of sauce, which allowed the salmon flavor to really come through (I hate it when restaurants drench their meat in sauce so you can't even tell if it's good). And I was so impressed with the Grand Marnier souffle that I told our server I'd be attempting to recreate it at home. Someone hold me to that, okay?
And with that, it was time to checkout! We packed up back at the hotel, but not without me first inquiring about all the half-doors I kept seeing everywhere. It turns out that the temperature in Monterey Bay is relatively mild year-round, so most of the businesses, restaurants and even homes have dutch doors to serve as their air conditioning in the summer months. Cool!
Now I'm inspired to go chop my front door in half. Let's see what Nate has to say about that.
This post is sponsored by all of the above lovely local businesses. All opinions are my own.