There are places we visit that I find difficult to describe. Places that hold a type of beauty impossible to interpret through story. Carmel, however, seems exceptionally easy to describe, given how visually complex it is. Carmel is high end living in a fairytale setting. It’s an abundant collection of upscale boutiques, nestled in local restaurants, surrounded by one of a kind homes. The majority of gift shops are nautical and preppy, as are most of the people shopping in them. Wine tasting, breakfast having, seafood dining, all offered by the local restaurants found in downtown. The architecture reads like a village out of a storybook. Layers of ivy and foliage climb the exterior walls of buildings and fences. Cottage like structures with weeping windows and stained glass stack next to brick and stone work. Inlaid tile covers selected portions of store fronts adding an almost conflicting Moroccan taste to the otherwise Cinderella townscape. An occasional super-sleek modern building will stand tall and almost out of place amongst its more rounded neighbors. Colors, iron work, glass, shingles, almost any form or flavor that you can think of is laid out in a package that feels carefully and meticulously drawn together. It’s the equivalent of a hodgepodge quilt created with intention and structure.
*(Above photos are my top favorites that Ryan shot that day.)
Our Carmel brunch destination came under high recommendations. Katy’s Place Carmel is one of the top rated breakfast locations in Carmel on every review website you can Google. Feeling almost like an Elk’s Lodge or Fellowship Hall turned into a single room, smaller than I expected, patio-adorned restaurant, Katy’s Place has everything you can image, from breakfast to burgers. Seated on the outdoor patio, completely enclosed in Carmel’s charm, under the shade of a tree and with the accompaniment of a silk worm on Ryan’s bench seat, we cheered the start of whatever was ahead of us with fresh squeezed orange juice mimosas. I chose the crepe benedict off of the specials menu. The crepes were cooked to perfection and I loved the unique pairing of a classic sweet breakfast dish with the salty heartiness of eggs benedict. Babe, again, had the biscuits and gravy, continuing his private biscuits and gravy comparison investigation for the weekend. He boasted over the fresh, house-made bacon and flavorful gravy the rest of the day.
Two bites shy of being overly full, we set foot to pavement and started our window shopping photo walk, with occasional boutique pop-in. We had assigned ourselves three tasks to complete as we strolled amongst the polo shirt and khaki wearing patrons. First was a stop in our favorite Carmel-by-the-Sea shop to peruse in, Boatworks, always full of things we dream of owning one day when we have more space, like old boat propellers and ship models. Second was a stop into Laub’s Country Store to pick-up something for the niece. A pink and tan baseball cap with a happy whale embroidered on the front really spoke to us. Third, locate and purchase from the local cigar shop, Carmel Pipe Shop, to pursue our possible new hobby. In a solid two-hour walk, we nailed each assignment with flying colors.
I became obsessed with all the different doors Carmel-by-the-Sea had. No two doors were alike.
With photography as our primary intention for the entire day, we headed down to Cannery Row for dinner and an evening of walking around. The evening’s kickoff will go down in history as one of the most memorable meals we will ever share. Knowing our mutual passion for anything historically famous, Ryan booked us dinner at the one and only Sardine Factory. After a failed attempt to get reservations there two years back, this meal was drastically overdue. Arriving a few minutes too early, we were met with a wait in the front of the house where both the bar and lounge seating area resides. The decor makes you feel like you are in a well preserved gentlemen’s lounge from the 1970s. Built in 1968 the best way to describe the significance of The Sardine Factory is to quote them straight off their website’s homepage.
” …where celebrities feel at home and every other guest feels like a celebrity. Since October 2, 1968, The Sardine Factory’s cachet has made dining in our historic Cannery Row setting a tradition for world leaders, sports heroes and entertainment icons.”
After our brief wait we were led to our table, passing through a room reminiscent of a victorian ballroom and down a hallway that I swear had a painting of a man missing his eyes. It felt as if the lighting was becoming dimmer with each step we took, further and further from the front lounge, until all of a sudden we reached a completely mirrored entry way and came into a burst of light and life. Our dinner for two was specifically reserved, by request of my husband who always does his homework, in the Atrium Room. The completely windowed, dome-shaped, chandelier-adorned, dining room has a 360 degree view of live greenery and pure blue sky. I immediately felt like Michelle Pfiefer in Scarface and wished I had picked something disco chic for the evening instead of my modern pencil dress. I felt as if I would never be fully happy eating in any other setting for the rest of my life.
The menu, prepared by award-wining chefs, features seafood classics and USDA prime beef selections. Predictably, we started with the Factory Cheese Bread and a cup of their World Famous Abalone Bisque, notoriously served at “Taste of America” for former President Ronald Reagan’s Inauguration. I mean, how could we not, right? Shockingly smooth, the bacon, chive and abalone pieces were exceptionally fine and added tremendous flavor to the creamy, wine based bisque. Selecting our main entrees turned out to be the toughest decision of the day. After practically memorizing every option, we both landed on the Lobster Raviolis, I with a half order and Ryan with a full. The lobster stuffed pasta with truffle cream sauce was presented beautifully. I do not know how to explain how delicious those little pillows of goodness were but I will say this, that ravioli was so good that for an extended period of time I thought I was freaking out. It was the first time I have ever eaten something so good it almost sent me into a full blown panic attack. With no room left for dessert, as usual, we sat back and finished our wine and soaked up every last millisecond we could of our surroundings. Should you ever find yourself presented with the same opportunity we had that evening, to reserve a table in the atrium, I highly suggest you book it as early in the afternoon as possible. We made our reservations for 5:00, the time they open, and it gave us the entire dining room all to ourselves for a solid 30 minutes. Just us, our 2 waiters, and the Greek Goddess centered under 1 hell of a lighting piece.
I am usually not one to end a romantic meal with pictures of a bathroom, however, when the bathroom is wall to wall, floor to ceiling mirror with elaborate, carved, solid gold trim outlining everything from mirrors to bathroom stalls, complete with fresh roses draping the vanity, it is virtually impossible to not consider it quite the grand finale.
Post-dinner festivities included a long walk along both sides of Cannery Row while sunset changed the sky from all shades of sherbet to bright royal blue. Although we have walked the same sidewalks numerous times before, when you have your camera in hand you suddenly see familiar areas with brand new eyes. I had never paid much attention to the way the end of the row begins to break away into prehistoric beachfront, in and out of the ticky-tacky painted boxes that host most of the souvenir shops. We avoided shopping, other than a swing through the sweet shop. Cookie assortment for him, frosting covered angel food with sprinkles for her. Thank you.
Nothing does a pair of feet that just spent most of the day walking, fifty percent in stilettos, better than a soak in a hot tub. Without any explanation, we can’t figure it out ourselves, the pool and hot tub at the Monterey Bay Lodge is the only other pool and hot tub we ever use besides anywhere in Vegas. We just do not use hotel pools, not even when we stay at The Roosevelt in super hot Los Angeles, poolside. Something about the heated pool and generically simple hotel hot tub, just outside our sliding door, blocks away from the ocean shore, leads us to temptation every time. This time was no different.
Soaking, relaxing, showering and angel food frosting-ing sent us to bed with literal visions of sugar plums. We were going to need all the solid sleep we could get. Next up was a full day of investigating anything we could reach by foot from our front doorstep.