This past Labor Day weekend, we decided a day away could be exactly what the doctor ordered. A day spent free to do as we wished. Whether it be wineries or indulging in the wonders of being in society again as just a couple. Being that we recently had a child, the term couple quickly translated into family. Driving from the Central Valley, we decided to take a tour of Carmel. I’ve often driven to Monterey or Big Sur on a day trip. Stopping off to take photos of the coast or agriculture along the way. Carmel was always a brief stop to enjoy a beverage at the downtown brewery or even eat at Clint Eastwoods Mission Ranch. This time we decided to actually make it a destination and stay right in the heart of the downtown area.
The drive in had us going through several farming towns and agricultural land. It really impresses the mind, when you think of how much food is grown in California. Our 2.5 hour trip took us from cows, corn, almonds and melons, to the grapes, artichokes and cabbage. Driving through places like Hilmar, where they have a massive milk factory and cheese production, to Castroville, which is the home of the artichoke. Each town representing a significant product that is popular world wide. Fields of produce go for miles and make amazing designs as far as the eye can see. The Pacheco pass is also a view in itself. As you rise up into the area you get a beautiful look at the San Luis reservoir. It looks more like a lake than a water reservoir. Boats sprawled across it and deep blue water sidled by shades of green closer to the edges. It’s really a beautiful drive to take in and could probably be a trip in itself. I could easily spend a day or two touring a cheese factory, learning about the reservoir and staying in a beautifully designed hotel in Santa Nella. We decided to stay the course and head over to Carmel though.
Strolling past the town of Salinas, you could see that agriculture runs deep. After passing more of the modern stores by the highway, we made our way towards the downtown area. An area that you can see lives for the locals. Mom and pop shops galore. It was cute. Nestled perfectly in a valley, you can see why it’s a gemstone of a geographical location. Trucks filled with farmers passed us as we made our way out of town. We pressed on as we had only a day to fit our festivities in.
Making our way out of Salinas, we started to climb in elevation. Higher and higher we made our way up the road, listening to heads Carolina, tails California on the radio. We reached the top of the hills and looked down across vineyards. An area we have never even knew about before, Carmel Valley. I feel like I missed this one somewhere between Lodi, Napa, Sonoma, Livermore and the other various wineries in the Bay Area. It’s so surprising the shear amount of wine regions in California. To just now, find a location that has close to 25 wineries in a small area, surprises me. Numerous wineries sprinkled across the Highway from each other with various hotels in the mix. Such an easy location to come to for the weekend and not have to drive! You could easily make your way to over 15 wineries in a mile radius. Realistically, if you are wine tasting and you go to more than three wineries in a day, you aren’t tasting wine anymore, you’re drunk and they all taste the same.
A reservation at Holman ranch was made the previous day. Labor Day weekend is never the best time to go wine tasting. It turns out that it’s quite popular to spend a three day weekend doing this. Regardless, we strolled in right around noon. The winery itself had a large patio out front. Patrons enjoying their glass of wine as they watched people stroll by on the sidewalk. Inside a bar to the left with numerous bottles of wine. Opening to the right there were various seats that you could take to enjoy your wine as you sat by the fireplace. Being that it was a beautiful warm day, there was no need for the fire. We sat and enjoyed several of their top wines. Affordable and delicious, with Pinot Noir being their speciality. We toasted to the day ahead as we reached for our first glass. Several tastings later, we felt a bit warmer as we made our way out of the winery and headed towards downtown Carmel.
A short trip into Carmel by the sea was roughly 15 minutes. We made our way into our destination around noon. Dropping our car off at our hotel, we took to the Ocean Avenue strip. Bougie in its own right, there are many restaurants and shops sprawled across the downtown area. Every possible shop you could imagine. Higher end places for your shopping pleasure. It’s a perfect location for anyone that is visiting the beautiful Pebble Beach golf course or coming for one of the top car shows in the world. It caters towards that. Our restaurant of choice downtown for lunch was Mission Bistro. Being ushered to our seats, the host exclaimed that this chef is amazing and he has worked with around a lot of food in his time. Glowing reviews before we even sit down! We ordered appetizers as we usually do. A halibut crudo, barrata cheese and mussels. All washed down with a couple local white wines. We will have to agree with the eccentric host, it was delicious. The fact that the chef even went table to our table to make sure that the food was up to standard was even more impressive. A perfect place to start our day.
Walking downtown, you feel upscale in a way. There is a sense of money all around you, yet still an extremely friendly group of people around every turn. You can see why the perfect mayor for the town was Clint Eastwood at one time. Growing up in the area, he always had a passion for Carmel. The town itself is similar to the persona of Clint Eastwood. Much wealth, but still a down home feel to it. It’s a unique situation, but probably the best way to describe it. There are shops for an entire dog wardrobe, famous coffee companies and wonderful bakeries. Clothing boutiques along the way give some wonderful selections of quality made product. The streets are also layered with beautifully designed architecture and landscaping to boot. Our next stop, after going through several shops, was the Windy Oaks winery. We didn’t have a reservation, but they were kind enough to allow us a seat to do a wine tasting. Numerous types of Pinot, including a Pinot Blanc that I had never seen on a menu. Through our stay we saw many locals come and go. Some winery members coming for their free tasting or others that sat and spoke with the owners. One leaving with four cases of wine…now he really likes their wine! Very friendly people and good wine to indulge in before we made our way to the beach.
A need for a little intoxication always holds true before going to the beach correct? Especially if you are walking! A short five block walk to Carmel beach had us staring at the beauty along the coast. A perfect sandy beach sprawled along the coastline. A view in the distance of Pebble beach and the patrons spending over 600 dollars a round to play at the prestigious course. The beach was packed with people that probably got there early to get good seats in the small area. The water itself was cold to the touch. We saw only small amounts of people taking the chance of submerging their bodies in the water. It’s amazing how different the temperature of the Pacific can be here vs Hawaii. We sat for a while, gazed at people and their interesting behaviors before heading back to the downtown area. We walked past multi-million dollar homes along the way. Wondering what these people do for a living that can get them locations such as these. It was getting later in the day, when we decided to go have dinner at Flaherty’s seafood restaurant. A little hole in the wall in a way, but still delicious fresh caught seafood. We ate our meals and headed back to the hotel for the night.
The next morning we woke and walked a block away to Katy’s place for breakfast. A small town feel diner with an extremely large selection of eggs Benedict. I believe I counted 20 different types. Lobster Benedict, classic Benedict all the way to a Benedict with Caviar on top! The meal was delicious and they had some other great options to go along with, if you aren’t a Benedict kind of a person. As we ate, we stared at the people walking the streets. Locals stopping each other and petting each other’s dogs. Talking small town talk along the way. Birds pecking into the redwood trees around the restaurant, looking for their meals. It was a very cool area and would recommend to anyone.
Our last leg of the tour had us taking a tour of the 17 mile drive area. In between Monterey and Carmel, it’s a beautiful drive that takes you along the coast and up to the Pebble beach golf course. There was a large amount of people as we drove through the area. We stopped off at Pebble beach and watched a bit of the college tournament that was going on. A perfect day for golf. Slight breeze, but overall temperature in the 70’s. Driving through, we stopped off at the lone cypress. A fairly large cypress for being on a cliff overhanging the area. The icon for Pebble beach. To gaze at this single tree with a beautiful ocean in the background is riveting in itself. The possibilities to see whales basking in the ocean are there also. Today was not the day for us, but surely there are times that this could differ. We got in our car after navigating through the numerous tourists and started to make our way home.
Our weekend turned out to be exactly what we needed to refresh our parental energy. Parenting can be difficult and when you don’t take time to grow your relationship along the way, it becomes even more challenging. Whether it’s a trip to a magical place like Carmel or just a simple weekend away for a night at a local lake, it’s so important to get away. If you’re in the Bay Area, give Carmel a shot and you won’t regret it. Between the great dining, beach, wineries and 17 mile drive, there is a little bit of everything for a weekend getaway.