I remember very little of my first time in Carmel, CAlifornia.
And, to be honest, I have no idea why. It's just so beautiful. But more than likely, my 9 1/2-year-old head was still filled with visions of Disney Land, wondering why on earth my parents had just dragged me up the coast to this "sleepy" little town. 20 years later and I think I finally understand why.
With stunning homes, a quaint but bustling downtown filled with shops and restaurants, and close proximity to all sorts of gorgeous beaches, hikes, vistas and wildlife, it's the perfect spot for a relaxed weekend escape.
Outside of knowing it was a spot we wanted to visit, we hadn't done a whole lot of research prior to leaving. On top of that, making the decision to come when we did was totally and completely spontaneous. So, I spent some of the drive north doing a little bit of digging on the great wide web, but outside of that, we left everything up to chance. And honestly, it was the most refreshing thing. Not having set plans, not having to worry in advance if we'll have enough time for everything, not running around like a crazy person shopping for outfits "to match all my photos", not being aware of spots we had to visit because "everyone on Instagram said we had to", etc. Of course, we tend to be last minute trip planners as it is, but this was on a totally different level, one that I can not recommend enough (if you can swing it).
And while this may have been a very spontaneous trip, within 48 hours in Carmel we had managed to rack up quite a list of things to do and places to eat. In fact, the list is so long that we're already talking about planning a trip back so we can do all the things we didn't have time to do. But in the mean time, I'm sharing all the things we did DO (including eating one of the best Margherita pizzas of my life). Keep on scrolling to read about all the details of our spontaneous summer getaway to Carmel (and you can also hop over to my Instagram page to watch my first IGTV video aka a fun video diary of our trip to Carmel and Big Sur).
P.S. If you want details about any of the outfits featured below, check out my CARMEL STYLE DIARY post.
Have you been to Carmel, California, and if not, is it on your list of places to visit?
We found this gem of a property on the Hotels Tonight app (which is a not-so-secret favorite of ours, since we like to book everything so last minute; use code APONTICELLO for $25 off your first booking) while we were on our drive to Carmel. The sun had set, the service was spotty and the options available were looking pretty slim (Saturday night = a terrible night to book a last minute hotel). But then this property popped up. Located in a completely renovated motel property, they've only been open since April. But the space looked cute, the perks sounded good and you couldn't beat the location or price point. We were sold.
As soon as we got in, we realized we made the right choice and we couldn't have been happier with our stay. We could walk to all the shops and restaurants, we could bike to the beach and we were a short drive from just about everything else we wanted to do. The hotel does include complimentary bikes to use during your stay, as well as daily breakfast and social hour. And before you go "Cool, free cereal.", think again. Ok, ok, they do have cereal and toast, but they also offer other things, like breakfast burritos, breakfast casserole, salmon toast and fruit + yogurt parfaits for breakfast and they switch it up every morning (so it never gets boring). Social hour included things like vegetables, pita crisps, nut mix, spinach artichoke dip along with a few wines and even a homemade strawberry puree for mimosas. They also had water and coffee available all day long, along with to-go cups. And did I mention the decor? They totally nailed the serene, beachside California vibes. I mean, can I just move in already?!
WHERE TO EAT
Folktale Winery // By far one of our favorite spots of the whole trip. We went for a late lunch and we both agreed we definitely could have hung out for hours, just soaking up the sun, wine and atmosphere, then come back for dinner (and lunch the next day) because it was just that good. The atmosphere, grounds and decor were all so enchanting and felt straight out of a charming European fairytale. I loved the open-air concept of the dining area (which had both tables and chairs as well as couches) that led to the outdoor space full of little spots and spaces for enjoying food and wine. Speaking of which, both were incredible. We got a bottle of the rosé, which was crisp and refreshing and just sweet enough (but mostly dry, which is just the way we like our rosés), as well as a salad and a few of the flatbreads. Dave really wanted the margherita fry bread but I thought it sounded "too boringl" so we got the short-rib one first. It was good. But then we saw the fry bread being delivered to another table, and despite already be stuffed we knew we needed to try it. And I'm oh so glad we did. It was by far one of the better pizzas we've had as of late, and was 1000% worth feeling like a thanksgiving turkey afterwards (but also thank God for flowy summer dresses that hide all food sins). Trust me, whatever you do, get the Fry Bread Margherita Pizza. It will change your life.
La Bicyclette // A good lunch spot; our server seemed a little off, but the food and atmosphere were both good enough to give this spot a place on our recommendations list. Their pizzas are a popular option and after trying the Andrew Molera one I can see why. We also loved the Salade Folle d'Été, and the rhubarb tart for dessert.
Lafayette Bakery // Good for grab + go breakfast or lunch; they also have a restaurant which is more centrally located in downtown Carmel, that looked (and I hear is) good for breakfast. We stopped at the bakery portion before heading out on our drive down the coast, and grabbed a bread for our picnic (a very solid choice), as well as a cookie (Really good!) and a pastry (some cherry thing that wasn't very memorable) for treats. If you want one of their croissants don't make the rookie mistake we made by going after 10am because they will more than likely be sold out.
Carmel Bakery // A good spot for ice-cream in the summertime (especially since they are open until 9pm, which is much later than almost everything else around), and things like cookies, scones and, their specialty, pretzels. We tried the ice-cream and an almond lace cookie, both of which were really good.
Parker-Lusseau Bakery // Located in Monterey, this spot has amazing French pastries, and, by far my favorite treat out of the entire trip. We got a seasonal peach tart and Dave and I definitely fought over the last few bites/considered going back for more. They have a variety of items, including sandwiches, with plenty of spots to sit and enjoy the items right there, but we chose to take ours to go and enjoy on the 17-mile drive.
WHAT TO DO
The 17-mile Drive // Unless you think your life will be incomplete until you've seen the Lone Cypress tree, there is no reason to pay $10.25 to do this drive. The road right after the 17-mile drive is just as pretty (if not prettier), there are far less tourists and tour buses (as in almost zero), plenty of gorgeous beaches to stop and going swimming at, a lighthouse to explore and seals in the water right next to the road (aka closer than you'll see them on that other drive) soaking up all the glorious summer sun. You can also go scuba diving (I hear it's quite good in that area!).
Carmel Mission // Even if you are not Catholic or religious, this is such a great stop full of history, beauty and Spanish-style architecture. Many of the buildings are set-up as a museum, so you can walk through the property, picking up details and facts from the various displays throughout.
Fisherman's Pier in Monterey // Exactly what you'd expect from a tourist-y pier, but the area is a great place to see wildlife, including tons of otters. Avoid some of the crews + catch a great sunset by going a little later in the day.
Biking the Carmel River Beach Road // You can walk or drive this road (which we did, too), but biking it is the most fun, especially at sunset. It's only one way and there's lots of spots to stop and pull off to check out the stunning homes and beautiful water views. You can also lock up your bike and spend some time hanging out/laying out at the beach, swimming, picnicking, working on your summer tan, you know, the usual. Also, from 4pm-10pm they do allow beach bonfires. Talk about a cool way way to spend a summer evening, especially with a bottle of wine (Maybe from Folktale?) and a picnic.
Walking Around Town // Probably a given to do this, but it's cute and charming and full of adorable shops, pretty tiled stairways, colorful doors and flower-filled alleyways that remind me of Europe, so enough said. It's all fun to walk around the downtown area in the evening. Just be sure to grab an ice-cream to enjoy while you're strolling!
Vintage shopping // I've learned that if you want to find some real treasures in vintage shopping, you need to go where no one else is going (aka outside big cities). We happened to stumble upon Joining Hands Benefit Shop + SPCA Benefit Shop on our way to Layfatte Bakery (they're all located in the same shopping center), and almost didn't go in, but I'm so glad we did. We scored some incredible pieces at insane price points, plus I love that both shops support good causes. There are a few other vintage shops in this center, as well, but these two were our favorites.