No street addresses, no home mail delivery, no heels more than 2 inches without city hall dispensation (more on this later). Welcome to rustic, romantic Carmel-by-the-Sea, 1 square mile of quirkiness, hidden passageways, and nearly 100 galleries in a coastal setting north of Big Sur on Highway 1. This season, the place is sleepier than usual: Storms buckled a bridge in Big Sur, and the “mother of all landslides” further isolated the area, closing the most picturesque route. That said, Highway 101 has always been faster. As for those high heels, the ’20s ordinance was used to prevent lawsuits by those tripping on irregular pavements (permits are free).
Take a Leisurely Drive |Get a view of majestic forests, dramatic coastline, and the sumptuous golf course at Pebble Beach Golf Links as you putter along the famous 17-Mile Drive.
Drinks, Dresses, and Dogs | Ocean Avenue serves as the launch point to visiting more than a dozen wine-tasting rooms. There are also designer boutiques and the fairytale-style Tuck Box building at Carmel Plaza, plus the white sands at dog-friendly Carmel Beach.
Check Out Classic Wheels |The renowned collector-car competition Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance takes place Aug. 20 ($375 and up). Hot tip: The Pebble Beach Tour d’Elegance on Aug. 17 features a parade of the cars to and from Carmel and a free two-hour display of entrants along Ocean Avenue.
Go Ahead, Make Your Day | Be sure to visit former Carmel mayor Clint Eastwood’s Mission Ranch, a block from the Carmel Mission. The bucolic views of grazing sheep beyond the patio and the jazz pianist at the bar can bring tears to your eyes; slow-roasted prime rib ($36) stars on the plate. Mission Ranch offers 31 rooms ($135 and up)—each unique, some in an 1850s farmhouse—plus tennis courts and views of pasture and coast.
Spice up the Evening |Cultura Comida y Bebida offers Oaxacan-Mexican fine dining—squash-blossom quesadillas ($14), oak-roasted steelhead trout with cilantro and lime ($32), and relleno-style Monterey red abalone ($45)—amid casually elegant decor. Enjoy late-night festivities with happy hour from 9 to midnight every night, featuring $2 tacos and $7 margaritas.
Picturesque Dining by the Sea, Day & Night | Find the cliffside California Market at Pacific’s Edge restaurant at the Highlands Inn, now owned by Hyatt. It’s California Market by day, offering Dungeness crab Benedict ($19)—watch for migrating whales—and Pacific’s Edge by night, where standouts include octopus with black-garlic emulsion ($20). The inn, which marks its centennial this year, isn’t far from Point Lobos reserve. Many of its 48 rooms ($529 and up) feature sweeping bird’s-eye ocean views.
More Ways Than One to Get a Buzz | The rooms, suites, and villas ($395 and up) at glam Bernardus Lodge & Spa, nine miles inland, put you in the heart of Carmel Valley wine country. This month, the agriculture program’s 180,000 Italian honeybees inspire hive-to-table cuisine, colony cocktails, and buzzy body treatments.
Lose Yourself in Secret Passageways | Downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea is dotted with 42 charming courtyards and hidden passageways, no two alike. Some date to the 1920s, when architect Hugh Comstock’s storybook cottages were built. Many are now lined with shops, galleries, and restaurants.
Visit the Valley | Verdant Carmel Valley is home to wineries with tasting rooms including Holman Ranch, Folktale, Joullian, and Bernardus. Get your bearings at historic and quirky Holman Ranch Tavern. Studio-gallery Patricia Qualls Contemporary Art is just opposite.
Getting There | Carmel is a six-hour drive via the 5 and 101 freeways and Highway 68. United/Skywest and Alaska/Horizon offer one-hour nonstop flights from LAX to Monterey Airport, which is 15 minutes from the village.
Aug. 20: See 200 world renowned collector cars on the 18th fairway of the Pebble Beach Golf Links at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Go to pebblebeachcouncours.net for more information and tickets.