On the second Friday of the school year, my husband and I hit the road for a 330-mile road trip to Carmel-by-the-Sea, that jewel of California that sits on the Monterey Peninsula.
It’s always hard leaving your kid, but we had equipped my mother-in-law with detailed instructions on afternoon pickup and our complicated TV remote controls. As my husband maneuvered around morning traffic in L.A., I slipped off my flip flops and exhaled. While Carmel is just 20 minutes from the Monterey Peninsula Airport and 90 minutes from San Jose Airport, our five-hour road trip gave us a chance to catch up and soak in the natural beauty of farms and wineries as we journeyed through rural parts of California.
There is always something going on in and around Carmel – from Monterey Car Week to festivals to the annual Quail Motorcycle Gathering, one of the country’s largest motorcycle events. You can also go whale watching, deep-sea fishing, horseback riding or take a Land Rover “off-road driving experience.”
We stayed at Quail Lodge & Golf Club, located in Carmel Valley, the “sunny side” side of Carmel-by-the-Sea. The intoxicating scent of rosemary bushes greeted us as we walked up to the lodge, a complex of cream-and-brown buildings inspired by historic California Ranch and Spanish Colonial architecture. The lodge sits on 850 acres of velvety fairways and is nestled against the St. Lucia Mountains.
It’s a surprisingly quiet retreat, given that it has 93 guest rooms and suites, an 18-hole championship golf course, tennis courts, swimming pools, a bocce court, restaurants and four fitness “cabanas.” We’re not golfers, but we did enjoy practicing on the nine-hole all-grass putting green that weaves through the complex. For a special treat, try “glow-in-the-dark putting,” which takes place every night and includes glowing balls and pins. Our “fireplace king guestroom” was expansive, with exposed vaulted ceiling beams and a large window seat overlooking the deck, which overlooked the lake. We ate an early dinner of roasted Alaskan halibut and herb-crusted salmon on the patio at Edgar’s, the lodge’s casual elegance farm-to-table restaurant.
After dinner, we left the still-sunny valley behind to drive five miles to the whimsical beach town everyone loves to say: Carmel-by-the Sea. The charming architecture that lines the one-square-mile village houses a plethora of specialty shops, galleries and museums. Two of my favorites are Bittner: Fine Pens & Paper and Dawson Cole Fine Art Gallery.
As we walked to the beach, we gushed over the ginger-bread-like cottages, many of them originally built by artists, bearing names – “Hope Floats,” “Sea Nymph,” “Seven Gables” – instead of numbers. The sun was covered over by the marine layer, but we didn’t care. The result was a lavender-indigo hue that ran from the sky down to aquamarine water that rolled in soft waves lapping the shore. I cupped cool sugar-white sand in my hands and watched my husband examine a teepee that someone had fashioned out of sticks. Homage to the early Native American settlers?
Back at the lodge, we walked the nature trails, where olive tree leaves hung in tendrils and the birds sang their evening songs. The next morning, we savored a hearty breakfast at the lodge’s Waypoint restaurant (the potato pancakes are a must), then spent some time apart while I enjoyed a much-needed massage and steam in the Wellness Center.
With my taut muscles relaxed into butter, our next stop was wine tasting at Joullian Vineyards, followed by a trek through the grapevines at Folktale Winery & Vineyards. We drove into Monterey for lobster nachos and a blue crab bacon melt, followed by a bit of shopping on Cannery Row, but when we headed back for L.A. the following day, we left a piece of our hearts in Carmel, its sunny and dusky sides.