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Carmel-by-the-Sea

Whimsical cottages meet stunning coastline in this artist colony-turned-luxury retreat

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If there was only the beach, that would be enough. It’s a lovely beach, a crescent of pale sand that gives way to turquoise Pacific, backed by Monterey cypress, their foliage flattened into wide fans by the coastal wind. But Carmel Beach isn’t the only star of the petite Monterey County city. Rather, it’s an ensemble cast of charms that make Carmel-by-the-Sea such an enchanting destination.

Officially incorporated in 1916, Carmel has long exerted a magnetic pull on artists and authors. Today Carmel Village is home to nearly 100 art galleries, and some of its earliest residents included writers Mary Austin, Sinclair Lewis, and Jack London, who fled post-earthquake San Francisco for the enclave’s bohemian appeal. Poet Robinson Jeffers, arriving with his wife in 1914, called the town “our inevitable place,” and built his stone Tor House overlooking the ocean, now open on weekends for tours.

The tradition of naming homes endures in Carmel, where garden cottages that look plucked from the Brothers Grimm sit next to Mediterranean estates and modern ranches. Builder Hugh Comstock created the fairy tale aesthetic in the 1920s, and 21 of his originals remain, including the Tuck Box, a quaint café that specializes in afternoon tea.

For those in search of heartier fare, there’s Cultura Comida y Bebida, where Oaxacan dishes like smoked pork mole and chapulines (toasted grasshoppers seasoned with lime and salt) are best paired with one of 39 mezcals. At La Bicyclette, the vibe is pure French bistro, while special occasions merit Aubergine, a Michelin-star splurge inside L’Auberge Carmel resort.

Along with restaurants, Carmel Village is stocked with wine-tasting rooms and boutiques. Sip a Pinot Noir from Central Coast Wine Country or browse fancy pens at Bittner, a shop dedicated to the art of writing.

But it’s the raw environment that best defines this stretch of California, and that means venturing out. Navigate 17-Mile Drive by car or bike, stopping to contemplate the Lone Cypress that’s clung to a patch of rock for centuries. Play a round at Pebble Beach, the No. 1 public golf course in the country, book a surf lesson, or make for Point Lobos State Reserve, where scuba divers and kayakers share the water with harbor seals and sea otters. When the day is almost done, hit the sand to admire the sunset over the Pacific with your canine companion, and ponder why it is you don’t live here. 

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