Sometimes it takes an escape from city life to rejuvenate your spirit. Carmel – also known as Carmel-by-the-Sea – is one of those idyllic California seaside towns that can make you feel worlds away from urban chaos. The air here on the Monterey Peninsula feels more oxygenated and easier to breathe, the stars shine brighter, and the ability to sense things in nature is so appealing, especially as one learns to appreciate serenity. This kind of retreat is longed for, reminding me of my own peaceful Connecticut childhood town on the other coast.
For easy access to this charming area, fly into the tiny convenient Monterey Regional Airport, or turn your excursion into a road trip up or down the magnificent California coast. Thanks to a sponsored excursion with Buick, we road tripped in the new Enclave, a roomy luxe high-tech SUV with seating for 7, Wi-Fi and USB ports galore. From San Francisco to Carmel, we leisurely made stops to savor the scenery.
Take a detour through a few towns along the way, like Palo Alto for a drive through Stanford University or Los Altos for quaint shopping. Keep your windows up on the highway but let in the fresh air for the slow cruise down the small-town boulevards. The QuietTuning system in our Enclave worked well to block out the freeway noise and the air ionizer eliminated odors, pollen, and dust, but it was nice to breathe in the crisp cool air as we meandered through the woodsy South Bay towns.
Stop in Santa Cruz if you want a taste of the boardwalk, overflowing with vintage amusement park rides, otherwise head South towards Monterey. Make a stop in Pacific Grove at the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary in October through March to witness the magic of the monarch butterflies clustering together on pine, cypress, and eucalyptus trees. Stretch your legs at Lover’s Point Park, a state marine reserve on the southern end of Monterey Bay, and admire this shoreline recreation area with incredibly inviting views of the crystal-clear water while surrounded by ground squirrels that were a bit too friendly. Not far away is historic ocean’s edge Cannery Row and the well-known Monterey Bay Aquarium. Asilomar State Beach is another worthwhile stop. Everywhere, a beautiful drive.
On previous trips to Carmel village, overnight stays were always in some charming fairytale cottage or inn, but this time instead of exploring the galleries and shops in the community’s center and eating sandwiches from Bruno’s Deli on my favorite bird-rich less touristy Carmel State Beach, we stayed inland – on a 500-acre playground known as Carmel Valley Ranch. Just 10 minutes from the town tucked away in the lush forests of the Santa Lucia Mountains, it felt like we had stepped into a country oasis. The stunning drive to the “Ranch” had us swirling back and forth past vineyards, wild turkeys, bunnies, deer, and even one night, a fox.
This “Ranch” demands relaxation and calm, and the desire to do nothing but rest on your private studio suite deck since you will be hypnotized by the glorious views and mountains off in the distance. A dual-sided fireplace both inside and outside enhances the cozy mood along with the outdoor soaking tub for bath bubbles under the sky. Heated bathroom floors and lavender bath crystals next to the large indoor tub is also a nice touch.
When you decide you actually want to leave your suite life (no pun intended), the “Ranch” also has a golf course, tennis courts, gym, organic gardens, and vineyards. Find a tree swing on the property to feel like a kid again or take a short hike. Goat and chicken feedings are possible as well an enriching informative beekeeper experience where you can learn everything you ever wanted to know about these lifesaving pollinators while getting suited up. Witness the workers bees (and maybe the queen if you’re lucky) perform their duties up close as the expert apiarist lets you in on the buzzing action with one of their many beehives. For those who don’t feel like walking to the pool or spa or the fantastic brunch at the Valley Kitchen (one of three restaurants on-site), a golf cart will whip you to your destination.
From Carmel, you can branch out to numerous scenic drives, some of the best in America. Carmel is the gateway to Big Sur where you can stop along this rugged winding stretch of seaside cliffs or spend a bit more time in Pfeiffer Beach or McWay Falls. The famous 17-mile drive is close to Carmel too, as the breathtaking drive hugs the Pacific coastline passing through the Lone Cypress, Bird Rock, a cypress forest, Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove on the Monterey Peninsula. If you head farther north, kayaking at Moss Landing is a must! You won’t have to go far to experience wildlife up close.
Just 10 miles south from Carmel, we found ourselves at the Rocky Point Restaurant, one of the most spectacular ocean view lunch settings in California. On the open deck we devoured clam chowder and crab sliders in awe of the scenery, so surreal I continued to gawk because it felt like we were staring at a painting in the distance. Spend some time meandering around the rocky point nearby to really absorb the landscape.
After lunch, we made our way to Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, a coastal haven for wildlife and the best spot to hike along the ocean. Long considered the “crown jewel” of California’s 280 state parks, numerous nature trails begin at multiple routes. Imagine fields of wildflowers, deer grazing oceanside, vocal birds, secluded coves, barking seals, floating otters, and soaring pelicans. An easy stroll, but benches are thrown here and there for those who need a rest or just want to admire the view awhile longer. Point Lobos is the type of place that lifts your spirits and that one could never tire of. The best part is this “greatest meeting of land and water in the world” is just a stone’s throw away from Carmel.
All this wouldn’t have been possible without a comfortable ride. After driving through the city and countryside, we appreciated the rear vision camera on this big car because, with one flip, the traditional mirror switched to camera mode to expand the rear vision by 300 percent – a feature that saved us a couple times.
Wireless charging that supports the latest iPhones is a necessary convenience and the secret storage section in the front seat to hide a purse should be in all cars. The foot sensor under the back of the car popped the trunk when our hands were full. For under $40,000, the Buick Enclave was a great road trip ride and we can’t wait to get out of the city again!