Best Things to do in Carmel and Monterey

Best Things to do in Carmel and Monterey

April 12, 2019   |  by Shannon   |   Things I Love

Ocean Ave, Carmel-by-the-Sea

Andrew and I have vacationed in Carmel every spring for the last three years.  Though Doris Day’s Birthday is our reason for going, we have discovered so many fun things to do during our days in Carmel and Monterey before the birthday festivities begin in the evenings.

In previous years, we have enjoyed walking Carmel Beach and shopping in downtown Carmel.  We have ventured to Monterey and visited Cannery Row, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and done a Historic Monterey Walking Tour.  If you are ever in the area, I strongly recommend all these activities!

I must say though, the places and adventures we planned for this year are the best things we have done so far! We revisited some of our favorite places from previous years, and also explored some new ones.

We spent most of Thursday driving from our home in Southern California up the coast to Carmel, but managed to get in an excellent meal at Carmel’s Bistro Giovanni before heading over to Doris’ Cypress Inn for Karen Oberlin’s show.  I had a fantastic pizza with pesto and roasted artichoke, but Andrew’s Pomodoro Fresca pasta, with fresh tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, and basil, was the showstopper.  I wish I had thought to take a picture!  Definitely some food inspiration from Carmel’s Bistro Giovanni!  Do I recommend this place next time you are in Carmel?  YES!

California's poet, Robinson Jeffers.

Friday was an EXCELLENT day.  Have any of you heard of the California poet, Robinson Jeffers?  I had never heard of him until I began planning our trip this year, and came across a picture of his beautiful Carmel home, Tor House.  I learned that Tor House can be visited by the public.  You probably know where I am going with this…yes!  We scheduled a tour. Our docent was amazing, and really knew her stuff.

Tor House on the right and Hawk Tower on the left, which Jeffers built himself.

I am now officially a fan of Jeffers’ writing, and completely intrigued by his life, particularly after seeing Tor House.  Jeffers and his wife, Una, first came to Carmel on their honeymoon in 1914 when it was still a sleepy little artist colony.  Read Jeffers’ poetic description of the feelings he and Una experienced on first seeing Carmel:

When the stagecoach topped the hills from Monterey and we looked down through the pines and sea fogs on Carmel Bay, it was evident that we had come without knowing it to our inevitable place.

Our inevitable place.  Can’t we all relate to that feeling that Jeffers so eloquently puts to words?  Such breathtaking words, they literally give me chills.

Picture from the garden at Tor House. The Jeffers weren't much for things, but on their travels--and when their friends wanted to surprise them with a gift that would be appreciated--they would pilfer things! The tombstone with the cross is from Ireland. Una herself brought it home to Carmel. The beautiful tiles were pilfered from Spain!

The Jeffers built their dream home, overlooking Carmel beach, in the style of an English cottage.  When the man they commissioned to build the house was not working fast enough—I mean, come on, it’s their dream house, who wouldn’t want the work to move along quickly!—Jeffers apprenticed himself to the builder, and learned how to “make stone love stone,” as he writes in his poem, “Tor House.” (Also, I must add, the word “commissioned” makes the Jeffers sound wealthy.  They actually never were, and basically lived off the land, with Una doing everything from sewing the children’s clothes to milking their own goats.)

View from Hawk Tower, which Jeffers built himself. Do you see those beautiful white stones lining the garden path? They aren't stones. They are abalone shells! Can you imagine having that at your house?! Simply GORGEOUS!

Jeffers greatly contributed to the building of Tor house, where he lived humbly until the day he died.  And the stone tower next to Tor House, named Hawk Tower, was built by Jeffers himself, alone, from start to finish! Jeffers would write poetry in the morning, and built the tower in the afternoon.  Hawk Tower took him four years to complete.

Hawk Tower.

What an amazing experience it was to climb Hawk Tower—to climb the hidden staircase designed and built by Jeffers’ own hands.   He truly was a man of many talents.  He built Hawk Tower for Una, who loved Ireland and all of the towers she had seen during her travels there. 

Hawk Tower is three stories.  Jeffers built the ground floor for his twin sons and their boyhood adventures, while the middle floor was built exclusively for Una—to be her getaway place—and on the top, open floor, the family would watch the stars and the sea at night.

I could go on and on about how spectacular and even spiritual our time at Tor House was. (Did I mention I got to play the keys on the family piano?  Where the likes of Jimmy Cagney and Charlie Chaplin practiced when visiting the Jeffers family?!!)  But I will wrap it up by saying I HIGHLY HIGHLY RECOMMEND visiting Tor House if you find yourself in the Carmel area.  I would have enjoyed the tour even if I hadn’t given myself a crash course on Jeffers’ life and poetry in the weeks leading up to our tour. So…just GO! (:

Carmel Beach and some beautiful homes!

Saturday was a super great day that we spent with some friends in the area, revisiting some of our favorite places from previous years.  We walked Carmel Beach, and enjoyed looking at the incredibly beautiful, eclectic, and EXPENSIVE homes just above the beach.  We all day dreamed a bit of what it would be like to live there! Definitely take a stroll along Carmel Beach and its beautiful neighborhoods if you visit the city!

Me at one of my favorite places in Carmel, The Cheese Shop!

Also, an absolute MUST in Carmel is The Cheese Shop.  The name explains itself!  Located in Carmel Plaza, The Cheese Shop is a French fromagerie experience, but you don’t have to leave the country.  If you have a shop like this near you, or have been lucky enough to visit France, you know how cool and exciting this is!  Of course, all my enthusiasm is predicated on the assumption that you like cheese….! (:

Inside The Cheese Shop. LOOK AT ALL THAT CHEESE!!!

This was our second year visiting The Cheese Shop, and it never disappoints!  We actually made two visits this year, and each time we have gone, a different employee has assisted us in our cheese tasting and selections, and each employee has been so incredibly courteous and knowledgeable.  Yes, you get FREE samples!  As many as you want, for as long as you want!  My favorites this year were a truffled English cheese, and a coconut infused cheese.  Simply amazing!  Do I recommend The Cheese Shop?  YES!!!  It is truly one of the places we look forward to visiting most each year.

Monterey's Colton Hall.

Next we made our way over to Monterey, and spent some time at the historic Colton Hall.  Built in the 1840s, this beautiful building is where the California Constitution was drafted and ratified.  When we did our walking tour of Monterey a few years ago, our fabulous guide made a very convincing argument for why Monterey really should be the California state capital.  Much of this argument rests on the historic happenings at Colton Hall. Definitely check it out next time you are in Monterey!  Just up the white stairs is the entrance to the museum, and you can walk the room and look at where all the delegates sat, debated, and signed the California Constitution.

We wrapped Saturday up with lunch at our favorite restaurant in Monterey, and dessert at our favorite bakery!

The AMAZING falafel wrap at Paprika Cafe.

Paprika Café is a fantastic, Mediterranean food restaurant with THE BEST falafel wraps EVER.  The menu has something for everyone, whether you are a meat eater, vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free.  Everything we have ordered there has been great, but the hummus, spinach pie, dolmas, and again, the falafel wraps, are particularly amazing!  Also, I am pretty sure Paprika is run solely by a husband and wife team.  I have never seen any other employees, and we go every year.  So how cool is that?!!!  Go to Paprika and enjoy an amazing meal, made ever better by the knowledge that the food you are enjoying is truly made from the heart.

The Perfect Crumb bakery. I would like to eat EVERYTHING in that display case!

And then turn right after exiting Paprika and check out my favorite bakery, The Perfect Crumb!  Seriously, this place is amazing!  Another spot I look forward to visiting every year, The Perfect Crumb has the best lemon bars, cookies, and key lime pie I have ever experienced.  This year I was smart and stocked up before we headed home: I have a few pies and lemon bars in the freezer so I can prolong my enjoyment of these tasty treats until I visit again next year!  Do I recommend Paprika Café and The Perfect Crumb?  YES!

The key lime pie at The Perfect Crumb is, quite literally, to die for.

Sunday.  Oh, Sunday was such a great day!  If you read my post on Doris’ birthday bash, you may remember that Sunday afternoon, us fans went to serenade Doris.  So what better way to start Sunday then with a Monterey Movie Tour?!!!!!

Me with Doug, the owner and Movie Master behind the fabulous Monterey Movie Tours. You have to go!

That is just what we did.  Sunday morning, Andrew and I boarded the Monterey Movie Tours bus, and enjoyed a fabulous, three-hour adventure. There were three stops on the tour, at Colton Hall, Pebble Beach, and the Pebble Beach Lodge.  Our tour was led by Monterey Movie Tour’s owner, Doug.  Doug is EXTREMELY knowledgeable.  He has painstakingly done the research, and, through his familiarity with the Monterey Peninsula and carefully watching the films shot there, Doug has found the EXACT SPOTS where countless classic scenes have been filmed. 

Doris in a scene from "Julie." Doug took us to the exact spots they filmed!

Each seat on the bus has its own TV screen, and Doug plays the scene in the film as you drive by the actual location where it was filmed!  He gives exciting facts about each film and particular scene as well.  (When passing where Jimmy Stewart and Janet Gaynor filmed a scene from Small Town Girl (1936), we learned that Doug’s father was Jimmy Stewart’s bunkmate during their service in WWII.  What an amazing connection!)  Seriously, this tour is incredible!  And perfectly, perfectly timed.  I am sure all the guides at Monterey Movie Tours are great, but I cannot imagine anyone being as phenomenally knowledgeable about Monterey movie history as Doug. 

Our favorite films/location spots Doug showed us were A Summer Place (1959), Julie (1956), Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), Play Misty for Me (1971), Small Town Girl (1936), National Velvet (1944), The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), and Seems Like Old Times (1980).  Wow!  I could go on and on. Needless to say, YES!  I highly recommend you take a Monterey Movie Tour!

Me at Mission Ranch. What a fun restaurant, with simply gorgeous views!

On Doug’s excellent recommendation, after serenading Doris, Andrew and I dined at Clint Eastwood’s restaurant, Mission Ranch.  Another amazing meal! The garlic bread and French fries here are some of the best ever.  We also enjoyed a beautiful house salad, and a fresh and light Pasta Primavera.  Both were delicious!

Pasta Primavera at Mission Ranch.

 As was the bread pudding with bourbon sauce we had for dessert.  Yes, it did taste as good as it looks!  I definitely recommend going to Mission Ranch for a meal in Carmel.  The place gets packed, and does not take reservations, so plan accordingly! And if you are lucky, you may see Mr. Eastwood himself there.  According to Doug, it is one of his favorite hangouts when he’s in town!

The amazing bread pudding with bourbon sauce at Mission Ranch!!

Well, hopefully I haven’t rattled on too long (pretty sure I did…!), and that you’ve got some exciting ideas for what to do, see, and taste on your next visit to Carmel and Monterey.  I already look forward to our visit next year!

I’m Shannon, thanks for visiting!  When I’m not on an adventure with my 3 year old, I’m developing plant-based recipes or watching a Classic Film!

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