MERCURYNEWS.COM: January 9, 2020
All the beautiful people have dogs. It’s one of the first things I notice about Carmel by-the-Sea, a village where evening lights twinkle in the aromatic mist of orange blossoms and sea salt. Where shopkeepers still sweep the sidewalks. Where Clint and Doris (God rest her soul) made their homes when they could have lived anywhere.
To say Carmel is pup-friendly is a grand understatement. Doris Day’s animal activism left its mark here, with seemingly everyone having a well-heeled companion. And if people-watching is a thing, dog-watching is a bigger thing. Pick a pedigree and you’ll probably see it — from poodles to doodles to Danes.
To get the real flavor of this village in the pines, consider the Carmel Wine Walk by-the-Sea. While it initially seems pricey at $100, the passport lets you sample generous wine flights from 13 tasting rooms, and it never expires (I’ve used one passport for several trips to Carmel). As you stroll the one square mile of this pleasantly walkable town, notice the absence of addresses and signage, which has long prompted homeowners to decorate their doors and front entries.
The delightful architecture of the mixed residential and business district, just a short walk from Carmel’s white sand beach, is unique. So are many of the tasting rooms, owned by vintners who often pour their own wines (Jeffrey Blair is frequently found holding court at Blair Estates as he shares stories about the influence his grandparents had on his palate). The local flavor also permeates a Carmel landmark — La Playa Carmel, built in 1905 as a stately stone mansion. The richly appointed bar holds tight to tradition, even offering 10-cent martinis for lucky patrons who happen to have a dime when the bartender rings the bell.
Perhaps the most pooch-friendly place is Doris Day’s Cypress Inn, where discerning dogs go for live music in the 1929 Mediterranean-style living room lounge. Night after night, the caliber of free entertainment is impressive. From flamenco guitar to cabaret singing — music in this elegant setting is a treat. On the nights I was there, several sofas and chairs had people with pups curled blissfully by their sides. It made me sorry I didn’t have my cat along, as everyone knows there is no better lap animal.
Then there’s Clint’s place — which begs the question, “Are you feeling lucky?” I have a friend who actually saw Eastwood sit down at the piano in his bar at Mission Ranch and play chopsticks. Yes, she would rather have heard something jazzier, but what do you want for free? And even if you don’t see Clint, Mission Ranch is a lovely place for a glass of wine, with sheep grazing in the meadow just beyond the picket fence.
Food in Carmel-by-the-Sea is exceptional — as one would expect. I dined at Vesuvio, a solid option for Italian food and lively ambiance inside and on the rooftop terrace. Family-owned Pèpe’s famous garlic bread (baked in a wood-burning oven and served with marinara) is one example of a 100-year old family recipe that has foodies coming back.
Another option is Brophy’s Tavern, an upscale sports bar with a creative menu of tasty choices including braised short rib house fries with chimichurri, scallions, queso fresco and pan jus. For lunch on the go, we ordered from 5th Avenue Deli & Catering. This works well if you’re hiking the trails and looking for whales.
In fact, folks say Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is the number-one attraction on the Monterey Peninsula — and that’s no doubt true. But I still say it’s hard to beat dog-watching — especially when you’ve got a glass of fine zin in your hand.
The Hofsas House (hofsashouse.com) is a family-run “Bavarian inn in the pines” that has grown from four cottages in the 1940s to a 38-room hotel. Within walking distance of Carmel-by-the-Sea shops, restaurants and the famed white sand beach, Hofsas House has a swimming pool and dry saunas, bakery-fresh breakfast pastries and rooms with ocean views and fireplaces (many are pet-friendly).
Carmel Culinary Week is Jan. 19-26. For more information, see Carmel-by-the-Sea’s official travel site at carmelcalifornia.com.