Aug 142013

There’s no place like home, but when a trip is ending, I’m always a little sad unless I’ve got the next excursion in mind. Coming home after almost three weeks of having a fantastic time in the Emilia-Romagna and Puglia regions of Italy, I needed to plan a getaway!

I found solace in Carmel-by-the-Sea.

"View of Pacific Ocean from upper level of Hofsas House, Carmel-by-the-Sea, California"

View of Pacific Ocean from Hofsas House Hotel

About a two-hour drive south from San Francisco, Carmel is a convenient getaway for area residents or visitors to San Francisco Bay Area. It is a one square mile, quiet village in the midst of a pine forest on the Bay of Carmel. It is home to celebrities such as Clint Eastwood (a former mayor of Carmel) and actress Doris Day, who is an iconic member of the community and partly responsible for Carmel’s pet-friendliness. Golf lovers are familiar with the famous golf course, Pebble Beach, and the scenic 17-mile drive, which are only a few miles away.

You won’t find nightclubs or late-night boisterous crowds. Neon signs are not allowed. There are no street numbers on buildings and no mail delivery service, a tradition that residents embrace. Mail must be picked up at the post office, the goal being to promote a sense of community via this informally designated meeting place.

If you want Las Vegas style entertainment, this is not the town for you. But if you’d like a place to unwind in the upscale, but casual ambiance, while enjoying some of the best in dining, shopping and cultural options with spectacular scenery along the coast, Carmel is an excellent choice. And it also makes an ideal base for exploring the many attractions of the surrounding area, too.

I think that the optimal way to experience this area is to wine, dine, shop, walk along the beach, relax and spend a couple of nights. Thanks to the hospitality of the Hofsas House Hotel, Mr. TWS and I did exactly that.

Settling in at Hofsas House

Owned and operated by the Theis family for over 60 years, the Hofsas House Hotel has a cozy Bavarian ambiance. You first check in at the reception desk in the warm lobby with comfortable chairs, sofa and fireplace. Above the desk is a photograph of the inn’s founder and family matriarch, Donna Theis. The inn is currently managed by granddaughter Carrie whose mother, Doris, also works in the inn and welcomes guests. Carrie especially enjoys meeting with guests during the complimentary continental breakfast in the lobby to talk to them about their plans for the day and offer assistance. She has welcomed guests from all over the world and strives to discover and provide what guests might need.

"Mural by Maxine Albro painted in 1957greets visitors to Hofsas House"

Welcoming mural by Maxine Albro greets visitors to Hofsas House

The mural outside the entrance to the hotel lobby was painted in 1957 by artist Maxine Albro who was a resident of Carmel and friend to Donna Theis. Maxine also painted three paintings in the lobby and a headboard in the hotel’s room 47.

"Entrance of Hofsas House Hotel in Carmel"

Hofsas House Hotel, Carmel

Carrie took us on a tour of the hotel and proudly pointed out the family coat of arms on the front of the building — a nice, personal touch. The plaque reads, “Otium Cum Dignitate,” which means “Leisure with Dignity”, representing the hotel’s mission to provide excellent customer service to all guests. 

"Carrie Theis and family coat-of-arms at Hofsas House, Carmel"

Carrie Theis and family coat-of-arms

As we entered our room, we noticed the small kitchenette with a welcome package of cheese, crackers and bottle of chardonnay from Ventana Vineyards, a local winery. It was my first Ventana tasting, and it won’t be the last!

"Kitchenette with wine and cheese welcoming package at Hofsas House Hotel, Carmel""Bedroom at Hofsas House, Carmel-by-the-Sea, California"

The complimentary continental breakfast served in the lobby includes fresh pastries, juice, fruit and coffee. We liked bringing a tray up to our room for breakfast.

"hofsas House Hotel Lobby in Carmel, California""Complimentary breakfast in lobby at Hofsas House Hotel in Carmel, California"

The hotel is in walking distance of shops, restaurants, tasting rooms and the beach making it easy for us to enjoy downtown Carmel on foot.

You won’t go hungry in Carmel.


Dinner our first night was at Mundaka, a fun and lively restaurant,tucked away in a courtyard serving up tasty Spanish style tapas. We tried several dishes, but these were probably my favorites — Hamburguesa (mini lamb burger, pickled cauliflower, truffle fries), Datiles (bacon-wrapped dates, goat cheese, almond) and Sopa (tomato gazpacho, fried artichoke). The menu changes daily to offer fresh ingredients.

"Mundaka restaurant in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California"



For lunch the next day, we tried what is described as a quintessential Carmel spot, the very popular Casanova restaurant, which from the street appears to be a small European-style cottage. Inside, there are several cozy dining rooms and outside, a lovely courtyard dining area where we were seated. Mr. TWS opted for a special seafood pasta dish (reminiscent of the excellent food we enjoyed in Puglia, Italy) with an unusual creamy pesto sauce. I can never resist a Croque Monsieur no matter where I am, so that was my choice — and a delicious choice it was!

"Seafood pasta dish at Casanova restaurant in Carmel, California""Croque Monsieur at Casanova restaurant in Carmel, California"


On our second night, we had dinner just a short drive away at Fandango in Pacific Grove. The ambiance was nice, but the food and service really distinguished this top area restaurant that had come highly recommended.

"Fandango restaurant near Carmel-by-the-Sea in Pacific Grove, California"

Mr. TWS really enjoyed his wild grilled salmon with a butter sauce and my short ribs were a very tender treat for me — real comfort food.

"Salmon Filet at Fandango restaurant in Pacific Grove, California""Short ribs at Fandango in Pacific Grove, California near Carmel-by-the-Sea"

Walk and Sip

Along with fine food, of course, comes fine wine. We loved the Carmel Wine Walk Passport which provides a self-paced tour of nine winery tasting rooms within downtown Carmel, all in easy walking distance of the hotel. There is no expiration date, so you can catch some on a return trip if you like.

"De Tierra Tasting Room in Carmel, California"

De Tierra Tasting Room

In some of the tasting rooms, the owners were pouring and talked about their vineyards and history in the area. It was an informative tour as the owners and servers were especially interesting as they enthusiastically described their wines, the area’s distinct grapes and the history of their wineries. We really liked the personal touch of these intimate tasting rooms.

"Galante Tasting Room on Carmel Wine Walk""Cork counter at Blair tasting room in Carmel-by-the-Sea"

The photo at left was taken at Galante Vineyards tasting room. The unique cork counter on the right is at Blair Estate tasting room where we talked to owner Jeffrey Blair. Manzoni Cellars was another favorite on the tour as we enjoyed talking to owner Mark Manzoni about his family’s artisan wines.

A nice feature on the wine walk is that there are numerous restaurants (the list is in the tasting rooms) that won’t charge a corkage fee if guests bring in a wine from one of the participating tasting rooms. The general hours are Monday – Sunday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, but there are some exceptions, so check the passport guide to verify. The $65 passport is available for purchase at the Carmel Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center on San Carlos between 5th and 6th streets and entitles you to one $10 flight at each of the participating tasting rooms.

Art Galleries

Since the early 20th century, Carmel has had a history of attracting and supporting artists. Over 90 art galleries and studios are located throughout the town, showcasing art of diverse styles with works by over 600 artists. The annual Carmel Art Festival and the associated Plein Air artists’ competition held the weekend after Mother’s Day attract artists and enthusiasts from all over the country.

"Art gallery in Carmel, California"DSC04005


Carmel offers many upscale shopping opportunities along the main streets of town as well as in secluded courtyards.

"Courtyard shops in Carmel, California""Courtyard in Carmel, California at night"

We had a lot of fun in The Hat Store where I made a nice purchase. The shop had abundant inventory and a friendly and informative owner who encouraged us to try on many different styles. Mr. TWS looked hilarious in a kind of coachman’s hat adorned with gold chains, but I was advised not to include that photo.

"Inside The Cheese Shop in Carmel, California with Kyle Felder""The Hat Shop in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California"

We were very pleased that we stopped at The Cheese Shop. It was an experience in itself with helpful and entertaining service while we tasted diverse (and some expensive) offerings, a number of which were rare and exotic. One that stood out was a cheese that had been encased in tobacco leaves.


Beautiful Mission San Carlos Borromeo (Carmel Mission) was the second of the 21 missions built in California between 1769 and 1823 along El Camino Real (The Royal Road) from San Diego in the south to Sonoma, north of San Francisco. Carmel Mission was founded in 1771 by Father Junipero Serra, who built nine of the missions. The Carmel mission was his headquarters and it’s said that it was his favorite. Father Serra (who died there in 1784) is buried in the mission’s basilica. There is a wealth of historic information, artifacts and art exhibits in its five museums and the basilica.

"Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo, mission is Carmel, California"

Mission San Carlos Borromeo (Photo Credit: Shirina Manes)

Have dogs? Bring them along.

We don’t, but it’s hard to ignore the pet-friendliness of Carmel. Population of Carmel: 4,037 people, 847 dogs! Dogs are welcome in many restaurants and inns. Hofsas House has pet-friendly rooms and pet concierge services available. Dogs are also allowed to run and have fun off-leash at the beach.

"Diggidy Dog, a dog and cat boutique in Carmel, California""Dog with water bowl in front of a restaurant in Carmel, California"

Head to the beach – day or night.

"White sand beach in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California"

Carmel Beach

When we arrived in our room, Hofsas House had provided a special treat. Neatly placed by the fireplace was the the “Beach Fire and S’mores Bundle” that included wood, graham crackers, chocolate bar, marshmallows, and a lighter. We saved that for our second night after dinner at Fandango.

Carrie had directed us to the section of Carmel Beach at the south end where fires are allowed. Fires are allowed here because of the currents that naturally clean the sand of remnants left by the fires.

We arrived at the beach at dusk to the sound of the crashing surf and the sight of a few fires along the wide expanse of white sand. We found a secluded spot near the water where we placed our blanket and Mr. TWS got the fire blazing. A young boy and his father were trying to get a lantern kite to fly and came by to ask for use of our lighter. They tried so hard, but ultimately, it was not going to fly that night. I don’t think it mattered to them very much. They were just having a great time.


Making S’mores was a new experience for me, but with a bit of instruction from Mr. TWS, I managed to create a couple of awesomely decadent (and sticky) treats. Fortunately, our Hofsas House kit came supplied with handi-wipes. After indulging in a few S’mores, we lay back comfortably on the blanket using the soft-sand mattress and gazed at the sky, breathing in the salt air. It was one of those moments that are rare, over too quickly, and that you’re certain will not be forgotten. Following Carmel beach rules, we extinguished the fire at 10:00 and spent a few more minutes enjoying the moment, nearly alone on the beach.

What’s nearby Carmel?

What makes Carmel a great destination are all of the things I just mentioned, plus the many nearby points of interest in the area that make it a convenient central place to stay. In the past, Mr. TWS and I have visited Monterey, another interesting town with the world famous Monterey Bay Aquarium and Cannery Row. The spectacular Big Sur region is 26 miles south of town, making Carmel a nice base for a drive to that area, too.

Instead of heading directly back home from Carmel, we took Carrie’s advice and visited a place we’d never been before. Just three miles south of town on Highway 1 is Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, known as the “crown jewel of the State Park system”. There are many hikes for all levels with paths through woods and along the rocky points. We took the Cypress Grove Trail, an easy hike of about .8 miles with spectacular vistas through a cypress forest. Sea otters can be seen floating around the coves and sea lions resting on the rocks not far from shore. If you visit during mid-January through May, your chances of spotting whales are good, too.

"Point Lobos State Natural Reserve:

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

"View of Carmel from across the bay at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve"

View of Carmel from across the bay at Point Lobos

With the Carmel getaway now in the past, what’s up next for Traveling With Sweeney? I’ve got an another escape planned and you’ll soon find out about it. Are you in the mood for a getaway?

For more information:
Hofsas House Hotel
Carmel Chamber of Commerce

Disclosure: Our stay in Carmel was hosted by Hofsas House Hotel, but our opinions and perspectives are totally our own, as always.

We’re contributing this post to Nancie McKinnon’s Budget Traveler’s Sandbox Travel Photo Thursday. Enjoy other links to photos and stories on her site, too.

  57 Responses to “Escape to Carmel-by-the-Sea”

  1. I’m totally with you on the come-down of returning home. Recently home from Malaysia, a weekend away is would be so welcome right now. Carmel-by-the-Sea looks like paradise – just the place to make it a little easier to go home after a fabulous overseas trip. Found you via #TPThursday!

    • The timing was perfect for this getaway. It also made us realize that we should be doing more of these little getaways. There are so many wonderful places in and near our San Francisco Bay Area. We just don’t take advantage of them as often as we should.

  2. Love Carmel and Monterey area! What a beautiful getaway, Cathy. It’s great how you much you visited and experienced in such a short time and all diverse activities too. That wine walk passport sounds like an ideal way to discover the wineries. We’ve never been to Point Lobos but have always wanted to visit. Those coastal pictures are beautiful! You’ve inspired me to go back up there soon.

    • The wine walk passport is a super fun deal. I love going to wineries in many regions (especially Sonoma and Napa), but this is so different being able to walk from one lovely tasting room to another and the cost is very affordable.

  3. Time to head back to Carmel, Cathy!
    I had no idea that there aren’t numbers or mail delivery. How quaint! I like that the residents want that connection with their neighbors.
    Even though it’s a small place, there seems to be lots to do in Carmel. Looks like you had a great time.
    So when’s the next trip?

    • That was news to me about the post office, too. Nice old-fashioned idea getting neighbors to interact in person!

  4. My cousin went to boarding school in Carmel, but I imagine that as a teen boy, much of Carmel’s charm may have been lost on him. I’ve only been through there once and still fondly remember the 14 mile drive. You make Carmel sound so enticing and relaxing that I want to go back., perhaps as part of a roadtrip along the California coast.

    • Hope you do go back for a visit. Although I’d been to Carmel before, I didn’t really have a chance to experience as much of it as we did on this getaway. Great place to recharge!

  5. While my tastes tend to run more towards Vegas style entertainment, I loved my one visit to Carmel by the Sea. I remember thinking what a beautiful, peaceful town it seemed to be. I also remember thinking that nobody owned anything cheaper than a current year BMW, but that wasn’t the important part.
    I didn’t realize that it was so pet friendly. It sounds like my girls’ ideal vacation spot. Puppies everywhere!
    Oh, and S’mores are new to you? What kind of bubble have you been living in?

    • I really don’t have any idea how I’ve missed out on S’Mores for so long. I’m not a stranger to the toasted marshmallows, but adding graham crackers and chocolate is awesome.

  6. Beautiful place…

  7. That looked like a nice fun get away, I love visiting Carmel and walking along the sandy beaches there is just spectacular.

    • The beach is gorgeous there — and such a long stretch of white sand. It was so cool to actually have a fire on the beach, too. Also, alcohol is allowed (although we didn’t bring any that night, nice to know you can have a nice little picnic with wine right at the beach).

  8. We’ve spent many a day in Carmel – always lovely, quite often foggy and chilly – but still lovely!

  9. Some years ago, we took a road trip south from San Francisco to Cambria, driving the Pacific Coast Highway (Route One). We stayed at B and Bs. I think one was in Pacific Grove and we spent a nice afternoon in Carmel. I wish I had had this post to help plan our trip.

    • Hope you get a chance to go back to the area. Probably quite a few new shops, restaurants and, of course, the wine walk.

  10. Thank you for the lovely tour of Carmel-by-the-Sea – I have always wanted to visit there! We were planning to do a San Francisco to San Diego driving trip last spring break but had to change plans because of the rehearsal schedule for a show that Emma was doing. Maybe next year!

    PS – You and Emma would get along well – she practically lived on Croque Monsieur when we were in Paris – she didn’t think that she had ever tasted anything so good!!

  11. It’s been way too long since I’ve visited Carmel! I love the Hofsas charming and quaint as is the rest of this delightful town!! And the food looks out of this world!!

    • There are several other restaurants I’d like to try next time, too. No shortage of great dining opportunities in Carmel and the surrounding area.

  12. I had no idea Carmel had all of this going on! There’s quite a few California destinations I have my eye on for my next visit to the US.

    • Carmel is sort of under-the-radar, so it is a surprise when you get there and find so much to do & see there and nearby. Hope you add it to your list for the next trip.

  13. This sounds like a fantastic getaway – and the wine theme is coming through again but no wonder considering where you live. I’ve only spent one night in Carmel but would happily go back and spend three days just relaxing and eating. And you are right about having a mini-trip to look forward to – especially in teh summer when the living is supposed to be easier.

    • So you’ve picked up on the wine theme here at TWS. With all the great wine growing regions here in California and in places I visit, I can help it? 🙂

  14. I love Carmel. I was only there for a day and I would love to return for an extended stay. It’s just so beautiful and so peaceful and I loved all the wining and dining scenario. I didn’t know about he postal arrangement, really intresting. S’mores in the evening by the beach sounds glorious.

    • Wining, dining and relaxing — we all need that once in while, don’t we? Carmel is a nice choice for all that.

  15. It’s interesting how they promote the community bonding. Makes one appreciate the little things in life.

    • That’s such a good point, Salika. Getaways to places like Carmel or even just trying something different in your own town, can make you kick back and appreciate the simple things in life.

  16. It is good having another outing in your pocket when you return from a trip. . .it does make the reality of being home a bit easier to take. Nice tour of Carmel you provided us today – our last visit there seems very long ago and far away.

  17. Thanks for bringing back Carmel memories for me. I remember great sushi, finding a pair of sandals after looking in a few places up the CA coast without success and the glorious sunset.

    • I always like to hear that I’ve brought back good memories of a place and time. Food, shopping and natural beauty — nice combination, I think.

  18. Nice story. I use to hang out in Carmel back in 1968 when I was stationed at the Presidio of Monterey.

    Carmel was the second stop on our honeymoon trip.

    I’ve been back to the Monterey Peninsula many times since then. Most recently, I’ve stayed in Pacific Grove.

    • Pacific Grove looked like a nice little town from what we saw. We really enjoyed dinner at Fandango there. Try it next time.

  19. Gosh every part of your escape to Carmel by the Sea sounds incredible – the cheeses, the welcome of dogs, the beach fires, the yummy s’mores, the food, the place where there is lots of yummy food on offer – Carrie sounds like she runs the Inn personally and with a lot of love – it would be so hard to have leave and say goodbye!!

  20. Carmel looks like a great idea. I love quite beautiful places to unwind. The food looks really good as well.

    • I’d heard of Casanova restaurant before, but not Fandango or Mundaka — they were excellent choices and there are many other places I’d like to try. Hoping I get back there soon.

  21. I spent a few months in California back in my uni days and we visited Carmel a few times. Lovely place. If I remember correctly, Clint also had a restaurant in town – called Hog’s Breath. Does it still exist?

    • The Hog’s Breath is still there, but Clint doesn’t own it anymore. I wouldn’t mind running into him somewhere in town, but I don’t know how much time he spends there.

  22. With no nightclubs or neon signs, Carmel sounds like my kind of place. Love the idea of the wine walk passport as well.

    • The Carmel Wine Walk people were pretty clever coming up with that passport. I think it’s a great idea. I especially liked the fact that it doesn’t expire. We still have a few places to visit on our next trip.

  23. You’re a woman after my own heart – with a lineup of escapes and getaways in mind! I absolutely love Carmel – it’s my favorite place in my home state! I haven’t been in several years, but the hubs and I are planning a visit there next June. Cassanova and that pasta dish are right up my alley!

    • No need to explain to you about the need to be going places! Casanova was a nice treat — I really liked sitting outside in the courtyard, but the interior dining areas look very cozy.

  24. I love that part of the world. I’ve done the 17 mile drive before. I really haven’t spent much time in Carmel though….i have no clue why not… So weird I suppose. Thanks for the post it was lovely to see and inspires me to head back to Cali!

    • I think a lot of people have heard of Carmel, but haven’t really spent there. Other places like Pebble Beach or Monterey get a lot more attention. But this trip really showed me that there’s much to do in Carmel and it makes a great base for visiting those other towns and sites.

  25. Carmel is the most beautiful place on Earth (besides Tahoe), I’m convinced! I spent a beautiful week there two years ago and still remember it fondly

  26. A great coverage of this lovely place, Cathy, and a very nice photo series, too. We drove down to Carmel in 2007 when we were in San Francisco. Went to that mission, also, and to Monterey. The name Point Lobos reminded me of the Point Pinos lighthouse, which we visited at that time. It’s good to know about the wineries for the future, as it’s such a beautiful coastline, and I’d love to see it again.

    • Glad you got to see so much of that beautiful area. Point Lobos was a new experience for me. Loved taking the hike there and would like to try some of the longer ones next time.

  27. Carmel and Monterey are two of my favorite places in California, Pt Reyes to the north of San Francisco is pretty awesome too for solitude. But, Carmel is actually captivating when the fog rolls in on a given evening. Great memory there, Cathy 🙂

  28. I just adore Carmel – cannot wait to go back someday with John!

  29. Thank you so much for visiting us at The Hat Shop Carmel!!!!! Love the picture! Please visit again next trip we would love to see you again. If you didnt get a 20 percent off card please accept a gift of 20 percent off your next trip. Never expires!

    Brian and Amy
    The Hat Shop Carmel
    The Hat Shop Carmel Crossroads

  30. […] There are 20 winery tasting rooms in downtown Napa within walking distance of the Napa River Inn. Since we were out during the days, we didn’t check out the tasting rooms on this getaway, but would love to do that next time. I think the concept of in-town tasting rooms really makes a lot of sense and we’ve also enjoyed them during our stays on other Northern California weekend escapes. […]

  31. I’m visiting San Francisco at the end of the year. I’ve only heard good things about Carmel and your post has just cemented that. I had no idea about the post collection – that’s so adorable! Carmel Wine Walk Passport sounds like something I’d definitely like to try too.

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