Never mind that Carmel-by-the-Sea is a quaint coastal enclave tucked somewhere between the sites and sophistication of San Francisco and Southern California. The historic little station on the way from one place to another has evolved into a world-renowned destination of its own.
This is a place to get away from it all without sacrificing the big-city offerings of art, theater, music, and dining. You can put on a black tie and take in the symphony, Bach Festival, or k.d. lang at the multimillion-dollar Sunset Center, or slip on sweats and a pair of sneakers to hike the trails of Point Lobos, window-shop, or wander the shore. You can fine-dine at a number of four-star restaurants or eat al fresco at the beach. You can curate art, collect art, or just covet the art and artifacts among more than 100 galleries and antique shops, and you can buy anything from t-shirts to Tiffany. Even those who travel the world are unlikely to encounter another place that has so much to offer in one location.
Carmel is a community where locals and guests can abandon their cars to experience the town on foot. The walkable warren of streets whose slope is dictated by the trees, houses unnumbered, storefronts and cottages, harkening back to a time when everybody knew everybody else by name. It is, in large part, still like that. In lieu of street numbers, cottages bear names as quirky as racehorses', most of which have never changed. It's considered bad luck.
For locals, part-time residents, and guests, Carmel is a public resort whose membership fees depart from a range of hotel rates to some of the highest mortgages in the world. A property cresting Scenic Drive overlooking Carmel Beach that was built at the turn of the last century by M.J. Murphy originally sold for $100 with $5 down, but sold at the New Millennium for $8 million. Admittedly, there had been a few upgrades along the way. As they say, it's all about location, location, location.
When the light slips into the horizon and the curtain drops on the town, guests retreat into one of Carmel's many inns and hotels, such as the legendary Pine Inn or La Playa Hotel, while others head home to their Carmel cottages.
Still, the social scene continues after dark, when lights glow from leaden-glass windows, betraying the anonymity of night in a village that rolls up its sidewalks at dusk. Guests can follow the local lead to Clint's Mission Ranch Restaurant and lively piano bar, to the legendary Sade's Bar, to the lounge at Cypress Inn, or to linger in the limelight of restaurants that tend to serve long after the sun has set.
Best of all, you can always walk home.