Without the long stretch of white sand flanking the hamlet known as Carmel-by-the-Sea, the tree-lined streets and ambient air, it may never have happened. No one is exactly sure when it began or how, only that it has. Carmel has gone to the dogs.
Frankly, there's an entire social order of dogs and their owners that show up on the sand at designated times to converse or cavort along the shoreline. Soon after sunrise and just before sunset, a cadre of canines convene at the beach for a little exercise and a lot of patience as their owners stand clustered like kelp on the shore, tossing sticks and catching up on local news.
Finally unleashed, the canine companions race along the shore, chasing one another and trying to catch sticks, balls, Frisbees and anything else that sails overhead. If you haven't brought your dog to the beach, you aren't a member of the club.
Certain restaurants cater to them and so does the Cypress Inn. Just inside the revered adobe lodge owned in part by animal-lover Doris Day, a welcoming jar of dog biscuits greets guests waiting to check in, not unlike the chocolate chip cookies provided at some hotels. Dogs are welcome to spend the night with their owners in guest suites and, by reservation, may attend afternoon tea.
Portabella restaurant seats canine companions with their masters in its covered patio toward the back of the restaurant, and a dog or two are always visible under the tables in the open-air patio at the Village Corner restaurant.
Various shopkeepers hide a cache of biscuits at the counter or place water dishes at the door, while the landmark Cottage of Sweets includes doggy treats in its mix of American and European candies. While some shops have miniature hitching posts outside, others don't mind if the dogs escort their owners in. The recently renovated Carmel Plaza shopping center boasts the "Fountain of Woof," a designated "dogs only" drinking fountain.
Regardless of how or why it happened, Carmel is definitely a dog-town destination.