Sunday, August 20, 2017

California "Honeymoon": Carmel-by-the-Sea

While Napa had my absolute favorite place to stay, I have to say that the Carmel-by-the-Sea leg of our trip was my favorite for cool things to do, and beautiful beach, and great weather.

We left Napa on Wednesday, and decided to drive through San Jose to get to Carmel-by-the-Sea so we could see the Winchester House. And get some Philz Coffee. In whatever order made the most sense.

We went to the Winchester House first, and packed everything in the car in ice (some cheese, a salami, most importantly the wine from Biale and the half bottle from the Inn on Randolph welcome basket...heat will destroy cheese but it REALLY kills wine), and off we went for our hour tour of 110 of the 160 rooms in this wacky house. Sadly I have no pictures from the front, and none inside were allowed, but the two from the side and back show the expansiveness and oddness of the house.

If you don't know the story (I didn't until Bryce said he was dying to go), the house belonged to Sarah Winchester, whose husband was of the firearm Winchesters. They had a lot of money but the story is real sad, since she lost her daughter as an infant to an illness and then, fifteen years later her husband died of tuberculosis, leaving her a (ridiculously wealthy) widow. They didn't have any other children (maybe she was one of us). She believed in mediums and seances, and apparently was told that the spirits of all the people killed by Winchesters were restless and would come after her, too, if she didn't keep building onto her house (maybe that medium was in cahoots with the lumber company, I don't know...). And so she did -- she had to build EVERY SINGLE DAY, 365 days per year, to make the spirits happy. She'd have a seance that would tell her what to do, and the builders would get going right away. There is all kinds of wackiness in the house -- 160 rooms for one -- stairways to the ceiling, a door on the second story that opens to nothing but fresh air and a drop, windows and patterns that honor the number 13, tilted walls, switchback staircases (with rises of about 2 inches, less spooky and more to accommodate her elderly mobility needs)... it's insane. So we went on a guided tour.

The side of the house, see the Door To Nowhere?

A view from the back. From those terraces up top you could see the insanity of the rooflines.
 It was highly entertaining. Also, in case you were afraid for it, the wine and food for lunch survived the heat of the parking lot.

We ate our baguette and cheese and salami, a very French picnic lunch, in our car in the parking lot of some manufacturing facility that had the back entrance to a Beni-Hana. Not even remotely scenic, and I think we scared some employees, but it was yummy and we didn't have time to search for a better place as we wanted to get our Philz Coffee and get on the road to Carmel.

Philz Coffee is an amazing invention, where you choose your roast and then they make it, ONE CUP AT A TIME, with a slow pour that is invisible behind the high counter. It is amazingly good. I was sad we only got it once, but that one time was well worth it. I didn't take a picture of anything but their bulletin board of analog memes outside the restroom. They were hilarious.

If you can read these, they are really funny. I didn't get to go to bathroom though because someone apparently decided to set up shop in there, so it looked like I went back there just to take a picture of the pre-potty reading material. Huh.

And then we arrived in Carmel-by-the-Sea, after experiencing some California traffic.

After checking into our hotel, the very lovely Carmel Country Inn, we walked down to the beach. And by down I mean DOWN, because the town is basically built on a hill that leads straight down to the ocean. After San Francisco it was not that bad though. Carmel's beach was amazing, and we went most nights for sunset, and one afternoon to mess around in the surf in our bathing suits (thankfully for you, no pictures of that!). We had four days in Carmel, so beach time was a must. Carmel is amazing for natural beauty. And now, for a ridiculous number of beach pictures.

Just look at that! And not at Bryce's elbow...

The water was...COLD

Seriously, the SUNSETS

Quite possibly my favorite picture of Bryce, EVER

That is just to beautiful to be true! But it is...

Happy, relaxed, sunset shot at the top of the stairs from the beach

See those two dark blobs a little left of center? Those are sea otters. Swimming RIGHT THERE! They were adorable, but too difficult to photograph without fancy telephoto lens stuff, so you get adorable blobs. Sorry.
It was insanely gorgeous. And what I loved about Carmel-by-the-Sea was that it had surprising everyday beauty, too, that was just waiting to be discovered by people who noticed.

These are tiles in the sidewalk, that you might not notice if you didn't look down. 

Beautiful butterflies

A heron

For some reason these little quails were everywhere in California

Sweet statue at a corner park, something to aspire to

These are the street flowers. I have petunias and impatiens at home on the streets, and they have heliotrope and verbena! Gorgeous!

Our hotel had beauty, too -- we had a suite here with a sitting area and gas fireplace (we loved our gas fireplaces!) and a little veranda with a sliding glass door. The weird thing was that they didn't have air conditioning, because it's pretty much always 65 during the day (and 50s at night), but there was a bit of a heat wave when we were there and it was 70, so it got a bit hot. The solution was to leave your windows open and the screen door open, except there were NO SCREENS. Everyone did it, and it seemed safe, but I could not get the idea of skulking killers trying to get into our room to kill us in our sleep, so we had fans and shut the sliding glass door when it was time for bed. The people at our inn were really friendly and personable, and it was gluten-friendly! Not quite the smorgasbord of food we had in Napa, but there were mini quiches that were crustless and gluten free, and they had a selection of gluten free breads and...a gluten free TOASTER! That may seem weird, but I really need a separate toaster due to cross-contamination. It's parts per million that can get me sick, and these people got it! It was lovely.

The bedroom window

From our veranda... I mean, who's going to climb over that? But still. Shut the door. 

All the doors were dutch doors, and you kept the top open as long as you could until bed. Good thing there's really no mosquitoes! 

One of the days we were in Carmel-by-the-Sea we went to the Monterey Aquarium. We thought maybe going on a Thursday would be less crowded, because families would go on the weekend...but we totally forgot about summer camps. Even crowded, it was phenomenal. I took about a bazillion pictures, but here are my favorites:

Hey shark! And that cloudiness is the anemones letting off spores or something.

Hey, what are you looking at!

Adorable little sandpiper


More Jellies!

Tiny, lightbulb filament looking jellies!

Some kind of squidy thing


Pacific octopus egg strings

This is a baby cuttlefish...eating some kind of tiny krill! Zap, it caught it!

This is a flamboyant cuttlefish, and the colors on its back pulsed like disco lights.

Creepy alien nautilus 

Odd snake (there was a Baja California exhibit with desert things, this snake just shed its skin which is why its eye is milky and vulturelike, a la "The Telltale Heart"
Flotsam and Jetsam! 



Swarm-y anchovies!

Just us in the kelp forest
It was way cool. When I was little I wanted to be a marine biologist, and this brought all that excitement back.

Before I share our Pacific Coast Highway adventures, let's talk food in Carmel. They had some seriously delicious food options, and I ate like freaking royalty, all gluten free. I didn't get sick ONCE on this trip, which is phenomenal (and a low benchmark). We went to a little French restaurant TWICE, La Bicyclette, because it was so yummy and we enjoyed the ambience. We went to one of the best Mexican restaurants we've been to while traveling, too at the recommendation of our server at La Bicyclette -- Cultura Comida y Bebida. And, not pictured, we had yummy oysters and I had fish and chips (FISH AND CHIPS! GLUTEN FREE!) at Flaherty's, which had an extensive gluten free menu. Even the aquarium had a restaurant that had delicious gluten free options. It was heaven.

Stone Fruit Salad at La Bicyclette

Roasted Mushroom gluten free woodfired pizza...the "sauce" is a carmelized onion jam (!)

Bryce's "normal" margherita pizza

The right side of the restaurant was done up to look like a French street cafe (tried to get a shot with no people)

Rockfish tacos at the aquarium! Oddly enough I saw a rockfish earlier in the day. 

Yummy wild mushroom soup at La Bicyclette, second fancier night

The best duck I've ever had in a restaurant. It had fig sauce, and a fresh fig, and roasted celeriac (that's the worm looking thing), roasted kale, and romanesco (that fractal-y broccoli-looking thing). It was to die for. 

Bryce's crazy seafood linguine. There was lobster and octopus and mussels and clams and all kinds of crazy stuff in there!

Isn't that cool for an entrance? Cultura was amazingly good food and ambience.

I should have worn my napkin on my boobs again. This is before I got queso fundido grease all over my nice chambray top. (I made matters worse by trying to get it out with water and soap in the bathroom, then I had a greasy WET top on. It did come out though, so I win.)

They mixed the queso fundido at tableside with flaming mezcal added in, and you could add the chopped chilies to the level of heat you were comfortable with. It was completely delicious. I forgave it for making my shirt look like I was a 3-year old.

Bryce got a mezcal flight, and it came with accompaniments including chapulines, surprisingly delicious roasted crickets (or grasshoppers, but they look tiny for grasshoppers). I ate TWO...aren't you proud? 

Street tacos, one chicken and one beef. Nom nom nom

Completely delicious and cheesy street corn

To top it all off, two tiny mugs of Mexican hot chocolate.
It's a miracle I still fit into my pants. I think the reason why is that there was good walking and good hiking... thank goodness!

We took one day to travel down the Pacific Highway as far south as we could until it was closed due to landslides (and apparently a bridge that went out, gulp). That was seriously beautiful. We stopped early on in Carmel Meadows for some seaside hiking, and then went straight down the highway, only stopping at a couple turnoffs for scenic views, until we got to the Big Sur River Inn, where we had lunch by the river. (Surprise surprise, street tacos! And a burrito for Bryce.) I was sad I couldn't get to McElway falls, and we wanted to hike where the ocean was, so it was suggested that we go to Andrew Moleta State Park. It seemed like a very touristy beachy place (there were people in flip flops on the dusty trail to get to the beach, and people with surfboards and sandcastle equipment), but once we got onto the beach and walked away from the immediate trailhead, it was a surreal and beautiful place. We stopped at some overlooks on the way back up, and went to Soberanes Point in Garrapata State Park, which was absolutely gorgeous. It was a great day of hiking and overcoming my fear of heights and bridges, all at once.

Carmel Meadows Park. I hope the answer was YES!

Gorgeous! I love that the rock looks like a cat.

One of a zillion lizard friends.

Gaaahhh! So beautiful! It was foggy when we started out, it only lifted when we headed back north.

These beautiful succulent flowers were everywhere and then look! A morning glory, just like at home!

Okay, first scenic overlook off Hwy 1. As you can see it is foggy, which is probably good because we are WAY THE HELL UP THERE ON A CLIFF, as I discovered later.

Yeah, that's high up when the fog is a little clearer

That's the road. I will not lie, there was some serious hyperventilating happening.

Second scenic overlook. That is where I stood...

And THAT is what you see when you look straight down through the fog. GULP

Hmmm, the road isn't feeling more secure the further south we went...

The mountain trail to the beach at Andrew Moleta State Park. There were serious warnings about mountain lions, and I started wondering why we insisted on being somewhere that while beautiful, was able to kill us pretty handily.

We made it to the beach! This part felt a little ho-hum and we were initially disappointed.

Getting better...

So happy to be hiking on the beach together!

What the what? We found a sandy little lime green frog. We looked it up, it's probably a Baja Tree Frog, in a place with absolutely ZERO trees.

Hi little green crab!

Okay, THIS is much more like what we were expecting! And the fog is headed out.

A stop on the way back north, you couldn't get down there but it sure was beautiful.

Uh, so this is NOT what you want to see when on a highway that has a hairpin turn around that bend that is canyon on either side. We were stuck for a little while, and it turned out a Porsche convertible had gone over the right side of the road. It was on a tow truck with a winch. It did not look like it was a happy ending. It was a sobering moment.

At Soberanes Point, is that not gorgeous!

Little waterfall heading down...

And the stream headed out to sea.

It was full of these gorgeous little coves.

You could hear seals or sea lions AURGH-ing, probably from that rock way out there.

Every turn held more beautiful coves! 

Bryce on the bridge over the waterfall

The mark of a great day of California hiking -- ridiculously dusty, dirty legs and feet.

So that was Carmel-by-the-Sea. I would totally, absolutely come here again for a vacation. It was just spectacular, all the way around.

Next up: The Pasadena and Family Visit Leg


  1. Wow beautiful pictures! You should definitely make a photo album to look back on

    1. Thank you! That's a great idea, I should do it before school starts so it doesn't fall by the wayside... :)

  2. Gorgeous pictures! You guys visited some truly beautiful places! And yes, I am proud that you ate crickets (TWO even! I probably would have stopped at one.) :-)

    1. Thank you! I had the second cricket because the first one was surprisingly tasty, but then after the second I was like, "yeah, can't quite conquer this mentally enough to have more." It was truly a beautiful leg of the trip, crickets and all!

  3. What an awesome adventure you guys had! I love the detailed write-ups! And the food just looks so indulgent and delicious (minus the crickets...can't believe you ate 2!!) I'm so happy you found so many gluten-free choices!

    1. Thank you! It was so amazing. I so appreciate when I can truly enjoy all of vacation, including all the yummy foods! Our favorite things are hiking/getting out in nature, eating/drinking really good stuff, and relaxing. And I tried new things! :) Glad you enjoyed!

  4. So cool! I remember learning g about the Winchester house on a tv show; how neat to see in reality. All the other adventures sound awesome too.

    1. Yes, thanks! The Winchester House is definitely neat. I wish I could have taken some interior pictures. It also survived the earthquake of 1906, and there's still visible damage that they left for that was cool, too! It was a great stop on the way to Carmel. We love us some historical oddities!

  5. Oh, wow. I am enjoying reading the write-ups and looking at all the photos. What an amazing trip!

    The Winchester Mystery House has been on my "bucket list" for years - that is so cool that you got to see it. The pictures from the aquarium are spectacular, as is the scenery. The food looks wonderful! Thank you for sharing all the photos and stories!

  6. So. much. EYECANDY!!!!

    Seriously, you need to print and frame bunches of these shots - especially the sunsets (took me a minute to notice the elbow - LOL!) and the fish. And you guys take the most adorable selfies - love it!

  7. Such gorgeous (and delicious) moments you captured. I really like that one of Bryce, too.

  8. Carmel is definitely on my bucket list -- gorgeous!! (Do you have to drive that road, though?? -- GAH!!!)