Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
October 17, 2012
It’s easy to drive to Monterey for the day for the aquarium but Carmel deserves a full weekend to take in its peculiar village charm. Small bohemian town, arts and crafts colony, Spanish settlement, dog heaven, coastal escape – Carmel is a world apart best enjoyed in the fall when the fog is a summer memory and the winter rains haven’t started yet. Ironically our family weekend in Carmel wasn’t motivated by a longing for Mediterranean temperatures but started with an obsession of mine on the Disney movie The Sleeping Beauty. What do you know, the American artist who painted the stylized backdrops for the animated movie, Eyvind Earle, lived and died in Carmel? It might sound like an oddball reason to travel 200 miles but when I stood in front of the Sleeping Beauty castle scene, I was as mesmerized as I was when I first saw the movie as a little girl. Plus, my girls enjoyed two days of swimming pool and summer dresses in the adventure so everybody was happy.
Photo gallery – click to enlarge
What to do with kids in Carmel
With its Mediterranean garden, restored Mission and old stonework on the grounds, the Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo is a great place to visit with kids – even if they are not in 4th grade studying California missions. My girls were particularly attracted to the small fountain next to the museum and spent a lot of time playing hide and seek among the flower beds and plants. We even saw a magnificent Monarch butterfly sip nectar from one of the flowers and we had ample time to admire its bright orange wings. For a taste of California history, we visited the basilica and museum and I was happy to see my girls were interested. They wanted to know about the missionaries in military attire, they stood a long time in front a model village scene with angels and they loved looking at the candles. However what they loved best was running around in the courtyard while we adults stood sheltered ffrom the sun under the arches. Really cool.
Wandering along the small streets of Carmel away from Ocean Avenue, we were struck by how many of the homes looked like Hansel and Gretel houses – quirky shapes, slanted roofs, small leaded windows and thatched roofs. I looked it up and of course Carmel is famous for its storybook cottages, an architectural style that was trendy in the 1930s and a nod to Hollywood’s fairytales. If you really want to do a full tour, check out Carmel Walks as they can lead through the village and some of the finest examples of storybook architecture.
For self-exploration, The Vabagond House Inn at 4th and Dolores is a fun example of small cottages around a landscaped courtyard, and The Tuck Box is a cute restaurant where you can have lunch. Since we have a seriously sweet tooth, we stopped at the Cottage of Sweets which is an adorable Snow White-type cottage housing a candy store and The Tea Rose Collection, a cottage-turned-tea-shop so pink I expected seven dwarfs to run the place. If you are into this sort of thing, their miniature tea sets for children are hard to resist.
Remember, this was the goal of our trip – finding the gallery that displays artwork by the creative brush behind Disney’s The Sleeping Beauty. As soon as we entered Gallery 21, I was struck by the colors and the details. While I prefer Eyvind Earle’s earlier works in the 1940s and 1950s, his California landscapes are as whimsical as it gets. For a glimpse into a man regarded as a master of his art, I suggest you sit down and leaf through the catalogs the gallery displays. My favorite is the catalog of Christmas cards as it looks almost exactly like the gilded fairy book at the beginning of of The Sleeping Beauty. It’s a massive gold-leaf embossed book in a case that weighs 16 pounds and covers 57 years of Christmas cards. It’s a beast! Lucky me, I now have a serigraph of one of the Christmas cards in my office and love it to bits.
If you send the kids towards the back, ask the gallery assistant if they can show the children one of the backdrops of The Sleeping Beauty. When I visited there was a long painting representing the beauty’s castle and surrounding countryside. It’s really neat seeing original artwork from the movie. After you visit the gallery, you’ll never watch the animated movie with the same eye.
If you can spare an hour to let the kids run loose, take them to white sandy beach of Carmel. Close to the downtown area, it’s a perfect picnic spot. While its slanted Cypress trees make for easy climbing trees, the fine white sand is enough to keep a child busy a whole day. It’s just gorgeous and the views on the 17-mile drive can’t be beat. Now if only the water was tropical warm…
Where to eat: Dametra Cafe
If you don’t know where to go for lunch-time, please stop at The Dametra Cafe at Ocean and Lincoln. We picked this Greek restaurant based on Yelp reviews and it was even better than what we hoped. The food was good, the waiters were super nice to the girls, and they put on an impromptu Greek music show for a young woman who was celebrating her birthday at the table next to us. Some people rose from their seats to dance, they clapped and it was quite a spectacle. Definitely a fun place to stop at.
Where to sleep: Carmel Valley Ranch
Since we were going with my mom, I opted for a hotel where we could have a suite for 5 (3 adults, 2 kids), take a dip in the swimming pool, enjoy nice views and walk to the restaurant for meals. The Carmel Valley Ranch is everything the website promises – bedroom fireplace at the flick of a switch, wild turkeys and deer roaming the gardens, lavender beds here and there, adult-only and family-friendly heated pools, golf cars to take you from your room to the lodge, giant tree swings peppered strategically throughout the property. It’s a luxury resort that could have been heaven had it not been for the food and how the sleeping was organized. Let me explain.
It’s too bad the food didn’t live up to our expectations because the decor is so gorgeous. We had our first dinner at the lodge and waited a long time for expensive non-creative fare, over-the-top complicated and not that great in taste. The following night, we had dinner out! As far as breakfast, guests are invited to have it at the lodge but in the morning my mom wanted to enjoy the suite and gorgeous bedroom views so we ordered breakfast in. You’d think a 5 star resort would it covered. Not only did the food arrive cold – because you know, it has to travel from the kitchen to your room – but we had no table to put the plates and cups on, which sounds a tad surprising given the other amenities.
As far as the sleeping organization, there were 5 of us and only 2 bedrooms. While my mom and I had separate bedrooms, my girls slept in a pull-out couch in the living room. I expected that pull-out couch to be folded during the day so we could enjoy the living room but it remained open and that room was basically cramped. Bummer.
For people without special sleeping requests, this resort would be awesome but for us 5, it was awkward.
If you’ve been to Carmel and know of off-the-beaten track spots, do you have tips to share?