Carmel-by-the-Sea ... A Storybook Village in a Coastal Forest
Dec 28, 2018 03:05PM
By Don Kindred
The shoreline at the foot of Ocean Avenue is considered one of the iconic locations on California’s Central Coast.
story and photos by Don Kindred
There’s a cartoon in the window of a downtown business in Carmel that shows a fireman running with a hose as a bystander yells, “Forget the structures, save the trees!”
Trees are indeed a specific source of pride in this mile-square community of 3,700. In their general plan, Carmel-by-the-Sea is self-described as “a village in a forest overlooking a white sand beach” … a most appropriate
Since long before its incorporation in 1916, roads have been altered or rerouted around existing vegetation and houses are often redesigned or altered to accommodate a wayward branch or a growing pine. New buildings must also be built around existing trees. Conversely, if your property doesn’t have enough foliage, you are mandated to plant more.
There are more than a few quirks in this fairy-tale community on the Monterey Peninsula. Among the first you’ll notice is that there are no addresses in town. This is hard to imagine in the age of Fed-Ex and Amazon. But in 1910, Carmel was an artist colony and sixty percent of the houses were built by citizens who were “devoting their lives to work connected to the aesthetic arts.”
Rather than conforming to numerical addresses, they named their houses. The tradition continued and with no postal service delivery, the community has evolved around the daily task of visits to the local post office.
Carmel is also known for several other interesting laws, including a prohibition of women wearing high-heels without a permit. (After a few minutes walking on the cobbled streets and irregular pavement the reason for this law becomes apparent.) The community has no streetlights or parking meters. No franchise restaurants are allowed. You won’t find a Starbucks, no 7-11s. But you will find over 80 art galleries and almost 20 wine tasting rooms.
It is a very unique destination one that after a couple of days makes you feel like you really went somewhere.
Bit of History
Carmel’s early history is similar to many of the cities along the California coast; beginning, of course, with the native-Americans. In this case it was the Ohlone tribe, who had been in the area since 1000 BC. The Europeans came beginning with Sebastian Vizcaino who arrived by ship in December of 1602. A month after he had named the island of San Clemente, which eventually became the name of our own city. He named this new discovery El Rio de Carmelo for the Carmelite fathers traveling with him. That name stuck as well.
Then came the Padres on the Portola Expedition, on the same El Camino Real that had led them past our own coast. Junipero Serra established the Mission San Carlos de Borromeo de Carmelo in 1771.
But to many, Carmel’s true beginnings were in 1903 when the Carmel Development Company started selling lots for $10 down and $5 a month. Partners J. Franklin Devendorf and Frank Powers envisioned an artist colony claiming they had created a beach town for “brainworkers.”
Much like our northern neighbor Laguna Beach, many of the early residents were artists, poets, writers, musicians and actors, a group that became known in the early 20th century as the Bohemians. Among their members were Mary Austin, Jack London, Herbert Heron and Sinclair Lewis.
Of course the most famous name associated with the town currently is Clint Eastwood. Who was mayor of Carmel in the 1980s and once owned the local Hogs Breath Inn. He has since purchased a historic ocean-front ranch and turned it into a beautiful resort called Mission Ranch.
The White Granite Beach
The shoreline at the foot of Ocean Avenue is considered one of the iconic locations on California’s Central Coast. The “off-leash” dog-friendly beach looks like a postcard. The contrast of soft pale-white sand and a cerulean blue ocean set beside dramatic rock formations make a beach visit mandatory.
There is a scenic, well-maintained gravel pathway which travels parallel between the coastal Scenic Drive and the sand. Along the path there are eight stairways that access the beach. The trail meanders through the shade of Monterey cypress and landscaped gardens to Carmel Point, featuring views from famed Pebble Beach to Point Lobos.
The Hofsas House
Set in historic midst of this magical destination a slight block from downtown, lays the 70-year-old, Bavarian-inspired inn known as the Hofsas House.
The family-run boutique hotel is home to 38 individually decorated, spacious rooms, including large two-bedroom suites, with a heated pool, dry sauna and a large meeting room onsite. The dog-friendly property also has a few rooms with kitchens or wet bars. Ours included Dutch doors and a fireplace with a private balcony that offered views of the ocean and magnificent sunsets through the canopy of pines. The inn provides a Continental breakfast in the lobby each morning with French Roast coffee, seasonal fruit and fresh pastries from a local bakery.
It was founded in the late 1940s, when Donna Hofsas first visited the peninsula with her accountant husband, Fred. They never left. After purchasing a cluster of small cottages in town, they lived in one while Donna rented out the others. They slowly added land and rooms including a major renovation in 1957 when they added a 25-room wing and a heated swimming pool. The pool is a luxury as most of the hotels downtown occupy small lots.
The current is owner, Carrie Theis, the third generation of her family to run the retreat. She started working there during the summers when she was eight-years-old. The family has always been involved in the community and Carrie is on the current Carmel City Council.
The Hofsas House is located three blocks north of Ocean Avenue, eight blocks from the picturesque white sand Carmel beach and one block from a child-friendly city park.
Carmel provides a perfect home base while you explore the many attractions of the Monterey Peninsula and central coast. The scenic 17-Mile Drive, Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the famed Pebble Beach and other world renowned golf courses, Point Lobos Reserve and the magical Big Sur coast are all very close.
Pack the car, grab the dog and head north for a trip to the central coast that you will never forget.b