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Perfecting the Art of Coastal Living: Carmel-by-the-Sea

I recently had the opportunity to spend a lovely few days exploring California's Central Coast, specifically Carmel and Monterey, and the immediate surrounding areas. Despite having lived in Southern California for nearly 20 years, I had never made it quite that far up the PCH.

Fisherman's Wharf, Monterey, CA

Big mistake.

For those familiar with two of my favorite Southern California getaways, if Santa Barbara and the Santa Ynez Valley had a baby, it would look a lot like Carmel. Besides the shared features of coastal traditionalism supported by wealthy benefactors, Carmel also has a distinct separation between valley and sea - a rich wine country in the former and breathtaking views of the Pacific from the latter. Due to its position further north, however, you get a deliciously cool climate year round (with the exception of September, I'm told) and the added benefit of unique wildlife wonders, specifically, delightful sea creatures like harbor seals and sea lions (which take to the shores to give birth every year), and the dolphins and whales who linger off the coast while making their annual pilgrimages to Mexico for their birthing seasons. It's easy to catch a glimpse of all of them, either on foot while hiking Point Lobos State Reserve, or by taking one of the whale watching tours available out of Monterey.

In a nutshell: Carmel-by-the-Sea is an upscale, walkable, pet-friendly little town filled with art galleries, restaurants, tasting rooms and boutiques. No matter where you stay, you will be within walking distance to the ocean. Spend a little more and you will either be on, or one block from the sea.

Emphasis on local: Carmel takes pride in what it produces - artists, wine, coffee, and honey, to name a few. Plan it correctly, and you can get a taste of all of them.

Hofsas House Hotel celebrated its 70th anniversary this year

Hofsas House Hotel celebrated its 70th anniversary this year

Accommodations: Think quaint. If you like slick skyscrapers and bottle service, go elsewhere. Carmel-by-the-Sea takes pride in a smaller, more personalized culture of B&Bs, inns and mom-and-pop shops. Yes, you will find a Best Western and Comfort Inn tucked away here, but they're hard to spot as unsightly signage is strictly prohibited. (Side note: there are no big box or chain stores in the area, either, so forget going to Costco to stock up on any supplies).

The Great Outdoors: Hike, kayak, surf, cycle or simply walk the dog along the beach - all in moderate-cool temps with a heavy marine layer. The beach at the end of Ocean Ave is a renowned dog-friendly beach. Pets are allowed off-leash to frolic in the surf or roll in the sand. Plastic bags are provided for your convenience.

Sleep in: There isn't much to do after 10pm, so use your stay as an opportunity for some R&R. Pour a glass of wine, sit by the fire, and listen to the ocean waves crash in the distance. (It can be heard from most places if you just open a window). No need to set an alarm here.

Surrounding areas: Get in the car (or on a bike) and in a few minutes (in either direction) you can explore Monterey, Point Lobos State Park, Pebble Beach and Big Sur (although due to recent wildfires and landslides, the main road in has been destroyed).

(This is the first part of a series dedicated to exploring California's Central Coast. In future posts, I will be highlighting some of the unique personalities and entrepreneurs I had the pleasure of meeting with during my stay as part of an exclusive trip organized by Padma Media for the Lifestyle Bloggers Collective. The event, the #llblognotaconf brought together a small group of writers and artists to explore the charm of this exclusive enclave).