by Annette Bignami

You can make a case that the 1906 San Francisco earthquake made Carmel when much of the affordable housing in Bagdad-by-the-Bay burned. Robert Lewis Stevenson, Henry Miller, Emile White, Ansel Adams and Weston's Brete and John lived here. Robinson Jeffers, a famous poet in his day, overcame the poet's effete image and built his massive stone Tor House just above aptly named Scenic Drive. The last is open Friday and Saturday for tours.

Today, Carmel-by-the-Sea belongs more to the Clint Eastwood set. He's an owner of a popular eatery, the Hog's Breath Inn, mayor emeritus and a major force in keeping hot dog stands, neon signs, billboards and other dubious ornaments out of town. Nobody has kept the retirees out. So Carmel, like most other popular tourist attractions, has pretty much priced the blue-collar folks out of town.

Shop until you drop, in Carmel by the Sea.


Still, while it's not cheap, it's entirely wonderful and it costs nothing to drive round town and check out the oddball, awful and, at times, downright superior architecture that seems to run more to Hansel and Gretel than to the usual Spanish white adobe and red tile roof approach of old Monterey.

To start, drop your passengers off on Ocean Avenue and try your luck with the parking lottery. At least you can usually find parking; parking downtown remains brutal and metered. So arrive early and, if you don't mind a walk, try the city free lot down at Third and Torres.

Organized visitors can start with a walking tour map from the Visitor's Bureau in, what else, the Eastwood Building on San Carlos. We prefer to wander in "discovery mode" and take things as they come. If she hasn't been to England in the last year my sister, Annette, does stop at the Scotch House to add to her cashmere collection. I lust for Weston photos I can't afford.

Up and down Ocean, if you're as easily distracted as we are, takes much of the morning, so we graze a local deli for the makings of a Carmel Beach picnic at the lower end of Ocean. Shopper's Tip: The Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving is the traditional slow spot of the tourism year. So quality stores offer "wonderful, wonderful" sales, and the town's relatively uncrowded. If you do finish shopping early, you might move your picnic south along the shore to the Carmel River State Beach or the super bird sanctuary.

Refreshed and rested, and it's time to put coins in the meter and hit the side streets before a run over to the Carmel Valley via its name-sake mission or a trip south along the coast to check to see what's new among the Peninsula's architectural extremes and check the scenery that's never old.

Carmel's Mission.


As always in California, the Spanish got here first and their Basilica of Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmel -- one of two Basilicas on the West Coast -- is both the gravesite of Father Serra, the Mission Chain founder, and a working church well-worth a visit for Sunday and other services or for the tours of the collection of California and Indian displays.

If you're not shopped out, you'll find The Barnyard offers a flower-hidden complex of 60 or so shops in Carmel Valley. The Valley is otherwise well-known to tennis buffs for John Gardner's Tennis Ranch and other spas and such for the horse and BMW set.

Whatever your interest try, if possible, to avoid weekends which overlap the Carmel Bach Festival, Monterrey Jazz Festival, Pebble Beach's Coucours d'Ellegance and the like. Six or seven million visitors ravage the Monterey Peninsula shops and streets and, on event weekends you'll think everyone's looking for a Carmel parking spot. We cheat and try to visit Carmel during the week and hide from the tourists down at Pfeiffer Big Sur Park on the week-end.

Point Lobos shows best to hikers, and trails are easy and marked.


Another good hideout, if you arrive early when the gates open is Point Lobos, one of the most scenic seaside parks in America and the site of the first underwater park in its Whaler's Cove. Today, access is limited, so you need to arrive early to enjoy the drive or, better yet, the walk through the cyprus trees. If you dive or would like to learn, check the local dive shop for lessons here or off Monterey.


I'd rather play tennis down at John Gardiner's Tennis Ranch in the Carmel Valley. Winston Churchill called golf, "A diabotical way to ruin what would otherwise be a walk in pleasant surroundings." On the Monterey Peninsula the golfer's problems compound with scenery that makes it impossible to keep your eye on the ball. With 50 miles of fairway from which to select, choice is difficult. Public courses include the Pebble Beach Golf Links, Del Monte, Laguna Seca, Spyglass Hill and four or five others. Both Fort Ord and the Naval Postgraduate School have courses for military, active and retired and guests.

Cypress Point, The Monterey Peninsula Country Club with it's Shore and Dunes Courses and several other private clubs offer reciprocal agreements. In all cases early reservations seem a must.

Reservations, especially at quality operations such as the Inns of Monterey always seem a must even in the fall except if you opt for the week before Thanksgiving, the traditional slowest week of the year when local ladies savage the sales at upscale clothing emporiums like Magnin's or Saks.

Information: Carmel Visitor's Bureau