3 Days in Carmel: A Winter Getaway

I love the holiday season, but it’s also this time of year that I feel most like getting away. After being around 80-ish students every workday of the semester in my “day job,” I yearn for time and space away from home, an escape of sorts from my daily routine. My month-long winter vacation starts about a week before Christmas, so if I have my way, we leave for a pre-holiday getaway.

This year the destination was 3 days in Carmel Valley and Carmel-by-the-Sea on California’s central coast. The Monterey Bay Area is one of my favorite places in the world, and many Californians will tell you that it’s one of theirs, too. We decided to combine our love of nature with a desire to be somewhere where we could feel the holiday spirit.

Check out my 30 Things to Do near Monterey and travel tips for Carmel

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Alas, the trip was not all it was meant to be. There were high points, that’s for sure, but traveling with both my kids and my dogs proved a bit too challenging this time, making us think about when it really is worth it to travel as a family. The good news is that we spent a lot of time in nature and in the cute Carmel village, both of which left me feeling refreshed and (again) reminded of California’s unique beauty.

The drive from Sacramento to the Monterey Peninsula takes us through Pacheco Pass, this time drenched in fog and green from the recent winter rains.

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And when we arrived in Carmel Valley, we met my mom and her husband, who were actually on their way home after staying here in their Airstream, for lunch at Earthbound Farms. The famous organic farm has a cafe with simple, healthy food and outdoor seating surrounded by views of the gardens and mountains.

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One of the striking differences between the valley (where I live) and the coast is the vegetation. The coastal humidity and mild weather allow plants to thrive, so species like this passionfruit flower are common here but rare in the harsh valley climate, especially in winter!

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Our first night was at the luxurious Quail Lodge & Golf Club in quiet, beautiful Carmel Valley. It’s a narrow valley with mountains visible from every view, known for wineries and outdoor sports. (More on this hotel and its surroundings coming up in a big post about the Monterey/Carmel area.)

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While we are definitely not golfers, we eagerly checked out equipment to play on the putting green that was right outside our room. Our older son loved it, and you can see that it caused plenty of deep belly laughs, too:

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Nearby Garland Ranch Regional Park provided some outdoor time in Carmel Valley before we settled in the village of Carmel-by-the-Sea.

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My kids definitely made use of the space in our two-room suite at the family-run Hofsas House inn in Carmel.

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And our room had a balcony from which we could watch woodpeckers and watch the sun set over the ocean:

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Any stay in Carmel is not complete without a visit to Carmel Beach; it’s one of the most beautiful beaches in California! The cypress trees, dunes, puffy white sand, and cliff views make it one of our favorite places to spend half a day.

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Our kids loved it, too, but remember the challenges mentioned above? We had one on the beach and had to cut our visit there way short.

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Like the rest of Carmel, Carmel Beach is dog-friendly, and we loved seeing the dogs here (including ours!) being completely at home. 🙂

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My older son takes after his dad in his love of soccer, and like any true Brazilian, they play anywhere, anytime…

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DSC_0027-3We’ve visited Carmel around Christmas before–it’s a nice place to stay before the holidays because the town is wonderfully decorated and there are many small shops selling handmade items and Christmas ornaments.

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One of the nicest stops on the iconic Highway 1 is Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, and we had a late afternoon hike on the Bird Island Trail. We couldn’t have asked for nicer weather on this day (70 and sunny in late December!), but the strong afternoon sun seemed to wash out every view on our westward walk and made getting good photos a challenge.

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The final stop before heading home was at Mission San Carlos Borroméo del Río Carmelo, or the Carmel Mission. Founded in 1770 by the Spanish, the mission is a sacred space where European art and architecture mix with California’s history.

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I always feel so fortunate to live in a state that keeps me constantly inspired.

Do you have any special travel traditions around the winter holidays? Have you been to Carmel?

18 Comments

  • So nice you went to Carmel Valley. I think most visitors do not venture there and it is SO NICE. I used to live in Monterey and nearby Pacific Grove and I was lucky to be able to visit Carmel quite often. Such a gorgeous place.
    Charles McCool recently posted..Southwest Airlines Companion Pass: Free Flights!My Profile

  • Traveolani says:

    Looks really pretty and this area will definitely be on our California road trip. California has always fascinated me so much and I love reading your posts about it! Happy New Year to you too! 🙂

    • Jenna says:

      I’d love to hear more about your CA road trip. Let me know if you need any tips! 🙂

      • Traveolani says:

        It is still a very vague idea but I am thinking 3 weeks only in CAlifornia, smaller towns, not SF, LA and SD because we have been there already. I want to visit some National parks in the North, Lake Tahoe, Napa Valley and wineries, Monterey, Salinas, Carmel, Hearst Castle, Pasadena, Palm Springs, Joshua Tree park. These are the places I know I want to visit, there might be more when I start researching in more details. I am not sure when exactly we will do this trip though.
        When is the best time of the year to visit all of California? Is May a good month?

        • Jenna says:

          Oh, this sounds SO fun! I think the best time of year to visit CA is fall because the weather is good, it’s often sunny on the coast, but it’s still dry (the rain usually starts in Nov.). But May should be nice, too, if a little hot in some places. In the Monterey/Carmel area, you will be able to see the baby seals (they are easy to see in April especially). If I were you, I’d add Sonoma County & Point Reyes to the time when you will be around Napa Valley. Such a nice area.

  • Catherine says:

    Great photos! I love the shot of your boy and his dad playing football, that’s so cute 🙂 Love the idea of having a pre-holiday getaway too – just wish I’d thought of that myself!
    Catherine recently posted..Merry Christmas & A Happy New YearMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      Hi Catherine, Thanks 🙂 My older son and his dad are crazy about soccer and will get a ball out just about anywhere. Happy New Year!

  • Gyandave says:

    Hi professor Francisco, I used to be one of your English student at CRC. I was Googling a good place to visit this New Year. And guess what “BINGO!” your picture popped up. At first, I wondered because your picture looked so familiar. Then, I told my wife,yes, I am married, this is my professor. I am so happy and excited to find you. You have happy family with full of life; I am glad to see them. At the moment, I just wanna say hi. I am gonna read your articles later; I am sure they are great.

    Dave

    • Jenna says:

      So nice to hear from you 🙂 I definitely remember you and am glad you found my website! Happy New Year!

  • Carmel valley is so beatiful! Point Lobos is one of my favorite places on earth. I love all of your pictures and it looks like you had a great trip!
    Ashley | Spoonful of Flavor recently posted..Banana Coconut Crunch Steel Cut OatmealMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      Pt. Lobos is one of my favorite places, too. I’ve been there three times, and each time it’s just as beautiful.

  • Cassie says:

    Jenna, what a great idea to do a pre-holiday getaway! Carmel is definitely one of my favorite places here in Northern California. I also stayed at the Hofsas House last time we were there–nice place!

    I’m sorry to hear the boys are going through a challenging spell, but it seems you made the best of it! Looks like they had a great time on the beach!

    • Jenna says:

      Yes, we definitely had some fun on this trip, and we couldn’t complain about the weather! It was gorgeous! I love Carmel, too, especially around Christmas because of the decorations. Carmel Valley is also very, very nice but totally different.

  • We were there at the same time! And, hiking the same places. Though we were staying with my mother-in-law, which is great but definitely not Quail Lodge. Looks like you had a great trip and I couldn’t agree more with your view that Carmel Beach is one of the nicest beaches in CA.

  • Cheryl says:

    i visited Carmel/Carmel Valley & other areas close by this past Sept. My husband was working there & unfortunately I didn’t know how wonderful this area was & only went out for 2 weeks. But it is absolutely gorgeous! I live on the east coast & nothing can compare to the fresh fruit & veggies! Food was spectacular along with the beauty of the area. Carmel-by-the -sea was so relaxing along with all the beaches! My husband hasd rented a house in Carmel Valley Ranch & it was just spectacular. Will definitely be going back!!!!

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