Growing up on the Central Coast, I spent a fair amount of time in surrealistically beautiful Carmel-by-the-Sea, a charming coastal hamlet untouched by the ravages of time, poverty, or chain stores, populated by luxury cars and well-heeled retirees and achingly cute cottages that make the whole place look like a hobbit Shire at night. I was born there, I got married there (I later got unmarried, but I don't hold this against Carmel in the least), and I suppose I'll probably die there in keeping with the chronology of things, but in the meantime, when I go back for a visit, here's where I get my fix of Frenchie la-la wood-fired breakfasts, freshly-plucked herbs, homemade gelato and sour balls.
Truly one of my favorite spots ever, this unassuming farm stand is an organic & natural food lover's mecca. Stock up on greens straight from the field, sustainable meats, and all sorts of healthy sundries, then enjoy a fresh green juice and salad from their excellent salad bar. Coconut Bliss soft serve for dessert! PS: After lunch, stroll the snip your own herb garden.
Casanova proclaims itself "Carmel's Most Romantic Restaurant," and after you've been led through the exquisite French cottage-esque interior out onto the ridiculously charming heated & covered stone patio, you'll be inclined to agree, even before you've had a gander at the 30,000 bottle strong wine list. Come dessert, don't pass up the lemon souffle tart!
One of my first & favorite childhood memories is going to this popular downtown Carmel chowder house for big bowls of New England clam chowder and way too much sourdough bread slathered with butter. Old habits die hard, because I find myself doing the same thing every time I visit, although these days I order a wedge salad too. And wine.
Next door to its sister restaurant, comely Italian specialty market Salumeria Luca has plenty of cheese & salumi provisions or made to order sandwiches for your beach picnic, fresh pastas & sauces for a DIY dinner (& to-go pizzas if cooking's not on your itinerary) and perhaps best of all, a gelato case--try the pistachio & cinnamon stick.
The smell of garlic roasting in the wood-fired oven greets you as you walk in the door of this beautifully rustic Carmel Valley cafe. Opt for garden seating in fair weather--the burbling fountain, grape arbor & adobe walls make you feel worlds away from anything even remotely stressful. Get a glass of local wine & the whole roasted garlic bulb with baked goat cheese & housemade artisan bread.
This darling Carmel Valley cafe lives up to its name, with warm & inviting decor that makes you want to settle in for the night with a bottle of local wine, grilled eggplant Napoleon, and the roasted half chicken. Pie lovers, a wood-fired oven turns out thin crust pizzas--try the mushroom. Get the lemon pudding cake for dessert!
From the vintage bicycle perched outside the front window to the heart-meltingly quaint interior, this Carmel cutie has the French thing down pat. For breakfast, go très decadent with the baguette with Camembert & jam or healthy with the wood-fired eggs & kale. For lunch, get the omelette du jour or a wood-fired pizza with housemade merguez. And for dinner, just have Aperol Spritzes. I mean, the sole in basil beurre blanc.
This sexy little tapas spot hidden away off San Carlos Street is ideal for date night, especially if you reserve the velvet curtain-draped table for two under the stairs. Share the warm scallop & potato salad, chorizo meatballs with clams, white bean gratin & candy cap mushroom flan.
I spent a good portion of my childhood at this darling Carmel sweet shop agonizing over the best possible way to spend my precious candy dollar. Licorice bridge mix or sour fruit salad, gummy frogs or jelly beans, taffy or Turkish Delight? Decades later, nothing has changed, but at least now I've got more than a dollar to work with.
A sleek Italiano experience for downtown Carmel diners, this festive trattoria dishes up traditional antipasti with a twist, housemade pastas & wood-fired pizzas, and a handful of meaty mains for hearty eaters.