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Location: Ocean Avenue and its cross streets, Carmel

Information: City of Carmel, 620-2000 or www.carmelcalifornia.com; Carmel Chamber of Commerce, 624-2522 or www.carmelcalifornia.org

Quaint. Diminutive village. One of the most endearing seaside towns of the West Coast. Feel of an 18th century European village. Carefully nurtured artistic ambience. A slice of almost English country refinement. Tidy and almost impossibly tasteful in its collection of landscaped cottages, elegant lodging and upscale restaurants. A manicured, prosperous, careful air.

Look up Carmel in a travel book and those are the kinds of descriptions to be found about this hamlet-by-the-sea. The community covers one square mile, but most visitors find themselves mainly in its commercial center, the stretch of Ocean Avenue that inches downward from Junipero Avenue to the white-sand beach, and the colorful side streets that radiate off it.

It doesn't feel right to call this area "downtown," but it has the elements of a typical downtown: shops, restaurants, public offices. Only cuter. The buildings have a gingerbread, fairy-tale look and feel. The sidewalks encourage walking. The windows encourage gawking. The art galleries invite critique. The smells from the bakeries and cafes draw people in for a bite.


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For many, this swath of Carmel is a shopping mecca. Or at least a window-shopping mecca. When the community was formed at the turn of the 20th century, its developers were already thinking about commerce.

"We have arranged for a general store, for a butcher, for a baker and all the necessaries of life," they wrote in a 1903 sales pitch.

Perfect for those early-day, pioneering settlers. But today's Carmel is more about luxuries (or at least "extras") than necessities: Baubles from a jeweler, a designer purse, an original oil painting, a gourmet dinner, a special dish for the dog.

After the shopping-until-dropping, it's time to stake out a spot at Devendorf Park or in a courtyard or cafe and relax and take in some of that manicured, prosperous, careful and quaint air.