Location: Ocean Avenue and its cross streets, Carmel
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.
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.