Location: Western edge of Carmel-by-the-Sea, accessed at the end of Ocean Avenue and at marked points along Scenic Road
Beach rules: City of Carmel website
More information: City of Carmel, 620-2070 or www.carmelcalifornia.com

Even back in 1903, developers knew the allure of Carmel's beach.

An advertisement for lots in the newly forming community boasted:
"We have acquired a whole mile of beach and all the land fronting on it."

The stretch of white sand that forms the city's western border is a playground, an artistic inspiration, a meditative space. Traffic ebbs and flows throughout the day, starting with the early morning walkers taking in the fog-shrouded scene, and ending with the sunset watchers, staking out a patch of sand to catch the last light slip into the sea.

In some ways, Carmel Beach seems the antithesis of orderly, contained Carmel-by-the-Sea. Dogs run free. Fires are allowed. Alcohol may be consumed. Parking is free. But recall the city's roots, its Bohemian background, and this bit of beach culture makes more sense.

After the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, the town became a mecca for artists and writers, drawn by its beauty and (imagine!) affordability. These Bohemians -Jack London, Sinclair Lewis and George Sterling among them - often gathered at the beach for "feasts, fine conversation, libations," according to Carmel historians.They also wrote verses about their favorite food, abalone.

But all that is not to say that Carmel Beach is an anything-goes, free-for-all. There are rules about fire, food, alcohol. People are expected to clean up after their pooches (with the city thoughtfully spending $10,000 a year on bags to help them do it.) And members of the Carmel Residents Association do monthly cleanups, logging several thousand hours to keep the white sand sparkling.