On the few road trips we have taken up and down scenic Highway 1 along the coast of California, I have had a longing to stay in the picturesque hamlet of Carmel-by-the-Sea. A former artist community, Carmel has evolved into a popular vacation destination, known for the sheer beauty of the coastline and enjoyed by both zen seekers and golf enthusiasts who flock to the world-renown links at nearby Pebble Beach. When I received an invitation to spend a weekend at the Hofsas House Hotel in Carmel, I enthusiastically accepted the opportunity to spend a couple of nights out of the 100 plus heat of AZ.
Hubby and I took a direct flight on American Airlines out of Phoenix Sky Harbor for the 1 hour 22 minute flight to Monterey Regional Airport, where we rented a car for the short 4 mile drive to Carmel-by-the-Sea. The one square mile incorporated town is famous for having taken great pains to preserve itself as a quaint seaside village. As set out by the town founder, there are no postal numbers on businesses or houses, instead being given names such as “Once Upon a Time”, “Cozy Cloister”, “Living Right”, and “Dreamland”. There are no stop lights and interestingly enough, there is a ban on high heels above 2 inches. In addition, chain restaurants are not allowed. Instead, you will find many European influenced concepts like the Italian Il Tegamino, the Lugano Swiss Bistro and the French La Bicyclette. In fact, the Hofsas House Hotel where we stayed is a Bavarian-inspired four story pink building on a hill, replete with charming murals and a commanding view of Carmel Bay.
Hofsas House Hotel has 37 individually-appointed rooms starting at $128 (for a single queen), and is located on San Carlos Street between 3rd and 4th Avenues. At first glance, the size of the hotel is deceiving, and it is not until you pull into the interior parking lot you realize that Hofsas is quite large. In addition to ample on-site parking, you will find a pool (a huge plus for families), two saunas, and several viewing decks where one can enjoy a morning coffee or an evening cocktail. For instance, during our stay, a couple was married on the top viewing deck and enjoyed champagne and dancing with their small group of friends.
Dutch doors lead the guest into large, clean rooms with plenty of natural light. Twelve rooms have kitchenettes, four have complete kitchens, and several have fireplaces and/or balconies. Our room – #45 – had a fireplace and a kitchenette with a microwave, refrigerator, small sink and coffee maker along with local organic coffee from Carmel Valley Roasting Company. There are also 5 two-bedroom-two-bathroom suites that would be great for families and Weekend Getaways with the ladies. For those with fur babies, you will be happy to hear that Hofsas House is dog friendly for up to 2 dogs with a $30 surcharge. A Continental Breakfast is also included with your room. Following COVID protocols, breakfast items are individually wrapped, and available in the lobby starting at 8 am.
Hofsas House also offers several attractive room packages. I highly recommend the Monterey Wine and Cheese Pairing upgrade for $30 which includes bottle of Monterey wine, two engraved wine glasses and a cheese plate from nearby The Cheese Shop Carmel. The cheese pairing included one of my favorite cheeses of all time, Fromage D’Affinoise, and a Jack heese from the Schoch Family Farmstead in Salinas. The wine was a Chardonnay Estate wine by Scheid, a local producer known for having the most acreage under cultivation in the Carmel Valley. Fun fact: Monterey County produces the most Chardonnay grapes of any county in the U.S.
Hofsas House has been family owned for 7 decades, since 1947 when it was built by Donna Hofsas. Having stayed within the family, Hofsas House is currently managed by Donna’s granddaughter, Carrie Theis, who greeted us upon check in and gave us many recommendations on what to see and do in the area.
From the Hofsas House Hotel, Carmel by the Sea is easy to explore on foot. Walking distance to Carmel Beach is 8 blocks, and there are numerous shops, galleries, restaurants and wine tastings to seek out as well. This was music to Hubby’s ears, since he is an avid red wine enthusiast. Where to start? Well, by the time we settled into our room, it was 5 o’clock…perfect timing! Let’s go wine tasting!
WHERE TO SIP
My mistake was not having booked a reservation for wine tasting. Due to COVID in many California counties, restaurants and other similar industry sectors are prohibited from operating indoors. As such, many wine tasting rooms have long waits for those unfortunates who do not have the foresight, like moi, to make a reservation. One tasting room suggested we try Galante Vineyards, which operates on a first-come-first-serve basis. My mistake was about to turn into a big win.
Situated in a quiet inner courtyard on Dolores between Ocean and 7th, Galante Vineyards Tasting Room is owned by Dawn Galante and sixth-generation Californian, Jack Galante, Jr. His great grandfather was J.F. Devendorf, known as the father of Carmel-by-the-Sea as he was head of the Carmel Development Company. J.F. Devendorf owned much of the land in the Carmel Valley, selling lots for $100 dollars with a $5 down payment. This was the man who instituted the no-street-number policy that stands to this day. As Jack explained to us, his grandfather wanted to create a close-knit, family-oriented community.
Galante Vineyards is a 700-acre ranch where Jack and Dawn raise cattle and grow grapes. He opened the first tasting room in town and established the Carmel Wine Walk, a passport tasting program for visiting the 14 wineries in town (Note: the Wine Walk is temporarily suspended due to COVID). Galante, a geologist, started winemaking in 1994 and quickly gained a reputation for producing high-quality Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. The bottle labels are inspired by hand-tooled leather saddles and contain snippets of cowboy philosophy, my personal favorite being, Don’t Squat With Your Spurs On. We tried five wines, our favorites being the Wagon Wheel Sauvignon Blanc, the Almond Flat PInot Noir and the Blackjack Pasture Cabernet Sauvignon.
Galante Vineyard Tasting Room is open daily from 1-6 on Dolores Street between Ocean and Seventh Ave. www.galantevineyards.com.
Other recommended tasting rooms:
Dawn’s Dream Winery, NE Corner of 7th & San Carlos Ave.
Scheid Vineyards, 7th and San Carlos Ave.
Albatross Ridge Tasting Room, Dolores St., between Ocean and 6th Ave.
De Tierra Vineyards, Mission St. and 5th Ave.
WHAT TO DO
We were in Carmel for a mere 48 hours and I had a long list of things to do. I was on a mission to tire out Hubby. Let’s just call it payback for the umpteen 20-mile hikes on which he has led me.
Carmel Mission. San Carlos Borroméo del Rio Carmelo Mission was founded in 1771 by St. Junipero Serra and was the headquarters of the Alta California missions. St. Junipero Serra was the Franciscan monk who, starting in Loreto, Mexico on the Baja Penninsula, traveled up the California coast establishing the Franciscan missions. St. Junipero Serra is buried in the Carmel Mission Basilica Museum, and the mission is still an active church. Unfortunately, during COVID, all interiors are closed to visitors, even most of the gardens, but visitors are still allowed to walk around the front of the mission.
3080 Rio Road, Carmel-by-the-Sea, www.carmelmission.org.
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. Rumor has it that Robert Louis Stevenson was inspired with the idea of “Treasure Island” while strolling the beach near Point Lobos. The dramatic coastal scenery and the wildlife are iconic. Pay the $10 entrance fee to drive into the reserve and park at one of the several designated parking areas. There are lovely hiking trails leading you through forests of Monterey pines and Cyprus trees, plus several scenic coastal lookouts, from where you can spy sea lions, nesting birds and occasionally whales. It is also a place that is popular with divers. We had picked up sandwiches from 5th Ave. Deli near the Hofsas House and enjoyed a nice picnic before striking out on the trails. Go for the tuna salad sandwich…delish!
62 CA-1, Carmel-by-the-Sea, www.pointlobos.org.
Watch the sunset along Carmel Beach. Carmel Beach is stunning and actually very large. Due to dangerous rip currents, it is not known to be a great place to swim, but one could while away the day simply strolling along the beach, sun bathing, playing volleyball and picnicking. Running parallel to Carmel Beach and Scenic Road is the Scenic Bluff Path that has stairways leading to the beach at several points along the way.
17-Mile Drive. Speaking of Carmel Beach, 17-Mile Drive is a coastal scenic drive meandering through the small peninsula that separates Carmel Beach from Monterey. 17-Mile Drive is best known for the Lone Cypress, which is over 200 years old and one of the most photographed trees in the U.S. The Drive runs through private property and motorists are charged a fee. Cyclists, however, are not. So Hubby and I rented electric bikes through Adventures by the Sea and spent a couple of hours bombing around whizzing past regular cyclists.
WHERE TO EAT
Carmel and environs offers a lot in terms of dining. There are four towns located all within a 10 mile radius: Monterey, Pebble Beach, Pacific Grove and Carmel. I had read a lot about Passionfish, located in Pacific Grove, and wanted to start my foodie adventure there.
Passionfish. A longtime leader in supporting local organic farmers and sustainable fisheries, Passionfish is a family-owned restaurant that has been in business for nearly 20 years. The seasonal seafood-centric menu offers small plates and entrees alongside a 400-items list of local and imported wines. Favorites included the Fried California Squid on an herb salad with spicy tangerine vinaigrette and the Spoonable 12-hour Lamb Breast. And it is worth mentioning that Passionfish serves the best Dungeness Crab Salad I have ever had.
Open daily 5-9 pm. 701 Lighthouse Ave, Pacific Grove, CA. www.passionfish.net
The next evening we were treated to a delightful meal of fondue at Lugano Swiss Bistro. Located in The Barnyard Shopping Center off of Rio Road and a quick drive from Hofsas House, Lugano Swiss Bistro serves the best of Swiss, German and French cuisine. Seated on the outdoor heated patio, we ordered a bottle of Riesling to pair with Monterey’s best Schnitzel and Swiss Original Cheese Fondue, a mix of Gruyère, Emmenthaler and Appenzeller Cheese. Definitely take them up on the recommendation to add the sausage. Mahlzeit!
Open Tuesday thru Sunday 11:30 am to 9 pm. 3670 The Barnyard, Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA. www.swissbistro.com
Other recommended restaurants:
For the Rose Latté at Breakfast: Stationaery. San Carlos St. NE of 6th Ave (see pic below).
For Picnic Lunch: 5th Avenue Deli & Catering. 5th Ave and San Carlos St.
For the view: Mission Ranch (Clint Eastwood’s hotel and restaurant). 26270 Dolores.
For French: La Biciclette. Dolores and & 7th Ave.
For French/Italian: Casanova. Mission & 5th Ave.
For Italian: Il Tegamino, Ocean Ave. between Lincoln and Monte Verde
For Oaxacan (think mezcal and chapulines): Cultura. Dolores between 5th and 6th.
For super fancy: Aubergine in the L’Auberge Hotel. Monte Verde St.
While not a restaurant, a must see: The Cheese Shop of Carmel. Junipero St. (see pic below).
The Hofsas House Hotel. San Carlos Street between 3rd. & 4th. 831-624-2745. www.hofsashouse.com. You can follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Looking to vacation along Highway 1? Check out my Santa Barbara Guide, my experience at Hearst Castle and the Post Ranch Inn to discover my favorite spots to sip, savor and sleep on the California Coast.
All photos by Marci Symington for TEXAZTASTE.com.
While I was compensated for my stay at the Hofsas House Hotel in Carmel and meals at 5th Avenue Deli and Lugano Swiss Bistro, all opinions are of my own. I loved every minute of our trip and was blown away by the hospitality and warmth of all, and cannot wait to return. XoM