It’s rare my family travels somewhere they don’t like. Chalk it up to research, great recommendations or plain old good luck. But it’s just as rare to travel somewhere we could call home. My family could easily call Carmel, California home.
We’ve spent countless weekends in neighboring Monterey with kids, but for some reason never really considered Carmel. It took a school project on California’s missions to show us what we were missing.
Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo
You don’t have to have homework to appreciate the beautifully restored Carmel Mission. Still a working church and school, take time to explore the park-like grounds. My kids loved the endless gardens and small cemetery studded with abalone shells and simple wooden crosses. Padre Junipero Serra, the father of California’s network of missions is buried beneath the Basilica’s altar. He founded nine missions in the Golden State. Carmel was his favorite, and it’s easy to see why. Even young ones will appreciate the quietness of the Basilica, even if for just a few minutes. Direct your kids to the nativity scene in the back left-corner of the Basilica. According to volunteers it’s like no other in the world, because of something tastefully hidden in it’s midst. Challenge your kids (and yourself) to figure out what “it” is. (I don’t want to give away the surprise.) Check it out, if you’re stumped, grab a volunteer to help in the search.
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Count Canines on Ocean Avenue
It’s like Rodeo Drive, but it ends at the beach. Tree-lined Ocean Avenue is a shopper’s dream. Start in the park across the street from Tiffany and Co. Once the kids have rolled around in the grass for a bit, start window shopping your way to the waves. Kids don’t like to shop? No worries. Have them count the dogs. Trust me, there’s so many, they’ll lose count more than once. Even better, have your kids hunt for the numerous water bowls hidden among the flowers for thirsty hounds out on the town. Dogs dig Carmel.
Go House Hunting
Veer off the main drag and wander through the nearby neighborhoods. Folks in Carmel love where they live. Houses have names, not numbers. (Apparently, Carmel’s founders said no to mail-delivery, and the idea stuck. Outside of the city’s downtown commercial area, there are no addresses. Folks head to the post office to retrieve their mail.) My kids loved searching for unique names and signs.
I was raised on an Island, and I’m picky about beaches. But Carmel has one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever wiggled my toes in. Just keep heading down Ocean Drive, and you’ll be rewarded. The beach is leash-free, so dogs and kids run freely in the sand and cold water. When it’s time to shake the sand off your kids, take them to the top of the beach and let them climb in some old beach trees. Plus, there’s a tree not far from the bathrooms that has a swing with the best view in the world!
Buying good-for-you food was never so much fun. Organic grower Earthbound Farm runs a one of a kind farm stand in Carmel Valley. Let the kids loose in the chamomile aromatherapy Walking Labyrinth. Be forewarned, they might meet a chicken or two during the adventure. Then hop just next-door to the kids garden, loaded with touchable, sweet smelling kid-friendly herbs like pineapple sage and lemon balm. Want to take some home? Then don’t miss the Cut-Your-Own Herb Garden. Hungry yet? Make your way to the farm stand, but be prepared to wait. Your kids will no doubt want to stop and play in the colorful tepee. Lure them out with the idea of organic frozen yogurt, some of the biggest cookies I’ve ever seen, and veggies that are almost too pretty to eat!
We have just a few accommodations on our Monterey family hotels list so far. One property we have our eye on is the Carmel Lodge. It is right in town with value-oriented pricing and a few options that work for families (note, beds are all in one room). Stay tuned for the full review …