CARMEL-BY-THE-SEA -- This is one of the hautest spots on California's breathtaking coast.
Leisure options abound -- so many that the Monterey Bay area is best sampled, if possible, in small bites rather than crammed into a fast-paced moveable feast. That is, unless you have the time and money for an extended stay, or if you have friends or relatives in the area.
We reached this conclusion after a recent five-night visit. We even stayed one day longer than planned because we hadn't gotten in enough sightseeing.
We weren't shortchanged, though. That might be because we took the novel approach -- at least for us -- of splitting time between two base camps that were in quite different microclimates even though they were
And, in another twist, we compiled a modest to-do list, picking up some off-road driving skills, playing some golf, tasting some wine and just enjoying the spectacular scenery.
The first two nights were spent at Quail Lodge Resort and Golf Club just off Carmel Valley Road. The resort is on 850 acres that was once the Carmel Valley Dairy.
The course, designed by Robert Muir Graves, was opened in the mid-1960s. The lodge consists of nearly 100 rooms, suites and villas, a spa and two restaurants. Dogs are welcome, too.
The property is sheltered somewhat from the coastline by a ridge, so it tends to be less foggy and a bit warmer.
"We're in short-sleeve or sweater weather," Quail Lodge
The resort is also home to the Land Rover Experience Driving School, on a hillside next to the golf course.
In the morning, instructor Justin Demayo gave us a guided tour of some scenic neighborhoods in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Then came two intense off-roading sessions, in which we put a Land Rover LR3 HSE into seemingly impossible positions and angles. Demayo did a good job of prepping us, though, and the vehicle and the three of us survived
Another day was devoted to golf, and it was evident that it is a walker-friendly course; a lot of members pulled or pushed their portable carts home after a round.
The parkland-style course, 6,515 yards from the back tees, is private and members get preferred tee times, but packages are available for guests. It is a good way -- and a fairly economical one, too -- of playing a nifty course that otherwise might be unavailable.
Don't be afraid of walking, either, because you'll have lots of company.
"The baby boomers are getting to where they need to do their exercise, and some of the members are in their 80s and still walk," said Little. "And it's just a great walk."
The Carmel River bed winds though
A round of golf is leisurely paced here, but not at all slow.
Little remembers when the course opened and the freshly planted trees were just 10 feet tall, which made for easier shots. "Now they are 40 feet tall and you have to play it (the course) the way Robert Muir Graves designed it," he said.
After our stay at the Quail Lodge, we moved to La Playa Hotel, which perches on a hillside in Carmel-by-the-Sea. This is a cozy boutique hotel with a full-service restaurant and old-school bar that fills up with locals at the cocktail hour.
La Playa is within walking
The morning dawned clear and cold, and we left early for Pacific Grove Municipal Golf Links, reached via a scenic drive through part of the Del Monte Forest. We didn't know it at the time, but we could have taken an even more scenic route up 17Mile Drive off Highway 1.
The Pacific Grove course is known as the poor man's Pebble Beach, and for good reason. The back nine holes, lined with shifting sand dunes and ice plant, are exposed to the Pacific. At the 10th tee box, the most sheltered spot on the course thanks to the Point Pinos Light, it was nice to linger in the midst of the round.
The 10th is 106 yards,
"Another simple-looking hole that after 1,000 rounds garners more respect than on one's first attempt," wrote Adam Clayman in a posting to GolfClubAtlas.com. "A stiff south wind can cause the golfer to club down to a mid-iron. With a deceptively sloped green and back bunker looming, bogie is often in play on this apparent luller."
Triple bogie, in my case. And that didn't matter, either.
The 11th is a straight shot toward the Pacific. The course then bends sharply along the coast. Waves break in white, frothy spray over rock outcroppings.
This must be what Ireland is like, I thought, after catching a glimpse of the shore between two dunes.
A few holes later, retired schoolteacher Mike Ottmar joined us. Pacific Grove is his home course, and he plays it about four times a week -- sometimes just the back nine.
"This course is just beautiful in the morning," he said. "When the sun comes up and the waves are crashing and there are sea birds over the water, it doesn't get any more beautiful."
That afternoon we headed back onto Carmel Valley Road, part of this region's wine trail. As in the Santa Ynez Valley of Santa Barbara County, this offers a mixture of over-the-top, faux-French complexes and down-home, taste-and-chat- awhile places.
Chateau Julien Wine Estate is one of the former. It's a sprawling winery that features a cobblestone garden courtyard, and we had the place to ourselves one afternoon.
Just down the road is the tasting room for Talbott Vineyards. It's in a small, rustic collection of shops that forms an ultra-hip strip mall.
The name sound familiar? Robert Talbott and his wife gained renown as designer tie-makers after founding the Robert Talbott Tie Co. in Carmel in 1950, and today son Robb is chairman. He and the family opened the winery in 1982.
Our final day started with a cruise along 17 Mile Drive, which winds through the Del Monte Forest and along some of the world's most photographed coastline.
It's a must-do at least once, but worth repeating any time you are in the area. The road cuts through Spy Glass Hill Golf course and along some of the most famous holes at Pebble Beach.
Then it was time for a walk-about in Carmel-by-the-Sea, no easy undertaking on a Saturday afternoon because parking is hard to find. The natives are friendly, though, and one even suggested I pull a little closer to the curb lest I risk an expensive parking ticket. The cops here are aggressive ticket-writers, it seems.
Walking along Dolores Street, I spotted a beautiful blue Ferrari Daytona and stopped to take some photos. My wife, Chris, headed into the Bleich Gallery, four doors south of Ocean Avenue.
She came back out and said, "He wants to sing a song for you." That would be George J. Bleich, the artist and gallery owner, who has a studio in his home on Strawberry Hill Road in Pebble Beach.
Now, you can't refuse something like that. Bleich gave us a quick tour of the gallery, told of touring the world on a painting excursion with his family, and gave Chris some tips for her own work. Then we sat down on a small sofa at the back of his shop as he gave us a miniconcert.
Bleich also gave us a handful of autographed CDs.
I don't know where else but in a community known for its art could a trip end on this kind of note.
Was five days enough? Not really. So we left town with a long list of sights unseen and experiences undone.
Might have to start whittling away at it one visit at a time.
IF YOU GO
BLEICH GALLERY: Dolores Street and Ocean Avenue, Carmel-by-the-Sea. www.bleich4art.com; (831) 624-9447.
CHATEAU JULIEN WINE ESTATE: 8940 Carmel Valley Road, Carmel. Tasting fee $5. Tours. Picnic area. www.chateaujulien.com; (831) 624-2600.
QUAIL LODGE RESORT: 8205 Valley Greens Drive, Carmel. Room rates from $380. Golf green fees from $140 (weekdays November to March). www.quaillodge.com; (888) 828-8787.
LA PLAYA HOTEL: Camino Real at Eighth Avenue, Carmel-by-the-Sea. Winter rates from $165. www.laplayahotel.com; (800) 582-8900.
PACIFIC GROVE MUNICIPAL GOLF LINKS: 77 Asilomar Ave., Pacific Grove. Green fees from $40 for non-residents (weekdays). www.ci.pg.ca.us/golf; (831) 648-5775.
TALBOTT VINEYARDS: 53 W. Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley. Tasting fee $8.50. www.talbottvineyards.com; (831) 659-3500.
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