Mini-Trip: Monterey, Carmel, Big Sur

May 17th, 2010, 11:33 AM
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Mini-Trip: Monterey, Carmel, Big Sur

I'm behind in my trip reports (esp. Australia, Los Angeles, and Utah/Nevada), but thought I'd start with my recent 4-day trip to Monterey, Carmel and Big Sur. This was a mini-vacation for my mother's 87th birthday. She and my dad (who passed away in 2008) had honeymooned at the Highlands Inn in Carmel in February 1947, so this location was very special for her. Obviously, I selected lodging and activities to cater to her physical needs and interests - but perhaps some information might be helpful to others.

We drove from the North Bay Area mid-week (Weds), stopping at the factory outlets in Gilroy (Leavesly Rd) to use the restroom and have coffee at Starbucks. The sun was shining brightly. However, when we arrived in Monterey, it was foggy, gloomy, and FREEZING!! How could we have forgotten? Wow, did we pack the wrong clothes!

Checked into our hotel on Cannery Row - The Clement Intercontinental Hotel. I booked the room at the lowest standard rate but we were given a lovely room on the 4th floor with fireplace and a partial bay view. The hotel is very clean and quiet, has excellent beds, robes, slippers, etc. and a good-sized bathroom with separate tub and walk-in shower - all perfect for our needs. (Be advised that valet parking is $21/day - but we needed this). I highly recommend this hotel. The location and views are excellent, right next door to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

We chose to have lunch in 'The C Restaurant' downstairs. Food and service were great, and we especially enjoyed the large windows so we could watch the sea otters playing and grooming in the bay. The waiter brought us binoculars so we could have an even closer view. After lunch, we spent the afternoon going into shops within a 1 block radius of the hotel, primarily to find long-sleeved T-shirts and a warm sweatshirt for my mom to wear. After warming up in front of the fireplace in our room, we went to the hotel's 'Reading Room' for drinks and a delicious cheese plate. There was a private party on the deck outside, complete with Elvis impersonator, so we were well entertained. Skipped dinner as we were pretty full and then retired to our comfortable room for the night.

Thursday morning I ran across the street to Starbucks (inobtrusively tucked into an historic building) and brought coffees to the room while my mother got ready and we could plan our day. Although we thought the hotel restaurant breakfasts were probably too expensive, we decided it was the easiest place to go - and were we glad we did! First of all, that view was amazing! We always saw a lot of sea life - even a flock of pelicans flew past! And the breakfasts were fabulous. Mom had the pancakes with fresh berries ($8) all 3 mornings. The Castroville Omelet with grilled artichokes and asparagus ($12) was excellent. Great coffee and fresh orange juice ($4).

We drove along the water through Pacific Grove and Asilomar State Beach and finally got on the highway and drove to Big Sur. Of course, we had to stop at Nepenthe. Mom managed to negotiate the steps up to the restaurant (there is no elevator or accessible ramp), and since the sun was out and the view was clear, we ordered a cup of soup in order to enjoy the warmth as well as the blue ocean. The gift shop ('The Phoenix') occupied our time for a couple hours. I always find some unique toys here for the grandnieces. By the way, Big Sur was the only spot with any sunshine at all during our trip.

The best stop of the day was at Highlands Inn in Carmel. - I'll elaborate further a little later.
elnap29 is offline  
May 17th, 2010, 02:01 PM
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I took my mom to Highlands Inn in Carmel as a nostalgia point. She and my dad had their honeymoon here in Feb. 1947. They stayed for a full week in the honeymoon cottage for the very extravagant rate of $23/day, which included a huge breakfast, full dinner and dancing every evening. The cottage was made of stone and redwood and had a kitchen, stone fireplace, living room, bedroom and huge windows overlooking the ocean. (A regular room was $5; with a view it was $6). We pulled into the valet area and I explained why we were there. Everyone was so great to her and treated her like royalty! The valet explained what had happened to the inn over the years and drove us in the golf cart to see the one remaining cottage, the very same honeymoon cottage my parents had in 1947. It was so charming and had the best view! Highlands Inn is now a Vacation Club (time-share) owned by Hyatt. As part of the agreement with the County, they had to preserve the cottage and also maintain a certain amount of access by the public ( designated hotel rooms, the restaurants, and lounge). We were sent to the gift shop where a young woman greeted my mom warmly and showed us beautiful photos from the time period as well as letters, hotel confirmations, guest registries, menus, etc. She even gave us a tour of a wedding chapel, gazebo, and reception room. We were then sent upstairs to the Lounge where another young woman made a huge fuss over my mother. We were invited to join a wine tasting and given some snacks while we soaked in the views through the gigantic windows. I must say this was truly the highlight of my mom's day. It was such a drop-dead gorgeous location with wonderful service; I'm sure it is a wonderful place to stay. (My husband and I stayed about 8 years ago and it was very luxurious).

We drove back to Pacific Grove and decided to eat at Petra's Restaurant, a longtime favorite (on Lighthouse Ave), which serves Jordanian food in a casual, friendly atmosphere at reasonable prices. We love the gyros, kababs, tabbouli, hummus, falafel, greek salad, etc. Quite satisfying but too much food.

Friday morning we had another great breakfast in the hotel restaurant and decided to explore Carmel.
elnap29 is offline  
May 17th, 2010, 03:04 PM
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That's a great return visit to the Highlands Inn for your mother and nice to hear how warmly you both were treated by the staff.

My family and I were at the IC Clement in March for 3 days and also had a room with a fireplace and balcony. We loved staying there and agree it is a beautiful property in a convenient location. Probably our favorite activity was walking the coastal trail down into Pacific Grove in the mornings taking in the ocean views. We saw dozens of seals sunning themselves on the beach and also some otters swimming nearby. It was a great visit.
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May 17th, 2010, 05:09 PM
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Thanks for the reply, curiousgeo. I agree that the coastal trail into Pacific Grove is a winner. My husband and I love to walk it every morning and evening when we are there. Since my mom can't walk too far, I had thought I'd rent one of those bike/passenger-cart things and pedal her along the trail, but it was so COLD!! She wouldn't have been comfortable.

Friday morning we drove directly to Carmel Beach, a great place to watch dogs frolic in the sand and waves. Everyone seemed to have at least two dogs there. Mom did pretty well with her cane getting down to the beach, although our shoes were full of sand. However, it's really soft sand, not uncomfortable. We then took a scenic drive along...Scenic Road! How wonderful to live along that road and be able to walk the beach every morning! Finally we parked and visited a few shops - probably the most walking my mother has been able to do in the last 2 years. We attempted lunch at a small Greek cafe, but when I used the restroom near the kitchen, I was pretty appalled by the lack of cleanliness in the kitchen and some unhygenic actions by a chef, so we left. Hopefully, that was an unusual occurence. Instead, we found our way to Carmel Coffee House for hot tea and a grilled pannini. A drive out to Carmel Valley filled our afternoon - gorgeous estates with gorgeous views. Dinner was simple soup and salad at a restaurant at Del Monte Shopping Center. (Although a young man at the hotel highly recommended Epsilon Restaurant www.epsilonrestaurant.com on Tyler St. in Monterey - we will definitely try that next time. Authentic Greek. It looked great!)
elnap29 is offline  
May 17th, 2010, 08:24 PM
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How great for your mom to get the red carpet treatment at Highland's Inn. What a nice trip for both of you and great memories made.
MichelleY is offline  
May 17th, 2010, 09:56 PM
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I can't speak highly enough of the Highlands Inn staff. They were so warm and welcoming. My mom had such wonderful memories of her days there with my dad, and it was truly fabulous for these people to bring her great joy again.
elnap29 is offline  
May 17th, 2010, 10:10 PM
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elnap29: What a great treat this must have been for your Mother! You're a wonderful daughter to have made this trip for her and with her!
easytraveler is offline  
May 19th, 2010, 04:51 AM
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Wondeful report! I love that the staff at the Higlands treated her like a queen for a day! It is so rare to find people who will stop what they're doing to make someone else more important.
onemoneygirl is offline  
May 19th, 2010, 07:05 AM
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What a lovely report and for your Mom too!
I've stayed at the Hyatt Highlands but I didn't see any cottages..would of loved to have stayed in one of those instead of the 2 bedroom suite we had..though it was quite nice and oceanview.
ksucat is offline  
May 19th, 2010, 08:49 AM
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Thank you all for your nice comments.
Ksucat, the cottage was well-hidden. We wouldn't have noticed it without our 'guide.' He also mentioned that it had been converted into 4 rooms, 2 on the main floor and 2 underneath the cottage. Ah, for the grandeur of the old days...

Our final day was spent touring old Monterey, mainly by car as my mom was tired and she had been there many times before. We stopped at the Le Creuset outlet in Gilroy on the way home and then had an accidental tour of the old San Jose area. I took the wrong exit trying to find the Aussie Products store. (If anyone is craving Australian biscuits, chocolate, vegemite, etc., this store is on Stevens Creek Blvd). We ate the real Australian Cadbury chocolates on the way home (taste much different than the ones made in the UK).

Thanks again for reading my trip report!
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