Ladies, are you seeking the most comfortable vacation of your life? Then grab your sneakers, ballet flats or flip-flops and head straight to Carmel-by-the-Sea — the charming one-square-mile village on California’s Monterey Peninsula that has banned high heels. You heard me. BANNED.
Truth be told, the local police won’t actually cite women (or men, hey whatever floats your boat) who violate this ordinance (which specifically bans shoes having heels more than 2 inches in height or with a base of less than one square inch, in case you feel the need to measure some questionable kitten heels while packing your suitcase), but I happily used it as an excuse to eschew fancy footwear for a few days. If you simply cannot part with your Louboutins, you can head to City Hall for a complimentary stiletto permit. Yes, that’s a real thing, but they might laugh at you.
Illegal heels aren’t the only thing different about this town. There are no parking meters, street lights, chain restaurants or street addresses. It’s almost as if you’ve traveled back in time, to a much simpler era, when you arrive in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Interestingly, repealing another unusual law — this one prohibiting selling and eating ice cream on public streets — was one of Clint Eastwood’s campaign promises when he ran for mayor in 1986 (and served a two-year term).
When you first arrive in town, you’ll drive down Carmel’s main drag, Ocean Ave. Just as you’d imagine, given the lack of modernity I’ve already described, you’ll find a picture-perfect neighborhood of cottages, boutique hotels and inns, restaurants, tasting rooms, art galleries, and spas. One of the best ways to learn about the area’s past is through a self-guided Historic Walking Tour. You’ll begin at the First Murphy House, built in 1902 by Michael J. Murphy. It’s called “First” because he later built more than 300 houses in Carmel. The tour continues on through 24 noteworthy locations — my favorites included the fairytale-style Hansel & Gretel Houses, the Fire Station and the Forest Theater, which was the first outdoor theater west of the Mississippi. Unlike some tours that leave you stranded at the end, this one brings you full circle (not that you could get lost in this tiny town anyways).
I always seem to work up an appetite during a walking tour (or any tour, really), so I was thrilled to find so many delightful eateries featuring local, regional, and international cuisines. For lunch, we chose Patisserie Boissiere, on Mission between Ocean and 7th. This European chateau prepares French country food, such as quiche Maison and croissant campagnard. But the real show stopper here is the glass-encased pastry counter filled with magnificent tarts, pies, scones, puddings, and cakes baked daily on premises. Who could possibly resist these tempting treats? Hint: Not THIS glutton!
After lunch, we took a stroll down Ocean Ave. to Carmel Beach’s picturesque white sand and famous Cypress trees. It’s one of the most iconic spots on California’s Central Coast. Extending from the rocky coastline of Carmel Point (where you can see a Frank Lloyd Wright designed home) north to the legendary Pebble Beach Golf Links, the beach has tide pools and kelp forests. From dawn ‘til dusk, Carmel Beach attracts visitors and locals alike to take in the majestic scenery, surf, swim, play volleyball or enjoy sunset bonfires.
If you love traveling with your pet, you’ll be thrilled to know that Carmel-by-the-Sea is an incredibly dog-friendly town. The Hofsas House is a family-run, Bavarian-inspired hotel within walking distance to central Carmel — it offers a Tail-Wagging package, which includes a Frisbee, dog bed, letter from its onsite pet concierge, and treats. Also, dogs are allowed off-leash at Carmel beach, and many of the village’s shops and restaurants provide water bowls, treats, and biodegradable bags for your furry friend.
Finally, if you’re a wine lover, The Carmel Wine Walk by-the-Sea offers a Wine Tasting Passport for $100, which entitles the buyer to one flight at 10 of the 14 participating tasting rooms. It can be used in one day or spread out over a weekend, several weeks, or even months (as if). The Wine Tasting Passport is available for purchase at the Carmel Visitor Center. This self-paced and self-guided stroll offers the opportunity to savor superior still and sparkling wines at tasting rooms — I especially enjoyed De Tierra Vineyards, Scheid Vineyards and Wrath Wines — that are all within a few blocks of each other on both sides of Ocean Avenue.
And if you try all 10 tastings in a single day, you’ll be relieved you aren’t wearing your heels as you stumble, er, walk back to your hotel.