Perfect and picturesque: Weekend road trip to Carmel-by-the-Sea

By jes. on November 23, 2014


CARMEL-BY-THE-SEA (Herald de Paris) — ¬† I had heard for many years that Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway in Northern California, was one of the most beautiful and exhilarating drives in the world. ¬†When the opportunity to drive it finally came my way, we eagerly jumped in the car and headed North – Destination Carmel-by-the-Sea, one of America’s great coastal hamlets.

The twisting and undulating number one highway hugs the coastline so tightly that sometimes, you are hanging out over the Pacific Ocean on bridges built in the 1930s, by the Works Projects Administration. ¬†I don’t know whose idea it was to build this improbable highway but thank you, whomever you are. ¬†The driving itself is a veritable E-Ticket experience. ¬†Add the breathtaking views, beaches filled with slumbering elephant seals, and roadside stopovers like William Randolph Hearst’s castle at San Simeon, and I’d say this has to be one of the most memorable weekend trips on the North American continent.

We arrived in Carmel-by-the-Sea just before dusk.  Wedged on the tip of the Monterey Peninsula it shares with the legendary Pebble Beach golf course, Carmel is best known these days for its former mayor, a gentleman by the name of Clint Eastwood.  But long before Eastwood took his turn in public office, Carmel was already well known for its particular style of  fairytale cottage architecture.  Incorporated in 1916, the City of Carmel-by-the-Sea has, for 98 years, been a destination city unspoiled by strip malls.  It is a tidy little city with charming, wide boulevards loaded with specialty shops, restaurants, and wine tasting rooms.

74596We drove through the city on our way to our hotel for the night, surprised at how lively this little city was on a Sunday evening, finally arriving at the Tradewinds Carmel, on the far side of town. ¬†Opened in 1959 by Robert Catlin, the Tradewinds Carmel was born as a state-of-the-art motor lodge, in 1959. ¬†Finished with design ideals inspired by Catlin’s time in Japan, the hotel rooms were, nevertheless, streamline and moderne – the style of its era. ¬†When Catlin’s daughter, Susan Stillwell, took over the family business in the 1990s, that all changed.

Stillwell enlisted one of her father’s friends, noted interior designer Charles Gruwell, to transform the Tradewinds Carmel, and all 28 guest rooms and suites, into a serene, Bali/Asian-inspired hotel.

You don’t get a sense of the Eastern serenity at the Tradewinds Carmel from the street. ¬†Walking up to the front desk, however, Stillwell’s thoughtful re-interpretation of this family-owned hotel comes into view. ¬†The former motor courts are now peaceful courtyards with lush foliage, stone walls, and artfully lit staircases. ¬†However, it is inside the guest rooms where the transformation is most dramatic.

We were escorted to our third-floor room not knowing what to expect.  When the bellman opened the door, we found a beautifully appointed room with a high, wood-beamed ceiling, a mix of Balinese and Asian-inspired furniture, and a patio with a view of the Monterey Bay.  Facing the king bed was a cozy fireplace.  Inside our room, we were welcomed by fresh strawberries, hand-dipped in chocolate.

With the sun beginning to set, we headed out to explore. ¬†Carmel is a pedestrian city, and we found everyone in town, both locals and visitors, alike, to be friendly and chatty. ¬†This is a happy place, and it shows in its people. ¬†We sampled some regional wines with a very happy vintner, and dined at one of Carmel’s many French restaurants. ¬†Walking back to the Tradewinds after nightfall, Carmel still felt alive.

1400x580_21_ebe5f051bbc7f25766202a6c7b7c1063As the evening cooled down, the besdside fire was more than welcome, and the room was comfortable, romantic, and cozy.

In the morning, we joined some of the other guests for breakfast in the Tradewinds’ dining room before heading back down the coast towards home. ¬†On our second pass, we couldn’t resist a visit to the Hearst Castle, and enjoyed a tour of the private rooms and grounds.

This was a weekend trip to remember. ¬†If you are in the region, don’t pass up the opportunity to drive the magnificent Pacific Coast Highway, from Santa Barbara to Carmel-by-the-Sea. ¬†If you plan to stay overnight on the Monterey Peninsula, the Tradewinds Carmel is a lovely and comfortable hotel that won’t disappoint.


For more information on the Tradewinds Carmel, visit their website at:

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