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Great activities, food make California town perfect for romantic or relaxing getaways

By McClatchy News Services


CARMEL, Calif. » Carmel is a great spot to get away from it all. It's the perfect place to show how sweet and charming you are, whether it's a wedding, proposal, romantic hideaway or girlfriend getaway.

A small but active and artistic area, you will find plenty of shopping, museums, theater, exquisite wine and savory food, which are all just perks in addition to the main character: the beautiful coastline.

Carmel-by-the-Sea — often simply called Carmel — is a small town with a rich artistic history on California's Monterey Peninsula. In the early 1900s, 60 percent of Carmel's houses were built by those who were "devoting their lives to work connected to the aesthetic arts," according to the Carmel Chamber of Commerce and Monterey County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The 2000 U.S. Census Bureau reported that the town had a population of 4,081. As of the 2010 census, this number had decreased to 3,722.

The area is home to the scenic 17-Mile Drive, Steinbeck's Cannery Row, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, world-renowned golf courses, Point Lobos Reserve and the Big Sur coast. It's also pet-friendly: Dogs can be seen everywhere, from sidewalks to stores and restaurants to art galleries.

The city offers some fine-dining options, as well as others with a more modern flair.

Mundaka, a Spanish-style tapas restaurant in downtown Carmel, is the result of a love of food, wine, music and Spanish culture. The food comes in small plates meant for sharing, and the drinks are organic and ingredients locally grown — don't expect to order a cola in this establishment. The atmosphere is funky and artistic with live music, and the menu offers both vegetarian and nonvegetarian options.

Grasing's offers fine dining that features fresh ingredients from California's Carmel Coast and Central Valley. It has a varied wine list, and the desserts are delicate and delectable. You will want to make sure to save room for them.

If you're in the area for a short period of time but want to really experience the food and wine, take the Carmel Food Tour. While walking through the picturesque city, you will be able to enjoy tastes from seven of Carmel's most unique restaurants and specialty shops. This three-hour tour is not only an enjoyable lunch that literally gives you a taste of the town, it also gives you a glimpse into the area's culture, art, architecture and history.

When it comes to lodging, note that there are no chain hotels in the area.

Hofsas House Hotel is a Bavarian-styled, family-owned inn with 38 uniquely decorated rooms, many with ocean views.

The Dutch doors prevalent in Carmel provide the entrance to each room, allowing guests to take in the ocean air. Some rooms also have balconies complete with sitting areas and small grills for cooking outdoors. The sliding glass doors allow guests to watch sunsets over the Pacific Ocean, and most rooms have indoor fireplaces that are perfect for getting cozy with your significant other.

In addition to a variety of room sizes, the hotel has pet-friendly rooms, apartment-style rooms complete with a kitchen for large families or gatherings, and a meeting hall. Multiple packages are available as well, from a wine-and-cheese basket delivered to and set up in your room to a proposal package complete with writing in the sand and Champagne.

Each morning, the hotel offers a continental breakfast in the lobby, as well as amenities such as a heated swimming pool, dry saunas and free wireless Internet.

FARTHER DOWN the beach and nestled in the rolling hills of Carmel Valley is the historic Holman Ranch. This unique destination is a memorable setting for weddings, special events, family gatherings, corporate retreats and team-building events. Everywhere you look, there are majestic mountain views, lush gardens and a sense of solitude.

This impressive estate includes a fully restored stone hacienda, overnight guest rooms, vineyards, an olive grove and areas for gatherings and food including an open barn and an indoor living room. Visitors holding an event on the property will be the only ones allowed there during that time frame, ensuring total seclusion and space.

Holman Ranch can also help arrange a romantic horseback ride through the vineyard, a helicopter tour from the Carmel Valley Airport to the ranch, a picnic in the vineyard with a barrel tasting and a catered dinner for two in the hacienda.

Packages include photography, etched wine glasses and a bottle of wine — perfect for weddings, honeymoons, romantic getaways or proposals.

Carmel is a great location for the next romantic retreat on your calendar. From food to unique boutique hotels to wine, art and general touring, there is enough to keep you busy for as long as you would like to be. And people who are looking for someplace to relax and unwind need search no further: Carmel is perfect for that, too.

--Samantha Feuss / McClatchy-Tribune

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