Carmel and Big Sur: Feels like home to me

  • A panorama shot of Carmel Beach.

We’ve been visiting the Dahl House in Carmel for decades as the grateful guests of my step-brother Barry and sister-in-law Leslie. And after our visit to the eastern Sierras, we stopped here again.

This part of the California coast feels like home, its steep rolling hills, its chi-chi shops, its amazing beach, its eclectic nature (check out the poodle parade). When I was still working, and had summers off, Nate and I would spend two weeks here as part of our wandering road trips, joined for a few days by Tom, who was still working like a dog. 🙂

And a few years into our nomadic adventures, Tom and I volunteered briefly at Andrew Molera State Park in Big Sur, a few miles south of Carmel, and fell in love with it, too.

Sometimes, when we visit, we meet Barry and Leslie here. This time they were still at home in Longview, Washington, but we were excited to see our nephew, Ian, who lives at the Carmel house.

When we visit Carmel, we have a long “must do” list, including beach days, which means ALL DAY, or what’s left of it after I sleep till 10; multiple stops at Bruno’s Market & Deli for the New York Times, beach-lunch fixings, a sampling off their wall of cool sodas, and some dark rocky road chocolate for me, and a dark chocolate turtle for Tom; long walks around the hills and beaches; a shopping day to check all the usual haunts and see the latest art, clothes, bags, soap, books and knickknacks, including the candy store, where everyone can feel like a millionaire and buy all the chocolate coconut haystacks they want; sushi at Barry’s favorite spot, with sake if he’s there; drinks on the deck of Clint Eastwood’s Mission Ranch; grilled artichokes from the restaurant down the hill; a movie at Monterey’s Osio Theater, one of the coolest independent theaters ever; a trip to the Monarch Knitting in Pacific Grove, still one of my favorites after sampling yarn stores across the country; and, maybe every other year, the world-class Monterey Bay Aquarium and 17-Mile Drive. And, since our volunteer stint, hiking at Andrew Molera.

This stop we had only four days, so the list had to be pared. We arrived mid-week and on Day 1, we tackled the most important items on the list: Tom took a long walk along the ocean front over hill and dale, and I headed to Monarch. I wandered for hours, looking at all the fabulous projects around the shop, ogling the beautiful fibers, and missing my knitting partner, Leslie, who always inspires me to indulge in a new inspiration. I pined for yarn stores during the pandemic. Shopping online is NOT the same, although I did a LOT of that. On the way back, I made a wrong turn in The Epic Van and ended up at the residents’ entrance to 17-mile Drive. They took pity on me and waived me through, so BONUS. We checked on the Osio. Still closed, temporarily. Walk, check. Knitting store, check. 17-Mile drive, sort of, check. Osio, sadly, no check.

On Day 2, we loaded up at Bruno’s and found a parking spot for The Epic Van near the beach, We grabbed the opportunity and hauled asses, chairs, beach umbrella and enormous bag of food, sodas, books, knitting and newspapers to the sand. For hours. We watched tourists, dogs, babies and surfers. We listened to the crashing waves. We read the paper, ate Bruno’s burritos, drank Bruno’s sodas, read books, knitted, snoozed. Until we were sunbaked and done. On the way out, we met another van couple in the parking lot. They were renting their air B&B van for the week and looking for a place to boondock. We shared ideas (no boondocking anywhere nearby) and gave them a tour of The Epic Van. We ended the day at Barry’s sushi spot with Ian, then watched the Suns win. Bruno’s, check. Beach Day, check. Sushi, check.

Day 3, we headed for Andrew Molera, and although I’ve been babying my wonky knees and working up distances slowly, I remembered the hike with such happiness that I decided to go the distance. Well, I remembered it MUCH shorter. Turns out, it’s nine fabulous miles, filled with wildflowers. We went up, up, up, and up some more, along the Ridge Trail, through the small redwood grove, then down, down, down, and down some more, on the very steep Panorama Trail, then along the blessedly mostly flat Bluff Trail. I loved it, but my knees were squeaking. Molera, check.

Day 4 was shop day, and my not-yet-recovered legs agreed to go only because it meant chocolate. We walked down the familiar hills, checked out the new plantings, hit Ocean Drive and saw parking spots turned into outdoor dining, pandemic style, looked for Leslie’s favorite bread shop (CLOSED), looked for my other favorite yarn store (CLOSED), wandered in and out of shops, bought chocolate, and SLOWLY wandered up the hills back home. Shop day, check.

As our departure time is 6 a.m. on Day 5, thus ends the Carmel stop, with several “must-do’s” left unchecked. Drinks on the deck, grilled artichokes and a movie have moved up on the list for next time.


  1. Reply
    Barry Dahl July 7, 2021

    We greatly enjoyed your visit to our “Northwest” homestead and this “Wanderings” report. We will attempt to schedule a visit to your Scottsdale residence when you are there. Barry & Leslie

    • Reply
      Judy Nichols July 7, 2021

      Thanks, B&L! Another epic visit! Look forward to seeing you in AZ.

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