Carmel: Familiarity breeds contentment

  • Pelicans over Carmel Beach.

My ying-yang mind is exhilarated by the unknown and contented by the familiar. New places promise discovery and surprise, but require an adventurous energy. Familiar places deliver deep relaxation and easy joy. Our life in The Epic Van gives us a delicious mix of both.

Carmel is a familiar place, where I can curl up happily, like a cat taking a nap.

We started coming here decades ago to visit my sister-in-law at her mother’s house on Guadalupe Street. The house is a getaway for Leslie and husband Barry from their home in Longview, Washington. And it’s been a landing pad for their kids at various stages in life. Last year, son Ian was here, working for a regional golf association. This year, daughter Emily is ensconced, working remotely as an in-house corporate lawyer.

We are always generously welcomed, and park The Epic Van in the driveway for a week of living like locals.

We talk to the neighbors, some of whom we’ve gotten to know well over the years, walk the hilly streets to see which picturesque houses have gotten makeovers, pop into some of the shops and galleries and people-watch the tourists, like we’re not really one of them.

This time, we had pizza at The Barnyard with Emily, and got to download all the family news on both sides, talk about life and balance and aging and the unknown. It’s always wonderful to relish the grown-ups who have emerged from the kids you knew before.

One day is beach day, all day. I mean ALL day. I want to get my fix of sand, surf, diving pelicans, otters, and salt spray. I don’t care if it’s sunny and blazing hot, or so cold I’m wearing a sweatshirt with a blanket over my knees. We load up with beach chairs and bags of books, knitting, sunscreen, hats and jackets (be prepared for squalls). We walk/jog down the steep, windy streets, stopping at Bruno’s market to grab the New York Times, along with sodas, sandwiches and snacks, always mindful to get just enough to consume before dragging it all back up the hill, which seems twice as steep and long on the way back.

We park ourselves about halfway down the sandy hill to the waves. It’s the best spot to watch the circus: babies with their toes in the sand, dogs chasing beach balls, parents lugging the makings of birthday parties, families flying kites. The position splits the distance from walks along the surf and hikes up to the bathroom. It’s also a front-row seat for the multilingual swearing as everyone huffs and puffs back up the hill, kind of like climbing Kilimanjaro on a a bed of rolling marbles, two steps forward, one and a half backward. It really sorts the men from the boys, cardiovascularly speaking. I still remember the aging surfer dude, who one year, was running up and down the hill, multiple times, a feat of fitness that was awesome to watch.

Once I’m beach-satisfied, I turn my attention to other favorites. First on the list is the yarn shop in Pacific Grove, still my favorite of all the yarn spots I’ve visited in our near-decade of rambling. This place has the best yarn, the most inspiring project samples, the friendliest staff. I dream of a time that Leslie, my knitting buddy, and I can spend enough time here together to take some classes, or sit around the communal knitting table to soak in the knitting spirit of the place. I always unleash my credit card here, and tote home some specialness to help me remember it later. This time, it’s a pile of squishy merino wool and silk, gray with splashes of blues, purples and greens.
The world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium is just up the road, with its wonderful otters, deep sea exhibit, films about ongoing research and kelp forest, which never get old. We usually visit every other year, and went last time, so this year we pass.

Instead, it’s back to the deck to soak in the sun, watch the squirrels and cast on my yarn to begin a sweater. Hours of uninterrupted knitting and audiobooks satisfy my soul.

Our Carmel to-do list usually includes a movie, but our favorite independent theater, the Osio, is permanently closed, (shed a tear, for it was an awesome place). I’m still nostalgic enough for movies, in general, that I’m happy to hit the commercial theater at Del Monte Plaza, where we hit the late-night showing of Oppenheimer. Afterward, past 11 p.m., we discuss the film with one of the other two couples in our theater, who also turn out to be van dwellers. Great minds.

But if this sounds a bit frantic, never fear. We find plenty of time to nap after yoga on the deck, have brunch on the deck, fold laundry on the deck, read on the deck, and then nap again on the deck. Like a cat.

And then, on a foggy morning, we depart on our little cat paws, vowing next time to stay longer to be able to visit the cool Frenchy shop in Carmel Valley, have cocktails on the deck of The Mission, revisit the museum in Pacific Grove, spend an afternoon in the bookstore and go to Big Sur to hike and hit the Henry Miller Bookstore.


  1. Reply
    Meredith September 23, 2023

    Sounds so lovely! I haven’t been to Carmel in forever. Want to return with your review! 😘

    • Reply
      Judy Nichols October 2, 2023

      It’s lovely. Can never spend enough time there.

  2. Reply
    Keven September 23, 2023

    Love this. Last time we were in this area, pre-COVID, I had a cold and so we skipped the Steinbeck Center in nearby Salinas. Have you been?

  3. Reply
    Judy Nichols October 2, 2023

    No. Putting it on the “next time” list.

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