Going Solo in Carmel, California
Article by Linda Kissam
Although I love taking trips with my spouse, my family and my writers association, as a food wine and travel journalist I spend much of my time at a destination by myself researching an area and using the down time to catch up on a variety of tasks. Over the years I’ve learned that traveling alone doesn’t necessarily mean traveling lonely. It can lead to unique adventures and an opportunity for the “me time” most of us wish we had more of.
If you are just starting this kind of solo exploration, my first tip to you is try going somewhere near you. Consider somewhere under 2 hours by plane and under 5 hours by car. Get to your starting point by 4 PM. This cuts out the exhaustion factor that comes from just trying to get to the destination, but allows you some to decompress from your everyday issues, before your trip officially begins.
Just recently, I was invited to visit Carmel-by- the -Sea and Holman Ranch. Carmel-by-the-Sea, often simply referred to as “Carmel,” is a city in Monterey County, California. Hugging the Pacific coast, it is about 330 miles north of Los Angeles and 120 miles south of San Francisco. It is located on the Monterey Peninsula, and has been known for years for its rugged natural scenery, forest- like European village feel and rich artistic history. It is just one square mile and contains no big box stores or chain outlets. It has re purposed itself into a wine community featuring 15+ wineries renowned for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir
The Holman Ranch is nestled into the rolling hills of Carmel Valley, California. It is a grand historic venue owned by several families over the years beginning when California was still part of Mexico. Fast forward to 2006 when Thomas and Jarman Lowder acquired the property. The Lowders proudly finished restoring and completely refurbishing the property to its original grandeur. They have maintained the Ranch’s old-world charm, while providing every modern convenience. It is now a memorable setting for weddings, special events, family gatherings, corporate retreats, and team-building events which includes a fully restored stone hacienda, overnight guest rooms, vineyards, olive grove, horse stables and more.
Here’s what to do in both of these places to make your solo voyage successful. A 2-4 day trip is suggested.
Lodging: In Carmel by-the-Sea, stay at the Hofsas House. Located on San Carlos Street it is 38 rooms of pure European charm. It has a variety of affordable rooms to choose from, but ask for the one that offers the most privacy, a nice ocean view and a kitchen with table for eating and working. It is a multi-level facility without an elevator. There is someone to help you with your bags. It is located a quick 7 minute walk from the downtown area which showcases the best wine tasting rooms, shopping and restaurants. Parking is included. Just park once and you are good to go. The continental breakfast is well done as are the suggestions from the staff on what to do. The pool is cool and refreshing and there are several outdoor spaces to relax onsite. Dog friendly. Purchase your wine tasting tickets from the desk. It is the perfect spot for the solo traveler.
About 30 minutes driving time down the road is The Holman Ranch. Although set up primarily for groups, a solo person can get in on occasion. Do what you need to do to make that happen. This is a first class experience from picking up your keys at their tasting room in town, to the final goodbye as you drive one last time through the manicured (yet somehow keeping a natural ranch feeling) grounds. With its relaxing themed garden rooms, charming gardens, stunning mountain views and serenity, this private estate affords old-world charm while providing all modern day conveniences. Walk the trails, enjoy the natural beauty and rediscover the essence of quiet. It is a relax, reboot and renew experience. Take reading material, or a puzzle to work on while sitting on your porch, eating at restaurants or wine tasting in town. Bring your computer and enjoyed some quiet time working in your room or in the stunning game room. You can stay “connected” on your own terms. Highly recommend for those needing time to finish articles, their book or just needing some serene down time. Like me, I am sure you won’t be able to resist thinking how this is the perfect spot to consider for weddings, corporate retreats or association activities.
Dining: Speaking of restaurants, solo travelers can find plenty of places to enjoy. In Carmel, I highly suggest Basil for brunch. Fresh creative inside or patio dining. A great people watching spot with tables that are perfect for the solo traveler. The staff is familiar with the solo traveler, checking often on how their guest’s meal is going, without being intrusive. It is also located in the same small plaza as a couple of wine tasting rooms. Lunch is well spent at Carmel Belle. It’s located in a small inside mall. Super casual, good quality food surrounded by visually stimulating stores, including a killer shoe boutique. Seating is first come first served. Try the Whaling Station for dinner. Think big juicy steak and prime rib, old fashioned cocktails with a relaxed dining vibe. Order the killer shrimp cocktail and clam chowder for a lighter meal. If you like cooking your own meals, Hofsas House offers mini-kitchen options.
At Holman Ranch you will need to dine outside of the property. Definitely drive over to Will’s Fargo Restaurant (about 5 minutes’ drive away) for dinner. It has a warm road house feel. Expect a cozy atmosphere and a complete (but not fussy) dining experience. This has to be the best place to dine in and around Carmel. Indulge in the wine list (mostly local) and a diverse menu that makes the word “fresh” an understatement. Detail to quality, service and taste is evident from the time you enter, to the time you depart. The food really is extraordinary.
Activities: Pace yourself and do as you please, when you please. The best part of solo travel is you never disappoint, inconvenience or drive anyone crazy with what you want to do. In Carmel-by-the Sea it’s all about the food, wine and shopping. It’s all within walking distance of each other. Wine tasting room standouts not to miss are Champagne tasting at Caraccioli Cellars, the Pinot Gris at Silvestri Vineyards, and the Pinot, breadsticks and art at Figge Cellars. Don’t miss The Cheese Shop with its decadent- never ending – samples. Ask to go behind the counter to wear the cheese block on your head for a unique photo op.
At the Holman Ranch begin your stay by picking up your room keys in town at their tasting room. Take the time to get in to your groove with a spot of wine tasting. While at the ranch, do yoga in the many view-perfect natural settings. Arrange to visit the vineyards and the wine caves. Taste samples of wine developing in their journey to becoming finished fine wines. Definitely taste their Jarman wine line. It is superb. Get a bottle or two for your room and taste brilliance in a bottle. Play pool, a board game or listen to the juke box in the spectacular game room.
I came to travel solo out of necessity – as part of my job as a food wine and travel writer. I continue to do so out of love – a love of the many opportunities that solo travel offers to each and every one of us. My final advice to you is to step up and step out to this unique kind of travel lifestyle.
Holman Ranch: www.holmanranch.com
Hofsas House: www.hofsashouse.com
Jarman Wines: www.jarmanwine.com
The Cheese Shop: http://www.thecheeseshopinc.com/
Whaling Station: http://whalingstation.net/
Will’s Fargo Restaurant and Bar: www.wfrestaruant.com