My friend Sara is the perfect traveling partner―she's up for anything, never complains, loves food and wine, and doesn't wake up too early in the morning.
So when she and I were both feeling overworked and under-relaxed, we headed off to Carmel-by-the-Sea for a weekend of rejuvenation. And because we didn't want a big credit card bill to undo the mellowing, we set out to spend less than $400, including tax and tips.
This is not usually a realistic goal here―after all, Carmel was the prototype for the quaint, artsy village catering to those who like to shoppe till they droppe.
By going off-season, though, we saved a lot. The town's lodging prices drop nicely in November and December, staying pleasantly low until the big Pebble Beach golf tournament in early February sends prices all over the Monterey Peninsula soaring.
We splurged on good food, but we kept costs down by assembling our own picnic one evening. And we maximized our renewal factor by spending lots of time on the beach―which, even in late fall, is utterly beautiful and completely free.
Carmel for less
For a travel planner, contact the Carmel Chamber of Commerce (www.carmelcalifornia.org or 800/550-4333).
Lodging and dining
Candlelight Inn. From $131. San Carlos St. at Fourth Ave.; 800/433-4732.
Carmel Coffee & Cocoa Bar. $. Carmel Plaza, Ocean Ave. at Junipero St.; 831/ 622-0660.
The Cheese Shop. Carmel Plaza; 800/828-9463.
Corkscrew Bistro and Wine Bar. $$; call for hours. 55 W. Carmel Valley Rd., Carmel Valley Village; 831/659-8888.
Kurt's Carmel Chop House. $$$. Fifth Ave. at San Carlos St.; 831/625-1199.
The Normandy Inn. From $79. Ocean Ave. at Monte Verde St.; 831/624 -3825.
Red House Cafe. $; closed Mon. 662 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove; 831/643-1060.