The clock was already in the double digits when I slipped away to the Carmel Coffee & Cocoa Bar for a supplement to the hotel's breakfast. I got a latte for Sara and chose from 12 different kinds of hot chocolate for me, settling on a deluxe Scharffen Berger mocha―now that's a classy way to get caffeine.
Finally awake, we decided to drive inland to explore Carmel Valley. The cloud cover had burned off, and the fields were green with fresh grass and dotted with live oaks. In the town of Carmel Valley, we stopped at Château Julien Wine Estate, where you get a free tasting of Merlots and Chardonnays while taking a 30-minute tour of the French-Swiss estate. At Heller Estate, we tried organically grown wines and appreciated the whimsical sculptures. After wine tasting, we needed a light lunch, so we had a salad and sandwich at Corkscrew Bistro and Wine Bar.
We stopped at Garland Ranch Regional Park on the way back to Carmel, following a trail into a meadow and then up a forested hillside covered in oaks and bay laurels. It was a shaded, relaxing hike, and once we'd headed out, we didn't see anyone else on the trails.
Back in town, Sara was already thinking about our next meal. We assembled a magnificent picnic dinner at the Cheese Shop in Carmel Plaza. The wine and cheese selection was impressive, particularly for such a small space, and the staff kept offering samples to aid our decisions. We ended up with a Monterey County Pinot Gris, a sheep's-milk cheese, a fig spread, olives, and a crusty loaf of bread.
We drove to Carmel River State Beach and set up our feast on a big driftwood log. The air was charged with ozone. It made everything―the wine, the cheese, the spread―taste even better. A crowd of goggle-eyed seagulls remained, impatient, at a polite yet expectant distance. But the food was so good, there weren't many crumbs left when we were done.
We'd saved on dinner, so we could spend on entertainment. Because Carmel is known for its arty spirit and local theater, I'd gotten us tickets for a play at the 35-year-old Indoor Forest Theatre. We parked back at our hotel, and I confidently led us off into the darkening night. Mist was collecting into fog, adding an eerie atmosphere to the residential neighborhoods. Half an hour later, when the evening sky had turned from gray to black, we were still wandering around the streets. Spotting a woman who was getting into her car, I decided to ask for directions.
"Get in," she said. "You're going to miss the show. And you've gone exactly in the wrong direction."
Sara, who in the spirit of friendship hadn't uttered a word of complaint as I'd led her around in circles, jumped into the heated car. The woman, clearly a generous soul, got us to the theater just in time.
We enjoyed the play, the warm theater, and the chocolate brownies at intermission. And Sara found our way home.
Carmel Coffee & Cocoa Bar
Fancy caffeinated breakfast $7
Carmel Valley wine tour
Tastings plus winery tours $10
Corkscrew Bistro and Wine Bar
Salad and sandwich in wine country $26.41
Garland Ranch Regional Park
Hiking under oaks and bay laurels Free
The Cheese Shop
Picnic dinner with plenty of samples $33.27
Carmel River State BeachOcean panorama with seagulls Free
Indoor Forest Theatre
An evening show in the nick of time $36