Day 1: Spiritual enlightenment

Our blue-and-white room at the Normandy Inn was small but cheery, and it didn't hurt that it was close to the shore. The off-season rate made it a great deal: For two nights with 10 percent hotel tax, the tab came to $173.80. We also left a $5 room tip.

We liked the Candlelight Inn too―the room we checked out had a small bathroom, but the corner window offered a wedge of ocean view.

For discounts at other hotels, ask about the Holiday Bounty for Monterey County specials that are offered through the Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau (holiday specials available Nov 1-Dec 31; www.montereyinfo.org or 888/221-1010).

After checking in at our inn, Sara wanted to test her new running shoes, so we jogged down Ocean Avenue to Carmel Beach. People were out along the long stretch of white shoreline, surfing, walking their dogs, and sitting on blankets on the sand. And the waves were Carmel's trademark ethereal blue. One very tan, skinny man passed us, talking to his female companion. "To really achieve spiritual enlightenment," he told her, "you have to give up meat."

Sara, a vehemently reformed vegetarian, snorted.

The trip back, all uphill, was a little trickier. We ran some and walked some, taking a detour down Carmelo Street and Camino Real to check out the neighborhood's shake-roofed cottages, overhanging trees, and pretty gardens.

Then we did some window shopping downtown. I had thought we'd only find gimmick-laden tourist shops, but I was happily proved wrong. We liked the gorgeous furniture and garden gear at Homescapes, Carmel, and we also admired the photos at Weston Gallery.

The beach guy's comment had sparked Sara's appetite, so she decided we should go to Kurt's Carmel Chop House for dinner. The steakhouse (located next to Carmel Sands Lodge) has steaks and chops, of course, plus burgers, seafood, and a bar and wine menu. It was a splurge―totaling about $54 with tip―but we had excellent Kobe beef burgers.

The Tab
$400 BUDGET

Day 1
The Normandy Inn 2 nights, plus housekeeping tip $178.80

Carmel Beach
Jogging down Ocean Ave. and eavesdropping on locals Free

Downtown Carmel
Window shopping at chic shops Free

Kurt's Carmel Chop House
Meaty dinner with all the fixings $54.19