City Guides Northern California USA

Carmel by the Sea: Local Quirks

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In December 2007 I took on a six-month vacation rental in the charming town, Carmel by the Sea California.  Although it began in the early 1900’s as an escape for San Francisco artist is sees more tourists visiting high-priced galleries instead. But there’s a reason why this small sea-side town keeps people coming – it’s accessible, it’s beautiful and it’s more than quirky.

Here are some of the things that make Carmel by the Sea what it is:

  • There are no street addresses. That’s right – no street addresses. Instead of being identified by government issued numbers, homes are identified either by their cottage name (which owners can choose) or by description (SW Corner of San Carlos and 5th, green house three down with the big red door). Explaining this to UPS or places that do not accept P.O. Box addresses can be challenging. It does, however, encourage one to know their streets, neighbours, houses and surroundings so they can explain how to get around town.
  • There are no street lights. At all. Which means it’s very, very dark, especially in winter. Not a little shady but pitch black. This affords the glory of seeing the stars and when the full moon is out, the town glows. But walking when dark can be daunting – so carry a flashlight.
  • If you’re 18 or under, there is a 10PM curfew. When I told a friend he replied in cheek, “It’s to keep those pesky kids of people’s lawns!” But, there are no lawns here – another law. It’s all Xerophytic Landscaping; natural landscaping that doesn’t require watering (although cactus and any other plants that could cause physical harm are highly discouraged!). It also helps to keep the town feeling like a forest and full of magic.
  • Except for Ocean Ave and a couple of streets around it which have shops, there are no sidewalks. Again to add to the forest feel (Carmel was the first city in California to employ a full-time Forrester) but also a reason why if you were certain high heels, you’ll need a permit! The city requires this because the uneven roads can be dangerous in towering shoes and they don’t want the liability.
  • It is very, very quiet. Living four blocks from the beach, I can still hear the waves crashing against the shore. Coming from Los Angeles, it took me awhile to realise it wasn’t the highway.
  • The town is only one square mile in size with 1 dog for every 3 humans. But you’ll never be bothered by dogs or their business – it’s very clean. Most people here believe that those who take their dogs out will be responsible (and they are). So much so that lots of restaurants (including gourmet) not only allow dogs, but have dogs menus.
  • Almost half the population is single but most visitors are couples. It’s about a 50/50 split between men and women although the average age is 54.
  • The city began as one of America’s first artist colonies (most of whom were women) and the names of famous artists in residence is long. However, most of those who founded the city couldn’t afford to live here today – the median home price is $1.8 million. If you include 17 Mile Drive in that, the median home price goes up to$8.4!
  • The Forest Theatre still provides outside live theatre, however, because rent is so high the original movie theatre is no longer in operation. The only place to see movies now is in one of the local banks. There’s a Plasma TV with seats. However, they only play Doris Day or Clint Eastwood movies.
  • It doesn’t matter what night it is, the town will most likely be quiet and closed after 6PM. I’ve been asked a lot by tourists “what’s going on tonight?” If it’s Tuesday it’s locals night at the Cypress Hotel. Other than that don’t expect much. People come for the scenery not the scene.

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