Recently, my family and I had the opportunity to take a mid-week getaway to the Monterey Peninsula for my husband’s 39th birthday and to kick off the summer vacation for our six-year old. It had been a few months since the last time we got out of town, and our first time to go to the Monterey peninsula, so we were excited to visit the town of Carmel-by-the-Sea.
Carmel-by-the-Sea is a three or four hour drive from our hometown. We left early on Wednesday morning to ensure that we’d enjoy a leisurely drive and still have plenty of daylight to explore and get to know the town a bit. After the drive, and several stops along the way, we made it to Carmel at 1:30. We intended to try to check in at the hotel and then head out from there.
Our room was reserved for us at Hofsas House. We drove into Carmel expecting to have to hunt for the hotel among the town’s myriad boutique lodging options, but it was the very first place we found as we rounded the corner on San Carlos Street. Fun fact: Carmel is known for not having addresses; instead residences and businesses alike are named, and can be found by looking for the nearest cross streets.
The hotel would be difficult to miss with its Bavarian cottage theme and pink facade. Hofsas House is decidedly pink – but not gaudy – right down to the stationery on the bedside table. However, we did miss the entrance at first and had to double back. Although unmistakable, it fit in perfectly with the European village feel throughout the rest of the town.
The entrance to the hotel property is a narrow driveway down a steep hill. The first parking spaces we found were on the hillside and seemed, to the uninitiated, a bit treacherous. For a moment, I feared that the car would tip over and roll down the hill. Fortunately, the car stayed put and we began the steep walk up to the front office to check in.
Built by Donna Hofsas in 1947, the Hofsas House opened with just 3 residential cottages, which are still in use. Now, nearly 70 years later, the hotel boasts 38 unique rooms and suites, and it is still in Donna’s family. Carrie Theis, the owner of Hofsas House, carries on her grandmother’s legacy today with a warm hospitality that makes visitors feel like family.
You’re welcome here any time
When we arrived, we were welcomed by friendly front desk staff who checked us in. Then, Carrie Theis personally gave a warm greeting and introduced herself. She took the time to give us a brief tour of the property and show us to our room. Since we were on our own for the rest of the afternoon and evening, Carrie, who also sits on the Carmel City Council, provided us with a map of the business district and pointed out some places of interest before leaving us to our leisure.
Our room felt like a bedroom at Grandma’s house.
Our reservation was for a deluxe King room with a fireplace. There was also a small kitchen area with a microwave and refrigerator, coffee maker and a toaster. We let them know ahead that we’d be travelling with a child, so they promised a rollaway bed in addition (which was already in the room when we checked in).
There are no pretentious, overt signs of luxury here. The room was simple, but spacious, comfortable, and clean. And the personal touches were everywhere. We got high quality toiletries in the bathroom, locally sourced coffee in the kitchen, and they even made sure we had a duraflame log for our wood stove for each night of our stay.
Complete with a wood stove and comfortable seating area.
Hofsas House has a number of special packages and add-ons that can be included with your reservation. A romantic getaway complete with rose petals, golfing excursions, and wine tours are some of the options. Since we were traveling with a little one, we didn’t opt for any of these, but we did get the wine and cheese pairing. When we settled into our room, there was a bottle of chilled wine and a selection of local cheeses waiting for us. It was delicious!
Locally sourced wine and cheese pairing.
After settling in and relaxing for a bit, it was time to hit the town. One great thing about Carmel is that most attractions are within walking distance. Choosing to leave the car where it was, we set out on foot down San Carlos street. We passed several hotels before hitting the main business district where we passed an abundance of boutiques selling Jimmy Choos and estate jewelry, numerous art galleries, and a wide selection of specialty goods. It was a feast for the eyes!
We found a deliciously scented coffee shop and stopped for beverages before doing some souvenir shopping and hunting for the perfect birthday present for my hubby. Afterwards, we went for a snack and drinks at the only Mexican Restaurant in Carmel, Club Jalapeno.
Clockwise from top left: Husband found his present at a local hat shop; Coffee at Cafe Carmel; daughter enjoying the walk; cute little lane of shops and Club Jalapeno; Margarita and sangria, his and hers drinks, at Club Jalapeno
All in all, we covered around six blocks on foot, barely scratching the surface of all that Carmel has to offer, before we decided to head back for some relaxation at the hotel.
We enjoyed the rustic feeling of the fireplace.
Carrie asked us to meet her in the lobby in the morning to plan out our day. We got to the front office at 9:00 and had some time to enjoy the continental breakfast. Each day, the hotel offers a selection of freshly baked pastries, yogurt, fruit, juice, and coffee for all its guests. Most people choose to take a tray of goodies back to their room, but we chose to enjoy our breakfast by the fire.
Continental breakfast in the lobby.
Carrie met us in the lobby at 9:30. She had made arrangements for us to enjoy a picnic at a location of our choosing and then, later in the evening, to head to Monterey for dinner at the Fisherman’s Wharf. Carrie made sure we had everything we needed for a fantastic day at Point Lobos State Park, including allowing us to borrow a pair of binoculars, and Monterey.
After our chat with Carrie, we stopped at 5th Avenue Deli to pick up a picnic lunch provided by Hofsas House. We loaded our picnic basket with sandwiches, salads, and drinks, then headed out. Point Lobos is only a 15 minute drive from the hotel. On the way, we made a brief stop at the Carmel Mission and wandered a bit through the gift shop. The mission is a piece of California history which we were hoping to share with the little one, but we ended up not staying very long. It turns out we hadn’t budgeted for the tour admission.
We had checked the tide predictions and wanted to ensure we got to Point Lobos in time to explore the tide pools during low tide. We found an amazing spot where we could walk out and mingle with the ocean life. Here, my husband took the lead and showed our daughter sea anemones, hermit crabs, and the tiny fish living in the tide pools. After an hour or so, we sat down for our picnic.
Tide Pools at Point Lobos
After lunch, there was still a few hours before we had to make it to our dinner reservation, so we decided to head back to the hotel for a dip in the pool.
Picnicking at Point Lobos
The pool at Hofsas House is open year round. Heated to a lovely 84 degrees, it was perfect for a swim despite being only 65 degrees outside. Afterwards, we sat in the dry sauna to warm up. Then it was time to head to Monterey for the evening.
The Marina at Fisherman’s Wharf
Compared to the laidback European charm of Carmel-by-the-Sea, Monterey had a more urban feel. There was construction everywhere in downtown and it was loud and dirty, which I did not find appealing. However, once we arrived at the Fisherman’s Wharf, it was everything I had imagined Monterey to be. It was quite touristy, and I admit I liked it very much. Whereas Carmel’s shops had a very high-end feel, the wharf was exactly where I wanted to be for the tchotchkes and kitschy souvenirs. It was a different kind of feast for the eyes.
I love the touristy boardwalk at Fisherman’s Wharf.
The Hofsas House had made reservations for us at Abolonetti Grill. It was originally set for 6:30, but we were hungry. I called the restaurant, and they were wonderfully accommodating to allow us to come for dinner at 5:30. From outside the restaurant, we caught a glimpse of a few scattered sea lions lounging on the rocks. Once inside, we had a fantastic view of the bay from our seat and could watch the boats coming in while we enjoyed pre-dinner drinks. From the restaurant, I caught a glimpse of a few scattered sea lions lounging on the rocks. What a fun experience!
Those are sea lions on those rocks.
We placed our orders and within minutes the food came. Our daughter got fish and chips from the children’s menu, which was pretty standard, nothing too special. My husband’s calamari steak was tender and perfectly cooked and absolutely delicious despite the underwhelming sides of mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables. My swordfish steak, though, served with vegetables and Sicilian marinara was the best restaurant-cooked meal that I have had in ages. Overall, we were impressed with the service and the food. We left with full bellies, incredibly grateful that the Hofsas House had arranged such a satisfying meal!
We made it back to the hotel in time to enjoy a drink and catch the stunning sunset from the patio outside our room.
The spectacular sunset viewed from our patio.
My daughter peeking out the Dutch door, waiting for a glimpse of the sunset.
Then it was time to light the fire for a second time and settle in for the night, as we had another day of driving ahead of us.
Our time on the Monterey peninsula was short and we ended up not doing every single thing we had hoped we would do. But there was a lot packed into two days and we wanted to make sure we kept it at a leisurely pace. I wish we had had more time, but overall, it was a very enjoyable getaway.
Because the hospitality at the Hofsas House is so genuine, I would definitely recommend it for your stay in Carmel. One word of caution: although there are accessible rooms, anyone with serious mobility issues may be more comfortable elsewhere. There are stairs galore and steep hills to navigate. The staff are wonderful however, and very willing to do what it takes to make your stay comfortable and enjoyable.
As for the town of Carmel, I fell in love! Monterey was fun, but if we have the chance to come back to the peninsula, I would want us to spend our time meandering around Carmel and ducking into all the hidden spaces, gardens, shops, and restaurants we didn’t get to try.
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