I believe that sometimes the residents of the San Francisco Bay Area forget how wonderful they have it living here.

The Bay Area is famous worldwide; I believe that San Francisco has been voted one of the most beautiful cities in the world more than once. We are also home to the Napa Valley as well as the oceans and mountains of the many cities and towns that make up this region.

One area I believe the residents never forget how lucky they are is the Monterey Peninsula, home to Carmel, Monterey, Pacific Grove and Big Sur. The cities and towns that dot this coastal county are some of the most sought after zip codes for living, visiting and touring. Whether you are into hiking, golfing, eating, sightseeing, wine tasting or walking your dog, this is the place for you!

I personally love the Carmel/Monterey area and it holds a lot of personal feelings and memories from my life. The drive is so easy since everything is right off the highway that it makes it an easy decision to go down for the weekend or even a day trip. I recently went down to Carmel for the day just to go to a dog park and the beach and was home on my couch by 8 p.m. – perfect! But, staying for a few days is even better as I found out in February when Local Happenings Magazine went down to visit the Monterey Peninsula for a little travel field trip.

We all arrived at the Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel and Spa on Del Monte Golf Course in the afternoon and what weather we had – sunshine all around. We literally sat overlooking the 17th green of the Del Monte Golf Course drinking cocktails in February – unbelievable. We were able to sit and relax and get unpacked in our room before heading to dinner that night at the restaurant located at the hotel, TusCA Ristorante.

TusCA Ristorante, located right off of the lobby is surprisingly intimate and has a menu that equals any other white table cloth restaurant in the area. With golf course views and a very comfortable setting, we dined on hearty cuisine inspired by Italy’s Tuscan region. With great service and fabulous Monterey County wine, our first evening was a HUGE success.

The next day we took a walk along Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey (five minutes from the hotel) and then came back to have breakfast and relax in the lobby of the hotel that has a cozy family-room style ambience complete with fireplace. The best was yet to come though since we then had massages at the Accista Spa, also located right on the hotel property. Fabulous! The Accista Spa was relaxing and serene with once again a comfortable atmosphere, not stuffy at all. Their menu of services was complete and would rival any spa I have ever visited.

The best was yet to come though. Later that night we were whisked away in the biggest stretch limousine I had been in (an extended Excursion) to the Hyatt Carmel Highlands in Carmel. This is truly a destination spot and MUST NOT be missed. When you enter the property (it was night and very dark outside) you get the feeling that you are entering a mountain lodge. The main room resembles something you might find in the Grand Tetons. The walls are covered with the most beautiful black and white photographs, all of the Carmel/Big Sur coast. I immediately wanted a room big enough at home in order to hang all of these photos to forever look at them. A good reason to go back!

We were led through the main dining room of the restaurant Pacific’s Edge to a private working wine storage room. Again, fabulous! The glass-walled room was stunning with the candles and low lights showcasing the bottled walls on the opposite side of the room from where we entered. The table was set for royalty and we truly felt special, but nothing could prepare us for the absolutely spectacular meal that was prepared for us by Executive Chef, Matt Bolton. You MUST make this restaurant a priority when you come to Carmel. The views, food and exceptional service has to be experienced. I had no idea until I came that this is one of the most popular wedding sites as well because of the views. Thanks to the staff for making us feel so welcome and for our tour of the property including Matt, previously mentioned, Jonathan P. Doepke, Resort Manager Jacques Melac, Pacific Edge’s Manager and Paul Fried, Wine Director.

We hated for this evening to end but we finished off with drinks back at the Hyatt Monterey next to their fireplace; very cozy and just the right amount of intimacy.

The next day we leisurely woke up and decided to enjoy brunch at the TusCA Ristorante. What a spread they do! We enjoyed our champagne brunch as well as our entire stay very much. The Hyatt Monterey is perfectly located to enjoy the entire area and right off the highway for easy access. Bring the golf clubs, the kids and Rover since they are pet friendly. Ben had an awesome stay.

We next headed into Carmel so we could enjoy some beach time. Ocean Avenue is always busy with international travelers and locals shopping and eating at one of the many cafes and restaurants. It is almost overwhelming so you might need a couple of trips to find your favorites. Ben was so happy since Carmel is probably THE MOST dog-friendly place in the world. Complete with poop bags, downtown Carmel is littered with dog treat baskets, water bowls and the friendly canines themselves.  The beach at the end of Ocean Avenue is one of my most favorite places in the world. The sand is white and soft and no matter the weather, you cannot find a more beautiful and picturesque location. This beach is one of the reasons I am sure the locals stay, and why the tourists keep coming back. This is No. 1 on the list of what to do when you visit Carmel.

For our stay in Carmel proper, we stayed at a very different hotel from the Hyatt Monterey. Carrie Theis, owner/manager of Hofsas House right on San Carlos Street off of Ocean Avenue between 3rd and 4th Avenue, was our hostess. Hofsas House is located within walking distance to everything in Central Carmel. Their famous mural painted by Maxine Albro in 1957 greets you as you enter their driveway so you cannot miss it. This unique mural was originally created to offer a welcome from the family to their guests.

For over 60 years, the Theis family has been providing European hospitality designed to suit everyone’s travel tastes. The magic of Germany is showcased in the 38 rooms, many with ocean views, overlooking the pines in the quaint village of Carmel-by-the-Sea.

The Theis family aspires to provide the highest level of personal service. From the continental breakfast each morning with French Roast coffee, tea, fresh pastries delivered from a local bakery, juice and fruit to the personal concierge services and traditional family hospitality, the Hofsas House has something for everyone – including your four-legged friends. The Bavarian-inspired hotel offers pet-friendly rooms and concierge services, heated swimming pool, European-style dry saunas, WiFi, cable TV, off-street parking as well as the aforementioned continental breakfast. Ben and I loved the location to the beach where he could run forever and he loved his doggie basket that came with the room complete with Frisbee, dog shampoo and his own personalized dog tag!

The hotel offers the Tail Wagging Package, House Crafting Package, The Reunion Package as well as some special packages with the different seasons. Please call Carrie and the rest of the amazing staff at (831) 624-2745 or visit their website at www.hofsashouse.com for more information.

You might think, “When does this amazing trip end?” I was saying this to myself quite often but it was not over yet. One other must do in Carmel (#2) is to visit Pebble Beach and the various resorts that make up this world-famous destination. One that I personally feel is a MUST is the Spanish Bay Resort, home to the serenading bagpiper. If you love relaxing on an outdoor terrace in front of fireplaces wrapped up in blankets viewing one of the most beautiful vistas ever and listening to the lyrical sounds of a bagpipe, this is the place for you. Every evening a bagpiper serenades the setting sun as if to signal the end of another magical day. We thoroughly enjoyed our cocktails on the terrace as the bagpiper walked through the headlands to the final green on the golf course to finish his performance.

After leaving Spanish Bay, take your time driving the 17-mile drive if you have time – it is definitely worth it. We left quickly since we had reservations at Fandango in Pacific Grove.

Fandango is a local’s favorite and can accommodate families as well as a romantic rendezvous. We had an exceptional dinner and had most of the other diners entertained with Ramon, Rory and Veronica’s singing and visiting. (Thanks kids for making the night memorable!)

The menu reflects Mediterranean items like spaghetti Siracusa, paella, calamari steaks, croque monsieur, sand dab filets and their specialty, rack of lamb. A popular Sunday brunch ranges from French toast and cheese blintzes to hamburgers, salad Nicoise and pasta dishes. An impressive wine list accompanies the broad menu of Basque, French, Spanish, Italian and North African influences.

Fandango is located at 223 17th St. in Pacific Grove. (831) 372-3456 or go to www.fandangorestaurant.com.

Fandangos is not the only restaurant where we were given the best treatment, Bistro Beaujolais was also on that list. This quaint bistro is located right in the pulse of Carmel at Carmel Plaza right on Ocean Avenue and Junipero. They offer courtyard seating, live music, can accommodate private functions and special events as well as being pet-friendly of course. Their menu is so varied that I think I can realistically say that everyone can find something to eat here. Homemade pastas, fresh fish, beef, poulet, canard, lamb, paninis and pizzas – what else could you ask for?

The owners of Bistro Beaujolais also own a couple of other popular restaurants, da Giovanni and Bistro Giovanni. All three are located right in downtown Carmel. To make it easy to find them you can go to one website for all three restaurants; www.3carmelrestaurants.com. The Firok Shield family is known locally for their restaurant hospitality and I can personally attest to VERY GOOD food. Thanks again for accommodating Ben and the rest of us!

On our last night in Carmel we decided to go to a very quaint and local restaurant, Mundaka (a Spanish tapas restaurant). As a group we thoroughly enjoyed the very artistic ambiance and knowing that everything in the restaurant was made with sustainable materials and recollected materials.  I was told that Mundaka opened as a result of great friendships, a love of food, wine, music, and a long-term romance with Spain and its culture. Open in March 2009, Mundaka continues to evolve daily with the creations of their chef, Brandon Miller.

We sat at a family-style table and everyone ordered various tapas and tried to go with the chef suggestions versus looking at the menu. I have to say as a persnickety eater I was a little apprehensive about the food, especially since I was eating vegetarian because it was during Lent and I had given up red meat for this self-induced 40-day sacrifice. I loved it, especially the Coliflor; cauliflower gratin, horseradish, Gruyère. SOOOO GOOD! Robert ordered the Chuleton, a 22-ounce rib eye served rare with arugula and potato salad. We were all tired since this is now the end of 4 days of non-stop eating, drinking and driving. This was just perfect to end the trip.

Before heading back the next morning we all had breakfast and took in our last views of the beach and the beauty of this quaint village. I personally had to walk the beach once again and breathe in the fresh salty air and watch the golfers on the bluff of Pebble Beach. Whether you have one day or two weeks, Carmel/Monterey/Big Sur is a must for families, singles, lovers and dogs – make your reservations today!

On a personal note – if you have a dog then you MUST visit Terry’s Lounge inside The Cypress Inn which is owned by Doris Day and who personally made Carmel THE #1 place to visit with your dog. Ben is a regular!


Reasons to Visit Carmel, Monterey and Big Sur

•   Golfers’ Paradise

•   Food & Wine

•   Art, Arts and Entertainment

•   Romantic Escapes

•   Beach Bumming

•   Pet-Friendly

•   Car Buffs

•   Fairy-Tale Weddings

•   Relax and Rejuvenate

•   Nature Lovers Paradise

•   Celebrity Sightings

MUST  Adventures on Monterey Peninsula

•   Point Lobos State Reserve

•   Historic Cannery Row

•   Monterey Bay Aquarium

•   Old Fisherman’s Wharf

•   Lovers Point

•   Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca

•   Big Sur

•   Carmel Valley

•   17-Mile Drive

•   Ocean Avenue Beach

Deanna Baillie and Ben, her Australian Shepherd, are great travel companions. She invites you to keep up with her and Ben on her blog at www.localhappeningsmagazine.com.