Yesterday, I was catching sight of little nooks and eaves, elegant Spanish tiles, and hidden courtyards spilling with flowerpots in Carmel-by-the-Sea, a seaside city in Monterey County so charming it feels like you're walking through a gingerbread village. No really, it's that cute! It's also an easy drive from the South Bay-just over 80 miles southwest.
I had intended to hike at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, but arriving at 10:30 a.m., I quickly found a line of cars waiting at the entrance checkpoint. Maybe it was feeling like I arrived "late." Whatever the reason, it didn't feel like the day for Point Lobos and I drove back out of the reserve.
I had no other plans that day, so figured I would grab coffee in Carmel-by-the-Sea, which turned into a calming walk on Carmel Beach, and a wonderful conversation at the Carmel Visitor Center. I met a local named Mark who, when I mentioned I was working on an article about central coast hikes, promptly pulled out a map and highlighted a 4-mile walking tour throughout the city.
While I didn't have time to do the route right then and there, I was so excited to have new places to explore on my next visit. The walking tour features Carmel Beach (B), a private home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (C), the Tor House (D) which honors poet Robinson Jeffers, the Carmel Mission (E), and Mission Trail Park (F). Quite a punch for a 4-miler! I chose the starting point at Carpenter and Ocean (G) because we've have good luck finding street parking on Carpenter.
Stopping in at the Carmel Visitor Center was a reminder of the benefits of asking for help, in person. Over time I've learned that local folks in visitor centers, like Carmel, can really tell you the meat and the bones of a city: where the best free parking is, local food haunts, and walking routes like the tour Mark pointed out.
Onur and I had a similar experience at the Monterey Visitor Center. We walked in without a plan and asked for a recommended walk. We loved the guide's 2-mile walk along Monterey Bay so much, we came back a few weeks later and did it again. The same happened on our visit to Stanford University, too. We stopped in the visitor center and took their recommended walk, map in hand, to Hoover Tower, Memorial Court, Rodin Sculpture Garden, and Cantor Center for Visual Arts, where a student took us on a lively, interactive tour.
Being new to an area encourages a certain kind of humility. You can learn a lot by asking for help and having face-to-face conversations with locals who can point you in an unexpected, novel direction. Hats off to the Carmel, Monterey, and Stanford Visitor Centers who've pointed us to great experiences in their communities.