Separated by only a couple of miles, Carmel and Monterey are worlds apart in character. Both are touristy but the crowds differ. Both are seaside communities but each has a separate identity as to architecture and style. Tom and I have always enjoyed our getaways to the Monterey peninsula and while I always head straight to the shops in Carmel, he likes to visit old army haunts in Monterey and reminisce about his days there avoiding a tour in Vietnam. My husband was not Born to Shop. For those of us who were, there are endless shopping opportunities from major retailers to intimate specialty stores featuring handmade clothing and one of kind items for the home. Needless to say, a weekend is not nearly enough time to do justice to the shops, but hey, I’m always up for a challenge.
Drive by Shopping – Gilroy Premium Outlets
If you’re driving from the Bay Area, you’ll pass Gilroy and will want to make a stop at the Gilroy Premium Outlets. Twenty miles south of San Jose on 101, take the Leavesley Road exit. Gilroy is known as America’s “Garlic Capitol,” but for me, it’s the close to 150 discount outlets that I think of when I think of Gilroy. The Outlets At Gilroy are just off the freeway and include most major brands. They are open Mon thru Sat 10am to 9pm and Sundays, 10 to 6.
Carmel-by-the-Sea is a quaint village of fairy tale cottages and hidden courtyards where well heeled residents tend to be preppy, artsy and/or retired. There’s an idyllic charm to this small town full of specialty shops, boutiques, and over 70 art and photography galleries. Don’t look for billboards or neon signs; you won’t find any. High-heels may be worn by permit only (never enforced!) and dogs are welcome in many hotels and restaurants with outdoor seating. Yes, the streets are often crowded with tourists, but the pace is slow, the shoppers have class, and there is so much to see and buy, who cares? Shopping hours vary by store and all are open weekends. You can’t rely on the hours posted – I’ve returned to shops that were supposed to be open only to find them closed. The art galleries are among the few shops open in the evening.
It’s not too difficult to find parking spaces Carmel, but be aware that most have a ninety minute limit. Keep an eye on the time as your tires will be marked and you will be ticketed as soon as the time runs out.
There are public restrooms in the park in the middle of the town, but do yourself a favor and walk across the street to the third floor of the Carmel Plaza Shopping Center (on Ocean Avenue between Junipero and Mission) where the facilities are clean and convenient.
Ocean Avenue, from Junipero to Monte Verde, is the main street from which the adjoining blocks stem out to provide great shopping opportunities. Don’t miss the tiny alleyways and courtyards where you’ll find more boutiques. Art galleries are scattered throughout but most seem to be on the north side of Ocean Avenue. Since art is a personal choice, I can’t make any recommendations but the variety and price range are endless. The great thing about shopping in Carmel is that most boutiques are small, privately owned and stock unique items. I’ve listed some of my favorites but there are so many great shops, this list could go on and on . . .
Thinker Toys 7th & Carlos. Not only is this a great toy store, but they have a seating area where you can read to your kids and let them play with the toys. The company is dedicated to the theory that fun, learning and personal growth go together perfectly. Here you will find quality toys that inspire creativity and stand the test of time. They have everything from arts and crafts to games and puzzles, dress-up clothes to erector sets, collectibles, furniture and on and on. This shop is a treat for kids of all ages.
Diggidy Dog Southwest Corner of Mission and Ocean Avenues. Dog clothes like I’ve never seen. Does your puppy need a Chanel style tweed jacket with fringe? Or maybe a t-shirt that says “I’m a bitch”? Motorcycle gear for dogs and even down parkas. Full range of collars, dog beds, treats, etc.
Madrigal, Carmel Plaza shopping center. Classic clothing for men and women including golf wear and everything you need for the next country club outing.
In its early days, Monterey was the capital of the Spanish Territory of California and the first capital of the state of California. Many of its historic buildings and Spanish Adobes have been restored and a walking tour of these buildings around Old Monterey, the Path of History, might be a good way to entertain your husband while you shop. Or maybe he wants to play golf at Pebble Beach. Monterey is now a real people town and military base with two very touristy areas –Cannery Row and Fisherman’s Wharf. I think Steinbeck would be appalled at what’s happened to Cannery Row and Fisherman’s Wharf is so bad, I can’t imagine recommending it to anyone. In all honesty, I have been visiting Monterey for 30 years and I find that these two areas become more tacky, touristy, and frustrating each time I return. It’s impossible to park and tour buses are everywhere blocking streets and bringing hoards of people to town. Tourist traps are side by side and I thought that if I saw one more stall selling Monterey Bay sweatshirts I would scream. So my advice is to drop the family off at the aquarium (buy tickets in advance), browse the antique mall and head to Carmel.
Cannery Row Antique Mall 471 Wave Street
Housed in the former Carmel Canning Company Warehouse #2, this building is one of the few remaining authentic and unchanged Cannery Row structures from the Steinbeck era. An antiques collective since 1994, there are over 150 dealers on two floors. These aren’t high end goods, but lots of “smalls” with some furniture thrown into the mix. You’ll find kitchen items and an extensive selection of vintage Life magazines (great for milestone birthday gifts). They offer complimentary coffee and tea on the second floor. The mall is about 3 blocks from the aquarium. Open daily Mon – Sat 10:00 – 5:30 and Sun 10 – 5.
Monterey Bay Aquarium 886 Cannery Row
This world famous fish tank is a must-do for most visitors and it’s definitely a fun adventure. It’s also pretty expensive; tickets range from $35 - $40 per person. The gift shop is huge and offers some beautiful ceramics (identical to what I just saw in Bat Trang Vietnam) and unique stuffed animals along with expensive t-shirts and fleece jackets. Open daily 10:00 - 6