On Sunday afternoon at approximately 10:45 in the morning, it occurred to me how much I enjoy spending time in Carmel, California.
We were sitting in the shade of a large, old oak tree, awaiting our chosen brunch spot to open for service. The pause in the day was welcome—it was easy to revel in how wonderful the sun and light breeze felt, Lucy happily resting at our feet after running the length of the beach we could still hear in the distance. Looking up through the gnarled branches above, fog had given way to the most brilliantly blue sky; a blessing on the coastline this time of year.
This past weekend was our second trip to the small seaside town—and Big Sur, just south of it—since January. In fact, when we went at the beginning of the year, we had barely gotten in the car to drive home when I turned to Joe and said, “So, when can we come back?”
That my enjoyment of this tiny town surprises me is in turn probably surprising to you. But when I first visited the area about ten, maybe eleven years ago, I remember feeling underwhelmed. It felt touristy. It was cold. We wandered past endless art and antique stores, none of which appealed to us as early 20 somethings. I didn’t get it, and it was an easy place to write off.
I’ve been back to Carmel a few times in the interim years, always with groups of friends and always for a quick jaunt focused on eating too much and (if I’m honest) forgetting about our jobs for a few days with the help of too much wine. Never could our trips have been categorized as “romantic getaways.” Joe and I hadn’t been to the area in a couple years, so I’m not sure what prompted our family trip down there in January. Maybe it was the ease, or that the area is super dog friendly. Maybe it was the deal on the hotel we got, I don’t really remember. But it was the first time I felt like I was seeing the area with fresh eyes, and embarking on adventures completely different than years past.
As I sat under the oak tree thinking about this, it occurred to me that perhaps the town is exactly the same, but I’m the one who’s different. Ten years is, after all, a long time. A decade. (Why is it that uttering the word decade always makes the clump of years feel so much longer and weightier than the actual living of them?) I reflected on all that’s happened since the first time I visited Carmel: the losses, the triumphs, the successes, the failures, the lessons hard-learned, and the things for which I’ve become ever more grateful. I didn’t have all those things ten years ago. The experiences have given me a different lens with which to see the world, a new set of eyeglasses that render everything sharper, contextual.
Now, instead of the touristy shops, I see the beauty and care of the gardens that dot the town. I walked past a man carefully tending his front yard; his garden looked like something you’d see at an English countryside estate, made miniature. I told him it was beautiful. He wiped the sweat from his brow and thanked me, turning back to his rake.
Now, I hear the sound of the ocean no matter where you walk in the town. I like that this faint background music always makes me think about the stretch of coastline just south—Big Sur—which I know to be one of the most beautiful places on the planet (no need to see the rest of it for confirmation). At night, when you walk through the sleepy streets of this little town, it is completely silent save for the sound of waves crashing in the distance.
There are the practical things, too. That the beach is so dog-friendly is a major logistical plus for us; that the sand is the texture of powdered sugar under your feet is a bonus. The town is tiny, so you can walk everywhere, making margarita-filled, Uberless nights a reality. Hop in your car and head south for half an hour, and you have access to some seriously beautiful views, more great food, amazing places to stay, the works. It’s nice there.
But really, the reason I wrote this essay isn’t to sell you on Carmel and Big Sur just south of it, as I realize I’m very late to that party. Instead, as I sat under the tree, happy and sweaty from a morning at the beach and wandering the quiet neighborhoods, I wondered what else I’d written off because of circumstance and where and when and how I experienced something in my life. Maybe it’s the foible of youth, this ease with which we can cast things aside. The key, I have found, is to constantly don fresh eyes—that new pair of glasses, so to speak—so that you can continue to assess anew.
With that, here is more of what I saw: