If the summer passed too quickly absent a relaxing getaway, and you’re looking for a quaint California coastal town to escape to, there is one vacation option perhaps equal to our own beautiful Laguna Beach. This destination also boasts an artist culture, and is framed by white sand, blue waters and auburn kelp rivaling our seaside. If you guessed Carmel, you probably subscribe to Sunset magazine or write for Auto Club’s Guidebooks. Carmel is where my wife Wendy, our Laguna friends Diane and Brent Liljestrom and I recently traveled, to attend a wedding of college friends who finally got married, 40 years after first meeting at UCLA.
Laguna Beach and Carmel have much in common, especially that both are beautiful places to live and visit, and yet they differ in terms of lifestyle, community and atmosphere. Traveling there by plane visually reminds you that Laguna and Carmel are both small and affluent communities within commuting distance to the sprawl of Los Angeles and San Francisco. Interestingly, both beach towns owe their initial “discovery” and growth spurts to being colonized by visiting artists from Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively, during the same period of 1900-1930s. Yet, while Laguna has remained deeply rooted to its artist origins with our Pageant and Sawdust festivals, Carmel has embraced other attractions over art: their biggest annual events are the Pebble Beach Golf Classic, a two week Bach music festival, and weeklong classic car show. The tony aspects of Carmel’s galas stand in sharp contrast to the laid back casual sense of Laguna’s. Imagine wearing an ascot to the Bluebird Park ‘60s music summer gigs, or donning flip flops to walk with golf elites at the once fabled Bing Crosby tourney.
Carmel and Laguna each have their own different parking crisis, but Carmel doesn’t even have parking meters, only enforcement patrols chalking tires for set times! “It’s because meters are not aesthetically acceptable,” explained Paul Miller, publisher of Carmel Pine Cone, local equivalent to The Indy. Our local “cottage huggers” could learn something from their passionate Carmel cousins. Development has been mostly frozen for 20 years, since any new home construction first has to prove an untapped water source will support it. Tree trimming is heavily regulated; cutting branches longer than four inches requires a permit. The town nurtures its storybook image by dispensing with numerical street addresses, so mail is only collected at the Post Office. High heels are technically not allowed in Carmel, since whimsical sidewalks can give rise to broken ankle lawsuits draining city coffers. Ice cream was once outlawed because spills used to mess up Fantasyland Carmel. It took Clint Eastwood’s political clout to make ice cream lovers and vendors happy again, when the law was reversed during his mayoral term. While their real estate is comparable in value to ours, oddly a majority of Carmel homes are used only for vacations. And you thought only Laguna had a controversy associated with VBRO.com?
“Carmel’s nightlife borders on boring when compared to the wild dancing and loud bands seen at the Marine Room or Dirty Bird,” shared Derek Derdivanis, a Carmel resident and frequent Laguna visitor. “Instead, we relish being able to walk dogs on our beaches year round, leash free,” beamed Derek’s wife Cindy. Carmel’s canine allegiances are legendary, even Wikipedia makes mention.
So, in the dog days of next summer, where would you rather be? Carmel is home to a dozen wine tasting rooms, while Laguna has as many bars overlooking the ocean. Carmel inns have fireplaces, Laguna’s hotels offer surfboard storage. Carmel boasts legendary golf courses, Laguna has mountain bike trails. Our Laguna traveling group really enjoyed our Carmel visit, and we’ll surely return, but we are happier to be home in Laguna where we feel more comfortable, even if we have to feed the parking meter.
Paul Meyer is a 17-year Laguna resident, husband, father and volunteer. His company Tenant Advisors helps people find office and industrial properties in SoCal to lease or buy.