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EVENTS > David Perry BBC TRAVEL WRITER, writes on Carmel-By-The-Sea, featuring Bonnie Sailer CARMEL ARTIST and her Point Sur Lighthouse Painting

David Perry BBC TRAVEL WRITER, writes on Carmel-By-The-Sea, featuring Bonnie Sailer CARMEL ARTIST and her Point Sur Lighthouse Painting

Carmel-By-The-Sea, The US Quirkiest Town?

More than 100 years ago, this former Christian mission forged a unique identity, with a few quirks to keep things interesting.

A town built by art (Credit: Credit: David Perry)

A town built by art

Originally founded as a Christian mission in 1771, Carmel-by-the-Sea on the central California coast has a natural beauty that residents have long appreciated. At the start of the 20th Century, the town branded itself as a retreat for artists, and they’ve been coming in droves ever since – from Ansel Adams to Jack London, the MacGowan sisters to former mayor Clint Eastwood. 

Today, nearly 100 art galleries cram the 1-sq-mile town, and with so much creativity pervading the local fabric, Carmel-by-the-Sea has forged a unique identity, with a few quirks to keep things interesting. (Credit: David Perry)



Small-town pride (Credit: Credit: David Perry)

Small-town pride

To avoid the massive urbanisation they were fleeing (what the locals call ‘being citified’) and keep this tiny town tiny, Carmel-by-the-Sea’s residents enacted some unconventional laws.

There is a limit to the amount of permitted municipal street lighting (too glaring), no ostentatious signage (too obtrusive), no tall buildings (too claustrophobic) and no house numbers (too defining). To get around, locals carry flashlights, and, if you ask for directions, a location will always be “on the corner of” or “between Y and Z streets”. (Credit: David Perry)



Drawing them in (Credit: Credit: Mary Titus)

Drawing them in

“I took a drive to Carmel and got accepted by a gallery. That was in 1983,” said artist and former Floridian Mary Titus, who today owns her own gallery on San Carlos Street (between 5th and 6th Streets). “I fell in love with the beauty. The cypress trees won me over. It felt like home.” (Credit: Mary Titus)



Heel thyself (Credit: Credit: David Perry)

Heel thyself

Town leaders were loath to harm the towering cypress trees that line Carmel-by-the-Sea’s streets by cutting their roots to keep pavements level. However, the bumpy walkways were an obstacle course for stylishly dressed women. To avoid lawsuits, Carmel-by-the-Sea became the only town in the United States to outlaw shoes with heels higher than 2in (the ban is not enforced, but a permit to break that rule can be issued by the mayor). (Credit: David Perry)



Dog days (Credit: Credit: David Perry)

Dog days

The same residents that so loved the trees also wanted the best for their pets. That led to Carmel-by-the-Sea becoming one of the most pet-friendly municipalities in the US. Dogs can be off-leash (on the beach) and most local businesses have dog biscuits at the door. Pets are also welcome at 25 of the 45 local hotels including the Cypress Inn, co-owned by Hollywood legend and animal-welfare advocate Doris Day. (Credit: David Perry)



Cottage industry (Credit: Credit: David Perry)

Cottage industry

Carmel-by-the-Sea’s artistic heritage extends to its famously whimsical architecture. The town’s buildings could best be described as Spanish Mission meets Thomas Kinkade meets Hansel and Gretel. 

Hugh Comstock, a man with no prior building or architectural experience, designed much of the town’s fairy-tale architecture in the 1930s. Back then, one of his homes would sell for around $100; they can go for $4 million today. (Credit: David Perry)



Blissful mist (Credit: Credit: Bonnie Sailer)

Blissful mist

In addition to its quirky buildings, one of Carmel-by-the-Sea’s most defining qualities is its fog, which cascades in off the cold waters of the Pacific Ocean. Just as they do with unruly tree roots, residents embrace the mist, with many artists incorporating it into their work. 

“Walking down a street and seeing that amazing fog just roll in – it drifts right at your feet,” said painter Bonnie Sailer. “I prefer the mystery and atmosphere of fog, the silhouettes of the cypresses on a grey day, to sunshine.” The fog features prominently here in Sailer’s painting of the Point Sur Lighthouse, located just over 20 miles south of Carmel-by-the-Sea. (Credit: Bonnie Sailer)



Sunset boulevard (Credit: Credit: David Perry)

Sunset boulevard

But on clear days, appreciation for the area’s natural beauty extends well outside Carmel-by-the-Sea’s galleries. Come twilight, friends gather on the beach, often with a bottle of wine, for impromptu ‘sunset parties’ to take in the light show over the Pacific. For residents that simply don’t have the artistic touch, it’s still a way to be a part of a long-standing local artists’ tradition. (Credit: David Perry)

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