Carmel, California (population 5,000), began as a seaside getaway for celebrities in the 1920's. It is now a popular vacation destination for its romantic scenery, white sand beaches, upscale shopping, and famed aquarium. Golfers delight in Carmel's many courses, and the 17 Mile Drive by swank homes and twisted cypress trees is very popular. Sister city Monterey is home to Cannery Row, made famous in the 1930s novels of John Steinbeck.
1. Monterey Bay Aquarium: The third top-rated family attraction in U.S. was financed in part by David Packard, of Hewlett Packard fame, whose oceanographer daughter is the executive director of the aquarium. The permanent exhibits are unusual as they feature the marine life of the cold California coastal waters, instead of the usual tropical fish. Children will be delighted by a two storey recreated wharf reef and the touch-a-tidepool creature pool. The aquarium's chief attractions are the playful antics of its many mischievous California otters.
2 . Point Lobos State Park: Just south of town, this marine reserve has miles of sandy trails with spectacular ocean views and historical displays on the point's whaling and early Spanish periods. The best time to visit Point Lobos is in the spring, when you can explore the fish and invertebrates in the tide pools, witness mother otters nursing their young while Mom is floating on her back, and take a dip in the aquamarine waters of China Cove.
3 . Ocean Avenue shopping: Some of the top retailers in the country have small outlets along this mile-long shopping district. Carmel is noted for its artistic community, which displays its works in many galleries on Ocean Avenue. Look for Clint Eastwood's Hog's Breath Inn restaurant on a side street; the international star and noted director was once mayor of Carmel. At the end of the day, cool your weary feet in the waters of the city beach at the end of the avenue and enjoy a sunset over the Pacific.
4. Carmel Mission: When California was still owned by Spain, Jesuit friars established a series of missions from Baja California to just north of San Francisco. Monterey was a major port for the trade of cattle products and otter fur, and Carmel's mission was one of the most sumptuous. A visit to the flowery, 17th-century adobe complex gives you an idea of the severity of the immigrant order's life of exile and their relationship to the Indians they were determined to convert. Father Junipero Serra was the founding father of the mission chain, and he is buried here under a carved likeness. At the effigy's feet, look for the cub of a grizzly bear, California's state mammal, which became extinct 50 years ago.5. Kayaking on Monterey Bay: The bay is a vast marine reserve, and paddlers of all ages and abilities can enjoy a rented kayak float on its placid waters. You can paddle a few miles to have lunch on Heart's Desire Beach and watch scuba divers prepare for their sport. Curious sea lions and otters circle your boat, and may even haul out on your bow!