Hofsas House at Carmel-By-The-Sea: A Couples Oasis

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By Karie Zarsky Bennett
Main featured image (Carmel-by-the-Sea) by Tubay Yabut Photography

Night falls early in California during the winter, so we took it slow and trusted our GPS to guide us on the winding road to our weekend getaway destination – Carmel-By-The-Sea.  One final turn and we arrived at the Bavarian-inspired Hofsas House Hotel.  The pink chalet-style inn was a bright welcome and a friendly start to our weekend `a deux.

As someone who travels a lot for business, and stays mainly in big-box chain hotels, the opportunity to spend a weekend in a family-owned and operated inn was one I jumped on. My husband Aaron and I were looking forward to slowing down and enjoying a quiet weekend together. We parked in front and unloaded our luggage as we checked in for the two night stay.  Yes, the inn is pink and adorned with Bavarian styled murals, painted by a local artist Maxine Albro as a commission by the original founder, Donna Hofsas.  But the pink color only adds to the charm of this historic inn, which was the first inn of its size in Carmel.

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Our visit coincided with the inn’s 60th anniversary, so I was fortunate to have the chance to meet the founder’s granddaughter and current innkeeper Carrie Theis, who gave me a lot of information about the inn and the town of Carmel.

Carmel-By-The-Sea is described by the official city website as a “storybook setting” and this inn certainly conveyed a charming “Once-Upon-A-Time” feeling.

The city is actually a 1 square mile incorporated village.  It has its own mayor, currently Jason Burnett (Actor Clint Eastwood was the mayor from 1986 to 1988), four city council members, and some very unique ordinances.  For instance, the homes here don’t have house numbers or mailboxes.  Residents walk to the town’s central post office to pick up their mail, thus fostering a sense of community.  All street signs must be made of wood, no neon signs or street lights are allowed, and there are no buildings over 2 stories tall, so as not to obstruct the city’s most precious treasure: the gorgeous ocean views.  Carmel-By-The-Sea also has the distinction of having one of the most unique city ordinances, the Permits for Wearing Certain Shoes ordinance, #8.44.

The official ordinance reads:

8.44.020 Permit Required.

The wearing of shoes with heels which measure more than two inches in height and less than one square inch of bearing surface upon the public streets and sidewalks of the City is prohibited, without the wearer’s first obtaining a permit for the wearing of such shoes.

This ordinance was passed 50 years ago to minimize the city’s liability for potential injuries due to the cobblestone streets.  Visitors wishing to legally wear stilettos can apply for a special dispensation at city hall, but Carrie confided that she’s never heard of anyone being ticketed for breaking this ordinance.  Here’s the information on obtaining a high heeled shoe permit:

8.44.030 Permit Conditions – City Nonliability.

Any person desiring to wear shoes with heels in excess of the limitations set out in CMC 8.44.020 may do so by obtaining a permit from the City Clerk acknowledging that the permittee is familiar with the provisions of CMC 8.44.010 and by agreeing that upon the issuance of such permit s/he thereby relieves the City from any and all liability for damages to her/himself or to others caused by her/his falling upon the public streets or sidewalks of the City while wearing such shoes.

Lucky for me I planned ahead and was wearing a comfortable pair of walking shoes, having anticipated the cobblestones.  Carmel-By-The-Sea is meant to be a pedestrian-friendly experience.  The street signs are firmly planted on the streets instead of mounted from streetlight poles.  Drivers are happy to let pedestrians cross the street first, and everything is within walking distance.

We brought our suitcase up to our room on the 4th floor and got ready for our adventure.  Wait – 4th floor?  Didn’t Carrie tell us that the city of Carmel didn’t allow more than 2 stories above the street?  Aha!  That’s where the Hofsas House has an advantage.  It’s actually built on the side of a hill, so there are 2 floors below the street on the side of the hill.  So, our designated floor room had a partial ocean view.  Carrie also said that during whale season, you can spot the telltale white plume of whales on the move from there.  I immediately suggested that Hofsas House offer binoculars in the top floor rooms, and she loved the idea.  So by the time our readers visit, there might just be binoculars!

Building with Pool

Our room was spacious, spotless, and quaint.  Our getaway package included a few lovely touches, like a Monterey Wine and Cheese pairing, which was arranged on a tray in the kitchenette under a glass dome.  Water crackers and all the proper cheese knives made for a great start to the weekend.  The cheeses came from Carmel’s The Cheese Shop, and change according to the whim of the cheese proprietors. The wine was Ventana Vineyard’s Rubystone, a 60% Grenache Noir and 40% Syrah blend. Hofsas House partners with local businesses to promote the city and link the Hofsas experience with the Carmel vibe.

As we unpacked and changed for dinner, I made a pleasant discovery—there was a heated floor in the bathroom, which is a small detail, but so lovely.  The room also featured a potbellied stove, with a fireplace logs and matches, and was considerately placed next to a comfy king bed.

We quickly put our things away and headed out to walk to the main street of Carmel, Ocean Ave., take a look around, and then proceed to dinner.

Just a few short blocks away, the shopping areas of Carmel beckoned to us with colorful window displays and friendly store staff.  We wandered in and out of a few, made note of the ones we wanted to browse later, and walked to our dinner destination.

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Mundaka restaurant is located in the Court of the Fountains, on San Carlos St. near 7th Ave.  www.mundakacarmel.com

Mundaka is a Spanish-style tapas restaurant that focuses on creatively fun food that is tasty, artistically presented, and offered in an atmosphere where friends can meet and enjoy food, wine, and music.  If I had to choose one word to describe the vibe at Mundaka, I’d pick energetic.  I noticed many people crossing the room to say hi to friends, the DJ was gearing up for some fun tunes, and wine was flowing from traditional blown-glass porróns, which are communal wine pitchers that are used to pour wine into someone’s mouth from a distance without the spout touching anyone’s lips.  Say, across the table, or even, as our waiter told us, from the second floor stairs.  That really gets the crowd going!

The great thing about tapas is that you can try lots of different things before your stomach waves the white flag.  We tried the bacon-wrapped dates, the fried garbanzo beans, the boquerones (house-cured anchovies), Bomba (a sausage-stuffed potato ball), Paella, Coliflor (a cauliflower gratin), and finished up with a Crème Brulee and the house special dessert, the Pain au Chocolat—a sea salt-topped, dense dark chocolate slice of fudge that you spread onto slices of toasted baguette and drizzle with a fruity olive oil.  OMG.

Back to our room we tucked the thoughtfully-provided fireplace log into the potbellied stove and fired up some ambiance.  Crackling flames soothed us to sleep as we dreamed about the next day’s adventure.

Up early the next day we headed down to the main office at Hofsas House for a complimentary breakfast of fresh pastries, juice, and coffee.  I do love a soft croissant in the morning, so I was a happy camper.  We spent most of the day shopping and browsing the many great stores that lined Ocean Ave., and in the afternoon we were ready to go on the Wine Walk.  Carmel wasn’t always a wine tasting-friendly town, but add the beautiful atmosphere to the pedestrian-friendly streets and vineyards and wineries nearby, and you have the perfect wine storm!  The Carmel Wine Walk by-the-Sea is a $65 Wine Tasting Passport which offers one $10 flight at each of nine tasting rooms (a $90 value).  There was no way I could use them all, lightweight that I am, so we are saving it for our next visit, which is part of the deal.  We managed to get to Caraccioli and Scheid, and enjoyed both wineries immensely.

Now pleasantly relaxed, we strolled the few blocks back to the Hofsas House, and picked up what turned out to be the highlight of the weekend: The Beach Fire and S’mores Bundle with Blanket.  This $60 Hofsas House Offering is one of the many ways that the inn takes an ordinary weekend visit and turns it into an extraordinary one.  We had never made a fire on the beach but always wanted to, and this bundle had everything we needed.  First, beach fires are only allowed south of 10th Ave., so a short drive was in order.  We were fortunate to find a parking spot just above the stairs that led down to the beach.  Two blankets were also provided, so we laid them out and got to work on building our fire.  One match was all we needed to get a good fire going, and before long we were toasting marshmallows and assembling the first S’mores we’d had in years.  Did I mention we had brought the wine from the room?  Turns out Rubystone pairs with S’mores perfectly!  What a fun experience this was, and it was the perfect appetizer for the dinner to follow, at Fandango in Pacific Grove.

Fandango is very well known locally, and it’s just a short drive from Carmel.  Also on the ocean, Pacific Grove is famous for having more Victorian houses per capita than anywhere else in America.  Fandango is located in a French chateau-style building, and boasts a 39-page wine list to complement their classic French menu—studded with items like Escargot, Steak Frites, and Duck a l’Orange mixed with modern offerings such as Cassoulet Maison, Sweetbread Piccata, and a Fandango favorite: Filet of Sanddabs.  We had heard great things about the Sanddabs, so that was the first thing we ordered.  And the recommendations were right—these Dabs were cloaked in egg and sautéed to a soft and moist texture that was slightly addictive.  We also tried the Caesar and Heart of Palm salads, both fresh and crisp, and shared the House Paella.   Our waiter was knowledgeable, attentive, and knew just how to spoil us—he brought a do-it-yourself ice cream sundae to finish off our over-the-top meal.  Delicious!

Back at the Hofsas House, we settled in for another blissful night of sleep.  Quiet and peaceful, with another fire in the potbellied stove to soothe us, the next thing we knew morning had arrived.

It was certainly a pleasant surprise for big brand hotel goers like us to find how nice it was to stay in a small inn that packed so much service into our visit.  I was especially impressed by the inn’s offerings, not just the Beach Fire and S’mores bundle, but they also offer in-room massages, a Gingerbread House making event for charity, Family reunion and Corporate Meeting packages, and their Tail Wagging Package even has gifts for your dog!  Rates start at $110 in the off-season and $145 during peak, and depend on which size bed and which room you reserve.  All of the rooms are unique, and many repeat visitors have their favorites—you will too.

Visit them!

Hofsas House, 4th and San Carlos, Carmel, California
Hofsashouse.com
Reservations: 800-221-2548

Karie Bennett likes to stay busy. Actually, that’s an understatement. She recently celebrated her 30th year as a hairdresser and her 15th as a multi-location salon owner by diving into a second career–as a writer, and a third, as a salon business consultant and keynote speaker. Her salons, Atelier Salonspa and Atelier Studio, both located at Santana Row, (www.ateliersalon.com) are constantly winning top honors from industry organizations, including the prestigious NAHA Salon Master of Business Award in 2011. A favorite of the fashion show and photo shoot circuit, she is often found leading beauty teams behind the scenes, and her styling work has been featured on the covers of Gentry, South Bay Accent, Scene magazine, Salon Today magazine, and GEV, as well as on the fashion runways for Santana Row, Valley Fair, multiple charity organizations and Vitamin Water’s Fashion Challenge in partnership with Red Haute and Co., and HMM Models. She is working her way through Stanford’s Writer’s Studio program, is a contributing writer for Salon Today magazine, and is also the Small Business examiner for San Jose’s examiner.com, in addition to being one of Gastronomique En Vogue’s Correspondents. Contact Karie at karie@kariebennett.com.