Carmel Highlands Inn offers great ocean views.
HIGHLANDS, Calif. — A cooling fog rolled in that
afternoon, followed by a late-night storm that steamed in
off the Pacific. For hours the sky boomed and flashed as a
waterfall of rain drenched the rocky shoreline and heavily
forested hills of this coastal stretch known as the
Gateway to Big Sur.
that day, humidity and a blazing white sun made things
unseasonably warm as we turned off Highway 1 and up a
steep driveway to the Carmel Highlands Inn, which is
really two adjoining properties under one umbrella — a
Hyatt hotel and a timeshare "residence club."
The inn is 4 miles from Carmel and a short hike from Point
Lobos State National Reserve. Non-guests are invited to
stop by for a look-see, a bite and a bike rental.
charmingly retro inn opened in 1917 and rented
"cabins in the Monterey pine forest." At the
time, owner J. Frank Devendorf told The Monterey Herald
that his inn "combined the rustic qualities of its
setting, yet offered travelers all the luxury that the
progress of the new century could offer."
various ownerships and several expansions, the 48-room
hotel became a Hyatt property in 1995. A year ago, it and
the adjoining timeshare — 94 condominiums that are
rented as available — were purchased by Interval Leisure
Group of Miami. It has a long-term licensing agreement to
run the hotel under the Hyatt brand.
buildings form a well-landscaped 11-acre oasis that has
long resisted the trend among many older hotels to
"sanitize" much of their character in the name
of modernization. Still, some of the structures have
looked dated for a while. To keep up, the condos were
"gently remodeled" two years ago, with grander
updates in the works for the hotel, said managing director
planning renovations of the hotel rooms, the restaurants
and the lobby area, but absolutely we’re looking to
preserve our rustic coastal feel and enhance what we’ve
been building on for the past 10 years," Bettcher
said. The project is scheduled for completion in the first
quarter of 2016.
Highlands Inn has been a special destination for
generations of Californians, and for the
celebrities-of-the-day who have stayed and played here
over the decades — Ansel Adams, Elizabeth Taylor, Marlon
Brando, Julia Child, Robert Redford, Steven Tyler and
Christina Aguilera among them.
of the hotel’s primary draws has long been as a wedding
and honeymoon destination. A wedding chapel was part of
the grounds from the 1950s through the 1980s (when brunch
was $5), and the brass bell that hung in its spire is now
an attraction in the lobby. "(Hundreds of) couples
young and old came to the romantic retreat to exchange and
renew their wedding vows," reads the plaque.
days, the hotel hosts about 60 formal ceremonies a year,
and their attendant rehearsals, dinners and receptions.
The "I do’s" literally take place on an
outdoor deck-gazebo that — like everything else here —
overlooks the Pacific in dramatic fashion. During our
visit, a jubilant wedding reception for 120 guests briefly
brought to mind some of the more amusing scenes from Vince
Vaughn’s "Wedding Crashers."
less-stressful and more economical option to a full-on
wedding is the midweek Elopement Package for eight to a
dozen guests, which includes "romantic evening
turn-down service with rose petals, a chilled bottle of
champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries."
aside, the inn’s biggest attractions are its prime
location, hidden on a hillside above twisting Highway 1,
and its reputation for exclusivity as a "boutique
hideaway." An underlying but pervasive sense of
privacy and discretion are included in the room rates,
which are adjusted seasonally. Hotel rooms go for $350 to
$900 a night, and condos range from $500 to $1,500. Part
of what that buys are unsurpassed vistas from dining rooms
and decks of sunsets and ocean views, stands of coastal
cypress and rocky coastline. As catering coordinator Yuri
Orellana put it during a tour, "The sunsets are like
good news for visitors to the Monterrey Peninsula is you
needn’t be a hotel guest to sample some of the
amenities, including the restaurants, and explore the lush
grounds, where trails and stone stairways meander through
cypress and color-splashed bougainvillea. We strolled past
walls of native stone supporting balconies that look over
the ocean on one side and up at the foothills of the Santa
Lucia Mountains on the other.
the high-ceiling main lodge are the intimate Sunset Lounge
(small plates and drinks) and the sprawling wood-and-stone
Fireside Lounge, where local bands show up to play on
Friday and Saturday nights. One evening, the space was
packed with exuberant couples showing off the finer points
of West Coast swing.
showcase restaurant, the four-star Pacific’s Edge, was
included on USA Today’s list of the nation’s top 10
restaurants with a view. Its wine cellar holds 3,400
bottles. We shared wild mushroom-stuffed ravioli and a
chunk of grilled wild salmon, the flesh juicy, the skin as
crisp as a cracker.
STORY CAN END HERE)
the more casual California Market bistro, the place to be
is on the redwood deck overlooking Yankee Point a few
hundred yards offshore. On wet, chilly days, diners can
find tables near the pot belly stove inside the dining
room, weighty with a 1950s vibe. The small kitchen (which
understands the concept of crisp bacon) puts out a
staggering amount of quality food for breakfast and lunch,
such as the banana-topped, raspberry-dotted pancakes that
were easily the best we’ve tasted.
Highlands Inn has a unique program: The public can call
ahead and arrange for a picnic to be packed in an
old-school wicker basket (for up to four) or a backpack
(for two), for $35 a person, with a refundable $50
deposit. Choose your picnic items from a set menu, or
custom-create your own lunch, "priced
asked the Catering Department to surprise us, and ended up
with prosciutto sandwiches, fresh fruit (raspberries,
blueberries, pineapple), salad, cheeses with apricots,
strawberries and candied pecans, and other items. All the
necessary cutlery was included.
of renting bicycles and searching for a suitable picnic
site, we drove a short hop to Carmel River State Beach,
spread a blanket and listened to the whoosh-boom of waves
on sand. For a while, the world was on hold.
120 Highlands Drive, about 4 miles south of Carmel
Visitor Center offers an informative visitors guide to the
area at its offices on San Carlos Street between Fifth and
Sixth streets in Carmel; (800) 550-4333,