Carmel-by-the-Sea.

What makes a friendship last?

Sometimes there’s an instant connection when you meet someone. Even in a brief period of time, you can just feel it. You like this person. With others, you might never think of them again.

I see something similar when Cholula crosses paths with a dog she doesn’t know. Sometimes, they stop and sniff and wag and the interest is clear- they want to be buddies. With other dogs, they walk right past each other, barely giving the other a glance.

Whatever the magic “friend” ingredient is, Amanda and I share it. We met in 1984 and were attached at the hip until I moved to Colorado in 1993. We are still like sisters, even after decades of distance. We joke that we share the same brain, but there is something unexplainable between us.  We’ll call each other on the phone to discover we’ve just gotten the exact same haircut or broken up with our boyfriends in the same week or just seen the same movie. More than once recently, I’ve texted her a photo of something from my kitchen, mid-recipe, only to receive the same exact photo from her- same recipe, halfway complete, from her own kitchen. We’re connected. She’s amazing, beautiful, an incredible mother and generous friend. She makes me whole.

So when it came time to do something fun with my Matron of Honor, we got excited. We’d been talking about taking a trip together for 20 years, but it hadn’t happened. We randomly selected Carmel-by-the-Sea, a little artsy village north of Big Sur on the California Coastline. Our plan was to drive up on Friday, so I said goodbye to my sweet family and flew to L.A. on Thursday evening. We met up with two other long-time friends (more than 20 years), Ame and Erinn, for an evening of fun with the girls.

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Ame suggested dinner at a killer Mexican restaurant that involved many margaritas, guacamole made tableside, an array of chile rellenos, and incredible steak tacos. In cahoots with John, Amanda pop-quizzed me on my future hubby. Much to everyone’s surprise (including myself), I nailed the answers- and was rewarded with bride-y prizes. There was bubbly on the house, followed by a burlesque show at a little blues bar called Harvelle’s. Super fun and memorable! (I may or may not have been over-served.)

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When two little girls crawled into bed with Aunt Amber before the sun woke up, it hurt. But we fueled ourselves with caffeine, spent time with the princesses and their Dad, and hit the road. We had some ground to cover!

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I won’t lie: the drive was lame. We took the ugly short way, and it’s a good thing that Amanda and I never run out of things to talk about because that last glass of bubbly was nibbling at my brain. We were both tired. But as we pulled up in front of the Cypress Inn, we got our second wind. It was completely charming.

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Co-owned by Doris Day and the only dog-friendly place in town, the Inn was a perfect mix of classy and cozy. We needed a snack, so we went to the bar and met the bartender, Drago. He’s been a fixture there for 15 years, and he made our stay so much fun.

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After our happy hour nibbles and sips, we cleaned up and headed out through the adorable courtyard to dinner at Nico.

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Our waiter was- seriously– the French version of Johnny Depp. We giggled our way through crab ravioli and homemade Bolognese, Italian wine, and tiramisu before walking the long way back to the hotel. We poked our head in for a nightcap with Drago, which would become our regular evening ritual. We slept hard and late.

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The best thing about this trip was not having a plan. We had ideas of what we’d like to do, but kept our schedule open. That meant sleeping in on Saturday and taking a lazy walk down to the beach, coffee in hand. We sighed at the gardens along the way.

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The beach was filled with happy, frolicking dogs, couples holding hands, and old friends trying to savor the moment (psst- that was us). I don’t believe in reincarnation, but if I did, I’d like to come back as a dog or a flower in Carmel- both are cherished.

For some reason, we got it into our heads that we wanted a bloody mary. As we shopped and strolled, lo and behold:

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It really was the BEST bloody mary, and Amanda tried her first raw oyster. (She ate three!) As we continued to explore the village, we saw drool-inducing vintage cars, we tucked into hidden paths that led to secret gardens, and we soaked in the coastal sunshine.

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When we got hungry, we wandered into La Bicyclette for what would be one of my favorite lunches EVER. The restaurant was cool and the food (roasted beet salad and margherita pizza) was delectable. We sipped wine and laughed and chatted with our neighbors. Perfection.

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After a luxurious power nap, we headed out on the “17-Mile Drive” around the Monterey peninsula and Pebble Beach area. We got lost once, despite having a map and a clearly marked road (but considering our track record, we were WAY ahead of the game.)  The views along the way were stunning, so we took our time to enjoy the drive.

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We were later than planned when we headed out to dinner, and the Mediterranean restaurant we wanted to try had an hour wait. We opted for a French place. The food was good (French onion soup and scallops) and our Romanian waiter was charming. We ended the day with a hello to Drago and watched a movie while sipping wine in bed. Decadence!

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On Sunday, we woke up early. It was our last full day in Carmel and we wanted to make it count. We toted coffee to the beach and power-walked along the scenic coastal path. We were so distracted by the views (of the ocean AND the ocean-front homes) that we walked much further than intended!

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Drago had recommended brunch at Mission Ranch, owned by none other than Mr. Clint Eastwood. A jazz band was playing as we selected a seat outdoors, despite the chill. Who could pass up dining with sheep grazing nearby?

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Our one complaint was that the bloody mary wasn’t as good as the one the day before! (The dessert plate pretty much made up for it, though.) I also decided that coming back as one of Clint’s sheep would be a pretty nice life, as well.

A major item for our weekend was to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium. We’d been there together way back in 1985, a couple of gangly 10-year olds in awe of the sea. We spent the day just as dazzled as we were back then.

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Upon our return, we’d been upgraded to a new room. We donned our robes and sipped wine in our lovely sitting room near the fire before motivating downstairs to thank Drago for his brunch recommendation.

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Our ‘last supper’ was at Little Napoli. Old Blue Eyes was framed on the wall, so I knew we were in the right place. The food was tasty, especially Amanda’s giant cannoli. We opted to have dessert back at the Inn, and enjoyed our coconut crème brulee in front of the fire. Before settling into bed with a glass of wine and a movie, we pretended the fabulous bathtub was a jacuzzi and also sat outside on the little deck, music from the lobby entertainment wafting up to us.

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On Monday, we left early. We wanted to linger at the Inn, spend more time getting to know the little village of Carmel. But we knew we wanted to take the long way home, down Highway 1, so we sipped a quick cup of coffee and said our goodbyes.

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Amanda had never driven this stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway, so I prayed for no fog. We took our time, enjoying the incredible coastline. We stopped in Big Sur for breakfast and at every viewpoint that struck us, which were many.

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In Cambria, a town we’ve visited together a few times, we stopped in to Fermentations. It’s a cute little shop with wine tasting, and we always make time to poke our heads in.

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And now, it was all about making my flight. A solid 8-hour drive dropped me off at LAX just in time to get on the plane back to Utah. Amanda and I no longer attempt to hide our tears when we leave each other, but this time, it helped to know we’d be together again in just a few weeks… for my wedding.

Home felt good after traveling, especially with take-out sushi, a handsome mountain man, and a crooked-eared dog waiting for me.

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It was hard to adequately convey to John all of the things we’d experienced in our few days on the coast, and the photos just don’t do it justice. Carmel-by-the-Sea was simply magical.

Though the more I think about it, the magic part was really being in the company of my dearest friend.

Even though we might get old, THAT never will. 

27 replies »

  1. Such beautiful pictures, Amber! I love that you have friends you’ve loved for 20+ years. Old friendships are simply the best. You guys seem like you had a fantastic girls’ trip, and I loved reading your stories—Clint Eastwood’s ranch, how cool!

  2. I too am still swooning that all of that went ka-poof into the ether during your last post attempt. Thank you for re-doing – a fantastic post. (I think I may see your new Gravatar photo in there too!) Looks to have been a very spiritual getaway by the sea by the gorgeous scenery.

    Welcome back and all my best to your up coming nuptials! Thinking of you, Amber. Cheers.

  3. This sounds like such a fun trip! I can so relate to missing my best friends, as we’re all spread across the country. But whenever we do see each other, it’s like we’ve never been apart. And, what a place to meet up! I grew up just a few miles north of Carmel, in Santa Cruz, so your pictures were not only gorgeous but also reminiscent of home for me. Glad you had a great trip. I loved this post!

  4. Looks like you girls had such a fabulous weekend! I was born in Monterey, CA so it was nice to see a few glimpses – isn’t that aquarium AMAZING? Love it. Thanks for sharing! (you and your Matron of Honor definitely seem like soul sisters!)

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