DAY TRIP :: SANTA CRUZ TO CARMEL VALLEY

by Carolyn
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It’s getting a little bit more chilly here in Norther California. Not that I’m complaining, I’m actually pretty happy about the colder temperatures because that means I’m getting into the mood of sauna and spa days. In Germany we used to go once a week to the sauna, but when it’s 71° Fahrenheit outside I don’t really feel like warming up in a steam bath or warm water pool. So this past Saturday the weather was slightly chilly, it was Patrick’s birthday and we wanted to spent some relaxing time, just two of us driving somewhere. Our main aim was the Refuge spa in Carmel Valley – recommended by my dear friend, Einat of Design Break.

Our day trip started pretty late, like about 11 am, that means for this trip you don’t have to get up early to make it in time – key word: sleep in. We got our car and hit the 101 towards Big Sur. Around Santa Cruz the traffic was really bad and I got hungry so we knew I wouldn’t make it to Big Sur without getting grumpy. We took the next exit to Santa Cruz and found a perfect brunch spot, exactly what we needed. Harbor Cafe is is your typical surfer’s spot. String lights, plastic fish and surf board decoration, rustic interior, big patio with wooden tables and benches, lots of cool people, a waiting list and ahhh-mazing food.

One scrambled eggs and eggs benedict florentine later we continued our trip on the East Cliff drive towards Capitola. I suggest you arrive at Refuge at 4pm so you can experience the spa by day and by night. ( Thanks Einat for this tip too). It’s really cool. That means that you have some time left to stroll the small town of Capitola which is only 10 minutes drive along the coast. It’s a great scenary; all the people walking around and the surfers waiting for the next wave or crossing the streets with their surf boards. I love that. For me it’s the ultimate California lifestyle.

When you get to Capitola, I recommend to park a little bit outside of downtown, because it’s really difficult to get a spot. We parked here and it’s super near the beach and the pier.

So what to tell about Capitola except that this small town is a really colorful, dreamy coast gem where you can spend an afternoon browsing the streets, having some good food, strolling the pier or just relaxing on the beach. The colorful Venetian Court on the beach is probably the most recognizable place in Capitola. These small homes were build in 1924 and are privately owned but you can rent some of them for your vacation. I’m wondering how often are they photographed during the day?

Time to leave for Carmel Valley. It’s going to be about a 1h drive from Capitola on highway one.
Highway one is always a good option. Each time you will see and discover new things along the way.

Arrived at the Carmel Valley you will pass through a lush countryside, with precisely shaped golf courts all the way to the Refuge Spa. I cannot say it enough how happy I am that Einat shared this place with me. Sooooo happy! Refuge is a day spa in the middle of Carmel Valley that offers a full hydro thermal experience. Cedar sauna, eucalyptus steam bath, cold plunge pools, several hot/warm water pools and fire pits are all yours for a perfect spa day. They recommend 5 cycles of warming up, cooling down and relaxing to get the best benefits for your body. The Refuge is open from 10am to 10pm, you can stay the whole day, but you won’t probably stay more that 3 hours. That’s totally enough. We were there from 4.30pm to 7pm and it was great to have the night experience too where you can see the water steam, the stars and the fire pit glowing in the dark. Pure magic. Now get this… The general admission is only $39 and if you are up to a massage it’s only additional $60. You cannot beat this price and this quality. Ask Design Break, she will confirm.

After dabbling and relaxing it was time for some food. Funny how relaxing can make you hungry. We wanted to try out something new, but we were too hungry to spent time researching Yelp so one quick text message and Einat (again) directed us to Il Vecchio, Italian restaurant in Monterey. Honestly, this was one of the best food experience we ever had. Patrick got the filet mignon with roasted potatoes and I got chicken in sweet marsala with potato puree and I won’t even try to describe how good this two dishes tasted. I cannot imagine a steak being prepared more perfectly. Hats off, not only to the chef but also to the service. We got a dessert and Patrick’s wine on the house, because of his birthday. This is your must-stop when in Monterey. Ask Design Break, she will confirm.

Around 9.30pm it was time to head back home. Relaxed and sated. What can I say, this day trip was a pretty good one, which will be repeated a couple of times during the chilly North California winter.
Hope you guys could get some ideas for you next day trip and I would love to hear about your experience if you do this one.

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