Menlo Park, CA has swallowed up a secret under the canopy of its tree-lined streets. A few un-exciting brown historical marker signs on the main street, weakly hint at the existence of something worth checking out. These signs have never caught my attention.
“How’d you hear about us?” The grandma aged store clerk asked me as I perused the Artisan Shop.
“Online,” I’d said not thinking about the reasoning behind her question. My attention was on the hand-crafted fur embellished Eskimo doll and red-faced European style marionettes for sale.
“Good job,” she said as she worked at straightening some hanging jewelry.
My husband, an artist, was intrigued when I told him I’d found a hidden art guild he’d never heard of nestled into a Menlo Park neighborhood. He eagerly agreed to come out with me during a break in January rain storms to explore the Allied Arts Guild compound with me.
Some buildings like the sheep shearing shed turned pottery studio and the barn which is now a woodworking shop are original 1800’s era ranch buildings. Other buildings were re-imagined or newly constructed in the Spanish Colonial style around 1930 when the Allied Arts Guild was formed.
Artwork created in the 1930’s has seamlessly melded into the idyllic ambiance of the Guild’s grounds. The tiered courtyard fountain creates the soothing sound of trickling water. A colorful fresco painted onto the recess of the music room’s exterior wall. Pottery overflows with plant life or is simply lined up next to other pots silently welcoming visitors.
We poked our heads into shop windows and found that about half of them were open that day. There was a closed quilt shop that featured piles of colorful folded stacked fabric which I would have loved to browse through. The pottery studio was open and featured Japanese style details such as bud vases attached to lengths of bamboo. My husband was disappointed to find the Portola Art Gallery was closed for the day. The gallery represents current local artists in a wide variety of art styles.
On weekends my husband and I usually move slow and thankfully we arrived just before the Blue Garden Café stopped serving lunch. I ordered a steak panini and my hubby ordered a turkey and cheese panini. I was delighted by the tender and tasty meat and he was pleasantly surprised by apple slices in his sandwich! The meals were on the expensive side but we didn’t mind too much because we enjoyed every bite.
We walked the brick-lined garden path and noticed a few other couples exploring the unique grounds. A group of parents with young boisterous children came to play amongst the adobe style courtyards and pathways.
The day became even more gray threatening rain. It was time to take shelter so we headed to the car. I watched as the parents slipped back out to the road, pulling children in wagons or chaperoning an unsteady tricycle. This recreation seeking group knew the secret of the Allied Arts Guild but to them the Guild was just a part of the neighborhood.
Carmel is the perfect distance from the San Francisco Bay Area for a quick weekend get-away. It’s beautiful with lush green hills, farmland, rugged coastline and crashing Pacific Ocean waves. There are tons of activities and places to explore in Carmel. Here are the places I explored with my spouse on our mid-January trip to Carmel.
1) On The Way: Moss Landing
On the way to Carmel, we drove over the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz or Capitola are both seaside towns with lots of character and would be great places to stop for lunch or sightseeing on the way to Carmel. We decided to keep driving on HWY 1 towards Carmel and ultimately stopped in Moss Landing for a much needed lunch break.
Moss Landing’s pair of power plant smoke stacks are the defining landmark of the fishing village. The stacks interrupt the marshland and harbor feel of the area with their industrial purpose.
We had our lunch at Sea Harvest Fish Market & Restaurant. The restaurant is located at the harbor’s entrance channel where fishing boats come in and out from sea. Kayakers pass by and so do large families of sea otters! The restaurant has great tasting seafood and the best view to take in all of the harbor activities.
2) Where to Stay: Carmel Mission Inn
Carmel Mission Inn is my go-to hotel when staying in Carmel. I’ve been there several times and love the fact that it has updated amenities and a spa-like feel. It’s an affordable place to stay when compared to other hotels in the area. The hotel is right off of HWY 1 and there’s plenty of shopping and eating choices in walking distance.
The moment we got our bags up to our room, I started changing into my bathing suit for a dip in the hot tub. The pool area is nicely furnished with sun chairs and beds to relax on. There’s even a statue of a life-sized happy cow who watches over the swimmers in the heated pool.
3) What to do When It’s Dark: Del Monte Shopping Center
If you go to Carmel in the winter months, it may be sunny and warm during the day but the nights get frigid! Both nights on our quick trip to Carmel were spent at the indoor movie theater, Cinemark Monterey 13, at Del Monte Shopping Center in Monterey. The mall is a quick ten-minute drive on HWY 1 from the Carmel Mission Inn or any other hotel in Carmel.
When waiting for the next movie time to roll around you can do some mall shopping or hang out in one of the many restaurants to grab dinner. We went to Islands Fine Burgers & Drinks. As the name says they serve burgers as well as a selection of tacos and your favorite island drinks. I got my buzz on with the help of a Mai Tai and my husband stayed smooth with a Pina Colada.
Then we watched “Hidden Figures” the first night and “La La Land” the second. I enjoyed both films and was glad we found something to do after the sunset over the ocean.
4) Breakfast, Breakfast, Breakfast! From Scratch Restaurant
From Scratch Restaurant made my list because of two things. One it’s a two-minute walk from the hotel, located at the Barnyard shops next door. And two, it was featured on The Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” so it has to be great.
There’s close quarters indoor dining and outdoor patio seating with room for dogs to come along. I’ve visited From Scratch a few times and decided I like the homemade cinnamon bun bread dressed as French toast. My husband tried the crab omelet this time and ate it all.
I just watched the “Triple D” review of the restaurant and found that the “extreme sausage biscuits and gravy” featured on the show doesn’t look too daunting to eat. I have new-found courage to try it the next time I’m in Carmel.
5) Do Not Miss Sunday Brunch at Mission Ranch Restaurant
The Mission Ranch Hotel and Restaurant is a short three-minute drive from our home base. It’s a historic hotel with multiple buildings facing ranch-land. The most photographed flock of sheep in Carmel live at the ranch. You can hear the sheep munching on grass as they mow the pasture. They also terrorize the lone tree in their yard by tugging at it and scratching themselves on it.
Brunch is only on Sundays from 10 am to 1:30 pm and is $40 per person. We went on a beautiful sunny morning and were fortunate to be seated on the patio with a vibrant view of Carmel’s coastline. Beyond the lush green field, is a sandy beach that leads out to the blue ocean and a craggy rock point.
Since this is an all-you-can-eat meal my husband stacked his plate high with, prime rib, beef rib, eggs benedict and tender salmon, enough food to get him through the entire day. I tried not to stuff myself right away, so started with a made to order omelet and chocolate covered strawberry. I went back for seconds and picked up spinach salad, French toast and key lime pie. I enjoyed the hot coffee and a mimosa which were included in the price. In conclusion, the food was delicious and the best buffet we’ve ever had. That’s saying a lot!
6) Walk it Off at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
Carmel is blessed with a ruggedly beautiful coastline. One of the best places to explore the coast is at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. The entrance gate to Point Lobos is in the middle of a wooded forest that leads to your pick of a rocky beach or sheer cliff bluff. Wildlife of the sea, shore and air abound at the reserve.
One of my favorite things to do at the ocean is whale watch. I was not disappointed on this winter’s day to see puff upon puff of whale spouts in the distance. Yes, I wouldn’t mind if the whales were a little closer to shore but just knowing they are out there makes me happy. I also heard the “arf arf” call of sea lions at Point Lobos.
Point Lobos is a photographer’s wonderland. My husband waited for the right moment to photograph the sun’s light passing through a wave to capture the crystal essence of the water.
7) Carmel Art Galleries and Shops
Everyone thinks of art galleries when they think of Carmel. Or at least they should. It’s estimated that there are one hundred galleries concentrated in downtown Carmel. My husband is an artist so gallery perusing is always on our list of things to do in Carmel. A few of his favorite galleries are the Wyland and New Masters Gallery.
The architecture of the buildings downtown is historical and even fairytale like. Just looking at the buildings and imagining what fairytale they are inspired by is almost as interesting as looking in the shops themselves.
My favorite place to shop in downtown Carmel is the Sockshop where I just picked up a supply of cute and warm socks to get me through winter.
8) Carmel Sunset Beach
After a morning of gallery hopping walk or drive the rest of the way down Ocean Ave and hang out on the sandy Carmel Sunset Beach. This seems to be a local favorite because everyone and their dog is playing hard out in the waves and wet sand. I like to sit on a blanket and dogs like to come up to me and see what I’m up to on this beach.
The beach is part of the semi-circle of Carmel Bay. The waves are calmer in the bay and dolphins like to put on shows for people watching from the beach. This is a great place to relax, enjoy a snack and watch all of the action laid out in front of you.
I didn’t grow up in the city of Belmont. I’ve just used it as my closet for the past nine years. You know, roll out of bed, dust myself off, toss on some clothes and coast to work on HWY 280. Travel mug sloshing the coffee that was to get my day in the cubicle started off right – if there is a right way to start a day in a cubicle. So with this daily routine and weekends of slumber, chores, and quick excursions elsewhere, I missed out on most of what Belmont has to offer.
I always knew I lived in a pretty area. I couldn’t miss the rolling hills, brown in summer and green in winter. The scent of forest trees wafting at me as I make my way into Safeway, with reusable grocery bags stuffed under my arm. Ample wildlife meander near my apartment building, deer, skunk and raccoon. These are the obvious characteristics of the city, the ones you don’t have to search for.
Now that my cubicle has been packed up and sent to another state without me, I’m venturing out into my community to explore its treasures. I live off of a street called “Ralston” and gather that this is a big local name. There’s a mansion, Ralston Hall, located at Notre Dame De Namur University, that my husband and I tried to find once but we went around the wrong portion of the school. Fellow history buffs told me that they were married at the Hall, so it has to exist.
This time, I used Google Maps to confirm Ralston Hall’s location, then drove down Ralston Avenue and arrived within minutes at the mansion. The fact that I live only a few minutes away from the estate of William Ralston, the man who had much to do with the shaping of San Francisco during the Gold Rush, makes me appreciate my surroundings even more. Desire to know the history of where I am pushes me to discover and enjoy what remains of the past.
My visit was on a clear crisp January day between rain storms. Water runoff filled the creek that runs through the property, creating a soothing water feature. Parking was easy because it was the university’s winter break. Children were at recess, playing games and running around at the neighboring grammar school.
I took my time walking around the front of Ralston Hall. The building is closed to the public because it will be undergoing seismic retrofit. I’m the type of museum visitor who wants to see every room of a historic home. I want to jump the velvet rope cording off the staircase and check out the upper-level bedrooms. Yes all forty-eight of them. So, I’m sad that I can’t go into the mansion at all.
On my trip around the grounds I peer, to the best of my abilities, into any window with curtains pulled back. I glimpse two fireplaces, wood flooring and a mirror hanging on the wall. That’s as good as it gets for interior snooping.
I pass by what appears to be an original brick wall with white painted wood posts at top, sheltering a memorial grotto nestled next to the carriage house. It’s a peaceful retreat to the left side of the mansion. On the right side of the mansion there’s another relaxing area. It is wooded with a variety of trees, several benches for rumination, and a hedged walkway. I spy a family of deer in repose next to the hedge. They closely monitor my movements for signs of danger.
The most ornate object I find around the mansion is a decorative urn that is taller than I am. The faces of Greek Gods and an angry dragon protrude from around the urn. Purple flowers overflow from the top. I’m disturbed to find that there is a map of the university posted right next to the artifact. It’s difficult to take a picture of the urn without getting the map in the shot as well.
The university is everywhere around the mansion. I can’t help but wish there was a time buffer around Ralston Hall. I want to see it in all of its glory inside and out. Maybe in a few years the Hall will re-open and I will be able to explore the grand ballroom and opera boxes for myself. Until then I am content that the mansion is standing and there’s hope for its future survival.