A Weekend at La Playa Carmel: Cocktails, Culture, and Coastline

I first visited Carmel years ago on a road trip from Portland to LA, and ever since I’ve remembered it as one of the most peaceful and scenic places I’d ever been. So when I was invited check out the recently reinvigorated bar program on a weekend at La Playa Carmel I couldn’t wait to book a trip.

Arriving at La Playa Carmel

Pulling up to La Playa Carmel, I was struck by how it lacked the sterile sleek uniform new-ness of many luxury California hotels; this property had more substance and character.

Perhaps that’s because La Playa Carmel wasn’t always a hotel; it was built by an artist in 1905 as a gift for his wife (who happened to be a member of the prominent Ghirardelli family). In addition to the historic mansion being a home for the couple, La Playa Carmel functioned as a popular retreat for artists before it was converted into a resort.

But, rest assured. My love for history ends where peeling paint and dingy bathrooms begin. While La Playa Carmel’s historic charm is still apparent, it has been recently renovated and updated with all the modern comforts.

In addition to boasting elegant interiors (especially the bar!), one of the standout features of the property was its outdoor spaces. Sprawling well-kept gardens full of flowers, quiet patios, and a sunny pool lined with shaded loungers all made an afternoon of day-drinking outdoors seem pretty irresistible.

La Playa Carmel’s Champagne Breakfast

Starting out the day with champagne almost always makes me feel worthlessly lazy. But that is precisely how I wanted to spend this weekend at La Playa Carmel, so when it came to bottomless mimos, I didn’t hold back.

But because man can’t live on mimosas alone, La Playa Carmel accompanied its mimosa station at champagne breakfast with a buffet featuring an assortment of pastries, cereals, fresh fruit, and bread pudding. It also included a well-appointed waffle and omelet station on the patio. It was also nice to see a variety of gluten-free and vegan options offered for guests with special diets.

Exploring the Area Around La Playa Carmel

Against all odds, I managed to resist the urge to nap after boozy brunch. The urge to check out the nearby beaches was simply impossible to resist.

While the hotel is a comfortable distance from the main street in Carmel (not too far to walk to, not too close to hear street noise), we decided to explore the beach instead. We thought about taking the bikes offered onsite, but when we realized we were only a short block from the coast we chose to walk down instead.

My memories of the area weren’t exaggerated, and the coast was as breathtaking as I remembered it being. With white beaches, wild rock formations, vibrant blue water, and plenty of architect designed homes to gawk at, the walk along the shore near La Playa Carmel made me a pretty annoying conversationalist: “HONEY IT’S SO BEAUTIFUL WOW STUNNINGLY PRETTY ARE YOU SEEING THIS GEEZ GORGEOUS.”

Cocktails at Bud’s

And now for the main event: drinks at Bud’s.

While the bar program at Bud’s was recently overhauled, its updates harken back to when the bar was manned by its iconic namesake, Bud. Bud was an exemplary host who knew how to start a conversation with anyone and to bring a sense of fun and belonging to even the most stubbornly stodgy guest.

One of the ways La Playa Carmel has kept Bud’s spirit alive is through a tradition he started called “Dime Time.” During a ten minute period every day patrons can order cocktails and highballs for a dime (no, not 10 cents: you MUST pay with dimes). To signal the beginning of Dime Time, the bartender rings a large bell. The underpriced drinks don’t start flowing at the same time every day (otherwise it would be constantly flooded with hopefuls) and there are several things that can motivate the bartender to ring the bell: 1) they see someone wearing multiple plaids as Bud famously did (I respect any establishment that rewards power clashing) 2) a bar patron makes a $100 donation to charity 3) the bartender’s whim.

Now onto the cocktails.

The cocktails on Bud’s elegantly illustrated menu are named after beloved Carmel institutions. Each one is a variation on a classic (sazeracs, vespers, and sidecars to name a few) and accompanying every cocktail on the list is a short story connecting the drink to famed residents like Clint Eastwood (called “The Mayor” to reference his political career), regional pastimes (“The Jade Hunter” is named after a common hobby in the area— that of treasure-hunting for jade), and inside jokes like “Plaiditude” (another reference to Bud’s fondness for tartan).

A cocktail with history is always more fun to drink, so I loved the fact that Bud’s put this extra care into their menu. Here are a few of the cocktails I tried during our weekend at La Playa Carmel:

The Mayor: whisky, bitters, orange, bourbon cherry.
Plaiditude: cognac, cointreau, lemon.

While Bud’s is in a hotel and thus has its fair share of out-of-towners, it also endeavors to carry on its heritage of attracting locals. One way it caters to people in the area is through their signature cabinet program. Frequent visitors to Bud’s can sign up for the program and keep their favorite bottle in a cabinet just for them.

…Living over a hundred miles away makes this pretty clearly a bad idea for me. But having my own personal cabinet at Bud’s would make me feel like pretty hot stuff.

Enjoying a neat pour from cabinet #1

We paired our cocktails with their fresh strawberry salad and one of their signatures: a glorious grilled cheese with tomato soup.

Luckily, It’s Not Too Far Away

The only thing that stopped me from strapping myself to the bar and refusing to leave was remembering that luckily, Carmel isn’t too too far away from San Francisco, and I know I’ll be back.

While the location and building are beautiful, the things I found most exceptional at La Playa Carmel were their commitment to hospitality and keeping the history of Carmel alive. And while everyone was warm, welcoming, and knowledgable, our bartender Brian deserves a special thank you. He took us through the menu, impressed us with his storytelling, and made the whole experience richer.

We can’t wait to come back.

A neat pour of bourbon on the patio.

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