Pebble Beach and Carmel in August

Without Classic Car Madness

For at least three decades, during mid-August, I’ve made the trek to the Monterey Peninsula to immerse myself in the automotive extravagance that began with road racing and a classic car gathering and became a full week of celebrations. For a car enthusiast, the good news was the plethora of auto nirvana, spotting amazing machines even while driving between events. The bad news was the bumper-to-bumper traffic that occurs when hordes of aficionados descend into the area.

Early this year I was in the middle of putting my annual Monterey Classic Car Week itinerary together when the dreaded COVID struck. At first, I thought the pandemic would blow over by the Summer. Then one by one events began to cancel, the big one was the Pebble Beach Concours d Elegance, a marque gathering that not only brings affluent car fans the area, but also the world’s automakers and their marketing budgets.

The last holdout appeared to be the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion at Laguna Seca, the classic car racing celebration that’s the week’s other significant attraction. But in mid-June, they surrendered and that seemed to be the final nail so to speak. But wait, there was more!

Before the ink dried on Laguna Seca’s email, one of Carmel’s stellar public relations professionals and friend of the magazine, invited me to cover the 2nd Annual Concours at Pasadera scheduled for August 7th. Of course I called her to inquire if her client was serious. You know, that pandemic thing that had killed all the other car events. Yep, she said “we’re on”. And indeed they were- right up to a week before the gathering when the regrets arrived. 

Shifting Gears

I had planned this novel story idea about the feisty little Concours that would take place despite witnessing every rival succumbing to COVID. Additionally, traveling around the Monterey Peninsula in August without crowds and high prices could be unique. So since I still had accommodations and a just-released new Lexus LC500 convertible booked for the journey, we packed for the weekend and set sail.

Our all-new Lexus is the convertible version of the company’s line-topping LC500 coupe that was launched last year and it’s a knockout that nicely bridges the two-seat Mercedes SL and larger luxury convertible offerings. Its 5.0-liter, 471-horsepower V8 provides plenty of punch with a 10-speed, direct-shift gearbox delivering the goods to the rear wheels. And a deep-throated exhaust competes with the refined Mark Levinson sound system for sonic amusement when the right pedal is pushed.

If you’re in a sporting mood, this Lexus will answer the call with abundance, and that’s fun for getting underway. Once on the road at cruising attitude, the exhaust notes fully mellow out, replaced with brilliant high-fi. The LC500’s triple-padded top does its part by creating a coupe-like, quiet interior. 

We zipped down Highway One on a glorious morning to Davenport where we stopped at Whale City Bakery for a fresh scone, an éclair and espresso drinks. After a few minutes of in-car dining we stowed the roof, a process that takes just 16-seconds for the rear of the top then the sleek tonneau cover to open, swallow the top and reclose with a weathertight seal. And you can work this magic at speeds up to 31-MPH, but it’s also fun to fascinate onlookers with this disappearing act.

The LC500 barked its way back onto Highway One then settled into a near-quiet cruise. With windows up and the wind deflector in place, just the sunlight and fresh air remind you that the top’s stowed. Even the Mark Levison sound system automatically compensates for the open environment. We tuned in one-o-seven-oink-five (107.5 FM) KPIG, one of the few great independent radio stations on our continent, and enjoyed its unscripted DJs playing an eclectic mix of country and rock. Check it out the next time you head to the Santa Cruz or Monterey area.

Arrive Pebble Beach

Our first destination was the Inn at Spanish Bay and I was anxious to see how this renowned resort was pampering their guests under pandemic rules. My first surprise was entering the hotel drive with an absence of fashionable cars properly parked to welcome guests. During Classic Car Week, if your stallion is in this herd, it’s definitely a thoroughbred. But the drive was wide open, and when I inquired about the absence of cars, the answer was COVID rules. Valet parking was forbidden, a casualty that I’m sure bummed the car guys on the staff.

Parking guests in their lovely room is allowed and our sparkling accommodation offered an alluring golf course and ocean view, even from the king size bed. After a toast of champagne accompanied by gourmet cheese and charcuterie, we headed to The Lodge for an easy lunch at The Bench, adjacent to the fairway. The hostess asserted that seating was unavailable without a reservation, so we adjourned upstairs to Stillwater’s balcony and enjoyed a simple meal with a lovely golf and water view. Unfortunately, tranquility was not part of the charm since new suites were under construction across the spacious lawn.

Back at the Inn, we looked forward to a lovely dinner at Roy’s, and since all Monterey County restaurants were unable to seat patrons inside, our favorite patio with a bagpiper at sunset seemed the best outdoor venue possible. Boy, was that a good call. The patio and firepits were pressed into customary cocktail and appetizer duty while on the adjacent lawn, teakwood tables and chairs were set up for dining, while gas heaters provided just enough warmth.

Roy’s Hawaiian inspired menu is perfect for dining on the ocean, so we began with Yellow Firecracker along with Panko Tempura sushi dishes. Both paired nicely with a 2017 Decoy Chardonnay. Kathleen picked Seared Rare Ahi from the menu while I took the server’s recommendation for that evening’s special Butterfish offering. The Ahi was just as we love it and the Butterfish was delicate and flavorful. We finished with “Melting Hot” chocolate cake and homemade ice cream.

Dinner outside at the Inn, complete with the bagpiper and wonderful sunset over the ocean, was truly special. We learned that most guests would like to keep that option, even after the pandemic rules allow a return to indoors. Roy’s staff isn’t sure the kitchen could accommodate both venues at once, so you may want to zip down soon for a fun staycation. 

The next morning, we opted for breakfast to be delivered. The in-room dining menu had delightful choices, but asserted that disposable dinnerware was currently in place as part of COVID protocol. A meal on plastic didn’t seem to fit our surroundings so I called room service and asked if it could be delivered on real plates and flatware. Our Pebble Beach hosts had the answer we’ve come to expect from a luxury resort and our order of Homemade Corned Beef Hash, Poached Eggs on Avocado Toast, Espresso Macchiato and English Breakfast Tea were delivered in style. We walked off our breakfast on the wooden pathways that go right out to a sandy beach. But do watch for errant golf balls.

Carmel by the Sea

Our next destination was the Hofsas House, a casual inn that has provided visitors welcoming hospitality for more than seven decades. It’s well located on San Carlos Street between 3rd and 4th Avenues and has enough real estate for secure parking. And innkeeper Carrie Theis not only provides a warm welcome, her encyclopedic knowledge of Carmel becomes your personal concierge asset during the visit.

We checked into our B & B style room with antique furnishings and a cast iron, wood-burning fireplace that would create the right mood for cold weather visits. The hillside property has lots of visitor options, from cottages to small rooms and a pool for family fun. Beverages and fresh baked goods are provided every morning.

We took a short stroll over to Ocean Avenue for a second coffee and were surprised at the reasonably vibrant Saturday mid-morning gathering of summer tourists. Masks were standard apparel, with signs in the center islands warning of a $100 fine for eschewing the now ubiquitous facial covering. But a few street parking spaces were set aside to accommodate outdoor dining and the scene was nearly Parisian in flavor.

Lunch brought us across Highway One to Lugano, a Swiss Bistro where fondue is a prime menu feature. We decided on a different ethnic direction, choosing “Monterey’s Best” Schnitzel, a lightly breaded pork loin with lemon capers and anchovy garnish along with a Veal Bratwurst sausages plate. Both were quite good and the portions a bit too ambitious to finish.

After another casual stroll around Carmel by the Sea and some rest, we set off to Mezzaluna Pasteria in nearby Pacific Grove for dinner. We love to discover new restaurants and we were delighted with what we discovered in the modest surroundings of a shopping plaza on Forrest Avenue. Owner Amy Stouffer was our friendly and knowledgeable host and the menu of homemade, locally sourced Italian fare is impressive. 

Chef Soerke Peters brings international experience, including tours in Michelin Star venues, to the vibrant Monterey Peninsula dining scene. The menu and wine list had so many fetching choices, we surrendered those decisions to our host who provided wonderful examples of Chef Peters’ creativity including Porcini Fettuccini, Ravioli Di Manzo and even a sample of Octopus. This is definitely a destination that readers should add to their next journey to the Peninsula.

Of course we missed the classic car celebration that succumbed to the pandemic this year and look forward to its 2021 return. And while we missed social interaction and indoor dining, we were pleased to find an accommodating and resilient hospitality scene just a short drive away.