Fairy-tale cottages in Carmel-by-the-Sea Enchants All
By Kathy Chin Leong
An charming Hobbit Land of fairy-tale cottages awaits in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Over 20 historic, tiny homes feature hand-carved heart shutters and pointy, gabled rooftops. It's a memorable day trip where you can combine that together with bedtime fairytale readings.
Set aside at least two hours to locate the historic, whimsical cottages. From San Francisco, it will take at least two hours. Depart in the morning. If you can, go on a weekday to avoid traffic. Carmel-by-the-Sea makes for an ideal two-night getaway for shopping, dining, and experiencing the town’s famous white sand beach.You will find them in downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea; most houses are off of Ocean Avenue.
In 1924, Hugh Comstock built a storybook cottage for his wife Mayotta. The 244-square-feet Tudor, dubbed Hansel, was tucked behind gnarled oak trees featuring an off-kilter chimney, rounded door arch, and a steep shingle roof. A year later, he fashioned a matching cottage next door named Gretel.
Enamored by the architecture, locals begged Comstock to build them similar charmers. Thus began the man's career as the town's cottage maker who created up to 21 fairytale dwellings in this one-mile-square community. It didn’t take long for other architects to follow suit imitating the Comstock style on downtown businesses and lodging. Today, anyone can embark on a journey to track down Comstock houses which are private residences.
Local Storybook Shop Treasures
Be sure to savor the town’s architectural details: flower boxes, cobblestone courtyards, mossy shingle rooftops, stone fountains. Initiate your trek at the Carmel Visitor Center. Ask for the map of the Comstock cottages. No numeric addresses exist in Carmel-by-the-Sea, residences have names. Identify locations according to cross streets.
Make a beeline towards Pilgrim's Way Bookstore and Secret Garden. The shop is small but well stocked with novels from Carmel authors. Pick up some nice tomes about the old houses under titles such as Carmel's Fairytale Cottages, A Timeless Place, and Cottages by the Sea.
The Tuck Box (circa 1927) is the most Hobbit-esque of all of Comstock's homes. His signature style soon becomes recognizable with the wavy, steep-pitched roof, red and white awnings, and bay windows. You expect to see Bilbo Baggins creek open the crooked door for you at any moment. Today, Tuck Box is a tea room that serves sandwiches and treats alongside adorable teapots.
Pay homage to the Cottage of Sweets, a dwelling so endearing you wouldn't be surprised if fairies came flying out the windows. The store carries at least fifty different types of licorice from all over the world, and specializes in homemade fudge.Don’t forget to photograph the boutique inns inspired by the Comstock vision.
Most charming is the Happy Landing Inn, an enclave of cottages recently remodeled, but retaining its winsome 1920s character. Each room is named after a celebrity such as Elvis and Marilyn Monroe. Spy other homes on your own on the side streets, away from the Ocean Avenue shops. Each blocked is packed with varying architectural styles from adobe to colonial, to craftsman to Mid-Century modern. You’ll fall in love with the clever house names such as Frivolous Frog, Windermere, Our Seventh Heaven, Little Lunchbox, and Sea Esta.
Get the scoop on history and early settlers from Gael Gallagher, proprietor of Carmel Walks. She leads the curious through alleyways, courtyards, and, yes, cottages of yesteryear. Gallagher is an impassioned storyteller whose engaging style makes the two-hour journey fly by in an instant. I find myself visiting the community at least every other year. Warning: avoid the summer months when the international tourists come in droves. Weekdays are ideal, for you get the entire town to yourself, and parking is easy to find. Carmel is excellent for families with small kids, girlfriend getaways, and couples, for sure. The words quaint, quintessential, tiny and bucolic are hard to avoid because, in the words of my best friend Maria from Atlanta, “Carmel is just so stinkin’ cute.”
Everyone loves a love story. This one is about Hugh and Mayotta Comstock. You see, he wasn’t originally an architect, but he loved his wife. And whatever she loved, he loved. Mayotta loved sewing handmade, rag dolls she named Otsy Totsy. As word got out, orders flooded in. She eventually needed a place to sell and display her wares. She asked her new husband to build her a “fairy house in the woods.” Back in 1924, lots in Carmel were extremely cheap, and so he bought some land, and using his natural artistic ability, he designed and built these original tiny houses himself. Since then, the Comstock stone fireplaces, mullioned windows, and shutters with heart cutouts have bewitched many a buyer. Today, his homes sell for nearly $2 million.
When you Go:
*Official web site: www.carmelcalifornia.org*Carmel Visitor's Bureau: 831.624.2522