Carmel Mythbusters

Carmel Mythbusters

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The quaint town of Carmel, Calif., has many urban legends, ranging from the illegality of high heels to Doris Day's alleged desire to rent rooms only to dogs. This list of Carmel mythbusters will help you distinguish which of these stories are true, which are partly true, and which are completely false.

1. Clint Eastwood plays piano in the bar of the Mission Ranch Inn.

This urban legend proves to be true! Many Carmel mythbusters, residents and quite a few tourists have heard the acclaimed actor/director play a very bluesy piano at the Mission Ranch Inn (26270 Dolores Street; 800-538-8221). Clint discovered this local hangout in the 1950s while stationed at Fort Ord. He liked the converted dairy ranch, and bought it when it went on the market in 1986, saving the pristine riverside site from development. He renovated the original ranch buildings, making as few alterations as possible to the buildings. Sheep graze in the meadow between the buildings and the river, and the view across the Carmel River to Point Lobos is unspoiled.

Clint does not play in his piano bar very often, but other musicians do almost every night, and many of the guests who join in the cheerful sing-alongs beside the roaring fire do so with the hope that Clint will appear and join in.

2. Secret passages are concealed in the Hawk Tower at the Tor House, a stone structure built by poet Robinson Jeffers. Tour groups taken through the property by dedicated volunteers are never told of the secret passages.

This Carmel urban myth is false. Poet Robinson Jeffers built portions of this rustic compound himself after serving as an apprentice to a stonemason during the building of the original house. Hawk Tower (6304 Ocean View Avenue; 831-624-18130), which Jeffers built as a retreat for his wife and sons, was entirely completed in less than four years. Two stairways lead to the top of Hawk Tower, one outside and one inside. Due to liability concerns, the inside stairway is seldom used, but it has never been a secret.

3. Pets are treated better than people at the Cypress Inn, because that's the way owner Doris Day wants it.

This tall tale is also false. Both animals and people are treated well at the Cypress Inn (Lincoln Street; 831-624-3871), which features memorabilia from Doris Day's entertainment career. Her hotel does pamper dogs, cats and other animal guests. However, humans are treated just as well, with services ranging from afternoon tea in the garden courtyard to therapeutic massages and facials.

The city of Carmel is famously pet-friendly. Dogs are welcome on the streets and beaches and in many shops. If anyone leaves a dog confined in a hot car, police will free it and cite the owner.

4. Point Lobos, the legendary meeting of rocky coast and turbulent ocean, was named for the wolves that ravaged the fields of nearby Mission Carmel.

Mythbusters have proven this story to be another false urban legend. The "wolves" of Point Lobos are actually lobos marinos, or sea lions. The Spanish named the place Punta de los Lobos Marinos, or Sea Lion Point. The raucous animals still gather on islets off Point Lobos, along with seals and otters. Farther offshore, whales and orcas also visit the Carmel coast.

5. Monastery Beach, the southernmost of Carmel's beaches, has been nicknamed Mortuary Beach by the locals, with good reason.

This urban myth is true, though not for the reason you might think. No one would allege that the beach is haunted. However, it has taken more than its share of lives. Walkers, waders and scuba divers who ignore the warning signs are regularly swept out to sea. The ocean bottom drops off sharply here, which gives the illusion of calm water where there is actually a powerful rip current. Sleeper waves sometimes break directly onto the beach too, right onto visitors who think they are safely above the high tide line.

6. It is illegal to wear high heels in Carmel. Heels greater than 2 inches high or with a base less than 1 inch across are not allowed without a permit.

This urban legend is a real Carmel law, in place for liability reasons. Carmel residents enjoy the pleasing irregularity of their street surfaces but do not wish to be sued by high heel wearers who fall. The regulation is rarely enforced, and free high heel permits are available at City Hall.

7. It is illegal to eat ice cream on the streets of Carmel.

Don't worry, this urban legend is false, although before 1987, it was illegal to sell and eat ice cream outdoors in Carmel. When Clint Eastwood ran for mayor, he campaigned against this restriction. He won (not just for his stand on ice cream), and quickly worked with the city council to remove the archaic ordinance. Ice cream of all sorts is now enjoyed on the streets of Carmel.

8. The regal La Playa hotel is said to be haunted by the ghost of a young woman who drowned herself in Carmel Bay.

It is true that people say the hotel is haunted. The La Playa hotel (Camino Real at Eighth Avenue; 831-624-64760) was originally a stately mansion, and its appearance seems to be straight out of a romance novel. Some visitors describe mysterious cold spots and stories are told of a tragic love affair, a broken heart and a moonlight swim. However, honeymooners have never reported seeing or sensing the ghost.

In some versions of the urban myth, Angela Ghiradelli, an heiress who once owned the mansion, is also said to haunt the nearby beach. Historically however, it was not she, but rather her cousin, who drowned. Perhaps Angela is merely watching over her guests.

9. Father Junipero Serra is buried in San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission, the first of the chain of missions he founded in California.

Although Father Serra is buried at San Carlos Borromeo Mission (3080 Rio Road; 831-624-1271) in Carmel, the mission was not the first founded in California. It was Father Serra's favorite, but Mission San Diego de Alcala was the first.

10. No one lives in the hand-crafted fairytale houses of Carmel.

This urban legend holds some truth. A survey conducted by the city in 2008 found that only 37 percent of the homes in Carmel had full-time residents. The rest are vacation homes and are empty for much of the year. Then again, many residents would describe their Carmel house as their spiritual home, or as the place where they intend to live when they retire.

Though some Carmel area homes are owner-built, others were designed by noted architects including Frank Lloyd Wright, Greene & Greene, Julia Morgan and Bernard Maybeck, famous for his storybook style.

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