The artsy, wealthy community of Carmel Highlands is a fairly secluded and unincorporated part of Monterey County, in Northern California.
Known for its rugged, hilly terrain and often stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, it sits just three-and-a-half-miles south of Carmel-by-the-Sea, which is better known as simply “Carmel.”
The northern boundary of Carmel Highlands is where the Carmel River crosses Highway 1, said Jessica Canning, an agent with Sotheby’s International Realty in Carmel, and it runs south to Big Sur. The western edge is the Pacific Ocean, and it extends east to the Santa Lucia Mountains. “It’s a very narrow, small community,” she said.
Prices are quite steep in the Highlands. The spectacularly scenic Highway 1, which is also known as the Pacific Coast Highway, runs through the neighborhood, mostly hugging the coast. West of the highway are true waterfront homes, with lots priced from $2.5 million to $5 million, and homes selling in the $10 million to $20 million range, Ms. Canning said. The price range for homes east of the highway is generally $2 million to $7 million. “For $2.5 million, you can get a cute home with a little view (of the ocean),” she said.
Canning Properties Group
“That market likes more contemporary designs that incorporate natural elements,” Ms. Canning said. “You see a lot of green roofs and succulents and plants everywhere.”
“There are a couple of Spanish Mediterranean-style homes, but there is a very strong preference toward more contemporary,” she said.
There are still some homes that were built in the 1920s and ’30s, but “most were built probably in the 1960s and ’70s and there is still a lot of new construction,” said Greg Kraft, a broker associate with Carmel Realty Co. and 18-year resident of Carmel Highlands. “They are primarily three- to four-bedrooms, not cottages, 3,000-and-up-square-foot homes typically.”
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What makes it unique
“It really is a very private location that’s seven minutes to downtown Carmel,” Ms. Canning said. “It’s close, but a complete world away.”
Some people buy very expensive waterfront homes in the Highlands just for whale watching, she said. Some of the whales that migrate back and forth between Alaska and the Baja Peninsula “come very close to the shoreline, 20 feet from their decks—it’s just phenomenal.”
“You can get huge ocean views in the Highlands,” Ms. Canning said. “It’s kind of a bohemian retreat. People like their privacy and mass ocean views.”
And those perks mean that there’s not a lot of inventory. “People tend to live their whole lives there,” she said. “There is not a lot of turnover in housing.”
As a result, people get to know each other. “You have a nice sense of community here, too,” Mr. Kraft said. “People tend to know their neighbors—we have potlucks and things.”
“We border on millions of acres of parkland,” he said. “You have an incredible sense of nature here. We’re not a subdivision.”
Canning Properties Group
While there are few commercial establishments within the borders of the Highlands, residents have easy access to downtown Carmel’s great restaurants and shops, such as the fine-dining Aubergine restaurant inside the L'Auberge hotel; Casanova, offering French and Italian fare; high-end jeweler Tiffany’s; and Cottage of Sweets for fudge or chocolates. There is also the upscale Carmel Plaza mall and many art galleries and wine-tasting rooms, such as Dawn’s Dream Winery and Galante Vineyards.
In addition, there are many hiking opportunities in the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, which is in the northern part of the Highlands, and Big Sur.
The luxurious Highlands Inn, which is celebrating its centennial this year, is the only real deluxe commercial establishment in the neighborhood. The highly regarded California Market at Pacific’s Edge restaurant is in the hotel. The cliffside restaurant is known for its great seafood, all of which falls under the strict guidelines of the nearby Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch.
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And then there are the intangibles, like weather and views.
“Unlike much of Monterey County, Carmel Highlands faces due west, so you have great year-round sunsets,” Ms. Canning said.
“The weather is pretty warm and stable,” she said, with year-round temperatures in the 50-to 73-degree range. “You have a little bit more wind and fog because you’re on the water. Overall, it’s very, very consistently pleasant weather.”
Highlands residents also have access to the private Yankee Point Beach, she said.
Who lives there
“For a lot of people, this is their second home,” Ms. Canning said. People from Bakersfield and other parts of central California “come here to cool off. We have Texas buyers, from Dallas and Houston, who also come because it’s cooler here in summer.” There are also second-home buyers from the San Francisco area and even some from Los Angeles, which is a good five hours away, she said.
“You have a lot of people who are very passionate about the environment, the ocean and architecture,” Ms. Canning said. “It’s very quiet here, a low-profile casual place.”
There are lots of retirees who live in Carmel Highlands, Mr. Kraft said. “And there are families, some with grade-school kids.” (Note: There are no schools in the Highlands. The nearest schools are in Carmel-by-the Sea.)
Actress Betty White has a home in Carmel Meadows, which is part of the Highlands.
Actor-director Clint Eastwood, who was elected mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea in 1986 and lives in Carmel Valley, owns a large parcel of land in the Highlands where he grazes his cows, Ms. Canning said.
Former residents include rocker Sammy Hagar and the late photographers Edward Weston and Ansel Adams, whose family still lives in his Highlands house.
The neighborhood, though expensive, is still a good value, Mr. Kraft said. “You can get a lot of bang for your buck, with great ocean views, and you’re out of the tourist traffic.”
“If you really want an ocean view and you don’t have a zillion dollars, you can find that here,” he said. “There is a good future to it—I’d put my money here.”
Ms. Canning, who said that inventory remains tight in Carmel, agreed. “It’s all positive as far as long-term growth in the area,” she said. “Overall, I have a very positive outlook for the area. It’s still a bit of a sleeper.”
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