On the Road: Sipping a Highlands Margarita at the Highlands Inn in Carmel, California

It sounds like a mixed metaphor, but no, we’re talking mixed drinks – one of the coolest drinks I’ve had this summer.

This refreshing concoction, served salt-free, combines Patron Silver Tequila, Cointreau, Chambord and fresh raspberries in a tall, ice-cubed glass ($14). It tastes as summery as the Fourth of July. It looks great, too – one of those hot weather drinks that helps lower the temperature by its mere appearance.

But a big part of the Highlands Margarita’s appeal is its backdrop. Situated several miles south of Carmel, California, where Overnight New York overnighted this week, the Carmel Highlands is an unincorporated town, population 800ish, best known for its rocky cliffs, pine trees and heart-pounding views of the Pacific. Since 1917, its showpiece retreat has been the Highlands Inn, now the Hyatt Carmel Highlands, where the HM is the featured drink.

The drink comes with one of the most glorious views in California, and just maybe the world. Picture the Pacific at its most dramatic (crashing waves, wind-worn rocks, endless blue) and its most playful (if you’re lucky, you see a whale or two) and you’re gazing though the panoramic windows of the Sunset Lounge, where drinks are served from late afternoon on. You can drink in the same view sipping a HM in Pacific Edge, the resort’s heavy-duty main restaurant, or California Market, the breezy, indoor-outdoor restaurant (having been dive-bombed by a gutsy seagull on a previous visit, we prefer to sit indoors).

Though nothing I’ve ever seen quite matches the windswept ferocity of the Scotland’s

Western Highlands, I can see how this stretch of Big Sur coastline got its name. Apparently the people who built the Highlands Inn felt the same way. The main building housing the restaurants and lounge, a sweeping Frank Lloyd Wright-inflected lodge, boasts a massive stone fireplace and gorgeous wood floors. Old photos of the inn show acres of dark, Stewart tartan carpeting and menus emblazoned with a drawing of a bagpiper on a red tartan backdrop.

Today the inn’s look, less redolent of Morar Beach or Fort William, is pure Central California – a blend of wood, stone and glass that ushers the outdoors in while taming it (somewhat). The remaining plaids come in kicky green, turquoise and plum. There’s a dash of flash (Lindsey Buckingham brushed my elbow on a previous visit). But why must Hyatt tout its properties on flatscreens bedecking the lounge walls? (How about more of the handsome black-and-white seascape photos seen elsewhere in the hotel?)

Never mind. I can’t think of a better stop for a meal or a drink or the night before heading up or down Highway 1.  Plan to drink and drive? I suggest the zingy Sport Ice Tea ($2.50), made with ginseng and lemon but no alcohol.  It’s almost as pretty as the HM. And it comes with free refills.



2 replies
  1. Tim
    Tim says:

    Highlands margarita — most amusing. Sounds good, though. And the views do look singularly spectacular, and about as far away from Manhattan as it gets, visually. Enjoy the trip, even if it isn’t entirely a vacation.


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