From its earliest days, Carmel-by-the-Sea has lured the famous to its borders. Most are looking for a break from the pressure-cooker life that comes with having an instantly recognizable face. In the late 19th century, when a vibrant and thriving artist community sprang up here, literary luminaries such as Robert Louis Stevenson found respite here, followed by Robinson Jeffers (who built the quirky Tor House out of stone at Carmel Point with his own hands) and Jack London. John Steinbeck was born in nearby Salinas and spent a good portion of his adult life here, immortalizing and romanticizing a portion of industrial Monterey—and his good friend, marine biologist Ed Ricketts—in his novel “Cannery Row.” Renowned artists such as photographers Ansel Adams and Edward Weston drew inspiration from Carmel and Big Sur, as did legions of world-known painters.
And, of course, there are the television and movie stars. He could live just about anywhere, but CBS Sports announcer Jim Nantz has chosen to raise his family just a 2-iron shot from Pebble Beach. The guy who started that tournament, Bing Crosby, also maintained a home here for many years. Actresses such as Rosanna Arquette and Hollywood’s Golden Age star Joan Fontaine both resided here.
There are musicians and rock stars too: Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea has a home in Big Sur, Oscar-winning film composer Alan Silvestri calls Carmel Highlands home and Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen recently relocated to Carmel Valley.
Following are a famous few who have graced the Monterey Peninsula with their presence at some point in their lives. Some most will be familiar with, some might come as a surprise, but all made a mark on this little corner of paradise—and there’s no doubt that it made a huge impression on their lives.
In 1961, young James Marshall Hendrix was given a choice: two years in jail or enlist in the Army. He wisely chose the latter and underwent basic training at Fort Ord. As Jimi, the guitar virtuoso returned to the Peninsula for his career making appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.
The folk singer owned a Carmel Valley home that she briefly shared with her equally famous lover, Bob Dylan. Baez founded her Institute for the Study of Nonviolence in a former school building on what is now the Stonepine Estate Resort.
In his memoir, “The Real Frank Zappa Book,” the controversial avant-garde composer noted, “We moved from Monterey to Pacific Grove…I spent my recreational hours building puppets and model planes and making homemade explosives from whatever ingredients I could find.” Before picking up a guitar, Zappa honed his show-biz skills by staging “Madcap Puppets,” a show he performed with friends at PG’s Grove Theater, the Monterey County Fair and on local television.
The stunning star escaped the Hollywood life for the Carmel Highlands with the purpose of “creating a lifestyle in harmony with nature while combining it with my love of painting and writing poetry.” She later raised llamas on a Carmel Valley property.
Clint Eastwood is without question Carmel’s most famous resident. In addition to his obvious Hollywood domination, he’s also an extraordinarily successful businessman—and, famously, former mayor of his adopted hometown.
One of Carmel’s—and the world’s—most beloved residents was late actor, singer and animal advocate Doris Day. She turned her back on Hollywood decades ago, preferring the laid-back Carmel vibe. She was also a co-owner of the Cypress Inn.
“Oh, hi there. I’m Betty White. Welcome to my crib!” So begins the venerable comedic actress in her YouTube tour of her Carmel house. The Golden Girl turned 98 in January and has been a local resident for nearly half of those years.
Singer, talk show host, game show creator and hotel and casino owner Merv Griffin resided in a magnificent mountain-top home in Carmel Valley. Through the years, he hosted a Who’s Who of celebrities to party in the warm Valley sun.
Though he lived in the Carmel Highlands, singer-songwriter-actor John Denver is sadly also famous for having died here. The “Rocky Mountain High” singer perished when his plane crashed near Pacific Grove in 1997.
Not many know that Sammy Hagar was born in Monterey. He returns to the Peninsula frequently. “It’s a very spiritual place,” Hagar, aka The Red Rocker, says. A lifelong car guy, he attends the Monterey Peninsula’s Car Week events when possible.