In the eagerly anticipated new series Big Little Lies, nothing is quite as it seems in the tranquil seaside town of Monterey in central California.
With an all-star cast including Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern, it revolves around three “Monterey Moms” with successful husbands and adorable children living in gorgeous oceanside homes – whose seemingly perfect lives begin to unravel.
Based on the bestselling novel by Liane Moriarty, the seven-part series, which premiered last Monday on Sky Atlantic, was filmed on the picturesque Monterey Peninsula, 100 miles south of San Francisco and 300 north of Los Angeles.
Prepare to be seduced by hypnotic seascapes running down to Big Sur, the rocky cliffs and Santa Lucia mountains of Garrapata State Park, and the incredible real estate on show.
Kidman’s wealthy character, Celeste, lives in a clifftop house, with walls of glass overlooking a wraparound deck and a forest-framed Pacific, while Dern’s Renata has a flawless double-height-ceiling trophy home where she contemplates the cold, dark ocean with a glass of wine on her sprawling terrace. But do homes like this really exist in Monterey?
You need to head to the south side of the peninsula and the areas of Pebble Beach, Carmel-by-the-Sea and Carmel Highlands for these sorts of homes overlooking the Pacific.
While you won’t find Dern’s or Witherspoon’s fictional homes in any of these – they are actually located in Malibu, where the Pacific Coast Highway is stacked with such properties – Kidman’s property is a real family’s holiday home that the location manager found through aerial imagery from Google Earth.
It’s reportedly located on Yankee Point, one of Carmel Highlands’ three sought-after ocean-front roads – but who really lives there? “Most are second-home owners from San Francisco’s Silicon Valley or Texans who come to cool off every summer,” says Jessica Canning of Sotheby’s International Realty.
“Compared to Malibu, it doesn’t attract so many celebrity residents; it’s generally the chief executives of Fortune 100 companies and venture capitalists. Many Europeans may rent here for a month, but not many buy a home, although I have had a couple of London families in recent years, and one from Monaco.”
For super-prime ocean-front homes here and in Pebble Beach, you’ll pay $16.6 million (£13.6 million) to $22 million, although there is one edging towards $49.8 million, the highest price ever paid for a home in this area, for 8,800 sq ft on two acres with four bedrooms and an infinity pool.
Demand for the limited supply of ocean-front homes keeps prices high (there are relatively few on the beach itself), and prices have been going up for five years: the average sales price in Carmel was $2.15 million in 2016 – up from $1.5 million in 2011.
In Carmel-by-the-Sea, a charmingly old-fashioned European-style beach town where Doris Day co-owns the Cypress Inn and local resident Clint Eastwood was once mayor, chain restaurants and high heels are verboten.
Scenic Road, which winds along the white-sand beach, is the key address for properties, and one side of Carmel’s “Golden Rectangle” of premium homes. Its so-called Storybook cottages – or “gingerbread house” style ranches – are popular, and you might pay around $2.6 million for one with three bedrooms that is a short walk from downtown Carmel.
Up in Pebble Beach, plots are bigger, houses grander and there’s a strong demand for homes from golfers down from Silicon Valley. With 20 world-class courses, including the renowned Pebble Beach Golf Links, this area comes high on many golfers’ bucket lists.
Drop down over the iconic Bixby Creek Bridge and the Pacific Coast Highway to Big Sur and it’s a different ball game. Rugged, isolated and bohemian, it draws the Los Angeles crowd and more A-listers generally; singer Taylor Swift did a road trip last year, while actresses Anne Hathaway and Natalie Portman both got married there.
Massive cliffs, towering redwood forests and lavender-tinted beaches run along its 90-mile stretch next to a blue-glass ocean. There are a few art galleries, rustic cabins and ultra-private ranch homes, and what Henry Miller called an “eloquent silence”.
Today, people tend to rent rather than buy homes, says Canning. You can get an 800 sq ft cabin for less than $1 million or a choice of larger and more luxurious cabin homes for $2 million-$4 million (bigsurproperties.com).
There’s a two-bedroom pool house on the Santa Lucia Ranch with ocean and mountain views listed for $2.75 million. It’s close to the area’s famed retreat, the Esalen Institute, a hub of the area’s Sixties spiritualism – and a world away from the aspirational tensions and dark secrets of the alpha moms of Big Little Lies.