The Long Way Home
By Clayton Moore | Photos by Randy Tunnell
The expression “You can’t go home again” means that you change so much that when you return home, it’s not the same. But sometimes home is the place with a gravitational pull that always offers you a place to land, no matter how far you’ve come. Even those born halfway across the world often find that home is where the heart is here in Carmel Valley.
Mari Baker, a gifted public relations professional, is a world away from where she was born in Tokyo, Japan, but for her, home is Pebble Beach, California. She landed there largely through happy accidents. “My heart feels at home here,” says Baker. “When the sun is shining, Pebble Beach is the most beautiful place in the world.”
Born in 1980 to Japanese parents who moved to Pebble Beach when she was seven years old, Baker has taken a circuitous but providential route to get back here. It was challenging for her, learning a new language and adjusting to a different culture, let alone working through the long process of assimilation. Her father had studied in the United States, so he was fluent in English, but everyone else in the family had to start from scratch.
“Culturally, Japan is all about following the rules,” she says. “In the US, I had to learn that speaking up was okay and challenging the status quo is encouraged.”
Baker loved her childhood, not least her father’s encouragement to pursue golf and horseback riding. She speaks affectionately of Toni Venza, her award-winning and much-beloved trainer at the Pebble Beach Equestrian Center. “Being on a horse is like therapy,” says Baker, laughing. “You can’t get distracted by all the little things. It’s a really nice way to clear your mind.”
Baker embraced professional life as passionately as her pastimes, earning a degree from Cornell University and honing her skills as a public relations professional first in New York City and later in San Francisco. “They say if you can make it in New York City, you can make it anywhere,” says Baker. “After I did my decade and got my New Yorker badge, my heart was ready to come home to California.”
Her parents loved Pebble Beach enough to keep a home there. When Baker’s father became ill with leukemia, he went there to convalesce. “It was his last wish, to live here, because he loved this place so much,” she recalls. She believes that her father’s return helped him live a better life, one that extended long beyond his prognosis. “It’s amazing that we had so much time together,” she says. “I feel him with me all the time.”
Baker still rides and plays golf frequently, and she lives a short walk from the Pebble Beach Golf Links, a place that means the world to her. When her father passed away in 2002, her family spread some of his ashes there. In 2019, she married Rob Baker, director of sales and marketing at Bernardus Winery, the top-rated resort and spa located on the eponymous winemaking estate nestled in the Santa Lucia Mountains, there; they met when they sat next to each other watching a Warriors game. They share a passion for food and travel as well as a precocious cavapoo pup named Birkin.
These days, Baker ponders what to do next with her talents and experience. But nonetheless, she feels at home. “I’ve lived in some of the most amazing cities in the world,” she says. “I’ve been very fortunate, but nothing rivals the beauty and tranquility of Pebble Beach. I am so glad that my dad fell in love with this place, and I wish he were here to see my life now.”