Things to do carmel

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Things to Do in Carmel, CA – Carmel Attractions

    • Carmel Tourism
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        • Best Nachos in Carmel
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Thanks to the hit HBO series Big Little Lies, Monterey, California and its nearby rugged coastline is more popular than ever with travelers. But the small beach town of Carmel-by-the-Sea, just a 15 minute drive from Monterey’s historic Fisherman’s Wharf, has been an iconic attraction for decades.

Nestled in Northern California just a couple hours south of San Francisco and San Jose, Carmel offers all the fun and entertainment of those bigger cities to the north, but with way more charm. With a population just under 4,000, the town’s architecture literally looks like something out of a storybook, and the community is exceptionally welcoming (to people and pets).

S. Greg PanosianGetty Images

Carmel-by-the-Sea and the nearby Carmel Valley and Carmel Highlands are beautiful year-round, but late summer is an exceptionally lovely time to go. The town is situated along the famously stunning Highway 1, which runs along the Pacific Coast and recently reopened in the Big Sur area after a massive mudslide in 2017. Translation: Travelers can once again ride along the breathtaking coastline without any interruptions.

Thomas WinzGetty Images

Stay for a week or stay for just a couple of days — in Carmel, it doesn’t matter: You’ll leave the town feeling refreshed, invigorated, and downright inspired.

Planning Your Trip to Carmel

Getting There:

Taking Highway 1 from San Francisco Airport to Carmel isn’t the most direct route, but if you’re feeling adventurous and love a good coastline view, it’s definitely worth it. My BFF and I made the two-hour drive in a Chevy Bolt EV, and take it from two New Yorkers who literally NEVER drive: This car made us feel extremely comfortable. The roads are curvy and, if you’re unfamiliar with the area, switching lanes can be stressful, so having a car like the Bolt EV — which has a lane change alert feature and a side blind-zone alert — was incredibly helpful.

Chevy

Also, we had never driven an all-electric car before, so we were happy to find that this vehicle gets 238 miles out of each charge, meaning we could make the trip in one shot and just charge it overnight. We didn’t even drive directly to our hotel from the airport — we stopped at the iconic Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk along the way. (Which, by the way, is a stop I suggest you make too.)

Where to Stay:

There are quite a few magical places to stay in Carmel (in a town filled with adorable homes and gorgeous old buildings, it’s hard to go wrong), but we landed at the Bernardus Lodge & Spa in Carmel Valley. When we arrived, we were greeted with a glass of white wine (we were surrounded by vineyards, after all!) and breathtaking views.

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The 28-acre estate has its own organic herb and vegetable gardens, vineyards, and fruit trees, which meant that the food at the on-site restaurant was some of the freshest I’ve ever had. “Service was outstanding, the restaurant excellent, and the setting idyllic,” one person wrote on TripAdvisor, and I couldn’t agree more.

What to Eat:

Breakfast: If your hotel offers breakfast, you should definitely take advantage, so you can splurge on lunch and dinner. But if you can’t skip your morning meal, Lafayette Bakery and Cafe is a must, according to TripAdvisor reviews.

Lunch: Head to The Terrace Lounge at Pebble Beach, which overlooks the 18th hole at the world-famous golf course. My advice: Order the open-face lobster sandwich and you won’t regret it.

Dinner: If you’re not shacking up at Bernardus Lodge, definitely go there for dinner one night. The Lucia restaurant is farm-to-table style, and everything from the lobster basil soup to the diver scallops is cooked to perfection.

What to Do:

  • Folktale Winery: Visiting a winery is non-negotiable and Folktale in Carmel Valley is stunning. In addition to great wine, you’ll also find great food — and it makes for the perfect California photo.
  • 17-Mile Drive and Pebble Beach: Unless you plan to bike the 17 miles, you’ll need a car. I found the Bolt’s remote keyless entry ideal for popping in and out while making so many stops along the way. Beware, the roads are windy, but a stop at the Lone Cypress makes it all worth it.

Lingxiao XieGetty Images

  • Point Lobos: Reviews on TripAdvisor rave about this nature reserve. Perfect for anyone looking for an easy hike on a sunny day.
  • Carmel Mission Basilica: The Catholic church was first built in 1797 and has been completely restored to its original glory. It’s now a National Historic Landmark.
  • Carmel Plaza: If you need a shopping fix, head to Carmel Plaza, where you can find shops like Cole Haan, Kate Spade, and Sur la Table.

Travel Must-Haves

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The clichéd idea of a vacation day in Monterey County can ring a little one-note: Catch some nice coastal views, maybe do a little whale watching or kayaking, then eat a nice seafood dinner and hit the hay early. But Monterey is a county of contrasts, a sprawling region of tourism opportunities: You can take in the dusty towns of the Salinas Valley, peruse ritzy Carmel-by-the-Sea’s renowned galleries, meet crusty fisherman on creaking docks, sample $90 pinot in hilltop wineries and check out a world-renown hippie sanctuary — all in a day.

Monterey has long played second fiddle to the big tourism attractions in the Bay Area, but visitor numbers are at an all-time high, says Rob O’Keefe, the chief marketing officer for the Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau. He figures that 4.6 million people from around the glove showed up last year. But for all its newfound popularity, Monterey’s real appeal is that can still feel like a local secret, a nearby county where you can spend a long weekend and feel like you’ve gotten away from it all.

“It’s smaller, it’s more intimate, it’s authentic,” O’Keefe says. “You come to Monterey County and you feel like an invited guest.”

10 must-do’s in Monterey County

1. Monterey Bay Aquarium

The Monterey Bay Aquarium, the city’s crown jewel, attracts more than 2 million visitors each year — more than four times the number of residents in the whole county. It’s not too surprising, given that the world-class aquarium sits on the waterfront, looking over one the most beautiful coastlines in the state.

The nonprofit facility features huge tanks and exhibits dedicated to otters, kelp forests, dolphins and more. And in the 34 years since it first opened, the aquarium has become something of a scientific and policy powerhouse, funding research and promoting sustainable seafood choices. It’s an ideal place to let the kids run wild; they won’t even realize they’re learning important lessons about marine biology and ocean health. 886 Cannery Row, Monterey; www.montereybayaquarium.org; hours vary by season, call 831-648-4800 for more info.

2. Cannery Row

After selfies with the otters at the aquarium, the rest of Cannery Row beckons. Once a busy sardine-packing district, the street was a muse for John Steinbeck, who reveled in its blue-collar workers, scuzzy bars and whorehouses.

Cannery Row is a popular tourist destination in Monterey.Photo: Jason Henry / Special to The Chronicle

Today, Cannery Row is an altogether more wholesome affair. There are yearly Christmas tree lightings, a candy factory and ice cream shops, and for adults a surplus of wine tasting opportunities and Cannery Row Brewing Company, with over 70 beers on tap.

Although the restaurant options may feel touristy, who can resist clam chowder with an ocean view from the Old Fisherman’s Grotto? Cannery Row, Monterey.

3. “Night bathing” with an ocean view

The Esalen Institute is not your normal a tourist attraction. Forty miles south of Carmel-by-the-Sea on Hwy 1, the retreat center and “intentional community” was founded by hippies in the 1960s and is still dedicated to counter-culture thought. In its own words, “Esalen is a world-wide network of seekers who look beyond dogma to explore deeper spiritual possibilities” and “forge new understandings of self and society.”

For those looking for a semi-mystical experience in Monterey, there may be no better place to find it than under a full moon while soaking in the Institute’s oceanside hot springs. Each night, between 1 and 3 a.m., the Institute opens its pools to the public and invites tourists and locals alike to take the waters.

4. Hit the road

Two of California’s premier roads meander through Monterey County.

The stretch of freeway south of Carmel, where Highway 1 hugs the sea, is the stuff of postcards. Take it slow. Ideally let someone else take the wheel — the road down to Big Sur is twisty and takes you across the iconic Bixby Creek Bridge and above some of the most beautiful protected coves in the state. If time is on your side, pull off near Sand Dollar Beach and take a picnic down to the park’s picnic tables and barbeque pits.

If you don’t have time to head south, the 17-mile Drive, a famous stretch of private coastal road that follows the Monterey Peninsula is an excellent back up. Catch the road in Pebble Beach but, be warned, the route costs $10.25 per vehicle.

5. World-class golfing

The Monterey Peninsula is lousy with beautiful golf courses, but Pebble Beach Golf Links may be its finest. The “greatest meeting of land and sea in American golf,” as Golf Digest puts it, the seaside course routinely tops worldwide rankings.

The startlingly scenic No. 7 hole at Pebble Beach, the famous downhill par-3 alongside the ocean.Photo: Courtesy USGA

A two-night stay at the Lodge at Pebble Beach is normally required for a tee time, however, which at $900 per night makes for an expensive 18 holes. For a worthy and (considerably cheaper) substitute, head over to the Pacific Grove municipal course. The front nine feature sweeping views of the Pacific and the back half of the course was designed by Jack Neville, who also co-designed the famed Pebble Beach Golf Links. Pacific Grove Golf Links; 77 Asilomar Boulevard, Pacific Grove; 831-648-5775.

6. Everything Steinbeck

John Steinbeck was not always fodder for Salinas tourism brochures. On at least two occasions, locals burned copies of the hometown hero’s “The Grapes of Wrath” — which was unsparing in its take on farmers’ treatment of migrant workers. Steinbeck’s writings on the Salinas Valley were a source of anger for residents for decades.

But Salinas has reconciled its history with its most famous son. The National Steinbeck Center in Old Town is a must for anyone interested in one of California’s greatest authors. After checking out the museum, stroll down Main Street and see pages from “East of Eden” come to life. Then stop by the author’s childhood home at the Steinbeck House on Central Avenue. After lunch there or elsewhere in town, drive west to Monterey to take in Cannery Row, the inspiration for Steinbeck’s novel of the same name. National Steinbeck Center; 1 Main St, Salinas; www.Steinbeck.org.

7. The grapes of Monterey

After years of producing grapes that were mostly sold to producers of supermarket blends, Monterey County’s vineyards now attract international adoration and scores of tourists.

Jeremy Lampel, of Santa Cruz, tries the wines at the Albatross Ridge wine tasting room in Carmel, Calif. on Sunday, June 24, 2018.Photo: Patrick Tehan, Special to the Chronicle

The best way to take in this renaissance is on the River Road wine trail, a collection of small wineries that follow the Salinas river inland through the Santa Lucia Highlands viticultural area. The wineries here aren’t corporate — expect to meet a few winemakers pouring their own offerings —the vibe is relaxed and rugged. Pinot and Chardonnay are the big drawsand Wrath Wines, Hahn Family Wines and Smith Family Wines all feature bucolic tasting rooms worthy of your patronage. Maps and information at www.riverroadwinetrail.com.

8. Coastal overlooks

The Monterey Bay is a smorgasbord for outdoor lovers, and there is almost certainly an oceanic activity to suit your taste.

Outfits like Princess Monterey Whale Watching take boatloads of tourists from Fisherman’s Wharf out to sea each day to catch sight of humpbacks and orca and more. Adventures By Sea, located on Cannery Row, will take you on guided kayaking tours of the bay’s giant kelp forests. Carmel Surf Lessons offers group and private surf lessons for anyone willing to zip into neoprene. And if all these options are too tame for your taste, Monterey Bay has recently become home to a very active great white shark population. Sanctuary Cruises out of Moss Landing offers occasional shark tours with views of the Pacific’s greatest predator.

9. Picturesque Carmel

Carmel-by-the-Sea, an attractive beach town four miles south of Monterey, has always been artsy. At the turn of the century, it was an artists’ colony, filled with writers and actors and painters. Photography,more than any other art form, now takes precedence in Carmel.

Once home to the pioneering Edward Weston, an innovative photographer who pushed the medium to new heights, the city later attracted the likes of Ansel Adams, Wynn Bullock and Morley Baer. Carmel is home to plenty of galleries, but make sure you stop by the Weston Gallery to see the great man’s works—as well as more than a few from Adams and other local stars. Then pop into the Carmel Center for Photographic Art to learn more about the local photographic history. Weston Gallery: Sixth Avenue between Dolores & Lincoln, Carmel-by-the-Sea; 831-624-4453; www.westongallery.com. Center for Photographic Art: San Carlos St, Carmel-By-The-Sea; 831- 625-5181; www.photography.org.

10. Take a hike

Monterey County is home to some of the state’s most breathtaking scenery and Big Sur just might be the most dramatic stretch of coastline in the country. But while most people experience Big Sur on four wheels, hiking the Santa Lucia Range — the coastal mountains that seem to dive right into the sea — is the ideal way to soak in the majesty of the place.

McWay Falls is one of many scenic spots along Highway 1 near Big Sur, Calif., Sept. 13, 2018. The road stretches 659 miles from north of Sacramento to almost San Diego. (Drew Kelly/The New York Times)Photo: Drew Kelly / New York Times

If you don’t want to get too sweaty, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park’s Buzzard’s Roost, a three-mile loop, features sweeping coastal views, redwood groves and a mountainous feel. For something more strenuous, the eight-mile Bluff Trail loop in Andrew Molera State Park will burn some calories and take your breath away, figuratively and literally. And if you just have an hour, park at the Julie Pfeiffer Burns State Park and walk the quarter mile down to the McWay waterfall, which cascades right onto a knee-bucklingly beautiful beach.

It is raining and you are on vacation. What can you do to enjoy your time to the fullest? It wasn’t what you expected. We have the solution with 5 things to do in Carmel when it rains.

1.) For our friends that have their furry kids with them during their stay. Check out Diggidy Dog or The Dog House for fun shopping just for your furry friends. Pick them up a specialty dog treat or two. Maybe get them a new raincoat so they are kept dry like you. Head on over to Village Corner Bistro for a meal under the covered outdoor patio, Basil Seasonal Dining, or Portabella with their totally enclosed patio where you are kept dry and warm along with your furry friends.

2.) Carmel is filled with art galleries, close to 100 of them in the one square mile of town. 21 galleries are artist studios where you can watch them create. Pop in and out of them all day long. Enjoy one of our personal favorites, Kathy Sharpe Studio & Gallery, as you might have seen her work in our lobby kitchen.

3.) Carmel has a great wine tasting tour that you can do while in town. The Carmel Wine Walk allows you to buy one ticket and enjoy 15 local wine shops that are all within walking distance of the inn. They just stamp your passport and you are on your way to a fun day of sipping and shopping. These can be bought through us at the Inn. Just ask our front desk and we will be happy to assist you.

4.) Shopping at the Carmel Plaza can be a lovely way to spend the day. Enjoy the Cheese Shop by sampling cheeses that you might have never heard of before. Grab a coffee and pastry at Carmel Coffee and Cocoa Bar, and window shop at Tiffany’s. Enjoy Sur la Table to see everything that you never knew your kitchen was missing. Finish the Plaza with a meal at one of the most popular places in Carmel, Flying Fish Grill.

5.) The Monterey Bay Aquarium is great for a half of a day of pure enjoyment. Having two unique different sides, they are always changing their special exhibits every year or so making each visit different and exciting. Once you have enjoyed the aquarium, stop by Tommy Wok’s for dinner to go come back your room and cozy up with a copy of Finding Dory to see how many scenes you can spot from the aquarium to end your night.

7 Fun Things to Do in Carmel on a Weekend Getaway

Carmel, California

If you’re visiting Northern or Central California, the little coastal village of Carmel-by-the-Sea and its immediate environs make for a lovely weekend break. Carmel has been called pretty, cute, charming, darling and adorable – any or all of these adjectives perfectly fit the bill for this picturesque little village!

We asked California resident Dhara from Not About the Miles to share some local travel tips for visiting this coastal California gem.

Read on to discover her Carmel travel advice and what fun things you can do in Carmel on a quick weekend trip!

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Carmel By the Sea

Carmel-by-the-Sea has a rich history. It was founded and incorporated in the early part of the 20th century. First inhabited by Native Americans, Carmel was colonized by the Spanish in the later half of the 18th century.

When Mexico declared independence from Spain in the 1820s, Carmel became a territory of Mexico. In 1848, Carmel was ceded by Mexico to the United States of America, and became a part of the State of California.

A Fun Fact About Carmel

Did you know that the little village of Carmel has no street lights? And its homes and buildings have no numbers…how cute is that?

If you look up Patiserrie Boissiere (and you should, for its delectable pastries!), you’ll see the address listed as “Mission Street between Ocean and 7th.” No number! And Carmel residents go to the Post Office to collect their mail, because the mailman cannot deliver without a building number.

Where to Stay in Carmel

If you want to stay in the village, you have a number of charming inns to choose from. In particular, we like:

L’Auberge Carmel – A Relais & Chateaux property, it’s comfortable, with a picturesque courtyard and turn-down service.

Check rates: Booking.com, Hotels.com | Read reviews: TripAdvisor

The Carmel Mission Ranch | Right next to the historic Carmel Mission, this cute Carmel hotel offers a range of accommodations, including rooms designed for romantic getaways!

Check rates: Booking.com, Hotels.com | Read reviews: TripAdvisor

Bernardus Lodge and Spa | If you really want to spoil yourself, and don’t mind driving a few miles out of the village, head to Carmel Valley where this stunning property, with lovely landscaping and luxurious accommodations, serves as a true wine country weekend retreat!

Check rates: Booking.com, Hotels.com | Read reviews: TripAdvisor

The Best Things to Do in Carmel

1. Walk Around the Village

At just one square mile, Carmel-by-the-Sea is eminently walkable. Stop in at the Visitor Center on Ocean Avenue between Junipero and Mission and pick up brochures for self-guided walks, or opt for a guided tour by Carmel Walks.

Admire the Spanish architecture, pose for photos against colorful tiles, peep into pretty gardens, and explore narrow walkways to lovely courtyards.

Don’t miss the famous Hugh Comstock fairytale cottages, the first Murphy house built by Michael J. Murphy when he was just 17 years old, the Church of the Wayfarer (what a lovely name!), the El Paseo Courtyard with tiles imported from Spain, and the Carmel fire station, built of Carmel stone.

2. Take in a West Coast Sunset at Carmel Beach

If you walk west on Ocean Avenue all the way down from the village, you’ll come to beautiful Carmel Beach. It’s a sandy beach, a rarity in California, and ideal for splashing in the waves (although the water is always too cold for me!) or walking along the water.

When walking along the beach, don’t miss the majestic old Monterey cypresses: their trunks form stunning natural sculptures. Or the carpets of ice plant, with pretty pink or yellow flowers in season. Pick up a bottle of wine and some cheese in the village (we’ll tell you where!), and settle in at a nice spot on the beach to enjoy the sunset!

Of course, Carmel Beach is a lovely place to visit any time of the day, so if you can’t make it in the evening, go whenever you can during the day. There are organized volleyball games on weekends in good weather, so if you want to join in, dress appropriately!

Note: Rogue waves and rip currents are always a possibility, so exercise caution. There are no lifeguards at this beach.

3. Visit the Carmel Mission

One of my travel goals is to visit all the 21 Spanish missions in California. I am about half way there, and the Carmel Mission is definitely one of my favorites.

It was the second mission built by the Franciscan friars. Its formal name is Basilica of San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission, and it was founded by Father Junipero Serra in 1770. Father Serra is buried in the grounds of the Carmel Mission. The Mission still functions as a church.

The Mission is a popular place for visitors at the weekends, but its gorgeous gardens and courtyards still offer peaceful places to relax, admire the Mission’s lovely facade, and just sit quietly and enjoy your surroundings. You can also visit the four museum galleries in the complex for insights into the history of the Mission and its restoration.

Carmel Mission is one of the best preserved of the Spanish missions in California, definitely a must-visit during your weekend here.

4. Explore Point Lobos State Reserve

Just a ten-minute drive from Carmel-by-the-Sea is a stunning California State Park that you will definitely want to explore as part of your Carmel weekend getaway. So grab your hat and sunscreen and head out for some fun outdoors!

Point Lobos has a network of trails, and many of them hug the beautiful coastline. None is super difficult or long, so you can pick one or two to get a taste of the natural beauty of the region. In the spring, you’ll see bright spots of color from wildflowers, including the cheery orange of the California poppy. In season, you might spot whales spouting in the water as they head down to Baja Mexico for the winter or when they are on their way back to Alaska.

Don’t miss the beautiful jade green China Cove and the ink blue Gibson Beach (on the South Shore Trail) and Bird Island, with its hundreds of sea birds, on the eponymous Bird Island Trail.

5. Enjoy Wine Tasting

The Monterey Peninsula is an up-and-coming wine destination in California. There are numerous wine tasting rooms in the village, where you can sample some of the choice wines produced in the region. If you plan to do a lot of wine tasting, you might want to consider a Carmel Wine Walk-by-the-Sea Passport, a do-it-yourself tour of up to ten tasting rooms in the village. You can pick up the passport at the Visitor Center.

At one of my favorites, The Cheese Shop, you can not only taste wonderful wines, both local and from all around the world, you can also sample delicious cheeses from many different parts of the world. They have a huge selection, every type of cheese you can imagine. You can pick up picnic fixings here to take to the beach or to Point Lobos, or even to your room for an evening treat.

Another of my favorites is Trio Carmel, where you can taste premium wines, but you can also sample a wide variety of olive oil and balsamic vinegars. We never leave Trio without some bottles of their delicious trio of offerings!

6. Immerse Yourself in Art!

For decades, Carmel has attracted artists, writers, and photographers, who found the village a beautiful place to exercise their creativity.

Today’s resident creatives carry on Carmel’s legacy as an artist colony. There are close to 100 art galleries in Carmel’s one square mile. Isn’t that amazing?

You’ll pass by them as you walk the town, but if you enjoy art, you should pop into a few and check out the exhibits. I love browsing the art galleries on a weekend afternoon.

If you happen to be visiting on the second Saturday of the month, you can join the free Carmel Art Walk, a 3 hour tour of artist-owned galleries in the village. You can speak with the artists and view their creations.

You can also choose a paid tour of art galleries or photo galleries by Carmel Art Tours.

7. Enjoy Sunday Jazz Brunch at Carmel Mission Ranch

The Sunday Jazz Brunch at Carmel Mission Ranch is an event, and a fun thing to experience on your Carmel weekend getaway.

The ranch has a fascinating history: it was at one point a creamery, then a private club, then an Officers’ Club for the Army and the Navy, and was about to be sold to become a condominium complex when Clint Eastwood bought it and had it restored into the beautiful property it is today.

The buffet offerings are delicious, with a fresh omelet station, mimosas, and a number of salads showcasing the region’s reputation as the “salad bowl of the world.”

And the dessert station is simply scrumptious, with at least a dozen tasty treats you can try, including melt-in-your-mouth chocolate covered strawberries, a variety of light cakes, fresh fruit and flan.

You can sit inside and enjoy the live music, or opt for the patio, with a bucolic view of sheep grazing at the ranch and the Pacific Ocean in the distance.

If you are lucky, Clint Eastwood might pop in and make your day!

Getting to Carmel-by-the Sea

You will need a car for the weekend. If you have the time, I suggest taking the coastal route (Highway 1) from San Francisco to Carmel. It’s a little over 120 miles of scenic road, and should take you about 2.5 hours without stops.

From Los Angeles, you can drive to Carmel for the weekend, but it’s about 300 miles, so it will be a six-hour drive. You could also fly into San Jose and then drive down in just 90 minutes.

Tours to Carmel

Won’t have a car? Here are some options for guided tours to visit Carmel and nearby California attractions.

Where to Eat in Carmel-by-the-Sea

Carmel is full of great restaurants, so no matter what cuisine you’re craving, you’ll find a place to suit your palate and your pocketbook.

The best restaurants in Carmel?

  • I love La Bicyclette, with its rustic ambiance and absolutely divine pizzas. Try the Andrew Molera, with local artichoke and Manchego cheese, or the Champignons, with oyster mushrooms and truffle oil…yum!
  • Little Napoli, just across the street, is another of my favorites. Flavorful ingredients, including full-bodied fruity olive oil and rich Parmigiano-Reggiano, transport me to Italy.
  • Dametra Cafe is affordable and very popular. It serves up Mediterranean favorites in a casual environment. There’s always a line to get into this place, so if you plan to go for dinner, make reservations.
  • Carmel Bakery is a great place to stop for coffee and a pastry. For delicious desserts, head to Patisserie Boissiere. And for yummy gelato, stop in at Salumeria Luca, an Italian deli on Dolores Street.

What’s at the top of your list of things to do on a Carmel weekend getaway?

California Vacation Checklist

  • Check for last minute Los Angeles accommodation deals here
  • Get travel insurance for your trip – get an immediate online quote here
  • Find current flight deals to California here
  • Visiting Los Angeles? Check out our guide for where to stay in Hollywood
  • Take a day trip to Palm Springs or spend a relaxing weekend in Ojai
  • Explore our San Francisco travel guides
  • Road trip Highway 101 from Santa Barbara down to San Diego
  • Don’t forget to explore charming Carmel by the Sea!

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Thanks VisitCarmel for inviting us on this trip and for showing us around. As always, all opinions are our own and we would never recommend or promote something that we didn’t fully support and believe in. This article may also contain affiliate links. If you book through our links you help keep this site running to absolutely no extra cost to you!

Although only one square mile in size, Carmel-by-the-Sea is the definition of good things coming in small packages. With its fairytale cottages, secret pathways and enchanting architecture the city itself is an absolute pleasure to explore. This seaside town jam packed full of adventure, culture, history, great food and plenty of activities to entertain anyone looking for a relaxing weekend getaway or some time away. Couple that with the rich diversity in activities to experience and Carmel by the Sea is the perfect destination for your next trip.

If you’re looking for the best places to eat, sleep and explore in Carmel by the Sea, then this is the Carmel by the Sea travel guide for you.

What to Do in Carmel by the Sea

Whether you’re looking for a romantic couples weekend, a family trip away or even just a new place to explore on your own, there are a ton of things to do in Carmel by the Sea. Got a furry friend that accompanies you on trips? Bring them along! Carmel-by-the-Sea was rated the number one Dog Friendly Town in the United States, so there’s no need to leave them out of the adventure.

Lovers of art, history, good food and a beautiful beach will especially love everything Carmel-by-the-Sea has to offer. Here are our recommendations for the best things to see in Carmel by the Sea:

Carmel by the Sea Walking Tour

If this is your first time in Carmel, heck even if it isn’t, then you need to get yourself on a walking tour with Gael Gallagher. Over the course of two hours, Gael will weave you in and out of hidden pathways, tucked away courtyards and show you all the secret spots of this tiny town. You’ll learn about the history of the town’s formation, as well as the changes that it has undergone over the last century.

Gael takes a lot of pride in showing you all the hidden things that you’d definitely miss without an insider’s knowledge. And it’s not only the information that makes this tour so great, Gael herself is an incredible tour guide. Full of energetic enthusiasm and hilarious anecdotes, Gael keeps the group entertained until the very last ring of the church bell, before giving you a big hug and sending you on your way to explore the town on your own.

Art Tours in Carmel by the Sea

If you’re looking to dig a little deeper into the history and stories behind the Carmel art scene then you need to check out Rohana’s Carmel Art Tours. During this walking tour you’ll have the opportunity to visit several art galleries and studios that produce everything from bronze sculpting and photography, to ancient Chinese silk weaving and glass shaping.

One of the best parts about this tour is the interactivity between each of the locations you visit. As you make your way from spot to spot, you’ll have the chance to speak to the people behind the creative genius. While not guaranteed, given the artists’ busy schedules, if they are around they’re more than happy to have a chat and talk about the ideas behind their creation.

At Steven Whyte Sculpture Studio we were lucky enough to meet the man himself. Steven is largely considered one of the best modern day sculptors and it was fascinating to hear him talk about the process of creating his masterpieces. His studio is full of incredible pieces, and the different designs help showcase the various stages of the bronze sculpting process from clay molding right up until the completed piece.

Rent an Electric Bike

What seaside town visit would be complete without a ride along the esplanade to soak in the glorious coastline. Thankfully you can now do that in style with the electric beach cruisers at Mad Dogs & Englishmen. These classy, vintage bikes have been fitted with electric peddle assistance, meaning you can cruise along the coast and easily make it up those windy hills.

You can rent the bikes for as long as you like, depending on how adventurous you feel. Whether you’re looking to do a small tour of the beach and town, or venture out to the famous 17 Mile Road, anything is possible on these bikes. Mad Dogs & Englishmen is actually the first bike rental business to operate in Carmel, having opened in early 2018, and have since thrived with people wanting to take their bikes for a spin.

The crew behind Mad Dogs & Englishmen are super knowledgeable and passionate about making this business more than just a bike rental. It’s a unique way to experience Carmel by the Sea. Bikes can come pre-equipped with Garmin GPS devices, that map out routes and trails to discover all the best spots in and around town.

Visit the Beach

After enjoying a nice cruise along the coast, take yourself down to the sand and splash amongst the waves of Carmel’s beach. The sand is soft and the water is refreshing for those looking to take a dip.

The beach is a cove, nestled in between two iconic landmarks. To the left is the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, which is an excellent day trip spot to explore just outside of Carmel-by-the-Sea. To the right is the famous Pebble Beach Golf Links course, undoubtedly one of the most well known golf courses around the world for its stunning backdrop against the jagged California coastline.

Sunset Community and Cultural Center

When you plan your visit to Carmel-by-the-Sea, be sure to check the schedule of the Sunset Community and Cultural Center. Chances are there is an amazing show on offer and it’s a great opportunity to hear some music from local and visiting musicians or check out a speaker give a talk.

St. Junipero Serra Mission

If learning about history is your thing, then be sure to pop past the St. Junipero Serra Mission on the outstretches of the city. Along with historical Spanish colonial buildings, the church and grounds are very impressive to take a wander through. While you’re there, learn about the history and influence that the mission played in shaping the area.

Where to Eat in Carmel by the Sea

One of the best things about eating in Carmel by the Sea is that all the restaurants, cafes and stores are locally ran and not a part of any massive chains. You won’t find any McDonalds or Starbucks, thankfully, and instead get to experience the passion and pride of local ownership.

Here are a selection of some of the best places to eat in Carmel by the Sea:

Brophy’s Tavern

A homey Irish pub that offers a contemporary spin on classic, comfort food. With seven TV screens, and a great selection of beers on tap, it’s the perfect place to settle in and watch some sports. The fish and chips, made in a beer batter, were definitely the winner for dinner, but all the food we tried was delicious. Pro tip: be sure to leave room for dessert. The chocolate filled churros with chocolate dipping sauce are insanely scrumptious!

Cultura – Bebida and Comida

A Mexican restaurant, inspired by the tastes of Oaxaca and mezcal. This place offers a creative, yet authentic, collection of dishes that will leave you fuller than a chilli relleno! A passionate group of friends and former colleagues have teamed up to recreate their take on mezcal inspired cocktails and some of the best Mexican food I’ve ever tasted. Everything on the menu is amazing, but a special mention goes to the queso fundido, a literal flaming pot of stringy cheese with an explosion of flavor.

Pescadero

Another delicious Mexican restaurant that serves up authentic flavors in a cozy setting. Situated inside a cute courtyard, you can sit outside and take in the atmosphere of Carmel while sipping on a Michelada and chowing down on some tantalizing tacos. Choose from a menu of classic Mexican dishes, with a modern spin that leaves you wanting more.

Flaherty’s Seafood

If you’re staying on the coast, then you need to get stuck into some seafood. There’s no better place than Flaherty’s Seafood, located in the center of town. They have an extensive menu of dishes to choose from, but the seafood is where it’s at. You name it and they serve it, in a combination of flavors and styles that mean you could eat there everyday and never get sick of it.

Mission Ranch Hotel and Restaurant

While I didn’t personally eat here, I can tell you that this is the best spot to catch the afternoon sunset over their patio with a nice cold beer, wine or cocktail. Located on the edge of town, the patio overlooks an open grass field, with sheep lazily grazing around. In the distance you can see Point Lobos, as well as the beach, where the sun slowly slips below the horizon. The establishment is owned by Clint Eastwood, who purchased it in 1986 to stop the 1850s property from being knocked down and rebuilt as a more modern hotel. Because of this, the Ranch maintains its historical charm and gorgeous grounds.

Lula’s Chocolates

Finish off an excellent day exploring Carmel by the Sea by cozying in front of the fireplace with some chocolates from Lula’s. There are plenty of options to choose from, no matter what your sweet tooth is craving.

Where to Stay in Carmel by the Sea

Along with world class restaurants, art and activities, one thing that Carmel by the Sea has no shortage of is cute cottages and cozy B&Bs. In fact the fairytale style architecture is one of the main draws to the town.

Perfectly manicured gardens, sharp attention to detail and an overall homey feel make staying in Carmel by the Sea a real treat away from home. Here are a few of our top suggestions for the best places to stay in Carmel by the Sea. You can also check out the Visit Carmel website, which offers a quick and convenient Book Direct feature to make reservations.

Candle Light Inn

Located centrally in town, like most places, this country English inspired hotel offers a number of spacious guest rooms with varying amenities. All rooms come with amazingly comfortable beds, TVs and a decor that matches the overall aesthetic of Carmel by the Sea’s charm. If you’re looking for a little more luxury then splash out on premium guest room, equipped with your very own two person jetted tub and gas fireplace. Nothing says quality romantic time like turning on the fireplace with the flick of a switch, and kicking back on the couch with a bottle of wine.

Briarwood Inn

Be enchanted by the red brick paving and green ivy that grows up the side of the Briarwood Inn, with yet another great location to sleep in Carmel by the Sea. The rooms are warm, homey and a little more affordable compared to some of the higher end places.

Horizon Inn & Ocean View Lodge

Located just a mile from Carmel Beach, this centrally located hotel offers gorgeous rooms with the option of a hot tub for those luxurious nights in with a bottle of wine. Rooms come equipped with all the home comforts, plus more! Relax in front of a fire and unwind after a day exploring. Some rooms even come with an ocean view!

How to Get to Carmel by the Sea

One of the best things about visiting Carmel by the Sea is how easy it is to visit. Only a two hour drive south of San Francisco, five hours north from Los Angeles, Carmel by the Sea is accessible for any type of trip. And while it might take a little longer to drive, if you take Highway 1 you pass some amazing spots along the way (like Big Sur), making the drive to Carmel by the Sea an activity in itself.

For those traveling inter-state, fly into either San Francisco or San Jose for a no stress trip down to Carmel-by-the-Sea. From those airports it’s just a short drive down to this magical town. For the cheapest and most flexible flight deals, we always use and recommend SkyScanner. It helps compile all the cheapest rates across all the airlines, so you save more on flying and get to spend more on your holiday!

Whether it’s following all the recommendations of this guide, or using it as inspiration to go searching for yourself, Carmel by the Sea should be on top of your list of places to visit in 2019. The history and charm of the city is like nothing you’ve visited before, and will no doubt bring you back to this seaside haven many times again. We’re planning a return trip now, so we might even see you there!

Visitors can always find plenty of free places to go and activities to do in the charming city of Carmel and surrounding area. Because the area offers an abundance of natural beauty, it lends itself to many no-cost entertainment opportunities. Whether you choose to stroll along the beach at sunset with your significant other, window shop in the downtown area with your friends or explore the area’s culture with your family, there are many interesting free options for everyone.

Here are a few to help you get started:

Find Your Nirvana at the Beach

Located just below Ocean Avenue, Carmel Beach is a dog-friendly beach that is famous for its silky, white sand and Carmel Bay setting. Not far from a small, free parking lot, beach lovers can play volleyball, take a leisurely hike amid Monterey cypress trees on Scenic Bluff Path, ride the waves on a surfboard, or simply soak up the California sun on a beach towel.

Splendor in the Park

Carmel provides over 60 outdoor areas that are fondly classified as either courtyards, sitting areas, parks, or plazas. One of the most popular parks is Devendorf Park. Situated right in the center of town at Ocean and Junipero Avenues, it often hosts a variety of City events and celebrations, since it features an expansive peaceful lawn area, park benches, stone pathways, and plenty of shade trees.

Or, if you’re up for some fun, you can visit Forest Hills Park at Camino del Monte and Junipero Avenues, since it offers a kid’s play structure, swings, tennis and volleyball courts, a horseshoe pit, and barbecues. To commune with nature, stop by First Murphy Park on Lincoln and 6th Avenue to stroll the walking paths and visit gardens filled with Californian native plants.

You can also stop by Picadilly Park, on Dolores between Ocean and 7th Avenue, to celebrate the day in a quaint courtyard park, complete with benches, a bubbling fountain and a variety of greenery.

Go Hiking or Sightseeing

Arguably the area’s crown jewel, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve provides 13 trails for both beginner and seasoned hikers. Along with spectacular views of the craggy coastline and cliffs, sightseers can oftentimes glimpse seals, sea lions, whales, otters and more. (Point Lobos also offers diving, snorkeling, kayaking, and stand-up paddle boarding opportunities for a fee.) Reserve parking costs $10, but visitors can park along Highway 1 for free.

Stroll Old Fisherman’s Wharf

Not far from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Old Fisherman’s Wharf provides sweeping views of the bay and fresh salty sea air. If you time it right, you might even be able to watch fishermen unload their haul-of-the-day, since Wharf 2 is integral to the region’s busy fishing industry.

Window Shop on Cannery Row

Also close to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Cannery Row is checkered with small hotels, shops and restaurants. Visitors often enjoy window shopping the area’s many unique boutique shops in the Cannery Row Antique Mall. Enjoy the unique history of this once-thriving West Coast fishery by visiting the locations profiled in this article by the Mercury’s Jackie Burrell.

Discover Carmel’s History

Carmel has been home to many famous painters, writers, and intellectuals. To learn about the area’s rich history, you can visit the Carmel Heritage Society at Lincoln and 6th. This organization is currently celebrating Carmel’s centennial with an exhibit entitled THEN/NOW Carmel, which is free to the public, Tuesday through Saturday from noon to 3 pm.

Lastly, please take the time on any visit to Carmel-by-the-Sea to stop by our Anne Thull Fine Art Designs showroom. Located at the corner of 5th Ave. & San Carlos downtown, we feature a wide variety of hand-crafted pieces from a broad range of local and international artisans.

Carmel-by-the-sea is a California town that looks like it was pulled right out of a fairytale story. Nestled by the sea, as the name suggests, Carmel is packed with whimsy and old-world charm. (For starters, house numbers aren’t permitted! That’s right – instead of saying “154 San Carlos Street” your destination may be “The pink house on San Carlos Street.”) Carmel is romantic and beautiful, making it a great destination for any type of visitor, but especially an easy couple’s escape from the city.These are my top things to do in Carmel (The PERFECT weekend guide!) Keep on reading for all the best of Carmel.

I’ve been to Carmel By The Sea, or just “Carmel”, a handful of times over the years with both girlfriends, family and as a romantic weekend trip with Robin. If you’re looking for things to do in Monterey, Carmel is a nice day trip from the city as it’s basically next door. Otherwise, plan a whole weekend in this whimsical village. There’s wine tasting, beaches, golfing at Pebble Beach, the famous 17-mile drive, Point Lobos State Reserve, Monterey Bay Aquarium nearby, shopping and really unique history at the Carmel Mission (just to get the list started!)
*a star means we did this thing, ate here, stayed here. It basically means we put our personal stamp of approval on this Carmel attraction!

Keep scrolling for my Carmel travel guide, or use the table of contents to click around!

HOTELS IN CARMEL CA

As you can imagine, there is pretty much every type of hotel in Carmel. Luxury boutique hotels in downtown Carmel to small family run inns (like the Carmel Inn) to nationwide motels on the edge of the town. With so many to pick from, these are the Carmel hotels I recommend.

Mission Ranch

If you’re looking for rustic- meets- luxury in Carmel, this is the spot. We’ve only had dinner at the Misson Ranch, but explore the property while waiting for our table and it’s STUNNING! This is the famous Carmel ranch that Clint Eastwood owns. It’s on the edge of town and is surrounded by trees, green fields and has a bit of a beach view. Sheep will be grazing in the pasture and the old houses pack so much charm. At the very least, if you don’t’ stay here, you should dine here!
Book now

If you’re on a stricter budget, try the Briarwood Inn, with rooms usually around $120 a night. This cozy little B&B is simple but guests online love how pretty the property is and say it’s a great value. It’s still in walking distance to city center and has that cute element for the ‘gram but won’t hurt your wallet as much.
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Hotel Carmel

As the name suggests, Hotel Carmel is one of the most popular Carmel hotel. It has a beautiful courtyard with lounge chairs and a fireplace. Each evening there is a complimentary wine happy hour (I love when hotels do this!) and Brophy’s Tavern, a local hot spot, is on site. Rooms are colorful and bright.

Book Now

Airbnb

We love booking Airbnb’s for really unique lodging, bigger groups or when we plan on staying longer than a few days. (Kitchens are handy!) This Airbnb would be great for a group! That view is amazing.
Book now (use THIS link for $40 off!)

THINGS TO DO IN CARMEL CA

There are so many things to do in Carmel by the sea! Even if you are just popping down for a day trip, there isn’t a shortage of California-style activities and Carmel attractions.

Catch A Sunset At Carmel Beach

The sunsets in Carmel are EPIC! I’ve been up and down the West Coast (and even have a view of the ocean from my own apartment) and I firmly believe some of the best sunsets in the country are found in Carmel. The entire town seems to gather in the evenings to watch them. Parking will be hard to find by the beach, so walk is you can. Bring a sweater, blanket and some wine for the most epic sunset of your life. Don’t forget to take a photo!

Wine Tasting

What to do in Carmel downtown? Wine tasting is one of my favorites! They have a handful of tasting rooms featuring regional wines all around downtown. Put on a pair for comfy flats and start tasting! Many hotels will provide guests with free or two-for-one tasting vouchers, so make sure to ask the front desk before heading out for the day. Otherwise, I recommend Scheid Vineyards and Blair Wines.

If you’re looking for things to do in Carmel Valley, visit some of the vineyards over there for a proper day of tasting among the vines. I recommend Joullian Vineyards.

Carmel Mission

The Mission is my favorite thing to visit in Carmel. On Sundays you can enter for free, otherwise, it’s $10 a person. Set aside at least an hour to explore this beautiful mission. The main basilica nods to churches you find in Spain. The open courtyard and gardens are stunning and they do a great job at weaving in informational signs so you can learn the history of the Mission and the Carmel area.

17-Mile Drive

This will take a couple hours but is one of my favorite things to do in Carmel when I travel to Monterey County. The 17 Mile Drive takes you from Monterey and ends at Carmel, taking you through groves, beaches and Pebble Beach. Start in Monterey at the Pacific Grove entrance (it’s $10 per car, cash only.) You’ll wind past trees and beautiful old houses before popping out at around Seal Rock beach. If it’s sunny out, this is going to be the most beautiful drive of your life. Green on the left side, a rugged coastline with bright blue waters on the right. Make as many stops as you want on beaches or lookout points. Make sure to pull over for the Lone Cypress Tree, which is the logo of Pebble (it’s a 250+-year-old cypress tree on a lone rock!) There are no gas stations or restaurants, so fill up and grab snacks and water before you start. There are a few public bathrooms, though!

Pro tip: Grab things for a picnic and have lunch on a beach!

Boutique Shopping

Downtown Carmel is a haven for art galleries and boutiques. If you’re itching to shop, you’ll find really unique and high-end pieces here.

Local Events

There’s always something happening in Carmel. From food festivals to performing arts to street events, there may be something fun going on during your visit. Check here for a list of activities and things to do in Carmel this weekend!

Day Trip To Big Sur

Big Sur is one of the most beautiful places in California. Big Sur is a stunning drive. If you loved 17 Mile Drive, this one is even better. Big Sur is about an hour from Carmel, making it a great half day or full day trip. Visit Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and McWay Falls. At the very least, drive down to the Bixby Bridge. I recommend parking on the left side area and walking down the path so you can get a great photo of the bridge!

Read my Camping in Big Sur guide here for more things to do in Big Sur!

Go Horseback Riding

Pebble Beach has an equestrian center offers horseback riding guided trips! Take a trail ride on trails or out alongside the ocean. Great for all ages!

Day Trip To Monterey

Monterey is about 20–30 minutes drive from Carmel, depending on traffic. Here you’ll find the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is fun for all ages. (I recommend going on a weekday vs a weekend to avoid the crowds and to buy tickets ahead of time!) The aquarium is right on Cannery Row, so after your visit walk down this famous street, stop in museums, tasting rooms and stores. Make sure to grab some clam chowder!

Lounge On The Beach

Of course, on top of catching sunsets, on warm days, Carmel by the sea beach is a local’s favorite for beach days! Last time we had a beach day here, my husband and I ended up walking along the portion of the beach that borders the Pebble Beach golf course. We found over 15 lost golf balls! If you want to walk the other direction, you’ll hit Carmel River State Beach.

Whale Watching

During some seasons, the whales are migrating! Most whale watching tours leave from Monterey. You can find a list of the best whale watching tours in Monterey/Carmel here.

Spa Day

Carmel is full of luxury hotels, which means you can find some amazing spas here! I personally haven’t been to a spa in Carmel, but the Refuge is on my bucket list as that outdoor pool area looks AMAZING! Grab the girls or bae for a relaxing day at the spa.

BEST CARMEL RESTAURANTS

This is my favorite restaurant in Carmel. They don’t take reservations and on weekends, it’s a popular spot and getting a table may be hard. Because of that, I recommend arriving right as they open and putting your name in. Ask for a table on the patio (this is a must!!) You may still have to wait, but use this time to explore the hotel property. Once seated you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful view of the pasture and cute little sheep milling about. The food here is fantastic – honestly anything on the menu is great.

Mundaka

Carmel by the Sea has some wonderful seafood, of course! I love the Paella at Mundaka. Ask for a table in the courtyard (the cute string lights!!) and split a paella between you and your dinner date.

Barmel

Next door is this little neighborhood bar. It’s one of the only places open late on weekends and they have dancing! (No late night food, though.) After dinner at Mundaka, pop over for a night cab and music.

The Beach House

If you’re doing a day trip to Monterey, I recommend dining at The Beach House. I loved their patio seating which offered a stunning sunset and bay view. Once it got dark, the city of Monterey glittered in the distance. I recommend the San Dabs here. Make sure to set reservations!

Revival Ice Cream

If it’s a hot summer day, Revival has the best ice cream in town!

IMPORTANT QUIRKS ABOUT CARMEL TO KNOW

Carmel By She Sea, CA is a unique town is so many ways and fairytale style houses aren’t the only one. There’s a special culture here. Here’s some important quirks and things to know before your visit that will ensure you have the best time possible!

Old Money vs New Money: Most of the town locals are retired and come from “old money.” There is also a slowly growing number of younger couples with kids that are “new money” from Silicon Valley or San Francisco. It’s a posh town and somethings can be really expensive because of the average wealth.

Things Shutdown Early: Because of the type of locals (retired folks and families with young children) Carmel doesn’t have a very big nightlife. In fact, many restaurants and bars close after 9-10pm. I found this out the hard way after driving down from San Francisco after work and assuming I’d be able to find a place to grab a bite to eat at 9:30pm after arriving and checking. To our dismay, only ONE bar was open on that Friday night and the nearest restaurant was all the way in Monterey. Thankfully our hotel room had left a big cheese platter for dinner, so we gobbled that up. But, don’t plan on partying until 1am here and make sure to eat dinner early!

Wedding Paradise: Carmel is absolutely beautiful, so it’s a hot spot for weddings. On the weekends, you may have dinner plans or site seeing plans foiled by a wedding or wedding party. It’s not a big issue, but something to keep in mind!

No House Numbers: As mentioned earlier, it’s against city policy to put numbers on buildings or houses. Rely on Google Maps to get you to your hotel and read signs! If someone tells you your hotel or brunch spot is “3 houses down from XYZ street”, you’ll have to count the houses.

WHAT TO PACK FOR CARMEL

Carmel is hotter in the summer and cooler in the winter, but it is seaside and doesn’t get extremes either way. In general, it’s an upscale village, so dress to impress! As always, check the weather before arriving.

Outfits I like to wear to Carmel

There are so many fun things to do in Carmel and Big Sur and the Monterey area. I love visiting Carmel and making it a home base to explore the area and all its natural beauty. Its fun to visit with the girls and also makes a romantic visit with my husband. In general, it’s where luxury and nature merge and gives you a taste of what it’s like to live a posh life.

I hope this helps you figure out what to do in Carmel by the Sea! If you have anything fun to add to the list, leave a comment below! If you have any questions, leave a comment or DM me on Instagram @thewhimsysoul and I’ll do my best to help you out!

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