Carmel-by-the-Sea is a small beach town located on the Monterey Peninsula of California and is quite literally a fairy tale town. It’s known for many things, including the historic Carmel Mission, the fairytale cottages, and the whaling museum of Point Lobos State Natural Reserve.
The first time I visited Carmel while living in San Francisco, I was blown away by how quaint and charming this village really is. It basks in a Mediterranean vibe which is illustrated in many of the local restaurants.
Scenic coastline views and the conjoining Mediterranean-esque climate of year-long moderate temperatures make this one-of-a-kind beach city. It’s also super popular among artists and tourists for day trips and weekend getaways.
Thanks to the Spanish explorers’ founding of this beachside town, Carmel-by-the-Sea is thoroughly enjoyed year-round by locals and tourists. From its storybook cottages, cobblestone streets, beautiful white sand, scenic natural areas, and lush greenery, it’s no wonder this rare location attracts plenty of tourists all year round.
From soaking in the sun at Carmel River State Beach, picnicking at Point Lobos State Nature Reserve, or driving down the Scenic 17-Mile Drive, Carmel-by-the-Sea is a location that all can enjoy.
Here are the best things to do in Carmel!
While we’re at it, let’s be friends on Instagram and Tiktok! You can also check my mini-guide to Carmel on Instagram here.
20 Best Things To Do In Carmel By The Sea
1 – Take a stroll along Carmel Beach
This pristine beach is ranked as one of the nation’s most beautiful and cleanest beaches! Carmel Beach is located at the foot of Ocean Avenue. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a morning walk or bring your family for a beach day! There is a small parking area and restrooms and you can have a beach bonfire! Click here to view the Beach Fire Guidelines.
This beach is also off-leash, dog-friendly, and is a great spot for surfing!
2 – Visit Ocean Avenue
Get a taste of Caramel-by-the-Sea by walking down Ocean Avenue—right down the street from Carmel Beach. Enjoy a walk around the cute downtown area of Carmel and peep at the assortment of shops on Ocean Ave. Pilgrim’s Way Community Bookstore & Secret Garden, Anthropologie, Pioneer Made In California, and Jolie By The Sea are a few local stores in the area.
3 – Go wine tasting
Go wine tasting at Hahn Family Wines tasting room to get a taste of cool-climate wines with ingredients sourced from Monterey County. You can also visit their winery property a bit further out from downtown Carmel. You can visit the Estate Tasting room, where you can immerse yourself in the Santa Lucia Highlands.
Another great option is Wrath Wines. The wine guides at Wrath Wines know what they are doing as they show the veterans to the less experienced wine drinkers through their selection of wines in their dedicated wine tasting room. Don’t be surprised if you leave with a bottle of your new favorite wine!
Other fun wine-tasting rooms in Carmel are Galante Vineyards, Silvestri Vineyards, and Scheid Vineyards.
4 – Tour the Carmel Mission
This beautifully restored historical landmark was built in 1771 and is a nice activity if you’re a history buff. It has a decorative interior and exterior with a garden courtyard and beautiful pieces from the Spanish Colonial era. The Carmel Mission Basilica and the Museum are open to the public for visits on Wednesdays through Sundays, and they have Mass on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. It is a working church, so you may see weddings or other events going on here.
5 – Visit the storybook cottages built by Hugh Comstock
The Fairy Tale Cottages of Hugh Comstock are a collection of cottages architecturally designed by Hugh Comstock, a man popularly known for the small houses he designed straight out of a fairy tale. Each one of these cottages is referred to by a name rather than an address, like “Our House,” a cottage built in the 1920s. This, to me, is what makes Carmel so special and makes you feel like you truly are in a fairytale town!
Hugh Comstock has an architectural signature consistently recognized in each of these Storybook Cottages. Not trained in the profession of architecture or design, Hugh Comstock’s first Storybook Cottage was built as a gift for his new wife, who wished for a “fairy house in the woods”. There are 21 houses in Caramel built by Hugh Comstock that are still standing, waiting to be visited!
6 – Stroll downtown Carmel
From the outdoor malls to the family-owned boutiques and the unrivaled restaurants, Downtown Carmel is a must when visiting Carmel, California. You’ll find a rush of boutique hotels, bars, shopping, museums, art galleries, and more! Check out the fairytale cottages and the plethora of great restaurants and bars.
7 – Hit up the “Clint Eastwood Trail”
Fun fact: Clint Eastwood lives in Carmel, so why not hit up the “trail” in his name? Check out the Hog’s Breath Inn, a popular restaurant that Clint once owned. It’s got a nice outdoor patio. Next, check out Carmel-by-the-Sea’s City Hall, where Clint Eastwood served his term as Mayor of Carmel.
8 – Stay at a Cozy Bed & Breakfast or Inn
Carmel is so quaint that even the places to stay are cozy! Find yourself an Airbnb rental or a cozy B & B or Inn. Top recommendations near the action are The Getaway Inn, The Carmel Comfort Inn (this is a really nice Comfort Inn), and The Hotel Carmel.
9 – Golf at the Valley Ranch Golf Course
A Pete Dye-designed bentgrass golf course, Carmel Valley Ranch Golf Course is challenging but friendly for all skill levels. It has been ranked among the top resort courses by Travel + Leisure’s “World’s Best” readers’ survey, with a clubhouse with an expansive bar, patio, and wondrous views. Make sure to go to their website or call to book a tee time for you and your friends to get competitive while being surrounded by the rare views of Carmel, California.
10 – Eat delicious brunch and lunch
Check out the famous Stationæry restaurant that serves top-notch brunch. It’s a compact location with a relaxed, laid-back ambiance that sources its ingredients locally from farms and ranches like Santa Cruz Country and Monterey.
Another great option is Katy’s Place, with diner-style tables and cozy indoor and outdoor seating. They only take cash, so stop at an ATM before heading in for brunch! Lastly, try out Village Corner Carmel for brunch or lunch. This long-established bistro features Mediterranean-inspired fare with charming patio seating (that’s dog friendly!).
Lastly, Yafa Cafe serves up Yemeni pour-overs, breakfast, and lunch dishes; Yafa Cafe has been inspired to give visitors more than just a meal…they bring festive energy through food and through music to bring an entertaining and lively atmosphere.
11 – Eat dinner at one of these hot spots
Try one of these great options for dinner!
- La Bicyclette Restaurant – Are you a pizza fanatic? Then, you need to take a trip over to La Bicyclette Restaurant. This established bistro offers a cozy setting with unpretentious French-Italian fare. Their menu changes weekly to offer inspiring and creative new menu items that pique your interest and your tastebuds.
- Toro Sushi – Dedicated to sourcing high-quality ingredients, Toro Sushi promotes Japanese fare with a creative flair. Enjoy sake, wine, or their collection of creative cocktails to pair with your choice of sushi.
- Cultura – Head into Cultura, located in downtown Carmel, for Oaxaca-inspired food. Cultura is an upscale bistro known to adventure out and get creative with its snacks and shareable main Mexican dishes. Each dish that uses locally-sourced ingredients is made from scratch—and a big helping of love.
12 – Enjoy Carmel’s Nightlife
Carmel is a sleepy town, but there is still a bit of nightlife on the weekends! Try out the traditional cocktail bar, Barmel, inspired by old Carmel Bohemians, or check out Mulligan’s Public House for a great gastropub to stop at for drinks and food. It’s a convivial neighborhood gastropub dedicated to a vintage aesthetic, American fare, and drinks.
Another great option is Brophy’s Tavern, a relaxing two-story Irish pub dedicated to serving their hungry customers comfort food, local craft draft beer, and local wines. Located in downtown Carmel, Brophy’s Tavern serves hand-crafted cocktails, local wines, and cold draft beer.
13 – Go on a Courtyard and Secret Passageway Tour
Why not go on a little walking tour while you’re in Carmel? This tour shows a different and secret part of Carmel that not everyone gets to see! This is self-guided and will show you through 41 passageways and courtyards scattered around downtown Carmel!
14 – Go on an Art Walk
Carmel has nearly 100 art galleries concentrated in just one square mile! That’s a lot and perfect for those travelers who love art. Visit the oldest gallery in town, Carmel Art Association which features the work of over 100 local artists, or check out the beautiful Sunset Center’s Marjorie Evans Gallery. Into photography? Stop at the Center for Photographic Art. If you love wine and art, try Carmel-by-theSea’s Meet the Makers event to sip wine and visit galleries on an art walk around town.
15 – Visit Point Lobos State Nature Reserve
Point Lobos is a coastal area boasting scenic views and abundant wildlife, both land and sea, with an array of activities that must be done to enjoy the radiant landscape thoroughly.
You can hike all around the coastline and see all different types of birds, like the California Condor, and the dogs of the sea—sea lions! More active individuals can get a first-hand experience at Point Lobos State Nature Reserve through SCUBA diving, hiking, and jogging the stunning terrain.
Either way, getting outside to soak in some fresh air with unrivaled scenic coastal views is a healing experience everyone should get to enjoy.
16 – Go to the Bixby Creek Bridge
Not too much farther up the road from Point Lobos State Nature Reserve, you’ll see the Instagram-famous Bixby Creek Bridge. Also known as Bixby Canyon Bridge, this bridge hosts a stellar view out over the coast of Big Sur, California and Highway 1 coastline.
Due to its highly appreciated aesthetic design, Bixby Creek Bridge is one of the most photographed bridges in California. At the bridge’s south end, make sure to stop for the most astounding sunset view. Soak it in or snap a photograph; either way, you’ll be stunned by the beauty of this coastline landscape view.
At the north end of the bridge, there is a parking lot for visitors to stop at to take a moment (or five!) to scope out the Instafamous views of the beach and the Bixby Creek Bridge. For days when the sky is clear, you can view Hurricane Point, located around a mile south.
Hurricane Point is one of the highest points located on Highway 1, where visitors can get an unrivaled view of the coast and Bixby Creek Bridge.
17 – Take a day trip to Monterey and Cannery Row
In Monterey, you can check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium, an aquarium well-known for its rocky coastline location and views.
The 17-mile scenic drive scoops around the Monterey Peninsula, where you can get an astounding view of Monterey Bay and Pacific Grove, an unapologetically traditional small town.
18 – Take the scenic 17-Mile drive
Check out the attached link to start out at Carmel Gate to enjoy an unrivaled scenic 17-mile route. The wind in your hair and the satisfactory sight before your eyes are worth the trip. A popular attraction and activity when visiting Pebble Beach and Carmel, the Scenic 17-mile drive passes through an exclusive neighborhood that requires an entrance fee.
Stacked with gorgeous houses and stellar ocean views, this scenic drive is the only way to get to Lone Cypress and Pebble Beach. The fee is per car, not per person, and includes a guide to take you along the popular 17-mile driving scenic road.
19 – Check out Pebble Beach
Only accessible through the 17-mile drive route, Pebble Beach is known for its resort destinations and extensive golf courses like Cypress Point Club, Pebble Beach Golf Links, and Monterey Peninsula Country Club. You can take a trail ride down Pebble Beach to see Cannery Row or the Monterey Bay Aquarium, an aquarium well-known for its rocky coastline location and views.
20 – Visit Del Monte Forest
Located in Pebble Beach, where you can step into the local environment and grasp nature’s outstanding views and habitats on these well-guided trails. As you get a grasp of the intimacy of the inspiring nature of Monterey, you’ll find yourself relaxing on a boardwalk stroll down the coast of the long, beautiful beaches.
From drool-worthy food to scenic coastline views, Caramel-by-the-Sea has it all. Whether picnicking at Point Lobos State Nature Reserve or driving down the Scenic 17-Mile Drive, Carmel-by-the-Sea is a location that you’ll truly enjoy. It’s one of my favorite spots in Carmel! Be sure to bring your camera and your appetite; it’s time to visit Carmel!
Where to Stay in Carmel-By-the-Sea
The Hotel Carmel – This is a beautiful place to stay in Carmel. It’s located just steps away from downtown Carmel, with amazing shops and great restaurants. It’s a modern and luxurious property that’s fairly close to the beach! See current prices.
Carmel Valley Ranch – If you’re looking for ultimate luxury, this is a great option! It’s actually not located near downtown Carmel, but it is located in Carmel Valley and is a resort with a golf course and spa. It’s the perfect place for a more luxurious getaway away from town.
The Getaway Inn – This is a great, modern, boutique property in a perfect location in Carmel.
Carmel Comfort Inn – This is probably one of the nicest Comfort Inns that you’ll ever stay in. It’s located in a great spot in downtown Carmel and is cheaper than most of the other places you’ll see in Carmel. See current prices.
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