Carmel-by-the-Sea is one of my favorite places to visit along the California coast (along with Monterey). In a few hours time, you can experience the flavor of this delightful town and enjoy its many courtyards and secret passageways. But the longer you stay, the more you’ll learn about this quirky coastal village.
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Carmel is about three miles south of Monterey on Highway 1. The Carmel area is distinctive for its storybook cottages. Although many small downtowns feature their share of art shops, this town seems more authentic, with more than 100 galleries attracting many artists, photographers, writers, and enthusiasts from around the world.
Ever wonder how Carmel’s distinctive Tudor architecture came about? The area has Hugh Comstock to thank for building the first “fairytale” cottage in 1924, known as Hansel House. It was a gift for his wife, Mayotta, as a place to house the dolls she made and sold. The locals loved it and began asking Comstock to design their own homes in a similar style.
SAVVY TIP: Check out this Google map that lists Carmel’s distinctive houses by name, including 21 of Comstock’s original Carmel cottages that remain today.
One of my favorite places that followed is the Tuck Box, a restaurant built in 1927. It’s a sweet spot to stop in for an English tea and fresh-baked scones with homemade Olallieberry jam.
Along with the Tudor roof lines and fairytale touches, you’ll see touches of old Carmel stone in the historic structures, a creamy sedimentary shale that was once easy to come by in these parts.
You wouldn’t want to miss the ocean views and large stretch of white sandy beach surrounded by Monterey pines. This beach is dog friendly, and it’s one of my favorite places to watch the sun set.
Whether Carmel is a favorite stop of yours or you’re visiting for the first time, you’ll appreciate the many good area restaurants. And you might be drawn to one of many places to stay, like L’Auberge Carmel (my fave for romantic escapes) or the quintessentially Carmel bed and breakfast called the Happy Landing Inn (lush gardens, cathedral ceilings, stained glass windows, pet-friendly). This is my favorite place to stay when traveling with savvy dog Gracie.
No matter how many times I go, I always want to return. Many people stop in Carmel only when they’re on their way to Monterey or Big Sur, or as part of the always amazing Highway One road trip. But I will seriously suggest you make time for a day or a weekend just to see this delightful place.
Things to do on a Carmel-by-the-Sea Vacation
Things to do in Carmel: Here are just a few of the things I like to do when we go to Caramel.
- Stroll through Carmel’s downtown shops and galleries. The art here is actually worth a look, and you’ll have a choice of several award-winning restaurants. Short on time? Make a quick stop at Cottage of Sweets, voted America’s top candy shop by USA Today.
- Walk the scenic sidewalk. Along the water, there’s a stone sidewalk (wheelchair friendly) where you can enjoy ocean views and a tour of the homes and cottages. You can park down by the water, or walk there from downtown and get your exercise on the way back up the hill.
- Get your feet wet on Carmel Beach. Considered one of the top ten beaches in the US, this beach is my favorite beach for watching the sun set with friends. And if you’re traveling with your dog, you’ll be happy to know that dogs are allowed to play off leash on Carmel Beach. You’ll see several digging in the sand and fetching balls from the surf.
- Take a Guided Tour. Browse the list of Carmel Tours & Activities you can book in advance of your visit, including 17-Mile Drive Day Trip from San Francisco; Carmel Small-Group Food and Wine Walking Tour; Small-Group Breakfast Foodie Tour; Monterey & Carmel Explorer Tour; and the Day Trip to Monterey and Carmel via California Coast (from San Francisco).
See Mission San Carlos Borroméo del Río Carmelo: Visitors looking for something to do often happen upon the Spanish-colonial Carmel Mission with its gardens and chapels. It’s a National Historic Landmark and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Also called the Carmel Mission or Mission Carmel, this is the second of the California missions, founded by Padre Junípero Serra in 1770. It also happens to be a Catholic church, but it’s worth a tour (even for Atheists) for the gardens and grounds, museum, architecture, and history. Address: 3080 Rio Rd, Carmel, CA.
- Plan a Picnic in Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. Just 3.5 miles south of Carmel, before committing to the long and windy road along the rocky coast that is Big Sur, you’ll find the perfect place for a hike and picnic somewhere in the 550-acre Point Lobos State Natural Reserve (www.pointlobos.org). Along with beautiful views of the ocean, coves, headlands, meadows, and tide pools, you may see some local sea life (harbor seals, sea lions, sea otters, and whales). Fee for a car is $10.
Where to Stay in Carmel: Using my affiliate link (meaning I partner with hotel sites that provide commissions to bloggers at no cost to you), Hotel deals in Carmel include the following.
- Carriage House Inn: Junipero between 7th & 8th
- Candle Light Inn: San Carlos Between 4th & 5th
- Carmel Lodge: San Carlos St at 5th Ave, Carmel
- Coachman’s Inn: San Carlos Between 7th & 8th
- Dolphin Inn: NE Corner of 4th & San Carlos
- Happy Landing Inn: NE of 6th on Monte Verde Street
- L’Auberge Carmel: Monte Verde & 7th Ave
- Svendsgaards Inn: NW Corner 4th & San Carlos
- Wayside Inn: SE Corner of 7th & Mission
- Compare and save: I found the best prices on the Booking.com Carmel page. Or see Carmel hotel reviews on TripAdvisor
Where to Eat in Carmel: Come hungry. Here are just a few of the restaurants you’ll have to choose from. I have tons more to check off my bucket list, but here are a few I can vouch for.
- Anton & Michel (Old Carmel classic, try the flambé desserts) Court Of The Fountains; 831-624-2406
- Casanova: (For gnocchi and Van Gogh’s table) 5th between Mission & San Carlos; 831-625-0501
- Christopher’s on Lincoln: (Quiet, romantic out-of-the-way spot) Lincoln Street between 5th & 6th; 831-626-8000
- Cultura Comida y Bebidafz: (For the street tacos) Dolores between 5th & 6th at Su Vecino Cour; 831-250-7005
- Flying Fish Grille: (Try the shabu-shabu clay pots) Mission Street between Ocean & 7th, Carmel Plaza; 831-625-1962
- Forge in the Forest: (For the name, outdoor patio, and reuben egg rolls) Junipero between 5th & 6th; 831-626-4055
- Katy’s Place: (Good place for breakfast) Mission between 5th & 6th; 831-624-0199
- La Bicyclette: (For the giant pizza ovens) Dolores & 7th; 831-622-9899
- L’Escargot: (Chicken in truffle-Madeira-cream sauce) Mission and Fourth, Carmel-by-the-Sea; 831-620-1942
- Sade’s: (For cocktails) Lincoln between Ocean & 7th; 831-624-0787
- The Tuck Box: (for breakfast or afternoon tea) Dolores St between Ocean & 7th Ave; 831-624-6365
- Vesuvio: (Chef Pepe’s Southern Italian family recipes) 6th Ave & Junipero Ave; 831-626-7373
Carmel Shops & Art Galleries
Shopaholicas will find plenty to see and do along Ocean Avenue — no chain stores allowed. The variety of trendy family-owned stores feature delightful arts and crafts, clothing, gifts, and unique finds. Also check out Carmel Plaza for specialty shops and a nice garden patio when you need a break. There are too many to list here, and my likes are precarious and change every time I shop. But fwiw, here are just few shops and galleries worth a stop next time you’re in town.
- Diggidy Dog: (Dog and cat boutique) NE Corner of Ocean & Monte Verde St
- Fjorn-by-the-Sea: (Gifts and design objects) Pine Inn Hotel on Ocean Ave & Lincoln St
- Nielsen Brothers Market: (For the wine & Petrossian’s caviar) San Carlos & 7th
- Pamplemousse: (Boutique for women) Ocean Ave between Mission & San Carlos
- Pilgrims Way: (Bookstore and secret garden) Dolores between 5th & 6th
- Classic Art Gallery: (Large collection of contemporary art) San Carlos between 5th & 6th
- Gallery 1000: (traditional and modern impressionistic oil paintings, sculptures) Ocean & Dolores
- Jones & Terwilliger Galleries: Colorful garden scenes, European and American landscapes, masterfully painted figurative studies, still life, and seascapes in realistic and impressionistic stylesSan Carlos Street between 5th & 6th Ave
- Nicholas Boghosian Fine Arts: SW corner of Dolores & 5th
- Rieser Fine Art: Dolores between 5th & 6th
- Rodrigue Studio: 6th Ave between Lincoln & Dolores
- Steven Whyte’s Sculpture Studio and Gallery: Dolores between Fifth and Sixth
- Westbrook Gallery: Dolores between 5th & 6th
Carmel-by-the-Sea: Know Before You Go
- Book a Hotel: Booking.com’s Carmel page, or see TripAdvisor’s Carmel reviews.
- Getting Around: Everything in Carmel-by-the-Sea is within walking distance since it’s only one square mile. From the central business district, you can easily get to all the restaurants, shops, galleries, tasting rooms, the beach, and the hotels, B&B’s and inns.
- Where to Park: You’ll see plenty of free parking curbside parking spots in the downtown area of Carmel-bythe-Sea, but you’ll also see plenty of tourists parking there on weekends. Free, 2-hour curbside parking is available on every block of the business district. You can also find free, unlimited-time parking is available at the Vista Lobos parking lot at 3rd Ave & Torres St. Out of luck? Try the paid parking lots at Sunset Center North (8th Ave between Mission & San Carlos) or Carmel Plaza Parking Garage (Mission St just north of 7th Ave).
- Carmel Homes & Cottages: This Google map page is a growing resource for Carmel’s distinctive houses that you can find by name.
- Dogs Welcome: Carmel is so neat and well-maintained, you wouldn’t expect this place to welcome dogs just about everywhere — but they do. That includes the beach, the trails, and many shops, restaurant patios, and Carmel hotels.
- Also See: My post on “Monterey Bay Aquarium Deals & Day Trip Tips“
- Carmel-by-the-Sea, by Monica Hudson
- Carmel-by-the-Sea: California’s Storybook Town Coloring Book for All Ages, by Jan Kohler and Donna Kohler
- Cottages by the Sea, The Handmade Homes of Carmel, America’s First Artist Community, by Linda Leigh Paul
- Historic Homes and Inns of Carmel-by-the-Sea, by Lynn A. Momboisse and Alissandra Dramov
- Carmel’s Fairy Tale Cottages, by Mike Barton
- Sketches of Carmel-by-the-Sea, by Bryan Lisa
- Legendary Locals of Carmel-by-the-Sea, by Lisa Crawford Watson