Carmel California Getaway
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.
On your first visit to Carmel-by-the-Sea, you can’t go wrong by stating with a self-guided tour of the sweet Carmel cottages and courtyards. Below I’ll share 7 Things to do on your first Carmel vacation. I’ll also suggest a few Carmel Hotels that we’ve enjoyed staying at or have been recommended by savvy friends.
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 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 white sand surrounded by Monterey Pines on Carmel Beach. 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 charming places to stay.
Where to Stay in Carmel
We like L’Auberge Carmel for romantic escapes. Or the quintessentially Carmel bed and breakfast called the Happy Landing Inn, for the lush gardens, cathedral ceilings, stained glass windows (and because it’s pet-friendly and the savvy dog likes it).
Savvy Tip: Find a lodging deal on this Hotels.com Carmel page.
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 you won’t regret making time for a day or a weekend just to see this delightful place.
7 Things to do on a First Carmel-by-the-Sea Vacation
What you decide to do in Carmel, California may depend on whether this is your first visit or not. If it is, the usual touristy activities are too good to miss.
1. 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.
2. Drive Carmel-by-the-Sea’s Scenic Road
You’ll not only enjoy a great view of the Pacific Ocean, this road takes you by the fairytale cottages, the shopping district, Carmel Beach, and a peak at Point Lobos.
2. Watch the sunset on Carmel Beach
Considered one of the top ten beaches in the US, this beach is my favorite beach for watching the sunset 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.
4. 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.
5. Take a Guided Tour
Browse the list of Carmel Tours & Activities you can book in advance of your visit, including a 17-Mile Drive Day Trip from San Francisco; small group Carmel Food and Wine Walking Tour; small-group Breakfast Foodie Tour; Monterey & Carmel Explorer Tour; and the popular drive down the coastal highway from San Francisco on the Day Trip to Monterey and Carmel.
6. 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.
7. 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.
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.
You can often find hotel deals in Carmel on this Hotels.com page (they post user reviews pulled from Hotels.com, Expedia, and more all in one place). A few to check out:
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
Svendsgaards Inn: NW Corner 4th & San Carlos
Where to Eat in Carmel? You can’t go wrong. Just 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
Christopher’s on Lincoln
Quiet, romantic out-of-the-way spot
Lincoln Street between 5th & 6th; 831-626-8000
Cultura Comida y Bebidafz
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
Good place for breakfast
Mission between 5th & 6th; 831-624-0199
For the giant pizza ovens
Dolores & 7th; 831-622-9899
Chicken in truffle-Madeira-cream sauce anyone?
Mission and Fourth, Carmel-by-the-Sea; 831-620-1942
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.
Dog and cat boutique
NE Corner of Ocean & Monte Verde St
Gifts and design objects
Pine Inn Hotel on Ocean Ave & Lincoln St
Nielsen Brothers Market
Wine & Petrossian’s caviar
San Carlos & 7th
Boutique for women
Ocean Ave between Mission & San Carlos
Bookstore and secret garden
Dolores between 5th & 6th
Classic Art Gallery
Large collection of contemporary art
San Carlos between 5th & 6th
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 styles
San Carlos Street between 5th & 6th Ave
Carmel-by-the-Sea: Know Before You Go
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).
Finding Carmel-by-the-Sea’s Scenic Road
- From Highway One, go west on Ocean Ave and turn left on Scenic Road. That will take you along the Pacific coastline past Carmel River State Beach, Carmel City Beach, and other views.
- When you see 15th Avenue, turn right and you’ll see Clint Eastwood’s Mission Ranch.
- When you reach Rio Road you’ll see historic Carmel Mission.
- Turn right on Rio Road to get back onto CA-1.
See Carmel Homes & Cottages
This Google map page is a growing resource for Carmel’s distinctive houses that you can find by name.
Where Dogs are 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.
Nearby Monterey Attractions
See my post on “Monterey Bay Aquarium Deals & Day Trip Tips“