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Carmel-by-the-Sea is arguably the quaintest town along California’s central coast. Whether you’re in for the first time or making a return trip, a new adventure is always awaiting. With so many things to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea, you’ll want to use this guide to help plan your time.
Why Visit Carmel-By-The-Sea?
The storybook architecture that makes Carmel so special is one of the big draws to visit. But what you’ll find beyond fairytale cottages and secret passageways are incredible. From Oaxacan cuisine to world-renowned art galleries, there are some lovely surprises to discover while visiting.
After taking in the village’s charm, you’ll want to venture further afield. Luckily, its proximity to the Pacific Ocean means you can be in nature within minutes. This is one of the best parts of a day in Carmel-by-the-Sea. You don’t have to choose between the village or nature because you can easily enjoy both!
So, if you’re looking to plan your time there, these are the things to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea for a perfect, well-rounded day trip.
Where is Carmel-by-the-Sea?
Set in Monterey County, the one-square-mile village of Carmel-by-the-Sea is a charming destination along the central coast of California. It’s down the highway from Monterey and a wonderful weekend getaway from the Bay Area.
There is a regional airport located in Monterey if you plan to fly in. The next closest international airport is San Jose.
What is the best time of year to visit Carmel-by-the-Sea?
While there is no bad time to visit Carmel-by-the-Sea, I am particularly biased toward the fall season. It’s one of the sunnier times of the year, with fewer crowds and clear days. The summer months are often crowded on the weekends, so any time before June or after August means fewer people.
That said, you can still have fantastic weather in the winter months. You won’t be swimming in the ocean, but you can enjoy the town, restaurants, outdoor dining, and hiking nearby.
Things to Do in Carmel-by-the-Sea
Drive Scenic Highway 1
The scenery is beautiful whether driving from the south or north of Carmel-by-the-Sea. If approaching from the south, you’ll have some of the best views through Big Sur and beyond as you wind up from the coast.
If you’re driving in from the north on the Pacific Coast Highway, you’ll go down the Monterey Peninsula. You’ll get to pass by the small town of Moss Landing and see the sprawling dunes of Ford Ord. You could consider making a quick pit stop in Monterey, known for one of the best attractions, the Monterey Bay Aquarium on Cannery Row.
Grab Breakfast At Stationæry
There are many restaurants in Carmel-by-the-Sea to choose from, but my favorite for breakfast is Stationæry. This neighborhood joint is a favorite for locals, set back off San Carlos street. It’s small and quaint, fitting right into the scenery.
Come in for the weekend brunch, or grab a coffee and pastry if you want something lighter. There are several outdoor bistro tables in the patio area, and it is my preferred spot in downtown Carmel to start the day.
The Stationæry, San Carlos Street, 3 NE of 6th Avenue, San Carlos St, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93921
Stroll The Village
What makes this destination so special is the fairytale village itself. With each corner you turn, you’ll find another curiosity and find that feels like a page out of a storybook. The village is full of boutiques, art galleries with local artists, wine-tasting rooms, and shops that shoot off Ocean Avenue.
The entire village is walkable and set in a grid-like fashion. These are a few favorite stop-offs to pop into:
- Blair Estate Tasting Room for pinot noir lovers
- Caraccioli Cellars for estate wines grown in the Santa Lucia Highlands
- The Carmel Coffee House and Roasting Company for a cup of coffee and homemade sweets
- Photography West Gallery for photography collectors
- Winfield Gallery to sip wine and browse art
- The Cheese Shop for all things cheese
Stop At The Carmel Mission
If you’re looking for something to do for around 30-45 minutes, the Carmel Mission is at the edge of town. It’s a national historic landmark on the California coast, established in the late 1700s. The full name is Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Río Carmelo. Today, you can visit the museum, stroll the beautiful gardens, and enter the stone church basilica.
Carmel Mission, 3080 Rio Rd, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923
Dine Local At La Bicyclette
A staple to the food scene in Carmel-by-the-Sea is the quaint restaurant La Bicyclette. Like a scene out of the French countryside, enters this restaurant that uses local ingredients. The wood-fired pizzas are a few fan favorites but don’t be afraid to explore further on the menu.
Consider starting with the seasonal roasted asparagus with prosciutto and set with creamy stracciatella cheese and frisée salad. Don’t shy away from the Boeuf Bourguignon — a hearty French stew, perfect to warm up as the evenings cool off in Carmel. Do be sure to make a reservation.
La Bicyclette, Dolores St &, 7th Ave, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923
Spend The Afternoon On The Coast
The best part of visiting Carmel is that you’re always only a short drive to being along the Pacific Ocean. There are a few ways to enjoy the local scenery and ocean views; the adventure is up to you!
Option 1: Hike The Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
Considered one of California’s most beautiful state parks, it’s only around 5 minutes south of the village. Once in Point Lobos State Reserve, several coastal trails like the Cypress Grove Trail wind along the ocean edge, where you’ll see local marine wildlife. The South Shore Trail that connects to the Bird Island Trail is my favorite for spotting seals and sea otters and walking on the hidden Gibson’s Beach. Remember that the weekends get packed, so if you’d like to park, arrive early.
Option 2: Enjoy one of the local beaches
There are two main beaches within a stone’s throw of Carmel-by-the-Sea. The first is central Carmel Beach which you could walk to from the village. It sprawls along the coastline and is the best beach for easy access, good waves for surfing, and a long beach walk.
The next best beach is Mara Beach at the mouth of Carmel River State Beach. A crescent-shaped beach has a beautiful turquoise hue when the sun shines on the waters. It’s laid back, usually sans the crowds, and a good spot to see wildlife. This would be my first choice if you’re looking for a serene spot to catch a sunset.
Make a detour out to Carmel Valley
Before making your way back to the village, one of my favorite hidden spots in the area is Carmel Valley. Since the coast and the village draw crowds, this special part of Monterey County gets overlooked.
Set back off Highway 1, a quick 10-minute drive will get you into the heart of the Monterey wine region. There are several wineries to consider, but one is quite special. Make yourself an appointment at Folktale Winery and Vineyards.
Their chateau is entirely serene, overlooking their gardens and vineyards. Tastings can be paired with food, so if you need a late-afternoon snack, do it here with your wine tasting in their “wine garden.”
On your way back into the village, consider pulling off for Tancredi & Morgen if you want one last stop. A super quaint, curated design store for all the things home related. They source worldwide with a beautiful collection of French antiques and artisan textiles.
Dinner at Cultura Comida y Bebida
It’s one of those spots you’ll be talking about for some time and may inspire you to book a trip to Oaxaca. A Mexican restaurant meets mezcalería; Cultura is serving up some serious eats. From street tacos featuring chicken tinga to barbacoa to even chapulines (toasted grasshoppers), Cultura is a taste of Mexico.
Cultura Comida Y Bebida, Dolores Street, between 5th Ave. & 6th ave Su Vecino Courtyard, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93921
Even More Things To Do In Carmel
I have a few more ideas if you’re looking for more things to do while visiting Carmel by the Sea, California.
Take the scenic road on a self-guided tour along Pebble Beach Drive, known as the “17-mile drive.” The main sight here is the Lone Cypress, precisely what it sounds like. A single cypress tree out on a point. Play a round of golf at Pebble Beach Golf Links at Pebble Beach Resort. Known as America’s best public golf course, you’ll want to plan ahead to get a tee time here.
Go further down the coast to Garrapata State Park. If you’re looking for more hiking trails, Garrapata State Park is home to a beautiful trail called the Soberanes Canyon Trail. It will take you up the coastal headlands and back down.
You could consider going whale watching, the Monterey County coastline is one of the best spots in the state to do so during the months of March to November.
Plan A Trip To Carmel-by-the-Sea
Inspired to stay longer? Us too! There is so much to enjoy in the area of California. With the help of our travel planning services, we can make the most of your time in the area. If you’re looking to plan a trip to California, our California trip planner services are here to help you plan your perfect itinerary.
Photo Credit: Opening photo, photo of mision, and of wine tasting room by Jessica Wright; all other photos by Team Salt & Wind Travel