Visiting Carmel by The Sea: The Ultimate Guide
An artistic, storybook coastal town that sits atop a hill overlooking the Pacific. That my friends is a little place called Carmel by the Sea and it’s the most charming fairytale town that is unlike any other. It’s located roughly 2 hours south of San Francisco and feels like an entirely different country. Did you know that the houses aren’t numbered and instead each home has its own name? It’s reasons like this that make Carmel by the Sea so charming.
There are endless things to do when visiting Carmel by the sea. From shopping in Downtown Carmel to exploring the beach, or even driving one of the most scenic routes in the world. In this guide, I’m going to outline everything you need to know before visiting.
While all opinions and recommendations are always my own, my content on this blog post may contain affiliate links for hotels I’ve traveled to, tours I’ve completed, and products I recommend. This means I get a small commission if you book a stay or purchase a product after clicking one of these links. As always, I am so thankful for your support and will continue to share the best properties, things to do, and items I love!
Best Things to Do in Carmel by the Sea
17 Mile Drive
One of our favorite parts of staying in Carmel by the Sea was 17 Mile Drive. It costs $10.50 to enter the road and about an hour or two to complete depending on how many places you want to stop. It’s the most scenic drive in all of California in my opinion.
When driving don’t miss out on the Lone Cypress or Fan Shell Beach (pictured above). Those were our two favorite stops on the 17-mile drive! Finally, you should allot 2-3 hours to drive this beauty.
Visit Point Lobos, State Park
Immediately south of Carmel, Point Lobos State Park is one of the most scenic parts of the Pacific Coast Highway. The park is renowned for its scenic beauty, rich wildlife, and diverse plant communities, making it a popular destination for hikers, nature enthusiasts, and photographers.
The park features a variety of coastal habitats, including rocky shorelines, sandy beaches, and dense forests. Visitors can enjoy a wide range of outdoor activities, such as hiking, bird watching, whale watching, and scuba diving. The park is also home to a variety of marine mammals, such as sea otters, harbor seals, and sea lions, as well as many bird species.
One of the most popular attractions in the park is Whaler’s Cove, a sheltered cove that offers excellent opportunities for swimming, sunbathing, and picnicking. The park also features several scenic trails, including the Cypress Grove Trail, the Granite Point Trail, and the North Shore Trail, which offers stunning views of the coastline and the surrounding landscape. Get here early to avoid the crowds and have the entire park to yourself.
Explore the Carmel Mission
The Carmel Mission, also known as Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo, is a historic Spanish mission located in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. The mission was founded in 1770 by Father Junipero Serra, a Spanish Franciscan friar, and it was the second of the 21 missions established by the Franciscans in California.
The Carmel Mission is renowned for its beautiful architecture, religious artifacts, and historic significance. The mission church features a bell tower, a courtyard, and an altar with elaborately carved wooden figures. The mission also has a museum that displays a wide variety of artifacts, including religious art, Native American artifacts, and historical documents.
Finally, you can take a self-guided tour or join a guided tour led by a docent. The tours provide insight into the history and significance of the mission, as well as the daily life of the missionaries and the Native Americans who lived and worked at the mission.
Relax at Carmel Beach
One of the most picturesque beaches we have ever seen. The sand was exceptionally soft and it was not that crowded. I especially loved the beautiful cypress trees lining the beach as well as the charming homes with the most epic views. Make sure to stay for sunset because as you can see pictured above, it’s pretty magical!
Pebble Beach Golf Course
Pebble Beach Golf Links is a world-renowned golf course located in Pebble Beach, California, on the Monterey Peninsula. It is widely considered one of the most scenic and challenging golf courses in the world and has hosted numerous major golf tournaments, including the U.S. Open and the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
The course is known for its small greens, narrow fairways, and strategically placed bunkers, which make it a challenging but rewarding experience for golfers of all skill levels. However, a round of golf can run upwards of $600. It’s definitely a splurge but a once-in-a-lifetime experience if you want to experience this world-renowned course.
Performing Arts: Sunset Center
This performing arts center located in Carmel is famous for its concerts, comedy shows, and dance performances. It’s always a good idea to support the local arts. Check the calendar here if you would like to catch a show while visiting!
Monterey is located roughly 30-40 minutes from Carmel and is known for its beautiful coastline, diverse landscapes, and rich cultural heritage. One of the main attractions of Monterey is its coastline, which includes numerous beaches, rocky shorelines, and cliffs.
Visitors can enjoy a wide range of outdoor activities, such as hiking, biking, kayaking, and whale watching. Some of the popular beaches in the area include Carmel Beach, Asilomar State Beach, and the beaches at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve.
In addition to its natural beauty, Monterey also has a rich cultural heritage, with several historic landmarks and museums. One of the most notable landmarks is the Monterey Old Town Historic District, which features a collection of preserved adobe buildings from the Spanish colonial period. Other popular attractions include the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Carmel Mission, and the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, which honors the life and works of John Steinbeck.
Carmel is known for its storybook cottages most of which can be best enjoyed by a nice bike ride. Carmel is extremely hilly so be prepared when planning your bike route. It’s best to keep your route following the ocean.
Day Trip to Big Sur
Big Sur is roughly an hour away from Carmel by The Sea. It’s well worth the scenic drive when staying in Carmel and can easily be done as a day trip. However, if you have more time consider staying the night in Big Sur. Make sure to check out my Complete Guide to Visit Big Sur for more information.
Best Hotels in Carmel by the Sea
Because of the proximity to Pebble Beach Golf Course, there are a handful of higher-end properties in Carmel to stay in. Here are my top picks:
Carmel Valley Ranch: my top pick for staying in Carmel is the Carmel Valley Ranch. This property is so serene and offers gorgeous views, a quiet retreat, and incredible amenities. There are tons of activities for children and they offer free smores every evening to sit with your loved ones over the fire pit. The multiple swings, animals, and bunches of lavender throughout the property add to the overall charm. Book your stay here!
La Playa Carmel: If you’re looking to stay in the heart of downtown consider La Playa Carmel. It is reminiscent of an Italian Hotel on the Mediterranean so we fell in love the second we stepped foot on the property. It’s a short walk to the town and only steps to the beach. Breakfast was included in our stay and the pool and property was very secluded. Book your stay here.
What to Pack for Carmel by the Sea
- Bathing Suits: Being that Carmel is a coastal destination you’ll want to always be prepared by bringing bathing suits. I always find quality suits that last for a few seasons at Revolve, and cupshe.
- Sunscreen: This GOOP FACE SUNSCREEN BRUSH is perfect for traveling because it adds SPF to your face all while not messing up your makeup. It’s my new holy grail product and you need to add this one to your packing list.
- A sturdy pair of flip-flops. These Olukai Sandals are my go-to and have lasted me years and are the most comfortable.
- A chic pair of slide sandals that are also super comfortable
- Neutral Dresses: These really come in handy when the temperatures are high in the spring/summer. Linking my favorite white dress for photos.
- A sun hat for the pool or beach.
- Shorts: These classic Levi Shorts never go out of style
- Basics: I always find the best basics at Abercrombie. It’s nice to have some neutral tees and tanks handy during your stay. You can also shop my favorite Amazon Basics HERE.
Restaurants in Carmel by the Sea
Not only does Carmel have charming homes, but it’s also bustling with charming eateries to indulge in. Their proximity to the ocean is appealing to many visitors. Below are the top eateries in Carmel by the Sea.
- La Bicyclette Restaurant – European cuisine, the pizza was great!
- Stationary – delicious brunch place tucked away in the infamous Carmel alleys
- Dametra Cafe – Meditteranean cuisine.
- Portabella – Italian cuisine, highly recommended.
- Cultura Comida y Bebida – Mexican cuisine.
- Flaherty’s Seafood Grill and Oyster Bar – I may be partial to the name since Flaherty was my grandmother’s maiden name but this spot is a hidden gem. Known for its delicious seafood.
There you have it. Thank you for reading my “Weekend Guide to Carmel by the Sea”. I hope you have the best time exploring this charming city and don’t forget to check out more of my California travel guides.