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. With many ocean-view hiking trails, beautiful flora, wildlife, and views for days. Get here early to avoid the crowds and have the entire park to yourself.
Explore the Carmel Mission
The Carmel Mission was built in 1797 and is one of the most authentic Missions in California. The stunning Spanish Architecture alone is reason enough for a visit. Finally, it’s functioning today so if you would like to attend a mass here, you can!
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
Voted the number one golf course in the country, Pebble Beach is a must-see for any golfer in your life. However, a round of golf can run upwards of $550. 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!
Visit Monterey County
Monterey County is located on the central coast and is most famous for Cannery Row. It’s located about 35 minutes from Carmel by the Sea if you choose to drive the 17-mile drive (which I highly recommend). It’s the perfect day trip!
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:
La Playa Carmel: We personally choose to stay here and loved every minute of our stay. 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.
L’Auberge Carmel: Another European-style luxury hotel, L’Auberge Carmel is a great option since it’s located directly in town, within a block from the main street. Not only that, but their storybook facade has all the charm that Carmel offers. Book your stay here.
Hyatt Carmel Highlands: located in Point Lobos National Park, this hotel is secluded on the Big Sur coast but close enough to Carmel by the Sea to enjoy dinner in the evening. 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!
- Katy’s Place – breakfast
- 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.
Your photos are so beautiful! I have not explored enough of California yet ?
Carmel by the Sea looks absolutely gorgeous! I need to visit this part of California. It looks like a dream. 🙂
Nicola Lavin says
This place is so charming. It actually looks like stepping into a story book. Your photographs are so good.
Courtney Delfino says
thanks Nicola! Means a lot!
World of Lina says
I wish I had more time when I was in California last year. Carmel by The Sea looks really nice 🙂
Something to note – Carmel doesn’t have streetlights, so if evening walks to/from the hotel in darkness spooks you out, plan accordingly.