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Although only one square mile in size, Carmel-by-the-Sea is the definition of good things coming in small packages. With its fairytale cottages, secret pathways and enchanting architecture the city itself is an absolute pleasure to explore. This seaside town jam packed full of adventure, culture, history, great food and plenty of activities to entertain anyone looking for a relaxing weekend getaway or some time away. Couple that with the rich diversity in activities to experience and Carmel by the Sea is the perfect destination for your next trip.
If you’re looking for the best places to eat, sleep and explore in Carmel by the Sea, then this is the Carmel by the Sea travel guide for you.
What to Do in Carmel by the Sea
Whether you’re looking for a romantic couples weekend, a family trip away or even just a new place to explore on your own, there are a ton of things to do in Carmel by the Sea. Got a furry friend that accompanies you on trips? Bring them along! Carmel-by-the-Sea was rated the number one Dog Friendly Town in the United States, so there’s no need to leave them out of the adventure.
Lovers of art, history, good food and a beautiful beach will especially love everything Carmel-by-the-Sea has to offer. Here are our recommendations for the best things to see in Carmel by the Sea:
Carmel by the Sea Walking Tour
If this is your first time in Carmel, heck even if it isn’t, then you need to get yourself on a walking tour with Gael Gallagher. Over the course of two hours, Gael will weave you in and out of hidden pathways, tucked away courtyards and show you all the secret spots of this tiny town. You’ll learn about the history of the town’s formation, as well as the changes that it has undergone over the last century.
Gael takes a lot of pride in showing you all the hidden things that you’d definitely miss without an insider’s knowledge. And it’s not only the information that makes this tour so great, Gael herself is an incredible tour guide. Full of energetic enthusiasm and hilarious anecdotes, Gael keeps the group entertained until the very last ring of the church bell, before giving you a big hug and sending you on your way to explore the town on your own.
Art Tours in Carmel by the Sea
If you’re looking to dig a little deeper into the history and stories behind the Carmel art scene then you need to check out Rohana’s Carmel Art Tours. During this walking tour you’ll have the opportunity to visit several art galleries and studios that produce everything from bronze sculpting and photography, to ancient Chinese silk weaving and glass shaping.
One of the best parts about this tour is the interactivity between each of the locations you visit. As you make your way from spot to spot, you’ll have the chance to speak to the people behind the creative genius. While not guaranteed, given the artists’ busy schedules, if they are around they’re more than happy to have a chat and talk about the ideas behind their creation.
At Steven Whyte Sculpture Studio we were lucky enough to meet the man himself. Steven is largely considered one of the best modern day sculptors and it was fascinating to hear him talk about the process of creating his masterpieces. His studio is full of incredible pieces, and the different designs help showcase the various stages of the bronze sculpting process from clay molding right up until the completed piece.
Rent an Electric Bike
What seaside town visit would be complete without a ride along the esplanade to soak in the glorious coastline. Thankfully you can now do that in style with the electric beach cruisers at Mad Dogs & Englishmen. These classy, vintage bikes have been fitted with electric peddle assistance, meaning you can cruise along the coast and easily make it up those windy hills.
You can rent the bikes for as long as you like, depending on how adventurous you feel. Whether you’re looking to do a small tour of the beach and town, or venture out to the famous 17 Mile Road, anything is possible on these bikes. Mad Dogs & Englishmen is actually the first bike rental business to operate in Carmel, having opened in early 2018, and have since thrived with people wanting to take their bikes for a spin.
The crew behind Mad Dogs & Englishmen are super knowledgeable and passionate about making this business more than just a bike rental. It’s a unique way to experience Carmel by the Sea. Bikes can come pre-equipped with Garmin GPS devices, that map out routes and trails to discover all the best spots in and around town.
Visit the Beach
After enjoying a nice cruise along the coast, take yourself down to the sand and splash amongst the waves of Carmel’s beach. The sand is soft and the water is refreshing for those looking to take a dip.
The beach is a cove, nestled in between two iconic landmarks. To the left is the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, which is an excellent day trip spot to explore just outside of Carmel-by-the-Sea. To the right is the famous Pebble Beach Golf Links course, undoubtedly one of the most well known golf courses around the world for its stunning backdrop against the jagged California coastline.
Sunset Community and Cultural Center
When you plan your visit to Carmel-by-the-Sea, be sure to check the schedule of the Sunset Community and Cultural Center. Chances are there is an amazing show on offer and it’s a great opportunity to hear some music from local and visiting musicians or check out a speaker give a talk.
St. Junipero Serra Mission
If learning about history is your thing, then be sure to pop past the St. Junipero Serra Mission on the outstretches of the city. Along with historical Spanish colonial buildings, the church and grounds are very impressive to take a wander through. While you’re there, learn about the history and influence that the mission played in shaping the area.
Where to Eat in Carmel by the Sea
One of the best things about eating in Carmel by the Sea is that all the restaurants, cafes and stores are locally ran and not a part of any massive chains. You won’t find any McDonalds or Starbucks, thankfully, and instead get to experience the passion and pride of local ownership. Here are a selection of some of the best places to eat in Carmel by the Sea:
A homey Irish pub that offers a contemporary spin on classic, comfort food. With seven TV screens, and a great selection of beers on tap, it’s the perfect place to settle in and watch some sports. The fish and chips, made in a beer batter, were definitely the winner for dinner, but all the food we tried was delicious. Pro tip: be sure to leave room for dessert. The chocolate filled churros with chocolate dipping sauce are insanely scrumptious!
Cultura – Bebida and Comida
A Mexican restaurant, inspired by the tastes of Oaxaca and mezcal. This place offers a creative, yet authentic, collection of dishes that will leave you fuller than a chilli relleno! A passionate group of friends and former colleagues have teamed up to recreate their take on mezcal inspired cocktails and some of the best Mexican food I’ve ever tasted. Everything on the menu is amazing, but a special mention goes to the queso fundido, a literal flaming pot of stringy cheese with an explosion of flavor.
Another delicious Mexican restaurant that serves up authentic flavors in a cozy setting. Situated inside a cute courtyard, you can sit outside and take in the atmosphere of Carmel while sipping on a Michelada and chowing down on some tantalizing tacos. Choose from a menu of classic Mexican dishes, with a modern spin that leaves you wanting more.
If you’re staying on the coast, then you need to get stuck into some seafood. There’s no better place than Flaherty’s Seafood, located in the center of town. They have an extensive menu of dishes to choose from, but the seafood is where it’s at. You name it and they serve it, in a combination of flavors and styles that mean you could eat there everyday and never get sick of it.
Mission Ranch Hotel and Restaurant
While I didn’t personally eat here, I can tell you that this is the best spot to catch the afternoon sunset over their patio with a nice cold beer, wine or cocktail. Located on the edge of town, the patio overlooks an open grass field, with sheep lazily grazing around. In the distance you can see Point Lobos, as well as the beach, where the sun slowly slips below the horizon. The establishment is owned by Clint Eastwood, who purchased it in 1986 to stop the 1850s property from being knocked down and rebuilt as a more modern hotel. Because of this, the Ranch maintains its historical charm and gorgeous grounds.
Finish off an excellent day exploring Carmel by the Sea by cozying in front of the fireplace with some chocolates from Lula’s. There are plenty of options to choose from, no matter what your sweet tooth is craving.
Where to Stay in Carmel by the Sea
Along with world class restaurants, art and activities, one thing that Carmel by the Sea has no shortage of is cute cottages and cozy B&Bs. In fact the fairytale style architecture is one of the main draws to the town.
Perfectly manicured gardens, sharp attention to detail and an overall homey feel make staying in Carmel by the Sea a real treat away from home. Here are a few of our top suggestions for the best places to stay in Carmel by the Sea. You can also check out the Visit Carmel website, which offers a quick and convenient Book Direct feature to make reservations.
Located centrally in town, like most places, this country English inspired hotel offers a number of spacious guest rooms with varying amenities. All rooms come with amazingly comfortable beds, TVs and a decor that matches the overall aesthetic of Carmel by the Sea’s charm. If you’re looking for a little more luxury then splash out on premium guest room, equipped with your very own two person jetted tub and gas fireplace. Nothing says quality romantic time like turning on the fireplace with the flick of a switch, and kicking back on the couch with a bottle of wine.
Be enchanted by the red brick paving and green ivy that grows up the side of the Briarwood Inn, with yet another great location to sleep in Carmel by the Sea. The rooms are warm, homey and a little more affordable compared to some of the higher end places.
Located just a mile from Carmel Beach, this centrally located hotel offers gorgeous rooms with the option of a hot tub for those luxurious nights in with a bottle of wine. Rooms come equipped with all the home comforts, plus more! Relax in front of a fire and unwind after a day exploring. Some rooms even come with an ocean view!
How to Get to Carmel by the Sea
One of the best things about visiting Carmel by the Sea is how easy it is to visit. Only a two hour drive south of San Francisco, five hours north from Los Angeles, Carmel by the Sea is accessible for any type of trip. And while it might take a little longer to drive, if you take Highway 1 you pass some amazing spots along the way (like Big Sur), making the drive to Carmel by the Sea an activity in itself.
For those traveling inter-state, fly into either San Francisco or San Jose for a no stress trip down to Carmel-by-the-Sea. From those airports it’s just a short drive down to this magical town. For the cheapest and most flexible flight deals, we always use and recommend SkyScanner. It helps compile all the cheapest rates across all the airlines, so you save more on flying and get to spend more on your holiday!
Whether it’s following all the recommendations of this guide, or using it as inspiration to go searching for yourself, Carmel by the Sea should be on top of your list of places to visit in 2019. The history and charm of the city is like nothing you’ve visited before, and will no doubt bring you back to this seaside haven many times again. We’re planning a return trip now, so we might even see you there!