The adorable town of Carmel by the Sea is the perfect stop on any California road trip itinerary. The one square mile village (yes, it’s that tiny!), is known for its fairy book houses, hidden courtyards and, of course, the stunning beach. But one of the lesser known reasons to visit Carmel is the town’s incredible culinary scene.
From the adorable coffee shops that have been in Carmel forever, to the newer trendy spots sporting cuisine from around the world, there’s so many incredible places to eat in Carmel. To help you out with your choices, we did some research for you (you’re welcome!). So without further ado, here’s your guide for where to eat in Carmel by the Sea:
- Best Breakfast in Carmel by the Sea
- Best Lunch in Carmel by the Sea
- Best Dinner in Carmel by the Sea
- Best Places to Drink in Carmel by the Sea
Best Breakfast in Carmel by the Sea
You may have a complimentary breakfast at your hotel (we had a legit pastry spread at Hofsas House!), but it’s still worth venturing into town for a yummy breakfast. These are the best Carmel restaurants for breakfast:
Stationæry is one of those Carmel institutions that you probably wouldn’t find unless you were looking for it, or stumbled upon it while lost. Tucked back into one of the town’s tiny alleyways, this cute little cafe is perfect for a meal or a quick cuppa. Stationæry is popular with locals who come and sit with their dogs, chatting with neighbors who pass by.
The food is upscale (let’s be real, it’s not cheap), but the extra little touches and quality ingredients will make paying $14 for avocado toast worth the splurge. Their espresso drinks are delicious and served in adorable ceramic mugs.
The Tuck Box
The Tuck Box is a Carmel institution located in one of the historic Comstock cottages dating back to 1927. The restaurant was opened in the early 1940’s by two sisters from England and it still has an English feel to this day. They’re only open for breakfast and lunch, from 7:30 AM to 2:30 PM. The prices are super reasonable, and they have all the classics on the menu including the Tuck Box Benedict, waffle and omelettes. The Tuck Box also has a gift shop in the back where you can take a little souvenir to your friends back home.
Best Lunch in Carmel by the Sea
Whether you’re looking for a quick bite before exploring or you want to take a load off and enjoy a long meal, here are the best places to eat in Carmel for lunch.
5th Avenue Deli
If you’re looking for a quick bite to take with you on a beach picnic, 5th Avenue Deli is perfect. They have a full deli (well, duh), along with hot food like soup and a taco bar! They have all the little snacks you’d want with a picnic lunch (Kettle Salt & Vinegar please!), and a full range of beverages to take with you on the road.
They also have some tempting desserts if you’re craving a sweet. We got some sandwiches and potato salad to go (there’s no seating inside), and went around the corner to Devendorf Park. We enjoyed our sandwiches so much we came back the next day to grab a picnic for the beach!
Little Napoli/ Vino Napoli
We found sister restaurants Little Napoli & Vino Napoli while doing some research online. They’re right next to each other and both came highly recommended by locals and tourists alike! Little Napoli is more of a sit down spot and Vino Napoli more of a bar/restaurant. In the summer, you can sit in the patio between the two and enjoy a glass of cold white wine and a caesar salad. And in the winter we suggest sitting inside Little Napoli in front of their fireplace with a glass of red and one of their delicious pizzas. Or you can take advantage of the happy hour at Vino Napoli (3:30-6pm), with discounted drinks and pizza. Wherever you choose, don’t miss out on the famous garlic bread! It’s insanely delicious!
This casual pub is the perfect place to cozy up for relaxed lunch in Carmel by the Sea. It’s a bit of an Irish pub meets sports bar, with plenty of televisions to stay updated on all your favorite teams at once. You’ll get your standard bar food here, including tasty fish and chips, yummy burgers and sandwiches. They also have a legit beer selection. Make sure you save room for dessert because their chocolate filled churros with chocolate dipping sauce are too good to miss!
Best Dinner in Carmel by the Sea
You’ll have no shortage of places to eat in Carmel for dinner. Whether you’re looking for one of the town’s classic older spots or one of the new restaurants in Carmel, here are our top spots for dinner.
Cultura Comida y Bebida
You guys – make us a promise now that you will not leave Carmel without visiting Cultura! This unreal restaurant serves Mexican (specifically Oaxacan) cuisine. On weekdays they open at 5:30PM, so this is definitely a dinner spot, but they do have brunch on the weekends. We highly recommend making a reservation, even mid-week, because the word has gotten out that this is one of the best restaurants in Carmel by the Sea.
Our favorite dish was hands down the queso fundido. They mix it at your table and set it on fire right in front of you to create the ooey-gooey melty cheese. They do a taco tuesday and a half-off wine Wednesday. They even do a late night menu until 12am (although who stays out that late in Carmel?!) The have a full bar with a wide selection of beers, cocktails and Mezcal, and of course, margaritas!
Flaherty’s Seafood Grill & Oyster Bar
You can’t visit the California coast and not have a delicious seafood dinner (unless you’re vegan/vegetarian, of course, then you do you!). And Flaherty’s is a great choice to indulge in some classic seafood dishes with a fun twist. What we loved about this restaurant is that while the food is gourmet, the ambience is relaxed and casual. We spoke with both the owner and the pastry chef, who are both super enthusiastic about their work.
We absolutely loved the lobster bisque and actually enjoyed everything we ordered! From the crab cakes to the crusted Halibut, every bite was delicious. We’re not oyster fans, but for those that are, they have fresh oysters delivered daily and prepare them every way you can think of- BBQ, Oysters Rockefeller and even stewed!
You didn’t think we’d stop with just one Mexican restaurant, did ya? If you know us, you know that we could eat Mexican food everyday. If you’re like us, Pescadero is definitely worth making a stop for lunch or dinner. The chef focuses on Baja cuisine, including Baja style tacos and ceviche, and on Wednesdays his mother comes in to prepare fresh Salvadoran pupusas. Next door the popular Barmel, which often has live music, and serves the full Pescadero menu.
Mission Ranch Restaurant
Carmel is famous for its quirky little facts, with one of the most well known being that Clint Eastwood was once the town’s mayor. This was only for a couple of years, back in the 80’s, but it’s definitely one of Carmel by the Sea’s claims to fame. People also love to visit the Hog’s Breath Inn, which Eastwood once owned. Now, the hip spot to check out is the actor’s new hotel and restaurant, Mission Ranch.
This inn and restaurant is about a mile out of town. If you bike or drive down the Scenic Highway, you’ll pretty much get spit out at the ranch. Inside there’s a piano bar that is often being played by one of Carmel’s musically talented locals. The restaurant is a cozy spot, but can fit quite a few people out on the back deck. If you sit along the railing at sunset, you’ll have a great view of the sun going down over the ranch. This is a real working ranch, so expect some normal ranch smells!
The food is straightforward (think Caesar, cob and wedge salads, as well as steaks, pasta and seafood), but while most dishes are simply, they’re really well done. The wine list has lots of local favorites and at super reasonable prices, considering the location and the famous owner. We definitely recommend a visit to Mission Ranch, at least for a sunset cocktail!
Best Places to Drink in Carmel by the Sea
What would a food guide to Carmel by without throwing in a couple of amazing places to wash down that delicious meal. Whether its a nip of wine or a cold beer, here are a couple of top recommended places to drink in Carmel by the Sea.
Blair’s Estate Wine Room
The Carmel/Monterey area may not be as well known as Napa for wines, but they are just as delicious. Blair’s Estate is a wine room in Carmel Plaza, an intimate wine tasting setting from a family run winery. The people who do the tasting are super knowledgeable about each wine.
Scheid Wine tasting room is another great spot if you’re looking for a tasty drop. You’ll like Scheid if you prefer more of a hands off approach to wine tasting. They have printed information about each wine, and the staff is there to answer any questions you may have, rather than walk you through each flavor. They also sell Lula’s Chocolates, a local chocolate maker, which pair beautifully with any red wine (or anything really!).
Leave it to us to find the only dive bar in Carmel! We’re only half kidding, of course, by any other city’s standards, this is hardly a dive bar. It is a small, hole in the wall bar that fits maybe about 12 people max. Don’t expect any fancy cocktails here, and make sure you bring cash (they have an ATM). The small size of the bar gives it an intimate feel and means you’ll likely start chatting with the people sitting next to you. Sade’s is open until 2am, which makes it your best chance at nightlife in Carmel by the Sea.