Are you looking for a relaxing getaway where you are steps away from a beach and can walk around basically everywhere? Carmel by the Sea and Monterey Bay might be the perfect destination for you to get away from it all or to add to a Highway One Road trip.
Carmel by the Sea is the ideal place to spend a long weekend or relax and spend a week just enjoying everything this town has to offer. You could easily spend a week here exploring all of the different areas and things to do.
There are three main areas to visit while visiting Carmel by the Sea. The main area of Carmel by the Sea is walkable, along the busier town of Monterey Bay and Carmel Valley.
This guide will help you know all the best things to do while visiting.
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Is Carmel-by-the-Sea Worth Visiting?
Carmel by the Sea California is worth visiting if you are looking for a getaway on the East Coast that is not a big city. There is something for everyone in the family, wine tastings, fantastic golf courses, and fairy tale cottages. Carmel by the Sea is worth adding to your travel bucket list.
How many days do you need in Carmel-by-the-Sea?
Carmel-by-the-Sea is perfect for a long weekend for locals to California’s central coast. If traveling along the Pacific Coast Highway, you may want to spend 3-4 nights in Carmel to add additional activities like Big Sur or Whale watching in Monterey Bay.
What are the best months to visit Carmel?
Carmel by the Sea is one of those destinations that you can visit at any time. However, the Fall season (September-November) is the best time to visit Carmel by the Sea for warm, sunny days and cool nights. Make sure to bring layers for the cooler nights.
Where do you fly into for Carmel-by-the-Sea?
The closest Airport near Carmel, California, is the Monterey Regional Airport (MRY). You could also fly into San Jose (SJC), San Francisco (SFO), Oakland (OAK), Fresno (FAT), or Merced Municipal (MCE).
Things to do in Carmel By the Sea
Carmel by the Sea is nestled in a small corner of Monterey County, California. It is a cute, quaint little town ideally situated off Highway One.
Just about two hours away from San Francisco, you feel like you’ve stepped into a fairytale village the moment you step onto the main street.
1. Spend the Night at the Hofsas House
The Hofsas House is an adorable, non-high maintenance bed and breakfast that allows you to quickly park and abandon your car during sightseeing.
Each hotel room is unique in its own right, and you feel like you are walking into someone’s home rather than a run-of-the-mill hotel.
Every room is different but Staying at the Hofsas House is a highlight of staying at Carmel by the Sea. Click to read my full review on the Hofsas House.
2. Enjoy a Carmel Wine Tasting
California is known for its wine region, and Carmel’s wine region is quite impressive. While walking around downtown, you can easily stumble upon the numerous wine tasting rooms throughout the city.
Wine tasting is a popular attraction while visiting Carmel by the Sea. There are many places to stop and try wine, but I suggest visiting some boutique wineries, including Blair Estates and Scheid Vineyards.
While wine tasting in California, you must try pinot noir.
These boutique wineries are within walking distance, so you can easily sample several wines while visiting the town.
While tasting, you may be tempted to purchase a bottle or two of wine. As a wine lover, never leave my house without at least two wine traveling protectors!
3. Enjoy Carmel Craft Beers
If wine is not your thing, a few breweries are sprinkled in Monterey County. The Yeast of Eden is located in the heart of Carmel Plaza, one of the outdoor shopping centers.
Yeast of Eden is a unique brewery because of its mixed fermentation style of beer. There are two different flights that you can order to try the different variants of beers.
We tasted four beers – Exhaled Waves, Saison Récolte, Past & Pending, and Neon Dreams. All were very different from my typical Porter and Stout favorites.
4. Explore Fairytale Cottages
Carmel by the Sea is known for its beautiful Fairytale Cottages. The unique architecture of many buildings and hotels in this area makes Main Street a popular place to come and take photos.
You can do a Self-Guided walking tour of the Fairytale Cottages.
5. Carmel by the Sea Shopping
Carmel by the Sea has several super cute shopping centers and shops all over town. One of my favorite souvenirs to bring home (other than bottles of wine and beer) is unique gifts.
You can find anything from more chain stores like Anthropologie to smaller boutique stores – there is even a Coach Outlet store nestled in the neighborhood.
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6. Explore Ocean Avenue
Ocean Avenue is the Main Street in Carmel By the Sea. It is considered the Carmel City Center and Downtown Carmel. Ocean Avenue takes you from Highway One to the beach where you can see – you guessed it – the Ocean.
If you want to spend some time at Carmel Beach, there is parking at the end of Ocean Avenue – but it fills up fast.
7. Buy some Olive Oil
There are tons of unique gifts you can buy on Ocean Avenue, but one of the stores I spent way too much time sampling and money in was the Olivier Napa Valley.
From balsamic to candy to mustard – Olivier Napa Valley is more than just olive oils!
8. Get Treats at Carmel Bakery
Carmel Bakery was established in 1899 and is now the oldest running establishment in Carmel!
While wandering the streets of Carmel by the Sea, you must stop here and grab a delicious pretzel and sweets!
9. Buy Cheese from The Cheese Shop
A popular spot to stop and get some cheeses is no other than The Cheese Shop. The Cheese shop is also located in the Carmel Plaza shopping center and is one of the unique stores in town.
The employees offer you delicious samples when you enter the Cheese Shop. After tasting a plethora of soft and hard cheeses, your hands will be full of different cheeses that will be perfect for a picnic.
10. Go Shopping at Robin’s Jewelry – Sea Glass in Carmel
An adorable shop is Robin’s Jewelry! If you like items made by local artists or enjoy Sea Glass, Robin’s Jewelry has a large selection of Sea Glass Jewelry.
After speaking with Robin, she gave us some tips on where to go to try to collect sea glass ourselves
11. Eat all the Candy at the Cottage of Sweets
The Cottage of Sweets is a staple in the Carmel community. If you do not stop in this adorable candy shop – did you even visit Carmel by the Sea?
The Cottage of Sweets is a British Style Sweet shop with candies imported from all over the world. With handmade candies and fudge, you will want to grab a bunch of sweets to eat on a road trip or bring home.
12. Enjoy a Secret Garden and Passageway
One of the best ways to explore Carmel by the Sea is by exploring all the passageways and secret gardens.
Keep an eye out for the Secret Garden Passage leading you from the Pilgrim’s Bookstore to see the only Geodesic dome in Carmel, California.
13. Go Mural Hunting
I love all Instagrammable spots and Mural Hunting in New Orleans that I have to do some exploring in Carmel. While walking around Carmel, I learned about a notable street artist, Mr. Brainwash, with two stencil murals in Carmel by the Sea.
The first mural I found in Carmel by Mr. Brainwash is the Charlie Chaplin, surrounded by a drippy heart in the courtyard of The Cypress Inn.
The second mural I found, just up the steep hill on Ocean Avenue, is an Einstein holding a sign saying Love is the Answer on the side of Carmel’s Forest Lodge.
While walking around town, take some time to seek out these two murals to add to your Instagram collection.
14. Get a 5th Avenue Deli Picnic
Looking for the perfect place to buy a picnic lunch, look no further than 5th Avenue Deli! Having a picnic on one of the many beaches is ideal for lunch.
5th Avenue Deli has make-your-own picnic boxes that include a sandwich, sides, and dessert.
These picnic lunch boxes are the best, but you could always get servings of some of the delicious pasta salads, crackers, and desserts to make your picnic basket.
15. Walk Carmel Beach
Carmel City Beach is one of Central California’s most beautiful beaches.
Walking up and down the white sands of Carmel Beach is a local favorite thing to do.
There is a pathway that makes for a beautiful walk for sunset walk. Dogs are allowed on the trail and the beach, so it is the perfect spot to bring your pup!
16. Rub Elbows with the Instafamous
You never know who you will run into while hanging out in Carmel by the Sea!
From famous people on Instagram to famous residents living in Carmel By the Sea – keep your eyes open for celebrities. We ran into @scoutgoldenretriever while walking around and even received a free hug.
17. Take a drive on the 17-mile Drive
The 17-Mile Drive is a beautiful, well-known scenic drive along the Pacific Coast. Even though this drive costs $10.50 per vehicle, you are granted access to explore all the beautiful sights and beaches on this road.
If you want to save $10.50, you can grab a drink or a bite to eat at any of the restaurants – make sure to spend at least $35.
Admission is also free for The Lodge at Pebble Beach Resort overnight guests, The Inn at Spanish Bay, and Casa Palmero.
The Lone Cypress is one of the most photographed trees in the world, so this is enough to justify the admittance fee. Also, if you are near Spanish Bay at 5 pm, a bagpiper will come out and serenade the small crowd gathered to see him.
You can also download an audio tour from Viator.
18. Enjoy Sunset at Mission Ranch
Another great place to stay in Carmel by the Sea is the Mission Ranch. Clint Eastwood assisted in preserving this old dairy farm. Now you can dine at Mission Ranch for dinner or enjoy a delicious Sunday brunch.
It is one of the best places to catch the Sunset in the Carmel, California, Area.
19. Visit the Carmel Mission
Planning a visit or attending mass at the Carmel Mission, Basicila is a perfect thing to add to your itinerary if you have visited Carmel by the Sea a few times.
Four distinct museums give insight into the Monterey Peninsula. The Mission is still an active service, so weddings, special events, and mass still happen weekly.
20. Enjoy Carmel River State Beach
Another beautiful beach for you to visit is the Carmel River State Beach! This beach is only a mile long but is popular among divers, kayakers, and birder watchers.
Do not swim at this beach as the water is known for unpredictable riptides.
21. Birdwatch at Carmel River Bird Sanctuary
While you are close to Carmel River State Beach, you might as well spend a few hours bird watching. While exploring the different areas of the Bird Sanctuary, you are bound to find some beautiful creatures – no matter the season!
22. Admire Carmel’s Historic Buildings
Even though Carmel by the Sea is known for their fairytale-style cottages, there are a lot more historic homes and buildings that you can explore.
The best historic buildings to check out include the El Paseo Courtyard, the Las Tiendas Building, The First Murphy House, and the Church of the Wayfarer.
23. Admire Frank Lloyd Wright’s Walker house
Unfortunately, you have to admire the Clinton Walker house from afar. Frank Lloyd Wright-designed this house with the utmost privacy in mind.
Past a canopy of cypress trees, you can still see a bit of the house from the beach or the street. Once a year, typically in September, the house is open to the public for a charity event for the Carmel Heritage Society.
24. Tour the Tor House
Another popular spot to soak in the architecture is taking a tour of the Tor house!
Californian poet Robinson Jefferson built this house. The entire house is constructed of local granite and overlooks the Sea. He also built Hawk Tower, which has a medieval vibe as a creative space for his family.
Guided tours of the house and gardens happen every Saturday.
25. Browse Carmel’s Art Galleries
While exploring Ocean Avenue, pop into some of the art galleries. From Photography to oil paintings, there is a gallery for everyone. The Carmel Art Associate is a great place to discover new artists.
26. Visit Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
Head to Point Lobos State Reserve and make a walking trail or sign up for the day to do some snorkeling and scuba diving! You could even take a guided 2-hour tour to hit all of the popular spots,
Things to do in Carmel Valley
Carmel Valley Village is an unincorporated Monterey County community not far from Carmel by the Sea.
Tucked among the rolling hills, you will find the perfect area for a wine country vacation. There are champion golf courses, delicious restaurants, fun hiking, and horseback riding.
27. Explore vineyards in Carmel Valley
Wine lovers rejoice! Carmel Valley is your secret spot to escape the crowds in Napa Valley and take a great wine country vacation!
While in the Valley, you can explore Folktale Winery & Vineyards and see where Scheid Vineyards grows their wines!
28. Stay at a Winery
Extend your time tasting wine by actually staying at a winery! You can stay at the Bernardus Lodge and Spa. The Bernardus Winery provides a VIP experience to all of its guests.
You can even borrow a Mercedes-Benz to Carmel by the Sea or Zip-around Highway One!
29. Hike Garland Ranch Regional Park
The Garland Ranch Region Park is a beautiful area to hike and explore. It is Carmel Valley’s most central spot for hiking.
There are trails for every level of hiking, including flat paths and steep climbs.
30. Relax at Refuge
After hiking, drinking, and exploring, a day retreat at Refuge is just what the doctor ordered. Book a massage and spend the day relaxing in the beautiful atmosphere of Refuge.
Things to do in Monterey Bay
Monterey Bay has a slightly different vibe than Carmel by the Sea. While Carmel, California, shows off its unspoiled beauty, Monterey Bay is a little more touristy and has several fun things to do!
31. Enjoy Lovers Point at Sunrise and Sunset
Even though there are so many beaches and waterfront areas you can explore in Monterey Bay, Lovers Point is a unique spot on the West Coast.
Lovers Point dips inland and has an east-facing location. Lovers Point allows people to gravitate toward this area and watch the sunrise over the water.
Whether you want to watch the sunrise, explore the beach, or see the Sunset, Lovers Point has something for everyone. There are so many California romantic getaways in and around Carmel, California.
32. Eat at the Beach House Restaurant at Lovers Point
The Beach House Restaurant at Lover’s Point is a beautiful place to grab a bite to eat. It has been a casual dining destination for over the past 100 years!
The Beach House sits on the water and serves everything from pasta to burgers.
I suggest getting the Filet Mignon Beef Stroganoff because it mixes the best of both worlds – a filet and pasta.
33. Go Wildlife Watching
California has so much wildlife you are bound to do some wildlife watching. Monterey Bay has so many places to check out the sea life.
You could go down to the Old Fisherman’s Wharf and check out the sea lions on the sea wall.
You could travel down the Pacific Coast Highway to Elephant Seal Point to see some of the cutest and floppiest Elephant Seals.
No matter what type of sealife you plan to see, these animals are one of my favorites to see in the wild.
34. Be a Tourist at Fisherman’s Wharf
Over in Monterey is the famous Fisherman’s Monterey Wharf. You could spend half of the day here, exploring the dining and shopping options.
From Candy shops to small gifts you will find a number of ways to spend the day.
There are also several ocean activities, including glass-bottom boat tours, Fishing Trips, and sailing tours.
35. Go Whale Watching in Monterey
Did you know that Monterey is known as one of the best whale-watching destinations in California? The Whale Watching season is all year long!
From mid-December through mid-April, you can see gray whales, dolphins, and killer whales, and from mid-April through mid-December, you can see humpback whales, blue whales, dolphins, and killer whales.
Make sure to read my whole review and tips on Whale Watching in Monterey.
36. Eat at an Original Restaurant Abalonetti Bar & Grill
Abalonetti Bar and Grill is one of the Wharf’s original restaurants.
Featuring waterfront dining, Abalonetti is one of the tastiest bars, and they have a delicious Antipasto Bar that has all of the best appetizers to begin your dinner.
37. Go Sea Glass Hunting on your own
Another fun thing to do while visiting Carmel by the Sea and Monterey County is sea glass hunting!
Now you may not find large pieces to make beautiful jewelry out of, but you can find a couple of scraps of glass for a souvenir.
Make sure you arrive one hour before low tied and stay one hour after low tied.
Low tide gives you the best chance to collect glass. If you are serious about collecting class, bring a small shovel and bucket to rinse out the sand and sift through the glass.
38. Visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium
The Monterey Bay Aquarium knows how to draw a crowd.
Even though the Aquarium is on the pricer side for an attraction, it takes 3-4 hours to visit the entire Aquarium.
From Sea otters to Sharks, there are so many different sea creatures to see and meet.
39. Kayak in Monterey Bay
One of the best ways to get up close to nature is to take a guided tour with a Kayak crew!
You can get close and see the sea otters, seals, and birds while taking a kayaking tour of Elkhorn Slough.
40. Explore Cannery Row
Exploring Cannery Row used to have several sardine canning factories but now is home to some of the most luxurious hotels, first-class restaurants, shopping, art galleries, and delicious wine tastings. If you are a John Steinbeck fan, you will need to take a stroll on the row.
41. Have Ice Cream at Ghirardelli
Grab an ice cream from Ghiradelli and relax on the outdoor patio to view the beautiful marine life. If ice cream is not your favorite, you can get soda fountain classics like ice cream shakes, traditional malts, or hot cocoa.
42. Explore the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail
Stretching 18 miles from Castroville to Pacific Grove – the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail takes the same route as the Old Southern Pacific Railway. This recreation trail is walkable, but you can rent bikes and surrey to take on the 18 miles quicker.
43. Tour Monterey State Historic Park
Take a walking tour of Monterey State Historic Park and learn about the Spanish Explorers and settlers in Monterey before it became a part of the United States in 1846. There are twelve buildings to view while touring the park.
44. Hike Palo Corona Regional Park
If you are looking for a beautiful, undeveloped area to hike in Monterey Bay – look no further than the Palo Corona Regional Park. Take time out of your day to walk the strenuous 1.3 miles to see Inspiration point. Gorgeous views will give you a bird’s eye view of Carmel, California, and its Coast.
Things to do outside of Carmel by the Sea
Monterey County covers so many small towns that line the Pacific Ocean that it is hard to see everything. From popular attractions to fun activities – there is something for everyone in Monterey County!
45. Road Trip on Highway One
Carmel By the Sea is situated in one of the most breathtaking areas of Highway One. We’ve traveled from Los Angeles to San Francisco on Highway One and the areas around Carmel and stunning.
My favorite advice for road tripping on Highway one is to start off in San Francisco and make your way down to Carmel.
If you have time or what to go on a long road trip, you can continue your way down to Los Angeles.
46. Visit Big Sur and Bixby Bridge
While visiting Carmel and Monterey County, you must take a day trip and spend some time visiting Big Sur. Before you make it to the Big Sur Area, you will cross over the Bixby Bridge.
Many people do not realize that Bixby Bridge was famous before Pretty Big Lies. This bridge connected Carmel to San Luis Obispo in 1932 and was great for all surrounding communities.
47. Explore the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary
A little town called Pacific Grove is just a few miles away from Carmel by the Sea. Pacific Grove is known for Monarch Butterflies that come to visit seasonally.
If you are visiting during the migration – between October and February make sure to take a short road trip to see the Monarch Butterflies.
Did you know that Monarchs cannot travel at night or when it is cooler than 55 degrees Fahrenheit?
When you visit in the morning on a cool January day, you may see large clusters of Monarch Butterflies in the Eucalyptus Trees.
48. Find the Butterfly House
Pacific Grove is so proud of its Monarch Butterfly that a local decorated his entire house with beautiful colors and artwork to memorialize the Monarchs.
This house is so stunning that it reminds me of Salvation Mountain, another off-the-beaten-path area in California.
49. Explore Point Pinos Lighthouse
Make sure to stop by the oldest operating lighthouse on the West Coast! Open five days a week for only a few hours each day; schedule this stop into your vacation.
The donation to see this operating lighthouse is $4 per person and helps preserve the ongoing preservation and restoration efforts.
What to do in Carmel by the Sea and Monterey County
These are just a few things to do while exploring Carmel by the Sea and the rest of Monterey County. Each time I return to Carmel by the Sea, I find something else to do and explore in the town and surrounding county.
Plan a girl’s trip, romantic getaway, or family vacation to visit this unique cute town, and make sure you book a hotel with Hofsas House to get the royal treatment.
Frequently asked Questions
I hope you found this guide on the best things to do in Carmel, California, beneficial! I know I could honestly spend a week exploring Carmel By the Sea and the surrounding areas and still have many things I want to do on the list. Please check out the following Frequently Asked Questions about Carmel by the Sea and the surrounding areas.
Is Carmel-by-the-sea walkable?
Carmel-by-the-Sea is exceptionally walkable because it is a one-square-mile block in Monterey County. There are virtually no big brand hotels or large car parking spaces – the entire city was made for walking. The city is located on a hill, so if you have mobility issues, make sure you have a way to go back up the hill.
Is it illegal to wear heels in Carmel?
It is illegal to wear heels in Carmel by the Sea more than 2 inches in height with a base of less than one square inches unless the wearer has obtained a permit. This law was authored in 1963 to help prevent wearers from tripping in their high-heeled shoes.
Is Big Sur worth the drive?
If you enjoy being outdoors and going. On a beautiful road trip, Big Sur is worth the drive from Carmel By the Sea. It is a destination perfect for an adventurous traveler.
What is Carmel Beach known for?
Carmel Bech is famous for surfing and its white sand from offshore rocks called Santa Lucia Granodiorite.
What should I wear in Carmel?
When dressing in Carmel by the Sea, it is best to wear some of your dressier casual wear. The weather is comfortable for wearing pants or dresses. If visiting Monterey pay, especially around Cannery Row and Fisherman’s Wharf – you can wear more casual clothes.
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Monday 6th of January 2020
What a comprehensive and inspiring post! Love heading down to Monterey and Carmel, but we never have enough time on just a weekend trip to see it all. I m going to have to plan another weekend there this summer to see some of the things on this list we haven t seen yet.
Monday 13th of January 2020
Thank you so much!!! I love Monterey and Carmel - so much fun - so many things to do!