Carmel-by-the-Sea is a charming, romantic seaside resort town located in Monterey County, California.
There are many top things to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea, including unique one-of-a-kind experiences that will make the trip memorable!
Explore the many quaint streets, courtyards, passageways, shops, restaurants, and art galleries or wander along the nature trails and beaches. Carmel-by-the-Sea is rated “one of America’s top beach towns” by Travel + Leisure magazine and for good reason!
All businesses have enhanced safety protocols in place. Visitors and residents are asked to follow the appropriate safety precautions.
Check for the latest COVID-19 updates.
Top things to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea and unique one-of-a-kind experiences
1. Discover enchanting fairy-tale houses
Locate all of Hugh Comstock’s fairy-tale houses built in the 1920s, on your own historic walking tour or take the annual Carmel Home and Garden Tour, put on by the Carmel Heritage Society.
Find a walking tour map guide here.
2. Explore unique passageways and charming courtyards
Throughout the downtown area, you will find 41 different courtyards and passageways that were created at the same time as the surrounding fairy-tale houses and shops. Each one is different, enticing you to explore every nook and cranny.
There are plenty of spots to sit and linger, hear the peaceful sounds of fountains, smell the fragrant gardens, and there are lots of restaurants, art galleries and shops to come across along the way.
3. Be inspired by local artists
Artists, art lovers, writers and photographers have gravitated to Carmel since the early 1900s. Today, there are nearly 100 art galleries, all within walking distance to explore. On the second Saturday of every month, join the art walk and meet artists at 14 galleries, or attend a workshop.
The Carmel Art Festival and Sculpture in the Park is held annually in the middle of May. This year it will be held May 13 – 15, 2022.
4. Go on your own wine tasting tour
There are numerous tasting rooms to try premium wines from from the Monterey region. Here is a handy map.
Check out the newly launched mobile Wine Walk featuring 11 tasting rooms within a one-square-mile.
5. Take a stroll on sandy Carmel Beach on the Pacific Ocean
With its sandy beach next to the Pacific Ocean, Carmel Beach is perfect for a relaxing stroll or sunbathing session.
Make sure you return to the beach for a romantic sunset – the sky turns into a beautiful orange hue as the day comes to an end.
6. Picnic on the beach or in a park
We picked up grilled panini, a small salami plate, two cannoli, a bottle of wine and paper cups from a local delicatessen to soak up the stunning beach views.
7. Tour the area in a classic or vintage car
If your passion is collector cars, create an unique adventure by renting your pick of classic vehicles to tour this spectacular area in style.
And don’t miss the popular Carmel-by-the-Sea Concourse event in August, when 18 blocks along Ocean Avenue are filled with collector cars, including muscle cars, hot rods and luxury cars.
8. Take a scenic run or hike
Take a scenic walk or run along the scenic Bluff Path for majestic views of California’s rugged coastline and beautiful beaches.
Carmel River State Park features a bird sanctuary and stunning views from the beach to the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary.
The Mission Trail Nature Preserve offers three miles of trails through forest and wetlands.
9. Shop at the many boutiques and specialty shops
There are plenty of delightful and unique shops to browse that will appeal to just about everyone.
Top things to do near Carmel-by-the-Sea
Extend your stay and see more of this picturesque area. There is so much more to take advantage of during your visit to this region.
- 17-Mile Drive and Pebble Beach Golf Course.
- Picnic on the beaches with incredible views.
- Monterey’s Cannery Row.
- Pebble Beach, famous for its golf course.
- Big Sur’s iconic California coastline. Check for local road conditions before heading out on a drive. Go an hour south to Big Sur to search the skies for one of the largest flying birds, the California Condor.
- The Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary in Pacific Grove is where thousands of butterflies migrate to spend winter from October to February.
- Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is home to 36 species of marine mammals. You can spot three types of whales; orca, humpback or gray. Porpoises and dolphins are also visible, depending on the season.
Where to eat in Carmel-by-the Sea
There are 50 unique restaurants to choose from. These are our top choices during our stay.
Porta Bella Restaurant Carmel
We dined at cozy Porta Bella restaurant on Ocean Avenue, where they serve wonderful French and Italian cuisine.
Dametra Cafe Carmel
Dametra Cafe is a highly popular, lively restaurant located on Ocean and Lincoln. They serve fresh flavourful Mediterranean food.
Reservations should be made weeks in advance, but there are a few walk-ins available. We did not make a reservation and after registering our name, we waited an hour for a table.
Historic Carmel Bakery and Coffee House
The fresh-baked aroma drifting out of Carmel Bakery and Coffee House captured our attention. This iconic location has been supplying the village with baked goods since 1899.
Baker/Chef Rich Pèpe and his family have owned it since 1986. The bakery specializes in English scones, Scottish shortbread, huge soft Bavarian pretzels and Italian biscotti. Deli-style sandwiches, soups and salads are also served.
On our list to check out for next visit:
Legendary Hog’s Breath Inn, formerly owned by Clint Eastwood, has been around for more than 40 years. It offers a hearty menu and the Saloon offers a happy hour during the week.
Little Napoli is owned by the Chef Rich Pèpe and offers authentic country-style Italian Cuisine. Chef Pèpe also owns the bakery above.
Where to stay in Carmel-by-the Sea
We were very happy staying at The Normandy Inn. This welcoming historic inn built in 1921 is located conveniently in the old town area on Ocean Avenue. It is just three blocks from sandy Carmel Beach on the Pacific Ocean.
The Normandy Inn is reasonably priced. The French style inn’s rate included complementary breakfast in their cafe and in the afternoon, a glass of sherry and freshly baked cookies are available by the inn’s inviting fireplace. We planned to stay one night, but loved it so much we were able to extend the stay to three nights.
You can book special Carmel-by-the-Sea accommodation rates directly with each property or search for hotels by using Booking.Com and any commissions earned will help keep this website running.
Fast Facts about Carmel-by-the-Sea
- Clint Eastwood was mayor from 1986-1988.
- The Pine Inn is the oldest hotel built in 1902.
- Doris Day co-owned the Cypress Inn built in 1928.
- Betty White and her husband Allen Ludden built a home here, overlooking the ocean.
- Carmel Mission was founded in 1770.
- The Hog’s Breath Inn was once owned by Clint Eastwood.
- Collector cars fill the streets in August. Check the latest dates for this popular 10-day Monterey Peninsula event.
What to wear
Bring warm clothing and prepare to dress in layers to protect against the changing temperatures and chilly winds off the ocean.
Comfortable walking shoes are a must and a bathing suit, if you plan a dip in the ocean.
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Have you been here? Want to go or have other tips or comments. We'd love to hear from you.