15 Best Things to Do in Carmel-by-the-Sea: Weekend Travel Guide

Are you bored with the 9-5 job? Looking for solitude or a family weekend getaway in California far from the hustle and bustle of the busy city life? Well, a weekend trip to Carmel by the Sea may be a perfect place for you and your family.

What to do in Carmel? From exploring the scenic sandy beaches, quaint courtyards, and historic Spanish mission to leisurely walk through Ocean Ave or browsing the fantastic restaurants, art galleries, and unique boutique shops, there are plenty of things to do in Carmel by the Sea.  

best things to do in Carmel, Monterey

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Whether you are a solo backpacker looking for coastal beauty, a couple seeking a romantic weekend getaway in California, or a family that loves fun activities, nestled in a small corner of Monterey County, this small charming seaside destination has something for all.

Are you ready to visit Carmel? Here is a full Carmel travel guide with a list of activities and attractions in Carmel by the sea. You will also get to know when to visit Carmel, get to this enchanting city, and eat and stay in Carmel, California.

Fun Facts about Carmel by the Sea

  • This charming California city has no street light. Don’t forget to bring a flashlight.
  • The buildings and homes of Carmel have no numbered addresses. Residents have to go to post office to pick up their mail.
  • Carmel is a dog friendly city. Many restaurants and hotels allow dogs. In fact, you will find ample dog friendly things to do in Carmel.

Best Time to Visit Carmel-by-the-Sea

Carmel can be visited at any time of the year. If you are seeking sunshine, then the summer months(July-September) would be the best time to visit Carmel, CA.

You might be interested in attending the special festivals of Carmel. Carmel Art Festival, Carmel Beach Festival, Carmel International Film Festival are some of the most popular festivals held between May to October.  

However, we will recommend visiting Carmel during the spring and fall seasons. You can see clear water views with no fog. The heavy summer crowds have vanished, so you can enjoy the serene experience and enchanting vibe of this quaint town. The best thing is that you may get some amazing hotels and restaurant deals during the spring and fall as the number of tourists is fewer during these seasons.

Read Also: 10 Tips to Book Insanely Cheap Hotels

How to Get to Carmel, California

The nearest airport to Carmel is Monterey Airport which is 8 km away from the city. Other major airports in order of proximity are San Jose International Airport(91 km), and San Francisco International Airport(124.9 km).

If you are looking for a day trip from San Francisco, check out Monterey and Carmel Day Tour. Enjoy a scenic drive through California’s Pacific Coast Highway 1 to the beautiful Monterey Peninsula on a relaxing day trip from San Francisco. Visit Steinbeck’s Cannery Row and other historical buildings before returning to San Francisco.

If you are coming from Los Angeles, it will take around 5 hours by the freeway. 

Cute Restaurant in Carmel by the Sea
Cute Restaurant in Carmel by the Sea – PC: Flickr

How to Get around Carmel

You can rent a car to drive along the scenic coast. But to get around the city, you don’t need any car as most tourist attractions of Carmel are within walking distance. Carmel is a small beach town in California with just one square mile of area. Hence you can easily access the city’s hotels, restaurants, galleries, shops, tasting rooms, beaches, and more.

The Best Things to Do in Carmel-by-the-Sea

Carmel Mission

Carmel Mission must be on the list of top 10 things to do in Carmel, CA, especially, if you’re a fan of Spanish architecture. It’s also a great place to learn the history and significance of Carmel by the Sea. In Carmel Mission, you can also see the unique architecture(that you can’t help but admire) throughout the city.

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Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Río Carmelo which is popularly known as Carmel Mission was established in 1771. This church cum museum is a perfect family-friendly place to visit in Carmel and a National Historic Landmark.

The museum is worth a visit. You can see historic religious artifacts, statues, fountains, gardens, chapels, and California’s first library. You will be surprised to know that it is the one and only Spanish mission in California with the original bell tower and bell.

best things to do in Carmel by the Sea | Carmel Mission
Carmel Mission

Opening time: 9:30 am – 5:00 pm(Monday to Sunday)

Admission fee: $10 for adults and $5 for children

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Visit Point Lobos State Reserve

Just a few minutes from the south of Carmel is Point Lobos State Reserve, a must-see place in Carmel by the Sea. It is very popular among wildlife photographers and hikers. Even if you are none of the above, you will surely love this place for its surrounding scenic views.

Read Also: 11 Small Travel Binoculars with Review & Buyer’s Guide

Here, you’ll find plenty of ocean view hiking trails as well as some pretty breathtaking scenery. If you have time constraints, hike the Bird Island Trail and Cypress Grove Trail to get the park’s best view.

Don’t forget to bring your sunscreen and hiking boots. If you don’t have any, check out our 15 cheapest hiking boots with buying guide.

You can spot wildlife like seals, sea otters, and whales. Your kids will definitely love this fun activity in Carmel. Snorkeling and scuba diving options are also available here for adventure seekers.

best things to do in Carmel | Point Lobos State Reserve
Point Lobos State Reserve

Carmel River State Beach

Although it is not a beach for swimmers, Carmel River State Beach is a heaven for bird watching, kayaking, and enjoying the sunset. It is a peaceful beach where you can take sunbathe or just leisurely walk along the sandy seashores with your loved one.

Here the Carmel River flows into the ocean and forms a beautiful lagoon which is an excellent location for a congregation of large numbers of birds. Walk on the beach with your dog(must be on leash), go kayaking, or fly a kite.

You shouldn’t miss the shimmering west coast sunset at Carmel River State Beach. Parking is available across the street.

Carmel River State Beach
Carmel River State Beach -PC: Flickr

Explore Ocean Avenue

Walking through Ocean Avenue is my personal favorite thing to do in Carmel by the Sea, California. It is the most significant street that runs through the beautiful little village of Carmel by the Sea.

Lined with local boutique shops, restaurants, and art galleries, Ocean Avenue is one of the best places to visit in Carmel. Strolling through the streets is the most romantic thing to do in Carmel by couples. Candy and sweet lovers must visit the charming Cottage of Sweets which was built in 1922.

Ocean Avenue is a great place for shopping. There are lots of boutiques filled with beautiful home decor and unique clothes. Even if you don’t buy anything, you could easily spend a romantic evening with your partner just looking around and admiring the artisan goods.

Carmel attractions | Cottage of Sweets in Ocean Ave
Cottage of Sweets in Ocean Ave

Read More: 10 Best Things to do in Calistoga, California

Take the 17-Mile Drive and Explore Pebble Beach

There are a couple of scenic drives along the Pacific Coast. The 17-Mile Drive is one of them. As this scenic drive is owned by the Pebble Beach Resort, there is an admission fee of $10.5 for each vehicle. The views of the road and beaches are absolutely stunning.

17 Mile Drive is a popular day trip from Carmel. Spend at least a few hours and get lost on for a while to any of these mesmerizing beaches such as Pebble Beach, Del Monte Forest, Spanish Bay Beach, and Fanshell Beach.

Don’t forget to collect the map at the entrance. It has 17 remarkable stops of which Lone Cypress, Ghost Tree, and Bird Rock are the most famous stops.

If you don’t drive, I will recommend booking a guided e-bike tour. Riding an e-bike is easier than a standard bike. The local guides will share their knowledge of the ocean wildlife and the historic landmarks throughout this 3.5-hour tour.

Tip: You can reimburse the entry fee by spending over $35 at any of the restaurants in Pebble Beach. There is no admission fee if you stay one night at The Lodge at Pebble Beach, The Inn at Spanish Bay, and Casa Palmero.

Lone Cypress in Carmel by the Sea
Lone Cypress in Carmel by the Sea – PC: Flickr

Discover the Carmel Fairytale Cottages

Discovering the quaint Carmel Fairytale Cottages is one of the best free things to do in Carmel by the Sea. This storybook theme is the result of the imagination of Hugh Comstock who was a toymaker. He started to make these charming storybook theme houses for his wife’s business.

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Later Comstock built this type of fairytale cottages for his neighbors. Today, you can still find 21 of the original Comstock fairytale cottages in this area. These cute cottages feature high-pitched roofs, arched windows and doors, and the rustic Carmel stone chimneys. Take as many pictures as you can.

free things to do in Carmel, CA | Carmel Fairytale Cottages
Carmel Fairytale Cottages – PC: Flickr

Sunbathe at Carmel Beach

You cannot skip sunbathing and swimming in Carmel Beach while looking for the best things to do in Carmel by the Sea. This big expansive soft sand beach is absolutely gorgeous. The stunning bright white sand and incredible blue hues of the Pacific ocean will almost make you think that you’re on a Caribbean beach.

You can enjoy picnicking, sunbathing, surfing and swimming in Carmel beach. The beach is pretty popular with dog owners as it is one of the best dog-friendly beaches in California. Your furry friends can play on the beach off-leash but you must pick after your dogs.

Tip: Try to reach early as the beach is very popular and getting a parking space can be a little hard during weekends and public holidays.

15 Best Things to Do in Carmel-by-the-Sea: Weekend Travel Guide
Carmel Beach

Visit Carmel’s Art Galleries

Carmel won’t disappoint the art lovers. The town boasts more than 100 art galleries that represent local artists and their great work. The Ocean Ave and the nearby cross streets are lined up with these fantastic art galleries.

If you have limited time in Carmel, at least you must visit The Carmel Art Association that has been open since 1927 and features120 local artists.

Browsing the art galleries in Carmel and meeting local artists, writers and poets are one of the most fun things to do in Carmel. Most of these galleries are owned by artists, so you can get a chance to know more about their work.

Experience Wine Tasting

Downtown Carmel is home to numerous wine tasting rooms. Wine lovers can experience different types of wines producing in the region. 

Some of the most popular wine tasting rooms are Folktale Winery, Blair Wines, Galante Vineyards, and Silvestri Vineyards. They offer a wide range of varieties, from Pinot Noir and Syrah to Chardonnay and Zinfandel.

Vineyard in Carmel Valley
Vineyard in Carmel Valley

Most of these wineries and wine tasting rooms have a perfect setting in the charming streets and passageways to enjoy a delightful tasting experience in a relaxing ambiance.

If you’re looking for a complete package, I will recommend visiting the Folktale Winery. Here you can taste wines, enjoy a lunch with your family and book a tour to visit the grounds.

Admire the Historic Buildings in Carmel

Carmel is home to numerous historic buildings and architecture. From the unique fairytale cottages, East Coast-style craftsmen to Spanish-influenced homes and buildings like El Paseo Courtyard, you will find different styles of architecture in Carmel.

There are some secret passageways which make exploring the village more of an adventure than usual. One of the most highlighted architecture is Clinton Walker House which was designed by famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

You will see lots of tiles from Spain and iron balconies in Spanish-influenced buildings. The other historic buildings in Carmel village include The Las Tiendas Building(built in 1929), The First Murphy House(built in the early 1900s), and The Church of the Wayfarer(built in 1940).

Hike Your Way Through Carmel 

If you think Carmel is a place only for relaxation, you’re wrong. From surfing, swimming to hiking and biking, you will find here plenty of outdoor activities in Carmel. This beach town has countless scenic trails to choose from, both within and just outside of the town. 

Garland Ranch in Carmel Valley is one of the best hikes in Carmel by the Sea. This trail will take you through a range of stunning landscapes including the Santa Lucia Mountains.

hikes near Carmel Valley
Garland Ranch in Carmel Valley – PC: Flickr

On the other hand, Garrapata State Park has an awesome coastal trail that offers magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean, diverse coastal vegetation, and redwood groves.

If you are an ardent hiker and have enough time, head towards Big Sur which is just 26 miles south from Carmel. Plenty of hiking trails will be waiting for you.  Here are some of the best trails in Big Sur: Salmon Creek Trail, Pacific Valley Bluff Trail, San Carpoforo Creek Trail, McWay Waterfall Trail, and many more.

Recommended Read: The Ultimate Big Sur Road Trip with 13 Stops

Spend a Romantic Evening in Picadilly Park

Looking for the best things to do near downtown Carmel? Spend some romantic time in Picadilly Park. Located at the South of Ocean on Dolores Street, this is a small park where visitors can stop, relax and enjoy an area planted with native species of plants.

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The volunteers from the local garden club maintain Picadilly Park. It is a quaint place and features a little fountain, numerous shade trees, and benches. This park is an excellent place to rest your feet as you stroll and explore the Carmel.

Enjoy Sunset at Mission Ranch

Carmel has many great places to watch the sunset. But to watch the best sunset you have to visit Mission Ranch. It is such a charming place to sit back, relax and enjoy the scenery. Watching the sunset from the terrace of the Mission Ranch restaurant is an incredible experience that you shouldn’t want to miss.

Mission Ranch
Mission Ranch

Mission Ranch is located right by the Carmel Mission. This countryside restaurant has a perfect setting to watch the sunset and to have a romantic dinner in a relaxing ambiance.

Cypress Point is also a perfect choice for sunset.

Discover Tor House & Hawk Tower

Visiting Tor House is highly recommended as a break from the downtown busyness. This historic home is a hidden gem in Carmel. Make sure to book the guided tour(1 hour and 1 minute) of Tor House. It was the home of the famous American poet Robinson Jeffers.

The guided tour is really awesome. If you’re lucky, the guide may recite the passages of Jeffers’s poetry while delivering a thoughtful narrative about Robinson and his wife Una Jeffers and their life in the Carmel. Don’t miss the Hawk Tower which was built by Robinson as a retreat for his wife.

Tor House & Hawk Tower
Tor House & Hawk Tower

Point Pinos Lighthouse

Historic Point Pinos Lighthouse is one of the most beautiful lighthouses in California. It is also the oldest(built in 1855) operating lighthouse on the west coast. The property is beautifully preserved and deserves the care it receives.

The design of the lighthouse is not like other typical lighthouses. It is actually a house with a lighthouse structure on the roof of the house.

Opening Time: 1 pm-4 pm (Thursday-Monday)

Point Pinos Lighthouse
Point Pinos Lighthouse

Where to Stay in Carmel, California

Carmel is a small village town in Northern California, but there is no shortage of accommodation. If you’re planning for a night stay, here you will find hotels and Airbnb at different budget range.

Read More: 10 Secret Tips to Book Cheap Accommodations

Tradewinds Carmel: It is a charming boutique hotel located at the heart of Carmel village. Each luxurious room features Asian fusion decor and Japanese-style bathrobes and is equipped with all modern amenities. Some of their rooms ocean view. Above all, most tourist attractions of Carmel are within a short distance from Tradewinds Carmel. Book your stay now.

Carmel Inn & Suites: Located just a 5-minute drive from Monterey State Beach, this inn could be an ideal choice for people looking for budget accommodation in Carmel by the Sea. Restaurants, art galleries, and boutiques are within just a few minutes of walk from the inn. Each of their room features free WiFi, antique-style sofas, and chairs. The staff is very polite and helpful. Book your stay now.

Where to Eat in Carmel, CA

Are you a foodie traveler? Carmel-by-the-Sea is a great place with so many fabulous restaurants, bars, and cafes. After exploring all the Carmel attractions, if you feel hungry, check out any of these restaurants in Carmel by the Sea.

If you are on a budget and want to save some bucks, check out the 10 best ways to eat cheap while traveling.

Stationaery: For quality comfort food, visit Stationary, an award-winning restaurant in Carmel, CA. You can stop here for brunch or dinner. All of their dishes are made with local and seasonal ingredients. You can try their potato pancake, avocado toast, and chilaquiles.

Carmel Belle: This restaurant is located inside a mall and offers the best breakfast in the city. Their food items are healthy and flavorful. Their meatloaf with mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus are highly recommended.

Little Napoli: If you are a fan of Italian food, Little Napoli is there located on Dolores Street. They offer outdoor seating as well. Their menu features many Italian classics. Osso Buco, Cioppinio Rosso and Affogato dessert are really incredible. Here you can enjoy the best dining experience in Carmel.

Hope you like this Carmel travel guide with the list of the best things to in and around Carmel by the Sea. Enjoy a relaxing vacation in this beautiful California town.

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  1. Leslie Senevey/distracted by pretty things says:

    Lots of good info. Carmel is definitely on my to-do list!

  2. This looks like such a neat place. Those cottages are adorable.

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