The 6 Best Things To Do In Carmel, California

02.01.2022
Carmel California
Carmel Beach
Point Lobos

What Are The 6 Best Things To Do In Carmel, California?

Let me tell you! In the 3 + decades I have lived in the Bay Area, I’ve been to Carmel-By-The-Sea more times than I can remember and am happy to share the 6 best things to do in Carmel, California. I love Carmel and know you will too! It’s a beautiful town with a relaxed and comfortable vibe making it perfect for a quick getaway or a longer trip. Some liken it to Brigadoon because it feels a bit magical when you visit. Carmel is famous for its star visitors and residents – Clint Eastwood, Doris Day, Jack London, George Gershwin, Robert Lewis Stevenson, and Charlie Chaplin. There is even a Frank Lloyd Wright House on Scenic Drive overlooking the water.

But just because it has a reputation for the lifestyle of the rich and famous, don’t be intimidated. Carmel is a comfortable beach town offering plenty to do without breaking the bank. The 6 best things to do in Carmel, California are suitable for a girlfriends’ trip, a couples romantic getaway, or a family vacation. Here are my recs for the 6 best things to do in Carmel, California.

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Carmel Beach
Champagne & Caviar
La Playa Carmel

Know before you go

When To Go

Carmel is lovely all year round. It can be sunny and foggy any time of year! So visit when it works for you. August through October will be the warmest months with temps in the high 80’s and 90’s. They call this the “secret season” because it is after the crowds leave that the weather is the best! Winter time is also very beautiful, cozy, and festive. I love spending my Xmas Eve birthday in Carmel! It may be a bit chilly and damp , but never too cold for walking the beach and dining outside.

Carmel Fun Facts

  • Clint Eastwood was the mayor in 1986 – 1988.
  • Doris Day made Carmel the dog friendly town that it is.
  • The town is one square mile.
  • There actually is a “no high heel” law for heels over 2 inches, so the city won’t get sued if you trip on an uneven sidewalk!
  • No chain restaurants allowed.
  • My personal favorite: No door to door mail delivery, No addresses, No street lights, No parking meters, and No sidewalks off the main commercial area. All this to keep the lovely village, just that – lovely! Houses get names or are referred to as “Seventh street and Dolores with the red door,” and you go to the post office to pick up your mail!

Where To Stay

I have stayed in so many hotels, motels, bed and breakfast inns, and vacation rentals in Carmel, it would be difficult to list them all. My favorite is The La Playa Carmel.

Some other great choices are:

The Cypress Inn
The Getaway
The Lamplighter Inn
The Normandy Inn
The Tickle Pink Inn

I have never had a bad experience. Some are dog friendly, most come with amenities of a pool or breakfast, and there is almost always wine flowing in that cocktail time of day. I want to highlight my new favorite the La Playa Carmel. It was affordable, beautifully restored, and the property is magnificent. We did not book a room with an ocean view, however, we could see the ocean from our windows! The afternoon Sangria and evening cookies are a great touch by the fireplace, but the champagne brunch was incredible! Enjoy it on the patio, overlooking the beach. The grounds offer a pool, stunning flower gardens, and you are a block from the beach. Check it out!

 

Where To Eat

I have eaten at many places in Carmel and have never left hungry or cranky! You can spend a lot of money at restaurants in Carmel, but don’t have to. There are so many great bakeries and coffee shops, and then there is lunch and dinner to think of! I like: 

Baja Cantina
Brophy’s Tavern
Il Fornaio
La Bicyclette
The Catch
The Forge and the Forest
The Tree House  

Tips

Bring layers, you may have sun, fog, and wind all in one day.

Bring good walking shoes and beach shoes.

Bring a beach blanket for napping.

Bring a bathing suit for the ocean or hotel pool or hot tub.

Bring your camera.

Bring your dog!

La Playa Carmel
La Playa Carmel
La Playa Carmel
La Playa Carmel

The 6 Best Things To Do In Carmel, California

#1 Carmel Beach

Of the 6 best things to do in Carmel, California, the absolute best thing to do in Carmel is to visit the Carmel Beach. It has the most beautiful white sand, pristine and incredible views, and water that is a perfect color and temperature of about 50 degrees all year long. The cypress trees, mansions, and Pebble Beach Golf Course line the beach to add to the stunning experience. For me, taking a nap on that beach is among my most favorite things to do! Some of our very best days have been with our girls building sand castles and running in the waves in Carmel. The Carmel Beach is popular for surfing, walking, running, swimming, sunbathing, and even dog walking! Carmel Beach is one of the most dog friendly beaches in all of California. Dogs can be off leash if they are within voice command of their humans. There are even doggy bags and trash bins at each staircase leading to the beach to encourage you to clean up after your little pal. There is no lifeguard service at this beach, so be safe. There is parking right at the bottom of Ocean Ave by the beach, but anywhere you park in town is close to the beach, because nothing is more than a mile away! There are bathroom facilities at the bottom of Ocean Ave. 

Carmel Beach
Ocean Avenue Carmel

#2 Ocean Avenue Shopping & Dining

One of the 6 best things to do in Carmel, California is wander and shop! Carmel is known for its shops and dining all up and down Ocean Ave. While a lot of the stores sell luxury items and some of the restaurants offer expensive prix fix, eight course meals, there are plenty of affordable and family friendly places to eat. Outdoor and indoor spots for breakfasts, lunches, and dinners are all over town. Who doesn’t want to sit by an outdoor firepit with Bloody Mary’s,  chowder, and fish and chips? There are many great pizza choices, burgers, and pub food. Don’t be intimidated by the touristy art galleries and expensive clothing and jewelry. I have found many a great item on sale in Carmel and window shopping is always fun! Be sure to check out the side streets for fun boutique shopping, cute cafes, and deserts!

Fairytale Cottage Carmel

#3 Fairytale Cottages

A personal favorite on the best things to do in Carmel list is a self guided architecture tour. One of the best kept secrets of Carmel are its Fairytale Cottages. An architect named Hugh Comstock met his bride, Mayotta Brown, in 1924 and built them two cottages named Hansel and Gretel. The fairytale style was inspired by the Otsy-Totsy dolls Brown was making and selling. Their doll business continued to grow and more and more people hired Comstock to build fairytale cottages around town. 21 of those homes are still standing and spawned a Tudor style that is peppered throughout Carmel along with the Spanish-Mediterranean architecture seen in the area. You can find the original Comstock Fairytale cottages on Torres Street a few blocks off Ocean Ave. Ask for a map of all the cottages at the Visitor Center. It’s a fun and FREE way to roam the neighborhoods and see more of the town.

Fairytale Cottage Carmel
Fairytale Cottage Carmel
Fairytale Cottage Carmel
17 Mile Drive Carmel

#4 The 17 Mile Drive

The scenic 17 Mile Drive through Pebble Beach is one of the most spectacular roads in California because of its views along the Pacific Ocean. There are 17 identified spots along the road where you can pull over and park. You may want to stop at each, or drive straight through. Either way, you will be blown away by the views any time of year. Don’t miss the Lone Cypress Tree lookout. Leave Carmel from San Antonio Road to enter the drive at its southernmost spot – the Carmel Gate. The cost is $10.75 per car (of course, it used to be free) There are 4 other gates along the way, all open 24 hours. Feel free to park, picnic, take photos, and turn around and come back on the side of the road closest to the ocean. Take your time and look for birds, tide pools, wildflowers, and even migrating whales!

The Lone Cypress
Carmel Beach

#5 The Carmel Mission Bascilica

Carmel is rich with history, so if you are looking for an understanding of the early days of the church in California, you will want to visit the National Historic Landmark, Mission Carmel. Also known as the Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Río Carmelo, the mission houses the shrine of Saint Junipero Serra. There are 21 missions built by the Spanish monarchy all located along Highway 101, known as the El Camino Real, and the Carmel Mission Bascilica is one of the best known. It is the only mission that still has its original bell and bell tower. Still an active Roman Catholic church, you can visit for services and tour the mission and shop in the store for $10 for adults and $5 for children.

Carmel Mission
Point Lobos Carmel

#6 Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Talk about the 6 best things to do in Carmel, California! The Point Lobos State Park is considered a crown jewel of the park system. It has everything you could ever want in a nature area – ocean views, trails, vegetation, sea lions, sea otters, and migrating whales. The underwater world here is very popular among scuba divers and snorkeling enthusiasts. Easy access, it’s just 10 minutes south of Carmel on Highway 1, Point Lobos offers parking, bathroom facilities, helpful rangers, and guide maps. The charge is $10 per car and the hours are 8AM – 5PM. Once you visit, it will become your favorite place. Be sure to get to the China Cove path. The color of the water is unlike anything you’ve seen before. No dogs are allowed, and no drones, of course, on public lands.

Point Lobos
Point Lobos
Point Lobos

Enjoy your time in Carmel and please let me know if you love it as much as I do!

xx,

Carrie