If you’re looking for a charming storybook seaside village….visit Carmel-by-the-Sea! Only a couple hours south of San Francisco, and you can stroll along the Carmel Beach, walk Ocean Ave and step into quaint courtyards, or art galleries….there’s a lot to do and you won’t want to leave.
On our West Coast roadtrip, we stayed a couple days here and found plenty to do with social distancing. Here are our favorite places – find out where to go, stay & dine!
Travel Safe & Enjoy Responsibly
Good to note: there are some activities included in this article that might be available after the covid-19 crisis. Due to the ever-changing environment some things open up and then they close (ie. spas, wine tastings, shops, indoor activities, etc.). There are ways to travel safely and enjoy responsibly. Check local restrictions and state mandates. Follow proper safety and health requirements. Visit websites for specific protocols and additional information.
Here are our Top things to do, places to stay & dine in Carmel by-the-Sea!
1. Walks…or a Stroll
To start out our list of the top things to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea, get your walking shoes on, step out and enjoy walking the streets of Carmel-by-the-Sea. Be sure and look for the name signs on the cottages. One home has a sign with “Once Upon a Time” and their neighbors decided to name their home “Happily Ever After”!
2. Carmel Valley – Lunch at Corkscrew, Wine Tasting at Georis, or a Massage at Bernardus Lodge
NOTE: Depending on state mandates and local updates, you’ll want to check the websites to see if these restaurants offer outdoor dining & tastings, and if spas are opened.
Just a few miles east of Carmel, drive out on Carmel Valley Road and stop at wineries along the way, or for a bite to eat and enjoy the valley views. Highly recommend stopping for lunch at Corkscrew Cafe and sitting in the back garden courtyard, or inside with Mission-style decor where simple, elegant fare is served. We savored the wood-fired pizza, burger, steak & trout dishes. Order a slice of rhubarb-strawberry pie for dessert! The food is fabulous and you’ll feel like you’re somewhere in the south of France.
Stop by next door at Georis for a wine tasting with a platter of cheese, and sit down to enjoy their gardens before you leave. If you just want to getwaway for a great massage, see Darcy at Bernardus Spa to get rebalanced in every way:
3. Best Places to Stay in Carmel
Newly restored, this 75-room historic hotel is located just steps from the sands of Carmel Beach and the renowned shops, galleries and restaurants of this charming town.
Once a luxurious mansion built in 1905 by an artist as a gift to his wife, a member of the Ghirardelli family, for over 100 years La Playa Carmel has been known as the “Grande Dame of Carmel.”
photo courtesy of La Playa Carmel
We loved the history of this property, ocean views from our room and the outdoor dining areas. Highly recommend booking a reservation at this hotel since it’s one of the most popular places to stay in Carmel-by-the-Sea.
It’s just 72 steps away from the breathtaking beaches of Carmel Bay and just a short walk to the village! Choose from 26 guest rooms and suites, and ask for a terrace where you can enjoy the views of the ocean.
Right close to town you’ll find Carmel’s landmark boutique hotel – old Spanish colonial architecture, with modern amenities and service,
Clint Eastwood’s historic property where you can check in to a room for the night and/or enjoy dinner, drinks, then joining the locals singing tunes at the piano bar til midnight. Highly recommend getting to the restaurant early, just before they open at 4pm, and sitting outside on the deck terrace, with a drink and an appetizer, and look out at the vistas of Carmel River State Beach and Point Lobos while the sunsets. If you are lucky, you’ll get my favorite table next to the fireplace on the east side of the deck.
4. Top Carmel Restaurants
- Il Fornaio’s: on Ocean between Lincoln & Monte Verde grab a quick latte and biscotti and watch the locals hang out at the indoor roundtable by the fireplace
- Village Corner on Dolores & 6th
- Katy’s Place
- The Tuck Box Dolores between Ocean & 7th
Lunch: grab a picnic from 5th Avenue Deli: OR Bruno’s Market & Deli at Junipero St. & 6th
- Cantinetta Luca: for a delicious Italian dinner, go to Luca’s – watch your pizza bake in a wood burning oven, the fresh made pastas are divine and a great selection of wines
- Akaoni: the best sushi – only locals know about this place! Located at Mission & 6th Ave
- Mundaka: great tapas – San Carlos between Ocean & 7th
5. Art Galleries:
There are many local artists who are represented in galleries that line Ocean Avenue and the nearby cross streets. One gallery not to miss is The Carmel Art Association, This gallery has been open since 1927 and represents 120 local artists and you’ll find some of the best values here.
There’s always an exciting event or festival that is happening in Carmel and Monterey area – from the Bach Festival to the Blues, Jazz Festivals, Food & Wine, Concours d’Elegance, Plein Air Festival! Check the calendar for the next festival since festivals are on hold during the covid-19 crisis.
7. Drive to Big Sur!
Keep your eye on the road – Highway 1 is notorious for drivers taken in the vistas and going off the cliffs. Gorgeous vistas of the Pacific, great places to stop for photos but don’t get too close to the edge – some tourists have lost their footing and fall to their death! The views are a definite must see from our things to do at Carmel by the Sea list.
Best Beach –only locals go! it’s hard to find, but worth the effort – from the site, “This state park is named after Julia Pfeiffer Burns, a well respected pioneer woman in the Big Sur country. The park stretches from the Big Sur coastline into nearby 3,000-foot ridges. It features redwood, tan oak, madrone, chaparral, and an 80-foot waterfall that drops from granite cliffs into the ocean from the Overlook Trail. A panoramic view of the ocean and miles of rugged coastline is available from the higher elevations along the trails east of Highway. Location-Directions: The park is 37 miles south of Carmel on Highway 1, and 12 miles south of Pfeiffer Big Sur.”
Ventana Inn – wonderful inn to stay near Big Sur, or have lunch on their deck
Post Ranch Inn – if you want to splurge and have privacy, stay at Post Ranch and indulge yourself in gourmet meals.
Nepenthes: famous for their “ambrosia” sauce burgers – great resting stop on your drive south with AMAZING views!
Deetjen’s: great historic little inn to rest for the night and even to stop by for breakfast!
8. Campfire on the Beach
NOTE: Check local restrictions due to the covid-19 crisis. Some beaches are closed and some only allow exercising.
9. Hikes – walk the trails along the California Coast
- Carmel River State Beach: if you only have 1 hour, follow the beach from Carmel to Pt. Lobos and enjoy this beach walk – it’s nature at its finest!
- Point Lobos: just a couple miles south from Carmel on Highway 1, and you’ll see Point Lobos State Park on the right side. Pick a trail and hike for a couple hours – my personal favorite is the Cypress Grove Trail that hugs Pinnacle Cove, or the trail that meanders around China Grove.
- Garrapata State Park: If you drive further south towards Big Sur, this park is located on Highway 1, 6.7 miles south of Rio Road in Carmel (18 miles north of Big Sur). Garrapata State Park has a coastal trail or inner mountain trail – both a great, just know what to do if you encounter a mountain lion. here’s more info from the site: “The park has two miles of beach front, with coastal hiking and a 50-foot climb to a beautiful view of the Pacific. The park offers diverse coastal vegetation with trails running from ocean beaches into dense redwood groves. The park also features outstanding coastal headlands at Soberanes Point. Sea lions, harbor seals and sea otters frequent the coastal waters and California gray whales pass close by during their yearly migration.” Brochure with Park Map Hiking Trails
- Carmel Valley – Garland Ranch Regional Park: if you head east from Carmel into Carmel Valley, you can find some great trails at Garland Park –
- Big Sur: if you have a few extra days, head south from Carmel to Big Sur and you’ll find trails that lead to the mountain tops, through valleys, but check with the Big Sur Ranger Station for detailed trail information since many trails east of Highway 1 are still closed due to the 2008 fire: #831 667-2315,
10. Enjoy the Nature
Kayaking in Monterey Bay! A highlight was kayaking and seeing marine life up close. Be sure to keep a distance from marine life and follow local regulations.
Golfing a favorite is the public course at Rancho Canada – not expensive and it has 18 holes over 6,357 yards with a par of 71 (Public) , located at 4860 Carmel Valley Rd, OR the Pacific Grove Golf Course with 18 holes over 5,732 yards with a par of 72, at 77 Asilomar Blvd.
Global Adventuress thanks La Playa Carmel for hosting us during our stay.