Guide to the best things to do at Carmel by the Sea in Monterey County
Beautiful expansive sandy beaches, a European style and charming downtown area, gorgeous coastline roads to explore and wine country – It’s all here at Carmel by the sea. There are so many fantastic things to do at Carmel by the sea and you can spread it out into a nice weekend getaway or even mid-week to enjoy the best of what Carmel and the Central California lifestyle and travel experience is all about here in Monterey County.
Carmel in Central California is a fantastic area to be based and explore this amazing region filled with such diversity of landscape, wonderful historic sites and outdoor adventure to experience in the area. We share the best things to do around Carmel and surrounding Monterey County for you to enjoy in a logical fashion of activities and attractions in the city and surrounding areas to inspire you on your visit here to Central California.
Best things to do at Carmel by the Sea and Monterey County
A brief history of Carmel by the Sea
Carmel is located in Monterey County by the central California Coastline and is about xxx miles from Monterey city which used to be the regional capital of Old California. Carmel was established as the first regional capital of the Missions of Alta California by Father Junipero Serra at Carmel Mission and the city was established to support
Explore Carmel by the Sea downtown district
The downtown district of Carmel by the Sea has distinctive places to visit around the town from the storybook cottages, European styled village appeal, shopping and dining to enjoying the outdoors along the coastal areas of the town below.
Stroll the downtown district
Start your day just right with a nice pastry and coffee to go or eat at any of the fantastic bakeries in town. You’ll enjoy strolling around the colorful European styled village filled with amazing art galleries, unique boutique stores, delicious delis and bakery shops, world class restaurants and so many other one of a kind local shops that are so much fun to explore in the downtown district. Carmel just oozes with so much beautiful architecture, storybook buildings, cool and trendy shopping venues and just fun window shopping that appeals to all age groups. If you’re tired of shopping and looking, it’s fun to just take a break for a snack or drink at any of the delicious food and drink venues in the area and just soak it all in, people watch or enjoy time with family or friends while visiting Carmel.
Discover the Unique storybook cottage style homes and hidden passageways
Carmel has a distinctive storybook look that is one of a kind in California and fantasy like come to life. Created by Hugh Comstock around the 1920s to 1930s to create this distinctive look with the cottages in Carmel, the homes like the Hansel Cottage and Gretel Cottage were a stage for his wife’s doll making business. Along the way he created more storybook styled homes with high pitched roofs with timber exterior details and paned windows and flower bedecked window boxes and gardens like some small English and European villages.
Over 21 of these buildings survive in Carmel with nooks and hidden gardens transformed into tea houses, stay at home cottages, art galleries and cafes for visitors to explore and enjoy this fun and unique look in Carmel.
Carmel State Beach
The glorious stretch of beach area at the end of Carmel on Ocean drive is stunning to see the large crescent shaped beach that extends all the way around Monterey Bay. Rugged Cypress trees line the white sandy beach with the softest sands to walk on. Dogs are allowed here in Carmel and even unleashed at the beach area. While other beaches do allow for dogs with leashes on and enjoy some time with your pets on the beach which is an amazing experience. Wading and swimming is doable but very cold and there are no lifeguards stationed on the beach so proceed with your own caution in going into the water and look out for any rip tides or rogue waves.
You can experience a wonderful time on the beach and even the lovely sunsets on the beach here to enjoy end of day and some beautiful walks along the beach area.
Experience Carmel River State Beach
Around the corner from Carmel State Beach, Carmel River State Beach is located next to the Carmel River that ends into the ocean. You’ll find a quieter beach area with various trails that you can walk through and enjoy the ocean scape and some of the quiet forest trails, river walks and other beautiful trails to experience in the area. Outside of hiking areas you can walk your dogs on leashes, go kayaking, fly a kite or just enjoy the silence and sounds of the river emptying into the ocean.
Enjoy a coastal drive or walk along Carmel’s Scenic Road
From the start of Carmel State beach and driving the Scenic Road with wonderful landscape, wildflowers with stunning and expensive showcase homes on the other side facing the beach creates this wonderful experience to take in the gorgeous beach and ocean, beautiful homes all the way down to Carmel River State Beach and wind back through the outlying areas.
You can also walk a good distance on the Scenic Bluff Path and enjoy the gorgeous ocean, beach and views by foot.
See the Frank Lloyd House – Della Walker House
Located at Carmel Point is the iconic Frank Lloyd House that juts out facing the ocean looking like the prow of a ship. This ocean front home showcases the best of Frank Lloyd Wright’s homage to California lifestyle and you can view the home mostly from public views of this privately owned home. Designed in 1948 and completed in 1951 with this small footprint just under 1200 square feet as a summer place for the Walkers and utilizing Wright’s iconic aesthetic, details and use of local materials to create a place that really fits into the landscape.
Visits to the property are only open once yearly in June to benefit the Carmel Heritage Society and you can check the details here for more information.
Explore San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo or Carmel Mission
Located close to the Carmel River, the Carmel Mission is a National Historic Landmark that was the headquarters to the string of missions established in Alta California by Father Junipero Serra who lived and died in this mission. The basilica is still a functioning church with beautiful museum collections, cemetery and lovely outdoor gardens to explore and enjoy all the painstaking remodeling, detailed craftsmanship and Spanish colonial design the buildings and church is created in.
You can visit the entire Spanish Colonial complex with the ornate basilica, entrance courtyard and museum areas, cemetery and the grand courtyard area and gardens to the side of the church and gift store. You can easily sign up for a docent tour or do your own tour with information placards located throughout the compound to educate and share the early missionary lifestyle, agriculture and assimilating the local population to the Catholic faith.
Visit the unique Tor House and Tower
A beautiful stone home and tower built with local rocks from the area from California Poet Robinson Jeffers with the Fairy tale Hawk Tower around 1919 as a creative space for his family for magical place. It is a wonderful place to tour and docent tours are available on Fridays and Saturdays for visitors to visit and learn about the family, home, gardens and area around the home.
You’ll enjoy your visit to this gorgeous home and tour and even some musical tour programs, check out the details to visiting here for more information and availability.
Explore the areas just outside of Carmel and surrounding areas
Wine Country experience in Carmel Valley
The scenic roadway that leads towards Carmel Valley from Carmel by the Sea is beautiful and easy to drive with small boutique wineries that showcase the best wines and vineyards that thrive in this Central Valley appellation. It’s an beautiful area and exploring the premiere vineyards and tasting rooms in Carmel Valley is an exceptional experience to eat, taste and drink your way through the regional wine country experience here. Check out the many wineries at Carmel Valley here to create your own visit and tasting tour experience to the vineyards in the area.
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
A very short drive from Carmel along the Monterey coastline is the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve which is a spectacular state park to visit. With gorgeous coastlines, hiking trails and places to explore, you will enjoy all the outdoor experiences exploring this nature reserve. A sheltered area to local birds and transitory wildlife and also marine life in the area that makes it a special discovery to see the native and transitory animals shelter in this wonderful reserve area. Striking cliffs and outcrops, meadows filled with native wildflowers in bloom, Cypress, pines and other native trees and scrub complement the hiking areas and spectacular views in the park.
You can spend a few hours to all day in this lovely nature reserve and explore at your own leisure through mostly easy to moderate trails that loop or go point to point around the scenic areas of the park.
17 Mile Drive
Just outside Carmel by the Sea and stretching out to Lover’s Point Park is the 17 Mile drive – a stunning coastal drive that showcases the coastline areas separating Carmel Bay and Monterey Bay with natural beauty. Part of the Pebble Beach resorts with luxury homes, a first-tier gold course and resort and restaurants. There is a fee to enter the area and enjoy the resort area, drive to scenic spots including the iconic Monterey 200-year-old solitary cypress tree overlooking Pebble Beach. This is probably the number one tree photograph photographed in the area and probably the entire United States because of its location and solitary stature.
For a tour and map of 17-mile drive along with places to visit, check out their website here for more details and information to visiting.
Visit Monterey Aquarium, Cannery Row and Fisherman’s Wharf
Just a short drive from Carmel is Monterey with its iconic attractions to include Monterey Aquarium, Cannery Row, Fisherman’s Wharf, historic downtown district and other local attractions to visit in this city. Less than a 10-minute drive from Carmel, you can enjoy all the attractions in Monterey or spend time enjoying the outdoor lifestyle and adventure activities to include snorkeling or diving, kayaking or sup boarding, bicycling, hiking or running and a variety of other outdoor pursuits in along the coastline and even mountain ranges surrounding Monterey.
The world class Monterey Bay aquarium hosts a variety of local marine life, playful otters, penguins, puffins, sea turtles and so many other amazing displays and rotating shows to enjoy. This is the biggest attraction in Monterey and really a special visit that you will want to explore everything including the back-end operations to what makes this aquarium work. Check out a visit to the aquarium here for more details to visiting.
Big Sur region
A road trip through Big Sur will showcase the entire coastal region with stunning vistas, visits to iconic places like Bixby bridge, Garrapata state park, Point Lobos, McWay Falls and Pfeiffer beach along with so many wonderful attractions to visit in this scenic region. Big Sur is an entire stretch of coastal areas and not a specific town or city that deserves more of a road trip experience or stay overnight in any of the lovely resorts areas or even camping for the budget minded to this beautiful area of Central California.
Take a look at this Big Sur guide for more inspiration to visiting the key places of interest in the region for you to plan and also experience.
Where to base yourself in Carmel area
It is easy to find a range of unique inns and local stays in the area for a perfect visit to Carmel by the Sea and visiting the surrounding region. Check these fantastic rated hotels and inns here for more details.
Tickle Pink Inn – An iconic inn to stay in Carmel with oceanfront estate and European flare, bedding and comfortable and spacious rooms to enjoy your visit to the area.
The Hideaway – a boutique and beautiful redesigned inn close to the beach area with wonderful appointments, comfortable features and outdoor spaces to enjoy your stay close to the ocean area of Carmel.
La Playa Carmel – a luxury property in Carmel with modern sensibiities and aesthetics, comfortable and clean rooms with public rooms, gardens,swimming pool and easy access to the beach areas of Carmel beach.
If you are looking for the best rated hotels and inns with Trip Advisor, check out these best reviews here for current prices, availability and their calendar for direct bookings.
Check out this fun scenic road trip around the Carmel area below
Check out these other places to visit in Central California
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