This post was most recently updated on January 13th, 2022
In Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, you will delighted by all the charming shops, galleries, and restaurants. They are housed in cottages that all look rather European. With cobblestone walkways, hidden courtyards, shapely Monterey pines and lots of gardens, it is definitely very picturesque. Plus there are no stoplights or chain restaurants here. Carmel-by-the-Sea is known as “a village in a forest by the sea.”
If you’re in the area, I would highly recommend you stop and see Carmel-by-the-Sea, even if only for a few hours. So…what can you do if you have the time to visit?
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1. Stroll the streets
On a recent visit, we parked on San Carlos St, near Ocean Avenue and just started walking down Ocean towards…the ocean! Pretty much everywhere you look, you will see something beautiful or interesting. On San Carlos St, where we parked, there were two very welcoming inns — the Carmel Fireplace Inn and the Candlelight Inn. Even the Best Western next door was super cute! They look like great places to stay if you’re interested in an overnight getaway. It seems all the businesses stick with the European village theme, and everything is so quaint.
As you walk, enjoy all the beautiful details — window boxes full of flowers, sloped roofs with wooden shingles covered in moss, quiet courtyards and winding paths. Art galleries display stunning pieces in the storefront windows inviting you in to see more. Business names like Hog’s Breath Inn and Galerie Rue Toulouse make you wonder if you are in Europe. The scent of freshly-baked goods emanates from a bakery, and restaurants with white tablecloths attract those desiring a more refined dining experience.
2. Look for hidden courtyards
Right next to the Carmel Bakery, for example, is a narrow passageway I might not have noticed. But my 4-yr old grandson did. It leads away from Ocean Ave into a quiet little courtyard and the Thomas Kinkade Studio in the Garden. From there, another narrow path leads to Picadilly Park. None of this can be seen from the main streets surrounding them, but here are quiet tree-lined patios, benches, art, and other lovely details. It was magical for my grandson, and it certainly appealed to my love of secret hidden passageways!
Apparently, there are a lot of these paths and hidden courtyards in Carmel-by-the-Sea. So many, that nevertoooldtotravel.com wrote an article about 42 of them! We did happen upon one more worth noting. It was the inner courtyard of the Carmel Plaza, at Ocean Ave. and Mission St. Here there is plenty of outdoor seating and firepits to enjoy, as well as public restrooms.
3. Get something to eat in Carmel-by-the-Sea
By all means, even though there are too many choices, you really must eat in Carmel. We were there at lunchtime with two young children, so we wanted something casual. (You won’t find anything like a McDonald’s here!) On our stroll, we passed delectable choices, like Il Fornaio and TripAdvisor’s #1-rated Portabella.
But when we saw Carmel Bakery, with a line nearly out the door and a gorgeous display window, we knew that was where we would eat. I would have loved to choose from one of the many baked treats, but my more practical side won, and I had an amazing salad. Everyone else in our group had one of their Cuban sandwiches, and they looked very good! If you opt for Carmel Bakery, be prepared as it is cash-only! Cool fact: Carmel Bakery was established in 1899!
A blogger friend of mine (Melody Pittman of whereverimayroam) says her favorite Carmel restaurant is Katy’s Place on Mission St. They serve breakfast till midday, and even have a box of toys for kids to play with. Katy’s Place is another cash-only establishment.
4. Explore a little more
A turn onto Lincoln street scored the Carmel Music Box Company, filled with intricate and beautiful music boxes. Just a little further down, we happened upon the Church of the Wayfarer, the oldest Protestant church in Carmel, with an inviting outdoor garden and fountain. My grandson and I went inside to see the colorful stained glass windows and to talk about the scripture stories they depicted.
On Ocean Ave, we saw the Harrison Memorial Library, with a nice patio garden and benches. And on another corner, we passed a store window with a very unique chess set displayed. Honestly, I don’t think you can walk through Carmel-by-the-Sea and not see something that makes you take a second look! Whether it be a stunning painting in a gallery, a twisty old tree with gnarled branches framing a garden, or a unique shop sign, something will catch your eye. If you’d like to explore more of Carmel-by-the-Sea’s art scene, I highly recommend reading Lonely Planet’s “Chasing Art in Carnel-by-the-Sea and Big Sur”. It might interest you to know that Carmel-by-the-Sea had its origins as an artists enclave.
5. Go to the beach
Carmel Beach is probably rated as one of the most stunning white sand beaches…at least in California. It’s definitely my daughter’s favorite, and I was grateful for the introduction. The Monterey Pines and Cypress trees that grow here along the coastline are very unique. And the silhouette of their branches against the backdrop of the ocean is exquisite.
The white sand is fine and powdery, nice on the feet for walking! There are several staircases leading from Scenic Rd to the beach below, with plenty of street parking available. Actually, I should say the parking may be very limited because of the popularity of the beach! But if you do find a spot, the parking is free and limited to a few hours. There are restrooms at the foot of Ocean Avenue and Santa Lucia Avenue.
On the day we visited, the skies remained overcast, even though the temperatures were comfortable. Had it been any cooler, it would have been nice to take advantage of the city-supplied wood burning firepits — just another reason Carmel Beach is so amazing!
Carmel Beach is just south of the famous Pebble Beach Golf Course. It’s also the location of one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s home designs: the Clinton Walker House, which is open to the public only once a year. You can actually see the home from the beach.
6. Drive the 17-Mile Drive, beginning at the Carmel Gate
The 17-Mile Drive is a scenic road that follows the coastline closely and is part of the Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove communities, beginning at the north end of Carmel-by-the-Sea. It passes famous landmarks, such as Spanish Bay, Bird Rock, the Lone Cypress, and the Del Monte Forest of Monterey Cypress trees. You’ll also see some magnificent mansions.
There is a fee to drive on this road (currently $10.50 per vehicle) but it is refunded if you spend $35+ at any of the Pebble Creek restaurants. There are parking lots and picnic tables at various locations. You’ll definitely want to stop and take some pictures!
Unfortunately, we visited Carmel-by-the-Sea the same week as the U.S. Open Golf Tournament at Pebble Beach, so this road was closed unless you had tickets for the tournament. You might want to check the golf tournament schedule first to avoid conflicts. A map of the drive can be found here.
7. More Carmel-by-the-Sea options
Carmel Mission Basilica
The headquarters of the California chain of missions was the Carmel Mission Basilica. This is where Father Junipero Serra lived and died. The stone church, built in the early 1800’s has been preserved and can be visited at 3080 Rio Rd.
Clint Eastwood’s Restaurants
Clint Eastwood served as mayor in Carmel-by-the-Sea from 1986-1988. He ran on the platform of allowing ice cream cones to be sold in the village. (It had previously been banned.) Clint once owned two restaurants in Carmel-by-the-Sea — Hog’s Breath Inn and Mission Ranch. Hog’s Breath Inn has been sold to new owners, but Mission Ranch still belongs to Eastwood.
You might enjoy seeing the Tor House and Hawk Tower, former residence of poet Robinson Jeffers. He and family members lived there until 1999. Now it is preserved as it was when he lived there, and tours are available Fridays and Saturdays for a charge. It is built in the style of an English stone cottage with a medieval-looking tower. As Jeffers said, “I built it with my hands, I hung stones in the sky.” It is located at 26304 Ocean View Ave. Even when the grounds are closed, you can still take photos from the street.
Our Carmel-by-the-Sea family outing
I have to thank my daughter and her family for showing us around Carmel-by-the-Sea and sharing its charm with my husband and I. It was a real treat to explore the village and enjoy the beach with our sweet grandsons, too. I hope you get to enjoy the ambience of Carmel-by-the-Sea soon.