Carmel-by-the-Sea is among the most charming small towns in California, remaining so even under the pressure of tourism. The primary attraction here is shopping, and Carmel streets are lined with galleries and shops of all descriptions.
We've put together some resources to help you plan your Carmel day trip or weekend getaway in a jiffy.
Why Should You Go? Will You Like Carmel?
- Carmel is popular for laid back, romantic getaways
- See It Now: Take a photo tour of Carmel
- See how other California for Visitors readers rate Carmel
Best Time to Go to CarmelCarmel weather is fine most of the year, but it can be rainy in the winter.
The most popular time for visitors is summer, but it's less crowded off-season and if you can manage to get away mid-week in fall and winter, you'll find it quiet and relaxing (and the hotel rates lower, too).
If you've only got a day to spend in Carmel, enjoy a stroll around downtown. While you're walking, Carmel's hidden courtyards are worth seeking out. You'll find the Court of the Fountains just off Mission Street between 7th and Ocean Avenues, but we'll leave the rest for you to discover for yourself. You can pick up a self-guided courtyard walking tour brochure at the visitor center on San Carlos between 5th and 6th.
4 More Great Things to Do in Carmel
- 17-Mile Drive: You'll pay for the privilege of driving through this exclusive neighborhood, but it does boast some of the best scenery around.
- Point Lobos: A popular nature preserve, this is the place to go to enjoy crashing waves, still coves, abundant wildlife and flowers in the spring.
- Carmel Beach: At the end of Ocean Avenue, you'll find a nice stretch of white sand that's fun for a walk, sunbathing or people watching.
- Scenic Drive: Take Ocean Avenue toward the beach and turn left onto the aptly-named Scenic Drive. It runs along the water's edge and around to Carmel River State Beach.
- Wine Tasting: Long known for its art galleries and boutique shops, Carmel seems to be picking up steam as a food and wine destination, with more than half a dozen winery tasting rooms downtown. Stop by the Visitor Center (north of Ocean Avenue on San Carlos) to pick up a Wine Tasting Passport which will significantly lower your costs (or buy it online - and if you buy a bottle of wine at one of the participating tasting rooms and want to have it with a meal, local restaurants will waive their corkage fee.
Isn't It Romantic?Romantic pleasures in Carmel are the simple ones. Walk hand-in-hand through town or along the beach. Sip an evening cocktail at the Highlands Inn while watching the sun set over the Pacific or cuddle with a nightcap beside the outdoor fireplaces at The Forge in the Forest.
Annual Events You Should Know About
- Pebble Beach Pro-Am Golf Tournament: (February) Even if you don't want to go, you should know when this one is going on because of the crowds it attracts.
- Carmel Valley Art and Wine Festival (June)
- Carmel Bach Festival: (July-August) A professional music event featuring Baroque and modern music
- Concours on the Avenue: (August) More than 130 seldom-seen collector's cars made in Europe and the U. S. after World War II will be on display
- Big Sur Marathon: (late April) You may not want to run in it, but it closes the highway in Big Sur for several hours (which could put a crimp in your day's plans).
- More Area Events
Tips for Visiting Carmel
- Public restrooms are located in the city park at Ocean Avenue and Junipero, and also at Lincoln Street and 6th Avenue behind the library. You'll also find restrooms on the top level near the back of the Carmel Plaza shopping center.
- For reasons unknown to us, properties in the town of Carmel do not have street addresses. It's less of a problem than you might think at first, and most places will simply give you the streets they're located on and between.
- Carmel is a great place to go if you're traveling with your pet. You'll find lots of pet-friendly restaurants and accommodations, too.
- Ladies, leave your high heels at home. While adding to Carmel's charm, rustic cobblestone paths and walkways provide uneven footing (and are a great way to ruin that prize pair of designer shoes).
- Take a flashlight if you plan to walk around town after dark. About two blocks away from Ocean Avenue, streetlights are sparse.
There's no better place for Sunday brunch than Mission Ranch.
If you're looking for some great cuisine, you'll find it downtown. In early 2012, Aubergine restaurant at L'Auberge Carmel was rated a near-perfect 28 (out of 30) for food by Zagat contributors, a rating we concur with.
With outdoor fireplaces and much California atmosphere, Forge in the Forest is one of my Carmel-by-the-Sea favorites. Other places may boast better cuisine, but none can deliver better ambiance. The Cypress Inn is dog friendly and serves afternoon tea to both owners and their pets. It's a great place to relax after a few hours of tramping around town.
Where to Stay
For help getting the best possible deal, read about how to find a good place to stay, cheap or go straight to Tripadvisor's reviews and price comparisons on hotels in Carmel.
Getting To Carmel
Carmel is 120 miles from San Francisco, 350 miles from Los Angeles and 193 miles from Sacramento.
The nearest airport is in Monterey, although you'll find more flights into San Jose. Check airfares.
Parking is limited to 30 or 90 minutes in many areas of downtown Carmel. To find a place where you can park for longer and not worry about vigilant enforcement, follow the signs that say "public parking" or look for curbside spots a few blocks away from the main shopping area.
POLL: How do you rate Carmel, California as a tourist destination?