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Top Things to Do in Carmel, California

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Carmel is a charming little town where all you may want to do is just wander around, saying "oh, how cute!" If you want to make sure you enjoy the best things to do in Carmel for visitors, try these:

Downtown Walk

Beautiful - and totally typical
©2012 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.
Downtown Carmel's Ocean Avenue has some great shopping and nice art galleries, but to enjoy its best points, you'll have to do a little more work. Walk down the streets that branch off the main drag and look for the little garden courtyards.

Scenic Drive

© Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.
Take Ocean Avenue from the main part of town toward the beach. Turn left onto Scenic Road and follow it along the water's edge to Carmel River State Beach. At the beach, the road changes its name to Carmelo Street. Follow that and it will lead you back to downtown Carmel.

17-Mile Drive

©2011 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.
This famed drive passes through an exclusive neighborhood, past scenic beaches, golf courses and luxury hotels. If you're already in Carmel, look for the entrance to the drive from town, where the entrance gate is likely to be less busy.

Point Lobos State Reserve

© 2009 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.
If all this small-sh state park had to offer was some great hikes and a dramatic shoreline rockscape, it would be worth a visit. Add the offshore wildlife which includes sea otters and harbor seals, and it becomes almost magical.

Best Beaches

© Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.
You'll find a couple of nice, easily accessible beaches in Carmel. Just south of town off Highway One, Carmel River State Beach offers a nice place to watch the sunset. In town, Carmel Beach at the end of Ocean Avenue has nice stretch of white sand that's fun for a walk, sunbathing or people watching.

Sunday Brunch at Mission Ranch

© Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.
One of our favorite places for Sunday brunch anywhere in California, Mission Ranch serves a tasty buffet, with a side benefit: a pastoral view of grazing sheep with the ocean in the distance. On a sunny day, their patio is the place to be. To top it all, you can listen to a great live jazz ensemble while you eat.

This is also a great place for an early evening drink before dinner. The scene is so idyllic that we're surprised the resident sheep haven't earned an award for their performance.

Sunset Cocktails at Highlands Inn

Courtesy of the Highlands Inn
Head for the bar at the Highlands Inn about half an hour before sunset and settle into one of the seats next to their floor-to-ceiling windows for a great view.

The Forge in the Forest at Night

© 2012 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.
I visited The Forge on my first trip to California in 1985. Its outdoor fireplaces and lush landscaping seemed quintessentially California then, and it still has the same feel now. Their food is good and you can eat outside under one of their overhead heaters in all but the coldest weather. You can also just grab a seat by one of the outdoor fireplaces and toast your toes while you enjoy an after-dinner drink.

Sunset Center for the Performing Arts

By Bob Who at Flickr available under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license
It's a beautiful venue and their calendar includes an eclectic mix of classical music, classic rock, ballet, dance and stage performance. It's a place worth checking to see if they have something going on that you'd enjoy.

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 in just four blocks 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 enjoy it with a meal, local restaurants will waive their corkage fee.

Historic Mission San Carlos de Borromeo

©2013 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.
The place where Carmel began is one of California's most beautiful Spanish missions, dripping with charm.

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