In Carmel-by-the-Sea, snug homes are named, rather than numbered, and neon signs and chain restaurants are out of the question. Visitors must make do with the timeless pleasures of cycling along the beach, exploring hidden passageways, attending live concerts, sampling regional food and wine, and touring almost 100 art galleries.
Thank you to Visit Carmel for sponsoring this post.
As we briskly drive down the 101, In-N-Out signs, venture capital firms, and sprawling tech campuses fade in and out of view. Advertisements for creatively named software companies punctuate the landscape. Then, after only two hours’ journey from San Francisco, the road quiets. Angular office parks give way to sloping European cottages and chalets. Arriving in Carmel-by-the-Sea, we immediately understand that this single square mile of California coastline does not share its’ neighbors eagerness to leave the past and present behind.
In Carmel-by-the-Sea, snug homes are named, rather than numbered, and neon signs and chain restaurants are out of the question. Visitors must make do with the timeless pleasures of cycling along the beach, exploring hidden passageways, attending live concerts, sampling regional food and wine, and touring almost 100 art galleries. With breathtaking natural beauty and character to spare, Carmel-by-the-Sea is a restorative place to spend a day, a weekend, or a lifetime. It is a mandatory trip, in my book, for anyone who finds themselves in Northern California.
When to Visit Carmel-by-the-Sea
Carmel-by-the-Sea enjoys a Mediterranean climate, with temperatures of 57-65°F year-round, so there’s no bad time to visit. That said, autumn (September-November) in so lovely there that locals refer to it as “the secret season.” It is the sunniest time of year, and it is free of summer’s fog and crowds.
Where to Stay in Carmel-by-the-Sea
During our trip to Carmel-by-the-Sea this past October, we stayed at Horizon Inn. Cozy and centrally-located, Horizon Inn is quite affordable, and many of the rooms include fireplaces, jacuzzis, or balconies with ocean views. Hotel staff start mornings on a cheerful note, delivering complimentary breakfast baskets outside guests’ doors while they snooze.
Carmel-by-the-Sea offers a wide variety of unique lodging experiences that beckon visitors to return to the city time and again. Other noteworthy properties include the glamorous Cypress Inn (co-owned by Doris Day), design-forward Hotel Carmel, and luxurious L’Auberge Carmel. A “Book Direct” feature on Visit Carmel’s website allows travelers to quickly and conveniently make their reservations at any of the aforementioned properties.
What to Do in Carmel-by-the-Sea
Tour on Electric Bicycles
One of our favorite activities during our trip was touring the town on stylish electric bikes from Mad Dogs & Englishmen. The specialty bike shop offers curated accessories, sidecars for pups, and Garmin GPS systems with pre-programmed scenic routes to ensure delightful cycling experiences. We effortlessly glided down Pacific Avenue, swooned along Scenic Drive, rolled up to the 18th-century Mission, and paused at Mission Ranch for beverages before looping back up to the shop.
Attend a Live Concert
The Carmel Music Society gathers renowned musicians from around the world in the beautiful Sunset Center for deeply powerful, intimate concerts. Adult tickets start at only $45, and the concert calendar is worth scheduling your trip around. We attended “Air – A Baroque Journey,” presented by Daniel Hope and friends. The performance creatively inspired me and all but brought me to tears. The same concert graced Carnegie Hall a few days later.
Wander Through Passages and Courtyards
One of the most charming features of Carmel-by-the-Sea is its network of courtyards and passageways. As locals would tell you, the best way to explore the town is to walk down any passageway you find and to never leave a courtyard the same way you went in. The city is compact and organized on a grid, so getting a little lost on purpose is a wonderful way to explore.
Visit Art Galleries
Carmel-by-the-Sea houses almost 100 galleries where you can view (and purchase) a wealth of original works by world-renowned artists and artisans. We participated in a walking gallery tour led by Rohana LoSchiavo; at 90 minutes and $30, the tour is an informative and personal way to become better acquainted with Carmel-by-the-Sea’s artistic community. Some of my favorite galleries are Stephen Whyte Sculpture Studio & Gallery, Westbrook Modern, Dawson Cole Fine Art Gallery, and Lu Lu’s Silk Art Gallery.
Taste Monterey Wines
Monterey is one of California’s largest wine-growing regions, and Carmel-by-the-Sea houses a number of tasting rooms where you can experience local varietals. We enjoyed flights and warm hospitality at Scheid Vineyards and Blair Estate Tasting Room. You can purchase a Wine Tasting Passport at the latter if you are interested in visiting a large number of wineries.
Where to Eat in Carmel-by-the-Sea
Cultura creates exquisite, Oaxacan-inspired dishes using local ingredients, all complemented by a thoughtfully curated Mezcal library. From their fall chile relleno with kabocha squash and walnut crema to their churros and fondue with sumac and grilled orange, every plate was delectable. I can’t recommend highly enough that you make reservations at Cultura for your time in Carmel-by-the-Sea.
For a more casual meal, Brophy’s Tavern redefines fish and chips with beer-battered, fresh-caught halibut.
Mission Ranch is a beautiful spot for happy hour or early dinner. Sitting on their heated patio at golden hour, you can enjoy a glass of wine while gazing at expansive meadowland, dotted with sheep, the Pacific Ocean in the distance, jaunty live piano inside nightly.