Things to Do in Carmel by the Sea

Do you want to know what are the best Things to Do in Carmel by the Sea? Have you ever dreamed of escaping to a charming coastal town, where you can bask in scenic views and enjoy a relaxed pace of life? Look no further than Carmel-by-the-Sea.

This picturesque town on the California coast is a hidden gem, boasting a range of attractions for visitors of all ages. In this guide, I’ll share 16 Things to Do in Carmel by the Sea that will make your visit unforgettable.

Is Carmel-by-the-Sea Worth Seeing?

Yes, Carmel-by-the-Sea is definitely worth seeing. As someone who has visited this charming town multiple times, I can confidently say that it offers a unique experience you won’t find anywhere else.

Carmel-by-the-Sea is a small town located on the coast of California. It’s known for its beautiful beaches, art galleries, and fairytale-like cottages. The town has a rich history and is home to the famous Carmel Mission, which was established in 1771 and is one of the most authentically restored Roman Catholic missions in California.

One of the main reasons Carmel-by-the-Sea is worth seeing is its natural beauty. The town is on a stunning stretch of coastline, and there are plenty of opportunities to take in the views. Carmel Beach is a must-visit, with its pristine white sand and crystal-clear water. You can also take a scenic drive along 17-Mile Drive, which offers breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and the famous Lone Cypress tree.

Another reason why Carmel-by-the-Sea is worth seeing is because of its unique architecture. The town is known for its fairytale-like cottages, which were built in the 1920s by local artist and builder Hugh Comstock. These whimsical cottages are a must-see and offer a glimpse into the town’s artistic heritage.

16 Things to Do in Carmel by the Sea

The charm of Carmel-by-the-Sea, a picturesque enclave known for its artistic vibe and fairy-tale cottages. From sandy shores to quaint galleries, here are 16 must-do activities that capture the unique spirit of this coastal gem, perfect for travelers looking to soak in its enchanting atmosphere and rich culture.

1. 17 Mile Drive

17 Mile Drive

The 17-mile Drive is a private road owned by the Pebble Beach Resort, and you have to pay a small fee to enter the drive. The drive takes you through the Del Monte Forest, where you can see the famous Monterey Cypress trees, including the largest one named after Charles Crocker.

As you drive along the 17-mile Drive, you will come across several scenic lookout points, including the Fanshell Overlook, which offers stunning coastal views. You can also take a short hike through the Cypress Grove Trail to see the Lone Cypress, a famous landmark on the drive.

The Lone Cypress is a 250-year-old tree that stands alone on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It is one of the most photographed trees in the world and a symbol of the 17-Mile Drive.

The drive also takes you past some of the world’s most luxurious homes and golf courses. You can stop at the Pebble Beach Golf Links to enjoy the views and a round of golf.

2. Visit Point Lobos State Park

Point Lobos State Park is Located just 3 miles south of Carmel. The park is known for its stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, coves, and marine life. Visitors can hike along the park’s many trails, which offer breathtaking views of the coastline and sea life. The Sea Lion Point Trail is one of the most popular trails in the park and offers visitors a chance to see sea lions up close.

Point Lobos State Park is also home to various marine mammals, including sea lions, harbor seals, and sea otters. Visitors often see these animals lounging on the rocks or swimming in the coves.

The park’s clear waters offer a chance to see various sea life, including colorful fish, kelp forests, and even shipwrecks.

3. Relax at Carmel Beach

Carmel Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Carmel-by-the-Sea. As a coastal town, Carmel is known for its beautiful beaches, and Carmel Beach is no exception. The main beach is located at Ocean Avenue’s end and easily accessible. It’s a great place to relax, unwind, and take in the stunning ocean views.

One of the best things about Carmel Beach is that it’s a dog-friendly beach. So, if you’re traveling with your furry friends, this is the perfect place to take them for a walk. The beach is also great for swimming, sunbathing, and enjoying the cool ocean breeze.

Carmel Beach is part of the Carmel River State Beach, a protected area with a lagoon and a bird sanctuary. The beach has plenty of parking, restrooms, and showers. Several picnic tables and BBQ grills also make it a great place for a family outing.

The beach is never too crowded, even during peak season, and the ocean views are simply breathtaking. So, grab a book a beach towel, and enjoy the serene beauty of Carmel Beach.

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4. Pebble Beach Golf Course

Pebble Beach Golf Course is one of the most famous golf courses in the world. It is located in Pebble Beach, California, and is considered a must-play for avid golfers. It is part of the Pebble Beach Golf Links, including three other courses: Spyglass Hill Golf Course, The Links at Spanish Bay, and Del Monte Golf Course.

The course is known for its stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, challenging holes, and immaculate greens. The course has hosted numerous major tournaments, including the U.S. Open, and has been played by some of the greatest golfers in history.

Adjacent to the iconic golf course, The Lodge at Pebble Beach offers guests an opulent stay with its 161 elegantly appointed rooms and suites, all featuring splendid views of the sea and greens. The resort also houses a variety of restaurants, a spa, and a fitness center.

5. Visit Monterey

Visit Monterey

Monterey is a beautiful coastal city located in the Monterey Bay area of California. It is a must-visit destination for anyone traveling to Carmel by the Sea. One of the most popular attractions in Monterey is the Monterey Bay Aquarium. This world-class aquarium is home to over 35,000 creatures, including sea otters, penguins, and sharks. It is a great place to learn about the diverse marine life of Monterey Bay.

Another must-visit attraction in Monterey is Cannery Row. Once a bustling sardine canning district, Cannery Row is now a vibrant shopping and dining destination. It is a great place to stroll and take in the sights and sounds of the Monterey Bay.

6. Rent Bikes

Looking for a fun outdoor activity during your day trip to Carmel-by-the-Sea? Renting bikes is a great way to explore the town and enjoy the beautiful coastal scenery. Luckily, several bike rental shops in the area offer affordable rates and a variety of bike options.

One of the top-rated bike rental shops in Carmel-by-the-Sea is Mad Dogs & Englishmen Bike Shop, which offers reasonably priced bike rentals and helmets. They also provide recommendations for bike routes and can help you plan your day trip. Another great option is Pedego Electric Bikes Carmel, CA, which offers electric bike rentals for those who want extra assistance on their ride.

When renting bikes, it’s important to consider the terrain and level of difficulty of the routes you plan to take. The Scenic Road is a popular route that stretches along the coast above Carmel Beach, offering stunning views of the ocean and surrounding landscape. If you’re up for a challenge, the Carmel Valley offers more difficult terrain and scenic routes through the hills.

7. Explore the Carmel Mission

The Carmel Mission, also known as Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo, is a historic Spanish mission in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Founded in 1770 by Father Junipero Serra, the Carmel Mission is one of California’s most important historical landmarks.

Visitors can explore the mission’s museum, which houses a collection of artifacts and exhibits that tell the story of the mission’s founding and the lives of the people who lived and worked there. The museum also features a collection of religious art and artifacts, including paintings, sculptures, and furnishings.

One of the highlights of a visit to the Carmel Mission is the opportunity to see the mission’s beautiful gardens and courtyards. The gardens are filled with various native plants and flowers, including roses, lavender, and citrus trees. Visitors can also see the mission’s historic cemetery, where many of the mission’s early settlers are buried.

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8. One-of-a-kind boutique Shopping

Venture into the heart of downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea for a shopping experience unlike any other. Around Ocean Avenue, hundreds of singular shops await, offering a diverse selection of apparel, accessories, artwork, and jewelry, ensuring a memorable browsing and buying journey.

One of the best things about shopping in downtown Carmel is finding a gem in almost every corner. The side streets and charming courtyards of downtown Carmel are filled with hidden treasures waiting to be discovered. You can find an array of handmade jewelry, artisanal crafts, and locally made souvenirs.

Art lovers will be delighted by the many art galleries in downtown Carmel. You can find everything from contemporary art to classic paintings and sculptures. Some of the most popular galleries include the Weston Gallery, the Gallery by the Sea, and the Carmel Art Association.

One of my favorite places to shop in downtown Carmel is the One-of-a-Kind boutique. This store features a carefully curated clothing, accessories, and home decor selection. The store’s owner, Kari, has a great eye for unique pieces and is always happy to help you find something special.

9. Go on a Historic Walking Tour

As someone who loves learning about the history of a place, I highly recommend taking a self-guided walking tour of Carmel’s historic landmarks and buildings.

One great starting point is the First Murphy House, built in 1902 by Michael J. Murphy when he was just 17 years old. This house was the first of over 300 houses and commercial buildings that Murphy would build in Carmel. Today, the First Murphy House is a welcome center where you can pick up a map and begin your walking tour.

As you walk through the town, you’ll see a variety of architectural styles, including Tudor, Mediterranean, and Arts and Crafts. Some notable landmarks to look out for include the Tor House, a stone tower and cottage built by poet Robinson Jeffers, and the Carmel Mission, a beautiful Spanish mission founded in 1771.

To make the most of your walking tour, wear comfortable shoes and bring a water bottle and sunscreen. And don’t forget your camera – there are plenty of great photo opportunities along the way!

10. Relax at a Spa

Looking for a way to unwind and recharge while in Carmel by the Sea? Look no further than the many luxurious spas in the area. I highly recommend checking out Spa Aiyana, a top-rated spa that offers a wide range of treatments, including massages, facials, and body wraps. Their skilled therapists will leave you feeling relaxed and rejuvenated.

Another great option is Refuge, America’s first co-ed outdoor relaxation spa. Their serene and silent 2-acre property features a Himalayan salt wall sauna, eucalyptus steam rooms, cold plunge pools, hot pools with waterfalls, and breathtaking views. Swimsuits are required, and you must be 18 years old or older to visit.

Their beautiful, relaxing, and elegant environment is perfect for those looking to unwind and destress. They offer a variety of services, including massages, facials, and acupuncture.

No matter which spa you choose, you’ll feel relaxed and refreshed. Don’t forget to check out their websites or call ahead to book your appointment.

11. Visit the Vineyards of Carmel Valley

Carmel Valley is home to some of the best wineries in California, and the region’s unique climate and soil produce some of the finest grapes in the world.

One of the newer wineries in Carmel Valley is Pelio Estate Wines. This family-owned winery is run by two sisters who grew up in the area and have turned their dream into a reality. Their wines are made with estate grapes from the vineyard their family purchased in 2000.

Another must-visit winery is Bernardus Winery, which is known for its award-winning Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The winery also offers a variety of other wines, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Syrah.

This winery is located on a historic ranch and offers tastings in a rustic, barn-like setting. The winery also offers tours of its vineyards and olive groves.

12. Spot Whales on a Wildlife Cruise

Monterey Bay is home to a diverse range of marine life, including whales, dolphins, and sea lions, making it the perfect location for a wildlife cruise.

During the cruise, you’ll have the opportunity to spot different species of whales, including humpback, blue, and gray whales. The best time to go on a whale-watching tour is during the migration season, from December to May. However, you can still spot whales throughout the year.

There are several reputable whale-watching tour companies in Carmel by the Sea, including Princess Monterey Whale Watching and Monterey Bay Whale Watch. These companies offer a range of tours, from shorter to longer, more comprehensive ones.

During the tour, the guides will provide interesting facts and information about the whales and other marine life you’ll encounter. You’ll also get to see the beautiful coastline of Carmel by the Sea from a unique perspective.

Make sure to bring a camera to capture the breathtaking views and the incredible marine life you’ll see during the tour. Don’t forget to dress warmly; it can get chilly on the water.

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13. Go Horseback Riding at Pebble Beach

Go Horseback Riding at Pebble Beach

For an adventurous and distinctive way to experience the beauty of Carmel by the Sea, consider horseback riding at the Pebble Beach Equestrian Center. Journey across more than 27 miles of marked trails through the majestic Del Monte Forest, offering an experience that will linger in your memory.

At Pebble Beach Equestrian Center, you can choose from various daily trail tours led by friendly and professional guides. Whether you’re an experienced rider or a complete beginner, there’s an option to suit your needs. You can even introduce horseback riding to your children with a pony ride or lead line around the center.

The prices for horseback riding at Pebble Beach Equestrian Center are reasonable, and the experience is well worth the cost. You’ll enjoy breathtaking views along the Pacific Coastline or the Del Monte Forest and bond with your horse as you explore the trails.

14. Explore the Carmel Shell Mural

The Carmel Shell Mural is a must-see attraction in Carmel-by-the-Sea. This iconic mural, painted by local artist Marie-Clare Treseder Gorham in 2020, features a beautiful shell design that has become a beloved symbol of the town. As a local, I highly recommend visiting the Carmel Shell Mural during your visit to the area.

The Carmel Shell Mural is located in downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea and is easy to find. It’s a great spot to take photos and capture the town’s essence. The mural is a tribute to the town’s artistic heritage and history and a beautiful representation of its unique culture.

When you visit the Carmel Shell Mural, take some time to admire the details of the painting. The mural is a beautiful artwork with intricate details and vibrant colors. You’ll be amazed at the level of skill and creativity that went into creating this stunning piece of art.

15. Take a Hike in Mission Trail Park

This 34-acre park offers three miles of hiking trails with various habitats to explore, including a Monterey pine forest, coast live oak woodland, wetland, willow riparian corridor, and coastal prairie. The park is designed for passive recreational use, so it’s perfect for a relaxing stroll or a more challenging hike.

One of the most popular trails in Mission Trail Park is the 1.5-mile loop trail, which is generally considered an easy route and takes an average of 37 minutes to complete. This trail is perfect for hikers, runners, and walkers of all skill levels and offers beautiful views of the surrounding landscape. During quieter times of the day, you can even enjoy some solitude on this trail.

Another trail worth exploring is the 2.4-km circular trail, which is also considered an easy route and takes an average of 37 minutes to complete. This trail offers views similar to those of the loop trail but is slightly longer and may be less crowded.

16. Cypress Grove Trail

Cypress Grove Trail is a must-visit destination for nature lovers visiting Carmel-by-the-Sea. This 0.9-mile long trail is located within the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve and offers a stroll under the thick canopy of Monterey Cypress. The trail is a relatively flat, easy route that takes 19 minutes to complete.

The trail starts at the Sea Lion Point parking area and provides a walk-through coastal scrub. It then loops through mostly cypress forests outlined by cliffs with dramatic and spectacular ocean views. Along the way, visitors can enjoy breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and the rugged coastline.

Cypress Grove Trail is the most popular trail in the park, as it takes visitors through a stunning cypress grove and provides dozens of coastal viewpoints. Visitors can also spot sea lions, harbor seals, and sea otters swimming nearby.

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What to Pack for Carmel by the Sea

Preparing for a visit to Carmel by the Sea? Ensuring you pack the necessary items can make your stay much more pleasant. Below are some indispensable items to remember for your trip to Carmel:

  • Layers of clothing: Carmel’s weather can be unpredictable, so it’s important to pack layers of clothing. Bring a light jacket or sweater for cooler evenings and a hat and sunglasses for sunny days.
  • Comfortable shoes: Carmel is a walkable city, and you’ll likely spend a lot of time on your feet. Be sure to pack comfortable shoes that you can wear for long periods of time.
  • Sunscreen: Even on cloudy days, the sun can be strong in Carmel. Pack a high-SPF sunscreen to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays.
  • Reusable water bottle: Staying hydrated is important, especially if you plan to spend a lot of time outdoors. Bring a reusable water bottle to refill at water fountains and restaurants.
  • Camera: Carmel is a picturesque city; you’ll want to capture its beauty. Bring a camera to photograph charming cottages, scenic coastlines, and stunning sunsets.
  • Binoculars: If you’re a birdwatcher, be sure to pack a pair of binoculars. Carmel is home to the Carmel River Bird Sanctuary, where you can spot a variety of waterfowl and songbirds.
  • Umbrella: Carmel can experience occasional rain showers, so it’s a good idea to pack a small umbrella just in case.
  • Swimsuit: Planning to enjoy the ocean waves or lounge poolside? Don’t forget to pack your swimsuit, as Carmel is home to numerous beaches and hotels that feature swimming pools.

Best Restaurants in Carmel by the Sea

Carmel by the Sea is a foodie’s paradise, with various restaurants offering everything from classic Italian cuisine to fresh seafood. As a local resident, I’ve had the pleasure of dining at many of the restaurants in the area, and I’ve compiled a list of the top 5 restaurants that I believe offer the best dining experience.

  • La Bicyclette: This charming French bistro is a must-visit for anyone looking for a cozy and romantic dining experience. The menu features classic French dishes such as escargot and coq au vin, as well as wood-fired pizzas and seasonal salads. The restaurant also has an extensive wine list, with many French wines to choose from.
  • La Balena: If you’re in the mood for Italian cuisine, La Balena is the place to go. The restaurant’s cozy courtyard ambiance and menu of Italian staples combine to create one of the best dinners that Carmel-by-the-Sea has to offer. In true Italian fashion, the menu changes frequently, featuring seasonal ingredients and local produce.
  • Greasing’s Coastal Cuisine: This restaurant is a local favorite for its fresh seafood and farm-to-table approach. The menu features dishes such as grilled octopus, Dungeness crab cakes, and pan-seared scallops, all of which are sourced from local fishermen. The restaurant also has an extensive wine list, with many local wines to choose from.
  • Casanova: This romantic restaurant is housed in a historic building and features a menu of classic French and Italian dishes. The menu changes seasonally, and the restaurant offers a daily rotating specials menu. The wine list is extensive, with many French and Italian wines to choose from.
  • Allegro Gourmet Pizzeria: For those craving pizza, Allegro Gourmet Pizzeria is a must-visit. This restaurant serves an array of gourmet pizzas, with options for vegetarians and gluten-free diets. The use of fresh ingredients and a wood-fired oven imparts a delectable smoky taste to their pizzas.

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Best Hotels in Carmel by the Sea

When organizing a visit to Carmel by the Sea, choosing the ideal hotel plays a crucial role in ensuring a delightful experience. As someone living in the area, I’ve had the chance to recommend a variety of local hotels. Below are my top five selections for the finest hotels in Carmel by the Sea:

  • Carmel Valley Ranch: This sophisticated and sprawling hotel is tucked away in the foothills of the Santa Lucia mountains in the heart of Carmel Valley. The hotel boasts many amenities, including a golf course, tennis courts, hiking trails, a spa, and multiple dining options. The rooms are spacious and luxurious, with stunning views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
  • L’Auberge Carmel: Situated in the bustling heart of Carmel by the Sea, merely steps from both the beach and a variety of shops and dining options, this delightful hotel boasts snug rooms featuring fireplaces, a French-themed restaurant, and a tranquil garden courtyard.
  • Cypress Inn: This historic hotel was co-owned by actress Doris Day and is known for its Mediterranean-style architecture and dog-friendly policies. The hotel features elegant rooms, a cozy lounge with a fireplace, and a courtyard with a fountain. The hotel also has a popular restaurant and bar with live music on weekends.
  • La Playa Carmel: Located in a peaceful residential zone a few blocks away from the beach, this grand and historic hotel in Carmel by the Sea provides guests with spacious accommodations featuring fireplaces, a heated outdoor swimming pool, a hot tub, and a beautifully maintained garden courtyard. The establishment is also home to a famed restaurant and bar.
  • Hyatt Carmel Highlands: This luxurious hotel is located on a hilltop overlooking the ocean and features stunning panoramic views of the coast. The hotel features spacious rooms with fireplaces, a heated outdoor pool, a hot tub, and various dining options. The hotel also has a popular bar with live music on weekends.

Each hotel offers a unique and memorable experience, and I highly recommend them to anyone visiting Carmel by the Sea.

How Many Days Do You Need in Carmel-by-the-Sea?

The answer is two to three days. While you can see the top sights in Carmel in just two days, you can easily spend more time. There are so many restaurants, art galleries, shops, and outdoor sights to see that you could easily spend longer.

In two days, you can explore the highlights of Carmel-by-the-Sea, such as the world-famous Carmel Beach, the historic Carmel Mission, and the scenic 17-mile Drive. You can also stroll around the charming downtown area, browse the art galleries and shops, and enjoy the local cuisine.

If you have an extra day, you can take a scenic drive down to Big Sur and explore the stunning coastline or visit the nearby Monterey Bay Aquarium to see the fascinating marine life. You can also spend more time relaxing on the beach or hiking in the nearby parks.

To make the most of your time in Carmel-by-the-Sea, planning your itinerary in advance and prioritizing the sights and activities that interest you the most is a good idea. You can also consider taking a guided tour to learn more about the history and culture of the area.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Things to Do in Carmel by the Sea

Below you can find a few commonly asked questions about Things to Do in Carmel by the Sea. Let’s check them out.

What are some romantic activities for couples in Carmel-by-the-Sea?

For those seeking romantic experiences in Carmel-by-the-Sea, consider embarking on the picturesque 17-mile Drive, exploring the historic Carmel Mission, or watching the sunset at Carmel Beach. A leisurely walk through the quaint streets to browse art galleries and shops also makes for a delightful activity.

Can you suggest family-friendly attractions in Carmel-by-the-Sea?

Carmel-by-the-Sea is a great destination for families. You can visit the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, which offers hiking trails and stunning ocean views. Another family-friendly attraction is Carmel Beach, where you can play in the sand and surf. You can also visit the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, located nearby.

What are the top free attractions to visit in Carmel-by-the-Sea?

Enjoy free attractions in Carmel-by-the-Sea, such as the scenic Carmel Beach, the peaceful Window on the Bay Park, and the historical Carmel Mission Basilica Museum. You can also take pleasure in a self-guided tour around the city’s whimsical fairytale cottages or explore the vibrant art galleries and charming shops at no cost.

Which are the best evening activities in Carmel-by-the-Sea?

Carmel-by-the-Sea has a variety of evening activities for visitors to enjoy. You can attend a concert or play at the Sunset Center, which offers a variety of performances throughout the year. Another option is to take a sunset walk along the beach or dine at one of the many restaurants in town.

What unique experiences can be found in Carmel-by-the-Sea?

Carmel-by-the-Sea is known for its charming streets, art galleries, and fairytale cottages. You can also visit the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, which offers stunning ocean views and hiking trails. 

What events or attractions should visitors check out in Carmel-by-the-Sea during December?

During December, visitors to Carmel-by-the-Sea can enjoy various holiday events and attractions. The city hosts a tree-lighting ceremony, a holiday parade, and a Christmas market. 


Carmel by the Sea is a charming coastal town that offers many activities for visitors. From exploring the scenic 17-mile Drive through Pebble Beach to visiting the famous fairytale cottages, there is something for everyone. The town’s idyllic white-sand beaches, enchanting architecture, and thriving art scene captivate visitors.

Bear in mind, that Carmel by the Sea boasts an array of dining establishments, from restaurants to cafes, where visitors can savor exquisite seafood, sample regional wines, and treat themselves to handcrafted desserts.

I encourage readers to plan a trip to this charming town and experience its unique charm for themselves. Thank you for taking the time to read my article.