What To Do in Carmel-By-The-Sea – A Local’s Guide
Hey there, fellow travelers! 🌟 It’s me, your local Carmel-by-the-Sea enthusiast and business owner. Grew up right here in this picturesque little village. So, when someone drops the big question, “What should I do in Carmel?” I know what I’m talking about.
First things first, I’m all about keeping it hyper local. We’re talking about adventures you can dive into within a hop, skip, and jump from our charming one-square-mile village. I’ve walked these paths and popped into these spots more times than I can count.
But hey, I’m picky about my picks. I’m only gonna chat about places I’ve actually been to and love. The kind of spots where I take my visiting friends and family to show off our quaint town.
And just a heads-up, there are some amazing places outside of Carmel-by-the-Sea, like the stunning Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur or the lush Garland Park in Carmel Valley. But guess what? They didn’t make my list. Why? Because we’re focusing on the heart of Carmel, the crème de la crème spots where I take my pals when they come to visit.
So, buckle up! I’m about to take you on a whirlwind tour of Carmel-by-the-Sea’s hidden gems and all-time faves, the places that make my hometown the magical spot it is. Let’s roll! 🚗💨
1. Start your day at Carmel Bakery
Naturally, this is my home base in Carmel. This isn’t just any bakery, it’s THE meetup spot. Whether it’s for a morning coffee and pastry or an afternoon snack, this is where all the magic starts.
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Fun fact: Carmel Bakery is like the granddaddy of California bakeries. We’re talking since 1899, people! It’s been baking up goodness right here for over 120 years. Imagine all the dough they’ve kneaded in that time!
And the building? It’s the oldest one still standing in the village. Talk about a slice of history! When you step inside, you’re stepping back in time. There’s a cool photo of Clint Eastwood from his 1986 mayoral campaign (yeah, Dirty Harry was our mayor!). Look up and you’ll spot a John Steinbeck quote about Carmel’s evolution since its early days. It’s like a mini history lesson with your coffee! 🍞☕
So, make Carmel Bakery your first stop. Trust me, it’s a Carmel-by-the-Sea must-do! 🌟🥐
2. Carmel Beach
Now, let’s talk about Carmel Beach. Trust me, you can’t say you’ve been to Carmel without visiting our famous white sand beach. It’s a perfect stretch of paradise that’s just a mile long.
From the Carmel Bakery, it’s only about a five-minute stroll down the hill. Pro tip: Take the walk down 8th Street. That’s where you’ll find the best part of the beach.
Once you’re there, it’s all about the cool vibes. The surf’s up, and it’s a dog’s haven with off-leash freedom. But a heads-up: the water’s really cold! So, maybe just dip your toes unless you’re up for a chilly swim.
Carmel Beach is an essential part of any visit here. It’s where the ocean meets our laid-back lifestyle.
3. Scenic Road Walkway
Instead of going down to the water, we often take a different route to avoid sandy toes and get a little light cardio in. That’s where the Scenic Road Walkway comes into play. Instead of the beach itself, we stroll along the sidewalk above the beach on Scenic Avenue. It’s the perfect blend of seaside views without the sand.
Starting from Carmel Bakery, we take a left down Lincoln Street, then a right on 8th Ave. The path begins right where Scenic and 8th intersect. This walkway offers some of the best views in town, with the ocean on one side and charming Carmel homes on the other.
It’s a great way to experience the beauty of Carmel Beach, minus the sand in your shoes!
4. The Unofficial Scenic Road Architecture Tour
If you ever find yourself needing a break from the stunning ocean views on Scenic Road, just look to your left. That’s where you’ll witness a dazzling array of architecture. It’s like an unofficial scenic road architectural tour!
As you walk, you’ll spot a whimsical mix of fairy tale cottages nestled beside contemporary architectural wonders. And get this – houses here start at eight figures. Yep, it’s as upscale as it gets.
And that rocky castle-like structure catching your eye? That’s The Tor House. Built by Robinson Jeffers, a famous naturalist poet, in the 1920s, it’s a piece of history. Jeffers built it using rocks from the beach, one by one. It was the first house on Carmel Point and stands as a testament to the area’s rich history and unique charm.
This part of the walk is like stepping through a live gallery of architectural marvels – a must-see in Carmel!
5. Carmel River Beach
Continuing our journey, we usually take the Scenic Walkway all the way around the point to Carmel River Beach. This spot is a bit of a local secret and a personal favorite. It’s sheltered from the wind, making it perfect for sunbathing.
Carmel River Beach also has a more laid-back, local vibe. It’s especially great for families with small children. Why? Well, there’s a calm lagoon backing up to the beach, offering a safer and more serene spot for kids to play compared to the stormy Pacific Ocean.
Typically, after soaking up the sun and scenery, we head back up to Carmel Bakery, winding our way through the residential streets. This entire loop takes about an hour – a perfect little excursion to get a taste of Carmel’s natural beauty.
But sometimes, if we’re feeling a bit more adventurous, we might just extend our walk 5 minutes further to…
6. Carmel Mission
Carmel Mission, often regarded as California’s most significant historical structure, stands as a testament to the state’s rich and complex history. It features the striking Star Window, an architectural marvel that captivates visitors. While not the first or last of its kind, this mission held a special place in the heart of Saint Junipero Serra, who chose it as his final resting place.
The mission’s history is intertwined with the experiences of the Native American population, reflecting a past marked by exploitation and cultural impact. Today, Carmel Mission serves as a poignant reminder of both California’s historical roots and the need for understanding and acknowledgment of its multifaceted past.
7. Dolores Street
Once we’ve soaked in the sacred vibes at the Carmel Mission, it’s time to head back into town and explore Dolores Street. This street is like the picture-perfect postcard of downtown Carmel.
Dolores Street is where you’ll find the crème de la crème of Carmel’s culinary scene. Seriously, it’s got the best collection of restaurants in town. Heard of Pebble Beach Resort? Their concierges often point guests looking to dine in Carmel to the corner of 7th Avenue and Dolores Street, where they’re spoilt for choice with Little Napoli, La Bicyclette, and 7th & Dolores. Each spot has its own unique charm.
For a more laid-back vibe, Mulligan’s is the go-to spot to grab a beer and catch a game. Bar Napoli is another great option for the same. And if you’re into wine-tasting, don’t miss out on Albatross Ridge and Carraccioli Cellars – personal favorites of mine.
Little Napoli does lunch on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, but even if you don’t stop for a bite, or just take a peek in the courtyard to admire the El Paseo Building.
8. Admire the El Paseo Building
After a delightful stroll along Dolores Street, take a moment to admire the El Paseo Building, an architectural jewel in the heart of Carmel. Little Napoli, a local favorite, calls this building home. Built in 1928, it’s a stunning example of the Spanish Mission Revival, or Spanish Eclectic style.
The El Paseo Building is a testament to the old-world charm of Spain. Designed by the Oakland-based architects Blaine & Olsen, it was built for L.C. Merrill. What makes this building stand out is its intricate details: the ceramic tiles on the stairway off Dolores Street and the fountain were all imported from Spain. These beautiful tiles, along with the handmade red paving tiles, contrast strikingly against the building’s white walls and old wooden doors.
In the central courtyard, don’t miss the terra cotta sculpture “El Paseo” by Jo Mora. It’s a charming centerpiece. Mora, who also created the sarcophagus for Junipero Serra at the Carmel Mission, is renowned for his lively illustrations of old California, which have become highly collectible.
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Taking a moment to appreciate the El Paseo Building offers a glimpse into Carmel’s rich architectural heritage and the artistic legacy of Jo Mora.
9. Take a Picture Outside of The Tuck Box
Just a stone’s throw away, you’ll find The Tuck Box, another Carmel treasure. This iconic fairytale cottage, built in 1926 by Hugh Comstock, was originally for artist Bonnie Lee to showcase her antiques and rare shawl collection. Its storybook appearance makes it a standout in Carmel’s architectural landscape.
The Tuck Box didn’t just stay as it was. Pedro J. Lemos, a Stanford art professor, bought the cottage and brought his own touch to it. He added a courtyard and adjacent buildings, including a whimsical garden shop in a fairytale-inspired building at the rear.
Throughout its history, this quaint and charming cottage has been a perfect setting for tea rooms. It’s not just a building; it’s a piece of Carmel’s enchanting character, inviting visitors to step into a world that seems straight out of a storybook.
10. Browse the Bookshelves at Pilgrim’s Way
Next on our Carmel tour is Pilgrim’s Way, a true gem for book lovers. Tucked away just across Ocean Avenue, this quaint store holds the title of Carmel’s last surviving brick-and-mortar bookstore. But Pilgrim’s Way is more than just a bookstore; it’s a symbol of Carmel’s dedication to independent businesses.
Stepping into Pilgrim’s Way isn’t just about browsing for books; it’s about supporting a philosophy. This store embodies the community’s commitment to nurturing local enterprises. It’s a testament to the town’s unique character and a celebration of the intimate, personalized experience of book browsing in an age dominated by digital alternatives.
A visit here isn’t just a shopping trip; it’s a way to contribute to preserving the charm and distinctiveness of Carmel, keeping the tradition of independent bookstores alive.
11. Picnic in Devendorf Park
If lunchtime is calling and you’re up for something relaxed, how about a picnic in Devendorf Park? This charming spot in Carmel offers a perfect setting for a laid-back meal amidst greenery.
Before you settle down in the park, make a quick stop at The Cheese Shop in the Carmel Plaza. Trust me, this place is a picnic essential. With an amazing selection of cheeses, it’s a paradise for cheese lovers. Whether you’re into sharp, creamy, or nutty flavors, you’ll find something to tantalize your taste buds.
And to complete your picnic basket, swing by Bruno’s, a market just across the street from the park on Junipero Street. They’ve got all you need to round out your picnic fare – think fresh bread, fruits, and maybe some sweet treats.
A picnic in Devendorf Park, with goodies from The Cheese Shop and Bruno’s, is a delightful way to enjoy a sunny day in Carmel.
12. Pose with The Carmel Shell
After your leisurely picnic at Devendorf Park, don’t miss the chance to snap a photo with the Carmel Shell. It’s just across the street, on the corner of 6th Avenue and Mission Street. This wonderful piece of public art is one of Carmel’s newest attractions and it’s pretty hard to miss!
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The Carmel Shell isn’t just a pretty sight; it’s a symbol deeply rooted in Carmel’s sense of place, artistic heritage, and history. The mural was designed by Marie-Clare, a Carmel-based folk artist. Her style echoes the Arts & Crafts movement, which was popular around the time Carmel was founded. It’s a beautiful nod to the town’s origins and its rich artistic culture.
Grab your phone, strike a pose, and take a quick selfie with this uniquely Carmel landmark. It’s a fun way to capture a memory of your visit. And as you snap that picture, you can start thinking about what adventure to embark on next in this charming town.
13. Baa Baa with the Sheep at Mission Ranch
If you’re in the mood for a drink and perhaps an outdoor setting if the weather’s nice, consider heading a few miles down the road to Mission Ranch. This place isn’t just a ranch; it’s a piece of history and a stunning retreat in the beautiful landscape of Carmel.
Mission Ranch has roots going back to the 1800s when it was a dairy farm. Over the years, it’s transformed into this picturesque spot we see today. And guess who played a huge role in its preservation? Clint Eastwood, the renowned actor and director. He bought the property in the 1980s to save it from becoming condominiums. Thanks to him, it’s still got its historic charm, plus some modern touches that make it a fantastic spot for both lodging and dining.
One of the highlights here? The sheep. Lots of them. Imagine sipping the perfect martini while watching sheep graze in the pasture overlooking Carmel River Beach. It’s a uniquely serene experience.
A little side note for Clint Eastwood fans: many head to The Hog’s Breath Inn in downtown Carmel, thinking it’s still owned by Clint. While it’s true he once owned it, he sold it many years ago. But it’s still a neat place to visit for a bit of local celebrity history.
14. Sip Under / With The Stars on The Vesuvio Rooftop
If you’re not up for a drive and fancy a drink in town, especially if it’s after 4pm, head to The Star Bar, also known as the Vesuvio rooftop. This spot, right behind Devendorf Park, is perfect for happy hour.
Keep in mind, it gets busy, often filling up by 5pm. So, if you’re keen on securing a spot, it’s best to get there early. As Carmel’s only rooftop bar, Vesuvio offers a unique experience. Imagine sitting by firepits, surrounded by gorgeous succulents, all nestled among a canopy of trees – Carmel’s favorite natural feature.
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The ambiance here, especially during sunset, is something else. The sky’s changing colors only add to the mood, making it an ideal spot for sipping cocktails. Whether you’re there for happy hour, dinner, or after-dinner drinks, we believe our rooftop is a must-visit while you’re in town. It’s a great way to enjoy the outdoors, the views, and the local vibe, all at once.
Fun Fact: Bill Murray had a bit of a meltdown here one time, however we are sworn to secrecy.
15. Carmel-By-The-Sea Wine Walk
If a laid-back evening is more your style, consider the Carmel-By-The-Sea Wine Walk. It’s not just a walk; it’s an experience. This self-guided tour takes you through the scenic Carmel-by-the-Sea and offers tastings from various local wine tasting rooms.
Here’s how it works: you purchase a Wine Walk Passport, which gives you access to a selection of tasting flights. These tastings showcase some of the finest wines from Monterey County and beyond. It’s a fantastic way to sample diverse wines, interact with knowledgeable staff, and soak up Carmel’s enchanting atmosphere, all at your own pace.
To make your wine walk even more delightful, download the app and start at Bar Napoli. They offer a free mini cheese plate with the purchase of a wine flight, a perfect pairing to kick off your Carmel wine adventure.
Whether you’re a wine connoisseur or just looking to enjoy a relaxed evening, the Carmel Wine Walk is a great way to explore the town and its local flavors.
16. Shop Till You Drop
After indulging in the Carmel Wine Walk, you might find yourself in the mood for some shopping. And let me tell you, shopping in Carmel-by-the-Sea is an experience in itself. It’s as unique and enchanting as the town’s fairy-tale ambiance.
Carmel’s shopping scene is a delightful mix of quaint European charm and Californian flair. You’ll find an eclectic range of options here – from high-end boutiques and art galleries to cozy bookstores and chic home decor shops. This is a place where locally-owned stores shine, each brimming with its own personality and specialty items.
Imagine browsing through luxurious cashmere sweaters, exploring a year-round Christmas store, or discovering unique artisanal crafts. The variety is simply endless. What makes shopping in Carmel special is the personal touch. Friendly shopkeepers often have interesting stories about their products, adding an extra layer of charm to your shopping experience.
Whether you’re on the hunt for fashion, art, souvenirs, or just fancy a leisurely browse, Carmel’s shopping scene is a blend of leisure, luxury, and discovery. It’s a must-visit for anyone who appreciates the finer things in life.
17. Here for the Art Galleries
Browsing art galleries in Carmel can be an especially fun experience after enjoying a drink or two. It’s not something I do regularly, but if you’re in the market for something special to hang on your wall and have the budget for it, Carmel is definitely your town.
Carmel is home to over ____ galleries, each offering its own unique charm and selection of artworks. Our personal favorites are the ones on Dolores Street. One gallery that stands out is where you can see the lady artist painting live – it’s an experience in itself.
A stroll through Carmel’s quaint, fairy-tale streets is like stepping into a world of creativity and culture. The city boasts numerous art galleries, showcasing a wide array of art from both local and international artists. These galleries, often nestled in charming cottage-like buildings, present a diverse mix of traditional and contemporary art, including paintings, sculptures, and photography.
Each gallery visit in Carmel is a unique adventure, unveiling new artists and styles. This abundance of art is a testament to Carmel’s long-standing love affair with the arts, making it a must-visit destination for art enthusiasts and collectors.
A few of our top picks include Gallery North and The Photography West Gallery, both located on Dolores Street. Also, don’t miss Delia, where you can watch the eponymous artist paint live – it’s a captivating experience.
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18. Buy Your Girl Some Jewelry
Carmel-by-the-Sea isn’t just a haven for art lovers; it’s also a paradise for those who appreciate fine jewelry. The city’s jewelry shops are as diverse and charming as Carmel itself, offering an array of exquisite pieces for different tastes and occasions. Tucked away in the picturesque streets of Carmel, these boutiques feature everything from classic, elegant designs to contemporary and avant-garde creations.
Many of these jewelry shops highlight the work of local artisans. They offer handcrafted pieces that reflect the natural beauty and artistic spirit of the Monterey Peninsula. Whether you’re looking for a special gift, a memorable souvenir, or a bespoke creation, the jewelry shops in Carmel provide a luxurious and intimate shopping experience.
As you explore these stores, you’ll enter a world of sparkling gems, precious metals, and unparalleled craftsmanship. It’s an experience that delights both jewelry connoisseurs and casual shoppers.
A couple of our favorite spots are B&G Jewelers for traditional and custom jewelry and Fourtane for new and vintage watches, both located on Ocean Avenue. These stores are known for their exceptional selection and service, making them must-visit destinations for anyone interested in the finer life.
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19. Catch a Show at The Forest Theatre
Catching a show at the Forest Theatre in Carmel-by-the-Sea is an experience not to be missed if the timing is right. It’s perhaps the most quintessentially Carmel activity you can indulge in.
The Forest Theater is a historic gem, an outdoor amphitheater that’s woven into the cultural fabric of the city. Founded in 1910 by Herbert Heron, it stands proud as one of the oldest operating outdoor theaters west of the Rockies.
This theater is not just a place to watch performances; it’s a magical space where rustic charm meets the beauty of the natural landscape. It continues to captivate audiences with its enchanting backdrop and dynamic performances.
Locals have their own way of enjoying shows here. They bring blankets, pizza, wine, and cheese, arriving an hour early to dine and socialize in the open air. It’s a communal experience that reflects the spirit of Carmel.
Remember, it’s an outdoor theater, so dressing warmly is key. Don’t forget to bring a blanket to cozy up as you enjoy the show under the stars.