15 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Carmel

A trip to Carmel-by-the-Sea is like entering a fantasy world. This charming coastal village is far from reality and resembles a fairytale European hamlet, with tree-lined lanes dotted with handsome Spanish-style buildings, elegant Victorian residences, and little storybook cottages.

For those who take the time to explore at their own pace, there are peaceful courtyards and secret passageways that add to the appeal. Plan a wonderful weekend break, coastal retreat, or sightseeing adventure.

Wandering is encouraged in Carmel because there are no numbered street addresses (GPS cannot pinpoint a specific spot).

Tourists exploring the area will come across artisan boutiques, unique, locally owned businesses, top-notch art galleries, and warm eateries.

The tranquil village of Carmel-by-the-Sea offers a welcoming spot to stay after perusing the stores, unwinding at the stunning Carmel Beach, or enjoying picturesque walks.

Luxury hotels, historic inns, and expensive bed-and-breakfasts are available for guests to choose from. The warm decor of the modest lodgings is perfect for cool evenings when the summertime fog creeps in.

Visitors who stay in Carmel for a few days can also visit the nearby city of Monterey, which is four miles away, and take a trip through Big Sur to see the breathtaking ocean vistas. Carmel is one of the most popular day trips from San Francisco for tourists.

With our list of the top Carmel attractions and things to do, you can learn more about the greatest spots to visit in this charming resort town on California’s Central Coast.

15. Carmel Beach and Ocean Avenue

Traveling to Carmel-by-the-Sea is like stepping into a dream environment. This little coastal town is a world away from reality and resembles a quaint European hamlet from a dream, with tree-lined alleys sprinkled with gorgeous Spanish-style structures, opulent Victorian homes, and tiny cottages from a children’s book.

There are quiet courtyards and hidden corridors for those who take the time to explore at their own speed, which add to the attraction. Plan a fantastic weekend getaway, coastal getaway, or sightseeing excursion.

Carmel has no numbered street addresses, therefore wandering is encouraged (GPS cannot pinpoint a specific spot). Tourists that explore the region will find warm restaurants, distinctive locally owned enterprises, and artisan boutiques.

After browsing the shops, unwinding at the gorgeous Carmel Beach, or taking scenic walks, the peaceful community of Carmel-by-the-Sea offers a warm place to stay.

There are several lodging options for visitors, including pricey bed-and-breakfasts, historic inns, and luxury hotels. The simple accommodations’ warm aesthetic is ideal for chilly evenings as the summertime fog begins to roll in.

Visitors that stay in Carmel for a few days can also travel through Big Sur to enjoy the spectacular ocean views, as well as the four-mile away neighbouring city of Monterey. One of the most well-liked day trips for travellers from San Francisco is to Carmel.

Learn more about the best places to visit in this quaint resort town on California’s Central Coast with our list of the top Carmel attractions and things to do.

14. Carmel Mission

San Carlos Borroméo de Carmelo Mission is one of California’s most fascinating and stunning Spanish mission sites. Father Junipero Serra of Spain founded the Carmel Mission, a parish church that is still in use today, in 1770.

The basilica, which was finished in 1797 and is recognised as a National Historic Landmark, serves as the focal point of the Carmel Mission. Renovations closely resemble the original structure. The Carmel Mission Basilica has a highly ornamented interior, in contrast to the majority of Spanish mission churches, which lack decoration.

Visitors are in awe of the stunning exterior, which features a flower courtyard and a bell tower with a domical Moorish design. The sanctuary’s tunnel-vaulted ceiling and 30-foot-tall golden reredos behind the altar are also stunning. There are numerous exquisite examples of Spanish Colonial liturgical art on display all over the basilica.

The Carmel Mission Basilica Museum has a number of diverse exhibits that showcase priceless relics and outline the history of the monument. The residence of Father Junipero Serra is visible to visitors in one of the mission’s historic structures.

The beautiful flowers and green palm palms in the Munrás Courtyard garden are in keeping with the mission’s goal of tranquilly. Red-throated Anna’s hummingbirds can occasionally be spotted darting about the grounds.

The public is welcome to visit the Carmel Mission Basilica and Carmel Mission Basilica Museum from Wednesday through Sunday. The basilica hosts Mass on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, 3080 Rio Road

13. Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Point Lobos is a spectacular location to explore thanks to its dramatic coastal scenery and remarkable diversity of fauna. The magnificent ocean panorama, which features the Pacific Ocean’s thundering waves striking rocky outcrops and cliffs, astounds visitors.

Coastal scrub areas bursting with bright wildflowers, marine terraces, tide pools, and forests of Monterey pine and cypress trees can all be found along scenic hiking trails. The fields are covered in a profusion of California poppies and wild lilacs in the spring.

Observing the sea mammals at Point Lobos is a popular feature. Hikers can descend the Sea Lion Point Trail to a staircase that provides a good view of coves where barking sea lions are resting on offshore rocks.

The Cypress Grove Trail is where you may see some of Point Lobos’ cutest wildlife, including playful sea otters who eat mussels and swim through the kelp in Headland Cove. On the Granite Point Trail, otters can occasionally be seen in “the Pit’s” serene waters.

The splendour of Point Lobos has served as inspiration for many artists and photographers, and scuba divers enjoy this location for the variety of marine life and the vivid underwater scenery.

California’s Carmel-by-the-Sea, 62 CA-1, is the location.

12. 17-Mile Drive

This picturesque coastal drive round the outside of a narrow peninsula that divides Monterey Bay from Carmel Bay, running from Arrowhead Point in Carmel-by-the-Sea to the Spanish Bay in Pebble Beach.

One of the most popular things to do in Carmel for many visitors is to take a stroll along the 17-Mile Drive. Every turn of the winding seaside route draws tourists’ attention to the breathtaking scenery and breathtaking ocean views. There are isolated beaches, wildlife viewing spots, scenic overlooks, and picnic areas with views of the lovely surroundings scattered along the route.

The Lone Cypress, a Monterey cypress tree that towers magnificently atop a granite slope, is what gives the 17-Mile Drive its name. One of the most popular trees in North America to be photographed is the more than 200-year-old tree.

Pebble Beach Golf Links, the best public golf course in the nation, is only a short drive from The Lone Cypress viewing point. Six U.S. Open Championships have been played on this illustrious course, which will also host the 2023 U.S. Women’s Open and the 2027 U.S. Open. The Lodge at Pebble Beach offers opulent lodging appropriate for the setting right next to the course.

The 17-Mile Drive region includes Pebble Beach Golf Links in addition to Cypress Point Club, Spyglass Hill Golf Course, Poppy Hills Golf Course, Monterey Peninsula Country Club, and The Links at Spanish Bay.

The stunning Spanish Bay Beach, which was named after the Spanish explorers who found it in 1769, is a favourite attraction for many travellers who visit the 17-Mile Drive. The gorgeous sandy beach and picnic tables that overlook the turquoise waves are sure to please visitors. The Inn at Spanish Bay offers five-star accommodations in this gorgeous location, tucked between the Pacific Ocean and stands of Monterey pine trees.

The stops at Bird Rock and Seal Rock are popular with nature enthusiasts. The Bird Rock observation area offers a glimpse of a sizable seaside rock where groups of birds congregate. Apart from the less boisterous harbour seals, Bird Rock is also home to distantly audible barking sea lions. The Seal Rock stop features a picnic area, a protected beach, and tide pools.

The 17-Mile Drive is run and owned by a private company. Both the Carmel Gate at the southern entry in Carmel-by-the-Sea and the Pacific Grove Gate at the northern entrance in Pebble Beach require visitors to pay an entrance charge of $10.75 per vehicle. For overnight visitors staying at The Lodge at Pebble Beach and The Inn at Spanish Bay, admission to the 17-Mile Drive is free.

11. Shopping on and around Ocean Avenue

It’s fun to explore the distinctive specialty shops in Carmel, which may be found on the broad Ocean Avenue, nestled away in beautiful courtyards, and on the tiny side streets. Wandering the streets of the town is like going on a treasure hunt that takes you to unique boutiques that are just here, like artisan shops, jewellers, antique stores, and more.

The Cottage of Sweets, a confectionery store in the classic British style, is one of the cutest among the countless speciality shops. English candies, luxury licorice candies from all over the world, caramels created in the area, and fudge prepared in the store are all included in the assortment.

From FJRN at the Pine Inn Hotel, which sells beautiful handcrafted Scandinavian furniture and Scandinavian-made home goods, to the Burns shop, which sells cowboy hats, boots, and clothing, the range of stores is astounding. The Carmel Music Box Company, Mad Dogs & Englishmen Bike Shop, and Bittner Pen and Paper Shop are some further unusual stores.

Along with numerous outstanding restaurants and local markets, downtown Carmel also offers charming bed-and-breakfasts and attractive historic hotels. Italian, French, Japanese, Greek, Mediterranean, Mexican, and even Irish comfort food are among the world culinary selections.

Additionally, there are lots of eateries that specialise in California fusion, and many of their chefs are committed to serving dishes that are sustainable and farm-to-table. Additionally, there are several great coffee shops and cafés, as well as numerous venues for live music.

10. Explore Fairy-Tale Cottages and Hidden Passageways

The town’s fairytale architecture, built in the 1920s and 1930s, is what gives Carmel its unique character. Tourists can obtain a map showing the locations of the fairy-tale cottages at the Carmel Visitor Center (located on Ocean Avenue). Visitors can discover the town’s undiscovered charm by going on their own guided tour.

Hugh Comstock, a native of Carmel, had the concept for the cottages in 1924 when he made the decision to build a studio for his wife Mayotta’s doll-making pastime. Mayotta utilised Comstock’s first home, the Hansel one (the Gretel one is right next door), to create her “Otsy-Totsy” rag dolls.

Later, Comstock acquired cheap parcels of land to construct a variety of imaginative cottages. His distinctive fairytale design has half-timbered detailing, paned windows, and steeply pitched thatched roofs; it may have been influenced by Alsatian villages or the English country homes at Stratford-upon-Avon.

Only 21 of the original 30 fairy-tale cottages in Comstock are still standing. Today’s English tea room, which is also well-liked for breakfast and lunch, is housed in the former Tuck Box cottage. A store that sells excellent china and teas is called The Rose Tea Collection cottage.

Tourists will enjoy exploring and taking pictures of Carmel’s numerous dramatic hidden tunnels and peaceful garden courtyards while looking for the fairy-tale cottages. Surprisingly little stores, art galleries, cafés, and other enterprises can be found in these crevices.

The 1929-built Las Tiendas Building has a beautiful stairway with grillwork. The Carmel Coffee House is a charming little café with comfortable outdoor seating in the courtyard that can be found inside the Las Tiendas tunnel.

9. Tor House and Hawk Tower

Robinson Jeffers, a poet from California, erected Tor House, which was made of local granite and situated on a bluff with a direct view of the ocean.

After Tor House was finished in 1919, Jeffers constructed the Hawk Tower, a structure with a mediaeval appearance that was meant to serve as a creative space for his wife and a wonderful play area for his sons.

On Saturdays, guided tours of Tor House and its grounds are available. The building’s history, the Jeffers family, and the poet’s literary career are all explained to visitors.

Visits to the rustic Tor House, a trip up the tower, and a stroll around the grounds’ meticulously kept English cottage garden are all included in the tour. Sadly, taking pictures is not permitted.

In Carmel, California, at 26304 Ocean View Avenue

8. Day Trip to Monterey Aquarium and Cannery Row

The 17-Mile Drive, a gorgeous coastal path that passes via Pebble Beach Golf Course and The Lodge at Pebble Beach, is the only direct route from Monterey to Carmel, which takes about 10 minutes.

The coastal neighbourhood of Cannery Row, which served as the backdrop for a John Steinbeck novel, is the most renowned Monterey attraction. There are many businesses and seafood eateries in this touristic region.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a fantastic family destination that is home to a variety of fish, sea turtles, puffins, sharks, and cute penguins. Visitors also gain knowledge about the Monterey Bay and the local wildlife. The observation decks at the aquarium provide expansive views of the bay and ocean, making them great for whale watching and viewing other marine species in surrounding areas.

Those living in San Francisco would be wise to travel on a planned visit to Monterey and Carmel. Passengers on the full-day Monterey & Carmel Explorer tour travel along the picturesque Pacific Coast Highway and 17-Mile Drive. Stops on the tour are made at Cannery Row, Pebble Beach, Whale City Bakery, and Pigeon Point Lighthouse.

In Monterey, California, at 886 Cannery Row

7. Garland Ranch Regional Park

Numerous hiking routes are available in this vast parkland, which features a variety of sceneries, from cottonwood and sycamores in the floodplain to the peaks of the Santa Lucia Mountains. The tranquil Garzas Creek meanders through the park as the trails meander between canyons covered in maple trees, redwood forests, and shady oak woodlands.

Hikers will have the opportunity to see a variety of birds and other species while on nature walks in Garland Ranch Regional Park. The park is an excellent location for horseback riding, photography safaris, and running as well.

Another well-liked natural resource near Carmel is Garrapata State Park, a coastal park with two miles of beach and hiking paths that end in a picturesque overlook. There are many activities to do here, including swimming, windsurfing, snorkelling, and seeing sea lions and harbour seals.

In Carmel, California, at 700 West Carmel Valley Road

6. Mission Ranch Hotel and Restaurant

The Mission Ranch and Restaurant is located on the grounds of a dairy farm that was in operation in the 1850s in a picturesque rural area close to the sea.

The famous actor and former mayor of Carmel, Clint Eastwood, is the owner of this renowned hotel. The historic mansion was conserved by Eastwood, who transformed it into an opulent hotel with tennis fields and a fitness centre.

The former farmhouse and hayloft have been transformed into luxurious lodgings, and more guest rooms are available in more recent ranch-style homes.

Beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean and Santa Lucia Mountains may be found at Mission Ranch’s restaurant. Every night of the week, live piano music is also provided for diners.

Dolores Street, Carmel, California, 26270

5. Pebble Beach Golf Links

This renowned 18-hole golf course is situated in a breathtaking coastal location on rocky cliffs overlooking the roaring ocean and is surrounded by a forest of Monterey pine and cypress trees.

Numerous famous golfers and celebrities, including Bing Crosby, Teddy Roosevelt, Sir Winston Churchill, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods, have participated in tournaments here since 1919.

Six US Open Championships have been held at Pebble Beach Golf Links, widely regarded as the best public golf course in the nation.

The Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, which takes place in the middle of August, is the most anticipated event of the year at the Pebble Beach Golf Links.

About 200 of the world’s greatest collector automobiles and motorcycles, including Ferraris, British Prewar Sports Cars, and Shelby GT350 Mustangs, will be on display at this glitzy auto show.

The Lodge at Pebble Beach has a view of the well-known 18th hole at the Pebble Beach Golf Links. This historic landmark hotel with five stars offers opulent guest suites and breathtaking views of Carmel Bay.

In Pebble Beach, California, at 1700 17-Mile Drive

4. Festivals & Events

Carmel hosts intriguing cultural events and festivals all year long, as one might anticipate from a posh resort town.

The three-day Carmel Art Festival is a no-cost occasion that takes place every May. This festival, which is held in Carmel’s Devendorf Park, includes live music, an art auction, a juried painting competition, and plein air (outside) painting. Children’s activities, which allow children to create their own art, are included on one day of the festival.

The Carmel Bach Festival, which typically takes place during the second and third weeks of July, is a must-attend event for fans of Baroque classical music. Concerts, recitals, seminars, and talks are all part of this renowned festival.

The Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, which takes place at the Pebble Beach Golf Links in August, is one of the most thrilling occasions of the year.

3. Carmel River State Beach

With rough rogue waves and strong, dangerous rip tides, Carmel River State Beach is not a swimmers’ beach. But, ask any bird watcher, kayaker, or diver about the beach and they will rave about it. It is a mile-long beach located in Carmel Bay just where Carmel River spills in the ocean.

As it reaches the ocean, Carmel River forms the lagoon, which is a protected Wetlands Natural Reserve and a fantastic location for a congregation of large numbers of birds.

Just north of Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is Monastery Beach, also part of the Carmel River State Beach Park and a very popular diving site. It is also an important historic site significant for the Rumsien Native American tribe.

2. Scenic Road Walkway

The Scenic Road Walkway, a walking or running path with an extremely breathtaking vista on both sides, begins at the end of Ocean Avenue just before Carmel Beach.

One side of the ocean is a limitless expanse where you can observe nature at its most potent. On the opposite side, magnificent houses stand as testaments to human creativity, each one unique and original. A top attraction in Carmel, California is the Scenic Road Walkway.

Even though the walkway is only 1.7 miles of easy jogging, you can spend the day relaxing on one of the numerous seats along the way, taking in the scenery, daydreaming, or having a picnic.

Take one of the many stone or wooden staircases to the beach if you decide to cool yourself in the ocean after being too heated.

1. Bernardus Lodge & Spa

The Bernardus Lodge and Spa offers both contemporary comforts and old-world refinement. 73 luxurious guest rooms, villas, and suites are available on the site.

Each room contains a fireplace, dining table, plush bathrobe, and opulent king featherbed with Italian linens and goose down blankets. It also has a two-person soaking tub, fireplace, and dining room.

Other room features include French doors, a private balcony or patio, air conditioning, Bluetooth speakers, 42-inch HDTVs, high-speed wireless internet, a complimentary wine bar, gourmet nibbles, artisan tea, and a sitting area with a full-size sofa, umbrella, and iron.

Suites come with a wet bar with a small fridge and sink, a queen couch bed, a four-person dining table, an extra fireplace, and a separate powder room.

They also have furnishings for the balcony. The resort’s 28 acres of land are covered with orchards, gardens, and vineyards. There is a warming pool, a dry sauna, and a eucalyptus steam room in the spa and salon.

Additionally, there are tennis courts, bocce ball courts, a croquet grass, and a heated lap pool on the site. The majority of the cuisine prepared there is made with materials that were produced on the farm, and they also make their own wine and honey. At Lucia Restaurant & Bar, savour a meal with French influences, or visit The Bar for a handcrafted specialty drink.

Things To Do on Your Trip