Best Things to Do in Carmel-by-the-Sea: 12 Top Carmel Attractions

by Flora Backup
Best Things to Do in Carmel-by-the-Sea: 12 Essential Attractions
This post may have affiliate links, where I may receive a commission if you purchase through them. Here's our Disclosure and Privacy Policy for more info.

Looking to travel to Carmel this year? Here are the most exciting and picturesque activities that are the best things to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea. A vacation filled with these sites, events, and attractions is likely to be unforgettable.

Are you dreaming of a coastal getaway that combines the charm of a European village with the laid-back vibe of California? Look no further than Carmel-by-the-Sea. This enchanting town, nestled along the Monterey Peninsula, is a treasure trove of unique experiences waiting to be discovered. Read on to find out the best things to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Carmel-by-the-Sea, often simply referred to as Carmel, seems to have been plucked straight out of a storybook. With its fairytale cottages, world-class art galleries, and stunning white-sand beach, it’s a place that captivates the heart and stirs the imagination. But what truly sets Carmel apart is its irresistible blend of culture, history, and natural beauty.

From the quaint shops lining Ocean Avenue to the hidden passageways that add a touch of mystery to the town, there’s no shortage of things to do and places to explore in Carmel. Whether you’re a history buff, an art lover, a foodie, or an outdoor enthusiast, prepared to be amazed.

In this guide, I’ve curated a list of the best things to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea, drawing on my own experiences and those of fellow travelers. These are the places that have captured our hearts and made us fall in love with this charming town. So, whether you’re planning a weekend getaway or a longer vacation, let this guide inspire you and help you make the most of your time in Carmel.

Best Things to Do in Carmel-by-the-Sea
This article on the Best Things to Do in Carmel-by-the-Sea contains affiliate links where I may earn a small commission at no cost to you.

Best Places to Visit in Carmel-by-the-Sea

Are you prepared to engage in all of the coolest activities in Carmel-by-the-Sea? There are a lot of unique things to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Everyone can find something to enjoy at this undiscovered vacation destination, as was already mentioned. Continue reading to learn about all the interesting spots to visit in Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Are you seeking for picturesque areas and beaches? Or would you like a peaceful retreat in the great outdoors? These must-see attractions in Carmel-by-the-Sea may satisfy your needs no matter what you have planned. The top attractions and fun things to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea are listed below for your information.

1. Carmel Mission

For a unique experience like no other, you’ll want to check out this top place to visit in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Step back in time and immerse yourself in California’s rich history at the Carmel Mission. Officially known as Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Río Carmelo, this historic landmark was established in 1771 and is one of the most authentically restored Roman Catholic mission churches in California.

The Carmel Mission, with its beautiful stone facade and picturesque courtyard, is a testament to the enduring legacy of the Spanish missionaries who once inhabited the region. Inside, you’ll find a museum that houses a collection of artifacts and exhibits. It truly tells the story of the mission’s history.

Carmel Mission, a historic landmark was established in 1771
Carmel Mission, a historic landmark was established in 1771

But the Carmel Mission is more than just a museum. It’s a place of tranquility and reflection. The mission’s basilica, with its stunning altar and beautiful religious art, is still an active house of worship. The serene gardens, filled with native plants and blooming flowers, offer a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Whether you’re interested in history, art, or simply looking for a moment of peace, the Carmel Mission is a must-visit destination in Carmel-by-the-Sea. With so much tranquility and personality, the Carmel Mission is one of the top places to visit in Carmel-by-the-Sea.

2. Carmel Beach

A visit to Carmel-by-the-Sea would be incomplete without a trip to Carmel Beach. This stunning white-sand beach, with its crystal-clear waters and cypress-lined scenic pathway, is one of the most beautiful coastal spots in California.

Carmel Beach isn’t just a feast for the eyes. It’s a playground for outdoor enthusiasts. Whether you’re into surfing, beach volleyball, or leisurely strolls along the water, there’s something for everyone here. And let’s not forget about the four-legged visitors. Carmel Beach is one of the few beaches in California that allows dogs to run off-leash. As such, this makes it a favorite spot for pet owners.

Best Things to Do in Carmel-by-the-Sea
Carmel Beach is one of the best places in Carmel-by-the-Sea you should know about.

But perhaps the best thing about Carmel Beach is its breathtaking sunsets. As the sun dips below the horizon, painting the sky in shades of pink and orange, you’ll understand why this beach is so beloved by locals and visitors alike.

So, pack a picnic, bring a blanket, and prepare to be captivated by the natural beauty of Carmel Beach. For those seeking rest and relaxation, Carmel Beach is one of the best places in Carmel-by-the-Sea you should know about.

3. Carmel River State Beach

This is one of the best things to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea if you’re seeking a quieter, more secluded beach experience. Carmel River State Beach is a hidden gem, located just south of the bustling Carmel Beach. It offers a tranquil retreat for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.

Carmel River State Beach is a haven for birdwatchers. The beach is part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, and its lagoon and wetlands attract a wide variety of bird species. Bring your binoculars and you might spot pelicans, herons, and even the occasional hawk or eagle.

A more secluded beach experience - the Carmel River State Beach
A more secluded beach experience – the Carmel River State Beach

But birdwatching isn’t the only activity on offer. The calm waters of the Carmel River make this beach a popular spot for kayaking and paddleboarding. And the beach’s rocky outcrops are perfect for exploring tide pools and spotting marine life.

Despite its peaceful atmosphere, Carmel River State Beach is no less stunning than its more famous neighbor. With its pristine sand, clear waters, and dramatic cliffs, it’s a beautiful place to relax, unwind, and connect with nature.

4. Scenic Road

Looking for Carmel-by-the-Sea activities that don’t break the bank? Then this is what you’re looking for! For a leisurely stroll or drive that offers unparalleled views of the Pacific Ocean, head to Scenic Road. This aptly named road, which stretches from Carmel Beach to Carmel River State Beach, is one of the most picturesque routes in Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Walking or driving along Scenic Road is like stepping into a postcard. On one side, you have the endless expanse of the Pacific Ocean, with its crashing waves and playful sea otters. On the other side, you have the charming homes of Carmel, each with its own unique architecture and beautifully manicured garden.

Best Things to Do in Carmel-by-the-Sea
Scenic Road in Carmel-by-the-Sea is like stepping into a postcard

There are several lookout points along the road where you can stop and soak in the views. Don’t forget to bring your camera, as the vistas are truly photo-worthy. And if you’re lucky, you might even spot a pod of dolphins or whales in the distance.

Whether you’re an early bird who loves watching the sunrise or a romantic at heart who prefers the soft glow of the sunset, Scenic Road offers a beautiful backdrop at any time of the day.

5. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Walker House

Architecture enthusiasts will love this top thing to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Check out Frank Lloyd Wright’s Walker House. Located at Carmel Point, this unique building is the only oceanfront home designed by the renowned architect.

The Walker House, also known as the Cabin on the Rocks, is a testament to Wright’s philosophy of organic architecture. Built in 1948, the house is designed to blend seamlessly with its natural surroundings. Its stone walls and angular roof mimic the rocky coastline, while its large windows offer stunning views of the Pacific Ocean.

The Walker House, also known as the Cabin on the Rocks
The Walker House is also known as the Cabin on the Rocks

While the house is not open to the public, you can still appreciate its architectural beauty from the outside. The best view is from the beach below, where you can see how the house perches on the rocks, almost as if it’s an extension of the landscape.

The Walker House is more than just a building. It’s a work of art that embodies the spirit of Carmel-by-the-Sea – a place where nature, art, and architecture come together in perfect harmony. Is this one of the coolest things to visit in Carmel-by-the-Sea? You bet!

6. Carmel River Bird Sanctuary

For a unique experience like no other, you’ll want to check out this top place to visit in Carmel-by-the-Sea. If you’re a bird lover, then a visit to the Carmel River Bird Sanctuary is a must. This sanctuary, located at the mouth of the Carmel River, is a haven for a wide variety of bird species and a fantastic spot for birdwatching.

The sanctuary’s diverse habitats, which include the river, lagoon, beach, and riparian woodland, attract many different types of birds. Look out for pelicans diving for fish, Western gulls nesting on the beach, and Brandt’s cormorants sunning themselves on the rocks. In the woodland, you might spot songbirds like the black-headed grosbeak and the yellow warbler.

The Carmel River Bird Sanctuary is a must-visit for bird-lovers.
The Carmel River Bird Sanctuary is a must-visit for bird-lovers.

But the bird sanctuary isn’t just for birdwatchers. Its beautiful setting, with views of the Carmel River, the beach, and the ocean, makes it a lovely place for a walk or picnic. And its location next to Carmel River State Beach means you can easily combine a visit with some beach time.

So, grab your binoculars and head to the Carmel River Bird Sanctuary for a peaceful and rewarding nature experience.

7. Point Lobos State Reserve

Attractions in Carmel-by-the-Sea come in all shapes and sizes, but this one is among the best! Just a short drive south of Carmel-by-the-Sea lies Point Lobos State Reserve, often hailed as the “crown jewel” of California’s state park system. With its dramatic coastal cliffs, diverse wildlife, and stunning ocean views, it’s not hard to see why.

Point Lobos offers a variety of trails that cater to all fitness levels. Whether you choose the easy, wheelchair-accessible Sea Lion Point Trail or the more challenging North Shore Trail, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and the chance to spot wildlife like sea lions, harbor seals, and sea otters.

Point Lobos State Reserve, hailed as the "crown jewel" of California's state park system.
Point Lobos State Reserve, hailed as the “crown jewel” of California’s state park system.

The reserve is also a paradise for birdwatchers, with over 200 bird species recorded here. And for those interested in marine life, the tide pools at Weston Beach are teeming with starfish, sea anemones, and hermit crabs.

But perhaps the most unique feature of Point Lobos is its underwater area. Fun fact: it’s one of the first underwater parks in the U.S. If you’re a diver, you’ll be amazed by the kelp forests, rocky reefs, and abundant marine life.

Whether you’re a hiker, a wildlife enthusiast, or just someone who appreciates natural beauty, Point Lobos State Reserve is a must-visit destination near Carmel-by-the-Sea.

8. Ocean Avenue is one of the coolest things to do in Carmel

Looking for the best things to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea? Don’t miss this one! The heart of Carmel-by-the-Sea beats along Ocean Avenue, the town’s main street. Lined with a variety of shops, cafes, and art galleries, a stroll down Ocean Avenue is an experience in itself.

As you wander down the street, you’ll be captivated by the unique charm of Carmel. The buildings, with their distinctive architecture and beautifully landscaped gardens, add to the town’s fairytale-like atmosphere. And the numerous art galleries, showcasing works from local and international artists, reflect Carmel’s long-standing tradition as an artists’ colony.

A stroll down Ocean Avenue is an experience in itself
A stroll down Ocean Avenue is an experience in itself

But Ocean Avenue isn’t just about shopping and art. It’s also a foodie’s paradise, with a wide range of dining options to choose from. Whether you’re in the mood for a gourmet meal, a casual lunch, or a sweet treat, you’ll find something to satisfy your cravings.

And let’s not forget about the wine. Carmel-by-the-Sea is located in one of California’s premier wine regions. Therefore, it’s no surprise that tasting rooms are set up along Ocean Avenue. So why not end your day with a glass of local wine?

With its unique shops, world-class art, delicious food, and fine wine, Ocean Avenue offers a taste of the best that Carmel-by-the-Sea has to offer.

9. Carmel’s Fairytale Cottages

Looking to visit one of the best places in Carmel-by-the-Sea? Add this to your bucket list! One of the most charming aspects of Carmel-by-the-Sea is its collection of fairytale cottages. These quaint homes, with their high-pitched roofs, stone chimneys, and timbered details, give the town its storybook charm.

The trend for these whimsical homes was started by Hugh Comstock in the early 1920s. Comstock, who had no formal training in architecture, built the first cottage for his wife’s collection of rag dolls. The cottage, named “Hansel,” was so popular that Comstock was commissioned to build more, and thus Carmel’s fairytale cottages were born.

The Carmel’s Fairytale Cottages give the town its storybook charm.
The Carmel’s Fairytale Cottages give the town its storybook charm.

Today, there are over 20 Comstock cottages in Carmel, each with its own unique design and character. Some of the most famous include “Hansel and Gretel,” “Obers,” and “Our House.” While these homes are private residences and not open to the public, you can still admire their charm and craftsmanship from the outside.

A walk through the streets of Carmel, discovering these fairytale cottages, is like stepping into a children’s storybook. It’s a delightful experience that adds to the magic of this enchanting town. There’s so much to see at Carmel’s Fairytale Cottages, that it’s no wonder this is among the best places to visit in Carmel-by-the-Sea!

10. Carmel’s Art Galleries

Carmel-by-the-Sea’s roots as an artists’ colony are still evident today in its numerous art galleries. These galleries, many of which are located along Ocean Avenue and its side streets, showcase a wide range of art, from traditional to contemporary, local to international.

As you explore the galleries, you’ll discover a diverse array of artwork. You might find landscape paintings inspired by the stunning scenery of the Monterey Peninsula, abstract sculptures that challenge your perceptions, or fine art photography that captures moments in time.

Carmel's Art Galleries showcase a wide range of art
Carmel’s Art Galleries showcase a wide range of art

Many of the galleries in Carmel are owned and operated by the artists themselves. This gives you the opportunity to meet the creators behind the artwork. The artists are often happy to discuss their work and share their creative process, making your gallery visit an engaging and personal experience.

Whether you’re an art connoisseur or a casual observer, spending an afternoon gallery hopping in Carmel is a delightful way to experience the town’s vibrant art scene. It’s easy to see why this is one of the best things to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea.

11. Unique Boutiques and Shops

This is one of the best things to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea, hands down! Shopping in Carmel-by-the-Sea is a unique experience, thanks to the town’s many one-of-a-kind boutiques and shops. From high-end fashion to handmade crafts, from gourmet food to fine art, you’ll find a treasure trove of items that you won’t find anywhere else.

As you wander through the town, you’ll come across charming boutiques that offer a carefully curated selection of clothing, jewelry, and accessories. Many of these boutiques feature items from local designers, giving you the chance to take home a piece of Carmel.

charming boutiques in Carmel-by-the-Sea
The charming boutiques and shops in Carmel-by-the-Sea

But it’s not just about fashion. You’ll also find shops selling everything from handmade soaps to artisanal chocolates, from fine wines to rare books. And let’s not forget about the art galleries, which offer a wide range of artwork to suit all tastes and budgets.

Shopping in Carmel-by-the-Sea is more than just a retail experience. It’s a chance to discover unique items, support local businesses, and take home a piece of this enchanting town.

12. Wine Tastings

As far as things to do in Carmel-by-the Sea, this activity is among the coolest! Carmel-by-the-Sea may be a small town, but its wine scene is mighty. Located in one of California’s premier wine regions, Carmel is home to more than a dozen tasting rooms, making it a must-visit destination for wine lovers.

As you explore the village, you’ll find tasting rooms representing wineries from the surrounding Monterey County and beyond. These tasting rooms offer a wide range of wines, from crisp Chardonnays to bold Cabernet Sauvignons, from delicate Pinot Noirs to vibrant Zinfandels.

Spend an afternoon sipping your way through Carmel's tasting rooms
Spend an afternoon sipping your way through Carmel’s tasting rooms

Many of the tasting rooms in Carmel offer wine flights, giving you the chance to sample a variety of wines and discover your new favorite. And the best part? Most of them are within walking distance of each other, making it easy to hop from one to the next.

So why not spend an afternoon sipping your way through Carmel’s tasting rooms? It’s a delightful way to experience the flavors of Monterey County and learn more about California’s diverse wine regions. Attractions in Carmel-by-the-Sea come in all shapes and sizes, but this one is among the best!

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the Best Things to Do in Carmel-by-the-Sea

Looking for more content on the top things to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea? Here are some popular questions (and answers) I get that will help you plan your trip to Carmel:

Is it worth to go to Carmel-by-the-Sea?

Certainly! Nestled along the Monterey Peninsula, Carmel-by-the-Sea is a captivating place to visit. It’s known for its pristine white sand beaches that offer breathtaking Pacific Ocean vistas. Carmel has historically been a refuge for artists, writers, and actors, rendering it a hub of rich artistic culture.

As you meander through the town’s fairy-tale-like cottages and hidden courtyards, you’re transported to a world where architecture and nature intertwine seamlessly. The allure doesn’t end there. Within the heart of the city, upscale boutiques beckon shoppers, while gourmet restaurants offer a taste of culinary finesse. While it’s true that the town’s popularity can make it a bit crowded at times, the charm and sheer beauty of Carmel-by-the-Sea make it an unmissable Californian gem.

I have only a few hours to spend in Carmel-by-the-Sea, what shouldn’t I miss?

Carmel is known for its natural beauty. You shouldn’t miss seeing the beach. You can stroll almost a mile on the white sand beach with gorgeous views of Pebble Beach and Point Lobos.

What is Carmel-by-the-Sea known for?

Carmel-by-the-Sea is renowned for its breathtaking white sand beaches that embrace the Pacific’s shimmering waves. Historically a sanctuary for the creatively inclined, this charming town has cultivated a deep artistic heritage, drawing in poets, artists, and thespians for over a century. In essence, Carmel-by-the-Sea is celebrated for its blend of natural beauty, artistic soul, and coastal elegance.

What is there to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea?

Carmel offers a variety of activities. You can check out the beautiful beaches, enjoy a picnic, do some whale watching, or surf at Carmel beach. You can also walk along Scenic Drive, visit the Tor House, or explore the home built by Frank Lloyd Wright. If you enjoy wine, there are 15 different tasting rooms that are part of the Wine Walk. For foodies, there are over 60 restaurants to choose from. If you’re interested in culture, there are over 80 art galleries, 5 performing arts venues. And a Center for Photographic Art, and the Carmel Art Association displaying local artists’ work.

Best Places to Visit in Carmel-by-the-Sea
Best Places to Visit in Carmel-by-the-Sea

Where is the beach located in Carmel-by-the-Sea?

The beach is located straight down at the end of Ocean Avenue. Free unlimited parking is located right in front of the beach.

Do you have a map of the fairytale cottages in Carmel-by-the-Sea?

Yes, there are 23 cottages on the map, most are private residences, but there are a few that are businesses that you can go inside.

Can I get to the 17 mile drive from downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea?

Yes, go straight down Ocean Avenue and turn Right onto San Antonio (the last right turn you can make off of Ocean Avenue), follow the signs to Pebble Beach and you will enter through the Carmel gate into Pebble Beach.

Is there a difference between Carmel and Carmel-by-the-Sea?

Yes, there can be some confusion, but there’s a distinction. Carmel-by-the-Sea, often simply referred to as “Carmel,” is a small city located on the Monterey Peninsula in California. It’s known for its picturesque coastal setting, vibrant arts scene, fairy-tale cottages, and upscale boutiques. When people refer to “Carmel” in the context of the famous beach town in California, they are typically talking about Carmel-by-the-Sea.

However, “Carmel” can also refer to other places. This includes Carmel Valley, which is a sunnier and warmer inland area not far from Carmel-by-the-Sea. There are also many other places named Carmel throughout the U.S. and the world.

In most contexts, especially those related to travel and tourism in California, “Carmel” will be shorthand for Carmel-by-the-Sea. However, it’s always good to clarify, especially if there’s potential for confusion.

Does Clint Eastwood live in Carmel-by-the-Sea and do you ever see him?

Yes, Clint has a home in Carmel, but is often filming in southern California. He can sometimes be spotted walking on the streets here in Carmel, or at his restaurant, Mission Ranch.

How many days should you spend in Carmel-by-the-Sea?

The ideal duration for a visit to Carmel-by-the-Sea largely depends on your interests and the kind of experience you’re seeking. For many travelers, a 2-3 day stay offers a delightful introduction to the city’s charm.

Over a span of two to three days, visitors can leisurely explore the town’s enchanting downtown. It’s filled with art galleries, boutiques, and gourmet eateries. This time frame also allows for a relaxing day at the iconic Carmel Beach, where one can enjoy the white sands, picturesque sunsets, and the Pacific’s soothing waves. In addition, visitors can tour landmarks like the Carmel Mission, experience local wine-tasting rooms, and possibly catch a performance at one of the town’s theaters.

If you’re keen on exploring beyond Carmel’s boundaries, you might want to extend your stay. Nearby attractions include the famous 17-Mile Drive, Pebble Beach Golf Course, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, and the neighboring town of Monterey with its world-class aquarium. Plus, the stunning Big Sur coastline is only a short drive away.

However, even if you’re short on time, a single day in Carmel-by-the-Sea can be fulfilling. The town’s compact size means that you can get a good feel for its character and charm within a few hours of walking and exploring.

In essence, while a 2-3 day visit is ideal to fully immerse in Carmel’s magic, the flexibility of the town caters to both shorter day-trips and longer, more leisurely stays.

Final Thoughts on Touring Carmel-by-the-Sea

Carmel-by-the-Sea is a place like no other. With its fairytale cottages, stunning beaches, and vibrant art scene, Carmel captivates the heart and stirs the imagination. Whether you’re exploring the historic Carmel Mission, strolling along Scenic Road, or sipping wine in one of the local tasting rooms, you’ll find yourself enchanted by the charm and beauty of Carmel. So why wait? Start planning your trip to Carmel-by-the-Sea today and discover the magic for yourself.

Happy Travels! -Jon

the top things to do in the Carmel-by-the-Sea for all types of travelers
Enjoyed reading about the top things to do in the Carmel-by-the-Sea? Pin it!

You may also like

Leave a Comment