Nestled on the gentle cliffs of the Monterey Peninsula, Carmel-by-the-Sea (or more simply Carmel) is a unique gem when compared to other American cities. It is famous for its clean streets, chic shops, fairytale houses, its beautiful Mission, notable art culture, a pristine beach, and astronomical real estate prices.
One thing that is unique about Carmel-by-the-Sea is that here you won’t find street addresses, street lamps, mailboxes, or parking meters. They have been officially banned!
Located on the Monterey Peninsula, Carmel lends itself very well as an intermediate stop on a road trip in California, especially if you’ve decided to drive along the coast on Highway 1, one of the most beautiful scenic drives in California, or if you want to drive from Monterey to Yosemite, which we’ve already talked about in another post.
Visit Carmel: General Information
The city is really small, so much so that it can be easily visited on foot, however, during the walk you will be attracted by numerous cafes, art galleries, shops, and restaurants. In the evening, join the many tourists who gather on Carmel’s beautiful beach to admire the changing colors of the sky at sunset.
You can enjoy most of the city on foot, but to explore the coast you will need to drive a car (or rent it). In case you rent a car, keep in mind that parking is generally free for the first 2 hours. Otherwise, you can park at the Carmel Plaza parking garage or in the parking lots that hotels provide for their guests (although there may not be many spaces). Sometimes it may be a good idea to park in the free spaces on Scenic Road (a picturesque road that runs along the beach).
Best Things to Do in Carmel
- Carmel Mission (3080 Rio Road): One of the most beautiful missions in the world that is part of the Camino Real along the California coast. Founded in 1771, it is still active as a Catholic church and houses a museum, exhibitions, and a small gift shop. Art lovers must visit it!
- Tor House (26304 Ocean View Ave, Carmel Point, just south of Carmel Village): The famous stone house of the poet Robinson Jeffers. Admission is $12 and it is open Friday and Saturday from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm.
- Point Lobos: Point Lobos is a state park in California located south of Carmel on Highway 1. The park is located on a rocky spur on the Pacific Coast with large algae forests, beautiful trails, and small coves (if you can brave the temperatures you can even go for a swim). Sometimes you can see some whales.
- Gravity Garden (intersection of Highway 1 and Fern Canyon Road, Carmel Highlands): Artist Jim Needham created a garden of rock sculptures stacked on top of each other without the use of adhesive, bolts, or support structures. Some of the sculptures are up to 10 ft tall.
Open Monday-Friday, free admission.The garden has closed.
- The Barnyard: The Barnyard is a shopping mall on the outskirts of Carmel, where numerous art galleries, antique shops, and clothing boutiques are surrounded by elegant gardens. It is also just a nice place to stroll.
- Carmel Beach: A public beach with white sand and breathtaking views that stretches 1.5 miles between Point Lobos and Pebble Beach.
- Carmel River State Beach: A blue water inlet with a bird sanctuary, with soft white sand and cliffs dotted with cypress trees. The tides are quite dangerous, so swimming is not recommended.
- 17-Mile Drive: A scenic road with breathtaking views stretching between Pacific Grove and Pebble Beach. You’ll need to pay $10.50 to access this road.
- Monterey: Do not overlook the possibility of visiting Monterey, a nearby city with many places of interest.
Where to Stay in Carmel
You can also visit the town while staying overnight in a hotel in nearby Monterey, but if you prefer o look for accommodations in Carmel, here are 3 recommendations:
- Carmel Mission Inn, 3665 Rio Road
- Carmel Valley Ranch, One Old Ranch Road
- Carmel Lodge, San Carlos Street & 5th Avenue
Where to Eat in Carmel
These are 2 restaurants I recommend:
Em Le’s Old Carmel Restaurant (Em Le’s) (Dolores between 5 and 6): This restaurant serves the best breakfast in Monterey County, but is also an excellent choice for lunch and dinner. Dishes are prepared with local ingredients and there is a wide selection of California and European wines.
Mission Ranch: A place that serves high-end food, and has a breathtaking view of the ocean. A piano bar brightens the atmosphere during the weekend. This is a very popular place for Sunday brunch.