These Carmel Itineraries are just a snapshot of the wonderful adventures to be had in this beautiful coast community on the Monterey Peninsula.
The Great Outdoors
Hike! Drive to Point Lobos State Reserve, 2 miles south of Carmel, park and hike along the rugged central coast to view sea otters, sea lions, harbor seals and birds. Wildflowers can be seen in the meadows year-round while ferns and other vegetation delight your senses. Take a picnic lunch and find the perfect vantage point for your coastline getaway.
Surf! Bring your surfboard and gear to check out the waves off Carmel Beach. Spread out a blanket and then bury your toes in the sand while you try making up your own version of the historic “Abalone Song”. Wait for sunset while enjoying a picnic with food from Carmel Belle or 400 ̊ Gourmet Burgers & Fries.
Boat! Experience Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary by boat with Monterey Bay Whale Watch, Princess Monterey Whale Watching or Fast Raft. Whales and other abundant marine life are seen in Monterey Bay year-round. Or…Scuba! Spend time IN the kelp forests of Monterey Bay. There are several dive spots all within minutes of Carmel.
Bike! Or Kayak! Peddle or paddle with Adventures by the Sea. Biking is also available at Point Lobos and at the former Fort Ord, just north of Carmel or at Laguna Seca Recreation Area, home to the Sea Otter Classic. Bike rentals can be delivered to your inn by Bay Bikes.
Hike! Experience towering redwoods, coast live oaks and Monterey pines by picking a trail in Garland Ranch Regional Park, just 8 miles east on Carmel Valley Road. Or meander southward to Big Sur and hike at several spots along the coast. Garrapata State Park is 10 miles south, Andrew Molera State Park is 21 miles south, Pfieffer Big Sur State Park is 26 miles south and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is just 28 miles south. Maps are available at the Carmel Visitor Center.
Daily – Fuel Yourself! Start your active days with a hearty breakfast at any one of our local restaurants. Pick up a deli lunch at numerous delis and markets in Carmel. Finish your day with dinner and drinks at a local pub or fine restaurant. Don’t forget to replenish and recover with a spa day to prepare you for your next active adventure!
Romp in the Sand. Take a sunrise walk on Carmel Beach and watch the sky fill with color. Scan for dolphins in the surf while throwing the perfect Frisbee toss or ball lob in the fine, white sand. Dogs can be leash-free on the beach if under voice control. Finish your outing with coffee on the outdoor patio at Carmel Coffee House and Roasting Company.
Take to the Hills. Garland Ranch Regional Park in Carmel Valley is an outdoor playground with a variety of trails. Waterfall Trail has lots of steps to get Fido good and tired or take Mesa Trail for a leisurely ramble. Dogs under visual or voice control can be off leash and there is plenty to sniff and see. Have lunch at the Barnyard Shopping Village on your way back to civilization.
Village Walkabout. A walk around Carmel-by-the-Sea is a must. Many stores welcome dogs, but always ask when you enter, just to be sure. Dawn’s Dream Tasting Room’s spacious interior gives a furry pal room to stretch out while you sip local wine. Forge in the Forest has a doggie menu and Bistro Beaujolais has fire pits in their garden courtyard. Dogs must be on leash at all times in Carmel and Devendorf Park, despite the tempting grass, is a no-dog zone.
Scenic Vistas. Carmel River State Beach can be accessed from Scenic Drive. Keep your dog on leash while views over rocky outcrops take your breath away. Point Lobos State Reserve is easily viewed and marine life can be spotted in the bay off Monastery Beach. Then see and be seen at Carmel’s best-known dog-friendly spot, Cypress Inn, where Rover can sprawl out in the courtyard.
Fun is Your Mission. Start at the trailhead across from Carmel Mission and meander Mission Trail. The soft wood chips make a run a good option here and the incline gives you a good workout. Offshoot trails provide sensory and visual appeal for both you and your dog and you can even spot the Mission bell tower. Back in Carmel, have lunch or dinner outside at Little Napoli.
Daily – Keep Carmel dog-friendly by always picking up after your pet.
Foam. Along the Central Coast is the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. This stretch of the Pacific Ocean is home to humpback, gray and orca whales plus dolphins, porpoises, and more, either year-round or on a seasonal basis, depending on the species. Walking trails and stretches of sandy beach and shoreline are perfect for walking, biking, surfing, and picnicking.
Fins. The Monterey Bay Aquarium showcases the unique eco-system of Monterey Bay and “inspires actions for the conservation of the ocean”. The Aquarium’s ‘Seafood Watch’ app or brochure assists in making wise seafood choices to help preserve this natural resource. Eco Carmel, a store featuring products that are healthy for you and the planet, hosts a community-supported agriculture pick-up point including local sustainable seafood.
Flora. Palo Corona Regional Park is moments away and home to wildflower species as well as a grass-fed beef herd. Hillsides along the coast sport grasses and wildflowers ready to pose for your camera. Ancient Coast Live Oaks and Monterey Pines are home to woodpeckers, resident birds and migratory species, while towering redwoods show off their splendor.
Fauna. During October to February, the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary in Pacific Grove is spectacular. Every year, thousands of butterflies winter in a eucalyptus grove, just a short drive north from Carmel. Just south, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is home to over 250 species of animals, marine mammals, and birds. Farther south to Big Sur, look for the giant condor, the world’s largest flying land bird with a wingspan of up to 9.5 feet.
Food. Agri-tourism provides an education on the preservation of the agricultural heritage of Monterey County. Ag Venture Tours visits the rich fields of the Salinas Valley or the vineyards of this premier wine region. Farm-to-table restaurants like La Balena or Green-certified Basil Seasonal Dining connect you with your food. The Carmel certified farmers marke provides produce, baked goods, flowers, and other local foods.
Daily – Many of Carmel’s inns use eco-friendly practices including water conservation and green building materials. Groups like Sustainable Carmel help protect and preserve Carmel both now and for the future.
Serra. Visit the Mission San Carlos de Borromeo de Carmelo built in 1771 which is a short drive or a long walk from downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea. Father Junipero Serra built it as one of a chain of missions built along the coast of California and since it was his favorite, he is buried here. It is a working school and church but visitors can explore the museum and/or take a tour.
Point Sur. Spend at least a day going south on Highway 1 to Big Sur and to the Point Sur Lightstation. Point Sur is the only complete turn-of the-twentieth century lightstation open to the public in California, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It was a working lighthouse from 1889 until 1974.
Jeffers. Visit the home of California’s greatest poet, Robinson Jeffers, who built one of Carmel’s first homes out of stones from Carmel Beach. This National Historical Landmark, completed in 1919, is open to the public but reservations are required.
Steinbeck. Monterey County was home to one of America’s favorite authors, John Steinbeck. His many books – Cannery Row, East of Eden, the Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, the Red Pony are shown through interactive exhibits at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, about a 1/2 hour drive from Carmel.
Cinema. For a truly unique experience, take the Monterey Movie Tours, a fun-filled historical and scenic tour of the Monterey Peninsula, the site of over 200 movie sets. See the videos on the bus screen while driving by where “National Velvet”, “A Summer Place”, “Cannery Row”, “Play Misty for Me” and many more were shot.
Daily – Choose a different walk every day or book a tour with California Legacy Tours to discover Carmel’s heritage, including architectural gems by Frank Lloyd Wright or the storybook homes of Hugh Comstock. Hikes or walks are also available at Point Lobos State Reserve where early whalers processed their giant catch.
The Gourmet Palate
Pedestrian. Leave your car behind and walk to the wine tasting venues in Carmel-by-the-Sea, using the Carmel Wine Walk by-the-Sea™ available at the Carmel Visitor Center. Or take the Carmel Food Tour to experience a taste of Carmel and its secret passageways and courtyards. The best part – just walk back to your inn!
Passenger. Take the Grapevine Express to Carmel Valley for an afternoon of wine tasting and sunshine. If taking an excursion at your own pace is more your style, rent a touring car or van to take from tasting room to tasting room, driving by vineyards, rolling hills and open spaces along the way. Finish the day indoors near a cozy fire at Bernardus Lodge or Quail Lodge – take your pick!
Create Your Own Cuisine. Sample cheeses at The Cheese Shop and get a matching wine from one of our specialty stores. Then go to the delis at Nielsen Bros Market, Bruno’s Market or 5th Avenue Deli or get take-out food from any one of Carmel’s restaurants. Let your budget be your guide. With food in hand, head down to Carmel Beach. As darkness approaches, settle in to watch the sunset over the bay. Now, that’s priceless!
Explore Big Sur. Start your drive down the coast with snacks from Carmel Highlands General Store. The 45 minute drive can last all day as you delight in the views (and the cuisine!) at stops along the way. Be sure to dabble your toes in the river at Big Sur River Inn and then end your day with a sunset dinner and ocean view at Pacific’s Edge.
Epicurean Escapade. Get local organic goodies from Earthbound Farms for a lunch picnic. Tonight, dine at one of the many restaurants recognized in Wine Spectator Magazine for their extensive wine cellars. Linger over your exquisitely prepared and presented meal. As the sommelier guides you through the wine list, toast your good fortune at having chosen Carmel for your gourmet getaway.
Daily – The diversity of cuisine in Carmel is only matched by your imagination and wines in every price range can be enjoyed in settings from the most casual to the most elegant. Bon Appetit!
Beach Bums. Go to Carmel Beach to play in the white sand, dip your toes, or walk your dog. At low tide, explore the tide pools at the north end of the bay. Then visit Carmel River State Beach, just south of Carmel Beach. This setting offers fun bird watching from the lagoon and a wide stretch of beach perfect for the kite you found at Thinker Toys. As you leave, stop by Mission Ranch to see grazing sheep in the meadow. See if you can spot the lambs!
Bay Buddies. Take the family to the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium. Give yourself plenty of time for the interactive exhibits and touch tanks. Then rent bicycles or surreys at Adventures by the Sea and travel the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail in Monterey. Stop by Hopkins Marine lab to spot the resting harbor seals on the beach.
Wildlife Wonders. Drive to Point Lobos State Reserve and watch sea otters, harbor seals and sea lions in the wild. Scan the horizon to see migrating whales in season. A picnic lunch from one of the delis in Carmel is the perfect addition to this outing.
Act Up. Dance Kids of Monterey County provides family-friendly performances at local venues. If your children want to dance and play themselves, go to Devendorf Park and enjoy this grassy oasis. Don’t forget to count the fish in the fountain and make a wish! Cross the street to visit the Park Branch Library, where you can check for story times and special activities.
Play-by-the-Sea. Forest Hill Park and Playground at Camino Del Monte & Pico is a fun spot to expend some energy and munch on a picnic. Teenagers can check out the Carmel Youth Center at 4th & Torres, where drop-ins are welcome. The whole family can also enjoy building sandcastles in the fine white sand of Carmel Beach. Don’t forget the camera!
Daily – Warm memories are created every day when there is so much to do in and around Carmel. Depending on your family’s interests, gallery walks, hiking, kayaking or shopping are all close by!
Self. Carmel is a small village with world-class culture. Begin with a walking tour of its charming walkways and courtyards. Self-guided tour maps from the Carmel Visitor Center or guided tours by Carmel Walks are available. View Carmel’s origins at the Carmel Mission and discover its legacy at the Carmel Heritage Society’s First Murphy House. Hugh Comstock Cottages are seen on several of our village streets. Take your camera and record the scenes that have delighted visitors since the early 1900’s.
Literature. Visit Robinson Jeffers’ Tor House for a perspective of the Carmel poet’s life and work. Mary Austin, George Sterling, Sinclair Lewis, Jack London, and Robert Louis Stevenson, along with architects, painters, and other artists found their inspiration in the craggy shores and forests of Carmel. Visit Carmel’s Harrison Memorial Library to review their works. A short drive away, visit the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas to see depictions of the work of John Steinbeck, Salinas’ native son.
Local Theatre. Take an evening to attend local theater – from the charm of the historic Carl Cherry Center to the versatile venues of the Pacific Repertory Theatre; Golden Bough Theatre and Circle Theatre. Be entertained by comedy, drama, and musical theater for all ages.
Performing Arts. The Sunset Center is home to the Carmel Music Society, Chamber Music Monterey Bay, and the Monterey Symphony, as well as dazzling year-round performances of well-known and soon-to-be known artists. July also features the Carmel Bach Festival, attracting internationally- acclaimed artists to perform Baroque music at multiple venues.
Visual Arts. Carmel is the home to over 90 galleries showcasing regional and international photography, painting, and sculpture. Meander the streets and courtyards, finding a virtual feast for the eyes and soul. You will see why legends like Edward Weston, Ansel Adams and many others found their muse here.
Daily – Select a journal or sketch pad from one of our stationary stores or bookstores. Record your own observations in prose or phrase or sketch the beauty of the area in your own style as you are motivated by the generations before you.
Walk Like a Bohemian
Meander. Visit the Tor House, one of Carmel’s first homes, built by hand by the poet Robinson Jeffers for his new wife. The house and tower were built from rocks from Carmel Beach and tours of the house include the reading of Jeffers’ poetry. Stay at or eat at the Pine Inn, the town’s first hotel which was built further east and was rolled on logs to its current location to be closer to the beach.
Wander. Explore the streets of Carmel and find the almost 40 courtyards and secret passageways created by Carmel’s founders and end up at Devendorf Park. This park was named after Frank Devendorf, who sold the properties to Bohemians who came from San Francisco after the earthquake of 1906. Engage in intellectual conversations at one of the coffee shops or wine tasting rooms along the way.
Emote! The Bohemians of early Carmel loved to act and created one of the first outdoor theaters west of the Mississippi in 1910. Modern day festivals like the Carmel International Film Festival and the Philip Glass’ Days and Nights Festival carry on celebrations of the arts with contemporary audiences.
Contemplate. Spend a day visiting galleries starting with the oldest gallery in town, the Carmel Art Association. This non-profit artists’ collective shows the works of artists who live within 35 miles of Carmel. Other galleries include traditional and contemporary genres, sculpture, photography and art for every taste.
Chill. Visit Refuge for their relaxing yet energizing hydro-thermal therapy. Add a massage to your visit and then enjoy the tranquil surroundings while you let your mind wander. Have a gourmet lunch at nearby Carmel Valley Athletic Club.
Daily – Make the most of the present moment and give yourself permission to think romantic thoughts, act impulsively and live life to the fullest, just as the early Bohemians did.
Big Sur Bound!
Hike. Visit the “crown jewel” of the California State Park system, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, 2 miles south of Carmel. Roads and trails take you to the rocky shore to see otters and seals. Visit Whalers Cabin, built in the early 1850’s, overlooking Whalers Cove and Carmel Bay for over 160 years.
Brunch. Travel 4 miles south of Carmel and get picnic supplies at the Carmel Highlands General Store or have a sit-down lunch at California Market at Pacific’s Edge at the Hyatt Carmel Highlands with a breathtaking view of the Pacific Ocean and the Big Sur coast.
Beach. Garrapata State Park, 7 miles south, is partially open west of Highway 1, including Garrapata Beach. The park has two miles of beachfront, with coastal hiking. Sea lions, harbor seals and sea otters frequent the coastal waters and California gray whales pass close by during their yearly migration. Garrapata State parklands east of Highway 1 are currently closed.
Lunch. Enjoy spectacular views just 10 miles south of Carmel at Rocky Point Restaurant, a wonderful venue for indoor or patio dining, receptions and special events.
Marvel. Drive 13 miles south of Carmel to view the 1932 architectural marvel and the “most photographed” span of California coastline, Bixby Creek Bridge. Safely pull into one of the turn-outs to take your own memorable photograph of one of the tallest single-span concrete bridges in the world.
Tour. Journey 21 miles south of Carmel to visit the Point Sur Lighthouse. Tour its historic and still active aid-to-navigation which still guides ships along the Central California Coast. On the National Register of Historic Places and a California landmark, Point Sur is a must see.
Dinner. Take a break from your Big Sur adventure at Big Sur River Inn located in the village. Renew your spirit at the full service restaurant and bar enjoying a fabulous dinner in the historic dining room or outside on the deck, the lawn or along the bank of the Big Sur River.