Take a step back into Europe and explore all the Carmel has to offer! I’m finally doing a Carmel travel guide for my favorite little town in California! I’ve put together a list of things to do, food to try and places to stay!
One of A Kind Location!
There are so many things I love about Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA, I could fill whole pages! It’s a picturesque European town along the CA coast that is a step back into relaxation and enjoyment! This affluent ocean community has it all – ocean, food, shopping, golf and spa! The shops are small, unique and high-end; the restaurants are diverse and 5-star; the wines are delicious; the views are breathtaking! Every building is inspired by European architecture and the air is filled with the aroma of food, coffee and perfume! And if you love luxury cars, be prepared to see quite a few on the narrow streets!
Portabella Restaurant on Ocean Ave
Great Location for a Weekend Getaway!
Carmel, CA is just a 4 hour drive from where we live in Northern California so we love to travel there for special occasions, or just to get away! It’s the ideal place for a romantic weekend getaway! It’s located just 2 hours South from San Francisco, right along the historic HWY 1. We have been coming to this town for almost 10 years and are still discovering new places! If you’re coming from further away, consider flying into the Monterey Airport.
With my husband, Anatoliy, at the Pebble Beach Lodge. The views are spectacular from this location!
Carmel is known for it’s beautiful architecture and manicured streets!
I’m starting my Carmel travel guide with food, of course! I’m sharing with you a few of the places we recommend trying while in this beautiful place, starting with all the best food spots!
- Cottage Restaurant: don’t miss out on this small spot! Enjoy a classic breakfast in a tiny restaurant, complete with a large fireplace! Ask for the window seat if it’s available but be prepared for long lines at peak breakfast hours! Menu options include Lox Bagels, Eggs Benedict, French Toast, Pancakes and so much more! Their lox spread was so delicious with mimosas!
- Carmel Coffee House: stop by one of three bakery locations if you want breakfast on the go! They serve great coffee, plus the most amazing pastries! You’ll find croissants, sandwiches, cookies and more!
- Village Corner California Bistro: this place is always crowded and lively but so good! They have a large, rustic outdoor patio with tons of seating! So many classic breakfast choices, plus an impressive selection of omelets!
- Sunday Morning Brunch at The Lodge: the Pebble Beach Lodge hosts the most amazing breakfast buffet in town on Sunday morning’s at their Stillwater Bar & Grill! Enjoy a large selection of impeccably prepared foods with the best ocean views in town!
- Mission Ranch Restaurant: enjoy beautiful views of the Carmel Valley along with delicious food! This location does not take reservations for breakfast so plan accordingly!
- Room Service at Spanish Bay Inn: get the most delicious breakfast delivered straight to your room! We loved the in-room breakfast options!
- The Stationary: this is one I do not recommend. We loved this restaurant a few years ago, but the last we went we were really disappointed. We had to wait even with a reservation and the worst part, hair in my lobster roll! Skip the wait and try a different spot!
There are soo many great restaurants in Carmel and we still haven’t tried them all! Here are a few that we’ve really enjoyed!
- Hay’s Place: the newest restaurant addition at the Pebble Beach Resort. Enjoy a fantastic view of the Carmel Bay and the practice greens while enjoying delicious Mexican food. We loved their fresh shrimp ceviche and fish tacos. A great location for lunch or a casual dinner.
- The Bench: my favorite spot to grab lunch and enjoy a great ocean view! This restaurant features outdoor seating looking over the Pebble Beach golf course and the ocean! Here, you’ll find a great variety of quick meals like flat breads, salads and even seafood! Enjoy it with chilled white wine or beer!
The Bench has a changing, seasonal menu so you’ll always have something new to enjoy!
- Little Napoli: my favorite Italian spot for lunch (and great for dinner, too!) This stunning location is designed with rustic touches and the food is amazing! I highly recommend their lobster ravioli and the bruschetta, with some red wine of course!
- La Bicyclette: I love this quaint French cafe for lunch! It’s a busy, busy place but perfect for a quick lunch! Enjoy their fresh salads and delicious sandwiches with a chilled glass of wine! You can even take the sandwiches to go!
- Dametra Cafe: if you love traditional Mediterranean dishes, this place is for you! Be prepared for lots of flavors and tzatziki! This place has great gyros, kebabs, shawarmas, Greek salads and more! Expect a wait at this location on the weekends! It’s a crowd-favorite!
- Catch, Carmel’s Fish House: if you love seafood and caviar, you’ll love this restaurant! They even offer champagne and caviar as an appetizer!
- PortaBella: one of the cutest places in town to have lunch at, especially if you can snag a seat at the front of the house! Here, you’ll find delicious bisques, seafood appetizers, salads, burgers and a large assortment of entrees: salmon, ribs, chicken and fish!
The menu at Portabella is seasonal and changes with items such as this amazing grapefruit salad with spring greens and jumbo shrimp!
- AW Shucks: this tiny little oyster bar is our favorite place to grab a midday snack at! Grab a table or a seat at the bar right next to the seafood case. Spoil yourself with a few dozen oysters, champagne and a seafood salad! This place has the best fresh, raw seafood in town!
- Stave Wine Cellar: at the Spanish Bay Inn. This wine tasting room is located in Pebble Beach and features a large variety of great wines in a cozy location! Plus, small snacks!
- Roy’s at Spanish Bay Inn: the outdoor seating area and lounge at the Spanish Bay Inn is a must! The views are spectacular and the food is amazing! Enjoy items such as this Asian Chicken Salad, Ahi Poke with chips, burgers, fries and even sausage with pretzel! Plus, their drinks and wine are top notch!
- Salumeria Luca: if you’re looking to grab some sandwiches before hitting the beach, stop here! This place has insanely delicious, fresh and made-to-order sandwiches with a great selection of meats and cheeses to choose from!
- Lula’s Chocolates: their handmade caramels are simply the best!! Make sure to buy a large box! You can even order your favorites online!
Although most restaurants don’t require or have a strict dress code, it’s always good to check ahead of time. For dinner, you’ll see most in formal casual wear so plan to bring a few nice evening pieces.
- Aubergine – For the ultimate dining experience in Carmel! This Michelin-star restaurant is a must for foodies! It features prix-fix, multi-course meals with changing menus. It can be a little tricky to get a reservation to this coveted restaurant but it’s worth the wait and price!
- Stillwater Bar & Grill: one of our favorite spots of lunch or dinner! The views from this restaurant are amazing and look out over the fairway at the Pebble Beach Lodge, with views of Carmel! They have an extensive seafood menu with our favorites, such as oysters, scallops, salmon, tuna, surf and turf, and so much more! You’ll love this location, especially for a romantic dinner! It’s worth to call ahead of time and request a window seat!
- Peppoli Italian Restaurant: enjoy your dinner with the most stunning views of the sunset! This rustic Italian restaurant has some of the best lasagna, braised meats and all the best Italian dishes! Their Filet Mignon Lasagna is a must try!
- Tap Room at Pebble Beach: another fantastic location for dinner at the Pebble Beach Resort! This restaurant specializes in steaks, like this Kobe Black filet mignon I enjoyed! Plus, they have so many great sides and appetizer options!
- Anton & Michel Restaurant: sophisticated, cozy and stunning! It’s fine American dining at it’s best! This unique location is perfect for an evening on the patio or for drinks indoors by the fireplace! All the best dinner entrees available: lamb chops, steaks, duck and seafood!
- Il Fornaio – another great Italian restaurant, perfect for dinner! I love this rustic French location and their food is amazing!
- Mission Ranch Restaurant – I haven’t had the pleasure of dining at this farmhouse location but it comes highly recommended! This American restaurant is located in a restored farmhouse with views of the area!
- Patisserie Boissiere Restaurant – classic French cuisine served for lunch and dinner! If you’re craving for iconic French dishes, appetizers and pastries, this is the place for you!
Things to do
There’s never a dull moment in Carmel or the surrounding areas! Whether you want to keep yourself busy or just relax, there’s plenty of options! Check out some of my recommendations for a fun-filled day!
- Just Relax!! One of my favorite things to do is to enjoy the views at The Inn at Spanish Bay. They have a large outdoor seating area with fire pits, outdoor drink and food service and a great atmosphere! Plus, if you’re staying at the resort, it’s a quick walk back to your room for some extra sunscreen!
Treat yourself to a day of pampering and relaxation at one of Carmel’s highly-rated spas! There many to choose from!
- Spa at Pebble Beach: 5-star, world-famous spa with the most luxurious amenities! My husband and I enjoyed a couple’s massage at this location and were blown away! Stunning his and hers relaxation areas with sauna, hot tubs, steam rooms, Himalayan salt inhalation rooms, heated outdoor pool, restaurant and drinks and so much more! This is the ultimate spa destination!
I enjoyed the outdoor pool all to myself!
- The Spa at Bernardus Lodge: another top-notch spa with incredible service and amenities! This lodge is located just a 17 minute drive from Carmel downtown.
- Refuge – Hundreds of great reviews! This stunning, peaceful location has cold and hot pools and everything you need for a day of relaxation! This spa is also just a few minutes outside of town.
If you love to shop, the small boutiques in Carmel will not disappoint! There are shops on every corner featuring a variety of goods, from souvenirs and trinkets, to clothing, shoes, home goods and so much more!
- For clothing stores, check out Paloosh (contemporary, fun selections), Intima (luxury lingerie with the best fittings!), The Club (men’s dress and resort wear), Pamplemousse Boutique (women’s fashion).
Carmel has countless art galleries and art shops for every art lover! Most of the galleries are open to the public with no appointment needed. Just stop by, take a stroll and enjoy beautiful art, sculptures, paintings, photography and more! Most places will ask you to leave your drinks or large items at the counter. Some of my favorites include the Dawson Cole Fine Art gallery, which features the most incredible modern sculptures. We also love the Robert Knight gallery, featuring the most stunning photographs from the area and around the world!
Go for a drive!
Driving in Carmel and the surrounding areas is a must when in town!
- 17-Mile Drive: this gorgeous drive will take you through the Pebble Beach Golf Resort. You’ll see beautiful views of the ocean as you drive through quiet neighborhoods and through the courses. And while you’re driving, make sure to stop at the famous Lone Cypress tree! There is a $10 entrance fee to take the drive but if you eat at one of the restaurants or go to the Spa, it’s free. Just have your ticket validated with your server.
You’ll want to stop every 30 seconds to snap photos! Allow yourself at least 1 to 1 1/2 hours to complete this drive. Plus, the speed limits are very low and expect lots of slow cars!
- Ocean Drive: take the main street of Carmel down to the beach, then turn left and drive all the way around the small peninsula that makes up Carmel. This ocean view drive is a one-way street that comes back around! It’s lined with picturesque and unique homes, each with it’s own design and beautiful yard. And, you can stop at the beach! The Carmel Public Beach is huge and almost never crowded, so you’ll have plenty of space to relax! If you can’t find parking at the main location, just turn left and keep driving; there’s always plenty of parking further on.
- HWY 1: the most scenic drive in Carmel is just a little past the town! If you keep heading south along Highway 1, be prepared to stop every 5 minutes! The ocean views are unbelievable! Plus, there’s plenty of roadside parking, beaches and trails to explore!
Where to Stay
Make it a weekend getaway and stay in one of Carmel’s iconic hotels! Here are a few great options at various price points!
- Pebble Beach Lodge: the most luxurious hotel in town for sure! The historic Lodge on the Pebble Beach golf resort offers the best of the best, with sweeping views of the bay and the town of Carmel. This secluded location offers 5-star amenities and plenty of food, drinks and activities to enjoy! Check out these stunning views from the greens right next to The Lodge!
- Inn at Spanish Bay: the Lodge’s sister hotel is located on the other side of the Pebble Beach golf resort and faces into the open ocean! The views from the rooms look out onto the greens and crashing waves! All the rooms are recently renovated and they have amazing food options! Make sure to enjoy their fire pits and lounge downstairs in the evening for a lively reception!
- Comfort Inn by The Sea: the cutest Comfort Inn you’ll ever see! This picturesque location is recently renovated and right on the main street! Just park and enjoy the weekend!
- L’Auberge Carmel – this stunning, historic inn is straight out of Europe, with elegant architecture and relaxing courtyards to enjoy the afternoon in! Located right off the busy main streets in Carmel.
- AirBnB – want your own little place while you’re away from home? Check out sites like AirBnB or VRBO.com for home rentals in Carmel!
What’s the Best Time to Come?
Just about any time is a great time to visit Carmel. This town has an average temperature of around 70F almost year round. During the summer months, the ocean can get very windy and chilling, less so during the winter months. There are more rainy days in the winter and early spring but if you can get a clear day, it’s well worth visiting! I recommend bringing a light jacket or sweater for your visit, regardless of the time of year.
Make sure to grab some sunscreen, sandals, hats and a sweater! This town dress code is all about casual, European luxury and effortless style! Bring loose flowing blouses, cardigans and scarves. For dinner, most restaurants are formal casual so plan to bring a few nice evening pieces.
Always a Pleasure!
My husband Anatoliy and I always have the best time whenever we come to Carmel! The weather is great, the food is delicious and the atmosphere so relaxing! I hope you’ve enjoyed my Carmel travel guide! If you’re ever driving by, I highly recommend coming to this beautiful town! You won’t regret it!
We watched this stunning sunset from The Spanish Bay Inn! Their location faces the open ocean and has the most beautiful sunsets!