Carmel-by-the-Sea looks like a real life fairy tale year-round, with cottages bearing whimsical names, a village marked by charming courtyards and hidden passageways, and the dense forest and foamy Pacific beyond.
Throw in some holiday cheer—twinkling arches, festive storefronts, seasonal menus, and drinks by the fire pit—and Carmel becomes even more cozy at Christmastime.
Venture further afield to Monterey for family-friendly holiday fun.
A Cozy Stay at Carmel's Horizon Inn
(Courtesy of Horizon Inn)
At this sweet little inn on the edge of downtown, you’ll find thoughtful details and views of Monterey Bay. It’s worth the splurge for one of the junior jacuzzi suites, which have oversized spas, fireplaces, and private balconies. Surprise your beloved with add-on enhancements like the romance package, which welcomes you with champagne, chocolate, and a generous sprinkling of rose petals. If you’re traveling with the fam, book the Lodge instead, which has a similar jacuzzi and fireplace in a spacious three-room cottage suite. But don’t spend all your time snuggled up in the room. The brand new patio is outfitted with a tiled hot tub, a fire pit, a brick-walled chiminea, and plenty of comfy seating. In the morning, a complimentary picnic basket of continental goodies is delivered directly to your door. // Junipero St. & 3rd Ave. (Carmel-by-the-Sea), horizoninncarmel.com
Shopping in Carmel-by-the-Sea
Carmel's quaint candy shop, Cottage of Sweets.
(Courtesy of Visit Carmel)
Any holiday visit warrants a visit to Kris Kringle (Doud Arcade), a year-round holiday shop filled with ornaments and gifts. // Carmel Plaza (Mission St. and 7th Ave) has three stories of stores—including Tiffany & Co., Anthropologie, and Sea Bags—plus holiday wine events and occasional carolers and appearances by Santa. // The British-style Cottage of Sweets(Ocean Ave. between Lincoln St. and Monte Verde St.) brims with licorice and chocolates—it's a must stop for stocking stuffers. // Get in your last-minute holiday shopping with the eclectic array of items—think local interest books, works by Carmel artists, kitchenwares, and decorative objets—at Carmel Bay Company(Ocean Ave. and Lincoln St). // Find handmade goodies and support local growers at the weekly farmers market, which runs year-round on Thursdays from 10am to 2pm (Sixth Ave. & Junipero St). // Modern fashion mavens shop brands like Apparis, Ganni, and Jerome Dreyfus at sister boutiques Girl Boy Girl(Mission St. & 7th Ave.) and Paloosh(Ocean Ave. & Dolores St). // Shop clean, green housewares and garden supplies at Eco Carmel(San Carlos St. between 7th Ave. and 8th Ave). // For the scribe in your life, check out The Pleasure of Writing (Ocean Ave. and San Carlos St). // Pop into The Carmel Hat Company(Doud Arcade at Ocean Ave) for all styles of toppers. // // Drive down the road to Crossroads Carmel(Hwy 1 at Rio Rd.) for specialty shops like Spencer's Stationery, River House Books, and Home by the Hearth.
Where to Eat + Drink in Carmel + Monterey
Paella at Carmel's Spanish tapas newcomer, Promesa.
(Courtesy of @promesacarmel)
Even a marathon shopper needs to eat, and Carmel and the surrounds of the Monterey Peninsula have tons of choices. Whether you’re out for a decadent weekend brunch or a refined dinner, look to longtime Carmel staple Grasing’s Restaurant (6th St. & Mission St). Their menus feature dishes like sole meuniere, Dungeness crab cakes, and wagyu steak. If you happen to be in town on the holiday itself, book a seat at one of their tables or pick-up some festive cioppino to go on Christmas Eve. // At newcomer Promesa (Mission St. & 5th St.), dig into Spanish tapas like patatas bravas, croquetas de jamon, and boquerones. But don’t fill up too quickly - their three styles of paella are a must. // It's brunch all day at newcomer Stationaery(San Carlos St. between 5th Ave. and 6th Ave.), where the seasonal menu may include white Alba truffles to be added to a potato pancake with smoky bacon or a tuna melt with bruleed raclette. Also expect specialty lattes year-round. // For a post-shopping snack—a smoked salmon tartine, perhaps?—drop by artisan bakery and pizzeria Rise + Roam(Mission St. and 7th Ave.). // Need a kid-friendly option? The new Grill on Ocean Ave (Ocean Ave. & Mission St.), a casual California-fusion spot, is chock-full of crowd-pleasers like flatbreads, tacos, and burgers. // For an alfresco dining experience, Forge in the Forest(5th Ave. & Junipero) has the largest (heated!) patio in town. The international offerings include lobster tacos, barbecue pork ribs, butternut squash ravioli, and limoncello cake (plus a whole menu all for your pup). // If you find yourself in Monterey, stop by the historic downtown for something delicious any time of day: delicate morning pastries from Alta Bakery, a lavish weekend lunch at the lovely Stokes Adobe, or a lively dinner and cocktails atCella.
Wine + More
Wind your way through Carmel's Wine Walk, with more than 20 tasting rooms including Hahn, Silvestri, and Talbott - no designated driver needed. Download the free mobile guide for exclusive offers and a chance to win prizes. // At Lepe Cellars, the most recent addition to the village’s tasting rooms, get a taste of Monterey County-grown pinots, cab francs, and petit verdots while browsing art in the adjacent Winfield Gallery. // Enjoy the holiday decor and award-winning pinots at Dawn's Dream(San Carols and 7th Ave.) and be sure to snap a pic in the trademark copper bathtub. // For more structured wines, and the "cowboy philosophy" that goes with them, visit the tucked-away tasting room of Galante Vineyards(Dolores St. between Ocean Ave. and 7th Ave.). // Don't miss the elegant bubbles and guava-forward sauv blanc at Kori Wines(Mission St. between Ocean Ave. & 7th Ave.). // Prefer a cocktail? Try the Bohemian vibes at Bud’s. You may even get lucky and be there for their 10 cent happy hour, which only lasts 10 minutes at random times once a day (inside La Playa Carmel at Camino Real & 8th Ave.) or cozy up to a firepit with a classic martini or old fashioned at The Star Bar(above Vesuvioat 6th St. & Junipero St). // For local brews, Alvarado Street Brewery(Carmel Plaza, Suite 112) has seasonal releases on tap plus a full menu, soft lights, and a sky-scraping tree. Snag a spot by a fire pit and enjoy the festive decor of Carmel Plaza.
Merry Holiday Activities in Carmel + Monterey
Christmas on the Wharf, Monterey
(Courtesy of @montereysoldfishermanswhar)
On December 2, Devendorf Park and Carmel Plaza (Ocean Ave. & Mission St.) light up for the holidays. Music, treats, and a visit from Santa make the night one of the village’s most festive. // Listen to the Christmas story told in three parts at the beautiful, historic Carmel Mission Basilica (3080 Rio Rd.) December 9-10 at 8pm, or join the congregation for Christmas carols on December 19 at 3pm or December 24 at 8:30pm. // Whether you have kiddos along or you're a child at heart, there's merriment to be found in nearby Monterey. Visit Christmas on the Wharf for song and dance performances, a 23-foot Christmas tree surrounded by illuminated sea creatures, and pics with Santa (Dec. 2-18). // A short walk from the Wharf, glide along to seasonal tunes at Ice Skating by the Bay, the annual ice rink located in the Custom House Plaza. // If you're shopping downtown, stop by the Colton Hall Museum to see another lovely tree, which gets lit on December 2 (570 Pacific St).
Why shouldn't you get a little me-time during the hectic holiday season? When you're ready to unwind, make your way to Refuge , a tranquil outdoor thermal spa just five miles inland from Carmel-by-the-Sea. Leave your devices at the door and bliss out in the spacious sauna or the eucalyptus steam room. Relax in one of the heated waterfall pools, in front of a fire pit, or tipped back in a zero-gravity chair, then recharge with a cold plunge. Be sure to check the website for holiday hours. // (27300 Rancho San Carlos Rd. (Carmel Valley), refuge.com
For more places to stay, eat, and play, don't miss our Modern Guide to Carmel-by-the-Sea for every season.