Carmel-by-the-Sea—sigh—even its name is painfully cute, as if the charming, European-style town had been plucked right out of a fairytale.
Just two hours south of San Francisco (without traffic), the seaside village is a magnet for tourists who eat up its storybook vibes and come to shop its high-end art galleries and boutiques, sample wines in its tasting rooms, dine at its relaxed Cal-Mediterranean restaurants and, of course, take in the natural beauty of its windswept shore.
And while this town may forever feel like a throwback—there are no street numbers or mailboxes and very few street lights come nightfall—new spots are constantly popping up to make it always worth a return. Next time you visit, here are our picks for the freshest itinerary.
What was once an outdated motel is now Carmel's newest stylish stay thanks to a redesign by San Francisco's Plumpjack Group. The Getaway is a fully modern boutique retreat with 32 beach-chic rooms with fireplaces and beautifully designed bathrooms. Hang around the hotel's fire pit or chill out in the bright and airy lobby where free breakfast is served daily and happy hour brings bites and bubbles. The location is choice: right on Ocean Avenue downtown. Bonus points for dog-friendliness. // Starting at $257/night; Ocean Ave. and Junipero St, thegetawaycarmel.com
Formerly the Dolphin Inn, the cottage-style Hotel Carmel, located in the heart of the village, unveiled renovations in 2016 that give off a trendy, seaside aesthetic. The elegant boutique stay is comprised of 27 rooms with fireplaces and private balconies; some rooms open onto the courtyard with a fire pit and hot tub. Bagels with homemade cream cheese and coffee are complimentary in the lobby each morning, as are wine hours in the evening with selections from across Northern California. You can also grab a bite and a brew at the adjacent pub, Brophy's Tavern. // Starting at $329/night; 4th & San Carlos Street, thehotelcarmel.com
If you're looking to soak up some of the European-inspired feels that make Carmel so unique among California's coastal towns, check into L'Auberge Carmel, a Relais & Chateaux hotel that dates back to 1929 but has all the modern creature comforts. The guest rooms here were inspired by the travels of hotel's original owner Allen Knight, who was known for his adventures around the world. At turndown, indulge in a reshly baked cookie before tucking into your luxurious four-poster canopied bed surrounded by antiques from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. Feeling fancy? Enjoy a tasting menu ($175/person) at the hotel's restaurant, Aubergine. // Monte Verde St & 7th Ave, laubergecarmel.com
Carmel Country Inn
Cozy, quaint, and quintessentially Carmel, this bed and breakfast is pet friendly and within walking distance of everything, including the famous and dog-approved Carmel Beach. The spacious bedrooms all have fireplaces and luxurious baths, and extra perks include a full-service breakfast buffet as well as afternoon snacks in the country kitchen where you can refuel on homemade cookies, popcorn, and lemonade. // Starting at $245/night; Dolores St. and 3rd Ave, carmelcountryinn.com
Carmel's dining scene can seem oversaturated with standby French and Italian places, so Cultura, opened in 2016, is a refreshing addition to the mix. The lively modern Mexican restaurant, mezcalería, and agave bar will make you feel welcom with Oaxacan-inspired design and outdoor fire pits. Since its tempting to taste from the extensive list of cocktails and mezcals, soak it up with street tacos, chapulines with chili and lime, and rich entrees such as the enchiladas in housemade mole. Brunch is served on weekends. // Dolores St, between 5th and 6th, culturacarmel.com
Every town needs a local watering hole where you can grab a burger and beer, and watch the game. In Carmel, the answer is Brophy's—not a hole in the wall exactly, but an upscale Irish pub with modern design yet plenty of character—think 1,000 vintage beer cans and authentic sports paraphernalia lining the walls. Pop some coins into the vintage juke box before ordering up short rib fries, fish and chips, or the bacon burger. // San Carlos St & 4th Ave, brophystavern.com
It's always a party at Dametra Cafe, a 14-table Middle Eastern restaurant known for its live music and friendly staff. Feast on a bit of everything—hummus and pita, gyros and falafel, and Greek moussaka—while owners Fiasal Miri (from Jordan) and Bashar Sneeh (from Syria) chat up the room and often join in the music, playing traditional instruments and singing. It's a small, and very popular place, so reservations are recommended. // Ocean Ave and Lincoln Rd., dametracafe.com
This new Baja-inspired Mexican restaurant merges authentic south-of-the border food with Californian ingredients—look for Monterey seafood in the fish and shrimp tacos, as guacamole made tableside and rajas con queso (grilled peppers with melted cheese). If the weather's nice, take a seat on the lovely patio and enjoy a housemade cocktail. // San Carlos St & 7th Ave, facebook.com
There are plenty of Italian joints in Carmel, but there's something special about Enzo—not least of which is its heritage. Known to locals for more than 20 years as Nico, the restaurant was recently renamed the new owner, Enzo Pagano, who purchased it in 2017 from former proprietor Nico Marvis. Enzo's new look also comes with an updated menu with inspiration from Pagano's native Calabria. Expect an appetizer of prawns in rose sauce; homemade sandwiches (try the Italian sausage with bell peppers and mozzarella); and a decadent crab ravioli. // San Carlos St., between Ocean Ave. and 7th St., enzocarmel.com
Bruno's Market & Deli
If you're looking for a grab-and-go lunch on your way to a hike or the beach, this neighborhood grocer has an extensive deli with sandwiches, fresh meats, cheeses, snacks, and more. Don't forget to pick up a bottle of wine and a pastry on your way out. // 6th St. and Junipero St., www.facebook.com/brunosmarket
Starlight Rooftop Lounge
The only rooftop bar in Carmel? Yes, please. Starlight proves the town isn't just tasting rooms and restaurants—here you can relax in lounge seating around fire pits beneath string lights while taking in a birds-eye view of the town. Enjoy a curated selection of craft cocktails and local California beers, paired with bites by chef Rich Pèpe, including his famous burgers and wood-oven pizzas. Happy hour (4 to 6pm daily) is usually packed. // 6th Ave, chefpepe.com/restaurants
If you haven't heard, Carmel has kind of a thing for wine—in the small village alone, there are more than 20 tasting rooms. One of our favorites is Caraccioli Cellars, which serves its wine in a contemporary space in the heart of town. Cozy up to the bar to try their pinot noir, chardonnay, and sparkling varieties, all 100 percent estate grown on their vineyards in the Santa Lucia highlands. Family run and now in its fourth generation, Caraccioli's wines have fruit-centric notes that echo their light-handed approach to winemaking. // Dolores St., between Ocean Ave. and 7th St., caracciolicellars.com
We love the chic styling at Albatross Ridge's tasting room, where you can have a glass at the marble bar and be warmed by the roaring fireplace. Sample both current and special release vintages—the winery is best known for its pinot noir and chardonnay. // Dolores St, Between Ocean Ave. &, 6th St., albatrossridge.com
It's a not-so-well-kept secret that, for 10 minutes every Sunday starting at 5pm, all well drinks, house wine, and beer are just 10 cents at La Playa. Bring your dimes (seriously) for the cheapest happy hour in town plus ocean views. // Camino Real & 8th Ave, laplayahotel.com
Bike The Town
What better way to explore the coastal beauty than by bike? Thanks to a new bike rental shop, Mad Dogs & Englishmen, you can do so—and in style. This shop has a highly curated selection of both standard and e-bikes—the largest collection in Monterey County—from stylish brands such as Public and Faraday. Take a ride down the scenic drive in Carmel, along the 17-mile drive through Pebble Beach, or around Point Lobos to take in the views. // SW corner of Ocean Ave and Mission St., maddogscarmel.com
Hike Point Lobos
One of the most beautiful state parks in California, Point Lobos is a dreamscape of breathtaking coastal bluffs, ocean views, and wildlife. The park contains many hikes, but we recommend the lesser-known Whaler's Knoll trail: It's not as difficult as the popular Canyon Trail, but still a workout that promises incredible views and potential seal sightings. You can get to Whaler's Knoll directly from the road, or by first taking the North Shore Trail, which will show you even more of what Point Lobos has to offer. // parks.ca.gov/pointlobos
With nearly 100 galleries packed into a square mile, Carmel has endless options of souvenir art that appeals to the watercolor- and art-glass-loving tourist. But there are a few stops for young art lovers with modern taste. Weston Gallery (6th Ave. at Dolores and Lincoln) is a must-visit for collectors of fine art photography, showcasing the (mostly black-and-white) works of artists including Richard Avedon, Ansel Adams, Dennis Hopper, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Maplethorpe, and more. // For more contemporary fare, check out rock-and-roll photography and more at Gallery Exposed (San Carlos between Ocean and 7th Ave., Carmel-by-the-Sea).
Hit the Beach
When in town, you must make the trip down to Carmel Beach, at the foot of Ocean Avenue, to take in the sunset at the end of a busy day. You can also hop in the car and head to the equally beautiful but often less hectic Carmel River State Beach, a mile-long stretch where Carmel River meets the Pacific Ocean. The soft white sand, storybook homes lining the beach, bird sanctuary in a lagoon, and views out to Point Lobos make this a perfect place to spend an afternoon.
After doing a school project about bees in fifth grade, Jake Reisdorf started a honey business. Now a local celebrity, the high school freshman and CEO has opened the first brick-and-mortar location of his Carmel Honey Company (Ocean Ave & Mission St, Suite 118) in Carmel Plaza. Stop by to shop various honey offerings (orange blossom, sage, wildflower, and more) in a jars, sticks, or raw honeycomb form. // The Cheese Shop (Carmel Plaza, lower level) stocks a seemingly endless selection of local and international cheeses. Sample to your heart's content, and take some with you for a picnic, along with crackers, nuts, dried fruits, jams, and more. // At Trio Carmel (Dolores St. between Ocean Ave. and 7th St.), sample extra virgin olive oils and vinegars from around the world. You'll also find a selection of local wines and local artwork to browse.
Where there is no shortage of stores to browse in Carmel, it can be hard to find an on-trend boutique. But if you find yourself in need of something to wear, perhaps thanks to a sudden shift in the weather, a pair of shops from owner Sweet Pea Ivester promises you'll find a great piece (if at a cost). Just look for Girl Boy Girl aka GBG (Mission & 7th streets) and Paloosh (Ocean Ave. at Dolores St.) for contemporary brands and an extensive selection of jewelry. // You can also shop some big name brand stores—think Tiffany & Co. and Bottega Veneta—at Carmel Plaza (Ocean Ave. at Mission St.), a three-level outdoor shopping mall centered around a courtyard garden with fire pits. The plaza hosts a variety of events, from cooking demonstrations to pop-up markets and concerts.