Carmel-by-the-Sea is a charming seaside town on California’s Monterey Peninsula, known for its white-sand beaches, art galleries, and fairytale cottages.

Its tree-lined streets are adorned with Spanish-style buildings and Victorian homes, giving it the feel of an old European hamlet.

As you explore the town, you’ll find artisan shops filled with locally made items and world-class art galleries.

This picturesque town, once home to Jack London, Clint Eastwood, and Doris Day, offers a unique Pacific coast experience and is a popular vacation destination for those seeking a tranquil getaway.

In Carmel, you’ll find plenty of scenic spots to sit back and relax while taking in the breathtaking views of Monterey Bay.

The lack of street numbers also allows for leisurely exploration without the worry of getting lost due to GPS inaccuracy.

Whether you’re seeking rest and relaxation or an adventure-filled vacation, Carmel has something for everyone. Here is a list of 40 top things to do in Carmel. So read on and start exploring!

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1. Step Back in Time at the Carmel Mission

40 Top things to do in Carmel, California - The Ultimate Bucket List, Travel Realizations

The Carmel Mission Basilica in California is more than just a state and national historic landmark – it’s a window into the past and one of the best things to do in Carmel.

Carmel Mission’s official name is Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Río Carmelo.

It was the second of the missions built in California by the Spanish missionaries led by Father Junípero Serra, who is buried here.

Founded on June 3, 1770, it was named after Saint Charles Borromeo, a 16th-century archbishop of Milan.

40 Top things to do in Carmel, California - The Ultimate Bucket List, Travel Realizations

Today, it is a popular tourist destination, and visitors can explore the beautiful grounds and learn about the mission’s history.

Explore the stunning Moorish-style mission with its original paintings and statues, huge holy water fountain, traditional cobblestone pathways, and blossoming courtyards.

40 Top things to do in Carmel, California - The Ultimate Bucket List, Travel Realizations

The mission is especially well-preserved and provides a fascinating glimpse into life in early California. In addition to the mission itself, the site also includes a museum and a gift shop.

Whether you’re interested in history or simply looking for a unique and beautiful place to visit, the Carmel Mission is worth a stop.

2. Take a stroll on the Carmel Beach

40 Top things to do in Carmel, California - The Ultimate Bucket List, Travel Realizations
Sunset at Carmel Beach by Sheila Haddad

Carmel Beach is a stunning retreat located on the coast of Monterey Bay in California. Situated along the edge of jagged cliffs, this quaint beach is lined with an array of wind-carved cypress trees and cottages that offer breathtaking views.

The sandy shoreline of this crescent-shaped beach stretches approximately 1 mile/2 km long. The beach features sugary sand and gentle waves, which make it a perfect spot for families to relax and play. 

Carmel Beach offers something for everyone—from beachgoers looking to soak up some sun to dog lovers ready to run with their furry pals.

The weather at Carmel Beach can be pretty unpredictable – from foggy days during spring and summer to clear skies during fall and winter.

Nevertheless, no matter what time of year you visit, you’re sure to experience some beautiful scenery here.

3. Enjoy a super scenic drive on the 17-Mile drive

40 Top things to do in Carmel, California - The Ultimate Bucket List, Travel Realizations
Lone Cypress on the 17-mile drive

The 17-Mile Drive is a world-famous scenic road that winds through dramatic coastal cliffs, snow-white beaches, mystical forests, and iconic golf courses.

The drive is named for its length, approximately 17 miles, and it offers stunning ocean views, sandy beaches, and rolling hills. Visitors can also stop at various overlooks and viewpoints to take in the breathtaking scenery.

One of the most popular stops on the 17-Mile Drive is the famous Lone Cypress tree, which has stood on a rocky outcropping overlooking the Pacific Ocean for over 250 years. The tree has become a symbol of the area and is often featured in photographs and paintings of the region.

Another highlight of the drive is the Pebble Beach Golf Links, considered one of the best and most beautiful golf courses in the world.

The course is located along the coastline and features breathtaking views of the ocean and the surrounding landscape. And don’t miss seeing Crocker Grove – home to the largest and oldest Monterey Cypress trees.

The 17-Mile Drive is a must-see for anyone visiting Carmel-by-the sea. The scenery along the drive is truly breathtaking and offers a unique glimpse into the beauty of the California coast.

Whether you’re a golfer, a nature lover, or just someone looking to take in some stunning views, the 17-Mile Drive is an experience you won’t soon forget.

4. Take a leisurely stroll down Ocean Avenue

A stroll down Ocean Avenue in Carmel is sure to impress even the most sophisticated travelers. The adorable Carmel village is just one square mile, but it packs in plenty of charm.

Ocean Avenue serves as the main thoroughfare running from Highway One to the beachfront, making it an ideal spot for strolling and exploring. It is a picturesque street with an incredible array of shops, cafes, and art galleries.

Taking a leisurely stroll down this street offers visitors a variety of experiences that will leave them feeling captivated by the charm of this small coastal village. The avenue starts at Highway One and runs to the beach, winding its way through the quaint village. 

The buildings along Ocean Avenue range from historic cottages to modern storefronts, all with unique facades that add to the beauty of the area.

Many of the stores have been owned by local families for generations and offer unique wares like handmade pottery, handcrafted jewelry, custom artwork, and more.

There are also plenty of cafes serving up traditional coffee drinks as well as gelato, pastries, sandwiches, and salads made with locally sourced ingredients. Art galleries feature works from local artists or inspired pieces from across the world.

On any given day, you might stumble upon Plein air artists at work or witness a parade through town with vintage cars zooming down the street.

Over the years, Ocean Avenue has been featured in many movies, including Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) and Clint Eastwood’s Play Misty for Me (1971). 

It’s easy to see why people come from far and wide to experience the delightful atmosphere of Ocean Avenue in Carmel-by-the-Sea.

5. Walk, bike, or drive along the beautiful Scenic Road

Scenic Road in Carmel, California, is truly a sight to behold. The road runs parallel to Carmel Beach and beyond, offering stunning views of the ocean on one side and gorgeous Carmel homes on the other.

The road is often busy – driving it early or late in the day ensures you get the whole experience without the added traffic. 

If you’d prefer to take in the scene while walking, there’s a meandering path on the bluff that runs along the beach, parallel to the road.

The Scenic Road Walkway is a perfect place to take a leisurely stroll, with stunning views of the ocean, cliffs, and beach below. People can bring their four-legged friends but must be sure to keep them leashed. 

Along the way, you can relax on benches placed at strategic spots for maximum people-watching or contemplation.

If you’re feeling adventurous, there are sets of stairs at intervals along the path that will take you down to the beach or back up to the road.

Cypress trees line the path, and in the spring, wildflowers bloom in profusion. Scenic Road is a must-do for anyone seeking peaceful moments of respite and unbeatable views.

6. Admire Butterfly House – A landmark architectural treasure

40 Top things to do in Carmel, California - The Ultimate Bucket List, Travel Realizations
The Butterfly House at Carmel Point, Carmel-by-the-Sea

The Butterfly House is a Mid-century modern building situated on the rocky shoreline of Carmel Point in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.

It was originally designed and built by the renowned architect Francis W. Wynkoop, who was well-known for designing oceanfront homes.

The house has a unique wing-shaped roof that makes it stand out from the other buildings in the area and gives it its nickname – The Butterfly House.

With its stunning views of the ocean, this residence is truly a one-of-a-kind architectural marvel that allows residents to experience seaside living at its finest.

This house is hard to miss as you drive along Scenic Road, and the beach entry is located just to the north of the house.

Insider Tip: Loved exploring Carmel? Don’t stop there! Discover more fantastic weekend escapes with my Getaway Guide to Top Weekend Trips from the Bay Area. Plan your next adventure now!

7. See the Walker House, designed by world-renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright

40 Top things to do in Carmel, California - The Ultimate Bucket List, Travel Realizations
The Walker House at Carmel Point, Carme-by-the-Sea

Walker House is a unique and modern architectural masterpiece located on Carmel Point in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.

It was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1948 and completed in 1951 for Mrs. Clinton Della Walker of Pebble Beach.

Walker House is an iconic example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s organic architecture. The structure appears to be a ship cutting through the waves with its bow.

It has a roof colored to resemble the sea and is constructed from locally sourced Carmel stone.

Its significance lies in its unique design, which seeks to blend into its natural surroundings while offering stunning views of the ocean below.

Walker House was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977 and continues to draw visitors from around the world.

8. Visit poet Robinson Jeffers’ Tor House

40 Top things to do in Carmel, California - The Ultimate Bucket List, Travel Realizations
Tor House in Carmel-by-the-Sea

Robinson Jeffers is considered one of the most influential and significant poets of the 20th century. His Tor House in Carmel-by-the-Sea is an iconic landmark that embodies his legacy.

The stone cottage was built by the poet himself, incorporating rocks from the surrounding area and filled with ancient artifacts.

Visiting Tor House is an opportunity to learn about Jeffers’ life and works and experience the beauty of Carmel-by-the-Sea from a unique perspective.

The house also features stunning gardens, a living roof with wildflowers, and lovely views of the Pacific Ocean.

Robinson Jeffers’ Tor House and Hawk Tower are a testament to his devotion to his wife, Una, as he built them both by himself.

Tor House was completed in 1919 and served as the home for the couple, and their twin sons, where Jeffers wrote many of his famous works.

Hawk Tower was constructed over four years on the same site with breathtaking views across the ocean – a private retreat for Una.

9. Visit Carmel River State Beach for a lovely afternoon of birdwatching in the scenic lagoon

40 Top things to do in Carmel, California - The Ultimate Bucket List, Travel Realizations
Carmel River bird sanctuary

Carmel River State Beach is a stunning coastal beach located in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. Here, the Carmel River meets the ocean.

The beach is also home to a large bird sanctuary in a lagoon just before the river empties into the sea. This area teems with different kinds of waterfowl and songbirds, making it an excellent spot for birdwatching.

The beach is a mile-long stretch of pristine white sand with spectacular views of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. 

Monastery Beach, also known as San Jose Creek Beach, lies at the southern end of the state park and is an excellent spot for scuba diving enthusiasts.

However, swimming or wading near this area can be extremely dangerous due to strong rip tides that can easily catch even experienced swimmers off guard.

This beach also has an important historical significance as it was a major spot for the Rumsien tribe. Along the shoreline sits an old cross placed there by Spanish explorers in the 17th century, a reminder of their presence. 

In addition to all these activities that one can indulge in here, Carmel River State Beach also provides visitors with plentiful recreational opportunities such as hiking or biking along its trails which lead from the beach up into nearby hillsides covered in chaparral shrubs and native wildflowers or simply relaxing on its sandy beach as you take in spectacular sunsets over Monterey Bay’s horizon line. 

10. Explore Fairytale Cottages in Carmel-by-the-Sea

40 Top things to do in Carmel, California - The Ultimate Bucket List, Travel Realizations
A Fairytale Cottage in Carmel-by-the-Sea

Carmel-by-the-Sea is home to some of the most enchanting and beautiful Fairytale Cottages. These whimsical cottages, which look like they belong in a storybook, were designed by self-taught architect Hugh Comstock in the 1920s.

Hugh Comstock arrived in Carmel, California in 1924 and quickly made a name for himself with his charming, fairytale-like cottages. He built the first one, named Gretel, for his wife Mayotta, who made ragdolls, which she called Otsy-Totsy dolls.

The cottage, with its wonky stone chimney, ornate cornices, and wavy-edged shake roof, is a perfect example of Comstock’s whimsical style. He also built Hansel nearby, which acted as a showroom for his wife’s dolls. Comstock’s only commercial building, The Tuck Box, is now a popular restaurant.

His design sparked the interest of other residents, who asked for their own fairytale cottages to be built in the village. He constructed several Tudor-style cottages in the neighborhood, 21 of which still stand today and are privately owned.

Visitors can pick up a map at the Carmel Visitors Center and take a self-guided walking tour to see these charming homes. For a more individualized experience, download this audio app and explore the enchanting cottages of Carmel!

Carmel-by-the-sea, with its picturesque cottages, winding streets, and breathtaking ocean views, is a true gem of romance nestled along the California coast.

11. Visit Carmelite Monastery

40 Top things to do in Carmel, California - The Ultimate Bucket List, Travel Realizations
Carmelite Monastery – Carmel-by-the-Sea – California

The Carmelite Monastery is a peaceful escape, offering beautiful ocean views and a calming chapel. The public area is not large, but the monastery is still worth a visit for its serene atmosphere and stunning surroundings.

It is a beautiful place to meditate and appreciate the wonders of nature. The gates are open during the day and closed at night.

The Carmelite Monastery is located on the left at 27601 Highway 1. From the intersection of Highway 1 and Rio Road in Carmel, take Highway 1 south, approximately 1.3 miles

12. Take a scenic hike in Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

40 Top things to do in Carmel, California - The Ultimate Bucket List, Travel Realizations
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Among all of California’s 280 state parks, Point Lobos State Park has often been called the “crown jewel of the State Park System.”

Select a sunny day and go for a hike. Point Lobos state reserve offers a wild, majestic landscape laced with 14 meandering trails.

If you choose a trail along the shoreline, as I did, you will get to see innumerable seabirds along the way. The soothing serenity here will nourish the painter, poet, or photographer in you.

40 Top things to do in Carmel, California - The Ultimate Bucket List, Travel Realizations
Me and my daughter at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve!

If you want to spice up the day with some adventure, then go scuba diving. The sea near Point Lobos is considered to be one of the richest underwater habitats in the world.

Don’t miss seeing Whalers cove, a small cabin built by Chinese fishermen, now a cultural history museum.

40 Top things to do in Carmel, California - The Ultimate Bucket List, Travel Realizations
Whale bones at the Point Lobos State Park

Some popular and easy-to-hike trails in Point Lobos include the Cypress Grove Trail, the South Shore Trail, Bird Island Trail, and the Sea Lion Point Trail.

These trails offer stunning views of the rocky coastline, beautiful forests, and abundant wildlife.

  • Cypress Grove Trail – 0.8-mile loop trail, and it takes an average of 17 min to complete.
  • South Shore Trail – 2.5-mile out-and-back trail, and it takes an average of 52 min to complete.
  • Bird Island Trail –  0.8-mile out-and-back trail, and it takes an average of 19 min to complete.
  • Sea Lion Point Trail – 0.4-mile loop trail, and it takes an average of 8 min to complete.

13. Play golf at Pebble beach golf course – The No.1 public golf course in America

40 Top things to do in Carmel, California - The Ultimate Bucket List, Travel Realizations
Pebble Beach golf course

Pebble Beach Golf Links is the top public golf course in America and is located in Pebble Beach, California. The 18-hole course is renowned for its breathtaking coastal scenery, with views of Carmel Bay, Point Lobos, and Stillwater Cove.

The course is known for its challenging terrain and has hosted six U.S. Open Championships since 1972. Golfers of all skill levels can enjoy a round at Pebble Beach Golf Links, making it a must-see destination for anyone visiting the area.

The Pebble Beach area is also home to several other top-rated golf courses, such as Spyglass Hill Golf Course, The Links at Spanish Bay, The Hay, and Del Monte Golf Course. These courses offer a variety of golfing experiences, making Pebble Beach a top destination for golf enthusiasts.

Spend an afternoon on one of the picturesque golf courses in the area, indulging in a leisurely game of golf.

14. Watch a show at Sunset center

Sunset Center in Carmel-by-the-Sea is a performing arts center that offers a variety of entertainment options, including comedy shows, plays, and concerts. The theater has a seating capacity of 718, making it an ideal venue for intimate performances. The beautiful gothic architecture of the theater adds to the atmosphere, making it a great place to enjoy a show.

In addition to Sunset Center, Carmel-by-the-Sea also has the Forest Theater, an outdoor amphitheater surrounded by pine trees and huge open fireplaces, creating a majestic backdrop for the productions presented by Pacific Repertory Theatre.

PacRep puts on an annual family musical every August and September, followed by the Carmel Shakespeare Festival in October.

These events provide an excellent opportunity to experience live theater in a beautiful outdoor setting. If you’re visiting Carmel-by-the-Sea, check out the Forest Theater for a unique and memorable entertainment experience.

A visit to one of Carmel’s theaters is a great way to spend an evening in the town. Whether you’re looking for a night of laughter, drama, or music, the Sunset Center and Forest Theater offer various entertainment options that are sure to please.

15. Enjoy a walkable wine-tasting experience

40 Top things to do in Carmel, California - The Ultimate Bucket List, Travel Realizations
A quaint corner in Carmel-by-the-sea

Carmel-by-the-Sea is an excellent destination for wine lovers, with numerous wine-tasting rooms located within one square mile.

A walkable wine-tasting experience is a fun and unique way to explore the area and sample a wide range of varietals from the highly-rated Monterey County appellations.

In many cases, the winery owners and winemakers are on hand to discuss their wines, making the experience both personal and educational.

Whether you’re a seasoned wine connoisseur or just looking for fun things in Carmel, a walkable wine-tasting tour is a great way to experience the world of wine.

To make the most of your walkable wine-tasting experience in Carmel, download the free Carmel-by-the-Sea Wine Walk mobile guide.

The guide will take you on a journey through the wine-tasting rooms in the area and provide exclusive experiences at each stop.

You can even enter into a quarterly drawing to win some Monterey County wine by checking in at each participating wine tasting room.

So why not grab a map and start exploring the world of wine on foot in Carmel-by-the-Sea?

16. Do Olive oil and Vinegar tastings

Visiting Olivier Napa Valley on Ocean Avenue in Carmel-by-the-Sea is a must for any food enthusiast! This amazing store offers a vast selection of high-quality olive oils and balsamic vinegars, some of which are aged 25 to 35 years and have an incredible flavor.

The blood orange and chile-infused olive oils add a special touch to your dishes. At the same time, their selection of condiments, honey and preserves, herbs and spices, kitchenware, home accessories, and thoughtful gifts make it a one-stop shop for all your culinary needs.

If you’re looking for even more top-notch olive oils and vinegars, then Quail & Olive in Carmel Valley should also be on your list.

They specialize in California olive oils but also carry a range of other products, including cheese boards, specialty salts, handmade soaps, and skin care products.

Don’t forget to check out the quirky cookbooks they have available and all the fun kitchen knick-knacks that will make you smile.

Olivier Napa Valley and Quail & Olive offer something unique for every foodie who visits them – from high-quality culinary ingredients to unique gift items – these stores certainly won’t disappoint!

17. Explore the Wineries & Vineyards of Carmel Valley

Nestled in the Santa Lucia mountain range lies the picturesque Carmel Valley, a charming small town and home to some of California’s best wineries and vineyards.

Carmel Valley’s climate and geography make it an ideal location for growing grapes and producing high-quality wines. Take a quick day trip from Carmel by the sea to Carmel Valley.

It offers a variety of experiences for oenophiles and adventure seekers alike.

From traditional tasting rooms to unique farm-to-table restaurants, guests can while away the hours with excellent wines and breathtaking views from high up in the mountains.

Visit kids-friendly Folktale Winery & Vineyard for a delicious lunch and amazing food with an incredible vineyard view.

Drop by Bernardus Winery, and enjoy wines and a charcuterie board. Also, explore Boekenoogen Winery, Joullian Vineyards, and Massa Estate Organic Vineyards with their unique sculpture garden.

18. Go shopping in Downtown Carmel

40 Top things to do in Carmel, California - The Ultimate Bucket List, Travel Realizations
A souvenir shop in downtown Carmel!

Exploring the streets in Downtown Carmel is an absolute must! Whether buying a souvenir for yourself or a loved one, this is the place to be. With quaint local businesses strewn throughout, something unique and special is sold down every alleyway.

You wouldn’t want to miss out on some of Carmel’s finest – jewelry, gourmet food and sweets, apparel stores with fantastic deals, and even artwork from some of the most talented artists.

19. Go horseback riding at Garland Ranch Regional Park

Garland Ranch Regional Park in Carmel Valley offers a unique and beautiful horseback riding experience. The park features a variety of scenic landscapes, including willow-lined banks of the Carmel River, maple-filled canyons, dense oak woodlands, and rugged Santa Lucia Mountains.

Riders can take a leisurely ride along the peaceful banks of Garzas Creek or challenge themselves with a thrilling climb up the steep slopes of the Santa Lucia Mountains.

You will surely be treated to stunning views no matter what trail you choose.

If you’re looking for a unique way to spend a day, consider horseback riding at Garland Ranch Regional Park. With its lush greenery and varied terrain, it’s sure to provide an unforgettable outdoor adventure!

20. Explore Carmel’s art galleries

40 Top things to do in Carmel, California - The Ultimate Bucket List, Travel Realizations
An art gallery in Carmel, California!

Carmel is known for its art scene, and Ocean Avenue, its main street, is lined with galleries showcasing the best of California’s Central Coast.

There’s something for everyone, from fine art photography to oil paintings and sculptures. Prices are diverse, so whether you’re looking for a souvenir or a statement piece, you’ll find what you’re looking for.

The Carmel Art Association is a great starting point, with over 100 local artists featured in its downtown gallery. You can visit the gallery in person to browse the artwork or check out their website to see what’s on display this month.

Whether you’re a connoisseur looking to purchase an exquisite item or simply someone with artistic appreciation, Carmel’s exquisite art galleries provide an unforgettable experience that deserves to be indulged in!

Travel Tip: Carmel Art Walk is a monthly event that offers visitors a unique opportunity to discover the vibrant art scene in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Held on the second Saturday of every month from 4-7 pm, the Carmel Art Walk features 14 local artist-owned galleries.

This is a great chance to meet the artists and learn about their work firsthand.

21. Explore Carmel’s historic buildings

If you’re looking for something quintessentially Carmel, let yourself be transported back in time with these historic gems.

The architectural heritage found in each building is a testament to the area’s complex and colorful past.

Visit the downtown Welcome Center, grab a map, and start a self-guided tour of homes, libraries, and inns. First Murphy House,  Harrison Memorial Library,  Cottage of Sweets & Court of the Golden Bough, and El Paseo Courtyard are some of the many historic buildings you can explore.

22. Spend a day in Monterey

40 Top things to do in Carmel, California - The Ultimate Bucket List, Travel Realizations
The 28 feet kelp forest exhibit in Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the tallest aquarium exhibits in the world.

Monterey is a charming coastal city that is perfect for families looking for a fun day trip from Carmel. Located just ten minutes north of Highway 1, the city is rich in history and culture and offers a variety of activities to keep everyone entertained.

Monterey Bay is one of the best places in the world for whale watching. Embark on any one of the whale-watching tours to see these majestic creatures up close. Book a whale-watching tour here.

  • Explore Monterey State Historic Park and Colton Hall

Monterey State Historic Park, a living museum that offers interactive exhibits to learn about the state’s history, and the Colton Hall Museum, where the California constitution was drafted in 1849.

  • Explore historic Cannery Row

Explore Cannery Row, an area that was once home to several industrial sardine canning operations during the 1920s and 1930s. Today, it’s one of Monterey’s most visited attractions due to its many restaurants, shops, wineries, and coffee houses that offer breathtaking views of the bay. 

  • Visit Monterey Bay Aquarium

No trip to Monterey would be complete without visiting the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium

There are plenty of ways to enjoy a beautiful day in Monterey! Read my Monterey travel guide about the Top things to do in Monterey.

23. Spend an afternoon in Pacific Grove

40 Top things to do in Carmel, California - The Ultimate Bucket List, Travel Realizations
Pacific Grove’s shoreline at Perkins Park during the spring

Pacific Grove, the small town, is beautiful all year long. It is especially lovely during springtime, when the shoreline at Perkins Park is adorned with blooming ice plants. It is a popular destination for spring break in California.

From October to February, Pacific Grove becomes a hub for thousands of monarch butterflies, who migrate to the town and cluster together on trees in the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary.

This unique occurrence has earned Pacific Grove the nickname “Butterfly Town.”

Visitors can also check out the vibrant butterfly house at 309 9th St, Pacific Grove, CA 93950, which is full of butterfly sculptures and artwork and has a relaxing atmosphere.

Other popular attractions in Pacific Grove include the Point Pinos Lighthouse, the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, and the trails at Asilomar State Beach.

Overall, Pacific Grove is a picturesque destination with various things to see and do.

24. Explore Carmel’s Hidden courtyards and Secret Passageways

40 Top things to do in Carmel, California - The Ultimate Bucket List, Travel Realizations
There is a unique shop hidden down this path.

Carmel-by-the-Sea is home to a remarkable array of courtyards and secret passageways, which began popping up in the 1920s when Hugh Comstock’s fairy-tale houses and shops were built.

There are over forty hidden gems to explore, each offering a unique experience.

From quaint shops filled with locally crafted souvenirs and art to picturesque restaurants boasting the flavors of California’s wine country, there’s something special waiting to be discovered in each passageway.

The narrow alleys are also decorated with lush plants, colorful hanging baskets, and vibrant pots – providing visitors with an authentically charming atmosphere that captures the essence of what makes Carmel so special.

Here are a few of my favorites.

El Paseo Courtyard & Passageway – The Spanish Eclectic design is prominently displayed in the building and its courtyard, featuring imported ceramic tiles on the stairway off of Dolores Street and the fountain.

Secret Garden Passageway – Nestled between Dolores Street and San Carlos Street, the Secret Garden Passageway in Carmel invites visitors to explore a hidden oasis.

Surrounded by bamboo trees, this narrow pathway leads to Pilgrim’s Way bookstore and garden, a popular local spot for over four decades.

Visitors can find respite from the outside world within this peaceful sanctuary as they take in the tranquil fountains, enigmatic figurines, and alluring gifts.

 Der Ling Lane & Passageway -Located on Ocean Avenue, Der Ling Lane is believed to be the oldest public alley in Carmel.

25. Drive to Big Sur

40 Top things to do in Carmel, California - The Ultimate Bucket List, Travel Realizations
Bixby Creek Bridge,  on the Big Sur coast of California – one of the most photographed bridges in the golden state!

Big Sur is a sparsely populated region along the Central Coast famous for its stunning natural beauty.

It can be accessed from Carmel and is best explored by driving along the winding Highway 1, which offers breathtaking views of steep, wildflower-dotted cliffs and the crashing ocean.

There are many stops along the way that are worth visiting.

A stop at Nepenthe for a memorable lunch or Big Sur Bakery for delicious pastries is a great way to refuel before continuing.

Those looking for an outdoor adventure can explore Garrapata State Park or one of the many other scenic attractions along the way, such as Bixby Bridge, Pfeiffer Beach, and Julia Pfeiffer State Park – home to McWay Falls, an awe-inspiring waterfall cascading directly into the Pacific Ocean. 

It’s not just nature that makes Big Sur worth visiting: its remote cliffs are also home to the Esalen Institute, where people come from far and wide to practice yoga, meditate, receive spiritual guidance, or enjoy a massage by the ocean as a day visitor.

26. Explore Garrapata State Park

40 Top things to do in Carmel, California - The Ultimate Bucket List, Travel Realizations
Garrapata State Park

Garrapata State Park, nestled alongside the breathtaking California coast near Carmel, is the perfect destination if you’re looking for an outdoor adventure.

The park is on Highway 1, 6.7 miles south of Rio Road in Carmel, featuring miles of hiking trails and stunning beaches for soaking up the sun.

Enjoy beautiful vistas of wild meadows, canyons, and redwoods from almost any point-but be sure to bring a camera to capture that perfect shot!  It offers spectacular views of the jagged coastline, crashing waves, and redwood-dotted hills.

The park is perfect for outdoor enthusiasts looking to experience coastal hiking trails and explore its diverse wildlife.

The Soberanes Point Trail, a popular route in the park, takes hikers along a dramatic cliff-top path with views of the Pacific Ocean. Hikers may even spot dolphins or whales offshore during their journey.

27. Explore Calla Lily Valley

40 Top things to do in Carmel, California - The Ultimate Bucket List, Travel Realizations
Calla Lily Valley

Nestled within the rugged Big Sur coast, not far from Carmel-by-the-sea, lies a secret garden of wonders, a floral fairyland known as Calla Lily Valley.

To access this hidden paradise, follow the path from Gate 19 in Garrapata State Park (near mile marker 63).

As you wander through patches of wildflowers, you’ll find yourself at the entrance to the valley, where a babbling creek flows into the ocean.

Take a few steps down the wooden stairs to the valley floor, where you’ll be greeted by a sea of white calla lilies, a stunning sight to behold from late January until the end of April.

Follow the Garrapata Trail to a bluff overlooking the beach, and let the natural beauty of Calla Lily Valley transport you to a world of magic and wonder.

28. Enjoy a spectacular sunset and delicious dinner at Carmel mission ranch

40 Top things to do in Carmel, California - The Ultimate Bucket List, Travel Realizations
Carmel Mission Ranch restaurant

Escape to the peaceful beauty of Carmel Mission Ranch, a stunning property owned by Hollywood icon Clint Eastwood.

Located near the Carmel Mission and offering breathtaking views of the ocean, rolling hills, and grazing sheep, this is the perfect spot to enjoy a spectacular sunset and a delicious dinner.

As the golden light casts an enchanting glow over the fields, you can dine al fresco, surrounded by the peaceful serenity of the ranch.

Whether you’re a fan of Eastwood’s movies or simply seeking a romantic and tranquil escape, Mission Ranch is sure to delight and satisfy you.

29. See an exhibition at The Center for Photographic Art

If you’re in the mood for some artistic inspiration, look no further than the Center for Photographic Art in Carmel, California.

Located just a short walk from Ocean Avenue, this esteemed gallery has a rich history dating back to 1967, when it was founded by iconic photographers Ansel Adams, Cole Weston, and Wynn Bullock.

Today, the CPA remains a vital hub for photographers and art enthusiasts, hosting a range of exhibitions featuring both local and international photographers.

In addition to showcasing stunning photographic works, the CPA also offers lectures and workshops from renowned photographers.

Whether you’re a seasoned artist or simply looking to appreciate some stunning visuals, the Center for Photographic Art is a must-visit destination in the heart of downtown Carmel.

30. Visit Carmel during Carmel Art Festival

Every year, the vibrant and picturesque town of Carmel comes alive with the Carmel Art Festival, a three-day celebration of the visual arts.

Held at Devendorf Park, this free public event features a wealth of exciting activities, including live music, performances, interactive art exhibits, and more. As you wander through the bustling streets, you’ll find artist booths showcasing a wide range of mediums, from painting and photography to sculpture.

But the real highlight of the Carmel Art Festival is the chance to see artists creating their exhibitions outdoors on Wednesday and Thursday all around the Monterey Peninsula, and then bringing them to Devendorf Park on Friday afternoon for judging.

The public is invited to view and purchase these and other newly created paintings through Sunday.

In addition to the main exhibitions, there are also special events like Sculpture-in-the-Park, Kids-make-art day, and live music each day. On Sunday morning, the winning artists will participate in a Quick Draw competition, with the results being sold via Silent Auction.

Don’t miss out on this incredible opportunity to immerse yourself in the vibrant world of art and creativity at the Carmel Art Festival

31. Listen to a concert at Carmel Bach Festival

40 Top things to do in Carmel, California - The Ultimate Bucket List, Travel Realizations
Experience the extraordinary at the Carmel Bach Festival! Through the power of music and storytelling, immerse yourself in narratives that transport you beyond the ordinary.

Experience the timeless beauty of classical music at the Carmel Bach Festival, a two-week celebration of concerts, recitals, master classes, lectures, and open rehearsals held in July.

The festival offers innovative programming that celebrates the works, inspiration, and ongoing influence of Johann Sebastian Bach and other composers from the Baroque era.

You’ll have the chance to hear performances by internationally renowned orchestras, soloists, and choirs in venues all over Carmel and participate in workshops and lectures to deepen your appreciation of this timeless music.

Whether you’re a seasoned classical music aficionado or just getting started, the Carmel Bach Festival is an unforgettable opportunity to immerse yourself in the beauty of Baroque-era compositions.

32. Go for a relaxing walk at Mission Trail Nature Preserve

Experience the beauty of nature at the Mission Trail Nature Preserve, a 34-acre park featuring three miles of hiking trails and a native plant garden.

The park’s diverse habitats include a Monterey pine forest, coast live oak woodland, wetland, willow riparian corridor, and coastal prairie, making it the perfect spot for a relaxing walk.

33. Enjoy a scenic drive in Carmel Highlands

Escape to the serene beauty of Carmel Highlands for a scenic drive that will take your breath away. Located just south of Carmel-by-the-Sea, this charming community is tucked away in the hills above California Highway 1.

As you wind your way up Fern Canyon Road, you’ll be treated to stunning views of the ocean and the lush greenery that surrounds you.

When the sun starts to set, consider making a stop at the Hyatt Highlands Inn, where you can unwind in the lounge with a drink in hand as you watch the sun go down.

Savor a local wine or craft cocktail as you take in the breathtaking views of the ocean.

34. Hike Palo Corona Regional Park

Palo Corona Regional Park is a beautiful place to go for a hike, with over 500 species of plants and diverse wildlife habitats ranging from the Carmel River to the mixed hardwood forest on the 3,000-foot Palo Corona Peak.

Palo Corona Regional Park’s most sought-after trek is the path toward Inspiration Point. The Inspiration Point trail is a moderate to strenuous hike that starts at sea level and rises to over 3,400 feet in elevation.

Along the way, you’ll pass through a flat bed of European grasses and enjoy the shade of Coast Live Oak trees. At approximately ¾ of the way up, you’ll be treated to stunning views of the Carmel coast and can take a break at a picnic bench at the mountaintop.

You’ll get a bird’s eye view of Carmel and the nearby coast from Inspiration Point.

It’s an ideal spot for nature lovers and photographers looking to immerse themselves in the beauty of Carmel.

35. Enjoy happy hour – a few hotspots for you!

Indulge in the joy of Happy Hour as you explore the charming town of Carmel-by-the-Sea. Savor discounted drinks and delectable bites at some of the town’s most beloved watering holes and eateries.

From classic and classy lounges to sports bars and Italian-inspired wine bars, Carmel-by-the-Sea has something to suit every taste and budge.

Happy Hour is the perfect way to kick off a night of adventure in this charming town or simply to unwind after a day of sightseeing. Here are a few local hotspots to check out:

Foray: This new eatery offers 50% off any bites and drink specials between 5-6 pm on Thursday-Sunday.

Brophy’s Tavern: This sports bar on San Carlos St. and 4th Ave. has Happy Hour from 4:00-6:00 pm Mon.-Fri., with $6 appetizers and discounted drinks including Coors Light or 805 draft beers for $4, house wine for $6, and well drinks for $6. Don’t forget to check out their famous “1,000 beer can wall.”

Terry’s Lounge: Located in the Cypress Inn on Lincoln St. and 7th Ave., this classic and classy lounge has “Yappy Hour” from 4-6 pm Sun.-Thurs. with discounted drinks and food. All dogs receive a complimentary (non-alcoholic) Muttini, and there’s live music from local musicians Thu.-Sun. 7-10 pm.

Bar Napoli: This Italian-inspired wine bar, owned by legendary Carmel Chef Rich Pepe, has Happy Hour from 4:00-6:00 pm every day with discounted drinks and a lovely courtyard with outdoor seating and a ceramic sculpture by Jo Mora.

Il Fornaio: Located in the historic Pine Inn on Ocean Ave. and Lincoln St., this Italian restaurant has Happy Hour Mon.-Fri from 4:00-6:00 pm with discounted wine and cocktails, as well as half-price appetizers and pizzas.

36. Indulge in a relaxing session at a spa

Visiting a spa while in Carmel-by-the-Sea is the perfect way to relax and rejuvenate. From luxurious resort spas to intimate boutique retreats, the town has a wide range of options to choose from.

Imagine indulging in a soothing massage or facial, or spending a peaceful afternoon lounging in a steam room or sauna. The experienced and trained staff at these spas will cater to your every need, ensuring that you have a truly relaxing and rejuvenating experience.

After a day of pampering, you’ll leave feeling refreshed and revitalized, ready to take on all that Carmel-by-the-Sea has to offer. Check out Signature Day Spa, Refuge, Bernardus Lodge & Spa, and Spa Aiyana.

37. Go on an Art Walk

40 Top things to do in Carmel, California - The Ultimate Bucket List, Travel Realizations
An art gallery in Carmel

Carmel has a long tradition of attracting artists, and its reputation as a bohemian art colony dates back to the early 20th century.

The beauty and solitude of the area make it a perfect place for artists to thrive, and the Carmel Art Walk is a great way to experience this vibrant artistic community.

The Carmel Art Walk is a great way to experience the rich artistic history of Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Taking place on the second Saturday of every month from 4-7 pm, the Art Walk offers the chance to meet local artists and tour 14 artist-owned galleries in the area.

Whether you’re a tourist looking to explore the area or a Bay Area resident seeking a new cultural experience, the Carmel Art Walk is a must-see event.

Be sure to mark your calendar for the next Art Walk.

38. View Native Plants at Piccadilly Park

If you are looking for a peaceful escape in the heart of Carmel Village, look no further than Piccadilly Park on Dolores.

This small courtyard park is a haven for native plants and mature shade trees, all carefully maintained by volunteers from the local garden club.

The park boasts a variety of drought-resistant plants that thrive in the area, as well as a charming fountain and benches for visitors to sit and take in the natural beauty.

Whether you’re a local or just passing through, Piccadilly Park is a must-see destination for nature lovers. So take a break from the hustle and bustle and enjoy a peaceful moment in this delightful green oasis.

39. Go glamping at Saddle Mountain

40 Top things to do in Carmel, California - The Ultimate Bucket List, Travel Realizations
Saddle Mountain Ranch!

If you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life and explore the great outdoors while visiting Carmel-by-the-Sea, consider a stay at Saddle Mountain Ranch.

This breathtaking location, just a 17-minute drive from Carmel, offers the ultimate in luxury camping.

Nestled on 89 acres of forest land, surrounded by oak, Monterey pine, and redwood trees, Saddle Mountain Ranch provides a peaceful escape from the city. Spend the night in a romantic tent, surrounded by the beauty of nature.

As the stars come out, step outside and take in the breathtaking view of the starry sky above. In the morning, wake up to the warmth of the sun on your skin and the sounds of nature all around you.

Saddle Mountain Ranch is the perfect place to go glamping in style. Don’t miss out on this unforgettable opportunity to reconnect with nature and rejuvenate your spirit while exploring Carmel-by-the-Sea.

40. Visit Moto Talbott Motorcycle Museum – One of the premier motorcycle collections on the West Coast

40 Top things to do in Carmel, California - The Ultimate Bucket List, Travel Realizations
A rare 1948 BMW R/35

If you’re a fan of motorcycles and history, the Moto Talbott Motorcycle Museum is a must-see destination while visiting Carmel, California.

Located in Carmel Valley, this hidden gem features more than 170 iconic motorcycles from 17 countries, including rare models from Suzuki, Honda, Yamaha, Harley Davidson, and many more.

Situated on one of Northern California’s most beautiful motorcycle roads, the Moto Talbott Motorcycle Museum is a paradise for motor aficionados.

Visitors can transport themselves back in time as they admire beautiful bikes and learn about their unique backstories.

Whether you’re a seasoned rider or just appreciate the beauty and history of motorcycles, the Moto Talbott Motorcycle Museum is a must-see attraction. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to see one of the premier motorcycle collections on the West Coast.

Where to stay in Carmel

Hofsas House Hotel is just a short 5-minute walk from the restaurants and shops in Carmel’s city center. Hofsas House Hotel offers guests a heated outdoor pool and a continental breakfast with fresh pastries. Read my detailed review. Book your stay here.

Tradewinds Carmel is a boutique hotel located just a few blocks from unique shopping, galleries, and fine dining options, and the main street, Ocean Avenue, is just a short walk away. Each guest room at the Tradewinds Carmel is decorated with an Asian fusion style and features premium linens for a comfortable and stylish stay. Book your stay here.

Carmel Garden Inn is a pet-friendly B&B. It offers rooms and suites with free Wi-Fi and a cozy wood-burning fireplace, perfect for relaxing after a day of exploring the area. Book your stay here.

Where to eat in Carmel-by-the-Sea

Mission Ranch Restaurant in Carmel-by-the-Sea is a must-visit for any foodie visiting the area. The outdoor patio provides stunning views of the sheep meadow, and the American-style menu has something for everyone, including delicious beef and seafood entrees. The service is top-notch and the atmosphere is comfortable and inviting.

If you’re looking for authentic Italian cuisine in the heart of Carmel-by-the-Sea, look no further than Little Napoli. With top-notch service and a menu full of delicious options like fresh calamari and mouthwatering pizzas, you won’t be disappointed. They even offer outdoor seating in a charming alleyway, making it the perfect spot to enjoy a meal

The Best Time to Visit Carmel-by-the-Sea

The best time to visit Carmel-by-the-Sea depends on your preferences.

If you’re a fan of spring wildflowers and dining al fresco in the evenings, you’ll love a visit in the spring. If you’re a beach person, you might prefer a fall getaway, when the weather is warm and clear.

Winter is also a great time to visit Carmel, with the village decked out for the holidays and seasonal menus at local restaurants.

And if you’re visiting in the summer, you can expect pleasant temperatures and plenty of beach-goers, although the mornings may be foggy.

No matter when you visit, be sure to check out the local events, such as the monthly art walk or the live music at Carmel Plaza in July.

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Travel Realizations

As we come to the end of our journey through the top 40 things to do in Carmel, California, it’s clear that this stunning coastal town is a place of endless beauty and possibility.

From breathtaking natural landscapes to world-class art and culture, Carmel has something for everyone.

Whether you’re seeking adventure, relaxation, or inspiration, this ultimate bucket list has offered a taste of the many experiences that await.

But beyond the specific activities and attractions, Carmel is a place that invites us to embrace the beauty and wonder of life itself.

It’s a place where we can connect with nature, with each other, and with something larger than ourselves.

Carmel reminds us of the simple pleasures and profound insights that make life worth living in a world that can sometimes feel overwhelming or disconnected.

So go ahead, add these 40 top things to do in Carmel to your list, and let them be a guide as you explore.

This stunning coastal town is a place of endless beauty and possibility #Carmel #Travel #California #carmelBtsea #SeeMonterey #VisitCarmel Click To Tweet


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Chirasree Banerjee

Hello. My name is Chirasree. I have been traveling for almost 11 years to places all over the world. I enter into a separate reality during my travels and enjoy the allure of escape from the mundane. I seek beauty through nature and human-made creations. Because beauty is powerful. I seek knowledge. I observe, absorb, and write about the places I visit and the profound realizations and inspirations that each place has to offer.