Michael | November 26th, 2020 | No comments

There are plenty of things to do in Carmel California for lovers of fine dining, interesting architecture, and seaside activities!

This quaint artist town on California’s central coast is an often overlooked destination for travelers. The first time we visited this area of Cali we totally missed out on Carmel. Thankfully, we were able to visit again on a trip to Big Sur, and we fell in love. 

Carmel is unique for its striking cottages, its fully blossomed gallery scene, its beautiful beach, and interesting dining options. You can take time here to rest, relax, and just chill out for a few days. If you want to get away from hustle and bustle of city life Carmel is a great option for those living in San Francisco, San Jose, and even Los Angeles. 

So, let’s explore all the things you can do in around Carmel!

Things to Do in Carmel​ California

Please note – Some of our selections contain affiliate links. These allow us to earn a small percentage every time you make a booking. Using our links enables us to provide all the information found on this site free of charge.

Carmel Beach

the white sands of Carmel beach at sunset
(photo credit: Visit Carmel)

Carmel Beach is one of the main reasons you all should visit Carmel-By-The-Sea. This long white sand beach is one of the most beautiful ones in Central California. Head north on this pristine beach to reach the Pebble Beach gold course, or south to visit City Beach. Either way, while the beach can get crowded on beautiful sunny days you are likely to find a peaceful spot for yourself. 

Feel free the bring the pup along as Carmel Beach is dog friendly!

Wine and Dine in Carmel

An eclectic mix of culinary delights await your tummy in Carmel. The town is home to no less than 60 restaurants, cafes, bakeries, pubs, and bistros. You’ll find both local and international cuisine here, so if you have a hankering for Mexican, Mediterranean, or Asian food you are in luck!

This page has a great list of restaurants in Carmel, so check them out before going. Make sure to bring your appetite, because eating delicious meals will certainly be one of the things you do in Carmel most often. 

Fairy Tale Cottages 

one of Carmel's many fairy tale like cottages
(photo credit: Visit Carmel)

Explore Art Galleries

There are nearly one hundred art galleries in Carmel. The town has long been a haven for artists,  functioning as an artist’s colony of sorts. So whether you are an artist yourself, or an art enthusiast, there is a lot for you to explore and discover in Carmel.

For a list of galleries in Carmel check this page out. 

Bring Your Doggies

Carmel and doggies go hand in hand, or hand in lease. The town is extremely dog friendly, so bring your pups! Just make sure to pick up after your dog, and keep Carmel and its beach clean and pristine. 

Here are 8 dog-friendly things to do in Carmel

Explore Big Sur

a camping lodge among the redwoods of Big Sur Park, near Monterey California

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is one of the most beautiful places we have visited in the U.S.A. This gorgeous gem of a park sits on the western slope of the Santa Lucia Mountains, towering over the Big Sur River Gorge.

We were initially drawn to Big Sur after reading the 1962 novel Big Sur by the self proclaimed “King of the Beatniks” Jack Kerouac. We fell in love with his descriptions of the park, and decided to visit it on a road-trip between San Diego and San Francisco. The park did not dissapoint, to say the least. It is certainly one of our favorite places in the United States, and the world in general.

Hiking around Big Sur is a joy, as is camping, and taking a dip into a hot spring when you find one. There is little better after a long day of hiking than soaking yourself in a pool of bubbling hot spring water. You’ll be able to do that in Big Sur if you plan your hiking route accordingly.

Carmel-By-The-Sea (or nearby Monterey) is the perfect town to base your Bug Sur explorations out of. It’s close enough to be extremely convenient, and the drive to and from Carmel to Big Sur is unforgettable. So, Once you get your fill of hiking and camping in Big Sur, head back to town to recharge!

TOUR OPTION: If you aren’t much of a hiker, or want an awesome private tour of Monterey, Carmel, and Big Sur’s coast have a look at this tour for a group of four people.

Explore Monterey

A view of Monterey's Fisherman's Wharf during golden hour.
Photo: Michael Troutman/www.dmtimaging.com

Monterey is a great town, and we highly recommend you explore it for a few hours while visiting Carmel. Points of interest in Monterey include:

  • Cannery Row
  • Fisherman’s Wharf
  • Whale Watching

For more on Monterey have an look at our article on things to do there. 

DON’T Wear High Heels

One thing you CAN’T do in Carmel is wear heels higher than two inches. This is a quirky little law that we found amusing. The exact phrasing of this law is as follows:

“The wearing of shoes with heels which measure more than two inches in height and less than one square inch of bearing surface upon the public streets and sidewalks of the City is prohibited, without the wearer’s first obtaining a permit for the wearing of such shoes.”

So keep that in mind when packing for your trip! =) 

Point Lobos

Waves crashing onto the shores of Point Lobos near Monterey, California
The rocky coastline at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve in Carmel, California

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is a magnificent slice of natural beauty. This protected park sits along the coast and is home to an intricate, and stunning, eco-system. It’s well worth a visit, and its close proximity Carmel make it a must visit site for anyone exploring Carmel and the surrounding area. 

Remember that when visiting Point Lobos you are entering protected land. This means you should obey all instructions and directions for how to conduct yourself while there. Walk only on marked trails, leave nothing behind, let the animals be without disturbing them, and take nothing away with you other than memories.

Pinnacles Park

the volcanic formations that give Pinnacles National Park its name
Grab Life’s Moments- Pinnacles

Pinnacles Park derives its name from the craggy volcanic stone formations which dot the park, reaching into the sky like great grey fingers.

This newer national park is a great destination for climbers, campers, and cave explorers. Pinnacles is home to two large cave complexes, the Bear Caves and the Balconies Caves, offering a unique glimpse of subterranean life in the bowels of the California crust. Climbers will find over thirty rock formations to conquer here, which sweeping vistas as a reward for their dedication.

Birdwatchers have a chance at spotting the endangered California condors in Pinnacles, making it one of the few places in the United States where this is possible. These majestic birds have up to a 10 foot wing span, and soar high above the rocky formations of the park.

Salinas Valley

crops growing in Salinas Valley
Photo: Michael Troutman

Salinas Valley is sometimes called the “Salad Bowl of the World” due to its rich agricultural history. If you have any interest at all in the works of John Steinbeck you owe yourself a visit to Salinas. We recall reading East of Eden as young adults and falling in love with the valley due to the loving manner in which Steinbeck wrote about his childhood home. A visit here helped us visualize the writing, and we enjoyed it immensely.

Huge bonus – Salinas is home to a ton of delicious and authentic Mexican food, so if you’re like us you’ll stuff yourself in the most heavenly of ways while visiting.

Drive the Pacific Coast Highway

Spectacular views of the California coast await anyone taking a road trip down the Pacific Coast Highway. The views and shoreline between Big Sur and Carmel are particularly stunning. One can spend entire days just admiring the beauty of the Pacific crashing into the cliffs lining the coast.

We can not overstate the gorgeous terrain found here, and our own trip along the coast was a slow one, as we stopped at almost every available turn off. Explorers will find tiny beaches and cozy coves dotting the coast on this 30 mile stretch of road, all of which are deserving of attention.

TOUR OPTION: To book a Pacific Highway tour check this one out.

And there you have it folks, just some of the things you can do in Carmel. If you think we missed anything please do let us know in the comments or via Twitter. As always, travel well, be safe out there, and we’ll see you on the road!

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