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Best Restaurants In Carmel-by-the-Sea Right Now – And 1 To Avoid

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3 months ago

Being a destination for culinary aficionados and wine enthusiasts, Carmel-by-the-Sea boasts a better-than-average selection of restaurants. Generally speaking, you can’t go wrong (which is not the case for most towns and cities in the U.S.).

The town and surrounding countryside are best enjoyed during the daylight hours on account of the incredible vistas. But little did you know, Carmel-by-the-Sea also has some restaurants for dinner where you can expect a show. We’ve put the best breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner(s) here.

View of the ocean from Carmel by the Sea with a tree
Carmel-by-the-Sea is known for its amazing beach views

Best breakfast in Carmel-by-the-Sea

If you’ve already taken enough advantage of your hotel’s free breakfast (which pretty much all good boutique hotels in Carmel-by-the-Sea offer), Stationæry is the best spot for breakfast in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Their sausage banh mi (baguette sandwich) was super delicious. I also have on good authority that the San Carlos Spritzer is refreshing and perfect for a summer sip.

This is more of a slow food establishment so prepare to wait a bit longer than you normally would. They really live and breathe the Carmel-by-the-Sea ethos which is to take life slower and really savor the moment.

Exterior of Stationæry restaurant in Carmel-by-the-Sea
Stationæry is the perfect spot for winter and summer (source: Stationæry)

Stationæry is a tough one to get a table at – and they know it. So it’s for that reason that they have a separate shopfront just next to the restaurant to get your coffee fix.

The bread pudding with thyme ice cream and the avocado toasts are the standout dishes. You won’t be disappointed with these.

Breakfast buffet at Le Petit Pali with jams and breads
Hotels in Carmel-by-the-Sea also offer an amazing breakfast spread – like the breakfast at Le Petit Pali

They manage to create quite sophisticated flavors in a range of dishes. And, like a lot of places in Carmel-by-the-Sea, it’s very dog friendly. Expect to be breakfasting with pups around you.

Best brunch in Carmel-by-the-Sea

La Bicyclette is quite the institution in Carmel-by-the-Sea (it’s been around in some form for over 50 years). The restaurant really plays on its old-world European charm, and it many ways you feel like you’re being transported to Belgium with the taste and the decor.

Table and chairs with menu behind them at La Bicyclette
The broody atmosphere at La Bicyclette (Source: La Bicyclette)

Like Stationæry, this is a small establishment, so expect to wait for your meal. In terms of recommendations, La Bicyclette prides itself on being seasonal; so, depending on when you go, you could see an autumn salad with winter squash and fresh greens, or granola with seasonal fruits.

Best lunch in Carmel-by-the-Sea

Okay so this one is outside of the main town but it really is the perfect spot for a long, lazy lunch in the sun. Folktale Winery and Vineyards have perfected their flat breads (the “besto pesto” and “sweet heat” were magnificent), but what makes the food even more enjoyable is the atmosphere.

The restaurant is located just next to the vineyards. Don’t be afraid to take your glass of wine with you on a walk through the vineyards while you wait for your food. In terms of wine, we were really surprised by how delicious their Albariño was.

Outdoor concert at Folktale Winery with fairy lights and barrels
There’s always something exciting happening at Folktale

They’re more than happy to let you explore. You can also get a flight of wine but truthfully getting a bottle to share is much better value for money.

Best dinner in Carmel-by-the-Sea

There are absolutely incredible places for dinner in Carmel-by-the-Sea, and we struggled to choose just one because the experiences on offer are vastly different. We’ve got the best restaurants for dinner in Carmel-by-the-Sea whether you’re visiting with a group or looking for a bit of a party night, or if you’re visiting for a romantic getaway or looking for a quieter night).

Best dinner for a party night

Prepare for a raucous night in a very unassuming space. This one truly was unexpected. Dametra Café does amazing Greek food but the amazing doesn’t stop there. This really is a special dining experience to cap off a day of drinking in the wine tasting rooms.

Every hour during dinner time on the weekends, a guitarist comes out and the whole restaurant starts dancing. It’s an amazing atmosphere that is reminiscent of Mykonos but unexpectedly in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Make a reservation well in advance if you want a table for dinner.

Dametra Café’s four cheese ravioli is an excellent option for vegetarians but is an amazing dish for anyone to enjoy. Their dishes are consistently delicious so you’ll enjoy whatever you choose here.

Shop in Carmel-by-the-Sea with candles and wooden table

If you’re looking for more nightlife in Carmel-by-the-Sea, check out Barmel or Vesuvius. Those will be going until the early hours.

Best dinner for a romantic night

The Mission Ranch Restaurant is set in the farmhouse of Mission Ranch which is easily one of the best places to spend an afternoon in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Watching the sun set on the ranch is a calming, quintessential Carmel-by-the-Sea experience that is best experienced with a significant other.

View from Mission Ranch Restaurant
The view from Mission Ranch Restaurant (Source: Mission Ranch Restaurant)

Ask for a table outside (even if it’s a cold night). It’s heated well and the scenery is breath-taking, so you won’t be thinking about the cold. In terms of food, it’s their Cobb salad and angel food cake which are real winners.

Mission Ranch Restaurant doesn’t take reservations, so be prepared to wait an hour and a half for a table. Use that time to get a drink and walk around.

People singing karaoke in front of a piano at Mission Ranch Restaurant
The karaoke can become wild at Mission Ranch

Once you’re done with dinner, head back inside for some karaoke and good vibes. It’s an experience in and of itself to sit and spectate as people take the microphone and sing their hearts out.

Incidentally, Mission Ranch is also one of the best boutique hotels in Carmel-by-the-Sea. It’s a little bit outside of town, but it’s worth it for the unparalleled views and scenery.

View from Mission Ranch into farmlands at dusk
The view from Mission Ranch at dusk is truly serene

And one to avoid

Cultura Comida y Bebida place is good at best but frankly unenjoyable at worst. If you only have a couple of nights to enjoy Carmel-by-the-Sea, there are other amazing options (like the two above) that will leave you much happier.

The tacos were just way too stuffed, and the enchiladas were more sauce then they were taste. We also found it to be incredibly expensive for what it was.

top boutique hotels in carmel by the sea california
Look at the fairy-tale cottages throughout Carmel-by-the-Sea

Overall, you’ll still get an acceptable meal here and a decent atmosphere. We just think that there are better options around the area.

Carmel-by-the-Sea has long been a secret of San Franciscans and it’s not hard to see why. The town is plush with beautiful surroundings, and the town itself is stunning. Take a weekend to yourself that you won’t forget: spend it in Carmel-by-the-Sea.


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