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6 Best Things To Do In Carmel-by-the-Sea In 2024

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3 months ago

Picturesque and picture-perfect (and conveniently located only two hours from San Francisco (in good traffic)), Carmel-by-the-Sea has long been the haunt of Californians of tech ilk. And it’s easy to see why as soon as you get there.

Carmel-by-the-Sea is dotted with beautiful houses and cottages along tree-lined streets that make for a beautiful setting. The whole town is filled with beautiful restaurants and wine-tasting rooms. And then the surrounding countryside is even better.

Green colored bicycles with baskets
If you’re going to cycle in Carmel, just be aware that it is quite hilly

The best time to go to Carmel-by-the-Sea

There is so much on offer in Carmel-by-the-Sea, and it’s the perfect weekend escape from the city. We would recommend at least two nights here to really soak up the atmosphere. It’s good at all times of the year (even in winter!) but July, August and September are the best months for the weather and ambience.

Peak season is the end of August and September, but it really is great well into October and the start of November. And if you’re in Carmel-by-the-Sea for Halloween, you’ll get to experience the Pumpkin Roll.

Shop in Carmel-by-the-Sea
Carmel is filled with beautiful shops to explore

6. Visit as many wine-tasting rooms as possible

Carmel-by-the-Sea is known for its wine-tasting rooms. These are located all around downtown and will no doubt become a quintessential part of your trip.

We think Scheid Vineyards and Caraccioli Cellars are two of the best on offer. The servers at Scheid Vineyards were particularly knowledgeable. Our server had an enthusiastic answer to all of our questions. And the Appassimento red wine was smooth and enjoyable.

Caraccioli Cellars has a very enjoyable washed industrial atmosphere. The low lighting made it a nice place to sit and chat for a couple of hours as well. The wine region here is generally cooler so we found the wines to be more drinkable (less dry) than others like in the Napa Valley. The Brut Rosé is one of the favorites here.

Special Mention: Folktale Winery & Vineyards

You may have also heard of Folktale Winery & Vineyards. It’s technically outside of Carmel-by-the-Sea so we haven’t included it here, but it is the perfect place to spend a lazy afternoon. We would highly recommend going for lunch and staying into the late afternoon.

You should take a taxi there and back because you’ll be drinking the whole day.

Musicians playing in front of barrels at Folktale Winery
There is always something exciting happening at Folktale Winery & Vineyards

5. Take a walk down Ocean Avenue all the way to the seafront

It will come as a huge surprise to you that Carmel-by-the-Sea, being by the sea, is on the seafront. Carmel-by-the-Sea’s seafront should not be missed. It is probably one of the most picture perfect coastline views in the continental U.S.

Beach with a tree in Carmel-by-the-Sea
The oceanfront at Carmel-by-the-Sea is a special part of the world

From the seafront you can see the famous Pebble Beach. The best vantage point is right at the bottom of Ocean Avenue near Del Mar Avenue.

If you’re arriving for sunrise or sunset (we recommend sunset so that you can see the green flash when the sun sets), pull up a log on the sand and become one with the sights and sounds.

Before you get to the seafront, explore the shops between Junipero Street and Monte Verde Street. We recommend this even if you’re not buying anything – so many of the buildings are very architecturally intriguing. So many of them remind of Tudor buildings in London (and they were designed to look like that).

I’ll be honest and say that the shops aren’t particularly great in Carmel-by-the-Sea. The one that is really worth it is The Nut Hut in the Court of the Fountains. The cardamom apple cashews were absolutely excellent.

4. Take a tour through the secret courtyards, passageways and art galleries

Because of the fairy tale design of the town, there are so many secret courtyards and passageways throughout Carmel-by-the-Sea. We would typically advocate for showing yourself around the town but so many of these will be missed and they are special and photogenic.

Tudor building in Carmel by the Sea fairytale cottage
One of the fairy tale-like cottages for which Carmel-by-the-Sea is famous

You’ll also pass quite a few art galleries. Art is obviously very much personal, but I personally didn’t enjoy much of the art in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Maybe you’ll find a piece you like (there’s over 100 galleries so you’re bound to find something).

3. Take an hour to do the 17 Mile Drive (on your way in or out)

The 17 Mile Drive takes you through the Pebble Beach which is home to palatial homes and the very famous golf course. It costs about US$12 to enter the road as at the time of writing. The good part of the drive takes about 20 minutes if you don’t stop. The whole 17 Mile Drive is 45 minutes. Stop to take in the sights at Spanish Bay.

If you’re going to do the 17 Mile Drive, we would recommend that you do it on your way to Carmel-by-the-Sea because the end of it drops you off right at the start of the town. It’s a great way to begin your trip.

View of the ocean from Carmel by the Sea with a tree
Incredible views abound on the 17 Mile Drive

2. Witness the Pumpkin Roll (Halloween Only)

If you’re in Carmel-by-the-Sea during the weekend before Halloween, look out for the Pumpkin Roll. This is an event unique to Carmel-by-the-Sea where locals get to display their community spirit.

If you don’t know what it is (and I’d be so surprised if you did), I’m here to tell you that the Pumpkin Roll is the event that you didn’t know you’ve been missing out on.

2024 will be the ninth year of the Pumpkin Roll. It’s been going strong for this long so it must be worth a visit.

Pumpkin roll at Carmel-by-the-Sea
Participants preparing themselves for the first roll

I was informed that there aren’t any sweepstakes for Carmel-by-the-Sea’s Pumpkin Roll, but there were some spectators who had take very strong positions on certain pumpkins. It’s a wild world out there.

1. Watch sunset at Mission Ranch Restaurant

I would say that the sunset at the restaurant at Mission Ranch was even better than watching the sunset on Carmel-by-the-Sea’s beachfront. There was something truly inspiring about the vast open plains that made this little spot so amazing.

People really do go to Mission Ranch just to watch the sheep graze, but they stay for the pianist and the karaoke in the inside bar. It’s quite an experience. Anyone can get up a bust out a tune (and believe me, you see a wide spectrum of society and life stages on the microphone).

Sunset view from Mission Ranch overlooking farmlands and water
The view from Mission Ranch is truly serene

For those of you who haven’t heard of it, Mission Ranch is known for being restored by the famous producer Clint Eastwood (think Gran Torino).

The restaurant is set in the farmhouse (and it’s one of the best for dinner). They do a mean Cobb salad. It was also the first time I ate angel food cake (at the behest of my partner) and I would say that it’s definitely worth getting.

If you go, make sure to request a table outside. Even if it’s a cold night, it’s so beautiful to sit outside. And there are heaters everywhere to keep you warm and cosy.

Breakfast buffet with breads and jams
Good food is easy to find in Carmel-by-the-Sea

They don’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.

You can stay at the inn at Mission Ranch and it is beautiful, but it’s a nicer experience to stay in town where the action is because there isn’t a whole lot to do at Mission Ranch outside of eating. Google will tell you that it’s a 15-minute walk to downtown Carmel-by-the-sea, but it’s an uphill battle (literally).

Carmel-by-the-Sea is a special little part of California that always invites you back for more. And there’s plenty to discover in the region immediately surrounding the town.

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