TRAVEL GUIDE TO CARMEL: WHAT TO SEE + DO + MOST IMPORTANTLY WHERE TO EAT!!
Alessandro and I went on a little getaway to Carmel last summer to celebrate our 5 year anniversary and baby #2 on the way (hellllo little Enzo that is now 3 months old!), and it was just the re-set we needed. It’s such a cute, quaint little town with so much character, delicious food, and I already cannot wait to go back! I wanted to share this Travel Guide to Carmel, CA: What to see + do + eat in hopes that it will be helpful to you if you are going or plan on going anytime in the future!
So.. let’s get started!
How to get there
There are a few different airports you can fly into, Monterey Regional being the closest. We flew Southwest into San Jose and rented a car—it’s only about an hour and a half drive into Carmel so not bad at all and the drive was seriously so pretty! We knew we wanted to drive over to Big Sur one of the days so renting a car made sense for us.
If you fly into Monterey and plan on staying in Carmel the whole time, renting a car might not make sense for you. You can also fly into San Francisco if you wanted to spend a day there then drive down to Carmel. The drive from San Fran -> Carmel is about 2 hours.
Where to stay
We did a lot of research on where to stay while in Carmel and ended up deciding on Hotel Carmel. It’s a newly renovated, super cute boutique hotel that’s really close to all of the shops and restaurants. We wanted to be right in town so we could walk everywhere and this one had everything we needed!
A lot of hotels in Carmel are quaint little Inn’s and tend to be a bit pricey (average rooms ranging from $500-$600 per night), so If you’re looking for something a little more budget friendly, I would recommend The Pine Inn. It’s even closer to the beach and right on the main street. The hotel itself is more old school, and the rooms are on the smaller side but really cozy and overall all you would need for a weekend away! I believe rooms range from $200-$300 per night at The Pine Inn.
We looked at staying at La Playa Carmel, and it looks really nice too! There are so many other places to stay that look cozy and nice as well. A lot of them are listed here if you want to check it out! https://www.carmelcalifornia.com/hotels-and-inns-in-carmel.htm
Things to do
Like I said, Carmel is pretty small so eating, drinking, shopping, and hanging at the beach summed up our weekend away! It was honestly perfect. We did a ton of walking around and stopped in the shops along the way. Carmel is also a very big Art town with nearly 100 galleries along the streets and quaint alleyways, so if that is your thing, you will love it!
Something we didn’t do was explore all of the wine tasting rooms (I was pregnant), but I admired them from a far every time we would walk by one. They all looked so so cute, and I can’t wait to go back. We did a day trip to Big Sur and saw the Bixby Creek Bridge on the way. You know, the bridge in the show Big Little Lies. 🙂 The views are truly incredible so I would recommend pulling over and getting some pictures or just enjoy the sights for a minute.
The drive to Big Sur was so beautiful! The two big resorts up there were closed to the public because of Covid, so if that has changed I would recommend going to Ventana or Post Ranch Inn for a cocktail and views!
My Favorite—Places to EAT!
The food in Carmel is just incredible. They know what they’re doin’ I’ll tell ya that! I had gotten some great recommendations from friends on places to eat before we went, so I was able to secure some reservations beforehand, which I would highly highly recommend! Obviously depending on when you go/how busy it is, but everywhere we went worked off of reservations and I over-heard many restaurants telling people they couldn’t get them in until 3:30pm lunch or extremely late for dinner. It’s also nice to have the meals planned for the trip so you can work around that if you plan on going anywhere other than Carmel one of the days.
Carmel Coffee House– delicious lattes for morning beach strolls. We went here bright and early before our walks on the beach and it was my favorite.
Carmel Bakery– amazing pastries, breakfast burritos, and coffee. They also have the BEST warm pretzels in the world. There is usually a line but worth the wait!
Little Swiss Café– Just a good ole delicious breakfast spot! We were up pretty early most days (hello time change and used to getting up with a toddler), and this place was always open early! Amazing French toast, waffles, pancakes, you can’t go wrong.
La Bicyclette– another absolute must try!! We did a long lunch here one day and it was just wonderful! We shared an appetizer, marinated olives, a big salad, and pizza and it was perfect. Dinner would also be a great option here!
Stationaery– We went here for brunch the first day and everything was delicious!! Funny story- our waitress ended up being a family friend of mine that I haven’t seen in probably 15 years and had no idea she worked there!! Small world! Anywho, the Chilaquiles and Croque Madame were both superb! And their lattes- yum!! Highly recommend.
The Bench at Pebble Creek– We drove over to Pebble Creek Golf Course one day and had lunch here. It’s really fun seeing this beautiful golf course. The views are hard to beat! Make sure to call ahead here as well!
Casanova– 100/10! Absolutely incredible and a must do while you are there! Probably my favorite meal the whole trip other than La Bicyclette. It’s the cutest little Italian/French restaurant with incredible food, amazing wine list (although I didn’t partake this time), and a very quaint/romantic atmosphere. Everything we had was melt in your mouth delicious- I wish I could’ve tried everything on the menu! Definitely try to sit on the patio if you can. It’s adorable.
Dametra Café– If you like Mediterranean food, you must go here!! We went here for dinner one night and sat outside on the patio. They had live music, and it was poppin’! Great people watching but even more delicious food. I would recommend getting a few appetizers and then splitting one of the combination platters. Alessandro and I both got our own platters and it was sooo much food!
L’Escargot– One of my regrets is not going to L’Escargot. It’s French food and apparently incredible! We weren’t in the mood for super rich food this night, so decided against it, but I wish we would’ve gone. I’ve heard from a few people the food is outstanding. Atmomsphere is a little more old school, but looks cozy to me!! Wanted to include for you guys!
Catch: We didn’t eat dinner here, but stopped in for Happy Hour one day. Alessandro enjoyed Oysters and a brew and I enjoyed my sparkling water and views! The dinner food around us looked so good though!!
Carmel Bakery–really good ice cream- yum!
Cottage of sweets– the BEST (and biggest) dark chocolate peanut butter cups ever, and coconut clusters! So good.
A few other places that were recommended to us, but we did not get a chance to go!
- Basil- great lunch spot
- Katy’s Place- breakfast
- Pepe’s Vesuvio- dinner
- Wine Tasting- ALL around town!!! There are amazing tasting rooms all over town and in the cute alleyways.
I hope that was helpful!! I also hope you decide to go to Carmel and have the very best time! If you go and try any of these places, I would love to know!!