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12 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Carmel, California

12 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Carmel

There’s something special about Carmel-by-the-Sea. Maybe it’s the stunning coastline, the charming architecture, or the vibrant artistic community. Or maybe it’s all of those things combined. But whatever it is, Carmel has a magic that draws people in and keeps them coming back. So if you’re looking for an unforgettable travel experience, you’ll want to make sure you hit all the top attractions. And that’s where I come in. In this guide, I’ll share with you the 12 top picks for the Top Attractions and Things to Do in Carmel. So let’s get started!

1. Soak up the Sun at Carmel Beach

When the sun is out, there’s no better place to be than Carmel Beach. This beautiful beach is one of the most popular attractions in Carmel-by-sea, located just a few blocks from Ocean Avenue. 

This beach is known for its white sand and picturesque views. It’s the perfect spot for a romantic walk or to just relax and soak up the sun. The sand is also great for building sandcastles or playing beach volleyball. However, swimming is not advised due to the strong currents.

There are plenty of beach activities to keep you busy. I rented a stand-up paddleboard and had a blast exploring the coastline. If you’re looking for something more relaxing, just lay out on the beach and soak up the sun.

The iconic cypress tree is located on the beach, making it the perfect spot for a photo op. There’s also a playground and a few restaurants nearby if you need to grab a bite to eat.

The Scenic Bluff Path is a great spot for nature lovers. This 3.5-mile trail runs parallel to the beach and offers stunning views of the coastline. I did not have time to do the entire trail, but I did manage to squeeze in a quick hike. It was the perfect way to end my day at the beach.

All in all, Carmel Beach is the perfect spot to relax and soak up the sun. Come early to avoid the crowds and find the best spot on the beach. And don’t forget to bring your sunscreen!

2. 17-Mile Drive

I planned this Carmel trip for months in advance since I wanted everything to be perfect. I’ve never done the 17-Mile Drive, and I’ve heard it’s a must-do while in Carmel. I decided to add this activity to my list and checked it off within the first few hours of my trip. 

The 17-Mile Drive is a coastal route that weaves in and out of the Monterey Peninsula. It’s best to start the drive from Carmel Gate since you have to pay a $10 fee to enter. Once you’re in, there are various stopping points along the way where you can get out and enjoy the views.

Some of the highlights of my drive were:

•            Bird Rock: I spotted a ton of birds perched atop the rocks. I even saw some dolphins swimming in the distance!

•            The Lone Cypress Tree: This is probably the most iconic spot on 17-Mile Drive. The tree is over 250 years old and has been featured in many movies and TV shows.

•            Pebble Beach: This is a beautiful spot for a picnic lunch. There are also plenty of golf courses in the area if you’re looking to get in a round or two.

•            Ghost Tree: This is one of the most popular surfing spots on the Monterey Peninsula. If you’re not a fan of surfing, you can still enjoy the views from the beach.

•            Spanish Bay Beach: This is a great spot for watching the sunset. I was lucky enough to catch the sunset, and it was absolutely breathtaking.

The drive takes about 2-3 hours to complete, but you can easily spend a whole day exploring all the different sights. I highly recommend doing the drive at your own pace so you can really take in all the beauty that Monterey Peninsula has to offer. I highly recommend adding this to your list of things to do in Carmel.

3. Explore Point Lobos State Reserve

Point Lobos State Reserve is one of the most popular attractions in Carmel. The reserve is home to a variety of animals and plants, as well as beautiful views of the coastline. There are plenty of hiking trails to explore, and you can even go whale watching in the winter months.

I started my exploration of the reserve at the Visitor Center. I watched a short video about the history of the reserve and picked up a map to help me navigate my way around. I then set out on the Sea Lion Point Trail, which takes you to a rocky cliff where you can see sea lions basking in the sun.

I continued on to the China Cove Trail, which takes you down to a small cove with crystal clear water. I then made my way to the Cypress Grove Trail, which is home to a beautiful grove of cypress trees. The last trail I hiked was the North Shore Trail, which offers stunning views of the coastline.

After the hike, I made my way to Gibson Beach, where I enjoyed the views of the rocky coastline. I then walked down to Bird Island, where I saw a variety of birds, including pelicans, cormorants, and seagulls. I ended my day at the Whalers Cabin Museum, which is a small museum that tells the story of the whaling industry in Carmel.

Overall, Point Lobos State Reserve is a must-visit if you’re looking for things to do in Carmel. There’s something for everyone, and you can easily spend a whole day exploring the reserve.

4. Shopping on and Around Ocean Avenue

Shopping is one of my favorite things to do, so I was excited to explore all the different stores Carmel had to offer. Ocean Avenue is the main shopping area in Carmel-by-the-Sea, and it’s lined with high-end boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants. I started my shopping spree at one of the art galleries and ended up finding the perfect piece for my new home.

I also browsed through some of the boutiques and found some great items on sale. If you’re looking for souvenirs, there are plenty of shops that sell Carmel-themed items. I picked up a few keychains and magnets for my friends and family.

After a few hours of shopping, I worked up an appetite and stopped for lunch at one of the cafes on Ocean Avenue. I highly recommend grabbing a bite to eat while shopping since there are plenty of great places to eat in the area.

If you’re looking for more of a bargain, head over to the Crossroads Shopping Center. This is a large outdoor mall with over 100 stores. You’ll find everything from clothing stores to home goods stores. I even found a great deal on a new pair of shoes!

No matter what your budget is, you’ll find plenty of shopping options in Carmel. I definitely recommend spending a day or two exploring all the different stores.

5. Take a Food Tour

Are you a foodie? If so, you’ll definitely want to add the food tour to your list of things to do in Carmel. I am a huge fan of food tours since they’re a great way to try a bunch of different dishes in one day.

The food tour takes you to some of the best restaurants and wineries in the area. You’ll get to sample a variety of dishes and learn about the history of Carmel’s food scene. There are several tour companies that offer food tours, so I recommend doing some research to find the one that best suits your needs.

I opted for Camel Food Tour because they had great reviews, and their tour seemed very comprehensive. The tour lasted about 3 hoursand we visited six different restaurants. Some of the foods we sampled included soft tacos, gnocchi, soups, local honey, and olive oils. I was really impressed by the quality of the food on the tour. I even found a few new favorite restaurants that I’ll definitely be back to.

We not only got to try some amazing food on the tour, but we also learned a lot about the history of the area. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable, and she made the tour both informative and fun. I would highly recommend this tour to anyone visiting Carmel.

Remember to wear comfortable shoes since there is a lot of walking involved. I would also recommend wearing loose-fitting clothing since you will be eating A LOT of food. I guarantee you’ll be stuffed by the end of the tour.

6. Tor House and Hawk Tower

I’m a big fan of history, so I was excited to learn about one of Carmel’s most famous residents, Robinson Jeffers. Tor House and Hawk Tower are two of Jeffers’ homes that have been turned into museums. I started my tour at Tor House, which is the home where Jeffers lived with his family. The house is beautiful, and it’s surrounded by gardens that Jeffers himself designed. I even got to see some of his original manuscripts and letters.

I then walked over to Hawk Tower, which is a short distance away. This is where Jeffers wrote many of his famous poems. I got to see some of his original manuscripts and learn about his writing process.

Both museums offer a great insight into the life of one of Carmel’s most famous residents. I highly recommend taking a tour of both buildings. The tour guides are very knowledgeable and give you a great overview of Jeffers’ life and work. I even bought a copy of one of his poems to add to my collection.

After the tour, I walked around the property and enjoyed the views of Carmel Bay, and I could see why Jeffers was so inspired by this place. It’s truly a special place, and I’m glad I had the chance to visit it.

7. Sunset Cultural Center

I had originally planned to watch the sunset from one of the beaches, but I decided to change my plans last minute and go to the Sunset Cultural Center instead. This is a performing arts center that is home to the Carmel Symphony Orchestra, the Carmel Bach Festival, and the Sunset Center Theater Company. The center also hosts a variety of concerts and events throughout the year.

I decided to go to the center for the sunset concert series. Every Thursday night in August, the center hosts a free concert featuring a different type of music. But first, I decided to visit the art gallery that is located inside the center. The gallery featured a variety of artwork from local artists. I enjoyed browsing through all the different pieces of art.

Afterward, I made my way to the theatre to find a seat for the concert. The concert featured a jazz band, and it was absolutely amazing. I loved the relaxed atmosphere of the concert, and I’m glad I decided to change my plans. It was a great way to end my day in Carmel.

The Sunset Cultural Center is a great place to visit if you’re looking for fun things to do in Carmel. I highly recommend checking out the center if you’re interested in the arts.

8. Refuge

If you’re looking for a place to relax and unwind, I highly recommend Refuge. This is an adults-only spa that offers a variety of treatments. The spa enjoys a stunning location of the Santa Lucia Reserve, which makes it the perfect place to relax and rejuvenate.

The main highlight of the spa is the award-winning Thermal Cycle Experience. This experience includes a series of hot and cold baths that are said to promote relaxation and detoxification. This treatment starts with warming up in the large sauna, then you move to the steam room, steam pools with different temperatures, and finally, the experience ends with a cold plunge in the infinity pool.

After the Thermal Cycle Experience, I treated myself to a 90-minute massage. This was hands-down one of the best massages I’ve ever had. I also enjoyed the reflexology foot massage. This was my first time getting a reflexology massage, and I was skeptical at first. But after the massage, I felt incredibly relaxed, and my feet felt amazing.

So if you’re looking for a place to relax and rejuvenate, I highly recommend Refuge. The Thermal Cycle Experience is definitely worth the price, and the massages are absolutely amazing.

9. Tour the Carl Cherry Center for the Arts

Carmel is a very artsy town, and there are plenty of galleries and studios to explore. I decided to take a tour of the Carl Cherry Center for the Arts. This center was founded by local artist Carl Cherry in 1948. The center is home to his studio as well as a gallery with rotating exhibits.

I started my tour at the main gallery and was blown away by the talent of the artists on display. I got to see some really amazing pieces of art, including a few by local artists. I also learned about the history of the center and how it’s become a staple of the Carmel arts community.

I then headed over to Cherry’s studio and learned about his process for creating his artwork. It was fascinating to see how he turned a blank canvas into a beautiful masterpiece. I even got to try my hand at painting and was surprised at how much I enjoyed it.

The Carl Cherry Center for the Arts is a great place to learn about the local arts scene. It’s the perfect place to spend a couple of hours with family or friends if you’re looking for the best things to do in Carmel. Plus, it’s also a great way to support local artists and see some really amazing artwork.

10. Attend Festivals and Events

Carmel is known for its many festivals and events. I was lucky enough to visit during the Carmel Art & Film Festival. This is a popular event that attracts celebrities and film enthusiasts from all over the world. I was able to see some great films and meet some interesting people.

If you’re visiting Carmel during the summer, be sure to check out the Carmel Bach Festival that takes place in July. This is a world-renowned classical music festival that features top performers from all over the world. Plus, it’s a great excuse to dress up and enjoy some beautiful music.

Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance is another popular event that takes place in Carmel. This is a classic car show that features some of the most beautiful cars in the world. If you’re a fan of cars, this is definitely an event you won’t want to miss. The event is held at the Pebble Beach Golf Links every year in August.

There are also plenty of smaller events and festivals that take place throughout the year. I attended a wine tasting event and had a blast sampling all the different wines from the Carmel area. So no matter what time of year you visit Carmel, there’s sure to be a festival or event taking place. Be sure to check the calendar of events before you visit so you can plan your trip around one of these great events.

11. Garland Ranch Regional Park

If you’re looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of Carmel, I recommend spending a day at Garland Ranch Regional Park. This park is located just outside Carmel, and it’s the perfect spot for a day hike. I brought a picnic lunch and made my way to one of the many trails.

The park has over 60 miles of hiking trails, so you’re sure to find one that’s perfect for your fitness level. I ended up doing the 1.5-mile Lupine Loop Trail, and it was the perfect amount of exercise for me. The trail is relatively flat, and it takes you through some beautiful scenery.

I ended up at Garland Ranch Waterfall, and it was the perfect spot to enjoy my picnic lunch. After lunch, I continued exploring the park and ended up at the top of a hill with some stunning views of Monterey Bay.

This is definitely one of the best things to do in Carmel if you’re looking to get some exercise and enjoy the great outdoors. Come prepared with plenty of water and snacks, as there are no stores or restaurants in the park.

12. Tour the Carmel Mission

The Carmel Mission is a beautiful place to visit and learn about the history of the area. The mission was founded in 1770 by Father Junipero Serra and was the second mission he founded in California. The mission was originally built with adobe bricks but was later reconstructed with stone.

The highlights of the Carmel Mission are The Basilica, The Museum, Munras Courtyard, and The Graveyard.

The Basilica is the church of the Carmel Mission, and it is absolutely beautiful. The altar is made of marble, and there are stained glass windows throughout the church. The Museum is located in one of the buildings on the grounds of the mission. It houses artifacts from the Mission era as well as paintings and sculptures by local artists.

The Munras Courtyard is a beautiful garden area that is perfect for taking a break from touring the mission. The Graveyard is located behind the Basilica, and it is the final resting place for many of the early settlers of Carmel.

I did not get a chance to take the tour of the Carmel Mission, but it is something I would highly recommend if you have the time. It is a great way to learn about the history of the area and see some beautiful artwork.

In summary

You’ll find plenty of things to see and do in Carmel-by-the-sea, no matter what your interests are. I had an amazing time exploring all the different attractions and activities that the city had to offer. Plan to spend at least a few days in Carmel so you can see everything that the city has to offer. And don’t forget to enjoy the food! Carmel has some great restaurants that you won’t want to miss.

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