Top 11 Things to Do in Carmel, California

Carmel by the Sea

TripSavvy / Lauren Breedlove

Carmel-by-the-Sea is among the most charming small towns in California, remaining so, even under the pressure of tourism. Many people come to shop in the city's lovely downtown streets filled with boutiques and galleries. Even if you only go to window shop, downtown Carmel has many lovely hidden courtyards and gardens to explore for a week or weekend getaway—not to mention the stunning ocean vistas and cozy enclaves. These are the top things to do in Carmel.

01 of 11

Tor House

One of Carmel-by-the-Sea's many treasures: Hawk Tower and Tor House, hand-built by poet Robinson Jeffers 100 years ago.

Visit Carmel

"We had come without knowing it to our inevitable place," wrote the American poet Robinson Jeffers who lived in Tor House, an ocean-perched home in the 1920s and 30s. Robinson's work focused on the beauty of nature and this stone cottage and tower that he built with his own hands is a physical representation of many of the themes of his poetry. The house has been well-preserved to carry on the poet's legacy and tours are available for visitors who may be interested in the history of Carmel, the life of the poet, or the beautiful views from this well-selected knoll.

26304 Ocean View Ave, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923-9109, USA
Phone +1 831-624-1813
02 of 11

Hit the Links at Pebble Beach

"Golf course off the Pacific Ocean in Carmel, California, USA. Red flag marks the putting hole for the ocean-side green. Pebble Beach golf resort with lots of copy space. Other Images By the Sea:"

Jenna Wagner / Getty Images

Just north of Carmel, golfers can take a trip up to Pebble Beach and snag a tee time at the Pebble Beach Golf Resort which boasts three top-tier courses. Wrapping around a fabulous section of the California coast, the views from each course are worth enjoying in person. The Pebble Beach Golf Links is one of the highest-rated courses in the country. The resort offers a golf academy and hosts many world-renowned tournaments.

1700 17 Mile Dr, Pebble Beach, CA 93953, USA
Phone +1 831-574-5609
03 of 11

Visit the Beaches

Beach in Carmel

TripSavvy / Lauren Breedlove

With a name like Carmel-by-the-Sea, no trip here would be complete without seeing the ocean and you'll find many excellent and easy-to-get-to beaches in Carmel. Just south of downtown, the mile-long River State Beach is a wonderful place to watch the sunset and is a popular entry point for scuba divers. Even further south, Monastery Beach is very clean and quiet but the waves can be rough for swimming. If you prefer something you can walk to from town, Carmel's main beach can be accessed at the end of Ocean Avenue. Here, you'll find more crowds but also trails for walking, nets for volleyball, and a popular surf spot.

Carmel Beach, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93921, USA
04 of 11

Stroll Through Downtown Carmel

Shops in Downtown Carmel
Ashley/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Downtown Carmel's Ocean Avenue is lined with shops and charming art galleries. Make sure to venture down the side streets, where you'll find unique boutiques, and small garden courtyards and passageways. Connecting Dolores Street to San Carlos Street, there is one particularly charming passageway that is lined with bamboo. There are many unique local shops in downtown Carmel, as well as outposts of nationwide brands like Lush and Anthropologie.

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05 of 11

Follow the Scenic Route

A View on the Carmel Coast

Betsy Malloy Photography

The star of the town is the stunning coast and visitors are welcome to take the scenic route with many miles of coastal trails and drives available for exploration. You'll have a tough time deciding whether to gawk at the ocean views or stare at the gorgeous homes you'll pass along the way. To get to the scenic highway, follow Ocean Avenue towards the beach and turn left onto Scenic Road. You can follow this all the way along the water's edge to Carmel River State Beach. After the beach, the road will change names to Carmelo Street, which you can follow to loop back around downtown.

Scenic Rd, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA, USA
06 of 11

Tour the 17-Mile Drive

coast along Carmel California

Westend61/Getty Images 

If you prefer a full day out on the road, the 17-Mile Drive is just what the doctor ordered. Passing through the neighborhood of Pebble Beach and its golf course, luxury hotels, and gorgeous beach views. It's possible to get onto the route from Highway 1, but it's much easier to follow the signs from downtown Carmel. Because it passes through an exclusive neighborhood, you will have to pay an entry fee to drive through it.

17 Mile Dr, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA, USA
07 of 11

Explore Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Point Lobos State Reserve

TripSavvy / Lauren Breedlove

This small state park located just south of Carmel is a perfect destination for hikers who want to have an up-close experience with the dramatic shoreline. It also offers the opportunity for wildlife spotting with resident sea otters and harbor seals aplenty. However, if you want to have the whole experience, you'll have to don your scuba gear. Half of the protected park is underwater and diving is only allowed at Whalers and Bluefish Coves with a permit.

62 CA-1, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923-9725, USA
Phone +1 831-624-4909
08 of 11

Enjoy Sunday Brunch at Mission Ranch

The Mission Ranch Owned By Clint Eastwood...

Jason Kirk/Getty Images

Famously owned by actor and director Clint Eastwood, Mission Ranch serves a tasty Sunday brunch buffet where you can eat while enjoying a uniquely pastoral view of grazing sheep with an ocean backdrop. On a sunny day, the patio is unbeatable and you can always count on a top-notch live jazz ensemble. Perfect for an early evening drink, you might even be lucky enough to see the sheep hustle into their pen for the night, an event that often spurs applause from the restaurant's patrons.

26270 Dolores St, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923-9215, USA
Phone +1 831-625-9040
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09 of 11

Taste Local Wines

Restaurant server pouring white wine
Tanes Jitsawart/EyeEm/Getty Images

Picking up steam as a top destination for food and wine, downtown Carmel offers 13 wine tasting rooms to try out along the Carmel Wine Walk. Representing local vineyards, wineries like Caraccioli Cellars, Holman Ranch, and others all offer a chance to taste local wines without having to drive out to the countryside. If all that vino gets you feeling a bit tipsy, make reservations for a meal at treasured local restaurants like La Bicyclette and La Belena.

10 of 11

Warm Up at The Forge in the Forest

Forge In The Forest

 Forge In The Forest

Just off the main drag at Junipero Street and 5th Avenue in downtown Carmel, you'll find The Forge in the Forest. It's open all day, and their patio is dog-friendly, but the best time to go is after dark when it takes on a near-magical, quintessentially California feel. 

You can eat outside under one of their overhead heaters in all but the coldest weather. You can also find a seat beside one of the outdoor fireplaces and stay warm while you enjoy a dessert or an after-dinner drink.

Junipero Street & SW Corner of, 5th Ave, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93921, USA
Phone +1 831-624-2233
11 of 11

Go Back in Time at Mission San Carlos de Borromeo

Exterior of Carmel Mission
Hillarie/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Carmel is one of the oldest cities in California, tracing its roots to 1770 when Spanish missionary Father Junipero Serra founded Mission San Carlos de Borromeo Carmelo. The mission is located on the south side of town near Mission Ranch. Even if you're not a history buff, you will enjoy the mission's unique architecture and gardens which make a lovely backdrop for photographs.

3080 Rio Rd, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923-9144, USA
Phone +1 831-624-1271
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Top 11 Things to Do in Carmel, California