While it is just one square mile that makes up the city of Carmel-by-the-Sea, that square mile is gracefully packed with enough charm and things to do that a weekend here won’t do it justice. This city is one-of-a-kind: from the complete lack of addresses (residents pick up their mail at the post office each day) to a law that outlaws high heels to prevent accidents on its cobblestone streets (although your author did break the law on her first night in town in a pair of excellent Coach booties), Carmel wants you to visit and explore. This is a place to get away from the steady din of activity in Los Angeles or San Francisco, and all over the world: Conde Nast Traveler consistently names Carmel in its Top 10 Cities to Visit as picked by readers. Our guide to the village in the forest overlooking a white sand beach will keep you happily occupied in Carmel for 72 hours or more.
Carmel doesn’t do big box anything- especially not hotels. Stay at one of its many inns that make up much of the European charm of the town. The Hofsas House Hotel has 38 rooms that vary from individual suites to two-bedroom units with kitchens for families. Known for its Bavarian hospitality, stay-like-family philosophy and a hand painted mural that adorns its entrance, Hofsas House, like many inns in the city, is pet friendly. Bring your dogs and expect a doggie welcome kit that will have your pet smelling like watermelon. Rooms can have panoramic forest and ocean views, fireplaces, and are oversized, leaving your cramped hotel rooms for your next business trip to Hong Kong. Continental breakfast and a variety of welcome packages complete the offerings at Hofsas House, and you will want to return for the service and friendliness that is a refreshing contrast from the typical California laissez-faire hospitality.
Wine and Dine
Locals swear by Bruno’s Market and Deli, an easy place for lunch with huge sandwiches and reasonable prices. For dinner in town, walk down San Carlos Street to Mundaka, a true Spanish tapas bar that focuses on what’s in season, local and natural. One can never have enough bravas, croquetas or bacon-wrapped dates.
Ready to explore the Monterey peninsula beyond Carmel? Take a quick drive north along the 17 Mile Drive to the town of Pacific Grove to Fandango, a local and visitor favorite known for its seafood, steaks and French and Mediterranean flair. The menu is classic and a lively scene at the restaurant welcomes a crowd of all ages. Expect to overhear a lot of Silicon Valley chatter, Pacific Grove naturally beckons the tech crowd out of its San Francisco shell.
No visit to Monterey County is complete without mentioning the wine. The area is home to big names and little labels that will please your palate. Monterey County is known for its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, and for many years grapes from this region were sold to the wineries in Napa and Sonoma to produce their wines. In recent years, wineries in the area have taken off and are making some coveted wines, and Monterey County has been named by Wine Enthusiast as one of the Top 10 Wine Travel Destinations, and was the only California destination on the list. The Wine Walk Passport will give you nine wine tastings all within walking distance in Carmel, and the entire team at Chic Darling will be very impressed if you can make it to more than four wineries in one day (we didn’t make it past the second tasting). Not to worry, your Wine Walk Passport won’t expire and you can save the next round of tastings for your next visit to Carmel or pass them along to friends who want to make the trip.
Fun and Sport
Besides great places to stay, wine and dine, Carmel is fun. There is shopping in town from famed designers (Bottega Venetta and Kate Spade to name a few), to art galleries, estate jewelry and antiques and elegant coastal home furnishings. Check out Paloosh for women’s clothing and the Ajne Perfume store, where you can have your own scent created. As pet-friendly as this town is, you’ll want a keepsake from Diggidy Dog, the pet boutique.
Done walking around? Need a little adventure in those bones? Head to world-famous surf at Carmel Beach, or for the very experienced, and we mean very, very good surfers, the peninsula is also home to big breaks at Ghost Tree, Lover’s Point and Asilomar. Head out in the morning for the best surf and thanks to the chilly temperatures, the lineup will hardly feel crowded. Wear your booties, and not the Coach ones.
After a good surf, enjoy a bonfire on the beach- responsibly. Carmel is one of the few California beaches where you can have a fire, enjoy a beer and bring your dog: let’s hope it stays that way. Fires are allowed south of 10th Street.
We saved the best for last, because there is still one more thing you have to do: tee up at Pebble Beach Golf Links. It’s a pricy green fee, but that’s to be expected at the #1 public golf course in America. Pebble Beach is right up there with St. Andrews and Augusta for golfers on the bucket list. Besides Pebble Beach, there are several other championship golf courses a stone’s throw from here, including Cypress Point and Spyglass Hill.
Best Times to Visit
July and August are the high season in Carmel, but some of the best weather can be found during the spring and fall. Visit outside of the high season for the best deals, or at the peak of summer to see the Carmel crowd in action (the wine tasting rooms and restaurants can get packed, but that just makes it more fun).