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How to Spend a Day at Carmel-by-The-Sea
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How to Spend a Day at Carmel-by-The-Sea

Make the most of your trip to this beautiful coast with our perfect itinerary on how to spend a day at Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Palig Dzadourian

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5 min read

May 18, 2022

Disclaimer: California.com is not receiving any type of compensation for reviewing any of the products mentioned in this article.

Looking for a small weekend getaway? Well, look no further than Carmel-by-the-Sea, an absolute gem of California’s Central Coast. Spend a day at one of the most iconic destinations of the Golden State; the small city rich with history is what gives it the charm and laidback village atmosphere, brimming with places to see and explore, from the fairytale cottages to the fine dining experience, Carmel-by-the-Sea is a scene taken straight out of a storybook.

Fun fact, despite how popular Carmel-by-the-Sea is today, it was pretty much overlooked and ignored back in the day, up until 1906, when it finally started attracting residents.

Getting to Carmel-by-the-Sea

Carmel-by-the-Sea, a scenic beach city with so many things to do awaits your arrival.

Carmel, California, is located about 115-135 miles from the San Francisco Bay area; there are multiple routes that can get you there depending on where your starting point is. If you’re starting from San Francisco, the easiest route to take is Highway 101 and Highway 1 which pass through San Jose, a two-hour drive, should there be no traffic.

Once you get to Carmel-by-the-Sea, it is recommended that you park your vehicles where you can see them as you will be needing them to get around the area. It usually takes 3-4 days to explore the city in its entirety, but you can definitely squeeze in some of the best attractions in the span of a day.

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Grab a bite to start your day at Carmel

Start your morning by heading over to the From Scratch restaurant, a local family tradition where you will be able to experience high-quality dishes and service. If you are a fan of the most important meal of the day, you’re in luck, because breakfast is served all day at From Scratch. With available vegetarian and vegan options, this restaurant will make a great start to your day at Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Once upon a time in Carmel-by-the-Sea 

The second cottage is called Hansel, and it’s a perfect mix of reality and fantasy (Greghenderson2006/Wikimedia Commons).

Built by Hugh Comstock who arrived in Carmel, CA, in 1924, the fairytale cottages are the cherry on top of this small city. Comstock built the cottages for him and his wife who used to make ragdolls called Otsy-Totsy dolls, who he met and married when he arrived in Carmel-by-the-Sea. After building the first cottage, he named it Gretel. The second cottage, which he named Hansel, was meant to be a place to showcase and sell his wife’s craft. Comstock ended up constructing several Tudor-style cottages around the neighborhood, all of which are privately owned properties.

What gives these cottages their fairytale-like aspect is the unusual architecture, the wonky chimneys, and the wavy shaky roof, tucked away in a little garden; they almost feel like they do not belong to humans, but rather to a fairy. Even if these cottages are private property, you can still visit them and take a look at how magical they feel. Grab a map from the Carmel Visitors Center on Ocean Avenue in downtown Carmel for a self-guided tour of these otherworldly-looking buildings.

Carmel River State Beach and Carmel Beach

Crystal clear water, great weather, stunning views, what is there to not like at these beaches?

These two might sound like they are the same but they are not to be confused with each other. Carmel Beach is made for peaceful, relaxing strolls along the seashore, on the soft white sand stretching out for about two miles. On the other hand, Carmel River State Beach is frequented by people who want to get a little more active on their trip, as it has the Carmel Meadows, a 0.75-mile-long hiking trail. Whichever one you decide to undertake, they will both still be on one of the most beautiful Central Coast beaches in the world, and both have the added bonus of allowing you to bring your dogs along with you!

Surf’s out!

Surfing in these waters with the sunset behind you is a true wonder.

With crystal clear waters and sand as fine and soft as a million pillows, it’s no wonder that surfers would flock to Carmel beaches. It goes without saying, surfing is one of the most fun things to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea. The weather makes for perfect surfing conditions, however, it is recommended that you check the forecast beforehand either way, as the waves can get stronger or disappear altogether on certain days. If you decide to surf later in the day, the sunsets on the beaches combined with the adrenaline of the surf will turn this into a trip to remember!

Earthbound Farms

After quite an active day out exploring the charming beach city, Carmel-by-the-Sea downtown has a wide selection of restaurants to choose from, each one offering more tasty-looking foods than the next, it can get pretty overwhelming. However, a good place to consider is Earthbound Farms, where you can savor organically grown foods. Often frequented by Carmel locals themselves, the 2.5-acre farm is full of gardens and offers an artisanal grocery store along with smoothie and salad bars. Enjoy the taste of freshly picked fruit from the berry patch farm and coffee made from grounded beans just moments before you order it. Earthbound Farms is a testament to Carmel-by-the-Sea’s dedication to its agriculture and food.

Explore The Secret Garden 

Seemingly hidden away in the passageways between the buildings in Carmel, The Secret Garden really does stay true to its name, by being a secret. This small yet charming little garden shop has a wide array of things for sale, featuring a collection of statues, fountains, plants, and an assortment of locally-crafted gifts. Consider visiting this hidden gem in Carmel Valley and possibly purchase something to remember your time spent at the gorgeous Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Get Artsy

Not only is Carmel-by-the-Sea great for people looking to get active, but it also has a pretty big art scene, and has turned into a haven for artists and writers over the last century. With over 100 art galleries to explore and experience, the unique things to do in Carmel-by-the-sea are many. Gallery By the Sea is a good option to consider, featuring the beautiful artwork of the scenery of Big Sur, Carmel, and Pebble Beach.

Pebble Beach Golf Links

The vast green golf course of Pebble Beach Golf will get you in the mood to swing that golf club, even if you don’t actually golf.


To finish this awesome day of exploration and relaxation, hop in your vehicles and experience the 17-mile-drive, a beautiful scenic drive along Pebble Beach. Technically out of Carmel but you will be right on the edge of it, and it is considered to be one of the most fun things to do near Carmel-by-the-Sea. Along the drive, there lies America’s number one public golf course: the Pebble Beach Golf Links. While other prestigious golf courses are not open to the general public, this one welcomes anyone willing to swing a golf club and have fun. Right outside of Carmel, it’s a perfect way to end the day without feeling too bittersweet about leaving, because you will be ending the day on a high note.

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