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15 Unexpected Things to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea

15 Unexpected Things to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea

Despite its tranquility, you won’t run out of things to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Step into this fairytale town and prepare to be swept away. Team


5 min read

April 05, 2021

The charming seaside Central Coast town of Carmel-by-the-Sea is just as majestic, if not more. This enchanting town is the perfect blend of bohemian luxury and natural beauty. Despite its tranquility, you won’t run out of things to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Get a taste of everything—fine dining, historical monuments, postmodern art museums, and lazy afternoons spent on the beach.

Step into this fairytale town and prepare to be swept away by California’s best. Your adventures will leave you longing for more beautiful sunsets, beach picnics, and scenic hikes. Make the most of your time and rendezvous in Carmel-by-the-Sea.

The best things to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea

Happiness comes in the form of waves at Carmel River State Beach. Spend your afternoons discovering the many hidden gems it houses.

Explore Carmel River State Beach 

This crescent-shaped beach has the palest sands and most pleasant setting for an afternoon walk. While the waters aren’t the safest for swimming due to riptides, Carmel River State Beach is more than just beauty. Grab your binoculars and keep an eye out for great blue herons, brown pelicans, and other creatures soaring high in the sky.

The marine life is just as rich—Carmel River State Beach is a top diving destination. And if scuba diving is too extreme for your taste, fly a kite or go kayaking in the glimmering blue waters. 

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Tour the many art galleries

Home to around 100 galleries, this coastal town has a richer cultural life than you’d expect. Exploring the local art scene is one of the best things to do in Carmel. Take a trip downtown and explore everything the galleries have to offer—from fine art to avant-garde, your options are endless. Westbrook Modern is a collector’s favorite. The gallery is a great place to browse for new pieces for your Carmel home. Meet local artists and enjoy conversations about their artwork.  

Treat yourself to a little retail therapy at Carmel's stores. Buy souvenirs, gifts, books, and anything that crosses your mind.

Go shopping at The Local Boutiques

Everyone knows that the best place to go shopping here is at Carmel Plaza. Unique finds, cool souvenirs, and funky accessories are several of the many awesome things you’ll discover here. The plaza boasts vintage stores with classic pieces you truly need.

Whenever you’re not shopping at Carmel Plaza, stock up on board games at Thinker Toys for your next game night. Later, check out Pilgrim's Way Community Bookstore and Secret Garden, a hidden gem worth exploring. This one-of-a-kind spot features a delightful fountain garden—the perfect place to catch up on your reading. 

Places to visit in Carmel

Besides being an active parish church, Mission Carmel hosts concerts, art exhibits, lectures, and other community events.

Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo

This authentically restored mission is one of the most remarkable places to visit in Carmel. Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo features a unique collection of Spanish Colonial art in its museum. Learn about the mission’s fascinating history, before heading to the verdant garden for a serene afternoon. Admire the statues and marvel at the superb architecture of Mission Carmel. 

Sunset Cultural Center

Sunset Cultural Center offers some of the best things to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea. This gothic building has the acoustics and ambiance perfect for world-class performances. The center is home to the annual Carmel International Film Festival. Dance Kids of Monterey County annually perform the Nutcracker—a true Monterey Peninsula tradition. Elevate your Central Coast getaway and attend a comedy show or a dance performance at Sunset Cultural Center.

It's said that Tor House played a crucial role in the development of poet Robinson Jeffers and inspired many other literary giants as well.

Tor House

It didn’t take much for Robinson Jeffers to fall in love with Carmel-by-the Sea. This revered Californian poet was instantly captivated by the untouched beauty of the beach town. He loved the town so much that he decided to make it his home. Jeffers built Tor House (open under normal circumstances) and Hawk Tower for his family.

Admire the beautiful masterpiece that’s just as poetic as his pieces. The beautiful stone building hosts tours on Fridays and Saturdays. Learn about Jeffers’ life and works, and take in the expansive ocean views on your way out. 

Things to do in Carmel with kids

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve boasts several miles of trails for picnicking and viewing coastal scenery.

Hike in Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve—the “crown jewel” of California’s state parks—offers miles of hiking trails for everyone to enjoy. Choose a path and explore the many coves and headlands in one of the most beautiful places in the Golden State. Sit down for a relaxing picnic and take a moment to admire your surroundings.

While you’re at it, keep an eye out for migrating gray whales or playful sea lions. Other than having rich marine life, Point Lobos is home to hundreds of bird species. If you’re in Carmel-by-the-Sea looking for things to do, take full advantage of this magical coastal area.

Have a day adventure at Palo Corona Regional Park

Going on a relaxing hike at Palo Corona Regional Park is one of the best things to do in Carmel. Meander through oak trees that beautifully weave their branches into each other. Catch a glimpse of the endangered Smith’s blue butterfly that flutters above the meadows. Tiger salamanders and California red-legged frogs are also rare amphibians that call this place their home. Bring your family here to enjoy hiking and view spectacular wildlife viewing opportunities. 

Sunbathing for hours on end, sinking your toes in white sand, and playing beach volleyball all afternoon—this is the perfect day.

Splash around Carmel City Beach

For those who enjoy solitude, Carmel Meadows Beach is the perfect secluded beach. But if you love white sands and a little company, a lazy afternoon at Carmel City Beach is just what you need. A trip to this spot is truly one of the best things to do in Carmel with kids. Grab your towels, pack a picnic, and get ready to splash around the beach. Play volleyball, build sandcastles, and soak up the sun all day, every day. 

Grab a bite at The Treehouse Cafe

Relive your childhood memories on The Treehouse Cafe’s rooftop patio. The rustic interior turns a regular outing into an exciting adventure—who wouldn’t love that? The twinkling tree lights make the cafe particularly enchanting in the evenings. Indulge in the exquisite Mediterranean, Italian, and Thai dishes on the menu.

Romantic things to do in Carmel

Dine at Mission Ranch Restaurant

How does a romantic dinner with stunning views of limitless meadows sound to you? All that and more is available at Mission Ranch Restaurant. Sit back and let the exhilarating views elevate your experience. Your dinner here is cozy, elegant, and romantic. With a piano bar and mouth-watering meals, spend an other-worldly evening with your one and only at this can’t-miss spot.

Enjoy each other’s company at Bernardus Lodge and Spa

What better way to spend quality time with your significant other than staying at Bernardus Lodge and Spa? If you’re looking for romantic things to do in Carmel, this is how you do it. Start your mornings with a delightful breakfast among the fern-covered mountains and luscious vineyards.

Take a dip in the pool and float in the calm waters. Soak in the hot tubs to relax and unwind, then cuddle up to your one and only by the fire pits. Book a relaxing couple’s massage, then enjoy a luxurious dinner at the hotel’s restaurant. 

Discover Carmel’s secret courtyards and passageways 

One of the most off-beat and romantic things to do in Carmel is exploring the narrow charming alleyways around town. Walk around the picturesque Der Ling Lane and Passageway, before making your way to other flower-studded courtyards. As the sunny skies light up your adventures, enjoy a delightful stroll complete with climbing ivies covering buildings and quirky shops popping up all over the place. 

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