Walk around town to see fairy-tale-style architecture, like the structure that houses Cottage of Sweets.
(Visit Carmel)

18 things to do in Carmel, California’s enchanting storybook village by the sea

The fairytale-like Carmel-by-the-Sea is a place where, for the last 107 years, the only building with a street address has been the post office. To locate homes, many of which are charming cottages with names like Acorn, Hansel & Gretel and Tinker Bell, people rely on descriptions like “the third house southeast of Lincoln Street on 13th Avenue.” It’s an eccentricity of the northern California city that many locals are striving to hold onto — even as times are changing (and Postmates drivers are getting confused).

Carmel has long been filled with character. It got its name from the Spanish explorer Sebastian Vizcaino, who landed in Monterey Bay in 1603 and named the beach he saw “Carmelo” in honor of the Carmelite friars he was traveling with. In its early days, Carmel was quiet, but the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 drove many to take refuge there because the land was so cheap. That included authors and poets like Jack London, who initially settled in tents.

The seaside village has changed a lot since then — the tents and cabins were replaced by luxury homes and Carmel started to attract Hollywood stars. Not only is Clint Eastwood a former mayor but he also owns Mission Ranch Hotel and Restaurant, where he often still makes appearances. Doris Day co-owned the Cypress Inn, Betty White built a beach house in town and Brad Pitt recently moved to the Carmel Highlands.

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Carmel is unique in many ways, maintaining its quaint atmosphere by resisting city features like parking meters, street lights and sidewalks beyond downtown. These days, many Angelenos are drawn to the town, a five-hour drive from L.A. They delight in its cottages, picturesque downtown, beautiful beach with soft sand and striking coastline.


While hotels get quite pricey in the summer (Carmel is ranked as the most expensive summer destination in California), the cooler seasons offer lower prices and fewer crowds, but with all the same charm. Explore Carmel with this list of things to see, do and eat. Remember that the center of Carmel-by-the-Sea doesn’t use street numbers, so note the intersections or use your map apps to pinpoint the exact location. — Fiona Chandra

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View along Scenic Road, Carmel.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Pedal and gawk on Scenic Road

Monterey Scenic drive
Whether you walk, pedal or drive, you need to take in the sights of Scenic Road: rocky, surf-based coastline to the west, amazing homes to the east.

You can’t quite call most of the homes mansions because the lots are so small, but everything is just so on these places, whether they’re trying to evoke Tudor England, update Bauhaus minimalism or, in a few cases, just let you know that the owner is loaded.

The road itself is narrow, one-way and mostly residential and begins near the foot of Ocean Avenue, a few steps upslope from Carmel Beach. Even though many of these homes have absentee owners, there’s never enough parking. But there’s a walking path alongside the road, overlooking the ocean. If you walk fast, you’ll likely outpace the creeping cars of visitors who are gawking just like you.

It’s a roughly 3-mile loop. We did the drive by car, and then I went back and did it again, much more slowly, on a bike from the Mad Dogs & Englishmen bikes hop on Ocean Avenue. (Many Carmel hotels offer bikes to guests at no extra charge, including Le Petit Pali properties on Ocean Avenue and 8th Street.)

The pedal-assist ebike cost $29 for two hours and gave me a chance to linger when the mood struck — near the $29-million modernist Butterfly House, for instance, and the 90-degree turn where the road veers toward Carmel River State Beach.

As you continue, Scenic Road becomes Carmelo Street and doubles back toward Ocean Avenue, passing through another residential neighborhood that includes one lodging that might tempt your splurge impulse: the Lincoln Green Inn.

The inn, which goes back to 1925, is fronted by lush gardens and includes five cottages with kitchens. Four rent for $465 a night and up; one starts at $350. This being Carmel, the cottages are named for characters in “Robin Hood.” (When I pedaled past, there were five Porsches parked out front.)

Want a bigger pedaling challenge? Pebble Beach’s famously scenic 17 Mile Drive is 5.7 miles away.
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Pumpkins are stacked here and there on the rustic setting of Earthbound Farms, Carmel Valley.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Pick berries, snip herbs and eat organic at Earthbound Farms

Monterey Farm Stand
Earthbound Farms is a familiar brand for those who buy organic produce. The company’s 2.5- acre farm stand, cafe and gardens in the Carmel Valley will feed you, maybe teach you a little and extend the brand in several directions.

The property, a year-round operation, was full of pumpkins when we showed up. You can browse organic produce, flowers and specialty groceries and gifts, take an Insta photo in a massive Adirondack chair or step to the counter of the cafe (breakfast and lunch daily), which was one of the first certified organic kitchens in the U.S. when it opened in 2003.

It has baked goods, a salad bar and frozen desserts. We had a smoothie and wandered the grounds, which included a walking labyrinth, a seasonal raspberry patch (picking permitted), a cut-your-own herb garden and a tepee and play area for kids. (Pets are not invited.)
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Pilgrim’s Way Community Bookstore & Secret Garden.
(Fiona Chandra)

Follow the hidden passageway to Pilgrim’s Way Community Bookstore & Secret Garden

Monterey Bookstore
Carmel is filled with secret passageways, and the one connected to Pilgrim’s Way Community Bookstore is one of the most charming (plus, it leads to a bookstore). Look for the red, bamboo-lined path and follow it down to a plant-filled oasis. Water fountains and wind chimes add to the tranquility of the garden.

In the center of a garden is a dome that houses a gift shop with garden decor, plants and locally made products. End your walk at the bookstore and browse the collection of children’s and spiritual titles and books about the area. Pilgrim’s Way opened in 1969 and is now on its fifth owner; it is the last remaining bookstore in Carmel-by-the-Sea, so it’s worth supporting.
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Inspiration Point trail, Palo Corona Regional Park, Carmel Valley.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Hike from Carmel Valley to Inspiration Point

Monterey Hiking Trail
This is a 4.5-mile round-trip hike with a nice payoff at the top and ample shade along the way.

Start by driving to Palo Corona Regional Park’s Discovery Center in Carmel Valley. The trailhead for Inspiration Point is just a few steps away.

In moments, you’ll be crossing the Carmel River on a little wooden footbridge, walking under oak branches swaddled in Spanish moss, then gradually climbing about 850 feet over the course of 1.3 miles.

The park calls this a moderate to strenuous hike, not because of the trail, which is smooth and well-maintained, but because of the altitude gain. You’ll pass through a few animal-control gates (no dogs or bikes allowed).

Along the way, the oaks stop and pines begin. Through gaps in the foliage, the valley views stretch out beneath you. Blond foothills. Rocky coast. A picture-perfect barn in between.

As you hike, consider that this raw 10,000 acres, formerly known as the Palo Corona Ranch, became public only over the last 20 years, through a series of acquisitions and land-conservation measures by a team of public agencies and private nonprofits. About half of the old ranch went into Palo Corona Regional Park; the rest has joined the adjacent Joshua Creek Ecological Preserve.

At the top of the trail, Inspiration Point itself, you’ll find a picnic table waiting next to the viewpoint — a nice place to hydrate.
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Hofsas House
(Fiona Chandra)

Stay at the Bavarian-inspired Hofsas House

Monterey Hotel
Although Carmel is known to be an enclave for the wealthy, the iconic pink Hofsas House offers one of the more affordable lodging options — and the most family-friendly. In addition to standard rooms featuring Bavarian-style decor, the hotel also offers two-bedroom suites that can accommodate up to six.

Hofsas House was founded by Donna Hofsas in the 1940s. The charming mural she commissioned her friend Maxine Albro to paint sill greets guests today. Hofsas’ granddaughter Carrie Theis, who spent her childhood summers at Hofsas House guiding guests to their rooms, now runs the hotel as the general manager.

Rooms start at $180 per night, with continental breakfast included. (Some rooms are dog-friendly with an extra pet charge.) There’s a swimming pool that‘s heated year-round, as Carmel does get chilly in the winter months. And don’t miss this delightful detail: In the front of the hotel, there’s a poetry box filled with poems that are free for the taking.
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Painters and their easels dot Carmel Beach.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Count easels on Carmel Beach

Monterey Beach
The twisted cypresses, raking winds and sloping sands set Carmel Beach apart. Despite all the orderly prosperity of the shops and homes up the hill, the golf courses upcoast, the adjacent rest rooms and parking lot, it is, in its way, a wild place.

Dogs off leash. Water cold enough to keep the surfers wearing wetsuits. Propane grilling allowed. Alcohol allowed (well, until 10 p.m.). No lifeguards.

What this beach has plenty of, however, is easels. Local and visiting painters love the foot of Ocean Avenue, where they try to catch the beach scene on paper or canvas.

On the day I stepped onto the sand, eight painters had gotten there first. Most had taken up positions on high ground with a broad view, leaving sunbathers and beach-walkers plenty of room. But three of the painters had taken over a wooden observation deck, leaving no room for anyone else. It’s the Wild West on the beach, I’m telling you.

Still, just everyone was smiling, including the dogs. Even if you never get your toes wet, it’s well worth it to step down to the water’s edge, glimpse the Pebble Beach waterfront courses to the north, then turn to see surf-lashed rocks at the southern end of Carmel Bay.
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Abalone dish at Chez Noir.
(Fiona Chandra)

Book a table at the seafood-centric Chez Noir

Monterey Restaurant
One of the most exciting openings in Carmel recently is the Michelin-starred Chez Noir. The restaurant is owned by executive chef Johnny Black and his wife, Monique, who runs the front of house. The two have worked together at various acclaimed restaurants, including Quince in San Francisco and Pineapples & Pearls in Washington, D.C.

Chez Noir’s menu is seafood-heavy, with ingredients sourced from the Monterey Peninsula. The restaurant recently switched from an a la carte menu to serving exclusively a four-course tasting menu for $125 per person.

The bar program is headed by Ashley Havens, who worked with Johnny and Monique Black at Pineapples & Pearls, and she’s committed to making it more sustainable. Case in point: When Chez Noir’s kitchen was serving sweet corn agnolotti this past summer, she took the cobs to infuse some bourbon and used it for the Corn Cob Old Fashioned.
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Fairytale Cottages.
(Fiona Chandra)

See Hugh Comstock's fairytale cottages, including Hansel, Gretel and Tuck Box

Monterey Historic Home
Carmel-by-the-Sea is rather famous for its fairy-tale cottages with their whimsical lines and irregular chimneys. Many of them were built by Hugh Comstock, who constructed the village’s first fairy-tale cottage as a showroom for the rag dolls his wife was selling. That cottage, on Torres Street between 5th and 6th avenues, was named Hansel; Comstock then built a second cottage on the same property, and obviously named it Gretel.

Residents then asked Comstock to help them build fairy-tale cottages of their own. Even after Comstock’s death, his designs continued to inspire new ones. These cottages are scattered around town — head to the Harrison Memorial Library at Ocean Avenue and Lincoln Street to grab a map.

Remember, most of these cottages are private residences, so admire them from a respectful distance.
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China Cove in Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, just outside Carmel.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

See green (and sea lions) at Point Lobos

Natural reserve
Just look at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve and it will speak for itself. With its thick foliage, gnarled old trees, drifting fog, floating kelp forests, stony outcroppings and barking sea lions (in Spanish: lobos marinos), it’s a 554-acre world of its own. And a lesson in marine biodiversity. And a photographer’s dream.

Like a lot of people, I like to start by driving to the end of the park’s main road, parking and strolling around the 0.8-mile loop trial through China Cove and Bird Island.

No matter what’s happening in the sky, the waters of the cove always seem to glow an eerie green. From there, if I have time, I move on to Weston Beach (named for photographer Edward Weston, who haunted these shores for years) and the Cypress Grove Trail. (The Moss Cove Trail has been closed since winter’s storms.)

As you check out the birds, rocks and greenery, bear in mind that Native people gathered here for thousands of years. By the late 19th century, the territory’s human diversity had multiplied to include Chinese fishermen, Portuguese whalers and Japanese abalone divers. It’s been part of the state parks system since 1933, and the waters offshore (popular with divers) are part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

Arriving on a weekday in fall, we had no trouble parking. But on summer days, the park often reaches its 150-car capacity, so it’s wise to come early.

The reserve is open 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, with last entry at 6:30 p.m. The fee is $10 per car, plus an additional $2 for a map/brochure. No dogs (except service animals), no drones, no camping, no alcohol, no bikes on trails, no collecting shells or rocks.
Carmel River State Beach.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Watch birds, river and ocean collide at Carmel River State Beach

Monterey Beach
I come here every time I’m in Carmel. It’s where the river meets the sea, where thousands of songbirds and seabirds gather, where visitors can stroll along a mile-long, mostly empty crescent beach, where you can instead flop near the driftwood on the inland side where, thanks to the wetland scenery, you may hear thousands more birds than you see.

Wherever you look or walk, it’s mesmerizing.

This beach has its own parking lot, and it’s right along the loop route for people driving (or walking or pedaling) Scenic Road. It’s also popular with local dog-walkers. Yet somehow, it never seems as crowded and busy here. Which is a shame, because this is a spot where natural Carmel dominates man-made Carmel.
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Talbott Vineyard
(Fiona Chandra)

Taste Burgundian-style wines at Talbott Vineyards

Monterey Tasting Room
Carmel Valley is home to a number of great wineries, and some of them operate tasting rooms in downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea. Talbott Vineyards, which started producing wines in 1982, was one of the first wineries to open in the Santa Lucia Highlands, and its Burgundian-style wines are considered to be some of the best in the area.

At its tasting room in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Talbott offers tastings of its estate pinot noirs and chardonnays that showcase the different climate influences within their vineyards. The Legacy Flight comes with a glass of its new sparkling wine and a taste of five of Talbott’s wines, paired with cheeses sourced from the local cheese shop (conveniently called the Cheese Shop).

Check out more wine tasting rooms in town with Carmel-by-the-Sea’s official Wine Walk mobile guide.
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A poached egg surrounded by bacon on a nice white plate.
(Fiona Chandra)

Taste California comfort cuisine at Stationæry

Monterey Restaurant
Stationæry is not visible from the street, and owners Anthony and Alissa Carnazzo want it that way. They’d always dreamed of having the kind of restaurant you’d find in Southern Italy, a cozy spot that’s hidden away in a small alley.

The Carnazzos grew up in the area, with family working as fishermen in Monterey Bay and ranchers in Carmel Valley. The two met in high school and worked in Los Angeles after getting married (Anthony was the opening general manager of Handsome Coffee Roasters). They eventually moved back home when they had their first child and opened the Stationæry in 2018.

The restaurant serves a seasonally driven menu of what the Carnazzos call California comfort cuisine, sourcing seafood and dairy locally. One of the staple dishes that sells out every day is the potato pancake. Shredded potatoes are pan-fried until crispy and the toppings change with the season (the current setup features smoked Mt. Lassen trout with gribiche and crème fraîche).
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Carmel Mission.
(Fiona Chandra)

See the Carmel Mission and its original bell tower

Monterey Historical Landmark
Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Río Carmelo, better known now as the Carmel Mission, was founded in 1770 by Father Junípero Serra, but he would not live to see the construction of the basilica, completed in 1797. His remains are buried underneath it.

The Spanish-Moorish structure was constructed using stone from the nearby Santa Lucia Mountains. A national historic landmark, this is the only Spanish mission in California that still has its original bell tower and bell — one of the cracked bells is displayed in the central courtyard.

The mission is a serene spot to visit, with a recently restored courtyard that features the mission’s original fountain and a well-manicured garden. There are also various exhibits on the ground, along with artifacts and information about the people who lived and worked in the mission during its early days.

Admission to Carmel Mission is $13 per person. The mission is still an active parish, and the basilica may be in use for services or weddings.
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Edwin’s Kaona.
(Fiona Chandra)

Sample Filipino-Indonesian family recipes at Edwin’s Kaona

Monterey Asian
When Dexter Salazar decided to close acclaimed restaurant Affina, family members persuaded him not to sell it. Instead, they turned it into Edwin’s, named in honor of Salazar’s father, Edwin, who died during the pandemic. The tagline for the restaurant, “kaona,” means “let’s eat” in Visayan, the dialect spoken in the family’s hometown on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines.

The menu returns to the family’s Filipino roots and fuses with Indonesian cuisine (Edwin’s work often brought him to Indonesia, and Dexter lived there for 18 years). Dexter serves up his parents’ recipes, combined with his own — you’ll find lumpia shanghai, lechon kawali and kare kare alongside Balinese fried chicken. There are fusion dishes as well, such as Indonesian-style prawns prepared with coconut and sambal served over fettuccine pasta.

There’s usually live music in the evenings, and Mondays are open-mic nights.
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Hotel Carmel courtyard.
(Fiona Chandra)

Cozy up in an Adirondack chair around the fire pit at Hotel Carmel

Monterey Hotel
A short walk from downtown, the recently refurbished Hotel Carmel is a 27-room boutique inn featuring a chic blend of modern and coastal decor. Think succulents, shibori-dyed throw pillows and woven wall accents.

The lounge and breakfast area next to the lobby is set up like a comfortable living room, with a white wraparound table by the window. Free breakfast is provided with your stay, and includes Champagne to get those vacation days started right. The hotel offers wine or sangria in the early evening, along with freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.

There’s no pool at Hotel Carmel, but there is a courtyard with a fire pit surrounded by Adirondack chairs for nighttime chats, along with a hot tub. Rooms start at $215 per night.
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Crab eggs benedict.
(Fiona Chandra)

Order an eggs Benedict any style at Katy’s Place

Monterey Restaurant
This breakfast spot has been a Carmel staple since 1982. It was started by Katy Curry and purchased a few years later by Randall Bernett and his wife, also named Katy. Katy’s Place, known for its eggs Benedict, has expanded its offerings over the years, thanks to inspiration from the owners’ travels. There are now more than 20 varieties of eggs Benedict on the menu, including a Dungeness crab Benedict and a Maui Benedict with bacon and pineapple. Each Benny is made with three fresh ranch eggs that are perfectly poached.

Eggs Benedict aside, it’s hard to go wrong at Katy’s. The breakfast menu is extensive, with Swedish pancakes, biscuits and gravy, corned beef hash and any other dishes you may desire.

This place is cash-only, and the prices are not particularly cheap, so be sure to bring enough money.
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Fae's Village.
(Fiona Chandra)

Visit Village of Fae, a village for elves and fairies

Monterey Attraction
What would make Carmel-by-the-Sea even more fairy tale-like? A village for elves and fairies, of course. Village of Fae is a miniature built by a creative couple in their front yard on the southeastern side of Camino Real between 8th and 9th avenues. To find this charming gem, you’ll have to look down. The hand-built miniature structures sit among the yard’s succulents and ferns.

The details put into this tiny village are quite impressive, and it’s fun to explore and read through the signs. Inside the village, the faes have their own police station, theater and even their own whiskey distillery. At the bank, there’s a QR code for Venmo donations, should anyone want to support this fun project. It’s easier to spot all the details in daylight, but there is enough lighting at night as well.
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