Ultimate Guide to Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

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The Carmel Mission Basilica, the mission of San Carlos Borromeo, founded in 1770 by Junipero Serra, Carmel-by-the-Sea, California USA

Maintaining its charm with quirky regulations, fairytale-like architecture and locals devoted to conservation, Carmel-by-the-Sea is the place to go if you crave a trip back in time to a quaint community that has barely changed since its incorporation in 1916. Helping to prevent “citification” is the absence of street addresses, requiring all citizens to utilize a central post office, and in some cases, bestowing names like “Hansel” or “Sea Urchin” on their homes.

While Carmel-by-the-Sea used to have some bizarrely strict laws, like no eating or selling of ice cream on city streets, in an attempt to prevent unseemly drips, Clint Eastwood swooped in as mayor and helped this picturesque destination find a happy balance of preservation and flexibility.

Although Carmel-by-the-Sea is only one square mile, it’s brimming with an assortment of inns, restaurants, art galleries, scenic excursions and more that come together to create an ideal getaway for those looking for a laid-back, yet culturally stimulating experience.

 

Eat

For such a small town, it’s shocking that Carmel-by-the-Sea is now a Mecca for foodies, offering everything from flavorful Oaxacan nosh to delectable seafood. Fortunately, this is a town that inspires ample walking, helping to drum up a big appetite.

 

Brophy’s Tavern

Lovers of comfort food will send their taste buds to nirvana at Brophy’s Tavern, which serves up famous fish and chips, grilled cheese with perfectly seasoned tomato bisque, chocolate stuffed churros, and other rich fare that’s so tasty it will convince you to temporarily do away with calorie counting.

 

Cultura

Cultura is a must for food afficianados with a taste, or at least a curiosity, for the unique dishes coming out of Oaxaca, Mexico. The expert team at Cultura combined their love of Oaxacan cuisine with their own experience in this eclectic industry, creating a menu that offers a culinary thrill for those interested in trying something new and delicious.

With diverse menu selections like homemade mole, life changing guacamole, fried grasshoppers (don’t knock it till you try it!), and many other options that meet the needs of a variety of preferences, this is the place to go for an unforgettable edible adventure. And let’s not forget about the cocktails. An assortment of creative, tasty mescal-based drinks are sure to please those that enjoy one-of-a-kind beverages.

 

Stationæry

Some of the best coffee in town can be enjoyed at this bright eatery that serves up all forms of expertly prepared caffeinated beverages that perfectly compliment the tasty menu options with ingredients that are primarily sourced from local farms and ranches.

 

Flaherty’s Seafood

Fresh fish delivered daily, friendly servers, and a salt-water aquarium combine to create a fun, pleasurable dining experience at Flaherty’s. The laid back environment of this establishment makes it a great choice for families. And with affordable favorites like fried calamari, clam chowder, sea bass, and other fresh fare, there’s something for even the most finicky of taste buds.

 

Mission Ranch Restaurant

Beyond being owned by Clint Eastwood, this restaurant is acclaimed for its sunset happy hour on a massive patio, stunning views of a green pasture sprinkled with grazing sheep, and strong drinks. Popular menu options at Mission Ranch include the artichoke dip, crab cakes, and Dirty Harry burger. Because this is such a hard place to leave, set aside a couple hours for your meal.

 

Sleep

Distinctive flair is woven through every inn and hotel in Carmel-by-the-Sea, offering options for all travel preferences, whether you’re into historic cottages, sprawling luxury digs, Hollywood glamour, or baroque drama.

 

La Playa Carmel

Those looking for ultimate luxury should head to La Playa, which was created with love, as the artist Chris Jorgensen built it for his bride in 1905. As a member of Historic Hotels of America, this establishment does a phenomenal job of maintaining its old fashioned ambiance, while offering first-class modern amenities. Accenting the stunning interiors are the award-winning gardens that offer guests an astonishing location to enjoy the ideal Carmel-by-the-Sea weather.

 

Cypress Inn

Hollywood legend Doris Day is a partial owner of this awe-inspiring hotel, who put it on the map by allowing pet owners to bring their furry friends along. This pet allowance started a trend in the town, setting it on the path to become one of the most pet-friendly communities in the United States. Cypress Inn mixes Mediterranean elegance with top-notch service to create an unforgettable, authentically Carmel experience.

 

Wayside Inn

An ideal location for a cozy, romantic vacation, the Wayside Inn offers 22 cottage style guestrooms and suites that feature feather beds, Italian linens, two-person jetted tubs, and gas fireplaces. In addition, complimentary room service is provided for breakfast – just fill out a card with your selections, check off your preferred time of delivery, and a hot and delicious breakfast tray is whisked to your room the following morning.

 

Pine Inn

Carmel’s first hotel, built in 1889, Pine Inn pulls you back in time to the early 20th century with its historic décor and elegant custom furnishings. But, modern conveniences are not forgotten, as the hotel offers free Internet, Jacuzzi tubs, and on-site boutiques. Guests with a taste for fresh Italian food will enjoy the hotel’s restaurant, Il Fornaio, which is known for its pizza and butternut squash ravioli.

 

Play

To fully absorb the joy of Carmel-by-the-Sea, it’s best to unleash your childlike wonder by diving into lively, creative, and contemplative activities. This comprehensive engagement allows you to end your trip knowing that you were not an outside observer, but an active participant in the awesomeness served up by this multi-layered community.

 

Mad Dogs & Englishmen

For the ultimate thrill, head to this establishment where you can rent an aesthetically pleasing electric bike from a friendly staff who will offer a map and directions for whatever variety of adventure you’re hoping to experience. As long as you can ride a bike, the Mad Dogs bikes will be a breeze, making uphill treks a blast, instead of an exhausting endeavor. Because these bikes are so entertianing, it’s best to rent them for a minimum of two or three hours.

 

High Heel Permit

You read that right. Carmel-by-the-Sea offers permits for those wearing heels over two inches high. While this law is no longer enforced, there is a playful charm in heading into City Hall to purchase one of these iconic permits, then strut out on your towering heels… or maybe just some sensible sneakers, if you hope to manage the stone paved pathways.

 

Mindful-by-the-Sea

The rocky coastline at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve in Carmel, California

Explore the wonders of your mind with some meditation and mindfulness by the sea, encouraged by the Mindful-by-the-Sea wellness program. This initiative motivates visitors to take full advantage of the serenity and natural splendor of Carmel-by-the-Sea by finding a comfortable spot on the beach, or on the edge of one of the many trails winding through the woods, closing their eyes, and breathing in the tranquil energy that is abundant in this area. Those that would like to keep moving can practice mindfulness by slowing their pace and tuning into how this magical area impacts their five senses.

If you need some help unwinding, one of the world’s leading mindfulness practitioners, Dr. Rich Fernandez, CEO of Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, regularly offers three-day mindfulness retreats at the Sunset Center.

 

Art class with Kathy Sharpe

The moment you walk into Kathy’s gallery, that doubles as the hub for her classes, you’re struck by the sun soaked images of her brightly hued paintings, many of which display glorious collections of flowers. Painting novices are welcome, as Kathy utilizes her humor and artistic mastery to lead participants through a low-pressure, laugh-filled watercolor class.

 

South Shore Trail at Point Lobos

An easy and mind-blowingly beautiful hike, the South Shore Trail at Point Lobos leads to Weston Beach where you’ll find tide pools at low tide, which house sea stars, chitons, crabs, anemones, turban snails, and a rainbow of algae. In addition, an abundance of otters are often seen surfing the waves along this trail.

 

Explore

While you could easily spend months taking in the seemingly endless cultural masterpieces of Carmel-by-the-Sea, there are key locations and events that will give you a strong, quick dose of the town’s expressive offerings.

 

Carmel Walks

Gael Gallagher, the owner of Carmel Walks, is a walking, talking wonderland of Carmel-by-the-Sea trivia, offering fascinating facts and stories about the dynamic past of this captivating village. The two-hour tour leads guests through over 40 hidden pathways and courtyards, and past storybook cottages and inns, fully immersing guests in the heart of this special region. But, be forewarned that Gael’s enthusiasm for her hometown is so contagious you may be stopping at one of the friendly real estate offices at the end of the tour.

 

Steven Whyte Gallery

The mesmerizing bronze and portrait sculptures of Steven Whyte, who can often be found in the gallery, are so lifelike you half expect them to move. Give yourself plenty of time to meander through this space, as each creation is wholly unique and worth a few minutes of observation and contemplation.

 

Monthly Carmel Art Walk

There’s no better way to take in this intellectual, inspiration-filled oasis than the monthly art walk, offered the second Saturday of every month. During this walk you’ll be able to peruse the work of artistic luminaries presenting their work in the 21 artists-owned galleries throughout town. The artists are present during the art walk to answer questions, and in some cases, offer free demonstrations.

 

Sunset Center

The gothic architecture and stunning acoustics in this performing arts center creates the illusion that you’ve been dropped into a theater in the heart of Europe. World-class performances are regularly presented in this space, and are definitely worth your time if you hope to enhance the cultural flavor of your trip.

 

Shop

The concentrated population of innovative makers in Carmel-by-the-Sea has allowed a remarkable collection of shops to pop up. Whether you’re looking for gifts for the kids, custom furnishings, handmade items that could turn into family heirlooms, or high-quality edible treats, you will not be disappointed in Carmel’s shopping scene.

 

Ajne Carmel

A haven for your sense of smell, the elegant Ajne Carmel sells curated scent blends, including natural perfumes and environmental scents. All products are natural and free of petroleum, synthetic sensitizers, and harsh preservatives. In addition, all scents are housed in glass and aluminum, instead of plastic, whenever possible.

 

Bee Bark and Moss

This is the spot for shoppers looking for lifestyle products and soft furnishings handcrafted by local artists. Lovers of one-of-a-kind finds will enjoy Bee Bark and Moss’ line of hand painted market bags and soft furnishings fabricated using hemp, organic cotton, recycled and locally sourced materials.

 

The Dog House

No trip to Carmel-by-the-Sea is complete without a stop at the unique The Dog House boutique where you can find custom made dog outfits, accessories, treats and a variety of dog toys for the special hair balls in your life.

 

Tinker Toys

If you have children, or playful adults, to purchase goodies for, but want something that can’t be found in a box store, check out Tinker Toys where old-fashioned toys that are both educational and imaginative toys can be found.

 

Carmel Honey Store

A staple in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Carmel Honey Store sells high-quality honey products, in addition to educating and empowering individuals to make positive decisions about honeybee health and habitat.

 

About the Author: Bailey Gaddis

Bailey is the author of Feng Shui Mommy, a travel writer, avid scuba diver, and lover of adventure. She has lived in California, Texas, Mexico, Peru, and the Honduras and is currently landed in Ojai, California. She found her ideal partner in a surfing-Aussie who is often the catalyst for their international travel (that's on a budget, with a toddler!) She is a contributing writer for Flight Network, Babble, Huff Post, Working Mother, Trip Savvy, Scary Mommy, Your Tango, Cosmopolitan, Redbook, Good Housekeeping, Women's Day, Cosmo, and more. A collection of her writing can be found at BaileyGaddis.com

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