15 Best Things to Do in Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA
Carmel-by-the-Sea, also known as Carmel, is a coastal city in Monterey County, situated on the Pacific coast about 100 miles south of San Francisco and 300 miles north of Los Angeles, California.
It became a city in 1916.
The city is renowned for its stunning natural scenery and long, rich artistic and cultural history.
Carmel-by-the-Sea is recognized for having several peculiar rules, such as one that forbids wearing high heels more than two inches high without a permit–legislation implemented to protect the city from litigation resulting from trips caused by uneven pavement on the streets.
Whether you have one day, two days, or a full week to spend, Carmel-by-the-Sea will reward you with some of the best landscapes, historical buildings, art galleries, boutiques, restaurants, and dog-friendly locations!
Start your exploration of this beautiful coastal city's many attractions with the list of the best things to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California!
Warm up in a Cozy Beach Fire at Carmel Beach
Carmel Beach is one of the most well-known locations on California's Central Coast, considered "One of America's Top Beach Towns."
Its magnificent views and entertaining activities draw residents and tourists alike from morning until night.
Carmel Beach on Ocean Ave & Scenic Rd. has no lifeguards on duty, so anybody who wishes to surf, play, or swim should be cautious of the potential rip currents and unpredictable rogue or sneaker waves.
Visit in the afternoon to see the gorgeous sunset and marvel at its beauty, whether by yourself, family, or friends.
You can also bring your four-legged pals and let them run around, but they must be kept under check and constant supervision.
End the day by cuddling next to a warm beach fire–just comply with the beach fire rules of the City of Carmel-by-the-Sea.
Go on a Walking Tour at the Carmel Heritage Society
The Carmel Heritage Society is an independent non-profit group and the community's source of cultural and historical information.
Housed at the First Murphy House, it’s a place where locals and guests can gather and share memories, watch a video about the historical people that shaped Carmel into what it is today, and learn more about the city's history.
The First Murphy House, built in 1902, was the first of the numerous cottages and famous buildings designed and constructed by then-17-year-old Michael J. Murphy, a notable master builder in Carmel-by-the-Sea.
When this tiny cottage was endangered for demolition in 1990, the First Murphy House Committee was formed by the Carmel Heritage Society.
The house was relocated to its current location at the Lincoln and Sixth Avenues intersection, where it underwent a full restoration.
Today, the Carmel Heritage Society serves as a Welcome Center where visitors can pick a walking tour brochure and begin their self-guided historical walking tour around the city.
Do Retail Therapy at Ocean Avenue
The shopping scene at Carmel-by-the-Sea is home to hundreds of unique boutiques and shops clustered around Ocean Avenue.
Don't pass up the incredible variety of options in downtown’s quaint courtyards and numerous passageways.
The best part is that everything in this shopping paradise is conveniently close!
If you’re worried about heavy traffic or parking, just leave your car at the hotel, take a leisurely stroll, and discover whatever sparks your interest.
At Ocean Avenue, most stores are run and owned locally, so there are no big malls and chain stores here.
In between shopping, take a break and head to one of the many restaurants for a meal, a cup of coffee, or perhaps a glass of wine.
Sip, Savor, and Discover Wines with the Carmel-by-the-Sea Wine Walk
Along the lovely beach walks, vibrant arts and cultural scene, and unique shops and restaurants, the Carmel-by-the-Sea Wine Walk should be added to your list of things to do in the city.
The Carmel-by-the-Sea Wine Walk is a free and exclusive mobile guide that’ll lead you on a wine-tasting tour to discover wine-tasting rooms across Carmel-by-the-Sea.
Take a stroll around downtown’s quaint European-style village to sip, savor, and learn about the top wines in the region.
More than 15 wineries and tasting rooms fill the streets of this one-square-mile village, which provide a cozy yet dynamic ambiance to enjoy the entire wine-tasting experience.
Some places worth checking out are Blair Estate, Caraccioli Cellars, Dawn's Dream Winery, De Tierra Vineyards, and Galante Vineyards, among many others.
With the Carmel-by-the-Sea Wine Walk, you’ll find incredible opportunities as you explore and understand more about wine, no matter what your preferences are.
Go Back in Time at the Carmel Mission Basilica
The Carmel Mission Basilica, officially known as the Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo or "the Carmel Mission," as the Carmelites call it, is one of the most faithfully restored among the 21 California Missions.
This architectural gem was first founded in 1770 on the coast of Monterey.
In 1771, shortly after its founding, its founder, Father Junipero Serrait, moved it to its current location on Rio Road near Carmel River.
Today the Carmel Mission Basilica serves as an active parish, a museum, and a school.
Here, you can enjoy a self-guided tour that will transport you to the 18th century, when Carmel Mission Basilica was still the only standing structure in the area.
This historic location is a State and a National Historic Landmark and is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Walk Your Dog at Mission Trail Nature Preserve
The 34-acre Mission Trail Nature Preserve is a park that makes up about three miles of trails and a native plant arboretum.
The Preserve, accessible from downtown, features habitats including a Monterey pine forest, coastal prairies, live oak woodlands, willow riparian corridors, and wetlands.
In 1979, the Preserve was designated a nature park for passive recreational use—dog walking included!
Since it’s built on a hill, expect several inclines; however, the main trail is wide and paved for easy strolls.
Within the Mission Trail Nature Preserve park limits are the Lester Rowntree Native Plant Garden and the Flanders Mansion.
Attend a Show at the Sunset Theater
The Sunset Center on Ninth Avenue is a performing arts venue that hosts various world-class events and performances, including international music, rock concerts, comedy, dance, and theater.
What started as a 1926 public school transformed into a modern performing arts facility featuring a 718-seating capacity, gorgeous gothic architecture, and exceptional acoustic quality.
Sunset Center attracts more than 125,000 visitors yearly to the scenic grounds, with over 150 theater performances and over 500 North Wing events.
Visitors from near and far flock here to watch and attend exceptional musical and theatrical productions, retreats, weddings, movie screenings, VIP receptions, and more.
The venue is home to historical production partners such as the Carmel Music Society, Chamber Music Monterey Bay, Monterey Symphony, and the famous Carmel Bach Festival.
Additionally, Sunset Center houses the Forest Theatre Guild, Center for Photographic Art, and Yoga Center of Carmel in line with its role as the city’s cultural hub.
Sunset Center was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1998.
Visit an Art Gallery at Carmel Art Association
The Carmel Art Association (CAA) in Dolores is a non-profit arts organization and Carmel-by-the-Sea’s oldest gallery.
Established in 1927, CAA presents the works of art of more than 100 professional artists in the local scene and is committed to selling only the best artwork created by artists residing on the Monterey Peninsula.
CAA changes exhibitions every month which feature a wide range of media and styles.
For the benefit of community engagement, this historic building also hosts film series, talks, art demonstrations, concerts, and special fund-raising events.
CAA has received awards each year, including Carmel Chamber of Commerce’s “The Award of Excellence,” The Carmel Pine Cone’s “Golden Pine Cone Award,” and Monterey County Weekly’s “Best Art Gallery in Monterey County.”
CAA was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.
Explore Nature at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, situated on California's Central Coast, is commonly referred to as "the crown jewel" among the State's 280 state parks.
It serves as a paradise for those seeking stunning landscapes and magnificent wildlife.
The Reserve has diverse land, marine plants, wildlife, and unusual geological structures.
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is regarded as one of the best sites for scuba diving along the California coast and on the Monterey Peninsula, and it’s one of two locations where native Monterey Cypress is found.
Visitors may catch a glimpse of whales migrating along the coast at certain seasons of the year, with humpback and blue whales being regular visitors to the region.
The Whalers Cabin, located within the Reserve, is a historic structure added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Built in the 1850s to shelter Chinese and Japanese fishermen, it is now a museum that celebrates the local culture and illustrates Point Lobos’ history.
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve also features miles of trails where visitors can have a picnic and explore the beautiful coastal scenery.
See Modern Photography at the Center for Photographic Art
The Center for Photographic Art (CPA) is the nation's second oldest non-profit organization and gallery for photography.
A short stroll from Ocean Avenue will let you reach the historic gallery that was formerly occupied by the Friends of Photography, founded in 1967 by renowned photographers Ansel Adams, Wynn Bullock, and Cole Weston.
The gallery features the best examples of modern photography and is open to the public for free.
The CPA supports a large group of committed traditional darkroom and film practitioners.
If you're interested in photography and networking with other admirers and enthusiasts, you’ll appreciate CPA’s exhibits, lectures, artistic-development programs, and special membership events.
Tour the Robinson Jeffers Tor House
The Robinson Jeffers Tor House, composed of two structures–Tor House and Hawk Tower–was the family home of American poet Robinson Jeffers from 1919 to 1999.
The two buildings often referred to collectively as Tor House, are widely acknowledged to have been influential in Robinson Jeffers' growth as a poet and have served as an inspiration for many tourists.
Located on Ocean View Avenue, Tor House is "a poem-like masterpiece," according to Whole Earth Catalog founder Stewart Brand; true enough, you’ll see it from the house’s unique architecture and stonework.
The Robinson Jeffers Tor House Foundation, associated with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is a non-profit group of volunteers founded in 1978 with the goal of acquiring, maintaining, and facilitating public access to Tor House, Hawk Tower, and the adjacent grounds.
Tor House is open on Saturdays for full indoor tours, with a six-person limitation for tour groups.
Special musical tours are also available on periodic Fridays.
Watch a Musical at the Forest Theater
The historic outdoor Forest Theater is a 540-seat amphitheater located on Santa Rita Street and Mountain View Avenue.
It is one of the earliest outdoor theaters in the western region of the Rocky Mountains, built in 1910.
The Pacific Repertory Theatre (PacRep) presents musicals and plays against a spectacular setting of towering pines and enormous open fireplaces.
Herbert Heron, actor and director, founded Forest Theater and envisioned children’s theater, creative stories by California authors, and Shakespeare’s plays as its main focus.
However, since its beginning, various theater groups and artists have staged plays, musicals, pageants, and other performances at the outdoor theater.
Watch out for shows scheduled every summer from August through October, including the yearly family musical produced by PacRep, as well the Carmel Shakespeare Festival!
View the Mrs. Clinton Walker House
The Mrs. Clinton Walker House, also called Cabin on the Rocks, boasts a view of Pebble Beach and Carmel Bay and resembles a ship with a bow that cuts through the waters.
The house was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1948 and was completed in 1951 for Pebble Beach resident Mrs. Clinton Della Walker.
Built by Miles Bain with a Usonian design, it’s a small one-story house featuring a 120-degree hexagon floor, three ocean-view rooms, and a roof the same color as the sea.
The house, the only Wright house with a view of the ocean, is a prime example of the architect’s organic style, constructed on granite rocks and local Carmel stone.
The house was used in the 1959 film “A Summer Place” as the beach house of characters Sylvia (Dorothy McGuire) and Ken Jorgenson (Richard Egan).
In 1977, Mrs. Clinton Walker House was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Walker's family still owns the house privately, although it’s visible from the beach or the street along Scenic Road; it’s open once a year to the public for a charitable event.
Hike a Trail at Palo Corona Regional Park
Palo Corona Regional Park is one of the most prominent undeveloped open areas on California’s Central Coast.
Located on land east of Big Sur Coast Highway and Garrapata State Park, Palo Corona Regional Park is about 10 miles long and has more than 4,500 expansive acres of rugged, spectacular terrain that boasts an extraordinary variety of habitats and wildlife species.
Over 500 different plant species may be found in the Park, which spans a variety of habitats, from the Carmel River to the diverse hardwood forest that encircles the 3,000-foot-high Palo Corona Peak.
The Park’s grasslands have some of the most distinct wildflower and grass species than anywhere else along the Central Coast.
Several hiking paths allow you to explore the Park; among the suggested hikes are the Inspiration Point Trail, the Animas Pond Trail, and the River Loop Trail.
Other Things to Do Nearby
Drive in Style with Monterey Touring Vehicles
Experience California like you’ve never before with Monterey Touring Vehicles, the only business that offers the chance to rent classic, vintage cars on the Central Coast.
Monterey Touring Vehicles’ private collection of cars from almost every decade will surely delight visitors.
Rent a car for any special occasion, such as a wedding, a date night, or a family trip around Monterey!
The Monterey Peninsula offers some of the most breathtaking drives, and a classic or vintage car can dramatically elevate the experience into something spectacular.
Create miles of unforgettable memories whether you travel down Highway 1 to beautiful Big Sur, explore the 17-mile Drive up towards Pebble Beach, or venture out to the wine regions of Monterey County.
Services include free delivery and pickup at their Carmel-by-the-Sea office once you make the reservation.
Carmel-by-the-Sea is truly a one-of-a-kind paradise fit for everyone–visit once, and you may not want to leave!
Discover historical landmarks, relax at the white sand beach, stroll through the alleyways of downtown, sample wonderful cuisine and wines at award-winning restaurants and wineries, and immerse yourself in nature in this premier California destination.
Whether you're traveling by foot or car, you’ll be satisfied with the best things to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea!