Located on the central coast of California, Carmel (Also called “Carmel By The Sea”) is a beautifully scenic California beach town that offers visitors a relaxing time and plenty to do and see. Carmel is famously known as a destination and home for writers, poets, and artists and it’s not hard to imagine why. Carmel is completely full of natural beauty at every turn and is home to world-class nature-reserves, golf courses, and beaches.
For the most scenic things to do in Carmel, we’d recommend visiting the Seventeen Mile Drive, or Garrapata State Park. For an unusual thing to do in Carmel, we’d recommend taking a tour of the curious rock-hewn Tor House. Keep reading for our top things to do in Carmel and make the most of your visit to this incredible California beach town.
1. Carmel Beach
Carmel Beach is the main broad sandy beach in Carmel and is a great spot to walk, sunbathe, and relax. One unique thing about this beach is that it allows beach campfires, which is a cool feature when visiting the beach in the evening. Carmel Beach also allows dogs to be off-leash, so you’re sure to see some dogs having just as much fun as their owners. With free parking options along the bluffs above, Carmel beach is a must-see part of trip to Carmel By the Sea.
2. Carmel River State Beach
Located to the south of downtown, Carmel River State Beach is smaller than Carmel Beach but equally beautiful and worth a visit. The Carmel river meets the ocean here and forms a lagoon, where you can see an interesting and diverse mix of migratory birds. The best time to see these migrating birds is in the Fall and Winter months. This beach is also popular with kayakers and scuba divers as there are many rich kelp forests out in the ocean not far out from the sand. For a great beach to explore for some of these different activities, we’d recommend Carmel State Beach.
3. Monterey Bay Aquarium
A short drive up to Monterey Bay, you’ll find one of the best aquariums in all of California – and we’d highly recommend a visit. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is located on the edge of the deepwater bay with one of the richest marine ecosystems in the entire United States. With over 35,000 sea animals on display, visitors are treated to many fantastic exhibits. Showcasing thousands of sea creatures like penguins, otters, sharks, jellyfish, and more, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is a hugely popular destination with over 2 million visitors per year.
4. Sunset Center
The premier performing arts destination in Carmel, the Sunset Center is known for its lively theatre productions, and musical performances. From plays, to symphonies, to popular music artists, to other events, the Sunset Center is Carmel’s cultural meeting spot. Check out the Sunset Center’s events calendar here to see what’s happening during your visit.
5. Pebble Beach Golf Course
Many say that the Pebble Beach Golf Course is the most beautiful golf course in the World and it’s easy to see why. Surrounded by the ocean and looking out over the picturesque Carmel Bay, this Golf Course is a regular spot on the Professional Golf PGA tour. If you are a fan of Golf, you absolutely need to visit this course. To match the epic views and landscaping, Pebble Beach is also one of the most expensive courses to play in the world, so be prepared for some sticker shock when you see the prices.
6. Point Lobos State Reserve
For a beautiful nature walk along the ocean, we’d recommend checking out Point Lobos State Reserve. Incredibly rich with Marine life and kelp fields, Point Lobos is one of the top destinations for scuba diving near Carmel. This state reserve is a protected area and features many miles of walking trails that meander along the cliffs and water. Whaler’s Cove is a popular area of the Reserve to explore and features a historic “Whaler’s Cabin” built long ago by Chinese fishermen and is now a small museum. For amazing ocean views and glimpses of the sea life below, we’d highly recommend spending some time in the Point Lobos Reserve.
7. Seventeen Mile Drive
If you want to take a short road-trip through some of the most scenic portions of coastline around Carmel, you need to experience the Seventeen Mile Drive. This scenic road starts in Carmel and takes you along the Pacific Coast through ritzy neighborhoods, the Pebble Beach Golf Course, and many scenic attractions like the Lone Cypress, Bird Rock, scenic coves and the 5,300-acre ancient Cypress Forest. There is a fee to access the Seventeen Mile Drive, but all the interesting and beautiful sights make it well worth the price of admission.
8. San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission
This historic Mission is one of the oldest structures still standing in Carmel and was originally founded in 1770. The mission has been lovingly restored throughout the years and is now part of a larger complex that serves as an active place of worship, and a Catholic school. The museum also acts as a museum with multiple exhibits that showcase the Mission’s history and historic art. If you are interested at all in the history of this beautiful stretch of California’s coastline, then we’d suggest exploring the Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo.
9. Scenic Road Walkway
To add to all the scenic destinations in Carmel, the Scenic Walkway is definitely another great spot to enjoy the natural beauty of Carmel. This path is located on the bluffs above Carmel Beach and is a popular path to walk and enjoy a California sunset over the ocean. If you will be visiting Carmel Beach, then you can’t miss a short stroll on the Scenic Road Walkway.
10. Caraccioli Cellars
For a great wine-tasting destination in Carmel, we’d recommend a visit to Caraccioli Cellars. This family-run winery is located in the heart of the Carmel shopping district and has a relaxed and sophisticated atmosphere where you can enjoy finely-crafted wines from local vineyards.
11. Tor House
For another interesting historic destination, you can visit and even take a tour of the mysterious Tor House. This curious compound of rock houses sits on a rocky point in Carmel overlooking the ocean and was built over the course of many years by a famous poet and his family. Now considered a destination on the United States National Register of Historic Places and although it’s an unusual thing to do in Carmel, and well worth your time to explore
12. Golden Bough Playhouse
The Golden Bough Playhouse is part of the Pacific Repertory Theatre – a group of theatre destinations in Carmel that showcase local and national theatre productions. The Golden Bough Playhouse was Carmel’s first cultural center and theatre, opening in 1906 and continues to this day to be an integral part of the community’s cultural hub.
13. The Barnyard
For the top shopping destination in Carmel, make your way over to The Barnyard. This shopping center really is a reflection of the Carmel community with many creative boutiques, art galleries, and one-of-a-kind restaurants, The Barnyard is a fun place to explore. For unique shops and fun dining options, it’s hard to find a better destination than The Barnyard.
14. Garrapata State Park
For a great hiking destination close to Carmel, we’d recommend visiting the Garrapata State Park. This State Park is a short drive south of Carmel and is a stretch of untouched California coast that can be explored via the many hiking trails that lead to the many pristine coves and beaches. It’s common to see many sea creatures along this area of coastline with visitors catching glimpses of migrating whales, sunbathing seals, and curious and cute sea otters in the turquoise waters.