20 Things To Do In Carmel

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Carmel-by-the-Sea is a beautiful and charming beach city on the Monterey Peninsula around two hour’s drive south of San Francisco. If the picturesque coastline isn’t enough of a draw, then the area’s cottages, art scene and food will be more than enough to make you book a trip. Carmel is known a place worthy of its fairy-tale imagery in California, so check out these things to do in Carmel for your next trip to the Golden State.

Carmel, California

Best Tours

20 Things To Do In Carmel

1- Visit Carmel River State Beach

Carmel is home to two fantastic beaches – Carmel River State Beach and Carmel Beach.

The Carmel River State Beach is a crescent-shaped beach and a mile long (1.6 km).

It’s quieter than Carmel’s other beach but still popular, especially on holidays and weekends.

It’s an interesting beach and where the Carmel River flows into the ocean.

Although swimming at Carmel River State Beach is not recommended because of the rip tides, it’s still an excellent place for beach walks, kayaking and kite flying.


Carmel River State Beach is at 26478 Carmelo St, Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 93923.

Recommended tours:

2- See The Birds At Carmel River Bird Sanctuary

Brown Pelicans
Seeing the birdlife at Carmel River Bird Sanctuary is one of the things to do in Carmel for nature lovers.

Not only is Carmel State Beach a breathtaking beach, but it’s also an excellent place for bird-watching.

There are plenty of waterfowl and songbirds that call this beach home.

It is not just the beach that offers a safe space for bird life; you can also look out across Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which is a federal marine protected area.

This beach is also a stop on the Central Coast Birding Trail.

Fall and winter are the best times of the year to spot birds, but you can spot a variety of species year-round.

Carmel River Bird Sanctuary is at Carmel River State Beach, 26478 Carmelo St, Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 93923.

3- Visit Carmel Mission Basilica Museum

Mission In Carmel
Visiting the Carmel Mission is one of the interesting things to do in Carmel this weekend.

The Carmel Mission Basilica, also known as the Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo, allows you to step back in time.

This Spanish mission was built in 1797 and is both a National Historic Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places.

The mission was founded in 1770 by Father Junipero Serra of Spain.

Over the years the mission has been meticulously renovated and it’s the only mission in the state with its original bell tower and bell.

It’s a charming and beautiful church and it’s also a top free attraction in Carmel, offering guided tours.

Carmel Mission Basilica Museum is at 3080 Rio Rd, Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 93921. Download this self-guided audio tour.

4- Be Enchanted By FairyTale Cottages

Carmel’s cottages are famous, picturesque and look light they are straight out of a fairy tale.

Many people know about the small sleepy city of Carmel because of these cottages.

Hugh Comstock lived in Carmel-by-the-Sea and was an American designer and master builder.

The stone chimneys, intricate details and pitched roofs are iconic and fascinating to look at.

The very first cottage he designed was for his wife who had started the “Otsy-Totsy Dolls” business, and it was designed to be her workspace.

Over the years many more of these cute cottages were built.

Head to the cottages and you will be traveling up and down with surprises around every corner. Download this self-guided tour.

5- Feel The Sand Between Your Toes At Carmel Beach

Carmel, California Beach
Enjoying time at Carmel Beach is one of the classic things to do in Carmel-by-the-sea.

Carmel Beach is the area’s most popular beach.

This beach is at the bottom of Ocean Avenue and its long stretch of white sand attracts visitors all year round.

Wading in the water, walking along the sand and surfing are some of the activities you can enjoy at the beach.

The beach has a small parking area but unless you are one of the first to arrive in the morning you may struggle to get a spot.

If there’s no parking, then it’s best to park in the village and walk down to the beach.

Carmel Beach is at Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 93921.

6- Taste Olive Oil and Vinegar

Head to Olivier Napa Valley is an excellent place to go to taste some of the best olive oils and balsamic vinegars around.

While most will head to wine tasting or beer tastings, an olive oil tasting is one for the foodies.

They have some excellent orange and chilli olive oils as well as balsamic vinegars that have aged for between 25 to 35 years.

They also have an array of condiments, herbs and spices.

It is a wonderful place to pick up gifts or souvenirs from your trip to Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Olivier Napa Valley is at Ocean 4, San Carlos St, Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 93921.

7- Snap A Photo At Carmel’s Mural Shell

If you want a great photo spot check out Carmel’s mural shell.

The Carmel Shell is a new public art piece sponsored by Visit Carmel and in partnership with the Carmel Public Library.

This beautiful mural was painted by Marie-Clare Treseder Gorham, a Carmel based folk artist.

Carmel’s Shell is at 6th Mission St, Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 93923.

8- Go On A Scenic Walk

17-Mile Drive Scenic Road, Monterey, California
Heading along the 17-Mile Drive is one of the best things to do in Carmel.

There is an excellent road that runs parallel to Carmel Beach it offers unmatched views of the ocean and the characterful houses of Carmel.

This road is very popular, so it’s best to head out early if you want to enjoy the views with fewer people.

There is a path that runs near to the beach that you can access from the road.

Head down this road for a gentle walk with stunning ocean views, where, in spring, the area becomes colourful with lovely flowers.

Along this scenic pathway there are benches to take a rest or even bring a picnic if you fancy it.

9- Watch The Sunset At Mission Ranch

Mission San Carlos Borroméo Del Río Carmelo
Visiting Mission San Carlos is one of the things to do in Carmel CA.

Watching the sunset from Carmel Beach is popular and if you want to avoid the crowds then head to the restaurant at Mission Ranch.

Mission Ranch has a grassy pasture where there are sheep and views of the ocean in the distance.

Sit out on the terrace with a glass of wine and enjoy a relaxing evening in Carmel.

Mission Ranch is at Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 93921.

10- Admire The Architecture Of Clinton Walker House

If you head to Carmel Point you will find the Clinton Walker House.

This beautiful house was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and is attractively perched on the cliff top.

It was built from local Carmel stone, has red window frames and a striking bluey green roof.

The house can be viewed from the beach or the pathway behind the beach but just one day a year the Walker family opens the house to the public for the Carmel Annual House & Garden event.

If you are visiting Carmel during the house and garden event you’ve got to check out the stunning Clinton Walker House.

Clinton Walker House is at 26336 Scenic Rd, Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 93923.

11- Drive Across Bixby Creek Bridge

Bixby Bridge
Bixby Bridge things to do in Carmel by the sea California.

If you are visiting Carmel, you may want to consider also checking out Big Sur.

Carmel is often considered the gateway to Big Sur, and you can explore Big Sur via Bixby Creek Bridge.

The mountainous area known as Big Sur starts at Carmel and ends at San Simeon.

Bixby Creek Bridge is impressive and made from reinforced concrete.

The bridge was opened in 1932, is 714 feet (218 m) in length and there’s a 260 feet (79 m) clearance below.

Not only is the bridge fun to drive over but the views before the bridge are excellent and it’s well worth stopping at the pull-ins to take photographs.

Bixby Creek Bridge is at CA-1, Monterey, CA 93940.

Recommended tours:

12- Check Out The Art Galleries

Did you know that Carmel was originally an artist colony?

Many poets, writers and artists were attracted to the area.

Today, visit Carmel for just one day and you would have no trouble understanding why the place is so inspirational to artists.

The beautiful coastline, interesting streets and wonderful people make for great subject matters.

Owing to its artistic beginnings there are plenty of art galleries in Carmel.

Many of the art galleries are owned by the artists themselves and there are plenty of local artists to discover too.

There are a few Carmel artists who have even had their art displayed in places like the Smithsonian. Download this self-guided tour.

13- Discover Nature At Point Lobos State Reserve

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve things to do in Carmel by the sea.

Point Lobos State Reserve is a wonderful outdoor recreational spot boasting some of the best views in Carmel.

The reserve is home to an abundance of wildlife on land and in the sea.

Keep your eyes peeled for sea lions! The reserve is an excellent place to take a walk or go for a run.

There are plenty of different trails, if you take them all you could be hiking for around four hours.

You can also scuba dive in the reserve.

Some of the reserve’s top sights include China Cove, Bird Islnad and Gibson Beach.

The crystal turquoise waters are hard to beat so be sure to bring your camera.

Point Lobos State Reserve is at Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 93923.

Recommended tour: Guided 2-Hour Point Lobos Nature Walk

14- Go Wine Tasting

Various Wines Lined Up On A Table For An Outdoors Wine Tasting.
Wine Tasting things to do in Carmel-by-the-sea this weekend.

If you are looking for an evening activity after a day of exploring Carmel, then head to one of the area’s wine tasting rooms.

There are around 12 tasting rooms in Carmel so you can take your pick or try out a couple over the duration of your visit.

Many of these wine tasting rooms are set on the charming and picturesque streets of the village and are within walking distance of many other Carmel attractions.

Having sampled some of the best Pinot Noirs and Chardonnay’s you can purchase a couple of bottles to take home as souvenirs or indeed for your own wine collection.

Recommended tour: Wine Tasting and Walking Tour of Carmel-by-the-Sea

15- Explore Ocean Avenue

Ocean Avenue is the main street in the village of Carmel.

To visit Carmel and not walk along Ocean Avenue would be impossible! Ocean Avenue runs from Highway One right the way down to the beach.

So, start at the top of Ocean Avenue and pack your beach stuff for later.

Ocean Avenue is lined with cafes, restaurants, shops, galleries and charming buildings.

Their designs certainly feel like you’ve stepped back in time in England or indeed to the magical world of Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley.

There are a myriad of shops to peruse.

Whether you want to pick up some treats for yourself or a souvenir for a friend there’s something for everyone on Ocean Avenue.

Recommended tours:

16- Look For Secret Passageways

One of the best things about Carmel’s cutesy downtown area are the “secret” passageways.

Carmel’s secret passageways started appearing in the 1920s and now they are dotted around the downtown area.

Head out on a walk around Carmel to discover the cute little hidden walkways yourself but you can also take a self-guided tour to be sure you discover them all.

There are 41 passageways and courtyards in total, and you will have so much fun discovering them all.

Check out Visit Carmel for the location of these passageways and courtyards.

17- Relax In Piccadilly Park

If you are searching for a little slice of peace in Carmel, then head to Piccadilly Park on Dolores Street.

A group of volunteers from the local garden club help to take care of the garden and maintain the flowers and plants.

Some of the park’s special plants include Gian chain ren, red-flowering currants, manzanita and Catalina ironwood.

While you are exploring Carmel, you can buy an ice cream or a drink and take a break on the benches.

Piccadilly Park is the perfect park to take a break from the sun.

Piccadilly Park is at Dolores St, Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 93921.

18- Catch a Show at Sunset Center

If you want to plan something for one of the evenings that you stay in Carmel, it’s a great idea to watch a show at the Sunset Center.

This performing arts center hosts concerts, comedy events, theatre performances and dance performances.

You can look at the Sunset Cultural Center’s event page to see which performances are on when you are in town.

This event venue is also home to the Monterey Symphony, the Chamber Music Monterey Bay, Carmel Bach Festival and the Carmel Music Society.

The Sunset Center is at San Carlos St, Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 93921.

19- Hit Clint Eastwood’s Hotspots

American actor and film director Clint Eastwood was the former mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea.

As a result, he has a close connection with the quaint village.

If you are a fan of the actor and want to head to some of the places he used to frequent then you can go on a sort of Clint Eastwood trail! Head to the Hog’s Breath Inn, which Eastwood used to own.

Head on down to Carmel-by-the-Sea City Hall where Clint spent his time in office.

20- Carmel Valley Ranch Golf Clubhouse

Scenic Panoramic View Of Golf Fairway At The Golf Course
Carmel Valley Ranch Golf Clubhouse fun things to do in Carmel.

If you like a round of golf, then there is no place better than Carmel Valley Ranch Golf Course.

The golf course is less than 20 minute’s drive outside of Carmel-by-the-Sea.

The course is challenging but with plenty of impressive natural scenery for first time golfers.

After a round of golf on one of the top courses in the area why not head to the modern and cosy clubhouse for drinks and food.

Carmel Valley Ranch Golf Clubhouse is at 1 Old Ranch Rd, Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 93923.

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Harriet Comley
Harriet Comley is a travel enthusiast, freelance travel writer and a lover of safaris. Since 2017 she has been travelling the globe living in the UK, Canada, Vietnam, China and now Zambia, where she is completing her PhD in Sustainable Tourism. For 3 1/2 years she taught English in Vietnam and China. Now she has turned her attention to writing, having contributed to a number of travel blogs and websites always focusing on what she loves most…exploring!