Escape to Beautiful Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

Galleries, boutiques, and a dog beach enliven this quaint former artist’s colony.

Carmel River State Beach on a clear day
Carmel River State Beach on a clear day.
Garrick Ramirez

Carmel-by-the-Sea can seem merely quaint at first glance, with its storybook cottages and meandering tree-lined streets. Give it a little time, and this former artist’s colony on the Central Coast of Monterey, California reveals richer charms. There’s a colorful history behind those whimsical houses, for example. One was designed by architect Hugh Comstock in the 1920s to store his wife’s rag doll collection. Another began life as a loom shop and later served as the ticket booth for the town’s playhouse. (It’s now a candy shop.) Stroll the beach or the trails at Point Lobos, just to the south, and you’ll see why the region continues to inspire so many artists and photographers. View their work in the town’s many galleries, but leave yourself plenty of time to explore the many interesting things to do in Carmel.

Things to Do in Carmel-by-the-Sea

Carmel’s elegant boutique shops along Ocean Avenue offer everything from haute couture to $1,000 fountain pens. But before you plunge in with your credit card, take the historic walking tour. Maps are available at the Visitor Center. For a good overview of the work of local artists, check out Carmel Art Associationthe nation’s second oldest artist cooperative.

Ocean Avenue drops steeply down to Carmel Beach, a long crescent of white sand where people and off-leash dogs frolic. Nearby Point Lobos State Natural Reserve offers some of the most stunning views of wind-sculpted Monterey cypresses anywhere along California’s dramatic coast.

A fascinating mix of multimillion-dollar homes, from ornate cottages to a modernist glass box, line Carmel’s Scenic Drive. The Walker Residence, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, perches on the rocks at Carmel Point. To the south stands Tor House, built out of local stone by the poet Robinson Jeffers. Guided tours of Tor House on Fridays and Saturdays.

Where to Stay in Carmel

Dogs have it made in canine-friendly Carmel. Many shops and inns welcome them with water bowls at the door. No place is friendlier than the Cypress Inn, co-owned by Doris Day. Dog owners include their pet’s name in their registries. An appropriate-size dog bed and treats await when they arrive.

The charming Tudor-style 48-unit Normandy Inn offers a heated pool amid a brilliant flower garden, right in the heart of Carmel’s shopping district. 

Almost all of the 18 rooms at the Carmel Fireplace Inn have fireplaces, a welcome feature on cool coastal nights. 

The 35 rooms at Svendsgaard’s Inn, some with whirlpool baths, are arranged around lovely gardens and a swimming pool.

Where to Eat in Carmel

Regulars keep coming back to the Flying Fish Grill for the won ton chips and ginger salsa, followed by Asian-inspired seafood dishes such as halibut with fermented Chinese black beans.

There’s always a crowd for brunch at Village Cornerwhere favorites include Mediterranean omelets, fluffy buttermilk pancakes, and yogurt parfaits with granola and fresh berries.

Despite its name, The Forge is just a few blocks off Ocean Avenue (Carmel’s main street), with ample patio seating for warm summer evenings and a wide-ranging menu that includes creamy seafood chowder and filet mignon in green peppercorn sauce.

Casanova features a vast wine list and lovingly-prepared Italian and French dishes.


This article was first published in February 2011 and last updated in February 2019.