34 Things to do in Carmel, California in 2022 (Ultimate Bucket List)

Things to do in Carmel, California

The best things to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea to get the most out of this charming Central Coast town.

Carmel-by-the-Sea is an unusual town. There are no street lights, parking meters, or even addresses for its quaint houses. 

Carmel’s solution to the problem of cracked pavements causing tripping hazards? They’ve banned high heels.

Until the 1980s, ice cream was outlawed in the city’s downtown because it was too messy. 

That was a step too far for famous Carmel resident Clint Eastwood. He ran a mayoral election campaign on an ice cream platform and promptly repealed the law when he won.

Quirky as the town may seem, Carmel is doing a great job of preserving everything special about this Central California Coast community, balancing its outstanding natural beauty with a vibrant downtown. 

Carmel-by-the-Sea has the best of both worlds, boasting trendy boutiques, a diverse food scene, and art galleries galore while retaining its rural charm.

What I love most about Carmel is its all-season appeal. Unlike many seaside towns, Carmel is still vibrant and welcoming in the winter. 

Many of the hotels and restaurants feature cozy fireplaces, so you can enjoy the fresh ocean air without the chill. 

With beaches straight out of a postcard, houses straight out of a storybook, and food from out of this world, Carmel has everything you need for a fun weekend seaside trip. 

By the end of this guide, you’ll know all the best things to do in Carmel so you can get the most out of your adventure!

Note: this post contains affiliate links, which help run this site at no extra cost to you so I can keep providing free travel advice and tips.

Carmel, California Ultimate Bucket List

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Map of Things to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea

Top Things to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea

Road Trip the 17-Mile Drive

17 Mile Drive

Take a mini road trip along the 17-Mile Drive for outstanding scenery, beautiful beaches, and spectacular homes. 

The 17-Mile Drive is one of the top-rated things to do in Carmel and can easily be completed in a few hours.

Most people drive this scenic route but it’s also fun to rent an electric bicycle and cruise along the coastline on a guided tour. 

Famous stops along the way include Pebble Beach Golf Links, the Lone Cypress, and Spanish Bay Beach.

There’s a fee to enter this exclusive neighborhood, but at $11.25 I’d still consider it a good value for the trip. 

And, if you make a stop for lunch at Pebble Beach Resort and show your gate receipt to your server, they’ll knock the fee off the cost of your meal.

Go Surfing

Go Surfing Carmel CA

The beautiful Carmel Beach is perfect for beginner surfers with areas that have gentler waves. 

Join the locals and learn to ride the waves with a surf lesson. Take a group, family, or one-on-one lesson with Carmel Surf Lessons, with all equipment provided.

All levels are welcome. If you’re a pretty experienced surfer, there’s always room to learn something new. Plus, this is a good opportunity to test out the latest boards, as the team is always updating its equipment.

Do a Wine Walk

Do a Wine Walk Carmel CA

Monterey County’s vineyards produce some of the state’s best wines, and you can savor them all at downtown Carmel’s tasting rooms by taking a self-guided wine walk.

Most of the wineries are located just off Ocean Avenue, Carmel’s main strip. 

Download Carmel’s Wine Walk guide and use the simple map to explore almost 20 tasting rooms within one square mile.

The guide shows you all the locations, gives you an idea of what to expect, and unlocks special offers at some of the venues, so it’s a good idea to download this onto your phone in advance.

Explore the Carmel Mission

Explore the Carmel Mission

Carmel-by-the-Sea is famous for its beautiful mission. The Carmel Mission is a must-visit sight in Carmel, both for its historical significance and lush gardens.

The church, built in 1771 by Father Junipero Serra, is the second oldest mission in Alta (higher) California. 

The bougainvillea-framed gardens, beautifully restored buildings, and peaceful courtyard make this place popular with photographers.

The Carmel Mission was said to be the personal favorite of Father Junipero Serra, who died here and was buried on the grounds. 

You can tour the buildings to get a sense of what mission life was like and visit the museum to see artifacts from the era.

Carmel Mission is a working church, so you can attend services as well. You can also get married here, so you might catch a wedding during your visit.

Sample Local Flavors on a Food Tour

Explore California’s Central Coast cuisine on a food tour of Carmel-by-the-Sea. 

This is a great way to sample lots of different foods around town and work up an appetite for dinner. It’s also one of the most fun things to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea if you’re a foodie.

Sample wine, olive oil, chocolate, and farm-to-table preparations on a three-hour walking tour of downtown Carmel. 

Your guide will not only provide information about the food, history, and architecture of Carmel but also introduce you to some of the business owners.

Expect to eat enough for lunch and walk for about a mile on this moveable feast.

Discover California’s Prettiest State Park at Point Lobos

Point Lobos natural reserve

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is one of the best places to visit in Carmel-by-the-Sea. 

This place is so beautiful it has a State Natural Reserve designation, which is the state park equivalent of a gold medal. It’s even called “the crown jewel of the state park system.”

Expect azure waters, a white-sugar sand beach, wildflowers, dramatic cliffs, and twisted pines clinging to the bluffs. 

Just three miles south of downtown Carmel on Highway 1, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is naturally popular with photographers, painters, and hikers. However, it’s also a great place to spot wildlife – both on and offshore.

Look out for rare plants and trees like the Monterey cypress, which grows here in one of two remaining groves in the world. 

You may also spot seals, sea lions, and sea otters, who like to hang out on the sunny rocks. There’s plenty of life beneath the waves too, and Point Lobos is a popular spot for SCUBA divers.

If you want to visit the picturesque China Cove with its beautiful arch formation and emerald-green waters, take the Bird Island Trail and walk down the steps down to the beach. 

If you have time, hike the Monterey Cypress Grove Trail too, and check out these rare and impressive trees. 

Play Golf at Pebble Beach

Play Golf at Pebble Beach

If you’re into golf, don’t miss your opportunity to play at the world-famous Pebble Beach Golf Links

The course is known for its beauty, difficulty, and history as the first public golf course to host the US Open.

Naturally, fame brings a high price and playing here is a costly endeavor. You’ll also want to make a reservation well in advance for this popular course.

Pebble Beach is home to not one but four world-class golf courses. Try the less famous-but-equally-beautiful Spyglass Hill, or The Links at Spanish Bay. 

There’s also Del Monte Golf Course, one of the oldest in the US, plus The Hay, a fun short course perfect for beginners and families.

Another option is to watch the pros at a tournament, like the Open or the Pro-Am. Or simply soak up the glamor, perhaps with a drink at The Bench, which overlooks the 18th hole.

Pebble Beach Golf Links is located inside the exclusive gated community of Pebble Beach, which requires a fee to enter. However, the gate toll is waived if you spend more than $35 at Pebble Beach Resort.

Get Inspired at an Art Gallery in Carmel

Ocean Avenue, Carmel’s main drag, is full of art galleries. 

When you walk along this street, it’s easy to understand why, for over a century, artists have been drawn to this quirky little seaside town.

Whether you’re into fine art photography, abstract or oil paintings, or sculpture or mixed media, there’s a gallery showcasing some of the best art California’s Central Coast has to offer. 

And the prices are as diverse as the pieces, so there’s something for souvenir-hunters and fine art-admirers alike.

The Carmel Art Association is a good place to start with over 100 local artists represented in its downtown gallery. Stop by to browse the artwork, which is all for sale. 

You can check out the Carmel Art Association’s website to find out what’s on this month.

Shop at the Downtown Boutiques

Shop at the Downtown Boutiques

One of the best things to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea is to go shopping in the charming downtown area. 

Most of the shops, cafes, and restaurants are located along Ocean Avenue, which stretches from Highway 1 all the way down to the Pacific Ocean.

No chain stores are allowed on Ocean Avenue, so all the shops are locally-owned businesses. Check out the side streets too, as many of the trendy boutiques are located just off the main strip. 

For women’s clothes and accessories, stop in at Ms. Fabulous on San Carlos St., which is stocked full of colorful beach attire.

For chic homewares, head over to Carmel Plaza and browse Beachwood Home Carmel, located at Mission and Ocean. 

Or treat your pooch to something new at Carmel Dog Shop on Lincoln St.

Go on a Historic Walking Tour

Go on a Historic Walking Tour

Take a self-guided tour of the homes, inns, churches, and restaurants that make Carmel so special by grabbing a map from the downtown Welcome Center. 

At the turn of the century, artists and immigrants flocked to Carmel, many fleeing San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake that leveled the city. 

Attracted by the natural beauty, mild Mediterranean climate, and cheap land prices, Carmel was the perfect location for an artist community.

Architect Hugh Comstock developed a bohemian style to house these writers and artists in the 1920s, which is why Carmel-by-the-Sea has such distinctive buildings.

Relax at a Spa

Take a well-earned break at one of Carmel’s day spas. 

Spend the day at the Refuge, a new wellness center with a silence policy, thermal pools, and relaxing massages in a beautiful natural setting.

Bernardus Lodge is another popular spa, located in the beautiful Carmel Valley. Indulge in a signature Dozen Roses massage and follow up with a visit to the warming pool, dry sauna, and eucalyptus steam room.

At Carmel Valley Ranch, traditional herbal remedies are integrated into massage and facial treatments for a natural wellness boost at Spa Aiyana. Many of the herbs and flowers used in the spa are grown organically on the ranch.

Take a Trip to Monterey

Monterey Bay Aquarium

For a fun day trip, drive ten minutes north on Highway 1 and discover all the interesting things to do in Monterey. 

If you’re interested in California history, take a tour of Monterey State Historic Park and Colton Hall, where the Californian constitution was signed.

Monterey Bay Aquarium on Cannery Row is a must-see if you’re in the area. More than an aquarium, the institution supports ocean research and advocates for healthy seas. 

Watching the turtles, sharks, and fish flow gracefully through its one million gallon tank is a truly unique experience. 

Cannery Row, the one-time heart of Monterey’s industrial sardine canning operation, is now a vibrant tourist attraction, filled with restaurants and shops. Enjoy a wine tasting, fresh seafood lunch, or coffee at one of the ocean-front buildings.

Monterey, while very different in style to chic Carmel, has a lot of fun places to visit and is great for families.

Read our complete bucket-list guide to the best things to do in Monterey

Catch a Show at the Theater

See comedy, a play, or a concert at Sunset Center, Carmel’s performing arts center. The 718-seat theater is ideal for intimate performances, and the beautiful gothic architecture adds to the atmosphere. 

Carmel-by-the-Sea has another theater: Forest Theater, an outdoor amphitheater framed by pines. 

In August and September, the theater company PacRep puts on an annual family musical. And every October, PacRep stages a Shakespeare Festival.

A visit to the theater is one of the best things to do in Carmel at night.

Visit the Vineyards of Carmel Valley

Head out of town to Carmel Valley’s vineyards, where you can sample delicious wines on the estate where they’re produced. 

There are over 20 wineries located along Carmel Valley Rd., many within a short stroll of one another. 

The cool ocean breezes and plentiful sunshine found in Carmel Valley creates the perfect climate for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay varietals.

Try the whimsically-named Folktale Winery and Vineyard, where you can order a flight of wines and relax on the heated patio. 

Then, drop by Bernardus Winery, also on Carmel Valley Rd., to sample wines and a charcuterie board. Tours are also available, where you can learn about the winemaking process.

Spot Whales on a Wildlife Cruise

Spot Whales on a Wildlife Cruise

The Monterey Bay is ideal for whale watching because migrating seasons overlap, so you can spot these amazing creatures throughout the year. 

Hop on a boat leaving from Monterey for a three-hour whale-watching cruise, where you may encounter grey whales, blue whales, orcas, seals, sea otters, dolphins, and sea lions.

Meet at Fisherman’s Wharf for Discovery Whale Watch’s naturalist-led tour, where you’ll board your boat. 

Wear warm layers as it can get cold on the water and be sure to bring your camera. A whale watching tour is easily one of the most popular things to do in Monterey and Carmel.

Go Horseback Riding at Pebble Beach

With 27 miles of equestrian trails, riding through the Del Monte Forest at Pebble Beach on horseback is a unique experience. 

Book a guided trail ride at the Pebble Beach Equestrian Center for a relaxing and fun outdoor experience.

You can bring your own horse or ride one of the center’s rescue ponies. Trails go through forests, dunes, and along bluffs for some of the most spectacular views in Carmel.

Free Things to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea

Stroll on the Beach

Stroll on the Carmel Beach

After browsing the boutiques and cafes of downtown Carmel, keep walking down Ocean Avenue for a stroll along Carmel Beach. 

There’s a small parking lot with restrooms at the end of the road, but it fills up early. More parking is available on Scenic Road, which runs parallel to the beach.

Carmel Beach is beautiful and a stroll on the sand is one of the best activities in Carmel-by-the-Sea. 

With a wide stretch of soft, bright white sand, it’s perfect for walking, sunbathing, and making sandcastles. Carmel Beach is also very photogenic, with the unique cypress trees framing the sand.

The beach is dog-friendly too, with pets allowed off-leash provided they are under their owner’s control. 

The only downside is the strong surf and currents, which make Carmel Beach unsuited for swimming. On the plus side though, it’s great for surfing.

South of Carmel Beach is Carmel River State Beach, another beautiful stretch for a stroll. 

Like Carmel Beach, the strong undertow creates unsafe conditions for swimming but it’s ideal for walking and wildlife spotting. 

There’s a parking lot at the end of Carmelo Street with limited parking.

Enjoy a Scenic Hike

A hike in one of the many parks is one of the best things to do in Carmel. 

You’ll find some great hiking trails in Garland Ranch Regional Park, taking you from the willow-lined banks of the Carmel River into the oak savannas of the Santa Lucia Mountains.

Another area to explore is the Palo Corona Regional Park, with its rolling green hills and hardwood forests. 

Check out the great views from Inspiration Point or spot wildlife at Animas Pond, which is covered in bright red Azolla in the spring months.

For a flat, shady hike, head to Mission Trail Nature Reserve where five miles of trails meander through Monterey pine and live oak forests. 

On your way out, check out the Lester Rowntree Native Plant Garden to discover more about the plants in this area.

If you prefer to stick to the coast, take the Scenic Road, which has a path connecting Carmel Beach to Carmel River State Beach. Or head over to Point Lobos State Park, which has miles of beautiful oceanside trails.

Find Your Favorite Fairytale Cottage

Find Your Favorite Fairytale Cottage

Take a guided tour of the Comstock cottages of Carmel, and find out more about these artistic residences. 

These straight-out-of-a-storybook homes are a big part of what makes Carmel-by-the-Sea such a special place, so it’s worth spending some time seeking out the most fabulous examples.

Many of them are listed on the self-guided historical walking tour, but you’ll get more information on the quirky cottages by going with a local guide.

I love the origin story of these cottages. The architect, Hugh Comstock, lovingly built his wife a fairytale home just for her prized doll collection. 

It was immediately a hit in the village and Hugh was soon building more homes in the same style throughout the community. You can still see the original dollhouse.

Note that all residences in Carmel can be tricky to find since the city shuns anything as mundane as a postal address.

Instead, homes have names and homeowners strive to add a distinguishing feature like a colorful fence in order to direct out-of-towners to their front door.

Check Out the Frank Lloyd Wright House

If cute architecture isn’t your style, seek out the Frank Lloyd Wright House that stands solid against the tide at the far southern end of Carmel Beach. 

The stone-clad building resembles the prow of a ship and like other Frank Lloyd Wright homes, blends seamlessly into its natural surroundings.

The house is still owned by the family of Mrs. Clinton Walker, who originally commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright in 1948. 

It’s best viewed from the beach, but once a year, the owners open up the house to the public.

Cruise Down Scenic Road

Cruise Down Scenic Road

Scenic Road runs along Carmel Beach and is a beautiful drive or walk. 

If you walk, there’s a 3.5-mile pathway running by the road that overlooks the beach and ocean. The path starts from Carmel Beach and ends at Carmel River State Beach.

Several sets of stairs are located along the path, so you’ll also have plenty of opportunities to find your way back to the sand. 

It’s a good way to see more of Carmel’s stunning homes, many of which are located near the ocean. 

If Carmel is a romantic getaway trip for you, this is also a great spot for a beautiful sunset stroll before heading back to town for dinner.

Go on an Art Walk

Tour 14 artist-owned galleries in Carmel’s downtown on an art walk, held on the second Saturday of the month from 4-7 pm. 

Simply follow the blue lanterns to discover the art and artists of Carmel at this free event.

Artists often hold demonstrations and new work receptions, so there’s always something new to see. 

Many of the galleries also offer refreshments. This is a great way to not only view some inspiring art but also to get to know the artists themselves.

Drive to Big Sur

What to Pack for the Pacific Coast Highway, Big Sur

Carmel is the gateway to Big Sur, the sparsely populated region along the Central Coast that’s famous for its spectacular natural beauty.

Cruise along the winding Highway 1 with steep, wildflower-dotted cliffs on one side and crashing ocean on the other. 

Along the way, stop in for a memorable lunch at Nepenthe, grab a delicious pastry at Big Sur Bakery, and go for a hike at Garrapata State Park.

You could do this as a day trip or just spend a few hours in the afternoon exploring the coastline. 

My favorite stops in Big Sur include Bixby Bridge, Pfeiffer Beach, and Julia Pfeiffer State Park, where you can see a waterfall over the ocean by the name of McWay Falls.

Big Sur is also home to the Esalen Institute, an education center focusing on wellness and alternative therapies. 

You can take a massage, meditation, or yoga course, or just enjoy a massage by the ocean as a day visitor.

If you’re looking to make it an overnight trip, read our guide to Big Sur camping

Dine at One of Clint Eastwood’s Restaurants

Head over to Mission Ranch Hotel, Clint Eastwood’s restaurant and inn, for a romantic sunset meal overlooking the ocean.

Hollywood star Clint Eastwood has a long connection with Carmel, starting with his army days at nearby Fort Ord in 1951. 

At the height of his career, he moved to the city and filmed his directorial debut, Play Misty for Me, in Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Unlike most stars who escape Hollywood for a quiet life away from the paparazzi, Clint Eastwood took a big role in Carmel. 

He was mayor of the town from 1986 to 1988 and has bought several restaurants, including Hogs Breath Inn, Mission Ranch, and Pebble Beach Resorts.

Although Clint sold Hogs Breath Inn to a friend, it’s safe to say it’s still run in a way he would approve of, and the restaurant remains a locals’ favorite.

Unique Things to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea

Find Carmel’s Hidden Courtyards and Secret Passageways

Downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea is full of hidden passageways, courtyards, and gardens waiting to be found. 

The best way to find them is to simply wander around and make your own discoveries but here are a few of my favorites.

Cozy up by the Fire at The Forge in the Forest

Settle down in front of the fire at The Forge in the Forest’s huge patio, located in a magical forest setting for lunch. Well-behaved dogs are welcome outside too.

Most customers are drawn here for the outdoor dining experience, which is enjoyable even on cold days due to the roaring fires. 

There’s something for everyone on the menu, from pizza to tacos, plus the ever-popular giant chocolate chip cookie.

Try Goat Yoga

Yoga can be a great way to connect with nature, so get out of the studio and onto the ranch with a Carmel Goat Yoga session. 

Goats are fairly unpredictable creatures but like to snuggle on your mat, stare at you, or jump on your back.

Check out Carmel Valley Goats and Yoga for class times or to book a group session. This is one of the most unusual things to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea and so much fun!

Drink for a Dime

Step back in time for a happy hour with a twist: drinks are just 10 cents at Bud’s, the retro-chic hotel bar at La Playa Carmel.

There are a few rules to this happiest of happy hours. You must have a dime for each basic cocktail you order. “Dime time” starts when the bartender rings the bell and ends exactly ten minutes later. 

The happy “hour” takes place once a day, at the discretion of the bartender. So be extra nice to your bartender if you want to take part in this cherished local tradition.

Tour the Robinson Jeffers Tor House

Tour the Robinson Jeffers Tor House

The Tor House is the stone-built cottage of American poet Robinson Jeffers, who was inspired by Carmel’s natural beauty to write his poetry. You can tour the home and its gardens on Saturdays.

The home is accompanied by a tower, which was built by the poet as a quiet place for his wife. Both structures are made from granite, hauled up from the beach below. 

If you’re interested in photography, literature, or architecture, you’ll enjoy a trip to this spot. It’s one of the most unique Carmel-by-the-Sea attractions.

Visit Whalers Cabin Museum

Visit Whalers Cabin Museum

China Cove was once a Chinese fishing village and this fascinating story is told at the Whaler’s Cabin Museum in Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. 

The village was founded by a group of Chinese fishermen who were shipwrecked and decided to stay, building cabins from the pine trees.

Located on the bluff above Whalers Cove, the museum is open 9 am to 5 pm daily. It has several exhibitions detailing the lives of the immigrants who laid the foundations for Monterey’s commercial fishing empire.

Spot Butterflies at Palo Corona Regional Park

The endangered Smith’s blue butterfly thrives among the delicate pink buckwheat flowers in Palo Corona Regional Park

Take a hike through the park in July, the brief window when the butterflies hatch, feed, and reproduce for your best chance of an encounter.

Western monarch butterflies also enjoy the wildflowers of Palo Corona, so keep an eye out for these beautiful orange insects. 

In the skies above, condors and golden eagles often circle, looking for prey.

Visit Carmel River Bird Sanctuary

Head to Carmel River State Beach to see the Carmel River Bird Sanctuary, located in the lagoon where the river meets the sea.

Californian brown pelicans, terns, sandpipers, and curlews often hang out in this spot. 

In the winter, the threatened snowy plover likes to make an appearance. If you follow the river upstream, you can also listen for woodpeckers.

This beach is a lovely spot to throw down a blanket, tuck into a picnic, and appreciate the wildlife. 

Fall and winter are the best seasons to go bird watching in Carmel, but there are plenty of birds to spot throughout the year as well.

Rent a Classic Car

Rent a Classic Car

The 17-Mile Drive, Big Sur, Cannery Row… Carmel and Monterey County are full of amazing scenic roads perfect for a classic California road trip

So, why not do it in style with a classic car? Monterey Touring Vehicles has a fleet of cool cars to rent for half or full days.

From classic convertibles to retro VW vans – and even a DeLorean – you can live out your automobile dreams for a day. 

If you’re planning to do this as a special surprise for your favorite car enthusiast, gift certificates are also available. 

If you’re more into supercars than classic cars, try Enterprise Carmel, which has a selection of exotics. 

Depending on availability, you may be able to rent a Lamborghini, Aston Martin, or Maserati. 

Or you can try Turo, the car rental marketplace where you can borrow a car and have it delivered to your door. Regardless, this can be a fun add-on to a romantic getaway.

Where to Eat & Drink in Carmel-by-the-Sea

  • Carmel Bakery – Popular spot on Ocean Avenue for coffee and cannolis.
  • Carmel Valley Coffee Roasting CoOrganic coffee and tasty pastries at three locations.
  • Mission Ranch HotelClint Eastwood’s elegant restaurant is ideal for a romantic meal.
  • Treehouse CafeMediterranean fare in a cozy setting with a beautiful patio.
  • Sunset LoungeLocated up in Carmel Highlands, the Hyatt Carmel’s bar is a romantic spot for cocktails at sunset.
  • La BicycletteModern European-style bistro in the heart of Carmel-by-the-Sea.
  • Cultura Comida y BebidaContemporary Mexican cuisine in a cozy setting.
  • AubergineDine at Carmel’s only Michelin-starred restaurant for a special occasion, if you can snag a reservation.

Where to Stay in Carmel-by-the-Sea

Best Hotels in Carmel-by-the-Sea

  • Hofsas HouseTraditional, boutique hotel in the heart of Carmel.
  • Candle Light InnModern, luxurious suites within walking distance of downtown and the ocean.
  • L’Auberge CarmelElegant hotel with luxe touches and a top-rated restaurant.

Best Vacation Rentals in Carmel-by-the-Sea

  • Moonglow – Romantic cottage with deck, perfect for couples.    
  • Cottage of River Winds – Three-bed historic cottage, ideal for families and minutes from the beach.

Camping Near Carmel-by-the-Sea

Camping Near Carmel-by-the-Sea

Although there aren’t many campsites in Carmel-by-the-Sea, there is Carmel by the River RV Park for RVers and van campers

Over in Monterey, you can tent camp at Veteran’s Memorial Park, a mile uphill from Fisherman’s Wharf. Camping is available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Further south on Highway 1 is Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, which has a large campground accommodating both RVers and tent campers. Many of the sites here are along the river. 

As with most California state park campgrounds, you’ll want to book early to secure a spot.

Best Time to Visit Carmel-by-the-Sea

Best Time to Visit Carmel-by-the-Sea

Carmel’s climate, like most of California’s Central Coast, can catch you off guard. I’ve visited often and been freezing in June then found myself sunbathing on the beach in December. 

The most consistent sunshine and warm temperatures are found in September and October, which is also when you’re less likely to battle crowds of tourists. Because of this, it’s my favorite time of year to visit Carmel.

On the other hand, the wildflowers along this stretch of coast are spectacular in spring, so April is another good time if you don’t mind chilly mornings. 

During the winter, the road south of Carmel going into Big Sur is often closed due to colossal floods that wash away whole sections of the road. 

So, you’ll want to make sure to check road conditions before driving this route.

Late summer and fall are fire season in California, and the forested areas around Carmel are vulnerable to devastating wildfires.

Keep a close eye on local news for fire alerts (Twitter is great for this) and avoid any areas with fires, even if you’re not in their direct path. Sadly, small wildfires can grow to a dangerous size very quickly.

Tips for Visiting Carmel-by-the-Sea

Tips for Visiting Carmel-by-the-Sea
  • Bring light layers like a fleece or rain jacket for when the weather turns cool. The fog can creep in any time of the year, making things chilly.
  • Carmel is very walkable but a car is necessary to visit surrounding areas, like Big Sur or the vineyards.
  • Although tempting, do not go swimming at Carmel’s beaches. The undertow is strong and there are no lifeguards.

What to Pack for Carmel-by-the-Sea

What to Pack for Carmel-by-the-Sea

Get your FREE California Travel Planner – including printable checklists and my favorite two-week itinerary for the state. 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah McDonald headshot

Sarah McDonald

Sarah McDonald is a travel writer based in the Bay Area. She writes for the national parenting website Red Tricycle and on her own family travel blog, Tiny Trailblazers. She loves exploring California’s outdoors and has a weakness for a national park gift shop.


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34 Things to do in Carmel, California in 2022 (Ultimate Bucket List)

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