Carmel by the Sea is one of my favorite destinations in central California. It’s just the nicest spot for families to get away and disconnect from the pressures of everyday life. This gorgeous small town has it all, from quaint historic homes to shopping to breath-taking natural beaches. Here is a list of my top 8 things to do in and around Carmel. Hopefully you will enjoy Carmel as much as I do.
1 The Carmel Mission
Officially called the Basilica of San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission, this picturesque mission, courtyard and gardens were founded by the Franciscans in 1770. Self-guided or docent-led tours are available daily. Admission to the grounds and mission is $6.50 for adults, $4 for seniors and $2 for children (kids under 6 are free.) All funds go back to restoration efforts at the Mission. The Mission is still an active parish with masses held regularly. See the website for the Mass schedule and mission hours. The grounds house four museums featuring the history of the Monterrey Peninsula, California’s missions and a regularly changing exhibit of local art.
2 Carmel beach
A visit to Carmel is not complete without a stop at it’s beautiful, white sandy beaches. Within walking distance from lodging and the village, the Carmel beach has tide pools and kelp forests at the South end and sea lions, whales, otters and dolphin can often be spotted off the beach. The beach welcomes swimmers, surfers, unleashed pets and even allows beach fires at sunset. But remember to be safe, there are no life guards on duty. All the beach rules and details can be found on this website .
3 Monterey Bay Aquarium
This is my favorite aquarium. One of my most memorable experiences with my family was dining at this aquarium. During our meal, we were looking out into the water and watching the sea otters at play. (So beautiful, I was seriously tearing up.) The latest new exhibit is called Tentacles: The Astounding Lives of Octopuses, Squid and Cuttlefish. Learn all about how these masters of disguise move, hunt and survive in the seas. In addition to Tentacles, there were 10 other exhibits open during our last visit. We viewed the adorable, fan favorites penguins at the splash zone, lost ourselves at the aquarium’s largest exhibit and watched as sharks, tuna and sea turtles passed by us at the 90-foot window of the Open Seas Exhibit and learned about the mysterious, dreamlike (and sometime glow in the dark) world of the jelly fish at The Jellies Experience. Check out the aquarium events web page to find out more about adventures, such as Seashore Sleepovers. How cool is that? Sleeping with all your friends by the glow of the large fish tanks. Located on Monterey Bay at 886 Cannery Road, the Aquarium is open 10 am to 6pm. Adult admission is $39.95, Children (3-12, under 3 are free) are $24.95, Senior Admission is $34.95 and Students (13-17 or College ID) are $34.95. You can buy your tickets online.
4 Carmel Wine Walk By-the-Sea
The adults in the family will appreciate the wine walk. For $65, you can purchase a Passport book that will entitle you to a flight at 9 of 14 wineries of your choosing. The Wine Passports are available for purchase at the Carmel Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center on San Carlos between 5th & 6th. The mix of artisnal, family-run, sustainable, local wineries include Blair Estate, Figge Cellars, Galante Vineyards and Wrath Wines. We visited a couple of the wineries with our 7 year-old daughter. Kids can visit the tasting rooms, but no sitting at the actual bar. She enjoyed a Shirley Temple while we sipped our wines and learned about the wine making process. The Wine walk is fantastic since you never have to think about driving or parking. (*The vineyards are also happy to offer dinner recommendations and even call to make reservations. As an added bonus, corkage will be waived for bottles purchased at a Carmel Wine Walk by-the-Sea tasting room at participating restaurants for one bottle per visit, per party.)
5 Point Lobos State Reserve
A ‘must see’ when visiting the area! Awesome hiking, animal watching, stunning views and a true photographer’s dream. Point Lobos State Reserve is primarily a rocky shoreline constantly being reshaped by amazing crashing waves, surrounded by miles of scenic trails that lead hikers along the shore, through pine forests and across cypress groves. Remember to wear sensible shoes and pack your camera and binoculars. We’ve had great sightings of sea otters, seals, whales, and birds. Stop at the information center and pick up an Observation Checklist. It’s a great list of the names with drawings (for the non-readers in your family) of the 350 different plants and 250 different animals and birds at the Reserve. You can color in the boxes on your hike and compete in teams over who sees the most first. The Reserve’s entrance is on California Highway 1 about 3 miles south of Carmel-by-the-Sea, 125 miles south of San Francisco, and 325 miles north of Los Angeles. Open year round, the reserve opens the gates at 8:00 AM and closes one-half hour after sunset. Plan a springtime visit to see meadows of wildflowers.
6 Drive the California coast
Take a drive on Highway One — the iconic road that goes from San Francisco to Los Angeles. If you begin at Monterey Peninsula it’s only a half-hour north on Highway One to Moss Landing, 45 minutes to the village of Big Sur, and about 90 minutes to the southernmost part of the Big Sur region. Or plan a drive on 17-Mile Drive. What was originally built as a carriage road continues to deliver astounding scenery, including beaches, mansions and the legendary Lodge at Pebble Beach.
7 Get a little retail therapy in Carmel Village
Get a break from the shopping and strip mall variety of stores and visit Carmel Village’s adorable shops with old-fashioned window displays, wooden signs and a real candy shop. Beautiful jewelry, art and unique clothing will inspire early holiday shopping for yourself and maybe others. Take a shopping break at one of the many area art galleries, and fortify yourself for your more shopping at Carmel Village’s cafes.
8 Celebrate the Art of Dr. Seuss
Whether it’s the Wocket in your pocket, or Little Lucy Lou from Whoville, Dr Seuss’ characters have an endearing quality that are a result of the author/illustrator’s amazing talent with both words and pictures. Stop by the Gallery on San Carlos Street in Carmel to gain an appreciation of Dr. Seuss as a visual artist. Browse the artwork while the kids sit and read and buy some Seuss masterpieces of your own on your way out.
Looking for a place to stay? Check out our review of Hofsas House located in Carmel-by-the-Sea.
* We received Wine Walk passes as part of the Hofsas FAM trip to facilitate this review. We also received 2 media passes to visit Monterey Aquarium’s latest exhibit, Tentacles. Our opinions are solely our own.