Having spent all of my life on the West Coast, there aren’t many cities worth visiting in California that I haven’t spent at least a little time in. But Central California has one gem that stands out above the others.
With endless character and quaint charm, Carmel-by-the-Sea is an unforgettable vacation destination. In addition to the pristine beauty of the local beaches, the town is filled with art galleries and fairytale cottages. You’ll truly feel as if you stepped into a storybook.
While the picturesque aesthetics give this Central California town its charm, there are some really unique aspects that provide character. There are no street addresses, traffic lights or chain restaurants in Carmel-by-the-Sea. A permit must be picked up at City Hall to wear high heels in town. Sidewalks are only found downtown, and it’s supposedly bad luck to change the name on one of the local cottages. And, last but definitely not least, famous actor Clint Eastwood served as the town’s mayor back in the ‘80s.
All of these quirks just help make Carmel the adorable and unique coastal town that it is. From adorable shops and tranquil hotels to stunning daytrips, there is plenty to do in the area as a group.
Aside from Prague and Krakow, there are few places I’ve been that feel like a storybook dream. But Carmel-by-the-Sea is definitely one of them—and probably the only one I’ve experienced in the United States.
Quaint cottages of all shapes, sizes and colors sit atop stone walkways. Greenery and vibrant flowers adorn their exteriors. As you wander the streets, you’ll feel calm as ever—a characteristic common in Central California.
Head downtown to the village to find a variety of shops to explore. Upscale clothing boutiques are perfect for summer apparel shopping. But they also have stores for all interests, selling everything from jewelry, bath products, cheese and garden décor to music boxes, chocolates, handbags and antiques. If you’re a furry, four-legged fan, have a walk through Diggity Dog to pick up a gift for the pooch at home. Or, grab some authentic cowboy apparel, including luxurious silver belt and clip accessories, at Burns Cowboy Shop.
On top of the many retail shops, Carmel-by-the-Sea is filled with art galleries. With more than 60 different creative spaces, you can spend time viewing paintings or purchasing artwork for your home. Groups can split up to look at the types of art that appeal to them most. Or, stick together and share what you enjoy about specific styles with those who aren’t as big of fans. One of our favorite is the grand Dawson Cole Fine Art property and the quaint and bright Bennett Sculpture gallery.
Perusing and viewing is perfectly complemented by the local culinary and beverage scenes. Dine on everything under the sun, including sushi, burgers, fine Italian pastas, Central California seafood and more. If it’s vino you seek, there are nearly 20 tasting rooms in which to sample wines from nearby hills and valleys. Make sure you take a bottle home or back to your hotel, paired with some nutty slices from The Cheese Shop downtown.
The adorable town of Carmel-by-the-Sea has so much character, it’s a treat to wander. But Central California is also known for its natural beauty, and this town is no different. Grab your group and head down the sloping streets to the beach.
Even when the sand is “crowded,” Carmel Beach will make you feel right at home. As long as you have towels for everyone, there’s no reason not to recline on the sand in the sun. Head down to the water and wade to cool off. Or, opt for a beach volleyball game that involves the whole gang.
A scenic path runs along the bluffs above the beach so this is a great spot for getting a workout in. In addition to working up a sweat, you’ll enjoy gorgeous views of the sweeping coastal skyline while you’re up above the white sand beach.
But when the sun starts to slowly sink below the horizon, head to the sand itself. Whether you climb on the driftwood branches that line the beach or simply take a seat to watch, it will be an unforgettable experience. Watch as the sun becomes a small round ball in the sky, slowly lowering itself amidst the pink and orange colors of the Central California sky.
While there are plenty of small boutique hotels and bed & breakfasts to enjoy in Carmel-by-the-Sea, few compare to The Tradewinds. Although the Eastern influence is apparent, the vibe is plenty reminiscent of the town itself.
You’ll find countless spots to relax on the property, especially in the room. Grab one of the robes hanging in the room and plant yourself in front of the warm fire. Other options are to recline on the plush beds amid hand-drawn artwork and scrolls. For some fresh air, step out on the patio and take a seat for views of the ocean beyond.
The rooms offer truly relaxing times, but the hotel grounds are another thing entirely. Step outside to enjoy a variety of unique plants and flowers. There is also a beautiful stone fountain with Buddha’s figure underneath a small temple. No matter where you choose to unwind, the Asian influence will have you wanting to jetset overseas—but not before you finish exploring Central California.
The Central California Coastline
While in Carmel-by-the-Sea, you simply have to take some daytrips. There are too many stunning places along the nearby sea. Have the whole group pile into the car then set out to see the sights.
While you can certainly travel north to Monterey or Santa Cruz, your best bet is to head south. Big Sur awaits, and it is incredible. This rugged stretch of coastline is far from built up, offering views from atop Pacific Coast Highway cliffs.
Keep an eye on the blue waves as you drive; the area’s sea otters can often be seen floating here. Another highlight is Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, where hiking trails abound. Wander through the redwood trees or head toward the coast, where you’ll find a 80-foot waterfall that flows right into a seaside cove.
Architectural lovers will enjoy the Bixby Creek Bridge, one of the most photographed bridges in the whole state. It is surrounded by sweeping views of the vibrant blue waters and sandy cliffs that cover Central California and its beautiful coastline.