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Somewhere amidst my third visit, I smiled. I knew this place was special and certainly pulled at my heart but this time it was different. When I set out to write this guide to Carmel, California, it didn’t take long to figure out why.

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First-Timer's Guide to Carmel, California

Words like charm, scenic, and serene capture Carmel, California for me. It’s a retreat, somewhere to sojourn for a few days of reconnecting with yourself and with nature. I have felt that I’ve spent more time here than any other destination foreign to home this year. Three times in ten months may do that.

Amidst a walk in Point Lobos Reserve, I stopped. Right in front of me a sea otter turned on it’s back and cleaned its paws. Further on the horizon, pelicans swung in and dived into the ocean. And in the distance, whales spouted up water as if they knew it was their turn to complete the scene.

First-Timer's Guide to Carmel, California

First-Timer's Guide to Carmel, California

This was Carmel — a charming, fairytale town set in nature, so untouched that maybe you’d feel worlds away from home.

First-Timer’s Guide to Carmel, California

First-Timer's Guide to Carmel, California

How to Get to Carmel, California

There are a few options to get to Carmel. The three major airports in order of proximity are Monterey County Airport, San Jose International, and San Francisco International Airport. If you plan on exploring the area, a car is needed to get around. It’s an easy area to drive and the coastline is beautiful for a road trip.

For getting from San Francisco to Carmel, I would recommend leaving before or after the rush hour which takes approximately two and a half hours or so.

Hotels in Carmel, California

There are some incredible places to stay in the heart of Carmel. My favorite place to stay in town is at the Hotel Carmel. With complimentary WiFi, this hotel is an easy walk to the beach or downtown.

What I love about this hotel is the bagel bar and nightly happy hour included with the stay. Hotel Carmel is charming and their updated rooms make for a cozy stay. Head here for your booking.

Browse all hotels here:


Airbnbs in Carmel:

First-Timer's Guide to Carmel, California

First-Timer's Guide to Carmel, California

Restaurants in Carmel, California

Brophy’s Tavern: When it comes to a lively scene and great food, Brophy’s Tavern is one of Carmel’s iconic restaurants. The food is well done, like their fish & chips and Cobb Salad.

Cultura Comida y Bebida: For elevated cuisine with Oaxacan flare, Cultura serves everything from a Mezcal tasting to lovely house-made salsas. One dish to not pass on is their grilled squash and Oaxacan Farm cheese in a tortilla — the best modern version of a quesadilla.

La Bicyclette: Timeless and classic, La Bicyclette is French Cuisine and well-executed pizzas in one space. It’s one of the Carmel restaurants I never miss.

Stationaery: Newer to the neighborhood, this bright and minimalist space serves craft coffee and cozy brunch dishes for breakfast and lunch.

Village Corner: With a beautiful patio, their burgers and salads are a great spot to come for a lunch.

Pescadero: Lovely spot for casual Mexican cuisine with good margaritas.

First-Timer's Guide to Carmel, California

First-Timer's Guide to Carmel, California

First-Timer's Guide to Carmel, California

First-Timer's Guide to Carmel, California

Things to Do in Carmel, California

Hike in Point Lobos State Natural Reserve: If you’re looking to get outside, head here for a beautiful walk along the coast. You’ll be able to spot wildlife here like seals, sea otters, and even whales!

Explore endless art galleries: In Carmel-by-the-Sea town, there is so many galleries to explore. Off Ocean Street, you can work your way, popping in and out of boutiques.

Walk Carmel Beach: If you’re looking to get your toes in the sand or surf, Carmel Beach is a great spot.

Shop local boutiques in Carmel downtown: While you are out exploring, I would take some time to pop into local boutiques like Bee, Bark, and Moss for some locally created goods.

Take a scenic drive down 17 Mile Drive: Considered one of the most beautiful drives, you can come here and drive through viewpoints like Pebble Beach.

Visit Carmel River State Beach: Tucked away from the main beach, I love to come here for a quieter beach to explore. It’s also an awesome spot for photos!

Wine tasting at Folktale Winery: In the heart of Carmel Valley, Folktale Winery is a beautiful destination for wine tasting. I would recommend coming for their lunch as well and booking a tour to visit the grounds.

Check out the Carmel Mission: To get an idea of California’s history, the picturesque Mission is well worth a visit.

Take the drive down to Bixby Bridge: If you’re up for a road trip, make your way south through Pacific Grove, down to Bixby Bridge for an iconic view.

Spend an afternoon in Monterey: Another nearby city is Monterey which is bubbly and perfect for the family. Cannery Row is where you’ll want to go for all the action.

First-Timer's Guide to Carmel, California

First-Timer's Guide to Carmel, California

First-Timer's Guide to Carmel, California

First-Timer's Guide to Carmel, California

What to Pack for Carmel, California

As it is a coastal town and there’s plenty to do in nature, I recommend a variety of outfits. Layering is key here when the nights get chilly or ocean winds pick up. In the heat of the day, it can be hot, so I tend to bring a few options for the hotter days as well.

Find out more about Carmel by visiting Visit Carmel’s website.

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First-Timer's Guide to Carmel, California

First-Timer's Guide to Carmel, California

PS — Are You Booking a Trip Soon? Use My Booking Checklist!

These are the sites I use most to book my own trips. Using the links below is a great way to support Bon Traveler’s travel journalism at no extra cost to you. If you need help organizing your itinerary, get my free travel itinerary template here.

1. Book Your Flights

Use Skyscanner to find the best flights. It searches 100s of airlines and websites across the globe to ensure you’re not missing out on any route options or deals.

2. Book Your Accommodations

Use Booking.com for hotels and guest houses. They have the biggest inventory and consistently offer the best rates.

3. Book Your Tours & Experiences

Use Viator or Get Your Guide to find the best tours and experiences. They are my favorite tour search engines. I always check both as their inventory varies depending on the destination.

4. Book Your Car

Use Discover Cars to find the best car rental deals. I recommend comparing rental agency reviews on Google to ensure you are booking with the best company in that destination, as the reviews are often more accurate than the car rental search engines.

5. Don’t Forget Airport Lounge Access

Get a Priority Pass membership to gain access to 1,400+ VIP lounges and airport experiences worldwide. The Priority Pass app is the first thing I check when I have a layover. I’ve been a member for over a decade, and having a comfortable place to relax before and between flights makes air travel so much more enjoyable.

6. Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

I never leave the country without travel insurance. It provides comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong (ie. illness, injury, theft, and cancelations, etc.). I use it frequently for my travels to stay protected.

My favorite companies that offer the best coverage and rates are:



  1. I call Carmel the fairy-tale town because of its dreamy houses. It is my favorite town in California and I was lucky enough to visit several times while I was living in the Bay Area. You post has brought back so many memories!

  2. Larry bragg Reply

    Love Carmel is the tux box tea room still in operation you didn’t mention it and it was always a great stop while there

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