Carmel, California, is a tiny yet luxurious town located on scenic Monterey Bay with just 4,000 permanent residents.
This small seaside town is covered with trees and has a great deal of wildlife. Although small in population, there are many activities and things to do in Carmel. Tree-shaded streets are dotted with charming Victorian buildings and little cottages situated in a setting that feels very removed from the real world.
There is something magical about old-world architecture, with hidden passageways and quiet courtyards. It is easy to wander in Carmel since no street numbers are used (GPS doesn’t pinpoint specific locations).
And as much as you would like to wander into new places and discover everything interesting about them, you do not have to initially get lost when planning all the things to do in Carmel.
I tailored this list for everyone who’s about to be enchanted by this village ambiance, promising to make for unforgettable memories from Carmel.
Visiting other destinations in California? Check out our other delicious guides:
- 11 Must-Try Tustin Restaurants
- 8 Best Fort Bragg, CA Restaurants
- The 7 Best Oceanside, CA Restaurants
- The 21 Best Restaurants in Costa Mesa
- 7 Must-Try Cambria, CA Restaurants
- 11 Must-Try Vallejo Restaurants
- 15 Must-Try Sanibel Island Restaurants
- 11 Must-Try Sebastopol Restaurants
- 5 Fun Things To Do In Dunsmuir CA
- 10 Best Things To Do In Pleasanton CA
- Visit the Carmel Mission
- Walk the Carmel Beach
- Relax And Birdwatch At The Carmel River State Beach
- Hike the Point Lobos State Reserve
- Walk Along Ocean Avenue
- Browse Carmel’s Art Galleries
- Relax At Picadilly Park
- Tour Robinson Jeffers Tor House Foundation
- Hike the Garland Ranch Regional Park
- Visit The Palo Corona Regional Park
The 10 Amazing Things To Do In Carmel
Visit the Carmel Mission
3080 Rio Rd, Carmel-By-The-Sea // +18316241271
A trip to Carmel Mission, one of the California missions you might like to visit, is a pleasure for anyone interested in history. A Franciscan friar named Junípero Serra founded the Carmel Mission in 1771 as the seventh of 21 missions built between San Diego and Sonoma.
In addition to being a church, Carmel Mission is also a museum. Having undergone meticulous restoration, this is the only Spanish mission in California that houses its original bell tower and bell.
There are several things to do in Carmel, but exploring the Carmel Mission, with its lovely chapel, museum, fountain, and gardens, is among the best. Additional to the breathtaking artifacts in the museum and basilica, the museum grounds are stunningly landscaped.
Walk the Carmel Beach
Carmel Beach is one of my favorite things to do in Carmel, as well as the city’s sole ocean beach. The beach is about a mile long and features a fishing pier and a children’s playground with a double slide and swings. Two restroom facilities are available near the playground.
On weekends, the beach becomes particularly crowded, especially since many people enjoy walking along the coast.
The beach is open to swimming and playing near the waterline, but no lifeguards are on duty. Surfing is also an option. However, it can get frigid in the water a lot of the time, so it’s good to wear a wetsuit.
In general, unless you arrive very early, you may want to park near the village and walk down, as there is only limited parking right by the beach.
Owners are allowed to let their dogs off-leash on the beach as long as they maintain voice control. Therefore, you will see many dogs playing on the beach early in the morning or on the weekends.
The sand and sea are very rewarding to enjoy if you make the trip on a sunny day with a clear sky.
Relax And Birdwatch At The Carmel River State Beach
26478 Carmelo St, Carmel-By-The-Sea // +18316492836
Carmel River State Beach is a protected beach. It’s three miles long and ringed by cypress trees and wetlands, with the Carmel River running through it.
According to the National Park Service, the river here is a stronghold for all five species of salmon that once inhabited California’s rivers. It is prohibited for people to fish at Carmel River State Beach or to swim in its waters because of its importance.
However, you can walk on a path above the beach at low tide and enjoy the scenery. Bird watching is a great activity at the beach. Diverse species of waterfowl inhabit the lagoon, including egrets, hawks, and herons.
In this lagoon, many endangered species nest, including the Snowy Plover, Western Snowy Plover, and Piping Plover, that breed on the beach before migrating to Point Lobos for nesting.
Hike the Point Lobos State Reserve
62 CA-1, Carmel-By-The-Sea // +18316244909
Point Lobos State Reserve is one of California’s most scenic ocean-front state parks. Point Lobos State Reserve is the perfect place for anyone who loves stunning coastal scenery with spectacular ocean views, beautiful coastal flora, and lots of marine life to observe.
So, if you plan to visit Carmel-by-the-Sea anytime soon, Point Lobos State Reserve is just a few miles away from this beautiful Pacific coast town.
Point Lobos State Reserve is quite possibly one of my favorite spots in all of California. The area encompasses many beautiful coastal hikes to take in the best views, though I prefer going early in the morning when there aren’t many other people around.
Hiking Point Lobos early in the day is one of my favorite things to do along the California Coast. But also be aware that dogs aren’t allowed on the Point Lobos Trails.
Walk Along Ocean Avenue
Ocean Avenue, or Lincoln Street, as it was initially named, has been the heart of Carmel-by-the-Sea since the town’s heyday in the 1920s and 1930s.
Restaurants, shops, galleries, and cafes line both sides of this lively thoroughfare; at night during the summer months, enjoy live music and sidewalk shows along this famous pedestrian promenade.
The Cottage of Sweets is a charming place where you can buy British-style candies, chocolates, and candy treats, which are mostly imported. Originally located on Delores Street, the cute little bungalow was built in 1922. The cottage was moved by rolling logs underneath!
Carmel’s Ocean Avenue, home to shops, cafés, and art galleries, is a must-see when you visit the city. You might want to begin your shopping experience at Carmel Plaza, which has upscale stores. If you still have a sweet tooth, then drop by Carmel Bakery.
Browse Carmel’s Art Galleries
Dolores Street between 5th &, 6th Ave, Carmel-By-The-Sea // +18316246176
Carmel was all about artists, writers, and poets escaping New York City to get their daily dose of inspiration. It became a haven for these people who loved what they did every day, and it’s preserved that originality today.
You can still feel the love for art in this place. There are hundreds of art galleries to explore in Carmel, where you can purchase autographed art prints by local artists or enjoy an opening reception at an artist’s studio.
If you want to support local artists, I recommend visiting the website ArtBeatCarmel for more information or talking to your concierge or tour guide when you are here.
One of the best things to do in Carmel is browsing the village’s art galleries and meet local artists. Smithsonian Museums have exhibited the work of some local artists. Also, artist-owners are likely to enjoy discussing their work with you.
Relax At Picadilly Park
Dolores St, Carmel-By-The-Sea, California
Carmel’s Picadilly Park is a hidden green spot tucked away in the city. Adjacent to the Carmel Library and across from an office building, you’d never know that such a gorgeous little green oasis existed there.
If you’re driving, you can’t even see it through the trees and hedges that line the parking lot for The Village Shopping Center; but take a walk around and find it. You’ll be amazed at how much beauty hides in plain sight.
Several mature trees provide shade in the courtyard park, and drought-resistant plants thrive there. In addition, the local garden club provides volunteers to maintain the park.
Picadilly Park offers a small fountain and benches to sit on while you explore the Carmen Village.
Tour Robinson Jeffers Tor House Foundation
26304 Ocean View Ave, Carmel-By-The-Sea // +18316241813
Explore Tor House and Hawk Tower on a guided tour if you’re into architecture and history! The home was built by the famous American poet Robinson Jeffers using local stone over several years.
When Jeffers and his wife Una completed Tor House in 1919, they began raising their twin sons there. He wrote his most famous works at Tor House.
Designed for his wife’s retreat, Hawk Tower stands today. In total, Jeffers built it all himself in four years. The house is built on a tower, for which it was named. You quietly admire the water and enjoy the grounds.
Hike the Garland Ranch Regional Park
700 W Carmel Valley Rd, Carmel Valley // +18313723196
Garland Ranch Regional Park in Carmel Valley offers an excellent introduction to inland natural settings. The Carmel River and the Santa Lucia Mountains are just two examples of its diverse landscape, and the area welcomes visitors worldwide.
You will pass oaks, chaparral, and maples as you ascend and be rewarded with spectacular panoramic views.
The park is at its most beautiful during spring because wildflowers are in bloom. You can see birds, insects, and other wildlife if you pay attention. Make sure you have your binoculars and zoom lens with you!
You can also ride a mountain bike at Cooper Ranch or go horseback riding in the park. You’re likely to encounter other hikers on Garland Ranch’s trails since it is a popular spot with residents and visitors alike.
Visit The Palo Corona Regional Park
California 1, Carmel-By-The-Sea // +18313723196
Visiting Palo Corona Regional Park is a beautiful way to spend a day with family, friends, or yourself if you’re in the Monterey Peninsula area. Taking the scenic drive from Mt. Carmel’s three peaks will reward you with the best views in the area.
As you approach each of these peaks, you receive a different perspective of the same basin, and you can choose from a variety of hiking trails, depending on your interests and fitness level.
A critical open area on California’s Central Coast, Palo Corona Regional Park is an important yet undeveloped place. As a result, a spectacular array of flora and fauna is found here, from the Carmel River to the mixed hardwood forest on Mount Palo Corona peak, more than 3000-feet high.
There are rare amphibians in the park, such as the tiger salamander, California red-legged frog, and the endangered Smith’s blue butterfly.
Raptors nesting and roaming in forests and grasslands are protected. Various rare animals reside in the park, including mountain lions, deer, bobcats, California condors, golden eagles, and peregrine falcons. These animals are becoming harder to come by in more populated areas.
Summary Of The 10 Top Things To Do In Carmel California
There are so many beautiful things to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea, it’s impossible to get bored. With endless shops and galleries, art studios, wine tasting rooms, and much more, everyone who comes intending to simply relax and unwind will love this destination.
This picturesque seaside community is located right on the gorgeous Central California Coast, boasting beautiful white sand beaches, stunning architecture, and culinary experiences to delight any foodie. So, whether you’re looking for something active or relaxing, there is so much to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea!
Travel writer and owner of the blog. My work has been featured on Fodors, Eater.com, International Living, and Great Escape Publishing, among many others. My story? Nearly six years ago, I left my job at an Oklahoma City law firm and embarked on a journey around the world. At the time, I thought I would only be gone for 6 months, but the more I traveled, the longer my bucket list became. Flashpacker describes how I travel. Rather than traveling as the normal world wise backpacker and staying in hostel dorms, I prefer a more comfortable experience, and typically stay in private rooms, take Ubers instead of taxis, and now use a suitcase instead of a backpack. Foodie, on the other hand, describes one of the key reasons why I travel. I love to pick a central “base camp” and then explore the surrounding area, really immersing myself in the culture and interacting with the people, and enjoying and exploring the food of an area is an essential part of this experience.