On a sun-kissed, windswept bay along central California’s coastline hides the town of Carmel-by-the-Sea. This is a town with no street lights and whose mayor was once Clint Eastwood. This is a town with no street addresses and where the wind whistles and whispers through cypress trees that line the cobbled streets. This is a town where time slows down and the surf speeds up. This is a town with a character that urges you to spend the night in order to fully understand it.
Come to unwind and leave inspired and refreshed as the artists and writers have done for over 100 years. Read on to discover 8 reasons why you really should spend a weekend in lovely Carmel-by-the-Sea.
1. Carmel Beach
Despite the fog that often clings to the sweeping coastline of Carmel-by-the-Sea, it is its beach that draws residents and visitors alike to this ocean-side town. Here, turquoise waves crash onto soft white sand that is characteristic of California’s beaches. All along the shore Carmel’s canine residents play gleefully in the surf.
Relax on top of a beach towel and dip your toes in the Ocean if it’s warm enough or zip your fleece swiftly up to the top and dig your hands deep into your pockets for a brisk walk if the weather isn’t in your favour.
We may have spent two whole afternoons here reading books and sunbathing in the dunes, sheltering from the winds that were billowing across the beach.
2. Meander the Tree-lined Streets
You will only truly realise Carmel’s charm when meandering the cobbled streets and alleys that stem from Ocean Avenue. On this main street, open topped convertibles slowly cruise down to the beachfront showing off their well-dressed occupants like the latest fashion in a store window.
From hotels to shops, cafes to wine bars, every building is unique with gorgeous corners to uncover. Some of my favourites are chocolate box-esque Bluebird Cottage, pretty in pink shop Body Frenzy and the peaceful courtyard where you can find Bixby’s Barber.
Carmel has had some strange laws over the years and one such still exists. Officially wearing high heels (beyond certain specifications) has been banned in Carmel to avoid any lawsuits that could result from tumbling on the uneven pavements. So to stay on the right side of the law you can pick up a free permit…!
3. Locally Roasted Coffee
Take some time out from exploring the streets and refresh with a coffee (and of course a delicious cake) from The Carmel Valley Roasting Co cafe directly on Ocean Avenue. Their coffee is roasted locally in small batches and the cafe also fits the local, cosy vibe! Grab a table at the window to dog watch the gorgeous pups passing by.
4. Catch the Sunset
West-facing California is well known for its spectacular sunsets that light up the sky with vibrant colour like nowhere else. Watching one from the beach in Carmel is a must so settle down to watch and gasp as the sky and clouds come alive with hues of pink, purple and orange.
On both nights we were there the beach was filled with people. Couples huddled together on tartan picnic blankets, hands clutching mugs of hot chocolate to keep warm as the golden glow danced across their faces. Teenagers with smart phones snapping silhouettes of each other, the fiery sky as a background. Elderly retirees out for one last evening walk, their dogs dashing in and out of the cold ocean, chasing the reflection of the sun in the water as the waves tumbled over onto the sand.
5. Visit Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
A ten minute drive from Carmel is the rugged yet enticing Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. Pick up a map of the reserve at the entrance to help guide what you want to see and how to get there. We walked the coastal perimeter of the park along narrow paths dropping down to blue/green lagoons and views of Cypress trees clinging to rocky outcrops.
Point Lobos is an excellent place to spot all sorts of plants and wildlife. Keep your eyes peeled for furry sea otters bobbing along in the swell swaddled in kelp. At Point of the Sea Wolves listen out for the roaring and honking of the hundreds of sea lions that lounge on the rocks offshore.
We spent a morning rambling through this park but you could easily spend a whole day here traversing the coastal edge and meadows on the look out for birds and wildlife. There’s a lane just on the South side of the reserve entrance that you can park in and leave the car for free otherwise its $10 to take a car in. But make sure you arrive early because it fills up pretty fast!
6. Shop for Gifts
Carmel is full of boutique shops, wine stores and artist studios so it’s the perfect place to pick up a gift. Whether it’s a bottle of local wine, artisanal chocolates or handcrafted goodies you’re sure to find a shop that sells it.
Carmel was founded by artists, musicians and writers who moved here to form an artists colony after first living in tents by the coast. The mark of the artists is weaved through the community and is best seen in the architecture and design of the buildings that line the streetlamp free roads (there are also no pavements out of the main centre which my brother learnt the hard way…!). Step inside one of the artists studios and take a piece of art home with you.
7. Earthbound Farm
For an organic and tasty lunch take a drive down Carmel Valley Road towards Carmel Valley and stop off at Earthbound Farm. Try an iced coffee and a homemade scone. Yum. We visited in October so there was a huge number of pumpkins to choose from for Halloween carving! If you’ve got self catering accommodation then pick up fresh fruit and veggies to cook for dinner.
Unfortunately we didn’t make it any further up the sunny valley to the town of Carmel Valley in favour of another beach afternoon but next time I’ll need to make a trip up to one of the wineries 😉
8. Start the Pacific Coast Highway
The Big Sur is the name of the mountainous stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway that starts just South of the Big Sur and extends through forests and over bridges as far as San Simeon.
Carmel is a perfect point to start a roadtrip down the Big Sur which has many stunning and well known locations to stop off at and break up the journey including Bixby Bridge, Pfeiffer Beach and McWay Falls. Make sure to check online if there are any road closures before setting out.
Have you visited California?