Best Things to Do in Carmel

The best things to do in Carmel include visiting Carmel Mission, enjoying the beaches, Point Lobos State Reserve, 17-Mile Drive, and Tor House.

Signpost for Directions in CarmelSignpost for Directions in Carmel

17-Mile Drive

The 17-Mile Drive is a circular route that links Carmel with neighboring Pacific Grove and Monterey. Strictly speaking it only goes to Pacific Grove, along winding roads and past some lovely coastal scenery, but from Carmel it brings you out almost at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It’s a far nicer way to get to Monterey, but there is a toll for using what is a private road. Cyclists go for free, but motorcycles are not allowed. See our separate page on the 17-Mile Drive.

Best Guide to Carmel and Monterey

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Carmel Beach City Park

This is Carmel's understandably popular main beach is a short walk from downtown and is always busy. You'll need to get there early, or be lucky, to have any hope of finding a parking spot in the small car park. Families love the silver sands, surfers like the waves, and everyone likes the views and the sunsets.

Carmel River State Beach

This beautiful white-sand beach backed by dunes is to the south of the Carmel Beach City Park. It tends to be slightly less crowded, and has the added attraction of a bird sanctuary next to it where pelicans, cormorants, kingfishers, hawks, and lots of shoreline waders can be seen.

Mike and Donna and the Lone Cypress on Carmel's 17-Mile Drive 

Carmel Mission

The Carmel Mission is one of the biggest in California, and has the name to go with it: the Mission San Carlos Boromeo del Rio Carmelo. It was founded in 1771 by Father Junipero Serra, who is buried here. It was the second of the 21 California missions he built and became Father Serra's headquarters.

The Mission is also the last resting place of over 3000 Native Americans, and their graves are decorated with seashells, a moving sight. There are guided tours of the Mission or you can just wander round by yourself and look at the 1793 stone church, California's first college library, Father Serra's simple bedroom, the historic kitchen, and the beautiful flower gardens.

Point Lobos State Reserve

A few miles south of Carmel on Highway 1 is this 350-acre reserve, reminding us that most of the Pacific Coast belongs not to celebrities and tourists but to the wildlife that lives there. But being so close to Carmel this beautiful place also gets busy, so plan to get there early in the day, or leave it till later when some of the crowds have gone home. It stays open till a half-hour after sunset, and late on a hot day is also a good time to see the wildlife getting active again.

There are various trails through the reserve, including the Sea Lion Point Trail – guess what you might see there. There are also seals, sea otters, deer, wild flowers, dramatic cliffs, abundant bird life, and it's also a good place for whale watching at the right time of year. You'll also want to allow time to take the Cypress Grove Trail and see the impressive Monterey Cypress forest.

Qualified scuba divers should know that there is also a 750-acre underwater marine park for them to explore. Hey, there's a lot to see – be there at 9am when they open and if you're a real nature-lover you may still be there to watch the sunset.

See our separate page about our own visit to the Point Lobos State Reserve.

Tor House

Tor House is one of the most interesting of Carmel's historic homes, and was built in 1918-19 by the poet Robinson Jeffers. It's certainly in an inspiring spot, with lovely gardens and overlooking the sea. You don't need to know anything about Robinson Jeffers to appreciate a visit, though you'll know all about him by the end of it. He built the 40-foot Hawk Tower, whose walls are set with stones from the Carmel coastline and from around the world.

The docents will point out the stone from the Great Wall of China. If you want to see the house check the website and make a booking, as it's by guided tour only, with only six people at a time, and only once an hour on Fridays and Saturdays.

Other Carmel pages

  • A walk around the Point Lobos State Reserve near Monterey and Carmel provides lots of photo opportunities, especially of the Harbor Seal Birthing Area.

    Point Lobos State Reserve near Carmel and Monterey, with photos

    A walk around the Point Lobos State Reserve near Monterey and Carmel provides lots of photo opportunities, especially of the Harbor Seal Birthing Area.

  • If you want a Carmel-by-the-Sea Inn that is close to the ocean then the Lamp Lighter Inn is as near as you can get if staying downtown.

    Carmel-by-the-Sea Inn

    If you want a Carmel-by-the-Sea Inn that is close to the ocean then the Lamp Lighter Inn is as near as you can get if staying downtown.

  •  Pacific Coast Highway Travel takes the 17-Mile Drive from Carmel to Pacific Grove and Monterey, stopping to see the Lone Cypress and beautiful coastline views.

    The 17-Mile Drive between Carmel, Pacific Grove, and Monterey

    Pacific Coast Highway Travel takes the 17-Mile Drive from Carmel to Pacific Grove and Monterey, stopping to see the Lone Cypress and beautiful coastline views.

  • Pacific Coast Highway Travel's guide to where to eat in Carmel with Italian, French, Mexican and American places, from inexpensive to Michelin-star fine dining.

    Where to Eat in Carmel

    Pacific Coast Highway Travel's guide to where to eat in Carmel with Italian, French, Mexican and American places, from inexpensive to Michelin-star fine dining.

  • This Carmel dog-friendly hotel, the historic Cypress Inn, is co-owned by movie legend Doris Day and offers luxury lodgings for travelers in Carmel-by-the-Sea.

    Carmel Dog-Friendly Hotel

    This Carmel dog-friendly hotel, the historic Cypress Inn, is co-owned by movie legend Doris Day and offers luxury lodgings for travelers in Carmel-by-the-Sea.

  •  Historic and romantic Vagabond's House Inn Bed and Breakfast in Carmel is a great place to stay with free wine and cheese and generous breakfast.

    Vagabond's House Inn

    Historic and romantic Vagabond's House Inn Bed and Breakfast in Carmel is a great place to stay with free wine and cheese and generous breakfast.

  • Pacific Coast Highway Travel picks the best time to visit Carmel, with a monthly summary of the weather, plus hotel prices, to help plan a visit.

    Best Time to Visit Carmel

    Pacific Coast Highway Travel picks the best time to visit Carmel, with a monthly summary of the weather, plus hotel prices, to help plan a visit.

  • Where to Stay in Carmel include reviews of the Mission Ranch, Sea View Inn, The Cypress Inn, Lamp Lighter Inn and Vagabond's House Inn.

    Where to Stay in Carmel

    Where to Stay in Carmel include reviews of the Mission Ranch, Sea View Inn, The Cypress Inn, Lamp Lighter Inn and Vagabond's House Inn.

  • Carmel on the Monterey coast is known for artists and celebrity residents, but there's also a mission, beaches, historic houses, and abundant wildlife.

    Carmel-by-the-Sea on the Pacific Coast Highway in California

    Carmel on the Monterey coast is known for artists and celebrity residents, but there's also a mission, beaches, historic houses, and abundant wildlife.



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