Carmel-by-the-Sea on California’s Monterey Peninsula has long lured an eccentric cast of characters, from writers like John Steinbeck and Jack London to actors such as Doris Day and Clint Eastwood. Poets, politicians, musicians, and more have found something sacred in the pine scented air, striking ocean vistas, and quaint, storybook streets. Despite its nostalgic nature, in recent years a concerted shift has occurred as young families and progressive entrepreneurs moved to town, bringing with them fresh ideas, new energy, and ample creativity. Ahead, you’ll find a guide to the best hotels, restaurants, and things to do during a weekend in Carmel-by-the-Sea and the greater Monterey Peninsula.
Where to Stay
In the last year alone, several hospitality projects have opened in town, including David Fink’s charming Carmel Beach Hotel. Avi Brosh of Palisociety also debuted Le Petit Pali at 8th Avenue and Le Petit Pali at Ocean Avenue, both of which operate as intimate, European-inspired inns. In 2022, the California entrepreneur Dev Patel opened Villa Mara to much acclaim: the venue is a favourite for its calming interiors and impeccable service. The breakfasts don’t hurt either—the almond croissants delivered fresh from Sweet Elena’s Artisan Bakery just might change your life.
Where to Eat and Drink
Locals fuel up on coffee and brunch at the neighbourhood eatery Stationaery. This pocket-sized restaurant, which is run by husband-and-wife duo Alissa and Anthony Carnazzo, is beloved for its seasonal cuisine sourced from local farms and ranches. Le Bicyclette is another institution, churning out wood-fired pizzas in a lively bistro environment. Wine aficionados can head 15 minutes by car to the agricultural corridor of Carmel Valley, where a number of popular vineyards and tasting rooms await, including Albatross, Georis, and Holman Ranch.
Back in Carmel, the historic Mission Ranch, owned by long-time resident and former mayor Clint Eastwood, beckons with its lively piano bar and pastoral views. Bud’s, the newly renovated bar at the chic La Playa hotel, hosts a playful happy “hour” called Dime Time, when at a time selected at the bartender’s discretion, drinks are significantly discounted for 10 minutes. Take your chances there or head to the Relais & Châteaux L’Auberge hotel, where the cocktails are as inventive as chef Justin Cogley’s Michelin-starred cuisine.
Other elevated dining options await at Foray and the newly minted 1 Michelin Star restaurant Chez Noir, the latter of which is helmed by partners Monique and Jonny Black. The couple, who live upstairs with their children, serve hyperfresh coastal California cuisine, such as unforgettable abalone skewers and egg ravioli, both of which will leave you dreaming about them long after the night is through.
What to Do
Start the day with a brisk walk on Carmel Beach before touring the town. Local businesses, such as the family-owned jewellery store and luxury watch boutique Fourtané, shine up and down Ocean Avenue. Last fall, the brand unveiled a two-storey flagship, with a dedicated shop-in-shop where the fourth-generation Florentine designer Carolina Bucci made her U.S. debut. Jan de Luz Linens is another local favourite, with customized linens embroidered on the spot.
A treasure trove of vintage clothing and designer accessories awaits at Foxy Couture, while at House of Cardoon, owner Nora Lee Cavallaro’s technicolour selection of worldly home goods wards off the Carmel fog. Bookworms will enjoy Pilgrim’s Way, which is the last remaining bookstore in the city, while the celebrity-favourite lifestyle golf brand Malbon made its debut in San Carlos Square in 2022. The city is also home to a bevy of local galleries, like Monica Graham Fine Art. Graham represents an inspiring collection of artists, such as Katherine Kousi, whose striking wall sculptures are layered with delicate insect remains, resin, foliage, and gold leaf. For those preferring an afternoon of self-care, the award-winning Refuge day spa is a relaxing retreat.
Carmel-by-the-Sea’s proximity to Big Sur makes for an awe-inspiring day trip. Hit the famed Highway One in a classic car thanks to Monterey Touring Vehicles, the only company on California’s Central Coast to rent vintage automobiles. Check out the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium and marvel the wonders of the ocean before exploring the plethora of scenic trails and coastal havens, like Pfeiffer Beach and Andrew Molera State Park, en route to Big Sur. The award-winning hotel Post Ranch Inn is always worthy of a pit stop, and lunch at its cliffside restaurant, Sierra Mar, is a feast for the senses. On the drive back, wind through the famed 17-Mile Drive, passing towering mansions, Monterey cypress trees, and the iconic Pebble Beach golf course.
As the weekend ends, don’t forget to stop and breathe in the fresh pine air, feel the sea spray on your skin, and taste the many flavours that make this nuanced and nostalgic coastal California sanctuary so special.