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The Best Places to Eat, Play, & Stay in Carmel, California

Carmel-California-photo-by-Matt-Payne
Image used with permission by copyright holder
Off the rugged coastline of Central California, an hour south of Santa Cruz and San Jose, nestled between Steinbeck’s Monterey and Kerouac’s thunderous Big Sur, is the idyllic seaside haven of Carmel. In this whimsical town, the late Doctor Seuss has an art gallery, Clint Eastwood was once mayor, and the scent of cypress and eucalyptus dance with salty air creating an olfactory experience that rivals the onerous beauty of the famed golf links at Pebble Beach just to the north.

This whimsical town swells with enamoring eateries, adventurous spirit, and bohemian sophistication. Flanked on all sides by some of the world’s best golf, hiking, wineries, retreats and attractions in the world, the town of Carmel is often a hub or stopping point rather than a destination in and of itself. Here are a few of the attractions that make spending a day or two in Carmel, the best choice on your visit to California’s central coast…

EAT

Carmel has a disproportionately large number of outstanding Italian restaurants. Eat at Little Napoli (or any Chef Pepe restaurants), Cantinetta Luca, and Casanova and you’ve just begun to scratch the surface of delicious Italian cuisine. For breakfast, go to Katy’s Place or for breakfast or lunch, sit on the patio by the fire at The Village Corner Mediterranean Bistro. For an ocean view and a truly unforgettable dining experience, head to just out of downtown to The Mission Ranch. The Mission Ranch (which also features rental cottages) sits above a lush, sheep-filled pasture which stretches out to the Pacific. Start your meal with unforgettable garlic bread, then order a prime rib. After dinner, head to the piano bar where the brave can take the mic and sing along with some of the region’s best piano players. If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of Clint Eastwood. He owns the place.

cantinetta-luca
Courtesy of Cantinetta Luca Image used with permission by copyright holder

PLAY

Most visitors believe that Carmel’s best wine tasting experience requires a trip twenty or so miles into Carmel Valley. Not true. One could spend an entire (responsible) day tasting wine in more than twenty tasting rooms in downtown Carmel. Silverstri Vineyards Tasting Room features a variety of wines from Chardonnays and Pinot Gris to Syrah. Caraccioli Cellars sparkling wine program features a brut and a brut rosé worth stopping in to try.

The powdery white sand known as Carmel Beach, located at the foot of downtown, is one of the country’s finest beaches. A surfer’s paradise, this dog friendly beach stretches for more than a mile and is punctuated on one end by a home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and on the other by Pebble Beach.

Carmel-California-photo-by-Matt-Payne
Photo By Matt Payne Image used with permission by copyright holder

On the outskirts of Carmel is Point Lobos State Reserve. Though relatively small, a walk along the ethereal forests and cliff sides of this oceanfront park is to experience America at its most beautiful. Watch sea otters and sea lions pull up onto isolated beaches and walk through wildlife-rich, Tolkien-esque woods where the sound of epic waves smashing onto the rocky coast blend with the gentle sound of birds and scurrying squirrels.

Throw a paintbrush in downtown Carmel and you are likely to hit an art gallery. There are more than 100 galleries in the square mile town. In addition to the Art of Doctor Seuss, The Nancy Dodds gallery and the Zantman Art Galleries are worth a visit and the George Rodrigue Studio featuring his famed Blue Dogs also make a home in downtown Carmel.

STAY

There is a lot of Hollywood history in Carmel but nowhere is there more than at the Cypress Inn. Co-owned by Doris Day and located in the heart of Carmel, this historic and famously pet friendly boutique hotel features old world hospitality and Mediterranean grace. A short walk from downtown is La Playa Hotel. Once a mansion, this seventy-five room hotel, complete with secluded courtyards, terrace swimming pool and epic ocean views, is one of California’s finest.

Playa-Hotel
La Playa Hotel Image used with permission by copyright holder

Editors' Recommendations

Matt Payne
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Matt Payne is an Oklahoma-based travel photographer, writer, public speaker, and filmmaker. Matt has covered Rwanda, Alaska…
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