I’ve already shared one post about our perfect weekend in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California—a story about the lovely boutique inn, Vagabond’s House Bed and Breakfast, where we stayed. Today, as promised, I’m giving you the play-by-play of everything to eat, drink, see, and do in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. But, I’m giving it a bit of a different spin than my normal travel guide.
Typically, I break my travel guides into sections, guiding you through what to do, where to eat, and so on. For a weekend in Carmel-by-the-Sea, I’m going to run through an actual itinerary, taking you from Friday to Sunday and spelling out how to plan your schedule. I’ve done this once before—for a Charlottesville fall weekend—and we’re going to try it again. I’ll put a poll on my Insta story to see how y’all feel about it—or let me know in the comments!
A Weekend in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
After my first trip to California last August, my expectations were high for all subsequent California adventures. Carmel-by-the-Sea met those expectations and more. It’s a picturesque village on the sea. There are cottages reminiscent of a storybook set in the English countryside juxtaposed with the backdrop of the powerful Pacific Ocean. The cool mist of the salt air and the sunny afternoons are both invigorating and relaxing. Whether you’re looking for a weekend full of food and wine or a reason to get out in nature, you’ll discover exactly what you’re looking for in Carmel-by-the-Sea.
How to Get to Carmel-by-the-Sea
If you’re coming from the East Coast, you’ll likely want to fly into San Francisco and then hop on a 17-minute flight over to Monterey. From Monterey, you’re just a 15-minute drive to Carmel-by-the-Sea. You could also fly into SFO and then rent a car to drive the hour and a half to Carmel-by-the-Sea, a choice that makes sense should you want to have a car while you’re in town.
Depending on where you’re coming from, San Jose is your other airport option. It’s actually just a bit closer to Carmel, but we found more reasonable flights into SFO.
When to Go to Carmel-by-the-Sea
The weather in Carmel-by-the-Sea is delightfully mild—50’s-70’s—all year long, but fall and late spring-summer are going to be the sunniest times of year to visit. We had misty mornings and gorgeous, sunny days in late March. If you plan on going out to Carmel or anywhere in the valley, just know that the temperature will be significantly warmer.
At the end of this post, I’ll share what to pack for the wide range of temperatures you can encounter over the course of a day in the area.
Do I Need to Rent a Car in Carmel-by-the-Sea?
We were in Carmel-by-the-Sea for three full days and we went both carless and rented a car over the course of our stay. If you plan on staying within the town itself, you absolutely do not need a car. You can easily and quickly get an uber to and from the airport or to anywhere within a 25-30 minute drive at a totally reasonable cost (think $12-$20).
However, if you plan on making the trek to Big Sur, taking in 17-Mile Drive, or enjoying any of the incredible hikes in the area, you’ll need to rent a car. What we did was go carless 2 days and rent a car the third. We kept it overnight and then drove ourselves to the airport early the next morning. We were able to avoid dealing with downtown parking restrictions since we weren’t there during the day and the ubers for the first 2 days cost less than renting a car would have.
Where to Stay in Carmel-by-the-Sea
You may have seen my post a few weeks ago, but we stayed at the most charming boutique inn, the Vagabond’s House Bed and Breakfast Inn. Located right downtown, the Vagabond’s House is walkable to everything, it’s perfectly decorated, and they bring you breakfast to your room every morning. You can’t beat that.
There are lots more details in my post about the Vagabond’s House, so head over there to hear me wax poetic over the decor and the daily wine hour.
Your Weekend in Carmel-by-the-Sea Itinerary
Okay, now that we have the logistics out of the way, let’s get into the itinerary for a weekend in Carmel-by-the-Sea! For the purposes of this schedule, we’re going to presume you get in late, late Thursday night (well, that’s what we did, so we’re going with it). Friday will be your first full day in Carmel-by-the-Sea. While we were there for a long weekend, I’m going to write this itinerary as if you are leaving on Sunday.
Friday Morning: Stroll Down to the Beach
Wake up Friday morning and enjoy breakfast in bed at the Vagabond’s House. We munched on fresh fruit, croissants, soft boiled eggs, and loaded up on coffee. Grab a second cup of coffee, put on a coat (it’s going to be chilly!), and stroll down to the beach. The locals are out there with their dogs breathing in the cool, salty air, and you’ll already wonder, “Why don’t I live here?”
Friday Mid-Morning: Visit the Monterey Aquarium
Call an uber and take a quick ride over to Monterey to visit the famed Monterey Bay Aquarium. I’m admittedly not a big aquarium fan, but this one is known for its conservation work in the Monterey Bay, and Adam likes aquariums, so we decided to include it in our plan. It only takes about 2 hours to get through the entire aquarium and it was a great way to spend a rainy morning. Don’t miss sitting out on the observation deck looking for harbor seals and sea lions.
Friday Afternoon: Indulge in a Late Lunch at La Bicylette
Head back over to Carmel-by-the-Sea for a late lunch at a cozy French bistro, La Bicyclette. You’ll quickly find that most of the restaurants in Carmel-by-the-Sea fall into the French or Italian genres—and I am definitely not complaining. The menu is simple and the options few, but the food is delicious. We had a citrus salad, steak frites, and the soup du jour (squash)—exactly the balance I needed between healthy and indulgent at this point in the trip.
Even at 2 PM in the afternoon on a Friday, the atmosphere was lively, yet relaxed, and the rosé was flowing. I think I could get into this leisurely California life…
Friday Afternoon: Pick Up a Sweet Treat
You know I never turn down the opportunity for dessert—unless I have my eye on stopping somewhere else. Doesn’t dessert just taste better when you move to a new location? There are so many wonderful little bakeries and coffee shops around Carmel-by-the-Sea that you’ll certainly want to pick up something to get you through that afternoon slump—particularly since you’re probably tired from traveling the day before.
I couldn’t resist this window full of sweet treats at Carmel Bakery, so, of course, I stopped in for a giant cookie. And, I might have stopped in again the next day for a donut while on my morning walk to the beach.
Friday Afternoon: Relax with a Glass of Wine and Go to Bed Early
You’ll want to take it easy on your first evening in Carmel-by-the-Sea so that you can wake up early the next day ready for a full day of exploring. If you’re staying at the Vagabond’s House, grab a glass of wine at their complimentary happy hour and relax by the fire pit soaking in the crisp California evening. Then, walk just a couple blocks over to Affina for a low-key dinner of clam chowder and pasta.
Full and happy, stroll back over to the inn, pour yourself a small glass of port, maybe draw a bath, and then hit the hay.
Saturday Morning: Drive the 17-Mile Drive
Now that you’ve adjusted to the time change, get yourself up bright and early Saturday morning to do the 17-Mile Drive before it gets too crowded. It costs just $10.50 to drive through the gated Pebble Beach community and you’ll stop along 17 marked lookouts ranging from amazing views of the intensity and power of the Restless Sea to watching adorable harbor seals flip and flop through the water at Seal Island. You’ll see the majestic, bleached Cypress trees and the Lone Cypress standing tall from its perch above the Pacific Ocean.
There are spots to stop for a picnic, which we brought, though it was a bit too cold by the water to want to sit down and eat. I did wonder repeatedly throughout the drive what first made people think that the rough seas and rocky beaches were a good place to set up early fishing villages. They’re gorgeous to look at, but I can’t imagine living there without the comfort of a massive modern home.
The 17-Mile Drive should take you about 2-3 hours start to finish.
Saturday Afternoon: Stop for a Picnic at Monastery Beach
After you wrap up the 17-Mile Drive, head back over to Carmel-by-the-Sea and perhaps bring a picnic to eat at Monastery Beach. We ended up here when we decided the picnic spots were just too cold and windy along 17-Mile Drive. Here, we found sun, a mostly empty beach, and the same stunning views of the water. Don’t go swimming here, however. The water at this beach reportedly has a dangerous undercurrent.
We picked up charcuterie and sandwiches from Cantinetta Luca, a darling Italian restaurant and take out spot, and, no surprise here, I also stopped at Cottage of Sweets for a giant S’mores treat and some fudge.
Saturday Afternoon: Sip and Swirl at Carmel-by-the-Sea’s Tasting Rooms
You’ll get back to Carmel-by-the-Sea by early afternoon, which is perfect timing to check out the tasting rooms. While you can certainly go out into Carmel Valley to visit the vineyards, we found no reason to do that when there are tasting rooms tucked away right in downtown.
We checked out Manzoni Vineyard’s tasting room and Silvestri Vineyards. Both had excellent reds, and the staff at Silvestri was so friendly that we ended up spending a couple of hours sitting in the window leisurely sipping our tasting, chatting with other customers, and eventually buying a bottle of wine.
If you do decide to go out to the vineyards, I’ve heard Folktale Winery and Vineyards is worth checking out.
Saturday Late Afternoon: Shop Around Downtown
Now that you’ve had a glass of wine (or two), it’s time to do some shopping! If you’re a big shopper, you’ve certainly come to the right place. There’s a mix of local boutiques, upscale well-known retailers, and everything in between. You’ll find clothes, food, and art galleries on every corner. Seriously, if you have some cash to burn and are looking to build an art collection, Carmel-by-the-Sea is the place to start.
As y’all know, I’m all about vintage shopping, particularly when I’m traveling. Here, I found the tiniest place called Ritzy Ragz & Thingz…and I’m still thinking about the vintage maxi dress I didn’t get. At Foxy Couture, I found every vintage piece that I 100% need and 100% do not have the budget for. However, f you’re looking for super high-end vintage, you’re in luck. Robertson’s Antiques is a well-curated antique store that happens to have an excellent collection of vintage jewelry, which we know is my favorite. Not a fan of vintage? Paloosh is a light and airy space with trendy clothing, perfect for a weekend in California.
More in the mood for gourmet food shopping? Stop by Trio Carmel, where you’ll stock up on wine, olive oil, and art.
Saturday Evening: Take in the Sunset
Drop off your treasures from your afternoon of shopping and walk down to the beach to take in the sunset on the last night of your weekend in Carmel-by-the-Sea. You’ll find the beach dotted with locals and travelers with picnics in tow enjoying the stunning colors of the sun as it drops below the horizon. Snag a spot atop a piece of driftwood for an even better view.
Saturday Night: Dine at La Balena or Pescadero
After the sun has set, it’s time for a long, leisurely dinner at one of the amazing restaurants that you’ll find in downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea. We were in town for a wedding, so we actually only had one night to grab dinner, but I had so many recommendations given to me for other places to try. Two of the most highly recommended? La Balena and Pescadero.
What to Pack for a Weekend in Carmel-by-the-Sea
As I noted in the first section, the weather in Carmel-by-the-Sea is consistent year round, but inconsistent throughout the day. You’ll want to bring lots of layers because it is cold and misty in the mornings and mild and sunny by the afternoon. A lightweight, water-resistant jacket, scarves, and jeans are all must-haves.
I liked to go for California vibes with white jeans and light colors, even though I was wearing sweaters and scarves. I brought a leather jacket (well, two) and I swore by my Rothy’s the entire trip. A lot of what you’ll find in my California packing guide that I wrote back in August is relevant for Carmel-by-the-Sea as well, particularly what I wrote about San Francisco.
A Few Final Notes on Carmel-by-the-Sea
Carmel-by-the-Sea is the perfect long weekend trip to tack on to a trip to San Francisco or wine country. It’s a charming village on a large scale and can easily fill 3-4 days, particularly when you factor in trips to the surrounding areas like Big Sur. If you have any questions about our itinerary or want any other recommendations, please reach out at email@example.com!