As a wedding planner in Carmel, I know a lot about this beautiful area in Northern California. And I love passing along this information to readers and couples alike.
Because whether you’re planning a wedding, honeymoon, or weekend getaway, it’s always great to have a little local knowledge.
So I’ve put together this blog post filled with my favorite places to stay, dine, shop, and more, so you can plan your trip knowing more about the area.
But first, did you know?
Carmel is not just one place. It’s both Carmel-by-the-Sea (CBTS) and Carmel Valley (CV), and they are two very different areas.
Carmel-by-the-Sea is the quaint town most people think of when they think of Carmel. It’s a small town packed to the brim with hotels, shopping, food (dogs!), and other fun elements. And it’s home to the iconic white sand, dog-friendly beach at the bottom of Ocean Avenue.
CBTS is often known by many people as the town that Clint Eastwood was mayor of. It is also known for being one of the most dog-friendly towns in the US.
Carmel Valley is where most of the area’s wine is grown. It’s slower-paced, filled with more space, hills, valleys, and gorgeous scenery. Most wedding venues are in Carmel Valley. The temperature in CV is always 5-10 degrees warmer and sunnier than its oceanside sibling of CBTS.
Where to Stay
Quaint boutique hotels and charming bed and breakfasts populate Carmel-by-the-Sea. Some of my favorites include:
Cypress Inn: Owned by the legendary Doris Day. It’s also a dog lover’s paradise! Bring your pooch and have a cocktail during “Yappy Hour.”
The Hideaway: A cute boutique property with nice rooms and a lovely courtyard where you can sip on afternoon wine.
Normandy Inn: A historic property with cozy European accommodations and a seriously charming old-world exterior.
Tally Ho Inn: Just steps from the sea, this secluded inn has a bed and breakfast feel. Perfect for a few night’s getaway.
Mission Ranch: Clint Eastwood’s 22-acre ranch resort has spectacular views of Carmel River Beach, Point Lobos, and the Pacific Ocean.
Carmel Valley is where more of the large resorts are, as well as rustic-inspired accommodations.
Bernardus Lodge & Spa: I’ll just say it – this is the best resort in the west (imho). This is where elegant rustic charm meets sophisticated accommodations. And it’s the perfect venue for a romantic wine-country wedding.
Carmel Valley Ranch: It’s a golf course. It’s a retreat. It’s you with a glass of wine harvested from the vineyard you’re gazing at from your private deck.
Quail Lodge: A resort getaway with guestrooms and suites, private patios, farm-to-table fare, lush gardens, and a golf club.
Carmel Mission Inn: If you’re looking for a budget option, Carmel Mission Inn is worth considering. Modern design, refreshed rooms, excellent service, pet-friendly, dining, and more make this an affordable option with all the essentials in place.
What to Pack
Layers! Seriously, the weather is so unpredictable.
Typically, it is super lovely here year-round. But the coastal fog can be chilly in one spot, and then you get five miles inland, and the mist breaks, and it’s so warm.
Carmel is also generally a pretty casual town. There are very few places where you wouldn’t be welcomed in jeans and a tee-shirt, so pack whatever you feel most comfortable wearing.
Where to Eat
There are oh-so-many yummy places to choose from in both Carmel-by-the-Sea and Carmel Valley. It’s hard to whittle the list down to a few options. You may just have to book yourself a food trip and cross off each one of these as you go!
Where to eat in Carmel-by-the-Sea:
- 7th and Dolores – Steakhouse expensive
- Rise and Roam – Bakery with great bread, pizza, and pastries
- Dutch Door Donuts – Yum!
- Carmel Belle– Great lunch spot
- Alvarado Street Brewery – Local beer and gastropub
- Stationaery – A local favorite
- Dametra Cafe – Greek food that is a tourist favorite (prepare for a wait)
- Basil Seasonal Dining – Good tiny bistro
- Anton & Michel – An institution of fine dining
- Grasings – GORGEOUS rooftop, traditional formal dining
- Brophy’s Tavern – A cool bar that is small but great
- Barmel – A popular spot to hit up after your wedding
- Vesuvio – Owned by Carmel’s local celeb chef Pepe (cool rooftop)
- Mission Ranch – Clint Eastwood’s place and GREAT brunch
- Casanova – Another institution
- Hog’s Breath – Used to be Clint’s place
- La Balena/ Il Tegamino – Rustic Italian
Where to eat in Carmel Valley:
- Corkscrew Cafe – My favorite spot. A leisure lunch here, followed by wine tasting at Cowgirl, is my ideal afternoon off.
- Bear + Flag Roadside – Lead by Chef Todd Fisher (also associated with 7th & Dolores, Rise + Roam, and Folktale Winery). Try the smoked tri-tip sandwiches and ready-made salads. Perfect if you are on the go and need something quick but amazing!
- Lucia at Bernardus
- Valley Kitchen at Carmel Valley Ranch
- Edgars at Quail Lodge
- Baja Cantina – A local spot with okay Mexican food but good music and drinks
- Trailside Cafe for brunch
The best part about Carmel Valley is that there are a ton of fantastic tasting rooms – some with fabulous food:
- Folktale Winery – Amazing food, good wine
- The Wine House
- Bernardus – Great local wine (make sure you have the tasting room and not the hotel)
- Cowgirl Winery
- Albatross Ridge
- Holman Ranch Tasting room
- I Brand Wine
- Joyce Wine
Where to Shop
There is shopping for everyone in Downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea. Everything from tourist tee-shirt shops to upscale clothing and luxury brands.
There are art galleries and specialty shops. If you want to shop and walk around cute streets packed to the brim with goodies, this is the destination.
Carmel Valley is a little different. While there are great shops and galleries, they are more spread out. The main shopping designation in Carmel Valley would be the Village, which is the “Downtown” of CV.
Center Street is home to several great stores worth checking out, including Quail and Olive, which makes delicious oils and vinegar.
There is a small shopping center back down the valley where Baja Cantina and Bear + Flag Roadside are. And there is a very popular store called Tancredi and Morgen that has been a long-time destination for all sorts of great gifts and local items.
Things to Do
In Carmel-by-the-Sea, visit the famous white sand dog-friendly beach. If you’re the active sort, beautiful hike to Point Lobos, take a walking tour of Carmel, or head south to view the cliffs towards Big Sur.
In Carmel Valley, take a hike in Garland Ranch or visit Earthbound Organic Farm. The original farm started here, and it’s a great stop!
Rent a car and drive Carmel Valley Road and Laureles Grade for the beautiful views. If motorcycles are your thing, stop at the Talbott Moto Museum. If spas are more your thing, the Refuge Co-ed Outdoor Spa is worth trying.
And if wine tasting is on your to-do list, check out Folktale, where you’ll find live music, good food, and delicious wine in the valley sun.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about all of the fun things to do in Carmel. And if you’d like help planning your wedding in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Carmel Valley, or in the Northern California area, please reach out! We can even include some of these things in your wedding weekend itinerary.