Carmel by the Sea is a picturesque town located on the Monetary Peninsula in central California. If you are planning a California road trip, make sure to plans some adventures near Carmel by the Sea! Known for it’s turquoise blue waters, fairy tale cottages and scenic bluffs, like the Big Sur bridge. Add these iconic destinations in this article to your road trip adventure near Carmel by the Sea. Make sure to check out our Ultimate California Coast Road Trip Itinerary and itinerary for Gualala, California!

1. Hike Point Lobos Nature Reserve

In between Big Sur and Monterey, you will find our favorite nature reserve in all of California- Point Lobos. The entrance to Point Lobos Nature Reserve is 3 miles south of the fairy tale town of Carmel by the Sea, on the iconic Highway 1. It opens at 8 am and closes at 5 pm, with holidays and weekends being busy. We went around 1 pm on a Thursday and were able to find lots of parking. Passenger cars are $9 per vehicle.

Point Lobos has plenty of trails you can experience. You can also access the map of the nature reserve on their website. For a spectacular ocean view, we hiked Cypress Grove Trail. The trail starts at Sea Lion Point parking area and is 0.8 miles, looping through the cypress forest leading to cliffs with dramatic ocean views. Sand Hill Trail, an inclusive 0.6 mile trail, also offers spectacular ocean views. Bird Island Trail starts in the nature reserve’s southern most parking area. It’s about 0.8 miles and has stunning views of China Cove and Bird Island. You can also access Gibson beach from this trail. We saw quite a few seals playing in China Cove- it was worth the short hike!

One of the main parking lots leads to the historic Whaler’s Cabin built by Chinese fisherman in the 1850s. Past Whaler’s Cabin you can get to North Trail or Granite Trail. We highly recommend Granite Trail, as it’s fully accessible with a view of Moss Cove and a panoramic view of Point Lobos.

2. Adventure near Carmel by the Sea Along Ocean Ave

If you want an overall shopping adventure near Carmel by the Sea, a walk down Ocean Avenue will be well worth your time. Sloping from the highway down to the beach, Ocean Ave is Carmel by the Sea’s main downtown main street. We just parked and walked all over downtown viewing art galleries, family owned boutiques, wine cellars and candy stores.

I would say the walk down Ocean Ave is about a mile, but we also walked down adjacent streets as there are shops everywhere to explore. Every alleyway is like a gateway into a new secret spot. If you need to use the restroom, I suggest visiting the local library- it’s also just a neat spot to see anyways! There is a self guided walking tour app you can download to explore Carmel as well!

3. Stroll Carmel Beach

At the foot of Ocean Avenue is one of the most iconic beaches in California-Carmel Beach! I have driven down Highway 1 and witnessed a lot of California’s coast line, and I will say nothing beats Carmel Beach. The white sand, rugged cliffs lined with cypress trees and turquoise blue waters is unforgettable. We had a lot of fun ending a long day of hiking and shopping with swimming and laying around on the beach.

There is a small parking area at the beach and free parking along Ocean Ave (this is where we ended up parking). Besides the gorgeous view, there is a scenic route you can walk along and beach fires and dogs are welcome!

4. Tour Fairy Tale Cottages of Hugh Comstock

When visitors come to Carmel, they most likely are hoping to see some of the fairy tale cottages created by Hugh Comstock, a toy maker and builder. Today, 21 of his original cottages still exist in Carmel, making up homes, stores, inns and galleries. Some of the notable cottages to see are the Hansel & Gretal cottages, Obers House, The Studio Cottage and the Storybook Cottage, which is actually a vacation home you can rent! Another fairy tale cottage you can rent is the Comstock Cottage.

5. Go Wine Tasting

Carmel by the Sea boasts 18 wine tasting rooms, all within walking distance if you are staying in town. While we also enjoyed wine tasting at some restaurants we visited, we wanted to share our wine tasting wish list (reservations encouraged): De Tierra Vineyards, Albatross Ridge, Manzoni Cellars, Dawn’s Dream Winery and Bar Napoli.

6. Take a Picture by Bixby Creek Bridge near Carmel by the Sea

big sur

Can you really have an adventure near Carmel by the Sea without driving the 22-24 minutes south along the coastline to Bixby Creek bridge? The answer is, no way! Exactly 18 miles south of Carmel by the Sea is Bixby Bridge near the Big Sur, located off historic Highway 1. There is a gravel lot on both sides of the highway you can park to take pictures. There was an adorable couple taking their wedding photos here the day we visited!

7. Dine at La Bicylette Cafe

Carmel by the Sea is bursting at the seams with delicious food to try. However, we would be doing you an injustice if we did not suggest making a reservation at a lovely French restaurant known as La Bicyclette Cafe. If you love wine, this place has a variety to try. If you like coffee, look no further! I suggest the Parisian Gnocchi, Poisson de Saison, Pains du Jour and Torta Veneziana for dessert. (Other food places from our lis are Treehouse Cafe, Dametra Cafe and L’Escargot). View the menu here!

8. Grab Some Coffee at Carmel Valley Coffee Roasting

If you want to be ready to lift fog and break waves, make sure you do it with a cup of Carmel Valley Coffee Roast in hand! They had a delicious honey specialty coffee when we visited. Also, prepare for a long line-there were quite a few people here for coffee and pastries!

9. Tour the Secret Garden & Pilgrims Bookstore

When you explore Ocean Ave, I suggest you take a detour to see the Secret Garden and Pilgrims Bookstore. Located off Delores down an alley between 5th & 6th Street, this hidden oasis features a charming garden shop with fountain, statue, plants and local made gifts. You can also access Pilgrims Bookstore along the alley way, which is a small community bookstore that also features crystals and incense.

10. Discover Carmel History at Carmel Mission Basilica Museum

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The Carmel Mission Basilica Museum was built in 1797 and is an amazing site to see! Hours of operation are Wed & Thurs 10 am to 4 pm, Fri & Sat 10 am to 5 pm and Sunday 11:30 am to 5 pm. Adults are $13 for admission, youth (7-17 years) are $7 and 6 & under are free. The visit includes a self guided tour through the Basilica, museum and grounds.

Other Adventures Near Carmel by the Sea

These adventures we did not get to do this time around, but wanted to share from our wishlist.

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