The whole point of going on vacation is to take a break from daily routine. It’s about going to a place you’ve never been, or one you’re somewhat familiar with, and losing yourself. It’s about immersing in a place and feeling grateful for the opportunity to be able to travel. When we stay in one place for too long, we tend to forget that there is an entire world out there waiting to be explored.
There are those places that offer travelers wild nightlife scenes and parties until dawn, and then there are those destinations that have the ability to remind us what it’s like to live slow, to be in the present moment. If you’re seeking to escape from the rush hour of life, you should make it a point to visit Carmel-by-the-Sea.
Rated the sixth best travel destination in the US, it’s a one-square mile European-style village unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. One of the most noticeable and unique characteristics about this city is that there are no addresses and barely noticeable street signs (despite what I say below about unplugging, without my phone I would have been completely lost trying to find my hotel).
It’s a destination known for its silence. Aside from the sound of crashing waves, singing birds and calm breezes, it’s as peaceful as being on a meditation retreat. By 8 p.m., it feels like you’re the only person in town who’s awake.
This idyllic escape features an intoxicating blend of forested neighborhoods, sophisticated shopping and dining, art galleries, enchanting inns and hotels, and long, quiet beaches touched by gentle surf. It’s also one of the best cities for romance. Trust me, you can come to Carmel-by-the-Sea on a solo trip, but a few hours in and you’ll be wishing you could share your experiences with someone close to your heart.
Below are six really good reasons why you should unwind and lose yourself in this tranquil seaside town.
Carmel-by-the-Sea is the gateway to the not-to-be-missed 17-mile scenic drive at Pebble Beach. There’s a $10 entry fee, and some may call it a tourist trap, but it’s one of the most lovely stretches of road on the West Coast. Speaking of epic stretches of wild California coastline, Big Sur is only a 20-mile drive from the quaint village along Highway 1. An outdoor enthusiasts’ paradise, Big Sur captivates visitors with its 85 miles of pristine beaches, craggy cliffs, and scenic overlooks.
Interested in stopping for a coastal hike? If you only have a couple days to explore, make an effort to trek through Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and commune with nature. You won’t be disappointed.
Unrivaled Dining Experiences
Make sure to stopover in Pacific Grove, where you’ll find Beach House at Lover’s Point. This local landmark opened in June 2013 and offers guests its own take on casual California cuisine. You’ll not only be welcomed with tantalizing cocktails and courses, but also breathtaking views of the ocean. Some diners I spoke with said they often spot dolphins and sea otters from their tables. Yes, seriously.
Meals here are meant to be romantic, after all, you are dining at Lover’s Point. However, from my own personal experience, it’s not so bad if you happen to be eating alone. Kevin and Jeremy Phillips, along with my waiter, Greg, were wonderful hosts. I recommend ordering the Filet Mignon (with smashed Yukon gold potatoes, creamed spinach with chopped bacon, horseradish butter, truffle Au Jus, and Yorkshire crisp), $32. Top all that off with a Manhattan. Perfection.
Tip: Try to score a reservation for sunset. The windows in the restaurant will bring the magic hour right to your table.
Planning on grabbing something quick to take on a beach picnic or hike? The 5th Avenue Deli makes the most delightful specialty sandwiches. Oh, and if you’re a lover of fine cheese, stroll into The Cheese Shop in Carmel Plaza. Here you’ll find delicacies such as aged Asiago and a Camembert that is to-die-for.
Unique Inns and Hotels
You won’t find any mainstream inns and hotels here. There’s not one single Hilton or Marriot. You also won’t see any neon lighting or billboards. Tucked away between charming streets lined with cypress trees, the village’s accommodations are remarkable to say the least.
Hofsas House Hotel, located on San Carlos Street, north of Fourth Avenue, is a rare gem. Owned and operated by Carrie Theis, this family-run boutique inn has been impressing guests for the past six decades. With a Bavarian-inspired theme, the guest rooms and suites provide an experience unlike anything you’d come across at, let’s say, a 5-star hotel.
Although Hofsas House is quite a few blocks away from the beach, if you leave your windows open in the middle of the night, you can actually hear the waves crashing onto the shoreline. It’s as if you were staying at an oceanfront property.
If you have the opportunity, get in a chat with Theis and she will tell you all about the property’s wonderful history. You can make a reservation here.
The greatest thing travelling should do is make you disconnect from your life at home. Vacations are for unplugging, for real, off-the-grid downtime.
Forget about checking and replying to emails, logging into social media accounts, or answering phone calls. Unplugging might not always be easy, but you’ll surely have regrets if you choose to check in everywhere you go to broadcast your experiences to the world instead of living in the moment. Carmel-by-the-Sea will remind you to disconnect from our overly connected world.
Advice: Don’t bring along your laptop, and turn your phone on silent (or leave it in your hotel room).
Wine Walk by-the-Sea
Carmel-by-the-Sea is a place that will satisfy your desire to delight in an array of exquisite wines. With numerous award-winning estate vineyards adjacent to the village, you’ll never go thirsty. The region’s best Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs can be found here.
You can purchase Carmel Wine Walk by-the-Sea Passports at the Carmel Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center for for $65, which will give you a starting off point to discover 9 of the 14 tasting rooms in town. With the tickets, you can walk into any tasting room and sample a few selections of local estate-grown grapes. The best part? The tickets never expire and you don’t have to worry about how you’re going to get around (or back to your hotel room) after drinking your fair share of tastings. You just walk.
If you have the chance, visit Wrath. This standout location has a single vineyard tasting that will blow you away. These wines are produced in the Monterey and the Santa Lucia Highlands. Their 2013 Wrath Chardonnay, Ex Anima was ridiculously tasty, and has never seen a splinter of oak. Flavors: citron, pineapple, and guava–tropical fruit with a creamy finish.
There’s also a lovely family-owned property in Carmel Valley worth checking out if you want to stray from the tourist crowd. It’s called Holman Ranch. Located about 12 miles inland from the coastline, this vineyard and winery will wow even the most jaded wine explorer. Don’t take my word for it, go and discover the enchanting landscape and estate wines for yourself.
Absolutely beautiful and completely free, Carmel Beach is the ideal place to soak up the sun or evening light. Located at the bottom of Ocean Avenue, it’s definitely worth the mildly strenuous hike uphill back into town.
Make sure to bring a picnic and a cozy blanket so you can sprawl out on the sand for a relaxing moment by the waves. If you haven’t seen a sunset here, then you haven’t seen a sunset.
In the free and easy days of summer (or any other time of the year), the simple pleasures of this seaward escape will make you appreciate the simplicity of life. Next time you’re planning a vacation to return to a quieter frame of mind, remember Carmel-by-the-Sea.
You simply cannot explore the Central Coast of California without staying at least one night here and expanding your horizons. Even if those horizons include little more than a sunny day by the ocean, or one too many wine tastings.
Carmel Visitor Center
Located on San Carlos between 5th & 6th
PO Box 4444
Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 93921