February 28, 2019

My Kauai Bucket List

I’m planning a trip to Kauai, Hawaii, with my family and have been brainstorming all the things I’d like to do if time and money were no barrier. Since I’m currently dealing with huge snow drifts in Nebraska, I’m more than willing to daydream about Hawaiian adventures. Aren’t you? Here’s my Kauai bucket list to inspire wanderlust in you, too!

Kauai Bucket List - List of things to do, things to see & things to eat if money and time were no barrier #Hawaii #bucketlist #travel

Kayak to a waterfall

There are adventurous excursions combining two things I enjoy – kayaking and chasing waterfalls. (Now I got that song in your head, didn’t I?) Kauai has the only navigable rivers in all of Hawaii (Wailua, Hanalei and Huleia rivers), so why not explore one? There’s even one that takes you to the Hidden Waterfalls, which sounds lovely (I also read about one called Secret Falls, which may or may not be the same). But, frankly, I’m eyeing the one that lets you kayak to the waterfall and then boats you back in a motorized canoe.

The last time I kayaked was a moonlight float in Decorah, Iowa. I think I’d prefer daytime kayaking. In Hawaii. For sure.

Kayaks on Wailua River in Kauai, Hawaii
Kayakers on Wailua River. Kauai is the only island in Hawaii with navigable rivers. Photo courtesy Kauai Visitors Bureau, Kicka Witte

Learn ukulele with friends

I came across this one-hour class through the AirBnB Experiences search. For $25, it sounds like a fun and unusual way to spend the evening in Kauai. But, for even less, your hotel may offer casual lessons. I know the resort where we’re staying offers lessons!

Hike all the hikes

I’m having a hard time narrowing down which trails I most want to hike in Kauai (this post has 15 Kauai hikes to choose from, for instance). Some of the trails that are always popping up on “must do” lists include Kalalu Trail, which has spectacular views of the Na Pali Coast; Canyon Trail through Koke’e State Park, which offers views of Waimea Canyon State Park (AKA, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific); and a coastal hike to the  Makawehi Lithified Cliffs.

Na Pali Coast on Kauai, Hawaii
The Na Pali Coast is a popular area to hike in Kauai, which includes the Kalalu Trail. Photo courtesy Kauai Visitors Bureau, Kicka Witte

Take a dog on a field trip

This is the most novel, fabulous idea from a humane society ever: The Kauai Humane Society has a program for travelers missing their fur babies (or just wants to have a fur baby for a day). They can take a dog on a field trip, that is to say, borrow a dog for the day! While the dogs wear a vest that says “Adopt me,” they get valuable chance to exercise and socialize. Win win.

Red Dirt Falls

I saw pictures of the brightly colored dirt in an area of Waimea Canyon State Park, and it looks like a place straight out of a Mars movie. Wouldn’t that be something to see in real life? Word is, you find it on your drive back down the mountain, turning left at the Y in the road.

View of Waimea Canyon on Kauai, Hawaii
Couple enjoying the Waimea Canyon, nicknamed the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. Photo courtesy Kauai Visitors Bureau, Tor Johnson

Eat all the foods

It wouldn’t be a bucket list of mine if I didn’t mention restaurants I want to go to. I’d like to try breakfast at Kalaheo Coffee Co. It sounds like the baked goods are the way to go there, but on the menu there’s a pineapple french toast with coconut dressing that sounds like the thing I’ll order. And to help me achieve the goal of “all the foods,” I’d like to try a pupu platter while there. A pupu platter is like a cross between tapas and bar food.

Friday night = Art Night

I stumbled across a blog post about Hanapepe’s Art Night, which is a weekly thing on Fridays. Think live music, art, and according to the aforementioned post, twinkling fairy lights. Too bad my flight schedule isn’t going to make attending possible this time around.

Mountain tubing

For a unique float trip to top all float trips, there’s mountain tubing in Kauai. Imagine floating down waterways through lush terrain and tunnels. I read these were waterways originally carved out for agricultural purposes, but now work well for recreation.

Rum tasting

When in the tropics, right? You can enjoy free rum tastings at Koloa Rum Co., and that sounds like an item I’ve got to check off this list.

Rum from the Koloa Rum Company in Hawaii
Koloa Rum Co. is found on Kauai, Hawaii. Photo courtesy Kauai Visitors Bureau

Spelunk in wet and dry caves

Makauwahi Cave Reserve on the South shore was used to film a scene in “Pirates of the Caribbean,” so right away, you gotta imagine how cool it must look. It sounds a little more accessible (especially if traveling with kids), than the smaller wet cave there that you’d have to swim to. For dry caves, I heard Maniniholo Dry Cave looks like a scene out of an Indiana Jones movie, complete with vines running down the rock walls. I heard it’s a good one to take kids to, and that you should bring a flashlight. Some of the island’s caves are closed due to flooding in 2018, like Waikapalae Wet Cave, so double check it’s open before setting out.

Pretend I’m in a movie

Speaking of “Pirates of the Caribbean,” scenes from that movie, as well as “Jurassic Park,” were filmed at Allerton Garden. It sounds beautiful, a tropical paradise of flowers and water features nearly 200 acres. I really want to see the Moreton Bay fig trees up close.

Best shaved ice on Kauai

So, everyone travel blogger who goes to Kauai pretty much says you’ve got to try the shaved ice. I dunno. I figure I should, though, in case someone asks. For good, off-the-beaten path ice cream, I read Loco Coco Shave Ice in Poipu is good, and even serves all-organic ingredients.

All the beaches

I’ve got a lot of plans to just sit and stare at the waves. Which beach should I go to? A bit out of the way is a beach known as Barking Sands Beach (it’s really called Polihale State Beach, but there’s some odd wind-passing-through-the-sands thing there that sounds like barks). I’m told the snorkeling is good at Moloa’a Beach, and on the north side of it, is a great spot to spy aquatic life like turtles in the reef protected area. Then there’s Poipu Beach, which looks as kid-friendly as it comes for ocean beaches, don’t you think?

Families playing at Poipu Beach
Poipu Beach is a family-friendly beach on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. Photo courtesy Kauai Visitors Bureau, Kicka Witte

See the Spouting Horn

Speaking of Poipu Beach, it’s also the home to Spouting Horn. It’d be great to be there when the tide is high to see just how loud things can get (from a safe distance). The water can shoot up to 50 feet into the air.

Spouting Horn at Poipu Beach in Hawaii
Spouting Horn is at Poipu Beach on the island of Kauai. The water can shoot up to 50 feet into the air. Photo courtesy Kauai Visitors Bureau, Dallas Nagata

Take the kids on an adventure

We’ve biked, sure, but what about biking an island like Kauai? And I’ve snorkeled, but my kids haven’t. So I’m putting both on this Kauai bucket list. I read that Lydgate Beach Park is a great place for beginner snorkelers, so maybe we go there (it’s a man-made protected swimming area). And for bikes? The Kauai Coastal Path looks like a dream.

Of course, there are a ton more options for the family: ATV tours, zip lining, horseback riding.

Kauai Coastal Bike Path
Biking along the coast in Kauai, Hawaii. Photo courtesy Kauai Visitors Bureau

Find the best beach for a sunset

Not all beaches are created equal for good sunset viewing. Obviously, the west side of the island is going to get that orb dipping into the water effect. I heard Polihale State Park has a good beach for sunsets.

Want more Hawaii vacation inspiration?

Check out my Hawaii Pinterest board, which includes pins to other islands beside Kauai. There, you’ll find itinerary ideas, packing lists, reviews and more!

Wish list of things to do in Kauai, Hawaii - From mountain tubing to rum tastings and scenic hikes #Hawaii #USA

Get travel inspiration in your inbox

Get more posts like this delivered straight to your inbox twice a month. Subscribe to the FREE e-newsletter here.

February 26, 2019

Dining With Kids In Carmel-by-the-Sea & Monterey

Carmel-by-the-Sea has a reputation for a charming couple’s getaway or a chic girlfriends’ escape. And it is. Oh, the wine there is ah-mazing. But, if you’re like me, you might find yourself in Carmel with a kid or two along for the ride. And you’re wondering if any restaurant in Carmel caters to families or is it all just candle-lit settings for two. I know I was a little worried about finding great places to eat that wouldn’t frown upon bringing a 7- and 9-year-old in with us. So let’s talk about dining with kids in Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Heading to Carmel-by-the-Sea and nearby Monterey? Here are a selection of restaurants that were kid-friendly (and some not-so-much), plus a wine tasting room that accommodated families! #familytravel #California

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, if you make a purchase from an affiliate link, I receive a referral payment. I received gift certificates to purchase food at Lugano’s Swiss Bistro and Fifth Avenue Deli. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

Things to know about dining with kids in Carmel-by-the-Sea -by-the-Sea

When planning this trip, I found only a few restaurants with kid’s menus mentioned online, and I found even fewer blog posts about family-friendly dining. So, I assumed the place was just not that accommodating to families. I was wrong.

So, one thing to note: Just because the restaurant’s website doesn’t mention a kid’s menu, they likely have one. Ask for it when you arrive.

One big thing that I was not quite ready for were the prices. I mean, I knew everything was going to be more expensive in California, of course. But even with the forethought, we didn’t have the food budget set high enough for this trip.

For the most part, expect a family of four to spend about $70 for breakfast (especially if you order coffee or juice), up to $100 for lunch, and about $150 for dinner (if you order wine).

Breakfast in Carmel-by-the-Sea

While our hotel offered a complimentary, light breakfast, I had to venture out because breakfast is my favorite meal ever (and because my kids get up at around 6 a.m., a full two hours before breakfast is served there). Carmel-by-the-Sea restaurants did not disappoint when it came to breakfast.

Tuck Box: I was pretty excited to eat at the Tuck Box because it’s so iconic in the city. How cute is that building?

Exterior of the Tuck Box in Carmel-by-the-Sea
Tuck Box was a restaurant in the most charming cottage I’ve ever seen.

The interior matches the exterior, with quaint teapots and wood paneling for décor. There was also a fireplace. We sat at the table in the storybook window. If you’re going to dine here, it’s important to know they only accept cash.

Tuck Box interior photo
We arrived shortly after Tuck Box opened for the day, and enjoyed breakfast in a dining room all to ourselves.

This was one place without a kid’s menu, but being breakfast, it wasn’t a big issue. Both kids had a waffle and they split a side of bacon.

Before our plates came out, my husband and my fresh scones were brought to the table. Try the fresh whipped cream marmalade, including lalaberry which is only grown in California.

Tuck Box scones
The scones were served with fresh preserves and marmalade.

From Scratch Restaurant: Another great breakfast spot was From Scratch Restaurant, which was featured in an episode of “Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives.” Expect a wait here. They were pretty accommodating for our family. My daughter had a bit of a meltdown and one waiter stopped by our table to give her a cute keychain toy (plus one for her brother).

The kid’s menu is decent, and the full menu is ample. I tried the biscuits and gravy that Guy Fieri had – it was delicious. The kids had a ginormous chocolate chip pancake with fresh fruit, plus a side of eggs. From Scratch’s menu was for breakfast and lunch, and kid’s meals ranged from $7.45 to $8.95.

The kid’s pancake is huge at From Scratch in Carmel.

A third place that I can’t vouch for the food, but can say the coffee was the best is called Carmel Belle. Even just plain, black coffee was oh-so-good.

Lunch & Dinner in Carmel-by-the-Sea & Monterey

We had a lot of plans for picnics on hikes and, well, the rainy weather put an end to that dream. There wasn’t much dining al fresco during this trip.

Fifth Avenue Deli: The plan was to grab food from Fifth Avenue Deli in Carmel-by-the-Sea, and then head out for a picnic. It was a short walk from our hotel. We did get our picnic food, but ended up just eating it back at the hotel, since as I said, it rained. A lot. The deli also has a selection of wine, in case you needed a bottle or two for your picnic (at the hotel).

Deli counter at Fifth Avenue Deli in Carmel-by-the-Sea
You can order sandwiches, deli salads, a a few prepared dishes to warm up at Fifth Avenue Deli in Carmel-by-the-Sea. It’s a good choice for stocking a picnic basket.

Baja Cantina Grill & Filling Station: I really wanted to like Baja Cantina Grill more than I did. It was a fun looking place, with quirky décor. However, the food was only so-so.

The décor is a lot of fun here, though, so it proves a lot to look at while you wait for your food. It’s all race cars, motorcycles and related movie memorabilia here. There is a kid’s menu.

Interior of Baja Cantina Grill & Filling Station in Carmel-by-the-Sea
The decor at Baja Cantina Grill & Filling Station was all-things-cars.

Lalla Grill: This restaurant on Cannery Row in Monterey had the best view of the trip. The kid’s menu had a nice variety, and I enjoyed my salad. Kid’s entrees included grilled salmon, steak, a Kobe kid’s burger, as well as the usual stuff like macaroni and cheese and chicken tenders. Prices ranged from $3 to $9 for kids.

Ocean view at Lalla Grill in Monterey Bay, California
How’s this for a view? We had lunch at Lalla Grill the afternoon we went to Monterey Bay Aquarium. It was a fairly long walk between the aquarium and restaurant, but worth it.

Ghirardelli: And a little tip for those with a sweet tooth, Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop is located between Lalla Grill and Monterey Bay Aquarium in Cannery Row. We spent the morning at the aquarium, walked to Lalla Grill for lunch, returned to the aquarium for another two hours, and then for a late-afternoon snack, we walked back to Ghirardelli. Heads up: You get a free square of chocolate just entering Ghirardelli.

Ghirardelli Ice Cream in Monterey, California located in Cannery Row
Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop has a small patio in the rear of the restaurant where you can sit and watch people walk the beach.

Abalonetti Bar and Grill: This Old Fisherman’s Wharf restaurant came recommended to us by the guy pouring the wine at a wine tasting room. (He pronounced it Abolonetti as “Apple and Eddies”). We all had fish and chips (or shrimp and chips) for lunch. It was fine, but not outstanding. Kid’s meals were all $7.95, with the usual fried seafood options (fish, calamari or popcorn shrimp), plus a few non-seafood choices like linguine and marinara, corn dog, and hamburger.

Antipasto bar at Abalonetti Bar & Grill in Monterey, California
Abalonetti Bar & Grill at Old Fisherman’s Wharf had an antipasto bar, which we didn’t actually dine from because my kids wouldn’t go near it.

Tip: As you walk the wharf, you can sample several chowders for free. It’s almost a meal itself.

La Biciclette Restaurant: This Carmel bistro came highly recommended to us. La Biciclette is super charming, and what I’d picture as an ideal date spot. Think like a small, French bistro (and when you walk in, you briefly think, “Maybe I shouldn’t bring my kids here.”). There’s no kid’s options, but there are pizzas on the menu, so you’re not totally out of luck if you bring kids with you. Still, this one I wouldn’t necessarily say is the best choice. 

Squash and Speck pizza at La Biciclette in Carmel-by-the-Sea
The Squash & Speck pizza I ordered with my husband was delicious and topped with arugula, squash and prosciutto to ensure no kid would ask for a slice.

Lugano’s Swiss Bistro: Fondue makes for a fun night out with the kids, don’t you think? Lugano’s Swiss Bistro is decked out like a Swiss chalet, and the menu is features Swiss food in addition to the fondue.

Dining room at Lugano's Swiss Bistro in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
Lugano’s Swiss Bistro is resembles a chalet in Europe.

The night we went, I wasn’t feeling up for fondue, though, so I had the schnitzel – it was superb. If you do think you’ll want to order fondue, note that there didn’t appear to be kid’s prices for fondue.

Ask for a kid’s menu when you arrive. I’m not sure why they didn’t just offer us the kid’s menu to begin with. If you were hoping for “Swiss” kid’s food options, you will be disappointed. It’s pretty standard kid’s menu fare – pepperoni pizza, chicken nuggets and hamburgers. My son order the frankfurter, which looked like a hot dog to me. Prices were the most reasonable for kid’s meals, between $5.95 and $6.95.

Sur Restaurant: We weren’t planning on going to Sur, but we ended up there when most of Carmel-by-the-Sea was without power and our first choice had a two-plus hour wait. Our waiter didn’t seem pleased to have us, for some reason. Anyway, at least there was a kid’s menu there. The kid’s entrees were pretty standard with grilled cheese, chicken tenders and a cheeseburger, plus a few more unique options like calamari strips and flatbread cheese pizza. Prices for kids ranged from $8.50 to $12.50.

Wish we left room for dessert – they serve arctic bonbons, these chocolate dipped vanilla ice cream balls served over a basket of dry ice.

From Scratch, Lugano’s Swiss Bistro, and Sur Restaurant are located in a shopping center called The Barnyard. It’s a nice place to walk around, with small fountains and a ton of plants. The Barnyard is not in the area of Carmel-by-the-Sea where all the famous architecture is, so it’s not a walkable distance from most hotels.

Wine tasting on a family trip

If you’re curious about wineries and wine tasting rooms (because there are several in town, and the wineries are nearby), I’m sorry to say we didn’t go to many. I had two wineries in mind that I’d read were welcoming to families (I included them on My Carmel-by-the-Sea Bucket List).

Wine tasting room at Dawn's Dream in Carmel-by-the-Sea
My kids happily colored in the coloring books provided (and played on their iPad) at the Dawn’s Dream’s tasting room.

Carrie, the owner at Hofsas House, said most wine tasting rooms are kid-friendly as they’re not technically bars. We stopped at the tasting room or Dawn’s Dream Winery in Carmel-by-the-Sea. There were couches in a corner with a stack of coloring books, so we felt fine letting the kids entertain themselves why we tried the Chardonnay and Pinor Noir.

Restaurants that are family-friendly in Carmel-by-the-Sea & Monterey #California #USA #familytravel

Plan your Carmel-by-the-Sea trip!

Want to plan a Carmel-by-the-Sea getaway? Start with this Carmel-by-the-Sea Bucket List, and then read through these posts for more ideas:

Taking Kids To Carmel-by-the-Sea

Hofsas House Hotel: A Family-Friendly Hotel in Carmel-by-the-Sea

Taking kids on the 17-Mile Drive 

Rainy day activities in Carmel

Things To Do At Point Lobos State Park With Kids

Get Travel Inspiration Directly In Your Inbox

Subscribe to the FREE twice a month(ish) e-newsletter sharing what’s new in Omaha, giveaways, family travel ideas, and more! Subscribe here.

February 18, 2019

Hofsas House Hotel: A Family-Friendly Hotel in Carmel

Dreaming of a California getaway away from a big city? How about a storybook of a town by a beach? My family took a winter getaway to Carmel-by-the-Sea (Carmel for short) – you’ll have to read about all the things we did! This post is about where we stayed in Carmel-by-the-Sea: The Hofsas House Hotel.

Looking for a hotel in Carmel-by-the-Sea that's good for kids? Check out this review of the family-friendly Hofsas House Hotel. #California #Carmel #familytravel

Disclosure: Our stay was hosted by Hofsas House Hotel. Some of our expenses were comped and some were not.

About Hofsas House Hotel

This Bavarian themed inn is one of the oldest in Carmel. What started as a few cottages in the 1940s, expanded in the 1950s to an additional 25 rooms and a pool. The hotel has been a family-run hotel since the beginning. If you visit now, you’ll likely to meet Carrie Theis, granddaughter of the hotel’s founder.

Entrance to the Hofsas House
The Hofsas House, with its distinct Bavarian style, is one of the oldest inns in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif.

No two rooms are decorated alike (as Carrie told me, “We like color.). Some are suites, and great for families. Our suite had a private balcony with a sliver of a view of the ocean and fireplace (request room 40 if that sounds good to you).

A wine and cheese package at the Hofsas House Hotel. The wine was from Scheid Vineyard, not too far from Carmel-by-the-Sea.

The hotel offers some packages that can get you golfing or relaxing in a spa, as well as in-room packages like wine and cheese pairing (which I believe I had in our room upon our arrival thanks to our gracious host). You can bet I enjoyed a glass out on our balcony that first night!

What kids will like at Hofsas House

There aren’t many hotels in Carmel with pools, so right away, this one is put above others. It’s a heated pool, so you can swim most any time of the year. Which my kids did. We arrived at the end of January and they went to the pool straight away.

Heated outdoor pool at Hofsas House Hotel in Carmel-by-the-Sea California
The pool at Hofsas House Hotel is heated, so you can swim in it year-round.

And in case you were wonder, it was a balmy 60-ish degrees there. If you’re expecting Southern California winters, you would be mistaken.

There’s also a dry sauna at the hotel. I guess that one’s more for us parents.

If your child is actually a fur-baby, you’ll be happy to know they are welcomed.

The welcome mural at Hofsas House Hotel in Carmel-by-the-Sea California
The mural by artist Maxine Albro is one of the first things you see when you arrive at Hofsas House Hotel in Carmel-by-the-Sea. The artist painted three pictures in the lobby, and the headboard found in the hotel’s Room 47.

What parents will like at Hofsas House Hotel

Let’s be real: The suites are made for families like mine. The hotel has several two-bedroom suites providing ample space for a family to spread out and relax. The kids could watch one TV in their sleeping area, while we could go to our room and watch too.

Our suite included two rooms and two bathrooms. This space here included two day beds, which were great for the kids; a fireplace; and a small kitchenette you can’t see pictured. The second room in the suite had a king-size bed and one of the bathrooms.

Our suite had a small kitchenette, two bathrooms, a separate room with a king-size bed, and a private balcony. Nice, right?

Regrettably, we had terrible weather, so we could only sit on the balcony one evening. You could see a patch of the ocean from our balcony.

Here’s the view from our Room 40 balcony at Hofsas House. Off in the distance, you can see the Pacific Ocean.

There is a fridge in the room, making it convenient to bring some of your own food (if budgeting is important).

Hofsas House serves a complimentary breakfast each morning with fresh pastries, fruit, and yogurt. You can dine by the fireplace in the little lobby or take it back to your room (or balcony, right?).

I’ve got a big appetite at breakfast, so it was not a substantial by my standards (I mean, I ate the Triple D breakfast at From Scratch).

Other freebies parents will like:

  • The hotel also offers free, off-the-street parking. We lucked out and had a covered spot, which was great since it rained a lot while we were there.
  • Free Wi-Fi

What’s near the hotel?

Hofsas House is within walking distance to all of the cute shops and galleries in Carmel-by-the-Sea, as well as restaurants. You’ll want to just walk around one afternoon while you’re there to take it all in.

A block of shops in cottage-like buildings near the hotel. Most streets near the Hofsas House Hotel were lined with charming buildings like this and a lot of trees.

To give you a sample of things that are just one block away, there’s a Dr. Seuss art gallery, the restaurant Hog’s Breath Inn, and a book store called The Pilgrim’s Way Books & Gifts (which is right next to the most enchanting-looking walkway leading to the Secret Garden).

Fountain in a courtyard in Carmel-by-the-Sea California
A courtyard garden we found just walking around Carmel-by-the-Sea.

And a dozen more clothing shops and galleries and restaurants in that same block.

A little further, like three or four blocks away, you’ll more kid-friendly things places to visit. Some of the ones that appealed to my kids included Thinker Toys, a toy shop, and the Cottage of Sweets, which is exactly what it sounds like.

Exterior of the Cottage of Candy in Carmel-by-the-Sea California
If this isn’t the cutest candy shop, I don’t know what is. This is the Cottage of Candy on Ocean Avenue, between Lincoln and Monte Verde streets.

Carmel Beach is about an 8-block walk. The owner of the hotel warned us about the “healthy hill” on the way back. It is indeed quite the hill to trek back up! Keep that in mind if you have young ones.

Carmel Beach California at sunset
If the sunset promises to be beautiful, you’ll find quite a few people waiting at the Carmel Beach to witness it. The beach, and this view, is within walking distance from Hofsas House Hotel.

If you’ve got a car, there’s a whole lot more within a few minute’s drive. Skip down to the “Plan your Carmel trip” section to read about a few of them.

Pastry display at Carmel Coffee House & Roasting Co.
There was something about the window display at Carmel Coffee House & Roasting Co. that caught the attention of my kids on one of our walks.

If you go

Hofsas House Hotel

Where: San Carlos Street, north of Fourth Avenue in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif. (the quirky thing about the town is that there are no addresses, just street coordinates)

Website

Kid-friendly hotel in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California | Review of the rooms, the pool & what's near the Hofsas House Hotel. #California #Carmel #familytravel

Plan your Carmel trip!

Want to plan a Carmel-by-the-Sea getaway? Start with this Carmel Bucket List, and then read through these posts for more ideas:

Guide to Carmel-by-the-Sea With Kids

Dining with kids in Carmel

Taking kids on the 17-Mile Drive 

Rainy day activities in Carmel

Things To Do At Point Lobos State Park With Kids


Get travel inspiration in your inbox

Get more posts like this delivered straight to your inbox twice a month. Subscribe to the FREE e-newsletter here.

February 13, 2019

Guide to Carmel-by-the-Sea With Kids

Carmel-by-the-Sea is a picturesque seaside coastal town in California, known for its charming architecture that looks like the setting for Hansel and Gretel. You can find countless suggestions for romantic restaurants and inns for a couple’s getaway, sure. But what about families? Can you plan a great trip to Carmel-by-the-Sea with kids?

It turns out, there’s plenty to do in Carmel with kids, especially if yours is an outdoorsy family. Here’s what we did and how you can plan your own getaway!

Guide to planning a great vacation to Carmel-by-the-Sea with your family. Tips on where to eat, where to hike, attractions to see and where to stay #California #Carmel #familytravel

Disclosure: Our stay was hosted by Hofsas House Hotel. Some of our expenses were comped and some were not. This post may contain affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, if you make a purchase from an affiliate link, I receive a referral payment.

Note: Everyone refers to Carmel-by-the-Sea as Carmel, so I’ll be using it interchangeably in this post.

Where is Carmel-by-the-Sea?

Carmel-by-the-Sea is along the coast of California found just off the famous Highway 1, making it a perfect pit stop for road trippers. If you’re flying into the area, there is an airport in nearby Monterey. I found more affordable flight options into San Francisco and San Jose. Ultimately, we flew into San Jose and drove the scenic route south.

Family in the car at Carmel Beach in California
Here we are at Carmel Beach in the fab 2019 Mitsubishi Outlander we had for the weekend.

Carmel-by-the-Sea is a walkable small city, so I recommend finding a hotel or B&B near the city center. Since we had the kids, we wanted one with a pool (that was heated). We were hosted by Hofsas House Hotel, a charming Bavarian-inspired inn.

Exterior of the Bavarian-inspired hotel Hofsas House Hotel in Carmel-by-the-Sea
Hofsas House Hotel is a family-friendly, family-owned hotel in Carmel-by-the-Sea.

It has suites that are ideal for families. Ours even had a private balcony. Each room has Dutch doors, which entertained my kids for a good 10 minutes once they discovered they could open just the top portion of our door.

Find hotel suggestions at the end of this post!

Top things to do with kids in Carmel

Carmel is a shopper’s paradise, but I quickly found that beyond the cute toy store and candy shops, my kids had very little interest in browsing.

Exterior of the Cottage of Sweets in Carmel, California
My kids peeking inside the Cottage of Sweets, a cute little candy store in Carmel-by-the-Sea. We passed by it on one of our early morning walks when the store hadn’t opened yet.

So, if you imagine your kids are similar, I have two outdoorsy recommendations for you. You’d better check out Carmel Beach. Think white, fine sand and plenty of space to run. It’s a dog-friendly beach, so if you have furbabies with you, they can run off the leash.

We visited in the winter, so it was way too cold to actually play in the water. But, that didn’t stop us from going at sunset a few nights while we were there. We just had to bundle up.

And I was kidding. My kids tried to get in the water many times.

Carmel Beach at sunset in the winter
There’s my daughter, dancing in the ocean foam at Carmel Beach in the middle of winter.

My other recommendation is to go to Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. For just the $10 entry fee, it was one of the highlights of our trip. It’s worth a visit.

First, we hiked the easy Cypress Grove Trail. It took us to absolutely gorgeous views.

Stairs on the trail at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve in Carmel, California
On the hike to see the Old Veteran, a cypress tree that practically hangs off a cliff at Point Lobos.

We found Old Veteran, the tree hanging on a cliff.We also spied seals in the distance.

After the hike, we visited with park volunteers, who helpfully had suggestions on where else in the park we should go.

Tide pools at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve in Carmel, California USA
My kids loved the tide pools at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve in Carmel.

The tide pools at Point Lobos were amazing, if a little nerve-wracking as a parent. You can get right up to the edge of the surf. The kids were an absolute heaven – climbing, jumping and exploring the nooks and crannies.

More things to do with kids in Carmel (and nearby)

If you’re a history-loving family, or perhaps just devout Catholic, you may want to plan a stop to tour the Carmel Mission Basilica and the museums connected to it. It’ll take you about an hour, or less, and it’s one of the state’s most important historical sites.

The Carmel Mission Basilica in Carmel-by-the-Sea California
The courtyard at Carmel Mission Basilica is beautifully designed. Not pictured, just off to the right, is a fountain.

Carmel Mission Basilica has beautiful architecture from the 18th century and is a peaceful place to visit. It was founded by Saint Junipero Serra, and is the location of where he’s buried.

But to be honest, the kids weren’t very interested in it (not even my history-loving son). I would’ve skipped it and saved the admission fee if I had known better.

Monterey and Pacific Grove are two nearby towns you’ll want to check out if you are staying longer than a night or two. The biggie to see is the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Inside the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, California
The view from the second floor of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

The kids definitely enjoyed the experience, especially the touch tanks and sea otter feedings. There are quite a few hands-on opportunities as well as a play area (with a separate space for toddlers).

Kids at the touch tank at Monterey Bay Aquarium in California
There were all sorts of things in the touch tank at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

If you’re on a budget, this is one of the bigger expenses you’ll encounter on the trip. For the four of us, it would’ve been $160 if I hadn’t been given complimentary passes.

Plan on spending a good part of a day there. I was told to expect to be there for about four hours, which is a good rule of thumb. We left for lunch and then returned for another hour or so.

The aquarium is near Cannery Row, a super touristy street filled with souvenir shops and pricey restaurants. However, it’s worth noting that those pricey restaurants have outstanding views.

Cannery Row has a few activities for families, beyond looking for wildlife in the ocean. There’s putt putt and a mirror maze, for one thing.

Old Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey, California
Even on a dreary and drizzling winter day, there were plenty of tourists strolling along Old Fisherman’s Wharf.

Not too far away is Old Fisherman’s Wharf. Again, it’s touristy, but I liked it. The kids loved the candy stores, naturally. The wharf is where most whale watching tours depart. This is where we stopped to sample some of that free clam chowder everyone tells you about (my kids hated it). We also had lunch there. I talk about the restaurant, Abalonetti Bar and Grill, in the next section.

We also found a guy with birds on the wharf. My daughter has an obsession with birds, so she spent quite a bit of time holding each one of them.

Birds at Old Fisherman's Wharf, a tourist spot in Monterey, California
Making friends with the birds at Old Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey, Calif.

There’s a bike trail all along the coast in Monterey that would be a great route for families. It was rainy and cold during our visit, so we didn’t get to experience it.

We had a brief patch of sunshine one day, so while we were in Monterey, we went to Dennis The Menace Playground. While it was funded by the cartoonist behind the character, there isn’t much that hints at Dennis the Menace besides some sculptures. Regardless, it’s a great playground.

Dennis the Menace Playground in Monterey California
The Dennis the Menace Playground in Monterey had a ton of play structures, including a small climbing wall, which you can’t see in this picture, unfortunately.

The Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History is a nice museum to visit when the weather isn’t cooperating. Be sure to do the scavenger hunts – they’re a great way to explore all the exhibits, and the kids who complete one get a surprise at the end. My youngest did all three, she enjoyed it so much.

Doing the scavenger hunt at the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History in California
My daughter was determined to finish every scavenger hunt at the Pacific Coast Museum of Natural History. She completed three. You only need to complete one to collect a small prize.

The museum has a small outdoor space with native plants to attract pollinators and migrating butterflies. Plus, there’s a large whale statue to climb in front.

A lot of people told me about 17-Mile Drive. It’s the scenic route that takes you past Pebble Beach, by the lone Cypress and scenic overlooks. On a fairly rainy day, we paid our entrance fee and drove the route. We stopped at a few stops, including Spanish Bay Beach.

The kids loved the beach. I was freezing cold. Maybe in better weather, I’d appreciate the drive more.

Dining with kids in Carmel

I was pleasantly surprised how many restaurants had kid’s menus in Carmel. When I was researching the trip, I didn’t find many, so I was skeptical that it would actually be a good family-friendly destination. I’ll go into more details on the restaurants in an upcoming post.

One thing I’ve got to get out of the way, as a Midwesterner: Whatever your budget is for dining, double it in Carmel.

Breakfast was my favorite meal in Carmel. From Scratch (of “Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives” fame), was great, with a friendly staff and kid’s menu. There was a slight wait the morning we went.

The restaurant called Tuck Box in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
Appearing to be a structure straight out of Hansel and Gretel, Tuck Box is actually a restaurant in Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Tuck Box was the most charming of all places we went to. While it didn’t have a kid’s menu, it did have pancakes, which was fine for my kids. We went early on Sunday morning, so there was no wait. Be sure to bring cash, as they do not accept credit cards.

We didn’t get any breakfast at this next stop, but the coffee was great, so I’m recommending it. Carmel Belle is tucked away in a shopping center, and strikes me as a local version of Panera, but better.

Lalla Lounge ocean view
Be sure to get a table along the window at Lalla Lounge located in Cannery Row in Monterey, Calif.

Other restaurants to consider:

  • Baja Grill: The décor is a lot of fun here. It’s all race cars, motorcycles and related movie memorabilia here. The food was OK, and the staff was friendly to the kids.
  • Lalla Lounge: This restaurant on Cannery Row in Monterey had the best view of the trip. The kid’s menu had a nice variety, and I enjoyed my salad. 
  • Abalonetti Bar and Grill: This Old Fisherman’s Wharf restaurant came recommended to us by the guy pouring the wine at a wine tasting room. (BTW, I heard it pronounced like “Apple and Eddie”) We all had fish and chips (or shrimp and chips) for lunch. It was fine. Don’t as you walk the wharf, you can sample several chowders for free. It’s almost a meal itself.
  • Fifth Avenue Deli: We stopped here to get some picnic food one day. Unfortunately, the weather was definitely not picnic weather. 
  • La Bicicleta: This Carmel bistro came highly recommended to us. It’s super charming, and what I’d picture as an ideal date spot. There’s no kid’s menu, but there are pizzas on the menu, so you’re not totally out of luck if you bring kids with you. Still, this one I wouldn’t necessarily say is the best choice. 
  • Lugano’s Swiss Bistro: Fondue makes for a fun night out with the kids, don’t you think? This place is decked out like a Swiss chalet, and the menu is features German food in addition to the fondue. Ask for a kid’s menu, if you’re not going to want to pay adult prices for the kids. I had the schnitzel – it was superb.
  • Sur Restaurant: Not to put down Sur, because the burger was great, but this was our second choice after our first choice had an hour and a half wait and the rest of Carmel was out of power. It’s in the same shopping center as From Scratch and Lugano’s. There is a kid’s menu there, at least. 

What about California wine?

If you’re curious about wineries and wine tasting rooms (because there are several in town, and the wineries are nearby), I’m sorry to say we didn’t go to many. I had two in mind that I’d read were welcoming to families. I included them on my Carmel Bucket List.

Carrie, the owner at Hofsas House, said most wine tasting rooms are kid-friendly as they’re not technically bars. We stopped at one called Dawn’s Dream in Carmel. There were couches in a corner with a stack of coloring books, so we felt fine letting the kids entertain themselves why we tried the Chardonnay and Pinor Noir.

Plan the best trip to Carmel-by-the-Sea with your family! Here are tips on where to eat, where to hike, attractions to see and where to stay #California #Carmel #familytravel

Plan your Carmel trip!

Want to plan a Carmel-by-the-Sea getaway? Start with this Carmel Bucket List, and then read through these posts for more ideas:

Hofsas House Hotel: A Family-Friendly Hotel in Carmel

Dining with kids in Carmel

Taking kids on the 17-Mile Drive 

Rainy day activities in Carmel

Things To Do At Point Lobos State Park With Kids


Get Travel Inspiration Directly In Your Inbox

Subscribe to the FREE twice a month(ish) e-newsletter sharing what’s new in Omaha, giveaways, family travel ideas, and more! Subscribe here.

December 3, 2018

Beautiful State Parks To Visit In 2019

State parks sometimes get overshadowed by national parks, but it’s time they got their chance in the spotlight. They’re more affordable, usually less crowded and full of beautiful vistas. State parks are pretty much all we have in Nebraska (OK, there are a couple national forest lands and the Lewis & Clark National Trail headquarters, but still…). However, our visits to state parks when traveling have been highlights of our trips – especially our trip to South Dakota.  

I asked travel bloggers to share their favorites, and my friends, they did not disappoint. Here are some of their favorites you need to visit in 2019, starting with Midwest state parks.

10+ state parks to visit in 2019 + tips on hikes, best views and hidden gems. #tips #parks #hiking

Midwestern State Parks

Matthiessen State Park

Where: Oglesby, Ill.

Why: This park nestled in farmland unexpectedly has beautiful areas with deep canyons cut by streams, plus a few waterfalls, including Lake Falls.

Tip: Jai from Midwest Bliss pointed out that the Upper Dells is, by far, the most scenic and easily accessible trail area where you will be able to view most of the falls and vegetation.

Pere Marquette State Park

The view from McAdams Peak at Pere Marquette State Park in Illinois.
Photo courtesy Melissa Schwartz/A Little Time and a Keyboard

Where: Grafton, Ill.

Why: Pere Marquette State Park is known for bald eagle nesting in the winter. There is horseback riding, fishing, hiking and geocaching the rest of the year. Try the hike to McAdams Peak for beautiful views.

Tip: Melissa from A Little Time and a Keyboard mentioned one thing I haven’t encountered at any other state park: This one has a winery in the lodge. 

Stone State Park

Where: Sioux City, Iowa

Why: Considered an “urban wildlife sanctuary,” Stone State Park is found in the Loess Hills Scenic Byway. Mountain biking, hiking, fishing and camping are popular here. 

Tip: The trails at this park have a lot of hills, some quite steep, so Lindsay at Siouxland Families recommends sturdy hiking boots for good traction, and keeping toddlers in a carrier. “For a flatter walk, try parking at the Pammel Valley shelter and walking along the lake a bit. It’s not a very long hike, but it’s beautiful and the terrain is easy enough for most kids and many people with limited mobility.”

Falls of the Ohio State Park

The fossil beds at Falls of the Ohio State Park in Indiana. Photo courtesy Melissa Schwartz/A Little Time and a Keyboard

Where: Clarksville, Ind.

Why: The park is situated along the Ohio River where you can view the exposed Devonian fossil bed. While you can’t collect fossils there, it’s pretty  neat to see. See close-up photos of some of the fossil beds on Melissa’s post at A Little Time and a Keyboard.

Tip: If you really want a fossil, the gift shop has some you can purchase.

Turkey Run State Park

A bridge at Turkey Run State Park in Indiana. Photo courtesy Lindsay Williams/Let Me Give You Some Advice 

Where: Marshall, Ind.

Why: Turkey Run State Park is one of Indiana’s most popular state parks for good reason. Families can hike to a waterfall, canoe, horseback ride, and swim.

Tip: Lindsay from Let Me Give You Some Advice said the staff at the nature center can clue you in to which trails are best for your ability, as some can be rugged. “We hiked Trail 3 which is moderate in places and very rugged in others including three wooden ladders and some rocky walls to navigate. Good shoes (that are OK to get muddy) are a must. Plus, you’ll need to see if there’s been high water recently since much of the trail follows a creek bed.”

Mackinac Island State Park

View of Mackinac Island marina from Fort Mackinac
Soaking up the view of Mackinac Island while at Fort Mackinac located in Mackinac Island State Part.

Where: Mackinac Island, Mich.

Why: Mackinac Island State Park is a mix of trails and the historic Fort Mackinac. Once a military outpost and a national park, Fort Mackinac now is a park to tour, watch demonstrations and take in gorgeous views of Mackinac Island. One of its draws is that its located on a car-free island.

Tip: Each day, there is a ceremonial cannon shot that one guest can fire. It’s an additional fee to do it, and you must be older than 12, but it’s quite the experience! I tried it, and my kids helped prep the cannon. Read about our experience in this post about Fort Mackinac at Mackinac Island State Park.

Silver Lake State Park

Where: Mears, Mich.

Why: This park has stunning sand dunes sandwiched between Silver Lake and Lake Michigan. One fun way to explore the park is by dune buggy, which you can rent there.

Tip: Kylie from Between England and Iowa rented a dune buggy while in Silver Lake State Park and offered several tips for safe driving. One the best pieces of advice she had was “Don’t drive through water in a rental. It may look like a shallow puddle from a distance but I saw a buggy that was almost up to the ‘windows’ in the middle of the water, having to be towed out by another vehicle…engines and sand don’t mix.”

Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park

Hidden Falls in Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park in Minnesota. Photo courtesy Kristie Probst/World is Wide

Where: Nerstrand, Minn.

Why: Visit Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park in the spring to find a unique species of lily found in only three Minnesota counties, the Minnesota Dwarf Trout Lily.  The park is also home to Hidden Falls, a waterfall along on Prairie Creek.

Tip: There are some hills, but according to Kristie at World is Wide, most trails are low-key hikes. To feel like you have the park to yourself arrive early. Her family started their hike at around 9 a.m., and by the time they returned to their vehicle, the parking lot was full.

Niobrara State Park

The view of the river from a cabin at Niobrara State Park. Photo courtesy LeAnna Brown/Well Traveled Nebrakan

Where: Niobrara, Neb.

Why: Niobrara State Park cabins offer some of the best views ever of the winding Niobrara River, and according to LeAnna at The Well-Traveled Nebraskan, the camping sites were some of the best she’d ever seen.

Tip: The park offers horseback riding and has a swimming pool, but most unique is its seasonal Buffalo Cookouts. Eat a buffalo burger dinner and enjoy entertainment from ranging from poets to storytellers to singers. Reservations are required.

Hocking Hills State Park

Where: Logan, Ohio

Why: Hocking Hills State Park is a popular destination for traveling families because of its natural rock formations and numerous waterfalls. Plus, Conkles Hollow is a sight to see in the winter, according to Leah at Yoder Toter Blog. She described how dramatic it gets, with walls of the gorge being filled with ice formations. “On one winter visit, my little ones thought we had taken off to Elsa’s land in Frozen.”

Tip: According to Leah, the easiest trail for kids to hike is the paved Gorge Trail at Ash Cave. The trail ends at the large cave recess, in an area that’s full of sand and rocks. Basically, it’s a giant sandbox, so you may want to bring digging supplies and trucks for small kids to play.

Mohican State Park

Where: Loudonville, Ohio

Why: Many people visit Mohican State Park for the views from the Clear Fork Gorge Overlook. The park is popular for fishing, hiking, and when the weather’s right, tubing down Clear Fork River.

Tip: Two trails recommended by Tonya at Travel Inspired Living are the Big Lyons Falls Trail and Pleasant Hill Trail. The Pleasant Hill Trail is an easy one-miler.

Custer State Park

Where: Custer, S.D.

Why: This is one of the nation’s largest state parks, with 71,000 acres of lakes, including my favorite, Sylvan Lake, as well as pastures, pine forests, historic sites, and granite rock formations. Plus, this park has the picturesque Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway, voted as one of the 10 Most Outstanding Byways in America. The Dang Travelers have a great list of reasons why Custer State Park should be on your radar.

Tip: You want to take one of those photos of Mount Rushmore through one of the tunnels in Custer State Park? You’ll want to drive Iron Mountain, the 18-mile road between SD 36 and SD 244. You have three chances (ie. three tunnels that frame the monument).

State Parks Beyond The Midwest

I have travel friends around the U.S. who’ve visited some memorable state park. Here are a few of their recommendations for parks outside the Midwest, including New York, New Mexico and North Carolina.

Wekiwa Springs State Park

There were quite a few people swimming in the spring water at Wekiwa Springs State Park. Entrance is $2 per canoe.

Where: Longwood, Fla.

Why: This beautiful state park is near Orlando, making it a great day trip for those visiting theme parks. There is a swimming area, if you dare (we paddled by a small alligator). 

Tip: You can rent, canoes kayaks or standup paddleboards. Read about our experience canoeing with Wekiva Island.

Letchworth State Park 

The view of two waterfalls at Letchworth State Park in New York. Photo courtesy Ann Smith/Ann’s Entitled Life

Where: Castile, N.Y.

Why: Letchworth State Park is along the Genesee River, and features scenic cliffs and three waterfalls (one is 107 feet high). Fall is a particularly stunning time to visit this 14,427-acre park.

Tip: to the upper Falls can be a bit dicey, but worth it, according to Ann at Ann’s Entitled Life.

Pilot Mountain State Park

Unique rock formation at Pilot Mountain State Park in Pinnacle, North Carolina. Photo courtesy Katie Daughtrey/Living The Katie Way.

Where: Pinnacle, N.C.

Why: The views and challenging hikes

Tip: Mountain Trail is a serious climb, according to Katie at Living The Katie Way. It’s good to hike if you want the challenge, but she shared this good tip: Pilot Mountain State Park actually has the best access for non-hikers to a summit. “If you want, you can drive practically the whole way to the top and just walk around the Big Pinnacle and hit the overlooks from the top of Little Pinnacle.” 

Oliver Lee State Park

The view from the Dog Canyon Trail at Oliver Lee State Park in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Photo courtesy Hillary Midgley/RVing With Midgley

Where: Alamogordo, N.M.

Why: Gorgeous dessert views and challenging hikes, plus Oliver Lee State Park puts you near White Sands National Monument, Three Rivers Petroglyph Recreation Site, International Space Hall of Fame, and Pistachioland. 

Tip: Hillary at RV Like Midgley stayed six days at Oliver Lee State Park and wrote about her experience hiking the challenging 6-mile Dog Canyon Trail. “It was definitely one of the more challenging trails I’ve been on – with all the rock climbing and elevation gain. It took us about 3 hours to make it to the end, which was the remains of a small cabin at the end of the canyon. You could feel the temperature drop as we ascended into the canyon and we even found ice by the small spring. Then it took us another hour and 45 minutes to climb back down. It was challenging, but the views were spectacular!”

Travel bloggers share their favorite state parks to visit in the U.S., and include tips on hikes, best views and hidden gems. #tips #parks #hiking

Get Travel Inspiration Directly In Your Inbox

Subscribe to the FREE twice a month(ish) e-newsletter sharing what’s new in Omaha, giveaways, family travel ideas, and more! Subscribe here.

November 29, 2018

My Carmel-By-The-Sea Bucket List

Carmel-by-the-Sea might have been a town pulled straight out of a storybook. I’m planning a family trip to Carmel, and while doing so I’ve been obsessing over images from the region for weeks.

The store front to Tuck Box in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif. Photo courtesy Visit Carmel

Carmel has been described in the New York Times as having “42 hidden courtyards and alleys shelter a plethora of stylish new galleries and boutiques,” and its precisely those courtyards, along with the unique architecture that make it a fairy tale setting in my mind. And I can’t wait to go there! 

Disclosure: I am working with a hotel, Hofsas House Hotel, which is located in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

My Carmel Bucket List: Things to do, places to hike, and restaurants to visit in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California #wishlist #bucketlist #California

I’ve got plans to explore Carmel (and eat all the food), and that’s what this list is all about. My bucket list for Carmel is the ultimate list of things I wish I could do there if time and money were not a factor.

Brunch at “Clint Eastwood’s Restaurant”

Mission Ranch in Carmel-by-the-Sea California
Mission Ranch is known for its beautiful views, live jazz during Sunday brunch, and being owned by Clint Eastwood. Photo courtesy Visit Carmel

Clint Eastwood’s restaurant is more commonly known by its real name: Mission Ranch. I’ve heard the pastoral views are amazing. On Sundays, there’s live jazz music during brunch. It’s also one of the few restaurants I’ve come across in my research that had a kid’s menu!

San Carlos Borroméo del Rio Carmelo Mission

San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo Mission in Carmel-by-the-Sea California
The exterior of the Mission in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Photo courtesy Visit Carmel

San Carlos Borroméo del Rio Carmelo Mission, commonly known as the Mission, is an important historical and religious site in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Founded in 1771 by St. Junípero Serra, the Mission was the headquarters of the Alta California missions and is where St. Junípero Serra is buried. I have a history-loving son, and I’m pretty sure we’re going to spend a lot of time at the Mission.

Point Lobos State Reserve

Point Lobos State Park Reserve in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
China Cove has lovely jewel-colored water, doesn’t it? This cove is located in Point Lobos State Reserve in California. Photo courtesy Visit Carmel

Every travel writer and every photographer who writes about Carmel writes about and shares gorgeous photos of Point Lobos. I love the idea of hiking through the Monterey cypress grove and seeing the waves crashing on the rocks. Supposedly, author Robert Louis Stevenson was inspired with the idea of “Treasure Island” while strolling the beach near Point Lobos. Head to Sea Lion Point, with binoculars, to see the sea lions sunbathing or perhaps further in the distance, whales. If I had the skill, I’d try scuba diving there. The water is protected within the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

Garland Ranch Regional Park

Garland Ranch Regional Park in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
A trail at Garland Ranch Regional Park. Photo courtesy Visit Carmel

A guide to Carmel printed in Conde Nast’s blog described Garland Ranch Regional Park as the local’s trail: “Takes about an hour, requires you to break a sweat but not kill yourself, and rewards you with 180 degree views of wooded, unspoiled California landscape.”

Drive the drives

There are two drives that pass through apparently stunning scenery. I’d love to do both. 17-Mile Drive winds from Pebble Beach Resort to Pacific Grove along the picturesque coastline. Things to see include the most iconic tree on the California coast (an old Cypress), sea lions on the beach, and Spanish Bay. This drive requires a $10.25 entry fee.

The other scenic drive is Highway 1, or the famous Pacific Coast Highway.  I’d love to make this drive for a day trip to Big Sur.

Beach Time

Carmel Beach sunset in Carmel-by-the-Sea California
Sunset on Carmel Beach. Photo courtesy Visit Carmel

I heard there are pretty beaches found along 17-Mile Drive. I’m well aware how cold the water can be, so I’m all for just admiring the view. But you know what sounds good? A bonfire on the beach. It’s allowed at Carmel beaches, and the hotel I plan on staying at has a bonfire package to purchase, complete with blankets and s’mores ingredients.

See a show

Part of my trip planning for any vacation is to see what concerts and shows are occurring while I’m there. One place that caught my eye is the Golden Bough Playhouse in Carmel-by-the-Sea. It’s home to a year-round theatre, and as luck would have it, there’s a show the weekend we’re there (“Billy Elliott”). 

Sunset Center in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
The state-of-the-art interior of Sunset Center in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif. Photo courtesy Visit Carmel

Another indoor option is the Sunset Center, which offers a variety of performances in a state-of-the-art setting. I’m missing out on a Willie Nelson performance and, in the spring, a “Friends” parody.

There’s also Forest Theater, Carmel’s outdoor venue for plays, films and special events. It looks to be a pretty seasonal entertainment option, though, and my winter visits isn’t going to line up with any performances.

Dog watching

Dogs in front of dog-friendly hotel in Carmel-by-the-Sea California
Dogs in front of Cypress Inn in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif. Photo courtesy Visit Carmel

There’s people watching, and then in Carmel, there’s dog watching. Carmel is super dog-friendly, with many restaurants welcoming four-legged friends and some beaches allowing them to run leash-free. There’s even a hotel with a yappy hour and a dog-friendly brunch. The New York Times once described it this way: “In addition to scones and crustless cucumber sandwiches, the afternoon service draws a head-spinning parade of Shih Tzus, toy poodles and other impeccably groomed pups taking tea with their equally coiffed owners.” 

Visit the farm

I’m familiar with the organic brand, Earthbound Farm Organic, and have purchased so much spinach over the years from that brand. It all started in Carmel Valley. Down the road from the original farm, visitors can go to the Farm Stand. I’ve read that lunch at the Farm Stand is tasty and affordable, and you can’t beat the setting. I’ll have to look for the K ids’ Alphabet Garden.

Wine tasting

Wine at Caraccioli Cellars in Carmel-by-the-Sea California
Wine in California is a must. One of the wineries in Carmel-by-the-Sea is Caraccioli Cellars. Photo courtesy Visit Carmel

It’s California, after all, so I’ve got to try the local wine. I’m making it my goal to find one winery that caters to families (which is to say, let’s parents sample wine and still welcomes kids in tow). They’re out there, I know. While I’m dreaming on things, if I were to travel without the kids, I’d totally be trying out the Carmel Wine Walk-by-the-Sea.

Date night dinners

Casanova restaurant in Carmel-by-the-Sea California
The patio of Casanova, called one of the most romantic restaurants in Carmel. Photo courtesy Visit Carmel

The choices for world-class dining are a little dazzling. I’d imagine dinner at any restaurant at Pebble Beach would include unforgettable views and probably a celebrating sighting or two (I heard The Bench had a good view of the 18th Hole). There’s also the Aubergine, where a wine pairing dinner sounds absolutely divine. Or maybe I’d dine at Casanova, called “one of Carmel’s most romantic restaurants” by Zagat. Word is, that restaurant has a table from France that was one Vincent Van Gogh dined at.

Pepple Beach Bagpipes

Yeah, I’m not a golfer, so golfing at Pebble Beach is not going to be on this list. But hearing the Scottish bagpipes played on the green? Sure, let’s do that! This is a daily occurrence in the evenings throughout the summer.

What should I add to this bucket list? Where would should I eat? Where should I go?

Stunning views, great restaurants and more things on this wish list of things to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California #wishlist #bucketlist #California

Plan your Carmel trip!

After writing this post, we used to inspire our own Carmel-by-the-Sea getaway? Read any of these posts for additional details on where we went and what we did in the area:

Guide to Carmel-by-the-Sea With Kids

Hofsas House Hotel: A Family-Friendly Hotel in Carmel

Dining with kids in Carmel

Taking kids on the 17-Mile Drive 

Rainy day activities in Carmel – March 12

5 Amazing Things To See At Point Lobos State Park – March 25

Great stops on the drive from San Jose to Monterey – April 2

Get Travel Inspiration Directly In Your Inbox

Subscribe to the FREE twice a month(ish) e-newsletter sharing what’s new in Omaha, giveaways, family travel ideas, and more! Subscribe here.