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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, California, 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.

Plan the best trip to Carmel-by-the Sea with this bucket list! Carmel is one of those must-see charming towns of California. Find things to do in Carmel, restaurants to visit, scenic hikes and more must-see highlights. #California #USA #BucketList

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 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!

Related post: Dining With Kids In Carmel

San Carlos Borroméo del Rio Carmelo Mission

Exterior of San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo Mission in Carmel-by-the-Sea California
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

China Cove 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

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

There are a lot of regions around the state with excellent vineyards, though. Paso Robles wineries, for example, are just about 2 hours away from Carmel.

Date night dinners

Casanova restaurant in Carmel-by-the-Sea California
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.

Bucket List-worth Carmel hotels

Wondering which hotels are the highest ranked (thus, in my mind, the bucket list hotels)? Here are the top hotels according to guest reviews on Booking.com:

  • Carmel Garden Inn – It’s kid-friendly, pet-friendly and has a FREE breakfast.
  • The Getaway – Located on the main road with shops, it’s highly ranked for couples. And there’s a wine happy hour each night.
  • Tradewinds – This boutique hotel is a 10-minute walk to the beach!
  • The Vagabond’s House Boutique Inn & Spa – Guests describe this B&B as “dreamy” with a perfect location.

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?

Dream Carmel-by-the-Sea California - Here's a bucket list of things to do in Carmel, restaurants to visit, and must-do activities. #Carmel #California #Beach #Vacation #USA #USATravel

Plan your Carmel trip!

We used this post to plan our own Carmel-by-the-Sea getaway. Feel inspired to plan one of your own? 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

5 Amazing Things To See At Point Lobos State Park 

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Tuesday 11th of February 2020

You peaked my interest with the hotel that has a bonfire package. What hotel was that? I’m planning a trip on Hwy 101 in March and would absolutely love that experience.


Wednesday 12th of February 2020

The hotel is called Hofsas House Hotel. Enjoy!


Tuesday 21st of May 2019

Greetings from Carmel! So glad to hear you like our little town. While not in Carmel proper, on the 2nd pier (The quiet one) in Monterey, there's a great restaurant named "The Sand Bar". It has the distinction of having been in the Eastwood movie entitled, "Play Misty For Me". Then there's Terry's Lounge in the Cypress Inn (In Carmel proper), so named after the son of Doris Day (whom we will miss greatly).


Tuesday 21st of May 2019

Thanks, James! I wish I had known about The Sand Bar, that would've been great to check out. I'll keep it in mind for next time!

Jill Brandt

Monday 3rd of December 2018

When I was in Carmel we ate at La Bicyclette... twice in one trip because the pizza was so amazing. Loved all the cute houses in town. Enjoy!


Monday 3rd of December 2018

La Bicyclette sounds like my kind of place. I love great pizza that makes you come back for more.

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