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 – Feb. 22

Dining with kids in Carmel – Feb. 26

Rainy day activities in Carmel – March 8

Taking kids on the 17-Mile Drive – March 12

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

Great stops on the drive from San Jose to Monterey – March 28

Need a hotel in Carmel-by-the-Sea?

Family-friendly

Here are some of the TripAdvisor top-reviewed hotels in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California that have been recommended for families:

Hofsas House Hotel – This is where we stayed in Carmel-by-the-Sea. It’s within walking distance of shopping, restaurants and the beach.

Coachman’s Inn, A Four Sisters Inn

Carmel River Inn

Mid-range hotels

Here are some of the TripAdvisor top-reviewed mid-range hotels in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California:

Tradewinds Carmel

Quail Lodge & Golf Course

Wayside Inn

Luxury hotels

Here are some of the TripAdvisor top-reviewed luxury hotels in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California:

La Play Carmel

Tickle Pink Inn

Carmel Valley Ranch


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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?

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