Where to Eat, Stay & Play in Carmel
A guide to the best places to eat, stay and play in Carmel, California
Carmel Valley has been said to rival Napa as one of the best places to visit in Northern California and after spending time there it’s not hard to see why. The combination of soft white sand and stunning views of California’s coastline paired with some of the best wine the state has to offer is truly hard to beat.
The vineyards are nestled beneath the stunning green St. Lucia Mountains and are conveniently located within walking distance from one another. Just a ten minute drive from Carmel Valley is Carmel-by-the-Sea, an adorable beach side town lined with cute shops, top-rated restaurants, and local wineries. In addition, it’s known to be one the pet-friendliest towns in America thanks to Doris Day who was a huge advocate for animal rights.
Considering that Brandon and I are both major dog/wine lovers, we knew Carmel would be the perfect spot to celebrate our first anniversary together. It’s such a special place and I would definitely recommend visiting if you ever find yourself on the Pacific coast!
Where to Stay:
Lamp Lighter Inn. Like most hot spots in California, you’ll need to reserve a room in Carmel well in advance if you’re traveling between spring and fall. The Cypress Inn is a popular option for dog lovers but because they were all booked up we went with their sister property, the Lamp Lighter Inn, just two blocks up from the beach.
The Inn is very clean and has an adorable, beachy feel with cozy outdoor fire pits that keep you warm while you enjoy the complimentary breakfast and happy hour wine and cheese. The only con is that there is very little insulation in the walls (we could hear literally every move the people staying above us made) so be sure to book a room with no one above you.
Where to Play:
1. Carmel Beach. Located at then end of the main strip on Ocean Avenue, this gorgeous beach is hard to miss. Stroll from one end to other with your toes in the delicate soft sand and take in the sights of endless clear blue water, stunning homes perched along the cliffs and happy pups frolicking on the shore.
Later in the evening, be sure to come back for the sunset! You can pick up a bottle of wine, snacks, and plastic glasses at Neilsen’s Market and cheers to a beautiful day.
2. Carmel Valley Vineyards. Less than a mile from end to end is Carmel Valley Village which is home to nearly 20 different wineries that are an easy walk from one to the next.
Our favorites were Georis (where you can also get a delicious lunch!), Heller Estate (they have really good certified organic wine), Talbott’s, and Boekenoogen. The best part is that they all have outside patios to enjoy the beautiful California weather plus they’re dog friendly too!
3. Point Lobos State Reserve. The trails here are easy enough to bring little ones along (dogs aren’t allowed though) and the views are definitely worth the $10 entry fee. Plan a few hours here so that you have time to gaze out at the turquoise water and watch the lazy sea lions sunbathe. Be sure to visit to China Cove for a breathtaking view of the beach and a chance to see the seals nursing their newborn pups from late March to June.
4. Earthbound Farm Stand. Have a picnic style lunch on the patio and then get inspired to grow your own food by touring their bountiful garden. End your visit with a bowl of soft serve organic ice cream while appreciating the mountain views around you. Just be sure to leave the dog behind for this one because they’re not allowed.
5. Downtown Carmel. Stroll around the shops, take in the scenery and pop into a few wineries for tasting. If you want to make a day of wine tasting downtown (we preferred the more natural setting of tasting in the Valley), pick up a Wine Walk Passport at the Chamber of Commerce. Oh, and don’t forget to stop for the handmade chocolates at Cottage of Sweets!
Where to Eat:
1. Carmel Valley Ranch. If you want more of a quiet escape this would be an excellent place to stay. We tried to get a room for the night of our anniversary but unfortunately they were all booked up. Instead we settled for lunch by their salt water pool and the food and service was absolutely amazing. The hostess asked why we were visiting Carmel and when I told her it was for our anniversary, she brought us a piece of chocolate cake for dessert which I thought was so sweet! Other than cake, I had muddled orange spritzers and a portabella hummus wrap and Brandon had a vegetable grilled cheese with the most incredible truffle fries on the planet. If nothing else, go there for the truffle fries!!
2. La Bicyclette. I’m a sucker for French ambiance so this restaurant had my name written all over it. Luckily the food was just as good as the décor. The mushroom pizza and the chocolate mousse were to-die-for!
3. Casanova’s. This is considered to be the most romantic restaurant in Carmel. We made the mistake of bringing Coco and sitting on the chilly patio which unfortunately took away from the romance but the food was excellent. The spinach gnocchi literally melts in your mouth!
4. Carmel Belle. This is a great place to stop for breakfast or lunch. Everything is really fresh and they have an organic juice bar to help you detox from all of the wine. ;)
5. Dametra Café. I don’t have any pictures from this one but every time we walked by, it was booming with business so we had to see what all of the fuss was about. The setting is cozy and casual and the food was great but what really makes this place is the service.
We also spent a day in Big Sur which I’ll be sure to share with you soon. If you’ve already been and you have any recommendations, please share them in the comments!