If it isn’t already, add the forested fairytale village of Carmel-by-the-Sea to your travel bucket list. The quaint seaside village is on the California coast just two hours south of San Francisco and offers loads of shopping, art, scenic views, and seafood. Here’s everything my friend Eric and I did, ate, and saw during our weekend trip to Carmel, including the famous 17 Mile Drive, a rose vineyard wine tasting, a European-syle spa, and more.
The drive from San Francisco to Carmel is a beautiful one. It took us a little over two hours to get to our home for the weekend, Hofsas House Hotel. The charming Bavarian-style hotel was built in the 1940s by the current owner’s grandmother and is a short walk to the heart of the village. You can read all about Hofsas House on my article here.
After checking in to to the hotel, we strolled into town to explore. The fairytale village of Carmel is as cute as a storybook! There are loads of boutiques, perfect for Christmas shopping (spoiler alert for my family) and picking up delectable souvenirs. A couple of my favorite shops were Olivier by the Sea, which had delicious sauces, olive oil, jams, and beautifully crafted kitchen goods and Whittakers, which had towels, t-shirts, satchels, and other easily-packable souvenirs.
Carmel Plaza has more modern shops, wine rooms, and an amazing cheese shop appropriately named The Cheese Shop. I felt Ina Garten the moment I walked in! If you want to have yourself a little wine and cheese evening, I highly recommend stopping in.
We also visited the Cottage of Sweets, which I saw a year or so ago on Food Network. I had to try the fudge for myself! It did not disappoint. I got some packaged treats for me and my mom to enjoy back home. It’s one of the fairytale buildings, so be sure to check it out and get a sweet treat!
Carmel has art galleries on every block. We strolled through at least four and were impressed by the quality of works, which were all for sale. I was ill-prepared for the art scene Carmel has to offer. I did tons of research about Carmel before my trip, as I do before every trip, and everyone seems to do Carmel and Monterey in one weekend (much like Sonoma and Napa) but I’m here to tell you: you could easily spend a weekend in either place. We only saw a fraction of the shops and galleries in Carmel.
After an afternoon of shopping and wandering, we ate dinner at Flaherty’s Seafood, an oyster bar known for its incredibly fresh seafood. (Fresh fish is delivered multiple times each day!) We noshed on oysters, fired artichoke, lobster gnocchi, seafood paella, and the best bread pudding I’ve ever had. Read my full review here.
Saturday morning we strolled into town after breakfast at Hofsas House and grabbed coffee at Carmel Coffee House and Roasting Company. It’s in one of Carmel’s famous hidden courtyards and we kind of stumbled upon it.
I was delighted with my cinnamon latte, which I enjoyed on the beach. Everyone in town will tell you you can walk to the beach but it’s a really steep hill so if you have any physical restrictions, I highly recommend taking a car instead. There’s a good sized parking lot right at the beach. It was a beautiful California morning. I could have easily sat on the beach until lunch!
Next up we headed a few miles out of town to Folktale Winery. I cannot say enough wonderful things about Folktale. First of all, it’s home to the best sparkling rosé I’ve ever had. The food is fantastic, the grounds are beautiful, and the patio begs to be enjoyed for hours. We were only going to stay an hour or so and ended up staying for most of Saturday! Read my article about our tour and tasting at Folktale Winery here.
After rehydrating, we embarked on the famous 17 Mile Drive, the coastal road between Carmel and Monterey with killer views of the Pacific Ocean. It’s $10 to enter the 17 Mile Drive (which will be reimbursed if you spend more than $30 at a business along the way) and there are tons of scenic stops. The road keeps wanting to take you into the forest, so be sure to stay along the coast for the best views.
The views near Carmel were more dramatic than on the Monterey side so plan on more time spent on the south side of the 17 Mile Drive. My favorite spot on the entire drive was one of the stops at Pebble Beach.
We stopped by the Fisherman’s Wharf and drove through Cannery Row in Monterey before heading to dinner at Beach House on Lover’s Point. I was charmed by the seaside views. It finally cooled down and the fog rolled in right before dinner. I had a delicious beet salad and scallop pot pie for dinner. When have you ever had a scallop pot pie? It was so good!
On Sunday morning, we again ventured out of town to enjoy Refuge, a European-style outdoor spa. It’s close to Folktale but you do get wet so plan accordingly. Refuge provides a Heat Up, Cool Down, Relax cycle and a day pass so visitors can leisurely enjoy the hot and cold pools, eucalyptus steam, sauna, fire pits, and more. If you love spa days, you must check out Refuge. Read my article about Refuge here.
We had planned on wrapping up the weekend with a lunch picnic on the beach but sadly had to cut our trip short. We instead enjoyed sandwiches, apples, chips, and cookies from 5th Avenue Deli on the way back to San Francisco. They have several different box lunch options to make picnicking a breeze!
It’s easy to spend a weekend exploring Carmel and the Monterey Peninsula. We barely drove through Monterey but I plan to see much more of the California coast on future trips. With hidden courtyards and charm behind every flower box, Carmel is consistently referred to as a “fairytale” for a reason. Go and see for yourself!
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Disclaimer: This article is intended to be a general resource. Any recommendations are based on personal opinion. A portion of this trip may have been compensated but opinions are my own, always. I’m not a fan of negativity so if I don’t like something, I don’t write about it. I’m here to tell you about the best of the best!