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3 Nights in Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA

Our first visit to Carmel was in November of 2020. I instantly fell in love with this charming town packed with some of the best restaurants, the cutest downtown architecture and collection of shops, and incredible proximity to the sea and other coastal towns like Seaside and Monterey. Carmel was one of the three California cities we considered moving to when we left the East Coast (along with Laguna and La Jolla). It's upscale yet laid back and has access to breathtaking vistas along the California coast, including Big Sur, just forty-five minutes away. What I especially love about this coastal town is its magnetic pull to get you outdoors. Locals are extremely active soaking in the abundant hiking trails in their backyard followed by a delicious meal in the village. Beyond the Pacific Ocean, you'll find fertile farmlands, vineyards, and infinite lush rolling hills making up the lovely landscape. Three nights is the minimal amount of time you should plan to visit, one week is ideal. Below are some insights on what to do and where to eat when you're lucky to find yourself here.

What to do While in Carmel:

Set aside a full day to drive south along the Pacific Coast Highway to stop at the many monumental overlook points and embark on some unforgettable hikes. We had a plan in place outlining which trails we would visit but ended up being enticed by several stops along the way leading us to a spontaneous day of unplanned trails that took our breaths away. Ultimately, we drove approximately thirty minutes south of Bixby Creek Bridge, loving every minute on the windy cliff-side roads that delivered to die for views every step of the way.

This 1.6-mile loop hike is fairly easy, with an incline of only 270 feet yet it may not be a simple achievement for those with a fear of heights. At one point the trail becomes fairly narrow with nothing between the edge of the cliff and the crashing ocean a couple of hundred feet below. Despite this quickly passing challenge, it is a manageable trail that has constant stunning coastal views along the way.

Epic views, wild challah lilies, and a river that runs into the sea... this is my idea of Paradise. In all our travels and trails, I have never experienced a scene so deeply moving. This magical piece of our earth rightfully draws a large crowd compared to the other trails but you'll still be able to find your nook to revel in the majestic beauty of our planet.

Spend an afternoon strolling through the streets of Carmel-by-the-Sea Village

The downtown area of Carmel boasts endless charming courtyards and secret passages that keep your interest piqued as you peruse the sidewalks that line over sixty eating establishments, eighty art studios, and hundreds of specialty shops. I love this little town. I dare say it is even nicer than my own beautiful La Jolla downtown. Walking through the main streets of the shopping district is a treat for the eyes as every storefront will catch your attention with unique products, quaint architectural details, attractive landscaping, or entrances to hidden treasures.

Lodge at the exclusive Tehama Golf Club (if you can):

Clint Eastwood owns the land to this 2,000-acre luxury gated country club with expansive homes and a sprawling golf course that is surrounded by rolling hills. As soon as you enter the property, the serenity that comes with the curvaceous tree-lined roads takes you over. The overwhelming relaxation provided by the isolation that comes with staying here is unparalleled. Wildlife exists everywhere you look; in the evenings you'll easily spot flocks of turkeys and deer feeding. The main clubhouse has a cozy restaurant that serves impressive food and also hosts the only four large hotel rooms on the grounds, each with massive rustic doors and private patios that look onto the golf course. Tehama is a slice of heaven available only to those with friends or family who are members of the association. Private, gorgeous, tranquil, and serene... the only thing better than visiting the property is living on it.

Where to Dine in Carmel:

During our 2020 visit to Carmel, we had an extremely memorable meal at this cozy French bistro. Initially, we indulged at La Bicyclette for dinner. This time around we opted to experience breakfast. The smell of freshly baked bread amidst the open kitchen's wood-fired oven flame immediately sets the tone for a cozy environment. The food is consistently superb and beautifully presented. Despite a couple of minor hiccups, this eatery remains on my list of best restaurants in Carmel.

pros: delicious french fare mostly prepared in a wood-fired oven in their open kitchen, quaint atmosphere

cons: they didn't have any pastries listed on the menu upon opening, no reservations for weekend breakfast, staff could use some training on being more friendly

must order: tartine la bicyclette (avocado toast, hard-boiled egg, smoked salmon, and roe) and the eggs in purgatory (two wood-fire eggs, potato ragout, green onion, vermont cheddar, and toasted country bread)

A local favorite, this cute bakery off the main strip of town bakes fresh breads and pastries daily. They have a great assortment of premade sandwiches and make a perfectly prepared latte. They also serve a big dose of agenda that comes with their Pride flags and BLM posters- not surprisingly they attract customers who wear "Free Palestine" t-shirts. I prefer my coffee and chocolate croissant without a DEI indoctrination. So, next time we're in the area, we'll skip this spot.

pros: large selection of sandwiches, well-trained baristas cons: politically charged cafe, too progressive for the conservative folks of Carmel

must order: an ounce of patience and ability to keep quiet and not be triggered by the irony of their failed attempts of inclusivity that only causes divisiveness

I am obsessed with the breakfasts here. This is another restaurant that blew me away during our first visit to Carmel and kept me counting down the days to our second meal here. We were the first to arrive at 8:00 am on a Monday. By 8:20 am the place was packed with eager patrons ready to start their day with a fabulous meal.

pros: warm and attentive staff, enticing menu, beautifully prepared dishes

cons: none

must order: the shakshouka with halloumi cheese, the yogurt bowl, and the chilaquiles

Pangea Grill was a spontaneous choice for lunch on a Sunday afternoon. Since we didn't have reservations we had to wait forty minutes for a table, surprisingly it was worth the wait. Bustling and lively with a friendly staff, the kitchen pumps out really good California cuisine using only the freshest ingredients.

pros: varied menu with lots of options, extremely fresh ingredients, very warm hostess

cons: reservations required, long wait times for walk-ins

must order: the fish tacos are outstanding

This fairly new restaurant to the Carmel food scene makes my list of top California restaurants. A first experience for us, the staff opened the main door to greet us and welcome us inside; they then escorted us out with a genuine expression of gratitude for our visit. The aroma of the dishes being made in the open kitchen will hit you instantly making you instantly ravenous for everything on the menu. For the vegetarian in our group who did not have many options on the menu, the waiter came back with three options that the kitchen offered to customize for her. As if the high-level service and wonderful scents lurking through the air aren't enough, the food is outrageously good. Every single bite left me wanting more.

pros: unique creations, superb service, open kitchen with wood-fired oven, fantastic fare

cons: absolutely none

must order: kushi oysters, crab toast (dungeness crab with calabrian mayo over focaccia bread), crab fettuccini, and the kampachi crudo

Located in the gated community of Pebble Beach this Mexican eatery is known for its lively atmosphere. On the night we dined there a nearby table was celebrating a birthday while other large groups entered in jolly moods. This isn't a fine dining establishment but it is a local favorite and you can count on it for a solid meal. The nachos are the star of the show- they are presented in a tall tower held together by a stainless steel cylinder. The waiter then dismantles them by lifting the container leaving guests oohing as they watch the nachos collapse into their traditional form.

pros: reasonable prices, nice views overlooking the golf course, fun vibe

cons: the parking lot is a bit of a walk

must order: the nachos and any of their salads or bowls (the ingredients are extremely fresh).

And that's a wrap! Our three nights in Carmel-by-the-Sea delivered everything we needed - quality time with family, good friends, and nature along with sunshine, delicious dining, and memory-making. Something tells me we will be making a third visit here in the near future.


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