Carmel-By-The-Sea Is The California Town That Feels Like A Fairytale

With white sand beaches, towering Monterey cypress, pine trees, and cottages that look like they're out of a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, Carmel-by-the-Sea is a picturesque village tucked away on California's central coast. Carmel-by-the-Sea is a small one-square-mile village, though it and the surrounding area are generally known as Carmel. It's at the center of Carmel Bay, and it made our list as one of America's best coastal towns. On California's iconic Highway 1, Carmel is south of the famed Pebble Beach golf course and Monterey and north of the rugged coast of Big Sur.

The beauty of the area and its Mediterranean climate has long attracted artists of all types. Before it became a city in 1916, according to the Carmel Chamber of Commerce, authors Jack London and Robinson Jeffers lived there in tents. More cultural figures flocked to the area after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and painters like Carl Oscar Borg, Armin Hansen, and Brian Blood worked to represent the magnificent scenery, according to Art Fix Daily. Hollywood stars like Doris Day and Betty White lived in Carmel, and Clint Eastwood, who was mayor of Carmel in the 1980s, still lives there. If you want to follow in their footsteps and become inspired by Carmel, here are some of the best that Carmel has to offer, from its romantic streets, delicious dining, luxury stays, and world-renowned recreation. 

Some of Carmel's historic sites can trace their allure to love

Many of Carmel's straight-out-of-a-storybook-looking cottages were inspired by love. In 1924, Hugh Comstock met and fell in love with Mayotta Browne in Carmel, and for her, he built a Tudor-inspired tiny house that he would call "Hansel" to house the dolls that she made and sold; they'd later build a second one on their property named "Gretel," per Valley Lodge. There are still 21 original "Comstock" houses you can walk by with their rolled eaves and stone chimneys, including "Hansel" and "Gretel."

For more historic architecture, check out Tor House and Hawk Tower at Carmel Point. Home to poet Robinson Jeffers, the stone house and gardens are open for docent-led tours. And the restored Carmel Mission, one of the 21 missions built in California from San Diego to San Francisco, is the burial site of Junipero Serra, the Spanish Franciscan priest who founded the mission in 1771.

If you don't want to miss the best historic spots, Visit Carmel has put together a self-guided walking tour. As you wander the square mile boundaries of the village, you'll notice a lack of street lights, parking meters, and mailboxes; all mail is delivered to the post office, a decision made by the city's founders to help keep the small town feel, per Visit Carmel. Another quirk is that technically stiletto heels are banned, though it's not something police enforce.

You can't find any chain restaurants in Carmel

Impressively, Carmel has more than 60 restaurants in its square mile boundaries. And none of them are fast food restaurants or drive-thrus, according to Visit Carmel. Stop by The Tuck Box, one of the quaint cottages designed and built by Hugh Comstock, for breakfast, lunch, or afternoon tea; their scones and jam are a can't-miss for many, according to TripAdvisor.

Award-winning Executive Chef Justin Cogley leads the team at the award-winning Aubergine Carmel at L'Auberge Carmel, Relais & Châteaux. The restaurant received its Michelin star in 2019. Each time you dine there, you can have a unique experience with the eight-course tasting menu that changes every day and focuses on serving fresh, seasonal ingredients in ways you've never tasted before, as well as a 2,500-bottle-strong wine cellar.

A number of other restaurants source the bounty of the central coast, including Foray, which incorporates wild-foraged ingredients like chanterelles and truffles — the owners have their champion truffle dog named Falco, per Edible Monterey Bay. And Chez Noir's menu will feature hyper-local seafood created by Chef Johnny Black, who has worked at a number of Michelin-star restaurants, via Robb Report.

Carmel has something for everyone from wine enthusiasts to scuba divers

If you thought that Carmel has a lot of restaurants in a small area, it's got even more art galleries, totaling almost 100. The Carmel Art Association is the area's oldest one, having opened in 1927, with new shows every month. Along with checking out the area's art scene, don't forget to try its wines. Wine lovers can enjoy a stroll through the village streets guided by a mobile guide. Carmel has over a dozen tasting rooms where you can try out some of Monterey County's best wines.

And no visit to Carmel would be complete without a long walk on the beach. The approximate mile-long Carmel Beach has white sugar soft sand and is the best place to watch the sunset. Another can't-miss Carmel outdoor activity is a trip to Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, the crown jewel of the California state park system, via SFGate. Point Lobos is said to have been the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson's "Treasure Island," per Carmel Chamber of Commerce. The state park, a few miles south on Highway 1 from Carmel, is an enchanting mix of landscapes from steep forested headlands to meadows to beaches great for tide pooling. At Point Lobos, there are opportunities for hiking and scuba diving. Along the way, you may spot a variety of wildlife like sea otters, sea lions, harbor seals, shorebirds, and even whales.

Carmel has both luxury resorts and historic, boutique hotels

The Hotel La Ribera opened in the heart of Carmel village in 1929. By the mid-1980s, the property was rebranded the Cypress Inn, co-owned by actor and animal rights activist Doris Day, who helped make it the city's premier dog-friendly boutique hotel, per Architectural Digest. The Mediterranean-style hotel's pet-friendly policies continue today. You will feel like you have your own place a block from the white sands of Carmel Beach with a stay in one of the five historic cottages of Carmel Cottage Inn. The inn's Log Haven cottage, which can sleep up to 10, was originally built in the early 1900s, making it one of the oldest houses in town.

For a luxury retreat, Carmel Valley Ranch has 500 acres of oak woodlands, vineyards, and lavender fields, and it is an approximately 15-minute drive from the center of Carmel. The hotel has fireplaces in every guest room, panoramic views out over Carmel Valley, an 18-hole golf course, and a luxury spa that uses plenty of ingredients from the property in its treatments. The ranch also got a plethora of activities, including equine experiences, honey harvesting, archery classes, falconry, and more.

Explore wants to acknowledge that Carmel-by-the-Sea is the traditional territory of the Ohlone, Rumsen, and Esselen.