A Cultural Guide to Carmel-by-the-Sea • We Blog The World
A Cultural Guide to Carmel-by-the-Sea • Tour Travel Hotels
We’re not new to Carmel or the California coast. As East Coasters who have always appreciated the power of nature to transform, heal and connect, we savor the magic as often as we can. The area is brimming with bird life, great viewing points of whales, dolphins and sea otters, and nature trails.
There are countless things to occupy your time in the Monterey/Carmel area, but given our love of nature and the beautiful weather we had during our recent February weekend escape, let’s start with the infamous and stunning Point Lobos State Nature Reserve.
Hiking Trails at Point Lobos
We were slated to go whale watching when the winds picked up. They had cancelled the boat tours the previous day so we opted for a less windy, warmer option during our February jaunt. That said, whale watching is a must do when you go to the Monterey/Carmel Peninsula so be sure to add it to your itinerary when heading to the area.
More secluded for our windy day alternative is the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, which is a photographer’s haven; it’s also amazing inspiration for artists (bring your canvas), nature study, picnicking, and meditating with a breathtaking view. Or, one of my favorite things to do: sit on the rocks so you have your own space and solitude.
Or you can walk along the beach which is always special as well.
There are rare plant communities, endangered archeological sites, unique geological formations, and incredibly rich flora and fauna of both land and sea in the reserve. Deriving its name from the offshore rocks at Punta de los Lobos Marinos, Point of the Sea Wolves, where the sound of the sea lions carries inland, the Reserve has often been called “the crown jewel of the State Park System”.
Wildlife includes seals, sea lions, sea otters and migrating gray whales (from December to May), not to mention the thousands of seabirds you are likely to see. Hiking trails follow the shoreline and lead to hidden coves and protected beaches. There’s a small cabin that was built by Chinese fishermen which still remains at Whalers Cove today; it has been turned into a cultural history museum.
There’s also the Point Lobos Foundation – find out more by visiting their website.
Dogs and bikes are not allowed, which means less noise and more protection of the surrounding plant life and beyond. If you love horseback riding, while it isn’t offered within the reserve, we went a few years ago at Meadow Hill Farm in Carmel Valley and we’d recommend it.
Meadow Hill Farm for Horse Riding Lessons in Carmel Valley
Here are a few more shots to breathe in.
Second on the list of must do’s are art galleries. Beyond nature, which is abundant in the area, is ART. We mention this second because of the countless art galleries in downtown Carmel as well as in Monterey.
From modern oil paintings of abstract and more Impressionist style to classic traditional landscapes and historical imagery from years gone by (aka the Amsterdam Art Gallery which we loved), you’ll find plenty of choices.
Art on canvas isn’t the only creative energy you’ll find in Carmel — there’s statues as well.
And, there’s also beautiful mosaic work to be found as well.
Shopping, Shopping & More Shopping
Shopping is the other must do while you’re in the area. There’s no shortage of incredible shops along Ocean (the main drag), on all of the side streets that jut out from the wide boulevard. Because Carmel’s Covid restrictions (and rules) are stricter than most, you’ll find everyone wearing a mask even when walking outside and of course, are mandatory in all shops and cafes. It certainly makes one feel at ease when walking around.
In addition to luxury fashion and goods (think the majors like Chanel), there are plenty of artisan shops that sell unique items as well, such as the Music Box Company shown above. We also saw a charming store dedicated to unique hats — oh so fun to explore.
From gorgeous creative bags and jewelry (classic as well as bohemian abound) to pottery, shoes, clocks and earthenware, you’ll be hard pressed not to find a gem to take home with you.
There are also book stores and decadent homeware items as well. Think leather and copper beds and furniture as well as high-end plates, bowls, glasses and more.
How cute is this spot? We discovered it in a little courtyard — btw, Carmel and Monterey are brimming with courtyards, all oozing with tempting shops, cafes and art galleries. We reviewed the restaurant BASIL in one of these adorable courtyards a few years back.
Below is one of several antique stores you can browse through as well.
Look delicious enough to eat? Believe it or not, the next three photos are images of SOAP, not pastries, pies and cakes. Wow, right?
Speaking or organic soaps that look good enough to eat, there are specialty candle stores that smell good enough to eat as well.
If you have kids in tow or one to buy for, there are also adorable shops with kid’s toys, clothes and more to tempt you.
Let’s not forget jewelry.
As I mentioned in my hotel review of Tally Ho (where we stayed this time around), Carmel is known for its attention to detail. Every shop store front has beauty wrapped around it, within it, on the side of it, whether that’s flower pots and trimmings or other nurturing and creative energy to add to your overall experience.
Creative and welcoming right? We could have spent days rather than hours exploring the many streets.
Remember, downtown Carmel isn’t the only option in the Monterey/Carmel peninsula. Nearby Pacific Grove is divided into five shopping districts. Included in the picks is a farmer’s market and The American Tin Cannery, home of the first premium outlet shopping center in the state. You’ll be able to explore eight restaurants and twenty-six shops within a two-block radius.
Also in downtown Monterey, there are plenty of options. Independent stores line Alvarado Street while Cannery Row is a great option for souvenirs, art, antiques and wine.
Want to go even more upscale, head over to Pebble Beach for golf apparel, gifts like indulgent bath products, jewelry and art. Seaside also has an array of independent stores and old town Salinas boasts lovely boutiques, tea and wine shops, as well as divine home furnishings.
This is one of our favorite things to explore when we travel somewhere. Remember that I lived in Europe for around 6 or so years, London being home base for awhile. This means I grew accustomed to stone, brick, brass, copper and decadent buildings.
As you walk around Carmel, you’ll be greeted with architecture that will astound you. Sometimes you’ll feel French influence while other times, you’ll come across buildings or houses that make you feel like you’re in The Hobbit playset.
Join us for some of the great finds we captured during our walking tour below.
Wine lovers beware. California has so many great wine regions. For newbies who come to the state and only venture north to Napa and Sonoma, they’re missing out. Sure, you can head north and in addition to the epic Sonoma and Napa trails, you will be surprised by what tastes you’ll find in Mendocino and Northern Central Coast, but there’s also San Robles, Los Carneros and the countless options along the Route 1 Discovery Route.
And yes, the Carmel Monterey area has some great wine tasting options as well. A few years back, we reviewed Folktale which is in the Carmel area and although we didn’t have enough time on this trip to venture out to any vineyards, we did have time to pop into a few wine tasting rooms.
Because of Covid, you need to make reservations so they can get people in and out safely for tastings. They have a lovely outdoor area where you can taste while sitting down (with social distancing part of the plan of course) and yup, there’s heat lamps as well.
Inside, they have funky artwork on the walls and of course, the staff and anyone else you’re likely to encounter, are all masked up.
Scratch offers a flight tasting for around $20, which is complimentary with a 2 bottle purchase. My favorite was their 2017 Boekenoogen Pinot Noir which had tons of cherries and berries but with a touch of delicious nutmeg, clove and cedar as well, just the way I like my Pinots. My friend loved the 2017 Riseling which boasts a lot of grapefruit and lemon with a hint of flowers. They offer a wine club for those interested in receiving bottles more regularly.
Scratch Wines is a project of winemaker Sabrine Rodems producing small lot Riesling, Grenache, and Pinor Noir from the Arroyo Seco and Santa Lucia Highlands AVA’s. Visit their website for more information including how to order.
Scheid Wine Tasting Room
Scheid was also quite busy the weekend we were there, so be sure to book a time if you don’t want to feel rushed or wait around. They offer sustainable wines and their reserve wines were the highlight of my Saturday.
They have tables set up outside (standing tables), but the two available ones are spaced apart to make you feel safe during your tasting. Their bottles are in the $22-80 range. My favorite picks? The 2015 Pinot Noir that had hints of strawberries and raspberries and the 2016 Pinot, which brought forward more cherry flavors, cassis, with vanilla and mocha. So so divine. Anthony’s favorite was the 2014 Claret which Bordeaux lovers will appreciate. Wish we left with a Claret and their 2016 Pinot in hindsight – oh so yum!
If you’re a white wine lover, then check out their 2019 Voignier or their 2018 Sauvignon Blanc which has hints of gooseberries, guava and vanilla. Check out their website for more information including how to order.
If you’re a foodie, be sure to read our Foodie write-up which includes plenty of great restaurant options. We spent more time in the Carmel area than Monterey (downtown) or Cannery Row during this trip, but there are incredible gems regardless of what area you explore. Below are shots of our favorite dishes from a few of the gems we discovered on this trip.
Jeninni Kitchen & Wine Bar in Pacific Grove
Hula’s Island Grill in Monterey
Little Napoli in Carmel
You can also check out our review of BASIL from a few years ago as well as 3 other restaurant picks from an earlier trip.
Also see our review of Tally-Ho Inn as well.
Note: we received some support from the Monterey Tourism Board, Tally-Ho and local restaurants but all opinions expressed are entirely our own.