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Best Things To Do in Carmel

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One of Carmel’s best things to do is visit the 18th-century Mission San Carlos Borroméo de Carmelo. On a Carmel Walks tour, get a look at incredible architecture, including fantasy cottages built by Hugh Comstock, buildings designed by such notable architects as Julia Morgan, Charles S. Greene and Bernard Maybeck, and the poet Robinson Jeffers’ Tor House. One of the most stunning attributes of the Carmel area is its natural beauty; rugged coastline, sandy beaches and cypress-covered outcroppings. The easiest way to get close to all this is to visit one of the wide-open spaces, from Carmel City Beach to Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, and Carmel River State Beach to Garland Ranch Regional Park. Need to see a lot at once? Get in the car and tour world-famous 17-Mile-Drive. Top things to do in Carmel even include the refined: wine tastings in Carmel Valley and an evening performance at the Outdoor Forest Theater.

Carmel Mission

Neighborhood: Carmel

Just one year after founding this mission in Monterey in 1770, Father Junípero Serra moved it to Carmel to distance the Ohlone congregation from the Spanish military presence at the Presidio of Monterey. This was the second in the chain of 21 California missions founded by Serra, and his favorite. He lies buried under the altar. The Moorish influence in its architecture and the centenary arch that its walls form make it unique among the California missions. Open to the public seven days a week, the mission offers self-guided tours and organized tours for large groups. If you’re planning to visit the mission on a holiday, call in advance to check for the schedule.

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Tor House

Neighborhood: Carmel
American poet Robinson Jeffers planned Tor House as a home for himself, his wife and their two sons. He apprenticed himself to the contractor, and helped build the cottage, which was completed in 1919. Modeled after a Tudor barn, it was built of granite stones gathered from a cove below the house. It was here that he wrote the majority of his poems. Hawk Tower, a separate structure next to Tor House, was built by Jeffers alone—begun in 1920 and completed in less than four years. The tower was for his wife Una, and it included room for writing as well as an observation deck. Tours of both Tor House and Hawk Tower are offered hourly on Fridays and Saturdays. Advance reservations are advised.

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Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Neighborhood: Carmel

Just 3 miles south of Carmel, this reserve is often referred to as the “crown jewel of the state park system.” The Spanish called this area Punta de los Lobos Marinos (Point of the Sea Wolves) for the barks and howls of the resident sea lions. The trail along the dramatic rocky coastline is about 6 miles, but shorter walks are available, as well. The trail to the Bird Island overlook is a good spot for bird-watching. Whaler’s Cove is popular with divers and the Devil’s Cauldron whirlpool bubbles and boils at high tide.

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Point Lobos State Natural Reserve  

Carmel City Beach

Neighborhood: Carmel-by-the-Sea
Carmel Beach is ideal for children, beach lovers and dogs, dogs, dogs. It’s perfectly situated at the foot of Ocean Avenue, where visitors can walk down the sand dunes and find themselves at one of the most picturesque beaches in the region. Well known for good surf, beautiful sunsets and off-leash dog walking, Carmel Beach is one of the best places to bring a picnic and relax. Just don’t be alarmed if a canine companion attempts to join you. If you’re not a dog fan, fear not, there’s plenty of beach in which to put some space between you and the canine visitors, and since dog owners are extremely conscientious about picking up after their pups, this beach is often cleaner than nearby state beaches.

Carmel River State Beach

Neighborhood: Carmel

The mile-long Carmel River State Beach is popular with birders, kayakers and divers. The area includes the Carmel River Lagoon and Wetlands Natural Reserve, a bird sanctuary featuring a variety of waterfowl and songbirds. Monastery Beach, sometimes referred to by locals as “Mortuary Beach” for its number of accidental drownings, is popular with divers, but swimming is extremely dangerous due to unpredictable riptides. A cross at the beach commemorates the original placed in 1602 by the Spanish explorer who named the area for his patron saint, Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

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Carmel River State Beach  

Garland Ranch Regional Park

Neighborhood: Carmel Valley

Trails abound at this 4,462-acre park, Carmel Valley’s central spot for hikers and horseback riders. The trails vary from easy to strenuous and wander along the Carmel River, near a waterfall, through Rumsen Indian habitation sites, past historic buildings or through a redwood canyon. The park’s variety of landscapes range from canyons to open oak savannas to stands of chaparral—home to a rich list of wildlife, especially birds. Those not content to hoof it alone can bring their canine pals to enjoy the many off-leash areas in the park.

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Carmel Walks

Neighborhood: Carmel-by-the-Sea

These two-hour walking tours are the best way to enjoy the beauty and history of Carmel-by-the-Sea. Sights include secret pathways, award-winning gardens, fairy-tale cottages, hidden courtyards and historic haunts of artists and movie stars. See if you can choose the one place you’d live if you could. Guide Gale Wrausmann, a Carmel resident and photographer, leads these informative rambles. The tours are available Tuesday through Saturday, and private group tours are available upon request. Even though the tours are leisurely, wearing comfortable walking shoes is essential for enjoyment without blisters.

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Outdoor Forest Theater

Neighborhood: Carmel-by-the-Sea

Founded in 1910, Carmel’s Outdoor Forest Theater is considered the oldest outdoor community theater west of the Rocky Mountains. Today’s offerings among the towering trees and ocean breezes include live performances as well as films. The theater’s bonfires and stone fireplaces (it was originally without electricity) are still alight on performance nights, providing warmth and ambience. Pick between stage performances, such as Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” or Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island,” or kick back and watch a film in the forest. Once you secure your tickets, the best way to take in a performance is to bring a blanket, to ward off the cool Carmel evenings, and a picnic (alcohol is allowed).

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Château Julien Wine

Neighborhood: Carmel Valley

Wine lovers need venture only a few miles inland from Carmel-by-the-Sea to get a taste of the vines from the Santa Lucia Mountains. Open daily for tours, tastings and picnics, the Château Julien Wine Estate is located on 16 acres at the edge of Carmel Valley. Exclusive private tasting options are available in the Vintner’s Salon, for those who want more than the routine. This is the perfect place to take your time, linger in the gardens and enjoy the view of the valley. While there are a handful of wineries with tasting rooms located in the Carmel Valley Village, this is the only one that has a combined winery and tasting room on site.

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17-Mile Drive

Neighborhood: Carmel

The famed 17-Mile Drive meanders past mansions, the golf courses of Pebble Beach and Spanish Bay, and dramatic cliffside ocean views. The drive offers a number of scenic turn-off points with picnic tables. This is a toll road ($9 per car, including a map—but if you spend over $25 in one of the Pebble Beach Co.’s restaurants, they’ll deduct the fee).  Entering from the Carmel gate, the drive weaves through Pebble Beach and the Del Monte Forest, with views of the famous emerald fairways, rocky coastline and churning ocean. Go slowly and stop often to enjoy the natural beauty of the area, and try to spot birds, deer and the sea otters and harbor seals that hunt in the offshore kelp forests. Don’t miss a look at The Lone Cypress, perched on its rocky outcrop above the ocean for more than 250 years. The drive is a must to avoid if the U.S. Open is in town or during the Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February, when it’s too crowded to even contemplate.

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