Carmel’s neighborhoods are varied, and all are worth checking out, but most visitors spend their time in Carmel-by-the-Sea, a quaint seaside village of fanciful cottages, art galleries, boutiques and restaurants. Inland from sometimes-overcast Carmel-by-the-Sea is Carmel Valley, where the sun shines on rolling hills, vineyards and redwood canyons. If there’s sun breaking through anywhere on the Monterey Peninsula, it’s here, which certainly helps the local vineyards produce top wines. Between the valley and the village is Carmel, home to 18th-century Mission San Carlos Borroméo de Carmelo and Mission Ranch. South of Carmel, on the way to Big Sur, is the Carmel Highlands neighborhood, which is primarily a residential area, but close to the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve and with two ocean-view hotels. If you’re staying in Carmel-by-the-Sea, it’s easy to walk from place to place, but if you’re exploring other Carmel neighborhoods, it’s best to do so by car.
Carmel Highlands isn’t marked, but if you’re headed south on your way to Big Sur, just before the road hits the open ocean, it winds through the Carmel Highlands. Primarily a residential area, this neighborhood is near the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. The area is also home to the Highlands Inn and Tickle Pink Inn, two hotels with dramatic coastal views. Weather here, due to the proximity of the ocean, is similar to Carmel-by-the-Sea and subject to fog more often than the inland areas of Carmel.