If you’re looking for the best places to travel in the US this fall, plan your getaway to Carmel, a fairytale town right in the middle of California’s coastline. Here, you’ve got the beautiful Pacific ocean and white sand beaches to one side and breath-taking mountains on the other. My healthy Carmel travel guide will show you around the entire, walkable town that’s filled with cottage-style architecture, lush gardens, adorable boutiques, delicious farm-fresh food, alpaca farms, and sea otter-filled bays.
Monterey Bay and Big Sur are just around the corner, where you can hike the Red Woods and find even more shops and restaurants. Locals say that the best time to visit Carmel is actually fall because it’s the sunniest time of the year there! You’ll get warm, clear days and cool nights on the California Coast. Add this trip to your list for the best fall vacation for families or as a romantic fall getaway for couples.
Zack’s family has been going to Carmel every summer since his mom was a kid, which means I’ve been going to Carmel every summer since I’ve been dating him. I’ve been meaning to do a travel guide FOREVER, and this year when we went for our annual family summer trip, I was lucky enough to meet Caro Chambers who’s a local and a cookbook author. She helped me curate this healthy Carmel travel guide to make even better recommendations for you!
What’s a healthy travel guide?
I call my itineraries “healthy travel guides” because in every place that I visit, I seek out wellness and relaxation activities, note-worthy restaurants with nourishing foods (for the body AND the soul), and overall things to do that contribute to a happier, healthier life! And if you’re traveling with a partner, these healthy travel guides are guaranteed to make you feel healthier together.
If you have more recommendations on the best restaurants, bars, hotels, and things to do in Carmel, Monterey Bay, and Big Sur, share them in the comments! We’ll definitely try them out.
Best food in Carmel, Monterey, & Big Sur
- Earthbound Farm Stand: for the best breakfast in Carmel, eat here. It’s one of my favorite places on the planet to order green smoothies (my obsession) with ingredients fresh from their organic farm. Or, come for a dreamy picnic lunch where you can wander the garden and pick your own herbs!
- The Stationaery: for the best lunch in Carmel (or brunch), head to this charming, neighborhood staple in downtown Carmel with healthy and delicious options.
- Alta Bakery: venture to Monterey to enjoy the cutest cafe and bakery with the best, freshly-made baked goods in an amazing, historic courtyard.
- Cella Restaurant: I also recommend Alta Bakery’s sister restaurant, Cella, for your next meal. Their mostly gluten free menu features everything from a super fresh raw bar and interesting appetizers like grilled squid to mouth-watering entrées.
- Cultura Carmel: the best dinner in Carmel for Mexican food has to be Cultura. It’s right in downtown Carmel and has the most delicious and fresh fare.
- Big Sur Bakery: we recommend taking a day-trip to Big Sur (activities listed below!) and stopping into Big Sur Bakery before hiking. They serve a delicious breakfast until 2pm. May I recommend the wood-fired sourdough levain or breakfast sandwich?
- Nepenthe: one of the best spots in Big Sur for drinks is definitely Nepenthe. You get sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean, and their drinks menu ranges from old-fashioned to new-fashioned.
- Mission Ranch: sit by the piano bar or on the outdoor patio to watch the sunset over the gorgeous valley (with sheep!) with a deliciously fresh cocktail in hand.
Things to Do in Carmel, Monterey, & Big Sur
Visit Point Lobos State Natural Reserve: this seaside Carmel walking trail might be the most beautiful place on the planet. It’s where Zack and I took our engagement photos years back. Here, you can go to the beautiful beach, hike around, ogle the baby seals, and take LOTS of stunning pictures.
Play by Carmel River State Beach: we think this is the best beach in Carmel. We’d definitely recommend enjoying your beach day here rather than the city beach. The sand is super soft and the views are breath-taking.
Take a day-trip to Big Sur: visiting Big Sur is a must during your summer trip to Carmel. Get breakfast at Big Sur Bakery, hike Mcway Falls and the Ewoldsen Trail, pop by the historic Henry Miller Library, then get drinks at Nepenthe on the outdoor patio that overlooks the Pacific Ocean.
Take a day-trip to Monterey: start your day with a visit to the bay-front Monterey Bay Aquarium to see adorable sea otters, African penguins, sharks, and so many more animals. Afterwards, walk down the street to Ghirardelli for an oceanside sundae.
Window shop on Ocean Avenue: the shopping on Carmel’s main street, Ocean Avenue, has so many unique and gorgeous finds. It’s all wildly expensive, but still worth strolling through the boutiques.
Grab sunset cocktails at Mission Ranch: It’s one of the most spectacular spots to dine in Monterey. The views are stunning: sheep grazing in meadows, Santa Lucia Mountains in the background, and the sound of the Pacific Ocean’s waves crashing as the soundtrack of it all.
Go kayaking: we think one of the best things to do in Carmel is to rent kayaks and float right next to seals & otters at Elkhorn Slough.
Go wine tasting: spend an afternoon touring the wineries and vineyards of Carmel Valley. I think the best winery in Carmel is Massa Estate because of their organic wines and sweeping views of the mountains. However, Caro Chambers loves Folktale Winery, so explore both while you’re there and let me know in the comments which is your favorite!
Hike with alpacas: you can also take an alpaca hike with stunning views of the valley via airbnb experiences. It’s one of my favorite things to do in Carmel for families with kids that are ages 12 and up. You get amazing photo opportunities and the chance to learn so much about them. And who doesn’t want to deeply connect with alpacas?
Best hotels in Carmel
- Carmel Valley Ranch: this super luxe hotel and resort in Carmel Valley is a little slice of heaven, with gorgeous grounds and sweeping mountain views. If you plan to spend a day or two at wineries in the valley, this location will be perfect for your trip. Plus, they have all the self care essentials for a healthy vacation, like a day spa, fitness center, and group workout classes like outdoor yoga surrounded by mountains. If you choose to stay somewhere else, Caro Chambers recommends booking a lunch at their restaurant, and then you can stroll around the beautiful grounds beforehand!
- Villa Mara Carmel: I LOVE Villa Mara, and I think you will, too. It’s an elegant, seaside villa that’s just steps away from the white sands of Carmel Beach. By day, you’re close to all the shops and dining that Carmel has to offer. By night, you can relax in your gorgeously modern yet vintage villa with the sounds of the ocean and unpolluted views of a starry sky.