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Perfect Long Weekend Guide: Monterey and Carmel, California

View of rocky coast and ocean from Pebble Beach's 17 Mile Drive
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Looking for the best ways to spend your time in Monterey and Carmel? I’ve got you covered.

As a California resident, this is one corner of the state that I keep returning to over and over again—it’s just that magical! You’ll soon see why as we dive into this guide to an unforgettable long weekend in Monterey and Carmel.

Nestled along the breathtaking Central Coast of California, these two towns offer an idyllic blend of natural beauty, charm, and a dash of luxury, making them perfect destinations for travelers seeking a mix of relaxation and adventure.

In this guide, I’ll walk you through some tips to make the most of your long weekend exploring the Monterey Peninsula and break down the highlights you can’t miss. We’ll cover everything from outdoor hiking spots, restaurants, spas and much more.

**This post is written in partnership with See Monterey, but as always, all opinions are my own.**

What to Expect from a Trip to Monterey and Carmel

Rocks in the harbor with seals on them in Monterey, California (Monterey and Carmel guide)

Monterey and Carmel, while geographically close, offer distinct experiences. Monterey is a small city that thrives on its rich maritime history and bustling aquarium, providing a perfect setting for those interested in marine biology and waterfront activities.

Carmel-by-the-Sea, on the other hand, feels like stepping into a storybook, with its charming boutiques, art galleries, and unique architecture. Some of the homes in Carmel literally look straight out of a fairytale!

Differences and Similarities: Both towns boast incredible natural landscapes, from the rugged coastlines to the serene beaches, but their vibes differ. Monterey offers a more lively, city-like atmosphere, whereas Carmel exudes a quaint, small-town feel.

Regardless, both promise exquisite dining experiences, plenty of outdoor activities, and breathtaking sunsets.

PS — To avoid any confusion, it’s helpful to know that while Monterey is a city, it’s also the name of the entire county stretching from Moss Landing on the North side to well past Big Sur on the south.

Quick Tips for Visiting Carmel and Monterey

  • Getting Around: Renting a car or driving your own is really needed if you want the flexibility to explore all the highlights. I always love renting with so I can compare prices of every brand.
  • Deciding Where to Stay: On this most recent trip, I spent two nights in Carmel and two nights in Pacific Grove, which sits along Monterey Bay. Carmel and Monterey are 15 minutes apart so they’re easy to hop between, but I’m partial to staying in Carmel as it’s super charming and a good mid-way point between everything.
  • Dinner Reservations: Make them in advance, especially in Carmel, where fine dining spots fill up quickly.
  • Bringing Your Pets: With so many coastal trails, dog-friendly beaches and outdoor activities, this area of California is one of the most dog friendly around. Carmel was actually voted as the #1 dog friendly town in America! This post from Monterey County breaks down all the best stuff to do with your pet!
  • Weather and Packing: Expect mild weather year-round. This area sits pretty consistently between the low to mid 60s during the day and evening temps of mid 40s in winter and mid 50s in summer. Bring layers as evenings can be cool, and don’t forget your walking shoes for exploring.

Fun fact: Although not truly enforced, it’s technically not permitted to wear high heels higher than 2 inches in Carmel due to a 1963 law meant to protect the city against lawsuits from high heeled visitors. There are a lot of hilly streets and cobblestones!

Where to Stay in Carmel-by-the-Sea

Staying in Carmel-by-the-Sea offers easy beach access and walkability to the downtown shops, restaurants and tasting rooms.

Carmel Beach Hotel

This newly opened gem is now Carmel’s closest hotel to the shoreline, offering easy beach access for those who want to make the most of the coast.

Plus, their new Restaurant Secoya is led by chef Justin who is pretty famous around Carmel for his Michelin star earned over at Aubergine.

Overall, we loved the modern rooms, the accessibility to Carmel Beach and the spa was also a highlight. If you want to really treat yourself, book their 80 minute caviar facial for the ultimate luxury R&R.

Where to Stay in Carmel Valley

If you’re looking for more of a resort getaway feel and want to explore some of the wineries in the area, then Carmel Valley can be an awesome area to stay in. Just know that you’ll have to drive to get to the coast and anything in the downtown area.

Bernardus Lodge & Spa

Grassy lawn with guest rooms behind it at Bernardus Lodge & Spa

If you’re seeking a beautiful wine country retreat, this lodge set on 28 acres is perfect for just that. Bernardus Lodge & Spa feels intimate, elevated and oozes tranquility. I especially love their beautiful rose garden, which anyone can experience with a visit to their restaurant, Lucia.

Speaking of Lucia, it’s definitely worth a visit even if you can’t stay overnight at the hotel. They offer some really unique flavor pairings in a beautiful indoor/outdoor setting.

Carmel Valley Ranch

Pool umbrellas at Carmel Valley Ranch

For a larger resort feel with tons of activities and restaurants on offer, this 500-acre property doesn’t disappoint. They have a handful of eateries including their signature spot, Valley Kitchen, as well as The Clubhouse Grill which overlooks a sprawling golf course.

Plus, the long list of activities will keep you plenty busy here. Think beekeeping, archery, falconry, yoga, and my personal favorite—their fun Hilltop Meet & Greet experience where you get to hang with the property’s furry residents like goats and alpacas.

Best Things to Do in Carmel

Carmel Beaches

Carmel Beach at sunrise

It may be obvious, but a visit to Carmel-by-the-Sea isn’t complete without experiencing its beautiful beaches. Carmel Beach, known for its dog-friendly policy and proximity to downtown, offers the most peaceful views of the coast, including the Frank Lloyd Wright house in the distance.

Sunset is definitely the most gorgeous time to visit, but I also like popping down mid-day when all the doggies are out playing.

Nearby, Carmel River State Beach boasts a bird sanctuary, and is a little less crowded for those that want a serene escape in nature.

Refuge Spa

Located within Carmel Valley, Refuge Spa is one of the most gorgeous spas I’ve ever visited, and it’s got to be one of the most extraordinary spas in the entire United States.

This co-ed oasis is home to the largest dry sauna in the US and features a wide variety of hot and cold pools as part of their thermal cycle experience, which offers profound benefits such as enhanced circulation and deep relaxation.

On the grounds you’ll also find cozy fireplaces, zero gravity chairs, steam rooms, and more.

What makes it especially unique is that talking and cell phones are prohibited to foster the ultimate tranquil environment, what they like to call “noble silence.” If you do want to go, just make sure to reserve in advance as they no longer accept walk-ins.

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Point Lobos is one of the most beautiful outdoor areas in Carmel known for its stunning coastline and tidal pools. I swear it’s some of the clearest and bluest water I’ve ever seen in California!

There are tons of easy trails to follow here, but if you have limited time to explore the park, I recommend going straight for the Bird Island Trail which offers the best bang for your buck.

The trail is under a mile and has stunning views of China Cove, Bird Island Lookout, Gibson’s Beach and Pelican Point which were my personal highlights.

Garrapata State Park

Just a bit further south is Garrapata State Park, a must-visit if you want to experience the rugged beauty of the Big Sur Coastline. I find it gets easily overlooked as visitors go cruising down Highway 1 heading straight for Big Sur since there’s not really any signage announcing the park.

Garrapata is only about a 20 minute drive from Carmel, but it offers tons of coastal hiking and my personal favorite spot: the vibrant Calla Lily Valley. This hidden gem valley blossoms with thousands of Calla Lily flowers when in peak bloom in February and March.

Some other highlights to check out while in Garrapata:

  • Soberanes Canyon Trail (2.8 miles out and back)
  • Soberanes Point, Whale Peak Trail (2 mile loop)
  • Garrapata Bluff Trail (0.5 miles out and back)

Please Travel Responsibly in Big Sur: This is a delicate part of California and requires people to treat it responsibly if we want to enjoy it for years to come. Make sure to read these tips for responsible travel in Big Sur before visiting.

Explore Carmel-by-the-Sea’s Hidden Passages

Downtown Carmel is full of hidden alleyways if you know where to look, and getting lost in them will give you the sense that you’ve left California and stepped into a fairytale.

Part of the fun is stumbling upon them yourself, but here are a few of my favorites that can be found at:

  • Morgan Court – You can navigate here by popping in “David Lyng Real Estate” into Google Maps
  • Der Ling Lane – Next to Galante Vineyards tasting room
  • Secret Garden Passageway – Located alongside the Pilgrim’s Bookstore

Stroll Downtown

As I said above, the charm is in full swing everywhere you go in Carmel. Between its quaint shops, charming architecture (again, fairytale vibes), and luxurious brands, strolling downtown is definitely unlike any other town stroll.

Something that makes Carmel-by-the-Sea stand out is that there are no large chain businesses in town, so every little coffee shop and boutique is unique. It’s hard not to fall in love with this area.

Some of my favorite spots to check out: Host House for beautiful kitchen and home wares, Pilgrim’s Way for my fellow book nerds, and Carbon which carries a great selection of cozy and activewear brands.

Practice Mindfulness

If rest and relaxation is on the menu for your trip, then you should check out Visit Carmel and Mindful’s Mindful-by-the-Sea initiative which encourages visitors to unplug and discover ways to truly recharge.

In a place as beautiful and nature-centric as Carmel, it’s not hard to do—but this guide is a great start to pointing you in the right direction.

Go Wine Tasting

There is no shortage of wine tasting opportunities throughout Carmel, whether it’s at one of the 18 tasting rooms in town or at a full winery experience in Carmel Valley.

My personal favorite tasting room in town is Alabatross Ridge Tasting Room, and don’t miss Folktale Winery out in Carmel Valley.

Where to Eat in Carmel-by-the-Sea

La Bicyclette

Known for its European cuisine, this restaurant is always a winner. I’ve been here three times and it never disappoints with its ambiance and mouthwatering brick-oven pizzas, though there are healthy salads as well that are just as delicious.

Trust me when I say, get the champignon pizza; you won’t regret it.


Tomato soup with grilled cheese and a salad from The Stationaery in Carmel sitting on a table with streaming light

A local favorite for brunch and coffee, Stationaery offers a mix of healthy and indulgent options by passionate husband and wife duo, Anthony and Alissa Carnazzo. If you’re in the mood for some comfort food, don’t miss the grilled cheese and tomato soup or the freshly baked biscuits.

Reservations are highly recommended as this spot always has a line!


Located in Bernardus Lodge, this restaurant offers a culinary journey with unique flavors led by its celebrated chef, with dishes that highlight the region’s produce.

A.W. Shucks

Oysters from A.W. Shucks in downtown Carmel

A cozy spot for seafood lovers, A.W. Shucks offers the freshest oysters and clam chowder in downtown Carmel and is perfect for a casual mid-shopping quick bite.

For a more extensive list of restaurants in the area, check out my post on the best restaurants in Carmel.

Where to Stay in Monterey / Pacific Grove

If basing yourself in Monterey, you’ll be within a stone’s throw to the harbor and some beautiful coastal trails. Here’s where I’d recommend basing yourself.

Green Gables Inn

A charming 1888 building in Pacific Grove, offering stunning ocean views, unique architecture, and a homemade breakfast that’s not to be missed. This is definitely a quaint stay with intimate b&b vibes and a 5 star view.

Sanctuary Beach Resort

Rooms at Sanctuary Beach Resort right on the sand dunes

For those seeking an oceanfront escape, this resort offers luxurious accommodations, fine dining at Saltwood Kitchen & Oysterette, and unparalleled sunset views. For guests, they have a really special sunset bonfire experience complete with seaside cocktails and fondue.

Best Things to Do in Monterey

Whale Watching

Whale spout and tail spotted in Monterey

If you do one thing in Monterey, definitely make it this! Monterey is one of the best places to spot whales in all of California and Princess Monterey has a great track record with spottings 99% of the time.

The winter season is prime for spotting gray whales, while from April to November, the waters around Monterey become a bustling hub for humpbacks, blue whales, and even orcas.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Probably Monterey’s most famous attraction, the aquarium is a must-visit for marine life enthusiasts, offering a glimpse into the rich biodiversity of the area.

Unique for its interactive displays, such as touch pools and feeding shows, it allows guests to get up close with marine life. Visitors can expect to learn about ocean conservation, explore the kelp forest exhibit, and marvel at the open sea communities. This one is especially great for families!

Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail

Views along the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation trail

To get those steps in, there’s nothing better than the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail, which stretches 18 miles all the way from Castroville to Pacific Grove.

This is a great way to get outside while getting a lay of the land, as the trail not only offers scenic views, but also passes by Cannery Row, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Lover’s Point and Fisherman’s Wharf.

17 Mile Drive

The 17 Mile Drive at Pebble Beach is one of the prettiest scenic drives in California, and takes you through quite a range of views including stunning coastline, prestigious golf courses, and even through a forest of ghost trees.

Unique for its stunning natural landmarks like the Lone Cypress and Pebble Beach, visitors can expect a nice drive through here with lots of pull-outs for photo opportunities.

Psst — it’s also a great spot for eyeing all the gorgeous mansions in the area. Although there is a small price tag to drive through and ogle at them (the gated community charges $11.75 to enter).

Grab Coffee at The Bookworks

Outside view of Bookworks in Pacific Grove, California

If you’re a book nerd like me, then you’ll love The Bookworks, which is part bookstore, part coffee shop. Voted Best Bookstore multiple times, Bookworks offers a wide selection of books across various genres, making it a beloved destination for both locals and tourists.

I finally picked up a copy of the viral read, A Court of Thorns and Roses, when we swung by here.

Monarch Grove Butterfly Sanctuary

The Monarch Grove Butterfly Sanctuary in Pacific Grove is a eucalyptus grove where thousands of monarch butterflies migrate each October, seeking warmer climates. Typically they depart by February, so time your visit during this window if the monarchs are top priority.

This sanctuary provides a unique opportunity to observe the monarchs in their natural habitat, and admission is free.

Where to Eat in Monterey


Scallop dish at Passionfish

Passionfish in Monterey stands out for its exceptional seafood, but also for their unique take on their wine list. I loved that they specifically call-out their intentionally lowered prices (as opposed to the typical 200-300% markup on wine) to bring fair prices and small production wineries to their customers.

Also, if you like a bit of heat in your food then you’ll love some of their spicier offerings! This is definitely more of a fine dining feel, so reservations are recommended.

Saltwood Kitchen & Oysterette

Salt Wood Kitchen & Oysterette is celebrated for its innovative approach to dining, offering guests three distinct environments: a full-service dining room, a lively bar and lounge, and an inviting al fresco dining patio.

At the heart of the restaurant is the experiential oyster bar and a central live-fire kitchen, creating a unique culinary experience that blends traditional cooking methods with modern flavors. Order the squash risotto and thank me later!

Winston’s Brunch Place

Lemon ricotta pancakes with blueberry compote on top from Winston's

A must for brunch or lunch, Winston’s is a super cute cafe right along the quaint Lighthouse Avenue in Monterey and it’s famous for its fluffy pancakes. We ordered the Lemon Ricotta Pancakes absolutely devoured them.

Cafe Fina

After a whale watching adventure, Café Fina on the wharf is the perfect spot to enjoy classic seafood dishes in Monterey. This Monterey staple has been serving the area for over 30 years, and they’ve perfected the coastal classics like fish and chips and clam chowder.

The portions here are large though, so this is one place you want to arrive at hungry!

Has this post inspired you to visit the Monterey and Carmel area of California? Let me know in the comments!

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