Carmel-by-the-Sea: We have a family home in Carmel and spend as much of the summer as possible in this tiny heaven. I would rent a house online (but avoid car week in August). You can work with the local rental company if you can't find what you want on the major rental sites. In town, La Playa Carmel has beautiful grounds with a pool. However, I’m not familiar with the rooms. Some of our friends just opened a new boutique hotel called The Getaway. It's in a great location at the top of the Ocean Avenue drag. There is an adorable market right next door and awesome restaurants across the street. They serve breakfast (including salmon toast and mushroom quiche) in the mornings and snacks/drinks in the afternoons, all included in the super reasonable rate. The older, iconic Cypress Inn is right in the center of town and allows pets. They have a lively piano bar at night.
17 Mile Drive: If you are a golfer, The Lodge at Pebble Beach is a great place to stay since you get preferential tee times on the world-famous course.
Towards Big Sur: Hyatt Carmel Highlands is a beautiful option if you have rented a car. Post Ranch Inn is the luxury hotel in Big Sur, situated on a cliff. It's gorgeous and definitely worth a night's stay.
Carmel Valley: If you are into spas and wine, Bernardus Lodge in Carmel Valley is beautiful. The restaurant has live music on the weekends. They keep a vast croquet and bocce court situated in the middle of all the rooms. Carmel Valley Ranch has a great pool, a beautiful golf course and a big firepit with bountiful s'mores supplies. Carmel Valley is sunnier and warmer than Carmel-by-the-Sea.
The Bench at Pebble Beach has a gorgeous view of the 18th hole with fire pits outside for drinks and apps. We love La Bicyclette in town for wood-fired pizzas and classic French country cuisine. I met Reese Witherspoon and her mom there when they were in town filming the first Big Little Lies. Casanova is a great cozy spot for a festive dinner. Vesuvio has amazing pizzas, insane artichokes and a rooftop bar with a great view. Katy’s (cash only) is awesome for breakfast. They have amazing lobster and avocado omelettes.
For lunch, my kids love Sushi Heaven right next to a great Chinese foot reflexology place. There is a coffee shop with fantastic ramen, quiches and my son's favorite coffee cake (cash only) at Carmel Coffee and Cocoa Bar in Carmel Plaza. We also love to order soups, juices and toasts at Carmel Belle. Bruno's market has a deli counter that is great to pack sandwiches to take down to Carmel Beach or along for a hike at Big Sur or Point Lobos. Rocky Point is about a 15-minute drive toward Big Sur and totally worth it for a drink (not great food) because of the magnificent view.
For drinks, we love to go hear the bagpipe player at Spanish Bay around sunset. So you don't miss it, call and ask the time he/she will end at the fire pits. In town, we often meet on the rooftop of Vesuvio for drinks before or after dinner. Barmel is the only bar in town that is open late. They have a DJ some nights and a small dance floor.
See & Do:
Drive ten minutes to Point Lobos to hike through the forest to the coast. There are always seals and whales depending on the time of year. If you are an avid hiker, Big Sur, which is a 30/45-minute drive on Highway 1 along the ocean cliffs, has some of the best hikes in the world. The redwoods are incredible. Mobile phone coverage can be spotty, so plan/map ahead of time. Our favorite hikes are Soberanes Canyon Trail at Garrapata State Park and Pfeiffer Falls. The drive is gorgeous, but it can be challenging in fog and darkness so I suggest driving on a clear day.
We love to take the kids to the Earthbound Farm Stand in Carmel Valley to walk around and pick raspberries and grab some organic groceries and prepared foods. They have my favorite salad bar for lunch.
Horseback riding through the trails near Cypress Point Golf Club is chill and scenic. Book that through Pebble Beach Equestrian Center. You do not have to be a member of the club. However, there are some age requirements.
We love making fires on Carmel Beach after dinner. Check with the city online for the rules.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is world-class and not to be missed for adults and kids alike. Kayaking around the bay is really fun too, because the waters are calm and you always see seals and otters in their natural habitat. Monterey has an awesome bike trail that runs along the coast and past the aquarium. You can also book whale watching tours leaving from Monterey.
I don’t do a lot of shopping while I’m in Carmel, but there is a fantastic vintage store called Foxy Couture. My friend, Meredith, found an incredible 1970s chain-mesh top and they have all kinds of designer bags and a big collection of vintage Chanel jewelry. It is a tiny shop but the owner is very knowledgeable and has great taste. There is a cool estate jewelry store called Viau where I have found several cool pieces over the years. The local chocolate shop, Lula’s, a few doors down is amazing. They give tours of their facility near the Monterey Airport.
Carmel Plaza is home to branded stores like Bottega Veneta, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany's and also an amazing local cheese shop. The people that work there are friendly, very knowledgable and happy to hand out samples of several world class cheeses. It's definitely worth going by to pick up some wine and cheese for the beach or for hostess gifts.
Lastly, if you didn’t pack enough sweaters for the chilly nights, GBG and its sister store, Paloosh, have the best selection.