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Romantic Things to Do in Carmel, California

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Mention Carmel to someone who’s been there and they’re likely to sigh dreamily and say, “Ohhh, I looove Carmel.”  I couldn’t really understand the appeal…until I went there myself. There’s not a whole bunch of stuff to do in this Central California coastal town. But that’s the point. Carmel is about connection with nature and community. And, as I discovered, it’s an ideal place to reconnect with someone you love during a couple’s retreat. Read on to discover seven romantic things to do in Carmel, California.

Cottage Sweets candy shop in the darling Carmel-by-the-Sea

Cottage of Sweets candy shop in the darling Carmel-by-the-Sea (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

1. Shop and stroll Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Carmel-by-the-Sea is a one-square-mile portion of the larger area of Carmel. It’s a sweet little village within the city. Your revved up, go-go-go speed will slow down to a leisurely stroll here. Carmel-by-the-Sea’s charm is closely guarded by residents who want to preserve its charming small town vibe. There are no neon signs and very few hotels or chain restaurants.

You won’t even find any addresses here. Nope, Carmel-by-the-Sea prefers to keep FedEx carriers guessing rather than mar the town’s charming aesthetics with anything so ugly as street numbers. There are no mailboxes either. Instead, residents walk into town to gather up their letters and deliveries from the post office so they can actually interact with their neighbors.

European architecture, elaborate window displays, and blooming plants make wandering through Carmel-by-the-Sea pleasant, even for non-shoppers, like my husband. Shops and galleries focus on art, upscale fashions, and quirky finds.

Sweets for sale from Café Carmel Coffee House

Sweets for sale from Café Carmel Coffee House (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

2. Stop for sweets with your sweetie.

Take a break from your retail endeavors with a respite in a local park. Be sure to get something yummy to munch first from the Café Carmel Coffee House. My husband and I invested quite a bit of time inspecting ALL of the town’s dessert offerings before settling on this bakery for our afternoon treat. My chocolate eclair was the best I’ve ever tasted. (And that says a lot coming from a sweet tooth like me!)

Couple tasting Champagne on the Carmel Wine Walk

Toasting our wedding anniversary on the Carmel Wine Walk (Photo credit: Travel Mamas)

3. Toast your love on the Carmel Wine Walk.

Purchase a Carmel Wine Walk pass to experience wine flights at nine tasting rooms throughout Carmel-by-the-Sea. This self-guided walking tour saves wine connoisseurs money, especially if they hit every stop. Even if you can’t make it to every wine tasting room, the passports are transferable.

The Carmel Mission

Mission San Carlos Borroméo del Río Carmelo (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

4. Appreciate the beauty of the Carmel Mission.

A short drive away from the center of Carmel-by-the-Sea lies Mission San Carlos Borroméo del Río Carmelo, better known as the Carmel Mission. One of 21 California missions, this is a peaceful retreat at which to stop and smell the flowers and learn a bit of state history. An active parish and school, my husband and I visited the Carmel Mission on a Sunday and we were treated to bells ringing, ringing, ringing to call church-goers to worship.

Hundreds of birds on a boulder at Point Lobos State ReserveHundreds of birds on a boulder at Point Lobos State Reserve in California

Hundreds of birds on a boulder at Point Lobos State Reserve (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

5. Hike Point Lobos State Reserve.

About 13 minutes from Carmel-by-the-Sea lies Point Lobos State Reserve. If wandering through the quaint downtown didn’t mellow you out, Point Lobos should do the trick. This reserve smells of things growing and dying and sounds of waves crashing, birds singing, and seals and sea lions barking. It feels alive and reminds you that you are alive.

Orange moss growing on Point Lobos Reserve trees

Orange moss growing on Point Lobos Reserve trees (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

A fellow hiker we met on one of the reserve’s numerous trails told us Point Lobos reminded her of the movie Avatar. Indeed, this nature sanctuary does feel otherworldly with its orange colored moss, twisted trees, flower festooned boulders, and wealth of animals.

Point Lobos Reserve flowers near Carmel, California

Point Lobos Reserve flowers (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

We spied sea lions lazing on a beach, hundreds (if not thousands) of birds, and a rather outgoing mama doe and her fawn. Lucky visitors can often spy sea otters here too, but we were not among them. To get a better view of the area’s animal residents, bring binoculars or give your car keys to the information center to borrow a pair.

Fawn at Point Lobos State Reserve

Fawn at Point Lobos State Reserve (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

6. Enjoy intimate dining.

Restaurants vary from homey to upscale, but California casual attire is de rigueur. Space is scarce in Carmel so be prepared to get cozy with your fellow diners.

Katy’s Place

You can’t beat Katy’s Place for breakfast or brunch, with its huge plates of made-from-scratch comfort food including 17 varieties of eggs Benedict.

Irish Benedict made with corned beef hash at Katy's Place in Carmel, California

Irish Benedict made with corned beef hash at Katy’s Place (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

PortaBella

With its darling garden setting, PortaBella makes a lovely spot for lunch or dinner. Their Roasted Corn and Crab Bisque is a must taste!

Fandango

For a romantic fireside meal, Fandango is worth the short drive from Carmel-by-the-Sea to Pacific Grove to dine on dishes like their signature Osso Buco or local sautéed Sand Dabs. I highly recommend the Petite Filet Mignon served with green peppercorn and cognac sauce or the Scampi Prawns at this Mediterranean restaurant.

Mundaka

For a fun dining experience, choose Spanish tapas served in Mundaka‘s creative space with foreign films silently projected on a wall.

Pacific’s Edge Restaurant

Be sure to make dinner reservations for a splurge-worthy meal at Pacific’s Edge Restaurant at Hyatt Carmel Highlands. The knock-your-socks-off views, incredible service and impeccable cuisine will not disappoint. If this place doesn’t put you in the mood for romance, I don’t know what will.

Couple on a romantic date at the Pacific's Edge Restaurant at Hyatt Carmel Highlands

The two of us at Pacific’s Edge Restaurant at Hyatt Carmel Highlands (Photo credit: Travel Mamas)

7. Stay somewhere romantic in Carmel.

To get the most out of your Carmel romantic getaway, I recommend staying at least four or five nights in the area.

Hyatt Carmel Highlands

Spend a couple of nights at the luxurious, yet woodsy Hyatt Carmel Highlands, about a 12-minute drive from Carmel-by-the-Sea. The rooms are not large, but the views sure are. Our room had two balconies, one with a view of the pool, the other of the ocean and Point Lobos State Reserve in the distance.

Hyatt Carmel Highlands pool and incredible ocean views

Hyatt Carmel Highlands pool and incredible ocean views (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Hofsas House Hotel

You should definitely spend a few nights at the Bavarian-themed Hofsas House Hotel in Carmel-by-the-Sea, easily within walking distance of the village-like downtown. If the weather allows, then make your way down to the nearby beach for swimming or nighttime s’mores by the sea. Spend a bit more for an in-room fireplace; we visited in summer and made use of ours every day.

The Hofsas House in Carmel-by-the-Sea

The Hofsas House in Carmel-by-the-Sea (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Why Carmel?

I love my husband. But we sometimes drive each other bananas during our normal lives. We bicker about whose turn it is to drive the kids to school, whether to leave the butter out on the counter or store it in the fridge, and other little everyday annoyances. It can be easy to forget that we chose each other, long before we had kids. When we escape for a few days without our offspring, however, we don’t argue. At all. Ever. About anything. We hold hands, talk and really listen. We are happy to compromise to make the other person happy.

Although we have gone on many romantic getaways over the years, this trip to Carmel was something special. It’s such a peaceful place that’s immersed in natural beauty, it would be hard to come away from here without feeling more connected. So now when someone asks me about Carmel, I sigh dreamily, remembering all the romantic things we experienced here together, and say, “Ohhh, I looove Carmel.”

Romantic Big Sur view near Carmel, California

Romantic Big Sur view near Carmel (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Learn more

Discover romantic things to do in Monterey, California — Carmel’s nearby sister city.

Want to learn more about where to stay in Carmel? Read my full review of Hofsas House! Then take a look at additional reviews on Expedia. You may also want to read reviews of Hyatt Carmel Highlands on TripAdvisor and Expedia.

For additional couple’s travel ideas, take a peek at these grown-up getaway destinations!

Point Lobos State Reserve view

Point Lobos State Reserve view (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Save these romantic things to do in Carmel, California

For future reference, be sure to save this list of romantic things to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea and beyond. Simply pin the image below to Pinterest. I hope you’ll follow Travel Mamas on Pinterest while you’re at it!

Romantic Things to Do in Carmel California

Have you ever been to Carmel? Do you have any additional romantic things to do in Carmel, California that we should add to this list? Let us know in the comments below!

A Note from The Travel Mama: Hofsas House and Hyatt Carmel Highlands hosted a portion of our stay. We also received some of our meals and our Carmel Wine Walk passport free of charge. I did not receive any other compensation related this story. All opinions are mine, as always.

About Colleen Lanin

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor-in-chief of TravelMamas.com. As the author of her book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the "Today" show, NBCNews.com, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen gives tips on television, radio, and as a public speaker. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

Comments
  1. Sounds amazing! I’d love to check it out.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Sondra – You would love Carmel – it’d be hard not to! Are you interested in the Wine Pass too??

  2. You really did Carmel justice. This is a beautifully written description of the feeling Carmel brings out in you. Oh, and I too love you. 🙂

  3. I was very happy to read about your wonderful vacation which took place while I was having so much fun with your kids. They were fantastic. Evidently the bickering has resulted in creating kids who are an absolute joy to be around for a week.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Thank you for allowing us to sneak off for a few nights. It really was a spectacular trip!

  4. Jodi @ Family Travel Magazine says

    Looks fabulous! I love California, and this looks like a place to add to my travel bucket list!

  5. never heard about it before reading you post but now i added it for my next vacation spot so thank you very much for lovely pics and more lovely post.

  6. The GypsyNesters says

    Carmel is a great town just to walk around in. Thanks for the memories. A trip along 17 Mile Drive is worth it too.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      GypsyNesters – Yes, we loved the 17-Mile Drive too! I am going to include that in an upcoming post about Monterey. Thanks for the comment!

  7. wanderingeducators says

    what an incredibly beautiful place – wow!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      It’s so gorgeous, Jessie! Much like the Grand Canyon, it has to be seen to be believed—photos just can’t accurately capture it!

  8. Laurel- Capturing la Vita says

    So wonderful that you got to have such a beautiful getaway together. Looks like a lovely place to be.

  9. Jody Robbins, The Saucy Travel Mama says

    I have always wanted to go here! Was the water warm enough for swimming? Did you see any celebs?

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Jody – We didn’t go swimming in the ocean but there were plenty of kids swimming in Hyatt Carmel Highlands pool. With highs typically in the 60s F (about 19 Celsius), we stuck to the hot tub!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Oh – and no celebs but we spent some time chatting with another couple during our wine tasting tour and the husband had met Clint Eastwood that day. (He was a big Clint fan & all excited to show off the pics as proof!)

  10. Annie@GreenTravelReviews says

    “Sometimes I forget that I chose him, long before there were kids” – ah, this, I feel, is true for so, so many! If one just remembers it I think all will be well though 😉

    Thanks for sharing these fabulous pictures and tips!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Annie – Thank you for your comment. I suppose this is a natural way to feel after couples are together for a long time and dealing with young kids at home. Glad to know this resonated with you.

  11. Denise Martinez says

    My husband and I spent our honeymoon in Pacific Grove and Carmel by the Sea almost 7 years ago! We are planning an anniversary trip there for our 7th anniversary December 9th! Next time you go there you should have dinner at Casanova Restaurant! We received a gift certificate as a wedding gift from dear friends who loved this romantic gem…. Oh my! We can’t wait to go back this year! We love the easy, relaxed atmosphere and would love the wine tour pass if no one else has asked for it yet! So glad I stumbled upon your website yesterday! Thank you for all the great ideas for this next trip!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Denise – let me look for that wine tour pass. I’m sure I have it somewhere! Please email your street address to me: colleen.lanin(at)travelmamas.com. Enjoy your anniversary trip to Carmel!

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