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Sigh-worthy Romantic Getaway in Carmel

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Mention Carmel to someone who’s been there and you’re likely to hear a dreamy sigh. I couldn’t really understand the appeal…until I arrived. There’s not a whole big bunch of stuff to do in this Central California coastal town. 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 romantic getaway.

Romantic Getaway in Carmel, California

Carmel by the Sea

Carmel by the Sea is a 1-square-mile portion of the larger area of Carmel; a 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 small town-ness. There are no neon signs and very few hotels or chain restaurants (sorry, Starbucks lovers!). You won’t even find any addresses. 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 mail boxes either; residents walk into town to gather up their letters and deliveries from the post office so they can actually interact with their neighbors.

Cottage of Sweets candy and chocolates shop in Carmel-by-the-Sea

Cottage of Sweets candy and chocolates shop in Carmel by the Sea

Shopping and Strolling

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

Alice in Wonderland treasures at the White Rabbit shop in Carmel-by-the-Sea

Alice in Wonderland treasures at the White Rabbit shop in Carmel by the Sea

Do you like Alice in Wonderland? Then this must be your un-birthday! Local shop, The White Rabbit, specializes in all things Alice, including clocks that run backwards.

Eclair from Cafe Carmel Coffee House

Eclair from Cafe Carmel Coffee House

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 Cafe 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!)

Caraccioli, one of nine tasting rooms that are part of the Carmel Wine Walk

Sampling sparkling wine at Caraccioli, one of nine tasting rooms that are part of the Carmel Wine Walk

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 $25 if you hit every stop. Even if you can’t make it to every wine tasting room, the passports are transferable. In fact, my husband and I only visited two of the nine tasting venues. If you plan to head to Carmel, leave a comment at the bottom of this post and I’ll mail it to you. (You must be 21 to receive the Carmel Wine Walk pass. I’ll send it to the first person who wants it!)

Carmel Mission

Carmel Mission

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 many flowers and learn a bit of state history in the process. An active parish and school, we visited the Carmel Mission on Sunday and were treated to bells ringing, ringing, ringing to call church-goers to worship.

Orange moss on local trees helps to give Point Lobos State Reserve an otherworldly feel

Orange moss on local trees helps to give Point Lobos State Reserve an otherworldly feel

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 squawking or singing, seals and sea lions barking. It feels alive and reminds you that you are alive.

Birds at Point Lobos State Reserve

Birds at Point Lobos State Reserve

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 sanctuary of nature does feel otherworldly with its red moss-covered twisted trees, flower festooned boulders, and wealth of animals.

Mama deer and her fawn at Point Lobos Reserve

Mama deer and her fawn at Point Lobos Reserve

We spied sea lions lazing on a beach, hundreds (if not thousands) of birds, and a rather unshy 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.

Where to eat in Carmel

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.

My muy delicioso New Mexico Sausage Omelette at Katy's Place

My muy delicioso New Mexico Sausage Omelette at Katy’s Place

Choose Spanish tapas served in Mundaka‘s creative space with foreign films (silently) projected on a wall. For breakfast, you can’t beat Katy’s Place with its huge plates of made-from-scratch comfort food including 16 varieties of eggs benedict. PortaBella with its darling garden setting makes a lovely spot for lunch or dinner; although my Warm Chicken Salad with nectarines and walnuts sounded promising, I was more taken with their Roasted Corn and Crab Bisque.

Fandango fireside romantic dinner

Since we were celebrating our wedding anniversary, Fandango’s owner seated us by the fire and greeted us by throwing these festive streamers onto our table’s bouquet of flowers

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 sauteed Sand Dabs. I highly recommend the Petite Filet Mignon (served with green peppercorn and cognac sauce) and Scampi!

Where to stay in Carmel

An outside view of our room at the Hofsas House in Carmel-by-the-Sea

An outside view of our room at the Hofsas House in Carmel by the Sea

Hofsas House Hotel

To get the most out of your romantic getaway to Carmel, I recommend staying at least four nights in the area. Start off with a couple of nights at the pink, Bavarian-themed Hofsas House Hotel in Carmel by the Sea, easily within walking distance of the village-like downtown. Take a dip in the inn’s heated swimming pool, or if the weather allows, 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.

Pool-front Hyatt Carmel Highlands rooms with an ocean view

Pool-front Hyatt Carmel Highlands rooms with incredible ocean views

Hyatt Carmel Highlands

Spend your last two 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. Be sure to make dinner reservations for a splurge-worthy meal at the hotel’s Pacific’s Edge Restaurant. 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.

View of Point Lobos State Reserve and beyond from Hyatt Carmel Highlands

View of Point Lobos State Reserve and beyond from Hyatt Carmel Highlands

Why Carmel?

I love my husband. But we drive each other bananas during our normal lives. We bicker a lot…about whose turn it is to walk the dog…and whether to leave the butter out on the counter or store it in the fridge…and so many other little everyday annoyances, most of which have to do with managing our household or raising our two children. Sometimes I forget that I chose him, long before there were kids.

When we escape for a few days without our offspring, we don’t argue. At all. Ever. About anything. We hold hands. We talk and really, really listen. We are happy to compromise to make the other person happy.

We have gone on romantic getaways in the past, but this trip to Carmel was something special. It’s such a laidback place that is so 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’m sure I’ll sigh dreamily, remembering what it feels like to be in love.

Where is your favorite romantic getaway destination? Let us know in the comments below!

A Note from The Travel Mama: Thank you to Hofsas House and Hyatt Carmel Highlands for hosting a portion of our stay! We also received some (but not all) of our meals and our Wine Walk Passport free-of-charge. All opinions are mine, as always.

All photos by Colleen Lanin.

About Colleen Lanin

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor-in-chief of 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,, 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.

  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) Enjoy your anniversary trip to Carmel!

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