Carmel Adventures


By the Sea

It’s the quintessential coastal charmer: sweeping Pacific vistas, hiking trails primed for spring, a burgeoning wine scene, and beautiful beaches. Now’s the time to be at Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Garrapata State Park Hike


Some views are simply unforgettable. Hike to an epic coastal vista at the apex of Rocky Ridge Trail in Garrapata State Park. This 3,000-acre park just 8 miles south of Carmel sits at the north end of the Big Sur coast. The hike begins next to the ocean on Highway 1 and launches into a 2-mile (one-way) climb with 1,750 feet of cumulative elevation gain. Yes, your thighs will burn, but bloomin' lupines and expanding coastal views provide inspiration along the way. At the top, panoramas spread north over the Monterey Peninsula and inland over the Santa Lucia Mountains. The sweeping scenery, coupled with tired legs, will compel you to linger on the ridge. Good thing the park has installed an awesome bench—with a footrest!—nestled into a rock outcropping. Sit back and watch the Pacific’s wild waves hurl into the sea stacks and onto coves along the famously rugged coastline 1,450 feet below. Point Lobos—another amazing spot for hiking—juts into the ocean to the north. Picture perfect.

BONUS: Bring binoculars for spotting migrating gray whales!

From Ocean Ave. in Carmel, drive south on Highway 1 for 8 miles and park on the shoulder next to the trailhead for Rocky Ridge Trail, located on the east side of the road, 0.1 mile north of the trailhead for Soberanes Canyon Trail where there is a park kiosk and a bathroom.  Go straight through an early junction on Rocky Ridge Trail and climb 1.4 miles to the landing with the bench.  Continue 0.3 mile to a split that allows you to loop around the top of the ridge, passing on the far side a junction with the backside of Rocky Ridge Trail, which is closed due to potentially hazardous conditions. Return the way you came. No dogs.

Carmel wine walk

Tastings and Tapas

Carmel can feel like a timeless maritime hamlet out of old Europe, yet the town has added some grape new features that give fresh meaning to its vintage appeal. Wineries have been popping up here over the past few years (Monterey County was just named one of the world’s “Top 10 Wine Travel Destinations” by Wine Enthusiast magazine) and the best way to get a taste of this blossoming scene is on the Carmel Wine Walk By-the-Sea. Stroll through town with an official wine passport and pop into seven different tasting rooms to sip signature chardonnays and pinot noirs. Your passport comes with a map and winery hours—so you can stay on track with your tasting timeline. Even if you stray, it’s all good: the wineries are within walking distance of Carmel’s inns and are surrounded by restaurants and shops. Start off at the original wine tasting room in Carmel, Galante Vineyards, and if you like sparkling wines, be sure to visit Caraccioli Cellars. Manzonis Cellars has a great chardonnay. Three down, four to go…. Give it a swirl!

TIP: Pair your tastings with tapas at Mundaka, a Spanish restaurant across the street from Manzoni Cellars. Devour patatas bravas and other prepared-from-scratch bites (menu is seasonal). If you’re still drinking, they have top-notch sangria. After dinner, DJs have been known to spin reggae.

The Carmel Wine Walk By-the-Sea Passport costs $50 and entitles you to $10 tastings at seven wine tasting rooms (save $20). Purchase a passport online or at the Carmel Visitor Center (on San Carlos St. between 5th Ave. and 6th Ave.). The wine walk is dog-friendly! Mundaka Restaurant is located on San Carlos St. north of 7th Ave. 

Carmel Beach Sunset and Bonfire

Beach, Blanket, Bonfire

Taking a sunset beach stroll: romantic. Being able to kindle a campfire on that same beach: now the sparks are flying! Tucked between Pebble Beach and Point Lobos, Carmel Beach is a soft-sand, crescent shaped, dog-friendly gem that shines brightest at sunset. Even better, after the sun melts into the Pacific you can heat things up with a bonfire (though you’ll have to pack in firewood and materials). Stake your spot with a picnic blanket, show off your mastery at building a small teepee with wood, and when the flames rise, kick back next to your fire with your favorite libation. There are likely to be other bonfires on the beach, but there’s usually enough room between each for privacy, and it’s cool to look down the dark beach and see a line of orange embers lighting up the night. Glow worm!

WHERE TO STAY: The fact that Clint Eastwood owns Mission Ranch Hotel in Carmel may be its claim to fame, but this ruggedly stylish 22-acre resort has way more than just Hollywood good looks.  It's got some of Carmel's best coastal views. Hofsas House is a cozy family-owned Bavarian-style inn with 38 rooms including units with private fireplaces and ocean views. S’mores Bonus: For instant sweetness, Hofsas has a Carmel Beach Fire and S’mores Package ($60), a go-bag of everything you need, including bundled wood, fire starters, skewers, s’mores fixings, wet wipes, flashlights, and a beach blanket.

Beach fires are permitted on Carmel Beach south of 10th Ave. (map) and must be extinguished by 10:00 p.m.  Fires should be 25 feet from the slopes and not exceed 3 feet in height or diameter. Bring water to extinguish the fire (do not use sand) and leave the coals visible. Alcohol is allowed on the beach only. Carmel Beach and some rooms at Hofsas House are dog-friendly. No dogs at Mission Ranch Hotel.

My, How You've Evolved

Nothing says romance like hanging out with a Neanderthal, right? No, we’re not talking about your old roommate. We’re talking about making a date at the California Academy of Sciences for their cool new and immersive exhibit: Human Odyssey. It brilliantly follows the milestones of human evolution, from learning to walk upright to developing a bigger brain—capable of explaining how a population of 100,000 chimpanzees is more genetically diverse than today’s population of 7 billion humans (yep, 99.9% of your DNA is similar to your office mates'!) Interactive highlights include walking alongside a computer animation of the famous “Lucy” skeleton; coming face to face with your ancestors using an interactive 3D display; navigating the migration map to trace our species’ journey over the past 70,000 years; and discovering how humans almost went extinct (if you think today’s dating pool is slim, consider that there were as few as 10,000 mating pairs on the planet at one point). Make it a date and get in faster by getting your tickets online.

BONUS: While at the Academy be sure to also check out exotic habitats and animals: Walk among birds and butterflies in a Costa Rican rainforest; take a virtual safari through Africa; say hello to Claude, the albino alligator; and watch 15 African penguins dip, dive and waddle.

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