Carmel-by-the-Sea, often called Carmel, is located on the Monterey Peninsula on California’s central coast. It is a picturesque one-square-mile village with fairytale cottages and tranquil cliffside vistas.
It is also home to a strong arts community known for its many galleries. This bohemian village has been a longtime favorite of Hollywood legends such as Clint Eastwood and Brad Pitt and was home to John Steinbeck, Salvador Dali, and Jack London.
While the weather is pleasant most of the year, the fall is one of the best times to visit Carmel-by-the-Sea. Known to the locals as the “secret season,” it boasts warm, clear days and cool nights, ensuring the wood-burning fireplace is up and running.
The cottage town is the perfect long weekend or quick side-trip destination from San Francisco. And it can easily last several days if you add excursions to surrounding areas like Big Sur or one of Carmel Valley’s many wineries to your trip.
Carmel-by-the-Sea is a vibrant city. So if you visit, there is always something to do. If you are looking for outdoor entertainment, Carmel has numerous hiking, surfing, bird watching, beachcombing, and even scuba diving areas.
The town’s Scenic Bluff Pathway, which parallels Scenic Road, runs from the northern end of Carmel Beach down to Carmel River State Beach, a favorite spot of bird watchers. This pathway makes for a great sunset walk. If you’re in town to relax, but wouldn’t mind learning a thing or two in the meantime, several hotels curate cooking and wine classes, art classes with local artists, and even wine tours.
Luckily, with so many things to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea, there are plenty of places to stay meeting any budget, from luxurious boutique hotels to bed and breakfast hideaways.
Best Areas to Stay in Carmel-by-the-Sea
- Best area for first-timers/tourists – Golden Rectangle
- Best area for budget travelers – Northeast Carmel
- Best area for luxury travelers – Carmel Point
- Best area for safety – Southeast Carmel
- Best area for families – Northwest Carmel
- Best area for resorts – Carmel Valley
Where to Stay in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
1. The Golden Rectangle: Best Area for First-Timers
Carmel-by-the-Sea is a coastal inlet in Northern California between the Santa Lucia Mountains and the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean. Downtown Carmel, known to locals as the Golden Rectangle, is bordered by Ocean and Scenic Avenues, Santa Lucia Avenue, and San Carlos Street. Beautiful Hansel-and-Gretel-styled cottages surround the downtown area.
For first-timers, the Golden Rectangle is one of the best places to stay because it is the center of everyday life. Most of the town’s activities are someplace within the downtown area. There are numerous local art galleries and specialty boutiques, including the Golden Plaza, a walkable retail area on Ocean Avenue.
The Golden Rectangle also boasts some of California’s most famous restaurants and farm-to-table eateries. Visitors can choose from breakfast diners to over-the-top French dining.
The area chocolate shop is a local favorite. And tastings rooms of wine and spirits from Carmel Valley pepper the streets. So, from the beach to the local bakery, here are some of the best things to do in the Golden Rectangle:
Carmel-by-the-Sea has dozens of lodging options that range from budget-conscious to quietly pampered. At the upper end of luxury is the quiet L’Auberge Carmel, reminiscent of a European villa with French country decor and radiant floor heating.
Guests at this luxury hotel receive full amenities with access to spa services and an onsite gourmet restaurant. This beloved hotel is also popular with couples and solo travelers for its breakfast baskets and curated experiences, such as local cooking classes and winery tours.
If you’re looking for something a bit less fancy, the Adobe Inn is a wonderful place to stay. Each room has a fireplace and a small kitchen.
Outside is a heated outdoor pool and dry sauna. Finally, the highly-rated Carmel Green Lantern Inn, within walking distance of much of the town’s attractions, offers basic amenities and a peaceful night’s rest. Here are some of our favorite places to stay in the Golden Rectangle area of Carmel-by-the-Sea:
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2. Northwest Carmel: Best Area for Families
Northwest Carmel is just north of the Golden Rectangle and is an affordable option compared to the Golden Rectangle. This area offers some of the best places to stay for families and solo travelers. Mostly traditional accommodations, these smaller hotels welcome pets and are family-friendly.
Some lodging options are even within walking distance of Downtown Carmel. Part residential, with many restaurants, this side of Camel-by-the-Sea is quiet and much more affordable. Northwest Carmel is also known for its art galleries and museums. It also boasts a dozen or so restaurants.
Upper Northwest Carmel boasts a beautiful green space, Forest Hill Park, with a playground for the kids, open fields, and walking and hiking trails. If you want to stay halfway between Pebble Beach and Downtown Carmel, the Northwest area is your best bet. And while you are out and about, these are the best things to do in Northwest Carmel:
- Ford Meadow
- Joaquin Turner Art Gallery
- L’Escargot French Restaurant
- Forest Hill Park
- ZQP Beach Trail
One of the best budget hotels in Carmel is the charming Svendsgaard’s Inn. This pet-friendly hotel includes free Wi-Fi and an outdoor pool.
In addition, certain rooms have a spa bath and fireplace. For an affordable stay, the Hofsas House Hotel is within walking distance of the area’s numerous restaurants and galleries, such as the Italian restaurant Portabella.
If you are searching for something a little more high-end, The Hotel Carmel is a relaxing, upscale cottage hotel with well-appointed rooms and plush beds. Outdoors, a lush garden courtyard with wood-burning fireplaces surrounds the hotel and sets the stage for a peaceful stay. Here are some of our favorite places to stay in Northwest Carmel-by-the-Sea:
3. Northeast Carmel: Best Area for Budget Travelers
Northeast Carmel is mostly residential, allowing for cost effectiveness and an overall slower pace. Situated between Cabrillo Highway and Junipero Street, north of Ocean Avenue, Northeast Carmel is only a few miles away from the beach, cliffside hiking, and Downtown Carmel restaurants. Many of the area’s lodgings are on the southwest edge, making them within walking distance of the Golden Rectangle.
Northeast Carmel is home to area services, several shopping outlet stores, and EV charging stations. At the heart of Northeast Carmel-by-the-Sea is the Carl Cherry Center for the Arts, a peaceful green space for art and reflection. This artist’s retreat is one of several must-do activities in Northeast Carmel:
- Carmel Walks
- Carl Cherry Center for the Arts
- Westin Gallery
- Bruno’s Market & Deli
- Fairytale Cottages of Hugh Comstock
If you are hoping to stay in Northeast Carmel but are traveling on a budget, the Comfort Inn Carmel by the Sea is a good choice with basic amenities. For a step up, the Carmel Bay View Inn boasts spacious rooms and an outdoor swimming pool, and the boutiques of the Golden Rectangle are only a short walk away.
The Vendange Carmel Inn & Suites, in upper Southeast Carmel, is one of the best places to stay. Each room is sponsored by a different local winery, creating a curated experience for each guest.
This pet-friendly hotel has free Wi-Fi. The bathrooms are a dream, with marble showers and spa baths in select rooms. So if you are a budget-conscious traveler, here are some of the best options in Northeast Carmel:
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4. Southeast Carmel: Best Area for Safety & Vacation Rentals
East of the Golden Rectangle is the suburban neighborhood of Southeast Carmel. Quiet, tree-lined streets with large homes fill the area, providing, for many, the best of both worlds. It is a great location for those who like to walk and hike.
Southeast Carmel contains portions of the Mission Trail Nature Preserve, including Willow Trail, which connects the park to downtown Carmel’s 11th Avenue. A little deeper into the preserve is the Lester Rowntree Native Plant Garden, which highlights area plants and xeriscaping techniques.
The larger homes in the area are great for vacation rentals and bed and breakfast-styled accommodations, offering peacefulness, safety, and privacy. Most lodgings in this area have kitchens.
But if you prefer not to cook while staying in a vacation rental, Southeast Carmel is immediately adjacent to the Golden Rectangle. This proximity allows visitors to sample all the area restaurants without worrying about doing the dishes later.
Even though Southeast Carmel is a mix of private homes and green space, it is rarely boring. There are quite a few things to keep you entertained. These are a few of the best things to do in Southeast Carmel:
- The Pacific Repertory Theatre
- Gail Lehman Fine Art
- Flanders Mansion
- Mission Trail Nature Preserve
- Lester Rowntree Native Plant Garden
Comprised mostly of single-family homes, Southeast Carmel is a great neighborhood for vacation rentals near downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea. The Great Escape is a two-person bungalow and a great area option. For a bit of pampering, the B&B-styled Forest Lodge is one of the best rentals in Southeast Carmel.
It offers private terraces and full modern amenities. The more traditional but elegant Carriage House Inn is just on the edge of Southeast Carmel and downtown. This upscale hotel provides guests complimentary breakfast baskets, hot tubs, and fireplaces in each room.
5. Carmel Point: Best Area for Luxury Travelers
Immediately south of Carmel-by-the-Sea is Carmel Point. The rugged coastline is a beautiful area bordered by Santa Lucia Avenue to the north and Mara Beach Carmel to the south.
On “The Point,” as locals know it, are several historic homes and museums. And in the far eastern corner of Carmel Point is the Carmel Mission Basilica, an exquisite example of late 18th-century Spanish monastic architecture and life with distinct vaulted ceilings and striking effigies.
But life in Carmel Point is not all buildings and galleries. It also boasts the aforementioned beautiful beach on Carmel Bay, Mara Beach. This intimate stretch of sand gives way to Carmel River State Beach and is a fantastic bird-watching and scuba diving location.
And immediately north but still part of Carmel Point is the Carmel Beach Walk – a coastal hiking trail that offers some stunning vistas. It is the perfect place for a walk along the beach at sunset.
The striking beauty of Carmel Point provides a constant backdrop for the numerous interesting things to discover. Here are a few of the best things to do in Carmel Point:
- Clinton Walker House by Frank Lloyd Wright
- Butterfly House
- Robinson Jeffers Tor House
- Carmel Mission Basilica Museum
- Mission Ranch Restaurant
- Mara Beach Carmel
This area is mostly luxury accommodations, with only a handful of hotels and VRBOs. One of the best hotels in Carmel Point is the luxurious Villa Mara Carmel – one of Carmel’s poshest hotels. Conveniently located near the beach, this favored hotel offers an onsite bar, plush bed, and room service.
A few blocks from the coast is the Lincoln Green Inn, an intimate yet relaxing accommodation option. These small, historic individual cottages offer modest amenities with private patios and are kid and pet friendly.
They are also great for longer stays. While not one of the cheap hotels, the Carmel River Inn will surprise you if you are looking for affordable bed-and-breakfast-style lodging.
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6. Carmel Valley: Best Area for Resorts, Spas, and Wine
Carmel Valley sits roughly 12 miles east of Carmel-by-the-Sea along the scenic Carmel Valley Road. As an alternative to Napa Valley, Carmel Valley has some notable wineries.
Bernardus Vineyards & Winery, Scratch, Folktale Winery, and Cowgirl Winery are four of over 20 wineries and vineyards in the area. If you are looking for a bit of retail therapy, the Mid Valley Shopping Center offers upscale and artisan shopping.
The shopping center is a great place to pick up a one-of-a-kind item for your home or a travel gift for your pet sitter. And, of course, the 1.3-mile Inspiration Point hike is accessible from Palo Corona Regional Park off Carmel Valley Road.
But Carmel Valley is not just luxurious spas and wine tastings. Here are some fun things to do while you are in the area:
- Visit the non-profit MEarth
- Baja Cantina & Grill Mexican Restaurant
- Palo Corona Regional Park
- Garland Ranch Regional Park
- Carmel Valley Community Park
Lodging in Carmel Valley is nothing short of fabulous. Carmel Valley Ranch is one of Carmel Valley’s best hotels. This luxurious all-suite resort hotel is located on 500 acres in the lower elevations of the Santa Lucia Mountain Range.
Guests can relax with fireplaces and private decks. A part of The Unbound Collection by Hyatt, the hotel offers golf and a full-service spa, tennis, hot tubs, and access to hiking trails.
If you are looking for a wine-centric resort, the Bernardus Lodge & Spa is the perfect place. Numerous upscale amenities and locally sourced gourmet food with perfect wine pairings are just a few of the benefits of this posh resort.
For lodging on a budget, the Hidden Valley Inn, closer to area restaurants and shopping, is a great place to stay in Carmel Valley. It is just a five-minute walk to downtown Carmel Valley’s numerous wineries and eateries.
What is Carmel-by-the-Sea known for?
Carmel-by-the-Sea is known for its dog-friendly, white-sand beaches and picture-perfect collection of small fairytale cottages and extensive wineries.
What is the best place to stay in Carmel-by-the-Sea near Tor House?
A pebble stone home of poet Robinson Jeffers, Tor House sits on Carmel Point, just south of downtown Carmel-by-the-Seaand within walking distance of another famous landmark, the Butterfly House. The luxurious Villa Mara Carmel, with coastal California views, is one of the best places to stay near these historic homes.
What is the best area to stay in Carmel-by-the-Sea?
The best area to stay in Carmel-by-the-Sea is, by far, the Golden Rectangle. While the average nightly price of hotels in downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea is a bit higher, the proximity is worth the cost. But, even at higher rates, great hotel deals and a range of lodging options still allow guests to explore Carmel on almost any budget.