Looking for a complete travel guide for two winter days in Carmel, California including where to stay and eat and what to do?
A holiday visit to this storybook town in Northern California is the perfect way to get in the spirit of the season.
In fact, in a list of top Christmas towns in the US, Carmel is always on that list!
And with good reason.
Strolling the holiday decorated streets, walking along the shorefront, or going for a scenic drive – Carmel offers all this and more ;).
This complete travel guide for two winter days in Carmel, California will hopefully assist you in your planning or inspire you to add this quaint town to your bucket list ;).
In a rush?
Two Days in Carmel, California
- Where to Stay
- Where to Eat
- What to Do
- Find Some or All of the Fairytale Cottages
- Tour Carmel Mission Basilica
- Hike in Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
- Drive Pebble Beach’s Scenic 17 Mile Drive
- Enjoy the Sunset at Bixby Bridge
- Wander the Holiday Decorated Streets of Carmel
- Take a Walk on Carmel Beach
- Explore Big Sur
- Spend an Afternoon in Monterey
- Our Full Itinerary in a Nutshell
- What to Wear in Carmel in December
Where to Stay
This property is where we spent our three nights during our stay in the area in December 2021.
Upon driving into Carmel, I was surprised to discover this property is located in a quiet neighborhood pretty much in the middle of the subtle hill Carmel is situated on.
Which means there is a decent uphill walk to the main downtown area or a decent downhill walk to the beach ;).
So being as though my husband and I love to walk everywhere when we travel (and parking in Carmel can be challenging anyway), we enjoyed this quiet location.
And the Christmas decorations throughout the hotel were quite festive!!
Funny story – I actually walked into the lobby of this hotel in December 2021 thinking this was where our reservation for the next three nights was!
The poor front desk clerks felt so bad as they frantically looked for my reservation.
Only for me to realize once I looked up my confirmation email that our reservation was at La Playa Carmel not this property.
Nonetheless, the lobby was stunning and if I ever return to Carmel, I would surely love to stay at this luxury hotel ;).
We have now visited Carmel twice – once on our California road trip after dropping our college daughter off in Oregon in September 2019 and again in December 2021.
And both times, we noticed the perfectly located and quaint looking Lamp Lighter Inn.
It is right on the main street in Carmel and has some of the cutest patios for relaxing and sitting by the bonfire.
Partial owner and famous actress Doris Day has put this property on the books as one of the most famously dog friendly hotels in the country ;).
It is also very centrally located near everything in town.
And the perfect place for all your exploring in this artist enclave of a town.
Located 9 blocks south of downtown and behind Mission Carmel, this property is owned by Clint Eastwood and is on a sprawling dairy farm with gorgeous ocean views.
Where to Eat
Looking for tasty and simple bar food? This cozy Irish bar fits the bill.
It is ideally located just a few blocks from Ocean Ave (Carmel’s main street).
A local favorite only open for breakfast and lunch and probably one of our most favorite dining experiences in Carmel!
The owner literally sat down with us and chatted while we waited (not long albeit) for our food to be prepared.
They do not have a website so I linked their location on Google Maps above for you.
They are most famous for their blintzes which we tried for the first time in our lives and thoroughly enjoyed ;).
A European country cuisine restaurant that changes their menu weekly. We had a late lunch here back in 2019 and found it to be one of our favorites ;).
This restaurant is part of a local chain of three Italian restaurants in the area: Vesuvio, Little Napoli, and Peppoli.
And comes highly recommended by locals. We did not have time to eat here during our two days in Carmel but hope to try it out on a return visit someday ;).
Another delicious breakfast and lunch spot.
They are closed on Tuesdays but if you are there any other day of the week – be sure to have a meal here!
As mentioned above, this Clint Eastwood owned hotel and restaurant was a favorite stop of ours.
The ambience and views are completely worth putting on your itinerary.
We left before the notorious piano bar player got started but heard that is one of the biggest things that puts this place on the map ;).
And the potato skins were amazing!!
What to Do
Find Some or All of the Fairytale Cottages
Notorious to Carmel are the 23 fairytale cottages throughout the streets.
You can find a map of the location of all 23 at the Visitors Center (which is what we did).
We walked up 6th Avenue to Torres Street, Santa Fe Street, and Santa Rita Street to find ten of them ;).
The 21 California Missions are a huge part of California’s history.
And visiting the peaceful and reverent grounds of Carmel’s Mission are very much so worthy of an hour or two of your visit.
We even got there about 30 minutes before it closed at 4pm on the weekday we were in town and still did not feel rushed walking through the basilica, museum, and grounds.
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is a gorgeous place to spend 2-3 hours on your Carmel trip.
We walked the Cypress Grove Trail and the Bird Island Trail for two hours.
This was certainly a highlight of our trip for sure!
This drive is one of the most famous scenic drives in the world and includes home sites, hotels, restaurants, shopping, as well as seventeen scenic photo stops along a coastal highway.
I was a tad surprised to learn this isn’t a public road. There is an entrance kiosk that charges a per vehicle fee (at publishing time in 2022, it is $11.25 per vehicle).
You will receive a map of all the stops at this kiosk and can do some research/reading to decide where along the road you would like to stop.
Once driving along the scenic road, you can spend as much or as little time at each stop as you want.
Because we drove this drive after hiking in Point Lobos park mentioned above and had a 5pm dinner reservation at the Restaurant at Mission Ranch, we had about 1.5 hours to do this drive.
With that amount of time, we decided to only stop for photos at the stops that appealed to us the most ;).
My two favorite stops are #4 Restless Sea (pictured above) and #12 The Lone Cypress (pictured below) ;).
Enjoy the Sunset at Bixby Bridge
Located 15 miles south (30 minute drive) on Highway One is an iconic bridge of Northern California called Bixby Bridge.
It has been featured in multiple movies and shows including most recently Big Little Lies.
The road is quite scenic and windy and staying too much past the sunset will make you have to drive back to Carmel in the dark. Which for me would not be ideal but I guess technically – to each his own ;0!
You can obviously see this icon any time of day, but sunsets are absolutely a sight to behold here ❤️.
Wander the Holiday Decorated Streets of Carmel
One of the biggest reasons to visit the quaint village of Carmel during the holiday season is to wander the decorated streets and shops of town.
Our favorite shop in town is The Pleasure of Writing stationary and writing instruments shop – small but enjoyable to browse in. I also got some beautiful Christmas cards there ;).
Take a Walk on Carmel Beach
While winters in Northern California are not ideal for sunbathing on a sunny beach – they are perfect for strolling along the water.
Just don’t wear shorts and a tank top – a stroll along the gorgeous Carmel coastline will require pants, a long sleeve shirt, and more than likely a jacket or sweater ;).
Explore Big Sur
You most likely drove part or all of scenic Highway One to get to Carmel – whether it was from Southern or Northern California!
There is so much beauty in this part of the state. If you are in the mood for a leisurely drive or looking for a great place to picnic or hike, Big Sur will not disappoint!
There are so many places in Big Sur for photography lovers as well. I found this blog post on a professional photographer’s website that lists some amazing photography spots to check out.
You can also read about which stops we made back in September 2019 when doing our California road trip.
Spend an Afternoon in Monterey
Just 6 miles (less than a twenty minute drive) north is the city of Monterey.
Monterey is quite a bit more touristy than the quaint town of Carmel with many tchotchke shops and touristy things to do.
However, if you have the extra time – it would be fun to spend an afternoon or a few hours here.
In our last two visits to Northern California, we have not stopped in Monterey because of the crowds and heavy tourist vibe however we have taken our kids to this town in the past.
And the Monterey Aquarium is well known around the area and is regarded as one of the best in the world ;).
Our Full Itinerary in a Nutshell
We actually combined this Carmel visit with a winter Yosemite visit in December 2021 ;).
I had always wanted to visit Yosemite in the winter time.
And with the pandemic still wreaking havoc on the European Christmas Markets (we were trying to start a tradition of visiting said markets together each year starting in 2018), I decided stopping in Carmel for three nights after our Yosemite visit would be the perfect substitute for our put on hold tradition ;).
So here is exactly what we did in December 2021:
- Day One: Drive from San Diego to Mariposa, CA and stay at AutoCamp Yosemite for 2 nights
- Day Two: Hike around Mariposa and explore town
- Day Three: Drive to Yosemite Valley and stay at Ahwahnee Lodge for 2 nights
- Day Four: Snow hikes around Yosemite Valley
- Day Five: Drive from Yosemite Valley to Carmel (drive took 4 hours) and stay 3 nights at LaPlaya Carmel
- Day Six: Wander the streets of Carmel and find the storybook cottages
- Day Seven: Hike in Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, drive the 17 Mile Drive, visit Mission Carmel Basilica, and eat dinner at the Restaurant at Mission Ranch
- Day Eight: Drive home to San Diego with a stop in LA to have dinner with our son and his girlfriend (total driving time was 6.5 hours to our home that is about 30 minutes north of downtown San Diego)
What to Wear in Carmel in December
We always wore pants, sweaters, and warm socks. And sometimes had our jackets on.
When we were hiking, I wore yoga pants, a thicker sweater, and my warmer waterproof jacket.
I hope this guide has inspired you to visit Carmel during the holiday season (or anytime for that matter!).
This destination is the perfect small beach city for a quiet, romantic, and festive getaway ;).
Let me know in the comments below if you visit this cute town or plan to in the future!
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Oh Christmas isn’t just a day,
It’s a frame of mind.
~ Miracle on 34th Street
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Have a wonderful day my friend! I hope something makes you smile today ;).