A visit to Carmel-by-the Sea in December means being able to take the time to sit with a demitasse of organic espresso or a glass of local wine and relax, soaking in that Central Coast vibe. There are tourists, sure, but the crowds are smaller and concentrated on weekends, leaving the weekdays unencumbered: No crowded sidewalks, shorter or no lines for restaurants, no hustling for parking, more options for lodging.
Carmel-by-the-Sea is anchored by the 240-year-old Franciscan mission San Carlos Borroméo de río Carmelo. To the north of the mission, along Ocean Ave. and the streets that intersect it, visitors can find restaurants, serving locally-sourced gourmet fare, delicatessens, tasting rooms featuring local wines, hotels, bottle shops, tourist shops, and little pocket parks. The town has long been an artists’ haven which is reflected in the number of galleries of all kinds.
A stroll west to the end of Ocean Ave. puts you right at Carmel Beach, a state beach unique for allowing dogs to run and play off-leash. On any given Sunday morning there are more dogs frolicking on the sand than people on the beach.
In Carmel for a short stay? Visit…
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
This state reserve sits on the rocky crags at the southern edge of Carmel Bay. It has 10 miles of easily-navigated trails that wind through various ecosystems: from a small forest of Monterey cypress trees that defy wind and salt spray to meadows that, in the springtime, showcase native wildflowers in bloom.
To get there: It’s a straight shot down Highway 1 by either bike or car, about 4.5 miles. If you drive, there is a $10 fee for parking (although quite a few people park outside and walk in). Bike riders get in for free and, once through the gates, have to park their bike and walk the trails. There are racks for bike parking.
Mission Trail Park
To get there: There are four entrances right in Carmel-by-the-Sea: Rio Rd. directly across the street from the Carmel Mission, Mountain View Ave., Hatton Rd., and 11th Ave.
Carmel Valley Village
Less well-known than its older sister, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Carmel Valley Village is located about 14 miles from Carmel-by-the-Sea and also features fine dining, an up-and-coming wine trail, vineyards, resorts, golf courses, and regional parks. Because of its inland location, it has an Old West feel with vistas of rolling hills dotted with cattle and horses.
If you’re riding out on your bike, the road from Carmel-by-the-Sea to the village narrows, so be sure you ride with safety gear in place.
To get there: From Carmel-by-the-Sea take Ocean Ave. to Highway 1 and make a right. At the light for Carmel Valley Rd. make a left.
Garland Ranch Regional Park
Other than Mission Trail Park there isn’t much mountain biking close to Carmel, with the exception of Cooper Ranch Loop in Garland Ranch Regional Park, Carmel Valley. Located about 10.3 miles from Carmel-by-the-Sea and 3.5 miles from Carmel Valley Village, this 4,462 acre Monterey county park has also has hiking trails. Dogs are allowed on most of the trails.
To get there: Once you are on Carmel Valley Rd., the park entrance is about 10.3 miles from Carmel-by-the-Sea on the right side of the road.
These suggestions only scratch the surface of what can be done in the area. We certainly didn’t have enough time. So, we tipped our glasses of local pinot and toasted Carmel for what it is: A charming, accessible seaside village that should be on the bucket list for every active tourist.
A visit to this area can be pretty much what you want it to be: High-end with lodging at a B&B and four-star dining or, depending on the weather, camping out of town and order-at-the-counter meals. Or somewhere in between. The outdoor opportunities are terrific even in December.