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Carmel trip in 2023

My husband and I are flying into San Francisco in mid-October for 7 nights. We won’t go into the city this time. Our main goal is to experience Carmel and surrounding area.

Our interests are primarily scenery, art/theater, and special area attractions. In our mid 70’s, we enjoy short walks but nothing too strenuous.

We are considering an itinerary something like this, but we look forward to any suggestions you can offer. We have reservations for lodging but could modify them if necessary.

Day 1 Tuesday
Arrive at SFO early afternoon
Rent a car and head directly to the coast highway via Pacifica.

Staying 1 night at a beachfront hotel just south of the harbor near Half Moon Bay.
• A good seafood restaurant for dinner?
• Any must-see things in late afternoon, evening and next morning?
• What to look for in the town of Half Moon Bay before heading south?

Day 2 Wednesday
Drive from Half Moon Bay to Monterey.
Staying 1 night in Pacific Grove close to lighthouse near tip of Monterey Peninsula
• Any must-see things along the way—not interested in Santa Cruz boardwalk but is there anything there we should not miss on the drive?
• Once on Monterey Peninsula, should we try to fit in the Aquarium that Wednesday afternoon or wait until Thursday morning?
• Since Aquarium tickets now must be purchased online, how far in advance do we need to purchase them for a mid-week visit?
• Restaurant recommendations?
• Other must-see sights or activities in Monterey? We will be in Carmel for the next several days, so we can come back if we miss something Wednesday afternoon or Thursday morning.

Days 3-6 Thursday through Monday
Drive to Carmel via 17 Mile Road
Staying 5 nights in mid-town Carmel in walking distance of galleries, restaurants, beach.
• Considering a Shakespeare play at Forest Theater. What is seating like? Is it likely to be too cold to sit outside for an evening play in mid-October?
• Restaurant recommendations?
• Other activities in Carmel?
• Day trips outside of Carmel—back to Monterey or go in another direction?

Day 7 Tuesday
Drive from Carmel to SFO for a 6:30 pm flight.
• Scenic route back to the airport?
• What to do along the way to make the most of our final day?

Posted by
391 posts

You will have a nice leisurely visit with seven days in the Carmel area. One thing to see is the Carmel Mission. One of the 21 original missions, it is where Fr. Junipero Serra is buried. The church and garden are lovely. Also, take Carmel Valley Rd. southeast to many wineries you can visit for tastings. It's a pretty drive. A day trip from Carmel would be a visit to Mission San Juan Bautista on Hwy 101. The 17 Mile Drive is pretty also, but there is a charge, and somehow that rankles me. Capitola is a sweet little town right on the coast, south of Santa Cruz. I suggest a visit to AAA if you are a member and getting a map of that part of California.

I don't have any recommendations for restaurants, but there are plenty to choose from.
Happy Travels!

Posted by
5102 posts

If you’re going to be in Carmel for five days, it would be worth it to take a drive down to Big Sur and continue for a bit. Big Sur begins only a few miles south of Carmel, but you get the really dramatic scenery after you hit Point Lobos State Park.

ETA: just saw your other question. When you head back to the airport from Carmel, just get on the Pacific Coast Highway and head north. That’s the most scenic drive there is, in my opinion.

Posted by
375 posts

In Monterey, I enjoyed the clam chowder at Vivolo's Chowder House.

What was less enjoyable was the overt commercialism of Monterey in general - much of it falls into tourist trap territory. I didn't visit the aquarium; Cannery Row was a disappointment. So I think you will enjoy Pacific Grove much more. I also stayed out near the lighthouse - the ritual is to walk down to the beach and watch the sun set. The walk along the beach is quite pleasant. There are a number of decent restaurants in downtown Pacific Grove - just walk the strip and see what appeals. There are also many choices for breakfast.

Carmel is a different world from Monterey. If there are tourist traps there, they are upscale and tastefully done.

Posted by
274 posts

For half moon bay.

It’s been awhile since I’ve been there-pre pandemic, but it was my go to in that area.

Instead of Santa Cruz, there is Capitola which may be worth checking out. There was a lot of storm damage this past winter in Capitola, but it’s a cute place to check out, and most places probably have recovered in time for busy summer season.

I would personally do the aquarium in the morning, however, you may have it to yourself on a weekday afternoon. Check the website for otter feeding times, kelp bed feeding, this may influence your schedule. Arrive before school groups.

I was just in Monterey, and Cannery Row has become Ticky Tacky. I lasted about 5 minutes and got out of there. The pier is also touristy, but you may want to go on a whale watch. I frankly don’t mind the pier for seafood dining—it’s kind of fun and different. You can park in downtown and walk along the street to the pier. I grab a Peet’s coffee before I go on my way. There is a Trader Joe’s next to Peet’s if you want snacks for the room.

If you are into golf, I suggest grabbing lunch or dinner at the Tap Room at the Pebble Beach Lodge. At 5 pm- confirm the time it could be 6-there is a bagpipe player at nearby Spanish Bay. We love Spanish bay to sit by a fire pit, have a drink, watch the sunset and listen to the bagpipe player. The bar there is also nice and has wonderful views of the ocean.

Carmel— again, I was just there— it’s a lot of art galleries and wine bars. It’s fun to walk around. Cottage of Sweets has an array of candy from Europe (licorice!) and home made chocolate. If you go down the side streets and alley ways you can discover some cute places. My friends used to live there and we always ended up at Mulligans sports bar. I suggest wandering around and discovering places that appeal to you.

Definitely head down to Big Sur. Again, it’s been awhile due to fires and pandemic, but this was a cool restaurant.

My suggestion for 17 mile drive is to be aware of traffic, pullout, park and enjoy the views. Especially at twilite. Castroville is about 30 minutes north of Monterey. It’s the artichoke capital of the world. There is a dive restaurant/farmstand called the Big Artichoke right by the Highway. I took my husband there for a culinary delight of fried artichoke hearts and beer.

To get back to SFO you can take the long way,but you’ll probably be better off taking 101 and seeing wonderful San Jose and the Peninsula. Load WAZE into your phone for traffic updates and you can determine tímense what would be best for you two.

You’ll hear this dozens of time, but don’t keep anything in the car.

Posted by
3560 posts

Elkhorn Slough is a nature reserve about half way between Santa Cruz and Monterey. You can do some hiking around, but the star attraction is the docent-led boat rides through the slough. All manner of wildlife can be seen in the waters; many kinds of fish, otters, seals, and birds.
One poster mentioned Point Lobos State Park, a short distance south of Carmel. Imo it is one of the most beautiful spots on the planet. There are are number of parking areas, so you can visit the various scenic spots, using your car to go between them.

Posted by
375 posts

There are are number of parking areas, so you can visit the various scenic spots, using your car to go between them.

I was through there in August of last year - peak travel season. Demand was so high that if you weren't there very early, you had to park out on the main road and walk in.

Posted by
9193 posts

“Carmel is a different world from Monterey. If there are tourist traps there, they are upscale and tastefully done”.

I agree. I don’t like Monterey at all, feels skuzzy to me. Pacific Grove is just ok imo. Love Carmel, visit often.

Unfortunately there are no “good” restaurants in Carmel, but plenty of good enough restaurants. You’ll see them all when you walk around town, just stop and read their menus. They’re all over-priced.

The most enjoyable thing to do in Carmel for me is just walking all over town and walking throughout the residential area starting where the hotels stop on Ocean Ave down to the beach. All of it is super charming.

I like visiting the Murphy House in town.

Our favorite place for breakfast is the Swiss Cafe - they make incredibly delicious blintzes.

Carmel Beach is beautiful, very nice to walk. Or, you can walk along the beach up on the road above, on a sidewalk, easier than walking in sand.

Walking some of Pebble Beach Golf Course is very enjoyable. And the 18th Hole is good for photos. A drink on the outside terrace, overlooking the 18th Hole, is relaxing and enjoyable.

Pebble Beach Golf Course has a 3-Par course which is fun if you like playing golf. No reservation necessary, but you need to have your own golf clubs.

For others reading this, renting bikes in Carmel and riding the 17 Mile Drive from town is really fun. You can take a bus back (with your bike) to town when you get to Monterey.

Posted by
47 posts

Good ideas from all previous posters. I'll lend some local Carmel/PG/Monterey/PB ideas. Agree that downtown Monterey would not be on my itinerary. Restaurant in PG i'd recommend is the Fishwife. Take 17 Mile Drive in Pebble Beach ($11 entry) and stop at the turnouts to enjoy the scenery. Pebble Beach Golf Links has a visitor center that is near the Lodge and is a good place to to park. (Expensive souvenirs but free parking). The 18th hole is close and would be easy to view but pedestrian access is not permitted when golfers are on the course. Close to the visitor center is The Hay--a Tiger Woods designed par 3 course that is open to the public. Balls and clubs are available but the green fee is $60 for nine holes (ouch). However, there is an 18 hole putting course that is open to the public and is free. The Hay has a Mexican themed restaurant that has good reviews. I also would recommend the Tap room (steaks and chops). The Bench restaurant overlooks the 18th green and is a good location for lunch and/or drinks. Carmel has many art galleries and many good restaurants--take your pick. Absolutely visit Point Lobos. Don't park on Highway 1 to save the State Park entry fee. Cars are often broken into but would be safe inside the State Park. Take Highway 1 south to Big Sur. Fantastic scenery (Bixby Bridge is amazing) as long as you don't drive on weekends (tourist traffic can be VERY heavy. During the week it's ok). The road to Carmel Valley is ok and does have several wineries. Don't go beyond Carmel Valley Village. There is a Shakespeare play scheduled during October at the Outdoor Forest Theater. A local professional theater company (Pac Rep) is a notch above the most local theater groups. Dress warm and bring a picnic dinner. Check the dates. If you're around Castroville for lunch I'd recommend Phil's Fish Market. Phil's has been open (although recently relocated from Moss Landing) for years. Try the cioppino. TV chef Bobby Flay issued a cioppino challenge to Phil and lost.

Posted by
5102 posts

There is one nice winery that I really enjoyed. My sister lived out there for years and she took me to Cowgirl Winery in Carmel Valley. Nice wine with a tasting room, beautiful ambience and location, rural atmosphere (I loved the chickens walking around) and gorgeous scenery. Very fun place to visit.

Posted by
2 posts

I appreciate all of the responses to my inquiry. We will consider all of the suggestions from everyone as we continue to develop our plans.

I have not looked at this forum since our trip to Portugal and Spain in 2019, so I was pleasantly reminded of all of the helpful people here. Again, thanks to everyone who is taking time to share their experiences and advice.

Posted by
3560 posts

Mention of The Fishwife restaurant reminded me of another beach that is nice for walking on, the Asilomar State Beach. You access it by driving into the Asilomar Conference Grounds. There is plenty of free parking. The state of California has built boardwalks so that you can walk without damaging the fragile ecosystem. The restaurant is located on a street just south of conference grounds and is reasonably priced.
I differ from some others about the 17-mile drive. You pay to enter, and the scenery is not more beautiful than many other places in the area. I thought it disappointing.
Please note my statements are based on experiences from more than 10 years ago, when I attended math teacher conferences at Asilomar. I can’t vouch for current prices or parking regs. I trust the natural beauty remains.
It is wise to carry a a light cardigan and wind-proof jacket for your trip. The area can be very cool and windy. October is usually a good time, but people from elsewhere often don’t realize that central Pacific coast nights are rarely warm.