Inside Carmel-by-the-Sea, the California beach town that celebrities love right now

Monterey Cypress trees fringe Carmel Beach   (Getty Images)
Monterey Cypress trees fringe Carmel Beach (Getty Images)

It goes without saying that where Taylor Swift goes, crowds follow – and this time the spotlight’s on coastal California.

Carmel-by-the-Sea (usually referred to as just Carmel), a small beach city in Monterey County, is a one-square-mile holiday town famed for its quaint nature and fairytale image.

Situated between San Francisco (roughly a two-hour drive) and Los Angles (around five-and-a-half hours by road), the town is a popular weekend break for residents of both cities, as well as a favourite stop for travellers driving the Pacific Coast Highway. Despite its small size, Carmel has a disproportionate number of good restaurants and a variety of boutique hotels with pretty thatched roofs and coastal views.

Given that actor Clint Eastwood was the city’s former mayor in 1986, it’s no surprise Carmel is beloved by celebrities, with A-listers including Taylor SwiftTravis KelceBradley Cooper and Gigi Hadid recently spotted strolling the beach city.

When to visit

The shoulder seasons of April and October are often the best time to visit the Golden State. Free from the peak season summer crowds, the weather sits in the balmy low 20Cs, practically primed for comfortable days walking on the beach or dining al fresco.

What to do

Barbeque, surf and sunbathe on the white sands of Carmel Beach (Getty Images)
Barbeque, surf and sunbathe on the white sands of Carmel Beach (Getty Images)

Hit Carmel Beach

The Pacific laps the dog-friendly white sands of Carmel Beach, and this pale swathe is a dream for a seaside Cali weekend – whether watching sunsets of orange and purple, warming up by a beach fire or surfing. Visit Point Lobos National Reserve to the south and Pebble Beach to the north to find the best waves.

Take a walk

The town was officially founded in 1902, 132 years after the historic 1770 Spanish Carmel Mission was established by Father Junípero Serra in Monterey Bay. A 3.5-mile Scenic Bluff Path wraps the coast from the north of Carmel Beach and is a great way to take in the area’s natural beauty and midcentury architectural highlights.

Browse the shops

Boutique shops, art galleries and outdoor malls bless Carmel with everything from florists to delis and antique stores – ideal for spending the day wandering the town’s hidden passageways.

Rent a classic car

To cruise downtown Carmel in style, rent a classic car with Monterey Touring Vehicles and drive Highway 1 along the coastline for vineyards, beaches and the heritage sites of Monterey.

Where to eat and drink

Embrace the grapes at one of Carmel’s 18 wine-tasting rooms   (Getty Images)
Embrace the grapes at one of Carmel’s 18 wine-tasting rooms (Getty Images)

In the town’s main block, Ocean Avenue, there are plenty of wine-tasting rooms alongside a vibrant food scene, with a dedicated culinary week kicking off on 31 May.

Hog’s Breath Inn

Serving up organic Californian classics for over 40 years, Eastwood himself used to own the central Hog’s Breath Inn. Sustainable seafood, homemade desserts and speciality margaritas dot the menu of the rustic spot complete with wood-burning fires.

Katy’s Place

Famed for its – over 20 – varieties of eggs benedict, signature omelettes and French toast, Katy’s Place has been a breakfast tradition for Carmel locals since 1982.


If eight-course Michelin tasting menus are more your thing, try L’Auberge on Monte Verde Street for tantalising abalone shellfish and wine pairings by chef Justin Cogley.


Inspired by western saloons and old Carmel Bohemians, Barmel shakes up cocktail classics, music and dancing nightly – it’s also part of the ‘Pub Crawl by the Sea’ experience during Culinary Week.

Where to stay

Thatched boutique hotels and inns laden with fairy lights line the coast among the Monterey Cypress trees.

Tuck into the Candle Light Inn in downtown Carmel for spacious bedrooms, modern interiors and fireside tipples within walking distance to a host of restaurants, galleries and the beach.

At the Vagabond’s House Boutique Inn & Spa Studio, suites with mahogany accents, muscle-melting massages and claw-foot bathtubs await. There are even complimentary cheese and wine platters in the afternoon and Pacific views to enjoy over breakfast.

For all things cosy, Carmel Country Inn near the Carmel Plaza has Juliet balconies, hearty continental breakfasts and floral decor to boot. Better still, the inn is pet-friendly and can prepare baskets bursting with blankets and sandwiches for picnics on the beach.

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