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A long weekend getaway in Carmel, California

Flowers and coastline

One of the things I was most excited about when moving to the West Coast was getting to explore more of California, and I had a chance to do it early in the year as part of the first Gather & Getaway blogging retreat. I spent the most magical weekend with a fantastic group of women exploring the town and its beautiful surroundings, sampling Carmel’s cuisine and marveling at the incredible nature in this part of the world. I hope this recap will inspire you to plan a Carmel getaway of your own!

Carmel, California
January, 2019

GETTING TO CARMEL

I planned to fly from my home base in Portland to Monterey Regional Airport, just a 12-minute drive from Carmel—but unfortunately, things didn’t exactly go as planned. Air Traffic Control delayed my first flight, into San Francisco, because of winds, and I missed the only connecting flight that would have gotten in at a reasonable hour. Instead, once I got to San Francisco, I picked up a rental car and drove the rest of the way.

That’s the nice thing about Carmel—you can reach it in just a couple hours from San Francisco or San Jose if you’d prefer to do that than changing planes. I have to say, though—I got to do my planned two-flight itinerary on the way home, and the 18-minute (!!!) flight from Monterey to SF was infinitely more enjoyable than my 3-hour drive through Bay Area traffic!

For info on how I booked my flights for free, see the “Miles Math” section below!

Tiled staircase
Blue door

CARMEL ACCOMMODATIONS

I stayed at the Hotel Carmel, a beautiful and newly renovated boutique hotel. I can’t recommend this hotel enough; rooms were clean, bright and well-appointed. Staff members were so nice and helpful. The grounds were teeming with flowers and greenery and it was hard not to snap a photo each time I walked past the stylishly designed common spaces. As if that wasn’t enough, the hotel offers free local wine during a happy hour each evening that you can take outside to the fire pit or hot tub. And it’s walking distance from everything around town! Read more about my stay here.

Hotel Carmel lobby table
Chairs around a fire pit

CARMEL FOOD

If you have time for one dinner in Carmel, make it La Bicyclette. It has a charming European feel and some of the best pizza I’ve ever had. I loved it so much I got a to-go pizza to take to the airport on the way out, but I decided instead to devour it immediately on the bench across the street before calling my Uber!!

Cultura Comida y Bebida was another favorite Mexican food, California style. The menu highlights Oaxacan cuisine and local ingredients, and it was a great place for our group to enjoy a fun dinner our last night in time. I will definitely be going back for breakfast on my next trip—the menu looks amazing!!

Brophy’s Tavern is another great place to grab a casual dinner, particularly for those staying at the Hotel Carmel. It’s a classic pub environment serving elevated versions of traditional pub fair, and the vibe is lively yet relaxed. Try the truffle fries!

For lunch, we enjoyed Village Corner, which is a great place for dining outside if the weather’s nice. The establishment, considered an institution on the Carmel dining scene, serves all the classics; think soups, salads, burgers and pastas, with an emphasis on farm-to-table ingredients. 

Village Corner polenta dish
Cultura exterior
Pizza in a box

CARMEL DRINKS

One of my favorite activities in Carmel was a trip to Folktale Winery, where we did a full tasting of six wines. The space is absolutely beautiful and the sparkling rosé was divine! Folktale’s food is also definitely worth sticking around for, so come hungry.

For coffee, I loved Stationæry, which was relatively new in town at the time I visited. The interior was also a design-lover’s dream, with white tiles and minimalist furnishing. Take note of opening hours if you’re a coffee-in-the-afternoon person; Stationæry closes after lunch service.

Bottle of wine and appetizers
Long table at Folktale Winery
Stationaery table and chairs
Stationaery meu

CARMEL ATTRACTIONS

There’s lots to do in and around Carmel, and at the same time, there’s not so much that you’d feel overwhelmed on a weekend getaway. 

IN TOWN

Around town, I loved taking time to just stroll around and pop into shops and galleries. Carmel is also full of fairytale architecture and hidden corners, and you never know where a path will lead you! Definitely allow yourself a couple hours to wander—the town is small, but I still felt a little rushed with just one hour to explore. 

You can easily spend another hour walking down by the beach, and infinitely more if it’s nice outside. Across the road from the beach, houses reminiscent of storybook cottages line Scenic Drive, which is worth a stroll in its own right. And if you follow the street down far enough, you’ll pass Frank Lloyd Wright’s ship-shaped Walker House. It’s privately owned, but it opens up one day a year to the public. If it’s anything like the FLW I toured in November, I’m sure the interior is worth seeing!

House by the beach
House by the beach
Frank Lloyd Wright house

FURTHER AFIELD

If you have a car with you, I highly recommend heading out to Bixby Bridge to witness Big Sur in all its glory, ESPECIALLY just before sunset. Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is another close-by spot for gorgeous nature walks and wildlife spotting on the coast. Check out more on both these easy excursions in this post!

Bixby Bridge at sunset
Sunset cliffs by the ocean
Point Lobos beach
Cliffs at Point Lobos

NEXT TIME

I would love to see more of the coastline next I’m in town (Carmel connects to 17-Mile Drive, a route famous for its spectacular scenery). I also missed the Carmel Mission Basilica and museum, a spot steeped in history and surrounded by lush gardens. 

Carmel library
Carmel shops

MILES MATH

I was looking for flights to Carmel in the middle of our move from D.C. to Portland, so I knew that no matter what, I didn’t want to pay cash for the trip (moving cross-country is crazy expensive, you guys!!). I chose a one-stop itinerary on United that would have cost $286.60. United wanted 25,000 miles for the flight, so instead I turned to the Chase Sapphire Reserve travel portal, which charged just 19,106 Ultimate Rewards points!

To rent the car at SFO, I once again used the Chase Sapphire Reserve, since it provides primary insurance coverage with reimbursement up to $75,000. 

For more on earning and using points and miles to travel for free, visit the 52 Cities free resource library or register to join me on my next live masterclass! And for more on Carmel, read my review of the Hotel Carmel or check out these suggestions for three easy excursions in the area.

Plant and chairs
Flowers by a window

What would you do on your own long weekend Carmel getaway? Let me know in the comments! >>

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