This quintessential California beach town is the perfect spot to spend the weekend (or longer!) with your kid crew and dogs, too! Carmel-by-the-Sea is just south of Monterey along the picturesque Highway 1 and it offers a relaxing break from the Bay Area. Sandy beaches, family-friendly hotels, seafood and more await, so scroll through to see what we recommend!
photo: Kate Loweth
Carmel Beach City Park
At the end of downtown Carmel’s Ocean Ave., an outdoor oasis awaits. Carmel Beach’s sprawling white, sandy beach, serene waves and endless parade of pooches frolicking along the ocean’s edge create the perfect surrounds for some serious fun-in-the-sun. Carmel Beach offers clean bathrooms but parking can be challenging after mid-morning. Also, be sure to layer up on foggy days.
Ocean Ave. and Scenic Rd.
Carmel Mission Basilica
Founded in 1771, Carmel’s Mission Basilica is touted as a place of worship, education, history and art. For these reasons and more, it’s a wonderful spot to visit for an extraordinary, cultural family experience in Carmel. \Aside from checking out the site’s numerous mini-museums, architecture and artifacts, there’s also an exquisite landscape for the littles to explore, including a charming courtyard with a fountain, statues and numerous exotic plants. Consider a picnic in the courtyard and a visit to the unique gift shop.
3080 Rio Rd.
photo: Kate Loweth
If the kids need a spot to run around in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Devendorf Park is the spot. You’ll find grass for picnics, a pond with Koi fish and lots of benches and trees.
Ocean Ave. and Junipero St.
Monterey Bay Aquarium
A short, 10-minute drive from Carmel brings you to the world-renown Monterey Bay Aquarium—an awe-inspiring, must-see attraction the whole fam will enjoy. Your little “cuddlefish” will love exploring the Aquarium’s inventive exhibits featuring almost every sea creature in Neptune’s Kingdom, as well as fun activities created just for them. Read our full review here.
886 Cannery Row
photo: Kathy Chouteau
If you’re shopping on 7th Ave. and spot a giant red toy soldier, you know you’ve arrived at Thinker Toys, Carmel’s resident toy shop extraordinaire. Upon entering, your tiny tots will be greeted by dozens of whimsical puppets, a massive gumball machine, kites, books, stuffed animals and any toy they can possibly imagine on the shop’s overstuffed shelves.
7th Ave. at San Carlos St.
Got a mini fashionista in your life? If so, don’t miss Starchild, a truly unique children’s boutique touting fashions from around the globe. Along with its chic fashions for kids ages newborn to 12, the Carmel boutique also offers a wide variety of accoutrements like cool shades, cute headbands, stylish sandals, sporty sneakers and more.
Ocean Ave. between Mission St. & San Carlos St.
Carmel’s dog-friendliness is legendary, with hotels, shops and restaurants welcoming pooches with open arms. So it makes sense that our four-legged friends should have a shop that caters to their every whim. The 1,000-square foot store in the heart of downtown Carmel features an array of collars, leashes, treats, toys, get-ups and more aimed at lavishing your doggie with love of both the retail and real varieties.
NE Corner of Ocean Ave. & Monte Verde St.
photo: Kate Loweth
Lugano Swiss Bistro
Just outside of downtown Carmel in the ultimate family-friendly restaurant that will make you feel like you’ve journeyed to the Alps. They specialize in fondue so it’s perfect for sharing and the Schnitzel is huge and delicious. Don’t skip the chocolate dessert fondue that comes with strawberries, melon, bananas and marshmallows for dipping.
3670 The Barnyard
5th Ave. Deli
For the perfect lunch to take to the beach, head to 5th Ave. Deli located just two blocks from Hofsas House. The boxes lunches come with a sandwich, apple, chips and a cookie or you can go rouge and choose from the expansive menu. The curried chicken salad on sourdough is a definite crowd pleaser as is the chicken pot pie if you are looking for something heartier. Soups, chili, breakfast sandwiches and drinks are also available.
5th Avenue and San Carlos
The Little Swiss Café
Step into The Little Swiss Café for some delicious eats and a little slice of Switzerland. This affordable and cozy little café serves up breakfast and brunch in a charming space that will make you feel like you’ve been transported to the Swiss Alps. Be sure to try the café’s popular cheese blintzes or the thin-style pancakes, but be ready to pay with cash only! As an added bonus, kids will love the murals that adorn the walls and which feature many familiar pop-culture characters hidden within their lovely designs.
6th Ave. between Lincoln St. & Monte Verde St.
Delectable farm-to-table menu selections rule the roost at Carmel Belle, a wonderful little restaurant open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There’s plenty for everyone to enjoy no matter what their age bracket, with a wide range of specialty deli-style cold/hot sandwiches, salads, soups and fresh smoothies. Your chickadees will go bananas over the Grilled Grafton Cheddar grilled cheese for lunch/dinner or the Ooey-Gooey Grilled Chocolate, hazelnut spread on country toast with a side of fresh fruit, for a sinfully delicious breakfast.
San Carlos St. between Ocean Ave. & 7th Ave.
photo: Kate Loweth
Perfectly located right off the main drag, Hofsas House is an ideal spot for your Carmel-by-the Sea family vacation as it is out of the downtown congestion but and easy walking distance to wine tasting rooms, restaurants, coffee shops and the beach. Book one of their family suites that have two massive bedrooms and two bathrooms, plus a microwave, mini fridge and dining table. The kids will love the heated pool and the dry sauna is perfect for warming up after a windy day at the beach. Continental breakfast includes homemade coffee cake and an array of other pastries, fruit and yogurt which you can enjoy at one of the outdoor tables or in your room. Bonus: many of the rooms are also dog friendly!
San Carlos Street and Third Street
Quail Lodge & Golf Club
A short, scenic drive inland from downtown Carmel, the beautiful Quail Lodge & Golf Club offers an 18-hole, championship golf course and 9-hole putting green that welcome the whole fam to enjoy them. As a bonus, there’s plenty of other fun options available for the entire family including a heated pool, tennis and pickleball courts, bocce ball court and even a Land Rover Driving School. The property’s expansive and lovely landscaped grounds have even more in store for families. Tastefully decorated, spacious accommodations—including large window seats the chickadees will love lounging on—offer families the perfect home away from home.
8205 Valley Greens Drive
La Playa Carmel
Nestled a few quick steps away from Carmel Beach lies one of Carmel’s most charming hotels: the historic La Playa Carmel. A one-time mansion originally built by an artist as a gift to his wife—a member of the famed Ghirardelli family—the exquisite property now boasts a pool, courtyards and landscaped lawns that are perfect for littles wanting to stretch their legs, explore and play. We recommend considering booking the Beach Picnic Package to truly experience one of the prime benefits of staying at La Playa Carmel—with the added sweet treat of Ghirardelli cookies for dessert.
Camino Real at Eighth Ave.
—Kate Loweth & Kathy Chouteau
Editor’s note: This trip was paid for by Hofsas House but all opinions expressed here belong to the writer