Carmel is having a birthday this October and it’s throwing a month-long party to celebrate the big one, oh, oh. From parades to pumpkin rolls to sandcastle-building contests, there has never been a better time to take the family to Carmel—not to mention its calm white sand beaches, outdoor adventures galore, trendy shops and mild warm weather.

carmel_girl_on_beachPhoto: Allie Caufield via Flickr

Getting There
From all northern areas, take 101 S nearly the entire way. If traffic is bad, there is an option to get on 85 S to 17 S.  Either way, exit 1 and take a right on Ocean Drive to get to downtown Carmel and eventually, the beach. It should be smooth sailing throughout the 2-3 hour drive so long as you avoid commuter hours, during which drive-times can double. If you start to smell garlic, get ready to pit stop! Gilroy, garlic capital of the world, is a great mid-way point where kids can run around and snack on fresh fruit from any number of local farm stands that line the highway. The Garlic Shoppe provides a true taste of Gilroy…along with restrooms. If you have some extra time, visit the Gilroy Premium Outlets for deals on favorite family brands like Janie & Jack, Gymboree, The Disney Store, Carter’s, Stride Rite, J.Crew/Crewcuts, and The Children’s Place.

The Garlic Shoppe
4310 Monterey Rd.
Gilroy, Ca

Gilroy Premium Outlets
681 Leavesley Rd.
Gilroy, Ca


Photo: Carmel Beach City Park by Jenn Wade

The Party

The Carmel-by-the-Sea Centennial Celebration

The party technically kicked off in January of this year, but the real fiesta jumps into high gear starting October 1, when there will be numerous special events happening every single Saturday and Sunday, plus some weekdays throughout the entire month. The fun gets rolling on October 1 with the 2nd Annual Pumpkin Roll on Ocean Avenue (1-3 p.m.). Here are a few other family-friendly events we suggest you plan your trip around:

  • Thurs., Oct 6 — 6 to 9 PM — Carmel Chamber of Commerce hosts “A Taste of Carmel” (Carmel Mission Courtyard)
  • Week of Oct 10 — Fire Awareness Safety Week & and Celebration of the 100th year of the Carmel-by-the-Sea Fire Department
  • Fri., Oct 14 at 8 PM — Carmel Centennial Celebration Dance Presentation — Twyla Tharp Dance Company 50th Anniversary Tour (Sunset Center)
  • Sat., Oct 15, 11:30 — 2:00 — “Centennial Fiesta”, Carmel Presbyterian Church (Ocean & Junipero) featuring Oaxacan band & buffet to benefit Harrison Memorial Children’s Library
  • Sun., Oct 23 — 56th Annual Sand Castle Contest (Carmel Beach) judging from noon to 2 PM
  • Sat., Oct 29 at 11 AM — Centennial Celebration Parade (Ocean Avenue and San Carlos Avenues)
  • Sat., Oct 29 — 5 PM to 8PM — “Dancing Through the Decades” featuring The Money Band (Dolores Street between Ocean and 7th) Wine and Beer Garden sponsored by the Carmel Public Library Foundation and the Monterey County Vintner, and food for sale from Cafe Napoli, La Bicyclette and Cantinetta Luca’s.

See the full schedule right here. 


Carmel Beach City Park
Nothing beats sand-castle building at the beach. The best seaside spot for families in Carmel is at the end of downtown’s Ocean Ave so it’s as convenient as it is beautiful. Clean bathrooms are a plus, though parking can get tough after mid-morning (Insider tip: spots can always be found on the many side streets when the main lot is full). An expansive beach area, banks that protect against the wind, white sand, calm waters, and an endless parade of pets running the ocean’s edge create a winning combination of fun for families. Mild breezes make for great kite flying conditions and dunes are destined to be climbed by energetic kiddos. But white-sand-beaches or not, this is still NorCal: Carmel can be foggy so layer up if you aren’t certain of the weather.

Ocean Ave and Scenic Rd.
Carmel-By-The-Sea, Ca

Credit Monterey Bay Aquarium:Randy Wilder

Photo: Monterey Bay Aquarium by Rander Wilder

Monterey Bay Aquarium
A visit to the area isn’t complete without stopping by the famed Monterey Bay Aquarium. Located on historic Cannery Row in Monterey, the Aquarium is 10 minutes from downtown Carmel and well worth the detour. The up-close-and-personal view of ocean life is incredible, as is the  vista of the Monterey Bay coastline. Dive in (while staying dry) in the Wave Crash gallery, which pumps about 600 gallons of water and “crashes” every 30 seconds. Families will appreciate special activities and tours that cater to kids: Favorites include the Splash Zone (home to penguins, rockfish and sharks), Coral Reef Kingdom for babies and toddlers, and Enchanted Kelp Forest with a 40-foot-long touch pool. Worth considering is that an annual membership pays for itself in only two visits and offers exclusive discounts and experiences.

886 Cannery Row
Monterey, Ca

Katy's Place

Photo: Katy’s Place by Yelp’s Wendy P.


Flaherty’s Seafood Grill & Oyster Bar
A few steps off Ocean Avenue, Flaherty’s Seafood Grill & Oyster Bar is a family favorite—and for good reason. Sit outdoors if your little ones want to run up and down the block while waiting for food or indoors where booths make for a cozy dining experience. Kids are given crayons upon arrival and the kids’ menu is (almost) as extensive as the regular menu—every kids’ entrée includes a drink and dessert for only $8.95. Meanwhile, parents are presented an incredible selection of seafood, including fresh oysters. Flaherty’s delivers a taste of the good life and gives families a feel for the destination.  Helpful hint, Flaherty’s has two sides to it. Choose Oyster Bar for a more casual experience or the Seafood Grill as an upscale option; the menu is the same at both.

6th Ave between Dolores & San Carlos
Carmel, Ca

Katy’s Place
Katy’s Place is a tradition in Carmel where “everyone feels at home.”  Huge portions mean you can share with your little ones, a box full of toys ensure kids are entertained, and a lively atmosphere makes for a fun and low-stress meal. Katy’s prides itself on using only “the most precious” ingredients so you will feel good about feeding your family at this top spot for breakfast and lunch.

Insider tip: There are no reservations at Katy’s, so add your name to the list and head down the block to Devendorf Park to let your kiddos run around while waiting.

Mission St between 5th and 6th
Carmel-By-The-Sea, Ca

Star Child

Photo: Starchild by Yelp’s Monique V.


Thinker Toys
If you’re strolling down Ocean Ave, be sure to pit stop at Thinker Toys between visits to the many stylish boutiques and art galleries along the main drag. Kids will be amazed by the sheer quantity of play things while parents will be wowed by the quality. Thinker Toys has every toy imaginable for all age groups and represents top brands like Lego, Gund, Melissa & Doug, and Goldie Blox so kids are sure to find something they can enjoy at the beach, in the hotel room, or during the car ride home. Keep an eye on tots, as a packed space makes it hard for tiny hands to resist touching the many goods that surround them!

7th Ave at San Carlos St.
Carmel, Ca

Starchild will brighten your day!  Absolutely adorable fashions for kids, many with a cool beachy vibe, make it impossible to pass by this posh spot. Starchild strives to present unique brands and exclusive items that can’t be found elsewhere, helping to justify those higher price tags. If a full wardrobe is too much to consider but you can’t bear to leave empty-handed, go for a warm-weather staple. Beach hats, strappy sandals, stylish sneakers, cool kid shades, and haute headbands with Swarovski crystals for a little extra sparkle won’t break the bank. It’s sister shop, Heaven, is only a few blocks away on Lincoln between Ocean Ave and 7th Ave for more fab fashions for the littles.

Ocean Ave between Mission & San Carlos
Carmel-by-the-Sea, Ca

La Playa Carmel

Photo: La Playa Carmel


The Hideaway
This recently renovated gem is also under new ownership (hospitality experts The PlumpJack Group are now at the helm) and just made it’s debut as a new kid-friendly bed & breakfast called The Hideaway.  To celebrate Carmel-by-the-Sea’s big birthday, The Hideaway is offering a limited 100 point/100 year “sip and stay” package for the month of October. It includes a bottle of the extremely limited 100 point Robert Parker 2013 PlumpJack Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon award-winning wine (typically reserved only for wine club members), a complimentary tasting for two at PlumpJack Winery for all of 2016-2017, and a stay at the newly redesigned and renovated hotel.

Junipero St & 8th Ave.
Carmel-By-The-Sea, Ca

Best Western Plus Carmel Bay View Inn
One of many boutique properties less than a mile from the beach and downtown, Best Western Plus Carmel Bay View Inn is a terrific affordable option for families. Kids will enjoy a heated swimming pool, parents will appreciate complimentary breakfast daily, and the entire family will be happy in spacious accommodations (bonus, there are Family Suites with two bedrooms, three beds, and a living room available!).

Insider Tip: Early bookings pay off as prices range significantly.

Junipero Street 5th and 6th Avenues
Carmel-By-The-Sea, Ca

La Playa Carmel
La Playa Carmel is just steps from the sands of Carmel Beach, making quick trips back to the room for snacks, naps, or potty breaks a breeze. For its location alone, many will find the slightly higher price point worthwhile. Carmel’s charm is apparent throughout this historic hotel—formerly a mansion built by an artist as a gift to his wife, a member of the Ghirardelli family—which still offers the same comforts of home in modern form. A pool, courtyards, and patios with lush landscaping are ideal for children who need space and options for playtime. Book the Beach Picnic Package for a true taste of La Playa Carmel (e.g. Ghirardelli cookies for dessert!) and the destination.

Camino Real at Eighth Ave.
Carmel-By-The-Sea, Ca

Have you escaped to Carmel? Do you have a family-friendly destination there? Tell us in the comments below! 

—Erin Feher and Jenn Wade