With its charming, fairytale-style streetscapes, eclectic shops, sandy beaches and close proximity to enticing side excursions, Carmel is an ideal spot for a fun family getaway. Hugging the coast just south of the Monterey Bay—a mere 2.5 hours south of San Francisco—Carmel is a year-round destination offering a variety of hotel accommodations ranging from the exquisite to the inexpensive. As an added bonus, it’s also a decidedly pro-dog environment for families wanting to bring along their four-legged friends. If you’re considering a road trip to Carmel, here are some of our recommendations for a memory-making visit.
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. In a nutshell, it’s an old school toy store featuring both educational and imaginative toys for kids of all ages.
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. As an added bonus, the shop even offers a selection of shoes for mom and dad! Starchild’s aptly named sister shop, Heaven, is a hop, skip and a jump away on Lincoln St. between Ocean Ave. and 7th Ave. if your fam is seeking additional fab fashion finds.
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. Whether Fido accompanies you on your getaway or not, the whole fam will love exploring Diggidy Dog. 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. The younger set will also enjoy checking out various pooches frequenting Diggidy Dog as visitors or pet rescue options. If you go, be sure to say “ruff” to Penelope the pug, who’s often found ruling the roost.
NE Corner of Ocean Ave. & Monte Verde St.
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. Add in some sand dunes poised for climbing and mild ocean breezes opportune for kite flying and you have the ingredients for a memorable day your half pints will remember well beyond their visit.
Tip: 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. This National Historic Landmark is one of more than 20 historic missions founded by Saint Junipero Serra, the Spanish Franciscan priest, explorer and “Father of the California Missions,” who is interred under the Basilica’s altar. 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.
Monterey Bay Aquarium
A short, 10-minute drive from Carmel brings you to the world-renown Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey—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. Although we recommend taking in as much as you can during your visit, stand-out favorites include the Wave Crash gallery, a specially designed, domed glass exhibit that “crashes” waves over visitors every 30 seconds; the Kelp Forest, where you can get up close and personal with sharks and other exotic sea life; the Jellies exhibit, where—you guessed it—jellyfish float and bedazzle with their graceful movements and colors; the Sea Otters exhibit, where playful otters splash, swim and delight onlookers; and the Touch Pools, where your little octopus can touch and feel a myriad of ocean wonders. See as much as you can; you won’t soon forget it!
886 Cannery Row
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.
Flaherty’s Seafood Grill and Oyster Bar
When you’re THIS CLOSE to the ocean, it only makes sense to indulge in some fresh seafood. Flaherty’s is a great option for families visiting Carmel because it offers delicious land and sea fare for lunch and dinner in a casual environment that feels like home. Little sailors will love kids menu options like the Fish & Chips and Mini Corn Dogs & Chips, which come complete with a free drink and dessert. Meanwhile parents—and adventurous imps—will especially enjoy offerings from the Oyster Bar, as well as Flaherty’s Traditional Cioppino.
6th Ave. between Dolores St. & San Carlos St.
Quail Lodge & Golf Club
Would your little mulligans love some time on the putting green? And maybe you would, too? 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. For a delicious and easy breakfast, we recommend trying the Covey Breakfast Restaurant, offering a delicious array of classic American breakfast fare for dine-in or take-out. The slightly more upscale Edgar’s—and its wonderful kids menu—will satisfy the entire family with its farm-to-table selections, serene golf course views and ample patio space for jitterbugs wanting to wander a bit. 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
Best Western Plus Carmel Bay View Inn
If you’re looking for attractive yet affordable accommodations close to Carmel’s downtown and beach, look no further than the Best Western Carmel Bay View Inn. Your little guppies will delight in the heated swimming pool while mom and dad will appreciate the complimentary daily breakfast offering. Aside from traditional guestroom accommodations, the property also offers Family Suites featuring two bedrooms, three beds and a comfortable living room space.
Junipero Street 5th and 6th Avenues
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.
All photos by the author unless otherwise noted. This trip was hosted by Quail Lodge and Golf Club, but all opinions belong to the author.