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The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

February Break travel guide: 48 hours in Carmel-by-the-Sea

courtesy of Erin McDaniel
The waves crashing at the beautiful Carmel Beach.

Carmel-by-the-Sea, a quaint little town of just over 3,000 people, just south of Monterey with beautiful views and calming beaches, is the perfect place to spend your February ski week or Spring Break. You can find delectable food and a bustling downtown less than 90 minutes away — it’s the perfect way to spend two days (or more) with your family.

Say you have 48 hours in Carmel — and don’t know what to do? Here is a game plan that is sure to result in unforgettable memories:

Upon arrival, we recommend staying at a beach-side rental — looking at a few locations on Airbnb or Vrbo can give a good idea of high-quality and relatively affordable locations.


Day 1, 9 a.m.: Make a stop at the Carmel Bakery ($$)

Carmel is known for its pastry shops. Once you smell the sweet aroma of cinnamon just outside the door, you know you’re at the Carmel Bakery — one of the town’s best bakeries. Established in 1987, this bakery has been serving sweet treats for over 30 years and is a must-visit destination for anyone with a sweet tooth.

It offers a wide variety of unique and delicious treats, from pistachio cannolis to cinnamon flat crisps. Made with high-quality ingredients, the pastries are truly unforgettable.

To complement the euphoric taste of its pastries, the bakery has seating inside, and we highly recommend you utilize it: You can enjoy your treats while relaxing in the charming streets of Carmel. The staff is friendly and welcoming, and they’re more than happy to help you choose the perfect pastry.


Day 1, 10 a.m.: Visit Thomas Kinkade Studio in the Garden

After a big breakfast and a brisk walk, visit the beautiful Thomas Kinkade Gallery for a visual feast. The late painter, also known as the “Painter of Light,” has amazing pieces that are displayed all over the gallery.

Kinkade specialized in popular realistic, pastoral and idyllic subjects, such as quaint cottages nestled in lush landscapes and tranquil countryside scenes. His paintings are known for their warmth and inviting tones.

The studio also features pieces based on current events, such as an exhibit based on the 100-year anniversary of Disney. This exhibit showcases Kinkade’s unique interpretation of iconic Disney scenes and characters, such as Cinderella’s castle to Mickey Mouse as a character. It’s right up the alley for art enthusiasts and Disney fans.

In addition to the paintings on display, the studio also sells specialized gifts ranging from sculptures to nightlights. For those who want to take a piece of Kinkade’s art home with them, these gifts are the way to go. The sculptures are intricately detailed and capture the same serene and idyllic themes found in his paintings. The nightlights, on the other hand, are a great way to add a touch of warmth and tranquility to your home.


Day 1, noon: Eat lunch at La Bicyclette ($$)

La Bicyclette is a charming French bistro located in the heart of Carmel. The restaurant offers a cozy and intimate setting, with outdoor seating available for those who want to enjoy the breezy yet comfortable California weather. The menu features a variety of classic French dishes, with an emphasis on fresh, locally-sourced ingredients, such as freshly caught fish.

One of the must-try dishes at La Bicyclette is the champignons provençale, an appetizer with five individual mushroom caps, drenched in a hazelnut-garlic butter sauce with a medley of small herbs and spices. It’s a healthy and delicious option for vegetarians. For meat lovers, the hearty steak fries are a classic French bistro dish that is hard to pass up: The steak is cooked to perfection and served with crispy French fries.

La Bicyclette is a great choice for a delicious and authentic French lunch. With its charming atmosphere, delicious food, and friendly staff, it’s sure to be a trip highlight.


Day 1, 2 p.m.: Chill at Carmel Beach

After a hearty lunch, it’s time to relax. What better place to do so than at the beach with your toes deep in the sand, the sun beating down on you, the waves hugging the shore and seagulls flying in crowds? Carmel Beach is one of the most iconic spots on California’s Central Coast: The beach is lined with purple Pride of Madeiras, and stunning trees form a path running across the beach. 

The water looks remarkably clear, with a crisp baby blue color. The waves are perfect for everyone, especially during the spring. And, aside from the beach, sits a sanctuary in a lagoon for a wide variety of birds, including waterfowl and songbirds.


Day 1, 5 p.m.: Visit Monterey Bay Aquarium

Heading up north before dinner is a nice way to finish up the activities for the first day. The famous Monterey Bay Aquarium is a must-go if you are in the area — it’s only a 15-minute drive from Carmel. The Aquarium features many unique marine animals, for example, multiple playful sea otters, flashy fishes, mesmerizing jellies, and swirling sardines. Many of the animals are residents of Monterey Bay. 

One of the newest exhibits, the “Into the Deep” exhibit, puts a spotlight on lesser-known marine life. It focuses on the animals living in the deep sea. In addition, there are multiple other exhibits like the Sea Otters exhibit, the Splash Zone and Penguins exhibit, the Giant Pacific Octopus exhibit, and many more.

Visitors could spend a whole day here, but if you just want to check out 2-3 exhibits, a couple of hours are fine before you head out for dinner.


Day 1, 8 p.m.: Eat at Montrio Bistro ($$$)

With just a short 10-minute car ride from Carmel, you can visit the just as charming town of Monterey. A highly frequented spot, it has some great cuisine including the Montrio Bistro.

The Montrio Bistro features New American cuisine at a high price point: It is certainly fine dining, but also a great way to conclude an eventful day. With a homely yet beautiful brick architecture, the place feels cozy and upscale at the same time. 

If you hadn’t had enough of the seafood from lunch, this place offers even more sustainable seafood. Everything is green-certified: They want you to “feel good about what you eat!” 

Everything there is delicious and for the truly adventurous, they also offer certified Angus and wagyu cuts. After all that food, you won’t want to miss out on the homemade Creme Brulee or Bread Pudding. 

Then you can take a stroll downtown afterward. It’s a quick way to burn off some calories you consumed.


Day 2, 9 a.m.: Make a visit to other local art galleries

Carmel also showcases more local art galleries concentrated in the 1-square-mile downtown. From photography to paintings to sculptures, local artists are the basis of Carmel’s bubbly culture and it is possible to meet some of these talented artists. There are 21 artist-owned galleries downtown, where the proprietors actually work onsite. The Carmel Art Association, founded in 1927, is the oldest Carmel gallery and features the work of more than 100 professional local artists.

The Marjorie Evans Gallery at the Sunset Center regularly showcases the artwork of various local artists. Similarly, the Center for Photographic Art — formerly known as the Friends of Photography, which was established by renowned photographers Ansel Adams, Cole Weston and Wynn Bullock — also displays rotating exhibits of works by local photographers.


Day 2, noon: Eat at Pangea Grill ($$)

Pangea Grill is an exciting restaurant with its own flair. The restaurant’s interesting name has its own unique story that is very in tune with the restaurant’s philosophy — it wants to act as a place to bring people together with its wonderful cuisine. Its name alludes to the fact that we should all come together as one again.

The restaurant has comfortable seating options and beautiful paintings on the walls, with beautiful star lamps hanging down to illuminate the delicious food and nice ambiance.

They have a large variety of food options ranging from dumpling soup to a wonderful Eggplant Napoleon. There are also many specialty meats like beef or pork. But the seafood is where the place shines. Being right by the beach, the seafood is delivered daily, fresh from the Pacific Ocean.


Day 2, 2 p.m.: Visit the Carmel Mission

Carmel Mission, also known as the Royal Presidio Chapel, is a must-visit historic landmark: It was founded by Spanish friar Junipero Serra in 1770 and has served as a center of worship and community for over 250 years.

The mission is a prime example of Spanish colonial architecture and a currently active Catholic church. Visitors can take a guided tour of the mission, and learn about its rich history and its role in the early development of California. The tour includes the main sanctuary, the museum and the cemetery. The interior of the mission is adorned with intricate tile work, frescoes and sculptures that are sure to impress.

The Royal Presidio Chapel is also home to many religious artworks and artifacts from the mission’s early days. The most famous piece of the collection is the “San Carlos Borromeo,” a painting of the patron saint of the mission attributed to the artist Esteban Munras.

Visiting the mission is a contemplative experience, surrounded by the natural beauty of the area. The mission also offers an elegant garden where you can sit and meditate.


Day 2, 5 p.m.: Go Horseback Riding

End your two-day vacation on a high note with a horseback ride that showcases the stunning views of the area. There are several companies that offer this activity, but for a truly memorable experience, we recommend Pebble Beach. They will lead you on a tour through the prestigious Pebble Beach golf club and along the stunning Pebble Beach.

As you make your way through this breathtaking landscape, you will be surrounded by a myriad of flowers that add to the already stunning scenery. To make the most of this experience, we suggest scheduling your ride for around sunset, when the golden sky provides the perfect backdrop to watch the sun slowly dip below the horizon.

Horseback riding is not just a breathtaking way to see the sights, but it also offers a personal and unparalleled perspective of the local area. Explore the diverse landscapes of Carmel, from lush forests to sandy dunes, picturesque golf courses, and the stunning beach, all from the back of a horse or a pony. This intimate activity is the perfect way to create lasting memories and leave a lasting impression before your vacation comes to an end.


As you end your visit, you’re sure to find that Carmel-by-the-Sea is a one-of-a-kind experience. As frequent visitors of the cozy town, we highly recommend indulging in the historic and cultural parts of the town. The beautiful views alone are astonishing. The feeling of letting your dogs out in the sand is one of the best feelings in the world.

Trust us — it’s worth it.

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