We received a free stay at Hofsas House to facilitate this review and experience, which included gift certificates to Scheid Vineyards, 5th Avenue Deli and Beach House at Lover’s Point.
For my birthday, Adam and I took a weekend trip to the quaint beach town of Carmel by the Sea in Northern California for a quiet few days away. The village is about a 5-hour drive north of Los Angeles, and just two hours south of San Francisco. It’s a perfect road trip destination for Californians, though we flew into the San Jose airport and rented a car very affordably. Once you get to Carmel by the Sea, you really won’t need a car at all pending weather. Everything is in walking distance of each other, and parking can be a pain on the narrow streets anyway.
Despite being California natives, neither of us had ever visited prior to moving and we were excited to explore.
Where to Stay in Carmel by the Sea
An invite to stay at the Hofsas House is what prompted our trip and curiosity with this charming village. The Hofsas House is a family inn celebrating 70 years in business, offering European hospitality with rooms that feel like home but with the amenities of a standard hotel. The property has a heated pool and dry sauna open daily for guests, so you don’t have to venture far to start having a good time. There are 38 rooms on the property that are all one-of-a-kind with features like fireplaces, private balconies, wet bars, kitchens and patios. We stayed in a large King Suite which was basically as big as a small apartment!
Deal Alert: Stay 2 nights at Hofsas House and get your 3rd night 30% off! Type “SlashedBeauty” in the reservation comments section for the adjustment on your confirmation.
Our room included a fireplace that was constantly running while we were in our room— our visit was quite chilly and we were welcomed by a bit of rain. We also had a small bistro table, a private balcony and a large two-room bathroom. One room featured the vanity with tons of counter space and small kitchen appliances, plus an iron. Hidden away behind a door was the toilet, shower and a second sink. I loved having the separation because I could get ready for the day at the vanity while Adam was taking a shower.
When we arrived, we had the Monterey Wine & Cheese Pairing waiting for us in our suite, which is only a $30 add-on and a great way to get the trip started. The Hofsas House has several offerings you can bundle into your room rate such as spa services, golf course access, wine tasting tours and more. Free with your stay, however, is a continental breakfast featuring pastries from a local bakery, juice, fruit and coffee. It’s a great way to star the day, and you can enjoy it in the lobby or fill up a basket and bring it back to your room.
The staff at the Hofsas House was incredible— they were a plethora of knowledge about the town and were happy to give us suggestions and tips about getting around and activities nearby. It’s the perfect location, as well. Only a few blocks from the center of town (Ocean Ave.), everything was accessible by foot. Also, the inn, and whole town, is incredibly dog-friendly. They’re welcome practically everywhere!
Something to note about Carmel and the Monterey area in general— it’s not exactly cheap. There are several activities you can partake in for free or low cost, but the draw of this town is definitely the wine and food, which is pretty midrange when it comes to prices (Think two to three dollar signs on Yelp). As long as you’re prepared for that, you’ll be able to have a great time— though we did find a few shops, activities and eateries that were super budget-friendly!
Things to Do in Carmel by the Sea
Carmel Mission Basilica
The Carmel Mission is one of the popular attractions in the area that has both religious and non-religious relics of early California. While we aren’t Catholic, we were able to appreciate the beautiful art within the chapels and other altars. The architecture alone was beautiful, and there are outdoor gardens and fountains that are pleasant to walk through. It started to rain as we were touring, so we didn’t get to enjoy a lot of the outdoor areas but I can imagine they’d be a great place to relax on a clear day.
I was particularly interested in some of the early Californian historical artifacts housed at the mission, such as the first library in the state! They also had handmade items from native tribes that were fascinating to read about.
This is a great place for outdoor photo ops, but also just strolling and learning inside of the museum. The cost is $9.50 per person, though entry is by donation on Sundays.
17 Mile Drive
The 17 Mile Drive will take you on a scenic route along Pebble Beach, Spanish Bay and all the groves in between. If the weather is nice, I highly recommend this self-led tour of the gorgeous coast. Admission is $10.50 per vehicle, but if you eat at any of the restaurants at Pebble Beach Resorts, the fee is waived/reimbursed. There are picturesque points of interest along every mile that have pull-over spaces or parking lots so you can take advantage of the views. My favorites were Restless Sea, Point Joe, The Lone Cypress, Shepherd’s Knoll, and Ford Meadow. If you bring your swimming gear, most points of interest along the beach have access to the water for picnics, sunbathing or surfing!
We did this drive twice— once when it was raining and once when it was clear. Even though you can take in the views from inside your car, it’s much more fun when the sun’s out so you can get out and take it all in with the breeze and scents of the sea. Plus, you’ll get some amazing IG shots here.
Carmel by the Sea is rich with winery tasting rooms on basically every corner. You can’t go wrong with any of them, but we especially enjoyed the Scheid Vineyards tasting room. It’s a larger space with high-top tables and a walk-up bar. The tasting fee for a flight of four wines is only $10, which is waived if you end up buying two bottles. Not only did we enjoy tasting the delicious wines, but our server was super friendly and was happy to engage in conversation about each wine, telling us about its origin, how it’s made, and answering our random questions. It was a very relaxed atmosphere, and it was the perfect place to rest our feet after exploring the town.
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
This was on our list of things to do, but unfortunately we didn’t make it due to the rain. Point Lobos has a ton of walks and hiking trails, views of beautiful coves and sometimes even wildlife like sea lions. I was super bummed we weren’t able to experience it, since Adam and I love hiking out doors, but it will remain on our list for our next visit.
Where to Shop in Carmel by the Sea
Coach Factory Outlet
I was extremely surprised to discover a Coach Outlet in the village, since it’s otherwise a pretty upscale town! We wandered in while waiting for the tasting rooms to open (most open at noon), and I was blown away with the prices. Since it was my birthday weekend after all, Adam treated me to a shopping spree since I had been talking nonstop about wanting new bags. The staff was super friendly and not pushy at all, and informed us that there are new sales every day so if we didn’t pick something out right away, to definitely come back. We did, of course, end up shopping due to an additional 70% off sale— and an extra 20% when buying two or more things from a specific section! I walked away with my new every day purse: the Coach Large Bennett Satchel which is an outlet-exclusive style. I also picked up a pink waist bag and a small zipper pouch to keep my purse organized. I highly suggest stopping by if you want to pick up infamous high-quality Coach bags at a steep discount.
The Cheese Shop
When researching things to do in Carmel by the Sea, I was surprised that everyone mentioned a place called The Cheese Shop as a must! This small storefront features hundreds of types of cheeses from around the world, and will indulge you in a personal sampling of basically as many as you can handle! They do official wine-and-cheese tastings in the back of the store, but you can just stand at the counter with a salesperson and they’ll keep bringing you cheese to try. You’ll walk away with an edible souvenir no doubt, they’ve got something for all tastes and budgets. The staff is fun and will let you hone your taste down to your favorite cheese by going through each type. We brought home three types of cheeses that we’ve been enjoying with crackers at home, extending our indulgence a bit longer than the trip itself.
The Cottage of Sweets
If you’ve got a sweet tooth, you can’t skip The Cottage of Sweets. And even if you don’t, the building looks like it’s straight out of a storybook and is worth passing by for a peek. This shop was named one of the Ten Best Candy Stores in America in 2009 by USA Today, and it’s clear why. You’ll find literally any kind of candy you’re craving— chocolates and homemade fudge, too! The air is so sweet, they say it’s “5 calories per sniff.” They have imported English candies as well, so you can get your fix of international treats.
Where to Eat in Carmel by the Sea
Breakfast: The Cottage or Carmel Bakery
If you’re looking for a hot breakfast outside of what the hotel offers, The Cottage serves up tasty faves like benedicts and pancakes. It’s traditional American breakfasts with California twists (avocado galore!) They also have pretty reasonable mimosas for around $7.
We were really impressed by the local Carmel Bakery, which had a ton of pastries but also served breakfast burritos at $7 that were huge and hearty. This is the perfect stop for a filling breakfast on a budget in Carmel. It’s casual, quick, and perfect to start a day out-and-about without doing a full sit down meal.
Lunch: Hogs Breath Inn or 5th Avenue Deli
Fun fact, Clint Eastwood owns several eateries in the Carmel and Monterey Area, and this Hogs Breath Inn is one of them. Only two blocks from Hofsas House, Hogs Breath is a cozy and rustic spot for a meal, with great sandwiches or heavier entrees if you’re in the mood. There is an outdoor patio with fireplaces, but it was still too chilly for us and we ate inside where the walls were adorned with movie memorabilia featuring Eastwood.
For something a little more budget friendly, and perfect for picnic food, checkout 5th Avenue Deli. The storefront is takeaway only, and makes fresh sandwiches and other refrigerated foods they can heat up for you like tamales or pot pies. They also have a taco and salad bar, and all the prices are very reasonable. We picked up fruit salad, potato salad, a fresh sandwich, four tamales and two cookies and it all came out to $35!
Dinner: Beach House at Lover’s Point or Dametra Cafe
For a romantic dinner, get a window table at Beach House at Lover’s Point for sunset views over the sea and amazing food. You can actually take the 17 Mile Drive for a portion of the ride and kill two birds with one stone, just leave extra time to get there since it’s the “long way.” This restaurant is definitely on the more pricey side but so worth it for a special occasion— even if the occasion is just being on vacation! We highly recommend the Filet Mignon, and I ordered one of the daily specials of Seafood Risotto. Don’t skip the artichokes as an appetizer— the region is actually famous for their artichoke farms, so they are fresh and delicious. Everything was so good, and they even brought out a complimentary pecan tart for my birthday!
To stay a little closer to town center, check out Dametra Cafe, a Mediterranean-Italian fusion restaurant. You’ll definitely still want reservations, because though it’s more casual, it’s a small and popular spot. The food tastes authentic and they even feature live music.
Overall, we had an amazing time getting our R&R in Carmel by the Sea. It’s a great town to wine, dine and unwind, experience nature and California’s beautiful coast.