The Best Restaurants & Hotels In Carmel"Shuckefeller"-style broiled oysters, wineries that feel like castles, and much more.
The coastal town of Carmel-by-the-Sea is full of beautiful architecture that’ll transport you straight to Europe right off Highway 1. Known for its 21 “fairytale cottages” and a mish-mash of European-style architecture, Carmel is the perfect launchpad for Central Coast beach days, some excellent hiking, Big Sur day trips, and wine-tasting weekends. But it’s worth noting that you definitely won’t be the only one there.
Weekend crowds bring every type of traveler to Carmel. You’ll find just as many tech bros in Teslas as you will people trying out the van lifestyle making lunch stops before heading to a Big Sur campgrounds.
And with all those visitors, Carmel has developed an exciting restaurant scene, with everything from fine dining tasting menu spots and tapas restaurants to casual bistros and a legendary candy store. These are the best places to eat in Carmel, plus our favorite places to spend the night.
CASUAL SPOTS/GOOD FOR GROUPS
With live music that often gets people up and dancing, Dametra Cafe is a rowdy option right in the middle of Carmel. You’ll probably have to wait for a table at this Mediterranean spot, but the fast service and celebratory atmosphere make up for the line. With everything going on, this isn’t the spot for a deep and meaningful conversation, but it’s great for couples and groups of friends who want to live out their Mamma Mia! fantasy. Don’t forget to order a few things off the Greek-leaning menu—we like the fall-off-the-bone lamb shank and the perfectly-layered moussaka.
If you’re the sort of person who runs an Instagram account for your dog and can’t imagine traveling without them, post up for lunch at this casual pet-friendly restaurant. The second-floor outdoor terrace is huge and spacious, and has great views of Carmel’s architecture from above. This spot is so dog-friendly that it even has its own doggie menu, including salmon filets and steamed chicken. Humans have plenty to choose from too: the menu spans Mediterranean, Thai, and Italian influences, so it’s a great spot when you’re with a group and no one can decide what they’re in the mood for.
This neighborhood favorite is an ideal spot for a casual, delicious brunch. It’s hidden in a small courtyard, so it has a quiet vibe that appeals to both locals and the visitors who manage to find it. The menu is compact but comprehensive, skewing more savory than sweet. The chilaquiles with chorizo and a fried egg are an excellent wake-up call, especially if you also order the sake-spiked Bloody Mary. If you have a sweet tooth, try their dutch baby with passionfruit curd and matcha, served in a personal-size cast-iron pan that makes it way more fun to eat.
Imagine a cottage that looks like it was taken straight out of the French countryside, plopped onto the streets of a California beach town, and filled to the brim with candy: you’ve just manifested Cottage of Sweets. Head inside to continue your European vacation, admiring the variety in this British-style sweet shop. This shop imports candies from all across the globe, but it’s best-known for licorice and fudge. All those choices can be overwhelming, so we tend to head straight to their creme brûlée fudge, and always grab a few extra for friends (which may or not make it all the way home).
The menu at this decades-old seafood spot jokes that “only otters eat fresher oysters,” and it’s not wrong. Come here for the real deal straight-off-the-boat or “Shuckefeller”-style broiled oysters for those not brave enough for the raw kind, plus seafood cocktails, crab cakes, and clam chowder. It’s a nice, laid-back place to huddle around some bivalves and pre-dinner drinks before moseying onto your dinner reservation. If you’re a fan of scotch, you’ll be in heaven here, with more than 130 types to choose from.
This family-owned breakfast and lunch joint has been slinging breakfast to hungry weekend visitors for more than 50 years. Located between downtown Carmel and the Carmel Valley wineries, it’s the perfect first stop before a day of wine tasting. The vibe is fun, too: think old-style Wild West saloon with wooden walls cluttered with photographs and knickknacks. Most restaurants in downtown Carmel are pretty swanky, but Wagon Wheel bucks that trend—there’s no pretense, just good, old-fashioned breakfast classics. Stick to that side of the menu: choices like eggs benedict, biscuits and gravy, and towering stacks of pancakes will give you ample energy for the busy day ahead.
If you keep opening Google Flights and looking up flights to Europe between meetings, Folktale is an alternative that will almost scratch that itch. This winery set amidst vineyard-covered hills looks like a European castle, turrets and all, and an afternoon spent wine tasting on the patio will have you feeling a world away. But Folktale isn’t just good looks and delicious wines—the food here is excellent. Pick from options like cheese and charcuterie boards to snack on alongside a wine flight or opt for more filling options like flatbreads and burgers.
This crowd-pleasing Mediterranean cafe has a flexible menu with mains ranging from $25 to $40, so it’s not too hard on the wallet (at least for pricy Carmel). Yafa is open for lunch on weekends and dinner all week, and we think it’s perfect for lunch among the bright yellow-and-blue interior that makes you feel like you’re on a Greek island. There are lighter dishes like tabouli, dolma, and watermelon-feta salad, as well as more substantial mains like kebabs, racks of lamb, and a hearty vegan cauliflower steak.
This refined but laid-back tapas bar is the perfect spot for a low-key group dinner fueled by traditional tapas like tortilla española, boquerones, and croquetas—though we strongly suggest you save room for the paella del dia. The giant entree is made to order so it takes some extra time, but it’s worth the 25- to 45-minute wait as it arrives at the table with a perfectly crispy-crusty socarrat of caramelized rice at the bottom of the pan. If you’re not sure what to order, let the chef take the wheel and order the raciones, a surprise assortment of tapas, cheese, and cured meats for $85.
Aubergine is a Carmel classic for a reason—there’s no better place in town if you’re looking to impress. Their eight-course tasting menu changes daily, but expect seafood-focused dishes like oysters with yuzu emulsion and lobster in a dashi broth. The plating is almost too beautiful to disturb, but you won’t be able to resist digging in. A meal here doesn’t come cheap: it’s $245 per person, plus more if you add a wine pairing. Carmel is a popular spot for a romantic getaway, and this is the top spot to splurge with someone special.
Bring a date to this casually chic French-Italian bistro to impress without looking like you’re trying. Scribbled-on chalkboards and hanging copper pots give the place a rustic countryside bistro feel, but the delicate plating and attentive service makes it clear you’re in Carmel. Start with a couple of hors d’oeuvres, like the spinach gnocchi and the Provençal mushrooms with Pernod and hazelnuts, and then split one of the fig, arugula, and prosciutto wood-fired pizzas. It’s ideal for a romantic yet unpretentious lunch before heading to the beach or strolling through town.
When you think of the word “steakhouse,” you probably imagine wood-paneled walls, stiff leather booths, and stuffy dress codes. Seventh & Dolores is none of those things: it’s like a steakhouse had a baby with a Scandinavian design store, and somehow it works. While you could certainly go the whole nine steak yards here, we like to grab a seat at the bar for pre-dinner cocktails and people-watching. Look on as the kitchen does their thing while you sip a barrel-aged Manhattan or smoked Old Fashioned and tuck into some steak tartare with a date or a good friend.
If you’ve read this far, you’ve probably figured out that Carmel mostly deals in seafood and European cuisine. Cultura, a dinner-only Oaxacan spot, is a welcome outlier. Start with some chapulines—toasted and seasoned grasshoppers—and any mezcal-based cocktail (they have one of the largest collections of the smoky spirit in California). Then, move on to bigger options like the pork cheek mole and enchiladas with salsa verde. The ambiance is upscale but lively, so this spot works equally well for a date as it does for a night out with friends. And if it’s a truly special occasion, you can rent out the cozy mezcal room for your own private party.
Combining Korean, Italian, American, and other diverse influences, this spot has a menu that is varied enough to appeal to any type of diner. You’ll find starters ranging from fried calamari and grilled artichokes on the Italian side of the spectrum to spam kimbap rolls and kimchi dumplings on the Korean side. For mains, we tend to stick to the Korean options like grilled short rib and kimchi fried rice. Come here for date night and ask for a table by the fireplace.
If you want the ultimate hotel for a romantic getaway, look no further than the L’Auberge Carmel. Like dinner at their in-house restaurant Aubergine, a stay here won’t come cheap: think $450 a night midweek and as high as $850 for a night over the weekend. But if you’re looking for some old-school luxury, it’s worth booking for an anniversary, honeymoon, or whatever special occasion you can think of as an excuse to splurge.
Downtown Carmel is certainly going for a generic European village vibe, so if you’re looking to stay somewhere different, try Tradewinds Carmel. The on-site zen meditation garden makes use of Japanese landscape design and lush water features, while the rooms have custom Balinese and Chinese furniture and decor. Most rooms have fireplaces and bathtubs, and some suites even have an ocean view.
You’ve made it to the end of this guide, so you’ve definitely realized that Carmel is an expensive place to visit, but this cheerful pink hotel is a steal for the area. Rooms are in the $200-400 a night range, which is especially good value given there’s an on-site heated pool, a dry sauna, an ocean view from the top-floor patio, and a daily breakfast with pastries from a local bakery.