After living in Santa Monica, CA (near Los Angeles) for several years, I was in need of some quiet, some charm, and some rest. When friends mentioned the (relatively) close and once artist colony, Carmel by the Sea, I paid a visit to see if this would be somewhere I could stay for a few months while I wrote.
One trip turned into several and I eventually took on a vacation rental in town, blocks from the beach. During my four-month rental in this quirky sea-side town, a storm knocked off my roof, causing me to take refuge in local hotels (mainly The Cypress Hotel). Between my hotels stays, living in town and talking with the locals, I can safely answer the number one question I’m asked about my time in Carmel: what are the best places to stay at in Carmel by the Sea?
Although I can’t give a hands down favourite there are several that I’d recommend whether you’re coming on your own, for a romantic weekend or bringing Fido so he can finally roam leash-free on a beach.
The Cypress Hotel: This hotel is famous; it’s hard to read any article on Carmel and not read about this one. But I think it’s lazy journalism and the fact that it is a very dog-friendly hotel half-owned by Doris Day. The service (from check-in to the cafe to room care) is lacking. Amenities and rooms are standard and rather simple for what is tooted as a luxury hotel and Carmel’s finest. It is a nice property, especially if you have pets and the location is hard to beat (one block off the main street and a quick, easy walk to the beach) but if you’re used to true 4 or 5 star luxury, you could be disappointed.
When the roof was off my flat I stayed here in several different room types. The worst is any right off the lobby or stairs – you’ll hear the people in the cafe’s and walking all night long. The one bedroom suites are the best if you have a larger pooch as the standard rooms are pretty small. My favourite was the one facing Lincoln street; it had a fireplace, updated washroom, sitting room and faced a courtyard on one end. It’s great if you have dogs because you can just open your door and you’re on the street. The downside to the rooms facing the street is that they’re overpriced and loud – you’ll hear your neighbour, you’ll hear street traffic, you’ll hear the maids hoovering at 6AM. But the beds/linens are lovely and it’s a nice place to sit for coffee in the evening. But it’s always crowded which, if you want privacy, might not be for you. And if you don’t like dogs, do not stay here.
L’auberge Carmel: Opened in 1929, this hotel has recently been redefined with old school elegance and charm with new school pricing. The location is hard to beat – it’s right in town, blocks from the beach and a block from the main drag, Ocean Avenue. With only 20 rooms, it’s very private and intimate with luxury details you’d expect to find in every room. It can sometimes feel a little too “done” and you’ll see a lot of suits from San Francisco here but there’s no denying that it is beautiful, architecturally stunning and cosy.
La Playa Hotel: I haven’t stayed here but I would walk past it almost every day on my way to the beach. It looks like one of those old grand beach hotels and from walking the halls on the inside, seems to live up to it’s old world sophisticated appearance. It’s only a few short blocks from the beach and from any ocean view room you’ll certainly be able to hear the waves crashing upon shore. The cottages – which are set just off from the main hotel, look amazing, private and very Carmel. I’ve had several friends stay here who say they can’t wait to return.
Post Ranch Inn: If you have money, stay here. It is undeniably one of the best hotels not just in the area, but ever. The details, the linens, the privacy, the luxury – it’s all here and understated which is something I love. It brings nature inside in a delicate, beautiful way that really makes you feel peaceful. The views are just some of the most amazing I’ve ever seen, especially from the infinity pool. This place spells romance with in-room massage to Prix Fixe dinners that allow to organically dine for hours. The hotel has even won several green lodging awards. The only downside if you can call it one, is that it is not in Carmel or in walking distance. But if you need a getaway, this is where to go. Drive into crowded Carmel instead!
Bernardus Lodge: Located in Carmel Valley, this luxury hotel spells romance and quiet. Featherbeds, tubs for two, roaring fireplaces and a winery to boot, this place is worth the drive (it’s about 10 minutes to downtown Carmel). There’s also a spa which I haven’t been to but the menu looks amazing and eating here does too (the restaurant is always highly rated). Dogs are not allowed.
Tree Bones Resort: What it lacks in luxury (no TV, phones, or private restroom) it makes up in views and simple pleasures (heated ocean-view pool, access to coast line, privacy and quiet). The rates are steep for something basic but this is Big Sur and nothing is ever really cheap. This is more luxury wilderness sleeping but it’s lovely.
Carmel River Inn: Just off Highway one and not in walking distance to town, this is a great value property if you stay in the recently renovated Cottages (and I highly recommend a renovated cottage as they look really dated and lack amenities if they’re not done). I really loved the one I stayed in with its fireplace, fluffy, comfy bed, two-person tub and a private garden. Actually, my dog Jack loved the garden the most. You’ll be nestled amongst trees and birds so you’ll have quiet and privacy and be reasonably close to downtown Carmel. The best parts? You don’t pay the usual area rates!