Carmel-By-The-Sea is a beautiful oceanside town along California's Highway 1, complete with dramatic views, white beaches, friendly locals and great food. A mostly upper-class destination for adults, the town itself is small - you can walk across it in five minutes - but filled to the brim with art galleries, cafes, restaurants and inns. Every evening, visitors gather on the pristine beach to watch colorful sunsets.
Temperatures in September are perfect - 70 to 80 degrees F during the day and 50's at night. Bring sweaters and dress in layers for all-day activities.
Carmel Valley is the valley formed by the Carmel River, flowing some 20 miles from the Santa Lucia mountains to the Pacific Ocean. The town of Carmel Valley is located 12 miles inland from Highway 1, on Carmel Valley Road. Quite often, when Carmel-By-The-Sea is fogged in, Carmel Valley is sunny and warm.
Amtrak's Coast Starlight passes through nearby Salinas. Amtrak runs a bus service from the station to Carmel with some stops in Monterey in-between. The train can be slow and is often delayed. The food is okay, but sometimes limited so you might want to bring your own food or snacks.
The town and nearby beach can be seen on foot, but you'll need a car to explore the coastline. Street parking is generally free for a couple of hours at a time. There is also a garage at Carmel Plaza (Ocean & Junipero). Many area hotels offer parking spots to guests, but be prepared for a tight squeeze.
Bicycling is an option but should be undertaken with care, as many of Carmel's streets can be hilly, windy, or leave little room to pass.
There are few local buses in this area; however, routes run primarily between Carmel and Monterey instead of around Carmel. There is also a "wine route" (route 24) that takes you out into the Carmel Valley, stopping at about ten local wineries and vineyards along the way. Buses along the wine route stop at each of ten destinations hourly. A unlimited use day pass for this all-day, every-day route costs $4.50 per adult, (half price for seniors, disabled people, and children).
Ocean Avenue is downtown's main street, sloping from the highway all the way down to the beach. Along the way admire the many shops, coffee houses, and galleries.
Scenic Drive meanders along the curve of the beach. A packed dirt path along the roadside is a favorite with local joggers and dog-walkers. Scenic Drive sometimes yields surprisingly convenient (and free!) parking spaces.
Keep an eye out for the sand sculpture artist at the beach at the bottom of Ocean Avenue! Creations range from sand mermaids to sand palaces.
Walk along the beach, play golf at Pebble Beach, visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium, explore Big Sur, shop, listen to live music, enjoy one of the local spas and much much more.
Stroll through the town and admire the incredibly diverse architecture. The quintessential "Carmel cottage" abounds but contrasts, sometimes wildly, with the assortment of surrounding homes. (Local tidbit: can you find any houses with street numbers??)
The historic outdoor Forest Theater  presents community theater performances in a sort of natural amphitheater nestled into a pine forest. There are also film screenings throughout the summer as part of "Films in the Forest." Be sure to bring blankets and something warm to drink.
Build a twilight beach bonfire on the stretch of sand at the bottom of 13th (fires must be out by 10pm). Bring lots of blankets, hot drinks, and smore ingredients!
Bring a dog, a Frisbee, or a camera for a stroll down the beach. Dip your toes (or a little bit more if you can brave the chill) into the largest ocean in the world! Be prepared for a crisp ocean breeze.
For the very experienced only (vicious riptides scour the coastline), surfers take off from the beach at the bottom of 8th.
Take a tour of Tor House , the famous stone home of poet Robinson Jeffers.
The quieter Carmel River State Beach adjoins an estuary, which provides perfect bird-watching opportunities for those interested. On the hill across from the lagoon you'll find a wooden cross marking the centuries-old "port" for supply ships to the mission. Wading in the river here is possible, but the steep slope of the beach makes for a violent current, and swimming in the ocean here is NOT a good idea.
If you're feeling brave enough to ford the river, behind the cross winds a network of paths that eventually lead to Monastery Beach, a great favorite among scuba divers. Watch as you walk for ubiquitous ice plant, and maybe a golden poppy or two (the state flower).
The village of Carmel is locally famous for art galleries boasting a variety of art. Openings are held frequently and often open to the public.
For chinese food try Tommy's Wok. It has a humble off-street location but is the best chinese food around by far.
For baked goods try Carmel Bakery or its sister store Napoli Napoli, both on Ocean Avenue.
For a bargain dinner of American-style cooking go to Em Le's before 6PM.
Mission Ranch  serves exceptional food with a stunning ocean panorama. The large patio area is perfect for warm days, while the intimate interior is perfect for anytime. A piano bar graces the place on weekends. Mission Ranch is especially strong for its very popular Sunday brunch.
The Hog's Breath Inn  has been around for ages. While it struggled briefly under new management, it's now back to serving quality food in a genuinely fascinating atmosphere.
The Forge in the Forest  has attracted visitors and locals alike for decades, sometimes a destination in its own right for the signature chocolate chip cookie dessert.
Bruno's Market & Deli  has a wide selection of basics as well as imported groceries. The gourmet deli is a must-visit. Especially worthwhile are the tri-tip sandwich and authentic tamales. Perfect to go for a picnic on the beach.
Allegro Gourmet Pizzeria  offers THE best pizza around, complemented by a wide selection of classic Italian entrees. The crust is the perfect cross between thick and thin, crispy and chewy...
Rio Grill  is another long-standing local institution, serving up the best traditions of creative American cuisine. The daily quesadilla and warm sourdough bread will rev up even the most sluggish of appetites.
Cafe Stravaganza (241 Crossroads Blvd) has been offering Mediterranean-inspired dishes to its diners for years. The herb blend served with warm Italian bread sets the atmosphere. The colorful interior and passionate owner make dining in a sheer pleasure.
R.G. Burgers boasts the best burgers, shakes, and sandwiches around. The simple, cheery decor and quick service make it a favorite among families.
Big Sur offers a number of upscale dining options with spectacular views for those willing to undertake a bit of a drive. Favorites include:
Most Carmel drinking revolves around local wines; be sure to indulge in a bottle, available at almost any food shop and every restaurant.
Several restaurants also offer bar areas; but an honest-to-goodness "pub crawl" would be hard to come by in this town.