Carmel-by-the-Sea, or Carmel, for short, may be the international destination in an area that is full of them. When you find yourself in a 15 M.P.H. crawl driving down Highway 1 on a typical summer's day or walk Ocean Avenue and hear five different languages spoken in a span of ten minutes, you know the world has gotten the message.

Carmel Fairy Tale Cottages

Adding to Carmel's cachet is its incredibly rich history and pedigree as an artists' and writers' colony which infuses its sensibilities to this day. The influence is visible everywhere.

There’s no question that in this era of cookie-cutter tourist attractions, Carmel remains unique. Rigorous development guidelines will likely keep it that way long into the future. The official Carmel-by-the-Sea travel website calls it a “European style village”, but the architecture is more varied than that. While a fair share of commercial buildings and homes clearly display their Northern/Central European influence, they often they reside next to sleek modernist facades and more timeless structures that look as if they are inhabited by fairies, pixies, brownies, or some other form of wee folk.

And while we’re on the subject of tiny things, the whole of Carmel proper takes up only about a square mile, which adds significantly to its charm. Buildings and homes nestle against each other under a canopy of pine, cypress, and other trees, adding to the storybook ambience that the city strives to maintain. Such a compact layout is a practical one, too: you can easily walk to anywhere within the commercial district, a distinct advantage given how easily Carmel’s streets become bottled up with vehicles during peak hours and evenings, many of them on the prowl (slowly!) for an ever elusive empty parking space.

Another major distinguishing characteristic of Carmel-by-the-Sea is the sprawling white sand beach into which the town’s main commercial thoroughfare, Ocean Avenue, descends.

Carmel Beach’s water is cold and the area’s often foggy, but this is one of the most picturesque beaches on California’s Central Coast, and it’s just a short walk away for visitors. The best Fourth of July we ever had as an adult was watching a fireworks show from the comfort of our lounge chairs, around a bonfire, cocktails in hand. It doesn’t get any more American than that!

Carmel-by-the-Sea Beach

The street that runs along Carmel beach, Scenic Road, is almost as picturesque as the beach, itself, lined as it is with extraordinary homes in a variety of styles. We’re talking some serious lifestyle cred here—we believe Brad Pitt and Jennifer Anniston used to live in the neighborhood—although handling the constant stream of visitors walking back and forth gawking in front of your home, just like we did when we were scouting for photos, may be seen as a drawback.

Scenic Road in Carmel

(Be forewarned, Scenic Avenue is a fairly narrow street forced to accommodate out-of-town motorists staring at scenery, bicyclists, and pedestrians of all speeds. Be careful out there!)

Downtown Carmel, as you might expect, has a charm that few other commercial districts can match. City Hall is reflective of the vibe:

Carmel City Hall

Even the fire station is not without its charms:

Carmel Fire Station

Devendorf Park, right off of Ocean Avenue, adds a nice splash of green to its surroundings:

Devendorf Park Carmel

Downtown Carmel is chock full of inns, hotels, and motels in all shapes, sizes and forms, including the Hofsas House with its unique European charm...\

Hofsas House Carmel

...and the stately, historic Cypress Inn, once owned by="http://www.dorisday.com/">Doris Day:

Cypress Inn

One of the more unique aspects of downtown Carmel is the dozens of small courtyards and passageways that you encounter in every block. Some are cozy and inviting...

Carmel Courtyard

...while some look like a portal to a secret, mysterious world:

Carmel Alleyway

Speaking of mysterious worlds, if you're looking for the White Rabbit or his good friend and associate Alice, you might consider taking a climb up these stairs:

White Rabbit Carmel

It's not all stores, restaurants and inns, though. Carmel's "neighborhood church," the Church of the Wayfarer has existed just off of Ocean Avenue for over 100 years:

Church of the Wayfarer Carmel

Its generous grounds are not only visually stunning but are large enough to emulate a secret garden in which you might find the occasional fairy:

Church of the Wayfarer Carmel

We'll conclude this gallery with a shot of Carmel Mission, a.k.a. Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo...

Carmel Mission

...and its courtyard.

Carmel Mission Courtyard

Wellwe hope you've enjoyed this pictorial tour of Carmel-by-the-Sea. Make sure you visit our pages on Pacific Grove and Monterey elsewhere on our website.