California’s central coast is one of my favorite places to go when I want to unwind, relax, and get away from it all. You could say that it’s my happy place!
Despite the central coast boasting some of the best views of the Pacific Ocean with rugged coastlines that never end, nature is certainly not the only reason to visit these days. The area is home to the likes of charming towns such as Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea.
Not only are these coastal destinations awesome for families, couples, and solo travelers, but they also boast an impressive collection of colorful bed and breakfasts, rustic cabins, boutique hotels, and luxury resorts for travelers to stay at.
So with so many unique options, how exactly do you decide where to stay in Monterey and Carmel? That’s where we come in!
First, we’ll outline the major differences between Monterey and Carmel. Then, we’ll show you some of the best lodging options in each town, fit for any type of traveler, from the budget-minded traveler to the luxe jetsetter.
So without further ado, let’s get into the best places to stay in Monterey and Carmel, CA!
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MONTEREY OR CARMEL: WHICH IS A BETTER PLACE TO STAY?
The town you decide to stay in will depend entirely on your travel style. Are you looking for a romantic getaway or a laidback coastal weekend? Are you looking to spot sea otter galore or looking to wine taste and enjoy a strong culinary scene?
While the two towns are only about 4 miles apart and a super quick drive from one another, there are a couple of reasons why you might prefer one over the other.
Here are the main draws for each town:
Monterey, CA is best for: wildlife-viewing, families, and budget-conscious travelers
Monterey, CA is best known for iconic coastal attractions like whale watching, visiting the iconic Monterey Bay Aquarium, and exploring Cannery Row. With so many family-friendly activities, it’s easily the more popular destination among families traveling with children. And because Monterey is more urban than Carmel, you’ll oftentimes find that it’s busier here.
If you’re looking to stay in a quintessentially California waterfront hotel, Monterey and the nearby Pacific Grove area have got you covered.
Lastly, not only will accommodations be slightly cheaper in Monterey, but shops and restaurants also cater to a wider range of budgets.
Carmel, CA is best for: couples, foodies, and those looking for a quiet, romantic getaway.
Carmel-by-the-Sea offers very unique architecture, streets rich in bohemian history, and an elegant yet laid-back lifestyle. Ocean Avenue is a very happening place, with over 500 boutiques to explore and plenty of cafés and restaurants to sit down at.
Carmel is best known for its huge selection of local wine tasting rooms, boutique shops, and more upscale restaurants. These are some of the main draws to this picturesque village, which tend to attract an older crowd as well as couples looking for a romantic weekend away.
While accommodations are going to be more expensive in Carmel compared to Monterey, you’ll be getting the tranquil, tucked-away village atmosphere in exchange. And if you’re looking to explore the culinary magic of this region, Carmel is where you’ll want to be.
It is also important to know, while there is beach access from Carmel, there are no waterfront lodging options.
BEST HOTELS IN MONTEREY, CALIFORNIA
Where to Stay in Monterey, CA: For Budget Travelers
THE STEVENSON MONTEREY
Price Range: $
Located off Highway 1 in Monterey, California, The Stevenson Monterey is within walking distance of Monterey Conference Center and Fisherman’s Wharf. Comfortable rooms and a convenient downtown location make The Stevenson Monterey hotel relaxing and a great value at the same time!
As a guest of the Stevenson, you’ll enjoy free high-speed wireless internet access, free indoor and outdoor parking for your convenience. You can also expect coffee/tea in the common area, a seasonal outdoor pool, and a business center at this motel.
ARBOR INN MONTEREY
Price Range: $
If you’re looking to save some money on lodging, consider staying just a tad further from all the main attractions in Monterey. Arbor Inn Monterey is a wonderful option if you don’t mind a longer walk or drive to the epicenter of activity.
Located 20 minutes’ walk from Fisherman’s Wharf and Central Monterey, Arbor Inn Monterey offers air-conditioned guest rooms with free WiFi. Rooms are always clean and comfortable and select rooms provide a fireplace, a sofa and a flat-screen TV.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is within 3.1 mi of the Arbor Inn in Monterey. Del Monte Shopping Center is 10 minutes’ walk from the property. While you are a tad father away, this hotel is an excellent value for your money!
Where to Stay in Monterey, CA: For A Mid-Range Stay
PORTOLA HOTEL & SPA
Price Range: $$
At Portola Hotel & Spa, you’re almost always guaranteed a warm and welcome stay. Aside from an absolutely gorgeous front lobby and common sitting area, guests can expect modern amenities, spacious rooms, and a very well-equipped gym. Select rooms offer views of the harbor.
The hotel is located 5 minutes away from Fisherman’s Wharf and 1 mile from the historic Cannery Row. Its location is perfect for exploring central Monterey on foot. There are also lots of dining options around the hotel, so you know a meal is never too far away!
Where to Stay in Monterey, CA: For Luxury
INTERCONTINENTAL THE CLEMENT MONTEREY
Price Range: $$$
Located in the heart of Monterey’s historic Cannery Row, InterContinental The Clement Monterey features elegant accommodations, on-site dining options, and modern amenities.
With on-site spa services, a swimming pool, a state-of-the-art business center, fitness center, onsite restaurant and bar, and a children’s club, there is something to keep every member of the family occupied. What more could one ask for?
The guest rooms here are absolutely gorgeous, featuring luxury linens and a spacious bright design throughout the room. Did we mention that everything is within walking distance from this hotel? Can’t beat the convenience or the location of the InterContinental!
Price Range: $$$
Spindrift Inn is the beachfront hotel of your dreams. Located directly on the beach, the Spindrift Inn offers elegant accommodations in the heart of Monterey. A complimentary continental breakfast is provided (on a silver tray even if you’d like). By far, this is probably one of the cutest hotels I’ve ever laid eyes on!
Floor-to-ceiling windows offer epic views of the beach and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. In addition to the impeccably decorated rooms, the bathroom includes bathrobes, an oversize tub, and a shower. Select rooms offer a fireplace.
Evenings can be spent downstairs in the attached bar lounge. In the morning, wake up to unbeatable views and enjoy your breakfast in your cozy robes!
MONTEREY PLAZA HOTEL & SPA
Price Range: $$$
Perched right in front of Monterey Bay, this 4-star hotel will lend you commanding coastline views and the endless sounds of the Pacific Ocean waves from many of its rooms. On top of stunning views, guests can enjoy 24/7 room service, a rooftop fitness center, full-service spa, and a private beach.
In terms of location, you’re going to be in the heart of it all. The Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa is located only steps from Cannery Row and 10 minutes’ walk from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Things To Do Near Monterey, CA
- Monterey Bay Aquarium
- Cannery Row
- Old Fisherman’s Wharf
- Monterey State Historic Park
- Lover’s Point Park
- Pacific Grove
- Whale watching tours
- See marine life (sea otters, sea lions, etc.)
MOST POPULAR TOURS IN MONTEREY
- Monterey, Carmel and 17-Mile Drive Full Day Tour – departs from San Francisco
- Half-Day Whale Watching Tour From Monterey – Monterey is a premier whale-watching destination!
- Electric Bike Tour Along 17 Mile Drive of Coastal Monterey – great for the whole family, there’s also a tandem bike option for the kids
- Carmel Small-Group Walking Food & Cultural Tour – a super popular food and wine walking tour with lots of samples!
BEST HOTELS IN CARMEL, CALIFORNIA
Where to Stay in Carmel: For Budget Travelers
CARMEL OAKS INN
Price Range: $ – $$
Carmel Oaks Inn is one of the best options in Carmel for budget travelers. Not only is this hotel in an ideal location to explore Carmel on foot, but it even includes free breakfast! Carmel Oaks Inn is within walking distance to all activities in town as well as the beach.
Each morning, guests can enjoy a free continental breakfast basket delivered to their room. Other amenities provided include free local calls and free parking. Rooms themselves are spacious, clean, and well-equipped with a nice patio views.
Where to Stay in Carmel: For A Mid-Range Stay
Price Range: $$
Located in Carmel, Wayside Inn is perfectly situated in the city center, walking distance to most restaurants and shops, with nearby beach access too. This charming little inn features coffee/tea in the common area, concierge services, free WiFi, free parking, and free newspapers.
Inside the 22 spacious rooms are very unique furniture pieces as well as plush bathrobes for you to hang out in when you’re not out and about exploring Carmel and Monterey.
All rooms provide conveniences like premium bedding, sitting areas, flat-screen TVs, and refrigerators. You’ll really feel at home away from home at the inn! Best of all, if you’re feeling snack-ish at any point in the day, homemade biscuits are available daily!
Pebble Beach Golf Course is 10 minutes’ drive from the Inn Wayside. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is 15 minutes’ drive away.
CARMEL MISSION INN
Price Range: $$
Carmel Mission Inn is great value for the relatively low price you’ll pay for a night to lay your head. While it’s not located in the city center, the drive into the center only takes 5 minutes.
Guests can go for a swim in the outdoor pool, work out in the fitness center or soak in one of the hot tubs. After exploring the hotel’s private gardens and walking trail, visitors can relax by the fire pit, with a massage, or even with some room service.
There is a large shopping center behind the inn and also one across the road with some really good restaurants, a grocery store, and some great coffee shops, all within walking distance. This location will be perfect if you don’t want to be in the thick of downtown Carmel. All in all, Carmel Mission Inn is in a great location with easy access to Big Sur, 17-Mile-Drive, Asilomar Beach, and more!
Where to Stay in Carmel: For Luxury
Price Range: $$$
L’Auberge Carmel is a luxury option located just a block from the main drag, Ocean Avenue, and about a 10-minute walk from the beach. This charming European-inspired boutique hotel has only 20 rooms, each elegantly decorated and feature comfortable beds with premium linens, French windows, and four-poster beds.
On-site amenities include a very charming courtyard and a highly-acclaimed restaurant with just 12 tables named Aubergine. Guests get to enjoy a free hot breakfast and newspapers as well as free WiFi and free parking.
Cooking classes and spa services are also offered for a fee. This hotel is also pet-friendly, which is great for travelers who don’t want to part with their pets!
Price Range: $$$
Tradewinds Carmel is a very unique lodging option with a beautiful garden atmosphere. This Asian-inspired boutique hotel in Carmel, CA is less than two blocks away from all the best shopping, galleries and fine dining. Ocean Avenue, the main street, is just 3 blocks away. Carmel beaches are 10 minutes’ walk away.
Each luxurious guest room at Tradewinds Carmel features premium linens, organic toiletries, Japanese-style bathrobes, and personal touches like handwritten notes and chocolate-dipped strawberries on arrival! These little treats and the always-friendly staff make a stay at this historic Carmel hotel worth the money!
CARMEL VALLEY RANCH
Price Range: $$$$
If you’re really looking to get away from it all, Carmel Valley Ranch is an unbeatable choice. This all-suite countryside resort is located on 500 acres in Carmel, outside of the village proper and three miles from Garland Ranch Regional Park, home to excellent hiking and biking.
Each room on the resort offers elegant, contemporary suites with fireplaces, upscale amenities, and even a private deck and bathrooms with separate showers and soaking tubs.
Away from the rooms, amenities at this destination-style property include a golf course, multiple tennis courts, two saltwater swimming pools, a full-service spa, gym, and various scenic hiking trails you can easily enjoy. Carmel Valley Ranch is also pet-friendly, and with such an expanse property to roam around, I’m sure your pet will enjoy a stay here just as much as you do.
HYATT CARMEL HIGHLANDS
Price Range: $$$$
Hyatt Carmel Highlands is quite easily the most luxe option on our entire list. Perched on a cliff facing the Pacific Ocean, this luxury hotel is situated perfectly among pine groves. It features an outdoor pool, 3 outdoor garden spas, a fitness center, and an award-winning restaurant overlooking the Pacific ocean and rugged coastline.
The modern and contemporary rooms open out onto large balconies, revealing astounding, unbeatable views. The rooms are also elegantly decorated to reflect just the right minimalistic vibes. Guests can take advantage of multiple meeting spaces, complimentary mountain bikes, and horseback riding opportunities nearby.
Things To Do Near Carmel, CA
- 17-Mile Drive through Pebble Beach
- Shop and dine on Ocean Avenue
- Wine tasting (we recommend Talbott Vineyards and Folktale Winery)
- Take a food and wine walking tour
- Point Lobos Natural Reserve
- Hike at Garrapata State Park
- See Calla Lily Valley
- Drive down the Big Sur coastline
OTHER PLACES TO STAY OTHER THAN MONTEREY AND CARMEL
Maybe Monterey and Carmel are not your style. Maybe an overnight stay in the two towns is out of your budget. Whatever the reasons, these two cities are not the only two options for you to call your Central California home base.
Monterey and Carmel are flanked by fun cities/regions to explore like Santa Cruz, CA and San Jose, CA to the north and the Big Sur area to the south. San Jose and Santa Cruz are located about 1 hour away from Monterey, while Big Sur makes up the next 90 miles of the coastline just past Carmel.
Here’s a quick breakdown of these three alternatives:
- San Jose / South Bay: You’ll be able to find much more affordable lodging in San Jose, CA.
- Santa Cruz: Since this is still a coastal town, accommodations might be priced similarly to Monterey. However, it doesn’t hurt to check for the latest hotel/rental prices here.
- Big Sur: Big Sur lodging options range from rustic affordable to remote luxury. For a more budget-friendly stay, Big Sur Lodge is a traveler-favorite. And on the other end of the spectrum, you can’t beat the adults-only luxury seaside resort of Ventana Big Sur.
Irrespective of whether you choose to stay in Monterey or Carmel, you’ll be greeted by epic opportunities to golf, enjoy wineries, see marine life, and eat good seafood when you visit Monterey and Carmel! You’ll be sure to enjoy the natural beauty and vibrant towns of Central California!