Monterey vs Carmel: Where Should You Stay?

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by Michael Rozenblit


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If you’re visiting California’s Central Coast, you will likely be wondering whether you should stay in Monterey or Carmel if you’re looking for a great base to explore this area. And while both are located within a few miles of each other, they do offer different things for visitors and it is worth choosing one over the other depending on what it is you’re after.

In general, choose Monterey if you’re looking for a family-friendly city with a few more budget-friendly accommodation choices. On the other hand, Carmel is excellent for couples looking for a romantic getaway, foodies and those looking to do some boutique shopping.

Whether you choose to stay in Monterey or in Carmel-by-the-Sea, you’re sure to fall in love with this gorgeous area of California’s coast and be left with lasting memories of an excellent trip.

Looking for accommodation in Carmel or Monterey? These are some of the best options!

Monterey: Pacific Inn Monterey (Budget), The Stevenson Monterey (Mid-Range), Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa (Luxury) & Beachside House (Private Rental)

Carmel: Hofsas House Hotel (Mid-Range), Carriage House Inn (Luxury) & Peaceful Cottage (Private Rental)

Why Choose Monterey Over Carmel

Monterey is the larger city of the two and, therefore, will have more accommodation options available and a wider array of pricing options. Not only that, but it offers a lot of fun activities and things to do.

If you’re visiting this area of California with children, then Monterey is a better option as there are far more activities and points of interest for kids in Monterey compared to Carmel. For instance, no visit to this beautiful Central Coast city is complete without spending time in the iconic Monterey Bay Aquarium.

As the first aquarium in the world to exhibit a living kelp forest, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has a regional focus and does lots of important research on the marine life living in the waters directly surrounding the area.

There are countless great exhibits – ranging from jellyfish to seahorses to sea otters (it is actually home to the world’s oldest living sea otter, a lady called Rosa) – and it’s a great place for both adults and children alike.

Cannery Row in Monterey
Cannery Row in Monterey

However, there is far more to Monterey than its aquarium. Those who want to get a bit active will love the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail – a coastal walking route that spans eighteen miles along Monterey’s beautiful seaside and beaches.

If the weather is nice and warm, consider spending a day lounging on the beach! Monterey State Beach is a massive stretch of white sand that is as good for sunbathing as it is for surfing.

And if you want to take in some history and do some fun souvenir shopping, then make sure to head to Cannery Row and Old Fisherman’s Wharf. There are lots of kitschy shops here and places to browse that are fun for the whole family.

Cannery Row was home to Monterey’s once-thriving sardine canning industry and was the setting of the John Steinbeck novels Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday. Today, it is home to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, a lot of shops and just offshore, you can view one of California’s largest sea lion colonies.

In general, Monterey has a lot more of interest for the whole family than a town like Carmel and there are also a range of more budget-friendly restaurants and accommodation options available. Though it is marginally further from areas like Big Sur, you can still easily access it from Monterey and it serves as a great base for exploring the area.

monterey and carmel are close to big sur
Nearby Big Sur

Where to Stay in Monterey

Budget Hotels

Pacific Inn Monterey – A modern motel located a few minutes’ drive from the local airport, this is one of the best places to stay in Monterey if you’re after a private room and on a budget. All rooms have basic modern amenities including some kitchen facilities such as a refrigerator, coffee machine and microwave.

Lone Oak Lodge – Another budget motel in Monterey that is located close to the famous attractions in the city. All rooms here also have basic amenities with some having additional perks like an in-room hot tub and fireplace! There is also a spa, sauna and small gym that guests can use on-site.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other budget rooms in Monterey!

Mid-Range Hotels

The Stevenson Monterey – Located just off Highway 1, this is a great mid-range hotel with modern rooms. It is close to the coastline and Cannery Row and there is a continental breakfast included in the room rate.

Wave Street Inn – A boutique and modern hotel located near the harbour, they offer a range of private rooms suitable for couples or larger families. This hotel is excellently located in the heart of Monterey close to many restaurants and shops.

Hotel Abrego – This boutique hotel offers various private rooms that can accommodate both couples and families with children. Rooms are spacious and comfortable with some deluxe rooms having a fireplace and all guests having access to an outdoor swimming pool.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other mid-range rooms in Monterey!

Statue of famous writers in Monterey
Statue of famous writers in Monterey

Luxury Hotels & Private Rentals

InterContinental The Clement Monterey – One of the top-rated luxury hotels in Monterey, all rooms are fitted with modern amenities including a bathtub and separate shower. Guests can enjoy access to a swimming pool and children’s club and there is the option to include breakfast in the daily rate.

Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa – Another one of the best luxury hotels in Monterey, guests here enjoy access to their own private beach, a rooftop gym and a spa. There is an onsite restaurant and cafe as well as 24-hour room service. This is an ideal place to stay for couples looking to splurge on a getaway.

Old Monterey Inn – An elegant four-star hotel that has been around for close to 100 years. All rooms have their own fireplace, comfortable beds and unique furniture and design. There is complimentary breakfast, wine, and nibbles for a couple of hours in the afternoon.

Private Rentals – There is no shortage of private places to rent in Monterey if you’re looking for some extra privacy or want additional amenities during your stay such as access to a full kitchen and laundry facilities. Some of the top choices include this quaint private home or this beautiful house minutes from the beach.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other luxury rooms in Monterey!

Why Choose Carmel over Monterey

If you’re looking for a quaint, romantic getaway, then Carmel is the place for you. This little town is located to the south of Monterey and it is the perfect place for couples looking for a great weekend destination.

Carmel is noted for its cobbled streets and cute cottages. The streets are filled with chic boutiques, hip art galleries, inviting cafes and plenty of great restaurants. Foodies will find countless great cages in restaurants serving up inventive, local fare. There are plenty of upscale dining establishments that are perfect for a romantic meal.

There are also food and wine tasting tours that you can take where a local guide will take you from one great spot to another to ensure that you get a great view of all of the gastronomic offerings in this charming little town.

If you’re a wine lover, then Carmel is an excellent choice as well. There are countless local tasting rooms where you can sample wines from the surrounding vineyards.

Wine tasting at Albatross Ridge
Wine tasting in Carmel

In fact, there are so many wine tasting rooms that you can occupy an entire day or afternoon solely to this activity. Because Carmel is so small and walkable, you also can do it entirely on foot – meaning there is no need to worry about getting behind the wheel!

While there are countless tasting rooms to choose from, some of our favourites is Albatross Ridge, which specialises in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Nature lovers will love Carmel’s close proximity to Point Lobos State Natural Reserve and to Big Sur – some of California’s most stunning coastal areas. Carmel itself also boasts a beautiful, white sand beach that is perfect to stroll along – or hit the waves if you’re willing to brave the cold.

Point Lobos is a gorgeous natural area that doesn’t get the same amount of attention as nearby Big Sur, but it really should. Not only does it boast incredible coastal scenery, but there are lots of walking trails to venture out on that can suit all fitness levels.

This is a great place to spot wildlife like sea lions and otters in a truly beautiful setting. It is located just south of the town centre and is considered to be part of Carmel proper.

It’s worth noting that Carmel is a more upmarket area than Monterey and will generally be more expensive. However, if you’re after a bit of luxury and are keen to stay in a boutique bed and breakfast or plush hotel, then Carmel is the place for you!

Sunset at Point Lobos State Reserve in Carmel
Sunset at Point Lobos State Reserve in Carmel

Where to Stay in Carmel

Budget & Mid-Range Hotels

Hofsas House Hotel – A basic three-star hotel located in the centre of the town and surrounded by a range of great restaurants, cafes and shops. All rooms have basic amenities and there is a light continental breakfast included daily. Free parking is available.

Carmel Green Lantern Inn – Located a couple of minutes’ walk from Carmel Beach, this is a great bed and breakfast with a huge buffet breakfast served daily. Rooms have their own private entrance and some rooms have their own balconies with sea views.

Carmel Bay View Inn – A boutique hotel that is located close to shops and restaurants and about 1 mile from the sea. Rooms are suitable for couples with each having its own fireplace making it one of the best places to stay in Carmel for a romantic getaway.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other mid-range hotels in Carmel.

Luxury Hotels & Private Rentals

Carriage House Inn – An elegant bed and breakfast located in the centre of Carmel, this is a perfect place to stay for couples looking for a romantic getaway! Rooms are wonderfully designed with their own fireplace and some rooms also have their own spa.

Tradewinds Carmel – Another great boutique hotel option – all the rooms here are comfortable and spacious with premium linens and decorations. Some rooms have sea views and their own fireplace with breakfast included in the room rate.

Private Rental – There are limited private rooms in Carmel, however, there are a number of entire private homes available such as this quaint peaceful cottage or this cosy cabin in the woods.

Another beautiful sunset in Carmel
Another beautiful sunset in Carmel

Irrespective of whether you choose to stay in Monterey or Carmel, there are a number of great accommodation options and you’ll be sure to enjoy the magnificent beauty and vibrant towns of this area of California!

Are you wondering where to base yourself in these two cities? Have you been recently? Let us know in the comments below!

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Michael is a co-founder and writer for The World Was Here First. Both solo and with his partner, Maggie, he has travelled to over 50 countries across the globe and has a particular affinity for the Balkans and Eastern Europe. He’s lived in numerous countries worldwide but currently resides in his hometown of Melbourne, Australia. Read more about Michael

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