carmel wedding: venues + weekend itinerary

A place as sweet as it sounds, Carmel-by-the-Sea is California’s most romantic city for many reasons. Artistic and kitsch, at once modern and old world, intimate but full of activity: Carmel-by-the-Sea is the ideal destination for the perfect wedding.

Like a pause between the hustle and bustle of cities, Carmel-by-the-Sea is characteristic of quiet charm. Local bylaws include the banning of neon signs and billboards; even public telephones are shingled for a quaint appearance.

Sheltered beneath a canopy of cypress trees, this marine mist town in Northern California is 120 miles below San Francisco and a 6-hour drive north of Los Angeles. For American couples that want a far-flung feel minus the jet fuel, Carmel-by-the-Sea has true domestic appeal. For those abroad, planning the wedding of your dreams here is very accessible.

Weekend Itinerary

carmel weddings: weekend itinerary

Photography by Emma Krasov

Fly into the Monterrey airport and enter overland via the Monterrey-Salina Highway. Wedding guests love the instant coziness of a new place. Settling is all about putting on some walking shoes. Carmel-by-the-Sea has a real village vibe- the central business district spans one square mile and within it, you have access to hotels, inns, restaurants, shops, galleries, tasting rooms, cultural activities, beach, and more.

Carmel’s white sand beaches whisper romance but they’re also popular for gatherings. Ignite the weekend with an evening bonfire. An informal get-together allows arriving guests to take rest from their travels, which is always appreciated. In addition to meeting and greeting each other, there’s no better place to get acquainted with the natural, outdoor beauty of this seaside paradise.

Day Before

The Monterey area is famous for remarkable wines. Spend the late afternoon sipping exceptional wine. When it comes to grapes and variety, Carmel-by-the-Sea is like a Choose your own Adventure novel. The European-style streets are lined with numerous tasting rooms, wine bars, and bottle shops, making for a lively afternoon walkabout. If you meander, just make sure to grab a wine tasting map and guide.

Plan ahead and score Wine Tasting Passports for guests. ($65 each for $10 flight at nine different tasting rooms.) They don’t expire so it’s a gift that can be used all weekend or beyond, depending on tolerance! Purchasing these for your guests in advance offers them a genuine Carmel experience with flexibility. For a tailored tasting event, or with consideration to underage guests – reserve tables at PortaBella Restaurant where fabulous wine meets imaginative cuisine.

Night Before

Opinions vary, as to the best spot for your rehearsal dinner, but Il Fornaio Cucina Italiana is a strong contender. If you want a semi-private dining space with top notch Italian catering, the experienced banquet staff will work with you and your budget ahead of time to plan the occasion. Il Fornaio is located at the Pine Inn. If you get lost, just follow the smell of freshly baked bread and other signs of a traditional trattoria.

The Big Day

carmel wedding venues + planning ideas

For early morning recreation (and a little irony) head to Lover’s Point Park and Beach. It is one of the few places on the West Coast where the sun rises over the ocean. Make sure to suggest this gem of a spot to family and friends, for their downtime.

Nerves are inevitable. Bachelorettes might opt for a vigorous hike along the trails of Point Lobos State Reserve. For the guys, not only will Carmel-by-the-Sea prove to be a great destination wedding getaway- it’ll be revered forever as a golfer’s paradise. Book a tee time at the famous Pebble Beach, Poppy Hills or at the Pete Dye course at Carmel Valley Ranch.

The Venue

the best carmel wedding venues

A wedding is a bookmark in the story of two lives. What better setting for your unique story than La Playa Carmel – a place based on the story of man and wife. Originally a mansion, designed in 1905 by an artist for his wife, La Playa Carmel is steeped with old-world allure and vintage charm. Especially irresistible are the award-winning garden features and generous ceremony and reception spaces.

For a stunning outdoor wedding, reserve the Courtyard. A smaller, but no less spectacular, affair can also be held at the Patio. You won’t sacrifice scenery by going indoors. The Pacific Room boasts commanding views of the ocean and architecture that will take your breath away. If possible, arrange for a tour as part of your consultation. Local experts can suggest customizable options, otherwise unimagined -especially if you’re planning your destination wedding from a distance.

wedding venues in carmel

Image via Hotel Carmel

On-Site Amenities and Other Accommodations

Mention champagne buffet to any of the locals and they’ll confirm that La Playa Carmel is the place to be. Good news for your wedding guests. Throughout the weekend, they can experience a range of culinary delights on site. In addition to the infamous breakfasts and late night small plates at the bar- the nightly hot cocoa reception at sunset is not to be missed. (Did we mention the original artist was also a member of the Ghirardelli family?)

Couples with long guest lists can take advantage of the cozy sprawl of the city. Quiet hotels, rustic inns and quaint bed-and-breakfasts are available at various price points and many are within walking distance of each other. “Keep it in the family” and suggest booking rooms down the street at the beach chic Hotel Carmel (La Playa Carmel’s sister hotel.) Also nearby is Tradewinds Carmel. Though there are only a handful of rooms, you can be sure your guests that score them will love this adorable inn.

Nearby Monterrey has a population of about 30,000 whereas Carmel is home to less than 4,000. Needless to say, adjacent accommodations are plentiful and the 15-minute trip isn’t just pleasant- it’s iconic. In this part of the country, the scenic 17-Mile Drive is practically a requirement.

Carmel-by-the-Sea weather is pleasant. Year round, there isn’t a definitive “bad time of year” to have a wedding here. Temperatures range in the 50-70 degrees Fahrenheit range. The “secret season” however is autumn and you can expect a sunny morning and warm afternoon accented with ocean breezes in the evening for your idyllic destination wedding. No matter the season, don’t be surprised if the fog never lifts, as Carmel-by-the-Sea is often blanketed by a heavy marine layer.

For guests with cars, ample parking is available but you need to know where to look. Free curbside parking is lines almost every block of the central business district but you must beware the 2-hour limits. Bear in mind, many businesses and accommodations do not offer parking. It’s wise to know ahead of time.

Familiarize yourself with the city’s calendar of events. If your ideal date coincides with major holidays or local events, availability of everything will be limited.