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When it comes to picturesque coastal drives, few places can rival the breathtaking beauty of California’s Central Coast. It’s not hard to see why it’s a famous coastline for an epic road trip.
Nestled between Monterey and Carmel-on-the-Sea, two iconic routes beckon travellers seeking scenic wonders. The famous 17-Mile Drive and the lesser-known gem, the Carmel Scenic Route. While the 17-Mile Drive may boast prestige, there are compelling reasons why the Carmel Scenic Route should be your go-to choice. Not only does it offer equally stunning vistas, but it also comes with an unbeatable price tag: free!
Join us as we explore the allure of the Carmel Scenic Route and why it deserves your attention.
Captivating Coastal Views
The Carmel Scenic Route unveils a mesmerising tapestry of natural wonders, as it winds along the rugged coastline. Rocky cliffs, pristine beaches, and azure waters create a breathtaking panorama at every turn. While the 17-Mile Drive boasts beautiful scenery, the Carmel Scenic Route offers comparable coastal vistas without the need for an entrance fee.
Also known as the Scenic Bluff Path, this is a great way to get out and see some of the area’s notable sights. This 3.5-mile pathway runs along Scenic Drive, beginning at Carmel Beach’s northern end and winding along the ocean around Carmel Point to Carmel River State Beach. You can stretch this route even longer by foot.
Free of Charge
One of the most significant advantages of choosing the Carmel Scenic Route over the 17-Mile Drive is the cost. Specifically, the lack thereof. The 17-Mile Drive charges an entrance fee, currently set per vehicle. By opting for the Carmel Scenic Route, you can enjoy an equally scenic drive while keeping your bank account happy. Who wouldn’t appreciate free access to Mother Nature’s majestic canvas?
There are plenty of free curb-side parking spaces and parking lots around the scenic route and beaches.
Hidden Gems and Local Delights
As you journey along the Carmel Scenic Route, you’ll encounter hidden gems and charming local attractions. Delightful art galleries, quaint cafes, and boutique shops pepper the route, inviting you to take leisurely breaks and immerse yourself in the local culture. Carmel’s residential architecture is distinctly European, with a blend of Renaissance glamour and Mediterranean charm. From Spanish colonial homes to Tudor-like cottages, you could easily be mistaken for being within the Hansel and Gretel fairytale!
Carmel Amusing Fact: As well as being one of America’s best beach towns, Carmel has no street addresses. Unwilling to see their village become ‘citified’, Carmel’s founders rejected the practice of house-to-house mail delivery in favour of a central post office. There are still no street addresses to this day. Instead, many homes have names such as ‘Hansel’ or ‘Sea Urchin’ – and it is actually bad luck to change the name of a Carmel cottage!
The 17-Mile Drive, although undoubtedly stunning, lacks the same authentic touch and opportunities for exploration. It is like driving within a private community; whilst the properties are gorgeous and grand, it feels a little invasive. Most of the drive is surrounded by trees and woodland, namely the Del Monte Forest, whilst catching a glimpse of the coastline through the gaps. There are many different lookout points, beaches, rocks, and even a Visitor Centre as points of interest, but for us personally, we just didn’t find it captivating. Carmel, on the other hand, was completely mesmerising.
Unlike the 17-Mile Drive, which restricts access to a specific route, the Carmel Scenic Route offers greater flexibility. With multiple entry points, you can tailor your adventure to suit your preferences. Whether you’re starting from downtown Carmel, Carmel Beach, or another location, you have the freedom to chart your own path and savour the sights at your own pace.
Less Crowded Scenery, More Tranquility
The 17-Mile Drive, being a popular tourist attraction, often draws crowds, especially during peak seasons. On the other hand, the Carmel Scenic Route provides a more intimate and tranquil experience. With fewer tourists flocking to its shores, you can revel in the beauty of the Central Coast without the distractions and jostling for viewpoints.
Drive to Monterey’s coastline for free too!
Drive north to Monterey, bypassing the 17-Mile Drive and Pebble Beach, and you’ll find a whole different world waiting for you at Monterey. Stop at Pacific Grove, where Lover’s Point offers some speculator views of Monterey Bay. Continue along the coast to explore the vibrant city before taking a break at one of the many marinas, harbours and beaches.
As one of California’s oldest cities, Monterey has a rich history that echoes through its streets. Immerse yourself in the city’s storied past by visiting historic sites like Old Monterey, where you can walk in the footsteps of Spanish explorers and experience the charm of adobe buildings. Don’t miss a visit to Cannery Row, once bustling with sardine canneries and now a vibrant waterfront district with unique shops, restaurants, and galleries.
Choose the Carmel Scenic Route
While the 17-Mile Drive may boast a well-established reputation, the Carmel Scenic Route offers a compelling, equally captivating, cost-effective alternative. With its awe-inspiring coastal views, hidden gems, and the allure of zero admission fees, this scenic route proves to be a true delight for nature enthusiasts, photographers, and those seeking an authentic coastal experience. So, the next time you’re planning a trip to Monterey or Carmel, don’t overlook the charm of the Carmel Scenic Route – it’s a decision that will reward you with unforgettable memories and breathtaking vistas, all without putting a dent in your budget.
Have you visited the 17-mile Drive in Carmel? Are you planning on driving the Carmel Scenic Route? We’d love to know you thoughts in the comments below.
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