Concierge.com's insider take:
Originally founded as an artists' colony in the early 20th century, Carmel (also known as Carmel-by-the-Sea) has the look and feel of a Christmas snow-globe villagewithout the snow. Streets are paved with cobblestones, giant Monterey pines make whooshing sounds in the sea breeze, and the houses resemble picturesque Mediterranean villas and miniature castles. The artists have long since been priced out, and major celebrities (Doris Day, Clint Eastwood) have taken their place, but you'll still find more galleries per capita than perhaps anywhere else on the California coast. Head to Dolores Street between Fifth and Sixth for the best gallery-hopping. Stop into the Carmel Art Association, the only gallery that exclusively shows local works (831-624-6176; www.carmelart.org); Masterpiece Gallery, which has a collection of early Californian and American paintings (831-624-2163; www.masterpiecegallerycarmel.com); and Gallery Sur, specializing in landscape photography (831-626-2615; www.gallerysur.com). The best time to visit Carmel is midweek; avoid coming on Saturday in summer, when it gets overrun with oohing-and-aahing tourists. If you want to meet locals, head for the beach in the early evening; the whole community seems to turn out to watch the sunset.