Award-winning wineries and sunny weather surprise visitors to this low-key but luxurious ranch town.
Though golf fairways, tennis courts, and wineries have supplanted many of its historic ranches, Carmel Valley retains an old-time, California country feel. Horseback riding remains big here, and though you can sample award-winning vintages, most winery tasting rooms are decidedly low-key. Carved by the Carmel River, which meanders 36 miles from inland hills through Carmel Valley Village to the ocean just south of Carmel-by-the-Sea, the valley is often sunny and toasty when the coast shivers in summer fog. (831) 659-4000, carmelvalleychamber.com . Area code is 831 except as noted.
The 50-plus miles of trail through 3,464-acre Garland Ranch Regional Park wind from the willow-shaded banks of the Carmel River through stands of oaks, maples, and redwoods and past a teetering 19th-century barn and other vintage structures; spring wildflowers here are particularly glorious. (831) 659-4488, mprpd.org . To see vineyards, grazing cattle, and grassy hills from atop a horse, sign up for a trail ride with Holman Ranch. 659-6054, holmanranch.com . Among the eight wineries offering tastings, Château Julien pours its merlots and other Bordeaux-style vintages in a French-style manor; the clutch of tasting rooms in Carmel Valley Village (the Valley’s sleepy commercial hub, usually called just “the Village”) includes Heller Estate Organic Vineyards, Joyce Vineyards, and Talbott Vineyards. 375-9400, montereywines.org .
Consistently named the best table in Monterey County, Bernardus Lodge’s Marinus features a hushed, softly lit dining room and California cuisine like tender, alder-smoked Sonoma duck and a chocolate-almond cake with passion fruit ice cream. 415 Carmel Valley Rd., 658-3595, bernardus.com . At Will’s Fargo, a onetime roadhouse in a 1920s brick building, corn-fed beef is what’s for dinner in the form of steaks, and there are trimmings like creamed spinach and onion rings. 16 E. Carmel Valley Rd., 659-2774, willsfargo.com . Head to the charming patio or the cozy wood interior of Cafe Rustica for thin-crust pizzas from a wood-fired oven or heartier dishes such as Hungarian paprika beef goulash and baked rigatoni. 10 Del Fino Pl., 659-4444, caferusticacarmel.com . Your eggs, pigs-in-blankets, and other breakfast fare at the Wagon Wheel Coffee Shop come with a side of Old West; vintage cowboy spurs, brands, lariats, and rodeo photos cover every surface of this spot frequented by many locals. 7156 Carmel Valley Rd., 624-8878.
Surrounded by vineyards and backed by oak-studded hills, the 57 rooms at Bernardus Lodge have feather beds, limestone fireplaces, and oversize tubs; amenities at this luxury resort also include a full-service spa and the Marinus restaurant. 415 W. Carmel Valley Rd., (888) 648-9463, bernardus.com . At Hidden Valley Inn, the 26 rooms and outdoor pool are tucked away in a tiny, peaceful valley. 102 W. Carmel Valley Rd., (800) 367-3336, countrygardeninns.com . Antiques and knotty-pine paneling give the 31 rooms of the renovated, historic Los Laureles Lodge plenty of country charm. 313 W. Carmel Valley Rd., (800) 533-4404, loslaureles.com .
Photography courtesy of Bernardus Winery
This article was first published in February 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.
Check out the rest of our Monterey Peninsula  package:
Carmel-by-the-Sea : art galleries, elegant boutiques, and a dog beach
Monterey : the Monterey Bay Aquarium and more
Pacific Grove : Victorian homes and a lively main street
Pebble Beach : golf courses, fine dining, and 17-Mile Drive
Seaside and Sand City : sweet beaches and a happening art scene