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
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
This article was first published in February 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.