As you make your way down the coast of Central California, one of the iconic stops is Carmel-by-the-Sea. Ten minutes inland from it is the long and narrow Carmel Valley. Nestled between the Santa Lucia Mountains, the hillsides of Carmel Valley are covered in grapevines and it is home to luxury resorts, restaurants, and wineries.
My mind immediately goes to the wine country when I want to retreat for the weekend. Spending time at a resort or lodge that has a pool and spa to enjoy is my ideal place to call home. Afternoons are spent wine tasting, hopping from vineyards to tasting rooms, and an afternoon walk to settle it all in. At night as the weather gets cooler, nothing beats a fireplace in a room and a soak in a tub. It’s the ultimate vacation spent in a resort setting here in California.
This is why I connected with Carmel Valley. It’s all of these things and more. The wine here is award-winning, with wineries producing varietals that are hard to find stateside. Wineries that offer immersive experiences where you learn about the wine and enjoy it with incredible food in a chateau-setting.
Down the road, you’ll find restaurants that transport you to Europe. You’ll find an expansive spa to soak in under the towering oak trees to start your day. Hiking trails that wind between eucalyptus trees. And the best part? It’s all a short drive from the stunning Central Coast.
Home to 300+ days of sunshine, this is the resort town that has it all. Carmel Valley is anchored with amazing wineries, award-winning hotels, and much more. See why you’ll want to book a retreat here at any time of the year.
(This blog post is in collaboration with Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau. As always, all opinions are my own.)
The Carmel Valley Guide
Where to Stay, Things to Do, and Restaurants
Travel Tips Before You Visit Carmel Valley
Responsible And Safe Travel
If this year has revealed anything to me as a traveler, it’s that collectively we must be more conscious in our decisions. Conscious of our impact on a local community, conscious of our footprint left in nature, and conscious of how we can be more responsible travelers. Here are a few things to consider:
- Stick to the designated hiking trails and leave no trace.
- Always have a mask on you and wear it when it is needed. Monterey County ordinance requires a mask when you cannot socially distance. So even on hikes, you must carry a mask with you.
- For more responsible and safe travel trips in California, read this blog post here.
How Much Time Is Needed In Carmel Valley?
When it comes to exploring Carmel Valley, you could stay 1-2 nights depending on how much you want to do. If you’re looking to pop in and see a few of the wineries and enjoy a restaurant or two, one night can be sufficient. For those looking for a resort experience with a leisure pace for exploring, I’d highly recommend spending two nights or more in the Carmel Valley.
What Is The Best Time of Year to Visit Carmel Valley?
One of the most unique things about Carmel Valley is that it is a year-round destination. The slogan is 300+ days of sunshine a year. I’ve been in the valley in January, wine tasting in a dress outside before. When it comes to visiting, you truly can enjoy every season here as there is something to do regardless. Plus, when the winter months are cooler, the spas are that much more enjoyable!
Where to Stay: the Bernardus Lodge & Spa
As you enter the olive tree-lined driveway to the Bernardus Lodge, you can’t help but feel like you’ve been transported to Tuscany, Italy. The intimate lodge sits back behind the vineyards and has an idyllic wine-country setting. With a resort pool, spa, and an award-winning restaurant on property, you truly could spend the entire day at the lodge.
The premium rooms, villas, and suites are each uniquely set with a private patio or balcony. In the rooms, a fireplace and a two-person soaking tub add to the romantic charm. Upon arrival, the room is set with a few complimentary snacks and drinks, I highly recommend enjoying out on the patio with beautiful views of the Santa Lucia Mountains.
Where to Eat in Carmel Valley
Lucia Restaurant & Bar: Set right at the Bernardus Lodge in Carmel Valley, Lucia Restaurant is a mainstay for the area. Listed on the Michelin Guide to California, the food here is championed by Chef Cal Stamenov who pulls inspiration from local ingredients. With their own garden, a lot of the dishes on the menu are seasonal and absolutely delicious. The setting here is equally as incredible, come for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Corkscrew Cafe: Right in the heart of the Carmel Valley Village, Corkscrew Cafe has a charming setting for lunch. They are known for their pizzas made right there in the brick oven. The back patio and garden are truly lovely, I’d recommend eating at the restaurant if you can.
ROUX: One of the best culinary journeys had in Carmel Valley was at the restaurant ROUX. Hailing from France, Chef Fabrice Roux creates a menu that is both innovative yet rooted in classic French cuisine with some Spanish flare. Multiple times through the dinner, I exclaimed “I feel like I am in France or Spain” — especially when the crispy duck leg confit came out. Highly recommend booking in advance, and it is a cash-only restaurant (Venmo accepted).
The Restaurant at Folktale Winery: I’ll be recommending the winery below, but I wanted to point out the restaurant at Folktale here. The food is delicious (I’ve been a handful of times now) and I love the setting at the property. The ceviche is amazing and you can’t go wrong with a charcuterie board.
Kathy’s Little Kitchen: If you’re looking for a good breakfast, come here for the breakfast burrito. Absolutely loved it and easy to take away.
Carmel Valley Coffee Roasting Co.: For a local coffee shop, I’d recommend the Carmel Valley Coffee Roasting Co.. There are a few locations in the area.
How to Experience Carmel Valley
Wine Tasting Through the Carmel Valley Village Tasting Rooms
When it comes to your one-stop wine tasting experience in Carmel Valley, head straight to the village. This cluster of tasting rooms allows you to try a few wineries at one convenient location all within walking distance of each other. I’d recommend booking a few appointments and having lunch in the village at a restaurant like Corkscrew Cafe. Here are two tasting rooms I recommend stopping at:
Joyce Winery: When I went through the wine tasting at Joyce Winery, the wines reminded me of something you’d find in France. The Sauvignon Blanc had a Sancerre quality to it that I had never tasted before from a California winery before. Their dedication to honest farming and transparent winemaking is what makes Joyce Vineyards exceptional. Winemaker Russel Joyce focuses on sourcing sustainable grapes and choosing organic practices to bring to life his wines. I also note you can’t miss their single vineyard, small batch 2018 Vista Lobos Pinot Noir — it is exceptional. At their tasting room in the village, the patio has ample space to taste wine. You could even bring food-to-go here to enjoy with your tasting. *Reservations required
I. Brand: Ian Brand, the winemaker behind I. Brand has put Monterey County at the top of the list for creative and innovative wine, year after year. His dedication to seeking historic grapes and vineyards in the area and giving it a new life is what makes these wines so great. There are three labels: I. Brand (California focused), Le P’tit Paysan (everyday French village-inspired), and La Marea (Spanish varietals).
At the tasting room in Carmel Valley Village, you can do a tasting and it includes some from each of the labels. For those going soon, I’d recommend grabbing a bottle of their limited 2019 Melon de Bourgogne, it is heavenly. *Reservations required
A Relaxing Spa Morning at Refuge
Set back in the oaks tree of Carmel Valley, Refuge is America’s first co-ed outdoor spa. It has a thermal cycle, where you alternate between hot and cold baths all outdoors. For those looking to unplug and relax, you’ll want to book some time here at this adult-only spa. Their silence policy (no cell-phones or talking) creates a serene setting to unwind. One recommendation is to consider doing an evening soak under the stars here. For their health and safety standards, please visit here. *Reservations required
An Afternoon of Wine + Food at Folktale Winery
Set in a chateau and alongside their vineyards, Folktale Winery is a quintessential experience to Carmel Valley. Their food and wine program here is exceptional, and every season there is something new to try. Having done wine tastings and lunch here before (highly recommend), I was excited to try out their new wine and food pairing experience. It’s a tasting journey that pairs their wine with bites of food to bring out the flavors. Your host will go into detail about how flavors connect — like how the p’tit Basque cheese served with saffron apricots brings out the stone fruit in their 2018 Chardonnay.
The wine options at Folktale Winery are extensive — whether you’re looking for whites like an Albariño or Savauignon Blanc or reds like a Pinot Noir, there is something for everyone. It is an award-winning winery and their innovative take on wines produced in Monterey County’s abundant wine region is a beautiful introduction to Carmel Valley. *Reservations required
Get Outdoors at Garland Ranch Regional Park
Between the wine tastings and restaurants, you may want to get outdoors for a hike or stroll. Head over to Garland Ranch Regional Park where you can choose a few different trails depending on what you’re in the mood for. I personally enjoyed the Lupine Loop myself. There is ample parking, face coverings required when you cannot be distanced.
Spend Time Poolside at a Resort
Since you’re in a resort setting, I had to include this as a great way to enjoy the valley. If you’re staying at Bernardus Lodge, their pool is wonderful for an afternoon hang (bring some wine!). Especially during the warmer months of summer, there is no better way to unwind than some time by a pool.
Shop Curated Goods at Tancredi & Morgen
One of my favorite finds in the valley this trip was the shop Tancredi & Morgen. Their shop is highly curated and features local goods and a lot of homeware that is imported from France like rustic cheeseboards and linens. If you’re looking to do some shopping or bring back gifts, I’d recommend popping in here.
More Things to Do in Carmel Valley
There is always more to do in Carmel Valley. If you find yourself wanting to explore more of this area, head to See Monterey to find extensive travel information.