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Carmel Valley's country chic

Carmel valley Photo by Interfoto / Alamy Stock Photo

Carmel Valley is country cousin to upscale Carmel-by-the-Sea. Still, amid the rolling hills and expansive vineyards, you'll find a relaxed sophistication.

While Carmel-by-the-Sea houses chichi boutiques and romantic restaurants, Carmel Valley, tucked inland about 16 miles southeast of the Monterey Peninsula, has a more laid-back feel. Its sunny days and the evening fog that blankets happy grapes make it a prime winemaking region. 

What to do

Moto Collection owner Rob Talbott with his first race bike (above), a 1971 Yamaha RT1 360. Among the bikes on display are a Ducati 450 Desmo (top right) and a 1972 MV Agusta 750S.

Moto Collection owner Rob Talbott with his first race bike (above), a 1971 Yamaha RT1 360. Among the bikes on display are a Ducati 450 Desmo (top right) and a 1972 MV Agusta 750S. | Photo by Randy Wilder

Former Carmel Valley winery owner Robb Talbott opened the Moto Talbott Collection in 2016. It showcases 140 motorcycles ranging from spunky racing bikes to vintage Italian beauties. General admission, $12. 831-659-5410.

Get simultaneously steamed and chilled at Refuge, a 2-acre sanctuary of cold and hot pools, with temps ranging from “icy river” to thermal hot spring. If you’re brave, try the spa’s Thermal Cycle: Start by heating up in the eucalyptus steam room, slip into a cold pool, then relax by a fire pit. Or just take it easy under a tumbling warm-pool waterfall. Admission, $46. 831-620-7360.

Bees love lavender, a fact that Carmel Lavender owner John Russo learned when he established his farm in 2007. Russo allows visitors to the Carmel Valley Ranch to play beekeeper for a few hours by donning the suit and visiting hives during his Bee Experience. It costs $75 (a portion of which goes to the Honeybee Conservancy) and includes honey tasting, insect insights, and lots of bee interaction. 831-625-9500; carmelvalleyranch.com.

Where to go wine-tasting

The outside and interior of the Cowgirl Winery tasting room reflects its Western theme and name.

The outside and interior of the Cowgirl Winery tasting room reflects its Western theme and name. | Photo by Rachel Zee Photography

Carmel Valley Village features more than 20 wine-tasting rooms, so pace yourself and designate a driver.

The Bernardus Tasting Room in the village is a good place to sip and learn about how the Carmel Valley, cradled by the Santa Lucia Mountains, provides a sunny but protected haven for superb cabernets and malbecs, and bright and fruitful pinot noirs.

You’ll find a place for every style, whether it’s Boekenoogen Vineyards and Winery’s pleasant patio for sipping pinots or Cowgirl Winery, which has a barn atmosphere with wandering chickens.

Where to eat

The decor at Running Iron Restaurant and Saloon pays homage to Carmel Valley's ranching roots.

The decor at Running Iron Restaurant and Saloon pays homage to Carmel Valley's ranching roots. | Photo by Gary Crabbe / Enlightened Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Despite the area’s prevalence of highfalutin restaurants, Carmel Valley doesn’t shy from its ranching roots. A good example is the Running Iron Restaurant and Saloon, a lively place filled with cowboy ephemera (think boots and taxidermy decor) that complement the hearty menu of steaks, seafood, and robust weekend brunch options—the chile verde huevos rancheros is a crowd-pleaser. 831-659-4633.

At Bernardus’s Lucia Restaurant and Bar, chef Cal Stamenov plucks organic produce and herbs from the on-site garden for seasonal dishes such as artichoke basil ravioli. 831-658-3400; bernarduslodge.com.

Where to stay

Bernardus Lodge

A suite at the Bernardus Lodge. | Photo courtesy Bernardus Lodge

The AAA Four Diamond Bernardus Lodge and Spa, laid out amid 28 acres of Tuscany-esque vineyards, reflects the curated-yet-comfortable tastes of its founder, Dutch businessman and former race car driver Bernardus Pon. Its 73 rooms, suites, and villas, evoke a swanky ranch house vibe, with hand-knotted rugs and accents of hand-hewn reclaimed wood. Our room had a limestone fireplace that took the chill off at night. Check out one of the Mercedes-Benz courtesy vehicles that Bernardus keeps for guests to tool around the valley or head to Pebble Beach. Rates start at $305. 831-658-3400; bernarduslodge.com.

The AAA Four Diamond Carmel Valley Ranch offers 181 suites and rooms, and a golf course, set amid 500 acres of vineyards and lavender fields. Pets are allowed, and they get a special pet menu. Rates from $400. 855-687-7262; carmelvalleyranch.com

Carmel Valley also has more moderate digs. Within steps of village shops and wineries is Contenta Inn, which has large rooms with beamed ceilings and private patios. Rates start at $119 and include Wi-Fi, minifridges, and continental breakfast. 831-659-2298; contentainn.com.

Free Monterey Peninsula–Salinas Valley maps are available at an Auto Club branch. For information about TourBook guides and TripTik Travel Planners, visit a branch or go to AAA.com/maps. More information about Carmel Valley is at 831-659-4000 or seemonterey.com.    

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AAA Travel Alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.

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