Although the Monterey Coast is breathtaking, and Carmel-By-The-Sea idyllic, there is a whole other side to Monterey County that shouldn’t be missed – the Santa Lucia Highlands (SLH) wine region in the lush Salinas Valley and laid back, dog friendly Carmel Valley Village with its tasting rooms, restaurants, galleries and shops.
From San Francisco, it’s 101 South to SLH country. In the morning, you may find cool fog and in the afternoon, the wind may pick up. From there, it’s less than an hour into Carmel Valley Village, nestled on the west side of the Santa Lucia Mountains, where it’s usually warm and sunny during the day and cool at night. There’s plenty to do for a fun weekend getaway.
Stay: The Carmel Valley Lodge is steps from the heart of Carmel Valley Village. This charming retreat offers newly remodeled rooms, suites and cottages set on three acres of beautifully landscaped grounds (including a pool). The spacious accommodations feature wood furnishings and beamed ceilings. Some have wood-burning or gas fireplaces, private patios and kitchen facilities.
In the morning, enjoy a complimentary buffet breakfast in the lodge. This stunning old wood building has lots of character, including a roaring fire in a big stone fireplace.
The next night, we stayed at Carmel Valley Ranch, a tranquil haven that discreetly stretches over 500 acres of hills and lavender fields. It’s a resort that doesn’t quit – offering a sophisticated experience to help you heat up, cool down and everything in between. You’re guaranteed to find what suits you best.
The interior of the Lodge and guestrooms combine modern décor, earth tones, large windows and sweeping views. Suites offer cathedral ceilings, high-end stone fireplaces and bathrooms, private decks and oversized furniture.
Dine: Follow a path from Georis Winery through the garden and find Corkscrew Café. This eclectic restaurant is a favorite. Eating in the garden is a great choice. The ambience is upbeat and fun, just like the food. Start with the homemade chips and spicy salsa then opt for the kicked-up pulled pork sliders on house-made jalapeño cheese buns and served with sweet potato fries. The lemon curd and blueberry shortcake jar was unbelievable. Have a glass of Georis wine with your meal and it’s a perfect affair.
Lokal is a casual eatery offering new and unusual twists on seasonal ingredients. The intimate room is decorated with reclaimed redwood and hand-drawn sketches on blackboards lining the walls. At dinner, dishes are meant to be shared.
We started with a rich butternut squash soup made with bacon fat, chicken stock and chilies and garnished with bacon cotton candy. The halibut ceviche was plated with cilantro, blood oranges, kumquats, avocado and crisp mole kracklings. The steak tartare had a scoop of tarragon ice cream on top. The surf and turf was an amazing combination of scallops, pork belly and uni whip cream. And the delicious Valrhona chocolate dessert was served with arbequina olive oil and pink sea salt. Wines are all local.
The menu at the Lodge Restaurant at Carmel Valley Ranch is driven by their two acre garden. The large open space has floor to ceiling windows and scenic views. The speck crispy kale and burrata salad was a luscious beginning. The tender Manila clams came in a tasty tomato fennel broth and the tuna poke was served on a delicious wakame seaweed salad. The succulent local black cod was atop braised collard greens with a spicy red pepper citrus tapenade. For dessert, head out to the fire pit and make your own s’mores.
OTHER ESSENTIALS: Monterey County Convention and Visitors Bureau; Destination Monterey Bay; Monterey County Wineries; Santa Lucia Highlands
PATTY BURNESS can be found on Twitter at @pattygb