Dipping below the foothills of the Santa Lucia Mountains are the oak woodlands and farmlands of quaint Carmel Valley.
A prized producer of rich, red wines and plump organic vegetables, the region is both a legendary culinary destination and a center for natural wellness.
Wide open spaces for hiking, multiple spas for relaxation, and even equine therapy will help you to relax and rebalance. Spend a weekend doing everything—or nothing at all—in beautiful Carmel Valley.
Friday Afternoon: Check in at Bernardus Lodge & Spa
Bernardus Lodge & Spa is synonymous with Carmel Valley luxury.
(Courtesy of Bernardus Lodge & Spa)
For several years now, Bernardus Lodge & Spa has been as synonymous with luxury in Carmel Valley as Ventana and the Post Ranch Inn are in nearby Big Sur. Several years after the 2016 renovation that took the boutique resort from 57 to 73 suites and villas, the 28-acre estate has never looked better. Bernardus, which earned 12 stars from the Forbes Travel Guide in 2022, is a place of rest, relaxation, and culinary magic.
The original suites center around an East Coast–style croquet lawn and bocce ball court, while the new villas feature private patios with fire pits, cushy living rooms, and spectacular indoor-outdoor bathrooms complete with bronze tubs and plein air showers. Lucia, the lodge’s beloved restaurant (see below), and a spa offering everything from olive oil massages to customized facials, form the heart of the hotel. A pool, fitness center, bar, tennis courts, and manicured flower and vegetable gardens round out the amenities, along with what is arguably the best seat in the house: an adults-only infinity jacuzzi that looks out over the valley and stays open until well after the stars come out at night.// 415 W. Carmel Valley Rd. (Carmel Valley), bernarduslodge.com
Friday Night: Dinner at Lucia
New executive chef Christian Ojeda is breathing new life into Lucia's menu.
(Courtesy of Bernardus Lodge & Spa)
A progenitor of the farm-to-table movement, Lucia is a showcase for beautiful estate-grown ingredients prepared with utmost care. But since February, chef Christian Ojeda, who Bernardus nabbed from the five-star Montage Deer Valley Resort in Utah, has breathed new life into the menu. Combining Old World craft with California creativity, Ojeda mines the bounty of the season for dishes like salt-roasted beet salad with garden greens, preserved lemon ricotta, honey granola, and mustard vinaigrette; and double-cut lamb chops with crispy goat cheese polenta cake, shaved brussels sprouts, and guajillo chile jus. For the daily a la carte specials and tasting menu, he harvests delights like peach tomatoes, mulberries, and lemon verbena from the resort’s two-and-a-half acres of chef’s gardens. If you’re dining with a large group, consider moving from the patio’s enchanting thicket or elegant modern dining room to one of several private dining spaces. The soon-to-return chef’s table, a solitary booth tucked into a corner amid the kitchen’s hustle and bustle, is Julia Child–approved.
// 415 W. Carmel Valley Rd. (Carmel Valley), bernarduslodge.com
Saturday Morning: Relax and Recharge
Two of the members of The Equine Healing Collaborative's therapy herd.
(Courtesy of @theequinehealingcollaborative)
Horses have long been recognized for their intuition and power to heal. So much so that, beginning in the 1960s, therapists began to integrate the magnificent animals into their practice. Equine Assisted Psychotherapy can provide a path to recovery, self-discovery, and mindfulness. At The Equine Healing Collaborative (8767 Carmel Valley Rd), you can experience its power. Individuals, couples, and whole families can reserve a 60- to 90-minute Equine Experience. While there, you’ll refresh and reset as you groom and interact with the therapy herd, which includes both full size and snack-size horses and donkeys.
If you’d rather stay out of the barnyard, head to Carmel Valley’s standout hydrothermal spa Refuge (27300 Rancho San Carlos Rd), a co-ed oasis of cold and hot pools with a sauna, steam room, and on-call massage therapists.
Saturday Afternoon: Wine Tasting in Carmel Valley
The fairytale chateau at Folktale Winery
(Courtesy of @folktalewinery)
Although Carmel Valley isn’t as well known as Napa or Sonoma, its wines are just as revered. With an AVA boasting sandy soils, daily sunshine, and evening cool, full-bodied wines like cabernet, merlot, and Burgundian varietals are especially rich here. Get a taste at one of the valley’s many wineries, starting with Folktale (8940 Carmel Valley Rd.), a storybook chateau that produces everything from sparkling brut to pinot noir, and serves an a la carte menu of small plates like charred Spanish octopus and flatbreads like the sweet heat (made with spicy star thistle honey, calabrese, burrata, and fennel pollen). Down the road at Parsonage (19 E. Carmel Valley Rd.), they specialize in big, bold reds like the 2019 Cyrano blend, a voluptuous mix of merlot and syrah. From there, it’s only about a block to Bernardus Vineyards (5 W. Carmel Valley Rd.), which produces a hearty list of sauvignon blancs, pinot noirs, and more. Their 2021 Ingrid’s Vineyard Chardonnay, a vintage kissed with ripe tropical fruit and honeysuckle, comes from the lodge’s seven acres of vines.
Friday Night: Old School Carmel Valley Fun
The vintage auto-adorned dive, Baja Cantina
(Courtesy of @bajacantinacv)
Before Carmel Valley became a tony wine and food destination, it was ranch and farm land as far as the eye could see. Even today, despite its collection of wineries and well-appointed lodges, you don’t have to look too hard to find the cowboy spirit still alive and well in Carmel Valley. Two classic saloons, the Running Iron (24 E. Carmel Valley Rd.), where shit-kickers hang from the rafters, and the mahogany-paneled Los Laureles Lodge Saloon (313 W. Carmel Valley Rd), are good for a drink and eats like burgers, tacos, and sandwiches. The Running Iron also does Chicago-style deep dish pizza. At the eclectic, divey Baja Cantina (7166 Carmel Valley Rd.), the vintage decor skews automotive in homage to the nearby WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca Raceway, while the menu hawks Mexican favorites like burritos, quesadillas, and fajitas.
Sunday Morning: Fresh Eats + Hiking
The croissant sandwich at Earthbound Farms' farmstand and cafe
(Courtesy of @earthboundfarmstand)
In Carmel Valley, you’re less than a 20 minute drive to the gateway to Big Sur at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve and 7x7’s bucket list hike, the stunningly beautiful Point Lobos Loop Trail (Hwy 1, Carmel-By-The-Sea). But don’t underestimate Carmel Valley. The rolling hills and oak savannas of the Santa Lucia Mountains have a natural beauty all their own. There are several trails to hike at Garland Ranch Regional Park (4860 Carmel Valley Rd). For a shorter route, take the Lupine Loop Trail to the Garland Ranch waterfall and Siesta Point (2 miles). For something more challenging, try the Garzas Canyon Loop (7 miles).
Before you hit the trail, stop by organic pioneer Earthbound Farm’s (7250 Carmel Valley Rd.) cafe and shop for simple, veggie-full fare like frittatas, croissant egg sandwiches, and avocado toast. Go ahead and fill up a grocery bag of their freshly picked produce while you’re at it. Your kitchen will thank you later. If you’d rather pack along a picnic for your hike, check out the new roadside market/deli and wine bar Bear + Flag (7152 Carmel Valley Rd), where elevated sandwiches (think: oak-smoked tri-tip on a garlic steak roll) and side salads will make your day.