With this sunny and laid back destination, come for the wine, stay for the food.
Carmel Valley, a rustic and rural inland retreat just over two hours south of San Francisco, is often confused with its better known neighbor, the European-style, seaside town of Carmel-by-the-Sea. But the valley, with its rolling hills lined with grapevines and endless sunshine, is a picturesque destination deserving of its own visit. Best known for its award-winning wineries, Carmel Valley packs in more than 20 tasting rooms in just 11 miles spanning from Highway 1 to Carmel Valley Village.
While the wine will draw you in—especially the world-class cabernet sauvignon and merlot—it's the fresh and surprising dining scene, reflective of the community's warmth and agrarian nature, that will leave you smitten. The area has a deep history rooted in ranches, farms, orchards, and dairies, so it's no surprise it was one of the first regions to embrace the farm-to-table mindset, long before it became the end-all catchphrase it is now. Today, the restaurant scene continues to thrive as area chefs innovate with organic and seasonal produce.
From farm stands to tasting menus, tacos to truffles, classics to newcomers, hit the road and explore the exciting California cuisine being whipped up in Carmel Valley.
Billed as "new California comfort food," this restaurant is nestled in the heart of the village and has been a favorite among locals and visitors since it opened in 2000. An expansive patio (dogs allowed) is a perfect spot to soak in the sun and enjoy a glass of wine, while you choose from an elevated menu that reflects what produce is available from their large gardens. Wood-fired pizza is a favorite item here; other options include bright salads and seasonal entrees like carrot risotto or wood fire salmon. Hot tip: splurge on the sirloin with truffle butter, and you won't regret it. // 55 W Carmel Valley Road, corkscrewcafe.com
Charming, rustic, and very Carmel Valley, Cafe Rustica is set in a house at the end of a cobblestone walkway and surrounded by a lush patio. If you're looking for somewhere to indulge in a hearty yet affordable meal after a long day of wine tasting, this is an excellent option. The kitchen, centering around a stone pizza oven, offers cuisine inspired by the flavors of Alsace and Tuscany, including favorites like the Hungarian goulash, lamb filets, and butternut squash ravioli. // 10 Del Fino Place, caferusticavillage.com
Plaza Linda Restaurant
Another favorite family-run Mexican restaurant in the village, this spot is a bit more formal than Kathy's and offers a comfortable sit-down environment that's great for large groups. On the menu you'll find go-to dishes like fajitas, quesadillas, pupusas, and other classics— breakfast is also extremely popular here (hello, breakfast burrito!) And if you're needing a break from all that wine, don't miss their extensive tequila selection. // 27 E Carmel Valley Road, plazalindarestaurant.com