Carmel Valley: Cars, Wine Tasting and More Fun!
Bypass Carmel-by-the-Sea, and venture inland to Carmel Valley for outdoor fun, wine tasting, and plenty of action on four wheels.
Early rays illuminate the tops of the wooded hills as a light mist hovers over the sleepy valley below. The smell of the sea, just a short drive away, tinges the crisp air for a few short morning hours, before warm light seeps between the mountain peaks and shines down on Carmel Valley. Nestled among the Santa Lucia Mountains, the small town has one main road that winds throughout the valley floor, eventually leading to Carmel Valley Village. While the neighboring city of Carmel-by-the-Sea is a more popular destination, Carmel Valley offers a peaceful country getaway with outdoor activities, ample wine, and luxury stays—everything you need to slow down and enjoy a relaxing escape. Here’s how to spend a weekend in this often overlooked gem.
Namaste and Rosé
Birds chirp overhead; the growl of a leaf blower echoes in the distance—the sounds of the valley coming to life. Breathe in, breathe out, and listen. It’s all part of the alfresco Zen experience.
Yoga in the Vines at Folktale Winery and Vineyards is a rejuvenating start to any Saturday. Tucked into the vineyards, the class offers an energizing flow session for yogis of all levels.
“The group is always enchanting, and being in the vines surrounded by nature elevates the class to a new level,” says class instructor Kate Balog, who has been a practicing yogi for 10 years. Balog guides you through 90 minutes of vinyasa, lingering a little longer in each pose to give you the opportunity to sink a little deeper into a mindful state.
After ending the session with a collectively chanted “om,” you’ll roll up your mat and head toward the tasting room for a complimentary glass of wine. Choose the sparkling rosé: The crisp, light wine is perfect for a post-stretch session and summer sipping.
A Path Less Traveled
For those wanting a deeper dive into the environs, head down the road to Garland Ranch Regional Park. Whether you fancy a casual stroll, an all-day trek, or something in between, the open space has trails for every type of hiker and outdoor enthusiast.
Beginner: Stroll along the shaded banks of the Carmel River, or go for a brisk walk among tall willow trees on the 1.4-mile Lupine Loop.
Intermediate: For a slight rise in heart rate and elevation, go past the Lupine Loop, and head out on the Fern Trail before connecting to the Mesa Trail. The path will lead you to Mesa Pond, a scenic place to stop for a snack and drink of water.
Hard-Core: To really get your heart pumping, head up into the hills—1,800 feet up, to be exact. On the trek to Snively’s Ridge, you may have to take a break (or two) as you hike up some pretty steep grades, but when you get to the top, you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous vistas of the valley and rolling mountain range. It’s the perfect view to enjoy while catching your breath.
Vino with Flair
With over 20 tasting rooms to choose from, Carmel Valley Village is the ideal spot for quaint, casual wine tasting.
To add a little giddy-up to your day, check out Cowgirl Winery. A tribute to both Carmel Valley’s history as a ranch town and the tough-as-nails women who helped establish the community, this charming country winery is the best place for pardners to kick up their boots and enjoy a glass of wine. Guests can play bocce, feed the property’s 11 chickens (and one friendly rooster named Daniel), practice cattle ropin’, or just sit back and relax—perhaps in the back of an old pickup truck–turned–picnic table. Founded by husband-and-wife-team Walter and Sylvia Georis in 2011, Cowgirl blends old-world European winemaking traditions with modern Western flair. Be sure to try the 2014 Pinot Noir and the 2014 Malbec—they’re some mighty good reds. And if you have time, check out the vinos at Cowgirl’s sister tasting room, Georis Winery.
Right next door to Cowgirl is Talbott Vineyards. The winery is famous for its Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, and is a standout vineyard in California’s Central Coast wine region. For some more fun, head down the road to Moto Talbott—a museum dedicated to winery owner Robb Talbott’s love for motorcycles.
Stay and Play
Next, take a quick turn off the two-lane road to arrive at a quiet retreat. Quail Lodge and Golf Club has long been a fixture of hospitality in Carmel Valley, but after undergoing an extensive renovation in 2013, Quail Lodge emerged as a refreshed, inviting, and luxurious escape.
Flanked by the Santa Lucia Mountains, Quail Lodge sits on 850 acres and has an 18-hole golf course, where hotel guests and visitors can tee off. But thrill seekers may prefer the Land Rover Driving Experience. Get behind the wheel, and go on an automotive adventure with an experienced instructor, who’ll guide you as you descend down steep trails, climb over log piles, and navigate tight hairpin turns.
Aside from off-road driving lessons and world-class golf, the lodge also offers an array of dining options. Find fresh fare at Edgar’s, a farm-to-table restaurant run by Quail Lodge’s
executive chef Brian Kearns. Indulge in seasonal menu items, such as a mouthwatering braised lamb shank served atop crispy polenta and drizzled with tomato jus. Or go for something a little lighter, such as the roasted baby beet salad: Nestled on a bed of goat cheese and parsnip puree, the sweet beets are topped with a medley of fresh herbs, greens, and edible flowers; porcini crumble; and an orange balsamic and lemon–olive oil dressing. It’s one of the prettiest salads you’ll ever eat.
If you crave bar bites, head to the revamped Covey Breakfast Restaurant, Bar and Deck. The standouts here are the crispy brussels sprouts tossed with thick-cut applewood-smoked bacon and apple-cider gastrique, and the fried chicken and waffles. Featuring a house-made Belgian waffle, fried buttermilk chicken, and warm Vermont maple syrup, this rich dish is meant to be shared—but you won’t want to.
When you’re ready to kick back and relax, the ranch-style guest rooms and suites are simple yet exquisite retreats. Many feature warm hardwood floors, stone fireplaces, and vaulted wood-beamed ceilings. And if you feel like taking a few swings on the links in the morning, you can literally roll out of bed and walk right onto the green—clubs in hand—from your back patio.
For more fun in Carmel Valley, gear up for the annual Monterey Car Week. From August 11–20, the peninsula turns into an auto enthusiast’s dreamland. Featuring both futuristic cars and vintage automobiles dating from the prewar era to the newest luxury models, this weeklong motorsports extravaganza highlights the best of the best.
Even if you’re not a motorhead, The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering (conveniently located on the green at the Quail Lodge and Golf Club) boasts a spectacular display of elegant cars that range from the familiar (classic Porsches) to the surprising (the latest carbon fiber–bodied Pagani). Celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, the event is a masterful presentation of more than 250 motorcars that have the chance to be named Best of Show; five geographic-themed food pavilions, including Paris, Italy, and Beverly Hills; award-winning wines and cocktails from local wineries and restaurants; and guests from all over the world.
“It’s still the only car show of its kind in terms of an all-inclusive ticket,” says Gordon McCall, the event’s motorsports director and cofounder. “It’s like going to a five-star restaurant and having a car show breakout.”
McCall recommends attendees do a couple of laps around the event, sample food, grab a glass of champagne, and take some time to admire a couple of their favorite cars. The lucky ones may even spot Jay Leno, who’s been known to lead a motorcade rally to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
Located just over the Laureles Grade, the famous 60-year-old raceway hosts another Car Week event that will fulfill your need for speed: the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion, an annual four-day event that relives motorsports history, offering exciting sports car racing (pro tip: camp out near turn eight for some serious corkscrew action) and Q&A sessions with legendary drivers, including renowned Formula One champion Jenson Button, who will make exhibition laps in an iconic McLaren M23. The Laguna Seca event is also celebrating 70 years of Ferrari, and as a special treat will feature the original 1956 Ferrari 500 Testa Rossa—the same car Pete Lovely drove to victory during the first event held at the raceway, in 1957.
To wrap up your week of automotive splendor, attend the classic Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Located on the 18th fairway of Pebble Beach Golf Links, this landmark event is the crème de la crème of car shows. Concours focuses on auto elegance rather than on speed and mechanics, so you’ll find 200 top-ranked collector cars gleaming by the coast, all competing for the title of Best of Show. And if you missed Leno at Quail Motorsports, you’re sure to see him wandering the 18th, admiring a small piece of automotive history.