Monterey County is known for the breathtaking coast and idyllic Carmel-by-the-Sea. Less talked about but equally compelling are the Santa Lucia Highlands (SLH) wine region in lush Salinas Valley and laid-back, dog-friendly Carmel Valley Village, home to 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, and the wind can 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.
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 and hot tub). The spacious accommodations feature wood furnishings and beamed ceilings. Most have wood-burning or gas fireplaces, private patios, and kitchen facilities. 831-659-2261, valleylodge.com.
Another prime spot is Carmel Valley Ranch, a tranquil haven discreetly stretching 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 interiors combine modern decor, earth tones, large windows, and sweeping views. Suites offer cathedral ceilings, high-end stone fireplaces and bathrooms, private decks, and oversized furniture. Pets are welcome. 855-687-7264, carmelvalleyranch.com
Wine tasting in the SLH is beautiful — it’s not crowded; the expansive area is agriculturally rich with a focus on sustainability, and the wines are memorable.
A great starting point is Hahn Family Wines, nestled in the highlands with wonderful views of the valley and Pinnacles National Park; you can even take an ATV tour of the estate. Favorites included these the 2016 SLH Pinot Noir and the 2016 Lucienne Doctor’s Vineyard Pinot Noir. 831-678-4555, hahnwinery.com
Next door is Paraiso Vineyards, passionately guided by multiple generations of the Smith family. Take in the stunning hills and valley and sip wines including the 2015 SLH Pinot Noir and 2012 “Irie” Zinfandel. 831-678-0300, paraisovineyards.com
At Pessagno Winery, the land is owned and tended by a third-generation Monterey County farmer. The open-space tasting room and outdoor patio are fun places to taste wines like the 2015 SLH Chardonnay and the 2012 “Tre” Premium Red Blend (50 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 37.5 percent Merlot, and 12.5 percent Petit Verdot. 831-675-9463, pessagnowines.com
Wine tasting in Carmel Valley Village offers a difference experience. Stroll around the quaint town and choose from several tasting rooms like these:
The wines at Talbott Vineyards are 100 percent estate grown. Bring a picnic to enjoy with wines like these 2015 Pinot Noirs — the Sleepy Hollow and Logan. 831-659-3500, talbottvineyards.com
Discover Georis Winery in an old adobe building that houses the tasting room and distinctive gift shop. It’s set in a flourishing garden with a cork tree and quirky pieces of sculpture. Try the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2014 Merlot. 831-659-1080, georiswine.com
At Carmel Valley Ranch, the mantra is play. If you’re energetic, there’s top notch golf, hiking, tennis, biking, and fitness centers. Or just wander through the gardens, settle into a yoga class, or get hands-on classes about bees or candle making. And when total relaxation is your thing, there’s a full-service spa and two salt-water pools. 855-687-7264, carmelvalleyranch.com
It’s easy to walk from one end of picturesque Carmel Valley Village to the other — the few streets are lined with small shops, wrought iron, and blooming flowers. Find art galleries, antiques, home furnishings and accessories stores, and olive oil and balsamic vinegar tastings. Wineries and tasting rooms hope you’ll buy wine and other products when you visit.
Follow a path from Georis Winery through the garden and find the Corkscrew Cafe. This eclectic restaurant is a favorite — the ambience is upbeat and fun, just like the food. Dining in the garden is a great choice. Choose from small plates like venison tartare or coal-roasted beets or big plates like the pastrami sandwich with a farm egg or wood-fired salmon. Desserts are tempting: gelato, dark chocolate, or roasted pear. Have a glass of Georis wine with your meal and it’s a perfect affair. 831-659-8888, corkscrewcafe.com
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 grilled Treviso and burrata salad was a luscious beginning followed by the shrimp and grits or asparagus risotto. If you’re a fan of red meat, you’ll love the beef selection. For dessert, head out to the fire pit and make your own s’mores. 831-625-9500, carmelvalleyranch.com
Monterey County Convention and Visitors Bureau: seemonterey.com/regions/carmel-valley
Monterey County Wineries: montereywines.org