Published by Where Traveler in March 2019, my article on 3 weekends (hotels, spa, food, drink, even motorcycles) from Marina to Carmel and the Carmel Valley.
There are multiple ways to take in the idyllic region of Carmel, whether you are lodging in the charming, walkable village of Carmel-By-The-Sea or going for a luxurious retreat in Carmel Valley, taking in a major annual event like Pebble Beach Food and Wine or a monthly occurrence like the Carmel Art Walk. Eat, sleep, drink and explore around three different kind of weekend themes.
Walkable Village Weekend in Carmel-By-The-Sea
Park your car and walk everywhere: to watch sunsets on the beach or take in the Hobbit-meets-Alice-in-Wonderland architecture of Carmel-By-The-Sea. You’ll find its best under-the-radar spots hidden off intriguing alleys and passageways. Converted motel, The Getaway, makes for a friendly, affordable stay in town, or L’Auberge for a refined escape and the region’s one excellent (and tiny) James Beard-nominated restaurant, Aubergine.
Grab coffee or a bite at Stationaery, which opened mid-2018, sourcing beans from longtime San Francisco coffee great, Sightglass. Stationaery serves the only quality, third wave coffee in town, properly prepared on a La Marzocco espresso machine. Caraccioli Cellars serves locally produced sparkling wine that equals some of the great sparkling wines from California’s Anderson Valley, a region famed for superb bubbly. Expect nutty, yeasty, lush notes and crisp acidity from Caraccioli’s beautiful Brut rosés and brut wines made from Pinot and Chardonnay grapes. Visit their intimate wine bar for a caviar and bubbly pairing, featuring reasonably priced, excellent osetra and Siberian caviar from Black River Caviar in Uruguay.
Feast on Oaxacan and other regional Mexican dishes amid the warm reds and woods of Cultura. This is easily the most authentic Mexican restaurant and bar in Carmel — and the region — thanks to a team of owners who travel often to Oaxaca to explore the region’s greats: mezcal and mole. Cultura’s mole is laden with sesame and orange drizzled over smoked pork, while their 70+ bottles of agave spirits are served traditionally with orange slices, sal de gusano (worm salt) and chapulines (grasshoppers). Cultura’s cocktails stand out in a town where it’s nearly impossible to find an expertly-made cocktail (try Hole Mole, mixing mezcal with house mole, apple, lime and Peychaud’s bitters). Start with the house queso fundido for the table, set alight tableside with mezcal.
Luxurious Retreat (with Motorcycles) in Carmel Valley
Retreat to laid back Carmel Valley, which recalls Napa and other wine regions of California in its winding roads, sprawling vineyards, dramatic hills and ranches… but is not heavily trafficked. So close to the sea, it feels far removed. With its spa, inspiring gardens, lavender fields and elegant cottages, Bernardus Lodge is the luxurious resort retreat of the region. Its restaurant, Lucia, is open to all, boasting the region’s deepest wine cellar and balanced cocktails, thanks to food and beverage director Michael Marcy. Chef Cal Stamenov cooks the likes of lush peekytoe crab bisque dotted with puff pastry fleurons (crescents) or a Kurobuta pork chop with heirloom shelling bean cassoulet and jimmy nardello peppers. Linger with a glass of vintage Sauternes and warm cookies for dessert (or take them back to your room if you’re staying at the hotel).
The hills, valley and nearby coast are prime territory for motorcycle drivers but bike fans (and even those who aren’t) should make a beeline to Moto Talbott museum, with over 170 iconic and vintage motorcycles from 16 countries. Take a tour with staff who deeply know their subject and can share stories to fascinate the avid rider and novice alike.
Seafood, Sand Dunes and Massages in Marina
Escape to the sand dunes of the tiny, sleepy town of Marina, just north of Monterey, to The Sanctuary, a casual resort complete with soothing, in-house spa, four-plex cottages and firepits at sunset on the sand. But the stop for food lovers is Salt Wood Kitchen & Oysterette, currently helmed by new chef Paul Corsentino, who took over in February, coming most recently from The Sur House restaurant at Ventana Big Sur. They source from local farms and purveyors while you can dine on specialties plucked from the sea outside like Monterey squid or California ling cod alongside Mt. Lassen smoked trout mac ‘n cheese or shrimp and coconut grits. Stay local with a thoughtful bottle selection of nearby gems like an acidic, lean Albarino from La Marea Kristy Vineyard in Monterey or a small production neighbor further south, Lieu Dit Melon from Santa Maria Valley.