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Traveling to Carmel Valley is like stepping back in time. The small community has its own movie theater and a few restaurants that offer breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is also home to an art gallery, a winery, and a handful of unique shops and boutiques. If you are looking for something different to do for the weekend, plan to visit this charming town, which is only a 30-minute drive from Los Angeles.
If you’re coming to Carmel Valley, you’re in for a real treat. From its famous Carmel Mission to its charming Spanish-style buildings, the Vallecito Creek area is the perfect place to spend a weekend away from the big city and enjoy the simple pleasures of a bygone era. And with a wide array of nearby attractions, from stunning beaches to historic landmarks, there’s no shortage of things to do in Carmel Valley, California. So, what are you waiting for? Plan your trip with our guide to the 11 best things to do in Carmel Valley, California.
Carmel Valley is simply fascinating. Not in a cute way, but in a rustic and picturesque way: the perfect place for a relaxing weekend.
If you’re planning a trip to the Monterey Peninsula, be sure to include scenic Carmel Valley in your itinerary.
Carmel Valley is known for its vineyards and is one of the sunniest places on the Monterey Peninsula. Even if it’s foggy and cold in Carmel-by-the-Sea or Monterey, you’re more likely to find blue skies and sunshine in Carmel Valley.
As one of the less touristy parts of the peninsula, Carmel Valley offers discerning guests the opportunity to enjoy nature, sample delicious wines and farm-fresh dishes, and participate in a few select activities to complete a wonderful vacation.
Are you planning to visit this bucolic holiday destination? Read on to discover the best things to do in Carmel Valley!
What to do in Carmel Valley
Carmel Valley Wine Tasting
The grape was first planted in Carmel Valley in the 1960s. Today there are several wineries and tasting rooms in the valley, many of which are close enough for you to visit. The grape varieties grown in the valley are Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Parsonage Winery offers tastings in the village tasting room, with outdoor seating. They grow Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petite Verdot in their Carmel Valley vineyards. Mary Parsons is a talented textile artist, and you can see some of her rather eccentric works on the walls of the tasting room.
The tasting room of the Boekenoogen wine house is also located in the village. The Boekenoogen vineyards are located in the nearby Santa Lucia Highlands, and the wine is bottled on site. The charming tasting room also has a beautiful outdoor garden. They are known for their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines, but their Syrah is also excellent.
Joullian Vineyards has a tasting room in the village of Carmel Valley with a beautiful stone facade. You can also opt for a package that includes a tour of the vineyard and winery, which offers a fascinating insight into the history and process of winemaking, and a barrel tasting.
Bernardus Winery was the first local winery to open a tasting room in Carmel Valley Village. The tasting room has a beautiful outdoor terrace. The winery has two vineyards in the area and grows Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, among several other varieties. Bernardus offers tastings and tours of the vineyard by appointment.
Georis Winery is worth a visit for its lush gardens, but also for its adobe-style tasting room. Enjoy tasting the wines from their cellar while enjoying the beauty of the surrounding nature.
Cowgirl Winery is a comfortable and enjoyable tasting experience. Play bocce or cornhole with your friends or watch the chickens and the cat between sips. The wines are paired with delicious food from the Corkscrew Café, located across the street.
Historic Holman Ranch Tour
Holman Ranch is one of the finest properties in Carmel Valley open to the public. The historic site includes a Spanish-style hacienda built in the early 20th century. Hollywood celebrities like Charlie Chaplin have stayed at the Hacienda.
The Holmans bought the property in the 1940s and turned it into a guest ranch with a rodeo arena. Guest bungalows and stables have been added, as well as a swimming pool. Hollywood celebrities such as Clark Gable, Joan Crawford and Marlon Brando have stayed at the ranch.
The Lowder family, who now own Holman Ranch, continues this tradition. They added an olive grove, several hectares of vineyards and a winery. They have a tasting room in Carmel Valley Village, in the historic Will’s Fargo building, with two patios outside.
You can also opt for a tour with wine tasting to visit the vineyard and enjoy the beautiful views and wine tasting. You can also explore the beautiful olive grove and taste the olive oil.
Folktale Winery Tour
Only a few Carmel Valley wineries are open for public tours and on-site tastings. Folktale Winery & Vineyards is located on Carmel Valley Road and is easily accessible.
The basement is built in the style of a French castle. Folktale offers tours and tastings of various wines, as well as food and live music in the vineyard.
Strolling (and shopping!) in Carmel Valley Village
The village of Carmel Valley offers a pleasant stroll. You will find unique shops and art galleries, but above all a relaxed atmosphere. It’s almost like returning to a slower, gentler time.
Carmel Valley Trading Post offers clothing under the Carmel Valley brand. Olivia & Daisy is a charming book and gift shop.
Our favorite shop, Quail & Olive, has a variety of olive oils, including some with herbs or fruit, as well as balsamic vinegar. Tastings will be offered. Their oils and vinegars are excellent and we always take some home.
The village is the cultural and social centre of the community. On summer evenings you can listen to live music. Hidden Valley’s music studios host classical and jazz performances.
Artistic and other activities are also organized throughout the year. The Carmel Valley Art Association has an art gallery in the village, and you may even be able to meet an artist during your visit.
Garland Ranch Regional Park Hike
Garland Ranch Regional Park is a great place for hiking. The park, situated at different altitudes, offers a variety of landscapes and a varied fauna and flora. You’ll also find historic sites, from Rumsen Indian sites to remnants from the logging and farming era.
From forests, chaparral and canyons to the banks of the Carmel River and the heights of the Santa Lucia Mountains, the park is a delight to explore. In the spring you will see a variety of wild flowers. Hiking, bird watching, photography and horseback riding are popular.
Volunteer naturalists lead walks in the park: If one is offered during your visit, join in and learn a lot. The self-guided routes vary from easy to difficult and some are provided with explanatory signs.
Snailley Ridge is the highest point in the park and offers stunning views of the peninsula. Two hiking trails with an elevation gain of about 2,000 feet lead to the observation deck. If you enjoy bird watching, the eucalyptus forest along Rancho Loop is a popular spot.
Admission to the park is free. There is a small welcome center with volunteers if you have any questions.
The farms of the earthWalk through demonstration gardens
Earthbound Farms began many years ago as a small family farm in Carmel Valley. Although it is now a large facility, you can visit Earthbound Farms’ stand along Carmel Valley Road, not far from where the original farm stood.
The farm stand is located in a beautiful rural setting and there are several demonstration gardens that you can walk through on your own or as part of a guided tour. Take a walk through the herb garden with a basket and choose a few herbs to buy and take home.
Admire the healthy produce in the vegetable gardens, rows of berry plants and fruit trees. Kids will love the nativity scene, pumpkin patch and huge sunflowers in the fall. Activities for children are offered at any time of the year.
Almost all year round, everything blooms, from salvias and chickpeas to jasmine and ancient roses. You will likely see hummingbirds feasting on nectar and other birds flying around.
The on-site organic café is the perfect place for lunch. You can order a simple but tasty lunch of organic soups, sandwiches or salads. Sit out on the terrace and enjoy your meal while admiring the beauty of the surrounding nature!
There is also a shop where you can buy organic fruit and vegetables, freshly cut flowers and all kinds of organic products and delicacies.
Talbot Motorcycle Museum Tour
If you are a motorcycle enthusiast, don’t miss the collection at the Talbot Moto Museum. But even if you don’t, check out the motley collection of bikes, one of the best on the West Coast of the United States.
In the collection you will find about 170 motorcycles from seventeen different countries, including Belgium, China, Germany, Japan and the United States.
The museum is open from Thursday to Sunday and admission is charged.
Carmel Valley Scenic Drive
Carmel Valley Road (County Road G16) is a beautiful road in all seasons. Start on Highway 1 at Carmel-by-the-Sea and drive as long as you want: The road runs 53 miles and ends at Highway 101 in the town of Greenfield in the Salinas Valley.
The eastern part of the G16 has different names, for example B. Arroyo Seco Road and Elm Avenue, so navigate according to the official street number, not the name.
The road is very bucolic, with views of fields and meadows, green valleys and orchards, cattle ranches and the Santa Lucia Mountains. You will see horses grazing in the meadows, lambs frolicking in the paddocks, many wild flowers and trees and shrubs blooming in the spring and colorful foliage in the fall.
If you follow this road to its eastern end, you will be rewarded with panoramic views of the Salinas Valley from the top of the road.
Note that Carmel Valley Road is windy and narrow, and east of Carmel Valley Village also has a number of blind curves and elevation changes. It is popular with cyclists and there may be wildlife on the road, so ride carefully.
Enjoy the view along Laureles Road Grade
Another scenic route in the area, Laureles Grade Road, connects West Carmel Valley Road, just east of Garland Ranch Regional Park, with California Highway 68, the Monterey-Salinas corridor, on the other side of the mountains.
The road was originally built to transport cattle. In 1969, Laureles Grade was recognized as the first County Scenic Byway in California. It’s a narrow, winding road with one lane on each side, lots of elevation changes and sharp turns, so drive carefully.
Laureles Grade offers spectacular views of the Carmel Valley: Vineyards stretching across slopes, hills and valleys, and wildflowers in season. Keep your eyes open for birds and wildlife. There is only one exit where you can park and take pictures.
California Highway 68 is also a nice route if you want to take it back to Carmel Valley. Or turn around and go in the opposite direction on Laureles Grade.
A drink in the historic saloon
Los Laureles Lodge is one of the city’s historic buildings. Rancho Los Laureles, given to Jose Boronde by the Mexican government in the early 1830s, is where Monterey Jack cheese was developed.
Muriel Vanderbilt bought the property in the 1930s. She built stables and bred thoroughbred horses on the ranch and had a lot of fun doing it. Their home on the property is now the restaurant of the Los Laureles Lodge.
Enjoy drinks (and entertaining conversations with guests) in the beautiful mahogany-paneled saloon, a popular meeting place for local artists and ranchers. Or eat at a restaurant that has good reviews. During the warmer months of the year you can sit outside on the terrace.
Enjoying wellness treatments
Whether you are staying at Bernardus Lodge or not, don’t forget to book a treatment at the Spa at Bernardus. This is exactly what you need to relax even more during your trip to Carmel Valley!
The resort is very well located. Bring your swimwear, as spa guests have free access to the eucalyptus steam room, dry sauna and heated pool.
The spa treatments use ingredients harvested locally from the hotel’s beautiful gardens. You can also participate in wellness classes and programs.
The Aiyana Spa at Carmel Valley Ranch Resort offers a range of immersive treatments, from massages to body treatments and skin care. Many treatment rooms have their own outdoor terrace.
When you book spa services at Spa Aiyana, you get full access to the saltwater pool, infinity whirlpool, men’s and women’s eucalyptus steam locker rooms and communal warm-up area.
How to get to Carmel Valley, CA
The Monterey Regional Airport is about 18 miles from Carmel Valley and is served by flights from several major US cities, but most visitors arrive by car.
Carmel Valley is a great place to spend a day, a weekend or even more. Carmel Valley, just over two hours away via highway, is one of the many interesting weekend trips you can take from San Francisco (or the San Francisco Bay Area).
It’s only a 5.5 hour drive from Los Angeles to Carmel Valley, which is doable for a weekend getaway, especially if you’re planning a long weekend. You can also plan a longer vacation and explore more of the Monterey Peninsula from your base in quiet Carmel Valley!
Looking for a rental car for your trip to Carmel Valley? Discover cars! They search multiple sellers to get the best price for you.
homes in Carmel Valley, CA
Carmel Valley Hotels
Bernardus Lodge & Spa offers a relaxing, luxurious retreat in Carmel Valley. Each room has a fireplace, a hot tub for 2 people and down and feather beds. The hotel’s restaurant is popular, as is the heated outdoor pool and full-service spa. The gardens are beautiful. Book your stay here!
Carmel Valley Ranch is a beautiful resort with a golf course. Each suite has a fireplace and a refrigerator. Each suite has a spa bath and a private terrace. Enjoy a full-service spa, two outdoor pools, hot tubs and scenic walking trails. Local restaurants are rated very highly. Book your stay here!
Carmel Valley Lodge has beautiful gardens and stunning views of the Santa Lucia Mountains. There is a seasonal outdoor pool. The rooms have high ceilings and fireplaces. The lodge is located within walking distance of the village of Carmel Valley. Book your stay here!
Carmel ValleyVacation rentals
This charming cottage offers the best of indoor and outdoor living. Ideal for a holiday for two, this one-bedroom, one-bathroom cottage is set in a beautiful garden with fruit trees and stunning views of the Santa Lucia mountains. High marks from recent clients. Book your stay here!
This quiet house with stunning views of the valley is the ideal place for couples to relax. Enjoy the views from the spacious terrace or relax inside where you will find comfortably furnished living areas. There is a full kitchen and cable television for entertainment. The hotel is located near the village of Carmel Valley. Book your stay here!
Are you coming with your family or with a small group? This beautiful house can accommodate up to 10 people. This 5 bedroom, 3 bathroom house has a fully equipped kitchen and a loft with a double bed. The house offers beautiful views and is located near the village of Carmel Valley. Book your stay here!
Where to eat in Carmel Valley, CA
Lucia Restaurant and Bar at the Bernardus Lodge serves California cuisine. Their pizza is delicious, as are the salads. For dinner, try the succulent scallops or the popular hamburger!
Café Rustica is very popular because the food is excellent and the menu offers a wide choice. Try the rustic vegetable sandwich or the grilled cheese on brioche: yum!
The Corkscrew Café serves local food. Their salads are delicious, with tasty seasonal vegetables and fruit, they also serve delicious pizza and fish tacos.
Plaza Linda is a good choice if you like Mexican food. They also offer live music! You will be spoiled with a variety of dishes, from enchiladas and tamales to tacos, burritos, chile rellenos, pupusas and fish dishes.
Best time to visit Carmel Valley
Carmel Valley is a year-round destination that we prefer to visit at any time of the year. In spring, many flowers bloom throughout the valley. In early spring, wild mustard and spring flowering trees provide color. Later there are roses, lavender and poppies everywhere.
Summer brings beautiful warm days and bright sunshine, unlike the coast where it remains cool and foggy all summer. Autumn is all about the colours of the leaves and vines and the warm temperatures.
Winter is cool, yet pleasant for hiking and outdoor recreation. If you are planning a winter visit, be sure to bring rain gear, as at this time of year you can expect showers or light rain here and there.
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Frequently Asked Questions
What is there to do in downtown Carmel?
At first glance, Carmel may seem like a sleepy little beach town. But there is a lot more to do in downtown Carmel than you might think. To find the best things to do in Carmel, you just have to know where to look. Carmel-by-the-Sea is a charming city on the central California coast. Its downtown area is filled with shopping, restaurants, and arts and culture attractions, including the renowned Festival of Arts, a juried fair featuring more than 600 artists from around the world. Plus, you’ll find plenty of other activities nearby.
What is Carmel CA famous for?
There are a lot of different things to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea, but did you know that the city’s unofficial motto is “Artists and Madmen”? That’s right, the artists and madmen of Carmel-by-the-Sea have been creating art and writing literature for more than a hundred years. While Carmel’s most famous resident, Jack Kerouac, passed away long before the town’s name became synonymous with the artist community, the creativity that drives him is still alive and well today. Carmel is a picturesque coastal city in Monterey County, California, well known for its natural scenery as well as its artistic reputation. Travelers who are looking to enjoy some of this city’s most notable attractions should book a hotel in one of Carmel’s charming neighborhoods.
Is it illegal to wear high heels in Carmel CA?
Is it illegal to wear high heels in Carmel CA? You bet! As of January 1, the Carmel-by-the-Sea City Council has passed an ordinance banning the wearing of high heels after 6 p.m. The law is designed to protect pedestrians from slipping on ice or other slippery surfaces should they be walking around the town center in heels. Wearing high heels is an integral part of the fashion industry, with over 200 million pairs of high heels per year manufactured and sold world wide. In addition to their popularity, high heels are also a very integral part of the fashion industry, being one of the most produced shoes in the world. Every year there are over 200 million pairs of high heels produced and sold worldwide!
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