Our second stop on our Northern California itinerary: Carmel and the Monterey Peninsula, just about a two hour’s drive south of San Francisco. After a pit-stop midway for a walk and lunch around the stunning Stanford University Campus (because, you know, you can never start too soon setting your children up to have high aspirations – even if they are only 7 and 10!), we arrived late afternoon to our next destination for two nights: Carmel Valley Ranch.
Picking out Carmel Valley Ranch from other places to stay wasn’t too difficult as it is easily the most family-friendly luxury lodging in the area (Clint Eastwood’s Mission Ranch, nearby Bernardus Lodge and Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur will have to wait another time when kids are not in tow). A flash sale offering a insanely low rate at on Jetsetter.com was too irresistible to pass up. And so, with the click of a button, our decision was made.
Carmel Valley Ranch, which just underwent a $35MM renovation last year (it was purchased in 2009 by Hyatt heir John Pritzker), is now a sprawling 500-acre resort nestled in the heart of Carmel Valley, complete with its own 18-hole golf course, two pools, tennis courts and three on-site restaurants. But it is really more than just a resort – or ranch I should say. It is also a vineyard, a farm where organic produce, honey and lavender is grown and deer and fox roam the property freely and a playground where adults, kids and pets alike can play. Its like a summer camp (albeit a really nice one) without the rules starting right with the old-fashioned rope swings and bonfire pits you can find throughout the property.
This all-suite property features 139 suites, all featuring cathedral ceilings, fireplaces and private decks. While there are eight different types of suites to choose from, our Jetsetter package included accommodations for one of the Garland Suites. Our 1,100 square foot one-bedroom suite (#110) included a king bed, a comfortable queen-size pullout sofa in the living room for the girls, two fireplaces and large wrap around deck. At the suggestion of others, we had pre-requested a suite close to the main lodge housing the restaurant to avoid driving and we are glad we did. What our suite may have lacked in views of the valley, it made up in convenience. Perched on a hill only a one-minute walk from the main lodge, pool and bonfire pits, our suite felt like a treehouse overlooking the expanse. It must be drop-dead gorgeous in the June when the lavender is in full bloom throughout the property.
Upon our arrival, a bag with freshly baked cookies awaited my girls with a special message from Roxy, the resident ranch dog (the paw print being a dead give away that Roxy was a canine). Let me tell you – Roxy, who is an adorable but understandably spoiled bulldog, gets a whole lot of love from all the younger guests.
There are a whole host of activities on property to choose from (the calendar is mind boggling – from cooking demonstrations, tennis clinics, yoga and exercise classes to the “ranch hands” kids camp) that you have no reason to ever leave. And many guests don’t. Carmel Valley Ranch is away from it all to feel like its own enclave yet in fact the ranch is located less than eight miles away from the quaint town of Carmel-by-the-sea, its gorgeous beaches and famous Pebble Beach golf course. With only 2 days in the area, we wanted to explore as much of Carmel and Monterey as we could. We did take advantage of one of the unique offerings at the ranch – The Bee Experience – and it was one of our favorite experiences of our whole trip.
Run by bee-keeper extraordinaire, John Russo (who runs a lavender farm nearby), the bee keeper experience was a fun and educational family activity that gave us all a new found respect and awe for bees. Donned in our astronaut looking bee suits, we got an inside look at the many hives that are kept on property and learn about the fascinating, secret world of bees (there is a reason why the expression “busy as a bee” exists). The honey produced by the 75,000 bees in the hives (yes, that many!) is used in the food served at the restaurants and in lavender essence oils for the hotel’s bath and spa products. With 7,000 lavender plants on property, the pleasing scent of lavender permeates the air everywhere.
We tremendously enjoyed dinners both nights at the hotel’s main restaurant The Lodge for farm-to-table fare. Much of the menu is from the ranch’s organic garden or locally caught. Everything on the menu was superb, including the items on the kids menu.
In June, we are told the lavender fields are in bloom and spectacular. We would love to come back in the summer to explore more around the resort, take in the many activities and experiences (including the spa!) that we didn’t have the time to do including a swing on the signature oak tree swings on the property!
Overall, Carmel Valley Ranch is an ideal central base to explore Monterey and Big Sur. An extremely family- friendly resort with a slew of activities, incredible food and rustically luxurious suites. You can’t go wrong.
What We Loved
- The Bee experience is a must – it is only offered twice a week so check the ranch’s calendar and book in advance during peak holiday periods.
- The food – organic, fresh and delicious. We wanted to try everything on the menu.
- The fully stocked nightly bonfiresfor your S’more fix (there are a few locations throughout the property it seemed)
- The smells of lavender and honey was divine. You can taken home many lavender oils and honey products in the gift shop.
- Playing with Roxy, the bulldog-in-residence and all the other guests dogs. Being a dog friendly hotel, we were in dog heaven!
What We Didn’t Love
- Checking out too soon – two nights is not enough here!
- This is nit-picking but we would have liked a better introduction to the lay of the land after check in as we felt a bit on our own after our arrival.
- Breakfast was not included in our room rate with Jetsetter and was quite expensive (over $100). There are many local wonderful breakfast places nearby to check out such as Wagon Wheel and From Scratch in the Barnyard Village a few miles away.
What to do in the area
Carmel is a very pretty quaint town you can stroll around for an hour.
There are limitless outdoor activities all close by such as golfing, a visit to Big Sur, hiking, whale watching and kayaking. Sadly we didn’t have time to experience all that the area had to offer. You can easily spend a week here in the summer.
Some of our faves:
- We loved the rustic French bistro La Bicyclette for lunch in Carmel-by-the-sea.
- A must stop for treats are Carmel Bakery and Hansel and Gretel-ish Cottage of Sweets on the main drag, Ocean Avenue.
- Check out Carmel Beach for a late picnic or stroll and take in the spectacular setting, more dogs and views of Pebble Beach.
- Stop by From Scratch in Barnyard Village a few minutes from hotel for home style breakfasts.
- Monterey Aquarium, about a 20 minute drive away, is great for two hours with the kids. You can see otters and seals both inside and outside the aquarium.
- We were unable to make our reservation but try to visit for yappy hour at Cypress Inn in town (partly owned by Doris Day) for the best best-in-show dog show you will ever see. Book ahead for tea in the outdoor garden offered 3-5 pm.
- Point Lobos for spotting seals, sea lions, whales and otters (bring your binoculars!).
- As you can imagine at 500 acres, the resort is very big. If you don’t want to drive, request a suite close to the main lodge.
- If you seek more more space, look at the Oak Grove Suite (extra dining room) and Carmel Suites (with 2nd bedrooms).
- Check Jetsetter for last minute specials time to time. We secured a $250 per night rate for our suite on a flash sale.
|Rooms to Get||Tips|
Carmel Valley Ranch
One Old Ranch Rd,
Why book Virtuoso?
- Personalized travel assistance
- 24/7 online booking
- Special rates & exclusive offers
- Guaranteed Room upgrade*
- Complimentary full American breakfast
- Early check-in, Late check-out*
- Exclusive on-site amenities (varies by hotel)
- * based on availability on time of arrival
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