California Dreaming: Monterey and Carmel

7 July 2014

Feels good to be back in California! :) When last we left off, John and I were in the quiet and beautifully green woods of Big Sur. We woke up in our little cabin in the woods and set off for an early morning hike at Pfeiffer Falls.


The two-mile hike lead to a valley view first, then down to a pretty waterfall. I was so glad we were there in the morning – the towering redwoods made it feel a bit like we were in an enchanted forest.


Rounding a corner in the trail on our way back up, I found myself face to face with a baby deer!! She didn’t seem at all concerned at the sight of me, and continued her leisurely walk down the trail. Once she was about six feet from me, though, she decided that it might be unwise to walk directly past me, so she cut through the switchback instead. We watched her continue down the trail to the waterfall at a stately pace, open-mouthed. I don’t think I’ve ever been so close to a deer!



We grabbed a yogurt and granola parfait to go from the state park lodge and brought it back to eat by the Big Sur River at Glen Oaks before getting back on the road.


Our next destination, Carmel, was only about 45 minutes north of Big Sur. We stopped at several turn-outs along the way, including the famous Bixby Bridge (to the left in the photo below!). As you can see, it was another beautiful day, but windy on the Pacific Coast Highway!



We arrived in Carmel with time to walk its shaded and lovely streets before sitting down to lunch. To us, Carmel felt European, classic, and sedate. The feel is definitely more “old money” than “hip” – lots of cute fairytale-looking houses with names. We stopped briefly by the Carmel Mission, but chose not to go inside (there is an entrance fee).


After lunch, we left Carmel briefly to head next door to the Monterey Bay Aquarium! We had heard great things about it. While it was neat and the location can’t be beat (perched on a tide pool!), we agreed that we wish we had spent our time elsewhere, if only because we had seen otters and seals in the wild so recently and impressively!



If we hadn’t spent the time and money at the aquarium, it might have been neat to kayak in Monterey, but honestly, once we reached our destination for the night, we realized we would have been thrilled to spend even more time there! From the minute we drove onto Carmel Valley Ranch’s property, we knew it was special. (The frolicking deer and wild turkeys that accompanied our drive up the hill might have been a giveaway.)

Carmel Valley Ranch was without a doubt a splurge, but we had some Jetsetter credits squirreled away from birthdays and holidays that made it more palatable. However, John would want me to add that he thinks it’s a bargain at almost any price (and I would agree). That was at least in part due to the size of our suite’s bathroom:



After checking in and dropping off our luggage, we headed out to the Huff ‘n Puff Trail, one of several routes on their 500-acre property. We were captivated and delighted from the first step!


We were, indeed, huffing a bit as we made our way up several hundred feet through trees draped with trailing lace lichen. I tried out some poses as we caught our breath on the yoga platform at the top of the property.


I was incredibly delighted to see that CVR offered their weekly hilltop class at the civilized hour of 10am, instead of the ridiculous crack of dawn time-slot usually reserved for yoga. Much appreciated by people like me, who love their sleep! I would have LOVED to take a class, but they’re only offered on Saturdays, and we were there on a Wednesday.





We followed various trails through the rest of the main property, including the vineyard, the lavender fields, and the vegetable garden. They even have chickens!




There are several tree swings throughout the property, and I thoroughly enjoyed them.


On our way back to our room, we had another wildlife encounter! We saw a herd of deer mix with a herd of wild turkeys, and surprisingly, the turkeys came out on top.


After our hike we changed and got ready for dinner. Our suite was within walking distance of the main complex, which included the Lodge restaurant and the main pool. I loved the design of the restaurant – it was the perfect balance of rustic cabin and modern openness, with a giant bar and fireplace anchoring the space. I couldn’t find a great photo, but here’s a peek:


Our dinner was leisurely and absolutely delicious all around – one of our favorites on the trip. Like many California restaurants, the Lodge uses as many local and in-season ingredients as possible (many from their own property!), and you could taste how fresh everything was. We finished our evening with s’mores around a fire pit, then a dip under the stars in the infinity hot tub, open 24 hours a day!



Spoiler alert: our time at Carmel Valley Ranch was over much too soon! But we were on to great things, so we couldn’t be too sad. Yosemite is up next!

Day one: Malibu, Ojai, Montecito
Day two: Santa Barbara, Montana de Oro, Cayucos
Day three: Cambria, San Simeon, Big Sur

All photos personal except restaurant and infinity tub photos!

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July 7, 2014 5:21 pm

I can completely sympathize with your feelings on the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It’s great for kids, and if you didn’t have other ways to spend your time, but not something I would recommend if you enjoy the outdoors. It’s a terrific aquarium, but I love that you got to see some “wild”life in the wild:) Your trip has me seeing CA through new eyes!

July 7, 2014 8:22 pm

Great pix! Thanks for moving onward, and taking us with you!

July 9, 2014 2:22 pm

These are stunning! I am so happy that you guys were able to take this trip – it looks simply amazing!!