While spring and summer are popular seasons to vacation along California’s Central Coast, winter can be just as fabulous. Monterey County, and its cozy coastal towns, offer a breath of fresh air during the long winter.
Carmel-by-the-Sea and Cannery Row are two of the county’s most famous destinations, and for good reason. They are jam-packed with places to explore–from adorable boutiques and inns to delicious eateries and tasting rooms with views.
Nestled along the Pacific Ocean, Carmel-by-the-Sea offers visitors a quaint, European-style village. It’s easy to get swept away, exploring the area’s many passageways and courtyards.
“Because coastal fog is prevalent during the summer, the winter months provide the clearest views of the Pacific Ocean,” said Amy Herzog, Visit Carmel’s Executive Director. “The crowds have also diminished in winter, which means visitors can easily enjoy the walkable one-square-mile village, lined with more than 100 art studios, galleries and antique stores.”
North of Carmel-by-the-Sea is Monterey’s historic Cannery Row, a picturesque waterfront street that’s great to explore any time of the year. Cannery Row offers ocean front hotels, more than 25 different restaurants, tasting rooms and breweries, shopping and fun for the entire family.
My husband and I recently visited Monterey County. Here’s a closer look at our lodging and restaurant experiences.
Carmel Valley Ranch
Our first stop was Carmel Valley Ranch, located just outside of Carmel-by-the-Sea, which provides spacious luxury suites/studios, many activities abound and a lot of fun.
The Ranch has 500 sprawling acres,where guests can sit on an old-fashioned oak swing, sip wine from their vineyard, stroll through the gardens, hang out by one of three salt-water pools and immerse themselves in Carmel Valley’s oak-studded hills.
“Winter visits to the ranch become more intimate, perfect for couples who like to leave the summer crowds behind,” said Giuseppe Lama, managing director. “We have our ways to warm up winter in our infinity hot tub overlooking the valley, gather around the fire pits with a glass of wine, enjoy your own fireplace in each suite, savor Chef Wood’s soul-nourishing cuisine and engage your spirits with fine wines, creative cocktails or flights of whisky.”
The ranch’s rustic luxury extends to the guest rooms. Large windows and patio doors fill the rooms with light, while outdoor decks provide breathtaking views of the vineyards, lush acres and trees. Many rooms offer a living area with fireplace, flat screen TVs, mini fridges and spacious bathrooms with a large vanity area and aromatherapy.
The ranch is a destination for people who appreciate the beauty of nature and are young at heart. You can take advantage of hiking tours, geocaching, archery, nightly s’mores by the fire pit and organic garden tours. Be sure to check out A Bee’s Life, an excursion into the apiary. They also offer falconry and workshops for Beeswax Candle Making, Bath Bombs and Honey Harvest Demonstrations.
“Play is so important in the endless quest to find balance in our hectic lives, connect with family and loved ones in a new way, stimulate creativity and find the joy that sparks our lives,” said Lama. “The Ranch is very unpretentious. Come as you are and have fun.”
Delicious Dishes at Valley Kitchen
After strolling through the grounds, and getting settled in our suite, we tried the delicious eats at the resort’s Valley Kitchen.
The stunning restaurant features a beautiful bar and fabulous patio seating. The welcoming atmosphere makes diners feel at home as they dig into Executive Chef Tim Wood’s creations. The restaurant offers breakfast, lunch and dinner, featuring ingredients from the valley and the hotel’s organic garden and seafood from Monterey Bay.
“Some of our most popular dishes include cipollini polenta with French black truffles, morning farmers market risottoa and Dungeness crab cakes,” said Chef Wood.
We had lots of delicious bites perfetly paired with wine suggested by our wonderful resort sommelier. But the show-stopper was the Carmel Valley Ranch tomahawk experience bone-in rib eye steak, accompanied by grilled sweet onion, Hog Farm’s spring asparagus, big3 sauces, chef’s I’m stuffed potatoes and French connection country bread.
Out and about in Carmel-by-the-Sea
After a restful sleep and a cup of coffee overlooking the valley from our bedroom window, we got on with our day, starting with breakfast at French American bistro Etats-Unis (pronounced eh-taz-oo-nee) in Carmel-by-the-Sea.
Etats-Unis uses many ingredients from the valley and sea to create classic French comfort dishes by Chef Soerke Peters. It’s a charming place to sip a mimosa or glass of wine while enjoying eggs benedict, croque madame, three cheese omelets and sweet or savory crepes.
After a full day in Carmel-by-the-Sea (including a walk along the beautiful beach, just a stone’s throw from the famous Pebble Beach Golf Links), we returned to our suite, lit the fireplaces in our living room and bedroom and got ready for dinner at California Market at Pacific’s Edge.
This restaurant has one of the most stunning panoramic views of the ocean., and every seat is a good one.
The menu includes Monterey Bay abalone; beef short rib bourguignon,cioppino, halibut, daily stuffed pasta, braised lamb shank. Their flight of three caviars–Royal Siberian Sturgeon, Farmed Osetra and Hackelback–served with warm blinis, sieved egg, snipped chives, creme fraiche, and pickled shallots, are a unique and luxurious offering.
InterContinental The Clement Monterey
After an amazing stay at Carmel Valley Ranch, we checked out and then into InterContinental The Clement Monterey, in the heart of Cannery Row. This waterfront hotel consistently ranks among the top three in Monterey on TripAdvisor. It offers a contemporary Zen-like atmosphere and luxurious rooms, featuring fireplaces, marble bathrooms and ocean-view balconies, where you can spot sea otters and whales.
The picturesque hotel has 208 rooms and 12 luxury suites, and includes 15,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space, an oceanfront ballroom, spa, fitness center, outdoor pool and pier overlooking Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
“The concept for the hotel was over 20 years in the making, and when our owner was selected to bring the project to fruition, every nuance of environmental responsibility was respected,” said Director of Sales & Marketing Cathy Faber. “We knew the location next to the aquarium would have permanent importance. Our owner, Clement Chen III, always says the planets aligned for the project.”
The hotel offers must see destinations at your fingertips and a comfortable guest room to return to.
“Winter is a great time to enjoy the Monterey Peninsula with fewer visitors,” said Faber, “and yet still enjoy a mild Mediterranean climate. Whale watching is spectacular January through March.”
My husband and I spent a lot of time relaxing on our balcony – taking in spectacular sunrise and sunset views while listening to the calming ocean. When it was time to eat, we opted for an ocean view and headed to The C Restaurant + Bar on the hotel’s ground floor.
Featuring sparkling wine flights and delicious, sustainable seafood preparations, The C Restaurant + Bar was the perfect place to unwind.
“Our chef is local superstar Matt Bolton, born and raised in Hollister, so with a local appreciation of farm-to-table and sustainability,” said Faber. “One of our favorite selections is the sustainable Arctic char, prepared with a Dijon emulsion, bacon and Brussels sprouts. Guests are fascinated with how similar it is to salmon. Perhaps our most famous C Bar offering are our Champagne flights, presented in an intriguing wrought iron carrier. The selection of Champagne samples with a fresh strawberry garnish has the wow factor.
Sights, Sounds and Tastes of Cannery Row
Cannery Row has stunning ocean paths, a world-famous aquarium, wine shops, boutiques, breweries, tasting rooms and restaurants. It’s ideal for family, couples and girl’s trips.
For lunch, we made reservations at the Fish Hopper, just a short walk from the hotel. The sunny day was gorgeous, and we sat outside with a smoked Manhattan, a sauvignon blanc, and their extensive menu.
“One of The Fish Hopper’s most requested dishes is the angel hair pasta with large prawns stuffed with fresh Dungeness crab and served with mushrooms, tomato, spinach in a delectable garlic butter wine sauce of garlic butter wine sauce,”said Diane Mandeville, Cannery Row VP of Marketing.“Another must try are the sand dabs, a local flat fish known as the filet of sole of Monterey.Local sand dabs are panko crusted and grilled and served with mashed potatoes, an assortment of sautéed vegetables and a light lemon butter sauce. The sand dabs are delicate and delicious.”
A Cozy California Haven
Monterey County was a spectacular place to visit this winter, providing a full range of activities and experiences alongside stunning ocean and valley views. Whether frolicking in Carmel Valley Ranch’s 500-acre playground, tasting our way through Carmel-by-the-Sea, wildlife watching from the patio at InterContinental The Clement Monterey or dining on delicious seafood along Cannery Row, we had a splendid time visiting California’s Central Coast.
And, from conversing with the locals, I know that the area stays just as delightful into spring, summer and beyond. I can’t wait for another trip.
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