Carmel Valley Travel Diary (+ Surrounding Exploration)

May 17, 2017

Travel recap of a 36-hour adventure to beautiful Carmel Valley with stops along the way.

MM and I were looking for a mini getaway to celebrate a whole host of things: my birthday (May 1), his birthday (May 7) and our 6-month wedding anniversary (May 5). Initially, we were planning to go to Tahoe to sneak in some Spring skiing before the slopes close, but opted for an easier and more relaxing visit to Carmel Valley, just 2 hours south of San Francisco. One of the main reasons I leaned towards Carmel? Drive another 30ish minutes further south and you hit Bixby Bridge on the way to beautiful Big Sur (anyone else a Big Little Lies fan?).

We booked our trip super last minute, snagging our hotel room just two days before the trip. I referred to Andi’s recent Carmel recap to guide our plan. Like Andi, we stayed at Blue Sky Lodge, which isn’t the nicest hotel in the world, but it gets the job done. It’s dog-friendly. quiet, quaint, and right downtown so you can walk to the tasting rooms and restaurants. Our room was $200 for the night which was one of the least expensive rates in the area, especially when booking only two days in advance.

Our trip was just one night, but we got to experience a lot of the Valley and surrounding areas. We’d previously visited Carmel-by-the-Sea, which at the time seemed like a quaint town. Compared to Carmel Valley though, you could call Carmel-by-the-Sea a bustling city. Carmel-by-the-Sea is on the water and Carmel Valley is a one-street little town about 20 minutes inland. While you could spend a full weekend in cute Carmel Valley, keep in mind how small it is. We spent an afternoon there and felt pretty content with what we covered. To explore more widely, we spent time across Monterey, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Carmel Valley and Big Sur.

Here’s a rundown of what we ate, drank and saw in & around Carmel Valley.


LouLou’s Griddle in the Middle: We stopped at this hole-in-the-wall style joint in Monterey on our way to Carmel. It’s super small but very popular. We sat outside with Ollie and feasted on fresh fish and chips.

Cafe Rustica: Even though Carmel Valley is a teeny tiny town, there are so many great restaurants, it was hard to pick! Cafe Rustica was rated one of the top restaurants in the area and it didn’t disappoint. The heated patio made for a nice night.

Carmel Belle: We needed a quick grab-and-go breakfast since we didn’t want to waste any time as we headed south for Bixby Bridge, plus we had Ollie in tow. We stopped at Carmel Belle because it’s dog-friendly, quick and delicious.


Carmel Valley is a street full of one tasting room after another. It’s extremely low key, and if you’re used to the scene of Napa, this will be a breath of fresh air. Not to mention, tastings are as low as $10, way cheaper than you’ll find in Napa or Sonoma. We did tastings at Parsonage, Boekenoogan and Testarossa. If you’re looking to wander through a small town tasting great wine (and who isn’t looking for that?), this a great place to do it.

Carmel Valley

Ollie checking the barrels at Testarossa. All good here!

If you visit Parsonage, say hi to Nemo the vino dog for us!


17-Mile Drive: This had been on our list from the last time we were in town and somehow we didn’t get to it. This time, it was a priority. A lot of reviews online say the drive is underwhelming and not worth the $10 entrance fee. I can’t fully disagree because it’s kind of silly you have to pay to drive on a street, but I’m still happy we did it, and would recommend it if you’re in the area. It’s a beautiful drive around Pebble Beach with dreamy ocean views and a look at the Lone Cyprus Tree.

Bixby Bridge: Yes, one of the reasons I wanted to head south was to drive over this iconic bridge. It’s just so beautiful!  I was obsessed with it before Big Little Lies, but that just increased my desire to get down there. I wasn’t the only one with the idea, there were a lot of people taking pictures of the scene. Even with a crowd, you’re still able to get great shots. Our weather was a bit gloomy, but that didn’t matter, it’s still such a sight.

Big Sur: After snapping 100 photos of the bridge, we continued south. Parts of Big Sur are currently closed so we went as far as we could, then turned around. I love windy cliffside views and this drive is full of them. It was honestly hard not to stop every few feet to get a new view of the waves. We passed a bunch of cabins and campgrounds and I’d love to head back down there for a weekend in the woods.

Carmel Valley


This part of California may be one of the most beautiful, and I feel lucky to have it a quick drive away. California friends or those making a west coast visit, make sure to add Carmel to your to-do list.

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