Wellness Weekender Guide: Monterey And Carmel, California

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While Big Little Lies undoubtedly put Monterey on the map, there’s so much more to see in what is arguably one of California’s most beautiful destinations for wellness. Turquoise waters meet the soaring cliffs of Big Sur, while inland, bountiful Carmel Valley offers wineries and quiet trails for hiking and horseback riding. Even the urban hub of Monterey still feels like an outdoor escape, with sea lions and seals relaxing on the harbour and the oceanfront bike path teeming with flowers. The picturesque village of Carmel-By-The-Sea, with its cobblestone streets and quaint shops, invites you to partake in its slower, small-town pace.

With accommodations ranging from sprawling wellness resorts to charming bed and breakfasts, the region has a hotel for every type of traveller. An easy drive, train or flight from San Francisco and L.A., the Monterey region makes for an easy weekend wellness getaway that is sure to leave you refreshed and recharged.


TO STAY

Carmel Valley Ranch, Carmel Valley

With horse coaching therapy and one-of-a-kind spa treatments like sleep hypnosis, Carmel Valley Ranch is certainly not your average wellness destination. Set in the foothills of the Santa Lucia Mountains of the Central Coast, the 500-acre ranch is teeming with activities to help you unwind—from wine tasting the onsite pinot noir vineyard to taking a dip in the infinity pool to stretching it out in an outdoor yoga class. Better yet, spacious, apartment-style suites feature black-out curtains, fireplaces and private decks for stargazing. A meal at Valley Kitchen is a must to taste the fresh ingredients sourced from the onsite organic garden complimented with wines from the Ranch’s vineyard.

Portola Hotel & Spa, Monterey

If you want to be in the heart of it all without sacrificing a quiet, relaxing place to rest up at the end of the day, this hotel is for you. Set on the harbor of Monterey Bay, 379 newly renovated rooms are light and airy, exuding the laidback, beach atmosphere of the hotel’s setting. Those wanting to get outside will appreciate that the hotel is steps away from 17-mile drive and the Bay’s popular recreational trail, and an easy drive from Big Sur and Pebble Beach Golf Course. Tired legs will find relief with one of the 40 unique spa treatments on offer at the Spa on the Plaza, the largest day spa in Monterey County while onsite restaurant Jacks Monterey satisfies your appetite with hearty meals in a swanky, open bar setting.

Post Ranch Inn, Big Sur

Even if you choose not to stay here, a visit is a must to dine at onsite restaurant Sierra Mar. Set atop the cliffs with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the ocean, the Wine Spectator Grand-Award winning restaurant easily offers one of the best dining settings in the area. And the food is no less impressive, with a vegetable-forward fine dining menu showcasing the produce of the region. The surrounding nature also serves as the architectural inspiration for the hotel’s 40 rooms and private homes, many of which are treehouses with panoramic ocean and mountain views. In-room massages, yoga classes and two intimate pools—one of which is an infinity pool facing the ocean—make this resort a wellness seeker’s dream.

Lamp Lighter Inn, Carmel-By-The-Sea

If you’re looking for a quaint, quiet bed and breakfast, this boutique hotel is for you. Located in the charming village of Carmel-By-The-Sea, the hotel honours its proximity to the beach (it’s just two blocks away) with a nautical theme throughout its two cottages, four guest rooms and ‘Sunset House’ suites. Tucked away into an ancient grove of trees, the quiet hotel has been delivering a good night’s rest since 1912. Hand-built birdhouses, fire pits and secluded gazebos—not to mention their resident cat—make the intimate outdoor lounge areas a cozy place to unwind at the end of the day and to enjoy the complimentary breakfast in the mornings.


TO EAT

Carmel Belle, Carmel-By-The-Sea

Tucked away in the Doud Craft Studios mall off Carmel-By-The-Sea’s main drag, this warm casual eatery is a popular local favorite for breakfast, lunch and drinks of all varieties—from lattes to juices to smoothies. Grass-fed, hormone-free meats and organic produce sourced from local farmers’ markets result in fresh California cuisine that’s a cut above the rest. Breakfast dishes range from your basic avocado toast to an elevated take on ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ that features prosciutto and an arugula-herb puree. For lunch, take your pick from an extensive salad menu or try one of their unique sandwiches, like the ‘Plant-Based VLT’ which swaps the bacon for smoky tempeh.

Rise + Roam, Carmel-By-The-Sea

Set in the quiet San Carlos Square, this laidback restaurant inspired by the street vendors in Rome is another Carmel-By-The-Sea local hotspot. With produce and proteins sourced from Monterey and Santa Cruz farms and ranches, the menu changes with the season to deliver the freshest ingredients. It’s certainly not your average brunch here with dishes like the ‘Potato Pancake’ topped with smoked trout, crème fraiche and pear. Lunch ranges from elevated classics like the ‘Tuna Melt’ made with bruleed raclette and roasted tomatoes to globally-inspired fare like ceviche.

Lucia Restaurant & Bar, Carmel Valley

Nestled in the heart of Carmel Valley, this fine dining restaurant celebrates the bounty of the region with ingredients sourced from local farms. With honey and wine produced onsite, not to mention their extensive organic herb and vegetable garden, they sure take farm-to-table seriously. Equally as inventive as the food are the drinks, with a craft cocktail menu highlighting over 20 signature collections from small-batch producers. Set on 28 acres of lavender, olive orchards and vineyards, you’ll probably want to stay the night to experience the tranquil oasis that is Bernardus Lodge & Spa, the resort in which Lucia Restaurant is set.

Pacific Bowls & Rolls, Monterey

While it’s not hard to find poke these days, this fast casual restaurant tucked away on Alvarado Street is not your average takeout joint. What it lacks in atmosphere it makes up for in flavor, with colorful toppings and sustainably-sourced fish. Customizable, build-your-own bowls and ‘Sushiritos’ (a sushi burrito) ensure you make yours just as you like it, or take your pick of inventive sushi rolls like the ‘Alvarado Roll’ made of spicy tuna and avocado, and topped with salmon and sriracha sauce. Wash it all down with a green smoothie from juicery Perfectly Pressed Monterey next door.

Julia’s Vegetarian, Monterey

When it comes to vegan and vegetarian, no restaurant even comes close to reaching Julia’s reputation as the best restaurant of its kind on the Monterey Peninsula. For over 10 years, locals and visitors alike have flocked here for their eclectic menu of hearty, plant-based fare—think, cauliflower wings, faux orange chicken and pizza made with seitan bacon. While you’ll find the restaurant at the end of a strip mall, a step inside transports you to a vegetarian paradise, with its cozy atmosphere and fairy-tale-like bathrooms. A meal here is not only good for the environment, it also gives back to essential workers—since the pandemic, Julia’s has partnered with High Road Kitchens to donate free meals to essential service providers.

Wild Fish, Monterey

Sustainability is arguably Monterey’s greatest priority and few restaurants embody the ethos better than Wild Fish. They work closely with local fish purveyors to source sustainably from the region, not letting anything go to waste. They then celebrate their catch by making the fish the star of the dish: demonstrating the finest technique and building flavor profiles around the seafood. The restaurant is run by husband-wife duo, Kelvin and Liz Jacobs—he’s an award-winning chef and she’s a food writer, and their expertise is obvious in the thoughtfully curated menu.

Alta Bakery and Café, Monterey

Located in the historic Cooper Molera Adobe, with its airy interiors and expansive backyard patio, this bakery offers one of the most delightful café settings in the region. The chef and owner, Ben Spungin hails from aforementioned Post Ranch Inn and Bernardus Lodge, so you know they’re doing something right here. Breakfast and lunch may look like your typical avocado toast, frittata and buddha bowl, but everything is so fresh, the food is far from average. With an extensive coffee and tea menu and an array of delectable sweet treats, it’s no wonder this is a popular local hangout.


TO DO

Explore Carmel By-The-Sea

This charming, European-style village is so wellness-oriented, they even have a Mindful-by-the-Sea guide to help you discover mindfulness during your visit. When you’re not down at the sprawling Carmel Beach taking in the meditative waves, wander the many hidden cobblestone pathways and alleyways to find your place of Zen. Another quiet treasure is the Carmel Mission located on the edge of town—the second mission built in the state is home to peaceful gardens, perfect for meditating. Back in town, satisfy your cravings with sweet treats at Dutch Door Donuts, Carmel Bakery or Cottage of Sweets, the oldest bakery in town dating back to 1899, or a tasting at one of 16 wine tasting rooms.

Bike 17-Mile Drive

From the famous Lone Cypress to the world-class Pebble Beach Golf Course—17-Mile Drive is an awe-inspiring tour of the region’s greatest hits. Pristine beaches sprinkled with seals, mystical forests and coastal cliffs, makes this one of the most scenic drives in the world. And while driving is the easiest way to see it all, those looking to connect with nature will want to opt for an e-bike tour with Big Sur Adventures. Take in the refreshing ocean breeze as you zip along the coast, making stops along the way to learn the history behind famous sites like the John Denver Memorial and Lover’s Point.

Explore Point Lobos State National Reserve

As one of the most stunning natural wonders in the state, it’s no surprise this reserve is referred to as “the crown jewel of the state park system.” Whether you’re diving the turquoise waters, hiking through the forest or savoring a picnic overlooking the ocean, the reserve is teeming with opportunities to connect with nature. Wildlife lovers will want to visit in the winter to spot migrating gray whales from the shore.

Go Forest Bathing in Big Sur

Arguably the most iconic destination in the Central Coast, Big Sur is a true feast for the senses. While driving is one of the easiest ways to take in Big Sur’s majestic cliffs and vast ocean views, those seeking a more grounding experience will want to explore by foot. Better yet, a foraging hike with Big Sur Guides enables a deeper connection to the forest by drawing your attention to the soaring, old growth redwoods and the many plants that surround them. Their knowledge guides identify edible and medicinal plants for you to taste, like redwood sorrel and bay laurel. The forest bathing experience is topped off with an easy descent down the rugged coastline to the peaceful shoreline of the Pacific Ocean where, if you’re mindful and lucky enough, you might spot a whale in the distance.

Engage in Wine Wellness

If your idea of wellness is connecting to nature by tasting the grapes from the soil beneath you, then a wine tour through Carmel Valley is a must. With more than 20 wineries, tasting rooms and wine bars sprinkled along the valley floor, there are no shortage of wines to discover. Better yet, most of the valley’s tasting rooms—like Bernardus Winery and Joullian Vineyards—are within walking distance from each other, so you can easily explore by foot. For tastings with a side of knowledge, an accompanying guide from Ag Venture Tours can provide rich insight into the history and techniques of the wines you’re tasting.

Taste the “Salad Bowl of the World”

You don’t have to be a vegetarian to appreciate the fruits and vegetables found here. Producing approximately 70 percent of the country’s lettuce, Salinas Valley is teeming with fresh produce. A tour with Ag Venture Tours gets you a behind-the-scenes look at how the near 40 different crops are produced—from field harvesting to irrigation to planting. A highlight of the educational journey is a visit to Pezzini Farms, an artichoke farm that dates back to 1929, where you’ll even learn how to cook this storied vegetable.

Kayak Monterey Bay

While the sea lions and seals that occupy the Monterey harbor are visible from land, a view from the water takes the experience to the next level. A tour with Adventures-By-The-Sea—an operator that has been guiding visitors and locals alike for over 33 years—ensures you get up close and personal to the wildlife without disrupting their natural habitat. While they offer bike tours too, kayaking makes for a more relaxing experience as you paddle along the calm water, witnessing sea otters rolling and playing in the kelp forest canopy and sea lions basking on the rocks.

Visit Monterey Bay Aquarium

This world-class aquarium has arguably been Monterey’s most popular attraction since opening in 1984. While not necessarily the most wellness-oriented destination in town, it’s worth visiting to explore the nearly 200 awe-inspiring exhibits. Housing more than 35,000 creatures spanning over 550 species, the Aquarium is a leader in ocean conservation, one that has inspired Monterey County to become the third certified “Green Destination” in the United States. After visiting the aquarium, nearby Cannery Row and Old Fisherman’s Wharf, which dates back to 1845, offer award-winning dining and shopping.