Carmel is one of my favorite family getaways. If I didn’t call Northern California Wine Country home, I could easily see myself having a Carmel area code. Locals are lucky. They have mountains and the sea and everything in between. So do visitors who hang their hat at Carmel Valley Ranch.
Readers have been gushing about Carmel Valley Ranch since it got its $35 million makeover. When my family was offered the opportunity to explore the property, I jumped at the chance. Now I can’t wait to go back.
Carmel Valley Ranch is little more than 2 hours from San Francisco. It’s a pleasant drive, with plenty of things for the kids to look at as you cruise along. From stunning scenery to horses and cows to old school cherry and garlic stands.
With great family-friendly options like the Tech Museum, Winchester Mystery House and the Children’s Discovery Museum, San Jose makes for a good location to stop and stretch your legs. We were just minutes away but couldn’t resist stopping at Earthbound Farms. There’s always something going on at the Farm Stand. At 11 and 13, my girls still love the Labyrinth and everything in the store looks so fresh and colorful it makes you want to eat your veggies.
You Have Arrived
The Old Gate House serves as a charming introduction to what lies ahead. Slowly make your way past the Golf Clubhouse, Vineyard and Organic Garden. The welcoming committee of deer and wild turkeys almost never take a day off.
About a mile up the road you’ll arrive at the Lodge, but before you check in, swing from the trees on two of their iconic swings scattered throughout the 500 acres property. Once inside the Lodge Roxy the English Bulldog is sure to introduce herself. Her owner, Gabrielle, the Concierge at Carmel Valley Ranch is a good person to make friends with as well.
Invitation to Play
At the heart of every experience you’ll have here is a simple, but powerful idea: Play is essential. It’s universal. Play makes us feel alive, connects us to each other, and comes in all shapes and sizes.
Carmel Valley Ranch
Home Away from Home
The time and thought put into the remodel at Carmel Valley Ranch is apparent in its suites. My family stayed in the Hilltop version of a Ranch Suite. At 800 square feet, it had everything I could have asked for: a comfortable living room with fireplace and large sleeper sofa for the kids, and a large bathroom with a shower, oversized tub and enclosed toilet. Two walls of the master bedroom are sliding glass doors that open to a wrap around deck offering views pictures can’t replicate. The second fireplace in the master bedroom was an unexpected luxury.
There are a number of smaller touches that exude family friendliness. Doors at both ends of the hallway connecting the living room and master bedroom mean the entire family doesn’t have to go to bed at the same time. Nightlights are integrated into bathroom light switches, giving off just the right glow.
The room service menu includes an extensive children’s menu. There is a Blu-ray player in every suite and a complimentary Blu-ray and board game lending library at the Concierge’s Desk.
Guide for Guests at Play
Every evening Carmel Valley Ranch provides a “playlist” to help guests make the most of their stay. Consider yourself forewarned, plans to sleep in may very well get thrown out the window. There’s simply too many choices to list them all, but my family discovered some guaranteed to impress.
Honey will taste all the more sweeter after you learn the effort busy bees put into it. Resident beekeeper & lavender farmer (more on that later) John Russo takes pride showing off his apiary. Suit up and visit the hives home to 60-thousand Italian honeybees.
Kids as young as three have taken part in the experience. Russo earns kudos for simplifying a complex process into a kid (and parent) friendly presentation. Donning full protective bee gear and getting the opportunity to hold honey combs buzzing with life is something the kids will be bragging about to their friends. My guess is so will the parents.
Lavender Harvest & Distillation
If you are lucky enough to plan it right, you’ll meet Russo again during your time on the Ranch. Founder of Carmel Lavender, he grows more than 7-thousand lavender plants at Carmel Valley Ranch. Armed with a mobile distillery he demonstrates how oil is extracted from the plants. The oil produced at the Ranch is used to make the cosmetic products guests are treated to in their suites. The distillation process is like a giant science project with the added benefit of taking place poolside.
The morning hike is worth rolling out of bed early. Starting from the Lodge, you pass by three of the resort’s loved tree swings before arriving at the organic garden. About a mile and a half, it’s not what I would call a strenuous adventure, but you are climbing uphill at a brisk pace. A combination of paved and dirt trails anyone under the age of eight will most likely run out of steam before they make it to the top. At some point you just might share the trail with some wild turkeys, deer or both.
River Ranch Complex
Home to another of the iconic tree swings at Carmel Valley Ranch, the River Ranch Resort serves as a center of sorts for a number of popular family activities. A small playground almost hides in the shadows of a salt-water Junior Olympic Pool, an oversized hot tub, waltzing, run through and get soaked water fountains, bocce ball, basketball and tennis ball courts. Along with a 5,200 square foot fitness center, there is a well stocked café and satellite spa to help parents sneak in a little me time. Everyone in the family can feel spoiled here.
Before I forget there’s also an 18-hole championship golf course designed by Pete Dye. Ranch guests receive a complimentary half-hour lesson during their stay, so it’s a perfect time to get the kids swinging.
With 500 acres to choose from, activities at Carmel Valley Ranch are spread throughout the resort. If your family is energetic, walking is a great way to enjoy the property.
“A deer ran by me and it was almost hip and hip with me when I was walking with my Dad,” said very excited 11-year old Julia from Oak Park, California.
Parking is plentiful throughout the resort, so driving is also an option. If you’d rather drop the keys in a drawer and forget out them, a fleet of minivans shuttle guests around the resort 24 hours a day.
Children’s Activity Center
Parents hoping to get a little time to themselves will appreciate the complimentary Children’s Activity Center. Offered seven days a week during the summer and most holidays and weekends year round, it’s a fun, safe area for kids ages 5-14 to hang out at night. From 5pm to 9pm they can play games, do crafts or just relax and watch a movie. Parents are asked to leave a cell phone number and stay on the property. Bottom line, it makes an adult-only dinner possible for many parents.
Carmel Ranch has the best of both worlds when it comes to location. It’s tucked away from the hustle and bustle of daily life, yet minutes from endless options. If the world renown Monterey Bay Aquarium is on your itinerary, you’ll be happy to know it’s just a 20 minute drive. Short enough to prevent the “Are we there yet?” scenario, but a long enough trip home to encourage a nap in the backseat. Downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea and the beach is a mere 15 minutes away. The hardest part really, pulling yourself away from this 500 acre playground for all ages.
Dana and her family received a one–night complimentary stay at Carmel Valley Ranch. She was not asked to express any particular opinion about her experience.