Spring break is here, and we, like most families, like to maximize the time off school and work with a quick family bonding trip. Because we only had a long weekend, we used it as excuse to stay local and explore the west coast – there is so much to do and see within a few hours drive from our Bay Area home. For our spring break trip, we chose the explore the Central California Coast, specifically Carmel and Big Sur.
Our first question was where to stay as there is no shortage of accommodation options, from quaint B&Bs to Condé Nast dream properties. After doing some research, we decided on the Carmel Valley Ranch, and let’s just say it turned out to be the Best.Decision.Ever.
We arrived shortly after dark, received our welcome glass of champagne and checked in. There was some smores-making going by the fire pit so we let the boys have a little pre-bed sugar before a golf cart whisked us to our room (the boys loved the ride!). We all snuggled in to the big comfortable beds, and the next morning, we woke up to this view:
The view is beautiful for sure, but the kindness of the folks at the resort is what really makes it a special place to stay. The service is top notch, but casual. There is a printed activity calendar with TONS to do for all ages, making the resort a vacation in itself. If you golf you could easily spend a week here. The Busy Bee’s kids club is essentially a pay-to-play daycare staffed by sweet and bubbly babysitters. We signed the boys up for an hour on one morning while we took a Pilates class together. WHAT?! Who knew exercising together would be so fun? Overall, the resort is very, very nice, and super kid friendly. Some of our favorite amenities were the free snacks in the room, kids bath products, and the mascot dog in lobby, Roxy. It’s in the small details like these where the big fun is for us, such as the old school tree swings hanging from branches all over the property.
Walking around the property is a bit of a workout as it’s quite hilly, but the path is wide and nicely paved, so bring a stroller if you want to jog. We chose to enjoy an easy stroll and let our four year old set the pace and my husband mostly carried our toddler. Luckily he’s light!
Definitely plan to eat at the Lodge Restaurant for at least one of your meals. We thought it was good for breakfast, and exceptional for dinner. Most of the ingredients come from their own organic garden, and all the meat and seafood is local and sustainable. We also had snacks from the River Ranch Cafe by the pool one afternoon, and ordered in room service for breakfast one morning. All very good.
Here are a few tips for making the most of your stay at the Carmel Valley Ranch:
1) Splurge for the Hilltop view room. We enjoyed our coffee on the balcony in the morning and watching the sunset over the hills in the evening. We went with the King Ranch suite and had a crib and the queen-sized couch bed made up for us. There was plenty of room, but of course all four of us ended up in the king bed.
2) At the restaurant, ask to sit in the back room so you can enjoy the gorgeous view overlooking the hills and vineyard.
3) Use it as your home base for day trips. Since we had a weekend, we spent the mid-morning/afternoon exploring around the area, then returned to the resort in time to clean up for dinner.
So besides luxuriating around the resort all day, what else is there to do in the area? Here are a few great options. We did half-day excursions because of nap routines, but you could easily spend most of your day out and about.
1) Big Sur. Special thanks to our beautiful friend Amy for suggesting we hit the beaches in Big Sur. We went to Pfeiffer Beach based on the recommendation from the concierge seeing as our boys wanted to run and explore a little. The drive from the resort was about one hour down Highway One. One hour of jaw-dropping, eye-bugging, heart-soaring, and slightly vertigo-inducing views of the California coast line. This is the California you dream about, I thought, just to look down to our map/guide book and read a quote by Big Sur’s most famous resident, Henry Miller: Big Sur is the California that men dreamed of years ago, this is the Pacific that Balboa looked at from the Peak of Darien, this is the face of the earth as the Creator intended it to look. It’s pretty cool to think about all of the people – from famous authors to moms like me who have stood in the same place and been overwhelmingly humbled by the view. It’s beyond breath taking; it’s inspirational. The beach is full of small tide pools, rocks, sticks and shells for the boys to play with, although they were as mesmerized as we were by the waves crashing through the arched rocks on the shore. We picnic-lunched, but there are several restaurants all along Highway One to grab lunch. The Big Sur Bakery was the top recommendation.
2) Carmel-by-the-Sea. A quick 10 minute drive from the resort is possibly the most darling and charming small town I’ve ever seen. It’s great to just walk around and check out the shops (be sure to stop by Civilianaire for some ridiculously hip and casual Luxe Mama wear), grab a late breakfast or lunch at Katy’s Place, and walk along the beach.
3) The Monterey Bay Aquarium. Take the time to hit the Monterey Bay Aquarium on Cannery Row. The Aquarium is an easy twenty minute drive from the Carmel Valley Ranch, but if you live in the Bay Area you can make this a stop on your way home.
4) Stay at the resort! If you are lucky enough to have an extra day (or six), spend at least one of them luxuriating around the Carmel Valley Ranch property. Walk through the Pinot Noir vineyard, get a guided tour of beehives, pick some veggies from organic garden, book a spa treatment, or just sit outside and enjoy the view. Most importantly, hug your kids, kiss your spouse, and be grateful for this beautiful life.