Isn’t it time you visited (or revisited) Carmel-by-the-Sea, the charming European-style village where pretty much everything is within walking distance including shops, restaurants and the Pacific Ocean? This romantic and pet-friendly city is home to over 100 art galleries and antique shops, the white sand Carmel Beach, and is currently celebrating its Centennial with events leading to a parade on Saturday, October 29 led by former mayor Clint Eastwood (yes, THAT Clint Eastwood). Unless you’ve been here lately you may not realize how much Carmel-by-the-Sea has to offer as a wine country destination for you and your friends.
Downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea actually has 15 wine tasting rooms to visit and enjoy, or there is a Carmel Wine Walk by-the-Sea Passport for $65 which entitles you to a $10 flight at nine tasting rooms. The Passport doesn’t expire so you can spread your tasting visits over days or months if you prefer. You’ll also find restaurants with locally focused wine lists, liquor stores with wonderful selections, and several worthwhile Happy Hour destinations all in town.
Complimenting the tasting rooms in Carmel-by-the-Sea are the over 20 wineries and tasting rooms of nearby Carmel Valley, just a short drive away through gently rolling hills, majestic oak groves, acclaimed golf courses and renowned hotel and spa properties. Carmel Valley wineries can be visited individually or with a Cellar Pass for $50 offering the ability to enjoy a standard flight at eight wineries (and the Passholder has up to 12 months to do that).
Keep reading and we’ll tell you about our personal favorites in Carmel-by-the-Sea and Carmel Valley for wineries, restaurants, and other treats. We’ll also point out celebrations and activities coming up this fall you may want to factor into your travel plans (including Taste of Carmel events later this week).
There’s also encouraging progress towards the resolution of the Soberanes Fire, as it is now 92% contained and full containment is expected around October 15th. If you didn’t know, this wildfire started on July 22 and has burned over 132,000 acres, tragically resulting in 1 fatality, 9 injuries, and the destruction of 57 homes and 11 outbuildings. So, supporting the nearby community is yet another great reason to visit Carmel-by-the-Sea.
Favorite Wineries: Carmel-by-the-Sea
Albatross Ridge – With a winery named after the “Albatross” sailplanes that the owner’s great-grandfather used to launch off the ridges of Carmel Valley, the wines here are crafted from grapes grown on a steep ridge overlooking the Carmel Bay. The goal here is to handle the wines as minimally as possible to preserve and display the varietals’ unique flavors. It’s definitely a family affair here with winery owner Brad Bowlus, his wife Cassia (who manages the tasting room), their son Garrett (the winemaker) and their daughter Brittney (in charge of operations). Our favorite wines here were the Estate Chardonnay, the Cuvée Vivienne Pinot Noir and the Estate Reserve Pinot Noir. (Mission Street, between Ocean and 7th Avenues)
Caraccioli Cellars – Founded in 2006, this winery takes pride in developing wines that deliver an expression true to vintage and site. Michel Salgues (formerly head winemaker at Roederer Estate) leads the production of both still and sparkling wines. The downtown tasting room offers a stylish and trendy environment to enjoy your flight of tastes, where you can also purchase a cheese and charcuterie plate. We tend to prefer the sparkling wines here and our favorite was a 2009 Brut Cuvée. (Dolores Street between Ocean and 7th Avenues, 831-622-7722)
Galante Vineyards – The Galante Family has a long history in the Monterey area and the philosophy here is to grow the finest grapes possible and let the fruit express itself in the finished product. The tasting room may be tucked away off of Dolores Street but it’s worth the effort to find it. Our preferred wines here are the Cabernet Sauvignons, particularly the Blackjack Pasture. (Dolores Street, between Ocean and 7th Avenues, 831-624-3800)
Scheid Vineyards – The labels here reflect the image of a vineyard worker, an homage to the winery’s beginnings as a grape grower and they are now in their 45th year of farming. This friendly and sometimes boisterous tasting room is located on a corner here in Carmel-by-the-Sea and was actually named the Best Tasting Room in the 2016 Best of Monterey County awards from Monterey County Weekly’s Readers Poll. There’s a broad spectrum of wines here and our favorites include the Clone 667, Clone Pom Reserve, and Santa Lucia Highlands Reserve Pinot Noirs. We also recommend the Riesling and the Claret Reserve. (San Carlos Street and 7th Avenue, Carmel, 831-656-9463)
Silvestri Vineyards – Alan Silvestri is a composer who has scored over 100 films including Forrest Gump, The Avengers and Polar Express. He and his wife Sandra are long time residents of California’s central coast and in 1997 they founded Silvestri Vineyards. The winemaking process here tries to balance the use of traditional methods to allow the expression of the terroir while also taking advantage of modern knowledge about wine fermentation and aging. Our favorite wines here were the “Ala” Pinot Gris, the Estate Chardonnay and the “Due Bambine” Chardonnay. (7th Avenue between San Carlos and Dolores, 831-625-0111)
Wrath Wines – Wrath produces site-driven Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, and Sauvignon Blanc from their estate vineyard and properties in the Santa Lucia Highlands. The production is small and distribution is limited but they do, luckily, have a tasting room in the Carmel Plaza (right next to The Cheese Shop). Our favorite wines here are the Ex Anima Sauvignon Blanc, the 115/667 Pinot Noir, and two of their single-vineyard Pinot Noirs: the McIntyre Vineyard and the San Saba Vineyard. (Carmel Plaza, Ocean Avenue and Mission Street, ground floor, 831-620-1909)
Favorite Wineries: Carmel Valley
Bernardus Winery – Owner Bernardus (Ben) Pon has a dream: to make a red wine equal to the finest from Bordeaux. The Bernardus tasting room was actually the first tasting room opened in the Carmel Valley and they were named Best Tasting Room by the Carmel Pine Cone’s most recent Readers Poll and their Chardonnay was named the 2016 Best Local White Wine in Monterey County Weekly’s Reader’s Poll. As for us, our favorite wines here include the Griva Sauvignon Blanc, Ingrid’s Vineyard Chardonnay and three Pinot Noirs: Sierra Mar Vineyard, Soberanes Vineyard and Ingrid’s Vineyard. We also highly recommend the Signature Marinus. (5 West Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley, 800-223-2533)
Boekenoogen Vineyard & Winery – This family owned and operated winery is headed by owners John and Susan Boekenoogen and their son Garrett Boekenoogen, the winemaker. John transformed his family’s fifth-generation cattle ranch into a vineyard in 1998. Their Estate Pinot Noir was named the 2016 Best Local Red Wine in Monterey County Weekly’s Readers Poll. Personally, our favorite wines here include the Santa Lucia Highlands Estate Chardonnay, the Santa Lucia Highlands Estate Pinot Noir, and the “3 Clone” Pinot Noir. We were also rather impressed by their Bell Ranch Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. (24 West Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley, 831-675-3549)
Georis Winery – Established in 1982, Georis Winery produces wines that reflect the regional terroir and microclimate, crafted through a philosophy that balances respect for classic European winemaking traditions as well as leveraging advantages brought with modern technology. Owner Walter Georis and winemaker Damien Georis may share a common name, and be from the same town in Belgium, but are not actually related. The very pleasant wine tasting experience takes place in the former Carmel Valley Art Center and our favorite wines here are the Merlot, Cabernet Franc and the Bordeaux blends. (4 Pilot Road, Carmel Valley, 831-659-1050)
Joullian Vineyards & Winery – In order to add complexity and elegance to the wines here, Joullian’s founding winemaker Ridge Watson grows multiple clones of each grape variety at different elevations, exposures and soil types, and then ensures the wines receive extended bottle aging before being released. The Tasting Room is located in a classic stone building and our favorite wines include the Estate Semillon, Monterey Chardonnay, Reserve Estate Merlot and the Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. (2 Village Drive, Carmel Valley, 831-659-8100)
Talbott Vineyards – The tasting room here also serves as a museum for founder Robb Talbott’s collection of vintage motorcycles and pedal cars, offering plenty to look at between sips of the estate wines grown in the Sleepy Hollow and Diamond T Vineyards. This is also a good place to bring your lunch as the outdoor patio has tables and seats for picnicking as well as bocce ball courts. Our favorite Chardonnays here include the Kali Hart, the Sleepy Hollow, the Sarah Case and the Diamond T. We also recommend the Sleepy Hollow Pinot Noir. (25 Pilot Road, Carmel Valley, 831-659-3500)
Favorite Restaurants and Food Purveyors: Carmel-by-the-Sea
If you aren’t able to go wine tasting, you can still explore local wines at many restaurants in the area. In fact, the Monterey County Vintners & Growers Association has partnered with the Monterey County Business Council to recognize local restaurants whose wine lists offer at least 25% of Monterey wines on their by-the-glass offerings or at least 25 different Monterey wines on their overall list. Winners of these Monterey Wine List Awards located in Carmel-by-the-Sea include Anton & Michel, Basil Seasonal Dining, Billy Quon’s Sur, Brophy’s Tavern, Casanova, Flying Fish Grill, La Bicyclette, Little Napoli, Mission Ranch, Pacific’s Edge Restaurant, Rio Grill, Terry’s at Cypress Inn and Vesuvio. In Carmel Valley, Awards were given to Edgar’s at Quail Lodge, Los Laureles Lodge, ROUX, Valley Kitchen at Carmel Valley Ranch and Will’s Fargo Restaurant.
We haven’t been to every restaurant in Carmel-by-the-Sea and Carmel Valley ourselves, but based on personal experiences we can definitely recommend:
La Balena – Delightfully charming owners Emanuele and Anna Bartoloni oversee this “Cucina Tuscana” as well as its newer sister restaurant Il Grillo. The menu here changes on a daily basis according to the local ingredients available and we recently adored their Burrata and Sea Salt Bruschetta, Heirloom Tomato Caprese Salad, Ziti with Summer Squash, and an outstanding Pollo Fritto. Don’t skimp on the desserts here either, as the Tiramisu and Spumoni Bomba are both excellent. La Balena was named the 2016 Best Carmel Restaurant in Monterey County Weekly’s Readers Poll as well as by the Carmel Pine Cone’s most recent Readers Poll. (Junipero Street between 5th and 6th Avenues, 831-250-6295)
La Bicyclette – This casual (and very popular) bistro features simple and delicious cuisine crafted from local ingredients using old world techniques. The menu changes weekly, to enable the use of the freshest and locally sourced ingredients. We consistently enjoy the salads here and the outstanding thin-crust pizzas made in their wood-fired Mugnaini oven. La Bicyclette is currently promoting their fall menu series, Les Classiques, with dishes such as Bouillabaisse, Confit de Canard, and Lamb Bourguignon. (Dolores Street at 7th Avenue, Carmel, 831-622-9899)
Carmel Valley Coffee Roasting Company – This local coffeehouse chain (now 7 locations on the Monterey Peninsula) was established in 1994 to provide superior handcrafted coffee, using the finest Arabica beans, delivered very fresh to discerning customers. CVCRC is the only Certified Organic coffee roasting company on the Monterey Peninsula and was named the 2016 Best Coffee Shop in Monterey County Weekly’s Readers Poll well as by the Carmel Pine Cone’s most recent Readers Poll. (four locations in Carmel including The Barnyard, The Crossroads and downtown on Ocean Avenue between Lincoln and Monte Verde Streets).
The Cheese Shop – Located in the Carmel Plaza since 1975, this purveyor of fine cheese, wine, and gourmet foods is usually crowded with customers and staffed with insanely helpful and friendly people. Cheeses of all kinds can be found here (as well as crackers, jellies, mustards, etc.) so come sample and then purchase cheeses such as Brillat Savarin, Cotswold, Fourme d’Ambert, Humboldt Fog, Ossau Iraty and St. Jorge as you put together a lunch, picnic, or pre-evening noshing event. (lower level of Carmel Plaza at Ocean and Junipero Avenues, Carmel, 800-828-9463)
Grasing’s – Chef Kurt Grasing’s menu is based on fresh ingredients from California’s Coast and the Central Valley ever since this establishment was opened in March 1998. Some excellent ways to start your meal would be with the House-made Onion Rings, Four-Onion Tart, or Grilled Artichoke with Crab Salad. The weekend brunch menu offers plenty of delicious choices and Grasing’s was named as a Best Steak place by the Carmel Pine Cone’s most recent Readers Poll. (6th Street and Mission Avenue, Carmel, 831-624-6562)
Il Grillo – This smaller sister restaurant to La Balena is open for lunch during the week as well as dinner so you have even more chances to experience the delicious cuisine and gracious hospitality of the owners, the Bartolinis, and their awesome pastry chef Emily Garcia (who may actually be your server here). In addition to great soups, salads and sandwiches, you can select a pasta and combine it with your choice of sauce (such as Pesto, Bolognese, or Lamb Ragu). Our favorites include the Tagliatelle Bolognese, the Chicken and Pesto Panino, and don’t even get us started on the Cookie Plate. (Mission Street between 4th and 5th Avenues, 831-238-9608)
Lafayette Bakery & Café – This delightful bakery demonstrates the French heritage of both its Master Baker and Pastry Chef through their authentic artisan breads, hand-crafted pastries, baguette sandwiches, cookies and other treats available for sale in the Barnyard Center. Lafayette was also named as best Bakery in the Carmel Pine Cone’s most recent Readers Poll. (3672 The Barnyard, Suite E22, 831-915-6286)
For a more casual dining experience, Carmel-by-the-Sea offers several Happy Hour experiences and here are some we can personally recommend:
- Hog’s Breath Inn – Between 3:30 pm and 5:30 pm (except for Saturdays), you’ll find $5 selected wines by the glass, $5 selected draft beers (including Stella Artois and Lagunitas IPA), and $6 well Gin & Vodka Martinis. Food items include $5 Sweet Potato Fries or Artichoke Dip, and $7 BLT Sliders or Ensenada Fish Tacos. (San Carlos Street between 5th and 6th Avenues, 831-625-1044)
- Il Fornaio – Between 4 pm and 6 pm (Mon-Fri), you can choose between $6 cocktails such as a Lemon Drop made with Absolut Citron, Raspberry Martini made with Stolichnaya Razberi Vodka, or a Bellini with Maschio Prosecco, and pair those with $6 appetizers including Carpaccio, Calamaretti Fritti, or Fradiavola Pizza. (Pine Inn, Ocean Avenue at Monte Verde Street, 831-622-5100)
- Terry’s Lounge at Cypress Inn – Between 4:30 pm and 6 pm (Mon-Fri), cocktails are 15% off here with Doris Day movies playing on the television (as Ms. Day is one of the Inn’s co-owners). There aren’t any food discounts during Happy Hour, but the extensive Bar Menu includes Monterey Bay Calamari, Grilled Brussel Sprouts, Nathan’s Mini Hot Dogs, Chicken & Poblano Quesadilla, Short Rib Sliders and more. (Cypress Inn, Lincoln Street at 7th Avenue, 831-620-7460)
Favorite Wine Stores: Carmel-by-the-Sea
If you’re looking for a bottle of wine to take to dinner with you, or to create your own wine-tasting event there are several stores in Carmel-by-the-Sea with excellent selections of local (and international) wines.
Our favorite is Nielsen Brothers Market, a local grocery store with a full-service wine shop open seven days a week. Nielsen’s has an eclectic and impressive selection of domestic, imported, and rare wines. Recently, their shelves included Joullian Sauvignon Blanc, Bernardus Chardonnay, and Boekenoogen Pinot Noir as well as Veuve Clicquot Brut, Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon and Tofanelli Zinfandel. The market here was named the 2016 Best Wine Market in Monterey County Weekly’s Readers Poll and by the Carmel Pine Cone’s most recent Readers Poll. If you aren’t sure what to buy, you can always ask their knowledgeable and helpful staff. (San Carlos Street at 7th Avenue, Carmel, 831-624-6441)
We were also impressed by the wine selections at Lopez Liquors & Fine Wines (San Carlos Street between Ocean and 7th Avenues, 831-624-5617) and Surf N Sand Liquors (Junipero Street and 6th Avenue, 831-624-1805). For something different, we suggest visiting Southern Latitudes Wines, specializing in wine from the Southern Hemisphere: Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina and South Africa. (235 Crossroads Boulevard, Carmel, 831-622-7652)
Upcoming Events in Carmel-by-the-Sea
If you need some more encouragement to start planning a trip, here are some events coming to Carmel-by-the-Sea over the next few months that may speak to you:
Taste of Carmel (October 6-9, 2016) – This collection of activities celebrates the bohemian culture which was first found in and around Carmel-by-the-Sea in the early 1900’s. Physical exertion levels range from sitting in a luxury motor coach while you take in a Movie Tour of the Monterey Peninsula, to guided walking Food Tours in Carmel to a bike ride excursion along Monterey Peninsula’s 17 Mile Drive (which concludes with a flight of wine at De Tierra Vineyards).
Kicking off the Taste of Carmel collection is the Bohemian Ball, a 3-hour event on Thursday, October 6 in the historic Carmel Mission Courtyard where guests can sample local wines and cuisine, bid on silent auction items and then dance to live entertainment from The Money Band. If you move quickly, tickets are still available (at the door) so you can enjoy small bites from Anton & Michel, Basil Seasoning Dining, Grasing’s, The Grill on Ocean Avenue, Porta Bella, ROUX (and more) paired with wine from Dawn’s Dream Winery, Holman Ranch Vineyards, Jarman Wine, Joullian Vineyards & Winery, Scheid Vineyards, Silvestri Vineyards and Wrath Wines (and more).
Carmel Centennial Celebration and Parade (parade is October 29, 2016) – The Centennial recognizes the incorporation of Carmel-by-the-Sea on October 31, 1916, with city-wide celebrations culminating in a spectacular parade and lunch on Saturday, October 29. Although the lunch is sold out, the parade is free to the public and will begin at 11 am (with a special pre-show starting 20 minutes earlier). The procession will travel downtown on Ocean Avenue and San Carlos Street, contain 6 locally sponsored parade floats, and have actor and director (and former Mayor) Clint Eastwood as its Grand Marshall. Other October events include photo exhibits of Historic Carmel and The Mayors of Carmel at the Sunset Center (Oct 5 through Oct 31) and Carmel’s Modernism at the Cherry Center (October 7 through 31).
Carmel International Film Festival (CIFF) (October 19-23, 2016) – The festival includes films, celebrations, a lecture series and more as it showcases the best in independent cinema. The CIFF parties include the Filmmakers Reception, VIP Cocktail Parties and a Filmmakers’ Beach Dinner. The 2016 line-up of films includes:
- Dusty & Me – A heartwarming film set in 1977 Yorkshire about an adolescent boy’s big summer after leaving school.
- Occupy,Texas – A disillusioned Occupier returns home to upper-middle class Texas after the death of his parents to find himself in charge of his two teenage sisters and their estate.
- The Other Kids – A raw, intimate look into the struggle of small-town teens on the verge of high school graduation.
- Remember Me – A family crisis forces two self-involved cousins to grow up as they attempt to handle their seemingly frail grandmother after her husband suddenly dies.
- Winning – A documentary about the journeys of some of the most iconic figures in sports such as Nadia Comaneci, Martina Navratilova, and Jack Nicklaus.
Sandcastle Contest (October 23, 2016) – The City of Carmel-by-the-Sea and the Monterey Bay Chapter of the American Institute of Architects collaborate once again on the Great Sandcastle Contest. 2016 marks the 56th annual contest, with sandcastle building starting at 8:00 am and judging taking place between noon and 2 pm. Everyone who wants to build a castle and enter the contest can, but be forewarned that (non-monetary) bribery is encouraged so your competitors may come armed with wines, cheeses, and other enticements aimed at the people in charge.
Carmel Plaza Pre-Holiday Prep Party (November 12, 2016) – Carmel Plaza has over 40 specialty stores and restaurants set around an award-winning garden patio including Anthropologie, Beachwood Home, The Cheese Shop, Kate Spade, Khaki’s of Carmel, Madrigal, Pejmani of Belgium, Sur La Table and Yves Delorme. Between noon and 4 pm on November 12 you’ll find a party or celebration in every store including fashion shows, pop-up markets and cooking demonstrations.
Carmel-by-the-Glass (December 9, 2016) – Hosted by restaurateur Rich Pèpe and winemaker Jack Galante, this fun-filled celebration at the historic La Playa Hotel helps raise funds and awareness for the restoration of the Carmel Mission Basilica. Mingle with locals and visitors while you enjoy regional wines, light bites and music all set to a Christmas Holiday theme. Tickets are limited to 300 guests.
Sunset Center (various dates) – This premier performing arts facility in Carmel-by-the-Sea offers live performances throughout the fall including An Evening With Jacques and Claudine Pepin (October 8), Twyla Tharp Dance Company (October 14), Richard Thompson/Blind Boys of Alabama (October 28), Boz Scaggs (November 4), The Havana Cuba All-Stars (November 17), Vienna Boys Choir (November 28) and Smuin Ballet’s The Christmas Ballet (December 2-3).
Whether you’re looking for wine, food, fun activities or delightful scenery, Carmel-by-the-Sea is a very appealing destination. It has both urban and rural wine tasting rooms, outstanding restaurants with award-winning wine lists, and worthwhile shops for wine and/or other food products. For more information, the Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center on San Carlos between 5th & 6th is a friendly and valuable source of information (and maps) and is open from 10 am to 5 pm. They also have a Guide to Carmel you can order by going here or you can view the online version here.