California’s central coast is dotted with beautiful towns.
One of the most iconic, located on the Monterey Peninsula, is Carmel-by-the-Sea (commonly referred to simply as Carmel). But adjacent to the picturesque coastal paradise is an oft-forgotten town that feels almost a world away: Carmel Valley.
Carmel Valley is the hotter and drier inland sibling to Carmel. It’s an ideal location to explore the region’s vineyards, orchards and rolling hills. And in the heart of Carmel Valley is the aptly named Carmel Valley Ranch.
Spanning over 500 acres, Carmel Valley Ranch feels like a town within a town. The sprawling complex has a golf course, hiking trails, an on-site farm and creamery and even its own vineyard.
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With outdoor activities aplenty, you could spend days at this Unbound Collection by Hyatt resort — and not have to leave. So in early June, while on a trip to San Francisco where I reviewed the St. Regis San Francisco, I made a slight detour from the city to experience a slice of this bucolic paradise.
While I was impressed with the gorgeous grounds, access to nature and fresh, farm-to-table food, the Carmel Valley Ranch didn’t quite hit the mark in the overall ambiance category. The reason? The resort feels more like an upscale country club than an exclusive hotel.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. And don’t get me wrong: It was still an enjoyable solo getaway. But it’s clear from my two-night stay who this resort is truly catered toward — families and the community at large.
Here’s the good (and not so good) of my stay at the Carmel Valley Ranch.
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The Carmel Valley Ranch is part of Hyatt’s Unbound Collection, which Hyatt calls a “portfolio of independent luxury properties.” During peak season, cash rates at the property can start well over $1,000 for a base Vineyard Studio.
As a Hyatt Category 6 property, it’ll cost you 25,000 World of Hyatt points per night.
If you can find award availability as I did, that’s a terrific use of Hyatt points. I got over 4 cents per point in value from redeeming points instead of paying in cash, more than double what TPG values a single World of Hyatt point to be worth (1.7 cents).
Besides earning points through the World of Hyatt Credit Card, remember that you can transfer points instantly to Hyatt at a 1:1 ratio from eligible Chase Ultimate Rewards cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve.
As a side note, other popular Hyatt properties near the Carmel Valley Ranch include the two high-end Category 7 coastal properties — the Alila Ventana Big Sur and Hyatt Carmel Highlands.
The town of Carmel Valley is just a short 20-minute-or-so drive from the coastal enclave of Carmel-by-the-Sea.
However, in Carmel Valley, it’s warmer and less foggy, which means it’s the ideal climate for growing, well, just about anything. That really shines through when you pass the gates into Carmel Valley Ranch.
If you’re arriving by air, the closest airport is Monterey Regional Airport (MRY), about a 20-minute drive from the resort.
Many guests drive from the San Francisco Bay area, as I did. San Francisco International (SFO) is about a two-hour drive with Silicon Valley an hour or so away. If you want to break up the drive, the town of Gilroy, otherwise known as the “Garlic Capital of the World,” is a fun pit stop from San Francisco.
Carmel Valley Ranch is a massive property, and as a result, check-in isn’t the most straightforward affair.
The property has a gated entrance when you first arrive. Proceed about a mile up the road (and yes, it’s almost all uphill) to the lodge, the central location for the resort that includes check-in, the activities desk, the main restaurant, pool and spa.
There isn’t a clear sign on the road for check-in, so I actually completely missed the lodge and had to circle my car around. (Hint: Once you pass the pedestrian bridge above, the lodge is located immediately to the right.)
After parking my car in the lot, I proceeded inside to check in with my suitcase in tow. You’ll notice the cozy fireplace and seating area.
What’s a bit strange is that the lodge doesn’t feel like your traditional hotel lobby. There are no lines and while guests were meandering around, it wasn’t clear who was checking in or checking out.
All the desks to assist guests were occupied when I arrived.
Finally, after about 10 minutes, a desk became available. The associate was friendly and confirmed an upgrade from a Vineyard Studio to a Ranch Suite, thanks to my World of Hyatt Globalist status. However, it was only after I checked out that I realized I likely would have been happier with my base room. (More on that later.)
I was also handed a folder with no fewer than 10 sheets of paper which included maps, activities guides, in-room dining menus, COVID-19 protocols, a parking pass and more.
The associate informed me that I should drive to a parking lot that was closer to my suite, so I headed out of the lodge and back to the car with my luggage.
All rooms at Carmel Valley Ranch are well-appointed and have outdoor terraces or balconies.
Even the base Vineyard Studio measures a spacious 700 square feet and includes an outdoor soaking tub. Families will also appreciate the suites that range anywhere from one to four bedrooms.
Views can vary greatly from room to room. I was located in a “Forest View” suite which, unfortunately, did not have a very private or particularly pretty view. From my balcony, I could see the parking lot.
It was only after my stay that I realized that my upgraded Ranch Suite was entirely unnecessary. Not only does the base Vineyard Studio have a better view of the vineyards and rolling hills, but it also has a soaking tub on the balcony.
The Ranch Suite lacked both of these things and was only 100 square feet larger than the studio (and it’s not like I needed extra space as a solo guest). Thankfully, I didn’t pay anything extra for the Ranch Suite.
While you can drive to each section of guest rooms to limit the amount of movement required, there are paved, accessible paths that connect all rooms to the main lodge.
However, the resort area is very hilly so keep this in mind if you are traveling in a wheelchair or have limited mobility.
My Ranch Suite was spacious and well equipped, although I wouldn’t quite call it luxurious.
The living room included plenty of seating and a large dining and work area with vaulted ceilings. There were three skylights throughout the suite, which added plenty of natural light during the day. However, at night, I found both the living room and bedroom a bit dark even with all the lighting turned on.
The fridge was fully stocked with water and the coffee and tea were notably high-end.
In the bedroom, the rustic, midcentury modern theme continued. Across from the bed was a fireplace, which turned on and off with the flip of a switch.
I found the bed to be comfortable for sleep but the pillows to be a bit flat.
The Carmel Valley Ranch grows its own lavender on the property, and this is showcased in the in-room toiletries, including the pillow mist.
The bathroom had a soaking tub and separate shower (with incredible water pressure). The lavender-scented shampoo, soap and lotion are made in-house. Bathrobes were waiting in the closet.
Outside, there’s seating for two but no fireplace or soaking tub seen in other room types.
Even the most demanding travelers can’t say that the Carmel Valley Ranch is slacking in the amenities department.
The sprawling property has dozens of activities on offer at any given time: Guests can choose from goat cheese and whiskey tastings, three pools, garden tours, meet and greets with the property’s chickens and goats, beekeeping tours, archery, falconry, ax-throwing, hiking, golfing, tennis, a Peloton at the gym, spa treatments and more.
Many of these activities come with an extra fee, but each day, there are several complimentary ones.
I was particularly interested in seeing how the property stood up to Miraval, a wellness-based resort that has a similar activities-based premise. Spoiler alert: It didn’t quite compare to Miraval, but it also didn’t come with its nightly rate that’s about double the cost.
Unlike Miraval, Carmel Valley Ranch allows children on the property — and thus, many activities cater to families.
In fact, herein lies my main criticism of the resort. It was only after checking in and exploring the property that I came to the realization that Carmel Valley Ranch isn’t just a stand-alone resort — it’s actually an entire golf club and community center for the town.
On the one hand, this allows the resort to have expanded facilities and activities and earn additional revenue during the shoulder season. However, on the other hand, the resort loses some of its exclusivity.
For instance, I found it a bit strange to be joined in the hot tub by a group of teens whose families were clearly members — and were regular after-school guests. On the bright side, my weekday stay meant fewer family crowds than normal.
The resort has three pools on the property, two of which are adults-only.
The main adults-only pool is at the lodge, while two other pools are located at the River Ranch annex. River Ranch is an activities center about a mile away that houses the gym, tennis courts, workout studios and more.
At the lodge, an expansive hot tub is located beside the spa, with views of the winery and golf club amid the trees. This was my go-to spot for a post-hike soak.
River Ranch is accessed by shuttle bus, or you can walk the mile or so from the lodge. The facility is used by both hotel guests and community members who pay a monthly fee.
At River Ranch, you have to check in with reception again to be permitted entry.
Many of the resort’s activities take place here, so keep this in mind if you are scheduled for a class — you’ll need to allow a significant amount of time to get there.
But the best part of Carmel Valley Ranch is the grounds. The paths are directly connected to county and state trails, so it’s a hikers paradise. Trails are well marked.
You can visit the corral and equestrian center to get up close with animals. I had a therapeutic morning feeding horses and goats.
I also easily spent a couple of hours wandering the vineyard and lavender and herb farms that meander throughout the property. The paths connect with one another and are all accessible to those with limited mobility.
On such a large property, it’s not particularly hard to find yourself secluded from other guests.
Back inside the lodge, there is a small business center and library next to the lobby and Valley Kitchen restaurant.
S’more kits are available every evening and were popular with both kids and adults alike.
There are plenty of outdoor fire pits with seating throughout the grounds.
Food and beverage
As you might expect from a property that brands itself as a pastoral wonderland, the food is as fresh as can be. The main restaurant, Valley Kitchen, serves new American cuisine with plenty of indoor and outdoor seating.
The menu clearly notated locally sourced items, including any produce or herbs that were grown on the property. Food and drink were definitely a highlight, with garden-fresh ingredients and an array of healthy options.
For a more casual affair, grab-and-go items and coffee and tea were available at the market next to check-in. This was also the location for any cheese and ice cream tastings.
Over at River Ranch, the cafe served more fast-casual options, including delicious fish tacos.
Throughout all the dining venues, I loved the ability to sit outdoors. There were just as many outdoor dining tables as there were indoor.
Service at the Carmel Valley Ranch was solid but not as personalized as it should be for a resort that charges $1,000 per night. While there were no service failures, nothing stood out to me either.
Unlike my stay a few days earlier at the St. Regis San Francisco, service didn’t elevate my overall impression of the hotel. Thankfully, it didn’t detract from it either.
There’s no doubt about it: Carmel Valley Ranch is an impressive property. From activities galore to its own farm and vineyard, the resort almost feels like it is part of a self-sustaining community.
During my stay, I wandered the manicured grounds, hiked the various trails, played with animals at the ranch and ate well at the on-site restaurant. But I couldn’t help but notice how the overall ambiance just felt slightly off.
And after a while, I figured out why. Carmel Valley Ranch has one dilemma: It’s trying to be everything to everyone.
On the property, there are year-round residents living in condos and homes that you can buy or rent. There are Carmel Valley families that visit the recreation center and pool club on a membership basis. And, of course, there are Hyatt guests from all over the world staying at a high-end resort.
So while I enjoyed my stay, it took me a full two nights to really figure out the vibe of Carmel Valley Ranch. And by then, it was time to check out. The good news is that because the property is so large, it’s still possible for couples and solo travelers to find a respite and enjoy themselves on the property.
But at the end of the day, Carmel Valley Ranch is ideal for one demographic in particular: families.
Featured photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy.
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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.
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