GETTING THERE Nonstop Southwest flights from John Wayne Airport to San Jose International are your best bets. Drive time from the airport to Carmel is about 1½ hours.
LODGING Once you arrive at the sprawling 500-acre Carmel Valley Ranch ($360 and up), you’ll find any excuse not to leave. The perfect place to unwind, this country estate has a resident organic farmer, a beekeeper, and acres of budding lavender. For a more central Carmel-By-The-Sea visit, stay downtown at the Cypress Inn. The boutique hotel has been a community staple since 1929, and is steps away from restaurants, shops, and the beach. Don’t be afraid to get chummy with fellow guests; the inn has a communal feeling thanks to its hospitality, live music, and the expectation that you’ll bring along your four-legged friends (see below).
DINING For a quick lunch, a stop at Carmel Belle guarantees fresh, light meals such as the prosciutto, asparagus, and house-made mozzarella panini ($10). Visit The Tuck Box for its famous scones ($4.50) with all the fixings, including whipped cream and preserves. With a menu that changes daily, La Bicyclette attracts locals who gather to see what the day’s French flourish will be. The butternut squash pizza ($17) is beloved; the reason is obvious after the first bite. The harvest vegetable, an unexpected topping, adds a hearty sweetness to the speck ham and Gruyere pie.
ARCHITECTURE The fairytale-like cottages of this sleepy beach town are attractions in their own right. One of the first stone homes in the area, Tor House, built in 1919 by poet Robinson Jeffers, is open for docent-led tours ($10) on Fridays and Saturdays. The home boasts plentiful gardens and impressive views of the Pacific, especially from adjacent Hawk Tower.
DETOUR Take a leisurely cruise along 17-Mile Drive ($10) to enjoy some of the state’s most spectacular scenery. Running north from Carmel through Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove, the path is home to the Lone Cypress, one of the most photographed trees in the world.
At the Cypress Inn, dogs are more than just welcome—they’re encouraged. No wonder half the guests bring along their furry companions. The inn even provides a guide to all local pet-friendly restaurants, shops, parks, and groomers.