The Carmel Valley Ranch: a Family Friendly Resort Near Big Sur and Monterey

During our week in Northern California, we stayed at the Carmel Valley Ranch and had a wonderful experience. The staff was friendly and helpful, making my time alone with two little girls a breeze.

Carmel Valley Ranch ViewOur room, a king suite overlooking the valley, was huge and gorgeous. We all loved the gas fireplace with the timer buttons. Another highlight was the golf cart rides to and from the lodge, spotting wild turkeys and deer everywhere. The drivers were outgoing and friendly, telling my girls stories about the wildlife all around us. The nightly s’mores at the lodge were also a big hit with the kids (and me). Even after 6 nights, we never tired of them.

Smores at the Carmel Valley Ranch

The only negative about the Carmel Valley Ranch is that the kid-friendly pool is located all the way down the mountain by the entrance. It’s much too far to walk, and having to get into the car to go to the pool took away from the resort experience. There should be another pool higher, closer to where the rooms are located.

My girls couldn't get enough of riding the golf carts around the resort.
My girls couldn’t get enough of riding the golf carts around the resort.

The restaurant food was very good, all locally sourced. We had many wonderful meals there.

The Carmel Valley Ranch was a great location to explore the area. Here are a few of the adventures we had all within a close drive:

Monterey

Monterey Bay Aquarium

We saved the Monterey Bay Aquarium for a foggy, cold day and had a fantastic time.  The aquarium gets pretty crowded and the lines can be long: buying tickets online can be a huge timesaver.

It’s such a kid friendly place, filled with exhibits to touch and feel marine life. The girls were brave enough to pet sting rays. We thought the otters were the most adorable sea creature we’d ever seen. And we chilled out under a giant wave that never soaked us for a while.

Monterey is pretty touristy, but after a few days of quiet hiking in Northern California state parks, it’s a fun change. There are tons of chain restaurants to choose from for lunch, or you can opt for a local seafood restaurant to enjoy sourdough bread dipped in thick clam chowder.

Los Lobos State Park

Three girls in California

This state park is just 10 minutes from the Carmel Valley Ranch and it’s an incredible way to take in the rugged California coast. There are easy to walk trails that hug the coastline, and if you’re adventurous, you can climb down to the beach to get fairly close to the barking sea lions.

While we were there, grey whales were spotted just off the coast. It was a magical outing and I wish we’d gone back for another day.

Carmel by the Sea

We headed to Carmel by the Sea one late afternoon hoping to find dinner and a fun walk to the beach, but it was really the least kid-friendly activity of our week. The town is adorable, like being transported to the South of France but it’s filled with fancy galleries and tiny restaurants. After a quick stop at the toy store, we left and headed to Pebble Beach for dinner and sunset.

Pebble Beach and 17 Mile Drive

Pebble BeachYou pay $10 to enter what is probably the most famous stretch of road in America but you can get the price of entry credited towards your meal at any of the Pebble Beach restaurants. With a phone reservation made at Links at the Hotel on Spanish Harbor, the entry fee was waved.

Links is a casual burgers and bites type of restaurant affiliated with the Inn at Spanish Harbor Golf Center. It’s relaxed and a great place to enjoy a glass of wine with kids in tow. The famous bag piper begins his sunset journey there, at hole #1. Deer were grazing all around and the crashing surf was just beyond. It was one of the most idyllic dinners out I’ve ever had alone with two kids.

Big Sur

Pfeiffer State BeachThe drive to Big Sur is about an hour long, but it’s quickly beautiful. Make Pfeiffer State Beach your destination or any of the state parks along the way. Allow plenty of time to pull off and take in the vistas. The road twists and turns and can be a little scary at times, but it’s mind blowingly beautiful. Pfeiffer State Beach (which is not in Pfeiffer State Park but a few miles beyond, down a road marked “narrow road”) has purple tinged sand.

Carmel Valley Ranch Adult PoolWe felt pampered and well taken care of at the Carmel Valley Ranch and would definitely return to continue exploring Northern California. Our only regret is that this gorgeous pool is off limits to families.

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