From walks in the sand to cliff-top perches, Carmel and Big Sur offer serenity.
L’Auberge Carmel and its one-Michelin-starred Aubergine restaurant are located in downtown Carmel, within walking distance of art galleries, boutiques and the ocean; guest rooms feature old-world charm and modern amenities like flat-screen TVs, bedside touch screens for contacting the concierge and heated flooring in the bathrooms.
For an escape from an all-systems-go lifestyle, consider the beach. Not for the bustle of the boardwalk, but for a quiet reverie watching the surf—and sliding into a state of contentment. Carmel-by-the-Sea’s L’Auberge Carmel and Big Sur’s Post Ranch Inn offer two casually elegant, cortisol-calming experiences.
Dating to 1929, L’Auberge Carmel (from $509) in downtown Carmel looks plucked from the French countryside, with white stucco walls surrounding a central courtyard. Upgrades to its 20 guest rooms have married the original coved plaster walls, French windows and crystal doorknobs with modern flat-panel TVs, Wi-Fi and radiant floor heating in the bathrooms. Hand-hammered copper sinks, antiques and custom fabrics by San Francisco interior designer Helga Horner lend a luxurious air.
My husband and I arrived at the Relais & Châteaux property on a recent Friday a bit frazzled after a 90-mile drive from Silicon Valley in heavy traffic, which made the five-star welcome by the parking valet, the smiling front desk concierge and the bellman who whisked our bags to our room all the more pleasant. After hanging our dinner clothes in an ample closet, nibbling on caramels on a silver tray (the pun was not lost on us) and contemplating a soak in a huge tub with lavender bath salts (in-room massages also available), we went for a predinner walk past art galleries and wine tasting rooms to sandy Carmel Beach, where we found the cool evening air refreshing.
Dinner at Aubergine, whose executive chef Justin Cogley recently earned a Michelin star, is a two-hour exploration in creativity ($185 per person, wine pairings $155). Eight courses included salmon with leek and nasturtium pesto served with a rosé of Cabernet Franc 2018 Thibaud Boudignon; lobster, shiro dashi and fava beans paired with a 2016 Louis Michel Vaudesir Grand Cru Chablis; and a dry-aged ribeye with kohlrabi and wild flowers paired with a 2014 Château Tour-Peyronneau Saint-Émilion. A cheese course ($30 extra), a strawberry dessert and a tiny cup of hot chocolate made with candy cap mushrooms made for a satisfying way to end the evening.
The Post Ranch Inn’s Sierra Mar restaurant gives guests the feeling of dining in the sky.
The next morning, after the hotel’s signature breakfast (complimentary), we drove south to the Post Ranch Inn (from $995 a night), a cantilevered marvel on the Monterey coast. From the 1850s to the 1980s, the land homesteaded by William Brainard Post was used for cattle ranching, and his descendants turned it into a hotel property (for adults 18 and over) that debuted in 1992. Some of architect Mickey Muennig’s guest rooms feature oceanfront views and grass roofs; others are situated on stilts in the redwoods. None of the 41 units, whether one-bedroom guest rooms or one- and two-bedroom guesthouses, has a TV.
The Post Ranch Inn’s seclusion amid 100 acres lends utter privacy. One-quarter of all visitors hail from the Bay Area; others are international guests or travelers primarily from Los Angeles, New York, Dallas, Chicago, San Diego, Boston and Denver (nonstop flights to Monterey are available from Los Angeles, Dallas, San Diego and Phoenix). Athleisure is recommended over dressier attire; hiking, yoga, meditation and stargazing are key pursuits, and the inn’s Sierra Mar restaurant is reached via a footpath and stairs in the redwoods. A buffet breakfast is offered to overnight guests; reservations are recommended for lunch and dinner. On our visit, the menu by executive chef Jonny Black, recently of San Francisco’s three-Michelin-starred Atelier Crenn, included Violini Farms asparagus with nasturtium gremolata and Meyer lemon confit; a hamburger with Corral de Tierra grass-fed beef, smoked tomatoes and Monterey Jack cheese; and bittersweet chocolate mousse with rose-geranium gelato. The inn can arrange private picnics, scavenger hunts and even surprise weddings. “One of the things we pride ourselves on is that we don’t say no—we provide options,” says guest relations manager Philip Hildreth. “And that’s what our guests come to expect: the highest level of service and elegance, but in a casual environment.”