DogTrekker | September 7, 2011

Down in the Carmel Valley

Down in the Carmel Valley The village of Carmel rightfully gets a Great Dane’s share of attention when it comes to dog-friendly destinations. But the “other” Carmel is no less pampering when it comes to attitudes regarding four-pawed pets. Carmel Valley, tucked into the Santa Lucia range about 12 miles inland from the coast, is a wine growing region and foodie mecca packed with treats we can’t wait to share.

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Just Say Ahhh

It’s not difficult these days to find hotels that accept dogs, but some seem to do so only grudgingly, with lots of restrictions. They’re dog-tolerant, but not what DogTrekker would call truly dog-friendly. At the top of the scale are places that not only court people traveling with pets, but provide access and services that go above and beyond the expected. We rate these cherished establishments “dog passionate” and strive not only to find them, but to provide guidance for hoteliers who want to up their dog-friendly quotient.

One of the stand-outs in the dog-passionate category is Carmel Valley Ranch, a bucolic, 500-acre destination resort recently “reinvented” with the help of a $25 million makeover and a huge helping of innovative thinking from investor John Pritzker, one of the creators of Hyatt Hotels and Resorts. The Ranch’s unique concept ties landscape and scenery to amenities and activities that create “summer camp” memories for grown-ups—and, we might add, for the happy canines who accompany them.

Kayla with Roxy, the bulldog who greets visitors to Carmel Valley RanchDog-friendly room amenities are always nice, and there’s no shortage of those at the Ranch. But the real luxury for DogTrekkers is access to dog-friendly hiking trails; terrace seating at the restaurant; a lobby presided over by Roxy, the Ranch’s English bulldog mascot; and freedom to sniff around just about anyplace else on the gorgeously landscaped grounds. (Pool areas, understandably, are off limits.)

“It’s not just a destination resort, but a resort where people can actually learn and do neat things,” says spokeswoman Melanie Cook, referring to the 100-plus classes and activities scheduled at the Ranch each week.† “It’s sophisticated, yes, but also very comfortable.”

The Ranch may be tops in the dog-passionate category, but it’s not the only place where you and Fido can share a room in Carmel Valley. The peaceful Carmel Valley Lodge is proud of its dog-friendly attributes, which include a “leash post” on each patio. And the reasonably priced (and delightfully retro) Blue Sky Lodge offers pet-friendly rooms at no extra charge. Even the luxury Bernardus Lodge has begun welcoming canines—although here, as at many properties just wading into dog-friendly waters, you’ll encounter significant restrictions.

Chow Down in Carmel

A couple and dogs enjoying the morning
Photo Credit: Akaporn Bhothisuwan

It's an easy shot from Carmel Valley to pet-friendly restaurants in Monterey, Pacific Grove and the village of Carmel-by-the-Sea, but why go that far when you're exploring Carmel Valley? In the central Carmel Valley Village and beyond are a number of good restaurants where you and Aires can sit outside together and enjoy a good meal.

Among our favorites are Vineyard Bistro, known for quality, value and a leafy patio ideally suited to its surroundings. Cafe Rustica, wildly popular with locals, is known for its wood-fired pizza, while Village Fish House has a menu that includes a delicious cioppino available by the half-order as well as the full bowl.

Another pleasing place to put on your patio-dining radar screen is Corkscrew Cafe, also in the village and featuring fish and other dishes prepared with herbs and produce grown in the next-door garden.

Run It Off

Dave and KKDogTrekkers who visit the Monterey Peninsula tend to be well aware of that glorious, mile-long, leash-free beach in the village of Carmel. But thatís not the only place you can unclip Dash and Dottie and let them run free so long as they stay within sight and under voice control. Garland Ranch Regional Park in Carmel Valley has miles of trails to roam, a river and tributary creek with swimming holes to splash in, a stellar visitor center and even specially designed water fountains for dogs. Trails in the 4,462-acre park range from the flat and easy Lupine Loop skirting the Carmel River flood plain to the strenuous, 1,600-foot climb to Snivleyís Ridge via the scenic Sky Trail.

Garland Ranch holds a special place in the hearts of Californians who have worked hard to preserve open space for future generations: It was the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District's first acquisition. Since 1972, the district has acquired 24 parks and open spaces totaling 20,000 acres set aside for conservation recreational opportunity. Monterey County households pay $19 a year to keep them operating for all to enjoy. The relaxed leash laws enjoyed at Garland Ranch apply in many of the other parks, too. Be sure that you and Fido, as visitors, do your part to keep the privileges intact!

Pet-Friendly Monterey Wine Country

They say that Monterey Wine County is "where great taste begins." We know from experience that it's also a great place to experience the dog-friendly hospitality for which Monterey County is so well known.

A wine's success begins in the vineyards, and the joy of exploring the famed landscapes where great vintages are born doesn't get better than along the River Road Wine Trail. Rolling hills misted with morning fog create memorable panoramas, while the climate is comfortable year-round for visiting the region's friendly tasting rooms. Pack a picnic, a camera and a leash and invite Fido to share in the memories. Sniff out Pessagno Winery, where the vineyard dogs come out to greet you; or Wrath Winery, where you and yours can enjoy a picnic and great views of the Santa Lucia Highlands. Another memorable choice is the Hahn Estates Smith & Hook tasting room, featuring an expansive deck with sweeping views of the mountain-rimmed Salinas Valley. WineTrail signs easily guide visitors along the picturesque route that begins less than an hour's drive from the South Bay. We bet you'll both have your heads out the window when you discover how much there is to do and see.

Doris Day Animal Foundation

When it comes to pop tunes, the legendary Doris Day's signature song may be "Que Sera, Sera." When it comes to animal welfare, Ms. Day has never been one to leave it to chance. Any critter lucky enough to have enjoyed the hospitality of the Cypress Inn, which she's co-owned for over two decades, can attest to its world-class pet-friendliness. Through her charitable work, most recently the Doris Day Animal Foundation, she makes a life-and-death difference to thousands of dogs (and cats) who probably never will get to sample those sybaritic delights.

Ms. Day is  noted for the Spay Day USA project, which she launched in 1995 through the Doris Day Animal League (now part of the Humane Society of the United States) and continues to support through the DDAF. Most recently, she launched a new effort: the Duffy Day Lifesaving Program, which focuses on getting medical treatment to dogs in need, especially seniors, who probably wouldn't survive without it.  Lily's Legacy Senior Dog Sanctuary of Forest Knolls received a grant from DDAF this past January to help with its elderly dogs' veterinary expenses.

At SPCA for Monterey County, Duffy Day was a true lifesaver for poor Harley, an 8-month-old yellow Lab who turned up at the shelter, apparently hit by a car, with a broken leg requiring complicated surgery. Only after that surgery was done did it emerge that the opposite leg had a fracture so fine it hadn't shown up in X-rays, and it was back to the OR for Harley.  Through it all he was unfailingly cheerful.  Harley recently went to his new home, where everybody has good reason to appreciate the fact that Doris Day continues to take an interest in animal welfare.

Photo Credits:

"Kayla and Roxy","Wine Dog" - Dave Kendrick, DogTrekker
"Dave and Kayla at Garland Ranch" - Roxanne Kendrick, DogTrekker
"Harley" - SPCA For Monterey County

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