Carmel Valley Mini-Moon from Nancy Ray

Wedding photographer Nancy Ray recently flew her North Carolina coup for a relaxing Babymoon in Carmel Valley, California. From poolside spas and after dinner s’mores to farm fresh foods and beachside hikes, here’s a look at everything you should do when visiting Carmel.


Carmel Mini-Moon Ranch by Nancy Ray Photography


Carmel Valley was first described to me as this heaven-like place. A small valley tucked away in California with mountains surrounding it, buffered from any drastic temperatures and keeping it at a perfect, 73 degrees for most of the year. It almost sounded too good to be true. Then when our friends described Carmel Valley Ranch with their nightly s’mores and spa and horseback rides and fine cuisine and bathtubs on their balconies, we knew it was the perfect spot to explore and relax before welcoming our first baby a few months later.


Poolside at the Carmel Valley Ranch by Nancy Ray Photography Carmel Mini-Moon(Poolside at the Carmel Valley Ranch) 


We decided to arrive and check in early, and we immediately found ourselves beside the pool as we waited for our room to be prepared. When we got to the pool, we didn’t want to leave.


Carmel Valley Ranch Fire Pit by Nancy Ray Photography Carmel Mini-Moon(Carmel Valley Ranch Fire Pit)


When we finally arrived to our room, we didn’t want to leave there, either. We enjoyed dinner at the Valley Kitchen and lingered until we saw the bonfire and s’mores calling our names. Then, you guessed it, we lingered there too!


Poolside at the Carmel Valley Ranch by Nancy Ray Photography Carmel Mini-Moon


I am so glad we decided to plan a day at the spa so that we could soak up this place entirely – the views, the pool, the food. I can’t recommend it enough. We must go back someday, because I need to see the lavender in full bloom and ride the horses. I tried to talk my sweet husband into the trail rides, but he wasn’t too fond of his pregnant wife riding on an animal.

A few other budget friendly places we’ll consider when we visit again:

Los Laureles Lodge

Carmel Valley Lodge

We reluctantly ventured outside of Carmel Valley one night to the quaint town of Carmel-by-the-Sea. We ate at the famous Dametra Cafe after several rave reviews, and it did not disappoint! We are big fans of mediterranean food, but I’ve never had anything like this. I still dream about the Dametra Veggie Delight. It was perfect for this pregnant mama!

We almost ate at Mission Ranch (Clint Eastwood’s restaurant and a beautiful wedding venue), which is also a wonderful place to stay if visiting. Bernardus Lodge and Holman Ranch made our list of “places to consider staying” when we visit again. I’m telling you – there are too many wonderful choices in Carmel!


The Lone Cypress by Nancy Ray Photography Carmel Mini-Moon(The Lone Cypress)


We enjoyed the 17-mile drive along Highway 1 at sunset, finding the “Lone Cypress” and even spotting some sea lions at an overlook! We drove after enjoying appetizers on the patio of the Inn at Spanish Bay, while listening to the renown Bagpiper that plays every evening as he “puts the golf course to sleep” in Scottish tradition. My dad, a long-time golfer, highly recommended the experience, saying it was one of his favorite places on earth. I wasn’t sold at first, but goodness it was so relaxing. Now, I’d have to agree!


Overlook Trail to McWay Falls by Nancy Ray Photography Carmel Mini-Moon(The View from Overlook Trail to McWay Falls)


Another day we explored Big Sur, just an hour south of Carmel. We went to the Overlook Trial to McWay Falls, which was foggy and misty and mysterious. We loved reading about the history behind it! Close by, we did a short hike in the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.


Bixby Brudge by Nancy Ray Photography Carmel Mini-Moon(Bixby Bridge) 


While there, we were directed to take a trail off road for an amazing view of the Bixby Bridge. We certainly got the view after 2 hours of being lost on the mountainside, but we made the most of it, laughing along the way!


Carmel Mini-Moon Ranch by Nancy Ray Photography


Stopping at the beaches on our way back to Carmel Valley Ranch gave us a big breath of fresh air we needed. Next time we hope to see Point Lobos State Park, Carmel Basilica – Carmel Mission (I’ve heard it’s absolutely beautiful!), and Garland Ranch Regional Park (great hiking).

One thing we didn’t get to do while we were there? Wine tasting. Being that I was pregnant, it wasn’t even on our radar (a small tragedy when visiting CA, as wineries and vineyards are prevalent!) If that’s your thing, you might consider:

Holman Ranch (also wedding venue)

Chateau St Jean (also wedding venue)

Cowgirl Winery

Talbott Vineyards Tasting Room


Lunch at Earth Bound Farm Stand by Nancy Ray Photography Carmel Mini-Moon(Lunch at Earth Bound Farm Stand)


Just before returning, we enjoyed lunch at Earth Bound Farm Stand I especially enjoyed this because we often buy their products as part of our grocery shopping back in North Carolina. We enjoyed a delicious fresh salad and the most delicious California oranges I had ever tasted.


Tulips, Iris and Protea  by Nancy Ray Photography Carmel Mini-MoonRanunculus by Nancy Ray Photography Carmel Mini-Moon Tulips by Nancy Ray Photography Carmel Mini-Moon


The flowers were especially beautiful, I only wished I could have taken them home with me. If we stayed longer, we would have also tried:

Wills Fargo – amazing food AND dog friendly, which automatically scores bonus points with us.

Grapevine Liquor & Deli – the tiniest store with the BEST deli sandwiches in the valley so I hear – perfect for a picnic.

The Corkscrew Cafe


Carmel Mini-Moon Ranch by Nancy Ray Photography


All in all, it was the most relaxing and beautiful baby moon I could have asked for. We highly recommend mini-mooning in Carmel Valley, California!


All words and images by Nancy Ray Photography.


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  • Nora says:

    I’d love to visit when the lavender is in full bloom! What month did she visit in?

    • Nora I was bummed to see the lavender was not in bloom! We visited in March. I’m not sure when it is in bloom, but I do hope to go back one day!

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