Travel | June 3, 2022 7:45 am

All the Secrets of Carmel and Monterey, From a Guy Who Knows

Let’s head down the coast with the concierge from Bernardus Lodge

Exterior Entrance of Bernardus Lodge
Exterior Entrance of Bernardus Lodge
Bernardus Lodge

This is Concierge Confidential, a series in which we learn about a city’s best-kept secrets from people who specialize the exactly that: long-serving concierges from the best hotels in town.

At Bernardus Lodge & Spa, that brilliantly beautiful place nestled in the Carmel Valley, lead concierge Alec Strandburg makes sure that guests of the lodge have plenty of ideas to keep them busy across the Monterey Peninsula. Of course, once you arrive and breathe in the heady scents that fill the air (flowers and herbs combine into a gorgeous olfactory experience there) and see the landscape of this ultimate five-star resort getaway, your motivation to go anywhere else might just wane.

But there’s so much beauty in this famed part of the Northern California coastline that it makes sense to spend some of your time using the Bernardus Lodge as home base for a long weekend away from the big city. Be careful, however, as this part of the world may just lure you in and make you want to stay forever.

Strandburg is living proof that the Monterey Peninsula has an undeniable draw, for he left Michigan and migrated here in 2011, working at the Pebble Beach Resorts before joining the Bernardus Lodge & Spa in 2016. 

InsideHook: What’s a unique service that your hotel offers that I won’t find elsewhere?

Alec Strandburg: We have a wonderful Mercedes-Benz program, which allows our guests to complimentarily test drive one of five brand-new Mercedes-Benz convertible automobiles for up to four hours. Ideal drives to take include Big Sur, the 17-Mile Drive and diving deep into Carmel Valley wine country.

What’s an underutilized part of your hotel?

Our bocce courts are front and center, and so receive plenty of love. But located in the rear of the property past the Spa at Bernardus Lodge are two tennis courts, which are seldom utilized and ideally suited for a match after spending a day of play along the coast.

Where can I get a cup of coffee near the hotel and go for a good walk?

At the Beerded Bean. Grab a Lemon Spring Cold Coffee Brew and take a walk through the lower trails of Garland Ranch Regional Park. Hiking to Siesta Point is a particular favorite for a moderate jaunt.

Where do singles hang out?

At Mission Ranch Restaurant’s piano bar. It’s Clint Eastwood’s place in Carmel-by-the-Sea, just 10 miles from the resort in the valley. If you’re in the valley, I would check out the Wine House in Carmel Valley village, with ample patio seating and firepits. It’s a great place to grab a glass of wine and mingle as the evening winds down.

How about a restaurant where only locals go?

For our guests who want a real taste of place — and salty personalities! — the Sandbar & Grill on Wharf #2 in Monterey is a great spot. If you prefer to stay close to the resort, I recommend Baja Cantina, where you can grab a pitcher of margaritas and enjoy the legendary Carmel Valley sunshine. 

Late night spot where I can get into a bit of trouble (but not too much trouble)?

Sade’s Cocktails in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Sade’s is a true institution, and you never know who you’ll run into there. It’s not upscale, just a bit of a hole along a side street, but it serves up good strong drinks and a fun time. Or try Alfredo’s Cantina in Monterey.  

Best cheap eats in the area?

Michael’s Taqueria in Pacific Grove, excellent and inexpensive Mexican food.

Where can I go for the best dessert?

Hula’s Island Grill in Monterey. Any of their pies are delicious.

Best place for a sunset cocktail?

Other than our Lucia Bar, which I love, I recommend guests head to Pebble Beach and The Inn at Spanish Bay. It’s a true scene, with an alfresco firepit patio, warm blanket throws and a daily bagpiper who drifts off the golf green into the bar every evening at sunset.

Where should I go in the area for a day spent outside?

Just next door to Bernardus Lodge & Spa is Garland Ranch, a beautiful sweep of turf, old-growth oak trees, and moderate to strenuous hikes with eye-popping views of Carmel Valley. Also, driving 25-plus miles south, Big Sur offers multiple state parks and great spots for lunch. I recommend Pfeiffer Beach and the Big Sur River Inn.  

Where’s a good spot to snap an Instagram-worthy photo?

On property, we have some perfect spots. Lounging in our adults-only infinity edge hot tub with stunning views of the Santa Lucia Mountains makes or a classic vacation shot — [there’s also] our estate vineyard, as well as our two-acre chef’s garden that is always hearty and robust. Off property, head to Point Lobos State Natural Reserve for a walk with resident deer and a photo in one of the only cypress tree groves in the nation.

Best neighborhood/area to take a four-hour stroll if I want to get acquainted with a more “authentic” side of the area?

Go over to Carmel-by-the-Sea and wander, making sure to take the scenic path straddling the sea above Carmel Beach.

What’s the easiest way to get around the area, in terms of transportation?

Drive your own car or rent a car is the best way to get around, as Uber and taxis can be difficult at certain times.

What’s a lesser-known cultural institution worth visiting?

The Carmelite Monastery of Our Lady & Saint Therese on Highway 1 south of Carmel. A classic!  

What’s a cool architectural site that’s not mobbed with tourists?

Asilomar Conference Grounds, which is home to a bevy of Julia Morgan-designed buildings; she was the architect for Hearst Castle. There are restful boardwalks that meander out to the sea there as well, a truly off-the-beaten-path place.

What’s the best thing you can only get in your area?

An Alvarado Street Brewery limited release beer, from one of the best breweries in the area (in Monterey). Or Revival Ice Cream, also in Monterey, which is amazingly good. And our own Bernardus housemade honey (used in cocktails and menu items at the resort); we have 180,000 resident Italian honey bees!

What’s the best thing you can only do in your area?

Golfing at Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill golf courses, on the bucket lists of every avid golfer. And visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium, considered the best in the world for very good reasons.

What’s something I can say or do to endear myself to locals?

Drive fast!

What’s something that tourists tend to do that really annoys locals?

Driving slow.

What’s an item or activity that tourists tend to get ripped off on? Any tips on how to avoid that?

Visitors don’t seem to realize that our coast here is quite chilly/foggy most of the time, so when they venture to coastal Carmel-by-the-Sea, they end up having to buy additional clothing to keep warm. It’s a booming business there! Bernardus Lodge & Spa is 12 miles inland, so the temperature here is generally 10 degrees warmer. But a warm jacket is always needed, even on most summer nights.

I’m looking for a low-key brunch. Where to?

Wagon Wheel Restaurant is a longtime local’s favorite that is only open daily until 2 p.m.  It’s a great place to enjoy breakfast or brunch, in Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Best place to eat a meal or have a beer outside when the weather’s better?

The Bench at The Lodge at Pebble Beach. You get great views of the ocean and the Pebble Beach Golf Links and it’s actually a reasonably priced restaurant.

Any potential issues I should be worried about or pay attention to when it comes to public transportation (busy times, delays, petty crime, etc.)?

Late-night Ubers and taxis are sometimes difficult to track down, so you can get stranded with no ride home.

Finally, what’s the best book to read about the area before I come?

This is John Steinbeck and Henry Miller country, so any choice of one of their novels will paint a vibrant picture of the Carmel Valley, Big Sur and beyond.