L'Auberge Carmel

Carmel, Big Sur and Central Coast, United States Book from

Reviewed by Nadine Mellor
Elegant, intimate hotel with superb restaurant, just 4 blocks from the beach in classy Carmel
Carmel-by-the-Sea has a near perfect setting between 2 spectacular rocky headlands: one holds a championship golf course, the other a stunning State Reserve - with a sugar-sand curved beach, beloved by walkers and dog owners. Catapulted onto the world stage by choosing Clint Eastwood as Mayor in the mid-'80s, the cute low-rise town has some quirky traits (no traffic lights, parking meters or house numbers), and attracts those in search of upscale shopping, gallery browsing and gourmet food.

L'Auberge Carmel is housed in former artist studios dating to 1929 (Carmel has a rich artistic history). This charming hotel has 13 rooms over 2 levels surrounding a flower-filled courtyard, and an overall European feel. Rooms are simply luxurious with comfy beds and marble bathrooms, many with soaking tubs, and a few have coveted glimpses of the ocean (uniquely, only residential buildings are close to the water here). Artwork is tasteful and local - jazz style in the lobby, atmospheric photos in the rooms.

A further highlight is its bijou restaurant, Aubergine, where chef de cuisine Justin Cogley conjures up texture and taste, colour and confection, inspired by the freshest Californian ingredients and modern Mediterranean influences. You're within walking distance of everywhere in Carmel and easy driving distance of Big Sur and Monterey, with the full gamut of adventures on your doorstep. Perfect.


  • Quiet, yet central location just off Ocean Avenue and only 4 blocks from the beach
  • Superb Aubergine restaurant serving excellent quality food
  • Efficient, impeccable and friendly service
  • A great base for exploring Big Sur (where hotel rooms are in short - and often expensive - supply) and Monterey, and enjoying local watersports
  • Perfect for a romantic break


  • Decor is plush and comfortable, as befits the building,
    but definitely not cutting-edge stylish
  • You may need to book the restaurant in advance as it is small and very popular
  • No kids allowed in the restaurant but a bistro table can be arranged in the small bar area
  • Rooms are not huge, but all you need is at hand
  • There is only one room (a Standard Courtyard King) which can be configured with twin beds

Best time to go

Carmel is an all-year destination if you like fine dining and shopping. For nature lovers, the coast is wonderfully wild in winter and you can go whale-watching and birding; spring sees wonderful flower displays, and there are a host of watersports to be tried at the beach in the summer; autumn brings harvest bounty and temperatures are usually still balmy. The fog is present mostly in summer but usually burns off by lunchtime.

Our top tips

If you haven't got time to explore Big Sur, visit Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, a promontory which juts out into the turquoise waters plus coves and beaches, just south of Carmel. This California jewel features a marine reserve complete with barking sealions and harbor seals, and easy hiking trails through rare and ancient Monterey Cypress stands. There are birds galore too.

Great for...

City Style
Great Outdoors
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique Hotel
  • 13
  • Restaurant and bar (open daily)
  • All ages welcome
  • Open all year
  • Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Concierge Service
  • Courtyard


Rooms are arranged over 2 levels around a light- and flower-filled brick courtyard; lavender grows in profusion. The European feel is enhanced by a central fountain, wooden painted doors and gabled windows, and a sun and moon sculpture on the far white wall. A few tables and chairs are sheltered by umbrellas for warm days, and patio heaters for less clement weather.

All rooms have thick walls with coved ceilings, and original features such as period doorknobs; there's a nice sense of heritage at play. Textile colours are rich reds or bottle green; walls are muted - the effect is classy. Both Standard Courtyard Queen and Courtyard King room categories look into the enclosed courtyard - Standard Courtyard Queen rooms have queensized beds whereas Courtyard Kings have kings. We stayed in a top-of-the-range Premium Peek Ocean View King room, which had a king bed plus ocean glimpses or 'peek views' through the Monterey Cypress trees.

Bathrooms are spacious and luxurious with rain showers, marble vanities and bowl sinks, bathrobes, underfloor heating, and complimentary toiletries including own-label shampoo, conditioner, soaps, Q-tips and cotton wool. A couple of the Standard Courtyard Queen and all the larger rooms have separate soaking bathtubs.

All rooms have down bedding and good-quality linens - I slept blissfully - as well as LCD TVs and tables for in-room dining. CD players and DVD players are available on request. You also get an iPod dock, safe, umbrella, torch, iron and board, and an alarm clock/radio.

Features include:

  • Bathrobes
  • CD player (on request)
  • Central heating
  • Cots Available
  • DVD player (on request)
  • Extra beds
  • Hairdryer
  • Internet access
  • Ipod dock
  • Iron
  • Phone
  • Radio
  • Safe box
  • Satellite tv
  • Toiletries
  • WiFi
  • Wifi internet


All meals are taken in the intimate restaurant (just 12 tables), Aubergine. A real treat for me was to be taken into the kitchen to meet chef de cuisine Justin Cogley, who is passionate about inventive, light Californian dishes composed of local and seasonal ingredients.

There's a choice of 3 dishes for each of the 4 courses presented in the set price dinner menu, with an optional additional cheese course. I loved my salad starter of fresh young vegetables (including the cutest baby turnips and carrots) on a bed of miso; my fish course of ocean trout came with mustard seed and smoked roe, and this was followed by the most divine pork belly done 3 ways. My dessert was a light and frothy confection of tangerine and cream cheese ice cream.

You could also go for the ambitious spontaneous chef's tasting menu of 8 courses inspired by 16 ingredients, which could include lobster, Wagyu beef, chocolate, huckleberry, sea urchin and snap pea. The sommelier has created wine pairings for each course for both menus.

Private dining for up to 12 is available in the basement's wine cellar, which houses 4,500 bottles mostly from Monterey County, California and France. You can also dine in the alfresco courtyard on request. Note that children under 14 are not allowed in the restaurant, but families of up to 8 people can dine in the little bar area which can partially be curtained off.

Breakfast is a light affair rather than an all-you-can-eat buffet. Coffee, tea and freshly squeezed orange juice accompany a fruit compote and yoghurt confection, with two eggs any style (we chose coddled egg). You also get a selection of artisanal toast and croissants.

We had to leave before lunch but there is a bistro lunch menu Friday to Sunday. Carmel has a wealth of eateries to choose from, should you want a change of scene. Cantinetta Luca is a family style Italian trattoria, which is moderately priced and has a wood-burning pizza oven. Next door is Grazings, an elegant Californian Coastal bar and restaurant. Casanova's is a romantic rustic Italian restaurant, while Fresh Cream serves traditional French fare.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Cooking classes
  • Organic produce
  • Restaurant
  • Restaurants nearby
  • Vegetarian menu


  • Carmel is known for its great shopping scene - boutiques, jewellery and galleries. And also for its range of restaurants, all easily accessible by foot

  • The beach is just 4 blocks down the hill. The water is probably too chilly for swimming but families will have fun on the white sandy shores

  • Gourmands will want to time their visit to coincide with one of chef Justin Cogley's periodical cooking classes, limited to 10 people, Wednesdays and Thursdays

  • Just south of the town is the picturesque rocky Point Lobos State Reserve where you can birdwatch, spot seals and stroll beneath ancient Monterey Cypresses

  • Keep going along Highway One for the stunning wonders of Big Sur: promontories, plunging cliffs, redwoods, beaches, viewpoints and hiking

  • There are a plethora of golf courses nearby; the famous Pebble Beach overlooks Carmel Bay itself. Take the scenic 17 Mile Drive around Cypress Point to reach Monterey Peninsula Dunes golf course

  • 17 Mile Drive will also take you into Pacific Grove and Monterey itself, home of the excellent Monterey Aquarium (the jellyfish and otters are superb). The town was literary inspiration for John Steinbeck, who set Cannery Row here

  • There are any number of whale-watching operators in Monterey; when we went we saw dolphin, otter, seal and sea lion as well as the Gray Whale (best seen Dec-April) - the local waters are well protected within the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (the second largest in the world)

  • Sailing and kayaking are popular activities

  • Biking on the Monterey Peninsula recreation trail gives you a great view of the bay as it hugs the coastline from Pacific Grove to Monterey

  • Inland is Salinas, home of the National Steinbeck Center, with a historic Old Town and some lovely heritage Victorian buildings; nearby are wineries

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Cooking classes
  • Cycling
  • Golf
  • Hiking
  • Historical sites
  • Kayaking
  • Museums / galleries
  • Plantlife / flora
  • Sailing
  • Shopping / markets
  • Swimming
  • Whalewatching
  • Wildlife
  • Wine tasting


Families are very welcome at L'Auberge Carmel and will enjoy the close proximity to the beach. Baby cots and extra beds are available on request. However, both the hotel and Carmel itself are geared more towards couples and romance, and the restaurant isn't suitable for families. There are heaps of eateries nearby which are though.

Best for:

Children (4-12 years), Teens (over 12)

Family friendly accommodation:

Room 15 (a Standard Courtyard Queen) together with room 16 (another Standard Courtyard Queen), which is above 15, are thought best for families. Or family parties could ask for Room 20 (a Premium Peek Ocean View King) and Room 22 (another Standard Courtyard Queen) next door

Kids Activities nearby:

Older kids will love exploring Point Lobos and Big Sur. Younger ones will be enchanted by the Monterey Aquarium. The beach is just down the road.

Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...


{{ review.firstName }}{{ review.countryName ? ', '+ review.countryName : '' }},

Rates for L'Auberge Carmel