Ventana Inn & Spa Rating: 4.5 Pearls
Situated on more than 200 acres of picturesque land, The Ventana Inn & Spa looks like a rustic cabin nestled in the woods -- yet it features 62 luxurious, streamlined rooms with wooden accents, refreshing pops of color, and modern amenities such as flat-screen TVs, iPod docks, and free Wi-Fi. Many rooms have fireplaces, creating a cozy retreat vibe to fit with its surroundings -- though glass doors and large windows keep the rooms feeling bright and airy. Not a place for families, the overall goal of the hotel is to create a zen, holistic retreat with such offerings as yoga classes, discovery walks; afternoon wine and cheese, Japanese baths, and two pools (one of which is clothing optional).
Bernardus Lodge Rating: 4.0 Pearls
This 57-room rustic-luxe retreat in Carmel Valley sits in a lovely setting among rolling hills and vineyards. Details such as vaulted beamed ceilings, wood-burning fireplaces, and country-inspired decor help create an atmosphere that is homey and cozy. Rooms are large and comfortable with stone fireplaces, feather beds, and plush white bedding, and big bathrooms feature walk-in showers and two-person soaking tubs. Some rooms feature double French doors that lead to cute private patios with Jacuzzis, while rooms on higher floors have decks instead. There are several restaurants here -- including the famous Marinus restaurant with its chef's table where up to five guests can dine while watching the chef cook. Additional appealing amenities include an outdoor pool, pool bar, and inviting spa where wine-based treatments are available. It's a sophisticated, romantic spot in Carmel Valley.
L'Auberge Carmel Rating: 4.5 Pearls
Coming to a charming place like Carmel usually calls for a quaint inn experience, and the luxurious L'Auberge Carmel -- housed in a white stucco building dating to 1929 -- does not disappoint. Its 20 rooms have warm colors, high-quality bedding, and beautiful modern bathrooms with heated floors (some have deep soaking tubs). They do have some odd quirks, including small flat-screen TVs, and vaulted ceilings that run low in some spots, but for most guests, it just adds to the charm. The inn is built around an adorable brick courtyard, which helps create a homey European vibe, as do the green French shuttered windows with window planters. There aren't as many amenities as at a large chain, but there is free Wi-Fi, and the prime location makes walking to shops or restaurants in downtown Carmel easy.
Carriage House Inn Rating: 3.5 Pearls
The 13 rooms of the Carriage House Inn are cozy, quaint, and may feel a bit dated, but overall are full of fairytale charm mirroring Carmel's enchanting vibe -- the Victorian-cottage flowered wallpaper would unlikely be acceptable anywhere else. Fireplaces, free snacks that are replenished daily, and quality toiletries can be found in the rooms, along with other free perks guests can access throughout their stays. The "extended" continental breakfast is a nice touch -- guests get to select the foods they want for breakfast, and the meal is delivered to their room in the morning. One of the hotel's strongest assets is that downtown Carmel is just a short walk away, but it offers some great amenities to return to -- especially free wine and hors d'oeuvres every evening, as well as a charming lobby with fresh flowers, free coffee and treats, and a decent free movie and book selection.
Tradewinds Carmel Rating: 3.0 Pearls
The 28-room Tradewinds Carmel has a Zen vibe throughout the hotel -- from the courtyard, complete with Buddha statues, a small waterfall, and a tranquil fire pit, to the rooms, decorated with Asian prints, stalks of bamboo, and orchids. The rooms are large and feature well-decorated bathrooms with nice soaking or Jacuzzi tubs, but like many small hotels in Carmel, the Tradewinds lacks a fitness center and a spa (though in-room spa treatments are available). Those looking to be closer to town and the beach may consider the Wayside Inn (though its decor is not as nice as the Tradewinds').
Wayside Inn Rating: 3.0 Pearls
The 22-room Wayside Inn is a motel-style building with a parking lot in the front that slightly cheapens its facade. But despite the first impression, the inn is quaint and charming -- ivy climbs the brick walls, many rooms have balconies, and pretty flowers line the walkways. The rooms don French- or English-cottage decor, which can feel either cozy or tired, depending on your taste. All rooms have flat-screen TVs, mini-fridges, and iPod docks, and many have fireplaces. But the real highlight of the hotel is its downtown location -- just don't expect much in the way of extra amenities (it's a boutique, after all).