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.
Casa Munras, a Larkspur Collection Hotel Rating: 3.5 Pearls
This upper-middle-range hacienda-style hotel in Old Town Monterey claims to be rich in Spanish heritage (and it is historic), but it looks more like a traditional chain hotel. The ivy and flower-covered exterior is pretty, as is the modern lobby with a stone fireplace and cozy leather chairs, but something about the place is almost too "done" to feel authentic. The rooms are spacious and feature some modern amenities such as flat-screen TVs, free Wi-Fi, and some have cozy fireplaces. But the real pleasure of this hotel lies in its social outdoor spaces. Candles, fire pits and cozy seating invite guests to gather outside -- and most do in the evenings. For a mid-range hotel, the spa here is fantastic -- that, along with the tapas restaurant, outdoor pool, and convenient location -- make this hotel a great pick, especially at its affordable price.