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The 2022 Golden Pine Cones

AIN’T LIFE grand? After nearly two years of lockdowns, mandatory masking and bickering over parklets and vaccines, things finally seem normal — and it feels like a party. Who’da thunk we’d ever be so happy to have the in-laws over for brunch? Or that shopping in a store for your own groceries could be so invigorating? Hand money to a cashier without staring through plexiglass? It’s about time! Roll pumpkins down Ocean Avenue? Yes, please! Spread the Bach Festival across town like a blanket of musical joy again? Sure!

Like their bohemian ancestors, Carmelites and other intrepid Pine Cone readers muddled through, improvised and made do. We think Robinson Jeffers, Mary Austin et. al., would have approved. And, as you have every year, 1,100 of you voted to reward that other group of scrappy survivors — your favorite businesses — with coveted Golden Pine Cones.

Thank you for clicking the links and patiently scrolling through 174 categories to vote for the best of the best here on the Peninsula. You told us where to find superb cocktails, great prime rib, and an Italian feast that sings “That’s Amore!” You sniffed out the finest local wines, rummaged around to locate the best in couture and, achieving the nearly impossible, decided which of our myriad outdoor gems was most worthy of a stroll or visit.

You also told us where you go to keep your pearly whites sparkling, whose magic hands can soothe the tightest muscles and which doctors to call, as well as which lawyer to hire if you need to sue a neighbor over a tree branch. If we need our BMWs fixed because we were looking at the sunset instead of the road, or have our Comstock hardwood floors replaced, or get our native, drought-friendly, non-invasive landscaping trimmed, now we know who to call.

Although you did it with Pine Cones and not apples, you recognized some top-flight educators for their hard work, and, when forced to make difficult choices among all the worthy contenders, you singled out some wonderful nonprofits for recognition.

We’ve calculated, sorted and compiled the results and present them for your consideration. Gentle readers, without further ado, we present ... the 2022 Golden Pine Cones!




Best Neighborhood Market

Best Butcher


Bruno’s Market & Delicatessen — NE Junipero and Sixth – 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily – (831) 624-3821 – brunosmarket.com


With all the items you might hope to find at a local market — like freshly baked bread, lettuce grown a short distance away, the best hot sauce, locally made jams and gourmet ice cream — Fermin and Ryan Sanchez’ Bruno’s Market is everything a corner store should be. (And it is, in fact, on a corner.) Whether you want eggs from down the road or are short on cleaning supplies, it’s the ideal spot to stop, considering its convenient downtown location and easy parking. Also voted best butcher, Bruno’s Market carries top-grade beef, choice cuts of pork and other prime meats, and will custom cut anything when needed. The back counter can be counted on to be busy with customers ordering their generously sized sandwiches and salads for lunch on the go or a picnic in the park. Carmelites, as well as the city’s many visitors, always appreciate being able to find exactly what they need at Bruno’s.


Best Fruits and Vegetables


Farmers Markets — oldmonterey.org, montereybayfarmers.org, everyonesharvest.org, wcfma.org, ci.carmel.ca.us/farmers-market


Why shop for produce at a grocery store when there’s a farmers market almost every day of the week? Pine Cone readers know the best fruits and vegetables (not to mention eggs, pasta, cheese, yogurt, nuts, meats and other staples, pastries and bread, prepared foods and plants) are found at their local farmers markets. Del Monte Center hosts the popular Friday market that had been held at Monterey Peninsula College for decades (8 a.m. to noon in the lot behind California Pizza Kitchen), where customers can expect to find the greatest number of farmers and other producers. A market takes over Alvarado Street in downtown Monterey on Tuesdays from 4 to 8 p.m. (4 to 7 p.m. in winter) and has plenty of products and crafts for sale, too. Pacific Grove presents a modest Monday afternoon market on Central Avenue from 4 to 7 p.m. Other markets are held on Thursdays at Sixth and Mission in downtown Carmel from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 215 Reservation Road in Marina and at Mid Valley Center in Carmel Valley. Seasonal markets take place at the Barnyard at the mouth of the valley on Tuesday mornings and at Del Monte Center in Monterey on Sunday mornings May through September.


Best Seafood Market

Best Restaurant for Seafood


Sea Harvest Fish Market & Restaurant — 100A Crossroads Blvd., and 598 Foam St., Monterey – open daily in Carmel and Monterey, check location for hours – (831) 626-3626 and (831) 646-0547, seaharvestfishmarketandrestaurant.com, facebook.com/seaharvestmontereyca


Practically within sight of the Pacific, Sea Harvest started three decades ago and added restaurants soon after. The markets in Monterey and at the Crossroads boast the best fresh seafood every day, from locally famous Dungeness crab and sand dabs, to halibut, sushi-grade tuna, Monterey Bay squid, and a wide range of other sustainably caught bounty. Sea Harvest’s knowledgeable staff will help you select the best and freshest choices — and offer cooking tips, too. But hey, if you want to leave the hard part to someone else, order from the menu, which suggests trying your favorite catch Cajun-style or with teriyaki, creamy wasabi, or raspberry chipotle sauce. In addition to the usual suspects — fried calamari, chowder in a sourdough bread bowl, seafood Louie and fish-and-chips — you can order a plate of lox, one of several pastas, fried artichokes or a Caesar with blackened ahi tuna, grilled salmon, smoked salmon or steamed prawns. Seafood lovers will find themselves returning again and again.


Best Bakery


Pavel’s Backerei — 219 Forest Ave., Pacific Grove – 7 a.m. until sellout Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday – (831) 643-2636


For more than two decades, Pavel’s Backerei has turned out amazing (and generously sized) tender-crisp croissants plain or oozing with chocolate, crisp and decadent cookies, floury French bread and multigrain loaves, and countless other savory and sweet baked delights, thanks to the hard work of owners Paul and Johanna Wainscoat. Seasonal goodies are also offered. Most mornings, a line forms out the door as fans wait for the chance to pick up their freshly baked treats for the day, and when the couple take their well-earned breaks and close up shop, the protestations can be heard for miles.


Best Bread


Ad Astra Bread Co. — 877 Broadway Ave., Seaside – noon to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 8 p.m. Sunday – info@adastrabread.com, adastrabread.com


Pastry chef Ron Mendoza quickly became well known locally years ago for his creations at upscale Aubergine in L’Auberge Carmel and went on to launch the hugely popular Ad Astra Bread Co. — his “micro bakery focusing on natural leavened sourdough breads” — in the Other Brother Beer Co. brewery on recently rejuvenated Broadway Avenue in Seaside. The bakery “is committed to using all-organic flours to create Old World-style sourdoughs over a two-day bake process,” he says, and the sourdoughs are “mixed, hand portioned and shaped, and allowed to slowly ferment overnight,” with baking taking place the next day. Daily offerings include olive and seeded sourdoughs, baguette and focaccia, and Ad Astra turns out sweet and savory specials each day, as well, from cardamom rolls and bread pudding to doughnuts and pretzels. In addition to the Seaside location, Ad Astra can be found at some local farmers markets, stores and restaurants.


Best Desserts


Sweet Reba’s — 206 Crossroads Blvd. – 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday – (831) 601-4818, sweetrebas.com


People line up outside this bakery’s cheerful pink Dutch door, staring into the windows like little kids. It’s no wonder — there’s always a lovely assortment of cookies, brownies, lemon bars and the like, plus cake (often Life by Chocolate) being sold by the slice. The staff there has described the cinnamon donut muffins as “seriously addictive” and “a gateway muffin.” A bit more than one bite, the cinnamon-y, sugar-dusted treats have a little bit of muffin-top texture on the outside and a soft chewy interior that vanishes too quickly. That’s all right, though, because they’re only 50 cents apiece. Owner Reba Wilson competed on Food Network’s “Cake Wars,” where esteemed judge Ron Ben Israel doled out rare high praise for her work. Accordingly, you can find beautiful cakes with interesting flavors, like blackberry lavender lemon; along with traditional red velvet and carrot cake. The shop also turns out a wide assortment of pies, and the cookie flavors rotate frequently, so you’ll just have to keep going back.


Best Special Occasion Cake


Layers Sensational Cakes — 9 Soledad Drive, Monterey – 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday – (831) 655-1544, layerscake.com


Can you have a “happily ever after” without cake? Pine Cone readers who lavish praise on Layers don’t think so. Whether it’s a wedding, a special birthday or a retirement party, this is the go-to place for stacked celebratory sweetness. Flip through the photo albums on the website to see traditional, contemporary and creatively finished cakes for any occasion. The section on custom cakes is particularly impressive, with desserts that look like all sorts of things — a John Deere tractor, a mallard “swimming” amid sugary blue curls of “water,” a Lego police officer, an octopus with a mortarboard, and a 1980s-style boom box, complete with mixtapes. If you can imagine it, Layers’ crew can probably put it together for you. But what good is a pretty cake if it isn’t tasty? If you shop here, you’ll never know — the bakers’ creations are as delicious as they are beautiful. Choose from a variety of flavor combinations, including tiramisu, Boston cream and Italian rum. With sweets like these, you might just want to serve dessert first.


Best Caterer


Jeffrey’s — 112 Mid Valley Center, Carmel Valley – (831) 624-2029, jeffreysgrillandcatering.com


A longtime presence in Carmel Valley, Jeffrey’s can be relied on to turn out the best for any occasion, whether for a large party or a small one — literally, two people to 500. Locals know they can rely on this mid-valley institution for the very important task of providing beautiful food and excellent service at any site, including the restaurant, which can be rented for private parties. Customers can even cater their own events with the “secret chef” option — order an array of entrees and desserts (including homemade ice cream) and pick them up using your own casserole dishes. A presence in the valley for nearly three decades, Jeffrey’s operates a popular restaurant, sells highly addictive spiced nuts, and is extremely capable of meeting every catering need, with plenty of emphasis on fresh, local ingredients and just the right dishes for the occasion.


Best Wine Store


Total Wine & More — 808 Playa Ave., Sand City – 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday – (831) 920-0154, totalwine.com


Since opening its first store on the Monterey Peninsula in the Sand Dollar Shopping Center last December, Total Wine & More has strived to make its mark here, offering an ever-expanding selection at reasonable prices, hiring informed and helpful staff, and participating in local events. Clearly, their efforts have paid off, at least when it comes to winning Pine Cone readers’ hearts. The chain was started in 1991 by brothers David and Robert Trone, who opened their first store in Delaware. Since then, they’ve added more than 225 locations focusing on “unbeatable prices and unrivaled service from our expertly trained staff.” When they announced the new store, they noted it carries 8,000 wines, 4,000 spirits and 2,500 beers, and contains a climate-controlled wine room for rare offerings and a walk-in humidor for fine cigars. Online ordering is available, easy and convenient, too.


Best Tasting Room


Scheid Vineyards — SE San Carlos and Seventh – noon to 6:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, noon to 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday – (831) 626-9463, scheidvineyards.com


Centrally located downtown and open daily into the evening, Scheid’s tasting room has become the go-to place not just for first-timers curious about the longtime Monterey County producer’s wines, but also among locals who keep going back. The tasting room is light and airy and provides plenty of space, and the staff are welcoming, congenial and knowledgeable. And, ever important in Carmel, it’s dog friendly. Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, Scheid often hosts special tastings and events, especially for wine club members. Reservations are encouraged and are available online. For those on the road, Scheid also has a tasting room at its winery in Greenfield just off Highway 101. Check out the giant windmill that generates enough power to run the winery and power more than 100 homes.


Best Monterey County Chardonnay

Best Monterey County Rosé

My Favorite Monterey County Wine


Dawn’s Dream Winery — NW San Carlos and Seventh – 12:30 to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, noon to 7:30 p.m. Friday, noon to 6:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday – (831) 659-2649, dawnsdreamwinery.com


Over the years, consumers have caught on to the refreshing versatility of the dry, fruity pink wines that were once considered a seasonal indulgence but are now delicious and popular any time of year. In Monterey County, numerous wineries produce rosés from a wide range of varietals, and once again, Dawn’s Dream has emerged as the favorite among Pine Cone readers. Owned by Dawn Galante, the winery produces a dry rosé of pinot noir that offers bright citrus notes and juicy hints of fresh berries — and goes with just about everything. All those Pine Cone readers who voted for it must have also bought it, because it’s sold out right now, but they also identified Dawn’s Dream as the producer of their favorite Monterey County chardonnay, and the Nugget and Escolle chardonnays are still available. Dawn’s Dream’s portfolio is deep, especially when it comes to pinot noir, and adding to the draw, the winery is socially conscious, as Galante founded it with a mission of supporting charities benefiting women and children. All of those are good reasons for its winning My Favorite Monterey County Wine this year.


Best Monterey County Sauvignon Blanc


Bernardus — 5 W. Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley – 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday, reservations available at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. for up to 12 tasters, walk-ins accommodated based on availability – (831) 298-8021, bernardus.com


Bernardus may be changing in look and feel since its new Dutch owners took over a few years back at the behest of the winery’s late founder, Ben Pon, but its winemaking team’s sauvignon blanc won the hearts of Pine Cone readers again this year, as it has many times before. And no wonder — it’s bright and crisp, but far less grassy than most, with notes of citrus and white peach. Vineyard manager Matt Shea cultivates Bordeaux and Burgundy grapes at the winery’s estate vineyards in Cachagua and Carmel Valley, and winemaker Dean DeKorth and his team work hard to produce the wines that keep fans coming back.

Long-running relationships with grape growers throughout Monterey County — including Michael Griva, who cultivates superlative grapes in Arroyo Seco for your favorite sauvignon blanc — ensure the team always gets the best fruit for its impressive wines.


Best Monterey County Pinot Noir


Boekenoogen — 24 W. Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley – 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily – (831) 659-4215, boekenoogenwines.com


More pinot noir is planted in Monterey County than in any other part of California, and in 1998, the late John Boekenoogen planted vineyards that would decades later be producing high-caliber wines. John’s great-grandfather, George Boekenoogen, traveled across the United States in a covered wagon in search of gold in the late 1850s. When gold mining did not pan out, he settled in the Salinas Valley to raise cattle, and five generations later, his family transformed the property into vineyards for chardonnay, pinot noir and syrah, finding new prosperity. “The combination of superior clones, rocky well-drained soils, meticulous viticulture practices, foggy mornings and sunny afternoons moderated by cooling maritime breezes, has resulted in superior grapes,” the family says. “With state-of-the-art winery equipment mixed with Old World winemaking methods, Boekenoogen wines are proving to be some of the most pristine wines in the country.” And that’s why, this year, Pine Cone readers chose Boekenoogen as their favorite pinot noir in a very competitive category.


Best Monterey County Merlot


Galante Vineyards — Dolores between Ocean and Seventh – 12:30 to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 12:30 to 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, noon to 6:30 p.m. Sunday – (831) 624-3800, galantevineyards.com


Galante Vineyards consistently produces highly regarded Bordeaux varietals, earning Golden Pine Cones year after year. While Jack Galante and wife Dawn sold their vineyards and winery to a young couple a couple of years ago, Jack Galante continues to focus on sharing the finest possible wines from his former Cachagua vineyards and letting the fruit express itself in the wines — efforts that have been rewarded with praise. His merlot boasts balance, body and fruit. Fans can also explore Galante’s deep library, with several vintages from different estate vineyards going back many years.


Best Monterey County Cabernet Sauvignon


Twisted Roots Vineyard — 12 Del Fino Place, Carmel Valley – noon to 5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday – (831) 594-8282, twistedrootsvineyard.com


For the couple and the friends who own Twisted Roots, which has a recently remodeled tasting room in Carmel Valley Village, making wine is joyous work, and their efforts show in all their wines. Founded by third-generation wine growers based in Lodi, Twisted Roots was incorporated a decade ago and is now owned by charming and affable Josh and Julie Ruiz and their friends. In addition to its popular cabernet sauvignon, which is soft and fruit-forward, but not heavy like many cabs, Twisted Roots produces chardonnay, petite sirah, zinfandel from the family’s century-old vines, sparkling rosé and hard cider.


Best Place for a Beer


Alvarado Street Brewery — Carmel Plaza, Ocean and Mission, and 426 Alvarado St., Monterey – open daily, check location for hours – (831) 293-8621 and (831) 655-2337, asbcarmel.com, alvaradostreetbrewery.com


The father-and-son duo that brought immensely successful Alvarado Street Brewery to the Monterey Peninsula also operates Alvarado Street Brewery & Bistro in Carmel Plaza, and both locations are ideal for enjoying a beer, not to mention a splendid meal. With Alvarado Street’s stellar lineup of locally made beers, from perennial favorites Mai Tai IPA and Monterey Beer, to seasonal, sour and other more creative offerings — paired with delicious high-level pub food, plenty of indoor and outdoor seating at both spots, and a lively yet sophisticated atmosphere — it’s really no surprise Alvarado Street Brewery won this year’s award as the Best Place for a Beer. It also serves at its taproom in its Salinas production facility and is on track to open a new spot on South Main Street in Oldtown Salinas.


Best Cocktails

Best Restaurant for Steak

Best Wine List

Most Romantic Restaurant

Best Restaurant Service

Best Restaurant in Monterey


The Sardine Factory — 701 Wave St., Monterey – 5 to 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday – (831) 373-3775, sardinefactory.com


Fifty-four years after its founding — famously on the “wrong side of the tracks” near Cannery Row — Bert Cutino and Ted Balestreri’s Old World-style restaurant is a go-to for locals and tourists alike. Fans of Clint Eastwood and old movies can get a photo in front of the awning and staircase that served as the backdrop for a memorable scene from “Play Misty for Me,” but the real drama is inside.

Everyone from the host to the bussers is attentive, respectful and quietly efficient as they set the stage for their guests’ experience. A glance in the right direction brings help tableside in a jiffy. Some folks never get farther than the cozy lounge, with its tempting menu of small bites and reasonably priced casual fare. Live music soothes the soul, aided by signature cocktails like The Clipper, with Venus gin, Bada Bing cherry juice, lime juice and sparkling wine, or the 20th Century, with Botanist gin, Lillet Blanc, lemon juice and white crème de cacao, shaken and suavely served in a martini glass. If you’re not in the mood for a mixed drink, consult the sommelier for recommendations from the voluminous wine list, which encompasses quaffs from near and far. Some bottles are older than the customers ordering them. If you’re in the mood for romance, try the Conservatory, a fairy-lit domed atrium; the elegant Captain’s room, done up in gold and blue; or arrange for dinner in the Wine Cellar, which feels like it should be beneath a medieval castle. Oh, and the food’s darn good, too. The legendary abalone bisque was served at both of President Ronald Reagan’s inaugural dinners, and all the steaks are USDA prime and aged, served with flourishes like truffle butter — but don’t discount the juicy prime rib available on Fridays and Saturdays. The helpful dining staff will go to great lengths to ensure that’s the only beef you’ll have with this venerable dining spot.


Best Happy Hour


Vesuvio — Sixth between Junipero and Mission – nightly from 4 p.m. – (831) 625-1766, chefpepe.com/restaurants


A lively rooftop deck and a long indoor bar make Rich Pepe’s Vesuvio a fun spot for Happy Hour — every day from 4 to 6 p.m. — and readers chose it as their favorite again this year. The restaurant offers plenty of drink and food specials, with appetizers like bruschetta, arancini, fried calamari, and baby back ribs, and a full bar capable of turning out all sorts of cocktails. Pepe recently hired longtime Montrio mixologist Anthony Vitacca to revamp and run the bar programs at all of his restaurants, and sophisticated improvements are already evident. The place is popular, so reservations are recommended.


Best Family Restaurant


Sur Carmel — 3601 The Barnyard – 4 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, 4 to 10 p.m. Friday, 1 to 10 p.m. Saturday, 1 to 9 p.m. Sunday – (831) 250-7188, surcarmel.com


What makes this place so great for family outings? Well, a little bit of everything. Although they prefer some notice, the staff has no trouble pushing tables together for celebrations, and a bit of cheerful hoopla isn’t out of place. The food is kid-friendly without being patronizing, including familiar items like meatballs and burgers. It’s pretty, too, with colorful flowers and beautiful plating. Or, ask for the family-style fried chicken for four, with cheese bread, mashed taters and gravy and corn on the cob. All the menu items invite convivial sharing, and desserts embellished with the fog of dry ice provide an ooh- and aah-worthy finale.


Best French Restaurant


L’Escargot — Mission just south of Fourth – 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to closing Wednesday through Sunday – (831) 620-1942, escargot-carmel.com


Founded in 1958 by Yvan Nopert, L’Escargot has been lovingly tended by chef-owner Kerry Loutas for more than two decades. Boasting “a welcome alternative to the tourist experience,” the classic French-country cuisine is sure to satisfy. “Inspired by the cuisine offered at restaurants in villages and small towns throughout rural France,” Loutas sources ingredients from local growers for a fresh, farm-to-table experience. In addition to the namesake snails, familiar French specialties like onion soup, steak frites and frogs legs are on the menu and are served up with a side of European hospitality. Homey dinners like roast chicken Provencale or rack of lamb are guaranteed to warm the heart and the belly. Enjoy a selection from the restaurant’s list of domestic and French wines, or order your favorite cocktail.


Best Chinese Restaurant


Tommy’s Wok — Mission between Ocean and Seventh – 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 4:30-8:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday – (831) 624-8518, tommyswokcarmel.com


Ah, the pleasures of a beach picnic … fresh, salty air, crashing waves, and … Chinese takeout? Tommy’s Wok asks, “Why not?” Locals have been coming to this little spot for years, savoring the bright, fresh and aromatic dishes emanating from its kitchen.

It’s been voted Best Chinese Restaurant by Pine Cone readers every year since 2008. Tourists manage to find it, too, giving it rave reviews on social media and travel sites for its great food, solid value and excellent service — but then, you’ve known that all along.

Tommy’s Wok’s guests expect substantial portions that won’t break the bank, and they get them. You’ll find all your favorites — pot stickers, spare ribs, egg rolls, sizzling plates and soups, chow mein and mu shu chicken — plus a few things that might be new to you. Be a little more daring and give one of the lamb dishes a try, or bite into the fun texture of battered and fried prawns served with honey-glazed walnuts. A wide variety of Szechuan, Hunan and Mandarin dishes are all served up piping hot and ready to go.


Best Indian Restaurant


Aabha — 3690 The Barnyard – noon to 9 p.m. daily – (831) 250-5940, aabhaindian.com


Webster’s Dictionary defines exotic as, “strange or different in a way that is striking or fascinating; strangely beautiful, enticing, etc.” That sounds like an apt description of Aabha, which is more than a restaurant — it’s a bit of a magical portal to India. The vibrant colors and seductive aromas are so different from other local fare, that many diners find themselves struggling to choose just one or two dishes. Executive chef and proprietor Bhupender Singh’s food is as warm as he is, from the earthy golden cauliflower turmeric soup with a hint of ginger flavor, to decadent butter chicken or spicy lamb vindaloo, every dinner is an adventure.

Make sure you get some warm naan to mop up the sauces, and wash things down with a mango lassi, or order a bottle of wine. Everyone who comes to the hospitable and spacious restaurant feels welcome, and Singh’s delicious food never disappoints.


Best Italian Restaurant


Mezzaluna Pasteria and Mozzarella Bar — 1188 Forest Ave. Pacific Grove – 5 to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday – (831) 372-5325, mezzalunapasteria.com


This is the sort of restaurant people love to discover for themselves. Not exactly hidden, but not in the fanciest of locations, this spot next to Safeway on Forest Avenue has surely inspired dozens of conversations that began, “You’re not going to believe where I found the most amazing Italian food!” Mezzaluna chef/owner Soerke Peters and partner Amy Stouffer have continued to delight customers with their attention to tasty details, and service that makes you feel like the only customer there, even when the place is buzzing with activity. You might not see them making the pasta, cheese and sauces by hand, but you can taste the difference as soon as the dishes hit the table. Peters’ creativity shines through in selections like pasta filled with wild mushrooms and served with brown butter and sage, or squid ink linguine with clams. The singular delight of creamy, freshly made burrata smply paired with superb tomatoes, or buffalo mozzarella with roasted pear and pine nuts, bring home the importance of great ingredients. The beautiful bar and lounge area are perfect for snacks and well-crafted cocktails. Mezzaluna boasts a huge selection of amaros, Italian bitter liqueurs, as well.


Best Japanese/Sushi Restaurant


Sushi Heaven — Dolores between Seventh and Eighth – noon to 2 p.m. and 5 to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday – (831) 625-2067, sushiheaven-carmel.menu11.com


It takes a lot of confidence to declare something a cuisine’s “heaven,” but Pine Cone readers have decided that the owners of little Sushi Heaven aren’t exaggerating. The fish there is so fresh that you’ll swear they’re catching it down at the beach and bringing it straight to the restaurant. Everything is simple, but eye-catching, from the restaurant’s interior to the dishes themselves. With prices that won’t break the budget, you can sample your way through some of more than 30 nigiri offerings (fish on small balls of rice), udon noodle dishes, dozens of maki (rolls), and bento boxes that let you combine items like tempura vegetables, beef teriyaki and your favorite bit of sashimi to make a delightful microcosm of the restaurant’s offerings.


Best Mediterranean Restaurant


Dametra Café — Ocean and Lincoln – 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily – (831) 622-7766, dametracafe.com


Friends Faisal Nimri and Bashar Sneeh were brought together by their love of music — both play the traditional Middle Eastern stringed instrument, the oud — and their desire to create restaurants that feel like home to all who walk through the door. Hence, their Dametra Café, which offers Greek, Italian, Spanish, Moroccan, Turkish, French, Israeli and Lebanese dishes — always has a line of eager diners waiting for seats. Starters of fried calamari, pita and tzatziki sauce or hummus are generous and shareable. In fact, you might want to keep an eye on all your plates, as the urge to reach around and sample from friends’ dishes is almost irresistible. Although it’s not a vegetarian restaurant, those who eschew meat will find plenty to enjoy here. Stuffed grape leaves, baba ganoush (eggplant dip), falafel, an assortment of meal-sized salads and pastas like artichoke ravioli won’t leave anyone wishing for more. Carnivores won’t be disappointed, either, with all sorts of chicken, lamb and beef dishes on offer. Meanwhile, Nimri, from Jordan, and Sneeh, from Syria, continue to build their following by displaying their inimitable hospitality.


Best Thai Restaurant


Baan Thai — University Plaza at 1760 Fremont St., Seaside – 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday – (831) 394-2996, baanthaiseaside.com


If you’re looking for a posh dining room in a fancy neighborhood, this ain’t it. So why do Pine Cone readers flock to this hole-in-the-wall near the Auto Mall? It’s the food, of course — and the wallet-friendly prices. Fifteen lunch specials provide generous portions plus soup or salad, with prices starting at just $11.95. Whether you decide to eat in or order takeout, you’ll be greeted at Baan Thai’s door by mouthwatering scents of garlic, ginger and curry. Service is prompt and efficient. At dinner, try not to fill up on the Angel Fingers (marinated shrimp wrapped with egg roll skin deep fried and served with plum sauce) or the pot stickers from the appetizer menu. You’ll want to save room for savory and tart Tom Yum soup and a refreshing shredded papaya salad with lime-chili dressing. Fancy it up with a roasted duck salad or move on to an extensive selection of entrees. Vegetarians can find plenty to eat, with several curries and stir-fries available.


Best Mexican Restaurant


Baja Cantina — 7166 W. Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley – 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday – (831) 625-2252, carmelcantina.com


Whether you’re making a pit stop for lunch or crossing the finish line after a long day at the office, it’s hard to beat this motorsports-themed destination for Mexican food. The bar is always bustling, and the margaritas are everything they should be — tart, sweet, icy and refreshing, in a tipsy sort of way. The fresh-catch tacos — usually highlighted on a signboard on the spacious patio — are always popular, as a deft hand in the kitchen assembles them with respect for the main ingredient.

The adorable Oaxacan tacos are just right for smaller appetites, while the rosemary chicken quesadilla or any of the seven distinctive burritos will have you asking for a to-go box. The chicken tortilla soup with a couple of lime wedges is comforting and satisfying, while the fajitas arrive on sizzling platters that prove it’s possible to eat with your ears first, rather than your eyes. And while chips and salsa are a staple of Mexican restaurants, whatever salty spices these folks put on their chips makes it nearly impossible to stop eating them. Check the calendar on the website for info about live music and group parties.


Best Restaurant for Vegetarians


Julia’s Vegetarian Restaurant — 1180 Forest Ave., Suite F, Pacific Grove – 4 to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday through Sunday – (831) 656-9533, juliasveg.com


This restaurant is tucked away at the back of the Forest Hill shopping center wedged between Safeway and Trader Joe’s. It’s worth finding, and it’s come a long way from its beginnings a decade ago, proving that vegetarian food can be tasty and upscale. There aren’t any “impossible” (or even improbable) “burgers,” (although there are vegan “eggs” and a little seitan “bacon”), because the creative cooks get a lot of mileage out of all the veggies on the menu — especially a wide variety of mushrooms. You will find lion’s mane, chanterelles, pink lobster mushrooms and many others, including what the menu refers to as “boring white mushrooms,” featured in one of the appetizers. The wild mushroom chowder is a hearty choice for a starter or main, and the yellow coconut curry entrée is out of this world. There are seven pizzas to choose from, with gluten-free options. Have a glass of wine or craft beer, or try the kombucha on tap, and leave your cash at home — the restaurant only accepts credit/debit cards. You might come because it’s vegetarian, but you’ll be back because it’s good.


Best Salad

Best Sandwich or Burger

Best Chef


Stationaery — San Carlos between Fifth and Sixth – 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Monday – (831) 250-7183, thestationaery.com


Anthony and Alissa Carnazzo set a new tone in town when they opened their light, creative and contemporary Stationaery restaurant in the former Club Jalapeño site on the east side of San Carlos between Fifth and Sixth four years ago. The couple and their chef, Amalia Scatena, quickly drew a dedicated following, and Scatena earned the vaunted Best Chef accolade from Pine Cone readers this year for her dedication to using locally grown produce and other products in sophisticated and interesting ways. Scatena’s fresh take on salads — currently one with market greens and veggies, sheep’s milk cheese, pistachios and cider vinaigrette and another featuring burrata and heirloom tomatoes with basil and balsamic — and her menu offering a classic burger and a lobster roll with Maine lobster, Ad Astra brioche bun and fingerling potato salad — had readers choosing Stationaery for those categories, too.


Best BBQ


The Crossroads Barbeque — 241 Crossroads Blvd., – 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily – (831) 250-7616, thecrossroadsbbq.com


Known in three counties for their exceptional barbecue, the Ingram family set up shop in the Crossroads in 2018, selling saucy smoked meats in large quantities to hungry carnivores. You can eat in the clean and sleek indoor space, dine outside on the patio, or place an order to go. The restaurant’s website implies there’s no magic, but lots of patience involved in producing tasty platters. “We start with the finest quality meats, season them with our time-tested rubs, and smoke them with California oak wood to achieve the perfect harmony of smoke and flavor.” Start the day off right with a breakfast sandwich or taco featuring pulled pork, brisket or tri-tip. Or, wait for lunch or dinner, when you can grab a sandwich or platter featuring your choice of pulled pork, ribs, chicken, tri-tip or brisket. It’s almost a shame that the hefty slices of garlic toast, home-style potato salad, sweet-and-savory baked beans and creamy coleslaw are relegated to side-dish status, but what’re you gonna do? For dessert, the Ingram family recipes for homemade bread pudding and berry cobbler are not to be missed, even if you have to take them to go. Check the website for info about live music, catering, fundraising and more.


Best Fish & Chips


AW Shucks — Ocean between San Carlos and Dolores – lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. daily – (831) 624-6605, awshuckscarmel.com


Owned by Michael and Michelle Sapon — who can almost always be found working at their restaurant, with its tiny, open kitchen — AW Shucks has long been a favorite oyster bar in town. For the second year in a row, Pine Cone readers have voted the restaurant’s generous portion of beer-battered fish fried light and served with steak fries as their top choice for fish and chips. While you’re there, you can check out other menu options, like clam chowder (available by the quart) and peel-and-eat prawns. A full bar offers several beers on draft, as well as its famous Bloody Marys and an impressive selection of liquors. The restaurant doesn’t take reservations, but when it’s busy the person at the door will take down names and numbers and call when tables open.


Best Place to Get Ice Cream


Revival Ice Cream — 463 Alvarado St., Monterey – noon to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, noon to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday – (831) 747-2113, revivalicecream.com


What the heck is carrageenan? If you have to ask, it probably shouldn’t be in your ice cream. At least, that’s what the folks at Revival Ice Cream believe. They make their delicious treats on site from fresh, locally sourced ingredients, and offer dairy-free flavors and gluten-free cookies and waffle cones, so having those food allergies or sensitivities doesn’t mean someone can’t still scream for ice cream. Every spoonful is thoughtfully prepared. For example, one of their original flavors, Bee’s Knees, features local honey and crunchy “honeycomb” candy. Eucalyptus mint chip and dark chocolate are also popular, and vegans can enjoy peanut butter chip sorbet, passion fruit mango, and other delicious preparations without guilt. In keeping with the company’s ecological and organic ethos, you can buy your own reusable pint container. It’s $21.95 (including a pint to go), and gets you $2 off subsequent purchases. They ship nationally, so you can share the local love with a cousin in Connecticut or an aunt in Alabama, too.


Best Breakfast


First Awakenings — 300 David Ave., Monterey – 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily – (831) 372-1125, firstawakenings.net


If there’s one thing that area’s not short on, it’s great breakfast spots — and you know they’re great, because you almost always have to wait in line for a table. That means that winning the Golden Pine Cone for Best Breakfast is a pretty impressive feat, and this year’s awardee lives up to the title. First Awakenings has been around for 29 years with a simple mission — “Use fresh, quality ingredients. Treat customers like family. Hire kind and happy staff.” They might have added “serve portions that will fill up a longshoreman,” since the breakfast skillets are enough for at least two people. Start with a frying pan full of home-style potatoes, pile on a couple of eggs and some cheese, and then add ham, bacon and sausage for a meat lovers’ fast-breaker, or Italian sausage, onion, bell pepper and gravy for the Belly Buster. The pancakes are fluffy, the frittatas are flavorful, and the OJ is fresh — it’s enough to get anyone crawling out of bed, even after a big night on the town. Did we mention they serve the coffee by the thermos pot?


Best Coffee


Carmel Valley Coffee Roasting Co. — Ocean between Lincoln and Monte Verde, 3720 The Barnyard and 246 Crossroads Blvd. – Ocean Avenue from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily, Barnyard from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily, and the Crossroads from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily – (831) 626-2913, carmelcoffeeroasters.com


Coffee’s been sipped on this continent since the American Revolution, when it was considered the patriotic alternative to tea. But to hear Madison Avenue tell it, tastes were such you could serve instant Folger’s in top restaurants without raising a single eyebrow. That all changed late last century, and luckily for local sippers, Carmel Valley Coffee Roasting Co. joined the latte fray in 1994, roasting its carefully sourced beans to make rich, delicious brews. It also got into organic beans “before organic was cool,” according to the company website. In addition to interesting (but not overwhelming) flavors like coconut cream or bourbon barrel aged, the perennially popular Foglifter has no doubt fueled myriad power breakfasts and business lunches. Its new 1840 Espresso blend has notes of “chocolate, blackberry and malt,” while the Eastwood blend is named for musician Kyle, who helped CVCRC create a full city roast with jazzy notes of “dark chocolate, ripe berry and toasted almond.”

They’ll custom-grind, or you can order whole beans and ground coffee online.


Best Coffeehouse


Carmel Coffee House and Roasting Co. — Ocean between San Carlos and Dolores – 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily – (831) 626-2095


It seems like 1994 must’ve been a good year for coffee (see Best Coffee, above), because Carmel Coffee House and Roasting Co. also opened 28 years ago. Originally called the Caffe Cardinale and Roasting Co., Carmel Coffee House roasts small batches of beans — organic only — to help neighbors and out-of-towners kickstart their days. Although it’s a little hard to find, just look for the little alley way between the Club stores, or for the shop’s mascot, Gus the sea otter. You’ll find a happy, energetic and almost certainly caffeine-fueled vibe in the pet-friendly courtyard, even on grey and foggy days.

In addition to coffee, you’ll find a nice selection of breakfast and snack foods. Online rave reviews attest to the quality of the coffee, food and service. Extend the experience by buying a bag of beans to take home.


Best Pizza


La Bicyclette — Dolores and Seventh – Lunch and dinner 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, breakfast 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday – (831) 622-9899, labicycletterestaurant.com


Oldtimers might remember that this corner restaurant was once known as La Boheme, opened by the Georgis family in 1974. They sold it in 1978, and opened the equally popular Casanova, but re-purchased La Boheme in 2015, and reimagined it in its present incarnation, La Bicyclette. Although its wood-fired oven produces all sorts of baked and roasted wonders, from bread to oysters, our readers seem to be happiest about the pizzas. Most of the combinations don’t stray far from traditional favorites, like Classic Pepperoni, with mozzarella cheese and San Marzano tomato sauce, or the Margherita, with fresh buffalo mozzarella, basil and tomato sauce. If you want to up the meat ante, try the Salumi, which features three kinds of Italian meat. Or go vegetarian with Champignons — mushrooms and cheese accented by sweet caramelized onion purée, thyme and earthy truffle oil. The Squash and Speck option combines the autumnal flavors of delicata squash with speck (Italian ham) and the contrasting flavors and textures of arugula, crispy fried sage and pumpkin seeds. Everything comes out on the kind of hot, crispy crust you can only get from a wood-fired oven.


Best Deli


Fifth Avenue Deli — Fifth between San Carlos and Dolores, two doors up from the post office – 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday – (831) 625-2688, 5thavedeli.com


For more than 30 years, Fifth Avenue Deli has offered tourists and locals a wide range of sandwiches, soups, desserts and salads. They’ll cater, make box lunches or gift baskets, so you can share the gift of good food at a meeting, celebratory luncheon or  picnic on the beach. The soups are homemade, and the kitchen crew can make nearly 20 varieties to warm the belly and the soul on a foggy day. Old favorites like chicken noodle and garden vegetable share the spotlight with Brazilian black bean or jambalaya. For a meal between bread, you can’t go wrong with egg salad or a traditional Reuben, but there are plenty of other options. Nearly two dozen side salads can round out the meal. But — and here’s where Fifth Avenue really kicks it up a notch — there’s also a full menu of hot meals, in case you’re craving meat loaf, chicken pot pie or stuffed baked potatoes. Wine and Champagne are right there alongside a wide selection of soft drinks, chips and the usual picnic accoutrements.


Best Brunch


From Scratch Restaurant — 3626 The Barnyard – 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday through Tuesday – (831) 625-2448, fromscratchrestaurant.com


Brunch is a special meal — one that says, “relax, put the phone away and just talk with your friends for a while.” Nobody’s in a hurry, chatting amiably as they wait for a table. Run by the Grebing family since 1995, the popular brunch spot was featured a few years ago on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” with celebrity chefs Guy Fieri and Robert Irvine, which, predictably, only made it more popular. Everything’s cooked to order, and plates are piled high with pancakes, French Toast, seasoned potatoes or formidable omelets. Everyone’s favorite Benedicts, including turkey and sausage options, are on offer. You can also get a diner classic like biscuits and gravy, or a giant breakfast burrito. Wash it all down with a mimosa or a spicy Bloody Mary. What the heck, have two. It’s not like you’re in a hurry. And be sure to take some of the house granola or chili mix home, too.


Best Outdoor Dining


Mission Ranch Hotel and Restaurant — 26270 Dolores – breakfast 7 to 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday, “early grazing” and cocktails from 3 to 5 p.m. daily, dinner 5 to 9 p.m. nightly, Sunday brunch 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. – (831) 624-6436, missionranchcarmel.com


There are no bad tables at Mission Ranch. Whether you’re gazing at the turquoise jewel of the lagoon and brilliant sand, watching woolly sheep munching on grass, or peering farther to view the Santa Lucia mountains or the coast at Point Lobos, you’ll be glad you decided to sit outside. Mission Ranch doesn’t take reservations (except for Easter Brunch, Mother’s Day and Thanksgiving), and asks you to limit your party to eight people, all in the interest of good service. The restaurant’s Sunday brunch buffet has returned at long last, much to locals’ delight, but it’s not the only meal you can have outside. Breakfast is offered daily, as is an “early grazing menu” meant to be enjoyed during the cocktail hours. If the sunset and ocean breezes whet your appetite for dinner, the menu can take you to sea, with jumbo scallops with exotic mushroom and spinach risotto, or recall Monterey’s rich agricultural and ranching heritage with whiskey-marinated beef brochette, or slow-roasted prime rib. Pasta choices like scampi linguine are similarly tempting. Mission Ranch is also a wonderful place to hear live jazz. Check The Pine Cone’s weekly music listings to find out who’s at the piano.


Best New Restaurant (opened in the past 12 months)


Cella — 520 Polk St., Monterey – 5:30 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday – (831) 920-1046, cellarestaurant.com


Savvy Pine Cone readers were quick to ferret out this new dinner spot in the Cooper-Molera complex across from the Monterey Transit Center. Helmed by chef Aaron Rayor, bartender Josh Perry and pastry chef Ben Spungin (also the founder of Alta Bakery next door), the place is reportedly already attracting the most knowledgeable of insiders — other chefs. The menu emphasizes quality ingredients, simply showcased. Appetizers include a butter lettuce salad with pickled shallots, grilled squid with Romesco sauce and parsnip soup. Entrees come from surf — black cod — and turf, including a 10-ounce ribeye and a pork chop served with melted leeks. Fresh Alta Bakery bread with smoked maple butter and Maldon salt is available, and with Spungin in the kitchen, you know the olive oil cake, hazelnut chocolate mousse and Greek yogurt panna cotta will all be something special. There’s a full bar with creative cocktails and a nicely curated wine and beer list.


Best Place to Take Clients


Grasing’s Coastal Cuisine — NE corner Mission and Sixth – lunch and dinner daily, with brunch on weekends – (831) 624-6562, grasings.com


A longtime favorite among locals for its ambiance, fine cuisine, deep wine list and high-quality cocktails, Grasing’s is often busy when other spots are not. With the right amount of wow factor and sophistication, it’s a great spot for lunches and dinners with clients, especially with executive chef Cal Stamenov — the longtime king of the kitchen at Bernardus Lodge — now running the program, having been hired by owner Kurt Grasing a little over a year ago. If you want to impress a client, you can’t go wrong with choices like duck confit, classic steak tartare or a Swank Farms heirloom tomato salad — and that’s just for starters. After a plate of swordfish, or maybe a nicely grilled rib eye steak, seal the deal over a Meyer lemon tart. Also adding to the draw are Grasing’s many options for al fresco dining, with its back patio and rooftop deck.


Most Dog-Friendly Restaurant

Best Hotel

Most Dog-Friendly Hotel


Cypress Inn/Terry’s Restaurant & Lounge — Lincoln and Seventh – 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and 5 to 9:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday, brunch 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Sunday – (831) 624-3871, cypress-inn.com; (831) 620-7454, carmelterrys.com


Since opening in 1929, Cypress Inn has been one of Carmel’s most beloved boutique hotels. “By combining Mediterranean grace and charm with warm hospitality and exemplary service, Cypress Inn has drawn everyone from kings, queens and Hollywood royalty to the everyday traveler, and especially all those who like to travel with their pets,” the inn says. Speaking of pets, there’s no other local inn that is better known for accommodating people’s furry loved ones, and Cypress Inn has been a pioneer in pet accommodations, believing that pets of all shapes, sizes and breeds are an integral part of the family and welcome to join their humans during their stay at the hotel. The inn, after all, was co-owned by legendary singer and actress and pet lover Doris Day until her passing in May 2019. Because an excellent meal shouldn’t be out of reach just because you’re on one end of a leash, the inn’s restaurant welcomes dogs, too. Lunch choices include sand dabs and the Cypress Burger, which the menu boasts is “the best burger in Carmel,” with bacon aioli, Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato and red onion. Truffle-mushroom ravioli and grilled leg of lamb are among the dinner selections, and the full bar offers exceptional cocktails. The all-day bar menu features lots of creative, smaller bites for people with Chihuahua-sized appetites.


Best Restaurant for a Special Occasion


Montrio — 414 Calle Principal, Monterey – 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday – (831) 648-8880, montrio.com


Is it your birthday? Did Mom and Dad make it to 50 years together? Downtown Monterey is the place to party, according to Pine Cone readers — specifically, they think you should head to Montrio. Part of the Coastal Roots Hospitality group, which also includes Tarpy’s and Rio Grill, Montrio spent part of the pandemic sprucing up its historic firehouse space. Cream-colored walls and subtle lighting enhance the intimate dining ambience while still allowing you to read the menu without using the flashlight on your phone. There are two private rooms available, or you can rent the whole dining room “for the event of the century,” says the website.

The menu features splurgy fare worthy of your celebration (Muscovy duck three ways, aged New York steak, and local halibut), signature cocktails and wine by the glass, including three sparklers — the better to toast the best times of life.


Best Bartender


James Garvin/Bud’s at La Playa hotel — Camino Real and Eighth – 3 to 10 p.m. nightly – (831) 293-6100, budscarmel.com


The warm, welcoming, classic bar at the historic La Playa hotel is named in honor of local legend and former owner, Howard “Bud” Allen, and it features an inspired cocktail menu that “invites you into Carmel’s visionary — though occasionally drunken — bohemian past.” Regulars know that when they find James Garvin behind the bar, their cocktails will be swiftly and precisely made and will look as beautiful as they taste, and they frequently benefit from his creativity in the form of specialty and seasonal drinks. Add to that James’ engaging personality, accomplished career and obvious enjoyment of his job, and it’s no wonder Pine Cone readers identified him as their favorite bartender this year.


Best Restaurant in Big Sur


Nepenthe — 48510 Highway 1 (29 miles south of Carmel) – 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. daily – (831) 667-2345, nepenthe.com


Nepenthe offers an impressive alchemy that combines amazing views and great food for a coastal dining experience worthy of the drive. Sitting pretty at more than 800 feet above sea level on the Big Sur coast, the family-owned and operated spot has long been a place where locals gather in good times and bad. It also attracts tourists who aren’t put off by parking at the bottom of the hill and hiking up, and it feeds everyone on a first-come, first-served basis — no reservations. The menu offers simple fare done well, like halibut, roast chicken and steak frites. And you can always fall back on the Ambrosia Burger, a favorite for decades. Spend a few minutes perusing the impressively curated wine list, with a range of good bottles from the mid-$30 range on up to “I won the Power Ball, let’s party!” If you’re more of a morning person, Café Kevah — one level down from Nepenthe — opens at 9 a.m. and offers a nice selection of breakfasts and coffee. Once your belly’s full, stop in at the Phoenix Shop (open 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily) and get lost among the works of local artists and craftsmen.


Best Restaurant in Carmel Valley


Café Rustica — 10 Del Fino Place, Carmel Valley – 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday, 5 p.m. to closing Tuesday through Sunday – (831) 659-4444, caferusticacv.com


Rustica is a locals’ go-to because everything about it is reliably good — the food, the service and the atmosphere. It doesn’t matter if you’re spending the day tasting wine and gallery-hopping or mulching the geraniums in the backyard. You know you’ll get a solid meal in an atmosphere that makes everyone feel right at home. Dine indoors or on the patio in the Carmel Valley sunshine (there are plenty of heaters, if the sun’s not cooperating). The menu is wide-ranging, with Alsatian, Hungarian and Italian influences, yet somehow everything comes out just right. Whether you feel like a hearty goulash or a red-leaf lettuce salad with pears and pecans, they’ve got you covered. Don’t miss the thin-crust pizzas from the wood-fired oven, and save room for dessert. The apple galette takes pie a la mode to the French countryside, while the flourless bittersweet chocolate almond torte is absolutely worth the extra calories.


Best Restaurant in Carmel


Rio Grill — 101 Crossroads Blvd. – 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday – (831) 625-5436, riogrill.com


The minute you walk through the door and look at the walls around the bar, you know this is a locals’ spot. It’s covered in artful caricatures of regulars and celebrated visitors who have enjoyed a meal there. Rio Grill, with its cheerful and whimsical décor, is a natural meeting places for friends from out of town — it’s easy to find, with plenty of parking — but none of that would matter if the food weren’t good. Fortunately, it’s hard to go wrong with the menu, which draws heavily from Southwestern influences, while also catering to people whose tastes don’t run to the border. Start with house-cured and smoked pork belly with jalapeno glaze, or the ever-popular calamari. Salads can be had as (shareable) sides, or you can add chicken, skirt steak or salmon. The vegetable risotto or stuffed poblano pepper offer tasty alternatives for non-meat-eaters, but carnivores will want to dig into the smoked bbq pork back ribs or 16-ounce prime bone-in rib eye. In addition to a full bar and wine selections, the Rio Grill offers mocktails for those who want a buzz-free, but grownup, beverage option.


Best Restaurant in Pebble Beach


Roy’s — 2700 17 Mile Drive (at the Inn at Spanish Bay) – breakfast 6 to 11 a.m. daily, lunch 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily, “light fare” from 3 to 4:30 p.m. and dinner 5 to 10 p.m. daily – (800) 877-0597, pebblebeach.com


It’s tough living up to Roy’s setting at Spanish Bay. The verdant golf course, the azure Pacific beyond, the outdoor fire pits where a bagpiper seems to conjure the sunset and the evening fog … and somehow, they expect you to turn your attention to a menu.

Fortunately, chef Roy Yamaguchi and executive chef Pablo Mellin have made sure the food matches the view. Although Yamaguchi’s roots are in Tokyo, he’s known as a major innovator in Hawaiian fusion cuisine. Sounds high-falutin’, but it translates to beautiful and deceptively simple looking plates that promise big flavors in sometimes-unexpected combinations. Breakfast is traditional — why would anyone mess with pancakes or eggs Benedict, anyway? Lunch, however, takes a hard west turn toward Hawaii and Japan, with an ahi poke bowl, ginger-sake marinated calamari and Kona coconut shrimp. Bento boxes, island-themed salads and a selection of entrees make for a satisfying meal. Dinner continues in the same vein, with entrees like teriyaki-grilled swordfish and panko-crusted rack of lamb. If you’d like a bottle of wine, you might want to know that Roy’s won Wine Spectator’s 2022 Best Award of Excellence. For more of a kick, signature cocktails include a spicy mango margarita and Roy’s mai tai.


Best Restaurant in Pacific Grove


Fandango — 223 17th St., Pacific Grove – 5 p.m. to closing nightly – (831) 372-3456, fandangorestaurant.com


Fandango has been a mainstay in Pacific Grove long enough that some of the original diners now bring their grandchildren in for special occasions. It’s one of those rare gems that manages to make guests feel like VIPs without making anyone uncomfortable. Follow the host through the restaurant’s various French country-style dining areas with cozy fireside seats just made for a foggy winter (or summer) evening. Spend a few minutes with the impressive wine list, where you’ll find bottles from all over Europe. Vintages for reds date to the 1990s, with some Penfolds gems from Down Under. The seasoned wait staff can help you select the right bottle to go with the house-cured salmon or French onion soup appetizers, or to pair with a steak, duck a l’orange, or the special house paella, with saffron-scented rice, seafood, sausage and vegetables all served up in a skillet. You can also get osso buco or a North African couscous lamb shank. Save room for the profiteroles — the perfect end to a perfect meal.


Best Restaurant in Seaside


Gusto — 1901 Fremont Blvd., Seaside – 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., 5 to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday – (831) 899-5825, gusto1901.com


Specializing in making fresh pasta dishes and wood-fired pizza — with a few innovative twists — Gusto brings alive the fresh flavors of Italy. Everything is made from scratch, with wheat flour imported from Northern Italy to give the pizza a thinner, crunchier crust. The handcrafted pasta is made daily by the restaurant’s local sister company, Bigoli Fresh Pasta. “The wood-fired oven welcomes guests upon arrival along with the hum of conversation and smells of freshly prepared Italian food,” its website says. “We pride ourselves on the quality of our food, a warm and lively atmosphere and unrivaled customer service.”




Best Local Artist


Delia Bradford — Delia Bradford Fine Arts, Sixth between San Carlos and Dolores – 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday, and by appointment – (831) 601-4957, deliabradford.com


Raised in a family of artists in Big Sur, Delia Bradford is a plein air artist whose impressionist landscape and floral paintings capture her passion and vitality for life and nature.n“I love having my gallery in the heart of Carmel,” said the artist, who told the newspaper she feels humbled by the honor. “I hope when you visit my gallery, you will walk away feeling lighter and more peaceful, and those who would like to paint feel empowered to embrace their own creativity.”


Best Local Photographer


Michael Troutman — DMT Imaging – dmtimaging.com


Taking a photojournalist’s approach to his visual art, Michael Troutman is passionate about the subjects he explores with his cameras. Troutman’s creative vision has served clients for more than three decades for special events, weddings, portraiture, advertising, business meetings, conventions, sports, editorial photography and much more. His coverage of local wildfires has gained Troutman widespread recognition, while his efforts to chronicle the annual Burning Man festival have made it possible for many to experience the distant event vicariously. “It’s a privilege to be of service to our community as a visual artist and to bear witness at so many special occasions,” he said. “Whether hanging out of helicopters over wildfires, covering international sports, working corporate functions with both local and global leaders or documenting the special magic at a wedding, I’m driven to create consistently compelling images.”


Best Art Gallery

Best Photo Gallery


Center for Photographic Art — in Sunset Center at San Carlos and Ninth — noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, and by appointment — (821) 625-5181, photography.org


Since Ann Jastrab took over as executive director of the Center for Photographic Art three years ago, the group’s membership has tripled. The center’s many group exhibits, contests and lectures have drawn in photographers from near and far. Some shows delve deep into long-forgotten printing processes that were employed by photographers in the 19th century, while others push boundaries and point toward the future of the medium. “We strive to show a diverse array of exhibitions at the gallery, which has been located in the Sunset Center for decades,” Jastrab said. “We’re a little bit off the beaten path of Ocean Avenue, but it’s well worth the detour to stop by our space to see the work on the walls or perhaps sign up for an artist talk or lecture. Please come by soon to be inspired.”


Best Sculpture Gallery 


Bennett Sculpture Carmel — Dolores between Fifth and Sixth – 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily - (831) 626-3054, bennettsculpturecarmel.com


Brothers and sculptors Bob and Tom Bennett established a family business that thrives long after their passing. Today, the gallery is owned and operated by the mother-daughter team of Debi Bennett, who is Bob’s widow, and painter and jeweler Ashley Bennett-Stoddard. It’s also home to the creations of Tom’s daughter, sculptor Terrie Bennett, and sculptors Keith and MK Shannon. “Our mission is to maintain the integrity of the Bennett Bronze Classics while continuing to add innovative and creative new art to our gallery collection,” reads the gallery’s website.


Best Performing Arts Company or Group


Pacific Repertory Theatre — Monte Verde between Eighth and Ninth - (831) 622-0100, pacrep.org


The Monterey Peninsula’s premier theater group, PacRep is in the midst of an ambitious remodel of its longtime home, the Golden Bough Playhouse. The makeover includes completely redoing the inside of the theater, making ADA upgrades, adding bathrooms and a second lobby, and installing heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.

Founded in 1982 by its longtime executive director, Stephen Moorer, the theater celebrates the genius of William Shakespeare with a festival in his name each year, and kicks off the New Year with a rock ’n’ roll tribute concert. PacRep also mentors the next generation of actors through its School of Dramatic Arts and runs the city-owned Forest Theater.


Best Concert Venue


Sunset Center — San Carlos between Eighth and 10th – (831) 620-2048, sunsetcenter.org


Owned by the city, Sunset Center attracts world-class talent to its main stage. Once the historic Sunset School, it has been transformed into a state-of-the-art facility, with soaring ceilings and excellent acoustics. After a hiatus due to Covid, concerts are back, with scheduled performances by Mavis Staples, Branford Marsalis, the Vienna Boys Choir and many others.

Sunset Center provides a stage for concerts by four local music groups, Monterey Symphony, Chamber Music Monterey Bay, Carmel Music Society and Youth Music Monterey Bay. It’s also home to the Carmel Bach Festival, one of the longest-running musical events in the country, and offers artists a venue to display their work, the Marjorie Evans Gallery.


Best Place to Relax and Listen to Music


Folktale Winery — 8940 W. Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley – (831) 293-7500, folktalewinery.com


The perfect place to sip wine and enjoy music in a garden setting, Folktale Winery in Carmel Valley has emerged as an enticing place to play for local musicians, mostly solo artists or duos. It also provides a stage for out-of-town acts and has hosted shows by several up-and-coming country music stars.

Situated in Carmel Valley with abundant views of the nearby mountains, the winery was acquired in 2015 by local Gregory Ahn and renamed Folktale Winery & Vineyards. “The name is inspired by the thrill of discovery, the joy of gathering, and the idea that every great bottle of wine holds a story,” its website explains.


Best Local Music Group (classical)


Monterey Symphony — (831) 646-8511, montereysymphony.org


Fulfilling its goal to “engage, educate and excite our community through the performance and continual discovery of symphonic music,” the Monterey Symphony is set to play five concerts at Sunset Center through next June, with each featuring a premier soloist. Now in its 76th season, the symphony recently welcomed a new music director, Jayce Ogren. During the worst of the pandemic, the symphony discovered new and innovative ways to keep its musicians connected to audiences — from recitals in unconventional venues, to a pair of sold-out “Love Letters to Carmel” concerts at the Forest Theater.


Best Local Music Group (rock, jazz and pop)


The Bubba Pickens Band — instagram.com/bubbapickens


For a band without a Facebook page or a website — and very few public performances — the Bubba Pickens Band has quite a local following. With four Carmel High School teachers in the lineup, the band plays a lively mix of bluegrass and folk music. If you want to see them, follow their Instagram page for details. “We have the best fans in the world, and, in our humble opinion, the best dancers,” the band recently posted on Instagram. “Come out and let loose at one of our upcoming concerts — we’ll bring the music, and you can bring the moves.”


Best Place to Take Visitors


Point Lobos State Reserve — Highway 1 south of Carmel – pointlobos.org


First called the “greatest meeting of land and water in the world” by the late local painter Francis McComas, Point Lobos State Reserve is a magnet not only for painters and photographers, but for just about anyone who loves the outdoors. Famous for its rugged coastline, windswept cypress groves and forest of Monterey pines, it’s remarkably accessible, and some of its trails than can accommodate wheelchairs. It’s also home to one of the richest marine environments anywhere — every weekend, scores of scuba divers explore the mysterious world beneath the waves. If you want to show off the best of where we live, Pine Cone readers agree that Point Lobos is the place to do it.


Best Family-Friendly Activity


Monterey Bay Aquarium — 886 Cannery Row, Monterey – 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily – (831) 648-4800, montereybayaquarium.org


More than 2 million people each year visit the world-famous aquarium, which offers a fascinating glimpse into what lies beneath the waves of Monterey Bay. The first aquarium in the world to exhibit a kelp forest, it has also drawn praise for displaying and caring for great white sharks, and pioneering the animal husbandry of jellyfish. Its imposing “Open Sea” exhibit offers 90-foot floor-to-ceiling views of swimming sea turtles, glittering schools of sardines and tuna, while the sea otter tank with its daily feedings of the playful mammals is a favorite of locals and tourists, alike. Kids have their own special place — the “Splash Zone” exhibit — which features playful penguins and kid-level activities. Its most recent addition, “Into the Deep,” highlights ocean life that can usually be seen only with the aid of deep-sea technology. Located on the site of a former sardine cannery, it is now a major tourist attraction, which revitalized a part of Monterey that had become blighted following the collapse of the sardine fishing industry.


Best Local Festival


Monterey Jazz Festival — montereyjazzfestival.org


One of the world’s premier jazz festivals, the Monterey Jazz Festival has attracted world-class talent to the Monterey Fairgrounds since 1958. The three-day festival showcases more than 500 musicians on eight stages.

The list of those who have played there reads like a Who’s Who of jazz greats. This year’s event included performances by singer Gregory Porter and guitarist Charlie Hunter, along with a reunion of musicians who played on saxophonist Joshua Redman’s 1994 album, “Mood Swing.” Through its Next Generation Jazz Band and educational programs, the festival mentors the jazz musicians of tomorrow.


Best Church-Sponsored Event


Jewish Food Festival — carmelbethisrael.org


Hosted yearly by Congregation Beth Israel in Carmel Valley, the Jewish Food Festival brings together people and great food. The menu is filled with “Jewish Soul Food” favorites like hot pastrami, brisket, latkes, blintzes, matzo ball soup and egg creams — and so much more. Although the pandemic made it into a drive-through event for the past few years, locals still show up for a taste of the best of Jewish cuisine.


Best Place to Watch the Sunset

Best Place to Walk Your Dog

Best Beach


Carmel Beach — Ocean and Scenic – free parking along Scenic is permitted from 6 a.m. to midnight – ci.carmel.ca.us


Beloved by locals and tourists, Carmel Beach is the perfect place to take your dogs, watch the sunset, have a picnic with friends and family or brave the chilly Pacific Ocean to wade near the surf line or catch a few waves. There’s a reason Carmel Beach is rated One of America’s Top Beach Towns by Travel + Leisure, Thrillist, Trip Advisor and by Pine Cone readers who have consistently made it their choice for Best Beach. Shaped like a crescent and covered with some of the whitest sand you can find anywhere, Carmel Beach ranks high among those who like to take a stroll where the land and sea meet. It’s also one of the most dog-friendly beaches you will ever visit — at sunrise and sunset, pooches of every imaginable stripe can be seen dashing and splashing along the shoreline. When the sun sinks into the sea — or a bank of fog — every evening, beach-goers can almost be heard collectively saying “Ahhhhh.”


Best Place to Read The Pine Cone


Online and at 300 drop points around the Peninsula — carmelpinecone.com


You can read it on your phone,

Or take a paper copy home.

You can read it in a chair,

But please don’t try it on the stair.

You can read it with a cuppa,

Sitting down or standing uppa.

Read your Pine Cone in a park,

Or on a beach where pooches bark.

Enjoy it in the morning fog;

Peruse the weekly sheriff’s log.

Find the latest on the Pit —

What will Pastor make of it?

You can keep up with Dave Potter.

(Here’s a photo of an otter.)

Learn about some cats and dogs,

and baby owls — and sometimes, frogs.

Read it sitting by the shore,

Or locked behind your bathroom door.

You can read it here or there.

You can read it anywhere.

And so our joy won’t be diminished,

Please recycle when you’re finished.


Best Hiking Trail


Inspiration Point Trail — Palo Corona Regional Park, 4860 W. Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley –



A moderate hike of 2 miles each way (starting in the parking lot), this steadily climbing trail gains about 850 feet of elevation before arriving at a view-blessed bench. Along the way, you will pass through an oak forest and maybe see some cows. You can catch your breath while taking in birds-eye views of Carmel Point, Carmel River Beach, Point Lobos and Carmel Valley along the way.

The bench, meanwhile, makes for the perfect picnic spot. Just be sure to bring a pair of sturdy shoes and some water.


My Favorite Park


Garland Ranch Regional Park — 700 W. Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley – dawn to dusk daily – mprpd.org


In what its manager, the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District, calls the granddaddy of the public agency’s properties, Garland Ranch Regional Park was bought in 1975 from William Garland II, who the district said “generously gifted a portion of the cost by reducing the purchase price to below fair market value.” From the willow-covered banks of the Carmel River, through the cottonwood-sycamore stands of the old floodplain, Garland is home to a variety of landscapes that occur at elevations from 200 to 2,000 feet. The trails include open oak savannas and vistas well worth photographing.

“Along the way, you will travel through maple-filled canyons, dense oak woodlands, and thick stands of chaparral. Garzas Creek gently bisects the park and provides a peaceful, shaded trail that reaches a secluded side canyon of redwoods,” the park district says.


Best Fitness/Health Center


Carmel Valley Athletic Club — 27300 Rancho San Carlos Road, Carmel Valley – 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday – (831) 624-2737, cvaconline.com


Established 54 years ago, the Carmel Valley Athletic Club said its friendly environment is ideal for accomplishing one’s health and wellness goals, as well as “expanding your social circle and filling up your calendar.” CVAC offers state-of-the-art fitness equipment to help you stay in shape, as well as group exercise classes and social events, including weekend drop-in tennis. “For years CVAC has been known as ‘The Local’s Resort,’ but we like to think of it as a family,” the popular fitness club says.

A two-story fitness center, 50-plus weekly group exercise classes, a heated 25-yard lap and recreation pool, family and adult hot tubs, social activities for adults and kids, childcare for youngsters 6 weeks to 12 years, and a bocce ball court are among the CVAC’s offerings. One member, Michele, offered a highly favorable review: “Incredible gym, spa and pool area and delicious, healthy food available in the cafe. Very experienced and knowledgeable staff. It truly is a beautiful sanctuary in Carmel Valley to work out or relax by the pool or at the spa.”


Best Yoga Studio


Seaside Yoga Sanctuary — Carmel Plaza, Ocean and Mission – 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday – (831) 899-9642, seasideyogasanctuary.com


In the About Us section of its website, Seaside Yoga Sanctuary in Carmel Plaza starts by quoting the late Indian yoga legend Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar, who compared the practice to music: “The rhythm of the body, the melody of the mind and the harmony of the soul create the symphony of life.” Like Iyengar, Seaside Yoga Sanctuary believes that yoga is for everyone — all ages and physical abilities. “Our mission is to serve our community by creating a sanctuary to promote health and wellness through the practice and education of yoga,” according to the business, which says its classes are diverse in styles and levels, for the seasoned practitioner and those new to yoga. While indoor classes have returned, it also offers outdoor and live- streaming options.


Best Golf Course


Pebble Beach Golf Links — 1700 17 Mile Drive, Pebble Beach – hours vary by season – (831) 574-5609, pebblebeach.com


Golfers from around the globe dream of playing a round at Pebble Beach Golf Links. Rated the No. 1 public golf course in the United States by pretty much everyone, and steeped in history like no other American course, the legendary links hosted its sixth U.S. Open in 2019 — more than any other location over the last five decades. Eight future championships will be hosted at Pebble Beach Golf Links, including four U.S. Opens in 2027, 2032, 2037 and 2044, its first U.S. Women’s Open in 2023, plus three additional Women’s Opens in 2035, 2040 and 2048. And of course, every February, the PGA tour stops at Pebble for the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, a tradition that began in 1947, when Bing Crosby moved his charity Clambake here from Southern California. Pebble Beach Golf Links officially opened for play on Feb. 22, 1919.


Best Museum


Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History — 165 Forest Ave., Pacific Grove – 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday – (831) 648-5716, pgmuseum.org


Pacific Grove’s landmark museum opened in 1883 — the same year as the Brooklyn Bridge. While the museum said it’s one of the oldest natural history museums in the United States, it added that its “collection’s deep diversity of the Central Coast’s flora, fauna, and historical artifacts and stories, its pioneering scientific work, and its interactivity with the community make it as current as ever.” This weekend, just in time for Halloween, the museum will hold Spooky Science Saturday, where participants can “discover local tarantulas and spiders as a Carmel teacher gives us a closer look at his live collection.” If that’s not creepy enough, they can also get close to a snake and try out echolocation used by bats.


Best Library


Harrison Memorial Library — Mission and Sixth – 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and Friday – (831) 624-4629, ci.carmel.ca.us/library


Opened in 1928, Harrison Memorial Library was designed by the renowned California architect Bernard Maybeck and financed by a bequest from Ella Reid Harrison as a memorial to her husband, California Supreme Court Justice Ralph Chandler Harrison. Beloved by Carmel residents, its community support was bolstered in 1992, when the library began to rely solely on private gifts for books, supplies, electronic resources and computer equipment. Today, the library said private support “has become the foundation of the library’s free public services.”


Best Inn/B&B


Carmel Garden Inn — Fourth and Torres – (831) 624-6926, carmelgardeninn.com


Located just three blocks from action-packed Ocean Avenue, Carmel Garden Inn serves guests who can start off the day by enjoying breakfast — prepared on site by its staff — in its new dining room. Homemade scones and the inn’s “secret recipe” granola are among the morning offerings. If you’re looking for a designer handbag or a new pair of shoes, it’s a quick stroll to Carmel Plaza, where post-shopping lunch can also be had. After an afternoon of retail exploration — and perhaps beaching — Carmel Garden Inn invites guests to relax in front of the fire in the dining room. “Enjoy the wines we pour, the special cheeses and treats we serve,” Carmel Garden Inn says. “We keep the cookie jars filled with homemade treats.” And if you’re traveling with pets, the inn welcomes them, too. “Many of the rooms are designated pet friendly. Sheeted dog beds, food and water bowls, treats — we understand. We are dog people, too.”




Best Florist


Fleurs du Soleil — 598 Fremont St., Monterey – 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday – (831) 656-0455, fleursdusoleil.com


Although Kim England has been arranging flowers for 20 years, she expanded her artistic offerings by opening her Monterey shop in 2013. Customers and staff alike have said it’s the quality and unique variety of the flowers she brings in, paired with her eye for design, that set her arrangements apart. England draws inspiration from the natural environment, and particularly loves the juxtaposition of colors and texture. While the majority of her flowers are locally grown, she also uses special varieties from the San Francisco Flower Market, sourced from all over the world. The retail space of Fleurs du Soleil is a great place for local shoppers to get inspiration and unique gifts for a wide range of celebrations.


Best Furniture Store


Mum’s Place — 246 Forest Ave., Pacific Grove – 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday – (831) 372-6250, mumsfurniture.com


Step into Mum’s and you’ll find a showroom filled with a full range of furniture styles, plus accessories and objets d’art. For 36 years, Mum’s has been dedicated to bringing in a wide variety of designs to satisfy locals’ needs, tastes and budgets. “Design and quality are important, but so is value,” said owners Mugo and Talin Tersakyan. “Our vision is to bring in the latest and enduring designs at accessible prices.” Among classic, traditional, transitional, country French, and contemporary collections at Mum’s Place, clients can customize their choices with more than 80 furniture lines and some 5,000 fabrics. If it’s time to spruce up the living room, or maybe just graduate from furniture that doesn’t scream, “We have young kids,” Pine Cone readers say that Mum’s should be your first stop.


Best Golf Shop


Pebble Beach Pro Shop — 1700 17 Mile Drive, Pebble Beach – 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. daily – (831) 622-8723, pebblebeach.com


Pets, cars and golf form Carmel’s holy trinity, and the Pebble Beach Pro Shop may be just the place to leave an offering and find a miracle. OK, maybe the clubs there aren’t magic, but the shop provides quality products and services guests aren’t likely to find elsewhere. In addition to the breathtaking beauty of the coastal greens and the ever-changing sea that attract guests to the resort, the pro shop is another element of a guest’s golf experience — and one where the purchase will represent the fabled golf course for years to come. With that in mind, the employees provide stellar customer service to help you select from among the array of high-quality products. For folks who have never held a golf club, or avid golfers who want to add to their collection, the Pebble Beach Pro Shop balances the new and exciting with proven core brands. The shop is open until 6:30 p.m., yet staff tends to wait till the last golfer comes in at the end of their day on the greens.


Best Hardware Store


Ace Hardware — 290 Crossroads Blvd.; 401 Mid Valley Center, Carmel Valley; 229 Forest Ave. and 1136 Forest Ave., Pacific Grove – hours vary by location – (831) 293-8050, (831) 250-5666, (831) 372-3284, (831) 646-9144, acehardware.com


Imagine a beautiful Saturday afternoon, when you’ve brought home a special piece of art from one of the local galleries, and you want to hang it immediately — but you don’t have the right hook. Or, less aesthetically, you’ve discovered a plumbing problem that you know would be an easy fix if you just had the right stuff. Whether it’s duct tape, WD40 or some other antidote, Ace Hardware has you covered. Although each store is a member of the largest retailer-owned hardware cooperative in the business, these stores, locally owned and managed, give customers a sense of shopping where everybody knows your name — with the benefit of a big business. In an era when it’s hard to find specialized service or even someone to work the register, a company that says, “Ace is the place with the helpful hardware folks” invites confidence.


Best Housewares Store


Prim’s Carmel — 546 Carmel Rancho Blvd. – 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday – (831) 620-1251, primscarmel.com


It’s been 10 years since the family-owned hardware and housewares store created a fresh venue in a landmark location. Beautiful displays of dishes, candles, outdoor furniture, cookware and more grab your attention the minute you walk through the door. And there’s plenty of help and expert advice when you’re ready to buy a fancy new coffeemaker or some cleaning gear to get your place sparkling. What likely earned them this year’s Golden Pine Cone is the customer service. More important than their motto — “We stand out from the competition because we deliver the products you can’t get anywhere else. We not only offer the best products but the best value for you.” — is the fact that they mean it.


Best Pet Store


Diggidy Dog — NE corner of Ocean at Monte Verde – 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday – (831) 625-1585, diggidydog.com


It only makes sense in a canine community to have a dedicated dog boutique. Since 2003, the shop has catered to canines but also focuses on felines, providing unique, functional, and healthy products for dogs — and cats. While its primary focus is on the animals, a lot of what the shop sells delights people as much as — if not more than — it does their pets. Diggidy Dog’s wide array of quality treats, toys, apparel, collars and leashes is sure to satisfy the most discerning dog or finicky feline — and their person. Longtime customer Christy O’Connor loved the store so much, in June 2021 she bought it and set out to return the shop to its original concept of providing healthy treats made in the USA, plus unique items and a wide range of Carmel-based products. Don’t forget to say hi to Tristan and Norman, shop dogs who just might make this the happiest spot in town.


Best Garden Shop


Griggs Nursery — 9220 W. Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley – 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday – (831) 626-0680, griggsnursery.com


Gardeners have long known that digging your hands into the soil has a centering, nurturing effect. Locals count on Griggs Nursery for houseplants and succulents, seasonal annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs to upgrade the places where they enjoy spending their days. For 20 years, Griggs Nursery has been thriving in its Carmel Valley location, helping to improve the local landscape, one plant at a time. “We know what works here, so we can grow the variety and quality we want for our customers,” the Griggs family said. 


Best Camping/Skiing/Surfing Store


REI — 145 Gen. Stilwell Drive, Marina – 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday – (831) 883-8048, rei.com/stores/marina


Need an antidote to daily stress? Try getting outside, where you can breathe deeply, stretch your limbs and take in the beauty of this environment. A company whose widely recognized initials stand for Recreational Equipment, Inc., REI is dedicated to inspiring, educating and outfitting a lifestyle of outdoor adventure and stewardship. Founded in Seattle in 1938, the retail chain carries apparel, footwear, and gear for a wide range of outdoor and fitness activities. Whether you’re a novice or an expert outdoor enthusiast, the membership-optional store at The Dunes retail center can help you cover a lot of ground.


Best Place to Buy Athletic Wear


The Treadmill — 111 Crossroads Blvd. – 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily – (831) 624-4112, thetreadmill.com


For nearly 40 years, The Treadmill has endeavored to be the embodiment of a friendly, community-driven, trustworthy local business that supports and anchors the active community in and around Carmel. Since 1983, the family-owned and operated store has been known to locals as the place to find premier clothing and footwear brands. Speaking of footwear, they sell running, hiking and walking shoes the old-fashioned way — they ask what you’re planning to do in them, then measure your feet and have you walk around in several pairs for a few minutes before you make a decision. After talking to the patient, experienced and knowledgeable staff there, it will quickly become obvious why Pine Cone readers have voted The Treadmill as the No. 1 source to get everything you need to support a healthy lifestyle, eight years in a row. 


Best Pharmacy


Carmel Drug Store — Ocean between Dolores and San Carlos – pharmacy 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, store 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily – (831) 624-3819, carmeldrugstore.com


Carmel’s classic drug store and family pharmacy has been independently owned and serving the community since 1910, and as its website says, it invites you to “shop back in time.” Known for offering quality products and service, this drugstore might just be the most convenient stop in town. Located in the heart of Carmel, its narrow storefront is chock-full of everything folks might need or maybe forgot in their rush to get to vacationland. The back of the shop looks like the old-fashioned pharmacy it is, yet it provides state-of-the-art products, including veterinary medicines for your pets. The front of the store offers greeting cards, postcards and books by local authors. You can find some high-end bath and body products, including Sierra Essentials bars of naturally scented soap, made without a list of unpronounceable chemicals. The shop also stocks Bonny Doon Farm’s soaps, salves and lotions, in soothing lavender and invigorating lemon verbena. Now, if the place had a soda fountain, you really would feel like you’ve traveled back in time.


Best Children’s Clothing Store/Boutique


Heaven Children’s Wear — Lincoln between Ocean and Seventh – 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday – (831) 624-6550, heavenincarmel.com


Ash and Monique Vasanji, who hosted the grand opening of Heaven in 2001, are celebrating the 22nd anniversary of their European-style children’s boutique, designed for the customer who has exquisite taste and seeks quality and style for their little ones. Said Monique, “Throughout the years, our family has remained committed to bringing in really special clothing, shoes, and gifts for the children of our community and beyond. Winning the Golden Pine Cone makes us so grateful for the support and recognition.” Located on Lincoln where you might remember the legendary Village Straw Shop was located, Heaven beckons customers through double doors into a gracious, well-lit salon appointed with very special, very select children’s apparel.  Entering, it’s as if you’ve wandered into the custom wardrobe of a favored child. Perhaps yours.


Best Men’s Clothing Store


Khakis of Carmel — Carmel Plaza, Ocean and Junipero – 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sunday – (831) 625-8106, khakisofcarmel.com


Gentlemen who shop at Khakis stand out in a crowd — but only if they want to. The shop’s timeless sense of good taste means you can make a quiet statement, if you like, or don something more fashion-forward for an evening at Sunset Center. Customers out for an afternoon walk often shop the classic display windows at Khaki’s as if it were an art exhibit, and then head inside to collect quality classic and couture menswear. Yet this shop’s success seems to be rooted in providing the ultimate in customer service. Khakis of Carmel is the award-winning pursuit and passion of Jim and Connie Ockert, whose combined creative and entrepreneurial talents have produced a sartorial salon that’s stood the test of time. “We have worked tirelessly to be innovative in these ever-changing times, and to curate a really different, interesting product selection that suits today’s customer,” said Jim. And, he said, they are honored to be chosen as Golden Pine Cone winners.


Best Men’s Shoe Store


Hedi’s Shoes — Ocean and Mission (additional locations at 3630 The Barnyard, and 330 Alvarado St. and Del Monte Shopping Center in Monterey) – 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily – (831) 624-5580, hedi.com


Feeling a little down at the heels? Maybe it’s time for a new pair of shoes. Haydar “Hedi” Movahedi opened his first Carmel shoe store 30 years ago. Since then, he’s cobbled together comfort, quality, convenience and cool, matched by customer service from experienced staff who understand fit, form and function. They want to make sure that you feel just as good as you look as you stroll along Scenic or enjoy brunch at the Mission Ranch. Featured among various brands offering dressy, casual or rough-wear shoes, are Ecco, Pikolinos, Mephisto, Paul Greene, HOKA, Birkenstock, Naot, Ara, Dansko, Joseph Seibel, Rieker, Remonte, Olukei, and Finn Comfort, plus a complement of Kühl clothing and accessories.

Best Women’s Clothing Boutique


Girl Boy Girl — Mission and Seventh – 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday – (831) 626-3368, girlboygirlcarmel.com


Girl Boy Girl, established in 1991, aims to “to create the most joyous and unforgettable shopping experience for everyone that walks through our doors.” Known for their exceptional curation and selection of more than 80 contemporary brands, GBG and its sister store, Paloosh, try to present something for everyone seeking fun, festive fashion. Guests have come to expect excellent customer service by professionals uniquely qualified to style women from head to toe, while honoring the unique characteristics of each client.


Best Resale/Consignment Shop


Yellow Brick Road Benefit Shop — 26388 Carmel Rancho Blvd. – 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday – (831) 626-8480, yellowbrickroadbenefitshop.org


Circa 1989, Shirin Snyder, wife of the Rev. John Snyder, then pastor of Carmel Presbyterian Church, had a dream. She wanted her church to become more closely connected to the people of Monterey County. By establishing Yellow Brick Road Benefit Shops, she sought meaningful and productive ways to offer some people a chance to give back, while giving others an opportunity to buy bargains while raising funds to support locals in need. Thrift shoppers love coming here, because they know they can find designer clothing (occasionally with the original tags still attached), interesting accessories and all sorts of household goods, all in a clean, well-organized environment. Yellow Brick Road has grown into three locations: Main store (clothing, household items and collectibles), a bookstore, and a furniture and art store. It’s generated more than $7 million, which has been given back to Monterey County through grants to nonprofit organizations and student scholarships.


Best Women’s Accessories

Best Place to Buy Designer Clothes 

Best Vintage Clothing Store


Foxy Couture Carmel — San Carlos 2SW of Fifth – 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Monday – (831) 625-9995, foxycouturecarmel.com


Since 1991, Susan Galvin has recycled vintage and contemporary designer clothing into a business which, more than 10 years ago, became Foxy Couture Carmel, a sustainable luxury, designer, vintage consignment store. “We are sustainable because everything in our store is pre-owned,” she said. “We recycle and repurpose timeless products from design houses whose allure typically doesn’t change that much. These luxury fabrics and designs have been gently worn or not at all.” Galvin takes pride in the special things she sleuths out all over the world. “We are honored to receive this award from The Carmel Pine Cone, the cornerstone, along with the Carmel Library, of our community,” she said.


Best Women’s Shoe Store


Lloyd’s Shoes — Ocean and Dolores – 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily – (831) 625-1382, lloydsshoes.com


You might find owner Tess Calhoon sporting a pair of Pons Quintana platform ankle boots, made on the Spanish island of Minorca, in the most beautiful rich ebony brown. Although the Spanish boots are perfect for the holidays, she wears them to work at Lloyd’s. Admittedly, tucked under her desk is a stash of alternative choices: a pair of ultra-mini ankle-high Uggs in chestnut for afternoon wear, as well as a patent leather ankle-strap heel by AGL for drinks and dinner at the end of her day.

“We’ve actually brought in a lot of new styles from Spain,” Calhoon said. “Knowing their limited distribution of these beautiful shoes makes them even more special.” After facing pandemic-based issues around getting in merchandise, Calhoon is excited to have a store filled with so many new offerings on the tables and shelves. “We’re so grateful for our amazing customers,” she said, “who have continued to support us. We couldn’t be in our 42nd year without them.”


Best Jewelry Store


Kocek Jewelers — San Carlos between Seventh and Ocean – 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday – (831) 624-8485, kocekjeweler.com


Born Kirkor Kocekian in a war-torn Istanbul and introduced to the craft of fine jewelry when he was just 12 years old, Kirkor Kocek opened his eponymous jewelry store in Carmel in 1973. “My career has been a balance of crafting and selling custom-designed jewelry and timeless designs, and a devotion to giving back to nonprofit organizations, such as the Kinship Center. I know the gifts I give can make people’s lives easier. This is something I understand,” he said. He has also served on the board of the Carmel Chamber of Commerce and is a past president of the Rotary Club of Monterey. “I am proud to be part of Carmel. We are steadfast by the sea. This award is meaningful to me. I am honored,” he said.


Best Shopping Center


The Crossroads Carmel — Highway 1 at Rio Road – hours vary – (831) 625-4106, thecrossroadscarmel.com


Where can you grab a cup of Joe before perusing the latest novels, then shop for groceries — all without having to move your car? The answer is The Crossroads Carmel, the wonderfully eclectic collection of boutique stores, restaurants and services that has served Monterey Peninsula residents and visitors for nearly five decades. River House Books alone is cause for regularly visiting the outdoor mall at Highway 1 at Rio Road. Nearly all of the businesses at the Crossroads are locally owned and/or operated, so you can count on unique shopping and dining experiences. Besides serving some of the best meals on the Peninsula, longtime restaurant Rio Grill (winner of Best Restaurant in Carmel) even offers live music Friday nights and Saturday and Sunday afternoons. The Crossroads is truly the perfect place for one-stop shopping.


Best Antique Shop


Cannery Row Antique Mall — 471 Wave St., Monterey – 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily – (831) 655-0264, canneryrowantiquemall.com


The largest antique and collectibles mall around, the Cannery Row Antique Mall has something for everyone. Seriously. From comic books to vintage chandeliers to antique jewelry and toys, the roughly 100 vendors in the antique mall offer a ton of stuff to eyeball and take home with you. Before you know it, you’ve spent two hours in the place, but it’s OK, because it only feels like 20 minutes. The massive, 21,000-square-foot two-story building housed a canning company in the 1920s and is one of the last remaining historical buildings from the Steinbeck era. The Cannery Row Antique Mall’s location is great for those who also want to grab a bite to eat or do some wine tasting, since all of that is within walking distance. The mall was recently voted Antique Mall of the Year by Professional Antique Mall Magazine.


Best Bookstore


River House Books — 208 Crossroads Blvd. – 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday – (831) 626-2665, riverhousebookscarmel.com


Bookstores are a rarity these days, obviously, and that’s why Monterey Peninsula residents are fortunate to have River House Books nearby. Located in the Crossroads, the family-owned River House offers an “exciting and changing” selection of new works in the humanities and sciences, bestselling fiction and nonfiction, children’s classics, youth favorites, travel, foreign and domestic magazines and newspapers, plus gift-worthy volumes about architecture, art, cooking, gardening, interior design, photography, sports and recreation, and wine. Its knowledgeable employees will help with recommendations and find what you’re looking for. Oh, and every one of the books in River House Books is “personally selected” by the shop’s proprietor, not an algorithm. The store is a consistent Golden Pine Cone winner, having won every year since 2013.


Best Bike Shop


Mad Dogs & Englishmen — SW corner of Ocean and Mission and at the Monterey Plaza Hotel, Monterey – 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily – (831) 709-0007, maddogsandenglishmen.com


Mad Dogs & Englishmen, which specializes in high-quality electric bikes, prides itself on stocking the world’s finest bikes and cycling accessories. “Our inventory has been hand-picked based on what we believe to be the best you can buy.”

The shop carries respected and iconic California brands, such as Specialized, Vintage Electric and Super73. But everything it sells is superior in quality, design, functionality, craftsmanship and innovation, the business says. “So whether you are looking for a performance bike for road or trail, a commuter or active/leisure bike, a vintage-inspired or retro-style throttle bike, a folding bike, a cargo bike, a kid’s bike or even a super-special bicycle sidecar, we have the best in class to meet your needs.”

The shop likes to get to know its customers and build lasting relationships, and prides itself on offering a friendly and flexible approach.


Best Car Dealer


BMW Monterey — 1 Geary Plaza, Seaside – 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday – (877) 276-4517, bmwmonterey.com


The staff at BMW Monterey treats every visitor with respect and honesty, qualities it says draws customers to the dealership. “But it also helps that we have terrific new BMW models for sale,” according to the shop. Among the BMWs it’s offering are the 2023 750i xDrive Sedan with a manufacturer suggested retail price of $118, 640, and the 2023 M850i xDrive convertible for $120,595. If you’re looking to buy used, the dealership also offers dozens of preowned vehicles — from numerous manufacturers — starting from about $8,000 up to $197,000. If you’re not sure whether to buy a new or used model, the dealerships suggests you consider BMW’s certified pre-owned vehicles, which have lengthier warranties, complimentary roadside service and other benefits.


Best Gas Station

Best Auto Repair Shop


Lemos 76 — 544 Carmel Rancho Blvd. – 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday – (831) 624-2925, lemos76.com


Whether you need to fill up your car before heading to Carmel Valley or are in need of a repair, Lemos 76 — which has won Golden Pine Cones many times — has it all. Not only did the family-owned/operated Lemos win Best Gas Station this year, it won Best Auto Repair. “For 61 years, our five-star station has been serving the community with our full-service garage/smog testing, 24-hour pay at the pump and full- and self-serve at the pumps,” Lemos says on its website. The gas station is well known for its great customer service. Lemos also has a stocked snack shop serving yummy sandwiches from Bruno’s Market in Carmel and irresistible donuts from Red’s Donuts in Seaside. How can you go wrong?


Best Carwash


El Estero Car Wash — 590 Fremont St., Monterey – 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday – (831) 373-1801, elesterocarwash.com


Owned and operated by John Fleige and John Logan, El Estero Car Wash has been washing, waxing, polishing and detailing for more than six decades, much to the glee of local residents, who consider El Estero the best in the business. “We value our customers and their vehicles,” El Estero says, and it shows. While its staff is focused on satisfying customers, its owners and managers actively participate in the business operations. El Estero Car Wash also gives back to the community by donating to local schools, organizations and charities. El Estero offers four different types of cleaning levels, from bronze to platinum, as well as an a la carte menu with services such as windshield treatments and wheel protectants.


Best Place for Brides to Shop


Epiphany Boutique — Mission between Fifth and Sixth – 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily – (831) 626-7700, epiphany-boutique.com


“Every gown in our boutique is hand selected and chosen just for our brides,” Epiphany Boutique in Carmel says on its website. “We travel the country and world to find the most unique and beautiful gowns.”

Gowns at Epiphany are priced from $1,000 to $6,000, with most in the $1,500 to $2,500 range. In a social media post late last month, one satisfied bride had glowing words for Epiphany owner Christine Dilullo and her staff. Epiphany was the third — and last — bridal store she visited in search of her gown. “Christine and her team were amazing to me and my bridesmaids,” the bride said. She continued, “I can’t express enough how much I loved the service. I got so many compliments on the day of my wedding — especially on the veil. I ended up choosing a dress that Christine selected for me. It was just perfect! And it had everything I was asking for.” Epiphany also offers one of the largest collections of formal dresses on the Central Coast. “We are proud to offer over 250 gowns in stock for you to take home the same day,” the shop says.


Best Gift Shop


Ami Carmel — Dolores between Fifth and Sixth – 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily – (831) 620-1600, amicarmel.com


The winner of Best New Business in 2021, Ami Carmel once again takes home a Golden Pine Cone, this time as Best Gift Shop. An eclectic store that features clothing, jewelry, fine art, home décor and just about everything in between, a visit to Ami Carmel likely won’t be a quick one. “To present things to people in a beautiful way and create experiences for people is our collective mission,” according to the business. “We want to share our vision with people, not only in our brick-and-mortar store in Carmel-by-the-Sea, but online as well.” Ami Carmel also offers events, such as Wine Down Wednesdays on the second Wednesday of each month, when you can enjoy quaffs from local wineries while checking out the shop, and the Meet the Maker series, which features artists and their products.


Best Candy Shop


Lula’s Chocolates — Carmel Plaza, Ocean and Mission, and 244 Crossroads Blvd. – 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily at Carmel Plaza and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday in the Crossroads – (831) 624-5852, (831) 626-3327, lulaschocolates.com


A regular Golden Pine Cone winner, Lula’s Chocolates is a local favorite. Owner Scott Lund started the business to carry on the tradition of his grandmother, Lula Lund, who was born in rural Wyoming in 1901 and learned the art of confectionary from her home economics teacher, who boarded at the Lund family’s home. After marrying and moving to Salt Lake City, Lula started selling Mrs. Lund’s Personality Chocolates. She made everything in a small candy kitchen located in her basement, Lula’s Chocolates says on its website. She sold chocolates for about three decades before retiring. Her grandson has taken up where she left off and Lula’s Chocolates has two locations, so the shop’s delectable chocolate caramels — and many other types of chocolates — are never too far away. They come pre-wrapped in attractive boxes with ribbons, making excellent last-minute gifts that are always welcome. Everything is made at Lund’s factory at Ryan Ranch, where tours and shopping are available, too.


Best Carpet and Flooring Store


Carpets & Floors — 471 Lighthouse Ave., Monterey – 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday – (831) 372-2300, carpetsandfloorsmonterey.com


Carpets & Floors advertises that it has the “largest selection of flooring in Monterey County,” which means you’ll likely have no problem finding something to suit your home. Besides the shop’s extensive collection, its owner, Dan Jones, says the carpet business “is in his blood.” Jones grew up near Dalton, Georgia, the “Carpet Capital of the United States.”

He knows how carpet is made, and he’s been hand selecting and putting together the Carpets & Floors, Inc. collection for many years. The shop’s wares are chosen based on what it believes are some of the most important things to consider in choosing flooring — quality, durability and sustainability — and that’s why the shop features wool carpet and a variety of high-quality synthetic and synthetic blends.

If you want something you don’t have to vacuum, Carpets & Floors also has  several hardwood and luxury vinyl tile options.


Best New Business


Shoshin — San Carlos between Fifth and Sixth – 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday through Sunday – (831) 877-6300, studioshoshin.com


Shoshin, an interior design studio and retail shop, took home the Golden Pine Cone this year for Best New Business. Shoshin describes itself this way: “Part design laboratory and part treasure trove, the shop offers inspired accessories, art and furnishings for the design enthusiast, as well as beautiful linens, tabletop decor, and more, for outfitting a well-considered home.”

Shoshin said its approach to design is both clinical and creating, and it wants to understand the way its clients live and work, “so that we can create spaces that are not only attractive, but also inject organization and calm into lives that are busy and well-lived.”

Shoshin founder Alexis Smith spent the first half of her career counseling Fortune 500 companies, real estate developers and government agencies on how to communicate with the public. “

With no formal design education, Alexis can’t help but bend the rules of traditional interior design,” her online bio says. “Her spaces often mix traditional and contemporary elements, designer and found objects, new and vintage.”




Best Place to Work

Best Real Estate Company


Carmel Realty — Dolores, south of Seventh – 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday – (831) 622-1000, carmelrealtycompany.com 


The longevity of Carmel’s oldest real estate company is no accident, operating locally for 109 years on the principles of integrity, work ethic, teamwork, collaboration, communication, and customer service — all of which create a pleasant work environment for a crack team of agents, brokers and employees. Carmel Realty takes mentoring seriously, making sure each of the firm’s agents is equipped to provide great service.

Updated processes, a new website and robust advertising campaigns enhance the company’s century-old relationship with the local community — and help employees excel at their jobs.

If you’re buying or selling a home, Pine Cone readers also recommend Carmel Realty. After all, its reputation with the local community spans four generations, providing first-rate service with residential and commercial real estate listings, vacation and long-term rentals, estate management, and complete accounting services by an in-house CPA. Clients benefit from the company’s unmatched knowledge of the market and decades of local management experience.


Best Place to Volunteer

My Favorite Nonprofit


The Carmel Foundation — SE Corner of Eighth and Lincoln – 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday – (831) 624-1588, carmelfoundation.org


If the YMCA had a much more mature brother or sister, it would be The Carmel Foundation, which provides a plethora of services for those 55 and better — and you don’t even have to live in town. The friendly and knowledgeable volunteers here will guide you as you choose from a long list of activities and services, and they seem to have a heck of a good time doing it. Wanna learn Spanish? There’s a class. Looking for a place to play bridge? C’mon over. If you want to get bendy with some yoga instruction, or join a group of walkers, the Foundation can help with that, too. It’s recently re-started its bus tours to San Francisco and other locations, which allow members and guests to enjoy shopping and additional activities without the hassle of driving and parking. But the Foundation isn’t just about recreation — there are support services for housing, homebound meals, weekday lunches, blood pressure checks, legal services, health insurance counseling ... the list goes on and on. You already knew this was a great place to retire — now you know one of the big reasons why.


Best Place to Get Married


Carmel Mission — 3080 Rio Road – Museum, store and grounds open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday; check website for Mass schedule – (831) 624-1271, carmelmission.org


The place that’s now the setting for fancy weddings in a delightful coastal village sure didn’t start out that way. Saint Junipero Serra founded the Carmel Mission as a Catholic outpost in 1771, about a year after he arrived in Monterey by ship. About 250 years later, the historic church, with its softly worn stones and romantic gardens, has become a super desirable place to tie the knot, and Pine Cone readers have decided once again that it’s the Best Place to Get Married. There are restrictions, however. Only Catholics may wed there, and couples must obtain permission from their local Catholic pastors to get married outside of their parishes and at the Basilica. But folks at the Mission make it clear they will help the happy couples every step of the way. “The church seeks to help you prepare yourselves for the great day of your wedding, as well as helping you with spiritual, psychological and practical things that will make your wedding day a Sacrament that will last a lifetime!” the Mission states.


Best Place to Get Married (non-church)


Mission Ranch Hotel and Restaurant — 26270 Dolores St. – (831) 624-6436, missionranchcarmel.com


Mission Ranch is an obvious choice for many couples to get married. Just imagine the photo possibilities, with Point Lobos, Carmel River Beach and the Pacific Ocean as natural backdrops. In its tranquil setting a few steps from Carmel Mission, Mission Ranch and its experienced and professional staff offer myriad possibilities for the big day. “Ceremonies can take place on a lush green lawn, with a dramatic entrance for the bride as she crosses over the picturesque bridge and pond, or on our more intimate brick patio,” says the Ranch. And that’s not even including potential for adorable photo-bombing sheep. “The wedding reception and meal service are held inside the historic barns, creating an out-of-the-ordinary place to celebrate.” Management also reminds couples that the Ranch is an excellent place for a rehearsal dinner — “idyllic, truly distinctive and a great prelude to any wedding.”


Best Retirement Community


Del Mesa Carmel — 500 Del Mesa Drive – (831) 624-1853, delmesacarmel.org


Located just a mile east of Carmel-by-the-Sea, Del Mesa’s 289 condominium units sit on a picturesque plateau above Carmel Valley Road, protected by a 24-hour security gate, ensuring residents’ privacy and safety. Amenities at the community include a gym and indoor pool, access to extensive hiking and bike trails through Carmel Valley and Big Sur, easy access to beaches at Point Lobos and in Carmel, a library stocked with local and national newspapers, magazines, and a wide selection of fiction and nonfiction books, plus clubs and classes. Who said becoming a senior means you have to act your age?


Best Electrician


Cate Electrical — Dolores at Seventh – 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday – (831) 624-5361, cateelectrical.com


A Golden Pine Cone winner with more than a decade’s worth of awards under their collective tool belt, the Cate family is celebrating their 62nd year of business on the Peninsula. Michael Cate and Janine Cate Boone oversee an experienced crew of certified electricians. According to Pine Cone readers, they excel at what they do — everything from service calls to home remodeling, and landscape lighting, both residential and commercial. Since 1960, Cate has been committed to serving the local community.


Best Plumber


A and R Plumbing — 1720 Contra Costa St., Sand City – 24-hour emergency service at (831) 394-7221, aandrplumbinginc.com


This plumbing company was launched in 1974 by a pair of friends, Greg Aeschliman and Kelly Roper, along with wives Robin Aeschliman and Kathy Roper (both young moms at the time), who alternated morning and afternoon shifts in a tiny office before Aand R blossomed into the large-scale, full-service business it is today. Although Greg and Kelly have retired, the family-oriented shop remains locally famous for its outstanding work ethic, attention to quality, and superior customer service from its dedicated management team, office staff, and technicians.


Best Architect


Eric Miller Architects — 211 Hoffman Ave., Monterey – (831) 372-0410, ericmillerarchitects.com


Since its launch in 1987, Eric Miller’s firm has completed more than 200 projects — commercial and residential — throughout Monterey County, creating beautiful buildings with character-defining appearances and balancing clients’ ideas with Miller’s award-winning vision, resulting in extraordinary interior and exterior spaces. Miller and his team have been honored through the years by the Monterey Bay chapter of the American Institute of Architects, and the Pacific Grove Heritage Society. Services offered include architectural design, interior design, and construction administration.


Best Interior Design Business


Sea Blush Staging — Junipero 2SW of Fourth – (530) 574-8774, seablushstaging.com


Named after a coastal wildflower, this concierge and a la carte business specializes in staging local homes in innovative, aesthetically creative ways, inspired by casual living by the sea. The goal is to help homeowners sell their properties quickly and at top dollar. They can provide just consultation (with instructions and a shopping list for DIYers), or partial or full staging, and even offer a service to provide and “babysit” fresh flowers for the life of the listing. Owner and lead designer Heather Palmer, a University of San Diego alum, launched the company in January after nearly four years as lead interior designer for her other company, Carmel-based Heather Palmer Design.


Best Home Technology


House Wires — “Serving the greater Monterey Peninsula” – (831) 659-8324, houzz.com/professionals/home-automation-and-home-media/house-wires-pfvwus-pf~277245787


This somewhat stealthy but award-winning company is in its 18th year, designing, installing and servicing a wide variety of quality home lighting, audio/visual, wifi, home theater, and networking systems. Dedicated and talented professionals service Carmel, Carmel Valley, Pebble Beach, Big Sur, Monterey, Seaside, Marina, Del Rey Oaks, Salinas and Castroville with cable installation, home audio systems, home automation, home theater design and installation, outdoor audio installation, security installation, smart homes, smart lighting, surround-sound installation, and TV installation. House Wires received Best of Houzz (home design website) awards in 2018, 2020 and 2022, and maintains a five-star rating from Houzz for work quality and value.


Best General Contractor


KF Construction Inc. — 777 Cass St., Monterey – 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday – (831) 236-6871


This firmly established Monterey County company was founded in 2007 by Kevin Flanders, who said he prioritizes responsibility to clients to provide a project of the highest quality in a smooth, professional, and environmentally responsible manner. Services include general contractor, residential and commercial remodels, new construction, and property maintenance. “Everything we do, and how we do it, speaks to who we are and what we value,” Flanders said.


Best Painting Company


Jon Stuefloten Restoration Painting — 148 W. Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley – (831) 320-3252, jonstueflotenrestorationpainting.com


A locals’ local, Jon Stuefloten moved to the Carmel Highlands in the 1940s, graduated from Carmel High, and became fascinated with design and painting at a young age through his father, who helped Hugh Comstock build Carmel’s trademark cottages. With over 35 years of experience in the painting, construction, and design fields, Stuefloten brings advanced expertise and knowledge, and exceptional workmanship to every project. He is well known and respected for his accomplishments on projects of historical significance, including the interior restoration of Crespi Hall at the Carmel Mission, a building that has been in continuous use since 1797, and the Point Sur Lighthouse.


Best Landscaper-Gardening Service


INCA Landscape Management — 2210 Del Monte Ave., Monterey – 24/7 emergency service at (831) 625-0900, incalandscape.com


Your house might be a showcase on the inside, but don’t underestimate the importance of curb appeal to a happy neighborhood. As you try to balance the need for an aesthetically pleasing exterior with the expense of water that seems like it’s being measured out by the eyedropper, a good landscaper can be invaluable. This family-owned and family-operated company has been serving the Monterey Peninsula since 1981, striving to create a unique relationship to fit every client’s wants, needs and budgets. Services include landscape design and installation, garden maintenance, installation and upgrades of irrigation systems, installation of walkways and driveways, clean-ups, tree trimming, pruning, lawn installations and maintenance.


Best Real Estate Rental Company


San Carlos Agency — 26358 Carmel Rancho Lane, Suite 5 – 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday – (831) 624-3846, sancarlosagency.com 


A reputation for fairness and honesty has made this fourth-generation, family-owned business one of the most respected companies in Carmel and the greater Monterey Peninsula area for nearly 70 years. Established in 1954, San Carlos Agency is a full-service business specializing in real estate sales, property management, vacation rentals, and long-term rentals in Carmel, Carmel Highlands, Carmel Valley, Pebble Beach, Pacific Grove and Monterey.


Best Real Estate Lender


Synergy One Lending — Dolores 2 SW of Seventh, Unit D – 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday – (831) 521-9378, s1l.com/branch/carmel.


Former world-class Ironman triathlete Chad Hawker, an area manager for Synergy One, brings the same work ethic to lending that he did to training, teaming with area manager Courtney Garneri (his wife), and transaction coordinators Alexi Connell and Bryanna Costa, and loan officer Jessica Deniz to inject personalized tender loving care into every client relationship. Synergy One Lending is establishing itself as the place to come in Carmel for “The Modern Mortgage Experience” (a company trademark) for anyone looking to buy or refinance a home.


Best Title Company


Chicago Title — 26609 Carmel Center Place – 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday – (831) 277-9081, chicagotitlemonterey.com


A tradition of strength, expertise, and experience makes Chicago Title The Pine Cone readers’ first choice as a title company for attorneys, builders, lenders, buyers, sellers and real estate professionals. This nationally trusted company, founded in 1847, features five convenient Monterey County locations in Carmel, Monterey, and Salinas, offering a full range of residential and commercial services, including more than 170 years of underwriting experience.


Best Personal Bank


Chase Bank — 26378 Carmel Rancho Lane and 27845 Berwick Drive – 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday – (831) 624-8224, (831) 625-2400, chase.com


Chase Bank proudly serves nearly half of America’s households with financial services that include personal banking, credit cards, mortgages, auto financing, investment advice, small business loans, and payment processing. The company has more than 4,700 branches and 16,000 ATMs, including multiple locations on the Monterey Peninsula and throughout Monterey County, and takes pride in its customer service to help you get the answers you need.


Best Business Bank


Monterey County Bank — Four locations, including 3785 Via Nona Marie – 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday – (831) 625-4300, montereycountybank.com


Monterey County Bank has become a perennial winner of the coveted Golden Pine Cone for Best Business Bank. The oldest locally owned and locally managed business bank in the county opened in 1977 and grew into the Peninsula’s most trusted bank for Small Business Association loans. Other specialties include all aspects of business banking, providing competitive commercial lending products and outstanding merchant credit card services, all delivered with personal attention to its clients. Longtime president and CEO Charles Chrietzberg Jr. is particularly proud of helping local businesses get through the pandemic, assisting many in applying for government loans and grants to keep their doors open. Branches are conveniently located in Carmel, Monterey, Pacific Grove, Carmel Rancho, and Salinas. Company motto: “We believe in personal banking relations. We don’t open accounts — we start relationships.”


Best Investment House/Advisor


Monterey Private Wealth Management — 2340 Garden Road, Suite 202, Monterey – 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday – (831) 372-3426, montereyprivatewealth.com


The exceptional team of financial professionals at Monterey Private Wealth Management is famous for creatively customizes investment management, financial planning, and business retirement plans, with no hidden fees, serving affluent families and business owners who appreciate first-class service. Peace of mind is the primary product provided by a company dedicated to helping its clients achieve their financial goals, utilizing an exclusive six-step planning process that highlights the issues that are most important to each client.


Best Accountant


David Wilsey, CPA — 26350 Carmel Rancho Lane, Suite 100 – (831) 625-1921


Drawing upon years of valuable experience as an IRS-registered tax preparer, certified public accountant David Wilsey has been assisting taxpayers and small businesses with all of their tax-related needs in Carmel and surrounding communities for 21 years, maintaining the highest standard of knowledge and ethics. His services also include tax planning, bookkeeping, estate and trust taxes, and more.


Best Veterinarian


Carmel Valley Veterinary Hospital — 13738 Center St., Carmel Valley Village – 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to noon Saturday – (831) 659-2286, carmelvalleyvet.com


Around here, pets are pretty serious business, and Dr. James Holt’s full-service veterinary practice has been providing top-drawer care for pets since 1975, utilizing state-of-the-art technology for wellness, dental care (including non-anesthetic dental), diagnostic, surgical and emergency services, boarding and grooming. Holt’s multi-talented staff includes three veterinarians, three registered veterinary technicians, and a certified veterinary assistant. New clients are welcome and are encouraged to call the office with questions, or to book an appointment.


Best Pet Boarding


Casa de Amigos Animal Hotel — 715 Foam St., Monterey – 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily – (831) 373-0482, casadeamigosanimalhotel.com


Sometimes, your pet can’t travel with you, and some of them have raised playing on human guilt to an art form, sitting in their people’s suitcases and gazing sadly as if to say, “Why can’t I come?” Sit them down and have a good chat (maybe with treats), and explain that they get a special vacation spot, too — a private room at Monterey’s Casa de Amigos. There, dogs have opportunities to mingle, while cats get the privacy they insist upon. Food and comfy bedding is included, although you are welcome to bring your pet’s stuff from home. Casa de Amigos’ daycare program is much in demand and is a boon to folks who work long hours but don’t want to leave their besties alone all day. Casa de Amigos also offers full-service grooming. Now, just sit down and remind the furbabies of how, the last time she saw them, Aunt Agnes cuddled them too tight and smelled of mothballs. Come to think of it, you may want a boarding place of your own.


Best Pet Care


Suds ’n Scissors — 223 Crossroads Blvd. – 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday – (831) 624-4697, sudsandscissorsinc.com


Man’s best friend won’t find a better place for care and pampering than this premium pet spa, equipped with all the necessary amenities to provide flea baths, nail and teeth treatment, flawless haircuts and deep rinses with a range of specialty shampoos fit for any pooch. The splendor of Suds ’n Scissors can be attributed to the spa’s owner and operator, Todd Harris, a true professional in the grooming industry. He previously owned Country Club Kennels, Santa Cruz Animal Care and Tahota Trainers. As a member of the Del Monte Kennel Club for 30 years and a professional dog show handler since he was 16, Harris understands how to run this 65-year-old business to turn out dogs that look competition ready. Your buddy might not be competing in a show, but he’ll definitely look striking and fierce nonetheless. Oh, and they’re also brave (or crazy) enough to bathe and groom your cat, should you so desire.


Best Auto Body Shop


Gene’s Import Auto Body — 531 Shasta St., Sand City – 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday – (831) 899-0343, genesimportautobody.com


A winner of multiple Golden Pine Cone awards, Gene’s Import Auto Body remains the preferred auto-body repair facility for Monterey Peninsula car owners, as it has been since 1979. With a professional staff and factory-certified equipment and technology, this family-owned business is prepared for a plethora of situations, from a run-in with a pole to a collision with your neighbor’s fence. Although they’ve had lots of experience with upscale brands like Mercedes-Benz, Tesla, BMW and Audi, this auto shop can handle any damage, no matter the car. The business advertises that its ultimate mission is to provide customers with “the highest level of professional service and quality repairs at a reasonable price,” and given that 85 percent of its business comes by word of mouth from customers, it’s safe to say that clients leave satisfied.


Best Dry Cleaners


Vapor Sudden Service Cleaners — 1193 10th St., Monterey – 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday – (831) 375-5221, vaporcleanersmonterey.com


Dry cleaning has never been fresher than with the environmentally friendly approach Vapor Sudden Service Cleaners takes. While most dry cleaners use petrochemical solvents on clothes, this business uses pure liquid silicone instead, setting it apart with its odor-free “GreenEarth” dry-cleaning process. With this method, Vapor Sudden Service Cleaners assures potential customers that their “fine silks, cashmere, wool, lace, beads, sequins and even garments labeled ‘Do not dry clean’ are safe with us.” Since the business opened in 1921, it’s always offered a range of services, from cleaning and alterations to laundering shirts, and cleaning and restoring leather. They’ll also clean or restore your wedding gown — a fraught undertaking if ever there was one. And with free pickup and delivery throughout the Monterey Peninsula, clients are bound to receive ready-on-time and ready-to-wear results. From the special dry-cleaning process, to garment bags made from recycled materials, Vapor Sudden Service Cleaners stays sustainable every step of the way.


Best Travel Agent


Pacific Grove Travel — 593 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove – 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday – (831) 373-0631, pgtravel.com


Celebrating 43 years of distinguished travel service, Pacific Grove Travel continues to assist folks on the Monterey Peninsula with their travel needs, scheduling and organizing the perfect journey for each one of their clients. Specializing in group travel, escorted tours and ocean and river cruises, this full-service agency prides itself on being reliable, honest and ethical throughout the entire process, as they work with proven travel companies and suppliers to ensure the most positive experience possible. Local travelers are in good hands with owner Joe Shammas and travel advisors Laura Lockett and Mary Potter, who have 100 years of combined experience. These professionals understand that the world of travel has gotten infinitely more complicated in today’s world, especially as everyone makes their way out of a global pandemic, so they’re here to help take care of the details while you sit back and relax. If you want to be sipping a piña colada in a few months’ time, make a call today and let the experts book your dream vacation.


Best Hair Salon


Mantra Salon — Hampton Courtyard, Seventh between San Carlos and Dolores – 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday – (831) 626-1223, mantrasalon.com


You need a root touch-up before an important business meeting. You want lavish and secure extensions before you take that trip to Hawaii. Or maybe you just need to update your look before holiday photos start popping up on social media. Who do you turn to? Mantra Salon specializes in hair coloring, as well as offering cuts, highlights, balayage (a painstaking French coloring process), wedding hairstyles and extension services. With certified specialists on staff, Mantra uses Natural Beaded Rows-brand hair extensions to ensure that clients get the most natural and comfortable look with as little damage done to their hair as possible. This salon considers it the “absolute best hair extension method on the market,” and overwhelmingly positive reviews certainly reflect that stance. Also a designated Aveda salon, you can find that company’s sought-after vegan, sustainable products to purchase. Mantra Salon’s vegan hair care and coloring system also mirrors their goals of inspiring style and leading by example. With chairs, magazines, music and complimentary tea, Owner Veronica Dokie creates an environment where quality service is carried out in a relaxing atmosphere.


Best Skin Care


Parasol Dermatology — 900 Cass St. Suite 200, Monterey – 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday – (831) 574-8425, parasoldermatology.com


As its name implies, Parasol Dermatology truly offers everything under one umbrella. At this comprehensive, full-service skincare practice, Dr. Christina Bolante and her team use state-of-the-art technology to identify and treat skin disorders, handle anti-aging procedures and provide cosmetic services to patients of all ages. Knowing that the skin is the body’s largest organ, Parasol Dermatology takes vital steps to educate patients on this part of the body and the necessary steps to protect it before, during and after the treatment process. Since this practice recognizes that the skin requires attention in all stages of life, its staff is ready to help teenagers with acne, adults with psoriasis, and seniors with skin cancers. Ultimately, Parasol Dermatology wishes to give each client the personalized guidance they seek. “Our team includes experienced and energetic people whose goal is to communicate well with our patients and provide the best care possible,” the business said.


Best Nail Salon


Paradise Nails — 26544 Carmel Rancho Blvd. – 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday – (831) 622-7070


This family-owned and operated business truly is paradise for Monterey Peninsula locals, and it has been for the past 16 years. The winner of multiple Golden Pine Cone awards, Paradise Nails in the Carmel Rancho Shopping Center is a full-service salon that offers manicures, pedicures and waxing services. In a comfortable environment, its staff tends to each and every client with the same level of high-quality nail care. And it goes without saying that Pine Cone readers demand a sparkling clean nail salon. It doesn’t matter if you’re coming in for a set of acrylic nails before a special night out, a pedicure before your beach vacation, or an eyebrow wax before an important interview, Paradise Nails will make sure your needs are met.


Best Spa


Refuge — 27300 Rancho San Carlos Rd., Carmel Valley – 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday – (831) 620-7360, refuge.com


Get out all the kinks with the Refuge’s Thermal Cycle that takes guests through a multi-temperature pool circuit to cultivate a feeling of rest and rejuvenation. Refuge urges clients to begin the process by heating up in its cedar sauna with Himalayan salt wall, one of two co-ed eucalyptus-infused steam rooms, or one of its hot pools, then taking a dip in one of its four plunge pools, which range from Pacific-Ocean chilly to Nordic-river icy.

From there, it’s up to guests to decide if they want to relax outside by fire pits or inside one of three indoor relaxation sanctuaries with zero-gravity recliners to make it feel like you’re floating away on a cloud of relaxation.

Clients can repeat the cycle at their leisure, and there are also opportunities to enhance the experience with a Swedish or deep tissue massage. Surrounded by thermal waterfalls, massage jets and breathtaking views of the Santa Lucia Preserve, guests are guaranteed to find refuge in this relaxing oasis.


Best Dentist


Bradford Carl — 26485 Carmel Rancho Blvd. #3 – 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to noon Friday – (831) 624-2111, bradfordcarl.com


Having treated Carmel patients for more than 30 years, multiyear Golden Pine Cone winner Dr. Bradford Carl continues to help patients achieve the smile of their dreams. Carl said he’s known he wanted to practice dentistry since he was in eighth grade, and has kept pace with all the modern, digital developments in the field, even using 3D printers to fabricate crowns onsite. He’s also seen vast improvements in anesthetics, enabling patients to have much more comfortable — even pain-free — experiences. Carl offers a range of services to fit the needs of most any patient, including cleanings and preventive treatment, cosmetic dentistry, restorations, periodontal disease treatment, deep bleaching and Invisalign teeth straightening. Carl and his team of qualified hygienists and dental assistants are committed to serving their patients and helping them make informed decisions about their oral health needs. “Your smile is our first priority, and we’ll give you something to smile about,” the business says.


Best Dermatologist


James and Joseph Rheim, Rheim Dermatology Cosmetic Laser Center — 757 Pacific St. A1, Monterey – 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday – (831) 373-4404, rheimderm.com


This isn’t the first Golden Pine Cone that Rheim Dermatology Cosmetic Laser Center has won, and with good reason. This local institution has been preventing and treating skin disorders for the past 40 years, while also offering the latest cosmetic procedures safely and effectively, including Botox and dermal fillers. The practice began with James, a California native who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancers and continues to update his skills in general dermatology and cosmetic fields through training at UCLA, UCSF, UC Irvine and memberships with a variety of organizations. His son, Joseph, joined him in 2004 after earning his medical degree at the Tulane School of Medicine in New Orleans, the same institution where his father had earned his degree. With extensive experience in cosmetic treatments, Joseph works at his dad’s side to help diagnose and treat acne, eczema, skin cancer and more. Regardless of which Dr. Rheim assists you, this family-owned and operated practice will leave you with healthier and happier skin.


Best Ophthalmologist


Charles Whisler, Vantage Eye Center — 966 Cass St., Unit 100, Monterey – (831) 375-9876, vantageeye.com


Treating patients at Vantage Eye Center since 2012, Dr. Whisler is an expert cataract eye surgeon who specializes in vision restoration. A Monterey native who discovered his interest in medicine while volunteering at CHOMP and a Seaside medical clinic, he graduated from the University of Michigan medical school and pursued his ophthalmology degree at the University of Minnesota. There, he received an award as the resident who best exemplified care and compassion for patients. Now, Whisler cares for his patients with just as much kindness, if not more. According to the practice’s website, its mission is to “provide patients with comprehensive, university-level eye care with the very latest in medical, laser and surgical technology.” Clients can come in for vision correction, treatments for cataracts and glaucoma, and refractive, cornea, retina and reconstructive eye surgery. Vantage Eye Care has long been a respected eye care provider, and Whisler is continuing that reputation.


Best Optometrist


Blink Optometry — 217 Crossroads Blvd. – 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday – (831) 250-6999, blinkcarmel.com


If you can’t see the clues for the Sunday crossword puzzle, or find yourself squinting at the computer screen, it’s long past time to get some help. Located in Carmel’s Crossroads shopping center, Blink Optometry provides discerning Monterey Peninsula residents with optometry and optical services, providing clients with the eyewear they need to appreciate all the beauty here. Optometrists Telma Barseghian and Trevor Fogg have practiced optometry on the Peninsula for decades, treating patients from infancy to — ahem — maturity. Combined, they provide a variety of services, including fitting glasses and contact lenses, treating eye infections and diseases, removal of foreign bodies, and diabetic eye disease. Fogg, a lifelong contact lens wearer, has experience in fitting all kinds of contacts, including bifocal and astigmatic lenses, and is certified in corneal refractive therapy. When she’s not in the office at Blink, you might find Barseghian co-managing cataract and laser surgeries with local surgeons. With this team at your side, you’ll have no problem identifying the issue at hand and finding eyewear that best fits your style, activities, and budget.


Best Orthopedist


Chris Meckel — 12 Upper Ragsdale Drive, Suite A, Monterey – 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday – (831) 648-7200, msjhealth.com


Earning a rating of 4.9 out of 5 stars in online patient reviews, Dr. Meckel has won yet another Golden Pine Cone for his work as a hip and knee replacement specialist. He is the co-founder of Monterey Spine & Joint and has nearly 20 years of experience in joint replacement surgery. Having grown up on the Peninsula, graduating from Carmel High School in 1984, Meckel is happy to be serving the community where he was raised. He is known and appreciated for his expertise in arthroscopic surgery (the type that employs buttonhole-sized incisions) and minimally invasive, computer-assisted knee replacements. As to comments from patients, the words “great,” “excellent” and “very pleased” stand out. One patient described their experience this way: “Dr Meckel is friendly, professional and kind. Answered all my questions thoroughly and promptly. The office staff is efficient and helpful.” Similarly, another wrote: “He and his staff provided excellent guidance and support throughout the planning, surgery and recovery.”


Best Pediatrician


Pierre LaMothe — 2 Upper Ragsdale, Suite B210, Monterey – 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, Sunday by arrangement – (831) 333-0999, mppmg.com/our-doctors


Having been born in Carmel-by-the-Sea in the old Peninsula Community Hospital, Dr. LaMothe is a local’s local. He has worked at Monterey Peninsula Pediatric Medical Group since 1987. During that time, he has built up a loyal group of patients as well as a reputation for sartorial splendor. Patients enthuse about him online, with comments like, “We love Dr. LaMothe! Our family has been seeing him for the last 14 years, and we always leave with a smile on our faces,” and “Dr. LaMothe is our primary doctor and is always very thorough and caring. My kids love him!” It’s easy to see how LaMothe and his colleagues form a rapport with their young patients when you look at the doctors’ photographs on MPPMG’s website: Hover your mouse over their portraits to reveal their “inner children.”


Best Primary Care Physician


Craig Geiler — 243 El Dorado St., Suite 300, Monterey – 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday, 9 a.m. to noon Friday – (831) 242-0110, montagehealth.org/doctors/profile/craig-geiler


Dr. Geiler, an internal medicine specialist, has worked with Montage Health for more than 20 years. A 1998 graduate of Stanford University School of Medicine, Geiler did his residency at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, which sees hundreds of thousands of patients annually. Medicine seems to run in the family, as he has an identical twin who is an internist who practices in Santa Barbara. Geiler is known for his medical and communication skills. Patients have written reviews like, “Wonderful doctor who cares about his patients. He is personable and intelligent. So happy to have him as my physician.”

Another said, “I can’t say enough about the high quality of medical care I have received from Dr. Geiler. He listens, explains fully and clearly, and is very easy to speak to. Dr. Geiler’s diagnoses, treatments, and referrals have been spot on. Simply put, he’s a great doctor.”


Best Plastic Surgeon


Douglas Sunde — 856 Munras Ave., Monterey – 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday – (831) 372-0200, drsunde.com


Nobody should be surprised that Dr. Sunde has won this year’s award as the best plastic surgeon. Not only has he been The Pine Cone readers’ choice for more than a decade, he embarked on a life of excellence early on. This native of the Chicago suburbs was an Eagle Scout, a National Merit Scholar and valedictorian of his high school class. Following that, he graduated with distinction from Stanford, after which he attended medical school at UC San Francisco, where he was part of the medical honor society. Sunde performs cosmetic and reconstructive surgery using the most current treatments and techniques. In 2020, he was recognized by Montage Health Foundation with a Physician Scholar grant to “provide training in plastic surgery, particularly hand surgery, to Stanford University Medical School residents and fellows.” Montage noted that Sunde “conducts the training at the Palo Alto Veterans Administration Hospital, operating on veterans during day-long teaching sessions 10 times each year.”


Best Physical Therapist


Balance Physical Therapy & Human Performance Center — 2260 N. Fremont St., Monterey and 21 Upper Ragsdale Road in Ryan Ranch, with additional locations in Prunedale, Watsonville and Salinas – call for hours and appointments – (831) 372-4782, balancept.com


Balance Physical Therapy — a multiyear winner of the Golden Pine Cone — has been providing locals with a wide range of serves for 20 years. Whether you’re dealing with chronic hip or knee pain, neck problems or low back pain, the center offers state-of-the-art treatment options to keep you comfortably on your feet. And speaking of feet, the staff there can also help with custom foot orthotics. Sports injury and vestibular and concussion rehab are available as well. Balance PT offers specialized services for rehabilitating sports injuries and an evaluation, treatment and fitness program by and for golfers that specifically targets performance on the greens. Its many qualified therapists are patient and encouraging, emphasizing that many people’s problems can be solved without further medical intervention.


Best Chiropractor


Derek Barkalow — 550 Camino El Estero No. 103, Monterey – 8 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. to noon Saturday – (831) 655-3255, drbarkalow.com


Derek Barkalow heads up Barkalow Chiropractic & Physical Medicine. He and his team can help with various types of discomfort, including in the back, neck, shoulder and knee, as well as headaches and migraines and various other ailments, aches and pains. Barkalow uses traditional chiropractic care, corrective exercises, laser therapy, electrical stimulation, nutritional counseling, massage therapy and ultrasound to treat patients. A Monterey native, Barkalow is a second-generation chiropractor (his father, Stephen, still practices with him) and a graduate of the famous Palmer College of Chiropractic West in San Jose.


Best Divorce Lawyer


Sarah Cavassa — 50 Ragsdale Drive, Suite 201, Monterey – (831) 655-6868, cavassaoconnell.com


Sarah Cavassa of Cavassa O’Connell is certified by the State Bar as a specialist in family law, including divorce, custody and support. Additionally, she prepares and reviews pre- and postmarital agreements. While Cavassa favors securing a settlement for her clients when a reasonable settlement can be attained, but as an experienced litigator, she is prepared to take cases to trial when necessary. She represents clients in Monterey and the surrounding counties of Santa Cruz and San Benito, as well as occasionally Santa Clara and Alameda counties. Cavassa graduated from the University of Washington and Monterey College of Law, where she is now a professor, teaching community property and working with the Heisler Moot Court program. Cavassa has served on the Board of Trustees of the Monterey County Bar Association, and is part of the Monterey County Women Lawyers Association.


Best Estate Planning Attorney


Jennifer Walker — 24591 Silver Cloud Court, Suite 250 – 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday – (831) 373-2500, leachandwalker.com


Whether you’re putting your own affairs in order or dealing with the death of a loved one, emotions can run high and the details can seem overwhelming. Between all the legal terminology and the inherent inner turmoil, people need an empathetic and skilled guide. Pine Cone readers clearly believe Jennifer Walker, of Leach & Walker, is the right choice. She provides clients with legal services that encompass all aspects of estate planning, including probate, estate and trust administration, estate tax, gift tax and a plethora of other issues. Walker, a Pennsylvania native, has been practicing law in California since 2001. She earned her B.A. with honors from Johns Hopkins and her J.D. from UC Davis. Walker is a certified by the State Bar as a specialist in estate planning, trust and probate law.


Best Lawyer If You Need to Sue Somebody


Andy Swartz — 550 Hartnell St., Suite A-1, Monterey – (831) 373-3235 or (800) 624-9911, swartzkennedylaw.com


Andy Swartz of Swartz & Kennedy has won the Golden Pine Cone many times, showing that readers trust him with volatile and potentially costly legal matters. During his almost 50 years in Monterey (since 1973), Swartz has won multiple high-profile and multi-million-dollar cases. He works with a wide range of civil litigation for both plaintiffs and defendants, including personal injury, defamation, and business and real estate disputes.

His firm enjoys the highest peer ratings and holds membership in several elite forums. Swartz earned degrees from the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Santa Clara School of Law (graduating magna cum laude), where he was on the staff of the law review. In addition to his lifelong passion for the legal profession, Swartz enjoys swimming, cycling and running. He has run the New York, Boston, San Francisco and Big Sur Marathons. It seems as if he’s in everything for the long haul!


Best Defense Attorney


Jennifer S. Rosenthal — 26364 Carmel Rancho Lane, Suite 201 – 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday – (831) 625-5193, jsrattorneyatlaw.com


If you find yourself in a legal jam, Pine Cone readers recommend calling Jennifer Rosenthal. Her passion for justice is in her DNA — she comes from a family of attorneys and worked in her father’s law firm from a young age. One of her clients said in an online review, “We have had the pleasure of being Jennifer Rosenthal’s friend and neighbor for quite some time. When life happened and we were in need of her services, we wouldn’t have considered using someone else. She is so capable, knowledgeable and, most important to us, caring and compassionate at a time when we were in need of all those important qualities. Due to her expertise and professionalism, all went perfectly and the outcome could not have been better.” Rosenthal serves on the board of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Monterey County, the nonprofit that advocates for children who have experienced abuse or neglect, and is a past board chair with the group.


Best Public Relations Company


Armanasco Public Relations — 585 Abrego St., Monterey – (831) 372-2259, armanasco.com


David Armanasco established Armanasco Public Relations in 1985. According to its impressive website, the firm has “grown to become the largest, most effective, and well-known PR firm in Monterey County.” Its client list includes businesses and agencies like the Barnyard, Safeway, Tanimura & Antle, CSUMB, Stevenson and Santa Catalina schools, Cal Am, the cities of Seaside, Marina, Gonzales and San Jose, Quail Lodge, the Cypress in and literally dozens of others. The agency also gives back — its pro bono client list includes plenty of familiar names, like the Alliance on Aging, the Boys & Girls Club of Monterey County, the Carmel Foundation, the Diocese of Monterey and the Point Lobos Natural History Association.


Best Insurance Agent


Matt Little Jr., Carmel Insurance Agency — San Carlos between Seventh and Eighth – 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday – (831) 624-1234, carmelinsurance.com


Matt Little Jr.’s family has been in the insurance business in Carmel for three generations. In 1948, his grandfather, Robert Little, opened Carmel Insurance Agency. Robert’s son, Matthew Little Sr., joined the agency in 1968. In 1995, Matthew Sr.’s daughter, Amy Little-Figge came on board, followed by her brother, Matthew Jr., in 2000. Many of Carmel Insurance Agency’s clients have been satisfied customers for decades, which is a testament to the quality of service they provide. Enthused one reviewer, “I’ve been a client with this insurance company for over 20 years for all of my insurance needs. I could not be happier with the service they provide, the insurance companies they pick to handle my needs, and the staff who I deal with. Barbara and Matt are wonderful, easy to deal with, and always go the extra mile. I would definitely recommend this company to anyone.”


Best Shoe Repair


Federico’s Shoe Service — 542 Abrego St., Monterey – 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday – (831) 649-3322, federicoshoes.com


You don’t have to live here for more than an hour or two to realize that walking is a favorite pastime — and repeat winner Federico’s Drive-in Shoe Service has been saving locals’ soles since 1939. Besides repairing leather and suede shoes and boots, the fine folks at Federico’s offer polishing, shining and dyeing services. Did you get your favorite shoes wet in a midwinter squall? Don’t toss them out — give the pros at Federico’s a chance. The talented professionals there can also repair handbags, luggage, horse saddles, furniture and other leather items. They even get long-distance business from people who take advantage of Federico’s award-winning service by mailing their shoes in for some TLC.


Best School


All Saints Day School — 8060 W. Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley – (831) 624-9171, asds.org


As was the case last year, All Saints Day School won the triple crown in education: Best School, Best Teacher and Best Principal (see below). With more than half a century under its belt, the Episcopal learning center provides students with education from preschool through eighth grade. Do readers love it for its low student-to-faculty ratio? The high percentage of teachers who have extensive experience in their jobs? It’s hard to say, but the proof is in the results — All Saints students have won state and national honors in history, as well as prizes in science and engineering. The school’s 10 core values, listed on its website, are: Nurturing the growth of the whole child, inspiring lives of gratitude and grace, pursuing academic excellence, fostering freedom of inquiry and ethical expression, encouraging independent thinking, challenging students to live courageously, respecting the importance of family and community, building a community of service, honoring the scared dignity of all life, and igniting a life of learning.


Best Teacher


Ashley Zaldivar, All Saints Day School — 8060 W. Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley – (831) 624-9171, asds.org


Señora Ashley Zaldívar is not only the parent of an All Saints Day School student, she has been teaching there for more than a decade. She is an engaging Spanish teacher of students in the sixth through eighth grades. Her approach to teaching the language is inspired by her own feelings of intimidation around learning Spanish when she was younger — a native Carmelite, Zaldívar lived and worked in Spain for 10 years, returning to the Peninsula in 2010. Using the immersion approach, she finds ways to make the language approachable and fun. Zaldívar is also the director of outreach and inclusion at ASDS. In this role, she weaves the Episcopal identity of the school into the fabric of its diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. Part of the outreach program is being involved in the Friday school tradition connected with Nancy’s Project, which collects and distributes food and basic necessities to farm labor families living and working in Monterey County. Zaldívar also facilitates a connection between upper grade students and local nonprofits, to which the students contribute service hours.


Best Principal


Scott Fujita, All Saints Day School — 8060 W. Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley – (831) 624-9171, asds.org


The only award that could possibly follow a Super Bowl ring might be a Golden Pine Cone, but you’d have to ask Scott Fujita. The former linebacker who been employed by some other Saints — the 2010 champions from New Orleans — has brought home gold as Best Principal several times. His first connection with All Saints Day School was as a parent. Later, he became a member of the board, prior to accepting his current role as head of school. Fujita has a Bachelor of Arts in political science with a minor in business administration and a Master of Arts in education from UC Berkeley, where he graduated with honors. Fujita describes ASDS students as scholars, thespians, athletes, art historians, stewards of the environment, inquisitive problem-solvers, and children of remarkable character. A true team player, he praises the faculty and staff as being caring and deeply committed. Fujita has also established the school’s first cross-country and track and field teams, and (of course) revived the flag football team



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