Archive of 2014 email editions


The 2014 Golden Pine Cones

EVERY YEAR, readers of The Carmel Pine Cone are asked to name their favorite local restaurants, retail stores and service providers, and when they do, we're always amazed at the quality of their picks.

Below, we present the winners of the 2014 Golden Pine Cones. Reading them is like taking a guided tour through the Monterey Peninsula — a tour that involves sipping the best wines, eating the best food, seeing the greatest sights and shopping at the finest stores — plus getting your teeth whitened, your estate put in order, your shoes repaired and your tummy tucked along the way.

These results are from a poll conducted earlier this month of more than 12,800 subscribers to our email edition (to subscribe, go to Our readers know what they’re talking about, and we make it difficult to stuff the ballot box, and that’s why our winners are the real thing. 

Before you start perusing, we’d like to remind you yet again how important it is to shop locally!


■ Best Deli  
■ Best Neighborhood Market

Bruno’s Market & Delicatessen — Junipero and Sixth - 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily - (831) 624-3821 -

From brand names to basics, housemade to made-to-order, this community market caters to customers, guests and locals alike. Voted best deli, Bruno’s Market is known for savory sandwiches, select wines, fresh flowers, and a local favorite, Marianne’s ice cream. The meat counter offers top-grade beef, choice cuts of pork and other prime meats. Drop in for fresh-baked pastries and pizzas, bread and barbecue, and this long-standing neighborhood market likely will become your go-to grocer as well.

■ Best Supermarket

Safeway at The Crossroads – The Crossroads Shopping Village, Rio Road and Highway 1 - open 24 hours daily - (831) 625-8820 -

As soon as they laid wood floors in the produce section, put apples and bananas in baskets, and added aged cheeses and self-serve olives, customers had a sense Safeway was raising the bar on food shopping for the Monterey Peninsula. Recently reorganized, the Safeway at the mouth of Carmel Valley offers a full-service supermarket — and a place to gather, chat with friends and roam the expansive aisles with a cup of coffee in tow. The store includes a fragrant bakery, salad bar, deli, fresh-made sushi, bountiful produce aisles and Starbucks.

■ Best Place to get Fruits and Vegetables

Farmers Markets — - - -

If you live here, that means you live on the edge of the Salad Bowl of the World, and Pine Cone readers say it’s their farmers markets that provide the best place get the array of organic fruits and vegetables that are the bounty of this area. The largest market rolls right through Alvarado Street in downtown Monterey on Tuesday from 4 to 8 p.m. (4 to 7 p.m. in winter). Monterey Peninsula College hosts a market on Fridays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and the Monterey Fairgrounds opens Gate 8 on Mondays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Pacific Grove presents a modest Monday afternoon market on Central Avenue from 4 to 7 p.m. A seasonal market at The Barnyard at the mouth of the valley is held Tuesday mornings May through September, and the same group launched a seasonal market outside Whole Foods at Del Monte Center on Sunday mornings. The newest market is held on Thursdays at the Sunset Center parking lot (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.).

■ Best Organic Produce

Whole Foods – 800 Del Monte Center, Monterey – 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily (831) 333-1600

At Whole Foods, the produce is fresh, local, abundant and organic, and displayed by knowledgeable staff members who can explain its source and its benefits. The produce is accompanied by quality foods and other household products, chosen by the inspiration to eat well and live better.

■ Best Seafood Market

Sea Harvest Fish Market & Restaurant — 100 The Crossroads - (831) 626-3626; 598 Foam Street, Monterey - (831) 646-0547 - hours vary by location -

Both Sea Harvest markets are just a short distance from the Pacific Ocean, and the food reflects that proximity — whether you have it served on site or take it home, complete with suggestions on how to cook and enjoy it. “Our promise to you is to provide the freshest seafood available,” says owner David Deyerly. The restaurant makes everything from scratch, and prepares fish pretty much any way you like it.

■ Best Butcher

Grove Market — 242 Forest Ave, Pacific Grove – 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mon. to Sat., Sun. 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. – (831) 375-9581 –

Since 1969, this local market has been serving the neighborhood with meats prepared fresh and cut daily. Patrons choose steaks, BBQ ribs, kabobs, roasted chickens, stuffed pork chops, stuffed bell peppers and homemade salads, accompanied by produce from local farms, including Gizdich Ranch apples and fresh, homemade pies.

■ Best Bakery

Pavel’s Backerei — 219 Forest Ave., Pacific Grove - 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mon. to Fri., 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sat. - (831) 659-5100

For generations, the Wainscoat family has baked fresh breads, succulent pastries and specialty cakes. Pavel’s, tucked into the main street of the Last Hometown, has become a destination for those seeking something warm and wonderful. Their glazed sugar cookies, sometimes in the shape of the town’s iconic Monarch, are a particular favorite among locals and guests. A word to the wise: Arrive early since the most popular pastries tend to sell out by early afternoon.

■ Best Catering Company

Aqua Terra Culinary - 529 Central Ave, Pacific Grove – (831) 657-9790 -

Founded to provide seasonal, specialty foods, Aqua Terra specializes in using farm-to-table products that are responsibly sourced. Whether it’s a private party, custom corporate event of any size, or a spectacular gala, Aqua Terra caters to their clients’ every need. Their commitment to sourcing, selecting, creating and eating well is matched by bringing the same professional and courteous service to any event, of any size, at any location.

■ Best Kitchen Shop
■ Best Housewares Store

Sur La Table — Carmel Plaza, lower level - Mon. to Sat., 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sun., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. - (831) 626-6433 -

Whether he’s poaching eggs or caramelizing pears, Sur La Table provides what the classic cook or creative chef needs. The store has gifts and gadgets, books and bakeware, napkins and knives, and the staff to tell you how to make the most of it. And they will even sharpen knives for you. Even if you don’t know how to cook, you’ll feel like you do, just by walking in the door. You can even collect a few silicone spoonulas or splurge on a Keurig. It’s all here.

■ Best Wine Store

Nielsen Bros. Market — Northeast corner of San Carlos and Seventh - 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily - (831) 624-6441 -

This classic Carmel market was founded on family, and it continues with a commitment to community and customer service, staples and specialty foods, and a focus on fine wines. Owned and operated since 2009 by Tigran and Azniv Amirkhanian, the store houses a cellar with a collection that spans the globe. The market also offers wine tasting, a varied selection of specially prepared foods and gift baskets filled with wine, cheese and fruit.

■ Best Tasting Room

Scheid Vineyards — San Carlos and Seventh - noon to 7 p.m. daily - (831) 656-9463 -

For more than 40 years, Scheid Vineyards has been growing grapes in the south Salinas Valley, with a tasting room in a 100-year-old barn. The scenic beauty of the sky-blue structure rising against the terrain, and the seduction of Scheid varietals, quickly established it as a site for destination weddings. Their more recent tasting room in downtown Carmel was also an immediate draw in the community, offering a comfortable, inviting spot to enjoy three different wine tasting flights, including Scheid’s popular reserve Pinot Noir.

■ Best Monterey County Chardonnay  
■ Best Monterey County Sauvignon Blanc
■ My Favorite Monterey County Wine

Bernardus — Tasting Room at 5 West Carmel Valley Road - 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. - (831) 659-1900 -

Bernardus Pon launched his namesake winery in Cachagua more than two decades ago, and it has since become synonymous with excellence. So it’s no surprise that Pine Cone readers named it their overall favorite Monterey County wine, and specifically its Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Vineyard manager Matt Shea cultivates Bordeaux and Burgundy varietals, and winemaker Dean DeKorth and his team work to produce compelling vintages, year after year.

■ Best Monterey County Rosé

Dawn’s Dream Winery — Tasting room at the NW corner of San Carlos and Seventh – 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. daily, noon to 6 p.m. Saturday - (831) 659-2649 -

Henry David Thoreau taught us that, “dreams are the touchstones of our character.” Dawn Galante’s dream was to own her own winery, away from the shadow of her husband Jack’s successful Galante wine brand. Her touchstone is Dawn’s Dream Winery. The wife and mother of five produces five different categories, sourcing grapes from Carmel Valley, Santa Lucia Highlands and the Carneros region of Napa.  

■ Best Monterey County Pinot Noir

Silvestri Vineyards — Seventh between San Carlos and Dolores – noon to 7 p.m. daily - (831) 625-0111 –

In 1989, when composer Alan Silvestri moved his family from Los Angeles to Carmel and bought an old house, the family was inspired to take a chance on a new venture. And when they planted vines in the fertile land of Carmel Valley, the Silvestris created their home in the wine industry. Silvestri Vineyards enjoyed its first harvest was in Fall of 2003.

■ Best Monterey County Merlot
■ Best Monterey County Cabernet Sauvignon

Galante Vineyards — 18181 Cachagua Road, Carmel Valley, tasting room at Dolores between Ocean and Seventh – noon to 6 p.m. daily - (831) 624-3800 –

The Galante family has a long and storied investment in the Monterey Peninsula. Owner Jack Galante’s great grandfather, J. Frank Devendorf, was one of the founders of Carmel, a place established in the spirit of scenic beauty, festivity and creative expression. So it makes sense that the Galante credo is: Grow the finest grapes possible, and let the fruit express itself in the wine. Galante’s estate-grown grapes from deep in Carmel Valley produce award-winning wines, most notably premier Cabernet Sauvignon and the deep ruby-red Merlot, with its dry tannins, black pepper and a note of ripe cherry.

■ Best Desserts  
■ Best Family Restaurant

Rosine’s Restaurant — 434 Alvarado Street, Monterey - Sun. to Thurs., 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., and until 10 p.m. Fri. and Sat. - (831) 375-1400 -

People pretend to come for the great diversity of housemade, family friendly food. Yet the glass case, which detains guests at the door, reveals why people have no problem lingering in line, while they study shelves laden with Rosine’s award-winning six-layer cakes, peanut butter pie, chocolate mousse, cookies and other sweet indulgences. For 34 years, family-run Rosine’s has been a Monterey gathering spot, seducing tourists and locals alike to its charming location in the heart of Old Monterey, seeking homespun service and something sweet.

■ Best French Restaurant

Fifi’s Café and Bistro — 1188 Forest Ave., Pacific Grove – 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. Mon. to Sat., 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. Sun. – (831) 372-5325 –

Slip in off the street of what could be Anywhere, USA, and transport yourself to France in this authentic French bistro-style restaurant. Since 1985, Fifi’s has consistently served quality French cuisine in a quaint, French-country setting. Elegant but informal, the restaurant is known for its Moules Frites, Bouillabaisse, Escargots de Bourgogne, flavorful fish and exceptional wines. Fifi’s extensive list includes local Talbott Chardonnay Sleepy Hollow and Grand Cru vintages from Burgundy. The restaurant offers wine tasting on many weekends.

■ Best Chinese Restaurant

Tommy’s Wok — Mission between Ocean and Seventh - 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. Tues. to Sun. - (831) 624-8518

Something about a tiny take-out restaurant, where folks line up at the back door, watching an organized frenzy in the kitchen, creates a culture more common to big cities. So does the taste. This is the real deal. Tommy’s serves up a menu of Szechuan, Hunan and Mandarin specialties, which has fostered a devoted following in town. Guests also tuck in to the tiny dining room, where servers slip in between tight tables and take-out customers lingering to the side. Quality cooking and extreme efficiency make it work.

■ Best Indian Restaurant

Ambrosia India Bistro — 565 Abrego Street, Monterey - 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. - (831) 641-0610 -

While there are plenty of enticing offerings on the menu, the weekday lunch buffet has become legendary. Chef Bhupender Singh serves authentically flavorful Indian food in an attractive atmosphere on Abrego Street, the site of the former Clock Garden Restaurant. Ambrosia’s menu offers a delectable mix of vegetarian specialties as well as chicken, lamb and seafood entrees. Business folks on break, locals and visitors become regulars at Ambrosia to enjoy lunch or dinner inside, or on the patio by the warmth of the outdoor fireplace.

■ Best Italian Restaurant  
■ Best Restaurant in Carmel  

La Balena Cucina Toscana - Tues. to Sun. 5 to 10 p.m. - (831) 250-6295 -

La Balena, whose name means “The Whale” but sounds more romantic in Italian, offers a daily seasonal menu based on local ingredients and hand-crafted pasta. The relative newcomer to town has proved most popular for its spare, artisanal setting of reclaimed, refinished and reupholstered furnishings, as well as its “farm-to-table” style of little bites and full meals. Tucked into a courtyard where others have gone before, Emanuele and Anna Bartolini’s La Balena Cucina Toscana is intent on sustainability, both in the community and in its sourcing of fresh, local fare. With a provenance at New York’s famed Del Posto, as well as Carmel’s Cantinetta Luca and Salumeria Luca, Emanuele’s reputation precedes him, while Anna’s aesthetic as a designer has created the rustic, welcoming atmosphere at this best new restaurant.

■ Best Sushi

Sushi Heaven — Dolores between Seventh and Eighth - 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. Mon. to Sat. - (831) 625-2067

People who love sushi are very particular about their selections. Sushi Heaven attracts a discerning following for authentic Japanese fare, including a mouth-watering mix of more than 150 varieties of fresh sushi and rolls. Sushi enthusiasts enjoy elegant sashimi paired with one of several sake selections in an intimate setting, where they are greeted by a hostess wearing a formal kimono. And the proprietor, Sun, is known as much for his welcoming smile as he is for his Firecracker Roll.

■ Best Mediterranean Restaurant  

Dametra Cafe — Ocean and Lincoln - 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily - (831) 622-7766 -

People flock to Dametra for various reasons – the intimate setting, delectable food, the lively music performed at any moment by anyone who works there, and the culture it creates. Established by best friends Faisal Nimri and Bashar Sneeh, Dametra Café features an authentic Mediterranean feast, composed of Greek, Italian, Spanish, Moroccan, Turkish, French, Israeli and Lebanese dishes. Nimri, from Jordan, and Sneeh, from Syria, have built their following on the concept of hospitality, greeting customers warmly and treating them like family.  

■ Best Mexican Restaurant  

Baja Cantina — 7166 Carmel Valley Rd., Carmel Valley – Mon. to Fri. 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sat. to Sun. 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. - (831) 625-2252

Some people come just for the margaritas and the music. The place does have a separate tequila menu. But plenty of people come out for the food, a wide and unexpected menu of fresh Mexican fare served up special, with flair. Consider halibut tacos, organic garden tamales, rosemary chicken quesadillas, and steak flamingo. And there are plenty of non-Mexican options, as well. But Baja Cantina is more than Mexican food; it is a cultural hub where friends meet and strangers become friends. Whether gathered around a signature central bar or out on the patio under stars and strings of lights, where fire pits keep folks warm and music ignites a party, guests come to Baja Cantina to have fun.

■ Best Middle Eastern Restaurant

Yafa Mediterranean Cuisine – Corner of Fifth and Junipero – 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. daily - (831) 624-9232 -

The ancient port city of Jaffa, Israel, was the inspiration for the name, the culture and the cuisine of this popular corner restaurant. A melting pot for cultural and culinary arts throughout the Mediterranean region for almost 4,000 years, the city lends its flavor to this Middle Eastern restaurant by the sea. Restaurateurs’ Faisal Nimri and Ben Khader have combined their cultural knowledge and culinary expertise to bring this fresh, friendly and fascinating restaurant to Carmel.

■ Best Thai Restaurant

Pacific Thai Cuisine - 663 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove – 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Mon to Fri., 11:30 a.m. Sat. and Sun. – (831) 646-8424 -

In a restaurant founded on the motto, “We are Thai Family,” the owners of Pacific Thai Cuisine serve up family recipes with distinctive Thai flavors and textures. Located in the heart of Pacific Grove, this family-owned and operated restaurant offers fresh food in a family-friendly setting, at family-friendly prices. A particular favorite is Phad Thai, followed by a fresh mango dessert.

■ Best Restaurant for Seafood

Passionfish — 701 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove – From 5 p.m. daily – (831) 655-3311 –

“Simplicity” was in the running for the name of the restaurant Ted and Cindy Walter decided to open just blocks from the beach in Pacific Grove. It expressed their aim to create food that is pure and simple and really, really good. But they also knew the name should reflect a menu that would focus on fish and their goal to “serve up good food and great fun.” Nearly 20 years later, the name Passionfish seems more accurate and inspired than ever; although the food is actually more stunning than simple. Wildly talented chef Ted, and Cindy, a champion for ecology and sustainability, source ingredients from small farms, farmers markets and sustainable fisheries. Their commitment to eating well and living better has earned them the Peninsula’s first certified green restaurant.  

■ Best Restaurant for Steak

Grasing’s Coastal Cuisine — Sixth and Mission, Carmel – Lunch, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; dinner, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. - (831) 624-6562 —

Although Kurt Grasing closed his chop house a few years ago, his following trusted they could still find the best cuts on the menu at his iconic Grasing’s Coastal Cuisine. “Chop House Favorites” are USDA Prime steaks from Nebraska, including a 16-ounce, bone-in rib-eye, milk-fed veal chop and a prime-natural New York. Classic steakhouse sides include creamed spinach, mac ’n’ cheese, leek rings and baked potato. And you can always get a specialty salad, classic cocktail and decadent dessert at Grasings.

■ Best Restaurant for Vegetarians

Tillie Gort’s Cafe — 111 Central Ave., Pacific Grove - 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily - (831) 373-0335 —

Vegetarians were just coming out of the closet in 1969 when Gil Tortellini opened his nick-namesake restaurant. Since then, Tillie Gort’s has remained the Monterey Peninsula’s indisputable favorite for vegetarian food. Two fresh soups are offered daily, and the cafe’s menu offers classic and new vegetarian, vegan and organic options (including gluten-free cakes for dessert). Most people are aware of Tillie Gort’s vegetarian cuisine, but everyone knows about their legendary black-bottom cupcakes. And there’s plenty on the menu for non-vegetarians to enjoy in this seventies-style coffeehouse atmosphere.

■ Best BBQ

Little Chicken House — 1193 Forest Ave., Pacific Grove – 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mon. to Sat., 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sun. - (831) 655-1704

It’s not fancy, but it’s fun. And review after review says it’s the tastiest, most tender chicken and ribs you’ll ever taste, because it’s traditionally BBQ’d in their brick oven to perfection. BBQ chicken, ribs, beef brisket, turkey and pork – and you can even get a hamburger. Traditional country sides of salad, slaw, corn bread, mashed potatoes, French fries, bbq beans, garlic bread, mac ’n’ cheese.

■ Best Sandwich or Burger

r.g. Burgers — 201 The Crossroads and 570 Munras Ave., Monterey (next to Trader Joe’s) – 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Sun. to Thurs., 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Fri.-Sat. - (831) 626-8054, (831) 372-4930 -

It’s always best to order the specialty of the house. R.G. stands for Real Good, and that refers to burgers. Hand-formed and char-grilled, the burgers are good with nothing more than a dollop of r.g. “secret sauce” and a little lettuce and tomato. But r.g. becomes “really gourmet” when they add bérnaise sauce, bleu cheese, mushrooms, grilled onions, a dab of guacamole or jalapeño cheddar. Choose ground beef, turkey, bison or chicken, or switch it up and order a falafel burger with all the trimmings. Salads make a great side, but get real; it’s a burger joint. Go for the seasoned fries and a thick, rich milkshake, made with four scoops of real ice cream in more flavors than you can imagine.

■ Best Breakfast

Katy’s Place — Mission between Fifth and Sixth - 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily - (831) 624-0199 -

For a great breakfast on a Saturday morning in town, look for the place where they’re lined up outside. A Carmel tradition since 1982, Katy’s Place is a country kitchen that cooks up generous servings of eggs and bacon, 16 varieties of eggs Benedict, eight ways to eat waffles, blintzes with fresh berries, Katy cakes and Swedish pancakes, biscuits and gravy, and a bowl of the best steel-cut oatmeal in town. For the total indulgence, Katy’s even lets you sleep in, serving breakfast daily until 2 p.m.

■ Best Coffee  
■ Best Coffeehouse

Carmel Valley Coffee Roasting Co. — Roasting facility at 212 Mid Valley Center, Carmel Valley – Mon. to Fri., 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. - (831) 624-5934 -

Coffee is an important part of the culture of Carmel. And Dean and Janet McAthie, owners of the only certified organic coffee roaster on the Monterey Peninsula, understand that. They also know it has to be more than a great place to gather; the culture is in the coffee. Toast Master Tina Muia slow roasts Arabica beans in one of two 25-pound San Franciscan batch roasters. This radiant/convection method provides constant feedback on the sight, sound and smell of the bean while it is developing, producing the perfect roast. Their signature blend is the Organic Carmel Foglifter, served in each of its six coffeehouses and at other venues across the county.

■ Best Happy Hour
■ Best Wine List

The Sardine Factory - 701 Wave St., Monterey – Mon. to Thurs. 5p.m. to 10:30 p.m., 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Fri. to Sat., 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Sun. - (831) 373-3775 -

Their ad talks about the year Ted Balestreri and Burt Cutino opened their restaurant on Cannery Row, on faith and hope and the expectation that people needed a place to call home, where the food was fresh and plentiful. But the Sardine Factory (famously featured in Clint Eastwood’s “Play Misty for Me”) actually looks and feels like a dress-up, special-occasion spot — and Cutino and Balestreri say that’s on purpose. “If we make you feel at home,” says Balestreri, “we’ve made a million-dollar mistake. We want you to feel better than at home, or why would you want to go out?” The Sardine Factory has made fine dining a tradition for 45 years in this historic Cannery Row setting. Award-winning chefs prepare fresh, sustainable seafood and USDA prime & dry aged beef. The restaurant is also winner of the Wine Spectator magazine’s Award of Excellence. The lounge’s live entertainment and affordable menu are a casual alternative to the other dining rooms.

■ Best Pizza

La Bicyclette – Corner of Seventh and Dolores – 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily - (831) 622-9899 -

Picture it: You wander out into the cool Carmel air after witnessing a staged reading at the Carmel Art Association. Strolling down Dolores, the hamlet’s most architecturally interesting, Euro-style street, you slip into La Bicyclette restaurant and tuck into a rough-hewn table for two. A vintage bicycle is parked outside, leaning against the façade of the small, rustic French eatery. You sip on still water from a cool, simple bottle, as you await your glass of Cava and a cup of curried lentil soup. Your second course is a crisp butternut squash pizza with pancetta and arugula to share, and you think you might have died and gone to heaven. Until they bring out an icy-cold pewter bowl of the creamiest chocolate mousse ever. As you dine, you enjoy the conversation, the ambiance, and the view out the picture windows of a street scene that lifts you out of town to a place where the day slows down after dark, but stores stay open and friends stay up just a little longer over one last glass of wine.

■ Best Fast Food

Chipotle — 500 Del Monte Center, Monterey; 2140 California Ave., Sand City - Mon. to Sun., 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. (DMC) and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. (Sand City) - (831) 899-1096 (DMC) and (831) 641-9353 (Sand City) -

There’s always a line, but it moves quickly, which is maybe why we can call it fast food. Actually, it’s fresh food, custom assembled, with high-quality ingredients, humanely raised meats and abundant portions, all for a fair price. Steve Ells opened his first Chipotle in the site of a former Dolly Madison ice cream shop in Colorado in 1995 and has since expanded the chain across the country, promising “food with integrity.” Best known for its burritos, which could easily feed two, Chipotle also offers burrito bowls, salads, crispy and soft tacos, and chips and guacamole.

■ Best New Restaurant

Affina Restaurant - San Carlos and Sixth. - Mon. 4:30 p.m. to 11 p.m., Tues. to Sun 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.- (831) 915-4756

Affina, which in French refers to the refinement and polishing that goes on in a workshop, features quality “new American cuisine, with a little bit of French,” says chef de cuisine James Anderson, formerly of Casanova and La Bicyclette. Chef Anderson opened the new restaurant with owners Nico Izard, Dexter Salazar and Shane Smit, the latter a talented South African singer and piano player who formed part of the group. The dining room hosts a piano, wine bar and big open kitchen, designed by Izard. The menu is based on “what’s good at the farmers’ market,” says Chef Anderson, “and what’s swimming in the sea.”

■ Best Place to Take Clients  

Rio Grill — 101 Crossroads Blvd. - lunch Mon. to Sat. 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., brunch Sun. 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., dinner from 4 until 10 p.m. Sun. to Thurs., 4 to 11 p.m. Fri. and Sat. - (831) 625-5436 -

It may be the service or the setting, where southwestern flair meets southwestern flavor, that brings business people to Rio Grill restaurant, but it’s the Castroville artichoke that will help seal the deal. In a fusion of art and artisanal ingredients, the colorful décor complements the cuisine by Chef Cy Yontz. His appetizers are such culinary art projects that some guests make a meal out of many. Consider the Dungeness crab cake, bacon-wrapped scallop bruschetta or a haystack of super-thin crisp onion rings, and you might just not have room for the main course. But don’t miss the pumpkin seed-crusted salmon or baby back ribs, and a basket of skinny fries with aioli sauce. Pair it with a glass of wine, and save room for the pie.

■ Most Romantic Restaurant  

Casanova — Fifth Ave. between Mission and San Carlos - 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily - (831) 625-0501

Casanova combines old-world elegance and hospitality with culinary innovation. It’s festive but not formal, expensive but not exclusive. The restaurant’s renowned wine list is a point of pride for the wine-savvy Georis family. Walter Georis also owns Georis Winery in Carmel Valley. One of several food forays for the family, Casanova’s menu changes daily, but memorable dishes include lamb brochettes, linguini with seafood, and fresh mussels with shallots.

■ Most Dog-Friendly Restaurant

Forge in the Forest – Junipero and Fifth - 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mon. to Thurs., 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fri. to Sat., 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sun., (831) 624-2233 -

Because of the outdoor dining tucked behind fencing and foliage at the northwest corner of town, Forge in the Forest is a great place to dine with your dog. But what really makes the place special, besides a complete comfort-food menu, is its history. “The Forge” moved to the corner of Fifth and Junipero in 1944, when master builder Hugh W. Comstock constructed the building for artist and master blacksmith Francis Whitaker. Eventually, Henry Miller and John Steinbeck became frequent visitors who met with other locals inside The Forge, to drink, tell stories and talk. The Grapes of Wrath novel was reported to have been inspired inside The Forge as a result of one such meeting. In the fall of 1970, The Forge was converted into a restaurant and saloon.

■ Best Brunch  
■ Best Buffet
■ Best Outdoor Dining
■ Best Piano Bar

Mission Ranch — 26270 Dolores St. - Dinner nightly from 5 p.m., Sunday Jazz Brunch 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. - (831) 625-9040 -

Mission Ranch restaurant, with its casual cuisine, full bar and popular patio at happy hour, is perhaps best known for the piano bar, which features local favorites at the keyboard and just about anyone with a sense of song. Owned by former Carmel Mayor Clint Eastwood, the restaurant offers a special Sunday brunch, and a savory dinner in the dining room or out on the deck. Equipped with heaters for those chilly coastal evenings, the venue offers sweeping views of pastures with grazing sheep, the lagoon and an arc of white sand.

■ Best Restaurant in Big Sur

Nepenthe — 48510 Highway 1, Big Sur - 11:30 am to 10 p.m. daily – (831) 667-2345 –

Nepenthe, a roadside café, was established by Bill and Lolly Fasset to secure the livelihoods of generations to come. The restaurant remains the family legacy, and one of the most popular and scenic spots in Big Sur. Whether a destination or way station, guests stop by to listen to music, dance on the patio, ponder the sea and indulge in the amazing Ambrosia Burger, accompanied by a basket of better-than-boardwalk fries. The story begins with the marriage of actor Orson Wells and ends with one of the best burgers in the county. In 1944, Welles bought a redwood log cabin, built by the Trotter brothers and intended to be his hideaway from Hollywood, with bride Rita Hayworth. But the marriage was brief, and the legend belongs to the Fasset family, instead.

■ Best Restaurant in Carmel Valley  

Café Rustica — 10 Delfino Place - Tues. to Sun., 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 8:30 p.m. - (831) 659-4444 -

Rustic refers to casual, unfussy, more country than city, more rough than refined. Which doesn’t mean you can’t dress up. In fact, Café Rustica is often a celebration destination, its charming simplicity complemented by a menu that melds the best of California and Mediterranean cuisine. The fresh local produce and housemade soups, thin-crust, wood-fired pizzas and unique pastas make owner Julien Belliard’s restaurant one of the busiest in the valley. Whether eating indoors or in the warmth of the heated patio, it’s always a festive occasion.

■ Best Restaurant in Pebble Beach

Roy’s — The Inn at Spanish Bay, 2700 17 Mile Drive - breakfast, lunch and dinner daily - (831) 647-7423 -

At Roy’s, the atmosphere is contemporary and casual, ideal for intimate dining or big celebration, where every age is the in crowd. Established in more than 25 settings across the country, Roy’s Hawaiian-fusion cuisine creates a festival of flavor. Celebrity chef Roy Yamaguchi is known for his culinary innovation and pairing of tantalizing flavors, while at his Pebble Beach outlet, chef de cuisine Pablo Mellin adds his own special touches and dedication to freshness, not to mention a dose of his amazing hospitality. Fresh seafood is most prominent on the menu, such as sushi, sashimi, blackened ahi and crab-crusted sea bass, but Roy’s ginger-scallion encrusted New York Steak and charred garlic honey-mustard beef short ribs remain in demand. Right up till sunset, the views of the Pebble Beach coastline and golf course at The Inn at Spanish Bay complement the cuisine and the culture at Roy’s.

■ Best Restaurant for a Special Occasion  
■ Best Restaurant Service
■ Best Restaurant in Pacific Grove

Fandango — 223 17th Street - 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. until closing, daily – (831) 372-3456 -

Pierre and Marietta Bain’s Fandango restaurant is a longtime favorite for its welcoming atmosphere, fresh food and extensive wine list. A testament to the Bains’ conviviality is their dedicated staff and regular customers who feel like family. At Fandango, a warren of dining rooms accommodates large parties or dinner for two, and the extensive Mediterranean menu has something for everyone. Particularly popular are the Croque Monsieur souffle style, cassoulet, and paella with lamb. And the decadent desserts are de riguer.

■ Best Restaurant in Monterey

Montrio — 414 Calle Principal - 4:30 to 10 p.m. nightly, and until 11 p.m. Fri. and Sat. - (831) 648-8880 -

Pair creative cuisine with European and American influences, add a historical Monterey firehouse and a fabulous bar, introduce exceptional service, and you have a small bistro with big-city ambiance, making it Monterey’s favorite for all occasions. For six years in a row, chef and co-owner Tony Baker has made Montrio Monterey’s favorite restaurant by constantly keeping his menu fresh. Featuring old favorites while innovating with his creative touch and love of rich, bold food, Chef Baker crafts his savory pork-trio, bacon & egg salad, and ratatouille risotto fritter. And he always works his menu around fresh, sustainable seafood.

■ Best Restaurant in Sand City

Sweet Elena’s — 465 Olympia Ave. - (831) 393-2063 – Mon. to Fri.7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Sat. 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Closed Sun. –

You owe it to yourself to experience Elena Salsedo-Steele’s artisan bakery, where everything is made from scratch and enjoyed fresh. Just off the main drag, amid warehouses repurposed as art studios and auto repair, the bakery café is most easily found by breathing in. Spare, with its cement floors and simple furniture complemented by bright colorful art, the café offers succulent fruit pies and tarts made with local Meyer lemons, cherries, peaches, nectarines and apricots. Savor vegetable or chicken and chard galettes, or spinach and mushroom quiche. Taste fresh granola made with Amen bee honey, or crisp biscotti with anise, and star cookies filled with raspberry jam. Just don’t show up for Sunday brunch.

■ Best Restaurant in Seaside

Lucky’s Roadside — 1901 Fremont Blvd. – 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and from 4 p.m. for happy hour, followed by 5 p.m. dinner, Tues. to Sun. - (831) 899-5825 -

Everyone knows, if Bill Lee is behind it, it’s worth a try. The restaurateur, whose reputation precedes him in a string of successes, opened Lucky’s Roadside in Seaside, and the community calls it another winner. Serving signature pastas, ribs and wood-fired pizzas, Lee says Lucky’s actually is “uniquely different” from his earlier restaurants. “It has casual elegance, with wrought iron orbs hung with crystal chandeliers,” he says, “like an upscale California Pizza Kitchen.” The restaurant features local wines, English Ales and a menu appetizers that includes favorites from his previous restaurants, like calamari, crispy sand dabs, Szechwan-style fried green beans and a soft pretzel with cheddar fondue.


■ Best Local Artist

Doug Steakley — P.O. Box 736, Carmel Valley - (831) 601- 0632 -

Working with a blend of skill, patience, and a sensitive eye, Doug Steakley’s animal and landscape photography captures the essence of its subject and realistically delivers it to the viewer — but with a different perspective. “I try to avoid the postcard images,” Steakley says. “Yosemite, for example, is probably the most photographed place in the world, but I go up there to find a new way of looking at it. And the Big Sur coastline is perhaps the second-most photographed place in the world. Again, I seek to represent it with images that view it differently. I’m always looking for that fresh image — sometimes it’s just a matter of the lighting and the time of day that give us a new way of seeing what we have looked at before.”

■ Best Photo Gallery 

Weston Gallery — north side of Sixth between Dolores and Lincoln - 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Tues. to Sun. - (831) 624-4453 –

The Westons are among the world’s most accomplished photographers, and this gallery embodies their legacy. In addition to presenting the work of the Edward Weston and his sons, Cole and Brett, the gallery features the photographs of Ansel Adams, the late Carmel Highlands resident who may be the most famous of all fine art photographers.

■ Best Sculpture Gallery 

Steven Whyte — Su Vecino Court on Dolores between Fifth and Sixth - (831) 620-1917 -

One of the world’s foremost sculptors, Steven Whyte specializes in capturing not only the likeness but also the essence of his subjects, and he proudly displays his work at his gallery, which is also his workshop. Known as the “Sculptor in the Park” for his annual demonstrations at the Carmel Art Festival, Whyte has been selected to create numerous monuments, among them tributes to Martin Luther King and Bob Hope.

■ Best Art Gallery

Carmel Art Association — West side of Dolores between Fifth and Sixth - 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily - (831) 624-6176 -

It is interesting to learn the history of an art cooperative that was founded in 1927 to advance the knowledge of and interest in art, and create a spirit of cooperation and fellowship between artists and the community. It’s fun to hear about the early artists who painted all day and celebrated all night, creating one of the most intriguing art colonies in the world. It’s even more fascinating to stop in and see what an impressive roster of more than 120 juried member artists are doing today, in a wide variety of styles and media. The Carmel Art Association, one of the oldest art cooperatives in the country, changes its exhibits monthly. 

■ Best Local Theater Company

PacRep Theatre  — Monte Verde and Eighth - (831) 622-0100 (box office) -

The company describes its mission as producing “bold and daring interpretations of the great plays from the world stage.” PacRep upholds its reputation as the only professional theater on the Monterey Peninsula, offering a wide variety of classic and contemporary performances. Having recently finished running “Shrek, the Musical” and “The Winter’s Tale,” upcoming productions include “The Full Monty” and “The Legends of Rock Tribute Concert” at the Golden Bough (Monte Verde between Eighth and Ninth).

■ Best Concert Venue

Sunset Center — San Carlos between Eighth and Ninth - (831) 620-2048 -

For decades, Sunset Center has been at the heart of Carmel’s thriving performing arts scene. Yet a $21.4 million renovation in 2002 elevated the status of what was built in the 1920s as a grammar school to a world-class concert hall. Executive director Christine Sandin, who took the helm in 2011, has specialized in bringing diverse and colorful acts to the theater, also home to the Carmel Bach Festival, the Monterey Symphony, Chamber Music Monterey Bay and the Carmel Music Society. The center also is home to Carmel Yoga Center, the Arts Council for Monterey County, and the Center for Photographic Art.

■ Best Place to Relax and Listen to Music

Cypress Inn - east side of Lincoln Street north of Seventh Ave. - lunch, noon to 4 p.m.; afternoon tea, 1 to 4 p.m.; dinner, 5 to 10 p.m. daily - (831) 624-3871 -

Whether you’ve enjoyed lunch, dinner, cocktails or afternoon tea at Terry’s Restaurant & Lounge or somewhere else in town, you can slip into the fireside lounge at Doris Day and Dennis LeVett’s Cypress Inn for a little night music and something to sip and savor. Visit for a calendar of live music performances.

■ Best Local Music Group (classical)

Monterey Symphony Orchestra — 2560 Garden Rd., Suite 101, Monterey - (831) 646-8511 -

The Monterey Symphony’s 69th season, “The Colors of Music,” a celebration of the vibrant spectrum of classical music, opened in October with a multimedia performance of Disney’s “Fantasia Live in Concert.” Audiences watched footage from the animated film while the orchestra performed excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, and Dukas’ Sorcerer’s Apprentice. “The Monterey Symphony is a unique orchestra,” says Music Director and Conductor Max Bragado-Darman. “I am proud of the artistic excellence of our musicians. Our orchestra is the gem of the Central Coast of California, and I feel privileged to be its artistic leader.” 

■ Best Local Music Group (rock, jazz and pop)

The Money Band — 316 Mid Valley Center - (858) 752-3590 -

Perhaps the most popular cover band on the Monterey Peninsula, fronted by dynamic lead vocalist Zoe Alexander, the Money Band plays every style from country to classic rock, disco to funk, reggae to modern rock and plenty of pop. When word gets out that the Money Band is playing, customers turn into crowds, creating standing room only, which is okay since no one wants to sit down. No matter the eras of their music or the ages of their audience, everyone just has to get up and dance. We’re putting our money on this one. Apparently, so is everyone else.

■ Best Place to Take Visitors

Monterey Bay Aquarium — 886 Cannery Row, Monterey - 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily - (831) 648-4800 -

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is in full celebration mode in honor of its 30th anniversary. Since it opened in 1984, the aquarium has transformed not only Cannery Row, from a blighted neighborhood filled with the remains of its sardine-packing past into a thriving tourist destination, but also the Monterey Peninsula, having created a vacation destination for millions of families across the country and around the world. From its Outer Bay deep-ocean tank, to its sea otters, jelly fish and stingrays, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the finest, and most famous, in the world. Its exceptional marine habitats and exhibits are surpassed only by its efforts and achievements in ocean conservation.

■ Best Local Festival

Carmel Bach Festival — NW Corner of 10th & Mission - (831) 624-1521 -

Every year, the Carmel Bach Festival introduces a theme around which the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and other baroque composers, as well as contemporary compositions, is performed. In 2013, it was “The French Connection.” This year, audiences enjoyed “Bach and the Italians.” For 77 years, Carmel-by-the-Sea has hosted its world-class festival, which plays into the rhythms of community life throughout the third and fourth weeks of July. Classical music emanates from the Sunset Theater, the Church in the Forest, San Carlos Cathedral, Carmel Mission and All Saints Church. The festival, which continues to create an alchemy of traditional and progressive approaches to classical music, remains the favorite festival among townspeople and tourists.

■ Best Church-Sponsored Event 

Mission Fiesta — Carmel Mission, 3080 Rio Road - (831) 624-1271 -

Sponsored by Junipero Serra School, and staged on the scenic courtyard of the Carmel Mission, the 50th annual Carmel Mission Fiesta drew plenty of revelers. The longtime community tradition attracts in-towners and out-of-towners to enjoy savory barbecue and Mexican food, and dance to live music by the Chicano All Stars band. Meanwhile, participants shop the open-air market of some 40 booths bearing handmade works by local artisans. Kids enjoy their own fun-filled festival, with plenty of games and prizes. This festive cultural event is fun for the whole family.

■ Best Beach
■ Best Place to Watch the Sunset
■ Best Place to Walk Your Dog

Carmel Beach — Foot of Ocean Ave. and west side of Scenic Road.

Carmel Beach is everything the postcard promised. The arc of white sand framing the flat or frothy sea is perfect for strolling or sprinting, making sand castles or sunbathing. Kids and canines run free, chasing shorebirds or each other. Surfers bob just past the break, awaiting their ride into shore. The cypress-sheltered beach is an ideal location to take in the sunlit skies, and then wait and watch for the signature green flash just as the sun sinks into the horizon. Located just down the hill from town and in the lee of Pebble Beach, it offers a generous slice of California coastline that reaches from Carmel Point to the scenic greens of the famous Pebble Beach Golf Links.

■ Best Hiking Trail

Garland Ranch Regional Park — 700 W. Carmel Valley Rd., nearly 9 miles east of Highway 1, Carmel Valley -

Garland Ranch Regional Park encompasses more than 4,400 acres and features miles of hiking trails. A vast network of paths climbs more than 2,000 feet, exploring shady creeks and leading to dazzling, sun-drenched vistas. Less than 10 miles from the seashore, the weather warms up, the mountains rise, and the great Carmel Valley ushers in pedestrians and equestrians to commune with the silent sanctuary of pristine nature. The park is managed by the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District, which doesn’t charge an entry fee but somehow manages to keep trails in top condition. Perhaps part of it is a reverence among guests, who become partners in preserving the park.

■ My Favorite Park 

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve — West side of Highway 1 about 3 miles south of Carmel Valley Road - 8 a.m. to 30 min. after sunset - (831) 624-4909 -

Established as a state reserve in 1933, Point Lobos, named for the offshore rocks at Punta de los Lobos Marinos, Point of the Sea Wolves, where the sound of the sea lions carries inland, has become a haven for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. Noted for its dramatic, rocky coastline and dense groves of Monterey pines and Monterey cypress, the park features miles of walking paths that lead to stunning sea vistas, secluded picnic spots and sandy beaches. Reportedly, Robert Louis Stevenson observed the point jutting out from a fog bank, and recognized it as his “Treasure Island.” A museum pays tribute to its fascinating legacy as a whaling center, and also has some interesting exhibits about Hollywood movies made in the area.

■ My Favorite Bicycle Shop

Bay Bikes — 3600 The Barnyard Shopping Village and 585 Cannery Row, Monterey – 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mon. to Thurs., Fri. and Sat. 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sun. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. - (831) 624-RIDE (7433) -

The Monterey Peninsula is a bicyclist’s paradise, and Bay Bikes offers sales, services and rentals to help you enjoy every scenic mile. The business is an official showroom for Specialized Bicycles, the Morgan Hill company that created the world’s first mass-produced mountain bike.

■ Best Fitness/Health Center

Carmel Valley Athletic Club — 27300 Rancho San Carlos Road, Carmel Valley - Mon. to Fri., 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sat. to Sun., 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. - (831) 624-2737 -

With its rough-wood architecture, lofty ceilings, crackling fireplace and living room lounge, the lobby looks like a ski lodge, rising from a scenic setting in another resort community. Carmel Valley Athletic Club, which honors its heritage as a racquet club with its traditional tennis program, is a true, multifaceted fitness facility. In addition to its cardio, weight and spin-bike rooms, the club offers a fantastic array of fitness programs, including yoga, Pilates, Zumba, NIA dance, Body Pump and other cardio classes led by exceptional instructors and personal trainers.  The club also hosts a beautiful pool and its exceptional hydrothermal relaxation spa, Refuge.

■ Best Martial Arts studio

American Karate — 182 Country Club Gate, Pacific Grove - 3:30 to 9 p.m. Mon. to Fri., 9 a.m. - 1 p.m. Sat. - (831) 372-5425  -

Starting as early as age 3, kids can learn coordination and self control through the martial arts. American Karate of Monterey teaches students of all ages but specializes in children’s programs. “At American Karate, we strive to develop the body, mind and spirit through rigorous training,” says owner Matt Durney. “We have all kinds of students, and everyone is welcome at our dojo.” Durney offers a free week of karate lessons and a free month of cardio-kickboxing for new clients.

■ Best Yoga Studio

Carmel Yoga Center — San Carlos and 10th - (831) 624-4949 -

Since 1989, Kathleen Karachale’s Yoga Center of Carmel has presented a wide range of yoga classes for all students, regardless of experience. Located at Sunset Center, the center offers daily classes, weekend workshops and training for teachers by Karachale and her staff of certified instructors. Originating in India more than 2,000 years ago, the ancient practice of yoga teaches students, through a series of poses and breathing techniques, how to reduce stress and increase strength and flexibility. The recently renovated center is warm, inviting and conveniently located in the heart of downtown.

■ Best Golf Course 

Pebble Beach Golf Links  — 1700 17-Mile Drive, Pebble Beach - Hours vary by season - (831) 622-8723 -

Its reputation precedes it. Since 1919, the exquisite beauty and unique dynamics of the Pebble Beach Golf Links have challenged and thrilled golfers and their spectators. But even those who have only seen it on television would probably vote for it. Designed by Jack Neville and Douglas Grant, the course hugs the rugged coastline, providing wide-open vistas, cliff-side fairways and sloping greens. The famed course has been the site of golf’s most prestigious tournaments, including the annual AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, and the 1972, 1982, 1992, 2000, 2010 and upcoming 2019 U.S. Open Championships. Pebble Beach Golf Links also include chipping and putting greens, the Peter Hay par-3 golf course and a practice range.

■ Best Museum

Monterey Museum of Art — 559 Pacific Street, Monterey - Wed. to Sat., 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sun., 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. - (831) 372-5477 -

The Monterey Museum of Art, with its eight galleries of American artwork, is the leading visual arts organization in Monterey County. The museum is distinguished by its exceptional permanent collection, vibrant exhibitions, and engaging educational programs. Founded in Carmel as a chapter of the American Federation of Arts in 1959, its mission is to inspire appreciation of the evolving California artistic legacy and to expand a passion for the visual arts. The strengths of the collection include early California painting, photography, and modern and contemporary art. The Museum welcomes all visitors to connect with art and to learn about the enduring artistic significance of the Monterey region.

■ Best Inn/B&B

Green Gables Inn — 301 Ocean View Blvd., Pacific Grove - (831) 372-2095 -

Your hosts at this Victorian palace will treat you like family — in a good way. Comfy rooms, hot breakfasts and bay views are all yours. Walks on the rec trail followed by afternoon wine and cheese and freshly baked cookies await. Come home to Pacific Grove. Green Gables is waiting.

■ Best Hotel
■ Most Dog-Friendly Hotel

Cypress Inn — Lincoln and Seventh - (831) 624-3871 -

It’s a 1929 Hugh Comstock design. Does it get more classic Carmel? Yes: Doris Day owns it with Denny LeVett, and it’s dog-friendly. Luxe doggy beds and daily Yappy Hour parallel humans’ experience of understated Carmel luxury and exceptional hospitality. Terry’s Lounge is one of the best-kept restaurant secrets around.


■ Best Florist

Burst + Bloom — 206 Crossroads Blvd. - call for appointment - (831) 293-8045 -

The pictures on the website dazzle the eye and whet the appetite for fresh floral arrangements. These florists forage materials from brides’ gardens and have sourced from MEarth. Inspiration comes from the customer and nature, and at least one design’s found its way onto Martha Stewart Weddings website.

■ Best Furniture Store

Poppleton’s Furniture Showroom — 290 Lighthouse Ave., Monterey - Mon. to Sat. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sun., 12 a.m. to 5 p.m. - (831) 649-3083 -

Are you traditional, transitional or modern? Do you prefer Italian or French? It doesn’t matter, Poppleton’s has you covered. Their 16,000-square-foot showroom welcomes new designs and items daily. Accessories like lamps, throw pillows and area rugs complete your home’s new look.

■ Best Golf Shop

Pebble Beach Pro Shop — 17 Mile Drive, Pebble Beach - 6 a.m. to sunset daily - (831) 622-8723 -

The experts at Pebble Beach are used to giving their best for the best golfers. Don’t you deserve that experience? Of course you do. Before you head out for a day on the links, make this your first stop for advice, booking tee times, great equipment, and classic clothes.

■ Best Hardware Store

Ace Hardware — 290 Crossroads Blvd., Carmel (Mon. to Sat. 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sun. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) and 1136 Forest Ave., Pacific Grove (Mon. to Fri., 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sat. to Sun., 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.) - (831) 293-8050 -

That jingle — “Ace is the place with the helpful hardware folks” — rings true, at least at our local shops. Those folks offer plenty of tips to make any homeowner feel more confident. Prices are reasonable and you don’t need a map to find your way out of the store

■ Best Craft-Knitting-Quilting Shop

Beverly’s Fabric and Crafts — 2090 N. Fremont St., Monterey - Mon. to Sat., 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sun., 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. - (831) 646-5161 -

There’s something about the aisles of Beverly’s that make the most casual crafter believe that great project she saw on Pinterest is within her grasp. The staff there will do what they can to help you live the dream, including steering you to instructional books and holding in-store classes.

■ Best Pet Store

Diggidy Dog — Ocean and Mission - 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily - (831) 625-1585 -

Somewhere a collie barks and a human responds: “What’s that Lassie? You need a sparkly collar to wear to the Cypress Inn? Jump in the car! We’re going to Diggidy Dog!” With 2,000 square feet of dog and cat gear of all kinds, this is the go-to spot for your four-legged friend.

■ Best Garden Shop

Griggs Nursery — 9220 Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley - Mon. to Sat., 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sun., 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. - (831) 626-0680 -

Griggs Nursery is a local institution. They’re knowledgeable about drought-tolerant plants and how to foil those hungry deer. High quality plants and great-looking pottery are personally sourced by the owners to ensure a high level of customer satisfaction.

■ BestCamping/Skiing/Surfing Store

REI — Imjin Parkway and Second, Marina - Mon. to Fri., 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sun., 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. - (831) 883-8048 -

REI has a long history of being staffed by people who’ve used the gear they’re selling. They give expert advice, whether it’s adjusting your new binoculars or suggesting winter camping gear. They’re committed to environmental stewardship, so future generations can enjoy the same beautiful spots we do.

■ Best Place to buy Athletic Equipment

Sports Authority — 905 Playa Ave., Sand City - Mon. to Sat., 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., and Sun., 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. - (831) 899-1436 -

It’s like Home Depot, but for jocks. It’s good to know that if you need some croquet wickets or a badminton set, this place has you covered. Of course they deal in football and basketball equipment, too. Prices are good, and online coupons help soccer moms save.

■ Best Pharmacy

Carmel Drug Store — Ocean between Dolores and San Carlos - 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, call for pharmacy hours - (831) 624-0441 -

When Carmel Drug Store opened in 1910, doctors were still treating an ailment called “catarrh,” and Carmel Realty wouldn’t open for four more years (just saying). Today, Carmel Drug still offers excellent service in the pharmacy and helps locals and tourists alike with what may ail them.

■ Best Camera/Photo Store

Green’s Camera World/Green’s Carmel Camera Center — Fifth and San Carlos - Mon. to Sat., 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sun., 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. - (831) 624-8880 -

Green’s has what most big box electronics stores don’t: experienced technical advice for everyone from beginners to pros. They’ll also turn your digital treasures into prints, restore that cracked, yellow photo of grandma, and even put a picture of your dog on a coffee mug for you.

■ Best Toy Store

Thinker Toys — San Carlos and Seventh, Carmel, and Del Monte Center, Monterey - Mon. to Thu., 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Fri. to Sat., 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sun., 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. - (831) 624-0441 -

If you can’t have fun in Thinker Toys, it’s time to make a toll call to your inner child. It’s like walking into Santa’s workshop, even in the middle of July. This collection of exclusively non-electronic toys has nothing to reboot - except your child’s imagination.

■ Best Children’s Clothing Store/Boutique

Starchild — Ocean between Mission and San Carlos - Mon. to Sat., 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sun,. noon to 5 p.m. - (831) 625-0300 -

There are so many uber-trendy, miniaturized adult styles that are just so wrong on kids. It’s refreshing to see Starchild bucking the trend with classic looks that are more appropriate to a dressed-up 6-year-old. And, you get to shop for them in a whimsical setting with informed, helpful sales staff.

■ Best Men’s Clothing Store

J. Lawrence Khaki’s — Carmel Plaza - Mon. to Thurs., 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Fri., 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sat., 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sun., 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. - (831) 625-8106 -

Khaki’s wants to get personal with their customers. If that shirt doesn’t fit, they want to tailor it. If nothing on the rack suits, they’ll tailor-make something guaranteed to be just right for the customer and the occasion. If clothes make the man, Khaki’s wants to make the clothes.

■ Best Men’s Shoe Store

Hedi’s — Ocean and Mission - 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily - (831) 624-5580; and 3630 The Barnyard - 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily - (831) 625-2055 -

This is a classy walking town that deserves a pair (or more) of classy, comfortable shoes. Hedi’s meticulous staff will make sure your soles aren’t pinched or rubbed the wrong way. Slip into a pair from Ecco or Sofft and head out to lunch or sightseeing in style.

■ Best Women’s Shoe Store

Lloyd’s Shoes — Ocean Avenue at Dolores Street - Mon. to Sat., 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily - (831) 625-1382 -

Celebrating 34 years in Carmel, Lloyd’s is still the place to pick up a pair of Frye boots for your inner cowgirl, some colorful ARCHE ballet flats for your inner dancer, and a new purse or two to help with that real world baggage.

■ Best Place to Buy Designer Clothes

Girl Boy Girl — Mission and Seventh - 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily - (831) 626-3368 -

Name dropping. Shameless designer name dropping. That’s what Girl Boy Girl (aka GBG) is all about. One designer name after another cascades down the shop’s Facebook page. Even if you don’t know a Golden Goose from a Vince, the staff here is ready to help you look your best.

■ Best Women’s Accessories
■ Best Women’s Clothing Boutique
■ Best Leather Goods Store

Augustina’s — Ocean and San Carlos - 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily - (831) 626-6353 -

Whether you want a black leather jacket a la James Dean, or a little black cocktail dress a la Audrey Hepburn, this is your spot for elegant and even extravagant shopping. Should the mood strike, you can accessorize to your heart’s content with fine and fashion jewelry, too.

■ Best Vintage Clothing

Déjà Vu Vintage Clothing — 26366 Carmel Rancho Lane - 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tue. to Sat. - (831) 624-1525

Tired of looking like a fashion clone? Check out Déjà Vu’s ever-changing selection of vintage and gently worn clothing and shoes. Get advice from a sales staff with a real sense of style to put together the perfect, head-turning ensemble. Odds are good you’ll snag a bargain in the process.

■ Best Jewelry Store

Hesselbein’s Jewelry —143 Crossroads Blvd. - 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mon. to Sat. - (831) 625-2522 -

More than just a spot to consider fine jewelry and Patek Philippe watches, Hesselbein’s offers custom jewelry design, watch and jewelry repair, engraving, and insurance appraisals for your finer baubles. The depth of the staff’s knowledge and experience is the jewel in the crown, so to speak.

■ Best Shopping Center

Del Monte Center — Munras Ave. at Hwy. 1, Monterey - 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mon. to Fri., 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sat., 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sun. - (831)373-2705 -

Del Monte Center’s a long-time favorite for its ample parking, comfortable and beautiful outdoor surroundings, and many entertaining events including a seasonal weekly farmers market. Tempting restaurants and stores like Williams Sonoma and Banana Republic make this a great place to shop, eat, or just hang out.

■ Best Antique Shop

Cannery Row Antique Mall — 471 Wave St., Seaside - 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mon. to Fri., 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sat., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sun. - (831) 655-0264 -

A good antique shop is a treasure trove and stroll down memory lane. This award-winning mall in the historic Carmel Canning Company building gives shoppers two floors and 21,000 square feet of memories to choose from. If you need a little jolt halfway through, there’s free coffee and tea, too.

■ Best Bookstore

River House Books — 208 Crossroads Blvd. - 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mon. to Sat., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sun. - (831) 626-2665 -

It’s reassuring to know that there are still people who like to flip real pages out there - and that there’s a place like River House Books to supply them. The staff is enthusiastic and makes informed recommendations. We love the supply of reading glasses to borrow.

■ Best Car Dealer

Victory Toyota — 5 Heitzinger Plaza, Seaside - 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mon. to Fri., 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sat., 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sun. - (877)204-0178 -

Low-to-no-pressure salespeople, pleasant service from selection to financing, and a great service department are just some of the reasons our readers like this spot for car shopping. It doesn’t hurt that they sell some of the best-loved cars around, from the popular Corolla to that classic among hybrids, the Prius.

■ Best Gas Station

Carmel Shell — Fifth and San Carlos - (831) 624-0125

It’s convenient and friendly, and clearly designed to blend in to our village surroundings - a lot to ask of a gas station, really. With its wooden sign and employees who care, it’s the quintessential Carmel fuel stop.

■ Best Carwash

El Estero Car Wash — 590 Fremont St., Monterey - 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mon. to Sat., 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sun. (hours vary by season) - (831) 373-1801 -

The folks at El Estero recycle 70 percent of the water they use. With that in mind, having your ride detailed isn’t an indulgence, it’s an act of conservation. Drive in dusty, drive away shiny and fresh-smelling with some greeting cards from the gift shop. Your conscience will be clean, too.

■ Best Computer Store

Apple Store — 240 Del Monte Center, Monterey - 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mon. to Fri., 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sat., 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sun. - (831) 647-4480 -

Apple users are a different breed. They’re hip, they’re cool, and they demand an equally hip and cool place to shop. This is it - glossy white tables with the latest technology displayed like museum pieces and the acolytes of Apple can’t wait to show you the Apple Way.

■ Best Place for Brides to Shop

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

Brides should feel pampered and even a little spoiled when they shop for their trousseaus, and this shop is here to make it happen. Feel like a princess while trying on gowns priced to fit almost any budget, and choose from dresses your bridesmaids will actually want to wear again.

■ Best Gift Shop

Carmel Bay Company — Lincoln at Ocean Ave - 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily - (831) 624-3868

If ever there was a place to shop for that hard-to-buy-for in-law, this is it. It’s also a great spot for browsing. Interesting, often whimsical, and decorative items large and small can be found at every turn. Customer service is enthusiastic and helpful, making gift shopping fun.

■ Best Music Store

Do Re Mi Music & Video — 26135 Carmel Rancho Blvd., Suite B1 - 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mon. to Fri.; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sat. - (831) 625-1229

Just as there’s nothing like holding a real newspaper, there’s nothing like having a great collection of music that’s more down-to-earth than housed in the cloud. Family-owned and operated, Do Re Mi’s dedication to great service and good music sets them apart.

■ Best Candy Shop

Cottage of Sweets — Ocean Ave. between Monte Verde and Lincoln - (831) 624-5170 -
There’s a reason this place has been satisfying sweet tooths (teeth?) for 45 years. Mouthwatering fudge, crunchy chocolate and caramel turtles and rich, creamy truffles are all tucked away in a charming historic cottage right out of a fairy tale. Temptations for kids of all ages await!

■ Best Carpet and Flooring Store

Broadway Carpets — 1049 Broadway Ave., Seaside - 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mon. to Fri., 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sat. - (831) 394-6831 -

This full-service carpet and flooring store has it all - beautiful tile, hardwood flooring and laminates, and literally hundreds of name-brand carpet designs and colors to choose from. Check out their website for a ton of information and great coupons and offers!

■ Most Environmentally Friendly Store
Eco Carmel — San Carlos between Seventh and Eighth - Mon. to Sat., 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. - (831) 624-1222 -

Kitchenware, household goods and furnishings, and cosmetics that are earth-friendly await shoppers at Eco Carmel. They’ve got items for babies, jewelry for green-thinking divas, and even holiday decorations. Service is knowledgeable and friendly, so if you want to take sustainability a step further, drop in!


■ Best Place to Work

Coldwell Banker Del Monte Realty — Junipero 2 SW of Fifth, Carmel Rancho, The Lodge at Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove - (831) 626-2221 –

Pride, knowledge and enthusiasm are just a few of the ingredients that make a great workplace, and Coldwell Banker’s got them all. Their more than 100 agents and employees love what they do. What could be better than helping people buy or sell a piece of paradise?

■ Best Place to Volunteer

SPCA for Monterey County — 1002 Monterey Salinas Hwy. - administrative offices open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mon. to Fri. - (831) 373-2631 -

The volunteers of the SPCA do more than ensure wagging tails and purring felines. They work at special events like the Wag ‘n Walk, they feed baby birds found in the wild, and bring specially trained dogs into convalescent homes and hospice as part of the Hug a Pet program.

■ Best Place To Get Married

Carmel Mission — 3080 Rio Road, Carmel - Mon. to Fri. 9 a.m. to noon and 1:30 to 4 p.m. - (831) 624-1271 -

The Carmel Mission’s seen a parade of bridal veils and tuxedos that spans decades. The 200-year-old structure’s been through a lot, but the most recent restoration efforts have left her looking stronger and more beautiful. What a great metaphor for a long and happy marriage!

■ Best Retirement Community

Del Mesa Carmel — 500 Del Mesa Drive - (831) 624-1853 -

Del Mesa Carmel is proud to offer “retirement at its best - a carefree lifestyle in beautiful surroundings.” Its residents enjoy a sense of community and views of Carmel Valley, along with an array of amenities, clubs and activities to keep them active and engaged.

■ Best Electrician

Cate Electric — Dolores and Seventh - (831) 624-5361

Since 1961, this family-owned business has been committed to the local community. This year, they celebrated 35 years as Chamber of Commerce members. Still, they’re not stuck in the past by any means — in addition to staying current with modern wiring standards, they’re on Facebook!

■ Best Plumber

A&R Plumbing, Inc. — 1720 Contra Costa St., Sand City - 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mon. to Fri., 24-hour emergency service - (831) 394-7221 -

A&R Plumbing is a true family business, with a dedicated team of long-term employees. They want to prevent problems with a hot water heater maintenance program, sewer line inspections, and more. When problems do arise, they’ll be there. They promise excellent customer service, hard work and fair pricing.

■ Best Architect/Designer

Eric Miller — 157 Grand Ave., Ste. 106, Pacific Grove - (831) 372-0410 -

Award-winning architect Eric Miller enjoys working closely with his clients so he can create distinctive spaces that reflect their personalities and fit their lifestyles. Commercial and residential designs are created with exacting attention to detail inside and out. And he’ll soon be moving his firm to elegant new offices on Cannery Row.

■ Best General Contractor

Stocker & Allaire — 21 Mandeville Court, Monterey - 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mon. to Fri. - (831) 375-1890 -

From their beautiful eco-friendly homes in the Santa Lucia Preserve to the cutting-edge rammed earth house in San Benito County, Stocker & Allaire refuses to be defined by one single style of home. And that’s just the way each of their unique clients likes it!

■ Best Landscaper-Gardening Service

Comeau Design — Santa Fe, 3 NE of Fifth Ave - (831) 620-0111 -

Michelle Comeau’s beautiful projects may be found throughout Carmel and include the landscaping around city hall. Her award-winning work has also been featured repeatedly in Sunset magazine. She started her business during the drought in the 1970s and is well acquainted with water-frugal practices.

■ Best Real Estate Company

Carmel Realty — Dolores between Seventh and Eighth and three other locations - 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mon. to Fri. - (831) 622-1000 -

“Quality-driven” is an apt description of this firm. Older than the village that it calls home, Carmel Realty is family owned, just as it was a century ago. In addition to a long history of great service handling high-end properties in the Monterey Peninsula’s best neighborhoods, the company gives amply to the community, supporting a wide and diverse group of charities.

■ Best Real Estate Lender

Princeton Capital — 3775 Via Nona Marie, Ste. 100 - (831) 622-4630 -

Princeton Capital is a nationwide mortgage company which averages $2 billion in loan volume per year, but the key to the company’s success in the Monterey Peninsula is its local staff, and loan officer Chad Hawker is the man who has helped homeowners from all over the Peninsula and beyond make their mortgage dreams come true - which is no easy task in this tough market.  Chad is a long-time resident of the Monterey Bay area. His primary goal is always making his clients the No. 1 priority, and is humbled by their continued support and referrals.  “Our commitment to our clients and the community is the foundation of our success,” Chad says.

■ Best Title Company

First American — Dolores 3 SW of Seventh - Mon. to Fri. 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. - (831) 625-5980 -

Branch Manager Christine Chin is dedicated to easing the stress of closing on your home as much as possible. She knows there’s a lot of complex paperwork involved, and whether you’re signing on the dotted line for the first time or you’re an experienced buyer, she and her staff are there for you.

■ Best Personal Bank

Wells Fargo — (877) 937-9357 -

With convenient locations in Carmel, Carmel Valley, Pacific Grove, Pebble Beach and Monterey, this 160-year-old institution is serving customers in ways old Henry Wells and William Fargo never imagined. You have a phone in your pocket? It does bank transactions? Sorcery!

■ Best Business Bank

Monterey County Bank — Locations in Carmel Rancho, Pacific Grove, Monterey and Salinas - 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mon. to Thurs.; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fri., check website for additional openings and branch phone numbers -

Monterey’s oldest locally owned and operated bank has been serving its customers for more than 35 years. Business owners can find SBA and commercial lending and merchant card services with bankers who understand the local economy. As their website says, “We don’t open accounts — we start relationships.”

■ Best Investment House/Adviser

Monterey Private Wealth Management  — 2340 Garden Road, #202, Monterey - 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mon. to Fri. - (831) 372-3426 -

Partners Steve Merrill, Ken Petersen, Gary Alt, and Cristofer Cabanillas have more than 70 years of combined experience. As a fee-only firm, they have no of the conflicts of interest and can keep their clients’ interests — and interest — front and center.

■ Best Veterinarian

Purrfurably Cats — 481 Cortes St., Monterey - Mon. to Fri., 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sat., 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. - (831) 655-2287 -

Dr. Kathleen Marcus’ Purrfurably Cats is a full-service hospital and boarding facility exclusively for your feline friends. Their cat-fancying staff will groom your feline diva, clean her teeth, and provide preventive care. If Fluffy’s not feeling well, they promise attentive care — and no one will bark at her!

■ Best Pet Boarding

The Animal Hospital at the Crossroads — The Crossroads Shopping Village - 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mon. to Fri.; 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sat.; 10 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sun. - (831) 624-0131 -

For 45 years, the Animal Hospital at the Crossroads has been helping our four-legged buddies. Dr. Bishop and his staff provide a full range of services, including boarding when your best friends can’t accompany you on that business trip. Call for reservations; check the web site for boarding requirements.

■ Best Pet Care

Suds ‘N Scissors Pet Spa — 223 Crossroads Blvd. - 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mon. to Fri.; 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sat. - (831) 624-4697 -

The experienced staff at Suds ‘N Scissors loves bringing out your cat or dog’s inner beauty. In addition to regular grooming, they’ll help with flea and tick prevention and teeth scaling. Finally, you can watch them fluff and pamper your pal in their open-concept salon. 

■ Best Car Repair Shop

Tom’s Monterey Auto Repair — 870 Abrego St., Monterey - 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mon. to Fri. - (831) 372-5854 -

Tom’s can do quick lube and oil changes, or more involved service checks, with over 100 inspections, tire rotation and brake checks. They also do complete auto repairs on complex systems such as transmissions and engines, and take care of every concerns like smog compliance, and can even tell you whether that pesky “check engine” light is anything to worry about. They know car owners so well!

■ Best Auto Body Shop

Gene’s Import Auto Body — 531A Shasta Ave., Sand City - 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mon. to Fri. - (831) 899-0343 -

Has your Mercedes been rear-ended? Has a tree fallen on your Prius, or has it been driven through a shop window? This 35-year-old auto body shop has experienced technicians and state of the art equipment to restore it to its former glory. Lower your stress; call them first.

■ Best Dry Cleaners

Carmel Cleaners — Junipero and Third - 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mon. to Fri.; 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sat. - (831) 624-3616

For more than 30 years, owner Deok Chong has said, “Good clothes deserve good care.” These experts preserve wedding gowns, perform alterations and provide other services. Their kind, patient service keeps people coming back. We hear they’re like superheroes if a button falls off on the way to a meeting, too.

■ Best Travel Agent

Pacific Grove Travel — 593 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove - 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mon. to Fri. - (831) 373-0631 -

Owner Joe Shammas and travel experts Laura Lockett and Mary Potter have nearly a century of combined expertise among them. Clients know they don’t have to surf the internet’s rough seas to plan their trips. P.G. Travel will work hard to make that dream vacation a reality.

■ Best Hair Salon

March Hare — Fifth Ave. and Mission - Call for appointments Tues. to Sat. - (831) 624-3024 -

The spa-like atmosphere combined with stylists who care about bringing out their clients’ best looks has made this salon a fixture of the Golden Pine Cones for the last few years. Clients rave about fabulous haircuts and expert color, and especially about the stylists’ skill and expertise. 

■ Best Nail Salon

Nails Spa by the Sea — Seventh and Monte Verde - Call for appointment - (831) 625-2623 -

Services at our readers’ favorite nail salon exceed expectations — there’s waxing, and a selection of massages including Shiatsu, Swedish and aromatherapy to ease away the week’s tension. Or try a signature one-hour pedicure with sea salt, sea rocks, a hydrating mask and hot towels — aahhhhhh!

■ Best Massage Therapist

Jonathan Smith — (831) 233-9638

Jonathan Smith has been in private practice for over eight years. His goal? “I’m really into fixing people and I take a lot of pride in helping the people I work on.” How into it is he? He harvests lavender and distills it himself for use in aromatherapy. That’s dedication!

■ Best Spa

Refuge — 27300 Rancho San Carlos Rd., Carmel Valley - 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily - (831) 620-7360 -

Does stress have you tied up in knots? Come soak for awhile in Refuge’s hydrothermal pools. Heat up with sauna or steam, take an ice cold plunge, then lounge around a fire pit and listen to the sounds of water falling into hot tubs. Repeat until sufficiently unwound.

■ Best Dentist

Bradford Carl — 26485 Carmel Rancho Ln. - 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mon. to Thurs.; 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. Fri. - (831) 624-2111 -

Dr. Carl’s gentle touch has brought relief to patients for over 30 years. He makes sure to keep up with all the latest techniques and treatments to keep smiles healthy. Don’t take our word for it, though. Visit his online “smile gallery” and see for yourself! 

■ Best Dermatologist & Best Skin Care

Coastal Valley Dermatology — 26366 Carmel Rancho Ln., Suite H - 8:30 p.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. Mon. to Thurs.; 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Fri. - (831) 293-8458 -

Dr. Roya Javid and her staff know that skincare is more than picking the right moisturizer. They’re ready to help clients from pediatrics to the young-at-heart with medical and cosmetic procedures. And they make it sound like a really fun place to work, too!

■ Best Ophthalmologist

Leland Rosenblum, Monterey County Eye Associates — 21 Upper Ragsdale Dr., Ste. 200, Monterey - 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mon. to Fri., - (831) 375-2020 -

When you live in paradise you want to see it as clearly as possible. Dr. Rosenblum’s celebrating a milestone. He’s been helping patients for 20 years with cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy - and numerous other needs. He emphasizes prevention and regular eye care to maintain healthy vision.

■ Best Orthopedist

Christopher Meckel — 12 Upper Ragsdale Dr., Ste. A, Monterey - 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mon. to Fri.  - (831) 648-7200 - 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mon. to Fri. -

Dr. Meckel’s a Carmel High grad who went on to attend Berkeley, Cal Poly SLO, and ultimately med school at USC. He’s since become a specialist in high-tech, minimally invasive joint replacement and also serves as a team physician for CSUMB.

■ Best Pediatrician

Pierre LaMothe, Monterey Peninsula Pediatric Medical Group - 2 Upper Ragsdale Dr., #210, Monterey - 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mon. to Friday, 9 a.m. to noon Sat. - (831)333-0999 -

Dr. LaMothe has been board certified in pediatric medicine for 25 years. He’s excited to be this year’s winner and said he loves his job because helping kids is fun. His extensive experience working with the wee ones makes him a reassuring presence to parents around here.

■ Best Plastic Surgeon

Douglas Sunde — 856 Munras Ave., Monterey - 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mon. to Fri. - (831) 372-0200 -

When gravity and age take their course, you need a plastic surgeon who’s also an artist to get it just right. For nearly 20 years, Dr. Sunde’s helped many a local beauty with subtle little lift here or a helpful tuck there. His manner is comfortingly human, even as he is reassuringly expert. The staff is great, too.

■ Best Physical Therapist

Amy Altshuler, Carmel Orthopedic & Sport Therapy — 245 The Crossroads, Carmel - 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mon. to Fri. - (831) 620-0744

Amy’s been helping people get back on their feet for 30 years. “I really love my job,” she said, “It’s great to be able to help people!” It’s just that passion that ensures the great care that earned this year’s award.

■ Best Chiropractor

Aristotle Economou — Mission and Fifth  - (831)718-9073 -

Dr. Economou’s expertise came the hard way — he was paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair for more than a year. His book’s called “Change the Way You Heal.” He now uses what he learned to bring healing to so-called “hopeless” patients in Carmel and Beverly Hills.

■ Best Divorce Lawyer

Michael McClure — 24600 Silver Cloud Ct., Ste. 104, Monterey - 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. M-F - (831) 649-6161

Michael McClure’s 45-plus years of experience are invaluable to his clients. He helps them navigate the bumpy and often complicated road to divorce as smoothly as possible. He’s known for being a quick study who pays attention to the details that really count when a couple decides to untie the knot.

■ Best Estate Planning Attorney

Al Nicora, Nicora and Hespe — 26385 Carmel Rancho Blvd. - 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mon. to Fri. - (831) 622-2000 -

Frank Hespe took The Pine Cone’s call for information and said the firm is “thrilled beyond belief” at Al Nicora’s win. Nicora’s worked in estate planning for over 30 years. His expertise has been recognized by the courts, where he’s a Probate Referee appointed by the state controller’s office.

■ Best Lawyer if You Need to Sue Somebody

Andy Swartz, Spiering, Swartz, and Kennedy — 550 Hartnell St., Ste. A-3, Monterey - 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mon. to Fri. - (831) 373-3235 -

Andy Swartz likes solving problems. The Santa Clara grad has been practicing in Monterey since 1973. In addition to representing plaintiffs and defendants in a wide variety of cases, Swartz has been volunteer legal counsel for The Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula for the past 20 years.

■ Best Defense Attorney

Larry Biegel, Biegel Law Firm — 2801 Monterey-Salinas Highway, Ste. A, Monterey - 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mon. to Fri. - (877) 223-8982 -

Larry Biegel reached a milestone this year: 45 years of practicing law. He’s known for his dedication to clients who come to him with legal problems large and small. He knows that to the client, any arrest is a traumatic experience that deserves attention to detail and vigorous representation.

■ Best Insurance Agent

Carmel Insurance — San Carlos and Eighth - Mon. to Fri., 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. - (831) 624-1234

Matt Little, son Matt Little, Jr., and the rest of the gang at Carmel Insurance will fight with other insurance companies to make sure they do right by their customers. The firm’s been around since 1948, taking care of clients in Carmel and beyond, so they must be doing something right!

■ Best Shoe Repair

Federico’s Drive In Shoe Service — 542 Abrego St., Monterey - 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Mon. to Fri. - (831) 649-3322

Federico’s has been around since 1939, and they’re a reminder that unlike the many pairs of shoes they’ve fixed over the years, good service and integrity never go out of style. They offer a wide variety of services, including luggage repair. Style maven Maddox Haberdasher calls them “shoe ICU.”

■ My Favorite Non-Profit

The Carmel Foundation — Lincoln and Eighth - 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. M-F, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sat. - (831) 624-1588

Seniors who want to socialize, get help with their technology, or just enjoy a great lunch know that the Carmel Foundation’s the place to go. In addition to onsite events and lectures, the Foundation’s outreaches like in-home meals and support help people live longer lives in their own homes.

■ Best School

Carmel High School — 3600 Ocean Ave. - Mon. to Fri., 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. - (831) 624-1821 -

Carmel High’s frequently been recognized as one of the best high schools in the nation. High academic standards and a veritable cornucopia of extracurricular activities ensure Carmel High’s graduates are well prepared for college and ready for a good start on life. Thanks to the generosity of local taxpayers, the campus has lots of new buildings, too, and recently got a new athletic field and stadium.

■ Best Teacher

Bud Smith, All Saints Day School — 8060 Carmel Valley Rd. - office hours 7:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. Mon. to Fri. - (831) 624-9171 -

Bud  Smith chairs All Saints’ science department and their performing arts department. Although he worked briefly as an attorney, teaching is his first love — and at the intersection of the law, drama and science is his celebrated sixth grade “crime scene” project where students use science to solve the case.

■ Best Principal

Jay Marden, Carmel River Elementary School — Monte Verde and 15th - Mon. to Fri., 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. - (831) 624-4609 -

Jay Marden’s genuine concern for and interest in the kids at River School are no doubt why our readers selected him. He responded by saying, “Based on the fact that it’s an award with local significance, I’m honored to receive this distinguished recognition.” Cheers, Mr. Marden!