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THE 2021 GOLDEN PINE CONES

IT'S FALL. Sure, once in awhile we get a bomb cyclone or two, but autumn on the Monterey Peninsula also means crisp, sunny weather that's perfect for enjoying our incomparable scenery. And while you're counting your blessings for living here, fall is also the best time to take advantage of our own sweet lineup of exceptional local busineses. We speak, of course, of the Golden Pine Cones.

This year, more than a thousand of you flocked to your computers, patiently working your way through 173 categories to vote for the best places to rediscover pants or work off Covid weight gain, the perfect setting to marry that terrific person (because, gosh darn it, if you made it through quarantine together, you've got this nailed), and your favorite place to read your favorite newspaper.

   There was a wide variety of local superstars from which to choose. Veterinarians, swamped with new pandemic pet parents and their charges, had a chance to shine, as did stylists who’ve managed to restore our self-images, despite more than a year spent staring at our own dismal images on Zoom calls. Bookstores, bike shops and jewelers are here, as are electricians and plumbers. The latter, along with cashiers, restaurant servers, delivery drivers and especially healthcare providers and first responders, deserve bronze pine-needle-cluster add-ons for their bravery and determination in the face of the plague.

   A round of applause, too, to the businesses that weathered supply line interruptions which temporarily turned bleach, toilet paper and new home appliances into the stuff of fantasies.

   We’re also celebrating the return to the stage of all sorts of live entertainment, whether it’s a crooner in a piano bar, a play or a classical concert.

   One quick caveat — consumers and circumstances forced businesses to become more flexible during the pandemic, so hours of operation have been in a bit of flux. It’s best to call to make sure your favorites are open and ready to greet you before making a special trip.

   Whatever you’ve been most looking forward to since March 2020, it’s probably available now. So please, peruse this remarkable array of the best of everything, according to … you.


Food & Wine

• Best Neighborhood Market
• Best Butcher
• Best Deli

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

   Since 1953, Fermin and Ryan Sanchez’ Bruno’s Market has been everything a (literally) corner store should be. Whether you want locally farmed eggs for breakfast, fresh fruits and veggies or a decent bottle of wine, it’s the ideal spot to stop, considering its convenient downtown location and easy parking.

   Also voted Best Butcher, Bruno’s Market’s meat department carries top-grade beef, choice pieces of pork and other prime meats, and will custom cut whatever you need. The back counter can be relied upon to be busy with customers ordering their generously sized, custom-made sandwiches for lunch on the go or a picnic in the park. You can pick up a few bags of chips and some salsa, sure, but why not treat yourself to some wonderful sides, like potato or pasta salad. Got a sweet tooth? Grab some gourmet ice cream or a big old chocolate chip cookie.

   Thursdays through Saturdays starting at 4 p.m., you can pick one of the delicious specials — prime rib, salmon, pork loin or leg of lamb — to make a fancy dinner as easy as swiping your credit card. Carmelites, as well as the city’s many visitors, 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 go to the grocery store for produce when there’s a nearby farmers market almost every day of the week? Pine Cone readers know the best fruits and vegetables (not to mention eggs, pasta, meats and other staples, prepared foods and plants) are found at their local farmers markets. The largest one takes over Alvarado Street in downtown Monterey on Tuesdays from 4 to 8 p.m. (4 to 7 p.m. in winter), while Del Monte Center now 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). 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 at 215 Reservation Road in Marina from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and at Mid Valley Center in Carmel Valley during the same hours. 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 from May through September.

• Best Seafood Market

Sea Harvest Fish Market & Restaurant — 100A The Crossroads, and 598 Foam St., Monterey – open daily in Carmel and Monterey – (831) 626-3626 and (831) 646-0547, seaharvestfishmarketandrestaurant.com (Crossroads)

   A stone’s throw from the Pacific, Sea Harvest market started nearly 30 years ago and added restaurants soon after. The markets in Monterey and at the Crossroads boast the best in fresh seafood every day, from locally famous Dungeness crab and sand dabs, to halibut, sushi-grade tuna, locally caught squid, and a wide range of other sustainably caught bounty from the sea. Sea Harvest’s knowledgeable staff will help you select the best and freshest choices — and offer cooking tips, too. The market cafes are a good option if you can’t wait to get home to tuck into your deliciously fresh fish or want someone else to do the cooking for you.

• Best Bakery

Pavel’s Backerei — 219 Forest Ave., Pacific Grove – Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 7 a.m. until they sell out – (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 far and wide.

• Best Catering Company

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

   As pandemic-related restrictions have eased, the catering business is starting to rebound, and Jeffrey’s can be relied on to turn out the best for any occasion, whether a large party or a small one. Locals know they can rely on this Mid Valley institution for the very important task of providing beautiful food and excellent service. A presence in the Valley for nearly a quarter-century, Jeffrey’s operates a popular restaurant, makes and 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

The Cheese Shop — Carmel Plaza – 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily – (831) 625-2272, thecheeseshopinc.com

   The Cheese Shop is, of course, absolutely amazing for cheese, with hundreds of different varieties in every taste, texture and flavor and from every origin imaginable. But it’s also the go-to place for wine, and longtime owner Kent Torrey knows his stuff. He keeps his store stocked with many hard-to-find bottles, as well as affordable but high-quality options — and he knows about every producer in his inventory. Need advice? He’s the one to talk to, and he makes sure everyone who works at The Cheese Shop is extremely knowledgeable, as well. Fledgling sommeliers have flourished in his employ, and his customers benefit from that knowledge and the well-curated selection.

• Best Tasting Room

Scheid Vineyards — SE San Carlos and Seventh – noon to 7 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, noon to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday – (831) 626-9463, scheidvineyards.com

   Centrally located in downtown and open daily into the evening, Scheid’s tasting room has become the go-to place. It’s not only a great introduction for first-timers curious about the longtime Monterey County producer’s wines, but a favorite 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 also dog friendly. Scheid hosts special tastings and events throughout the year especially for wine club members. Reservations are available online. For those on the road, there’s also a tasting room at the winery in Greenfield just off Highway 101.

• Best Monterey County Chardonnay
• Best Monterey County Sauvignon Blanc

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

   Bernardus may have a new owner (still Dutch) and a new look (the labels have been redesigned), but its winemaking team’s chardonnays and sauvignon blanc won the hearts of Pine Cone readers again this year, as they have many times in the past. 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 sauvignon blanc for Bernardus in Arroyo Seco — ensure the team always gets the best fruit for its impressive wines. And with a handful of different vineyard-designated chardonnays, as well as the Monterey County chardonnay sourcing grapes from several different vineyards, it’s no wonder Bernardus took that category, too.

• 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 and Saturday, noon to 6:30 p.m. 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 appropriate only in spring and summer, but are now delicious and popular any time of year. In Monterey County, numerous wineries produce rosés from a wide range of grape 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. 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 winning My Favorite Monterey County Wine this year.

• Best Monterey County Pinot Noir

Silvestri — Sixth between San Carlos and Dolores – noon to 6 p.m. daily – (831) 625-0111, silvestrivineyards.com

   Alan and Sandra Silvestri’s winery produces three pinots from its estate vineyard just east of Carmel Valley Village, and each is distinctive — and distinctively good. The newest addition is Piave, named for Alan’s father, Louis Piave Silvestri, and the 2018 vintage is described as having “notes of black raspberry fruit flavors and a dose of spice,” and said to be a good pairing with lamb burgers or duck.

   Rising Tide is made from Block 1 in the vineyard and is silky and fruit-forward, and best enjoyed with wild mushroom pasta, while the estate wine is medium-bodied and perhaps best savored on its own. Either way, and whichever pinot they favor (if they have to pick just one), readers heaped praise on Silvestri’s pours.

• 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 the best Bordeaux varietals, earning Pine Cone readers’ votes year after year. While he and wife Dawn sold their vineyards and winery to a young couple last year, Jack Galante continues to focus on producing the finest possible wines from the Cachagua vineyard 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 — even decades.

• 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 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 are, Twisted Roots produces chardonnay, petite sirah, zinfandel from the family’s century-old vines, sparkling rosé and dry apple cider.

• Best Place for a Beer

Alvarado Street Brewery — Carmel Plaza at Junipero and Ocean and 426 Alvarado St., Monterey – open daily, check location for hours – (831) 293-8621 and (831) 655-2337, asbcarmel.com and 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 (or several), along with some snacks. The Monterey beer garden and the patio in the plaza both offer great spaces for dining and drinking outdoors. 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 ASB won this year’s award.

• Best Cocktails
• Best Restaurant in Carmel 

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

   A favorite among locals for its ambiance and high-quality cocktails, the bar at Grasing’s is often busy when other spots are not. A strong and diverse liquor selection that includes some hard-to-find bottles, adept bartenders who will create what you want or craft anything from the cocktail menu — which is not expansive but covers everyone’s tastes — and a comfortable bar that makes you want to linger awhile all add up to why readers chose Grasing’s for Best Cocktails this year. They also identified it as the Best Restaurant in Carmel, and it has long been a favorite of locals for the great food offered by owner Kurt Grasing and his team — which as of September includes star local chef Cal Stamenov, formerly of Bernardus. The menu will still feature the favorites that repeat customers expect to find but will surely benefit from Stamenov’s creativity and exceptional culinary skills. Also adding to the draw are Grasing’s many options for al fresco dining, with its back patio, parklet and rooftop deck.

• Best Happy Hour

Vesuvio — Sixth between Junipero and Mission – from 4 p.m. nightly – (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. It’s a popular gathering spot, so reservations are recommended.

• Best French Restaurant

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

   Originally founded in 1958 by Yvan Nopert, L’Escargot has been under the charge of chef-owner Kerry Loutas for more than two decades and reflects his unfailing care for turning out high-quality classic French-country cuisine, from steak frites and French onion soup, to house-made pate, escargot (of course) in the shell — and frogs’ legs. Loutas believes in providing personalized, friendly service at a restaurant that’s been a local favorite for years, and now has outdoor tables, too. An added bonus: During the pandemic, Loutas began offering lunch for the first time in the restaurant’s history, and so far, it has stuck. The midday menu includes a few sandwiches and other items not listed on the dinner menu, providing even more reasons to return.

• Best Chinese Restaurant

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

   Tiny Tommy’s Wok is the only place to find Chinese food in Carmel-by-the-Sea, but its reputation for delicious, fresh dishes and a vast menu draws people from all over the Peninsula, making it the only winner in this category, ever. The dishes paraded out of its diminutive kitchen are bright, fresh, aromatic and satisfying in the ways that only really good Chinese food can be, and it’s a perennial favorite among Pine Cone readers, having taken the crown each year since the Golden Pine Cones started in 2008. Tommy’s Wok serves up a menu of Szechuan, Hunan and Mandarin specialties, and is always one of the top spots for takeout, too.

• Best Indian Restaurant

Aabha — The Barnyard Shopping Village – noon to 8 or 9 p.m. daily – (831) 250-5940, aabhaindian.com

   Executive chef and proprietor Bhupender Singh’s food is as warm as he is. Everyone who comes to the hospitable and spacious restaurant in the Barnyard shopping center at the mouth of Carmel Valley feels welcome, and Singh’s delicious Indian food — some spicy, but always just right — never disappoints. The menu includes a wide range of dishes, including many vegetarian and vegan options. Singh’s devotion to cooking came from observing his mother and helping her in the kitchen when he was a child, and he says he’s “passionate about creating authentic Indian food and bringing Indian delicacies to the table.”

• Best Italian Restaurant

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

   Chef/owner Soerke Peters and partner Amy Stouffer continue to impress with their pasteria and mozzarella bar on Forest Hill, thanks to their attention to detail and passion for producing excellent food and an overall superlative dining experience. All the pasta is made in-house, as are the sauces, and Peters’ creativity shines through in the menu, which includes pillowy gnocchi with gorgonzola sauce and truffle oil, saffron ravioli with lobster, amazing lasagna with chicken sausage, house-made duck pate, grilled octopus and many other inspired and well orchestrated appetizers and main courses, along with five “mozzarella bar” items. The beautiful bar and lounge area are also perfect for snacks and cocktails, which are creative and well crafted. Mezzaluna boasts a huge selection of amaros, Italian bitter liqueurs, as well.

• Best Japanese/Sushi Restaurant

Toro — Dolores between Fifth and Sixth – lunch and dinner daily from noon Mon. through Thurs. and from 11:30 a.m. Fri.- Sun. – (831) 574-3255, torosushicarmel.com

   Opened by two friends last summer in the former Em Le’s/Lafayette/Etats Unis space, Toro quickly captured locals’ hearts with its delicious sushi, creative menu and friendly service. More traditional rolls, sashimi and nigiri are complemented by Toro Rolls like the Dolores (yellowtail and avocado topped with salmon salad, tobiko, green onion and two sauces) and the Maine Squeeze (tempura lobster and spicy tuna topped with yellowtail, snow crab, avocado, toasted macadamia nuts and unagi sauce) and a selection of seared rolls. With a sake master on staff, the selection of sakes from all over Japan is expansive, too, and flights are available for tasting.

• Best Mediterranean Restaurant

Dametra Cafe — Ocean and Lincoln, Carmel – 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday – (831) 622-7766, dametracafe.com

   Crowds of locals and visitors flock to Dametra not just for the food, but for the lively atmosphere and the impromptu musical performances that can often be heard a block or two away. 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, strangers and friends alike. 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 their seats at the table. Nimri, from Jordan, and Sneeh, from Syria, continue to build their following by displaying their inimitable hospitality. With the city still allowing parklets (for now), Dametra has outdoor dining on Ocean and on Lincoln.

• Best Thai Restaurant

Baan Thai — University Plaza at 1760 Fremont St., Seaside – takeout or eat in, 11 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. Monday through Friday, 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 4:30 to 9 p.m. Friday, 3 to 9 p.m. Saturday – (831) 394-2996, baanthaiseaside.com

   Is it worth the trip to Seaside just for some Thai food? You bet. This place has been a poorly kept secret for decades — rumor has it that it’s been a favorite of a few local chefs. Lunch specials — all 17 of them — come with generous portions and soup or salad. Whether you decide to eat in (or under their outdoor tent) or take your food to go, you’ll be greeted by the pungent scents of garlic, ginger and curry. Service is as prompt as the food is flavorful. Start off with the fried wontons and plum sauce, or the butterfly shrimp — battered and served piping hot with sweet chili sauce. If fried food isn’t your thing, there are pot stickers, or chicken sauté on skewers with peanut sauce. Traditional Tom Yum soup is served with chicken, shrimp or assorted seafood, and a refreshing shredded papaya salad comes 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. If you still have room, get the fried banana with ice cream or the green tea or coconut ice cream.

• Best Mexican Restaurant

Baja Cantina — 7166 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

   When you’re cruising down Carmel Valley Road, this racing-themed spot is easy to miss, but hard to forget. Settle in with some nicely seasoned chips and fresh salsa and peruse the lengthy menu while you enjoy an icy margarita. Starters include nachos, a variety of quesadillas and the Laguna Seca toothpicks — chicken flautas with pico de gallo, guacamole, sour cream and habanero sauce. Gourmet enchiladas can be made you’re your choice of rosemary chicken, slow-roasted pork in mole sauce, roasted citrus pork Yucatan style or wild mushrooms, spinach and chicken. The fresh catch fish tacos are topped with crunchy cabbage and the usual accoutrements, or you can have the fish of the day blackened, with coconut rice and sautéed spinach. There’s pasta, and three special burgers with a side of fries or onion rings. If you (or your date) love cars, the walls are adorned with posters and other racing memorabilia. There’s a casual vibe and plenty of outdoor seating for warm Carmel Valley days, and they’re great at handling crowds.

• Best Restaurant for Seafood

Passionfish — 701 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove – 5 p.m. to closing nightly – (831) 655-3311, passionfish.net

   The cute little restaurant at the corner of Lighthouse and Congress in P.G. has been around since 1996, when owners Ted and Cindy Walter would go down to Fisherman’s Wharf every day to buy fresh fish. Three years after they opened their seafood spot, the Monterey Bay Aquarium established its Seafood Watch program, and the Walters went all in on sustainability.

   In an interview this past May, Cindy said, “From pole-caught wild fish, to beef raised on small ranches, from zero-waste wineries to fresh, organic produce, from house-made cleansers to the natural brown paper instead of bleached white table covers, our mission is to provide something valuable and good that serves people without hurting anyone or anything.” Of course, all those good intentions don’t mean as much if the food isn’t good — but, of course, it is.

   Plates are beautiful and creative like an appetizer of fried California squid with spicy tangerine vinaigrette and a sea scallop paired with an artichoke risotto cake. Sweet treats include maple-banana bread pudding with bourbon caramel sauce and banana ice cream, and Meyer lemon panna cotta with strawberry coulis. Eat responsibly, but by all means, eat well.

• Best Restaurant for Steak

Seventh & Dolores Steakhouse — right where it says it is – 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Thursday through Monday – (831) 293-7600, 7Dsteakhouse.com

   It’s hard to believe that 7D was voted Best New Restaurant just four years ago — it already seems like a local institution. In an area awash in seafood and salad greens, Pine Cone readers have asserted their right to splurge on good, honest red meat. But they won’t sacrifice seasonal goodness, either. According to the restaurant’s web site, “The rich, fertile land of California and the spectacular Pacific Ocean dictate the seasonally changing menu, but as victims of wanderlust, we also want to bring the energy and influences of our travels back to our home in Monterey County.” Menus are playful and always interesting, with unexpected classics like crispy veal sweetbreads, and respectful versions of traditional favorites — 14-ounce New York strips, 10-ounce filet mignons and 24-ounce bone-in ribeyes. There are some things you just don’t want to mess with, and beef is one of them. You can top with a sauce of your choice, or get a flight of six sauces to sample for $25. Other entrées include sea bass, rack of lamb, a Niman Ranch pork chop and a vegetarian Portobello Bourguignon. Sides of potatoes — baked, French-fried, and mashed (with or without truffles) — and soups, salads and vegetables can help you round out the meal. If you have room for dessert, indulge your sweet tooth with Valrhona chocolate terrine or goat cheese beignets.

• Best Restaurant for Vegetarians

Julia’s Vegetarian Restaurant — 1180 Forest Ave., Suite F, Pacific Grove – 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily – (831) 656-9533, juliasveg.com

   You might not know where Julia’s is, but vegetarians and the people who love them anyway know it’s at the back end of that little strip of restaurants and shops between Safeway and Trader Joe’s. For more than 10 years, this spot’s been serving up vegetables — especially mushrooms — in all kinds of creative and satisfying ways. It’s open for breakfast every day at 9, and you can kick off your meatless Monday with real eggs or vegetarian egg substitutes. Donut holes tossed in cinnamon sugar with candy cap mushroom dipping sauce (just go with it, it’s delicious) prove that being a vegetarian doesn’t mean you have to become an ascetic. The locals’ lunch menu, available from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekdays, offers two delicious curries — a yellow vegetable combo with carrots, squash and mushrooms over rice, or a pumpkin curry served with pumpkin seeds for $16. There are also soups — the South Pacific squash purée is a must-try — and creative salads. There are eight pizza choices, and you can add a drizzle of truffle oil or get a gluten-free crust if you like. Lots of live music is on tap, along with kombucha and a nice selection of beers and wines, not to mention what might be the funkiest (in a good way) bathroom on the Peninsula.

• Best Salad
• Best Restaurant Service

Rio Grill — 101 Crossroads Blvd., Carmel – 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

   All through Covid-19, Rio Grill kept dishing it out, whether to go or on its spacious patio. Now the longtime locals’ favorite is back in full swing, and if it skipped a beat along the way, nobody seems to have noticed. No one’s sure which of the six salads — iceberg wedge, mixed greens, Chinese chicken, butter lettuce, charred romaine heart or ahi tuna — won your votes, because each is distinct and comes with delightful variations. You can add chicken, salmon or skirt steak to any of the salads. The Chinese chicken salad is a textural feast, with sesame-soy noodles, crunchy almonds and savory tahini dressing, while the ahi tuna comes with avocado, jalapeños and grilled watermelon, topped off with ginger-sesame dressing.  Good restaurant service is hard to define, yet you know it when you see it. It’s been compared to conducting a symphony with fire and knives, or a well-choreographed ballet, but in the end, it’s about balance. Meals should come to the table efficiently, but not so quickly that your appetizer fork is still in midair when the main dish arrives. The sizzling medium-rare porterhouse steak has to come out at the same time as Aunt Ethel’s grilled prawn pasta, without either being over or under done. Servers have to be able to suggest the right cocktail to go with your app, the right dessert to have with your coffee, and to keep everyone’s food allergies and sensitivities straight, as if yours is the only table on their minds. When it comes together, it’s beautiful.

 • Best BBQ

The Crossroads Barbeque — 241 Crossroads Blvd., Carmel – 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. (or when sold out) daily, delivery available – (831) 250-7616, thecrossroadsbbq.com

   The Ingram family had already brought its love of smoked meats to Salinas, Santa Cruz County and Santa Clara County when they set up shop in the Crossroads in 2018. Casual, sometimes raucous and always delicious, this is a great place to relax and feed your caveman cravings. Treasured family recipes for hearty potato salad and baked beans, as well as the must-have personal vats of berry cobbler with two scoops of vanilla ice cream and bread pudding shine, but the meat is the main event. The Ingrams have it down to an art, slow-smoking beef, pork and chicken with California oak wood for hours until everything is just right. Smoky tri-tip will send you on a mental vacation to a dude ranch, brisket is tender and the pulled pork with vinegar-molasses “hog wash” sauce will have you closing your eyes in appreciation. Don’t even bother with a fork for the St. Louis-style pork ribs — just pick ’em up with your bare hands and have at it. Sauces are complements, not floods of flavor-smothering sweetness. Order a couple of craft beers to have while you dine in, or order the whole shebang to go and dive in at home, where nobody can see the sauce-smeared evidence on your face.

• 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 — AW Shucks has long been a favorite oyster bar in town, and this year, Pine Cone readers identified it as the best place for fish & chips, too. A generous portion of beer-battered fish fried light and crisp in the tiny, open kitchen is served with steak fries (or a salad, but what’s the point of that?). A full bar offers several beers on draft, as well as its famous Bloody Marys and a wide 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. daily, open until 10 p.m. Friday through Sunday – (831) 747-2113, revivalicecream.com

    “Lovingly handcrafted, small-batch organic ice cream, using locally harvested and sustainable ingredients ....” With an intro like that on its website, Revival Ice Cream had better be ready to deliver on the promise of something that’s a scoop above — and that’s precisely what must be happening for our readers to vote for it as their favorite ice cream shop — again and again. Ice cream comes with an implied promise that it will transport you back in time to memories of childhood. It’s almost impossible not to smile while you’re slurping up a spoonful, even if — perhaps especially if — you’re standing in front of the freezer in your bathrobe. Try the Chocolate Nuts and Fluff, Revival’s take on Rocky Road. What’s the fluff? Homemade marshmallow, which everyone should consume now and again, if only to remind themselves what the real thing tastes like. Those and other flavors, including banana caramel, apple pie, milk and cookies, and lemon peel sherbet, can be ordered in cups or cones, or pints or half gallons to take home. Revival sells reusable containers for serious ice cream junkies, and 10 percent of sales of the containers go to its nonprofit partners, like MEarth, Community Partnership for Youth and MY Museum. Go to the website to share the frozen goodness with friends from coast to coast.

• Best Sandwich or Burger

RG Burgers — 201 Crossroads Shopping Village, Carmel – 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. daily – (831) 626-8054, rgburgers.com

   Wow! These “real good” burgers have been around since the late 1900s — 1990, to be precise. And in those 30-plus years, they’ve become a local classic and multiple Golden Pine Cone winner. Even if it were only about the burgers, it would be impressive — there are more than 20 of them, with influences from the around the world. Whether it’s the Asian-spiced sriracha, the Hawaiian burger with grilled pineapple and teriyaki sauce, a hoity-toity Béarnaise, a south-of-the -border Ortega jack, or a N’awlins-inspired Cajun burger, you have your choice of beef, chicken, turkey or falafel. They also make a full range of old-school diner sandwiches — you can get a patty melt, BLT or that old standby, egg salad. Cutting carbs? Hit them up for a Cajun chicken salad or a grill chicken Caesar. Sides include homemade soup and chili, fries (regular, sweet potato or garlic parm), tater tots, cole slaw or mac and cheese. How you could possibly have room for sweets is unfathomable, but they’re there, as are nostalgic milkshakes. Or, wash everything down with a soda, beer or wine.

• Best Breakfast

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

   Not only is breakfast the most important meal, you can make a compelling argument that it’s the most fun. What other time of day can you indulge in eggy fried bread with maple syrup or stacks of fluffy pancakes with blueberries or bananas and walnuts? Guy Fieri of “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” (pictured on the restaurant’s web page cozying up between fellow celebrity chef Robert Irvine and From Scratch’s own Chef Steve) is represented with the “Triple D” sampler — extreme sausage biscuits and gravy with a side of your choice and homemade brisket chili topped with cheddar, onions and sour cream. Corned beef hash is slung, and you can get your eggs with some of the more than 22 veggies, meats and cheeses on the menu. Yes, there are potatoes, and of course there are Benedicts — go traditional, or try the turkey-and-avocado version. But hey, maybe your idea of breakfast is a smoothie and a run on the beach. That’s OK, you can still have lunch, with a Barnyard club wrap (ham, turkey, bacon, avocado and more in an oversized tortilla) or house-made BBQ beef brisket with “Sweet Spicy Love” sauce on a house-made roll.

• Best Coffee

Acme — 485B Palm Ave. (in the alley), Seaside – 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday – (831) 393-9113, acmecoffeeroasting.com

   “Resist Corporate Coffee,” is Acme’s motto, and visiting its shop in Seaside makes you feel a wee bit subversive — it takes a little bit of doing to find it, but once you do, you’ll know you’re somewhere coffee is taken seriously. Now, Pine Cone readers are voraciously locavorish — many of you wouldn’t be caught dead with one of those cups with the green mermaid emblazoned on the side — but this is the first time Acme’s intoxicating scent has jump-started the voting in large enough numbers to walk off with the coveted Golden Pine Cone. Maybe it’s the funky vibe of the Seaside location, where you can sometimes find local artists exhibiting their works. The beans are as carefully sourced as wine, with names like Guatemala Huehuetenango, a region in the Central American highlands whose name means “place of the ancients” in the indigenous language, Nahuatl. Blends have names custom-fit for gearheads: Powerglide, a light roast with a nice kick of caffeine, Road Dog, an all-occasion blend, Motor City Espresso, and the aptly named Valve Job, a dark roast with great body that the folks at Acme say is “designed to scrub your pipes.”

• Best Coffeehouse

Carmel Valley Coffee Roasting Co. — Ocean Avenue between Lincoln and Monte Verde, 3720 The Barnyard, and 256 Crossroads Blvd., The Crossroads – carmelcoffeeroasters.com for hours and phone numbers

   You can make really good coffee right in your kitchen with gear as simple as a cone filter holder and a kettle. Oh, and a grinder — you want to grind the beans right before you brew, y’know. There might even be some treasured company you like to spend your mornings with — a spouse, or perhaps just a rescue dog whose best quality is that he doesn’t argue about politics. But what if you want a perfectly foamed cappuccino or a latte? Carmel Valley Coffee Roasting Company’s three locations are comfortable, but not fancy or intimidating. They offer sweet treats and savory breakfast items to enjoy with your Joe, and the baristas are friendly and knowledgeable. If you’re not a coffee drinker, check out the assortment of herbal and black teas they can brew up and serve hot or iced (the turmeric ginger has a great, caffeine-free kick). You can hang with your friends, read the newspaper and listen to the eclectic background music. People-watching is fun, too — a couple Pine Cone reporters and columnists can be spotted there from time to time, caffeinating in preparation for bringing you all the news you want to read.

• Best Desserts

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

   OK, here comes the warning. The cinnamon donut muffins are habit-forming. Even the wonderful folks at Sweet Reba’s call them “seriously addictive” and “a gateway muffin.” They’re just the right balance of sweet and cinnamon-y, just a bit more than a bite, with 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. People line up outside the bakery’s cheerful pink Dutch door, staring into the windows like little kids. Triple chocolate brownies and snickerdoodles are on the menu along with chocolate chip and oatmeal-cranberry cookies. Sweet Reba’s also makes gorgeous and creative wedding cakes, and custom cakes can be made to look like fantasy gardens or Christmas trees. Carrot cake, red velvet and seasonal selections are available, as are a bunch of exceptionally good pies with great crusts. But whatever you choose to indulge in, you can’t say you weren’t warned.

• Best Pizza

Heirloom Pizza Co. — 700 Cass St., #102, Monterey – 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. daily for takeout, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. in-house dining Thursday through Sunday – (831)717-4363, heirloompizzapie.com

   Owner Michael Foley brought his decades of pizza expertise to this spot near the Monterey post office in 2017, and it’s garnered a respectable number of local awards and accolades. If your home is a pizza battleground — deep dish vs. thin crust, pineapple “yes, please” vs. “eww heck no,” or an anchovy no-man’s-land — you can at least agree on where to order, because Heirloom has all those options and more. Fancy it up with gorgonzola and sun-dried tomatoes or go old school with pepperoni and mushrooms. If you’re gearing up for a long hike in Garland Park or a 10k fundraiser in town, check out the pesto potato carbfest, or bring the elegant pb&g — pears, bacon and gorgonzola with red onion and a balsamic reduction — to a potluck to shake things up. Apps can be traditional — spicy baked wings — or unexpected, like roasted broccoli. If you want to eat there, go on the website and secure a spot on the waitlist. There are three choices of salad and a nice selection of beers (draft and bottled) and wines from near and far, many available by the glass.

• Best Wine List

The Sardine Factory — 701 Wave St., Monterey – lunch (takeout only) 5 to 9:30 p.m. nightly – (831) 373-3775, sardinefactory.com

   This 53-year-old restaurant had a role in “Play Misty for Me,” right along with Clint Eastwood, and it’s been the setting of thousands of special occasions — marriages, anniversaries and big promotions — all of which deserve celebratory toasts. Fortunately, it has a wine cellar worthy of the most over-the-top events you can imagine, including that time Leon Panetta and his colleagues took down an international terrorist. (Legend has it that an 1871 Chateau Laffite Rothschild valued at between $10,000 and $15,000 was uncorked for that one.) With more than 2,000 labels and 20,000 bottles, the list has been recognized by Restaurant Hospitality Magazine as the best in the nation. Stored in the cozy and appropriately vintage cellar, with its 16th-century antiques and brick walls, the selection can be perused on the restaurant’s website. It’s sorted by varietals, wines by the glass, the cellar master’s selection and special treasures. You don’t have to break the bank — you can have a nice glass of most any major varietal for $15 or less — but if you’re seeking to impress your friends, you can splurge on a $120 bottle of Bordeaux or a $550 bottle of a 1975 white wine from Germany with a name so long it seems like it would have to be continued on a second label. Thank goodness there’s a sommelier to guide you.

• Best Brunch
• Best Chef — Amelia Scatena

Stationæry — San Carlos between Fifth and Sixth – brunch 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and dinner 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday through Monday – (831) 250-7183, thestationaery.com

   Anthony and Alissa Carnazzo have been operating this neighborhood restaurant for a few years now, and they seem to have nailed down the locals’ tastes when it’s time to greet the day with a proper brunch. You can eat in or take out, but brunch seems like a thing you go to, not something you have to clean up after, so get yourself a reservation. Chef Amalia Scatena has been at Stationaery since 2018 and has obviously developed quite a following hereabouts. A graduate of the Culinary Institute in Florence, Italy, Scatena was acknowledged in 2017 by Food & Wine magazine as one of the top five Charleston, S.C., “rising star chefs to watch.” The menu offers a variety of choices without being overwhelming — or making you suspicious that some of the dishes might not be up to your discerning standards. Staionaery manages to cover all the bases with choices like avocado toast (soft-boiled egg and/or caviar are extra, but available), a potato pancake served up with bacon and a side of frisée with tarragon dressing, a French cast iron pancake with fruit, crème fraiche and maple syrup, or the best possible version of breakfast — chive scrambled eggs, bacon and a biscuit with jam.

• Best Outdoor Dining or Parklet
• Best Piano Bar

Mission Ranch Hotel and Restaurant — 26270 Dolores St. – breakfast 7 to 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday, “early grazing” 3 to 5 p.m. daily (outdoors, limited menu), dinner 5 to 9 p.m. nightly, Saturday and Sunday brunch 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. – (831) 624-6436, missionranchcarmel.com

   They don’t take reservations (except for Easter Brunch, Mother’s Day and Thanksgiving), but there are no bad tables at Mission Ranch. Even during those bleak pandemic days when you could only dine al fresco, no one complained about the sweeping views of pastures with contentedly grazing sheep or the moody blue-green lagoon and brilliant white sand, looking inland to the Santa Lucia mountains or to the coast at Point Lobos. Breakfast offerings include classics like a house-made waffle (with Vermont maple syrup) and new favorites, like an açai bowl with yogurt and granola. If the sunset and ocean breezes whet your appetite for dinner, the menu can take you to sea, with jumbo scallops with lemon, capers and roasted Kabocha squash, or to Monterey’s rich agricultural and ranching heritage with smoked pork ribs and Asian barbeque sauce, or slow-roasted prime rib. Pasta choices like salmon ravioli are similarly tempting. Mission Ranch is also a wonderful place to hear live jazz on the piano. Singer and pianist Maddaline Edstrom performs Friday through Sunday, while pianist Gennady Loktionov plays Monday through Thursday.

• Best New Restaurant (opened in the last 12 months)

Le Soufflé — Fifth and Dolores – 4 p.m. to closing Thursday through Sunday – (831) 250-5314, lesoufflehcarmel.com

   Pine Cone readers may have inflated expectations, but this new French eatery hasn’t sagged a whit — at least, not if our polls are accurate (and they are). Lisa and Tyler Foreman and Chef Ivan Samchenko say on Le Souffle’s website that they’ve been working “to create an experience for our guests that emulates the refined comfort one envisions when planning a special night out.” Lisa hand-selected the vintage silverware and décor over years of travel, and it all evokes a spirit of comfortable hospitality in the restaurant’s six-table dining room. Using “completely organic ingredients,” Samchenko assembles each dish from scratch. The two- or three-course prix fixe fall menu starts with elegant appetizers including citrus-cured salmon complemented by tangy watercress and borscht with crème fraiche. As far as the entrées — well, how would anyone even choose among a garlic soufflé with boeuf Bourguignon sauce, a duck a l’orange soufflé or an Alsatian mushroom soufflé with mushroom Riesling sauce? And what would a soufflé place be without tempting desserts? You don’t have to find out — just select from chocolate, Grand Marnier or other fluffy sweet treats. There are numerous interesting French wines by the glass or bottle, along with selections from featured local producers Caraccioli Cellars and Holman Ranch.

• Best Place to Take Clients
• Best Restaurant in Monterey

Tarpy’s Roadhouse — 2999 Monterey-Salinas Hwy., Monterey – 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily – (831) 647-1444, tarpys.com

   Tarpy’s has always had extensive and pleasant outdoor seating so that you can enjoy views of the pond and trees — along with the occasional thrill of an airplane directly overhead. Food is playful, but also substantial and consistently well prepared. Then menu doesn’t change radically, it just evolves, so that all of your favorites won’t suddenly vanish, and you never have to worry about the kitchen having an “off day” when you bring your special guests. Whether they start with the coal-roasted Castroville artichoke or the giant Bavarian pretzel (were there ever three words so wonderfully juxtaposed?), you know everything will come out hot and delicious. The buttermilk fried chicken sandwich is satisfyingly crispy, salads are fresh and creative, and the shrimp and grits entrée really jazzes things up. Although getting there is only part of the equation, Tarpy’s has a real sweet spot — next door to the airport and easily reached from Salinas or anywhere on the Peninsula, it’s a great central location. The understated-but-friendly service is another reason for its popularity. Employees tend to stick around, and servers are warm and knowledgeable. They seem to magically appear when you’re ready to order, but they don’t hover about or rush guests, so there’s plenty of time to close a business deal.

• Most Romantic Restaurant

Casanova — Fifth between Mission and San Carlos – 4:30 to 9:30 p.m.. Wednesday through Saturday  – (831) 216-3811, casanovacarmel.com

   Shouldn’t you expect romance from a place that calls itself Casanova? The 18th-century Venetian, Giacomo Casanova, was a colorful fellow whose romantic exploits were, well, quite something. He wrote in “History of my Life,” “Cultivating whatever gave pleasure to my senses was always the chief business of my life; I never found any occupation more important.” The namesake restaurant in this magical village seems to have taken that sentiment to heart, putting its guests’ happiness and satisfaction first. Casanova looks to small organic farms and local fisheries when gathering ingredients, and seems to make all that attention to detail appear somehow effortless.

   Make an impression by reserving the very table at which Van Gogh dined in France for a special chef’s tasting, if you like, but you’ll also be perfectly happy in the main dining room. Once you and your date are comfortably ensconced within the French country setting, you’ll want to take your time perusing the menu, which is a nothing less than a love letter from the kitchen, wooing you with the promise of oysters and caviar, luring you further in with duck confit or a plate of linguini and seafood, and leaving you breathless but contented after a Basque cheesecake or a chocolate tart with chocolate sabayon. Whew. Keep reading. We’re going to need a moment. 

Most Dog-Friendly Restaurant
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 9:30 p.m. daily, afternoon tea Saturday, noon to 3 p.m., brunch served 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday – (831) 624-3871, cypress-inn.com; (831) 620-7454, carmelterrys.com

   The hotel is elegant, rising up near the center of town with a white, big-city façade. All that’s missing is a doorman. Inside, the elegance continues, with a grand piano by the hearth in the living room, glass doors opening to garden seating, and lunch, dinner, cocktails, or afternoon tea from Terry’s Restaurant & Lounge. But what pleases many people most is the canine hospitality, ensured by proprietor the late Doris Day. Even after the 2019 passing of the legendary singer, actress, and dog devotee, guests can rest assured their canine companions will still have a place to sleep and a seat below the table. At the end of the day, rooms are appointed with canines in mind, including special blankets, a place to rinse pets after a romp on the beach, doggie-doo pickup bags and a list of local pet sitters for those who want to venture out to places that persist in remaining only people friendly.

• Best Bartender

Brent Carlson/The Running Iron — 24 E. Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley – Wednesday through Monday from 11 a.m. – (831) 659-4633, runningironrestaurantandsaloon.com

   There’s a reason Pine Cone readers picked Brent Carlson, the main man behind the bar at the Running Iron in Carmel Valley Village, as Best Bartender. Actually, there are a whole lot of reasons. Not only can he mix mean drinks of any and all persuasions, but he’s friendly, knowledgeable, a good conversationalist — and has a heart of gold. A lifelong local, he’s been known to let a patron or two stay with him if they had no way to get home safely after the bar closed and has taken in more than his share of stray dogs and cats. He can also tell you pretty much anything you want to know about Carmel Valley. If you want to go to a bar and feel immediately at home, The Running Iron — a Carmel Valley Village institution for decades — is the place to be, especially when ginger-haired and bearded Carlson is the person pouring your drinks.

• Best Restaurant in Big Sur

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

   The name — Nepenthe — comes from Homer’s “Odyssey,” in which it’s mentioned as a magical drug that takes away sorrow, and our readers know that the sweeping coastal panorama from more than 800 feet above sea level works just as well as an ancient Greek panacea. If it weren’t for the server stopping by, you might get lost in the view and forget you’re there to eat. If you’re more hangry than sorrowful, the menu with beloved local classics like the Ambrosiaburger could help, perhaps with a glass of something special from the wine list. Change your Ambrosia habit up with a shrimp BLT or the California beet salad, which features Point Reyes blue cheese, orange slices, pickled fennel and spicy candied walnuts. When the evening chill and fog set in, consider one of the warming beverages like Nepenthe Coffee with Metaxa brandy or a hot cider spiked with organic rum. 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. Thursday through Sunday, 5 p.m. to closing Tuesday through Sunday – (831) 659-4444, caferusticavillage.com

   A consistent winner with our readers, Café Rustica had cozy outdoor dining nailed long before it became a business survival skill in 2020. The folks there have been serving up home-style European specialties — like Hungarian paprika beef goulash — al fresco for years. Known for unusual thin-crust pizzas and hearty entrees, Rustica has also been a go-to place for Sunday brunchers. The patio is warm and convivial, or you can get the food to go.

• Best Restaurant in Pebble Beach

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

   You almost couldn’t blame Roy’s if it relied on its setting rather than its food. Whether it’s a sparkling blue ocean surging beyond the verdant golf course on a sunny day or a moody, fog-filled afternoon around a fire pit, you might not even notice a second-rate meal — but happily, that won’t ever happen. Chef Pablo Mellin makes sure all the dishes are as beautiful as the views, which you can take in from virtually any table in the house, and they’re delicious enough to make you sit up and take notice. Set yourself up for a great round of golf with a rib-eye steak and eggs, a stack of blueberry pancakes or a healthy egg white omelet.

   Afterward, come back for an Asian fusion lunch of sushi — like the yellowtail firecracker roll with jalapeños and habanero — or some barbecue baby back ribs. And when you’re through shopping or strolling around Pebble Beach, the sunset comes into view, and Roy’s dinner menu once again lives up to the location. Is it gilding a lily to crust a filet mignon with peanuts and serve it up Thai style? If it is, our readers don’t care. There are two takes on surf-and-turf, including a black bean-glazed swordfish with honey mustard beef short ribs and a 6-ounce Australian lobster tail paired with a New York steak — but try not to imagine Crocodile Dundee, because this is way more sophisticated than that guy with the machete in the movie. Enjoy it all with a signature cocktail (Mai Tai, anyone?) or glass of wine and enjoy a slice of banana chocolate cream pie as you mull over the relative merits of the music coming from the bagpiper as he makes his way across the dunes each night.

• Best Restaurant in Pacific Grove

Fandango — 223 17th St., Pacific Grove – lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. Monday through Friday, brunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, dinner 5 p.m. to closing nightly – (831) 372-3456, fandangorestaurant.com

   What’s your idea of a great evening out? A cozy setting near a fireplace while the fog works its magic outside? A place where you can actually hear your friends over the background noise? A menu full of simple classics, perfectly prepared? Fandango checks all those boxes. It’s been a mainstay in Pacific Grove long enough that some of the original diners now bring their grandchildren in for special occasions. Maybe your special occasion is just a nice Wednesday lunch. It’s all covered here, with apparent ease and just enough formality to make you feel like a VIP. If you’ve never had them, this is a great place to try escargot, but you can also start out with calamari or some house-cured salmon.

   Let the wait staff guide you through an impressive wine list to find just the right bottle to accompany your osso buco, duck a l’orange or paella, all in portion sizes that let you bring a really fancy lunch to work the next day. If you don’t want a heavy meal, try one of the salads, like the signature traditional Caesar or the spinach Mimosa with chopped bacon and hard-boiled egg. Leaving without the profiteroles for dessert? Mais non! What are you, a Neanderthal?

• Best Restaurant in Seaside

Gusto — 1901 Fremont Blvd., Seaside – 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, 4:30 to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 4:30 to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday – (831) 899-5825, gusto1901.com

   Welcome! That’s what Gusto shouts to those who drive the extra few miles to get to its Seaside location. It’s but a few minutes from Highway 1, with refreshingly easy parking. But why would you go at all if there wasn’t good food? The friendly staff here knows you won’t, so they do their best to make it delicious — and abundant. The smell of garlic and the comfortable, casual décor greet you as you step inside. The menu offers so many combinations of pastas and sauces, it’ll make your head spin with the possibilities. If you just want a pizza, you’ll still have some reading to do — there are 14 house combos plus a design-your-own option. You can get regular crust, thick crust or gluten-free, too. Don’t skip the arancini appetizers.

   Conceived by thrifty Italians to use up leftover risotto, they’re fried balls of Arborio rice with gooey house-made mozzarella centers. The pastas are meals in themselves, as in the broad, rustic pappardelle noodles paired with four-hour braised beef short rib with veggies and jus, or the linguini de mare, with an assortment of seafood in a sauce of San Marzano tomatoes and white wine.

   Other favorites like eggplant or chicken parmigiana are there for you, too. Add a glass of wine, enjoy a cannoli, and walk out singing like Louis Prima or Keely Smith. Now that’s Italian!


Recreation and the Arts

• Best Local Artist

Will Bullas — Carmel Art Association Gallery, Dolores between Fifth and Sixth, and the Carmel Valley Art Association, 2 Chambers Lane, Carmel Valley – willbullas.com

   In a place that’s absolutely brimming with artists, illustrator Will Bullas again captures one of the most prized of Golden Pine Cones. Perhaps it’s his humor that sets him apart from the many, or maybe it’s his talent for portraying animals in human roles. But whatever his secret is, it likely has something to do with the many smiles and chuckles his artwork inspires. His latest work includes a rooster doing rocket science, a chicken dressed up as a cowboy and a pair of raccoons in formal wear comparing the wonders of white and red wines.

• Best Photo Gallery

Weston Gallery — Sixth between Dolores and Lincoln – open by appointment – (831) 624-4453, westongallery.com

   The masters of traditional black-and-white photography come together at Weston Galley. The family’s patriarch, Edward Weston, was one of the medium’s greatest visionaries. His sons, Cole and Brett, followed in his footsteps and achieved success and acclaim. Today, two more generations are carrying on the family’s legacy. The downtown gallery not only showcases their work, but also that of the elder Weston’s contemporaries, like Ansel Adams, Wynn Bullock and Imogene Cunningham, and contemporary photographers like Maggie Taylor, Jerry Takigawa and Kenneth Parker.

• Best Sculpture Gallery

Bennett Sculpture Carmel — San Carlos and Sixth – 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily – (831) 626-3054, bennettsculpturecarmel.com

   Like Edward Weston, 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. Located in the same site where it was established nearly 40 years ago, it’s home to many marvelous creations by Tom’s daughter, Terrie Bennett, and three other relatives, sculptors Kim Bennett, Keith Shannon and MK Shannon.

• Best Art Gallery

Gallery MAR Carmel — Dolores between Ocean and Seventh – 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday – (831) 624-2000, gallerymarcarmel.com

   Eleven years after the first Gallery MAR was established in Park City, Utah, the second opened in downtown Carmel two years ago. The gallery represents nearly 30 contemporary painters and sculptors, including Carmel Valley glass artist Nick Leonoff, whose glass pumpkins herald the arrival of fall each year, and Beau Frank, who lives in Pacific Grove. Also on the roster is Annie Hooker, whose great-grandfather, Samuel F.B. Morse, founded the Pebble Beach Company. As a bonus, a friendly and handsome English pointer mix named Caspar can often be found in the gallery greeting visitors.

• Best Performing Arts Group or Company

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

   The Monterey Peninsula’s premier theater group, PacRep stages its many productions at the Golden Bough Playhouse (currently closed for remodeling), the Forest Theater and the Circle Theatre. Founded in 1982 by its longtime creative director Stephen Moorer, the theater celebrates the genius of William Shakespeare with a festival each year, and kicks off the New Year with a rock ’n’ roll tribute concert. Despite the many challenges of presenting live theater during Covid, PacRep marked Valentine’s Day with a concert featuring the music of Broadway at the Monterey Fairgrounds. PacRep also prepares the next generation for the stage through its School of Dramatic Arts.

• Best Concert Venue

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

   Owned by the city and operated by a nonprofit, Sunset Center attracts world-class talent to its main stage — even during the pandemic, when Monterey County Symphony concertmaster Christina Mok recorded a live concert in the otherwise-empty space. 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, concerts are back, and upcoming performers include dobro legend Bela Fleck and singer-songwriters as divergent as Aoife O’Donovan and Boz Scaggs. Sunset Center also provides a stage for concerts by four local music groups, Monterey Symphony, Chamber Music Monterey Bay, the Carmel Music Society and Youth Music Monterey Bay, and is home to the Carmel Bach Festival, one of the longest-running musical events in the nation.

• Best Place to Relax and Listen to Music

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

   It’s hard to imagine a better place to sip wine and enjoy music than at Folktale Winery in Carmel Valley, which has done a marvelous job of combining the two, along with a gorgeous garden setting. Founded in 1982 by Bob and Patti Brower as Chateau Julien, the winery was acquired and renamed by Greg Ahn in 2015. Since then, the site 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 several up-and-coming country music stars.

• Best Local Music Group (Classical)

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

   Now in its 75th season, the Monterey Symphony has gone to great lengths to keep audiences and musicians connected throughout the Covid pandemic. This year, the orchestra wrapped up a series of concerts that were livestreamed from the balcony of its downtown office, recorded a concert in the P.G. Library, launched an online educational series for kids and produced a pair of memorable “Love Letter to Carmel” concerts at Forest Theater. With the departure of Max Bragado-Darman at the end of the 2019-2020 season, this year the symphony’s offerings will include four concerts led by finalists to replace him as conductor.

• Best Local Music Group (Rock, Pop and Jazz)

The Bubba Pickens Band — instagram.com/bubbapickens

   They’ve been flying under the radar for a while, without a website or a Facebook page — not even Google can tell you who Bubba is — but the Bubba Pickens Band must be playing somewhere, because for the second time in recent years, their many fans have won them a Golden Pine Cone. The somewhat elusive but talented band, which includes a few local teachers, serves up a lively good-time mix of bluegrass and Americana, as a YouTube video of a performance last year at Fernwood Resort in Big Sur attests.

• Best Place to Take Visitors

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

   Called the “greatest meeting of land and water in the world” by 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 ancient forest of Monterey pines, it’s remarkably accessible, and including 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.

• Best Family Activity

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

   More than 2 million people each year visit the world-famous aquarium, which offers a fascinating glimpse into the wonders that lie beneath the waves of Monterey Bay. And who can resist the adorable sea otters frolicking in their own special tank? The marine showcase reaches beyond local borders to introduce visitors to penguins and creatures from other oceans, too. The first aquarium in the world to exhibit a kelp forest, it also made news for displaying and caring for a great white shark. Located on the site of a former sardine canning factory, it has become a major tourist attraction, which has revitalized a part of Monterey that had become blighted following the collapse of sardine industry. Since then, the aquarium and its audiences have only grown. You can still visit all the fish and their friends, but masks are required, as well as proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test. You will also have to make your reservation online.

• Best Local Festival

West End Celebration — the third weekend of August – westendcelebration.com

   Canceled a year ago due to the pandemic, Sand City’s West End Celebration — the biggest annual street fair in the region — returned in late August. Providing a marketplace for artists of every imaginable stripe, the gathering also offers a stage for than two dozen mostly local musical acts. Established in 2001 by county assessor and music promoter Steve Vagnini, and presented by the city, the two-day event helps call attention to Sand City’s wonderfully creative business district.

• Best Church-Sponsored Event

Jewish Food Festival — carmelbethisrael.org

   Hosted by Congregation Beth Israel in Carmel Valley, the Jewish Food Festival has delighted attendees with great food, beautiful crafts and amazing music for more than three decades. It has also offered opportunities to experience Jewish culture and traditions with events like a reenactment of a Jewish wedding, as well as synagogue tours and the chance to ask Rabbi Bruce Greenbaum all your questions. 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. On Aug. 22, this year’s festival was done as a drive-through event.

• Best Place to Watch the Sunset
• Best Place to Take Your Dog
• Best Beach

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

   Is Carmel Beach heaven? With ample white sand, easy access and no leash law, it’s certainly paradise for people, as well as their pooches of every shape and size who can be seen daily getting sandy claws, splashing in the waves, socializing with other dogs or engaging in the time-tested thrill of chasing seagulls. For two-legged visitors, it’s just about the best place anywhere for a sunset stroll as the cool fog rolls in and dulls the echo of the churning surf. And like the best things in life, it’s free.

• Best Place to Read The Pine Cone

At Home — locations and hours vary

   A great many readers suggested The Pine Cone is best enjoyed in private — as if perhaps its content is too hot to handle — though you can find many in polite society perusing its pages on Friday mornings at any local java joint, bravely risking a coffee spill onto its pages. We suspect that many of you are just happier leafing through the print edition or reading it on your tablet in your jammies and bathrobes, while ensconced in a favorite old chair. Catching up on the Police Log or high school sports chez vous is also far safer than attempting it on the beach, where the breezes can easily snatch your paper away. If you must read it by the sea, you could do so on your phone or tablet. Just don’t drop it in the ocean. Come to think of it, “at home” does sound like the right answer, after all!

• Best Hiking Trail
• My Favorite Park
  

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

   The crown jewel of the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District, 4,400-acre Garland Park has trails for explorers at every level of fitness, from easy and shady strolls along Carmel River and Garzas Creek, to steep switchbacks that lead to sweeping views of the valley. Dogs are welcome and enjoy splashing around in the Carmel River, and it’s heaven for horseback riders, too. In the spring and early summer, the upper meadows offer spectacular wildflower blooms, with golden poppies and blue lupines splashing color across the landscape. For those in good shape, a hike to Snively’s Ridge gains nearly 2,000 feet of elevation and offers a birds-eye view of the Monterey Peninsula.

• 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 and 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday – (831) 624-2737, cvaconline.com

   More than just a place to work out and get in shape, the Carmel Valley Athletic Club calls itself the “Locals’ Resort.” There’s tennis, pickleball, bocce ball, yoga, Pilates, dance classes, a heated 25-yard pool, hot tubs, a sauna, a two-story fitness center with state-of-the-art workout equipment, a cafe with excellent food by renowned chef Moises Munoz, a salon, child care and an array of social activities, including poker.

• Best Yoga Studio

Seaside Yoga Sanctuary — Ocean Avenue and Mission Street in Carmel Plaza – classes offered daily, see the online schedule for details – seasideyogasanctuary.com

   Downward-facing dog, seated pigeon, hidden wildebeest, cringing alpaca (OK, those last two are made up) … starting a yoga practice can be intimidating, but Seaside Yoga Sanctuary makes it easy. The studio on the third floor of Carmel Plaza is not only a welcoming place, but it offers classes for beginners as well as experienced practitioners. Indoor classes have returned, but outdoor and online sessions are still available. “Yoga is for everyone,” owner Laura McKinnon told The Pine Cone. “Everybody and every age can do yoga.”

• Best Golf Course

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

   Rated the No. 1 public golf course in the country by various groups and publications, Pebble Beach Golf Links has been drawing golfers to the Monterey Peninsula since 1919. Many of golf’s greatest moments have happened on the course, which hosts the annual AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, where many of the sport’s top players are paired with amateurs, some of whom are movie stars or gifted athletes in other sports. The iconic course is set to host the U.S. Women’s Open for the first time in 2023, and in 2027, it’s scheduled to be the site of the U.S. Open — the seventh time it has hosted the prestigious contest.

• Best Museum

Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History — 165 Forest Avenue, Pacific Grove – 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday – (831) 648-5716, pgmuseum.org

   Very early in the pandemic, the venerable history museum — which first opened its doors in 1883, but had to bow to Covid and shutter itself in 2020 — figured out how to give virtual lectures to engage kids and their parents, providing welcome distractions on weekend afternoons. Now that the museum has reopened its doors, visit the website to see what they’re up to these days — whether it’s monarchs or bird life, wildflowers or whales.

• Best Library

Harrison Memorial Library — Mission Street & Sixth Avenue – 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday and Friday, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday – (831) 624-4629, ci.carmel.ca.us/library

   “We want to express how grateful we are for our library patrons, their dedication and how much they really love the library. They have stayed with us through all the changes brought on by the pandemic, and now that our hours are different, every time we open our doors, it’s a good day.” So says the library, and even though it’s had reduced hours while rebuilding its staff, it’s grateful to its staunchly loyal followers. Those fans have been vocal at city meetings and in letters to the editor of The Pine Cone about missing their beloved reading space. Now that those dark days are ending, the staff wanted us to mention that the rack is still outside the library for people to donate books, and the Friends of the Library are still accepting books at Sunset Center, every Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

• Best Inn/B&B

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

   Some people come for the homemade granola and scones, served with a hot cup of Carmel Valley Coffee Roasting Company coffee. Others seek out the garden setting, wood-burning fireplace or the privacy, serenity and peek of the ocean. Plenty of people are pleased they can bring their dogs to the canine capital of the country. Carmel Garden Inn has history, anchoring it to the community like a welcome mat. What began in 1949 as Rosarita Lodge, an apartment complex amid a lush garden setting, the inn has maintained both the gardens and the hospitality. Enjoy a homemade breakfast in the morning, and a wine and cheese reception in the afternoon.

• Best Hotel

La Playa Carmel — Camino Real Street & Eighth Avenue – (800) 582-8900, laplayahotel.com

   Designed to complement Carmel Mission, La Playa was built in 1905 as a private mansion by artist Christian Jorgensen for his wife, heir to the Ghirardelli fortune. Its elegant Mediterranean architecture played gracious host to many prominent guests until the 1920s, when the property was converted to a boutique hotel with 75 guest rooms framing its lush garden setting overlooking the sea. Although the property has been upgraded and expanded considerably over the years, its ambience has remained true to its original aesthetic as an intimate seaside inn. After renovations to the historic property in 2012, what is still called “the new” La Playa Hotel is considered The Grande Dame of local luxury hospitality.


Retail

• Best Florist

Burst + Bloom — 238 Crossroads Blvd., Carmel –10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday; Sunday and Monday by appointment – (831) 625-8111, burstbloom.com

   Beneath a sign that reads, “Make it Simple but Significant,” floral artist Lauren Orman studies a blossom, picks a couple of leaves from the stem and lets them fall to the cement floor. Then she adds the flower to the table bouquets she’s making for a wedding reception, all similar but not quite the same. Orman, the owner of Burst + Bloom, which opened a dozen years ago, creates custom floral designs — festive or fancy, but not fussy. Many of the blooms are sourced from local gardens. “I appreciate so many different things about working with flowers,” Orman said. “I love working with a perishable product. I love that I am making something artistic, sculptural, but it’s also completely ephemeral. I like that I have to understand timing and surrender to it. Floral design is a completely Zen practice; I can’t get too attached to the product.”

• Best Furniture Shop

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

   For 35 years, Mum’s has been dedicated to bringing in a diversity of designs to satisfy a wide variety of needs, tastes and budgets. It is a place where patrons wander among middle- and high-end home furnishings as if visiting a beautifully appointed private home. The showroom is filled with a wide range of furniture styles, plus accessories and objets d’art, staged in vignettes to help shoppers feel at home. “Design and quality are important, but so is value,” said owner Mugo 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 from more than 80 furniture lines and some 5,000 fabrics. “Most of our achievement is due to our employees. From designers to delivery folks, they have been with us a very long time.”

• 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

   The purpose of the Pebble Beach Pro Shop is to provide quality products and services guests aren’t likely to find elsewhere. In addition to the breathtaking beauty of the coastal greens and craggy coastline that attract guests into the resort, the shop is another element of a guest’s Pebble Beach golf experience. Since merchandise represents that experience, saying, “It’s Pebble Beach, and I was there,” staff endeavors to provide the best products and the highest quality. For folks who have never held a golf club, or avid golfers who want to add to their collection, the shop balances the new and exciting with proven core brands.

• Best Hardware Store

Ace Hardware — 290 Crossroads Blvd., Carmel; 401 Mid Valley Center, Carmel Valley; 229 Forest Avenue, Pacific Grove; 1136 Forest Avenue, Pacific Grove – hours vary by location – acehardware.com

   Although Ace Hardware store is a member of the largest retailer-owned hardware cooperative in the business, individual stores give customers a sense of shopping “small-town local,” where everybody knows your name, with the benefit of big-business backing. In an era when it’s hard to find specialized service or someone to work the register, a company that says, “Ace is the place with the helpful hardware folks” invites confidence. When customers ask for help, employees are trained to say, “Helping you is the most important thing we have to do today.” It’s that kind of service that caused this community to give them a Golden Pine Cone.

• Best Housewares Store

Prim’s Carmel — 546 Carmel Rancho Blvd. – 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday – (831) 620-1251, primscarmel.com

   It’s been nearly nine years since the family-owned hardware and housewares store created a fresh venue in a landmark location. By now, the company has built its own reputation for service, and the community has responded to it. Its investment includes expansive hardware, housewares, and paint sections, as well as specialty patio, home furniture, bedding, and gift departments. What likely earned the 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 that they mean it.

• Best Craft-Knitting-Quilting Shop

Monarch Knitting — 529 Central Ave., Suite 4, Pacific Grove – 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday – (831) 647-9276, monarchknitting.com

   Their motto is “Knit and be happy.” This community-oriented shop welcomes guests into a fresh, well-lighted atmosphere with cubbies of colorful skeins of yarn, among a cadre of friendly craftspeople. Its name is a nod to the butterfly sanctuary for which the town is known, but this place has knit together another kind of sanctuary. So much more than a yarn store, it’s a place where you can take lessons, participate in projects, buy beautiful yarn and simply belong. At Monarch Knitting, someone will show you what you need and how to work with it, helping you feel at home.

• Best Pet Store

The Raw Connection — 26200 Carmel Rancho Blvd. – 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday – (831) 626-7555, therawconnection.com

   After reading veterinarian Ian Billinghurst’s book, “Give Your Dog a Bone,” Sarah Adams switched her Irish wolfhounds from kibble to a raw food diet. Within weeks, she said, her 7-year-old had lost weight, its once-dull coat had a glossy shine, and the happier pooch was back on the beach, running with the energy of a 2-year-old. In 2002, Adams launched her raw-food delivery service. Four years later, she opened The Raw Connection store with what she considers the “largest inventory of raw food in the country.” The shop also sells healthy treats, handmade toys, and an array of safety collars, harnesses and leashes. “Our mission,” she said, “is to educate customers on transitioning their dogs and cats to species-appropriate food. This is how to pamper a pet.”

• Best Garden Shop

Griggs Nursery — 9220 Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley – 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday – (831) 626-0680, griggsnursery.com

   If there are blessings in this pandemic, one of them must be that people are getting back to their roots. Digging their hands into the soil has had a centering, nurturing effect as citizens cultivate their gardens. Folks have been flocking to Griggs Nursery to buy houseplants and succulents, seasonal annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs to upgrade the places where they are now spending their days. For nearly 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

On The Beach Surf Shop —  693 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove – 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday – (831) 646-9283, onthebeachsurfshop.com

   Kelly Sorenson was just 20 years old in 1986 when he and Mike Locatelli founded On The Beach Surf Shop at Ocean and Mission. Three years later, he became the sole owner of the company and, in 1993, opened a second store on Lighthouse Avenue in Monterey. Six years later, he closed the Carmel location. Today, On The Beach spreads out across nearly 6,000 square feet with a tropical theme, designed by Sorenson and created by contractor Chris Murren. With bamboo and beach sand throughout, tiki huts filled with clothing, and classic surfboards from the Pete and Cathy Noble collection, On The Beach, said Sorenson, feels like a surfer’s paradise, filled with gear from all the coolest surf and skate companies.   “What means the most,” said Sorenson, “is seeing the California surf community make On The Beach their hangout and source to live the lifestyle.”

• Best Place to Buy Athletic Wear

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

   Family owned and operated since 1983, The Treadmill was created with a vision to develop a store that would anchor the running community like a starting line. The Treadmill has since expanded heavily into hiking, athletic and athleisure wear. With an emphasis on great quality, premier brands and a truly caring and knowledgeable staff, The Treadmill was voted the No. 1 source for everything folks need from head to toe, to live a healthy lifestyle on the California coast or wherever adventures may lead. For the past 38 years, The Treadmill has endeavored to be, and will continue to be, the epitome of a friendly, service-oriented small business.

• Best Pharmacy

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

   Carmel’s classic drug store and family pharmacy has been independently owned and serving the community since 1910. Known for offering quality products and service, this drug store 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 on their way into town. 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 and postcards, magazines, and books by local authors. It has hair accessories and hygiene products, perfume and makeup, candy and scented candles. The only thing missing is a soda fountain.

• Best Children’s Clothing Store

Heaven, A Child’s Boutique — Lincoln Street between Ocean and Seventh avenues – 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday – (831) 624-6550, heavenincarmel.com

   Ash and Monique Vasanji, who hosted a grand opening of Heaven in 2001, are celebrating the 21st anniversary of their European-style children’s boutique, designed for the customer who has exquisite taste and seeks quality and style. “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,” said Monique. “We are so grateful for the support and recognition.” Located on Lincoln in the site of the legendary Village Straw Shop, Heaven beckons customers through double doors into a gracious, well-lighted salon appointed with very special, very select children’s apparel. It’s as if you’ve wandered into the custom wardrobe of a privileged child. Perhaps yours.

• Best Men’s Clothing Store

Khakis of Carmel — Carmel Plaza on Ocean Avenue – 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

   During the Covid-enforced closure, customers, out for a welcomed walk, shopped the dynamic display windows at Khakis and continued to collect quality classic and couture menswear. 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 created a haberdashery that’s stood the test of time and taste. “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 Ockert. “We are grateful that The Carmel Pine Cone audience and the wider community have continued to support Khaki’s.”

• Best Men’s Shoe Store

Hedi’s Shoes — Ocean Avenue & Mission Street (additional locations in the Barnyard, on Alvarado in Monterey and in Del Monte Center) – 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday – (831) 624-5580, hedi.com

   When Haydar Movahedi opened his first Carmel shoe store 30 years ago, “European comfort shoes” were experiencing an emerging market. Through his carefully chosen offerings, “Hedi” has cobbled together comfort, quality, convenience and cool, matched by customer service from experienced staff who understand fit, form and function. Featured among various brands offering dressy, casual or rough-wear shoes, are Ecco, Cole-Haan, Pikolinos and Mephisto, Paul Greene, Pas de Rouge, HOKA, Kühl, Birkenstock and more, plus a complement of Kühl clothing and accessories. Comfort truly can look and feel good.

• Best Women’s Clothing Boutique

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

   Girl Boy Girl, established in 1991, is known for its exceptional curation and large selection of more than 80 contemporary brands. GBG and its sister store, Paloosh, endeavor to present something for everyone seeking fun, festive fashion. Guests have come to expect excellent customer service by stylists 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

   More than 30 years ago, Shirin Snyder, wife of Rev. John Snyder, former pastor of Carmel Presbyterian Church, had a dream. She wanted her church fellowship to become more closely connected to the wider community. She sought meaningful, productive ways to offer some people a chance to give, others a chance to buy bargains, and those in need, a chance to receive. Some people come in every day the shop is open just to see what’s new. Just to see who else is shopping. Just to see which volunteer is running the cash register. More often than not, they buy something. Yellow Brick Road has generated more than $6.7 million, which has been given back to the community through grants to nonprofit organizations, including more than $430,000 in scholarships to college-bound, high school graduates.

• Best Women’s Accessories

Foxy Couture — San Carlos, 2 SW of Fifth Avenue – 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Monday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday – (831) 625-9995, foxycouturecarmel.com

   Although finance was her profession, fashion was her passion. Susan Gavin’s love of clothing led her to design school at night, and the launch of her own clothing line by day. But she quickly realized she was more enchanted by design than the business of it. So, in 1991, she started recycling vintage and contemporary clothing in a small office space, which eventually became Foxy Couture, a luxury vintage and consignment store. “We are sustainable because everything in our store is pre-owned,” she said. “We recycle and repurpose older products from design houses that typically don’t change that much. These luxury fabrics and designs have been gently worn or not at all.” Gavin sleuths out pieces for her store from all over the world. “It’s a very special, constantly changing collection,” she said. “I take special care of these things until I sell them. It’s important to be fair and honest and kind. At the end of the day, I feel good about it.”

• Best Women’s Shoe Store

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

   Tess Calhoon at Lloyd’s has on a pair of Chie Mihara suede platform sandals with a printed metallic snake pattern on the heel, complemented by scalloped black suede straps. Although the Spanish shoes are perfect for the holidays, she has chosen them for daywear at the shop. “We’ve actually brought in a lot of new styles from Spain,” she said. “Among them Pons Quintana shoes from an island off the coast of Spain. Knowing their limited distribution of these beautiful shoes makes them even more special.” After facing many Covid-based issues around obtaining merchandise, Calhoon is excited to have new wares and so many new offerings in the store. “We’re so grateful for our amazing customers who have supported us during the pandemic. We couldn’t be in our 41st year without them,” she said. Calhoon’s advice during Covid and beyond? “Just wear your cute shoes. Everywhere.”

• Best Place to Buy Designer Clothes

Debra C — 129 Crossroads Blvd., Carmel – 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday – (831) 624-9400, debrac.com

   Debra Couch established her exclusive store in Beverly Hills and then, in 2011, opened a second store at The Crossroads, quickly garnering a loyal clientele and a collection of awards. Couch, a woman who makes fashion look effortless, says it is — or should be. Particularly if you shop at Debra C, her boutique of European designer apparel for women. Whether you’re looking at beautiful Italian designers, or her private label, she says, it’s all about the way it’s put together. “We’re high end, so the apparel endures. You can do the same look next year, or add a new piece and mix it up. All of us at Debra C are happy once again to receive this prestigious award.”

• Best Leather Goods Store

Augustina’s — Ocean Avenue between Mission and San Carlos streets – 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily – (831) 624-2403, augustinaleathers.com

   Established in 1987, this family-owned, family-run business endeavors to create a Carmel experience clients and guests will remember and return to. The store is named for a beloved tiny terrier, which makes sense since few canines are more couture than those of Carmel. Augustina’s is an exclusive leather goods boutique, known for representing the largest selection of Remy leathers in California. “We also offer Augustina’s custom leathers, crafted in the United States, for men and women, in any size, any color. We specialize in jackets, vests, coats, pants and skirts, as well as beautiful handmade leather belts in exotic skins — gator, lizard, ostrich and hornback,” said owner Tracy Delaney Odle.

• Best Vintage Clothing Store

Ritzy Ragz & Thingz — Dolores Street & Fifth Avenue – 11:30 to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday – (831) 625-1018, ritzy-ragz-thingz.business.site

   “Vintage clothing is like perfume. It takes you someplace,” said Ava Havilland-Spiering, who opened Ritzy Ragz & Thingz, her vintage and designer consignment shop, five years ago to indulge her own attraction to clothes that make women “feel good when they look at them, quality pieces that feel nice to the touch.” Her motto is, “You don’t want to see yourself coming and going; you want something different, interesting, eclectic.” If you bought it at the mall, it’s not something she wants. Gravitating toward the 1950s and ’60s, Haviland-Spiering wants to look at a dress and wonder who wore it and had a fun night with a “girl about town” look

• Best Jewelry Store

Kocek Jewelers — San Carlos Street between Seventh & Ocean avenues – 10 a.m. to 5:30 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 11 years old, Kirkor Kocek got his green card in 1973 and opened his eponymous jewelry store in Carmel. “My career has been a balance of crafting and selling custom jewelry and timeless designs, and a devotion to giving back to nonprofit organizations, such as the Kinship Center,” he said. “I know the gifts I give can make people’s lives easier. This is something I understand.” After 47 years in business, Covid forced Kocek to shutter his store. Undaunted, he purveyed fine jewelry by appointment. “I am proud to be part of Carmel. We are steadfast by the sea,” he said. “This award is meaningful to me. I am honored.”

• Best Gas Station
• Best Car 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

   If he’d had his way, Bill Lemos would have gone to Germany, or wherever the action was during the Korean War. Instead, after joining the Army, he spent the war years at Fort Ord as a heavy weapons instructor. After the war ended, he could have returned to his native Gilroy to go back to work on his uncle’s dairy but instead, in 1955, he accepted his brother-in-law’s offer to become a Union 76 dealer in Hollister.

   In 1961, a Union 76 rep invited Lemos to consider leasing and running a brand-new Union 76 station at the mouth of Carmel Valley. The shiny new station sat at the edge of the old Hatton Dairy, with nothing more than a Safeway and a drugstore nearby.

   “It was a little scary to start a new station with nothing else around,” said Lemos, who was 28 at the time. “But the Union Oil Company reps were very helpful, and I saw it as a way to support my community and, eventually, six children.”

   Sixty years later, Lemos, 88, is still connected to the business, now run by his daughter-in-law Debbie Lemos. It has consistently won the Golden Pine Cone award for years. Patrons and employees alike report the appreciation is less about the gas pumped or even the mechanical repairs, and more about the spirit of service, the community investment and the station’s honesty and integrity.

   The Lemos family reported receiving customer letters over the years that referred to cars returned from service cleaner than when they went in. People wrote to them of lost cash found and returned, and of a handbag left behind in the restroom and mailed back to a grateful owner. They also shared their praises of everyone’s kindness, courtesy, confidence and respect.

   Those who have worked for Lemos in the past six decades — he employed many students attending Carmel High School and Monterey Peninsula College — recall lessons learned, not just about pumping gas and fixing automobiles, but about life skills, the value of hard work and accountability — doing things the right way.

   “Working with Bill Lemos, I learned about honesty and integrity in business,” said Matt Horton, who was employed there during his years at Carmel High and summer breaks from UC Davis. Horton later opened his own Union 76 station in San Jose. “Bill is a really kind, straightforward, honest businessman, with a lot of heart. He’s my role model for business and life.”

   As Bill Lemos looks back on 60 years, he’s grateful to his customers, his community and his crew, particularly his daughter-in-law.

   “Debbie’s run the place for more than 15 years. She’s devoted to it, and I don’t interfere. She’s the one who implemented ‘self-serve’ but keeps the full-service available for those who want it. Back in the day, competition was stiff. It was good, honest service that kept us ahead. Debbie makes sure that same level of service continues,” he said.

• Best Shopping Center

Carmel Plaza — Ocean and Mission, Carmel – 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday – (831) 624-0138, carmelplaza.com

   With more than 35 stores and boutiques in nearly 112,000 square feet of space in the heart of Carmel, the open-air Carmel Plaza offers something for everyone, including Tiffany & Co., Kate Spade, Khaki’s of Carmel and Anthropologie. If you’re looking for a bite to eat in between shopping, there are several eclectic restaurants and gourmet shops, such as Alvarado Street Brewing & Bistro, Flying Fish Grill, the Cheese Shop and Carmel’s newest culinary buzz — Dutch Door Donuts. The Plaza also has three notable wine tasting rooms. And if you’re concerned about what to do with Spot while you’re shopping — don’t be. Carmel Plaza is pet-friendly. And no need to worry about parking. The Carmel Plaza has a convenient parking garage that can be accessed at Mission St. and 7th Avenue.

• Best Antique Shop

Wittpenn’s Antiques — San Carlos between Seventh and Eighth, Carmel – 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, closed Wednesdays – (831) 624-1336, wittpennsantiques.com

   This place warrants wandering. And patience. And attention to detail. At Wittpenn’s Antiques, there is so much to see and something for everyone to discover. Owned by Chip and Kathy Wittpenn, this treasure trove is a short stroll from Ocean Avenue, near Sunset Center. Just the windows of this little gem feature enough eye-catching collectibles to keep shoppers occupied for a while. Browse a wide selection of antiques and specialty items, including sterling silver, vintage guitars, mandolins, books, one of the best pottery and vintage toy collections in Northern California, Tiffany, Lalique, Native American rugs, blankets and so much more. It’s definitely reminiscent of old Carmel and worth a peek.

• Best Bookstore

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

   Imagine walking into a building where they have books. Yes, real books to hold, flip through, and purchase from an actual shop — not a cold, unfeeling online retailer. Amazing, huh?

   Well, a real bookshop exists in Carmel and it’s highly popular. A family-owned store, River House Books is a constant Golden Pine Cone winner, having won from 2013 to 2020 and this year, too. Local authors are highlighted with special bookmarks and sections devoted to them. There’s a separate section just for a section children’s classics and youth favorites, too.

   Let the well-read and well-informed staff guide you as you choose from best-selling fiction and nonfiction, humanities and sciences, sports and recreation, and many other categories. If they don’t have the title you’re looking for, they’ll do their darnedest to track it down for you.

• Best Bike Shop

Mad Dogs & Englishmen — Southwest Corner of Ocean and Mission Street and at the Monterey Plaza Hotel – 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday, Mondays by appointment – (831) 250-7687, maddogsenglishmen.com

   A new category for the Golden Pine Cones, Best Bike Shop this year goes to Mad Dogs & Englishmen, a shop that specializes in high-quality electric bikes. The shop’s owners pride themselves on identifying and stocking the world’s finest bikes and cycling accessories, and the inventory is hand-picked to offer customers some of the best rides money can buy. “Everything we sell is superior in quality, design, functionality, craftsmanship and innovation,” according to Mad Dogs & Englishmen’s website. “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 also offers repairs and maintenance, along with rentals and tours.

• Best Car Dealer

Porsche Monterey — 1781 Del Monte Blvd, Seaside – 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday – (831) 920-0744, porschemonterey.com

   If you’ve driven down Del Monte Boulevard in Seaside, certainly you’ve seen Porsche Monterey and the dozens of high-performance vehicles lined up along the road. Porsche Monterey would like you to stop in and browse its preowned and new inventory, which ranges from the 2022 Porsche 718 Boxster Cabriolet to the venerable 911. “Whether you’re after an energetic car or a versatile SUV, we have something on our lot sure to exceed your automotive expectations,” the business says. “When you purchase a pre-owned vehicle from us, you can trust it to perform at the high level you need for many miles down the road.” Porsche Monterey also offers parts and service, and its certified technicians can handle everything from routine maintenance to unexpected, complex repairs.

• Best Car Wash

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

   There’s a reason that El Estero Car Wash has been a repeat Golden Pine Cone winner — readers believe they’re the best in the area. From a basic exterior hand-wash to deep cleaning inside and out, El Estero has been serving the local motoring public for more than six decades, offering a variety of services. El Estero’s crew will gladly detail a Bentley with the same vigor and enthusiasm as they wash a Prius. With the Monterey Peninsula’s perpetual water problems, you’ll be glad to know that El Estero recycles 70 percent of its wash water, too.

• Best Place for Brides to Shop

Epiphany — 5 Mission St., Carmel – 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Sunday – (831) 626-7700, epiphany-boutique.com

   Epiphany Bridal Boutique in Carmel makes it clear that it wants each of its clients to be comfortable in searching for a wedding dress that will be forever memorable. “Wedding dress shopping be a fun and exciting experience,” the shop says. “We’re here to guide you through your entire journey. Beginning when you enter our doors for the first time, through your fittings and right up to your wedding day!” For a dozen years, the Carmel boutique has strived to make its brides feel pampered and part of its family. Personal attention and a large selection of “only the most beautiful gowns” are what you can expect when visiting Epiphany, according to the shop.

• Best Gift Shop

House of Cardoon — Ocean Avenue and Mission Street, in Carmel Plaza – 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday, closed Sunday and Monday – (831) 204-0438, houseofcardoon.com

   Combining her love of travel and design with many years of merchandising expertise — including spending a decade buying for Pottery Barn — House of Cardoon owner Nora Lee Cavallero offers a curated selection of eclectic gifts, including custom-designed furniture, textiles and leather goods, artisan-made ceramics, jewelry, artwork, sunglasses and vintage T-shirts. And just in time for the holiday season, House of Cardoon has a variety of colorful new ornaments to adorn the humblest of Christmas trees. You’re bound to find something for just about anyone in this heart-of-Carmel gift shop.

• Best Candy Shop

Lula’s Chocolates — Locations in downtown Carmel and the Crossroads, call for days and times – lulas.com

   Carrying on the chocolate-making traditions of the late Lula Lund, who sold chocolates under the name Mrs. Lund’s Personality Chocolates and lived to be 99, grandson Scott has carried on the tradition for nearly two decades. With two shops in Carmel, the Monterey-based Lula’s Chocolates is well known to Peninsula residents and offers chocolate and confections using Lula’s original recipes. The famous sea salt caramels as well as meltingly delicious buttercreams, crunchy nut clusters, dense truffles and other selections are all so delicious that it’s impossible to go wrong. “Lula’s original recipes are at the heart of everything we make, and we do our best to carry on her legacy with the best ingredients to create the world’s premium gift chocolate,” the shop said.

• Best Carpet and Flooring

Bereman Carpets — 1070 Del Monte Ave., Monterey – 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday – (831) 373-7759, beremancarpets.com

   It’s amazing what wonders flooring — whether it’s carpet, hardwood, tile or laminate — can do to revitalize a home, and there’s one place that Pine Cone readers consistently select as their favorite place to go — Bereman Carpets. Located in Monterey, the shop’s professionals will help you every step of the way, from choosing just the right flooring to competent on-site measurements to removal of old flooring and skilled installation. “We do it all expertly, so your floor will look amazing and give lasting satisfaction,” Bereman said.

• Best New Business

Ami Carmel — Dolores between 5th and 6th, Carmel – 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily – (831) 620-1600, amicarmel.com

   Ami Carmel describes itself as a “lifestyle boutique,” and the shop in downtown Carmel has something for any budget, including snuggly clothing, accessories, jewelry, wall art, sassy dish towels and everything in between. The shop is run by Annee Martin, who took over when its founder decided to step away after seven years. She brought her friends, Annie Darling, AnneMarie DeFreest and Hayley Jane Soggin, along for the ride. They’re known for their wonderful customer service and eclectic selection of gifts. Online reviews confirm it — a man visiting in Carmel early this year said he went to the shop, which was a few doors down from where he was staying. “I was able to pick up something special to take home to my wife,” said the pleased husband. “As someone who does not shop well, the owners could not have been nicer or more helpful. If you’re in the area, I would certainly recommend finding and visiting this very neat slice of Carmel!” A woman shopper also had nothing but good things to say about the business. “This is one of the most charming and hidden gem boutiques in Carmel! I ended up coming back a few times for amazing gifts for family and friends! A great place to find amazing statement gifts with personalization. I am obsessed with everything there and the staff was amazing!”


Services and Health Care

• Best Place to Work

Sotheby’s International Realty — Brokerages in Carmel, Carmel Rancho, Carmel Valley and Pacific Grove – Hours vary – (831) 624-9700 for Ocean Avenue brokerage, sothebyshomes.com/Monterey-Real-Estate

   Sotheby’s International Realty not only offers some of the Monterey Peninsula’s most exceptional homes and properties, it’s also a great place to earn a living according to the readers who voted it Best Place to Work. With more than 100 local real estate agents, Sotheby’s current offerings include a $19.5 million custom oceanfront home on more than 1 acre four miles south of Carmel, and a $12.5 million, four-bedroom, five-bathroom home on Carmel Point.

   Of course, Sotheby’s has oodles of homes on the Peninsula listed for sale at a range of price points, and one need only check the company’s website to find them.

• Best Place to Volunteer

Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula — 23625 Holman Hwy. – (831) 624-5311, montagehealth.org

   Many say that Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula wouldn’t be the same without its volunteer force. During the Covid-19 pandemic alone, the hospital relied on dozens of volunteers just to help administer vaccines. The volunteers themselves often speak fondly of their experiences, and many were greatly saddened by the inability to come to work at their unpaid jobs during the pandemic.

   Community Hospital touts volunteering not only as a way of helping others, but helping yourself by boosting self-esteem, building new skills, gaining new knowledge, meeting new people, reducing stress and improving physical health.

   “Healthcare volunteers play an essential role in the patient experience at Montage Health and Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula,” the hospital said. “We appreciate the time, kindness, and dedication you share with us. Choose a volunteer opportunity that matches your interests and preferences from our wide range of options.” Those interested in adding to their ranks can do so through the Montage Health and Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula Auxiliary, an organization founded in 1955 by eight women that has grown to more than 450 volunteers.

• Best Place to Get Married

Carmel Mission — 3080 Rio Road – 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday, closed Monday and Tuesday – (831) 624-1271, carmelmission.org

   When Padre Junipero Serra founded the Carmel Mission in 1771, about a year after he arrived in Monterey by ship, he likely didn’t have an inkling that the Mission would become one of the most popular places to get married on the Monterey Peninsula. Well, 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 some guidelines, however, including the requirement that couples obtain permission from their local Catholic pastors to get married outside their parishes and at the Basilica. But staff at the Mission makes it clear they will help you 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

   With Point Lobos, Carmel River Beach and the Pacific Ocean as natural backdrops, Mission Ranch is an obvious choice for many couples to get married. Just imagine the wedding photo possibilities! With 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,” Mission Ranch says (to say nothing of the 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 a unique 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, Carmel Valley – (831) 624-1583, delmesacarmel.org

   A repeat Golden Pine Cone winner, Del Mesa Carmel was planned in 1967 by founders who envisioned a “premier retirement community for active adults.” Residents in its 267 condominiums would likely say that the founders succeeded in their mission. Located on a hillside above the Carmel River and not far from Carmel-by-the-Sea, Del Mesa offers a combination of sunshine from Carmel Valley and cool, ocean breezes. In keeping with the vision of an active adult community, it offers its residents a superior level of home and landscape maintenance services, allowing “residents to be homeowners and yet have plenty of time for their favorite sports, fitness, travel and social activities.” Amenities and activities include lawn bowling, dancercise, a gym and swimming pool, extensive hiking and bike trails nearby and a well-stocked library of local national newspapers, magazines and fiction and non-fiction books.

• Best Electrician

Cate Electric — Dolores and Seventh – 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday – (831) 624-5361, cateelectrical.com

   The 2021 Golden Pine Cone for Best Electrician brings Cate Electric’s award tally to 13. With that kind of love and support, it’s obvious that the business’ staff and electricians excel at providing customers with premier service. From home remodels to landscape lighting and other services, Cate Electric, founded in 1960, can provide most of your electrical needs. In May, one of Cate’s Carmel Valley customers commented on the company’s work, calling it the “greatest choice for an electrician” on a review website. “This is a local, family-run treasure, and we are so happy with the results. We manage several units and actually look forward the next time we need to call in an electrician!” the customer noted.

• Best Plumber

A&R Plumbing — 1720 Contra Costa St., Sand City – 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 24-hour emergency service – (831) 394-7221, aandrplumbinginc.com

   Founded in 1974 and still family-owned and operated, A&R Plumbing can unblock your toilet or sink or perform more complex plumbing issues, such as replacing the decade-old pipes in your house to help reduce clogging and prevent leaks. With about 20 employees, the wait time for A&R crews to arrive is not long. In July, a Carmel renter said he was so pleased with A&R that he felt compelled to write an online review about the business after his kitchen sink stopped draining. “Alden was super-nice and friendly, and I could tell he knew what he was doing,” the man said. “He didn’t mind that I was hovering over him and watching the work, and I even learned some stuff. This guy deserves a raise!”

• Best Architect

Adam Jeselnick — Junipero & Fourth, Ste. 3 – 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday – (831) 620-5164, adamjeselnick.com

   While architect Adam Jeselnick was a student at the University of Notre Dame, he studied classical architecture and traditional urbanism in Rome, Italy, and gained what he called “contemporary inspiration from travels around the world.” He and his wife, Laura, settled in Carmel in pursuit of their shared love for the arts and sustainability. Upon moving here, he joined well-known firm Carver + Schicketanz Architects where he managed custom residential projects including the LEED-certified transformation of two mid-century modern homes and several landmark coastal estates. He launched Adam Jeselnick Architect in 2013 with a focus on residential design, local and small businesses, sustainability and adaptive reuse. His notable work includes the Seventh & Dolores Steakhouse, the mixed-use development on Lincoln Street, now home to luxury apartments, Talbott’s wine tasting room and The Pocket restaurant, as well as numerous homes in Carmel, Big Sur and around the Monterey Peninsula. Jeselnick’s firm is a repeat Golden Pine Cone winner.

• Best General Contractor

Stocker & Allaire — 21 Mandeville Court, Monterey – 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday – (831) 375-1890, stockerallaire.com

   Monterey-based general contractor Stocker & Allaire has been in business for nearly four decades, which is in itself a testament to the company’s success. But its long time in business notwithstanding, Stocker & Allaire has an extensive and impressive portfolio which includes fabrication of exhibits at the Monterey Bay Aquarium for more than 20 years, restoration of Victorian-era homes, redesigns and rebuilds, and the construction of new homes on the Monterey Peninsula. Stocker & Allaire notes that in all of its projects, it identifies the needs of its clients and works closely with them to ensure they’re met. “Our facilities and staff allow us to firmly control and manage our projects from start to finish,” the company stated. Its craftsmen do everything from detailed restoration work to building complicated modern homes. Stocker & Allaire also has a cabinet shop on site, which allows it to control the quality and the delivery of cabinets and furniture for its clients. “On projects ranging from simple new homes to restoring some of the most important California coastal homes, our team successfully brings concept into reality. We have an office staff that can handle the most complicated project management — from tracking down the most elusive products to the clear and accurate billings often needed for large projects.”

• Best Painting Company

Jon Stuefloten Restoration Painting — 148 W. Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley – 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday – (831) 320-3252, jonstueflotenrestorationpainting.com

   Even if you haven’t heard of 2020 and 2021 Golden Pine Cone winner Carmel Valley-based Jon Stuefloten Restoration Painting, it’s likely you’ve seen some of the company’s work, including the grand Hart Mansion on Lighthouse Avenue in Pacific Grove and the Point Pinos Lighthouse, also in that city. He also painted the Point Sur Lighthouse (including some precarious perching) and the interior of Crespi Hall at the Carmel Mission. Of course, he’s gussied up a lot of older homes and garnered a reputation not only for expertly applying finishes, but for being able to match and repair damaged surfaces. In 1980, Stuefloten started his own painting business, and since 1993, he has owned and operated his restoration painting company. Though Stuefloten was born in San Jose, he’s a longtime Peninsula resident, having moved to the Carmel area as a child in the mid-1940s. “Stuefloten learned his craft in the 1950s before latex and high tech painting tools,” according to his website. “He still uses Old World techniques to restore and create the highest quality projects.”

• Best Landscaper-Gardening Service

Craven Landscaping — 343 Roberts Ave., Seaside – (831) 394-6967 – 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday – cravenlandscaping.com

   For more than three decades, Craven Landscaping has brought outdoor ideas to life for property owners on the Monterey Peninsula. With a crew of about 25 employees, the heart of Craven Landscaping, the company says, is Roark Craven, a licensed landscape contractor and Peninsula native. The company offers everything for your landscaping needs, including design, installation and maintenance. Craven Landscaping’s crew is so confident that its motto is “Yes We Can.” From a meandering footpath, to an intricate fountain to a cozy fire pit, the company can do it all, and it has the photographs on its website to prove it.  “We take time to answer your questions and help you with all the aspects of your garden or landscape,” the company says. “Communication and respect for you are prime objectives of our staff, and it’s how we earn your satisfaction.”

• 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

   With local real estate expertise dating back to 1913 — before the incorporation of Carmel-by-the-Sea — family-owned Carmel Realty is unrivaled for longevity and excellence, as well as integrity, work ethic, teamwork, collaboration, communication and customer service. Four generations of the Mitchell family have lovingly built a company specializing in luxury real estate, from oceanfront homes to estates with sweeping views of the Pebble Beach Golf Links, and made mentoring their new, younger agents a priority. Over the past eight years, this iconic local business has increased staff, brought in additional leadership, updated processes, created a new website and built an experienced network of trusted and accomplished professionals.

• Best Real Estate Rental Company

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

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

• Best Real Estate Lender

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

   Senior loan officer Chad Hawker, a former world-class Ironman triathlete, brings the same work ethic to lending that he did to training, teaming with branch manager Courtney Garneri (his wife), and transaction coordinators Alexi Connell, and Bryanna Costa 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, Carmel – 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday – (831) 277-9081, chicagotitlerene.com

   Chicago Title, a perennial champion in Golden Pine Cone voting, brings elite expertise to every aspect of the underwriting experience with a centralized team of industry experts that provides reliable, integrated, high-liability services to commercial and industrial developers, builders, lenders, attorneys and other real estate professionals. This iconic national corporation boasts more than 170 years of underwriting experience. “Chicago Title can assist you with every phase of your transaction and development,” said Rene Ayers, vice president of sales and marketing for Monterey County. “Dedication to serving the needs and alleviating the concerns of our customers has made us the nation’s foremost name in title insurance.” Now, if someone could just find a way to get rid of the seemingly endless forms that have to be initialed and signed when you buy a house.

• Best Personal Bank

Wells Fargo Bank — San Carlos and Ocean and many other locations – 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday – (831) 624-5302, wellsfargo.com

   For Wells Fargo Bank, serving customers and communities doesn’t happen with one transaction, in one day on the job, or in one quarter — it is earned one relationship at a time. Henry Wells and William G. Fargo, who brought their stagecoach into the banking world in 1852, built an innovative start-up to help customers build businesses and manage money in a rapidly-changing world. Their legacy exists to this day, finding creative solutions and advocating for more inclusive communities to inspire generations of change makers. Customer services include banking and credit cards, loans and credit, investing, retirement and wealth management, among others.

• Best Business Bank

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

   The oldest locally owned and locally managed business bank in Monterey County opened in 1977, and has evolved into a perpetual leader in Small Business Association loans, thanks to the leadership of long-time president and CEO, and ubiquitous man-about-town, Charles Chrietzberg. Monterey County Bank specializes in all aspects of business banking, providing competitive commercial lending products and outstanding merchant credit card services, all delivered with personal attention to its clients, and during the pandemic shutdowns, it was a community leader in securing government assistance for beleaguered businesses of all types. 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, Ste. 202, Monterey – 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday – (831) 372-3426, montereyprivatewealth.com

   Besides health, is there anything that keeps people up at night more than worries about money? Peace of mind is a primary product provided by Monterey Private Wealth Management, which strives to ensure that clients achieve their financial goals, employing an exclusive six-step planning process that highlights the issues that are most important to each individual. An exceptional team of financial professionals 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.

• Best Accountant

Hayashi Wayland — 26515 Carmel Rancho Blvd., Suite 10, Carmel – 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday – (831) 624-5333, hw-cpa.com

   Celebrating 45 years of service to the community, Hayashi Wayland has grown to become the premier professional services firm on the Central Coast, offering the greatest number of services of any firm in the area, from traditional accounting services to retirement planning, investing, litigation support and other consulting services. Hayashi Wayland is the only accounting firm around here with membership in the RSM US Alliance, providing clients with the unique advantage of working with a local, easily accessible accounting firm, while also benefiting from the resources and support of a national firm.

• Best Veterinarian

Monterey Animal Hospital — 725 Foam St., Monterey – 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday – (831) 373-0711, montereyanimalhospital.com

   For top-of-the-line medical care and unrivaled compassion for your furry, four-legged friend, Monterey Animal Hospital has been the go-to place on the Monterey Peninsula since 1966. Veterinarians Ben Wilson (the owner), Crystal Chung, Lannis Enriques and Karen Fenstermaker bring more than 50 years of combined experience to a full-service practice that offers a wide range of state-of-the-art treatments for your ailing pet, including pain management, senior care, ultrasound, dental care, laboratory, radiology, vaccinations and surgery, as well as grooming, boarding and other services.

• 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

   The Cypress Inn may be our readers’ choice for the most dog-friendly hotel, but if you aren’t taking your buddy along on your next trip, he’ll need a place where he can stay and relax without you. Offering overnight boarding, doggie daycare and full-service grooming, Casa de Amigos is yet again the people’s — and pets’ — choice on the Peninsula for lodging and tender loving care. Established in 1970, this business has undergone extensive changes in recent years, including facility upgrades, new services, extended hours and increased staff, all with the goal of making every animal’s stay as comfortable and fun as possible. Casa de Amigos is owned and overseen by Dr. Ben Wilson, and located right next door to Monterey Veterinary Hospital.

• Best Pet Care

Suds ’N Scissors — 223 Crossroads Blvd., Carmel – Contact for hours – (831) 624-4697, sudsandscissorsinc.com

   Luxury and love await your best friend at the Peninsula’s premier pet spa, including a wide range of shampoos (i.e. bright white, hypo-allergenic, miconazole, oatmeal, pramoxine), nail and teeth treatments, feather trims, flea baths and a wide variety of haircuts. A Carmel grooming retreat for more than 65 years, Suds ’N Scissors is owned and operated by Todd Harris, whose experience includes ownership of Country Club Kennels, Santa Cruz Animal Care and Tatoha Trainers. Harris also has been a professional dog show handler since he was 16, and a member of the Del Monte Kennel Club for 30 years. If he knows what makes a pooch ready for a run around the show ring, you can bet he knows how to take care of your four-legged pal. 

• 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 shopping cart slams into your beautiful Mercedes. Your newly licensed teenager takes your Audi convertible for a spin and backs into a tree. Who do you turn to? This family-owned business has been the preferred facility on the Monterey Peninsula for auto-body repair since 1979, consistently raking in glowing customer service reviews. More than 85 percent of the shop’s business comes by word of mouth from loyal customers. Gene’s mission is “to provide its clientele with the highest level of professional service and quality repairs at a reasonable price,” striving to restore each vehicle to factory standards, with a well-trained staff who use factory-certified equipment and technology. “We will strive to complete each vehicle in a timely manner, always upholding factory standards, and never sacrificing quality for a quick repair,” the business says.

• Best Dry Cleaner

Carmel Cleaners — Junipero and Third – 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8:30 to 4 p.m. Saturday – (831) 624-3616

   A winner of multiple Golden Pine Cone awards, Carmel Cleaners consistently receives rave reviews from locals and Peninsula visitors for courteous, efficient and high-quality service that includes skilled alterations and garment repairs. Specialties include the preservation of wedding gowns, prom dresses and other treasured garments. “Good clothes deserve good care” is the longtime mantra of owner Deok Chong.

• Best Travel Agent

Pacific Grove Travel — 593 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove – 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday – (831) 373-0631 or (800) 648-1808, pgtravel.com

   Pacific Grove Travel has been serving the Peninsula for 41 years despite a number of obstacles, from the 2008 recession to the rise of faceless internet vacation-mongers, and then a pandemic that locked down the entire world. But they have endured and are beloved by local travelers. Owner Joe Shammas and expert travel advisors Laura Lockett and Mary Potter have kept locals in good hands for all their traveling needs. They plan to be around when you’re ready for your next big trip, building on a legacy of providing clients with service and expertise to ensure the most positive experience possible. P.G. Travel is a full-service agency that handles vacations, tours, and luxury excursions. A knowledgeable and experienced staff is familiar with current travel rules and regulations to help clients plan vacations others can only imagine — so drop by, say hi, and plan your next trip. Tomorrow will be here sooner than you think.  

• Best Hair Salon

Oya Salon — 201 Lighthouse Ave., Monterey – 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday – (831) 656-0570, oyasalon.com

   Pine Cone readers like consistency, and when their coiffures require attention, they seek out the best. Oya Salon has been styling the Peninsula for 26 years and in its current Lighthouse Avenue location for 18. Owner and stylist Brian Bode is committed to being a part of the community. The experts there don’t just cut, color, and style hair, they regularly donate to local schools and charities. Bode just launched an international hair product line that is all sourced locally from the Big Sur area.

• Best Skin Care

Shelley Bennett Skincare — 588 Houston St., Monterey – by appointment only, Monday through Friday – (831) 324-4611, shelleyskin.com

   Shelley Bennett said she is grateful to be voted Best Skin Care by Pine Cone readers. Her interest in skin care began when she was a young girl and has only grown. In the doldrums of the pandemic, she launched her own private-label skincare line. Bennett offers facials, peels, masks, waxing and more. She has been in business since 2015, and her hard work and investment have paid off so well that she cannot accept new clients. Influenced by a short training opportunity at the George V Four Seasons in Paris, she values one-on-one, private experiences that her clients appreciate.

• Best Nail Salon

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

   You can put your hands in the hands of Paradise Nails — a family owned and operated business that has been serving the Peninsula in the same location in Carmel Rancho Shopping Center for almost 16 years. It is a full-service salon, offering manicures, pedicures and — bonus — waxing. Its staff believes in taking plenty of time with each customer, and that’s probably why Paradise Nails is so loved.

• Best Spa

Refuge — 27300 Rancho San Carlos Rd., Carmel-by-the-Sea – 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Sunday – (831) 620-7360, refuge.com

   Experience the Thermal Cycle at this outdoor oasis, with its multi-temperature pool circuit that is sure to make your heart skip a beat. Start by getting warmed up in a sauna or steam room (when available), then plunge into one of the pools labeled with snowflakes for an icy blast. Relax by the fire pits for a bit, then start the whole cycle over again. You can also unwind in warm or hot Jacuzzi-style pools with little torrents from rock waterfalls creating the only noise you’ll hear. The wonderfully silent experience is loved by locals and tourists alike. Robes and bottled water can be added to the price of admission, and there are places to refill your own water bottle, too. Whether you get a massage or just go enjoy the pools, you are in for a treat. Refuge aims to enhance the lives of guests with excellent customer service and unrivaled relaxation.

• Best Dentist

Eric Brown — 108 Mid Valley Center, Carmel Valley – 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays and Fridays, and 2 Via Joaquin, Monterey – 8 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday – (831) 574-8252, (831) 375-2322, ericbrowndds.com

   If you’re not sure where to take your smile for maintenance or a tune-up, you might want to consider multiyear Golden Pine Cone winner Eric Brown, who has been practicing locally since 2011. His practice deals with a broad range of dental services including all the basics — exams, x-rays, cleanings and fillings — and more complicated issues like TMJ, dentures and gum disease. Maybe he has been so popular with readers because his office provides many options for sedation dentistry, so you can snooze while he services your pearly whites.

• Best Dermatologist

James and Joseph Rheim, Rheim Dermatology Cosmetic Laser Center — 757 Pacific St. Suite A-1, Monterey – Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. – (831) 373-4404, rheimderm.com

   Multiyear winner Rheim Dermatology Cosmetic Laser Center is a local institution for all your skin care needs. The practice started with James, who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer. Joseph, his son, joined him in 2004 after finishing medical school at Tulane in New Orleans, La. — just like his dad. According to the practice’s website, “Dr. Joe” has “garnered extensive experience in cosmetic treatments.” Between father and son, you can bet you’re getting the benefit of years of experience. Whether it’s a medical issue like skin cancer or psoriasis or simply the desire to look your best, they have you covered.

• Best Ophthalmologist

Philip Penrose — 21 Upper Ragsdale Dive. Ste. 201, Monterey – 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday – (831) 740-8934, eyemdmonterey.com

   Ophthalmologist and eye surgeon Dr. Philip Penrose specializes in LASIK and cataract surgery with premium intraocular lenses. He also has an interest in the medical and surgical management of diabetic eye disease and glaucoma. Penrose is bilingual in Spanish and English, and regularly spends time in an underserved area of Guatemala performing cataract surgeries. In their reviews, patients raved about the care Penrose provides, especially with regard to cataract surgery. One patient said, “you’ve taken an otherwise unpleasant but necessary experience and made it relaxed, friendly and comfortable.”

• Best Orthopedist

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

   Multiyear Golden Pine Cone winner, Dr. Meckel is the co-founder of Monterey Spine and Joint and is a hip and knee replacement specialist. He grew up on the Peninsula and graduated from Carmel High in 1984. Meckel’s expertise in arthroscopic surgery (the kind with the tiny incisions) and minimally invasive, computer-assisted knee replacements, are just some of the things our readers found to like about the good doctor. He said he is happy to be back in his hometown, serving the community where he was raised.

• Best Pediatrician

Todd Dwelle — 1900 Garden Road, Ste. 110, Monterey – 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday – (831) 372-5841, stanfordchildrens.org/en/location/pediatric-group-of-monterey

   Dr. Dwelle is a board-certified pediatrician from the California Central Valley. He attended medical school at Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, followed by a residency at the University of Connecticut. In 2002 he and his family moved to Monterey. In 2017 he was given the Clinical Excellence Award for Primary Care by Stanford Children’s Health. He is passionate about advancing medicine using technology such as telehealth — an option that Covid made even more attractive. He enjoys spending time with his children, flying, swimming, road biking and backpacking.

• Best Primary Care Physician

Gregory Tapson — 26607 Carmel Center Place, Suite 104 – 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday, and Wednesday through Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday – (831) 624-3077

   A longtime — and dearly loved — Carmel physician, Dr. Tapson’s online reviews make clear the reasons readers awarded him a Golden Pine Cone...again! With adjectives like “amazing” and “compassionate,” he’s built a solid reputation as someone who cares for his patients as human beings. Tapson studied at UCSD and then attended the USC School of Medicine before coming to Fort Ord for a family medicine residency in the military. He has enjoyed caring for patients on the Monterey Peninsula for the last 31 years. He also likes to help out with youth sports and plays music in his leisure time.

• Best Plastic Surgeon

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

   Dr. Sunde is the readers’ choice for The Golden Pine Cone once again, thanks to a passion for his profession, zeal for maintaining up-to-date techniques and commitment to his patients. He has been practicing in Monterey since 1994, and he has become loved by locals. He specializes in plastic surgery and provides individualized care as he performs state-of-the-art cosmetic and reconstructive treatments. A native of suburban Chicago, he was an Eagle Scout, a National Merit Scholar, and valedictorian of his high school class before pursuing higher education at Stanford, where he graduated with distinction, followed by medical school at UC San Francisco, where he was part of the medical honor society for leadership and academic excellence in medical scholarship. Pine Cone readers know that with Dr. Sunde, you’ll always put your best face forward.

• Best Physical Therapist

Balance Physical Therapy — 2260 N. Fremont St., Monterey – 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday – (831) 372-4782, balancept.com

   Balance Physical Therapy & Human Performance Center — a multiyear winner of the Golden Pine Cone — has been serving the Central Coast since 2002. With locations in Salinas, Monterey and Prunedale, its mission is to change the world…one patient at a time. Headed up by John Farahmand, who has his doctorate in physical therapy, the team of expert clinicians say they provide the most patient-focused and result-oriented care in the Monterey Bay. Not content just to help the hurting, Balance PT has specialized services for runners and golfers who want to up their games. The folks there strive to help patients reach their goals and return to a happy, pain-free life!

• Best Chiropractor

Peter Ruiz, Monterey Family Chiropractic — 991 Cass St., Monterey – (831) 375-2225, montereyfamilychiropractic.com

   Dr. Peter Ruiz discovered his passion for chiropractic care as a child when his mother saw her first chiropractor and Ruiz witnessed the effects a chiropractor could have on overall health. He began his practice in 1986 in Bakersfield, but moved to the Peninsula. He has been practicing here since 1998. Patients claim, “he really cares!” Not only do they cite his chiropractic expertise and relieving them of their pain, but also his pleasant demeanor and excellent bedside manner.

• Best Divorce Lawyer

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

   Sarah Cavassa is a family law specialist certified by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization. She represents clients in a wide array of family law issues, including divorce, custody and support. She’s a graduate of the University of Washington and Monterey College of Law — where she also teaches — and has been practicing law since 2008. She is an adjunct professor in community property and the Heisler Moot Court program at MCL, passing on her real-life knowledge to aspiring attorneys. When she’s not working, Cavassa enjoys running and being outdoors.

• Best Estate Planning Attorney

Jeanette Witten — 490 Calle Principal, Monterey – (831) 375-3151, hudsonmartin.com

   Highly esteemed in the community, Jeanette Witten serves as managing partner of Hudson Martin PC. She has been practicing law since 1998, and her expertise includes transactional law, especially estate planning. She represents companies in business and corporate law matters and transactions, including securities transactions and issuances, intellectual property licensing, management, mergers and acquisitions, entity counseling, and trademark and copyright matters. She also represents individuals in estate planning and wealth management.

• Best Lawyer if You Need to Sue Somebody

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

   Andy Swartz has been righting wrongs in Monterey since 1973. A repeat winner of the Golden Pine Cone, he specializes in a broad spectrum of civil litigation for plaintiffs and defendants, ranging from personal injury to defamation, and has won multiple high-profile cases. Swartz holds degrees from the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Santa Clara School of Law (magna cum laude), where he was on the staff of the law review. He said, “Much thanks to my two partners as well as the other members of our local bar association who make the practice of law enjoyable for me.”

• Best Defense Attorney

Larry Biegel — 2801 Monterey Salinas Hwy, Ste. A – (831) 373-3700, biegellaw.com

   Larry Biegel has been in Monterey County since 1975. He started as a public defender and later moved into private practice. He likes to be a problem solver. He and his team tell their clients that they “want to be their last attorney, not their next attorney.” Biegel grew up in Los Angeles and is a “double Bruin,” having attended UCLA for both his undergraduate and his law degrees. He is married to one of his law partners, Cristina Biegel, whose expertise is dealing with the psychological fallout that clients experience — a definite plus in difficult situations.  Besides being a veteran criminal attorney, Biegel represents people injured in accidents or otherwise harmed. His work has resulted in multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements for his clients.

• Best Public Relations Company

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

   Armanasco Public Relations is a full-service PR firm established in 1985 and serving clientele locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. Readers love them for the personalized attention they pay to all clients. They are known for their media training and specialize in crisis management, such as produce recalls.

• Best Insurance Agent

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

   Another repeat winner, Matt Little’s family legacy dates back three generations in Carmel. Robert L. Little opened Carmel Insurance Agency, Inc. in 1948, when he began delivering quality solutions in the areas of commercial, personal, health and life insurance. His son, Matthew A. Little Sr. began working with his father in 1968.  Throughout his career, Matthew (Senior) expanded the agency’s markets throughout the United States.  In 1995 his daughter, Amy Little-Figge joined the firm, and Matthew A. Little Jr. began his career in 2000. Today, the company is locally owned and operated and committed to serving the community with all their insurance needs. Many clients count their time working with the firm in decades, not years, and that kind of service is tough to beat.

• Best Shoe Repair

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

   Since 1939, Federico’s Drive-In Shoe Service in Old Monterey has brought old-world craftsmanship and the art of shoe and luggage repair to the Monterey Peninsula. In fact, you can think of the folks there as sustainability experts for footwear and such, fixing them so that you don’t have to toss them prematurely. Whether you need a new zipper, polish, shining, dyeing or resoling, Federico’s is the place. The company’s talented professionals can repair most things from luggage to handbags, furniture, and more, so don’t shy away from bringing them a repair project that seems hopeless. This outstanding, family-run operation takes great pride in its customer service, earning the affection of a community that has made Federico’s a multiple winner of the Golden Pine Cone.

• Best School

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

   Readers love All Saints Day School…as well as its teachers and principal (see below), awarding them three Golden Pine Cones this year. Serving local kids since 1961, ASDS is an Episcopal institution, with an enrollment of more than 200 children from preschool through eighth grade. Student-to-faculty ratios are low, and 95 percent of the teachers have at least five years’ experience on the job, according to the school’s website. Alumni and parents are fiercely loyal and supportive, too. The academic curriculum is rigorous, and everyone there believes in nourishing the whole child. Students have won state and national honors in history, prizes in science and engineering, and this year, 2017 alumna Kate Popky won a Jefferson Award for service to the community for a charity she founded while attending York School, where she’s the student body president. According to its website, “This school community is alive with a thirst for knowledge and connection, where all are encouraged to find meaning in their lives, explore their own sense of spirituality, and grow a deeper understanding of the world beyond our walls.”

• Best Teacher

Mandy Georis, All Saints Day School — 8060 Carmel Valley Rd., Carmel Valley – (831) 624-9171, asds.org

   Mrs. Georis grew up in Southern California and attended UCSC for environmental studies with an emphasis in entomology, so it’s probably safe to say that very little bugs her. At UCSC, she met her husband, local Gabe Georis (owner of Pescadero and Barmel) and the couple moved to the area. She began working at ASDS in 2004 as a teacher, currently imparting her knowledge to fifth graders, and says, “it’s wonderful to spend my days with 24 fifth graders and learn from them and help them embrace the entire learning world.”

• Best Principal

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

   Mr. Fujita has been involved with ASDS for nine years and counting, first as a parent, then as board member and now as head of school. An athlete himself — he was an NFL player for 11 years, and captain of the defensive unit with the New Orleans Saints’ Super Bowl Champion team — it’s not surprising that he established the school’s first cross-country team, as well as the track and field team, and re-established the flag football team. He was a producer and the director of development on the feature-length, award-winning documentary, “Gleason,” about a friend and former teammate living with Lou Gehrig’s Disease. According to his welcome message, “At ASDS, everyone is someone.”

My Favorite Nonprofit

SPCA for Monterey County – 1002 Monterey-Salinas Highway – (831) 373-2631, spcamc.org

   It’s no surprise that Pine Cone readers love the SPCA so much — after all, they’ve been following the four-footed stars of Sandy Claws for years. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is a local, nonprofit, donor-supported humane society that has been dedicated to serving the animals of Monterey County since 1905. Besides caring for stray cats and dogs (not to mention lizards, tarantulas, rabbits and hamsters), the SPCA houses rescued horses and other farm animals at its spacious campus, and says its Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center helps 3,000 wild things annually. They also look after stray parakeets, snakes and other exotic animals. You can adopt a pet, send your kids to camp to learn about animals and you can visit the website to find out more about community programs like Ruff Start, which pairs shelter dogs with inmates at Salinas Valley State Prison for training and socialization.