Carmel Valley is a newer, master-planned community that has matured into a place where people can live, work and play. Families with children are attracted by the large houses and award winning schools. Area amenities and easy access to much of San Diego County make the commercial center of Carmel Valley ideal for corporate offices, hotels, shopping and restaurants.
Recreational options include many neighborhood parks, a community recreation center, athletic clubs, golf and the nearby beaches at Torrey Pines and Del Mar. An early experimenter in smart growth, Carmel Valley includes open space areas and an extensive trail system.
The earliest known inhabitants of Carmel Valley were the La Jolla and subsequent Ipai peoples, who left cultural artifacts along the banks of Carmel Creek. During the Rancho period, the area was known as Cordero, after a Spanish "leather jacket" soldier. Following the California Gold Rush, miners drifted south and established homesteads here. McGonigle Canyon was named after an early settler. An old adobe Butterfield pony express and stagecoach stop sat next to a spring along old El Camino Real until the late 1970s. Later, the area was largely used for horse farms and agriculture, focusing on drought tolerant crops such as lima beans, which were grown on the property that later became The Grand Del Mar golf course.
Around 1905 the Carmelite Sisters of Mercy established a dairy farm and monastery in the area. The site, on the south side of Carmel Creek, was connected by a bridge to the St. William of York Church, whose cemetery includes the graves of some of the nuns and priests. Among other things, the nuns raised pigs, and even now local animal-keeping provisions say, "except for swine." Carmel Mountain, the last undeveloped coastal mesa in Southern California, takes its name from these nuns.
While the area has long been known to local residents as Carmel Valley, the master plan commissioned in 1974, adopted the name "North City West." This plan, inspired by Kevin Lynch, attempted to reduce sprawl by confining development to the mesa tops, leaving the canyons untouched. Planned development centered around an urban core surrounded by decreasing residential densities, where higher density residential areas were traded for increased community open space.
Carmel Creek, now largely marked by SR-56 and the CVREP corridor, was intended to meander freely to the sea, allowing water to return to the ground and providing residents with natural open space and recreational opportunities. The first houses in the planned community were built in 1983 and the local Planning Board brought back the name "Carmel Valley" in the early 1990s.
Local Carmel Valley government advising boards consist of the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board which advises the City on development and land use, and the Carmel Valley Recreation Council which provides community input on parks and recreation. City facilities include a fire station, and library. A police station is being constructed along El Camino Real.