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.