12 Top Romantic Getaways in California
Serene, palm-fringed beaches; spectacular sunsets; and the majestic mountain scenery of California provide the perfect backdrop for a romantic getaway or honeymoon. Travel along California State Route One, also known as CA-1 or Highway One, for the best views of the state's picturesque coastline, dotted with quaint beach towns, crescent-shaped bays, and quiet coves. The most breathtaking destination is Big Sur, where sheer cliffs drop off into the Pacific Ocean, offering dramatic vistas. The pleasant seaside ambience and lovely beaches draw visitors to the upscale seaside resorts of Carmel and Santa Catalina Island. For those who prefer country charm, visit the historic towns of Sonoma and Mendocino counties just a few hours from San Francisco. Flee further from the urban hustle and bustle to Ferndale, a Victorian village nestled between lush redwood forests, or spend time at a cozy, rustic lodge in Lake Tahoe to admire the dazzling alpine beauty.
1 The Dramatic Scenery of Big Sur
Breathtakingly beautiful and incomparably romantic, Big Sur rejuvenates the soul. This heavenly location inspired novelist Henry Miller in the 1940s and continues to awe visitors with its gorgeous setting. Big Sur is an escape from the rest of the world, accessible only by a winding, cliff-clinging two-lane road - the most dramatic and spectacular portion of Highway One. This wild, mountainous 90-mile stretch of Northern California coastline feels cut off from civilization. Some spots do not even have cell phone service. Despite the remote location, Big Sur is famous for its luxury hotels, gourmet restaurants, and fancy spa resorts. Visitors will find upscale hotels like the Post Ranch Inn and rustic-chic inns as easily as campsites.
Whether visitors choose to rough it or be pampered, the main draw of Big Sur is the natural scenery. Blanketed in lush redwood forests, the Big Sur coastline stands 1,200 feet above sea level with stunning panoramas of the Pacific's deep blue waters. A favorite spot to take in the amazing views is at the terrace of Nepenthe Restaurant. Sheer cliffs drop off into crashing ocean waves, providing sensational vistas that are reminiscent of Italy's Amalfi Coast. Below the seaside ridges, pristine beaches are tucked away between coastal bluffs. Big Sur has several state parks with extensive hiking trails through diverse and pristine landscapes.
2 Carmel-by-the Sea: A Quaint and Upscale Seaside Resort
This quaint seaside resort town is brimming with charm and boasts one of the most beautiful beaches in Northern California. Famous for its adorable storybook cottages, hidden passageways, and one-of-a-kind boutiques, Carmel is the perfect place for a romantic weekend getaway or honeymoon destination. This upscale town has many fine-dining restaurants and art galleries as well as cultural events throughout the year. Within a 10-minute walk from the town of Carmel is a serene sandy beach fringed by cypress trees. The historic Carmel Mission, the second oldest of California's 21 Spanish missions, is less than a 10-minute drive away from the town center. Nearby, on Highway One, is Point Lobos, a coastal nature reserve with excellent hiking trails. A few minutes away via the scenic 17-Mile Drive is the world-renowned Pebble Beach Golf Course, famous for its challenging 18th hole that overlooks a picturesque ocean bluff. Carmel is also a perfect starting point to begin an exploration of the Big Sur coastline, which begins about 14 miles to the south.
3 Santa Barbara
Tucked behind the foothills of the Santa Ynez Mountains along a palm-fringed coastline, Santa Barbara is known as the "American Riviera" because of its beautiful seaside scenery and resort-like ambience. Santa Barbara is a quintessential California destination, complete with a historic Spanish Mission, picture-perfect sandy beaches, and handsome Spanish architecture. In keeping with the local heritage, the downtown is lined with traditional Spanish Mission-style buildings that house art galleries, boutiques, restaurants, and cafés. Shopping and dining are popular pastimes for visitors as is sunbathing on the beach, being pampered at the local spas, and enjoying outdoor activities. The gorgeous natural environment is ideal for biking, sailing, and hiking. Romantics will be awed by the spectacular sunsets and the lulling refrain of the Pacific Ocean's crashing waves.
4 The Rolling Hills of Sonoma County
Take an hour drive north of San Francisco for a day-long excursion or weekend getaway in the idyllic countryside of Sonoma. Nestled in rolling, vine-covered hills, Sonoma County is a pastoral landscape that offers natural beauty and a relaxing pace of life. Visitors come to Sonoma for the scenic hiking, mountain biking, and hot-air balloon rides, as well as to indulge in the gourmet local cuisine. The historic town of Sonoma offers top-rated restaurants and inviting boutiques centered around a plaza with a tree-shaded park. The Sonoma State Historic Park encompasses part of the town including the old Spanish Mission, San Francisco Solano.
5 Santa Catalina Island
Santa Catalina Island has everything a romantic retreat requires: secluded beaches, picturesque seaside villages, and idyllic island scenery. The island's largest town, Avalon offers the widest choice of accommodations - from handsome historic hotels to modern resorts. Sunbathers will appreciate Avalon's stunning palm-fringed beaches. Outdoor adventure enthusiasts will enjoy snorkeling, swimming, and kayaking at Descanso Beach. For the feeling of an island paradise, head to Two Harbors. Sandwiched between two ports and overlooking peaceful coves, this little village offers a restaurant, a general store, pristine beaches, and campsites. Hiking opportunities abound in Santa Catalina's backcountry. Santa Catalina Island is a scenic one-hour ferry ride from Los Angeles or Long Beach. The ferry ride takes slightly longer from San Pedro or from Dana Point.
6 Rugged and Unspoiled Mendocino County
Mendocino County is a peaceful, windswept stretch of coastline in Northern California, where redwood trees flourish and wildlife is abundant. Mendocino County draws visitors who appreciate the pristine environment, fresh air, and unspoiled beaches. It's also a place to enjoy hiking and outdoor sports, like kayaking on the Noyo River and boating and fishing on Lake Mendocino. Although the location is rugged and remote, the Mendocino area boasts many luxury inns, quaint bed & breakfast hotels, and upscale spas. Several historic seaside towns, including Mendocino and Fort Bragg, date to the Victorian era and offer old-fashioned charm along with top-notch restaurants, interesting specialty shops, and noteworthy art galleries. Gualala is a lovely small town, set along the ocean and backed by redwood forests.
7 The Russian River
During summertime, the Russian River area offers a lively vacation ambience and outdoor activities, such as sunbathing at the riverside beaches, canoeing, fishing, swimming, and hiking. Anytime of year, it offers the tranquility of its gently flowing river and towering redwood groves. The idyllic country atmosphere and small historic towns of the Russian River area make it perfect for a romantic getaway. The main community of Guerneville offers the widest variety of accommodations, from rustic lodges to romantic inns. Duncan Mills is a historic town that feels lost in time because of its impeccably maintained old buildings such as its Old Country Store. Well designed to welcome today's tourists, the town has many art galleries, museums, and restaurants. A picturesque village that overlooks the river, Jenner-by-the-Sea has a pretty beach and excellent restaurants.
8 The Victorian Village of Ferndale
To truly get away from it all, take a trip to the quaint Victorian-era village of Ferndale in the countryside of Northern California. Nestled between two redwood forests in Humboldt County and only five miles from the Pacific Ocean, this historic dairy farming community gives visitors the impression of stepping back in time. The picturesque town is renowned for its old-fashioned Americana, seen in the Main Street lined with Victorian-era storefronts. Popular things to do here include scenic drives along the Lost Coast, a visit to the Humboldt Botanical Garden, and outdoor activities such as biking, horseback riding, walks on the beach, and hikes in redwood groves. The pace is slow in this tiny village, and that is precisely the charm of the place.
Ferndale's Victorian-era inns and quaint bed & breakfast hotels are perfectly suited for romance. The most elegant and luxurious hotel is The Gingerbread Mansion Inn, an opulent 19th-century Victorian landmark that was formerly a private residence. The ornate facade is painted in vibrant colors, while the plush interior is impeccably adorned with period furniture and decor. A noteworthy monument of its time dating to 1890, the Victorian Inn is a boutique hotel with a fine-dining restaurant and authentic furnishings. California's oldest bed & breakfast hotel, The Shaw House Inn is a charming Victorian set in a one-acre garden with its own private stretch of coastline, accessible by bike. Built in the 1870s, the Hotel Ivanhoe is one of the oldest hotels in the West. The hotel has a casual restaurant and comfortable guest rooms that are well appointed with Victorian antiques. In the historic Red Front Store building, the Francis Creek Inn offers affordable accommodations on the Main Street.
9 Lake Tahoe in the High Sierra
In the Sierra Nevada Mountains at an elevation of more than 6,000 feet, Lake Tahoe awes visitors with its sublime alpine scenery. The crisp, fresh air invigorates the body and the lake's dazzling deep blue waters speak to the soul. Surrounded by snow-capped mountain peaks, Lake Tahoe is equally wonderful in winter and summer. The pristine natural environment inspires romance and relaxation as well as outdoor adventures.
During ski season, Lake Tahoe is a wonderful destination for a romantic getaway with its fine-dining restaurants, cozy lodges, and rustic-chic inns featuring roaring fires. When the weather warms up, hiking, biking, boating, fishing, windsurfing, swimming, and sunbathing are popular. Emerald Bay State Park has scenic hiking trails with panoramic vistas. On hot, sunny days, Kings Beach (on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe) and the Sand Harbor State Park (on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe) are great places for boating, swimming, and sunbathing as well as picnics under the shady pine trees. In July and August, the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival takes place at an outdoor theater set in a quiet pine grove of Sand Harbor State Park.
10 Half Moon Bay
This rural coastal community is tucked away behind rolling hills blanketed with small farms and woodlands. Because of its unspoiled beaches and scenic hiking trails, Half Moon Bay is a popular day trip and weekend destination for nature lovers. Visitors will enjoy taking romantic nature walks along the coastline at Half Moon Bay State Beach. Although the weather can be windy and misty, the dramatic scenery is always inspiring. Half Moon Bay is a laid-back country town with an unpretentious vibe. The Main Street offers cute local boutiques and several bed & breakfasts to choose from. The most romantic place to stay in Half Moon Bay is the Mill Rose Inn, an exquisite bed & breakfast hotel with luxurious rooms. The inn's English country-style garden blossoms with vibrant flowers throughout the year, which makes it a popular location for weddings.
11 Paso Robles: A Rustic-Chic Country Town
Paso Robles is nestled in the vine-covered hills about 30 miles away from San Luis Obispo and 40 miles away from Avila Beach on the Central Coast. The town has a slow pace and old-time ambience, with tree-lined streets and many restaurants featuring outdoor dining. Just 10 miles away from Paso Robles is San Miguel, a rural community surrounded by a pastoral landscape of almond orchards and cattle ranches. The main tourist attraction is the Mission San Miguel Arcángel. Founded more than 200 years ago, this National Historic Landmark has an arcaded portico, impressive murals inside the church, and a picturesque koi pond. The Mission San Miguel Arcángel is at 775 Mission Street in San Miguel.
12 Avila Beach Resort Town and Hot Springs
Sheltered by rolling hillsides, this sun-soaked, sandy stretch of coastline is a gem of the California Coast. Avila Beach offers idyllic coastal scenery and quaint seaside charm. This beach resort town is 10 miles south of San Luis Obispo and seven miles north of the more crowded and windy Pismo Beach that is popular with surfers. Avila Beach has a well-manicured boardwalk, perfect for taking a romantic stroll. Several restaurants on the boardwalk have outdoor terraces for dining with views of the beach's gentle waves. The most romantic place to stay in Avila is Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort & Spa, an upscale spa-resort hotel with its own hot springs and a top-rated restaurant acclaimed for its seasonal garden cuisine.