13 Top-Rated Romantic Getaways in California
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Serene, palm-fringed beaches; spectacular sunsets; and the majestic mountain scenery of California provide the perfect backdrop for a romantic getaway or honeymoon. The variety of landscapes offers something for everyone.
Along California State Route One, the two-lane oceanfront thoroughfare known as Highway One, are alluring seaside towns, crescent-shaped bays, and quiet coves that appeal to beach lovers. The most breathtaking destination is Big Sur, where sheer cliffs drop off into the Pacific Ocean, offering thrilling vistas.
The lovely beach towns of Carmel and Santa Barbara delight those seeking an upscale resort experience, while Santa Catalina Island delivers idyllic island ambience yet is easy to reach.
Travelers who prefer country charm will enjoy the historic towns of Sonoma and Mendocino counties just a few hours from San Francisco. For outdoorsy types, Lake Tahoe provides the perfect combination of dazzling alpine scenery and a wide range of recreational activities, such as snow-season skiing, summertime water sports, and year-round hiking.
From quiet beaches to quaint mountain towns, there are so many attractions in California that appeal to couples. Discover the best places to visit with our list of the top romantic getaways.
1. The Dramatic Coastline of Big Sur
Breathtakingly beautiful, Big Sur is an escape from the rest of the world that rejuvenates the soul. The wild landscape and magnificent ocean views are truly awe-inspiring.
Accessible by a dramatic mountainous portion of Highway One, this mountainous 90-mile stretch of Northern California coastline feels cut off from civilization. There's little development and no cell service. Despite the remote location, Big Sur boasts many things to do, including luxurious hotels and resorts, gourmet restaurants, and fancy spa resorts, in addition to rustic-chic inns and campsites.
Whether couples choose to rough it or be pampered, the main draw of Big Sur is the sublime natural scenery. Blanketed in lush redwood forests, the Big Sur coastline stands 1,200 feet above the Pacific's deep blue waters. Sheer cliffs plunge into crashing waves, leaving visitors to marvel over the astounding vistas.
Below the seaside ridges, secluded beaches are tucked away between coastal bluffs. Big Sur has several state parks with extensive hiking trails through diverse landscapes.
2. Carmel-by-the Sea: A Quaint and Upscale Seaside Resort
This upscale seaside resort is brimming with charm, seen in its storybook cottages, hidden passageways, and one-of-a-kind boutiques. Besides its enchanting ambience, Carmel-by-the-Sea offers everything you need for a romantic getaway: excellent hotels, fine-dining restaurants, and cultural events throughout the year.
Within a 10-minute walk from the town of Carmel is a serene sandy beach, fringed by cypress trees featuring distinctive wind-sculpted branches. This pristine stretch of shoreline is considered one of Northern California's most beautiful beaches.
A few minutes away via the spectacular 17-Mile Drive is the world-renowned Pebble Beach Golf Links, famous for its challenging 18th hole that overlooks an iconic ocean bluff.
Carmel-by-the-Sea is also a good starting point to begin an exploration of the Big Sur coastline, which begins about 25 miles to the south. Along the way is Point Lobos, a nature reserve with hidden coves and scenic hiking trails that feature astounding coastal views.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Carmel: Best Areas & Hotels
3. Santa Barbara, the American Riviera
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 Mediterranean seaside scenery and resort-like ambience.
This quintessential California destination boasts a historic Spanish Mission and stunning sandy beaches that get plenty of sunshine. Romantics will be awed by the glorious sunsets and the lulling refrain of the Pacific Ocean's crashing waves.
In keeping with the local heritage, the attractive downtown is lined with traditional Spanish-style buildings that house art galleries, boutiques, restaurants, and cafés. Santa Barbara is one of the best places to visit in California, especially for shopping and dining.
Other favorite things to do in Santa Barbara include unwinding at one of the town's sophisticated spas and participating in outdoor activities. The gorgeous natural environment provides an inspiring setting for biking, sailing, and hiking. The area has some of the most amazing hikes in California, including a trail that affords sweeping panoramas of the ocean, the Santa Barbara cityscape, and the Santa Ynez Mountains.
Accommodation: Best Beach Resorts in Santa Barbara
4. Gourmet Dining and Country Charm in Sonoma
Just an hour's drive north of San Francisco, Sonoma County is a pastoral landscape of rolling, vine-covered hills. Couples come to Sonoma to enjoy the relaxing pace of life and outdoor activities such as hiking, mountain biking, and hot-air balloon rides. It's also a place to indulge in the local gourmet cuisine based on farm-fresh ingredients.
The historic town of Sonoma offers top restaurants and inviting boutiques centered around a plaza with a tree-shaded park.
The town of Sonoma appeals to couples who enjoy gourmet dining. Some of the most acclaimed restaurants in Sonoma include the girl & the fig, a charming French restaurant on Sonoma Plaza with garden patio seating; LaSalette, a traditional Portuguese restaurant in the historic downtown near Sonoma Plaza; Tasca Tasca, a casual Portuguese restaurant that serves a wide variety of tapas; and Wit & Widsom, which offers the signature cuisine (American comfort food and California cuisine) of renowned chef Michael Mina.
To sample the region's seasonal farm-to-table cuisine, head to Folktable restaurant on Arnold Drive or Layla restaurant at the four-star MacArthur Place hotel. Both restaurants offer farmhouse-chic ambience, meals prepared from local ingredients, and pleasant outdoor-dining terraces.
Another wonderful destination in Sonoma County for a romantic getaway is Healdsburg. The lively downtown area brims with gourmet restaurants, such as the rustic-chic Valette, specializing in California cuisine prepared from locally sourced ingredients; the three-Michelin-starred SingleThread restaurant, which has its own farm to supply vegetables, herbs, fruits, eggs, and olive oil; and Campo Fina, a causal Italian restaurant with an outdoor patio and bocce ball court.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Sonoma
5. Santa Catalina Island
Santa Catalina Island has everything a romantic retreat requires: secluded beaches, picturesque seaside villages, and dreamy 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 sheltered beaches. For snorkeling, swimming, and kayaking, Descanso Beach is the place to go. Tucked into a small cove, this beach has excellent facilities, including a private beach club. Guests may rent lounge chairs and cabanas or enjoy a healthy meal at the Descanso Beach Club's waterfront restaurant.
On the western end of the island, Two Harbors has the feeling of an island paradise. Sandwiched between two ports and overlooking peaceful coves, this quiet little village has two restaurants, a general store, pristine beaches, fishing spots, and small boutique hotels.
Hiking and camping opportunities abound just outside the village of Two Harbors and in Santa Catalina's backcountry. Most of the trails traverse the island's hilly terrain and offer incredible vistas of the ocean and the coastline.
Santa Catalina Island is about a one-hour ferry ride from Long Beach, San Pedro, or Dana Point. There is also a catamaran ferry service to Santa Catalina Island from Newport Beach that takes a little over one hour.
Accommodation: Where to Stay on Santa Catalina Island
6. Rugged and Unspoiled Mendocino County
Mendocino County is a windswept stretch of craggy coastline in Northern California, where redwood trees flourish and wildlife is abundant. The peaceful setting, uncrowded nature spots, and gorgeous ocean views make Mendocino ideal for a romantic getaway.
Visitors are rejuvenated by hiking in the pristine environment, breathing in the fresh air, and relaxing at hidden beaches. Other things to do in Mendocino include camping and outdoor sports, like kayaking or canoeing on the Big River Estuary and boating, swimming, or fishing at Lake Mendocino, a 700-acre protected nature reserve.
Although the location is rugged and remote, the village of Mendocino is packed with inviting hotels, luxury inns, and charming bed-and-breakfasts. Mendocino is listed on the National Register of Historic Places because of its well-preserved 19th-century architecture. This fetching Victorian-era town also has top-notch restaurants, enticing boutiques, and noteworthy art galleries.
The historic Mendocino Hotel provides charming accommodations in the heart of Mendocino village. Several quaint bed-and-breakfast hotels are also located right in the village, including the boutique MacCallum House in a renovated Victorian home surrounded by flowering gardens; the Seagull Inn Bed & Breakfast, with cozy rooms featuring garden or ocean views; the Headlands Inn Bed & Breakfast, which serves breakfast prepared from local organic ingredients; and the Nicholson House Inn, which has guest rooms decorated in old-fashioned style.
The more urban town of Fort Bragg (10 miles north of Mendocino) is home to the glorious 47-acre Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, which features year-round floral blooms and splendid views of the Pacific; a working fishing harbor with great seafood restaurants; and reasonably priced hotel accommodations.
About 50 miles south of Mendocino, Gualala is a small community set along the ocean bluffs, backed by redwood forests. Gualala is closer to San Francisco than Mendocino, which makes it an easier destination as a weekend getaway from the Bay Area. A delightful lodge inspired by Russian architecture, St. Orres in Gualala delivers a magical overnight experience of plush rustic-chic accommodations and romantic fine dining.
7. The Russian River
Outdoorsy types flock to the Russian River during summertime for outdoor activities, such as hiking in the woods; swimming and sunbathing at the riverside beaches; canoeing, kayaking, and fishing on the river; or lazily floating down the river on inner tubes.
Anytime of year, the area offers the serenity of an idyllic nature site, with its gently flowing river and towering redwood groves. The laid-back country atmosphere and small historic towns of the Russian River area make it a wonderful place for a relaxing weekend getaway.
The town of Guerneville is a favorite vacation locale among San Francisco residents because it has a wide variety of accommodations, from campgrounds and rustic lodges to romantic inns, as well as trendy restaurants and cafés. Couples will appreciate the town's tranquil riverside setting.
A tiny hamlet that feels lost in time, Duncan Mills features impeccably maintained Victorian-era buildings (such as an old General Store) that now house art galleries, boutiques, cafés, and restaurants for today's tourists.
For striking scenery and beautiful sunsets, it's hard to beat Jenner-by-the-Sea. This remote coastal village stands on a bluff overlooking the Russian River and the Pacific Ocean. The town has two lodges with fabulous views and a sandy beach with picnic tables.
About a 30-minute drive from Guerneville, the fashionable town of Healdsburg is the best place to stay for those with high-end taste. The downtown area of Healdsburg is full of luxury hotels, gourmet restaurants, and fancy locally owned boutiques.
8. Victorian Village of Ferndale
Nestled amid dairy farms in Northern California's Humboldt County and only five miles from the Pacific Ocean, the sleepy village of Ferndale is an idyll of old-fashioned Americana. More than 200 beautifully restored Victorian buildings line the Main Street and side streets of this picturesque rural community.
Ferndale's quaint bed-and-breakfast hotels and inns are well suited for romantic getaways. Guests enjoy a pampering experience, while spending the night in vintage-style rooms.
The most luxurious hotel is The Gingerbread Mansion Inn, an elegant High Victorian edifice with an ornate facade and a plush interior featuring period furniture and decor. Adding to the charm, The Gingerbread Mansion Inn serves a full breakfast and afternoon high tea. The hotel also offers a "Romantic Picnic for Two" (gourmet lunch) basket to bring to the beach or the park.
A noteworthy monument of its time dating to 1890, the Victorian Inn is a boutique hotel with a fine-dining restaurant and authentic furnishings. The gracious accommodations are adorned with floral wallpaper and bedding. Some guest rooms feature sitting areas or bay windows.
The town's noteworthy historic accommodations include California's first bed-and-breakfast hotel, The Shaw House, a lovely Victorian house surrounded by an acre of tranquil, tree-shaded grounds. Romantics will appreciate the garden's pleasant patio area, fragrant roses, and rhododendrons, as well as the property's private stretch of coastline.
Built in the 1870s, the Hotel Ivanhoe is one of the oldest hotels in the West and the only original Victorian-era hotel that still exists in Ferndale. This historic lodging has a casual restaurant and guest rooms that are well appointed with Victorian antiques.
Humboldt County is a place of incomparable natural beauty, and the area includes several state parks with magnificent old-growth redwoods. Popular things to do here include scenic drives through ancient redwood groves and along the Lost Coast oceanfront route; a visit to the Humboldt Botanical Garden; and outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, horseback riding, and walks on the beach.
9. Lake Tahoe in the High Sierra
In the Sierra Nevada Mountains at an elevation of more than 6,000 feet, Lake Tahoe astonishes visitors with its sublime alpine scenery. The crisp, fresh air invigorates the body, and the lake's dazzling cobalt-hued waters speak to the soul.
The majestic natural environment inspires relaxation, as well as outdoor adventures. Surrounded by snowcapped mountain peaks, skiing at Tahoe is one of the top things to do in California. In summer the area becomes a playground for hiking, biking, camping, boating, and other outdoor activities at the lake.
Whether visiting for a weekend or honeymoon, couples will enjoy Lake Tahoe's fine-dining restaurants, cozy ski lodges, rustic-chic inns, and modern resort hotels. Visitors can choose from a wide variety of accommodations in different price categories.
The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe offers the ultimate in luxurious ski-in ski-out accommodations, with romantic touches such as living rooms with fireplaces and private patios or balconies. In addition to its on-site restaurants and spa, this five-star hotel has a lakefront clubhouse with a private pier, beach access, changing rooms and showers, kayaks, paddleboards, and water sports rentals.
For a quintessential Tahoe experience, the Postmarc Hotel & Spa Suites channels the style of a traditional alpine lodge while providing modern amenities and convenient lakefront access. Guests can take part in outdoor adventures such as hiking, canoeing, and horseback riding. The hotel also hosts movie nights, comedy shows, and themed dinners that appeal to couples.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Lake Tahoe: Best Areas & Hotels
10. Half Moon Bay
Half Moon Bay is a laid-back coastal community surrounded by rolling hills, small farms, and woodlands. Because of its unspoiled sandy beaches and scenic hiking trails, Half Moon Bay is a popular weekend destination for nature lovers and one of the top day trips from San Francisco.
The picturesque coastline at Half Moon Bay State Beach inspires nature walks to admire the powerful waves and breathe in the refreshing ocean air. This wide, four-mile-long sandy beach is also a great place for picnics and watching the sunset. Although the weather can be windy and misty, the dramatic scenery is always invigorating.
The small downtown of Half Moon Bay gives tourists a reason to linger. The Main Street is dotted with locally owned cafés, a few good restaurants, and cute local boutiques. A historic hotel on Main Street dating to 1932, the Half Moon Bay Inn exemplifies Spanish Revival architecture with its delicate frescoes adorning the walls and sunny interior courtyard.
The most romantic place to stay in Half Moon Bay is the Mill Rose Inn, an exquisite B&B hotel with sumptuous guest rooms featuring floral-print bedding, antiques, and vintage-inspired decor. The inn's English country-style garden blooms with vibrant flowers throughout the year, which makes it a popular wedding venue.
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 on the Central Coast. The historic downtown has a pleasant country ambience, with tree-lined streets and many restaurants that feature outdoor dining.
Wellness seekers visit Paso Robles to soak up the tranquility of the rural landscape and to indulge in pampering spa treatments. Local spa facilities offer amenities such as thermal mineral water pools, saunas, massages, and aromatherapy.
Overnight visitors can spend the night at one of the area's charming bed-and-breakfasts or stylish boutique hotels.
12. Avila Beach Resort Town and Hot Springs
Sheltered by rolling hillsides, Avila Beach is a gem of the Central California Coast (10 miles south of San Luis Obispo). This sun-soaked beach resort has a wide sandy shoreline and a palm-lined boardwalk, perfect for taking leisurely walks and sunset strolls. Several beachfront restaurants feature outdoor terraces, allowing guests to dine al fresco while admiring the seaside scenery.
The most romantic place to stay in Avila is the Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort and Spa, a three-star hotel set on a wooded property with a hot springs source. The resort is a haven of tranquility designed to promote wellness and relaxation. Accommodations include outdoor balconies with private mineral water hot tubs.
Solvang surprises visitors with a vision of old-world European charm in Central California's Santa Ynez Valley. Founded in the early 20th century by immigrants from Denmark, the town resembles a Danish village with its half-timbered thatched-roof buildings and even a windmill.
In keeping with the Danish heritage, there are locally owned boutiques that sell authentic Danish-themed souvenirs, and traditional Danish bakeries that serve specialties such as butter cookies, "kringle" coffee cakes, cinnamon bread, and aebleskivers (jam-filled pancakes).
Set on an expansive dude ranch surrounded by gently rolling foothills, the Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort is a haven of relaxation and recreation. The property offers opportunities for horseback riding, fishing, cycling, and other outdoor activities.
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Nature Lovers' Getaways: If your idea of a romantic getaway involves getting out into nature, you may want to consider some of California's parks. Sightseeing through Yosemite National Park, admiring the famous landmarks and waterfalls, or hiking the most scenic trails has its own unique charms. The park also has some outstanding campgrounds, but you'll need to book well in advance.
Redwood Forest Retreats: California's redwood forests rejuvenate the soul and inspire connection with nature. It's an unforgettable experience to hike through a forest of some of the tallest trees on the planet in Redwood National and State Parks. Another option, if you feel like roughing it a bit, is camping in Sequoia National Park, or the adjoining Kings Canyon National Park. The ancient giant sequoias and their leafy canopies provide the perfect setting for romantic hikes.