With the 50th anniversary of San Francisco‘s infamous Summer of Love in full swing, it’s the perfect year to celebrate love in California. If Volkswagen buses and tie-dyed styles aren’t your thing, the Golden State offers plenty of other places and points of interest for couples to enjoy, from rocky shores to redwood forests to misty beaches to iconic landmarks. Read on to discover top romantic retreats across California this summer.
There’s no shortage of activity for couples in San Francisco. Elevate your visit with a stay in the Financial District at the ultra-romantic Palace Hotel, which was built in 1909 and is laden with history and intricate details such as a grand atrium, Austrian crystal chandeliers and classic decor. Steal a corner booth at historic John’s Grill, a favorite of former mayor Willie Brown and enjoy a view of San Francisco Bay and its famous sea lions at the Fog Harbor Fish House, which offers fresh local seafood. Cap off your day with a Champagne toast as you sail beneath the Golden Gate Bridge on a dinner cruise with Hornblower Cruises.
The Go San Francisco Card and CityPASS San Francisco provide savings and easy, fast-tracked access into many attractions, such as museums and adventure cruises, as well as help with transportation, including Big Bus Tours, where you can hop-on and hop-off across the city, as well as a cable car, streetcar and bus passes. Don’t miss the view from atop Coit Tower, where you can admire 360-degree city views, or the chance to ride a cable car and walking or biking across the Golden Gate. Take the ferry from the city’s Ferry Building Marketplace to Oakland, California, for a stroll around Jack London Square and a memorable meal at Bocanova with sweeping bay views.
Carmel-by-the-Sea and Monterey, California
Just two hours south of San Francisco is the sleepy ocean village of Carmel-by-the-Sea. With quaint bed-and-breakfasts and charming midcentury motels like Hotel Carmel, where you can snuggle in a room with a fireplace, you’ll enjoy catching up on R & R and exploring the area’s many shops, checking out high-end eateries and admiring spectacular sea views.
The historic La Playa Carmel, which has hosted visitors for more than 100 years, is another cozy spot to curl up among the flower-filled courtyards, enjoy a hearty breakfast overlooking the misty ocean and sip wine by the lobby fire. Guests of the hotel can rent bikes to explore the village and the picturesque Scenic Drive, which runs along the coast. Carve out time to visit Tor House, the seaside home of Robinson Jeffers, an American poet famous in the early 1900s. Set on a rocky point, Jeffers also built a stone tower by hand from local granite rocks, which offers striking ocean views.
Nearby Monterey, which is the home of Cannery Row, is also a lovely spot to spend a night or two at the InterContinental The Clement Monterey, the first waterfront hotel built in the last 20 years in Monterey, and the last property that was constructed due to new restrictions.
Napa Valley, California
Head north of San Francisco about 50 miles to California wine country for rolling hills filled with vineyards and top-tier wineries. For a striking overview of the countryside, fly high with Napa Valley Balloons. On a clear day, you can see as far as downtown San Francisco. After landing, head to brunch at the nearby luxury retreat Auberge du Soleil, where you can nosh on omelettes and waffles on the outdoor terrace, while enjoying gorgeous vineyard views. Afterward, see the valley by bike, tasting wines along the way, with Getaway Adventures on a day tour with a gourmet picnic lunch provided.
While it’s hard to find a winery in California devoid of a romantic atmosphere, top choices for couples craving with quality wines include the family-owned Chimney Rock and Rutherford Hill, where you can tour a wine cave, picnic in the gardens and enjoy Cape Dutch-style architecture, and Chateau Montelena Winery, which was built in 1888 and offers pristine grounds that include a Japanese garden with pavilions and even swans. For dinner, try Johnny’s in Calistoga inside the historic Mount View Hotel where Hollywood’s elite once vacationed or The Restaurant at CIA Copia in Napa Valley. When you’re ready to call it a day, the Andaz Napa in downtown Napa makes a contemporary and funky place to lay your head complete with a sizable en suite tub.
La Jolla, California
North of the hustle and bustle of San Diego is the charming town of La Jolla, which is edged with the iconic rocky cliffs. Full of quaint shops and eateries, La Jolla is chock-full with places to stroll hand in hand, including down into a sea cave accessible from inside a local store. For some outdoor activity, enjoy kayaking at La Jolla Cove with reputable outfitter Everyday California; you can navigate in and out of the area’s famous sea caves and keep an eye out for small leopard sharks and lots of sea lions. For a beautiful coastal hike, visit Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, which is also host to a newly-renovated golf course. As for accommodations, the Mediterranean-style La Valencia Hotel is an elegant resting place with impressive ocean views.
Catalina Island, California
For a remote romantic getaway, set your sights on Catalina Island, which is accessible by the Catalina Ferry or helicopter. The Holiday Inn Resort Catalina Island, set between the beach and mountains, is the only full-service hotel on the island. Couples can rent golf carts or take advantage of the resort’s free shuttle to explore the scenic island. Couples will also discover trails for hiking; land, boat and helicopter tours; kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding, as well as a zip line eco-tour of Descanso Beach. In the evenings, enjoy the 1929 art deco Catalina Casino, which boasts a movie theater and art museum, the Avalon Grille for oceanfront dining and the Harbor Reef Saloon and Patio Bar for an evening brew.
Santa Barbara, California
Step into the timeless romance of Spanish architecture and abundant red tiles in this Southern California gem. Meander through town, and admire the endless plazas that wind hidden behind the main streets before climbing to the top of the County Courthouse for excellent views. The lovely Simpson House Inn bed-and-breakfast is just steps from downtown tucked away with picture-perfect grounds and gardens. Take advantage of their full in-room breakfast to up the romance factor.
As the sun goes down, take a sunset walk along Santa Barbara Harbor with the Santa Ynez Mountains as a backdrop followed by dinner along the harbor at Chuck’s Waterfront Grill. Are you and your better half wine aficionados? Sample vintages along the Urban Wine Trail in downtown’s “Funk Zone” at wineries like Cottonwood Canyon or visit Santa Barbara’s wine country, including the towns of Solvang, Santa Maria Valley and Los Olivos, to explore vineyards and enjoy tastings. If you’re feeling adventurous, hike to Knapp’s Castle, the ruins of a 70-year-old estate overlooking Santa Ynez River Canyon.
For a hip, modern stay, book a room at the Kimpton Goodland in nearby Goleta, California, with record players in every room, a record concierge and a retro surfing vibe. If you would rather retreat to a classic and historic grand hotel, choose Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara, which has played to host to Hollywood starlets.
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