Serene, palm-fringed beaches; spectacular sunsets; and California’s majestic mountain scenery provides 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 into the Pacific Ocean, offering dramatic vistas. The pleasant seaside atmosphere and beautiful beaches draw visitors to the chic beach towns of Carmel and Santa Catalina Island. For those who prefer country charm, visit the historic towns of Sonoma and Mendocino just hours from San Francisco.
1 The dramatic scenery of Big Sur
Breathtakingly beautiful and incomparably romantic, Big Sur rejuvenates the soul. This heavenly location inspired writer Henry Miller in the 1940s and continues to delight visitors with its beautiful setting. Big Sur is an escape from the rest of the world, accessible only by a winding, two-lane rock wall – the most scenic and spectacular section of Highway One. This wild, mountainous 90-mile stretch of the Northern California coastline feels cut off from civilization. Some places don’t even have cell phone service. Despite its remote location, Big Sur is famous for its luxury hotels, gourmet restaurants and luxury spa resorts. Visitors will find luxury hotels like the Post Ranch Inn and rustic-chic inns just as easily as campgrounds.
Whether visitors choose to be bored or pampered, Big Sur’s main draw is its natural scenery. Covered in lush redwood forests, the Big Sur coastline sits 1,200 feet above sea level with stunning panoramas of the deep blue waters of the Pacific Ocean. A favorite place to enjoy the amazing view is on the terrace of Nepenthe Restaurant. Sheer cliffs drop into the waves of the sea, offering sensational vistas reminiscent of Italy’s Amalfi Coast. Beneath the coastal ridges, pristine beaches are tucked away among coastal forests. Big Sur has several state parks with extensive hiking trails through diverse and pristine landscapes.
2 Carmel-by-the Sea: a fun and chic beach town
This quaint beach town is full of charm and boasts one of the most beautiful beaches in Northern California. Famous for its adorable storybook cottages, hidden passageways and unique boutiques, Carmel is the perfect place for a romantic getaway or honeymoon destination. This chic city has many fine-dining restaurants and art galleries, as well as cultural events throughout the year. Less than a 10 minute walk from the town of Carmel is a quiet sandy beach lined with cypress trees. The historic Carmel Mission , the second oldest of California’s 21 Spanish missions, is less than a 10-minute drive from the city center. Nearby, on Highway One, is Point Lobos, a coastal reserve with excellent hiking trails. A few minutes away through scenic17-Mile Drive is the world famous Pebble Beach golf course , famous for its challenging 18th hole that faces 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.
- Read on:
- 11 Top Tourist Attractions in Carmel and Easy Day Trips
3 Santa Barbara
Tucked behind the foothills of the Santa Ynez Mountains along a palm-fringed shoreline, Santa Barbara is known as the “American Riviera” for its beautiful coastal scenery and resort-like atmosphere. Santa Barbara is a quintessential California destination, complete with a historic Spanish mission, beautiful sandy beaches, and fine Spanish architecture. In keeping with the local heritage, the center is lined with traditional Spanish mission-driven style buildings housing art galleries, boutiques, restaurants and cafes. Shopping and dining are popular pastimes for visitors, including sunbathing on the beach, getting pampered at the local spas, and enjoying outdoor activities. The beautiful natural surroundings are ideal for cycling, sailing and walking.
4 The Rolling Hills of Sonoma County
Take an hour’s drive north of San Francisco for a day trip or weekend getaway in Sonoma’s idyllic countryside. Nestled in rolling, vine-clad hills, Sonoma County is a rural landscape that offers natural beauty and a relaxed pace of life. Visitors come to Sonoma for the scenic hikes, mountain biking and hot air balloon rides, and to enjoy the gourmet local cuisine. The historic town of Sonoma offers top restaurants and inviting boutiques around a plaza with a shady tree park. The Sonoma State Historic Park encompasses part of the city, including the old Spanish mission, San Francisco Solano.
5 Santa Catalina Island
Santa Catalina Island has everything a romantic getaway requires: secluded beaches, picturesque coastal villages, and idyllic island scenery. The island’s largest city, Avalon offers the widest selection of accommodations – from handsome historic hotels to modern resorts. Sunbathers will appreciate Avalon’s beautiful palm-fringed beaches. Outdoor adventure enthusiasts can enjoy snorkeling, swimming, and kayaking at Descanso Beach. Go to the feeling of an island paradise Two harbours. This small village is sandwiched between two harbors and overlooks quiet coves. It offers a restaurant, a shop, pristine beaches and camping sites. There are many hiking opportunities in the backcountry of Santa Catalina. Santa Catalina Island is a scenic 1-hour ferry ride from Los Angeles or Long Beach. The ferry ride takes a little longer from San Pedro or from Dana Point.
6 Rugged and unspoilt province of Mendocino
Mendocino County is a peaceful, windswept stretch of coastline in Northern California, where redwoods flourish and wildlife is abundant. Mendocino County attracts visitors who appreciate pristine nature, fresh air, and pristine beaches. It is also a place to enjoy hiking and outdoor sports, such as kayaking on the Noyo River and boating and fishing on Lake Mendocino. Although the location is rugged and remote, the Mendocino area is home to many luxury inns, quaint bed and breakfast hotels, and luxury spas. Several historic seaside towns, including Mendocino and Fort Bragg , date back to the Victorian era and offer old-world charm along with first-class restaurants, interesting specialty shops, and notable art galleries. Gualais a sweet little town, nestled along the ocean and backed by redwood forests.
7 The Russian River
In summer, the Russian Riviera offers a lively holiday atmosphere and outdoor activities such as sunbathing on the river beaches, canoeing, fishing, swimming and hiking. Each season it offers the tranquility of its gently flowing river and towering redwoods. The idyllic rural atmosphere and small historic towns of the Russian Riviera make it ideal for a romantic getaway. The main community of Guernevilleoffers the most diverse accommodations, from rustic lodges to romantic inns. Duncan Mills is a historic town that feels lost in time due to its impeccably maintained old buildings such as the Old Country Store. Well designed to welcome today’s tourists, the city has many art galleries, museums and restaurants. A quaint village that overlooks the river, Jenner-by-the-Sea has a beautiful beach and excellent restaurants.
8 The Victorian village of Ferndale
To really get away from it all, take a trip to the quaint Victorian village of Ferndale in rural Northern California. Nestled between two redwood forests in Humboldt County and just five miles from the Pacific Ocean, this historic dairy farming community gives visitors the impression of stepping back in time. The picturesque town is known for its old-fashioned Americana, seen on the Main Street lined with Victorian-era storefronts. Popular things to do here include scenic drives along the Lost Coast , visiting the Humboldt Botanical Garden , and outdoor activities such as biking, horseback riding, walking on the beach, and walking in redwoods. The pace is slow in this small village, which is precisely the charm of the place.
Victorian inn inns and quaint bed and breakfast hotels are perfectly suited for romance. The most elegant and luxurious hotel is The Gingerbread Mansion Inn, a lavish 19th-century Victorian landmark that used to be a private residence. The ornate facade is painted in vibrant colors, while the luxurious interior is immaculately decorated with antique furniture and decor. A remarkable period landmark dating back to 1890, The Victorian Inn is a boutique hotel with a gourmet restaurant and authentic furnishings. California’s oldest bed and breakfast hotel, The Shaw House Inn is a charming Victorian property set in 4 acres of garden with a private stretch of shore accessible by bicycle. Built in the 1870s, Hotel Ivanhoe is one of the oldest hotels in the west. The hotel has a casual restaurant and comfortable rooms that are well-appointed with Victorian antiques. Located in the historic Red Front Store building, Francis Creek Inn offers affordable accommodations on Main Street.
9 Lake Tahoe in the High Sierra
In the Sierra Nevada at an elevation of over 6,000 feet, Lake Tahoe is known for its sublime alpine scenery. The crisp, fresh air invigorates the body and the stunning, deep blue water of the lake speaks to the soul. Surrounded by snow-capped peaks, Lake Tahoe is beautiful in winter and summer, too. 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 with 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 warm, 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 picnicking under shady pine trees. In July and August, the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festivaltakes place in an outdoor theater in a quiet pine forest of Sand Harbor State Park.
10 Half Moon Bay
This rural coastal community is tucked away behind rolling hills covered with small farms and forests. 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 shore at Half Moon Bay State Beach. Although the weather can be windy and foggy, the dramatic scenery is always inspiring. Half Moon Bay is a laid-back country town with an unpretentious feel. The Main Street offers cute local boutiques and several bed and breakfasts to choose from. The most romantic place to stay in Half Moon Bay is the Mill Rose Inn, an exclusive bed and breakfast hotel with luxurious rooms. The English-style garden is blooming with vibrant flowers all year round, making it a popular venue for weddings.
11 Paso Robles: A Rustic-Chic Country Town
Paso Robles is located in the vine-clad 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 and old vibe, tree-lined streets and many restaurants with outdoor dining. Just 10 miles away from Paso Robles is San Miguel , a rural community surrounded by a pastoral landscape of almond groves and cattle ranches. The main tourist attraction is the Mission San Miguel Arcángel . Established more than 200 years ago, the National Historic Landmark features a covered colonnade, impressive murals in the church, and a picturesque koi pond. The Mission San Miguel Arcángel is located at 775 Mission Street in San Miguel.
12 Avila Beach Resort Town en Hot Springs
Sheltered by gentle hillsides, this sun-drenched, sandy stretch of coastline is a jewel of the California coast. Avila Beach offers idyllic coastal scenery and quaint seaside charm. This beach town is located 10 miles south of San Luis Obispo and seven miles north of the busier and windier Pismo Beach which is popular with surfers. Avila Beach has a well-maintained promenade, ideal for a romantic stroll. Several restaurants on the boardwalk have terraces for dining overlooking the gentle waves of the beach. The most romantic place to stay in Avila is Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort & Spa, a luxury spa resort hotel with on-site hot springs and a top-rated restaurant acclaimed for its seasonal garden cuisine.