California's sandy beaches, towering redwoods, rolling hills, world-renowned wineries and rugged coastal cliffs make it one of the most scenic --and romantic -- destinations anywhere. And many of its hotels and resorts were designed with couples in mind, capitalizing on lovely views and tranquil atmospheres. Our top picks are truly special, intimate retreats with one-of-a-kind settings.
Vineyard Romance Spa Treatment at Bernardus Lodge, Carmel Valley
This 57-room rustic-luxe retreat in Carmel Valley sits in a lovely setting among rolling hills and vineyards. Details such as vaulted beamed ceilings, wood-burning fireplaces, and country-inspired decor help create an atmosphere that is homey and cozy. Rooms are large and comfortable with stone fireplaces, feather beds, and plush white bedding, and big bathrooms feature walk-in showers and two-person soaking tubs. Appealing amenities include an outdoor pool, pool bar, and inviting spa where wine-based treatments are available. It’s a sophisticated, romantic spot in Carmel Valley.
Calistoga Ranch, an Auberge Resort, Napa Valley
It’s no wonder royalty, A-list celebrities, and athletes keep returning to the luxury Calistoga Ranch: It’s in a class all by itself. Guests rent exquisite private lodges, set on a private 157-acre park-like property complete with hiking trails and a top-of-the-line restaurant and spa. Attention to detail carries over from room design to landscape planning — all modules for the lodges were flown in by helicopter to minimize impact on surrounding trees and to maximize privacy. The property boasts plenty of activities, including outdoor yoga, a beautiful heated outdoor pool, a bocce court, a fabulous fitness center, and wine tasting seminars.
San Ysidro Ranch, a Ty Warner Property
San Ysidro Ranch is one of the most exclusive, romantic luxury options in not just California, but the entire country. The grounds are stunningly beautiful, with mountain views, fresh air and a secluded location in a well-heeled neighborhood. The cottage-style units are individually furnished with brick fireplaces, stone walls, and four-poster canopy beds (some with private whirlpools and outdoor showers). The rustic, romantic ambiance has attracted everyone from JFK and Jackie to Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin.
Hyatt Carmel Highlands
The 144-room cliff-side Hyatt Carmel Highlands offers awe-inspired views unrivaled anywhere else around Monterey and Carmel — some could even argue the entire West Coast. Accommodations are seemingly as roomy as the stunning ocean views they offer, most complete with working fireplaces and stocked with simple yet modern amenities. The on-site restaurants serve meals that rival the scenery, and the outdoor fire pit is good for relaxing and taking in healthy doses of sea breeze after a day of kayaking (you can rent kayaks on-site).
Montage Laguna Beach, Orange County
With beautiful grounds, an elegant spa, and modern rooms (all of which have stunning views of the ocean), this hotel is possibly the most serene and relaxing in Orange County, California. It’s perched directly above the beach, and the building’s “U” shape allows for breathtaking views from the lobby and all pools, restaurants, and guest rooms.
Post Ranch Inn, Big Sur
The 39-room Post Ranch Inn is one of the most beautiful hotels in the United States — if not the entire world — and offers a romantic, intimate stay amid gorgeous natural surroundings. The hotel is built into the cliffs of Big Sur, and the organic architecture is breathtaking, seeming to grow out of the ground beside the hotel’s surrounding redwoods. The spacious, eco-sensitive rooms have ocean or mountain views (that are sometimes obstructed by the pervasive fog that the area is known for) and many feature floor-to-ceiling windows to better show them off. Rooms also have wood-burning fireplaces, radiant floor heating, outdoor showers or hot tubs, private decks, and organic bath products and linens — but no televisions or alarm clocks as the hotel strives for a peaceful environment. The award-winning spa focuses on rejuvenating services and even has a shaman on-site; the restaurant, Sierra Mar, is one of the best in Big Sur; the hotel’s cliff-top pools are stunning; and free amenities (such as yoga and stargazing) are abundant.
Rancho Valencia, Rancho Santa Fe
This 49-room luxury resort is located in Rancho Santa Fe, a wealthy residential community in the hills of Southern California, on 40 acres of lush grounds. The Spanish-style suites, all with fireplaces and patios, are located in 26 casitas spread across the sprawling property, creating a rare level of privacy for guests. Excellent freebies (including Wi-Fi, minibar items, parking, morning juice and newspaper delivery, and breakfast), as well as a wonderful restaurant and an upscale fitness center with free classes contribute to the experience of exclusive pampering.
Cavallo Point, Sausalito
This historic property under the Golden Gate Bridge offers sweeping views of the San Francisco Bay skyline. Located in a state park in Sausalito, across the bay from San Francisco, Cavallo Point feels removed from the hustle and bustle of the city even though it is still accessible — the hotel operates a free shuttle to the ferry terminal. Originally built as an army base in the late 1800s, the hotel has retained many charming historical details in its two main buildings as well as in its Historic Rooms, which were all formerly officers’ residences. Contemporary Rooms, on the other hand, were built into the hillside, and have great views, gas fireplaces, and floor-to-ceiling windows. The hotel also features an acclaimed spa with a pool and fire pits, a Michelin-starred restaurant serving regional cuisine, an on-site cooking school, and many outdoor activities such as morning yoga and hiking.
Ventana Inn & Spa, Big Sur
Situated on more than 200 acres of picturesque oceanfront land, The Ventana Inn & Spa looks like a rustic cabin nestled in the woods — yet it features 62 luxurious, streamlined rooms with wooden accents, refreshing pops of color, and modern amenities such as flat-screen TVs, iPod docks, and free Wi-Fi. Many rooms have fireplaces, creating a cozy retreat vibe to fit with its surroundings — though glass doors and large windows keep the rooms feeling bright and airy. The overall goal of this romantic hotel is to create a zen, holistic retreat with such offerings as yoga classes, discovery walks, afternoon wine and cheese, Japanese baths, and two pools (one of which is clothing optional).
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