30 Destinations in Northern California
One of Sacramento’s claims to fame is its proximity to great getaways. As Sacramento magazine celebrates its 30th anniversary this month, we’ve got 30 reasons for you to pack your bags and hit the road sometime in the coming year. Whether you’re seeking some romantic time as a twosome, a family vacation, a ladies-only retreat or a guys’ getaway, we’ve got some great options. Also, consider something truly alternative: a solo getaway, where you sneak off for some alone time. By Krista Minard
10 Romantic Retreats
walk together—Working up a sweat might not seem like your traditional start to a romantic getaway, but hiking the trails on Mt. Tamalpais exposes you to so much beautiful scenery that you can’t help feeling good about each other. Load a backpack with energy bars and water, and head out on foot from The Mountain Home Inn, located off Panaromic Highway on the rolling slopes of the mountain. Hike The Old Railroad Grade Trail, which follows the course of an old railroad bed as it winds its way toward Mt. Tam’s peak. With 281 turns, the rail line was named “The Crookedest Railroad in the WorldÂ&emdash; in the early 20th century, when folks rode the rail to the top of Mt. Tam to take in the panoramic view of the San Francisco Bay Area. After your hike, check into the elegantly rustic inn. (Rates run $175 to $325 a night.) Stew your tired muscles in your in-room whirlpool bath before wandering to the candle-lit dining room to enjoy a prix-fixe ($38 per person) wine-paired dinner created with Marin County’s seasonal ingredients.
rough it together—Grab your sleeping bags and a few provisions, dress in all-weather layers and ferry in from Tiburon or Pier 39 in San Francisco to spend the night on Angel Island. The largest island in the San Francisco Bay is rich with history, and busy with day-users who flock here to hike and mountain bike up to the 781-foot peak of Mt. Livermore, which affords a 360-degree view of the bay. But the view is all yours after the last ferry departs at 4:50 p.m. For $20 a night, you can reserve one of nine campsites on the island—sites 1, 2, 3 and 7, 8 or 9 offer shelter from the wind, but 4, 5 and 6 provide postcard views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco skyline. A water spigot, outhouse and PowerBars for dinner don’t sound quite like romance? Come on, you’ve got an island almost all to yourself, a billion-dollar view and a chance to cuddle. It can be couple time at its best.
experience what’s new—Make a special weekend memorable in a roomy, private cottage at The Carneros Inn, the first new resort to open in Napa County in 20 years. Vaulted ceilings, cherry-wood floors, wood-burning fireplaces, large-screen plasma televisions, outdoor gas heaters on each private patio, slate-and-limestone bathrooms with indoor and outdoor showers (in case you like to shower amid the scent of surrounding vineyards) . . . no detail has been left out of these cottages ($375 and up per night). A $50 million-plus development, The Carneros Inn project also includes resort homes (residents enjoy the same luxury services as hotel guests), a town square with a post office, bocce courts and a community outdoor fireplace, and a guest-only restaurant—dine on French-inspired cuisine at the Hilltop Dining Room. Sink into the resort’s swimming pool, take pampering treatments together at the on-site spa, taste local wines, wander through the gardens and fruit orchards . . . there’s no need to leave the compound all weekend long.
by the light of the moon—For the next full moon, plan a trip to Cambria, the little seaside village about two hours south of Monterey. By day, wander the shops and art galleries in town. As you wait for the coastal wind to die down, fantasize about owning the beautiful artwork you saw as you snuggle up at a fireside table for two at The Sow’s Ear cafe. (The cafe’s Fisherman’s Stew, loaded with fish and shellfish steaming in a tomato-vermouth broth, will further warm your souls.) After dinner, cross Highway 1 to the weather-roughened Moonstone Beach, named for the translucent stones that wash ashore. Check into The Beach House Bed & Breakfast, a three-story A-frame that fronts the water—splurge on an oceanview room with a private fireplace ($275 a night)—and wait for the moon to rise. Then, grab your loved one by the hand and venture out for a moonlight stroll along the oceanfront boardwalk, listening for the seals and sea lions that linger offshore.
Half Moon Bay
fancy this—It’ll be a study in contrasts, if nothing else, if you combine the following: a tour of Año Nuevo State Reserve and an overnight stay at The Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay ($245 and up a night). Romance is definitely on the minds of the northern elephant seals who gather at Año Nuevo, a wild, undeveloped point on the Pacific Ocean between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay. (The breeding season runs from mid-December through March.) Take a guided walk to see male seals battle for mates on the beaches. Then retreat from the raw wildness and check in to The Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay. It’s five-star luxury perched above 50 miles of coastline. Get cleaned up in your “estate-styleÂ&emdash; room (think whirlpool tubs and feather beds) before pulling up to a coast-view table at Navio, where salty air streams through floor-to-ceiling windows and dinner might be fresh Pacific salmon with Half Moon Bay artichokes.
the sea of change—On a bluff above the Russian River estuary, a rose-covered cottage awaits. Part of the 16-room Jenner Inn and Cottages, the Rosewater Cottage ($275 a night) has a king-size bed, a stone fireplace and a bubbling hot tub, but the best aspect of it might just be the view: Nearby, the river flows into the sea and the ocean rolls in, creating an ever-changing mixture of colors. You’ll have a kitchen, so there’s no need to go out to eat, but if you love Indian food, the Sizzling Tandoor awaits. Go for lunch and sit on the patio—you’ll have a great view of the river while you devour inexpensive lunch specials of curries or kabobs served with pulao rice, soup and warm, moist naan (Indian bread). Afterward, take a drive over to Goat Rock State Beach, a breeding ground for harbor seals. Watch your back here—it’s telling that the signs warn you not to turn your back on the ocean: Drownings have occurred in the crashing, riptide-laden surf.
history lessons—Perhaps it’s the allure of an engaged mind, but is there anything more romantic than learning together? In this Gold Rush town in the Sierra foothills, pick up a walking-tour map at the chamber of commerce and start your studies. The whole place is historic, from the wooden sidewalks to the Victorian homes and wild-wild-west downtown storefronts. Step into the cupola-topped Firehouse Hose Company No. 1 Museum and view relics from the Gold Rush—Nevada City was established in 1849 when miners found gold in Deer Creek. Some landmarks not to miss: The Nevada Theatre, the Nevada City United Methodist Church, the Searls Historical Library and the National Exchange Hotel. Top off your day at Friar Tuck’s Restaurant & Bar, where you can plunge sourdough bread into thick, gooey cheese fondue, before you bed down in history at the Deer Creek Inn (rates start at $150 a night), a beautifully restored Queen Anne Victorian on the banks of the creek where it all began for Nevada City.
San Pablo Bay
lighthouse dreams—On the remote, diminutive East Brother Island in the middle of San Pablo Bay, you and your sweetie can spend the night in a gingerbread-trimmed light station. The view doesn’t get much better than this: the San Francisco skyline, Mt. Tamalpais, the bay on all sides. And the accommodations are lovely—four guest rooms in the main house, each with a queen-size brass bed, hardwood floors and, if you reserve one of the upstairs rooms, private bathrooms. If you crave ultimate privacy, reserve the fifth guest room, Walter’s Quarters, which is located away from the lighthouse building in the fog station. Another plus: It’s farthest from the foghorn’s blare. A four-course dinner by candlelight, breakfast and the boat ride out to the light station are included in the rates ($266–$415 per night). Word to the wise: Make reservations about six months in advance, especially for travel during summer months.
mountain high—Thick sweaters, woolen scarves, maybe even some gloves. . . . Learn how to ice skate together at the Olympic Ice Pavilion at Squaw Valley USA’s High Camp. Accessible via an aerial “cable carÂ&emdash; ride that climbs 2,000 vertical feet, High Camp overlooks Lake Tahoe’s intensely blue water. For $22 each, hop the cable car and spend the afternoon wobbling around the ice rink together, stopping occasionally to admire the spectacular view of the lake. After that, pop into Alexander’s Cafe and warm up in the bar with a Baileys and coffee before heading back down the mountain to the PlumpJack Squaw Valley Inn ($199 and up per night). Warm your hands around the circular fire pit in the bar, then head up to your room—which is loaded with all the luxury comforts—and get cleaned up for dinner at the PlumpJack Cafe. Try something different: How about Maka Maka Hou Hopu? (It’s described on the menu as lobster and shrimp pot stickers with sesame bok choy in spiced coconut broth.)
sleeping in the barn—Although Mendocino, white-washed in Cape Cod charm on California’s North Coast, sports numerous bed-and-breakfast inns, there’s a truly unique place right in town that feels nothing like home. For $150 a night, you can spend the night in The Barn, a one-room guest cottage located at the end of Little Lake Street adjacent to the Mendocino Headlands State Park. Bathed in light, with hardwood floors, a woodstove and picture windows, The Barn invites you to curl up and just stay put. Buy some provisions at the market on Main Street or the natural foods store on Ukiah Street—The Barn’s kitchen is fully equipped for cooking. Take advantage of the headlands just outside your door: Walk the cliffs and watch for whales, or bring a chair and some supplies and try your hand at watercoloring the wild landscape. To perfect your technique, sign up for a class at the Mendocino Art Center, where the two of you are sure to bond as you create beautiful artwork together.
Resources for Romantic Retreats
The Sow’s Ear, 2248 Main St; (805) 927-4865; thesowsear.com
The Beach House Bed & Breakfast, 6360 Moonstone Beach Drive; (805) 927-3136; cambria-online.com/thebeachhouse
Half Moon Bay
Año Nuevo State Reserve; guided walk reservations (800) 444-4445; parks.ca.gov/default.asp?page_id=523
The Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay, One Miramontes Point Road; (650) 712-7000; ritzcarlton.com/resorts/half_moon_bay
Jenner Inn and Cottages, 10400 Highway 1; (707) 865-2377; jennerinn.com
Sizzling Tandoor, 9960 Highway 1; (707) 865-0625
Squaw Valley USA, Olympic Ice Pavilion; (530) 581-7246; squaw.com
Alexander’s Cafe; (530) 583-1742
PlumpJack Squaw Valley Inn, 1920 Squaw Valley Road; (530) 583-1578; plumpjack.com
The Barn, c/o Kathy’s Mendocino Cottages; (707) 937-5701; kathysmendocinocottages.com
Mendocino Art Center, 45200 Little Lake St.; (707) 937-5818; mendocinoartcenter.org
The Mountain Home Inn, 810 Panoramic Highway; (415) 381-9000; mtnhomeinn.com
The Carneros Inn, 4048 Sonoma Highway, Napa; (707) 299-4900; thecarnerosinn.com
Deer Creek Inn, 116 Nevada St.; (530) 265-0363; deercreekinn.com
Firehouse Hose Company No. 1 Museum, 214 Main St.; (530) 265-5468
Friar Tuck’s Restaurant & Bar, 111 N. Pine St.; (530) 265-9093; friartucks.com
Nevada City Chamber of Commerce, 132 Main St.; (530) 265-2692; nevadacitychamber.com
Nevada City United Methodist Church, 433 Broad St.; (530) 265-2797
The Nevada Theatre, 401 Broad St.; (530) 265-6161
Searls Historical Library, 214 Church St.; (530) 265-5910
San Pablo Bay
East Brother Light Station, 117 Park Place, Point Richmond; (510) 233-2385; ebls.org
5 Capers with the Kids
Yosemite National Park
camping light—The kids will love the Camp Curry experience in the summer. Rent a tent cabin ($65 a night; sleeps up to four people) to use as home base. This is one step removed from camping, if only because you don’t have to pitch the tent and you can sleep on a cot instead of an air mattress. You’re still sleeping among the tall pines, hearing the sounds of other campers nearby. And even though the tent cabins come with bedding, bring warm sleeping bags in case it’s cold and a good flashlight because that nighttime trek to the bathrooms will surely be dark. Plan to stow any food in a bear-proof locker—“foodÂ&emdash; meaning anything bears might consider edible, including toothpaste and fruity-smelling deodorant. During the day, hike to the park’s waterfalls and lakes, rent bikes and pedal around the valley floor, take a dip in the Curry Village swimming pool and plan to spend a fair bit of cash on food if you want anything warm. (No cooking is allowed in Curry Village, but there are three restaurants: Coffee Corner, Curry Pizza Patio and the Curry Pavilion Breakfast Buffet.)
organized or disorganized—you choose—Run by the city of Sacramento’s department of parks and recreation, Camp Sacramento is one of the greatest summer opportunities for parent-kid bonding. Go for four days or a week—or just a day or two if space is available—to Twin Bridges along the American River in the Eldorado National Forest. Do arts and crafts, take hikes, play softball, dance, attend barbecues, toss horseshoes, fish, play games . . . the list of activities goes on. Pack your schedule with organized sessions, or opt to let your days unfold as they will. Either way, pay attention to the camp bell, which rings at 8:30 signaling breakfast, 12:30 for lunch, 5:30 for dinner—all meals are served cafeteria-style in the dining hall. You’ll sleep in a private rustic cabin; public restrooms with showers are nearby. Rates, which are lower for Sacramento city residents, vary by age of camper. Open May through September.
see the undersea sights—Grab a Best Western—likely the cheapest way to go in Monterey (approximately $79 a night)—and plan to spend very little time in the room. Instead, head for the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Admission is $20 for adults and $9 for kids, but the educational experience is worth it. Exhibits include the centerpiece Kelp Forest, a floor-to-ceiling display of waving kelp and finned creatures, and the Outer Bay, where you can watch sharks, sea turtles and huge yellowfin tuna swim past. Younger kids will love Splash Zone, where they can touch starfish, meet rock and reef creatures, learn about penguins and climb in a variety of ocean-themed tunnels. There’s a pricey snack bar at the aquarium, but it might be more fun to wander down to Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., where the children’s menu includes burgers, shrimp, fish and chips, and two healthful fruit smoothies. And Mom and Dad can get a beer.
South Lake Tahoe
play in the lake—If you rent a lakeside cabin at Camp Richardson Resort, everyone in the family can come and go as they please—across the sand to the water, over to the boathouse for a children’s puppet show, up to The Beacon for a famous Rum Runner cocktail, out to the trail for a bike ride. Float on an air mattress, paddle a kayak, play in the sand. Depending on location, two-bedroom cabins go for $1,000 to $1,800 a week during the summer; studio or one-bedroom summer-only cabins rent for about two-thirds that. Cabins come with bedding, towels and basic kitchen equipment (coffee maker and toaster, too), but no phones or televisions to distract from quality family time and the grandeur of the great outdoors.
beach campout—At the south end of Santa Cruz County, Sunset State Beach beckons with its campground ($13 a night) in the forest, 200-foot-high dunes to climb and three miles of uninterrupted shoreline. Bring shovels and buckets, boogie boards, jumbo-size sunscreen and plenty of snacks, and spend your days in the sand. Evenings, gather around the campfire, toasting marshmallows for s’mores. (In case you’ve forgotten: Smash the hot marshmallow against a chocolate bar between two graham crackers.) A day trip away from camp might take you to Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Splurge on the all-day pass ($24.95 online)—“unlimited” is the way to go when the kids want to scream down the Big Dipper wooden rollercoaster 30 times in one afternoon.
It’s been said that to have a successful guys’ getaway, all you need is beer. But usually, it’s good to accompany it with an activity—golfing or fishing, perhaps—some good food and a warm place to kick off the shoes.
Lake Shastina Golf Resort (530-938-3205; shastinagolf.com) is one such place. Way up north, at the base of always-snow-topped Mt. Shasta, Lake Shastina boasts 27 holes of golf on its courses designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. Rent a three-bedroom house for the group of you, designate the best cook to take care of the meals, make sure there’s some good beer in the fridge, and you’ve got a getaway.
For fishing, there are a lot of options in Northern California, depending on what lures you. To fly-fish the high country, check out Mammoth Lakes’ Tamarack Lodge (760-934-2442; tamaracklodge.com), which includes a string of renovated cabins (starting at $360 for a two-bedroom, two-bath). With four lakes nearby—Twin Lakes, McLeod Lake and TJ Lake—the cabins are the perfect place to store your gear and get a little sleep at night. Another bonus: The Lakefront Restaurant makes a great place to gather and tell fish tales over dinner: smoked trout, perhaps?
Another fishing option, especially if it’s wet and cool: sturgeon fishing in the Delta. Camp out on a boat with a buddy for a couple of days and just wait. Even if you catch one, it’s a test of patience—sturgeon less than 4 feet long have to be released. Yep, 4 feet! Sturgeon are the largest North American freshwater fish and can live to be 100 years old. If you have no luck, give up and cruise into one of the Delta’s boat-in eateries: The Lighthouse Restaurant in Isleton (151 Brannan Island Road; 916-777-4030; thelighthouserestaurant.com) has a great view of the Mokelumne River. Have a beer and a burger, and relax.
Finally, for adventure types, collect a group of guys to venture into the wild blue yonder: the Lost Coast. Located north of Fort Bragg in the Kings Range National Conservation Area, this nearly inaccessible portion of the Pacific Coast lures hard-core hikers and campers who crave empty trails and crashing surf. You’ll need a map and a tide table and the ability to read both; bring the camping gear and the binocs, and expect to carry it all in—and out. To help you plan your trip, call the Lost Coast Trail Transport Service (lostcoasttrail.com) at (707) 986-9909.
5 Getaways With Girlfriends
Shopping, wine, spa treatments—it sounds so cliché, such a getaway with the girls. But for the works, there’s no better place than Hotel Healdsburg (800-899-7188; hotelhealdsburg.com, rates from $260 a night), a city-sleek spa in Sonoma County. Shop the boutiques in Healdsburg’s town square, indulge in a massage at the hotel spa, gather to listen to live jazz on Friday and Saturday nights, and dine in the hotel’s Dry Creek Kitchen—taste Sonoma County wines and laugh yourselves silly—before retiring to your own luxurious room for the night.
For big-city fun, do the tourist-trap thing in San Francisco—shop Union Square together, take afternoon tea at The Ritz-Carlton on Nob Hill, board a sunset bay cruise on the Adventure Cat sailboat (415-777-1630; adventurecat.com)—$25 a person (for an hour and a half), then get your land legs back with a wander around tourist-packed Pier 39 that night, buying kitschy gifts for family members left at home. Dinner can be a sourdough bowl filled with clam chowder. Hop the cable car back to Union Square and spend the night at the reasonable-for-San Francisco Villa Florence hotel (225 Powell St.; 866-823-4669; villaflorence.com). Rooms run as low as $89 a night. Gather around the lobby fireplace for a nightcap and recap your day.
If your group wants an opportunity to simply reconnect, book some time at the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center (415-865-1899; sfzc.com) in the Ventana Wilderness near Big Sur. Share contemplative silence, hold deep conversations, whatever your friendship desires. At the end of a scenic 14-mile dirt road, the center is a true retreat. You’ll stay in dorm-style redwood cabins above a creek. Chat by the light of a kerosene lamp—there’s no electricity in the cabins. Relax in the Japanese bathhouse, which has a sundeck and steam room, or join one of the workshops, which range from yoga, gardening and vegetarian cooking to birdwatching and meditation. Rates ($80 to $220 a night) include meals. Open May through August.
For a coastal getaway, rent a house at The Sea Ranch (800-785-3455; ramshead-realty.com). Throw open the windows to let in the salty breeze, and gather together to cook meals and laugh. Most homes come fully equipped with stereos and video/DVD players—one night, rent a chick flick in the nearby town of Gualala. During the day, walk the seaside trails, watch the sea lions on the rocks at Shell Beach or play a round of golf at The Sea Ranch Golf Links.
5 Solitary Escapes
Anyone who has ever taken a solitary vacation knows that a getaway alone can comfort and revitalize you like nothing else. Take a stack of books, a journal and a pensive mood, and check out one of the following Northern California retreats.
Rosemary Cottage, Point Reyes National Seashore (rosemarybb.com)—Rent the whole place for yourself ($245 a night with breakfast makings), this secluded two-room French-country cottage in the woods near Point Reyes. Stoke up the wood stove; stargaze from the outdoor spa. This retreat is perfect for a reading or writing getaway.
Mandarin Oriental, San Francisco (mandarin-oriental.com; 800-622-0404)—For the best view, check into the highest room ending in a 6 or 11, and don’t leave. Sip the jasmine tea you receive on arrival, burrow your toes inside the complimentary silk slippers, curl up with a good book above the San Francisco skyline or watch movie after movie after movie. Call no one except room service: Order in for every meal, sink into the soaking tub, sleep in and let the weekend—and any troubles— just slip away.
Sivananda Ashram Yoga Farm, Grass Valley (800-469-9642; sivananda.org/farm)—Surrounded by an oak and pine forest, clear streams and rolling hills, the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Farm lures solitude-seekers. Take springtime yoga classes and meditate on the shady outdoor deck, swim in the pond and indulge in a cleansing sweat in the cedar sauna. Be prepared for dorm-style lodging unless you specifically request (and pay for) a private cabin ($115). Two vegetarian meals, included in the rates, are served daily.