Lovers Leap


Seeking some time alone together? Escape to one of these inns to rekindle the romance.

We all hit that point at one time or another. You know that vacant feeling, and so does your sweetheart: You need a little Cupid back in your life; you’ve got to get away. Yep, just the two of you, alone, to someplace special—a place to unwind, reconnect, just be together and rekindle the flame.

Many places offer romantic-sounding solutions, from glam hotels to melodiously named bed-and-breakfast inns. But do they deliver? Do they always pay off?

Instead of shooting in the air, hoping to hit your mark, consider going somewhere totally unique, even unexpected. Romance has always carried an element of surprise—so surprise and delight your sweetheart with one of these decidedly distinctive destinations. All within reasonable driving distance, each one provides something you won’t readily find anywhere else in the region. And maybe that little extra spark will ignite real romance in your hearts once again.

Flowers Everywhere on the San Mateo Coast

The Mill Rose Inn

Nothing says romance quite like flowers. And few places have flowers in the style and abundance of The Mill Rose Inn in coastal Half Moon Bay. From the moment you arrive at this charming English cottage-style bed-and-breakfast, your senses and spirits will be lifted by the sight and scent of flowers everywhere.

“We want you to feel you have gone far away without having driven very far,” says owner Terry Baldwin, who opened the inn with his wife, Eve, 25 years ago; it was the first bed-and-breakfast in San Mateo County. A landscape architect before becoming an innkeeper, Baldwin brings an artist’s sensibility to the décor and landscaping as well as the magnificent floral arrangements and wreaths that adorn the inn, which was built in the early 1900s.

Tucked away in a quiet neighborhood within walking distance of the ocean and Half Moon Bay’s historic Old Town district, the inn has six distinctive suites, each with vaulted ceilings, private baths with whirlpool tubs, and plush king- or queen-size feather beds; only one room lacks a fireplace. Evening turndown service, complimentary robes and slippers, chocolates, wine tastings and cheese plates, and a full gourmet breakfast are all part of your package. Breakfast includes fresh fruit, French pastries, crêpes, omelettes or quiche, and choice of beverages.

The front garden is a joy to behold, with an untold number of rose bushes and seasonal flowers kept in peak show. The graceful back patio, lorded over by a towering maple tree, offers an intimate spot for visiting.

From the inn, walk along nearby Main Street to explore an eclectic mix of collectibles and antiques shops (don’t miss Half To Have It), first-rate art galleries (Coastal Gallery; Nuestra Tierra), fine woodworking (Gallery M; Cottage Industries) and import shops (Indo, with items from Bali). For gourmet-to-go, visit Half Moon Bay Wine & Cheese, which has a wine-tasting bar and a great selection of deli goods. For lunch or dinner, try Casey’s Cafe (a “ California bistro” with patio seating) or the terrific Flying Fish Grill for fresh seafood.

The closest beaches are mostly broad and sandy. You can ride horses along the shore from the stables of Friendly Acres just north of town. A bit farther up Highway 1 at Moss Beach, go tide-pooling and beachcombing at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve or simply meander around the harbor at Princeton by the Sea.

Back at the inn, plan ahead and reserve the large private gazebo tucked away in the rear garden. Doors open to a spacious in-ground hot tub, surrounded by potted ferns and raised flowerbeds, always in profuse bloom. It’s a perfect way to finish unwinding before you and your loved one retire hand in hand for the night.

Surprise Yourselves in Steinbeck Country

Vision Quest Ranch

The Salinas Valley has long been known as “Steinbeck Country,” home of author John Steinbeck and the setting of many of his best-loved works. But there’s much more here to capture your romantic fancy. To heighten the experience, don’t tell your sweetie where you’re going—just go and embrace the unexpected.

It begins with your booking a stay at Vision Quest Ranch, a new “lodge” about eight miles south of Salinas, along the Salinas River and the Santa Lucia Mountains. Vision Quest Ranch’s bed-and-breakfast is part of a well-established facility that for years has provided professionally trained wild animals for film, television, live productions and education.

This singular venue has four spacious, remarkably comfortable canvas-walled bungalows, perched on a knoll so the windows and porches overlook the valley. The stand-alone cabins are somewhat predictably themed (Giraffe Manor, Zebra Zone, Pachyderm Palace and the “Big” Cat House) but not overdone. The cabins are within a stone’s throw of the animal housing—meaning you can hear the animals and walk down to see them during your stay.

And we are talking African lions, Bengal tigers, black panthers, zebras, camels, kangaroos and various primates, reptiles and tropical birds. Lying in your mosquito-netted king-size bed, hearing a restless lioness growl in the dark, you’ll want to snuggle up close. What’s more, in the morning, your complimentary continental breakfast is brought to your bungalow by, in all likelihood, an elephant.

As part of a special “Walk With the Animals” package, you are invited to interact closely (with trainers nearby) with the animals. Doing this with your dearest truly says “love is trust.” And you’ll have a shared experience that no one else you know likely will—intimate moments with, say, a Siberian lynx, grateful to have its chin scratched.

Inn at the Pinnacles

If the safari experience doesn’t do it for you, consider instead the Inn at the Pinnacles, east of Soledad in the Gabilan Mountains and just two miles from the west gate of Pinnacles National Monument. Owner Jan Brosseau’s inn offers a half dozen comfortable guest rooms, breakfast made fresh in a spacious open kitchen, and free evening wine and cheese. The main attractions here are the romantic setting and the fantastic view. At 1,800 feet, perched all alone atop a rocky bluff, the inn has a sweeping Mediterranean-style patio that provides a commanding vista of the entire Salinas Valley region. Many miles from any other light source, on a clear night you will be reminded just how many millions of stars do fill the sky.

About 30 minutes’ drive from the inn, shop for antiques along Main Street in Old Town Salinas, where you also can get a hit of espresso (but try to resist the urge to check your e-mail) at Rollick’s cyber cafe. Hullabaloo restaurant serves up “bold American cooking” and generous portions of seafood, chops, steaks and specials. Close by is the National Steinbeck Center combining literature, history, agriculture and art exhibits. The towns of Gonzales, Soledad and Greenfield dot the valley southward. For Western-style hats, belt buckles and beautifully crafted silver watches, visit The New West in Gonzales, right next door to El Rinconcito, one of a half-dozen or so family-owned diners where, with any luck, you can share an order of fresh menudo (soup made with tripe, which is cow stomach) for lunch.

Like we said, love is trust.

Leave Nothing to Chance in Carmel Valley

Quail Lodge

Resorts come and resorts go, and sometimes they just keep going on and on. In Carmel Valley, the exceptional Quail Lodge is something of a local landmark—and now, thanks to a $25 million makeover finished last year, it is arguably one of the most attractive and elegant golf and spa resorts in the country. If you really want to nail a weekend of total indulgence, this could be your place.

Set amid 850 acres of rolling hills, tree-studded meadowland and velvety lawns, Quail is so complete, you will be hard-pressed to savor all of its amenities in a single visit. The 97 guest rooms and suites, done in a warm, tasteful, contemporary style, feature such niceties as plasma televisions, fireplaces and splendid views from private decks and patios.

The spa lacks nothing, with its gardens, poolside treatment cabanas (including one just for couples, so say yes), “wet room” hydrotherapy tub, Vichy shower, wide selection of facials and body treatments (the aloe and lavender wrap is sumptuous), manicures, pedicures . . . you get the picture. This is a slice of heaven.

For good measure—and good health—Quail has a Wellness Center, where you can undergo a fitness evaluation, then exercise alone, in supervised groups or one-on-one with a trainer. Classes include yoga, Pilates, fencing and meditation.

The golf course is a safe bet for a romantic weekend—Golf for Women magazine recently cited it as one of the most women-friendly courses in the United States. A 6,500-yard, par-71 jewel of manicured fairways lined by majestic oaks, pines and willows, the course is further enlivened by 10 shapely lakes and the ins and outs of the Carmel River.

At the Covey Restaurant, freshness (with an emphasis on local organic ingredients), creativity and presentation are meticulously observed. Menu choices might include seared Hudson Valley foie gras, sautéed Monterey Bay red abalone, roasted wild striped bass and Covey rack of lamb. Dessert is an even tougher call: flaming raspberry crêpes (tableside for two, with Grand Marnier and vanilla ice cream) or Floating Islands (crème anglaise, raspberries and caramel).

As absorbing as Quail Lodge is, don’t ignore the Carmel Valley completely. You’ll find abundant shopping in central Carmel Valley Village. For wine tasting, Talbott Vineyards is tops for its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Or just take in the sublime hillside scenery on horseback for an hour or two from historic Holman Ranch. For evening entertainment, the Magic Circle Theatre, known for contemporary plays, is presenting The Drawer Boy through Sept. 26.

For the rest of this story pick up a copy of Sacramento Magazine’s September issue.