From rustic retreats to ritzy resorts, these are the most romantic getaways in California.
Love is not only in the air in California. It’s in the mountains, the rivers, the forests, and in the sunsets over the Pacific Ocean.
Whether you’re looking for a city break, an escape to nature, or a luxury resort, the most romantic getaways in California are waiting for you.
Celebrate your relationship by soaring over the grape fields of Napa in a hot air balloon, soaking in a cliff-top hot tub at midnight, or sailing away to an exclusive island resort.
While luxury hotel stays and fancy restaurants don’t come cheap, there are also plenty of romantic getaways in California for couples on a budget. Love don’t have to cost a thing!
Whatever romance means to you, we’ve got you covered with this ultimate guide to the most romantic getaways in California.
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Table of Contents
Best Romantic Getaways in Northern California
What makes it romantic: California’s Napa Valley is the perfect destination for romantic getaways in California, whether you’re planning to pop the question or celebrating a milestone anniversary.
Best time to visit: Napa Valley is beautiful all year round, but harvest time – August to October – is the best time to visit.
What I love most about staying in the cosmopolitan Northern California city of Napa is the sheer range of options available to suit your style, from low-key to grand romantic gestures.
You could splash out for a once-in-a-lifetime dinner at French Laundry, the legendary three-Michelin-starred restaurant in nearby Yountville.
Or simply fill up a basket with goodies from the Oxbow Food Hall and find a quiet spot by the riverside for a picnic for two.
Take to the skies for an unforgettable hot air balloon ride over the vineyards at sunset. Or go for an afternoon bicycle tour of the Napa Valley wineries, sampling as you ride.
If you visit at harvest time, try grape stomping, a unique experience offered by some wineries in the region.
In other words: whatever your budget, you can’t go wrong in wine country.
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What makes it romantic: The naturally heated mineral springs and rich volcanic ash deposits in Calistoga are used to create the Northern California resort town’s famous mud bath.
Best time to visit: Spring, summer, and fall are the best times to visit Calistoga.
Where to stay: Dr. Wilkinsons Backyard Resort and Mineral Springs, Solage
In other words, it’s perfect for a spa retreat weekend.
Start the day with mimosas by the pool before indulging in a massage, mud bath, spa treatment, or just a long soak in the rejuvenating mineral waters of the hot tubs.
Once you’re appropriately relaxed, hit up nearby vineyards for a tasting tour. Castello Di Amoroso is a Tuscan-inspired castle deep in the hills of Calistoga, which you can visit with a reservation.
With a real moat, drawbridge, five towers, and even a torture chamber – all made from locally-sourced, hand-chiseled stone – the castle is worth checking out for its architecture alone.
Or take a tour over the grape fields on an aerial tram at Sterling Vineyards for stunning views of the valley before sampling wine at the hilltop winery.
And don’t worry, this might all sound pretty fancy, but there’s a resort in Calistoga for every taste and budget, from retro-chic motels to five-star luxury.
What makes it romantic: Sunset cruises, picnics in the park, and Michelin-starred restaurants make the City by the Bay a fun destination for a romantic escape.
Best time to visit: Year-round, but the weather is best in September.
If your idea of romantic getaways in California involves a great meal, San Francisco has your back. The city takes food and drink very seriously.
Show off your foodie knowledge by taking your significant other to La Taqueria in the trendy Mission neighborhood for a tasty taco. Or ride the cable car to Swan Oyster Depot, the seafood restaurant beloved by Anthony Bourdain.
Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park is a sweet spot for takeout, with picnic tables and a gorgeous view. For a high-end treat, check out Atelier Crenn, the three-Michelin-star restaurant in Cow’s Hollow.
Tour one of San Francisco’s many interesting museums, including SFMOMA, the deYoung in Golden Gate Park, and the California Academy of Sciences.
Finish the day with a serene sunset sail around the bay, seeing the Golden Gate Bridge glow in the evening light.
What makes it romantic: Mendocino’s small-town charm, beautiful inns, and stunning ocean views make this a special place to unwind with your loved one.
Best time to visit: September and October are good months to visit California’s northern coast.
Located three hours north of San Francisco in Northern California but a world away from the frantic pace of city life, Mendocino is a laid-back coastal haven.
The quiet downtown is full of interesting small businesses with no chain stores in sight.
There are plenty of opportunities to explore the beautiful surrounding redwood forests, rivers, and beaches of Mendocino County.
Hike out to the waterfalls of Russian Gulch State Park, or stroll along the coastal bluffs of Mendocino Headlands State Park and admire the Pacific Ocean vista.
But no one would blame you if you simply hung out at one of the traditional bed and breakfasts that offer delicious food, cozy fires, and spa treatments.
Looking for a complete list of what to do? Read our guide to the best things to do in Mendocino.
Best Romantic Getaways in Central California
What makes it romantic: Beach strolls, stunning sunset dinners, and moonlit hot tubs by the ocean – this stretch of pristine coastline is California’s most romantic road trip.
Best time to visit: Summer and fall are the best times to visit when the weather is mild. Winter is beautiful, but storms often close the road, completely blocking access to the area.
Big Sur is a rugged section of the Central Coast, bounded by the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Santa Lucia Mountains on the other.
The region’s wild beauty, small population, and luxury hotels make this an attractive destination for couples fleeing the city for a private romantic getaway.
Hollywood stars Anne Hathaway, Natalie Portman, and Jack Black were all married here, so you know it must be a pretty special (and beautiful) place.
Take a hike through the redwoods at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, then head to Pfeiffer Beach for a refreshing oceanside walk. Don’t miss McWay Falls, one of the most stunning waterfalls in the state.
Stop by Big Sur Bakery for a coffee and pastry and sit beneath a redwood on the sunny deck.
Book dinner at Nepenthe for sunset, where you can enjoy delicious Californian cuisine while watching the sun go down over the Pacific.
Later still, book time in a hot tub perched on a cliff at the famous Esalen Institute, which opens its hot springs to the public between 1 am and 3 am.
For a special weekend, stay at the adults-only Ventana, one of the most romantic hotels in California.
Cozy up in one of the suites with in-room fireplaces, or reconnect with nature in one of the comfortable glamping tents.
What makes it romantic: Quirky Carmel is a one-of-a-kind seaside city, full of whimsical cottages and boasting a lively arts scene.
Best time to visit: Visit year-round, although the weather is best in summer and fall.
Carmel is not only considered one of the most romantic cities in California, but it has also been rated as the third most romantic city in the world by Travel and Leisure magazine.
Carmel-by-the-Sea gained its romantic reputation with its elegant restaurants, cozy inns, and gorgeous beach.
The wide, white-sand Carmel Beach is one of the best in Northern California. It’s ideal for swimming, relaxing on the shore, or taking a sunset stroll by the Pacific Ocean.
You’ll find it a short walk from downtown, past beautiful homes modeled after a rural English village.
Exploring the town on foot or by bicycle is the best way to get around.
Partly because you will want to slow down to appreciate the chocolate-box cottages dotted throughout the city, but also due to a lack of addresses on houses, it’s pretty difficult for your GPS to navigate.
Ditch the car and embrace the slower pace of life, losing yourselves for a little while in this charming town. If you’re searching for romantic getaways in California, Carmel will not disappoint.
For an extended romantic weekend, combine a visit to Carmel with a road trip on the Pacific Highway down to Big Sur.
What makes it romantic: Relax on a sunny beach, tour wineries, and admire the stylish Spanish Mission architecture of this laid-back city on California’s central coast.
Best time to visit: Summer, although the mild climate makes Santa Barbara a great year-round destination.
Just a 90-minute drive north of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara is home to several celebrities who seek a quieter life in the Santa Ynez Mountains.
It’s a cosmopolitan city with high-end restaurants, interesting museums, and regular art festivals, yet you’re never far from nature.
If you feel rejuvenated by outdoor life, but your other half gets their kicks from culture, Santa Barbara is the perfect combination of the two.
Don’t miss buzzing State Street and Stearns Wharf for shopping, California cuisine, and people watching.
For a fun introduction to the city’s culinary scene, take a Santa Barbara Funk Zone Food and Photo Tour, where a local guide takes you around the city’s best eateries.
For a culture trip, check out the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.
San Luis Obispo
What makes it romantic: Conveniently located between vineyards and the ocean, San Luis Obispo is the ideal city for a romantic wine country getaway.
Best time to visit: Summer is a great time to visit San Luis Obispo.
Wandering around the hilly streets lined with colorful Queen Ann homes, San Luis Obispo is like a sunnier San Francisco.
The area is famous for its produce, which local restaurants make good use of.
If you’re heading to San Luis Obispo for a romantic weekend, don’t miss the Thursday night Farmers’ Market, where you’ll find live music and a popular barbecue stand.
A wine tour is a fun way to sample and learn more about the region’s varietals, but many local wineries also have tasting rooms downtown.
For a fun date night, head to Sunset Drive-in, one of the last drive-in movie theaters in central California, where you can enjoy a movie under the stars.
Exhausted by all that wine-tasting? Relaxing in a private hot tub in the forest at Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort and Spa in nearby Avila Beach is the best way to end the weekend.
Best Romantic Getaways in Southern California
What makes it romantic: Take your partner to the oasis of Palm Springs for a luxurious resort stay, dinners under a starlit sky, and adventures into the desert. This is one of the ultimate romantic getaways in California.
Best time to visit: With so much sunshine, there’s no wrong time to go for a Palm Springs romantic getaway. Having said that, December and January see the lowest temperatures and the most rain.
With an average of 350 days of sunshine a year, Palm Springs is the R&R capital of California.
Palm Springs has some of the most romantic resorts in California, where you can relax by an outdoor pool with drinks service, go for a couple’s spa treatment, or play a round of golf together.
Palm Springs is easy to get to from Los Angeles, and it’s also ideal for romantic getaways from nearby San Diego.
If you can drag yourself away from the sun lounger, Palm Springs also has an aerial tram to the top of Mount Jacinto. The two-and-a-half-mile trip features expansive views of the Chino cliffs and Coachella Valley below.
Or go on a Jeep safari to the San Andreas fault, where you can explore the famous geological fault line with a knowledgeable guide and learn about the wildlife in this fascinating area.
Take advantage of the warm desert nights and request a table outside at La Quinta Cliffhouse, built into the side of a cliff. Serving up modern Californian dishes, it’s a unique setting with delicious food.
Looking for more recommendations? Read our full guide to the best things to do in Palm Springs.
What makes it romantic: Legendary beaches, spectacular clifftop dining, and hikes in the Santa Monica Mountains – this glamorous seaside town has huge romance potential.
Best time to visit: Throughout the summer months.
Enjoy modern Californian cuisine under chandelier-lit oaks at Calamigos Ranch, a beautiful hotel set on 5,000 acres in the Santa Monica Mountains.
A popular wedding venue, dinner at Malibu Cafe is also guaranteed to be a romantic occasion.
For oceanfront dining, head to Nobu for high-end sushi or Geoffrey’s Malibu, which has been graced by Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, and John F. Kennedy.
Head to the best beach in Malibu to soak up some sun on a lounger under the palms: Paradise Cove. Controversially, the beach’s private owners charge up to $50 to visitors for all-day parking.
However, you can park for free, or much cheaper, by staying under four hours and eating at the Paradise Cove Cafe, a fabulous Southern Californian diner that sits right on the sand.
Malibu is more than just beautiful beaches. Drive out to the rolling hills of Malibu Creek State Park to find natural rock pools and an oak-shaded trail by a stream for a romantic hike.
Looking for more to do? Read our complete guide to the best things to do in Malibu.
What makes it romantic: Joshua Tree is the artsy desert town just outside Joshua Tree National Park and is the perfect Southern California romantic getaway for nature lovers.
Best time to visit: Winter or spring, as the temperatures soar to dangerously high levels during the summer.
The main draw for Joshua Tree is, of course, Joshua Tree National Park. The boulders, pines, cacti gardens, and wide skies are breathtaking and have inspired generations of artists.
Couples looking for a memorable photoshoot or who just enjoy walking together through beautiful landscapes will appreciate this special place.
If you want to stay inside the park overnight, you’ll need to camp.
Aside from bathrooms and one visitor center, there are no facilities in the park, so you’ll also need to bring in all your food (and firewood, if you plan to camp).
Many of the trails are a short drive from the town of Joshua Tree, so staying just outside the park at night is a good option as well.
If you’re looking for romantic getaways in Southern California on a budget, try glamping in a classic Airstream with modern amenities at the newly opened Autocamp Joshua Tree.
Alternatively, book a cozy, private vacation rental with amenities like a soaking pool or hot tub.
Aside from visiting the national park, Joshua Tree is full of offbeat art galleries, remnants of the Old West, and cute neighborhood restaurants.
Don’t miss the Noah Purifoy Desert Art Museum, with its beautiful sculptures made from repurposed junk.
Big Bear Lake
What makes it romantic: Spend the day playing in the snow before returning to your cabin, where you can cozy up together by the fire for a fun romantic weekend getaway in California.
Best time to visit: December through March for the ski season, or summer and fall if you prefer spending time at the lake instead of the snow.
Southern California’s best-known ski resort is ideal for winter romantic getaways in California.
Located deep in the San Bernardino Mountains, just over two hours’ drive from downtown Los Angeles, Big Bear Lake has many cool activities.
Try skiing, snowboarding, tubing, or hurtling down the Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain for some adrenaline-inducing fun. Or snowshoe through a winter wonderland of national forest trails for a more serene adventure.
Looking for more cute California snow towns? Read our guide to the best places to find snow in California.
Santa Catalina Island
What makes it romantic: Whisk your partner away to the glitzy island resort of Santa Catalina Island, the perfect destination for romantic getaways from Los Angeles.
Best time to visit: Summer and fall, when the weather is warm.
Santa Catalina, commonly known as Catalina Island, was bought by chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. in 1919, who dreamed of creating a world-class resort.
His vision is still very much alive today, with some of the most romantic hotels in Southern California and upmarket restaurants catering to visitors looking for an island escape.
There are no cars on the island, but you can easily get around with a golf cart or bicycle.
At night, enjoy a romantic dinner at one of the island’s beachfront restaurants, where you can sip a Buffalo Milk while enjoying the island breeze.
Best Romantic Getaways in the Sierra Nevada
What makes it romantic: Summer or winter, the sapphire waters of Lake Tahoe make for an adventurous, romantic getaway destination for outdoorsy couples.
Best time to visit: For hiking trails and lake activities, visit during the summer or fall. Ski season starts sometime in December and usually continues until March or April.
Whether you’re seeking the nightlife of South Lake Tahoe or prefer the relaxed mountain-town charm of Truckee, Lake Tahoe offers something for everyone.
Take a hike down to Vikingsholm at Emerald Bay, where you can tour the Scandinavian-inspired mansion and rent a double-kayak for a trip to the little island and its ruins.
Or, if your idea of a couples getaway in California involves a happy hour, book a sunset cruise aboard the elegant M.S. Dixie II. It’s an authentic paddle wheeler that serves up decadent cocktails and incredible views of Lake Tahoe.
During the winter months, book a stay at one of the lake’s upscale ski resorts, where you can ski, snowshoe, or sled during the day, and hit the casinos, bars, and restaurants at night.
Read our complete guide to the best things to do in Lake Tahoe, as well as where to find the best beaches, the difference between North and South Lake Tahoe, where to stay in Lake Tahoe, and where to camp in Lake Tahoe.
What makes it romantic: The Victorian architecture, tight-knit community, and beautiful surroundings make this Sierra town not just romantic but Hallmark Christmas Movie romantic.
Best time to visit: Weekends in December for the Victorian Christmas Market or mid-to-late January for the film festival. The town also looks stunning in the fall.
Nevada City, just outside California’s capital of Sacramento, is so picture-perfect it was the setting for “The Christmas Card,” one of Hallmark’s popular holiday movies.
The community offers visitors more than just small-town charm.
Nevada City’s downtown has elegant wine tasting rooms, antique shops, family-run stores, and Friar Tuck’s Restaurant, which offers fine dining with friendly service.
During December, Nevada City hosts a festive Victorian Christmas Market, complete with a spectacular Christmas tree. After Christmas, the town holds the popular Wild & Scenic Film Festival, which showcases environmental activism.
This unique combination of culture, cosmopolitan dining, and laid-back charm make Nevada City one of the most romantic getaways in California.
Read our complete guide about where to spend Christmas in California.
What makes it romantic: This historic gold-mining town is packed full of wine tasting rooms, great restaurants, and a saloon straight out of the Wild West.
Best time to visit: Fall is the best time to visit Gold Country when the summer crowds are lighter, and the trees change colors.
Murphys, with its Victorian-era architecture and plethora of downtown tasting rooms, is ideal for couples who enjoy food and wine. It’s also one of the best spots for romantic getaways from the Bay Area.
Book a table at Alchemy Cafe for fabulous twists on comfort foods, like roast pork belly and meatloaf.
Or, if you’re looking for a light bite, try one of the tasty sandwiches at Aria, a bakery that customers are happy to line up for.
Spend an afternoon dipping in and out of the many tasting rooms that have taken over Main Street’s stone buildings, or pull up a stool at Murphys Historic Hotel, which looks much the same as it did in its 1880s heyday.
The surrounding area is also beautiful, so be sure to explore the forests and mountains just outside of town.
Take a stroll in a grove of giant sequoias at nearby Calaveras Big Trees State Park, or check out Mercer Cavern for an underground adventure on your romantic weekend.
Stay in a boutique inn, where you can dream of your Gold Country adventures together.
Yosemite National Park
What makes it romantic: Experience some of California’s most stunning landscapes together before relaxing back at your log cabin in the state’s most popular national park.
Best time to visit: Yosemite is beautiful year-round, although snow blocks some areas during the winter months.
Whether you’re relaxing by an alpine lake, testing your limits on Half Dome, or strolling through a sunny meadow, Yosemite offers hiking trails for everyone. It’s the perfect place to make memories you can share forever.
Yosemite National Park is full of easy, flat trails and more challenging ascents, perfect for any level of outdoor enthusiast.
Trek through a peaceful pine forest to reach the photogenic Mirror Lake or take a short walk to dreamy Tuolumne Meadows for a picnic.
During the winter months, take a spin on the ice rink at Half Dome before warming up with a hot chocolate next to the fire pits. Or, visit in February to see the famous Yosemite Firefall.
In the summer, take advantage of the open roads to explore Tioga Pass or enjoy the view at Glacier Point.
At night, relax in a cozy cabin or fall asleep to the sounds of nature in a luxuriously-appointed yurt.
Whether you’re on a budget or looking to splash out, Yosemite promises to be one of your most memorable romantic getaways in California.
Get your FREE California Travel Planner – including printable checklists and my favorite two-week itinerary for the state.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sarah McDonald is a travel writer based in the Bay Area. She writes for the national parenting website Red Tricycle and on her own family travel blog, Tiny Trailblazers. She loves exploring California’s outdoors and has a weakness for a national park gift shop.
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