13 Most Romantic Getaways in California — From Malibu to Big Sur

These romantic California destinations will rekindle the spark (and your wanderlust).

Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur, California
Photo: Allard Schager/Getty Images

California may be the third-largest state in the country by area, but it's unrivaled in regards to romance. Stretching from the Mexico border in the south to Oregon in the north, the Golden State is famed for its dramatic coastline, SoCal surf vibes, ancient redwood forests, mountains, rolling farmlands, and desert landscapes. Big cities like sunny Los Angeles and foggy San Francisco garner ample affection, while smaller communities just outside the urban sprawl, including Malibu, Ojai, and Sausalito, are irresistible, too.

There are spectacular national and state parks, world-class wine regions, and countless opportunities for long walks on the beach. California has some of the best and most exciting restaurants in the U.S., which makes it a cinch to impress your sweetie with a special date-night dinner. And, of course, a drive up the Pacific Coast Highway is the stuff of road trip dreams.

With such variety for every type of couple, California is ready-made for a romantic getaway. You just have to decide what tempting spot to hit first.

Carmel-by-the-Sea

Carmel Mission at Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
Pgiam/Getty Images

A charming destination that resembles a movie set, Carmel-by-the-Sea enchants all who visit. This storybook Central Coast community on the Monterey Peninsula is the perfect place for duos to soak in some seaside relaxation while still enjoying plenty of things to do. The tiny downtown area feels like a fairytale village with atmospheric restaurants, art galleries, and cute shops. Of course, you'll also want to take some time for romantic activities like wine tasting and savoring a picnic lunch on Carmel Beach.

Ojai

Ojai Valley, California
Cameran Ashraf/Getty Images

California has a lot of great coastal towns, but bohemian Ojai is one of the most enrapturing inland gems that romance seekers shouldn't overlook. Downtown buzzes with boutiques, farm-to-fork restaurants such as The Nest, and breweries. If wine tasting is more your thing, that's doable, too, as are strolls along the 9.5-mile Ojai Valley Trail. Just a fair warning that all of these appealing pursuits require leaving the fireplace coziness and panoramic views of your room at the Ojai Valley Inn, a proposition that might not be so easy for many pairs.

Healdsburg

Sunrise at vineyard in Healdsburg, California
b33photography/Getty Images

Healdsburg is a vibrant wine country destination for sipping, savoring, and spa time. Marine Layer Wines and Lioco are some of the best spots to swirl in downtown. A short drive outside of town, you'll find many excellent wineries in the Dry Creek Valley. Whether you prefer farm-to-table fare with a side of Provence courtyard charm (like Barndiva) or something hip and veg-forward (like Little Saint), a splendid restaurant is never more than a few blocks away. Topping the list of most romantic places to spend the night? Harmon Guest House and the Montage Healdsburg.

Big Sur

Bixby Bridge in Big Sur, California
Jason Finn/Getty Images

An essential stop on any Pacific Coast Highway road trip, and a destination that warrants its own visit, Big Sur is defined by its breathtaking scenery. Towering ancient redwoods give way to coastal cliffs, and a veil of mist often cloaks the sky. There are hiking trails for all skill levels, plus some dreamy overnight accommodations, from adults-only luxury boutique resorts like Ventana Big Sur and Post Ranch Inn (both also have award-winning restaurants) to cozy cabins, glamping sites, and rugged campgrounds.

Malibu

Homes on beach in Malibu, California
halbergman/Getty Images

Malibu is more than just a refuge for celebs trying to escape the flashing bulbs and furtive glances of Hollywood; it's a drive-through beach town with a road-tripping sensibility and major chill factor. Here, you're just as likely to see classic and luxury cars as motorcycles cruising along the Pacific Coast Highway. The motel-turned-boutique-hotel game is strong, too, with spots like The Surfrider Malibu and swanky Nobu Ryokan Malibu. It's also a breeze to find a secluded stretch of sand to roll out a blanket, uncork a bottle of wine, and share a burrito from longtime local favorite Lily's.

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park, California
Schroptschop/Getty Images

Joshua Tree National Park has become a popular place for photographers and content creators, but at its core, the area is a paradise of otherworldly scenery and outdoor adventure that attracts nature lovers and literal lovers alike. While nothing could possibly hold a candle to the stunning natural environment, the slew of tricked-out retro Airstreams and immaculately designed cabins come pretty close. Some lodgings even have outdoor claw-foot tubs, so couples can relish a soak while gazing up at the celestial magic above.

Palm Springs

Mid-Century Modern Home in Palm Springs, California
Solidago/Getty Images

It's not just the scorching temperatures that make Palm Springs a sizzling escape. Since Hollywood's Golden Age, A-list duos have run away to this desert paradise for a little R&R and a lot of romance. Swaying palms and majestic mountains frame a hip, happening downtown that's dotted with restaurants and vintage shops, while stylish boutique stays like The Colony Palms and Parker Palm Springs entice design-conscious pairs looking to live that private casita life for a few days.

Bodega Bay

Bodega Bay, California
Amy Boyle/EyeEm/Getty Images

Most people associate Sonoma County with rolling vineyards and wineries. Bodega Bay reveals a vastly different and intoxicatingly beautiful coastal side of the region. It's a quick, scenic drive from the best wine towns in Northern California, making it a great day trip if you're craving a change of scenery. But the romantic move is to stay the night at The Lodge at Bodega Bay. The next morning, start the day with an ocean-view hike followed by oysters at one of the famous local seafood joints.

Sausalito

Aerial view of Sausalito, California
DianeBentleyRaymond/Getty Images

Just across the bay from San Francisco, Sausalito feels like the antithesis of its fast-paced neighbor. It's a leisurely coastal destination where walking along the marina and admiring the bobbing houseboats counts as a well-spent afternoon. If you're into hiking, biking, or simply gawking at the majesty of nature, prepare to be enamored by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. As far as accommodations are concerned, it's impossible not to fall head over heels for the historic ambience and unobstructed Golden Gate Bridge views at Cavallo Point.

Los Alamos

Vineyard in Los Alamos, California
George Rose/Getty Images

Nested in the Santa Ynez Valley, not far from Santa Barbara, Los Alamos is an under-the-radar wine destination that's scenic and not very touristy. Despite its crave-worthy wine (terroir-driven pours at Bedford Winery, Casa Dumetz Wines, and Lumen Wines are particularly pleasing) and culinary scene, Los Alamos still holds onto a real sense of authenticity. Fans of vintage vibes will flip for Skyview Los Alamos, a hilltop hideaway set off Highway 101 that pays homage to its roots as a 1950s roadside motel.

Death Valley National Park

Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park, California
Carlos Fernandez/Getty Images

A romantic trip to Death Valley National Park — a gorgeous place with an admittedly grim-sounding name — is all about observing striking scenery with the person you love most. Visiting the Badwater Basin's salt flats, the lowest point in North America, is sure to be a beautiful bonding experience. Artists Palette and Zabriskie Point are two more can't-miss spots. Beyond witnessing incredible feats of nature, couples can rent a yurt or one of the other glamping accommodations, roast marshmallows, and snuggle under the stars.

Kenwood

Vineyard in Kenwood, California
KentSorensen/Getty Images

For a quieter, more low-key Sonoma County getaway that scores high marks for wine and romance, the unassuming town of Kenwood is the consummate choice. It's home to a handful of excellent wineries (not to mention an extraordinary gastronomic experience that awaits at Hamel Family Wines just minutes down the road) and Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, and close to Sonoma Botanical Garden. Meanwhile, Kenwood Inn & Spa oozes Italianate splendor and a distinctly grown-up atmosphere that will transport you to Tuscany — all without leaving the Golden State.

Half Moon Bay

Sunset at Halfmoon Bay in California
Julius Mueller/Getty Images

If you live in the San Francisco area and surf, chances are you've heard of Half Moon Bay. Besides riding mavericks, it's a superb place for a romantic getaway — provided you check into The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay. Set atop a bluff, this luxury hotel has refined rooms with fire pits and sweeping ocean views, as well as a world-class golf course, three mouthwatering restaurants, and a posh spa. Be sure to reserve a table at The Conservatory for dinner and cap off the evening with some bubbly and s'mores on your private terrace.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles