Escape is just a short drive away.

San Francisco
Credit: Courtesy of Calistoga Ranch

Winter in the San Francisco Bay Area means many things. To the north, it means a romantic crowd-free weekend in wine country, and to the south, it means watching the wilderness in misty forests. And if you head east, you’ll reach the best snow the state has seen in years. Can’t decide? Flip a coin or throw a dart—there’s no bad way to go.


Driving time: about two hours

A weekend in the Napa Valley doesn’t have to be all about sipping Schramsberg bubbly with all the other tourists on a sunny Saturday. Come winter, wine country draws smaller crowds for its mellow appeal and winter-themed spa treatments. Plus, cabernet season is just gearing up.

Base yourself in the farthest, most intimate nook of the Valley, Calistoga. At Calistoga Ranch, a discreet luxury resort tucked into a private canyon, hills are studded with old oak trees and strewn with trails perfect for a crisp winter hike. Sooth yourself with the spa’s winter-ready treatments that incorporate rejuvenating Ayurvedic techniques to battle winter’s dreary effects, then cozy up by the fireplace in one of the resort’s 50 cedar-shingled guest lodges.

In town, brunch with the locals at Sam’s Social Club. Then shop for modern home wares at Blackbird of Calistoga or grapevine ash-glazed ceramics at Calistoga Pottery.

Fort Bragg

Driving time: about three and a half hours

Until recently, this humble Mendocino town was known mostly for its charming flannel-clad resident lumberjacks and daredevil abalone divers. They’re still there, but newcomer Inn at Newport Ranch, an adventure lodge situated on a 2,000-acre preserve, has injected new life into this sleepy seaside town after opening last fall.

When you’re not watching the wrath of the Pacific pound the coast from the bluffs sip on Fort Bragg’s award-winning specialty beers, which get the wine treatment at North Coast Brewing with barrel-aged grand cru and “barely wine reserve.” Go between January 22 and 31 to get in on the Mendocino Crab, Wine, and Beer Festival, with a crab feed and crab cake cook-off in town.

Big Sur

Driving time: about three hours

While crowds tirelessly flock to Big Sur in the summertime, nature tends to do so in winter. Monarch butterflies migrate to the mist-shrouded coastal forest, California condors stretch their massive wings above redwood forests, and grey whales breach off the coastline. Perch yourself at Post Ranch Inn’s luxury cliff-side treehouses, but save time for exploring the nature beyond this eco-chic resort.

Fuel up with the breakfast at wood-fired pastries at roadside Big Sur Bakery, then hit the trail. See a sampling of stunning views on the ambitious Andrew Molera loop trail (8.8 miles) or opt for the short and easy-but-rewarding McWay Waterfall Trail. Experience the flavorful side of the local ecology January 15 through 17 during the Big Sur Foragers Festival, with mushroom hunting treks and foraged food dinners. The sleek Ventana Inn is offering an overnight package for festivalgoers.


Driving time: about three and a half hours

After years of warm winters and slushy snow, California finally has a snow season it can brag about again. The best place to get in on the powder? The Ritz Carlton, Lake Tahoe. The ski-in, ski-out resort recently launched a weekend apres-ski program featuring champagne and oysters at their new outdoor Champagne Bar.

Recoup from a long day on the slopes with the resort’s Tahoe “Time Out” massage, which uses pine essence and cedar wood oil to ease sore muscles and fatigue. For dinner, splurge on the chef’s tasting menu at one of the most inspired fine dining restaurants in the region, Trokay (think chestnut, cured egg yolk, and house-made ricotta tortellini).

Half Moon Bay

Driving time: about a half hour

Every winter the world’s best surfers travel to Half Moon Bay to shred big breakers at the infamous Titans of Mavericks big wave surf competition, which takes place between November and March. For people who want to get out on the water without risking their lives, try standup paddle boarding on the bay’s placid waters with Mavericks PaddleSports, newly opened by the competition’s founder and fellow surfer, Jeff Clark. While it’s easily doable as a day trip from San Francisco, the brand new Nantucket Whale Inn offers one more reason to stay the weekend.

Jenna Scatena is on the San Francisco Bay Area beat for Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.