Find unbeatable hiking, exhilarating scenery and a low-key neighborhood vibe at this woodsy coastal retreat.
Check out: Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (47555 Hwy 1; 831-667-2315), a coastal hiking and camping site with redwood groves and an 80-foot waterfall. Visit Hawthorne Gallery (48485 Hwy 1; 831-667-3200), which represents artists across the Pacific Northwest and maintains a lovely sculpture garden and rooftop patio overlooking the ocean. Abandon your modesty for a soak in the clothing-optional hot springs at Esalen Institute (55000 Hwy 1; 888-837-2536) a New Age retreat that’s open to the public by reservation only. Watch the sunset from the heated patio at Nepenthe (48510 Hwy 1; 831-667-2345), where you’ll get views of the mountains and ocean. (Tip: Skip the overpriced food and stick with drinks instead.)
Eat at: The recently reopened Big Sur Roadhouse (47080 Hwy 1; 831-667-2370), for Cajun fare with a California twist. Nosh on an assortment of baked goods, pastries and wood-fired pizzas at the idyllic Big Sur Bakery (47540 Hwy 1; 831-667-0520).
Drink at: Big Sur Taphouse (47520 Hwy 1; 831-667-2225), a no-frills beer bar stocked with board games, flat-screens and 10 brews on tap, most for $5 or less.
Stay at: Treebones Resort (71895 Hwy 1; 805-927-2390), a community of yurts furnished with queen-sized beds and heaters (rates start at $215). For less of a glamping experience—but far better photos—roll out sleeping bags in the Human Nest, a lofted, woven-wood-art shelter. Rates start at $150.
Packed with art, wine and history, the charming seaside town feels downright European.
Check out: The historic Carmel Mission (3080 Rio Rd; 831-624-1271), arguably the most stunning of California’s 21 Spanish-era missions. Hike through Point Lobos State Reserve (Hwy 1 and Riley Ranch Rd), where trails wind along the Pacific coast. Afterwards, relax at Refuge (27300 Rancho San Carlos Rd; 831-620-7360), a thermal spa featuring hot and cool pools, steam rooms, saunas and fire pits. Pack a picnic at the Cheese Shop (Carmel Plaza, Ocean Ave and Junipero Ave; 831-625-2272) and stake out a spot on Carmel Beach to watch the sunset.
Eat at: Earthbound Farm (7250 Carmel Valley Rd; 831-625-6215), a casual farm stand offering a range of organic salads and sandwiches. Indulge in elevated comfort food like lobster mac and cheese or Kobe beef burgers at Lokal (13762 Center St; 831-659-5886), a rustic café with a rotating chalkboard menu. And dig into wood-fired pizzas at La Bicyclette (29 Dolores St, Carmel; 831-622-9899), the quaint, lower-priced sister-restaurant to romantic Italian spot Casanova.
Stay at: The Quail Lodge (8205 Valley Greens Dr; 831-624-2888), which completed a $28 million makeover in 2013. The updated rooms have hardwood floors, vaulted ceilings and cushy window seats—request a view of the lake. Rooms start at $195.
Napa and Sonoma
A hotbed of farm-to-table food, decadent hotels and sun-drenched vineyards, wine country is a favored getaway for the fog-weary.
Check out: Scribe Winery (2300 Napa Rd, Sonoma; 707-939-1858), an unpretentious, vintage-adorned tasting room. Then head next door to Gundlach Bundschu (2000 Denmark St, Sonoma; 707-938-5277), the oldest family winery in California. Though historic, it’s not stuffy: Gun Bun frequently hosts outdoor concerts, movie nights and music fests. Veer into downtown Napa to peruse Oxbow (610 1st St, Napa; 707-226-6529), a sprawling indoor market filled with restaurants, shops and farm stands. Scope out the Instagram-worthy Tiddle E. Winks (115 E Napa St, Sonoma, 707-939-6933), a retro five-and-dime–styled candy store.
Eat at: The Thomas (813 Main St, Napa; 707-226-7821), a former Prohibition-era speakeasy that’s now a restaurant and craft cocktail lounge with rooftop seating. Sample seasonal fare at the Girl & the Fig (110 W Spain St, Sonoma; 707-938-3634), a wine-focused French bistro, or Harvest Moon Cafe (487 1st St W, Sonoma; 707-933-8160), a cozy farm-to-table eatery.
Stay at: The Carneros Inn (4048 Sonoma Hwy, Napa; 707-299-4900), a resort of private cottages where the hilltop infinity pool offers vineyard views (rooms start at $450). If that's a bit of a stretch, check out the El Dorado Hotel (405 1st St, Sonoma; 707-996-3220), a modern, convenient spot overlooking Sonoma Square. Rates start at $205.
Fifty miles north of San Francisco, this city balances its arty, hippie past with a youthful, vibrant bar and food scene.
Check out: The Barlow (6770 McKinley St, #120; 707-824-5600), a four-block compound filled with restaurants, distilleries, breweries and galleries. Drive down Florence Ave, a 14-mile-long outdoor gallery of so-called “junk art” by artists Patrick Amiot and Bridgette Laurent. Then dig through rare books, art, furniture and decor at the Antique Society (2661 Gravenstein Hwy; 707-829-1733), a quirky collective of 125 dealers. On the way, take a short detour into the hippie town of Freestone to taste Wildflour Bakery’s justifiably famous fougasse and sticky buns (140 Bohemian Hwy; 707-874-2938).
Eat at: Hole in the Wall (972 Gravenstein Hwy S; 707-861-3777), a tiny, down-home diner best known for breakfast and lunch. Gorge on deftly spiced Indian food at Himalayan Tandoori & Curry House (969 Gravenstein Hwy S; 707-824-1800). Top it off with all-natural ice cream in flavors like olive oil, chai and lavender at Screamin’ Mimi’s (6902 Sebastopol Ave; 707-823-5902).
Drink at: Iron Horse Vineyard (9786 Ross Station Rd; 707-887-1507), a hilltop winery and open-air wine bar known for its sparkling wines.
Stay at: Pearlessence Vineyard Inn (4097 Hessel Rd; 707-823-5092), a pretty B&B with thoughtful perks like heated floors, rain showers and an outdoor fire pit. Rooms start at $220.
This sleepy fishing town is known for its fresh oysters and natural beauty.
Check out: Toby’s Feed Barn (11250 Hwy 1; 415-663-1223), a family-owned community center that includes a generously stocked general store, a farmer’s market, a yoga studio, an art gallery and a coffee bar. Explore the work of the area’s many local artists (woodcut artisan and printmaker Tom Killion is among the best known) at the biannual Point Reyes Open Studios. Hike along Point Reyes National Seashore (1 Bear Valley Rd; 415-663-1835), where you can watch the elephant seals gather at Chimney Rock and descend the stairs to the Point Reyes Lighthouse. Then rent a kayak or paddle-board to see the coastline from a different angle (pointreyesoutdoors.com or bwkayak.com).
Eat at: The Marshall Store (19225 State Rt 1; 415-663-1339), the best spot for fresh-shucked oysters in a town famous for oysters. Pick up picnic fixings, sandwiches and prepared foods—just make sure, whatever it is, it involves cheese—at Cowgirl Creamery (80 4th St; 415-663-9335).
Drink at: Find live music—and cheap drinks—at Old Western Saloon (11201 Hwy 1; 415-663-1661), a local dive.
Stay at: Nick’s Cove (23240 Hwy 1; 415-663-1033), where the bayside cottages are equipped with kitchenettes and wood-burning stoves. Rates start at $249.
City dwellers flock to soak up some sun and take a boozy, meandering trip down the Russian River.
Check out: The Rio Theater (20396 Bohemian Hwy; 707-865-0913), a historic movie theater and café that was recently renovated by the husband-and-wife duo behind the Mission’s shuttered Curiosity Shoppe. Swing by the Guerneville 5&10 (16252 Main St; 707-869-3404), an old-timey general store filled with candy and kitsch that sells inflatable inner tubes for floating down the Russian River. (You can also rent kayaks and canoes at nearby Johnson's Beach.) Browse oddball decor, art and antiques at Sonoma Nesting Company (16151 Main St; 707-869-3434). Then hike among towering redwoods at the Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve (17000 Armstrong Woods Rd; 707-869-2015).
Eat at: Big Bottom Market (16228 Main St; 707-604-7295), a home store, gourmet market and café serving fresh-baked biscuits, sandwiches and salads. Share small plates and sample locally raised meats at Boon Eat + Drink (16248 Main St; 707-869-0780).
Drink at: Russian River Brewing Co. (725 4th St; 707-545-2337), a brewery and pub that offers tastings by glass or flight.
Stay at: Boon Hotel + Spa (14711 Armstrong Woods Rd; 707-869-2721), a boutique hotel with a saline hot tub and in-room fireplaces. Rooms start at $160; Boon also offers comfortable tent-cabins starting at $129.
Though Healdsburg is traditionally known for antique shops and wine, the recent openings of SHED and the H2Hotel have given it a reputation for smart design.
Check out: SHED (25 North St; 707-431-7433), an airy home and garden store, café, market and event space that won a James Beard Award for restaurant design. Healdsburg Avenue, the city’s main drag, is lined with treasure-filled vintage and antique shops. Hit Antique Harvest (225 Healdsburg Ave; 707-433-0223), Mill Street Antiques (44 Mill St; 707-433-8409) and Seahoney (137 Matheson St; 707-217-1387). Pedal between vineyards with Wine Country Bikes (61 Front St; 866-922-4537), which offers guided tours or hands-off bike rentals. Don’t miss Limerick Lane Cellars (1023 Limerick Ln; 707-433-9211), an off-the-beaten-path winery known for its zinfandels.
Eat at: Scopa (109A Plaza St; 707-433-5282), an Italian joint known for pizza and house-made pasta—just look for the barber shop sign out front. Chalkboard (29 North St; 707-473-8030) is a California-inspired tapas restaurant and wine bar. Start your day with Downtown Bakery & Creamery’s substantial breakfast pizzas, available weekday mornings (308 Center St; 707-431-2719).
Drink at: Bergamot Alley (328 Healdsburg Ave; 707-433-8720), an after-hours bar offering live music, an eclectic wine list—and grilled cheese.
Stay at: H2Hotel (219 Healdsburg Ave; 707-922-5251), the younger, hipper spin-off of the Hotel Healdsburg, which has a fleet of Public bikes for guests to borrow. Rooms start at $195.
Lake Tahoe and Truckee
Populated by moneyed ski buffs and chilled-out boarders, this ski hub encapsulates laid-back luxury.
Check out: There’s more to Tahoe than its ski slopes. Trek to Emerald Bay (11001 CA-89, South Lake Tahoe; 530-541-3030), a shockingly turquoise inlet ringed by hiking trails. Shop for clothes, home decor and gifts at Bespoke (10130 Donner Pass Rd, Truckee; 530-582-5500). Choose from more than 500 wines—many from family-owned vineyards—at The Pour House (10075 Jibboom St, Truckee; 530-550-9664), a tiny, but well-stocked tasting room and cheese shop. Hear local bands at Moody’s (10007 Bridge St, Truckee; 530-587-8688), a bar and live music venue in the Truckee Hotel.
Eat at: Marg’s Taco Bistro (10164 Donner Pass Rd, Truckee; 530-587-6274) a festive newcomer serving internationally inspired tacos, from banh mi to mahi-mahi. Chow down on lobster rolls and fresh seafood at Morgan’s Lobster Shack (10089 W River St, Truckee; 530-582-5000).
Stay at: Basecamp Hotel (4143 Cedar Ave, South Lake Tahoe; 530-208-0180), a playful, modern hotel that looks like the set of a Wes Anderson movie. Rooms start at $89.
An upscale detour in wine country, Calistoga’s the top spot for spa treatments, mineral baths and hot springs.
Check out: The Castello di Amorosa (4045 N St. Helena Hwy; 707-967-6272), a majestic castle and winery encompassing a vaulted barrel room, a chapel, a great hall adorned with hand-painted frescoes, a terrace and an outdoor courtyard. (Don’t miss the menagerie grazing out front, which includes sheep, ostrich, peacocks, emu, goats and chickens.) Soak in an Olympic-sized mineral pool at local mainstay Indian Springs (1712 Lincoln Ave; 707-942-4913), then sample fine wines in a vintage Airstream trailer at the Grade Cellars (Hwy 29, between Lawley Old Toll Rd and Tubbs Ln; 707-967-8200). Hike among blooming wildflowers on the uncrowded Oat Hill Mine Trail (Hwy 29 and Silverado Trail; 707-942-4575), a former wagon trail with views of the Palisades.
Eat at: SolBar (755 Silverado Trail; 707-226-0850), the Solage resort’s Michelin-starred eatery serving seasonal fare like locally raised pork tenderloin and truffle-topped pasta. Dig into pulled pork, brisket, and ribs hot off the pit at Buster’s (1207 Foothill Blvd; 707-942-5605), a southern-style barbecue joint. Then ease off your wine-tasting hangover with a loaded breakfast sandwich and strong coffee at Calistoga Roastery (1426 Lincoln Ave; 707-942-5757).
Drink at: Evangeline (755 Silverado Trl; 707-341-3131), a new French-inspired bistro and cocktail bar from the Solage team—think low-lit orb chandeliers, gray upholstered banquettes and muted wood accents.
Stay at: Solage Calistoga (755 Silverado Trail; 866-942-7442), a high-end resort that touts complimentary yoga classes, free bicycle rentals, bocce courts and a gorgeous 130-foot pool. Rooms from $490. Also noteworthy: the upscale, European-style B&B Chateau de Vie (3250 California 128; 707-942-6446), where rates start at $269.
It’s been a popular silver screen setting for a reason: This seaside strip along Highway 1 affords unparalleled coastal views and beaches.
Check out: Saint Teresa of Avila Church (17242 Bodega Hwy; 707-874-3812), the white chapel immortalized in Hitchcock’s The Birds. Rent kayaks, paddle boards, wetsuits and surfboards at the Bodega Bay Surf Shack (1400 N Hwy 1; 707-875-3944). Ascend Bodega Head (3799 Westshore Rd; 707-875-3483), a rugged lookout overlooking Sonoma Coast State Beach. In the fall, it’s a prime whale watching post.
Eat at: Fisherman’s Cove (1850 Bay Flat Rd; 707-377-4238), for raw oysters, Dungeness crab, cod tacos and fish and chips. Also worthy: Spud Point Crab Company (1860 Westshore Rd; 707-875-9472), a casual spot specializing in crab sandwiches and clam chowder.
Drink at: Gourmet au Bay (913 Hwy 1; 707-875-9875), a well-appointed wine bar with a pretty patio overlooking the bay. Try the wine flights.
Stay at: Bodega Bay Lodge (103 Coast Hwy 1; 707-875-3525), a short stroll to Doran Beach; rooms are outfitted with fireplaces, soaking tubs and Bose stereos, and rates start at $179.