The author admiring the view in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, one of the top romantic getaways in California

25 Romantic Getaways in California for 2023 (By a Local)

There are more romantic getaways in California than in most other American states. From fairytale cottage villages to open desert plains and small, old-timey American towns, there is an abundant variety of weekend trips to choose from.

I’ve lived in California my whole life and have done my fair share of road-tripping. I’ve discovered the best places in California for romance by exploring the golden state extensively. Here are the best getaways I found during my travels around California.

Disclosure: Travel Lemming is an independent reader-supported blog. You can support us by purchasing via the affiliate links on this page, which may earn us commissions. Thank you!

25 Best California Weekend Getaways

Idyllwild

The author holding the Mt. San Jacinto Peak signage at the top of it during winter
Me, on top of the tallest mountain in Idyllwild in the winter

🗺️ Distance from San Bernardino: 1 hour, 15 minutes | Google Maps | Destination Website | 👉 Search Hotels in Idylwild on Booking

If you’re in need of a remote mountain escape, then a retreat into the Idyllwild woods awaits. Nestled in the San Jacinto mountains and not too far from Palm Springs, this mountain town is one of the top romantic getaways in California.

There are tons of Idyllwild cabins to rent in the quiet mountain town, many of which have either in-room fireplaces or outdoor fire pits. Idyllwild in the wintertime is coated with fresh layers of snow and the perfect time to snuggle up to a cozy fire.

This romantic getaway destination also offers visitors hundreds of hiking trails. If you are looking for an ambitious adventure, then Mount San Jacinto is the tallest mountain in the area at 10,834 feet. Idyllwild is one of the best California mountain towns with romance seeping around every pine tree.

Get planning with my list of things to do in Idyllwild.

San Francisco

A couple relaxing on San Francisco with the view of the Golden Gate Bridge from afar
A couple relaxes to gaze at the Golden Gate Bridge

🗺️ Distance from San Jose: 1 hour | Google Maps | Destination Website | 👉 Search Hotels in San Francisco on Booking

San Francisco is the major hub of Northern California. The quintessential foggy weather makes visitors layer up in their warmest, fuzziest clothes, and nights spent with a hot cup of cocoa in hand by the fire are commonplace. 

The hilly city is home to many tourist attractions, including the allure of the giant Golden Gate Bridge. Spend a quiet day relaxing on Baker Beach with towering views of the golden giant in the near distance. 

The charm of historic San Francisco makes this city one of the best romantic getaways in California. The chipper cable car bells can be heard from everywhere in downtown SF, welcoming the San Francisco morning with a song a century old.

👉 Pro Tip: Here are the best San Francisco tours, a great way to experience the grand city for the first time.

Santa Barbara

Overlooking view of the Pacific Ocean under the clear blue sky in Santa Barbara
Cozy Spanish-style buildings overlook the Pacific Ocean in Santa Barbara

🗺️ Distance from Los Angeles: 2 hours | Google Maps | Destination Website | 👉 Search Hotels in Santa Barbara on Booking

There’s nothing as serenading as waking up to the sound of soft waves crashing in the morning. Santa Barbara is only two hours north of Los Angeles and is one of the most romantic getaways in California. 

Browse around the Spanish-style stores in the downtown area, many of which are draped in Bougainvilleas. Santa Barbara is a classic example of a hybrid ecosystem with the California desert colliding with the coastal environment.

Visiting Santa Barbara is one of the best things to do in California. The Old Santa Barbara Mission is one of the major draws to the city and is appreciated by individuals of all ages. Relax at this city landmark under the garden trees with a sweet coastal breeze.

Most of the accommodations in Santa Barbara are either adobe-style houses or luxury hotels right on the beach. This will be one of the classiest romantic getaways you will have in California.

Napa Valley

View from the outside of a Napa Valley castle winery
A Napa Valley castle winery

🗺️ Distance from Sacramento: 1 hour, 10 minutes | Google Maps | Destination Website | 👉 Search Hotels in Napa Valley on Booking

Napa Valley is one of the ultimate romantic getaways in California. Located in wine country USA in central California, Napa exuberates allure.

Escape to the rolling hills and vineyards of Napa to go wine tasting in a European-style stone castle or a modern abode. Guests enjoy the wine caves, charcuterie bites, and scenic wine-tasting rooms while in Napa Valley.

Napa is best suited for individuals over 21 years of age but there are also family-friendly activities to do like a hot air balloon ride or park playgrounds around town. 

Be sure to check out my guide on the top wineries in Napa Valley to be fully prepared before you go.

Carmel-by-the-Sea

A house with a garden in Carmel-by-the-Sea
An iconic Carmel fairytale cottage

🗺️ Distance from San Jose: 1 hour, 15 minutes | Google Maps | Destination Website | 👉 Search Hotels in Carmel-by-the-Sea on Booking

There’s nothing more romantic than staying in a seaside storybook cottage on California’s central coast. The mystique of Carmel-by-the-Sea is so great that it puts Carmel at the top of our list for romantic getaways in California.

Besides fairytale architecture, this unspoiled seaside gem offers quaint boutiques, a historic mission overlooking the ocean, art galleries, and wineries that dot the downtown village.

Visitors of all ages appreciate the beauty of Carmel-by-the-Sea. There are equal parts families as there are honeymooners, all drawn to the area’s unique California charisma. 

Carmel-by-the-Sea is less than three hours south of San Francisco and makes the perfect excursion from the big city.

👉 Pro Tip: First time in Carmel-by-the-Sea? Check out these Carmel tours for the best experience. 

Julian

The author taking a mirror selfie inside a saloon in Julian
I visited a Western-style saloon in Julian

🗺️ Distance from San Diego: 1 hour, 15 minutes | Google Maps | Destination Website | 👉 Search Hotels in Julian on Booking

A quirky little town on the way to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Julian is an old-timey American village. You will feel like you’ve been transported back in time to the early days of small-town America with a trip to this hillside town.

Julian has old American diners complete with soda jerks and classic car models on display. The town is also widely known for its fresh pies and roadside apple cider, brewed to perfection either hot or cold.

Julian visitors can enjoy various hiking trails in the area like the Three Sisters waterfall hike. This is an ideal hike in the summertime when the waterfall pools beacon you to take a dip in their refreshing waters. 

Julian is one of a few romantic places in Southern California that is not well-known but loved by all who visit.

Lake Tahoe

Glasses of red wine and a cheese and grapes on a wooden board in Lake Tahoe
Wining and dining with a lake view

🗺️ Distance from Sacramento: 2 hours | Google Maps | Destination Website | 👉 Search Hotels in Lake Tahoe on Booking

Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America. Completely engulfed by pines, Lake Tahoe is the perfect mountain escape you need.

One of the best romantic getaways in California, Lake Tahoe is beautiful from every angle. You will never run out of things to do in this Sierra Nevada Mountain town nor will you want to leave at the end of your trip.

Lake Tahoe gladly welcomes visitors of all ages and offers many outdoor activities like skiing, hiking, mountain biking, paddle boarding, and more! This town is a nature enthusiast’s favorite vacation and because it is so far away from major cities, it gives the impression of complete isolation.

Escape to the woods of Tahoe on your next romantic getaway for complete alpine relaxation.

Yosemite National Park

A couple admiring the view in Yosemite National Park during their hike
A couple taking a hiking break to appreciate Half Dome in the distance

🗺️ Distance from Sacramento: 2 hours, 45 minutes | Google Maps | Destination Website | 👉 Search Hotels in Yosemite on Booking

Yosemite is arguably the most popular park in California. Enjoy a romantic getaway to this Sierra Nevada Mountain oasis with dense history and an even thicker forest.

Stay in one of the grand lodges inside the park or opt for a different kind of experience by tent camping. Yosemite is perhaps the best place in California to hike, spot wildlife, and rock climb. Outdoor enthusiasts flock to Yosemite National Park as one of the main pit stops on an ultimate California road trip

If you’re looking for a romantic experience in the national park, take your partner on a sunrise or sunset viewpoint hike like North Dome or Cloud’s Rest. Another good option for romance inside the national park is a picnic in Tuolumne Meadows.

👉 Pro Tip: Be bear aware. California black bears inhabit the national park so it’s wise to stay on guard during your stay in Yosemite.

Santa Catalina Island

The Catalina Island view from above
View of Catalina from the hills

🗺️ Distance from Long Beach Ferry: 1 hour | Google Maps | Destination Website | 👉 Search Hotels in Santa Catalina Island on Booking

Hop on a ferry from the Long Beach port or take your own boat over to Santa Catalina Island for peace and relaxation. Only a short ferry ride to the island, Catalina receives visitors year-round from individuals celebrating their anniversary to families with small children and everything in between.

Go snorkeling or scuba diving around the island or take your partner on a flight above the birds with a parasailing tour right out of the harbor. Another popular Catalina Island activity is renting a golf cart to drive around the whole island at sunset.

There are many hotels on the island, many of which have a birds-eye view of the whole island from high hotel room windows. Commemorate your romantic trip to Catalina with an elegant seafood dinner right on the waterfront. Don’t forget to try the locally-made Catalina wine!

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

The author admiring the view in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in California
My friend captured a photo of me in Anza-Borrego on her film camera

🗺️ Distance from San Diego: 1 hour, 30 minutes | Google Maps | Destination Website | 👉 Search Hotels in Anza-Borrego State Park on Booking

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is a California desert dreamland. Located in Southern California near San Diego, this desert park is overshadowed by Joshua Tree and rarely experiences a high volume of tourists.

I would classify Anza-Borrego as an untouched gem and one of the most underrated romantic getaways in California. This experience is completely off the grid and is a unique way to experience Southern California. 

Many primitive campsites in the park have pit toilets and established fire rings. Roast weenies or marshmallows after dusk and tell campfire stories for a trip you won’t forget. Anza-Borrego is one of the best places to camp near San Diego.

The stars in Anza-Borrego State Park are tenfold. If you have a good camera, make sure to bring it to take one of the best night sky time-lapses. Anza-Borrego will be one of your favorite romantic getaways.

San Diego

The giant Unconditional Surrender statue in USS Midway Museum
A historic San Diego statue of a romantic sailor kiss by the USS Midway

🗺️ Distance from Los Angeles: 2 hours | Google Maps | Destination Website | 👉 Search Hotels in San Diego on Booking

A major metropolitan beach city, San Diego offers guests different romantic activities, suited for different tastes. It is one of the most romantic getaways in California and is only 2 hours from Los Angeles, making it a good day trip option. 

Couples on a vacation to San Diego can delight in a couples massage by the beach, an extravagant meal on the waterfront, or a hand-in-hand stroll through Balboa Park, one of the coolest things to do in San Diego.

There are also countless activities to partake in if traveling to the beach city with children. Take your little ones to the San Diego Zoo to see their favorite wildlife animals or visit the San Diego Science Center for a hands-on learning experience.

I personally like staying in the Gaslamp District on the beachfront when I travel to San Diego. The beach rental houses in this area are removed from busy city chaos but only a few minutes’ drive from the best bars and clubs in San Diego.

Big Bear

Mountain Lodges near a lake in Big Bear
Mountain Lodges right on the lake

🗺️ Distance from Los Angeles: 2 hours | Google Maps | Destination Website | 👉 Search Hotels in Big Bear on Booking

There are a few romantic getaways in California, Big Bear Lake being among the top. This mountain community is surrounded by pines and the serenity of the San Bernardino Mountains makes this destination the perfect mountain escape.

Famous for having one of the best winter ski resorts in California, Big Bear is the ideal mountain sports oasis. If you prefer to relax on your romantic getaway, rent a weekend home with a fireplace to get toasty with a good book and some hot cocoa. 

There are hiking trails suited for all levels in Big Bear, accessible in the non-winter months. The 6.9-mile Pineknot Trail is my favorite hike in the area. The path takes you to the perfect lookout of the entire Big Bear Lake. For more ideas, check out our guide to things to do in Big Bear Lake.

🏨 Need a room? Skip the noise and commotion of a hotel with a private vacation rental. Here are the top house rentals in Big Bear, some of which are situated right on the lake.

Ojai

Ojai horses and the Topa Topa Mountains on the bakcground
Resident Ojai horses in front of the Topa Topa Mountains before they are saddled up for a horseback riding tour

🗺️ Distance from Los Angeles: 2 hours | Google Maps | Destination Website | 👉 Search Hotels in Ojai on Booking 

A romantic getaway to Ojai is a unique California experience. The town is a lesser-known tourist destination, meaning you can slip incognito away from the big city and to the sleepy Southern California hills.

Nestled in the bosom of the Topa Topa Mountains, Ojai is a small town in Ventura county with a big personality. The downtown adobe-style village is lined with New Age shops and art galleries, as well as delicious cafes with home-baked goods.

Meandering trails wander through the Ojai valley, giving visitors who packed their hiking boots plenty of options. Hike among pine trees and prickly pear cacti as you search for a California Condor, a frequent Ojai resident.

Visitors have plenty of accommodation options including ranch-style family homesteads, Spanish-style resorts, and small inns. The charm of Ojai is sure to win you over as one of the most romantic getaways in California.

Joshua Tree

An above-ground hot springs on a rental home in Joshua Tree
My Joshua Tree weekend rental home had above-ground hot springs

🗺️ Distance from San Bernardino: 1 hour, 20 minutes | Google Maps | Destination Website | 👉 Search Hotels in Joshua Tree on Booking

Joshua Tree is a primary Southern California location. The desert comes to life in unique ways in this national park, making it one of many spectacular romantic getaways in California. 

Most desert rats venture to Joshua Tree to visit Joshua Tree National Park, one of the best in California. I suggest reserving a campsite inside the park for the best view of desert sunrises and sunsets when deciding where to stay in Joshua Tree

If you prefer to stay outside of Joshua tree National Park, there are abundant house rentals scattered throughout the surrounding desert. Here are some top Joshua Tree rentals that are uniquely styled to resemble the character of the desert.

This San Bernardino County national park is the perfect stop on your romantic getaway in California and adds variation to the other beach and metropolitan city getaways. Out of all of the romantic getaways in California, Joshua Tree is sure to be in your top 10. Check out our guide to what to do in Joshua Tree to get planning.

San Luis Obispo

View of a water fountain in Mission San Miguel Arcangel
An old Spanish-style courtyard in SLO

🗺️ Distance from Los Angeles: 3 hours, 20 minutes | Google Maps | Destination Website | 👉 Search Hotels in San Luis Obispo on Booking

Explore coastal Northern California with a trip to San Luis Obispo. Established in the 1700s, this small California town has a historic charm that’s apparent as soon as you step foot in the downtown village.

San Luis Obispo, or SLO for short, encompasses miles of California coastline and hundreds of beautiful hiking trails. Walk hand-in-hand with a partner on the shores of the beach or have a picnic in the hills above the SLO ocean.

San Luis Obispo is the perfect balance of relaxed leisure and spontaneous adventure, providing plenty of options for visitors and weekend travelers. 

Spend your weekend in San Luis Obispo splurging on brunch options, going wine tasting, taking a nap on the beach, and settling down to a candle-lit dinner for the perfect romantic getaway.

Get planning with Henry’s guide to where to stay in SLO.

Laguna Beach

Scenic view from the Laguna Beach in California
The California desert meets the Pacific Ocean at Laguna Beach

🗺️ Distance from Los Angeles: 1 hour | Google Maps | Destination Website | 👉 Search Hotels in Laguna Beach on Booking

Known as one of the classiest and most beautiful beaches in Southern California, Laguna Beach is also one of the best romantic getaways in California for a luxurious beach experience.

You’ll find high-end stores and beachfront restaurants like Nick’s Laguna Beach in this beach town. Enjoy a glass of wine over smoked salmon on the waterfront for a romantic Laguna getaway during your stay.

The beaches are also a top attraction to this Orange County beach town. Visitors can enjoy public beach volleyball courts, private beach coves, and sea anemone tide pools at Laguna Beach.

Laguna is one of the safest beach cities in Southern California as well. This can be attributed to its expensive cost of living and extensive law enforcement in the area. 

Out of all the Southern California beaches, Laguna is sure to rise to the top of your favorite romantic getaways at the beach. 

Palm Springs

View of buildings and mountains in Palm Springs
The adobe Palm Springs buildings are sandwiched between the San Jacinto mountains

🗺️ Distance from Los Angeles: 2 hours, 30 minutes | Google Maps | Destination Website | Where to Stay in Palm Springs |👉 Search Hotels in Palm Springs on Booking

Palm Springs is the most popular day trip from Los Angeles and one of the best cities in California. Many celebrities in disguise have a second home in Palm Springs because of its central location and high-end amenities.

Summer months in Palm Springs can be unbearably hot, so the best time to plan your romantic getaway to Palm Springs would be the winter, early spring, and fall months. Lounging poolside is one of the most popular things to do in Palm Springs, along with boutique shopping and spa treatment.

If golfing is your go-to sport, then you are in luck in Palm Springs. This area has some of the best golf courses in California and is known nationally for its famous tournaments, so don’t forget to bring your gear.

Big Sur

View of the Bixby Creek Bridge in Big Sur
Big Sur’s iconic Bixby Creek Bridge

🗺️ Distance from Monterey: 45 minutes | Google Maps | Destination Website | 👉 Search Hotels in Big Sur on Booking

Experience the dramatic California coast like never before at Big Sur. Jagged cliffs collide with the fierce ocean to create an accentuated shoreline of coastal bluffs. The jaw-dropping beauty alone is enough to make Big Sur one of the most romantic getaways in California.

Follow the Pacific Coast Highway north past Morro Bay to arrive at an ocean dreamland with over 90 miles of coastline. Big Sur is the perfect drivable romantic getaway for individuals visiting from Los Angeles or San Francisco.

Besides the substantial drive down Highway 1 and lounging on the beach, individuals of all ages can enjoy other Big Sur activities. Visit tucked-away coves, camp at state parks, or hike among the redwoods for the perfect trip to Big Sur. 

California Cruise

A cruise ship on the blue water in California
A California cruise in the beautiful blue waters of Mexico

🗺️ Distance from Long Beach: 1 hour | Google Maps | Destination Website

A California cruise is the ultimate romantic getaway. Most cruises leave from the Long Beach harbor to the desired destination overseas.  

The most popular California cruise, and one of the most romantic getaways in California, is a cruise to Ensenada, Mexico. This destination stops first at Catalina Island before docking in the crystal blue waters of Mexico.

This cruise is typically 4 days and is the perfect weekend getaway because lodging and all meals on board are included in the cruise fee. You will also find live music around the boat, cocktail hours, a fine-dining dining room, fun games, and more.

A California cruise is a special romantic getaway with your partner. It’s a great idea to spice things up and treat yourself.

Malibu

View from the inside of a rock shelter in El Matador Beach
A beach rock shelter on El Matador Beach in Malibu

🗺️ Distance from Los Angeles: 1 hour | Google Maps | Destination Website | 👉 Search Hotels in Malibu on Booking

Stay in a cliffside beach house in Malibu and feel like a big-name celebrity. Malibu is a postcard California beach town and its posh status has put it high on the list of most romantic getaways in California for most couples.

There are tons of romantic things to do in Malibu. Experience the magic of Getty Villa, a museum with Roman architecture and an elaborate courtyard. You’ll often see couples strolling hand-in-hand here or new families taking family portraits. 

Malibu Creek State Park and the Malibu Pier are also perfect spots to relax for a moment and become completely entranced by the sound of crashing waves. The sunsets from the Malibu Pier are some of the best in Southern California, and even more spectacular when experienced with loved ones.

Monterey

Colorful buildings by the sea in Monterey
The bold colors of Monterey

🗺️ Distance from San Francisco: 2 hours | Google Maps | Destination Website | 👉 Search Hotels in Monterey on Booking

This Northern California city draws many Bay Area residents to its seaside village and is one of the best waterfront romantic getaways in California. Only 2 hours from San Francisco, Monterey can be a long day trip or an overnight escape to the oceanside.

No trip to Monterey is complete without visiting a waterfront seafood fine-dining restaurant. Chart House is a good option for a classy, romantic seafood meal. Located on Cannery Row, enjoy a fun day of sightseeing in downtown Monterey before walking over to Chart House to celebrate a successful day of exploring with delicious, fresh-caught seafood plates.

The rugged coastline, mountain terrain, and open valleys of Monterey are enough to keep visitors returning year after year. The Magic of this Northern California coastal town is alive and thriving. 

Solvang

A Danish-style house under the clear blue sky in Solvang
The Danish-style architecture of the quaint California town

🗺️ Distance from San Luis Obispo: 1 hour | Google Maps | Destination Website | 👉 Search Hotels in Solvang on Booking

Take a trip to Europe without even leaving Southern California. Located in Santa Ynez Valley, Solvang is a quaint Danish-style town with adorable architecture and sweet-smelling bakeries. 

Stay in an enchanting cottage in Solvang for the ultimate romantic getaway. With many local wineries and breweries, Solvang mainly caters to couples. Be sure to catch a live theater performance, like jazz or opera, for a romantic night on the town.

Walk the grounds of the old Mission Santa Ines or visit the miniature horses at Quicksilver Ranch, both free date ideas for couples visiting Solvang. See Victoria’s guide to Solvang activities for more ideas.

Finish your romantic weekend with a spa treatment or spend some time in the hot tub at your Solvang boutique hotel.

Paso Robles

Clear blue sky over a vineyard in Paso Robles
A cobblestone winery in the midst of Paso Robles vineyards

🗺️ Distance from Bakersfield: 2 hours | Google Maps | Destination Website | 👉 Search Hotels in Paso Robles on Booking

Just outside of San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles is a central California town known for its plentiful vineyards and wineries. Many lodges and hotels in the area offer hot mineral spring tubs or hot tubs for ultimate relaxation. 

Treat yourself and your loved ones to a relaxing spa day or an afternoon of luxurious wine tasting. There are also dimly-lit romantic dinner options around town. Paso Robles is quieter and less expensive than many other California weekend getaways.

This is a great road trip destination if passing through Los Angeles on your way to Northern California. Paso Robles breaks the journey up and is the perfect romantic getaway for a night of rest and relaxation.

Sausalito

View from the shoreline of Sausalito

🗺️ Distance from San Francisco: 20 minutes | Google Maps | Destination Website | 👉 Search Hotels in Sausalito on Booking

Visit the charming seaside village of Sausalito for a romantic escape from the chaos of San Francisco. This is one of the best romantic getaways in California for enjoying peace and quiet.

Just a short drive or bike ride away from San Francisco, Sausalito is a laid-back, Mediterranean-style small town on the coast of the Bay. Spend a calm day on the water by renting a kayak or going on a boat tour of the area.

Witness some of the most beautiful views of the San Francisco skyline from the shores of Sausalito. My favorite activity in the sleepy village is sitting on a waterfront bench in downtown Sausalito with an ice cream cone in hand. I can spend hours watching the boats cruise on the bay and the excited tourists get off the ferry from the big city.

Sequoia National Park

The author's father posing for a photo with a giant Sequoia
My dad standing in a giant Sequoia in the national park

🗺️ Distance from Bakersfield: 2 hours | Google Maps | Destination Website | 👉 Search Hotels in Sequoia National Park on Booking

Disappear to one of the best romantic getaways in California, Sequoia National Park. The park is engulfed by towering sequoia trees, the largest species on the planet.

Sequoia is one of the top national parks in California and visitors get more than their fair share of hiking trails and lookout points at the park.

Make sure to bring your binoculars because wildlife is abundant at Sequoia National Park. If you’re lucky, you may just spot a California black bear, mountain lions, bobcats, bighorn sheep, mule deer, and more!

Stay in one of the national park lodges or a rental cabin just outside of the park. Keep in mind that some roads may be icy and therefore closed in the winter months. The best time to visit Sequoia National Park for one of California’s romantic getaways is in the late fall, summer, or late spring.

***

Thanks for reading my guide on the best romantic getaways in California! If it’s your first time in California and you are deciding when to plan your trip, check out my guide on the best time to visit California and have a fantastic trip.

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