One of the best things about 2022 was getting back to some of our longtime favorite California destinations—and finally checking off the list a few we'd been meaning to get to for years.
From Death Valley and Palm Springs to Lake County and Mendocino, here are the places that topped our list, along with the stays, restaurants, bars, wineries, and hikes we loved most.
Joshua Tree(Courtesy of Joshua Tree Saloon)
Remote travel destinations like national parks and private lodging options (hi, van life) have looked sexier than ever in the past couple of years as wanderlusters sought safe ways to travel in light of Covid-19. A year after the world began reopening, Joshua Tree, with its endless deserts and rogue style, still catches our eye. -- Sarah Chorey
Stay: AutoCamp Joshua Tree
The 25-acre property is dotted with 47 Airstreams (plus some luxury suites and tents) each with a comfy queen bed; a kitchenette stocked with basic dishes, cookware and utensils, and a bathroom.
Eat: Joshua Tree Saloon
This local hot spot has a huge outdoor patio, a menu of American fare—think burgers, crispy fish tacos, and nachos—and live music on weekends.
Drink: Pappy + Harriet's
Drink up at the always-packed desert bastion of live music.
Do: Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art MuseumIf trash is your treasure, visit the free Noah Purifoy Outdoor Museum to peruse sculptures made from repurposed junk.
The opening of the lovely Stavrand inn was a highlight in Guerneville this past year.(Emma K. Morris)
Just two hours from San Francisco, Guerneville is a favorite destination in Sonoma's Russian River Valley since it's accessible enough for a quick getaway but also feels far from it all. Its unique vibe stems from a mix of cultures, from the hippies of the 1970s to the LGBTQ+ community who made it a party spot in the '80s.
In past 15 years, the place has become a draw for SF foodies and hipsters thanks to chef/hotelier Crista Luedtke, a pivotal character in town thanks to her growing mini-empire of stellar places to spend time, including her original venture here, Boon Hotel + Spa. See a few of the highlights below, but find much more in our Modern Guide to Guerneville. -- Amber Turpin
Stay: The Highlands
Last summer, this historic stay in a wooded setting up the hill from Johnson’s Beach got a set of stylish furnished tents at the new Coyote Camp.
Brot is a modern German spot with beer hall appeal in an updated setting.
Drink: Rainbow Cattle Company
As the name suggests, Rainbow is Guerneville's mainstay gay bar with kind of a country twist (but the legendary party spot is welcoming to all).
Do: Russian RiverFloat trips here are basically summertime #goals. Johnson's Beach is the most popular and closest stretch of sand to downtown, and is a great launching point for a real deal swim, paddle, tubing, kayaking, or canoe trip.
Bar Cecil is the hottest reservation in Palm Springs.(Courtesy of Bar Cecil)
At the end of summer when we're looking to keep the sunny pool vibes alive a little longer, we head to
Palm Springs for an easily doable weekend. Fly into town on a Friday and plan to check out the newest hot spots between dedicated lounge time by the hotel pool. Here's our three-day itinerary, plus a few favorites below. —Jess Lander
Stay: Azure Sky
Azure Sky is a chill, no-frills reinvigoration of the original 1959 hotel featuring a palm tree–enclosed pool with plenty of loungers and umbrellas, views of the San Jacinto Mountains, a communal lawn for lazing about when it’s not too hot, and fire pits for chilly nights.
Eat: Bar Cecil
Don’t be put off by Bar Cecil’s nondescript location in a shopping center. This place, which opened in 2021, is arguably the hottest Palm Springs dinner reservation.
Drink: Tailor Shop
At Tailor Shop, a new speakeasy near downtown, no secret password is required. But like any good speakeasy, this one is well-hidden with no sign, poorly lit, and in an unexpected location (next door to the lively Bootlegger Tiki bar).
Do: ToucansA drag show is practically a Palm Springs rite of passage. This intimate tiki bar doesn’t look like much from its beige exterior, but inside it puts on fun nightly parties at 9pm and 11pm.
The Madrona in Healdsburg was completely redesigned by co-owner Jay Jeffers.
The rolling, grassy hillsides and vineyard views that stretch out in all directions on the drive north from San Francisco will immediately transport you to a rural state of mind. But once you get to Healdsburg in Sonoma County, a mere hour from the city, you’ll quickly realize that this little hotspot is anything but sleepy.
While there are many historic and pioneering Wine Country places to experience here, the region has been undergoing a pulse of energy over the last few years, evolving with a slew of new places to eat, drink, relax and, eventually, sleep. Take our perfect weekend itinerary. —Amber Turpin, Shoshi Parks + Jess Lander
Stay: Montage Healdsburg
Pull off the road and wind your way up to the entrance of Montage, the luxurious resort that opened in January 2021. But beware: You might want to stay forever.
Eat: Palm Terrace at Madrona Manor
Go high-brow at the Palm Terrace, the broad covered porch overlooking the lawn at the revamped Madrona Manor, whose dishes come courtesy of a Michelin-starred chef.
Drink: Lo & Behold
Lo & Behold is the suitably named debut from cocktail pioneers Laura Sanfilippo and Tara Heffernon. As expected, the drinks are the stars, with concoctions like the Phatty Margarita (avocado and coconut oil–washed tequila) and the Snap Back (gin, cucumber, snap peas, cardamom, and mint).
Do: Wine Tasting
There are several options right in the town square. Don'e miss Marine Layer, a newcomer in a sleek yet cozy tasting room; a concise list of cool-climate Sonoma Coast wines along with plant-based mezze at Little Saint; and Mount Etna varieties never before grown in California at Aeris.
(Courtesy of The Oasis at Death Valley)
Death Valley isn’t just the hottest place in the world. With unearthly landscapes, ghost towns, and fresh renovations at its historic oasis hotel, it’s also one of the most unique ways to spend a long weekend in California. Be sure to check in at the Oasis at Death Valley. -- Shoshi Parks
Stay: The Oasis at Death Valley
When the hotel first went up here in the 1920s, the stunning juxtaposition of flourishing life amid a deadly desert drew Hollywood celebrities like Clark Gable, Bette Davis, and a young Ronald Reagan.
Eat + Drink: Last Kind Words Saloon
Eat beneath a dense gallery of Western imagery, taxidermied animals, and cowboy accoutrement at this steakhouse-cum-watering-hole.
Do: Look at the stars.
In this certified International Dark Sky Park, thousands of pinpoints of light dance all night long.
Hike: Panamint City
Grass Valley + Nevada City
Seeing Sarah Coleman's new mural inside the Nevada Theatre is well worth the price of show a ticket.
Nevada County, that swath of the Sierra Nevada mountains that is home to historic neighboring towns of Nevada City and Grass Valley (and, of course, Truckee), is rife with Gold Country narrative. Those mountain towns have real Wild West charm, with echoes of rollicking whisky-filled nights and glittering gold nuggets. But to hold onto that old ideology is to miss the bigger picture: Today’s Nevada City and Grass Valley offer bounty beyond undiscovered gold. Find a few solid nuggets below, plus a full itinerary for a winter escape to sister cities at 7x7.com. -- Amber Turpin
Stay: National Exchange
In Nevada City, the iconic National Exchange was built in the mid-1850s and is said to be the oldest continuously operating hotel in the state. After a three-year, floor-to-rafters renovation, the guest rooms blend Victorian-era touches like floral wallpaper and tufted furnishings with modern creature comforts.
When the sun is out, take a seat on the dog-friendly patio at local favorite Tofanelli's and order any of the 101 omelets on the menu.
Drink: Three Forks Bakery & Brewing Co.
The popular Three Forks Bakery & Brewing Co. sources local ingredients for its wood-fired pizzas, served alongside regional wines and craft beers.
Do: HikeThe Sierra Nevada is a hiker's heaven—you can land on a trail without even knowing it and end up at a beautiful vantage point. At South Yuba River State Park, check out the restored Bridgeport Covered Bridge, the longest single span wooden covered bridge in the world.
(Courtesy of @sensoriopaso)
In the past decade, Paso Robles has firmly established itself as one California's premier wine destinations, with top winemakers and about 40 different varieties of grapes thanks to the region's varied microclimates. But there really is a lot more than wine in the City of Oaks, which is a marquee tourist destination in the otherwise quiet, largely agricultural-driven Central Coast. Our picks below are just a tiny taste of what's on offer in Paso Robles. -- Trevor Felch
Stay: The Piccolo
This elegant 24-room Wine Country boutique hotel opened in late 2019, right before the pandemic started. That could have doomed any new hotel, but terrific amenities, outrageously friendly service, and savvy design have helped the Piccolo thrive.
Eat: Market Walk
The marquee food hall Market Walk opened in 2020 and is the leading reason that visitors now venture a few more blocks north from the center of town than they once did. Seasonal Californian dining at In Bloom and excellent Baja and Sonora-style tacos with wood-grilled meats and seafood at Finca are its main destinations for lunch or dinner.
Drink: Alchemist’s Garden
Paso Robles' leading cocktail bar is the Alchemists’ Garden, which isn’t actually a garden but a contemporary fairyland of cocktails made primarily from fresh market ingredients.
Do: SensorioPaso Robles was named one of the "52 Places to Go" by The New York Times in 2020 in part for Bruce Munro’s flower bloom–evoking masterpiece, Sensorio. The centerpiece work of art is the stunning “Field of Light,” a lit-up meadow of brilliantly colored flowers.
East Beach in Santa Barbara. (Courtesy of Mar Monte)
The classic California beach town of Santa Barbara underwent a quiet renaissance during the pandemic with plenty of new places to stay, eat, drink, and escape city life.
Santa Barbara is an easy five-hour drive from San Francisco, but a new daily Southwest Airlines flight out of Oakland makes a long weekend trip all the more doable, getting you there in an hour. You can rent a car, but could also manage to get around by walking, biking, and using ride share services. Don't miss our long weekend itinerary. —Jess Lander
From the second you walk through the door of this new boutique hotel in the heart of the Historic Presidio neighborhood, you'll be transported back in time to summering on the Riviera like Grace Kelly in a high-waisted bikini and cat-eye sunglasses.
Eat: La Paloma
This former burger joint has been transformed back in time in tribute to its original roots as La Paloma Café, which closed nearly 40 years ago.
Drink: Funk Zone
Santa Barbara's Funk Zone is a 13-block pedestrian marketplace full of boutique and vintage shops, eateries, galleries, wine tasting rooms and more, all housed in converted manufacturing buildings and warehouses.
Do: BeachGrab a delicious date smoothie from Mar Monte's Café Lido and go for a chill, foggy morning walk along East Beach, or rent a bike and head to Stearns Wharf Pier along the Cabrillo Bike Path.
(Courtesy of Peace and Plenty Farm)
To some, Lake County is a beloved destination for getting outdoors and drinking wine just north of Napa and Sonoma counties. To others, it is, wait, where's Lake County again? Families have been camping here for decades; the grapes have been growing for years and years, but the amenities we're all used to here in Northern California—boutique hotels, artisanal restaurants, wineries that charge for tastings, craft breweries—are only just getting started in Lake County. Find our complete modern guide to the region. —Trevor Felch
Stay: Tallman Hotel
The Upper Lake Tallman Hotel is all enchantment with a stately veranda, lovely gardens, an outdoor swimming pool, polished 18th century décor, and a breakfast parlor with a wildlife mural by artist Carol Thosath.
Eat: Red’s at the Skyroom
The menu at Red's comes courtesy of Hog Island Oyster alum Jeremy Zabel. It's comfort food with real technique and quality ingredients:
Drink: Wild Diamond Vineyards
This stylish newcomer to southern Lake County has one of the most stunning panoramic views around.
Do: Hike Mt. Konocti
Besides the wineries and Clear Lake, this lakeside dormant volcano, whose majestic silhouette can be spotted from all over the region, is Lake County’s marquee attraction. Opt for an active visit with a six- to seven-mile hike to its highest summit, Wright Peak.
Mendocino Village. (Courtesy of @visitmendocino)
While skyrocketing tourism has turned Napa and Sonoma from humble farmland to playground for the rich, Mendocino County is charting a different path forward. With a focus on locally grown and harvested food, organic wine and cannabis, and outdoor wellness experiences, Mendo enhances its good ecological fortune with modern sustainability and style. Below are a few takeaways from our wellness weekend guide to Mendocino. -- Shoshi Parks
Stay: Stanford Inn
The dog-friendly Shangri-la of the Stanford Inn is known for its blooming organic gardens, plant-based cuisine, and easygoing wellness offering.
Eat: Cafe Beaujolais
This long-time village favorite serves exquisite dishes showcasing local ingredients—think wild mushroom risotto and an eight-hour fettuccine Bolognese—alongside a menu of local wines.
Drink: Pennyroyal Farms
Taste pinots and sauv blancs at the little sister to Navarro Vineyards, Pennyroyal Farms.
Do: Catch a Canoe & Bicycles TooEven if you’ve never canoed or kayaked, the sturdy vessels at Catch a Canoe are easy to navigate through Big River and around resident harbor seals and herons.