Not about shredding that powder? These alternative winter getaways are free of Tahoe's traffic, crowds and most importantly, snow—and they're all within a four hour drive of San Francisco.
(Courtesy of Timber Cove Resort)
Miles of windy highway along Sonoma's rugged coastline lead to foggy, meditative retreats that you'll want to hibernate in till spring.
Stay: The Bodega Bay Lodge(103 CA-1, Bodega Bay) sits peacefully on the calm bay and feels totally removed from the rest of the world. Treat yourself to a rejuvenating spa day and share a bottle of vino from the comfort of your bathrobe and private balcony. Watch the sunset from the infinity hot tub, which is set on the edge of the water and so large it could fit a dozen people. Enjoy a seafood dinner at the lodge's on-site digs Drakes Sonoma Coast Kitchen—the seafood fettuccine has a dynamite medley of shrimp, scallops, salmon, and clams in a lobster cream sauce—and then fancy a nightcap at the poolside fire pits.
Eat & Drink: On a sunny day, claim a picnic table and get your clam chowder and crab fix at Spud Point Crab Company(1910 Westshore Rd, Bodega Bay), a small, family-owned Sonoma Coast staple that's been around for more than a decade. If you're seeking something less messy and slightly more sophisticated, the waterfront establishment Gourmet au Bay(1412 Bay Flat Rd, Bodega Bay) cooks up flatbreads and seafood (try the crab sliders) in their wood-fired oven. Pair your meal with the Wine Surf ($15), which features three wines of your choice served in a mini wooden surfboard. They also have a wine shop, so you can take some bottles back to your coastal abode.
Play: Grab a complimentary cruiser bike from Bodega Bay Lodge and ride over to Doran Beach for some mindless beachcombing. On your way back stop in at Sonoma Coast Vineyards(555 CA-1, Bodega Bay). Just a minute down the road from the lodge, sip coastal chardonnay and pinot noir in their unpretentious, ocean view tasting room.
Stay: The artsy, Frank Lloyd Wright–styled Timber Cove Resort(21780 North Coast Highway 1, Jenner) has the goods for the ultimate coastal retreat. Order up an ocean view suite and settle in for an intimate staycation where you'll never want or need to leave the grounds. Mid-century modern rooms come equipped with a record player (and tunes), yoga mat for re-grounding yourself, binoculars for whale watching from your balcony, a fireplace, and in some cases, a soaking tub. A large and cozy communal area features a lounging area, foosball table, a full-service bar, and Coast Kitchen, serving up breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Outside, sip cocktails and make friends at the oceanside fire pit, play bocce, or hike along two miles of coastal trails right on property.
Eat & Drink: Reserve a table at River's End (11048 CA-1, Jenner) for a romantic date night on the Russian River and splurge on the five-course Dungeness crab tasting menu ($84 per person). Aptly named Russian House #1(9960 Highway 1, Jenner) because it's the first Russian restaurant on the Russian River, this quirky establishment has a unconventional way of running things. There are no servers and no bill—bring a donation or contribute your own dish—and patrons simply stack their plates with authentic Russian fare served potluck-style. If anything, it promises a new experience.
Play: The scenic, switchback journey up to Fort Ross Vineyard(15725 Meyers Grade Rd, Jenner) is worth it for the Pacific Ocean views from their tasting digs' terrace, but the wines will seal the deal. The winery specializes in pinot noir and chardonnay grown just miles from the ocean, though make sure you also try the pinotage, a big and bold South African variety that's a rare find in California. Salt Point State Park (25050 California 1, Jenner) offers stunning photo opps and panoramic views along 20 miles of hiking trails. History buffs will enjoy a visit to Fort Ross State Park(19005 Coast Hwy, Jenner), an open-air museum of a Russian-era fort.
Stay: No resorts here. Have your pick of an uber-cozy and charming inn, like the 150-year-old Glendeven Inn(8205 North Highway One, Little River). Spanning eight whole acres, the property's 10 oversized rooms with ocean views and wood burning fireplaces are joined by a long list of amenities and discoveries, like far reaching meadows home to llamas and chickens (which provide organic eggs for breakfast every morning), hiking trails, a massage cabin, private gardens, and a wine barn stocked with more than 50 local wines to purchase by the bottle.
Eat & Drink: Lunch inside an adorable yellow Victorian farmhouse at Mendocino landmark Cafe Beaulojais(961 Ukiah St, Mendocino), where new chef Julian Lopez wows with inventive twists on classic dishes, like the Curried Crab Cake Bowl (turmeric based curry, charred broccolini, winter squash, and dill infused Jasmine rice). For dinner, head just five minutes south to Little River for a super fresh seafood meal at Wild Fish(7750 CA-1, Little River). We recommend the shellfish boil, a stew of saltwater goodies including Dungeness crab, Spring mussels, white prawns, and manila clams, all practically sourced from their front yard, er, ocean.
Play: Leisurely stroll the coastal trail of Mendocino Headlands State Park, located just steps from the town's main drag. Book a whale watching excursion; it's the best time to do it as the gray whales are journeying back North with their newborn calves. (Plan your trip for March and attend one of threewhale watching festivals.) Wine tasting in Mendocino's Anderson Valley offers a welcome reprieve from the crowds and prices of Napa and Sonoma. Visit some of our favorites with gorgeous views and tiny tasting fees: Roederer Estate(4501 CA-128, Philo), Goldeneye Winery(9200 CA-128, Philo), and family-owned Toulouse Vineyards & Winery(8001 CA-128, Philo).
(Courtesy of Monterey Plaza)
Trade snow for surf. The Monterey Peninsula offers coastal views and marine life sightings for as far as your eyes can sea.
Stay: A larger-than-usual boutique inn, The Seven Gables Inn(555 Ocean View Blvd., Pacific Grove) has 25 ocean view rooms dispersed through seven quaint and yellow-painted buildings (the original mansion dates back to the 1800s). Each room is styled like your own little beach house, but retains the classic inn style with a quirky collection of antique furnishings. Start each day with a complimentary continental breakfast, wind down with an afternoon wine and cheese tasting, and don't head to bed without homemade cookies and a glass of milk.
Eat & Drink: The owners at Passionfish(701 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove) are just as passionate about seafood as they are sustainability. This affection translates into simple, seasonal, and flavorful dishes like sea scallops in a tomato-truffle butter, served with a rice custard. They've poured a lot of love into their wine list too, carefully selecting small producers and rare varieties (like Aligoté), all at reasonable price points. Viviolo's Chowder House(127 Central Avenue, Pacific Grove) has all your classic seafood favorites—from cioppino to seafood Newburg—yet it's the Boston clam chowder that keeps the locals coming back. Hailing from Beantown himself, chef and owner Mark Davis serves his chowdah in a sourdough bread bowl with a garlic cheese lid.
Play: Rent a cruiser and hop on the start of the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail, spanning 18 oceanside miles all the way to Castroville. Stop every now and then to take photos and watch the sea lions sunbathe. If you're traveling with a lover, or even if you're not, catch a sunset at the rocky Lover's Point (this is a good spot to discreetly share a bottle of wine). There's still time to discover why Pacific Grove has earned the nickname "Butterfly Town, USA." From October-February, the Monarch Grove Butterfly Sanctuary(250 Ridge Rd., Pacific Grove) is home to thousands of monarchs who stop in Pacific Grove to hang out (literally) during their migration to warmer climates.
Stay: We'd book a room at the Monterey Plaza(400 Cannery Row, Monterey) for the rooftop spa amenities alone. The aptly-named Vista Blue Spa sits on the hotel's sundeck, offering panoramic vistas of the Pacific, a pair of whirlpool hot tubs, fireplace, and total relaxation. Book a massage, facial, or other rejuvenating treatment, like the Ocean Dew Marine Cleansing Body Polish, made from coastal herbs and algae extracts. Have an early bird dinner at Schooners Coastal Kitchen, where you can enjoy the sunset on the outdoor patio over some seafood pasta bolognese (spaghetti, tuna, lobster, rock shrimp, scallops, prosciutto, roasted tomato sauce, and sweet basil). Even the fitness center has views of Monterey Bay, which might actually make us less motivated to exercise.
Eat & Drink: Housed in the historic Stokes Adobe, the enchanting and supposedly-haunted 1833 Restaurant(500 Hartnell St, Monterey) feels like a game of Clue. With seven unique rooms for imbibing, each is a tribute to an era or character from the property's history. Finish your meal (we love the idea of Korean barbecue tri tip) with a shot of the green fairy served Russian style (flaming), for they carry 11 types of absinthe from all over the world. A hearty, family-style meal can be obtained at Montrio Bistro (414 Calle Principal, Monterey), cozily stationed in Monterey's first firehouse built in the early 1900s. Come hungry; you'll want to sample a medley of small and medium plates, like the slow-cooked 48-hour bacon and the beef short rib waffle (poached egg, swiss chard, three cheese mornay, and Schoch Junipero).
Play: Monterey is one of the few destinations in the world where you can whale watch year round, so bundle up and set off to sea in search of humpbacks, orcas, dolphins, and more. If you haven't gotten your sea legs yet, the Monterey Bay Aquarium inarguably has the most diverse collection of sea life on the West Coast with 500 species. Shop for cheesy souvenirs down Cannery Row and get lost in the Cannery Row Antique Mall on your way out of town, picking out a new conversation piece for your apartment. The largest antique mall in the Central Coast, it's a collection of treasures from more than 100 antique dealers.
Stay: Treat yourself and your pups to a getaway at the iconic 1920s Cypress Inn(Lincoln Street & 7th Ave., Carmel-by-the-Sea). Co-owned by actress and animal rights enthusiast Doris Day, the Spanish-Moroccan styled retreat with cozy furnishings is famously dog friendly. Head over to Yappy Hour at Terry's Lounge (named for Day's son Terry), where old-fashioned craft cocktails pay homage to the leading lady's former co-stars, like Kirk Douglas and President Ronald Reagan, who reportedly enjoyed a gin-n-juice Orange Blossom, served with a side of jelly beans. Pair it with the restaurant's Cypress Burger—self-proclaimed as the best burger in Carmel—topped with red onion, gruyere, and bacon aioli.
Eat & Drink: Styled like a charming European cafe, La Bicyclette(Dolores at 7th Ave., Carmel-by-the-Sea) cooks up simple, old world fare in a tiny kitchen composed of just one six-burner stove and a wood-fired oven. Breakfast is all about the wood-fired eggs, while pizza shines on the lunch and dinner menus. Try the inventive Andrew Morela pie, with artichoke, garlic confit, Mancheo cheese, pumpkin seeds, watercress, and vincotto. Sample up to 40 different kinds of Mezcal at Oaxacan-inspired restaurant Cultura(Dolores St. between 5th and 6th Ave., Carmel-by-the-Sea), where one-ounce pours range from $7-40. Here's a rare chance to nom on some rich Monterey abalone, or if you find yourself in need of late-night munchies, Cultura even has a after-dark menu served from 10pm to midnight. A little liquid courage will go a long way in braving the $4 chapulines (toasted and seasoned grasshoppers).
Play: A town founded by artists and writers, Carmel has nearly 100 art galleries representing all styles, from contemporary to classic and sculpture to photography, all within one square mile. Pack your binoculars (or telephoto lense) for a coastal hike at Point Lobos State Reserve where sea lion, seal, otter, and whale spout sightings are common occurrences. Oenophiles can purchase the Wine Tasting Passport for $100, redeemable at 10 of 13 downtown Carmel tasting rooms. Stroll along the Scenic Bluff Path and take one of eight stairways down for a walk along Carmel Beach.
(Courtesy of Allegretto Vineyard Resort)
Venture just far enough out of the North Coast where two of California's greatest gifts—the sea and wine country—collide.
San Luis Obispo (SLO)
Stay: Checking all the boxes of location, comfort, and totally gram-worthy, five urban-chic loft apartments opened last year above SLO Brew in downtown San Luis Obispo. With trendy names like "Vagabond" and "Drifter," the brick-lined SLO Brew Lofts(738 Higuera St, San Luis Obispo) bring a big-city feel to the small, agricultural college town of SLO, and carry the rock n' roll theme of the brewery, restaurant, and music venue upstairs. The suites, ranging from a studio to three bedrooms, come with everything you could need for your stay and more, from Crosley record players to a full kitchen and bar, living room, and a washer/dryer.
Eat & Drink: It's a right of passage in SLO to get the locally-famous tri-tip sandwich at Firestone Grill(1001 Higuera St, San Luis Obispo), after which you'll probably proclaim it "the best ever." Vegetable Butcher(712 Marsh St, San Luis Obispo) is the new, farm-fresh eatery in town, serving up Latin American-inspired small plates for vegetarians, vegans, and meat lovers too. You'll want to try every single one of their ingenious tacos ($6 each), like the Ancho Chocolate Turkey Mole and the Modelo Braised Short Rib. Embark on a downtown brew tour of SLO's local craft breweries, like Central Coast Brewery (1422 Monterey St, San Luis Obispo), started by a hometown Cal Poly grad, and BarrelHouse Brewing(1033 Chorro Street, San Luis Obispo), a speakeasy that's expertly hidden beneath a barber shop.
Play: Explore the compact downtown area, full of quirky shops, restaurants, and the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa(751 Palm St, San Luis Obispo). Snap a picture and gift a sticky offering to the totally disgusting Bubblegum Alley (no visit to SLO is complete without it) and discover a new favorite artist at a SLO Brew(736 Higuera St, San Luis Obispo) concert. Head a few miles from the center of town into SLO's emerging wine country, the Edna Valley, and stop in for laid back tastings of cool-climate chardonnay and pinot noir at picturesque wineries like Chamisal Vineyards (7525 Orcutt Rd, San Luis Obispo) and Edna Valley Vineyards(2585 Biddle Ranch Rd, San Luis Obispo). For some real R&R, spend an afternoon soaking in a private, hillside hot springs tub at Sycamore Resort & Spa(1215 Avila Beach Dr, San Luis Obispo). Also check out our Modern Guide to Downtown SLO.
Stay: The Inn at the Pier(601 Cypress St, Pismo Beach), a brand new, craftsman-style and oceanfront boutique hotel opened just last November with 104 luxury rooms complete with balconies and views of the Pacific. Whatever time you're not spending on the beach—you'll sleep only a few barefoot steps away from Pismo's boardwalk and pier—will be best used soaking in the inn's heated rooftop dipping pool. Hit up The Rooftop, Pismo's only rooftop bar, for Happy Hour, or get crafty at their Make Your Own Bellini Bar for brunch. The inn's restaurant and bar Blonde, a tribute to the time-honored surfer girl, adds creative twists to traditional beach fare. Case in point: a vegetarian-friendly sweet potato burger.
Eat & Drink: Whatever you do, don't leave without a bowl of the locally-famous, award-winning clam chowder (made from four types of clams) from Splash Cafe(197 Pomeroy Ave, Pismo Beach). There will be a line around the block, but trust us, you won't regret it. Located on the third floor of the SeaVenture Beach Hotel, SeaVenture Restaurant(100 Ocean View Ave, Pismo Beach) boasts panoramic ocean and sunset views from giant picture windows. Chef Casey Walcott uses unexpected ingredients to take simple and classic dishes to epicurean new heights—think, clam chowder with potato, bacon parsley, and paprika, or fried chicken served with caramelized apples and fennel, goat cheese, and sweet potato gratin.
Play: Chilling on the beach is a given, but you can rev things up at the Oceano Dunes, flying across a white wonderland of sand aboard an ATV or dune buggy. If you go now, you can catch the end of monarch season (October-February) at thePismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove(400 S Dolliver St, Pismo Beach). Just like in Pacific Grove, enchanting masses of monarchs gather here on the limbs of eucalyptus trees.
Stay: Allegretto Vineyard Resort(2700 Buena Vista Dr, Paso Robles) will turn your casual wine country visit to Paso Robles into an indulgent retreat that transports you to Tuscany. The Mediterranean-styled piazza inspires total relaxation and mid-day siestas with a spa, swimming pool, hot tub, and cabanas, lush nooks for catching up on reading, like gardens, orchards, and sprawling vineyards, a bocce court, and wine tasting room. Dine at Allegretto's restaurant and bar Cello, where the sea meets Italy in dishes like BBQ Baby Spinach Octopus and Frutti Di Mare (white prawns, mussels, seasonal local fish, sweet basil, marinara, fettuccine, pecorino).
Eat & Drink: Fish Gaucho(1244 Park St, Paso Robles) combines the best of California and Mexican cuisine into out-of-the-box dishes like avocado toast with ahi and chilaquiles with braised short rib. Doubling as a tequila bar, their collection of more than 140 tequilas and mezcals is served in flights or cocktails, like The Breakfast of Champions, crafted with bacon fat washed mezcal, maple, cold brew coffee, hicory coffee bitters, and candied bacon. Thomas Hill Organics(1313 Park St, Paso Robles) sources organic and grass-fed bounty from local purveyors for its serious farm-to-table lineup. Carnivores will love the 14-hour beer braised short rib sandwich, while the black lentil tacos (carrot purée, candied jalapeños, cashews, pickled watermelon, cilantro, and coconut) are sure to delight meat-free diners.
Play: Paso Robles wine country is a charming, slower-paced, and uncramped alternative to Napa and Sonoma where roughly 40 varieties of grapes contribute to the region's exciting wines. Justin Winery(11680 Chimney Rock Rd, Paso Robles), named Winery of the Year by Wine Enthusiast in 2015, is a must stop in Paso. They even have a restaurant and three new Just Inn Suites (get it?), so you can hang there all day and night. At the historic Halter Ranch Winery(8910 Adelaida Rd, Paso Robles), you can sip wine and tour nearly 300 acres of vineyards aboard a restored 1984 Lake Rover Defender 110, but true adrenaline junkies can view the vineyards at Ancient Peaks Winery (22720 El Camino Real, Santa Margarita) from a series of sky-high ziplines. Need a break from the vino? Flying under the radar amongst the vines are nine local distilleries, like the cleverly-named Re:Find(2725 Adelaida Road, Paso Robles), which specializes in vodka and gin made from Paso Robles wine grapes. Staying longer? Take our ultimate tour of Paso Robles wineries.
Waterfront cottages at Nick's Cove.
Escapes from San Francisco don't get much easier than the nature lovers' paradise of Marin County.
Located off the majestic shores of Tomales Bay along Highway 1, the remote yet refined Nick's Cove(23240 Hwy. 1) just awaits you to tuck in for the weekend with 12 luxuriously restored cottages overlooking the water. Each little hideout is unique, but amenities include wood-burning stoves and heated bathroom floors. When you're hungry, look no further than the award-winning restaurant of the same name, where such local delights as raw and barbecue oysters, clam chowder, and crab Benedict are on order. (*Special thanks to our partners at Nick's Cove.)