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 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.