WRITTEN BY Alejandra Saragoza
Alejandra is the managing editor of California.com. She's a California native based in the Bay Area and enjoys writing about all things food and travel related. Her work can also be seen in Diablo, T…See full bio
Thanks to California’s diverse landscapes, you can winter any way you wish here. From the array of pristine beaches and vast deserts to the iconic ski resorts and cozy mountain cabins, California winter getaways span the gamut. And if you want to heat up the season by whisking your sweetheart away on a romantic weekend trip, the Golden State has a wondrous winter destination for you.
Whether you’re envisioning snuggling up by the fire while watching the snow blanket the mountains outside your window, relaxing in healing mineral baths while taking in the sprawling desertscape, or listening to the sound of crashing waves while lounging on a white-sand beach, the term “Winter Wonderland” can mean anything you want it to. So start packing your bags, and let the sparks fly.
Situated within the Coachella Valley, right on the outskirts of buzzy Palm Springs, the small town of Desert Hot Springs provides the perfect place for curing any winter blues. Hidden underneath the grounds of this wellness-centric town are aquifers, which pump geothermally heated and naturally cool mineral water into hotel and spa pools. At Two Bunch Palms, a 1940s Hollywood haven that recently underwent a $2-million renovation, you can float your cares away in mineral-rich mud baths or palm-fringed hot pools, then try a Vibration Facial or a water yoga class. The minimalist-chic Miracle Manor Boutique Hotel & Spa is another coveted (and more affordable) option. This recently renovated, 1950s getaway also offers an array of spa treatments—including Ayurvedic massage, acupressure facelifts, and cupping—so you and bae can enjoy a weekend of pampering and utter relaxation.
With their bizarre, otherworldly landscapes and striking flora, Death Valley National Park and Joshua Tree National Park are both ideal options for a desert camping trip, but there’s a lesser-known gem that might just top these two popular Southern California destinations: Mojave National Preserve. Spanning twice the size of Joshua Tree and with half the visitors of Death Valley, the park is known for its rustic sites and stunning varied landscapes that make you feel like you’re in a whole new world, even though you’re merely 2.5 hours from Los Angeles. Marvel at those iconic desert, cotton candy–hued sunsets and starry nights; explore the terrain by foot and admire the numerous Joshua trees dotting the lands (there are actually more here than in the eponymous park); and climb up the towering boulders for spectacular views. Hole in the Wall is the most developed of the Mojave Desert Preserve’s campsites (it has pit toilets, trash cans, water, fire rings, and picnic tables), but because it sits at 4,400 feet, the nights get chilly, so make sure to pack accordingly. If you don’t want to rough it, consider staying in one of the small communities surrounding the park, such as Nipton. This quirky town is home to an 80-acre outdoor gallery with giant sculptures and multimedia installations, a brewery, a trading post–turned–artisan shop, and a quaint hotel.
If you need to escape the cold, head to the world-renowned Newport Beach, where sun-kissed sands, festive celebrations, and luxurious accommodations await. During the winter months, you won’t want to miss out on the whale-watching opportunities—between December and April, thousands of gray whales can be seen frolicking in the waves off the shores—or the masterfully done holiday boat parade, which illuminates Newport Bay with over-the-top light displays. For a quintessential beach hideaway, check in to the Lido House, a Cape Cod mansion–style hotel with a sophisticated yet relaxed aesthetic that’s steeped in romance. Savor bubbly by the saltwater pool, treat yourselves to a couple’s massage or a facial, and end each day at Lido’s rooftop bar—the only one in Newport—to take advantage of the stunning Pacific Ocean vistas and those perfect Southern California winter nights (temps barely dip below 50 degrees).
Transverse a land of fire and ice at Lassen Volcanic National Park. The largely undiscovered Cascades park is consistently blanketed in snow, even when other parts of California are lacking in fresh powder, making it the ideal escape for those seeking a snowy yet romantic adventure. Take a ranger-led snowshoe tour, sled around the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center, cross-country ski across the snow-covered highway, or soar down the steep slopes (if you’re looking for a challenge). You can also snowshoe to the Sulphur Works hydrothermal area to see the roaring steam vents, mudpots, and boiling springs that hint at what lies beneath. Though lodging is limited around the park during the winter months, the charming St. Bernard Lodge—which only holds about 20 people—provides everything you need for a romantic California winter getaway: a free gourmet breakfast, hot tubs, and sumptuous accommodations. After spending the day out on the snow, return to your room and warm up by cuddling on the couch in your robes.
California’s famous ski resorts such as Heavenly and Mammoth often get all of the attention, so if you want to avoid the crowds (and higher prices) of these more prominent winter destinations, look no further than June Mountain. This underrated region serves as a serene and secluded escape complete with ample skiing and snowboarding adventures, fireside s’mores, naturalist-guided tours, and magical mountain scenery. Snuggle with your sweetie in an intimate cabin (the romance-inducing, A-frame abodes at Four Seasons June Lake are among the best in the state), and carve out time to explore the real-life alpine village of June Lake and the internationally recognized Yosemite National Park, merely 30 minutes away.
The world-famous Wine Country is a no-brainer for couples who dream of doing nothing but dining and imbibing on vacation. Though the region has long been famous for its spectacular vineyards and unparalleled wineries, it only recently became a popular foodie destination, with standout restaurants—including several Michelin-starred eateries—now drawing as many tourists as the tasting rooms. But couples will find plenty of other dreamy adventures here. Take a hot-air balloon ride at sunrise to get a bird’s-eye view of Calistoga; enjoy a spa day at Napa’s Auberge du Soleil Resort, where three temperate springs overlook the on-site vineyards and olive groves; or peruse the art galleries and fashion-forward boutiques of Healdsburg. No matter which Wine Country destination you choose, you and your partner are bound to bond and reconnect over these new, exciting experiences.
Breathtakingly beautiful, Big Sur is an escape from the rest of the world that rejuvenates the body and soul—and rekindles the romance. Located along a dramatic, cliff-hugging portion of the winding Highway 1, this mountainous 90-mile stretch of coastline feels cut off from civilization (and cell service). Despite its remote location, Big Sur boasts numerous luxury hotels (like the award-winning Post Ranch Inn), elegant resorts (such as Glen Oaks Big Sur), and glamping destinations (check out Ventana Big Sur). No matter where you stay, the main draw of Big Sur is the wild, rugged landscape and awe-inspiring ocean views, which are best enjoyed in the winter when crowds are sparse. Hold hands with your significant other as you walk through the landscape blanketed in lush redwoods, admire the crashing surf from atop the towering ocean bluffs, and discover the secret beaches and waterfalls nestled within the expansive region. Follow up a day in the great outdoors by soaking in natural hot springs, indulging in a couple’s massage, and savoring a romantic dinner perched above the seemingly endless ocean.
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