Top Honeymoon Destinations In Northern California For Nature Lovers

Friday, December 2nd, 2016

Whether you're a local planning a mini-moon or an out-of-towner seeking a top honeymoon destination in Northern California, nature lovers unite!

San Francisco gets all the attention, but surrounding natural beauty is equally unparalleled.  Here are some destinations you should consider if you're the type to gravitate towards the ocean, rolling hills, towering redwoods, or deep black night skies.

Note that if you choose Big Sur/Monterey/Point Reyes, ALWAYS DRESS IN LAYERS.  The California coast has unpredictable weather, regardless of season.  And you don't want to be miserable on your honeymoon!

Big Sur

big sur honeymoon

Why:  Look at the photo above.  Need I say more? 

  • Big Sur winds around the Pacific Ocean, offering breathtaking aerial views of crashing surf,  craggy beaches, and waterfalls as you drive along Highway 1.  The ocean is wild here.
  • Many people limit themselves to the drive, which is essential.  However, there are also multiple state parks and beaches that you can descend into for stolling or hiking.  I recommend:  Pfeiffer Beach, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (see photo above) and Point Lobos State Reserve.  The McWay falls hike at Julia Pfeiffer Burns is a classic.
  • You can download a visitors guide here.

Lodging:  Accommodations range from camping to luxury.  But, let's assume that since this is your honeymoon, you'll want the latter.  (For those who do want to camp, I recommend Hipcamp for reservations).

  • There is Post Ranch Inn  for those who want a super lux (and super spendy) experience.  I've never been myself, but many have described their stay as magical.
  • A (more) affordable luxury option is the Ventana Inn.  This one is run by the JDV boutique hotel chain.  I've always had a positive experience staying at their properties and found none to be cookie cutter.
  • A unique option that's come to be associated with Big Sur is staying in a Yurt.  Treebones is a good option.  You can also search for Yurts on Airbnb.
  • If you're looking for lodging that is more low key, here's a comprehensive list.

Best time to go: Spring - Fall.  Note that there can be fog from Jul-Sep.

Notes:  The area is remote, so cell phone service is spotty and there are few gas stations.  Avoid driving windy, steep Highway 1 at night (especially when it's foggy!).  You won't be able to view scenery then anyway.

Monterey

monterey honeymoon

Why:  Marine wildlife is the name of the game here - both in the wild and at the world class Monterey Bay Aquarium.  

  • Sea otters, sea lions, and seals can be viewed from sailboats, downtown Monterey (Fisherman's Wharf/Cannery Row), and other areas.  Gray whales can be seen from boats during winter - spring.
  • Take 3 hours to follow the famous 17-mile drive, starting at Pebble Beach.  The route will take you past 6 beaches and several scenic points of interest.  It will also take you past a handful of golf courses, if that's your jam.  
  • Unlike Big Sur, Monterey is a proper city, so there are lots of dining and nightlife options. Fisherman's Wharf and Cannery Row are historic fishing/canning areas that have become tourist traps. However, they are still worth a brief visit to soak up the history/atmosphere and enjoy a seafood meal.

In other words, there's lots to do.

Lodging:

  • The most lux experience here is Carmel Valley Ranch (another JDV property).  Located in nearby Carmel (25 mins away), the property offers tons of activities for those days you don't feel like venturing from your hotel.
  • Here are some other options that are Honeymoon appropriate.

Best time to go: Spring - Fall.  Note that there can be fog from Jul-Sep.

Calistoga

calistoga honeymoon

Why:  Napa's low key sister, Calistoga is also in wine country , but offers a more intimate, rustic vibe.  Feast your eyes on endless rolling green hills set against looming Mt. Saint Helena as you drive around the valley. Nature may be more cultivated here, but it's no less charming.  Oh, and did I mention the unique prevalence of hot springs?

  • Definitely enjoy hot springs by dropping by one of many spas (some which are part of hotels/resorts).  Indian Springs is my favorite, with its retro cool ambience and tranquil buddha pond and thermal mineral pools.
  • Experience majestic California redwoods by taking a 1-2 hour walk through the Petrified Forest.  For a challenge, you can hike Mount Saint Helena.  
  • If you're into wine, (and believe me, you don't need to be to enjoy Calistoga), you're in luck.  Do some research and stop by a few wineries in or around Calistoga.  You can also take a wine tour.  A bike tour is a good way to get your sip on, exercise, and experience the leafy surroundings up close.
  • For a splurge, you can do a hot air balloon ride. The topography of Napa Valley lends itself beautifully to one.

Lodging:

  • Calistoga Ranch is a luxurious, expansive property set against a forest.  It's so large that guests that use golf carts to zip around.
  • Lounge at the gorgeous pool of modern Solage Calistoga - a popular place for weddings as well.  Their restaurant, Solbar, is Michelin rated and renowned.
  • Beautiful, custom built airbnb rentals abound in the area.
  • In nearby St. Helena, you can "glamp" in a yurt at Bothe-Napa Valley State Park.

Best time to go:  It depends.  Especially if you care to participate in wine-related activities.

Point Reyes National Seashore

point reyes honeymoon

Why:  Somewhat of a hidden gem (especially compared to Big Sur), Point Reyes boasts vast, unspoiled landscapes.  Think remote and surreal.

  • Drive and then walk 300 steps to the famous Point Reyes Lighthouse, which is dramatically located on a rocky promontory.  P.S.  It's WINDY here, so prep accordingly.
  • Visit the plethora of pristine beaches, especially Wildcat and The Great Beach.  Note that these beaches are for viewing, not swimming!
  • Take a well-reviewed hike, Here's another list of hikes, with descriptions of each.  You can choose based on whether you're interested in ending up at a tidepool, seeing marine life, or climbing up to a vista.
  • In late summer/early fall, you can take an evening kayak tour to see bioluminescent organisms. Read more about this neat phenomenon here.
  • You'll find a foodie haven at Point Reyes Station.  It says something that SF favorite Cowgirl Creamery has only two locations - one in the SF ferry building and the other, in Point Reyes!  If you're into oysters, enjoy a a bay view while picnicking at Tomales Bay Oyster Company.

Lodging:

  • Typically, the words "quirky", "imperfect", and "luxury" don't go together, but that's the only way to describe Manka's Inverness Lodge.  Read reviews and decide for yourself!
  • There are those yurts again!  Windsong Cottage, located in Point Reyes Station is cozy, with stunning views.
  • Stay in a homey bed and breakfast.
  • All of the campsites within Point Reyes are "hike in" (except for Tomales Bay, which is "kayak in"!), meaning that you can't drive up to them.  (You'll also need to carry all your belongings with you).  The closest of these, Sky Camp, is 30 minutes by foot.  So, even if you are adventurous and outdoorsy, know what you're getting into.  

Best time to go:  Spring - Fall.  Note that there can be fog from Jul-Sep.

If you have other recommendations, don't hesitate to comment below!