Tehama Golf Club in Carmel (credit: Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and if you haven’t yet decided on what to do with your loved one, now is the time to get started. This is especially true since this very special day falls on a weekend. To help you get started on your planning, here are a few suggestions to consider as a Valentine’s Day destination in and around the Bay Area.
Amid the rolling hills and flowing fields of grapevines, the picturesque Carmel Valley can be the perfect setting for a romantic interlude from the Bay Area. Located in one of the eight appellations within Monterey County and just east of the equally romantic Carmel-By-The-Sea, the Carmel Valley boasts 19 world-class wineries and several wine tasting rooms, particularly in tiny Carmel Valley Village. But this idyllic river valley is also home to a number of fine restaurants, championship golf courses and romantic resorts like Tehama Golf Club, Quail Lodge and Golf Club, Carmel Valley Ranch and Bernardus Lodge and Spa. The entire Monterey Peninsula offers Valentine’s Day visitors a wealth of things to do such as a walk along Carmel Beach, visiting the intriguing shops in Carmel-By-The-Sea or enjoying a leisurely drive along the world famous 17 Mile Drive or to Lover’s Point in Pacific Grove from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Among the top recommendations for romantic dining in the Carmel Valley include Valley Kitchen and Lucia Restaurant, in addition to numerous restaurants in both Carmel and Monterey.
Frequently mentioned as one of the best small towns in America, Healdsburg has all the makings for an unforgettable Valentine’s Day excursion. Located in the heart of the Sonoma wine country, Healdsburg is home to over 100 world-class wineries, a number of charming B&Bs and upscale lodging and several extraordinary restaurants. Valentine couples planning to spend a night or two can stay in the historic downtown center at places like Hotel Healdsburg or Hotel Les Mars, as well as other award-winning spots not far away, like Madrona Manor with its superb Michelin-starred restaurant and Honor Mansion, once named the most romantic hotel in America by TripAdvisor. Wine lovers might also want to take a trip along Sonoma County’s Wine Road, where some of California’s oldest wineries can be found, such as Geyser Peak Winery, Seghesio Family Vineyards and Simi Winery. Visitors hoping to drive further out to the spectacular Sonoma Coast will discover some enchanting hidden seaside gems north of Bodega Bay, such as Jenner and Timber Cove.
Of the three counties that comprise the celebrated California Wine County, Mendocino typically receives the least amount of worldwide attention. But last year, it wasn’t Napa or Sonoma that was named one the world’s 10 Best Wine Travel Destinations for 2015. It was Mendocino with more than 100 wineries, the largest concentration in the peaceful Anderson Valley, at exceptional places like Handley Cellars in Navarro, Goldeneye Winery in Philo and Foursight Wines in Boonville. But it’s not just the fabulous wineries that are expected to attract countless numbers of visitors on Valentine’s Day. There are a number of other popular local attractions in Mendocino County, such as a ride through towering California redwoods on the historic Skunk Train, a trip to the must-see Glass Beach in Fort Bragg and the picturesque lighthouses at Point Arena and Point Cabrillo. For visitors who want to make it a full weekend, they can stay at suggested places like Little River Inn and Heritage House Resort in Little River, Shoreline Cottages in Fort Bragg, MacCallum House in Mendocino and The Madrones in Anderson Valley.
Although the Monterey Peninsula receives far more attention as a romantic destination, Santa Cruz has its own set of attractive features. Located along the northern portion of Monterey Bay, Santa Cruz is blessed with an abundance of natural beauty, from gorgeous beaches amid striking views of the glistening ocean waters to a vast network of hiking trails through redwood forests and pastoral open spaces. Among the most visually stunning spots to see in this historic city include West Cliff Drive between the Santa Cruz Wharf and Natural Bridges State Beach, East Cliff Drive between Pleasure Point and the Yacht Harbor and the Upper East Field at UC Santa Cruz. Wine lovers may also choose to explore some of the area’s world-class wineries such as Alfaro Family Vineyards and Winery, Bargetto Winery and Bonny Doon Vineyard. Santa Cruz also has a number of romantic spots for fine dining such as Soif Wine Bar, Gabriella Cafe and Solaire Restaurant and Bar, with upscale lodging at nearby places like Hotel Paradox, the Dream Inn or the Babbling Brook Inn.
The incomparable Napa Valley is often the first choice for a romantic getaway from other parts of the San Francisco Bay Area, particularly on Valentine’s Day. It’s also the time of year when mesmerizing fields of mustards begin to bloom while at the same time the valuable grapevines lay dormant. While there are endless options for a Valentine’s Day visit within the California Wine County, the small community of Yountville is particularly noteworthy for its romantic hotels and its world-renowned restaurants and chefs. In fact, arguably the most famous restaurant in Bay Area can be found in Yountville, as well as some of the most romantic hotels in the country. While The French Laundry, twice named the world’s best restaurant, will likely have no tables available on Valentine’s Day without a reservation, there are several other extraordinary dining experiences here that may have a few reservations left, including Bouchon, Redd, Bistro Jeanty, Ciccio, Lucy Restaurant and Bottega. Top choices for a romantic overnight stay include Villagio Inn and Spa, Hotel Yountville and the Bardessono Hotel and Spa, widely considered as one of the most romantic hotels in the Napa Valley. Visitors just visiting for the day might also want to visit some of the local wineries and tasting rooms, such as Domaine Chandon, Jessup Cellars and Ma(i)sonry.
Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he received a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com