The weather's just right for one last trip to the Golden State, so we've curated the top seven California weekend getaways to ease you into fall, from beach to wine country, and so much more.
You've still got time to head west for a last-minute trip to enjoy the Golden State's perfect late-summer weather, so start packing your bags now. Can't decide where to go? I've put together itineraries for my seven favorite California weekend getaways, from wine country to the southern coast. Take your pick -- and thank me later.
Where to stay: Westin Verasa Napa Hotel
Hotel highlights: Nothing says relaxation like a trip to northern California wine country. Kick back at the conveniently situated Westin Verasa featuring day spa services, heated saltwater pool (the 40-person hot tub is a godsend after a day of wine-tasting) and award-winning French hot spot La Toque. Shopping at Oxbow Market, attractions, Downtown Napa, and dozens of chic tasting rooms and wineries are just a short walk or drive away.
What to do: C Casa at Oxbow opens at 7:30 for the yummiest organic Mexican-inspired breakfast, or hit up locals hot spot ABC Bakery -- nothing beats their egg sandwiches for soaking up yesterday's vino. (Trust me.) Now, with so many wineries (literally, hundreds), how do you choose? Let me help. For the dreamiest views, head straight to CADE Estate Winery (at right), which is up so high you're above the clouds. Chill around the fire circle while tasting delicious sauv blancs and cabernet -- you're in cab country after all. For the prettiest wine cave, book a tour at Pine Ridge stat. The white lights and glowing Dale Chihuly blown glass are out of this world -- as are the delicious wines and cheeses you get to savor in the cave. The gorgeous grounds of appointment-only Spring Mountain are also a favorite. Nothing is more indulgent than a wine tasting on that incredibly relaxing, beautiful estate.
Save an afternoon for the brand-new but already-popular B Cellars Vineyards and Winery. Their tour includes a walk through the gardens and a food and wine pairing that has me drooling just thinking about it -- tasty bites straight from that garden, plus beautiful wines. Another food/wine favorite? Mary's Royal Food and Wine Pairing at Castello di Amarosa. The castle can get pretty crowded, but this treat whisks you away to a private apartment after the tour for the most delicious lunch of homemade soups, cheeses, breads and more. For dinner, my go-tos are Bottega, Ad Hoc, and Press. My mouth waters just thinking of the long, romantic meals I've had at Bottega, course after course of to-die-for dishes and wine -- and the best service to go along with it. Down the street, Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc serves only what's fresh -- no menu choices except a few optional add-ons (grab them while you can -- they run out fast). I love the casual setting for such decadent fare. Press, up in St. Helena, is famous for its extensive California wine list, melt-in-your-mouth steaks, and creative dishes like its signature appetizer which arranges fresh veggies as if they're growing in a garden, paired with delicious dips (just try to stay away from the bacon butter). Always a crowd pleaser!
Where to stay: Westin Monache Resort
Highlights of hotel: The ski lodge-style West Monache Resort (in winter, in-resort ski and snowboard rentals are available) boasts amazing views and a quick stroll to the village of Mammoth, for shopping, restaurants, and more. After an early dinner at the hotel's cozy Whitebark restaurant, take a dip in the outdoor heated pool.
What to do: Outdoor enthusiasts will love the variety of year-round activities, from morning yoga and hikes to exploring the famed rock formation Devils Postpile, a National Monument. Mammoth Rock 'n' Bowl entertainment complex is not your typical bowling alley -- think golf simulators, games, a lounge, bars, and upscale cuisine like lamb shank and vegetable Wellington. Take in a gondola ride for scenic views of the surrounding mountains, or rent a bike at Footloose, take the trolley up into the Lakes Basin, and cruise down. Westin Monache's buzzed-about fitness events, hosted by Olympian Deena Kastor (Mammoth Lakes is a training mecca for the US marathon team), are a welcome activity for those squeezing in one last summer getaway. The all-inclusive Running Escape retreat runs Sept. 11-13. For dining, don't miss Mammoth Brewing/The Eatery, 53 Kitchen & Cocktails (you guessed it: craft cocktails -- plus delicious all-American cuisine), Skadi fine Alpine dining, and a stop at the charming Lakefront Restaurant, a Wild West-style charmer with an impressive menu of seasonal favorites.
Where to stay: H2Hotel
Hotel highlights: Plenty of unique art and earthy aesthetics highlight this eco-chic gem located in the quaint town of Healdsburg. The LEED Gold H2Hotel is nearly completely green, and each of the 36 rooms features its own balcony. Airy restaurant and lounge Spoonbar features modern dishes with an emphasis on seafood and fresh vegetables. Since this hotel is tucked in the country, there's plenty of outdoor hiking or biking from winery to winery.
What to do:
With rolling vineyards and lush landscapes, Jordan Winery (at right) is one of the most scenic experiences in Sonoma Country. Do the three-hour Estate Tour Tasting and revel in savory olive oils, specialty wines, and gourmet bites harvested from the Jordan garden -- that you get the chance to linger in tasting fruits and veggies right off the vines. The two food and wine pairings are laid out in lush style with breathtaking views. Nearby at Arista Winery, guests can wine-taste and picnic in the sprawling Japanese water gardens, one of the most distinct outdoor settings in Sonoma. Stock up on your favorites -- there's a waiting list for its A List, which allows you to purchase from home. The family-owned (and operated) Hamel Family Wines offers a special experience for winos who have an eye for detail. Nothing has been overlooked for their two-hour tour that includes tastes of four Estate Series wines and vintages, and a comprehensive tour of the grounds, including the house and wine caves (with a particularly pretty tasting room). The grounds are so stunning you won't want to leave.
Destination: Silicon Valley
Where to stay: Four Seasons Silicon Valley
Hotel highlights: Bask in the comforts of this ultra-luxurious Four Seasons, planted right in the heart of Silicon Valley. The spa is second-to-none, offering facials, scrubs, and massages strong enough to get out the knots of even the staunchest tech workaholic. Afterwards, relax at the rooftop pool, which offers delicious salads and bites, and the ultimate in service. After laying out, relax in the eucalyptus steam room before heading to your room to change. (They even sell lavender and eucalyptus spray to take home -- why not turn your own shower into a spa? I have one of each.) Then watch the power-lunchers at on-site restaurant Quattro, or dig into its dreamy Italian fare for dinner.
What to do: Go in nearly any direction and you'll find something cool to see here, whether it's sightseeing around the Google campus, wine-tasting in the Santa Cruz mountains, or hitting the bar scene in Palo Alto. One of my favorite restaurants in the area is Redwood City's Donato Enoteca, which boasts modern Italian specialties (wood burning pizza) and farmer's market ingredients. Ask your waiter about their famous Negroni. Craving a livelier brasserie feel in the evening? Check out Bon Vivant or Left Bank. During the day, hit up all of the gourmet food stalls in San Jose's San Pedro Market. (Admittedly, I'm an absolute sucker for high-end food stalls.) And 2015 brings a major celebration of Japantown's 125th anniversary. Tour historical landmarks (only three Japantowns survive in the US) and the pristine 100-year-old Hakone Gardens, nosh on hand-made tofu (prepared in the middle of the night) at San Jose Tofu, and go shopping along the main drag. Edgy fashions dominate, as do delicious restaurants to stop in to take a load off.
Destination: Newport Beach
Hotel: Balboa Bay Resort
Hotel Highlights: The only Newport Beach hotel situated right on the water, Balboa Bay offers a quaint resort experience with a central location to shopping, attractions and beach activities. Tip: book a Clubhouse Room. They have gorgeous little patios overlooking the bay.
Things To Do: Exploring Balboa Island is a must -- drive, walk, bike or take the Ferry and then shop for nautical fashions and jewelry on Marine Avenue. (Locals swear by frozen bananas and Balboa bars -- ice-cream dipped in chocolate and whatever toppings your heart desires.) Further explore Newport Harbor with the popular, affordable Duffy boat tours, my favorite part of a recent trip. Starting at just $90 an hour, fit 8-12 of your travel mates into these cute boats (one person joked that it was like driving a golf cart in the sea) and jet around the coast--all you need is a valid driver's license. To stock up for your Duffy boat day, in-the-know locals pack picnics with nosh from "A" Market, a bona fide landmark as the oldest operating Orange County restaurant. Pack up meat and cheese plates, sandwiches, pasta salads, crackers, fine wines, and baked goods to snack on while cruising around.
Back on land, check out the culinary creations at the brand-new Tackle Box -- Local Grub Shack by Top Chef alum Brian Huskey. Highlights of his beachside cuisine at Big Corona Beach include signature lunch rolls (hello, Maine lobster), Cali cheesesteaks and breakfast items -- like my favorite breakfast sandwich ever(at right), and French toast dippers. At nighttime, indulge in dinner and drinks at the Island Hotel. The hotel's restaurant, Oak Grill, provides a sophisticated, romantic outdoor setting for fine dining (the flat bread appetizer was a stand-out).
Seafood seekers can't miss an early morning stop at the Dory Fleet Fish Market. With an authentic Old World charm, the historical landmark on Newport Pier dates back to 1891 and features some of the freshest catch around. Be prepared: you may have to compete with local restaurateurs buying in bulk -- it's that good. The lines start to form before 6:30 a.m. Wednesday-Friday and 5:30 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Closing time is noon or whenever everything's gone.
Destination: Paso Robles
Where to stay: SummerWood Winery and Inn
Hotel highlights: Recent renovations have yielded stunning new décor for SummerWood Inn's nine suites, plus amenities like evening wine and cheese, a welcome bottle of wine, fireplace and balcony or patio, and the highest-level bath products and bed linens. For breakfast, expect cook-to-order farm-fresh eggs, and drop by at night for dessert. Included with your stay? Wine-tasting at the inn's sister winery.
What to do: A hot spot for the Rhone Rangers, you can expect a lot of, yup, Rhone varietals in Paso Robles, an off-grid getaway through rural Central Coast wine country. The wineries here are more small-batch and less commercial; visit as many as you can. Hit up Anglim for a wide variety of tasty wines, from pinot noir to Grenache and Syrah. Ask to meet the winemaker -- he works on site and is happy to literally pop out to say hello. I never leave wine country without locally-made olive oils, and in Paso, I shop at We Olive. A recent visit yielded a delicious blood orange variety (you get to taste and bottle your favorites to take home), plus a wonderful Fandango arbequina in a colorful bottle. Saddle up and let your adventurous side shine with Outback Trail Rides. Choose from either a horseback ride or carriage (which includes some wine tasting en route) for a gorgeous morning outside, and conclude with a mini wine-tasting afterwards at Calcareous Winery. I took the most wines home from Vina Robles, which has a gorgeous modern tasting room and offers tours of its grand amphitheater -- I am dying to come back and catch a show there. Live theater outdoors in wine country with wine bars and delicious food? Yes, please! For a more elegant affair, hit up Bistro Laurent in the town square for melt-in-your-mouth French fare. Ready to get your hands dirty? Keep your eye on FARMstead Ed's calendar of events, including cooking and gardening classes, and special affairs like September's heirloom tomato weekend -- all events are in conjunction with local farms.
Destination: San Diego
Where to stay: L'Auberge Del Mar
Highlights of hotel: This luxe five-star L'Auberge Del Mar is located just 20 minutes outside of main San Diego, so you'll have easy access to the city anytime while enjoying the quiet coastal seclusion of a fireplace suite. Indulge in the earthy, sea-inspired treatments at the on-site Spa or sip mimosas by the pool.
What to do: There's plenty to explore in the area, from the giant San Diego Zoo to shopping in swanky La Jolla and family outings to the Scripps Aquarium. Catch a concert or a San Diego Padres game at Petco Park, explore Balboa Park and Old Town's Whaley House. Downtown's hip Gaslamp Quarter boasts sleek nightclub OMNIA and celeb chef Brian Malarkey's trendy Searsucker restaurant. For a daytime jaunt, head to the historical landmark Hotel Del Coronado on Coronado Island. The legendary oceanfront resort is stacked with Hollywood history and is rumored to be haunted -- but it's also a fabulous spot to have brunch and cocktails on the patio.