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An illustration of flowers inside an outline of the state of California with a heart-shaped chocolate box and a "Hotel" sign
(Illustration by Ross May / Los Angeles Times; Getty Images)

Where to book for a romantic Valentine’s Day? 10 great California hotel and date ideas

Warning: If you’re reading this now, you’re at risk of being too late to book the Valentine’s Day getaway that you and yours might be really, really ready for.

But I’m ready to help. Here are the makings of 10 romantic splurges from San Diego to San Francisco. Some are expensive enough to deeply test the depths of your affection and/or bank account. Some are on the rustic side (adventure yurt, anyone?) All have a memorable sense of place, with privacy. And for all, I’ve suggested an outing as well.

Of course, there are hundreds of memorable hotels and inns in California beyond this list. But this is a firsthand collection, made up of lodgings I’ve stayed in, inspected or strolled around. (As if I owned the place, of course.)

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Jan. 24, 2022

On the subject of dates, there are three footnotes to keep in mind this year. First, since Valentine’s Day falls on a Monday, some people will choose to celebrate on the Friday or Saturday before, or a week later. Maybe this will ease the usual reservations crunch.


Second, the Super Bowl on Feb. 13 at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood has filled up a lot of hotels that might otherwise be Valentine’s Day candidates. So to avoid serving up disappointment, I’ve left downtown Los Angeles off this list.

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Jan. 21, 2022

Third, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, California “is requiring masks to be worn in all indoor public settings, irrespective of vaccine status,” until Feb. 15. Also for pandemic reasons, many hotels have suspended room service, reduced housekeeping visits and cut back entertainment options. Also, many hotels and restaurants currently require proof of vaccination before letting you in.

P.S. Let me tell you now that the Montage Laguna Beach and Big Sur’s Post Ranch Inn are not on this list. They are gorgeous places (I’ve roamed around both), and they seem to show up whenever anyone makes a list like this. But, as of late January, I couldn’t find a room at either hotel, any night in February, for less than about $1,300. No matter how much you love that special someone, I’m betting you’d still rather spend less than that.

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Casa del Zorro

Borrego Springs Eclectic
There’s really just one place in remote Borrego Springs that can promise pampering, and handsome, historic La Casa Del Zorro is it. The 66-room desert resort fills 42 acres, with plenty of tennis and pickleball courts. Also spa treatments. The resort’s upscale casitas come with private pools or whirlpools. The resort’s Fox Bistro has a Valentine’s Day prix fixe menu. Mid-February rates start at $329. Add $50 if your dog comes along.

The Date: Hike the 3.25-mile Borrego Palm Canyon Trail (it’s a loop) in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, then check out Ricardo Breceda’s eerie metal animal sculptures along Borrego Springs Road as the sun gets low.
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Château du Sureau

Oakhurst Eclectic
Château du Sureau, 16 miles from the entrance to Yosemite National Park, is a 9-acre haven at the edge of the Sierra. Its 10 rooms are full of European flourishes, and there’s a two-bedroom villa if you’re looking to shoot the moon. (This is a popular site for weddings). There are spa services. Its restaurant, the Elderberry House, will offer a seven-course, “33 aphrodisiacs” dinner on Valentine’s Day. Overnight rates in mid-February start at around $700.

Also, with the Ahwahnee in Yosemite Valley closed through March 2 for seismic work, this is the fanciest and most intimate place you’ll find within day-trip range of the valley.

The Date: Yosemite, of course. You’re 40 miles from Tunnel View, the classic vista for northbound travelers entering Yosemite Valley.
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El Capitan Canyon

Santa Barbara Eclectic
North of Santa Barbara, just before the coast turns inland at Gaviota Pass, the outdoorsy but genteel El Capitan Canyon pops up. The cabins are arrayed in a canyon — some along a creek — and the beach is a short walk or bike ride away. Grab pizzas, sandwiches, soup, salad and hearty breakfasts at the Canyon Market and Deli. Cabins with kitchenettes (and firepits outside) start at about $260 in mid-February. (But you’ll need to aim for the night of Feb. 14 or another midweek stay; as of Jan. 28, all February and March weekends were booked.) There are also safari tents (with queen beds on wooden platforms). And then there’s the adventure yurt ($199). Pets not allowed.

The Date: You could hike the resort’s Selma Rubin trail (a 2-mile loop) or the shorter path to a neighboring llama and goat farm. You could swim in the heated pool or borrow a beach-cruiser bike for a ride down to El Capitan State Beach. Or jump in the car and make a 25-mile drive to the Cold Spring Tavern, an old stagecoach stop that offers barbecue and live music outdoors on weekend afternoons, fine dining indoors at night.
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Lobby of the Hotel del Coronado
(Jim Edwards)

Hotel del Coronado

Coronado Hotel
Here’s a red-roofed seaside hotel that doesn’t need much introduction. It’s one of the few grand resorts from the 19th century (1888, in fact) that hasn’t burned down. Featuring a family-friendly beach, spa, grand lobby (recently restored) and enormous pool (where paddleboard yoga happens on Tuesdays and Fridays), it includes several “neighborhoods” that have been added over the decades. For more space, brighter rooms and better views, you may want to avoid the oldest rooms and explore the Cabanas and the Views.

The Date: If you’re not dining on campus and lazing by the big pool, head to the far end of Coronado’s B Avenue and browse around the Coronado Ferry Landing, which has shops and eateries (and a ferry that goes to downtown San Diego and back for $7 each way). Then, get a fancy dinner a block from the ferry landing at Il Fornaio. Or go even fancier at Peohe’s.
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Swimming pool surrounded by a stone arcaded wall and palm trees at the Inn at Death Valley.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Inn at Death Valley

Death Valley Hotel
This landmark, surrounded by Death Valley National Park, dates to 1927 but recently got a big face-lift. Amid a famously fatal landscape, the Inn at Death Valley is a graceful haven with arched doorways, exposed beams, tile floors, Western art, an immaculate grove of palms and grass, and a big, spring-fed pool that’s always 87 degrees. Besides the 66 rooms in the main part of the inn, the grounds now include 22 casitas. Rates in February start around $650 nightly.

To spend less and still savor the desert stillness, consider the Ranch at Death Valley just 1.3 miles away. It’s a more basic, family-friendly hotel with 224 rooms and 80 new cottages (rates starting around $320).

The Date: Make your way to the crusty white salt flats of Badwater Basin — the lowest place in the continental U.S. — for sunset. For sunrise (if you’re ready to leave your room), head up the hill to Zabriskie Point for a wide view of the early light on the stark slopes.
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A view of the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco, its entrance lit up at night.
(InterContinental Mark Hopkins San Francisco)

Intercontinental Mark Hopkins Hotel

San Francisco Eclectic
The Intercontinental Mark Hopkins, perched atop ritzy Nob Hill, traces its history to one of the “Big Four” entrepreneurs whose company built the western portion of the transcontinental railroad. The hotel was built on the ruins of the old Hopkins mansion, destroyed in the great quake of 1906. Expect great views and the typically high standards of the Intercontinental chain. Rates in mid-February are $195 and up.

The Date: Your date might begin with dinner out (perhaps Empress by Boon in Chinatown, Scoma’s at Fisherman’s Wharf, Sotto Mare in North Beach or maybe pub grub and miniature golf at Urban Putt in the Mission). But the last stop before your room should be the Top of the Mark lounge, up on the 19th floor. Its views are spectacular and its history is potent too: Because San Francisco was a jumping-off point for thousands of American troops heading off to World War II in the Pacific, many a soldier, sailor and sweetheart ended up here on the eve of someone shipping out. Ask a bartender about the squadron bottles.
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A man and a woman ride bikes under a pergola with bougainvillea-covered white plaster supports.
(Kathryn Barnard / Kona Kai Resort and Spa)

Kona Kai Resort and Spa

San Diego Eclectic
There are fewer and fewer waterfront lodgings in SoCal where you can get in for less than $300 a night. The Kona Kai Resort & Spa on San Diego’s Shelter Island is one of them. It’s got a calm marina vibe, not a bustling beach vibe. Be sure to get a room with a view of the boats and Point Loma. Besides a spacious pool area, the Kona Kai has its own little beach area (for lounging, not swimming) and fire ring. Mid-February rates start around $250. Be warned that parking and resort fees will add a combined $78 to your nightly cost.

The Date: Head for a surf or turf dinner (and brilliant skyline-across-the-water views) to nearby Island Prime/C Level or Coasterra on Harbor Island (which, like Shelter Island, isn’t really an island). If you come in summer, you can eavesdrop on a concert at nearby Humphreys (the sound travels easily across the water) or go hear a show at the San Diego Symphony’s waterfront outdoor venue, the Rady Shell at Embarcadero Marina Park South. The shell’s season of shows, pop and classical, begins April 3.
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La Valencia Hotel

La Jolla Eclectic
La Jolla’s La Valencia Hotel, a Spanish Revival-style landmark that went up in 1926 and goes by the nickname “Pink Lady,” rises royally above the affluent bustle of Prospect Street. For many years, it served as a sort of clubhouse to Hollywood actors moonlighting at the La Jolla Playhouse, among them Gregory Peck, José Ferrer, Charlton Heston, Ginger Rogers, Jennifer Jones and David Niven. It’s got 114 rooms, pets allowed. Mid-February rates start at about $410. Be sure to check the view of the Pacific from the deck.

The Date: Before you settle in, you’ll need to choose between nature and commerce. In other words, will you walk along the clifftops and kayak the waters off La Jolla Cove, or nose around the stores and galleries of Prospect Street and Girard Avenue? Or you could compromise and stroll the beach at La Jolla Shores before dining in the beachfront Marine Room at the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club.
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Exterior of Riverside's Mission Inn covered in Christmas decor.
(Mission Inn)

Mission Inn

Riverside County Attraction
The Mission Inn stands in the middle of Riverside the way Taylor Swift might stand in the middle of a Nashville hootenanny — with full authority. It dates to the 1870s and fills a city block, with 238 guest rooms, a spa, several restaurants and all manner of European architectural flourishes. (Overnight stays in mid-February start at about $220.)

The Date: Book dinner at the Mission Inn Restaurant (main dishes $21-$54) and you may land at a patio table, surrounded by domes, towers, arches and buttresses. (Or go for Duane’s Prime Steaks & Seafood if red meat is a priority.) Come May, you’ll have another strong option. That’s when the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture — the Cheech, for short — is due to open next door. The center, to be run by the Riverside Art Museum, will show off Marin’s collection of works by artists including Patssi Valdez, Sandy Rodriguez, Carlos Almaraz, Frank Romero and Gilbert “Magú” Luján.
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A room with a blue and white striped rug, orange chairs around a wood table and colorful art on the walls.
(Parker Palm Springs)

Parker Palm Springs

Palm Springs Eclectic
The Parker is an adult playground, with 30 acres of fruit trees, pool, pétanque courts, putting green, croquet lawn, fire pit and hammocks, along with five places to eat and drink and a spa that cheekily calls itself the Palm Springs Yacht Club. There’s so much on offer, you may not even need to leave the property. And, with rates beginning around $900, you probably shouldn’t have to.

The Date: If you’re there on a Thursday night, try the Palm Springs Village Fest. It’s an outdoor market (6-10 p.m.) that takes over three blocks of Palm Canyon Drive.
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