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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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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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.
Casa del Zorro
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.
Château du Sureau
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.
El Capitan Canyon
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.
Hotel del Coronado
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.
Inn at Death Valley
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.
Intercontinental Mark Hopkins Hotel
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.
Kona Kai Resort and Spa
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.
La Valencia Hotel
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.
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.
Parker Palm Springs
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.
It's a date
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