Pacific Coast Highway Travel picks the ten most romantic getaways on the Pacific Coast Highway in California with a hotel and eating recommendation in each one.
Choosing ten of the best romantic getaways along the Pacific Coast Highway in California isn’t easy – but don’t worry, we’ve done the homework, and here are ten of our favorite spots for a romantic break. There are others but we guarantee these choices will not disappoint.
Some of the places are just a little inland from the highway itself, but the drives will be pleasant and the slight diversion well worth it.
Most Romantic Hotels
We’ve also picked our choice of the most romantic hotel to stay in each place. That’s even harder as there are so many to choose from, ranging from budget b&bs and inns to 5-star luxury.
Most Romantic Dinners
The same goes for eating. There are too many to choose from, but we’ve had to pick one and again can guarantee you a romantic evening out.
So here they are, in no particular order other than as they came to mind…
We are absolutely NOT choosing one place as the absolute best for a romantic getaway, but let’s just say that Carmel would always be in the Top Three. We’ve been several times and love walking around the town, checking out the boutique shops and art galleries, and of course checking out where to eat that night.
Carmel has a lovely vibe to it, and it’s very relaxing as there aren’t tons of museums you feel you ought to go and see. The Carmel Mission is lovely, there’s a terrific little beach, and if you want a day out you can take the 19-Mile-Drive towards Monterey.
This is a hard one,
but we have to choose The Vagabond’s House Inn (with The Lamp Lighter Inn a
close second). The rooms are all in separate little casitas grouped around a
central courtyard, with lots of ferns, flowers, and even waterfalls. When the
lights go on at night there no more romantic place to sit. And there’s a
generous breakfast delivered to your room, to eat in privacy or with other
guests in the courtyard.
but we’re going to have to stop saying that as it’ll apply everywhere on the
list. We like somewhere you can walk to and Anton and Michel is right in
town. Service is impeccable and friendly, the atmosphere is relaxed yet it’s
fine dining all the way. It’s expensive but worth the splurge. Start with the
Oysters Rockefeller and take it from there for your romantic dinner in Carmel.
Ojai is one of our
inland choices, but still only about a 20-minute drive from Ventura. It’s a bit
quirky, a bit alternative, and totally delightful. Take a walk around downtown
to get a feel for the vibe and check out the unique shops, galleries, wine tastings,
and more. Like Carmel, it’s a charming place for an aimless wander.
The Ojai Valley Inn
is our choice. Yes, it’s pricey but we want to recommend the best for you, not
the cheapest. It’s been named one of the best resorts in California, and has a
spa, tennis, free yoga, free bike rentals, and several pools, one reserved for
adults who might like to relax with a poolside cocktail. And if you don’t want
to leave the resort in the evening, the Olivella Restaurant will provide that romantic
If you want to eat
downtown then check out Nocciola. For us, Italian
restaurants mostly come with a built-in romantic feel, and Nicciola has that.
It’s a converted cottage with a cozy interior and an outdoor deck if the
weather’s fine. There’s a chef’s tasting menu, delicious home-made pasta, and
while the menu is short that’s because everything is seasonal and cooked to
perfection (as they say).
The Big Sur region has
the best scenery along the Pacific Coast Highway and definitely merits a romantic
stop of at least one night, two if you can spare it. That way, if the weather’s
bad on one day (it can get very misty, which hides the stunning scenery) then
you get another shot at it. You will want to pull over and enjoy the views, see
who can snap the best selfie.
Big Sur has a
number of top-notch choices and you’ll have to be prepared to dig into your
pocket. We’d go for the Post Ranch Inn, with sunset
views to die for. Infinity spa pools with equally jaw dropping views definitely
make for a romantic getaway, and there’s yoga, meditation, guided nature walks
and lots more to soak up.
If you’re at Big
Sur you’ll have to try the clifftop Sierra Mar, but our choice would be the
only a five-minute drive from the inn. Here you can dine divinely while looking
out over that Big Sur coast, which brings visitors from all over the world.
From Alaskan Halibut to Steak Frites to a California Beet Salad, you just
cannot go wrong here.
Just the name of Malibu conjures up glamour and romance, and yes, you might just see one of the movie
stars and musicians who live here. They do go out to dine! And you’ve got
several excellent beaches, some cultural attractions like the Adamson House,
and inland hikes where the two of you can get away for some quiet time
You’re in Malibu so
stay right on the beach at the Malibu Beach Inn. There’s no
need to ask for an ocean view as all 47 rooms overlook Carbon Beach, as does
the restaurant. There’s a spa too. Go to sleep and wake up to just the lapping
of the saves and it’s romance guaranteed.
To us, a romantic
dinner means good food as well as the ambience, and that’s definitely the case
at Nobu Malibu. The
menu includes some of world-renowned chef Nobu Matsuhisa's original dishes,
alongside creations from the restaurant’s Executive Chef Gregorio Stephenson.
It’s the kind of place where you could just stick a pin in the menu and sit
back and salivate.
Bodega Bay isn’t
smart like Carmel, it isn’t dramatic like Big Sur, it’s not chic like Malibu,
but to us it exudes romance in its quiet, laid-back way. It’s a place to go on
long walks along the beach, or along the clifftops, and really get some
We love the Lodge
at Bodega Bay but just edging it in the romance stakes is The Inn at the
Tides. Get a room that looks across the fields and cow pastures to
the ocean, but the best choice is the one cottage which has a deck and a garden
right on the water.
Just off the
Shoreline Highway and behind the Bodega Bay Inn is the Terrapin Creek Café. It
doesn’t look much from the outside, but in the past it has been awarded a
Michelin Star and the food is fantastic. It may be a casual, neighborhood spot
but it is hard to beat sharing outstanding food for a romantic night out. The
Monterey Sardines make a good starter to share, then you can choose from fish,
meat, or vegetarian. The Mediterranean Fish Stew is hard to beat.
Across the bay from
San Francisco, small-town Sausalito charms with its views back of the city
skyline, and of Alcatraz, while on this side of the water there are little sailboats
bobbing and cool shops, art galleries, and bars and restaurants to discover,
The Inn above Tide has 31 rooms that all provide that stunning view of the San Francisco
skyline, and what could be more romantic after a day’s exploration than sitting
on your private deck with a glass of wine and that view? You could even stay
here and make the short walk to the ferry across to San Francisco, and return
to your romantic idyll in the evening.
Just back from the
Sausalito Yacht Harbor, the Poggio Trattoria has that
lovely balance of fun atmosphere and great Italian food that we love… which
means we enjoy a dinner here together. We love their seafood risotto, and their Soppressata Pizza (spicy salami). Yum! Leave room for the tiramisu, of course.
If you take
Highway-1 north from Santa Barbara you’ll miss the charms of Los Alamos, which
would be a shame. This is one place you should skip the coast for a while to
visit, if you’re doing that romantic trip. It’s a tiny town and hard to put
your finger on it, but it’s definitely a place for couples to share and relax
in. It’s a pleasant place to wander round and explore the shops, and there are
some good places to eat and have cocktails or wine.
something romantic about staying in historic buildings, like the Victorian Mansion Bed and
Breakfast.It dates from 1864 but has all modern luxuries, and a
quirky touch to it. The themed suites have whirlpool tubs and range in style
from French to Gypsy and from Egyptian to a 50s Rock and Roll theme… so choose
one to suit your mood. Romance is also about having fun, right?
It’s hard not to
fall in love with (or maybe at!) Pico Los Alamos. In the
unlikely setting of the Los Alamos General Store, it’s an unassuming place and
that’s part of its appeal. Everything is locally-sourced or home-made,
including even the ketchup. The dishes are original and the menu eclectic, from
a Greek Spanakopita (spinach and feta pie) to Saffron Risotto or a Mexican
If you want to do a
romantic trip along the Pacific Coast Highway then you have to include some big
name places like Malibu and Big Sur. But there are also so many laid-back
little towns where you’ll also have an amazingly romantic time, and Half Moon
Bay is one of those. Again, it’s because there’s not much to ‘do’ here, other
than hang out together and enjoy the town and each other’s company.
The Nantucket Whale
Inn sounds romantic, and it is. This chic boutique place is located
right on Main Street so it puts the town on your doorstep, and the ocean is
only a five-minute drive or 20-minute stroll away. It also has lush gardens to
Sorry but it’s
Italian again, and Pasta
Moon, which is a two-minute walk if you’re staying at the Nantucket
Whale Inn. It’s also been acknowledged by the Michelin inspectors and by the
Slow Food USA movement, showing you can expect above-average Italian fare here.
The house made pasta is melt-in-your-mouth, the pizzas are outstanding, and
there are imaginative dishes like Cider-Brined Pork Loin Chop.
Cambria is a great
little place to stay, whether you choose to be in town or down by the beach a
few minutes away. Both are places we love, and we think you will too. It’s also
handy if you’re planning to visit Hearst Castle – and sharing a grand landmark
like that can also be a romantic experience. Try one of their evening tours and
OK, we love
downtown Cambria but for a romantic getaway you probably do want to be staying
out by the ocean, on Moonstone Beach. In which case you’ve plenty of choice.
Our personal pick would be the Cambria Shores Inn. It’s a
family-owned hotel that overlooks the beach, and that means long romantic walks
along the beach… and it is that kind of beach. Believe us, we’ve done it!
It has to be Madeleine’s
Restaurant and Wine Cellar. Daytime this is a wine tasting room and
a bistro, but at night it turns into a fine dining restaurant that manages to
be both cozy and sophisticated at the same time. We love the way they get the
balance right… and the food too, of course. Our favorite is not very California
but they do a wonderful Louisiana Seafood Gumbo. They do also do wine tastings
at the Cambria Shores Inn Thursday-Sunday.
Mendocino is the ultimate California
romantic getaway, which is why we saved it till last. Just trust us on this.
It’s a tiny place, beautiful, set on a clifftop above a beach. Don’t listen to
us, just go!
For a combination of best hotel and best romantic dining, we’d choose the Stanford Inn every time. We loved it there, and the food was stupendous. But it’s not in Mendocino itself, It may be only a three-minute drive away across the river, but for a romantic getaway you need to be able to stroll around the town, before and/or after dinner,
For a combination of location and romance, it has to be Mendocino Seaside Cottage. After all, their website address is ‘romancebythesea.com’! Every suite has ocean views, many have spa tubs, there’s a lovely garden and you’re walking distance from everywhere. What’s not to like?
As we get to the end of our list we realize we haven’t picked out a French-style eating place, surely the best cuisine in the world – and we know, we’ve travelled widely in France. So thankfully we can recommend the Café Beaujolais in Mendocino, for a romantic dinner.
Again, it doesn’t look much from the outside but it’s the inside that matters and here you’ll have a wonderfully romantic French-style dinner. The menu is more international than French, but it all cooked with that French flair that we love and uses lots of local produce.
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