Mother’s Day is coming up fast—it’s Sunday, May 12—but before you rush out to buy flowers and chocolates, read on. What your mother wants most is to spend time with you, so surprise her with a getaway with you as her tour guide. These six California towns are guaranteed Mom-pleasers (and make great destinations any day of the year).
1. Del Mar
Your mother has helped you soar to great heights, so do the same for her. As she lifts off in a hot air balloon above Del Mar in San Diego's North County, she will “see the skyline and panoramic Pacific Ocean from a new perspective,” says Magical Adventure Balloon Rides’ chief pilot Denni Barrett. Stick with the flight theme as you visit Del Mar’s Free Flight Bird Sanctuary, a home for homeless exotic parrots. Del Mar Village has a stroll-able restaurant scene tucked into its Tudor-style buildings, plus a Saturday afternoon farmers market. For fabulous ocean views, take Mom to lunch at Jake’s Del Mar.
Nestled in the Topa Topa Mountains 90 minutes from Los Angeles, tony Ojai is home to much more than art galleries and Pixie tangerine groves. Bibliophile Moms will love Ojai’s outdoor bookstore, Bart’s Books and crafty Moms will find curated handmade treasures at Fig. Take the farm tour at Ojai Olive Oil Company, then spoil Mom with a warm Himalayan salt scrub massage at the luxurious Ojai Valley Inn. The inn’s annual Mothers Day Brunch will be held in The Farmhouse, a newly opened epicurean event center hosted by L.A. chef Nancy Silverton.
3. Avalon, Catalina Island
Is there a mother in your life who needs an island getaway? Catalina Island offers an easy escape via a one-hour boat ride from San Pedro or Long Beach. Lounge by the blue Pacific at the Descanso Beach Club, ogle the garibaldis on a glass-bottom boat tour, or walk to the Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden to see native Southern California flora plus a sweeping view of Avalon Bay. Make Mom feel extra special with dinner at Bluewater Grill followed by a movie at the Art Deco Avalon Casino Theater.
4. Moss Landing
Give Mom the lifetime thrill of seeing a gray whale or humpback launch out of the ocean and smack the surface with a resounding crash. Take her whale-watching out of Moss Landing, midway between Santa Cruz and Monterey. Blue Ocean Whale Watch offers two- to four-hour trips, which leaves plenty of time for exploring the harbor’s homespun art galleries and pottery shops. Or join a beginner-friendly kayak tour and paddle the calm waters of Elkhorn Slough. You’ll get up-close with cuddly sea otters as they feed and frolic, plus harbor seals and sea lions. Cap off the day with a slapping-fresh halibut tacos at Phil’s Fish Market.
Convince Mom to break up with her digital life (for a day or two) in tiny Freestone on the pastoral western edge of Sonoma County. She’ll forget all her passwords as she settles into a Japanese cedar enzyme bath at Osmosis. Once her muscles are jello, take her to Wildflower Bread for sourdough and biscotti baked in a wood-fired brick oven (where she'll get a complimentary loaf of Honey Wheatberry Bread this Mother's Day, and Freestone Artisan Cheese for handcrafted products made by Sonoma County cheese makers. Find the perfect spot for a picnic on the sand at Doran Beach Regional Park.
6. Nevada City
In this Gold Rush town an hour northeast of Sacramento, the slow life is celebrated—which might be just the right speed for frenzied Moms. Nevada City charms with gingerbread Victorian houses and a laidback farm-to-fork culture. Taste rhubarb or lavender ice cream at Treats, sample wines at Nevada City Winery, and shop for goat and buffalo milk cheese at Wheyward Girl Creamery. Surprise your mom with tickets to a show at California’s oldest operating theater, or visit the tranquil gardens at Crystal Hermitage.