Romance, like people, takes endless forms. Some couples splurge with champagne, candlelight dinners, and four-poster beds with all the trimmings. Others prefer a rustic retreat with a snuggle-up-close fireplace. California’s diverse collection of B&Bs and small inns lets you find the boutique lodging that best fits your amorous style. “The variety of lodging in California is as varied as California itself,” says Jenn Wheaton, programme and events manager with the California Association of Boutique & Breakfast Inns. “When it comes to finding a spot for a romantic escape, there really is something for everyone—from desert spa retreats to high-end city shopping excursions and oceanfront cottages with fresh oysters.” Here are 10 uniquely swoon-worthy lodgings—see if one serves up romance just the way you like it.
—by Matt Jaffe
In a coastal city renowned for its historic Victorian-era architecture, one of the finest examples of the style is barely 30 years old. But the ornate, three-story Carter House certainly boasts a vintage pedigree. Owner Mark Carter built the mansion and its handcrafted details based on the original plans from a period 1880s house in San Francisco—plans Carter unearthed while browsing in a Eureka antique shop.
Now the centerpiece of a lodging collection that also includes an adjacent hotel and luxury cottages, Carter House lets you retreat into a world of bygone splendour exemplified by the Library Suite, with its carved details and wood-burning fireplace (the Grand Suites in the hotel building are spectacular, too). Pamper yourselves with an in-room Duet Massage before indulging in such seasonal, locally sourced specialities as the wild mushroom risotto at the lodging’s highly regarded Restaurant 301.
Some couples can’t wait to escape from the kitchen when they go away; others think food is the finest aphrodisiac, or just plain fun. If you’re in the latter group, grab your partner and head to this elegant inn in downtown Napa. Tie on that apron and learn from Napa Valley’s master chefs during hands-on cooking classes; you assist with duties alongside other inn mates as you help create—and eventually eat—a gourmet meal that’s perfectly paired with local wines. Food certainly plays a big role at Ken and Susie Pope’s 1892 brick inn, from multicourse breakfasts featuring such treats as Susie’s scrumptious maple bars to evening wine pours by the fireplace and carved oak bar in Cedar Gables’ Old English Tavern, where Ken plays ad hoc sommelier. And the antique-filled rooms, most with whirlpool tubs for two, are positively delicious too, especially with their complimentary chocolates.
It took six long years for Lani and Richard Eklund to turn this 1865 house, built by the founder of this Central Valley town near Lodi, into the B&B of their mutual dreams. But oh, the results. Anyone who loves history will appreciate the couple’s efforts to preserve this National Register of Historic Places landmark filled with Civil War–era character. “It really was a simple farmhouse, and you still appreciate how the family lived in the house when you stay here,” said Lani. “And our visitors who come from other parts of the world talk about how they enjoy the same kind of hospitality here that they would have experienced back in those days.”
The brick house on the edge of Lodi wine country is filled with all sorts of period details: three original fireplaces, Douglas fir floors, and beautifully detailed redwood trim and doors. While all of the rooms have their charms, try the secluded Water Tower Suite for the ultimate couple’s escape. From your hideaway, snuggle up in the window seat and look out across property’s English-style gardens. If you can drag yourself away, head to a nearby winery (the closest is just a half-mile away), pick up a bottle of something tasty, then come back to toast the sunset from your suite’s private deck.
Querencia, Mike and Mary Jo MacFarlane’s distinctive inn located in the appealing town of Murphys, certainly lives up to its name. Although there’s no direct translation for the Spanish word querencia, it usually refers to a place of sanctuary or safe haven. High on a ridgeline in the Gold Country’s Sierra foothills, the inn overlooks mountains and vineyards, a panorama that not only amazes guests, but still woos the MacFarlanes, too. “I love the view, having a 360 view,” said Mary Jo when Querencia was featured on HGTV’s Dream Builders. “It feels as if we’re on a trip…we’re on a romantic getaway.”
The inn’s architecture has dramatic contemporary touches, such as curving walls bracketing the entrance that make you feel like you’re entering a secret hideaway. The interior features extensive stonework, including an elaborate fireplace and a water wall that resembles a lush grotto. Decorated with romantic, traditional furnishings, the four guest rooms are in a separate building. Two choices offer spacious circular showers with mosaic tiles depicting local scenes, while a soak in the Platinum Suite’s whirlpool tub reveals a peekaboo view of nearby Blue Mountain. Surprise your love and arrange a candlelit dinner in Querencia’s wine cellar, or take advantage of the inn’s remote location and ultra-dark night sky to make a wish on a shooting star.
When the lights go down (or up) in the city, you’ll have a perfect perspective from The Inn Above Tide, where all of the waterfront rooms overlook San Francisco Bay. Take in views across the water to Alcatraz and San Francisco, especially if you splurge and book a stay in one of the many rooms or suites where the panoramas are even more spectacular from private decks. Some rooms also have fireplaces and deep soaking tubs—both nice touches when you need to warm up after a cool night by the bay or just want to cosy up with your loved one. Borrow one of the inn’s complimentary loaner bikes to visit Sausalito’s pretty waterfront and appealing shops, or hop on the ferry with your bikes, and in 20 minutes you’ll be docking in San Francisco. Spend the day exploring, then pedal back to the inn via another heart-melter, the Golden Gate Bridge.
Only 20 minutes south of Yosemite National Park in the Madera County town of Oakhurst, Chateau du Sureau brings a touch of European elegance to the rugged Sierra Nevada. The chateau, with its stone turret, balconies, and rooms filled with Old World antiques, makes for a surprising gem in a region better known for rustic mountain retreats and modest motels.
Sure you’ll want to explore Yosemite, but then again, why rush off? The nine-acre property includes lovely gardens for strolling. You can take a yoga class together (private or group sessions), then rejuvenate with a green tea and peat wrap at the chateau’s full-service spa. A full European breakfast is included in your stay, and certain packages also include lunch and dinner at the outstanding Erna’s Elderberry House Restaurant. Love the food? Join a half-day cooking class led by Erna’s chef de cuisine, Jonathon Perkins. After all, Yosemite will still be there tomorrow.
Fog? Who cares. A dose of misty coastal weather is just the ticket for romance at this rustically elegant retreat in Big Sur. The compound of tucked-away cabins and cottages, all outfitted with niceties like thick quilts, cast-iron stoves, and curl-up-all-day couches, are set among towering redwoods. Outside, get cosy in Adirondack chairs on your porch or deck to enjoy your fire pit and the sound of the nearby Big Sur River.
Other perfect touches at Glen Oaks, dubbed one of the world’s most romantic hotels by Travel + Leisure, include heated bathroom floors (very welcome on chilly mornings) and eco-friendly furnishings done up in rich and inviting colours. While all the cabins have their appeal (equally stylish choices are also available in the inn’s original building, the Adobe Motor Lodge), it’s tough to beat Glen Oaks’ Big Sur Cabin, with two outdoor claw-foot soaking tubs in a private courtyard.
With bed, breakfast, birds, and beaches, maybe we should think of this idyllic lodging as a B&B&B&B. Three blocks from the ocean and overlooking the protected Ballona Wetlands, a prime spot on the Pacific Flyway, the Cape Cod–inspired inn combines its natural setting with easy access to Southern California’s urban scene—Venice Beach and the restaurants and boutiques of Abbot Kinney Boulevard are just 10 minutes away.
“We’ve heard that the inn feels like a sanctuary and a respite from everyday life,” says guest services manager Rebecca Hill. “We’ve also heard couples say it is their favourite romantic getaway, which is probably why the Los Angeles Times wrote, ‘Couples should keep the Inn at Playa del Rey on their speed dial.’” With the soft coastal light pouring in through the windows, it’s easy to see why the inn has so many fans. Some suites have sunken Jacuzzi tubs with adjacent two-sided fireplaces, and if you’re here for an anniversary or special occasion, just let the inn know: There will be complimentary champagne waiting for you when you arrive. The inn is a birder’s dream location too—bring your bird book (or borrow one from the inn’s collection), settle in on a deck or balcony, and scan the wetlands for some of the 200 species that visit or live in the area.
When Steve Pratt and Scott Cutler started planning their dream desert retreat near the west entrance to Joshua Tree National Park, they set out to create an oasis, a place of stillness where guests could experience the glories of the surrounding high desert and get a break from the world’s distractions. The result is a B&B that is both timeless and contemporary in design, with eco-smart straw-bale construction reminiscent of an early adobe (great for keeping interiors cooler), while oxidised steel roofs and details give it a modern but organic feel.
Split your time between hunkering down in the room’s cool, hushed recesses and basking in the warmth of the desert sun on your private terrace, where there’s an outdoor shower and meditation platform. And after a day of hiking at Joshua Tree, you can give your muscles a break with a soak in your own outdoor spa tub—a decadent spot for stargazing in the region’s ultra-dark night skies. In the morning, Steve and Scott may join you for breakfast to share tips on things to do and see. “They’ve mastered the art of being gracious,” noted one recent guest.
Don’t have time for a quick Valentine’s Day jaunt to Provence? (It’s OK, neither do we.) Fortunately, this elegant inn surrounded by vineyards makes for an easy alternative to a Mediterranean getaway—and it’s only an hour’s drive north of San Diego and 90 minutes southeast of L.A.
Inspired by the romantic wine-country lodgings of Spain, France, and Italy, The Inn lets you bask under the Temecula sun on a property set among grapevines and citrus groves. The 10 rooms in the mission-style building are named for assorted varietals, and have private balconies or French doors that open to panoramic views. (The Cabernet Sauvignon suite, with its heart-shaped spa tub and brick fireplace, makes for a particularly romantic couples escape.) Innkeeper and chef Dean Thomas incorporates ingredients grown on the property into his changing breakfast menus. Extra touches include a chance to visit surrounding vineyards with a local sommelier—a great way to taste and learn about the region’s diverse wines.