Valentine's Day is a good excuse to pack up the car, grab your significant other and hit the road in search of romance. But, c'mon, do you really need a holiday to justify a sexy time outside the city? Here are a few of the most romantic getaways convenient to L.A., and the most romantic things to do once you're there.
Idyllwild is a delightful little mountain town with enough pine trees to trick you into thinking you're in the north woods, even though you're just southeast of Palm Springs.
How far from L.A.: A solid two hours, the second of which is spent gaining altitude on a windy road.
Where to stay: The Strawberry Creek Bunkhouse, where even the most modest rooms come with a private balcony. Each morning, the staff leaves a lovely little picnic basket full of scones, jam and fruit outside your door.
Where to eat: The Lumber Mill Bar and Grill has burgers you'll be reminiscing about for weeks. There's often live music there too. You can also find great wine and nibbles, and a more romantic vibe, at Idyll Awhile.
What to do: Hike the Ernie Maxwell Scenic Trail, which is long enough to satisfy the outdoorsy one, but flat enough that the less adventurous one won't complain. – Ali Trachta
The air feels fresher and the ocean more serene in Santa Barbara, which offers great hiking and mountain views amid historic 1930s architecture and terra-cotta paved streets.
How far from L.A.: One and a half hours (2 hours if you take scenic PCH)
Where to stay: Stay at the Hotel Santa Barbara, a Spanish-style boutique hotel in the heart of downtown that offers an old-school charm and complimentary breakfast.
What to eat: Gulp down oyster shooters, steamed clams, Dungeness crab and beer boiled shrimp at Brophy's on the Santa Barbara Harbor, which offers a postcard-worthy view of the ocean and surrounding mountains.
What to do: Visiting a courthouse may not sound like the most romantic idea, but the circa-1926 Spanish-style Santa Barbara County Courthouse offers sweeping views of the entire city, and on Fridays in the summer there are movie screenings on the lawn. And no need to travel to Santa Ynez Valley wine country – downtown Santa Barbara's railroad-adjacent arts district, the Funk Zone, is where you'll find the city's newest wine bars and breweries, including Telegraph Brewing Company and Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co. – Jennifer Swann
You really don't need to schlep all the way to Napa. This quaint spot near the central coast is just as charming, and less pretentiousness. The area is surrounded by vineyards that are an easy drive away, but the town itself is made up mostly of tasting rooms, peppered with restaurants and shops. You can make your own walking wine tour.
How far from L.A.: If you get there in two and a half hours, you've made good time.
Where to stay: The Fess Parker Wine Country Inn is gorgeous, and sits in the middle of town, but it'll cost you. VRBO or Airbnb is a great alternative.
Where to eat: Panino is located right in the center of the action and offers an array of hearty sandwiches that are sophisticated enough to complement your wine-stained afternoon. It's a great place to grab some mid-tasting sustenance.
What to do: Walk around all the livelong day and taste local wines in the many tasting rooms that make up the town square. No driving required. – Ali Trachta
The San Diego suburb is a classic SoCal beach town that has lovely shopping and some culture, such as the La Jolla Playhouse and a branch of Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.
How far from L.A.: With no traffic, one hour, 45 minutes
Where to stay: We've honestly never stayed anywhere but a relative's house, but La Valencia (where you can also get a drink in the fancy lobby bar) and the Grande Colonial are splurges that are well-positioned for you to walk to shops, restaurants and galleries.
Where to eat: Whisknladle is a lovely romantic spot downtown that's on the modern side for La Jolla, or George's is known as a more classic experience.
What to do: Lots of people like walking along the beach path by La Jolla Cove and seeing the seals, but for a more secluded walk there's Black's Beach (access the long road down to it at La Jolla Farms Dr. and Blackgold Rd.), also known as a nude beach. Or for a shorter and more accessible walk go to the bluff on La Jolla Farms Dr. right near the corner of Whitecliff Dr., where you get a great view of the ocean at sunset. – Zachary Pincus-Roth
You know you've arrived in Palm Springs when the mountains look so close that you feel as if you can reach out and touch them. You can lounge by the pool or go stargazing practically year-round in this Coachella Valley resort town full of mid-century modern architecture and retro, 1960s charm.
How far from L.A.: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Where to stay: The Saguaro has color-coded rooms decorated with antique leather and wooden chairs mixed with bright pop-art adornments. Take advantage of free daily yoga in a ground floor hotel room turned yoga studio, free bicycle rentals to cruise to downtown's Palm Canyon Drive (about a 10-minute ride away), a pool with a live DJ on the weekends and on-site biker-themed tapas bar Tinto.
Where to eat: Get brunch at King's Highway, Ace Hotel's sleek, ultra-mod diner that offers breakfast all day, shakes made from locally-grown dates and an entire menu of Bloody Marys in varying degrees of spiciness. Get stiff drinks while taking in live jazz music at old-timey restaurant and piano bar Melvyn's, which feels like a 1960s throwback right down to the crowd it draws.
What to do: In between riding bikes and laying out by the pool, get 1960s nostalgic with a visit to Frank Sinatra's grave at Desert Memorial Park in nearby Cathedral City or take a trip to Elvis' Honeymoon Hideaway, a guided tour of a mid-century modern home led by Elvis and Priscilla Presley impersonators. – Jennifer Swann
Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California, Mexico
Instead of heading north for your wine tasting weekend, go south of the border, where you'll find just as much beauty and maybe a little more adventure.
How far from L.A.: Three and a half hours if there's no traffic between L.A. and San Diego, but there will be.
Where to stay: La Villa del Valle hotel, which combines modern design and amenities with rural Mexican charm. There are only six rooms, each of which includes a balcony with a fireplace that overlooks the quiet Mexican countryside.
Where to eat: Corazon de Tierra, which is located on the grounds of La Villa del Valle. The ingredients are sourced from the hotel's gardens, which you stroll through to get to the restaurant, The menu changes according to season.
What to do: Wine taste up and down the Ruta del Vino. Las Nubes, which is located on a hillside, is worth putting on your list for great wines, and an even better view of the valley. – Ali Trachta
Forget the Mission and the other semi-gritty (yet still wildly expensive) neighborhoods where your college friends are scraping by. Just this once, why not see San Francisco like a tourist?
How far from L.A.: A six-hour drive or one-hour flight. Why not fly? You won't need a car when you're there.
Where to stay: The Hotel Vitale is one of the most beautiful places we've ever stayed – from the chic blond-wood lobby to the rooms with their expansive views of the bay, everything has a stylish modern simplicity that would be at home in Scandinavia.
Where to eat: Mosey across the street to the Ferry Building, where you can take down a dozen oysters and a bottle of Prosecco with your Cowgirl Creamery grilled cheese sandwich. The Slanted Door will change your conception of Vietnamese food. Or just over in the Financial District, Bix Restaurant and Supper Club will ply you with live jazz and a cocktail or twelve.
What to do: Just walk. Stroll down to the wharf and ogle the sea lions. Head over to North Beach and buy a book at City Lights and an espresso at any one of its zillion cafes. Window shop along Polk Street in Russian Hill, and, after checking out Nob Hill, have a cocktail at the Fairmont Hotel, where Tony Bennett first sang about our universal heart condition. – Sarah Fenske
You could follow the guidebooks and visit the tony parts of this desert city, staying far from the city center and enjoying a poolside massage. Or you could spend a weekend in what the locals call CenPho – soaking up the sunshine from an urban community that's still in utero.
How far from L.A.: A six-hour drive or a one-hour flight. Flight options are plentiful; beware the I-10, which gets incredibly boring the minute you leave the city limits.
Where to stay: The Clarendon Hotel, a retro chic hotel where the poolside is always hopping and the rooftop party doesn't stop. This isn't the Ritz, so don't expect luxury, but it is a stylish good time.
Where to eat: Gallo Blanco, the nuevo-Latino restaurant at the Clarendon, is a winner with amazing margaritas and a menu of inexpensive, well-prepared tacos, burritos and enchiladas. A very short ride away is Cibo, a pizza place in an old bungalow with the most romantic patio in the city center. Feeling like a splurge? Gangsters and movie stars loved Durant's, a venerable old steakhouse that's also a short cab ride from the Clarendon, and the place maintains its cool-retro vibe. Enter through the back kitchen like a local.
What to do: After your morning hike in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve, check out the Heard Museum, which has the nation's finest collection of Native American art, or visit the Desert Botanical Garden. If you're into cactus, it'll blow your mind. If not, well, maybe look into what's playing at the Rhythm Room. Or check out the Bikini Lounge, which feels like a dive but isn't really – everyone's too young, too pretty and way too friendly. – Sarah Fenske
Here's an idea for a lazy, luxury staycation: Save your gas money and your airfare and spend a weekend holed up in Pasadena.
How far from L.A.: Fifteen minutes from downtown – and no more than an hour's drive even from the furthest west points of the city, if you time it right.
Where to stay: The Langham, of course. The grand dame of SoCal hotels sits on 23 acres, with gardens so lovely you won't need to leave to feel rejuvenated. You'll pay at least $500 a night – but, again, you're saving on airfare.
Where to eat: The hotel's steakhouse, the Royce, is a pretty compelling reason not to get in your car until checkout time. But if you're feeling more motivated, Racion is hands-down the best restaurant in Pasadena, and romantic to boot. Feast on Basque-style tapas (duck sausage-stuffed squid, crispy prawns, or wild mushrooms with a pork jowl and poached egg) and then mosey over a block to check out the city's main hub, Colorado Boulevard.
What to do: Did we mention there's no point in leaving the Langham? Your massage will send you into a poolside coma. If you're feeling more ambitious, the Huntington Library and its botanical gardens are a very short drive away. – Sarah Fenske
See also: Ración: 99 Essential Restaurants 2013
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