By June Naylor
California appeals to the romantic in everyone, and the huge state generously offers a variety of postcard-perfect destinations, from coast to vineyards to mountains. With the wedding frenzy behind you, we recommend heading west to spend the first days of your newlywed life steeped in natural beauty. Here, three such options give you special surroundings in which to enjoy uninterrupted time together.
Just down the road from Monterey, Big Sur is a place of rugged beauty that provides exquisite clifftop views of the Pacific Ocean and extraordinary beaches for playing in the pounding, if chilly, surf. Perhaps most famous for a twisting stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway (California 1) — the soaring bridges skirting magnificent coves and the coastline views of waterfalls framed by redwoods take your breath away — the Big Sur area is wedged between the sea and the Santa Lucia mountain range. At Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, hikes include the half-mile round-trip Waterfall Overlook Trail, which gives you a look at McWay Falls spilling over granite rocks and into the ocean. The 8.8-mile Andrew Molera Loop supplies stunning bluff views and paths down to remote beaches. For chill time, pack a picnic for a day at Sand Dollar Beach, the longest beach in Big Sur (a little under a mile in length). One of two lovely picks for lodging is Post Ranch Inn, a 39-room resort on a 100-acre ranch with mountain and ocean views. Made from reclaimed materials, the retreat includes a big buffet breakfast, yoga, guided hikes and more in your stay. There’s a spa, too, as well as the award-winning restaurant Sierra Mar, where the menu features local fish, chicken, beef, veggies and wine. At Ventana Big Sur, accommodations in rooms, suites and villas have assorted offerings from fireplaces to porches and balconies; there are glamping options, as well, in luxurious tents. Spend time in the spa or on guided hikes, on garden tours or in meditation and tai chi classes. For dining with views you’ll never forget, try Ventana’s elegant The Sur House; while in the area, don’t skip the landmark restaurant called Nepenthe. Thanks to a new American Airlines route, you can now fly nonstop from DFW to Monterey.
CENTRAL COAST WINE COUNTRY
From Monterey southward to Santa Ynez, hundreds of vineyards stretch toward the horizon, climb hills and decorate one valley after another. Central Coast wine country is gaining attention that once belonged exclusively to Napa and Sonoma; with smaller and less crowded towns, it is far easier to visit than its more famous cousins. Paso Robles in particular brims with winery tasting rooms where the person pouring your glass of wine may well be the winemaker, the owner or both. Many of the wine towns sit just a half-hour inland from the Pacific, so you can spend the morning beachcombing or surfing and the afternoon popping into wineries to find your favorite new zinfandel, malbec, pinot noir, chardonnay and viognier. At Justin Vineyards & Winery in Paso Robles, the fancy tasting room offers comfortable seating areas and a menu of wine-friendly dishes. At Onx, also in Paso Robles, a modern and welcoming tasting room serves up delicious pours such as Field Day, a blend of sauvignon blanc, grenache blanc and viognier; and Mad Crush, a blend of grenache, tempranillo and mourvedre. Charming places to stay include Paso Park Suites, beautiful balcony condos overlooking Paso Robles’ town square, in easy walking distance of lots of food, drink and shopping. In Solvang, near such stellar Los Olivos wineries as Fess Parker and Beckmen Vineyards, The Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort is a spectacular spread with fabulous casitas, horseback riding on scenic lands, golf and tennis. Nearby, The Hitching Post II is the region’s destination for oak-grilled steaks and more excellent wine. And don’t miss S.Y. Kitchen in Santa Ynez for garden-to-table creations and a list of wonderful local wines. Fly nonstop from DFW to San Luis Obispo or Santa Barbara on American.
California’s High Sierra country is home to a legendary national park and one of the oldest, too. Beloved for its 1,200 square miles of sequoias, waterfalls, mountains and lakes, Yosemite supplies hiking on more than 750 miles of trails, meaning there’s something for all levels of experience. Seasoned rock climbers scale the wall of the granite monolith, El Capitan; bring binoculars to watch the climbers if you’re not one of them. You can sign up for a climbing class in Half Dome Village, where even beginners climb and rappel on their first day. Climbs to various parts of Yosemite Falls range from easy to challenging, while laid-back walks along the Tuolumne River are found in Tuolumne Meadows. Photography classes are held in the park, and professional guides are for hire for hikes and rock climbs. Look into other ways to see the park, such as by bicycle or on horseback, or join a rafting trip on the Merced River. There’s kayaking on Tenaya Lake, as well. Built in the 1920s, The Majestic Yosemite Hotel is a grand lodge right in the park, as is Tenaya Lodge, a resort with mountain biking, guided nature hikes, a star-watching tour and a spa. For sheer elegance, book a stay at Chateau du Sureau, just a few minutes south from the park’s entrance near Fish Camp. Rooms in the European-style hotel are named for Mediterranean herbs, such as Thyme, Lavender and Rosemary, and the spa offers treatments including herbal baths, along with pampering facials and massages. The chateau’s Elderberry House Restaurant serves dishes made with organic goods from nearby farms, and the estate grounds invite you to hang around and play bocce, or chess or checkers on a life-size board, or simply linger over wine in the gazebo. Fly American nonstop from DFW to Fresno.