ROMANCE ON THE RAILS
Now here’s an idea for romantic getaway that you probably haven’t considered: Enjoying a gourmet dinner and wine tasting on a vintage passenger train in the Wine Country. There’s something about riding on a train that oozes with romance, and to ride along with your significant other is all the better. The Napa Valley Wine Train is a rolling restaurant of vintage-style cars—each finished with polished Honduran mahogany paneling and etched-glass partition—that makes a scenic journey through the vineyards of Napa, Yountville, Oakville, Rutherford, and St. Helena while uniformed wait staff serve gourmet dinners and plenty of fine wine. For more information log onto www.winetrain.com or call 800/427-4124. WHERE TO STAY: Napa Hotels
Two other dinner trains that are offering a similar romantic experience are the Sacramento Dinner Train and the Sierra Railroad Dinner Train out of Oakdale, both of which offer multi-course dinners, scenic views, and plenty of wine and champagne. For more information about both train rides log onto www.sierrarailroad.com, or call 800/866-1690. WHERE TO STAY: Sacramento Hotels
FRESH OYSTERS, CHAMPAGNE, & OCEAN VIEWS
This is a romantic getaway of my own invention: Pack a picnic basket with chilled champagne, good bread (Acme or Grace), shallot and vinegar “mignonette” (it’s easy to make your own—give it a try), cocktail sauce, two oyster knives, a pair of plastic wine or champagne glasses, a garbage bag, and some folding chairs. Then hop in the car with your honey and head to Drake’s Bay Oyster Farm at Point Reyes National Seashore. It doesn’t look like much—just a cluster of wooden shacks and oyster tanks surrounded by piles of oyster shells—but it’s the best place to buy delicious fresh-out-of-the-water oysters by the sack full. Ask the friendly owner give you a quick lesson on how to properly shuck them, drive down to Point Reyes Beach, set up your chairs facing the ocean, pop the cork, and let the oyster-enhanced romance-fest begin. Better yet, book a room at a nearby B&B and make a weekend of it. For more information log onto www.drakesbayfamilyfarms.com or call 415/669-1149. WHERE TO STAY: Point Reyes Hotels
THE WORLD’S MOST ROMANTIC 17-MILE DRIVE
When’s the last time you spent the day touring Pebble Beach’s legendary 17-Mile Drive? Right then: Pack a picnic basket, fork over the $9.25 entrance fee, and prepare to see some of the most exclusive real estate in the world. Highlights include Bird Rock, the famous Lone Cypress tree, and Cypress Point Lookout with its 20-mile view to the Big Sur Lighthouse. The drive also traverses the Del Monte Forest, thick with tame black-tailed deer. Better yet, book a room at Clint Eastwood’s romantic Mission Ranch lodge in Carmel, rent some bikes and enjoy an uber-romantic weekend exploring 17-Mile Drive, Pacific Grove, and Carmel on bicycles. For more information log onto to www.pebblebeach.com and www.missionranchcarmel.com.
WHERE TO STAY: Carmel Hotels; Pacific Grove Hotels
ROMANTIC BICYCLE TOURS OF SONOMA VALLEY
Sonoma and its neighboring towns are so small, close together, and relatively flat that it’s not difficult to get around on two wheels. In fact, if you’re not in a hurry, there’s no better way to tour Sonoma Valley than via bicycle. There are several bike rental and tour companies in Sonoma Valley, whose staff will happily map out the best bike routes, or take one of their organized excursions to Sonoma region wineries (some even provide a van to lug any bottles of win you buy along the way). The rental cost typically includes helmets, locks, maps, and everything else you’ll need. Tandem bikes are available as well. For more information log onto www.sonomavalleybiketours.com. WHERE TO STAY: Sonoma Hotels
VOLUPTUOUS YOSEMITE VALLEY
It always amazes me to meet people who’ve lived in California for years and have never been to Yosemite Valley, which has to be one of the most beautiful and romantic places on earth. It’s a wonderland of record-setting statistics: the highest waterfall in North America and three of the world’s 10 tallest waterfalls (Upper Yosemite Fall, Ribbon Fall, and Sentinel Fall); the tallest and largest single granite monolith in the world (El Capitan); and the world’s most recognizable mountain (Half Dome). But trying to explain the majesty of Yosemite Valley in words is impossible; you simply must experience it firsthand, and winter—when the crowds are thinnest and the air is crystal clear—is my favorite time to go. For more information log onto www.nps.gov/yose. WHERE TO STAY: Yosemite Hotels
ROMANCE IN THE REDWOODS
Did you know that Northern California is home to the tallest living things in the world? It’s true. In fact, it’s difficult to explain the feeling you get walking among the ancient trees within Redwood National Park’s Tall Trees Grove. It’s all so incredibly beautiful and spiritually moving that one can see why people are willing to chain themselves to these trees to protect what little remains of this natural wonder of the world. Bring your baby-doll, a blanket, and picnic basket when you visit, because you’ll want to spend all day here exploring the forest, relaxing under the sun-streaked canopy, and watching river otters play in the emerald-green Smith River (I do it every year). For more information log onto www.nps.gov/redw. WHERE TO STAY: Crescent City Hotels
JUNGLE LOVE AT THE SAFARI B&B, SALINAS
Imagine you and your lover waking in a private bungalow to find a cheetah sleeping on your porch, and then having an elephant deliver your breakfast basket with its trunk. That’s just another morning for guests at the Vision Quest Safari Bed & Breakfast, one of the nation’s most unique B&Bs. Amid the ranch’s pride of exotic animals are deluxe Africa-style tent cabins with wild animal-theme decors (talk about jungle love). Yes, those are real lions and tigers roaring through your canvas walls, and guests can join trainers on their evening walks among the animals (daily public tours are available as well). It’s all terribly fun and romantic. For more information log onto www.visionquestranch.com.