We’ve all stayed at nice a hotel during our vacation, but when’s the last time you stayed at a hotel that was so special it was the vacation?
The seven Northern California hotels listed below offer that sort of experience. Yes, they’re expensive, but you can’t put a price on a lifetime of fond memories. So treat yourself and your partner to an early Christmas present this year and see what it’s like to experience hospitality perfected.
Post Ranch Inn, Big Sur
I’ve been reviewing hotels for 25 years and I still haven’t stayed anywhere that came close to the Post Ranch Inn experience. There simply aren’t words in the English language to properly describe that view.
Typically a high-end hotel’s goal is to impress you with an abundance of service, but the Post Ranch Inn does just the opposite—the management intentionally keeps contact with the staff to a minimum so you can wallow in romantic splendor while blissfully ensconced within your private cottage, soaking in the inherent beauty all around you that is Big Sur.
As a Northern Californian you have the rare opportunity to be within driving distance—and what a beautiful drive it is—of one of the top-rated lodgings on the planet, so don’t let it alone, regardless of the cost. You have no idea how happy you can make someone simply by making a hotel reservation for two at the Post Ranch Inn.
Bernardus Lodge, Carmel Valley
We can’t all be rich, but it doesn’t mean we can’t pretend once in a while. Just being in Carmel Valley is a pleasant experience, but when combined with a stay at the Bernardus Lodge, it becomes a momentous occasion. Bernardus Vineyards & Winery owner Ben Pon spared no expense getting everything just right at his hotel, from the generously sized guest rooms with stone fireplaces and king-size featherbeds with soft-as-silk Frette linens, to heavenly spa treatments and French-inspired Wine Country cuisine at the award-wining Marinus restaurant.
I’ve sent a lot of people here who’ve asked me where to stay for a special occasion, because I know they’ll sigh with satisfaction the moment they enter the beautiful lobby and are immediately offered a glass of chilled white wine. With two tennis courts, bocce and croquet courts, a swimming pool, a full-service spa and salon, and a plethora of nearby wine-tasting opportunities, there’s never a shortage of things to do—if you can ever get out of that bed.
Bodega Bay Lodge, Bodega Bay
If you need a go-to place for a romantic getaway that won’t bruise your credit card, this is it. Everything about the surprisingly affordable Bodega Bay Lodge oozes romance, from the gorgeous views of the bay, bird-filled marshes, and Pacific ocean, to the spacious guestrooms with cherry-wood furnishings, black granite bathrooms, wood-burning fireplaces, and a private balconies.
The kicker, however, the their new full-service spa facilities and oh-so-relaxing hot tub overlooking the bay. After a 90-minute therapeutic massage, join your partner in the hot tub to watch the sunset and, well, it doesn’t get much more romantic than this.
The lodge’s Duck Club Restaurant is Bodega Bay’s most romantic, with picture windows that show off the bay views, and cuisine that highlights the best of Sonoma County seasonal and sustainably farmed produce, seafood and meats—think roasted Petaluma duck and fish delivered to the kitchen fresh off the Bodega fleet.
Cavallo Point, Marin
You make plans to hike the Marin Headlands, then you walk into your gorgeous guestroom and realize, nah, I ain’t going anywhere this weekend. I’m staying right here.Then you start taking photos of your guestroom, because it’s exactly what you want your dream home to look like.
Welcome to Cavallo Point, which was created by the same folks who dreamed up the Post Ranch Inn, so you know your stay here is going to be… special, and they don’t disappoint.
It’s the tipping point of hotel perfection—spotless historic lodgings with modern appointments, phenomenal views of the Golden Gate Bridge, a superb restaurant and cozy lounge, a beautiful full-service spa, and a deep commitment to environmental sustainability.
The lodge also offers an interesting mix of classes and activities such as a cooking school, history walks, and art tours, allowing guests a rare opportunity to interact with the wonderful staff and come away with much more than a special stay by the bay.
Meadowood, St. Helena
Whenever I stay at Meadowood I always make plans to visit the nearby wineries, and then I never do.
It happens every time—I can never get myself to hop back in the car and leave this immaculate 256-acre wooded paradise. It has everything one could ever hope for in a luxury Wine Country resort: a secluded location, outstanding service, freestanding luxury accommodations, a challenging 9-hole golf course, tennis on seven championship courts, croquet on two international regulation lawns (with a full-time croquet pro on hand, so bring your whites), private hiking trails, a full-service health spa, yoga classes, two heated pools, two whirlpools, and an award-winning restaurant.
Trust me: It will be with deep reluctance when it comes time to pack your bags and drive back home. Meadowood is that special.
The Carter Cottage, Eureka
Hotelier Mark Carter has built, with his own hands, the most romantic getaway cottage in California. It’s a part of his Victorian empire that includes the stately Hotel Carter, Carter House, and Bell Cottage—all situated right next to each other. I still remember the first time I walked inside the Carter Cottage. “This… this is all mine?” Essentially it’s a gorgeously designed mini-mansion with a huge chef’s kitchen, two fireplaces, a grand bathroom with a whirlpool tub for two, a sundeck, and all the privacy you could ever hope for.
The Hotel Carter also the perfect place to stow your luggage as you visit one of the most romantic places I have ever been to on this planet: a visit in the fall season to Tall Trees Grove within the Redwood National Forest to watch the massive maples turn color amidst the tallest evergreens in the world. Call Mark and make this trip happen.
The Ahwahnee, Yosemite Valley
Let’s cut to the chase: The Ahwahnee is one of the most beautiful and romantic hotels in North America. With its soaring lobby, cathedral-like dining room, outstanding views, and postcard-perfect location at the base of Yosemite Valley, it’s a special-occasion destination if there ever was.
While its guestrooms and service aren’t quite the caliber of the other hotels on this list, the moment you first witness the Ahwahnee in all her majestic glory against a backdrop of soaring granite cliffs, you won’t care. And don’t wait for warm weather: The Ahwahnee and Yosemite Valley are always best experienced in the crowd-free winter months.
If you have your own tips and recommendations on your favorite high-end hotels in Northern California that you’d like to share, feel free to add your own comments below. We’d love to hear from you.
~ Matthew Poole