How to Plan an Unforgettable California Honeymoon

Feel like a true movie star on your romantic beachfront getaway.
San Diego skyline from bay with mountains in background.
Photo: David Toussaint | Getty
Dina Cheney - The Knot Contributor.
by
Dina Cheney
Dina Cheney - The Knot Contributor.
Dina Cheney
The Knot Contributor
  • Dina writes for The Knot Worldwide, specializing in food, travel and relationships.
  • With more than 20 years of experience in service journalism, she also pens articles and recipes for publications, such as Good Housekeeping, Parents, SELF, Health, Men’s Health, Men’s Journal, Prevention, Fine Cooking, Weight Watchers and Diabetic Living.
  • Dina graduated from Columbia College, Columbia University and The Institute of Cul...
Updated Apr 23, 2024
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With cliff-lined sandy beaches, stunning redwood trees and mountains galore, a California honeymoon offers epic scenery worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster. As one of the most iconic honeymoon destinations in the US, you'll want to rent a car and drive from Southern to Northern California, soaking up the views and experiencing top-notch shopping, museums, restaurants and wineries along the way.

A honeymoon in California offers a diverse itinerary that caters to all tastes, from the beach destinations of Southern California to the iconic cityscapes of San Francisco and the lush vineyards of Napa Valley. Whether you're seeking adventure, relaxation, or a romantic getaway, California's stunning landscapes and vibrant cultural scenes provide the perfect backdrop for an unforgettable honeymoon.

Here's everything you need to start planning your California honeymoon.

California Honeymoon Tips in this Article:

    Sunset and palm trees on the beach against the soft pink californian sky
    Photo: Sanghwan Kim | Getty

    Best Time to Honeymoon in California

    "California really is a year-round destination," says Reco trip designer Cathy Udovch. Since the weather in Southern California is warm all year long, couples can plan their trips for anytime. On the other hand, Northern California gets somewhat wet and cold in the fall and winter, so the best time to visit would be late spring or summer.

    Best weather: Southern California is sunny all year, but you'll want to visit Northern California from April to October.
    Festival highlights: Coachella Music Festival in April offers an unforgettable musical and cultural experience in the desert. Film buffs will enjoy the San Francisco International Film Festival in spring. For food and wine lovers, the Napa Valley Wine Auction in June presents an exquisite sampling of world-class wines.

    California Honeymoon Planning Tips

    Thanks to the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Mojave Desert, redwood forests, and bluffs and beaches abutting the Pacific Ocean, California's natural beauty is gorgeous. Not only can honeymooners appreciate the majestic landscape, but they can also hike, bike, surf, sunbathe, swim and otherwise relish the wilderness—which is ideal for outdoorsy couples.

    After days spent outside, newlyweds can dine at Michelin-starred restaurants, enjoy pampering spa treatments, see artistic masterpieces, visit wineries and stay at luxurious hotels. The balance of nature and culture makes for an indulgent, satisfying and romantic vacation.

    Since the state is so large, it offers an abundance of activities and places to visit. From cosmopolitan and super high-end spots to rustic and economical ones, California offers options for everyone. Couples can do everything from wine tasting to kayaking. The state is also easy to access, with tons of direct flights into Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and San Francisco International Airport (SFO).

    "The only real con to honeymooning in California is trying to see and do it all in one trip," says Udovch. "The state is just too big for that." Since the options can be overwhelming, couples need to limit themselves to exploring only a portion of the state (such as San Francisco and the wine country north of the city). Otherwise, they should allot 10 or more days for their trip, so they can visit both Northern and Southern California. So make sure to keep that in mind while planning your honeymoon.

    Entry requirements: Since California is a US state, you won't need your passport—but don't forget to bring some form of ID.
    Language:
    English, but Spanish is widely spoken as well.
    Location: California is located on the west coast of the United States, bordered by Oregon to the north, Nevada to the east, and Arizona to the southeast. The Pacific Ocean lies to the west.
    Currency: USD.
    Flight time to Destination: From New York to Los Angeles, flights are around 6 hours direct.
    Getting around: California is vast and its attractions widespread, making car rentals a popular option for flexibility. Major cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego also offer extensive public transportation networks, including buses, subways, and trams.

    Pro tip: Invite a honeymoon planning expert for help getting organized. You can find local travel agents on The Knot Marketplace for California honeymoon tips and advice.

    Places to Visit in California on a Honeymoon

    Golden Gate Bridge at dusk
    Photo: Mihai_Andritoiu | Shutterstock

    Mendocino

    Misty and charming, this town couldn't be more romantic and photogenic. Stay at a bed-and-breakfast and decompress surrounded by seaside vistas.

    San Francisco

    Characterized by the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island and cable cars, the hilly City by the Bay should be a bucket-list destination. Explore the Victorian architecture, hike the trails along the Pacific coast, shop for produce at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market and eat at famed restaurants. Don't miss Golden Gate Park, especially the gorgeous and serene Japanese Garden.

    Wine Country

    Head to Napa or Sonoma County (or both), north of San Francisco. Visit wineries and take in the dramatic scenery, with neat rows of grapevines and mustard-flower-covered hills in the spring. Consider a hot air balloon ride for the choicest views, take a mud bath in Calistoga, and make reservations at award-winning restaurants.

    Yosemite National Park

    Located east of San Francisco, this UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Sierra Nevada Mountains includes 1,189 square miles of protected land. Couples can hold hands while navigating the hiking trails and encountering waterfalls, valleys and giant sequoias.

    Lake Tahoe

    Renowned for its clear water and mountains on all sides, this large freshwater lake divides California and Nevada. Head to the beaches and ski resorts, and don't miss Vikingsholm, a mansion built in 1929.

    Carmel-by-the-Sea

    Located about two hours south of San Francisco, this picturesque coastal town is heavy on charm. Take in the storybook cottages and visit art galleries and boutiques on the picture-perfect main drag.

    Santa Barbara

    Visit this beautiful beach town known for being home to celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Rob Lowe. Drive on the windy roads of the Montecito section to peep at estates.

    Los Angeles

    This spread-out metropolis is dynamic and sophisticated. Drive along Hollywood Boulevard to see the TCL Chinese Theater, footprint courtyard and stars along the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Udovch says. View the city from the rooftop telescope at the Griffith Observatory, stroll on the boardwalk in Santa Monica, and hit the boutiques on Rodeo Drive.

    The Newport Coast

    Visit this high-end area for Disneyland and resorts with championship golf courses. Art lovers should experience the Laguna Beach Festival of Arts Pageant of the Masters, which runs from the end of June to the end of August, Udovch says.

    Palm Springs

    Located a couple hours east of LA, this laid-back town offers an abundance of golf courses, beguiling desert landscapes, retro architecture and a renowned film festival.

    San Diego

    Head to this coastal city 17 miles from the Mexican border to eat authentic tacos, visit a world-class zoo and kick back at the many beaches. Staying on Coronado Island (just minutes from downtown) offers a beach experience plus Art Deco architecture, Udovch says.

    Big Sur

    Set between the Santa Lucia Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, Big Sur is a rugged stretch of misty and romantic coastline. As you drive along State Route 1, you'll encounter a bounty of state parks.

    Best California Honeymoon Hotels and Resorts

    When planning a romantic honeymoon in California, consider what type of experiences you both enjoy. Whether it's wine tasting, glamping, hiking in national parks, exploring urban centers or relaxing on the beach, California has it all. From luxury hotels to honeymoon ranches, booking accommodations in advance is recommended, especially if you're traveling during peak tourist seasons or planning to attend popular festivals.

    View on Santa Barbara from the pier
    Photo: S.Borisov | Shutterstock

    The Lodge at Torrey Pines

    Located atop cliffs near the ocean in La Jolla, The Lodge at Torrey Pines boasts a championship golf course.

    4.5 Star Rating | Read Reviews

    The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel

    Overlooking the Salt Creek surfing beach, this Ritz-Carlton property is ideal for honeymooners who crave water sports. Nearly all rooms offer ocean views. Take surfing lessons or tour the galleries in nearby Laguna Beach.

    4.5 Star Rating | Read Reviews

    The Ranch at Laguna Beach

    Situated in a canyon across the Pacific Coast Highway, The Ranch is a sustainable resort that is also home to a golf course.

    4.5 Star Rating | Read Reviews

    The Resort at Pelican Hill

    A luxury property overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Newport Beach, The Resort at Pelican Hill includes private bungalows and villas plus a vast saltwater pool. Its championship golf course has 36 holes, nearly all with ocean views.

    4.5 Star Rating | Read Reviews

    Hotel Casa del Mar

    Just steps away from the Santa Monica Pier, Hotel Casa del Mar dates back to the 1920s. Rooms include mahogany beds and hydrothermal massage tubs.

    4.5 Star Rating | Read Reviews

    El Encanto, A Belmond Hotel

    Tucked away in the hills overlooking Santa Barbara and the Pacific Ocean, El Encanto first opened in 1918. Along with charm, couples will find bungalows and a lily pond full of turtles.

    4.5 Star Rating | Read Reviews

    Fairmont San Francisco

    The first hotel from the Fairmont brand, this property sits atop tony Nob Hill. With some of the best views of the city, the hotel includes a large rooftop garden and the famous Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar.

    4.5 Star Rating | Read Reviews

    The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay

    Stay at the Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay for a luxury oceanfront experience that features a 36-hole golf course, a spa with 16 treatment rooms and a coed, candlelit Roman mineral bath.

    4.5 Star Rating | Read Reviews

    Pro tip: If you're looking for California honeymoon accommodations that'll provide you more privacy, unique experiences or lower prices, you might also want to consider staying at a romantic Airbnb or VRBO.

    California Honeymoon Itinerary Ideas

    Whether you're the outdoorsy type or a total foodie couple, you'll find plenty of romantic things to do on a California honeymoon. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

    Yosemite National Park, Mountains and Valley
    Photo: Mikhail Kolesnikov | Shutterstock

    See Art

    California offers some of the most renowned art museums and galleries in the country. Don't miss the Getty Center and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) in LA and the de Young and SF MOMA in San Francisco.

    Exercise in Nature

    Bike in wine country; rollerblade on the Venice Beach boardwalk; hike at Yosemite or Joshua Tree National Park; and surf in the waters off San Francisco. To truly experience the grandeur of California's natural spaces, couples can stay at resorts inside national parks, Udovch says.

    Try Acclaimed Restaurants

    San Francisco, Los Angeles and wine country all offer a wealth of Michelin-starred dining rooms. To experience the height of gastronomy, reserve The French Laundry in wine country and Atelier Crenn in San Francisco.

    Shop

    Pretend you're an A-lister and stop by the boutiques on Rodeo Drive in LA. In San Francisco, pick up artisanal items at shops along Union Street or in the hip Mission District.

    Pro tip: Add California honeymoon experiences to your gift registry so friends and family can pitch in on a few of these memorable couples' activities. Be sure to post a few photos to your wedding website so your guests can stay up to date with your travels.

    What to Pack for a California Honeymoon

    Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve
    Photo: Sumiko Scott | Getty

    Make sure your packing checklist includes a light jacket, an umbrella and a raincoat for fall and winter travel, especially if heading to Northern California. Even in the summer, you'll need a light jacket for San Francisco evenings. Although the state tends to be relatively casual, pack stylish attire in your honeymoon luggage if you plan to dine at high-end restaurants in LA or San Francisco.

    Brittany Barber contributed to this article.

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