How to Plan an Unforgettable California Honeymoon

Feel like a true movie star on your romantic beachfront getaway.
The Santa Monica Pier at sunset, Los Angeles, California.
Zhukova Valentyna / Shutterstock,Location: Santa Monica Pier, Los Angeles, California
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 Dec 16, 2021

With cliff-lined sandy beaches, stunning redwood trees and mountains galore, a California honeymoon offers epic scenery worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster. 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. Here's everything you need to start planning the perfect California honeymoon.

Is California Good for a Honeymoon?

Couple walking through Giant Redwood Forest
Ryan Kelehar/Shutterstock

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 outdoors.

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.

Pros of a California Honeymoon

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).

Cons of a California Honeymoon

"The only real con to honeymooning in California is trying to see and do it all in one trip," says Reco trip designer Cathy 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 honeymoon so they can visit both Northern and Southern California. Newlyweds should also be aware that the primary tourist areas—like Los Angeles and the Napa Valley—can be quite pricey.

The Best Times of Year to Go on a California Honeymoon for Good Weather

"California really is a year-round destination," Udovch says. 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.

Places to Visit in California on a Honeymoon

If newlyweds can swing the time, they should consider exploring the entire state, driving on the narrow and windy State Route 1 from north to south.

Northern California

Golden Gate Bridge at dusk
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.

Central Coast

View on Santa Barbara from the pier
S.Borisov/Shutterstock

Big Sur

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

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 the 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.

Southern California

Grauman's Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard
Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

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.

Things to Do During a California Honeymoon

Yosemite National Park, Mountains and Valley
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.

Best Hotels and Resorts in California for a Honeymoon

Victorian Hotel del Coronado
Vacclav/Shutterstock

Four Seasons Resort and Residences Napa Valley

This resort set within a winery boasts two outdoor swimming pools with vineyard views, a restaurant overseen by a Michelin-starred chef, and rooms with fireplaces and private terraces.

Hotel del Coronado

Situated on Coronado Island in San Diego, this elegant and classy hotel offers guests unobstructed views of the Pacific Ocean and beach, Udovch says.

The Lodge at Torrey Pines

Located atop cliffs near the ocean in La Jolla, this property boasts a championship golf course.

The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel

Overlooking the Salt Creek surfing beach, this spot 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.

The Ranch at Laguna Beach

Situated in a canyon across the Pacific Coast Highway, this sustainable resort is home to a golf course.

The Resort at Pelican Hill

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

Hotel Casa del Mar

Just steps away from the Santa Monica Pier, this beachfront hotel dates back to the 1920s. Rooms include mahogany beds and hydrothermal massage tubs.

Hotel Bel-Air, The Dorchester Collection

This Los Angeles hotel sits on a 12-acre oasis and offers a spa, a large pool and a Wolfgang Puck restaurant.

El Encanto, A Belmond Hotel

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

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.

The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay

This luxury oceanfront hotel features a 36-hole golf course, a spa with 16 treatment rooms and a coed, candlelit Roman mineral bath.

Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa

For couples seeking pampering, check out this property's 40,000-square-foot spa with private whirlpool tubs and European-style bathing rituals. The property also includes three pools fed by underground springs.

What to Pack for a California Honeymoon

Bring 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, tote stylish attire if you plan to dine at high-end restaurants in LA or San Francisco.

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