We’re sitting on our balcony, lazily pondering what to do with the day. The sun is just beginning its morning stretch, lifting itself up and casting a pale pink-and-gold light over the vines that roll into the distance. Hot air balloons have taken off in the pitch darkness, adding pops of yellow, red and orange to the cornflower sky beyond.
We could go for a slow hike in the mountains, which create a deep lilac backdrop to the wineries and clusters of forest. We could drive a little and find a near-deserted lakeshore beach, swimming in cool, limpid waters before drying off in the warm sun, perhaps staying for a picnic. Or we could head out for a day of wine-tasting around Napa and Sonoma.
This is California with the crowds stripped away and the raw natural beauty stepped up a few gears. Roads wiggle like ribbons through thick forests of coastal redwoods, so broad and tall you have to lie down to see the canopies. Beaches range from stretches with sand the color of set honey, scattered with driftwood logs that make perfect seats for two, to burnished gold coves leading to rocky outcrops with tide pools.
In winter, mountain peaks and slopes are often dusted in snow. Lake Tahoe becomes an idyll for skiing and cozy, fireside evenings, while waterfalls either freeze mid-flow or continue to cascade, framed by snowy pines. It’s easy to find romance here, at any time of year.
From wine country retreats that make every day feel like a honeymoon, to tucked-away forest escapes, and hotels with views of San Francisco‘s Golden Gate Bridge, these are the best places to explore Northern California and all its rugged romance.