6 Weekend Getaways in the Bay Area: Fine Wine and a Rugged Coastline

Local writer Christabel Lobo takes you through some of the best weekend getaways in the Bay Area from San Francisco to Big Sur.

It’s a quintessential Bay Area weekend with not a cloud in sight. I’m cruising along Highway 29 with the windows rolled down, and the view to either side of me is filled with flourishing fields in full bloom, rolling green hills, and vineyards full of grapes getting ready for the upcoming fall harvest.

A couple glasses of fruity Pinot Noir and a cheese pairing class later and I’m on the road again, headed for the iconic Pacific Coast Highway. Along the way, I stop for an hour or two at a few of the towns that dot the coast. Fresh Californian seafood is aplenty, as are the inspiring views that have drawn and inspired musicians, writers, and artists for decades.

From hopping aboard a wine train in Napa to surfing infamous 30-foot waves in Half-Moon Bay, there’s no shortage in variety with these six weekend getaways in the Bay Area.

Big Sur

Photo courtesy of Visit California, Blaise

The rugged stretch of Big Sur begins just south of Carmel-by-the-Sea and continues on for 90-miles along the PCH. Unlike any other region in California, Big Sur with its windy roads and steep bluffs overlooking the ocean has a magnetic draw that leaves you wanting more.

Take your time driving down the narrow, two-lane highway admiring the redwood groves that dot the landscape. Keep an eye out for Bixby Creek Bridge, arguably one of the most-photographed bridges in California thanks to its concrete open-spandrel arch design over a steep canyon.

While there are plenty of culinary options to choose from, a personal favorite for fresh Californian fare is Nepenthe. Perched atop a peak in the Santa Lucia mountains, the restaurant has long been frequented by bohemians of Big Sur—Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac were both regulars—and its main draw is the panoramic coastal views from the outdoor deck. The Ambrosia burger served on a hot French roll with a side of French fries and their secret Ambrosia sauce is the most popular item on the menu.

After lunch, make a pit stop at the Henry Miller Memorial Library before continuing along the scenic route until you get to the opulent Hearst Castle, designed by California’s first female architect, Julia Morgan, as the residence of the newspaper magnate, William Randolph Hearst.

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Splurge with a stay at the lavish Ventana Big Sur, an adults-only property set on 160-acres of green forest and meadow high above the rugged Pacific Ocean coastline. The 59 woodsy-chic rooms and suites feature whirlpool tubs and private patios with forest or ocean views.

For those interested in being one with nature, the hotel also offers an upscale glamping experience with 15 safari-style tents set in a 20-acre canyon, complete with teak-enclosed showers and a nightly turndown service of hot cocoa and warm bedsheets. Guided nature walks, yoga and Pilates classes, as well as evening s’mores are included in the daily room rate.

Alila Ventana Big Sur, All Inclusive Adults Only

Top rated
Big Sur
8.9 Excellent (165 reviews)


Photo courtesy of

Whether you’re leisurely cruising along in Malibu or up north along California’s Central Coast, driving down the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) is a visual treat. As you head south from San Francisco along the PCH, make sure to stop by the coastal town of Carmel-by-the-Sea.

A longtime haven for artists, writers, and creatives of all sorts—Clint Eastwood, Ansel Adams, John Steinbeck, and Doris Day have all called the town home—Carmel-by-the-Sea expertly combines the feel of a centuries-old European town with California’s laid-back charm. From the ideal surf conditions and warm sunsets at Carmel Beach to the plethora of art galleries and one-of-a-kind shops in the village center, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

Indulge in a fine dining experience at Aubergine, located in L’Auberge, a luxe French-style inn built in 1929, or a more casual meal at A.W. Shucks Cocktail & Oyster Bar, known for its fresh oysters and seafood. If you visit in the spring, the Relais & Châteaux GourmetFest is not to be missed. The four-day event features meals by world-renowned chefs, wine tastings and cooking demonstrations hosted in venues all over town.

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Often referred to as the Grande Dame of Carmel, La Playa Carmel is set in a stately 1905 mansion which once belonged to a member of the Ghirardelli chocolate family. The hotel has been host to a number of creatives during its 100-year old history, most notably, Steve Jobs, who unveiled a prototype of Apple’s first Macintosh computer during a company retreat.

The 75-room property is a few minutes’ walk from Carmel Beach and offers refined rooms, lush terraced gardens, and a not-to-be-missed daily champagne breakfast, all while overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

La Playa Hotel

Top rated
8.8 Excellent (2118 reviews)

Half Moon Bay

Photo courtesy of Visit California, Carol Highsmith

Just 30-miles from San Francisco is Half Moon Bay, a quiet beach town that’s often overlooked but makes for a worthy weekend trip from San Francisco. Most of the town’s visitors come to check out the swell at Mavericks, an infamous surfing location known for its epic 30-to-50-foot waves.

But if history is more your style, downtown Half Moon Bay calls for a visit. The urban core is full of historic homes like the Zaballa House, belonging to one of the town planners, and the San Benito House, a restaurant, bar and inn, dating back to the 1800s.

Heading north of the town center lies Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, home to a variety of sea life—limpets, hermit carbs, red octopus, and purple sea urchins—that are best viewed during low tide in the reserve’s tidepools. From May until the end of June, you also have the opportunity to spot harbor seal pups and their mothers casually laying around on the shores.

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Mill Rose Inn, a quaint bed-and-breakfast offers six Victorian-era rooms and suites, each with their own fireplaces. Upgraded suites add claw-foot baths or whirlpool tubs.

The colorful gardens feature over two hundred rose bushes and a variety of perennials, plus a gazebo-shaded hot tub, all thoughtfully designed by the B&B’s owners, husband-and-wife duo, Eve and Terry Baldwin.

Mill Rose Inn

Top rated
Half Moon Bay
9.4 Excellent (225 reviews)

Napa Valley

Photo courtesy of Bob McClenahan, Visit Napa Valley

From world famous wine production to fine dining at some of the country’s best establishments, the sights and sounds of the plush Napa Valley landscape need no introduction. Climb aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train for an unforgettable vino experience in restored 1915 Pullman railcars with Honduran-mahogany interiors and etched glass partitions. Depending on the route, the train takes you from downtown Napa all the way up north to the vineyards of St. Helena and offers either a gourmet dining experience or winery tour.

The area also offers plenty of outdoor activities away from the vineyards. Spend the day at California’s largest freshwater lake, Lake Berryessa, located less than an hour’s drive from Napa, and known for its water sports, fishing and 75-degree summer waters.

Or, create your own food tour of Napa’s restaurants, a Michelin-starred edition. Dining choices range from fine dining at The French Laundry, to a minimalistic Japanese menu at Kenzo, known for flying in fresh ingredients daily from Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market.

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With enviable views of Napa’s rolling hillside vineyards, The Meritage Resort and Spa is your answer to a chic weekend getaway in the heart of wine country. Located across the street is The Village, where guests have access to nine tasting rooms featuring wines from some of Napa’s renowned wineries, such as Trinitas Cellars and Luna Vineyards, plus a variety of cooking classes where students learn how to expertly pair wines with their meals, be it French, Italian or even Mexican dishes.

The hotel also offers tours of its own nine-acre vineyard as well as luxurious spa treatments at Spa Terra, set underground in an estate cave. The signature restaurant, Siena, serves up locally-sourced ingredients with a rustic Tuscan-flair.

The Meritage Resort and Spa

8.0 Very good (2310 reviews)

San Francisco

Photo courtesy of SF Travel Association

Surrounded by the Pacific Ocean to the west and San Francisco Bay to the east, the city of San Francisco is known for its seriously steep hills, the iconic Golden-Gate bridge, year-round fog—affectionately named Karl the Fog, a reference to the movie Big Fish—and Victorian-era townhouses.

While Alcatraz and Pier 39 are some of the city’s most popular attractions, I prefer to go off-the-beaten-path to get a true sense of the city and its history. If you’re in the mood for a crepe, savory or sweet, head to Crepes on Cole in the hippie Haight-Ashbury neighborhood.

For zen-seekers, the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park is truly an oasis from the city’s hustle and bustle. When it comes to dining, my best find to date is Off the Grid, a food truck meet up every Friday evening from March to October at the Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture located in the Marina neighborhood. Go for Southern Comfort Kitchen for crawfish etouffee and oyster po’boys.

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Located in Nob Hill, which is known for its luxury mansions and landmark buildings, The Ritz-Carlton is housed in a 1909 neoclassical building. Both the Grace Cathedral, a French Gothic-style church, and San Francisco’s famed Union Square are less than 10 minutes by foot.

The airy rooms and suites have been recently renovated in shades of blue and grey, representing the city’s foggy weather and waterfront location. Book a club-level room and get access to the chic lounge, complete with a fireplace, impressive views of the San Francisco skyline, and on Saturday evenings, a lavish spread of caviar and sparkling wine.

The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco

Top rated
San Francisco
9.2 Excellent (2115 reviews)

Santa Cruz

Photo courtesy of Visit California, Carol Highsmith

Set along Monterey Bay, the Central Coast city of Santa Cruz has long attracted both locals and tourists alike for its ideal location. With close proximity to both beaches and mountains filled with redwood trees, the city is a dream for outdoor enthusiasts.

An ideal weekend can be spent hiking Big Basin Redwoods State Park—the county has 14 state parks—known for its old-growth forests of Redwoods and Douglas-firs, or soaking up the sun at any one of the sandy beaches that stretches for 29-miles along the Pacific Coast.

Stroll along the 112-year old Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, which has been family-operated since 1907, and get tickets to ride the Looff Carousel and wooden Giant Dipper rollercoaster, both in operation since 1911 and 1924, respectively.

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Situated next to the Santa Cruz Riverwalk along the San Lorenzo River, Hotel Paradox offers contemporary rooms with reclaimed wood-paneled walls, river rock shower floors, and locally-sourced artwork. The hotel’s public spaces work as a monthly-rotating art gallery, featuring works by local artists with an artist meet and greet held every second Friday of the month.

Guests can rent electric bikes and skateboards to cruise the Boardwalk, conveniently located one mile away. There’s also a cozy outdoor lounge by the pool complete with a fire pit to enjoy the cool coastal nights. And, as an added bonus, the hotel offers an adults-only pool hour from 10-11 p.m. every night.

Hotel Paradox, Autograph Collection

Santa Cruz
8.4 Very good (2148 reviews)

Feature photo by Connor McSheffrey on Unsplash