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Sometimes you have to get away — just the two of you — to relax, reconnect, and rekindle romance. No phones. No computers. No kids. So in this month devoted to matters of the heart, we’ve compiled a list of California resorts we love. From the Grand Del Mar to rustic Calistoga Ranch in Napa, here are Ranch & Coast’s picks for idyllic escapes. (Just add Champagne and roses.)
The Grand Del Mar
You don’t have to fly to a far-flung place, just check in to the The Grand Del Mar, which is simply — grand. At Addison, its signature restaurant, executive chef William Bradley offers a special Valentine’s Day Lovers Dinner, a six-course tasting menu from caviar and Champagne to tarte au chocolate, with pairings selected by wine director Jesse Rodriguez. Amaya’s chef Camron Woods is also offering a four-course repast that night. Have an amorous cocktail (the “Axis Kiss” or “Fallen Angel”) along with small bites before the fire at Le Salon, or dance the night away at Club M. Then retire to an elegantly-appointed suite with soft-as-a cloud bedding. A special “Disconnect Package” includes a berry-infused Champagne cocktail, couple’s massage or horseback ride for two, breakfast in bed, and late check-out. Or shake things up with “Love on the Rocks” on February 9, which includes mixology lessons from cocktail pro Pablo Moix paired with appetizers courtesy of Chef Woods, and topped off with chocolate truffles. (858/314-2000, www.thegranddelmar.com)
Ever since it opened in 1946, the Hotel Bel-Air has been a secluded hideaway for such Hollywood stars as Grace Kelly and Cary Grant, as well as couples looking for privacy. Tucked into the canyons off Sunset Boulevard, the Bel-Air, now part of the Dorchester Collection, reopened in October after a two-year renovation. Although it has kept its “Bel Air pink” exterior and original architecture, new buildings and amenities include a dozen hillside guestrooms that offer sweeping canyon views, sliding glass walls, outdoor fireplaces, and private spa pools. The remodeled property has a chic, contemporary look while paying homage to Hollywood’s Golden Age. You can easily imagine Marilyn Monroe lounging by the palm-lined pool. In fact, Monroe posed for Vogue at the Bel-Air in 1962, the photo shoot that would be her last. “No better place than the Bel-Air,” photographer Bert Stern later wrote, “It had these artistic qualities of space and design, trees and flowers. A little bridge across the entrance, swans in the pond down below, a fairy-tale environment.” The Bel-Air still has that fairy-tale quality, and yes, the emblematic swans (Hercules, Chloe, and Athena) glide gracefully on “Swan Lake.”
At Wolfgang Puck, ask for a table inside by the double-sided fireplace or outside on the terrace at Table 52, the most intimate spot in the house, an alcove lit by candles overlooking the gazebo and gardens. The menu is classic Puck — showcasing fresh produce from Rancho Santa Fe’s own Chino Farms, as well as natural poultry and sustainable seafood. At the spa, choose your own playlist to accompany treatments at the “couple’s enclave” with its marble tub, leather loungers, and private patio. For a while at least, you’ll feel like movie stars. (800/648-4097, www.hotelbelair.com)
The Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara
There are few places more historic and romantic than The Biltmore Santa Barbara. The Spanish-Colonial, with views of the Pacific and the Santa Ynez Mountains, dates back to 1927. While remaining faithful to its Old World roots, the hotel has undergone a modern $240 million renovation. Just off the impressive lobby, with its gleaming terra cotta tile floors and wood-beamed ceilings, is the lounge named after owner Ty Warner (the toymaker who made billions from Beanie Babies). At Bella Vista, the grilled local halibut with kale and mushrooms is a must. Request a banquette overlooking the terrace. Outside, hear the rush of the surf, or see a silvery slice of moon reflected in the shimmering water.
At the private Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club across the street, relax poolside or dine at Tydes Restaurant and Bar. Or reserve “Romance on the Riviera” package, including a candlelight dinner in a private cabana. The resort will also pack a customized “Moveable Feast,” whether you’re sailing, golfing, or touring the wine country. Tag along with executive chef Alessandro Cartumini to a farmer’s market for fresh-picked produce, take a private cooking class, and enjoy the fruits (and vegetables) of your labors at a four-course lunch. Stroll the beach or pedal a bike along the three-mile paved path into Santa Barbara where you can explore shops on State Street, hit the wharf, or watch fishing boats from the deck of the bustling Brophy Bros., the quintessential Santa Barbara seafood restaurant, famous for fresh fish, clam chowder, and crusty sourdough bread. (800/332-3442, www.fourseasons.com/santabarbara)
Post Ranch Inn
Off Highway One in Big Sur, a winding road leads to the rustically romantic 100-acre Post Ranch Inn, where a welcoming party of wild turkeys saunters lazily across the road while deer nibble grass in the meadow, pausing only to inspect approaching vehicles. The encounter captures the essence of this peaceful place, a homestead owned for generations by the pioneering Post family, dating back to a time when the Essalen Indians lived on the land. Take guided hikes in the Santa Lucia Mountains to learn about the area’s “flora, fauna and folklore,” unwind with yoga in the resort’s yurt, even work with a Native American shaman to improve well-being. There are classes in meditation, and an array of body treatments using organic healing elements “to help nature nurture you.” Treatment rooms, framed by redwood trees, have mountain views. But there’s nothing like the vista from the infinity-edge pool: you can’t tell where the sea ends and the sky begins. At Sierra Mar Restaurant, executive chef Craig von Foerster serves well-regarded cuisine, described as “its own force of nature,” along with a 3,000-bottle wine cellar often recognized by Wine Spectator.
Post Ranch has just 30 guest rooms, ranging from free-standing Ocean Houses with stunning Pacific views to Tree Houses nestled in a forest of oak, madrone, and redwood, perched on stilts high above the forest floor. Designed by architect Mickey Muennig, known for environmental design, lodging melds glass and light with native wood, stone, and slate. Inspired by mountain, tree, and sea, Muennig wanted guests “to feel a part of nature, not merely to be observers of it.” The environmentally sensitive resort is committed to a number of efforts to protect endangered species and preserve the natural beauty of Big Sur. (800/527-2200, www.postranchinn.com)
You wouldn’t think a converted army base could be romantic, but just over the Golden Gate Bridge in Sausalito is Cavallo Point, the Lodge at Golden Gate. A former U.S. Army post, now a national park, Fort Baker was established in 1897 to support coastal defense artillery batteries. Now the base’s historic buildings, formerly officers’ quarters, have been renovated as guestrooms, many located around the former parade grounds. For an intimate experience, book one of “the rooms with a view” in the contemporary, two-story buildings on a hill high above Fort Baker. While the buildings lack historic charm, the views of the Golden Gate Bridge (yes, it really is golden at night) and the San Francisco Bay are truly heart-stopping. Suites have floor-to-ceiling windows, sitting areas with fireplaces, window seats, and decks or patios. Surprise your loved one with a “Romantic Rose Petal Turndown” by concierge Nancy DuBois, who once designed a “fantasy suite” for The Bachelor. She’ll create a bed of roses, draw a warm bath filled with petals, light votives, and leave Champagne and chocolates by the fire.
Cavallo Point also offers the Healing Arts Center & Spa, a fitness center, cooking school, and nature hikes, or you can tour the charming waterfront town of Sausalito. (888/651-2003, www.cavallopoint.com)
Auberge Du Soleil
In the hillside above Napa’s Silverado Trail is a Mediterranean-style country inn with a Michelin-starred restaurant. It was here in 1981 that French-born restaurateur Claude Rouas opened the area’s first fine dining venue, which last year celebrated its 30th anniversary. Executive chef Robert Curry and pastry chef Paul Lemieux continue its tradition of contemporary wine country cuisine while offering what’s been called the best seat in the valley. Sit outside on the terrace, framed by stands of pine, overlooking villa rooftops and the valley with its patchwork of vineyards. In the Bistro & Bar, with the trunk of a four-story cedar at its center, cuddle by the fire or sit outside on the wraparound deck.
The resort is composed of maisons, housing 50 guest rooms and suites, each with French doors opening onto private terraces with views of olive groves. Designed by Michael Taylor, the famed arbiter of “the California Look,” the maisons combine glamour and rusticity with comfortable, over-sized couches, bold art, and accessories.
The 7,000-square foot Auberge Spa offers a water ritual that includes a soak in a trio of springs. Follow it up with a warm grape seed oil massage. A spacious couples’ suite offers side-by-side treatments, a fireplace, private outdoor garden, and hot spring. Preparations used in treatments are picked fresh from the spa’s own garden. You can also relax poolside at La Plage with a hot tub, “daydream beds,” terraced sundeck, and an outdoor bar serving drinks and light fare. (800/348-5406, www.aubergedusoleil.com)
It’s called the “Calistoga Cure,” the antidote for fast-paced, high-stress lives. You take the cure at Calistoga Ranch, the 157-acre Auberge Resort tucked into a secluded canyon in Upper Napa Valley. Forty-eight cedar-shingled guest lodges (and 23 private homes) set amid ancient oaks and redwoods boast floor-to-ceiling windows that open onto wooden decks with fireplaces, private hot tubs, and outdoor baths, where you can shower beneath the stars.
The Lakehouse, with its open–beamed ceiling, also offers dining on decks overlooking the spring-fed Lake Lommel. For a truly magical experience, opt for dinner in the Wine Cave, lit with dozens of votives, an intimate spot that is a favorite with celebrities.
Calistoga, one of the original spa towns in the U.S., continues to attract visitors eager to “take the waters” at the outdoor mineral and mud baths. “Romance on the Ranch” options include a candlelit couple’s massage; a sensuous soak; or the “Ultimate Chocolate Indulgence,” a Belgian chocolate scrub, a chocolate milk bath, and cocoa butter massage.
There’s morning yoga, long hikes in the woods, an on-site vineyard where you can learn about winemaking, and tours of Napa’s many wineries. The concierge will arrange private tours of boutique wineries not open to the public, as well as hot-air balloon rides, picnics, and golfing at courses nearby.
But at its heart, Calistoga Ranch is really about reconnecting with each other in a peaceful, natural setting. Some even call it a “marriage mender,” the chance to rekindle a relationship that has lost its spark, to grow closer as a couple. Calistoga Ranch provides the backdrop for romance. The rest is up to you. (800/942-4220, www.calistogaranch.com) ANDREA NAVERSEN