A fact of life is that there is no state like California. From the sea, to the desert, to the mountains, it’s all beautiful and romantic and better yet, it’s all accessible to within a few hours. You can drive from Mount Shasta all the way down to San Diego in a meager 10 hours, 43 minutes. It’s hard to keep what this state has to offer chained to the shackles of exclusivity, so without further ado grab a date, a car, and check out these romantic destinations of California.
If roughing it in the great outdoors is what you fancy, breathing in clean air while hiking through dense forests before emerging atop a cliff with a golden view of the sunset, in the mountains is where you belong. In places like Tahoe and Santa Cruz, hikes fueled by romance and exploration take hold of collective imaginations.
You won’t encounter too much of the aforementioned scenario where our road trip starts, which is quite low in Joshua Tree, located in southern California, where there is plenty to explore. It’s been compared to Death Valley however is a much nicer version where death doesn’t seem so prominent. Far from it, in fact, as there’s lots of wildlife to run into. This is also a place for lab workers to conduct research.
From Joshua Tree National Park, you may want to head north to Yosemite National Park. With that comes biking, fishing, golf, and after that you can even rest up together at a wellness spa. You can also do none of that and enjoy an intimate roster of hiking trails and breathtaking views.
Shasta Lake is up next on our hiking-oriented road trip. Once you get to Shasta you can rent a house boat and take in the vast beauty. Additionally there are camp sites to sleep before a quick trip to nearby Chico and of course there is Mount Shasta itself.
If you find yourselves in South Lake Tahoe be sure to check out the Rubicon Trail hike, which starts next to Emerald Bay and takes you past all kinds of beautiful wildlife, waterfalls and a lighthouse. Not far away from Tahoe is Fallen Leaf lake, which offers kayaking and has a small marketplace for a quick lunch, before checking out the many surrounding trails.
For all of this running around you’re going to need a car. For that we recommend something with AWD, dirt tires and lots of cargo space. Depending on how many people you’re taking with you, we’d recommend either a 2014 Honda CR-V or a 2004 Toyota Tacoma. Both have plenty of power, cargo space, and both are equipped with AWD. If neither of those is something that interests you, check out the rest of our list of best cars for camping.
If what the wilderness has to offer isn’t your cup of tea, there are plenty of beaches along the west coast deserving of your time and attention. Depending on your interests these beach towns could provide a more relaxed environment, especially considering that many of them provide nearby wine tastings and golf courses. All of these places offer some of the most romantic views and restaurants for you and your date to enjoy.
Whether or not you want to continue from Shasta Lake or begin a new road trip, you can start way up in Mendocino County. You can’t walk from Glass Beach to a romantic restaurant without tripping over the wineries and festivals. Aside from Bodega Bay and Fort Bragg there’s several wine tours, spas and shops to look at as well.
From Mendocino drive down through San Francisco, past San Jose into Santa Cruz. Aside from the Boardwalk there’s also a vast country side rich with beaches, wineries and in the town enjoy an enticing music scene.
Driving Highway 35 to Summit Road will lead you past clear views of forests snuggled in between mountain ranges. Stop at the Summit store for a delicious sandwich on your way into the forest for secluded biking trails.
After Santa Cruz, if you head farther south around the bay through Watsonville you can end up in Monterey, where you can also enjoy Carmel. Monterey is of course famous for its aquarium, seafood and its world famous race track, Carmel for its beach, wine tasting and other prestigious events.
From Monterey you can make your way south along the coast to Pebble Beach. After wading through the mountains of money, enjoy great food and views, and enough activities throughout the day to warrant an early evening cocktail party. That is of course, before you retire to the irresistible lodging of a snug cottage.
Finally we end our beach journey at Big Sur, just a bit farther south. It’s a beautiful place, rich with live local music, various camping spots and restaurants, and of course breath taking views overlooking waves crashing upon beaches.
For driving to the beach, assuming you’re going to drive in beautiful, totally unpredictable California weather you might want a convertible or at least a car with T-Tops, decent handling characteristics to make driving along Highway 1 as fun as possible, and comfortable enough to make you forget you’re in a car. For that, we recommend a Jaguar XK. If that doesn’t sound good, pick anything else from our list of best convertibles for summer fun.
Between Pebble Beach and Santa Cruz, toast to love and enjoy delicious wine tastings during a pit stop in Sonoma. Explore the depth of Sonoma’s covenant between its Syrah grapes and countless wineries, like MacLaren in [Bennett Valley](https://www.sonomacounty.com/articles/bennett-valley-wine-region-and-appellation
). Enjoy a relaxing glass of wine or, better yet, buy a bottle to compliment a romantic picnic overlooking lush green fields sprinkled with vibrant red and orange accents, and valleys stretching all the way out to the coast.
On your way back down to Southern California from Big Sur stop by San Luis Obispo, specifically Paso Robles. Fine dining awaits in the form of homemade pasta, fresh seafood and perfectly-paired wine at restaurants like il Cortile. Paso Robles specializes in a variety of cuisines, from American grilling to French seafood. Some of it can be a bit expensive, but can you really put a price tag on making your sweetheart feel as special as possible?
You can see California has about as much as possible to offer, and all in one convenient location. To complete this entire road trip, including all the stops in between, would take just 26 hours (assuming you didn’t actually stop). That means everything is about as close as it can get.
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