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When dreaming of your honeymoon, it's natural to envision an epic adventure on a grand scale. But sometimes finances, schedules, and other concerns limit what's possible. Just because you need to stay closer to home, spend a bit less money, or plan a shorter trip, it doesn't mean you have to sacrifice fun, romance, and the chance to make memories that will last a lifetime. Here are some ideas for mini-moons close to the Bay Area.
Big Sur (Above)
Three hours south of San Francisco lies one of the world's most beautiful coastlines. Spend a weekend in Big Sur and you can hike, bike, and enjoy the outdoors, or simply relax and marvel at this gorgeous stretch of California. The mountains that rise up from the Pacific along the coast make for some excellent hiking, and trails abound. Check out the massive redwoods and the often-photographed waterfall at McWay Falls at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, explore hidden beach caves, look for migrating gray whales (from December to May) off the coast, or watch the sunset at Sand Dollar Beach.
The Post Ranch Inn and the Ventana Inn and Spa vie for the honors of top hotel in Big Sur. Though the latter lacks the ocean-front location, its sexy Japanese baths, in-room fireplaces, and private hammocks make it perfect for a romantic retreat. The cottages at Glen Oaks are a cozy, and less expensive, alternative among the trees.
Photo: Courtesy of Nick's Cove
Just 60 miles over the Golden Gate Bridge, Tomales Bay is dotted with small towns, oyster bars, and picture-perfect bay views. The pace of life here is slow; there's good food, country roads, and - often - foggy evenings by the fire. Go kayaking, hiking, sailing, or enjoy oysters fresh from the bay at oyster bars like Hog Island and Tomales Bay Oyster Co.
For the best views of the bay, book a waterfront cottage at Nick's Cove, which has an onsite restaurant and boat shack bar. The rustic-luxe cottages have king beds, wood-burning stoves, private decks, and bathrooms with claw-foot tubs and heated floors. Breakfast, Wifi, a welcome plate of oysters, and gorgeous sunset views, are complimentary.
Photo: Courtesy of Meadowood Napa Valley
San Franciscans are lucky to have one of the world's premier wine regions right in their backyard. While millions of people travel far and wide to taste the valley's wines and wander its picturesque vineyards, most Bay Area residents can reach this paradise in less than two hours. Wine-tasting likely tops the list for most visitors, but there's also plenty of other things to do, including relaxing spa treatments, indulgent meals, exhilarating hikes and hot-air balloon rides, and leisurely bike rides through the valley.
If you're in the mood to splurge, check into the exclusive Meadowood Napa Valley, a full-service resort with so much to offer, you might not want to leave. There's a fitness center, two large pools, croquet and tennis courts, golf course, spa, extensive hiking trails, and multiple dining options, including the three-Michelin-starred Restaurant. For a more intimate experience, try the cozy Brannan Cottage Inn, a historic inn that offers a mix of Victorian and Art Deco style with modern amenities right in downtown Calistoga.
Photo: Courtesy of Kenwood Inn
Napa's more laid-back neighbor, Sonoma has nearly as many world-class wineries, but with fewer crowds and more open space. The county is also much bigger in size, and stretches from the mountains to the sea, so it's ideal for those who want to do more than wine-tasting. Go for a hike in the redwoods, hit the beach, canoe on the Russian River or along the coast, stroll the quaint Sonoma Plaza, or watch the sun set into the Pacific. Sonoma offers no shortage of ways to enjoy the outdoors (you can even go horseback riding through the vineyards) without sacrificing creature comforts like romantic hotels, great restaurants, and tranquil spas.
Set among the vineyards close to the town of Sonoma, the Mediterranean-style Kenwood Inn knows how to woo guests - with multiple pools, a heavenly spa, and a breakfast complete with a mimosa bar. Farther off the beaten bath in the tiny town of Forestville, the luxe Farmhouse Inn ups the ante, with in-room fireplaces, deep soaking tubs, an onsite Michelin-starred restaurant, and nightly S'mores by the fire.
Photo: Courtesy of Brewery Gulch Inn
If you want coastal cliffs, there are closer places to visit than Mendocino. But if you want coastal cliffs, a laid-back feel, and few crowds, Mendocino is definitely worth the four-hour drive from San Francisco. Though the town has long been a mecca for artists and hippies, it retains an off-the-beaten-path status that keeps prices low and crowds small. After you've explored all seven Victorian-lined blocks of Mendocino Village, you can check out the Mendocino Botanical Gardens, ride the Skunk Train into the redwood forest, take in the seaside views from the Mendocino Headlands State Park, get your adrenaline pumping with a mountain bike ride, or relax with a sunset view.
The ten-room Brewery Gulch Inn, built from recycled redwood, offers lavish breakfasts and rooms with private balconies, fireplaces, and stunning views of Smuggler's Cove. A pre-arrival concierge will set up wine tasting, horseback riding, dinner reservations or an in-room massage.
Photo: Courtesy of Napili Kai
Maui might seem like a stretch for a mini-moon, given that the flight is 5 hours, but with the time difference, you can leave SFO in the morning and arrive in paradise shortly after 1pm. And if you can score a deal (it's not unheard of to find flights for less than $350 round trip), it can be a relatively affordable option for a quick getaway. Maui is small enough that you can see a lot of it in a short time, but big enough to be quite diverse. From the lunar landscape of Haleakala 10,000 feet above sea level to the sandy beaches of Napili Bay there's so much to explore. Go whale watching, catch a luau, go horseback riding on an upcountry ranch, stroll the streets of kitschy Lahaina or drive the serpentine Road to Hana.
The 10-acre Napili Kai resort exudes authentic Hawaiian charm with modern luxury. Set on one of the best swimming beaches on Maui, it also offers four swimming pools and two hot tubs, croquet and bocce ball, an 18-hole putting green and two shuffleboard courts, four barbecue areas, and an onsite bar and restaurant. For a more private experience, check into the Wailea Beach Villas, which are larger than most San Francisco apartments, with full kitchens and full-sized washer and dryers, two pools, a billiard room, and an onsite spa.