Valentine’s Day destinations for you and your sweetheart in Northern California



The Point Arena Lighthouse on CA coast, north of Jenner.




Valentine’s Day is fast approaching – if you’re looking for special destinations in Northern California, several pop quickly into my wife’s and my mind!  In 45 years of marriage, my wife has taught me that a special Valentine’s destination has these attributes: scenic, somewhat secluded, fine and somewhat-dressy restaurant(s) nearby, nice lodging if we are spending the night and a sense of history (the latter, my inclusion).  Include flowers and candle-lit dinner, and she is happy!

These destinations are, respectively, to our northeast, just north and east of Stockton and the Valley; each are 2.5 hours or less to reach and a scenic drive gets you there!

The Russian River and Northern California coast are less than three hours to our northwest.  The Russian River and its valley offers an epic romantic getaway, lined with vineyards, deep forests and spritely old towns, and the California coast north and south of the river provides a stunning bonus. The river offers several lovely towns like Guerneville and Jenner, complete with nice restaurants, motels and bed and breakfast accommodations.

The north coast above Jenner offers more of the same with ongoing quaint towns like Gualala, Albion, Mendocino and Fort Bragg, in addition to a stunning, rocky and windswept coast. Just above Jenner, you’ll find the old Fort Ross Salt Point State Park and the Point Arena Lighthouse all worthy of exploration.  Or, head south of Jenner to find the towns of Bodega Bay and Bodega (those swooping gulls and blackbirds will remind you of Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’, filmed in both towns!).

Favorite restaurants for that special Valentines meal include Rivers End in Jenner, looking down on the mouth of the Russian River and a resident sea lion colony, and further north, Sea Ranch, with first rate accommodations and a fine restaurant looking out over the ocean.  Bodega Bay offers The Tides Wharf Restaurant, right on the bay where sea lions often frolic outside your window! The Jenner Inn and Sea Ranch are upscale places to stay, and, for winter campers, beautiful state park campgrounds can be found both north and south of the Russian River.

Gold Rush country and its quaint, historic towns lie just an hour east of Stockton.  With an ongoing non-winter, it’s virtually like late spring in the Highway 49/Gold Rush corridor. Of several score of historic towns, two wonderfully preserved and walkable cities, Murphy’s and Sutter Creek, top our list.

Both are centers of wine-growing regions and offer a number of winetasting locations right on main streets, lots of interesting shops, fine restaurants and both are rich in history and evidence of the Gold Rush in the 1850s and 60s. Each are eminently walkable with boardwalks and lightly traveled main drags, and offer nearby lodging, from bed-and-breakfasts to cozy motels.  Each town celebrates and preserves its history, when many 49ers made fortunes by placer and hard-rock mining over 150 years ago.

Favorite restaurants include both The Murphy’s Hotel and Alchemy in Murphy’s and the Hotel Sutter and Susan’s Place in Sutter Creek (all very Valentine’s Day worthy!).  Pizza Plus in Sutter Creek is not only the cleanest pizza place in the Sierra foothills, but also offers great pizza and wonderful service!

Old Sacramento, an historic and gourmet destination, is closest to Stockton and due north just 45 miles. Old Sac is a long-time favorite, with 20 some square blocks of Sacramento’s founding history preserved, plenty of great restaurants and cafés, the California Railroad Museum on the north end, the western terminus of the Pony Express in the middle, California Auto Museum to the south, and the Crocker Art Museum just a few blocks walk to the southeast.  Several miles of old boardwalk and plenty of cute shops make it a stroller’s delight!

For a spectacular and romantic place to stay, the old Delta King riverboat moored on the waterfront is a favorite, including a scenic and quality restaurant. A number of other fine restaurants are located in Old Sac, including several we treasure, as will other sweethearts; The Firehouse, Fat City and River City Cafe.  Include Steamers along the waterfront for a cozy café that includes great baked goods to start your morning!

Old Sac shops offer bike rentals, hospitality guides share maps and insights on want to see and what to do and the mighty Sacramento River rolls steadily by on the west.   Hornblower Cruises offers river tours, or hop a horse-drawn carriage for a romantic ride through the old city!

Lastly, if you are staying in town, I can recommend the Stockton Kiwanis Crab Feed, Saturday, Valentine’s Day at St. Basil’s Church, March Lane in Stockton, 6 PM (email me for info)!  My wife isn’t so keen on that idea, so I will take her out to a sweetheart dinner on the 13th, perhaps CoCoRo!

Hence, if you’re seeking a weekend, romantic getaway, consider these destinations and book soon, lest all the good lodging and restaurant options are sold-out!

How to get there: From Stockton: for the Russian River, take Hwy. 12 west out of Lodi all the way to Sebastapol, then Hwy. 101 north to Santa Rose, then Hwy. 116 to Guerneville and Jenner.  For Murphys, take Hwy. 4 east to Murphys, for Sutter Creek, take Hwy. 88 northeast, go north a mile on Hwy. 49; for Old Sacramento, go north on I-5.

What to take: Binoculars, camera, good walking shoes and snacks for the trip. Bikes if you are a cyclist; for all these old towns are bike-friendly!
For more information:  Russian River,, 877.644.9001; Murphys,, or email; Sutter Creek,, 209.267.1344; Old Sacramento,, 916.442.8575.

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog:; to contact me,

Happy travels in the West!

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