Valentine’s Day destinations: Big Sur, North Lake Tahoe and Old Sacramento offer romance, adventure!

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner – if you’re seeking adventuresome and romantic destinations in northern California here are several recommendations from my wife, several friends and me.

In many years of marriage, I’ve learned that such special destinations should offer these attributes: be somewhat secluded, scenic, with fine restaurant(s) nearby, classy lodging if we are spending the night and, a sense of history – my inclusion.

These destinations measure up, and are within 2 1/2 hours of San Joaquin County.

Bixby Bridge, circa 1932, on the rugger Big Sur coast.

The Big Sur coast, just 2.5 hours to our south west, has long been a favorite of romantics. This section of the rugged California coast coffers secluded getaways, rocky coastline around every corner, lovely resorts, classic campgrounds if you’re camping and marvelous restaurants.
The Spanish called it “El Sur Grande”, the Big South, for the vast reach of rugged and treacherous coastline. Mexico offered several land grants in the early 1800s, but settlers would not arrive until just one hundred years ago.

Highway 1 would not be completed until 1937, opening the coast to growing tourist visitation. We recently toured south of Monterey and Carmel, passing several spectacular state parks (with a Mediterranean climate – camping is possible and often sunny year-around).

Andrew Molera State Park is just 20 miles south of Carmel; 4800 acres which offers a variety of exploring opportunities from beaches to the Big Sur River to the rugged coastal mountains. Venturing further south takes you past several other parks, including Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and Lime Kiln State Park. You’ll also find Kirk Creek Campground a bit further south, a gem perched on the bluff overlooking the Pacific – first come, first served and run by the US Forest Service.

Ragger Point Resort in Big Sur offers lodging, fine dining and spectacular grounds high above the Pacific.

A favorite inn and restaurant with staggering coastal view is the Ragged Point Inn on a bluff high above the ocean.  With views in three directions, the motel, cabins and restaurant are also surrounded by gorgeous gardens. Another favorite restaurant is the Big Sur Roadhouse, open just three years, getting rave reviews and less expensive than some of their competitors.

Take your binoculars – you can see elephant seals at Ano Neuvo State Park on the north end of Big Sur (reservations for Ranger-led tours required) and at the six-mile long Piedras Blancas rookery, just north of San Simeon.  With parking right off Highway 1, a short walk and no reservations required to view these massive animals, opt for Piedras Blancas if you are that far south.

As a footnote, we would rank the coast from Bodega Bay, the Russian River and north an equal to Big Sur – rugged, secluded, with a variety of lodging and restaurant choices – but that was one of my recommendations a year ago (you can find that Valentine’s Day offering on my blog archive).

Snowshoers gather on Lake Tahoe shore for tour out of Sugar Pine Point State Park on Hwy. 89.

Looking at the snowy Sierra, North Lake Tahoe always offers adventure; headquarter your visit in lovely Tahoe City on Tahoe’s north shore. Fabulous skiing includes nearby destinations of Alpine Meadows, Squaw Valley, Northstar and Diamond Peak – but don’t overlook Homewood, just south along the lake shore on Hwy. 89, for real value and the most spectacular view of the lake from its slopes.

Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are also popular. Friend Kari McNickle notes a recent adventure in the area, “Sugar Pine Point State Park was a great stop with only a $5 parking charge. Historic buildings, beautiful views of the lake, and site of several events for the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics”. Check out the small Olympic Museum building at Sugar Pine Park to refresh your memory of Olympic history at this beautiful park on Tahoe’s western shore.

Kari adds “Paige Meadows was another recommended area, courtesy of staff at Tahoe Dave’s in Tahoe City and other locations (very reasonable rental rates and good local knowledge). Rolling hills and open woods, and once you hit the meadows after 1.5 miles of snowshoeing, a view of the backside of Alpine Meadows Ski Resort”.

We would also note that Tahoe City offers a host of motel options and Airbnb choices. For the best breakfast or lunch, try Rosies, and for a beautiful, romantic dinner, Plumpjack at Squaw Valley Resort.

Sacramento History Museum members out for a Sunday stroll in Old Sacramento.

I would be remiss if I did not mention Old Sacramento and our state capital as a top-notch Valentine’s destination.  Just 45 miles north, Old Sacramento offers more than a dozen quality restaurants, including favorites The Firehouse and Rio City Café.  The old Delta King Riverboat, built in Stockton in 1927, is moored on the Sacramento River, for both historic lodging and dining.  The Embassy Suites, next to the old Tower Bridge, is another fine overnight choice.

Within blocks are a half-dozen tourist-friendly museums like the California Railroad Museum, the Sacramento History Museum, the California Auto Museum just to the south and the Crocker Art Museum just a few blocks to the east. Venture into the Mid-town area for scores of additional restaurant and night-life options – Old Sac and our capital city offer a wealth of exciting and romantic options!

If you are staying local, don’t forget the Lodi Wine and Chocolate event, February 13 and 14, 11 AM to 4 PM – with choices of 40 wineries for tasting and chocolate sampling. Delicious meanderings, right in our backyard!

The Delta King, built in Stockton in 1927, offers lodging and fine dining on the Old Sacramento waterfront.

For information: elephant seals, Friends of the Elephant Seals,; Big Sur restaurants and lodging, Big Sur Chamber of Commerce,, (831) 667-2100; North Lake Tahoe,, (530) 581-6900; the Old Sacramento Business Association,, (916) 442-8575; Lodi Wine and Chocolate event,, (209) 367-4727.

Contact Tim Viall at Follow him at Happy travels in your world!

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