After spending the majority of 2020 in quarantine, most people are pining for a change of scenery. To help you venture out, we gathered some of the most sublime places in California to travel to now.
In choosing these getaways, we sought destinations with proactive safety initiatives, including socially distant activities, outdoor restaurants and mask mandates. And we also looked for smaller boutique hotels that a family or germ circle could rent out to ensure minimal contact. From California’s long list of alluring vacations spots, here are some that will make you feel pampered:
Known as America’s Côte d’Azur for its chic, coastal vibe, Santa Barbara created a temporary nine-block promenade on State Street, open until at least the end of the year. This allows for outdoor dining and plenty of safe strolling, thanks to friendly ambassadors reminding visitors to wear masks and observe six-foot spacing.
Most restaurants and wineries in Santa Barbara and neighboring celebrity enclave Montecito offer curbside pickup, delivery or alfresco seating. Some bars sell bottled cocktails to go. We recommend staying socially distant with Carr Winery’s to-go mini wine-tasting kit (with tasting guide DVD) or savoring it in person on the patio, and booking a private, mobile dinner in a stylishly outfitted van overlooking a scenic vista with Slate Catering.
For more active pursuits, charter a boat for a day trip to the nearby Channel Islands.
Where to Stay
On a sprawling 500 acres at the foot of the Santa Ynez Mountains, Five-Star San Ysidro Ranch is a wonderland of English-style gardens, top-notch culinary offerings and serene solitude. For the utmost social distancing, book one of the many standalone cottages, be it Winston Churchill’s favorite (Churchill Cottage) or the honeymoon escape of John and Jackie Kennedy (Kennedy Cottage). If you’re traveling with a group and seek seclusion, try the Warner Cottage, the ranch’s 2,500-square-foot villa on the far end of the property. Alfresco dining at the property’s two dreamy patios is available.
The ranch is also GBAC STAR accredited, which involves a rigorous checklist for disinfecting and disease prevention.
As a slew of new restaurants and hotels opened over the last few years, Healdsburg — roughly an hour from San Francisco — has become a hip, under-the-radar destination in Sonoma wine country for art lovers and foodies. The downtown is perfectly walkable with almost two dozen galleries and more than 30 tasting rooms (tastings are now outdoors).
Plus, nearby Healdsburg Ridge Open Space Preserve has plenty of hiking (a locals’ spot, it’s not crowded) with panoramas of the Russian River. Due to recent Sonoma wildfires, please check business openings before visiting.
Where to Stay
In the heart of Healdsburg, SingleThread Farms is one of Sonoma’s most memorable stays, especially if you enjoy outstanding fine dining. It’s Japanese-meets-modern-farmhouse décor throughout, and the five-room inn is well suited for a small group buyout.
A stay includes a gourmet breakfast (your choice of Japanese or Sonoma style), Sonoma-appropriate in-room amenities (like local wine and beer) and access to the second-floor private study, rooftop gardens and private dining room. The Five-Star SingleThread Farms Restaurant serves an opulent 11-course meal with in-season ingredients sourced from the farm, and it pivoted during the pandemic by moving outdoors at nearby Kistler Vineyards. To relish chef Kyle Connaughton’s remarkable small-plate kaiseki-style dinner, make reservations at least two to six months in advance.
In regards to the inn’s safety precautions, there’s self-check-ins, touchless breakfast service and private tastings with numerous local wineries.
Just an hour boat ride from Los Angeles via the Catalina Express, the island has that tropical vacation vibe you’ve been missing so dearly — without the precarious travel to get there. The Catalina Express is operating at a reduced capacity to allow for social distancing, and face coverings are required at all times (the frequent PA reminders that masks need to cover both your nose and mouth are especially appreciated).
One of our favorite socially distant island activities is taking a kayak eco-tour with Descanso Ocean Beach Sports to paddle around the calm waters while spotting sea lions, garibaldi fish and leopard sharks. Snorkeling at Lovers Cove is also a great way to see the local marine life.
With no rental cars on Catalina Island, the primary modes of transport are walking and golf carting. Rent a golf cart and grab an attractions map for a pleasant, self-guided tour of Avalon. Afterward, unwind with a Buffalo Milk — Catalina Island’s signature drink tastes like a tropical White Russian (there’s no actual buffalo milk in it) — from any of the bars along Avalon’s main promenade, followed by dinner at one of the many restaurants that now provide toes-in-the-sand beachside seating. Try Bluewater Grill, a popular alfresco spot with waterfront views and great seafood, including Catalina swordfish.
Where to Stay
Built as a family summer cottage for Chicago Cubs owner William Wrigley Jr. in 1921, Four-Star Mt. Ada sits perched on a hill overlooking the port of Avalon. The Georgian Colonial Revival-style mansion is pristinely preserved with antique furnishings, bay windows affording breathtaking ocean vistas throughout and beautiful relics, like original Catalina Pottery. Due to its intimate six-room size, Mt. Ada is an adults-only property — unless you arrange a buyout of the estate. And it’s an ideal venue for a private family vacation, with impressive perks such as complimentary breakfasts and three-course lunches, luxury golf carts, butler’s pantry access (raid it for spirits, wine and snacks) and more.
Run by the Catalina Island Company, the Wrigley family’s hospitality business, Mt. Ada ensures cleanliness with its “Keep Well” guidelines, which include UV-light sanitizing, wrapped towels and room accessories like coffee cups, and healthy traveler kits (with masks and sanitizer) for every guest.
One of the iconic stops on the Pacific Coast Highway in Northern California, Big Sur has been a draw for artists and writers (like Jack Kerouac and Henry Miller, to name a few) seeking Mother Nature’s restorative inspiration since the 1920s.
Don’t miss the 17-mile drive in Pebble Beach to take in natural wonders, from Bird Rock to Spanish Bay (allow three hours for stops); the McWay waterfall hike in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (due to recent wildfires, check the status of park and trail openings before you visit); and a pitstop at the architectural marvel Nepenthe for an Ambrosia burger paired with eye-popping views of the Pacific Ocean.
Where to Stay
A location atop soaring cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean and stunning sustainable architecture are just two of the reasons Post Ranch Inn is a magical hideaway. We especially love the Four-Star hotel’s luxury treehouses for the whimsy factor. For a group buyout option, the two private homes — Post House and South Coast House — are your best bet.
Stay-safe protocols at Post Ranch Inn include guest-only access to Sierra Mar Restaurant and the onsite store; outdoor dining; rooms stocked for guests’ entire stay to limit staff entering; an eco-friendly two-step disinfection cleaning process; complimentary masks; in-room meals upon request; and pool lounge chairs spaced six feet apart.
Famous for its surf and celebrity residents, Malibu continues to be the chill, picturesque retreat for many Los Angeles urbanites. Sandwiched between the ocean and the mountains, Malibu has seemingly endless outdoor options. Opt for a private bike and wine tour to explore the mountains, followed by a private tasting at Malibu Wines. Relax at the sparsely populated El Pescador Beach for its sandy cove with tide pools in both directions — just be prepared for a hike down to reach it. Or enjoy 180-degree ocean views with a cocktail and sushi roll on Nobu Malibu’s patio (make reservations far in advance or go mid-week for a late lunch).
Where to Stay
As the only boutique hotel on California’s “Billionaire’ Beach,” Nobu Ryokan Malibu offers a supremely luxurious and Zen getaway. With a total of 16 guest rooms fashioned after Japan’s minimalistic aesthetic, Nobu Ryokan easily accommodates a larger group buyout (it’s a two-night minimum, 32-person maximum and adults only). But if you’re traveling solo or as a couple, our go-to is the Horizon, a corner room peeking out over the ocean and the only one with an outdoor teak soaking tub.
The property was known for its tranquil environment before the pandemic, and it has solidified that reputation after enacting new safety measures that put your mind at ease. These include a Ryokan safety kit (designer masks, gloves and hand sanitizer) for each guest; non-invasive temperature screenings; only registered guests are allowed on property; and six feet of distancing is observed on the relaxation deck and from the staff.