Though places like Big Bear and Lake Tahoe turn into a winter wonderland during the holidays, there are plenty of cozy California towns that get in the seasonal spirit while forgoing the snow. If snowboarding and skiing aren’t your forte, there are plenty of other activities and experiences to enjoy all winter long. From Catalina Island to Carmel-by-the-Sea, here are the six best places for a California winter escape, without the snow.
Palm Springs is a desert oasis that remains sunny and warm all year long. Despite being able to lounge poolside nearly 365 days out of the year, the stunning San Jacinto mountains are often dusted with snow, creating a breathtaking view that gives you a taste of winter without the cold. Whether you’re looking to lay low at a luxury hotel, hike some of the most popular trails or explore the charming downtown area, Palm Springs is a quick getaway from both San Diego and Los Angeles. Put on your best dress before heading to Bar Cecil for their famous $50 martini that is served alongside a deviled egg with caviar.
Where to Stay:
Palm Springs is home to plenty of boutique accommodations and retro motels, but the Parker Palm Springs boasts a timeless elegance that can’t be beaten. From pampering yourself at the spa to renting a poolside cabana, there are plenty of on-site activities to keep you busy. In the evening, grab a glass of wine or cup of hot cocoa and do some star gazing by the outdoor fire pits. For something more Mediterranean and romantic, consider booking at Korakia Pensione.
Enjoy fewer tourists, crisp temperatures and less crowded vineyards when you take a trip to Napa Valley in the winter. Since harvest time is the busiest for wine country, winter tends to be a bit more quiet. Though there are tons of amazing wineries and vineyards to visit, the Napa Valley Train is a great way to take in the countryside as you travel past the rolling hills. There are several different experiences to choose from, and you can do everything from a holiday-themed dinner ride or an afternoon tea on the train.
Where to Stay:
The Carneros Resort & Spa is surrounded by lush vineyards, providing one of the most beautiful backdrops in the area. The private cottages have a cozy and intimate ambiance that is perfect for a romantic winter escape, and there is even a tasting room on-site that you can visit after a morning of pickleball. One of the newest hotels in Napa Valley is none other than Stanly Ranch, which is an Auberge Resorts Collection property. This spacious resort is another great option for those seeking top-notch luxury and exclusive cottage accommodations.
Santa Ynez Valley
From Los Olivos to Solvang, Santa Ynez Valley is home to some of the most charming towns in California. This beautiful part of Santa Barbara County has rolling hills, renowned wineries and one of the most “Christmassy” towns in the United States. Solvang is a quaint Danish town that looks straight out of Denmark. The traditional architecture, windmills and adorable bakeries transport you to the other side of the world, despite being a mere 30 minutes away from downtown Santa Barbara. During the holidays, you’ll find Christmas trees on every corner, along with plenty of holiday decor and lights. Los Olivos is another tiny town dedicated to the art of winemaking, while Los Alamos offers a Western charm. Be sure to stop by Bell’s for a Michelin-starred meal after a long day of wine tasting.
Where to Stay:
Those wanting to stay in the heart of Solvang should book a room at The Landsby. In addition to being able to walk to all of the local wineries, you can also have a delicious dinner at Mad & Vin before returning to your room with a bottle of Pinot Noir. The Inn at Mattei’s Tavern, an Auberge Resorts Collection property, is a bit more luxurious and exclusive, boasting a historic tavern that takes cozy vibes to a whole new level.
There’s nothing quite like being on the beach during winter. The roaring waves contrast nicely with the quiet coast, creating a special energy that is beyond peaceful. Being able to stroll along the sand without running into hordes of tourists and beachgoers is a rare experience in Southern California. Thankfully, Malibu is home to quiet coves, vibrant tide pools and star-studded restaurants. Start your winter weekend away with mimosas on the Malibu Pier at Malibu Farm Cafe before hitting the beach at low tide. During the winter, you’ll find tons of starfish, sea slugs and more in the tide pools at Paradise Cove and Topanga State Beach. End the evening with sushi and Wagyu tacos at Nobu.
Where to Stay:
Though Malibu is the most walkable beach town, The Surfrider Hotel is a premium location right off PCH. Walk to the pier and nearby beaches with ease, or spend the day soaking up some sun on the rooftop, which is exclusive to hotel guests. If you’d like to stay directly on the sand, the Malibu Beach Inn at Carbon Beach boasts epic ocean views, dining right over the ocean and a rejuvenating spa.
Also known as the “Storybook Square Mile,” Carmel-by-the-Sea looks straight out of a fairytale. The classic European and cottage-inspired architecture is a dream come true, and during the winter, the streets become adorned with string lights, wreaths and other festive decor. After a day of browsing the local boutiques and stores, sit down for dinner at La Bicyclette. This locally-loved restaurant blends French and Italian fare in an artful manner, making it the perfect place for a bottle of red wine with escargot and steak frites. End the evening by strolling through the glowing storybook streets with a cup of hot cocoa in hand.
Where to Stay:
Inspired by the classic chateaux of France, L’Auberge Carmel has been a staple for luxury travelers since 1929. It is only a few blocks away from Carmel Beach, allowing you to start each day with a morning walk on the sand. With only 20 guest rooms available, the ambiance is intimate and cozy. Plus, Aubergine, the on-site restaurant, is one of the best fine dining establishments in town. However, the lush grounds and gardens of the La Playa Hotel make it an equally enticing option, and you can even enjoy a peek of the ocean from the property.