Lately, I've been hearing a lot about married-couples-to-be opting for mini-moons instead of a lavish honeymoon getaway. Like a honeymoon, a mini-moon is a great way to celebrate your fresh wedded bliss and give yourselves a hard-earned break from all the wedding planning that left you cross-eyed, but a mini-moon can be much lighter on your wallet, less stressful to plan, and it's easier to be flexible if work, school, or life just can't afford to lose you for two weeks.
So, if you're planning on mini-mooning any time in your near happy future, here's a nice round-up I've put together (a wish list of sorts) in celebrating your hot love on the California Coastline.
I think the best draws of a romantic drive up the California coast are the guaranteed lookout points that double up as make out spots, the glorious Bixby Bridge between Big Sur and Carmel, lovely strolls among the redwoods, and the small town stops for wine-tasting and vintage shopping.
Starting from Malibu and ending in Carmel, here's casual coastal California at its best.
It would be great to jump start the day with a trip to the Getty Villa, a re-creation of the ancient Roman Villa dei Papiri, with beautiful gardens and sculptures. Just like your own Italian fantasy estate, except in L.A. Be sure to make reservations, they're required here.
A couple of miles northwest of Pacific Palisades on the Pacific Coast Highway, you can't skip the laid-back oceanfront Malibu Seafood (25653 Pacific Coast Highway, 310-456-3430) for fried scallops, flaky fish tacos, their renowned fish-and-chips, perfect spoonfuls of chowder, the list goes on... Be warned of hard-to-find parking, a respectable crowd and a healthy wait. BYOB and don't forget your sunglasses.
Stop for a photo op of pretty shorelines, rocky bluffs, and sand dunes at Point Mugu State Park in Malibu. Unfurl your beach blanket for a seaside nap or a brisk dip in the Pacific.
When PCH (Route 1) merges with U.S. 101, you can opt to take Route 33 to the low-key village of Ojai (oh-high), which means moon in the Native American Chumash Tribe. Arrive before dusk to catch the infamous rosy-pink Ojai sunset cast over the Topa Topa bluffs. Gorgeous.
Let's talk Ojai hotels, or the lack thereof. So, there's a small handful of hotel and B&B options here, ranging from resort to the bare-bones Mission-revival style inn. If you looking for some luxe, check in to the recently overhauled 220-acre Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, offering 308 rooms with plush four-poster beds (some rock adobe fireplaces), an Herb Garden Pool, a great spa, bicycle rentals for cruising, the works.
Mediterranean-style dishes (heirloom tomato salad, corn crab cakes, miso butterfish) make up the 90% organic-driven menu at Suzanne's Cuisine. Ask for a table on the candlelit patio garden at this favorite neighborhood gem. Reservations highly recommended.
If you're looking to round out the night in this sleepy town, head to Bart's, a large open-air bookstore, with an honesty cashbox for after-hour shopping.
The hike along the beautiful East Fork Trail (or Santa Paula Canyon Trail) lures early risers for an exhilarating swim in the canyon's natural "plunge" pools, but those looking to unwind can head straight to the spa for treatments incorporating the inn's signature organic skin-care line.
Say goodbye to Ojai as you backtrack towards U.S. 101 and cruise up to Santa Barbara. Continue of your day's adventure with a stop at the spectacular Lotusland, created by six-time married Polish opera singer and socialite Madame Ganna Walska. After she purchased the sprawling 37-acre property, Ganna spent the next 43 years morphing the lush landscape. She used it as her artistic canvas, expressing her flair for the different and the dramatic. When she passed, Lotusland became a nonprofit botanical garden, opened to the public in the early 90s, and offers a kick-ass educational program for horticultural lovers. Brilliant. I'm crushing on you, Ganna.
If you're from California, you can arguably get heated in hardcore culinary debates over the city's best taco stand. Seriously, there are websites dedicated to them. In Santa Barbara, Julia Childs put La Super-Rica Taqueria (622 N. Milpas Street; 805/963-4940, Cash only) on the map - staking this super modest, no-frills taco shack as being her all-time fav. So with that, expect snaking lines and decide for yourself if you're a lover or a hater. Check out the specials board, and this little snippet in Saveur. Their homemade tortillas are legendary, be sure to add an extra helping to your order.
Take a post-lunch stroll along Stearns Wharf (nab your favorite candy at the quirky novelty confection shop) or head to Butterfly Beach in Montecito, it's great for people-watching. If you're up for vintage shopping, Santa Barbara has retro-hip Haley Street. In Montecito, David & Taft carries great midcentury Italian lighting, French antiques and Danish collectibles.
Following in the footsteps of where J.F.K. and Jackie Kennedy honeymooned, spend the night nestled among the Santa Ynez Mountains at the historic San Ysidro Ranch. It's part of the Rosewood Resorts. I'm all for the intimate, no-chain, locally owned, so resort recommendations can be a toss up. Most feel pretty bland, very cookie-cutter, but sometimes I'm pleasantly surprised when they're not. I would be really curious to stay here. It seems comfortably elegant and still looks like it retains originality and its character of the 30s, which I dig. Another great aspect of this hotel is its location. The property sits an hour south of the Santa Ynez Valley, a burgeoning wine country day trip (that's for another post to come). This hotel isn't a bargain, however you can definitely cut your costs in half by checking out their midweek packages.
If you opt to rest your head elsewhere, you can still top off your gorgeous day with a dinner at the hotel's rustic Stonehouse Restaurant, a 19th-century citrus packing house where you can dine indoors beside the crackling fireplace, or (if weather permits) outdoors on the ocean view deck, under the stars, with its wood-burning fireplace and heated stone flooring. All herbs and produce are harvested from the property's on-sight chef's garden. Bon appetit!
P.S. Any recommendations on Ojai and Santa Barbara welcome. Please feel free to share your thoughts and favorite picks!
(photos: images linked to their source)