Weekend Getaway Recommendations for Californians

Unless you’re a full-time traveler, business school student, or lottery winner, you probably get to go on one or two big trips each year, tops. (If you don’t fall into one of those categories and you go on lots of awesome international vacations every year, please message me – you need to teach me your secrets!) That means that the majority of the trips that you go on are on the smaller side, and we haven’t discussed those types of trips too much on the blog, aside from the few mini-moon posts.

Many of my blog followers and I live in California, so I wanted to write a post about some of the best in-state weekend getaway destinations, and where to stay. We Californians are pretty lucky with a plethora of local vacation options; no matter what city we’re in, beaches, mountains, deserts, or forests are just a short drive away. Naturally, I asked my team of local travel experts (a.k.a. my friends) where they’ve recently stayed when they needed a a quick little vacation from their lives in the “big city” (a.k.a. San Francisco and Los Angeles). Some of the hotels are bigger splurges than others, but all of them have received an honorary gold star as a great accommodation for a weekend getaway.

California getaways

We’ll start the list with “North California” (ugh), and make our way south. If there are any cities/hotels that you’d like me to add to the list, please send them my way!

Mendocinoperfect for total relaxation by the sea.
Stanford Inn by the Sea
Stevenswood Lodge

Tahoe: perfect for skiing, snowboarding, hiking, and boating.
Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort
Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe

Healdsburg: perfect place to drink wine with your four-legged friends (there are lots of dog-friendly wineries!).
H2 Hotel
L & M Motel

Calistoga: perfect for drinking wine and soaking in mineral pools.
Solage
Indian Springs

Yountville: perfect for winos and serious foodies.
Bardessono
Vintage Inn

Napa: perfect for wine wine wine, and, oh yeah, wine!
Westin Verasa Napa Hotel
Napa River Inn

Half Moon Bay: perfect for those seeking classic elegance on the beach, and pumpkin festivals in October.
Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay

Carmel/Montereyperfect for golfers, beach-lovers and aquarium enthusiasts.
Carmel Valley Ranch
Bernadus Lodge & Spa
Sprindrift Inn

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Honeymoon Anxiety: What to Do When Choosing Where to Go Gets Too Stressful

I have some friends who always knew where they were going to honeymoon.  They’d dreamed about Greece/Tahiti/Italy for so long that when the time came to actually start planning their trips, they wasted no time at all booking flights and reserving hotels.

I, on the other hand, was not one of those people. My husband and I had NO IDEA where we wanted to honeymoon, so long as:

  1. it was warm,
  2. it had great beaches,
  3. it was far away, and
  4. neither of us had been there before.

In the months leading up to our wedding, we bought Lonely Planet books for Mauritius, Belize, and Venezuela. I emailed friends about the Maldives, Bali, and the Philippines.  I even remember having a random dream about honeymooning in Malta, of all places. In other words, I was ALL over the map, and it really stressed me out.

travel books

So many options!!!

Eventually one of my husband’s coworkers suggested that we at least talk to her travel agent, and I’m really glad we did. She was a huge fan of Bali herself, and she suggested we combine that with Vietnam, a country that I wouldn’t have even considered for my honeymoon. After we decided WHERE we were going, I could finally start feeling excited about it.

If you are having difficult deciding where to go on your honeymoon, here’s some advice:

  • Make a list of your travel priorities. What’s (honestly) most important to you about your honeymoon? (e.g. warm weather, sticking to a budget, having lots of activities to choose from, good food, etc.)
  • Take that list of priorities, and then organize it by how important each item is to you. (Again, be honest!)
  • Consider the time of year you want to honeymoon, and eliminate destinations that are not ideal.  (Or if you are considering visiting a destination during low season, make sure to read this post.)
  • Once you’ve narrowed it down, feel free to email me your destination shortlist, and I’ll give you my opinion :) Don’t forget to mention your travel priorities though, so I know what sort of trip you are looking for.
  • If you get stuck between two destinations, considering combining them into your ultimate multi-moon.

However, the MOST important advice I have is to just keep in mind that you’re going to be happy wherever you decide to go. Sure, there are lots of great destinations out there, but there’s no rule that your honeymoon HAS to be the absolutely most amaaaaaaaaaaaazing trip you ever go on, I promise!  Don’t put too much pressure on yourselves just because this trip is the “all-important honeymoon.”  A honeymoon will be the most sentimental/expensive/exotic trip you ever go on only if you choose to make it that way.  Believe it or not, you can still plan plenty of other great non-honeymoon trips in the future ; )

One of the reasons why I chose to write this post this week is because I’ve been corresponding with someone in the  UK about where she should go on her honeymoon. The other reason is that I’m still hemming and hawing over where to plan our own big trip of 2014 now that Brazil is out of the cards. Even I still need to remind myself (all the time) that I shouldn’t really stress about where we plan our trips. Whether we go to Ecuador, Malaysia, or somewhere that hasn’t even crossed my mind yet, it’s going to be great.

Cheap and Adventurous Honeymoon Ideas

Some friends of mine recently got married in Mexico (blog post coming soon!), and now they’ve asked me for recommendations on where to go on their honeymoon.   Their two biggest requirements?  Adventurous and inexpensive.

Since this couple lives in California, I immediately thought that they have two major options: Asia or Central America.  Here’s why:

1) SE Asia: The yes-the-flight-is-expensive-but-everything-else-is-cheap option.

If your honeymoon is 10+ days, I’d definitely recommend going to SE Asia, specifically certain parts of Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia*, and Cambodia*.  Although your flights will most likely be $1000 or more per person, your money is going to go a very long way once you’re there.  You can stay at incredible resorts for less than $200 a night, domestic flights are super cheap, fancy dinners can be had for $30 or less, and spa splurges like massages are around $15.

Morning sunrise hike in Bali

Morning sunrise hike in Bali

SE Asia also offers a lot of cool options for adventure lovers.  You can trek with elephants in Thailand, go water rafting in Bali, hike mountains in Borneo – the list is endless (and pretty damn awesome).

Patara

Alexis and Andrew riding elephants in Thailand

If you want to stay on budget, just make sure that you avoid the most touristy areas and “name brand” hotels.  In other words, if you think that the Four Seasons in Koh Samui will be a steal just because it’s in Thailand, think again.  (Because the cheapest rooms are about $1000 USD a night!)

2) Central America: The flights-are-short-and-inexpensive-but-you’ll-pay-a-decent-amount-for-everything-else option.

Remember when I was deciding whether to go to Belize, Nicaragua, or Panama last Memorial Day weekend?  Well, the flights from SFO to all three countries were basically the same price: $600.  And compared to flights to Asia, they’re really short which makes them perfect for honeymoons that are less than 10 days.

panama snorkeling

Snorkeling in Panama

While Costa Rica is great for honeymooners, it will certainly not be your cheapest bet.  Belize*, on the other hand, has great “beach + jungle” resort combo packages at all different price points, and our neighbors raved about the amazing diving resorts in Honduras.*  Panama is a major up-and-coming surf destination, as well.

Belize horseback riding

Agnes and Matt horseback riding in Belize

Again, you may save money if you stay away from the big name hotel chains and choose boutique hotels instead.

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Where Should You Go on a July Honeymoon?

Last week Condé Nast Traveler’s resident travel expert Wendy Perrin wrote a blog post answering the question, “What are the best travel destinations for July?”  While her article wasn’t necessarily honeymoon-specific, she mentioned many popular honeymoon destinations that would be wonderful in July, and a bunch of others that should be avoided.  Check out her recommendations below:

The Good:

Tahiti (As if you need another reason to choose Tahiti for a honeymoon, in July you can also celebrate Polynesian culture at the Heiva Festival.)

– Seychelles (A great tropical-yet-cool-and-dry destination that isn’t too crowded in July.  August, however, is another story.)

– Barbados (Big off-season deals are easy to come by in July, and you can check out the Crop Over Festival.)

– Anywhere up north: Canada, Scandinavia, The U.K. (Warmer weather and extended daylight hours – what’s not to like?)

Tahiti

Tahiti in July? Yes, please!

The Bad:

Belize (Humidity + mosquitos?  No thanks!)

– The west coast of Mexico (It can be so hot that the sand will burn your feet.  Yikes.)

– Eastern Turkey (Also suuuper hot.)

– The French Riviera (Lots and lots of tourists.)

– Croatia (Too many cruise-goers in Dubrovnik, but other seaside towns should be alright.)

– Rome/Venice, Italy (Really overly crowded with tourists; the prices skyrocket.)

– Southern Spain (Yep, just too hot.)

Belize

Belize is totally gorgeous, but probably not the best destination in July

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My two cents?  I think that Greece is also an excellent destination for July even though it will be high season.  The Aegean Sea doesn’t get super warm, so if you go too early in the year you might find the water to be on the chilly side.  But if you go in August, the islands get extremely crowded with Italian tourists.

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Honeymoon Destination Recommendations for… Wine Lovers

It’s been quite awhile since I wrote my last Where To Go? post, so in honor of my good friend Stephanie who’s visiting San Francisco this week and in the midst of planning her own wedding, I thought it would be quite appropriate to cover a topic that’s dear to her heart: wine.

The following is a list of honeymoon destination recommendations for wine-loving couples created by myself, someone who knows little to nothing about wine.*  Since I am faaaar from being a wine expert, let’s just say that everywhere on the list is known for great wine, and hopefully my non-wine related comments will help you decide whether a particular location suits your particular honeymoon interests.  Pour yourself a glass, and let’s begin!

1) South Africa

Cape Winelands, South Africa

The Cape Winelands, South Africa

I’m starting off the list with the place that I want to visit the most.  South Africa really has it all: beautiful beaches, incredible wild life and safari opportunities, and the infamous wine regions of Constantia, Stellenbosch and Paarl.  It’s not a budget-friendly destination (especially if you want to go on safari as well), but if you’re going to go big on your honeymoon, I think South Africa would be absolutely fantastic.

2) Argentina

Malbec

I guess that’s what Malbec looks like?

On the other end of the budget spectrum, Argentina’s Mendoza region is another perfect honeymoon destination, especially if you love steak and a good Malbec.  While Argentina may not be as cheap as it used to be, it should still be significantly less expensive than a honeymoon in either South Africa or Europe.  Keep in mind though that Argentina is a huge country, so if you want to check out Buenos Aires as well as Mendoza, you’ll need to book some additional flights.

3) Australia

Hunter Valley, NSW

The beautiful Hunter Valley

If you’re going down under for your honeymoon, you’re in for a treat because Australian wine is delicious, and you don’t have to travel far from Sydney if you want to experience the wineries first-hand.  You can easily take a day trip to the Hunter Valley region in New South Wales, and then sleep off your hangover on Bondi Beach the next day.

4) France

Bordeaux

A winery in Bordeaux

There are three things that the French sure know how to do properly: food, wine, and romance.  What else do you need during your honeymoon?   The correct answer (at least for me): Beaches.  Fortunately, the French Riviera is just a short flight or train ride from Paris so you can have the best of both worlds, as well as Champagne, Burgundy, Loire Valley, and Bordeaux in between.  Stay tuned for an amazing Real France Honeymoon post coming up in a few weeks from a very food and wine-savvy couple.

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Honeymoon Destination Recommendations For… Serious Beach Bums

You know how the surfers in the Endless Summer movies spent their days searching for the perfect wave?  Well, I wish I had more time to travel the globe in search of the perfect beach.

Fortunately, I’ve already visited some pretty spectacular beaches over the past 28 years, so I am going to share with you a list of some of my favorites*.  Hopefully the list will help the beach bums out there decide where to go on your honeymoon:

1) Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Islands, Australia

Whitehaven Beach

Whitehaven Beach via Damien Dempsey

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Whitehaven Beach.  Located in the Whitsunday Islands (which is FULL of incredible beaches), Whitehaven is quite aptly named because it has the softest, whitest sand that I’ve ever seen in the world.  My friends and I were told that brushing our teeth with the sand acts as a whitener, but in retrospect that probably wasn’t the best idea for us to do.  That aside, it is the most spectacular beach I’ve ever seen.

2) Cap Juluca, Anguilla

Cap Juluca

Cap Juluca via Tiarescott

Popular with celebrities like Courteney Cox and Jennifer Aniston, the pristine beach at the Cap Juluca resort makes it a quintessential honeymoon destination.  It’s also just a short boat ride away from nearby St. Maarten, so you can just check it out for a day if you don’t want to stay at the resort.  Okay, okay, I know we all WANT to stay there, but it’s just really expensive, that’s all.

3) Playa Cristal, Colombia

I was blown away by Playa Cristal because of the clearness of the water and the beautiful backdrop of the lush jungle.  You can hire a boat in Taganga to take you to the beach.  Unfortunately I couldn’t bring a camera with me to the beach because our next stop was Playa Brava where we actually swam to shore, slept on the beach overnight, then hiked out of Parque Tayrona the next day and hitched a ride back to Santa Marta, so bringing electronics along was a no-no.  You’ll just have to trust me that the beach was so wonderful that it made my list of top 3 beaches in the world.

4) Playa Blanca, Colombia

Playa Blanca

Playa Blanca, land of magical beagle puppies

Yes, yes, another Colombian beach.  I don’t know if I’ve expressed how much my husband and I love Colombia yet on the blog, but we highly recommend going there if you love beaches, friendly people, and good food.  You can reach Playa Blanca from Cartagena in one of two ways: hire a private boat down by the fish market (just hold your nose while you’re there – it really stinks), or sign up for an “organized” day tour.  It seems like the organized day tour is less than ideal though because it only brings you to the crowded part of the beach, so go with the private boat for a more relaxing experience.

For honeymooners who want to rough it, you can spend the night in hammocks at Hugo’s.  My husband and I thought it was the greatest place ever because 1) it was BEAUTIFUL, 2) it was the first time we slept in hammocks during that trip so the novelty made it fun and not back-breaking yet, and 3) we woke up in the morning to a litter of beagle puppies that were born overnight.  Beagle.  Puppies.  In.  Paradise.  Probably one of the best days of my life.

5) Lake Mckenzie, Fraser Island, Australia

Lake Mckenzie Beach via Sensenmann

The colors of Lake Mckenzie look totally fake, but I assure you, this is really, really what the lake looks like.

6) Lanikai, Oahu, Hawaii

Lanikai

Lanikai Beach via Cristo Vlahos

A friend of mine who was living in Honolulu at the time took my husband and me to Lanikai, a beautiful beach that isn’t terribly overcrowded with tourists.  Do yourself a favor and pick up some Leonard’s malasadas to eat when you get to the beach.  A perfect combination.

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Honeymoon Destination Recommendations For… Party Animals!

Not everyone has the same thoughts in mind when they think about a “perfect honeymoon.”  For some couples, the ideal honeymoon means relaxing on a beach with cocktails in hand.  Other couples prefer to go somewhere with plenty of sightseeing options.  And some couples, you’ll know who you are, just want to party their pants off.  In this installment of my “Where To Go” series of posts, I’ll share my top 3 honeymoon destinations for party animals.

1) Ibiza, Spain

Ibiza

Ibiza, Spain

Ibiza may be naturally gorgeous, but I think the Spanish island is most famous for its unparalleled club scene.  I haven’t been there myself, but friends of mine who have gone there recently raved about the fresh seafood, indulgent spas, and breathtaking hotels on the island.  But of course, the real draw is the nightlife.  Ibiza Spotlight has a great informational page for Ibiza Virgins that is helpful for navigating the club scene and buying advance tickets.

Ibiza is just a 50 minute flight from Barcelona, and I definitely recommend spending a few days there either on your way to or from the island.  Barcelona also has a surprisingly good man-made beach that was created for the 1992 Olympics, so you can split your days between sightseeing and sunbathing.

2) Koh Pha Ngan, Thailand

Full Moon Party drink buckets via A.Haldun ONUK

Full Moon Party drink buckets via A.Haldun ONUK

You’ve probably heard about Full Moon Parties before, but did you know that they originated on the small island of Koh Pha Ngan in Thailand?  There are plenty of imitation parties now throughout Southeast Asia (and “Half Moon Parties” too), but nothing compares to the original.

These parties occur once a month (duh), so either make hotel reservations in advance or plan on arriving to the island a few days before the party in order to arrange your lodging.  Some people even take the ferry over from one of the neighboring islands like Koh Samui or Koh Tao just for the night of the party, but believe me, you won’t feel like getting on a ferry too soon afterward.

Full Moon Party dos and don’ts:

Do: use common sense, buy yourself a drink bucket or two, and check out the ladyboys.  (Yes, those hot Thai ladies are probably not women after all.)

Don’t: accept food or drinks from strangers, bring too much cash or any valuables with you, or wear nice clothing.  Someone is bound to spill drinks or rub body paint on you at some point during the night.

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Honeymoon Destination Recommendations For… Adrenaline Junkies!

It’s pretty obvious that just because a honeymoon destination is really popular, it doesn’t mean that it’s right for everyone.  One of the reasons why I started this blog in the first place is because the internet is full of websites that can tell you where to stay and what to do once you choose your honeymoon destination, but there aren’t enough sites that will help you decide where to go based on your personalities, time allowance, and budget.

Hopefully this ongoing “Where To Go?” series of blog posts will help you and your fiancé make your own destination decision with plenty of confidence and excitement.  So without further ado, where do I suggest that adrenaline junkies go on their honeymoons?  See my top 3 recommendations (on 3 different continents) below for extremely extreme couples:

1) Queenstown, New Zealand

Queenstown is the city to visit if you like all things extreme.  Not only is the city itself absolutely beautiful, full of good restaurants, nice hotels, and some of the friendliest people in the world, the adrenaline-pumping activities that the city has to offer are endless.  You can spend your days skydiving, bungy jumping (do the Nevis – it’s the highest in NZ!), mountain biking, white water rafting, and parasailing, or you can take it easy with scenic hikes, cruising on Lake Wakatipu, and wine tasting.  During the winter, you can also ski and snowboard on the Remarkables mountain range.

I also highly recommend going on a Shotover Jet boat ride and then getting some cocktails at the Minus 5° Icebar.  Is the icebar overpriced and crowded?  Sure is.  Do you get to wear borrowed jackets and gloves?  Yep. Do the photos make it all worth it?  Absolutely.

Other fun things to consider doing are the street luge course and the ledge swing, but just a heads up about that ledge swing harness: it hurrrrts.

2) Interlaken, Switzerland

Hey Derek!

If Queenstown is the #1 adventure destination in the world, then I’d say that Interlaken comes in a close second.  Just replace the Remarkables with the Swiss Alps, and Lake Wakatipu with Lakes Brienzsee and Thun, and you’ll find that the two cities are very similar.

Again, the backdrop of the city alone would be enough to make Interlaken a popular tourist destination.  However, it also offers world-class skiing and snowboarding in the winter, and tons of fun summer activities like skydiving, hang gliding, bungy jumping, white water rafting, and rock climbing.

Since I had already done most of those extreme activities in Queenstown before I visited Interlaken, I decided I should do something a bit more unique when I was in Switzerland.  I chose to go canyoning.

So, what is canyoning anyway?  Well, first you start out wearing a sweet wetsuit, jacket, lifevest, and helmet.  Then you basically just end up following your guide down a series of waterfalls with a combination of hiking, jumping, swimming, and rappelling skills.  It’s all a bit blurry to me now, but I remember that everyone had a great time.

Although I was just a backpacker when I visited Interlaken, my husband was lucky enough that his firm flew him out there a few years ago for a weekend hike.  Yes, we live in San Francisco, and his law firm flew everyone out to Switzerland to go for a weekend hike.  I was just a little jealous, to say the least.  Anyway, they stayed at a very beautiful hotel called The Victoria-Jungfrau, and it sounds like it would be perfect for honeymooners.  He said that the cleaning staff were like ninjas because he’d leave the room for a few minutes, and by the time he came back it would be spotless.

One drawback to both of our Switzerland experiences, neither my husband nor I remember anything remarkably positive about the food.  However, he did mention that there was a Hooters next to his hotel.  Just where you always imagined eating during your honeymoon, right?  The legend told is that the people who purchased the land adjacent to the hotel wanted to build a gift shop, but the hotel shut them down because there was already a shop in the resort.  To get their revenge, the neighbors built the most spiteful (yet profitable) thing they could think of… a Hooters restaurant.

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