Memorial Day. It inspires pride and honor for all those who have sacrificed for our country.
It also evokes memories of playing the license plate game in the car on the way to the mountains. Sand in your shoes and saltwater in your hair. Exploring new places or favorite spots. And spending time with loved ones while taking advantage of the last extended getaway opportunity before school gets out and the madness of summer takes over.
It’s no wonder that Memorial Day weekend is one of the top travel times of the year. AAA Travel projects “36.1 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home over the holiday weekend, a 1.5 percent increase from the 35.5 million people who traveled last year.” And California is often the beneficiary of that travel—a perennial favorite for travelers coming from out of state and those looking to unwind for a few days close to home.
Here are a few favorite spots in which to enjoy the Golden State this Memorial Day.
In Napa, the famed wineries are just part of the draw. Here, you can experience one of the most luxurious resorts in the state, or, bring the brood and take over a hillside villa that will make you feel like you turned up the coast and somehow ended up in Tuscany.
Stay: Terra del Cuore. This luxury home rental in the hills of Napa that seems to have been transplanted from the Italian countryside. A main home and two guest houses provides ample space for the whole family, plus a swimming pool and the breathtaking views, lush landscaping, and authentic architecture will give you plenty to gaze at.
Eat: If you can get a reservation at Thomas Keller’s famed French Laundry, DO IT (typical timeframe is two months out)! Or, hit up one of the chef’s favorite spots, courtesy of Food & Wine magazine. Keller likes the New American restaurant Redd in Yountville and “Oenotri in downtown Napa is a great, simple restaurant” that channels “southern Italy’s respect for pizza and vegetables.”
See: You’re in Napa, so—surprise—there’s going to be wine involved. If this is a family trip, spend some time at Castello di Amorosa Winery, a 13th century, Tuscan castle. With more than one million imported antique bricks, a moat, a drawbridge, five towers, secret passageways, a knights’ chamber with suits of armor, and even a torture chamber (plus the award-winning wines), you can ensure everyone will be entertained.
The coastal charm and Spanish ambiance of Santa Barbara captivates all those who visit, whether they have flown across the country or just driven up the coast.
Stay: The Bacara Resort & Spa, which simply oozes luxury. If you can, book an ocean-view Signature Suite and a massage in the Forbes Travel Guide-rated spa. If you brought the kids, Bacara also offers the Monarch Kids’ Club, a place for them to have some fun while you do the same.
Eat: Cielito, a newer spot in a pretty courtyard in downtown Santa Barbara that’s quickly made a name for itself among a crowed Mexican restaurant scene. Order the red wine sangria and the empanadas and pan-seared sea bass (and make sure you haven’t eaten for a few hours when you get there).
See: Drive along the Alameda Padre Serra, or “APS” if you’re a local, as it “winds up the foothills east of the Mission Santa Barbara, through the ritzy Riviera neighborhood, with views around each curve,” said Sunset magazine. And stop along the way at Franceschi Park “with Pacific views, plus picnic tables, trails, and the 19th-century house of botanist Francesco Franceschi.”
Owing to its location that’s close in from Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego, some of the most striking coastlines views in southern California, and a thriving artists’ community, Laguna Beach is a destination that people return to over and over.
Stay: The Surf and Sand Resort is ideal for couples and families, located right on the coast with a perch overlooking the beach. Both onsite dining and the AQUATERRA SPA, with a full menu of services geared toward couples (in case your Memorial Day vacation is also a romantic getaway) are offered. The recently renovated resort features private oceanfront balconies from every guest room (but we’re partial to the sumptuous California Suite).
Eat: OC Weekly recommends Watermarc, chef Marc Cohen’s newest foodie refuge that has quickly become a fine dining destination in Laguna.
See: It isn’t a trip to Laguna without an immersion in art. Stroll through the artists’ village, home to the city’s 100+ galleries and quaint shops. If you’re in town on the first Thursday of the month, check out the Monthly Art Walk.
The Travel Channel loves Palm Springs, calling it “an excellent getaway for some quality R&R, found through golfing, art gallery browsing and poolside sunbathing. You’re pretty much guaranteed sun in the desert, so if other California spots are playing host to May Gray, poolside lounging under a canopy of bright desert sun is a sure bet here.
Stay: The Parker, for ”eclectic and ’70s-inspired decor with a modern edge…it manages to be dressed-up glamorous and laid-back cool all at the same time,” said The Travel Channel. If you ever have an opportunity to stay in the Gene Autry residence, do not pass it up.
Eat: You can’t beat classic French fare in a restored historic landmark, unless you come at night, when the glorious, tree-studded patio at Le Vallauris gets the twinkling light treatment, turning it into the most romantic spot in the city.
See: Take a break from your poolside spot to hike through some of the more spectacular landscape imaginable. From super endurance hikes (Cactus To Clouds Trail Familiarization) to a view John Muir himself called “the most sublime spectacle to be found anywhere on this earth,” (San Jacinto Peak via Marion Mountain), you’ll find a variety of hikes for every level in the area.