The High Sierra

The Sierra Nevada mountains stretch more than 250 miles along California’s eastern edge, heading south from the Cascade Mountains — which continue north into Oregon — to the dry and vast Mojave Desert. It's home to a trio of National Parks: Yosemite, with its stunning granite domes and gushing waterfalls, and the twin parks of Sequoia and Kings Canyon, filled with glacier-carved valleys, towering peaks, and some of the world's largest and oldest living organisms, giant sequoia trees. Several hours north sits Lake Tahoe, California's four-season playground, a large freshwater lake surrounded by thick forests ripe with hiking trails and mountains that are major sport hubs, especially during winter. Those in the state's southern half often head to the closer Mammoth Mountain for their skiing and snowboarding. Nearby Mono Lake serves as a saltwater oasis for millions of birds.

Dozens of B&Bs dot the greater region, including places like South Lake Tahoe's Heavenly Valley Lodge, a refurbished mountain lodge with 12 cabin-style guestrooms, all tucked among towering pine trees, and the Tin Lizzy Inn in Fish Camp, just a couple of miles outside Yosemite's southern entrance. The newly built Victorian recalls yesteryear with original gas lighting as well as a few pristine Model T's guests can actually drive. In Mammoth Lakes, the 16-guestroom Cinnamon Bear Inn Bed and Breakfast is hailed for its rustic charm, and it’s an easy walk both to eateries and transit to the nearby ski resort.

 

 


 

The Southern California Coast

This is California’s fabled land: a place of sandy beaches, endless sunshine, and Hollywood elite. It's where you can find the best tacos, try your luck at spotting a celebrity or two, and surf to your heart's content. “SoCal” is also home to the start of the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), one of the world's most stunning drives, not to mention some of the state's most iconic attractions, like the San Diego Zoo, Santa Monica Pier, and Disneyland. While traffic remains no joke, plenty of conveniently located B&Bs serve as the perfect launchpads for exploring. San Diego's Hillcrest House is a prime example. Uptown in the city's pedestrian-friendly Hillcrest neighborhood, tucked among coffee houses, craft beer bars, and bungalows, this early 20th-century abode embodies its lively surrounds with a mix of stylish décor, and each of its seven guestrooms is understatedly themed around a different area attraction. The inn is an easy drive to local highlights, like the city's thriving Gaslamp Quarter and 1,200-acre Balboa Park, featuring more than a dozen museums — as well as the world-famous zoo.

Long Beach is a thriving port city best known as the permanent home of the RMS Queen Mary, a retired (and reputedly haunted) ocean liner. It's also one of SoCal's most underrated destinations. For a unique overnight experience, book one of the Dockside Boat & Bed's handful of private yachts, all docked in downtown's scenic Rainbow Harbor. In the heart of La-La Land, the Hollywood Pensione is an excellent perch for taking in sights like Grauman's Chinese Theatre, embarking on home tours of Hollywood's rich and famous, or catching a concert at the Hollywood Bowl. With both an onsite kitchen and laundry, as well as complimentary parking for compact cars, this three-guestroom, historic Craftsman makes a great place for longer stays.

 

 


 

Central Coast

This is home to the most mythical part of the PCH, which heads north from Santa Barbara's palm-lined shopping thoroughfare, passing the Santa Ynez Valley vineyards and continuing up along coast-hugging roadway through tiny hamlets into the awe-inspiring scenery of Big Sur with its rising cliffs and mist-shrouded mountains. From there, it travels into Pacific Grove, where thousands of Monarch butterflies nest annually, and continues through the art-centric seaside village of Carmel and Monterey, which author John Steinbeck immortalized in Cannery Row. Along the way, you'll encounter boutique wineries, frolicking otters and sunning elephant seals, and tide pools teeming with sea-life — not to mention a wealth of B&Bs.

There's the charming Her Castle B&B Inn, just six miles south of Hearst Castle, the extravagant European-inspired estate in the picturesque village of Cambria where newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst once lived. The property exudes its own fairy-tale air, situated on a quarter acre filled with towering redwoods; apple, orange, and grapefruit trees; and lush flora that attracts woodpeckers and deer. Located among Monterey's historic adobe structures and secret gardens, the 1920s Tudor-style Old Monterey Inn is awash in detail, from stained-glass windows to period furnishings. The 10-guestroom inn, which includes a separate cottage, is known for its incredibly comfy beds and own English gardens. It's also an easy walk to the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium.

 

 


 

San Francisco Bay Area

Singer Tony Bennett has many good reasons for leaving his heart in San Francisco: spectacular hilltop views around every corner, historic cable cars climbing through fog so thick it can make the Golden Gate Bridge disappear, some of the best food the planet has to offer, and one-of-a-kind neighborhoods — from tony Nob Hill and its awe-inspiring Grace Cathedral to Haight-Ashbury's still-prevailing hippie culture. Berkeley and Oakland sit east across the bay, while down south is Silicon Valley, home to revolutionary tech companies like Apple and Google. Coastal destinations include Santa Cruz, an eclectic beachside town known for its iconic boardwalk, and the Marin Headlands, north of San Francisco, with its towering redwood old-growth redwoods, magnificent views, and an endless array of hiking trails, plus waterfront communities ranging from bohemian to downright sumptuous.

For an authentic SF experience and a heart-of-the-city stay, nothing beats Chateau Tivoli, a restored late-19th-century Victorian home featuring nine individually styled guestrooms, some with four-poster canopied beds, others with handprinted Bradbury & Bradbury period wall-paperings. The property sits just two blocks away from Alamo Square Park, home of the iconic “Painted Ladies.” A quick hop aboard the ferry or drive across the Golden Gate Bridge is Sausalito, home to boutique shops and sweeping views of San Francisco Bay and the SF skyline. Take in the scenery unencumbered from downtown's Gables Inn, which offers rooms with private balconies, as well as wood-burning fireplaces that provide much-needed warmth when the notorious fog rolls in.

 

 


 

Gold Country

 

Just east of Sacramento, the state capital, is California Gold Country, the place that sparked the largest mass migration in US history. From 1848 through 1855, more than 300,000 pioneering souls traveled west to search for riches in the Sierra Nevada's western foothills. Many Gold Rush towns remain, their Old West architecture still intact with an emanating frontier feel, although these days there are as many boutique wineries and tasting rooms as there are collectible shops and Gold Rush history.

Known as the “Jewel of the Mother Lode,” historic Sutter Creek is one of the region's most walkable and picturesque towns, with Main Street sporting ice cream parlors, antique stores, and plenty of spots for sipping vino. Foxes Inn of Sutter Creek, is a mid-19th-century Victorian with seven spacious guestrooms, each with varying features such as a clawfoot tub or a hearth fireplace, and breakfasts cooked to order. Farther south along Hwy 49 is Murphys, another picture-perfect mining town, with some of the best access to the lower Sierras, along with grows of Giant Sequoias in nearby Calaveras Big Trees State Park, and ample art galleries and wine-tasting rooms. Bed down at the Dunbar House Bed and Breakfast, an 1880 Grand Victorian with a first-floor wraparound porch, perfect for whiling away the evening with a game of backgammon. Of course, the inn offers modern conveniences too, such as in-room DVDs and WiFi.

 

 


 

Wine Country and the Northern Coast

Although it seems like tasting rooms and wineries are popping up everywhere these days, there's nothing quite like California's original Wine Country, a scenic area of rolling hills and endless vineyards that still produces some of the world's most sought-after vintages. Beyond the vines of premier Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes, there are inviting coastal towns, windswept beaches, and redwood forests that offer a remote reprieve from California's big cities.

On a hilltop meadow amid towering trees — and right next to Korbel Champagne Cellars — the Sonoma Orchid Inn features nine guestrooms spread between a main 1906 farmhouse and a separate cottage. Its innkeepers embrace the farm-to-table philosophy so prevalent in the area, with fresh eggs from the property's chickens incorporated into the daily breakfast. Over in downtown Napa, the elegant 19th-century Churchill Manor is an architectural treasure, with 10 guestrooms, multiple parlors (including a piano parlor and solarium), and a massive wraparound veranda. Head north for iconic wineries like V. Sattui, known for its vast picnic area and gourmet foods selection, and the mud baths and spas of Calistoga, Wine Country's own hot springs hub.

Back along the Pacific in one of Northern California's most beloved coastal hamlets, the luxurious Glendeven Inn Mendocino is an eight-acre farmstead with supreme ocean views. Along with 10 individually styled guestrooms that combine contemporary art with antiques, the B&B is home to botanical gardens, inquisitive llamas, and the onsite Wine Barn, Mendocino’s only wine purveyor. Artisan restaurants are also nearby, serving abalone and freshly caught Dungeness crab.

 

 

 

 

-Laura Kiniry