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When flowers and bonbons aren't enough, escape to Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino for retreats, restaurants and outings sure to light the fire. Click through the gallery for all the romantic details.
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Garden Valley Ranch, Petaluma: Why settle for a bunch of roses when you could disappear with your dearest into an entire field of them? Garden Valley Ranch, the Petaluma cut-rose farm and nursery visited by Martha Stewart, rents out a little cottage with a queen-size canopy bed and clawfoot tub that provides excellent cover for couples who want romantic privacy in a lush, storybook setting. After the nursery has closed for the day, overnight visitors have the gardens all to themselves. And while the 10,000 rose bushes are in repose in February, the 4 acres of landscaped grounds are still lovely for the kind of quiet strolls seen in English period romances. The cottage has 10-foot ceilings and a gas fireplace.
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The clawfoot tub with shower in the 1880s cottage at Garden Valley Ranch in Petaluma. (Photo by Erik Castro)
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Ru's Farm at Healdsburg Country Gardens, Healdsburg: Privacy seekers can also take cover amid the wintery landscape of Healdsburg Country Gardens. Well before the brides start arriving in spring at this rural wedding venue that’s just a short drive from the Healdsburg Plaza, one can find peace and quiet in either a 300-square-foot studio cottage or a two-bedroom, two-bath house. Both are set within the gardens, and guests are welcome to walk among 18 acres of Sauvignon Blanc vines. (Photo by Erik Castro)
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Bedroom in one of the cottages at Ru's Farm at Healdsburg Country Gardens. (Courtesy photo)
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MacArthur Place Hotel & Spa, Sonoma: MacArthur Place Hotel & Spa in Sonoma was transformed from a 19th-century estate to a luxurious inn and spa. Despite its size (64 rooms), it’s remarkably private and tranquil, with 7 acres of sculpture-filled gardens. Ten rooms are in the Manor House, the property’s original residence. The Inn’s 29 suites have fireplaces and hydrotherapy tubs or rain showers. Book a massage or body treatment in the Garden Spa, and dine at Saddles, the on-site steakhouse with a comfortable bar for a pre-dinner cocktail.
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Farmhouse Inn, Forestville: With just the right mix of dress-up and dress-down charm, Sonoma is the kind of place where men never need a tie, yet women rarely look out of place in $200 pumps. At the Farmhouse Inn, couples looking for romance can stay in cozy cottage rooms with jetted tubs, redwood saunas and all the Wine Country charm you can stand. The inn houses an upscale, yet surprisingly low-key, Michelin-starred restaurant. The ambiance is sophisticated yet cozy, the Cal-French cuisine delicious yet unpretentious, the decor chic and the service snappy.
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In the Russian River town of Guerneville, have a drink at El Barrio, a modern, stylish, Mexican-themed cocktail lounge focused on bourbon, tequila and mescal. Nearby Seaside Metal Oyster Bar features the aphrodisiac oyster as a staple, along with other great local seafood. (Photo by Erik Castro)
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In the town of Sonoma, owner Saul Gropman will likely greet you as you enter Cafe La Haye, a haven for those who appreciate dishes created from locally grown and raised ingredients, many of them organic. Tables at this just-off-the-plaza restaurant are set on two levels in the bright, airy space, and minimalist artwork on the walls gives one the feeling of being in a gallery. The wine list is deep and with a huge selection of Sonoma Valley bottles. (Photo by Beth Schlanker)
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For a lighter bite in the town of Sonoma, a great cup of coffee or a glass of beer or vino, there is Sunflower Caffé, on the west side of the Sonoma Plaza.
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Sonoma Canopy Tours, Occidental: Looking for a bonding experience you’ll be talking about for years? Then try screaming through the redwoods at 25 mph, harnessed to a zipline as part of the Sonoma Canopy Tours adventure in Occidental. Of the seven ziplines, the longest is 800 feet. One winds above a narrow ravine 300 feet below. And don’t miss the towering spiral staircase or the 175-foot sky bridge, which brings you face to face with “Walter,” the oldest tree in the grove. The guides have a very Julia Butterfly Hill vibe to them (“Alina is a Magical Elf that hails from the ancient forest of Angwin”).
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Sonoma Overlook Trail, Sonoma: A relatively easy 3-mile roundtrip hike on the Sonoma Overlook Trail will reward lovebirds with a stunning view of Sonoma Valley. It’s too early for the annual explosion of wildflowers, but the solitude and the huge stone memorial bench at the viewpoint are worth the walk. The bench, a tribute by a couple to their deceased son, has a notebook that rests upon it, protected from the elements by a plastic box. Hikers are welcome to record their thoughts in the notebook and read those of others. The trailhead begins at the entrance to the Mountain Cemetery (90 First St. W., Sonoma), four blocks west of the Sonoma Plaza.
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Pinnacle Gulch/Shorttail Gulch Trail Loop, Bodega Bay: Hidden amid the golf tees and trophy houses in the well-manicured Bodega Harbour neighborhood south of Bodega Bay is a hidden hike locals know as the Pinnacle Gulch/Shorttail Gulch Trail Loop. It’s only a 2-mile loop, but the reward is a sheltered cove and beach at the bottom, with a cave worthy of any picnic, especially in the rain. Make sure to check the tide charts before you go. And save your energy, because it’s a 200-step ascent back to suburban golf land.
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Milliken Creek Inn & Spa, Napa: Only a small sign off the Silverado Trail marks the entry to this posh little hotel nuzzled along the Napa River and melded into the trees, beyond the view of the road. This is where you go when you don’t want to see or be seen by anyone but your special suitemate. You can even arrange with staff to meet you at your car for check-in. (Photo by John Burgess)
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Breakfast is as you please at Milliken Creek Inn, delivered to your door between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m., so you don’t have to slip out of that “something more comfortable” to get to a buffet line before it shuts down. Eat in bed if you like. Staff will also serve you on the patio, the balcony or anywhere else on the sylvan grounds. With only 12 rooms, you won’t run into crowds at the elegant spa. And if you choose to indulge in the Chocolate Decadence body treatment somewhere outdoors, your privacy will be guarded. (Courtesy photo)
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Need ideas to turn up the heat on romance? The staff at Milliken Creek Inn will customize your nightly turndown service with candles, rose petals and mood music.
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Napa, the swanky sister to Sonoma, has sprawling vineyards (yellow with mustard any minute now), monumental chateaux and charming bed-and-breakfasts up and down the valley. It’s easy to find the obvious romance here: The place is crawling with it. But Napa has a quieter, less obvious side that we love for couples’ getaways. Jessup Cellars in Yountville has a snoot-free tasting room with some great wines, an art gallery and monthly events that include fascinating tastemakers, music and movie screenings with wine and popcorn pairings. (Photo by Napa Wine Project)
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One man’s love affair with art provides plenty of passion to fuel a cozy rendezvous for two at di Rosa in Napa. Rene di Rosa, a former San Francisco Chronicle reporter and vineyard owner, amassed some 2,000 works of art by more than 800 artists in his lifetime. The di Rosa collection includes prized works by Mark di Suvero, Robert Arneson, Roy de Forest, Enrique Chagoya, Manuel Neri and William T. Wiley. (Photo: Israel Valencia, courtesy di Rosa, Napa)
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Nestled under rolling, vine-striped hills in the southern Carneros region, the sprawling 200-acre di Rosa estate is an art lover’s dream escape. And don’t miss the sculpture trail, which is occasionally guided by di Rosa peacocks. Get there early for a glass of bubbly and Pinot Noir-filled chocolates on the deck at Domaine Carneros winery, across the highway from the preserve. Heat lamps provide plenty of warmth on a cold winter’s day. (Photo: Israel Valencia, courtesy di Rosa, Napa)
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Swanson Vineyards’ Sip Shoppe in Rutherford is another romantic Napa fave. This hideaway is a magical tasting room escape from reality with its candy-cane-striped walls, whimsical art and carefully curated tastings served up in glass Dixie cups. Reservations required.
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Sneak a snuggle in the back row of St. Helena’s century-old Cameo Cinema, a small, independent theater that screens offbeat indie films and has two rows of red velvet love seats. Follow that with a burger and milkshake at Gott’s Roadside, an updated drive-in with haute versions of drive-through classics. Finally, sip some serious bubbly at Domaine Chandon in Yountville.
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The Point Cabrillo Lighthouse Station, Mendocino County: Lighthouse life was notoriously lonely for the keeper’s family. But isolation can be an aphrodisiac when you’re looking to hide away with your honey. The Point Cabrillo Light Station, located between the village of Mendocino and Fort Bragg, offers a singular place to cocoon on an isolated point overlooking the crashing waves and surrounded by 270 acres of undeveloped coastal bluffs. Once the day visitors depart, you’ll have the grounds almost to yourself. Choose from the four-bedroom Head Lightkeeper’s House, the recently restored Assistant Lightkeeper’s House, and two snug cottages.
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The Point Cabrillo houses have vintage charm and modern conveniences, including nicely appointed kitchens with big islands for couples who like to cook and dine in their own candlelight. With no Internet or cable service, you’ll have no choice but to amuse yourselves. Rooms have TVs outfitted with DVD players, however, and the station has a library of 1,000 movies available to overnight guests, including romantic films made on the Mendocino coast, such as “Racing with the Moon, “Summer of ’42” and “Same Time Next Year.”
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At night, you can look out the window and see the beams from the light station’s still-active, 92-prism lens dance across the darkened headlands. In the morning, share coffee on the front porch and gaze beyond your white picket fence to the fog and the sea. One cottage is pet-friendly, for $25 extra each night. (Photo by Kent Porter)
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The coast can’t help but be romantic. On a clear day, sky and sea become a horizon of blue. On a cold, rainy day, it’s hard to find an excuse not to encamp by the fire. Fort Bragg’s Piaci Pub & Pizzeria (120 W. Redwood Ave.) is snuggle-worthy by design, with only a handful of tables surrounding the bar. When a chair opens, grab it and order. There are no bad choices, but the Nonnie, with prosciutto and a fresh egg on top, is highly recommended.
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Head across the street to Cowlick’s Hand Made Ice Cream (250 N. Main St.) for a scoop of candy cap mushroom ice cream that tastes every bit like maple syrup, and not at all like mushrooms. In the morning, try Headlands Coffee (120 E. Laurel St.) in downtown Fort Bragg for made-to-order Belgian waffles, pastries, coffee and some meaningful eye-gazing or newspaper-reading.
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Get your sea legs back with an ocean adventure off the rocky Mendocino Coast. The toughest part is choosing your method: Kayaking sea caves, charter-boat fishing for crab, or training your eyes on a wayward whale? Former pro surfer Craig Comen heads up Kayak Mendocino, and his motto on every seafaring sojourn is: “For the next hour and a half, your life will take on that of a marine mammal.” That means you get to frolic with harbor seals and otters. And there may be no better spot (or acoustics) to rekindle your vows than under the cathedral caves along the coast.
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One of the best charter boat operations is All Aboard Adventures, out of Noyo Harbor in Fort Bragg. This time of year, Captain Tim leads four- to five-hour crabbing expeditions on the 45- foot Sea Hawk, teaching you how to bait and harvest crab pots, and then cook them up in the picnic area back on land.
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February through April is prime whale-watching time, as migrating gray whales venture south along the coast from Alaska and then return with their new calves to complete the 5,000-mile journey to and from Baja California. A salty-dog veteran of more than 25 years, Captain Randy Thornton offers two-hour trips from Noyo Harbor aboard the Telstar.
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Headed homeward to the south? Take Highway 128 east to the quirky town of Boonville and through the renowned Anderson Valley wine region. A few miles west of Boonville, in Philo, is Navarro Vineyards (5601 Highway 128), where Pinot Noir and Edelzwicker, an Alsatian-style blend of Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Riesling and Muscat, are easy to love. Like the wines, the Navarro tasting room is fun and approachable, with delicious nonalcoholic varietal grape juices for sale for the designated driver, and plenty of picnic items. It's also a retailer of locally made Pennyroyal Farm cheeses. Navarro wines are available only in the tasting room and through the wine club, so stock up before you leave.