When visiting a place for the very first time, sometimes with the right person, the whole town seems magical. Restaurants, sidewalk shops, parks for picnic, flower lined streets, wine tasting and live music.
Small California towns that have – walkable downtowns, historic buildings and museums, and/or hiking trails nearby – are top picks among active road trippers.
Often a few good overnights in a wonderful lodge can make the whole vacation totally worth it. Certain settings, like rivers, wilderness locations, or anything situated near the ocean is always top picks for Valentine’s Day.
most romantic towns: California
ANY hotel in Cambria
Moonlight Beach was made for Lovers
ANY hotel in Coronado
Historic seaside neighborhood, San Diego
Wylder Hotel, Hope Valley
Sierra Nevada, south of Lake Tahoe
On the Cheap:Romantic
Youth hostels have come a long way in recent years. Often referred to as backpackers hostels or travelers hostel, these are budget friendly accommodations – set up for those who don’t mind roughin it. While bunk beds and dorm rooms are typical, these facilities also have private room rentals for couples or solo travelers.
Total Escape has been focusing on the back roads of California for over 3 decades. We have researched, found and stayed over at some of the coolest cabins in the Golden State. Private vacation homes to fishing cabins, we have pretty much all of them listed.
Northern California is a well sought destination for secluded vacations.
“cheap cabin rentals in northern california”
Rustic fishing cabins, luxury on the lakeshore, cedar forests, romantic or remote hideaways, tent cabins, yurts and historic fire lookouts. We list mountains and rural locations.
SUMMER VS. WINTER
Not all cabin rentals are open for business during the winter months. Often the snow is too deep and the remote location may be inaccessible. Call ahead and talk to the innkeeper; know the weather forecast, before you make the drive. Always carry chains when driving in winter months.
Highest Sierra peaks are the tallest on the Sierra range and located along the eastern side of California, bordering near the state of Nevada. US Highway 395 runs the length. We advise staying overnight as far from the pavement as possible.
Kernville on the Kern River and Lake Isabella have some rentals, but the best bet around here is Alta Sierra, a cedar forest located above the lake. Paved Highway 155 winds up from Wofford Heights to the snowy ridges above. Shirley Meadows has family ski fun.
Rental homes and rustic cottages can be found on the western slopes, near the historic location called California Hot Springs. Expect oaks and pines with shady conditions in densely wooded neighborhoods.
The Coastal mountain ranges have a few cabin communities worth mentioning, some in the farmlands and others on the pine ridges. Numerous areas have recently been affected by wildfires: Santa Cruz Mountains, Shaver Lake & Huntington, and Mendocino.
The Big Sur Coast is a popular and often crowded destination which has a few cabin rentals. With redwood forests along the rocky and rugged coastline, outdoor recreation and scenic views are top priorities for most visitors.
Since the majority of the population is located in the bottom portion of the state, these ideal locations listed below will book up faster than “all the other cabins” in California. Drive further for a more secluded place and a whole new terrain.
Oldest hotels in California, West Coast & Sierra Nevada Mts
While the well-known explorers Lewis and Clark were both freemasons and the first white men to walk across the continent; We are not interested in ‘Masonic Lodges’ of the West Coast. Nor any Worshipful Masters that came after.
The most interesting Historic Lodges of California are the ones located deep within nature, surrounded by grandeur and real wild beauty. The historic hotels in which we list have been accommodating guest for over 100 years.
Ideal locations, from rustic mountain cabins to impressive beach resorts, gold country inns to a desert oasis – this is Total Escape, California off the beaten path.
Amargosa Opera House
Death Valley Junction, CA
760-852-4441 Historic mining location; Mojave Desert, east of DVNP
The Julian Hotel
Julian Gold Rush Hotel
2032 Main Street Julian, California
East San Diego Mountains Oldest continuously operating hotel in Southern California
Hotel Del Coronado
1500 Orange Ave Coronado Island, CA
West of downtown San Diego Wooden Victorian Beach Resort, facing the Pacific Oldest lodge on the West Coast, established 1888
U.S. Grant Hotel
326 Broadway Avenue San Diego, CA
619-232-3121 Downtown, directly across from Horton Plaza
Interested in meeting world travelers? Want to socialize with active, like-minded travelers during your trip? Then California hostels may be worth checking out.
Often called Traveler Hostels, Youth Hostels or Backpacking Hostels, these budget accommodations have been renovating and recreating themselves in the past decade. More bedding selection, more privacy options and additional outdoor lounging areas.
Several historic buildings and lighthouses have been turned into hostels. Often located in the city center, or other prime locations near bus routes, beaches or attractions, hostels offer temporary lodging for young, flexible, budget minded adventurers.
These popular overnight places can book up months in advance, are usually located in well-known tourist destinations and offer much better pricing than traditional hotels.
If you’re not comfortable with sleeping in a strangers apartment with an AirBNB, nor paying top dollar to stay in a pre-parked motorhome – then hosteling is an alternative choice.
Community kitchen, bunk beds, storage lockers and shared bathrooms are the norm, but many hostels now offer private rooms, tent cabins or other unique sleeping arrangements. Every hostel is different and has a unique setup, so you’ll want to do your research ahead of time and choose carefully.
for more inexpensive lodging options in California, check out –
The phrase ‘High Sierra’ commonly refers to the highest mountain peaks in the U.S. Located in the Eastern Sierra region of California, as seen all along US Highway 395. The tallest granite ranges protected by Wilderness Areas. No roads, no building, no development.
various types of Sierra lodging
wilderness camps – hike-in access
rustic cabins – big snow country fishing lodges – river front
historic forest lodges, inns & resorts
lakeside resorts – often closed in winter tent cabins – summer months only
Listed below is a small selection of Sierra lodges in Calif. The list will grow over time as we add more recommended stays. Follow the links and call ahead for reservations, cuz some of these remote places close seasonally, or they can get damaged during winter storms.
Vaulted ceilings, large windows, huge wooden beams and granite rock fireplaces are typical of interiors inside the large, historic lodges. Hotel rooms, log cabins, maybe a huge dining room and even a bar. Usually no swimming pools; since alpine lakes and rivers abound.
Sierra Lodges can be found on paved access roads, along busy highways or interstates, near railroads, in neighboring small towns, close to hiking trailheads, and always near mountain destinations. Often open during winter months, but not always.
Lodging is super scarce in the wilderness high country. Rustic cabins, community dorms, bunk houses or tent cabins are typical overnight shelter. Daily meals may be provided (when requested in advance). Much desired time frame: June through September, wilderness accommodations can be reserved up to a year in advance, with a hefty fee, of course.
Most popular mountain areas could have seasonal outfitters that provide access to the remote backcountry; usually by horseback, snowmobile, or cross-country skiing. Reservations are needed for such services.
High Elevation Lodges & Cabins in the Sierra Nevada Mountains
elevation: 4000′ – 9000′
Overnight lodging in California; alpine country, located high in elevation. Mountain peaks, fire lookouts, cabins, historic inns, guard stations.
The highest of elevations – cabins, lodges, small inns, all in perfect locations, totally immersed in alpine wilderness. Many of these are accessible only half the year, due to deep snow. A few can be reached by snowmobile or snowshoe in winter months. Some also have snow ski resorts nearby.
High Sierra Camp (HSC)
(horseback or hike-in only)
Giant hiking loop in high country = Tuloumne Meadows, Vogelsang, Lake Merced, Sunrise Camp, May Lake
elevation 9000′ – 12,000′
Tioga Pass, Highway 120
Within Yosemite NP
Snow melts from MAY into JUNE. Expect closure or mud on dirt back roads. Wildflowers bloom APRIL through AUGUST in the Sierra Nevada, above 3000′. Autumn arrives with aspens and fall colors in the Eastern Sierra, through OCTOBER.
California Paddling Destinations Canoe, Kayak Rental, Float, Boat, Fish
River Resorts & Cabin Rentals
California has abundant rivers and lakes located throughout the state and some of them are still flowing. Drought years can effect these waterways, so call ahead to make sure there is indeed enough water to paddle.
We list overnight lodges, cabins & campgrounds that you can enjoy the water up close. Paddle a kayak, river raft, rent a canoe, swim in the lake, or learn to fly fish.
This is by far not a complete list of waterfront destinations, but just a start. We will be adding more locations as we continue to update this page in the near future.
These lush resorts listed below cater to crowds, offering food, wedding venue, party space, luncheon, gift shop and overnight accommodations. These huge wineries are popular places with large facilities, parking lots, golfing nearby and restaurants.
Bacara, Santa Barbara
8301 Hollister Ave
Goleta, CA 93117
Carneros Resort and Spa
4048 Sonoma Highway
Napa, CA 94559
Fess Parker’s Wine Country Inn
2860 Grand Ave
Los Olivos, CA
From motorhomes to mobile homes, California has vacation and retirement appeal. Weather is a prime reason for the large population.
Pre-fabricated homes, steel building barn-homes and custom builds can be found all Northern California. New luxury homes, geodesic dome homes, with a moldy-oldie cabin, all right next to each other. Plenty of 1970-something mobile homes still in use.
The tiny home revolution may take California by surprise, as more people choose to downsize their life and amount of belongings. Yurts, cabins, ranch homes, cottages, kit cabins, log cabins and tiny house communities. Shipping container homes, double wide, single wide with roof awning, 5th wheel with slide-outs – and woodstove?
wild land urban inter face
Living in the wild has some disadvantages. Wildland fire is one of them.
MOBILE culture: temporary shelter, motorhomes, kit homes, cabins, yurts, inexpensive homes
new modular homes
Build New or Rebuilding options and ideas, some under $200k
A rare gem: a rustic river ranch in Baja California Mexico. Fully operational, clean hotel with great rates & home-cooked meals. Open year round.
This historic place is a living legend; well known throughout the tourists circles. A quaint, family run, secluded backcountry lodge – in the middle of nowhere. A motorcycle haven, well known w/ crowds. Hundreds of bikes, buggies, sand rails & jeeps each year make it to this lovely destination.
Also a popular destination for campers with the horses, 4×4 clubs, SUV travelers as well. No motorhomes, caravans of clueless, nor RVs should attempt this remote Baja location.
Mike’s Sky Ranch rests on a hillside overlooking the Arroyo San Rafael, which is a somewhat wooded river valley with steep, brush-covered mountains. The ranch offers motel-type accommodations for a very reasonable price: family-style meals, a swimming pool, horse-back riding, sycamore-shaded campsites. The individual hotel rooms are adequate with a bathroom, plus a variety of bed sizes & combinations.
The price is right. Mike’s Sky Ranch charges on a per person basis. The rental includes a bed, plus two meals:
dinner the night you arrive
breakfast the next morning
bring cash for bar drinks
bring snacks, lunches & own ice chest
Mikes Sky Ranch Reservations
write a letter:
667 Twining Ave.
San Diego, CA 92154
Call during the week Mon-Wed
phone # 011-52-664-68-15514
Ask about information regarding nearby day-trips to – the Oberservatory by vehicle or, on foot, into the rugged country to the east. A nice watrerfall is only 1 mile hike up the canyon. Depending on the year and waterflow, this may or may not be impressive. Small rainbow trout sometimes can be found in the river next to the ranch. Hunters may find deer, rabbit, & quail.
Imagine the remote, dirt, back roads of Baja Mexico. Dusty, bumpy, undeveloped & adventurous. Some areas may require 4 wheel drive depending on the rainfall & erosion at that time. Road conditions can change from year to year, so come prepared. Although a 2WD truck or SUV can easily make it all the way out to the infamous Mike’s Sky Rancho, it may not always be the case. Let’s just say on a heavy winter rainy season, beware. You may wanna see just how deep that river crosing really is before attempting that last obstacle.
The swimming pool is clean & the properties water source is straight from the mountains via the year round flowing river next door. Camping out is an option down by the river.
There is a small bar that is open nighly; but please don’t expect poolside Palm Springs style service. This is a rustic place that caters more to the ‘roughin’ it’ types.
Getting there is half the fun. I wouldn’t try your first visit arriving at night, since the small dirt roads can get confusing with limited signage. There are no telephone poles out here, or even electricity wired this far out, so the small ranch uses a generator every night from dusk until 10pm. “Man, when that generator goes off. Poof … the stars come on!”
MSR Baja California MX
Located approx. 50-60 miles; south east of Ensenada, Baja south off MX Hwy 3
DIRECTIONS: From Ensenada & Hwy. 3 East bound: This road to Mike’s begins at signed junction 10-11 miles south east of Valle de Trinidad. High-clearance vehicles are necessary; 4WD is not required. The entire route is on rough dirt roads. The first part rises over rural dry brush landscape & then decends down into a wooded river valley – where the resort is located. The overall mountainous region has few large trees & plenty of dust. The road becomes rougher as it winds down & approaches a junction at mileage 13.8. Bear left to continue 8 miles to the ranch. Creek crossings and river crossings, slow down!
The BAJA ALMANAC is by far the best back roads guide to Baja California MX. Numerous versions span from 1990-2001. May be difficult to find cuz it is out-of-print. Fast becomeing a collectors item, since so few can be found on the ‘used book market’