The diversity of Northern California goes far beyond its demographics. The area that includes Oakland, Napa, San Francisco, Vallejo and Sonoma —to name just a few cities— is filled with people, places and palettes that marry into a rich experience like none other. And for the couple looking for a romantic destination, a honeymoon or just extended date night (turned week), it is the place to be.
Aside from the natural beauty of its mountains and San Francisco Bay, Northern California is a unique experience because of the vineyards, seasonally-conscious restaurants and fun activities everywhere you go. Its diverse enough to never feel out of place and the people are incredibly friendly everywhere you go; from hipster watering holes to 5-star hotels.
Not sure where exactly to go or what to do? I traveled across the country to get some intel on the best spots for couples who are visiting Northern Cali.
Berkeley: Claremont Club & Spa, A Fairmont Hotel
Originally constructed by a man who hit it big during the California Gold Rush, this luxury hotel is one of the most regal buildings in the area. Sitting on the border of Oakland and Berkeley, the Claremont Club & Spa is perfect for couples looking the eat well, relax —we suggest their couple’s massage— and just take the natural beauty of Northern California. Aside from their delicious brunch and polo-chic rooms, we highly recommend that couples play a round of tennis on one of their ten outdoor courts.
Oakland: Roses’ Taproom
You may think you’re in Brooklyn or Austin for a moment once you enter Roses’ Taproom on the famous Telegraph Ave. This hipster-friendly watering hole has a wide variety of beers imported and brewed in their backyard (literally). This is a great place for an impromptu Jay-Beyoncé inspired photo shoot by the bar or succulent-shelved salmon pink walls.
Oakland: Museum of California
From hip-hop’s impact on Oakland to the city’s Mormon community, the history of “The Town” lives here. Pro tip: Come on Friday nights for discounted tickets, a live DJ and a popping block party with the city’s best food trucks.
Try an authentic global experience! If you’re particular about your Middle Eastern food, you won’t be disappointed by the vibrant and delicious offerings at Dyafa. Located in Jack London Square’s waterfront, this new hot spot offers small hot and cold shareable plates for a family-style experience. Good for a date night vibe, we highly suggest the Mana’eesh bread with Mutabbal charred eggplant and Musakhan spiced chicken.
Oakland: Feelmore Adult Gallery**
There’s probably nothing sexier than spicing it up in the bedroom with toys. Feelmore Adult Gallery, owned and operated by Nenna Joiner, is a boutique-style sex shop with condoms, vibrations, lube, cards games and much more. Unapologetically sex-conscious, the store is all about having a healthy sex life with the tools to enhance the experience.
Old Oakland: Oeste Bar & Cafe**
Located in what’s referred to as “Old Oakland” this chic restaurant and bar is a great option for a late night drink. Cuddle up in one of the booths or enjoy their rooftop with food inspired by Southern and Latin recipes. While the visiting DJs play R&B and old-school hip-hop, enjoy tasty bites like their Strawberry Shortcake nightcap.
Old Oakland: District Oakland
Romance is important, but so is a good brunch. If you’re in Oakland, look no further than District, a sophisticated treasure in the historic district that’s been revamped with culinary hot spots. The communal setting of high tables and leather banquets gives the restaurant a dark, yet modern and sexy appeal. We highly suggest you try their biscuits and gravy for brunch —although literally, everything during their bottomless brunch is phenomenal.
San Francisco: International Smoke**
Sometimes, when celebrities put their name on restaurants the food can be lackluster and overrated. For Ayesha Curry’s International Smoke in the Financial District of San Francisco, this is not the case. Like… at all. The Asian-Southern fusion restaurant beautifully marries seasonings you’d never think would work. We’re talking sticky mango duck wings, soy-braised short ribs and miso butter chargrilled oysters you’ll be dreaming about for weeks after. For the best couples experience, grab a two-top, order a glass of California wine and try their Rib Tip Mac & Cheese. Thank us later.
San Francisco: Feinstein’s at the Nikko
If date night usually consists of seeing a show, Feinstein’s at the Nikko is the perfect location while in Northern California. This jazzy lounge is a new addition to San Fran’s night scene that already has a rich history of entertainment.
San Francisco: Fairmont San Francisco
For a glamorous couple’s getaway, the Fairmont San Francisco is a probably going to knock your socks off. Old Hollywood charm has been preserved in this massive hotel that has a private gym, two restaurants, a cafe, beehive garden and 55,000 square feet of event space. Walking around where Tony Bennett literally first sang “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” the quiet hallways and secret gardens make for a fun and historically-rich stay.
Sonoma: Ram’s Gate Winery
There are hundreds of places to do a wine tasting in Sonoma, but very few have the clean sophistication and beauty of Ram’s Gate. Encompassing 28 acres of land, this vineyard was founded in 2011 with a mission to create small-lot Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the most sustainable way possible. From the reclaimed wood stair banisters to the way they manage their agricultural properties, everything has a place and purpose and shines naturally— especially their delicious wines. (Like a sweeter wine? Try their Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc.)
Sonoma: Glen Ellen Star
In Glen Ellen lies a restaurant run by a couple who have brought New York sophistication to the small village of 8,000. Perfectly described as “non-douchy” farm-to-table cooking, the chef and his team prepare all the meals in an exposed kitchen using fresh vegetables, locally-sourced meats and fruits literally hand-picked a few miles away. Chef Ari Weiswasser’s wife —who’s originally from the village and convinced the family to move back after years in the Big Apple— serves as the restaurant manager. It’s an efficient establishment with orders flowing out with a tame precision. Try their fresh margarita pizza, cotija-smothered corn and apricot crumble for a perfectly balanced meal.
Sonoma: Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards
If you want a taste of a legacy brand, look no further than Gloria Ferrer. Aside from the stunning views of Sonoma from their Terrace and Club Area seating, Ferrer family has been making wine for over 600 years. In their modern work, they boast having the first sparkling wine house in Sonoma Carneros, the first Champagne clones, and numerous awards for their red, white and sparkling wines.
Sonoma: Sanctuary Spa at Gaige House
Couple’s just want to unplug, right? Turn off the cell, leave the laptop at home and just sit in silence. For that, we give you the Sanctuary Spa at Gaige House. This serene inn located in the village of Glen Ellen was designed in an Asian modernist style, created incredibly Zen suites with meditation gardens, Buddhas and stone showers. Spa services can be done in the room and if you splurge on a Ryokan Zen suite, you can enjoy the Calabazas Creek after with your significant other.
Sonoma: the girl and the fig
Eating fresh doesn’t mean one has to skimp on decadent dishes. Sondra Berstein’s French country restaurant masterfully creates dishes that source locally-based farm goods with gourmet recipes — all served in a quaint, open setting. For over 20 years the establishment has been feeding Sonoma back what it grows through dishes like king salmon with San Marzano tomatoes, fig jams, grilled peaches and other seasonal treats.
(two stars ** designate black-owned establishments)
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