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California love: My unforgettable honeymoon road trip

honeymoon feet

 (iStock)

Novelist Nora Zelevansky’s honeymoon was so swoon-worthy and budget-minded that you'll want to steal the idea. Here’s the storybook tale, in her own words.

Despite what Pinterest would have us believe, weddings are stressful. Even “carefree” moments are scheduled with military precision. In travel and in life, I don’t love that kind of structure. So when it came to my honeymoon, I wasn’t inspired to race around airports, making connections. All I wanted was to unwind, wear hoodies, and eat carbs.

My husband, Andrew, and I have always shared a love of road trips: the flexibility, the spontaneity—the simple pleasure of serendipity. California makes an especially good backdrop for such an easygoing journey, with its dramatic shifts in landscape; drive a few hours and you’ve crossed from desert into lush greenery, from the shore into mountains.

Andrew and I took our time getting hitched, exclusively dating in L.A. for years beforehand. By our wedding, we had driven as far south as Rosarito, Mexico, and as far north as Portland, Oregon. So, for us, there was an implicit romance to this honeymoon concept: As anyone who has ever driven cross-country knows, road trips represent a kind of shared freedom.

We decided to do this one like the “adults” we suddenly felt we must be. This wouldn’t be some haphazard slog to worn-down shacks labeled “cottages.” We’d still hold fast to our money by eating inexpensive snacks on the road—albeit high-end Kettle Chips and coconut water this time around—but since we were saving on airfare, we would splurge on the high-end hotels I’d always fantasized about visiting.

On a crisp fall day in early November, with The Clash blaring, we rode that tailwind of change up the 5 freeway, away from the past year’s stresses. 

As is often the case with memories, when I look back on the trip, I am rewarded with ephemeral impressions: crisp breezes carrying scents of salty sea and rosemary, bucolic walks through what felt like enchanted forests, strolls in impossibly quaint towns sampling olive oil and coconut sorbet, a perfect song erupting from the radio, laughter as we relived our wedding or happened upon a pen of adorable baby fainting goats. Still, one experience from each leg of the journey stands out—four in total. They are the chapters of my storybook dream trip, hard-won with budgeting, and savored to this day, the edges gilded in my mind.

I. Sausalito

We landed first on the other side of the bridge from San Francisco in lesser-known Sausalito at Cavallo Point Lodge, a hotel converted from a onetime U.S. Army post, Fort Baker (cavallopoint.com). To me, it was the embodiment of the Golden State’s signature relaxed luxury: at once historic and contemporary, organic and geometric, pampering and utilitarian. I have gauzy memories of enjoying our spa treatments and nature hikes. But the moment that crystallized for me was just after we arrived: Alone in our impeccable, earth-toned room, we peeled off our jackets and looked, spellbound, out the large windows. The Golden Gate bridge loomed orange above us; its lights twinkled as the sun went down.

II. Point Reyes

Our next stop was Point Reyes, where oyster farms line the foggy, protected shoreline. At Manka’s Inverness Lodge, high-end log cabins sit nestled among redwoods and firs (mankas.com). Open since 1917, the hotel had recently lost their lauded restaurant to a fire. As a result, simple yet transcendent meals were brought to our room. The kitchen culled all their ingredients from within a couple of miles, and you could taste it. One morning, we opened our front door to find a tray waiting. We carried it to our dining nook, where we unwrapped impossibly fresh yogurt, homemade granola, local apples, and hot cinnamon buns made from scratch, served straight from the oven. It was the best breakfast of my life.

III. Napa Valley

At Calistoga Ranch, the Napa Valley wine country stop on our journey, our room felt like the world’s most lavish treehouse (calistogaranch.aubergeresorts.com). Tucked amidst greenery, an actual oak grew through the sun deck beside an indoor/outdoor fireplace. We adored the bathroom: Beyond two distinct sleek sink areas opposite each other (what Andrew and I consider “living the dream”), an outdoor shower and garden awaited. We hardly wanted to leave the room, but eventually, we made it outside, accidentally happening upon quirky Prager Winery and Port Works (pragerport.com). My only previous experience with the sweet drink involved stealing it from a friend’s parents’ liquor cabinet when I was a teenager. But here we swirled it, inhaled it, really tasted it. Andrew ended up falling hard for a tawny port, tucking it into our trunk before continuing to our final destination.

IV. Big Sur

We had spent enough time in Big Sur in years past to hear buzz about Post Ranch Inn (postranchinn.com). We couldn’t wait to try it for ourselves. The rumors were true: Our room was extraordinary, massively windowed and overlooking rolling hillsides where wild turkeys roamed. In the brisk fall evening, Andrew suggested that we throw on plush robes, grab wine, and hustle to one of the hot plunges embedded in the cliffside. I was initially resistant because of the chill, but as soon as we climbed into the warm water, I knew he’d been right. The moon was full and bright. Gazing out over the dramatic cliffs, we passed the ambrosial wine back and forth, swigging from the bottle. Just when it seemed like the moment couldn’t get more idyllic, we turned to find a deer regarding us calmly from just feet away. It was as though a fairy godmother herself were designing our own personal fable.

When the sun rose on the final morning of our honeymoon, we were melancholy, of course. The afterglow of a hotly anticipated journey is bittersweet. But as we wound through peaks and valleys on our way home, luckily we weren’t on anyone else’s schedule…and we took our sweet time.

Nora Zelevansky is the author of Will You Won’t You Want Me? (out April 19) and Semi-Charmed Life.