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3 wonderful winter getaways in California

Photo courtesy Visit Mammoth

Mammoth Lakes, Santa Barbara, and Healdsburg offer different shades of bliss. In California, a winter getaway comes in many forms.

You can take the classic snow trip with fresh powder and a cozy fireplace. Perhaps you prefer ocean air and a relaxing hike. Or are you craving award-winning food and wine? Here’s a sampling of destinations to satisfy a wide variety of vacation desires. Start planning now and maybe you’ll find time to do them all.

In Mammoth Lakes, indulge in snow play

Mammoth Village

The pedestrian-friendly Mammoth Lakes Village has shops, restaurants, and lodging. | Courtesy Visit Mammoth

In 1953, Mammoth Mountain ski area was launched with a single rope tow. Visit now and you’ll have access to 28 lifts and 3,500 acres of skiable terrain. The town of Mammoth Lakes, a 300-mile drive north of Los Angeles, combines a majestic setting with draws such as Cuban food, local brews, and a chance to see Olympic superstars. 

What to do in Mammoth

Mammoth Mountain serves up plenty of snow sports: downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling—plus a tube park, scenic gondola rides, and snowcat tours. Season-pass options include ski days at other resorts around the globe. One pass even enables a work-from-the-slopes lifestyle with membership at the Fort, a shared office space. 800-626-6684.

Watch the Land Rover U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain (typically in January and February), which welcomes the world’s best freeskiers and snowboarders, who go head-to-head in half-pipe and slopestyle competitions. Get an up-close look from multiple vantage points, including the Main Lodge sundeck, a good spot to admire the action with hot cocoa in hand.

Where to eat in Mammoth

The best view in Mammoth Lakes looks even better with bossa nova music and Caribbean/Spanish food at downtown’s Dos Alas Cubarican Café and Lounge. Windows frame the dramatic peaks of the Sherwin Range south of town, while the menu showcases the owners’ Cuban and Puerto Rican heritage with Cuban sandwiches, plus rotating favorites such as garlic roasted pork, sweet plantains, and arroz con picadillo. Sides, $3.50 to $7; entrées, $17 to $28. 760-965-0345.

You may find peak happiness at Shea Schat’s Bakery. Main Street’s classic European pastry place with a small café is known for cookies, doughnuts, and apple strudel, as well as bread—sheepherder bread, onion bread, cheese bread, and jalapeño cheese bread. 760-934-6055.

Where to stay in Mammoth

If your winter fantasy includes a ski-in, ski-out A-frame with a wood-burning stove, you’ll covet one of the 25 classic cabins at Mammoth Mountain Chalets. During snow season, a vintage snowcat transports guests and their belongings to individual units situated at 9,000 feet. Rates from $360 for weekdays in January; December holiday rate from $510. 760-934-8518;

The AAA Three Diamond Village Lodge has one-, two-, and three-bedroom condos adjacent to shops, dining, and the gondola ride to the slopes. Rates from $230. 800-626-6684.

In Santa Barbara, get some R&R

The oldest trees in the Redwood Forest at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden date from 1926. | Cecilia Rosell / Courtesy Visit Santa Barbara

The oldest trees in the Redwood Forest at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden date from 1926. | Cecilia Rosell / Courtesy Visit Santa Barbara

For a winter wellness break, head to Santa Barbara for a combination of ocean air, gorgeous scenery, and Mediterranean-style architecture. Few cities are as well equipped for satisfying strolls among cultural attractions, boutiques, and restaurants, as well as plazas, parks, and charming alleys called paseos. 

What to do in Santa Barbara

Some favor the trendy Japanese art of shinrin-yoku, known as forest bathing. Others simply enjoy a soothing nature walk. The best place for both is the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, with 78 acres devoted to California native plants and trees, 5.5 miles of trails, and a teahouse. Adult admission, $14; children, $8. 805-682-4726.

Another calming spot to de-stress is Salt Santa Barbara, a Himalayan salt cave and spa with body treatments, mineral facials, and 45-minute sessions in the cave to simply relax and meditate. Treatments $120-$545. 805-963-7258.

Where to eat in Santa Barbara

The Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach sits beside the sand with a wide-open patio, ocean views, and fresh seafood. It’s also a salad-lover’s heaven with wedge, Louie, apple-walnut, kale, and other leafy creations, starting at $9.95. Cioppino is $22.95, and Channel Island sand dabs (upon availability) are $22.95. 805-898-2628.

The bocaditos—little bites— at Loquita include pan de cristal (a bread with a thin, crispy crust) or olives with rosemary and citrus. The chic and bustling restaurant is locally known for farm-fresh Spanish tapas, craft cocktails, and a stylish patio. 805- 880-3380.

Where to stay in Santa Barbara

The family-friendly, AAA Four Diamond Harbor View Inn is a short walk from the shops and restaurants of State Street, as well as West Beach and Stearns Wharf. Rates from $199. 800-755-0222.

For an extra dose of fresh air, El Capitan Canyon is a “glamping” resort about 20 miles from downtown. Each cabin and upscale tent comes with a campfire cookout area, and the lodge sells everything you need for an outdoor dinner and s’mores. Rates from $155. 866-352-2729;

In Healdsburg, tickle your tastebuds

Healdsburg has a walkable downtown with boutique shops, wine-tasting rooms, and restaurants.  |  Barbara Bourne / Courtesy Visit Healdsburg

Vineyards and farmland surround Healdsburg. | Barbara Bourne / Courtesy Visit Healdsburg

Indulgence awaits in Sonoma County’s Healdsburg, a small village with big pleasures that include a walkable downtown with distinctive restaurants, spas, boutique shops, and wine-tasting rooms that showcase Dry Creek Valley vintages, including its robust zinfandels, and other appellations.

What to do in Healdsburg

Whether you go guided or self-guided, a wine-tasting walking tour through downtown is a must. The four-hour Healdsburg Wine and Food Pairing Tour ($99 per person) starts in Healdsburg Plaza and includes tastings at five or six locations. 707-758-4725;  

Shopping in Healdsburg is an elevated pursuit, allowing visitors to zigzag from cookware emporiums and art galleries to bookshops and clothing boutiques. Don’t miss the Healdsburg Kitchen Store Plaza Gourmet (707-433-7116) for handy kitchen gadgets, beautiful bowls, and linens or Erickson Fine Art Gallery (707-431-7073) with large windows, three stories of art-filled rooms, and a sculpture garden.

Where to eat in Healdsburg

Prepare for sensational flavors at Noble Folk Ice Cream and Pie Bar. How about a slice of lemon blueberry thyme pie paired with almond cardamom ice cream? Or Dutch apple with Thai tea ice cream? Owners say tastes come from “Scandinavian origins, with a strong Japanese influence.” While the menu changes with the seasons, it always includes both classic and audacious options. Prices from $4.50. 707-395-4426.

Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen promises “gracious conviviality” and menu superstars such as seared roasted garlic octopus and BBQ-spiced Niman Ranch pork loin. Light flows through the dining room’s floor-to-ceiling windows and oversize doors, which lead to a garden terrace. Main courses start at $29; sides at $8. 707-431-0330.

Where to stay in Healdsburg

Healdsburg Inn looks out on historic Healdsburg Plaza and blends boutique amenities with the character of a bed and breakfast. Following breakfast in the Sun Room, guests can borrow bicycles and consult with the concierge to score the best tours and restaurant reservations. Rates start at $188. 707-433-6991;

For a splurge, check into the h2hotel, which delivers an “eco-chic” aesthetic across 36 rooms, each with a private balcony or patio. Breakfast, valet parking, three-hour bike rentals, and charging stations for electric vehicles are all complimentary. Spoonbar, the onsite contemporary American restaurant, celebrates “prime rib Mondays” and “fried chicken Wednesdays.” Rates start at $299. 707-431-2202;

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