If I'd been asked, six months ago, to describe the ideal honeymoon, I'd have said, "romantic dinners, dancing in the dark, walks on the beach." Well, that may be ideal for some people, but as it turned out, not for us.
As soon as we got engaged, Jon and I started pondering exciting honeymoon possibilities. Spain and Portugal? Peru? Chile, perhaps? Each day, we added another option, but nothing seemed quite right. "Northern California?" I offered finally.
Hmmm. A few years earlier, Jon and I had driven the Pacific Coast Highway—Route 1—to San Francisco and the wine country. We passed through Sonoma and took a whirlwind tour of Napa. On the way back, we stopped in Santa Cruz, a beach town on Monterey Bay. The 30 minutes we spent there can only be described as enchanted. We recalled that the air was clean and cool, and that we actually saw humpback whales splashing in the waves.
Now we had the perfect opportunity to really see Santa Cruz, and we liked the idea of experiencing more of the wine country too. We could also explore Point Reyes, an ecological haven two hours north of San Francisco.
After flying to San Francisco from New York, we rented a car and drove for a little more than an hour to Costanoa, a high-end coastal campground in Pescadero, 25 miles north of Santa Cruz. We'd heard it offered private bungalows and cozy cabins overlooking rolling hills and coastal bluffs, with secluded beaches and four state parks nearby. When we turned into the eucalyptus-lined drive, I imagined we'd soon be sipping wine and dreamily recounting the milestones of our relationship over dinner. I'd be wearing one of the several flirty dresses I'd packed, so as to give Jon a new, romantic image of me (quite different from the way he usually saw me, working at home in my pj's, with my hair all rumpled). We unlocked our cabin door. I scanned the room: cozy fireplace, private porch…no bathroom! My heart sank. It's not that we'd never done the shared-bathroom thing, but this was our honeymoon. I wanted to look good for all of this supposed romance, and proper primping required privacy.
I coped with the bathroom situation and decided to forgo the cute dress in favor of shorts. Jon went to the camp store, returning with cheese and a bottle of Beauregard Chardonnay, a local wine. With our goodies, we plopped down on the wooden swing out back, getting drowsier and drowsier—until crashing at 7:30 p.m. and sleeping for 11 hours. Not the romance I'd envisioned, but pretty blissful nonetheless.
In the morning, we drove four miles to Butano State Park, some 2,200 acres of forest with a majestic canopy of ancient redwoods and Douglas firs. We felt like carefree kids, hiding in hollowed-out tree trunks, snapping silly photos, and celebrating the unexpected sighting of a bright-yellow banana slug.
In the afternoon, we hit the Bonny Doon Vineyards and, for more than two hours, happily sipped varieties that were new to us. Later, we went into Santa Cruz and shopped for gifts at a Tibetan store, checked out the Bookshop Santa Cruz (its motto: Keep Santa Cruz Weird), watched an artful war protest that included a woman doing headstands, and finally caught an indie flick at the local art house. Next morning, we set out for a 20-mile bike ride. We were having a wonderful time, but I kept wondering if this was a "real" honeymoon—since it definitely wasn't what I'd had in mind. Our visit to Sonoma was more like it. We stayed at a quaint bed-and-breakfast near the town's Spanish-style plaza, with its peaceful park and lots of antique shops, galleries, and fabulous restaurants. (I'm still trying to replicate the creamy roasted-tomato-and-pepper sauce served over my grilled polenta at the Girl and the Fig on West Spain Street.)
Eager to visit more wineries, we headed for the Buena Vista—California's first premium winery—and then to Gundlach Bundschu (we liked the name). And since we'd heard that the Robert Keenan Winery was a must-see, we drove to Napa and climbed twisty dirt roads to the tasting room perched 1,700 feet above the valley. Afterward, we headed north to Calistoga to stroll through the Asian-inspired gardens at Chateau Montelena, where we bought a bottle of Cabernet to save for our fifth wedding anniversary.
A high point of our trip was a visit to Point Reyes Station, an idyllic old railroad town on Tomales Bay, with lovely inns, cafés, and art galleries. From there, it was on to the Bear Valley Visitor Center, the main contact station in the Point Reyes National Seashore park. Our first hike from the center was a steep five-mile climb to the highest point, Mount Wittenberg. From there, we spotted, in the distance, a furry creature with a long tail. I said it had to be a fox; Jon insisted it must be a baby mountain lion. Gulp. We hurried back down the trail in what seemed like record time.
On another day, we walked for miles along a beach without crossing paths with another soul—unless you count the occasional egret. The solitude lifted any stress remaining from the wedding and prompted me to reflect on life's most important things: love and relationships. I felt so grateful for all that we had. In the Station House Café that afternoon, waiting for our quesadillas, we couldn't help but eavesdrop on the couple at the next table. "If you wanted to take me somewhere nice, you should have picked Cabo San Lucas!" growled the woman at her male companion. I felt sorry for them both because they didn't understand each other, and I really got why I didn't need glammed-up romance to have a great time with Jon. We enjoy spending time together, meeting new people, seeing new places, and learning new things. And you know, we never really did "romantic." When in New York, we drank coffee in noisy cafés, watched people in Central Park, and jogged through Flushing Meadow Park. With him, the mundane always seemed magnificent.
I'd assumed that two weeks of candlelight dinners would be the best way to celebrate our romance. Of course, we did have a wonderful time drinking wine and eating great food, but I also relished moments that to others might seem less significant. Like the time in Sonoma when we both decided to wake up early in the morning and jog to a gym. Maybe not every couple would have agreed so easily to do this on their honeymoon. Wine, cheese, beaches—yes, they're wonderful. But doing the things you most love to do (even if it's just hiking and watching movies) for ten days, with your best friend in the world, takes all. That's my idea of the perfect honeymoon.