Big Sur + Monterey hotels
With two notable exceptions, plus a just-opened InterContinental too new to review, Monterey is better known for motels than hotels. But of the area's communities, it's the closest to San Francisco and therefore ideal for a quick getaway. For romance, you can't beat Big Sur; the ocean is never out of earshot, and the night sky blazes with stars. This is where you go for the majestic coastal vistas you've seen on postcards and in car commercials. Carmel-by-the-Sea's chintz- and lace-heavy inns will appeal to window-shoppers and beachgoers. In fact, it's the only community with wide, sandy strands. If you want to golf at a full-service resort, stay in Pebble Beach or inland in pastoral Carmel Valley, which is also the area's viticulture center.