Established as a dairy ranch in the 1850s, the renovated bunkhouses and barn today offer quaint, period-styled rooms south of downtown Carmel and overlooking Carmel River Beach. The marshy cove at the property's edge is a haven for wildlife, affording excellent winter bird-watching.
Seaside exposure: The inn's Restaurant at Mission Ranch (831/625-9040) and surrounding patio offer the best view of the cove; not all rooms have ocean views.
Unexpected pleasure: Six tennis courts and a fitness center, which overlooks the cove.
On the menu: Sunday brunch at the inn's well-known restaurant, formerly the ranch's creamery, features performances by local jazz musicians. Dinners of prime rib and local salmon are richly satisfying.
Nearby treat:Walk to Carmel Mission (831/624-1271) to see the romantic gardens and 209-year-old church.
Details: 31 rooms from $110 (includes breakfast). (831) 624-6436. ― Lisa Taggart
Harbor House Inn
This 1916 Arts and Crafts-style lodge has it all: views, elegant rooms, and meals that alone make the trip worthwhile. The owners have transformed four once-rustic cottages into romantic hideaways. Each room has a fireplace and feather beds.
Seaside exposure: From the garden, there are stunning views of an arched rock and sea stacks; a steep wood staircase leads down to a private pocket of beach.
Unexpected pleasure: In January, bundle up and ease into an Adirondack chair among daffodils in the redesigned garden.
On the menu: In the ocean-view dining room (in Jan, open for dinner Fri-Sat only), full breakfasts and four-course dinners are created using products from local farms and the sea.
Nearby treat: Greenwood State Beach (707/937-5804) has shore access and picnic tables.
Details: Four cottages and six rooms from $105 weekdays (includes breakfast), from $195 weekends (includes breakfast and dinner); three-night minimum on holidays. (800) 720-7474. ― Lora J. Finnegan
Elk Cove Inn
The main house, a classic early Craftsman, sits on the bluff, but check into one of the Arts and Crafts-style spa suites, and you can enjoy the sea breezes from your balcony. Oceanfront cottages boast cathedral ceilings and picture windows.
Seaside exposure: It's a short walk down to a wind-sheltered cove and Greenwood State Beach.
Unexpected pleasure: Enjoy massages at the inn's day spa, complete with a jetted tub and an aromatherapy steam shower and sauna; a full bar serves 25 types of martinis in the inn's signature Z-stemmed glasses.
On the menu: Breakfast favorites are hearty ― think French toast and pasta-vegetable frittatas ― and dinner is available Wednesday through Sunday. You can also have dinner in Elk at Bridget Dolan's Public and Dinnerhouse (closed Wed/Thur; 707/877-1820).
Nearby treat: Point Arena Lighthouse (877/725-4448), 17 miles south of Elk on State 1.
Details: 15 rooms from $100 (includes breakfast). (800) 275-2967 or (707) 877-3321. ― L.J.F.
An inn with a twist ― each room is furnished in a regional theme (the Denmark room has a dry sauna). Most have an ocean-view balcony. When it's stormy, just curl up by the fire ― or in the spa tub by the window ― and watch the sea foam.
Details: 27 rooms from $105 weekdays, from $135 weekends (includes breakfast). (707) 884-3200. ― L.J.F
The Inn Above Tide
This inn with quiet, classic, contemporary rooms feels as private and luxurious as an ocean liner ― only bigger. Fall asleep in the glow of the city skyline reflecting across San Francisco Bay; in the morning, luxuriate on your own private deck as sailboats glide by.
Seaside exposure: The only way to get closer to the bay would be to dive in; rooms jut out over the water, affording prime views of the Bay Bridge, Angel Island, and Alcatraz plus passing kayakers.
Unexpected pleasure: Most rooms have fireplaces and some have jetted tubs, perfect antidotes for foggy mornings.
On the menu: No scurvy on this ship: All kinds of fresh fruits and juices, fresh croissants and muffins, and yogurt make a substantial continental breakfast.
Nearby treat: Stroll south along the picturesque waterfront for dinner at Gaylord India Restaurant (415/339-0172).
Details: 29 rooms and suites from $290 (includes breakfast); no minimum stay in winter. (800) 893-8433 or (415) 332-9535. ― Amy McConnell