5. HAVE FUN WITH FRIENDS, The Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort, Solvang, CA
Why here: Because there's something for everyone at this 10,000-acre cattle ranch-cum-upscale retreat in the Santa Ynez Mountains. Round up the girls, or gather your best buddies, and ride horseback in the morn, down wine in the afternoon, and, in between, golf or cast a fly in the 100-acre on-property lake.
Why go now: The weather's just right for riding through live-oak forests, and crisp nights invariably lead to long talks around a blazing fire. Nearby, Nojoqui Falls will be rushing after winter rains. And Alisal's occasional themed getaways, like Cowgirl or Couples Bootcamp, let you brush up on your lasso skills. You can also soak up some SoCal culture when the Santa Barbara Film Festival rolls into town.
Where to stay: Can't go wrong with any of Alisal's low-slung California ranch-style rooms, but executive suites 71 through 74 are top notch and great for groups ― with wood-burning fireplaces and three private bedrooms that open onto a shared living room. From $625, including full breakfast and dinner; www.alisal.com or 800/425-4725. - M.J.
6. BE SPONTANEOUS, Sausalito, CA
Why here: Because it's a quick 30-minute ferry ride across the bay from San Francisco. The easiest of weekend escapes, sans hassles like traffic or airport security. Stroll past the famed houseboats, or bundle up for a hike in the Marin Headlands for unmatched views of the Pacific.
Why go now: Two words ― Dungeness crab. Fresh and locally caught at Fish ($$$; 350 Harbor Dr.; 415/331-3474), a waterfront shack run by chefs who double as commercial fishermen. Try their famous ginger roast crab or cioppino. Or see what all the buzz is about at year-old local farm-to-table eatery Plate Shop ($$; 39 Caledonia St.; 415/887-9047).
Where to stay: January's bound to be rainy at times, and you may as well surrender to it ― which is why there's no better place to stay than the recently renovated Inn Above Tide, built on pilings over the bay. Only here can you bed down by a fire and watch the ferry pull in, or grab in-room binoculars to gaze across to Angel Island. From $320; 800/893-8433. Golden Gate Ferry, $9.25. - A.P.