Best Hotels in California
With the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the east, the iconic coastline to the west, and redwood forests and deserts in between, California is an ideal vacation spot for all kinds of travelers. But where to stay?
A recently renovated Santa Barbara resort where JFK honeymooned and a Big Sur inn where rooms come with commanding vistas of the Pacific Ocean hint at the appeal of the state's top hotels.
No. 1 San Ysidro Ranch, Santa Barbara, CA
No wonder this was JFK's honeymoon spot: The 500-acre property, which got a $150 million re-investment in 2011-2012, gives the impression of stretching on forever (even if a few neighboring mansions creep into the picture), and when you arrive at the long driveway lined with olive trees and lavender, you have the sense of being on the frontier, at the last citrus grove before civilization gives way to the scrubby Santa Ynez Mountains. In addition to the 27 rooms in the main house, most of the 14 vine-covered cottages have decks and hot tubs and the resort sits just an hour south of the Santa Ynez Valley, a perfect daytrip for wine tasting.
No. 2 Resort at Pelican Hill, Newport Beach, CA
Opened in 2008, the Resort at Pelican Hill redefined the upscale Orange County enclave of Newport Beach as a world-class destination. The 504-acre resort, comprising 332 guest rooms, includes a classically designed bridge similar to the ones that span the Arno River in Florence, but the centerpiece of the resort is the Coliseum Pool, the largest circular pool in the world. Eighteen draped poolside cabanas come complete with Bose music systems, 30-inch HD TVs, refrigerators, a dining table, and of course, pool butlers.
No. 3 Auberge du Soleil, Napa, CA
The first modern boutique resort to open in Napa Valley—back in 1985—is still one of the area’s best. From the outside, Auberge’s sandstone-colored villas, scattered among 33 acres of olive groves, evoke the terraced houses of the French Riviera; inside, the 52 rooms continue the theme with terracotta-tiled floors and rattan ceiling fans, fabrics in Mediterranean hues, wood-burning fireplaces, and French doors leading to private verandas. The treatments at the 7,000-square-foot spa all incorporate ingredients harvested from the local hillsides (an especially delicious option: the Meyer lemon–olive oil massage). And the hotel’s eponymous restaurant—where chef Robert Curry serves seasonal, regionally sourced dishes like bacon-wrapped veal with foie gras ravioli—still packs in the foodies, as it has for a quarter-century.
No guests under 16.
No. 4 Inn at Spanish Bay, Pebble Beach, CA
Set amid Monterey pines, next to the famed golf course, look for Spanish influences in rooms and restaurant interiors here. Rooms that overlook the fire-pits can see the bagpiper play at sunset. Concierge John Ramos Jr., an area native and 16-year veteran of the hotel, will create personalized maps for local hiking, jogging, and wine tasting. Keep in mind that there's a two-night minimum required to play Pebble Beach Golf Links.
No. 5 Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara
A 207-room property on Butterfly Beach with the area's signature 1920's-style tiles and gardens. For a room that borders the courtyard pool, book one in the 300s. The resort will arrange wine tours of the Santa Ynez Valley, including visits to wineries typically not open to the public.
No. 6 Hotel Bel-Air, Dorchester Collection, Los Angeles, CA
What sets the Bel-Air apart is its sense of sanctuary; despite the property’s relatively large size (12 acres), the warm staff, the cozy Spanish Mission-style architecture, and old-world gestures like complimentary tea service create an intimate ambience here. The 103 rooms uniquely decorated rooms all have luxurious, understated touches; many of its 45 suites include fireplaces. Those with private patios are tucked behind walls covered with cascading bougainvillea, flowering shrubs, and giant California oaks. Lunching on the Bel-Air terrace, while gazing over the swan pond and pretending not to notice the Oscar winner at the next table, is a decades-old L.A. pleasure.
No. 7 Shutters on the Beach, Los Angeles, CA
This sprawling beach-house-style inn looks like it was airlifted from Nantucket and dropped on the Santa Monica shore. Inside, the common areas (like the fireside lounge with chairs and sofas upholstered in seashell colors) and the 198 rooms (all whitewashed wood and blue-and-white patterned upholstery, with wicker-furnished balconies) reinforce the laid-back, summer-house vibe. But there’s real luxury here too: The on-site ONE spa offers decadent massages, facials, and body scrubs using Ole Henriksen products, and at the nautically-themed One Pico restaurant, chef Michael Reardon serves elegant seafood dishes like Petrale sole grilled whole with salt and bay leaves.
No. 8 Lodge at Pebble Beach, CA
161-room resort best known for the caliber of its on-site golf course. Die-hard duffers should request Ocean View rooms which overlook both Carmel Bay and the 18th green. Check the inn's calendar before planning your trip so you can avoid the throngs during major golf events. Or just focus on the low season (November to December). Keep in mind that there's a two-night minimum required to play Pebble Beach Golf Links.
No. 9 Post Ranch Inn, Big Sur, CA
The hotel opened in 1992 and is made up entirely of small buildings set on a ridge high above the Pacific. In 2008 Post Ranch added 10 new sculptural structures, spiraling Pacific Suites, cantilevered Peak Houses, and Richard Serra-esque Cliff houses clad in torques of rusted steel. Staying in a Pacific Suite, wherever you stand you are exposed to the ocean and the sky but unseen by other guests. Even the tiled bath, big enough for two, has a commanding vista, and a floor-to-ceiling window that opens to let in Pacific breezes. The walls are paneled in redwood salvaged from old wine barrels and sheet metal art adorns the bathroom. Sierra Mar, the hotel restaurant will pack you a lunch to take down the Pacific Coast Highway in a Lexus convertible that guests can borrow for free. The mini-bar is complimentary, so take advantage on your balcony overlooking the ocean.
No. 10 Villagio Inn & Spa, Yountville, CA
Within this 23-acre estate (13,000 feet of which houses the spa accommodations), flowing water pathways, fountains, and Mediterranean-style gardens surround a two-level Tuscan-style villa that holds 112-guestrooms and 26-mini suites. Family owned and operated since opening in 1998, all rooms come with a wood-burning fireplace, a complimentary bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, and private balcony or patio. Afternoon tea and a champagne breakfast buffet are included for guests every day, and the resort is connected to the V Marketplace, with dining options like notable celebrity chef Michael Chiarello’s Bottega restaurant. Being in downtown Yountville, there are several nearby options for shopping.