The Top 15 Resorts in California
This year's World's Best Awards survey was open for voting January 11 through May 10, 2021, as destinations around the world were lifting COVID-19 restrictions. Survey rules have always allowed readers to reflect on their travel experiences over a three-year period. We hope that this year's honorees will inspire your own travels as you get back out into the world.
The Golden State hasn't lost a bit of luster in travelers' minds, despite the compounding hardships of wildfires, mudslides, and the pandemic. Through it all, California has provided the perfect outlets for open-air relaxation — and, yes, social distancing — that we've needed during stressful times, whether that's time spent on the spectacular coast or in the High Sierra. The people and hospitality businesses of California have proven resilient as they've adapted to welcome guests in COVID-conscious ways, and the properties that T+L readers voted as the best resorts in California deeply embody this style of hospitality.
Every year for our World's Best Awards survey, T+L asks readers to weigh in on travel experiences around the globe — to share their opinions on the top hotels, resorts, cities, islands, cruise ships, spas, airlines, and more. Hotels were rated on their facilities, location, service, food, and overall value. Properties were classified as city or resort based on their locations and amenities.
The resorts that readers found most compelling excel in providing a sense of tranquility and privacy, no matter the surroundings. That said, the majority can be found along the Pacific Coast. Brewery Gulch Inn (No. 6) takes full advantage of its position on a craggy NorCal bluff and its proximity to both the Mendocino National Forest and the vineyards of Anderson Valley. Almost every room offers an ocean view, and activities include mushroom foraging, kayaking, wine tours, and shinrin yoku (forest bathing). "The setting for this inn is just glorious. The service was outstanding and the food and drink way above average," wrote one frequent guest, whose most recent visits happened during COVID. "We stayed twice during the pandemic, had a wonderful time, and felt 100 percent safe."
To the south, in Sonoma County, Farmhouse Inn (No. 13) also impressed with its thoughtful service. "The food, the rooms, the pool, the extra special touches like cookies and milk and the s'mores," enthused a reader. "Everything about this place is wonderful!"
Three properties affected by the state's natural disasters — Meadowood Napa Valley (No. 10), Post Ranch Inn (No. 3), and San Ysidro Ranch (No. 9) — demonstrate the power of persistence and patience. Each had to navigate the tricky path of rebuilding and reopening in various stages, but loyal guests helped provide motivation and were enthusiastic about the return of each. "The most rustic and quiet and romantic property in beautiful Montecito," said one voter who stayed at San Ysidro Ranch. "Both restaurants are outstanding, and the cottages are comfortable and immaculate. Wonderful if you're looking for quiet and isolation. Just perfection!"
Elsewhere, Palm Springs has seen a flurry of petite resort openings, including a handful that have breathed new life into retro motels. Sparrows Lodge (No. 14) puts a rustic twist on an old 1950s setup, tricking out its 20 rooms with beamed ceilings, concrete floors, and funky horse-trough bathtubs. "Very zen vibe with a fantastic heated pool," noted one reader, who appreciated the complimentary cocktails upon arrival. "Beautiful, adult camp–themed rooms. There's a lovely, low-key vibe, but celebrity sightings are also frequent." The 28-room Holiday House (No. 7) exudes a punchier, Midcentury Modern vibe, with bright colors, bold textiles from decorator Mark D. Sikes, and artwork from David Hockney and Herb Ritts. "This is my favorite hotel in Palm Springs," enthused one reader. "Right in the center of town but one block off the main strip so there is absolutely no noise from nightlife. The attention to the room décor and details is impeccable. Breakfast is included, and the outdoor dining area is very chill and pleasant."
For all the competition, it was a subdued coastal property, Nobu Ryokan Malibu, that ran away with the No. 1 spot. Find out what set it apart — and see which other properties readers voted onto this year's list of the best resorts in California.
1. Nobu Ryokan Malibu, Malibu
Just off the bustling Pacific Coast Highway, this exclusive haven with 11 rooms and five bungalows overlooks Carbon Beach and pays tribute to traditional Japanese inns while taking a sleek, modern approach befitting its glamorous location in Malibu — and its $2,000-per-night price tag. The aesthetic is serene and minimalist without being ascetic; accommodations feature neutral-toned linens, teak soaking tubs, and custom yukatas to wear while lounging or enjoying in-room dining from the brand's restaurant, which is located across the street. Guests can also request in-room spa treatments from partner spa Cure. One voter called it "the No. 1 in Malibu" but clearly many other readers hold it in even higher esteem as the best in all of California.
More information: malibu.nobuhotels.com
2. Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa, San Diego
More information: ranchovalencia.com
3. Post Ranch Inn, Big Sur
More information: postranchinn.com
4. The Surfrider, Malibu
More information: thesurfridermalibu.com
5. The Ranch at Laguna Beach, Laguna Beach
More information: theranchlb.com
6. Brewery Gulch Inn, Mendocino
More information: brewerygulchinn.com
7. Holiday House, Palm Springs
More information: holidayhouseps.com
8. Solage, Auberge Resorts Collection, Calistoga
More information: aubergeresorts.com
9. San Ysidro Ranch, Santa Barbara
More information: sanysidroranch.com
10. Meadowood Napa Valley, St. Helena
More information: meadowood.com
11. Inn at Spanish Bay, Pebble Beach
More information: pebblebeach.com
12. Park Hyatt Aviara Resort, Golf Club & Spa, Carlsbad
More information: hyatt.com
13. Farmhouse Inn, Forestville
More information: farmhouseinn.com
14. Sparrows Lodge, Palm Springs
More information: sparrowslodge.com
15. Kimpton Shorebreak Resort, Huntington Beach
More information: shorebreakhotel.com
See all of our readers' favorite hotels, cities, airlines, cruise lines, and more in the World's Best Awards for 2021.