Vacations can be about the kids, about family, about taking advantage of a work trip. But sometimes, it’s nice to be just about you. These pamper-perfect destinations make sure that you have that dream getaway that you deserve, with choices ranging from casbah-like desert retreats to endless ocean views from your private balcony. Toss in top golf and amazing spas, and you may never leave.
Pampering just comes with the territory in the California desert. Maybe in the old days, desert visitors had to pack in supplies and sleep on the hard ground, but the swaying palms, cool tile walkways, and spring-fed pool at Death Valley’s Inn at Furnace Creek don’t exactly scream “rough it.” More like, “Find your sunlounger and relax.” So it goes at California’s desert resorts, dotting the dramatic landscape from northern parklands in the Palm Springs region to manicured landscapes in the Coachella Valley.
“Find your sunlounger and relax.”
You’ll find resorts in all styles--from lavish opulence to sleek modernism—with many lodgings reflecting the era they were built. The Parker Palm Springs, the former ranch of singing cowboy Gene Autry, has the sleek, low-slung coolness of Mid-century Modern design. The flower-filled courtyards and red-tiled adobe casitas at the expansive La Quinta Resort & Club, opened in 1926, hint at romance under a desert moon. At The Willows Historic Palm Springs inn, once a millionaire's private retreat, terraced gardens beckon. And everything old is new again at the styled-to-the-roughing-it-nines at Sparrows Lodge, where vaulted wood ceilings, stone details, and restored horse troughs for bathtubs give a relaxed ranch feel--though no luxury is spared.
There’s all-out luxury too. At Ritz-Carlton Rancho Mirage, settle into a suite with contemporary furnishings and mountain views, then play a round of golf before enjoying a body treatment featuring desert herbs and minerals.
Opulent estates. Palm-lined Rodeo Drive. Lavish hotels and stretch limousines. Look around Beverly Hills, and it’s no wonder this city gets its reputation as an international symbol of the ultimate in luxury.
From the galleries and cafes of downtown’s Golden Triangle to some of the world’s priciest real estate in the hills above Sunset Boulevard, Beverly Hills lives up to its glistening reputation. Get a great look at its art, architecture, and history on narrated Beverly Hills Trolley Tour. Or just stroll—there’s great window-shopping and people-watching not only on poshest-of-the-posh Rodeo Drive but also along Beverly Drive, home to the legendary hangout of the stars, Nate ‘n Al Delicatessen. And like a grand Old World promenade, historic Beverly Gardens Park trims Santa Monica Boulevard with fragrant roses, a cactus garden, and vintage fountains.
There’s culture too. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences is based in Beverly Hills and offers exhibits and screenings. Designed by noted architect Richard Meier, The Paley Center for Media celebrates the world of television by showing rare broadcasts and conducting panels featuring stars and creators in talks about their work. And the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts incorporates the city’s 1933 Beverly Hills post office and its rare, restored frescoes into a stunning contemporary complex with a 500-seat theater that hosts live performances.
The good life might have been invented in “The O.C.”—especially when it comes to resort destinations. With spas, elegant dining, posh lodgings, and impeccable service—plus endless ocean views—these lodgings set the bar for coastal luxury.
Relax on your own private oceanfront balcony at the Mediterranean-inspired Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel. Nearby, relax in contemporary suites, play golf on the Robert Trent Jones, Jr.-designed course, or cool off in the enormous, main ocean pool at Monarch Beach Resort. (There’s a private beach too, where you can sign up for a surf lesson.) The oceanfront Montage Laguna Beach is set on an oceanfront bluff with Craftsman-style design, and celebrates the town’s rich artistic history by displaying plein air works by notable California artists in the lobby and reception area (non-guests are welcome to visit the lobby to see a sampling). Just north in posh Newport Beach, The Resort at Pelican Hill wraps you in Tuscan luxury, with over-the-top amenities such as villas with butler service and a private clubhouse. Golfers will beeline to the two Tom Fazio courses, known for nonstop ocean views.
All leading resorts offer spa services, open to guests and nonguests, so you get a dose of pampering even if you’re not spending the night.
This manicured complex snugged up against the pink-hued Santa Rosa Mountains is best known for world-class golf . Outstanding courses, designed by legendary players such as Tom Fazio, Greg Norman, and Jack Nicklaus, include the legendary PGA West Golf Club & Resort, SilverRock Resort, and The Quarry at La Quinta, as well as the five championship courses within La Quinta Resort. Tennis anyone? La Quinta is also ranked among the country’s top tennis resorts. It’s great for families and pets too: collections of hacienda-style rooms all center around a series of intimate swimming pools, and the peaceful spa offers (we’re not kidding) canine massages.
The La Quinta area also has great hiking; try the pleasant Cove to Lake Trail (5 miles/8 kilometers round-trip), or, for a strenuous tromp into spectacular desert, follow the 7.5-mile Boo Hoff Trail (be sure to carry plenty of water, and avoid the hottest times of the day). Refuel with farm-to-table dishes prepared by James Beard award–winning chef Jimmy Schmidt at Morgan’s in the Desert, or maybe just snack on a Nutella or fresh strawberry cupcake at Tiffany’s Sweet Spot. For gifts, check out La Quinta Olive Oil Company, or find a vintage bauble at As Time Goes By in La Quinta’s Old Town district.
Ironically, luxury never rests. Palm Springs is constantly elevating indulgence to new highs, with swanky, imaginative do-overs of existing luxe lodgings—such as the splashy Hard Rock Hotel and the Saguaro Palm Springs —and subtler, though no less opulent remakes, like the boutique Colony Palms Hotel and Sparrows Lodge, a rustic-chic gem in the heart of town. Palm Springs’ pampering is about the details: crafted after a Mediterranean-style pensione, Korakia Pensione eschews phones and TVs in favor of outdoor film screenings and afternoon Moroccan tea. At the ultra-refined Parker Palm Springs, relax in private villas with intimate hot tubs. With luxury resorts come luxury spas, with treatments that sound as beautiful as the dramatic surroundings. Relax in private outdoor treatment cabanas at Estrella Spa at Viceroy Palm Springs Resort. At SpaTerre at the Riviera Palm Springs, dip into a Watsu pool, heated to your body temperature. Or turn the world off with a soak in natural, hot springs mineral spas in Desert Hot Springs. Decadence, defined and refined.
In the mood for some perfect pampering in a breathtaking setting? Santa Barbara has plenty of ways to make sure you’re happily spoiled. Lodgings here specialize in laid-back luxury, with settings ranging from hilltop areas, to secret bungalows, to edge-of-the-sea dazzlers.
Consider Belmond El Encanto, with terraced gardens and sweeping views of the Pacific. Perched in the hills above town, it feels like a private enclave that doesn’t draw attention or flash—just pure relaxation and sigh-worthy settings. Pull on a fluffy robe from the closet of your classic bungalow to dip into the pool, or get a treatment at the onsite spa.
Natural beauty meets classic luxury and romance at San Ysidro Ranch, nestled in the Montecito foothills. This stunning retreat has a storied past sprinkled with celebrities: Vivien Leigh and Sir Laurence Olivier exchanged vows here and it made a perfect honeymoon retreat for then-Senator John F. Kennedy and his beautiful bride Jackie.
At the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore, expect ultimate five-star service a seashell toss from the ocean. This luxury lodging feels the most like a see-and-be-seen destination in the region—albeit in one where arriving for brunch in a chauffeured Bentley seems oh so normal. The waterfront property has onsite tennis courts and provides access to nearby golf courses. Guests can also use the Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club, across the street at secluded Butterfly Beach.
For total pampering in a dramatic oceanfront setting, head to Bacara Resort & Spa, situated on 78 acres along the rolling hills and ocean bluffs of the Gaviota Coast, 20 minutes west of Santa Barbara. Posh rooms have private balconies or patios, and the resort boasts a full-service spa, a 12,000-bottle wine cellar, and a Paris-born executive chef. Hotel staff can arrange tempting activities—guided tours into surrounding wine country, a cruise on a sailing yacht, or a game of golf on adjacent Sandpiper Golf Club. Then of course, you can simply loll by the zero-edge pool and do nothing more taxing than watching the Pacific for passing dolphins and whales.
With surroundings as blissful as the Napa Valley and Sonoma County wine country, it was only a matter of time before blissful lodgings followed suit. In the 1980s, St. Helena’s Auberge du Soleil started seriously pampering visitors, offering tucked-away rooms with wood-burning fireplaces and French doors leading to private verandas, and a peaceful pool with romantic valley views. At country-club-like Meadowood, on Napa’s Silverado Trail, guest can swing a golf club, thwack a tennis ball, play croquet, or relax in an exclusive spa, then primp for dinner at three-Michelin-starred The Restaurant at Meadowood. (The multi-course Chef’s Tasting Menu is a dazzler.)
Sonoma Mission Inn—now a Fairmont property—focused on healing waters and lush surroundings, and visitors still enjoy the silky mineral pools in lap-of-luxury surroundings. In Yountville, relax on the swanky rooftop pool at ultra-modern Bardessono, built from salvaged stone and reclaimed wood. At Calistoga Ranch, 50 freestanding guest lodges are nestled among oak trees and babbling brooks, and fire pits warm outdoor living rooms.
If you think all this indulgence is for couples, think again. Solage Calistoga may be as high-end, but it’s also got nice family-friendly touches, liked a children’s pool and free bikes.
What’s an island getaway without a swanky place to sleep? Choices on Catalina include the Avalon Hotel, the carefully restored California Craftsman-style building that combines rich mahogany wood with Catalina’s signature tile artwork. And the hotel’s rooftop deck might just be the perfect place to relax with a glass of bubbly. Rooms at the oceanfront Snug Harbor Inn rooms come with jetted tubs and fireplaces. Hotel Metropole, named for the island’s original grand hotel (which burned in 1915), was rebuilt with sumptuous, coastal style—for an unforgettable splurge, book the 2-bedroom, 2-bath Beach House, where you can wrap yourself in soft robes and take in panoramic ocean views from your private deck.
High above Avalon, with fantastic twilight views of the harbor and Avalon Casino, there’s The Inn on Mt. Ada, housed in the original Wrigley mansion, with nice touches like ice cream available for guests in the butler’s pantry, plus appetizers, wine, and California bubbly, served every evening. For a roomier option on the island, consider renting a condo in the posh Hamilton Cove area; many units include golf carts so you can make the 5-minute drive down to Avalon—if you ever feel like budging from your chaise on your deck or by the pool. Exclusive Descanso Beach Club rents chi-chi private cabanas, plus beach valets and other spoil-me touches.
For a more remote getaway, travel to Two Harbors, north of Avalon, and Banning House Lodge, with expansive views of the Isthmus of Catalina and Catalina Harbor.
It costs a bundle to spend the night, but there’s no charge for wandering inside, taking in the splendor of this 1920s-era hotel. This National Historic Landmark in Yosemite Valley has several “public rooms” where visitors can soak up its 1927 architecture, designed by Gilbert Stanley Underwood. Everything in the Ahwahnee is built on a grand scale, from the massive hand-stenciled timber beams to sandstone fireplaces so large you could hold a tea party inside. Adorning this hefty structure are colorful stained-glass windows, Native American tapestries and baskets, Turkish kilim rugs, and Yosemite-inspired 19th-century paintings depicting the park’s waterfalls and giant sequoia trees.
Many famous people have slept in the Ahwahnee, including John F. Kennedy, Greta Garbo, Queen Elizabeth II, and Winston Churchill. It’s a worthy splurge to stay in one of its 123 rooms, suites, or cottages, but even if you don’t, you can still book a table for the sumptuous Sunday brunch at the Ahwahnee Dining Room, or simply sit by the fireplace in the Great Lounge, look up at the wrought-iron chandeliers dropping from the dining room’s 34-foot, richly painted ceilings, or enjoy a cocktail at the bar. Free one-hour guided tours of the Ahwahnee are offered throughout the year; check with the hotel's concierge desk for a current schedule.
The historic Inn at Furnace Creek was built for roundabout reasons—the Pacific Coast Borax Company financed its construction as a means to save the company’s Death Valley Railroad after the borax business slowed. In the days before cars were common in the desert, many Hollywood stars rode the train to this desert getaway. The railroad didn’t survive the changing times, but this lovely hotel has aged gracefully since 1927. Designed by a Los Angeles architect who took his inspiration from California’s Spanish missions, the 66-room inn is perched on a hill facing west, its stone patios offering views of Death Valley and the Panamint Mountains. Red tile roofs and stucco walls glow in the afternoon sun; palm trees sway and water fountains burble. Outdoor fireplaces flicker and glow around the edges of the spring-fed swimming pool. Splurges don’t feel much more special than this. If you’re just visiting on a day visit in the park, relax over lunch or afternoon tea in the inn’s restful dining room.
Because of Death Valley’s extreme temperatures, the Inn is fully open only from mid-October through mid-May. If you want to stay in Furnace Creek the rest of the year, consider the budget-minded The Ranch at Furnace Creek Ranch just down the road.
While Big Sur is all about nature, that doesn’t mean you have to rough it when you visit. In fact, the region boasts some of the state’s most celebrated accommodation, with ultra-luxurious rooms, top-notch spas and facilities, and unforgettable dining experiences. At Post Ranch Inn, suites and private houses are miraculously sculpted into the cliffs, and enormous picture windows provide unparalleled views of sea and sky. (If you like to whale-watch from your bed, you’ve found your dream destination.) Due to the current road closures turning the area around Post Ranch Inn into a temporary island, the resort is offering an exclusive new way to arrive—via helicopter from Monterey. There’s even a luxury car available for guests who need local wheels, and a shuttle that cruises you around the Big Sur coast.
"At Post Ranch Inn, suites and private houses are miraculously sculpted into the cliffs"
On the opposite (inland) side of Highway 1, there’s Ventana Inn & Spa, a redwood-shaded paradise where outdoor Japanese-style soaking tubs and big decks give suites a breezy, natural feel; or book a room with a fireplace for extra cosy comfort on foggy nights. The resort’s most recent addition is the Campground at Ventana, where you can glamp in a furnished tent under a canopy of redwoods (check website for opening dates). Dining here is also excellent, with a focus on local, seasonal ingredients provided by local farms. Here, and at Post Ranch, you can dine or book a spa treatment even if you’re not a guest—a nice way to spoil yourself without breaking the bank.
Wondering what to do today? With six tennis courts and five swimming pools (plus 19 more private pools), it’s a tough decision at this surprisingly posh desert retreat.
"Retire to the Fox Den Bar for cocktails, or watch a desert sunset over dinner on the terrace of the Butterfield Dining Room"
Originally opened in 1937, La Casa del Zorro had seen some wear and tear, but a complete overhaul of its poolside and garden rooms, and its deluxe one- to four-bedroom casitas with private pools or spas, now finds the resort in fabulous shape. Look for Southwestern desert-style furnishings, marble baths, wooden shutters, and wood-burning fireplaces for chilly desert nights.
Luckily, you don’t have to be a guest to enjoy this desert gem. After a hike in Anza-Borrego, retire to the Fox Den Bar for cocktails, or watch a desert sunset over dinner on the terrace of the Butterfield Dining Room. If you do book a stay, get up early at least one morning to walk around the resort’s 42-acre/17 hectare grounds. You’re sure to spot a few other early risers—a coyote, a roadrunner, or maybe even the resort’s namesake, the big-eared desert kit fox (“zorro” means fox in Spanish).