From Mediterranean-style resorts to Craftsman-inspired hideaways, California’s luxurious oceanfront hotels offer an incredible range of ways to spend the night in style. There’s the scenery, of course, with spots along the North Coast overlooking rugged, hidden coves, while hotels in Southern California let you wake up to views of sand, surfers, and dolphins. Add posh spas and fine dining, plus pools, classes, golf courses, and other hotel amenities, and you’ve got lodgings as spectacular as their settings.
Like an island getaway a stone’s throw from the city, the appealing island community of Coronado feels like a private world surrounded by perfect beaches, including the ultra-family-friendly Coronado Beach. As well as those soft sands, the island’s crown jewel is the Hotel Del Coronado, built in 1888 and topped by russet red, castle-like turrets. Explore the reception area and grounds on your own, or join a guided tour offered by the Coronado Historical Association; guides share anecdotes of the Del’s remarkable history and guest list (including Marilyn Monroe, who starred—alongside the hotel—in the 1959 comedy Some Like It Hot). The Del also serves a sumptuous Sunday brunch, and the Babcock & Story bar is perfect for sipping a craft beer with views of the Pacific. Not far from the Del, the Loews Coronado Bay Resort sits on its own 15-acre peninsula and is known both for its water sports and for being especially dog-friendly.
The diminutive island, reached by the arching Coronado Bridge, is easy to explore by bike. Hire one from Holland’s Bicycles to pedal past elegant ocean-front mansions and well-tended gardens, or visit Orange Avenue, lined with shops, restaurants, galleries and theatres. More shops and art galleries are located at Ferry Landing, and restaurants such as Il Fornaio Coronado and Peohe’s have extensive views of San Diego’s city-centre skyline across San Diego Bay.
Travel tip: traffic on the San Diego-Coronado Bridge can be heavy, especially on summer weekends. Flagship Cruises will ferry you from Ferry Landing, across the Bay, to the Embarcadero. Water taxis are available too.
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.) 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. 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.
With luxurious rooms in Spanish Colonial buildings and views of the Channel Islands, the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara epitomizes the grace and beauty of the American Riviera.
This is paradise, California-style: Walk along pathways through 22 acres of lush grounds of stately oaks, flowers, and swaying palm trees. Soak up some sun by the pool at the resort’s art deco Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club, and catch vivid sunsets while strolling Butterfly Beach.
The Biltmore’s vintage 1920s architecture is mighty impressive, too. In the lobby, you will find historic tile details, wood-beamed ceilings, and graceful archways that bring alive the romance of Old Santa Barbara. The fresco behind the main desk even depicts the 16th-century legend that California was an island. The restaurants and lounges all embrace Santa Barbara’s indoor-outdoor elegance, from the organic, Italian cuisine of Bella Vista, which faces Butterfly Beach, to Ty’s Lounge, with a fire pit on its oceanfront terrace and hand-blown-glass chandeliers inside.
The 207 rooms feature down duvets, rain showers, deep soaking tubs and the vibe of a refined bungalow. The accommodations also include actual bungalows, like the Anacapa Suite, with its own plunge pool, fire pit, and private driveway, plus views of Butterfly Beach and the Pacific. The Spa, meanwhile, features rooms with their own ocean views, and treatments employing sustainable botanicals, hydro-peptide facials, and even rose-quartz-gemstone therapy.
An hour’s drive south of San Francisco but a world away, the Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay is one of California’s ultimate oceanfront escapes. This is laid-back luxury in all its glory, with stylish rooms overlooking secluded coves. Trails lace the property, so you can stretch your legs a bit getting delightfully pampered at the onsite head-to-toe spa. Golfers can test their game on the resort’s Ocean Course, with blue Pacific views from every hole. More nice touches include private fire pits, the pretty-much-perfect place to watch the sun go down, or to scan the horizon for migrating whales.
The resort’s signature restaurant, Navio, incorporates local produce in such sea-to-table specialties as a roasted local black cod. At the wine bar ENO, sip sommelier-selected flights of California vintages, plus artisanal cheeses and chocolates.
Stately and elegant, this historic lodging offers an incomparable setting next to one of golf’s fabled landmarks: the oceanfront 18th green at Pebble Beach Golf Links.
Things feel pretty special when you get a wood-burning fireplace in your room, and stunning ocean views out your picture windows. Tear yourself away long enough to get pampered at The Spa at Pebble Beach, where treatments incorporate ingredients made with native plants from the Monterey Peninsula. Dine on wood-fired specialties while watching golfers finish up their rounds from the terrace at The Bench. Stillwater Bar & Grill also has a view of the 18th and a fresh shellfish bar.
Hotel guests get special booking privileges at five fabled Monterey Peninsula courses including Spyglass Hill and the Links at Spanish Bay, where golf legends like Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods won U.S. Open titles, and site of the annual AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am, with top golfers and surprisingly good celebrity duffers matching up for entertaining rounds each February.
Overlooking a rocky cove, the Little River Inn has been a go-to spot for secluded getaways along Mendocino County coast since 1939. About a 3½-hour drive north of San Francisco, the graceful Little River Inn makes a worth-it stop even if you’re just passing by. You’d have to have a heart of stone not to feel romantic here—the resort’s 225 acres/91 hectares of forests and gardens are braided with hushed paths, and vistas open up to never-ending ocean views.
But if you’re lucky enough to book a room here, you can choose from seaside rooms, with whirlpool baths and cozy fireplaces. Bring binoculars if you reserve an ocean-view room—your private veranda makes a perfect perch for whale watching (and sunsets). Indulge at the inn’s on-site spa with seaweed body scrub. Golfers can play at the inn’s challenging course, the only one along the Mendocino Coast. For wilder adventures, arrange to go ocean kayaking, or stroll along driftwood-strewn Van Damme State Beach, adjacent to the inn’s property. The 1853-era main building houses the inn’s restaurant, which is known for outstanding fresh seafood (naturally in a location like this); ask for pairings with local wines.
Edge-of-the-earth views across the Pacific, wood and stone details bringing nature right into your room—Ventana Big Sur (formerly Ventana Inn & Spa) is a place not just to relax, but to fill your spirit too. Surrounded by 243 acres of lush forests, this resort almost feels like a secret enclave in the woods, and its wood and stone details enhance that nature-all-around-you ambience, leaving you to wonder what smells more amazing: the ocean breeze, or your morning coffee.
While Ventana was one of the Big Sur spots impacted by the Highway 1 closures after the 2017 rains, the resort reopens in October with triumphant flourish. Its 59 refurbished rooms (including two guest houses) are tucked into the hillsides—many with mountain or ocean views from private balconies or patios—and equipped with soaking tubs, fireplaces, and winsome amenities like walking sticks or lanterns to take outside while you explore.
To immerse yourself even more in the scenery, choose one of the 15 safari tents in Ventana’s 20-acre canyon, which are part of the resort’s new glamping program. Mind you, this is not “roughing it”: the cabin-esque tents come outfitted with plush mattresses and bedding, daily housekeeping service (including nightly turndown service); and access to a spa-worthy Bath House with teak-enclosed showers, heated floors, and marble vanities.
Whichever kind of accommodation you choose, hang out with other guests at the resort’s Social House, with a library/music room, game room, and bar room, as well as a fire-pit-centered patio. Stick around for dinner, too: the resort’s Sur House restaurant offers up a Central-Coast-style menu that combines Pacific-sourced seafood, local produce and free-range meats.
Daily activities feature creative spins on traditional resort fare: Choose from options such as photography hikes, beekeeping classes, charcoal sketching, and drum circles—or foodie indulgences like a cooking lesson and lunch with the resort’s chef, or the Sip Like a Sommelier class highlighting local wines.
Or just head to the spa, where enticements include a stone massage using local Big Sur jade or a Javanese coffee scrub. Bliss out in one of the outdoor cabanas overlooking the redwood forest, paddle around the two outdoor pools, or soak in the Japanese-style hot bath. Don’t miss the daily, free guided walks around the resort’s grounds: Look out over the water for humpback whales or dolphins, and keep an eye out amongst the redwoods for brush rabbits, bats, or California condors flying overhead.
Insider tip: Browse exquisite ceramics, jewelry, and paintings by leading Big Sur artists and artisans in the resort’s Glass House Gallery.
How often do you get a chance to spend the night in an architectural masterpiece? The Lodge at Torrey Pines, a coastal stunner in La Jolla, lets you not only be pampered like royalty (and who doesn’t relish that?) but also offers a close-up look at extraordinary craftsmanship.
Enter through stained-glass doors depicting a rare Torrey pine and step into a lobby of intricate wood details and furnishings that carry the Craftsman ideal into the present. Though the lodge was completed in 2002, its rarefied details look every bit like an Arts & Crafts masterpiece from the early 1900s. You’ll be head-spinning constantly to see all the stunning elements, all echoing the lodge’s remarkable waterfront setting. Dress up to dine on farm-to-table cuisine at A.R. Valentien restaurant, named after the renowned California artist whose Impressionist artwork fills the walls. Refined details fill every corner, even the spa—check out the intricate mosaic floors at the entrance and dramatic fireplaces in the lounge areas. Try the Ancient Oceans Ritual treatment, which includes a warm body wrap scented with lavender, sandalwood, and sage.
Golfers can play on two oceanfront circuits at Torrey Pines Golf Course, including the famed South Course, host of the 2008 U.S. Open. Torrey Pines State Park is practically right out your door.
On a stretch of coast known as “Billionaire’s Beach,” the Malibu Beach Inn is definitely in a high-rent neighbourhood. Splurge on one of the oceanfront rooms, relax on your balcony, and see who comes out to play in one of the most expensive sandboxes anywhere—Carbon Beach—where homeowners include Oracle’s Larry Ellison and Dreamwork’s Jeffery Katzenburg. When you’re done people watching, shift your gaze to take in the Malibu Pier, and perhaps some passing dolphins and pelicans, too. Beyond the pier, surfers catch the perfect waves at Surfrider Beach, one of the world’s most famous breaks. A darn good view, especially considering you’re still in your bathrobe.
Malibu awaits and Santa Monica is just 20 minutes away, but not before you head downstairs for breakfast on an oceanfront terrace just above the waves. Loosen up with private yoga and Pilates classes on the beach. Do some shopping in the Malibu Country Mart—another great place to look for celebs—then return to the inn’s Carbon Beach Club for ginger margaritas or fresh basil juleps.
Even if you don’t have a wealthy uncle with a rambling oceanfront house, Shutters on the Beach lets you live like you do. Combining a Cape Cod-inspired design with an impeccable Santa Monica setting, Shutters has a casual vibe, even while delivering luxuries that draw Hollywood stars.
The sun pours through the big windows, washing over homey yet elegant rooms created by star designer Michael S. Smith. Stuffy it’s not: There’s a peek-a-boo window between the bedroom and the bathroom, with its jetted tub complete with one of the hotel’s signature rubber whale toys.
Head to One the Spa for an ocean-inspired healing treatment that includes a sea-salt exfoliation and a hydrating sea algae masque. After that, there’s always room service. But the pairing of sunset views and such favourites as the Skuna Bay salmon at the hotel’s One Pico restaurant just might lure you out again.
No visit to Long Beach is complete without a stop at the Queen Mary, a retired ocean liner that offers visitors historical intrigue, award-winning restaurants, stunning views of the Long Beach skyline and even on-board accommodation. The Queen Mary celebrated her 50th anniversary in 2017—she first arrived in Long Beach on 9 December 1967.
Take a tour
While you can explore parts of the Queen Mary on your own, your visit will be enhanced by taking advantage of one of the ship’s many guided tours which provide the historical background and expert insights to make your visit more interesting. Choose from a range of guided tours, including The Glory Days Historical Tour or Haunted Encounters, which reveals why the Queen Mary was listed by Time magazine as one of the Top 10 Most Haunted Places in America. The Queen Mary also offers combination tour tickets with another historic ship, the USS Iowa, as well as with other local attractions, including the Aquarium of the Pacific and Universal Studios Hollywood.
Have a bite
Whether you are just visiting the Queen Mary for the day or staying overnight in one of the ship's staterooms, a meal aboard this Long Beach landmark is a must. Grab a classic cocktail (and an amazing view) at the Observation Bar or enjoy a bowl of chowder and a brew at the Chelsea Chowder House & Bar, a contemporary take on a traditional fish restaurant. End your weekend the right way by joining Long Beach locals for the Sunday Champagne Brunch with dozens of breakfast favourites and unique dishes from around the globe—including made-to-order omelettes and pancakes, Albondigas soup and carne asada tacos, and Asian-style ribs—or visit the carving station, which slices up perfectly prepared steaks and legs of lamb. (It’s no wonder Condé Nast Traveler named the Queen Mary one of the best brunches in the world!.) Want the full Queen Mary experience? Enjoy five-star fine dining at Sir Winston’s Restaurant & Lounge for a gourmet menu, extensive wine list, and unmatched ambience and service.
See a show
Throughout the year, the Queen Mary hosts performances and events to complete your visit. From monthly events like Ships & Giggles Comedy Night held every second Monday and Local Band Hangout every third Thursday to the Barrel Series Tasting Dinners or the spooky Dark Harbor Halloween special, every month offers new opportunities to enjoy evening events aboard the ship.
Stay the night
For a truly unique experience, visitors can stay aboard the Queen Mary in one of the ship’s 346 original staterooms and suites. Choose a state room on one of the three decks (all above sea level) that may feature warm wood panelling, built-in Art Deco furniture or original artwork found on the ship—in fact, no two rooms are alike. Those looking for more space can opt for a suite with separate sleeping and living quarters, or a Family Stateroom, with two bedroom areas for added privacy, designed with families in mind.
Set like a wedding cake on cliffs high above the crashing Pacific waves, the snow-white, Mediterranean-style Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel in Dana Point is the kind of place where you feel the need to pack flowing cotton resort-wear so that you can look and feel as beautiful as your surroundings. Every view from this Orange County property looks film-set perfect, every garden perfectly tended, every staff member smiling. Admittedly, it’s pretty easy to smile here. The suites' private balconies let you take in the sweeping ocean views, while marble bathrooms and plush beds definitely make you feel spoilt. (Even the views from the immaculate on-site fitness centre are stunning!)
But with a long stretch of beach fronting the hotel, tennis courts, and two outdoor pools, it is tough to stay inside for very long. Ever wanted to try surfing? This is the place: the OC’s world-class waves are right in front of you, and lessons with local instructors will get you out on the waves no matter what your experience level. The hotel’s Eco-Adventure Center is dedicated to helping guests get the most from everything the spectacular setting has to offer. Book activities such as stand-up paddle boarding in Dana Point Harbour, beach banzai body boarding, or a garden tour to learn about the local flora and fauna and sustainable gardening practices. Seaside walks along the windswept ocean-front paths, led by a marine biologist or naturalist from the centre, can enhance an already exhilarating outdoor experience with an educational element as you learn about the rockpools and whales.
Afterwards, indulge in a sea-inspired treatment at the spa, or spend a day on the links: no fewer than five world-class golf courses are located nearby, including Monarch Beach Golf Links, which is one of just a few ocean courses in Southern California.
Dine on Pan-Latin coastal cuisine at Raya, celebrated chef Richard Sandoval’s oceanfront restaurant. Or pop into sociable Enosteak for succulent basted lamb chops and other meats sourced from Californian farms. And of course, this being Southern California, poolside dining is often an option; do it here in style at The Dana Pool Café.
With cliff-top ceremony locations and elegant ballrooms, the Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel also makes for an exceptional destination wedding location.
Across from a wild stretch of beach just south of San Francisco, Pacifica Beach Hotel blends natural beauty with easy access to urban attractions. Step out onto your balcony for spectacular coastal views, and go exploring on Linda Mar Beach, a prime surfing spot. Ask for tips on local hikes or bike routes, then return to your suite to slip into a private whirlpool tub. The hotel also has an indoor pool, a nice plus given that summertime fog can keep temperatures on the cool side, and swimming in the chilly Pacific typically requires a wetsuit. Come dinnertime, sample exotic flavours of Peru, including seven kinds of ceviche and chupe de mariscos (a seafood and shellfish chowder), at Puerto 27, the hotel’s on-site restaurant.
Along a dramatic stretch of coast 150 miles/241km north of San Francisco, the Elk Cove Inn is a getaway for people who truly want to exactly that: to get away. This tucked-away bed-and-breakfast in the tiny town of Elk (population 200, plus or minus the pets) is known for its appealing combo of luxury and remoteness. Take your pick of rooms in the 1883 main house atop a bluff, or check into a “spa suite” done in classy Arts and Crafts style, with a balcony for taking in the view and sea breeze. Oceanfront cottages boast cathedral ceilings and picture windows.
Start the day with a hearty champagne breakfast, then look for sea otters and migrating gray whales from a bluff-top gazebo, or walk down to a wind-sheltered cove and Greenwood State Beach. Then enjoy massages at the inn’s day spa, complete with an aromatherapy steam shower and sauna. When the day starts to wind down, you can too, with complimentary wine and make-your-own cocktails.
With works by noted Californian artists in the reception area and guest rooms and a classic wood-and-stone Arts and Crafts design, the ultra-luxurious oceanfront Montage Laguna Beach celebrates the Orange County town’s long tradition as an arts colony.
Pacific breezes wash through a sun-splashed lobby, where a balcony takes in views of bluff-top gardens, secluded coves, and Santa Catalina Island in the distance. That is the same view you will enjoy from airy rooms as pretty and inviting as a summer beach house.
Then again, even the most lavish beach house does not have a spa offering caviare facials. Welcome to Spa Montage, a 20,000-square-footretreat featuring dry redwood saunas, fireplace lounges and an ocean-view swimming pool, in addition to its personalised skin and body treatments.
The resort’s wellness offerings fit the setting, from Beach Boot Camp and Pilates in the Park to SurfSET, a class that utilises real surfing techniques to build balance and strength (classes are complimentary for guests). Popular local studio Ritual Yoga also offers a variety of practices for an additional fee.
Things stay luxurious with California-inspired contemporary French cuisine and modern Arts-and-Crafts-style beach cottage design at Studio, the Montage’s signature restaurant. The more casual Loft Bar offers panoramic Pacific views with all-day dining menus that include everything from cold-pressed detox juice to a cheese bar with more than 50(!) options. If you'd prefer to stay poolside, order seafood tacos, sizeable salads or a Frosé All Day cocktail from Mosaic Bar and Grille.
Find out more about luxury accommodation throughout the state on the California Now Podcast.
With views of broad sands and waves breaking along the landmark Huntington Beach Pier, Shorebreak Hotel finds inspiration in its incredible oceanfront setting—which happens to be one the world’s most iconic surf destinations too. Here, you can check out the Huntington Beach scene, across the legendary “PCH” (Pacific Coast Highway). Surf-themed art decorates guest rooms and the contemporary lobby, which also sports wood accents reminiscent of driftwood. Grasses and succulents fill the outdoor court and garden, bringing the feeling of the beach right onto the hotel property. If you want to head out and explore, one of the hotel’s “beach butlers” can get you bikes, surfboards, or even a kite to fly above the sand.
At night, walk to restaurants on nearby Main Street, or, just hang at the hotel. With private fire pits and locally sourced California cuisine at Zimzala Restaurant, Shorebreak is a pretty undeniably special place to be.
Lining a vintage wooden pier built in 1927, the clapboard cottages at Crystal Pier Hotel are as close as you can get to the Pacific without needing gills.
Lots of places tout an oceanfront setting, but these 1930-vintage cottages go one better: They’re actually perched right above it—atop the Crystal Pier. Not only will you see and smell the ocean, you’ll feel it too, especially when the surf is up and the waves surge toward shore underneath the pier. Exciting stuff.
Each cottage is decorated with wood floors and equipped with a kitchenette, while a small semi-private patio lets you catch some sun and take in spectacular views. Hole up here on a stormy weekend for a bit of wintry romance, or book ahead for a summer stay, when the cottages offer easy access to but also an escape from the busy Pacific Beach scene.
Beyond the Mediterranean-style exterior of this perfectly manicured resort, you’ll find posh but not ornate contemporary rooms and suites. This resort is all about casual elegance—if you like casual with a side of truly decadent pampering. Think Laboratoire Remède bath products perched on the edge of your oversize tub, private cabanas next to the turquoise swimming pool, and a private beach where you can sign up for surf lessons.
Sign up for a tee time to play on the resort’s acclaimed links-style course, designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr. At the resort’s Spa Gaucin, take a yoga class, relax in the sauna, or get a treatment scented with orange blossoms. Keep the luxury pushed to the max with dinner at celebrity chef Michael Mina’s Stonehill Tavern, offering modern American cuisine.
If the idea of ocean waves and a majestic sunset outside your window sounds good, this compound of glistening white villas on a cliff west of Santa Barbara might be your piece of holiday heaven. Situated on 78 acres along the Gaviota Coast, The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara takes advantage of its oceanfront setting to deliver 'we’ll take care of everything' indulgence—ranging from cushy banquettes around fire pits to bespoke treatments offered at the on-site spa.
Bacara has all the amenities you’d expect at a five-star resort. Wake up in your room and have coffee on your private balcony. Stay in one of Bacara’s Signature Suites and shake or stir a martini at your own bar, and then sink into a plush chair on your private terrace to watch dolphins swim by.
If there’s anything that will tempt you out of your room, it’s great food and wine in a beautiful setting. Options range from flip-flops-are-fine cafés to Angel Oak, a traditional steakhouse with ocean views. The menu, overseen by Chef Alexander Bollinger, features delicious filets as well as elaborate seafood starters, like the Market Seafood Tower—an indulgent collection of Maine lobster, oysters, crab legs, prawns and caviar.
Bacara has an outstanding—and enormous—wine cellar, with more than 12,000 bottles representing 1,200 labels from 75 international appellations and 13 countries. Local wines get big exposure here, plus there’s an on-site tasting room (open to day-trippers as well as resort guests) for Foley Family Wines, featuring vintages from Kuleto, Lancaster, Sebastiani and Chalk Hill Estate.
After all this decadence, consider booking a private tennis lesson, painting class or sailing excursion. Or consider taking a yoga or spin class at the 24-hour fitness centre. Sandpiper Golf Club is next door, and of course there’s the beach, where you can take a surfing lesson or just grab a boogie board and jump in (be forewarned—ocean temperatures are chilly here, even in summer).
To complete your stay, why not finish with a massage on the rooftop terrace, followed by a Bacara Bar Lemonade (cucumber vodka, lemonade and sparkling water). It is holiday, after all.