With its gorgeous coastline and dramatic landscape, California has inspired some amazing hotels that beautifully complement their settings. We asked luxury travel expert Nathan Lump—vice president of customer marketing at Expedia and former editor in chief of Travel + Leisure, as well as editorial director of Departures and Food & Wine—for his favorites across the Golden State. His picks include luxurious spots on the beach, wine country, the desert and more, listed here in no particular order. They all make excellent home bases for an indulgent getaway.
1. Post Ranch Inn, Big Sur
“Post Ranch is what ‘organic’ meant before organic was a thing that meant something to everyone. The architecture is organic modernism, and the whole property is beautiful and luxurious. That extends into the food, which is organic and local, so you’ve really got this sense of being part of the land. And, of course, it’s in one of the most beautiful spots, perched on the edge of Big Sur with sweeping vistas of the sea and the hills behind. It’s just a little slice of peace and quiet and heaven.” (more)
2. San Ysidro Ranch, Montecito
“San Ysidro is a classic Hollywood getaway. The property’s 500 acres are really beautifully landscaped, but the whole point is to find yourself in one of these lovely little houses tucked away in the lavender bushes. The cottages are all super special, and they’ve got a residential feel with sunken tubs, little dining tables, stone fireplaces, and reading nooks in the windows that make them wonderful places to hole up and enjoy the beauty of Santa Barbara.” It’s just one fabulous option, too, among Santa Barbara’s Luxury Resorts.
3. Shutters on the Beach, Santa Monica
“Shutters in Santa Monica is that wonderful marriage of casual beach and L.A. living, but at a super high-service resort with great food. Interior designer Michael S. Smith redid the hotel a number of years ago, and he created this wonderful interpretation of contemporary California residential style. It’s got that wonderfully breezy, California eclectic mix that makes you feel like you’re in your house on the beach.” (more)
4. The Parker Palm Springs
“The Parker is everything you want Palm Springs to be: sunny, cheerful, and whimsical. Jonathan Adler’s designs are truly eye-popping, with jewel tones and patterns on patterns that are a feast for the eyes. Plus there’s incredible landscaping throughout, and you almost feel like you’re in a stage set—in a good way—with three different pools, tennis, croquet, and all sorts of leisure time activities. It is knowingly retro in a way that makes everything a lot of fun.” (more)
5. Harbor House Inn, Elk
“Harbor House has 11 rooms that are very sweet, simple, and lovely, but really the star of the show is the restaurant. The chef, Matthew Kammerer, has a Michelin star and was named ‘Best New Chef’ in 2019 by Food & Wine. He does these 8–12 course tasting menus that are pretty extraordinary. It’s hyper-local with ingredients he forages himself, like abalone or sea kelp. With outstanding views of the ocean and large dramatic rocks just offshore, it’s an idyllic spot where you can have one of the best meals you’ll eat all year.” Insider tip: This Mendocino County inn makes a perfect place to stay on this North Coast road trip for wine lovers.
6. Madonna Inn, San Luis Obispo
“San Luis Obispo’s Madonna Inn is where you go for a quirky, nowhere-else-in-America kind of stop. The notable feature is the themed guest rooms. You have the Caveman room where you feel like you’re sleeping in a cave, the Love Nest that’s decorated in bubblegum pink French-boudoir style, or the Bridal Falls suite with a waterfall shower. For dinner, you can sidle into one of the gigantic, curvaceous booths at the Gold Rush Steak House. It’s one of those things you’ll never forget.” (more)
7. Montage Laguna Beach
“Starting with sweeping ocean views and a gigantic pool with a striking design overlooking the water, Laguna Beach’s Montage is everything you’d want a luxury seaside resort to be. The rooms are light-filled with a soft touch—they’re very luxurious but also casual and comfortable—or, the resort has some quite palatial villas if you’re in the mood for a splurge. Here, it’s all about pampering and just enjoying the good life, which is in some ways what Orange County is all about.” (more)
8. The Ahwahnee, Yosemite National Park
“We have a handful of historic lodges in national parks across the country, and the Ahwahnee is the best of the bunch. It was built in the 1920s, and it’s gorgeous, with 34-foot ceilings, leaded glass windows, and huge columns. You’ll feel like you’re staying in a castle in nature, in one of the most enviable spots in Yosemite.” (more)
9. Auberge du Soleil, Napa Valley
“If you want to discover why the world first fell in love with Napa, look no further than this 50-room compound. Auberge has retained the intimacy of an inn and a commitment to elevated cuisine true to its roots as a restaurant that married French technique with local produce. Close your eyes and take a sip of wine—it’s the South of France, California-style.” (more)
10. Cavallo Point, Sausalito
“Across the water from San Francisco in Sausalito, Cavallo Point provides you with this beautiful vantage point of the Golden Gate Bridge and the skyline. It’s kind of an urban resort with fun stuff to do onsite—a beautiful spa, cooking classes, and it’s pet-friendly. You also have easy access to Marin County for other Bay Area exploration.” (more)
11. The Peninsula Beverly Hills
“Peninsulas the world over all have amazing service, and the service at this Pen is perfect. Anything you want, the hotel can make it happen—at one step above what you would expect. There’s an amazing spa and classic rooftop pool with views of Beverly Hills. You know the place is always filled with movers and shakers, but everyone is really discreet. You get all the glamour of L.A. without the glitz.” The Peninsula also belongs among L.A.’s Poshest Spas.
12. Nobu Ryokan Malibu
“I think Nobu is one of the most beautifully designed resorts of the last five years. It’s a take on a Japanese ryokan, so it has sliding doors, soaking tubs, and an incredibly beautiful minimal design. It has this wonderful, peaceful, and serene minimal design, and instead of opening your screen into a village, you open it to face the beach in Malibu.” See which California hotels, along with Nobu Ryokan Malibu, made Travel + Leisure’s It List when they debuted.
13. Hotel del Coronado, San Diego
“The Del on Coronado Island is the quintessential American resort of yesteryear that’s been fully brought into the modern era. You have something for everyone: eight restaurants, different places to relax, and tons of activities—bonfires on the beach, surf lessons, spin classes by the ocean. It’s a classic example of huge offerings at an American resort done right.” (more)
The safety of both visitors and residents is a top priority in the Golden State. Before traveling, familiarize yourself with local guidelines and regulations for all of the destinations you plan to visit. We also encourage everyone to check out Visit California’s Responsible Travel Hub as well as the latest Travel Updates.