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15 Award-Winning Hotels in California

Discover these acclaimed hotels that live up to the hype and then some

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Posted 8 days agoby Kate Eplboim

California boasts some of the nation’s most magnificent hotels and resorts, each with their own unique style and distinct amenities. Across the Golden State, travelers can find an array of amazing accommodations to escape to on their next vacation. With stunning backdrops, fabulous design, and unparalleled service, check out why these 15 award-winning hotels are destinations all their own.

1. Harbor House Inn, Elk

Perched on a bluff overlooking the Pacific, Harbor House’s natural surroundings and commitment to sustainability converge to create one of Mendocino County’s most renowned dining experiences. Helmed by Food & Wine Best New Chef (2019) and James Beard Award semi-finalist Matthew Kammerer, the inn’s restaurant boasts two Michelin stars and is the youngest restaurant to receive Michelin’s first Green Star in California. An onsite garden provides vegetables to the restaurant, offering a hyper-local tasting menu and 2,900 bottles of wine. A nightly stay at one of the 11 lodging options includes a lavish breakfast, access to a private cove, and a choice of sea or garden views. Outdoor activities here are virtually endless with fishing, kayaking, hiking, and horseback riding all at guests’ disposable. A winter visit also offers the opportunity to watch gray whales as they migrate along the Mendocino coast.

2. Farmhouse Inn, Forestville

This boutique resort sits on six acres in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley, and is owned by a fifth-generation family whose love of the area shows through in every detail, from the handcrafted artwork and inspiring decor to the nightly turndown service with freshly-baked cookies and milk. The Forbes-recommended hotel melds into its wine-country surroundings with 25 farmhouse-chic rooms and a sensational Michelin-starred restaurant. It currently ranks as one of the best hotels in the nation by U.S. News & World Report and has landed on Condé Nast Traveler’s Gold List three times.

3. The Marker, San Francisco  

Since 2017, this downtown San Francisco favorite has been a recipient of Condé Nast Traveler’s Reader’s Choice Award and was twice named one of the best hotels in the world by Condé Nast Traveler. Originally built in 1910, The Marker is a historic hotel distinguished by its Beaux-Arts inspired architecture, jewel-toned decor, and playful atmosphere. Tratto, an Italian restaurant and bar, operates within the hotel and features handmade pasta dishes and artisanal cocktails. Just two blocks from Union Square, this pet-friendly hotel offers free cruiser bikes to its guests and a nightly wine hour.

4. Rosewood Sand Hill, Menlo Park

The misty Santa Cruz Mountains envelop this Forbes 5-Star resort in the forested hillsides of Silicon Valley. With biking and hiking trails surrounding the 16-acre estate, guests can revel in nature with a dip in the pool amid sprawling olive trees or with a relaxing massage from Sense Spa, nominated for the Best California Resort Spa 2021 by the World Spa Awards. On top of two wonderful dining options, Rosewood Sand Hill is also home to the Michelin-starred Madera, serving upscale Northern California–inspired cuisine. With so many remarkable features, it’s no wonder accolades include Condé Nast Traveler’s #1 Best Hotel in Northern California Readers’ Choice Award and #1 Best Resort in California for Travel + Leisure's World's Best Awards 2021.

5. The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe, Truckee

With an ideal location on the slopes of Northstar California ski resort, The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe is a skier’s paradise. Amidst a thick pine forest, guests can enjoy countless winter activities, from sledding and snowboarding to full-moon snowshoe hikes and snowmobiling. The family-friendly, four-star resort also boasts five superb dining options and a luxury spa in scenic Truckee. Rooms feature floor-to-ceiling windows, gas fireplaces, and private balconies with views of the forested hills of the Martis Valley. In 2020, the lodge’s dreamy setting and renowned service earned it the coveted title of California’s Leading Wedding Hotel from the World Travel Awards.

6. The Darling Hotel, Visalia

Located 45 minutes from the largest trees in the world at Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park, The Darling Hotel is just a short walk from the bustling stores, eateries, and other attractions in downtown Visalia. In addition to being recognized as one of TripAdvisor’s “25 Hottest New Hotels in the World,” The Darling is also a winner of California’s prestigious Preservation Design Award for its outstanding restoration efforts. The building that the boutique hotel occupies was designed in the 1930s art deco style, evidence of its history as the former Tulare County courthouse annex from that era. A total of 32 guest rooms feature 12-foot ceilings, stylish furnishings, and high-end finishes. Rooftop restaurant Elderwood offers artisanal cocktails and brunch or dinner with sweeping views of the Sierra Nevada at night.

7. Post Ranch Inn, Big Sur

A true triple threat, the Post Ranch Inn is a Forbes 4-Star hotel, spa, and restaurant known for its cliffside locale, organic architecture, and wellness programs. In a single day, guests at this Big Sur stay can attend morning yoga, do a forest meditation session, practice falconry, and catch the sun setting at one of two heated infinity spas overlooking the Pacific. All 40 rooms and private houses come with a wood-burning fireplace, indoor or outdoor spa tubs, private decks, and breathtaking views of the ocean or rugged slopes. Sierra Mar, winner of Wine Spectator’s prestigious Grand Award, serves up a sophisticated menu straight from the chef’s on-site garden, alongside a selection from the restaurant’s award-winning wine cellar.

8. San Ysidro Ranch, Montecito

Upon arrival at this idyllic retreat, guests will find themselves surrounded by manicured gardens teeming with vibrant flowers and 38 vine-covered cottages tucked away in the Montecito hills outside of Santa Barbara. Under a canopy of oak and sycamore trees, travelers can stroll through the same lush grounds where John and Jackie Kennedy honeymooned. Alfresco dining is especially enchanting at The Stonehouse, a Wine Spectator Grand Award–winning restaurant located in a 19th-century citrus packing house. Rated five stars by the Forbes Travel Guide Star Rating List, the hotel’s ambience is accentuated by spacious cottages featuring stone fireplaces, king-size four-poster beds, oversized sunken spas, and outdoor rainfall showers. 

9. Nobu Ryokan, Malibu

The scenic shores of Carbon Beach provide the backdrop for this ultra-luxe hotel in Malibu. The oceanfront property’s one-of-a-kind rooms feature ensuite fireplaces, handcrafted teak soaking tubs, and private decks designed in the Japanese ryokan style. All guests are given priority reservations at Nobu’s acclaimed restaurant, access to the nearby members-only Malibu Racquet Club, and in-room spa treatments. Nobu earned #1 Best Resort in California for Travel + Leisure's World's Best Awards 2021, #1 Best Hotel in Southern California Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Award, and one of Condé Nast Traveler’s Best Hotels in the World. 

10. The Beverly Hills Hotel, Beverly Hills

Affectionately dubbed the “Pink Palace” for its iconic blush façade, this Forbes 5-Star hotel in Beverly Hills is covered in 12 acres of tropical flora and has served some of the silver screen’s biggest stars over its 109-year-old existence. Inside, guests can choose from 210 rooms and suites, including several “legendary bungalows” named after the famous guests who once stayed there. Recognized as one of the top five hotels in the nation by U.S. News and World Report in 2021, The Beverly Hills Hotel is home to four restaurants and bars, most notably the iconic Polo Lounge. Private poolside cabanas are one of the hotel’s greatest luxuries, and did we mention the pool plays underwater music? 

11. Kimpton Shorebreak Resort, Huntington Beach

With swells barreling in just 100 yards away from its front door, it’s no surprise why this 157-room resort was named one of the Top 10 Hotels Surfers Love Most by Forbes. More than 50 world-renowned international surf competitions take place annually right across the street, including the US Open of Surfing and the Big Kahuna. Apart from epic surfing and its proximity to the Huntington Beach Pier, Shorebreak offers in-room record players with access to a curated vinyl library, 24/7 gym access, fireside s'mores kits, beach cruisers for exploring the neighborhood, and beach amenities such as chairs, boogie boards, and umbrellas. In 2021, the dog-friendly hotel made it onto Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best 500 and was named one of the Top 15 Resorts in California. 

12. The Ranch at Laguna Beach, Laguna Beach

This vast resort, named one of Travel + Leisure's World's Best 500 in 2021, stands on 87 acres of rolling hills and operates Laguna Beach's only golf course, which is also GEO Certified. Sustainability is central to The Ranch’s ethos with eco-friendly efforts including a water reclamation project, bamboo room keys, and an onsite organic garden. After a relaxing day at Sycamore Spa by Hudson, guests can retreat to The Porch for casual California fare and nightly live music performed by local musicians. The resort has been awarded a Beyond Green distinction, Condé Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Award for four consecutive years, and is California's only National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World. 

13. The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa, Riverside

Occupying an entire city block, this Riverside institution, with its iconic Spanish Mission–style architecture, is a National Historic Landmark and State of California Historic Landmark, one of the few hotels in the Golden State to carry both distinctions. The Mission Inn is famously home to The Festival of Lights, one of the most impressive public light displays in the nation, earning multiple accolades for its extraordinary holiday spirit. Celebrities and politicians from Barbra Streisand to Amelia Earhart have frequented the hotel’s lavish suites. Guests can enjoy a tasty meal from one of the inn’s many unique dining options or head to Kelly’s Spa for a relaxing day of pampering at this AAA Four-Diamond Hotel.

14. L’Horizon Resort & Spa, Palm Springs

Designed in the 1950s by famed architect William F. Cody, L’Horizon’s mid-century modern architecture and spectacular mountain backdrop endeared it to both Hollywood royalty and U.S. presidents. Today, the space has been thoughtfully revamped by renowned designer Steve Hermann, whose sophisticated touch has resulted in Condé Nast Traveler’s Reader’s Choice Award seven years in a row. Here, travelers will find 25 of the estate’s original white bungalows, each specially designed to mimic private residences with high-end materials and finishes, as well as intimate dining at SO•PA. This adults-only property also features Planika fire pits, a saline pool, a full-service spa, and nearly 50 water features throughout its three-acre grounds.

15. Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa, Rancho Santa Fe  

Awarded Condé Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Award for five years running, this posh Spanish-style resort sits on 45 acres of fragrant citrus groves and verdant gardens in Rancho Santa Fe, an upscale community in San Diego County. Every day, guests can enjoy a glass of freshly squeezed OJ from onsite trees delivered right to their door before taking a spin in one of the resort’s fleet of Bentleys. Each of the 49 stylish guest casitas are appointed with wood furnishings, vaulted ceilings, and a patio with expansive views. Coastal ranch cuisine is prepared masterfully at Veladora and The Pony Room while a yoga pavilion, Pilates studio, and Forbes 5-Star rated spa round out the amenities. In 2021 alone, Rancho Valencia was named a Five-Diamond Hotel by AAA, the #1 Resort in California by U.S. News & World Report, and donned Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best 500.

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