Head to the heart of California’s cities for luxurious stays at world-class hotels and resorts. From San Francisco’s historic hotels to celebrity hot spots in Hollywood and Beverly Hills, California’s landmark urban properties are worthy splurges. Smaller but just as luxurious are a selection of boutique digs with plenty of city buzz, as well as spoil-yourself resorts close to the city centre but with an exclusive feel, featuring tempting spas, fine dining and lounges. Consider this swanky selection, listed north to south.
Opened in 1907, this grand lodging perched above bustling downtown harkens back to an opulent era in San Francisco history. But stodgy? Not a chance. With its commanding views of the city and bay and restored lobby, uncovering original marble floors and other details created by famed architect Julia Morgan, it’s still an unforgettable luxury lodging—the kind of place where dressing up makes sense.
Things didn’t start so smoothly for the hotel. When the 1906 earthquake struck, construction was already finished but the hotel hadn’t quite opened. The building survived yet suffered considerable damage in the inferno that consumed much of the city. Repairs were made, and, from those fiery beginnings, the Fairmont emerged as a hub of posh city life, and hosted a string of American Presidents and other A-list guests. For a retro-hip diversion, hang out with tiki statues and Mai Tais at the hotel’s Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar.
When the St. Francis Hotel opened on March 21, 1904, a line of cars and carriages stretched for three blocks as San Franciscans flocked to Union Square to see the city’s newest landmark. Built by the family of famous San Francisco railroad magnate Charles Crocker after studying the Europe’s grandest hotels, the $2.5 million St. Francis quickly became a hub for the city’s social and artistic elite. The St. Francis has survived changing times, not to mention the 1906 earthquake, and remains a regal symbol of elegance to this day.
The hotel now has nearly 1,200 rooms offering contemporary amenities in two buildings. But some things haven’t changed. The famous Magneta grandfather clock stands in the historic lobby with its ornate balcony and marble columns. And clanging cable cars still run along Powell Street, right in front of the hotel. Soak it all in with a warmly lit seat in the Clock Bar, created by acclaimed chef Michael Mina, where you can nibble on gourmet cheeses and sip a craft cocktail, or peruse a wine list featuring some 300 labels.
Talk about an icon: Opened in 1875 and rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake (legendary opera singer Enrico Caruso was a guest that night), the Beaux Arts Palace Hotel has hosted its share of notables, including Mark Twain, American presidents and European royalty. It certainly takes a special hotel to draw both titans of industry (John D. Rockefeller) and a Soviet prime minister (Nikita Khrushchev).
While an overnight stay is the best way to experience the landmark, you can also get a look inside on a free walking tour, with a chance to learn about historic features such as the Maxfield Parish Pied Piper mural in the restaurant bar. Or relive the city’s most elegant period while brunching beneath The Garden Court’s soaring stained-glass dome. Your eggs Benedict will probably get cold with all that looking up to take in this unparalleled ceiling in one of the prettiest hotel spaces in the state.
You expect high-tech sophistication from a hotel in the Silicon Valley. But while the Fairmont San Jose gives visiting app designers, venture capitalists and social media gurus everything they need to get their work done, it also knows how to pamper these tech-savvy guests—and just plain folks, too.
After visiting The Tech and other museums in downtown San José, lounge by the rooftop pool or recharge with steams, saunas and extravagant treatments, like organic chocolate truffle body mask at Tova Day Spa. Want more chocolate? Treat yourself to the European-style pastries at Bijan Bakery & Café. Select from hundreds of martinis in the Lobby Lounge or head out for tastings at wineries in the nearby Santa Cruz Mountains. The Fairmont’s downtown location also puts you within an easy walk of concerts and sporting events at SAP Center.
Bright and white, with an iconic tower and elegant roofline, the sprawling Claremont, in Oakland’s posh Claremont district, stands out against the forested East Bay hills like a wedding cake. This 1915 landmark feels removed from the urban bustle, even though it’s only a few minutes from Oakland’s mega-hot dining and arts scene and the urban cool of Berkeley.
The Claremont has some lovely perks, including flawless panoramas of San Francisco and the bay. You can bat a ball around the tennis courts, or do some laps in the pool. Limewood Bar & Restaurant, the resort’s signature restaurant, offers casual California cuisine in a vibrant setting. The Lobby Lounge & Bar serves craft cocktails and Afternoon Tea amid stunning Bay views. And The Fairmont Spa at the Claremont is the ultimate oasis with 32-treatment rooms, luxurious relaxation areas for men and women, and a full spa treatment menu.
Built in 1926 as one of Sacramento’s earliest high rises, this one-time insurance building has been reborn as the Citizen Hotel. An extensive renovation gave the building a second life as a stylish 198 room boutique hotel, part of the Joie de Vivre chain. With handsome dark woods and clever political cartoons hanging from the walls, the Citizen gives a savvy nod to its distinguished location just a quick stroll from the cupola topped State Capitol, and there’s even a lending library with politically themed films.
The hotel is also home to Grange, where outstanding dishes focusing on ultra-fresh and seasonal local ingredients are prepared.
When you stay at Chateau Marmont, you’ll probably think, “If only these walls could talk…” But maybe it’s better that they don’t. This infamous hotel near West Hollywood, with its vintage rooms and luxe bungalows, gets much of its mystique from the privacy-craving celebrity guests who know their secrets are safe here.
Although the architecture is based on a castle in France’s Loire Valley, Chateau Marmont is Old Hollywood through and through, even as new generations of stars have discovered its discreet charms. Stay in one of the 63 rooms, cottages or bungalows, many of which boast formal dining rooms—perfect for entertaining—and private terraces with spectacular views. Enter the locked gate for a dip in the guests-only pool, a cerulean oasis framed by tropical greenery.
You never know who might show up for lunch on the leafy garden terrace. In true Hollywood fashion, the menu includes a choice of six different salads. Dinner at The Restaurant at Chateau Marmont requires a reservation (or a hotel key), and serves new American fare and exceptional cocktails to be enjoyed under expansive chandeliers. (Insider tip: Walk-ins are welcome at the adjacent Bar Marmont for those who don’t spring for a stay).
For an even more exclusive experience, try Chateau Hanare, an intimate hideaway, which opened July 2018 in one of the hotel’s previously vacant bungalows. Chef Abe Hiroki offers elegant sashimi and Japanese small plates. After a meal or a late night out, enjoy a nightcap—thanks to the 24-hour room service—as you stand on your private balcony and survey the Sunset Strip and the twinkling lights of Hollywood below.
When the Beverly Hills Hotel opened in 1912, it was surrounded by lima bean fields. The hotel’s namesake city wouldn’t even be founded for another two years. Now the Mission Revival “Pink Palace,” with its fabled bungalows (where Elizabeth Taylor honeymooned—with six of her eight husbands—and Marilyn Monroe slipped into bed) has become synonymous with city and its dazzling image of movie-star glamour.
The hotel is also known for its discretion, making it a favourite site for secret rendezvous. The legendary Polo Lounge, once a hangout for Frank Sinatra and the legendary Rat Pack, remains a watering hole for entertainment industry notables and celebrities—so order a Manhattan and keep your eyes peeled. And hidden away in the basement, the tiny 19-seat Fountain Coffee Room dates to 1949 and is still a local favourite for breakfast.
Spend the night and enjoy some decadent extras, especially around the pool, where guests get complimentary “pop-up refreshments” and services throughout the day—think frozen peanut butter cups, mini soft serve cones, sunglass cleaning, and a cooling spritz of (how perfect) Evian mist.
From hosting the first Academy Awards presentation in 1929 to serving as the go-to hot spot for A-list gatherings today, the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel has always been a destination for the stars.
This landmark across from the famous TCL Chinese Theatre (still a big spot for film premieres) offers a unique combo of film history and contemporary elegance. Party by a fire pit at the Tropicana Bar, overlooking a pool sporting a mural painted by modern master David Hockney. Sip craft cocktails created by mixology wizards in the exclusive-feeling Library Bar and settle into a tufted leather booth beneath crystal chandeliers for the most glam burger you have ever had at the restaurant 25 Degrees.
Kick back in the Spanish Colonial-style lobby for a spot of people-watching and keep your eyes open for Marilyn Monroe. She lived at the Roosevelt for two years and some visitors swear they have spotted her ghost. You can even stay in the Marilyn Monroe suite by the pool.
Since its 1928 opening, this hotel has been a celebrity magnet: everyone from Elvis Presley to the Dalai Lama has stayed here. But for many people, it will always be the Pretty Woman hotel, where Richard Gere fell in love with Julia Roberts in the 1990 film.
Even if you don’t splurge on a stay here, you can still soak up the hotel’s glamour. Treat yourself to ultra-premium Wagyu steaks or a whole roasted Maine lobster with black truffle sabayon at Cut, Wolfgang Puck’s modern steakhouse. Recover from shopping on nearby Rodeo Drive and other Beverly Hills boutiques with a floral blossom, fruit and raw sugar cane exfoliation at The Spa. Or toast the good life with cocktails served at the 18-foot onyx bar at The Blvd Lounge.
Originally opened in 1907 and redesigned in 1914 by renowned Southern California architect Myron Hunt (he also did the Rose Bowl), The Langham Huntington, Pasadena evokes the ambiance of a grand estate.
With the San Gabriel Mountains rising in the distance and 23 acres of lavish grounds, the Langham blends modern luxury with romantic elegance. Stroll through the historic Japanese garden and across a redwood footbridge overlooking what was the first Olympic-size swimming pool in California. Enjoy traditional afternoon tea in the Lobby Lounge, and dine on prepared steaks and seafood at the contemporary Royce Wood-Fired Steakhouse.
The hotel is nestled in a particularly luxury neighbourhood. Take a walk or jog to see meticulously restored Craftsman-style mansions, including the Gamble House, open to the public for tours. The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Library is also in the area. If you play tennis, bring your rackets to the hotel’s three courts, then treat yourself to a massage inspired by traditional Chinese techniques at the tranquil Chuan Spa. Just walking there through the hotel gardens gets you in a Zen-y mood.
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.
Built for $1.9 million—an unimaginable fortune when the hotel opened in 1910, the 437-room US Grant Hotel was the opulent vision of the late president’s son, Ulysses S. Grant, Jr., who believed that this Southern California city needed a fine hotel. The hotel debuted with an all-day ceremony that drew the cream of California society, who marvelled at the Italian marble lobby, balustrades of alabaster, and sweeping views out to Coronado Island from the hotel’s Palm Court.
But over the decades, the US Grant went through tough times. Thankfully, a major restoration by a Native American tribe, which bought the hotel in 2003, removed decades of modifications and renovations to show off the hotel’s original finery. In-room details include original drip-painting headboards by artist Yves Clement as well as authentic Native American art. For a craft cocktail and a little something to nibble—perhaps a ready-for-grownups grownup grilled-cheese sandwich (aged fontina, rosemary bread, speck ham, and balsamic tomatoes)—relax in the Art-Deco sleekness of the Grant Grill Lounge.
Steps from vibrant night-life and dining of the Gaslamp Quarter and easy jaunt from other San Diego attractions, this hotel offers a tranquil, modern retreat. Gaze out at San Diego Bay and the lights of the city from contemporary rooms and suites accented with natural wood and stone. Relax next to the outdoor pool, or, for the ultimate in pampering, try a hot lava shell massage at the hotel’s Pure Body Spa. And if you want to catch the local scene, you don’t even have to leave the hotel: the Westin’s Pinzimini restaurant is a buzzy magnet at night, keeping people happy with small plate dining and inventive craft cocktails.
Close enough to hear the roar of the baseball crowd at Petco Park and surrounded by the Gaslamp District’s nightclubs and restaurants, stylish Hotel Solamar puts you in the middle of San Diego hot spots.
Hang out with your fellow guests over local craft beers and seasonal cocktails during the daily complimentary happy hour in the lobby. Then dine on seasonal American specialties at JSix, the Solamar’s buzz-worthy restaurant. Explore the streets on free bikes, or kick back in a cabana overlooking the outdoor pool at LOUNGESix, the hotel’s sexy rooftop bar. Luxe it up with an in-room massage or body treatment, with lotions made from natural botanicals.
Lavish and elegant, Riverside’s Mission Inn Hotel & Spa combines Old World romance with the splendor of Southern California’s citrus-growing era. From its modest start in 1876 as an adobe guesthouse, the Mission Inn grew into a veritable castle of turrets and ornate tile domes, archways, and lush garden courtyards. For more than a century, its grandeur has drawn glitterati and big names, from Hollywood royalty (Cary Grant and Barbra Streisand) to Albert Einstein and American presidents. In fact, Richard and Patricia Nixon were married at the inn and Ronald and Nancy Reagan honeymooned there.
For all of its grand architecture and history (which you can learn about on walking tours), the Mission Inn has plenty of contemporary comforts too, with a full-service spa and several restaurants. And its downtown Riverside location puts you within easy reach of art museums, galleries, and events at the Fox Performing Arts Centre, located in a restored 1929 theatre.