With its gorgeous coastline and dramatic landscape, California has inspired some amazing hotels that beautifully complement their settings. California’s tourism board — Visit California — 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 13 luxurious spots on the beach, wine country, the desert, and more. From there, we chose our favorites, some of which are based on our reviewers’ taste, some of which are based on personal experiences. In no particular order, here the Top 10 Iconic California Hotels. They all make excellent home bases for an indulgent getaway.
All hotel names are clickable so you can head straight to the hotel website for additional information and to make reservations:
1. Shutters on the Beach, Santa Monica
Even if you don’t have a wealthy uncle with a rambling oceanfront house, Shutters on the Beach lets you live as if 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 favorites as the Skuna Bay salmon at the hotel’s One Pico restaurant just might lure you out again.
2. Hotel del Coronado, San Diego
This is a hotel Go GlobeHopper reviewed some time ago, review HERE. Film buffs know the Hotel Del Coronado as a backdrop in the Marilyn Monroe movie Some Like It Hot, but this luxury resort has been a star among Southern California resorts since it first opened in 1888.
For more than a century, this designated National Historic Landmark with its Queen Anne–style red turrets has attracted U.S. presidents, dignitaries, and, indeed, plenty of movie stars to Coronado Island, a 15-minute drive from downtown San Diego. Today, the 757-room resort, known to locals just as “The Del,” sits on 28 acres of private, pristine beachfront property, blending old-school luxury with high-end accommodations and modern amenities.
Stay in either the main Victorian building, loaded with historic charm, or the more contemporary The Views. If you plan to plant yourself poolside, get a room in one of the Cabana buildings. For larger groups or families, the spacious Beach Village cottages and villas feel like a home away from home—if your everyday home is a luxury beach house that’s just steps from the sand.
At Del Beach, you can enjoy a session of beach yoga, play volleyball, or just lounge the day away on a plush daybed while enjoying beverage service. A nighttime bonfire in the sand is a popular resort tradition—and now you can order up artisanal pizzas, s’mores, and more to nosh around the fire pit. During the day you can also take a tour of the hotel grounds (complete with stories of resident ghosts) or join a seaside spin class. Don’t leave without visiting the Spa & Salon at the Del for themed body treatments, like the Hawaiian Lomi Lomi Massage or the Sea Salt Stone Massage.
Soak up the scenery from one of the seven dining options, all with ocean views. Hotel del Coronado’s signature restaurant, Serea, showcases fresh sustainable seafood in both indoor and outdoor settings, or for an expertly-prepared cocktail and delectable bites in a more casual setting, drop into Babcock & Story Bar.
3. The Ahwahnee, Yosemite National Park
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 (recently called the Majestic Yosemite Hotel) 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 Yosemite, 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 Yosemite are offered throughout the year; check with the hotel’s concierge desk for a current schedule.
See the perfect mash-up of Palm Springs’ 1950s roots and post-modern eclecticism at the celebrity-favored Parker Palm Springs. More formally known as Le Parker Méridien, the Parker is the Coachella Valley’s five-star “it” spot for seclusion-seeking movie stars who love the privacy of high white walls, dense hedges, and off-the-grid entrances. Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, John Travolta, Leonardo DiCaprio, and dozens more Hollywood jet-setters have slept in its suave mid-century villas and rooms.
Even with two fabulous makeovers by designer Jonathan Adler in 2003 and 2017, the hotel has held on to its mid-century soul. In 2003, hotelier Jack Parker took ownership, the resort was reincarnated as the Parker Palm Springs, and Adler’s hyper-curated designs made this hip spot cooler than ever. In every nook and cranny of its 13 acres, you’ll find whimsical and unconventional touches, like macramé owls hanging in the groovy-chic lobby, a seven-foot-tall bronze banana on the main lawn, a vintage pharmacy sign stating “Drugs,” and a yellow-striped lemonade stand.
Croquet sets, red-clay tennis courts, ping-pong tables, hammocks, and colorful single-speed bicycles make it clear that the Parker is a place for play. Even the on-site spa has a lighthearted vibe: At the cheekily named Palm Springs Yacht Club, your pampering starts with a thimble-sized shot of cucumber vodka.
You can rent Gene Autry’s private gated residence—with two bedrooms, a movie theater with leather recliners, and a saline pool—or one of 12 one-bedroom villas or 130 suites and rooms. Dine at Norma’s for a decadent breakfast or lunch served all day on the outdoor terrace, or order cocktails from the bar and hang out by the outdoor fire pits.
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 2000-square-foot retreat featuring dry redwood saunas, fireplace lounges, and an ocean-view swimming pool, in addition to its personalized skin and body treatments. The wellness offerings fit the setting, from Beach Boot Camp and Pilates in the Park to SurfSET, a complimentary class that utilizes real surfing techniques to build balance and strength.
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.
6. Auberge du Soleil, Napa Valley
Perched on 33 sun-kissed acres of vineyards and olive groves high on Rutherford Hill, Auberge du Soleil serves up mesmerizing vistas of Napa’s seemingly endless valley.
The vibe is decidedly “French Riviera” at this adults-only resort. Casually elegant cottages are fronted by terraces that make the most of the sublime views. Accommodations range in size from 520-square-foot guest rooms in the main building to 1,800-square-foot Maisons. All have private patios, king-size beds, and fireplaces; many have outdoor showers or soaking tubs. Devotion to detail is an organizing principle: complimentary yoga mats in your room, a tray of chocolate almonds delivered at turndown, and staff members who remember your name.
Want to explore Napa Valley’s winding roads? Drive in style in a Mercedes-Benz, free to Auberge guests for afternoon outings. Or make the most of the sumptuous property: You can admire a sculpture garden with more than 100 works by California artists, practice your warrior pose in the Japanese-style yoga and meditation pavilion, join in complimentary fitness classes, or just relax with a cocktail by the pool.
Auberge’s 7,000-square-foot spa is reserved exclusively for hotel guests, who can partake in indulgent treatments like the Cabernet mud body masque before (or after) a blissful steam and soaking pool ritual. The spa building, anchored by centuries-old stone fountains in a sandstone courtyard, was designed with the help of a Zen master to have just-right feng shui.
For an off-the-charts food experience, reserve a table at The Restaurant at Auberge du Soleil, which has attracted discerning diners for nearly four decades and has held a Michelin star for 12 consecutive years. Executive chef Robert Curry creates Mediterranean-inspired dishes ideal for pairing with wines from Auberge’s 15,000-bottle cellar.
7. Post Ranch Inn, Big Sur
It’s one of Big Sur’s most luxurious places to stay, and Post Ranch Inn‘s jaw-dropping architecture—which blends seamlessly with its bluff-top setting—makes this a sublime way to experience this stretch of the Central Coast.
Once you arrive, you’ll see why Post Ranch Inn regularly makes magazines’ best-of lists, from Most Romantic to World’s Coolest Hotel Bathrooms. First opened in 1992 on a former homestead and cattle ranch, the resort is comprised of 40 accommodations, including ocean-view suites, treehouses on stilts, and the freestanding Cliff House, which features a deck that appears to suspend over the 1,200-foot-high ocean bluff. All of the sleek (and sustainably built) accommodations have a certain glow thanks to details like reclaimed redwood, glass walls, fireplaces, and stainless-steel soaking tubs. Adding to the Zen ambiance is the absence of televisions or alarm clocks, and the relaxed calm that comes with an 18-and-up age policy.
The splurge-worthy room rate includes a variety of included perks, from a breakfast buffet to daily yoga classes, guided hikes, and stargazing outings. Keep your eyes peeled while hiking the resort’s trails for the unique creatures who live here, such as the endangered Smith’s Blue Butterfly, the California Red-Legged Frog, and California Condors.
The hotel is also known for its award-winning restaurant, Sierra Mar, which offers local delights like Morro Bay oysters and Monterey Red Abalone. And while you’re here be sure to bliss out at the onsite spa, and order the Big Sur Jade Stone Therapy, a treatment that utilizes warmed pieces of local jade collected from nearby beaches, as well as basalt river rocks and cooled marble.
8. Cavallo Point, Sausalito
Take an interesting backstory, then add spectacular scenery and fabulous perks. Cavallo Point sits on the grounds of an old Army fort, located at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge in Sausalito. While you could spend most of your time here just sitting in a front porch rocking chair, soaking up the panoramic views of the iconic bridge and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, this luxury hotel offers great cuisine, an excellent spa, and a unique launching pad for exploring the Bay Area.
Guests stay in meticulously restored officers’ residences packed with historical charm and period details. (If you lean toward modern accommodations, the hotel also offers contemporary-style rooms.) Most rooms have huge south-facing windows to make the most of the epic bay-and-bridge views, and the in-room fireplace is a cozy feature—especially when the bay breezes kick up.
Murray Circle packs its elegant dining room every night of the week with guests who appreciate farm-to-table freshness while overlooking the San Francisco skyline. The adjacent Farley Bar serves up craft cocktails alongside a casual menu that includes oysters, sliders, and fish tacos. Foodies will want to check out Chef’s Counter dining series, a private, three-hour, multicourse dinner with wine pairings. Also, the Cavallo Point Cooking School offers ongoing classes inspired by locally sourced ingredients.
The resort is a popular destination for retreats and workshops at its Healing Arts Center & Spa. A crackling fire in the lounge area sets a serene tone, as does the heady scent of essential oils used in a variety of restorative treatments. Before your service, take a soak in the outdoor meditation pool, which sits beneath a canopy of pines. This is also a great place to learn about the healing arts.
When you’re ready to explore the city, the hotel offers two amenities to simplify your time across the bridge. Take a Lexus out for a test drive, or hop on the complimentary shuttle to San Francisco or the Sausalito Ferry Terminal.
There are only 16 rooms at this private, peaceful retreat on the beautiful beaches of Malibu. Well-known restaurateur Nobu Matsuhisa blended traditional Japanese ryokan with California laid-back luxury to create a very intimate setting.
The exclusive resort features teak soaking tubs, indoor/outdoor fireplaces, serene outdoor patios, timeless artwork, and gracious accents. Seamlessly blending traditional Japanese minimalism with the elegant flair of the California coastline, this discerning sanctuary boasts a rich, natural aesthetic and an ethos of pure tranquility.
Each distinctive and one-of-a-kind room includes ensuite fireplaces, skylights, private decks, and a design that offers and peace and privacy. The hotel’s landscaping sets the tone for a private oasis, and the ipe wood deck overlooks Carbon Beach. The beachfront property is filled with loungers and umbrellas and offers impeccable outside service.
10. Madonna Inn, San Luis Obispo
Since 1958, this San Luis Obispo landmark has drawn Central Coast visitors eager to experience its 110 one-of-a-kind rooms. Feel girlie in rooms like American Beauty and Rose Room, or go Neanderthal in the solid rock confines of the Caveman room, complete with ‘Stone Age clubs.’
Though it can be tough to leave these spectacular and sometimes eccentric rooms, the Madonna Inn also features over 1,000 acres of surrounding hills, with trails for hiking, mountain biking, or horseback riding (guided trail rides are offered). You can also spend time at the spa, enjoy on-site wine tasting, and dine at Alex Madonna’s Gold Rush Steak House.
Article and Photo Source: Visit California