Our 16 favourite hotels in California for every type of traveller
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Whether you’re headed for California to chill out at the beach, sample the famous vintages of the wine country, do some big city exploration or road trip around the state with your kids in tow, there’s a hotel (or two, or three) that will up the fun factor and make your trip that much more enjoyable.
Here’s a guide to some of our favourite California hotels, perfectly suited for every type of traveller. And don’t forget, in addition to booking the right property, you can also take your California trip to the next level by trying these expert upgrades.
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The best city hotels in California
Located in the heart of San Francisco’s downtown art district right next door to the Museum of Modern Art, the St. Regis San Francisco offers the best of both worlds: the ultimate urban immersion and the chance to rise above it all in its 42-story tower. Downstairs, the Museum of the African Diaspora is located within the hotel itself, and the property overlooks the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and its public gardens. Take advantage of the beloved St. Regis butler service to book a full slate of activities, then relax around the indoor infinity pool.
How to book: This Marriott Bonvoy Category 8 property is available from 70,000 points per night on off-peak dates, and standard award nights will set you back 85,000 points per night.
One peek at the rooftop pool surrounded by bright cushions and igloo-shaped cabanas will prove that the Andaz West Hollywood is as hip as could be expected from its address on this happening stretch of Sunset Boulevard. Once owned by Gene Autry, this hotel has a storied history, becoming the legendary hangout of the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and just about every rock icon from the 1960s and 1970s you can think of. Today, you can channel your inner rock star while looking out over West Hollywood’s bustling streets from your glassed-in sunroom before heading out to stroll Melrose in search of dinner or get in line for a show at Second City or the Comedy Club.
How to book: Get a free night here with 20,000 World of Hyatt points per night.
Holiday like a Hollywood star of yesteryear in the carefully guarded privacy of The Peninsula Beverly Hills, where lush tropical gardens and a 4,000-square-foot spa keep the urban hubbub away. Dining al fresco is a Los Angeles tradition year-round, and the Roof Garden is among those doing it best, serving up innovative California cuisine featuring herbs and vegetables grown in the rooftop garden. The lounge chairs around the fire pit are the perfect place to relax while talking over the explorations of the day.
But perhaps this venerable hotel’s smartest feature is its fleet of elegant BMWs or Mini Cooper S Clubmans, complimentary to guests who book a suite. Guests who don’t want to drive are chauffeured around Beverly Hills and nearby Century City in one of the hotel’s house cars, which include a classic Rolls Royce and other glamorous rides.
How to book: This hotel is a member of the American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts programme, so if you have either The Platinum Card from American Express, you’ll probably be able to use Membership Rewards points to book your stay or earn 5x points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel. Either way, you’ll get exclusive perks like daily breakfast for two; a room upgrade upon arrival, when available; and a property credit, among others benefits.
A gleaming rooftop pool surrounded by outdoor living rooms furnished straight out of “Mad Men” is just one calling card of the Kimpton Sawyer, a luxury boutique hotel that epitomises Sacramento’s much-heralded renaissance. In Downtown Commons, the newly hip ‘hood (too-cutely christened DoCo) adjacent to the new Golden 1 sports stadium, the Kimpton Sawyer will be a top choice for IHG rewards members, who’ll love the sleek, mid-century modern decor, the new chef’s garden and the complimentary evening social hour hosted by local wineries.
The Kimpton Sawyer also celebrates Sacramento’s obsession with fitness and the outdoors with complimentary custom cruiser bikes by local maker Public and Saturday morning yoga, along with yoga mats in every room. At the hotel’s retro-chic Revival lounge adjacent to the rooftop pool, mixologist Matt Betts entertains guests with clever twists on classic cocktails.
How to book: Standard rooms here will typically set you back 45,000 IHG Rewards Club points per night.
The best California hotels for food and wine enthusiasts
One of the Napa Valley’s best-kept secrets, the Napa Valley Marriott Hotel & Spa offers points travellers the chance to redeem rewards and experience many of the same amenities bragged about by far more famous Napa resorts, like morning yoga and on-site wine tastings.
The resort-style swimming pool, one of the biggest in the Napa Valley, is perfect for cooling off after a day of hiking, biking or sampling area wines. And, thanks to an extensive recent remodel, the expansive rooms have a fresh, northern European feel, with matte wood floors, light colours and luxurious touches such as plush robes. Guests can also unwind in the lobby, which welcomes travellers with an in-wall fireplace, deep leather chairs and floor-to-ceiling windows.
How to book: Rooms cost 60,000 points on standard nights. On off-peak dates, rooms go for 50,000 points.
Most people don’t think of Lake Tahoe as a food destination, but the quality of the three restaurants at Edgewood Tahoe Resort has made it the choice of food-focused travellers visiting the Sierra Nevada. The resort’s Edgewood Restaurant is a coveted reservation for those from nearby Stateline, who are as impressed as guests with the unparalleled views of the lake through the dining room’s vaulted windows and chef Lonny Huot’s creative combinations like Champagne gazpacho and pinecone-smoked elk loin. The Bistro, the resort’s more casual room, is equally creative, with dishes such as curried mussels and a take on Quebec-style poutine, while Brooks Bar & Deck, located in the golf clubhouse, is lively at all hours.
Of course, the food is just the icing on the cake when it comes to this Sierra Nevada resort, which occupies more than 200 acres on the less-travelled Nevada side of California’s most beloved lake with its own private beach and dock. As befits a sort of summer camp for all ages, activities are big at Edgewood, with stargazing nights, ukelele lessons and storytelling around the outdoor firepits, along with gourmet make-it-yourself s’mores every night. And you can’t mention Edgewood without a nod to the resort’s George Fazio-designed golf course, still as renowned as when it opened in 1968 as the first in the mountain region.
The best secret hideaways in California
About two hours by car from San Francisco, Ventana Big Sur, part of Hyatt’s Alila brand, is situated just off Highway 1, also known as the Pacific Coast Highway, in one of the most picturesque settings in all of America. Rooms are rustic yet refined and the property offers delicious dining options that come included in the cost of entry at this all-inclusive hotel. Relax at the resort’s two pools and take in the sunset at its oversized infinity-edge hot tub at the end of the day. Most of the property’s public spaces are outdoors, which allows guests to more fully embrace the majestic setting of Ventana.
How to book: This Category 7 World of Hyatt property requires 30,000 points for a free night, though note award availability is difficult to come by, so make your reservations in advance if possible.
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With its red-tiled roofs, whitewashed stucco and fragrant lavender-filled gardens, the Ojai Valley Inn feels like a taste of Greece or Southern Spain just an hour from Los Angeles. And with 220 acres of oak-studded woodlands and expansive lawns, in addition to multiple pools and a golf course, you can fill an entire holiday without leaving the property. The Moorish-tiled Spa Ojai enhances the experience, celebrating the Ojai Valley’s long history as a place of retreat, healing and relaxation with yoga, meditation and guided hiking among its offerings in addition to a full menu of treatments.
How to book: Rates at the Ojai Valley Inn, on average, start at $460 (about £330) per night.
Wake up on Catalina Island and you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in the Caribbean or Mexican Riviera, when in fact you’re a little over an hour off the coast of Los Angeles by ferry. With its classic Spanish colonial design and expansive ocean views, the Holiday Inn Resort Catalina Island takes full advantage of this secret hideaway vibe. Nestled against the foothills, it’s away from the hustle of the harbour, yet an easy distance from the beaches of Avalon Bay and Lovers Cove. The Catalina Express makes multiple departures from Long Beach, San Pedro and Dana Point to the island’s main port of Avalon, while San Pedro ferries service Two Harbors. The property also happens to boast the only hotel swimming pool on the island.
How to book: Award nights here are available from 30,000 IHG points for a room with two queen beds.
The Nakoma Resort, Clio, California
Surrounded by the high meadows and tall pines of the Plumas National Forest, the Nakoma Resort celebrates all the gifts of its remote location in the less-discovered northern Sierra. But in this case, remote does not mean rugged; everything about the resort is both elegantly understated and abundantly comfortable, with guest rooms averaging a spacious 400 feet so there’s plenty of room to lounge. Three restaurants make for plenty of dining options, and the gracious lines of the facade and towering four-sided fireplace are based on an original plan by architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The rest of the resort echoes the inspiration with airy spaces and an abundance of glass and natural wood to bridge the gap between inside and outdoors. Families will love the fact that the on-site gym and recreation centre features a climbing wall and children’s centre and theatre for family movie nights. An 18-hole championship golf course is just out the door.
The best California hotels for Family Fun
A pond complete with swans and a chef’s garden to supply the kitchen are just two of the features that set Embassy Suites Napa Valley apart. And, as with all Embassy Suites properties, it’s a favourite of families for the expansive all-inclusive breakfast spread and complimentary evening happy hour and reception, not to mention the indoor and outdoor pools. Located just outside downtown Napa, it’s a quick trip to town and bike rentals are available as well. And it’s pet-friendly, too!
How to book: Depending on your travel dates, you’ll likely need between 43,000 and 70,000 Hilton Honors points per night to stay here.
With a private, exclusive Lake Club featuring shorefront lounge chairs and a dock for boating and watersports, the Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe fulfils every family’s holiday dream. Kids will be thrilled at the amount of space to run around on the expansive lawn and the generous pool, and parents will similarly appreciate the spa, golf club and top-notch fitness centre. There are also plenty of places to eat out and drink on property, so there’s something to please every palate, including the pickiest tot. For families seeking even more space, there are a dozen two- and three-bedroom cabin-like suites available. And, in the winter, the Ritz-Carlton offers ski-in, ski-out access to the Northstar Ski Resort, a rarity in the Tahoe area.
How to book: This Category 8 Marriott Bonvoy property will set you back 70,000 points per night on off-peak dates, 85,000 points per night on standard award nights and 100,000 points on peak dates.
Directly across the street from East Beach, Santa Barbara’s palm-tree-lined white sand mecca, and a short stroll from the pier, the Hilton Santa Barbara Beach Resort offers a beachfront getaway with easy access to town as well. Don’t miss the chance to explore the nearby Funk Zone, filled with galleries, cafes, surf shops and one-of-a-kind boutiques to get a sense of Santa Barbara’s vibrant arts culture. Kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding and whale watching boat trips are easy to book with help from the concierge with bike rentals available onsite. Book a beachfront room to make the most of Santa Barbara’s famed salmon-coloured sunsets.
How to book: Rooms start at $230 (£165), and a single-night standard room will run between 53,000 and 80,000 Hilton Honors points.
Picture a tropical terrace with Maui luau vibes and a palm-shaded pool and you can see why the Ventura Beach Marriott tops the list of many locals’ favourite SoCal beach hotels. Just three minutes from San Buenaventura State Beach, it’s a perfect choice for those in search of long stretches of sand, brilliant sunsets and seaside dining. In fact, 10 miles of uncrowded coastline stretches north from Ventura to Santa Barbara, making this the perfect home base for road-tripping up the Pacific Coast Highway.
How to book: A night at this Category 5 hotel can be yours from 30,000 points per night on off-peak dates, 35,000 points on standard nights and 40,000 points on peak evenings.
The blue of the ocean is so ever-present at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows, it’s a miracle guests ever leave their ocean-view balconies to explore town. But it’s a good thing they do because since it opened its gold-plated gates in 1923, this historic hotel has made the most of its location at the heart of Santa Monica. No wonder President John Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe and a long list of other public figures and celebrities chose the Miramar for their seaside getaway. In fact, the demure stucco bungalows at the back of the property could easily be housing a star or two on any given day. Ride in the hotel’s open-air jeep with the proverbial wind in your hair to the guests-only Miramar Beach Club, which is set up to fulfil every sunbather’s need.
Located on the tip of the Shelter Island peninsula, the 11-acre Kona Kai Resort boasts expansive views of Point Loma and the Kona Kai Marina as well as a private beach and multiple pools and some of southern California’s best sunset views. In addition to the resort’s Vessel Restaurant, the new adult-only Paloma poolside serves up craft cocktails and fresh, farm-based cuisine. Nightly bonfires on the beach are a highlight and private beach cabanas are available for rental during the day.
Featured photo of Napa Valley by Andrew Gunners/Getty Images.
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