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The 11 best hotels in California

With everything else turned up to full volume, why settle for less than one of the 11 best hotels in California?

Written by
Garrick Ramirez

More than a place to crash for the night, the best California hotels have for decades now offered a chance to revel in the state’s sunshine, style, and natural splendor. A famed diversity of landscapes means you can spread out amidst Napa vineyards, cozy up at a Tahoe mountain retreat, or stow your surfboard at a modern surf shack—there are as many types of lodging in this state as there are amazing things to do. Even roadside motels – a California creation from the 1920s – are experiencing second lives with hip, reimagined designs. Because thread counts alone do not a good hotel make, the following spots offer loads of personality and a taste (sometimes literally, in adjoining restaurants) of the enviable California lifestyle. They take in an alpine-inspired bolthole, a Technicolor fantasy land, a resort set in striking 1905 military buildings and yes, of course the most storied of all Tinseltown’s hotels, the Chateau Marmont.

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The 11 best hotels in California

1. Post Ranch Inn

Given its grand-scale splendor along the California coast, simply pitching a tent in Big Sur can be a life-changing experience. Add infinity pools, organic contemporary architecture, and edge-of-the-world views, and you start to understand why this luxury, nature-filled retreat frequently tops best hotel lists. Rooms and suites vary – from a modern treehouse to a luxury home with infinity hot tub overlooking the Pacific – and come stocked with complimentary wine and goodies. Mornings offer outdoor yoga, guided hikes, and a hosted breakfast buffet at Sierra Mar, the resort’s signature restaurant, which features glass walls and ridiculous ocean vistas.

Carneros Resort & Spa
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2. Carneros Resort & Spa

Situated amidst the rolling vineyards of Napa Valley, this luxury resort embodies Wine Country living with 100 sleek cottages and homes outfitted with chic, light-filled interiors and sprawling landscaped patios featuring fire pits and outdoor showers. The scenic 80-acre property includes a hilltop adults-only pool with vineyard vistas, and a trio of restaurants, from casual to fine dining. In 2018, the resort just completed a multi-million dollar refresh of its spa which features indoor and outdoor body treatments that incorporate local herbs and flowers.


3. The Boonville Hotel

Situated in the quirky, tiny town of Boonville, this modern roadhouse offers rustic-chic perfection amid the stunning scenery of the Anderson Valley wine country. Choose from a handful of cozy inn rooms or cottages set within lush gardens strung with twinkling lights. Each feature farm-chic decor and unique amenities that might include outdoor soaking tubs and patio hammocks. The hotel’s relaxed eatery, Table 128, dishes up family-style dinners such as pan-seared chicken with peach chutney, and leg of lamb with braised greens. In the morning, wake to a cheery plate of homemade granola, yogurt, and scones.

The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe
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4. The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe

Skip the round-trip tix to Switzerland for this modern mountain retreat with ski-in access from Northstar California chairlifts, and a gondola to the boutiques, restaurants, and ice-skating rink at Northstar Village. Awash in warm natural finishes, 170 rooms feature fireplaces, plush bathrobes, and deep, oversized soaking tubs. The hotel’s restaurant, Manzanita, serves seasonal fare such as braised short ribs and Sonoma duck. During the summer, a stylish Lake Club offers a cocktail lounge, outdoor dining, and a private pier with a cruise liner’s worth of activities, including stand-up paddleboarding, wave runners, and luxury boat rentals.


5. Chateau Marmont

Los Angeles doesn’t lack for stylish, buzzy hotels, but none are as storied as this Sunset Boulevard celebrity hideout modeled after a Loire Valley castle. If the Chateau’s walls could talk, they’d reveal that Led Zeppelin rode their motorcycles through the lobby in the 60s, Lindsay Lohan got 86’d after racking up an astronomical tab, and John Belushi went to that big Animal House in the sky after one too many. Owned by trend-setting hotelier André Balazs, the fetching property exudes Golden Age Hollywood charm, its hillside bungalows decked with mid-century furnishings and a fetching pool ringed by lush palms.

Cavallo Point
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6. Cavallo Point

Housed within in a cluster of striking 1905 military buildings tucked almost below the Golden Gate Bridge, this Sausalito luxury resort offers a stay in renovated officers' residences or sleek, newly constructed suites. Set within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area nature preserve, the serene property features an indoor-outdoor spa with a heated soaking pool and fire pit-warmed patio tucked into a green hillside. Yet the most popular spot might be the shared patio for Murray Circle restaurant and the adjacent Farley Bar, which fronts the former parade ground with the monumental red bridge looming in the background.

The Goodland / The Leta Santa Barbara
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7. The Goodland / The Leta Santa Barbara

The Goodland has modern surf-shack aesthetic and embodies the beachy, laidback lifestyle of the California coast. For starters, rooms are chic and modern, with loads of fun perks such as Crosley turntables with vinyl supplied by the hotel’s record concierge. Here, you'll also find outdoor seating overlooking a fire pit, perfect for those relaxing evenings. Guests can also enjoy a cocktail at The Leta Bar in the lobby or shop for vinyl at the on-site record store.

Timber Cove
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8. Timber Cove

This renovated 1963 property captures the rugged splendor of the Sonoma coast with Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired architecture blended into coastal bluffs above the churning Pacific. Hotshot designers The Novogratz rejuvenated interiors with an eye to the natural landscape and mid-century design. Modern, cabin-like rooms feature wool throws, gas fireplaces, and portable turntables spinning vintage vinyl. Wander path-lined grounds to seek out quiet coves and overlooks dotted with colorful Adirondack chairs. Then warm up with a cocktail around a massive stone hearth in the lodge-like lobby, and nosh on local oysters and fried chicken from the excellent Coast Kitchen.

Ace Hotel & Swim Club
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9. Ace Hotel & Swim Club

While Palm Springs brims with stylized properties that play up retro, mid-century vibes, the Ace’s desert outpost leans more towards Coachella than Rat Pack. The 179-room property features earthy bohemian design with handcrafted furniture, kilim rugs, and walls hung with tent canvas, and some rooms feature private courtyards and outdoor fireplaces. Weekend DJs ensure a lively pool scene while solitude seekers can find respite at a quieter, secondary pool. Kings Highway, a former Denny’s, is a hip take on a roadside diner, offering imaginative dishes like spiced buttermilk pancakes or grilled yellowtail tacos; work up to them with a frozen watermelon margarita.

The Pearl
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10. The Pearl

The Pearl is said to be an absolute hidden gem. Here, you'll find retro rooms that wrap around a courtyard pool deck and a brilliant pool for those hot San Diego days that make you want to take a dip. You'll be just a short drive away from the vibrant Gaslamp Quarter that has all the shopping, dining, baseball, and nightlife that you could ask for. The lively Gaslamp and Little Italy districts are also local and worth the experience.

Madonna Inn
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11. Madonna Inn

Choosing from the Madonna Inn’s 110 fantastically-themed rooms is like choosing your favorite Pez dispenser. Opened in 1958, the property’s Technicolor kitsch has gone in and out of vogue, but is enjoying a moment thanks to a new generation of Instagram-wielding travelers. They adore the shaggy pink carpet and private tower of the Love Nest, glittering pink wallpaper and crystal chandeliers of Merry, and boulder-lined interiors of the cavern-themed Rock Bottom. The merriment continues in public areas with the vivid pink Gold Rush Steakhouse, ornate Silver Bar cocktail lounge, and a men’s room with a waterfall urinal.

More of the best in California

  • Restaurants

Thanks to generations of diverse immigrants, Californians enjoy the nation’s best tacos, Thai food, and—look away, New Yorkers—maybe even pastrami. Whether you’re seeking eateries with three Michelin stars or just a few post-meal wet naps, here are the best places to get a taste of the Golden State.

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