From Mediterranean-style resorts to Craftsman-inspired hideaways, California’s luxurious oceanfront hotels offer an incredible range of ways to spend the night in style. There’s the scenery, of course, with spots along the North Coast overlooking rugged, hidden coves, while hotels in Southern California let you wake up to views of sand, surfers, and dolphins. Add posh spas and fine dining, plus pools, classes, golf courses, and other hotel amenities, and you’ve got lodgings as spectacular as their settings.
Like an island getaway a stone’s throw from the city, the appealing island community feels like a private enclave wrapped with perfect beaches, including ultra-family-friendly Coronado Beach. Besides 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 lobby and grounds on your own, or join a guided tour offered by the Coronado Historical Association; docents share tidbits on 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 fine for sipping a craft beer with views of the Pacific.
The diminutive island, reached by the arching Coronado Bridge, is easy to explore by bike. Rent one from Holland’s Bicycles to pedal past elegant oceanfront mansions and 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 like Candelas on the Bay and Peohe’s have expansive views of San Diego’s downtown skyline across San Diego Bay.
Travel tip: Traffic on the San Diego-Coronado Bridge can get thick, especially on summer weekends. Flagship Cruises will ferry you from Ferry Landing, across the Bay to Seaport Village. Water taxis are available too.
While Big Sur is all about nature, that doesn’t mean you have to rough it when you visit. In fact, the region boasts some of the state’s most celebrated accommodation, with ultra-luxurious rooms, top-notch spas and facilities, and unforgettable dining experiences. At Post Ranch Inn, suites and private houses are miraculously sculpted into the cliffs, and enormous picture windows provide unparalleled views of sea and sky. (If you like to whale-watch from your bed, you’ve found your dream destination.) There’s even a luxury car available for guests who need local wheels, and a shuttle that cruises you around the Big Sur coast.
"At Post Ranch Inn, suites and private houses are miraculously sculpted into the cliffs"
On the opposite (inland) side of Highway 1, there’s Ventana Inn & Spa, a redwood-shaded paradise where outdoor Japanese-style soaking tubs and big decks give suites a breezy, natural feel; or book a room with a fireplace for extra cosy comfort on foggy nights. Dining here is also excellent, with a focus on local, seasonal ingredients provided by local farms. Here, and at Post Ranch, you can dine or book a spa treatment even if you’re not a guest—a nice way to spoil yourself without breaking the bank.
With luxurious rooms in Spanish Colonial buildings and views of the Channel Islands, the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara epitomises the grace and beauty of the American Riviera.
This is paradise, California-style: Walk along pathways through lush grounds of stately oaks and swaying palm trees. Soak up some sun by the pool at the resort’s art deco Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club, and catch vivid sunsets while strolling Butterfly Beach.
The Biltmore’s vintage 1920s architecture is mighty impressive, too. In the lobby, you will find historic tile details, wood-beamed ceilings, and graceful archways that bring alive the romance of Old Santa Barbara. The fresco behind the main desk even depicts the 16th-century legend that California was an island.
An hour’s drive south of San Francisco but a world away, the Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay is one of California’s ultimate oceanfront escapes. This is laid-back luxury in all its glory, with stylish rooms overlooking secluded coves. Trails lace the property, so you can stretch your legs a bit getting delightfully pampered at the onsite head-to-toe spa. Golfers can test their game on the resort’s Ocean Course, with blue Pacific views from every hole. More nice touches include private fire pits, the pretty-much-perfect place to watch the sun go down, or to scan the horizon for migrating whales.
The resort’s signature restaurant, Navio, incorporates local produce in such sea-to-table specialties as a roasted local black cod. At the wine bar ENO, sip sommelier-selected flights of California vintages, plus artisanal cheeses and chocolates.
Stately and elegant, this historic lodging offers an incomparable setting next to one of golf’s fabled landmarks: the oceanfront 18th green at Pebble Beach Golf Links.
Things feel pretty special when you get a wood-burning fireplace in your room, and stunning ocean views out your picture windows. Tear yourself away long enough to get pampered at The Spa at Pebble Beach, where treatments incorporate ingredients made with native plants from the Monterey Peninsula. Dine on wood-fired specialties while watching golfers finish up their rounds from the terrace at The Bench. Stillwater Bar & Grill also has a view of the 18th and a fresh shellfish bar.
Hotel guests get special booking privileges at five fabled Monterey Peninsula courses including Spyglass Hill and the Links at Spanish Bay, where golf legends like Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods won U.S. Open titles, and site of the annual AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am, with top golfers and surprisingly good celebrity duffers matching up for entertaining rounds each February.
Overlooking a rocky cove, the Little River Inn has been a go-to spot for secluded getaways along Mendocino County coast since 1939. About a 3½-hour drive north of San Francisco, the graceful Little River Inn makes a worth-it stop even if you’re just passing by. You’d have to have a heart of stone not to feel romantic here—the resort’s 225 acres/91 hectares of forests and gardens are braided with hushed paths, and vistas open up to never-ending ocean views.
But if you’re lucky enough to book a room here, you can choose from seaside rooms, with whirlpool baths and cozy fireplaces. Bring binoculars if you reserve an ocean-view room—your private veranda makes a perfect perch for whale watching (and sunsets). Indulge at the inn’s on-site spa with seaweed body scrub. Golfers can play at the inn’s challenging course, the only one along the Mendocino Coast. For wilder adventures, arrange to go ocean kayaking, or stroll along driftwood-strewn Van Damme State Beach, adjacent to the inn’s property. The 1853-era main building houses the inn’s restaurant, which is known for outstanding fresh seafood (naturally in a location like this); ask for pairings with local wines.
Edge-of-the-earth views across the Pacific, wood and stone details bringing nature right into your room—Ventana Resort is a place to go and not just relax and be pampered, but a place to fill your spirit too. Its rooms and main buildings perched on steep hillsides, surrounded by 243 acres/98 hectares of lush forests, this resort almost feels like a secret enclave in the woods. Throughout the resort, wood and stone details reflect the nature-all-around you feel. It really can’t get much better than to soak in a hot tub while looking out on the meadows and redwoods, or standing on your private balcony, trying to figure our what smells more amazing: the ocean breeze, or your morning coffee.
Daily guided walks offer an introduction to Big Sur’s ecology. Classes in yoga, Tai Chi, and Pilates classes help you find your Zen. Pampering is part of the plan at Ventana, too. Treat yourself to a massage, then dine at the Restaurant at Ventana, focusing on Central Coast ingredients and season preparations.
Insider’s tip: Find exquisite ceramics, jewellery, and paintings by leading Big Sur artists and artisans in the Gallery at Ventana.
How often do you get a chance to spend the night in an architectural masterpiece? The Lodge at Torrey Pines, a coastal stunner in La Jolla, not only lets you be pampered like royalty (and who doesn’t relish that?), but also offers a close-up look at extraordinary craftsmanship.
Enter through stained-glass doors depicting a rare Torrey pine and step into a lobby of intricate wood details and furnishings that carry the Craftsman ideal into the present. Though the lodge was completed in 2002, its rarefied details look every bit like an Arts & Crafts masterpiece from the early 1900s.
You’ll be head-spinning constantly to see all the stunning elements, all echoing the Lodge’s remarkable waterfront setting. Refined details fill every corner, even the spa: Check out the intricate mosaic floors at the entrance and dramatic fireplaces in the lounge areas. Try the Ancient Oceans Ritual treatment, which includes a warm body wrap scented with lavender, sandalwood, and sage. Or, head outside and breathe in the scent of the area’s feathery evergreen trees while hiking the trails of Torrey Pines State Park, which neighbors the hotel.
Dress up to dine on farm-to-table cuisine at A.R. Valentien restaurant, named after the early-20th-century California artist whose Impressionist artwork fills the walls. Try one of the seasonal tasting menus, with locally sourced delights like halibut carpaccio, ricotta-and-lemon-stuffed squash blossoms, or stone fruit Melba.
Or, dine at The Grill, with its firepit-lined patio overlooking the oceanfront Torrey Pines Golf Course (whose famed South Course hosted the 2008 U.S. Open). While The Grill has long been known for its decadent Drugstore Hamburger, this is not just a 19th-hole spot: Try the salad topped with oak-gilled tri-tip, and you’ll see why the focal point of the place is its wood-fired grill, a homage to California’s Santa Maria–style barbecue; the rest of the menu focuses on locally sourced produce and seafood from Southern California and Baja. “The cooking at The Lodge, like the architecture, is based upon sound classical principles of craftsmanship,” says the Grill’s executive chef Jeff Jackson. “California has a rich culinary history and we have borrowed from its cultures to create a menu that we feel is a true, classic California experience.”
On a stretch of coast known as “Billionaire’s Beach,” the Malibu Beach Inn is definitely in a high-rent neighbourhood. Splurge on one of the oceanfront rooms, relax on your balcony, and see who comes out to play in one of the most expensive sandboxes anywhere—Carbon Beach—where homeowners include Oracle’s Larry Ellison and DreamWork’s Jeffery Katzenburg. When you’re done people watching, shift your gaze to take in the Malibu Pier, and perhaps some passing dolphins and pelicans, too. Beyond the pier, surfers catch the perfect waves at Surfrider Beach, one of the world’s most famous breaks. A darn good view, especially considering you’re still in your bathrobe.
Malibu awaits and Santa Monica is just 20 minutes away, but not before you head downstairs for breakfast on an oceanfront terrace just above the waves. Loosen up with private yoga and Pilates classes on the beach. Do some shopping in the Malibu Country Mart—another great place to look for celebs—then return to the inn’s Carbon Beach Club for ginger margaritas or fresh basil juleps.
Even if you don’t have a wealthy uncle with a rambling oceanfront house, Shutters on the Beach lets you live like 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 favourites as the Skuna Bay salmon at the hotel’s One Pico restaurant just might lure you out again.
Whether you’re a cruise lover or not, there’s something undeniably alluring about sleeping on a legendary ocean liner. The Queen Mary, now permanently docked along the Long Beach waterfront, invites guests to book a stay in restored staterooms and suites—complete with working portholes. Although you never leave the Long Beach waterfront, a night on this fabled ocean liner lets you relive the days when the Queen Mary ruled the waves on its voyages between England and New York.
Christened in 1936, the Queen Mary, which is open for tours even if you’re not a guest, has rooms filled with period details including Art Deco accents, extensive wood panelling, and original artwork. Live the luxe life with drinks in the vintage Observation Bar & Art Deco Lounge—originally the great ship’s first-class lounge. Or look out on Long Beach harbor while dining at Sir Winston’s Restaurant and Lounge, commemorating the prime minister, a frequent passenger aboard the mighty ship.
Set like a wedding cake on cliffs high above crashing Pacific waves, this snow-white, Mediterranean-style resort is the kind of place where you load up on flowing cotton resort wear so you can look and feel as beautiful as your surroundings. Every view looks movie-set perfect, every garden perfectly tended, every staff person smiling. Admittedly, it’s pretty easy to smile here. Private balconies let you take in sweeping ocean views, while marble bathrooms and plush beds definitely make you feel spoiled.
But with a long stretch of beach fronting the hotel, tennis courts, and two outdoor pools, it’s tough to stay inside for very long. Ever wanted to surf? This is the place: the O.C.’s world-class waves are right in front of you, and the hotel will help you set up lessons with local instructors. Try stand-up paddleboarding, or head out on eco-adventures with expert naturalists to learn about the local natural environment.
Dine on Pan-Latin coastal cuisine at Raya, celebrated chef Richard Sandoval’s oceanfront restaurant. Or duck into clubby Enosteak for succulent basted lamb chops and other meats sourced from California farms.
Across from a wild stretch of beach just south of San Francisco, Pacifica Beach Hotel blends natural beauty with easy access to urban attractions. Step out onto your balcony for spectacular coastal views, and go exploring on Linda Mar Beach, a prime surfing spot. Ask for tips on local hikes or bike routes, then return to your suite to slip into a private whirlpool tub. The hotel also has an indoor pool, a nice plus given that summertime fog can keep temperatures on the cool side, and swimming in the chilly Pacific typically requires a wetsuit. Come dinnertime, sample exotic flavors of Peru, including seven kinds of ceviche and chupe de mariscos (a seafood and shellfish chowder), at Puerto 27, the hotel’s on-site restaurant.
Along a dramatic stretch of coast 150 miles/241km north of San Francisco, the Elk Cove Inn is a getaway for people who truly want to exactly that: to get away. This tucked-away bed-and-breakfast in the tiny town of Elk (population 200, plus or minus the pets) is known for its appealing combo of luxury and remoteness. Take your pick of rooms in the 1883 main house atop a bluff, or check into a “spa suite” done in classy Arts and Crafts style, with a balcony for taking in the view and sea breeze. Oceanfront cottages boast cathedral ceilings and picture windows.
Start the day with a hearty champagne breakfast, then look for sea otters and migrating gray whales from a bluff-top gazebo, or walk down to a wind-sheltered cove and Greenwood State Beach. Then enjoy massages at the inn’s day spa, complete with an aromatherapy steam shower and sauna. When the day starts to wind down, you can too, with complimentary wine and make-your-own cocktails.
With works by noted California artists in the lobby and guest rooms and a classic wood-and-stone Craftsman design, the ultra-luxurious lodging celebrates Laguna Beach’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’s the same view you’ll enjoy from airy rooms—as pretty and inviting as a summer beach house.
Then again, even the most lavish beach house doesn’t have a spa offering caviar facials. Welcome to Spa Montage. Things stay luxurious with California-inspired contemporary French cuisine and modern Craftsman-style beach cottage design at Studio, the Montage’s signature restaurant.
With views of broad sands and waves breaking along the landmark Huntington Beach Pier, Shorebreak Hotel finds inspiration in its incredible oceanfront setting—which happens to be one the world’s most iconic surf destinations too. Here, you can check out the Huntington Beach scene, across the legendary “PCH” (Pacific Coast Highway). Surf-themed art decorates guest rooms and the contemporary lobby, which also sports wood accents reminiscent of driftwood. Grasses and succulents fill the outdoor court and garden, bringing the feeling of the beach right onto the hotel property. If you want to head out and explore, one of the hotel’s “beach butlers” can get you bikes, surfboards, or even a kite to fly above the sand.
At night, walk to restaurants on nearby Main Street, or, just hang at the hotel. With private fire pits and locally sourced California cuisine at Zimzala Restaurant, Shorebreak is a pretty undeniably special place to be.
Lining a vintage wooden pier built in 1927, the clapboard cottages at Crystal Pier Hotel are as close as you can get to the Pacific without needing gills.
Lots of places tout an oceanfront setting, but these 1930-vintage cottages go one better: They’re actually perched right above it—atop the Crystal Pier. Not only will you see and smell the ocean, you’ll feel it too, especially when the surf is up and the waves surge toward shore underneath the pier. Exciting stuff.
Each cottage is decorated with wood floors and equipped with a kitchenette, while a small semi-private patio lets you catch some sun and take in spectacular views. Hole up here on a stormy weekend for a bit of wintry romance, or book ahead for a summer stay, when the cottages offer easy access to but also an escape from the busy Pacific Beach scene.
Beyond the Mediterranean-style exterior of this perfectly manicured resort, you’ll find posh but not ornate contemporary rooms and suites. This resort is all about casual elegance—if you like casual with a side of truly decadent pampering. Think Laboratoire Remède bath products perched on the edge of your oversize tub, private cabanas next to the turquoise swimming pool, and a private beach where you can sign up for surf lessons.
Sign up for a tee time to play on the resort’s acclaimed links-style course, designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr. At the resort’s Spa Gaucin, take a yoga class, relax in the sauna, or get a treatment scented with orange blossoms. Keep the luxury pushed to the max with dinner at celebrity chef Michael Mina’s Stonehill Tavern, offering modern American cuisine.
If the idea of ocean waves and a majestic sunset outside your window sounds good, this compound of glistening white villas on a bluff west of Santa Barbara might be your piece of vacation heaven. Situated on 78 acres along the Gaviota Coast, Bacara Resort takes advantage of its oceanfront setting to deliver “we’ll take care of everything” indulgence—ranging from cushy banquettes around fire pits to more than 60 specialized treatments offered at the onsite spa.
Bacara has all the amenities you’d expect at a five-star resort. Wake up in your guest room and have coffee on your private balcony. Stay in one of Bacara’s Signature Suites and shake or stir a martini at your own wet bar, then sink into a plush chair on your private terrace to watch dolphins swim by.
If there’s anything that will tempt you out of your room, it’s great food and wine in a beautiful setting. Options range from flip-flops-are-fine cafés to Ocean House, Bacara’s premier restaurant. The menu, created by Paris-born Executive Chef Vincent Lesage and executed by Chef de Cuisine Johan Denizot, focuses—with outstanding results—on seasonal, locally grown ingredients in intriguing combos: think house-crafted goat ricotta atop smoked lettuce, leek pesto, pistachios, and crunchy fried bread. Seafood gets innovative presentations too, like black cod with bacon dashi, nori, squid ink pasta, and sea asparagus.
Bacara has an outstanding—and enormous—wine cellar, with more than 12,000 bottles representing 1,200 labels from 75 international appellations and 13 countries. Local wines get big play here, plus there’s an onsite tasting room (open to day-trippers as well as resort guests) for Foley Family Wines, featuring vintages from Kuleto, Lancaster, Sebastiani, and Chalk Hill estates.
After all this decadence, consider booking a guided mountain-bike ride or an exclusive yacht cruise. Or consider a multi-day wellness retreat offered by Sky Ranch Fitness. Sandpiper Golf Club is next door, and of course there’s the beach, where you can take a surfing lesson or just grab a boogie board and jump in (be forewarned—ocean temps are chilly here, even in summer). Monarch Kids’ Club, named for the butterflies that spend the winter in the neighboring Ellwood Butterfly Preserve, offers special activities for youngsters age 5 through 12 (offered during summer and on select holidays).
To round out your stay, why not end with a massage on the rooftop terrace, followed by a Hollister Lemonade (acai liqueur, lemonade, and lime juice). It is vacation, after all.