In the market for a one-of-a-kind, like-nowhere-else-in-the-world hotel experience in California? Allow us to weigh in. We’ve checked in to Napa Valley vineyard inns, desert wellness centers, beachfront resorts, Hollywood landmarks, and Spanish-style ranches, all to discover the most extraordinary hotels out there (and this is the land of extraordinary hotels). Here are the California boutiques we love the most.
The uber-luxurious rustic-chic retreat is built into the Big Sur landscape; its breathtaking organic architecture is seems to grow out of the ground. Many of the 39 eco-sensitive rooms (no two are alike) feature floor-to-ceiling windows to showcase their ocean or mountain views, as well as wood-burning fireplaces, heated floors, outdoor showers or hot tubs, private balconies, well-stocked minibars, 45-channel Sonos digital music players, and organic bath products and linens -- but no televisions or alarm clocks as the hotel strives for a peaceful environment. There's also an acclaimed spa focused on rejuvenation, three pools (including two 104-degree basking pools), ample opportunities to explore the great outdoors, such as morning yoga and nature hikes, and possibly the best restaurant in Big Sur.
Rancho Valencia's sprawling, 40-acre grounds, dotted with just Spanish-style casitas and one large hacienda, allow guests to experience a rare level of privacy. All rooms have patios, fireplaces, and first-rate freebies (Wi-Fi, minibar items, morning juice and newspaper delivery), and guests can also make use of two heated outdoor pools, 18 tennis courts, state-of-the-art fitness center, croquet lawn, basketball court, and free bike rentals.
This 50-room luxury inn is one of the most exclusive (and expensive) destinations in California wine country. Views of the rolling green countryside are phenomenal, the grounds are lush and peaceful, and the luxurious, homey rooms have exposed wood beams and big terraces. Despite its intimate size, it has all the amenities of a larger resort: a 7,000-square-foot spa, lovely pool, and Michelin-star restaurant, making Auberge du Soleil a truly special, romantic retreat.
This luxurious, low-key retreat is one of the most exclusive, romantic hotels in the country; it’s little wonder that JFK and Jackie chose to spend part of their honeymoon here. The pristine grounds are lovingly landscaped with winding paths, fragrant English-style gardens, and organic herb beds. Hiking trails and standalone bungalow-style cottages dot the 500-acre property. The 41 spacious, individually furnished units feature working stone fireplaces, Persian rugs, and canopy beds; some have enclosed patios and private whirlpool tubs. Prices for rooms and food (two on-site restaurants serve Californian cuisine) are high, but for honeymooners or couples, it's undeniably a first-class choice.
The Ventana Inn & Spa may look like a rustic cabin nestled in the woods (it's situated on 200-plus acres of picturesque oceanfront land), but it features 62 luxurious, streamlined rooms feature flat-screen TVs, DVD players, and iPod docks, and slate bathrooms with separate showers and tubs. The hotel is not a place for families, and its overall goal is to create a zen-like, holistic retreat with such offerings as yoga classes, hikes; afternoon wine and cheese, Japanese baths, and two pools (one of which is clothing optional).
Housed in a 1929 white stucco building with a European-style courtyard, the luxurious L'Auberge Carmel is the quintessential quaint inn experience. Its 20 rooms have warm colors, high-quality bedding, and beautiful modern bathrooms with heated floors, and a few quirks that add to the charm (small flat-screen TVs, low vaulted ceilings). There aren't as many amenities as at a large chain, but there is free Wi-Fi, and the prime location makes walking to shops or restaurants in downtown Carmel easy.
Set on the banks of the Napa River, the Milliken Creek Inn is one of the swankier hotel options in Napa. There are limited amenities (no restaurant, pool, or fitness center), but all 12 rooms are supreme, from the Jacuzzis for two, to the working fireplaces, to the 42-inch plasma TVs, to the river-view terraces. Other details that make this a romantic destination include the free breakfast served in bed (or any place guests would like) and the amazing full-service spa.
Swank yet eco-friendly, this 62-room LEED-certified resort uses solar power, geothermal well water, and organic cleaning products.The modern rooms are all spacious suites with private balconies, deep soaking tubs, and pullout massage tables. The amenities add to the property's eco-chic, but indulgent ambience: Lucy Restaurant and Bar offers field-to-fork cuisine, Spa Therapy Center features a full range of face and body treatments, from vinotherapy to Thai massage, and the rooftop pool deck offers pretty mountain views, shaded sun beds, and a hot tub -- though the pool itself is a tiny lap pool.
Geared toward high-budget travelers, the luxury Carneros Inn offers a homey elegance on a farm-like setting, complete with Adirondack chairs overlooking the vineyard and cozy fireplaces warming every room. All rooms and cottages have flat-screen TVs and huge open bathrooms, while cottages feature a private deck and stone patio, with a fire pit and an outdoor tub and shower. The property has three modern restaurants, two outdoor pools, a bright and airy yoga studio, fitness center, and a grocery and wine store, The Market at Town Square.
L'Auberge Del Mar is one of the top beachfront hotels in Southern California. Its 121 lovely, homey rooms have private balconies or terraces (some with ocean views and fireplaces), plus 42-inch flat-screen TVs, minibars, and Keurig coffeemakers. The hotel has an acclaimed farm-to-table restaurant, two bars (one with live music), and alfresco dining. The pool is small, but offers padded loungers and cabanas, and there’s a direct path to the beach. Rates include an obligatory resort fee, which covers facilities and Wi-Fi, but the signal is reportedly spotty.
Kenwood Inn and Spa is located in Sonoma County, but the hotel and grounds bring beautiful Tuscany to mind. The Mediterranean-inspired property impresses with its lush gardens and courtyards, exquisite fountains and pools, and 29 luxurious guest rooms with balconies and fireplaces. Extensive freebies (such as a fresh and delicious breakfast), plush robes, and a high-end spa help ensure that guests feel pampered. The restaurant serves local cuisine using ingredients from local ranchers, cheese makers, and farmers. All in all, it's one of the best romantic boutique picks in Sonoma Wine Country.
The Garden Court Hotel is a standout boutique property in Downtown Palo Alto. The 62 rooms have an elegant, classic American look with a blue-and-white color scheme, striped furniture, crisp linens, and French doors that open up onto balconies overlooking a quaint courtyard. There are also large flat-screen TVs, iPod docks, and free Wi-Fi. Property features include an upscale Italian restaurant, 7,000 square feet of meeting space, and a small fitness center, though no spa or pool.
Miami meets the Pacific. Originally built in 1939, this gleaming white Art Deco jewel unmistakably evokes an elegant ocean liner. Ultra-comfy, pristine rooms are lavish yet unfussy, and include almost everything a guest could desire -- except robes and slippers. A dazzling pool and lounge area, private fitness center, and cool roof bar, help make up for the lack of spa. For a modish and luxurious ocean-side getaway, the landmarked Shangri-La is mighty close to perfection.
Three blocks from Rodeo Drive, this hip, high-design Beverly Hills boutique offers 110 richly furnished rooms with Sferra linens, Dean-and-Deluca-stocked minibars, and CO Bigelow toiletries. But Wi-Fi isn't free, and partying at the guest-only rooftop pool and bar (with 360-degree city views) can get pricey.
There's a wholehearted bohemian decor here -- think quirky design touches, faded floral carpeting, antiquish furniture, and distressed fixtures -- that some guests would call shabby-chic, others dowdy. But even who don't love the Ermitage's brand of bohemianism should find a lot to like about the rooms: they're big, high-tech, feature kitchens or wet bars, and have boutique-brand bath products from the Dead Sea (yes, you read that right). For half the price of some of its competitors, you get a truly one-of-a-kind boutique with large suites and a lovely saltwater rooftop pool.
Meticulously refurbished to its golden age of Hollywood glamour, this 74-room Sunset Strip icon still draws A-listers, but treats everyone like stars with impeccable service. The Art Deco landmark -- located in the heart of West Hollywood's Sunset Strip -- features 74 comfortable and subtly retro rooms with great views and updated fixtures, and what many consider to be the best spa in Hollywood.
Renowned for its natural mineral springs and glamorous Hollywood past, this 70-room resort has everything a healthy-living enthusiast could want: a farm-to-table restaurant, hot springs, hiking trails, lakes, walking labyrinth, yoga dome, tennis courts, lap pool, fitness center, and a spa with mud baths and watsu pools. A daily resort fee covers in-room Wi-Fi. Signs asking guests to speak in a whisper and no kids allowed add to the overall zen-like quality of this eclectic and relaxing resort.
With its beautiful 13 acres of grounds and playful Jonathan Adler-designed interiors, this 144-room upscale property is about as hip and stylish as a hotel can get. There's a host of cool features, like three pools, indoor and outdoor fire pits, a croquet lawn, petanque courts, clay tennis courts, and a full-service spa. Rooms, suites, and villas are spacious and chic, and many have extras such as patios, balconies, wet bars, and separate living rooms.