1. Hotel Del Coronado (Coronado)
Welcome to the Hotel California. The Del is the prototypical luxury resort of the distinctly Golden State style, with alternating Spanish and Mediterranean features that give it the look of a medieval castle combined with the Emerald City of Oz. And it should — L. Frank Baum did most of his writing here, and stories say he based his creations on the hotel that inspired him. But then again, stories also say the hotel is haunted. So maybe it’s true — you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.
2. The Grand Del Mar (San Diego)
The Grand is a bit more modern than the Hotel Del, though it certainly learned a thing or two from the nearby behemoth. But beyond the Mediterranean-inspired architecture, 3-bedroom villas, super-lux spa, and Addison, the on-site AAA Five Diamond restaurant, it’s the resort’s access to a full range of outdoor activities that pushes it to the next level. You’ve got a world-class golf academy, a 4,100-acre nature preserve crisscrossed with hiking and equestrian trails, and chauffeured connections to some of the state’s best surf spots and other attractions on this stretch of South Coast. All combined, it keeps the Grand one of this country’s top-ranked hotels.
3. Le Parker Meridien (Palm Springs)
There was a day when Palm Springs played the part of desert Wonderland, where Joan Didion and other sentinels of high class went to sip martinis and get away from it all. It’s become more accessible these days, but Le Parker Meridien (“the Parker”) still harks back to that age. Its expansive grounds make guests feel like Alice looking for the tea party, while the individual patios with hammocks for every room are the perfect place to watch the sun set over the mountains.
4. Montage Laguna Beach (Laguna Beach)
Remember back in the mid-aughts, when the world was enthralled with the lives of privileged teens (real and fake) living in Orange County? Their antics were fun to follow, but the initial draw was the backdrop to their life — the juxtaposition of swank and beach climate that is Laguna Beach. The Montage has all that luxury background with none of the brat pack, so you can relax in the sun (or at the spa, or in a $300/day poolside cabana) without worrying about who slept with who’s boyfriend.
5. The Resort at Pelican Hill (Newport)
When it comes to conveying luxury, there’s no better symbol than building a literal ivory tower at your hotel. But that’s the main structure at the Pelican Hill Resort: a giant, Hearst Castle-esque tower that practically screams five-star swank. The property has it all, from 54 holes of golf that run right along the ocean shore, to an on-site spa and gourmet dining options, to what’s likely one of the most picturesque wedding sites in the entire state.
6. Monarch Beach Resort (Dana Point)
Speaking of weddings, the Monarch Beach Resort was practically built to hold them. The hotel itself is wearing enough white to upstage the bride in every hallway, but the sprawling grounds make the whole place a playground for newlyweds and the 700 people who came to witness their nuptials. The spa, golf links, and private beach round out the lux experience.
7. Chateau Marmont (West Hollywood)
Half the people who come to Los Angeles do so wondering where they’ll see a celebrity. The ones who leave successful in that endeavor usually have a story from the Chateau Marmont. Its strict no-picture/no-paparazzi policy has made the hotel an oasis for the Hollywood elite and those seeking to peep them. Just don’t try too hard — the bungalows even sport private pools, so when people want some time alone here, they get it.
8. Sunset Tower Hotel (West Hollywood)
Sure, the Chateau Marmont is about as private as a Hollywood icon can get, but people know it’s there, and they know what they’ll find inside. It’s like any well-trod attraction — there’s a parallel unknown just around the corner. Or just down the road, as luck would have it. The Sunset Tower Hotel is more under-the-radar while still maintaining the flair (Vanity Fair hosted their Oscar party here for years). The super Art Deco design and insane penthouse make it a good alternative when the paparazzi come calling.
9. Beverly Hills Hotel (Los Angeles)
There are certain neighborhoods that don’t need an explanation for their inclusion on a list about swank. Beverly Hills is bar-none the most famous postcode in America, and it didn’t achieve that by skimping on the visitor accommodation. The Beverly Hills Hotel is everything you’d expect it to be: secluded, well-appointed bungalows; acres of on-site gardens; and private plunge pools.
10. Sunset Marquis (West Hollywood)
The Sunset Marquis is one of the most storied hotels in the world, a unique mix of rock n’ roll edge and high-class amenities. Numerous rock stars have graced its villas and suites, from Courtney Love and Eminem to the frontmen of bands like U2 and the Rolling Stones. Featuring a private recording studio in the basement and a bar still frequented by platinum musicians the world over, the Sunset Marquis is a proud monument to the spirit of rock in Southern California.
11. Hotel Bel-Air (Los Angeles)
Bel Air is another neighborhood so fancy they made a television show about it. The Hotel Bel-Air lives up to the hype, dotted with ponds and swans that wander about. At any other hotel, this would feel like it were trying too hard to evoke some kind of regality. But it’s Bel Air. It doesn’t need to try. Wolfgang Puck’s flagship is on the grounds, and the hotel just did a major renovation to make sure anybody who stays here feels like royalty. Fresh royalty, even.
12. Belmond El Encanto (Santa Barbara)
Everything old is new again. El Encanto only recently opened in the Riviera in Santa Barbara, but the property itself is historic. It would have to be to score such a prime location, with every single bungalow having some sort of spectacular view. But historic doesn’t have to mean old and don’t-touchy. The entire building has been redone to combine past with present, turning it into a modern spectacle, right up to the authentic Damien Hirst work hanging in the lobby. Well, maybe that one is don’t-touchy.
13. The Biltmore (Santa Barbara)
While usually just called “the Biltmore,” this old hotel was purchased and renamed officially as “The Four Seasons Resort – The Biltmore Santa Barbara.” Regardless of the change of hands, the Biltmore is still one of the coolest places in the city. It sits right on Butterfly Beach, home of a million Instagrammed sunsets, and gives access to the Coral Casino — a beach club so exclusive even sunsets have to fight to get their pictures taken there.
14. Bacara Resort and Spa (Santa Barbara)
One word: Oprah. You may have heard that she has “favorite things,” and one of those favorite things right now is the Bacara Resort and Spa, where she held her birthday this year. With a full range of luxury accommodations from spacious ocean-view rooms to expansive suite “retreats,” it’s the most expensive hotel in Santa Barbara. It’s also one of the few five-diamond properties around — so you definitely get what you’re paying for.