Best hotels in California 2023: From beach resorts to ski chalets

California is one of the USA’s classic travel destinations, with stunning hotels and resorts going back more than a century. California even lays claim to the world’s first roadside motel, the Milestone Mo-Tel Inn, which opened in San Luis Obispo in 1925 (now closed), starting a trend that would shape the American travel industry.

Countless Hollywood starlets have come and gone through the hallowed rooms of the grand hotels of Beverly Hills. Today, many visitors come to revel in the sea and sun at the beach or take in the magic of a Disney resort. You can still sidle up to the bar in one of Hollywood’s glittering haunts, but you’re equally able to book a room in an eco-chic boutique hotel constructed from salvaged materials, or chill out in a sublime surf chalet along the Pacific Coast Highway.

The only trouble is having too much choice when it comes to deciding where you’ll rest your head at the end of the day, but we’ve got you covered with our pick of the Golden State’s best places to stay.

Neighbourhood: Los Angeles

(The Beverly Hills Hotel)

Want to stay at the real “Hotel California”? This sprawling Beverly Hills luxury pile, established in May 1912, is said to have inspired the love-it-or-hate-it Eagles song – the hotel’s exterior even features on the album cover. The Polo Lounge inside was a haunt for everyone from Frank Sinatra to Marlene Dietrich and Elizabeth Taylor. Fred Astaire was often seen reading by the pool in the 1930s and Princess Margaret stayed here during her royal visits in the 1960s. The hotel was first painted the now-famous salmon and pine colours in 1948, giving rise to its nickname: “the Pink Palace”.

Now operated by the Dorchester Collection, there are 208 guest rooms and 23 bungalows, all retaining classic Art Deco features, such as lacquered furniture and mohair throws. However, they’ve all now been updated with embroidered bedding, Bang & Olufsen TVs, and marble bathrooms.

Neighbourhood: Oceanside

(Mission Pacific Hotel)

Overlooking the sea in California’s home of surfing, Oceanside, Mission Pacific opened in 2021. The hotel has a lively resort atmosphere but, inside the 161 rooms, it’s easy Californian boutique living, with sleek design, balconies overlooking an ocean-facing courtyard, plus high-tech lighting and window shades.

There’s a rooftop bar for sundowners, plus the Top Gun House – a pie restaurant made famous in the eponymous film. There are also free beach chairs and umbrellas on the sand for guests to use.

Neighbourhood: Los Angeles

(1 Hotel West Hollywood)

Set right along Sunset Boulevard, with expansive views of downtown LA, this is one of the most sustainable hotels in California, boasting an LEED v4 Green Building Council certification and top marks for energy efficiency. The hotel was constructed with wood from already-fallen trees and uses recycled materials, such as carpets made of ocean plastics.

Rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows and feature organic linens and eucalyptus-scented bath products. The lobby bar, Juniper, is full of LA’s trendy set and locals on laptops.

Neighbourhood: Malibu

(The Surfrider Malibu)

Styling itself as an upscale beach house, the Surfrider is located in a former motel that was lovingly upcycled by its wife-and-husband owners. The breezy interiors have soft Italian linens, wooden ceiling fans and natural materials, and there are balconies overlooking Malibu Beach.

Only open to guests, the rooftop restaurant serves seafood and down-to-earth but elevated dishes, plus an approachable, thoughtful wine list. There are designer surfboards, bikes and beach towels for guest use, too.

Neighbourhood: San Diego

(Hotel del Coronado)

Located on Coronado Island, across the bay from downtown San Diego, this resort has housed dignitaries, presidents and stars since opening in 1888. The hotel, with its distinctive conical roofs, was made famous as the backdrop for the 1958 Marilyn Monroe film Some Like it Hot. In recent years, the 757-room beachfront property underwent a $400m (£334m) renovation to protect its Victorian architecture, while adding chic bungalows, private cabanas and a new ocean-view pool.

On-site fitness classes, a shopping centre and beach bonfires mean you don’t ever need to leave. There’s also a kids’ club with a “living aquarium classroom”, if parents need a break.

Neighbourhood: Anaheim

(MediaNews Group via Getty Images)

The OG of Disney hotels opened at Disneyland in 1955, and has been renovated many times over the years. One of the recent upgrades includes light-up Sleeping Beauty castle headboards that play ‘A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes’.

Premium rooms overlook the Downtown Disney entertainment area. Elsewhere on the property, you can dine in Goofy’s Kitchen while mouse-eared, costumed characters do the rounds. The only slight downside is the 10-minute walk to the Magic Kingdom’s turnstiles, but it’s worth it once you get through to the other side.

Price: Doubles from £500

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Neighbourhood: Big Sur

(Post Ranch Inn)

This luxe resort comprises rooms and cabins built into a cliffside overlooking Big Sur. The spaces are designed to fully immerse you in nature, with wildflower-strewn sod roofs, huge picture windows that seem to bring the sea indoors, skylights that provide views of greenery above, and interiors constructed from reclaimed wood and wine casks.

Sustainability and nature conservation are at the fore, with the use of solar electricity, and the fact the surrounding area is protected as a woodland reserve.

Price: Doubles from £2,290

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Neighbourhood: San Diego

(The Pearl Hotel)

This sweet mid-century motel in San Diego is a vintage dream – all cut-stone walls, mirrored ceilings and exterior desert-scaping that feel lifted right out of 1965 Palm Springs. Although it opened in 1959, the Pearl had a 2019 renovation that softened and modernised the interiors, with beachy textures and a calming desert colour palette.

Organic MoonCloth bath amenities and handmade pottery add luxe touches but it’s not overdone, and, gladly, the hotel has retained the vintage mid-century furnishings and classic oyster-shaped pool.

Neighbourhood: Napa Valley

(Auberge du Soleil)

Opened in the early 1980s by French restaurateur Claude Rouas – just as Napa Valley was earning respect as a wine region – this hotel has gone from strength to strength. The original focus on fine dining remains under executive chef Robert Curry, with tables on a terraced hillside overlooking olive groves.

There are 50 rooms with private balconies – some have French doors that swing open to allow sunlight to spill inside. The hotel sits on a 15,000-strong wine cellar and can arrange customised tasting experiences and tours of the surrounding wineries.

Neighbourhood: Sequoia National Park

(Wuksachi Lodge)

It’s all about location at this classic mountain lodge, which is positioned as the flagship accommodation for Sequoia National Park. The digs have an authentic 1990s mountain aesthetic (read: a little dated), but it’s tough to care when you’re 7,000ft up, surrounded by giant sequoia forests. And you’re only a 10-minute drive from General Sherman, one of the world’s largest trees.

There are 102 guest rooms located in separate buildings from the main lodge, and the property is decked out in natural decor, with lots of cedar, giant granite fireplaces and oak beams. This is a getaway for a digital detox, as there’s very little internet.

Price: Doubles from £160

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Neighbourhood: San Francisco

(Hotel Emblem)

Themed around the Beat Generation (the literary subculture movement of the mid-20th century), this hotel is in a very central location, being just a couple of blocks from San Francisco’s Union Square. In-room typewriters, a lobby writer’s nook and a book butler service tie together the literary thread.

There’s a bottled cocktail room service, in case you can’t tear yourself away from your novel, or you can head down to the speakeasy-style Obscenity Bar for one of the poetry slam nights or a “writer’s block nightcap”.

Neighbourhood: Northstar

(The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe)

This mountain hotel features the luxury you’d expect from a Ritz property, and it’s situated on the slopes at Northstar Ski Resort near Lake Tahoe. The 153 rooms and variety of suites all feature working fireplaces and warm-wood detailing, plus Asprey bath products.

You can watch the snow fall through floor-to-ceiling windows in the downstairs Highlands Bar overlooking the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Or, if you want to get up closer to the white stuff, there’s a ski rental shop on site – once you’re kitted up, you just pop outside directly onto the pistes, with several adjacent lifts and gondolas.

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