The Best Luxury Hotels on California’s Central Coast

From coastal retreats overlooking the ocean, to large and luxurious properties surrounded by some of California’s best wineries and vineyards, these are the best luxury hotels to check into while exploring California’s central coast (ranging from Santa Barbara to Monterey).

2860 Grand Avenue
There’s a bit of the Wild West at this luxurious wine country inn. Vintner Fess Parker, of Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone TV fame, opened the inn in 1998. Today it’s still run by his family, and you can wade in the nostalgia by visiting the gallery off the lobby, which displays black-and-white images of Parker from his Hollywood days. Each of the 19 spacious rooms and suites is slightly different. Grand Garden rooms have cozy gas fireplaces and views of Los Olivos, while suites with living rooms are expansive enough to spread out and relax. At the Bear and Star restaurant, ingredients for the “refined ranch cuisine” are sourced from the Fess Parker Home Ranch, just seven miles from the inn. Wagyu specialties abound—from carpaccio to burgers, meatloaf to steaks—while the Fess Parker Winery supplies the restaurant with estate-grown rhône varietals. Lounge by the pool, or drop in at the spa for a massage or facial (a highlight: the Heaven on Earth package, which blends the Unwind massage with a customized Elemis facial). Pro tip: End the evening on a nostalgic note, borrowing a Fess Parker movie from the library for guests.
1054 Alisal Rd, Solvang, CA 93463, USA
This elegantly rustic 10,000-acre ranch tucked into the Santa Ynez Valley encourages you to get unplugged and get outdoors. In fact, there are no TVs or phones in the guest rooms. Instead, guests head to the barn to choose a noble steed and enjoy the 50 miles of riding trails that wind through canyons, past shaded hillsides, refreshing streams, and grazing cattle. Saddle up for the popular morning ride to enjoy a hearty cowboy breakfast featuring gigantic flapjacks at the historic Adobe Camp, which sits among giant sycamores in the nearby hills. If riding horses isn’t for you, you can fish in a spring-fed lake, hike through Deer Canyon, cycle the trails, play tennis, practice your swing at two championship golf courses, or unwind at the spa. Executive chef Anthony Endy expertly blends seasonal California cuisine with Western ranch cooking, whether guests are dining in the Ranch Room or having a meal by the pool. When you sit back in the evening with the distant sounds of the barnyard as the sun sets over the oak-studded hills, you might realize you haven’t checked your cell phone all day.
800 Alvarado Pl
There’s a reason this hotel is named after the Spanish word for “charmed.” An oasis for old-Hollywood stars since the 1920s, this upscale resort offers guests an away-from-it-all feel, even though it’s just minutes from downtown. Sitting on a seven-acre hillside property overlooking the city, the central building and several craftsman-style and Spanish colonial bungalows were recently restored, offering elegant spaces to relax. At the two restaurants—called simply the Dining Room and Terrace—chefs showcase the region’s ingredients in coastal-inspired dishes, which can include herbs from the on-site garden and cheese from the milk of the property’s resident Holstein cow, Ellie. Indulge at the spa with massage therapies, facial and body treatments, oxygen treatments, and skin care products from Beverly Hills facialist Linda Ross. Use the fitness studio for a workout on the Technogym treadmills, exercise bikes, and ellipticals, or take a cardio class. Or just soak in the California lifestyle at the zero-edge swimming pool, with a drink and an unparalleled view of the Santa Barbara coast.
905 Country Club Rd, Ojai, CA 93023, USA
Spread across 220 acres of coastal valley, the Ojai Valley Inn opened in 1923, originally commissioned by an early 20th-century glass tycoon. With white stucco and terra-cotta buildings, the mission-style retreat looks like a dreamy California village wedged between the Pacific Ocean and the Topatopa Mountains. Luxurious spa penthouses are ultra-private, and their location in the Spa Ojai building gives guests an easy route to their warm Himalayan salt stone massage or sound energy therapy treatment. The Hacienda Penthouse, atop a hillside villa, brings an air of Morocco to the California landscape. Wallace Neff Historic Rooms, built in the early days of the property, offer the relaxed glamour of that era. Days can be as peaceful or as action-packed as you like and may include golfing at the Ojai Country Club, blending essential oils in the on-site apothecary, lounging next to one of the property’s several pools, hiking, horseback riding, or indulging in retail therapy at two on-site boutiques. Olivella serves traditional and modern interpretations of Italian cuisine, while The Oak’s dishes highlight the resort’s herb garden. Pro tip: Order the signature lavender lemonade.
47900 CA-1, Big Sur, CA 93920, USA
For more than 30 years, the Post Ranch Inn, which sits along a cliff 1,200 feet above the Pacific Ocean, has been a go-to retreat for devotees who believe well-being starts with a place that honors its natural environment—and treads lightly on it, too. Big Sur architect Mickey Muennig designed the 40 guest rooms that rely on solar power; all were fashioned out of recycled wood, and the structures blend in with the Santa Lucia Mountains. Views through enormous windows face either the Pacific Ocean or the mountains. Wellness plays a role in every experience on offer, whether it’s a reflexology treatment, a shaman healing session, a doctor-led sleep program, or a private guided hike or meditation session in the nearby ancient forests.
48123 CA-1, Big Sur, CA 93920, USA
New safari tents at an iconic central California coast resort invite guests to glamp under the redwood trees. Nightly turndown service, included. Big Sur is once again open for business following last spring’s debilitating mud slides, and autumn is an especially luminous time to explore this legendary stretch of central California coast, some 20 miles south of Carmel. Big Sur’s magic lies in its untamed wilderness: redwood groves, chaparral-covered hills, and iconic rocky cliffs that sprout improbably from the ocean. Condors circle overhead and sea otters float just offshore. For many, the isolation—and peace and quiet—that Big Sur offers is the reason to return again and again. For travelers seeking a soft landing, the Ventana Big Sur resort recently reopened under new ownership and after a massive renovation. New glamping cabins have been added to the 59 rooms, suites, and villas spread throughout the resort’s 160 acres. Shaded by redwoods, the 15 safari-style canvas tents come equipped with hickory walking sticks, portable lanterns, and access to a bathhouse with teak-lined showers and heated floors. Guests can enjoy nightly turndown service and the use of fire pits for making s’mores in the evening. As part of the renovation, the Ventana also built an on-site gallery to showcase paintings, sculptures, jewelry, ceramics, and photography by Big Sur’s most renowned artists. And the new Sur House restaurant—helmed by executive chef Paul Corsentino, who worked in New York and Chicago before heading west—houses a 10,000-bottle wine cellar that highlights small-production central coast wineries. Guests eager to embrace the region’s back-to-nature philosophy might appreciate a soak in the heated, clothing-optional Mountain Pool, undoubtedly more pleasant to ease into than the roiling, frigid Pacific Ocean just down the hill. This appeared in the Jan/Feb 2018 issue.
400 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940
While the Monterey Plaza Hotel is centrally located on the end of Monterey’s main tourist drag, Cannery Road, each of its 290 rooms are a comfortable, quiet retreat from the world.
Those who have only dipped a toe into the Carmel region may think it’s all about the charming coastal community, Carmel-by-the-Sea. But there’s an entire area of Carmel that’s missing from that experience: Carmel Valley. There, the 500-acre Carmel Valley Ranch is like a sophisticated summer camp for all ages—a place where you can fill your day with workshops, hilltop yoga, and golf (on an 18-hole course designed by Pete Dye). Nights are for stargazing and making s’mores. The 181 spacious ranch suites are scattered across three neighborhoods, each with its own distinct personality—guests can choose views of the valley, the golf course, or small courtyards that attract local wildlife. The ranch grows 7,000 lavender plants, which make their way into treatments at the Spa Aiyana. And because Carmel Valley Ranch is in the heart of one of California’s most fertile growing regions, the area’s wealth of wine and sustainable, organic food is the highlight of the menu at Valley Kitchen. Pro tip: Reserve far in advance for the Wine Dinner Series, hosted by the hotel’s executive chef and sommelier, who match the wines and spirits of Monterey County with locally sourced ingredients.
120 Highlands Drive
Located four miles south of Carmel on a coastal stretch known as the Gateway to Big Sur, the Hyatt Carmel Highlands feels like a true retreat, one that’s in easy reach of both civilization and wilderness. The 48 rooms (including 11 suites) all have wood-burning fireplaces and views of either the property’s gardens or the craggy coastline. Known since its beginnings in 1917 as the Highlands Inn, the boutique hideaway has been a repeat destination for generations of Californians, as well as legendary celebrities like Ansel Adams, Elizabeth Taylor, Marlon Brando, Julia Child, and Robert Redford. California Market at Pacific’s Edge sits overlooking the ocean (locals prefer the outdoor seating for lunch, especially after a hike at nearby Point Lobos), and its local, seasonal ingredients are featured in dishes like ceviche, fish tacos, and Dungeness crab cakes. Take one of the complimentary mountain bikes on a local adventure or relax at the heated outdoor swimming pool. In-room spa services and a fitness center keep wellness top of mind, although a workout may be the furthest thing from your mind when you’re enjoying a cocktail at the Sunset Lounge as the sun sinks into the Pacific Ocean.
8205 Valley Greens Drive
You don’t have to be a golfer to enjoy spending time at Carmel’s Quail Lodge—but if you are, you may never want to leave. The 18-hole championship golf course—designed by Robert Muir Graves in 1964 and later refined by Todd Eckenrode—features short grass areas that surround the greens for more shot options, as well as grass swales that come into play on seven holes. There’s also an on-site academy for those duffers who want to polish their skills with the aid of a pro. The stylish 93-room lodge is inspired by historic California ranches and Spanish colonial design, with guest room balconies and patios opening up to the grounds. Off the golf course, take advantage of the heated outdoor swimming pool, bocce ball courts, and tennis courts (with a pro on hand for lessons), or rev up at the Off-Road Land Rover Experience Driving School. Reward all that activity at the Waypoint Bar & Deck, with signature cocktails and casual dishes, or at Edgar’s restaurant, with ingredients from nearby organic farms. Pro tip: Friday nights are Cioppino Night at Edgar’s—a local favorite.
1518 Cypress Dr, Pebble Beach, CA 93953, USA
With its red roof tiles, bougainvillea vines, and verdant gardens, Casa Palmero feels like a luxurious Mediterranean villa. The new hotel also overlooks the first and second fairways of the famed Pebble Beach Golf Links. The 24 rooms all have fireplaces, oversized soaking tubs, and beds that invite deep rest, whether or not you spend the day on the golf course. Indulge in that villa guest feeling by relaxing in the living room, library, billiard room, or heated outdoor pool. Personalized services at Casa Palmero include fresh breakfast baskets every morning, complimentary cocktails each evening, and access to such private clubs as the Spanish Bay Club and the Beach & Tennis Club. All Casa Palmero guests can also access the Lodge at Pebble Beach, and its myriad fine dining restaurants, bars, cafés, shops, and spa. (The Pebble Massage is the most popular treatment, incorporating the heat of warmed, sculpted stones.) After sipping your evening cocktail at Casa Palmero, wander over to Stillwater Bar & Grill for local fresh hamachi crudo and Monterey Bay red abalone.
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