From the lush wine regions in the north down to the palm-covered deserts in the south and countless beaches in between, many a visitor has fallen under California’s unique brand of laid-back charm. It is no small wonder that it has earned the title of the most visited state in the whole of the US.
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With this in mind, Elite Traveler has explored far and wide to shortlist some of our favorite luxury spots across the state, along with the very best hotels and resorts to make for an unforgettable California staycation.
Dining at Ventana’s Big Sur House / ©Ventana Big Sur
Follow Highway One and when the Santa Lucia Mountains start to rise suddenly from the Pacific Ocean, you will know you have arrived. This dramatic and ruggedly beautiful central stretch of the California coast is the perfect staycation destination for those looking to disconnect from the stresses of modern life and reconnect with nature.
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, known as ‘Mini Yosemite’ offers a wealth of hiking trails that maximize those magnificent views along jagged cliff edges (you might even spot migrating gray whales between December and April). The park’s inland valley walks along the river also offer opportunities to sight wildlife in the form of black-tailed deer and Kingfishers.
The eco-conscious Post Ranch Inn acts as an ideal base. Offering eight types of room to choose from, some feature suspended decks overlooking the sea, while others appear more like treehouses positioned on 12-ft stilts. The most luxurious and private is the Post House suite, featuring an expansive living room, private hot tub and deck.
Down the road, the newly opened Alila Ventana Big Sur is equally as luxurious. Standing amongst an ancient redwood forest, the 59-suite resort boasts sea views and like Post Ranch Inn, takes sustainability seriously. Starting life as a ranch built by film producer Larry Spector in the 1970s, it was frequented by Hollywood’s hippy set and still maintains a bohemian vibe today.
Nobu Ryokan is Malibu’s most exclusive hotel / ©Nobu
No California beach town has quite the star quality of Malibu. Stretching over 27 miles of pristine coast dotted with elegant oceanside homes, it has long attracted the biggest names in film and music thanks to its beauty.
At its heart is the town’s iconic 1900s pier. Here you can stop off for a casual organic breakfast at the white-washed Malibu Farm Restaurant or head over to the upscale Carbon Beach Club restaurant located in the famed Malibu Beach Inn — Malibu’s first luxury hotel.
Selecting which beach to relax on might be the hardest part of a staycation in this sunny corner of California. Surfrider beach, the first World Surfing Reserve is a lively spot at the other side of the pier but another great choice is nearby Zuma beach. It boasts three miles of golden sand and is a favorite amongst locals for good reason. The adjacent Point Dume is worth a climb for epic views and dolphin spotting.
The 16-room Nobu Ryokan is Malibu’s most exclusive hotel. A converted 1950s beachside motel, it now triumphantly blends Japanese minimalism with southern California cool. The result is a tranquil and private sanctuary just a stone’s throw from the action. It also goes without saying that the hotel’s beachside restaurant is one of the best places to dine in the area.
For those looking to experience Malibu like a local, exclusive home rental firm Stay One Degree offers a handful of outstanding beach houses with envy-inducing views and private beach access.
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Opt to stay in one of Bardesson’s three Maple Villas / ©Bardessono
Just 50 miles north of the bustling metropolis of San Francisco, the wine lovers paradise of Napa Valley awaits, eager to showcase its world-beating wine, Michelin star restaurants, luxury hotels and geothermal spas.
Best known for its Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, the region boasts over 375 wineries and 90 tasting rooms. As the temperature gets milder towards the end of August, harvest season begins, running till October. This is a great time to pay Napa a visit but in truth, it’s a wonderful place for a getaway all year round.
Yountville is a gourmet hotspot and home to three-Michelin-star restaurant The French Laundry helmed by legendary chef Thomas Keller. The town is also famous for its sunrise hot air balloon rides over the vineyards.
You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to accommodation but Platinum LEED-certified Bardessono Hotel and Spa will make for a truly special Californian staycation. Within a touching distance of the Mayacamas Mountains, the resort focuses on natural holistic wellbeing and rejuvenation (useful if you’ve had a glass too many at your tasting the day before). Treat yourself to a stay in the resort’s beautifully contemporary Maple Villas, one of Elite Traveler’s Top 100 Suites of 2022.
A little further north, just outside the boutique and gallery-lined streets of St Helena, you will find the sumptuous resort of Auberge du Soleil. Perched on a sun-drenched hillside amid 33-acres of heritage olive and oak trees, you’ll wonder if you’ve been transported to the South of France.
Retro revival: The Gene Autry Villa at Parker Palm Springs is the resort’s most luxurious / ©Parker Palm Springs
For a taste of desert-retro Americana, the only place to staycation in California is Palm Springs. Attracting tourists in search of wellness for well over a century, the destination became fashionable amongst a well-heeled crowd in the 1950s and 1960s (Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Munroe were all residents in the town’s heyday.)
Despite becoming famed in the 1980s and 1990s for its abundance of golf clubs, over the past 20 years, the town has seen a revival in popularity. This is in no small part down to its impeccably preserved mid-century architecture, not to mention its proximity to the Coachella music festival.
The accommodation options are varied but for those looking for all-out luxury, The Ritz-Carlton Rancho Mirage is the place to be. Acting like an oasis rising up from the sand-laden Coachella Valley, the five-star resort features two sprawling turquoise pools surrounded by VIP cabanas. The spa continues in Palm Spring’s tradition as a wellness destination, incorporating indigenous botanicals into massages, facials and body treatments.
If you are in the market for something a little more retro-cool opt for Parker Palm Springs, a quirky five-star resort around five miles outside downtown Palm Springs that is known for attracting a string of famous faces.
Montage Healdsburg has been awarded for its sustainability efforts / ©Christian Horan
It may not be quite as famous as its nearby younger sibling Napa Valley, but many credit historic Sonoma as being the birthplace of California’s wine industry. The area known as Sonoma Valley offers up over 400 wineries and like Napa it is known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, but even more coveted is its Pinot Noir.
The pretty town of Sonoma attracts the crowds thanks to its art galleries and 19th-century architecture, while Healdsburg boasts a fabulous fine dining scene. The town’s three-Michelin-Star restaurant Single Thread helmed by Japanese-trained chef Kyle Connaughton offers some of the country’s best hyper-seasonal farm-to-table fine dining.
Forward-looking Montage Healdsburg has been awarded for its sustainability efforts which include everything from solar power to sourcing sustainable fish for its signature Hazel Hill restaurant. Nestled amongst 258 acres of rolling vineyards and oak tree groves, staycations don’t get much more blissful than this.
Back in Sonoma, the luxurious enclave of MacArthur Place will not disappoint. Stay in the Chef’s Garden Suite, a petite private cottage complete with its own patio featuring a fire pit and outdoor shower.
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