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16 Top-Rated Resorts in California

Written by Freddy Sherman and Carri Wilbanks

With just over 163,000 square miles of scenic coastal and urban beauty to explore, California just may be the ultimate vacation destination. This large state is home to a wonderfully wide variety of resort experiences, from the wild and wonderful adults-only Ventana Big Sur on the Pacific Coast Highway, which features everything from guided walks to Tai Chi to luxe beach experiences like San Diego's Hotel del Coronado. Those destination resorts also appeal to a wide range of visitors. Couples on a romantic getaway may love the luxurious seclusion of Belmond El Encanto in the hills above Santa Barbara, while families may never want to leave the Omni Rancho Las Palmas Resort (with its own water park) outside Palm Springs. Plan your next vacation in the Golden State with our list of the top resorts in California.

1. Fairmont Grand del Mar

Fairmont Grand del Mar

Fairmont Grand del Mar | Photo Copyright: Brian Hastings

The Fairmont Grand del Mar sits on 400-acres in a stunning coastal canyon locale just five miles from the ocean and not far from downtown San Diego. The resort is wonderfully charming, capturing the stylish ambience of an old-world Mediterranean estate perfectly in both its architecture and five-star service. Rooms and suites are elegant and luxurious, with all the mod cons, and away from the rooms there is much to do. On-site amenities include a Tom Fazio designed golf course, a high-end spa, yoga and fitness classes, four swimming pools, and an Explorer's Club for children. There are also several dining choices, including the very elegant Addison, which is the only five-star and Five-Diamond-rated restaurant in Southern California.

Accommodation: Fairmont Grand del Mar

2. Meadowood Napa Valley

Meadowood Napa Valley

Photo Source: Meadowood Napa Valley

Meadowood Napa Valley is a perfect choice for romance. The luxury property sits on 250 acres of hilly oak forest and has a secluded and cozy vibe. Accommodation is in a mix of rooms, suites, and cottages that all come with California king beds draped in high-end linens, outdoor porches or terraces, and fireplaces. Away from the rooms, there is much to do on the grounds at this destination resort, including hiking on four miles of trails; playing nine holes of golf; partaking in a game of croquet; swimming in one of two pools; or just relaxing in the spa, which also features a steam room, sauna, and mineral baths. There are a number of restaurants on-site, including one with three Michelin stars.

Accommodation: Meadowood Napa Valley

3. Four Seasons Resort Santa Barbara The Biltmore

Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara

Photo Source: Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara

Re-opened after extensive renovations following damage in the 2018 Santa Barbara mudslides, the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara first opened its doors way back in 1927. Sitting on 22 acres of beautiful grounds across the road from Butterfly Beach, the property is Spanish-colonial in design with classic red roof tiles, adobe walls, and wood beams. Guests can choose one of the rooms or suites in the main building, which are spacious and comfortable with modern California casual decor, or one of the 12 bungalows scattered around a jungle garden area, which are perfect for a romantic weekend away. On-site amenities include two swimming pools; a lovely spa; and two restaurants, including one that does Italian.

Accommodation: Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara

4. Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa

Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa

Photo Source: Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa

Set on 45 gorgeously maintained acres filled with olive trees and flowers in Rancho Santa Fe, which is about 30 minutes' drive north from San Diego, Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa is a fantastic luxury getaway choice for those in search of romance and relaxation - along with excellent food. The rustic, opulent hacienda-style rooms have colorful design elements, deep soaking tubs, and delightfully comfortable beds. A lovely Mediterranean ambiance prevails throughout. Away from the rooms there is an indulgent spa with a range of treatments, including herb-infused body wraps, as well as two heated swimming pools and hot tubs; a workout room with daily classes; tennis, bocce ball, and croquet facilities; and two restaurants.

Accommodation: Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa

5. Calistoga Ranch, An Auberge Resort

Calistoga Ranch, An Auberge Resort

Photo Source: Calistoga Ranch, An Auberge Resort

In beautiful Napa Valley, Calistoga Ranch occupies 157 acres of hilly oak terrain in a secluded canyon. The concept here is to blend indoor and outdoor living spaces, and the resort does this beautifully with accommodation in 50 freestanding one- and two-bedroom lodges. These are made from cedar and are elegant affairs, with floor-to-ceiling windows and outdoor living rooms complete with fireplaces. On-site amenities at this family-friendly property include an outdoor pool; a private lake; gym; and a spa, which also follows the indoor/outdoor concept. There are also two restaurants.

Accommodation: Calistoga Ranch, an Auberge Resort

6. Post Ranch Inn

Post Ranch Inn

Photo Source: Post Ranch Inn

Along the cliffs over the beach in Big Sur, with views of the pounding surf, the Post Ranch Inn is truly a masterpiece in design and style. Using natural woods and materials, this luxury, boutique eco-resort remains one of the most beautiful resorts in California - both the buildings and the setting. The hotel's restaurant, Sierra Mar, sits on the highest level, affording guests striking ocean views, along with incredible, locally sourced, mostly organic cuisine from a seasonally changing menu. The Post Ranch Spa is world-class and offers a unique menu of treatment options, many using locally sourced products. The guestrooms, which come with neither televisions nor alarm clocks, are incredible examples of modern design with a retro touch. They range from ocean-front luxury villas with large terrace balconies to treehouses, freestanding structures raised almost 20 feet in the air, among the redwoods. The hotel is less than a three-hour drive south of San Francisco.

Accommodation: Post Ranch Inn

7. Mt. Ada

Mt. Ada

Photo Source: Mt. Ada

Part of California, Catalina Island seems far away yet it is only 26 miles (and a fast 90-minute boat ride) from the Southern California coast. The island was formerly the private property of the Wrigley family of Chicago and chewing gum fame. Mt. Ada was the Wrigley family's personal mansion on the island, and now you can stay here. It's an exclusive, luxurious bed-and-breakfast, with the former bedrooms elegantly converted into hotel suites (some with balconies). The public areas, like the grand terrace, offer unrivaled views of the island, as the house sits high on a hill overlooking the harbor. The island has one town, Avalon, and it's filled with hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, and many locally owned shops and restaurants. There's a small beach and a large marina. Sailing, fishing, snorkeling, and scuba diving are all popular, as is sea kayaking. On land, there are miles of hiking trails and a zipline adventure park.

Accommodation: Mt. Ada

8. Dolphin Bay Resort & Spa

Dolphin Bay Resort & Spa

Photo Source: Dolphin Bay Resort & Spa

In Pismo Beach, just 10 miles from the attractions of San Luis Obispo, the Dolphin Bay Resort & Spa is a favorite choice among families as it offers upscale, but still good-value, accommodation in a central location. The one- and two-bedroom suites are clean, comfortable, and contemporary in decor and come with full kitchens, living rooms, and separate dining areas. Upgraded suites have fireplaces and Jacuzzi tubs. On-site amenities include a restaurant, outdoor pool, spa, gym, and complimentary loaner bikes for guests to use. The resort is also pet-friendly.

Accommodation: Dolphin Bay Resort & Spa

9. Belmond El Encanto

Belmond El Encanto

Photo Source: Belmond El Encanto

This luxury resort hotel is in the hills above Santa Barbara, about 100 miles north of Los Angeles. The accommodations are individual casitas and villas, mainly done in a Spanish style. There's a large infinity-style pool with views of the ocean and a small spa with a nice range of treatment options. This historic property, which first opened in the early part of the 20th century, also features a popular restaurant with sweeping views of the coastline. Guests have access to a luxury car service to and from downtown Santa Barbara, about ten minutes away. The resort is also a great home base for exploring the surrounding California Central Coast area.

Accommodation: Belmond El Encanto

10. Ojai Valley Inn

Ojai Valley Inn

Photo Source: Ojai Valley Inn

The town of Ojai is about 45 minutes from Santa Barbara, nestled in a beautiful valley. The Ojai Valley Inn first opened in the 1930s as a getaway for Hollywood's elite. It's a beautiful, sprawling 220-acre resort offering an almost endless list of activities. There are five restaurants; five different outdoor swimming pools; and a large, full-service spa. Kids have a great array of programs, including a kids' camp. Kids and adults can participate in activities like golf, tennis, candle making, beekeeping (and honey tasting), art classes, bike riding, fishing, canoeing, and more. There are communal activities like movie night (shown under the stars with complimentary blankets and popcorn), and the resort offers a wide array of accommodations, from historic cottages to stylish rooms in more modern buildings.

Accommodation: Ojai Valley Inn

11. Ventana Big Sur, An Ailla Resort

Ventana Big Sur, An Ailla Resort

Photo Source: Ventana Big Sur, An Ailla Resort

Ventana Big Sur is an adults-only property in fabulously wild Big Sur. It sits on 160 acres and just underwent a massive renovation, which saw a refresh of all its elegant, rustic-chic accommodations to now include private balconies or patios with mountain or ocean views. They feature wood and leather furnishings and macrame wall hangings. The resort also opened a new glamping section with an option for guests looking for more of a back-to-nature sleeping experience to book one of the safari-style tents set up around the property. Away from the rooms, guests enjoy a complimentary breakfast, guided walks, and Tai Chi and yoga classes. There is also a clothing-optional pool, dry sauna, spa, and gym. A farm-to-table restaurant completes the picture.

Accommodation: Ventana Big Sur, An Alila Resort

12. Timber Cove Resort

Timber Cove Resort

Photo Source: Timber Cove Resort

Best suited for couples or romantic getaways, this chic resort sits on a cliff top, overlooking the ocean, along the rugged Sonoma Coast. Timber Cove is about a three-hour drive from San Francisco and offers only 46 rooms and suites. The accommodations have all been recently renovated and exhibit a beautiful attention to detail in their mid-century modern style. Guests can hike through the 25-acre property, ride bikes, and participate in yoga and other wellness classes. A sense of community is encouraged, with shared outdoor living space featuring fireplaces, a pool, and ping pong tables. The resort's ocean-view restaurant, Coast Kitchen, focuses on seasonal, organic cuisine.

Accommodation: Timber Cove Resort

13. Cavallo Point

Cavallo Point

Photo Source: Cavallo Point

Created from what was military officer housing at Fort Baker, a former Army base, Cavallo Point puts guests right at the base of the famed Golden Gate Bridge. This luxury eco-resort has restored, historic accommodations, some with postcard-perfect views of the bridge. There are also suites and cottages large enough for groups or multi-generational families traveling together. The historic buildings are complemented by several newly constructed accommodations. There's a fine-dining restaurant and a lobby lounge, and Cavallo Point has a large spa focused on wellness and offers a range of activity programs for kids (and dogs, too). They present a series of lectures on environmental issues, along with daily yoga sessions, guided walks of the former base, and walks focusing on the bridge.

Accommodation: Cavallo Point

14. The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe

The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe

Photo Source: The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe

If you're going to splurge on a vacation, whether with the family or with that significant other, The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe provides easy and exclusive access to some of the country's best ski resorts. It's located halfway up the mountain, right at the Northstar ski area, offering guests true ski-in, ski-out access. No more returning to crowded, locker room-like lodges or rental areas, the Ritz-Carlton has ski concierges who attend to every detail. Most rooms and suites have striking mountain views, but those on a budget can reserve one of the luxury hotel's windowless or viewless rooms at a lower price. There's a full-service spa, a slope-side hot tub for the ultimate apres ski experience, and several dining options. The hotel's Ritz Kids program offers younger guests an array of amenities and activities, including all-day camp-like experiences, which give parents some alone time. They even have free s'mores for the kids to make in the hotel's courtyard each evening. Things don't stop during the summer, the hotel's Lake Club provides a private marina and beach with a range of water sports. There's also a lakeside restaurant and changing facilities.

Accommodation: The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe

15. Omni Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa

Omni Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa

Photo Source: Omni Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa

This 240-acre desert oasis is in Rancho Mirage, about 30 minutes outside Palm Springs. This resort is a great place to stay for families as there's a water park right on the property. The two-acre Splashtopia features a lazy river, two 100-foot-tall waterslides, and a sandy beach. There's also a large, adults-only pool and a third pool (with soothing underwater music) at the spa. The Omni has 25 tennis courts, five different restaurants, and a 27-hole golf course. When it's spa time, there's a huge, 20,000-square-foot European spa with 26 treatment rooms and the full range of beauty and massage treatments available. The hotel is a two-hour drive from Los Angeles, or you can fly directly into Palm Springs.

Accommodation: Omni Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa

16. Hotel del Coronado

Hotel del Coronado

Photo Source: Hotel del Coronado

First opened in 1888, this grand, Victorian-style luxury hotel has been reborn; it's now a Curio Collection by Hilton property. The "Del" as it's called, is a large resort, with multiple accommodation types, from basic guest rooms to luxury cottages and villas right on the sand. There are two main parts, the Victorian main building and the more modern Ocean Tower. The resort is on Coronado Island (technically a peninsula) in San Diego harbor. There are wide sandy beaches right outside the hotel as it's right on the sand. The Del has four distinct dining options, along with two lounges that also serve food. Guests can enjoy a large main outdoor pool, heated to 80 degrees year-round, as well as a big Jacuzzi tub. During the summer, there's an additional adults-only pool. A full range of water sports equipment is available for rental on the beach, as are beach chairs and umbrellas. There are 17 unique shops and boutiques on the hotel property, with other shops and stores right outside the hotel.

Accommodation: Hotel del Coronado

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