Where to stay in California

By Ella Buchan, Travel writer and editor

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January 2018

From the beaches to San Francisco’s iconic bridge, everything in California seems touched with gold – and its accommodation scene is equally gleaming, says travel writer Ella Buchan.

Best for wine lovers: Meritage Resort Napa

The lowdown: This Tuscan-inspired resort has its own wine cave, Trinitas Cellars, tucked beneath rows of vines, and there’s a decadent spa in there, too. Wine is always on the menu, with tastings, chocolate pairings and tours of the onsite nine-acre vineyards.

Stay for: Clear at least one afternoon to lounge by the pools, perhaps pottering over to for a treatment in Spa Terre or a wine flight at Trinitas Cellars, should the mood strike.

In the know... Book a Premier Room with balcony overlooking the pool and Estate Cave. The view, with mountain peaks shimmering beyond the vines, is pinch-yourself pretty, and pairs perfectly with the complimentary bottle of Trinitas wine.

The hotel arranges early-morning, three-mile guided runs on Tuesdays and Thursdays for those who rather exercise outdoors

Best for city slickers: Fairmont San Francisco

The lowdown: A trip to this classic city deserves a classic hotel, and this grand building is as historic and enchanting as its surroundings. A survivor of the 1906 earthquake, it now stands proudly where the cable car lines meet atop Nob Hill, so it’s a doddle to explore attractions like Fisherman’s Wharf and the Painted Ladies (a much-photographed row of pastel Victorian and Edwardian homes) of Alamo Square.

Stay for: Afternoon tea, served on weekends in the elegantly colonnaded Laurel Court, is a tradition dating back to the hotel’s 1907 opening – and a real treat.

In the know… Head to the rooftop culinary garden, which has nine beehives dotted among patches of thyme, lavender and oregano. The honey is used in restaurant dishes and the hotel’s Honey Saison Beer.

  • Relax in the heart of wine country at The Meritage Resort and Spa

    Wine o’clock 

    No need to worry about a designated driver – the hotel operates a free deluxe passenger shuttle to Downtown Napa and Oxbow Public Market. Book flights from London to San Francisco, plus a seven night hotel stay from:£659 pp

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Best for sun worshippers: Shutters on the Beach, Santa Monica

The lowdown: Many hotels claim to be ‘steps from the beach’ but this one backs up its boast. The dreamily designed rooms, in shades of white, sea spray and taupe, mirror the sugar-soft sand and stretch of Pacific Ocean outside. Book an oceanfront room with a balcony jutting over the beach – it’s coastal living at its luxurious best.

Stay for: Gorgeous ONE Spa has a range of pampering treatments and rituals, perfect after a hard day at the beach.

In the know… Rent a spearmint beach cruiser and ride the Marvin Braude Bike Trail, which follows the coastline for 35 kilometres.

Best for foodies: Farmhouse Inn, Sonoma

The lowdown: From the delicious local rosé poured at check-in to the Michelin-starred restaurant, this wine country hotel has perfected the recipe for laid-back luxury. Forget minibars with tiny cans of pop and overpriced nuts. Here, rooms have complimentary homemade tortillas and salsa alongside a thoughtfully curated wine fridge.

Stay for: With a gorgeous pool area, slice-yourself blocks of handmade lavender and honey soaps in reception, and lovely touches like fireside s’mores every evening, you’ll only regret leaving.

In the know… Book well in advance for a table at the onsite restaurant, open Thursday to Sunday. Its menu, which sources ingredients from local markets and the owners’ ranch, is deservedly popular.

  • Enjoy a blissful night’s sleep at the Fairmont San Francisco

    Green spaces

    After breakfast at the Fairmont’s Laurel Court Restaurant & Bar, head to neighbouring Huntington Park for an early stroll among the morning dog walkers and yoga enthusiasts. Book flights to San Francsico, plus a seven night stay at the Fairmont hotel:£1250 pp

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  • Go boutique with a stay at the stunning Waterfront Hotel, Oakland

    Easy like Sunday morning

    A ten-minute walk from the Waterfront Hotel, head to Jack London Square Farmers Market on a Sunday to enjoy over 40 food vendors, cooking demos and tastings.

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  • In the historic Gaslamp Quarter, end your night on the town at The Pendry, San Diego

    Hotel haunts

    Sun yourself on The Pendry’s Pool House lounge by day, and head to the hotel’s Nason's Beer Hall by night, where live music graces the stage every Friday from 17.30. Book flights to San Diego, plus a seven night stay at the Pendry from:£1302 pp

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Best for view finders: Cavallo Point, Sausalito

The lowdown: Think you’ve experienced a ‘room with a view’? Sleeping with the Golden Gate Bridge pressing against the windowpane will redefine your expectations. Across the Bay from San Francisco, this former military base turned luxury resort has historic rooms in former officers’ residences. Contemporary rooms, perched above the central green, have panoramic windows and balconies to better enjoy the vista.

Stay for: Cosy yet healthy suppers at the Farley Bar, with comfy sofas and a menu including chicken lettuce butter cups. Don’t miss the daybreak yoga overlooking the bay, for another glimpse of that rust-red bridge.

In the know… Bike across the bridge to San Francisco or pedal a couple of miles to Sausalito’s centre. With pastel houses clinging to hillsides and restaurants, shops and bars along the waterfront, it’s very French Riviera.

Best for urban explorers: Waterfront Hotel, Oakland

The lowdown: The city across the Bay is having a moment, and this nautical-themed hotel is ideally located for the Sunday farmers market, Lake Merritt and the Oakland Museum of California. Many rooms have balconies overlooking the water with views across San Francisco while the neighbourhood, Jack London Square, is home to kayak rentals, restaurants, bars, and Oakland Supply Company, which sells cool souvenirs and T-shirts.

Stay for: Wallow in the heated waterfront pool before taking advantage of the daily wine and cheese hour, with complimentary pours and nibbles served in the cosy lobby.

In the know… A short stroll takes you to the ferry port, where you can catch a 20-minute ride across to San Francisco.

  • See why Sonoma is one of America’s most beloved foodie destinations, at the Farmhouse Inn

    The whole package

    Enjoy one of the Farmhouse Inn’s concierge packages, ranging from a hotel-hop around Highway 1 to a Candlelight Tub Turndown, with Champagne, bubble bath and rose petals included.

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  • Marilyn Monroe’s favourite LA hotel, discover an LA icon at the Hollywood Roosevelt

    Club Tropicana

    If you’re heading to the hotel’s famous David Hockney illustrated pool, make sure to book in at Café Tropicana, serving ‘donut-snob donuts’ and Californian kale salad.

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Best for star gazers: Hollywood Roosevelt, Los Angeles

The lowdown: Overlooking LA’s Walk of Fame and opposite Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (host to movie premieres and home to celebrity handprints), hotels don’t come much more glitzy than this West Hollywood megastar. Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable are among those who have lounged by its pool, which now hosts hedonistic weekend parties fuelled by DJs and apple martinis.

Stay for: With a mural designed by David Hockey, the Tropicana Pool is a designated Historic Cultural Monument – and one of the hottest hang-out spots in town.

In the know… Seek out the Spare Room, a speakeasy-style parlour and cocktail lounge tucked behind unassuming double doors on the mezzanine level, complete with retro gaming tables and a 19th century bowling alley. Beat the (always long) queues by booking in advance.

Best for night owls: The Pendry, San Diego

The lowdown: Downtown San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter has become one of the hippest nightlife spots in the city, and this newly opened boutique hotel is slap-bang in the centre of the action. The rooms’ muted shades and plush bedding should help soothe the inevitable hangover. If not, drag yourself to the spa, or for brunch at the onsite restaurant/marketplace Provisional.

Stay for: Some of the best nightlife is right here, with craft cocktails at glamorous Oxford Social Club or rooftop drinks surrounded by the San Diego skyline at The Pool House.

In the know… You may have to search for the best bars – the trend here is for hidden entrances and secret passwords. Book in advance for tiny, low-lit Noble Experiment tucked behind a beer-keg door inside restaurant Neighborhood.