Best hotels along the California Coast

Story highlights

  • The 1938 Crystal Cove Beach Cottages offer a cozy, nostalgic beach experience
  • Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica is a favorite of celebs seeking a quiet escape
  • The 75-year-old Mendocino Coast oceanfront Little River Inn speaks to romance seekers

A summer road trip up California's Highway 1 wouldn't be complete without a top-notch selection of hotels to make your trip even dreamier.

From hidden beach cottages to posh resorts, these are our favorite California coastal hotels, listed from south to north.

Tower 23

San Diego's hippest beachfront boutique property guards lively Pacific Beach.

Sleek rooms feature hardwood headboards, deep blue chaises and multicolored throws, all invoking the ocean just beyond your balcony. The JRDN restaurant lures model types and techies for liquid lunch meetings and well-curated brunches. Rates start at $300. www.t23hotel.com.

Crystal Cove Beach Cottages

These 1938 beachfront cottages and rooms occupy a slice of Newport Beach's Crystal Cove State Park. Initially developed as a movie set, these cozy houses, now repainted in lively beach hues, aim to retain that era of yesteryear with Murphy beds and open-beamed ceilings.

    Book well in advance, as the cottages sell out the moment they are available. Dorm-style cottage room rates start at $42. Cottages start at $162. www.crystalcovebeachcottages.com.

    Montage Laguna Beach

    Standing guard over 30 beachfront acres, Laguna Beach's most posh resort caters to luxury lovers with marble baths, plush bedding and ocean views.

    The massive Spa Montage, three pools (including one just for kids and another mosaic-tiled relaxation space), four eating establishments, a kids club and an onsite marine biologist all just scratch the surface of the exceptional service offered by this sophisticated escape. Rates start at $895. www.montagehotels.com/lagunabeach.

    Terranea

    Just south of Los Angeles, atop the Palo Verdes Peninsula, Terranea offers ocean view guest rooms decked out with luxurious perks such as deep tubs and rain showers.

    Families love the huge pool, waterslide, the kids program, the nightly bonfire (bring your own marshmallows) and the selection of kid-friendly restaurants. Romance seekers appreciate the selection of hot tubs and the access to dirt trails that snake along the cliffs and spill out to remote coves. Rates start at $515. www.terranea.com.

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    Shutters on the Beach

    Favored by celebs wanting a quiet escape, Santa Monica's glamorous beachfront resort transports you to that cozy beach house of your dreams, with comfy throws and breezy interiors.

    The two onsite restaurants and spacious lobby bar all front the ocean. Their decadent One the Spa rejuvenates after a day in biking or swimming the sun. Rates start at $625. www.shuttersonthebeach.com.

    El Capitan Canyon

    Just north of Santa Barbara in a coastal nook, El Capitan Canyon promotes a life lived outdoors, with some extra comfort.

    Dubbed glamping, guests stay in heated safari tents or cedar cabins decked out in Native American décor with raised beds, private outdoor picnic tables and fire pits. Add to the mix a pool, gourmet restaurant, market, and access to hiking trails and the beach. Rates start at $155. www.elcapitancanyon.com.

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    Post Ranch Inn

    Perched 1,200 feet atop Big Sur's expansive swath of the Pacific Ocean, this luxury adults-only property is a magnet for celebs and tech execs.

    The two infinity basking hot tubs overlooking the sea, a spa offering shamanic treatments, the Sierra Mar restaurant's award-winning California cuisine, complimentary yoga classes and rooms decked in out all the luxury money can buy add to up to make this a truly relaxing retreat. Rates begin at $675 and include a full buffet breakfast. www.postranchinn.com.

    Glen Oaks

    Hugged by hiking trails and redwood groves, this iconic Big Sur lodge on the shores of the Big Sur River is fit for romance. The lodge rooms, cabins and cottages all feature heated floors and rustic chic décor.

    Cabins also feature private outdoor fire pits under the redwoods. The onsite Big Sur Roadhouse is a local favorite. Rates start at $225. www.glenoaksbigsur.com.

    L'Auberge Carmel

    This European inn offers unparalleled service and luxurious accommodations for romance seekers. Thoughtfully appointed rooms provide heated floors, deep soaking tubs, photography by Helmut Horn and antique touches that don't feel too precious.

    Guests appreciate the breakfast spread (don't miss the housemade granola), which is included in the price. Tasting menu dinners at the award-winning Aubergine restaurant are well worth the splurge. Rates start at $430. www.laubergecarmel.com.

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    Dream Inn

    Kitschy summertime fun is on the menu at this Santa Cruz Boardwalk hotel, the only full-service property on the beach. Funky interiors that blend Austin Powers with beach chic, a surfer-dude friendly staff, an oceanfront pool and an outdoor spa cater to the whole clan.

    The Aquarius Restaurant and Jack O'Neill Lounge (named after the local surf legend) draw locals and tourists wanting an upscale burger and fries overlooking the sea. Rates start at $219. www.jdvhotels.com.

    Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay

    This golfer's paradise is perched atop the raging Pacific in the Bay Area coastal community of Half Moon Bay. Interiors speak to those yearning for comfort and sophistication with muted tones and epic views.

    The onsite Navio restaurant, one of the finest spas on the coast, a fun wine, cheese and chocolate bar and outdoor fire pits add charm. Rates start at $665. www.ritzcarlton.com.

    Cavallo Point

    An unique Bay Area experience, Cavallo Point offers the romance of staying in historic officers quarters overlooking San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge and the bay. Throw in an outstanding food program with monthly cooking classes by world-class chefs, an in-room cocktail program stocked with your favorite beverages and the award-winning Murray Circle restaurant and bar.

    The Healing Arts Center and Spa is a destination in itself, with an in-house shaman and fantastic massages. Afterward, make time to relax on a rocking chair with a glass of Cabernet and watch the fog flow in and out of the bay. Rates start at $309. www.cavallopoint.com.

    Little River Inn

    The 75-year-old Mendocino Coast oceanfront Little River Inn speaks to romance seekers, families with pets and golfers wanting to step back into another time.

    Rooms are decked out in Victorian décor. Splurge on rooms with private Jacuzzi tubs, sea views and fireplaces. Spot whales from the onsite restaurant and bar as you enjoy freshly caught abalone from these rich waters. Rates start at $130. www.littleriverinn.com.