From Santa Barbara to Monterrey: My 4 Favorite Hotels in California

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Beethoven’s graceful Fourth Symphony was described by composer Robert Schumann as a slender Greek maiden between two Nordic giants, the Third and Fifth Symphonies. The 350 miles of peaceful and dramatic California coastline that stretches from the bustling metropolitan centers of Los Angeles to San Francisco can also be viewed from this angle.

I had been a reporter for a Southern California newspaper earlier in my career and wanted to see the dramatic mountain cliffs of the coastal region, so the opportunity to go on an organized press trip was exciting.

The Central Coast is divided into several regions: Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles and Monterey Bay. Each region has its own identity, all linked by a network of quaint towns, outdoor adventures, incredible seafood, cultural events and 800 wineries.

All the destinations visited on this organized trip were magical. They were accessible by train and car and easy to navigate on foot. All opinions are mine.

Pro tip: When to visit the Central Coast? Summers in the West are getting hotter every year. Spring and autumn are more comfortable for many tourists.

The Golden State offers exceptional resorts in all price ranges. Here are some of my favorites known for their beauty, charm and style.

Santa Barbara beach (Photo credit: Gabriele Maltinti / Shutterstock.com)

Santa Barbara: El Encanto

Santa Barbara has been called the American Riviera by travelers for nearly a century. Thanks to its Spanish Colonial Revival style, rich heritage, stunning natural beauty and near-perfect weather, it has a continental vibe that attracts Hollywood celebrities and first-time visitors alike.

The city is a self-contained paradise located between the mountains and the Pacific Ocean. Distinctive architecture and lush landscapes evoke the aesthetics of the European Riviera combined with a carefree Californian spirit.

Visitors often feel swept up in nostalgia for faded Hollywood glamor and glitz. It’s because Santa Barbara has been the original Hollywood. Hundreds of silent movies and early westerns were filmed here. The area is still used as a backdrop for photo shoots, commercials and feature films such as Next to, The graduationand 20th century women.

To get a feel for the destination, try Totally Cali Tours for a mix of driving and walking tours, with lunch and wine tasting. The Santa Barbara Trolley Company offers a 90-minute narrated tour of the city and the architectural beauty of the historic courthouse.

El Encanto, a Belmond Hotel, is a 10-minute drive from downtown Santa Barbara. It offers a feeling of old Spanish traditions and elegant tranquility. From its vantage point high in the foothills, El Encanto celebrates its 104and birthday this year. A landmark since the 1920s, it’s a Forbes four-star rated resort with 92 luxury bungalows and suites on seven acres of lush historic gardens with stunning views of Santa Barbara.

The hotel features two styles of early Santa Barbara architecture – California Craftsman and Spanish Colonial. The property captures all the romance and glamor that makes it a favored getaway for Hollywood’s elite. Chef Bruno Lopez joined the culinary team in 2021 and offers reimagined menus using local seafood and plant-based options. The Spa at El Encanto is a popular luxury retreat.

Mountains in fog at San Luis Obispo Bay on a spring day in late May.
San Luis Obispo Bay (Photo credit: Jack N. Mohr / Shutterstock.com)

San Louis Obispo: The Garden Street Inn

From Santa Barbara, the Amtrak Coast Starlight offers regular train service from Los Angeles to Seattle. It is less than four hours from San Luis Obispo by car and five and a half hours by train. simply called SLO Where San Luis by locals, the city is a cultural and entertainment hub of the scenic Central Coast midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco on historic Highway 1. It has a sunny climate, world-class wine country, and thousands acres of protected land. open space.

SLO’s low-key personality stays true to its roots as an outdoorsy, arts-focused destination. The charming downtown is the cultural center of the city. Tours begin at Mission Plaza for an in-depth look at SLO’s uniqueness. It was there that I met John Ashbaugh, president of the County History Center. It organizes tours of the square, which hosts festivals, fairs and other celebrations all year round.

Ashbaugh notes that San Luis Obispo celebrated 30 years of public art in 2020 and now has over 100 unique works of art on display around the city. Rounding out the ambitious cultural scene are the Repertory Theater and the Museum of Art.

The 1887 Garden Street Inn in San Louis Obispo is conveniently located in the historic heart of the city. Its classic decor reflects Victorian charm in a 13-room boutique hotel. Here, I felt a wave of nostalgia that took me back to childhood visits to my Aunt Louise and her collections of fine china and glassware. The inn’s lounge is furnished with books and antiques, and the massive hand-carved mahogany staircase leads to the second floor. There is no elevator. The spacious outdoor communal terrace is a great place to meet fellow travelers over breakfast, which is also served in the downstairs dining room.

The mansion’s elegant decor is true to the era: stained glass windows, ornate fireplaces, and an antique clawfoot tub from the early 1800s.

Train service is a five-minute Uber ride from town. While in SLO, don’t miss the Railroad Museum in the Historic Railroad District. Kids love to congregate on the train viewing platform. Every May, the community celebrates Train Day to observe the arrival of the Southern Pacific Railroad in l894. The importance of rail travel in these early years can never be underestimated, as it brought small towns to life and ushered in the glorious era of travel and tourism on the California coast.

Explore the vineyards of California's Paso Robles wine region.
Paso Robles Vineyard (Photo Credit: L Paul Mann / Shutterstock.com)

Paso Robles: Allegretto Vineyard Resort

Next stop on our train journey: Paso Robles and the Allegretto Vineyard Resort, an upscale, Tuscan-style four-star oasis amid idyllic hills and breathtaking views. Set on 20 lush acres, the 171-room property’s restaurant, Cello, serves northern Italian dishes prepared with fresh, organic and locally grown ingredients. The resort town of Allegretto has an excellent art collection with museum-quality sculptures and rare Asian pieces.

The spa is a sanctuary for travelers craving a restorative experience. The resort’s new Star Garden Trail offers a guided walk through the grounds, stopping at 12 zodiac-inspired meditation stations.

Paso Robles is all about wine, wineries and vineyards. Try the DAOU experience for a tour, tasting and lunch at the nearby DAOU estate and vineyards.

The Lodge Pavilion at Pebble Beach Golf Course.
The Lodge at Pebble Beach (Photo credit: Dominick Corrado / Shutterstock.com)

Monterey and Carmel-By-The-Sea: Pebble Beach Golf Course, Lodge and Spa

The Amtrak train runs along the coast on the way to Monterey. Seen from a wide expanse of windows, the only thing that separates the train from the mighty ocean below and the hills above is a narrow strip of sand. Here, the natural beauty and spectacular views are best seen from the train rather than by car.

Wouldn’t it be great to have a friend to guide you on your vacation – someone to let you in on all the local secrets? That’s how it is with Gael Gallagher, who leads tours of the special charms and highlights of Carmel-by-the-Sea, another of the peninsula’s celebrity havens.

Surprising stories and scenic views await on Gael walking tours. Guests explore the wonders of the hamlet of tales: dozens of hidden courtyards, passageways, and quaint alleys that wind through this one-square-mile hideaway that became an artists’ colony after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

During a two-hour tour, we wander the cobbled streets, peeking into private gardens and fountains, small art galleries and charming cottages framed by sumptuous utopias of flowers and of trees. The whole city appears like a work of art.

As a resident of Monterey for over forty years, Gallagher knows the territory. She is a tour director, naturalist and historian. It shares the traditions of the town’s famous former residents, movie stars, like Clint Eastwood, who was mayor here in the 90s, and the late Doris Day.

“Every step is a treasure,” she said.

Monterey County is 110 miles south of San Francisco and 360 miles north of Los Angeles. It is the focal point of world-renowned marine research. Its charming landscape of wildflowers, seascapes and dramatic cliffs has been immortalized in film and literature. novel by John Steinbeck Cannery Row is announced during historic walking tours.

The area’s many points of interest can also be seen on 17 Mile Drive at Pebble Beach and the majestic Del Monte Forest and rugged Pacific Coast.

The legendary Pebble Beach Golf Course, Lodge and Spa is located on Carmel Bay, 6 miles from downtown Monterey. Built in 1919, the Lodge has 144 rooms and 17 suites. Pebble Beach Resorts is recognized as one of the best spa and golf destinations in the world. The Stillwater Bar and Grill overlooking the bay received the Best of Award of Excellence from wine spectator magazine. There is a shopping arcade and gardens for easy strolling.

Site of the 2019 US Open, Pebble Beach Golf Links has hosted five US Opens, four US Amateurs and one PGA Championship.

The Pebble Beach Spa offers unique treatments such as maternity massages, shiatsu, and mud wraps. It also has a full-service beauty salon. As a recipient of the Forbes Travel Guide 5-Star Award, Pebble Beach is also home to the California Skin Institute, offering state-of-the-art medical and cosmetic services.

The drive along the Pacific Coast Highway south of Carmel towards Big Sur offers one breathtaking view after another. Breathtaking views allow you to admire the mountains on one side and the ocean on the other. Along the way, the waves crash against the rocks and settle in the tidal pools below.

Garrapata State Park is a highlight of this route. It has two miles of beachfront with coastal hikes and a 50 foot climb to a beautiful view of the Pacific. Sea otters and gray whales often frequent these coastal waters.

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