California might be the state that invented cool. Nowhere in America sets trends and showcases beauty quite like the Golden State. Not surprisingly, it’s also given us some of the coolest hotels in the country. Celebrity hangouts and national park luxury lodges are the norm here. Picking only 10 standouts in a state this varied is tough, but from the coast to the desert and back, here are the coolest hotels in California.
Chateau Marmont, Los Angeles
Both the bar and the bungalows in the Chateau Marmont are the stuff of Hollywood legend, where John Bonham once drove a motorcycle through the lobby, Jim Morrison jumped off the roof and Scarlett Johansson and Benicio del Toro did…something in the elevator. Its history as the debauched playpen of the stars spanned from Hollywood’s golden age until fairly recently, and while you might not see as many A-listers there as in previous years, the classic bungalows still stand. Check into one and you too can exude the invincible cool of a young Hollywood star.
Beverly Hills Hotel, Los Angeles
A close second in Tinseltown cool is the Beverly Hills Hotel, where Elizabeth Taylor spent several of her honeymoons and the Rat Pack held court in the Polo Room. The Pink Palace spans 12 acres of manicured gardens, creating a Mediterranean oasis in the middle of bustling Beverly Hills. The spot dates back to 1912, when it was developed to lure wealthy East oasters to California. Over 100 years later, it’s hosted everyone from Charlie Chaplin to the Crown Prince of Monaco. No hotel in California exudes glamorous luxury like the Beverly Hills Hotel. It may not be as crazy as the Chateau Marmont, but its class and sophistication still make it cool.
Hotel del Coronado, San Diego
California’s not lacking for iconic, luxurious properties with front-row seats to the ocean. But perhaps none is as recognizable as “The Del,” a sprawling summer retreat just off San Diego that served as the setting for “Some Like it Hot.” The recognizable red turrets and bright green lawns make this hotel a destination unto itself, where a family week at the beach can be contained with the Coronado’s gates. Top-tier restaurants, a historic beachside bar and endless watersports have made The Del a celebrity favorite, especially with its new-ish selection of private villas. The hotel is also still allegedly haunted by “The Beautiful Stranger,” the ghost of a young woman who checked in solo in 1892 and never checked out.
The Claremont Club and Spa, Berkeley
Rolling through low-slung hills of Oakland and Berkeley, the Claremont stands like a great Tudor Revival castle towering over all it surveys. Its juxtaposition with the food co-ops, farmers markets and general hippie vibe of Berkeley might seem a bit odd, but this gleaming chalet on the mountain is as much a part of the East Bay as the A’s and the university. Its views of the Bay Area are unrivaled, even by posh hotels in San Francisco. The Claremont boasts acres of tennis courts and one of the grandest spas in America. As the odd bastion of luxury in the rough-and-tumble East Bay, this hotel keeps undeniably cool.
Queen Mary, Long Beach
The world’s most famous cruise ship that didn’t meet the wrong end of an iceberg sits in perpetuity on the docks in Long Beach, converted to a hotel in 1972. You can still stay in one of its glorious staterooms, though, fashioned in the Art Deco stylings of the 1930s original. There are classic pubs and fine dining restaurants onboard too, as well as historic tours and exhibits. It won’t take you across the Atlantic anymore, but might just take you back in time.
Post Ranch Inn, Big Sur
No hotel along California’s fabled Pacific Coast Highway immerses you in the views of the Central Coast like the Post Ranch Inn. It sits atop a cliff, dropping into the Pacific Ocean, and nearly all the rooms boast floor-to-ceiling windows so you’ll never miss the view. Even the base rooms are a splurge, but if you want to shell out for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, Post Ranch’s treehouse feels like spending a night in a coastal forest. Wherever you stay, the pictures from your room will be the stuff of instant envy, making you almost as cool as the ranch you stayed in.
Hicksville Trailer Palace, Joshua Tree
Even before Lana Del Rey filmed her video for “White Dress” at the Hicksville Trailer Palace, this collection of specially designed trailers set around a swimming pool in the desert was the pinnacle of creative cool. More than a simple gathering of renovated Airstreams, the trailers at Hicksville range from a boat to a stagecoach to the zombie-themed Project Z. Novelty aside, they’re also conveniently situated near Joshua Tree National Park, offering the rare lodging in Yucca Valley that’s not a chain or a questionable Airbnb.
Culver Hotel, Culver City
Though Hollywood gets much of the national ballyhoo as the place where movies are made, Culver City on the west side of Los Angeles is similarly chock-full of studios and film history. The Culver Hotel, set practically across the street from the old MGM Studios, is the city’s original skyscraper. The hotel was first owned by Harry Culver and Charlie Chaplin in 1924, and when MGM filmed “The Wizard of Oz,” it basically turned into Munchkinland when nearly all munchkin actors stayed here. Today, it’s a throwback to old Hollywood cool, whether you’re getting drinks in the swanky main lobby or the not-so-secret upstairs speakeasy. When a place can stay that hot for nearly 100 years, it’s hard to argue with its cool.
Wigwam Motel, San Bernardino
There’s nothing particularly luxurious about the Wigwam Motel, set alongside historic Route 66 in San Bernardino. But it is a fully functional relic from the heyday of American road tripping, when seven of these makeshift villages for weary motorists dotted the American Southwest during the 1930s-60s. A few still remain, but the closest to a major city is in San Bernardino, giving you a look at the world of car travel during the dawn of the automobile. Inside the wigwams, the spaces feel more or less like motel rooms. And while maybe not ideal for a long-term visit, the Wigwam is still cool for a night of nostalgia.
The Ahwahnee, Yosemite National Park
Yes, there is something to be said for camping out in some of the most spectacular scenery in America when you visit Yosemite National Park. But if you’d rather spend the night in a classic luxury lodge set deep in the Yosemite Valley, opt for the Ahwahnee. The architectural marvel of stone, glass and wood blends almost seamlessly into the cliff face behind it. Inside you’ll find airy, high-beamed ceilings and warm, crackling fires. It’s the essence of warm and cozy during a cold night, but still the coolest lodge in any of the state’s national parks.