Best Luxury Hotels on the Central Coast

On California’s north-central coast, luxury means something a little bit different – upscale amenities and attentive service, for sure, but also a sense of serenity, relaxation and retreat. With its chiseled rocks, towering bluffs, thundering waves and quirky beach towns, the stretch of coast from Half Moon Bay through rugged Big Sur is all about nature, whether that’s surfing the legendary breaks of Santa Cruz, hiking through redwood groves, or picnicking in an isolated cove. Here, 7 high-luxe getaways that will treat you to a wealth of natural beauty along with a heaping dose of pampering.

Featured Photo: Carmel Valley Ranch

Bernardus Lodge-CentralCoast-Luxury-800x450-credit Bernardus Lodge
Photo: Courtesy of Bernardus Lodge

Bernardus Lodge

The sun-kissed resort is barely two decades old, but like a swath of European countryside, feels like it’s been there for centuries. More than 70 villas, suites and guest rooms echo that style but provide state-of-the-art technology and creature comforts ranging from couples’ soaking tubs to fireplaces to king-size feather beds with goose down comforters and Italian linens. Its Lucia restaurant is considered one of the best between Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara, with an emphasis on hyper-local cuisine. All told, it’s a poetic expression of Carmel Valley, with the special event and meeting space to host traditional gatherings and more playful meetings — think bocce ball or cooking classes — alike.

HIGHLIGHT:  Active vineyards cultivated for cousin wine label Bernardus cover much of the area surrounding Bernardus. So do thousands of lavender bushes and a working chef’s garden. Chef Cal Stamenov ranks among the most celebrated food minds in the state. Gorgeous patio areas and lawns integrate seamlessly with the indoor-outdoor bar area. A welcoming pool and grid of tennis courts help balance the irresistible eating opportunities. Comprehensive spa services deepen the relaxation.

La Playa Carmel-CentralCoast-Luxury-800x450-credit La Playa Carmel
Photo: Courtesy of La Playa Carmel

La Playa Carmel

Designed by noted landscape painter Chris Jorgenson for his wife, a member of the noted Ghirardelli family, La Playa Carmel melds the Spanish colonial style of the California missions with European old-world elegance. Growing from its 1905 origins to a sprawling complex set amidst colorful gardens, La Playa perches above Carmels village streets and sparkling white beach like the Grande Dame she is. Choose an ocean room to gaze out at the deep blue waters or a garden room with a sunny tiled patio. Best of all are the poolside casitas with their carved wooden fireplaces. A $3.5-million restoration completed in 2012 buffed the historic hotel to a high shine and it has continued to modernize, becoming a favorite of those seeking a romantic getaway with easy access to Carmels walkable downtown and its 90-plus galleries. 

HIGHLIGHT:  One of the best places in town to chat up a local, dark-paneled Buds has been the hangout of choice since Jack London entertained his fellow drinkers with ribald tall tales. The lounge continues its historic tradition of  dime time,” an impromptu mini happy hour announced daily at random that costs only ten cents.

Post Ranch Inn-Big Sur fireplace-Central Coast-Luxury-credit Post Ranch Inn-800x450
Photo: Courtesy of Post Ranch Inn

Post Ranch Inn

Perched on a cliff 1,200 feet above the sea, Post Ranch Inn

can make a strong case for Big Sur’s best views as well as its most eye-catching architecture. It also occupies an unusual niche between rustic retreat and Amangiri-level indulgence, its elegance both understated and up to the standards of A-list celebs like George Clooney and Anne Hathaway, who hide away in its stand-alone cabins.

 Like a summer camp for jet-setters, Post Ranch Inn offers a full menu of nature-themed and wellness activities, including yoga, meditation, nature walks and stargazing. The spa even offers “spiritual exploration” guided by a bona-fide shaman. Some of the accommodations have a camp-like feel as well; among the 40 rooms are treehouses on stilts tucked into the forest and bird watching-themed rooms outfitted with binoculars. Two full-size houses, Post House and South Coast House, are perfect for those bringing an entourage or ducking the paparazzi.

HIGHLIGHT:  The all-inclusive rate includes a well-stocked mini-bar and an over-the-top breakfast spread — whether you prefer eggs and bacon or tropical fruit and house-made granola, its on the table. Dinner at the inns Sierra Mar restaurant is a four-course prix-fixe menu showcasing local seafood. Dishes might include diver scallop crudo, Monterey squid served in a tortilla, and Big Sur Bouillabaisse flavored with local kelp.

Quail Lodge-Carmel-Central Coast-Luxury-credit Quail Lodge-800x450
Photo: Courtesy of Quail Lodge & Golf Club

Quail Lodge & Golf Club

Picture 93 ranch-style bungalows set amidst 850 acres of verdant valley that was once a working dairy and youll have a sense of Quail Lodge & Golf Club,

a Carmel classic since 1964. Closed in 2009 after 45 years of operation, Quail Lodge reopened in 2013 following a ground-up renovation and redesign by Barry Design Associates, the design team behind the Beverly Wilshire and Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. Vaulted ceilings and tall windows nod to Eichler, framing spacious rooms with plenty of living space ranging in size from 395 to 650 feet.

HIGHLIGHT:  In addition to the 18-hole golf course that put Quail Lodge on the map, the grounds incorporate three tennis courts, pickleball, bocce ball and a nine-hole putting green. The on-site restaurant, Edgar’s, celebrates sustainable seafood and locally grown produce serving up grilled octopus and shrimp, Monterey Bay sand dabs, and farmers market salad.

The Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay-CentralCoast-Luxury-800x450-credit The Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay
Photo: Nikki Wood

The Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay

It may be just half an hour away from San Francisco and Silicon Valley, but the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay

feels more like the Scottish highlands than the coast of California. In fact, it looks and feels almost exactly like one of the storied Scottish golf resorts — think Gleaneagles, Turnberry or St. Andrews Old Course. And that’s not by accident: there’s even a bagpiper who strolls the grounds at sunset. The spa is top-notch, with treatments featuring native ingredients such as a redwood scrub. Those who don’t choose to do a spa treatment can still enjoy the excellent facilities, however — a $45 day pass gets you use of the whirlpool baths, sauna, and steam rooms.

HIGHLIGHT: It’s all about the sea here, from the crashing surf directly below the hotel’s bluff-top perch to the salt-and-silver design palate and photos of big-wave surfers on the wall. Even the basic rooms are spacious at 450 feet, while suites start at 1,000 feet and feature extras like a marble bath or personal fire pit complete with Adirondack chairs. Stay in the 5th-floor Club Level and you’ll be treated to breakfast and lunch, fresh-baked cookies, and a lounge well stocked with games.

Ventana Big Sur-CentralCoast-Luxury-800x450-credit Ventana Big Sur
Photo: Courtesy of Ventana Big Sur

Ventana Big Sur

Imagine a day that starts with a swim in a mountaintop pool seemingly suspended over the Pacific, reaches a peak with dinner illuminated by one of Big Surs most spectacular sunset settings, and finishes with stargazing from a mountaintop pool open 24 hours and featuring a traditional Japanese bath. Thats a day in the life of 160-acre Ventana Big Sur, where the 59 ultra-private rooms, suites and villas are tucked into an oak-shaded woodland and your high-ceilinged driftwood-inspired room could potentially include both a Jacuzzi bath and a private hot.

A menu of daily activities includes yoga, Tai Chi, meditation, and guided nature walks that take you deep into the redwood canyon below for true forest bathing. In addition to a variety of massage options, the resorts Spa Alila offers astrology readings, reflexology, and cranial-sacral massage, and couples can partake in private cabanas near the pool. For an even more immersive nature experience, theres the popular campground deep in the redwood canyon below, which now features comfy glamping” tent cabins, each complete with Adirondack chairs on a spacious deck, fire pit, and even a hammock or two suspended between the trees.

HIGHLIGHT:  With its new membership in the Hyatt family and an all-inclusive” approach to restoration that features dinner and breakfast in the resorts renowned The Sur House, Ventana takes the idea of hideaway to a whole new level.

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