11 Historic Seaside Inns to Put on Your California Bucket List
From Old Hollywood hideaways to the officer quarters for a WWII blimp air base
California’s 840 miles of Pacific coastline have long been a magnet for travelers. From pioneer settlers and aspiring movie stars headed west to early automobile drivers who made their way along the newly opened Highway 1, they’ve all needed a place to say, and hotels sprang up to meet demand.
Many early properties are long gone, although some seaside Victorian inns can still be found and gorgeous examples of beachfront Spanish and Mediterranean Revival architecture remain. But it’s not all chandeliers and rich mahogany; a 1960s-era clifftop lodge in Sonoma County inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright also has a few stories to tell.
With well preserved or faithfully restored original features and an authentic sense of place, historic hotels offer romantic escapism, somewhere to step back in time for a night, a weekend or a longer getaway. If staying somewhere with an intriguing backstory (or resident ghost) appeals to you, check in to one these 11 storied spots, from perpetually sunny San Diego to far north Humboldt County on the Redwood Coast.
Hotel del Coronado
A fine example of the wooden Victorian beach resort within the American architectural genre, The Del made its debut in 1888 and later famously served as the filming location for Some Like It Hot. Paranormal fans should request Room 3327 in the Victorian Building, where Kate Morgan checked in but never left after dying under mysterious circumstances. A designated California National Historic Landmark, the hotel has been restored and updated over the years, including the recent addition of a beachfront Cabanas “neighborhood.”
La Valencia Hotel
A see-and-be-seen spot since 1926, “The Pink Lady,” a San Diego landmark with a famous Spanish Colonial Revival style façade, originally opened as an apartment hotel called Los Apartamentos de Sevilla, before an eight-story unit was added and the name changed to La Valencia Hotel two years later. Its notable architectural elements include its distinctive gold dome-topped tower and a tile mural painted by artist Ernest Batcheler.
Frequented by Hollywood stars like Humphrey Bogart and Bette Davis, Hotel Laguna’s Spanish Revival-style building has been a local landmark since the 1930s. After a lengthy restoration process, partial operations resumed last fall, with the opening of its ground floor lobby and two restaurants: fine-dining room Larsen and Japanese concept Fin. Exposed original wooden beams and potted palms make the building’s interior feel more like a private home, which bodes well for when the hotel rooms eventually return.
Venice V Hotel
When it opened in 1915 as The Waldorf, modern amenities like telephones in every room wowed guests. These days, the V’s grand central staircase and original elevator remain, but the décor otherwise channels more contemporary Venice Beach history with nods to 1960s Beat generation writers and ’80s Dogtown skaters. Penthouse suites are named after famous former guests, including The Clara Bow (Hollywood’s first ingenue) and The Arbuckle. Penthouse 4 is inspired by Jim Morrison, who used to crash on the roof next door.
Considered one of the most iconic hotels in Los Angeles, The Georgian opened in 1933 as an intimate hideaway for the rich and famous. Hollywood studio executives and celebrities would head to “Santa Monica’s First Lady” to sip martinis and enjoy secluded weekends beside the sea in what was then just a little-known beach community. Rooms are decorated in vintage Art Deco style — including the Clark Gable and Carole Lombard suites, which come with record players and a welcome bottle of champagne.
Captain James Cass founded Cayucos as a shipping port in 1867, adding a wharf, warehouse and general store before building Cass House using floorboards from one of his ships and fixtures purchased from Europe. Located across from Cayucos State Beach, the four-room boutique hotel was faithfully restored in 2008 and its pretty garden is now a popular wedding venue. Some say that the captain’s spirit still wanders the house; he’s allegedly been seen and heard in the inn’s music room.
Green Gables Inn
This meticulously restored two-story Victorian should bring a smile to the face of anyone in search of four-poster beds, fireplaces and floral wallpaper. Built by Englishman William Lacy in 1888 and located right beside the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail, overnight stays in one of the 11 rooms include breakfast for two and afternoon wine and cheese with freshly baked cookies. Thanks to a charming window seat and panoramic views of Monterey Bay, the upstairs Balcony Room is a guest favorite.
West Cliff Inn
Originally built in 1876 by Pennsylvania transplant Sedgwick Lynch — who came out west to try his luck in the gold fields — this elegant three-story Victorian sits just across from Cowell Beach and a half mile from the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. Despite the ornate Italianate style exterior, its 10 guest rooms are decked out in a contemporary coastal style, although its historic personality still shines. Borrow bikes and cycle along West Cliff Drive to the Mission Santa Cruz downtown.
Sonoma’s rugged coastline provides a dramatic backdrop to this former meditation lodge turned hotel. Designed by Richard Clements Jr. in 1963 as a retreat for artists and intellectuals — including sculptor Beniamino Bufano, whose obelisk “The Expanding Universe” still stands on-site — the original A-frame structure was renovated seven years ago. Its iconic stone and redwood bones are accented with retro furnishings and decor, as well as local artwork. Book an Ocean Cove Junior Suite for the soaking tubs and 180-degree Pacific views.
Little River Inn
Run by the same family for five generations, this charming Victorian inn along Highway 1 is beloved by locals and visitors alike. The main building dates to 1853 but has expanded over the years to include several standalone cottages. There’s a golf course and spa, while Ole’s Whale Watch Bar is a must for a martini. Most rooms feature fireplaces and ocean views, including the James Dean Suite, named after the actor who stayed there when filming East of Eden.
Humboldt Bay Social Club
Jon O’Connor and Amy Cirincione O’Connor are transforming the southern side of the Samoa Peninsula one structure at a time. They started by turning the former officer quarters of World War II blimp air base at Samoa Field into the lobby bar of their whimsical hotel, whose four suites are furnished with vintage store finds. Across the road at Oyster Beach, ranch buildings were renovated into six long-stay cabins with a NorCal seafaring aesthetic (think ropes and salvaged redwood).
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