Exploring a new or reimagined hotel is one of my favorite “travel writer” activities. Exploring a new home is a treasure hunt. What new amenities and comforts await customers to take them away from their daily lives? What is the atmosphere, the effervescence of the city or the calm of the countryside? What are the rooms like? What about meals and libations? What services are offered? Does the lodge accept animals? Is it multigenerational, couple or solo? What’s happening in the region? How do you get there?
If you’re planning a trip to California, each of these five hotels has invited me for a stay so I can give you insider information and tips. These conveniently located hotels are places where you can organize a weekend getaway. All are car-free destinations with loads to do nearby. You park your car and forget about it until you leave.
1. Check in and never leave the property
The luxurious Westin Rancho Mirage Golf Resort and Spa underwent a 2-year, $18 million reimagining. Covering 365 acres of Coachella Valley soil, The Westin’s renovation touched on every aspect of the property, focusing on the resort’s pillars of “Sleep Well, Move Well, Eat Well, Play Well, and Work Well.”
The gorgeous property is a lush oasis with greenery and water everywhere you look. As beautiful as the grounds are in the sun, they take on a totally different look with exquisite lighting emphasizing the architecture, landscaping and water features from dusk till dawn. There is so much to do here; you can appeal to any generation and most people’s interest.
Families, pets and ADAs are all welcome. Golf, tennis, pickleball, swimming, walking, cycling, bowling, games room, sports bar and much more can be enjoyed at the resort.
The 512 rooms have been renovated from ceiling to floor. The Backyard, a new outdoor entertainment venue, will host concerts. The main pool has been enlarged and a super slide has been added. In addition, all golf, tennis, pickleball and basketball facilities have been completely renovated.
The relaxing spa has been lovingly revitalized and expanded. Meeting rooms are updated, and on-site amenities, such as a coffee shop and deli, add to guest comfort and experience.
The food and libation scene has not been overlooked. Restaurants and cafes all have new menus with plenty of healthy and indulgent options. Don’t miss Gloria’s Renewal Juice offered for breakfast. It’s green, energizing and delicious.
Plus, mixologists have new cocktails, wines, and beers to sample.
Getting There : fly in Palm Springs International Airport (PSP). It’s 5 miles from the Westin. If you are not planning to leave the property, I suggest you take a taxi to the resort.
2. An urban oasis
Hotel Cerro in downtown San Luis Obispo (SLO) is a sublime escape pod. The urban-chic hotel is located in the heart of downtown SLO. A combination of rooms, suites and apartments is offered. The hotel itself is a work of art. The attention to customer comfort with each piece of equipment is unmatched. Every aspect of the hotel is like no other I have visited.
At Cerro, I escaped to a garden suite. The large bedroom had a private patio with a fireplace. A door leads to the edible garden where guests are encouraged to pick and eat the fruits, herbs and vegetables that grow there. A soaking tub was filled from a hanging faucet. The spa-like shower was stocked with spa bath products. The room lighting was exceptional. Every space can be soft and romantic or bright.
Cerro’s staff are excellent. Warm and engaging people in all hotels and restaurants go out of their way to make your stay a memorable experience.
Cerro has a bistro, distillery, patio, and rooftop location serving food and drink. Chef Dereck Brooks works with local farmers and producers to populate the seasonal menu. In addition, the pastry chef garnishes the box with works of art that you will not be able to resist.
The layout of the Cerro’s 65 rooms is brilliant. While you’re in the middle of a busy city, the quiet and privacy can make you feel like the only guest. Courtyards and gardens are inside the hotel, surrounded by guest rooms, a rooftop pool, spa, and meeting spaces.
When visiting San Luis Obispo, a stay at Cerro is a must. You will never forget the experience.
Getting There : The nearest airport is San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport (SBP). Rent a car or take a taxi to Hotel Cerro.
3. Resort to the stars
Flamingo Resort — a resort and spa in Santa Rosa, Calif. — has a history with Hollywood. Inspired by the Las Vegas Flamingo of the late 1950s, producers and starlets lounge by the pool. Then they danced the night away in the nightclub, free to relax away from the Hollywood paparazzi. Today, the Flamingo is still dedicated to helping guests relax and escape their everyday lives with a focus on wellness for all generations and interests.
Architect Homer Rissman’s Flamingo was proclaimed a historic landmark in 1996. Since then, the resort has been completely redesigned with its mid-century modern details renewed. The 10-acre property has 170 rooms, a spa, an all-weather heated pool, a lap pool, a hot tub, a fitness center, tennis courts, bicycles, fresh air and over 256 days of sunshine each year.
Locally sourced food and beverages are available in the resort’s restaurant, poolside or private dining in your room.
Sonoma County Wine Country surrounds the Flamingo for wine, beer, and spirits tasting. from Santa Rosa Place du Palais de Justice is 2 miles from the resort with museums, parks, galleries and an abundance of restaurants, bars and shops.
Getting There : Santa Rosa is 80 km north of the Golden Gate Bridge by car. Closer still, fly in Sonoma County Charles M. Schulz Airport (OHS). The Flamingo is approximately 10 miles from the airport.
4. Art in the heart of the city
art house is a brand new hotel built in downtown Santa Rosa. two blocks from Place du Palais de Justice, the Art House is ideally located for a car-free weekend in the historic downtown district of this bustling city.
The Art House began its collection of art, curated and exhibited in rooms and public spaces. The exterior of the hotel reminds me of a Piet Mondrian pastel painting.
The Art House offers hotel-style rooms, suites and one-bedroom apartments. Each offers city views from floor-to-ceiling windows. Plus, suites and apartments have private balconies perfect for morning coffee or sipping the sunset.
The Luther Burbank House and Gardens are a 20-minute walk from the Art House. The Sonoma County Museums of Art and History are also nearby. Surrounding Court House Square are restaurants, bars, tasting rooms and shops.
Families, pets and ADAs are all welcome. Limited on-site parking is available, making it a candidate for a car-free weekend. Park your car and forget about it. Dust off your walking shoes or unpack the bike and see the city.
Getting There : Santa Rosa is 50 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge if traveling by car. By air, fly to Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport. The Art House Hotel is approximately eight miles from the airport in downtown Santa Rosa.
5. A San Francisco star reinvented
Clift Royal Sonesta Hotel in San Francisco has undergone a significant reinvention. Two blocks from Union Square, the historic hotel opened in 1915 to accommodate those attending the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Since that time the property has had several owners and renovations.
Sonesta has rehabilitated and modernized every square inch of the building, creating spacious bedrooms and luxurious bathrooms. The lobby, public areas, and meeting rooms have been beautifully decorated with a modern theme and a nod to the properties’ Art Deco past.
The Clift is famous for its Redwood Room. The paneling on the walls was carved from a single redwood. As part of San Francisco’s iconic renovation, the Redwood Room received new furnishings. The original paneling has been restored to bring it back to its original shine. A drink in this charming lounge will be a highlight of your stay. A dinner at Fredrick’s for brasserie fare and modern comfort food is a must. In-room dining is available.
The Clift’s location is perfectly situated for exploring San Francisco on foot and by cable car. Union Square offers opportunities for shopping and people-watching. Nearby Chinatown is the perfect place for lunch. Next, head to Japantown for more authentic meals and the incredible history of Japanese citizens in California. Finally, San Francisco’s Wharf is a thrilling cable car ride down to the bay. Seafood, buskers, marina and maritime history are part of the wharf scene.
Getting There : San Francisco International (SFO) is the nearest airport. However, I never recommend driving in San Francisco; it’s congested and the parking fees are astronomical. Use public transport instead. (Find a “Plan a Trip” guide for Bay Area Transit here.) The Clift has valet parking for $60+ per day if you are driving.
Be a hotel scout
You can be your own “hotel scout”. When considering trying a new hotel, start with the reviews. Access multiple booking sites like Expedia, TripAdvisor, and Hotels.com. Reviews can provide insight into the pros and cons of the property’s service and amenities.
Find a good rate
Booking sites do not always offer the best rates. When looking for a deal, be sure to check the hotel’s website to book direct. Many hotels book direct and offer a better rate than the booking sites, especially out of season.
Even when a “direct booking” rate is the same or slightly more than a booking site, you may be able to take advantage of special offers that include dinner, a bottle of wine, breakfast, a date at the spa or other packages.
Let others know
Still in the vein of being a hotel scout, after your visit write a review. Your honest and original review can help other travelers make their choice. Positive reviews help the hotel attract more customers. Negative reviews help the hotel see where improvements are needed.
Have fun exploring California and these five new, reimagined hotels.
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