California Has the Most Exciting Hotel Scene in America

From Napa Valley to Los Angeles, a newfound dynamism has entered the Golden State’s hospitality bloodstream, transforming a staid hotel landscape into a proving ground for eclectic styles and ideals.

The exterior of Nomad L.A., housed in a landmark bank building.


Napa Valley has long been home to contemporary wineries, from the Herzog & de Meuron–designed Dominus to the more recent Promontory by American architect Howard Backen. But the region’s hotels have often reflected what lies beyond these modernist structures: the bucolic landscapes of the vineyards. That’s beginning to change.

In St. Helena, Yabu Pushelberg’s Las Alcobas relies on a range of contrasting styles and the interplay of old and new to bring guests through the property’s past, present, and future. A 1905 Georgian-style farmhouse has been transformed into the Acacia House, chef Chris Cosentino’s ambitious farm-to-table restaurant. It’s counterbalanced by three stone-and-steel structures, which feature 68 rooms awash in tonal shades of sleeted grey. Vines from the long-established Beringer Vineyards are in clear view from private balconies outfitted with gas fire pits and cushioned rocking chairs. At the Atrio Spa, century-old healing treatments and herb-based poultices are administered in a sleek barn with lava stone floors. 

The grounds at Las Alcobas in Napa Valley.
Yabu Pushelberg's contemporary spin on the farmhouse aesthetic.

Equally rich in farmhouse history is Sonoma’s MacArthur Place, the former estate of David Burris, a miner, rancher, and founder of the town’s first bank, who is credited with kickstarting the region’s wineries. The Burris family’s homestead, a 19th-century Victorian-style manor that serves as the hotel’s lobby and culinary hub, is just one of the buildings that underwent a tip-to-toe renovation by SFA Design in conjunction with the seven-acre property’s 150-year anniversary. The 64 guest rooms, situated in white, cottage-esque structures, have been refreshed with such custom furnishings as the white oak minibar credenzas and sculptural objects hand-selected from independent artists across the country. Acacia House alum Cole Dickinson oversees the kitchen at Layla, a sun-drenched dining room with woven pendant lights, bleach wood floors, and a locally sourced Mediterranean menu.    

Less a spin on the country aesthetic than bid on nostalgia, AvroKO’s Calistoga Motor Lodge pays homage to the great American road trip with rooms inspired by Airstream camper vans, complete with booth-style banquettes and retro needlepoints. Equally as playful is the award-winning Moonacre Spa, with its three geothermal mineral water-fed pools, DIY mud bar, and clawfoot soaking tubs symmetrically arranged in a teal-tiled room meant to conjure a municipal pool. 

The bar at MacArthur Place.
The spa at Calistoga Motor Lodge.

Channeling an entirely different era and mood, Gaige House + Ryokan brings an Eastern sensibility to a centuries-old Queen Anne–style manse. A stay at one of these traditional Japanese inns is meant to be an immersive cultural experience, and this Sonoman version doesn’t stray, offering guests an ambient atmosphere of moon decks and zen gardens, as well as guided Shinrin Yoku (forest bathing) therapies and nightly tea ceremonies. Book one of the nine Ryokan Zen Suites tucked away in a private area facing the Calabazas Creek. Inside, guests are treated to granite soaking tubs, traditional yukata robes, and both geta and zori slippers. It’s an unexpected addition to California’s premier wine region and a symbol of the evolution taking hold.

Garde House, a rentable and shoppable apartment in the bones of a 1920’s Shaker-style barn.
Hotel Californian's Djinn cocktail bar.

Central Coast

The sleepy midsection along Highway 101 has welcomed the arrival of two creative stays that present an alternative to the high-end resorts fashioned by Hollywood for decades. Within the borders of downtown Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone lies Hotel Californian, a historic property originally built in 1925 and recently revitalized under the direction of Martyn Lawrence Bullard. The designer reimagined the interiors of the Spanish Colonial Revival buildings with Moorish design notes: arabesque-pattern wallpaper, gilded snake sconces, and a color palette of emerald, terra cotta, yellow, and eggplant that would feel right at home in Marrakech. The theme extends to the Moroccan-themed spa Majorelle, lined in hand-painted indigo tile work, and the just-opened Djinn, where the bartender plays with north African spices such as harissa. The property offers an abundance of outdoor spaces—paseos, gardens, balconies and nearly 5,000 square feet of roof deck— from which to enjoy the city’s famously idyllic weather. 

Just down the coast, unheralded Summerland is overshadowed by its glamorous next door neighbor Montecito, yet Los Angeles–based design gallery Garde identified it as the perfect location for their new concept. Above an outpost of the gallery—the sister boutiques are located in Venice and Beverly Hills—Garde House is a shoppable and rentable loft on the second floor of a 1920s Shaker-style barn. Among the seasonally rotating wares, curated by owner Scotti Sitz, a former executive at Calvin Klein and Giorgio Armani, are the brand’s custom line of Portola Paint hues, Vincent Van Duysen’s ceramic bowls, and architectural hardware designed by Peter van Cronenburg. 

Inside Nomad L.A.

Los Angeles

A wave of design-focused hotels are waking up formerly dormant neighborhoods that were ripe for resurgence. Cased inside the bones of the neoclassical Gianni Place building, NoMad Los Angeles continues the momentum behind downtown’s cultural renaissance that began nearly a decade ago. Similar to the New York City flagship, Sydell Group and designer Jacques Garcia found inspiration in the building’s architecture and former tenants—in this case, the Bank of Italy. Garcia sought to preserve many of the building’s original design elements, including towering Doric columns, marble and terrazzo floors, and a 50-ton subterranean bank vault. The real muse for Garcia, however, was the blue and gold Italianate ceiling—now fully restored—which inspired the color palette for both guest rooms and common areas. Paris-based Studio Be-Poles fashioned custom furniture in plush velvets and vibrantly embroidered fabrics, as well as curated and produced original art and photography throughout the hotel. A final nod to Italy can be seen on the rooftop: an Orcus fireplace modeled after the notable Park of Monsters statue an hour north of Rome. As with the New York City and Las Vegas sister properties, acclaimed Eleven Madison Park chef Daniel Humm oversees the culinary program.

1 Hotel West Hollywood is flush with native greenery.

Feeling right at home in the Design District, the dark and sultry La Peer is the work of Icelandic architect Gulla Jónsdóttir, who also operates a furniture and art atelier on the ground floor. Jónsdóttir designs with intricate details and textures, from the three-dimensional map of Los Angeles and an abstract onyx reception desk to various installations from artists such as Retna and Kahori Maki. 

On the other end of the spectrum, the 1 Hotel West Hollywood is a study in light and serenity. AvroKO, which also designed the Central Park location, leaned on whites, tans, and greens for the color scheme, and sourced materials to align with the brand’s dedication to sustainability: reclaimed steel, flax linens, and recycled carpet fibers. As with the other three properties flying the 1 Hotels flag, a holistic approach was crucial, annunciating itself through the landscaping’s native greenery that mimics the trails in the Hollywood Hills, a network of courtyards dubbed The Canyon, and furniture crafted from naturally felled timbers. It finds its way into Top Chef alum Chris Crary’s Cali-Italian mashup, 1 Kitchen, its menu fed by the on-site organic garden. 

Proper Hotel Santa Monica
The lobby at the Proper Hotel Santa Monica.

Not to be outdone, the long-awaited 271-room Proper Hotels has opened its doors in Santa Monica, a rarity for a coastal enclave with strict building regulations. Queen of the tasteful power clash, Kelly Wearstler used her abilities to create a cohesive visual identity between an adaptive reuse Spanish Colonial Revival and a wavy glass-and-concrete addition. This go-round, Wearstler used predominantly sand and wheat tones, though the interior designer found plenty of opportunities to incorporate her eclectic style, whether it be the rooms’ half-domed tufted headboards, meant to mimic the rising and setting sun, or the lobby’s chubby chairs and python colored sofas. The Proper is also home to the neighborhood’s only rooftop pool, and will open a 3,500-square-foot Ayurvedic spa by guru Martha Soffer this winter. 

The city’s hotel boom shows no signs of abating. Next up: the Arts District’s temple to street art, Soho Warehouse, and coming to West Hollywood this November, John Pawson’s crack at Ian Schrager’s flourishing Edition Hotels brand.

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