There is no shortage of chic new hotels in Northern California but some of our favorites are now, and always will be, those with a much older pedigree.
Real “tourism” in the region began around the 1860s, when Wine Country was planting its first vines and the Sierra Nevada was busily laying its first railroad tracks. Many of those early 19th- and 20th-century inns are long gone but the few that remain are true gems beyond compare.
For a weekend escape or a lengthy stay, these summer-ready historic hotels just keep getting better with time.
Stonepine Estate, Carmel Valley
Chateau Noel’s living room and library is filled with plush furnishings and antiques.
(Courtesy of @stonepineestate)
Once the remote homestead of an illustrious early California family, the Stonepine Estate remains an idyllic escape in the rolling hills of Carmel Valley. Two stays are nestled within the oak-lands on the 400-plus-acre property: the Tuscan-style villa Chateau Noel, a grand 1920s inn (from $500/night), and the Double H Ranch B&B (from $300/night). The world-class Stonepine Equestrian Center is just a stone’s throw from the latter.
Summers here are made for basking in the sun, strolling among the Chateau Noel’s 12 formal gardens, swimming in the pool, or breaking a sweat on the miles of wooded hiking and mountain biking trails that criss-cross the estate (mountain bikes are provided)—not to mention on the tennis court and the four-hole practice golf course. Dining at the Chateau Noel is an exquisite nod to the formal meals of the Golden Era, while gourmet picnics and western-themed barbecues set the tone at the Double H.
// 150 E Carmel Valley Rd (Carmel Valley), stonepineestate.com
Nick's Cove, Marshall
(Courtesy of Mabo Kids via @nickscove)
When the construction of a modern highway in 1930 ushered in a golden era of tourism at Tomales Bay, Yugoslavian immigrant Nick Kojich was ready to capture the zeitgeist. On the water’s edge at Marshall, he opened a seafood restaurant hawking fresh crab and shrimp to passing tourists, and built several cabins for overnight stays. Since then, a handful of additional cottages have joined the original set. Each has recently been refreshed and is thick with lavish amenities like wood fireplaces, heated floors, and private decks. At the on-site restaurant and oyster bar, an elegant “hunting lodge” with floor-to-ceiling windows, Nick’s Cove makes the most of abundant local seafood and herbs from their hillside garden. Behind the restaurant, a long wooden pier leads to a rustic boat shack and a stellar sunset. Rates start at $370/night.
// 23240 Hwy 1 (Marshall), nickscove.com
Wylder Hotel, Hope Valley
(Couresty of @wylderhotelhv)
This stunning corner of the high Sierra along the banks of the West Carson Fork River began welcoming mountain-bound visitors with Scandinavian hospitality in 1926. Almost a hundred years later, the tradition continues. Guests still come here for an intimate encounter with the big wide wilderness which, in the summer, includes everything from SUP and hiking to lawn games and a summer concert series.
But unlike when it first opened, well-appointed Wylder now has a variety of lodging options, including rustic-chic cottages, cabins, homesteads, vintage spartan trailers, yurts, and RV and tent campsites. The on-site Sorensen’s Cafe, named for the original owners, serves hearty home-cooked fare and a general store carries everything from baked goods to wine to Pendleton gear. Rates start around $41/night for campsites, $278/night for bungalows. There is a $35 daily resort fee for all stays.
// 14255 Hwy 88 (Hope Valley), wylderhotels.com/hope-valley
Brannan Cottage Inn, Calistoga
(Courtesy of @brannancottageinn)
Built as one of the 14 bungalows at Calistoga’s original Hot Springs Resort, the historic Brannan Cottage Inn dates way back to the early 1860s. Though it’s been lovingly updated since, the hotel has maintained its original Victorian character and a place on the National Register of Historic Places. With six plush guest rooms inside and bountiful gardens outside, summer at Brannan Cottage is all wine tasting, hot springs soaking, and farm-to-table eating. Fill up on coffee and fresh-baked goodies at the on-site Sam’s General Store (breakfast there is included for guests), then borrow a complimentary cruiser bike to tool around town and its nearby wineries. Rates start around $355/night.
Tip: Don't miss our modern guide to Calistoga.
// 109 Wappo Ave (Calistoga), brannancottageinn.com
Dream Inn, Santa Cruz
(Courtesy of @dreaminn_santacruz)
Though it’s a touch younger than some of the others on our list, Santa Cruz’s Dream Inn is no less storied. Erected amid the early 1960s surf culture craze, The Dream Inn is, today, the last remaining beachfront hotel in town. A recent remodel has resurrected that mid-century vibe with bright, beachy colors, wave-inspired patterns, and surfboards a plenty. The inn’s 10-story tower (with 165 ocean-view rooms) curves around the rim of its beachfront pool and patio where they serve morning mimosas, evening tequila sunsets, and all day food and cocktails. At the Jack O’Neill Restaurant, farm-and-sea-to-table fare and unbeatable views of the Monterey Bay are on the menu breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Rates start around $250/night.
Tip: Don't miss our modern guide to Santa Cruz.
// 175 W. Cliff Dr (Santa Cruz), dreaminnsantacruz.com