You might find yourself eager to take an early-fall vacation but, at the same time, be turned off by the thought of thousands of other travelers having a similar idea. But why should you have to sacrifice a prime opportunity to escape for fear of crowds? While there are many noteworthy destinations in the Golden State, these three hideaways marry extravagance with exclusivity so well that we have no problem with journeying off the beaten path to find them.
Magic in Monterey
A showstopper on any Central Coast road trip, Monterey serves up the iconic vision of California’s rugged shoreline, bracing against the blue Pacific, as you drive through breathtaking Big Sur. Once the capital of Alta California, as a territory of Spain and then Mexico, the city became a draw for artists, writers and fortune hunters looking to get in on the fishing boom of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Monterey still taps into that nostalgia with storied streets and all-out natural beauty. Find the perfect perch at Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa, where you can take in unobstructed views of the peninsula, enjoy Fisherman’s Wharf or stroll to the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium.
The 290-room gem nestles up to the waters of the bay, boasting a prime location on historic Cannery Row (the Great Depression-era, sardine-cannery-lined street immortalized by author John Steinbeck in the 1945 novel of the same name). The lobby transports you to old California in a very good way — Spanish colonial influences, gorgeous Persian rugs and one of the best water views in town. Rooms are neatly furnished in classic Mediterranean style, with luxe window treatments, rich linens and elegant crown molding. Of the hotel’s 18 well-appointed suites, three Luxury Suites on the Penthouse level offer fireplaces, huge bathrooms with whirlpool tubs and private wet bars.
Onsite, Schooners Coastal Kitchen & Bar dishes sustainable seafood and local Monterey County wines. We recommend kicking off with wood-baked oysters and chili-infused angry prawns accompanied by a fresh, signature cocktail. Then breathe the ocean air and hear the waves landing at the hotel’s 11,000-square-foot Vista Blue Spa, also on the Penthouse level. With a wide selection of restorative and high-tech treatments, you’ll be hard-pressed to leave this getaway within a getaway. Still, you’ll want to venture out for golf, sport fishing, scuba diving, bicycling along Cannery Row or a quick, scenic drive in Carmel-by-the-Sea.
Jet Setting, Newport Beach Style
For those who like nature with a little bling, Newport Beach is California’s ultimate escape. All throughout the year, the upscale enclave is equal parts Mediterranean-style weather, golden sand beaches, acclaimed eateries and world-class shopping. From exclusive Crystal Cove to idyllic Balboa Island, the city’s sought-after waterfront is dominated by lavish private homes. Luckily, you can find your own slice of the good life — and arguably the best bayfront vistas — at the 159-room Balboa Bay Resort. It doesn’t matter if you arrive by car or park your yacht at the guest dock, you’ll instantly notice that the Forbes Travel Guide Recommended resort’s relaxed nautical theme exudes quiet luxury. Plantation shutters and wicker furnishings help conjure up a hint of a New England-Martha’s Vineyard vibe. Ideal for families, the area’s only full-service resort is a self-contained world, adjacent to the legendary, members-only Balboa Bay Club, and complete with a vigilantly maintained private beach, a 130-slip marina and a sparkling spa. There are ample opportunities for R&R, whether that means paddle boarding in the calm ocean waters, lounging by the waterfront pool or sailing to Catalina Island (one hour by boat). If you really want to do the Newport “thing,” rent one of the resort’s 12-seat Duffy boats and explore on your own.
Or you could simply sleep in. Awash in natural light, each guest room is flanked by a private balcony, and decorated in a sunny, tropical palette. Bay-view rooms offer 500 square feet of comfort, marble and granite baths and sweeping waterfront vistas. The Presidential Suite spreads a generous 3,000 square feet, with two bedrooms, two private balconies, a living room, a dining room and all the makings of a well-appointed home.
When you aren’t ordering room service, choose the dining option that suits your mood, night or day. A great spot to pick up a bottle of rosé and sandwiches for a beach picnic, Blend by Balboa Bay Resort serves breakfast, coffee and quick bites. Check out the resort’s recently opened gastropub, A&O Kitchen and Bar, for a lively scene and casual eats. Popular with locals, the rustic-chic hot spot serves inventive fare, from baked lamb meatballs to grilled romaine Caesar salad and beignets with bourbon crème anglaise — as well as craft beers on tap. Also buzzworthy, fine-dining venue Waterline Newport Beach is helmed by two formidable culinary talents, executive chef Vincent Lesage and chef de cuisine Rachel Haggstrom. Besides stunning scenery, the bayfront restaurant’s water-to-table concept focuses on catch-of-the-day delights with a California twist, such as broiled local bass plated with paella, peppers, chorizo, English peas, clams and mussels. The house lobster roll with avocado and cucumber is wrapped in soy paper, and then served with chipotle dipping sauce and yuzu-soy vinaigrette—marrying SoCal’s Asian and Mexican cultural influences quite deliciously.
Coast with the Most
Santa Barbara is the epitome of the California dream: a sweeping, windswept white coastline with an endless panorama of the sea; rolling hills dotted with wineries, olive and orange groves; whitewashed Spanish-style homes dripping with bougainvillea and tucked into rolling green hills; a downtown lined with colonial architecture; expansive luxury resorts and, yes, beautiful people. A stone’s throw from the Old Mission and across the street from the beach, the centrally located Harbor View Inn is an insider’s secret retreat, properly romantic and very low key. The friendly staff at the Forbes Travel Guide Recommended spot ensures an intimate ambience for guests who want to feel secluded. Outfitted in warm, soothing earth tones, suites and guest rooms offer ocean or city views.
Explore town or play on the beach all day, then return to watch the sunset and relax. Harbor View’s onsite retreat, Spa Beaumontia, has an eclectic menu of well-considered, rejuvenating treatments. Combine a jojoba scalp massage with your muscle-melting Swedish massage, or splurge on a gentleman’s facial, complete with a calming lemongrass mask. Since these aromas might rev your appetite, don’t miss the chance to dine alfresco at on-property Eladio’s. From an invigorating Bloody Mary for breakfast to clams, mussels and macadamia-topped mahi mahi for dinner, the restaurant emphasizes fresh, local produce and the bounty of the sea. With State Street nightlife in such close proximity, you still have the possibility of even more adventures in one of the state’s prettiest cities. It’s nice to have options.