Don`t Know Where to Go in California? 7 Unique Hotels That Are Worth a Trip

These hotels are so amazing that they are worth planning a special trip to experience

Forget cookie cutter properties and unmemorable destinations and décor. Quirky California excels at offering up hotels with unique experiences that are worth a trip to the Golden State on their own. There is something for everybody, no matter if the idea is to just have a special weekend getaway or a fun family vacation.

From a hidden hotel tiki bar to a lake hotel with a private beach, all of these hotels are memorable enough to warrant a special visit from across the state, or across the country for entertainment, amazing views, and experiences that are among my most memorable California moments.

Hotels Map:

A Roadside Attraction on the Central California Coast

Since 1958, the Madonna Inn’s unique combination of roadside attraction mixed with mountain top vacation destination has drawn travelers traversing the California Coast. The quirky property in San Luis Obispo is famed for its eclectic décor, although you may not suspect it from the exterior, designed to look like a rambling Swiss chalet.

Step inside, and you’ll be met by eccentric California creativity, including 110 over-the-top, individually decorated rooms. Unique highlights include wagon wheel beds, Barbie pink-hued walls and floors, carved rock caves, and in-room rock waterfalls and showers (even the men’s lobby bathroom has a waterfall urinal!).

Public spaces are all highly Instagrammable, especially the hot pink, round leather booths in the gold-and-vine encrusted Gold Rush Steak House. The festive restaurant is the site of multiple celebrations every evening, often enhanced by the in-house bakery ‘s pink champagne cake frosted to match the rose patterned carpet.

Even though you can keep busy checking out the inside décor of the inn for days at a time, outdoors is pretty special, too, with hot pink tennis courts, pool-side cocktail bar, wine and cheese trail rides, and pink bike rentals to explore the surrounding area.

Madonna Inn

Top rated
San Luis Obispo
9.2 Excellent (2475 reviews)

Elegant Evenings with Mickey Mouse and Pals in Anaheim

Speaking of the House of Mouse, Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, in Anaheim, is the first Disney hotel located within an actual theme park. But take all of your preconceived notions of a theme park hotel, and then throw them off the top of Space Mountain, because this is Disney done luxe.

A soaring six-story Arts and Crafts lobby is inspired by the Golden’s State 1900s architecture, and the dim lighting and elegant furnishings make everything feel luxurious. It’s the perfect spot to listen to the pianist play lightly rendered Disney tunes while you sip a cocktail in sleek leather chair.

Of course, there’s also Disney magic afoot, with an exclusive back door entrance directly into California Adventure (leaving you just a few yards from the Soarin’ ride and the sweet treats of Ghirardelli) and special early access to the park when you spend the night.

Disney's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa

Top rated
8.8 Excellent (2588 reviews)

A Hip Palm Springs Oasis to Dive Into

Palm Springs is where to head for the coolest scene in the hot desert sun. Once the hang out of Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack, the mecca of 50s-era midcentury modern design now attracts a hip, millennial crowd that’s drawn to the dramatic scenery and the magnetic pull of the funky Ace Hotel & Swim Club.

Originally a very unchic Westward Ho with a Denny’s, the property has been transformed into a trendy desert delight. There are 179 sleek rooms, many sporting views of the San Jacinto Mountains from private garden patios with fireplaces, all with vintage furnishings and trendy touches like record players and vinyl to chill out with.

Outside are two spacious pools, communal firepits, and even space for dogs to play in the grass since it’s a pet-friendly property. The old Denny’s has been reimagined as a retro chrome-enhanced King’s Highway coffee bar where there’s “Fabulous” drag bingo on Monday nights. And the Amigo Room Bar with live music and DJs pulls in all the cool kids. When you’re ready to explore, borrow a bike to see the downtown or take a drive to nearby Joshua Tree National Park, the Salton Sea, or the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.

Ace Hotel and Swim Club Palm Springs

Palm Springs
8.4 Very good (2245 reviews)

Luxury Among the Vines in California's Napa Valley Wine Country

If you’ve ever wanted to sleep where you sip, or wake to views of sun-kissed grape vines, the Auberge du Soleil in Rutherford is the ultimate California wine country’s hideaway. It a South-of-France elegance meets California modern luxury nestled on 33 verdant acres.

Once you arrive, you won’t need to leave, especially to eat. Decadent, and very romantic, dinners with a view are served at The Restaurant, a 13-time recipient of coveted Michelin Stars, which offers Napa Valley’s best vintages with sweeping views of the vineyards they were grown in.

The sybaritic 7,000 sq. ft. Auberge Spa has massage and skin treatments infused with grapeseed, plus marble hammam steam rooms, and three natural springs for soaking. There’s also a picturesque swimming pool for relaxing in the sun, or take a stroll through the sculpture garden with more than 100 works from California artists.

If you do want to leave to sip the area’s wines, the property will chauffeur you in their Mercedes-Benz and will pack a Picnic in the Parc hamper with fruit, charcuterie, cheese, and, more wine!

Auberge du Soleil

Top rated
9.6 Excellent (249 reviews)

Modern Comforts at Yosemite National Park

The great outdoors awaits in Yosemite National Park, with awe-inspiring sequoias, thundering waterfalls, and purple-tinged mountains to explore. But there’s no need to rough it in the wilderness at Tenaya Lodge. This is not the national park adventures of your childhood (well, at least not my childhood), there are no dark cabins or outdated lodge spaces that left us longing for the elbow room spied in the great outdoors.

Instead, Tenaya has new Explorer Cabins, two-bedroom private spaces with soaring views of the mountains and modern comforts like a living room, granite kitchen, fireplace, and a private deck. They’re so comfortable, the lodge has won awards for being both the best family resort in the west and the best resort for pets in the west.

Plus, the lodge will take you to see all the waterfalls and towering trees in open back tour buses, so you don’t have to worry about directions or driving yourself. And back on property, there are a large pool, archery, and even a kids` adventure course for a full vacation, with none of the stress.

Tenaya at Yosemite

Top rated
Fish Camp
8.7 Excellent (3882 reviews)

A Resort With Private Beach at Beautiful Lake Tahoe

It’s not just California’s national parks that offer worth-a-special-trip views. Head to the western mountains to Lake Tahoe and you’ll find snow-capped mountains and vitrine waters without park designation. It’s a special natural side of the state where you can ski on snow or on water. The best lakeside location to enjoy all the natural wonder is The Landing Tahoe Resort & Spa, where a private beach frames the aqua waters and has views straight through to the snowcapped Sierra Mountain peaks.

In the summer, boat or paddleboard, swim, jet or water ski right from the exclusive manicured golden sand. In the winter, the resort offers shuttles for snow days swooshing down the slopes or cross country skiing or snow shoeing.

Regardless of the season, The Landing celebrates all things California through its farm-to-fork menu at Jimmy’s Restaurant and the alpine botanicals featured in its spa.

The Landing Resort and Spa

Top rated
South Lake Tahoe
9.0 Excellent (2137 reviews)

Hilltop Views and an Iconic Tiki Bar in the City by the Bay

And, finally, the Fairmont San Francisco offers three only-here draws that make it worth a special trip: unparalleled location, long-reaching history, and what may be the coolest subterranean bar anywhere. To start, there’s the famed location at the top of Nob Hill, the pinnacle of the hilly city. Your legs may feel like Jell-O when you reach the front door, but the expansive view is a worthy reward.

Relax in the ornate Laurel Court Lobby, originally crafted when the hotel opened in 1907. It was here in the Venetian Roon that Tony Bennett first crooned, I Left My Heart In San Francisco (there’s a statue of the singer outside).

Rest up in one of the plush rooms or suites before heading downstairs to one of highlights of the hotel: The Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar. This basement level hangout has been serving up Polynesian delights since 1945, making it the oldest continuously operating tiki Bar in the country. Anthony Bourdain called the Tonga Room “…the greatest place in the history of the world,” for the décor, created by the leading set director at MGM, Mel Melvin, and its flaming pu pu appetizer platters.

Melvin is the mastermind who transformed a regular hotel swimming pool into a “lagoon,” created a floating stage for an orchestra, and even added Disney-worthy lightning and thunder “storms” during performances.

Fairmont San Francisco

Top rated
San Francisco
8.7 Excellent (2690 reviews)