The Top 15 Resorts in California

·6 min read

This year's World's Best Awards survey was open for voting January 11 through May 10, 2021, as destinations around the world were lifting COVID-19 restrictions. Survey rules have always allowed readers to reflect on their travel experiences over a three-year period. We hope that this year's honorees will inspire your own travels as you get back out into the world.

The Golden State hasn't lost a bit of luster in travelers' minds, despite the compounding hardships of wildfires, mudslides, and the pandemic. Through it all, California has provided the perfect outlets for open-air relaxation — and, yes, social distancing — that we've needed during stressful times, whether that's time spent on the spectacular coast or in the High Sierra. The people and hospitality businesses of California have proven resilient as they've adapted to welcome guests in COVID-conscious ways, and the properties that T+L readers voted as the best resorts in California deeply embody this style of hospitality.

Every year for our World's Best Awards survey, T+L asks readers to weigh in on travel experiences around the globe — to share their opinions on the top hotels, resorts, cities, islands, cruise ships, spas, airlines, and more. Hotels were rated on their facilities, location, service, food, and overall value. Properties were classified as city or resort based on their locations and amenities.

The resorts that readers found most compelling excel in providing a sense of tranquility and privacy, no matter the surroundings. That said, the majority can be found along the Pacific Coast. Brewery Gulch Inn (No. 6) takes full advantage of its position on a craggy NorCal bluff and its proximity to both the Mendocino National Forest and the vineyards of Anderson Valley. Almost every room offers an ocean view, and activities include mushroom foraging, kayaking, wine tours, and shinrin yoku (forest bathing). "The setting for this inn is just glorious. The service was outstanding and the food and drink way above average," wrote one frequent guest, whose most recent visits happened during COVID. "We stayed twice during the pandemic, had a wonderful time, and felt 100 percent safe."

To the south, in Sonoma County, Farmhouse Inn (No. 13) also impressed with its thoughtful service. "The food, the rooms, the pool, the extra special touches like cookies and milk and the s'mores," enthused a reader. "Everything about this place is wonderful!"

Three properties affected by the state's natural disasters — Meadowood Napa Valley (No. 10), Post Ranch Inn (No. 3), and San Ysidro Ranch (No. 9) — demonstrate the power of persistence and patience. Each had to navigate the tricky path of rebuilding and reopening in various stages, but loyal guests helped provide motivation and were enthusiastic about the return of each. "The most rustic and quiet and romantic property in beautiful Montecito," said one voter who stayed at San Ysidro Ranch. "Both restaurants are outstanding, and the cottages are comfortable and immaculate. Wonderful if you're looking for quiet and isolation. Just perfection!"

Nobu Ryokan Malibu, Malibu, California
Nobu Ryokan Malibu, Malibu, California

Courtesy of Nobu Ryokan Malibu Nobu Ryokan Malibu hotel beachfront King-Room, Malibu, California

Elsewhere, Palm Springs has seen a flurry of petite resort openings, including a handful that have breathed new life into retro motels. Sparrows Lodge (No. 14) puts a rustic twist on an old 1950s setup, tricking out its 20 rooms with beamed ceilings, concrete floors, and funky horse-trough bathtubs. "Very zen vibe with a fantastic heated pool," noted one reader, who appreciated the complimentary cocktails upon arrival. "Beautiful, adult camp–themed rooms. There's a lovely, low-key vibe, but celebrity sightings are also frequent." The 28-room Holiday House (No. 7) exudes a punchier, Midcentury Modern vibe, with bright colors, bold textiles from decorator Mark D. Sikes, and artwork from David Hockney and Herb Ritts. "This is my favorite hotel in Palm Springs," enthused one reader. "Right in the center of town but one block off the main strip so there is absolutely no noise from nightlife. The attention to the room décor and details is impeccable. Breakfast is included, and the outdoor dining area is very chill and pleasant."

For all the competition, it was a subdued coastal property, Nobu Ryokan Malibu, that ran away with the No. 1 spot. Find out what set it apart — and see which other properties readers voted onto this year's list of the best resorts in California.

1. Nobu Ryokan Malibu, Malibu

Nobu Ryokan Malibu, Malibu, California
Nobu Ryokan Malibu, Malibu, California

Courtesy of Nobu Ryokan Malibu Nobu Ryoka Malibu, Beachfront-Suite, Malibu, California

Just off the bustling Pacific Coast Highway, this exclusive haven with 11 rooms and five bungalows overlooks Carbon Beach and pays tribute to traditional Japanese inns while taking a sleek, modern approach befitting its glamorous location in Malibu — and its $2,000-per-night price tag. The aesthetic is serene and minimalist without being ascetic; accommodations feature neutral-toned linens, teak soaking tubs, and custom yukatas to wear while lounging or enjoying in-room dining from the brand's restaurant, which is located across the street. Guests can also request in-room spa treatments from partner spa Cure. One voter called it "the No. 1 in Malibu" but clearly many other readers hold it in even higher esteem as the best in all of California.

Score: 98.59
More information: malibu.nobuhotels.com

2. Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa, San Diego

Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa, San Diego, California
Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa, San Diego, California

Courtesy of Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa, hotel spa pavilion, San Diego, California

Score: 98.03
More information: ranchovalencia.com

3. Post Ranch Inn, Big Sur

Post Ranch Inn, Big Sur, California
Post Ranch Inn, Big Sur, California

Kodiak Greenwood/Courtesy of Post Ranch Inn Post Ranch Inn, hotel deck, Big Sur, California

Score: 96.18
More information: postranchinn.com

4. The Surfrider, Malibu

The Surfrider, Malibu, California
The Surfrider, Malibu, California

Trevor Tondro/Courtesy of The Surfrider The Surfrider, hotel roof deck , Malibu, California

Score: 95.50
More information: thesurfridermalibu.com

5. The Ranch at Laguna Beach, Laguna Beach

The Ranch at Laguna Beach, Laguna Beach, California
The Ranch at Laguna Beach, Laguna Beach, California

Courtesy of The Ranch at Laguna Beach The Ranch at Laguna Beach, hotel, The Treehouse Living Room, Laguna Beach, California

Score: 95.36
More information: theranchlb.com

6. Brewery Gulch Inn, Mendocino

Brewery Gulch Inn, Mendocino, California
Brewery Gulch Inn, Mendocino, California

Courtesy of Brewery Gulch Inn Brewery Gulch Inn, hotel deck, Mendocino, California

Score: 94.97
More information: brewerygulchinn.com

7. Holiday House, Palm Springs

Holiday House, Palm Springs, California
Holiday House, Palm Springs, California

Jaime Kowal Photography/Courtesy of Holiday House Holiday House, hotel exterior, Palm Springs, California

Score: 94.78
More information: holidayhouseps.com

8. Solage, Auberge Resorts Collection, Calistoga

Solage, Auberge Resorts Collection, Calistoga, California
Solage, Auberge Resorts Collection, Calistoga, California

Courtesy of Solage, Auberge Resorts Collection Solage, Auberge Resorts Collection, hotel Queen Studio guest room, Calistoga, California

Score: 94.53
More information: aubergeresorts.com

9. San Ysidro Ranch, Santa Barbara

San Ysidro Ranch, Santa Barbara, California
San Ysidro Ranch, Santa Barbara, California

Courtesy of San Ysidro Ranch San Ysidro Ranch, hotel garden, Santa Barbara, California

Score: 94.50
More information: sanysidroranch.com

10. Meadowood Napa Valley, St. Helena

Meadowood Napa Valley, St. Helena, California
Meadowood Napa Valley, St. Helena, California

Courtesy of Meadowood Napa Valley Meadowood Napa Valley, hotel pool, St. Helena, California

Score: 94.33
More information: meadowood.com

11. Inn at Spanish Bay, Pebble Beach

The Inn at Spanish Bay, Pebble Beach, California
The Inn at Spanish Bay, Pebble Beach, California

Courtesy of The Inn at Spanish Bay The Inn at Spanish Bay, hotel exterior, Pebble Beach, California

Score: 94.14
More information: pebblebeach.com

12. Park Hyatt Aviara Resort, Golf Club & Spa, Carlsbad

Park Hyatt Aviara Resort, Golf Club & Spa, Carlsbad, California
Park Hyatt Aviara Resort, Golf Club & Spa, Carlsbad, California

Courtesy of Park Hyatt Aviara Resort, Golf Club & Spa Park Hyatt Aviara Resort, Golf Club & Spa, hotel pool, Carlsbad, California

Score: 93.86
More information: hyatt.com

13. Farmhouse Inn, Forestville

Farmhouse Inn, Forestville, California
Farmhouse Inn, Forestville, California

Farmhouse Inn, King Deluxe hotel guest room, Forestville, California

Score: 93.81
More information: farmhouseinn.com

14. Sparrows Lodge, Palm Springs

The Sparrows Lodge, Palm Springs, California
The Sparrows Lodge, Palm Springs, California

WireImage/Getty Images The Sparrows Lodge, pool, Palm Springs, California

Score: 93.78
More information: sparrowslodge.com

15. Kimpton Shorebreak Resort, Huntington Beach

Kimpton Shorebreak Resort, Huntington Beach, California
Kimpton Shorebreak Resort, Huntington Beach, California

Courtesy of KIMPTON SHOREBREAK RESORT Kimpton Shorebreak Resort, hotel lobby, Huntington Beach, California

Score: 93.56
More information: shorebreakhotel.com

See all of our readers' favorite hotels, cities, airlines, cruise lines, and more in the World's Best Awards for 2021.