By Ruth Doherty
With the re-emergence of travel on the agenda, and the industry having more time than expected to work on exciting new launches, there's never been a better time to book your next vacation – and the best new design hotels in California are sure to tempt you to the West Coast.
A slew of stylish new hotspots are opening their doors for 2021, invigorating the market and adding an extra frisson of excitement for your next getaway.
Whether it's a back-to-nature escape to Montage Healdsburg, a beautiful vineyard estate with a modern aesthetic in Sonoma, a stop-off at the Kelly Wearstler-designed Downtown LA Proper, or a trip to its cool little sister, The Hotel June, we've got covetable modern Cali hotels covered.
Discover the best new design hotels in California for 2021 below (we've got our eyes firmly set on the slow-living lifestyle of the Central Coast at the White Water Cambria)...
See: The best hotels in the world – take a look
1. Montage Healdsburg, Sonoma, California
A design-led but family-friendly hideaway in California’s wine country, Montage Healdsburg is a beautiful, hip hideaway that celebrates the authentic charm and scenic beauty of Sonoma County.
Nestled on a 258-acre vineyard, the resort's contemporary yet natural aesthetic celebrates the landscape and its palette, including its 22,000 carefully preserved oak trees. Design features include wood-paneled ceilings and live-edge wood furniture, celebrating the natural contours of wood and inviting the outdoors inside.
The 130 rooms – like huts raised off the ground – blend modern luxury with organic accessories, and boast private terraces, outdoor showers, and fire pits with views over the vineyards. There's a beautiful spa, and the Hazel Hill restaurant welcoming in a French farmhouse kind of way with a contemporary aesthetic and terroir-to-table dining.
See: The most beautiful new hotels in the Caribbean – your next vacation awaits you
2. Cara Hotel, Los Feliz, California
Located in Los Feliz at the foothills of Griffith Park, Cara Hotel is a newly-opened 60-room hotspot offering thoughtful design and a deep engagement with the free spirit of California.
Originally built as a 1950s-era motel, Cara was meticulously transformed over 18 months with a complete redesign of both the interior and exterior spaces. The result is an open-air concept anchored by a central courtyard boasting centuries-old olive trees and a serene outdoor pool.
The guest rooms and public spaces feature a neutral palette and handcrafted elements from local artists. The all-white aesthetic is elegant and restful, and rooms are finished with ceramic lamps and lovely linens. Each room takes advantage of the Los Angeles sun and iconic Southern California landscape with breezy patios and private courtyard-facing balconies meant to bring the outside in.
3. Downtown LA Proper Hotel, California
With city lights and vintage bricks as a backdrop, Downtown LA Proper re-imagines and updates a landmark in the heart of LA's fashion district into a 148-room design-led hotel.
The creative vision of renowned interior designer Kelly Wearstler seamlessly blends past and present with compelling design, vintage influence and local art. Proper has preserved the building’s colorful history, from a state-of-the-art private club in the 1920s – when members included Cecil B. DeMille – to a YWCA in the 1960s. Wearstler looked to Downtown LA as her muse for this 1920s California Renaissance Revival landmark.
Her one-of-a-kind vision deftly layers the building’s vestiges of the 1920s with elements of Spanish, Portuguese, Mexican and Moroccan design. In addition to vintage furniture and rugs, Wearstler employs more than 100 different kinds of tile throughout, from hand-painted to vintage to custom commissioned and fabricated. There's also cool murals and installations by talents such as Judson Studios stained glass and ceramicist Morgan Peck.
As well as the stylish rooms, there's two destination restaurants, including an intimate lounge and a city-view rooftop pool bar.
4. The Hotel June, LA, California
The more purse-friendly, yet no less stylish, younger sister of the Proper Downtown, the The Hotel June is a hip hangout for the cool crowd located near LAX. It's an iconic Westside location wrapped in a timeless mid-century modern building, and is imbued with inviting design, vibrant food, and thoughtful details.
Hotel June seamlessly merges the past and present — pairing mid-century nostalgia with coastal minimalism, all set in a classic Westside building designed by renowned LA architect Welton Becket.
With modern interiors by the award-winning Studio Collective, it's at once airy and cozy, blending clean lines and warm natural woods, earthy finishes, and custom furnishings and art; one of which includes an abstract mural from Brooklyn-based artist Alex Proba in the lobby.
The easy-breezy Baja-inspired Caravan Swim Club is the poolside gathering place for everything from cabana drinks to fire pit gatherings, and creative meetings to laidback lounging. Food is the domaine of Steve Livigni from award-winning Scopa – expect oysters, burritos and espresso smoothies.
See: The best new design hotels in the US – everything you need to know
5. White Water Cambria, Central Coast, California
Switch off and reset at White Water Cambria, a stunning beachside boutique property on a famed stretch of Moonstone Beach on California’s wildly beautiful Central Coast.
LA-based interior designer Nina Freudenberger was tapped for the project, and has created a seaside lodge with influences from 1970s Scandinavia and California bohemian culture throughout.
The 25 modern cabin-inspired rooms boast Aesop goodies, ocean views, and a design-forward setting in a laidback format. Soak up and enjoy the slow Central Coast lifestyle in warm, unfussy and pared-back style, with light woods, Baltic birch and all-natural materials accented with color and pattern – a subtle reflection of the beach landscape outside. Vintage fabrics mix with modern lighting, artwork by Block Shop Textiles and accessories from local artisans.
A unique pocket of the Central Coast, Cambria is a tucked away beachside community on Highway 1 with an understated allure that blends native Californian culture with a bohemian-inspired beach lifestyle that feels like a blend of Big Sur, its most notable neighbor to the north, and Santa Barbara, its most notable neighbor to the south.
The town also sits in close proximity to Paso Robles, one of the top wine regions in the world and the third largest in California, that is increasingly being heralded as an indie, boutique version of Napa Valley. Great food, good wine, super surfing - an unpretentious slice of true Cali culture.
6. Palihouse Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, California
The newest California opening from well-known LA-based hotelier Avi Brosh’s Palisociety, Palihouse Santa Barbara is a charming reimagination of a 1920s era building in the heart of downtown that was once the Santa Barbara School of Arts.
Located in the beachside city's historic Presidio neighborhood, this downtown hotel contrasts the flurry of beach retreats and offers a 'European club-style environment with all the touch points of a quaint inn, where personality, design and understated service could shine,' explains Avi.
The anti-formulaic aesthetic blends 'vintage preppy' with 'American Riviera' for a cool, comfortable setting. The outdoor courtyard, a lush environment where café style and lounge seating is intermixed around a central, babbling water fountain, evokes a European-inspired atmosphere for food, drink, snd socialising.
Pale pink vintage-style umbrellas dot the space while Brosh’s signature mix-and-match aesthetic is brought to life on floral armchairs, marble-topped tables, woven dining chairs, and more. Wander through bright bougainvillea and climbing vines and you'll find the hotel’s sparkling pool tucked away at the back of the property.
And, while it offers a European sensibility, you'll still find Peloton bikes and NordicTrack treadmills in the on-site gym – this is still California, after all.
Ruth Doherty is an interiors writer who has worked for Homes & Gardens and Ideal Home magazines among many others.
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