Synonymous with the Gold Rush, Hollywood glamour, and Silicon Valley fortunes, California is no stranger to luxury experiences. But the Golden State’s particular charm goes beyond champagne, caviar, and 500-count sheets. Here, an adventurous spirit, a playful approach to life, and innovation, all grounded in its spectacular natural settings, guides the pretense-free philosophy that makes the destination so desirable. Check into a five-star working ranch where you can meditate and get the best massage of your life. Go wine tasting in a vintage VW. Spend an afternoon on the beach—complete with a butler and s’mores—that’s more exquisite than many restaurants. Keep reading for more from two local travel advisors who shared their perspective on booking the best luxury California travel experiences.
Care for yourself at an eco-friendly wellness resort
Between The Ashram, a Calabasas retreat favored by the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and Oprah, and Two Bunch Palms, a Palm Springs oasis with mineral-rich hot springs, California boasts some of the top spas and wellness programs in the country. One recent addition, NewTree Ranch in Sonoma, is one of the biggest lesser-known gems in the state, according to Melissa James, a travel advisor with Valerie Wilson Travel. “It’s only a five or seven minute drive from downtown Healdsburg, but once you enter the property you feel that you’re a million miles away,” she says. At the property, set on 120 private acres of self-sustaining farmland, guests immerse themselves in nature while feeding the ranch animals, riding horses, going forest bathing, planting trees, and enjoying massages and facials in an outdoor tent. “It’s all very interactive and eco-friendly, while still being luxury and five-star all the way,” says James.
Get the VIP treatment
One of the best ways to see California is on a private tour, so James frequently collaborates with partners to incorporate exclusive extras on her itineraries. For instance, outdoorsy clients might enjoy a helicopter ride out to Yosemite for a day trip, while those interested in slow travel can rent a classic convertible for a drive up the stunning coastline. Meanwhile, families love a VIP visit to Zaca Creek Ranch in Santa Barbara, a historic ranchero, to meet the resident alpacas and llamas.
Savor a fresh, award-winning meal
With more Michelin stars than any other state and some of the best produce in the nation, California is a gastronomic paradise. Katie Cadar, director of leisure sales and hotel partnerships at TravelStore, recommends Matsuhisa Beverly Hills—an intimate sushi bar from famed chef Nobu Matsuhisa and the restaurant that launched his empire—as well asSingleThread in Sonoma Wine Country where a husband-wife team, Chef Kyle Connaughton and Head Farmer Katina Connaughton, plate kaiseki-influenced, farm-to-table tasting menus. In Carmel-by-the-Sea, James suggests Aubergine and its impressive 3,500-bottle wine cellar, located in L’Auberge Carmel, a Relais & Châteaux resort.
Experience the ultimate golf retreat
Built in 1923 and once hailed as a “marvel of golfing architecture,” Ojai Country Club was one of the first great golf courses in Southern California. Today, it remains one of the world’s top championship golf courses and is on property at the Ojai Valley Inn. “It’s a fabulous resort for golf enthusiasts, and a favorite with some of my high-end clients,” says James. You also can’t go wrong with Torrey Pines in San Diego, The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay outside San Francisco, and Pebble Beach near Monterey if you’d like a view of the Pacific Ocean while practicing your swing, says Cadar.
Sip the good stuff
To get the most out of their time in Napa and Sonoma, Cadar often sends her clients with a private driver to take them on a personalized tour from estate to estate. Another option if you’re touring California’s lesser-known Southern vineyards: Malibu Wine Hikes, a company that offers adventurous wine tours in 4x4s and vintage VWs. If you prefer to stay put, James likes the adults-only hotel Alila Napa Valley. “They are right next door to Beringer Vineyards—you don’t even need to leave the property,” she says. “They’ve got a great relationship and it’s a beautiful wine estate with lots of history and heritage.”
Live your best beach life
Embrace the California dream and enjoy a full day of sunbathing, surfing, and swimming on the glorious Pacific Coast. If you plan it right, you won’t have to do anything but apply sunscreen. Cadar suggests checking into Beach Village at Hotel del Coronado where beachside food trucks, bonfires with s’mores, plush beach daybeds, surf camps, and other amenities come with your oceanfront cottage or villa. At the Rosewood Miramar Beach, a favorite of James, guests stay in beach house–style rooms overlooking the water on one of the most exclusive stretches of coastline in Santa Barbara. Relax and let your beach butler arrange a host of activities for you, including yoga, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboarding.