Think you’ve ‘done’ SoCal and California? Think again. Surprises await up and down the coast

Share via

If you’re traveling the Golden State this summer, here are some of the surprises in store for you at a changed and changing slate of hotels, spas, museums and more, from San Diego to the Coachella Valley to Napa Valley.

Palm Springs & Coachella Valley

Sure, it’s blazingly hot in Palm Springs and Coachella Valley in the summer — that’s why they have all those swimming pools we’ve heard so much fuss about during the drought. But, as they said in the ‘60s when Midcentury Modern style ruled here, you can enjoy the pools but then save water by showering with a friend.


Discover more about that famous Midcentury Modern architecture at the Palm Springs Art Museum’s new Architecture and Design Center in the Edwards Harris Pavilion downtown.

Info: (760) 423-5260,

Start planning your summer vacation: What’s new to do in California and beyond

L’Horizon (formerly the Horizon Hotel), a property that’s seen the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable and several U.S. presidents, reopens Wednesday after a “multimillion-dollar re-envisioning” with 25 bungalows on three acres. Doubles from $600 a night.

Info: (760) 323-1858,

Share your best summer vacation pictures with us for our upcoming photo issue

Hollywood in the desert: Triada Palm Springs in the Movie Colony area of downtown opened in October with eight casitas, eight suites and 20 units with full kitchens. Doubles from $100 a night.


Info: (760) 844-7000,

Near the southwestern edge of town below the mountains, the former Viceroy Palm Springs became the Avalon Palm Springs in April with emphasis on “alchemy, holistic health and global herbal medicine” in its Estrella Spa. Doubles from $180.

Info: (760) 320-4117,

Two Bunch Palms in Desert Hot Springs claims to be the first carbon neutral resort in North America. It launches its 3 1/2-acre solar-generating farm Sunday, on the summer solstice. Doubles from $219 a night.

Info: (760) 329-8791,

Skip that polluting car and try the Palm Springs Buzz, a trolley that began in December and covers about 12 miles with 31 stops from 11 a.m. till 1 a.m. Thursdays through Sundays. The Hyatt Palm Springs’ HooDoo Patio Restaurant and Bar, near Buzz Stop No. 7, serves BuzzBar alcohol-infused sorbet and ice cream bars for adults.


Info: Palm Springs Buzz,; HooDoo Bar, (760) 322-9000,

At the other end of the environmental spectrum, the BMW Performance Center West, which opened in late 2014 at the Thermal Club, a private motor sports club in La Quinta, offers a variety of training and performance-driving courses and includes a 1.4-mile-long road course.

Info: (888) 345-4269,;

San Diego area

What says the city to our south more than beaches and sea gulls, and now large cutout words and letters along the Embarcadero that form artworks based on the 1970 book “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” by Richard Bach. A quirky visitor center with multicolored windows adorns the pedestrian-only promenade with its flower gardens, pathways, wooden benches, public art and jacaranda trees with purple blossoms.



Sea gulls no doubt also dream of joining chefs and visitors at the Tuna Harbor Dockside Market with all its freshly caught seafood and aqua-farmed seaweed. Emphasis is on local fisherfolk who use sustainable fishing methods with minimal carbon footprints.

Info: 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays,

Funky, foody fun: A 30,000-square-foot formerly vacant lot is now Quartyard, which opened in February as an urban park in the East Village neighborhood with music, a farmers market, a craft-beer garden, food trucks, movie nights, an arts-and-crafts market and a dog park for off-leash Frisbee chasing. It’s soooo San Diego.


The boutique Hotel Marisol Coronado reopened in the fall after a major renovation that included refurbishing wooden beams in the lobby of the 88-year-old hotel. Better, though, is its location two blocks from Coronado Beach. Doubles from $199 a night.

Info: (619) 365-4677,


In June 2014 the Kona Kai Resort & Spa on Shelter Island completed a $22-million renovation and in November launched SpaTerre featuring ancient Indonesian spa treatments, a couples suite, a Zen den relaxation room and six treatment rooms. Doubles from $199 a night.

Info: (619) 221-8000,

Newport Beach

Next to the beach on the Newport Peninsula, the Newport Beach Hotel, one of the Four Sisters Inns, opened five remodeled suites with full kitchens in April. The hotel lets guests borrow beach umbrellas, bicycles and boogie boards. Doubles from $225 a night.

Info: (800) 571-8749, (949) 673-7030,

The 292-room Island Hotel in Newport Beach finished a year-and-a-half renovation earlier this month, adding the Island Club, a 2,000-square-foot lounge with 360-degree views from the 20th floor. A new Market Place serves fresh foods and healthful snacks, and the redesigned pool area has cabanas, a poolside bar and large-screen TVs. Doubles from $259 a night.


Info: (866) 554-4620, (949) 759-0808,

Dana Point

Yeah, yeah, the St. Regis Monarch Beach in Dana Point is scheduled to complete a $30-million redo of its 400 guest rooms and suites later this month, but the really fun part is that the resort adopted two goats (alas, off site) to provide milk for fresh goat cheese in dishes such as Motif restaurant’s roasted beet salad and its smoked-trout flatbread. The resort’s also planning to add a garden and rooftop beehives for “hyper-local” restaurant ingredients. Doubles from $425 a night.

Info: (800) 722-1543, (949) 234-3900,

Laguna Beach

Designed to “reflect the laid-back California vibe,” the Laguna Beach House (formerly the Laguna Cliffs Inn) completed a $1.5-million remodel in April, placing emphasis on beach life and surfing, including adding a poolside shower made of surfboards. Doubles from $197 a night.


Info: (800) 297-0007,

In July the Urth Caffé takes over the building on the Pacific Coast Highway occupied for nearly 50 years by the Cottage Restaurant. Urth emphasizes organic and specialty coffees and teas.


Santa Monica

Want to go to a beach hotel but not necessarily to the beach? The Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel in March opened a swimming pool on the fourth floor where guests can gaze at the Pacific Ocean and Santa Monica Pier without getting sand between their toes. The pool deck even has the Beach Barn, which serves locally made ice cream from L.A. Creamery. Doubles from $398 a night.

Info: (888) 332-0160, (310) 458-6700,


The LEED-certified Ambrose Hotel relaunched earlier this month with an emphasis on health, environmental responsibility and casual Santa Monica charm. Doubles from $269 a night.

Info: (855) 426-2767,

Santa Barbara

Two baby Masai giraffes have been born at the Santa Barbara Zoo in the last seven months: Buttercup on Nov. 18, 2014, and Asha on March 19. Masai giraffes are the tallest land mammal, reaching nearly 20 feet in height — although these babies are currently considerably shorter.

Info: (805) 962-5339,

A new shark cove and improved shark-touch tank were added to the Santa Barbara Museum of Nature History Sea Center on Stearns Wharf this spring. In February, the center redid its Intertidal Wonder touch pools, which emphasize Santa Barbara’s varied marine ecosystem.


Info: (805) 962-2526,

The Good Lion, an unpretentious neighborhood craft-cocktail bar named for a fun and silly Ernest Hemingway children’s story, opened in Santa Barbara last November. The friendly bartenders use local organic produce in their rotating menu of cocktails, such as the recent Rosemary Clooney with vodka, curaçao, rosemary, honey, fresh organic lemon juice and absinthe.

Info: (805) 845-8754,

Bacara Resort & Spa, with a beachfront location in Goleta near Santa Barbara, has renovated all of its 360 guest rooms and suites, and the last of those will reopen in July. The resort also added a poolside bar with fireside lounges and high-definition TVs — which one hopes won’t lure guests from the bar’s gorgeous ocean views. Doubles from $350 a night.

Info: (855) 968-0100, (805) 290-1475,

Central Coast


The Central Coast has always had dramatic cliffs, golden-sand beaches and Highway 1, one of the world’s great coastal drives, but now it has terrific food, fun events and some stunning hotels.

With traditional half-timbered architecture outside and sleek modern Scandinavian style inside, the new Landsby boutique inn in Solvang emphasizes both Danish traditions and the local wine-country atmosphere. Its Mad & Vin restaurant serves “shrub” cocktails using tangy-but-sweet drinkable vinegars created from fruit freshly crushed with sugar and either sparkling water or alcohol. Doubles from $249 a night.

Info: (805) 688-3121,

Allegretto, a new luxury resort built in Tuscan style on 20 acres of gardens and vineyards, is to open in August in Paso Robles. Offerings will include cooking classes as well as visits to local wineries, ranches and farms. Guests may also just mosey through the vineyards at their leisure. Doubles from $279 a night.

Info: (800) 764-4614, (805) 296-3120,

The luxe Bernardus Lodge & Spa, which relaunched in April, sits on 28 acres of orchards, vineyards and fields of lavender in the Carmel Valley. The four-month, multimillion-dollar remodel reconfigured guest rooms as well as public and event spaces with an emphasis on romance and sensuality. Doubles from $475 a night.


Info: (831) 658-3400,

After sitting vacant in Santa Cruz for 70 years, an 1890 mansion in Stick-Eastlake style has undergone a $3-million restoration and opened in November as the Rio Vista Luxury Suites. In addition to adding new luxe touches in the suites, the original curved wooden grand staircase and redwood entry as well as eight stained-glass windows have been restored to their former grandeur. Doubles from $99 a night.

Info: (831) 621-2929,

Napa Valley

After a yearlong, top-to-bottom modernization and makeover, Napa Vineyard House‘s suites and two-bedroom cottage were reopened in May. The original Napa farmhouse was built in 1901, and all accommodations have views of vineyards. Doubles from $325 a night.

Info: (707) 927-3909,


Harvest Inn by Charlie Palmer, in St. Helena, in May added four 475-square-foot Harvest Lofts on the second floor of the main house. Also new, Palmer’s Harvest Table restaurant. Doubles from $269 a night.

Info: (800) 950-8466,

In May, following a $1.2-million renovation and expansion, Solage Calistoga in Calistoga reopened its Spa Solage with more than 3,000 square feet of space, including a reception area, a relaxation room and lockers. The refurbishing included the Solbar restaurant, which has won Michelin stars six times. Doubles from $545 a night.

Info: (855) 942-7442,

The historic Indian Springs Resort & Spa, also in Calistoga, added 75 new Mission Revival-style bungalows and lodge rooms in October. The remodel also added new meeting rooms and outdoor event gardens, including the Moroccan, Fountain, Agave and Hilltop Gardens. The resort also added a restaurant, Sam’s Social Club, which specializes in using local ingredients in “rustic new American cuisine” with a Mediterranean twist. Doubles from $239 a night.

Info: (707) 942-4913,



The state’s capital — in the heart of the Central Valley — is a natural for foodie culture, and it has new restaurants and events to back that up. “Foodie culture” includes beer, of course, and the first California Craft Beer Summit will take place here Sept. 11 and 12.

Info: (916) 228-4260,

Although his vegetarian restaurant, Mother, is very popular, in early July chef Michael Thiemann will open a heartier place, Empress Tavern, which will specialize in rotisserie meats.


Bottle & Barlow, a combination bar and barber shop, is scheduled to open this month on the ground floor of the Warehouse Artist Lofts project, a space designed for artists. The Bottle & Barlow motto is “Get loose & stay sharp.” Tip: Get your haircut early in the day — not at 2 a.m. closing time.


Fort Bragg


A four-mile segment of the California Coastal Trail opened this spring in Fort Bragg. As part of Noyo Headlands Park — and locally called the Fort Bragg Coastal Trail — the new segment conects with another five-mile long seaside trail. The southern segment of the park will open in mid-September. Info: