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Stay in SoCal’s “other” wine country
The Santa Ynez Valley is still, despite a star turn many years ago in the Alexander Payne-directed film Sideways, a relatively off-the-radar destination for most people beyond the Golden State’s borders. It shouldn’t be: it’s charming, far less subscribed than Napa or Sonoma, and the landscapes are proto-California – rolling yellow hills quilted with patches of vineyard and dotted by wide oaks, broken by the occasional frontier-era town (usually with a few clapboard façades still gratifyingly intact).
Auberge Resorts, which has a corner on the market for plush West Coast hospitality, recently opened The Inn at Mattei’s Tavern in one such town, Los Olivos. It’s inserted itself unassumingly, operating its restaurant and bar in the original tavern house (which dates to 1886), with the rooms and suites scattered across early-20th-century cottages and a new two-storey building (some of which have gardens and balconies). The food is clean, straightforward Californian – from Central Coast abalone to, natch, a robust kale salad – and good enough to have made the Tavern Restaurant a popular stop on the SoCal-to-NorCal Highway 101 route. aubergeresorts.com, from $950
Iconic architecture in western Sonoma County
The Sea Ranch Lodge is a minor northern California legend: a pioneering architecture and community model from the ’60s on a severely beautiful, 53-acre piece of Sonoma County coastline. For the past two years it’s been undergoing a quiet-revolution renovation involving local artists and artisans that has brought it back to tastemakers’ attention. First, in 2021, came its public spaces: a dining room, open to the public and majoring in comfort classics (chowder, smash burgers and grain bowls), a café and general store. At the beginning of this month, the original 1968 hotel’s 17 rooms reopened for bookings after a gentle, less-is-more renovation that privileges the original vision of the architects and landscape designers who worked on the project, among them Charles Moore, Joseph Esherick and Lawrence Halperin.
There’s a lot of local timber and local stone (hard to come by these days), hand-knit rugs, custom beds, closets and desks built by Santa Cruz Woodworks, and built-in window seats that capitalise on ocean-horizon views. The next stage of the project makes seven of the famous Sea Ranch residences available for short stays, operated by the hotel (its brilliant GM, Kristina Jetton, is one of California’s finest). For now, though, get yourself a room, light a fire in the groovy cheminée, pour a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon, and tap into a time before tech billionaires and property wildcatters when Sonoma’s landscape was the preserve of the dreamers. thesearanchlodge.com, rooms from $500
Twee Carmel gets a style shake-up
Central California’s Carmel-by-the-Sea is a far more familiar name to most – long a tourism destination for its restaurants, shops, music festivals and two long and lovely beaches (not to mention the annual Concours d’Elegance of vintage cars and constellation of world-class golf courses, both next door in Pebble Beach). Palisociety, the micro-chain of small and cool design-forward addresses, has just opened the first two properties in its new spin-off brand, Le Petit Pali, here. One, at the corner of Ocean Avenue – the village’s bustling high street – puts you right at the centre of the action, with 34 rooms across several bungalows.
The other, a 24-room hotel conversion in the local Craftsman style, is a few blocks away on Eighth Avenue; a bit quieter, but almost as easy a walk to Bottega Veneta, excellent pizzas at La Biciclette, and Carmel State Beach, where south of 13th Avenue you can (and should) take a picnic from the Cheese Shop down onto the sand to watch the sunset. Le Petit Pali style is English Country Cottage meets West Hollywood: all wainscoted walls painted pistachio or cream, vintage wicker (or midcentury oak) furniture and Aubusson or Persian rugs mixed with jute matting. They’re welcome additions to a place that could use a few more such addresses. lepetitpali.com, from $350
San Diego gets a grande dame back
Far to the south in San Diego, where the storied Del Coronado has (rightly) held sway as the place to stay for years, another landmark location is just emerging from a full and enticing-looking renovation. The 1946 Lafayette Hotel, once a favourite escape of the likes of Ava Gardner and Lana Turner, was acquired a couple of years ago by CH Projects, which owns and operates a handful of the city’s coolest restaurants.
Its 139 rooms have been redesigned by regular CH collaborators Post Company, a Brooklyn-based boutique firm that has gone long on wallpapered ceilings, fringed lamps and jewel tones, for a look that stays just the right side of over-the-top. Some rooms are in the main hotel, while suites fill the townhouses that surround the original pool (and quite the old-California glamour pool it is). A full eight bars and restaurants round out the offering, including a Oaxacan taquería-mezcaleria whose interiors were salvaged from a deconsecrated church in the Mexican state. lafayettehotelsd.com, from $299