Where to Stay in California Like a Local

Stay at Solage and stroll from your relaxing studio to the on-site Solbar, a hotspot among local Napa Valley vintners
Stay at Solage and stroll from your relaxing studio to the on-site Solbar, a hotspot among local Napa Valley vintners | Courtesy of Solage / Expedia
Casey Hatfield-Chiotti

Hang with the best of them at the most unique and coolest places to stay in California – home to trendy clubs, glamorous bars and destination restaurants.

Luxury hotels often create carefully crafted worlds through considered decor and fine service. But the most buzzed-about properties know how to blend in with the local fabric. These special hotels are often located in up-and-coming ’hoods, take their cues from regional history and lay on bars and restaurants that are as appealing to locals as to those just passing through. Here are the best places to stay in California to experience the Golden State like a local, bookable with Culture Trip.

1. Mama Shelter, Los Angeles

Boutique Hotel, Hotel

Vibrant room at Mama Shelter Los Angeles with black ceiling, black-and-white patterned carpet and pastel retro-chic decor
Courtesy of Mama Shelter Los Angeles / Hotels.com

Mama Shelter has perfected the art of enticing locals. The Los Angeles hotspot, located blocks from the Hollywood Walk of Fame, has a lively bar where DJs spin and a rooftop with a 360-degree city view that demands power lunching and date-night dinners. Guest rooms designed by Thierry Gaugain (right-hand man to Philippe Starck) are welcoming havens in the heart of LA, with king-size beds and views of the Hollywood Hills.

2. Sunset Tower, Los Angeles

Boutique Hotel

Table for four set up on the bougainvillea-filled rooftop of Sunset Tower Hotel offering 360-degree views of Los Angeles
Courtesy of Sunset Tower Hotel / Expedia

Checking into the art-deco Sunset Tower Hotel gives you a front seat to Hollywood intrigue. The chic Tower Bar, West Hollywood’s unofficial living room, is housed in Bugsy Siegel’s former ground-floor apartment. Movie stars and musicians flock to the walnut-paneled spaces, kitted out with a fireplace and suitably discreet seating. As hotel owner Jeff Klein describes it: “It’s an elegant, safe haven for the players.” A-lister sightings are a given.

4. Hotel VIA, San Francisco

Boutique Hotel

Rooftop terrace at Hotel VIA, San Francisco, with white lamp-shaped heat lamps, black tables and chairs and city views
Courtesy of Hotel VIA / Expedia

San Francisco’s industrial South Beach has a reputation as the city’s workhorse. The neighborhood’s shipping and warehousing past changed when the Giants’ Oracle Park stadium spurred a wave of modern apartments, tech offices and trendy cafes and restaurants. Hotel VIA plugs you straight into the neighborhood’s evolution through its architecture. The modern facade blends with the area’s historic brick-and-steel buildings and guest rooms are inspired by minimalist lofts beloved by locals.

5. Hotel Drisco, San Francisco

Hotel

Classy white suite with large bed, writing desk overlooking the city and a separate living room at Hotel Drisco, San Francisco
Courtesy of Hotel Drisco / Expedia

Edwardian-era Hotel Drisco encourages guests to discover San Francisco’s manicured Pacific Heights neighborhood. The hotel has bikes to borrow and free passes to the Jewish Community Center – home to a thriving arts program and fitness classes. In nearby Cow Hollow, a former dairyland, a walk down Union Street reveals Victorian mansions and carriage houses turned into restaurants and boutiques. Guests can also head to Alta Plaza Park a few blocks from the Drisco. At the park, surrounded by baronial mansions, you can mix with local dog walkers while taking in the bay-side views.

6. Skylark, Palm Springs

Boutique Hotel, Budget Hotel

Outdoor pool at Skylark Palm Springs with flamingo pool float, white lounge chairs and palm trees and mountains in background
Courtesy of Skylark Palm Springs / Expedia

Palm Springs is fast becoming a foodie hotspot, and the city’s best coffee shops and restaurants are minutes from the Skylark. Independently owned Ernest Coffee serves robust Stumptown beans, and pizza joint Birba serves the city’s best thin-crust pies. Art galleries and furniture shops also line North Palm Canyon Drive, but guests can also stay put and experience Palm Springs’ signature mid-century style in the Skylark’s 28 rooms, each furnished with Danish designs.

7. Colony Palms Hotel, Palm Springs

Boutique Hotel, Spa Hotel

A bed with a Moroccan-inspired red, black and white patterned headboard and pillows in a hotel room at Colony Palms Hotel
Courtesy of Colony Palms Hotel / Expedia

The Colony Palms Hotel recalls the glamorous 1930s. Built in 1936, its original Spanish architecture, including arched entryways, covered ceilings and ceramic floor tiles, have been preserved. However, the boutique hotel’s lively bar and restaurant, a much-loved local haunt, is pure 21st century. The Purple Palm serves Mediterranean-flecked fare like seared scallops in marsala sauce and prosciutto-wrapped pork tenderloin; and the popular Sunset Hour (where specials are offered on cocktails, appetizers and wine) also draws a local crowd.

8. The Kinney Venice Beach, Los Angeles

Boutique Hotel

Stylish, upscale king room in earthy tones, with colorful wall mural and natural fiber flooring at the Kinney Venice Beach
Courtesy of the Kinney Venice Beach / Expedia

The boutique Kinney hotel invites guests to make eccentric Venice their home for a night or seven, making it a classic Southern California place to stay. Guests can chill in the old-school lounge or relax in the sun in the Quad – a courtyard with a ping-pong table, firepit and a turntable. Less than 1mi (1.6km) from Venice Beach, guests can hop on a beach cruiser and hit the boardwalk or follow the locals to the food carts for an ahi-poke bowl or carnitas (crispy pork) taco. The heated pool, spa and quiet Crash Pad Suites with pop-art prints, still treat guests like they’re on vacation.

9. Basecamp, South Lake Tahoe

Hotel

Outdoor deck with picnic tables, string lights and fire pit with yellow Adirondack chairs at Basecamp South Lake Tahoe
Courtesy of Basecamp South Lake Tahoe / Expedia

Basecamp South Lake Tahoe feels like a stepped-up backpacker’s getaway. Adventure seekers can plan their backcountry trip or hiking trek in the Explorers Club, a guest room with four bunk beds and local art. Or, if you love camping (but not that much), the Great Indoors guest room has an indoor tent, camping chairs and a faux log fire. Basecamp gets extra points for its year-round beer garden and a location minutes from the Heavenly ski gondola.

10. Solage, Calistoga

Resort, Cottages

A chic studio at Solage in Calistoga with a large bed, hanging lamps and rustic-chic furnishings in muted tones
Courtesy of Solage / Expedia
You’re as likely to spot vintners as cocktail-aficionados dining on fish tacos at Solbar, the resort’s rustic restaurant with vaulted ceilings and dark-wood floors. Solage is inspired by nearby Calistoga, a historic town known for being more laid-back than its Napa Valley neighbors, with natural hot springs and boutique wineries. Studio rooms, strewn throughout the 22-acre (9ha) estate, help bring the outdoors in with sliding glass doors. Guests can explore it all on free cruiser bikes or head into town to visit the Calistoga Farmers’ Market, brimming with local produce each Saturday and less than a mile from the resort.

Looking for more places to stay in California? From budget-friendly stays in Santa Barbara to LA digs close to nightlife royalty, we’ve got you covered. For a real taste of the Golden Coast, soak up the sun, sea and sand with a stay at one of the best beach hotels in California, bookable with Culture Trip.

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