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5 high-style, seriously relaxing destinations up and down Highway 1

From Big Sur to Mendocino, a spate of new and renovated inns give more reasons to bypass Airbnb.

A person with long, wavy hair sits outdoors, sipping a beverage. A table with two glasses of orange juice and a water bottle is in the foreground, and a scenic landscape stretches out behind them.
Mendocino Inn & Farm feels like staying at a cool friend’s farmstead. | Source: Courtesy of SCP Hotels

This summer, when you need to restore your soul after election year drain or simply find an alternative to Wine Country’s triple-digit temps, turn to the coast. From Big Sur to Mendocino, the scenery of SF’s surrounding coastal towns is legendary, and a spate of new and renovated resorts offers added ways to rest and recreate. Here are five new ways to summer along the Northern California coast.

The image shows a row of modern, small coastal cabins with large windows and gray roofs, facing the ocean. There are deck chairs, picnic tables, and planters on a paved patio.
A row of tidy, tiny cottages at Dillon Beach Resort in West Marin. | Source: Courtesy Kassie Borreson

Dillon Beach squeezes a lot into little cottages

The 55-acre Dillon Beach Resort (from $149) has always had the private beach and killer setting at the mouth of Tomales Bay, yet the property’s ingenious new cottages have raised the bar. Teaming up with Oregon’s Tru Form Tiny, the resort’s owners designed a series of compact coastal dwellings that feel right at home in their West Marin surroundings. 

Set on oceanfront bluffs, the shipshape cottages are decked with barnwood finishing, retro-chic kitchenettes, Tuft & Needle mattresses, and picture windows with sweeping vistas. Ranging from a minuscule 150 square feet to a relatively generous 530, the units pack in two to five people cozily. Pick up gourmet essentials at the adjoining General Store, or slide into Coastal Kitchen for local oysters and fried chicken sandwiches. The resort’s Surf Shack can set you up with boards and wetsuits to take advantage of the excellent morning surf.

A scenic outdoor dining area overlooks a lush green landscape and a distant sea under a clear blue sky with wispy clouds, with two tables set for breakfast.
A breakfast table at Sur House overlooking the Big Sur coast. | Source: Courtesy Courtesy of Alila Ventana Big Sur

Finally, some uplifting news from Big Sur

Though much of the recent news out of Big Sur has been of the crumbling-coastline variety, the latest updates sound an upbeat note. In mid-May, northern access into Big Sur’s bustling village was reopened after part of Highway 1 slipped into the sea, and this month marks the debut of a buzzworthy new dining and events complex. Dressed in salvaged redwood and weathered steel, The Village encompasses an organic market-coffee shop combo, yoga studio, and the highly anticipated Solstice restaurant from a pair of Big Sur Bakery and Post Ranch Inn alums.

Just up the road, the new Pfieffer Cabin at Glen Oaks Big Sur (rates from $1,300) offers blissful solitude from seasonal crowds with a private fenced courtyard with outdoor tub and firepit, and nearby access to a secluded swimming hole along the Big Sur River.

The image shows a clear river flowing between large rocky cliffs with some greenery on them, surrounded by lush green hills under a partly cloudy sky.
Bypass the crowds at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park by boulder-hopping at the hidden Big Sur River Gorge. | Source: Courtesy Sara Howlett

While others circle for parking at McWay Falls, head to the equally impressive Partington Cove, where a half-mile former wagon road leads to a stunning promontory and the occasional otter spotting. At the beautiful-but-busy Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, you can bypass the crowds at the hidden Big Sur River Gorge. Skip the base of the ravine, and scramble upriver where you’ll find secluded, deep crystalline pools bounded by huge boulders. Wind down over a tranquil meal with top-of-the-world views at Alila Ventana’s Sur House, where dinners are adults-only and newly available to non-guests.

A lone person stands on a rocky cliff overlooking a vast, shimmering ocean at sunset, with waves crashing against the rugged shoreline and trees framing the scene.
A trail from the Mendocino Inn & Farm leads to neighboring Van Damme State Park. | Source: Courtesy of SCP Hotels

Already chill Mendocino ratchets up the R&R

New hotels are betting big on Mendocino’s restorative scenery. Until the renovations are completed at Mendocino Coast Lodge, check in to the Mendocino Inn & Farm (rates from $399) which feels like staying at a cool friend’s farmstead. Guests are encouraged to wander the property’s 15 acres, filled with a flowering garden, chickens and llamas that you can feed, and a verdant trail that leads to neighboring Van Damme State Park. Cute farm animals aside, the inn seems sincere about its stated principles of sustainability—kudos for no single-use plastics—and the eyebrow-raising option for guests to pay what they thought their experience was worth upon check-out.

A woman wearing a hat and shorts stands in a grassy field, feeding a llama. Another llama is standing nearby. Tall trees form the background.
Mendocino Inn & Farm is filled with a flowering garden, chickens and llamas that you can feed. | Source: Courtesy of SCP Hotels

In nearby Elk, where a cluster of inns cling to towering oceanfront cliffs, the newly opened Sacred Rock Inn (from $495) lends the feel of a luxury cruise liner with sleek, cabin-like rooms peering over the vast Pacific. Ditto the views from the common area hot tub. The property adds to the town’s increasingly gourmet cred—two-Michelin-starred Harbor House Inn is a short stroll away—with an upscale dining room and a more casual gastropub. Don’t miss Greenwood State Beach’s secluded outcrop-studded beach cove, accessible via a short trail from the property.

A kayak with two people paddles through the turquoise water inside a dark cave, heading toward a bright opening with rocky cliffs visible outside.
Kayaking along the craggy nooks of Van Damme Beach. | Source: Courtesy of Craig Comen

At Van Damme Beach, mild waters allow kayakers to paddle over kelp forests and slide in and out of the shoreline’s craggy nooks (Kayak Mendocino offers daily guided trips). Afterward, head to the tiny town of Caspar, where Good Bones serves a rustic lunch showcasing chef Miles McCreary’s passion for sourdough. Go for the flatbread with braised lamb shoulder and preserved lemon-spiced yogurt.

The image depicts a night scene of a brightly lit pool area surrounded by lounge chairs, cabanas, and a multi-story building with balconies, centered by a large tree.
Santa Cruz's newly renovated Hotel Paradox is within walking distance to downtown and has one of the best pool decks in town. | Source: Courtesy William James Rust

Santa Cruz upgrades its après-beach fare

With all due respect to beachfront roller coasters and mystery spots, the better reason to visit Santa Cruz right now is the food and drink scene. Start downtown, where you’ll find the newly opened Hook & Line, which plates refined seafood dishes such as a marinated mussel toast. At nearby Barceloneta, you may recognize Brett and Elan Emerson, who have recreated a version of their former Noe Valley Spanish restaurant, Contigo. Neighboring Bad Animal wows with an unexpected mash-up of used books, natural wines, and high-quality Thai food from resident Chef Lalita Kaewsawang. And, while Santa Cruz is big on breweries—its own Humble Sea Brewing is soon headed our way—don’t miss an al fresco cocktail on the buzzing courtyard at Abbott Square Market.

New lodging has been slow to catch up with restaurants, but a pair of recent renovations warrant a second look, including the newly renovated Hotel Paradox (rates from $269) that’s walking distance to downtown and has one of the best pool decks in town. Chaminade Resort & Spa (rates from $259), which just completed a revamp of its 300-acre hilltop property, is a no-brainer for families given its onsite hiking trails, pickleball courts, and two cabana-lined pools with a seasonal food truck and “dive-in” movie nights.

An enchanting outdoor patio scene at night is illuminated by string lights, with cozy seating, tables set with candles, and warm fire pits. Trees frame the background.
The courtyard at the newly opened Stilwell Hotel in Carmel-by-the-Sea, where wood-fired pizzas are served from an outdoor oven.  | Source: Courtesy of Rober Miller

Carmel-by-the-Sea is swimming in new digs

One block from Carmel’s namesake white sand beach, Carmel Beach Hotel (rates from $425) could be a private club given its restaurant, bar, and spa that are exclusive to guests. Like its sister property, L’Auberge Carmel, the intimate, 26-room inn offers welcome beverages and a hot breakfast delivered to guestrooms. The property is walkable to downtown, but a complimentary Mercedes car service is available to shuttle you around the village.

There’s more coddling at the newly opened Stilwell Hotel (rates from $482), which stocks its chic rooms with fresh fruit, olive oil bath products and plush robes. Mornings start with a Euro-style breakfast spread, and each Sunday, the property ups the ante with a housemade ice cream sundae bar. The feature that sets the 42-room property apart is a garden courtyard filled with dramatic water features, fire pits, and come evening, wood-fired pizzas from an outdoor oven. 

A cozy living room with vaulted ceilings, featuring a chandelier, a lit fireplace with artwork above, a red-striped chair, and a mustard sofa on a woven rug.
The lobby at the new Le Petit Pali at Ocean Ave in Carmel-by-the-Sea. | Source: Courtesy of Palisociety

Hospitality group Palisociety recently brought its lavish aesthetic to town with sister properties, Le Petit Pali at 8th Ave and Le Petit Pali at Ocean Ave (rates from $395), each bedecked in vibrant patterns and objets d’art. Both properties keep guests satiated with a daily champagne-fueled continental breakfast, nightly happy hour, and bedtime treats, each featuring local merchants and restaurants including current it-spot, Chez Noir