Elizabeth Taylor, Nicole Kidman, Cary Grant, and Howard Hughes have all called the Hotel Bel-Air home. It’s where Richard Nixon wrote his memoirs, Marilyn Monroe had her famous “last sitting” photographed by Bert Stern, and the list goes on. The hillside retreat opened in 1946 and—after a top-to-bottom two-year renovation at a rumored cost of 100 million—recently reopened. The rooms and public spaces have an airier, more streamlined feel, thanks to designer Alexandra Champalimaud and architect David Rockwell. There’s also a new fitness studio, a La Prairie Spa, a new 7,000-square foot Presidential Suite (at a cool $13,500 per night), and private dining by Wolfgang Puck. But thankfully, much stayed exactly the same: the iconic oval swimming pool, the 12-acres of redwoods, the towering birds of paradise, the flowering peach and apricot trees, the famous pink stucco, and the hotel’s longest-standing residents: the white swans of swan lake.
The Pailhouse was built in 1927 when Santa Monica was the end of the line on the Los Angeles railroad and guests came from all around the globe for some quiet R&R. These days, the boutique hotel is nestled in a residential neighborhood of a bustling beach town and, after a complete renovation earlier this year, boasts a brand new look. The 38-room building’s Moorish-influenced Mediterranean Revival architecture is livened up by a thoughtful mishmash of antiques, art, taxidermy, patterned textiles and off-the-wall wallpaper.
Hidden in the Santa Barbara hills, El Encanto’s uber-private bungalows have served as refuge for famous guests—like Clark Gable and Carole Lombard—looking to escape L.A. stress for almost 100 years. After a seven-year overhaul, the seven-acre property reopened this past March with both new amenities and bygone-era mystique intact. The 92 unique bungalows—each with its own patio or garden, and many with sweeping Pacific Ocean views—are hidden off meandering paths, amongst citrus trees and terraced gardens. Guests can borrow electric bikes to ride into town, but with a spa, lily pond, infinity pool and world-class restaurant, there’s really no reason to leave.
When this 1915 hotel landed in the hands of Philippe Starck and Ian Schrager, there was some nervousness among the locals that icons like the Redwood bar (the paneling and 75-foot bar is said to have been harvested from a single 2000-year-old tree) would get the axe, but the duo managed to strike a brilliant balance. The wood was preserved but an array of video art was added and the 375 guestrooms still have much of their original character (including moldings and bathroom tile) but have been freshened up with Murano glass sconces and hits of neon. The lobby, just inside the building’s classic façade, is a wonderfully eclectic eyeful—Eames chairs with a Salvador Dali table, next to a Renee Marguerite stool, all grounded by a 35-foot bronze chimney sculpture by Gerard Garouste. The vistas from the upper floors are also top-notch—and while staring down at the city below, one can take comfort in the fact that the Clift was built as the city’s first earthquake-proof hotel.