Hotel Bel-Air, Los Angeles
To call this Spanish Colonial building, first opened as a hotel in 1946, the stuff of legend is an understatement. From Cary Grant to Grace Kelly, the beloved icon has been a hideaway for stars and starlets for decades — and the ritual of afternoon tea under the shade of purple bougainvillea blooms and lemon trees is still a favorite of society types. While the oval-shaped pool and sandy pink exterior (it could be a bona fide Pantone color) are intact, the lush property, set on 12 acres, had some major work done: Rooms were overhauled by star designer Alexandra Champalimaud and feature natural wood ceilings, limestone floors and a muted palette of black and eggshell white. The restaurant, now led by California cuisine pioneer Wolfgang Puck, was revamped by the Rockwell Group, with plenty of al fresco dining spaces. (This is California, after all.) The delicious result? You can nibble on Maine diver-scallop ceviche and house-made agnolotti under a verdant and elegant canopy. Though Hotel Bel-Air loyalists may debate the attributes of the original versus the sequel, you won’t have any trouble soaking up the sun and serenity. Rooms from $590, 701 Stone Canyon Road, Los Angeles, 310-472-1211, hotelbelair.com
Terranea Resort, Rancho Palos Verdes
Perched on the Palos Verdes peninsula, this vast oceanside compound is LA’s little resort that could, opening its doors and winning over guests during the hard times of 2009. With 582 rooms, plus suites, bungalows, casitas and villas, it is anything but little — in fact, even the standard rooms are sprawling. Outside, ambling along the miles of walking paths that hug the lemonadeberry and prickly pear-covered coastline, you’ll spy Catalina Island in the distance and boulders playing peekaboo with crashing waves. (It might all seem familiar: The scene-stealing backdrop has been in Pirates of the Caribbean, The Aviator,Pearl Harbor, even Charlie’s Angels.) Unwind at the 50,000-square-foot spa, which rivals the panoramic ocean vistas that you see from it, or try your hand at falconry. If shopping is your sport, browse the resort’s fabulous boutique. No seashell-encrusted trinkets here: The chic space is stocked with Loeffler Randall sandals, Alexis Bittar baubles and Vince blouses. Would it be wrong to drive here just to shop?Rooms from $300, 100 Terranea Way, Rancho Palos Verdes, 1-866-802-8000, terranea.com
The Grand Del Mar, San Diego
If ever there was a hospitality feat, it’s perfectly calibrated service: more than just attentive but never obtrusive. At the Grand Del Mar, service is elevated to an art and starts before you ever step foot on the Mediterranean-style resort, with a pre-arrival call. Once there, sun devotees can beat the heat with complimentary frozen grapes poolside; new parents will find cribs accompanied by rubber duckies and toiletries in their rooms. If that’s not enough, the resort boasts two outdoor tennis courts, a 21,000-square-foot Carrara-marble-swathed spa and an 18-hole golf course designed by Tom Fazio. Hit the 37 miles of trails in the 4,100-acre Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve on horseback, bike or foot. However you decide to while away the day, by dusk, the table to snag is at Addison, the jewel in the Grand Del Mar’s diamond-studded crown. Courses of Dutch white asparagus, clam risotto, coffee-roasted canard and almond mille-feuille later, you’ll want to find chef William Bradley and repeatedly proclaim him a genius. Trust us. Rooms from $395, 5300 Grand Del Mar Court, San Diego, 855-314-2030, thegranddelmar.com
The Resort at Pelican Hill, Newport Coast
When a resort’s pool is named the Coliseum, that says it all. In this case, the message, articulated with more than 1 million glass tiles in the circular pool, decrees: This is an unabashedly colossal place. Further evidence: columns, vaulted ceilings, rotundas and an aqueduct-inspired bridge. Feeling transported to ancient Rome, maybe Portofino? That’s the idea, though this is no tiny fishing village, even if it has the spirit of one. The 332-room property sits on 504 acres, with two 18-hole Tom Fazio golf courses and a Northern Italian restaurant with a temperature-controlled pasta room; clearly, spaghetti is taken seriously here. So is olive oil. The property’s century-old olive trees are harvested by hand, with the fruit pressed and bottled into liquid gold. Or dine on a shaded electric boat in Newport harbor, feasting on ham, brie and cranberry-laden paninis. Sandwiches have never been so stylish. Rooms from $495; 22701 Pelican Hill Road South, Newport Coast; 1-800-315-8214; pelicanhill.com.
Montage Laguna Beach
Almost 10 years in and this beachfront stunner has still got it. (If only all southern California beauties aged so well.) With 250 rooms, this beloved property near Laguna’s artsy and quaint downtown feels positively cozy, but you still get the full package. Dramatic mosaic-tiled pool? Check. A 20,000-square-foot spa? Check. Direct beach access to keep the sandcastle set happy? Check. Memorable food you’ll actually want to eat? Triple check. Not surprisingly, one of the best hotel restaurants in the country is Montage’s own Studio, helmed by chef Craig Strong and housed in a Craftsman-style bungalow that perfectly frames views of the Pacific. The menu features modern French fare with plenty of California thrown in for good measure — entrées such as Moroccan-spiced sea scallops and Pacific black cod. Did we mention the 2,500-bottle wine cellar? Rooms from $395; 30801 South Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach; 949-715-6000;montagelagunabeach.com.
TANVI CHHEDA has written about travel for The New York Times, Los Angeles Times Magazine, Travel + Leisure and National Geographic Traveler.