It’s like taking a trip back through time when you visit any of these historic California hotels, some of which are more than a century old. Many have become historic landmarks and can boast lengthy guest lists of famous dignitaries and celebrities. From the beaches of San Diego to Santa Monica, and the urban settings of downtown Los Angeles and Culver City, you’ll find plenty history to revisit, along with new additions to explore.
Hotel Del Coronado
1500 Orange Avenue
Coronado, CA 92118
Celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, the Hotel Del Coronado (“The Del”), is the grande dame of historic hotels. The legendary Victorian resort, with its red-roof shingles, has long been a symbol for grandeur and refinement on Coronado Island. It became a National Historic Landmark in 1977 and has attracted presidents, royalty and Hollywood stars throughout its history, including the filming of Marilyn Monroe in the iconic film, “Some Like It Hot” from 1958.
Special guest packages, community events and historic exhibits are planned throughout the year in honor of The Del’s milestone anniversary, which is commemorated beautifully in a new coffee table book, Hotel del Coronado History. The author and hotel’s historian, Christine Donovan, researched and collected personal photographs and information from individuals whose ancestors visited or worked at The Del. “It’s wonderful to be able to step back in time and experience the daily life of a long-ago Del,” says Donovan.
It’s even more wonderful to experience the luxurious hotel today. The Victorian guestrooms were recently renovated and epitomize modern luxury, while retaining the hotel’s classic elegance. Book an oceanfront room or suite and sit out on your balcony to watch a stunning sunset over the ocean. You might even catch a glimpse of the hotel’s resident ghost, Kate Morgan, walking along the shore. Brave souls can stay in Kate’s “room,” which is the most requested guest room at the hotel.
If you’re fortunate to be waking up at The Del on a Sunday, make reservations for the infamous Sunday brunch in the Crown Room, which is only used for special occasions (besides brunch). The high vaulted ceilings with four distinctive crown chandeliers make a fitting place for a royal feast that includes seven dining stations offering dozens of dishes.
Grande Colonial Hotel
910 Prospect Street
La Jolla, CA 92037
Celebrating its centennial this year, the Grande Colonial is the oldest original hotel in La Jolla. This landmark hotel is having a year-long celebration to commemorate its rich history and offering special packages for guests. Perfectly situated next to the scenic bluffs and beaches of La Jolla, in the heart of the village, guests can walk along the La Jolla shores, explore seaside coves and watch the harbor seals basking in the sun.
In 1913, The Colonial (as it was called then) was the cornerstone of the town and a local gathering place. Actor Gregory Peck’s father was a pharmacist in the drugstore in the hotel’s main building in the early 1930s. Years later, Peck founded the La Jolla Playhouse and many of Hollywood’s biggest stars, who were performing there, stayed at the hotel, such as Charlton Heston, Dorothy McGuire and Groucho Marx. One particular guest room favored by such celebrities has been reported as being haunted. Find out more about guests’ experiences with the paranormal here.
Since then, the Grande Colonial has gone through several renovations to completely modernize it and create a sophisticated, yet casual ambiance. In 1980, the hotel underwent a $3 million restoration that brought back its original grandeur, with design details such as mahogany trim and wood moldings, leaded glass chandeliers and crystal doorknobs.
In 2007, the hotel took on an $8 million restoration project, including the preservation of two adjacent historic landmarks, the Little Hotel by the Sea (from 1924) and the Garden Terraces (from 1926), adding 18 new suites to the hotel’s inventory (all with kitchens or kitchenettes and many with fireplaces). Last year, in preparation for its Centennial, the hotel renovated its entryway and lobby, and looks like a classic European-style hotel, ready for another 100 years.
Beverly Hills Hotel
9641 Sunset Blvd
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Also celebrating 100 years of service, the Beverly Hills Hotel, has long been established as a landmark of classic luxury with a treasured history of Hollywood glamour. The hotel was built in 1912 and the city of Beverly Hills was literally developed and built around the hotel. In 1920, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks built their home in the nearby hills and soon more stars followed, transforming the bean fields surrounding The Beverly Hills Hotel into prime real estate.
Driving up to the hotel along Sunset Boulevard, its signature pink façade and Mission Revival-style architecture grabs your attention, with terra cotta roof tiles and grand bell towers. The exterior was first painted its distinctive pink color in 1948 and was originally white stucco. The hotel offers the ambiance of a relaxed resort with lush gardens, beautiful guest rooms, a serene pool area and spa. Guest rooms and suites are very luxurious, yet comfortable, with soft pink walls and elegant furnishings.
Be sure to experience the infamous Polo Lounge, where many deals have been made between studio moguls and heavy-hitting financiers. It was originally named after a band of polo players who toasted victories at the restaurant after matches in the bean fields. The Rat Pack is also known to have engaged in many drinking bouts in the Polo Lounge. Today, the service remains impeccable and the food is outstanding.
Countless celebrities have graced the Beverly Hills Hotel, including John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Faye Dunaway, Neil Simon (who filmed “California Suite” there), Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor, who had six of her eight honeymoons in the secluded bungalows. Among the 12 acres of gardens are 23 bungalows, dotted throughout like individual homes, each with separate entrances, a wood-burning fireplace, granite and marble throughout and one-of-a-kind furnishings.
This hotel’s historian, Robbie Anderson, whose great-grandfather was the property’s original owner, has written a book to commemorate its 100-anniversary, “The Beverly Hills Hotel – The First 100 Years,” which can be purchased in the gift shop.
The Culver Hotel
9400 Culver Boulevard
Culver City, CA 90232
The flat iron Culver Hotel opened in 1924 and has an intriguing and mysterious past, including legends of mischievous munchkins (from the “Wizard of Oz”), secret passageways, notorious poker games and a haunted vault. Its rich architectural and entertainment history has been respected in a superb recent renovation that mixes both vintage and modern amenities perfectly, making the Culver Hotel a beautiful landmark and premier destination.
As you enter the Culver Hotel’s grand lobby with high ceilings, rich wood paneling and antiques, you’ll feel transported to another era with its Renaissance Revival-inspired architecture. Cozy pockets of seating make it feel like a living room and provide a great place to socialize with friends and view the live bands that play each night. The music and silent movies shown on the wall are a salute to the hotel’s colorful, legendary past.
When you’re ready to retire to your room, you’ll find elegance and glamour throughout in the newly renovated guestrooms, from the crystal chandeliers (even in the bathroom) and tufted headboards, to the antiques and custom-designed furniture. Bold jewel tones pop in accent pieces against a warm gray palette.
Each room has a story to tell, like the Munchkins (all 124 of them!) who stayed three across in a bed during the filming of the “Wizard of Oz” and used the secret tunnel to get back and forth to the set — some say it was also used to ferry alcohol and women during the Prohibition. Hollywood legends such as Clark Gable, Greta Garbo and Marilyn Monroe all have graced the Culver Hotel, as Culver City was the center of the film industry (long before Hollywood) with MGM Studios located nearby.
The Georgian Hotel
1415 Ocean Avenue
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, The Georgian Hotel is a charming beachfront hotel in Santa Monica that dates back to the Prohibition and was home to one of the town’s most popular speakeasies that hosted the likes of Bugsy Segal, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard. The basement space, which served as a restaurant for many years, is now available for private functions. In the 1960s, The Georgian reinvented itself as a modern, upscale apartment residence, where Rose Kennedy would spend summers entertaining politicos and Hollywood royalty.
Today, the Art Deco architecture and style at this boutique hotel still make a statement, especially with its eye-catching turquoise exterior and striped awning. The rooms and suites have been updated with contemporary pieces and colors that blend well with the hotel’s vintage style. Most of the rooms have ocean views and, surprisingly, even the windows on the higher floors open so you can catch a nice sea breeze. All the rooms have brand new beds with luxurious duvets and down pillows.
506 South Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90071
Open in 1923 as the largest hotel west of Chicago, the Millennium Biltmore soon became a bastion for high society and a cultural landmark in downtown Los Angeles. The lobby of the hotel is stunning and features a Spanish-Italian Renaissance style with detailed carvings and cathedral-like ceilings hand-painted by Giovanni Smeraldi of White House and Vatican fame.
The Millennium Biltmore Hotel has a long history of hosting celebrities, presidents and dignitaries for nearly 90 years. In fact, the first Academy Award banquet was held in the Crystal Ballroom in 1927, where it is said that a sketch of the Oscar statuette was drawn on a Biltmore napkin.
In 1964, during their first world tour, the Beatles landed on the hotel roof via helicopter to escape the crowd of fans on the streets below. Also, in 1960, John F. Kennedy established his headquarters for the Democratic National Convention in the hotel’s Music Room (now the lobby), while his running mate Lyndon Johnson was across the hall. Countless movies, commercials, television shows and print photography have been shot at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel, including “Chinatown,” “Ocean’s Eleven” and “Spider-Man.”
The rooms are a bit dated and could use a refresher, though they are regal with draped curtains crowning the bed and have vintage furnishings and modern conveniences. The hotel’s most luxurious accommodations can be found on the top two floors, the exclusive Club Level, where guests can enjoy complimentary breakfast and late afternoon hors d’oeuvres and drinks in the Club Lounge.
Casa Del Mar
1910 Ocean Way
Santa Monica, CA 90405
In the early 20s, Santa Monica was experiencing an economic boom, and soon became known as the “Atlantic City of the West.” It was in this period that numerous beach clubs were springing up along the coast, and in 1926, the Harter bothers built the Club Casa del Mar at a cost of $2 million. It soon became known as the “Grande Dame” of Southern California beach clubs.
During World War II, the fear of the Japanese invading the area beaches led the military to enlist the club as military housing. Following the war, the club struggled until the 60s, when drug rehab program Syanon took over the building. Then in the late 70s, the Pritikin Longevity Center occupied it until 1997. It was at this time that the Edward Thomas Hospitality Corporation came in and spent $50 million dollars to restore the hotel to its former splendor.
Designed in an Italian Renaissance Revival style, by Los Angeles architect Charles F. Plummer, the lobby evokes the opulence of the twenties. Be sure to visit the Lobby Lounge at sunset, and sample the amazing variety of sushi, charcuterie, and small plates, while overlooking the Pacific through floor to ceiling windows.
Liz Laing is a writer, web designer and photographer who lives in Los Angeles. Her latest projects may be followed on Liz Laing.