Nothing against motel and hotel chains, which are great in a pinch when you want to save money. But coastal California's most inspiring places to stay are one-of-a-kind. Vintage beach houses, wooden cabins with ocean views, canvas-sided yurts perched on sea cliffs, and safari tents are just a few of the more offbeat (and often eco) lodgings along my stretch of Pacific shoreline.
Cruising from south to north, my top 10 favorite by-the-beach hideaways that I've found so far are:
- Crystal Cove Beach Cottages, Orange County - Authentically restored 1930s, '40s and '50s seaside bungalows in a state park's historic district. With a beach bar and breezy cafe, you won't need to leave all weekend long. Reservations are tough to get, however.
- El Capitan Canyon, Santa Barbara County - Creekside cabins and "glamping" tents in a canyon uphill from El Capitan Beach, another state park. They're a great deal in winter, when rates (and temperatures) drop. In summer, the canyon is traffic-free.
- Jalama Beach Cabins [PDF], Santa Barbara County - Rustic, but newly built wooden cabins with fun bunk beds for the kids and a futon for any friends who decide to come along at the last minute. It's windy here!
- Treebones Resort, Big Sur - You'll drive a squiggly road uphill from Hwy. 1 to find your canvas-sided yurt waiting with a pedestal sink and cozy quilt-covered bed. It's far from the rest of Big Sur, though, and can be noisy.
- Asilomar State Park, Monterey Peninsula - In the old-timey seaside resort town of Pacific Grove, this state park conference grounds books uniquely historical rooms in California arts-and-crafts buildings designed by Julia Morgan of Hearst Castle fame. They're thin-walled and the beds aren't comfy, but the common rooms have chatty fireplace nooks.
- Costanoa Lodge, Pescadero - A short scenic drive north of Santa Cruz, this rustic lodge is all about its tent cabin villages, where you can warm up by outdoor fireplaces in the comfort stations before retiring to your unheated cabin (mercifully, the beds have electric warming pads to keep you toasty).
- Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel & Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel - On that same stretch of Hwy. 1 between Santa Cruz and San Francisco, these two historic lighthouses have been renovated and turned into Hostelling International (HI) youth hostels, although guests of any age can stay. Pigeon Point has an ocean-view hot tub, so it usually books up first. Point Montara is closer to Half Moon Bay, if you're eager for surf and microbrews.
- Steep Ravine Cabins, Marin County - Near landmark Mt Tamalpais State Park, about 20 miles north of San Francisco, these 1940s ocean-view cabins at the bottom of a dramatic canyon are in high demand, so make your reservations many months in advance.
- Point Arena Lighthouse, Mendocino County - Stay in historical lightkeeper's homes at the edge of the ocean, guarded by the tallest lighthouse in California that visitors are actually allowed to climb to the top of. Architecturally speaking, the digs are drab, but the rocky panoramas are mesmerizing.
Got another gem of a California coastal lodging spot to share? Let us know by leaving a comment below. We'd especially love to hear about secret spots near San Diego and on the Redwood Coast!
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Photo credit: Pigeon Point (Sara J. Benson)