If you're looking for California beach resorts, you might have a harder time finding one than you'd think.
To start, a resort should be more than just a fancy beachfront hotel. It should have a spa, pool, recreational activities, and dining on the premises — and more.
Places to stay with overly enthusiastic marketing departments may call themselves resorts even though they have none of the amenities you would expect from a resort. And locations with the merest glimpse of the ocean will call themselves beach resorts. If you believe them without checking, you could end up disappointed.
If you search hotel booking sites for beach resorts, you'll be even more dismayed. Places that show up in a list titled "California Beach Resorts" at one popular site, it will include hotels that are many blocks from the ocean and maybe even hundreds of miles away from the ocean on the shore of a lake.
By now you may be worried that you can't find the beach resort of your dreams, but never fear. This guide will spare you the time and research. It distills all the options down to the few true beach resorts in the state of California.
Everything on this list has all the amenities that qualify them as a resort. They are also real "beach" resorts: They are not across the street from the beach or somewhere with an ocean view, but rather right on the shore. And finally, all of the recommended resorts are well-rated by their guests.
The list is organized by location, starting in San Diego and moving north.
You might be surprised about some locations missing from this list, and that's because a few iconic, well-known spots don't have beach resorts. For example, in Orange County's Huntington Beach, you can find resorts, but to reach the beach from any of them, you have to cross a busy, four-lane, divided highway to get to the sand.
San Francisco has few beaches of any kind, and none of them have resorts on them. North of there, the coastline grows rocky, and the few beaches do not have resorts.
On the shore of Mission Bay north of downtown San Diego, the Catamaran is located on a beach, but it faces a protected bay. That means calm water and few ocean waves, which can be good or bad depending on your preference.
The Catamaran has more than 300 rooms, and every one of them has a patio or private balcony. Some of them have kitchenettes where you can prepare meals—unless you'd rather eat at one of their restaurants or enjoy their summertime Sunset Luau complete with roasted pig and fiery torch dancers.
The resort also has an outdoor swimming pool, a spa, and a long list of other things to do without leaving their grounds. You can even take a bay cruise on their paddle wheeler boat the Bahia Belle.
While there isn't a resort fee, they do charge for parking. They are pet-friendly with a nonrefundable service fee and a limit of one housebroken dog per room (max 50 pounds).
Also in Mission Bay (which means its beaches face a tranquil bay and not the ocean), Paradise Point occupies a 44-acre island. Some of their 462 rooms are bungalow style, and they also have 73 suites.
The resort has five swimming pools, a spa, beach bonfire pits, and plenty of other recreation opportunities.
If all that activity makes you hungry, their five dining venues are ready to help before you get to the "hangry" stage.
They charge a hefty amenity fee that is not included in their room rate, and they charge for parking. The hotel is pet-friendly but you will have to prepay a cleaning fee when you check in that could be one-fourth to half of one night's lodging cost, depending on your choice of room type.
It's hard to go wrong at the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club. To start, you get access to one of the only private stretches of beach in Southern California. Then there are a dozen championship tennis courts to play on, a nine-hole golf course, a spa, and an outdoor swimming pool. In fact, it's hard to think of anything you might want at a beach resort that this place doesn't have covered.
Surprisingly for a place with so much to offer, they don't charge a resort fee, and parking is free.
The name of the Ritz-Carlton is a bit of a headscratcher. It says Laguna Niguel, but the address is in Dana Point. In fact, Laguna Niguel is a landlocked town, but it's less than a mile from its city limits to this resort on the beach.
It sits in a beautiful spot and overlooks a beach with easy access. The property has almost 400 rooms, and suites, six places to eat, two swimming pools, a spa, and its guest get preferred access to the nearby Monarch Beach Golf Links.
You can engage a Beach Bulter to take you to the beach, set up for you and cater to your every whim. For the kids, they provide a menu of activities for every age group. The hotel is pet-friendly and sometimes host "Yappy" hours especially for their canine visitors.
They charge a resort fee that covers a lot of services, including beach shuttles, tours, and more. There's and a valet parking fee (self-parking is not allowed) and also a per-night pet boarding fee.
The Montage Resort is a large property with more than 200 rooms, sited on 30 acres of land just above Treasure Island Beach and the so-called Pirate Tower, a few miles south of the town of Laguna Beach. Every room has a view.
The Montage earns its reputation as one of the most elegant (and expensive) California beach resorts even with its high prices.
The resort has two swimming pools, a spa, yoga classes, family activities, and it offers other guest experiences. You can find out about their amenities, rooms and more at the Montage website, or call if you want to know about their pet policies, resort fees, or parking.
The Surf & Sand sits right on the beach in charming Laguna Beach. It has a spa and swimming pool, but it's in the middle of town and doesn't have a golf course.
People who stay at the Surf & Sand praise it for the view. The property charges a resort fee, which does not include parking. Not only is the Surf & Sand pet-friendly, but they have an official Pet Program.
The Surf & Sand has also gone high tech using a smartphone app to replace a traditional room key. If you don't have a smartphone or dislike having to install an app to get into your room for a couple of days, you may want to stay somewhere else.
Shutters on the Beach has one of the most gorgeous oceanside locations in California.
The hotel has a spa and pool but offers fewer activities than other resorts on this list. But that may not matter when you get mesmerized watching the ocean or blissed out after a walk on the beach. (If you need to know about pet policies, parking, and resort fees, try giving them a call.)
Just outside the touristy part of Santa Barbara, the Four Seasons Resort the Biltmore is a classic property that has epitomized luxury for years.
Among its amenities are two outdoor swimming pools, a spa, and three tennis courts. It doesn't have a golf course, but their guests can get golfing privileges at courses nearby. They also have a complimentary shuttle that takes guests from the hotel to downtown Santa Barbara. They also offer extraordinary experiences (for an extra fee) which can be arranged through their concierge.
Unlike other properties that slap on fee after fee on top of their prices, the Four Seasons doesn't charge a resort fee. They offer free WiFi and complimentary EV charging stations.
The hotel is pet-friendly, with two 50-pound pets are allowed. Pets are not allowed to be alone in guest rooms, but pet sitting is available.
The Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay is halfway between San Francisco and Monterey on a point of land that gives expansive views. It sits on a clifftop but has walking paths that will take you to the beach.
The hotel has a spa and not just one but two championship golf courses. Sunday brunches in their dining room are very popular, and people love to sit around the outdoor fire pits in the evening.
The Ritz is pet-friendly but charges a nonrefundable dog cleaning fee and a dog boarding fee that together could add up enough to pay for a moderate-priced hotel room elsewhere. They also charge a resort fee and charge for parking (which is more expensive on weekends).