The results are in on the 2012 Best In The World Reader's Choice poll over at Conde Nast Traveler; this is one of the more reliable reader polls you'll find in the industry -- for example, their top five resorts in Southern California? Pretty much spot on, with the ridiculously beautiful Resort at Pelican Hill in Newport Coast taking top honors.
Sure, it might not be on the beach, but it's got incredible ocean views, one of the most stunning pools on the west coast and rooms that feel like they belong in the home you wish you lived in. Of course, not everybody has $495 and up (a typical starting rate in November) to go and live the good life.
Not that you need a ton of money to enjoy the California coastline - you won't find it on Best In The World lists, but the Embassy Suites Mandalay Beach, just north of Malibu in the decidedly less famous city of Oxnard, is one of the more outstanding values in the business. It may have its drawbacks -- TripAdvisor users give it just 3.5 stars -- but everyone agrees (and so do I) that the location is absolutely stunning.
The mission-style building sits on a beautifully landscaped property, located directly (and I do mean directly -- no streets to cross) on a wide and pleasant beach and adjacent to some very nice open space, complete with actual dunes. The guest suites, recently renovated, are built to have you stick around awhile, an entirely practical idea, with their pretty good rates -- I found rooms for $170 in early November; the hotel also participates in Tingo's Money Back option in case the hotel lowers its rate even further after you book.
Your friends may look at you funny when you tell them you're going on vacation to Oxnard, but really: What do they know?
Not that the Mandalay Beach is the last word in good value on the California beach -- one hotel I cannot get enough of right now is the new Hilton Carlsbad Oceanfront Resort & Spa, rated 4 stars on TripAdvisor. Sitting just above the water on a beautiful stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway, the hotel is away from the hubbub of Carlsbad village proper but close enough when you want it. The hotel itself is a real surprise, visually - I'm betting that once they build up an audience, rates are going to go far higher than they are at the moment. For example, I found a non-refundable rate of $176 in mid-November - maybe grab it before I do?