While traveling a couple of months ago, my husband and I were chatting about all the hotels we have stayed in over the years we’ve been traveling blogging for Whimsy Soul. We’ve stayed in everything from basic b&b’s to grand luxury castle-like resorts, and all over the world to boot! This conversation inspired our new travel series addition: the annual hotel awards! Each year, we’ll be sharing the ultimate list of our favorite hotels from the year…the best luxury offerings, the prettiest pool, the tastiest on-site restaurants, the most IG-worthy accommodations. Introducing the Hotel Awards: The Best Hotels of 2018.
HOTEL RANKINGS CRITERIA
When thinking about what makes a hotel really stand out, we peg down the following list of 13 key categories that are important to nail. We travel 3-5 times a month and have become low-key hotel snobs. When booking hotels, there are a lot of decisions that go into our choice so we can always recommend the best of the best for you guys. These are what we feel like are important and are the categories hotels can win.
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Before we get started, I want to have a quick disclaimer: some of the hotels on this list are ones we visited in 2017. Yes, I know this is the Best Hotels of 2018 blog post, but as this is the first year we’re doing this annual roundup, we didn’t want to skip out on some of the amazing properties we have visited last year. I should really re-name this the Best Hotels of 2017 and 2018 but it doesn’t have as much of a zing to it.
Winner: The Claremont Hotel in Berkely, California
2018 was the year we started staying at Fairmonts and the year I truly saw how special this big-name hotel brand is. Yes, all of their properties are grand, but what really makes Fairmont stand out among the rest if their extremely high level of service. It was the most apparent at the Claremont Hotel in Berkley where every single staff member felt like they were truly actually happy to be at work (how often does that happen in any field?) The staff was always there with a smile when you needed them and scarce when you wanted privacy. Everyone we interacted with was kind, helpful and on top of their game. Everything you want in a luxury hotel.
Winner: Hotel Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Summer in New York City is made 10000% better by a pool day. Our lazy afternoon on the rooftop pool at Hotel Williamsburg is one of my favorite days from our trip to the Big Apple. It’s a large pool that has a SWEEPING view of the Manhattan skyline – you can’t beat this view, guys! The decor is trendy and modern and they even have bar service on the top along with plenty of lounge space. I would fly back to NYC just for another pool day.
Runner-Up: The Amara Resort, Sedona
I’m a bit of a pool addict, so this was a tough category to pick a winner for, but The Amara Resort in Sedona easily took the pie. Sedona is a small Arizona desert town that’s famous for red rock and as ~spritual~ haven. The Amara is built up against some of these famous red rocks so the instant you step into the pool area, the rocks are towering over you. One of my favorite memories from our trip to Sedona is taking a morning dip in their infinity pool, the steam curling up in the cold morning air, the sunrise peeking out behind the red rocks.
BEST HOT TUB
Winner: The Inn at Newport Ranch, Fort Bragg
Picture this: it’s golden hour on the Mendocino/Fort Bragg coastline. The rolling hills are green and wildflowers are in bloom. Cattle are milling about on the fields and, if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to spot whales in the ocean from your rooftop hot tub at the ranch. Their hot tub sits high on a tower with almost 360 views of the property. We had a golden hour dip to watch the sunset that was utter magic. Later that night, we came back to soak under the stars. There’s nothing more you could ask from a hotel hot tub.
Runner-Up: The Kenwood Inn, Sonoma
Nestled in Sonoma wine country is the Kenwood Inn, a beautiful hotel that makes you feel like you just walked into Tuscany. My favorite part of The Kenwood was their hot tub AND warming pool. We’ve stayed at hotels with heated pools before and have always been a bit disappointed (they’re still always really cold!) but the Kenwood warming pool was perfect. It was somewhere in between a pool and a hot tub, making it easy to sit for a really long time in. If you wanted something warmer, their hot tub has a great view of the property as is steps away from cabanas and the bar.
Winner: Hyatt Regency, New Orleans
The second we checked into our room at the Hyatt Regency in New Orleans, I ran to the windows and press my face against them. The views from this hotel are outstanding! It has 32 floors and thus offers sweeping views of downtown New Orleans. I loved watching the sunrise bring the city to life, and at night, we turned of all the lights and watched the city twinkle below us.
Winner: Greenhorn Ranch, Quincy
Greenhorn Ranch is a dude ranch nestled in the heart of Plumas County. It makes you feel like a kid again in all the best ways. Days are spent riding horses on miles of trails in the forest. Nights are spent sipping wine by the fire and listening to a rancher sing cowboy songs. The interiors are ranch-chic and the activities don’t just stop at horseback riding. There’s fishing in the pond, lawn games galore, archery, frog races, yoga, karaoke, live music and more. While staying at the Greenhorn Ranch, you can’t get bored.
Runner-Up: Hyatt Regency, Lake Tahoe
The best hotel on the North Lake is easily the Hyatt Regency. Sprawling grounds, a pool with multiple hot tubs, a casino, one of the best restaurants on the lake, and beach-front access makes this hotel stand out in so many ways. Possibly the best are the various activities it offers, especially in the warmer months. You can launch a kayak right from the beach or do a brunch sail on the Sierra Cloud, a catamaran sailboat. Hiking trailheads are nearby and if you’re looking to test your luck, hit up the casino. (The hotel is on the Nevada side, making it the best luxury waterfront hotel on Lake Tahoe that also has a casino!)
MOST INTERESTING HISTORY
Winner: Nottoway Plantation, Lousiana
The Nottoway Plantation easily takes the prize for the most interesting historical hotel. It claims the South’s largest antebellum mansion and used to be a working sugar cane plantation. Built in 1850, this mansion oozes old-world Southern glam. Much of the original decor has been left in place for your to tour (you can take a self-guided audio tour or a guided one!) to learn all about the original owners and the life of the Nottoway mansion. You can feel the history and the years of the place when you walk around the property past the cemetery, the garden that used to be where the servant’s kitchen was, the towering oak trees that are over 100 years old…
Runner-Up: Hotel Valley Ho, Scottsdale
Hotel Valley Ho was built in 1956 and quickly become the favorite hideaway for Hollywood’s elite and famous. People like Bing Crosby, Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh and Zsa Zsa Gabor were regulars to this historic mid-century hotel. Staying here is full of color, glitz and the perfect touch of old world meets modern.
BEST DECOR + ART
Winner: Hotel Max, Seattle
We stayed at Hotel Max on our first trip to Seattle a few years ago and loved the hotel’s decor so much we stayed there again this year. The entire hotel is a bit of a music and art collection. From records on walls in place of framed works to huge posters of pop stars in the vibrant hallways, this place oozes creativity in all the best way.
BEST HOTEL BAR + DRINKS
Winner: Hotel Monteleone, New Orleans
This historic hotel is home to the famous carousel bar in the French Quarter! Yes, you read that right: they made their bar into a revolving carousel, bright lights and carnival animals galore! This bar gets packed quickly, as everyone wants to sip on a cocktail while riding the carousel. It’s a New Orleans favorite and utterly unique in the hotel bar space!
Runner-Up: The Phoenician, Scottsdale
It was dusk and we walked upstairs from our room to the bar at the Phoenician to be awarded with balcony seating by a fire and the last of the brilliant sunset colors. This luxury hotel is nestled by Camelback Mountain and has a great view of the valley, especially from the bar patio. The fires and comfy lounge seating is inviting and their cocktails are top-notch.
BEST ON-SITE RESTAURANT
Winner: Claremont Hotel, Berkley
One of my favorite meals of 2018 was at the Limewood Restaurant at the Claremont Hotel. Their head chef is new and taking the Eastbay culinary world by storm. From unique dishes like roasted belly of duroc pork to carefully crafted cocktails, all topped off with world-class service, it was an easy win in our books. Make sure to dine here next time you are in the Bay Area!
Runner-Up: Fairmont San Jose, San Jose
Last month, I had a girls getaway at the Fairmont San Jose. We shopped, hung out by the pool and drank a LOT of wine. So you can imagine when it came to breakfast, we were all in desperate need of something really really tasty. I was extremely happy to discover the Fountain Resturant inside the hotel. I loved the airy feeling of the restaurant and the fun blue theme, but most of all, I was blown away by the food. If you’re a buffet person, their buffet is off the hook. I’m talking items above and beyond the basics (lox, sushi, oysters, etc) that make this place notable.
BEST HOTEL SPA
Winner: Lyrath Estate, Ireland
Lyrath Estate is a beautiful estate in the Kilkenny countryside in Ireland, The front of the house/hotel is covered in beautiful ivy and the inside is modern luxury. On a whim, we decided to splurge for a visit to their Oasis Spa (we were there on our honeymoon after all!) and holy moly, that was the best whim decision of our trip! We both fell in love with their Thermal Suite & Hydrotherapy Pool (only available for spa guests). The pool opens up to the countryside (no windows!) so you were treated with stunning views and fresh air while you soaked in the hot water. It also has showers and jet streams in the pool, making it a spot we spent a REALLY long time in. Behind the pool are saunas for you to lounge in and outside you’ll find unlimited tea, water, etc.
Runner-Up: Sleeping Lady, Leavenworth
The morning we were due for our massages at the Sleeping Lady’s Aspen Spa, it was snowing. The entire property which is beautiful year-round was an utter winter-wonderland. We wandered over to the spa and were treated to one of the best massages either of us have ever had. It started off with chocolate and bubbly followed by a fantastic couple’s massage. Take a break from Bavarian fun of Leavenworth and find your zen here!
Winner: WildSpring Guest Habitat, Oregon
If fairies lived anywhere in the United States, it would be right here. The second you pull up to WildSpring, the world feels still and yet utterly electrified with magic at the same time. The resort consists of cabins that are spaced out under tall trees and between hundreds of ferns. Shrines to faires dots the property, adding a whimsical touch. They have an outdoor hot tub with a view of the ocean and in the morning you’ll be treated to one of my favorite hotel breakfast spread ever.
Runner-Up: Cameron House, Loch Lomond
You take the high road and I’ll take the low road… this hotel was the favorite that we stayed at during our honeymoon around Europe last fall. It’s a luxury hotel on the shores of Loch Lomond that looks like a manor meets castle. Their rooms are chic and cozy – sure. And their library-feeling bar and outdoor patio are incredibly fun to have a happy hour drink in. But what makes them stand are their grounds. They are literally right on the loch, so if you want to do any boating, you’re there! There’s a golf course and even a sea-plane you can ride. Garden, big lawn and a trail to walk around in, even a larger-than-life chess board for warm days. Just across the lake, a short drive away there’s an old castle you can visit and it’s near the Loch Lomond National Park for day hikes.
BEST LUXURY HOTEL
Winner: Farmhouse Inn, Sonoma
The Farmhouse Inn was an easy win for the best luxury hotel we’ve visited, ever. Not only is their property STUNNING and approachable – it has all the right details to make it feel luxurious without being pretentious. From a wine upon check-in to a complimentary wine tasting for happy hour to warm cookies left on your nightstand in the evening, the little details made a big impact here. After a day at wineries, this is a resort to retreat to that makes you feel like you’re still out there at tasting rooms in the wines, being fabulous. I personally had a great morning – I woke up at 6am, grabbed a free coffee in the lobby and took a private soak in the hot tub with a good book. Hopefully, 2019 includes a visit to this paradise – next time I’d love to grab dinner at their on-site restaurant with a Michelin-starred chef!
BEST VALUE FOR MONEY
Winner: Greenhouse Ranch, Quincy
Greenhouse Ranch is an all-inclusive hotel. Prices are about $250 per head in the winter and up to $571 in the summer. Three meals a day, all homemade and top-notch (I LOVED all our meals but especially the evening we had tuna.) Trail rides are included into the rate and so are drinks. Extra activities like fishing, their summer BBQ night and lessons are extra, but with all the other activities available, you won’t be missing out on the Greenhorn experience if you choose to stick to what’s included.
And that’s it, our best hotels of 2018 awards! When I was young (circa age 18) I crashed at hostels, couch surfed, the whole sha-bang. I was 100% in the mindset that it didn’t matter where you slept. And then, as I got older and started staying in gradually nicer and nicer places, I really learned how the hotel CAN be the destination. And really does matter where you stay as your hotel can elevate your trip or make it worse.
Here’s to 2019 and all the beautiful, unique hotels we visit. Can’t wait to see which ones win the awards next year!