The hoteliers behind this pioneering generation of escapes are rewriting the traveler's handbook.Outdoor living space?
Patios and outdoor showers are the new must-have amenities.Hallways and elevators?
In their place: landscaped paths and rooms you step into from your own front porch.In-room massages?
Bardessono stashes massage tables in every room, so when your hour is up, you can stay on the table for as long as you like before slipping into the bath your therapist drew before slipping out. Gaige House sets up tables right next to the mini-outdoor Japanese garden that make its “Zen suites” so, well, Zen.Hotel gym?
Solage and Bardessono have free bikes. Cavallo Point, Post Ranch, Calistoga Ranch, and Solage throw in free yoga. Who wants to lift weights on vacation, anyway?Plastic?
Instead of bottled water on the nightstand, you'll find a glass milk jug (Nick's, Solage) or a handmade ceramic pitcher (Calistoga Ranch). In the bathroom, there are no more tiny bottles of shampoo to collect dust in your cupboard at home—everyone has switched to full-size refillables.DEALS
2009 has not exactly been a banner year for hotels. Use the leverage you have, and everyone may win in the end.Call last-minute and make an offer.
If a hotel manager is staring at a half-empty reservation book, chances are, he'll talk. As Pat Kuleto, who has 12 cottages to fill at Nick's Cove, put it, “We'll rent the room, no matter what. Day of, the rates go down as it gets closer and closer to dusk.” If you're not seeing discounts, check out packages.
While some hotels have strict no-discounting policies, it's really just semantics. Cavallo Point “doesn't discount,” but right now, if you pay for two nights, you can stay for three. That sounds a lot like 33 percent off to me. The lodge will also give you dinner, a night's stay, and breakfast for $395. Given that dinner at Cavallo is (a) terrific and (b) really expensive, this works out to be a great deal for a one-night splurge. Check a hotel's website, then call the reservations staff to see what else they can do for you. A glass of wine? A massage? Remember, they just want to get you in the door.Request an upgrade.
When suites are sitting empty, many hotels will use an upgrade from a basic room as a lure. Slip away midweek.
Easier said than done, I realize. But the business guests who traditionally sustain hotels on weekdays have gone AWOL this year. Everyone's hurting Monday through Thursday, and many places will make it worth your while to call in sick for a couple of days.Wait until November.
In wine country, anyway—October is crush season, the busiest of the year. You won't get squat out of hotels in the area this month, but next month will be a different story.SPLURGES
My cost-unconscious guide to selecting the best new-style resort for the occasion.For a tryst
There's that shower, then there's the other shower, the one outside. Really, the Carneros Inn makes it all too easy for you: You'll feel like there's no one on the other side of the wall (there isn't), so you can throw open the back doors to the patio without being seen. From $450, thecarnerosinn.com
For the views
The hiking in Big Sur is legendary, but once you check in to Post Ranch, it's unlikely your boots will see any action. From the deck, it's just you, the ocean, and the sky—a landscape made for pushing the restart button in your brain. From $550, postranchinn.comTo disappear
Tucked away in a woodsy canyon you can easily miss as you whiz through the Napa Valley along the Silverado Trail, Calistoga Ranch is a strictly guests-only affair. The pool, the tranquil restaurant overlooking the valley, and the spa under the oaks all have a hush that says, these people are unplugged for the weekend. From $550, calistogaranch.comTo soak up a weekend
Not only is Solage's palm tree-lined pool massive enough to merit a day of idle paddling, but a short walk away is the spa, where you can dream the afternoon away under a breezy sky while bubbling buck-naked in the bath-warm mineral pools. From $375, solagecalistoga.comFor a one-nighter
Closer to downtown San Francisco than some far-flung parts of the city are, Marin's Cavallo Point calls your bluff about not being able to get away. The Golden Gate Bridge and skyline views are a dazzling palate cleanser during the walk from a memorable dinner to your suite. Your boss won't even have to know you left town. From $240, cavallopoint.com
Big on nature and short on scene, the region's best small hideaways are chic country homes away from home. but don't you dare call them B&Bs.Farmhouse Inn
This north-of-Sebastopol favorite has just been redone from top to bottom in a sassy style that still feels farm-fresh. The new barn building airily houses four suites and four rooms as cush as anything you'll find at the resorts. Stay put for dinner—the restaurant is intimate, and the food is delicious. From $295, farmhouseinn.comNick's Cove
Of the dozen fishing shacks remade into luxurious refuges by Pat Kuleto, the five that hang out over Tomales Bay are the priciest by far—but that doesn't stop people from booking them first every time. From $255, nickscove.comGaige House
Every one of the stylish city-with-a-twist suites at this Glen Ellen retreat comes with a deck or patio. But the suites bordering the creek feel like the real escape. From $200, gaige.comKenwood Inn
Visiting this inn at the northern end of Sonoma is like being at a country house in France's Loire Valley. Rooms are spread out across three ivy-covered courtyards, each with its own pool, keeping things quiet and private. From $275, kenwoodinn.comVentana Inn
With 60 rooms, this coastal Big Sur icon may be more midsize than small—but with 243 acres to roam, it shares the quiet vibe of the other resting spots listed here. A Joie de Vivre takeover and redo in 2008 shook loose the dated look it had been clinging to since the '70s, making it once again fully drive-worthy. From $500, ventanainn.com RENTALS
Welcome to this decade's unhotel. At my favorites, you Forgo valet service and a pool in favor of a key, room to roam, and rates that start mostly at less than 200 bucks.Mar Vista cottages
A dozen fishing shacks on a field across Highway 1 from a cliff-backed Mendocino Coast beach are fresh, bright, and immaculate. From $155, marvistamendocino.comThe Other Place
Four colorful, modern homes with big views from every room divvy up a 500-acre ranch on the crest of the hills above Anderson Valley. Up here, you could go the whole weekend without seeing the other guests. From $140, sheepdung.com
A pair of clean-lined, mod, and cozy cabins recently opened in the woods just south of Yosemite. If you've drooled over magazine stories on Verana, the lovely eco-resort in Yelapa, Mexico, these are by the same people—but with a woodsy Sierra edge. From $185, been-seen.com/boutiquehomesPhilo Apple Farm cottages
The three artful A-frames set out in the orchard of Anderson Valley's rural haven, Philo Apple Farm, have been hard to book since the day the farm began renting them out, nine years ago. But it's a whole new world in 2009. If you've had trouble getting a reservation in the past, this is your chance. From $175, philoapplefarm.comLong Valley Ranch
Up and over the hill from Anderson Valley, the Other Place people have expanded onto 800 oak-shaded acres outside Ukiah. Nobody's going to find you here, that's for sure. From $225, sheepdung.comOPENINGS
Hoteliers are continuing to bet on our appetite for weekend escapes, even during a recession. Watch for these five ribbon-cuttings.Nov. 2009
This spring, Bardessono added a sleek, modern note to Yountville's collection of inns, but as of Hotel Luca's November 1 opening, the town will be right back to Tuscan romantic, this time courtesy of the people who created the terribly civilized L'Auberge Carmel. hotellucanapa.comDec. 2009
On December 9, the Ritz-Carlton Highlands opens halfway up the slope at Northstar, with a gondola-side location, plus a Traci des Jardins restaurant to make us feel right at home. ritzcarlton.com2010
The people behind Post Ranch and Cavallo Pointjust got approval to tear down and reinvent the Sea Ranch Lodge, a dowdy spot on the edge of a crazy-beautiful clifftop on the Sonoma coast. Ground breaks next year. passportresorts.com2010
Carmel Valley Ranch, which lies on 400 gorgeous acres upslope in Carmel Valley, was just sold under duress for a bargain $20 million to a scion of the Hyatt family, who is pouring money into turning it into something smashing (not a Hyatt) by the end of 2010. carmelvalleyranch.comTBA
No one likes to drive home after nine courses at the French Laundry. Thomas Keller hears that, so he's gotten the go-ahead to build Aloysius Inn in the garden on the three-acre lot across the way from the restaurant. The word on the street? Don't hold your breath—it'll remain a garden for a while.