The Grande Dame’s Return To Glory

La Playa Hotel’s historic restoration brings its storied past into the present.
PUBLISHED ON
March 26, 2024

Words by Amber Turpin

Photos by Kelsey Wisdom

Video by Grant Kinsey

Around the turn of the 20th century, a group of creatives set out from San Francisco in search of a new muse: Carmel. 

For these artists and poets, who liked to identify as “Bohemians,” Carmel’s unblemished coastline offered a sanctuary for self-expression where they could compose their prose and fill their canvases. 

They settled in a mansion that had been built as a winter retreat for a Ghirardelli family heiress, a few blocks up from Carmel Beach, on the corner of Camino Real and 8th Avenue—the “Grande Dame of Carmel,” which would soon become La Playa Hotel

More than a century later, La Playa maintains its vintage–and luxurious–charm from that defining era. But with a refreshed look and feel. This storied destination recently unveiled a $15 million renovation. The massive restoration project was overseen by Marc & Rose Hospitality, current owner-operators of La Playa, who brought in acclaimed design studio Post Company

“We sought to unearth the essence of place and time, through a focused attention on how the hotel itself—and Carmel in general—might have looked and felt during its bohemian heyday,” says John Grossman, CEO and president of Marc & Rose.

Inside of the La Playa Hotel

“[We] focused attention on how the hotel itself—and Carmel in general—might have looked during its bohemian heyday."

<div class="quote-attribute">John Grossman</div>

The property’s formerly white ceilings are now a cozy chocolate brown. Every piece of furniture is new, and each guestroom has been outfitted with luxe details—Kassatex robes, Le Labo bath products and rich wooden bars stocked with top shelf bottles and gold-plated bar tools.

“This project is as eclectic and varied as anything we’ve designed,” says Leigh Salem of Post Company. 

The designers focused on wood as the primary material, mixing textural fabrics, a warm, layered color palette and furniture “that plays with geometry and scale.” Ornate hardware and lighting highlight the hotel’s architectural beauty. Interior archways “are furnished as rooms within a room, speaking to the original history as a grand residence,” Salem says.

Outside of the guest rooms, locals can appreciate the meticulous updates, too. Bud’s, the hotel’s beloved bar—a historic lounge named after past La Playa owner and legendary Carmelite Howard “Bud” Allen—was reconstructed with almost surgical precision, according to Salem. “We operated on the upholstery, millwork, and banquets with careful regard to history, while also finding ways to seamlessly add new life into the space.” Marc & Rose tapped Uncanned music to develop a curated music programming set on reel-to-reel in the middle of the back bar, as well. The result is a juxtaposition of contemporary music with the framework of an old-world bar. 

One aspect that was not changed, however? Every regular’s favorite, time-honored tradition: Bud’s semi-secret, “Dime Time,” when drinks are just a dime—but only for 10 minutes. The exact timeframe of “Dime Time” is at the bartender’s discretion. And you have to pay with an actual dime. It’s a tradition that remains one of the whimsical draws of the property.

La Playa's restoration coincides with a broader hotel renaissance in Carmel, with last summer’s openings of Le Petit Pali and Carmel Beach Hotel, and Stilwell Hotel set to open this spring. 

“It’s wonderful to see Carmel thriving, with a number of recently renovated hotel openings and excellent new restaurants arriving in recent years,” Grossman says. “Taken together, these investments continue to elevate Carmel’s profile as a truly world-class destination.” <img src="https://assets-global.website-files.com/6457f19f1c1e1601e2c9c3f6/6487a9355b63a6818c705cea_CC-Icon--20.svg"alt="CC"height="20" width="20">

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Amber Selene Turpin is a freelance food and travel writer based in the Santa Cruz Mountains. She is a regular contributor to The Mercury News, Edible Magazines, 7x7 and the Slow Wine Guide, with work appearing in Bon Appetit, Civil Eats, EatingWell Magazine, and more. Find her on Instagram @bonanzasprings.

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