When it comes to beautiful hotels and ways to elevate your travels to next level luxuriousness, Brandon Berkson is your man.
As we all know the pandemic rocked the travel industry and along with it many talented people’s jobs. Berkson was one of those people who was forced to pivot after becoming furloughed from his dream job in travel public relations. But like they say, the best rise to the occasion and he quickly took on the role of entrepreneur deciding to turn his passion for hotels into a career.
Berkson created Hotels Above Par, an expertly curated online guide of under-two-minute articles designed for the hip traveler who is short on time with an emphasis on high-end, design-forward boutique and independent hotels. Today he splits his time between running Hotels Above Par and his public relations job from which he has since returned to.
Hotels Above Par is unique in that its content is made for today’s social media driven world. It uses concise, around 300 word narratives written by travel journalists along with eye-catching photography, to create unparalleled wanderlust-inspiring content. Just what the world needs right now, especially as things slowly but surely start to open up again.
“When I was a kid, instead of being into sports, I was obsessed with hotels,” says Berkson, CEO and Founder of Hotels Above Par. “Even if we weren’t staying there, I would incessantly ask my parents to take me to different ones to walk around.”
In under a year since its April 2020 launch, @HotelsAbovePar has earned more than 56,000 followers on Instagram, and its online guide has expanded to include numerous round-ups, original stories, stand-alone hotel features, destination spotlights and more.
“When the pandemic started to decimate the travel industry, I was certain of one thing: I wanted to support hotels at a time when they needed love most,” says Berkson, Founder and CEO of @HotelsAbovePar.
“Hotels are what I know and love — from fond memories of visiting hotels as a kid with my parents and humble beginnings in hospitality working front desk operations at a San Francisco hotel to travel & hospitality roles with companies in Paris, London and New York City, and now creating Hotels Above Par.”
We chatted with Berkson to get his scoop on the best hotel patios for outdoor dining in Southern California. Here’s what this hospitality guru has to say.
“It’s no surprise that San Diego is home to many hotels with spectacular outdoor dining, from ocean views and rooftops to garden patios. One I grew up going to is La Valencia, located in the heart of the Village of La Jolla. It’s a historic Southern California staple built in 1926, painted in a soft pink and often referred to as ‘The Pink Lady.’ The property is a mélange between Mediterranean-style design and the first-half-of-last-century, Spanish-style architecture found in San Diego’s older neighborhoods. I’m an architecture nerd and could go on about design for days. At the hotel, they have a restaurant called The Med, which has an ocean view terrace that allows diners to observe the waves, palm trees, and curvaceous cliffs that make La Jolla one of the country’s most scenic coastlines. Trust me when I say this: The Ahi Poke Nachos are phenomenal and a must-try.”
“I’m a huge lover of mid-century architecture and retro-like ambiances. The Pearl Hotel in San Diego’s seaside community of Point Loma is the archetype of this. Originally built as a mid-century California motel, this property was revamped and is now one of San Diego’s best kept secrets. Situated in the hotel’s courtyard, restaurant Charles + Dinorah is buzzy with its hip outdoor furnishings centered around an oyster-shaped pool. They have a projector casting classic movies on a huge screen for everyone dining — on Wednesdays they turn the sound on so guests can enjoy dinner and a movie. Whenever I’m here, I always get the Japanese Fried Chicken — it’s the perfect finger food before receiving a main course.”
“This hotel is one of San Diego’s hippest. It’s a great hangout spot if you’re looking to trade the laidback vibe of the beach for the energy of the city’s downtown area. I stand by the following statement: Brunch is the most important meal of the day. So, with that, I love their restaurant Provisional Kitchen’s brunch menu. I recommend heading there on a Sunday morning and having their Eggs Benedict and Breakfast Pizza. Local’s tip: Walk off your food coma and head to nearby Little Italy, which is my favorite San Diego neighborhood with its bevy of outdoor European-style cafes that are perfect for espresso sipping and people watching.”
If you’re looking for both a nosh and the perfect Instagram shot, the Sands Hotel & Spa needs to be on your radar. The hotel is right outside of Palm Springs, in the high-end town of Indian Wells. Having used to be a 1950s-era hotel, Interior Designer Martin Lawrence Bullard brilliantly reimagined the space. It’s filled with desert pink hues and is meant to be a mix between Moroccan and mid-century architecture; the Palm Springs area is widely-known for the second style. The hotel is home to The Pink Cabana, which is led by Executive Chef Jason Niederkorn. The restaurant is brilliantly incorporated into the courtyard and is designed to be a modern take of the great Tennis and Racquet Clubs of the 1950s and 1960s that populated Palm Springs. The space opens up to a desert plant-abundant garden and centerpiece pool. When here, you have to get the Mezze Board — my favorite is the Hummus and Harissa option. As I said, the place is the perfect place for a nosh and an Instagram.
“A trip to the Coachella Valley is not complete until you visit The Parker Palm Springs. It encompasses a lively retro atmosphere that makes you feel like you entered a time machine and programmed it to take you back to the 1950s. Celebrities have frequented here for decades. Onsite restaurant Norma’s has a fantastic outdoor patio — not many people or places can pull off orange, however, they do this sun-kissed color justice by excellently pulling it through their outdoor furnishings. When here, you have to try Norma’s Super Blueberry Pancakes, which are served with a side of Devonshire Cream.”
“This hotel is perched atop the cliffs of Southern Orange County’s Salt Creek Beach, in Dana Point. Needless to say, the hotel is elegant like all Ritz-Carltons. My dad, who helped fuel my passion for hotels as a kid by taking me to walk around them, brought me here for a quick pit stop during a day trip to Laguna Beach — I’ve always cherished that memory and this property is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Orange County. My favorite part is the outdoor patio at their restaurant 180Blu, which has unmatched views of the Pacific Ocean, as well as the Laguna Beach and Newport Beach coastline. When sitting by the sea, eat from the sea: My favorite dish is the Piloncillo Shrimp with chayote slaw, candied pepita, morita chili pepper, and lime.”
This hotel is one of my favorites in California. In fact, it’s new to my list as they opened in August 2020. I recently visited for the first time and fell in love with it. I can’t stop taking about it to my other hotel-obsessed friends. The Cara Hotel is truly a secluded haven within the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles. You would never guess you’re in the middle of a city that is notorious for its bumper-to-bumper traffic. The hotel’s courtyard is dotted with decades-old olive trees and palm trees, which surround a square water feature. The design is meant to embrace the beauty of California; you can tell that the architect had this in mind when designing the place, especially with its oat-like color palette that immediately calms you and exudes ‘California cool.’ While enjoying the tranquility of the courtyard, make sure to order the Charcoal Smoked Roast Chicken and Colcannon (a whipped Irish potato with shredded kale and cabbage).
“I love this Kelly Wearstler-decorated hotel — she’s an interior design genius. There’s no arguing that. She did a great job of taking cues, motifs, and hues from Santa Monica’s history and incorporating it into the space. The rooftop bistro and beach-inspired lounge Calabra is a great place to enjoy a meal with a panoramic view of, to one side, the beach, and the other side, Los Angeles cityscape. Lunch is served best with a view — definitely try their Hamachi Ceviche, which includes Lime Aguachile, Daikon Radish, Pickled Red Onion and Kernel of Truth Chips.”