California’s Central Coast Is the Next Big Vacation Destination

The Skyview Los Alamos (Courtesy of the Nomada Hotel Group)

California native Kimberly Walker didn’t plan on becoming a hotelier; after exploring a career in screenwriting in Los Angeles she decided to move to San Luis Obispo (SLO), where her family had a vacation home. She began renting office space in a 1920s building downtown and became so enchanted she decided to open a wine bar there called Granada Bistro. When the landlord lost the deed to the bank and the historic building, a former hotel where actors and artists congregated during the vaudeville era, was slated for demolition, Nomada Hotel Group was born.

“We were at Burning Man, sitting around this fire reminiscing about all the great times we had at the bistro, and somebody said, ‘We should just buy it,’ and we did it.”

The group, which includes Walker and other entrepreneurs and artists, opened Granada Hotel & Bistro (from $179 per night) in 2012, helping breathe new life into downtown SLO. A half a dozen projects have followed, including River Lodge (from $209 per night), a Wine Country escape that opened in April at the base of the Paso Robles wine trail, and Pozo Saloon, a historic watering hole and camping resort reopening in Santa Margarita in the fall.

Walker, who serves as Nomada’s creative director, oversees the design and development of every Nomada project. Her signature bohemian style captures the “SLO life.” Inspired by road-trip travel of the past and far-flung destinations, her Central Coast hotels feature an eclectic mix of furniture and art from around the world. Walker’s new website, Nomada Deco, launched in January, is where handcrafted items found in Nomada hotels are for sale. Everything from handwoven Bolivian hammocks to mirrors framed in vintage tin ceiling panels is available. We talked to Walker about her favorite destinations for creative inspiration and how to get the Nomada look in your home.

Why preserve historic structures rather than start from scratch?

It’s so fun to design that type of project because you get to learn about the history and have something to start from. It’s fulfilling taking something in its worst state and bringing it to its best state, while still honoring what it was to begin with.

How would you describe Central Coast style?

It’s laid-back and casual. There’s a freedom to Paso. There’s this sort of anything-goes attitude, like innovator-meets-cowboy-meets-winemaker. San Luis Obispo is the most cosmopolitan; it’s our biggest downtown on the Central Coast. Santa Ynez is the wine country of Santa Barbara. It’s very much like if the beach could meet the vineyard. If I were to try to put them all together, I think that the style is focused on outdoor living.

What is Nomada’s signature look?

I love color and texture and things with stories. I love to travel, meet the makers and incorporate those items into my hotels and home. So, when you’re having a dinner party, you can say, “Oh, this is the story behind this.” It makes your environment feel more intentional and more thoughtful, and it definitely makes for a better hotel experience.

What are your favorite destinations for inspiration?

You learn so much from traveling. I’m so inspired by the fact that someone in Tokyo can spend their entire life trying to perfect a cup of coffee. Mexico is an important place for design. There are so many traditional crafts, makers and artisans, and Morocco is so special. On a recent trip to Marrakesh, we worked with metalworkers to create beautiful door handles and nightstands for River Lodge. We also worked with a ceramicist to create planters and with artists from Michoacán to create rose-colored candle holders. We’ll sell it all through the Nomada Deco website.

What’s your advice for achieving a boho look that feels fresh?

Look at your space and say, “What in here reminds me of something?” When you’re buying things, try to find out the story. I think we have to give ourselves the freedom to say, “Do I like this? I don’t need validation from someone else.” I have this piece that I bought in Paris last year, a vase by Raymond Isidore, who is famous for making picassiette, essentially a mosaic of old discarded porcelain and glass. It is a piece of art. When I look at that every day, it reminds me how much time this person put into this and all the items that were used to create it.

What is so unique about Pozo Saloon?

There used to be what they called enramadas: tents that saloons would rent out to people stopping on their way to some other destination. We’re trying to bring back some of that feeling but make it more modern with trailers, tents and parking for Sprinter vans, so people in motion can stop and stay for the night or a couple of nights and experience what it’s like to be out there; it’s magical. It feels like you’re in the middle of nowhere.


Great Nomada Escapes


  1. Nomada’s take on a classic roadside motel, Skyview Los Alamos(from $159 per night) off Highway 101, has 1950s architecture, midcentury and modern rustic style, and a working vineyard, gardens and the original pool.


  1. Hotel Ynez (from $149 per night) is a relaxed but sophisticated retreat in Santa Barbara wine country. The property’s slightly more restrained color palette complements the picturesque landscape with redwood trees, twisty oaks and bonfire pits. The 22 guest rooms have Fili D’oro bedding, vintage vanities and retro mini-bars.


  1. Nomada at Sea (from $43,000 a week for six people), a luxury catamaran in the British Virgin Islands, debuted in 2022. Offering the luxury of a superyacht in a more intimate setting, the 62-foot yacht, with Pierre Frey upholstery and Janus et Cie furnishings, can accommodate up to 10 guests in five en suite cabins.


  1. In Paso Robles, Farmhouse(from $129 per night) is a midcentury-motel-meets-country-style-hotel within walking distance of downtown. The 26-cottage property’s interior design is among Walker’s most colorful, with Moroccan rugs, jewel-toned bathroom tile and citrus-themed art and wallpaper.


  1. Originally established in 1858, Pozo Saloon has hosted community gatherings and concerts for over a century, from Willie Nelson to Kendrick Lamar. When it reopens, in addition to hosting live music, it will offer guests a distillery, central pool, outdoor soaking tubs and luxe camping accommodations next to Santa Margarita Lake.


Kimberly Walker of Nomada
Kimberly Walker (by Silas Fallstitch)