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A Postcard + Some Prada

Upscale hotel boutiques are offering more than the usual gift-shop fare

September 16, 2007|Valli Herman | Valli Herman is a Times staff writer.

Not so long ago, if you wanted to take home a wearable memento of your hotel visit, you either had to buy the souvenir T-shirt or steal the bathrobe. During those pre-21st century years, the operating motto of many hotels was "heads in beds." That single focus on booking rooms came at the expense of restaurants, bars, the sundries store and other amenities.

These days, hoteliers are learning how to be retailers. At hotel boutiques you can now buy prestige beauty products, exclusive cashmere dresses, exotic-skin handbags and, yes, a much-improved version of the T-shirt.

"There is a different breed of people in hotel management now who are thinking in terms of brands," says Thomas Callahan, co-chief executive of PKF Consulting in San Francisco. The hotel is being reimagined as a source of every aspect of good living, including fine dining and upscale shopping.

Hotels have vastly upgraded their retail selections, benefiting travelers who need last-minute swimsuits, cuff links or simply a shopping fix. Stocking current fashions not only helps hotels make money but also provides a competitive advantage. Hotels discovered they could burnish their image by selling finery that amplifies their luxury lifestyle message. Stay at the Ritz. Leave with new Italian cashmere in your roll-aboard.

It sure beats a bathrobe.

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Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay 1 Miramontes Point Road, Half Moon Bay (650) 712-7000

With time to spare between breakfast spent gazing at the Pacific Ocean and an afternoon of spa treatments, Ritz-Carlton guests might feel like shopping. They may not head into San Francisco, 45 minutes north, but may instead turn left at the front desk. There they'll find a boutique stocked with designer sportswear, jewelry and spa products. Inside a dressing room outfitted with a suede bench and a framed print of the resort and grounds, shoppers might try on a Cutter & Buck woven button-down shirt ($62), cashmere jackets, cardigans, wraps and tunic sweaters ($220 to $285) or a Nanette Lepore women's suit ($475 for the black satin jacket and $280 for the matching pants). Given the outdoorsy feel of this oceanside resort, most guests dress casually, even at dinner. The boutique is ready for them: It also stocks T-shirts and dresses by Three Dots ($50 to $156) and lots of Lacoste polo shirts, mercifully free of logos other than the little alligator. Men who aren't afraid of colors might pick up a blue, orange or lavender Bugatchi Uomo satiny cotton shirt ($95) or vividly patterned and embroidered shirts by Robert Graham ($168 to $298). If you packed your bags without making a purchase, the Ritz boutique can follow you home. Its mail-order catalog expands upon the boutique's inventory of apparel, accessories and beauty products. Need a wedding gift? It even offers Viking kitchen appliances--blenders and food processors.

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Bacara Resort & Spa8301 Hollister Ave., Santa Barbara (805) 968-0100

Ever since the oceanside resort opened nearly seven years ago, a trio of boutiques has stoked the shopping passions of hotel guests. When the resort was planned, its owners envisioned "real retail," says Wendy Easterday, vice president of retail at the 78-acre property. To achieve that goal, they sought to make the shopping match the experiences in the spa, restaurants and rooms, she says. "Women are short on time, and at Bacara they can have an . . . experience similar to what they may find in a more urban or upscale suburban shopping center," Easterday says. This summer, the Luxury Boutique offered silk print tops with metallic leather belts by Rozae Nichols, J Brand jeans in resort white, Robert Rodriguez blouses, Rebecca Taylor flirty dresses and a selection of Prada Sport's streamlined tops and dresses. Men get equal treatment with jeans by Big Star and Earnest Sewn, colorful dress shirts by Robert Graham and James Perse T-shirts. You may pretend you left your spa tote bag at home just so you can peruse the Spa Shop for Michael Kors swimwear, Eberjey and Only Hearts lingerie, and skin-care products by Sonya Dakar, Phytomer, MD Skincare and Peter Thomas Roth. Forgot your pajamas? The Resort Shop sells two-piece BedHead pajamas ($137) and, to help you sleep, lavender eye pillows ($18). Still restless? The wine selection includes a $98 Caymus Cabernet.

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W Los Angeles- Westwood 930 Hilgard Ave., Westwood (877) 946-8357

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