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Sit! Stay!

Posh hotels in SoCal are putting on the dog with gourmet meals, luxe beds and pampering for pups. How do they rate?

September 21, 2008|Rosemary McClure | Special to The Times

My friend Darby revels in the good life when he travels: Egyptian cotton bed linens, gourmet meals whipped up by the chef, a workout with a private trainer or a day of in-room massage and grooming.

Happily, some of Southern California's finest hotels leap at the chance to accommodate his penchant for luxury. They greet him with open arms, tell him how handsome he is, then give him the run of the place.

Never mind that Darby speaks only in monosyllables, doesn't carry a credit card and ambles across the lobby on four legs instead of two. He is treated as an honored guest. Hotels that once shunned nonhuman guests are now rolling out the grass carpet. And we're not just talking about Motel 6, which has allowed guests to bunk with man's best friend since its founding in 1962. AAA estimates the number of dog-friendly high-end hotels has doubled since 2006.

"Luxury hotels set themselves apart by the level of service they lavish on guests," said Kim Atkinson of Mobil Travel Guides, which recently published "On the Road With Your Pet." "This is another way to go above and beyond your competition."

Among the perks she cited: mini-bars containing doggy ice cream treats, color sessions for the poodle that needs a touch-up, appointments with trainers and pet psychics.

At such tony digs as the Peninsula Beverly Hills, pampered pups receive a nightly turndown service with Evian water and a set of monogrammed paw-print towels.

At the legendary Beverly Hills Hotel, where some of Hollywood's most glamorous stars hide out in pink bungalows, hounds can chase pink tennis balls and wolf down cookies inscribed with their name. At the Omni San Diego, they can choose an in-room doggy movie to help them pass the time. At the St. Regis Monarch Beach, personalized food and water bowls await, along with an issue of Hollywood Dog and toys from Bark Jacobs and Jimmie Chew.

With so many luxury hotels putting on the dog, I was curious. Would Darby really be accepted or would he and I be shunted off to a room at the back of the hotel with a view of the parking lot? We hit the road to test the luxe quotient at five dog-friendly California hotels.

Of course, the fun usually doesn't come cheap. Some swank hotels charge a nonrefundable pet fee of as much as $500, but there's a range: The Beverly Hills Hotel's fee is $200 per stay; the Peninsula charges $35 per day. In some cases, the fee is used for additional cleaning to make sure the room is acceptable to the next guest, who may not be traveling with a pet.

Here's an account of our journey, with Darby's favorites listed in descending order.

LAKE ARROWHEAD RESORT & SPA

Darby, a wheaten terrier, and I met about six months ago when he was up for adoption. He planted so many wet kisses on my face the first time I saw him that I knew he had found a home. He knew it too. That night, he hopped up on the bed and stretched out his long body lengthwise across the pillows.

This guy enjoys the finer things in life, I thought. But so do I. So I shooed the big pillow hog down to the foot of the bed.

We've had that same little battle nightly ever since.

Our tug-of-war escalated the night we visited the Lake Arrowhead Resort & Spa. I had to struggle mightily to persuade him to move to his part of the bed.

The mountaintop hotel, which underwent a $17-million renovation last year, has beds on a grand scale: soaring leather headboards, plush pillow-top mattresses, rich Egyptian cotton linens and plump goose-down comforters.

Darby staked out the head of the bed immediately, ignoring a cushy doggy bed that had been left in the room. When I pointed to the smaller bed -- a prince-like concoction of sheepskin and velvet -- he snuggled into my pillows, dropped his head onto his paws and pretended to be asleep.

My pal found a lot to like about Lake Arrowhead Resort, a rambling three-story contemporary lodge in the San Bernardino National Forest about 90 miles from Los Angeles.

When making the reservation, I alerted the hotel that Darby would accompany me (a must for people who travel with pets). When we checked in, the desk clerk was ready for us and shot a picture for the hotel's doggy visitors wall.

Our room, which had a balcony overlooking the blue waters and green pines and cedars of Lake Arrowhead, held plenty of pet perks. A gift bag bearing Darby's name awaited with treats, scented dog soap and a small squeaky toy; a letter from the manager welcomed him; and a hang tag for the door read, "Pet on the Loose," a handy warning for hotel personnel.

But Darby's favorite perk involved the pet menu, which listed delicacies from Bin 189, the hotel restaurant. He gobbled down the Hound Dawg Burger, an $11 mixture of ground chuck, beef broth and dry dog food; I drew the line at the Rover Filet, a $39 splurge on 8 ounces of filet mignon prepared with gravy.

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