Quick Visit to Astoria
Don and I decided to add a night in Astoria, on our Oregon trip. We liked the retro look of the 5-story, craftsman-style Elliott, but the price and location was good too.
We could book a room for $149, conveniently located in the heart of downtown. Actually $169. for a weekend night.
We were excited to stay in the old port city of Astoria. The town is known for being the oldest settlement west of the Rockies. Astoria was already 113 years old, when Hotel Elliott was built.
Luckily they used strong building materials in 1924. Two years before Hotel Elliott opened, the Astoria Fire of 1922 destroyed 30 blocks of mostly wood constructed buildings. I don't know what stood on this block before.
There were no Model Ts, when we arrived around 5. But the entrance canopy and neon letters, looked inviting. I'm not sure when that feature was added.
I liked the odd narrow door, next to the one with the "HE" logo. I'm sure the slim door just allowed for a wider opening. But, it was more fun to imagine the skinny door being used by thin children!
"Grid of Vault Tiles"
These little girls might have fit through the skinny door just fine. They are pictured here, standing outside Hotel Elliott, in the 1940's. The curious thing about this photo, is the thing that the girls are standing on. The photo I took of the entrance, shows the same grid of glass tiles, built into the sidewalk. We spotted many of these in Astoria and they actually had a purpose.
When created years ago, the glass tiles allowed sunlight into the underground basement areas. Clever! In the photo with the girls, the grid looks smooth and sturdy. My closeup photo, shows crumbled and missing glass. The city is working on preserving these grids.
Like many historic hotels, the Elliott had a dark period. For some time, the hotel was used as a flop house. That was before it was rescued and given a 4-million dollar makeover, two decades ago.
I assumed the "Wonderful Beds" slogan was a fun gimmick, added for the reopening in 2003. But when I saw those words embedded into marble floor of the elevator, I realized that must have been the hotel's claim from the very beginning.
A Swift Check In
The lobby was quiet and tidy when we arrived around 5. I didn't really need a livelier vibe, but our quick and efficient check in, didn't seem to open up to casual banter. I should have just been brave and chatty... "I see a brass spittoon on the floor! When was that last used?" Or I could have asked, "Do tell me, what is so wonderful about the beds?"
But I didn't have the energy to come up with questions and those particular questions wouldn't not have gone over well! I was actually just ready to see our room. We'd had some snowy road closures, that doubled our long drive that day. We got our key and headed for the elevator.
Across from the stairs and elevator, there was a comfy leather couch. Moments before, a woman had been sitting there reading. Suddenly she was gone. Should I grab it? It looked very cozy next to the gas fire.
Or should we stop and play chess, before someone else thinks that's a good idea? I waste a lot of energy, questioning how best to enjoy our hotel adventures!
Instead of sitting down, we just lingered long enough to study the framed photo over the mantel. It showed the lobby from years ago. The counter and spittoon looked just the same!
The photo also showed a deer head and a clock and wood cabinet for holding keys and mail. The black and white image also showed a wall, where the opening to the wine bar & breakfast room is today.
Halls & Walls
The old elevator was a little slow reaching us and a little slow delivering us to floor 3. We were glad for the handy stairs on other trips up and down. I like a set of stairs that isn't enclosed in a dark hall. It gave us lots of peeks at the other halls, when we climbed the stairs.
The halls weren't terribly exciting, but I new one of the floors had the Presidential Suite. I wish I could have peeked the grand suite, to see the baby grand piano and spiral staircase!
Our room 308 was at the end of the hall. I was glad to see that renovations hadn't removed the old transoms above the doors.
I liked the Art Deco designs, on the lower part of the wall. New or old?
Queen Guest Room
There was nothing fancy about our Queen Room. It was the cheapest room available. But I will say the bed and bedding was actually Wonderful!
I appreciated having two windows, but wished we had a view of the Columbia River... instead of a parking lot.
Fishing and Canning
On the wall opposite the windows, we had a fun display vintage photos. The black and white images gave a little peek into what Astoria was all about, more than a century ago.
There are no more canneries today, but there were close to 40 around in the 1800s. Salmon was the fish that initially made Astoria rich, but that's a mighty fine "man-sized" halibut, in the photo!
Our room wasn't huge or ritzy, but it had all we needed. We made use of the fridge and microwave. The TV and coffee maker were nice to have. I do appreciate a ceiling fan!
The bathroom had a tub and soft towels AND heated floors. I was happy with that, since the weather was chilly.
In the Neighborhood
We'd planned on arriving much earlier and exploring the city. There was little time for that by the time we got checked in. But there was quite a bit to see, just on our street.
The beautiful Liberty Theatre was just steps away. It opened as a Vaudeville House in 1925. Bing Crosby and Duke Ellington performed there. On the evening of our stay, there was a "Fisher Poets Gathering" at the theatre. The notice near the door explained... A celebration of the fishing industry in poetry, prose and song. I regret that we didn't go for that. When else will we have that opportunity?
But we were hungry. We hadn't eaten porte than a car snack, since breakfast. Plus there was something very tempting, directly across the street! T Paul's Supper Club definitely made our stay at the Elliott more memorable.
We didn't actually sit at the table under the tiki hut, but we could have. We arrived just in time for a very fun "Snappy Hour" with fabulous appetizers and drinks! Cheers for a warm and welcoming Supper Club experience!
Wine or Coffee?
We had hoped to have a glass of wine at our hotel's Wine Bar, when we returned. It was a Friday and they were supposed to serve until 9. Sadly the bar was empty. It probably was open, but didn't have customers. What a shame. Where was everyone?
Instead we enjoyed the same space in the morning, with coffee and o.j. Again, the place seemed to be unusually quiet.
We helped ourselves to coffee and some complimentary hot & cold breakfast options.
Don and I took a seat at a nice window table. We talked quietly about our plans for getting back early to Portland. Our kids had been snowed in and we could stop for groceries... we practically whispered, but I felt like our voices were obnoxiously loud, in the quiet room.
Some other couples had arrived, but everyone stared at newspapers and no one spoke. The man that tried to clear our table (before we were done) didn't even speak. It seemed like Don and I were the only non-sleepy people in the room. I was rested and sort of craving a chatty people encounter at the Elliott.
After we finished up, I took a couple photos and wondered about some of the interesting light fixtures. Were some original? I didn't ask the quiet staff.
I really liked this sunburst mirror. But when I snapped the photo, a nearby couple looked annoyed. Was everyone in the hotel grumpy?
I was in the elevator when I finally spoke with an employee who seemed enthused about the hotel. She was was just what I needed. She invited me to look and the finished basement with the pool table and exposed brick. It was a pretty cute space!
I was so busy looking at the pool table I forgot to look up to see the grids. I should have asked her! I think she would have loved to have shared some info.
Then she told me to be sure to see the Rooftop Deck & Garden. It had been locked the evening before, due to icy weather, but she had just opened it.
I headed up! The first thing I spotted when I opened the door, was the Astoria-Megler Bridge! There was a 360 degree view, but my eyes were drawn to the 21,474 foot bridge, connecting Oregon and Washington, over the Columbia River!
The air was cold, but the skies were blue. I so wished we weren't feeling rushed. There was a gas fire pit and we could have grabbed our coats and coffee and enjoyed the morning view.
A Quick Cold Walk
Instead of sitting in the cold wind on the roof, we decided to head off. towards the equally windy waterfront. We walked past Shanghaied Tattoo, where NO BOOZE, BREW, DRUGS... ANIMALS, WHINERS or PROBLEMS are allowed.
We only had about 30 minutes to explore before hitting the road. We headed towards the Columbia River and wandered down the worn wood plank walkway.
Quick Views of Astoria
We walked past a fun mural painted, on an old building. It helped me imagine the people living and working here years ago. We looked out over the river, where we could see the wood pilings, that once held the canneries.
5,000 ships still travel the Columbia River yearly, but no canneries remain open today.
We headed back to the hotel, passing the Liberty Theatre. We'll check it out next time.
We vowed to come back another time and tour the historic Flavel House, or at least walk up in the hills where there are about 300 Victorian houses still standing! The town reminds me of a miniature San Francisco!
We stayed in a nicely renovated, reasonably priced hotel in a wonderfully historic port city.
We clearly did not make full use of the hotel or the curious city! I wish we'd spoken to some more people or we'd made better use of the roof or explored the basement some more. I wish we'd sat by the fire or given the wine bar a try. I'm sure during the warmer months the stay would feel very different, with more energy and maybe more enthused travelers. Maybe we'll try it another time!
#294 -Heceta Lighthouse B&B
This charming Queen Anne-style duplex has been sitting high above the Oregon coast, for nearly 130 years.
The picket fence and porch looked welcoming when Don and I arrived, last February. The "Closed to Public" sign did not, but it made me grin.... Yay! We have reservations for a night!
It was snowing when we pulled up at 3:30. We were lucky to have made it out of Portland that morning. They'd had their second biggest snowfall in history.
There was just a dusting on the coast, but the sight of the lighthouse on the hill looked extra dramatic.
Don and I were eager to finally see inside the Keeper's House. We were introduced to Heceta Lighthouse decades ago, by my sister and sister in law, who live 2 hours away. I remember pulling off the highway to take a photo, before we got close. The lighthouse and keeper's house seemed so far apart.
Our kids were all young when we visited that summer and spent a day at the beach. The cousins played in the sand near the Cape Creek Bridge. I think Scott is looking towards the lighthouse in this photo.
2023 Visit with Kate & Jennifer
It's been 27 years. The kids are grown and we parents are now grandparents. In February, we 4 had a different kind of lighthouse adventure. Kate, Jennifer, Don and I spent a night in the Keeper's House!
This is the only photo of the four of us, enjoying our less than 24 hour visit. We pretty much never stopped smiling, during our whole stay. And I never stopped taking photos. So, I'm indulging in way more "photo dumping" than usual. Smaller photos can be clicked to enlarge.
Less than two years ago Don and I traveled the Oregon coast and snapped scenic photos. Far away... then closer...
When we stopped near the beach, the red-roofed house was easy to spot, against the green backdrop. We stopped at the beach on this visit, also. My snowy image looks colorless.
First to Arrive
After a beautiful (but often tricky) day of driving, we arrived and parked behind the house. I tried the buzzer at the side door, but there was no answer.
I walked towards the front and looked out over the lawn, where the Head Keeper's house once stood.
I climbed the porch and tried both doors. This had once been a duplex for 2 assistant keepers and their families.
Eventually Brooke heard the buzzer and rushed to let us in. She apologized that she'd been in the basement. Brooke welcomed us into the warm kitchen and let us know that the fridge and dishes and stove were all available to us.
She took us through the dining area, where breakfast would be served. The long table stretched through a wall opening, that wasn't there when the house was used by two families.
Music in the House
As we followed Brooke to the back staircase, I glanced into the 2 parlors, filled with antiques and old photographs. The beautiful burled upright piano was covered in frames.
The shelves on the pump organ held toys and treasures. It looked so much like the antique organ that my sister and I grew up with. (Scary Halloween music was my specialty!) I thought about the families who lived here and how music would have helped with the isolation they must have felt.
Up the Stairs
The divided home had 2 sets of stairs, each leading to 3 guest rooms.
I paused halfway up, to look through the window, with its frame of colorful glass. I spotted Cape Creek Bridge.
It's been less than 2 years ago since Don and I stopped and studied the classic arch bridge. It's been carrying cars over Cape Creek, since 1932.
There was no Route 101 back when the lighthouse and keeper's houses were built. They had to wait over 3 decades for good road access.
Mariner's Room II
Brooke showed us to our room at the top of the stairs. Months before, I had studied the website, trying to choose the best of the 6 rooms. Did we want a view of the lighthouse to the north, or a more dramatic view of ocean?
We usually go for the cheapest, but we paid more to have one of the two rooms, facing south over the ocean. The view was stunning and the room was cozy with fresh flowers and our very own ship's wheel!
We also had the luxury of an attached bathroom. It was small, but only 2 of the guest rooms have connected bathrooms.
Jennifer and Kate chose the Lightkeeper's Room. They had a view of the lighthouse and an impressive tub. They had to step into the hall to reach it, but it was for their own use. Some rooms share a bath.
The View 129 Years Ago
As I enjoyed the blustery ocean scene, I wondered who might have studied this view, in 1884. That was the year they began building the houses.
Before U.S. Highway 101 was built, the families living in this house must have felt so cut off from the world. I hope at least the families who lived here, got along.
For decades, there was only a single lane road and many supplies came by boat. I imagine the lighthouse kids were extra excited when they spotted a boat out on the horizon!
In the Parlor
Around 4, Don and I headed downstairs to check out the parlors, while we waited for Jennifer and Kate. The parlor beneath our room had more seating, so we settled in and read some scrapbooks.
There were fireplaces in both parlors and we were invited to use them. I love a fireplace, even if it's burning pressed logs!
Wine & Cheese Hour
By 4:30, Jennifer and Kate had arrived and we were settled in with a complimentary Happy Hour.
Brooke served us wine and 2 plates of meat, cheese and fruit. Music played softly in the background. Perfect.
There wasn't much hope of a sunset with all the clouds, but we headed out just before 6 to enjoy some sky drama. Looking south, there was steam rising above the bridge. The trees looked frosty above.
We bundled up and and headed on the pathway towards the glowing light.
Dusk at the Lighthouse
On a summer night, we would have grabbed the flashlights in our rooms and visited the lighthouse after dark. But our visit at dusk was ideal, on a winter night.
It was amazing to see the glowing Fresnel lens, with no one else around but us. The sky grew darker and we headed up a path, that took us above the lighthouse.
The beam of light was hypnotic as I watched it shine on the ocean, then the trees...then our faces!
As we wandered back down towards the house, the mix of snow and light became more entertaining.
The snow made the moving light sparkle! How could we have been so lucky, to have a snowy lighthouse adventure?
It was hard to leave that magical place. I was almost ready to get our food and drink and have an icy picnic. But the glowing house looked so inviting.
Seeing the house across the "yard" it was fun to imagine earlier days, when there were 2 houses and maybe 3 families. Did the families celebrate holidays together or separately? Did the kids have schoolwork and chores?
We returned to the illuminated porch. I could see our lit window on the right. Who slept in that room once?
It felt good to get inside the warm house. We headed to the fridge to pull out our champagne and feasting foods! We toasted and ate and gabbed, until we heard the sound of some late arrivals. We no longer had the house to ourselves, but the couple seemed nice. They declined our offer of wine before heading upstairs.
We settled back into the comfy, green room. Jennifer and I eventually headed up (different staircases) to change into our jammies and robes. Extra comfy for game playing! Cards Against Humanity got sillier, the longer we played. We had to whisper and laugh silently, after 10 pm. That's very hard for certain sisters.
We left the curtains wide open to wake us. I peeked out at 6:42 to see this beautiful scene.
The water was a little calmer and I saw a light on the horizon. I imagined a boat bringing food and supplies...
Clear and Cold
An hour and a half later, the window was still icy, but the sun looked warm.
I opened the window and stuck my head out over the red roof. I could see the bridge to the south and the flagpole to the north. The lighthouse was just a pinch out of view.
At 8:30 we gathered at the long lace-covered table, set for 6, with fresh flowers.
We settled in with our coffee and got to know the very nice couple that had arrived late. I didn't ask if they'd heard our muffled laughter the night before.
Barbara was our server for the 7-course breakfast. We began with fresh fruit and cranberry bread.
The portions and pace was actually perfect. Barbara never rushed, but the courses just kept coming. Frozen mango Lassi was like dessert! The small crab cake with capers had a delicious sauce. Then there was an egg soufflé with sausage, followed by a sort of angel food cake with berries! Did I leave something out?
At one point I looked out the window behind me and saw Chef Arianna, snipping something from the snow covered garden. Minutes later, she delivered the last course, of fruit and cheese. She laughed that we'd seen her getting some fennel.
During our 1.5 hours at the table, the grandfather clock must have chimed 6 times. We shared lots of stories with our table-mates. Jennifer shared that she'd actually stayed in the Keeper's House 30+ years ago. She was attending a writer's workshop and guests slept in bunkbeds, not lovely guest rooms.
Tony told about the eruption of Mount St. Helen's. He'd viewed the skies from his office window, in Portland. As we shared and talked, I saw the blue skies out the window. I wanted time to slow down. I hated that we had to leave soon.
My best hotel memories involve great porches! I was eager to get outside and enjoy at least a moment of that wraparound porch. On my way out, I passed a photo of 3 men, sitting on the same porch. During WWII, the Coast Guard Beach Patrol guarded the beaches and lived in bunkers on the property.
Jennifer and Kate had wisely packed binoculars. They actually spotted a whale before I got out there!
The Keeper's House had lots of porch blankets available for guests. I made use for a short time, then pulled myself up from the Adirondack chair and headed inside.
Brooke was back on duty at 10:30, to offer a history talk in the north parlor. After spending the night and wondering about the people who lived and worked here, it was nice to have Brooke's knowledge.
I loved seeing the 1907 photo of Keeper, Frank and his bride Jenny. The first marriage of many at Heceta.
The 30 minute talk was just perfect for our schedule. But, I still needed one more night, to hang out and study old photos and imagine the work that went on, to keep the property running. And I needed more porch time.
One More Hike Up
Don and I had a long drive ahead, but we joined Jennifer and Kate for one last dash up the hill before leaving.
The lighthouse looked completely different, on a sunny morning.
We had hoped to tour the lighthouse at 11, but it was late opening that day.
Instead, Jennifer and I hiked up once again and this time we went a little further up.
We took photos of the view... and each other. Jennifer looks much more impressive, shooting with her Nikon.
I was just happy to be alive, since I had a couple slow-motion slapstick moments, slipping on the steep muddy path. My sister had to rescue me twice, while we both laughed hysterically. I'm pretty sure the people standing below near the lighthouse, enjoyed the show.
This is my only photo from the visit, that shows both the lighthouse and the house. The Lighthouse and The Keeper's House... that's what this stay was all about!
I really can't believe we slept in a house, where lighthouse keepers once slept. I can't believe we got to enjoy 2 hikes up to the lighthouse. One in the snowy evening and one in the sunny morning. And then there's that ocean...!
The really notable part of our stay was that we enjoyed a special place, with special family. I wish we could have rented the whole place and enjoyed it with our kids. Maybe someday!
Of course I'll never forget the view from our comfortable, cozy room! I'll remember that the morning feast was heavenly and the staff was gracious and friendly! But I think my fondest memory will be of the evening we spent sharing and laughing in the green parlor... inside the white & red Keeper's House! Cheers to a shared Notable Night!
Unexpected Notable Night
Santa Nella was not really a destination, just a convenient location towards the end of our October road trip. I didn't attempt to find an unusual, blog worthy hotel.
Mostly we needed a reasonably priced hotel, in that area. But when I spotted Mission de Oro's tower on Expedia, I booked. It turned out to be quite notable.
The hotel clearly was NOT one of California's 21 historic missions. It was built in the 1970's. But it was what I had hoped for. The rate was under $200. and it was conveniently located right beside I-5! And the mission-theme was curious.
It was the oddest thing to see, as we approached. A sprawling 2-story motel-type structure, with a 9-story Spanish-style bell tower. It was surrounded by open land with sheep... palms and California foothills and a few billboards.
Jesus and Mission Tesoro
I read up, as we drove 6 hours from Oceanside to Santa Nella. I "entertained" Don by reading aloud, from the hotel's website. There was LOTS to read about the mission-style inn and its creator, Jesus Monroy. The hotel opened as Mission Tesoro, in 1974, after years of meticulous planning.
These images are from the 42-page, original marketing brochure. All pages are shared on the website and I may be the only guest who has ever looked at every one of them. But I was pretty darn intrigued about Jesus and his dream to create a replica of the mission and plaza, in his father's hometown of Tepoztlan, Mexico
It was around 4, when we spotted the "Oasis for Travelers" that Jesus had been so proud of. We exited the interstate and easily found ourselves heading down a wide drive, towards the tower.
It all felt a bit odd with so much "unfinished land" surrounding. It felt like it was 1974 and the hotel complex wasn't quite completed.
The image below shows the plans for Mission Tesoro, with expanded highways. My idea of an oasis is a place far from noisy roads, but interstate access was a big plus, back then. Jesus had big plans for extending that interstate and creating a new "Kings Highway", stretching from Alaska to Argentina.
Jesus admired the historic California Missions and wanted to build 27 new missions! They would be 400 miles apart and each would be designed to "sustain and refresh the traveler."
I had no idea what to expect. There was no big line up of cars when we arrived. But it looked like the entrance had space for that.
We drove under the "carport" and stepped through a garden area to reach the office.
The 2-story lobby looked like it had been recently refreshed with new paint and furniture.
We stepped down into the lobby and were immediately greeted by friendly staff.
I studied the painted tiles on the wall. I recognized Mission de Oro (or Tesoro as it had once been named) But were those the historic missions, or the hotels that Mr. Monroy had dreamed of adding?
Coffee and Gifts
After checking in, I peeked at a couple rooms on the lobby level. One comfy room had some displayed paintings and sculptures. We helped ourself to some coffee and hoped to come back and browse through some books, later.
Another room had a very nice little shop, with some tasteful gifts. What I did not find on the property was... Miniature Drug Store, Beauty Salon, Candle Shop, Smoke Shop, Doll House, Leather Specialties, Bank, Liquor Store, Cheese House, Bait and Tackle Shop, Radio Station... and many other things, that were listed on the proposed plan, that I'd seen on the website.
I took a quick peek to see what was on that second level, where the chandeliers were hanging.
There was a couch or two for lounging, but mostly the area appeared to be set up as a gallery. The spotlighted art seemed to be all painted landscapes.
View From Above
The windows from the second floor gallery, looked out to the property.
The glass showed an etched image of the bell tower. The tower is definitely what caught my eye when I initially searched the internet for a hotel. I saw that image everywhere!
View from Veranda
I stepped out onto the veranda to get a better look. The U-shaped property surrounded the garden/courtyard area.
In this photo, our room is on the second level at the far end on the right.
Up or Down?
We don't usually make big demands about rooms. "Give us the best of the cheapest." But I knew I didn't want to face the interstate. We paid more for a courtyard room.
The lower level courtyard rooms had easy access to the garden area. That looked kind of nice.
But we like being up, where no feet walk above. We headed up an exterior elevator and headed down an interior hall to find our second floor room.
The carpet had grapes and our door sign had the bell tower. I was starting to see we had a mission theme and a wine theme going on.
Mission Kind Balcony Room
It was worth it to pay a bit more for a balcony facing the courtyard. The room was spacious and clean.
The mission style furniture was a nice attempt to embrace the hotel's original theme. The mattress, pillows and bed linens were extra comfy.
I spotted the tower image repeatedly...on pillows and even on the water bottle. But we did get charged for that water.
We'd stayed at some very small historic hotels in the week before. It was a treat to suddenly have a 1970's "historic hotel" with a larger bathroom!
The tile work was nice and there were lots of nice touches, like good lighting, a basket with pool towels. nice bath products, a night light, spacious shower!
Our balcony was large and private. Yes, we could hear the interstate and spot a couple billboards, but my photo doesn't tell you that.
We had drinks and kept wondering where all the people were, on a Friday evening.
Fountains and Towers
After sitting a spell, we put our drinks in plastic cups and took off to enjoy the quiet property. The fountains were pretty. Everything seemed maintained well.
At least we could get up close to the fountains. I wondered about the distant bell tower and wished I could climb up. I read that there are 53 bells inside, but they don't ring. I swear I heard some ringing though.
More Property Pics
I was impressed as we walked the peaceful property. Evidently the hotel has undergone a huge renovation in recent years.
I don't know when Jesus sold or gave up his dream, but this property didn't exactly look like an oasis, 8 years ago. That was when Chris Rufer (owner of Morning Star Corp. as in tomatoes...) bought the hotel. There was no green grass then. Just dirt.
The hotel was gutted, wing by wing and the hotel's restaurant, The Kitchen opened in 2017. We could have dined inside or outside by the koi pond.
I happened to walk up right after the koi had been fed!
I had a good time watching the fish surface for nibbling.
I liked this big guy with his golden scales!
The Kitchen and Mission Lounge
Entrances to the hotel's restaurant and lounge were hidden behind arches and trellises.
At check in, we were given drink vouchers for the Mission Lounge.
The lounge was a curious mix of sports bar and art gallery.
Sometimes you can meet interesting travelers at the bar. But it was far too nice to sit inside chatting with other people who had stopped in with their vouchers. We got our drinks, tipped well and took a quick look around.
TVs and Art
There were about 10 glowing TVs in the lounge, plus a pool table and shuffle board.
There were also some very comfy chairs for lounging and lots of framed art pieces. I'm guessing this was Chris Rufer's style, not Jesus Monroy.
We moved back outside to enjoy the evening and some of the statues in the garden. That was a very odd little carved piece with little children carrying grapes. Hmm?
There were separate busts in honor of President Eisenhaur and President Kennedy. Ike was honored for launching the interstate system. Kennedy started up the nearby San Luis Reservoir in "62.
"The Pieta of Tesoro"
The most curious of all was this replica of Michelanelgo's The Pieta, in an exterior walkway!
I've cringed in the past, when I've spotted copies of The David or other masterpieces, in various places. But this copy was quite a surprise. It was made by an Italian artist in 1868. I'll have to admit this marble replica had me pondering for so many reasons... How many decent replicas of this piece are there? Wikipedia says about 75, in numerous countries.
Wandering... and Sitting a Spell
After viewing some sculptures and koi fish and fountains, we wandered back to the pool. It was such a lovely evening and just a handful of families were enjoying the nice space.
The sun got lower and we wandered more. I wondered about the old wooden benches we found here and there. They seemed older than the 1970's. I could picture them in a mission chapel.
I posed with a fountain. Because why not?
I stepped back and just enjoyed the drama of this scene with fountain and glowing bell tower.
How could we be so lucky to have this peaceful getaway to ourselves?
We wandered towards the front of the hotel. I looked through the arch and wondered why there was no band playing in there. I think they often have music on the weekend,
We headed to the garden that we first entered, to get to the lobby. There was another arch, this one was part of fountain. Don pretended to get a drink.
We played corn hole briefly. I'm sure that wasn't around when Jesus opened in the '70's.
Maybe there was a giant chess board back then? Who knows!
Pizza with a View
Eventually Don and I ended up ordering pizza from The Kitchen. They were kind enough to call our room phone when it was ready. They gave us plates and silverware to take to our room.
We enjoyed our pizza on the balcony, wondering about this unusual hotel, sort of in the middle of nowhere. I wonder how many years it was in disrepair, before the Morning Star Guy (Chris) decided to rescue. I'm glad he did.
On Saturday morning things were starting to get busy. I wandered over by the tower and watched some birds flying in and out of the windows. I saw a yoga class getting ready to begin, in the gazebo. Chairs were being lined up on the grass for a wedding.
I could see from the Dog Welcome Sign, that 6 dogs would be arriving soon.
Don and I were invited to use our room key to access the Wine Museum before our departure. That was just one more fun perk of our curious stay.
I guess I sort of forgot about the connection with missionaries and wine! They were the first to bring grapevines and wine to California.
Mission de Oro was a pleasant surprise! If we'd come 40 years ago, we might have been impressed. If we'd visited 10 years ago, we might have cringed to see a rambling motel with a movie set tower. But we found a nicely refurbished hotel with very pleasant staff.
I loved our balcony, even if we could spot some billboards. I loved all the discoveries, from the Pieta replica, to the hungry koi in the pond. Our room was spacious and comfy and the pizza was delicious. It's clear they are continuing to improve the property. I wouldn't mind staying again!
#292 - Casa del Camino in Laguna Beach
Our Casa in Laguna Beach
It's been 40 years since Don and I first laid eyes on this hotel.
It was the early 80s and we lived less than 2 miles north, in a much less impressive Laguna Beach casa. It was a drab little 4-plex rental unit, but we could hear sea lions and cows from our open windows.
The front doors and windows were wide open at La Casa del Camino, when we arrived last fall.
The inn with its Spanish revival-style, looked so welcoming! I'm sure it didn't look much different, when it opened in 1929. It quickly became a popular hotel, where locals gathered and travelers paid $3. for a room.
Before we stepped inside, I brushed leaves off the pavement to take this photo.
I wonder about the meaning of this face-like design. Waves and curly "whiskers"?
The Hotel Firenze Days and Before
La Casa was only a half century old when Don and I moved to Laguna Beach. It was then named Hotel Firenze, I believe. Don and I never went inside. It was either apartments or a B&B.
Lucky for the community, that the hotel made it through some rocky years in the '60's and '70's. La Casa's website shares stories about those neglected years. "Hippies" and "Surfers" moved in... surfboards could be seen riding down the staircase.. there were "love-ins" and drugs and the courtyard trees were unmaintained, so that branches grew through windows...
Peaceful and Pleasant
When we checked in on a Sunday afternoon, we found no orgies or smells of incense or pot. No peeling paint or worn fabrics.
The cozy lobby had a nice breeze of sea air blowing through. There was a fire in the tile fireplace.
We rang the desk bell and a serious-looking man came through the curtains. I was happy that we were could check in early. I was even happier, when the quiet man said he'd find us a room with the best few possible, even though we'd booked one or the cheap rooms.
1929 and 2022
I spotted a postcard with a drawing of the lobby. I'm guessing the image shows how the lobby looked in 1929, when it first opened.
The furniture has changed a bit, but the ceiling beams, courtyard doors and arched openings, looked the same.
There was a cozy, comfortable feel to the lobby seating. The walls were covered with artwork.
I learned later that displayed art was an important part of the hotel, back when local artist and city councilman William Riddell, dreamed up the idea of the hotel, over 90 years ago.
Mr. Riddell wanted the hotel to be a place where travelers could rest and locals could gather and artwork could be displayed and admired. Later in the evening this space looked like a modern version of William Riddell's dream.
Hints of the Past
I was glad to see that the hotel hadn't been totally slicked up and modernized. That meant we could afford a Laguna Beach hotel, just steps from the beach. The old inn had hints and smells of an older hotel, but I loved seeing arches, original windows and doors.
I was curious about the 2 narrow doors. A restroom with a frosted glass window? I read the word "engaged" on a circular feature, on the other door. I asked at the desk and learned that the doors originally opened to "Telephone Closets". Love that!
Up to Our Floor
There was an elevator, but it was tricky to find. We lugged our bags up the stairs, beneath a sign guiding folks to "The Rooftop" lounge.
Later in the evening these stairs got lots of use by tourists and locals. The Rooftop was a very inviting place to drink and dine! Going down the stairs, I made sure to wave to myself and then admire the chandelier. Then why not, I took a photo!
It was odd how the hotel was divided. As we headed down the hall towards our room, I spotted this old staircase down a different hall.
It led down to an area off the lobby. It also led up to the Rooftop, although I'm not sure it was the staircase we were supposed to use. Confusing.
Our room was almost at the end of the hall. The vintage photo beneath our number, showed me that La Casa hadn't changed much over the years.
The doors were updated, but the old transoms still remained.
Our Spanish Room
There were originally 52 rooms. After renovations there are now fewer, but all have baths. The Casa Surf Rooms are larger and more updated, with fun decor... many with surfboards.
We went for one of the Spanish Rooms. They were smaller and cheaper, but the Spanish style of our cozy room fit with the hotel's history.
Plus we saved some bucks, which we try to do on long road trips. The queen bed was actually very comfy.
There was a fridge hidden in the blue cabinet. And we had a decent TV and a large wardrobe. Nothing too special.
The small bathroom had a fitting rustic theme and a robe hanging on a hook. I'm sure I could have asked for another.
I was just pleased to have a bathroom, period. I'm not sure how many rooms had private baths, originally.
Best of all, we could see the Pacific Ocean out there! I loved having a sea view from the shower!
Sure, there were some rooftops to look over, but we were in Laguna Beach and spending less than 200, in an historic hotel. Laguna Beach's oldest hotel, I believe!
I was excited to get outside so I could try to figure out the building. First, I was intrigued to look up and see the umbrellas on the Rooftop Lounge.
On the side I could see the courtyard with a few window boxes and some kind of structure connecting at the top. I was glad we had windows that looked out toward the ocean, instead.
As I walked past the building a bit, I spotted a funny old clock, near the top of a stairway which led down to the beach.
Was the clock around, back when this old hotel was built? I stepped back far enough to take in the solid, simple building, with its old windows and red tile roof.
And what a wonderful old fire escape, with wavy railings!
The Comedor Dining Room
Since the early days of La Casa, there has been a restaurant of some kind. The first one had a 7-course meal for $1.50.
The Comedor is the latest to open in the space off the lobby, Back in the 1940's the dining area held a pharmacy and soda fountain.
Odd Table Display
The wooden doors eventually opened up and I spotted pumpkins on all the tables.
I pondered those pumpkins for quite a while. They seemed absurdly large!
I love pumpkins, but they looked silly. What was with the pumpkins?
I was glad to get an explanation when I inquired at the desk. They were doing a pumpkin decorating event. Glad I asked.
I never saw the artists or the finished products. But later the restaurant was open for business. The doors opened to a patio in front.
Guests eventually arrived for dinner. I was glad to see activity.
I peeked at the Rooftop earlier.
Tables were full and the views were lovely.
It was hard to think about dining inside, when these views were available. We knew we'd be back.
Walk to Main Beach
The hotel was less than a mile from Laguna's Main Beach. We took full advantage.
Main Beach was busy on a Sunday evening. It was fun to see that so little had changed since we used to wander up and down the paths beside the beach.
La Casa at Night
It was cooler and quieter as we headed back up the South Coast Highway.
We could see the door was still open, welcoming us in. We could hear music.
The cozy lobby felt completely different after dark. The couches and sitting areas were filled and a young musician performed in the corner.
We could have walked right on through, but there were 2 seats near the funny window (that opened into the restaurant/bar). We took a seat and enjoyed the music and people watching.
The singer was quite talented. The guests all seemed casual and comfortable with each other. There was a friendly spirit as guests offered generous applause and tips. I felt like we'd stepped into someone's living room for a private party. I think William Riddell would have been pleased.
Dinner on the Roof
We had no reservations, but headed up to the Rooftop, hoping for a table.
We lucked out with a good one and some fabulous burgers. Just perfect.
The view at night was cool and calm. You could hear the surf. I couldn't hear seals or cows, though. I'm sure the farmland near our old rental, is long gone.
In the morning I went for a walk and had a fun encounter across the street from the hotel.
First I spotted the statue of The Greeter, on the corner. From the '80's, I remember the man who waved to pedestrians and cars and called himself The Greeter. The statue shows the image of Eiler Larsen, who was Laguna's "official greeter" from 1959.
When I returned from my walk, "Michael" was at his post, on the corner. He's been greeting folks on the street, for 12 years. (He said he'd recently shaved off his beard) He was polite and gracious and playful, as he spun around on a record disc, on the pavement. Cars honked and waved back. It sort of made my day to have a brief little chat with this sweet guy. "I see my job as a public service. I make people happy." He made me happy.
The lobby was no longer empty when I stepped back inside. I grabbed some complimentary coffee and chatted with a woman on the couch. She said she'd been visiting Laguna Beach since she was a child in the 1950's. She remembered The Greeter, from 60 years ago. The young woman at the desk chimed in with our chat. I dashed up and got Don to come down and enjoy some of the breakfast treats. We hung out by the fire for quite a while.
We learned a little more about the hotel. Early on, Hollywood stars often gathered in the lobby. Back in 1929, some of the stars in "All Quiet on the Western Front" stayed in the hotel. (some scenes were shot in the area) It is also rumored that J Paul Getty and Howard Hughes played backgammon in this same lobby. Fun to imagine.
We stay at a lot of historic hotels, so it would be lame to say it's the history that makes this hotel notable. But the fun part is that you can actually imagine this hotel in every decade since 1929.
The past hasn't been hidden with endless renovations. The history and charm of this 90+ year old building still remains. Best of all I can imagine the vision that Mr. Riddell had when he opened in 1929. There really was a nice mix of locals and tourists... young and old... coming and going... sitting and relaxing... enjoying the art and conversations. I'm so glad the hotel made it through some difficult years (pandemic years included) and appears to be doing well!
#291 - Madonna Inn - California
Don and I finally had a Notable Night at the ever so grand, Madonna Inn.
10 years ago, I began my never-ending search, for unusual accommodations, Whenever I Googled, CURIOUS hotels, QUIRKY hotels or ODD hotels, Madonna Inn, always came up.
San Luis Obispo
On a California road trip this past October, we finally spotted the classic pink sign, about halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
I was pretty giddy as we approached the sprawling property from US 101. I hoped the hotel would be as over-the-top-kitschy-crazy, as the website seemed to promise.
Pink & Stone Main Building
I have no photo of the grand entrance, but it looked like it was built to handle Disneyland crowds. Luckily there was no traffic jam and we found the Main Building quickly.
I clapped and grinned as I took in the whimsical design. There was a pink, Swiss chalet style, happening on the left. On the right, there was a hefty stoney round structure, with a chimney right out of the Flintstones! What a combo!
The office for checking in, was in the building beneath the American flag. I dashed inside, hoping I might spot a starry-eyed honeymooning couple, getting their key to one of romantic rooms. (there are a lot of them) The "Love Nest" room, with its pink carpet and spiral staircase, was out of our price range.
But, I was the only guest checking in at 4:30. I got our key and Chauffeur Don drove us, beneath the bridge-like building.
We passed white fences and pink lamp posts, as we headed up to the Hilltop units.
There are 110 themed-rooms today, but in 1958 there were only 12. Alex and Phyllis Madonna opened their dream motel, on 10 acres of property. I'm not sure if they began with such outrageous decor, or if their outlandish style grew over time.
110 Unique Rooms
Today the hotel sits on 1,000 acres. There are 110 themed-rooms. The website has photos of of them all. It's amusing and exhausting to look at the website.
After opening in '58, the Madonna's motel quickly expanded, but a fire destroyed the original buildings in 1966. They rebuilt and reopened in a year. The rounded Hilltop buildings were completed in 1969... I believe.
Curves and Curls
I saw no bubble gum pink or caveman rock, when I first saw the white buildings. However my eyes almost ached as I took in all the rounded staircases and busy railings.
It was hard to find a straight line in the midst of all the curls and swirls... arches and hearts! It was fun and funny. There was something exaggerated and cartoonish about it all. I loved it.
I spotted a little color, with some of the patio furniture.
If we'd had more time, we could have lounged a bit on the chairs and enjoyed the view...
Sea of Trailers
The view over the railings showed the surrounding mountains, beyond what I believe is the Madonna Meadow.
On the day of our stay, the view included an added feature! A sea of trailers and RVs, which I tried to hide from my photos. Yep, we managed to book a night, just before a big weekend RV show!
The Merry Room
All the rooms at the inn have distinct themes and names. Our room's name was dull, compared to some. Daisy Mae, Jungle Rock, Country Gentleman, Showboat, Mini Maxi, Caveman...
But there was an important reason for our room's happy name. We shared a little entry space with two other rooms... named Go and Round. So we shared a little name-theme, with our neighbors. Hmm? That seemed very random. And so did the Tiffany "Coke" light fixture, above our doors.
Sparkly and Round!
When we opened the door to the Merry Room, I'll admit it did delight me. I gave a theatrical gasp as I took it all in! There was a lot going on, with rounded walls, vaulted ceiling and elegant chandeliers! Best of all, the walls sparkled!
It's hard to adequately describe our room, but the website does a dandy job! "Merry Room... a joyful glow that mirrors the bubbly character of this effervescent room."
Poor Don had to steer clear of my camera as I rushed about snapping photos and jabbering comments. "Just look at those wall chandeliers! How about that connecting chain! Is that a safety feature?
"That's a very unique and alert pillow display!" They weren't leaning against the rounded wall. "I'm so tempted to move things around and center this... what do you think?"
Then my eyes took in the sitting area!
"Look! We sort of have thrones!" I cheered to see shiny, pale green chairs! The Pepto-Bismol Pink ice bucket and tray was a nice touch. Actually it was super nice having that sitting area. I'm sounding snarky, but I was happy.
"And look! We can write love letters or poems at the dainty desk, as we enjoy the view!" We were glad the windows opened. I'm afraid the room did smell a little stale.
It seemed like the room colors were playing tricks. I walked away from the golden sparkle walls, into sort of an orange-pink bathroom. There were many surprises in the bathroom. The toilet had bidet options, plus a heated seat!
We had our own French pedestal sinks, with lovely floral designs. A curvy display of roses and lights, seemed to embrace the matching mirrors.
A large gold framed mirror was displayed, across from the walk-in shower. The colorful diamonds in the tile, coordinated nicely with a Harlequin character, in the painting near the bed. Sparkles... Merry... Harlequin? What exactly was our Merry Room Theme?
Okay, maybe I'm trying too hard to analyze our room. But I sure would like to have heard the brainstorming that helped decide how this room was decorated. I finished inspecting the painting, then examined the walls more closely.
Those sparkles were actually, round reflective circles. I will call them Magical Mermaid Scales. All those reflected colors! Our room was a "sparkling pink jewel... a cheerful kaleidoscope of glitter and delight." That's another website quote!
One more thing about the lovely lighting. There were a lot of bulbs in that room. 18 bulbs on the wall above our pillows.
The grand chandelier hanging from the beams, had 16 electric candles. There were 7 glowing lights in the rather wonky-wobbly table lamp. You could say 14, if you add the reflection in the mirror!
After absorbing the wonders of our room, Don was allowed to clutter the place with our stuff. Then we left the glamorous lighting of our room and headed out to catch some of the late afternoon light. First, we headed up a walkway to the spa and pool.
It was breezy and cool but the water was warm. It actually looked very pleasant.
A young couple rushed ahead of us, to claim the cozy gazebo above the pool. That's okay, we didn't have time to linger at the pool.
Posing on the Property
I made sure to wear a pink shirt, so I could pose properly on our way down the hill to the Main Building.
Don posed with a pair of carved doors. I often make him pose with doors. Someday I will create a large collage of all my Don & Door photos.
Stone and Glass
There's a lot of stone on the exterior of the building, that houses the restaurant, lounge and shops.
Some of the boulders used on the exterior are origianlly from the property and weigh over 200 tons. There are lots of boulders inside as well. The fireplace looks like something that was created for a movie set. But those stones are real.
I noticed more stone around some grand portraits of the Madonnas. A closer look shows that the images are also surrounded by carved wood. Carved vines and grapes! These dramatic portraits made me wonder more about what the Madonnas were really like. Mr. Madonna passed in 2004, but Phyllis evidently still lives nearby. She could tell some stories, I'm sure!
Oh I do adore a dramatic stairway. Especially stairways accented by cherubs! There are a lot of cherubs at the Madonna Inn.
There are also lots of roses in the decor. The gigantic roses on the carpet could distract you from noticing the cherubs carved into the railing.
Don and I had reservations for the main dining room, but we took a peek at the family friendly Coffee Shop.
We walked past another carved door and found some curious, cozy seating. The round, wooden booth reminded me of a ride, at an amusement park.
Silver Bar Cocktail Lounge
The bar was fairly quiet at 5 pm. It was bright enough to get a nice look at the carved archway. More carved grapes!
I loved the curvy-cushioned pink bar, with pink-padded bar stools!
The leaded glass windows let in some light, to show off the carpet and colorful chairs.
Alex Madonna's Gold Rush Steak House
The restaurant's name is a mouthful. I wonder if Mr. Madonna named the restaurant after himself, when he was alive. The room was simply dripping with loveliness. I've heard that Mr. M was the driving force behind this over the top decor. Was he trying to please the Mrs,?
It was every bit as grand and whacky as I had hoped. You could almost get dizzy taking it all in!
We climbed the stairs to get a good view of the round booths and pink table cloths. I couldn't wait to get back to the room and dress for dinner.
Playing Dress Up
Don and I prepared for our stay a month before, with a trip to the Goodwill.
I hunted for a dazzling outfit in pink or gold. I ended up keeping it simple with a 7 dollar, pink polka-dotted blouse.
I packed candy cigarettes and a tiny pink feather boa. I think my portrait is stunning.
Don lucked out with a J Crew, pink-checkered shirt from Goodwill. A keeper, I'd say. My pink hubby made us drinks, while I set up the camera and timer. Another fine photo. We look rather sad and sickly.
Nighttime at Madonna
We headed down to dinner as a chilly wind began to blow.
We headed into the glowing building and found 2 blue chairs in the lounge. Perfect for showing off our pink shirts, in a selfie.
From the lounge we could see the dance floor in the Venetian Room. They have live music every night! It became clear that locals come out regularly to show off their dancing skills. It was very entertaining.
Don and I opted for martinis, but pink champagne would have looked more picture perfect. Our server Sharon was efficient and happy to snap our pic. I'm pretty sure she gets that request from most diners.
Surprisingly, most of the tables were filled, on a Thursday night. Almost all tables were taken by "romantic couples" like us. But I don't think anyone could have been more excited than me.
I was giddy over the goblets, although I'd hoped for a pink glass.
The complimentary meat and relish dish and bread basket was such a treat. The salads were dressed perfectly, with thick 1,000 island and roquefort. Just like a restaurant in the romantic 1950's.
Not Camera Shy
I usually feel obnoxious snapping photos in nice restaurants. But, we were at the Madonna where the atmosphere begs you to appreciate and document. I posed and pointed to the magnificient "tree" of lights and roses, behind me.
Don's pose with his halibut and rice, was more subdued. He was very pleased with his selection. My grilled portobello mushroom entree was rich and decadent, with goat cheese and balsamic.
The last food photo shows less focus on the food, but a better look at my ill-fitting satin and lace blouse. My grandmother's costume jewelry didn't really help much. I was able to donate my shirt back to Goodwill, after our trip.
After our delicious and entertaining dinner, we made sure to stop in the "world-famous" restrooms. (Yep that's how they are described on the website)
The Ladies Room had a chandelier and padded doors. Nothing too fantastic.
If it had been less busy, I would braved a peek into the Men's Room myself. Instead I had Don take photos. Why didn't the Ladies get giant clam shell sinks?
Don also took a photo of the waterfall urinal, which has become a well known Madonna feature. It actually looks pretty lame in his photo, because the waterfall hadn't been activated... ?
Our walk back to the room was chilly, but pretty. A fog had rolled in, which added some drama.
We followed the fencing and street lamps back up the hill.
I spotted a horse in the pasture. I wish we'd had time to visit the stables during our visit.
We headed up to our third floor room and wondered just what was really behind this Alex Madonna guy, who created this crazy place.
Before bed, I lounged in one of the pale pink robes for a while.
In the morning we made some coffee in the room. Don took a photo of me in my coral colored shirt, that matched the woodwork. I love to coordinate.
I stepped out for a quick walk around the property, before check out.
The building below ours had a distinctly 1960's cottage look. As I wandered, I became more curious about the guests staying at Madonna. What words would they use to describe their stay. Were they charmed or in awe? Amused? Confused?
I studied the odd architecture of this stone and wood structure on the Hilltop. Was Mr. Madonna trying to see how many different styles he could incorporate? What exactly was his inspiration? Was he actually winking a bit, with some of this?
And then there was that sea of RVs and trailers. It was extra odd, in the fog. Was it really a mirage? I was glad we were leaving on Friday, before the big Expo was in full swing.
As we headed off before 10 am, I smiled with a bit of relief. We had not been a bit disappointed. The sparkly guest room walls and the nearly nauseating glam of the dining room, had been just what I had hoped for.
So we paid a bit for our Madonna experience. Rooms and restaurant are not exactly bargain prices. But it was worth every penny.
Gotta thank that hubby of mine for going all in with the pink! I know I probably annoy him with my endless photos, but he joined right in the fun! Yay for a Memorable Merry Madonna Experience!
My New Year's Resolution for 2014 was to start documenting some of the memorable overnights I've had in some very odd and curious motels and hotels. Like the adventures in my Dining Blog, I have learned to enjoy the surprises that happen when you step out of the comfort zone, far away from the well-known chains.
I began with a few entries recalling my very first home away from home memories from my youth. Then, I started sharing about some of the quirky and unforgettable motels, hotels and inns that my husband and I have discovered in recent years.
The best part about this challenge was making some lists with Don and getting on the road in search of new overnight adventures. I gave myself a 2-year goal to write up 90 stories and the goal was met. Now we just keep on adding!