On our "coastal road trip" in July, Don and I veered inland, to stay at The Benbow Inn.
On an internet hotel search, the curious name caught my eye. The photos looked pretty magical. We went above our usual $ amount and booked a night.
Old Resort in the Redwoods
I liked the idea of an isolated old time resort, built in the California Redwoods.
Knowing the hotel opened nearly a century ago, I was excited to arrive and find the Benbow Inn, still surrounded by trees.
The Benbow name comes from the family that opened the resort and ran it, until 1962, It was built to attract travelers on the newly opened Redwood Highway. The 9 Benbow siblings were a well known in the area in the twenties. Dam construction... power company... this family had a lot of projects. And money.
The fam hired popular Bay area architect, Andrew Farr. Farr designed the wilderness retreat, on 1,290 acres. It's surprising to me that he used such a blend of architecture. I would think he might have used more stone and less timber... due to his bad luck years earlier.
Remains of Wolf House
I first heard of Andrew Farr about 4 years ago, when visiting the home of novelist, Jack London in Sonoma County.
Farr designed the 26-room, rustic mansion for the writer and his wife. It was named Wolf House. In 1913, the newly completed home burned to the ground, before the Londons moved in. Just over a decade later, Farr designed the Benbow Hotel. No fires at Benbow, as far as I know.
It was about 2:30 when Don and I arrived. I snapped a few pics from the garden. This photo looks pretty nice, despite the cloudy day.
In person, the grass and plants looked a little weary. There were just a couple cars parked near the entrance. We headed towards the double doors on the right, in the newer section, which was added in the '90's.
I felt a wave of disappointment when we stepped into the "new" lobby. I hid my reaction and greeted the woman at the desk with a cheery comment about the nice day. She seemed worn out and complained of the hot weather. But she let us check in early, so no judging.
The lobby wasn't worth a click of my camera. I peeked in the room behind and it looked a little better, with some old furniture and books. But the ceiling was low and there was no historic appeal. It felt like a new addition, which it was.
After getting our key, we headed into the original part of the building and I felt relief.
The large sitting/parlor area had some nice woodwork. Best of all it was open and airy, with large windows on both sides of the room.
Rugs and Tables
There were lots of tables and sitting areas and a large fireplace on one wall.
This space made it easier to imagine the hotel, when the Benbows first opened 95 years ago.
Chess and Puzzles
Back when the hotel was in its hey day, there was golf, canoeing and horseback riding and fishing.
Today I didn't see signs of outside activity, but there were lots of games and at least 9 jigsaw puzzles, in progress.
We saw no hotel cats, but we saw these birds.
I was fooled for a moment. They weren't real, but I liked the odd cage in the parlor. It amused me.
Up We Go
We started to catch the elevator in the lobby, but decided not to share the ride with others. We're Covid cautious travelers. But also, there was no room for us. A man was maneuvering a cart filled with sherry decanters onto the elevator. We headed for the stairs.
I liked the old stairs, in the old building. I'm not sure why I was so turned off by the lobby.
Halfway up the stairs, there was an odd display.
What was this stuff? Were those candle holders from a cathedral? What was with those branches, shooting up from cloth? Was this creepy or curious? Once again, I was amused.
A Creepy Hall
Don and I had sort of a hard time finding our room. When we finally did, it was at the end of this hall, stuffed with mattresses and a rollaway. A work room was across from ours, with its door wide open.
I found it a little creepy and curious that our room was tucked back with the work room and mattresses. I did not find it amusing.
We returned to the lobby and very politely, asked for a different room. It took forever, but we were given a new key.
I liked the art on our door and I liked the old glass door knob.
Deluxe Queen with a Smell
Again, Don and I appreciate old. We put up with creaks and smells. In fact we usually embrace them. But this room smelled like rancid grease. We opened the windows.
The decor was fine. Nothing memorable. At least there were 2 comfy chairs. We could have paid more for a "luxury room", but this was above our budget already, at nearly $300.
The seclusion and elegance of this hotel, attracted the Hollywood elite, back in the day.
Spencer Tracey and Clark Gable were once guests. They might have enjoyed one of the suites with a fireplace. I don't think they would have been overly excited with our room.
Other Important Guests
Eleanor Roosevelt and Hebert Hoover also stayed at The Benbow. Eleanor would have looked just right, on one of those pinkish chairs.
The desk was a little too small for President Hoover. He might have taken a nip of the sherry, though.
I look like I drank a whole bottle, in this pic. So this is what the cart of sherry decanters was all about. The are delivered daily to each room, with only 2 glasses worth of sherry.
I did more posing than drinking. I was more intrigued looking out the window.
If there had been no tent, we could have seen the Eel River. The tent was set up to accommodate more guests for outside dining.
I didn't like having an obstructed view, but I was glad to know the hotel was trying hard to be safe during these pandemic times. They only took dinner reservations for hotel guests.
This actually looks more festive in my photos, than in person.
I did like the colorful retro blue. (which might have been 1990's retro) Lighting was a little dim, but I did like the funny wall nooks, near the sink.
I always have to do a little wandering, after check in. I love peeking around before things get crowded. But were things going to get crowded?
I worried that guests weren't coming. There was something a little sad looking about the place, without guests.
The Terrace Area
I wandered around the terrace area, between the hotel and river. The rounded stairs led to the prettier end of the building. The lower level may have held some of the more luxurious guest rooms. Not sure.
Above the stonework, I could see the windows of the dining room. We made sure to get reservations for later.
I wanted to step back and get a full look at the hotel, but the tents made that impossible. I liked the crooked tree.
The Eel River
Below the terrace, there was a lawn leading to the Eel River. I crossed the lawn and then the bridge. I finally was a good distance away to see the full hotel. This time, the trees blocked my view.
The next day was sunny, when I took a photo of the old bridge from the terrace. Sadly there was only a trickle of water because of the dry summer. No fishing or canoeing on The Eel.
On the front of the hotel, I found a porch that had a view of the garden. (and the nearby campgrounds) This porch needed people.
I returned to our room and made some coffee. Don and I took our books and computer to the porch.
We had it to ourselves! How I love a hotel with a porch!
The air was perfect. We hung out a while, keeping an eye on the parking lot. Guests were beginning to arrive. And a musician or two!
The Cocktail Lounge
This is how the hotel bar looked before 5.
The place filled up later. Poor bartender had to work hard to keep up with orders.
I was glad I got a good look at the fireplace before it was busy in the lounge. The elaborate screen and the mantel decor, was picture worthy. Although I cut off the heads of the dogs, in the framed portraits!
At 6, Don and I got drinks from the bar, but carried them to the terrace.
We watched 2 musicians setting up. Then we watched the musicians pack up, when it started to drizzle. I thought they would just move over a bit and perform under the tent. But they continued to pack away their instruments.
Watching the Rain
We took our drinks to the porch and wondered why no one else did the same.
I loved that porch! A light rain fell for a while. We watched the musicians drive away. We stayed dry.
When I checked on reservations earlier, I peeked in the dining room.
I noticed a couple tables already had guests. Furry guests.
I'm not sure what was with the bears, but I appreciate the humor.
No one likes to eat in an empty restaurant. Maybe the bears made the dining room feel more alive?
We really did enjoy our meal. We chose to sit inside, since the wind had picked up on the terrace.
My Caesar salad was an absolute hit, with moist chicken, fat anchovies and a crispy wafer of parmesan. Pandemic dining has been iffy, but the staff was efficient and the food was quite good at this hotel. No complaints.
The rains fizzled. It would have been nice to open windows and hear some thunder and enjoy a real storm.
We wandered just enough to see the lights on the porch a little later. No TVs in the historic building, so it was peaceful. Made good use of robes and books.
The sun surprised us in the morning. Lots of blue sky!
Our stay came with breakfast. The pandemic protocol gave us a few options, which we picked up in the lounge and enjoyed on the terrace. The cool and sunny morning made me wish we could stay long enough to enjoy some nearby trails.
I'm glad The Benbow is still open. I know all hotels have struggled with the pandemic, especially the historic ones. I just hope the staff and the wearier parts of the hotel, can get a little lift. There was a bit of an odd mood in the place.
But, I'm glad we stayed. I loved the neon sign and the porch. I loved the carved wood in some of the mantels and woodwork. I didn't adore our room, but the pretty window made the room brighter. I loved the trees and hills that surrounded and I love knowing there are 95 years of stories behind this place.
Actually I would have loved the whole place just fine, if it had been priced lower. I think I had just raised my expectations too high.
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!