First Pandemic Cancellation
Back in Spring of 2020, Don and I had to cancel our reservations at The Mission Inn. It was the beginning of the pandemic and like most people, it was a time of halting activities and plans. This was our first pandemic cancelation.
Nearly 20 months later, I called once again, to book a room.
This new year started up with new pandemic worries. The Omicron variant was surging and it wasn't an ideal time to vacation.
But, Don and I were traveling 2,500 miles home, after a family gathering. We had to stay somewhere. The Mission Inn in Riverside, was on our route.
First Visit in 2014
While on a road trip In 2014, Don and I discovered The Mission Inn. We stopped and had lunch on one of the charming patios. It felt like we'd taken a quick trip to Europe!
8 years later, we headed towards the historic hotel again.
Sunny in January
By the third day of January, we were far away from snowy Oregon. Sunshine and palm trees greeted us, when we arrived at Mission Inn. We pulled up near a pair of giant nutcrackers!
The tropical grounds were a welcome sight. We handed our keys and luggage over to the valet guy and headed past the soldiers. We walked beneath the Campanario, with dangling bells. There are a lot of bells at Mission Inn!
I love visiting hotels in early January, when the crowds are gone, but the decorations are still around.
We passed lot of red, green and gold, on the walkway. We also passed a few cannons and giant bells. The Miller family (original owners) were big collectors. At one time there were 800 bells, collected from all over the world. This Nanjing bell stood over 6 feet!
With no bags to lug, we were free to wander a bit before checking in. I felt like we were on a secret hunt, every time I spotted a tucked away treasure. St. Francis looked out from a shrine beside the walkway...
...a little fountain creature perched himself on some tile, near the pool. I wondered about the stories behind each of the treasures. I want to be that person who owns a hotel and travels the world shopping for hotel decor!
We took a quick peek at the pool and it looked absolutely heavenly. I didn't spot one person, which made it seem even more inviting.
The air was balmy and the pool water was a tempting temp. But, we had no swimsuits. Next time!
It was 3:00, when we headed inside.
The lobby was empty of people, but packed with more holiday decor! It was fun to picture the lobby space, when the hotel first opened. In 1903, Mission Inn catered to the wealthy, but it was decorated in a more comfy-cozy style. Instead of formal marble and chandeliers, there were Navajo rugs and Arts & Crafts furniture.
Before reaching the desk, I noticed a large sign reminding us to wear masks. It made me wonder about how the hotel handled the Spanish Flu epidemic. Did the hotel have to close down?
I couldn't find any historic info on the hotel and the 1918 epidemic. I wonder if anyone wore masks in the hotel back then? Everyone we saw during our stay, graciously wore a mask.
If we'd come a week earlier, I'm sure we would have had to wait our turn to pose with the fireplace or Christmas tree. The annual Festival of Lights display, usually attracts big crowds.
Don did the proper pandemic pose, with his pink KN95 mask. I was more vain and removed mine, for a photo near the tree.
Gingerbread & Presidents
After getting our key we wandered the empty lobby. If I'd been a kid I would have parked myself in front of the gingerbread house display... or maybe I would have quietly crawled over the fence.
But I am an adult, so I sort of wanted to enjoy a drink in the Presidential Lounge. But the gates were closed. No sneaking gingerbread or cocktails, for me. However I was able to study the portraits of all presidents, who have visited Mission Inn. The Nixons actually married in the hotel.
There are many more interesting past guests, besides presidents. In the old Hollywood era, stars like Clark Gable and Bette Davis enjoyed getaways here. Ms. Davis was married at Mission Inn. Not to Mr. Gable.
I saw a photo of Betty White, posing with the current owners. That was a sweet thing to see, since Betty died just 3 days before we arrived. There are lists of other important visitors. Booker T. Washington, Amelia Earhart, Hellen Keller... too many to name.
After checking in, we were eager to find our room and call for our luggage. The elevator was impressive, with shiny doors and colorful tiles, but we didn't need it. We had no bags.
We decided to take the stairs. I took a long pause on the dramatic stairway and enjoyed the view of the lobby below.
Our first floor room was located in the Rotunda Wing of the hotel. At least I think. There are 4 wings and it's very confusing. The halls were peaceful and... holy. We turned left at the stained glass window.
We headed past a number of ornate church pews along the walls. I felt like I should pause and pray. Or at least whisper.
Our King Deluxe Room was at the end of the hall. Deluxe rooms pretty much mean Basic, these days. As we often do, we booked the cheapest.
It was a nice surprise to open the door see such a large, corner room. That meant 3 windows! I love windows and I loved the beams in the ceiling, too!
The set up was a little odd. Were we supposed to sit on the edge of the bed to watch TV? Some of the furniture was a little dated and worn, but we were totally content. The room was comfy and huge.
Yippee For Windows!
I was excited to see that our windows actually opened! We could let in air! We could sit and play checkers, while keeping an eye out on the plaza below. There were no chess pieces, but there was also no time for chess.
At night, the windows offered entertaining views. There were colorful lights and some colorful characters, out on the pedestrian plaza. I was glad it was a Monday, or it could have been noisy.
Wicker, Iron & Parrots
Our roomy bathroom had some intriguing decor. The wicker shelves looked like something my Aunt Ruth once used to display her African violets.
The wrought iron made me feel like I was back in Texas. I was amused by the parrots, waiting for me in the shower.
Parrots have been a thing at Mission Inn, since Frank Miller's ownership in the early 1900's. We noticed a pair in a big cage, when we visited in 2014. They must have been wintering elsewhere, during this stay.
Mr. Miller loved his colorful birds, but the birds didn't love Albert Einstein when he once visited the hotel. I read that he suffered a little bird bite.
Full City Block
Before the afternoon got any later, I dashed outside to get some photos. I headed out the side entrance on Orange Street and turned left, wandering along the Cloister Wing, which was added in 1910.
I turned the corner at 6th Street and saw a few nutcrackers, staring down from balconies.
A little further down, I spotted giant candlesticks. Somehow, in the daylight, the decorations felt a little tired and out of place.
Skybridge & Annex
Heading down 6th Street, I studied the rear of the hotel complex. There was something eerie about Skybridge that connected the hotel with the Mission Inn Annex, across the street. Maybe it just reminded me of the Bridge of Sighs, in Venice. Did the Skybridge have a sad story, too?
I read later that the annex was where hotel staff once lived. They traveled over the bridge to get to work. The words painted around the top window read, "Good Head and Nimble Hand Are Good as Gold in Any Land" Curious.
This image shows the final wing that was completed in 1931. At the top, you can barely see a colorful, tile-covered dome.
There's a tree on the right that I'm wondering about. Are those Christmas lights or oranges? Oranges would make sense. It was the citrus farming industry that boomed and brought wealth to this area in the late 1800's.
From 6th, I turned onto Main Street, which is now a pedestrian mall. I counted at least 7 ornate balconies. Were there guest rooms, that had access to these? I expected to see Juliet step out on one. Or at least some Shakespearean character.
By the time I strolled down Main Street, I was totally baffled by the eclectic complex. Until Frank Miller's death in 1935, he continuously expanded and transformed his hotel. He opened his hotel in 1903, with a theme that was inspired by the California Missions and then he continued over the decades, incorporating all the styles he loved... Spanish Gothic, Mission Revival, Moorish Revival, Spanish Colonial Revival, Renaissance Revival, Mediterranean Revival... It's ming boggling.
It took me a while to get around the whole block. I rushed back inside to catch my favorite part of the hotel, before the sun dropped any lower.
I headed up the staircase and found an exit to the courtyard. I stepped outside and looked back at the building. Fabulous! Red tiles and blue doors and windows!
I'd like to steal this piece of the hotel, for my own cottage! Frank Miller must have really loved curves and arches and so do I. He also must have been a little crazy, with his endless collecting and transforming. But, his obsession works for me.
The enclosed courtyard looked magical in the early evening. I looked across at the Spanish Wing that Miller added in 1914. He wanted it to look like the inner court of a castle. It still does, except for the glass roofs and patio heaters. (added for pandemic dining?)
Directly across, I studied the Anton Clock and the display window, below. There were 3 other figures, featured on the rotating display.
The sun was glowing on the top buildings, across the courtyard. To the right of the Carmel Tower, I could see mountains.
To the left of the tower, I noticed a different kind of brickwork and lots of turrets. I learned later that I was looking at Author's Row. There were 6 suites. 5 named for authors.
View From Author's Row
I didn't see any signs telling me to KEEP OUT, so I kept wandering and absorbing the view. The sun was casting a nice spotlight on the Bougainvillea and the arches across the way. Moorish... I think!
I was curious about the dome the seemed to be resting on a raised patio, below. Was I looking at the Garden of the Bells? I could see some bells hanging under arches.
Hollow Tile Brick
Near Author's Row, I got a closer look at the interesting brickwork.
I read later that this was called "hollow tile brick". It was a nice contrast to all the concrete structures. It looked very quilt-like, or better yet, edible! The tile work on the walkway looked yummy too. Tasty Carmel & Chocolate flavored Chiclets!
Towers and Turrets
I wandered high enough to get a good view of the bell tower, but I had no idea how to get to it.
Instead I studied the brick patterns and the pointed turret.
Just past Author's Row, I found a lovely oasis, that made me want to grab some wine and book.
I have no idea if I was supposed to be on this patio. It might have been a private terrace, reserved for the guests staying in the nearby suites. Nobody was shooing me away, so I enjoyed a few moments. This might have been where the tennis and skating happened, a century ago?
St. Francis Chapel
Before heading back to join Don for the evening, I paused to look down at the entrance to St.Francis Chapel. I could see a tiny bit of the chapel's dome and it jogged my memory. I had photos of 2 domes we saw on our visit in 2014. Where the heck were those domes? It was suddenly clear that it was impossible to see everything.
The church with its square and fountain, made me think of Assisi. That's the little Italian city where my brother once educated me on flying buttresses! I wanted to see inside the church, but I couldn't find stairs to get down. It was time to go find Don instead.
Don and I decided to check out the lounge, just off the lobby. We haven't exactly been venturing to bars during the pandemic, but the spacious lounge was quiet and calm on a Monday evening. We couldn't resist.
I recognized the pillars and beams from an old photo of the hotel's dining room.
We ordered martinis and sat at our table, feeling like we had taken a trip back in time.
...back to a day long when there was no pandemic. It was hard to forget for very long, with those fine pandemic pink masks sitting on our table!
It felt decadent sipping cocktails, in the California Lounge. It would have been even more luxurious to have eaten in the Mission Restaurant.
What a beautiful space with vaulted ceilings, colorful tiles and white table cloths.
Duane's Prime Steaks
Steaks sounded pretty wonderful, too. But Duane's was closed on Monday. My photo is from 2014.
Instead we decided to order some appetizers and stay put. We'll come again and enjoy a feast, when there's no surging covid variant and when we are traveling with nicer clothes.
Off to Explore!
Besides, we couldn't linger forever when there was more exploring to do. First Don and wandered inside.
This cute little space held one of my favorite doors. I've never seen a hinge quite like that!
More Curious Doors!
I love storybook doors and we found some good ones. I felt like Alice in Wonderland.
Of course we had to pose with them... for scale purposes!
Along with interesting doors, we found cute little stairways.
These stairs reminded me more of Dr. Seuss illustrations. Or better yet, a Dr. Seuss' (non-animated) movie from the 1950's called, "5,000 Fingers of Dr. T". That movie is more like a fever dream, than a children's movie.
As we explored I kept thinking this maze of halls and levels reminded me of something familiar. It was a friend of mine who told me later that the Mission Inn seemed like an Escher painting. Wow was she ever right.
Don and I literally got lost a number of times.
Festival of Lights
The hotel's Festival of Lights was due to close in a couple nights. No crowds and no lines! The doorman took our photo, so we felt like real tourists.
We watched a little boy pose with a towering nutcracker. We only saw a handful of people.
Around the Block
Then we headed around the block.
The lights were pretty, but I won't say they were spectacular.
I had read that the hotel put up 4 or 5 million lights each year. I also heard they had cut down just as they did last year, due to the pandemic.
There were a few vendors selling balloons and food, on Main Street. A musician was packing up his guitar. In pre-pandemic years, there are horse carriages and hot chocolate booths and live music.
As we reached the corner of Main and Mission, I Iooked up through the illuminated tree and spotted our room. I was glad it was a fairly quiet night. Below our room, I noticed the Mission Inn Museum. Next time, I'm going there to have my questions answered.
Wandering Up High
Before heading back to our room, we climbed some of the exterior stairs for a view of the lights below.
The chapel and Artio, looked lovely. I spotted a nativity scene that I hadn't seen before.
The courtyard looked especially dramatic with all the tiny pinkish-red lights!
I loved looking down on both dining areas and imagining the people I would have seen 100 years ago. Guests often came for weeks or months. There were garden swings and sitting areas, where visitors read or visited throughout the day. No one-nighters, running around, like us.
This was one of those visits where I left feeling like I had only experienced a fraction of what the hotel had to offer. It was downright frustrating to NOT see the open air Rotunda or the inside of the chapel. I wish we could have lounged at the pool or dined on a patio. But we got a lot of bang for our buck. Less than $200 and I felt like I'd been on a quick vacation.
Visually, this hotel is off the charts. It's hard for people like me to relax, because I'm anxious to see and discover every nook and cranny. The whole block is a maze, inside and out. The history of the hotel is equally baffling.
It was a great ending to a wonderful holiday! I vote for a spring or fall return!
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!