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!
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!