#289 - Deetjen's Big Sur Inn
Deetjen's, Deetjen or Big Sur Inn?
While trip planning, I was so excited to run across Deetjen's on the internet! I'd never heard of the little inn, in Big Sur. The photos on the simple website, made the place look mysterious and magical. It became more intriguing when I learned from my sister, that she and my mother had once stayed here! Who knew?!
When we arrived for our 1-night stay in October, I spotted the little storybook sign. It confused me. It showed BIG SUR INN, in large letters. DEETJEN, was written on a tiny piece of wood, above. I'd seen Deetjen's with an apostrophe, on the website.
Helen and Helmuth's Inn
The name of the inn comes from the couple who created the collection of cabins and barns in the 1930's. Helen and Helmuth Deetjen began welcoming travelers, after CA Highway One was completed in 1937.
They built the first barn, with old materials from Monterey's Cannery Row. Other buildings were added over the years. All the rustic structures reflected Helmuth's woodworking skills and Norwegian roots. This postcard shows the Big Sur style that Mr. Deetjen made popular. Today, you can barely see any of the buildings, because of all the lush growth!
Big Sur is considered one of the most beautiful scenic stretches of undeveloped coastline in the US. Redwoods! Mountains! Coast! And very few hotels. Rates can be sky high.
I was thrilled to learn about this somewhat unknown inn, located right off Highway 1. It was Just minutes from beaches and Pfeiffer Big Sur National Park. And the rates began at $100! Well, that's a room with 1 single bed.
On the Road
We arrived on a Tuesday afternoon and parked near the stack of wooden signs. Interesting that there was a permanent No Vacancy sign.
On the fence there were two more signs. "Slow Please" and Please Heed All Signs".
Since I was asked politely to heed all signs, I did. I carefully noted the words on the mailbox... which really only said Deetjen. But it was a darn cute "mail house"!
The sign saying, "Open From Dawn to Dusk But Not Always Awake" was hammered onto one of the old cabins. I'd read earlier that Mr. Deetjen, (also called Grandpa) loved to create amusing and curious signs and decorations.
The office was fairly hidden. The open door welcomed us.
Clarrisa greeted us from behind a desk. She was young and cheery, as she reminded us that there were no phones in the room or tvs or internet or cell service. She also reminded us that there were no room keys. But we could lock our doors, once we were inside.
I had booked us the Van Gogh Room, in the Hayloft Building. But before heading to our room, we wandered around to peek at the other cabins. Each unique structure blended into the nature that surrounded.
Stripes of white paint warned guests to duck as they climbed the stairs to the Chateau Fiasco unit.
It was amazing how small some of these properties appeared, beside the towering trees.
Some of the cabins were built beside the Castro Canyon Creek. Long before the first structure was built, Helmuth and Helen once lived near the creek, in a tent.
As we wandered the property, I almost felt like we should whisper. The few guests we saw were reading or strolling quietly. The inn has a history of attracting artists and writers. Was this inn designed for introverts?
Long before we arrived at the inn, I Googled the hotel's name and had a funny surprise. Urban Dictionary showed an actual meaning for the term Deetjens!
What a hoot! I doubt I'll ever meet anyone cool enough to use this term, but it can be used in a positive or negative way. Posh or Crappy! That is too funny! When I first read this, I hoped we would be inspired to use the positive definition, after our stay!
The Hayloft Building
Our guest room was housed in the Hayloft Building. This was the second structure on the property. It was completed in 1938.
The Deetjens built this 2-story, to allow for living quarters above and storage below. The upper level now holds 5 guest rooms, accessible by the exterior staircase on the side. Can you spot the little stone creature, in the landscaping?
At the top of the stairs there was an open window. It belonged to one of the 2 community bathrooms. Note to self... "Close that thing. You can see right in!"
The only available room with private bath, was over $400. We were fine with sharing a bath for one night. But this one was a real doozy! We spotted it right away when we stepped inside. There was a little wooden door and a wood ceiling.
But the tiny shower did not have a ceiling of its own. Don helped demonstrate the issue by waving his towel from the shower! It was very handy for getting help from anyone passing by!
Van Gogh Room
We needed no key for the Van Gogh room, because there are no keys. But I did scratch my head when I noticed the little bolt on the outside of the door. Would someone lock us in at bedtime?
I knew when I booked that our room was tiny and had 2 single beds. But we were saving bucks. It would do.
But would it do for Don? The slanting roofline dropped towards the window. Don's 6'2'' frame was in danger. I should have photographed his expression when he saw our room. He rubbed his head as if he'd already bumped it on the ceiling.
I started fretting. I wanted Don to be happy. His birthday was the next day and he'd been dealing with back issues. I knew the inn was fully booked, but maybe...? The door to The Fireplace Room was open. I was jealous of the people who had booked that room, with the high ceiling!
The other rooms down the hall appeared to be occupied, with closed doors. Then I saw the other bathroom. (5 guest rooms share 2 bathrooms) The second bathroom was closed off with caution tape. Are you kidding me?
I headed down to the office with fingers crossed. I looked up at the windows and the little balcony, that belonged to The Fireplace Room. It was almost time for the office to close at 4:00. Was it possible the Fireplace guests had cancelled?
Clarissa was getting ready to lock up. I told her I was worried about my husband in that tiny room... And she happily informed me the Fireplace Room was available. She also mentioned that it would be $145. extra. Sheesh, I thought. $275 for a room with no bath? But then I mentioned the broken bathroom and couldn't she give a little discount for that inconvenience.
Hip Hip Hooray!
I only got us a tiny discount, but suddenly price didn't matter. We were both so thrilled to suddenly have a spacious room, we could have done backflips. If either of us had been able.
The room couldn't have been more welcoming. I was charmed by the creamy white paint, on the wood walls, ceiling and rounded brick fireplace! The interior felt like a cottage in one of Hans Christian Anderson's fairytales.
The corner room was filled with light and breeze, from the open windows. A Dutch door opened onto a little porch. Plus, there were 2 chairs in the room and they were actually comfortable.
I loved the split door. I was reminded of the old TV show Mr. Ed. When the bottom of the door was closed, I expected to see Mr. Ed (the horse) pop his head through the top, to have a chat!
When we stepped onto the porch, we found a wooden table and 2 chairs with pillows.
There were some curious carved posts, holding the railing. It looked like some of Grandpa's old handiwork. They must have added boards later, to make it safer.
There were views in all directions. The hill behind had interesting gardens and a house. We had a great view of the restaurant, straight ahead.
The view showed us the side of Deetjen's Restaurant. The lighting was lovely on the porch and arbor.
We made reservations for 7:30, so we could make use of all the remaining daylight, on that October afternoon.
We explored the grounds, starting with the restaurant. We walked to the front of the restaurant, that faces Highway 1. It was originally a redwood barn, built to house some goats and Deetjen's workshop. That's when Helen and Helmuth lived in the tent.
In 1939, a refined Englishwoman name Barbara Blake came upon the property. It was the Depression, but she had money to invest and experience with operating inns. She leased the barn and turned it into a restaurant. Her success helped to fund future building projects on the property, into the 1960's.
Don and I continued to the opposite side of the restaurant building. We spotted one of the (at least two) hotel cats.
We followed the cat a bit. He ended up near the Hayloft Building, lounging near some bamboo.
Don was able to get the black kitty to come in for a little head scratching session. We were told by a guest, that if we left the top of our Dutch door open at night, we might end up sleeping with a cat. Sounds good to me!
As we wandered we found a few little surprises that were most likely created in Grandpa's workshop.
This "House of Cats" only had a ceramic cat when we examined it. I could picture Grandpa being a quiet guy who liked cats. I think Grandma was the social one.
I loved the wooden railing on one guest house. The rounded posts reminded me of when I used Milk Duds and Tootsie Rolls on a candy house, once.
The carved wood in this cozy sitting area, looked like it was practically alive. I loved the chair backs, like rays of sun. The table pedestal seemed to swirl!
We came back to our balcony for Happy Hour.
It was wonderful to watch the light changing. It was also fun watching guests as they began to arrive for dinner reservations.
Before long the sun was down and we spotted the moon through some branches.
I was glad we weren't diners arriving by car. The yellow doors were just steps away, for us.
It was dark and the air was cooling down, by the time we arrived at 7:30.
I had peeked in earlier, to get a photo of the room where we ended up dining.
We sat at the table to the left of the fireplace. Some of the paintings and decorative china, probably go back to the 1930's, when the restaurant opened.
The Long Table
The room in the rear had a slanted, beamed ceiling that went well with the wavy, wood floors. A long table with two benches occupied the center.
I read that Grandpa used to join friends and guests at a long table for meals. This must be the one. I imagine he carved those curious benches.
Our dinner experience could not have been better. Our server Ellie, had been there for 7 years. She raved about the chef who has been there about 20. It was clear that the staff worked well together.
We ordered local wine and Don enjoyed the special Sea Bass. I ordered a Pasta Primavera, packed with prawns and heavenly vegetables.
While we dined we enjoyed watching some of the other diners come and go. It wasn't your typical tourist crowd. I had the feeling that Deetjen's has been attracting interesting people, since it first opened.
While I was wondering about the past, the fluffy cat wandered in the open door. He walked over near the shelves of china and the portrait of Grandpa Deetjen. Yep, I think Grandpa was a cat person. Fluff was paying a call to his portrait.
After we finished, the restaurant was fairly empty. We walked past a staircase to peek at the old bar. I took the photo earlier in the day and had meant to ask what was at the top of the stairs.
I forgot, but I did get to ask about the bar. The beautiful old bar has been there since Ms. Blake opened the restaurant. I don't know about the piano. But I did ask about the odd display of rabbits sitting on top.
The woman behind the bar laughed that I'd noticed the realistic rabbit, lounging sideways in the pot. She said the staff had a good time moving those rabbits around. I loved knowing this staff enjoyed each other.
Back in the room, we made use of the wood burning stove. There was a nice supply of wood and newspaper. There were matches and tools.
Don got the fire going and it was peaceful and cozy, with one window still open.
Reading & Writing
No TV of course. So I attempted to read "Shepards of Pan on the Big Sur-Monterey Coast". It was a little tedious. Some of the serious guests I'd eyed earlier would have loved it.
The guest book was incredibly entertaining. I found artwork and poems and clever write-ups from past guests. I wrote a few positive words, but avoided the word MAGICAL, since every other guest used it. Then I slapped on a very fine quarter-sized sticker... of Don and me. Silly.
We slept well in our sweet room. Don woke to his birthday. A year before he had celebrated with open heart surgery on his birthday. This was very different. I lit a match and stuck it in his granola bar.
I grabbed complimentary coffee at the restaurant and we sat on the balcony while Don read cards. We'd celebrate more later.
Luckily we overheard someone talking about a path we could take on the property.
So we started Don's birthday (after coffee) with a hike up through the redwoods.
We passed a few "fallen" redwoods that we'd seen the day before.
We looked up to enjoy the incredible height of the redwoods.
Then we hiked further up a dirt road. We'd been told there was a bench with a beautiful view.
Here are photos (click to enlarge) of the views on our walk. It was incredible to hike above the tall trees and suddenly see the ocean below.
We found the bench, with a plaque. "Helen's Favorite Bench" We sat and took in the view. I spotted horses below and Don's good ears picked up the sound of whales. Then we spotted them! What a perfect birthday treat!
Deetjen's is as magical as you make it! It's not a place I'd recommend to everyone. Some people can't handle a shared bath or an unlocked door. Some get bored when they suddenly can't stare at their phones.
It certainly helped that the weather was glorious and that we switched to the cozy Fireplace Room. The setting and location couldn't have been better. The romantic restaurant with top notch food couldn't either. But the whole combination was made perfect because I was with a pretty darn wonderful travel companion, who is always GAME. Even with his aching back, he was game to enjoy this rustic retreat. This was indeed a memorable and notable night!
I would definitely say, Deetjen's is more POSH than CRAPPY!
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!