A Night in Berkeley
While visiting the San Francisco Bay area in October, Don and I decided to spend a night in Berkeley.
Neither of us had ever visited the city, which is home to University of California's oldest campus. It sounded fun.
I kind of shy away from the word CLUB. It makes me think of exclusive country clubs... places that aren't welcoming to all. But this had once been a club for women in the twenties! I had to read on!
Before booking, I read about the building and the woman who designed it. It was intriguing and reasonably priced! Don was game to stay, even though it had once been a club... that was not so welcoming to men... at least until 1962. Thanks Don!
I headed in while Don parked. Street parking! That was a treat, since the night before we'd paid 76 dollars, to valet park at San Francisco's Fairmont Hotel.
Designed by Julia Morgan
As I approached the building, I only knew a few things.
I was surprised to learn that Morgan was also connected to The Fairmont, which was the hotel we had stayed in, the night before.
The Fairmont & The Earthquake
During our SF stay, Don and I learned a lot about the 1906 earthquake that devastated much of San Francisco. We learned that our lavish hotel, on top of Nob Hill survived the initial earthquake, but not the fires that followed.
How crazy that Don and I spent two nights in a row, in hotels that were created or improved by Julia Morgan.
Back at The Berkeley
So, as Don unloaded the car, I headed towards our sturdy, massive, building. It looked like we would be staying in some kind of Italian Palazzo-Fortress, if there is such a thing. I was ready to learn more.
Too bad we didn't have a teeny tiny earthquake during our stay... just for the ultimate test.
As I approached the entrance, I could see the concrete flowers and embellishments around the door. Molded? I guess you don't carve concrete? I know so little.
Was this the entrance? Was this actually a hotel? I saw no obvious signs. I felt hesitant walking towards the door, since I couldn't remember if I'd gotten confirmation, when booking.
I glanced at the windows. The columns and arches reminded me of a fairytale castle. The doors with their diamond-paned leaded glass, were mighty impressive... and locked. I buzzed a buzzer and heard a voice. "May I help you?"
I heard a click and worked with two hands to open the heavy door.
This was my first glimpse at the interior! Wow! I hoped this wasn't a flubbed reservation, because I really wanted to stay in this building. It looked like a church and I've never spent the night in a church.
To the right of the entrance was a desk, where I spotted two women looking over paperwork. This is the only photo I took that includes a peek at that space.
The women who quietly worked behind the desk reminded me of librarians or nuns or professors. I felt like I should whisper when I inquired about our reservations.
We Are Guests
Whew, I was helped by a very kind woman who found our reservations. This was indeed our hotel.
However, this lovely Gothic building offered much more than hotel rooms. Locals can become City Club members and use the numerous lounge and meetings spaces... or the amazing pool, which was down this hall.
I was in awe of the vaulted ceilings and the wrought-iron chandeliers. I was very much in love with the sweet bear-like creatures who were perched here and there, when I walked up the stairs.
We were glad we didn't have to hike the stairs with our bags up to our 5th floor room.
However the old elevators were a little slow and wonky. Luckily they got us to the floor and the clanky noise didn't bother us in our room... which was next to the elevators.
We peeked down the hallways before stepping into our room.
There are now 38 hotel rooms, but I had the feeling we were the only guests. I wondered about the women who used to stay here in the 30's and 40's.
Our corner room was simple and basic. The door almost bonked the corner of the queen bed, when we opened.
There was no TV, but we had some appealing artwork and great windows for our entertainment. I'm not being at all sarcastic. It was peaceful and cozy.
I liked the old radiators and the wicker chair for lounging or reading. The desk was very sweet. I wish it could have inspired me to write a letter... or a novel.
Love the Bathroom
If I had been staying a month, I might have hoped for a little more bathroom luxury. But we were staying one night. I actually loved this oddly shaped bathroom. I felt like I was in a film noir movie scene, when I brushed my teeth.
The floor and tub tile was retro fun. The curtain around the trough-like tub, meant Don got his shower and I got to soak. The wooden medicine cabinet was handy with its little shelf. The frosted, metal-framed window opened up, to a view of the campus!
But, we actually spent little time in the room.
It was time to get out and explore the City Club Building.
It was late on a Monday afternoon and all seemed very quiet.
Don and I searched for a good place to relax a bit before dinner. The library was nice, but there were a couple of men quietly studying their laptops. We moved on.
We found a piano and maybe I should have played! This Women's Club was after all, created to give women a place for social, cultural and recreational activity.
I was the most excited about seeing the pool, designed by Julia Morgan, over 90 years ago.
The 75-foot pool was empty, when we peeked at it from the viewing deck. I wonder if there were any swimmers at 5 am when it opened? I didn't check.
Later, we found a different door that took us to the pool deck, where we could see the beautiful arches and columns reflected in the water.
All To Ourselves
With no swimmers, the water was smooth enough to study the tile work. It was tempting to grab our suits and make use. But I saw a sign that said something about swim caps. Really?
We explored the locker rooms since no one was around. Don wandered through the men's area and I went through the women's. It looked like there were a few "men's" dressing rooms, spilling over into the women's area. Hmm?
There were some outside areas that we could have enjoyed, but the sun was getting low.
From the stairs, I peeked out one of the diamond panes and saw a little bas-relief panel on the wall. Surprises everywhere!
While wandering upstairs, we saw some activity, through the door to the auditorium. A very gracious man invited us in to look around.
He told us they were setting up an event. He shared a little history and encouraged us to peek out at the covered terrace/walkway. He gave us some suggestions for exploring the campus, later. Nice guy!
We continued to wander and wonder. I wasn't sure how this room was used today, but it was fun imagining it, when the Club opened in the thirties. Did women gather for lectures or musical performances? Were there once tables for reading and research?
The Women's Club Movement was much more than a social club. Women gathered to engage in recreation as well as education. They joined to get involved in civic activities and to rebuild their personal lives.
Morgan's Bar and Lounge
The hotel's bar looked classy, with dark wood bar and spacious seating. We were so disappointed it was closed on Monday.
We have learned so many wonderful tidbits from locals, in hotel bars. Being a block from Berkeley's campus and being associated with the City Club, we could have met some very interesting people here.
Since the bar was closed, we decided to make ourselves drinks in the room and carry them to one of the sitting rooms.
There were lots of game options. I spotted Scrabble and a chess board, nearby.
Books and Art
But I was more drawn to the art and books. The walls held an exhibit by Risa Lenore. Beneath each painting was the "forgotten snapshot" that inspired the art. Oh how I love that idea!
Then we both flipped through some nearby books. I took a photo of one book, with plans to put it on my Christmas list. What a beautiful (and informative) book!
Before dinner, we wandered the campus on a balmy Monday night. We were impressed to see so many students out and about. Clusters of activity... dance, Taekwondo, drumming, yoga.
As advised earlier, we wandered to Hearst Gymnasium, one of Julia Morgan's designs. It was spooky on the outside, but inside it was bright and active. Open doors revealed ballet and tango classes, karate and EMS training classes.
It was clearly Berkeley 2019. It was not 1929 or 1969! We wandered a few more blocks for a Chinese feast, then back to sleep well, at The Club!
We woke to sunshine, through our 3 windows. We dressed and headed early to Julia's Restaurant, for our complimentary breakfast.
It was extra nice having the breakfast option, since the restaurant had been closed the night before.
The simple buffet was not memorable, but the setting was perfect. There was an ornate fireplace and mirror, at one end. A wall of windows, looked out to a terrace, with potted flowers.
What a fun bit of news! RBG had been speaking at an auditorium, just a block away! It's too bad she couldn't have stopped by the historic Women's Club, afterwards... to mingle with the spirits of Julia Morgan and all the women from long ago... who would have fainted with joy to know that someday we would have a woman on the Supreme Court!
We had so many fun surprises! We spent a night in a concrete castle that happened to be a club.
Our stay exceeded expectations!
40th Anniversary at The Fairmont!
On October 20th, Don and I drove to the top of Nob Hill to celebrate our 40th anniversary!
I didn't allow myself to dwell on that too much, when we headed from our rental car into the land of luxury!
The enormous lobby was as magnificent as we remembered. Don and I briefly visited the hotel 3 years ago and put it on our "must stay here" list.
I remembered the swirling marble columns. They almost looked edible, like chocolate-caramel cheesecake!
The gilded ceiling detail made me think of empty frames.
I wanted some high scaffolding so I could pretend to be Michelangelo. What could I have painted inside those golden shapes?
We checked in at the desk and I asked a few questions. I was sad when I discovered the key boxes were just for show. I really wanted to use a brass key with a gold tassel.
I made sure to ask about the hours for the famed Tonga Room, that Don and I visited in 2016. Our desk clerk was excited to tell us the tropical bar/restaurant was open at 5, with live music at 8. Yay! Luckily we had packed the proper clothes for Tiki Time!
There is something like 55,000 square feet of "function space" at the Fairmont. That doesn't include the restaurants. The place is big... 591 guest rooms & suites! We got a little lost just looking for the proper elevator. But wandering is very fun at The Fairmont.
We took in lots of details in the lobby. The glass vases on the center table were lovely.
Earthquake of 1906
I wandered early the next morning to take photos without people. It's easier to imagine the past with no guests on cell phones. The palms in their decorative containers, looked very vintage Hollywood to me!
I tried to imagine what this space looked like in 1906, when the great earthquake hit San Francisco. The hotel had just been completed, but it took another year of repair before they opened. The building survived the earthquake, but the fires that followed, damaged the interior.
I have always loved a grand staircase! Looking upward, I wondered about the famous people who have walked down the marble stairs.
Nearly 20 presidents have stayed at the Fairmont. Nearly all from President Taft to President Obama, have been guests. They probably used a secret elevator.
There have been more celebrities than presidents though. I heard that Frank Sinatra always requested the same room on the second floor, so he didn't have to use the elevator. Imagine meeting him on the stairs!
I couldn't resist climbing! How often do you get to walk up marble steps and slide your hand over such a sleek railing. No one during our visit seemed to be using the stairs, so I felt like a little kid alone on the landing, spying down on my parents' party.
Statues and Mirrors
I wouldn't want to live in a palace with such decadence, but I loved being a guest for a night. I had to pause to study the marble lion and gold mirror. There are some surprises in that mirror frame, when you look closely.
The hotel's interior made a dramatic change in 1945. Dorothy Draper was the most famous interior designer of the time and she was called in for a major facelift. She brought in her "Modern Baroque" and transformed the hotel with her bold red fabrics and black lacquer. It wasn't until 1999, that they removed her red carpet that covered the marble lobby floors.
The Venetian Room
We only had a quick peek in the Venetian Room. Evidently Ms. Draper's remodeling of this grand ballroom was really what got the hotel out of its slump in 1947. It became quite the dinner club.
Many big names performed on the stage, from Nat "King" Cole to Tina Turner. Tony Bennet first sang "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" in this room. (Or so I was told) There was a statue of him out in front, that was installed for his 90th birthday in 2016. It was a sweet looking image, surrounded by grass and flowers. But why didn't the artist have Tony's mouth open, just a bit? I wanted to see him sing.
I love a good circus theme, so I was pretty curious about this fabulous Art Deco Bar.
There were 9 colorful murals, painted by the famed Bruton sisters, in 1933. This was years before Ms. Draper did her decorating thing!
This whimsical space with all its curves and colors, was the first bar to open in San Francisco after the repeal of Prohibition. Sadly it was not open to us, during our stay.
Women of The Fairmont
The murals in the Cirque Bar were created by two sisters, but I wonder if the bar allowed women when it first opened. Hmm? Another set of sisters was involved in the hotel even earlier. Virginia and Tessie Fair had the hotel built to honor their wealthy father, after he died. James Graham Fair had owned the property perched high over San Francisco. The "mont" after the family name, refers to the hotel's mountain-like location. I've been to a few Fairmont hotels and never knew the name history.
After the earthquake of 1906, architect/engineer Julia Morgan was hired to help tackle the issues of the heavily damaged interior. Her expertise with reinforced concrete came in very handy. Cheers to all the women of Fairmont!
Finding Our Room
We could have booked a room in the 23-story tower, that was added in 1961. The views are spectacular from most of those rooms.
But Don and I always prefer the historical experience (and sometimes the price) of staying in original rooms. We headed up to the third floor and down a hall, with some nice black and white photographs. When we stepped into our room 332, a classy photo image greeted us in the entry.
The room itself wasn't grand or over the top, but it was large and nicely updated, with more photos of San Fran scenes. Love it! The bathroom wasn't memorable, but I appreciated having a tub.
The bed, pillows and linens were comfy soft. There were good lamps and tables and a large TV. The colors were calm. No signs of Dorothy Draper.
There was a surprise Anniversary treat, waiting on a plate! The "N" was a chewy brownie and the chocolate covered strawberries were juicy-sweet. Luckily our comp snack made the "room bar" goodies less tempting. Don laughed when he picked up the tiny Pringles container. "Seven dollars?"
We didn't have a Tower Room with a view of The Bay, but we had a great view of the rooftop "Square" below.
The view was like a picture and I loved looking at it, through the original wood-framed window. The thick window was the only thing in the room that reminded me that our hotel was over a century old.
In the evening and morning, we enjoyed a little time exploring the rooftop garden that we could see from our room. Green grass, flowers, palms, trickling fountain... and an herb garden and honey beehives.
The garden gave us a good place to check out the architecture of the old hotel. We never figured out which room was ours. It did make us wonder about the rooms with terraces!
More Views From Square
When I walked to the railing of the garden, I found the best view.
What fun watching cable cars going up and down Powell Street, just below. And there was Coit Tower and the Bay! That view inspired us to do some walking the next day.
Evening at Fairmont!
By 5:00, we were in our tiki clothes and on our way to the Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar!
We headed down the elevator to find the basement lounge which opened in 1945, when the hotel's pool was cleverly transformed into a Polynesian lagoon.
Here's a photo from 3 years ago, when Don and I sipped tiki cocktails and grinned at the floating band boat. We laughed each time a thunderstorm rumbled down on the water!
No Tonga Time for Us!
On the evening of our anniversary, we headed past some vintage displays and moved towards the glowing space. Then we were stopped by a man who announced, "We are closed for an event. Sorry." My jaw dropped. The man didn't really seem to care that we'd been told at the desk that it opened at 5. He wasn't impressed that it was our 40th anniversary and we'd come from Houston. He certainly didn't get the significance, when I told him I'd bought my flamingo dress online just for this night! But he did take our photo and yes we smiled.
It would have been easier to take the news, if the doors had been closed. But we were able to see the Microsoft "event people" sitting around on laptops, using the space like an airport lounge. In fact Microsoft was using almost every event space in the hotel. I'm still trying not to be mad at Microsoft.
But, there was no time for sulking. We headed up another grand staircase.
The marble stairs brought us up to the Laurel Court Restaurant and Bar.
When we visited 3 years ago, a piano player performed under the middle of 3 domes.
There was no piano music at 5:30 on our anniversary night, but the 3-domed space was lovely. Plus it was open. We can't take things like that for granted. In fact the whole Laurel Court space was closed down for 6 decades.
We made a quick costume change, (I just grabbed a sweater) and returned to the lounge where we made a toast to ourselves with French 75s! We thought about dining in the rounded room with ionic columns and murals... but we decided to move on.
Off to Explore!
We celebrated the fact we were staying in the one of the best locations in San Francisco and we took off walking.
We had a drink at the top of Sir Francis Drake Hotel and we had a ridiculously fun, retro bite at Sears Fine Food!
Then we headed towards our hotel, but made a stop just across the street, at the Mark Hopkins. Drinks at "Top of the Mark" and then back to The Fairmont, where the flags welcomed us back.
Morning at Fairmont
The next morning, we woke to lovely weather. We enjoyed our comfy hotel until late morning, then took advantage of our location once again. The hotel held our bags and allowed us to keep our car in valet until 4!
We headed off, walking DOWN Powell Street towards Fisherman's Wharf... with detours to Grace Cathedral and Chinatown. We ate lobster rolls and rode the cable car up to Nob Hill. One more perk of our hotel... All cable car lines meet at the top of Nob Hill, near the hotel.
We had a great 24 hour stay at The Fairmont. Besides the glitches (due to Microsoft's takeover) the hotel was lovely and we were treated well.
There's so much we did not see or sample, but we had a ball... without making use of any of the numerous, ballrooms! We didn't stay in a lavish suite, or even explore the Tower. We didn't get pampered in the spa and we didn't even wine and dine properly. We might have had a little more royal treatment if we'd spent more, but we left happy and full of memories and knowledge!
Did I mention those international flags on the porte-cochere? In 1945 The Fairmont hosted meetings that led to the creation of the United Nations! Wow! I love hotels with history!
A Lucky Find!
Finding Nevada City
Don and I were excited to get back to the little town that we fell in love with, a few years ago. The idea that we could stay in a cute motel, in walking distance to shops and restaurants was pretty exciting!
The Old Airway Motel
There was no snow in Nevada City when we arrived, but we drove through some to get there. This is how our inn looked in the 1940's I'm guessing. Kate Smith and her husband owned and operated the motel and convenience store for 60 years.
The Creek Side
This is the same view today. It was a little chilly for lounging by the creek, but it looked a lot more inviting than the snowy scene.
Outside Inn, Since 1997
Evans Phelps purchased and renovated the motel in 1997. Her daughter and husband run it now. Not only did they keep the retro charm of the past, but they added a lot more fun to the place.
We checked in about 4 and the young woman working the desk was very welcoming.
Circle of Units
We must have been the first to check in, since the cars filled the space later. There was a nice sitting area and grill towards the back of the circle.
In the summer, the pool would have been fun. Maybe next time.
This is the only photo I have of Scott and Chali's bicycle themed suite. I loved the little kitchen with yellow wooden cabinets and table. So did Lola.
The Winter Room
Our room was right next to the office. We stepped inside and I just grinned. I love a theme and I love old. They did both well. Usually I'd cringe at paint over knotty pine, but I loved the icy, purple-blue paint, with silver snowflakes and the antique skis!
We didn't have a full kitchen, but we had no need. There was a tiny fridge and microwave and an adorable vintage sink and lots of knotty pine. Plus a wonderful view of the creek!
Built-ins and Woodwork
I have no clue if the little built in desk is original. I don't know if the wood framing the door is old. I just loved the feel of it all. The desk area was cozy and the cute bathroom had corner shelves for your stuff... plus a window to the creek!
Some Art, too!
I loved the painted, blue furniture with glass tops on the bedside tables. The quilt was pretty without being oldie-moldie. There was a TV, which I was sort of an unexpected treat.
A coffee maker was equipped in the kitchenette. I made a little before heading outside. I was excited to see a daffodil. We don't get those in Houston. I loved seeing the "free veggie cart" even though it was empty. In the summer, locals and guests can donate and enjoy!
Our Back Door
Again, the weather was a little cool for sitting out. But we had a backdoor to the creek and patio. I wandered a bit.
I found a welcoming fire pit with wood. I wish we had taken advantage the night before!
For just over $100. we were able to spend the night in a delightful, family run inn, in a charming town. I know rates go up in summer, but how I'd love to come back and enjoy Outside Inn... inside and out!
A Mansion from 1872
In October, Don and I spent 1 night in a lovely Victorian mansion in San Francisco's Mission District. The mansion, once home to the English family, is now an inn with 20 guest rooms. There were no cars in 1872, so I'm not sure what the garage area was for. But we were the lucky guests who got to use it! It wasn't an easy task pulling into the crowded space.
Office Under the Stairs
After arriving, we climbed the porch stairs and found the "office" in a cute little nook under the stairway. Our host was very welcoming as we checked in. Before taking us to our room, she gave us a tour, starting with the main drawing room.
Flowers and Food
The dark green room felt very Victorian with Oriental carpets, velvet, fringe and lace. I especially liked the marble fireplace with fresh flowers and fruits. There were cookies and candies and drinks available as well. There was also a little fall decor, which took away from the authentic feel. I don't believe they decorated with fake cob webs and hay bales in the Victorian era.
Outside there was seating in the garden with fig, avocado and California walnut trees. There was also a redwood hot tub tucked into a gazebo, but we didn't have time to make use.
On the Roof
There were a couple lounge chairs and table for 6 on the roof terrace. A family, enjoying happy hour, introduced themselves. "We're from Colorado!" They announced, as if they had just moved there and were waiting for someone to ask where they were from. They offered us some of their Doritoes, but not any of their wine. They did however, offer to take our photo.
The 360-degree view was even more dramatic before daylight. Early morning, I crept out of the room to catch a peek before the sun came up. I passed a few men in robes with coffee mugs. Luckily the robed men stayed downstairs and I had the roof and view to myself. I could see the lights on the hills, as well as the Bay Bridge and colorful surrounding neighborhoods.
Usually we go for the bargain rooms, but we ended up getting one of the "Spacious Rooms" which was a treat. The space had once been the formal dining room, when the English family lived here in the late 1800's.
The marble bathroom was especially nice, with welcoming robes and a yellow rose! The ornate carved fireplace was quite a sight. Evidently, the 7 English children were not allowed to dine with the adults this room.
In the evening I was pretty excited about the festive touch of lit candles. After we returned from an evening in Chinatown and the Fairmont Hotel's Tiki Bar, we tiptoed into the parlor to make some hot chocolate and grab some cookies. They even had whipped cream in the fridge.
Hiding in the Mirror
In the morning, the candles were lit again and the marble mantle was covered with quiche and cereals. The fake cobwebs allowed me to take a photo without being too revealed in the mirror.
On the round table in the center, there were platters of meat and dishes of fresh fruit. There were muffins and assorted breads and china plates, instead of disposable! There were also bottles of sherry and bourbon that we could have enjoyed while studying the portraits. But we couldn't see the images through the cobwebs!
Another Drawing Room
Our sofa spot was perfect for eavesdropping on the table gang. I held up my paper and peered over it, like Harriet the Spy. These were much more interesting people than the Colorado folks.
Retro Retreat for Retirees?
In fact, I guess we were pretty much... retirees. But we didn't have leathery tans like the ones I remember from my childhood in Florida.
Cement, Stucco, Pastels...
As a child I spent summers in Sarasota, Florida with lots of retired oldsters and lots of pastel, stucco motels. This is the corny look I remember and still love. It sort of makes me sort of sigh.
Laguna Shores, Hiding Its Age
It's hard to believe this oddball collection of buildings was once a seaside motel in the 1920's. Evidently some of that original motel remains on the land that became a timeshare property in the 1970's. 1970's brick and stucco is still retro, but oh how I would have preferred the original look of a roadside motel, standing beside the Pacific Coast Highway!
The office was tidy and proper, with a we prefer no kids feel to it. That's probably not a bit true. I just have memories of crabby motel owners in Florida who fussed when forgot to wear my bathing cap or scolded when the kids got too noisy.
This is the back of Laguna Shores, facing the ocean. The rooms and apartments jut out to offer views as best they can. It's a funny maze of little buildings and Don and I were pretty relieved to discover our studio did have a view.
We were on the second level, sharing a balcony with another room. We had a view of the ocean, plus a view of that awesome fountain... which didn't seem to have water.
The view was the best in the early hours, with no cars parked on the coast highway. This was a top dollar view, from our not so ritzy room, with not so top dollar prices! We know to appreciate this, since Don and I lived 2 blocks up the hill back, almost 35 years ago. We were renters. Oh if only we could have invested in property then!
We had a less lovely view when we didn't shift our chairs towards the beach. This photo only hints at the amusing image of our neighbors' windows and balconies. The air was dry and warm and everyone had open windows and curtains. As evening turned to night, it became as entertaining as Hitchcock's "Rear Window" with all the characters on display. But there were no murders going on and no ballerinas or jazz trumpets or arguments, like the movie. It was sort of a retiree hang out, after all.
The Fine Interior
Timeshare stays are not usually included in my Notable Nights, but this place was just curious. Luckily rooms had been updated since the 70's, but nothing too recent or classy. What I did love was the grand wooden feature on the left!
Legend says, Murphy's hidden bed allowed him to make his bedroom look like a parlor, when he wooed a certain lady to his 1-room apartment!
Besides the kitchen, bed and bath, we had a sweet little table for 2 where we could dine with a view. Or be the view for our neighbors.
There were no swim caps required for the pool and the no metal umbrellas to remind me of the old seaside motels of my past. The lounge chairs were comfy and the weather was warm enough for swimming, so we made use.
Coffee and Popcorn
There was a lounge area not far from the pool with a TV, fireplace and more tidy decor. Coffee was self serve and popcorn was available around 4. I love my popcorn, so I kept an eye on the clock. I was kind of surprised to see empty chairs and tables. The atmosphere seemed pretty ideal for coffee and and a game of Bridge. Not that I play Bridge and know what would be ideal.
Hanging on the Balcony
We made good use of this little balcony. And we hardly bothered with TV, since we had the same view from our couch. What was it that made us enjoy this little world at Laguna Shores? Lord knows we've stayed at ritzier places, with beach views that didn't include a little highway traffic. Why is it, we so fondly keep recalling this fun little getaway from 2 years?
Laguna Beach was an artist and beach community before it was ever a retreat for the rich. We may not be able to afford living in Laguna Beach anymore, but at least we found an affordable short term option... with a Murphy bed!
August 2007 with The Family
Don and I have visited the California Wine Country twice and both times were with our underage kids. In other words the big focus was not on wine. Our focus on this trip was a family wedding, so we didn't exactly end up making full use of the wine world or the natural baths at our historic resort. But we couldn't have asked for a better setting.
Coming from Texas, we tried to absorb as much of the heavenly California weather as possible. Don and his brother in law, Bernie made good use of the porches. I loved our homey cottage, with wicker seating and open windows!
There was nothing fancy about the inside. We hardly needed that much space or even a kitchen, but there was a nostalgic feel about the place. It reminded me of the motel/apartments my family of 6 used to rent when I was a kid in Florida. Of course they were never quite this nice.
Those worn out Florida motels never offered plush robes for the whole family. We made sure to put our spa robes to good use when we marched over to pool house for a night-time swim.
The Olympic-sized pool, built in 1913 was filled with thermal mineral water drawn from geysers on the property. We actually had a few lap swimmers in our group, but even at night the waters were too warm and our swimmers turned into loungers.
We got up early the next day to make full use of all the outdoor activities before wedding focus took over. The steam rising above the pool house was dramatic in the morning light.
Time to Play!
The shuffleboard brought me back to the Florida motel days. But those beachside courts never had mountains in the background! The tetherball brought me back to grade school days. Those memories weren't so pleasant, since tetherball is not so fun when you are short. I always lost quickly.
Pingpong and Croquet was more my style. And because all the other hotel guests seemed to be indulging in wine tasting excursions or expensive mud baths (using the property's volcanic ash soil) we had all these crazy games to ourselves.
I will always remember the hotel as an old fashioned retreat in the middle of a glorious landscape! It was such a calm and peaceful atmosphere for lounging around playing retro yard games! I've heard the resort has undergone some huge renovations recently. I wouldn't mind going back and sipping some wine... in a mud bath!
In the fall of 2013, Don and I stopped in the old, California boomtown of Grass Valley. We were lucky to get one of the 27 rooms on a Friday night.
This lobby photo makes the hotel look peaceful and cozy. It was actually pretty hopping at about 4 pm. Live music was pouring out from the hotel's saloon and a group of musicians had just finished rolling equipment through the lobby.
The hotel was built in 1862, but the vintage car we parked next to in the back, was almost 100 years younger!
Checking In & Heading Up
As we checked in, we chuckled with the desk clerk about hotel hauntings. The Holbrooke, as with most historic hotels, has a few ghost stories.
I've seen a lot of 80's-era parquet floors and green wallpaper in old hotels. There must have been a lot of hotel renovations going 30+ years ago.
About the Room
I don't even know Mr. Barry, but evidently he was one of those silent movie actors who became less popular when transitioning to "talkies".
I'm glad they didn't mess with the bathroom floor. The hexagonal tile with the "H" was a pretty nice touch!
Tub and Tank!
I love a claw footed tub, with a shower option. And I love a comical old toilet tank, if it works. And it did. The lace curtains in the bathroom window didn't offer much privacy, though. Of course there was a brick wall about 6 feet across, so I don't think we probably needed curtains at all.
Exploring and Lounging
There was a parlor off the lobby that offered some nice seating and maybe even a fire, had it been cooler.
By early evening the hotel's Golden Gate Saloon was filled with a mostly middle aged crowd being entertained by a decent singer and guitarist.
And these locals didn't seem to be your typical small town bar crowd either. The fact that tennis instead of football was playing on the TV above the bar hinted at that.
A Friend at the Bar
Don and I both noticed the gentleman with the cap, seated at the bar. He seemed to be sipping water as he applauded Nadal's tennis skills.
Seeing such tennis enthusiasm let me know we had something in common. Before long, the man who called himself G.G., was seated at our table talking about his passion for nearly an hour. He told us about his time in the service during the Korean War and how being on the tennis team made the difficult flight training program bearable. He talked about his later years as a Pan Am pilot. I had to ask if that world was as glamorous then as we've been lead to believe. He laughed and steered the conversation once again to tennis. He hinted that overseas travel got tedious and tennis gave him something to look forward to. "Wherever I landed for the night, I always made sure I had a match lined up!"
A Notable Visit near Julian, CA
Shadow Mountain Ranch
After getting a little lost, we finally found our B&B just outside the old mining town of Julian. We parked and wandered the property in search of our hosts. The office, within the family home had a closed sign. We began walking towards the back of the house and paused to take in this view of the pine and oak covered mountains. Then we heard voices.
The family on the patio below us seemed to be rushing to set up for some kind of event. A young man looked a bit panicked when he spotted us. He moved towards us with a rather frazzled looking woman who seemed to be in charge, but spoke little English.
I Want My Waterfall!
I had seen pictures of the waterfall shower and the rock sink. You can barely see the face on this internet photo, but the sink had one. I was even willing to put up with the impractical wooden swinging saloon doors that shield the toilet. What a hoot that the carved figures of Mr.and Mrs. Gnome have to cease their smooching when you pass through!
Cleaning the Gnome Home
We had a stressful 5 minute conversation with lots of translating by younger folk. The woman's face seemed very apologetic as she explained in broken English, that there had been a glitch of sorts. She said the owners were out of town and she hadn't expected guests. They were preparing for a family party that night, but they would honor our reservations. She shooed three of the young people to go clean the Gnome Home for our stay. They rushed off and returned with sheets and cleaning supplies, then stumbled towards our funny little 2-room getaway, dropping the vacuum twice. Our worried woman, who must have been the caretaker, apologized again and begged us to please let her know if their party got too loud that night.
Behind the Gnome Door
It suddenly seemed stupid to pay $150. for this experience. I rushed back and told the fretting woman that I was concerned, since our stay had included afternoon tea and full breakfast in the family home. She shook her head sadly to let us know there was no way that was happening. When we told her we had decided not to stay, she looked incredibly relieved.
Not a Notable Night
Long Beach, CA in May
A night on a cruise ship may not be worthy of a Notable Night entry, but sleeping on a floating hotel is different.
Our Floating Hotel
For 30 years this historic ship has been docked in Long Beach. You can pay for a ghost tour or dine in one of the restaurants, or you can bring your suitcases on board and stay the night!
It was a gorgeous Thursday afternoon when Don and I boarded the ship. We were on day 11 of our 4-week road trip, so we were a little worn. It was a treat not going through the security lines and passport checks.
After dropping luggage in our room it was time to explore, which is what I do when I get to any hotel. But hotels don't usually have decks with masts or smokestacks...
... or old red lifeboats!
The view across Long Beach Harbor was more impressive than I expected. We could gaze out at the pavilion and Ferris wheel for as long as we liked...since the ship wasn't going anywhere. I felt like I had to sort of remind myself that the scenery wasn't going to change. If we wanted a change we just had to keep ourselves moving.
There was an entertaining view on the portside as well. Hearing the bells and announcements coming from a nearby Carnival Cruise Ship made us feel like we were actually getting ready to set sail. And having a nice view of the curious geodesic dome that housed Howard Hughes' immense Spruce Goose, was an added perk. Evidently the dome is now used by Carnival to check passengers in and out...when it's not being used as a Roller Derby arena!
Exploring inside was extra entertaining since we seemed to have the ship practically to ourselves.
Rarely did we see another guest. Maybe people are too scared to stay on board. After all Time magazine named the ship in their list of "Top 10 Most Haunted Places in America".
Here I am lounging for about 3 seconds. The bed felt luxurious and I could have stayed forever, but we had more wandering to do.
Art Deco Decor
There are 346 first class staterooms that range from about $79. to $250. You pay more for one of the 9 suites. We paid a little more for a Deluxe so we could enjoy the original wood paneling and art deco built-ins. I loved it that we could open our portholes to let in the fresh air. We also had some funny vents that blew the air around. I'm not sure where that air was coming from.
To enter the bathroom we had to step over some kind of room divider. That was odd. The tub was a bonus that I didn't expect on a ship. The black and white tile and art deco light fixture looked original. But the most amusing feature (besides the funny push handle for flushing) was the set of 4 faucet handles. Hot sea water, cold sea water, hot fresh water, cold fresh water. Sadly, we didn't have the sea water option. No salt water soaks for me.
The grand looking shopping area made me feel like I was traveling first class, back in the day. I enjoyed a little browsing in a tiny book store until I began to think I was on Candid Camera. The soft spoken shopkeeper began a non-stop ramble the moment I entered. I kept looking around to see if she was talking to someone else because she never looked at me and I could barely understand what she was saying. She became a little bolder with her chatter and she seemed to have a lot she wanted to tell me about the merchandise. She wanted to demonstrate to me how the key chains won't break when you drop them. I broke free about 15 minutes later with a few postcards, feeling perplexed and somewhat tortured.
This 3-story ballroom just reeked of wealth and elegance. This was once the first class dining room. Now it's the largest of 14 salons that can be rented for events. Maybe when it's my turn to host Book Club, I'll have it here.
To me, the grandest part of the Grand Salon was the wood. On board the ship you can find over 50 different kinds of wood in the walls, floors and carvings. The QM has a lot of nicknames and "Ship of Woods" is one of them!
Art With Purpose!
You have to love a mural that tells you important things. Not only did this gigantic piece of art in the Grand Salon look impressive, it announced current information. The clock presented the time and the transcontinental map showed the ship's two routes. There used to be a crystal model of the Queen Mary that actually moved on the map, so you could follow the ship's progress.
Such Grand Doors!
Doors in Grand Salon
I would love to make a dramatic entrance through the polished brass doors beneath this festive hunting mural! It would take me a long time to decide what to wear for that entrance.
Door to the Telephone
I would love to step into this polished phone booth along with a martini, perhaps. I could sit and sip and chat with my dear friend while the ship sailed the Atlantic. That's such a crazy thought, because I never even felt like it was possible to make a phone call when I was on a Princess cruise, just a year ago!
I'm assuming this was a revolving door at one time. I do love a revolving door and I would have enjoyed a few revolutions in this oldie!
Curious Rooms of the Past
I enjoyed this display that offered a glimpse of what you might have found in the first class nursery. They had separate nurseries for second and third class passengers and it's a little sad to think those kids probably didn't have elephant chairs. Maybe they didn't have eerie artwork either...and that would be a good thing. There are so many rooms that are now gone that I wish I could have seen. I would love to have peeked into the dog kennels or looked at the squash courts. There was even a Jewish prayer room, a small hospital and a music studio.
Floors and Columns
There wasn't time to count floors, but I wonder how many different kinds they have. From old parquet, to big fat linoleum tiles, to carpet with floral or geometric patterns. If I'd been an employee back in the cruising days, I would have avoided the job of floor cleaner. When you see the columns with their railings, you're reminded of woozy travelers and upset stomachs. Don was happy to put on a sickly expression and demonstrate how to grasp hold. I guess the railings might still come in handy for "passengers" who have had one too many.
It's always fun staying in a hotel where celebrities have slept. The Queen Mary has carried some of the best from the old Hollywood days. I like to imagine that I was leaning up against the same railing that Spencer Tracy and his wife leaned on. Clark Gable and Charlie Chaplin also cruised on the QM in the late 1930's, before World War II. By 1939 the ship no longer carried the rich and famous. After just 3 years of luxury cruising, the QM was transformed into a troopship.
Remembering the Ship in New York
I have the faintest memory of being 6 years old and seeing the Queen Mary, docked in the Hudson Bay. That was in 1963, just a few years before the ship departed on its final voyage. What I also remember is spotting a photo of the ship a month or so later in Life Magazine. The image was of 2 young girls peering out at the ship docked in Hudson Bay. I cut it out and kept it, since I wanted to believe the photo was of my sister and me.
A Different Image
But this photo of the QM in Hudson Bay is very different. She was stripped of her colors and nicknamed the "Grey Ghost", so she could transport troops across the Atlantic at record speeds during WWII. I was excited to read some of the history displays and take some photos for my friend Ken back in Texas. Ken served during WWII and he has shared stories with me about traveling with the troops on the QM. Seeing images of the Grey Ghost reminded me of Ken's description of seeing the Statue of Liberty when they returned home after the war... and spotting the Manhattan office building, where he knew his father was working that day.
Wining and Dining
Don and I worked up an appetite and thirst after absorbing over 70 years of history. Just before sunset we headed towards the bow of the boat for drinks in the Observation Bar. There were no bad seats. We could gaze out at the same Art Deco features that Leo DiCaprio enjoyed when they filming a scene from "The Aviator" here.
Or... we could stare out the window at the bow of the boat and the lowering sun.
Then we decided it was silly to be looking out the window when we could wander on deck to watch the sunset. It was nice not having to share the picturesque setting with other tourists. We could be as goofy or as romantic as we liked. I guess I'm showing my age, because I didn't once think about doing the Titanic Pose at the bow of the boat. I'm picturing that now and I've concluded that would have been goofy, not romantic.
There were 5 dining areas to choose from on the ship. We picked the Chelsea Chowder House, with the shiny tile floors, decorative tin ceiling and windows overlooking the harbor. If we'd brought some crayons we could have drawn colorful ship scenes, since there was butcher paper on top of the white table cloth. I guess that's a British Chowder House thing. I didn't order chowder, which is their specialty, but the scampi with fettuccini was excellent. Don's glazed salmon was mouthwatering and just the right amount of sweet!
I'm not sure what time we got back to the cabin, but we both slept well. There was no rocking to lull us to sleep, but there was a pleasant hum from those little air- circulation-vent-things. In the morning I did have visions of the movie Poseidon Adventure, when I stepped over the raised threshold into the bathroom. (Many of the movie scenes were filmed on QM) The bathroom floor appeared to be slightly flooded. It was more comical than annoying, so I won't go into that.
What is Noteworthy?
We only had about 8 waking hours on board the Queen Mary, but that was just about right. If we'd stayed longer I would have had time for a ghost tour or another good meal, but the day tourists were starting to board and I didn't want them to taint my memory. So I must say, the most memorable part of our stay was... exploring. The QM was once the grandest ocean liner in the world and we sort of had it to ourselves. I felt like Don and I were 2 little kids with big imaginations, just playing ship. As we wandered I imagined the passengers in their 1930's clothing and the scenery they viewed from the deck. But I didn't have to imagine all the colors and textures of the grand old ship because those things were still there. I'm just so grateful that Long Beach bought the ship in 1967 and numerous organizations and companies have taken on the leases and renovations over the years. It's an amazing historical landmark and I'm glad to be able to say I was a passenger.
Borrego Springs, California - May 2014
Don and I finally spotted the sign at the base of Indian Head Mountain, but where was the hotel?
Oasis with Curious History
We drove down a long dusty drive to get to the gravel parking lot. There we found our little oasis hotel, in all its modern glory. This classic mid-century hotel, with lots of steel and glass was built in 1958, to replace the 10 year old original hotel after it burned down.
The hotel was then called The Hoberg Resort. It was quite the retreat for Hollywood stars and socialites who wanted to escape the public spotlight.
We parked next to 2 Vespas in the nearly empty lot and headed inside to look around. We were greeted by this modern floating staircase that must have really been something in 1958. But there didn't seem to be a person in sight. We wandered the dimly lit space, enjoying some of the reminders of earlier days.
There was something almost eerie as we explored...like a modern version of The Shining. So many reminders of the past when the hotel was buzzing with guests...but no real people to greet us.
Almost 20 years ago, the current owners David and Cindy began restoring the property. The hotel and bungalows had been empty for years, but this couple embraced the history and took on the challenge. I had hoped to meet them...or anyone. Obviously someone was around, since there was a fresh pitcher of ice water with cut lemons.
We did see a few faces at least...on a painted brick wall. It was fun to see Bing and Marlon, Marilyn and Clark... and even the Wizard of Oz! These were a few of the celebrities who once escaped the stress of Hollywood by hopping on planes and landing on the hotel's private airstrip.
A Key and Towels
A woman finally appeared from the kitchen and for a moment she seemed perplexed to see us. Then she acknowledged our reservations and handed us a key and some pool towels. We headed up the floating staircase that took us to the outdoor walkway on the second floor. All 8 hotel rooms were upstairs, overlooking the pool and mountains. We kind of chuckled as we used our hotel key to open the sliding glass door. (Strange for a hotel) The door was a little feisty and reminded me of large and clumsy, sliding doors in my childhood. I hope renovations continue and the roof area becomes a terrace again. It was a little neglected and we stayed safely on the walkway, but it could be such a fun space for sitting out and enjoying the view.
Spacious and Comfy
We didn't have much of a greeting at the desk, but we did find a plate with fresh cookies waiting for us in the room. The cookies and water pitcher seemed to be reminding us that we were being welcomed...by someone. The closet was huge and there was a floor fan, in case the window unit didn't do its job. I liked having the comfy chairs and a large coffee table. We could have done a jigsaw puzzle, since there was a basket of games and books. And there was a flat screen TV, so we did have some modern conveniences.
The Palms Pool
The Olympic sized pool was a big deal in 1947 and it still is the star of the hotel, to me. The busy spring season was ending, so we had the pool to ourselves. (The extreme temps make summer the off season) The empty pool deck made it easier to imagine the ghosts of Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe lounging with their martinis nearby. The pool must have been just dazzling back in the day. I loved the way the shadow of the date palm was resting on the bottom of the pool, not far from the mosaic palms!
This photo reveals an underwater window in the deep end. On the deck above the window, there was a platform that once held the diving board. I can just imagine a few Hollywood gentlemen in the viewing room holding martinis and cigars, watching divers cut through the surface... with hopes of catching one of the ladies with a swimsuit malfunction.
Enjoying the Pool
Don made use of the lap lane, and I tried to figure out which chaise lounge had the best view. I liked this view with the mountains and that wonderful west coast modern building.
Hot Tub View
This was nice, too. There was a lot of bunny activity to watch in the surrounding gardens.
But I picked this spot with the two soft chairs, enclosed by a rounded brick wall.
After a swim, we wandered the grounds a bit more to explore some of the "ruins" from a different time in the hotel's history. The hotel once included 56 private bungalows and the remains are just down the road. After those glam years in the '40's and '50's, the property spent 20 years hosting other kinds of visitors besides Hollywood stars. It was a nudist retreat for some time and a detention facility for young boys. When the current owners bought the property, it had been vacant for 15 years. They turned their focus to the hotel and the two casitas by the pool and have been continuously renovating over the years. For some guests, this reminder of the past would be an unsettling eyesore. Why is this still here? But I loved snooping around and pondering the past.
Food and Drink
The hotel does have a cute little bar and a couple of dining areas which, were quiet but open! We had a drink in the colorful bar with bold artwork and curatins made of ribbons. There was one man sitting at the bar who appeared to be a regular and I was pretty excited to talk to him because he looked like he was old enough to actually remember The Hobert Hotel in its prime. But too bad. He had come to the area in the 1990s and although he knew the current owners he had very little inside scoop about those celebrity years.
For dinner we had a quiet meal in the Coyote Restaurant overlooking the pool. The food was amazingly good. It's hard to believe it's possible to have a good chef in such a small desert community!
In the morning we ate on the patio, which was heavenly. Our room included our choice of breakfast off the menu. Again, we were incredibly impressed by the choices and quality of food. (I had eggs benedict!) But a warning for travelers who come "off season" since the restaurant does not have regular hours in the summer.
Location, Location, Location!
For some, the desert location is not a plus. But the fact that we could slide open our glass door at 5:45 in the morning and walk to Anzo-Borrego State Park was an amazing plus. We hiked the shady Palm Canyon Trail for 1.5 hours (Spotting coyote and jack rabbits, but sadly no big horn sheep) until we arrived at the palm grove...just as light was hitting the top fronds!
I will remember our stay at The Palms as our Mystery Oasis Night. It did seem like something was missing. I guess the lack of hosts was odd. But I kind of liked the eerie empty feel to the place. I will always remember the giant pool, surrounded by blowing palms and miles of desert and distant mountains and how we seemed to own it. If we'd come to be pampered, we would have been disappointed, but we know how to pamper ourselves, just fine. I wish we could have stayed more than one night.
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!