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!
#292 - Casa del Camino in Laguna Beach
Our Casa in Laguna Beach
It's been 40 years since Don and I first laid eyes on this hotel.
It was the early 80s and we lived less than 2 miles north, in a much less impressive Laguna Beach casa. It was a drab little 4-plex rental unit, but we could hear sea lions and cows from our open windows.
The front doors and windows were wide open at La Casa del Camino, when we arrived last fall.
The inn with its Spanish revival-style, looked so welcoming! I'm sure it didn't look much different, when it opened in 1929. It quickly became a popular hotel, where locals gathered and travelers paid $3. for a room.
Before we stepped inside, I brushed leaves off the pavement to take this photo.
I wonder about the meaning of this face-like design. Waves and curly "whiskers"?
The Hotel Firenze Days and Before
La Casa was only a half century old when Don and I moved to Laguna Beach. It was then named Hotel Firenze, I believe. Don and I never went inside. It was either apartments or a B&B.
Lucky for the community, that the hotel made it through some rocky years in the '60's and '70's. La Casa's website shares stories about those neglected years. "Hippies" and "Surfers" moved in... surfboards could be seen riding down the staircase.. there were "love-ins" and drugs and the courtyard trees were unmaintained, so that branches grew through windows...
Peaceful and Pleasant
When we checked in on a Sunday afternoon, we found no orgies or smells of incense or pot. No peeling paint or worn fabrics.
The cozy lobby had a nice breeze of sea air blowing through. There was a fire in the tile fireplace.
We rang the desk bell and a serious-looking man came through the curtains. I was happy that we were could check in early. I was even happier, when the quiet man said he'd find us a room with the best few possible, even though we'd booked one or the cheap rooms.
1929 and 2022
I spotted a postcard with a drawing of the lobby. I'm guessing the image shows how the lobby looked in 1929, when it first opened.
The furniture has changed a bit, but the ceiling beams, courtyard doors and arched openings, looked the same.
There was a cozy, comfortable feel to the lobby seating. The walls were covered with artwork.
I learned later that displayed art was an important part of the hotel, back when local artist and city councilman William Riddell, dreamed up the idea of the hotel, over 90 years ago.
Mr. Riddell wanted the hotel to be a place where travelers could rest and locals could gather and artwork could be displayed and admired. Later in the evening this space looked like a modern version of William Riddell's dream.
Hints of the Past
I was glad to see that the hotel hadn't been totally slicked up and modernized. That meant we could afford a Laguna Beach hotel, just steps from the beach. The old inn had hints and smells of an older hotel, but I loved seeing arches, original windows and doors.
I was curious about the 2 narrow doors. A restroom with a frosted glass window? I read the word "engaged" on a circular feature, on the other door. I asked at the desk and learned that the doors originally opened to "Telephone Closets". Love that!
Up to Our Floor
There was an elevator, but it was tricky to find. We lugged our bags up the stairs, beneath a sign guiding folks to "The Rooftop" lounge.
Later in the evening these stairs got lots of use by tourists and locals. The Rooftop was a very inviting place to drink and dine! Going down the stairs, I made sure to wave to myself and then admire the chandelier. Then why not, I took a photo!
It was odd how the hotel was divided. As we headed down the hall towards our room, I spotted this old staircase down a different hall.
It led down to an area off the lobby. It also led up to the Rooftop, although I'm not sure it was the staircase we were supposed to use. Confusing.
Our room was almost at the end of the hall. The vintage photo beneath our number, showed me that La Casa hadn't changed much over the years.
The doors were updated, but the old transoms still remained.
Our Spanish Room
There were originally 52 rooms. After renovations there are now fewer, but all have baths. The Casa Surf Rooms are larger and more updated, with fun decor... many with surfboards.
We went for one of the Spanish Rooms. They were smaller and cheaper, but the Spanish style of our cozy room fit with the hotel's history.
Plus we saved some bucks, which we try to do on long road trips. The queen bed was actually very comfy.
There was a fridge hidden in the blue cabinet. And we had a decent TV and a large wardrobe. Nothing too special.
The small bathroom had a fitting rustic theme and a robe hanging on a hook. I'm sure I could have asked for another.
I was just pleased to have a bathroom, period. I'm not sure how many rooms had private baths, originally.
Best of all, we could see the Pacific Ocean out there! I loved having a sea view from the shower!
Sure, there were some rooftops to look over, but we were in Laguna Beach and spending less than 200, in an historic hotel. Laguna Beach's oldest hotel, I believe!
I was excited to get outside so I could try to figure out the building. First, I was intrigued to look up and see the umbrellas on the Rooftop Lounge.
On the side I could see the courtyard with a few window boxes and some kind of structure connecting at the top. I was glad we had windows that looked out toward the ocean, instead.
As I walked past the building a bit, I spotted a funny old clock, near the top of a stairway which led down to the beach.
Was the clock around, back when this old hotel was built? I stepped back far enough to take in the solid, simple building, with its old windows and red tile roof.
And what a wonderful old fire escape, with wavy railings!
The Comedor Dining Room
Since the early days of La Casa, there has been a restaurant of some kind. The first one had a 7-course meal for $1.50.
The Comedor is the latest to open in the space off the lobby, Back in the 1940's the dining area held a pharmacy and soda fountain.
Odd Table Display
The wooden doors eventually opened up and I spotted pumpkins on all the tables.
I pondered those pumpkins for quite a while. They seemed absurdly large!
I love pumpkins, but they looked silly. What was with the pumpkins?
I was glad to get an explanation when I inquired at the desk. They were doing a pumpkin decorating event. Glad I asked.
I never saw the artists or the finished products. But later the restaurant was open for business. The doors opened to a patio in front.
Guests eventually arrived for dinner. I was glad to see activity.
I peeked at the Rooftop earlier.
Tables were full and the views were lovely.
It was hard to think about dining inside, when these views were available. We knew we'd be back.
Walk to Main Beach
The hotel was less than a mile from Laguna's Main Beach. We took full advantage.
Main Beach was busy on a Sunday evening. It was fun to see that so little had changed since we used to wander up and down the paths beside the beach.
La Casa at Night
It was cooler and quieter as we headed back up the South Coast Highway.
We could see the door was still open, welcoming us in. We could hear music.
The cozy lobby felt completely different after dark. The couches and sitting areas were filled and a young musician performed in the corner.
We could have walked right on through, but there were 2 seats near the funny window (that opened into the restaurant/bar). We took a seat and enjoyed the music and people watching.
The singer was quite talented. The guests all seemed casual and comfortable with each other. There was a friendly spirit as guests offered generous applause and tips. I felt like we'd stepped into someone's living room for a private party. I think William Riddell would have been pleased.
Dinner on the Roof
We had no reservations, but headed up to the Rooftop, hoping for a table.
We lucked out with a good one and some fabulous burgers. Just perfect.
The view at night was cool and calm. You could hear the surf. I couldn't hear seals or cows, though. I'm sure the farmland near our old rental, is long gone.
In the morning I went for a walk and had a fun encounter across the street from the hotel.
First I spotted the statue of The Greeter, on the corner. From the '80's, I remember the man who waved to pedestrians and cars and called himself The Greeter. The statue shows the image of Eiler Larsen, who was Laguna's "official greeter" from 1959.
When I returned from my walk, "Michael" was at his post, on the corner. He's been greeting folks on the street, for 12 years. (He said he'd recently shaved off his beard) He was polite and gracious and playful, as he spun around on a record disc, on the pavement. Cars honked and waved back. It sort of made my day to have a brief little chat with this sweet guy. "I see my job as a public service. I make people happy." He made me happy.
The lobby was no longer empty when I stepped back inside. I grabbed some complimentary coffee and chatted with a woman on the couch. She said she'd been visiting Laguna Beach since she was a child in the 1950's. She remembered The Greeter, from 60 years ago. The young woman at the desk chimed in with our chat. I dashed up and got Don to come down and enjoy some of the breakfast treats. We hung out by the fire for quite a while.
We learned a little more about the hotel. Early on, Hollywood stars often gathered in the lobby. Back in 1929, some of the stars in "All Quiet on the Western Front" stayed in the hotel. (some scenes were shot in the area) It is also rumored that J Paul Getty and Howard Hughes played backgammon in this same lobby. Fun to imagine.
We stay at a lot of historic hotels, so it would be lame to say it's the history that makes this hotel notable. But the fun part is that you can actually imagine this hotel in every decade since 1929.
The past hasn't been hidden with endless renovations. The history and charm of this 90+ year old building still remains. Best of all I can imagine the vision that Mr. Riddell had when he opened in 1929. There really was a nice mix of locals and tourists... young and old... coming and going... sitting and relaxing... enjoying the art and conversations. I'm so glad the hotel made it through some difficult years (pandemic years included) and appears to be doing well!
#291 - Madonna Inn - California
Don and I finally had a Notable Night at the ever so grand, Madonna Inn.
10 years ago, I began my never-ending search, for unusual accommodations, Whenever I Googled, CURIOUS hotels, QUIRKY hotels or ODD hotels, Madonna Inn, always came up.
San Luis Obispo
On a California road trip this past October, we finally spotted the classic pink sign, about halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
I was pretty giddy as we approached the sprawling property from US 101. I hoped the hotel would be as over-the-top-kitschy-crazy, as the website seemed to promise.
Pink & Stone Main Building
I have no photo of the grand entrance, but it looked like it was built to handle Disneyland crowds. Luckily there was no traffic jam and we found the Main Building quickly.
I clapped and grinned as I took in the whimsical design. There was a pink, Swiss chalet style, happening on the left. On the right, there was a hefty stoney round structure, with a chimney right out of the Flintstones! What a combo!
The office for checking in, was in the building beneath the American flag. I dashed inside, hoping I might spot a starry-eyed honeymooning couple, getting their key to one of romantic rooms. (there are a lot of them) The "Love Nest" room, with its pink carpet and spiral staircase, was out of our price range.
But, I was the only guest checking in at 4:30. I got our key and Chauffeur Don drove us, beneath the bridge-like building.
We passed white fences and pink lamp posts, as we headed up to the Hilltop units.
There are 110 themed-rooms today, but in 1958 there were only 12. Alex and Phyllis Madonna opened their dream motel, on 10 acres of property. I'm not sure if they began with such outrageous decor, or if their outlandish style grew over time.
110 Unique Rooms
Today the hotel sits on 1,000 acres. There are 110 themed-rooms. The website has photos of of them all. It's amusing and exhausting to look at the website.
After opening in '58, the Madonna's motel quickly expanded, but a fire destroyed the original buildings in 1966. They rebuilt and reopened in a year. The rounded Hilltop buildings were completed in 1969... I believe.
Curves and Curls
I saw no bubble gum pink or caveman rock, when I first saw the white buildings. However my eyes almost ached as I took in all the rounded staircases and busy railings.
It was hard to find a straight line in the midst of all the curls and swirls... arches and hearts! It was fun and funny. There was something exaggerated and cartoonish about it all. I loved it.
I spotted a little color, with some of the patio furniture.
If we'd had more time, we could have lounged a bit on the chairs and enjoyed the view...
Sea of Trailers
The view over the railings showed the surrounding mountains, beyond what I believe is the Madonna Meadow.
On the day of our stay, the view included an added feature! A sea of trailers and RVs, which I tried to hide from my photos. Yep, we managed to book a night, just before a big weekend RV show!
The Merry Room
All the rooms at the inn have distinct themes and names. Our room's name was dull, compared to some. Daisy Mae, Jungle Rock, Country Gentleman, Showboat, Mini Maxi, Caveman...
But there was an important reason for our room's happy name. We shared a little entry space with two other rooms... named Go and Round. So we shared a little name-theme, with our neighbors. Hmm? That seemed very random. And so did the Tiffany "Coke" light fixture, above our doors.
Sparkly and Round!
When we opened the door to the Merry Room, I'll admit it did delight me. I gave a theatrical gasp as I took it all in! There was a lot going on, with rounded walls, vaulted ceiling and elegant chandeliers! Best of all, the walls sparkled!
It's hard to adequately describe our room, but the website does a dandy job! "Merry Room... a joyful glow that mirrors the bubbly character of this effervescent room."
Poor Don had to steer clear of my camera as I rushed about snapping photos and jabbering comments. "Just look at those wall chandeliers! How about that connecting chain! Is that a safety feature?
"That's a very unique and alert pillow display!" They weren't leaning against the rounded wall. "I'm so tempted to move things around and center this... what do you think?"
Then my eyes took in the sitting area!
"Look! We sort of have thrones!" I cheered to see shiny, pale green chairs! The Pepto-Bismol Pink ice bucket and tray was a nice touch. Actually it was super nice having that sitting area. I'm sounding snarky, but I was happy.
"And look! We can write love letters or poems at the dainty desk, as we enjoy the view!" We were glad the windows opened. I'm afraid the room did smell a little stale.
It seemed like the room colors were playing tricks. I walked away from the golden sparkle walls, into sort of an orange-pink bathroom. There were many surprises in the bathroom. The toilet had bidet options, plus a heated seat!
We had our own French pedestal sinks, with lovely floral designs. A curvy display of roses and lights, seemed to embrace the matching mirrors.
A large gold framed mirror was displayed, across from the walk-in shower. The colorful diamonds in the tile, coordinated nicely with a Harlequin character, in the painting near the bed. Sparkles... Merry... Harlequin? What exactly was our Merry Room Theme?
Okay, maybe I'm trying too hard to analyze our room. But I sure would like to have heard the brainstorming that helped decide how this room was decorated. I finished inspecting the painting, then examined the walls more closely.
Those sparkles were actually, round reflective circles. I will call them Magical Mermaid Scales. All those reflected colors! Our room was a "sparkling pink jewel... a cheerful kaleidoscope of glitter and delight." That's another website quote!
One more thing about the lovely lighting. There were a lot of bulbs in that room. 18 bulbs on the wall above our pillows.
The grand chandelier hanging from the beams, had 16 electric candles. There were 7 glowing lights in the rather wonky-wobbly table lamp. You could say 14, if you add the reflection in the mirror!
After absorbing the wonders of our room, Don was allowed to clutter the place with our stuff. Then we left the glamorous lighting of our room and headed out to catch some of the late afternoon light. First, we headed up a walkway to the spa and pool.
It was breezy and cool but the water was warm. It actually looked very pleasant.
A young couple rushed ahead of us, to claim the cozy gazebo above the pool. That's okay, we didn't have time to linger at the pool.
Posing on the Property
I made sure to wear a pink shirt, so I could pose properly on our way down the hill to the Main Building.
Don posed with a pair of carved doors. I often make him pose with doors. Someday I will create a large collage of all my Don & Door photos.
Stone and Glass
There's a lot of stone on the exterior of the building, that houses the restaurant, lounge and shops.
Some of the boulders used on the exterior are origianlly from the property and weigh over 200 tons. There are lots of boulders inside as well. The fireplace looks like something that was created for a movie set. But those stones are real.
I noticed more stone around some grand portraits of the Madonnas. A closer look shows that the images are also surrounded by carved wood. Carved vines and grapes! These dramatic portraits made me wonder more about what the Madonnas were really like. Mr. Madonna passed in 2004, but Phyllis evidently still lives nearby. She could tell some stories, I'm sure!
Oh I do adore a dramatic stairway. Especially stairways accented by cherubs! There are a lot of cherubs at the Madonna Inn.
There are also lots of roses in the decor. The gigantic roses on the carpet could distract you from noticing the cherubs carved into the railing.
Don and I had reservations for the main dining room, but we took a peek at the family friendly Coffee Shop.
We walked past another carved door and found some curious, cozy seating. The round, wooden booth reminded me of a ride, at an amusement park.
Silver Bar Cocktail Lounge
The bar was fairly quiet at 5 pm. It was bright enough to get a nice look at the carved archway. More carved grapes!
I loved the curvy-cushioned pink bar, with pink-padded bar stools!
The leaded glass windows let in some light, to show off the carpet and colorful chairs.
Alex Madonna's Gold Rush Steak House
The restaurant's name is a mouthful. I wonder if Mr. Madonna named the restaurant after himself, when he was alive. The room was simply dripping with loveliness. I've heard that Mr. M was the driving force behind this over the top decor. Was he trying to please the Mrs,?
It was every bit as grand and whacky as I had hoped. You could almost get dizzy taking it all in!
We climbed the stairs to get a good view of the round booths and pink table cloths. I couldn't wait to get back to the room and dress for dinner.
Playing Dress Up
Don and I prepared for our stay a month before, with a trip to the Goodwill.
I hunted for a dazzling outfit in pink or gold. I ended up keeping it simple with a 7 dollar, pink polka-dotted blouse.
I packed candy cigarettes and a tiny pink feather boa. I think my portrait is stunning.
Don lucked out with a J Crew, pink-checkered shirt from Goodwill. A keeper, I'd say. My pink hubby made us drinks, while I set up the camera and timer. Another fine photo. We look rather sad and sickly.
Nighttime at Madonna
We headed down to dinner as a chilly wind began to blow.
We headed into the glowing building and found 2 blue chairs in the lounge. Perfect for showing off our pink shirts, in a selfie.
From the lounge we could see the dance floor in the Venetian Room. They have live music every night! It became clear that locals come out regularly to show off their dancing skills. It was very entertaining.
Don and I opted for martinis, but pink champagne would have looked more picture perfect. Our server Sharon was efficient and happy to snap our pic. I'm pretty sure she gets that request from most diners.
Surprisingly, most of the tables were filled, on a Thursday night. Almost all tables were taken by "romantic couples" like us. But I don't think anyone could have been more excited than me.
I was giddy over the goblets, although I'd hoped for a pink glass.
The complimentary meat and relish dish and bread basket was such a treat. The salads were dressed perfectly, with thick 1,000 island and roquefort. Just like a restaurant in the romantic 1950's.
Not Camera Shy
I usually feel obnoxious snapping photos in nice restaurants. But, we were at the Madonna where the atmosphere begs you to appreciate and document. I posed and pointed to the magnificient "tree" of lights and roses, behind me.
Don's pose with his halibut and rice, was more subdued. He was very pleased with his selection. My grilled portobello mushroom entree was rich and decadent, with goat cheese and balsamic.
The last food photo shows less focus on the food, but a better look at my ill-fitting satin and lace blouse. My grandmother's costume jewelry didn't really help much. I was able to donate my shirt back to Goodwill, after our trip.
After our delicious and entertaining dinner, we made sure to stop in the "world-famous" restrooms. (Yep that's how they are described on the website)
The Ladies Room had a chandelier and padded doors. Nothing too fantastic.
If it had been less busy, I would braved a peek into the Men's Room myself. Instead I had Don take photos. Why didn't the Ladies get giant clam shell sinks?
Don also took a photo of the waterfall urinal, which has become a well known Madonna feature. It actually looks pretty lame in his photo, because the waterfall hadn't been activated... ?
Our walk back to the room was chilly, but pretty. A fog had rolled in, which added some drama.
We followed the fencing and street lamps back up the hill.
I spotted a horse in the pasture. I wish we'd had time to visit the stables during our visit.
We headed up to our third floor room and wondered just what was really behind this Alex Madonna guy, who created this crazy place.
Before bed, I lounged in one of the pale pink robes for a while.
In the morning we made some coffee in the room. Don took a photo of me in my coral colored shirt, that matched the woodwork. I love to coordinate.
I stepped out for a quick walk around the property, before check out.
The building below ours had a distinctly 1960's cottage look. As I wandered, I became more curious about the guests staying at Madonna. What words would they use to describe their stay. Were they charmed or in awe? Amused? Confused?
I studied the odd architecture of this stone and wood structure on the Hilltop. Was Mr. Madonna trying to see how many different styles he could incorporate? What exactly was his inspiration? Was he actually winking a bit, with some of this?
And then there was that sea of RVs and trailers. It was extra odd, in the fog. Was it really a mirage? I was glad we were leaving on Friday, before the big Expo was in full swing.
As we headed off before 10 am, I smiled with a bit of relief. We had not been a bit disappointed. The sparkly guest room walls and the nearly nauseating glam of the dining room, had been just what I had hoped for.
So we paid a bit for our Madonna experience. Rooms and restaurant are not exactly bargain prices. But it was worth every penny.
Gotta thank that hubby of mine for going all in with the pink! I know I probably annoy him with my endless photos, but he joined right in the fun! Yay for a Memorable Merry Madonna Experience!
Love the Name
I booked this place for 2 reasons. First, the prices were incredibly reasonable, for Big Sur. (cabins starting at $135.)
And I loved the name! Ripplewood sounds like a little village in a fairytale!
Even the sign with green tree and ripply wood, looked like a fairytale illustration.
Plus, the place had history! Doris Fee and her Dad started building on the property, in the 1920's.
This old postcard shows the filling station and the dining room. Cabins were scattered about the property.
You can still pump gas at the little Chevron station. Or use the restroom, with the outdoor entrance!
I should have stepped inside the gas station to have a peek. I couldn't exactly see through the windows, since they were covered with paper money, from all over the world.
To the right of the Chevron, we found Ripplewood's original dining room. It now holds the office and a store with groceries and supplies.
You can see the stone chimney between the old building and an addition, that holds the cafe. Evidently the Big Sur Library, is somewhere in all of this. I somehow missed seeing it.
The sweet little building looked welcoming when we arrived around noon. There was a flamingo peering down from the shake shingle roof. The green door was propped open.
I entered with fingers crossed, hoping that we could check in early. The interior was cozy and cluttered. There were quite a few shoppers milling around. The old fireplace that once warmed the dining room, was hidden behind merchandise. I stepped up to the counter to inquire about our cabin and was given a firm reminder that check in was at 4. The woman wasn't nearly as welcoming as the building.
Don and I easily entertained ourselves exploring Big Sur for the next few hours. We returned at 4.
I checked in with the same woman behind the counter. She gave me a paper map of the property and told me the door was unlocked and the key was in the room. Our cabin was just up the hill, looking over Bill's Memorial Garden and the shop/cafe.
There were 17 cabins on the property. Some were lined up along the same dirt road that we faced.
Others were hidden away, overlooking the river. I wish we'd had a chance to explore the grounds. I read later that one of the cabins has part of an old train car, that was once used as a bridge.
This is how we saw our cabin as we headed up the drive from the store/cabin. It wasn't exactly "storybook quaint" from this angle, but the price was right. $185 for the whole upstairs.
The first floor was storage, so no noisy neighbors below. And we had a big parking space right next to the stairs!
Actually the cabin looked much nicer from every other angle.
The exterior was very well maintained. I loved the way it was tucked into the hillside.
We stepped inside and grinned at our spacious home for one night! Knotty pine walls and a high ceiling.
There were new floors and some pleasant artwork on the walls.
There was no TV and no microwave. There was no internet and no phone or phone service, but there was a little fridge and coffee maker and a table and loveseat. And best of all, windows on 3 sides. We opened them all for a wonderful breeze.
There was nothing fancy about the deck, but we were delighted to have one, along with a table and chairs and a pleasant breeze.
I had read that the traffic on Hwy 1 could be loud, but in October I hardly noticed.
I loved the white painted door, leading to the porch.
The bathroom also had a simple white door, with a lock and handle that took me back in time.
Yay for a Bathroom!
We were delighted to have a bathroom period! The night before we'd stayed at Deetjen's (for nearly double the price) and had to share a bathroom with other guests, across the hall.
The white painted boards, made the space feel bright and clean. The angled ceiling and open windows, made the bathroom feel more spacious and fresh. However the shower was comically cramped and I'm only 5'2".
The queen bed was snuggly tucked into an alcove. I loved having the open window at night.
The mattress and linens were actually quite nice and at least one of us got a table and lamp. That would be lucky me!
Which is pretty mean, because guess whose birthday it was?
This relaxed looking guy, really deserved a more luxurious hotel for his birthday! But Ripplewood was a lot nicer than his hospital room, where he'd celebrated his birthday, the year before. However, Don had okayed this choice. And we were better able to enjoy our simple and reasonable accommodations, because we were located perfectly. Our dinner plans were just a short drive away!
Birthday Dinner at Nepenthe!
This is why we didn't have much time to explore Ripplewood. Nepenthe takes no reservations, so we arrived at 4:45, determined to have a perfect evening.
And it was perfect! We relaxed and dined and snapped photos, for nearly 4 hours. Then we had only a 4 mile drive back to Ripplewood. We slept well in that cozy cabin!
We were in no rush in the morning. We made it down to Ripplewood's Cafe by 9:30.
The door to the cafe was open and welcoming. What fun to have open doors, with no bugs and humidity!
We were invited to sit anywhere. The table by the curtains looked cute.
We could have had the patio to ourselves.
Main Dining Room
The main room looked fun, with lots of wood and decorative photos and knickknacks.
I have no idea when this addition came along. The exterior of the old restaurant (now store) was now an interior wall.
What a shame that the old rock fireplace couldn't have been opened to this side.
I love eating breakfast a counter. This one would have been fun, with a window into the kitchen.
But there were quite a few locals who seemed to be regulars. We didn't want to use up Fred or Joe's favorite stool. We took a nearby table.
Don looks pretty serious here. He was more lively after we had a few sips of coffee.
The locals were soon gone and we could have jumped up to the counter. But we were happy at our table.
Oatmeal and Fruit
Don ordered an omelet, but I was happy as can be with my oatmeal and fruit.
Our server was very concerned that they were out of raisins, but he brought me a mountain of strawberries.
Before long another server came over with a cup of warmed blueberries to add to my little feast.
By the time we finished, the breakfast crowd had died down. These 2 happy guys had time to humor me, with a little camera posing. What nice guys!
Don and I were headed out by 11. We drove off feeling pleasantly surprised by our comfortable stay at Ripplewood.
The cabin was comfy and quiet and its location on the property was convenient. The resort location and price, made our one night stay just right!
Ripplewood is one of the oldest inns in Big Sur. It's also one of the cheapest. Being able to stay within a short drive of all these wonderful views, is one of the best perks! We'd stay again.
#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!