I spent two weeks making my way up the coast of California. After a few days in Los Angeles, where I survived an earthquake that was felt by me and and only handful of other insomniacs, I hugged the coast almost all the way up the state. Along my drive, I stayed in a lot of different places— a few dumps, a co-op, and my three favorites…
San Luis Obispo, California
You may’ve heard of this fantastic vintage hotel on the west side of US Route 101 in San Louis Obispo. The 110 differently themed rooms and their cave showers—- showers made feel like you’re bathing in a
cave— are something to see. There’s the Cave Room, The Safari Room, The Pony Room…it’s more than you can imagine. I stayed in Currier and Ives which didn’t have a cave shower but it did have a cave wall. I was a little disappointed about my room sans cave shower, but my friend Desiree said she and her hubby left with near-concussions from their dangerous cave shower experience and somehow that made me feel better and worse at the same time. The on-site Gold Rush Steak House is a five-year-old’s dream birthday party setting, yet full-grown adults make reservations well in advance to dine in this pastel wonderland. Pink leather bankettes circle the white tree blooming faux flowers in the center of the room. Five different five-layer cakes sashay their way through the dining
room balanced on the finger tips of young servers who want nothing more than to make your experience the most it can be. The mens’ restroom has a line out the door waiting not to use it but rather to gawk at the waterfall urinal. My favorite part was not my crazy room or the waterfall urinal, believe it or not, but the dance floor. It’s a place where the over 70 set go to get loose. For real dance— jitterbug, tango, foxtrot, swing. I hung around watching and listening to the big band and was shocked when a self-proclaimed “stag” in his 80th decade asked me to dance. It didn’t occur to me that anyone would ask because I was so incredibly out of place. But, I always say yes to a dance so the stag led me to the floor. I was as
nervous as a 7th grader– terrified I would step on his foot and send him to the hospital. So, I stared down at our feet. He asked if it’d been a while since I’d been dancing. I told him it had. He said, “Yeah, you seem a little tense.” Within an eight count he pegged my overall disposition. After our one dance together, I watched the stag work the room and marveled at the moves out on the floor. It’s definitely a couple’s dancing scene but no one’s left out— three people danced together in a way that made them look like two and one woman tore it up on her own. But this couple in particular caught and held my attention for a long time. They reminded me that common interest is the golden thread of a relationship. There is indeed, as my friend Michelle likes to say, a pot for every lid.
St. Helena, California in Napa Valley
If I could stay here for year or more I would. Julie Johnson, the owner and wine maker at Tres Sabores will treat you like family as soon as you arrive. Their adorable Labs, Moose and Boozy Rouge, welcome you at your car door before you can even put it in park. Moose can spot a dog lover in a second and gives a weary traveler as many excited tail wags and non-slobbery kisses as you’ll let him. There’s a cute guest cottage about 40 yards from the main house that doubles as their tasting room. They’re in the process of building a separate tasting room but being part of the action was really fun for me. It’s private and cozy but also in the center of it all. If you stay up late enough, which I do, you’ll hear Julie open the cottage’s barn doors to let the night air in to cool the barrels. I did a little tasting around the valley but found that tasting alone isn’t as much fun as sampling Tres Sabores’ bone dry Rose and reading under their
gorgeous oak tree. I relaxed under their olive trees too, sunned by their pool, wrote some posts for this blog,
plotted my path, and delighted in doing nothing. I cannot recommend this quiet, refreshing off-the-beaten-path guest experience enough. You’ll leave your stay with enough wine to round out your collection for the rest of the year. Promise.
If you want to see/taste more of the action in the valley, some recommendations from locals:
Frog’s Leap, Mondavi, Domaine Carneros, St. Supery Vineyards
*Thank you Ash and Chip for sending me to this wonderful place.
Shelter Cove, California
I loved Shelter Cove and I loved the wonderful little apartment right on the water at gorgeous, Shelter Cove Inn. I’d never visited a black
sand beach before and that’s the main reason I wanted to see this rural, undeveloped, secret of a spot on the coast. First of all, you have to have a plan to go there. This isn’t a place you just find while you’re driving up 101. You go through the southern part of the redwood forrest and then hang a left at the Shop Smart in Redway and take the gorgeous, two-lane-sometimes-one-lane road to the coast. There’s another store that sells wine at the bottom of the hill where you can pick up what you forgot at the first supermarket. In case you forgot to buy wine. I forgot to buy wine. Then Shelter Cove Inn is around the corner. There are four units and you have to call in advance because they are booked most of the year with regulars. I got so lucky and was able to sneak in on a Friday and Saturday night. My suite had an enormous balcony and a full kitchen where I cooked all meals for myself for the first time in a month or more. The owners, Richard and Margaret, are the epitome of hosts. They made sure I felt comfortable and safe and knew where everything was. Richard made sure I knew that the water down at the beach was really unpredictable and powerful so that I would be careful on my hikes. The black sand beaches did not disappoint, either. It’s so remote that I saw only 4 other people there the entire day— and one was meditating. It was the perfect place to experience California’s rock face cliffs, jagged shoreline, and booming Pacific waves.