Stays on The Strech

The stayover spots along the stretch.

Hotels California

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…

The Madonna Inn

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

My Cave Wall

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

Which one does your inner five-year-old want to order?

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

The Stag

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.

*Tres Sabores

St. Helena, California in Napa Valley

Tres Sabores Vines

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,

The Best Reading Tree Ever

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 LeapMondaviDomaine CarnerosSt. Supery Vineyards

*Thank you Ash and Chip for sending me to this wonderful place.

Shelter Cove Inn

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

Little Black Sand Beach
Shelter Cove, CA

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.

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Lipgloss on the Sacred Peace Pipe

One of the only pictures I have of me in Taos.

When I was in Taos I so badly wanted to deep dive into its cultural DNA.  It’s a magical place with much insider seduction.  I’m told it takes about a year, or more, to become part of the the fabric there.  Sadly, I didn’t have that kind of time so I looked for an accelerated immersion program.

The Taos Pueblo, the area’s Native American nation, has been operating for more than 1000 years.  Tourists are welcome to visit the adobe village. Parking is free. You register at the front desk, pay a $10 camera fee, roam the designated areas, then leave.   Their ceremonies are not for outsiders.

When I saw a listing on the community events calendar for “Sacred Peace Pipe Ceremony and Spirit Balancing”  though, I bit hook, line, and sinker.  Native Americans believe the peace pipe connects the physical and spiritual worlds and it’s one of, if not the most, sacred of all ceremonies.

Cathy, my dear friend and hostess who’s quite dialed into the community, wasn’t endorsing it but didn’t want to deflate my enthusiasm.   I was going to be part of this sacred ceremony come hell or high water.

After driving in circles for a while, I finally found the “spiritual center”— home of this peace pipe.  It was a townhouse  in the middle of an ordinary neighborhood.  No cars were parked out front. Seemed like I was the only one there.  This wasn’t matching my mind’s eye.

Rev. Running Cub* met me at the door to the spiritual center/townhouse.  Very friendly but curious about me.  Curious about me?  I was curious about her!  First of all, she revealed right off the bat that she moved to Taos from Long Island ten years ago.  Second, it was clear that Running Cub wasn’t her given name.  Third, she was living in a townhouse with a floral couch in the living room, a tv in the corner, and a dining room set off to the side.

Where were we going to have the sacred ceremony?  And, where were all of the Native Americans?

Road not far from the Spiritual Center.

Turns out they weren’t coming.  Because, they have an actual sacred ceremony.  Within the Pueblo.  This one was…adapted.  It was a sacred ceremony in a way.  It was sacred to Rev. Running Cub and to Lisa* who showed up just as I started to feign a stomach flu. The ceremony was real and important to them.  To me, it didn’t seem very authentic. I wanted this to be what I wanted so badly that I refused see any of the signs that my peace pipe fantasy doesn’t exist.  Outsiders aren’t invited to sacred ceremonies.  The people of Taos don’t congregate once a week to smoke a sacred peace pipe.  If they did, Cathy would’ve known and told me about it.

The ceremony started.  Rev. Running Cub played the drum. Lisa sang.  I “participated” silently/reluctantly.

Rev. Running Cub did her best to make me feel comfortable and keep me abreast of the ceremony’s flow.   Lisa knew all the words to the songs and even made a request— a tune asking Grandfather  to keep watching us…all of the time.  I cringe at the thought of my grandfather knowing, much less watching, what I’m doing all the time.

After a while, it was time to offer up prayers for ourselves and others.  I wasn’t prepared for this to be an out-loud offering so I shot from the hip.  Lisa came with pages of prayer offerings beautifully and specifically written.

Taken at the Taos Pueblo Pow Wow.

After the prayers, out came the peace pipe. FINALLY.  Rev. RC explained the whole thing step by step— this is the bowl, the stem, this is the tobacco, this is the tamper, this is the lighter.  The pipe is the link between earth and sky.  The fire is the source of life.  The tobacco’s roots are deep into the earth.  The smoke rises to the heavens. Don’t inhale.  Pass clockwise.  Rev. RC lit up.

Holy crap, all I could think about was opening a window.  The smoke.  So thick.  So fast.  Damn, I could barely breathe.  My mind turned to  Mayor Bloomberg, his smoking laws, and how I’m 100,000% behind him.

Lisa finished her turn on the pipe, peeled the back of her thighs off the linoleum, and brought it over.  My turn.  Rev. RC asked Lisa to keep the pipe lit for me.

I pulled the smoke into my mouth and blew it out first to the north, then to the northeast, and on around the compass.  I had to, or Lisa actually had to, relight the pipe a few times before I could get all the way around.

The only time Rev. RC wasn’t on board with me was this moment.  I finished smoking  and was handing the pipe back to her when I noticed my cherry red lip gloss ring around the pipe’s stem.  I had nothing to wipe it off with and when I noticed it was too late.  She was already taking it from me.

Rev. RC zeroed in on my lip print, cocked her head, and shot me a look that could’ve slayed the spirits in our midst.  She took a moment then mentioned, pointedly, how sacred the pipe is.

We sang a few more songs and then Rev. RC offered a spiritual balancing for just one of us.  Not having a clue what this entailed,  I deferred to Lisa.  I thought if she busied Rev. RC with a balancing I could jet.

No such luck. I was asked to softly play the drum while Lisa laid down on a table and Rev. RC appeared to adjust her chakras.  Do you know how hard it is to play a drum softly?

When it was finally all said and done Lisa seemed happy and balanced.  Rev. RC mentioned an upcoming potluck and sweat lodge event.  We made small talk about the problem of people who don’t spay and neuter their pets— I don’t know why that came up.  I put five dollars in the donation jar.  Then I got to leave.

Here’s what I learned from this…

1. Sacred ceremonies are sacred.  If you’re not invited by the inside circle don’t force it.  If you force it you’ll

The Grand Entry Parade at The Taos Pueblo Pow Wow

find yourself sitting on a linoleum floor with a woman from Long Island who legally changed her name to Running Cub.

2. People make themselves vulnerable when they participate in spiritual ceremonies—especially when they offer up prayers for themselves and the people they love.  Don’t fake a stomach flu in the face of this.

3. Be polite.  Maybe this was sacred ceremony, maybe it wasn’t.  If there are no safety concerns, an hour or two anywhere won’t kill you.

4. The best way to get a taste of Native American culture in Taos is to time your visit to mid July for the Taos Pueblo Pow Wow.  It’s AMAZING.  The photos sprinkled throughout this post were taken there on the night of The Grand Entry.

*Name changed but only slightly.

Categories: People on The Stretch, Stays on The Strech | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Foul Tasting

Beautiful View

I was traveling up California’s beautiful coastline and wanted to have a nice dinner with a beautiful view.  I didn’t make a reservation because so far it’s been easy to slide in at the bar for dinner—it’s low maintenance, there are usually interesting people to chat with, and locals know the best things on the menu and have the inside scoop on the town.

I stopped at the first spot recommended— stunning.  Oceanside.  A gorgeous drive up.  Really pretty.  They had valet service which seemed a little over the top since the place is so small.  I just self parked and took the flights and flights of stairs up to the entrance.

I passed a couple about my parents’ age on the way up who were positively glowing.  They commented on the beautiful night, the amazing view, and their delicious meal.  They were carrying two paper bags which I assumed were full of pastries for breakfast.  He had on pants and a golf shirt and she had on capri pants with walking shoes.

After the long hike up, I made my way to the maitre d’s stand.  As I approached I watched her eyes start at my feet, work their way up my body, and back down again.

The outfit I was wearing could be described as bohemian chic— on a good day.  I was casual and had just come from a spa.   Skinny olive colored pants, black top, hooded sweater, open toe sandals, hair in a bun.  I suppose, to the untrained eye, my outfit could be interpreted as thrown together, haphazard, slightly wrinkled.  It’s fair to say that I’d not spent a ton of time primping for dinner.  But, the judgemental body scan I got from this maitre d woman, whose own ensemble was not far from thrown together, I did not deserve.

“Do you have room for one for dinner?” I asked, noticing my voice sounded less confident than I wished.

Maitre d glanced to someone to my left.   She paused.  I got the feeling she was summoning security.

“Let me show you the menu, first.”  She pulled the bi-fold paper out, splayed it in front of me, and pressed out the crease.  “The

There isn’t a bad view along CA Hwy 1.

dishes on the left are appetizers and they’re all $50.  On the right are our entrees and they’re $75.”

I tilted my head to the left, looked her in the eye, and waited to see what she would say next.  I think she was waiting for me to say something.  I was speechless.  I’ve never been shown a menu or  given the prices of the items before I was seated at my table.

Turns out, I’ve never known what it feels to be unwelcome.

Truth be told, I didn’t want to spend $125, or more, on dinner.  But, if I did I could.  Was I dressed to the nines?  No.  Did I look horrendously out of place?  No.

“Perhaps I can show you to our bar?”

“No, thank you.  I think I’ll try another place.”  Again, with the soft sounding voice.  Surprising mostly myself that I didn’t have much more to say to this woman.

“But, you’ve come all this way and you don’t even want to see it?”

“No, thank you.  I’ve seen enough.”

Here’s the thing…

1. People are treated like this all of the time.  It’s not at all fair, it’s an awful business model, and it’s life.  There was a time

Steve and Machelle

when I would have stayed to prove some mythical point.  But, had I done so I would’ve only been supporting a place that is undoubtedly unfair to people.  Plus, bitter tastes terrible.

2. If I’d stayed I wouldn’t have found Big Sur Bakery where I ordered the world’s best crab cake and roasted vegetable salad at a fraction of the cost.  Plus a perfect glass of Sauvignon Blanc AND a butterscotch ice cram pie.  You read that right— butterscotch ICE CREAM pie.

3. If I’d stayed I wouldn’t have met an academy award-winning actor, whom I admire,  and his lady friend.  He too was rocking a bohemian chic look.  So was she.  I wondered if they were also discouraged from the same restaurant.

4. If I’d stayed I never would have met Steve and Machelle who invited me to join them at their table.  Steve’s a cowboy and  businessman.  He asked if I could saddle a horse.  I said yes.  So, he invited me to his ranch in Kansas where he’ll introduce me to a bevy of cowboys.  To that I say, “Giddy up.”

Categories: People on The Stretch, Stays on The Strech | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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