22 December 2012

Northern California lodging for any taste, any occasion

I had two trips to northern California this fall, one in October and one in November. On both trips, I had some business and on both trips, my wife and I spent some additional time on our own. I’ll be posting information on some of the great restaurants we ate at. But this post is about where we stayed, because we stayed at four very different styles of lodging.

Here’s the list. Read on for my review of each:

I was at the Ritz for a meeting. Half Moon Bay is a small, artsy, and intensely organic agricultural town. A long time ago (1975), when my wife and I lived in San Francisco for a year, we drove down to Half Moon Bay (about 45 minutes) not really knowing what it expect. It was late October, and we discovered that they have a pumpkin festival. Well since then, the Half Moon Bay pumpkin festival has become a BIG deal. The cars are backed up for miles making their way into the town. That got to be an issue one day when the group I was meeting with went to Palo Alto for the day for a seminar at Stanford University. Our trip back to the hotel was significantly delayed because of the traffic.2012-10-23T21-59-48_5

The word ‘pretentious’ has negative connotations. I don’t mean to be negative about the Ritz, but pretentious is the best word I can come up with. It is self-consciously elegant. The location is fabulous. It overlooks a beautiful stretch of the Pacific Ocean. It’s a short and easy walk down to the beach. The golf courses are supposed to be fabulous (I don’t golf). And it has a highly rated spa (I didn’t use any of the spa offerings). It was a great place to have a business meeting. The staff is very accommodating and friendly (in an unpretentious way). But it would not be the kind of place we’d pick for a vacation spot.

After our stay at the Ritz, we drove to Wine Country for a stay in a bed and breakfast in the little town of Occidental. We prefer bed and breakfast accommodations when visiting wine country. It doesn’t matter if the rooms are a little small. We don’t spend much time in the room anyway.

For this particular visit, we had a hard time finding a bed and breakfast in our usual haunts. We knew we wanted the Sonoma Valley. We checked Healdsburg and the town of Sonoma, but the places we’d stayed previously had no availability. We considered staying in Bodega Bay, which is on the coast west of the Sonoma Valley. But as I was looking at the map, I saw Occidental and was pleased to discover that it has a very highly rated B&B – the Inn at Occidental.

It was a great choice for our long weekend in Wine Country. The proprietors were friendly and gave some great suggestions on wineries to visit. The morning breakfasts were delicious. They have an evening wine reception. We like B&Bs that do that. We like meeting people and comparing notes on wineries to visit and things to see or do. One minor quibble – in some B&Bs they offer creative appetizers with the wine. At the Inn at Occidental they offer a plate of cheese and crackers, but nothing particularly creative.DSC00268

Occidental is a small town. I mean really small. They do have a couple of restaurants in town, including a really wonderful one, Bistro Des Copains, which I will review in a later post. But if you’re looking for a town with lots of dining options, this isn't it. During our three-night stay, we ate once in town, once in Sebastopol (20 minute drive, including getting lost once), and once in Graton (10 minute drive).

One more thing – the Inn’s web site says it’s an hour drive from San Francisco. But driving up out of The City on a Friday afternoon, it was about 3 hours to Occidental.

When we came back to northern California in November, my meeting was being held at the Vintner’s Inn in Santa Rosa. This time the drive on a Wednesday afternoon from San Francisco was mercifully quick. Vintner’s Inn really is a wonderful place to stay. It has an excellent restaurant on the premises and good meeting facilities. But the accommodations are extra special. There are 44 rooms, located in three or four separate lodges. The whole resort sits within a working vineyard, and guests can walk through the vineyard and see some of the work being done.DSC00279

The rooms themselves are very spacious and nicely decorated. Each room either has a little private patio or a balcony. Ours overlooked the vineyard. When we checked in, there was a small bottle of the wine made from the Inn’s grapes. We uncorked it and sat on our patio and watched the sun set. Wow.

As I mentioned, the resort has an excellent restaurant on premises. But there’s nothing else nearby. So guests would have to drive to Santa Rosa or Healdsburg or Sebastopol (or any of a number of nearby towns) for other dining options.

After our wonderful stay at the Vintner’s Inn, we finished our northern California sojourns in San Francisco. There are two small chains of boutique hotels that we like to stay in when we’re in The City. This time we stayed at the Prescott Hotel, which is a Kimpton Hotel. The Kimpton business model is to take older hotels, renovate them and run them as boutique hotels. We have always found them to be friendly and fun, though often the rooms can be small and/or quirky.

We liked the Prescott very much. The location is ideal, just two blocks to Union Square. We had countless restaurant options all within walking distance. Like all Kimptons, it has an evening wine reception. Several years ago at another Kimpton in San Francisco (the Serrano), we met a young Irish couple and struck up a friendship. My wife still exchanges e-mails with the young woman.

There are a couple of other Kimptons in San Francisco that I like better than the Prescott. But we had a great time.

Of these four lodgings in northern California, my wife’s favorite was definitely the Vintner’s Inn. For me, I think I liked the Inn at Occidental the best. We definitely would look for a Kimpton hotel for our next stay in San Francisco. And we’re not likely to stay at the Ritz Carlson in Half Moon Bay in the future.

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