Published as part of a 3 part series at Taste California Travel magazine, Winter, 2004
36 hours along the Central Coast Part I
The Monterey Hotel: A Review
By Mark Storer
New Year’s came in–without me to witness it–well, not quite true–my neighborhood had its share of people who thought it necessary to come outside, light some pyrotechnic device they bought while down in Tijuana earlier this year and whoop and scream. I can only hope they were punished with the hangover they deserve. I woke up briefly, rolled over and slept.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m no frump–I just don’t stay up until Midnight anymore. I have a toddler and toddlers don’t let you do that, unless they’re sick, in which case they make you do that. Since I live in California, I watched the ball drop in Times Square at 9:00 P.M. after having dinner at some friends’ house and snuggled securely in my bed. I guess if I lived in New York I’d watch Fiji’s New Year’s celebration, I don’t know.
Anyway, the next day saw us out the door at about 9:00 AM and into our friends Tom and Jayme’s formidable Chevy Tahoe. We needed it because we drove north along 101 through a pretty driving rain storm, at least once we got up to Paso Robles and further. Sis gave Sue and me the gift of 2 days off while she took care of Shannon and we headed north to Monterey with Tom and Jayme.
A stop in Solvang for a 10,000 calorie lunch at The Meadows, one of my favorite eateries there was on the docket and it broke the drive up nicely. It was champagne brunch and there was lamb, prime rib, eggs benedict, potatoes, bacon, made to order omelets and of course, bubbly–it was all delicious but it was precursor of the blood thickening meals over the next 24 hour period of driving and dining.
North again and what I can only describe as the most fun I’ve had driving since I was a kid. Tom drove and we all 4 sat and talked, watched the rain and enjoyed the beauty. The 101, contrary to popular belief, has some really pretty stretches, particularly above Paso Robles where the vineyards roll and the fields undulate with a kind of motion. Good friends, good conversation, the promise of a night’s stay in Monterey and a good meal, all was grand and Sue and I relaxed in a way neither of us have for years.
Arrival in Monterey wasn’t without incident. Rain and presumably mud closed highway 68 and we had to turn around and go over to 218 taking us through Seaside and into Monterey. It wasn’t a bad detour, however, and didn’t take too much time off the road.
The Monterey hotel, where we stayed, was absolutely delightful. Located at 406 Alvarado St., 2 short walking blocks from Fisherman’s Wharf, the hotel was completed in 1904 and was originally meant by its owners to be an alternative to the more expensive Del Monte Hotel. True to form, the European style of small rooms, elegantly appointed with a Victorian feel and a few larger suites create a character that is so vibrant and such a departure from staying at such venerable American counterparts as the Marriott or Doubletree.
The Monterey boasts 45 such rooms and we stayed in one of two fireplace suites while Tom and Jayme stayed in the junior suite. The junior suite is not so junior with its two bathrooms which makes any vacationing couple or especially family, quite happy.
The rooms were not large, but they didn’t need to be. A lot of attention was paid to the bathroom in the fireplace suite and the result is a kind of luxury that really make the stay rewarding. Marble tile floors and countertops as well as marble tiled large bathtubs with lots of room, the bathroom easily handles two people getting ready for the day. So many hotels focus on a large bedroom and small bath. Since the fireplace suite had the luxury of a living room with a sofa bed in it, the king bedroom was simply big enough while the oversized bathroom combined with the living area made a functional and comfortable arrangement.
Afternoons at the Monterey are punctuated by high-tea in a sparse but comfortable dining area of sorts. The hotel does not have a restaurant, but coffee, tea and hot cocoa are available and the cold rain outside made this twice as warm and inviting. Evenings from 8 to 10 the hotel provides cookies and milk with an assortment of hot beverages as well. Both offerings are quite a nice addition, but if you’re looking for sustenance or variety, you won’t find it here. The continental breakfast is a little more varied with bagels, donuts, cereals, fruit, coffee, juice and assorted condiments. Since breakfast isn’t my biggest meal of the day, I found it just to my liking and what’s more, the fruit was fresh and ripe, unlike many such offerings from other venues.
What makes the Monterey Hotel such a special place, of course, is Monterey. The sites and the attractions like the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Fisherman’s Wharf, Cannery Row and the coastline, make this a destination unique to the state, and that’s saying something. With the exception of busy days at the Aquarium, crowds never really seem to be a problem in Monterey. There’s plenty of room to walk around and lots of walking paths, bike and skating trails and a lot of hiking at nearby Pt. Lobos State Park or along 17 Mile Drive just south of the city.
The other thing that makes the Monterey Hotel special is its ambience and character. Prices for smaller rooms start at $139.00 and go up to $299.00 a night for the fireplace suite that includes a king sized bed and a sofa sleeper but you won’t find this kind of character at a chain hotel, nor are you likely to find such friendly and helpful staff and that’s worth a lot when on the road.
On arrival we were greeted warmly, assisted to our rooms and given information on where to find virtually everything. Each encounter with a staff member was made personable and individual and that, it seems to me, is what travel is really all about. It’s nice to meet people who aren’t merely stand-ins for the corporate giant, but people who truly like their work and want to see the customer satisfied. And before you doff your political cap about evil corporations, a hat I take great pride in knocking off when I can, remember that the Monterey hotel is owned by Moonstone Hotel Properties out of Cambria, California and is merely one jewel in a crown of hotels along the Central California coast. Apparently this corporation understands customer service.