The Northern California Boutique Hotel Experience: Three Different Ways to Enjoy a Getaway

Ron Stern

The Northern California Boutique Hotel Experience: Three Different Ways to Enjoy a Getaway

We explore Northern California with stays in three boutique hotels in three different cities

Northern California has some of the most beautiful and diverse scenery in the nation. From sleepy rolling hills and valleys, to majestic bays fed by the Pacific, to sprawling cities packed with culture and cuisine, it’s no wonder that the state continually ranks among the most popular tourist destinations. Fortunately, finding your idyllic vacation respite doesn’t have to be a difficult chore. Here are three destination hotels from which to choose, all with individual personalities and their own brand of charm.

Monterey Tides — Monterey, Calif.

If your dreams take you to golden sand beaches with sounds of the water lapping the shore lulling you to sleep, then the Monterey Tides is where your fantasies become reality. Part of the Joie de Vivre Hotels brand, this property affords unobstructed views of Monterey Bay along the central California coast.

The 196 brand-new rooms are adorned in soothing ocean blue tones, and many offer grand views of the beach and bay right out your window. At night, opening the louvered panel at the bottom of the windows allows you to hear the tranquil sounds of the ocean waves rolling onto the shoreline.

The Tides is within easy reach of some of the area’s most popular attractions including the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Old Fisherman’s Wharf, whale watching, and boat tours. You can also hop on one of their complimentary beach cruiser bikes to explore Seaside State Park and watch colorful paragliders floating down the dunes, or head to Cannery Row via the Monterey Peninsula Recreational Trail. If you prefer, you can also just relax on the private beach or take a dip in the year-round heated pool.

Room at The Tides

Ron Stern

The Tides has a Mexican vibe, which carries over into the Bar Sebastián, an homage to Sebastián Vizcaíno, the Spanish explorer who named the city of Monterey. The culinary menu was created by executive chef Jose Velásquez who creates dishes inspired by his Mexican heritage along with his love of Spanish tapas cuisine. Don’t let the term “bar food” fool you — locals rave about some of the best and most flavorful cuisine you will experience this side of Latin America and Spain.

Enjoy one of their craft cocktails or regional wines while watching the sunset. Then try the popular tapas ranging in price from about $8 to $22. These include 12-hour-braised pork belly made with garlic, annatto seed, and dry chiles; grilled lamb chops with a tres chiles reduction sauce; or make-your-own tacos presented on a wooden platter with selections of carne asada, chicken, carnitas, shrimp, and chorizo.

End your meal with vanilla ice cream layered with vibrant honey and lavender syrup, all presented on a miniature ice cream cart for $8. For breakfast, head up to their other restaurant, Café Beach, for a light and flavorful plate of huevos rancheros. If you’re lucky, you may also catch a glimpse of passing whales or dolphins, which might just have you dreaming about your next visit.

Carmel Valley Ranch — Carmel Valley, Calif.

If pastoral landscapes, rolling hills, and a summer camp designed for kids and adults alike is more your taste, then head south of Monterey to the Carmel Valley Ranch. Another hotel in the Joie de Vivre collection, their logo features an old-fashioned rope swing and there are many of these hanging from oak trees just waiting for you to reimagine your playful childhood memories.

Set on 500 acres, the property is a respite from the cares of the world with upscale accommodations overlooking vineyards laden with pinot noir grapes and foothills dotted with buckeye, bay laurel, and maple trees, as well as scenic views of the Santa Lucia Mountains. Since there are so many things to see and do here, you may never have to get in your car until you check out. Still, if you fancy an outing, the property is not far from California’s iconic Big Sur and the fanciful and eclectic town of Carmel.

Room view of gold course at Carmel Valley Ranch

Ron Stern

With 181 guest suites, many of which are larger than good-sized apartments, you can enjoy amenities such as large, flat screen TVs; on-demand fireplaces; oversized tubs, including one on the rear patio deck; and comfy furnishings. While you might be tempted to do some serious cocooning, you will still want to venture out to experience all that this resort has to offer.

Guest suites are set along the foothills with winding paths and bridges making for easy access by foot. But this is a luxury experience, so a quick call will bring a golf cart to whisk you to any part of the “playground.”

What are some of the activities on the property? Glad you asked. For starters, there are three swimming pools, including one for adults only; an 18-hole golf course; four acres of vineyards (they make their own wines, of course, including one branded as “Swing”); horseback riding; archery; a lavender farm; a 10,500-square-foot spa; yoga; and hiking.

As if that weren't enough, you can learn all about beekeeping from A-Z (or maybe “bee to Z”), including an educational interactive experience that shows you how honey is harvested. You can also sample farm-to-table vegetables from their two-acre organic garden, part of the hotel’s culinary program.

Everything, it seems, has been well thought out to the smallest detail, including something as innocuous as salt. Rather than just serving typical table salt, they obtain brine from the nearby waters of Monterey Bay, dry it in their salt house, and serve it as their own unique condiment. A simple, freshly picked tomato topped with this ingredient is bursting with happiness for the taste buds.

Dried salt and organic tomatoes at Carmel Valley Ranch

Ron Stern

Most of the meals are prepared at the Valley Kitchen; however, there are always special events including BBQs, pizza from a portable oven, and outdoor picnics held throughout the season. The culinary program is overseen by executive chef Tim Wood, who was named Best Chef in Monterey County 2015 by Monterey County Weekly. The restaurant features rustic wooden tables and accents and is the perfect place for your evening meal.

Start with a glass of their Swing reserve pinot noir while enjoying the ambiance and good conversation. The menu is artfully crafted into three sections: taste, share, and eat. This is meant as an interactive social experience allowing guests to try a variety of seasonally produced ingredients, many of which are from the property’s own farm and local purveyors.

For a starter, try the heirloom tomato and burrata salad made with the in-house salt, virgin olive oil, and sweet-tasting oven roasted garlic croutons for $14. From the “Let’s Eat” menu, carnivores will love the naturally raised beef from local ranches. These flavorful cuts are fork-tender and will almost melt in your mouth. They are accompanied by blue cheese potatoes gratin for $46.

As the sun sets over the Carmel Valley, gather around the fire pit for the nightly s’mores. Your kids may find this is the best summer camp they can remember, and, secretly, so will you.

Some on-site made wine overlooking vineyards at Carmel Valley Ranc

Ron Stern

The Marker — San Francisco

If action and big city adventure is what you crave, then drive north from Carmel Valley to another iconic Joie de Vivre hotel: The Marker. Located just two blocks from Union Square in downtown San Francisco, The Marker is the perfect location from which to explore nearby Chinatown, Old Fisherman’s Wharf, shopping, restaurants, and many more of the citys popular attractions.

From the hotel, you can either walk, take a cable car, or even a pedicab to see some of San Francisco’s famous sites. Many movies and TV shows have been shot in these environs over the years, including Dirty Harry, The Streets of San Francisco, and the movie Bullitt, starring Steve McQueen in a nail-biting high-speed car chase up and down some the city’s hilliest streets. The Ferry Building along the waterfront has been converted into a gourmet eatery offering food lovers their choice of wine, cheese, meats, ice cream, and more. On a sunny day, the place is packed with locals and tourists, but the vibe is pure San Francisco.

The Marker building (constructed circa 1910) has stood the test of time at the corner of Geary and Taylor Streets. The original design was in the Beaux Arts style, featuring domed ceilings, a two-story French inglenook fireplace, marbled staircases, and a warm, inviting lobby.

The 208 newly renovated guest rooms and suites are adorned in playful colors with comfy furnishings, pillow-top beds, luxury bath amenities, high-speed Wi-Fi, and organic treats in the honor bar. Additionally, many of the rooms afford magnificent views of the city skyline.

Hotel lobby at The Marker

Ron Stern

The on-site restaurant Tratto offers guests their own version of modern Italian cuisine. The Italian word tratto translates to the stroke or mark of a pen, and the walls have painted scenes from around the city with old Italian movies continuously projected onto them. The food includes seasonal dishes such as house-made pasta, pizzas, seafood, and fresh vegetables.

The bar features a nice selection of cocktails, beer, and wine, and they also have boozy Italian sodas in various flavors. You can tell the difference between house-made vs. store-bought pasta, and their spinach tagliatelle with meat sauce is one of the most popular items ($17). Another good choice is the pizzas, notably the spicy broccolini with parmesan cream and fontina cheese for $17.

Afterward, enjoy more of the city as everything lights up — including across the Oakland Bay Bridge — transforming the view with a completely new, illuminated look.

All of the Joie de Vivre boutique properties mentioned are pet-friendly, so your little pooch should feel right at home. Care has been given to incorporate all your senses to help immerse you in the overall experience. Whether you want to stay beachside, in the hills, or the city, there is a perfect destination just for you that has the welcome mat ready and waiting.

This was a sponsored trip; however, all opinions herein are the authors. 

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