California, Road Trip, Travel

Skip the Hotel Chains. Stay at an Inn.

One of the beauties of taking a road trip is getting off the beaten track, seeing things you wouldn’t see from the air … or even blasting down the interstate, bypassing little towns. 

From the backroads, you can find hidden gems, peace and quiet and, often, stay in cozy little inns that don’t look like they created their rooms on a copy machine. 

To be fair, you can also find awful places that look like they bought new furniture before the turn of the millennium or have no idea what “pest control” means. But with a little online research, those places are easily avoided.

On our recent road trip we mixed it up a bit … some nights in chain hotels, some nights in small inns along our route. We like to stay close to the activities we plan to take part in, and smaller inns are often the best choice. Then again, there can be other reasons for avoiding the big chains.

Harris Ranch Inn surrounded by Palm trees under blue skies
Harris Ranch Inn

On the drive north through California’s Central Valley, you will come across the largest stockyard west of the Mississippi (at least that’s what they told us) – Harris Ranch. For obvious reasons, the restaurant on site is well-known for superb beef. What many people don’t realize is, Harris Ranch is also home to a fabulous inn. 

Harris Ranch was an ideal spot on our route, but the main reason for staying was Greg had enjoyed a steak there many years ago, but had never spent the night. He had flown a private plane into Harris Ranch’s airstrip for dinner, but because of the immediate return, alcohol was off-limits. To us, steak without wine is like morning without coffee. It was a bit of a bucket list item for him to enjoy both and we were not disappointed. 

hotel bedroom with recliner
Our bedroom featured a comfy recliner.

We opened the door to the lobby, adorned with everything you’d expect from a cowboy-centric location, and checked in. Map in hand, we headed to our second floor room overlooking the pool and got settled. It was early for dinner, but we figured if we checked in at the restaurant early we could get a good table and take our time with our steaks.

Watermelon wedges on a plate with limes and sprinkled with mint
The watermelon salad was delicious

Outdoor dining due to COVID meant the gorgeous dining room was closed (but you could peak in and see it), so we got a table in the courtyard with a fan creating a nice breeze. We kicked off our meal with the refreshing summer flavors of grilled watermelon with lime and mint. We decided there was something beefy in the Caesar salad dressing as we gobbled it down. 

Steak smothered in butter with asparagus, corn and carrots and a pile of garlic mashed potatoes.
Half of the Harris Ranch New York Strip. It was big enough to share.

Next up – our grilled steak – smothered in garlic butter! It was no surprise that this Prime New York Strip was cooked to perfection, after all, this is a steak place! The sides were delicious, but we barely noticed as we took our time savoring the mouth-watering beef while sipping a delicious Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. 

View of pool, palm trees and lush green grass from balcony
Our balcony view showed off the inviting grounds.
tops of palm trees against a blue sky
Looking up we saw nothing but blue skies and the tops of the palm trees.

We sipped the rest of the wine on our balcony overlooking the garden-like pool below. In the morning, we turned our eyes up and marveled at the stunning palm trees punctuating the azure sky like exclamation points.

Huge grill topped with tri tip and racks of ribs
The grill is lit and meat is added early so it can cook “low and slow” all day.

Breakfast meant a trip to the famed Harris Ranch bakery. On the way through the front door, the evening’s tri-tips and racks of ribs beginning their day-long sizzle and smoke on the grill greet visitors and entice you to consider staying another night, just for another great meal. 

bakery display case filled with fresh pastries
Fresh-baked pastries fill the display case in the bakery.

It was a tough decision, but we had plans down the road, so we found a picnic bench nearby and enjoyed our pastries before hitting the road.

Courtyard pool and vine-covered walkway
The pool courtyard at Rancho Caymus Inn

Next stop — the Napa Valley town of Rutherford and the Rancho Caymus Inn. WOW! This hidden gem a block off the main street is an oasis. Large shade trees kept the sun off your car and cooled the breakfast patio. The refreshing pool is surrounded by large, comfy loungers set with thick towel rolls to beckon you to put your feet up and soak in the warm sunshine. 

colorful tiles on staircase
The stairs are decorated with colorful tiles

We climbed the tile-bedecked stairs to our room and opened the door to a two-level spacious room that left us gasping at its finishes. Heavy wooden furniture with gorgeous wrought iron hardware combined an Arts and Crafts feel with old world Spain. The windows let in loads of light, the couch was super comfy (rare in a hotel couch) and the cozy bed made it very difficult to get up in the morning.

Two-level guest room with living room and raised bedroom
The view that greeted us as we opened the door to our room.

Once we did get up, though, a breakfast bonanza awaited in a tree-shaded courtyard. Fire features kept the Napa morning chill at bay as our waitress poured steaming coffee while we devoured the fresh fruit and eggs we’d chosen from the complimentary breakfast menu. 

We stayed three nights at the Rancho Caymus Inn. We relaxed in our living room, enjoyed the peace and quiet sitting on the balcony and soaked up some of that California sunshine by the pool between visits to nearby wineries and short drives to enjoy the scenes of this vineyard-dotted iconic valley.

Inns around the world offer the opportunity to enjoy something special and memorable while you’re seeing the sights nearby. In Prague, we found a stunning hotel just below the castle complete with a grotto-like spa where we opted for a bit of pampering. On Route 66, we stayed in classic motor lodges that left us feeling like we’d enjoyed “The Mother Road” as it is meant to be enjoyed. 

To be fair, we are fans of chain hotels, too. But sometimes, you have to mix things up a bit.

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. Find a place that tucks you in at night with a little local charm.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020 — Unless otherwise indicated, no compensation was received for this blog.

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