Popular California Getaways
Unique, Memorable and Reasonably Priced
By Ann Nelson



I would like to give you a sprinkling of unique and memorable places to visit that will not cost you an arm and a leg. One is in Northern California, two in Southern California.  All have historic value. All are unique. My husband and I stayed in a cozy historic inn in Sonoma County, an historic inn in Riverside, and a bed and breakfast in San Juan Capistrano surrounded by “heirloom” orange groves.

I will start with The Honor Mansion located in Healdsburg, right in the heart of the Russian River Sonoma Wine Country. Healdsburg is a cozy little town, complete with a town square, charming old brick buildings, art galleries and wonderful restaurants. The Mirepoix and Zin Restaurant and Wine Bar both have excellent food, and are highly recommended.

The countryside is filled with towering redwoods and vineyard-covered hillsides. Passalacqua, Stryker, and Everett Ridge are just a few wineries within easy reach from where we were staying.
The owners and “developers”, Cathi and Steve Fowler are a true inspiration and fascinating people to meet. They were growing tired of the San Francisco rat race and were determined to follow their dream of finding a B & B they could make their own. There was no promise of anything happening anytime soon. They felt the fruition of this plan was at least five years away. They still had kids, bills, and a million reasons to keep on waiting.

The big day came sooner than ever imagined however, when a realtor showed them an old Victorian housing several apartments. The house had fallen into disrepair and needed a lot of work, but it called out to them. To make a long story short, they fell in love with the place, quit their stable jobs in San Francisco, and jumped in.

The Honor Mansion, which Cathi and Steve created with love and hard labor, is truly remarkable. The 1883 Victorian Mansion is rated a 4-diamond AAA Resort Inn. A full breakfast is served and followed later by a scrumptious afternoon snack complete with wine. You could probably stay here without ever going to a restaurant.

Each room comes with a separate entrance and is generously appointed with plump feather beds, European linens, tall windows and lace curtains. The bathroom itself is truly a work of art, with its long tub that I filled with bubble bath and enjoyed soaking by flickering candlelight. In the huge private outdoor patio is an equally wonderful hot tub where I spent many relaxing hours just drifting away after a long afternoon spent touring the local wineries and lush countryside.

Our next visit was to The Mission Inn in Riverside, CA. It is easy to see why The Mission Inn was on the 2004 cover of Connoisseur’s Guide to the World’s Best Hotels. The Mission Inn brings one back to another time and place. The exterior regal presence and Spanish and Italian influences reminded me of visiting Europe when I was in my early 20’s.

The Inn itself is laden with antiques and artifacts, including Tiffany stained-glass windows, carved wooden angels, marble statues and original mission bells. The Mission Inn is both real and authentic. There is a wonderful five-story circular wrought-iron staircase that I climbed everyday to our room on the fourth floor.

You may need the exercise after experiencing the fabulous cuisine offered by the in-house restaurants. Duane’s received the Golden Sceptre Award for its superlative cuisine. Las Campanas is a fun outdoor Mexican patio restaurant serving unique, wonderful dishes.

Perhaps in this day and age one wonders why this grand hotel is located in Riverside. In its heyday, the early 1920’s, Riverside had the highest per capita income in the U.S. Nancy and Ronald Reagan married at The Mission Inn. At that time, Riverside was the metropolitan center of Southern California. Blessed with rich soil and a mild climate, the location was perfect for growing naval oranges. This industry remains vital to the economy even today.

I had always wanted to see The Mission at San Juan Capistrano. Part of the reason I wanted to stay at The Mission Inn was because it was only a one-minute walk to the Mission. I wanted to hear the melodic sound of The Mission bells ringing while lounging in my room. I wanted to hear the bells whispering in my ears while sipping afternoon sherry on the veranda. And I did.

Innkeepers, Sunshyne and Harold Croucher, couldn’t have been more accommodating and helpful. We looked forward to a wonderful breakfast each morning with fresh fruit, and scrumptious snacks in the afternoon.

The early California Hacienda-style boutique hotel is nestled in an 80-year-old orange grove, and feels like an “old-soul” establishment, even though it is not. The Inn allows dogs, and that made it extra nice for us. Max and Murphy were each given their own blanket and bowls.

The Mission of San Juan Capistrano is the seventh mission in a chain of twenty-one in California. It was founded by Father Junipero Serra on November 1, 1776. Time seems to literally melt away when you pass through the gate of the old Mission. I felt an immediate sense of peace and tranquility with the thick adobe walls surrounding me.

The Mission is thought to be California’s oldest building. In mid-March the swallows arrive at The Mission and San Juan Capistrano to raise their young. Their arrival from Argentina is always a big event! The swallows leave in mid-October for the 6,000-mile return journey.

San Juan Capistrano is truly one of my favorite places. You can take a train and walk everywhere. It is filled with warmth and charm. I will have to save stories about the Los Rios Historic District and more about the Mission for another article. There is a lot more to tell you about this spectacular place.

Ann Nelson is a freelance writer, presently residing in San Diego, CA.



The Honor Mansion, Healdsburg, CA (800) 554-4667, www.srinns.com/honormansion  (Rates start at $190.00)
The Mission Inn, Riverside, CA: (800) 843-7755, or www.missioninn.com  (Rates start at $195.00)
The Mission Inn, San Juan Capistrano: (866) 234-0249, or www.missioninnsjc.com  (Rates start at $165.00)

Correction from the Jan./Feb., 2006 issue: The restaurant that served the incredible Danish smorgasbord and fabulous potatoes was the NEW DANISH INN, not the Red Viking as listed. For reservations, the phone number is (805) 688-4311.


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