Tag Archives: San Francisco

USA Roadtripping: Motels & Hotels

super8cupIf I’d travelled in summer, I’d have camped a few nights. If I’d got in the car each day knowing where I was headed, I’d have done an obsessive amount of planning (spreadsheets) and I’d definitely have used 9Flats and AirBnB more. But I didn’t. Aside from the 9Flats and AirBnB accommodation (booked in advance), and a few places we just parked outside in a hopeful fashion, everything was found and booked via Priceline, Booking.c0m, Orbitz, and Expedia on a mobile on a bouncing knee in the car in the dark, and generally, only a few minutes before we wanted to stop. Obviously this approach has its pros and cons.

Pro: You have an address of a motel or hotel to tap into the SatNav / GPS.  Con: You are committed to staying in it. Pro: your considerable – and stress-inducing – effort coupled with eye-strain and nausea and the nuisance of having to extricate a credit card from some bit of under-seat metal tracking has been rewarded by a small discount of a few dollars. Con: the motel is offering a better rate to last minute walk-ins. And so on.

Anyway, here’s the list of accommodation (starting with a bonus tip for top accommodation in Toronto), incomplete because I can’t remember all the places we visited, or the motel names or the room rates, but possibly of interest to someone else who intends to drive across the States and back on a bit of a budget.

Apartment, Art & Design district, Toronto: sole occupancy of well arty apartment in artsy block off Queen Street West, Toronto (yes,yes, Canada). Highly recommended, great location close to the pricier and often fuller Drake and Gladstone hotels, as well as to Ossington Ave with the best concentration of restaurants in the city. Stylish pad, cosy, plus nice owners, and represented by a newish, European rent-from-owners agency, 9Flats. Original post.  9Flats.com.

The Detroit Homestead, Detroit, Michigan: private room. Recommended, the location is best described as coming up . . . slowly, but the hospitality is topnotch, and the hosts are part of Detroit’s fascinating and complex regeneration. Original post; Book through AirBnB

German Village Motel, Columbus, Ohio: the German Village neighbourhood is lovely, the motel is joyless but cheap. Actually we’d meant to book the German Village Inn but someone made a mistake.  Original postWebsite, 920 S High St, 43206 Columbus.

Highland Inn, Atlanta, Georgia: old, quirky, affordable hotel with friendly staff and a great location close to Little Five Points and plenty of bars and eateries. Website, 644 North Highland Avenue Northeast, Atlanta, Tel: 404 874-5756

Microtel Inn and Suites, Auburn, Alabama: spotless, big, light and aesthetically pleasing plain rooms from $48 per night. Not sure why you’d want to stay there unless you were too tired to make it to Montgomery, or Mobile or New Orleans, or you lived in Auburn but you’d lost your keys . . . but nice place anyway.  2174 South College Street, Auburn, AL, Tel: 334 826-1444

Hotel Royal, New Orleans, Louisiana: booked the better-located St Helene, but ended up here. Long story. Ground floor room opened onto dark courtyard, not a balcony over streets filled with rowdy jollity, but bedding sumptuous and everywhere’s close in the French Quarter.  Original post (for that long story). 1006 Rue Royal, New Orleans, Tel: 504 524-3900.

Bayou Cabins, Breaux Bridge, Louisiana: romantic, authentic, slightly rickety cabins of different proportions on a bayou with breakfasts and warm hospitality provided by the friendly Lisa. Original post. Book direct at www.bayoucabins.com.

Days Inn, Beaumont, Texas: a just-can’t-drive-any-further motel located in a big empty space off the Interstate opposite Starvin’ Marvin’s Bar & Grill. Might be a big old chain but the person on reception was out-of-her-way helpful. Website 2155 North 11th Street  Beaumont, Tel: 409 898-8150

Carefree Inn, Luling, Texas: I have a soft spot for Luling, and this place is almost funny. They have their own promotional video. Located at  1908 East Pierce Street  Luling. Tel: 830 875-5635.

Microtel Inn & Suites
, Austin, Texas: clean and pleasant. Good value. Located at  7705 Metro Center Drive  Austin – by the airport (which is handy if your car breaks down and has to be towed to the airport car rental office and replaced). Tel: 512 386-7800

Highland Inn, Alpine, Texas: hardly stylish but fine rooms right by the train tracks in a useful, down to earth Texan town, a short drive from Marfa. The owner has done a lot of film location work and has Tales to Tell. 1404 east HWY, Alpine, Tel: 434 837 5811

Old Cuchillo Bar & Hotel, Cuchillo, New Mexico: unique opportunity to stay in a great, weird place with a top host. Original post, Close to the magnificently named Truth or Consequences. Book through AirBnB.

Howard ‘HoJo’ Johnson, Scottsdale, Arizona: one of the first of the old chain to be re-styled and revitalised, and they’ve done a good job. Great value at, from memory, about $58 including tax, but avoid using the cheap coffee makers. Original post. 7110 E Indian School Rd, Scottsdale. Tel: 480 361 6001.

3 Palms Scottsdale, Arizona: clean, modern with, of all things, a restaurant across from reception. Relatively swish motel with – at that time – rather snooty reception staff, good value. 7707 East McDowell Road.

Royal Sun Inn, Palm Springs, California: not a monument to desert modernism, but fine and friendly, with loyal clientele, pool and mountain views. 1700 South Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. Tel: 760 327 1564

Newport Channel Inn, Newport Beach, California: probably best seen on a sunny day, but fine, affordable rooms right on the West Coast Highway – that’s Highway No.1. 6030 W. Coast Hwy
, Newport Beach. Tel: 949 642-3030

Motel 6, Carpenteria North, California: industrial-sized misery fest with sluice-down yellow walls and the charm of a high security jail and more expensive than HoJo, Scottsdale. There is a pool. Anyway, in case you also find yourself stranded in a storm, it’s at 4200 Via Real, Carpenteria off the W. Coast Hwy.

Fernwood Motel Cabins Big Sur, California: love this place that combines campsite, cabins and the best sort of quirky motel. Set amongst dripping redwoods on the coast road. Loads of character, good shop and cafe, and bar serving welcome drinks and hearty food. Think we paid $110 for motel cabin. Retro! Website. Tel: 831 667-2422 from $110.

Cow Hollow Motor Inn, San Francisco, California : Hurrah. Motel accommodation doesn’t get easier. Good location, central and close to marina area, on a block lined with restaurants. Plenty of parking, big rooms, reasonable price. Original San Francisco postWebsite. 2190 Lombard Street, San Francisco. Tel: 415 921-5800

Smiley’s Schooner Saloon and Hotel, Bolinas, California: Creaky, antique-filled rooms behind local bar with colourful history by lagoon and sea. Top spot, loads of character. Tourists tolerated. Website 41 Wharf Road  Bolinas. Tel: 415 868-1311

Days Inn, Fresno, California Days Inn Fresno South: Only if absolutely necessary. Grungy room and smell of burger grease outside. 2640 South 2nd Street, Fresno, CA. Tel: ‬559 237-6644 ‬‎

Luxor Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, Luxor Hotel & Casino
, Nevada: Probably the best-value accommodation on the trip – particularly on weekday nights, and it’s certainly got a more than average amount of amenities – shows and exhibitions, slot machines, pool, nicknack shops, bars, restaurants, food courts and chapels! Good fun (for a bit). 3900 Las Vegas Boulevard South
 Las Vegas, NV.

Howard Johnson, Flagstaff, Arizona: Not one of the revitalised HoJos – at least not when we stayed. Good interstate access. Can’t complain at $41. 2520 E. Lucky Lane, Flagstaff.

Inn of the Governors, Santa Fe, New Mexico: nice hotel close to the heart of the place, with lively local bar serving good margaritas and good nachos, and stylish rooms some with fireplaces. We paid $129 but ours didn’t. Website 101 West Alameda Street  Santa Fe. Tel: 505 982-4333

Super 8, Wichita Falls, Texas: super-friendly, helpful staff work wonders with this unprepossessing – okay, sinister – budget motel and transform it into a place people actually want to stay in. Like the sign outside promoting their Grrr8 Rates! Close to intersection of HWY 287 and 44 at 1307 Kenley Ave, Wichita Falls.

The Czech Inn, West, Texas: independent hotel built on a large scale in the style of a chain motel. The most comfortable beds of the road trip bar none. The place to stay when Czeching out West. Original post.  Website. 114 Melodie Drive  West. Tel: 254 826-0900

La Quinta Inn, Huntsville, Texas: north of Houston, convenient for drivers on I-45 (exit 116) and the jail. At $64, slightly more than the Days Inns and Microtels but no doubt worth it in the summer, given the big pool. 124 I-45 North Huntsville, Texas. Tel: 936 295-6454

Budgetel Inn and Suites, Little Rock, Arkansas:  This was a very, very weird place. Like staying at a public baths. Rate was $39.95 which is proof that you can be too cheap. 111 West Pershing Boulevard North Little Rock.

Best Western PLUS, Music Row, Nashville, Tennessee: perfectly fine with nice, big rooms and reasonably priced at around $95 per night, but a short cab ride (rather than walk)  from the nightlife. 1407 Division Street, Nashville,Tennessee.

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Yosemite: Where’s the edge?

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Not everything is plain sailing on the vague, meandering journey to somewheresville. Four lessons learnt on this very day:

1) Local knowledge is good knowledge;

2) A ‘one state per page’ map book isn’t really sufficient;

3) Ignorance isn’t always bliss;

4) Associate the word ‘Stop’ with sentences that begin ‘It might be more interesting if we got off the highway and . . .’

The idea was to drive from Bolinas, north of San Francisco to Las Vegas, Nevada. The people at Shelter Publications suggested “Drive down to Bakersfield and hang a left”. I like that kind of direction – Bakersfield is about halfway on a 600 mile journey, however it’s also pretty close to L.A. and we’d just come from there. So examining the map book and ignoring the snippets of information even this woefully inadequate navigational aid provided like ‘Closed in Winter’, and ‘Peak’ and ‘Graveyard Peak’, ‘Mountain’, ‘Mammoth Mountain’ and ‘Bloody Mountain’, I suggested we ‘cut through’ Yosemite National Park.

To be fair, we wouldn’t have passed through Oakdale (Cowboy Capital of the World – although this is contended by some other ones) or Selma (World Capital of the Raisin) or enjoyed some rather precipitous hairpin bends perched high up in fog above Groveland, but I saw enough of the drops from the passenger window before it got dark to regret opening my mouth. Some 6000 ft up, the GPS signal lost, the road behind us now icy, the Tioga Pass closed because of snow, and a recorded announcement on the Yosemite radio frequency basically saying turn back, turn back, we crawled into the forested national park and paused at the abandoned, ‘Information’ area to examine a sort of route map which was green with some zigzags on it by the light of a lighter. Actually Dave did; I stayed in the car eating whole bars of Butterfingers thinking about horror films where someone goes off to get help and doesn’t come back – although, I have to say, when coerced into opening the door, there was something wondrously exhilarating about the whistling wind and smell of pine and blackest of black nights. As it happens there seemed to be a road through. It would first punish us for being on it by leading us around for an extended series of icy hairpins then, when nauseous, remorseful and terrified by what could be glimpsed beyond the thin white protective line (aka air), it would spew us out on a bigger straighter icy road just south of where we had left it many hours before. So that was fun.

We proceeded in grim silence to Fresno. (Fresno being half way to Bakersfield).

Ironically, having been unable to see anything of one of America’s beauty spots as we slithered through it, the truck stop fast food suburb of Fresno we selected was lit by the sort of lighting normally associated with high security prisons; the Days Inn, the MacDonalds, In and Out Burger, KFC, numerous gas stations and flyovers and train tracks and container depots bathed in bright yellow light. The place smelt of the stuff pushed out of extractor fans at the back of burger joints, a sticky smell that stuck to everything. A second irony: having spent several tense hours up there, up there in Yosemite, looking out for the edge, we now embarked on a similarly tense and lengthy excursion to find the centre. Where was the beating heart, the gastronomic and carefree nightlife centre of Fresno? (Unfortunately I can’t answer that).

You know things are bad when to cheer yourself up the following morning you go to a Drive Thru Macdonalds. ‘Egg Macmuffin please’, I said. ‘Egg Macmuffin’ said Dave to the ear trumpet thing. ‘Grzz arc fast, ar’ comes the reply down the pipe. ‘What?’ said Dave. ‘Okay’ I said, ‘if they’re no longer serving breakfast, please could I have Oats & Fruit’. ‘Have you got any fruit?’ says Dave. ‘Grzz perrrin ar?’ says the person in the pipe. ‘FRUIT. Have you got FRUIT?’  ‘No, Dave. Look: Oats and Fruit. It’s a thing on the menu.’ ‘OATS’ says Dave tetchily to the ear trumpet. ‘OATS’. ‘And fruit’ I say. ‘OATS! FRUIT!’ Dave bellows, bewildered and cross. ‘Grzz fast ar‘ says the pipe, ‘Dragargarr! Dragargarr!’ Trucks were now honking above and behind us. ‘I think the person in the pipe would like us to move onto the collection hatch now’ I say soothingly. ‘Can I take your order?’ says the girl at the next hatch. Anyway, we eventually got it and it was disgusting swash but hot. I gave it to a homeless person panhandling at the Drive Thru exit and felt guilty for doing that for miles.

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To Big Sur and Beyond

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Newport Beach to L.A., Big Sur, San Francisco and Bolinas: 514 miles, 9 hrs 20 minutes.

Or in our case, 6 days. If I was doing it again, and in summer, I’d have added in a few nights around Big Sur, and a couple of extra nights exploring the spits and lagoons around Bolinas and the Point Reyes National Seashore. Good for the spirit, and a visual treat.

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16hrs in San Francisco

That’s 16 hours in San Francisco with 6 spent asleep. Much to see, no time to waste. If you too happen to be passing through in winter, exhausted with an urgent desire for alcohol and lettuce, follow the blind and try the following:

Do the Golden Gate Bridge thing: Over you go & back you come.

Drink in Mission. This is San Francisco’s old heart: edgy, arty, tatty, wearisome and energetic in equal measure. Population is predominantly Latino and Hipster plus flamboyantly dressed old writer/artist types; a fair few wealthy arrivistes joining in, and a fair few people shuffling by with shopping trolleys in the street waving their fists and holding animated, abusive conversations with lamp posts. Parking’s tricky but there are plenty of people eager to look after your car.  Head for Mission, Valencia and 24th streets and find the party. “I’m so-o-o-o happy. I’m in love with life” said the friendly man who joined out table outside some bar. “I’m. In. Love. With. Life. Man” . (A friend who lives there recommends Doc’s Clock).

Do the driving up and down the steep hills thing. Yes, like Steve McQueen in Bullitt, but slower, and pausing at the intersections.

Check into Cow Hollow Motor Inn in Cow Hollow, a relaxed neighbourhood which is either in the Marina District or on the border of it, depending on who’s talking. It’s not the most glamourous choice but it’s good and nice and affordable and an easy, easy option with parking. And it also has a load of fine restaurants and bars within walking district.

Eat healthy food at Plant. This was a right treat. Almost everything in the streets around Cow Hollow is a restaurant or bar, but there are only so many nachos and tacos a girl can eat, and Plant Organic Cafe proved irresistible – and it was fabulous. There are a number of branches in San Francisco but this one’s on Steiner St and Chestnut St.

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Have breakfast at Mel’s Drive-in (opposite) on Lombard St. Maybe ‘The Elvis’: scrambled eggs, chorizo, green chile, Monterey Jack cheese and a whole load of other stuff, like toast and jelly. Plenty of chrome, booths and jukeboxes, staff in black and white and a menu of 50s staples (root beer, banana splits, spaghetti and meatballs, sundaes). Mel’s declined, closed and reopened in the late 80s, but now has its kitschy charm preserved by grateful and nostalgic patrons. The original Mel’s was demolished shortly after starring alongside Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss and Harrison Ford in American Graffiti but this one’s just like it.

Cow Hollow Motor Inn 2190 Lombard St 415 921 5800 http://www.cowhollowmotorinn.com.

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