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Anyone who plunks down good money for a California getaway wants to be sure the experience will be extra-special. With today’s lodging prices, it’s only natural that visitors expect something memorable and out of the ordinary.

One way to add that extra touch is to choose a historic lodging – a destination that conjures up another era and takes you to another place and time. We’ve discovered several such accommodations on our travels throughout the Golden State, and here are some of our favorites:

Queen Mary

With all the advertising you see nowadays for cruises to Mexico, the Caribbean, Alaska and you-name-it, it’s pretty easy to get the urge to get on a big ship and just go. But if you’re strapped for time – or cash – there is an alternative where you can get on a big ship and just stay.

The Queen Mary has been docked in Long Beach Harbor for many years and will not be taking you to exotic lands. But it really doesn’t need to – there is plenty to see and do right in Long Beach.

Pulling up to this giant ship ready to board with your suitcase-in-hand is reminiscent of that scene in Titanic where excited passengers are scurrying on board while the well-heeled are having their trunks portaged and their automobiles lifted onboard. While the Queen Mary is small by today’s cruise ship standards, it looks mighty big from the parking lot.

Up the elevator and along the gangplank you go, just like you’re boarding the Love Boat headed to the Mexican Riviera. But once on board, the first thing you notice is that the Queen Mary is historical – it’s like entering the lobby of a fine old hotel with its antique furnishings, although many aspects of the ship and its quarters have been updated to the 1960s, the ship’s later years.

Long Beach really has quite the festive waterfront with many restaurants and tourist attractions, along with top hotels. It’s well worth carving out a morning or afternoon to go see the Aquarium of the Pacific, just across the harbor from the Queen Mary.

For more information, go to or phone (562) 435-3511.

Historic Mission Inn

If you’re the average California traveler, the thing you know about Riverside is that it's a seeming metropolis that passes underneath the I-215 freeway in that vast extension of back-to-back cities that stretch eastward from Los Angeles. But get on down off the freeway and you’ll find one of the most unique getaway experiences in the state – an experience that transports you to Early California through architecture and through the efforts of city fathers to preserve Riverside’s past.

Just inside the ivy-covered adobe archway of the Historic Mission Inn, we walked through a courtyard of lush landscaping before getting our first glimpse of the majestic lobby area. Spectacular chandeliers and giant wood beams complemented the elegant flower-patterned carpet to create a sense that this building was at once luxurious and historic. The lobby’s grand piano is the only piano made by Steinway for the1876 Centennial. But this was only the beginning – the Historic Mission Inn is like a fun house for those who marvel at historic and creative architecture. There is something fascinating or unique around every corner.

The Historic Mission Inn at first gives the feeling it might have been a real mission or monastery, what with its 239 guest rooms, including 28 suites. But upon closer reading of its history, this palace-like inn was actually built by Riverside town father Frank Miller, who had taken the original Glenwood Tavern, built in 1874, and converted it to an inn that opened in 1903. Today, the inn is situated on an entire city block and has a total of 320,000 square feet. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a State of California Historic Landmark

For more information, go to or call 800-843-7755.

Carlton Inn

Imagine a trip to the vineyards of Tuscany where you will drive through a sun-drenched region with vine-clad hillsides, stopping off to visit wineries where fascinating local craftsmen toil at their labor of love.

Now imagine driving just a few hours from Los Angeles or San Francisco and finding much of the same experience. The Paso Robles Wine Country is fast becoming just such an alternative for sophisticated travelers who are often surprised to find such an exquisite getaway so close to home.

And, happily, we discovered the perfect complement to touring the local wineries – an extraordinary hotel called the Carlton that has just been completely refurbished and re-opened for business in March 2005. This hotel is located in the heart of the wine country, taking up the better part of a city block in quaint downtown Atascadero.

The Carlton Hotel is a “boutique” hotel, capitalizing on the growing popularity of boutique lodgings both in major cities and – with the Carlton as a case in point – sometimes out in the hinterlands.

It was back in 1929 that the Carlton firsts opened its doors. It attracted such famous people as Jack Benny, Bette Davis and Fred McMurray. With its recent renovation, the hotel now has such features as marble bathrooms, deep whirlpool baths, oversized bath towels, high thread-count cotton sheets – well you get the picture.

Our guestroom seemed regal with its period furnishings, luxurious draperies and many special touches that separate the “nice” hotels from the truly “luxurious” lodgings.

For more information, visit or phone 805-461-5100.

Glorietta Bay Inn

If there is one place where Southern California charm, history, style, beaches and sun all converge, it has to be on the 7.4 square miles of ground you’ll find at the west end of the sweeping, skyscraper-high Coronado Bridge.

There is no disputing that the best hotel in town is the Hotel del Coronado but, surprisingly, the "Hotel del” as locals call it, is not the only game in town. Whether because of price or a desire not to be staying smack in the middle of all the activity, many visitors opt for one of several other lodging options on the island. While the price wasn’t necessarily lower, our stay at the Glorietta Bay Inn was quite a different experience from the Hotel del, even though the grand dame is located right across the street.

Staying at the Glorietta Bay Inn was an opportunity to experience a historic San Diego mansion – the one John Dietrich Spreckles construted. He was a well-known figure in the city and he played a major role in developing San Diego during the late 1800's and after the turn of the century. He bought the utility company, street car system, water company and eventually he controlled even the Hotel del Coronado.

The mansion itself is an impressive piece of architecture – Italian Renaissance style, all white, multi-story with dramatic lines. Inside, the wide marble staircase was our pathway to Room 126 – the Albright Room, a spacious second-floor with an open, airy feel and views to the yacht harbor, the Coronado Bridge and, in the distance, the mountains east of San Diego. Decorated in a French Country motif, the room featured flowers, tasteful paintings and floral bed quilts with matching drapes. Almost the size of a suite, this room was furnished with classic furniture reproductions befitting the era in which the house was built.

For more information, go to or call 800-283-9383.

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