Most of us are consumed by our busy lives. Think about it. We’re either working extended hours stoking the fires of our careers, raising a family, maintaining a relationship or lost in a whirl of social media madness. (Yes, I think we’ve all caught on by now that our “relationship” to social media is just downright tiring. Who can keep up?)
Which is why I relished the refreshing surprises that awaited me during a recent stay at Monterey’s Portola Hotel & Spa. I had lived in Monterey for a time years ago and I was always curious about what it would be like to stay at this portal. Now that I live in Santa Cruz, I decided it could be an ideal destination for a Staycation.
And it was.
Situated in the heart of Downtown Monterey, Portola Hotel & Spa is downright inviting. It’s welcoming in that almost everywhere you venture to within these lush confines, you always seem to have enough “space”—it’s just impossible to feel claustrophobic here. The hotel boasts somewhat of a sanctuary-like vibe because of that spaciousness—I discovered many wonderful “coves” to escape into for some alone time (reading, regrouping, rebooting) both within and outside of the property. I had chalked this up, initially, to the notion that there are also convention and meeting rooms, so perhaps everyone was on board for large groups of people here from time to time. But, I don’t think that’s really it. Not all of it, because at the heart of it all I experienced an even better surprise—the people the work here really do seem to genuinely care for the visitors that walk through the doors. One employee, a notable and knowledge concierge maven named Ann, was a downright kick in the pants. You don’t often experience that kind of fun, personable yet professional vibe in all that many hotels these days and it’s so very very nice to realize that customer service is indeed not dead. At least not here.
For those who have not ventured into this part of Monterey, there are plenty of treats. The hotel’s backyard happens to be a glorious plaza that leads out into charming gardens and the festive Wharf nearby. The area’s premier walking and bike trails lead visitors down to Cannery Row and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. And with such close proximity to downtown, there is no shortage of stand-out cuisine—try Montrio, less than a block away.
And the view? Well, it’s angelic. You can’t beat having some respite at hotel that sits right on the edges of a marine sanctuary.
There are many things to note about Portola Hotel. Its stellar Spa, in fact, rests on the Plaza and it continues to win points for many of its “treatments” and services. You can experience everything from facials to massages and spa days here, and the spa itself has also been voted Best Skin Care in the county in the popular Monterey County Weekly readers’ poll. Beyond that, take note of three main things that really captured my undivided attention here:
Inner Beauty. From its long, spacious lobby, complete with live trees in what has to be one of the cleanest atrium-like environments in a hotel along the coast—I’m told there’s running water beneath the lobby that keeps the soil for those trees moist—the hotel wins points for its stellar layout and design. On each side of this vast inner expanse, you can find a few retail gems—on one side, there are some gift shops and stores; on the other, a bar and lounge, and the hotel’s signature restaurant, Jacks. About that …
Food and Service. I arrived at Jacks on the evening of my stay and thought: “Well, what a cozy supper club-ish feel this place is.” With its rustic wood accents and old-world charm, Jack’s offers plenty of seating. Booths align the walls—they’re roomy and that’s great. The venue is clean and the service is professional. The food: Just what I needed and well prepared. I began with a Point Reyes Blue Cheese and Poached Pear Salad ($8), indulged with an order of a Goat Cheese Tart ($8) and then went all out with Fennel and Black Pepper Crusted Ahi Tuna ($25), which stood out both for its flavoring—not too over-peppered—and its design, as it laid atop of a lovely array of warm white beans, pancetta and escarole and wonderful endive/escarole. The orange hints stood out as well. Overall, there’s a nice variety on the menu here. I noticed some sweet potato crisps that are no doubt fulfilling. Crab cakes and calamari and mussel creations make up some of the appetizers offered. The entrees are diverse. There’s mushroom ravioli and a chicken penne pasta that appeared to be a winning dish. Chicken, too—the potpie creation and the herb and butter half chicken caught my eye. True carnivores will love this—there’s braised lamb shank, osso bucco and a prime rib that are no doubt filling. Inquire about a menu for the kids, too. And don’t forget breakfast—there’s a festive buffet with too many goodies to list here.
The Rooms. Portola knows what it’s doing. Chalk it up to just having the perfect building to work with, but again, there’s ample space in these rooms. I don’t know about you, but I can find it disheartening when I venture away for a trip only to find myself cramped in a small room—for a wildly high price. Not the case here. You actually feel like you can drop your bags, take a deep breath and have space to wander from one end of the room to the next without bumping into anything. Exceptionally clean and modern in its look, I appreciated both the ability to work from a desk, rest on a comfortable lounge chair—not all are, after all—and loose myself on the terrific mattress that was the room’s large bed. It was hard to leave this haven. But, as most writers—true writers who plunge their entire body, mind and spirit into their work, only to get a bit burnt out after awhile—will tell you, there’s nothing like feeling completely welcome to help one with the refueling process. There are more than 300 guest rooms here and I suspect that each of them have their own flare and comfort/appeal. Another notable: the hotel was granted with a Silver Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Certification by the U.S. Green Building Council. Yes—this is an environmentally-conscious hotel.
Beer. So, I couldn’t help but appreciate the fact that Peter B’s brewpub is located on the property, which actually brews some of its own wonders. In fact, it’s one of Monterey’s only microbreweries. I found some good pub food here. Appetizers and locally brewed beers—not bad at all.
Family-and-Kids’ Friendly. Imagine vacationing with your kids at a hotel that offers a fun little scavenger hunt for your children? It all happens here. Kids are rewarded on a unique hunt around the property that also educates them on the history of Monterey Bay. One of main themes—pirates. What kid wouldn’t dig that? Kudos to the creative team for being inventive enough to realize that traveling parents could use a little diversion—if not fun time—for their kids. I suppose that’s what stands out the most. What I was left with when I walked away from this marvelous place—it’s truly one of the best stays on the Bay—was how much detail had gone into making the hotel’s guests comfortable but also welcome. That’s the most perfect combo to strive for. Fortunately, Portola Hotel and Spa has done that—and then some.
Experience it/ learn more at www.portolahotel.com.