Everyday Champagne | The Great Hotel Experience — USA Edition
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balloon in yountville

The Great Hotel Experience — USA Edition

Hotels for us are more than just a place to sleep. When pleasure and business come together as often as they do for us, you seek experiences, not just clean linens.

 

Do we seek safe, convenient, and dependable? No, no, and no.  What lost opportunities that would make for.

 

We seek memorable moments and defining details. Yes, there is a margin of error with that criteria, but here’s the rundown on a few of our best experiences (many of which make a great mini-vacation without a lot of travel hassle)—note: International Edition to follow:

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San Ysidro Ranch, Montecito, CA

Wow factor:

The instant serenity that comes with a small scale, intimate style, and omnipresent gardens.

 

Memorable moments:

  • Sitting on a garden bench watching the busy hummingbirds near sunset while the hotel staff brings wine and fresh cookies.
  • Walking into the bar on property, Plow and Angel, and having Pedro the bartender remember you from a year or two ago.

 

A few more details:

The location is an oasis in the middle of the luxury houses that rest between ocean and spectacular hiking hills in Montecito, CA (and by luxury, I mean LUXURY. Oprah has a house a mile or so away).  It’s an individual, thoughtful experience in every room and in every detail big and small.

 

SYR is also a master of personal attention, and it’s evident through touchpoints including the fresh cookies available all day, the welcome gift and personal note in the room, and the turndown service and treats, including fresh lavender on your pillow. They also scored big points with us when they arranged to have our perfectly fitted rental road bikes delivered to our room.

Blackberry Farm, Walland, TN

 

Wow factor:

Have you seen the Chevy Chase movie Funny Farm? They staged everything perfectly to try to sell a house (cue the deer). Blackberry Farm is the same (cue the foal), but it’s real all the time.

 

Memorable moments:

  • The fish in the trout stream, which are actually trained to jump on your fly fishing line, no matter how big of an idiot you are.
  • On one of our visits, we had to leave for an early-morning flight. The staff walked us to our car and handed us hand-made gourmet boxes packed for both breakfast AND lunch since we’d be traveling.

 

A few more details:

Blackberry Farm looks like a rolling horse farm, complete with the estate house where you dreamed of growing up. With the backdrop of the Blue Ridge mountains, the entire property is picture-perfect. The addition of the cooking school and the unparalleled food gardens on the property has made it a worldwide destination and the single best example of garden-to-table cooking.

 

Even with the prices, the service is excellent and non-pretentious.

 

 

Wickanninish Inn, Tofino, Vancouver Island

(not USA, but still North America)

 

Wow Factor:

You’re not just looking at the Pacific Ocean, you’re part of it. The waves lick the rocks right beneath your room.

 

Memorable moment:

Moving the TV to our patio so we could enjoy the magnificent ocean waves below while drinking wine and watching the Tour de France.

 

A few more details:

The teeny-tiny town of Tofino is on the westernmost coast of Vancouver Island, and it’s a fun and funky little berg. You can fly from Vancouver, the San Juan Islands, or Seattle. Or you can fly or ferry into Victoria or Nanaimo and drive, but it’s quite a trek.

 

Once you get there, it’s an incredible getaway. Try salmon fishing, surfing, kayaking, whale watching, or just walk on the beach. Or hang out on the patio in your underwear and watch the waves.

 

 

Inn at Little Washington, Washington, VA

 

Wow Factor:

The restaurant. A James Beard winner back before people knew what that was. This is one of the original wow-factor inns that made the restaurant, then added high end rooms to make it a true destination.

 

Memorable moment:

We think the service staff hides in the walls of the rooms. If you leave for even 5 minutes, they’ve been there tidying up and restocking, and they are miraculously gone when you return.

 

A few more details:

This area of Virginia is a short drive from Washington, and close to some great history if you’re into Civil War battlegrounds. It’s also another great place for hiking and biking; the countryside is beautiful.

 

 

Amangani, Jackson Hole, WY

 

Wow factor:

Leave it to the Aman group to put the most luxurious, stunning, simply sophisticated hotel with a view of a cattle field.

 

Memorable moment:

Sitting on our deck drinking sparkling wine. Sound familiar by now? The cattle actually made this one memorable. The field has a backdrop of the Grand Tetons, yet we watched the designer cows for hours, making up stories as they would convene, disperse, and reconvene in a sophisticated manner.  Sophisticated for a cow, that is. I wonder what they talk about.

 

A few more details:

Jackson Hole speaks for itself as a great destination for winter skiing and summer hiking and fly-fishing, but it’s all without the pretension of Aspen.

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Bardessono, Yountville, CA

 

Wow factor:

The architecture and landscape blend seamlessly.

 

Memorable moment:

On a totally still early morning, the only sound you hear is the roar of flames powering the hot-air balloons flying directly overhead.

After the damn balloons wake you up, walk a block to Bouchon Bakery before the tourists arrive and load up.

 

A few more details:

Yountville is a small, walkable town nestled within the craziness of Napa. Food note: You’re in the town that Thomas Keller built, and within walking distance of about 10 fantastic restaurants. Redd, Bottega, Redd Wood, Ad Hoc, Bouchon, French Laundry, Bouchon Bakery, Oakville Grocery. No need to drive anywhere.

There’s a bike shop in town that gives you great options for rides around wine country. (For the hardcore, try the Oakville Grade to really earn your Bouchon Bakery products.)

Post Ranch Inn, Big Sur, CA

 

Wow Factor:
Perched over the ocean.

 

Memorable moment:
Sitting in the restaurant perched over the ocean.

 

A few more details:
Did I mention the location on the Pacific Ocean? It’s a little south of Carmel near Big Sur. California beauty in its full glory. For a less pricey option very close by, although not on the ocean, try Ventana Inn.

 

 

The Greenwich Hotel/NYC Hotels, New York, NY

 

Wow factor:
A NYC hotel in Tribeca that immediately envelopes you with privacy and exclusivity. It’s a detailed luxury hotel with a laid-back vibe, comfortable and approachable. And there are jars free candy in your room (the good kind, not off-brand crap), so there’s really no way to go wrong.
And you’re in New York City. You can go anywhere.

 

Memorable moment:
He and I were sitting in the outdoor hotel lobby next to two very famous celebrities (not uncommon at the Greenwich). He—being People magazine-challenged—had no idea who they were and struck up a conversation, as he always does with strangers.

 

A few more details:
One of a handful of our main favorites in New York. The others include the Crosby Street Hotel, the Bowery, and the Nomad. All have mastered the high-end details, from amenities to toiletries, without looking they they’re trying too hard. And they always remember your name.

 

 

XV Beacon, Boston, MA

 

Wow factor:
The best location in Boston, and they give you chocolate -dipped strawberries in your room.

 

Memorable moment:
Eating our chocolate-dipped strawberries, then having a drink, some oysters, and some Parker House rolls at Mooo in the hotel, then walking a block to the Common.

 

A few more details:
With its central location, the XV Beacon makes Boston your oyster (pun intended). It has become an incredible food city. It’s a short walk to North End (where real Italian is actually still spoken), and a block from Boston Common. Either walk or book the complementary hotel car to hitch a ride. Note: the drivers of the complementary hotel cars always passionately give the current rundown of the state of Boston sports. You shouldn’t be surprised—it is Boston after all, where sports is a religion.

 

 

Hotel Healdsburg, Healdsburg, CA

 

Wow factor:
It’s the best of town square meets wine country, with late 20th-century “wine country modern” architecture set right on a classic town square—and the bathrooms are bigger than your bedroom.

 

Memorable moment:
Happy hours on the hotel lawn with Kentucky bourbon because you’re getting sick of drinking wine (trust. It can happen).

 

A few more details:
Healdsburg is another small town with a classic square, great restaurants within a walk, and a bike shop in town. The biking here is a little flatter than Yountville, and you can get to more wineries by bike. Just be careful with your post-sample peddling.

 

 

Honorable Mentions:

 

 

Enchantment Resort Sedona, Sedona, AZ

The perfect “mountian” escape with views of the famous Sedona rocks and colors

Wow factor:
Hiking to the top of Big Bear mountain and staking our claim by making a cairn (look it up).

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Hotel Cheval, Paso Robles, CA

Intimate scale and design detail you would never think you would find in Paso Robles. Paso is the best of wine country (Central Coast) without the tourists. (Like you’d imagine Sonoma 25 years ago, with a similar town square.)

 

Wow factor:

The outdoor courtyard with wood-burning fireplaces. Yes, real wood.

Pitcher Inn, Warren, VT:

Small, quintessential New England inn on a rushing stream.

 

Wow factor:

We had a midnight dinner/snack (thanks to Delta Airlines for the delay) waiting for us on our balcony. Knowing we were delayed, the hotel staff had set it up.

 

 

Hotel Saint Cecilia, Austin, TX

In Austin’s South Congress neighborhood, hipster cool meets intense luxury and best-in-class service.

 

Wow factor:

Of this entire list, it was one of our favorite hotels to just hang out.

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L’Auberge Carmel, Carmel, CA

An intimate inn in one of California’s best coastal “small” towns.

 

Wow factor:

Getting up early and heading down to the ocean to walk the beach or path and watch all the little prancer dogs walking and playing in the water.

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Montage, Newport Beach, CA

One of the best locations right ON the Pacific Ocean. Who the hell let them do this?

 

Wow factor:

Foie gras, foie gras, and foie gras. Everywhere. It’s good thing CA doesn’t outlaw the stuff anymore, because I think it’s even in the soap.

Castle Hill, Newport, RI

(if the Ocean House in Watch Hill is too far of a drive)
An inn with one of the best locations in the East with a view of most of Rhode Island (well, Newport, anyway).

 

Wow factor:

Watching the sailboats drifting by from your Adirondack chair perch on the expansive lawn.

 

 

Soho House, Chicago, IL

Soho House is hotel and club with locations around the world, but it also happens to be one of the best new choices in Chicago.

 

Wow factor:

Every inch of the hotel creates engaging common areas to hang out, socialize, engage, lounge, work, or be entertained. It combines exclusive and casual.  It’s the future for business travelers (for the smart hoteliers) and is so cool that it brings to mind the Woody Allen quote: “I would never join a club that would allow someone like me to be a member.”

 

 

Soniat House, New Orleans, LA

Filled with French Quarter character, it’s the epitome of what you hope to experience in New Orleans.

 

Wow factor:

Eating fresh biscuits in the interior courtyard on a sultry morning.

 

 

Shutters, Santa Monica, CA

An enviable beach location close to LA.

 

Wow factor:

It’s one of the only hotels in LA not trying to be too cool. Which, of course, is what makes it incredibly cool.

 

 

Carter House Inn, Eureka, CA

How often have you thought to go to Eureka, CA? Probably not much of a reason unless you want to see the redwoods or where all the hippies ended up.

 

Wow factor:

One of the best French wine lists in the world. Yes, in Eureka, CA

 

Still with us?

 

These are certainly not necessarily the biggest and the most famous boutique hotels in the country. These are the ones that have created true experiences in service, details, and design that make them memorable amidst the hundreds of spots we’ve stayed in our travels for business, pleasure, and the aforementioned combination of the two. And they’re all incredibly unique. Each one taught us something different about the importance of that service, detail, and design and the incredible impact they can make on consumers.

 

It’s funny that we’ve been able to use moments that feel so personal to shape the business part of our lives—creating cohesive, comprehensive consumer experiences in retail, hospitality, restaurant, and workplace. It’s the personal-meets-business ethos that we live by and what makes us who we are.

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