.Doing Joie de Vivre

Make Reservations, Not War—GT writers forget about you life and travel on the fringe with these stellar hotel spots

Editor’s Note: Click off CNN’s “The War Show”, grab your car keys and get out of town. We did. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to decipher this week’s cover story—it’s fun, informative and geared to give you a guide for quick weekend getaways, places near Santa Cruz County that are relatively affordable and, hopefully, nurturing. From the upscale elegance of Hotel Drisco in San Francisco to the rustic backroads of Big Sur, GT’s mini-guide boasts some great escapes. Now get packin’ …

The Joie de Vivre Experience


Costanoa, San Francisco’s Hotel Drisco and Hotel Los Gatos

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You’re 26 years old. You’re passionate. You’ve got ideas and you want to launch a new project. Chic, hip, cutting-edge—you want your baby to embody all these things and more. You begin in Emerald City—San Francisco—a city with that already has enough savoir fair but hey, you’re pretty dynamic … in your mind you see a vacancy sign flashing outside the hospitality industry’s creative motel. Why not push the envelope; revolutionize hospitality as people know it?

You do.

You’re first hotel is christened The Phoenix in 1993 and out of the ashes of dead hotel concepts arises a brilliant idea: themed venues mindfully coiffured to specific niche markets. The Phoenix absorbs all that is rock ’n’ roll—the glam, the synergy, that oblique attitude—and becomes a landmark. It also generates a buzz worthy of attracting a gaggle of celebrities. San Frans love it. Then the rest of America catches on and, honey … now you’re in for a ride. R is for Reservations. Guess what? People make them.

In one decade, you give birth to 21 boutique motels, two day spas and a luxury coastal lodge and camp. Each establishment stand out. From Aqua in Marin—a posh palace that sits right at edge of the ocean, boasts an East meets West mentality and smacks of simplicity, and, oh yes, water—to the cinema-themed Hotel Bijou in San Francisco, you’re definitely making a mark. So it makes sense you would name your enterprise Joie de Vivre—Joy of Life.  You experience that, though. That’s you. You’re Chip Conley. And you’re just getting started.

I hadn’t yet spoken to Chip Conley, founder and CEO of Joie de Vivre Hospitality, when I checked into Costanoa late on a Friday night in December. But did I bring some old bags. They were under my eyes.

The research I had done on Conley beforehand stood out however. So did his remarks about the Joie de Vivre concept: “We focus on the ‘psychographics’ versus the demographics,” he’d once said. I got it. Basically, he and his company were not so much “selling sleep” as they were “ … in the business of creating dreams.”

I found this to be true during my entire stay at Costanoa, situated just an elephant seal’s cry north of Año Nuevo Stare Reserve on Highway 1. (About 25-minute ride from Santa Cruz.) For one thing, I didn’t want to leave. The best thing about my stay? (OK, it wasn’t the best thing, but it ranked up there.) None of the Costanoa’s accommodations have television sets. Better still, cell phone service is cut off. (Don’t freak out—it’s really not the return of the Dark Ages—life does exist outside the Cingular Wireless bubble, I promise you!)

The bottom line: Variety stands out at Costanoa and it boasts one of the more unique concepts I’ve seen.  Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, across Highway 1, it’s surrounded by four state parks, a thriving wildlife reserve and, remarkably so, 30,000 acres of foot trails. The Ohlone Indians once trekked the area and if you take one of the many hikes offered by a well-informed, happy chap named Oscar, you’ll learn a great deal of history of the area as well. For instance, did you know that legend suggests—and Oscar—that the Ohlone’s were very superstitious and often disguised their faces after the death of loved ones for fear they would return from the dead, search out the people they once knew and lure them into the afterlife. Or, that Spanish settlers in the XXXX dubbed the area along the California coast, Costanoa? These trivia notes massage the brain during a hike—411 to file away. Costanoa also offers Mountain bike rentals, spa treatments, catered events, a children’s play area, barbecue areas and a general store complete with a restaurant with a phenomenal chef.

Accommodations boast just as much variety. Check online at www.costanoa.com for package deals, because I found there were plenty of options to choose from. You want to bring your RV? Costanoa has spots for you. You want to pitch a tent? This is the place. You want to enjoy the peace of a single-unit cabin with a fireplace, and a deck overlooking the vast expanse of rolling hills? It’s here. Craving a bit of Tahoe? Costanoa’s rustic yet very deluxe lodge accommodations are the perfect answer.

Of interesting note, are the Outer Pine Canvas Cabin, Pine Village Canvas Cabins and Coastal Canvas Cabins. Think upscale camping and toss in a comfort station where you can shower and primp. Some of these tents come complete with a bedspread, heated mattress pas, safari netting, down bedding, locking doors and windows. Situated between clusters of pine trees, these tents may be the best bets if you are on a tight budget. Cost: $70-$105.

Higher-end luxury can be found in the Lodge, where the spa is also located. (I highly recommend Costanoa’s sports massage and a dip in the Jacuzzi, especially at night when the stars are as vibrant and full as the diamonds around Liz Taylor’s aging neck.) The lodge accommodations can be an ideal spot for lovers who want to bask in a weekend of peace and renewal. When I entered the lodge, I found a lobby with chairs and a fireplace—great for just chilling out.  Fireplaces are the ideal touch in the  Lodge rooms, which also house sunken tubs and, I thought, remarkably comfortable beds. Prices here range from $205 to $240, but again, check the Web site for deals. Sometimes you can find a 50 percent off package or a weekend special.

The cabins located across a grassy courtyard from the lodge beckoned the writer within. Upon inspection, I deemed one of the spacious cabins—which also have a fireplace—the next spot to pen my next novel. Occupants of these cabins will share comfort stations as well, which is a short walking distance away. In fact, one the most interesting things about these stations are that the floors inside are heated. Slippers off, you’re feet will still be warm.  The Douglas Fir Cabin King and Double at $175.

For open campsites, water and electricity is provided. For a recreation vehicle, your cost is $40. Want to pitch your tent? That’s $30.

If you’re a Silicon Valley exec or corporate guru completed captivated with this article, here’s your chance to shine with your employees. There’s meeting and events space here. But look at the delicious smorgasbord of activities that can be arranged, depending on the season of course: kids camp, Native American storytelling, Adventure Weekend packages, horseback riding—for your inner Sagittarian—petting zoo, stargazing hikes, llama hikes, kayaking and—get this—personal growth workshops. Call (650) 879-2138 for more details.

As for my stay, well, I was enthralled by Oscar’s great mile and half hike around the area and soaked up that Ohlone Indian folklore. Later, I was delighted to get a mocha chai with whipped cream at the General Store—bless the fine woman who succumbed to my Starbucks mentality. The food here was surprisingly fresh and delicious. I ordered a big salad from the deli case and a side of fancy green beans. I also noticed main course dishes such as salmon. Although Continental Breakfasts are offered with most packages, the eggs prepared on site looked delicious. There’s plenty of wine on hand, too. In the adjacent gift shop. I grabbed a bottle of red and trekked back to balcony of the lodge room I was staying in. I popped the cork, poured myself a glass, and took a sip, fully allowing it to romance my taste buds.  The Gods were on my side this weekend—just a thin stream of clouds around, nothing else. As the world above me turned powdery orange, mixing with the already azure-purple canvas of the heavens, I sat back in the deck chair and watched the sun dip into the ocean. It was one of this clear, warm winter California dusks, and the only thing to do was just let go and bathe in all this peace around me. Well, that, and maybe pull out the laptop. This was one place I had to write about.
The Hotel Drisco

I still hadn’t spoken to Chip Conley when I perused the Hotel Drisco in San Francisco. In time, I thought. In the meantime, there was The Hotel Drisco, located right in the heart of San Francisco’s upscale Pacific Heights area, on Broderick and Pacific Streets. The view from the one of the City View Suites on the fourth floor overlooked everything south—Twin Peaks, the Civic Center, the rolling hills dropping into the south bay. And the views themselves are stunning. The room I was in was eye candy—elegant chairs, a comfortable sofa, a desk opposite the king-sized bed, an armoire that housed a TV, VCR, ironing board and white robes. The “E” word comes to mind—Elegance.

Built in 1903, a stay at the Drisco is a like a stay at your rich Aunt Thelma’s house. This is part of the allure. For one thing, the Drisco, unlike many hotels in big cities, doesn’t feel like it’s in a city. Once you step out of the lobby, you can take a stroll and admire all the pristine homes in area. Two blocks west, and you’re ready to enter the San Francisco Presidio. A few blocks north, and you’ll find yourself overlooking the best view of the Palace of Fine Arts.

I discovered that the Drisco is one of the newest members of Joie de Vivre, working its way into the mix just last month. Kudos to the staff, all of who were engaging, attentive and genuinely welcoming.

Things that stood out: Complimentary wine aperitif, continental breakfast, weekday towncar service to downtown, a morning newspaper. For fitness enthusiasts, there’s use of an in-house fitness room, but the hotel also offers free day passes to the Presidio’s YMCA Fitness Center. I’d recommend the YMCA and afterward, simply walk down to the beach and let your eyes devour the breathtaking view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Definitely upscale, this hotel is worth the price of the luxury it offers. Plan ahead and just accept that you deserve to be spoiled sometimes—now matter how much it costs you.

Hotel Los Gatos

“It dawned on me that magazines are a niche industry and people feel very connected to magazines. I felt that if people were connected to a certain magazine, they could also feel more connected to the place where they spend the night.”

That’s what Chip Conley told me about launching the hotel niche thing with Joie de Vivre in the early ’90s when I spoke with him on the phone. This was two days before Hotel Los Gatos took me under its spell and enchanted the hell out of me. It’s like this: Old Spanish Mediterranean Villa meets upscale California upscale thanks to über decorator Marni Leis and some damn fine architects. To think … a 25-minute jaunt over the hill and you’re in a whole new Mediterranean world.

The lobby of the Hotel Drisco is loaded with a beautiful mixture of colors, from the rose-red curtains spilling out onto the floor to the deep cherry and wood tones of pillows and sofas in front of the fireplace. Reading material on hand: an art book of Picasso; another on “Masters in Art.”

The hotel itself is separated into two buildings and each contains spacious conference rooms and welcoming lobbies. The building in the rear faces a lovely Spanish-tiled pool, Jacuzzi and fountain area with plenty of patio seating. The curtains in my deluxe room were dripping in shades of olive, gold, and Beverly Hills orange. A spacious shower—with room for two—was a nice touch. And a separate room for the toilet was even better. Other standouts: a sitting area for television viewing, an artsy desk, dining room table, mini foyer and a balcony.  Posh? Yes. But magnificent nonetheless.

The renowned Preston Wynne Spa is on the facilities and you should take advantage of it. I opted for the Earth Stone Massage (ask for Bryn)—it packed a spiritual punch and was downright transcendent. (Look for the Native-American style music I experienced during the session on Keeper of the Songs, by William Gutierrez of Toas, NM.) Manicures—for women and men— are on hand, as well as deluxe facials, pedicures and numerous specialty massages, from therapeutic sports massage to a lomi lomi Hawaiian touch. (The list of services is endless, really.)

After a rewarding dining experience at the popular Kuletos Restaurant within the hotel, a fine Italian eatery with a friendly staff, I debated on whether I should hunt down Lyle Lovett, who was staying at the hotel because he was in town performing and about a day away from musically attacking the Civic in Santa Cruz. I shrugged it off and decided to take a stroll into downtown Los Gatos—a must if you stay here—and then I ran into Mr. L! (Just kidding). As many Cruzans already know, there’s plenty of window shopping to do in Los Gatos—the area’s old art house movie theater and coffeehouse fair are enticing.

But Conley’s concept kept tugging at me while I was meandering around. The things he mentioned about Costanoa, for instance, permitted me to entertain the idea that he was quite the visionary that magazines like Newsweek, Time and countless others had pegged him to be: “I think there are a lot of people who love to connect with nature but the idea of doing a two-night camping trip for the weekend isn’t very appealing because when they go to work on Monday, they are going to have bloodshot eyes. Costanoa attracts those that are nature driven but who also like creature comforts.”

Then there were his comments about the Drisco, in San Francisco, which he and his creative team are still tweaking.

“Wouldn’t it be great if we had a fridge there stocked with stuff?” Conley enthusiastically mused. “ . . . and you could eat and drink stuff for free? That’s what mom would do.  It’s a great hotel. If you can’t afford a $5 million mansion, at least you can stay in one for the weekend.”

I thought of all these things as I wandered back into my little villa and attacked the snack bar—the chocolate biscotti are pretty divine, by the way. Notes in hand, I popped up my trustee laptop and began this article. Stumbling on some facts, I went online to do some more research on the company. In between scanning all of the Joie de Vivre hotels, I could hear Conley’s voice saying: “You are where you sleep.”

At the moment, my identity is totally Indonesian. Upon checking out the Web site for the Joie de Vivre managed Bali Spirit Hotel and Spa in Bali, (www.balispirithotel.com), I can’t take my eyes off the seemingly low price of a room. The special Internet deal for a Bali-esque room is only $80. And the Bali Spirit Double Massage? A mere $25.

Guess who’s calling in sick on Monday?


For more information about Joie de Vivre hotels, visit www.jdvhospitality.com. To learn more about Costanoa, log onto www.costanoa.com. To reach the Drisco Hotel, call (415) 346-2880. Hotel Los Gatos is located at 210 E. Main St. in Los Gatos: (408) 335-1700. Need a designer? Try Marni Leis, (415) 381-0859 or [email protected] Now, get out of town!


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