Homes Away from Home
Travel blogger Lesley Murphy of The Road Les Traveled and @lesleyannemurphy embarks on a trip up the California coast and into Nevada, stopping to rejuvenate at Ritz-Carlton properties along the way.
Define home. Is it an address? A feeling? Is it residing in the heart of another human being? To me, home is everywhere and nowhere. It lives within the walls of my family’s Arkansas home. It’s in my 2011 BMW, which has contained laughter, tears and Beyoncé jam sessions. It’s at 30,000 feet in window seat 6A. But more, perhaps, than anything else, home is a hotel where I unpack my belongings, avail myself of the amenities and sink into a luxurious bed at the end of a long day.
Most recently, “home” in the traditional sense is Los Angeles. It’s the first place I settled in since living out of a suitcase for three years. The weather is nice and the people are beautiful, but something’s been missing since I moved in a few weeks ago. Something intangible. So I got in my car and drove a few miles south to a familiar place, and checked in at The Ritz-Carlton, Los Angeles.
Thanks to L.A.’s notorious traffic congestion, I was late and knew the Club Lounge would be closed for dinner in 10 minutes. But I had an agenda: I headed straight to the 23rd floor to dine on finger sandwiches and tomato soup while the front desk sorted out my luggage. The sun was setting and I was right on time, exactly where I was meant to be.
“There’s nothing like a Club Lounge sunset.” –Tory, The Ritz-Carlton Club Lounge
Tory was like an old friend — warm smile, kind eyes. Talk turned to the topic of coffee, and he promptly offered to make me his specialty cup of joe, laced with Baileys. It was as if he knew me already and we’d just met. I think we’re always searching for that comforting feeling of belonging and being home.
Summer solstice was upon us, and I found it fitting to begin an unforgettable road trip with a close friend of mine. I’m all for solo travel, but something about adventuring with an old friend is good for the soul. Northern California was beckoning, but first I had my sights set on Santa Barbara.
The landscape changed from buildings and bumpers to water and lush greenery. The natural surroundings and man-made beauty melded seamlessly, and there it was in all its splendor: The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara. From the grand lobby to the white Mediterranean-style villas and immaculate landscaping, it was a sight for sore eyes. My friend Julie and I debated on what to do first. Girl talk over a bottle of Viognier on the patio? Beach walk? Bask by the pools? Lounge in the spa? It’s a really good day when these are your hardest decisions. We ultimately decided on the pool for a little hydrotherapy before heading to Angel Oak for dinner.
“I’m here to help you enliven your senses this evening.” –Eli, Angel Oak Restaurant
You only know the true power of the waitstaff when they change the way you read the menu. I’ll forever be in awe of Eli’s lyrical depiction of an heirloom tomato salad. I’d never tried bone marrow until Eli sang its praises, and now I know never to pass it up. Then there was the A5 Wagyu, the highest grade given to the finest Japanese beef that melts in the mouth. Humbler but no less important, on the table a basket held four plump cheesy rolls: high butter content, warm, fluffy, caloric. That’s Southern on a plate, transporting me back to Arkansas faster than you could bake a biscuit. Taking me home.
Half Moon Bay
A few miles south of San Francisco, nestled close to the redwoods, is a place straight from the pages of a fairy tale. I’d never ventured to this part of California before. After one glance at the views from a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, I was ashamed it had taken me 30 years to get there. Northern California and I were about to bond, especially as I was whisked away for a hot-stone massage the minute we checked in. Talk about royal treatment!
“Take a deep breath in and let it all go. Leave all your stress behind.” –Linda Romano, The Spa at The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay
I’ve been fortunate to experience many massages in my day — but never one quite like this. Linda and I talked for almost the entirety of the treatment as she absolved me of all knots, educating me on their origin. I walked away that day with more than just a rejuvenated state of mind.
Dinner reservations were made at The Conservatory, the perfect pre-party to our sunset fire pit. After kale salads, a cheese tower and full branzino, we took our replete selves to where the action was: seaside. If I could dream up a perfect night, it would be s’mores in front of a fire overlooking a stunning sunset with close friends by my side.
New day, different playlist. When we were about an hour outside of Tahoe, the scenery started to change. The canyon opened up to the jagged peaks of the Sierra Nevada and Carson ranges, firs and pines punctuating the landscape, and then we saw it: the lake below with its limpid blue water. Until this moment, I’d only seen Tahoe under cold layers of white powder as I skied its peaks and valleys. The snowless Tahoe, however, felt familiar. Ever since I was little, I've been drawn to lakes. Growing up in Arkansas, which is not exactly next to an ocean, my family always retreated to smaller bodies of water during summer. We tubed, wake-boarded, bobbed, made new friends, celebrated with old ones. The lake is always an invitation to be ourselves in our purest form. Maybe that’s why I was so drawn to Lake Tahoe during this road trip. Even though it looked different from Arkansas, I felt such a familiar sense of place here on this water.
“Please treat this as if it were your very own space. Welcome home.” –Andrew, Lake Club, The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe
The moment we hinted at being thirsty, Andrew materialized next to our lounge chairs with lemon-infused ice water. When we went paddle-boarding, he sprang into action to sort out our gear. When we began to pack our belongings, he was there with a snack for the short shuttle ride back to the hotel. Much admired but not easily replicated, The Ritz-Carlton service depends on its Ladies and Gentlemen, who go above and beyond the call of duty.
No matter where I am in the world, I know that peaceful, easy feeling (song lyrics aside) isn’t too far away with good company, exquisite taste, a comforting touch and a helping hand at The Ritz-Carlton. There truly is no place like home.
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