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Places and Things to Visit In Avila Beach and the Surrounding Areas

Camping

For travelers that like to rough it a little more Avila has RV camping and dry camping right by the San Luis Harbor Pier. You just drive a little further on the same road that brings you into Avila, and it will be on your left. You can’t get any closer to nature. If you time your trip just right, you will be able to enjoy your morning coffee while you watch humpback whales breach. In 2012 and 2014 they even came right into the harbor.

There are full hookups for RVs. Prices are $40-$65 per night. They have now built a laundry room, shower room, and bathrooms. They also have an on site camp host. If you have a fear about having to drive all the way into town if you forgot something no need to worry, there is a port store with the majority of supplies someone might need. They can even launch your boat with a crane. Camping info can be found http://www.portsanluis.com/services/#rv-camping

Hartford Pier

What I might tell you might sound like a mistake but I assure you it is true and not a prank. The Hartford pier was built in 1878 by John Hartford. It is 1,320 feet long, and you can drive on it. Trust me I have done it. You will not fall through the boards. There are even about 10 parking spots towards the end of the pier to park.

This pier holds some of the best memories of my childhood. I remember crab fishing off of the lower levels late a night with my mom. We did not catch anything. My father gave me photography lessons on how to frame the boats correctly while standing on the pier. I even gave my daughters and son a close encounter with their first seal.

Patriot Sportfishing

If you decide to walk the whole thing, you will probably realize about halfway through that the pier is much longer than it looks. Half way up on the left there is Patriot Sportfishing which is a bait shop, a place that you can book charter fishing and whale watching. It is fun to look at and see what is biting for the day. If you are interested in fishing, you can do so from the end of the pier with no fishing license needed. In the Spring, you can catch halibut, salmon, and mackerel. In the Summer and Fall rockfish, sharks, and barracudas. Even if you do not fish it is fun just to see what they are catching at the end of the piers. You can also fish from San Luis Pier in Avila without a license.

As you walk the pier who will probably hear the honking of the seals. There is a barge to the left as you are walking up that they will sometimes all gather up on, or if look over the sides of the rails or down the steps, you will can see them sunning themselves on the bottom decks. If the steps are locked that is usually a good sign there are seals down there. I had my girls look down the steps when I heard a close honk and there sitting three steps away was a seal just looking up at us with its big brown eyes. You do not want to get any closer than that trust me. I once had a very close encounter at Montana De Oro with an elephant seal.

Olde Port Fisheries and Petes Pierside cafe

There are two restaurants on the Hartford Pier the Olde Port Fisheries and Petes Pierside Cafe. I have only ever eaten at the Olde Port Fisheries and a place that is just off the pier in the parking lot Fat Cats, and they are both very good. The seafood is fresh and very good. There are fishing vessels that make port to deliver fresh catches to the restaurants and to also sell their catches. If you show up when these boats come in you can see some great ocean life. The boats will often clean their catches and throw the entrails and other pieces off the boat while it is docked. There will often be dolphins, otters, seals, sharks (not great whites, but like leopard sharks) hanging around looking for scraps. It is just a fun thing to see.

Whale Watching

This past year 2014 and I believe in 2012 the humpback whales came into San Luis Harbor and breached right there. Humpbacks, orcas and sometimes gray whales come through the area multiple times a year. You can still see them from afar or with binoculars but barely. Rarely do they come right into the harbor but when they do WOW! There are charters that will take you out where they run.

Avila Valley Barn
560 Avila Beach Drive,
San Luis Obispo, CA 93405
PH 805-595-2816

If you have kids then, this place is a blast. It is something that they can really get involved with. They have farm animals they can pet and feed. You can pick your own vegetables and they have a deli. It’s just something that everyone can do that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.

San Luis Obispo Area

SLO as the locals call it is only a hop over from Avila. They are basically the same city.

San Luis Obispo Farmers Market

6pm-9pm Thursday Nights SLO on Higuera Street

Every Thursday night from 6pm-9pm is the San Luis Obispo Farmers Market. This is the type of farmer’s markets I grew up with, I never knew anything different. When I came to the Midwest, I realized that people in California really do things differently and that farmers markets do not last all year long. In addition, I thought all Farmers Markets were like mini festivals.

At 6pm on Thursdays traffic is shut down on Higuera St and the shops all stay open. The festival like atmosphere begins. One end of the street is dedicated to produce, and the other end showcases the local merchants and restaurants. Many times the festivities spill onto side streets with bands and performing artists like face painters or cartoonists. Movies have even been played on the side of buildings for people to enjoy. If you are enjoying the farmers market be sure to walk over to the Mission San Luis Obispo. It is a beautiful nature area that is lovely to sit in and enjoy. There are several restaurants and shops you can explore.

Bubblegum Alley

Possibly as early as the 1960s in a narrow alleyway right off Higuera street in SLO is Bubblegum Alley. No one knows exactly how it started, maybe a graduating rite of passage or a school rivalry, but either way it has grown and grown. It has become something that any person traveling through has to do as a way to make their mark on SLO. It is just as it sounds. People take pieces of chewed gum and leave it on the walls of the alley. Some even create art with theirs. It sounds gross but it’s kinda a neat thing to see. Stop in at Powell’s Sweet Shoppe for a gum ball and leave your mark. Just don’t think about the millions of germs that cover the walls, and you’ll be fine.

Madonna Inn
100 Madonna Road
San Luis Obispo, CA 93405
(805) 543-3000

This motel was named for Alex Madonna not the artist Madonna. What makes this motel such a site to see is the extreme extravagance on the inside. When my father used to ask where I wanted to go for my birthday dinner every year, I used to say Madonna Inn. Despite its quirky exterior, it is quite charming. Christmas time is where this place shines. Otherwise it is quite pink.

I remember walking in during the holidays and being taken away to another world. They had swags of gold dripping from the ceilings and Christmas trees peeked out of every nook and cranny. I even remember a bear swinging on a motorized swing from the ceiling. For a kid, it was an amazing site.

The males bathroom is one of the biggest tourists draw. You did read that right. The men’s bathroom is a tourist draw. Famous Hollywood set designer Harvey Allen Warren designed Madonna Inns rock waterfall urinal. It has become very famous, and many people stop just to see it. Now they have added a western theme bathroom with a copper urinal and the water comes from a water wheel. Women, all we have is a boring Victorian bathroom. I guess this is the one time the men have it better.

I have eaten at the Gold Rush Steak House and the Copper Cafe and I have enjoyed both. Although I have not eaten at either recently, my father and brother all still live in the area and eat there regularly. Interesting note all their rooms are different and named differently. If you are looking for something other than the same old hotel room then you may want to try a night here one time. Some of the rooms can be kind of crazy looking, but they are fun.

San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden
3450 Dairy Creek Road
Highway 1 in El Chorro Regional Park

Cleverly tucked away behind the El Chorro Regional Park is the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden. Admission is free, and they offer concerts, nature tours, kid activities, a garden shop and educational garden classes.

Pismo Beach State Park and Oceano Dunes Natural Preserve

Does anyone ever remember seeing Bugs Bunny in ‘Ali Baba Bunny’ popping from the earth proclaiming “Well here we are Pismo Beach and all the clams we can eat!” This is where he was talking about. Pismo Beach used to be the clam capital of the world but over harvesting and the sea otter have depleted almost all of them. They still hold the Clam Festival every year, but all the clams are brought in. However, that’s not the reason you should visit Pismo Beach.

The Dunes. If you have ever wondered what it would feel like to be in the Sahara, these dunes might be the closest most of us will ever get. These State Parks also have opportunities for scuba diving, surfing, wildlife viewing, horseback riding, hiking, ATVs, and camping.

Avila Beach and the surrounding areas have many things to offer visitors. It is one of my favorite places in the whole world. There is no happier place for me than Harbor Pier, Avila Beach and San Luis Obispo. If you have time take a turn off of San Luis Bay Drive onto See Canyon Drive and visit an Apple Orchard. You might just end up visiting the same orchard where I spent my youth sitting in the trees eating the apples and catching blue bellied lizards.

A Little Piece of Heaven – Avila Beach, CA

Avila Lighthouse Suites

Avila is almost smack dabbed in between Los Angeles (160 miles) and San Francisco (200 miles). Avila Beach used to have a large commercial fishing industry, but today there is more apple industry from the orchards and tourism.

Most of my childhood was spent running through my grandparent’s orchard in See Canyon right by Avila Beach. My cousins and I would head out their back door at breakfast time and not come back till night had fallen. We would return with dirt under our nails and stories to tell our grandparents about lizards, forts and adventures.

Avila holds many memories. On most days Morro Bay, Pismo Beach, and Montana De Oro were encased in fog Avila Beach would be sunny. The reason for this is because the beach is sheltered in San Luis Bay. Avila Beach faces south with a 600 foot elevation and with Point of San Luis on the west and Fossil Point on the east of the beach they help stop northwesterly winds. The mountains helps dissipate the fog early in the morning and make Avila warmer than other coastal California cities. It is called the Avila Bubble.

Some days we would walk along the shores of the beach with our heads hung down looking for sand dollars. I was lucky enough to be able to take that walk with my own children and find a sand dollar to share with them. They were amazed at these shells that were once alive. I enjoyed being able to show my children a wonder they never knew existed before. When I was a kid and the days got real hot, we would wander over to Avila Beach to enjoy the sand, sun, and the ocean. This also means in the summer when it is 80 degrees this was the first beach that was packed with people. I remember trying to walk over people and not find an inch of empty sand.

Avila Beach

Now today most of the Avila that I knew as a child is gone. The store fronts, houses, and businesses that made up the landscape have been replaced in one giant swipe of a bulldozer. The only original site that still greets everyone who pulls up to park on Front Street is the giant pinkish peach hotel with the giant letters that say Inn at Avila Beach.

Years ago a resident discovered oil and gas on his land when he started digging. Unocal had around five large containers perched on a hill right above Avila Beach with the pipeline running right under Front Street. Unocal discovered that the pipe started seeping crude oil under the city as far back as 1977 and did nothing about it. When it was discovered, Unocal had to accept responsibility and start the massive cleanup. No exact amounts of how many gallons of crude oil, were dumped in Avila Beach, the ecosystem of Avila and worse yet into the Pacific ocean, however, there have been numbers from 20,000 gallons upwards of 400,0000,000 million gallons. When they started digging, it was discovered that the pipes under the township were corroding. Six square blocks of private dwellings were demolished including historical houses, businesses that included several blocks of the iconic Front Street and Front Street buildings. Over 6,750 truckloads of contaminated material were taken away and had to be replaced with clean Guadalupe Dunes sand.

The town was rebuilt with brand new buildings, homes, and businesses. Modern walkways were put in with sea motifs and benches. A Sea Life Center welcomes visitors to explore local ocean creatures up close.

When I took my family to visit California two years ago, I wanted to stay someplace on the ocean so that I could enjoy the sounds and smells. I also wanted my children to know what it felt like to fall asleep with the ocean waves in the background, the saltiness of the ocean being wafted in and the occasional bark of a seal. That is why we chose the Avila Lighthouse Suites at Avila. However, if staying on the beach is not a priority I would also recommend staying at Avila Village Inn. It is not on the Ocean at all, but the accommodations are amazing, and the staff is friendly. If you are looking for a little piece of heaven away from the hub bub of the tourist area, Avila Village Inn could work for you.

Avila Lighthouse Suites
550 Front Street,
Avila Beach, CA 93424
Phone – 805-627-1900

I didn’t feel the need to make reservations for a place to stay because I knew all the hotels pretty well. I know there are a lot of great ones in San Luis Obispo County. If I couldn’t find one in Avila Beach we could have easily gone south a little bit to Pismo Beach, or north to Morro Bay. It was the off season, so I felt pretty good about our chances. My mom had grown up in Avila and graduated from Arroyo Grande High School so I asked her where we should go, and she immediately said the Avila Lighthouse Suites

***FYI Zac Efron also graduated from Arroyo Grande High School – my daughters were excited at the thought the he might be around the area, he wasn’t.

We did splurge on the Villa Suite. The reason for this was two fold.

  1. We had spent two weeks traveling over 2500 miles with our three children in a mini van across the United States, and we needed to spread out a little and pamper ourselves.
  1. When we looked at the price difference between the Suites and the Villas, it was only about $100 difference maybe a little more. The extra room we got, the quiet, and the view was worth it. Overall the same level of room anywhere else in California would well be double what we paid.

The outside of the building is nice. At first one might think that they had wandered into a vacation condo community. It has a very relaxed feel. The courtyard and outside was clean, and that is always a good sign. The lobby had the feel of a country club. You immediately smile and feel lighter and brighter. It has an all nautical and lighthouse feel, but not done kitschy.

Balcony

Each Villa has a nice balcony, but ours overlooked the pool area. In Avila there is not really any hotels that are smack dab on the beach with nothing in their way. However, at this hotel the Deluxe Oceanfront Master Suite may be the only rooms in Avila that is the closest to being right on the ocean. I can’t say for sure, but it looked like it might be.

The balconies are nice just to sit outside on and listen to the ocean, the sites and the sounds. I did enjoy sitting on the balcony while my teenage daughters were in the pool. They are “too cool” to have mom sitting next to them, so I was able to keep an eye on them from the balcony.

The Pool

I am jumping to the pool before the room to make a quick point. It might seem silly to have a pool when the ocean is right there. The ocean is natures pool. When we came into California, my daughters were adamant about swimming in the ocean. I told them it was nothing like Lake Michigan. It was salty, cold, there was seaweed, animals, rip currents, and waves that could knock you on your tookis. They were not deterred, and away they went. They stayed out there longer than I expected. Until a family of curious seals started getting close, circling them and then darting around their legs. You would have thought Jaws himself had been seen. It was then that I was very happy to have a pool for my girls to enjoy peacefully. In addition, my 3-year-old son was not interested in going into the ocean but he did enjoy the pool. The pool and pool area was clean and fenced. It was properly maintained and a great place to spend some time.

The Room

The Villa Suites are about 1100 square feet and compromise of two bedrooms and two bathrooms. It also has a living room with a fireplace and a pull out queen size bed. The master bedroom features a King size bed, a fireplace and a private bathroom. The second bedroom has two Queen beds. The room also featured a wet bar, microwave and fridge along with the standard coffee maker, hair dryer, 37″ flat screen TVs, and WIFI. They do have nice Bath & Body works toiletries in the bathroom for guests which us three girls all enjoyed.

When we checked in are daughters were treated with beach toys by their beds. Not sure if this is for everyone or if they put them in there when we told them our kids had never been to a the beach before. They enjoyed playing with the beach ball and my son enjoyed using the shovel and pail in the sand. It was a nice touch.

The décor is beach driven and the colors are calming. It is current and not over done. Does it feel cutting edge? No, but it doesn’t feel stale or like a cookie cutter hotel. It feels like someone put some thought into the room décor. When you come in from a day at the beach, your room keeps you in the vacation mindset. Some hotels have rooms that make you feel like you are in any hotel in any city in the world. I appreciated still feeling like I was in California in Avila Beach.

Avila Lighthouse Suites has three different rooms types, and each has their benefits. Some rooms have a full-size refrigerators in them, which makes it easier to not eat out for every meal. The staff was very helpful in putting us in a room that would make us happy. When talking to them about booking your room tell them exactly what you want. For example, I don’t want any car noise, or I don’t want to be around families, and they will do what they can to accommodate you.

The Bed

The bed was comfortable, and the bedding was nice. It wasn’t super luxurious, but it wasn’t rock hard. It was clean and a not stained. I guess when you think of things that blew you away about your stay the bed wouldn’t pop up in your head but if someone asked what could be improved the bed wouldn’t pop up there either.

The Staff

The front desk clerk was very helpful at making sure the room we were picking out was right for our family. I didn’t run into anyone that was unpleasant to deal with they were all happy to help.

The Spa

The Spa at Avila Lighthouse Suites does treatments in your room or in their spa. My husband decided that after 2500 miles I could indulge a little and get a massage, so he took the kids out, and I booked an in room massage. I chose an in room because then I could lay right down after and catch a nap. No getting dressed after and no walking back to the room. I requested a woman obviously, and they were happy to oblige. I got the Pas De Duex massage which was pricey, but you are getting two massage therapists instead of one, so it’s really like an 180-minute massage. The two therapists work together and massage at the same time. It can be done for 90 or 60 minutes. I went for 90 minutes. It was amazing. One of the best massages of my life. I was really glad to have had it done in my room because after they were done, and I got off the massage table I went right to bed and slept for 30 minutes.

The star of this hotel is the available pool for anyone that doesn’t want to swim in the ocean, the calmness of the décor, the in room spa treatments, the price for the rooms, and the overall room. My whole family really enjoyed the experience.

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Discover The Beauty Of Monterey, CA

Monterey Plaza Hotel and Spa

As I grew up in California, some of my fondest memories were the trips I took with my father up Highway 1 to Monterey. For many sections highway 1 runs right along the coast, with the ocean on one side and in some cases cliffs on the other. I would often sit transfixed to the window watching the ocean for signs of whales, dolphins, surfers, boats and more. Even just the changes in the blue of the ocean or the way the fog would suddenly appear over the crest of a hill obscuring the rocks gave an other worldly feel.

Even as a kid every trip to Cannery Row felt like it was the first. As an adult, I had the pleasure of introducing my very Midwestern husband to Monterey. We only had a few days in November to spend in California and Monterey was the first place I wanted to take him. Living on Lake Michigan we had a 16-year debate about the fact that Lake Michigan does not, in fact, have “waves”. I looked forward to having him hear the sound of the waves crashing on the beach, smelling the salt of the ocean, seeing the seals playing in the kelp, and watching the pelicans dive into the water.

Years later we were able to take our three children to Monterey and share the experience with them. These were some of the best and most memorable places for my husband, my children and myself.

Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa

We checked into the Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa without any reservations. Of course walking in during an off month allowed us some privileges. We were able to walk in and receive a great rate.   Being that I have been landlocked for the last 20 years, I was excited to go to sleep that night with the sound of the ocean in the background so we took an ocean view room.

The Balcony

Stepping out on the balcony the first time can be a bit off putting as they are built directly over the water. You have to peer over the sides of the balcony to see the waves lapping the shores. Sitting on your balcony you have the perfect vantage point to view all the ocean life that is quite literally right out your door.

The Room

The room is very comfortable with 400 square feet, clean and well decorated. Unfortunately, my husband has lived in the Midwest his whole life, and he had never been exposed to prices in a tourist town in California. However, for Monterey and the level of luxury you receive at the Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa the prices are reasonable. The room comes with Biedermeier-style furniture, custom crown molding, carpets drapes, and artwork. The bathroom was large and clean. Each room also has wired internet, WIFI, and the customary hair dryer, iron, ironing board, coffee maker, telephones, personal computer/fax data port, air conditioning, LCD flat TV, and complimentary daily newspaper. Each room also has microfibre spa robes which felt amazing.

The Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa has numerous different room options for guests to chose from. For obvious reasons, I suggest the ocean view room with a balcony on a top floor away from any events that may be occurring in the halls down below.

The Bed

When it comes to booking a hotel room, I will overlook many things in exchange for a ridiculously comfortable bed. However, a huge luxurious room cannot make up for an incredibly rock hard and uncomfortable bed. This was not one of those cases. The bed was a down feather bed and was lovely. The hotel comes in and does a nightly turn down service which gives the hotel a personal boutique feeling.

The Staff

Usually, when you travel you find a hotel that is staffed with pleasant people from check in to check out. Rarely, however you find a hotel that has a staff that is a treat to deal with in every way. The Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa staff was indeed a treat. Any request we had they filled and they did it with a genuine smile. When we called for extra towels you didn’t feel like you were a bother. They made you feel like you were a valued guest.

When we went back to Monterey years later with our children, we decided to go back to the Monterey Plaza Hotel. The staff was nice enough to let us know that we could get rooms that connected. It allowed our teenage daughters to have their own room and we could have ours, which was nice after a day together. It is rare to find modern hotels that still offer that feature.

Dining

There are several dining options at the hotel. We dined at the Schooners Coastal Kitchen & Bar. The food was excellent, and the service was equally as excellent. As one might expect from a coastal town, the seafood was fresh, and they are committed to sustainable seafood. I would like to say we tried room service, but we didn’t. With my husband being such a fan of seafood, it was too tempting to have him try as many different restaurants as possible.

The real star of the hotel in my eyes is the balconies overlooking the oceans, the beds, and the hospitable staff who go above and beyond for their guests.

 

Places to Visit In Monterey

One cannot go to Monterey without visiting a few key places. Of course as with any city there is the obligatory tourist shops but within those are the gems.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

The aquarium is a must see. Even if you have been there before they are constantly evolving their exhibits so you are always sure to see something new. This is also one of the few aquariums in the world to do several things like holding the ocean sunfish in captivity, and to exhibit the bluefin and yellowfin tuna.

Ghirardelli Chocolate Shop

I loved this shop. It had some of the best hot chocolate I have ever had in my entire life. I know the shop isn’t a Monterey specific shop but still I loved just sitting there by the ocean sipping that hot chocolate.

Monterey Mirror Maze and Lazer Challenge

Not attempted by my husband or myself but years later when we took our three children back to Monterey both our daughters went through the Mirror Maze and Lazer Challenge. They had a blast trying to out do each other on the Lazer Challenge. The Lazer Challenge is basically where a person tries to get from point A to point B without triggering the web of lasers blocking their path. What is especially cool about the Lazer Challenge is that the person with the best time each month gets a cool prize. I believe the prize the month we went was an MP3 player. Our daughters did not win, but they had a blast.

Zfolio Gallery

Granted this is a place you don’t want to take the kids and is probably a place that many can’t afford to buy much from, but the work is exquisite. If you only just peak in the window to look at the beauty of the work, it is worth it. The artistry is magnificent.

A Taste of Monterey Wine Market & Bistro

I am not a wine enthusiast. However, my husband is, and he wasn’t going to leave California without enjoying California wine. We stopped into A Taste of Monterey. The view was beautiful, but the service was what got our attention. When we walked in my husband was already picking out which wines he wanted to try. The lady who helped us listened very closely to what I didn’t like about wine and then had me try California made Rieslings. I was very surprised to find I enjoyed them. We ended up buying a few bottles to bring home. I recommend visiting them because of their vast knowledge and the fact that they promote local wines and wineries.

Monterey is a treat to visit and everyone should go there at least once in their life. I hope this little guide helps you find your gems in your trip.

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Best Western Beach Dunes InnThe Best Western Beach Dunes Inn offers a quiet and beautiful setting at the gateway to the Monterey Peninsula and all of its varied attractions. Located steps from the ocean through the famous Monterrey …

Comfort Inn Marina Marina CA, USA

Comfort Inn MarinaThe Comfort Inn® hotel is conveniently located within walking distance from the beach. This Marina hotel is minutes from popular attractions like the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Cannery Row, Carmel, Pebble …

Holiday Inn Express Hotel and Suites Marina CA, USA

Holiday Inn Express Hotel and SuitesLocated in picturesque Marina, CA., and adjacent to the Pacific Ocean, this 46,000 square-foot hotel is just minutes from local beaches, golf courses and the Cal State University Monterey Bay and The Monterey …

Best Western La Posada Motel
Fillmore
CA, USA

Best Western La Posada MotelThe Best Western La Posada Motel has 49 spacious rooms with color television and air-conditioning. Our facility features an outdoor pool, hot tub, and a friendly staff ready to assist you with your needs. For the best in hospitality, stay with the Best Western La Posada Motel.

Locations of resorts near Carpinteria, CA, USA

Solimar Sands Carpinteria CA, USA

Solimar SandsSOLIMAR SANDS offers the finest weekly and monthly condominium rentals. Located in the charming, seaside town of Carpinteria, California, this small complex is directly across the street from the beach …

Coastal Escapes Carpinteria CA, USA

Coastal EscapesCoastal Escapes can help! We handle many vacation rentals as well as represent all hotels in the region. We’re a FREE reservation service to help you find the best place for you to stay! We listen …

Casa Del Sol Motel Carpinteria CA, USA

Casa Del Sol MotelCasa Del Sol offers clean and comfortable accommodations for every traveler, whether you just need a place to stop for the night or have made us your vacation destination. Relax by our swimming pool, or …

Sandyland Reef Inn Carpinteria CA, USA

Sandyland Reef Inn2 minutes to nearby beaches; 10 minutes to Santa Barbara; Jet-therapy spa; Swimming pool; Some rooms with kitchens; 24-hour direct-dial phones; Color TV with HBO; Guest laundry facilities; Electronic …