The girls and I are road-tripping around California again, our second such road trip of the calendar year. The destination this time looks a lot like the destination back in January: Southern California. Then we crammed the trip into five days. This time we’re stretching it out into eight.
That means we get some extra time to take things more slowly than usual. Which means a few extra nights on the back end in Santa Monica to see a good friend and meet his new lady.
It also explains why we spent our first night crashing in a hotel less than a half-day drive from our home.
The hotel, however, was well worth the stop: The Harris Ranch Inn, just outside of Coalinga, smack in the middle of the Central Valley.
If I wasn’t a travel writer, this is the part of the post where I’d call the HRI one of the “best-kept secrets in the Central Valley,” or a “hidden gem.” But because phrases like that make my skin crawl, I’ll put it differently: THIS HOTEL IS THE BOMB, especially if you’re traveling with kids.
The Harris family has developed an incredible piece of property with top-notch restaurants, a swanky hotel, and a pool that rivals some of the best pools in Las Vegas.
We experienced all three amenities during our stay. Most impressive was the pool. After arriving around 3 p.m., we spent our first few hours lounging in and by the fabulous water. The air was a balmy 105 degrees, so the pool really was our only option. It was so hot it hurt our feet to walk on the pavement without flip-flops. That made the water feel even better.
We also had dinner at the more casual of the two restaurants in the main building – the Ranch Kitchen. My girls, pasta aficionados, repeatedly said how the penne-with-butter-sauce was the best pasta they’d ever tasted. I thought they were exaggerating. Then I checked their bowls: empty! Even the fruit cup was unique—it contained pieces of a version of Kiss Melon that was developed for the Harris ranch and is only available there on the ranch. The kids could eat it fast enough.
Of course the girls also enjoyed our spacious room. We had a second-story corner unit with two queens, a small sitting area, and a balcony. I’m not used to staying in such luxurious digs when I road-trip; for me, it’s typically Motel 6 or Travelodge. One of the best things about the Harris Ranch Inn: It’s not much more expensive than that.
Most people—millions of people annually, I’m sure—drive right by this place and probably don’t even realize there are swanky restaurants and a fancypants hotel there. To be honest, I’m guessing many people know Harris Ranch because of “the smell.” The place is a working cattle ranch, which means a) There’s always a lot of manure, and b) They’re slaughtering cows, which can be stinky in its own right.
My wife and I, however, have a bit of a stronger connection to the place; a connection that goes back to when we first became parents.
Back in 2009, when L, our oldest, was just a baby, Powerwoman and I took a road trip to L.A. to attend a friend’s wedding. On the way down, my wife had to feed the baby, but the heat rendered our strategy of nursing in the idling car impossible. We were searching for a place where she could go inside and be cool while she nursed. We found that place in the Harris Ranch Inn.
Nobody bothered us while we sat in a corner of the lobby and quietly did our business. Afterward, I peeked around, marveling at the pool and the hotel grounds and thinking to myself: Someday I’ll stay here.
That someday was this week. I can’t wait to go back.