Hofsas House: Eat, swim, stay, repeat
By Kathy Chin Leong
As we motor into Carmel-by-the-Sea, my 81-year-old mother and I gingerly putt-putt our way down San Carlos Street, hoping to pick out Hofsas House out of the soldier lineup of independent inns. And there it is, all dressed in its pink glory with shingled rooftops and overhangs, reminiscent of an alpine ski chalet.
The signature baby pink exterior with a mural of joyful men and women in Bavarian garb is an unforgettable sight when driving to the classic lodge built in 1957. The mural was created back then by artist Maxine Albro who also painted the mural in San Francisco’s Coit Tower. Inside the lobby, you’ll unmine more works by the famed master who once worked alongside controversial artist Diego Rivera. I witnessed local artist Marie Claire, dressing the part in an old-fashioned German dress touching up the outside mural with great care. In reference to art, owner Carrie Thesis observes, “Carmel is and always has been an artistic community, and we are a unique village in a forest by the sea.”
ALL ABOUT FAMILY
Unlike the others along hotel row, this one is family-owned after three generations. Carrie happens to be one of the Hofsas’ granddaughters who manages the place and fondly remembers coming here as a little girl to play as well as to help out. The 37-room, four-story hotel maintains that European aesthetic with antique furnishings, a continental breakfast, free newspapers for literary indulgence, and fireplaces in 15 rooms. After two nights, I would summarize my visit by saying Hofsas House is a cozy and clean, two-to-three-star inn with genteel hospitality. And we all need soft landings these days, am I right? And while travelers are nervous about germs in this COVID-19 era, the inn features no enclosed hallways, and so you don’t have to worry about being inside a closed off area and sharing air space with strangers. All the rooms face the outdoors.
No elevators exist, so again, you don’t have to fret. You won’t catch any aerosol droplets from other guests. If you sojourning with a buddy saddled with walking issues, nab a room on the first floor to avoid stairs. My elderly mom did, however, trudge up to the fourth floor which is actually good exercise for her.
When you require solace, Hofsas House fills the bill. The neighborhood remains ultra quiet. No wild bachelorette parties happening here! Your stress remedy is to take in views of the ocean and trees which is easily accomplished on the third and fourth floor balconies. This family-friendly property means you are welcome to bring your kids and grandkids, aunts, uncle, and grandparents. No snooty hotelier will snub you with the evil eye when you haul in your inflatable ducky floatation devices. Rates are excellent and range between $145 for a single queen bedroom during the mid-week and $300 for a two bedroom, two bath suite.
Have pets? No worries. This pet-friendly space lets guests bring their pooches for a minimal charge each night. Unless they are in a carrier, pets cannot be left alone in the rooms.
Each of the hotels rooms are decorated differently, stresses Theis. They are simply furnished, coming equipped with everything you need. Our Deluxe King Suite featured a fireplace, king bed, kitchenette, armoire with a small TV, and mirrored dressing table. I was happy to find an iron and ironing board so I could press my dress before going out for dinner. The room offered a sturdy luggage stand, plush towels, free wireless Internet, and plenty of outlets to support my electronic doodads. Behind the windows clad with white wood shutters, Mom and I enjoyed time together, finding space in this roomy suite to perform our daily Chi Gong exercises. The dark green carpet and dark wood furnishings, did, however, make the room feel darker than I would have liked.
August, September, and October represent peak months to come to Carmel as the fog and clouds ift by 11 a.m., and if you are lucky, the clouds will open up as a curtain to reveal sunshine rays by 10 a.m. The inn offers a swimming pool, but we were so busy shopping and eating that we bypassed this gem. I know that if I came with children, they would be able to burn off energy and indulge themselves by splashing and swimming about. This is certainly a bonus as no one is allowed in public pools at this time. The Hofsas’ pool and surrounding patio was recently refurbished, so the area looks quite inviting with lawn chairs and greenery tucked on the edges. Adjacent is a pool house you can rent for events and larger gatherings.
At 8 a.m. breakfast is available in the lobby. During this nasty COVID-19 season, each of the sweet treasures of croissants and muffins and fruit pastries is wrapped individually. The baked goods, by the way, are fresh daily, and prepared by Paris Bakery in Monterey, so you are treated to flaky, delicious fare, not something out of a package. Carry a tray of coffee, orange juice, tea, baked goods, yogurt, and fruit up to your room, and you will be amply satiated from this hearty continental breakfast. In pre-Covid days, guests mingled in the lobby living room in the mornings, and hopefully that tradition will return.
The location of the hotel couldn’t be grander. About four blocks from the downtown core, you get the best of both worlds. You get peace since few visitors stroll by. And at the same time, you can walk to access galleries, restaurants, and shops within minutes. Burn a few calories by locking in your daily huffing-and-puffing, run to the beach, less than a mile away. Here’s another benefit to the location: you don’t have to repark every two hours because you can leave your car in the hotel’s free parking lot. And at night, when all is well, you can listen to the rolling of the waves in the distance which will lull you into quality slumber.
According to Theis, the inn truly caters to leisure travelers, about 95 percent in fact. She stresses that what makes Hofsas House stand apart from the pack is the fact that the staff derives great pleasure in curating activities and suggesting one-of-a-kind spots to dine and visit. It partners with places such as Lugano’s Swiss Bistro, so if you want to extend your faux European vacation with authentic European meals, you can.
STATE OF THE CITY
In the past month, Carmel’s stores and restaurants have reopened. Face masks are required, and if you don’t wear one while walking in town, you face a $100 minimum fine. Signs are posted everywhere. Dining is outdoors, and plenty of eateries are available for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The beach is open too, but visitors can only use Ocean Beach for exercise purposes. Posters warn that people cannot picnic or lounge on the sand. However, I did see many families violating this rule. It was gratifying to know that all this time since the pandemic, Hofsas House never stopped operations. Theis did not lay off her staff, and she felt it important to keep everyone employed. Such hospitality and value for people is aimed at both guests and employees.
Getting stir-crazy? Can’t get to Europe? Carmel-by-the-Sea’s flower boxes and thatched roofs and quaint cafes and wine rooms are less than a three-hour drive from the Bay Area. The antidote for COVID fog? A weekend in a European village by the sea. And let Hofsas House greet you with Bavarian hospitality and a plate of fresh-baked pastries.
Hofsas House Hotel
Between 3rd and 4th Ave. on San Carlos Street
Rates: $145 to $300