From Schooners to Spa, It’s All Stars at the Monterey Plaza Hotel
It might be the location on John Steinbeck’s immortal Cannery Row, or it might be the ambiance and atmosphere of sea-breezy luxury, but there is definitely a touch of magic at the Monterey Plaza Hotel.
Built in 1985 on a footprint of the historic cannery, with 1,000 linear feet of oceanfront property, it occupies four and a half acres of land – almost an entire city block – and sits practically on the water. At night, wrapped in a warm glow streaming from its windows, one of the hotel’s three buildings can pass for a docked cruise liner.
That’s how it looked from my room balcony, where I was nibbling on California cheese, admiring the Pacific sunset and the twinkling lights of Santa Cruz across Monterey Bay, and listening to the rhythmical rumble of waves down below.
I stayed for just one night, coming to the Monterey Plaza Hotel and Spa for its Schooners restaurant opening, but it seemed all the more reason to make the best of it.
There are at least two things not to be missed at the Plaza – the newly expanded and reopened Schooners Coastal Kitchen and Bar, and Vista Blue Spa.
At the restaurant opening, VP and General Manager John Narigi introduced several distinguished guests from the Monterey city government and the Woodside Hotels headquarters as well as Plaza Executive Chef James Waller.
Schooners, the ever-popular waterfront bar suspended over the bay, is now a posh full-size restaurant, beautifully remodeled, and with an extensive upscale menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Fresh oysters and crab claws, beet and goat cheese salad in Little Gem leaves, scallop and shrimp ceviche, tuna poke, and grilled halibut were just a few of the Chef Waller’s tasty bites to compliment Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte from France, a bottle of which was “broken” for the occasion.
Signature desserts included Angel’s Food and Devil’s Sail; Schooners brownies, mango upside- down cake, and peanut-butter-chocolate shortbread.
The next morning, waking up to the symphony of waves and seagulls, I couldn’t wait to see the nautical-themed bar with an outdoor terrace from which the guests can observe sea otters resting in kelp beds and sea lions swimming right underneath the dining area.
Painted in bright pastel tones, the terrace is warmed by the sun during the day, and employs inventive heaters with open flames burning inside glass tubes at night.
The bar is decorated with a ship-deck and sail motif, and has the inviting feel of a leisurely tropical lounge, only brand-spanking-new and squeaky clean.
It helps that the bar starts bright and early, serving lunch at 11:30 am and switching to bar food at 5 pm to stay open till midnight.
At breakfast, I fought a temptation to order the Schooners trademark crab cakes my tablemates were raving about. In anticipation of my spa treatment later in the morning, I decided to go with lighter fare of smoked salmon with cream cheese, tomatoes, red onions, capers, and lemon.
I could have sat in a sunlit nook at Schooners enjoying my orange juice and coffee all morning long, but I had to see more of the Plaza – a miniature town of endless pleasures for all of the senses.
The Monterey Plaza Hotel and Spa has 290 deluxe guestrooms decorated with classic Biedermeier-style furniture and fabrics; luxurious penthouse suites with formal living rooms and stocked wet bars; three grandiose ballrooms, and plentiful meeting spaces. No wonder its popularity with group gatherings of all kinds runs high. A hundred weddings a year are celebrated in the charming little plaza with a leaping dolphin sculpture in the center of the hotel.
Its Cannery Row location brings all the area attractions and activities to its doorstep. The world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium is just three blocks away. Fisherman’s Wharf, Old Town Monterey and the Maritime Museum are within walking distance as well. Kayaking, sailing, whale watching, scuba diving in the protected marine sanctuary of Monterey Bay, and golf at 19 local championship courses are readily available to hotel guests.
It would be unwise, though, to leave the hotel without a visit to Vista Blue Spa on the top floor. The spa opens to a sundeck and whirlpool tub on the roof.
The spa and full-service fitness center are one well-equipped facility – clean, cozy, with comforting light, an earthy color scheme, Buddhist art pieces on the walls, and a rather vast assortment of the best beauty products. The staff of Vista Blue is its best asset, making everyone feel welcome and at ease and helping to customize a spa treatment.
After a heavenly massage I poured myself a glass of strawberry-infused water by a fireplace on the roof and indulged in lounging on the deck under the cloudless sky. It was February.
The Monterey Plaza Hotel and Spa is the premier resort on the Monterey Peninsula and a recipient of the 2011 Forbes Four-Star Award. It is located at 400 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940. Call the Monterey Plaza Hotel and Spa at 1-831-646-1700 or 1-800- 334-3999 or visit Monterey Plaza Hotel.