It’s perhaps only in the early morning, as the fog floats in ghostly streams across the water, that Half Moon Bay looks like its old self. Along the docks of Pillar Point Harbor, fishermen sell their catch directly from the boats—albacore, salmon, rockfish, sole—while the seagulls vie for scraps. It’s only when the rising sun burns away the mists that the modern face of Half Moon Bay emerges—hotels, cafes, bars, and crab shacks teaming with couples, families, photographers, joggers, pensioners, and the odd travel writer.
At the Oceano Hotel & Spa, all of these are tied together in a frilly bow. The effect begins out front, in the wonderful harborside location, which fulfills all the requirements of a romantic view, proof of which can often be seen in the canoodling couples. Step inside the front doors, and the coastal California idyll continues into the reception and extended lobby, which lulls in guests with nap-able sofas and armchairs, a stone fireplace and mantel, model ship, and pitched glass roof.
Although reminiscent of antiques, none of the furnishings are. Nonetheless, they convey enough of an old-timey flavor to press your nostalgia button. Happily, it never pushes too deep into tackiness. In fact, a make-yourself-at home vibe encourages letting down your guard and truly relaxing.
The same goes in the 95 suites (starting at $299 per night) stretched across two wings and three floors, which apart from some variations in layout continue the decorative sense of the lobby. Room 315, my room, begins with a long corridor that turns left at the end into the main space. To the right, glass doors open up to the large bowed balcony, while left brings you into the large bathroom, notable for the freestanding tub and Aveda bath products (rosemary mint!).
Beyond is a very comfortable pillow top mattress bed, dressed in organic linens, but perhaps the white noise machine on the nightstand and earplugs in the drawer are more notable. They are intended to combat the nightly pulse of the port’s foghorn, which some guests complain about. As for me, I hardly heard it with the windows shut and even thought it pleasant.
The living area centers around the gas fireplace, above which a 42-inch flat screen television hangs. It’s surprisingly large for a hotel, with space enough for a sofa, armchair, table, tea and coffee bar, desk and work chair. The space finds its greatest comfort when the balcony doors are open and ocean breezes blow through.
Putting all of this together, it’s easy to see why the hotel is so popular for weddings. Additionally, it has the event spaces to support it, including a 4,400-sq foot classical style ballroom, which holds up to 250 people. Outdoors, a wedding garden combines all the picture-perfect elements, including a white gated fence, ornamental bushes, stone patio, and Italian cypress trees. Smaller spaces are also available for business meetings and conferences.
Some of the Oceano’s greatest perks lie outside it. From the hotel, it’s easy walking distance, often less than 10 minutes, to popular eateries like Sam’s Chowder House, Cafe Mezzaluna, and Half Moon Bay Brewing Company. Not much farther is one of the world’s most famous surfing destinations at Mavericks, which swells to waves of 40 feet or more. In fact, any immediate needs can be served by the small shopping mall attached directly to the back of the hotel. The entrance to Oceano’s spa is also here.
If there’s any lack at the Oceano Hotel, it’s that it doesn’t reach for the stars. Certainly, there’s more than enough competence, friendliness, and attractiveness to quickly win over anyone, but the most serious sparks are made by the guests. Luckily, the hotel’s popularity ensures plenty of that, and I’d happily join any time.
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Mike Dunphy stayed as a guest of the Oceano Hotel and Spa
All photos by Mike Dunphy