“Now this is the life,” I thought as I settled into a lounge chair under a swaying palm tree and closed my eyes for a little snooze, the sound of joyful laughter coming from my husband Ian and our two sons, David, 5, and Ben, 3½, as they played in the pool nearby.
We were all having so much fun at our little resort; especially mom, with no meals to prepare, no house to clean, and no laundry to do. It felt a million miles away from the worries of daily life and I was so glad we got away from it all for a vacation. Well, not exactly a vacation — actually, a “staycation.”
What do you do when you desperately need to get away, but don’t have the time, energy or money for a big family vacation? You have a staycation, and get away from it all in Davis.
Right here in town are some hotels that have all it takes for a fun family getaway without all the hassle and cost of travel. There are several possibilities, but my three favorite picks for this family adventure are all a short walk from the shops and restaurants of downtown, as well as famous Davis attractions like the Farmers Market and the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame.
And in each case, they have their own style and strengths, with amenities for fun and relaxation right at or next to the accommodations. These staycation spots also have family-friendly features like discounted rates, flexibility with check-in and check-out times, a good selection of television channels for children, and breakfast included in the cost of the room (with kid favorites like waffles).
Classic resort style: I first discovered the staycation idea for our family a couple of years ago, when my sister came to visit and stayed at the University Park Inn & Suites. I had driven by the hotel many times on my way to get on the highway, but had no idea what I was missing.
When we went to take a look at my sister’s room, it was like an afternoon at Disneyland for my preschoolers. They loved everything from watching television shows they hadn’t seen before, to playing with the pillows, but the end-all and be-all was the swimming pool. They would have stayed there literally the entire day if we had let them.
The hotel is set up well for the ease of the parents. Some key perks from a mom perspective: The rooms cluster around a grassy area with a pool at its heart, so it is easy to go back and forth to the pool as many times a day as the kids want (with mom and dad each taking a turn to chill — ahhh — alone).
Each room has both a mini-fridge and microwave (excellent for that one kid who will eat absolutely nothing but yogurt or those particular chicken nuggets you have at home). The hotel is also pet-friendly. (Get the best price: Sunday through Thursday.)
When it is time for dinner, Redrum Burger and In-N-Out Burger are both close at hand and Caffé Italia is right in front of the hotel pool. For extra fun, book your staycation in conjunction with one of Caffé Italia’s special family nights, such as Pirate Princess night. To find out about future events, sign up for the restaurant’s Royalty Rewards Club (free) and receive its newsletter.
A brief stroll from University Park Inn & Suites through the Richards Boulevard tunnel under the train tracks brings you to Davis Commons, with family-friendly dinner spots like Pluto’s (especially healthy and tasty kids’ meals for only $3.75). And if you are there the second Friday of the month, Whole Foods’ “Night on the Lawn” will be underway (5-7:30 p.m.), with live music and special family-oriented games.
Where art and nature meet: Head the other direction from Davis Commons, along the UC Davis Arboretum, and you quickly reach Hyatt Place hotel. Although opened with neighboring UCD Conference Center on the quiet south side of the campus three years ago as a meeting venue, it is a hidden gem for families.
The sleek Hyatt style is there in spades, along with a perfectly sized pool for the kids, rooms with a queen sofa-bed seating area separated from the main bedroom, and a connection board that allows you to hook up any sort of electronic device to the room’s flat-screen television. All rooms have a mini-fridge and a hearty breakfast is included in the room rate.
Especially handy for mom: You can get something for the kids (cheese pizza) and the parents (try the BBQ chicken flatbread and spinach salad) 24 hours a day from the hotel’s easy Gallery Menu. (Get the best price: Sunday, Monday and the month of August. Watch for a special AAA deal in August.)
In conjunction with plenty of pool play, this family staycation can include bike rides and nature walks in the Arboretum and performances at neighboring Mondavi Center. For a fun dinner outing, check out the shady courtyard on the north end of the Mondavi Center and Fusion Fresh Café, a restaurant truck serving dishes that blend Middle Eastern, Asian, and Mexican cuisines (try the quesadilla made with tandoori chicken). In the next couple of years, families also will be able to include the Jan Shrem & Maria Maretti Shrem Museum of Art, which soon will be under construction adjacent to the Mondavi Center.
Urban chic family style: You’ve probably noticed the emerging streetscape with a touch of Rodeo Drive style on F Street between First and Second streets across from the Regal Holiday Theater. In the heart of the fresh look is the new entrance to Hallmark Inn, part of the most recent improvements wrapping up this summer at the venerable Davis hostelry, which has had a substantial facelift over the past couple of years.
Massage Envy became part of the new streetscape a few months ago, joining Seasons restaurant on the corner, and in July Café 110, the hotel’s brand-new breakfast/lunch spot, will open. By September, Putah Creek Winery tasting room and CREAM, a natural gourmet ice cream sandwich shop from Berkeley, are also due to open.
On my recent visit to the Hallmark Inn, I was surprised to find a great hip urban setting for a family staycation. With Massage Envy downstairs, the hotel could almost add “and spa” to its name. Guests just push a couple of buttons to dial directly from their room to book a spa treatment, and receive deeply discounted rates. Hallmark Inn guests also receive the lower member rate at neighboring Akasha Yoga. While Dad (or Mom) plays with the kids in the hotel pool, Mom (or Dad) can easily slip downstairs for a massage or next door for a yoga class.
This staycation also could include taking the gang to the movies across the street, walking over to our cute little Davis railroad station to watch the trains come and go (top on my boys’ list), checking out the plethora of restaurants and shops within a couple of blocks, and a bike ride using the hotel’s complimentary bicycles. (Sizes are available only for youths and adults; the littlest ones will need to bring their own.)
(Get the best price: Weekdays in July and August, and all of mid-December to mid-January. Locals can receive the Friends/Family rate — a 15 to 20 percent further discount off the best available rate — by calling the hotel directly.)
Just for parents: Tucked behind the main part of the Aggie Inn at First and B streets is a serene, shaded retreat ideal for a parental respite. Three bungalows built in the 1920s and ’30s as UCD faculty/student housing were renovated a few years ago into luxury accommodations.
All the rooms at the Aggie Inn are lovely, but for this parents-only getaway, head straight for one of the seven two-room cottage suites under the huge shade trees at the back. All suites include complimentary breakfast and have flat-screen televisions, soaking tubs, fridge and microwave, along with comfy chairs and a table on a private deck just perfect for having an uninterrupted conversation — a true novelty with kids around. (Get the best price: Sundays and Mondays.)
For dinner, across the street is Delta of Venus Café & Pub, where recipes passed down for generations of Chef Awaca’s family in Antigua are used for his authentic Caribbean dishes, or head along B Street toward Central Park to Sam’s (behind Ciocolat on Third Street), where warm-hearted immigrant Sam serves the best beef shawarma and chicken kabob pita in town with a gigantic smile. And don’t forget to stop back by Ciocolat for a warm chocolate tart or truffle brownie.
— Heidi Bay is a freelance travel writer who lives in Davis with her family.