It is always a wonderful surprise to discover a small village with a population of approximately seven hundred where the only Bed and Breakfast turns out to be not only in an extraordinary location, but also a work of ingenious creativity. Such was the case when we visited Captain's Inn located in Moss Landing, California, on the eastern shore of Monterey Bay at the gateway to the Elkhorn Slough between Monterey and Santa Cruz. Moss Landing may be very close to Monterey in terms of driving distance, however, it certainly is world's away from its neighbor to the south. As for the Captain's Inn, this wasn't another pretentious B&B we have often encountered during our travels, but rather it was a "cool" place with its own sense of style devoid of an overexposure of amenities of Laura Ashley this and Ralph Lauren that products.
Our first hint of something out of the ordinary was that the tiny quaint fishing village of Moss Landing is at the head of the Monterey Submarine Canyon – a chasm that is over a mile and a half deep in the water and extending approximately ninety-five miles into the Pacific Ocean.
What is most interesting about the Monterey Canyon is that its depth and food-rich waters have attracted different types of marine life such as blue whales and other creatures that have ventured within a few hundred yards of shore, attracting scientists from all over the world.
No doubt, this was one of the primary reasons for the establishment of two world-renown research centers, the Moss Landing Marine Laboratories and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. Both carry on extensive research in the field of marine science.
The tiny hamlet derives its name from Captain Charles Moss, a Texan, who in the mid 1800s realized the potential of this superb location. Consequently, he set up shipping facilities and a wharf to develop commercial water traffic from the area.
An important contributing factor to its development and success was the gold rush fever, as demand for all kinds of products greatly increased. It was from Moss Landing where sugar beet, potatoes, lumber and other products were shipped to the gold boom town of San Francisco. Even before the gold rush, industries such as oyster farming, commercial fishing and whale processing were in operation.
Unfortunately, in 1906 an earthquake destroyed the wharf and much of its infrastructure. In the early nineteen hundreds there was a revival of the whaling industry in Moss Landing, however, due to a drastic decline in the whale population, the severe drop in whale prices, and competition from offshore factory ships, the industry petered out. The sardine industry was likewise quite active in the early 1900s, but it also ended up in the dustbin leaving many of the warehouses and canneries empty.
Today, the core of Moss Landing's economic activities focuses around its importance as a fishing port, as well as a popular tourist destination for antiques. It is also the home of Pacific Gas and Electric that in 1950, constructed the Moss Landing Power Plant. This is the second largest fossil fuel thermal electric power plant in the world.
Captain's Inn can trace its origin to 1906 after the San Francisco earthquake, and it is purported that even some of the earthquake's materials have been incorporated into the building. Its architecture is a simple colonial revival style that was quite prevalent in many company towns at the turn of the last century. Originally built as an office by the Pacific Coast Steamship Company, it sits on land that once belonged to the infamous Captain Charles Moss and his partner, Donald Beadle. It has been transformed several times from an office, family residence, church and dormitory for students to what it is today – a fully renovated B&B that is now the proud ownership of Captain Yohn and Melanie Gideon who purchased it in 1995.
As Melanie revealed to us, it was six years and a great deal of expense, patience and sweat before a coastal permit to renovate was secured. The authorities were very apprehensive about all kinds of "stuff" from history and wildlife, to energy conservation and the color of the exterior paint. In fact, the building had to conform to over one hundred additional conditions before they could even begin the actual site work.
The result is a reincarnated property that resourcefully melds historic elements with an eclectic assortment of recycled material reflecting its history and nautical themes. The Gideons together with family members including Melanie's father, who was of immense help, removed all of the trim work, stripped and picked away paint with dental tools, oiled it and returned it to its original locations – with stunning results.
What we found most fascinating is the manner in which they recycled old boats – converting them into bedroom sets, outdoor planters and viewing deck platforms. Our bed was made from the salmon troller, San Pedro. It even had an armoire that previously had been a wheelhouse. Old windows have been salvaged from demolished buildings wherein the glass panes have been replaced with mirrors that are now part of the furnishings in various guestrooms. This is what I call being innovative!
Incidentally, each of the boathouse rooms has a magnificent view of the marsh, river and sand dunes and comes with private baths, king or queen size beds, gas fireplaces – some with an oversized soaking tub. The older four historical house's bedrooms have maintained their turn of the last century look and contain a variety of antiques. Another noteworthy feature of this B&B is its excellent location, making it a perfect jumping off point to explore the Elkhorn Slough – one of the largest unspoiled estuarine wetlands off the west coast of the United States. This body of water provides an important feeding and resting place for an incredible assortment of wildlife such as sea otters, harbor seals and hundreds of species of waterfowl and migratory shorebirds.
Captain Yohn operates a twenty-seven foot pontoon boat safari tour that offers visitors an exciting way to explore this natural habitat and view wildlife up close. One of the highlights of our stay was joining Captain Yohn on one of his safaris where we were able to enjoy an in-depth look at various aspects of slough ecology, and to listen to some fascinating history stories as recounted by the Captain and his young crew. This is one adventure you don't want to miss.
And for a tiny village, there is no lack of excellent dining establishments wherein hungry patrons come from as far as San Francisco to savor the scrumptious food. One well-known restaurant is Phil's Fish Market and Eatery where we found a very good choice of fish from charbroiled fresh swordfish, steamed Halibut, grilled Ono, blackened Ahi, grilled Salmon, blackened Mahi Mahi to sautéed sea scallops.
Owners Judy and Phil DiGirolamo also own another more elegant restaurant at the south end of Moss Landing known as Charlie Moss's. Phil, who is quite an amiable chap, has been featured on the Food Network during the summer of 2006 and has been written up several times in various magazines and newspapers. He is an encyclopedia of knowledge when it comes to Moss Landing, as we found out when meeting him.
In the end, however, it was the charming and relaxing atmosphere of the Captain's Inn and the warmth and friendliness of their owners, Captain Yohn and Melanie, that make it a top notch B&B. It is as if we were visiting old friends. And when you can spot, as one guest commented in the guest's book, a harbor seal catching a salmon while soaking in a tub located beneath a window overlooking marshes filled with an abundance of wild life, you realize just how extraordinary is this B&B. Incidentally, a hearty homemade breakfast is served each morning and there are delicious cookies and light snacks available to guests.
Norm Goldman is editor and publisher of Sketchandtravel.com and Lily Azerad-Goldman is an artist.