Tiny Inn Across the Tracks Has Old-Adobe Neighbors

Patrick Mott is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

Most of Carolyn Boyle’s guests at her Hotel California bed and breakfast in San Juan Capistrano are of the romantic getaway sort, the kind who like to sneak away for a couple of days in an out-of-the-way little hide-out.

One paradox, however: They often do their sneaking away on an Amtrak train that clanks right up to the hotel’s back yard. And so much for obscurity.

Actually, the Hotel California, located directly across the tracks from the train station in San Juan Capistrano’s Los Rios Historical District, is one of the more placid spots in town for all but about 10 or 15 minutes out of each day. It faces sleepy Los Rios Street, squarely in the middle of the county’s oldest neighborhood, sharing the landscape with 200-year-old adobes and tall willows that droop over the quiet street.

It also shares center stage a few times each day with the Amtrak passenger trains that stop just on the other side of the hotel’s back stone wall. But, Boyle said, that’s “all part of the ambiance” of the place and guests enjoy being a part of the passing railroad scene.


The hotel likely is known to both residents and visitors as “that place across the tracks with all the gas pumps.” Boyle’s boyfriend, David Chorak, who bought and restored the property 4 years ago, has filled the front, back and side yards of the house with his collecting passion: vintage gas pumps, mostly the type that are surmounted by lighted glass globes. At night, those globes are switched on and provide a unique lighting effect around the hotel.

Elsewhere, the place is a jumble of amiable clutter. The front parlor and the dining room are furnished with antiques such as an old barber chair and an ancient floor-standing stove and are festooned with countrified geegaws of all sorts. The kitchen has an ancient Philco refrigerator and an even older Qualitor gas stove and oven, both of which work and are in daily use, Boyle said.

The single guest room--the hotel accommodates only one visitor or couple at a time--is largely taken up by an antique brass bed and a large armoire.

When Chorak bought the place, Boyle said, it was covered in yellow stucco, looked out of place on the old street and had fallen into serious disrepair. Boyle said she and Chorak stripped the walls, replacing them with the more locally typical board-and-batten covering, pulled up the cracked floor linoleum to reveal the wooden floors and installed a stone wall to separate the property from the railroad tracks. For $125 a night, guests generally have the run of the place, Boyle said, as well as access to a pair of beach cruiser bikes for use on the nearby bike trail and birdseed for use at the mission.


THE HOTEL CALIFORNIA AT A GLANCE Where: 31742 Los Rios St., San Juan Capistrano. Rates: $125 per night for 2 people (deposit equal to one night’s stay required; minimum stay 2 days). Accommodations: A 2-bedroom suite with living room and bath (includes full breakfast plus wine, cheese and crackers upon arrival, as well as the use of bicycles). Reservations: Recommended 3 weeks in advance in summer or holiday seasons. Restrictions: No smoking, children or pets. Information and reservations: (714) 496-9444.