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Planning a road trip? How to find a good hotel deal, plus tips on how to stay safe

Loews Coronado Bay Resort
Loews Coronado Bay Resort, as well as Loews hotels in Santa Monica and Hollywood, have special summer deals, free parking and late checkout policies.
(Loews Coronado Bay Resort)

That great American tradition, the road trip, has come roaring back. And California’s hotels are offering special deals to help: free-night stays, food and beverage credits and room upgrades. One is even offering guests a $300 case of wine and spirits for staying two nights.

To seal the deal, the facilities are coupling the promotions with stringent new COVID-19 sanitation policies, hoping to assure guests that rigorous steps are being taken to protect their health.

But do you want to risk it?

Huntington Beach residents Randy and Mary Johnson decided the answer was yes. Their grandson Beau was turning 4 in Seattle, and the Johnsons didn’t want to miss it. Plus, they desperately needed a travel break.

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But the couple didn’t want to fly. Instead. they hit the road and put their medical training to work; he’s a physician, she’s a nurse.

“We looked like crazy people at the hotels we stopped at,” said Mary. “We took a bucket of cleaning supplies into every hotel room we stayed in and immediately cleaned any surface we would touch: the remote, the nightstands, the bathroom faucets.

“I was totally over the top,” she said. “I even brought our own sheets.”

Hoteliers might say her vigilance was unnecessary. But given the virus’ continued spread, feeling safe is important.

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Of course, the safest thing to do is stay home; California discourages nonessential travel.

But experts say staying in a hotel is relatively safe if you take precautions. Rankings published by the Texas Medical Assn. rate staying at a hotel as riskier than visiting a grocery store but safer than visiting a beach or attending a backyard barbecue.

It’s important to follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and state officials, wear a mask, wash your hands and maintain social distancing. Avoid elevators, lobbies and other public areas, and ask for a room that has been unoccupied for a few days, if possible.

And make sure you find a great deal before leaving home.

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The coast

Zane Grey Pueblo Hotel, a newly renovated historical hotel on Catalina Island
Zane Grey Pueblo Hotel, a newly renovated historical hotel on Catalina Island, is one of 15 island hotels offering a third-night-free special this summer.
(Zane Grey Pueblo Hotel)

Cool off in the San Diego area on the 15-acre peninsula that’s home to Loews Coronado Resort. Tap into the hotel’s “Park. Play. Extend Your Stay” rate for a weekday price that starts at $199 or a weekend rate of $219. Lucky you: The package includes free parking, a daily $25 food and beverage credit, a room upgrade and 4 p.m. late checkout. Taking the kids? A different Loews Coronado deal offers a second room for 50% off. You’ll also find summer deals at Loews hotels in Santa Monica and Hollywood.

On Catalina Island, more than a dozen hotels are taking part in a third-night-free deal. You’ll have to ditch the car and hitch a ride on IEX Helicopters ($298 round trip) or on a ferry such as Catalina Express ($75 round trip). But rates start at $109 a night midweek. Two to try: Hotel Atwater (from $279 per night) and Zane Grey Pueblo Hotel (from $250 per night). Both recently reopened after major renovations.

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Palm Springs

JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort and Spa
Get a hot deal in the Palm Springs area at JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort and Spa.
(Greater Palm Springs CVB)

Hot deals are a natural here during the summer. Check out the Greater Palm Springs website to find 25%-off deals, third-night-free bargains and easy room upgrades.

Or book the Saguaro Palm Springs, where August travelers will find weekday rates starting at $89 per night and weekend rates from $149. The promo code is CALOCAL.

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Looking for something higher-end? Check out the tony JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa, reopening Aug. 31, where you can save 33% by staying three nights (pssst … that’s one night free). Weekday rates start at $174; weekends at $247. The promo code is P50; the rate is good through Dec. 31.

Santa Barbara

It’s hard to find a good deal in this slice of paradise. Hotels such as the Rosewood Miramar Beach tout specials that start at $996 per night.

There are options for budget travelers. The original Motel 6, for instance, which opened in Santa Barbara in 1962, has rates that start at substantially less than $200. A plus: Rooms were recently renovated.

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You can find other deals on Visit Santa Barbara’s special offers web page, where the Santa Barbara Hotel Group lists many midweek rates less than $200 per night.

Central & Northern California

Pacifica Hotels, with more than 25 locations from San Francisco to San Diego, has launched a 30%-off Discover California special. This hotel group is a favorite with folks traveling to the Central Coast; it has several small hotels in beautiful Cambria with weekday rates from $138 to $189 and weekend rates from $209 to $258. California residents who book before Aug. 31 receive 30% with promo code CARES. And you can stay any time before Dec. 31.

If you’d like to try something different on a trip north, book a couple of nights at AutoCamp Airstream trailer parks in Midpines, near Yosemite National Park, or in Guerneville on the Russian River.

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Airstream trailer at Auto Camp Yosemite
Go glamping in a custom-built Airstream trailer at Auto Camp Yosemite.
(Aaron Leitz)

The luxe parks feature custom-built, tricked-out trailers that appeal to people captivated by quirky chic or midcentury design. And there are spa-like bathrooms, Tempur-Pedic mattresses and luxury bedding. Visitors usually pay $500 or more per night in the summer. The Auto Camp Summer Road Trip Package is from $299 per night with a two-night minimum and runs through Oct. 31.

How about taking home a free case of wine and beer after your next Napa Valley visit? The case, estimated to be worth $300, is an amenity available to guests at Vista Collina Resort, which has nine on-site tasting rooms.

The package, which includes a stay in a luxury suite, has a downside: You must stay two nights; the rate per night starts at $529. Or skip the free wine and stay at the Tuscan-style resort for as little as $272 per night.

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Either way, you’ll find lots of space to make it easy to socially distance, said David Ryan, managing director.

“The big advantage we have is that we sit on 40 acres of land, so the opportunity to have a getaway with peace of mind is easy.”


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