Sam McManis

Discoveries: Gaia Hotel an oasis along I-5 heading north

The Gaia Hotel and Spa in Anderson, off Interstate 5, is one of the few LEED-certified hotels in California.
The Gaia Hotel and Spa in Anderson, off Interstate 5, is one of the few LEED-certified hotels in California. Gaia Hotel and Spa

Say you’re on a road trip. Say you’re headed north on Interstate 5 to, perhaps, Portlandia, because California’s just not quirky enough for you. Say that traffic was a pain leaving Sacramento and that a big-rig jackknifed near Willows. Say it’s late in the day and you’re entering the “Red” zone – the vaunted Red Bluff/Redding corridor – and you’ve had enough driving. Say you want a place to lay your head and get a fresh start in the morning.

Well, you certainly aren’t hurting for hotel options.

By last count, a dozen hotels dot the roadway in Red Bluff and another 16 up the road in Redding. Nearly all the fine chains are represented. Those bearing numerals (Motel 6, Super 8). Those ubiquitous Inns (Day’s, Comfort, Holiday, Hampton, Quality). Those making promises (Best Western, America’s Best Value) and those who slap on the word “suites” to gussy things up. Heck, there’s even a Howard Johnson.

Nothing wrong with any of these choices. Don’t get me wrong. Many have those super-cool waffle makers at the free continental breakfast (always wondered, by the way, which continent do they mean?) set-ups in the lobby. Knock yourselves out squirreling away those mini-muffins for the road.

But if you seek something altogether different, a lodging experience that offers more than just extra pillows and free HBO, may I suggest you split the difference between Red Bluff and Redding and make your way to Anderson, where Gaia awaits?

No, not the primordial Greek mother goddess.

It is the Gaia Hotel and Spa, and it is a revelation. For just under $100 (with an AAA discount), you can relax, rather than merely hole up, in an LEED-certified spacious room in a sprawling, resortlike expanse beautifully landscaped with native, drought-resistant foliage, two bonfire pits to picnic by if you’re so inclined, a saline pool and hot tub near the full-service spa, and a path leading to the Sacramento River, site of weddings and reunions or just a nice hike for guests and their dogs, which are not only tolerated but welcomed with a doggie gift basket.

(Aside: We know that you, the environmentally aware reader, know that LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, but we mention it solely for the unenlightened souls out there.)

The Gaia must be a figment of a weary driver’s imagination. Can’t be an actual roadside hotel, right? I mean, if it truly were as described above, the place would be renowned throughout Northern California, booked solid weeks in advance.

“We’re trying to get the word out,” said Brenda Dobbert, Gaia’s director of sales and marketing. “It’s a hidden gem, and people don’t know who we are. If I hear one more person in Sacramento saying, ‘Who are you? What are you?’ I’ll … You know, even in Redding, people are like, ‘Where’s the Gaia at, again?’”

Maybe it’s the location. Anderson, after all, isn’t exactly a buzzing hub of activity.

Maybe it’s the fact that, unlike chain hotels with those towering, fluorescent signs serving as beacons for travelers looking for a place to stay, Gaia’s tasteful, modest lettering is set a few hundred feet away from the freeway, as are the grounds themselves.

Maybe it’s just that, after an initial spike of attention when Gaia opened eight years ago, people who were in the know figured the hotel had closed back in 2011 when the original owner filed for bankruptcy.

Whatever the reason, Gaia has an identity crisis.

“I hate being the best-kept secret in the Valley,” said L.W. (Biff) Hawkey Jr., senior vice president for development at Hostmark Hospitality Group in Schaumburg, Ill., which manages the 121-room hotel and conference center for the property’s new owner, Izabella Investment. “We really appreciated the uniqueness of the approach (Gaia’s) original (owner) had … to come in with a resort-in-a-city mentality. I realize Anderson is not Redding, but that is the idea. Sustainability is something we’ve used in a lot of our properties, and here you’ve got the Sacramento River right next to it.

“I’m not knocking branded hotels, but they tend to be cookie-cutter with the main emphasis being a good night’s sleep. Our main emphasis is more in the total experience, getting back to nature, getting to see the swans, who call that area their home. It’s very experiential.”

Rooms at Gaia may be affordable, but for those to whom money is only a modest object, you also can drop some coin. You can splurge on a complete head-to-toe spa treatment, facial to pedicure with a Swedish massage to boot, for double the price of a room. Its restaurant, the Woodside Grill, offers five-course meals – try the cedar-planked salmon with maple bourbon glaze, and, what the heck, throw in the crème brûlée. It sure beats the Burger King next to the Motel 6 in Red Bluff.

“They’ve got great craft beer, too,” said Lili Price, a traveler from Palm Springs out walking the grounds with her dog.

Price often travels up and down the state on I-5. She calls Gaia an “oasis.” She said friends in Southern California told her to not stay in Sacramento when she heads to Oregon on road trips.

“They told me it’s worth the extra miles,” she said. “I’ve stayed here five times now. It’s more than a hotel. I’ve gotten a massage and manicure. It’s a nice, relaxing stay. Some of the places like Best Western will offer a free breakfast, but it’s not even worth it when you compare it to the ambiance of this place.”

Mike and Creagh Schoen, of Sherwood, Ore., stayed at Gaia on their drive down to Malibu to pick up daughter Meghan from school at Pepperdine University. They liked it so much they decided to stay on the way back, as well.

“It’s a little out of the way and people might drive right by it,” Mike said. “We’d like to see it succeed.”

Hawkey said the new ownership group has infused Gaia with about $2 million in improvements, such as better landscaping and refurbishing the lobby and conference center. Whether the new ownership will fare better than the original owners, Atman Hospitality Group, which saw the property go into receivership during bankruptcy, is an open question.

But this much was certain as I steeped in the saline hot tub near dusk: I’m actually looking for a reason to stop in Anderson again.

Gaia Hotel

and Spa

Unexpected oasis off I-5 between Redding and Red Bluff, along the Sacramento River

  • Where: 4125 Riverside Place, Anderson
  • Why: For just under $100 per night (with a AAA discount), you can relax, rather than merely hole up.
  • Info: gaiahotelspa.com or call: 877-778-3977
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