Time stands still, tradition reigns in Yosemite Valley

Imagine a vacation destination where golfers play amid grazing deer, hiking trails pass pristine waterfalls and sing-alongs still occur around an antique piano in a grand hotel.

At the Wawona Hotel in Yosemite Valley, which is popular with seniors, guests step into a genteel era. Not much has changed here since the 19th century, when stagecoaches brought visitors to revel in the cathedral woods of John Muir and Ansel Adams, and city folks were invigorated by a panacea of yellow warblers and jumping trout.

It’s not surprising that guests refer to this lovely example of Victorian 1870s California architecture as “she.” The hotel epitomizes the stately elegance of an aristocratic grandmother. The regal dame embraces guests with hospitality, then captivates with her charm.

Falling in love with the Wawona is as easy as breathing the cedar-scented air. Just ask any of her staff members, many of whom have been there for decades.

Dining room server Kathy Hernandez vacationed at the hotel in 1982 and never left.

“This is a hidden jewel,” she said. “How many jobs allow you to look out the window and see deer grazing on the lawn?”

With oft-overheard snippets such as “The gentleman in Room 23 requests a dinner reservation,” or “Good morning, Mr. Jones,” the Wawona staff is as friendly as it is refined. This is no accident. General manager Monica Miller is dedicated to preserving the hotel’s white-glove service along with its personality and colorful history.

“I spend a lot of time asking guests what they feel is wonderful about the Wawona and everyone tells me over and over again that it is the warmth and comfort,” she said.

“This is an old hotel-museum,” said Tom Bopp, who has played the piano and sung in the lobby lounge for 20 years. Bopp is also the hotel’s unofficial historian and is writing a book on the area.

“This is a vital, still-running hotel and it has never stopped being a hotel since it started,” he said. “We don’t have chamber pots in the rooms any more, but we still have the swimming tank.”

At Wawona, tradition rules. Each morning, for example, the hotel’s multitalented custodian hoists the American flag up the flagpole while whistling “The Star-Spangled Banner” over a walkie-talkie. The patriotic refrain is piped into the sunny dining room, serenading guests eating farm eggs and fruit from the nearby San Joaquin valley.

The hotel is on the former site of Clark Station. Galen Clark, Yosemite’s original superintendent, chose the area called “Pallachun” ("a good place to stop") by the Miwok Indians. His original home was built in 1856.

Room rates run from $87 (off-season, without a private bath) to $161 (in season with bath). The hotel is closed on some dates between Dec. 1 and March 14, but is open most weekends.