Everybody needs a getaway. Whether you’re looking for a rock-star retreat, top-drawer digs or royal rustic accommodations, here are five of your best bets. And they’re all within a day’s drive from the 405.
Memphis: Big Cypress Lodge
If your city is named after an Egyptian city that thrived on river traffic and was famous for nearby pyramids, it just seems natural that, thriving on river trade, you should have a pyramid, too. It didn’t happen until 1991, when the city of Memphis (in Tennessee) built a glass pyramid structure for sporting events and concerts.
Although not as large as its Egyptian inspirations, it certainly makes a statement, sitting as it does beside the mighty Mississippi. Unfortunately, it didn’t meet expectations as a public venue. It sat empty for several years until Johnny Morris, the genius behind the Bass Pro Shops empire, gave it new life and purpose.
Today, the 32-story structure, now named Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid, is home to not only shops, but a number of other amenities including an archery range, an underwater-themed bowling alley, a casual restaurant and the Lookout – great food at the tip-top of the pyramid. Observation decks offer a panoramic view of the Mississippi and great food. The newest addition is the Mississippi Terrace, a sophisticated outdoor lounge on the third floor.
Back on the main floor, you’ll find a cypress swamp complete with alligators and towering cypress trees. In the center is the country’s tallest free-standing elevator, which whisks guests to The Lookout.
For those who want more of the Morris magic, check into Big Cypress Lodge on the second and third floors of the pyramid. The lobby resembles a classic hunting lodge on a grand scale. The 103 rooms and suites echo the outdoorsy décor with lots of wood.
The pinnacle of rustic luxury is found in the Governor’s Suite, which features vaulted ceilings, a full kitchen and a private balcony overlooking the Cypress Swamp. This almost 2,000-square-foot suite includes a boardroom and can accommodate up to eight guests. Other unusual rooms include Duck Cabins (with appropriate décor), two Fly Fishing Lodges and four Treehouse Rooms tucked into the cypress trees. A fitness center is available to hotel guests. All rooms have electric fireplaces and spa-type tubs; most have balconies offering rocking chairs and a bird’s-eye view of the main floor. Big Cypress Lodge can accommodate couples, families and small groups. Both hotel guests and day visitors can make appointments for spa treatments at Big Cypress Spa.
Egypt’s Great Pyramid of Giza was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The Bass Pro Pyramid is a wonder in its own right.
Tulsa: The Ambassador Hotel
A quiet, small (48 rooms and 7 suites), luxurious hotel on the south side of downtown Tulsa, the Ambassador offers traditionalists a comfortable retreat with elegant appointments and no over-the-top shocks. It’s a property with significant history and architectural interest – added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1999.
This hotel was where Oklahoma’s oil millionaires hung their hats while their palatial mansions were being built nearby. The nine-story structure opened on Apr. 1, 1929, and today is “the best remaining example of a mid-sized, Mission/Spanish Colonial Revival apartment/hotel building in the Tulsa downtown area.” [cite quotation?] The most outstanding features are found on the arcade above the hotel’s front doors. Elaborately carved limestone and polychrome terra cotta medallions showcase the craftsmanship of an earlier time.
The hotel’s founder was Patrick Hurley, who, it was said, built the hotel to impress his father-in-law, Rear Admiral Henry B. Wilson. Wilson must have been a hard man to impress. Patrick Hurley was decorated for gallantry in World War I and given the Distinguished Service Medal for his work as Judge Advocate in the American Expeditionary Force under Gen. John J. Pershing.
After the war, Hurley returned to Oklahoma, establishing a thriving law practice and investing in oil and real estate. He had also served as national attorney for the Choctaw Nation. A month before the hotel opened, he was appointed Assistant Secretary of War by Herbert Hoover – the first presidential cabinet appointee from Oklahoma. In December of 1929, he was appointed Secretary of War. He is honored in the Ambassador Hotel with a small library containing photos and a video about him, and which provides a quiet place for guests to read, gather or use a complimentary computer.
FYI: Sec. Hurley’s son was Wilson Hurley, the famous landscape artist whose mural-sized paintings are a feature in the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. The hotel owns several Hurley prints and is looking for just the right spot to display them.
The premier accommodation in the hotel is the Hurley Ambassador Suite. Perched on the top floor, it provides a great view of the Tulsa skyline. A spacious living area, separate bedroom, built-in workspace and ample bathroom with a combination shower and jetted tub offer utmost comfort.
The hotel lobby is a great place to gather. It features a large fireplace and is decorated in soothing tones of gold and cream. The hotel restaurant, the Chalkboard, is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner – and is one of Tulsa’s favorite eateries.
I love everything about this hotel. Elite chauffeur service is available, and the staff will bend over backwards to make your stay memorable.
Kansas City: Raphael Hotel
One of the best reasons to stay at the Raphael is location, location, location. It’s just a few short steps to one of America’s most beautiful shopping districts, the Country Club Plaza. Developed in the early 1920s, the Plaza is characterized by Spanish architecture and art imported from Europe. The Italian Renaissance Revival structure was constructed in 1928 as an upscale apartment building called Villa Serena before being repurposed in the 1970s; today, The Raphael is a AAA Four Diamond-rated boutique hotel.
The hotel was completely renovated in 2010 – updating everything from electrical, heating and plumbing elements to fixtures, furniture and décor. But historical elements such as the beautiful Spanish marble floor, coffered wood ceiling and trim were lovingly retained and restored.
From the time you’re greeted by the doorman to the time you wave goodbye, you’ll be in the hands of the most attentive staff. Linger in the lobby, basking in the glow of crystal chandeliers, or enjoy the cool of the evening outside on the small patio.
We stayed in one of the guest suites – enjoying a living area separate from the bedroom. The color palette included neutral shades of gray, gold and moss brightened by a wall panel of ochre, sunflower and butter gingham.
The premier suites are larger, and the bathrooms have oversized, jetted tubs. The west side of the hotel offers partial views of the Plaza.
Rooms with Plaza views are at a premium during the Christmas season: The lights outlining the domes and towers on the Spanish-style buildings make a beautiful sight. It’s not uncommon for people to start making winter reservations in the summer.
The hotel restaurant, Chaz on the Plaza, is a real treat. Executive Chef Shawn Hartwig features American favorites, but brings French flair to his preparations. Native Kansas Citians and guests alike love the floor-to-ceiling photo montage of Plaza landmarks, natural walnut woodwork and bright splashes of red upholstery.
In normal times, dinner highlights at Chaz include live and cooking demonstrations by Chef Shawn – availability is currently subject to the COVID-19 situation.
Since most of us aren’t traveling to Europe this year, perhaps this is the next best thing: staying in an Italian-style hotel overlooking the Spanish-influenced Plaza. Top it off with a glass of Champagne from France (Chaz received a 2020 Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator) and you’ve got a world-class stay.
Broken Bow: River’s Bend Resort
The Beavers Bend area of Oklahoma has seen a tremendous surge in popularity since the onset of the pandemic. It’s now considered one of the most positive tourism stories in the industry, up 145 percent over last year. Everyone wants to get away in this great getaway. If you want to enjoy the beauty of the area but still feel like you’ve actually escaped the crowds, River’s Bend Resort is a perfect spot.
West of Broken Bow on the banks of the Glover River – one of Oklahoma’s last free-flowing rivers – River’s Bend Resort is a group of six beautiful cottages owned by Dr. Brad and Charlette Hearne.
Each of the cabins is unique. I was particularly taken with the colorful rugs Charlette has chosen. The kitchens are supplied with top-of-the-line appointments and the bathrooms could grace a five-star hotel. Some of the showers do everything except dry you off and wrap you in a towel.
Outdoor decks with great river views offer spots for kicking back. Each cabin has a fire pit and a gas grill, and a canoe for paddling on the river. For kids, there’s a play area with a slide, swing and fort. For more family fun, try disc golf or get up a game of volleyball. There’s plenty of room and as much privacy as you want. In fact, several of the cabins can be rented together to accommodate larger family groups, but even those are arranged so those wanting quiet will find it.
Three of the cabins have wood-burning fireplaces and the Hearnes supply the wood; the other cottages have electric fireplaces. The kitchens are planned for those who want to cook, thanks to cooktops, ovens (one of the kitchens also has a Jenn-Aire grill), and microwaves. And don’t worry about cleanup – all cabins have dishwashers.
If you’re planning on doing a lot of cooking, you’ll want to shop before you leave the city, as it’s a bit of a trek to a good-sized store in the area. A few staples – salt, pepper and coffee – are provided. If you want, you can arrange to have the kitchen stocked before you arrive. If you don’t want to cook, the North Pole Country Store is just a few minutes down the highway. Best known for its fried catfish, it serves breakfast every day and casual items for other meals.
Every member of the family will find something to do at River’s Bend, whether it’s fishing, canoeing or swimming in the river or just enjoying the peace and nature. Three miles off the main road, you won’t even hear the traffic. And if you don’t mind crowds, you can always make a jaunt to Beavers Bend State Park and Broken Bow Lake.
Missouri’s Ozark Mountains: Big Cedar Lodge
If Kansas City hadn’t already used the name “Worlds of Fun” for its theme park, it would have been an appropriate sobriquet for the multitude of attractions Johnny Morris has created in the Missouri Ozarks.
In spite of all the activities going on here, Big Cedar Lodge is still a perfect place to get away from crowds. A number of accommodations are available on the 4,600-acre property.
If you’re a governor – or have a large family or group – go for the Governor’s Suite, a two-story, 2,500-square-foot suite atop one of the lodges. You’ll find all the comforts of home … if your home is a mansion. It features huge living areas, a full kitchen, even a billiards room. The décor is highly influenced by the trees, rocks, water and wildlife of the Ozarks. Live like a lord and enjoy a great view of Table Rock Lake and spectacular sunsets from the ample balcony.
For more intimate accommodations, check out the Spa Cottage or Carriage House Cottage. Secluded (guests enter across a small bridge built over a stream) and built for two, the Spa Cottage is the perfect romantic hideaway. The Carriage House Cottage was originally the caretaker’s cottage on the land purchased in the 1920s by a couple of millionaires as their private retreat. Today’s incarnation contains elegant appointments including two sitting areas, one with surround sound and a full cinematic screen.
Other types of accommodations include lodge rooms, small cottages and private log cabins. One of these log cabins was my pied-à-terre during one of my stays at Big Cedar. Like Goldilocks, I found this place just right. This luxurious cabin had a full kitchen, wood-burning fireplace, deck and gas grill and a bathroom with a shower with so many controls I needed an instruction book.
Eateries on the property range from casual to fine dining, but for guests with kitchens there are additional options. With advance notice, Big Cedar will stock your cabin for your arrival via full-service, personalized grocery shopping. Log cabin guests also can order Backyard Baskets containing ingredients for a complete meal ready for outdoor grilling.
In addition to all the entertaining offerings at Big Cedar – from lake activities to a drive-through cave – a short drive away is Dogwood Canyon. Come here to see wildlife, enjoy biking and hiking paths, go horseback riding or take a fly-fishing lesson. If golf’s your game, you’ll find plenty of opportunities, with five courses designed by some of golf’s greatest players. You can have what you want at Big Cedar – privacy and outdoor activities that can be pursued without crowding.