I awoke in the loft of the bakery at the Elim Grove Cottage Bed and Breakfast in Sonoma County surrounded by redwoods. Stumbling sleepily down the steps of a sunlit staircase, I proceeded into the bakery: a haven of hot, freshly-baked pastries, the smiling faces of the family that runs the shop and the ever-essential coffee.
Upon first entering the bakery, it was Eric, perhaps seven years old, who welcomed me as he busily ground the morning’s coffee beans using a century-old, hand-operated coffee grinder. He proudly showed me and my girlfriend Charlie how to use the antique machine, bringing us into the kitchen as his father prepared sourdough loaves for baking. Jumping up and down around his father in the kitchen, the affection between father and son was clear to see. “My love,” his father called to him.
The opportunity to see how others live their day-to-day lives is one reason I am such a fan of Airbnb, the website that allows anyone to rent out their homes to people in need of a place to stay. The service provides an affordable way to stay away from home; for me and Charlie this weekend, the service provided a getaway close to home but far from the pressures of college. I came away inspired by a father’s care for his children and community and the way in which the small businesses of the Bay Area profoundly contribute to the culture of this place.
At breakfast at our new home, Raymond’s Bakery, Mark’s young son Eric called out to his father, “When’s pizza night?” Eric, his electric blue eyes meeting mine, very seriously explained, “Pizza night is my favorite.”
Every Friday, Raymond’s Bakery hosts a live band with swing dancing and crafts homemade pizza for locals and visitors alike. Mark, an excellent swing dancer, encourages his children to follow suit. Although Eric refuses to dance (“I just don’t dance!”), Mark’s eldest daughter Ella gave me and Charlie a brief introduction over Thursday morning’s breakfast as she danced with her younger sister Rebecca. On Friday evening, the smell of fresh bread and cheese wafted through Elim Grove’s tall, swaying trees as people gathered together to celebrate the end of the week, good food and each other’s company.
At its heart, Elim Grove Bed and Breakfast is a family affair. Mark, the manager of the property and baker of Raymond’s Bakery’s delicious breads and goodies, has been working on the property for more than fifteen years. Between his gardens under the trees, the jazz playing in the background and a community fire pit, the place connects the family, guests and visitors alike. His three children — Ella and twins Eric and Rebecca — made us feel at home, showing us the property and always offering a helping hand, advice and an ear to listen.
For a small town such as Cazadero, one wonders about the time before services like Airbnb. The town has a rich history in logging and has provided timber for many surrounding towns. It is undeniably picturesque. Down the road is the better-known Guerneville, a popular attraction for tourists. For the keen explorer, however, traveling merely twenty more minutes to Cazadero offers an authentic glimpse of the local spirit. Airbnb offers guests the ability to share their experiences with other travelers by leaving reviews on the places they have visited. Positive online feedback can make a big impression, driving traffic and profit into the local community in small towns such as Cazadero; Mark’s glowing reviews are what led me to choose the spot in the first place.
Founded in San Francisco, Airbnb was born out of the unenviable position Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia found themselves in — being unable to pay their rent. For hosts, Airbnb provides not only an opportunity for locals to share their knowledge of their home and surroundings, but also invaluable business for lesser-known communities off the beaten track. The meteoric rise of Airbnb in the past few years has been in part due to the creators’ willingness to test their business, sometimes staying in Airbnb homes for months at a time. Through trial and error, they have created a business that puts towns firmly back onto maps through the enduring comforts of hospitality.
Our host, Mark, sent us off exploring with a wide smile and a bag full of bread. “I’m sorry,” he said to us. “This isn’t quite oven-fresh; it’s been out for ten minutes.” It was an adventure prepared and provided for.
Isabel writes the Thursday column on discovering Berkeley and the greater Bay Area. Contact her at [email protected].