I stayed two days here enroute home after several weeks in Death Valley. Some may wonder why anyone would stay two days in Taft, which is off any direct route between Death Valley and the Bay Area, unless they were working or visiting someone. It turned out that way because my original plan was one day there so I could go to Carrizo Plain, but I discovered the Tule Elk Natural Reserve nearby (I did see elk), spent a bit more time exploring around town, and decided to stay another night.
The Best Western is in the old downtown, not on Kern Street, a city street designated as Hwy 33 that has become another retail district but with mostly car-centric businesses and less of the original town character.
Taft is in an oil-producing area and that is the bedrock of its economy. Across the street from the hotel is a park with the large, impressive Oilworker Monument. I can’t post a link for it – TA doesn’t allow URLs in reviews and rejected my first posting and made me spend a lot of time reconstructing this. But you can google Taft Oilworker Monument for info and pictures.
Many early residents were from Southern and Border states as in much of the San Joaquin Valley, where Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” people were headed (this is relevant, you’ll see). Downtown, along North, Main, and Center Streets south of Kern Street, surely predates the Hwy 33 appellation. If you want fast food or gas marts, go to Kern Street, but if you want to see the older business area, 1950s warehouses, office buildings, and stores (lots of furniture stores, IDK why), or the restored Fox Theatre, look on the other streets. Many older houses can be seen both north and south of 33. Maybe partly because of its early demographics, Taft was infamous as a “sundown town,” one of many in both North and South with laws and signs that “Colored People Must Leave By Sunset” or be arrested or worse; 1970s racial strife in Taft was depicted in a story by Gerald Haslam, one of my favorite California authors. In 2019, the signs are gone; I can’t shed any light on the attitudes. (Just giving some background because Taft is not a town most folks are likely to be familiar with. I saw various ethnicities, much of today’s population is Hispanic, and being American of Asian ancestry didn’t seem to be a problem).
OK – about the hotel. I’ve become partial to Best Western in recent years. At some point in life, people outgrow Motel 6, and Best Western is a good fit when you don’t need a Marriott or Hilton or can't find one. This is a fairly new place at 6th and Main, the quiet edge of the old downtown, with the park and Oilworker Monument across the street. I was comfortable walking in the evenings on the streets where there are stores and restaurants, and in the park where I saw joggers and families. In any town, it’s always wise to know one’s surroundings, but I was fine there.
The hotel is 21st Century Bland with 3 stories, a lobby where people can watch TV or visit (not like Motel 6 lobbies that don’t even have chairs), a decent vending selection where you don't need coins because the desk clerk is the cashier, a small business center, guest laundry, exercise room, and outdoor pool. I didn’t use the pool, but it would have been OK if I wanted to; I appreciate outdoor pools but can’t spend even a minute at an indoor one because the enclosures trap and magnify every bit of heat, humidity, noise, and nasty chlorine odor. The parking lot has strong security lighting, which came on earlier than sunset so it may be on a clock timer and not a sensor.
I had a top floor room facing Main Street, looking at a historic building housing an auto body shop; not a scenic vista, but I hadn’t expected one and wasn’t paying for one. It was comfortable, with a fridge, microwave, and AC and USB outlets on all the lamps for the ubiquitous e-things. There were times I was awake late at night or early in the morning and looked out, and saw that part of town totally asleep, with few lights on, no traffic, no one walking around – an interesting view.
A plus at Best Western is the breakfast buffet with real breakfast, not a basket of cellophane-embalmed pastries bought by the case at Costco. A civilized breakfast in a hotel or motel is worth a little higher rent, not just in money but in time and convenience. On the days I dined, I had a choice of juices, fruits, pastries, yogurt, cereal, scrambled eggs, potatoes, and meat – one day, sausage and chorizo, the other, bacon and biscuits and gravy. The automatic pancake machine produced two little pancakes with a press of a button; no ladling batter like in some hotel DIY waffle makers where you always see a mess and lots of waste.
I have to mention the décor. Most hotels have pictures of soothing nature scenes like waterfalls or meadows, or animals, or local landmarks. The décor here may be startling at first but makes perfect sense. At the entrance is a metal sculpture of an oil well pump jack, the thing most travelers notice first, which looks like the toy bird that bobs up and down in water, this is what it is).The hallways are lined with photos, mostly b&w but a few sepia or color, of petroleum industry subjects: workers, derricks, pumps, equipment or parts of it (vehicles, wheels, chain drives, a truck interior, tools, etc.), even a portrait of a “Hazardous Waste” sign. In the rooms, instead of your everyday Paris open-air café or bowl of fruit, you’ll find more oil industry photos. Aside from any opinions about carbon-based fuels and combustion engines, you have to give the management credit for being creative about making the hotel part of its setting. less