Moving Forward: The Future HarborWalk Inn 

Written by Judy Salamacha

August 11, 2023

Cherise Hansson, owner of the HarborWalk Inn, on the balcony in one of the suites overlooking bay and rock. Photo by Judy Salamacha

For generations several members of Morro Bay’s Leage family have owned and operated Embarcadero retail and restaurant related operations. It is noteworthy that Travis Leage and Cherise Hansson and their three sons, Trason, 18, Lance 14, and Coen, 12 have embarked on an exciting new waterfront project. 

They are third generation Embarcadero lease holders. He was born into the lifestyle. She chose to marry into it after she and Travis became a couple while attending Humboldt State University. He developed Travis Leage Construction while she opened and operated Under the Sea Gallery at 725 Embarcadero as well as Mermaid Boutique at 833 Embarcadero. Currently 833 is under construction as HarborWalk Inn at HarborWalk Plaza.

Cherise said, “We knew we needed to plan ahead for our three sons’ futures if they might decide to carry on the family businesses in Morro Bay.” At the same time Hansson said there was a secondary purpose for sinking their savings into the project. “As Embarcadero lease holders we also believe it is our responsibility to invest in the health of our bay and harbor. We need to keep up with the times – offer what our visitors expect – even more than they expected – so they will return. Travis and I decided we wanted to do our part to maintain a future economic vitality for our waterfront business district.”  

Flashback 25 years when Aunt Violet Leage was the leaseholder of record. Cherise knew during her first visit to Morro Bay she wanted to open her own shop on the Embarcadero that would feature unique ocean themed products. Aunt Vi helped her fulfill her dream. Cherise’s longtime success was built on her goal to make her customer’s smile. Even as a college student she understood smiles meant a satisfied customer that would come back to see her again. Her whimsical and artistic product selections also offered function, so while the children are entertained, their parents browse and find treasures to decorate their home – family memories from their visit to Morro Bay.  

Her first shop was a tiny 400 square-foot space she sublet from Aunt Vi. “At first, I was the creator of products. Now I show other’s creations,” Cherise said.” She strives to keep up with the trends. “I have three boys, so I love buying trinkets for girls.” Years ago, she introduced Fairies Fantasy gifts “I created a Pink Room. The children love to go in and stay awhile. Their parents prefer to browse the jellyfish gallery with confidence they know where their children are.”  

When their Aunt Vi experienced some health issues, Cherise and Travis were there to help her manage the leases. Eventually Cherise would expand to two larger retail shops. However, on the Embarcadero waterfront leases expire and need to be renegotiated. “The concept of a multi-purposed property we called HarborFront Inn began to percolate about seven years ago.” Then in 2018 after contending with two other bidders for the best use and design of the property at 833 Embarcadero, their waterfront proposal was selected. 

Recently Cherise took me on a “dusty shoes” tour of HarborWalk Inn. My words cannot describe how beautiful this property is already. She has been posting pictures on Google HarborWalk Plaza. November or December is their target for bookings. Travis Leage Construction is the general contractor and Cameron Nelson is the project manager. Cherise and Travis have worked closely on each detail, including selecting their tenant partners for their ocean-themed property. Her enthusiasm and love for the project is contagious.  

Umi Sushi Morro Bay will expand across the street to open UMI Seafood Grill & Bar in the downstairs premier bayside area. Additional clearance space on the Harbor Walk was designed for visitors to stroll by or pause and come in. Floor to ceiling doors will front the restaurant offering an indoor/outdoor feel and experience. Another tenant, Lexi Jacobs Limited Boat Rentals, will offer smaller rental boats than currently are available on the bay. HarborWalk Inn Convenience Store will offer those necessities a guest may have forgotten at home.  

“I’m asked every day if the children’s coin-operated toys are coming back,” Cherise said. “They don’t make them anymore, but I found Peter Hazel at Burning Man. He rehabilitates these antique coin-operated kids’ toys. We will have two of them.” The children’s play area will definitely return to the property.  

HarborWalk Inn encompasses the entire second floor. Oversized custom-made doors funnel people right in off the street “as if entering a mermaid’s grotto,” Cherise said. There are eight rooms. From wall colors to flooring – bedding and cabinetry – bathroom fixtures and technology features, Cherise has hand-picked what she believes will inspire a positive visitor experience. Every room has a generous private deck with Polywood deck chairs and magical viewing of Morro Rock. 

One room overlooks the Embarcadero. It has two decks – one positioned for viewing the 4th of July bicycle parade or daily activities happening in the Embarcadero. Another side deck has a view of Morro Rock. Two additional rooms are adjacent yet separated by a foyer entry. They are designed for individual bookings or to accommodate group bookings for families, reunion groups or wedding parties.  

The art in each room features the ocean theme with names like the Jellyfish or Sea Otter Suites. Cherise has selected originally created light fixtures by Morro Bay artist Rowen Chase and furniture décor from San Luis Obispo’s Luna Rustica.  She envisioned a shell shape for all the bathroom sinks and had them created by designer Justine Perkins. The showers are quartz with shower heads sporting four rotation sprays. A high-end coffee bar will stock fresh cream and interactive video screens will allow digital shopping and entertainment. Dancing colors in the fireplaces will set a mood. “Puffy mattresses are better than mine at home,” Cherise said. “Travis and I came up with our colors separately. I was surprised when he preferred my color combinations.”  Each room features warm variations of gold and blue tones. 

Close attention was dedicated to fully outfit the ADA room in the middle corridor, including the heights of the bedside end tables. “The deck had this small extended area that viewed Morro Rock. We wondered if it should be closed off until we realized it was the perfect size to fit a wheelchair.” 

The two suites that front the bay are oversized with mammoth decks. Their beds are positioned for guests to wake up and prop up for a lazy morning facing a stunning view. As they stretch, they might reach towards the bay and feel they can touch Morro Rock. Guests will hear the otters talking and fishing boats motoring out to sea. 

“These are suites that guests might invite all their Morro Bay friends to visit for cocktails or watch the Lighted Boat Parade,” Cherise joked. 

Ever dream of being an innkeeper? Cherise is currently looking for a manager. “I always admired the customer service quality experiences [local hoteliers] Joan and John Solu and Molly and Roger Anderson offered their guests. I know I can offer the best of amenities, but that personal experience at the front desk and how guests are treated during their stay is what will bring them back.” She has her model for success and is determined she won’t settle for less. 

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