Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Airport Food

Last weekend, the New York Times published a piece about food in US airports. I couldn't believe that San Francisco International Airport got left out of the mix. Besides a few international airports, SFO has the best food at any airport--hands down. Even if you are flying domestically, head to the international terminal for a sampling of some San Francisco superstars--including Ebisu sushi! And in the domestic terminal, you can hit up Lori's Diner, Yankee Pier, Andale and Firewood.

Whatever type of cuisine you are craving, you are sure to find it here.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Family Friendly Wineries

When I was pregnant, I never thought I would be interested in hitting up a tasting room with my child. However, I have had some of my favorite wine country experiences with Kai in tow. Here are a couple of places that kids are welcome and even catered to.

Chateau Montelena: Calistoga's winery, that put Napa Valley on the map, not only offers an out of this world estate wine tasting experience, but also has a lake with ducks. The grounds feel like a forest and will entertain the little ones for hours.

Domaine Chandon: This 300-acre champagne plantation not only offers fun tours of the winery with a wonderful (and generous) private tasting sure to get your head filled with bubbles, but also has one of the best gardens to sip champagne, order cheese and appetizers and let the kids frollic in the oak trees.

Landmark Winery: If your kid is as into tractors, or ducks, or ponds, as mine, head to this house of Chardonnay, where the descendents of John Deere offer an expansive property for kids to run around while mom and dad sip wine.

FIll me in on your favorite family friendly wineries, so I can add them to the next installment.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Minor Correction

Hotel Healdsburg (hotelhealdsburg.com) is offering $100 off your second night, not the first. This isn't so bad, since this is the type of hotel you want to spend more than a night in. Anyone interested in architecture, luxury, good food, spas and Dwell magazine will surely appreciate this hidden gem.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Calistoga--a small town for everyone

It's no secret that Calistoga has retained its small town allure, even though it is home to some of the world's best wineries, resorts and spas. And nothing shows this off more than the lighted tractor parade each December.

This annual event, 16 years strong, attracts more folks than a Republican Convention in San Francisco. Yet, when Eden Umble from the Visitors Bureau said it was "a kick in the head", I envisioned some tacky Christmas lights strung atop a few tractors, while local cheerleaders tossed out candy and marched to the tune of some cheesy top 40 hit. But I had traveled up north for my 17 month old son, Kai, who is infatuated with tractors, excavators, fire engines and the holier than Hanukkah concrete mixer.

It turned out that not only were families lined up on beach chairs along Calistoga's main street, but nearly every person who lived within a 50 mile radius had come out. Young folks drank beer at the Calistoga Brewery, elderly chatted over margaritas and guacamole while waiting for the extravaganza and kids, so many kids, laughed and joined in the carolers as they sang everything from Silent Night to Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer.

My father in law, visiting from LA, kept remarking that this really felt like a community, where people gather to celebrate the holidays rather than collect at the mall to contribute to the consumerist circus called Christmas. And he was right. We all joined in Kai's excitement about the inflated Santas on fire engines, the bright Christmas trees atop a digger, the carolers on a plow. And though Christmas is still a few weeks away, we were able to engage in the heart of the holidays, something we often miss by living in a big city.

Once again, Calistoga brings me back to the heart of Napa Valley, where real farmers built crops on a dream, stuck through droughts, prohibition, vine disease, dodgy weather and the international wine community not believing in them. In Calistoga, you can see the roots, not just the vines. You can see that the growers are people, with families and friends, who gather to celebrate the seasons that they depend on for their livelihood. And it isn't bad to be reminded of that every once in awhile.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Some Spectacular Deals

I just learned about some hotel deals that you should all take advantage of. With the economy making folks afraid to go on vacation, some of Nor Cal's finest properties are offering deals that I have never seen before. Check it out.

The Cottages of Napa Valley (napacottages.com), usually one of Napa's most pricy properties, is offering three nights in Dec-Feb for $495--total. This is one of the best deals I have ever seen for this property. Get in now while you can.

Hotel Healdsburg (hotelhealdburg.com) has recently offered $100 off a night if you stayed with them in the last year.

Asilomar (visitasilomar.com), the most beautiful conference center resort in the central coast, is ofering significant deals to stay at the lodge, including the $159 bed, breakfast and dinner deal (put in the code: BEDANDDINE).

Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite (yosemite.com) is one of the most beautiful in winter and has some serious holiday packages, including a $330 a night room that include 2 hour a day entertainment for the kids.

In addition, local San Franciscans can score on some serious dining deals. Head to onlyinsanfrancisco.com to see the list of restaurants offering dining packages and yummy treats for a steal.

Let me know if you hear of more.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Rafting the Russian River

I wasn't raised as much of an outdoorswoman, so I often feel the necessity to prove myself in nature. So when Larry from SOAR Inflatables said we would be rafting 8 miles upstream for 5 hours, in an inflatable kayak, without a guide, with our 5 month old son, I took a big gulp of air and climbed aboard. It's not that I enjoy torturing myself, but my husband does. He heard of this physical challenge and opted for the main paddlers seat, claiming that all I had to do was take care of our son Kai.

After we were suited up and fully paid for our trip, Larry informed us that there were a few challenges of note. The first was negotiating under the Healdsburg bridge to assure not being grounded. He said we especially had to be careful, because we could tip over, and with a baby, that wouldn't be so fun. We watched most couples trying to paddle out towards the bridge end up working against each other and spinning in circles or running into one of the trees that randomly stuck out from the river (this ain't no Disneyland).

Eddie, the constant student, observed the physics of how to paddle just the right way to use the water to push us in the right direction. The first few tries, we too went in circles; though just as Kai started nodding off to sleep, he figured it out. I could see him enjoying the rush of manuevering past small inlets or trees (some of the other obstacles Larry mentioned), other kayakers, and even tough waters, but the real challenge came on the last mile.

Kai had woken up and we had stopped on a riverbank to swim and eat some lunch. We knew we were about a mile away from our pick up because we had spotted the only manmade structure along this stretch of river. We also knew that this was the most challenging part, when the current basically stopped. After seven miles of paddling Eddie's honeymoon with kayaking was beginning to fade. Yet, I was taking care that Kai didn't fling himself over the edge of the kayak when he tried to touch the water.

Like most stories of soft core adventure, we made it back to camp safely, with no bruises to speak of (though Eddie did have a sore back for a couple days). We watched as other paddlers (some with dogs, others with kids) arrived at the pick up spot and I asked Larry why he was the only outfit to allow people to bring their pets and babies. He smiled the smile of a true outdoorsman--one who surely takes his kids on massive adventures--and said that he trusted parents to decide for themselves, since he knew his trips were very safe (that could also be because we all are required to bring cell phones along). I'll say this, Larry's kayak trip does make Healdsburg one of the more kid friendly wine country destinations.

for more information visit soar1.com.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Perfect Day in Mendocino

8am: Grab a coffee and pastry at Mendocino Bakery and Cafe, then stroll along the bluffs of the Mendocino Headlands.

10am: Have brunch at the Ravens Restaurant.

11:30: Explore the bounty of color at the Mendocino Botanical Gardens.

1pm: Lunch at Mendocino Cafe, then have mushroom ice cream at Frankie's.

3pm: Go on a kayak trip to a sea cave or hike Russian Gulch State Park to see the waterfall.

5:30pm: Have a cocktail at the Mendocino Hotel bar or at the Heritage House restaurant.

7pm: Dine at the Moosse Cafe or Cafe Beaujolais.

9:30pm: Take a moonlight stroll through town, then have an Irish coffee at Patterson's Irish Pub.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Caretakers of the Earth

Last night I had a dream that my son Kai, looking over the wreckage of the planet, asked why I brought him into the world. Upon waking, I read a quote that appears in most holy books about humans being caretakers of the earth, not masters. Both made me feel lucky to live in Northern California, where people attempt to care for the planet rather than destroy it.

A friend recently told me that the spraying of grapes in Napa gives some residents permanent coughs and yet the growing organic and biodynamic wine movement (that started in Mendocino County--more on this soon) is helping to offset the effects of a century of pesticides.

Here in San Francisco, local people are fighting to add more bike lanes and charge a fee to drive into downtown during rush hour. Every other day I get a flyer on my door about local tree plantings or house cleaners that use organic cleaning products. And the new Academy of Sciences teaches us about the planet in fun and interesting ways.

In Lake Tahoe most new restaurants serve organic and locally grown produce. Go to Yosemite at Earth Day and kids learn about why it is a good thing to care for the planet. The Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch list is on the menus of most evolved chefs in the country. You'll find more organic restaurants in the small town of Mendocino than almost anywhere else on the planet. The protected redwood forests of Humboldt County help our famous trees survive in spite of logging efforts. Mt Shasta City's water is some of the best in the world. And the list goes on and on.

I suppose a thank you is in order to everyone working to protect the earth rather than destroy it. But a plea is also in order. For all of us--visitors and inhabitants--to do our part to help keep this land as one of the most beautiful places in the country. I am open to suggestions that I would love to list here as a guide to helping people know where to start. Your help is appreciated.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Perfect Day In San Francisco

Recently the SF Chronicle ran a piece on the perfect day in San Francisco and though the article was great, I have to disagree. Here is my perfect day in the City for singles, romantics and families.

8am: A latte at Ritual Coffee Roasters

9am: Breakfast at Boogaloos.

10:30am: Drive the 49 mile drive to Baker Beach (if it is a nice day, there is a nude beach at the far south end, near the bridge).

12:30pm: Lunch at the Ferry Building or Greens in Fort Mason.

2pm: Stroll the shops of Union Street.

5pm: Happy Hour margaritas at Mamacita.

7pm: Dinner at Nopa or Osha Thai.

9pm: Bar hop downtown through Boubon and Branch, Rye, Slide and Bambuddha Lounge.

9am: Coffee and pastries at the Boulangerie de Cole while you wait for breakfast at Zazie.

10:30am: Stroll through the Strybing Botanical Gardens and Stow Lake.

12:00pm: Drive along the coast, through the Presidio to Swan Oyster Depot or Nick's Crispy Tacos for lunch.

2pm: Wander through the Ferry Building and stop for wine at the Wine Merchant.

4:30pm: Ride the cable car for cocktails at Top of the Mark or a spa treatment at Huntington Hotel Spa.

7:30pm: Dine at Forbes Island or Piperade.

10pm: Have a nightcap and dessert at the Campton Place hotel bar (if you call in advance you can have the dessert tasting menu).

8am: Coffee and pastries at Cafe Roma in North Beach.

9am: Take a food tour through North Beach and Chinatown.

11:30am: Explore Musee Mechanique at Fisherman's Wharf.

12:30pm: Ride the cable car to the Ferry Building for lunch and gelato.

2pm: Head to Golden Gate Park to play.

4:30pm: Mom and Dad grab a beer at Park Chalet while the kids eat pizza and run around.

6:30pm: Dinner at Foreign Cinema or Gialina.

9pm: When the kids are asleep, mom and dad pop open that bottle of wine and relax.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Copia Closes

In a shocking discovery Napa's COPIA building has shut its doors to the public. All of us who have appreciated the space to celebrate food, wine and art; plus those of us who have made use of the concierge, the wine pass, and the great restaurant, mourn the passing of this Napa Valley gem.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Is the Fried Chicken Worth the Wait?

I had heard about Ad Hoc's fried chicken dinner--I heard people line up on alternating Monday and Wednesday nights; heard Thomas Keller soaks the chickens in milk, and even feeds them milk before slaughter; heard the all you can eat family style meal is addictive; heard that you won't find a better deal in all of Yountville. Well, the rumors are true, sort of.

First off, the space itself is worth a visit--spare, with waiters wearing shirts that recall gas station attendants from the 1950s, with wide smiles and big praise for the God of Food--Mr Keller. The wine list, as you might imagine, is stellar, focusing on local wines, but not leaving out the stars of other regions.

We got there early on a Monday night and though there were no lines to be seen, about half of the tables were already taken (at the 5pm opening time). The diners were a mix of locals celebrating birthdays, families and folks on a date. Local secret: you can sit at the bar without a reservation.

Food is served family style in a 4 course prix fix style. Our fried chicken was accompanied by a wedge salad, black eyed peas and rice, collard greens, a rich cheese with a late harvest honey and a dark chocolate brownie (with a creme fraiche topping). Every thing I tasted was better than the next...except the chicken. Don't get me wrong, it is good. Too good; sinfully good. But it can not stand up to the reputation--especially not when the cuts are fatty, or pink (yes we had to send a piece back). The chefs did redeem themselves with the last piece: a thick, juicy breast of white meat that almost melted in my mouth. Almost.

The servers said to come back for other dishes, which change every night and are, some say, better than the infamous chicken. Besides the fried chicken days, diners don't know what is on the menu until that afternoon, but you will be in for a treat if Keller's take on beef stroganoff is on the menu.

Bottom line: try the chicken at least once, but come back for the truly creative dishes, the ones worth a hefty $50 per person.

Ad Hoc (adhocrestaurant.com).

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Spa Treatments Worth Your Hard Earned Cash

Since jetting off to Fiji isn't in everyone's budget at the moment, perhaps the cure for the winter blues might include some indulgence in a Northern California spa. In researching my NORTHERN CALIFORNIA: AN EXPLORER'S GUIDE, I had the chance to try out spa treatments and here are a few that would surely make good stocking stuffers.

San Francisco
Kabuki Hot Spring and Spa (www.kabukisprings.com) offers a truly indulgent Abhyanga Massage with Shirodhara Treatment that makes you feel like someone is taking off your scalp and filling it with warm honey. Afterwards you can soak in the hot springs, sip tea and read in the communal bathhouse.

Sen Spa
(www.senspa.com) is located in an old military bunker in the Presidio and upon entering, you won't believe how the architects transformed the space into an earthly haven, incorporating fire, water, earth and air into the design. You can nibble on dark chocolate before your massage or facial and then relax in the lounge, reading the inspirational quotes scattered around the facilities.

Sonoma County
Osmosis (www.osmosis.com) offers guests the only chance in Northern California to experience Japanese cedar enzyme baths. Afterwards get a massage by the talented massage therapists then head next door to Wildflour Bakery for some of the best bread around.

Kenwood Inn Spa (www.kenwoodinn.com) specializes in vinotherapy--wine baths, chardonnay facials, cabernet scrubs. My favorite is the wine barrel bath, overlooking the vineyards, followed by a massage. Afterwards, you can relax by the pool, sipping an elixir and listening to the fountains. Can we say decadence?

Napa County
Auberge Du Soleil Spa (www.aubergedusoleil.com) might not allow walk ins in summer, but come wintertime, you can stroll onto the property and be treated like the celebrities that hide out at this gorgeous retreat. Start with champagne, a dip in the 98 degree infinity pool overlooking the valley and then choose between a massage and outdoor bath overlooking the forest or a facial with a foot massage. Whatever you choose, prepare to veg out afterwards.

Villagio Inn Spa
(www.villagio.com) offers one of the finest spas in the valley. If you can spring for it, get an Asian-themed suite (one of the only of its kind in Northern California), where you get to enjoy a 2.5 hour spa treatment of your choice, a steam shower, private fireplace and outdoor tub.

Central Coast
Bernardus Spa (www.bernardus.com) is my choice for under the radar spa treatments in a pastoral setting. Not only will you enjoy regal treatment, but you can relax by the pool for hours, eating Cal Stamenov's wonderful cuisine.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Coffee Shops

Because I am a coffee addict, while researching my EXPLORER'S GUIDE, I had to find the best coffee in the entire region. Below I have listed the THE spots to get top notch lattes and a respectable cup of joe.

San Francisco
Ritual Coffee Roasters (www.ritualroasters.com)
Blue Bottle (www.Bluebottlecoffee.net)
Four Barrel (375 Valencia St)
Cafe Trieste (www.cafetrieste.com)
Caffe Roma (www.cafferoma.com)

South Bay
Barefoot Coffee Roasters (www.barefootcoffeeroasters.com)
Caffe Del Doge (www.caffedeldoge.com)

East Bay
Cafe Trieste (www.cafetrieste.com)

North Bay
Northpoint Coffee (www.northpointcoffee.com)

Central Coast
East Village Coffee Lounge (www.eastvillagecoffeelounge.com)
Ol' Factory Cafe (www.theolfactorycafe.com)

Temple (www.templecoffee.com)

Naked Coffee Roasting (www.thenakedlounge.com)

Sonoma County
Flying Goat Coffee (www.flyinggoatcoffee.com)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Best Northern California Beaches

My dad calls NorCal the Hinterland. Seems that every time he visits, the imfamous fog blankets the coast, creating a chill that seeps through the skin and touches bone. Though I spend most of June and July cursing this cold region, what I rarely tell people who don't live in Northern California is that we have some glorious beach days. We get these weeklong stretches of sunny weather that drives locals to the beach to act like real Californians. So where are the best beaches? Here is a list of my favorites.

Hike-In Beaches
Julia Pfeiffer State Beach, Big Sur
Point Lobos State Park, Carmel
Wildcat Beach, Pt Reyes

Sunbathing Beaches
Seabright Beach, Santa Cruz
Baker Beach, San Francisco
Stinson Beach, Marin

Surf Beaches
Pleasure Point, Santa Cruz
Ocean Beach, San Francisco
Mavericks, Half Moon Bay

Family-Friendly Beaches
Pacifica Beach, Pacifica
Half Moon Bay Beach, Half Moon Bay
Carmel Beach, Carmel
Main Beach, Santa Cruz

Other Notable Beaches
Limantour Beach, Pt Reyes
McClures Beach, Pt Reyes
Fort Funston, Daly City

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Fire in the Skies of El Dorado County

We had to be on the banks of the American River prior to dawn. As a new mom, getting up before your child isn't high on the list of musts, but they informed us that we could lift off and see the sun rise over the rolling hills--a sight, they claimed, that would awe even the most grumpy morning person.

A coffee and pastry later, the balloon's fire roared, lifting it off the ground. Inside the basket, we could hardly hear the instructions of our pilot--which I later learned was a good thing, since he wanted to make the trip into an adventure by telling us all the near miss landings he had experienced. Quickly we floated into the air, coasting along the river.

If you are among the countless who think the Sierra Foothills are only good for a gas stop on the way to Yosemite and Tahoe, you, like me, would have been impressed. The golden hills rolled like sheets of silk in the breeze, while oaks filled the crevices, seemingly grounding them to the earth. As the sun began to rise, it reflected off the roaring river and sprayed rays in all directions. Below, as they heard the roar of the fire in our balloon, weary campers waved from their sleeping bags. Horses and dogs greeted us as we passed. It seemed that no one below could ignore the spectacle of a balloon floating over the town of Columa. I looked over the site where James Marshall first struck gold and understood why the pioneers stopped in these valleys, made them their homes, believed in the power of the earth.

After 45 minutes of floating through the air, it was time to land. However, the wind had picked up and kept veering us towards the trees instead of a meadow. The pilot was radioing his crew to get them to find a safe space to land to no response. He wanted us to try and land without assistance. But without extra hands to pull us in, we needed a lot of space. We floated towards the Sierra Mountains until a field opened beneath. Seven false landings later, our crew appeared and we finally set down in a field of brush.

Our pilot had all the confidence in the world that our landing would be safe, and he was correct. However, his sense of adventure during the flight did make my heart race. And for our adventurous spirit, the pilot offered a champagne picnic and a toast to the newly minted members of the hot air balloon club.

A hot air balloon ride is an experience unlike any other. Is it worth the $200 per person you'll spend? Depends on how much you have to skimp to go on the journey. If money isn't an option, this is a not to miss experience--complete with adventure and out of sight photo opportunities. Why should you take a trip in Coloma rather than Napa or Shasta or Tahoe? It is a dash cheaper here, quite picturesque, and the pilot doesn't make you clean up the balloon after landing--which you do in many of the Napa trips. Besides, it is a great way to get a feel for the winding American River rapids before a rafting trip. Contact skydrifters.com for more information.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

San Francisco Free Museum Days

One of the zillions of things I love about San Francisco is its commitment to enabling everyone access to art and museums. Below is a list of the city's museums and the days they are free to the public.

Free 1st Sunday of the month
Asian Art Museum

Free 1st Tuesday of the month
Cartoon Art Museum
De Young Museum
Legion of Honor
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Free 1st Wednesday of the month
SF Zoo

Free 3rd Wednesday of the month
California Academy of Sciences

Monday, November 3, 2008

San Jose: An IT Destination?

People in San Francisco don't often consider San Jose a worthy stop. Many float through for Vietnamese food or cheaper gas than in the City, then continue on to the Gilroy outlets, Santa Cruz, the Central Coast or LA. But I'll tell you a secret, San Jose is growing up.

In and around Cesar Chavez Square you'll find enough to keep you busy for days. Start with the Tech Museum--which currently has a wonderful Leonardo Da Vinci exhibit--and with the price of admission, you get to view an IMAX film. The museum itself offers so much information about how the world works, you'll want to spend hours playing with the interactive exhibits.

Around the corner, kids will love the Children's Discovery Museum. WIth everything from live music to bubble machines, crawl space for little ones to interactive science and art rooms, this is the kind of spot that mom and dad can chill out while little Logan runs all over the joint, tiring himself out.

The San Jose Museum of Art often has some of the most innovative exhibits in the Bay Area. Modern art lovers will want to spend some time exploring the collection and rotating display of art. Currently, there is an interesting exhibit on Road Trips.

Cesar Chavez Square, erected in the 1880s, is a central hang out spot for locals and tourists. Here you'll find everyone from dreadlocked hippies banging drums to women in saris to kids running through the fountains. It is the ideal spot for a picnic or watching the planes land in the airport close by.

When you get hungry, you have a few great options, but my current favorites include 19 Market--a modern Vietnamese restaurant--and Michael Mina's Arcadia steakhouse. Even if you don't eat meat, Arcadia is the ideal spot for a nice dinner. Spacious and hip, sit at the foot of the Marriott and watch the chefs prepare your meal in the wood oven. You can't miss the lobster corn dogs, ahi poke and soup special. Nor do you want to pass your chance for a steak or cioppino. The sides though are what put the restaurant over the top. Wood fired exotic mushrooms, truffled mac and cheese, whipped potatoes...just thinking about them makes me want to eat. But it is pricy (a dinner for two with drinks ran us $160). They are about to open a lounge next door, where you can enjoy fancy cocktails and small bites.

If you don't want to drive home, the De Anza Hotel, Hotel Montgomery or Marriott are within walking distance from the square. All balance hip amenities with retro appeal. The bummer is that parking rates are steep. For deals, go on weekends.

Unfortunately in the morning, you'll have to drive to the best coffee shop in the South Bay--Barefoot Coffee Roasters. Disregard the location in a strip mall and order a latte, then sit on mismatched chairs and relish in the fact that your coffee could win a barista contest.

Still looking for something to keep you busy? Head to Saratoga and Los Gatos for some window shopping, or hike Big Basin's redwood grove.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Perfect Day in Yountville

Wake up at the crack of dawn for a hot air balloon ride over the vineyards. Follow your adventure with a champagne brunch.

Go back to sleep for a couple of hours.

Enjoy a wine and food pairing at Girard Tasting Room.

Have a panini and wine at Michael Chiarello's NapaStyle Paninoteca.

Taste wine and tour the winery at Keever Vineyards.

Head to Domaine Chandon for oysters and champagne.

Get a massage treatment at the Villagio Inn and Spa--if you can spring for it, get a suite treatment.

If you don't want to spend your children's entire college fund, dine at Hurley's. If it is a Monday or Wednesday, call to check if Ad Hoc is serving their fried chicken dinner. Or if you are celebrating a 25th anniversary, why not dine at French Laundry?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Not Just Pumpkins in Half Moon Bay

After the summer sojourners leave and the pumpkin hunters have celebrated Halloween, Half Moon Bay is my choice for a mellow weekend escape. Days might be shorter and cooler, but the miles of white sand beaches and dunes, redwood hikes, huge waves, wildlife, hotel deals and great food add up to the perfect recipe late fall/early winter trip. Here you'll find a recreation center that throws Halloween parties for kids, families fly kites on the beach, people lining up at teh bakery when the pumpkin bread comes out of the oven because it smells so good, and all independently owned shops lining Main St. It's a good ole town, right in the heart of the Bay Area.

My favorite places to stay include the Pigeon Point Lighthouse (http://www.norcalhostels.org/pigeon), which is super cheap and on the ocean; the Beach House (http://www.beach-house.com)--the oceanfront location begs for romance; the Half Moon Bay Inn (http://www.halfmoonbayinn.com/), which feels like a hip hotel in Spain or Mexico; or Costanoa (costanoa.com) for luxury canvas tent camping with heated beds and floors. All of these spots offer deals--especially midweek--in late fall and winter.

If i were to plan to perfect day in Half Moon Bay, I would start with coffee and pumpkin bread at the Half Moon Bay Bakery (Main St). Then head over to the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve (at low tide) to play in the tidepools and see the starfish and seals. Next, drive down to Ano Nuevo State reserve (if it is winter make a reservation first) to see the elephant seals mate (it's pretty gnarly--lots of noise and fighting and machismo--at least it makes bar hopping look tame). Afterwards, head to Duarte's (duartestavern.com) for artichoke and chili soup. If you still have energy, you don't want to miss an easy stroll through the Purisma Creek redwoods (openspace.org) just above Half Moon Bay. And top your day off with dinner at Cetrella (cetrella.com).

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Northern California Borders and Dimensions

After finishing Great Destinations Kauai (Countryman Press, Dec 08), I was offered the chance to write Northern California: An Explorer's Guide. Living in San Francisco for the past 6.5 years and traveling all over the state made the gig easy to accept--add to that having a one year old son and a six month deadline, which make the summer a hectic treat.  

To start, I had to work out what exactly is Northern California. I began the hunt by searching other guidebooks and strangely all the Northern California books included places that I would never consider in the region--Santa Barbara, Kings Canyon, and even Bakersfield. So I created an honest border. Basically I asked where people in the northern part of the state can easily travel to. And so my book covers from Big Sur to Yosemite all the way to the Oregon border. 

In this blog you'll find up to date advice on the best spots throughout the Northern  part of California, personal experiences traveling with a one year old son, highlights from my research, excellent romantic getaways, the best beaches and honest information about the region. 

Oh, and the guidebook comes out May 1, 09.