Thursday, December 10, 2009

Wanna Get Away to the Central Coast This Weekend?

This just in: Anton Inn one of my favorite low key hotels in Pacific Grove is offering an unbeatable deal from Dec 11-14. $59 a night! Book now--this will go fast.

If you can swing this weekend, they also have deals through December for $69 a night. Click here to read my review of Anton Inn.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Here Comes The Snow

Well folks, looks like the only way in and out of Yosemite are the highways. No more scenic routes until spring. Snow has officially closed many of the High Sierra roadways. So if you plan to head up to Yosemite for the holidays, be sure to check road openings with the Highway Patrol.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

New Gig

Just wanted to clue everyone in to the new site I am writing for. I will be covering Bay Area hotels and attractions. Check it out!

http://theinsider.tripvine.com

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Here Comes the Powder

It's official, Lake Tahoe has snow. Powdery perfect snow. Ideal to drop all plans of munching on turkey with the family and instead huff it up to the mountains to delight in the winter wonderland. Better act fast--before all the good powder melts under the hordes of folks boarding down the hills.

If you can, check into Deerfield Lodge for a night of luxury mixed with easy access to Heavenly lifts and the gondola.

I've also heard through the grapevine that Southwest Airlines has released some unbeatable deals to fly to Reno--something to the tune of two for one trips.

Finally, on your way up to the mountains be on the lookout for the fall colors dotting El Dorado County. I've heard it is quite a show right now, but going away fast.

Happy Winter Everybody!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Acme Chophouse is closing

AT&T Park's steakhouse is shutting its doors to make way for a new eatery. Stay tuned for updates on the new tenant. All I can say is: It better be good. I will miss Acme's macaroni and cheese.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Central Valley Doesn't Stink

Writers cannot please, nor appeal to everyone. I recently received feedback on my Northern California: An Explorer's Guide from a woman who lives in Modesto. She said that I misrepresented the Central Valley, by presenting the information in a snarky, insensitive way, highlighting the pastoral smells rather than the cultural highlights of California's Central Valley.

Of course to her, I did present the region poorly. She lives there and loves it. She has friends and community and all the ingredients of home, regardless of how this traveler perceives Modesto. And surely there are highlights, scenic spots, worthy treats for all palates, including theater, poetry slams, and international cuisine.

However, I live in San Francisco and love it here. As a guidebook writer, it is my job to siphon through all the possible journeys you will take in this region and present you with the worthy trip for your taste buds. Yet, on all levels you are traveling with me, using my perception. That is the glory (and occasional) problem with using and depending on a guidebook. You may not have the same worldview as the writer, food tastes, inherent belief system, but you are getting her opinion, her eyes on a locale.

I write this to encourage you to travel with your own eyes. To use the book as it is meant to be used: as a catalogue of information, painstakingly researched by this humble writer and her family (A writer who doesn't mean to insult or be snarky about any person's hometown). We will not agree on everything. Nor do I want us to. That is part of the conversation. I use your feedback (and the generous responses like the woman from Modesto) to update information and get to know towns with your eyes as well.

Writing a guidebook is ultimately a group effort; a give and take between writer and reader and place. And while I may (and will) get information wrong, my book also informs you of a restaurant or hike you never knew existed; a town's charms; a region's quirks. Together we can get to know Northern California's highs and lows even better. And maybe we'll learn to look past our various smells and appreciate all towns--big and small.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Which Northern California county offers summer festivals with cowgirls, salmon, art, and music?

Some destinations rely on their notoriety to draw tourists back year after year. Mendocino County has a different agenda. Combining rich redwood forests, windswept beaches, and artsy towns with one-of-a-kind festivals, San Francisco's northern hippie neighbor makes it nearly impossible not to take advantage of her riches year after year.

For more information, click here.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Northern California's top inns for romantic getaways--part one

With honeymoons, anniversaries, and the summer heat all begging to be celebrated, Northern California has its fair share of places to woo your sweetheart. Selecting which is right for you is the only problem. Here are my top romantic inns for all budgets.

To keep reading, click here.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Last minute Northern California Fourth of July ideas

San Franciscans have a love/hate affair with the 4th of July. Oh how we love to celebrate BBQ, family and friends, the languid days of summer, lounging in Dolores Park with Bi Rite honey lavender ice cream, and a six pack, just waiting for the fireworks to explode. Yet, most years we are plagued with dense fog and chilly winds that make the holiday downright miserable. Most years, we wait to see what the weather is like before getting in the car and heading to warmer pastures. So if you are like me and looking for some summer on the first weekend of July, here are a few last minute ideas.

For details, click here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The How-To guide to planning a trip in the Internet age

After prowling through Travelzoo, Travel-ticker, and Smarter Travel, we finally found a reasonable airline flight to Thailand. But this fickle traveler had to marinate on the price ($670--in summer!), the dates, and if I could handle a 25 hour travel day with a two year old. When I return to the above-mentioned websites the next day, I suddenly found that I could fly from San Francisco to Rome, or Athens, or Barcelona, or Paris, or Amsterdam for $350. Now my brain was fried. Would I rather sip sangria or ouzo on a beach or drink from a freshly chopped coconut? Would I sacrifice some rainy days in Phuket for epic sun drenched strands on the Costa Brava?

For more, click here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Searching for that special romantic getaway?

Sometimes a hotel captures your heart. In the most unlikely of Sonoma County locations, the Farmhouse Inn is my Wine Country destination of du jour.

For more information, click here.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Northern California's top kid-friendly music venues--part one

People call me crazy when I say I bring my toddler most everywhere. He's stayed at Meadowood, eaten Thomas Keller meals, and been to more festivals than many adults I know. With all this experience, though he might not remember his night, say, at Auberge du Soleil, I imagine he will be a more adaptable adult because of it.

For more information, click here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Northern California hot springs

Imagine dipping your toes in a pool of natural hot springs, while surrounded by whizzing birds and prancing deer. Or maybe you prefer soaking in clawfoot tubs perched on a cliff with the ocean crashing below. Whether you aim for maintained hot springs or wild hike-in ones, Northern California offers a wealth of soaking options.

For more information, click here: http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-6346-Northern-California-Getaways-Examiner~y2009m6d10-Northern-California-hot-springs

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Hob Nob Tours in San Francisco--the correct contact info

HI all,

I just learned from Val at the wonderful Hob Nob tours that the phone and address for Hob Nob is incorrect in the new Northern California: An Explorer's Guide. The correct contact information is 650-814-6303 and P. O. Box 2302 Livermore, CA 94551. As you might expect with us humans, we occasionally mess up. I hope you all understand and forgive my blunder.

For detailed information about the excellent Hob Nob Tour of Nob Hill, pick up Northern California: An Explorer's Guide (Countryman Press).

Escape to California's secret mountain towns--Part two

I'm letting the cat out of the bag. But I assume that if you are on the prowl for secret mountain towns, you probably deserve to know about Northern California's finest. This is the second installment of my favorite hidden mountain towns, this time highlighting Dunsmuir.

Click here for information about Dunsmuir.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Northern California June events

With summer, comes a slew of Northern California's finest events. An array of June festivals leave you no excuse to be bored at home. Here are a few of my favorites.

Click here for more information:
http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-6346-Northern-California-Getaways-Examiner~y2009m6d3-Northern-California-June-events

Monday, June 1, 2009

Northern California: An Explorer's Guide: A guidebook for all budgets

Looking for summer road trip ideas? Romantic getaways? Family friendly getaways? Campsites, gourmet taco trucks, hikes and hidden mountain towns? My new guidebook Northern California: An Explorer's Guide addresses the need for honest coverage of California's most beautiful landscape from a local perspective. The book covers the region from Big Sur to Yosemite, all the way up to the Oregon border, including hidden gems like Dunsmuir, Gualala, Shelter Cove and Twain Harte, not to mention Lake Tahoe, San Francisco, Wine Country and the redwoods.

For more information, click here.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Escape to California's secret mountain towns--Part one

Interested in escaping to mountain towns away from summer crowds?

Click here.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Bay Area lakes for summer swimming

When I think of summer, I imagine long hot days in the sun, swimming, picnicking and BBQing with friends. Since San Francisco doesn't (often) offer enough opportunities to do this, I have compiled an initial list of Bay Area lakes to catch some rays and swim sans fog and wind.

Close to home: Bay Area lakes equal summer fun--Part 1.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Northern California's top swim lakes

When the days get longer, do you pine to swim in a lake? If so, check this out: Nor Cal Swim Lakes.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Island dining on the San Francisco bay? You bet!

It begins with a boat ride from Fisherman's Wharf. Forbes himself motors over on a pontoon to collect you from the pier. Step aboard, sail past the barking sea lions and step onto shore at Forbes Island--San Francisco's one of a kind dining experience.

For more information, click here.

Monday, May 18, 2009

So you think you know Northern California?

Road trips are this year's travel trend. With stellar landscapes, peaks, valleys and windswept beaches, Northern California is by and large the finest place to venture out in your car. Whether you want a romantic trip along the Central Coast, a down and dirty trip through the Trinity Alps, redwood trails, wine tasting or under the radar antique shopping, Northern California delivers.

See more about my new book at http://www.examiner.com/x-6346-Northern-California-Getaways-Examiner~y2009m5d18-So-you-think-you-know-Northern-California

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Fly from SF to the OC for under $100

If you are on the hunt for cheap tickets, check out this link.

http://tinyurl.com/cwmrjb

In other news, Allegiant Air now offers flights between LA and Monterey for a steal.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Can’t jet off to the Galapagos? Head to the Farallon Islands instead

If I were to splurge for one Northern California boat excursion, this would be it!

http://tinyurl.com/da4djo

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Book it! Now.

Anyone interested in flying between Los Angeles and Monterey this summer? Allegiant Air is celebrating its new service between LA and the Central Coast with $15 flights--no joke.

Here's the catch: You have you book tickets today APRIL 15, 2009.

Get this deal, friends.

Tahoe and Yosemite Deals

Here's a link to some recent deals I found for Lake Tahoe and Yosemite. Enjoy.

http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-6346-Northern-California-Getaways-Examiner~y2009m4d15-Beat-the-crowds-Hit-up-Yosemite-and-Lake-Tahoe-this-spring

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

New travel trend: Hire a travel coach and take a Life Sabbatical

Here's a link to a new travel trend I found. Three Month Visa helps people plan the trip they have always dreamed of. And no, it isn't just for the rich.

http://www.examiner.com/x-6346-Northern-California-Getaways-Examiner~y2009m4d7-New-travel-trend-Hire-a-travel-coach-and-take-a-Life-Sabbatical

Monday, April 6, 2009

Easter deal in Healdsburg

Here's a link to an Easter special at Hotel Healdsburg and Dry Creek Kitchen. Both are my favorites in Healdsburg and worth your cash, if you can swing it.

http://www.examiner.com/x-6346-Northern-California-Getaways-Examiner~y2009m4d6-Easter-in-Healdsburg-Anyone

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Perfect Day in Sacramento

Though once reputed as a farming community, Sacramento is starting to find its stride. Here's my perfect day in this easy-to-navigate city.

8am: Sojourn to Temple Coffee for the best latte and pastries in Sacramento.

9:30am: Wander through the Capitol Gardens and peek inside the Capitol at the art gallery, selected by Senators.

11am: Grab a picnic lunch at the Sacramento Co-op (www.sacfoodcoop.com) and then head to the Sacramento River to swim and eat alfresco.

2pm: Venture to the California State Railroad Museum (www.csrmf.org) to see the greatest collection of trains in the State.

4pm: Head over to Midtown's Grid neighborhood to stroll past boutiques and enjoy happy hour at one of the dozen outdoor patios.

6:30: Reserve well in advance at The Kitchen for a true dining extravaganza. (Note: this is a bit pricy, so if you are counting your dollars, head to Biba instead).

9:30pm: Return to the Grid neighborhood to bar hop late into the evening.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Medicine Eatstation Closes

I have to add another restaurant closure to the ever-growing list. Medicine Eatstation in San Francisco has gone kaput.

If you are on the hunt for healthy Japanese fare, head to Cha-Ya 762 Valencia St
San Francisco, (415) 252-7825.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Bay Area Toddler Activities That Won't Bore Mom and Dad Too Much

Though I spend countless days wandering around the streets of San Francisco on the hunt for concrete mixers and tractors, when my son Kai needs some focus (or, let me be honest here: when I need a break) here are some of my favorite places to take him.

Golden Gate Park: So the Koret Playground (you know that monster playground next to hippie hill) is great and all, but usually going to a playground makes me want to start drinking Bloody Marys in the corner. My friend Leigh calls playgrounds a "Petri dish of parenting", while my friend Julie notes the "mean girl" mentality that takes me back to 7th grade and rude group letters from the "cool girls" telling me how much they hate me. So I tend to avoid playgrounds unless my husband is with me. Sure, these are my issues, but isn't all of parenting about passing on our issues to our children? Anyway, I love taking Kai to Golden Gate Park's Botanical Garden (it's free!), Stow Lake (you never imagine how interesting pigeons and turtles can be) and of course the Academy of Sciences.

Berkeley's Tilden Park: Last weekend, my friend Ali inspired me to finally take Kai to Tilden, and what a treat. By far the most entertaining free place in the Bay Area is the Tilden Little Farm (past the carousel). Here you can feed the sheep, pig, cows, and goats and see chickens, mammoth sized turkeys, and geese. Afterward, a trip on the steam train (the best 2 bucks you'll spend all day) is an ample reward for mom and toddler.

Crissy Field:
A beach with no waves, what more can you ask for? Well, 75 degree weather and no wind might not come every day, but when it graces San Francisco, this is where we go to play in the water. Plus the views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the ships remind me why I live in this gorgeous city.

Fort Funston:
The other day we were on our way to the zoo, when we spotted the hang gliders soaring over Fort Funston. Of course, I made a U-turn to head to Fort Funston instead. Now, this steep beach path is known for wind, but the magic of watching these daredevils surf the air kept Kai entertained, while also teaching him a new word: hang gliders; imagine this mom's delight at that one for his arsenal.

Pacifica Beach:
OK, so Northern California doesn't often have the weather for beachcombing, but who cares? Kai takes after his name and loves the water, so we head here at the first sign of sun to frolic in waves and sand. Bring an extra pair of clothes and a blanket.

Tennessee Valley: For this one, moms and dads, lessen your ambition. While we used to take epic hikes to Muir Beach and back from here, now we take Kai to see how far he can walk. The last time we came, he made it to the first trailhead (about 100 feet) before he started splashing in puddles that reached his waist and we had to strip him and take him back to the car. But he LOVED it.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Don't Miss de Young Museum's Bouquets to Art

One of the most lively--literally--art events in San Francisco returns this week (March 17-21). Come celebrate the arrival of spring with a collection of floral arrangements to mirror the de Young's collection of art.

Though this may sound like something that merely gets Old Aunt Edna's pantyhose in a twitch, this is really one of my favorite events all year. The floral designs are out of this world and make the art exhibits come alive in their own other-worldly ways.

Open Tue-Sat 9:30-5:15 (until 8:45 on Fri)
de Young Museum
Golden Gate Park
bouquetstoart.org

Thursday, March 12, 2009

$1 a Night in SF Green Hotel--no joke!

Just got this in--jump on it ASAP--it will sell out FAST.

Beginning April Fool’s Day 2009, San Francisco’s Orchard and Orchard Garden Hotel will offer one deluxe room per night at $1 each ($1.16 with tax) at each hotel throughout the month of April.

Reservations are only available at www.theorchardhotels.com beginning at 10am PDT on Wednesday, April 1, by using the promotional code ‘Fool!’

Only one ‘foolish’ room is available per reservation; additional room nights begin at $159 per night.

Once the 60 allotted rooms available for this promotion are sold out, the package will be closed.

The Orchard Garden Hotel is California’s only truly 100% green hotel--and one of my favorites in SF. Rooms are both simple and luxurious--and earth friendly!--with Wi-Fi access, iPod docking station, HDTV flat panel television with DVD player, coffee maker, honor bar, in-room safe, dual-line cordless telephones and luxurious organic bath products. Plus it is steps to Belden Place, Chinatown, Union Square and the Financial District.

Mark your calendars for this deal--it's unlike anything I have seen before.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

On the Hunt For Bigfoot

Northern California has its share of oddities. Amphibious sculpture races, a giant Paul Bunyan, a Pez museum, a house that defies gravity, more naked people than you want to see, pillow fights, pie fights...

Lately I have wondered whether the two tributes to Bigfoot--one in Felton and one in Willow Creek--should be highlighted on that list. Sure the big illusive one deserves a space for his star to shine, but is he quirky enough? I'll let you decide.

As the Bigfoot Discovery Museum says, "They want to flesh out the hairy guy’s dossier.” In other words, this museum exhibits sightings, hoaxes and all things related to the big old dude supposedly living in many forests. Free. (831-335-4478; bigfootdiscoveryproject.com) 5497 Hwy 9, Felton. Open at least Wed-Fri 1-6 and weekends 11-6.

China Flat Bigfoot Museum showcases plenty of memorabilia of times gone by, but the main attraction here is the Bigfoot collection that recently got released to the public for viewing. Free. (530-629-2653; bigfootcountry.net) Hwy 299 & Hwy 96, Willow Creek. Open Wed- Sun, 10 to 4, mid-Apr-late Oct.

Monday, March 9, 2009

New SF restaurant--lolo

A couple of nights ago, my husband and I went on a rare date. Having a toddler makes restaurant dining challenging, yet in these strapped economic times, it is tough to justify dinner, drinks, a movie and a babysitter.

But we sucked it up, took the bus to San Francisco's Mission district and strolled passed a quirky eatery, with a paper menu stapled to the outside wall.

When we entered the restaurant we soon learned was called lolo, Bebel Gilberto's voice fluttered around the room. With only 5 tables and an open kitchen, it felt like we had stumbled into an intimate restaurant in Mexico City, rather than San Francisco.

Our host walked us down a windy hallway to another, more spacious room, complete with multi-patterned bright canvas walls and high-backed booths. Tables were populated by a mix of self-congratulating Republican young women from Novato, lesbians chatting about the Prop 8 debate and Latino families slurping large bottles of Spanish wine.

Forgoing our normal tastes, we asked the waiter what to get and dutifully he brought us their specialties: a tropical taco, octopus and pistachio salmon. The chef must be a fan of Jackson Pollack, because his food splashed color with texture, both visually and in our mouths.

The small plates kept coming as we sipped Siete 7 vino and enjoyed an adult dinner. And for this, lolo had placed itself high on my list of favorite new SF dining spots.

Then, the check came (which was reasonable despite our alcoholic splurges), stuffed inside a book (circa 1982) of Shetland Sheepdogs, with a number of entertaining bits of graffiti strewn throughout. And that was when we relished San Francisco, where restaurants take themselves seriously, but not too seriously.

lolo, 3234 22nd St, San Francisco. 415-643-5656.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Add Another Loss to the List

One of my most favorite cafes has closed--Northpoint Coffee Shop in Sausalito. This bayfront location's death cracks a hole in my Must See Spots in Marin County. Now, I am looking for a new cafe to frequent in Marin--any suggestions?

Friday, March 6, 2009

The End of Pangaea Restaurant in Gualala

Sad news to report folks. The funkiest restaurant on the Mendonoma Coast (well if you don't count the BBQ joint, famous with Harley riders) has shut its doors. Pangaea is the latest eatery to have been affected by the economic crisis. And they will be missed.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Stevenswood Mendocino Package Deals

One of my choice getaways is the Mendocino Coast. It makes the words "quaint" and "idyllic" seem understated. With everything from farm fresh eateries to funky inns, bearded ladies to world class art, Mendocino County inspires.

So obviously, when I found this little travel deal, I had to share.

One of the finest inns in Mendocino County, Stevenswood, (think LA style, with mod touches, an in-room espresso machine, and understated luxury on a forest-y bluff across the street from the sea) has some deals you should not pass up on.

Check out their last minute specials if you have time during the week (and have a flexible schedule), otherwise the package deals get you rooms for less than half price, and some include whale watching (this is one of my favorite areas to spot the migrating gray whales--and now is the time).

http://www.stevenswood.com/packages.html

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Dog Friendly Carmel


When in Carmel, I often joke that dogs are more welcome than kids--the proprietors rarely laugh (mainly because this is true). So I decided to share with you my favorite pet friendly locations in Carmel.

Almost every hotel allows pets (with advance notice and a fee). Most notably, head to Doris Day's Cypress Inn (www.cypress-inn.com) and Hofsas House (www.hofsashouse.com) for a decent room, some with views, and usually a bed for your pooch.

When it comes time to eating (or drinking!), you must venture over to Forge in the Forest (www.forgeintheforest.com) to sit around the fire pit on the patio, while your dog enjoys items off the doggie menu.

Head down to Carmel Beach to give Fido a chance to run off his doggie filet with the other zillion canines populating Carmel.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Tahoe--Kids Stay Free!

Just got this press release and thought you snow bunnies would be interested!

For moms and dads visiting South Lake Tahoe (http://www.BlueLakeTahoe.com), check out a new promotion, “Kids Are Free”.

Through March 31, kids can:
Ski free at Heavenly Mountain Resort and Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort
Snowmobile for free at Zephyr Cove Snowmobile Center
Ride for free on the M.S. Dixie II with Lake Tahoe Cruises
Bowl for free Tahoe Bowl
Fly free at Soaring NV SkyRide
Skate for free at South Lake Tahoe Parks and Recreation Ice Arena


More than 20 South Lake Tahoe lodging properties, six recreational outlets and two restaurants have combined to help cut family travel costs through March 31, with savings exceeding $250 per child. For a complete list of participating hotels, motels and vacation rental properties, as well as dining and activities, visit www.BlueLakeTahoe.com.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Tourists Traps Get a Bad Wrap

So last week, in between storms, I decided to revisit San Francisco's main tourist destination to see what all the hype was about. Selfishly, I was on the hunt for a way to entertain my 19 month old son, but I was also interested in why Fisherman's Wharf draws more tourists than say, the Mission District, where all my local friends and I frequent.

Fisherman's Wharf is an entertaining place to spend a sunny morning. Though filled with the typical vendors selling crap you don't need (a San Francisco snow globe? really, it snows here once every two decades), silver painted entertainers, and overpriced restaurants, there is a certain charm and energy.

Stretched along the bay, offering unsurpassed views of Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, Russian Hill and Marin, it was easy to see why tourists love it here.
Even better are the two free activities: seeing the sea lions and the Musee Mechanique (a collection of antique arcade games--including naughty peep shows).

Plus, public transportation here is stellar--though if you eat at one of the restaurants, you get free parking.

I'll say this: locals have something to learn from tourists in this regard. A trip to Fisherman's Wharf should not be merely saved for taking your nephews and in-laws.

One last note
I have been on the prowl for good restaurants in Fisherman's Wharf and currently my favorite is the Franciscan. With decent views, great shellfish and huge portions, this is a waterfront restaurant worth the hefty price tag.

Friday, February 20, 2009

One Perfect Rainy Weekend in Healdsburg

So this past weekend, we were in Healdsburg, with an active toddler, and though I was slightly wracked with anxiety at how to entertain Kai in the downpour, we ended up finding plenty of ways to keep him from having a meltdown. As one of my friends says, going outside in the rain is ok, he (and you) won't melt.

Here's my ideas.

9am: Get coffee at Flying Goat Coffee, then head across the square to Costeaux French bakery for a morning bun that will force you to return for seconds.

10am: Take a mellow drive along West Dry Creek Road to marvel at the rolling hills lined with vineyards. Stop at Bella Wine Caves for a tasting. There are ample places for the kids to run around and they love wandering through the caves.

11am: Venture to Quivira Vineyards, an organic and biodynamic tasting room, that has a wonderful garden, complete with chickens (watch out for the electric fence kiddos) and a spot to picnic. Even in the rain, kids love animals.

12pm: Time for lunch, so you better get to Ravenous early. Locals love this little cafe and kids will delight in the wealth of kid friendly food options.

1:30pm: Naptime. Head back to your hotel for a little break.

4pm: Take a walk in the woods. Even in the rain, you can't beat exploring the mossy woods surrounding Healdsburg.

6pm: Dinner at the Healdsburg Bar and Grill is a family favorite. However, I prefer to drive up to Diavola pizzeria in Geyserville.

8pm: Put the kids to bed, pop open a bottle of Pinot and enjoy the sound of the rain on the rooftops.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

25 Things: The Nor Cal Edition

After being deluged with my Facebook friends' lists of 25 Things, I have decided to compile a list of my favorite 25 Northern California experiences. Here goes:

1. San Francisco kid friendly dining tour. This could be a Best Of in itself. Currently my favorite restaurants and culinary experiences with the little ones include: Osha Thai (I like the Valencia location, but their new Glen Park location is more intimate and cheaper), Lisa Rogovin's Ferry Building tour, Charles Phan's steamed buns (at Out the Door and the Academy of Sciences), Gialina's margarita pizza, Little Nepal, Lettus Cafe, Dosa, Ebisu, Pacific Catch Seafood, Foreign Cinema, Chenery Park's kid's night (Tuesday), Local Tastes of the City tour of North Beach, Savor, Boogaloo, and Monk's Tavern.

2. Monterey: County: Coffee at Ol'Factory Cafe, whale watching with Sanctuary Cruises, then hiking Point Lobos. Top the night off with dinner at Passionfish and your Monterey County trip will make you start looking to purchase one of the classic Victorians.

3. San Mateo Coast: Watching elephant seals mate at Ano Nuevo, eating lunch at Duarte's, wandering through Half Moon Bay, then spending the night at Costanoa along the San Mateo Coast.

4. High Sierra: Breakfast at Alicia's Sugar Shack, then swimming in Pinecrest Lake on the quiet stretch of the Sonora Pass. Don't forget to check into McCaffrey House for a stellar night of sleeping in the woods.

5. Yosemite: A morning hike in Yosemite, before the crowds have arrived, then brunch at the Ahwahnee. For more adventure head to Tuolumne Meadows.

6. Point Reyes: The Point Reyes Station Farmers Market, a stop at Cowgirl Creamery, then an epic hike in Point Reyes. Top it off with dinner at Nick's Cove. Book a romantic room there or at Manka's.

7. Lake Tahoe: Kayak on Lake Tahoe, or a snowboard lesson at Northstar, then dinner at Plumpjack and a night at the new 968 Park Spa--this is mountain luxury at its finest.

8. Calistoga: Wine tasting in Calistoga, lunch at Solage Resort, followed by an afternoon of mud baths, hot springs and massage, then dinner at JoLe. Cap off the night at Indian Springs Resort.

9. Arcata: Hike through Redwood State and National Park, then head to Arcata for crepes, cappuccino and Victorian architecture with a hippie vibe.

10. Big Sur: Indulge in a middle of the night dip in Big Sur's Esalen's hot springs during the full moon.

11. Sierra Foothills: Take a sunrise hot air balloon ride over the Sierra Foothills, raft the American River, sip wine on a porch at sunset in Fairplay, before heading to Boccanato for a fine Italian dinner.

12. Mono Lake: Trip out on Mono Lake's lunar-like landscape. Make sure to try the lobster taquitos at the Mobil Station on your way home.

13. Sonoma County: Take a Sonoma Farm Tour (farmtrails.org). You can visit goats, butterflies, bees, flowers, organic produce and cheese-making farms. Don't forget to taste some wine too. My favorite family friendly winery is Landmark.

14. Gold Country: Antique shop along Hwy 49 in Gold Country.

15. Live the high life in Napa County. Get a spa treatment at Villagio, have lunch at Bistro Don Giovanni, sip wine along the Silverado Trail, have cocktails at Auberge du Soleil, then splurge on dinner at French Laundry or Ad Hoc. For big spenders a night at the Poetry Inn, Meadowood, or the Auberge du Soleil can't be beat.

16. Sacramento: Visit Sacramento's Train Museum, then head to the new Grid neighborhood to boutique hop. Pasta dinner at Biba rates high on the Sac-town foodie experience.

17. Healdsburg: Raft the Russian River, have lunch at Ravenous in Healdsburg, then head out to Armstrong Redwood Park to horseback ride. Finish your adventure with dinner at Zazu in Santa Rosa.

18. Redding Vicinity: Camp in Lassen Volcanic National Park to fully explore the bubbling pools, hulking trees and vast nature of this region. Don't leave out a trip to McArthur Burney State Park on your way back to Redding--the waterfall is majestic.

19. Marin County: Hike Marin County's Dipsea Trail from Muir Woods to Stinson Beach. Stay over in Stinson in summer to catch the oceanfront Shakespeare Festival, then hike back the next day. Treat yourself to Pizzeria Picco on your way home.

20. Mt Shasta City's sophistication, new age vibe and wealth of outdoor activities beckons folks looking for that little something extra in their vacation. Stay at Stewart Mineral Springs and participate in the sweat lodge on Saturday nights and you will commune with more than nature.

21. Explore Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto, hike Tilden Park, stroll through the Albany Bulb, then stay over at the Rose Garden Inn. Book reservations for Chez Panisse early.

22. Bigfoot Country: Learn to kayak in the Trinity Alps rivers, fish for bass, then camp under the stars.

23. Mendocino COunty: Indulge your inner artist with a weekend in Mendocino County. Start with wine tasting around Boonville, then head to Mendocino to stay at a B&B. be sure to check out Jughandle State Park, the botanical gardens, and Bowling Ball beach.

24. Pacific Ocean: Take a whale watching tour to the Farallon Islands with Oceanic Society. Make sure to wear your sea bands. For the real adventures: check out the shark diving with Great White Adventures (greatwhiteadventures.com).

25. Drive San Francisco's 49 mile drive to see the finest attractions of my favorite city in the world. Don't miss Fort Funston, the view from Twin Peaks, Golden Gate Park, Lands End, the wealth of museums, and the Mission District murals.

So, that's 25--if you have any more to add, I would love to see them for the next edition of 25 Things.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

News: Openings and Closings

Openings:
Yountville has much to sing about as it welcomes Bardessono, a green inn and spa. Michael Chiarello's fine dining spot Bottega and the new art gallery/tasting rooms Ma(i)sonry are two more reasons to put Yountville on your radar.

Lake Tahoe welcomes its first major green property on the south shore, 968 Park Spa Resort.

San Francisco's famed Nopa restaurant has opened a sister spot called Nopalito.

Closures:
In this digest we must say goodbye to a Calistoga favorite: Wappo Bar and Grill.

Berkeley's original Peet's Coffee location will close for seven weeks to renovate.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Best 60 Bucks You'll Spend This Year

Admittedly, I am a food snob. I turn my nose up at the fixings in most non-Bay Area kitchens--can you believe people still eat American Cheese???--and a bad dinner can affect my whole weekend. So when I signed up for Lisa Rogovin's In the Kitchen With Lisa's Gourmet Ghetto food tour, I had high hopes. After having lived in the East Bay (and making special trips over the bridge for Chez Panisse, Cheeseboard, and Cha-Ya), I thought I could lead a tour about how the gourmet ghetto had earned its moniker. But my Epicurean Concierge, taught me more about the birth place of the food revolution than I could have imagined.

I was told to meet in front of the Cheeseboard rain or shine and I would not let the current downpour hinder my arrival. One of the co-op owners of Cheeseboard brought us back to the kitchen to taste French and Wisconsin cheeses as she explained the inner-workings of this Berkeley mainstay. Besides offering stellar cheeses (of which she said the one rule they have at Cheeseboard for the workers is that they have to taste the cheeses) the rich smell of fresh bread created the most refreshing and relaxing vibe--I wanted to hang out there all day.

But we had other stops to go--a lot Andrea told us. We headed over to Saul's deli, now run by a Chez Panisse alum. Peter brought us Niman Ranch pastrami on organic Acme bread with fresh made celery, cream and blood orange sodas (go out of your way for a celery soda--it is no joke!). He explained that he caters to his Berkeley population, offering tofu scrambles and pastrami, but with only the best ingredients.

Around the corner, we popped into Berkeley Vintage wine shop to taste organic small batch wines in the vintage water and power plant building. Then we headed across the street to the Juice Collective, where we were offered the finest polenta, black bean and cheese I've ever had.

They couldn't leave out a visit to the original Peet's Coffee (which will close for renovation this week and reopen in 7 weeks with a new museum inside). We got to chat with the manager and learn about Peet's unique small batch roastery (in Alameda). We tasted a new Sumatra blend and a mocha (delicious), before heading to the cupcake store around the way.

2 Mini lemon cupcakes behind me, I was starting to wonder if I could eat anymore (or hear anything else about good food) when we met the owner of Soop, who offered up his love for soup and a generous taste of his red lentil coconut soup (the perfect antidote for a rainy day). He exchanged recipes with others in the group before leading us towards the chocolatier in the back of the food court.

I will say this: I have never tasted such chocolate before. Not only is the owner's passion for the cocoa bean contagious, but the taste of these single origin Brazilian chocolates made everyone in the group giddy. Make sure to try the mustard and chocolate covered almonds. And as if we could handle more sweets, our next stop was Ciao Bella gelato for some rosemary olive oil, rose petal and Lebanese yogurt gelato.

I thought I would burst and then Andrea said the magic word: Gregoire--Berkeley's famed gourmet take out hole in the wall. We camped out on picnic tables and stuffed out faces with potato puffs, with views of the bay in the distance and the rain clouds making way for a bit of sun. Nothing made me forget the recession like an afternoon of food education, a dash of healthy gluttony and a passionate guide to food.

Visit www.inthekitchenwithlisa.com.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Carmel Gem on Sale

Just saw an add for Hyatt's beautiful Highland's Inn in Carmel. You can stay overnight during the week, with an ocean view, for $199 (and for $239 on weekends). This is a great deal considering the views and the array of activities offered at this full service resort.

highlandsinn.hyatt.com.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Yosemite in Winter

OK, you might read this and think, "What is she thinking?" But a snowy trip to California's most dramatic landscape is a must at least once in your life. Imagine crystalline waterfalls sliding down the granite slopes, skiing with views of Half Dome, cuddling up in front of the Ahwahnee's majestic fireplace, and sipping hot cocoa with views of Yosemite Fall. Now is the time to book your trip since all of the major hotels in the area are offering steep discounts. Check out www.yosemite.com for details.

Friday, January 30, 2009

A Pacific Grove Find

Lately I have become smitten with the Monterey Peninsula. Surely Point Lobos, Big Sur, Passionfish, and even the Monterey Bay Aquarium have something to do with that. But on a recent trip, I stayed at the Anton Inn in Pacific Grove and found it to be a funky alternative to the Victorian style that dominates lodgings in the region. I called the week of my trip and was able to score one night (usually they have a 2-night minimum on weekends) for half the price of the listed rate (under $100!). And though there were a few drawbacks--no cable TV or WiFi connection and an ok breakfast--I found the motor inn/art gallery a delightful place to stay--especially with a child.

If you fancy yourself an art lover, or just want to stay at a low-key spot without some chatty owner blabbing about her collection of porcelain dolls, this is the spot for you.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Cold Weather Ideas

Northern California is currently in the midst of a record-breaking heat wave--in January--but I know this won't last long. So I decided to compile a list of my favorite cold weather activities, so that when the inevitable chilly wind returns, I can sanely remember all the other reasons this region is so wonderful.

San Francisco
California Academy of Sciences--get there right at 10am to tour the rainforest, then head straight for the food court for almond butter and jelly sandwiches.

De Young Museum--If you don't want to pay to enter the museum (though you should, if nothing else than to see the exhibition of Pacific Islander art), then head straight up to the lookout tower.

MOMA--Besides a slew of rotating modern art and a kick ass store, this is my favorite rainy day spot. Hang out by the big windows and watch the rain fall, then feel hip as you tour the photography gallery.

Zeum--You don't need a kid to go play at this hands-on technology museum. Take your most exciting friend and sing karaoke and make clay-mation movies.

Other ideas:
Golden Gate Park, Ocean Beach, an urban hike through the Mission, shopping in the Haight, eating your way through Chinatown, the Ferry Building, cuddling up with someone you love at the Red Vic Movie Theater.

Bay Area:
Muir Woods--the redwoods are at their finest in cool weather.

Bay Area Discovery Museum--this is the top museum for kids in all of Northern California.

Albany Bulb--art lovers will enjoy a trip through this salvaged art lined trail with views of the bay.

Wander the streets of Los Gatos and Saratoga.

Other ideas:
Big Basin, Felton Steam Train, Pez Museum, San Jose Tech Museum, whale watching tour, a beer at the Half Moon Bay Brewing Co.


Wine Country:
Mud bath at Golden Haven.

Sip wine at the Martini House.

Get a massage and soak in a cedar enzyme bath at the Osmosis Day Spa.

Other ideas:
Wine tasting, eating your way through Yountville, shopping in St Helena or Healdsburg, art gallery hopping in Sonoma.


North Coast (from Bodega Bay to Crescent City):
Walk on a quiet stretch of sand.

Visit the Mendocino Botanical Gardens.

Hike in the redwoods.

Visit the tattoo museum in Fort Bragg.

Have a crepe in Arcata.


Sacramento:
Visit the train museum.

Take a bike ride along the river.


Eastern Mountains:
Ski, snowboard, ice skate, sled!!!

Sip hot cocoa at the Ahwahnee Hotel.

Soak in a Lake Tahoe hot tub.

Take a dip in natural hot springs in Mt Shasta City.

Pan for gold.


If you have any other cold weather ideas you'd like to share, I would love to list them here.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Updates--Closures and Deals

So as the economy wiggles in waiting for Inauguration Day, travelers to Northern California find a fe new shake ups.

Closures:
I just heard that Mendocino County's Heritage House is kaput until a rich investor gobbles that oceanfront beaut up.

Redwood County's Benbow Inn is for sale.

Half Moon Bay's Cetrella restaurant closed until May.

Deals:
Four Sisters Inns has a serious deal. Call and say "Carpe Diem" for steep price slashes in all their lovely inns up and down the coast and Napa County.

The East Bay's classic Burlington Hotel is getting a facelift and has a hopeful new owner. That means deals will be in the works.

Pacific Grove's Anton Inn has wonderful wintertime deals in their artsy cottage-like rooms.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Beretta

Ever since Michael Bauer, the food critic at the San Francisco Chronicle, started singing the praises of Beretta, the newly opened Italian restaurant that took over the Last Supper Club location in the Mission, I have been aching to visit. I had also read about the libations that bring hordes of hipsters to the bar. Let me tell you here and now: Beretta is worth a visit.

Start with a funky drink that might include egg whites, honey, rye or even absinthe--in fact let that be your appetizer, since often your cocktail doesn't show up until after you food and the appetizers aren't the highlight. Go straight for a risotto and a pizza. My favorite was the squid ink risotto and the margarita pizza with barrata cheese. I'd recommend filling up on the main course and skipping the dessert--especially since BiRite Creamery is a short walk away.

Also note that they don't take reservations (except for big parties). Plus the service isn't the best in the city. And it is cramped in there. But the pizza is so good you probably won't mind.