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 ( and Hofsas House ( 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 ( 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 (, 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

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 ( 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 (

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

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.

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.


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.

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 for details.