Healdsburg 14 May 2013, 12:00 pm
When it comes to wine country towns, California has the proverbial embarrassment of riches. There was a time when “wine country” always meant Napa, but these days there are many options offering outstanding wine country experiences in the Golden State.
Lately I have Sonoma County’s Healdsburg on my mind…mainly because it seems to be everywhere I look. This spring, Fodor’s Travel named Healdsburg to its list of “The Best Small Towns in America,” and just a few weeks later, Travel & Leisure put the Healdsburg Plaza on its roster of “America’s Most Beautiful Town Squares.” Restaurants here are always in the foodie press, and the surrounding vineyards are on the radar of the most respected wine writers. If you’re paying any attention at all, it’s impossible to not hear about Healdsburg.
Perhaps the most meaningful accolade for Healdsburg is that it’s a real town. Yes, it draws upscale visitors. But local residents love their pretty little city, and they also browse the galleries, shop the boutiques, dine at the innovative restaurants, see films at the Raven Theater, fill canvas bags with local produce at the Farmer’s Market and enjoy live music on Tuesday evenings in the Plaza.
The Plaza is Healdsburg’s heart, the place to start when visiting. The idea is to park your car, and then forget about it; you can step out of the Healdsburg Inn on the Plaza and walk just about anywhere you want to go in town. I love to poke around antiques shops, and there are plenty in the immediate neighborhood to occupy a morning, but all of the retail here is eye-catching and (dangerously) irresistible. Case in point: elegant Fideaux is the place to go if you have a spoiled dog, as I do.
Wine gets a lot of attention, but craft beers are big in Sonoma County, too. One of my favorite lunch spots is the Bear Republic Brewpub just off the Plaza. Bear Republic’s popular Racer 5 IPA is brewed right here; you can tour the brewery on Saturday mornings (it’s just steps from the Farmer’s Market). The outdoor patio is a great place to enjoy one of their decadent sandwiches (crab!) along with the local suds.
The Russian River wraps neatly around Healdsburg, and river activities are a big draw in warm weather. Rent a canoe from River’s Edge Kayak & Canoe on Healdsburg Ave., across from Veterans Memorial Beach Park, then enjoy a scenic and leisurely afternoon cruise. Watch for otters who are used to sharing the river and will come quite close to your boat! We stocked the canoe with gourmet picnic supplies from Costeaux French Bakery near the Plaza; there are plenty of spots to stop along the river to dine al fresco and view wildlife.
Nearly 200 wineries call Sonoma County home, and many of them are a very short drive from Healdsburg. You can tour and taste within a few miles of town at J Winery, Seghesio Family Winery, Simi Winery and many more. But if you want to continue to ditch the car, there are 20+ tasting rooms scattered in the blocks around the Plaza. The Murphy-Goode tasting room on Matheson Street is hard to beat, with a relaxed, friendly atmosphere and well-informed staff. Murphy-Goode offers daily cheese and wine pairings, and you can download a complimentary tasting pass from their website before visiting.
Finish your Healdsburg day with dinner at any of the excellent eateries in town. It’s hard to go wrong; chefs here take food seriously. I’m partial to Zin Restaurant – they bake all their own breads, and their Meyer lemon chicken lures me back every time. After dinner, walk a couple laps around the plaza to work off the calories and enjoy the twinkling lights in the gazebo by the fountain. At this point, you’re immediately across the street from Healdsburg Inn on the Plaza and a good night’s sleep.
A Mini-Getaway to Santa Fe, New Mexico 30 Apr 2013, 9:15 am
When you visit Santa Fe, N.M., you eagerly anticipate the fiery chiles, the complex moles, the hearty polsoles you know will be featured on the menus. During my recent trip, the restaurants didn’t disappoint – so many eateries here showcase the vibrant flavors of the Southwest, it was easy to satisfy my cravings.
But when I tasted that croissant at tiny Chez Mamou, it was a revelation. Santa Fe is a destination with well-deserved high marks in many areas, cultural to culinary. But it also presents some delightful surprises, such as a truly French café just a block from historic Cathedral Park.
Chez Mamou’s proprietress is the charming Noella, who came from France and brought an authentic taste of her native country with her. I zeroed in on the buttery croissant, but other patrons were savoring what looked like a perfect Croque Madame, quiches and French onion soup.
In addition to edibles, Noella also showcases beautiful, artisan-made jewelry. I couldn’t resist a strand of rectangular pearls sprinkled with tiny sapphires. But oh, the food! I returned to the shop later in the afternoon for coffee, tuiles and a dark chocolate truffle.
The galleries in Santa Fe are, of course, one of the main draws (and I think I may have walked to all of them). The art here is captivating, in every medium. You probably know that the Georgia O’Keeffe museum belongs on every visitor’s must-see list. It houses more than 1,000 works by the artist, including many of her iconic flowers. But there are also works by other artists in the museum, and through May 5, the Annie Liebowitz photography exhibit, Pilgrimage, makes a special appearance.
Though there is plenty to keep you occupied in Santa Fe itself, a diversion to Taos is well worth the drive. The scenic High Road to Taos snakes through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, an approximately 56-mile journey that passes high desert, farms and Pueblo Indian villages. I stopped along the way to explore the traditional shops, and to feast on classic New Mexican food. I knew I’d picked the right restaurant (El Paragua in Espanola) as soon as I stepped inside, and spotted a woman making fresh tortillas on a vintage stove.
A soak at one of the hot springs – Ojo Caliente looked awfully tempting — would have been just the thing after lunch. But I’d run out of time, so will have to save that for a return trip.
Santa Fe has some truly beautiful accommodations from which to choose, especially if you love Southwestern décor and the pueblo revival style. I stayed at the El Dorado Hotel and Spa, in a room with an adobe kiva fireplace and private balcony. The view at night took in the twinkling lights of town, and the mountains in the distance. The La Posada de Santa Fe resort and spa looked especially inviting though, so I’ll put that in my “return trip” file, too.
I flew home with my new red chile wreath (apologies to the gentleman sitting next to me on the plane), and have been remembering my Santa Fe experiences as I cook with them. A
little goes a long way!
Discover Claremont Package: Includes One Night + $100 Gift Card 27 Mar 2013, 11:11 am
Our Discover Claremont Package invites you to do just that: discover Claremont with a one night stay at Hotel Casa 425, plus enjoy four $25 Claremont Gift Cards (treated just like cash at over 100 businesses in Claremont), a Lounge VIP Guest Card offering 15% off drinks & food, plus you’ll enjoy our European-style breakfast, covered parking, Wi-Fi and more! If you’ve never been to Claremont, you’re in for a treat. This walkable, tree-shaded university town – home to the seven prestigious Claremont Colleges – has roots in California’s citrus industry, and offers a lively mix of vibrant shops, restaurants, spas and galleries.Valid Sunday through Thursday, until June 30, 2013, $205 per night, Queen Guestroom. For more information, click here.
Discovering Glen Ellen… 25 Jun 2012, 8:52 am
When visitors plan wine country getaways, naturally they tend to build their stays around wine. Tasting rooms offer an opportunity to learn and sample, and many wineries host special events on their beautiful grounds year-round, such as vintners’ dinners, barrel tastings, bocce games, art exhibits and concerts. With picturesque grapevines prominent in the landscape in every direction, it’s no wonder we tend to forget the many other aspects to wine country that have nothing at all to do with wine.
On my most recent visit to California’s sublime Sonoma County, I concentrated on Glen Ellen, where the newest addition to the Four Sisters Inns collection – Gaige House — is located. Yes, I had wine tasting on my list…with so many top labels here, how could I not? But local residents were happy to share their suggestions for other diversions, and soon I was outdoors, enjoying the splendid summer weather and pursuing a grapeless itinerary.
Tucked into the Sonoma Valley, Glen Ellen is a small hamlet with a big reputation, thanks to favorite son Jack London, whose cottage still stands in Jack London State Historic Park. The author of The Call of the Wild, White Fang, and many other works lived and worked here from 1905 until his death in 1916. London is buried on the property, which is now operated by the Valley of the Moon Natural History Association. Free, guided hikes are offered Sunday mornings at 11 a.m., and as I discovered, the 2.5 to seven-mile treks are just the thing to work off the bountiful breakfast at Gaige House! There are also tours offered of London’s cottage and a museum; check the website (http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=478) for more information.
Another legendary literary figure with roots in Glen Ellen was preeminent American food writer Mary Frances Kennedy (MFK) Fisher. She lived in her house on the 535-acre Bouverie Preserve from 1970 until her death in 1992, and penned many of her most notable books here, including the best-selling Two Towns in Provence. Today the Bouverie Preserve is protected and managed by Audubon Canyon Ranch as a wildlife sanctuary (http://www.egret.org/visit_bouverie). The preserve includes an evergreen forest, a flower-carpeted oak woodland and rugged chapparal. Half-day guided nature walks are offered Saturdays in the fall and spring, and special programs are scheduled, such as Science Salons and the Bouverie Backyard Naturalist Series.
One of my favorite discoveries in Glen Ellen, recommended by a woman who lives down the street from Gaige House, is the Quarryhill Botanical Garden. Home to one of the largest collections of documented, wild-collected Asian plants in the world, the garden is open for both self-guided and docent led tours, year-round. Tours are free on the 25th of each month through 2012. Additionally, there are workshops on various garden topics presented throughout the summer, led by Sonoma County Master Gardeners (I have my eye on July’s “Form and Foliage” class). Gaige House has an Asian esthetic, so visiting Quarryhill during a stay at our new inn seems like a natural progression. After a Quarryhill tour (and marveling at their magnificent Yulan Magnolias from China), you’re ready to come back to Gaige House and for a long soak in your Zen Suite granite tub.
Another unique way to see the wine country is from the back of a horse. There is a wine angle here; Triple Creek Horse Outfit leads guests on guided horseback rides at the 1850-acre Kunde Family Estates Winery, just five miles north of Glen Ellen in Kenwood ( http://www.triplecreekhorseoutfit.com). Rides are offered year-round, weather permitting. The trek takes you past gorgeous oak woodlands, through pastureland and up to the rolling hills of the Mayacamas Mountains. Rides of various lengths are offered, including a Mountain Top Tasting/Ride combination, and all riders receive complimentary Kunde wine tasting passes (their Sauvignon Blanc is delicious). And yes, after riding, I was ready for another soak in my Zen tub.
Sonoma County is well known for its culinary offerings, and I found that restaurants in Glen Ellen were outstanding. Our dinner at The Fig Café & Winebar (http://www.thefigcafe.com) featured plenty of fresh, locally sourced ingredients – they serve a delectable saffron risotto made with Crescenza cheese from nearby Bellweather Farms, for example. Much of the produce used at the restaurant comes from The Fig’s own, two-acre biodynamic farm at Imagery Estate Winery in Glen Ellen.
One of my favorite dining spots in the village is the Glen Ellen Inn Restaurant (http://www.glenelleninn.com). I love their grilled (local!) salmon with mango papaya salsa, and residents flock here for the fabulous oyster bar. Tip: Through July 31, if you stay at the Gaige House midweek (Sunday through Thursday nights), you will receive a $70 gift certificate for dinner at the Glen Ellen Inn restaurant. Another tip: Request an outdoor table on a balmy summer evening. With the patio fountain gurgling and tiny twinkling lights threaded through the tree branches overhead, it’s already a perfect romantic getaway dinner…even before you’ve ordered. Now have the waiter bring a bottle of Sonoma County wine to your table.
A Walking Adventure: The Santa Cruz Food Tour 5 Apr 2012, 12:52 pm
So when I signed up for the Santa Cruz Food Tour last week, I knew I’d have fun, but I wondered if they could possibly show me something I hadn’t seen before. I was in for a pleasant and tasty surprise.
The Santa Cruz Food Tour is a walking adventure, combining a discovery of the history, architecture and culture of downtown Santa Cruz with noshing at five delicious — as well as interesting — eateries. Instructed to arrive hungry, I met the group at the Center Street Grill, where we began our two-hour trek with Asian salad, pizza with spinach and caramelized onion, and an eye-full of local art. The restaurant is part of the Center Street Art Center, where all businesses share a dedication to supporting the arts community; works here are on rotation, so there is always something new on display.
Fortified and ready for a little exercise, our group next walked up the hill to Mission Santa Cruz (1791), where our guide regaled us with stories from the city’s earliest days, from Native Americans to missionaries and gold miners. Before the city became known as a beach resort in the late 19th century, it had its share of wild times, and our guide seemed to have inside information.
Next stop was the Penny Ice Creamery, featuring seasonal organic ice cream made entirely in-house, from scratch. This is unusual; we learned that most ice cream shops that tout “home-made” start with a pre-made base, to which flavors are added. But at Penny Ice Creamery, even the base is made on the premises. The ice cream is dense, similar to gelato, rich but light, with only 15% air in the formula (50% is common). Flavors include creative concoctions like Pepper Cheesecake. I had my Hazelnut Praline in a waffle cone, the serving vessel of choice here. With a goal of being a no-waste business, Penny Ice Creamery avoids using plastic utensils and paper cups. The owners were honored last year with seats in First Lady Michelle Obama’s box during the State of the Union Address.
We admired charmingly restored Victorian buildings en route to our next tasting site: the True Olive Connection. Here we sampled strawberries dipped in balsamic vinegar, and sipped a refreshing drink of Perrier with cherry balsamic vinegar. Unusual, yes…and absolutely exquisite.
More anecdotes about the downtown area accompanied our jaunt to the Surfrider Café. The freshest burger buns I ever tasted (baked here throughout the day, every day) encased the organic beef and Gorgonzola cheese sliders we were served.
Our tour ended at the Malabar Restaurant, where the Sri Lankan owner tantalized us with his vegetarian, east-west fusion menu. We sampled roti with curry sauce, put the fire out with banana lassis, then sat back in a satisfied stupor. When I go back, I’m going to try the vegan ice cream.
Four Sisters Inns’ West Cliff Inn began offering a Santa Cruz Food Tour package just last month, melding a stay at the inn with this tour. Now I know why guests are raving about it. The traditional Santa Cruz attractions will always be fun, but I’m adding the Santa Cruz Food Tour to my list of must-dos when friends come to visit.
Spring Break in Munich Germany 5 Apr 2012, 11:49 am
Many people escape the late winter doldrums by fleeing to warm climates this time of year, so opting for a getaway to Munich might seem like an unusual choice. Yet that’s where I headed for a week earlier this month, with my almost-grown son and daughter in tow, out of school for their winter breaks.
Cold? Yes! But we bundled up, and headed out to discover the delights of this historic Bavarian capital. First stop: the famous Marienplatz, Munich’s main public square since 1158. Once the site of medieval tournaments, the huge square is anchored by the Neues Rathaus (new city hall), the tower of which houses one of Munich’s main attractions: the Rathaus Glockenspiel. An outdoor music box, it chimes every day at 11 a.m., with dozens of colorful, life-sized figures re-enacting scenes from the 1600s.
Not far from the Marienplatz is Germany’s most famous brewery and beer hall, the Hofbrauhaus. In this location since 1607, the Hofbrauhaus is the place to go for brats, beer and traditional tunes played by a lederhosen-clad live band. Don’t be surprised if your tablemates break into song and insist you join them!
We also enjoyed the old Bavarian atmosphere at the classic Augustiner-Keller, featuring hearty standards of German cuisine. Besides huge pretzels, sausages and sauerkraut, diners feast on venison and duck dishes, with recipes that have stood the test of time.
A large public park in the center of Munich, the Englisher Garten is one of the world’s largest urban parks. Created in the 1750s, the name refers to a less-formal style of garden, becoming popular in England about that time. Some areas are left to grow as natural meadows, while others are more manicured. It’s easy to spend an entire day here, exploring the many wooded paths, and visiting attractions such as the Japanese Teahaus, monuments, children’s carousel, and of course, a beer garden (Munich’s second largest). The lovely Kleinhesseloher See (lake), with its three islands, is a popular summer destination but even in winter, it is a beautiful place for a walk.
If you appreciate fine art, a visit to Munich’s Kunstereal (arts district) should be on your itinerary. We especially enjoyed the modern works on display at Pinakothek der Moderne, featuring pieces representing Cubist, Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, Surrealism and other movements, and Museum Brandhorst, with its comprehensive Andy Warhol collection.
After modern art, our tour of dramatic Neuschwanstein Castle in southern Bavaria (about two hours by train from Munich) was truly a step back in time, and into a fairy tale. Said to be Disney’s inspiration for the design of Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle, this Romanesque Revival palace was built in 1869 for the reclusive King Ludwig II as his private retreat. Today it is one of the most popular visitor destinations in Germany. We were amazed as we wandered through the palace’s opulent rooms.
Another palace at which we marveled was the baroque Schloss Nymphenburg, once the summer home for the rulers of Bavaria. Built in 1664, the palace and its beautiful grounds are open for tours. The Italian garden here is especially lovely, and the ancient carriages museum is fascinating.
All this walking brings on an appétit, so we were happy to find the Paul Isaak Backerei (bakery) nearby, where we indulged our newfound love of Linzer torte, apple strudel, marzipan cake and chocolate-covered almonds. (But then I headed out for some shopping…and found I couldn’t fit into my clothes!)
Two Perfect Nights…Three Memorable Days in Santa Monica 6 Jan 2012, 1:17 pm
Start three perfect days at the Channel Road Inn, just a block from the beach. Grab a picnic, borrow the inn’s bicycles, and head down the waterfront path past the Santa Monica Pier. Spend a day exploring Bergamot Station and its many art exhibits, then shop on Montana Avenue and the Third Street Promenade.
We love the Getty Villa, just a 10-minute drive away, featuring Greek, Roman, and Etruscan antiquities. Got kids? Hit the beach, enjoy rides on the Santa Monica Pier, and venture to the Skirball Cultural Center. The La Brea Tar Pits and Universal Studios are just a short drive away.
Upon your return to the inn, soak in our hillside hot tub, and enjoy homemade cookies, cold drinks, wine and hors d’oeuvres.
Two Perfect Nights And Three Memorable Days In Seattle 29 Aug 2011, 3:11 pm
“Location, location, location” is as important when choosing a hotel as it is when buying real estate. When you’re in Seattle for either work or pleasure, the Inn at Harbor Steps is the perfect place to stay. The inn’s prime location means you’ll be able to walk almost anywhere downtown, including famous Pike Place Market, just two blocks away.
When you aren’t out on the town, the Inn at Harbor Steps will see to your every comfort. The property boasts 28 spacious guestrooms, a fully-equipped fitness center, sports court, Jacuzzi, lap pool and full-length pool. Of course, you’ll also enjoy a delicious buffet breakfast, and afternoon wine and hors d’oeuvres.
Extend your stay, and take advantage of all the city has to offer. Make it a romantic getaway, and enjoy the Seattle Art Museum, with both permanent and rotating exhibits, located literally across the street from the inn. Benaroya Symphony Hall is a block away and has a fabulous variety of musical offerings this fall. You can take the waterfront train and venture down to Pioneer Square, with its wealth of art galleries, bookstores, antique shops, cool restaurants, and buzzing nightclubs.
Shopping probably couldn’t get much better than this, with everything from small, trendy boutiques to the flagship Nordstrom’s store. An afternoon spent roaming the stalls at Pike Place Market, filled with local organic produce, beautiful flowers and gourmet products, is time well spent. Watch fish fly at the Pike Place Fish Market, stop in at Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, and finish with a drink overlooking the water at Matt’s in the Market.
Some of our favorite restaurants include The Pink Door, Wild Ginger, The Metropolitan Grill and The Brooklyn. For a fabulous evening of fun, try Teatro ZinZanni, which includes a five-course Tom Douglas dinner (he runs a number of acclaimed restaurants throughout Seattle) and a three-hour show.
If you’re traveling with children, the Inn at Harbor Steps offers eight rooms with two queen beds each, perfect for families. The kids will love soaring up the Space Needle, the extraordinary Experience Music Project, the Museum of Flight and the Pacific Science Center. And if a cruise is on your agenda, the inn is only a short cab from the departure location.
Santa Cruz Has Something for Everyone… 6 Jul 2011, 3:44 pm
Santa Cruz is one of California’s premier central coast beach towns offering beautiful panoramic views of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Its beauty not only resides in its land and seascapes, it also boasts a diversity of cuisines, activities, and shopping that has something for everyone.
Situated between the ocean and the mountains, Santa Cruz offers everything from romantic getaways to family fun, relaxation to adventure, casual to fine dining. With its temperate climate you can relax on one of the many sandy beaches of the Pacific Ocean, bring the entire family for a fun-filled day at the famous Beach Boardwalk, taste incredible wines and tour many of the vineyards nestled in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
It is truly a place for all. Santa Cruz is home to the West Cliff Inn, blending historic elegance with soothing modern luxuries. West Cliff Inn is situated on a bluff overlooking the ocean and steps to the beach, the Wharf, the Beach Boardwalk, and Santa Cruz’s unique downtown shopping area. After you partake in a bountiful breakfast or evening wine and hors d’oeuvres, take a walk along West Cliff Drive to catch the great views of the bay or stroll through downtown, just 10 minutes away.
For dinner, Soif Restaurant, Wine Bar & Merchant is a great California farm to table cuisine where all the ingredients are fresh, local, and organic. Laili Restaurant is also a great option if you want to taste the flavors of the Silk Road and try superb Central Asian cuisine. The Cellar Door Restaurant and Wine Tasting Room is also very popular amongst our guests. Feeling Adventurous? Hop aboard the Chardonnay II –a 70-foot luxury sailing yacht- for a one of kind excursion on the open water!
West Cliff Inn also offers fantastic packages, and you can find details on the website here.
Downtown Napa: Coming Into Its Own 24 Jun 2011, 2:18 pm
The City of Napa is the hub of the Valley. Having undergone a revitalization project over the last few years, it is truly coming into its own. And it’s where Blackbird Inn is located, within walking distance to the waterfront, where you’ll find great shops and restaurants. Try Ubuntu, innovative vegetarian cuisine or Tuscany, Italian with a modern twist. On Friday evenings through September, bands perform (6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.) at Veterans Park on the Napa River, and locals and visitors alike gather for drinks and music.
There are great tasting rooms right in town as well. Try Ceja, and you might even meet Amelia Ceja and discover the extraordinary wines she produces, all while sharing her passion for great food and wine. The Oxbow Public Market is a great place to wander, enjoy lunch or a glass of wine, and shop in great little boutiques. Live music is performed on most Friday evenings on the outdoor patio, and is a great place to gather.
Another fun thing to include in your travels is a leisurely lunch on the Wine Train, as you travel up Valley through the towns of Yountville and St. Helena. If shopping is on your agenda, the Napa Premium Outlets, featuring Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, Cole Hahn and many others are a short drive away. And for the adventurous, sign up for a hot air balloon ride with Balloons Above the Valley, definitely a once in a lifetime experience!
Some of the best olive oil in California is produced right here. Make an advance reservation at Round Pond in Rutherford for their 1 ½ hour olive oil tour and learn about olive cultivation, harvest and production and then sample their delicious oils and vinegars with gourmet bread, cheese and fresh organic produce. Advance reservations are required ($20 pp) for the tour and tasting and I can guarantee you’ll want to take some home!
Blackbird Inn, a meticulously restored eight-room Craftsman style inn, is at the center of everything, as you enjoy all the Valley has to offer.