After circling the same late-night block in the Tenderloin for any number of years, I recently donned my fabulous '50s air hostess uniform with matching kicky white pumps, splashed on a dash of Wind Song, and decided to experience the magic of travel. Why, there's a whole world knocking at my back door and no length I won't go for a taste of adventure. Local Web sites such as 71miles.com, which explores nearby Northern California, and the fantastically rough-and-ready newsletter from WeekendSherpa.com are chock-full of neato getaway ideas, but I also did some wide-ranging research of my own, as evidenced below. Remember, travel can be harsh on the environment, so plan your trips well, pack light, and try to hoof it as much as possible (sans stilettos, of course) that way you won't miss a thing.
Five or so hours up the coast and through the gorgeous wine country of Anderson Valley lies Mendocino, an achingly quaint city on a peninsular cliff, full of retired ex-hippies, impromptu music festivals, hilarious whale art, and delectable bursts of natural wonder. Stay at the incredible Inn at Schoolhouse Creek (www.schoolhousecreek.com), a collection of renovated century-old cottages run by the very friendly Steve Musser and Maureen Gilbert, complete with hot tubs, hearty breakfasts, ocean views, and a pair of cute-as-heck Sicilian pygmy donkeys (really!). Chow down with elegance at gourmet vegetarian legend the Ravens' Restaurant at Stanford Inn (www.stanfordinn.com), and spend a day or two drifting lazily down the Big River, past harbor seals and exotic ducks, in a flotation device from nearby hunkily staffed Catch a Canoe (www.catchacanoe.com).
WET 'N' WILD SONOMA
Turtles, ospreys, three kinds of heron, deer, eagles, and maybe even a winery or two such are the Russian River delights that await if you hit up River's Edge Kayak and Canoe Trips (www.riversedgekayakandcanoe.com), in the ever-so-sunny boutique town of Healdsburg in Sonoma County. Whether you're an experienced water rat or a casual paddler (watch that French manicure!), there are several nature-filled routes and levels of difficulty to choose from. Especially scenic is the 11-mile course via Rio Lindo, snaking around mountain bases through heavily wooded areas, with plenty of picnic spots and I love this phrase secluded swimming holes.
DOIN' THE DELTA
About three hours northeast of San Francisco, right before you hit Sacramento, lies the fertile, humid, natural wonder of the Sacramento Delta (www.sacdelta.com). Consisting of numerous islands and inlets along the Sacramento River and its tributaries, the Delta is an environmental marvel, full of roadside levees, quirky small towns, and abundant agricultural land reclaimed from meandering waters. Islands are traversed by constantly running car ferries, mostly piloted by sweet, sun-seasoned lesbians (dykes and levees how can you miss?), and visitors often come away with bushels of farm-fresh asparagus, cherries, strawberries, pomelos, and other juicy produce. The eerie jewel of the Delta, however, is Locke (www.locketown.com) a full-on Chinatown in the middle of a grassy nowhere, founded in 1915 by Chinese farmworkers after a fire in nearby Walnut Grove destroyed their homes. Locke's Dai Loy Museum is an authentic ghostly gambling house replete with Asian gaming tables, displays of early 20th-century pictures and artifacts of the town, and oodles of fascinating historical tidbits.
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