Being There: Go North

My second column in the SF Bay Guardian is now online for your reading pleasure.

WHAT BETTER TIME than the holidays to abdicate all responsibility and leave town? Family members, the social whirl, and shopping are all tiring. Save your sanity by giving yourself a present this year and taking time off solo. You don't even have to go very far to feel a world away, since some of the most beautiful scenery to be found anywhere is conveniently located just minutes north of San Francisco.

Here's the plan: make your reservations, take a day and a half off from work, and head north on a Thursday afternoon. Be sure to stock your car with the music that makes you feel great. Turn it up and sing along as you drive over the Golden Gate Bridge. Some people have to fly across the country for this pleasure, but you've got this bright orange beauty waiting for you any day of the week. She may be pushing 70, but she's hotter than any teenybopper landmark in town.

Once across the bridge, take the Stinson Beach/Highway 1 exit. When you get in among the eucalyptus trees, roll down your window and enjoy that wonderful lush smell. Your first potential getaway is here, just 20 minutes from the bridge (and within biking or public transit range for nondrivers), at the Pelican Inn (415-383-6000, in Muir Beach. Reserve one of seven rooms (rates start at $201 a night) in this Tudor country inn and enjoy a weekend of hearty English fare, beautiful hikes in the hills and on the beach nearby, and an authentic pub in which to recuperate.

Those looking to get a bit farther from home should continue north, reveling in the glorious landscapes of Highway 1 as it passes through farmlands and forests as well as traces the cliffs defining the western boundary of the United States. Driving this route I always slide into long reveries that are, at least for me, the hallmark of the best vacations. Lest all this introspection becomes too serious, fans of salt-water taffy are advised to stop in Bodega Bay when they see the little pink-and-white-striped building on the ocean side of the highway to obtain chewy, silly treats.

Continue north until you come to the outflow of the Russian River at Jenner. This tiny town between two and three hours north of San Francisco is a good place to stop, stretch your legs, use the rustic rest rooms by the boat launch, and prepare yourself for the twisty road ahead. The 20 miles of highway north of Jenner are a curving adventure to drive. Take it as slow as you need to, follow the speed limit signs, and make frequent use of the turnouts when those more familiar with the physics of this stretch of road get backed up behind you. It's all worth it; trust me. The northern Sonoma and Mendocino coast region is breathtaking in its beauty, and the hassle of getting there helps keep it from being overcrowded.

It's a long way into the heart of Mendocino County, though, and despite the fact that getting there is part of the fun, driving more than four hours is just too much driving. Thus I recommend getting accommodations near the Sonoma County border. My favorite are the rental houses available through Serenisea (1-800-331-3836, in Gualala. These are privately owned vacation homes you can rent when the owners aren't using them, and they are unparalleled in privacy and dramatic locations. You would think that renting an entire house located on gorgeous cliff-front property with a hot tub overlooking the surf would cost an unbelievable amount, but actually Serenisea rentals are comparable with renting one room in a nice hotel. Many of them also accommodate more than two people at a nominal additional charge, so if you can't afford it alone, grab your best friends to divide and conquer.

Another great place to stay is in one of the charming yellow cottages of Mar Vista (1-877-855-3522, in Anchor Bay just north of Gualala. Your hosts will support your need for privacy and independence while still being close at hand to get you an extra dog towel for your happy, sand-covered friend or help you choose a few fresh vegetables from the organic gardens for your dinner. Like the Serenisea rentals, these cottages have kitchens so you can save a few pennies by cooking your own meals. There are great grocery stores in Anchor Bay and Gualala, so you don't have to worry about shopping before you head north.

If your pocketbook permits, treat yourself to a sublime dinner at Pangea (707-884-9669) in Gualala or under the fanciful wooden onion dome in the dining room at St. Orres (707-884-3335,, also in Gualala. The hotel and cottages of St. Orres provide one more alternative for accommodation, though the proximity to the excellent and expensive restaurant should be considered a significant risk to both budget and diet.

Wherever you're thinking of going, do go. You deserve it.

MetaGrrrl is the pen name of Dinah Sanders, who lives at


Okay, so I could say "Oh, I had to work on the weekend last weekend" or "I'm so distracted by the excitement of my first column appearing in the San Francisco Bay Guardian" or "I'm being a good grrrl and taking a walk every night" and that's all true, but really, what distracts me from posting?

  1. Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane (two DVDs of the fantastic BBC production with Edward Petherbridge & Harriet Walter)
  2. Tropico, the Mucho Macho Edition (a game on the Mac which is of my favorite genre which I like to call "project manager games")
  3. Party Monster: The Shockumentary (which is very interesting to see after seeing the fictionalized version with Mac Culkin and Seth Green (yum))


For archive purposes, here is that column from October 22, 2003:

Being There

Beaches to books

MY GUESS IS that even without the recent election or international events, you've probably got some things on your mind. Need some time to get out of the house and think while you stretch your legs? Want to do it somewhere other than a stinky gym? I recommend a day trip walking in our beautiful city.

Begin at Ocean Beach. Walk out to the waterline and look out to sea until you feel the rhythm of your thinking change. Imagine that you've never been to this place before. You've just come upon the beach here. Turn around and look. Look at people. Look at the place. Smell the air. Turn left and start walking.

Walk north along the beach toward the Cliff House. When you run out of beach (or if you don't like sand), walk on the sidewalk on the ocean side of the street. Enjoy the variety of people. Note that it is considered gauche to stare too openly at the surfers changing in and out of their wet suits; I advocate the discreet but appreciative glance.

Follow the road up past the Cliff House and Louis' until you reach the parking lot, also known as Merrie Way. Enter the Golden Gate National Recreational Area, leaving cars and buildings behind you. Follow the coastal trail among the trees, past lovely views of the cliffs of Marin and the Golden Gate Bridge, until you come to a sign reading, "El Camino del Mar Trail." There will be a set of steps to your right. Climb them and turn left on the trail at the top.

When you come out on the small service road, stifle your disappointment at the sight of cars and walk up to the large building at the other end of the road; this is the Palace of the Legion of Honor (34th Ave. and Clement, S.F. 415-863-3330). If you're in the mood and it's not a Monday, go in and see art (current special exhibits: Degas sculptures and 19th-century photographs of India). Otherwise, after you take in the great view of the city, continue down the road (to the right as you leave the museum) through the golf course. Marvel at this bizarre use of land and time. When you reach the small restaurant at the entry to Lincoln Park, go around the north side of it and follow the narrow road until you see the big steps at the end of California Street. These are an ideal place to sit, rest, and survey the way ahead of you.

Stroll along this gentle downhill stretch of California Street, enjoying the clean, quiet neighborhood in which almost every era of San Francisco architecture is represented. The superb Angelina's deli at 22nd Avenue (6000 California, S.F. 415-221-7801) is a great place to stop for a snack or for picnic supplies.

Walk a few more blocks down California until you pass an unusual church with a blue minaret on the right (near 19th Avenue) and then go a block south and continue eastward along Clement Street. This district perfectly illustrates both the reality and the myth of the California melting pot. In barely a mile and a half, you'll encounter no less than 17 different cultures represented in the restaurants and shops of Clement Street. It's a wonderfully diverse mix, but watch the groups of people working and shopping here and you may begin to question whether there's much melting going on.

Still, mingling is a fine thing, too, and one can hardly complain when faced with the dizzying array of good food choices. Recommended spots for further snacking: Good Luck Dim Sum (736 Clement, S.F. 415-386-3388) and, a few blocks farther east, Le Soleil (133 Clement, S.F. 415-668-4848), where the spring rolls are lovely and bold hikers can restore themselves with salty plum sodas. Those who prefer the sweet to the savory treat should visit Toy Boat Dessert Cafe (401 Clement, S.F. 415-751-7505), which boasts a fabulous collection of nostalgia-inducing toys, or I Love Chocolate, a tiny café just around the corner from the end of Clement Street (397 Arguello, S.F. 415-750-9460), which will happily cater to your sugary needs.

One of the great pleasures of walking is the lack of parking hassle, and Clement Street is definitely better reached without a car. Take all the time you didn't spend driving in circles waiting for a space to open up and use it to wander in my favorite San Francisco bookstore, Green Apple Books (506 Clement, S.F. 415-387-2272). If you can't find something to please you in the main store or the annex, you're clearly still not relaxed enough. Return to Ocean Beach and start over.

MetaGrrrl is the nom de plume of Dinah Sanders, who is well along in her project to walk every block of every street of San Francisco. Chart her progress at

Two Moons?

What would Earth be like if it had two moons?

I started out thinking of various natural differences – the tides, for instance – and then got to thinking about how most human cultures seem to be fixated on duality – light/dark and male/female and good/evil. It’s interesting to speculate on the societal impact of a third heavenly body. If night and day were less uniform and distinct – no moon nights and one moon nights and two moon nights – would humans be better able to deal with the shades of grey between right and wrong? Is our morality a by-product of our planetary configuration?

Walking Walking Walking

I’ve mentioned to many people my goal of walking the entire city of San Francisco, every street, every block. The supportive responses have been great; when people visit they say “Well, shall we take a different route back from the restaurant so you can get in a few more blocks?” I’m making good progress, but it’s a lot of walking so it will take me a while. No problem; I’ve allowed myself until the year 2050 to finish the project.

The helpful man I spoke to in the department of public works estimated it’s about 1400-1500 miles of streets. That’s mighty impressive and I well understand why it’s taking me a while. However, if I made it my full-time job instead of just a happy hobby, I could be a lot further along by now. How much further along is alarmingly well indicated by a certain friend of mine.

My pal Edmond would be done by now if he’d chosen my project instead of his own. Edmond is walking the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mexican border in southern California to the Canadian border in northern Washington. He started April 27th and he’s now walked over 1800 miles to reach his last reported location in Crater Lake.

1800 miles, folks.
And he’s got another 800 to go.

His journal entries are really fun and he’s going to have wonderful pictures to show off once he has time to start setting up the galleries and captioning them on his return. Pay him a visit and send him a hello. He loves email.

Sunday was better

Yesterday morning I woke up in the cozy guest room at my parents’s home in Mendocino. I always sleep really well there and I felt great. I had a little breakfast with my Grandma Susie, packed up my clean laundry (they have a washer & dryer *in the house!* so cool!), said fond farewells and had a beautiful, quick drive back down to San Francisco.

It was so lovely, clear & warm when I came over the Golden Gate Bridge that I coaxed Chris out of his house in the Presidio within half an hour of arriving and we went walking. Oh boy did we walk! We walked through the Presidio to the bridge and then over the bridge and then all the way into Sausalito. We were very very hungry by this point and feasted on two pizzas (a medium Catalian & a small Italian) at Giovanni’s. Then we got ice cream at Lappert’s (Spumoni for him and Kauai something (Kona coffee, macadamia nuts, fudge & coconut shavings) for me) – mmm! – and wandered over to catch the ferry back to San Francisco. What a great time!

Now it’s Monday and I’m in the warm & stuffy office nodding off. I could use a little Kona coffee ice cream about now…

Trail Preparations

I’m not posting much lately because I’ve been very busy helping Edmond get all moved out of the Mountain View house and ready to hit the Pacific Crest Trail. Read all about his adventures which I’ll be updating as I receive mail from him during the summer.

Signing out from Mountain View for possibly the last time, this is intrepid hiker supplier Dinah saying “keep your socks dry and don’t step on the rattlesnakes!”

p.s. I have it on good authority that the potential hazards of the trail do not in fact apply to those staying home & mailing out the GORP.