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, www.pelicaninn.com) 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, www.serenisea.com) 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, www.marvistamendocino.com) 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, www.saintorres.com), 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 www.metagrrrl.com.