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August 28th, 2008

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Upscale and Affordable Dog-Friendly Lodging in Mendocino County

August 21st, 2008

Stella Behind Bars

Stella, the author’s Labrador Retriever

Don’t want to leave Fido at home, yet still looking for a nice place to stay with an oceanview? Checkout the Little River Inn and Fort Bragg’s Atrium Bed & Breakfast or the Surf Motel. Each dog-friendly location on Mendocino’s Pacific coast welcomes well-behaved pooches. The Little River Inn offers luxury, ocean-view rooms, ranging from $225-$290, plus a $25 pet fee, while Fort Bragg offers affordable rates within walking distance of several dog parks.

Having survived scenic Highway 128, with its many curves, both man and beast will appreciate the ocean air and setting foot on terra firma. Your dog will love the treats upon check-in at the Little River Inn and you will enjoy the freedom of not having to sneak your beloved into the hotel room. The inn offers a pet-friendly, grassy area on the property and provides resources such as Evergreen Barn, a self-serve pet wash facility and doggy daycare At Last Farm Dog Day Camp.


Eleven miles north, AAA-rated Surf Motel offers designated pet-friendly rooms from $49-$250, plus a $10 pet fee, for the budget-minded with a fenced, off-leash doggie play area. If you find yourself in Fort Bragg September 26-28, 2008, drop by the Huckleberry and Hound Festival for canine-related activities scattered throughout Fort Bragg.

Mendocino Botanical Gardens

Photo courtesy Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens

Located in the historic downtown district, The Atrium Bed & Breakfast is within walking distance of Fort Bragg’s Dog Park between South Lincoln and Willow. Three pet-friendly rooms rent for $115-$150, not including a $25 pet fee. Atrium Co-owner Gail Brodkey, along with her dog, Gracie, were involved in the push to create the local dog park. Stop by for yappy hour.

Insider Tip: Noyo Jetty Dog Park, an official off-leash dog beach, is a short drive away at the end of North Harbor Drive. Additionally, the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens offers another dog-friendly venue, charging $10 per person. There is no charge for leashed pets.

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Fort Bragg – Come for the fun, stay for the food

August 11th, 2008

Cynthia Ariosta Piaci

Chef Gregorio Garcia & Piaci Owner Cynthia Ariosta

Walking into Piaci Pub & Pizzeria in downtown Fort Bragg is like walking into Boston’s fictitious Cheers Pub; where everybody knows your name.  “Or at least where you work,” says co-owner Cynthia Ariosta with a smile.  Ariosta and Business Partner Stephen Duerr took over this local hang out, known for its superior thin crust pizza, from original owner Jim Muto in 2003, and its been hopping ever since.

“This is Italian style pizza,” notes Ariosta as she multi-tasks, serving sandwiches and salads to regulars, pouring micro-brewed beer from the tap and offering pizza suggestions to out-of-towners such as myself.  “We make our own sausage in house.  We buy our pork from Roundman’s Smokehouse up the street and we utilize local produce.”  Case in point, today’s caprese salad is made with Sky Hoyt Farm’s tomatoes from Lake County.  Piaci Chef Gregorio Garcia picked  up the tomatoes and basil from the Wednesday Fort Bragg Farmer’s Market.

“We have a great staff and are strong believers in the economic gardening philosophy,” notes Ariosta.  That is, they embrace strategies to grow existing businesses in their community.  This philosophy seems to be paying off in the formerly blue collar town of Fort Bragg.

Mendocino Chocolate Company

Like the product?  Why not buy the company?

Mendocino Chocolate Company Owner Julie Keaton had purchased chocolates for their Seabird Lodge hotel guests for years.  When they heard the business was for sale in 2003, she and her husband jumped in with both feet, or perhaps hands is a better word.  Afterall, the candies are decorated and made by hand.  The coffee toffee with hazelnuts is unique, as is the 6 Angels Mocha Truffle, six being the number of children in Keaton’s household.

For something homemade and unique to Fort Bragg, visit Cowlicks Handmade Ice Cream located on Main Street.  Locals rave about the seasonal mushroom ice cream that tastes like maple nut.  Across the street, Piaci offers Cowlicks Spumoni flavored ice cream.

Mendocino Cookie Company

Mendocino Cookie Company

“Do you want to know something funny?” asks Mendocino Cookie Company Manager and Owner Wendy Alarcon.  “My mother never baked us cookies when we were growing up!” laughs Alarcon.  Previously located in Mendocino for fourteen years, the company moved to Fort Bragg because they needed more elbow room and they viewed the community as up-and-coming.

In selecting a few cookies from the fifteen different varieties, Alarcon suggested the Backpacker cookie,  sort of a granola cookie with oats, raisins, chocolate and butterscotch chips, along with the Chocolate Bliss, a chocolate shortbread cookie with chocolate chips.  Mighty taste cookies.

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Mendocino’s Eco-friendly Alegria Inn – Let It Flow

August 5th, 2008

Alegria Oceanfront Inn

Alegria Oceanfront Inn and Cottages

I arrived via Mini Cooper, my husband traveled by motorcycle.  We had decided to meet at Mendocino’s Cafe Beaujolais for a Sunday lunch.  Our feast began with nettle soup laced with truffle oil, followed with Dungeness crab cakes and the Beaujolais Benedict composed of apple wood ham, rye toast and perfectly poached eggs in a cayenne mornay sauce.  The gentleman next to us raved about the bouillabaisse, so we gave that a try, as well.

Beaujolais Bouillabaisse

Cafe Beaujolais Bouillabaisse

It had been fifteen years since our last visit to this seaside village on the Northern California Coast.  Originally owned by Margaret Fox, Cafe Beaujolais is now in the talented hands of Owner and Executive Chef David LaMonica and his wife Kristy, as well as Sous Chef Luis Lopez.  I’m happy to report that the cafe is in fine form and the housemade breads from the Brickery are as wonderful as I remembered.  The Austrian Sunflower bread, with its nutty texture, paired well with the nettle soup. 

After I checked into the Alegria Oceanfront Inn, I bid adieu to my husband and tripped around town.  I discovered the Gallery Bookshop on Main street and the tiny, but delicious Mendocino Chocolate Company with its factory store based in neighboring Fort Bragg.

Let It Flow

Upon my return to the Alegria I set up my laptop and enjoyed the view of Big River State Beach as it flows into the Pacific ocean.  From the Pacific Suite, one of only two rooms on the second floor of the main house, I could watch hummingbirds flit about the garden.  But what really got me excited was the queen FloBed.  This is the most comfortable bed that I have ever slept on, and I’ve slept around a lot!  Composed of organic cotton and Eco-wool, the mattress cover is naturally fire retardant.  What makes the FloBed unique is the multiple layers of natural latex, allowing for a custom mattress fit.

The 28-year-old FloBed company is based in Fort Bragg and still a small, family-run operation.  Owner and founder Dave Turner ran a water bed store during his college days and made flotation beds for JC Penny.  In creating the FloBed, Turner asked Latex International if they would make the layers half of their thickness.  “They thought I was crazy, but I had the idea that I could manipulate the layers to have different combinations of firmness,” reflects Turner.

Alegria owner’s Elaine and Eric Wing Hillesland would eventually like to have FloBeds in all the main house rooms, as well as the collection of unique cottages on the property.  For a slightly less expensive alternative, the Alegria Quartet is a Mendocino Craftsman-style house divided into four lodgings located across the street.  No matter where you land at Alegria, happiness, joy and merriment are sure to follow.

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Winemaker meets fellow BlogHers at SF Conference

July 28th, 2008

 San Francisco Heart

Imagine my delight when I found a familiar face in the crowd during a recent BlogHer party.  I’d spotted Debra Mathy pouring her luscious Zinfandel at an exclusive gathering.  Hours earlier I had arrived at San Francisco’s St. Francis hotel for the 2008 BlogHer conference.  Learning that the three-day conference was taking place in my own backyard, I hopped on a BART train and began the round of pre-conference parties. 


As a former sorority girl I thought I was up to the challenge of mingling with 1,000 plus female bloggers, along with the random male thrown in the mix.  As I entered the hotel lobby, I spotted a woman walking the corridor with an Alltop party sign. 

“Are you looking for the Alltop bus?” chirped the friendly gal sporting her plaque much like the limo drivers who troll the airport baggage claim terminals looking for designated VIP’s.

“My blog’s on the Alltop travel list, but I wasn’t invited,” I lamented.  Mind you, I’m years away from the sorority rush experience, yet I was feeling like the co-ed who didn’t receive her bid invitation into the elite sorority. 

Mommy Needs a Glass of Wine

 Mommy Needs a Glass of Wine T-shirt courtesy of Baby


“Get on the bus,” she said with a wink.  “It’s gonna be a great party at Guy’s house.”  For those of you who don’t know Guy Kawasaki, he is the man behind Alltop, an entrepreneur and a twitter maniac.  I board the shuttle and am immediately surrounded my Mommy bloggers chatting up a storm with their seatmates.  I learned quite a lot about blogging from Kristen Hammond of Mommy Needs a Cocktail fame.   She is not only hilarious, she’s quite the marketer, handing out cocktail shakers sporting her blog at the BlogHer conference.

After a few mis-adventures in downtown Atherton, we arrived at the Kawasaki household.  Our poor driver had scribbled down directions to the party location and finally checked his male ego, parked the bus and asked for directions.  Needless to say, every blogger on the bus with a GPS in their cellphone was frantically waving  smartphones in the air asking anyone who would listen, “what cross street is that?”


While it’s not quite couch surfing with complete stangers, I felt that I had crashed a party and sheepishly shook hands with the host as he welcomed me into his backyard.  I ambled over to the wine table and was delighted to find Debra Mathy pouring her wares from Dry Creek Valley’s Dutcher Crossing Winery.  Another savvy marketer, Debra writes about Dry Creek on her blog.


 I learned about the Wine Bloggers Conference taking place in Sonoma County, October 24-26, 2008 from Debra.  Put on by OpenWine Consortium (OWC) the group is a non-profit wine industry association fully embracing bloggers, twitters and web 2.0 users.  If you’ll be in the Santa Rosa area during these dates, register for the conference and prepare to meet America’s new wine media.

I’ll be attending the Wine Bloggers Conference.  Will you be there?

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Go fish – it’s not always in the cards

July 17th, 2008

North Umpqua River

 Fly fishing is a sport for patient people requiring wide spaces, fresh flowing water and lots of time.  There is an art to fly fishing.  Indeed, the true fly fisherman or woman needs to know how to tie a fly and possess the proper fly pole.  However, if you are not patient and don’t like to fish, I still think you will enjoy the article that I recently wrote for the Contra Costa Times Lamorinda Sun.

As the car winds along southern Oregon’s scenic highway 138 the vibrant North Umpqua River comes into view.  Arriving at the Steamboat Inn, fishermen sprawl at long wooden tables sorting their paraphernalia as they prep for the season.  A Paul O’Neil quote from 1965 describes the quintessential fly fisherman,

There he stands, draped in more equipment than a telephone lineman, trying to outwit an organism with a brain no bigger than a breadcrumb, and getting licked in the process.”  

Whether you are a fisherman or daydreamer, if you are looking to unplug from the electronic world and re-connect with nature, Steamboat Inn is a place to relax and unwind or, wind up and fish.  The only blackberries you’ll find at the Steamboat come from the kitchen in the form of a pie or cobbler.  There is no cell reception here, although there is internet access.

Maple Ridge Suite

   Steamboat Inn Maple Ridge Suite     

Couples will enjoy the streamside cabins; while families opt for the Hideaway cottages situated a half mile up river.  The cozy Maple Ridge Suite offers a soaking tub, large living room and private deck steps from the river.  In addition to gourmet dining, guests can hike to waterfalls or venture to nearby Crater Lake.  If you have children along, drive through the Wildlife Safari Park in Winston.     

While fly fishing in Oregon takes skill, fishing in Alaska brings its own set of challenges.  The river was very high and muddy this year so the king salmon were not biting. “We did a lot of fly fishing from the bank,” said Jeffrey Lefcourt of Lafayette.  Paul , along with his 12-year-old son, Jeffrey, took a float plane to Riversong Lodge on the Yentna River and caught some trout and grayling.  What better way to spend Father’s Day than fishing with your son? 

 “It was easier to fly fish in Alaska because it wasn’t windy like in California,” notes Jeffrey.  “We saw a lot of bald eagles.  I got a ton of mosquito bites, but it was worth it and certainly better than hanging out in a tent. Riversong Lodge made it easy.  I would go again every single year. ” 

 While fishing lodges are not appropriate for toddlers, parents need not put off global travel until the kids have grown.  If you are traveling with little ones in tow, Ciao Bambino! reviews family friendly vacation properties with age appropriate ratings. 

“We deal with four categories; hotels, villas, resorts and apartments,” says Founder Amie O’Shaughnessy.  The Oakland-based company gives its seal of approval from baby ready to toddler safe rooms.  

 Speaking of seals of approval; Lafayette’s Deborah Simmons, along with Matt Chaney and family, will be competing in the Ride for a Cure on July 19 in San Luis Obispo to raise funds to defeat ALS.  Chaney has been battling ALS for eight years and is very active with the organization.  The bike ride begins at Avila Beach and features four, world-class routes, including a 25k Fun Ride  and 25 mile Winery Tour Ride.  

“Matt will be riding his recumbent bike in the 100 mile Century.  I’m riding the less grueling 100k route, but a challenge, nonetheless,” laughs Simmons. 

Register now or contribute to the cause by donating to RideToDefeatALS.

 Located on the blue Pacific equidistant from Los Angeles and San Francisco, Avila Beach has recovered from the 1990’s petroleum contamination and has been rebuilt into a thriving beachfront community.  From the historic Madonna Inn to fish taco stands, the town offers Sunday art on the beach, championship golf, pier fishing, the Bob Jones bike trail and a Friday Farmer’s Market.

San Louis Obispo or SLO town, as the locals call it, is home to Cal Poly.  If you are visiting the area stop by for Swing Night at the Madonna Inn.  Every Monday from 8:00 p.m.-11:00 p.m. locals and out-of-towners kick up their heels and swing dance at the Inn.  Best of all; it’s free!

Where are your favorite places to fly fish, beach comb, bike ride or swing dance?

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27 new UNESCO World Heritage sites

July 14th, 2008

 Preah Vihear Temple

 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple on Cambodian border

On July 8 in Quebec City, Canada, UNESCO, (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) announced 27 new additions to the organization’s list of cultural and natural heritage sites. Formed in 1945, UNESCO “seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity.” 

Unesco Logo

New UNESCO Cultural Sites:

Four countries- Papua New Guinea, San Marino, Saudi Arabia and Vanuatu- are new to the list.  Have you been to any UNESCO sites?

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Does the travel industry care about changing climate?

July 10th, 2008


I wrote a post on taking issue with Darren Cronian’s recent comment on his blog, Travel Rants.  Cronian attempts to fan the flames in the travel blog world when he states that “the travel industry doesn’t care about climate change. ”  His comments sparked me into action, as I live in  Northern California, home to multiple raging wildfires at the moment.

I’m sure the England-based writer wasn’t attacking the travel industry in general.  Rather, he wanted to know specifically what different sectors in the industry were doing to address this problem.  You can read my post on Greenopolis here

According to the Greenopolis website, it is the first “green,” interactive, educational website to bring together communities and reward them for making positive environmental changes.  I discovered Greenopolis because they are one of the BlogHer sponsors for the upcoming conference taking place in San Francisco July 18-20, 2008.

Blogher Button

As a sponsor of Blogher they are hosting a “Best Green BlogHer” contest and will be offering  Greenopolis cocktails at Ruby Skye, a San Francisco nightclub on Friday, July 18 when they announce the winner of the contest.  I wonder what’s in a green cocktail?  I think it’s wonderful how BlogHer is really making an effort to be environmentally conscious during its San Francisco conference. 

I think the hotel industry is making an effort to “go green.”  When I check into my hotel I expect to see a note on the dresser mentioning that towels and bedding will not be changed on a daily basis unless requested.  I hope to see CFL’s in all of the light fixtures; preferably in the off position when I enter my hotel room.  Organic cotton sheets would be a nice touch. 

I try to do my part to be a more environmentally aware person on this planet and I hope to be modeling this behavior for my children.  As a travel writer and a global citizen, I’m aware of my carbon footprint and I attempt to tread lightly on the planet. 

Do you consider yourself green?  What are your thoughts on climate change?

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Where’s Wendy Perrin? She has landed in San Francisco

July 7th, 2008

 Wendy Perrin

Wendy Perrin likes to beat the system, find the best travel deals and share all of her insider secrets with her readers.  I recently caught up with Conde Nast Traveler’s Consumer News Editor while she was on vacation with her husband and two young boys.  The Perrin gang, along with CNT writer Brook Wilkinson and her boyfriend, were visiting San Francisco’s Exploratorium by the Palace of Fine Arts. 

What is the job of a consumer news editor?

WP: I’m not sure what other people do at their job, but at CNT I’m in charge of giving consumers advice on how to beat the system.  I write an advice column, The Perrin Report and my blog The Perrin Post in addition to my other writing responsibilities. 

If you didn’t have this job, what would you like to do?

WP: That’s a very good question.  I’ve been with CNT for 19 years and this is a great job.  If I didn’t have this job, I’d probably work for a school.  Education matters a lot to me.

What’s your “must have” travel gadget?

Brook Wilkinson: I’d have to say my digital camera.

Place you want to go when you are NOT on assignment?

WP: My husband’s family is from Northern California, so we come here every summer.

Brook Wilkinson: New Zealand is my favorite place in the world.  Growing up in my family we didn’t tend to repeat places.  I like visiting Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire to hang out.

Have you ever been Couch Surfing?

Brook Wilkinson: I have never been CouchSurfing, but I have stayed as a guest in someone’s home through a mutual contact.  In 2001 I backpacked in China for a year and met Lucy from Beijing and stayed with her.

Brook, now that you live in San Francisco, where are your favorite Martini Glassplaces?

Tank Hill.  I wrote about it on Wendy’s blog.  I like dining at Chez Panisse in Berkeley and the Presidio Social Club in the city for the classic cocktail.

Do you prefer writing or blogging?

WP: My first commitment is writing for the magazine, but it is a time-consuming production process.  I enjoy the e-mails from my readers.  I have a very intelligent group of readers.  When my articles are done, that’s when I make time for the blog.  I usually write the blog at night.  The blog is a  way to interact with readers and I love the immediate feedback.  It’s great because I get to meet people like you!

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Say yes to airport layover in San Francisco

July 1st, 2008

 Golden Gate Bridge

 Photo credit San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau

I know it may sound crazy, but an airport layover might not be such a bad thing afterall.  Why not briefly touch on the highlights of a city that you hadn’t necessarily planned on visiting without dropping a dime on a costly hotel room? 

Conde Nast Traveler’s online blog, The Perrin Post, in conjunction with Hotel Chatter and Jaunted, is running an airport layover contest until July 31.  Reader’s must create Conde Nast Traveler contributor Michael Kinsley‘s itinerary when he flys around the world this September.

As I hail from the Bay Area, my recommendation was for Kinsley to visit San Francisco International Airport, take a BART ride to downtown and catch a cable car to Fisherman’s Wharf.  After I had submitted my post, I learned that Kinsley is a “foodie” so I thought he might enjoy a  walking tour of Chinatown with Shirley Fong-Torres of Wok Wiz fame, or he could hook up with GraceAnn Walden of Mangia! North Beach walking tours. 

I hope that Consumer Editor Wendy Perrin is planning to use this reader generated content and publish it in an upcoming Conde Nast Traveler magazine article.  If you would like to read my airport layover suggestion you can click here and scroll down to the fifth post, “Leave your heart and several hours in San Francisco.”

Have you experienced an airport layover that you enjoyed?

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