Big dreamers in California

OF ALL THE THINGS I love about this state, it’s the people that make it most special. We tend to be big dreamers in California — and I like big dreamers. We play golf at Tilden and dream we’re in Scotland. We taste wine in Napa and dream we’re in Italy.

So I’m drawn to dreamers, who live large and voluptuous lives, full of richness. I’m drawn to people like Jim and Sue Hager.

Based in a warm Tuscan-like home with terra cotta walls and a sun-baked terrace in Crocker Highlands, Jim is a sculptor and works with his hands. Sue loves to garden and cook — and pluck lemons from the tree to make vodka Limoncello. Their eyes go dreamy when they talk about the little artisan village where Jim sculpts in Italy. They’ve re-created the feel in their home here in Oakland.

It’s a sultry summer night when we pull up for dinner. I can hear Italian music coming from the kitchen — the heart of the home. It’s the smoky sounds of Paolo Conte, filling the room with romance and melancholy, much like a Fellini film.

“We’re making our own pizza, so roll out your dough,” Jim says to my son. He puts on the toppings, and Jim shovels the pizza into an open-fire brick oven in the kitchen. Seconds later, it comes out with a bubbling cheese crown.

So food is art — and art is art — and this home is infused with both. Jim’s favorite sculpture is the delicate white marble piece he calls “Gaetano.” He created it just after his son’s birth, when Guy was sleeping serenely in his bed.

Gaetano is on display in San Francisco through October at 50 Beale St., in the lobby of the Bechtel Building. My guess is we’ll be seeing more of Jim’s work.

Camping in comfort

On the subject of living richly, did you that we’re just a short drive from America’s first luxury campground?

Costanoa is set in the wild, untamed beaches of San Mateo County — often described as a place forgotten by time. You can still find the quiet little towns here, and the wild windswept waters sending their spray over acres of artichokes.

Surrounded by several state parks is a lodging experience that’s somewhere between the Ritz Carleton and Yosemite’s Curry Village. At Costanoa, the canvas cabins have heated bedding and the outdoor bathrooms have saunas. The food in the general store is gourmet quality and can be served in the dining room or packed to go, so you can grill it yourself as you stare out over the vast blue Pacific.

For the first year ever, interior designers have decorated 10 of the tent cabins. It really brings out the playfulness of nature, as you surround yourself in the comfort of a little canvas cabin adorned in antiques and draped in rich fabric.

My favorite is the John Muir Base camp, decorated by designer Hilary Bond Read. It’s a cozy little cottage with a rich red spread on the bed and a journal for noting your deepest connections with nature. A globe in the corner reminds you that life is an exploration — an adventure.

One other thing impressed me about Costanoa — the nearby Blue Sky Riding Experience. Here, you can ride high above the rugged coast on a fine Tennessee Walking Horse.

What makes these steeds so special? They have the most wonderful gait — not jarring when you trot, but easy on the bones.

What’s even more amazing is that many of these horses were rescued from abusive owners. Given love and affection, these animals today are some of the best stable horses I’ve ever ridden. You can find out more about luxury camping and extraordinary horseback riding by logging on to or

Montclair mailbag

Thanks to the Friends of Montclair Village for sharing some of the results of their ongoing survey. They’re asking theses questions: What do you like and dislike about Montclair Village and how would you improve it?

Respondent Jill Broadhurst feels the Village could do a much better job of recycling. She’d like to see the kind of cans they have in Piedmont, with sections for paper, plastic and cans. (See story Page A6).

Regarding the idea of a pedestrian courtyard, Broadhurst says ” I firmly believe that this would increase the overall revenue of the businesses in town.” She envisions a place with more seating and a fountain, and says that, “while we all appreciate the benches that the businesses put out for us to sit on, I am afraid that most of them are at the breaking point and wobbly.”

Ship ahoy

Roosevelt’s presidential yacht, the USS Potomac, is back on the Bay again. After a five-month hiatus, the grand old ship goes out on two-hour tours, starting Aug. 9. It’s a chance to sit in the spot where FDR sat, surveying the waters from your high regal post.

Docents lead tours while the yacht sails under the Bay Bridge and around Alcatraz Island or you can explore the ship on your own. For information, call the Potomac office at Jack London Square at 510-627-1215.


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