Ticket to Excitement City

Five Fun Destinations Within a Hop, Skip and a Jump of the East Bay.

Oakland Magazine – Jan/Feb 2006

Seattle is a city of moods. Broody yet exciting, she’s like a warm Cappuccino in a swirling fog. Why else would one of the city’s great attractions be the library? Not just any library, but a glass and steel masterpiece 11 stories high, with a coffee bar, auditorium and well over a million books. It’s a fitting tribute to a town where you need nothing more than a good read and a great cup of coffee to be satisfied.

Of course, staying in opulence doesn’t hurt either, and no hotel matches The Fairmont Olympic for elegance and appointments. It’s Italian Ressaissance with high tech convenience and it’s close to Seattle’s hottest restaurants and nightclubs. Places like Crush, where locals line up for the culinary creations of acclaimed local chef Jason Wilson. The Crocodile Café – the epicenter of the city’s grunge music scene. And Club Medusa, where laser lights and fog machines ignite the crowd in a pulsating techo-frenzy.

Couple the nightlife with stalwart attractions like Pikes Market and the Space Needle (now called O Deck) and there’s barely enough time to soak up the natural beauty of sparkling Puget Sound and snow-capped Mount Rainier. It could just be why coffee – is so popular here.

In the battle over star-studded nightlife, South Lake Tahoe has always overshadowed it’s neighbor to the North. Or has it? There was a time in the sixties when the North Shore was playground to celebrities, presidents – even mobsters when Sinatra owned the Cal Neva Resort at Crystal Bay. Though he was forced to sell it when the Gaming Commission caught Sam Giancana on the property, you can still stay in Frankie’s cottage, and walk through the tunnel he used to sneak guests like Giancana and Marilyn Monroe from casino to showroom. In fact, Monroe had a cottage here, too – where she overdosed one night and was flown by helicopter from the hotel’s roof to the hospital. The Sinatra showroom may be dark these days, but you can still toast the Rat Pack in the hotel’s stained-glass Circle Bar and see photos of the gang in the hallways.

What the Cal Neva lacks in nightlife, they pick up across the street at another historic casino, the Biltmore. Live bands play nightly and it’s a cool place for dancing and shooting craps or playing cards. And while the food is pretty good for a casino, an exceptional meal is just a short walk through the woods to the romantic French hideaway Domain Chandone. Wrap up your stay with a massage at the new high-end Spa at the nearby Hyatt and you’ll find you’ve got “the world by a string.”

There are few places on earth that are consistently heaven for skiers. Snowbird is one of them. Deep in the Wasatch Mountains, just a half hour from Salt Lake City, Snowbird is a mother of a mountain, usually neck-high in powder, and with enough terrain to keep both skiers and boarders smiling. The place to stay, here, is the venerable Cliff Lodge, with its ski in-and-out access and world class spa (with a stunning rooftop pool). Pinned against the mountain with peaks that loom large through almost every window, the day I was there we were under avalanche lockdown until 10 am. After a hearty breakfast, we descended into a snowstorm, and were treated to drifts of champagne powder that, for a snowboarder, were like floating on clouds. It’s this incredible unleashing of nature and the feeling of weightlessness that draws people to Snowbird.

But a person can’t live on powder alone. The Cliff Lodge has exceptional food and live music for a remote ski resort and everything from skating to mountaineering on its list of activities. It makes for a great getaway to a spot where you might just decide – you never want to leave.

Sonoma County is often referred to as the “other wine country”. But while it’s not as famous as the Napa Valley, the quiet towns are part of its charm. And Healdsburg has both small town charm and a hip urban flair. Enter the gates of the Honor Mansion and you’ll be greeted by a garden pond of giant jumping Koi, lips pursed and ready to be fed. The rooms of this impeccable inn are appointed with hot tubs on private decks, sumptuous bedding and parlors that invite you to curl up on the couch with a glass of good wine and a novel. But that can come much later, after a ride through the Alexander or Dry Creek vineyards by horse-drawn carriage or bicycle – both of which can be rented in town. There are dozens of boutique wineries to explore, but save room for dinner at the popular Dry Creek Kitchen or Healdsburg’s new hot spot Cyrus, which is being compared to the French Laundry. For live Jazz, the Healdsburg Hotel is on the radar, and the buzz is that Barn diva (a big red barn in the center of town) is the hippest place to get a drink. All are within strolling distance of your hotel. Awesome food, impeccable service, and an atmosphere that’s just a little bit country. Healdsburg is hands down the best wine town around.

More than a dozen U-S cities call themselves Eureka, but it’s Northern California’s town that lives up to its name. With towering Redwoods and a spectacular coast, our forefathers had plenty to shout about besides gold. The wealth they amassed is still evident today, in the hundreds of Victorian homes, many of which are operating as elegant inns in Eureka. Four such grand ladies make up the Carter House on Humboldt Bay, where fresh flowers adorn each room and the sun streams in through oversized windows. Take your tea in the garden, where organic fruits and vegetables are grown for the hotel’s award-winning Restaurant 301. This is your spot for dinner later, but not before checking out Humboldt County’s legendary live music scene – at one of Eureka’s hip places like Rumours or Gallagher’s Pub. Wrap up your stay with a walk on a black sand beach (there are great beaches just 5 minutes from downtown) or a drive through, a giant Redwood (there are 3 drive-through trees not far from Eureka). But plan on coming back. Like the name implies – there’s a lot to discover in this town.


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