This is a continuation of my out-of-print guidebook--WEEKEND ADVENTURES IN SAN FRANCISCO & NORTHERN CALIFORNIA. It features travel destinations throughout Northern California and presents them in small, easy-to-digest chunks. Even more great weekend adventures await you at my BERKELEY AND BEYOND website at www.berkeleyandbeyond.com.
Best Western El Rancho Inn 1100 El Camino Real, (800) 826-5500, (650) 588-8500. 306 rooms. Pool; hot tub; fitness center. Pets ok. Continental breakfast; restaurant. Featuring a California mission-style architecture, this spacious 2-story inn is spread out over 9 acres. It has been operated by the same family since it opened in 1949. Rooms are attractively updated, with iPod connectors and flat-screen TVs, but they still retain some cool original bathroom tilework. Park-and-fly car storage and an airport shuttle are available, as is a popular package that let’s you stay one night and leave your car for two weeks while you fly away. If your flight is delayed or cancelled, you can come back to the hotel and use the facilities at no charge; and if the flight is delayed until the following day, they’ll give you a room at no charge if one is available. Vintage stars Lauren Bacall and Lou Costello stayed here, and Richard Nixon stayed here in corner room #325 when he was V.P. In 1989, this was the only airport hotel that remained undamaged by the Loma Prieta earthquake and is where FEMA based its operations.
The subterranean bar in the Terrace Cafe was once known as The Mermaid Room because it has a big window that looks right into the pool where “mermaids” once performed underwater. Old-time guests include William Randolph Hearst and Bing Crosby, and the bar was the filming site for a scene in the 1982 movie, “The Right Stuff.”
you might want to hop on the Magic Bus.
This 90-minute multimedia bus tour transports participants through Chinatown, North Beach, and Haight-Ashbury, and also takes them back in time to to the Summer of Love.
Bus boards on Geary St. side of Union Square, (800) 838-3006, (415) 332-8867. Recommended for children 7 and older. Reservations advised.
Napa Walking Tour (707) 694-5097. Daily at 10am May-Oct; Sat-Sun Nov-Apr. $20. Reservations required. “Performed” by entertaining George Webber, who elegantly dresses for the part and cheerfully imparts his wisdom, this 2-hour tour explores 8,000 years of Napa history. Stops include a tour and tasting at a micro-brewery and a tour of a splendid B&B mansion.
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (510) 486-5289. Once per month on a Friday at 10am. Free. Must be age 16+. Reservations required. During this 2 ½-hour tour, visitors receive a general Lab Overview, which includes highlights of the 25 scientific breakthroughs discovered at Berkeley Lab. Visitors also tour the Advanced Light Source (ALS) and the Molecular Foundry--Berkeley Lab’s Nanoscience Research Facility. For more details, read my article.
Baumé 201 S. California Ave., Park Blvd., east off El Camino Real, (650) 328-8899. L Fri, D W-Sun; $$$+. Lunch: 4 courses $58/with matching wine pairing $88, 8 courses $98/$158. Dinner: 8 courses $118//$188, 12 courses $168/$248. Reservations advised. Super expensive, but quite the gastronomic experience (it has a Michelin star), this is the perfect place to celebrate a special occasion. Windows are blacked out, so from the sidewalk it looks as if the restaurant is empty, but inside diners are seated in one of three intimate rooms featuring chocolate-black and persimmon painted walls and one curtain wall. The menu simply lists ingredients from which the various courses will be composed. You can't order a particular item, because the menu is fixed and not revealed. Now, my stomach has been known to protest when fed too many disparate ingredients at one sitting. But chef Bruno Chemel promises that “our menu is built with a consideration for digestion and moderation influenced by macrobiotic cooking.” And, indeed, the chef delivers on this promise, and consistently startles the senses with intensely flavored tiny portions served on a parade of unusual vessels. If you enjoy wine, do opt for the pairing because it exquisitely enhances and is served in a battery of glasses that are a pleasure to see lining up like crystal soldiers as each new one is added. Conducted like a symphony, the battalion of servers is coordinated to arrive on cue with each course. Among our courses was a surprise amuse from the chef—a sweet little teeny-tiny baby, actually infant, no--maybe a premie—carrot-half with miso. Caviar with teensy egg balls to spread on brioche squares arrives in an especially designed dish that when removed from its base releases an incense smoke. Fairytale pumpkin soup features little floating balloons that pop open in your mouth. The perpetual feast goes on and on--punctuated here and there with foams that are actually quite delicious--until you think you’ll bust, reaching a crescendo with a flurry of edgy desserts. This “French cuisine moderne with a Zen touch” is da bomb! I was very glad we reserved an early seating because the dinner lasted a full three hours.
Mingalaba 1213 Burlingame Ave./Lorton, (650) 343-3228. L-D daily; $$. Call to add name to wait list. With a name that means “How’s it going?”, this Burmese restaurant is immediately off to a good start. The menu includes both Burmese and Chinese Mandarin dishes; most are spicy and most dishes can be prepared vegetarian. Green tea-leaf salad (be careful if you are caffeine sensitive) and the house special noodle (cold wide-rice noodles) are both tossed dramatically tableside. Especially tasty starters include stretchy paratha bread with dipping sauce, vegetarian samosa soup, and papaya and mango salads, and choice entrees include shrimp okra, pumpkin yellow chicken, and eggplant-chicken curry. Coconut-enhanced mango pudding is perfect for a small, refreshing ending. Servers wear Burmese-style clothing, and the decor is cheery with ethnic wall hangings.