10 alluring getaways

Where to go and what to do to rev up your romantic life

Candy may be dandy and liquor certainly is quicker, but the absolute best gateway to romance is the weekend getaway. Leave the house, the job, the kids, the pets or whatever ties you down and head for someplace fun and fresh for you and your sweetie to enjoy together, just the two of you.

We’ve put together a list of 10 of our favorite getaway spots in Northern California. All are within a half-day drive of Chico, and all are perfect places to spend a day or a weekend or longer with a lover and a friend. And Happy Valentine’s Day!

Taking the water

Wilbur Hot Springs
This historic hotel (17 rooms) far back in the foothills near Williams (about 90 minutes from Chico) has been a getaway spot since the second half of the 19th century, thanks to the remarkable mineral waters that bubble up from the grounds here. The waters are channeled through a series of covered and decked bathing pools of varying temperatures, from quite warm to darned hot. There’s also a large, cool-water pool, a dry sauna and an open-air hot-water sitting pool. The covered baths are arranged in a beautiful way, with hanging Japanese-style lanterns, that is especially attractive at night.

Wilbur Hot Springs

Wilbur is a clothing-optional facility, which means that pretty much everybody goes naked in the baths (though not elsewhere). After bath and shower, you can retire to one of 17 private rooms (you’ll definitely be in the mood by then), go for a hike on the 1,500-acre nature preserve or head into the extremely comfortable hotel lobby to read or just relax some more. Guests bring their own food and prepare it in the large, well equipped kitchen, then join others in the dining area for what sometimes turn into quite festive occasions.

See www.wilburhotsprings.com for more.

Wine country safari

Napa Valley
As you enter the Napa Valley from Highway 29, as most people from Chico would after a trip of a little less than two hours, you will be greeted by the enormous statue of the grape crusher. It has come to be a symbol of the region and how it has evolved.

There are many ways to enjoy the Napa Valley. One of our favorites is the Napa Valley Wine Train. For about $100 per person, passengers enjoy a several-course meal along with an assortment of different wines as the train meanders up and down the west side of the valley. It’s a fun way to get to know the neighborhood.

Napa Valley

For those who are not afraid of heights and are willing to wake up at an ungodly hour in the morning, an assortment of hot-air-balloon companies offer daily trips with breathtaking views that cannot be seen from anywhere but up above.

There is of course, a world-famous assortment of different restaurants, wineries, spas, and B&Bs scattered throughout the valley. Whether it is in Napa, Yountville, Rutherford, St. Helena or Calistoga, fine dining and luxurious living are wine valley trademarks that have become just as important as the wine that built it. The Culinary Institute in St. Helena provides a blend of edible experimentation and is regarded as one of the valley’s premiere dining destinations for any visitor.

Starting Jan. 29 and lasting until April 9, more than 500 chefs, winemakers, mustard companies and artists will be displaying their creations in the 12th-annual Mustard Festival, just in time for a couple trying to find getaway this Valentine’s Day.

Information on any of these or other Napa Valley interests can be found at www.napavalley.com.

A Lassen hideaway

Drakesbad Guest Ranch

Drakesbad Guest Ranch
This idyllic mountain resort is located in Hot Springs Valley just inside the southern border of Lassen Volcanic National Park and can be reached in about two hours from Chico, via Chester. It’s a collection of cabins set around a historic lodge that dates back to the beginning of the 20th century, when the Sifford family of Susanville purchased the property from F.R. Drake and began developing it as a summertime getaway.

The lodge is situated on the edge of a beautiful meadow, and there are endless hiking and riding trails branching out from it. Rooms are rustic but pleasant (many are lighted by kerosene lanterns), the meals (included in the price) are nutritious and tasty, and the lodge is a most comfortable place to relax. There’s also a large swimming pool below the lodge filled with the warm mineral water for which the site ("Drake’s bath") is named. For more, go to www.drakesbad.com.

A lovers’ lake

Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is one of the best-known spots on our getaway list, and for good reason. It’s got something for everyone just about any time of year. But be warned—many a couple has innocently ventured over the Donner Pass looking for nothing more than a lighthearted romp and come back with a set of matching rings and a lot of ‘splaining to do.

Tahoe is a gambling town, a ski resort and an aquatic paradise all in one. And, there are also dozens of wedding chapels lining the more populous parts of the lake’s 71 miles of shoreline.

Lake Tahoe

Of course you don’t have to get married. You can rent a cabin and sit on the porch, gazing at the lake all day. You could see a show at one of the casinos or take a sunset cruise on the lake, many of which come complete with dinner, drinks and dancing.

What you end up doing in Tahoe will depend on the season you visit and which side of the lake you end up on. There isn’t a bad side, but there are differences. The North Shore is better for shopping, while the south side is where most of the gambling and marrying go down. This time of year, you can ski or snowboard at any of the five major ski resorts, or you can buy a $5 sled and clomp your way up the nearest hill. All of the above are good excuses to end the day cuddled up by a fire with a hot cup of Kahlua-spiked cocoa and your arm around your sweetheart.

Theater and more

Ashland, Oregon
This lovely little town just three-plus hours from Chico would be fun to visit even if it weren’t the home of the renowned Oregon Shakespeare Festival. It’s pretty and pleasant—lots of trees and grand old houses—and great for just walking around. There’s a beautiful creek right downtown, the food’s good and so is the coffee, and there are all kinds of nifty little shops, from bookstores to boutiques. Plus, it’s in the heart of the Rogue River Valley, which means whitewater adventure in the summer and skiing at nearby Mt. Ashland in the winter.

Of course, the biggest draw is the theater festival, which runs from March to November, offering from four to seven first-rate productions in rotation in two or (in summer) three theaters. Ashland is a wonderful place to spend a long weekend seeing theater, strolling around, eating at good restaurants, and generally enjoying oneself. There are dozens of bed-and-breakfast inns and several good motels, and the beautifully restored Ashland Springs Hotel right downtown is a classic.

OREGON SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL, ASHLAND Open to the sky, the outdoor Elizabethan Stage seats 1,200 people. Featured in the photo at left is the 2004 set and cast of<i> King Lear</i>.

Courtesy Of T. Charles Erickson

The OSF Web site, www.osfashland.org, has excellent lodging links.

All aboard the love train

Shasta Sunset Dinner Train
Nothing says romance like a three-hour train ride skirting the base of 14,162-foot Mt. Shasta in a restored 1916 Illinois Central dining car. Starting its ninth season, the Shasta Sunset Dinner Train rides the historic McCloud Railway, built in 1897 to haul timber to and lumber away from the McCloud River Lumber Co.

At just under $100 per person—an extra $60 for couples who want a table to themselves—the dining car offers ivory linen, fine china, stemwear and polished silver and serves a four-course meal prepared by chef Edward Hines. February entrees include Black Butte beef Wellington, chicken marsala, red snapper and roasted rack of lamb.

A new addition this year is the dance car, featuring a hardwood floor, special lighting and a high-tech sound system.

McCLOUD RAILWAY’S DINNER TRAIN Hop on board for a ride through the forest of Mt. Shasta and a four-course dinner to boot!

Folks who’d experienced the excursion told us the food was excellent, as was the service and overall trip. The one minor complaint was that proximity to the mountain eclipsed much of the expected spectacular view. Rather than snow-capped mountain peak, most of the view was of deep dark forest.

To get there, go north on I-5 and get off at the McCloud/Reno exit, heading east. Catch the train in McCloud. Boarding time is 5:30 p.m. and departure is at 6 p.m. The train travels to Mt. Shasta City and returns to McCloud by 9:30 p.m. Because this is a real train, be prepared for potential delays in the schedule.

While there are now four dining cars, it is best to book the ride early. Call 800-733-2141 or go to www.shastasunset.com. The Web site also contains info on the many excellent places to stay in the McCloud and Mt. Shasta area, including the historic McCloud Hotel Bed and Breakfast.

A day at the beach

Mendocino Coast
A weekend jaunt down Highway 1 along the Mendocino Coast will provide just about any amenity needed for a romantic getaway. And, because it’s located only 200 miles from Chico, a couple can be sitting at a local restaurant cracking crab legs by noon.

A ROOM WITH A VIEW The MacCallum House, located in the Mendocino Village, offers an ocean view and an award-winning restaurant.

Of course, there’s the coastline, which is a draw in itself. In addition, there are also plenty of spots to hike, fish, whale watch or set up camp among the towering redwoods at Hendy Woods State Park, located northwest of Boonville, for a day of swimming and canoeing.

For those who prefer less active excursions, there are heaps of restaurants like the MacCallum House Inn & Restaurant, located in the cozy Mendocino Village, which offers a view of the Pacific Ocean and an award-winning restaurant and bar. There’s even an afternoon wine hour for those looking to get a head start on the weekend.

Accommodations are available in every shape and form, whether it’s the Oceanside view of The Brewery Gulch Inn, in North Mendocino, or less conspicuous chalets like Griffin House at Greenwood Cove, located off Highway 1 in Elk, on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific. Most offer complimentary breakfasts, and some even include hot tubs to loosen the muscles after a day of hiking.

Mendocino County even has a few museums and galleries, including the Grace Hudson Museum and Sun House, which has displays of artifacts from the Pomo Indian tribe. The Sun House is the bungalow created by Grace Hudson and her husband John in 1911; tours are offered daily.

Information on Mendocino County is available at: http://www. mendocinocounty.worldweb.com/index.html.

EAST PARK RESERVOIR Scenic camping & fishing in the mountains near Elk Creek.

Photo By Stephanie Bird

Day trip with flowers

Elk Creek
In spring the hills and mountains on the west side of the Sacramento River Valley beckon road trip enthusiasts. For a pleasant day trip, drive to Orland, cross Interstate 5 and drive toward Black Butte Lake. Just beyond the freeway is an area of rural sprawl dotted with auto dismantling facilities, used-car lots and prefabricated homes on lots carved out of subdivided farm land. It ain’t pretty, but a couple more miles puts it behind you, and the lush dairy and cattle ranching country surrounding Black Butte Reservoir opens up and embraces you with open arms.

Cruising beside the lake through rolling, oak dotted hills cut by seasonal ravines populated by squirrels, deer, wild turkeys and lots of beef cattle, one slides almost imperceptibly into a different, quieter time.

The oaks become a picturesque, open forest, gnarled branches offering shade to wandering cattle, and the road winds pleasantly along past such picturesque sites as the old Newville Cemetery, with its carved and flower-bedecked collection of headstones dating from the earliest settlement of the area.

About 20 miles west of Orland, Newville Road intersects Road 306, heading sharply southwest toward Elk Creek, and the country becomes even more primeval and fantastic. At this time of year, the little rows of pointy, serrated hills rising beside the road are nearly iridescent with velvety new-growth grass, and as spring progresses thousands of orange, purple, yellow, blue and white wildflowers cover whole meadows with fields of intense color.

STOP A WHILE The Elk Horn Lodge in Elk Creek is a great place to pause for refreshments while exploring the scenic west side of the valley.

Photo By Stephanie Bird

At Elk Creek, the Elk Horn Lodge Bar and Restaurant is well worth a stop. The bar is a classic country tavern decorated with a few mounted elk heads, with a huge wood-burning stove and a separate room for pool tables. The kitchen offers classic steakhouse fare for dinner and puts out fine lunches as well.

After refreshments at the Elk Horn, a nice route home is to backtrack to the intersection where the bridge crosses Stony Creek and sends you back down to Willows through some of the smoothest rolling hills this side of Middle Earth. From Willows you can be back in Chico in a little over half an hour, making the total of your romantic excursion about three hours of rural bliss.

The big little

Lonely hills of Nevada sage/ And then there’s Reno center stage…

Reno is the perfect destination for those seeking a one-of-a-kind adventure. As playful troubadour Jonathan Richman points out in his song “Reno” (cited above), just surveying the terrain as you enter the Biggest Little City in the World suggests an unexpected combination—high desert meets millions of watts of blinking lights as you exit the Sierra Nevada or, as Richman continues: Lonely mountains left and right/ And then there’s Reno ablaze in light.

MY KIND-O-TOWNS<br>If you don’t want to be hampered by bedtimes or last-calls, the biggest little city stays up all night, but San Francisco has the cool destinations—like Amoeba Records (below)—for the biggest and best of every-little-thing-you-can-imagine.

There’s plenty to do by day in Reno, especially if you and your honey like the outdoors. Check out mystical Pyramid Lake, sacred to the Paiute Indians; it’s just a short drive from downtown. Or hike along the Truckee River, which winds its way through downtown Reno (and, if its summer, you can raft or kayak down its whitewater park). Or visit the amazing new Nevada Museum of Art, one of the truly exceptional facilities in the West.

At night, of course, the casinos and their stages are waiting for you. Maybe see Charo, maybe Tom Jones/ But I didn’t phone ahead so there’s no way of knowing/ Uh, did I make reservations? Well No/ But I don’t want to call, I just want to go…

The best bet is to plan as little as possible. If you need tips, check out the CN&R’s sister publication (www.newsreview.com/reno). Unless there’s a special event like “Hot August Nights” going on, there’s always a room available, but who needs a room when you’re just staying up all night, anyway?

Find a motel with a velvet bed/ Where the velvet walls are painted crimson red/ Find a little lounge opened night and day/ Where the FBI meets the CIA/ Reno, Reno, Reno honey, Reno, Reno, Reno…

Don’t forget your heart

Amoeba Music, San Francisco

San Francisco
Hello lovers.

If you have only one day free, consider this for a romantic getaway: Provided you get on the road by 9 a.m., you could be in San Francisco in time for lunch and then spend a day doing one or two of the city’s thousand of activities and still be home in time for Saturday Night Live.

There is no use in trying to convince anybody that any one thing to do, see or eat in the city is preferable to another—there’s enough flavor to satisfy most any whim or desire, but here is one road-tested adventure that will do the job for under $100.

Pack the car with one blanket, a couple of mix tapes, wine glasses and sweaters, a box full of CDs and LPs that you’re no longer keen on (more on this later), gas up and stop for coffee to go before you hit the scenic back roads on the way to Interstate-5. In less than three hours you’ll be leaving the Bay Bridge toll gates and absorbing the romantic S.F. skyline.

Go straight to North Beach, near Washington Square Park, and into the century-old Molinari Delicatessen (373 Columbus) and order a “North Beach Special” sandwich (prosciutto, provolone, sweet bell peppers and sun-dried tomatoes) for only $7 or mix-and-match finger food with Old World cheeses, meats, salads (fresh calamari!) and a bottle of wine and hit Baker Beach or China Beach for an oceanside picnic and a view of the Golden Gate.

If it’s cold or rainy, though, skip the wine and do what the locals do and join the bohemians and strippers down at the old Beat bar, Vesuvio (255 Columbus), and enjoy your deli grub with a cold brew.

If you go to Vesuvio, you have to cross the street and spend a couple hours in City Light Books, where Kerouac, Ginsberg and Casady used to hunker down. But if you’ve spent the afternoon absorbing the ocean air, grab your CDs and LPs and get back to the city streets and over to the greatest record store in the world. Where Haight Street meets Golden Gate Park, Amoeba Music (1855 Haight) will give you a fair price for just about everything, and whether you get $10 or $100 in store credit, somewhere in that ocean of 100,000-plus choices you’ll find that jazz, indie, blues, country, metal, punk or folk gem you haven’t been able to find anywhere else.

With cool new books or music in arm, stop in for the best martini in the city a couple blocks down at the famous Persian Aub Zam Zam (1633 Haight), then find a coffee house for some road java to go with deli leftovers and leave the pigeons and hippies behind on your way back to Chico town.

To help guide your particular spontaneity, the city’s three primary newspapers each offer great online directories (www.sfweekly.com, www.sfbayguardian.com and http://sfgate.com/chronicle/) for current entertainment and dining info.