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Turkey

updated September 29, 2021
0509_tripcoach
Amanda Friedman
For a couple from L.A., the perfect honeymoon involves ancient ruins and whirling dervishes--relaxation, too

Six years ago, Kristi March and Dave Barnes ran into each other at a bar in San Francisco. Dave was sure they'd never met, until Kristi convinced him that they went to school together in Huntington Beach--from fourth grade through high school, actually. "A nice friendship developed," according to Dave, but after the dot-com bust, he moved back to Southern California. Then, two years ago, Kristi finished her degree as a pharmacist and took a job in L.A. They started dating, and just before Christmas, Dave proposed under the stars at Santa Monica beach. The wedding is on for September.

Originally Kristi and Dave thought of Paris and a countryside wine tour for their honeymoon, but France didn't seem adventurous enough for a duo who had gone caving in Belize and on safari in South Africa. They were turned on by the ruins, scenery, and culture in Turkey. "It seems like one of those unspoiled places on the Mediterranean--an ideal place for a romantic honeymoon," Kristi wrote to us. "We have the most fun when learning about new cultures. We considered Italy, Croatia, and Greece, but they didn't inspire us the same way that Turkey did."

Miles on United Airlines will get them as far as Paris, so the honeymooners decided to spend the first three days in the City of Light. The remainder of their two-week trip will be in Turkey, and they asked us to help plan an itinerary focused on natural wonders rather than museums, with a few big-name attractions as well. We recommended a couple of days in Istanbul, followed by a flight to Denizli's Cardak Airport, near the Aegean coast. They'll rent a car there and drive along the stunning shoreline before flying from Kayseri to Paris (via Istanbul). With Turkish Airlines handling all the flights, the airfare is $629 per person. Going by train or bus costs less, but that would eat up precious days--and be a lot less pleasant.

They hope to cover several of 2,500-year-old Istanbul's major sights in two days, so it'll be a busy 48 hours. We agreed that they'd probably kick themselves if they never saw the famous Hagia Sophia basilica, or the Topkapi Palace, seat of the Ottoman Empire for almost 500 years. Other musts are the Blue Mosque, open sunrise to sunset with free admission, and the Grand Bazaar, where more than 4,000 shops sell ornate jewelry, dyed carpets, elfin slippers, and knockoff designer clothing. The newlyweds will stay near the enormous market at the Hotel Nena, with a buffet breakfast at its rooftop restaurant.

For a break from sightseeing, the city has hundreds of cafés where the couple can sip tea and people-watch. They want the Turkish bath experience, so we steered them to Çemberlitas Hamam to be scrubbed, massaged, and steamed on marble slabs.

Kristi and Dave were set on checking out the thermal springs of Pamukkale and Hierapolis, where bathers bob amid ancient columns. But instead of boarding a 15-hour train from Istanbul to Pamukkale, they'll fly in and pick up a rental car.

From Pamukkale, it's a four-hour drive to the pine-clad mountains and turquoise bays of Fethiye. "We absolutely love balconies," Kristi told us, so they should enjoy the Ece Saray Marina and Resort. All its rooms come with French doors that lead to a private balcony with a bay view. Using Ece Saray as a base, they can hit the beach (a quick cab ride away), visit Butterfly Valley (a lush gorge accessible via an informal water taxi from Belcekiz Beach, opposite the famous Blue Lagoon, for about $12), or drive 20 minutes to the deserted Greek town of Kayaköy to watch the sky turn pink at sunset. At Cin Bal, a butcher-shop-turned-restaurant in town, guests sit shoeless and grill their own kebabs while sheep graze in a nearby meadow. Meat is charged by weight and side dishes cost about $4 each.

Next it's on to a series of switchback roads with constant views of the sea. We pointed them to the village of Kalkan and the Patara Prince Hotel and Resort, where 60 rooms are arranged along white stone cliffs. Steep steps lead to sunbathing terraces, pools, and a private sandy cove.

Canyoning, diving, paragliding, and other adventures are within an hour's drive. (A day of kayaking seemed perfect for them; see "Surprise!") The newlyweds should also head 20 minutes into the mountains, to the trout farm of Mahmut'un Yeri. On a rooftop terrace that's surrounded by fragrant bougainvillea, patrons order trout, a salad, and a yogurt drink, all for $7 per person.

East of Kalkan is the ancient port city of Olympos, where legend has it the fire-breathing Chimera was slain. After a 20-minute hike up a rocky trail, visitors can see the "monster": methane gases seep out and combust from cracks in shale-like stone. The flames are more impressive after dark, so we suggested they head up around dusk with a flashlight for the descent.

Before hunkering down for the six-hour drive into Cappadocia, Kristi and Dave will check out another ancient city, Phaselis, which has been preserved in a national park. In the center is a street lined with crumbling marble colonnades; the park is bordered by three harbors that are great for swimming.

Exploring Cappadocia's eroded landscapes, hand-chiseled subterranean cities, early Christian chapels, and trademark rock formations (phallic "chimneys" hollowed out and big enough to hold hotels and cafés) is an ideal finale. "We're always looking for the 'hidden treasure'--type places to see," said Kristi. They're going to love the honeymoon suite at Gamirasu Cave Hotel. Except for the door and a tiny window, the room is entirely carved out of the volcanic hillside. The hotel sits in the little-known village of Ayvali, where Kristi and Dave will be treated to views of the eerily pockmarked valley below. If they're lucky, there'll be an evening of folk songs in the village's main cave.

Before flying home, Kristi and Dave will get one more only-in-Turkey experience: catching the whirling dervishes perform in the town of Avanos. After their whirlwind tour, Dave and Kristi are sure to know how the dervishes feel.

Operators

  • Bougainville Travel 011-90/242-836-3737, bougainville-turkey.com
  • Argeus Tourism and Travel 011-90/384-341-4688, argeus.com.tr, car rental from $53 per day
  • Transportation

  • Turkish Airlines 800/874-8875, thy.com
  • Lodging

  • Hotel Nena Binbirdirek Mah. Klodfarer Cad. 8/10, Istanbul, 011-90/212-516-5264, istanbulhotelnena.com, double with breakfast $97
  • Pamuksu Boutique Hotel Pamukkale, 011-90/258-272-2818, pamuksuhotel.com, double with breakfast from $60
  • Ece Saray Fethiye, 011-90/252-612-5005, ecesaray.net, double with breakfast $191
  • Patara Prince Hotel and Resort Kalkan, 011-90/242-844-3920, pataraprince.com, double with breakfast $54
  • Olympos Lodge Çirali, 011-90/242-825-7171, olymposlodge.com.tr, double with breakfast $213
  • Gamirasu Cave Hotel Ayvali, 011-90/384-341-5825, gamirasu.com, honeymoon suite $180
  • Food

  • Cin Bal Kayaköy, 011-90/252-618-0066
  • Mahmut'un Yeri near Islamar, 011-90/242-838-6344
  • Attractions

  • Hagia Sophia Istanbul, 011-90/212-522-1750, $11
  • Topkapi Palace Istanbul, 011-90/212-512-0480, $9
  • Çemberlitas Hamam Vezirhan Cad. 8, Istanbul, 011-90/212-522-7974, scrub and rub $20
  • Pamukkale Antique Pool 011-90/258-272-2024, $13
  • Chimera Çirali, 20 minutes off Antalya-Kas¸ road, free
  • Phaselis Antique City southeast of Antalya, $7
  • Whirling dervishes Avanos, 011-90/384-511-3795, sarihan1249.com, $30
  • Surprise!

    Thanks to Bougainville Travel in Kas (near Kalkan), Dave and Kristi will enjoy a free day of sea kayaking around Kekova, a partially submerged ancient city with crowned tombs sticking out of the water and 2,000-year-old buildings a few feet below the surface. Swimming and diving aren't allowed in the area, so kayak is the best way to go.

    How Was Your Trip?

    René Reed, here with husband Andy and daughter Jenna in front of Schloss Neuschwanstein, told us her family had a "fabulous time" touring Germany by car (Trip Coach, June). "In Beilstein all the tourists left just before dinner and we had the whole town to ourselves."

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    Inspiration

    Reno, Nevada

    After too many 80-hour weeks at a San Francisco technology firm, Meredith Tanzer was ready for a change. On regular skiing trips to Lake Tahoe, she'd started exploring the surrounding area, including the city of Reno, Nev., 40 miles away. Reno was just what she'd been looking for: It was smaller than San Francisco, but with some of the same appealing vibe. When she came upon the annual Great Reno Balloon Race, when hundreds of hot-air pilots play bizarre racing games in the sky, she knew she'd found her new home. In 2003, Tanzer and her partner, Dawn Lewis, opened La Bussola, a boutique selling craftsy objets and shabby chic furniture. "My family and friends practically disowned me," she recalls. "They said, 'You're moving where?!' " It's hard to blame them: Reno had always been known as The Biggest Little City in the World, a place where divorcées bided their time waiting for the papers to clear. And the home of the National Bowling Stadium, of course. But while Vegas was being reinvented every year, an explosion at a time, Reno stayed off most people's radar--and like an archaeological cache, it benefited by being ignored. Many of the city's great thrift stores, dive bars, and casinos remain intact. In one of the cocktail lounges at the Peppermill, a casino awash in blue neon, young couples on dates congregate around a bubbling firepit-- a fountain with flames shooting out of it. At Mr. O's, a quintessential dive bar that's open 24 hours, the jukebox is heavy on Rat Pack favorites. The Liberty Belle Saloon, which fights for the title of Reno's oldest restaurant, serves mean prime rib platters. Even better, it's an informal--and free--gallery of vintage slot machines: Owner Marshall Fey, whose grandfather invented the classic three-reel slot machine, has a collection of slots upstairs, including one that pays out in packs of gum. Reno's population--now 200,000--has swelled by 30 percent in the past decade; according to census data, 10,220 residents moved to the area in 2003 alone. Whether folks are coming for affordable living or the fantastic old-time kitsch, they're coming--and bringing businesses with them. Tanzer used to get the cold shoulder when she'd put out calls to artists, trying to stock up her store. "They figured their stuff would be sold in a barn or from the back of a truck," she remembers. Now, she says, she's more likely to hear, "Oh my god, I love Reno!" Around the same time that Tanzer opened La Bussola, Tara Fisher, another San Francisco transplant, opened a boutique called The Attic, where she sells designer denim, handmade jewelry, and clutches. And there's a thriving art scene--one that the city is eager to encourage. In 2003, an arts commission dedicated $20,000 to install Kinetic Banners--60 steel pinwheels that spin around streetlamps downtown. This month marks the 10th anniversary of Artown, an annual festival held each July. When the first one was planned, organizers never would have dreamed of getting Mikhail Baryshnikov and Branford Marsalis, who've both recently been on the bill. Before Tim Healion opened the town's first coffeehouse, Deux Gros Nez, in 1985, the restaurants tended to be all-you-can-eat buffets. "Dining wasn't an experience," he says. "You went in, got your food, and left." That's just fine at a hangover clinic like Peg's Glorified Ham & Eggs, known for its massive skillet breakfasts. But the new arrivals wanted the gourmet foodstuffs they had grown accustomed to, and now they can find crème fraîche and mâche on supermarket shelves. Naturally, wine culture has made inroads. The third Saturday of every month, the Wine Walk leads people along a footpath on the Truckee River; participants stop at more than 20 boutiques, cafés, and galleries to refill their glasses. There's no organized Beer Walk, but there should be, given the recent crop of hip bars. Two years ago, Jessica Kleiderman and Noel Judal were drawn to town from California--anyone sense a trend?-- for the nearby snowboarding. Bummed by the lack of chic nightlife, the two friends created a retro lounge, Satellite, for emerging indie bands. "There was nothing like it," says Kleiderman. "Now it's not so unique." The Green Room is a bar with a 1950s-style rec room in front and a performance space in back. On Tuesdays, arthouse movies are screened for free, and on other nights, jazz combos perform. They're getting more competition all the time: The Chocolate Bar, a modern cocktail and dessert lounge, opened in April. Embedded in the bar are sleek LCD screens showing Charlie Chaplin films and Betty Boop cartoons-- a witty, contemporary-yet-retro nod to a more familiar Reno staple: video poker screens. Lodging   Peppermill Hotel Casino 2707 S. Virginia St., 866/821-9996, from $80 Food   The Liberty Belle Saloon 4250 S. Virginia St., 775/825-1776, prime rib special $12   Deux Gros Nez 249 California Ave., 775/786-9400   Peg's Glorified Ham & Eggs 420 S. Sierra St., 775/329-2600, bacon and eggs $7 Nightlife   Mr. O's 1495 S. Virginia St., 775/323-4244   Satellite 188 California Ave., 775/786-3536   The Green Room 144 West St., 775/324-1224   Chocolate Bar 475 S. Arlington Ave., 775/337-1122 Attractions   Great Reno Balloon Race 775/826-1181, renoballoon.com   Truckee River Wine Walk 775/348-8858, renoriver.org, $10, includes map and glass   Artown 775/322-1538 renoisartown.com, most events free Shopping   La Bussola 211 W. 1st St., 775/348-8858   The Attic 542 Plumas St., 775/337-8999

    Inspiration

    Secret Hotels of Tuscany

    La Rignana A long way from the main roads in Chianti wine country, the refined retreat of Cosimo Gericke and Sveva Rocco di Torrepadula has two old guesthouses. The Fattoria, enlarged in the 18th century, is based on a structure more than 1,000 years old. It contains seven rooms with rustic furnishings and sloping brick ceilings laced with wooden beams. The rooms lack TVs, telephones, and A/C, though there is a common area with a stone fireplace that has satellite television and a modem hookup. The other guest building is the two-floor Villa Stella: eight rooms with plank floors and frescoes that are available on a nightly basis only in April, May, September, and October. (At other times of year, you must rent an entire floor by the week as a single unit--four rooms, each with its own bathroom, with a common kitchen and fireplace.) The Villa is open year-round, the Fattoria from late March to mid-November. There is a horizon pool amid the olive trees, with views of the rolling hills. The restaurant, in another cluster of farm buildings and under separate management, has tables on a patio and serves traditional Tuscan fare, including wide papardelle pasta with wild boar sauce, and delectable involtini (thin veal slices wrapped around cheese and prosciutto) stewed with zucchini disks. Doubles in the Fattoria $109--$122, with breakfast; Villa doubles $154, with breakfast; four-room apartment $3,846 per week. Near Greve in Chianti, 011-39/055-852-065, rignana.it. Podere Terreno Roberto Melosi left a promising hotel career at London's Savoy to become chef and host of an agriturismo--an inn on a working farm in Italy. His Paris-born wife, Marie-Sylvie Haniez, who had owned a modern art gallery in Florence, decided the only proper way to run an agriturismo was to share communal dinners with their guests in the French table d'hôte style. Together, they manage a restored 16th-century farmhouse, which has seven country-comfy rooms furnished with a hodgepodge of painted metal bedsteads, carved wood vanities, and worn terra-cotta floors. Credit for the vineyard's light, organic Chianti Classico goes to Marie-Sylvie's adult son, Pier Francesco, who gave up dirt bike racing to study viticulture and enology at the University of Florence. Wine obviously means a lot to the family: Vineyards encircle the house, and each guest room is named for a local grape. Malvasia, Trebbiano, Vernaccia, and Ciliegiolo are all on the east side of the house, which has the best vineyard views. In summer, guests enjoy that same view from the patio during three-hour family-style dinners that may include lasagne, steaks, and stuffed tomatoes. Roberto and Marie-Sylvie sit at either end of the long wooden table and do their best to keep the conversation lively, in multiple languages if necessary. On cooler days, dinner moves inside to a common room, where copper pots dangle from thick wood beams and the stone walls are decorated with oil paintings, ceramics, and Marie-Sylvie's collection of sun icons. The room's seven-foot fireplace, which dates back to the 14th century, is surrounded by armchairs and a sofa that Athena (Roberto and Marie-Sylvie's miniature schnauzer) is happy to share. In the spring of 2004, Podere Terreno's simple operation got a bit swankier, inaugurating a wine-tasting cantina and a tiny spa with a Jacuzzi and massage table. Doubles $231, with breakfast and dinner. Near Radda in Chianti, 011-39/0577-738-312, podereterreno.it. Castello Ripa d'Orcia Once you settle into a cavernous room in this medieval castle village three miles down a curving, bumpy dirt lane, the only contact with the outside world is the pay phone in the restaurant. Accommodations are gorgeous in an antique, minimalist sort of way: very rustic, with massive ceiling beams, thrilling countryside views, and no TVs to disturb the calm--just birdsong in the mornings and the chirping of cicadas on hot summer afternoons. There's a long, narrow garden with a fountain and sunning chairs, battlements once patrolled by soldiers (now guarded by flowerpots) that make for a nice stroll, and an old granary lined with books, gaming tables, and a fireplace for guests. The owner, Countess Laura Aluffi Pentini, is part of the Piccolomini family. They're a well-known clan in these parts: Several Renaissance popes came from the family, and the Piccolominis have owned the property since 1483 (the castle itself dates back to 1218). The Countess lives in the castle, but is only guaranteed to be around during check-in time (2:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.), which adds to the feeling that, in passing through the tower gate, you've stepped out of the modern world and its frenetic pace. Doubles $147--$180, with breakfast, two-night minimum, open mid-March--October. About five miles south of San Quírico d'Orcia, 011-39/0577-897-376, castelloripadorcia.com. Fattoria di Vagli After two miles of dirt road winding through dense woods, a cypress-lined driveway leads to a 17th-century farmhouse surrounded by fields of corn, sunflowers, wheat, grapevines, and farro. The Vagli farm is a family operation, with Carla Ferri in charge. Her father tends the crops, her uncles shepherd the free-range pigs, cows, rabbits, ducks, chickens, and pigeons, and her mother works in the kitchen curing meats, making marmalades, and cooking for guests and the family ($23 for three courses plus dessert, without wine). Carla, meanwhile, looks after guests and the 10 rooms, furnished in a simple country style with hand-painted headboards and rough wooden beams. The rooms on the ground floor have exposed stone walls and are a bit smaller, but the abundance of light from large windows makes them feel airy. The suite with a fireplace costs $13 more, while the two units that share a bathroom cost $17 less--though those two also interconnect, so they're perfect for families. There are four free bikes for guests, and the dining room walls are lined with topographical maps to help you plan hikes and rides throughout the region--or just within the woodlands that cover most of Vagli's 800 acres. The grounds are so extensive, some guests never realize that there's a pool hidden in the fruit orchard. Once a week, a member of the family takes guests on a tour of the farming operation, which produces figs, olives, dried pork, and more. Carla also arranges guided hikes in the Castelvecchio nature reserve, which overlaps with the farm and includes the ruins of a medieval castle and village. Doubles $94, with breakfast. In Libbiano, north of San Gimignano, 011-39/0577-946-025, naturaesalute.it. Giovanni da Verrazzano Saturday is market day in the village of Greve in Chianti, when the main piazza is buzzing with vendors selling fruits, vegetables, porchetta (pork) sandwiches, and everyday necessities. The stalls are arranged around the statue of local sailor Giovanni da Verrazzano, the first European to discover New York Harbor. For the past 800 years, the hotel now named in this hometown hero's honor has watched over daily life on the triangular piazza. The 10 guest rooms are basic--some but not all come with a private bathroom, though modern terrazzo floors and painted metal bedsteads are standard. The location and the views are what set the hotel apart. The front rooms overlook the bustling square, while those in the back (nos. 4--7) have little private terraces with vistas over lichen-spotted roof tiles to the vast hills beyond. A larger room upstairs (no. 10), with its sloping ceilings and Persian rugs, claims similar views over the hills but no balcony. The restaurant, on a terrace atop one of the piazza's arcades, has fed hungry visitors to Greve since 1200. Doubles $127--$135, with breakfast. Piazza Giacomo Matteotti 28, 011-39/055-853-189, verrazzano.it. Castello di Gargonza On the crest of a mountain enveloped by forest sits a fairy-tale castle, with a 13th-century hamlet curled around the base of a crenellated tower. The hilltop village is Gargonza, fought over for centuries by the Florentines and Sienese, host to an exiled Dante in the early 1300s--and now entirely for rent. Gargonza's 27 houses, which like the castle are built of pale stone, serve as apartments and come with working fireplaces, kitchenettes, and 17th-century-style furnishings. There are also seven simple doubles (no kitchens or fireplaces) in one of the larger buildings. Converting the place into lodging for tourists was the only way Count Roberto Guicciardini--whose ancestors have been lords of the castle since 1700--could save the decaying village after the last of its farmers and artisans abandoned Gargonza in the 1960s. The central courtyard, with an old well and geraniums spilling from arcaded balconies, is a sort of open-air living room for guests. Likewise, the old olive press building functions these days as a common room with sofas, TV, and the breakfast buffet. Just outside the town's medieval walls is a swimming pool surrounded by fragrant rosemary and olive and cypress trees, and the excellent restaurant. Owner Neri Guicciardini, one of the count's sons, adds innovative flair to Tuscan classics. Doubles $130--$141 in B&B; $147--$232 in apartments. Off the SS73 west of Monte San Savino, 011-39/0575-847-021, gargonza.it. Villa Rosa in Boscorotondo Sabina Avuri, tall and thin with dark hair pulled back in a ponytail, is one of the owners of this elegant and secluded dusty-pink villa on the twisting main road through the Chianti region. Her husband, Giancarlo, is a Tuscan straight from central casting, complete with open-necked shirts, trimmed moustache, wavy gray hair swept back from a proud forehead, precise facial expressions, and a thick Florentine accent. He spends his days managing their wine bar in Florence before making the half-hour drive home to help his wife prepare four-course dinners served on the back patio ($30). The villa was built by a French expat in the early 1900s, and many of the original elements remain: octagonal red and black stone floor tiles, little sitting rooms, and terra-cotta stoves that once warmed the rooms. The Avuris have added their own touches, including TV sets here and there, canopied beds under high ceilings, funky lamps and sconces made by a local design company, and a swimming pool on the hillside under a neighbor's grapevines. Rooms 2 and 4 have French doors that open onto massive terraces with views of the forested hills across the road. No. 7, on the top floor, has vaulted beams on the ceiling, soft blue washed walls, and small windows. In spring and fall, breakfast moves from the patio to the sunken cellars that once held barrels of vin santo, Tuscany's "holy wine," so sweet it's served for dessert. Doubles $115; $141 with terrace, with breakfast, open Easter--mid-November. On the main SR 222 road south of Panzano in Chianti, en route to Radda. 011-39/055-852-577, resortvillarosa.it. Il Poderuccio Don't be alarmed if there's no one around when you stroll across the lawn to the check-in desk. Chances are owner Giorgio Girardi is in the back tinkering with the tractor, while his wife, Renate, is in the gardens. Il Poderuccio lies just down the road from Sant'Angelo in Colle, a hilltop medieval village in the heart of Brunello wine country. Giorgio left an international banking career to restore this abandoned farm, and is proud to have strung vines along only half of his available acreage. Locals think he's crazy to limit his production of one of Italy's most famous--and famously expensive--red wines, but Giorgio prefers keeping the operation small enough to run single-handedly. Renate has filled six large guest rooms with thoughtful touches, such as mosquito screens (rare in Italy), plenty of towels (rare everywhere), and garlands of dried lavender perched on windowsills. There are pretty nooks throughout the property--benches under shade trees, a swimming pool in the olive grove, perfect stacks of wood. Breakfast is served in the sunny front porch in cool weather and during the summer shifts to the back patio with views straight out of a Renaissance painting--distant mountains above green and gold fields striped with vines and spiked with cypress trees. Doubles $109, with breakfast, open Easter--November. Near Montalcino, 011-39/0577-844-052. Six More Secret Hotels: For When You Want the City Experience If "countryside retreat" sounds to you like "stranded amid the vineyards," here are some great hotels in popular Tuscan towns. Il Giglio, Montalcino Rooms come with wrought-iron bed frames, beamed ceilings, and fabulous countryside views, all in the heart of the hilltown that serves as capital of the Brunello region. The best wine-tasting enoteca is in the crag-top castle just around the corner. Doubles $109, $126 with breakfast. Via Saloni 5, 011-39/0577-848-167, gigliohotel.com. La Cisterna, San Gimignano A series of ivy-clad stone buildings, backed by a piazza and its ancient well, hold 49 rooms, the best of which have views of the town's iconic towers and the rolling countryside. Doubles $105--$156, with breakfast. Piazza della Cisterna 23, 011-39/0577-940-328, hotelcisterna.it. Le Cannelle, Fiesole In an Etruscan hilltown 20 minutes from Florence by bus, Sara Corsi rents airy rooms with sleigh beds in an 18th-century convent restored by her father. Doubles $146, with breakfast. Via Gramsci 52, 54, 56, Fiesole. 011-39/0555-978-336, lecannelle.com. Mueblé Il Riccio, Montepulciano Modern rooms with minibars and A/C are 50 feet from the town's main Piazza Grande, which is lined with Renaissance palaces and wine-tasting cellars. Owners Giorgio and Ivana Caroti are inveterate travelers themselves; ask about countryside tours in one of Giorgio's classic cars. Doubles $109, breakfast $10 extra. Via Talosa 21, 011-39/0578-757-713, ilriccio.net. Piccolo Hotel Etruria, Siena The Etruria's rooms are rather bland yet functional, with A/C and the best location of any hotel in town: on a side alley a mere 164 feet from Siena's central Piazza del Campo. Doubles $103, breakfast $6 extra. Via delle Donzelle 3, 011-39/0577-288-088, hoteletruria.com. Piccolo Hotel Puccini, Lucca Owner Paolo Moncini is friendly and helpful, and his hotel has cozy rooms that are remarkably cheap considering they're across the street from Puccini's birthplace and half a block from the main piazza. Doubles $109, breakfast $5 extra. Via di Poggio 9, 011-39/0583-55-421, hotelpuccini.com.

    Inspiration

    Portland, Oregon: Can a Place Be Too Perfect?

    When I first heard Loretta Lynn sing, "Well, Portland, Oregon, and sloe gin fizz / If that ain't love, then tell me what is," I wanted to write her a letter. "Dear Loretta," it would say. "Have you ever considered Havana, Cuba, and a bottle of rum? How about Madrid, Spain, and a lusty Rioja?" As far as I could tell, there was nothing particularly seductive about a city where plug-ins for electric cars were installed nine years ago, where the most prominent new building was made with recycled material, where you'd be hard pressed to find a street without a clearly marked bike lane. There's an admirable, almost intimidating conscientiousness to the way people in Portland live, which has little to do with sensual abandon. Not only does a spotless, fast, and cheap ($1.70) light rail run from the airport to the middle of the city, but there was also a guardian angel posted near the ticket machine to facilitate the process. Forty minutes later, I was on the tree-lined, cobblestoned streets downtown. A policeman on a mountain bike directed me to the Hotel Lucia, where the staff offered me a tart green apple and plied me with maps and restaurant recommendations. Wandering around, I noticed kiosks stocked with brochures. They were manned by sidewalk ambassadors, armed with pocket PCs, posted specifically to answer tourists' questions. It was like Disneyland with more overt politics. But every time I thought I had Portland figured out, something came along and turned my theory upside-down. It can be as arch as it is earnest, as sophisticated as it is folksy, as obsessive as it is easygoing--and although it may lead with its utopian aspirations, it has plenty of dystopian secrets. Portland, I was surprised to learn, has more strip bars per capita than any other U.S. city. Maybe Loretta was on to something. It started, as these things do, with smart planning. Twenty-five years ago, the regional government created an urban growth boundary, confining new development to established neighborhoods in order to minimize sprawl. The result is a city unfettered by strip malls and prefab developments; instead, Portland is a patchwork of neighborhoods, each a sort of self-contained, distinctive ecosystem. The Willamette (rhymes with "Damn it") River snakes through the city, separating the east side from the west; Burnside Street divides north and south. Most of Portland's traditional attractions are on the west side, including its downtown. At lunch hour, Pioneer Square--an amphitheater smack in the city's center--is filled with professionals eating delicious tacos and Ethiopian food sold from hand-painted carts. But unlike so many American cities, downtown Portland continues to live and breathe at night and on weekends. Every other evening in Pioneer Square, weather permitting, there's a symphony or a youth choir or an Italian cultural festival--or at the very least, a street musician banging noisily on plastic buckets. Most of downtown Portland is shiny and new, but there are vestiges of the 19th century, when it was a brawny logging town. In the lobby of the Governor Hotel, leather couches and armchairs cluster around a huge marble fireplace. The hotel restaurant, Jake's Grill, is a classic steakhouse: mosaic floors, stiff martinis, and Frank Sinatra on the sound system. Wilf's, in the city's fin de siècle train station, transports guests to an even earlier era, a time when train stations were associated with passionate farewell kisses. It's a piano bar with flocked wallpaper, chandeliers, and huge velvet banquettes. The night I was there, a woman in cat glasses, accompanied by a pianist and a conga player, crooned torch songs and bossa nova for an eclectic crowd--commuters killing time, couples in their 60s, hipsters titillated by living an anachronism (many of whom she greeted by name). A good number of cast-iron buildings in downtown's Old Town still bear their old signs, mostly for theaters and western outfitters, but inside are some of the city's most interesting shops. Portland may have more vintage clothing stores per capita than any other American city--and one of the best, if the most expensive, is Torso. Michellie, the imperious chatelaine who runs the place, talks as if each piece is a beloved child. "Those darlings won't be with us for long," she purrs, waving a bangled arm toward a row of Dior and Valentino gowns. Around the corner at The Monkey and the Rat, there are antique walking sticks, Indonesian marionettes, gleaming mango-wood vases, and intricately carved Thai spirit houses. In one more instance of Portland's good intentions, the owner tells me that he prices his Asian imports as reasonably as he can, since he gets such good deals on them abroad. On the elm-shaded streets southwest of Pioneer Square, known as the South Park Blocks, young couples, high on the joys of nesting, drift through the organic blackberries and fresh-roasted hazelnuts at the Portland Farmers Market. Families buy wholesome picnic lunches, then settle on the lawn, serenaded by a musician or four; and every week there's a cooking demonstration by chefs from some of the city's best restaurants. Portlanders take the politics of food very seriously. They want to know the provenance of their tomatoes and coffee and goat cheese. Consequently, food here tends to have a lot of modifiers. "Organic" is a given unless you're at McDonald's; "handcrafted" comes in a very close second; products are also "sustainably grown" or "fairly traded," particularly if they're from the developing world. This reigning ethos means that not only does the owner of local chain Hot Lips Pizza buy his organic vegetables from local farmers, but he can also explain in great detail about the method used to grow the wheat in his crust. The uncompromising ethos about food production struck me as particularly Portland, as did the bearded volunteer at the entrance to the Classical Chinese Garden that afternoon. He suggested I remove my shoes upon entering--not for reasons of protocol, but because the stone paths, patterned like slashing raindrops, give a great foot massage. If I lived in Portland, I'd return again and again just to sit in the teahouse, an airy, two-story wooden pavilion with keyhole windows and latticed shutters, and a fountain trickling in the background. By now, I had come to expect esoterica from any menu, and I wasn't disappointed. It informed me that the needles for silver needle tea had to be plucked within 48 hours of sprouting; and that the leaves for jade flower tea are roasted in a wok, then sewn into a flower that resembles a sea anemone. Jade flowers are so labor-intensive, tea farmers can make only 15 of them in one day. I ordered some strange and delicious snacks, too: roasted watermelon seeds sprinkled with cinnamon and anise; turnip cakes, the consistency of polenta and served with scallions and Chinese pesto; and a boiled egg that had been steeped in soy, star anise, and smoked black tea. Asian culture makes frequent appearances around Portland, among them a long-running exhibition of early Chinese art at the Portland Art Museum, down the street from the Farmers Market. The museum also hosts diverse traveling exhibits, from 17th-century Dutch paintings to a show of photographs and lantern slides from a 1920s expedition to Tibet. Over the past five years or so, Portland has become a breeding ground for young artistic talent, and by October, the museum will have renovated a former Masonic temple to house modern and contemporary art. Some of the most playful--and controversial--work is being done by groups such as Charm Bracelet, notorious for dissing the art world by stuffing a huge vinyl elephant with discarded artists' statements and gallery press releases. Before the 2004 presidential election, Red76 created 25,000 copies of voter information in the form of placemats, which were distributed at diners and truck stops nationwide. Ogle and Gallery 500 showcase emerging artists such as Chandra Bocci, whose recent installation (at Haze Gallery, since closed) featured plastic toy soldiers fighting with tiny pink-and-white pillows, and Matt Proctor and Eric Franklin, who constructed wooden tiki huts and igloos lit by neon tubes (after crawling through them, viewers submitted to an optical exam, and then were sent home with high-end eyeglasses). The Pearl District is to Portland what SoHo was to New York 15 years ago, before it crossed decisively into mall territory. Formerly a neighborhood of sheet-metal warehouses and trucking distribution centers, it's where the blue-chip galleries have staked their claim. There are also high-end boutiques selling French linens, children's clothing fit for an English manor, canine tutus, and so on. The Pearl has a few relics of its former self. At Fuller's Coffee Shop, regulars in feed caps sit around the horseshoe-shaped counter slurping acidic coffee. The menu is a throwback to the days when lo-cal meant a hamburger patty and a scoop of cottage cheese. Piazza Italia remains a sweet, family-owned place that serves outstanding pasta. Overall, however, restaurants in the Pearl have higher production values than elsewhere in Portland. They're more lipsticked and perfumed, more likely to serve cocktails than beer. On weekends, Paragon feels a little like a dance club with no dance floor. The young, single crowd snacks on calamari with apricot jalapeño sauce. To appreciate the fantastic Northwest-fusion food, such as potato-wrapped wild salmon in chive coulis with marinated pear tomatoes and pea tendrils, you're better off going on a quiet weeknight. The quirks of Portland's character are much more evident once you cross over to the east side. The first Thursday of every month, galleries in the Pearl stay open into the evening, and a few lay out platters of grapes and Camembert. On the street corners, accordionists play Edith Piaf songs. Meanwhile, galleries in Northeast Alberta, a neighborhood across the river, stay open late on the last Thursday of every month, and some encourage you to bring your own wine. A troubadour with iron-colored hair rasps Bob Dylan tunes on the stoop of a shuttered store, and folks from the neighborhood drag out card tables to sell homemade brownies and slices of blackberry pie. When I was there, an 8-year-old named Brian set up his own arcade game: For a penny a try, passersby could attempt to flick a plastic frog into a plastic bucket that was probably a few inches too high. The art at Last Thursday didn't really seem like the main point (although there were some lovely paintings at Talisman Gallery). More than half the fun came from dancing to live bluegrass in the parking lot, perusing the shamanic jewelry and artistically arranged junk being hawked by sidewalk vendors, and wandering into the shops on the main drag, also open late. Besides the funky boutique Tumbleweed, where owner Kara Larson sells flowery, home-on-the-range dresses she makes herself, there's a real Mexican carnicería, Don Pancho's, offering not just sides of beef, but also plastic roses and elaborate polyester wedding dresses. When the galleries and shops finally lock their doors, everyone fans out to a handful of restaurants and bars. Tin Shed is, indeed, a corrugated tin building with marigold walls and light fixtures constructed of side-by-side dinner forks. It's quintessentially Portland--effortlessly charming and more sophisticated than it lets on, with wild mushroom ravioli and jalapeño mac and cheese. Portland is blessed with a number of restaurants like this--unassuming, reasonably priced establishments that take food seriously without being uptight. Bread and Ink serves modern interpretations of comfort food in what was once a grocery store. It has the linoleum floors and green leather chairs of a 1950s coffee shop but the white tablecloths and brisk, professional service of a bistro. Another favorite, Pambiche, does gutsy Cuban food--pepper pot stew, garlic shrimp, and taro-root fritters--in a coral-colored building. Even though Oregon makes some of the best wines around these days, beer is accorded equal reverence and described with the same nuance. The city has 34 microbreweries in the metropolitan area. The Lucky Labrador Brew Pub, in an old sheet-metal warehouse, brews a fantastic house ale. The back porch, where customers and their mostly big, mostly friendly dogs hang out at picnic tables, has the folksy feeling of a backyard BBQ. The closest Portland gets to velvet-rope exclusivity is an event-cum-restaurant called Family Supper. It began as a dinner party at the home of Naomi and Michael Hebberoy, a couple that used to run a catering company called Ripe; it evolved into an invitation-only affair; and finally, Family Supper opened its doors to those lucky enough to get a reservation. Unmarked and unlisted, Family Supper is still more like a dinner party than a restaurant. The 40 guests are asked to arrive at 7:30 p.m. They spend the first half hour milling about the herb garden drinking wine or chatting with the chef in the open kitchen. At eight, everyone gathers in assigned seats at two butcher-block tables, and heaping platters of seasonally inspired Italian food are passed around. I had to fight my instinct to ask for a third helping of a rich sweet corn risotto with fresh truffles. For dessert we had blackberry cobbler topped with a cloud of barely sweet whipped cream. Much less covert is the Pepto-Bismol-pink saltbox house where Lovely Hula Hands has staked its claim. The food veers from Southeast Asia to Cuba--Thai flatiron steak with sticky rice served in a take-out carton, Cuban pumpkin rice with tomato-coconut curry--while the décor is inspired by a grandma's parlor, with leafy vintage wallpaper, Japanese prints, and an old mantle serving as a bar. Down the hill and across from the railroad yard, drunken sailors and Polish immigrants used to gather for heated poker games in the White Eagle. Today, it's a cozy parlor bar, with mosaic floors, an oak bar, and Oriental rugs, and it hosts country, blues, and rock shows. Upstairs are 11 small hotel rooms, perhaps the best deal in Portland at $30 to $50 a night, if you don't plan on sleeping until after the music stops (between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m., depending on the night of the week). The White Eagle is run by a Portland-based company called McMenamins, whose business model is to buy historic buildings and transform them into bars and hotels while retaining as much of their character as possible. This being Portland, McMenamins is also known for brewing great beer. McMenamins' other Portland hotel, the Kennedy School, is in a quiet, residential neighborhood to the east. It's an old grammar school transformed into a themed hotel. Former classrooms are furnished with formidable oak headboards, Oriental rugs, and tassled lampshades, and some choice details have been preserved, such as the chalkboards and the lockers. Movies are shown nightly in the former gymnasium ($3), and there's an on-site pub with live music a couple of nights a week. Further south, in the Hawthorne neighborhood, is another vivid reminder that Portland isn't as young as it looks. Opened in 1927 to showcase silent films and vaudeville acts, Bagdad Theater still features the original Arabian Nights murals of snake charmers and sultans, from a time when the semiotics of ethnicity were a less volatile subject. The auditorium also retains its old red velvety seats, but some have been removed in order to make way for small wooden tables, which allow patrons to dine on pizza, microbrews, and local wine ($6.25 a glass, tops), while they watch second-run movies. Hawthorne is Portland at its crunchiest. Incense seems to waft from every pastel-colored bungalow, and the old VWs in the driveways are plastered with free tibet stickers. In Other Words is a nonprofit bookstore that specializes in books by, for, and about women. Global Exchange is an import shop with an uncompromising fair-trade policy and beautiful wares: Tibetan prayer wheels, Mexican and Peruvian retablos, Indian bedspreads, and glazed Vietnamese tea sets. Powell's for Cooks and Gardeners is an offshoot of Powell's Books, the country's largest independent bookseller (and a Portland institution). The main store, Powell's City of Books, occupies a 74,000-square-foot building downtown, but the Hawthorne shop stocks the most obscure cookbooks you could ever dream up. Among the categories: ayurvedic, gluten-free, Amish, and Junior League. Then there's Rimsky-Korsakoffee House, which falls somewhere between a '60s coffeehouse and a Viennese café. Latter-day flower children in flowing skirts gather at night for coffee and cake in a Victorian house with a sloping front porch, and a swooning pianist plays Chopin and Beethoven on a scuffed baby grand. Despite its earnestness--or perhaps because its residents need something to rebel against--Portland has its share of indie rockers, and most seem to be hanging out at Doug Fir. It's an ironic derivative of a Denny's-style coffee shop tricked out like a 1970s rec room as interpreted by an of-the-moment designer: faux-fur carpeting, curving vinyl banquettes, and late-night service. It's also an homage to the archetypal mountain lodge, with antler chandeliers and cocktail tables rendered from tree stumps. On the ground floor is a music club that books rock, hip-hop, and big-name DJs. The restaurant caters to the late-night cravings of the clubgoers, who in turn help fill the rooms of the adjacent Jupiter Hotel, a revamped '60s motor court offering rooms that have a playful Ikea aesthetic. On the patio, there's a big fire pit where guests can gather round and drink a few beers. Most of the time, though, Portland is a resoundingly nice place where people are genuinely concerned about the welfare of other people, whether those people live next door or in Nepal. In an impossibly sweet residential area called Sellwood, where every house is graced with a rosebush and children scampered home from the community pool in groups, holding hands, I came upon an intersection where, on one corner, there was a table with a large Thermos of tea and a half-dozen mismatched cups hanging from pegs. help yourself said a hand-lettered sign. On another corner, inside a bamboo lean-to, there was a modest bookshelf and a chalkboard where someone had written, happy birthday, rebecca! A small plaque explained that this was Share-It Square, an effort to build relationships in the neighborhood. You can see why I wanted to write Loretta that letter. All this noble goodness can be a bit of a drag. What usually makes a city interesting is friction--people rubbing up against each other, not always with mutual respect. On my last day, I signed up for a walking tour of downtown. The guide pointed out the perpetually bubbling water fountains that were installed in the 1910s. "It's rainwater," he said, encouraging us to take a taste. He directed our attention to one about half a foot off the ground, and told us it had been installed for dogs. It was almost too much to bear. And then something wonderful happened. As the tour guide rhapsodized about the monitors in the bus shelters that update commuters on the buses' ETA every 30 seconds and the parking meters that know to refuse your money on the days when payment isn't necessary, a cluster of punk-lite kids in dog collars and Converse high-tops started heckling him. They also suggested, in no uncertain terms, that all of us--the losers standing there listening to the lecture on public transportation--pack it in and go back home. The other tourists shifted their weight uncomfortably; they didn't want anyone to puncture their utopian vision of Portland. But I found myself comforted. I needed a reminder that Portland is a real place with real people who get angry and everything. It only made me love it more. Where to spend more on a special dinner On the back of the menu at Higgins is a manifesto explaining that the ingredients are local, seasonal, organic, and sustainable, and that in maintaining these standards, the restaurant preserves rural communities and decreases water and air pollution. Foodwise, this might translate into handcrafted pastrami, or pheasant and venison terrine with sour cherry mustard. In a lantern-lit room, Noble Rot serves unusual small plates--pork and squab terrine, eggplant and lamb cannelloni with a yogurt sauce--but wine is the real passion here. The vaguely unappetizing name refers to a grape fungus that produces a sweeter, richer flavor in wines. There are up to 50 wines by the glass and five flights (samplers of three wines in two-ounce pours). Lodging   Governor Hotel 614 SW 11th Ave., 800/554-3456, govhotel.com, from $129   Hotel Lucia 400 SW Broadway, 877/225-1717, hotellucia.com, from $139   Jupiter Hotel 800 E. Burnside St., 877/800-0004, jupiterhotel.com, from $79 ($50 Get a Room rate after midnight)   Kennedy School 5736 NE 33rd Ave., 888/249-3983, mcmenamins.com, $84--$94   White Eagle 836 N. Russell St., 503/282-6810, mcmenamins.com, $30--$50 Food   Bread and Ink Café 3610 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 503/239-4756, jerk chicken sandwich $8.75   Family Supper 2240 N. Interstate, 503/493-9500, three-course dinner $25   Fuller's Coffee Shop 136 NW Ninth Ave., 503/222-5608, pancakes and eggs $3.50   Higgins 1239 SW Broadway, 503/222-9070, pastrami sandwich $10   Hot Lips Pizza 1909 SW Sixth Ave., 503/595-2342, large cheese pizza $13.25   Jake's Grill 611 SW 10th Ave., 503/220-1850, cheeseburger $8   Lovely Hula Hands 938 N. Cook St., 503/445-9910, Thai flatiron steak $12   Noble Rot 2724 SE Ankeny St., 503/233-1999, Pacific cod with bacon and sautéed greens $13   Pambiche 2811 NE Glisan St., 503/233-0511, Creole chicken $12.50   Paragon 1309 NW Hoyt St., 503/833-5060, wild-mushroom-stuffed chicken $17   Piazza Italia 1129 NW Johnson St., 503/478-0619, linguine squarciarella $13   Tin Shed 1438 NE Alberta St., 503/288-6966, jalapeño macaroni and cheese $6 Shopping   Don Pancho's Market and Carnicería 2000 NE Alberta St., 503/282-1892   Global Exchange 3508 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 503/234-4049   In Other Words 3734 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 503/232-6003   The Monkey and the Rat 131 NW Second Ave., 503/224-3849   Powell's Books for Cooks and Gardeners 3747 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 503/235-3802   Powell's City of Books 1005 W. Burnside St., 503/228-4651   Torso 36 SW Third Ave., 503/294-1493   Tumbleweed 1804 NE Alberta St., 503/335-3100 Nighlife   Bagdad Theater 3702 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 503/236-9234   Doug Fir 830 E. Burnside St., 503/231-9663   Lucky Labrador Brew Pub 915 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 503/236-3555   Rimsky-Korsakoffee House 707 SE 12th Ave., 503/232-2640   White Eagle Saloon 836 N. Russell St., 503/282-6810   Wilf's Union Station, NW Sixth Ave. and Irving St., 503/223-0070 Attractions   Classical Chinese Garden NW Third Ave. at Everett St., 503/228-8131, portlandchinesegarden.org, $7   Gallery 500 420 SW Washington St., Ste. 500, 503/223-3951, gallery500.org   Ogle 310 NW Broadway, 503/227-4333, ogleinc.com   Portland Art Museum 1219 SW Park Ave., 503/226-2811, portlandartmuseum.org, $10   Portland Farmers Market South Park Blocks at Portland State University between SW Montgomery St. and SW Harrison St., 8:30 a.m.--2 p.m.   Talisman Gallery 1476 NE Alberta St., 503/284-8800, talismangallery.com

    Inspiration

    'We Love New Things, the Weirder the Better'

    At first glance, the Reazers seem like an average family. Ed and Laura have three kids (Ben, 16; Emily, 13; and Elizabeth, 10) and live in Cleona, a small town in rural Pennsylvania. They're big fans of the ocean, and many of their top vacation memories involve water--snorkeling in Kauai, whale watching in Maine, island-hopping in the Florida Keys. As we quickly learned while planning the family's trip to the West Coast, however, the Reazers are far from conventional, and proud of it. "We're an odd, motley bunch," Laura told us. "I've never seen people like us in your magazine, or any magazine really." Ever since Laura realized it would take Ben an hour on the bus to get to kindergarten, all the Reazer children have been homeschooled. Laura supplements at-home learning with trips to museums and historic sites. The children also do volunteer work, sending gift bags to kids with cancer. The girls both love animals; Emily even mucks stalls at a horse farm in exchange for riding lessons. And then there's Ben, who provided the excuse for the trip. Ben has long hair, dresses all in black, and is really into music--The Doors, Johnny Cash, Nirvana, Pink Floyd, you name it. He plays his guitar at every opportunity, even sitting in regularly with a group of middle-aged guys strumming bluegrass. Ben's interested in attending the University of California at Berkeley next year. With three weeks free in September, the Reazers will fly into Seattle and drive down the coast, visiting the Cal campus along the way, before catching a flight home from San Diego. (One of the advantages of homeschooling is that families don't have to take vacations in the summer, convenient considering the Reazers hate crowds.) They asked us to help plan the trip, taking into account they didn't want theme parks or other tourist standards. "We'd like to try alternative accommodations: yurts, hostels, and so forth," Laura wrote to us. "They sound so cool, and we are trying to keep costs low." One interest shared by the whole family is food. "We all love eating and trying new things, the weirder the better," said Laura. Seattle's Pike Place Market, while not exactly undiscovered, is where out-of-towners and neighborhood regulars buy fresh fish, flowers, and fruit. Rainier cherries, a sweet local variety, make a great walking snack. For lodging, we recommended the Ace Hotel, just north of downtown. Most hotels charge extra for a hip look, but the spare, elegant rooms at the Ace are affordable for Seattle (under $200 a night for two rooms). "My son wants to see Jimi Hendrix's grave," said Laura. Hendrix, born and raised in Seattle, is buried southeast of the city in Renton, where music lovers leave flowers or personal notes (jimihendrixmemorial.com). Seattle's Experience Music Project, a huge museum founded by Microsoft guru (and Hendrix fan) Paul Allen, is probably worth a visit. Inside are costumes and instruments used by rock legends, and in September they're showing concert footage of Hendrix every hour. Self-described "beach freaks," the Reazers' next stop is three hours' south of Seattle at Cape Disappointment State Park. The waters are always rough and cold, but the dramatic cliffs make for wonderful scenery. Emily gets excited about puppies, much less wild animals, so she should enjoy spotting seals and whales. The park rents cabins and yurts for $40 a night. Another three hours in the car brings the family to Portland, Ore., a town we obviously like (see p.88). One place not mentioned in that story is Edgefield. Just outside the city, it's a 200-year-old farm that's been converted into a movie theater, restaurant, golf course, and hotel. Elizabeth and Emily are looking forward to collecting sand dollars, the flat shells of the spiny sea creatures called echinoids. They'll be able to find them, as well as seals and sea otters, at Cape Lookout State Park, due west of Portland. From there, the Reazers have a choice: Stick to the coast all the way to California or head inland for some of Oregon's mountains, lakes, and trees. We recommended heading east from Florence to Eugene, a college town in tune with Berkeley's hippie past, continuing into the pristine Cascade mountains. Near the state border is an unusual overnight experience: the Out'N'About Treehouse Treesort rents cabins built into the trees. In California, the Reazers' first stop is in Crescent City at the Northcoast Marine Mammal Center, where they'll learn how injured seals, dolphins, and whales are nurtured back to health. Afterward, Ed Reazer's one request--seeing some giant California redwoods--will be addressed. South of Crescent City are the 300-foot-tall trees of Redwood National Park, where there's a hostel with ocean views. Down the coast is Arcata, a town whose counterculture roots are still very much apparent. We suggested the Saturday-morning farmers market, if the timing works. The tie-dyed locals make for great people watching, and there's plenty of organic produce to sample. The Reazers should keep an eye out for farmers selling peppers in every imaginable color, shape, and degree of spiciness. Also worth a look is the historic Samoa Cookhouse, an all-you-can-eat restaurant that used to feed loggers in the area. For lodging in San Francisco, we suggested trying a lowball bid at Priceline (using biddingfortravel.com as a guide) or booking a couple of private rooms at Hostelling International at Fisherman's Wharf. The hostel is in a national park, offers views of the Golden Gate Bridge, and includes free breakfast. Highlights in the city include driving up and down the crazy hills, mingling with the punks in the Haight-Ashbury district, and heading to the Mission District to chow on burritos at Taquería Cancún or chicken shawerma from Truly Mediterranean. To get Ben in the right mood before his campus visit, we told him to tune into KALX 90.7, the student station that plays new bands, forgotten gems, and genuine oddities. Cal gives tours of the campus seven days a week, but it might be more important to scope out the nearby coffeehouses, shops, and hangouts on Telegraph Avenue. We're sure Ben could spend several hours at Amoeba Music, which overflows with vinyl LPs. Next we recommended a leisurely drive down the coast, with great photo ops at Big Sur's dramatic cliffs, and perhaps a night or two in the Santa Barbara area at Rancho Oso, which rents covered wagons with army cots. Eventually the Reazers will wind up in Los Angeles to hit Venice Beach, with its circus of skateboarders, jugglers on roller skates, break-dancers, and weight lifters. They should grab a sausage sandwich at Jody Maroni's, home of the "haut dog," and watch the parade. Before flying home from San Diego, the Reazers should take a final opportunity to commune with the Pacific and go snorkeling at La Jolla Cove, where they'll find fish in every color of the rainbow, along with a seal or two. There's too much to see in a single vacation to the West Coast, and there's no reason the Reazers should try to do it all. If Ben winds up becoming a Cal Golden Bear, the family can always tack on more sightseeing trips when they visit him. How was your trip? In our March issue, we coached Andrea and Richard Farrow on a vacation in Italy. "My husband spoiled me, and we grew much closer on this trip," said Andrea. "One night, wandering Rome's streets, we turned a corner to see the Pantheon all lit up. It was just beautiful. Richard's favorite was Pompeii. He said he could almost see the people living there, going through their daily routines. Cinque Terre was awesome. We stayed an extra night because we couldn't get enough of the views and the people." Surprise! Mina Harker, who claims to have been banished to the U.S. by Count Dracula himself, has offered to give the Reazers a free private version of her San Francisco Vampire Tour. It's a unique tour for a unique family. Lodging Ace Hotel 2423 First Ave., Seattle, 206/448-4721, theacehotel.com, from $75 Cape Disappointment State Park 888/226-7688, parks.wa.gov, $40 Edgefield 2126 SW Halsey St., Troutdale, Ore., 800/669-8610, mcmenamins.com, family rooms from $150 Cape Lookout State Park Tillamook, Ore., 503/842-4981, oregonstateparks.org, yurts $27 Out'N'About Treesort Cave Junction, Ore., 541/592-2208, treehouses.com, lodging for five from $125 Redwood NP Hostel 800/295-1905, norcalhostels.org, $16 adults, $9 kids HI-Fisherman's Wharf San Francisco, 415/771-7277, sfhostels.com, private rooms from $69 Rancho Oso 3750 Paradise Rd., Santa Barbara, 805/683-5686, rancho-oso.com, wagons from $59 HI-Los Angeles/Santa Monica 1436 2nd St., 310/393-9913, hilosangeles.org, doubles from $62 Food Samoa Cookhouse 79 Cookhouse Ln., Samoa, Calif., 707/442-1659, all-you-can-eat dinner $14 Taquería Cancún 2288 Mission St., San Francisco, 415/252-9560, burrito $4 Truly Mediterranean 3109 16th St., San Francisco, 415/252-7482, chicken shawerma $6.75