Romantic and affordable getaways

Great getaways:

1. Wilbur Hot Springs: Get off the grid at a rustic 19th-century hot-springs spa and 1800-acre nature preserve in Lake County, two hours from the city. Fabulous mineral-water pools, great hiking. Rooms in a turn-of-the-century house with a giant shared kitchen. No TVs or telephones. Very Northern California, good for the adult DIY and yoga crowd. Rooms $100 to $200. I have images. For more, check out my write up on 71miles.

2. Evergreen Lodge: Great for families and the hiking-boots crowd looking to explore the lesser-known side of Yosemite, near Hetch Hetchy. A 1920s mountain lodge with super-cute cabins with great beds. Offers guided hikes, nature walks, photography tours, room for kids to run around, and limited spa service for moms. Rates $100 to $200. Four hours from the city. I can get images. Check out their site:

3. Valley Ford Hotel: Easy romantic overnight in a tiny West Sonoma town, surrounded by rolling hills and cow pastures. Eight-room turn-of-the-century inn with comfy rooms upstairs from a terrific little roadhouse restaurant and wine bar, called Rocker Oysterfeller's. Ninety minutes from the city. Rooms on weekdays run $99, weekends $150, breakfast included. Restaurant serves stellar barbecued oysters from Point Reyes, local crab cakes, steaks and fried chicken. Explore the nearby town of Occidental, where you can pick up Christmas gifts at cool indie boutiques. The hotel's site: The restaurant's site:

4. Tahoma Meadows B&B Cottages, Lake Tahoe: Perfect for families or couples looking for a pre-snow season hike or a winter ski weekend at nearby Homewood Mountain Resort - a budget-priced ski resort with drop-dead lake views. The cozy cottages sit beneath towering pines on the rustic west shore of Lake Tahoe. Some have kitchens (a good choice if you're counting pennies), and a few are big enough for a small family reunion. Super-friendly owners and traditional old Tahoe charm. Rates start around $120 a night, $145 with kitchen. Their site:

About John A. Vlahides:
Professional travel writer John Vlahides is a former luxury-hotel concierge and member of the prestigious Les Clefs d'Or, the Paris-based union of the world's elite concierges. He holds a degree in classic French cooking from La Varenne Ecole de Cuisine in Paris, where he worked as an interpreter and studied with the same chefs who trained Julia Child.

John's work has been published by Lonely Planet, Condé Nast, Sunset, San Francisco magazine, and various other national and international publishers including the New York Times. On television, he has appeared as a travel expert on CNN and is currently gearing up to host a new series with National Geographic Adventure.

When not talking travel, John sings with the San Francisco Symphony, and spends his free time downhill-skiing and hiking the Sierra, and touring the West by motorcycle.

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