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My Sonoma Valley staycation

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POINT OF DEPARTURE

Traveling the road less taken at Pt. Reyes National Seashore By Flora Tsapovsky

Traveling is only partly about the destination. It is mostly, of course, about that wonderfully clichéd word—adventure.

The way things go wrong and end up being just right when you step out of your comfort zone is priceless. Additionally, leaving home often skews your perspective to the point of refreshing, goofy absurdity—your hotel room's view is a parking lot, the famous national park is closed, today of all days. Little things crush you and even smaller things thrill you, and you return home feeling refreshed and alive. In this sense, a staycation is just as good as a lengthy overseas vacation, if you follow one simple rule: the further from the normal, the better.

With that in mind, my boyfriend and I drove for an hour south to Point Reyes, exchanging the redwoods for sweeping coastal views, and then six miles past the town of Point Reyes Station to Five Brooks Ranch (www.fivebrooks.com). We were going horseback riding. The idea of horseback riding a short drive from your house is utterly ridiculous—hence, the perfect staycation activity, guaranteed to shake things up. We were open to bustling along with European kids who came for the pony rides and a loud, happy family from San Leandro—the women clad in riding boots and fake eyelashes.

As no one else booked our hour, Dave, the fast-talking, joke-cracking guide, took us on a private tour, peppering the journey with talk about everything from Star Wars to Vikings. Ridiculous or not, when your horse elegantly gallops you into thorny branches, all those pesky everyday problems fall away, making room for a new one: the pain in your glutes as you dismount the noble animal.

330 STEPS The walk down the stairs to the Point Reyes Lighthouse is worth it in any weather. Just remember you have to walk back up.
  • 330 STEPS The walk down the stairs to the Point Reyes Lighthouse is worth it in any weather. Just remember you have to walk back up.

Shaken but properly entertained, we checked ourselves into a hostel. Anyone could stay in a fancy, pampering hotel with a comfy bed. But a hostel? Perched on a hill in the Point Reyes National Seashore reserve, the Point Reyes Hostel exudes an equal amount of charm and dysfunction. The shower was a little cold; the mattress, a little too soft. And yet, the giddy excitement of climbing a bunk bed and the cozy appeal of a dimly lit common room filled with random folks from all over the world are second to none.

Our chosen dinner destination, nothing a true backpacker could possibly afford in all honesty, was quite unusual as well. On the outside, Saltwater Oyster Depot, a small Inverness restaurant, looks like a luxurious, grown-up restaurant. Inside, it's a romantic, spontaneous place of first dates and anniversary dinners. Waiting for a table, wine glass in hand on the heated patio, provided an elusive, far-away-from-home feeling, but the meal itself was hit-and-miss. The oysters were a tangy highlight, and so was, quite surprisingly, the fragrant mushroom soup. But the salads—one with cauliflower, one with beets—were something you could easily make back home.

If riding a horse was an oddball choice, our last activity—a bus ride from the visitor's center to see the historic Point Reyes Lighthouse—was perfectly touristy, but just as fascinating. Surrounded by numerous languages and faces, we made our way down the 330 stairs so we could stand on a tiny platform, rubbing elbows with fellow travelers, and look at the endless blue ocean.

"It's a beautiful day today! You guys lucked out!" exclaimed the bus driver on the way back to the parking lot. It really was. And although, unlike the family from Alabama sitting behind us, we can experience trips to the coast on weekly basis if we so choose, we did feel extremely lucky, like true winners at the fickle vacation lottery. What a curious surprise, and a feeling well worth driving an hour for.

room with a view Read the fine print when looking for a real treehouse stay.

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