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Laptops and Lattes: Internet Cafes with Free WiFi in the North Bay

A good cafe needs to offer more than strong coffee to appeal to the digital set

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CAFE CULTURE For mobile writerly types, a good cafe's WiFi has to be as strong as its espresso.
  • CAFE CULTURE For mobile writerly types, a good cafe's WiFi has to be as strong as its espresso.

Cafes have always been the unofficial workplaces for creatives and freelance writers working on the next big thing. As the laptop replaced the notebook, the internet cafe was born, complete with free WiFi, good music, plenty of sockets and 'hang out as long as you like' policy. But finding a cafe in the North Bay that offers all of the above, while keeping coffee standards high can be a challenge, especially outside of large cities. Here are a few dignified options, whether you live on a slope in Marin, or by the river in Sonoma County..

In Sebastopol, Taylor Maid Farms is as close as it gets to a perfect second office. Opened in the beginning of 2014 at the Barlow, the place is a mecca for photographers, writers and scholars who seek a bright, friendly space to accommodate their business and creative exploration. Laptop users can choose between bar stools on the terrace, a spot on the upper level, or roomy tables by the counter, where some visitors have regular seats; many spend the whole day here.

The smell of freshly ground coffee, roasted on location, is ever-present, but the play list changes according to the staff's mood. You might type to French chansons one day then browse to alternative rock the next. Culinary minimalism—just pastries and cookies—ensures no one will distract you with a tuna sandwich while you're editing your short film, and the most indulgent item on the beverage menu is lavender or pumpkin latte.

The same no-nonsense attitude can be observed in other Sonoma County hotspots—smaller than Tailor Maid but very effective nevertheless. Roasting their own beans and sharing a modern design of wood and steel, both Acre Coffee in Petaluma and Santa Rosa and Flying Goat Coffee in Healdsburg and Santa Rosa host dozens of laptop users on daily basis. While Acre offers a busy, urban vibe and networking, Flying Goat's atmosphere is laid-back and small-town friendly, welcoming yoga-practicing girls, rural entrepreneurs and nonprofit enthusiasts.

In addition to the Acre and Flying Goat, Santa Rosa has plenty of laptop-friendly options, but none of them has the sunlight or menu of Criminal Baking Co. & Undercover Noshery. This tiny SOFA district place is charming and arty, with Melody coffee and WiFi fast enough to Skype, if you must. The menu will make sure nobody goes home hungry.

Napa County's choice of coffee shops could be improved, but glimpses of hope emerge occasionally. Yo El Rey Roasting in Calistoga may have limited seating, but the cute modern design and the excellent fair trade, organic coffee make this coffee shop a pleasant pit stop. The Calistoga Roastery is a cozy alternative, where families outnumber laptop tappers.

Marin County offers plenty of nearly-perfect spots, catering to students, tech workers and young dads on maternity leave. Fans of quirky, unusual settings and anyone who'd like to try a "scuffin," should head to Dr. Insomniac's in Novato. Christmas lights and homemade lattes make for a good workday boost, and the muffin-meets-scone pastries are addictive.

In San Rafael, Royal Ground Coffee and Aroma Cafe both have plenty of sunlight and a number of tables to perch your laptop on. Royal Ground has generous food portions and luscious mocha drinks, presented in a relaxed, casual environment. Aroma Cafe serves Grafeo espresso and McLaughlin Coffee Co. brew, plus a tempting Mediterranean menu. The exposed brick and the artwork, featuring local artists, make for a European vibe, perfect for an afternoon escapism session.

Alternatively, a very happening local atmosphere can be found at Mill Valley's Depot Cafe and Bookstore, located in one of the most charming buildings in the county. An old train depot, the narrow structure's big windows fill the space with light. As delicious salads and quiches come out of the kitchen, coffee drinks can be overlooked, but great lattes and ice coffees, courtesy of Peerless Coffee in Oakland, are available.

A similar deal—books, sun, music and coffee—makes Corte Madera's Book Passage a favorite destination. Here, the scene is more Golden Girls than HBO's Girls, and the menu offers delicious gluten-free options. In chic San Anselmo, where everyone seems to be on a perpetual vacation, the San Anselmo Coffee Roastery is a popular daytime spot. Located on a street corner, it pampers laptop crowds with ample seating, a very Instagrammable mural for a background and house-roasted beans.

Balancing good coffee, quietude and creative energy isn't easily achieved, but these coffee shops hit the mark.

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