RestaurantsNorth Bay
April 25-May 1, 2007

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Out and About

Idle Town Time

By Camille F. Queen

Guests are resolutely not necessary when it comes to taking a weekday afternoon off or splurging a whole Saturday on the homely pleasures of, well, home. Here are three of our favorite towns to just wander through, looking idly in shop windows, curiously picking up curios, diving into bookstores, gaping at galleries or just making one long, epic lunch last.

Calistoga: Park at the far west end of Lincoln Avenue and make that street a lifeline. First stop? Just over the bridge, as one falls thankfully into the covered outdoor patio of the Calistoga Inn (1250 Lincoln Ave.; 707.942.4101) where a restorative (nay, medicinal) hand-crafted beer from the Napa Valley Brewing Co. awaits. Those who like a little breakfast before their likker can head directly to the Cafe Sarafornia (1413 Lincoln Ave.; 707.942.0555) where such delicacies as Budapest Coffee Cake ($3) and a blintz/crepe combo ($9.95) await. Breakfast is served all day. Thus fortified, idle down the street for a browse at the Copperfield's Books (1330 Lincoln Ave.; 707.942.1616) and make a keenly desirous stop at Sole Provider (1409 Lincoln Ave.; 707.942.9999), where deeply expensive loveliness takes the form of clothes, shoes and gorgeous oddities. We're not much on rubdowns and nudity with strangers, so prefer to end our ramble at the Wappo Bar & Bistro (1226 Washington St., a half block north off Lincoln; 707.942.4712) where the grapevines cover the patio in the summer and eclectic flea market flatware and dishware enliven the table. The spring menu serves a bevy of palates, with Thai influences marrying Indian spicings, Brazilian preps and even such south-of-the-border influences as rellenos.

San Anselmo: Head to the south end of San Anselmo Avenue and begin your tour with a sumptuous stop at Comforts (335 San Anselmo Ave.; 415.454.9840), where the Chinese Chicken Salad is more than a meal; it's truly a religion. Sean Penn and his wife Robin Wright Penn are regular customers, but who cares? The food is the true star here. Amiably fed, amble north to Shadows (429 San Anselmo Ave.; 415.459.0574), the perfect place to pretend that your (second) husband is a rock star. This wedding dress shop has plenty of beautiful clothes suitable for attracting a mate in the first place, plus an adorable swathe of flower girl dresses. Now fully in dreamland, continue up the avenue to two groovy consignment shops, Sax (629 San Anselmo Ave.; 415.456.6755) and the Wardrobe Exchange (621 San Anselmo Ave.; 415.459.7317), where other people's cast-offs make good grubbing indeed. Finish the afternoon on the patio at AVA (636 San Anselmo Ave.; 415.453.3407) with a chévre and mushroom flatbread and an excellent glass of local wine.

Petaluma: Where to eat? That's a real dilemma now as Butter and Egg City has exploded with excellent restaurants. That said, we still like the informal chaos of the Water Street Bistro (100 Petaluma Blvd. N.; 707.763.9563), where one orders at the counter, goes out to an outdoor table and trusts that the smart, beautiful women in the kitchen will eventually fit the food to the face. It generally works. Consignment is also a rage in Petaluma, with the two most reliable stores being the haute design deals at Vicki's Secret (108 Petaluma Blvd. N.; 707.765.2807) and the land-of-the-cool finds at Zoe (108 Kentucky St.; 707.775.3239), where both women's and children's items change at a dizzyingly fast pace. The Heebe Jeebe General Store (46 Kentucky St.; 707.773.3222) and its sister store across the hall, Boomerang, satisfy the human need for quirk, art and nostalgic candy. End the day with the reliable American pleasures of McNear's (23 Petaluma Blvd. N.; 707.765.2121), which has a front patio perfect for people watching as well as plenty of brews on tap and lawd knows, TV sports inside.

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