Terence McCarthy

ALBION RIVER INN, Albion

One often overlooked element in designing a successful innis subtlety, so your first thought as you look for your room alongthe car-lined row of New England-style cottages here might be,"Uh-oh." Don't worry.

Don't worry even if your room has a cramped entry and aserviceable but ordinary bathroom, like ours did. You won't bespending much time there. Cross the room, open the blinds, step outon your private deck, and take in one of the most outstandingblufftop views of the Mendocino Coast.

With late-afternoon sun streaming onto our deck, we opened abottle of Pinot Noir picked up at a nearby Anderson Valley wineryand watched fishing boats cruise into the bay. By the time the fogstarted to build, we were almost late for dinner.

The view from the dining room is a different perspective on thesame meeting of land and sea, and undoubtedly the inspiration forchef Stephen Smith, who features fresh, perfectly prepared seafoodon his nightly changing menu. After dinner, the short, chilly walkback to our room left only one option: cuddle up in front of thewood-burning fireplace, polish off the Pinot, and listen to themusic of the foghorn.

ESSENTIALS: Twenty rooms with fireplaces, some withwhirlpool tubs overlooking the ocean. From $180. Six miles south ofMendocino on State 1; (800) 479-7944 or www.albionriverinn.com.Dining room: dinner; (707) 937-1919. - Jeff Phillips

GROVELAND HOTEL, Groveland

For 150 years, guests at the Groveland Hotel have pulled up thechairs on the broad, shaded porch and watched people pass throughthis Gold Rush-era town. While the parade nowadays is mostly boundfor nearby Yosemite, by early evening a seat on the hotel's breezyporch is still a prime spot.

Built in 1849 in the Monterey colonial style, the adobe-blockmain building was one of the state's first stylish hostelries. Nowit houses a cozy bar and the hotel's popular restaurant. Most roomsare in the adjacent wood building added to the hotel in 1914.

Decorated with wallpapers and furnishings from the late 1800s,rooms have the eccentric yet comfortable Victorian charm of yourgrandmother's home. All have a welcoming teddy bear or two cuddledon your bed, but only room 15 has Lyle, the resident ghost, whogets all the blame for the old hotel's creaks and rattles.

Don't let the understated decor and Gold Country casualness ofthe restaurant (with patio dining in summer) fool you: Chef NestorRamirez impeccably blends continental, Pacific Rim, and Californiacuisines, and the wine list is one of the Sierra's best.

ESSENTIALS: Seventeen rooms. From $135. 18767 Main St.;(800) 273-3314 or www.grovelandhotel.com.Victorian Room: dinner. - Peter O. Whiteley

APPLEWOOD INN, Guerneville

The Mission revival buildings of this redwood-bordered villahave a pink, apple-cheeked blush. Belden House, the inn's original1922 lodge with a double-sided fireplace splitting common areas,has nine rooms. Piccola Casa and the Gate House are newer, moreluxurious additions, each a complex of suites with fireplaces, halfwith whirlpool tubs. The 6-acre property includes a pool, hot tub,and an apple orchard. Applewood's real star is its recentlyexpanded restaurant, which features California cuisine and astellar wine list. For dessert, don't miss the Fuji apple pastrywith orange crème fraîche.

ESSENTIALS: Nineteen rooms with private bath. From $155.13555 State 116; (707) 869-9093 or www.applewoodinn.com.Applewood Restaurant: dinner. - Lisa Taggart

CHATEAU DU SUREAU, Oakhurst

The next best thing to a Provence vacation is tucked in theSierra foothills barely a half-hour's drive from the south entranceof Yosemite National Park. With its turreted stone façade, 9acres of manicured gardens, and pool, Château du Sureau looksand feels like a French country estate. If it's raining, read atrashy novel by the massive fireplace in the main room. Theprovençal elegance continues in the rooms and at Erna'sElderberry House, where sumptuous meals are presented in threesoftly lit, tapestry-clad rooms.

ESSENTIALS: Ten rooms, most with fireplaces. From $325.48688 Victoria Lane; (559) 683-6860 or www.chateausureau.com.Erna's Elderberry House: dinner, Sunday brunch; 683-6800. - Peter O. Whiteley

HARBOR HOUSE INN, Elk

Perched on the edge of a spectacular coastal bluff, this 1916Craftsman home has a small, sunny garden located behind it that'sthe perfect place to escape with a book or to keep a winter watchfor passing whales. All of the rooms in the main building areelegantly understated, with antiques, feather beds with downcomforters, and gas fireplaces to ward off any chill.

Cottages, which are currently being refurbished and arescheduled to reopen at the beginning of March, offer countryprivacy. The best views are from the dining room, where the flavorsof Tuscany and Provence can be found on chef Paul Ciardiello'sfinely tuned breakfast and dinner menus.

ESSENTIALS: Six rooms and four private cottages. From $125.5600 S. State 1; (800) 720-7474 or www.theharborhouseinn.com.Dining room: breakfast, dinner. - Jeff Phillips

BARGAIN

CARTER HOUSE INNS, Eureka

The imposing, four-story Carter House Inn and its sister, theHotel Carter, are faux Victorians - faithful to the era on theoutside but bright and modern inside. Hedonistic amenities includemarble fireplaces, whirlpool tubs, and four-poster beds. Theworth-a-detour cuisine emphasizes local ingredients--much grown inthe inn's garden.

ESSENTIALS: Twenty-three rooms, some with jetted tubs orfireplaces. From $125. 301 L St.; (800) 404-1390 or www.carterhouse.com.Restaurant 301: breakfast, dinner. - Lora J. Finnegan

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