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Christopher Gardner

Buss Stop: The dangerous mix of wine and scenic views near the vineyards at Ridge Winery can have a devastating effect.

We're lucky enough (or smart enough) to live within driving distance of paradise. Here are 10 getaways to turn a weekend--or even a long summer evening--into a mini-vacation.

15-30 Minutes Away

Eastside Zen
In the plains just short of the foothills on McKee Road near I-680, traffic whizzes by Overfelt Gardens at 50 miles an hour. From the road it looks noisy and scrubby and hemmed in by oleanders, the least welcoming plants this side of cactus. But when you get inside, away from the maniacs racing up McKee Road, it's a quiet chain of Asian plants and artificial lakes, the largest of which has a reflecting pool at the base of a huge statue of Kong Zi, the author westerners know as Confucius. It is possibly the only statue of a philosopher in Santa Clara County. One can remain in profound ignorance of the Analects and still enjoy sitting on a bench, staring at the statue and thinking good thoughts about the contemplative life. Call 408/27-PARKS for information.
Richard von Busack

Vintage View
Nature is all very well and good, but for escape artists addicted to the nurture of civilization, the best getaway may be a trip to a Santa Cruz Mountains winery, where lovely scenery is augmented by one of the oldest and most pleasurable of humanity's creature comforts--fine wine. For a combination of awesome views and equally impressive varietals, nothing can beat Ridge Vineyards. The winery's vantage point several miles up Montebello Road in the Cupertino foothills surveys the landscape from the far western reaches of the valley up to the high-rises of San Francisco and Oakland. And the wines--recognized among California's finest reds--live up to every fanciful descriptor tossed about by oenophiles. Tastings run from 11am to 3pm on weekends, with picnic sites available. (For picnics, reservations are required; call two weeks ahead during the summer: 408/867-3233).
Sharan Street

Critters' Run
Located on suburban McClellan Road in Cupertino, McClellan Ranch Park is a good place to find signs of spring and the promise of summer to come. Renewal is taking place in both the natural and manmade environments here: The recent floods simultaneously forced a rerouting of the trail that runs along Stevens Creek and turned the field just beyond the creek into a lush patch of grasses and wildflowers. The rains also seem to have increased the yield of plots in the park's community gardens, where organically grown plants are heavy with vegetables and flowers. Members of the Rolling Hills 4-H Club are experiencing a similar upturn in livestock production: The pens they keep at the ranch are teeming with piglets and baby bunnies waiting to be groomed for the next county fair. Those interested in the local avian population can check into the park's Audubon Society headquarters to see if the birds have been as productive.
Anne Gelhaus

Diamond Days
With the Oakland A's knocking on the doors of the big cities of Northern California, it seems quite possible that someday San Jose will enter the major league in baseball. And when that happens, the San Jose Giants and their ballpark at Municipal Stadium will be relics of the old valley, like orchards and unlocked doors. Meanwhile, San Jose's minor-league ballpark is an anachronism.

Places like Municipal Stadium seem to have come back in style. Millions are spent in other cities to build downtown stadiums with real grass. And here's ours more or less the same as it was when FDR was president. There are few better places to spend a summer night watching the lazy planes descending slowly into the airport and the bats fielding the bugs drawn by the stadium lights.

Rivals from Bakersfield, San Bernardino, Stockton and elsewhere ride here on diesel buses and try their luck against the Little Giants. Sitting and watching the opposing sides, chatting with the people who brought you, the purpose of baseball becomes apparent: It's a window opened in life that allows one to sit for a few hours and not make time into money or try to improve oneself. Even more anachronistic are the prices--the $5 ticket and the $3 hot dog. The players may sometimes be slippery-gloved and rubber-batted, but there are all sorts of bizarre promotions to beguile the visitor.

The season at Municipal Stadium (Alma and Senter Road) runs from April to August, with day games on weekends. Call 408/297-1435 for schedules and information.
Richard von Busack

45 Minutes Away

Horse and Doggie Show
Though just off Highway 680, Sunol Regional Park has the feeling of being tucked away far from the madding crowd. It's a dog-lover's favorite, because it's one of the increasingly rare spots where it's OK to let Fido romp unleashed. There are horses for rent, too. Wildflowers are abundant, a nice-sized river runs through it, and a trail follows a lively brook through lovely meadows and oak groves. On the way to the park sits a huge wholesale nursery with flowers and trees that are a treat in themselves.
Carol Bee

Overfelt Gardens
Tim Kao

Dazed and Confucian: One refuge that's close by but psychically far from the madding crowds can be found at Overfelt Gardens, where one can meditate in front of a statue of Confucius.

60 Minutes Away

Dizzying Beauty
Fans of Vertigo may be disappointed to learn that the church tower from which Kim Novak plunged to her death in Alfred Hitchcock's classic thriller was merely a special effect, but dusty, musty San Juan Bautista--a short jaunt down 101 past Gilroy (if it isn't commute hour)--still retains that aura of mysteries past that drew the master of suspense there in the first place. The long, low adobe mission recalls the Californio era, while historic buildings from the early statehood days ring the large, grassy town square. A seismograph in a glass case overlooking the foothills reminds visitors how precarious life on the fault line can be. The best time to visit is the hottest summer day--San Juan shimmers in the heat. After a morning of serious antique browsing in the town's one-street shopping district, spend the afternoon cooling down with a pitcher of margaritas at Jardines de San Juan, a famed Mexican restaurant with a lovely shaded veranda.
Michael S. Gant

Urban Refuge
Bibliophiles, audiophiles, foodies and fans of funky clothes can all find plenty of diversions in the People's Republic of Berkeley--and with the students gone for the summer, the fun is more accessible. A trip to Telegraph Avenue from the South Bay takes about an hour, and the garage at Durant and Telegraph offers convenient (but not free) parking. Start at the corner of Bancroft and Telegraph avenues and wander south down Telegraph for unique shopping, eating and unintentional street theater. Don't miss Amoeba Music for CDs, Cody's Books for obscure new titles, Moe's Books for equally obscure used titles, and Buffalo Exchange for weird or preppy secondhand clothing. Eateries of note on the Avenue include the Blue Nile for delectable Ethiopian fare, Cafe Intermezzo for healthy salads and home-baked bread, and La Fiesta for gigantic Mexican meals. Plus, the Telegraph area hosts a plethora of pizza joints and a half-dozen coffeehouses, not to mention at least two deliciously cheap Thai restaurants. For a nature break, take a stroll through the lush greenery and stately buildings of the UC-Berkeley campus, following Strawberry Creek's meandering path to the west campus gate, or drive up to the Lawrence Hall of Science for a spectacular view of the bay.
Trystan L. Bass

90 Minutes Away

Rustic Glory
The Pigeon Point Lighthouse sits on a lonely, rather windy outcropping about 30 miles up Highway 1 from Santa Cruz. Close to Año Nuevo and Butano state parks, it's smack in the middle of one of the nicest stretches of coast California has to offer. A great destination for tide-pooling, whale-watching or just a turnaround after an aimless drive up the coast, this out-of-the-way spot is surrounded by such stunning scenery, visitors are apt to forget just how far away the nearest latte is.

Built in 1872, the lighthouse is a 115-foot-tall brick tower. A small museum makes for an excellent day trip, but a hostel allows guests the time to let the surroundings sink in. Relaxing in the tub as waves crash on the rocks below and the light sweeps through wind and fog overhead, it's easy to imagine what life must have been like out here in decades past.

The hostel encompasses four houses built by the U.S. Coast Guard in the '60s. Sparse but not spartan, the accommodations offer hot showers, private rooms and great views of the ocean. In the tradition of hostelry worldwide, each visitor is asked to perform a simple cleaning chore, and the buildings are closed--even to paying guests--between 9:30am and 4:30pm. All cooking and bathing areas are shared, and there are no stores or restaurants for several miles in either direction. It is not a luxury-escape vacation and not for everyone, but some will find the chance to spend time in such a perfect spot to be worth a little effort.
Bob Gower

120 Minutes Away

Rope Swingers
This day hike skirts sheer Marin seacliffs before cutting into the coastal hills and ending at a secluded lake with a truly bitchen rope swing. The hike is in Point Reyes National Seashore--take 101 north to Sir Francis Drake in Marin. Turn left on Route 1 and go south about 10 miles, then right on Olema/Bolinas Road (sorry, there is no sign). Then, turn right on Mesa Road, which turns to dirt, and follow it to the end. There is a small parking area at Palomarin Trail Head. Bass Lake comes at about 2.5 miles into the hike. There is a clearing where nice days often bring out a few groups of naked picnickers (and even some with clothes). Look for a footpath at the edge of the clearing. It leads to a rope swing that will make you fly. If you're too scared, just watch the naked daredevils hit zero gravity. It's an uplifting experience.
Michael Learmonth

Wild Games
Manka's Inverness Lodge is a collection of rustic cabins and cottages tucked into the woods above Tomales Bay. The main house is a 1917 hunting lodge in the California Arts and Crafts style, with rough-hewn log furniture, dark paneling on the walls, overstuffed sofas, man-sized wool plaids and the kinds of beds you need a footstool to get into. There are also several detached cabins, including two on the bay. Each unit has its own special quirk, be it a deck, a fireplace, an open-air shower or a two-person tub. The main house features a casually snazzy restaurant, where slabs of meat are flame-seared in the living-room fireplace and the dreamy, creamy pancake is a breakfast must-have. Room rates range from $135 to $365 a night; a two-night stay is required for weekend visits. Call 415/669-1034 for reservations and directions. (Hint: Head up the East Bay to the San Rafael Bridge to avoid San Francisco traffic.)
Broos Campbell

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From the May 21-27, 1998 issue of Metro.

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