Insider’s Guide

Our yearly Insider’s Guide offers up some of our favorite places and things

By Sara Bir

This will be brief–because little room can be wasted when so much lies ahead. This is what we call our Insider’s Guide, but the truth is that we’re no more inside than you are. So here we share a few of our favorite places and things that cover the basic necessities–food, clothing, music, and the outdoors.

Give Us This Day Our Daily . . .

You can’t swing a dead cat around these parts without hitting some kind of dense, crusty artisan loaf. Do you understand what that means? We are in a hotbed of some of the world’s richest bread reserves. Bread is the staff of life, as they say, and we here in the North Bay are living the good life.

Remember when bread meant mushy sliced and bagged Wonder loaves from the grocery store? Sometime in the ’80s that all began to change, when a wave of interest in brick ovens, prolonged fermentation, sourdough starters, and quality milled organic flours began to hit bakers across the country. It’s interesting–in Europe, longstanding baking traditions are beginning to take a hit from the modern homogenization of foods, but here in the States, our truly American (sliced white bread aside) baking traditions–based on an old-world model–are just getting started.

You probably have a favorite bakery, and it may not be on this list. Which does not mean it is not good; it just means that with so many impressive artisan bakeries around here, we don’t have enough space to list them all. How’s that for luxury?

Della Frattoria This family-owned Petaluma bakery only does wholesale, but when I worked at Dean and Deluca in St. Helena, they sold dense, beautifully shaped Della Frattoria loaves there–and I got to have the day-old loaves for free. It was my job to make croutons (well, that was part of it), and I always reached for the stale Della Frattoria loaves. The garlic and Vella Dry Jack loaf, with its whole, unpeeled garlic clove embedded in the crown of the boule like a beauty mark, was stupendous. Della Frattoria uses organic flours, and they bake their breads in a wood-fired oven. You can find their bread at decent grocery stores. 707.762.1722.

Basque Boulangerie Cafe Another place I discovered through my illustrious stint of food-service-industry grunt work–this time through a caterer in Sonoma, who served their Dutch crunch rolls at parties. Basque makes the best Dutch crunch rolls ever, although they tear up your mouth pretty good. The bakery is a terrific place to grab a sandwich for an uber wine country lunch on Sonoma’s plaza. 460 First St. E., Sonoma. 707.935.SOUR.

Artisan Bakers More great bread from the inimitable hamlet of Sonoma. Artisan’s heavyweight claim to fame is that owner Craig Ponsford won the highest international honor in 1996 for his baguette. This, naturally, cheesed off some French people, but I think they got over it. 750 W Napa St., Sonoma. 707.939.1765. 1139 Magnolia Ave., Larkspur. 415.461.7343.

The Model Bakery Isn’t this a great name for a bakery? If you are cruising through downtown St. Helena, their picture-perfect array of loaves in the window is sure to catch your eye. Model Bakery has 75-year old brick ovens and is known for its sourdough. 1357 Main St., St. Helena. 707.963.8192.

Brother Juniper’s Bakery Brother Juniper’s is known for its sometimes daring breads, which flirt with additions such as wild rice and raw polenta. 463 Sebastopol Ave., Santa Rosa. 707.542.6546.

Village Bakery 7225 Healdsburg Ave, Sebastopol. 707.829.8101. 1445 Town and Country Dr., Santa Rosa. 707.527.7654.

Alvarado Street Bakery 500 Martin Ave., Rohnert Park. 707.585.3293.

Nifty Thrifty

I’m not against barn sales; my budget is. The difference between used and vintage is oftentimes just a case of where the goods are purchased and how many armpit stains or chips and scratches mar whatever you are purchasing. So for purposes of this spiel, vintage goods come from tag sales, and used junk comes from thrift stores.

It’s a good idea to buy used junk whenever you have the option, unless you need underwear or sleeping bags. Consider the benefits of buying used: it’s cheaper, it qualifies as recycling, and used junk often looks cooler. It pisses me off that the government wants us to revitalize the economy by spending money on pointless new crap. What a tawdry way to revitalize an economy! It’s more noble to spend your money in ways that are more direct, and with used junk, you save your own money, and often a portion of what you do spend goes to some nonprofit organization. In reality, this line of logic probably does not pan out at all, but it’s a good way to give that doofus George W. a tiny middle finger. Take that, you abysmally unconvincing public speaker! The only admirable thing about our president is that he stays in pretty good shape.

The Dig The Dig is a strange, strange place. It’s not really called the Dig, but the nickname has stuck because it makes the most sense. At this Goodwill donation center, they have several rows of tables and a half-dozen huge clothing bins where they dump junk completely randomly. Literally, you dig through it. This factor makes the Dig both effort-intensive and highly rewarding, even if the probability of scoring great stuff at the Dig is pretty low. Everything there is insanely cheap; you pay for clothing by the pound. It’s fun to go, because you can act very rude and throw stuff around and ravage the whole place and it makes no difference at all, since it’s already a gigantic mess to begin with. At the end of the day, they trash everything and the next day they have a whole new batch of junk, which is one drawback to the Dig: it’s pretty depressing to think that there’s is so much pointless crap in the world. Plus, when you leave, you get this overwhelming urge to take a shower. Still, it’s worth it. As It Is Store (The Dig), 651 Yolanda Ave., Santa Rosa. 707.523.0550.

The Church Mouse, Sonoma Sonoma is home to three Church Mouse thrift stores–let’s call them the Church Mice Trilogy. The Church Mouse on the Plaza is full of boring and overpriced boutique stuff (on the Plaza, go figure). Skip it. The Church Mouse in Boyes Hot Springs is larger, less expensive, and still very clean. Hit and miss. The best Church Mouse is on Highway 12 at the end of town. It’s sloppy, but it has good deals on as-is furniture and household items. I got a great $6 lamp made from driftwood there. 15 E Napa St., Sonoma. 707.938.9797. 10 Boyes Blvd., Boyes Hot Springs. 707.938.9839. 18068 Hwy. 12, Boyes Hot Springs. 707.938.0188.

Goodwill The Goodwill in Sonoma is my favorite, with lost of furniture and quality cookware. The furniture, however, is often overpriced. It’s supposed to be a thrift store! Geez. Perseverance will pay off, however. I found a very comfortable $40 sofa there. Goodwills are best for clothing, though, and sometimes cookware.

My housemate swears by the Goodwill on Sebastopol Road and goes there at least twice a week. 3535 Industrial Dr., Santa Rosa. 707.545.2492. 645 Sebastopol Rd., Santa Rosa. 707.570.2392. 172 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma. 707.778.7485. 18615 Sonoma Hwy., Sonoma. 707.996.4097. 513 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg. 707.431.8408. 1683 Imola Ave. W., Napa. 707.257.6610. 809 Lincoln Ave., San Rafael. 415.456.5273.

St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store, Monte Rio Cheap, crammed, and diverse. Lots of old vinyl and stereo equipment, plus the staff is super friendly. Worth a trip to Monte Rio. 9869 Main St., Monte Rio. 707.865.1339.

Church Rummage Sales Best-ever for everything. Church rummage sales blow the competition out of the water. Usually they are run by very friendly old ladies who sell everything for cheap and bring clothing in excellent shape that’s been hanging in their closets in plastic garment bags for 30 years. Lots of vintage T-shirts and cowboy shirts and denim and house dresses at these sales. Oftentimes donuts too. Mmm. Watch for signs on the street; check classifieds.

VNA Hospice Thrift Store 421 E St., Santa Rosa. 707.528.9310 6350 Commerce Blvd., Rohnert Park. 707.588.8015 748 Gravenstein Hwy. N., Sebastopol. 707.824.4712

The Salvation Army 200 Lytton Springs Rd., Healdsburg. 707.433.3334. 136 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma. 707.762.4880. 1290 Sebastopol Rd., Santa Rosa. 707.528.2520. 1020 Third St., Santa Rosa. 707.578.3924. 1326 Main St., Napa. 707.224.8220. Fourth and Mary streets, San Rafael. 415.454.7201.

For the Record

Growing up, we didn’t have a record store in my town, and I had to get my mom to drive me to the mall in West Virginia where I would get a cassette tape of whatever British band I had seen and fallen in love with on MTV’s “120 Minutes” that Sunday. Since MTV usually only played videos of bands whose albums were available at the mall, this was not a problem. I was 15, and I thought the two record stores at the mall were the bee’s knees.

Once you go to college, that idea is shot to shit, and it’s the greatest revelation in the world. Independent record stores abound, and they sell used stuff too, and good-looking members of the opposite sex shop there and you can look at them while looking through stacks of Pulp EPs. It’s bliss! Good record stores have a special smell, a heady mingling of glossy posters and aging album sleeves. Looking through everything is a treasure hunt, and when you find an out-of-print import, it’s like the guy you have been waiting for years to ask you out suddenly calls.

Mall record stores can suffice. But why settle for suffice? Why settle for indifferent teenage clerks in silly matching polo shirts? Real music can come from the mall, but it feels better when it comes from a real record store.

Red Devil Records Vinyl galore in this Petaluma store with mouth-watering array of 7-inches (most of them punk). Record collectors make special trips to Red Devil to plonk down major buckaroos on stacks of rare goodies. Owner Barry Lazarus is friendly, helpful, and knows his way around jazz, salsa, blues, and underground (read: not pop-punk) punk rock. Great small-press rock and roll books and magazines to boot, and you can get records cleaned here too. Not many CDs, but good ones. 170 Kentucky St., Petaluma. 707.769.8999.

Backdoor Disc and Tape Rohnert Park may have a college, but it’s Cotati that is, by default, the college town. And no college town is complete without a decent record store. Backdoor has tons of used CDs (which are very roughly alphabetized, so you have to search for your stuff) and a pretty inclusive selection of new CDs, with a section of local bands. The great thing about Backdoor is that you can listen to the CDs first, so you can figure out if that Royal Crescent Mob disc is really worth $4.95 or not. 7665 Old Redwood Hwy., Cotati. 707.795.9597.

Last Record Store Proprietor Doug Jayne and company keep a cozy store that’s not terribly big but still packed with a thorough range of indie, jazz, country, pop, blues, etc. Few times have I gone there looking for something and they didn’t have it. The used CDs are not super bargains, but the amount of good used stuff there highly outnumbers the junk, so it’s worth it. Covering the checkout counter they have a few decades of concert tickets under glass, so while you are waiting to buy CDs, there’s always something interesting to look at. And everyone there has always been very amiable, and not surly-record-store-clerkish like in High Fidelity or at Amoeba. 739 Fourth St., Santa Rosa. 707.525.1963.

Village Music A semireliable source (not affiliated with the store) told me that Village Music is Mick Jagger’s favorite record store in the whole world. Perhaps he and George Lucas are buddies and when Mick is chillin’ at Skywalker Ranch, he pops over to the Valley of Mill to check out Village Music. Perhaps Mick has a villa in Marin himself? Some Insider’s Guide this is: we can’t even verify Mick Jagger’s alleged affinity for Village Music. Elvis Costello, for the record, has said that Village Music “may be the greatest record collector store in the world.”

That should be telling. Besides lots of legendary musicians’ visitation of and praise for Village Music, the real reason to go there is because it’s a record store (meaning they sell great records for lovers of records). Plus, they sell really old copies of Rolling Stone for very cheap. Who wants to look at some cruddy new Rolling Stone when you can look at a Britney- or Creed-free old one? 9 E. Blithedale Ave., Mill Valley. 415.388.7400

Santa Rosa Friends of the Library Book Sale Not a record store per se, but this biannual used book sale has plenty of crates of old records, many of them super old. Lots of classical, plus ’50s Montovanni-type stuff, and some buried rock classics. Also records that you may have had as a kid, like Sesame Street and Disney titles. If you look hard enough, you can fine weird and obscure novelty stuff, the kind that you buy just for the cover. The selection is large, and the prices are low. April and October. Check for details.

Land of 1,000 Taquerias

Here’s a funny trick you can pull on someone who sends you to get a burrito for them: get a lengua burrito and don’t tell them (hopefully, your friend is not a vegan). Just say it’s chicken. Maybe this will make a lengua convert out of them; who knows? Lengua is really, really good, but I think it’s best in tacos, not burritos. It’s kind of gray, though, and looks suspicious on a taco; you need it wrapped up in a burrito for the trick to work. It’s really a seventh-grade-level stunt to pull, secretly slipping someone the cow’s tongue.

We have really good taquerias here, though, and we can do that. Not everyone has lengua at their fingertips. I think there must be some kind of law in California that says every shopping center has to have a taqueria in it, just like every gentrified downtown area has to have a Barnes & Noble and a Starbucks. The great thing about the plethora of taquerias is that there are so many kinds, and each one has its own personality and at least one thing they do really well. Imagine if the taqueria with the good tortas merged with the taqueria with the good tamales with the taqueria with the good menudo. . . . It would be a whole new breed of super-taquerias, like a genetically altered designer test-tube baby. Kind of scary, actually. For the meantime, go to these places.

Juanita! Juanita! The interior here is just great. You can come with no newspaper or book and still have plenty to read. Sit at the counter, where they have dog-eared Trivial Pursuit cards. Tip: get the bowl of beans, which comes with sour cream, lettuce, and salsa, dump a whole bunch of hot sauce on it (they have a big selection), and grab a handful of the tortilla chips from the plastic bins on the counter. Presto! Economical vegan nachos. 19114 Arnold Dr., Sonoma. 707.935.3981.

Papas and Pollo Southwest Mesquite Grill The name would lead you to think Papas and Pollo was a potato-and-chicken shack of some sort. Nope. They have a long menu of specialty burritos named after famous people. You can get things like artichoke hearts in burritos here. 915 Gravenstein Hwy. S., Sebastopol. 707.829.9037.

Rubio’s Baja Grill Not really a taqueria, since it’s a fast-food chain. Rubio’s deserves a listing anyway, based on the strength of their rightfully famous fish tacos. Jane and Michael Stern wrote about the San Diego-based Rubio’s chain in Gourmet a few years ago, and it’s been a budget foodie destination ever since. Now you don’t have to go all the way to San Diego to enjoy a fresh fish taco (beans are solid too). Stay away from the evil knockoff franchise, Baja Fresh! It is a faker. 1016 Santa Rosa Plaza. 707.546.3267.

Joe’s Taco Lounge and Salsaria Also not really a taqueria (with a name like that, how could it be?), Joe’s Taco Lounge is a sit-down, table-service place with yuppiefied Mexican food. They have tasty seasoned fries, good pizzas with crazy toppings, and jazzed-up taqueria food. About as authentically Mexican as I am, but it’s fun and funky, so who cares? 382 Miller Ave., Mill Valley. 415.383.8164.

Pepe’s Taqueria Very good burritos, and breakfasts too. 2000 Sebastopol Rd., Santa Rosa. 707.545.7425. 1079 Fourth St., Santa Rosa. 707.571.7478.

El Patio The namesake patio is the winning factor here. 901 Fourth St., Santa Rosa. 707.571.2222.

Taqueria Santa Rosa 791 Montecito Ave., 707.538.2642.

Martha’s Old Mexico 305 N. Main St., Sebastopol. 707.823.4458.

Taqueria el Tapatio Excellent grilled chicken. Hot, hot salsa. 6364 Commerce Blvd., Rohnert Park. 707.586.2826.

Run Away! Run Away!

At 6:30 in the morning, a few friends of mine and I were hiking up the Grand Teton in Wyoming. The sun had just come up, and the sleep was flaking out of our eyes. I was beginning to feel very hardcore and badass and proud of my supposed buffness when this woman, all suited up in a sports bra and matching running shorts, came zooming up the trail like nobody’s business. She zipped right past us effortlessly. It was humbling but inspirational; I wanted to be her.

Running on a trail, there are no speeding trucks or stoplights or crosswalks to contend with; no exhaust from cars and no sidewalks that radiate fingers of heat under the sun, as hot as a baking stone. The trees (where there are trees) provide shade, and the only vehicles to dodge are bikes, the drivers of which are usually very considerate. And it smells better and looks prettier–all that good stuff. The only drawbacks are poison oak, ticks, and many rocky opportunities to sprain an ankle. Besides, the communal spirit between nature, body, and mind is a thing not often achieved. So get a pair of shoes with good treds and a bottle of sunscreen, and you are in for a workout that John Muir (and that one lady who ran up the Grand Teton) would approve of.

Annadel State Park Trails, trails, trails! So many trails in such a compact place, and right in sprawling Santa Rosa. It’s so comforting. You can run your heels off over Annadel’s terrain all day and still not cover all of the trails. However, they are not always marked so well once you get into the park’s interior. This may make for a longer run than you planned. I tried to chalk out a route using the little maps they provide for you, but these are confusing too. It’s maybe best to intrepidly go in and chart your own route. Starting from the Channel Drive entrance is the best, and the W. P. Richardson Trail makes a good base to branch off. I guess there are rattlesnakes here sometimes, but I have not yet stepped on any. Don’t you, either. 6201 Channel Dr., Santa Rosa. 707.539.3911.

The Shell Beach-Pomo Canyon Trail No wonder this is a popular trail: It offers the best of everything, from redwoods to meadows and then to the ocean. Or ocean to meadows to redwoods, your pick. Either way, it’s three miles. The elevation gain and loss is gradual, relatively painless, and makes for stellar views of the Russian River, the kind of vista that makes you think, “Damn, I’m glad I live here.” Trivia: Pomo Indians used to roll up bay leaves and stick them up their noses as an antihistamine (at least that’s what my boyfriend told me, but he’s not a Pomo Indian). So if you spot a bay tree along the way, you can take a quick break and stick a bay leaf up your nose just to see what it’s like. Pomo Canyon Environmental Campground. Going south on Highway 1 past Jenner, turn left just after the Indian restaurant. Or on the east side of Highway 1, directly across from Shell Beach.

Mount St. Helena This is the highest point in the North Bay, and won’t you feel like a stud when you run right up it! The elevation gain is steady and undemanding. Running this in the summer is a dumb idea, because it gets unbearably hot, so unless you are training for an ultramarathon, wait a season or two. This makes for a very solid 10-mile run with lots to look at once you get to the peak (where there is some kind of unsightly radio transmitter thing, but that’s not what you go there for). Taking the Silverado Trail, you’ll run right past Robert Louis Stevenson’s honeymoon spot. Just think, you can combine history, literature appreciation, and fitness!

To use the fire road all the way, go a few hundred yards past the state park parking lot and look on your left for an access road with a gate across it. Pull over on the northbound side of the highway and park. Robert Louis Stevenson State Park, eight miles north of Calistoga on Highway 29. 707.9942.4575.

Bartholomew Park Winery The best place to run in Sonoma. You can fashion a loop by going down Gehricke to Castle Road, which will lead you to a dead-end at Bartholomew Park Winery, who have a modest but lovely network of trails open to visitors. Just consult the map at the trail’s entrance. Since the trails are very pretty but not so long, this run is best combined with Sonoma backroads–so it’s a trail/street run actually, but so what. 1000 Vineyard Lane, Sonoma. 707.935.9511.

Instrumentally Minded

There are enough music stores up here to make you wonder how they all stay in business. Santa Rosa’s 4th Street alone must house, oh, 30 or so (well, maybe not that many). But then, considering how many people up here are musicians, I guess it’s no small wonder. What a splendid thought!

As a band girlfriend, I have leaned how dangerous it is for a nonmusician to accompany a musician (especially a drummer!) to a music store. I’m a listener, not a player. For those of you who are both, here are some shops to keep your bank account low for years to come.

Epiphany Musical Instruments This newcomer is a hands-on treasure chest of exotic ethnic and rare instruments from around the world–harmoniums, gongs, and many things that look cool but that I do not know the name of, plus plenty of assorted percussion toys. Fun even for nonmusicians. 640 4th St., Santa Rosa. 707.543.7008.

The Magic Flute Woodwinds, strings, guitars, brass, and drums (i.e., band and orchestra instruments), plus plenty of printed music. Sales and rentals. 206 Northgate One Shopping Center, San Rafael. 800.200.3112.

People’s Music First began as a record store. Specialization in acoustic instruments with a world flavor–kotos, autoharps, koras, sitars, etc. Repairs, rentals, and lessons. 122 N. Main St., Sebastopol. 707.823.7664.

Tall Toad Music New and used instruments with a focus on guitars. Lots of sheet music too. Lessons and repairs. Buy, sell, and trade. 43 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma. 707.765.6807.

Zone Music and Recording “Run and overrun by musicians.” (Owner Frank Hayhurst is also creator of Musicians Helping Musicians, a nonprofit charitable organization that aids with medical costs incurred by often uninsured players or their families.) Electric and acoustic guitars, basses, rare and vintage instruments, amps, keyboards, software, drums and percussion, sound systems, and a complete 24-track recording studio. 7884 Old Redwood Hwy., Cotati. 707.664.1213.

Bananas at Large Despite the strange name, a store with much to offer for those involved in music and video production. Band instruments, percussion, sound systems, computer music, recording, and more. 1504 4th St., San Rafael. 415.457.7600.

A Drummer’s Tradition Extensive selection of vintage drums and hardware. Buy, sell, and trade. 1619 Fourth St., San Rafael. 415.458.1688.

Stanroy Music Center Well-rounded store for general music needs: band instruments, drums and percussion, pianos, keyboards, guitars and basses. Repairs, rentals, lessons. 741 4th St., Santa Rosa. 707.545.4827.

Rhythm Matters Drum circle heaven, with a focus on community and ethnic drums. 109 4th St., Santa Rosa. 707.523.DRUM.

From the July 18-24, 2002 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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