Carmel Valley Ranch | Carmel, CA

Many of us know Carmel, California for its beautiful coastline, storybook-style architecture, fine art community and abundance of hotels, restaurants, and shops. The beauty of this area draws people from around the world and is perhaps one of the most beautiful places on earth.

What many people don’t realize is that there is an entirely different side of Carmel. Just a few miles from downtown is what could be considered the rural side of Carmel, known as Carmel Valley. Carmel Valley offers a distinctively different experience with its serene countryside setting, rolling hills, vineyards, golf courses, equestrian trails and so much more that make this a perfect destination for the outdoor and wine enthusiast wanting to experience the peaceful, slower paced lifestyle of this beautiful region.

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Belmond El Encanto | Santa Barbara, CA

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Discretely nestled in the foothills overlooking Santa Barbara and the Pacific Ocean you will find an enchanting hideaway called the Belmond El Encanto. This property exudes glamour and elegance in an understated manner and offers a sophisticated comfort that is captivating from the moment you arrive.

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Exploring The Russian River Valley

Napa Valley and Sonoma are world-renowned for its wines, fine restaurants and luxury accommodations. A person could spend weeks and weeks exploring this region and only scratch the surface. So with as many times as I have been to the Napa Valley wine region, it was refreshing to discover yet another sector that I have never visited…the Russian River Valley.

On my drive to the Farmhouse Inn in Forestville (see here for the full review), I drove through the town of Sebastopol and stopped for lunch at The Barlow, a 220,000 square foot culinary and art center. There were many intriguing choices but I went with the Zazu Kitchen+Farm recommended by a friend. It was an excellent choice with unique menu items, open air seating and surrounded by fun and funky art sculptures.

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The Russian River Valley is in the heart of Sonoma County and has become most well-known for producing world-class Pinot Noir wine. Although Napa Valley is the more popular and polished destination, the historic RRV offers a rustic charm with an exciting incoming infusion of sophistication, fun and funk.

On the concierge’s suggestion at the Farmhouse Inn, I drove the proposed route going through several charming towns, some so small if you blinked you would miss them, but full of character just the same.

The town of Graton, now well-known for its Casino* (see hollyhan77’s comment below) seemed to be a pit-stop for cyclists who wanted to take a break at some of the coffee shops, there are a few antique and art stores and the Paul Mathew wine tasting room.

Unfortunately the Bambú Tea House wasn’t open, but it sure looked full of personality.

Freestone was one of those “don’t blink” towns but the colorful market and beautiful landscape are sure to catch your attention.

The largest (in relative terms) town on this route is Occidental. This bohemian town offers several restaurants, shops, a church, market and a hotel. I stopped for lunch at the Howard Cafe and the food was fresh and tasty…just keep in mind, you’re on “bohemian” time here so sit back and relax. 😉

It’s always a fun journey to discover new and unexpected places, and I’m definitely feeling the love for the Russian River Valley now.

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Farmhouse Inn | Forestville, CA

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There is a reason I titled my site No Ordinary Resort, it was my intention from the beginning to feature distinctive, boutique style hotels that offer personalized service, unique locations and experiences, and represent a one-of-a-kind property. And although I have larger properties listed on my site, The Farmhouse Inn falls into my initial concept precisely. This property may be small in size but it is huge in heart, style and luxe abundances.

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Saratoga, CA: Memorial Day Celebrations

I’m constantly sharing places that I visit but today I thought I’d share my town with you. In my opinion, I have the best of both worlds. I live in the midst of Silicon Valley ~ high tech capital of the world ~ and yet the town I live in, Saratoga, CA, is still reflective of small town America.

Saratoga was established in the mid 1800’s and is listed as a California Historical Landmark. The quaint downtown offers numerous restaurants, coffee shops, boutique stores, a couple Inns and some wine tasting rooms.

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A little fact I like to share is that Hollywood scouted Saratoga for one of my favorite movies, It’s a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. Who doesn’t want to live in Bedford Falls?! See images of Donna Reed on the cover of Life Magazine and checking out the town (here).

One of my favorite reasons for living here though is that connection to community and the small town feel and spirit that is still apparent here…and no more so than during a holiday. So what better way to pay my respect to our veterans than to attend Saratoga’s Memorial Day Parade. The parade commenced at the WWI Memorial Statue at the beginning of town…

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…and then with a short walk through a historic neighborhood we headed to the local cemetery to begin the memorial.

The Madronia Cemetery

Future Silicon Valley Entrepreneur selling lemonade and dog sitting services (dogs not allowed in) at the gate to the cemetery.

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Town Spirit

Token dive bar everyone likes to hang out at with a great history.

So the next time you’re in or around the Silicon Valley, you might want to check out my idyllic little town…stay at one of the Inns, have dinner on a summer eve, and then head up to an outdoor concert series at The Mountain Winery. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

And lest you think we’re stuck in the past…the City Council did manage to pass this!

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See you in Saratoga!

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Elk, CA

Don’t blink when you drive through the very quaint town of Elk because you might miss it. Seriously.

@2014 Susan EdelBut what’s the saying ~ tiny but mighty ~ and that is exactly true about this town.

What once was a bustling lumber town in the late 1800’s with over 2,000 residents, is now a tiny town left with a rich history and a little under 300 residents…but it’s mighty in charm and character and is perched on one of the world’s most beautiful coastlines.

@2014 Susan Edel

The town now consists of a local grocery store, a full-service garage (with towing)…

a couple churches (yes, more than one), some shops, a few inns…

and stunning, stunning landscape.

Quite honestly, I am really jealous of the residents that get to call this gem home.

So take your time when going through this little town and don’t miss a bit of its richness and beauty.

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