Additional articles BY COURTNEY COCHRAN

Going Wireless In Wine Country

The best spots to surf amid the vines

As a writer and frequent traveler, I’ve become a quick study at locating hot spots.

And no, this isn’t going where you think it’s going: I’m talking about Wireless hot spots. As in Internet connections that can be accessed courtesy of a wireless card in my laptop, anywhere there’s a hot spot hub. You may have heard that Starbucks has them. In fact, lots of places have them – if you know where to look.

Today, for example, I’m ensconced eight floors above the island of Manhattan inside Bumble and Bumble salon, having my hair colored. I’m also typing out this column on my laptop, pausing occasionally to fact check online, the free Internet access provided courtesy of the sprawling salon’s wireless hot spot.

Spot-on in NYC
When I checked in for my appointment this morning I had inquired, “I don’t suppose you have wireless here?” And was answered with a blasé, “yes, we do,” from the salon’s impossibly stylish receptionist (meaning, really: “of COURSE we do”). On the inside, I gave a silent writer’s cheer: SCORE! On the outside I just shrugged, nodded towards my turquoise Tumi laptop case and offered an equally blasé, “oh, good.”

In metropolitan places like New York, you see, wireless hot spots are the norm. Which is why surfing while coiffing is hardly something to send out a press release – or a raucous cheer – about.

In rural wine country, on the other hand, hot spots are anything but normal. And so when I found a couple of free networks coursing through some of Northern California’s cutest wine country towns on a recent trip there, I gave an audible WHOOP! and settled in to get some much needed emailing done amongst the vines.

Wondering where to find these elusive spots? Read on.

Healdsburg hot spot
This quaint Sonoma County town sponsors a free wireless network that’s strongest in the downtown area around its central plaza. Grab a latte from one of several nearby coffee shops and hop online next to the plaza’s fountain. I recently did just that on a sunny afternoon and was tickled when a saxophone player started humming away on the bench next to me. Talk about work-place ambiance! The free network is called – what else? – “Healdsburg” and can be accessed from any computer with a working wireless card or antenna.

Calistoga connection
The same trip that included a stop in Healdsburg found me surfing from my hotel room at the Calistoga Inn, a hundred-year-old B&B in the northern Napa Valley town, Calistoga. Owner Rosie Dunsford provides the free network to hotel guests as well as to anyone who stops into the Inn’s adjacent restaurant, pub or outdoor dining patio. The most popular surf spot is a barstool in the pub, although cruising the Web from the outdoor patio (where there’s live music every night, weather permitting) can be sublime. For work-inclined visitors with a love of wine country travel, the set-up is as close to heaven as it comes. The Calistoga Inn, Restaurant & Brewery is located at 1250 Lincoln Avenue, Calistoga, California. Visit them online at

Dead spot disclaimer
Anyone who’s surfed a wireless network or two will tell you they can be unreliable. While I found those in downtown Healdsburg and at the Calistoga Inn mostly strong and consistent, it’s possible you may encounter trouble when trying to go online.

Dead spots are places where wireless networks can’t penetrate, usually due to physical barriers of one sort or another. For example, a single room in a house may not receive a wireless signal due to extra-thick concrete walls. If you find yourself in a wireless dead spot, move to a new room or open space nearby. Other causes for your problem may be:

• your computer isn’t correctly configured for wireless surfing (solution: consult your manual or an online resource, like for Windows users)
• you’re situated too far from the network’s hub (inquire about where the source is, and move closer!)

And when you’ve finished emailing, don’t forget to get out there and taste some wine. After all, a really great wireless network is a wine country perk, not a main atttraction.

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