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March 22-28, 2006

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The Sensuality Shoppe

Photograph by Michael Amsler
Best Place to Remember that Pleasure Heals: The Sensuality Shoppe

The Bohemian's Best of the North Bay 2006

Romance: Writers' Picks


Local Hero
The Sensuality Shoppe
Best Place to Remember that Pleasure Heals
When Gina Williams opened the Sensuality Shoppe with her sister Dae in 1996, they were, Gina remembers, "just average Sonoma County girls wanting to create an alternative." What they created was a mini-revolution. Walk into the store today and amid the luxurious lingerie and extensive book selection and groovy jewelry display, there is just as likely to be an octogenarian couple giggling merrily as they choose a "toy" in the discreet anteroom as there is a young mother browsing the adult video selection.

With a staff trained not only in the diversity of human sexuality but also in the art of making people feel comfortable about themselves, the Sensuality Shoppe is all about celebration. "It's been so liberating to people to have a place where they're received," says Gina (right) who has run the shop and its ancillary skin care business, Sensuous Beauty, for the past seven years with Andrea Sanzo (left). "When we started the store, that was a big thing for us. When people walk through the door, they will be greeted and educated if so desired. Everyone who works here does a fair amount of training on being non-judgemental and on the products. What the Sensuality Shoppe gives people the most is the feeling that even if people have a hard time coming in, they are so 'received' in such a gentle and professional way that it's incredibly liberating once they're here."

Having trademarked the phrase "pleasure heals," the Sensuality Shoppe encourages its patrons to consider lovemaking an art, seduction a daily habit and intimacy a birthright. Let all the old bad ideas drop away.

"What we always hear from people when they come in and see the store," Gina says, "is that they wish they'd come in earlier."

The Sensuality Shoppe, 2371-A Gravenstein Hwy. S., Sebastopol. 707.829.3999. —G.G.

Photograph by Rory McNamara

Best Place for the Banana's Hammock
While banana-hammocks (aka tightie whities) aren't de rigueur at Chadwick's of London—Healdsburg's answer to the question, "What should I wear beneath my clothes?"—you will find the finest selection of women's lingerie and panties for the fellas there too. Often frilly but never fussy, the lingerie, long underwear, sleepwear, accessories and mens' items at Chadwick's bring the shopper to a happy place. A place where fashion matters both above and below board. A place where kind saleswomen will find you the sexiest, prettiest, most functional (although this selection is slimmer) undergarments to be had. A place, in short, that should be earmarked as the place to shop before Valentine's Day, an anniversary, a birthday or any other special underwear-positive occasion. This writer's favorite items are the fleece-lined lacey thermal underwear. Who knew that long underwear could say "Come hither"? Chadwick's Of London, 300 Center St., Healdsburg. 707.431.9001. —E.L.

Best Wedding Location for Skinny-Dipping
At the Acqua Hotel in Mill Valley, the weddings are held in a grassy area right on the water. At one such nuptial last year, even before the ceremony got underway, talk was circulating about who'd be brave and/or drunk enough to run the conga line straight into the bay. It turned out to be a beautiful wedding that was profiled in Martha Stewart's Weddings magazine for its elegant grace and splendor, but what Ms. Stewart's photo spread didn't show was some whacked-out yahoo jumping into the water buck naked during the reception. And, yes, that was me. Some tips to remember: (1) make sure no one steals your clothes after you disrobe; and (2) when someone tells you that he'll put the photos on an online photo site, that really does mean that the rest of the world will be able to see your sorry ass. Acqua Hotel, 555 Redwood Hwy., Mill Valley. 415.380.0400. —G.M.

Best Place to Get an Olfactory Adaptation
Anyone who has ever stood in an elevator between a cologne-covered man and a perfume-drenched woman knows that scent is an extremely personal choice. Selecting any fragranced product can be difficult. Just when you find the perfect hand cream to sooth your winter scales, you unscrew the top and sniff, only to be reminded of your great aunt's cooked cabbage. Matching the texture you need and the smell you want is a lot easier at Body & Soul. Olive oil, shea butter, grape seed oil, massage oils and even bubble bath can be personalized with your choice of fragrance. Popular scents vary from China Rain, pure lavender and vanilla to the fresh, clean, organic scent of agua floria. Body & Soul also carries gifts, organic skin-care products, jewelry, hats and scarves, and even tiny soaps molded in the shapes of sushi. Body & Soul, 500 W. Napa St., Sonoma. 707.996.3303. —T.C.

Best Secret Makeout Vista
The first time someone took me up the fire road to the view on top of Mt. Tam at the West Point Inn, I wanted to jump off my mountain bike and make out with him right there and then. I did jump off my mountain bike (although I saved the making-out part for a couple of dates later), and nearly toppled over once I took in the view. On the upper slope of Tam at the top of the old railroad grade, this historic inn was built in 1904 as a stopover and restaurant on the Mill Valley/Mt. Tamalpais Railway line. The amazing panoramic view will knock your socks off. If your game is smooth, it will probably knock the socks (and who knows what else) off of whoever you choose to bring up there, too. West Point Inn, 1000 Panoramic Hwy., Mill Valley. 415.388.9955. —E.L.

Best Naughty 'n' Nice
That's it, baby. That's the spot. Right there on Fourth Street. Since 1999, Pleasures of the Heart in San Rafael has introduced couples to strange new worlds of delight and, most importantly, to each other. With a well-lit, inviting atmosphere, Pleasures has employees who love giving advice on certain products or what may be most fun for you and your special friend. Lovers can nibble each other while browsing lingerie, films, books, board games and everything else you can imagine. The back room is the climax of the store, with leather, chains, whips and all types of little buzzing friends. Nothing says love like a rose, though, and the Fleur d'Amour contains a different foreplay activity on each petal. No need to put it in water, but speaking of water I feel a little dirty . . . Pleasures of the Heart, 1310 Fourth St., San Rafael. 415.482.9899. —D.S.

Best Place for Long Goodbyes
Does distance really make the heart grow fonder? The Marin Airporter terminal in Larkspur is the perfect place to explore this question, with lovers of all ages separating and reuniting via bus every half an hour. The cold cement benches are perfect to spy married couples giving the customary peck, or the grave looks and feigned smiles of college-bound lovers. After your lover's departure, the shopping center is ideal for extending your sorrow. You can, for example, drink yourself into a stupor at the Marin Brewing Company. Those more sober and masochistic could stroll by the 24-Hour Fitness to see the types of beautifully chiseled features who will surely seduce your love at his or her destination. Some may choose to perhaps delude themselves at Bed, Bath & Beyond by browsing items for the future love nest that will never be. The Marin Airporter, 300 Larkspur Landing Circle, Larkspur; hearts are broken or mended every half hour. 415.461.4222. —D.S.

Best Death by Chocolate
More like the lobby of the Ritz, St. Helena's Woodhouse Chocolate is a chandelier-bedecked, old-fashioned confiserie. Under spotless glass cases lie rows of perfect candies: brown butter ganache shaped into white fleurs-de-lys; champagne truffles resembling tiny corks; and quatre épices dressed in white and dark chocolate polka-dots. Even the powder blue round boxes scream cuteness, and each chocolate gets wrapped in a pleated paper cup illustrated with an elephant. The chocolates price in at a $1.50 each or $16 for a custom box of 12, which is surely a cheap way to buy some rich love. Woodhouse Chocolate, 1367 Main St., St. Helena. 707.963.8413. —B.A.


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