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Bed and Breakfast; CALIFORNIA-STYLE

You don't have to go to England to feel Victorian. California is sprouting its own collection of European-style bed and breakfast inns converted from Victorian manses built in the Western boom years of the 1880s. Often these establishments have only eight or ten rooms available for rental -- some with shared bathrooms -- but all have the warm hospitality only accorded when the proprietors take personal interest in their guests and establishments.

You'll find quilts on brass beds, lace curtains framed by heavy valances, baskets of fruit, Oriental rugs, Eastlake chairs upholstered in velvet, and, of course, antimacassars. Walls are often paneled with natural woodwork or finely patterned Victorian wallpapers.

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There are certain things you won't find at a "B and B," as they are affectionately called by inn frequenters. You won't find televisions, or even telephones. You won't hear disco music blaring from the lobby. And not only will each room have its own decor, it will have, not a number, but its own name -- the Music Room, Garden Room, Billiard Room, Sun Room, Morning room, Conservatory, Library; names often dating back to the original use of the room by its first family. Most certainly, you won't find that youm are a number rather than a name.

Usually you won't find children. Many inns offer the rationale that they "do not have the diversions children require to remain happy." But you will find a deep-seated quiet.

So what does one do at a "B and B"? Very little. One should absorb the Victorian mood. Curl up under a pile of quilts with a 19th-century novel or bring it to the parlor and stake out a chair by the fireplace. You might kibbutz at a domino game in the corner, add a few pieces to the puzzle laid out, or provide a suitable lap for the inn cat. . . .

I recently stayed in San Diego's only bed and breakfast inn, The Britt House (406 Maple Street, [714] 234-2926), an 1887 Queen Anne complete with turret, gables, and a jeweled expanse of stained glass. Carved oak banisters grace a wide stairway and spectacular wooden beaded fretwork gives airy curves to parlor and hall doorways. A grand piano with a dramatic spread of tulips waits in the parlor.

Every piece of furniture is tastefully selected. Wicker trunks or ancient sea chests at the foot of each bed contain extra patchwork quilts. Photographs of ancient worthies in oval frames adorn the walls.

Each room has its own character. I stayed in the Library -- with Kipling's complete works, lace curtains, roses, and pansies. The brass bed faced a tile and mahogany fireplace with beveled mirrors above the mantel. Homemade cookies, chocolates, a basket of fruit, and my choice of beverage were always within reach.

On mornings at the Britt House I was awakened by the smell of bread baking, by Debussy being softly played in the parlor and by distant kitchen noises of someone elsem busily tending to the household. Breakfast consists of freshly squeezed orange juice and a just-baked mini-loaf of bread -- a different kind daily -- and it is served in your room, in the parlor, or even in the English garden.

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Britt House hosts Daun Martin and husband Robert Hostick (innkeepers are often married couples) will pack you a picnic lunch, slyly put money in your parking meter, bring you a late night glass of milk, even draw your bath in the twin claw-footed antique tubs. Having a bathroom around the corner or down the hall is really not inconvenient at all. On the contrary, it made me feel more at home.

If these bed and breakfast inns are located in a metropolis, they provide an island of quiet retreat amidst bustling activity. If they're in a village, their charm extends to their surroundings. The following list contains some of each.

Although innkeepers often warn of the need for a two- to five-month advance notice for weekends, they also encourage you to inquire even on a few days' notice since they often have cancellations.

Stonehouse Guest Lodge, PO Box 2558, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif. 93921, (408) 624-4569. A vine-covered prototype "Grandma's house." Five rooms, $25-$30.

Holiday House, PO Box 234, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif. 93921, (408) 624-6267. Shingled bungalow. Two night minimum on weekends. $32-$39.

Old Monterey Inn, 500 Martin Street, Monterey, Calif. 93940, (408) 375-8284. Nine-room English Tudor. Guests select from the unusual magazine subscriptions to read in hammocks and secluded sitting areas on the one-acre estate near the sea. Two night minimum on weekends. $70-$125.

Green Gables Inn, 104 Fifth Street, Pacific Grove, Calif. 93950, (408) 375- 2095. This tiny Queen Anne house offers spectacular ocean view. Guests are allowed only a brief romance with this fairy tale cottage; available only six weeks during the summer. Three rooms.

Gosby House Inn, 643 Lighthouse Avenue, Pacific Grove, Calif. 93950, (408) 375-1287. An antique doll collection adorns the parlor. The Steinbeck Room in the Queen Anne tower is the choicest, overlooking the bay. Nineteen rooms.

Bed and Breakfast Inn, 4 Charlton Court, San Francisco, Calif. 94123, (415) 921-9784.On an English mews-style street, there is abundant quietness in the middle of downtown San Francisco. Plentiful carefully selected reading material. Guests are welcome in the kitchen, too. Nine rooms, $38-$148.

Union Street Inn, 2229 Union Street, San Francisco, Calif. 94123, (415) 346- 0424. Breakfast, especially sweet in the sunny garden, includes croissants and kiwifruit jam. Five rooms, $64-$84.

Spreckels Mansion, 737 Buena Vista West, San Francisco, Calif. 94117, (415) 626-5460. The inn with a history of literary notables. At 5 p.m. guests gather for hors d'oeuvres and learn from the hosts the little known treats in the area. A dramatic free-standing antique tub in front of a fireplace graces one room. Five rooms, $75-$115.

Willows Bed and Breakfast Inn, 710 14th Street, San Francisco, Calif. 94114, (415) 431-4770. The newest addition to the city's burgeoning bed and breakfast scene. Twelve rooms, $45-$75.

Gramma's Bed and Breakfast Inn, 2740 Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley, Calif. 94705 , (415) 549-2145. All 19 rooms have private baths. Victorian fringed lamps, baroque ceiling cornices, and brass coat racks give Gramma's house timeless elegance. Watch out! She may spoil you. $55-$75.

Casa Madrona, 156 Bulkley Avenue, Sausalito, Calif. 94965, (415) 332-0502. Fifteen minutes from San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge, nestled in a wooded hillside overlooking a yacht harbor. Rooms have marble fireplaces, brass chandeliers, and sweeping bay views. Fourteen rooms, $40-$85.

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