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July 29, 1990|JERRY HULSE

One of summer's best buys: Three free nights at a Puerto Vallarta hotel for vacationers who book four days at rates ranging from $12/$64 per person per night. The offer by Mexico Travel Advisors is good through Sept. 30. A choice of a dozen hotels: the Camino Real, Fiesta Americana, Fiesta Americana Condesa, Holiday Inn, Buganvilias Sheraton, Buenaventura, Hacienda Buenaventura, Fontana del Mar, Playa Los Arcos, Las Palmas, Melia Vallarta, the Playa Vallarta. (Note: Hotels can be booked in a pre-packaged plan that includes round-trip air fare.)

There was a time when Puerto Vallarta attracted only winter crowds. Now it's becoming an all-season resort. Gets hot in summer, but who cares with the cool Pacific at your door.

For details, contact Andres Dubin, Mexico Travel Advisors, 1717 N. Highland Ave., Suite 1100, Los Angeles 90028, (213) 462-6444, or see your travel agent.

An Inn on Kauai: Doug and Cathy Weber, formerly of Newport Beach, are welcoming guests at their restored 1921 plantation home at Kilauea on the north shore of Kauai. The inn (furnished with antiques) provides a flashback to old Hawaii. A pleasant hideaway with four guest rooms (queen-size beds). Only eight miles east of Hanalei on the road from Lihue. Although there's a landing field close by, we suggest that vacationers fly to Lihue and rent a car in order to enjoy the scenic drive along the coast.

Weber and his wife tell us they want to give vacationers the opportunity "to feel what the island was once like." In other words, a flashback to a gentle period when Kilauea was a plantation community. The inn is slightly inland. Only minutes from the ocean and far enough from the big resorts for vacationers to enjoy a sense of old Kauai.

Write to Doug and Cathy Weber c/o Mahi Ko Inn, General Delivery, Kilauea, Hawaii 96754, or call toll-free (800) 458-3444. Rates: $75/$95 per night. A honeymoon suite is bid at $135. Suggestion: If you have wheels, drive beyond Hanalei for dinner at Auntie Louise's Tahiti Nui restaurant and a chance to experience another early Hawaiian atmosphere.

California Guest Ranch: We continue to get good reports on Drakesbad Guest Ranch at Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California. Families have been going there for years. Second generations continue summering at Drakesbad after being introduced by parents. The inn is more than 100 years old. Surrounded by streams/lakes. Guests ride daily into the park. Vacationers soak in water flowing from hot springs and fish for trout only steps from the lodge and cabins. Hikes/rides to Devil's Kitchen, Drake Lake, Boiling Springs Lake, Lassen Peak, Brokeoff Mountain, King Creek Falls and Manzanita Lake. Drakesbad features bungalows, cabins, a lodge with daily maid service. Nine units with private baths, 10 without. The ranch operates on the American plan, serving breakfast, lunch, dinner. Rates: $74 single, $130 double for the lodge/cabins; $84 single/$144 double for bungalows. There's an extra charge for riding.

Drakesbad Guest Ranch, End of Warner Valley Road, Chester, Calif. 96020, or ask the operator for Drakesbad No. 2 via the Susanville (Calif.) operator at area code 916. Sounds confusing but it works. Note: If you're looking for night life and city-type activities, cross this one off your list. Says the owner: "It's best suited for those who enjoy communing with nature."

Colorado Guest Ranch: Home Ranch near Steamboat Springs (high on the list of Colorado guest ranches) is now a member of the exclusive Relais & Chateaux group that represents top-rated properties from Europe to the United States. A magnificent setting. Outdoor activities: riding, fly fishing, swimming, llama trekking, etc. Guests who prefer to relax can study the Rocky Mountain scenery from their cabin porches (meadows reach to infinity). Home Ranch--at the northern end of Elk River Valley--is noted for its meals. Salmon steaks, Mexican chowders, fresh rainbow trout. The main lodge features deep leather sofas, a library, fireplace, grand piano. Rates from $1,890 per week (double occupancy), including accommodations, three meals daily, airport transfers, riding, lessons, fishing.

The Home Ranch, Box 822, Clark, Colo. 80248. Telephone (303) 879-1780 or 879-9044.

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