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March 08, 1992|JERRY HULSE

If an American is welcome anywhere on Earth, that place is Australia. Particularly Sydney. I recall the city slipping into focus, framed by the window of a jet. The afternoon sun glinted off handsome skyscrapers and mirrored itself in Sydney's lovely harbor. During World War II, Sydney was the jumping-off point for fighting in the Pacific. Young men who left their hearts in San Francisco gave their souls to Sydney. It was friendly and frightfully exciting, and this year Americans will be returning for the 50th anniversary of the legendary Battle of the Coral Sea. Australian and U.S. Navy ships will sail into Sydney Harbor May 1, with other observances scheduled to follow.

To men grown gray, Sydney during the war was startlingly reminiscent of San Francisco, its lovely bay crowded with freighters and warships. Americans gathered in a nightclub called Chequers. Others took over the old Rex Hotel. To these GI's, Sydney offered a last hurrah before they sailed to unknown fates in the Pacific. And so in this anniversary year, the men turned gray will toast Sydney before scattering to the far reaches of a land that served as a temporary home in a war that was fought . . . a lifetime ago.

For details on the observance/tours, write to the Australian Tourist Commission, Suite 1200, Los Angeles 90067, (310) 552-1988. Other information from Australia's Northern Territory Tourist Commission: (310) 277-7877.

Southern Exposure: The sign at the entrance reads simply: The Inn. Unpretentious. Old World elegance. Over the years, the Inn at Rancho Santa Fe has appealed to the discerning vacationer seeking service and privacy. In a period given over to runaway development, the Inn at Rancho Santa Fe is a flashback to a time of gracious living. For more than half a century, the inn has held tenaciously to a concept of dignity/personalized service. No fake waterfalls. None of the din of too many voices in too little space. Eighty-three guest units plus cottages (one to three bedrooms) spread over 20 landscaped acres. Private patios/decks for inhaling the fragrance of roses, mimosa, jasmine, eucalyptus. Three championship tennis courts, croquet, a swimming pool, jogging trails, a fitness center. Golf privileges at two nearby clubs. Romantics dine by candlelight in the book-lined Library Room. Others take their meals in the Garden Room/Vintage Room. On summer evenings, guests dine/dance under the stars. Later they gather in a lounge with a sweeping cathedral ceiling, a huge fireplace, Spanish tile, antiques.

Details from The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe, P.O. Box 869, Rancho Santa Fe 92067, (619) 756-1131. Room rates: $100/$185; cottages: $280/$420. (The inn is 20 miles north of San Diego, six miles inland from the Pacific Ocean.)

Note: In the charming village of Rancho Santa Fe, the menu at the renowned French restaurant, Mille Fleurs, provides such offerings as sweetwater prawns on angel hair pasta with white butter truffle sauce, a beef filet with green peppercorn/cognac/mustard sauce. These and other entrees. Romantic atmosphere. Reservations: (619) 756-3085.

Northern Exposure: A couple of my trusted scouts, Harold and Gloria Savinar of Los Angeles, offer a rave review of a new inn at Moss Beach (south of San Francisco, north of Half Moon Bay). The Savinars describe Seal Cove Inn as "outstanding--like a country inn in France." Antique furniture. Six grandfather clocks. A huge open fireplace.

The two-story inn rises on a hillside. Views of cypress trees and the ocean. A path leads to secluded beaches, tide pools. Proprietors Karen and Rick Herbert (she writes travel books under the pen name Karen Brown) built Seal Cove after touring European inns. Ten guest rooms with antique beds, fireplaces, down pillows, rockers, towel warmers, fresh flowers, daily newspapers. French doors open onto balconies. The Herberts serve a full American breakfast. Hors d'oeuvres in the afternoon. A bottle of wine in each room. Plenty of privacy.

Seal Cove Inn, 221 Cypress Ave., Moss Beach, Calif. 94038, (415) 728-7325. Rates: $160/$250.

The Big Apple: Discounts offered by more than 200 hotels/tour operators are listed in the 1992 New York City Tour Package Directory. A hotel-locator map provides names, addresses, rates, toll-free telephone and fax numbers of participating hotels. One hotel (the Bedford) offers weekend suites (living room, bedroom, kitchenette) for $140 per night for a family of four. Included in the listings are the Beekman Tower, Grand Hyatt New York, Loews New York, The Mark (one of Manhattan's smartest hotels), the New York Hilton & Towers, plus dozens more. The 76-page booklet is free from the New York Convention & Visitors Bureau, 2 Columbus Circle, New York 10019, (212) 397-8222. In addition, the bureau provides brochures and booklets on transportation, sightseeing and other tourist-related subjects.

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