<![CDATA[NBC Bay Area - Worth the Trip]]> Copyright 2015 http://www.nbcbayarea.com/blogs/worth-the-trip http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/nbc_bayarea_blue.png NBC Bay Area http://www.nbcbayarea.com en-us Tue, 01 Sep 2015 23:59:31 -0700 Tue, 01 Sep 2015 23:59:31 -0700 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Breezy Beach Stroll: Capitola Art Festival]]> Tue, 01 Sep 2015 21:04:19 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/EsplanadeartistboothsbeachCapitola.jpg

WHEN SUMMER ENDS... is a matter of some not-too-serious debate. Some people go with the first day of school, whether that first day of school happens to be on the first Monday of August or the second Thursday of September. Others look at the Memorial Day Weekend/Labor Day Weekend set-up, and consider that final Monday to be the farewell of the traditional summer season. Meteorological Fall kicks off on Sept. 1, meaning Meteorological Summer bid us adieu on Aug. 31. And, of course, you have the first day of autumn, around the third week in September, to go by as well. There are, in short, many prisms through which one might observe the change of the summer to fall, but we prefer to look upon one of the most tried-and-true: The outdoorsy, breezy-cool, shorts-and-tank-tops, meet-the-artists art festival. They're a sunny standard of the warmest time of year, but, come September, they start to dissipate, along with toastier temps. One of the last on the summer calendar, though, is one of the beachiest: The Capitola Art & Wine Festival, which sets up colorful shop just steps from the sand. The 2015 dates are Saturday, Sept. 12 and Sunday, Sept. 13 and more than 160 fine artists are set to show with their buy-them-there wares.

33ND ANNUAL: Some three-plus decades on, the fest is one of the titans of the area (regardless of season). Not only do the showing artists number in the dozens upon dozens, and not only do their works run the gamut (photos, paintings, textiles, jewelry, more), but nearly two dozen wineries from the Santa Cruz Mountains will be on site and pouring some of their best offerings. Will Capitola cuisine be for sale? It will be, so prepare to know some fresh plates, if you don't know the dining scene of the town all that well. Will there be entertainment and whimsy and cameos by performers like The Surfing Magician? Please, this is Capitola. It's a place that embraces art-amazing expressions in all of their many funky forms. Will there be a new artisanal food marketplace, where you can purchase jams and snacks and candles made in the area? There so will be. Is the admission free? Incredibly and totally free, which helps, in large part, to make this fest one of summer's sweet goodbyes, regardless of when you believe the season actually takes its last bow.

Photo Credit: Capitola Art Festival]]>
<![CDATA[Recent Refurb: The Sunburst Calistoga]]> Tue, 01 Sep 2015 10:23:11 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sunburstcalistoga1234.jpg

FAR TOO OFTEN... the idea of the old-school, charmingly laid-out motor court is a concept relegated to documentaries about the golden age of highway travel in America. Of course, motels and motor courts are still very much in existence, and to claim that either is a product of another day is to reveal that you may need to hit the road a bit more. In recent years the chic-ing up of various mid-century-esque motor courts has been high on the docket of hospitality-minded sorts, and the stunning results of many are colorful and playful and full of fun details, without the way-upscale prices that fun details sometimes bring. Look to the many motel-y hot spots dotting the Palm Springs area, and look to examples like The Sunburst Calistoga in wine/mineral pool country. The you-drive-up motor court recently completed a stylish update to its room and the property, and the orange-and-white hue palette is a bright reflection of the property's bright name. Of course, some things at the stay-over have stayed, and they remain quite old, even ancient: There's a trio of mineral pools right on the grounds, so you can take a quick dip before your travel-weary afternoon nap. 

SERIOUS QUESTION: Is there anything better than pulling into a cheery motor court that has both mineral pool possibilities and nap-ready beds. (No, there isn't.) After you're nap, you can meander the Silverado Trail or hike the not-too-far Oat Hill Mine Trail or head into the heart of Calistoga. Are pets allowed? As befits the casual spirit of the retro-fied place, you bet. Are beds and bowls offered during your visit? For sure, further staking The Sunburst's claim as a place that welcomes and spoils our best beasties. Are there mid-week specials or money-off deals, from time to time, and other ways to try out this value-in-wine-country without doing any bank-breakery? That's the nature of the motor court, so absolutely: It's a fine way to bed down in Calistoga, with your furry one, and some mineral soaking possibilities nearby, without having to save for several months. Want to eye all the freshening-sweet, throwback-yet-contemporary touches The Sunburst just took on? Start here, motoring mavens. Oh, and is there a suh-weet neon "Vacancy" sign greeting you at the driveway? C'mon; those are classic. May that slice of Americana never fade away.

Photo Credit: The Sunburst Calistoga]]>
<![CDATA[The West Coast's Oldest Theatre Turns 150]]> Mon, 31 Aug 2015 18:05:42 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/205*120/nevadatheatre9232.jpg

PUTTING TOGETHER... a theatrical company nowadays, and securing a venue that suits your needs, is no walk in the park (or walk along the proscenium-close catwalk, if you prefer). For sure, you have the internet at your disposal, but you still need to build your team, and place people in the roles that suit their strengths, and take care of approximately 887 other details before staging a show. Such has always been the case with live performance, minus the "finding help on the internet" part, though putting together a fresh venue back in the middle of the 19th century had its issues. For one? Communication over long distances was a mite harder. Electricity wasn't even happening yet, so candles were the order of the day. And hoping the traveling company you booked months ago arrived at your stage, on schedule, was always something on an owner's worried mind.

THE NEVADA THEATRE in Nevada City built its foundation during this exciting period, a time that was about as rough-and-tumble a time in California's history as times got. But people still wanted their plays and their speeches and their dance and to escape the rough-and-tumble-tude for an hour, and the elegant brick building near the top of Broad Street in Nevada City very much helped. It's turning 150 years old, and fans shall celebrate the sesquicentennial of what's billed as the West Coast's "oldest existing theatre... that continues to operate as a theatre." Date? Saturday, Sept. 12, and it is free.

SHALL THERE BY HISTORY TOURS? There shall be, and they may (probably will) mention that Mark Twain appeared at the Nevada Theatre to regale audiences of his trips abroad. The first film screened there over a hundred years ago, and bands and artists still strum and croon from its fabled stage today. It is a testament to the theatre's spirit, how it has stayed on and thrived, and how its neighboring art-minded community has supported it over the years. Will the theatrical troupe you founded this year, or the one you're thinking of, endure for a century and a half? Perhaps a stroll into the brick beauty found on Broad Street, in north Gold Country, will lend a little luck. And isn't so much of the performing arts heightened, in the hearts of those who pursue it, by some old-fashioned good fortune, borrowed from a place that's weathered time? Happy 150th, Nevada Theatre.

Photo Credit: Nevada Theatre]]>
<![CDATA[Anheuser-Busch's Munich-Style Oktoberfest]]> Mon, 31 Aug 2015 18:20:12 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/aboktoberfest1.jpg

THE GREAT HALLS AND GARDENS... of Munich are as instantly recognizable as the skyscrapers of Manhattan and the snowy peaks of The Alps and the neon-bright signs of Tokyo. See one capacious interior, lined with tables or a green garden full of pleasant sitting areas made for sipping, and you know you're in the German municipality. The banners draped from the wood-beam ceilings and the festive regional flags and the iconic steins spied in every snapshot further that Munich character, one that just can't be found, truly, outside of the Oktoberfestiest locale on the planet. But while we don't sport similarly enormous beer halls or gardens in the Golden State, we do have brewmakers who get the spirit of the late-summer celebration, one that almost always unfolds in September (lest the "Oktober" part of Oktoberfest make a person who is new to the celebration think otherwise). Sierra Nevada and Figueroa Brewing Mountain Co. are both throwing oompah-laden larks, and that big sudsery located in Fairfield is as well: Anheuser-Busch Brewery is doing it up, Oktoberfest-style, on Saturday, Sept. 12.

BRATS TO SWEET BITES: Question one, beyond the beer being served, for many Oktoberfest aficionados, is about the food. For sure, bratwursts shall be served, and pretzels, too, and a not-always-seen sweet that has definite ties to the party's home region: gingerbread cookies. As for the foam? It'll be Spaten, a libation that's got long ties to the lively holiday. The Spaten will be employed in the day's ceremonial toast, but if you want another beer, those'll be available, too. Your thirty-buck ticket gains you entry and a pair of beers and a single food item. Plus? That all-important commemorative, display-it-behind-your-own-bar beer stein. Have your designated driver lined up? Good. Or have a spot to stay in Fairfield, and a way to get there? Fab. Have a desire to do the beer hall thing, Munich-style, but without the ability to hop over the Big Pond this September? Fairfield's just a scoot away. 

Photo Credit: Anheuser-Busch]]>
<![CDATA[Spring-Fed Pool: Death Valley Labor Day Splash]]> Sun, 30 Aug 2015 10:52:13 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/228*120/familyswimfurnaceresort.jpg

TOASTY DAYS, SPRING-FED WAVES: California and Arizona have been longtime neighbors -- no spoiler alert needed, we'll presume -- so it hurts us, just a tad, to borrow an Arizona-ism that is very much associated with the Grand Canyon State. "But it's a dry heat" is practically the official state motto, and if it one day starts to show up on license plates and letterhead, we won't be at all shocked. So Zonies -- and we call Arizonans by their zany nickname with all love -- might be a mite mad to see us using "but it's a dry heat" for some places based within the Golden State. "You don't know a hot day!" they may counter, thinking of our beaches and fog. Ah yes, but then we counter back "have you been to Death Valley National Park?" and then the discussion ends.

FURNACE FUN TIMES: For Zonies know, and Californians know, and everyone knows that Death Valley can lean towards the toasty end of the thermometer, and absolutely definitely during the summertime. But summertime doesn't mean the national park hangs the "See ya in winter!" sign. On the contrary, The Ranch at Furnace Creek stays open through June (warm), July (scorching), August (wowee it's hot), and into September and the rest of the year. One of its secrets? It has a spring-fed pool, one that is bound to see some fun family times come the long weekend of Labor Day.

OTHER ACTIVITIES ABOUND... beyond the pool's edges -- horseback riding, bike riding, and such -- but every guest wants to feel that spring-fed-a-tude that comes with a cooling dip. The natural springs help the resort with its admirable water conservation efforts, efforts that also apply to the Ranch's sister property, The Inn at Furnace Creek. The Inn keeps off-and-on hours in the summer, that are limited, but reservations are now being accepted for its early-October re-opening. The Inn, like The Ranch, also boasts a spring-fed pool, which sounds quite storybook-like, like an oasis, for such a stark desert setting. Summer isn't yet over, and you can still tell people "I'm going to Death Valley for Labor Day Weekend -- it's a dry heat!" If you tell them about your days spent in the spring-fed pool, though, in the middle of the arid landscape, they may just think you've read too many tall tales. But this one is true.

Photo Credit: Ranch at Furnace Creek]]>
<![CDATA[What's Old Is New: Sactown Gold Rush Tours]]> Sat, 29 Aug 2015 13:54:50 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/newgoldrushtoursac1.jpg

ABOVE AND BELOW: Not every city offers a tale-terrific, nook-exploring, past-deep underground tour. Heck, not even every city boasting a robust historic district offer subterranean strolls, which lends a certain pizzazz to those that do (Seattle, Portland, Paris, we're waving in your general direction, as well as the host of burgs that regularly go below). And the history mavens of Old Sacramento like to rustle down under the area's streets and shops, during the warmer months, the better to have a deeper, sometimes dastardly, and always entertaining look at the role Old Sac played back when gold was getting rushed in the region. But as for the above-ground gawk-abouts, those walks that take in the gaslamp'd thoroughfares and wide wooden walks of the district? Those have been a bit fewer, and mainly a summertime-only thing. That's about to change, when a revamped Gold Rush Tour, this one above ground, launches as a complement to the doings beneath visitors' feet. There's a sneak peek of the tour-to-come over Labor Day Weekend, when the full-on Gold Rush Days yeehaw into town. 

"MORE HISTORICAL INTERPRETATION": If you totally dug the Underground Tour -- yep, we said "dug," laugh if you like or smile politely -- then you'll find more wayback knowledge on the new Gold Rush Tour, which shall offer "more historical interpretation" on the legend-lively quarter. The official name is "The Gold Rush Experience" and none other than the Historic Old Sacramento Foundation is behind it. You'll get to know the background of the beautiful buildings of the area, structures that have now stood in three distinct centuries, as well as the tales of the people who frequented the area (so, for sure, you'll hear plenty on miners and prospectors, as well as Pony Express riders, another legendary icon of Sacramento). It's ten bucks to join the tour, for an adult, and kids are less, and combo tickets, with the Underground Tour, will be a limited-time offer. Burnish your Gold Rush knowledge with a fresh stroll through an old city layered with all sorts of stories of fortunes made, lost, recovered, and never found. It should be a TV series, though, on second thought, perhaps not. You can be there in person, no screen or remote control required, if you just walk your pony to Old Sacramento.

Photo Credit: Sacramento History Museum]]>
<![CDATA[Bread-Dippable To-Do: San Benito Olive Fest]]> Fri, 28 Aug 2015 22:20:25 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/benitodemo12345.jpg

A SLICE OF BREAD... that's not studded with little glistening bits of the tangiest fruitstuff on the planet is a wonder to behold, to chew, to devour. You can spread almond butter on it, or mashed garlic, or you can stick under the broiler topped by a slice of cheese (be it super-fancy or ready for the lunchbox). The slice can be rye or wheat or sourdough or country and it'll sing, whether it arrives on your plate completely plain or loaded with various vegetables. Bread slices only deserve the highest of praise, and yet... And yet. The pit-passionate olive aficionado may pause, ever so slightly, and wish that her most favorite food had been baked into the bread, the better to enhance that cheese slice or those vegetables or that mashed garlic (even the almond butter might find a luscious new level when paired with olive's briny character). Those who wish everything had olives in it -- or practically everything, save, perhaps, ice cream sundaes, will be in Hollister on Saturday, Oct. 17. It's a day-long party devoted to that unsung star of the cheese plate and the powerhouse behind tapenade, and it is happening at...

BOLADO PARK: The San Benito Olive Festival is devoted to spotlighting, and consuming/enjoying, "olive oils, world-class wines and craft beers, artisanal foods" and sweets like "fine chocolates" to round it all out. Chefs'll be in the park, talking about cooking/baking/everythinging with olives, and several regional companies shall be on hand to sell their wares. Look for Oils of Paicines, Brigantino Olive Oil, and Papa Joe's Spicy Products out of Paso Robles. Ohhh, spicy olives. If there's anything that can out-olive an olive in awesomeness, it might be an olive in a piquant coating of pepper-flecked oil. If you did the Paso-packed Olive Festival in mid-August, and yet you need more juicy, pit-filled flavor, keep the middle of October in mind, and Hollister, for your olive needs. For sure, the middle of October is dominated by all kinds of candy, but there are just some people that would rather sit at home with a bowl full of dry-cured picholine.

Photo Credit: San Benito Olive Festival]]>
<![CDATA[Ahwahnee Autumn: Vintners' Holidays]]> Fri, 28 Aug 2015 13:37:00 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/TheAhwahneeinFall12345.jpg

A DRY YOSEMITE FALLS... is one of the most visual ways to tell that autumn is on its way to Yosemite National Park. August into November can bring a different vibe for the park's legendary waterfalls, which crash and sparkle and flow in the springtime with drama and flair. The autumn is quieter on the waterfall front, but that doesn't mean there isn't a show below. The oaks dotting the valley are starting to take on that honeyed hue, at least around the leaves, and the Pacific dogwoods are greeting the season with their own crimson touches. But one of the liveliest signs of the season doesn't arrive before November, and it takes place not in the out-of-doors, or under the sky, but rather inside The Ahwahnee. The historic and stately lodge does not have a grove of oaks dotting its capacious lobby; rather, November and December are the months when the Vintners' Holidays settle in for a long and learn-happy and supremely sippable sojourn. For sure, you guessed it, you're right on the money: Wine is the theme, but not just any wine gets to star. California labels are the front-and-center reasons for the holidays, and the people who make them and know a lot about them, and, of course...

THE PEOPLE WHO LOVE WINE: As any vino-ist can own up to, adoring all of the good that comes from the grape in the beverage realm is an ongoing education, one that can always be deepen and enhanced. That's what happens over the six sessions, which run in spurts of two or three days at a time from Nov. 8 through Dec. 3. Could you do them all? Well, gosh, that's a dream, isn't, but finding a favorite vineyard on the list, or a winemaker or expert you'd like to meet, is key when planning your dates. Also key? Looking at the packages offered (you can stay at The Ahwahnee or a few other nearby choices, like Curry Village). Inman Family Wines, Silver Oak Cellars, Justin Winery, and Benziger Family Winery will all be presenting and talking and swirling the beautiful reds and whites in 2015. It's a luxe learning experience that also doubles as a true signal that autumn has placed its golden cloak upon Yosemite Valley. And we do so like those tasty, tony events that also serve as a sign of the seasons.

Photo Credit: Yosemite National Park]]>
<![CDATA[Marvelous Music: Monterey Jazz Festival]]> Tue, 01 Sep 2015 16:26:58 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/WyntonMarsalis06playing_Clay+Mcbride_300.jpg

FAMOUS, FLOW-FILLED, FABULOUS: There's no doubt that particular days of the year carry more heft than others. Likewise, particular times of the year, and seasons, too, also tend to follow this rule. Take your birthday, which carries with it at least a little emotion, and your anniversary, too. Your favorite time of year does as well, like the holidays or spring. But everyone everywhere likely shares the heart-tug of a feeling that comes with the final weekend of summer. Weekends have a certain winsomeness, and summertime does, too, which makes the yearly timing of the Monterey Jazz Festival more than perfect. It unfolds over the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of that final summer weekend, a time that just naturally, and poetically, carries some extra beauty and bittersweetness. Add the world's best jazz sounds to those emotions, as their soundtrack, and you have a music-tacular that continues to draw fans from Monterey, California, the U.S., and points around the globe. And with fine reason, too; not only can they come together as a tune-loving community to bid summer farewell, they can do so while enjoying some of the most acclaimed artists around on eight stages.

OH YES, EIGHT STAGES: After nearly six decades of presenting the best of the best, Monterey Jazz has grown into quite the spectacular. And that octet of stagery stays busy throughout, with over 500 musicians keeping the flow going over a trio of very full days. Wynton Marsalis is set to play the 2015 festival, and the superb Dianne Reeves, and Chick Corea, and the amazing rockin' Ms. Nikki Hill. Chris Botti will bring the brass (a prominent sound/metal at the fest among many musicians, of course) and Pete Escovedo will have his drumsticks in hand (it's his 80th birthday, by the by, which will be celebrated at the fest). Vocals, instrumentals, jam-type sonic flights, and all things that fold into the large mind space that is jazz are welcome at Monterey, which has made its name, in part, for being one of the avant-garde-iest extravaganzas around. For sure, tradition is still embraced and loved upon, too, so when you think "is there something for everyone?" well, yes. Eight stages, 500 artists, hours and hours and percussion and trumpet and harmony. Oh goodness, there's more, places to shop, places to eat, places to chillax, art happenings, and such. Happy 58th, Monterey Jazz, and thanks for delivering the last official weekend of summer in such a heartfelt, flow-sweet manner. It raises the vibe of every music maven in attendance, and those fans who support from afar.

Photo Credit: Clay McBride]]>
<![CDATA[The Tastes of a Tahoe Autumn]]> Thu, 27 Aug 2015 13:57:12 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/LakeTahoeAutumnFoodandWineFestival_NorthstarCalifornia.jpg

SEPTEMBER IS CALIFORNIA WINE MONTH... which means that cities and towns and central squares and plazas will be setting up the tables and booths and tasting stations and inviting locals and visitors to get to know the regional winemakers. Basically an oenophile, and a just-starting-out oenophile, has her pick of places to deep dive into the wine scene come the ninth month of the year, so finding a fine setting, one that is especially beautiful when early fall starts to show itself, is paramount. We'll say, with a whole bundle of confidence, that Lake Tahoe qualifies in the "especially beautiful" department come September, which is just about the moment when mornings take on a crisp quality and the light around 5 p.m. starts to seem more diffused, as if cast through glass. To visit, then, and sip new wine, and try fresh bites, and soak in the scene before the snowflakes fall is a treat, and one that's made more cuisinely convenient by the Lake Tahoe Autumn Food and Wine Festival.

THE GOODIES GO GOURMET... the weekend after Labor Day Weekend, which means that the resort destinations have officially taken off their busy clothes. Oh, the lake still bustles into mid-September, for sure, but not like the top of summer, or a summer holiday weekend. The three-day party brings the noms at Northstar, though several food-focused happenings will be happening nearby. Highlights on the roster include a Village Wine Walk and Brew Walk, a hike-happy Progressive Picnic at Northstar Mountain, a mozzarella-making demo (you'll be in there, with the cheese, learning and doing), and a marketplace, though cocktail demos and farm-to-table dinners and such are also most excellent additions. Where to start? Well, by choosing what you'll do. How to leave a little time in your schedule, to stand in that crisp mountain air, the kind that belongs solely to September, and take in a little diffused sunshine? That's up to you to not over-pack your must-do list. After all, all of September is California Wine Month, so you'll have more time and more places to connect with cuisine, cabernets, and the people who make both.

THE LAKE TAHOE AUTUMN FOOD AND WINE FESTIVAL... cooks/pours it up from Sept. 11 through 13.

Photo Credit: Northstar California]]>
<![CDATA[Mumm Napa: Sierra Snapshots and Sparkling Wine]]> Fri, 28 Aug 2015 18:39:27 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/bennixonmummsierra.jpg

IT'S OFTEN SAID... that one can determine the era of a photograph, and perhaps even the decade or specific year, by the hairstyles depicted. Anyone who was a teenager in the 1980s or '90s knows this to all too true, for better or worse, as does anyone who was ever photographed in all of their charming adolescent finery. But a century before the 1980s, thereabouts, you didn't need hairstyles or fashion to signify the snapshot's time-specific pedigree; the photo's distinct process and appearance revealed its age. If you see a photo that's collodion, you know you're likely looking at a picture from the second half of the 1800s or early 20th century. This was the popular process that jostled with daguerreotypes in the popular opinion of a photo-mad public (collodion followed daguerreotype and tintypes followed collodion). But many contemporary art lovers are still mad for the haunting and elegant collodion process, one that is still practiced by a few practiced hands (and eyes) nowadays. Photographer Ben Nixon is an acclaimed artist in this realm, and looking at a picture snapped by Mr. Nixon can send you scratching your noggin: Is it 1890 you're staring at or March 2015? If you want to see these wet-plate collodion gems, make for a whole exhibit by Mr. Nixon at...

MUMM NAPA... through Sunday, Nov. 8. "Timeless California & The Sierras" features a lot of Golden State nature as interpreted by the modern-meets-yesteryear artist. He searches out "non-iconic terrain" for his works, so you may be hard-pressed to guess exactly where a particular tree or hillside is located (and the elegantly old-fashioned process, with its occasional streak and unexpected hue, can deepen the mystery). Want to sip some Mumm-lovely sparkling wine and attend the opening reception? The public is invited. Be at the Rutherford winery on Saturday, Aug. 29. It's in the early evening, a time of day that should add more of an esoteric note to the nicely enigmatic photographs, works of art that seem to exist, easily and simultaneously, in a few eras. Most of all they're nicely situated in the Golden State, the place they pay passionate homage. And what a place, too; certainly some of Mr. Nixon's natural-world subjects stood much as they do today back in 1867, the very time when photo bugs were going mad for this still fresh wet-plate collodion process.

Photo Credit: Ben Nixon]]>
<![CDATA[New: Condor Nest Cam in Big Sur]]> Thu, 27 Aug 2015 22:04:55 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/newcondornestcam2923.jpg

PUT YOUR NAMING HAT ON: So just when you thought you could take a day or two of rest from the whole "name this adorable animal" contest world, another adorable California critter needing a marvelous moniker pops into view. Did you suggest names for the sweet baby Patas monkey residing at Safari West in Santa Rosa? The winner will receive the happy news by the end of the month and nab a free tour of the vast animal preserve to boot. Whether or not you're the victor -- and, really, when animals gain notice and attention, everyone wins, especially the needs-a-name sweetie -- you've got a new naming task set before you, and this time it has a few fresh elements. This name-the-beastie push involves a redwood with a hollowed-out knot, Big Sur, and a fluffbiscuit of a little condor. But there's even more to this name-a-baby-condor story, and it is sweet: The Ventana Wildlife Society, which stays actively involved and protective of Big Sur's ever-growing condor community, has just announced a brand-new condor nest cam. 

YES, THAT'S A BRAND-NEW CONDOR CAM... but this one takes a special focus on the baby of Kingpin and Redwood Queen. "This female condor chick was approximately 4 months old in mid-August and is expected to 'fledge' or leave the next to learn to fly, in October," reveals the society's web site. That means that any admiring of the youngster should be done in the next few weeks, before the exciting wing-spreader of a day arrives. Oh, yes, and as for naming condor chick #799? There's a donation of twenty five bucks involved, and the chance to submit three possible names.  

IF YOU WANT TO EYE THE ADULT CONDORS... in the Ventana Wildlife Society Condor Sanctuary, the established Condor Cam is still very much in service. If you want to eye one of the huge-of-wingspan beauties in flight, book a once-a-month California Condor Viewing Tour with the society. If you, too, want to live in high up in coast redwood, well... Here's hoping that Redwood Queen is your mom and you've got a few feathers on your back. Otherwise we ground-dwellers will have to watch the Condor Nest Cam and coo over the cuteness from our not-quite-as-nest-like cubicles.

Photo Credit: Ventana Wildlife Society]]>
<![CDATA[Pumpkin Beer: Half Moon Bay Brewing Fetes Fall ]]> Tue, 25 Aug 2015 18:05:53 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/pumpkin292halfmoon.jpg

GOURDS WITH GIRTH: Watching a massive pumpkin be gently -- gently, gently -- placed upon a huge scale can fill an onlooker's noggin with a swirl of questions. How many seeds are inside? (Answer: A whole buncha buncha). Rather than carving a simple jack o'lantern face upon the gourd, could you render a whole cityscape or another complicated picture? (Yes, you could, if you had hours and hours and a team lending a hand, since a carved pumpkin tends to fold in a few days.) Are the pumpkins at the annual Safeway World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off in Half Moon Bay just about as big as Cinderella's carriage? (Bigger, actually, though not by much.) It's one of fall's most fun sights, and it is synonymous with Half Moon Bay, the pumpkiniest place on the Pacific Ocean. But there's a way to get a jumpstart on all things stem-topped and seedy well ahead of the mid-October bash. You can make for Half Moon Bay Brewing Company, which takes its location in the gourd-glad town to heart each year. How? By introducing...

PUMPKIN HARVEST ALE... weeks ahead of Half Moon Bay's giant pumpkin festival. The fall brew makes a Sept. 1 debut, with an Imperial Pumpkin Ale to follow in October. Shall there be "subtle pumpkin pie flavor" and spicy notes and sweet notes and all of the things a suds-loving squash lover would want in a beer? There shall be, indeed. But the brewery is going beyond the pint glass and doing it up, fall-style, with an Oktoberfest menu during the second half of September and a pumpkin-themed menu for all of October. There's even a Harvest Pumpkin Dinner on Oct. 6 to sate those who need more, more, more of the gourdly good stuff. As for the October pumpkin-focused offerings? Butternut squash will take a starring role in some of the dishes, but bet all of the autumn edibles set before you shall have the scent or hue or character of a pumpkin. It really is getting to be that time of year, pumpkin people. If you can't wait to behold the famous weigh-off, you can get the seasonal sipping and pumpkin-themed question-asking going early, at Half Moon Bay Brewing Company.

Photo Credit: Half Moon Bay Brewing Company]]>
<![CDATA[Gold Country Rubber Duck Race]]> Tue, 25 Aug 2015 22:09:18 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/rotary49ersduck.jpg

THERE'VE BEEN MANY GOOD THINGS... to be found in the rivers of Gold Country. Most famously, and probably not in need of a "spoiler alert," is gold, but we'll rank kayaks and waders and fish and pretty stones pretty high, too. And, if you keep watch, and wait for a special occasion, and keep an eye on certain creeks and spots, you might just seen a whole caboodle of colorful rubber ducks. The birdly toys are part of the annual Gold Country Rubber Duck Race, which is organized by the 49er Rotary Club. That means that the money that goes into the sponsoring of a duck -- five bucks for a single quacker, if you're curious -- goes on to help a host of organizations and programs and scholarships in the region.

SUNDAY, SEPT. 13... is the date and the spot is Deer Creek in Nevada City. If you're planning on attending the well-loved Nevada City Film Festival, which is one of the most hill-lovely, indie-riffic, funky-fun movie parties in the state, then you'll likely still be around the town when duck bottoms meet the gentle waves of Deer Creek. But figuring out how many ducks you want to sponsor ahead of time is a-ok, as a little pre-planning will prevent you from sweating the issue there.

CALIFORNIA QUACK-QUACK: Our state has been home to a number of headline-making charitable rubber duck races, from the mondo rubber duck drop off the pier at Huntington Beach to the now-ended Silicon Valley float fest to the end-of-September rubber duck showdown in Valencia. It makes total sense that Gold Country, with all of its lovely, burbling creeks and big-hearted, let's-help organizations, would also have its own. Headed to the film fest? Just love being up in the hills when early fall starts to set in? Sponsor a duck and lend some love to all the good things that help people out around the area.

Photo Credit: Rotary 49ers]]>
<![CDATA[Tunes to Paintings to Food: Sausalito Art Festival]]> Mon, 24 Aug 2015 18:46:57 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/234*120/sausalito9282833.jpg

THE WORD "BOOKEND"... can mean a number of things beyond the shelf-ready device that holds up our favorite novels and paperbacks. It's frequently employed to describe happenings that come at the beginning or ending of something, say, the pair of toasts that bookend a fine dinner or the hug from a supportive friend that bookends the start and end of a marathon. But what about the singular bookend, the huge happening that is such a stalwart and staple that is stands grandly at one end of a defined period? Is there such a word for something that elegantly ends something in a big and memorable way? The Sausalito Art Festival qualifies here. It's a Labor Day Weekend tradition, one that's celebrating its 63rd annual outing, and it has such breadth and draw that it feels as though it almost has similar bookend on Memorial Day Weekend, the starter of summer. But it doesn't, and that's okay; one full event- and art-packed weekend is filled quite nicely by this singular bash. Wines and food are at the forefront of the fun, but each year takes on a slightly different twist. One of the 2015 vibes will be a 50th anniversary fete for "The San Francisco Sound," so look for tributes to Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead (which shall be an instrumental tribute, no less). 

THE EXCELLENT VIBRATIONS... continue along the Sausalito waterfront with display booths featuring both the paintings/photography/sculptures/more of hundreds of artists and, yes, very frequently the artists themselves, right there in person (so don't be shy -- ask them any questions you have about the works on the walls). Once you've sauntered by all 260 artist booths, saunter on over to the beer garden, the aforementioned music stages, or, if you've got the young'uns in tow, the kidly activities area. Cost? It's twenty five bucks for an adult ticket. Place? Marinship Park. Does it stretch fully over Labor Day Weekend, as in all three days? It so does. Are there other Labor Day Weekend art festivals of this size that could also be termed "bookenders of summer," even if they don't have a matching festival starting the summer out in May? Oh, for sure, but Sausalito Art Festival is a front-runner of the form, and awash in prestige and plates and pinots and a bevy of paintings-plus to admire.

Photo Credit: Sausalito Art Festival]]>
<![CDATA[Fresh Update: Bernardus's Lucia Restaurant]]> Mon, 31 Aug 2015 21:46:24 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/bernarduswinecuisine1.jpg

THE EASY-PACED DRIVE UP... to a fine resort, the kind of property that sits among some bucolic, beautiful-vista'd hills, is apt to be filled with nature. But, very often, a hotel's natural surroundings, be they wild or carefully tended to and sculpted, are there for gazing at and not grazing. That's absolutely not the case, however, at Carmel Valley's Lucia Restaurant & Bar, located within Bernardus Lodge & Spa. The "earthy and ethereal" eatery recently underwent a refurbishment, but its reach extends beyond the heated terrace; there are some 150 fruit trees on the property, and guests can bet that the leafy orchard shrubs they admired on a walk or from their room window are doing more than simply adding charm to the setting. That fruit is in the food, as are the good things grown in the extensive organic gardens (think lavender, olives, herbs, and more). Look for citrus touches in recently unveiled cocktails like The Purittia, The Paper Plane, and The Green Tea Collins, as well.

OFF THE PLATE AND AROUND THE RESTAURANT... look for several new reveals, all updates that took place during Lucia's four-month renewal. There is the heated terrace, yes, which looks upon the Santa Lucia Mountains. Inside find a "contemporary dining room" which boasts both white leather accents and more in-the-country details, like reclaimed wood, oxidized copper, and French wooden floors. 

ON THE PLATE AND FROM THE KITCHEN: The relaxed-back-ness of Carmel Valley, and its farm-ranch mojo, are present in the meals, from Roasted Nectarine Salad (arugula, prosciutto, and Parm-Reggiano at the spicy/creamy notes) and a sweet potato pasta made in-house (a dish that includes the aforementioned herbs). It's pure poshness with an away-from-the-city feel, a sit-back experience that isn't about volume, speed, or who's in the room. Consider discussing the fruit trees and lavender fields with your dining companion, and how the sun hits the Santa Lucias, rather than numbers and dates and calendars. As for Lucia's full menu, and more peeps into its full-scale re-do? Stroll, at a gentle, Carmel Valley-style pace, in this direction.

Photo Credit: Bernardus Lodge]]>
<![CDATA[A Fall-Fancy Stay Near The Winchester]]> Tue, 25 Aug 2015 17:13:18 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/hotelvalenciasantana.jpg

AN ATMOSPHERIC WALK IN THE DARK... is pretty much a staple of every spooky story told around Halloween. You heard it on the albums you grew up with, the ones that told scary (but fun) tales of exploring neighborhood haunted houses, the kind brimming with cobwebs. You saw it in the "Thriller" video, where a stroll in the dark summons a pack of fresh-from-the-grave dancers. And every fright film about a mansion on a hill has a main character who wanders up, through the trees, to explore. But if you're off to explore The Winchester Mystery House, one of the most famously phantom-y landmarks in all of California -- and, let's be frank, the planet -- then you know a stroll home, as in a scary story, isn't in the cards.

STAY CLOSE: The Winchester sits in the middle of bustling San Jose, and attending of the house's autumn-nifty flashlight nights means you'll probably arrive at the attraction by car. Unless, of course, you book at Hotel Valencia Santana Row, a posh property that's just a pip and hop (read: five-minute walk) from Sarah Winchester's infamous manse. You won't need to push through a forest of foreboding trees to reach Hotel Valencia following your Winchester visit, however, but you should plan on visiting one of the many restaurants or bars that dot Santana Row, for many'll keep the liveliness going well into the evening post-flashlight tour.

THE HOTEL... underwent a recent refurbishment that enhanced its "Mediterranean accents and Spanish Golden Age appeal." Warm woods, mood lighting, and rich fabrics lend the building further luxe-o-sity. While there are no packages with a Winchester theme, there is one that has a fall-y feel to it, a Wine Weekend Getaway deal. Cheeses and vino and picnicking and discounts at vineyards around the nearby Santa Cruz Mountain region await. And, truly, what's more autumn than A) wine and B) ghost tours? If you're fond of both, this could be your spot -- the Hotel Valencia Santana Row -- to combine both, in one flashlight-bright, merlot-tasty weekend. Just enjoy your walk from The Winchester Mystery House back to your hotel and keep your fingers crossed you won't meet up with a pack of dancing ghoulies.

Photo Credit: Hotel Valencia]]>
<![CDATA[Grape Goodness: Livermore Harvest Wine Celebration]]> Sat, 22 Aug 2015 11:11:39 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/livermoreharvestwine15.jpg

THE SYMBOLS OF HARVEST TIME... are as plentiful as bottles lining the shelves of a well-stocked wine shop. You have grapes, of course, the heavy bunches that say the time is right for wine-makery. You have the vines, and the colorful leaves, which often take on tinges of gold and red. And you have the making of the wine, the vats and the tubs and the funnels and the oak barrels and the scales and the shovels and the rakes and all of the necessary implements that help the grape begin (and continue) its ultimate journey to the glass. But add to all of these picturesque and oh-so-visual symbols the image of friends out on a late-summer Sunday, trying a few wines, just at the cusp of crush madness, just when harvest is in full-on rev mode. It isn't as if vineyards lock the shutters when their busiest time of year arrives; they often take an opposite tack and invite fans and friends to a host of tasting parties and tours and season-specific celebrations. Livermore is on board with this busy-but-festive notion, as are dozens of its regional vineyards, and that all plays out with a harvest-y huzzah over Labor Day Weekend. It's time for the Harvest Wine Celebration, or nearly, an early September day-longer that's devoted to pairing wine fans with the spirit of the collective big moment shared by wineries during this time of year.

SUNDAY, SEPT. 6... is the 2015 date, a day when "over 40 wineries celebrate the exciting crush season." There are all-important transportation packages, and a trolley to boot, but if neither is your plan, make plans to pay for your designated driver friend to accompany you. Tastings at the wineries will be complemented by music played right there, on the grounds, and art happenings, and other special-to-the-day to-dos. As far as participants go? The list is lengthy, as befits a party that's been around for 34 years. Nottingham Cellars, Wood Family Vineyards, and Crooked Vine Winery are all ready to get this harvest hullabaloo rolling. It's the perfect middle point of Labor Day Weekend, too, that Sunday. Can anything you do on Labor Day Saturday or Labor Day Monday quite live up to the festive scene in Livermore?

Photo Credit: Livermore Valley Wine Country]]>
<![CDATA[Free Entry: Happy 99th, National Park Service!]]> Mon, 24 Aug 2015 13:30:40 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/joshuasunsetrobbhannawacker.jpg

YOUR PRESENCE REQUIRED: It is almost extremely certain that, if you've been invited to several birthday parties over the course of your lifetime, that your "presence" has been requested in lieu of physical, wrapped, bow-on-top "presents" (also, you've read a lot of "in lieu of" on a whole lot of invitations, for sure). It's a happy homophone situation, with "presents" and "presence," and the request of the latter simply means that the host wants to see you there, in the room. Nice, yes, but we'll take the word even further when it comes to visiting a famous organization on a pretty big birthday. The National Park Service is just about to mark its 99th -- it was founded in 1916, yessiree, on Aug. 25 -- and you definitely don't owe it any presents. (In fact, we're 100% sure you consider the motto "take only memories, leave only footprints" when bringing anything into a park.) Your presence, though, would be nice on Aug. 25, and by that we simply don't mean arriving in a national park and being there, but being there. Get us? We're talking about connecting with the place, the Joshua trees, the redwoods, the foamy surf, the quiet and the majesty and the nature and the wind. Anyone can offer presence, as in showing up, but embodying the quality takes a little extra oomph.

WHAT YOU WON'T REQUIRE... a little extra of, should you visit on the NPS birthday proper, is cash. Well, for sure, if you travel keep some clams handy, but paying them at the entrance gate to the park of your choice will be a no-go on Aug. 25. Your money shall be waved away, as the National Park Service is waiving get-in fees at those parks that charge them. (Way less than half do.) Do you need to hug a boulder? Stare at some cumulus action over a far ridge? What about saying hello to a waterfall? All of these activities vibe with the aforementioned presence. Head out to your favorite park, or a new one, on Tuesday, Aug. 25, and saunter in for free. Happy birthday, National Park Service! Already can't wait to see what you've got going for your big centennial.

Photo Credit: NPS/Robb Hannawacker]]>
<![CDATA[Pacific-Close Creativity: Cambria Scarecrow Fest]]> Fri, 21 Aug 2015 14:26:51 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/cambriadragonscarecrow.jpg

THE SETTING FOR SCARECROWS: If you had to describe the landscape and buildings and flora and trees surrounding a scarecrow, say, from a painting or a calendar or photograph, what would you land upon? You might guess that there'd be a big red barn in the background, and rows of cornstalks, and perhaps, in the distance, a copse of crimson-hued trees. (And you'd absolutely use the word "copse" in every day conversation, a pretty term that's been bested by "grove" and "forest" in recent years.) But copse or not, you would likely not picture buildings in the background or businesses like coffeehouses and restaurants and clothing shops and such. You wouldn't picture cars or parking meters or benches, because the traditional image of the scarecrow is the lone figure in the field. The field has met the city in recent years, thanks to the multi-week, business-cute Scarecrow Festivals popping up hither and yon. The Santa Ynez Valley stages one, in several towns (Solvang, Los Olivos, Buellton), and, up the coast, Cambria is in on the autumn-flavored action. The sweet burg's annual Scarecrow Festival strikes a hay-filled pose, whimsically, each October, and it holds the pose all month long. So from...

OCTOBER 1 THROUGH 31... visitors to the town will see witches and dragons and chefs and firemen and a host of different characters standing in not-too-serious sentry in front of various stores. The theme for 2015 is "A Magical Place" and you're bound to see that reflected in the many variations on the scarecrow. They won't all look like that classic scarecrow ideal, the one most famously brought to life in "The Wizard of Oz," but they will charm, delight, puzzle, and likely make you brandish your camera, over and over. They're free to see, as most scarecrows are, and over 400 of the cute creations are expected for October 2015. That means you have a full day or weekend ahead of you, people calling upon Cambria during the scarecrow-tacular. Need to see some snaps from past year? Flap your wings this way and alight here.

Photo Credit: Cambria Scarecrow Festival]]>
<![CDATA[Lonely Planet's "Ultimate" List Loves on Local Gems]]> Fri, 21 Aug 2015 16:11:05 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/goldenGettyImages-180103576.jpg

DEVOTED ARMCHAIR TRAVELERS -- and that's all of us, at some point, when we don't quite have the time or the funds or the you-name-it to hop on a plane and go somewhere far-off -- have many charms, but also one distinct quality that probably needs a bit of work. And it is this: We're prone to thinking that The Cool Stuff exists across the planet and The Day-to-Day Stuff exists in our sphere. This goes for every armchair traveler everywhere, just about, even if she knows the merits of her home turf, at least on occasion. But then along comes a list, a big list, an "Ultimate" list if you will, to remind all travelers, armchair and otherwise, that the goods are in our own backyards as well as thousands of miles away from us, around the very curvature of the earth. Lonely Planet has made 500 picks, picks that'll officially debut in October in its new "Ultimate Travel" book, and a host of California sights, many a pinch and a hop from the Bay Area, are on the roster.

GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE... is on there, hooray that, and Big Sur, too, and Redwoods National Park and Yosemite National Park. Alcatraz made the cut, which poses this question, a query that'll likely be answered once you have your hands on the book: Are any other two locations on the list as cheek-by-jowl as Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz? They must be among the closest, distance-wise, of all the entries. Los Angeles made a showing, too, with The Griffith Observatory, and there shouldn't be a SoCaler who'd argue that inclusion, what with the Art Deco wonder's hill-top stateliness and history. And, yes, the net was wide on this book: Both landmarks built by human hands (and ingenuity) and those that sprung from seeds, time, and wind are all on the wanna-go-there-now rundown.

YOU CAN SPY THE FULL ROSTER... here and there -- Boston News Time has all 500 up, while other places are highlighting local favorites -- or you can wait for Oct. 6, to get your hands on a copy. Or you can peek, in full, at the very tippy-top entries on the Lonely Planet site. (The site is inviting visitors to download the top five at no cost.) The Temples of Angkor is the #1 pick, just to whet your appetite for further armchair adventuring.

AND IT IS TRUE... that locals do fully know what we have in our backyards. We know we live among famous and beloved and mythic landmarks and natural wonders. Taking our immediate environment for granted is only something an armchair traveler does on the very rarest of occasions. Still, it is a lovely thing, on this treasure-filled ocean-y orb, to be reminded of all the amazing locations that are at arm's length. Lonely Planet, we raise our passport, sunscreen, and map pouch in gratitude.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Safari West: Name That Monkey]]> Wed, 26 Aug 2015 16:39:06 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/189*120/safariwestname92323.jpg

SOME PEOPLE... possess such a knack for naming animals that they take their talent out into the wider world. You know the naming namers we're talking about, the people who adopt a kitten and immediately conjure a dozen names of import, all to do with the kitten's personality and fur type and birthday month and level of cuteness. Of course, those families who continue to name new pets after dearly departed pets, with a numeral on the end -- Fluffy II, Fluffy the Third -- charm as well, but we must tip our hat to those of you who were born with a talent of putting moniker to monkey. Oh, did we just say "moniker to monkey" there? In fact we did, which tips our own hand here: Safari West, that expansive animal preserve in Santa Rosa, has a new bundle of joy in its vast house. He's a Patas monkey, born to Safari West residents Izzie and Maurice, and he needs a name, one that is as great as the names his parents rock. (C'mon, Izzie and Maurice are kind of major, as is the name of the daughter Izzie and Maurice birthed last year, Jasmine.) So are you good at naming? Do you dig animals and helping animals? Do you have a heartwarming handle for Baby Cutie Monkey that'll work well with Izzie, Maurice, and Jasmine? 

THEN THROW YOUR NAME IN THE RING... and see if your idea doesn't suit this little loveball the best. You've got through Monday, Aug. 24 to dream up the perfect title, and you won't have to wait long to see if your name -- and your name for the Patas monkey -- is chosen: They'll announce the winner on the final day of August. A free Safari West Safari Tour will go to the victor, as well as the knowledge that your beastie-naming abilities are keen. The only thing to worry about is, if you win, how you'll top yourself when it comes to naming future pets. Want to know more about where to send your suggestion and the beautiful Patas monkey, which is a savannah roamer known for "foraging and socializing" (and capturing our human hearts)? You can, right here, monkey mavens.

Photo Credit: Safari West]]>
<![CDATA[Camp Indoors: Tahoe's Basecamp Grows]]> Wed, 19 Aug 2015 17:51:59 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/basecamptahoe9289232.jpg

THE LAST TIME... you stow your sturdy, bug-attracting lantern or favorite hiking socks or beloved tent or sleeping bag for the season can elicit a deep and melancholy sigh. You might stop to stroke the tent a bit while you recall warm July nights up on some far-off granite ridge, watching the sun dip behind the horizon well after 9 o'clock. Those warm July nights and late sunsets, though, have a rather predictable way of concluding come the fall, and those travelers desiring the camp vibe have to wait for the warmth of springtime. There is, of course, "indoor" camping, at least style-wise, at least at the Basecamp Hotel in South Lake Tahoe. If you think you'll be under a nylon covering, in rain, snow, or fine weather, you'll actually have a roof, as this very much a hotel. But the look inside is woodsy, rustic, and a touch retro, with actual tent-style coverings appearing in some of the rooms. Don't fear that you'll be *too* cut off from the alfresco pursuits, though, by staying indoors; Lake Tahoe is but a five-minute stroll away. If this tempts you, for the wintertime, the idea of camping but with a key to a door and a bathroom to boot, then take heart, camp-loving cozy-seekers: Basecamp just expanded.

24 NEW GUEST ROOMS: The hotel acquired the property next door, The Capri, and added two dozen new stay-over spots, all with that "adventurous design aesthetic" that Basecamp has become known for. There are new meeting spaces and a Beer Garden, too. It's open every Thursday through Sunday, and vittles beyond the beer shall be served, so come to eat, too. (Brats are on the menu, as are classic burgers and salads.) And if you like the idea of a cold brew and you want to get some biking in, there's a Bikes & Brews package pedaling into early fall.

CALL IT CAMPING... with a touch of camp, if you will. You'll see tree motifs and other hallmarks of the forest, but all in an old-style, reclaimed motel-y setting. Basecamp Hotels is seeking to take existing structures and fill them with a bit of fable and fun, and the woodsy whimsy found at the now-bigger South Lake Tahoe property is a real-world example of this goal in action. 

Photo Credit: Basecamp]]>
<![CDATA[Capitola Flower Wow: Begonia Fest]]> Wed, 19 Aug 2015 17:12:06 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/capitolabegonia212121.jpg

MANY THINGS HAVE BEEN SAID... about the nature and habits of the Golden Stater, and what it means, ultimately, to be a Californian. We love the beach (true) and mountains (true) and we're open to finding ourselves (true, but surely that's a plus). We'd bask in the sunshine all day, if we could (absolutely) and we always order extra avocado on any dish that comes with the alligator pear (because a couple of slices of the greeny good stuff are never enough). And we really, really like to stick flowers on moving vehicles. There's no denying this claim, and we wouldn't even try. There's the Rose Parade on New Year's Day in Pasadena, a procession that's pasted millions of petals on thousands of floats over the decades. And there's the Capitola Begonia Festival, a Labor Day Weekend revelry which isn't just about applauding all of the capital-ness that is Capitola but also flowers, many flowers, a specific flower, the bud in the party's very name. Nope, people don't simply walk around holding begonia bouquets; rather, they stick them all over floating vessels, prettily, and take to Soquel Creek. These vessels -- and, yes, they are referred to as floats -- get decorated the weekend of the festival, all in time for...

THE ANNUAL NAUTICAL PARADE: It has been around for over six decades, and many flower fans show up to line the creek's banks, the better to get a view of a begonia-bedecked float. The floats head from the Soquel to the Lagoon, so arrive before 1 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 6 to nab a good spot. You can also watch the decorating process, or do another nifty thing during the weekend. While the floating flower wonders do get a lot of attention, much goes on, from concerts to a sand sculpture contest to movies on the beach to a fishing derby and more, more, more. It's oh-so-community-sweet, and colorful as all get out, and it stands tall as one of California's most floral festivals. Quirky? Yes. Costume-y? On occasion. More proof that we Californians like a lot of flowers stuck all over things that move from point A to point B? Totally, and that's that way we like it.

Photo Credit: Capitola Begonia Festival]]>
<![CDATA[Edible Education: Eating Ojai Tour]]> Tue, 18 Aug 2015 22:00:27 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/205*120/gazston-tower-daytimeojai.jpg

A PATENT ON AUTUMN ENJOYMENT: We wouldn't dare claim that any single California town owns a particular season outright, because every place has its charms, depending upon the time of the year. (Okay, heat waves maybe bring the charm down a notch most everywhere, granted.) But, come autumn, a number of more rustic villages, some close to mountains, some to the ocean, take on a mellowness and beauty that draw daytrippers from all points. Ojai is one such place, and while its citrus-growing ways can dominate the food lover's springtime visit, its ripening fruits and gold-turning leaves give its fall some distinct rustic-a-tude. Wanting a rustic day away, complete with the cuisine the foodie-nice area is known for, is thus a truly autumnal impulse, and one that can be fulfilled by joining a Ventura Food Tour. The easy-paced walk-around -- which leads to sampling, noshing, and the discussing of various dishes -- offers an Ojai Food Tour that takes on several shops and cafes through the main heart of the city. The upshot? You'll join your guide on a jaunt that includes "stopping at six different shops and restaurants for tastings and conversations with many of the shop owners and chefs that make Ojai the great dining destination that it is." 

CONVERSATION... is key to culinary enjoyment, so consider your Ojai eating adventure to be educational as well. Will you return home with a general sense of what locals like to sup on in the region? What grows well? What cooks who live there do best? You will, you will. A ticket is fifty four bucks, things rev up around 10:30 a.m. in downtown Ojai, and the walking and chowing down lasts for three hours. Call it lunch-plus, with some lively socializing and lookie-loo-ing thrown in. You can depart after that, for your home port, but if you're lingering in the area overnight, keep an eye out for the town's famous Pink Moment. It matters not if it is autumn or spring or summer or winter; the mountains surrounding the hamlet still take on a fruit-hued light come sundown. Could the Pink Moment be the visual dessert at the end of your Ojai Food Tour day? Try it and see if you don't feel sated upon seeing this one-of-a-kind sight.

Photo Credit: Gazston Gal]]>
<![CDATA[Hello, Pretty: Tarantula Time at Mt. Diablo]]> Tue, 18 Aug 2015 13:10:28 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/mdiatarantula.jpg

"GENTLE GIANT" OF THE MOUNTAIN: Gentle giants are quite the fictional fixture in adventure novels, but giants can arrive in many ways beyond the humans we often see in tales. Some gentle giants boast multiple legs and furry bodies and the ability to make people quake, when, really, they're quite passive and not looking to harm. Look to the tarantula, one of the largest of the arachnids, a beastie that can, in some eyes, boast a fearsome look. It does not have a fearsome character, however, making it, in the opinion of many fans, the teddy bear of the spider world. Its appearance is also a harbinger of autumn in many places, and those who adore this gentle giant, and evening walks, and free things, mark the Mt. Diablo Interpretative Association outings on their calendar each year. The late-afternoon or early-in-the-night strolls, which are guide-led, take tarantula mavens into the hills and dells of Mitchell Canyon, for a three-mile look-about. What are you looking for, exactly? "(H)airy, harmless tarantulas crawling the mountain looking for mates." Mating season makes these burrow dwellers more active and more prone to journeying about, which makes spotting them, and admiring them from a distance, easier to do come late August and September.

TARANTULA TREK: Head out on the last Sunday in August with a pair of naturalists as they make their way into Mitchell Canyon on a quest to find these scurry-prone cuties. Tarantula Walks happen for several Sundays after Aug. 30, ending on Oct. 11, and they happen a bit earlier in the day. Docents and naturalists will prep you ahead of the walk for what you're going to see, and why tarantulas are out looking for love at this time of year. Since you'll be venturing into nature, show with water and snacks and the appropriate clothing (layers are always a nice idea). As for these gentle giants and their not-so-fortunate reputation? Perhaps more tarantula walks means more fans, and more fans means the tide will turn. There are powerful creepy-crawlies in this world that are worth eek-ing over, but this docile fellow conjures fear where fear should not exist.

Photo Credit: MDIA]]>
<![CDATA[Newport Beach + Disneyland: A Late-August Deal]]> Mon, 17 Aug 2015 18:01:11 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/backbayoc898989.jpg

THE LAST HALF OF AUGUST... is a quirky time, travel-wise. Perhaps it could be best compared to the three-week run that lands at the very end of November, through the December holidays, when people buckle down at work and school (feeling as though Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve are the time-off, go-on-vacation bookends). The end of the eighth month, through Labor Day Weekend, has some of those same hallmarks. People may have gotten their vacationing in, earlier in the summer, and the start of the school year is lending a buckle-down-ness air to the day-to-day life, even if your child's school hasn't yet begun for the year. What this all means is that, like early December, there are travel deals to be had, and at some of the most popular places, too. Look to Newport Beach, which is a rather popular destination in the summertime.

TOTAL UNDERSTATEMENT... of course; the beach-close, resort-laden stretch of coastline and close-to-coastline attractions thrums in the warm weather, as does the OC town's not-too-far-off neighbor, Disneyland. So to get a deal in late August, when summer is still afoot, involving both summer staples, feels a little unreal, sort of like you feel while riding the Mad Tea Party tea cups. But real it is, and here's the upshot: Stay at one of a select batch of Newport Beach hotels and score a pair of single-day tickets to Disneyland or Disney California Adventure. It's part of the Newport Beach Diamond Getaway, which pays tribute to Disneyland's 60th anniversary year.

THROUGH AUG. 30: You've got through the penultimate day of the month to make this happen, and you'll need to stay a minimum of two nights, wherever you book. Figure that gives you time for both the Happiest Place on Earth and some beachy, sandy, paddleboarding, brunchy bliss, Newport Beach-style. As for the participating stay-overs? Balboa Bay Resort, Hyatt Regency Newport Beach, Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort & Marina, and a few more spots are all in the deal boat on this one. Did you just picture a Disneyland boat there, perhaps the Storybook Land Canal Boats? Yeah, you probably need some time at the world's most famous theme park. For all the info on the Anaheim landmark, your Newport Beach hotel choices, and the asterisks and to-knows, steer your Doom Buggie this way. (Haunted Mansion reference, of course, but then of course you knew that.)

Photo Credit: Balboa Bay]]>
<![CDATA[Now in HD: Elkhorn Slough Otter Cam]]> Thu, 20 Aug 2015 00:01:46 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/elkhornottercamhd.jpg

OTTERS IN ACTION: Whatever you happen to be up to during the day -- queuing up at the post office, stopping by the store for a frozen pizza, returning calls you meant to return last week -- there is an otter, at the Elkhorn Slough National Estaurine Research Reserve, near Moss Landing, pursuing otterly errands. We're talking about the sort of daily to-dos that might mirror our own. Nope, otters don't go to the post office, and they don't swing by the market for a last-minute dinner, but they participate in the kind of gotta-get-done to-dos that mirror what all mammals do during an average day. Eating, sleeping, licking their fur -- okay, maybe we humans don't do that, or at least too often -- and the usual desultory but adorable pursuits pursued by the furry superstars of the Pacific. Would 97% of all of humankind -- scratch that, make it 100% -- like to spend an hour or two at Elkhorn Slough, a bustling HQ of all things otterdom, watching otters go to and fro about their everyday business? Yes, that's pretty much fact. Can we all get there, on an average day, what with all of the errands we must take care of and the emailing and the post office and the frozen pizza pick-up? No, we cannot. For that, though, there is a remedy, and it is called...

OTTER CAM: The Elkhorn Slough Foundation has provided people an excellent peep into what is happening at any given moment on the reserve, and it has been a joy. But prepare yourself to level up in the joy department: Otter Cam has now gone HD. Will you see the otters' furry backs in greater detail? The snacks they're munching upon? Will every little wave and blade of grass in the bucolic setting pop out of your screen at you? Truly, being there in person is always preferable, but thank goodness for HD technology. And thank goodness for otters, too. They remind us that we all have stuff during our day to get done, though otters, of course, are a bit cuter as they get check off their to-do list.

WANT TO KNOW MORE... about the foundation and all it does to support the wild and vital area? You can learn and support this otter-filled land, a land that is rich in other non-ottery treasures, as well.

Photo Credit: Elkhorn Slough Foundation]]>
<![CDATA[Happy 10 Years, Surf Dog Surf-A-Thon]]> Sun, 16 Aug 2015 09:05:19 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/surfdog5983903.JPG The Dog Beach Del Mar fundraiser'll feature Fidos and their humans riding the waves.

Photo Credit: Surf Dog Surf-A-Thon]]>
<![CDATA[Danish Days Delish: Aebleskiver-Eating Contest]]> Sun, 16 Aug 2015 09:05:37 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/arnesfamousaebleskiver.jpg

PLEASURE OF THE PASTRY: If you've spent a long and happy day in Solvang, and you're amenable to batter-licious balls of lightness and airiness, then you've likely spent a lazy twenty minutes enjoying forkful after forkful of an aebleskiver. For sure, the aebleskiver, an orb-like pancake-y creation that's the star sweet of Solvang -- the star food, really -- can be eaten in a more expedited manner. But if you've spent an afternoon wine tasting, or shopping for clogs and traditional Danish toys, you don't want to rush things in the aebleskiver-anticipation department. You're going to savor that little ball, jam and powdered sugar and all, as long as possible, while resting your tootsies.

PREPARE, SWEET EATERS: That, however, will not be the course of action for many eager aebleskiverers come Saturday, Sept. 19 and Sunday, Sept. 20. That's the weekend of Danish Days, the town's liveliest party (alongside the holiday-time Julefest and Taste of Solvang in the spring, of course), and one of the highlights of the weekend is the aebleskiver-eating contest. It is, in fact, such a highlight that it shows up twice on the schedule, though whether anyone attempts both contests in one weekend is a question. Because a lot of aebleskiver, chewed quickly, is filling, one can imagine. Though the time limit isn't too long. The contest lasts for five minutes. 

IF DEVOURING THE DOUGHY DELIGHTS... in fast fashion isn't your bag, you're in luck. There's an aebleskiver breakfast both mornings of the festival, at Copenhagen Drive & First Street, and for the price of seven bucks you can bite into the treat in a much more sedate and stately manner. Add a buck on and have some Danish sausage on the side, if you like (think sweet and savory, a twosome as tried-and-true as an aebleskiver and lingonberry or olallieberry jam).

NEED TIMES... on both the breakfast and the eating contest? They're a few hours apart on both Saturday and Sunday. Best wishes, aebleskiver aficionados, and a delightful Danish Days celebration to you, dear Town o' the Windmills and Wines.

Photo Credit: Jeremy Ball/Arne's Famous Aebleskiver]]>
<![CDATA[Surprise Showing: Joshua Tree August Wildflowers]]> Fri, 14 Aug 2015 13:24:28 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/joshuatreeaugustflowers.jpg

IF ONLY... we carried calendars around with us, in our pockets, the kind that show the month and date and what time of year it happens to be. Oh wait, many of us do, and many of us may be taking a quick glance at our phones to see if the month we're in, the one that starts with the letter "A," happens to be April or August. For the recent flowering of wild petal-y plants at White Tank Campground in Joshua Tree National Park might lead one to believe that it is April, the traditional time of year for desert wildflowers. (Winter rains are to be thanked for the early-spring color show around California's most arid stretches.) But since summertime storms are more of a rarity -- much more, actually -- summer wildflowers are a strange spectacle. As with their springtime siblings, a summer flower in the desert can be a capricious thing, here today and gone tomorrow, but if you're making for Joshua Tree over the middle week of August, you might check in with a ranger or at the Visitor Center to see if any of that springtime, carpet-pretty goodness has lasted, thanks to those strong, freeway-testing July storms.

IF MAKING JOSHUA TREE... isn't on your August calendar (and we'll assume you know that, since you likely have a calendar in your pocket), there are good times to come in the Boulderiest Place in Golden State. (Not an official nickname, but if the national park wants to use it on bumper stickers, please be our guest.) One of those good times happens in the middle of October, from Oct. 8 through 11, when the Joshua Tree Music Festival returns for its sound-filled autumn outing. A Kidsville area, a Positive Vibration Station, yoga sessions, and more come-together community-izing is the name of the gratitude-filled, groove-laden game. Want your tickets sooner than later? Sooner, as they say, is now.

Photo Credit: NPS/Brad Sutton]]>
<![CDATA[Beautiful Bellows: Cotati Accordion Festival]]> Sun, 16 Aug 2015 09:06:10 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/polkacass_katyraddatz_2.jpg

THAT WONDERFUL WHEEZE: If you were to auralize, in the mind of your ear -- or the ear of your mind, if you prefer -- what sounds and songs went with what cities, where would you begin? You might think of a noir-like surf guitar upon driving into Los Angeles by night. Perhaps a harpsichord would accompany your entry into some of Austria's most noted classical capitals. Mariachi music might be what you hear when pulling into Tucson, and something bluegrass-y would hum through your brain as you toodle into Washington, D.C. (long a noted center of the form). So what's the thrum you feel, along your solar plexus, the place in your chest that senses a beat before your brain, when you arrive in Cotati? There's only one word for it, though many describe it. That one word: accordion. The many words surrounding it: bellows, keys, squeezebox, puff, blow, polka, concertina. It's as fabled as instruments come, and revered, and occasionally satirized, too, though, we think, mostly good-naturedly. Most of all, there's a lot of pure love, love that's on display each August when some of the best and wackiest and most serene accordion maestros and maestras around arrive to make those bellows bellow.

THE COTATI ACCORDION FESTIVAL... steps into the shoulder straps on Saturday, Aug. 22 and Sunday, Aug. 23. Oodles of performers, from large bands to solo artists, will play, and "The Lady of Spain"-A-Ring is an audience participation, all-join-in classic of the weekend (so classic it happens on both Saturday and Sunday). Zydeco and polka will have their major moments, and nobody is expected to sit on their hands, humming along quietly: Dancing and expressive joy are part and parcel where accordions are concerned. Will you hear the "Beer Barrel Polka" at some point? Count on it. Might you attend the Friday kick-off on the 21st? If you're in town, and not polishing your polka, you should look into it. Will you never not hear accordions wafting through your head upon entering the Cotati city limits? Let's hope not. Almost any city hopes to have a certain sound hallmark, but not every place does. Cotati, however, has the accordion wrapped up tight, as tight as folded bellows in a case.

Photo Credit: Katy Raddatz]]>
<![CDATA[Santa Cruz Fun: Mole & Mariachi Festival]]> Thu, 13 Aug 2015 14:09:49 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/molemariachi293232.jpg

A SUPPORT OF THE SAVORY SORT: How do you lend love and support and care to a state park that means a lot to you? You can participate in in many ways, from simply visiting and making donations in the visitor center (and encouraging your loved ones to do the same) to participating in special events, like clean-up days and tours, the kind of happenings that both gussy up a gorgeous place and facilitate further knowledge about its past. Then, on occasion, an eating- and musical-filled fundraiser comes along, one that stands in staunch backing of the state park and in staunch support of you getting your savory, happy fill of a special food. That special food, come Saturday, Sept. 19, will be mole, in all the different versions and heat levels and depths it comes in, and there shall be beautiful mariachi music, too. Mole deliciousness and mariachi tunefulness, all in one spot? Pray tell, where is this enchanted place? It's the Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park, one the area's most venerable, memory-keeping locations. And the Mole & Mariachi Festival returns for another year, its third, to help "restoration projects, educational programming for school children, and community cultural events at the park," all matters dear to the collective heart of the Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks.

"INCREASED HOURS" AT THE PARK... is one of the aims of the fund-raising, too, which is a lovely way to bring more visitors into contact with more local history. As for the stirring, horn-majestic, voice-powerful sounds of the day? Mariachi Alma de Mexico and Mariachi Juvenil Alma de Mexico shall perform. Folklorico presentations and accordion melodies and more feasts for the eyes and ears shall fill the grounds, as mole sauces from area chefs fill tummies. A mole tasting kit goes for ten bucks, and you'll find a variety of fiery to more mild flavors; mole, of course, is a veritable rainbow of sweet-to-scorchiness, and just about everyone can name their particular combination of chiles and chocolates. A marketplace, Saturday-sweet activities, and more round out the heart-filled, history-minded, flavorful fiesta.

Photo Credit: Mole & Mariachi Festival]]>
<![CDATA[San Luis Obispo: Six New Wine Tasting Trails]]> Thu, 20 Aug 2015 22:15:32 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/219*120/Wine_80025893.jpg

CENTRAL COAST EXPLORATION: Finding a regional wine trail that features some top-notch vineyards, some friendly winemakers, and a merlot or two that you're mad over, is a pretty nice thing to come across. But to discover six new themed trails, all in a row, is a bit of a boon for those who love their grapes in glasses, and those who adore the wineries around the San Luis Obispo area. SLO Wine Country recently made the announcement that a sextet of wineries would now show up on area wine trail maps, and each would come with its own distinct and individual flavor and character.

THE EDNA VALLEY... gets the spotlight on the "Backroads" trail, which pinpoints the "rolling vineyards, distinctive 'morro' peaks and storybook terrain" of the area. The "Urban Wine Trail" is all about what's going on with the downtown tasting rooms of San Luis Obispo. And "Avila Valley" heads in the direction of the Pacific, to see what the wineries closer to the salty air are making, wine-wise. The other three new trails are called "Old Edna & Biddle Ranch," "Points North," and "Arroyo Grande Valley," and each is compelling in its local love and grapes-grown-here flair.

WANT TO TAKE A PEEK... at just what wineries are covered? Autry Cellars, Tolosa Winery, Edna Valley Vineyard, and several more area favorites dot the landscape. Plus, there are other trails, too, beyond the recent arrivals, like Orcutt Road & Corbett Canyon, a trail that bears the subtitle "Discover the Back Roads." Think you're up for that this autumn, SLO aficionados? Here's your spot to get up to speed on the 30-plus wineries that call the Central Coast sweet spot home.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Grass Valley Magic: Mondo Celtic Festival]]> Mon, 17 Aug 2015 23:09:12 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/celticfestgrassvalley1.jpg

A SOLELY CELTIC SOUNDFEST... can be a tricky thing to find. Oh, they're out there, and brimming with beautiful tunes and merry music-makery, for sure, but a fan of the genre very often has to catch it on the tail end, or to the side, of a larger festival. That's a-ok, of course, since a larger festival can lead a tune-loving fan to new music loves, but wanting to dig in to the Celtic vibe, complete with stars of the form, a chance to jam on your own instrument, and a magical marketplace, doesn't come around all that often. It has, however, been coming around for nearly two decades, in Grass Valley, in the fall, at the KVMR Celtic Festival. Spread out over three days at the start of October -- that's Oct. 2, 3, and 4 in 2015, a Friday through Sunday -- the festival happily jigs through a series of string-plucking to-dos. Many of those tuneful to-dos occur on the quintet of stages set up just for the soundsmiths who are on the bill, artists like The Screaming Orphans and Halfpence & Haypenny and Looney's Fortune. There are demo stages, too, places where lovers of craft and dance can sharpen their skills or begin a new pursuit. And the marketplace is packed with Celtic goods, items like textiles and bracelets and headwear and candies (think toffee and other sweets with ye olde cred). 

HAPPY JAMMING... is one of the big focuses for many regular attendees. "Bring your instruments!" suggest the organizers, and people absolutely do. The Pine Tree Stage is the setting for many a jam, and if you see a headliner in the musical midst, do not be surprised; this is part of the tight-knit, community-cool scene. 

AS FAR AS MAKING LODGING ARRANGEMENTS... or thinking ahead to camping? That should be done long ahead of autumn's first moon. A hugely popular Celtic gathering like this one does possess some enchantment, but depending on that enchantment to score you a last-minute ticket is not the path to take. Every adventurer knows a little pre-planning assists the growing of enchantments down the road. (In short, buy that ticket and let the magic unfold while you're there.)

Photo Credit: KVMR Celtic Festival]]>
<![CDATA[Monterey Farewell: 'Jellies' Last Jam]]> Sat, 15 Aug 2015 08:23:59 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/jelliesclosingmba.jpg

NAME THE FIRST WORD... that you uttered the first time you stood before a jellyfish, in person, in an aquarium. (The "in an aquarium" part of the equation is important, since standing before a jellyfish in the open ocean might produce a somewhat different utterance, depending upon how surprised you are to see it.) Did you say "wow" or "how?" or "alien" or "interplanetary" or "neat" or "weird" or some combination of the above at your aquarium encounter? It's hard not to say astounding things when you're faced with a being that has no heart and no brain. For when we spy a cat or a bird or most other animals, we can make immediate parallels that remind us of our co-earthling status. There's the animal's mouth, their eyes, their limbs, and so forth. Jellies, though, send us straight to the sci-fi realm, what with their gelatinous-like bodies and hard-to-fathom food consumption and iridescent properties. These qualities, and many more, have brought millions of fans to the doors of the Monterey Bay Aquarium over the last three-plus years, jelly-loving humans who wanted to commune with these seemingly cosmic creatures in a darkened and often hushed space. That communing, which has hummed along since March 2012, will come to a close on Sept. 7, 2015, when Jellies the exhibit waves its long, undulant arms in farewell.

THE SPECIAL EXHIBITION... will say adieu on Labor Day Monday, but several fascinating shows are still to be seen around the Cannery Row institution, including Tentacles and the Giant Pacific Octopus. But Jellies is packing its bags, meaning the flower hat jelly and the spotted jelly and the elegant jelly will drift away, so see your favorites before they go, or flow, rather. (And you do know that's why tanks holding jellies have rounded corners; because the creatures flow with currents and can get caught in areas that have no egress.) Can't wait to get to Monterey to see these from beyond-the-Solar-System-seeming beauties? There's new video of the ice jellies, which were recently introduced to the exhibit.

Photo Credit: Monterey Bay Aquarium]]>
<![CDATA[Rosa Brothers Tour: California Dairy Classic]]> Tue, 11 Aug 2015 13:01:30 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/215*120/rosabrotherstour.jpg

THE START OF THE SCHOOL YEAR... can flood us with memories of the most meaningful, experiential sort. There's the scent of pencil shavings and the feel of sliding into a desk and the taste of the little cartons of milk we used to plunk down on our lunch tray, day after day. Those cartons summon another memory, of field trips out to local dairies, where we learned, as small tots, what cows ate and how milk was pasteurized and the dozens of daily duties that go down on a farm. If you're having a moment of school days' longing, as many adults do come August, there's a way to revisit that sweet childhood time and sample a California classic, too.

We speak of a trip to Rosa Brothers Milk Company, the Hanford-based maker of dairy goods, including one of the most famous flavors to be found on any Golden State product, root beer milk (more on that in a moment). Nope, the tours at the farm aren't just for the school-age set; there are "field trips" for adults and families and all devotees of dairy, and, yes, they encompass a lot of the info you learned back in elementary school but may have forgotten. Eager to jump on a tour? They happen...

EVERY SATURDAY: Cost is five bucks for attendees ages 3 and up, you can make a reservation, and there's a milk or ice cream sample at the end. And in the middle? Lots of knowledge sharing about how a major farm is run, including topics like "animal care, water management, proper cow diet, dairy cow milk production, the milking process, and more." The chance to "pet a baby calf" is also on the Saturday tour schedule, too, so prepare to squee in delight. As for whether your sample at the end will be one of the famous flavored products that Rosa Brothers is known for? Whether it is or not, be sure to seek out the company's root beer milk or orange cream milk. It's like dessert in a cool glass, and a taste known, over the years, to many California kids. Is it okay that, as adults, we still long for some of the flavors and experiences we adored as young'uns? Of course, and we can find a major one, with some education on the side, in Hanford.

Photo Credit: Rosa Brothers Milk Company]]>
<![CDATA[Harvest Gathering: Sip Savor Lodi]]> Mon, 10 Aug 2015 22:33:19 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sipsavorlodi293823.jpg

THAT MELLOW, MARVELOUS TIME OF YEAR: If you could crystallize late September's charms, perhaps enshrine them in a frame or shadowbox or display case, what would you include? Probably some of that soft, not-so-hot golden sunshine that seems to rule around early fall. Maybe a few grapes, to signify the time of crush and harvest and general winery busyness. And maybe a photo of a long table, to represent the meals organized to celebrate what is essentially wine's holiday season. But you don't need a sedentary display case or photo frame to gaze upon the gifts of the end of September; you only need venture to Lodi, over the final weekend of the month. The winery-filled region is throwing its second annual Sip Savor Lodi, a three-day celebration that boasts two major events worthy of a display case or shadowbox: a Harvest Dinner and a Grand Tasting.

LET US ALSO... pay diligent due to the cellar tours scheduled for the weekend, an always essential part of seeing where the wine you're enjoying at the dinner or tasting spent time in the whole process of officially becoming wine. The Harvest Dinner starts the weekend off, on Friday, Sept. 25, and in a memorable setting: downtown Lodi, along Pine Street. The alfresco affair will feature many local vinos and "the agricultural bounty grown in the Lodi region," bounty turned into "freshly prepared cuisine by Elaine Bell Catering." Local vinos continue to be the sippable star on Saturday afternoon, Sept. 26, when the Grand Tasting again takes over a chunk of downtown. And on Sunday, Sept. 27? A number of wineries in the area will lead guests back to the barrels and tanks for a deeper look at wine-makery. 

LODI WINERIES, AHOY: Over 40 wineries will participate in the big weekend, so perhaps the place that makes one of your favorite labels will be on board. If not, you can always pop by the tasting room while you're in the region.

Photo Credit: Lodi Wine]]>
<![CDATA['Riding' the Diablo Valley Lines]]> Mon, 10 Aug 2015 12:30:39 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/walnuttrain293828342.jpg

NOTHING MINIATURE ABOUT IT: Spying an impressive full-scale model train set-up can be a surreal sight, for it boasts a knack for knocking the socks off the observer, whether that person is a model train buff or not. Consider the thrill of seeing a world in miniature, from a bird's-eye view, where various locomotives move and pass through tunnels, then pause to recall the toy trains you might have owned when you were a kid. Miss them still? Wish you'd kept them? There's a way to find that bird's-eye thrill again, at least for an hour or two. Look to The Walnut Creek Model Railroad Society, a group that oversees the Diablo Valley Lines, a mountainous, room-filling setting where trains that "represent the mid-20th century through today" choo choo along to the delight of visitors.

"DESERT TO SNOW-COVERED MOUNTAINS": The society members put on a few "whistle stop" presentations during the year, shows that incorporate the "elaborate 34 by 56-foot layout" that includes "a composite of the mountainous area of the Western United States, bridges, tunnels, terrain from desert to snow-covered mountains, towns, train yards, electric street cars, wind turbine, ski lift gondola" and several details beyond. Is this all a bit further than you went with the track that wrapped around the base of your Christmas tree when you were a tot? Have you thought about getting back into trains, or starting your young'uns with this happy hobby? A visit to Walnut Creek may be in order.

BIG STUFF: To see a model railroad that's often billed as one of the largest in the country, make for Larkey Park on designated days. There's a monthly show but some months have multiple view dates (see: November 2015). Cost? Three bucks for an adult to get in, two bucks for seniors and kids ages 6 to 12. Discovering that the love you had for a long-ago pastime is still very much alive and thriving via passionate practitioners? There's no price tag on that, of course. It's a pretty nifty feeling, as nifty as seeing multiple trains pass along small mountains before your very eyes. 

Photo Credit: The Walnut Creek Model Railroad Society]]>
<![CDATA[Palm Springs Chic: High-Heeled Shoe Exhibit]]> Tue, 11 Aug 2015 15:29:21 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/psNicholasKirkwoodPump.jpg Fabulous footwear gets the museum treatment.

Photo Credit: Palm Springs Art Museum/Nicholas Kirkwood]]>
<![CDATA[Wine Aroma Sensory Station in Paso Robles]]> Fri, 07 Aug 2015 21:39:00 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/shutterstock_75266575wine.jpg

THE FULL PICTURE: If you've enjoyed wine for a few years -- or more -- you've likely acquired that one friend who goes in for the deep dive, nose-wise, when presented with a glass of wine she has never had before. It just doesn't do to simply sniff the bouquet from afar, in your oenophile friend's mind; rather, jumping into the scent of the wine is part of the wider experience. But aside from ascertaining the aromas of whatever wines we order at the bar, when do any of us have the chance to spend some time letting our nose guide us, instead of our mouth, through an array of vinos? And the time to not sip but rather contemplate what a hint of bread smell or plum or salt or earth might mean for the flavor of the wine?

VISITORS TO ROBERT HALL WINERY... are getting just that chance during the month of August. The Paso Robles winemaker has set up a daily station, a "sensory station," if you will, full of various wines for the smelling pleasure of tasting room visitors. You do see the occasional "sniff island" in tasting rooms, from time to time, but they're a rarer sight, something more often seen in wine classes than wine tasting rooms. Are you toodling through Paso, pre-crush and pre-harvest, on a wine getaway, before the September hubbub? Swing through the winery, which is east of Paso Robles, for a treat, and test, for your nose.

IF YOU HAPPEN... to schedule your Paso sojourn over the middle weekend of the month, take note if you like pungent fruit of the oily and briny and delicious sort: The 12th annual Paso Robles Olive Festival will spread out in the heart of the city on Saturday, Aug. 15. Spread, we imagine, like a beautiful lemony olive oil on a hunk of sourdough. Olive tastings, oil tastings, entertainment, and other pleasures of the pit-y icon await. A wine sniff test and olive oil enjoyment, all at once? That sounds like a prime Paso getaway to us (and to many others, we imagine).

Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[Joshua Tree for Pet People]]> Sat, 08 Aug 2015 10:39:47 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/197*120/lorijeweljoshua.jpg

BIRDS OVERHEAD, LIZARDS BELOW... and all around nature and animalia and beauty and beasties. Where are you? Well, you could be in many spots around the Golden State, but we're picturing Joshua Tree National Park, a haven for winged, tail-sporting creatures who burrow and soar and lend so much life and color to the boulder-beautiful expanse. But inviting along our own furry friends to join us on a trip to the Joshua Tree region is more of a question mark. Will the place we stay welcome our four-footed pal? Where will we feel comfortable and welcome? 

THERE ARE ANIMAL-SWEET STAYOVERS... throughout the arid area. Look to the Thunderbird Lodge Retreat, which welcomes an array of animals onto the property, including horses. A sextet of cabins gives visitors a little more room to move about, and a visit with Jewel, the resident llama, is a must. The guest areas include "pet-safe fences," too, so your time on the property is a relaxing one.

OTHER HOTELS AND MOTELS... say hello to hounds, including Black Rock Campground of Yucca Valley, The Green Acres Ranch in Joshua Tree, Mojave Sands Motel in Joshua Tree, and the DogSpa Resort & Wellness Center in Desert Hot Springs (look for the swimming pool created just for pups). If you want to head into the park and need a place for your pet to chillax during the day, there are places to sit and board, too. Just check with your front desk.

AS FAR AS... the dogs-are-okay-here eateries around the area? Hangouts like Pie for the People in Joshua Tree and Sherman's Deli & Bakery say yes to pooches on the patio. As always, take the weather and temperature into consideration when traveling into the often toasty area, and make plans for your sweet mutt to stay near an interior A/C, with his dog bed or cooling floor at the ready, while you do any sightseeing. But no more does a jaunt into one of California's most spectacular stretches mean bidding your baby goodbye. Several area businesses want to make a good vacation happen for you both.

Photo Credit: Thunderbird Lodge/Angela Barker]]>
<![CDATA[Winning Wheels: Pebble Beach Concours D'Elegance]]> Mon, 10 Aug 2015 12:09:22 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/concours2008_RK_BestofShow_007.jpg The gleamingest glamour cars stop and show along the coast.

Photo Credit: Kimball Studios/Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance]]>
<![CDATA[Autumn Hoorah: Sierra Nevada's Oktoberfest]]> Thu, 06 Aug 2015 15:04:28 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/217*120/oktoberfestsierrachico.jpg

OKTOBERFEST WHERE OKTOBERFEST IS MADE: Even if you've never been to an over-sized tent or beer hall, the kind of place that books an oompah band every fall, you have, if you like beer, done some Oktoberfest-y celebrating at home, most likely. And that's likely due to the lively and large selection of Oktoberfest-themed beers on the market, the sort of deep-toned brews that echo the famous libations of Munich. One of the best-known of these seasonal libations, and one often seen on Golden State grocery store shelves come September and October, is Oktoberfest from Sierra Nevada. You know the label -- the warm brown of the hue, the bountiful appearance of the illustration -- and you may have sipped some in lieu of hitting a local Oktoberfest. But did you know that the place that makes Oktoberfest throws an Oktoberfest each year? In an act that is both meta and merry? That's right: Sierra Nevada Brewery's Chico-based HQ sets up the big tent for a three-day raise-the-stein soiree that's all about fall's foamiest brewhaha.

CHICKEN DANCES AND 'STACHE LOVE: Is this thing popular? Beyond. Check it: It's three days in 2015, Oct. 2, 3, and 4, and tickets go on sale in the middle of August. That date is Aug. 14, if you want to keep your index finger hovering over the appropriate keys on your keyboard, the better to book your ticket. The ticket you buy is good for one day, so choose your day (just in case you thought it got you in for the entire shebang). Each day "is identical," says the brewery, so you'll get your fill of chicken dances, live bands, "German-inspired food," the 'stache contest, and the brewery's "first Oktoberfest collaboration festival beer among others." You'll want to stay over in Chico, after the enjoying of pints, thus setting up your hotel is key. (There's a shuttle to the brewery from downtown Chico, so please leave all the driving to others forgoing the foam.) A ticket is $47.50, there's a cheaper designated driver choice, and given how the event has grown over the last half decade -- 2015 is year #6 -- you'll want to decide to do this or not soonish. Of course, you can always buy a bottle of Oktoberfest, made by Sierra Nevada, to sip in your den one chill autumn night. Or you can venture to the very place where Oktoberfest is made to celebrate, what else, Oktoberfest.

Photo Credit: Sierra Nevada Brewery]]>
<![CDATA[Catalina Wine Mixer: 'Step Brothers'-Inspired Soiree]]> Wed, 05 Aug 2015 22:11:55 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/descansobeachcatalinachamber1234.jpg

LIKE IN A MOVIE: If you've ever caught some rays or stood in the foam or sipped a tropical drink at the Descanso Beach Club on Catalina Island, you've probably felt as if you were on a movie set, what with the vast Pacific before you and the soft sand and the whole shimmery scene. But if that particular movie in your mind happened to be "Step Brothers," the 2008 comedy starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, well, you'll be in luck. Nope, the club isn't screening the film, and the stars won't be in the mix -- that we know of -- but a special scene in the flick will receive a special nod on Sunday, Sept. 13. The club is hosting a Catalina Wine Mixer, and if you know "Step Brothers" you know that the Catalina Wine Mixer is a pivotal moment in the movie. It only makes sense that a pretty location on Catalina Island, that happens to serve wine, would want to pay homage to sweet, music-filled moment. That's the theme of the day, and there will be several other party-forward happenings, from DJs doing that platter-spinning thing to gourmet eats to the requisite "fine wine" enjoyment.

IT'S THIRTY FIVE BUCKS... to get in, but you'll need to line up your passage to and from Avalon, and whether you'll stay the night or not. There are a few stayover packages with Inn on Mt. Ada, Pavilion Hotel, and Hotel Atwater, so do the research if you don't feel like catching a boat back that night. And, again, this event doesn't include a screening of the film but rather stands as a sunshine-laden soiree paying chillaxed homage to the movie's so-named Catalina Wine Mixer. If you want to wear the brothers' now-iconic argyle sweater vests on the beach, go for it. September might be a mite cooler. But you still might want to think sundress or dressy shorts.

AS FOR AS THE ACTUAL NAME... of the Catalina Wine Mixer? You know it, "Step Brothers" fans: It's the %$#&*@^ Catalina Wine Mixer. That quote will probably be uttered a few times, on the beach that day, we imagine, as well as the other 182 quotes that fans have memorized by heart.

Photo Credit: Catalina Chamber of Commerce]]>
<![CDATA[Nab Your Pass: Napa Valley Film Festival]]> Wed, 05 Aug 2015 22:12:22 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/nvffscreenoutdoors.jpg

AUGUST AT THE MOVIES... is a funny time of the year. Sometimes actually funny, as in ha ha ha, as in being tickled and delighted, but also funny because the films, and what the film goer wants, is in transition. Unlike May, June, and July, where blockbusters and big budgets rule the multiplexes, August serves as something of a hybrid month, spanning the giant films of early summer and the award-nod fare that tends to arrive in the fall. Throw in an occasional surprise sleeper of an offbeat genre -- "The Sixth Sense" was an August film -- and you have a month where moviedom feels a bit looser, a bit livelier, a bit more anything-can-happen. That movie-based anything-can-happen-ness should be applied to film happenings you may want to attend in the fall, for now is the time to book your seat, your place, your ticket, your pass, without delay. Telluride and Toronto are nearly here, but Napa Valley Film Festival is a bit further out on the horizon, a middle-of-November treat that gives both the film industry and food-and-wine players equal airtime. It shouldn't surprise anyone, in the surprising month of August, that passes are going at this autumn legend of a party, so if you want to go, and hobnob, and sip, and see sleepers and possible Oscar winners, clear your calendar on...

NOV. 11, 12, 13, 14, 15: If you can do all five days, well, hooray -- that's quite the vacation full of cinema and chardonnay. But you can dip into the panel-packed, party-packed to-do, for just a day, if you wish. The 2015 guide is still to come, but the 2014 shindig screened some 127 films and presented a diverse slate of talks and happenings. Women Behind the Camera, The Chef and The Farmer, and Celebrity Tributes galore have filled out past NVFF grids. You know the good stuff is coming, both filmly and foodly, so why wait if you're going to go? Go here and pass up, soon. August's quirky film character reminds us that autumn is nigh and, with it, so is a mondo meal-and-movie brouhaha in Napa Valley.

Photo Credit: Napa Valley Film Festival]]>
<![CDATA[For the Bears: Yosemite's Apple Picking Day]]> Wed, 05 Aug 2015 13:45:49 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/yosemitenationalparkapplepicking.jpg

KEEPING BEARS WILD: If you've visited a state or national park even once, you've likely left knowing a famous saying by heart, if you hadn't already memorized the words long before your adventure. And it is this: "Leave only footprints, take only pictures." It's the ol' chestnut about leaving chestnuts and flowers and leaves and pinecones and rocks and animals right where they happen to be in a park, whether you spy them from a hiking trail or boat or mountaintop. Sweet stories have emerged from people who heed this call -- remember the little girl who mailed the pair of sticks back to Yosemite National Park? -- and park supporters, on the whole, are a respectful lot, keeping their hands in their pockets or mittens or on their maps and away from pocketing the nature. But on Wednesday, Aug. 5, Yosemite's Research Management and Science division and employees from Wildlife Management will encourage a group of park visitors to interact with nature by plucking fruit, a lot of fruit, all in the name of a fine cause. It's Apple Picking Day, and while the quaint name might summon to mind the baking of pies and that one old-timey game where you bite an apple on a string, the day's purpose is big of heart and a bit more serious. Apple Picking Day is all about keeping the bears of Yosemite wild.

BEARS HEART APPLES... and when they know the apples are there, on the trees, looking delicious, they wander into the park's more bustling, developed nooks, "potentially altering their natural diets and putting them at risk." If you've pumped your brakes at the iconic yellow "speeding kills bears" signs around the park, you know that steering Yosemite's beautiful ursine residents away from human recreation and pursuits is a positive thing.

THERE ARE A FEW TO-KNOWS... given the physicality of the getting the apples out of the trees, and what to wear and such, so please read all to make sure this is a task you're up for before heading into the park.

THINK OF APPLE PICKING DAY... as another important chapter in the "food storage" rules when vacationing in a place that's a home to bears. If we don't have goodies to tempt the bears, they stick to their usual snacks, which is a plus all around. Want to know more about these snout-sweet, apple-lovin', Yosemite favorites? Bet you can bearly wait to read all about 'em.

Photo Credit: Yosemite National Park]]>
<![CDATA[Act Fast: Bearpaw 2015 Dates Available]]> Fri, 07 Aug 2015 21:40:05 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/bearpawtents2930929832.jpg

WAITING ON NEXT YEAR: If you're an adventurer who has a keen eye for unusual lodging experiences or uncommon travel deals, you know that you need to take the long view, even if, at times, your patience is on low.

The long view happens when a hotel in a desirable, often hard-to-reach location opens its reservation bookings for the upcoming season, and, somehow, you missed the window. The window might be a day, or a week, but there it is: All the rooms or cabins or tents or yurts were snapped up, in a flash, lickety-split, by those people who were on top of the situation. Sometimes, though, the lucky travel magic glitter still sprinkles upon those who did not make reservations on the day they opened and a chance to enjoy the desirable spot, sooner than far later, is presented. Such is the cool case with Bearpaw High Sierra Camp, which books up early, wayyyy early, as in the winter-before early, meaning that those who decide on a trip in July will likely have to wait for the following July. But check it out: A few dates are open for the Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park tent-sweet stayover, and those dates are in 2015. As in August and September 2015. As in soon. As in read the rest of this info and then get booking, quickly, for...

AUG. 11-13, 16, AND 31: Sept. 3, 9, 17, and 20 are open and ready for campers, too. That's it, folks, for the remainder of this year, should you want to be at Bearpaw overnight. You should know there's a gorgeous but not-on-the-short-side hike to the camp -- eleven and a half miles -- and that your location is nicely, wonderfully remote (should you feel momentarily done with work issues and traffic issues and your screen bleeping at you every thirty seconds). It is truly "High Sierra" in vibe and look and temperature and in all the ways, so you'll feel the crispness of fall coming in the mornings. But should you miss out on those dates, fret not: Summer 2016 at Bearpaw opens up for reservations the day after New Year's Day. Do your celebrating, clean up the confetti, and then book your tent on Jan. 2, 2016.

photo: Trevor Lee

Photo Credit: Trevor Lee]]>
<![CDATA[Hay Wine Country! It's Nearly Scarecrow Time]]> Tue, 04 Aug 2015 16:23:17 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/234*120/solvangscarecrowtenleyf.jpg

AUTUMN IN WINE COUNTRY: Vines and golden leaves and fully ripe grapes and crush-oriented happenings and mellow vineyard-close picnics are oft-cited symbols of October around wine country, and for fine reason: That's very often what one sees there during that soft-sunshine-y stretch of the year. But should you show up in the Santa Ynez Valley from the second week of October through the second week of November, a sight that's seen well beyond wine country may capture your fancy: scarecrows. Make that lots of scarecrows, in all the various shapes/sizes/states of dress, in front of all sorts of businesses, from Buellton to Solvang to Los Olivos. It's the Annual Santa Ynez Valley Scarecrow Fest, a picture-worthy, multi-week happening set to coincide "with the start of the Santa Barbara Wine Country's 'Celebration of Harvest Weekend' event." The list of participating towns is a who's who -- or a where's where, rather -- of the SYV: Ballard, Buellton, Los Alamos, Los Olivos, Santa Ynez, and Solvang" will be scarecrowing up various streets and doorways during the fall-sweet run. And these aren't just traditional scarecrows, as seen in "The Wizard of Oz," but hat-topped figures of a humorous and topical and offbeat bent. There is, in fact, a contest on covering several scarecrow-themed categories, categories visitors can vote on. Everything kicks off on...

OCT. 9, 2015... and runs through Nov. 9. Yes, if you're in the area on Halloween, you'll see plenty of scarecrow action (always something that stokes the Halloween spirit), and, yes, you'll see many scarecrows. There shall be over 200 scarecrows dotting the valley, and they're all free to see. Further, each participating town does its own scarecrow party along the way, too. It's big times and quite serious stuff, all, of course, in good fun. Want to find out where to go and all of the voting, hay-filled haps? You can right here. Wondering if the scarecrows of the SYV have their own Instagram page? Why of course they do.

Photo Credit: Tenley Fohl]]>
<![CDATA[Nevada City Sips: Stroll-Around Wine Tasting]]> Tue, 04 Aug 2015 14:36:55 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/202*120/nevadacitywinetasting9029232.jpg

PICK ANY DAY OF THE YEAR... on the calendar, throw on your favorite nice jeans and a shirt and/or sweater, and set off down Broad Street in Nevada City. Perhaps you have the city's tree-focused brochure in hand, the one you can pick up at the chamber of commerce, the booklet that points out fascinating shrubs and pines around the town. Perhaps you don't have anything on your mind but a beer at The National Hotel or a cup of coffee at one of the excellent coffeehouses found on or near Broad. Or perhaps you're just out for a sunshine-y stroll. It's always a fine day for walking the Gold Country burg, but Saturday, Aug. 29 will get a mite finer, if you like wines and beers made in the area and stopping in along the shops and businesses of the downtown area. That's the day of Nevada City Uncorked, a time of spotlighting regional drink makers and local food makers and doing it all for the price of thirty five bucks if you purchase in advance or $45 if you buy your ticket there.

ON THE WALK-AROUND ROSTER? Sips from Fawnridge Winery of Auburn and tastes from Diego's Restaurant (The Two Room Inn is the place doing the pouring/plating). Other spots along Broad welcoming Nevada Uncorked participants include the famous Nevada Theatre (Lucchesi Vineyards & Winery of Grass Valley is the featured vino there, and food from Briar Patch) and Cornerstone Realty, which will have vinos by Smith Winery in the glasses and food from Beach Hut Deli for the snacking side of things. Each stop makes a nice trio -- the Nevada City hosting business, the featured regional wine or brew, and a snackable something from a local eatery -- and each stop gives those on the stroll a chance to catch a breath and socialize. (Yep, Nevada City has an impressive hill or two, but nothing to be daunted by.) Is this a fine way to bid farewell to the end of the summer season? With some mellow beverage enjoyment and sightseeing around this historic clutch of 1800s buildings? It is quite fine, for sure. 

Photo Credit: Erin Thiem]]>