<![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 Sat, 28 Nov 2015 14:07:09 -0800 Sat, 28 Nov 2015 14:07:09 -0800 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[St. Regis Monarch Beach's Winter Sandy-Land]]> Sat, 28 Nov 2015 06:48:37 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/SandytheSnowmanSRMB1.jpg

THE GRITTY GO-TOS: What are some of the go-to designs that beach goers re-create, visit after visit? For sure, someone often gets buried in damp sand, up to his or her neck. Oftentimes a sandcastle is the favored structure, one with bucket-shaped turrets and a little bit of kelp for a flag. And writing one's name along the place where the water meets the earth -- or, more commonly, the name of a loved one, complete with a heart -- can be admired in countless Instagram photos. But what of the snowman made of sand? We'd call such a creation a sandman, though the Sandman occupies a different corner of our fantasies and dreams (so we'll let him be). If you've never rolled out a bottom and torso and head for the classic flake-and-ice figure at a beach, you can change all that, and swankily so, by booking a stay at The St. Regis Monarch Beach. The Dana Point luxe resort has a just-in-time-for-the-holidays package afoot, one that rocks a glittery sprinkling of seasonal cred. It's the Winter Sandy-Land Package, and not only does it start with "(a)ccomodations in a recently renovated Signature Guest Room," but it goes on to loop in lovely holiday stuff like milk and cookies delivered during the nightly turndown service and a kit to build a sandy snowman right on the property's own private beach.

FUTURE CARD SNAPSHOT: Could your sweet Mr. Santa Snowman snaps make it onto the front of your holiday greeting cards next year? Or maybe even in 2015, if you book early enough? The offer is good through Dec. 30. Oh, and you'll be well-fortified for all that snowman-building you do; daily breakfast is comped, as are your children's meals during the day. It all kicks off at $245 a night. But how will your friends in colder climes react to seeing you posing with a sandy snowman on a sunny beach? They'll probably be tickled.

THE PROPERTY, do note, is currently undergoing a big spiffy-up (read: renovation), so even if you don't opt for the holiday-themed package there are deals on rooms to be had. What do we mean by "deals"? The rates start at $195 for the swanky ocean-close stay-over (and they, like the renovation, won't last forever).

Photo Credit: Elena M. Kiryan]]>
<![CDATA[Quirky Roll: Calistoga Lighted Tractor Parade]]> Fri, 27 Nov 2015 10:07:51 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/calistogatractor928232.jpg

THE MEMORABLE SIGHTS... of a weekend in wine country are very often of the delicate type. Think of the perfect grape, hanging from its vine, or a golden oak leave, lit by the sun, or a beautiful, thin-of-rim wine glass, the kind that makes the perfect "thwink" when tapped by a fingernail. But it isn't all fabulously fragile fanciness, though; the tools of making wine, and tending to fields and vines are on the robust side. Stainless steel vats and destemmers and crushers are common components of a winery, and tractors lend power to the vineyard process. You can see the important relationship between the tractor and the growing of grapes at a number wine country happenings, like annual tractor pulls and shows and fairs.

WINE COUNTRY WHIMSY: But few tractor-centered to-dos are as widely beloved as the colorful and quirky Calistoga Lighted Tractor Parade, which is celebrating its 20th year in 2015. Dozens of tractors and other farm implements, of all shapes, sizes, and makes, will purr down Lincoln Avenue, in downtown Calistoga, on Saturday, Dec. 5, and they'll be covered in lights and ornaments and the cheerful baubles of the season. Will the driver be rocking a Santa hat? It's likely. Will there be much waving? Absolutely. Will the parade pay homage to both the yuletide and Calistoga's mondo agricultural cred? It will do double duty on that front, yes.

IS IT FREE TO WATCH? So free, but be sure to arrive on the early-ish side, to stake some curb between Cedar and Stevenson (the lark unfolds, as mentioned, on Lincoln). Restaurants'll keep busy, and shops, too, and if you're worried you won't spy some construction equipment in the mix, and perhaps a float or two, worry not: The tractors share the road. This two-decade-along tradition, let us note, is not alone in its particular brand of seasonal big-vehicle sweetness; decorated 18-wheelers'll roll through Eureka, in Humboldt County, on Saturday, Dec. 12.

Photo Credit: Calistoga Tractor Parade]]>
<![CDATA['Best for Holidays': California Towns]]> Thu, 26 Nov 2015 21:28:37 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/carmelcutetowns123-horz.jpg

HOW DO YOU DETERMINE... what makes a destination truly tops in the end-of-the-year celebration department? Would the city need to have a lane of Christmas-type trees through the center of town? A bakery that makes the best spicy latkes? Or would a general feeling of festiveness need to prevail, no matter where you happened to find yourself within the city's borders? It's a little bit of a soft-edged topic, and every holiday-devoted traveler could correctly weigh in with a different viewpoint on the matter. But we can all agree that any location chosen for a roster called "America's Best Towns for the Holidays" would need to be lively, and lovely, and full of quaint and/or quirky and/or cool charms. The burgs that made the 2015 list, which was released in early November, qualify on all of those counts, and they're all somewhat-to-very close to many Californians looking for a dose of festive dazzle. Did your hometown get a shout-out as being particularly holiday-ish? Or a getaway you're ga-ga over? Take a look at all of the locales from across the U.S. on the list, then give a little extra love to...

CARMEL-BY-THE-SEA, which ranks at number 9, thanks to its storybook cottages and snug restaurants and painting-worthy cypresses and the fact that it keeps a Christmas-ornament-y spirit, somewhat, in its darling decor, all year long. The Cypress Inn and Wayside Inn both have mentions, but a number of local favorites are included. Paso Robles stands at #16 -- hello wineries, hello seasonally adorned Hearst Castle -- and Healdsburg's many artisanal offerings cement its sturdy spot at number 17 on the list of 25. La Jolla's sophisticated ocean-chic beauty lands it at a very nice number 19, and Sonoma and Laguna Beach appear side-by-side at #24 and #25 (Willow Stream Spa and the Sawdust Winter Fantasy are cited, sparkily and respectively.) Did your favorite glowing Golden State city get the holiday love? There are plenty more municipalities that do up the holly and ornaments each year. Over a fifth of the burgs on the roster are in California, which is pretty fab, and they run both north and south, so their flavors and feels cover the celebratory gamut. Beachy, wine country, funky, storybook? Your whimsical weekend out of town, this holiday, is just a short flight, or drive, or, perhaps, even a brief bike ride away.

Photo Credit: Visit Carmel/Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[Santa, Sawdust, and Laguna Art]]> Thu, 26 Nov 2015 11:00:09 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/177*120/wintersantasawdust1.jpg

MAKING A MARK... on Christmas morning or the first night of Hanukkah or at a friend's December birthday party can be a bit of a challenge, gift-wise. You want your present to stand out a bit, but finding something memorable that will weather the years, and changing tastes, can be an exercise in frustration. There are positive pathways to walk here, including A) grilling your friend about exactly what they want for the holidays (which takes some of the fun out of the gift-giving) or B) finding an object that is handmade and beautiful and brims with California cool and art-tastic vim. If you're not into the whole grilling-over-gift-desires scene -- and not too many people are -- then ponder a morning spent at the Sawdust Winter Fantasy, the seasonal version of the popular summertime art-and-more festival. You're right, this is in Laguna Beach, not too far from the ocean, and you're right again, if you guessed that it is one of the sparkly stalwarts on the Golden State art festival calendar. The Sawdust, after all, has been serving up paintings and photography and jewelry for decades, and its whimsical setting, complete with crunchy sawdust on the ground, lends it that "been around for a long ol' time" feel. It's a feel we crave at the nostalgia-thick holidays, and we also crave a Santa sighting, too, while we shop.

THE SAWDUST WINTER FANTASY... can deliver on the Santa front -- he'll be popping by during the festival's run -- and it will deliver on the caroling and cute touches front, too. It shares a lot with its summer cousin, but you're bound to see more quintessential end-of-the-year themes and hues among the gifts and decorations. As for select dates? It all ends on Sunday, Dec. 20, and the open times cluster around the weekends, so give the web site the eye before making for Laguna Beach. As for your friend's gift? You just might find the perfect scarf or weaving or barrette or watercolor, one that represents your pal's personality. We don't always have to grill our loved ones about their holiday desires; sometimes finding something fabulous, and handmade, and meeting the artist in the process, can more than fit the festive bill.

Photo Credit: Sawdust Winter Fantasy]]>
<![CDATA[Chilly Pursuits: Yosemite Ice Rink Opens]]> Wed, 25 Nov 2015 21:26:34 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/curryrinkyosmite15.jpg

DIGGING INTO A TIN... of Christmas cookies is one of the pleasures of December, as is observing the bucolic winter painting that is very frequently found atop the tin. You know these old-timey landscapes, the one's with the snug cottage with the curl of purple wood smoke above it, and, all around, snowy drifts and snowy banks. It seems to suggest that winter is a time for staying indoors, and away from nature, but people who follow the November-to-March schedules at our national parks know otherwise. Winter is flush with frosty outdoor pursuits, the kind of to-dos where you pack an extra parka or set of gloves and go with whatever the chilly day brings. For sure, there's time later for staying snug next to the fireplace, but you've got to trek and ice skate and look at the full moon over a field of snow. Few spots around California get into this glacially good time-having better than Yosemite National Park, which keeps a full program of fun alfresco activities going throughout the colder months. One of the most popular? It's the outdoor rink at Curry Village, which makes its seasonal debut on Friday, Nov. 20.

QUESTION ONE... would be whether you need to be a guest at Curry Village and the answer is absolutely not -- even if you're over at The Ahwahnee or Yosemite Lodge at the Falls or are just in the park for a few hours, you can take a spin in the stunning setting. (Yep, Half Dome will watch your whole ice routine, even if your spouse or kids are too busy skating to look over and see your awesome pirouette.) Half Dome, in fact, has been watching skaters at the rink for the better part of a century: The rink, which is operated by Delaware North, opened in 1928. Session times dot the daytime and eveningtime schedules, so whatever time you're in that neck of the woods -- literally -- you can probably grab some ice action. And some cocoa action, too; find the hot beverage for sale at the Curry Village Gift and Grocery Store. If the holidays have you running, when you wish you were skating, take heart: The rink keeps on truckin' into March.

Photo Credit: DNC Resorts]]>
<![CDATA[Borrego Springs Resort: Early December Deal]]> Wed, 25 Nov 2015 12:17:21 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/borregopool9282283.jpg

COULD "BEFORE THE HOLIDAYS"... become the new "after the holidays" in the years to come? It's a thought. Consider how often you tell a friend that "I can't get together now, I'm too busy, too stressed, too over-scheduled." Plans are made in pencil for January, which then becomes February, and you end up seeing your pal on the first of June. The go-go-go nature of the weeks ahead of the holidays are often written about and often sighed over, with suggestions and tips as to how we can undo a lot of our so-called must-dos ahead of New Year's Day. If ever there was a time of year to take back a few hours, or a day or two, it's the stretch from Thanksgiving into the December celebrations. While this is a busy period for retail it has been, in the past, a quieter period for hotels and travel, but no longer: Deals and packages and savings frequently spring up ahead of Christmas at hotels hither and yon.

LOOK TO... Borrego Springs Resort & Spa, which wants to give people a pre-relax moment in early December. Families hoping to incorporate a trip to the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park for some not-so-hectic hiking will find crisper daytime temperatures but plenty of sunshine (if El Niño doesn't pop up, unannounced). Hanukkah also falls within the time period of the resort's offer, so celebratory get-togethers can also happen, bringing together family members from different points around Southern California as they fete the Festival of Lights. So, what's the deal?

IT'S A 25% DISCOUNT... on "any guestroom" at the hotel from Tuesday, Dec. 1 through Thursday, Dec. 24. You'll need to ring the resort to book this one -- phone number's 760-767-5700 -- and tell your reservation agent these two words: The Gift. That's the code for the deal, a deal that approaches what is typically the busiest period of the year in a new, go-hiking, relax-by-the-pool, gaze-at-the-stars light. Could you actually and truly get together with that good friend in December instead of pushing your reunion to February, March, next June? Maybe with a quick overnight in the desert? It's time we rethink our time. And as for saving money on a getaway? It's always the right time for that.

<![CDATA[Tahoe Wow: Big Thanksgiving Week Snow]]> Tue, 24 Nov 2015 22:13:21 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/192*120/tahoe_diamondpeak.jpg Headed up for some celebrating and schussing? Good timing, though check those weather and road advisories.

Photo Credit: Diamond Peak]]>
<![CDATA[San Diego Shhh: US Grant's Secret Speakeasy]]> Tue, 24 Nov 2015 13:10:57 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/speakeasyusgrantsecret.jpg

LABYRINTH-LIKE LOCATION: There are few places that hold as many secret passages and tucked-away rooms and random decks and interesting balconies as a large hotel. Sure, castles and palaces and museums share some of a hotel's mystery-like qualities, and the employees of a business know what's where and what's happening at all times. But to a guest? A hotel can possess a delicious feel of castle-like proportions, and the lure of exploring a closed-to-the-public passageway or riding in an out-of-the-way elevator can tempt, for sure. What of a secret party, though, that is happening somewhere within a grand and historic hotel at an undisclosed, tucked-away corner? The temptation factor, to explore, goes way, way up, especially when one learns that the hotel has some speakeasy stories in its lengthy past. Such a secret party -- make that a secret speakeasy -- will pop up, for a single night, at the US GRANT in San Diego. 

1920-1923... were bustling years for the Gaslamp District landmark, which had already been open for a decade (it was built in 1910). It was no secret, during that four-year span, that there was a secret tavern for the cocktail-seeking swells of San Diego, right inside the hotel, and many a local raised a libation there during the early part of the Roaring Twenties. To mark this famous, and infamous, slice of US GRANT history, the hotel is hiding a speakeasy within its capacious rooms and hallways on Friday, Nov. 27 for two hours only. Time for the Rendezvous Lounge? Nine o'clock to 11 p.m., which gives you just enough time to sip a French 75 or Old-Fashioned while enjoying the live jazz tunes, a vibe most appropriate to the era being hailed.

CHEF DE BAR... Cory Alberto will be at the helm at the high-jinks-y, let's-have-a-gas bash, and a ticket is required (it's $60, and includes "unlimited cocktails," so, yeah, best get a room at the hotel for the night). Do you need a password to find the secret location within the hotel? You so do. Do you need to dress like it is 1921? Well, it would be the absolute cat's pajamas to do so, right? Best look as cute as a button while you learn about the US GRANT's speakeasy history, when rum runners brought spirits into the hotel via underground tunnels. Got your fringe and tux ready? Be prepared to give the password, '20s-style partiers.

Photo Credit: US Grant]]>
<![CDATA[The Season Sparkles Up San Jacinto]]> Mon, 23 Nov 2015 22:38:30 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/treetrambluenight.jpg

SO MUCH OF THE HOLIDAY SEASON... is about keeping an eye and ear out for the first festive signs of the holiday. Maybe you're listening for the very first carol played in a shop, or you're waiting for the first Christmas cookie to be sold at your local bakery, or you're craning to see if the giant wreath down at the corner car dealership is out on the sign yet, a sure indicator that December is in the house. Or, if you live in the desert, you're awaiting a colorful dot of light far up the side of San Jacinto, a dot or small streak that says one thing: The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway has officially opened to yuletide season. 

IF YOU CAN SPY THE FIR, which isn't a real fir but a huge tree shape made out of 4,000 LED lights, then you are eating your carrots, for sure. The tree stands each December atop the restaurant at the tram's Mountain Station, a location that's over 8,500 in elevation (by contrast, the tram's Valley Station sits at just above 2,600 feet). But as you take a nighttime ride up, up, up the side of the hill, you can see the tree growing, and glowing, ever brighter. It's a brightest that's truly sparkly on the official night of the tree-lighting, which will ho-ho-happen on Sunday, Dec. 6. Palm Springs residents Lucie Arnaz and Laurence Luckinbill, know for their work writing, acting, and producing on stage and screen, will do the switch-flipping honors, and the Palm Springs High School Madrigal Singers will lend some lovely voices to the proceedings. The tree will stay lit through the holidays, and Mountain Station will see more good times, from choir appearances to the welcoming of Santa Claus. 

SANTA CLAUS, by the way, will be right in his chilly element. It's already snowed at the station, and the tram's annual Guess the Snowfall Contest came to its annual conclusion on Sunday, Nov. 15. The reason? A measurable inch (and a half) of snow had fallen. Best bundle up if you're following the bright bulb-y tree to its way-high location, a location that can be spied throughout the valley below during much of each and every December.

Photo Credit: Palm Springs Aerial Tramway]]>
<![CDATA[Meet Princess, the Redwood Fledgling]]> Fri, 27 Nov 2015 10:10:30 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/princesscondorventana.jpg

A BABY BIRD GROWS UP: When webcams became a Thing, capital T, around about the time we stopped saying "World Wide Web" and just resorted to "WWW," people regularly checked in on the planet's most famous landmarks, both natural and made by humans. The sunrise over the opera house in Sydney or fireworks at the Statue of Liberty or snowfall in Prague could all be enjoyed wherever you happened to be, if you had a screen in front of you and dial-up. But webcams soon flowered in countless ways, with coffee pot cams and moon cams and other cams competing for our eyes. One category of online cams easily rose to the top of the popular heap, however: the nest cam. Who wouldn't want to see brand-new eagles hatch? Or swans or storks? Or a fluffy baby condor way up in a redwood? It was just this last lovely sight that many fans across the world enjoyed via the Condor Nest Cam through much of the middle of 2015. Viewers kept a watch for the baby's mom, Redwood Queen, a beloved and much-watched condor in the Big Sur area, and viewers wanted to know when the little bird, who was born around May, would finally spread those always impressive condor wings and fledge. Big news: It turns out Princess -- that was the name bestowed upon the youngster after a donation drive to help find a name -- has finally flown her redwood.

THE ANNOUNCEMENT... arrived on Nov. 21, less than a week before Thanksgiving, so bet the dedicated volunteers of the Ventana Wildlife Society, the people who help our Central Coast condors, are feeling some gratitude. And while the Condor Nest Cam is no longer in operation, given that there's just an empty former nursery there now, you can try and get a peek at Princess on the main Condor Cam, which is overseen by the society (the society's Facebook page advises fans to keep watch for her there, in expectation that her parents will bring her along to feed). Want to go searching for the majestic birds of Big Sur with a Ventana volunteer? You can -- there are monthly tours. Perhaps you'll even spot Princess, the newest of the ever-growing Big Sur-area brood. They're not hard to miss, when you're there, given that condors are the largest North American land birds. Happy flying, Princess, and a very long life, and future, to you and your feathery brethren.

Photo Credit: Tim Huntington]]>
<![CDATA[Historic Holidays: Christmas in the Adobes]]> Sat, 28 Nov 2015 06:46:32 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/christmasintheadobeswhaling12.jpg

CALIFORNIA HISTORICAL LANDMARK #1: There are well over a thousand designated California State Historical Landmarks throughout our storied state, and true-blue history buffs are eager to see every last one.

IT'S A PURSUIT... that's similar in theme to those intrepid adventurers who vow to visit all 50 states over the course of their lifetimes, but rarely do people go in order of when the states entered the union or the order of the California locations that received the historic protection. If you'd like to take on this latter adventure, visiting all Golden State Historical Landmarks in order, then here's where you start: The Custom House in Monterey. It's the very first on the list, a lofty designation, but one that the venerable adobe structure more than deserves. If a building could breathe history, tales of old, and regional significance, it is this one, a place that saw the early settlers of the area pass through along with their tale-telling possessions. And while you can walk through the structure throughout the year, seeing it after-dark, and by the glow of candlelight and luminarias, is a rarer treat. It's a treat, though, that's very much tied to the holiday season, and Christmas at the Adobes, a 31-year-old Monterey happening that includes not just the Custom House but several centuries-old landmarks in the area.

DEC. 11 AND 12... are the 2015 dates -- a Friday and a Saturday, if you don't have a calendar nearby -- and a ticket price for one night is $25 (if you do both nights the total entry cost is $40, sweet). That's an adult price, but the event is "custom"-made for kids, too, as it brings to life a slice of ye old Monterey. ("Brings to life" is a bit overused in historic tourism, but it fits here, most ably, so let's all agree to look beyond its typical trite-y nature and embrace it when it works.) What will you see beyond The Custom House, should you visit every spot on the self-guided, you-follow-the-map roster? Casa Serrano, the Robert Louis Stevenson House, the Cooper-Molera Adobe, and Colton Hall are just a few of the many. 

SO... is 2016 the year you finally take on your dream of visiting every state historical landmark? You don't need to go in order of when each received its designation, but if you do buy a ticket for Christmas at the Adobes, and you start at The Custom House, well, you've covered #1 on that particular list. That cookies and music and seasonal cheer are involved are just cherries on top of this knowledge-filled, history-rich festivity.

Photo Credit: See Monterey]]>
<![CDATA[The November Mountain Story: Lots of Snow]]> Sat, 21 Nov 2015 09:07:16 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/bigbearvillagesnow123456789.jpg

IF YOU WERE TO SEE A POST... online, at any blog or social media page or site, that had a single word repeated over and over again, you'd probably scratch your chin, "hmm" a bit, and figure someone had dropped the ball somewhere and/or a glitchy burp had occurred deep within the various bleeping lights that comprise the internet. This true fact, that a repeated one-word post can look frinky, means that we can't simply type the word "snow snow snow snow snow" several times for the next several sentences, and yet that is exactly, in happy, oh-thank-goodness spirit, what is going on at California's mountain resorts. The middle of November around some of our peaks and lower-elevation ski slopes can often look like the middle of October, just a bit freer of colorful leaves. And yet how to explain how multiple storm systems -- are we up to three now, or four? Depends on the area -- have turned November around California's mountains into full-on January? Well, here's how to explain: You might have heard, somewhere, maybe in passing, that El Niño is on its way. The ski resorts are certainly thanking it, vociferously, on their various Facebook and Instagram pages, which shouldn't surprise anyone, when anyone looks at last winter's dry ways.

THE SNOWPACK IS ROBUST... in Big Bear Village. Nearby Snow Summit and Bear Mountain are now open to skiers, and the village itself looks as though it might be early February (check out the flake-laden snapshot taken on Monday,  Nov. 16). Further north, into Mono County, there's some serious snow, and a serious drop in temperatures (the Bodie Foundation reports that the morning temperature in Bodie State Historic Park was a coat-worthy 9 degrees). And Mammoth Mountain, and other area businesses like Mammoth Brewing Company, have posted a literal snowshower of photos over the last two weeks (the base on the mountain, if you're wondering, stands at a hearty 42 inches). As for Yosemite National Park? "...we've been lucky enough to have one storm per week blow through..." says the destination's Facebook page, with the white-frosty pics to back it up. Is this truly the most Januaryish November ever? It is definitely shaping up to be solid on the slopes and anywhere a person likes to build a snowman. If you have a favorite California mountain spot, check in with their social media. There's a good chance that they, too, will have some snowy snaps up.

Photo Credit: Big Bear Village]]>
<![CDATA[Opening Soon: V Palm Springs Hotel]]> Fri, 20 Nov 2015 14:04:25 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/pshoteldebutspring2016.jpg

CONTEMPORARY DIGS IN THE DESERT: Much is written about "Coachella style" each spring, so much so that even the word "much" might be a bit of an understatement. But whatever festival attendees wear, or do, or how they fashion their hair or post to social media, all contain a single something in common: There's a breezy, off-the-cuff, pretty-dang-relaxed method to everything that goes down around the Indio extravaganza. The quickly thrown-together denim-and-muslin ensemble, the hasty side ponytail, the last-minute skipping of a better-known act to catch a brand-new band... you can't look like you're trying all that hard at the springtime festival. But there's one huge, blinking, write-it-in-neon exception: You need to line up where you're staying way, way in advance. How "way in advance" is up to various attendees, but hotel rooms go, and the boutique hotels, those that cater to that Coachella vibe, go in stunningly fast fashion. Breathe a sigh, though, desert travelers looking for a fresh stay-over that'll be as new as the new acts debuting at the April songfest: V Palm Springs will open in the former Curve Palm Springs Hotel & Resort right before the whole denim-and-side-ponytail-and-new-band bash gets rolling. 

THE BOUTIQUE DESTINATION... comes be-pool'd, of course, and be-fire-pit'd, and be poolside-bar'd, which are three requisite items when you're talking about a desert getaway that's got au courant cred. It's not big, but you probably won't bump into the same three people the whole time you're there (so, yes, if you guessed 140 rooms, you're on the money). "LA-based celebrity lawyers Mark Geragos and Brian Kabateck" are the new owners (Mr. Kabateck resides in town) and Filament Hospitality are doing the full-service management helming of the property, which will rock a "Garden of Eden-esque vibe." As for the visuals and hues? Desert tones rule, but so do chevrons, which will appear around the property in various motifs. If a South Palm Springs stay is in the cards for you, and Coachella is, too, or Restaurant Week in late May and early June, or the Modernism Preview Weekend in the fall of 2016, and a boutique-y place is what you've got in mind, and you like trying stuff out before all of the other try-stuff-out-ers arrive, keep March 2016 on the calendar. That's the opening month for the new hotel in the '60s-era structure on E. Palm Canyon Drive.

Photo Credit: V Palm Springs Hotel]]>
<![CDATA[Trek to the Tree: Sequoia History + Holidays]]> Thu, 26 Nov 2015 10:56:48 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/trektothetreegrant123.jpg

SO MANY SEASONAL TRADITIONS, whether it is a visit to see Santa Claus or a trip to admire the lighting of an outdoor menorah at sundown or a stop by the ice rink or an afternoon at "The Nutcracker" involves a special meal or snack. Your family might always call upon a particular cafe for a cup of cocoa following the ballet, or a steakhouse for hamburgers, or a restaurant known for its latkes, or somewhere where you can sit and discuss the delights of what you've just witnessed and how it all made you feel. But what do you do when you're having a bit of a yuletide-style adventure, out into the woods, in a regal corner of a regal national park, where cafes and steakhouses tend to be rather few-to-none?

WELL, you look for the nearest eatery on site, and, if there is a special holiday meal attached to what you've come to see, you give a little whoop in celebration, for that means no picnics need to be packed. Not that you might want to dine outdoors, at length, in the middle of December in the middle of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. It is rather frigid, spoiler alert, and there tends to be some snow action. Which makes the annual Trek to the Tree, a hallowed tradition that stretches back nine decades, back to the White House no less, when President Calvin Coolidge deemed the General Grant "the Nation's Christmas Tree."

ON SUNDAY, DEC. 13... fans of the colossal sequoia and history and the park and the holidays will make the yearly trek to the gathering, which honors fallen military personnel in addition to serving as a peaceful, reflective moment in the middle of the larger holiday season. And if you've never seen the General Grant, it is hard to convey its enormity, elegance, epic-o-sity.

AS FOR THE AFOREMENTIONED RELATED MEAL? There's no posh cocoas-only cafe near the General Grant, but there is the lovely Grant Grove Restaurant, which has a meal designed specifically for the Trek to the Tree. Perhaps the crunch-crunch-crunch trek -- that's the snow underfoot -- followed by a bit of crunching, food-wise, in the restaurant, could be a fresh and festive tradition for the family. And one full of meaning and history and silence and sweetness, too.

Photo Credit: Trek to the Tree]]>
<![CDATA[#ReturnTheFish: Nick's Cove Campaign]]> Thu, 19 Nov 2015 15:00:17 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/returnthefishnickscove.jpg

BEYOND THE BATHROBE: For years now, hotel companies and travel outfits have compiled lists of the common items the occasional wily guest will pinch from a room upon leaving. Wily, of course, until the guest receives a bill for that bathrobe they slipped into the suitcase, or the full set of towels, or a piece of the furniture (seems impossible, but longtime hoteliers all seem to possess a colorful story or two). But what has never made those "popular to pinch from a hotel" lists, at least thus far, is a large and beloved fish sign, a shingle that's come to mean a lot to the property and the people who stay there. Fish signs, as a rule, tend to stay put, except for the much-photographed one hanging at Nick's Cove Restaurant, Oyster Bar & Cottages on Tomales Bay.

FAREWELL, FISHY: It has vamoosed, flown the coop, and while we ponder if the fish on the sign somehow came to life and leaped back into the bay one night, unseen by any onlookers, let us also ponder the big-of-heart approach the hotel is taking regarding its absence. It hasn't put out an countywide alert or all-points bulletin, but it is selling #ReturnTheFish t-shirts "to raise funds and awareness for the United Anglers of Casa Grande." The group has some nature-sweetness at its heart, as it is a "non-profit educational organization whose purpose is to promote environmental awareness and activism through hands-on habitat restoration."

IT'S A RESTORATION... that helps the Steelhead trout and other fish species, so the connection between the fundraiser, the missing sign, and the beneficiary holds plenty of water. As for the fish sign? It disappeared in the middle of October. If you know Nick's Cove, you've seen it hanging, for a good ol' long time, at the pier. Want to help both an organization that helps real fish and the making of a new fish sign? Buy the $30 t-shirt online or at the on-site restaurant by Dec. 15. The money-split is a halfsies kind of deal: Half will go to the United Anglers of Casa Grande, and half to the fresh fish sign of the future. There's also an Instagram contest, too, to support the #ReturnTheFish campaign. And wherever the old fish sign went? Happy trails to it and best of luck. Maybe it did really jump into the bay one night in order swim off into the wider ocean, like in a fairy tale? We hope in our heart this is so.

Photo Credit: Nick's Cove]]>
<![CDATA[Winterfest: Snow Expected for Mill Valley]]> Thu, 19 Nov 2015 08:36:09 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/millvalleywinterfest9282.jpg

HOW YOU TAKE YOUR SNOW SLIDE... says a lot about your winter personality. Our characters don't change with the seasons, of course, but what the seasons deliver to us, in terms of fresh experiences, can reveal a little bit about who we are and what we love. And few things are more telling than how you approach going down a hill of cold, white stuff at accelerating speed. If you prefer to go super-speedy-mondo fast, you've probably got a bit of a wild side during all the seasons, so we'll expect to see you on the high dive come summer. If you prefer to pile on with a kid or spouse, you're in it for the slower but possible sweeter roll. And if you're just surprised to see a snow slide where it never snows, well, you're a person who remains open to joyous discovery. There shall be a snow slide where it never snows on Sunday, Dec. 6, in lovely Mill Valley, which never has to break out the shovels or salt come the colder months. And the slide is of the lovely latter sort: Not too foreboding and made for a brief 'n giggly trip from top to bottom (so smaller tots are a-ok). 

OTHER PLEASURES... of Winterfest, which unfolds at Depot Plaza, include an appearance by the Performing Arts Academy of Marin plus caroling and ukuleles and musical troupes from the area. Santa will show up, at 1 o'clock, in grand fashion, atop a Mill Valley fire engine, and other games and to-dos will fill up the holiday-happy hours. It's free to attend but if you want to make a two-buck donation for your slide down the snow, that's cool (in many senses of the word). Also? Winterfest serves as both a toy and food drive, so show with something yummy or play-with-able for the SF-Marin Food Bank or the fire department, which is collecting toys. There's a coat drive on as well. All the details? Right here. The feeling of sliding down snow in Mill Valley? That can't be replicated online or anywhere but the snow slide itself, so we can't link ya there. We can only point you to the Depot Plaza on Dec. 6, and encourage you to have your "wheees!" at the ready.

<![CDATA[Redwoods Rugged: Truckers Christmas Parade]]> Sat, 21 Nov 2015 13:23:11 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/TruckersParade.MalcolmDeSoto.HLA.jpg

SMALL LIGHT, BIG RIG: Pretty much anyone who has ever decorated a tree or a house or strung lights up anywhere has, at one time or another, cradled a small bulb in the palm of their hand. Maybe this was to tighten it, or to tap it (and understand why it had stopped working), or simply to admire its lovely, low-key light. It's a light we've often placed upon beautiful firs and around front doors and across the tops of pianos, which are all objects that are not too overwhelming, in terms of power and size. But those wee lights are showing up in lots of larger places nowadays, from huge homes, in massive profusion (the kind that synchronize the blinking of the lights to music) to various vehicles. One of the biggest of the vehicles, the one with an out-sized character and a lot of room for lights, is an 18-wheeler. You might spy one out on the highway, all a-twinkle, by random, happy chance, but if you want to see a bunch of big rigs done up for the season, as well as some smaller trucks, then be in Humboldt County on the second Saturday in December. That's when the Trucker Christmas Parade, "a Eureka tradition for over 25 years," flips the sparkly switch, and all of those tiny blinking lights start to glow against one of the engine-iest rolls of the open road. 

IT'S A PRETTY PAIRING, and one that's pretty unexpected, especially when the big rig might stretch to 100 feet (the parade has seen such lengthy entries in past years). It's free to watch, it starts on Harris Street at the Redwood Acres Fairgrounds, and, if you're lucky, a trucker might blow her or his horn for you. Is there anything more classic, sound-wise, than the sonorous sound of an 18-wheeler's horn heard along a stretch of lonesome highway? And why don't more carols incorporate this unmistakable tone, which has a lot of lore behind it? Ponder these mondo-muscled trucks as they roll by, and maybe try and count the lights that cover them. It might be challenging though, since some trucks boast upwards of several thousand bulbs.

TRULY, it's nice that our domestic strings, the kind we often seeing giving a cozy den some glow, can also so magically illuminate some gargantuan vehicles. Oh, holiday wattage -- is there no whimsy you cannot summon? Eureka will clearly possess that whimsy, as will a few dozen trucks, too, on Saturday, Dec. 12.

WANT MORE OFFBEAT PARADE ACTION? There are two more in the area, over the same stretch of time, in Ferndale and Fortuna.

Photo Credit: Malcolm De Soto/HLA]]>
<![CDATA[Flavor! Napa Valley: 2016 Tickets on Sale]]> Sat, 28 Nov 2015 06:50:08 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/flavornapatickets2016.jpg

CONVERSATIONS OVER GRAVY: Keeping the Thanksgiving gravy free of lumps is pretty much among the most important of kitchen duties, and one that requires patience and dedication and the ability to talk on a range of subjects, the better to draw other people to you who will keep you occupied while you stir, stir, stir. Invariably the conversation turns to food, because, well, you're standing over a simmering pot of gravy, in a kitchen rife with biscuits and turkey and stuffing and pie, and that's what's on the meal-focused mind of both cooks and guests. Once you've exhausted what you'll soon dine on at the table, you can turn to other table-oriented news items of recent days, and one of the most delectable of those items will surely be the fact that tickets are now available for Flavor! Napa Valley, the multi-day confab that brings together a host of taste-makers, in all senses of the term, for a gustatory gathering at the Culinary Institute of American in St. Helena (the institute is the beneficiary).

MARCH 16-20, 2016... are the down-the-road dates, but not so down-the-road-y that you won't look around, surprised, when the beginning of March rolls around and you think "huh, maybe should have gotten a ticket." If you do get a ticket, and you get it before Dec. 1, and you employ the promotion code FNVEARLY, then you'll save 15 percent.

AS FOR EVENTS? And special appearances and such? Those'll roll out in the months to come, but you can look forward to happenings already on the calendar, like First Taste Napa -- The Downtown StrEAT Market at the CIA's Copia campus, a Napa Valley Wine Tour, a Brunch Party, and a bouquet of chef demos and meet-and-hellos. It's a full-hearted, full-fork'd weekend of foodie knowledge and foodie plate-cleaning/glass-sipping, and anticipating what you'll learn and what you'll quaff is part of the joy. So if you and your food-loving brother or cousin need to talk about edibles while you make Thanksgiving dinner, but would rather those edibles be something other than what you're cooking, here's your anticipation: March 2016, and its Napa-esque pleasures, is just a few months away.

Photo Credit: Flavor! Napa Valley]]>
<![CDATA[Ye Olde Nevada City's Victorian Christmas]]> Thu, 26 Nov 2015 21:30:48 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/xmasnc8.jpg Street fairs, songs, and the 19th-century buildings get a dose of holly and cheer.

Photo Credit: Erin Thiem]]>
<![CDATA[Cozy Wine Times: Holiday in Carneros]]> Mon, 16 Nov 2015 18:56:15 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/holidayincarneros9298323.jpg

PRE-THANKSGIVING CONVIVIALITIES: How do you typically spend the weekend ahead of Thanksgiving? Do you roam from shop to shop, searching for that one low-mesh cheesecloth that you like, the one that keeps the turkey especially moist? Do you stand in various queues for the perfect pecan pie and/or the ideal bread for the ideal stuffing and/or the spicy red wine everyone liked three years ago and still ask about each and every holiday? Or do you think to yourself "a joyful and rested host is the most important element (outside of that amazing low-mesh cheesecloth)"? There's something to be said for approaching the gratefulest of occasions with an easygoing spirit, one that's recently steeped in a few gratitude-making outings and gatherings. Those outings are not difficult to find ahead on the weekend of Thanksgiving, as more destinations and hotels and wineries and attractions roll out the "let's get celebrating" carpet early. Really and truly, do not step away from the meal-planning and table-setting if you don't feel prepared (or, better yet, have pals to help), but if you're feelin' fine, and need friend-time away from the to-do lists, look to Carneros, and its many wineries, for a two-day lead-in to Thanksgiving week, a lead-in that's called...

HOLIDAY IN CARNEROS: It's a taste and eat and socialize affair at the wineries in and around Vineburg, and the dates are as pre-Thanksgiving-ish as pre-Thanksgiving gets: Saturday, Nov. 21 and Sunday, Nov. 22. There's a new VIP experience in 2015, and it includes a bus ride and a quartet of wineries, if you really totally absolutely want to shut down the thoughts for a few hours (because buzzy thoughts tend to increase tenfold around the holidays, as everyone knows). There's also a designated driver ticket, too, so invite and pay for a companion. Barrel tastings, the getting-to-know-of winemakers, and nice bites and wine-swishes are on the docket.

NO ONE BUT NO ONE... would say to ditch the holiday-making plans if you do need all weekend to prepare, but if you are more ahead than you think you are, ask a pal to venture to wine country with you. The pluses? You'll be more relaxed come Thanksgiving Day, since you didn't spend all of Saturday and Sunday in shop queues. And you may, just may, find a wine that's even better than that one spicy vino every one of your friends won't stop talking about, the label you can't remember from three years back. Could Carneros both free your busy mind from seasonal stress and help with the beverage end of things at your holiday dinner? It's food, and libation, for thought.

Photo Credit: Holiday in Carneros]]>
<![CDATA[Sequoia Romance Package: Brisk Kisses]]> Fri, 20 Nov 2015 06:53:57 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sequoiaromancepackage12334.jpg

STATION WAGONS AND SUNSHINE: It's funny how national park getaways got paired up with, in many minds, the summertime and station wagons and sunshine and school being closed and the stretch from Memorial Day Weekend to Labor Day. True, that's what many a brochure depicted back in the '50s, '60s, and the 1970s, and driving for a canyon or mountain or famous river in the heat of the hottest time of year became an American rite of familyhood. But the not-so-secret secret, one that's been true since there have been national parks (and for thousands of years prior), is this: The parks are still there come the brisker days of autumn, and when winter snows fall, they fall on the same branches and trunks and boulders we photographed in July. What's changed? The second not-so-secret secret is this: The national parks are a mite quieter after summer wraps. This could be because school is back in session, or possible snowfall can deter all but the hardiest of campers, or the wintry outdoors are best enjoyed in smaller increments, due to weather. Some of the lodges of Sequoias and Kings Canyon National Parks are very much, 100%, super into the idea of visitors finding the magic in this colder time, and the fun in bundling-up among the behemoth trees. There are specials to support such off-season adventuring, too, specials such as...

A ROMANCE PACKAGE, which is a deal that involves either a stay at the Wuksachi Lodge or John Muir Lodge, a bottle of hello/get cozy/enjoy house wine, some chocolate truffles made locally, a pair of souvenir glasses for that wine, and fifty bucks to spend on dining on the property of your choice. There are actually a number of fantastic packages and events happening around the parks in the colder months, like a Night Sky Package, but we point out the Romance Package because, like the national parks being a summer thing, romantic trips are often portrayed as the dominion of beaches and hammocks and palm trees. Maybe, partially, yes, for sure, but let us also pinpoint the loveliness of cuddling up with a serious BFF on a chilly night or holding his/her hand beneath some of the planet's largest living things. In short, stealing away to a national park, especially one at a higher, brisker elevation, in the winter, for a canoodle-heavy getaway, dispels two set beliefs that some travelers still adhere to: Parks are for summer roadtripping and romance is made for the beach. Turn both beliefs upside down, this November and December, wanderlust-y lovebirds.

Photo Credit: Sequoia Romance Package]]>
<![CDATA[Pacific Grove Glow: Christmas at the Inns]]> Wed, 25 Nov 2015 12:17:54 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/pacgrovechristmasattheinns.jpg

CANDLES, CAROLS, CARDS: It's pretty rare to come across a seasonal greeting card that has a modern home on the front, one with a driveway and sprinklers and a garage and several of the convenient design and architectural features many of us live with nowadays. Spying an illustrated wreath on a garage door, or poinsettias dotting the garden of a split-level home, might actually be rather novel, and cheerful, but nostalgia, and the passage of time, are very much behind our most potent symbols of the season. So while we may not see modern homes on greeting cards, we do frequently spy Victorian-type manors, and not just on the front of our paper goods, either. Victorian abodes done up in their best Christmas finery dot cookie tins and food packaging and wrapping paper as well as greeting cards, so to say that these stately structures are a part of our deeper yuletide yearnings might be a bit of an understatement. But how does one go beyond the greeting card and into an actual Victorian that's decorated for the holidays? You don't need to slip through a rip in the space-time continuum; you only need to get to Pacific Grove, a location that happens to have several of these pretty places, over the first two days of December.

TUESDAY, DEC. 1 AND WEDNESDAY, DEC. 2... are the 2015 dates for Christmas in the Inns, an annual self-guided stroll-and-see treat that spotlights a number of ye olde-y bed & breakfasts in the butterfly-iest town in the state. Actually "spotlights" connotes a glaring light of sorts, so let's say "candlelights" here, as the evening comes with softly lit pleasures rife with lace curtains, gentle carols, and the occasional doily, too. (Aside: Why does one long to see more doilies come the Christmas season? Discuss.) Five inns will open their doors on the first night -- hello Seven Gables Inn and more beauties -- and five more will welcome visitors on Dec. 2. Carolers, treats, trees, twinkly lights, ornaments, and all of the Victorian-esque details fit for a greeting card cover or cookie tin lid await. Tickets? It's a $20 donation.

COULD... our modern homes, the houses built in the last two decades, one day, a century now, also be on such holiday tours, complete with costumes and carols? Might we see garages and swimming pools on the lids of cookie tins, too? Time has an interesting way of, almost overnight, flooding what was new with nostalgia. Ponder this as you tie your scarf and hum an old-school carol and make for PG.

Photo Credit: Christmas at the Inns]]>
<![CDATA[The Conservation Pumpkin Patch]]> Sun, 15 Nov 2015 09:03:58 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/conservationpumpkinpatchsafariwest.jpg

PUMPKINS APLENTY: While it can charm the eye to see a small sea of globe-shaped orange gourds in the week leading up to Halloween, there is the question regarding where the remaining pumpkins go when the holiday is over (and, no, they don't all become pumpkin butter and pumpkin pie, although that seems like a pretty tasty use). A number of places in the same neck of the woods as Safari West -- so, Santa Rosa and its environs -- donate their remainders to the animal park, all in the name of conservation and animal enrichment. You've surely heard of animal enrichment programs at zoos and preserves, especially since several organizations keep enrichment wish lists online, making public sponsorship of a particular zoo denizen, or toy, much easier. Pumpkins qualify here, for they roll and they've got stems and when they're carved, well, look out; the animal that receives it will spend a good deal of time exploring the seedy wonder's various nooks and crannies. Which is just what is happening at Safari West every weekend ahead of Thanksgiving. Some of the many residents of the large preserve are getting a gourd-y treat, pumpkins meant to be "carved, kicked, clawed, smashed, eaten, or otherwise toyed with" by the beasties, all in the name of stimulation and play and learning. Not only is it a fine way to pass on past-Halloween pumpkins, but the public can lend some love, too.

HOW? If you visit Safari West on the aforementioned weekends before Thanksgiving, and you visit the conservation patch and find a pumpkin you're sweet on, you can sponsor it for five bucks (though feel free to give more, if you like). You can also weigh in on where you'd like your squashy sponsored goodie to go; hoof-stock, birds, small mammals, and carnivores are the choices. And bingo! Your five bucks -- or more -- "will go to the conservation organization sponsored by that department." Over $250 was raised over the first weekend, so it is a program with teeth and claws, both (a compliment at Safari West, where many of the marvelous creatures on-site also boast the same). Could more nature preserves welcome more pumpkins after Halloween, not just for animal photo-ops -- which always awww-inducing, to see a lemur crawling inside a jack o'lantern, of course, no argument there -- but to stir up support for conservation? It's happening now at Safari West. Again, you may not see the beasties playing with their enrichment-boosting pumpkins, but you'll know that your fiver is going to a fine 'n furry cause.

Photo Credit: Safari West]]>
<![CDATA[Calistoga Cozy: Winter in the Wineries Passport]]> Fri, 13 Nov 2015 13:15:08 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/courtesyofcalistogavisitorsbureauwwineries.jpg

A GIFT THAT KEEPS GOING: If you were to unwrap a corkscrew or a foil cutter or a bar towel or a pair of stemmed glasses, would you be able to guess what the giver of your gift has in mind? Would you assume that a bottle of nice merlot was hidden under the tree or on a table near the menorah? Might that be the place your imagination roams? It's a pretty good guess, and the gift of a corkscrew is often followed up by something to use it on (something quite lovely and tasty). But there is a way to go a bit further than a single bottle of wine, in the oenophile gift-giving department, and it involves purchasing a passport, or two, for a wine event that extends over much of the winter. The tricky bit of that is, of course, that many large-scale wine happenings used to be more summer- and fall-oriented, with the wintertime only seeing the expected holiday affairs. This isn't true nowadays, though; multi-winery weekends, and multi-month to-dos, are more commonly seen in our wine countries, and our wine-focused cities. Take Calistoga, for example, a town, and area, that offers a Winter in the Wineries passport each, well, wintertime (spoiler alert). The passport for the 2015-into-2106 event, the sixth annual outing for the passport, is now on-sale, and the specifics are pretty broad in reach.

HOW BROAD? Well the dates flow through three months in two different calendar years, so you're looking at Saturday, Dec. 5 through Sunday, Feb. 7, 2015. The cost is fifty dollars, and that covers you for tastings at fifteen wineries around the region. Your passport is also the key to unlock some discounts in the area, on hotels and shopping and such, so if you buy one, or buy a friend one, be sure to try it out on the money-saving end of things, too. There's also a contest going through Dec. 2, through VisitCalistoga.com, that involves both the possible winning of two passports as well as two nights at the pretty-as-a-postcard Brannan Cottage Inn and a VIP tour and tasting at Twomey Cellars (oh, and dinner at the Inn's restaurant, too). 

SO... will you go the corkscrew-gifting route, before you present your friend/spouse/mom with the second gift, the passport to Winter in the Wineries? Just don't forget to buy your passport, too, so you can enjoy your Calistoga adventures together.

Photo Credit: Calistoga Visitors Bureau]]>
<![CDATA[Tamale Fests: Masa, Music, Merriment]]> Fri, 13 Nov 2015 13:07:05 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/75287822.jpg

MUCH IS MADE, each mid-November, of people growing more and more frantic as Thanksgiving plans are put into motion. The person doing the mashed potatoes has to be confirmed, and the relative who is in charge of the cranberry salsa, and looking for a couple of volunteers to oversee the deep-frying of the turkey can take the better part of the morning. But let us also pause and acknowledge another bit of food-oriented planning that goes on right about the middle of fall, planning that frequently involves relatives and assignments and store trips and an entire day blocked off on the calendar (much like Thanksgiving often is, too). We speak of the tamale-making party, a tradition that's as set in masa -- we mean stone, rather -- as any other during the holiday season. One person typically organizes the affair but it takes a lot of hands, and, occasionally, a few pitchers of margaritas, to turn out several dozen tamales. If you haven't heard what's happening with your annual stuff-and-fold soiree yet, fear not, tamaleans: Some regional tamale festivals are heading this way, as they often do this time of year, with one popping up, for a change, in the springtime. 

INDIO INTERNATIONAL TAMALE FESTIVAL: This is one of the stalwarts on the tamale calendar, a large-scale snack-and-snack-some-more gathering that is pinned to the first weekend in December. The dates for 2015 are Saturday, Dec. 5 and Sunday, Dec. 6, and bevies of unwrappable, moist, meat-and-vege-packed goodies will be for sale. It's been around for nearly a quarter of a century, so bet you'll bite a wide range of tamale specialties.

SOMERTON TAMALE FESTIVAL: This one's just a pop over the border, into Arizona, in the community south of Yuma. Put on by ASU folks living in the area, the tamale festival, which spreads out along a few blocks of Main Street, is on the big side, so if you're want to try well over a dozen different examples of tamales made in the beautiful Colorado River-close area, this is it. Date? Saturday, Dec. 19.

RIVERSIDE TAMALE FESTIVAL: Should you get your fill of masa-based delights in the masa-riffic month of December -- if that's even possible -- hold tight, for the Riverside food party is just ahead, in April of 2016. Who says tamale love can't make every month a traditional tamale month? We know, December and tamales go way back, but if you go way back with tamale enjoyment, it matters not what the calendar says. You're seeking out the savory stuff, and lots of it, in festival form.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Love for State Parks: Holiday Gift Ideas]]> Mon, 23 Nov 2015 12:21:22 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/bodiecalendarstateparks123.jpg

ASK A PARENT OR FRIEND... what they want for the holidays and you're bound to hear "your presence is my present" as a pert response (or something equally as catchy, overly used, and ultimately true). They do have a good point, about experience and togetherness enhancing the most hectic of all seasons, but being with a beloved relative or out-of-this-world pal isn't always possible, thanks to the aforementioned "hectic" part of the equation. You may want to take them on a weekend getaway, or daylong road trip, in lieu of a physical, to-be-opened gift, but obligations keep you, and pretty much everyone, hustling in December. So if your presence can't be their present, and a jaunt to the redwoods or a stunning cove or a desert landmark isn't in the cards at the moment, how to give them a slice of experience? Well, experience can't be held in the hands, only the heart, except when it can be, a little bit. Look to the foundations that support the California State Parks, those invested and passionate organizations that bring the issues of various parks to light, host events, and, yes, occasionally boast honest-to-commerce online stores. 

THE BODIE FOUNDATION... supports the famous Mono County mining town in many ways, including the sale of items that recall the town's many handsome and historic features. There's an ornament for 2015, a wooden ornament features Bodie's famous Methodist church, and there's a calendar for 2016, too (no shocker that photographers + Bodie=some jaw-dropping snapshots). 

THE CALIFORNIA STATE PARKS FOUNDATION... also has a large online store, and the goods run the gamut from wearables to things you might need on your next hike at your favorite park. Speaking of which, your favorite park very well might have its own supportive foundation, which is just the place to find for-sale items for gifts (or yourself). It's a fine way to spread the word about the park, to lend some support, and to let your mom or best bud know that, even if you can't do a getaway for the holidays, you're thinking of them and a place you both adore. Maybe a calendar or ornament can be the stand-in of sorts? A reminder that you will take that road trip together soon? It turns out presence is a great present, especially when enjoyed in a nature-amazing destination.

Photo Credit: Explore Historic California/Roger W. Vargo]]>
<![CDATA[Kris Kringle's Tomales Bay Idyll]]> Wed, 11 Nov 2015 18:57:12 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/santatomalesbaykelliedelario.jpg

CAROLING WITH THE CLAMS: We're fairly certain that if we saw Santa Claus pulling into Tomales Bay on a sleek skiff or kitted-out boat we'd only have one question on our mind: Was the Jolly Ol' Elf just paying a visit to the denizens of the wider ocean? Had he joined the clams for some festive singing of songs? Was he just participating in a gift exchange with the sharks? And do seahorses hang stockings and, if so, where? Upon jagged-edged coral? Santa, of course, must keep his sweet secrets, so when he pulls into the beautiful bay on Sunday, Dec. 6 we will forgo quizzing him as to whether whales leave out cookies on Christmas Eve or if shrimps decorate trees. We will, however, welcome him to the annual to-do at Nick's Cove Restaurant, Oyster Bar & Cottages, one that serves as both a food drive for the Marin Food Bank and as a kick-off to the season alongside the shimmery water. Make that very much alongside; Nick's Cove isn't just steps from the bay, it is on the bay, so much so that Santa'll pull his sleigh, er, boat, up to the property's picturesque Boat Shack.

WHAT FOLLOWS... is some visit time with the man in red, and cocoa and treats, and professional snapshots that are gratis (as is the cocoa and as are the treats). There are some for-sale bites and sips, too, like winter cocktails and menu specials, so you can nosh away while awaiting Santa's grand Tomales arrival. Definitely bring a canned good donation (which also nets you a discount on the non-gratis goodies of the day) and definitely plan to spend a few hours enjoying the Marshall landmark. As for Santa's hours? He'll be on the water, and then in the house, from 3 to 5 o'clock, but the Nick's Cove restaurant'll keep serving hours going from 11 in the morning through 9 at night. 

SO WILL YOU QUIZ... Santa about what the sharks and whales and clams asked for on their wish lists? We like to think of Santa swinging by the Pacific, and calling upon some crustaceans and octopuses, before he makes for Marshall. Surely an octopus would love an eight-armed sweater for his present, and a seahorse a saddle. Does Santa keep a naughty/nice list for the beasties of the ocean? And are they all in the "nice" column? (Probably, except for the occasional grumpy grouper.)

Photo Credit: Kellie Delario]]>
<![CDATA[Cross-Country Ski Fun in the Eastern Sierra]]> Wed, 11 Nov 2015 14:13:37 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/skidog938232.jpg

ACROSS LAND BY SKI AND POLE: When we hear of the Sierra, we often hear of the lifts and peaks and difficulty ratings of various slopes, and with good reason: The mountainous terrain makes for a fine and challenging place to take on some downhill runs. But there are numerous spots in which to enjoy skiing in a more horizontal fashion, with some minor dips and inclines, while still enjoying a vigorous workout and some spectacular tree-and-hilltop views. We speak of cross-country schussing, and Mono County has plenty of it, and now that not one but two large snowstorms have dumped an impressive amount of flakes around the county, the season is open and in full force. Not a devoted downhiller but still adore the ski scene and snowdrifts and icicles and the rugged landscape wearing its wintry coat? Cross-country, with its forward-slide pace, is another choice, and one that's one the move in Mono County, right now, at places like...

TAMARACK LODGE CROSS-COUNTRY SKI CENTER: Billed as "the largest Nordic resort in the region," this Mammoth Lakes-based bastion of ruddy-cheek'd, brisk-air'd sportingness boasts some 19 miles of cross-country trails. Will you spy Crystal Crag, Mammoth Crest, and a few pretty lakes? You shall, dear skier, as you huff and happily puff along.

SILVER MEADOW: Are you hanging out a little closer to June Lake? There's a fresher track wending through the woods, one with "dramatic views of Carson Peak" and a pair of "scenic and beginner-friendly cross-country ski trails" to try out. It's just two kilometers in length, making it an ideal cross-country run for "beginners and families."

ROCK CREEK LODGE: Hello, John Muir Wilderness, hello peace, hello still air. Put your poles into the track-close snow as you take on 15 kilometers of "groomed trails." There's also a chauffeured snowmobile involved, lest you're worried that your cross-country adventure will take place too close to any major roads. For sure, you'll have some major quiet forest time, just you, other skiers, and those exquisite trails.

Photo Credit: Mono County]]>
<![CDATA[New: 'Hiker's Guide to Mount Diablo State Park']]> Tue, 10 Nov 2015 21:58:57 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/189*120/guidemountdiablo29923.jpg

THAT ONE MAGNIFICENT FLOWER... or bird or peak or trail or canyon can pull a lot of focus for the intrepid hiker, even as they remain aware of taking in and enjoying all of their surroundings. If you've ever ventured into a new area of wilderness at the recommendation of a friend, that same friend very likely mentioned a detail that captured his or her heart in the past. "Be on the lookout for the foxgloves" or "watch for the sunning lizards" or "tarantulas are plentiful this time of year," they might say, and soon that's where a lot of your attention is going. It's a fine way to approach a fresh hike, but it can leave other pleasures and mysteries of your nature walk out of the picture, a picture that is enhanced by having a dozen or two dozen or a million different things to look for along the way.

OKAY, perhaps you won't memorize a million distinct features of Mount Diablo State Park from the brand-new "The Hiker's Guide to Mount Diablo State Park," but it'll go rather further than pointing out a single flower or insect to keep an eye out for, like a sweet if narrow-focused friend might. The $18 book is flush with the wonders of the Walnut Creek-close expanse, some 20,000 acres of canyons and meadows and cliffs and so many buzzy, chittering, skittering residents that you could spend all day awaiting the next butterfly or bird sighting. Is this a park you hike often? Or you've been meaning to try out after a day in and around the East Bay? There are 50 hikes to choose from.

THE MOUNT DIABLO INTERPRETATIVE ASSOCIATION... is the organization behind the tome, a tidbit-filled book thick with wild knowledge. There are maps, too, to help hikers chart a course, and suggestions for the just-starting-out-er (like half-mile trails to take on for the very first time). Just find one of the five areas the book is divided into -- the four points of the compass plus the interior -- and get to studying terrain, flora, fauna, how easy or challenging a trail is, and the wonders of Mount Diablo. Will your New Year's resolution be outside more? This is a fine initial step in that direction. And the next time a knowledgeable friend tells you to keep an eye out for the hawks or chaparral or the oaks, just smile sagely and inform them, with kindness but candor, that you're keeping an eye out for absolutely everything.

Photo Credit: Mount Diablo Interpretative Association]]>
<![CDATA[Warbling to the Wine: Cave Caroling at Saracina]]> Tue, 10 Nov 2015 14:32:05 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/carolinginthecavessaracina1.jpg

LIKE SINGING TO PLANTS: When's the last time you crooned "Happy Birthday (to You)" or "It Had to Be You" or "Love Me Do" to the fern in the corner of the den? Many people sing to their leafy green shrubs and their flowering beds and the human members of their family and the dog, both to exercise the vocal cords but also to maybe, just maybe, give the fern or Fido or kid a little pick-me-up. After all, studies do show that music is a force for good, something that wends its way into our ear and then, soon after, our brains and hearts, for the better. So could the very same thing happen to wine? It's interesting food -- er, drink -- for thought, and perhaps best pondered in Hopland over the first Saturday in December. Because if you make for Saracina Vineyards, the fact of the matter is you will be engaging in song-makery, via your voice, very near some very fine wines, while you stand inside the atmospheric caves of the property. The caves are pretty on any visit, what with the elegant rows of casks and low lighting and solid walls and subterranean feel, but add some holiday cheer to the mix and you have...

A CAROLING PARTY... that can only take place in wine country. Saturday, Dec. 5 is the date for the afternoon-long affair, one that includes a hayride on the property, as if your day didn't get picturesque enough. What will be cooler, singing to wine in caves or rolling around the hilly landscape of Hopland, which looks as though it sprung from an illustration on the label of a wine bottle? We'll vote both. You don't need to be a great singer, you just need to enjoy classic Christmassy tunes and a day out in a rustic-elegant setting. Cost? It's thirty bucks, and that shall include "wintertime treats and wine" (think s'mores and such). And if you truly don't think of yourself as a top-notch vocalist, take heart; the Ukiah High School Chorus will be on hand to lead the proceedings. Ready to give some wine some oomph via a few high notes? Well, they say it works for ferns. Why shouldn't we try singing to some shiraz or crooning to a cabernet? See you in Saracina, holiday-happy Hopland-going superstars.

Photo Credit: Saracina Vineyards]]>
<![CDATA[The National Parks Honor Our Veterans]]> Mon, 09 Nov 2015 18:36:25 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sfveteransday02932.jpg

THERE ARE MANY WAYS... to show gratitude throughout the year to the people who have served our country, and especially on Nov. 11, when some of the most profound ways to remember and honor happen at some of the most epic of places, and places imbued with silence. We speak of the national parks, which not only contain a number of historic sites with emotion-tinged ties to our veterans, but also symbolize our country for many, and its vast beauty. Finding a place of solitude to reflect on the history of the occasion, and your time in the service or the time of someone you love, can be done by finding the nature- or monument-focused spot nearest your town. Or if you want to be at a place with a specific story that holds meaning for the day, that's possible, too. How to observe Veterans Day, then, via the National Park Service? You can begin by entering a park that's...

WAIVED THE ADMISSION: Those national parks that charge an entry fee will forgo that fee on Wednesday, Nov. 11. (Just over a fourth of the parks do charge, if you're wondering.) There are a few days a year when those parks put up the proverbial "no admission" sign, and Veterans Day is the final one on the calendar (with the next being Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, at the start of the new year). In California, both Yosemite National Park and Joshua Tree National Park have entry fees on most days, so consider either place for your quiet autumn outing and reflection.

FORT POINT NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE: It's a Civil War landmark, where "500 men were garrisoned" back during the conflict, and it sits today very near the Golden Gate Bridge. The National Park Foundation included it in "A Salute to Our Veterans" list, a list that includes several places around the U.S. that might make a meaningful Veterans Day destination for travelers and locals alike. Want to know more about the fort, which has stood since 1861, and its legacy.

Photo Credit: National Park Foundation]]>
<![CDATA[New Package: 'Unlimited Fun' on Catalina Island]]> Mon, 09 Nov 2015 18:05:21 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/avalonlookingeastcatalinachamber.jpg

WHAT SHOULD WE DO FIRST... on Catalina Island? It's a pretty common question, and one that travelers to the fabled, jutting-out-of-the-Pacific hunk o' land often ask. It's not because they haven't heard that there's plenty to do around Avalon, the burg's biggest town, or upon the surrounding ocean waters, because most people have; after all, the island has been a well-known play place for decades upon decades, thanks in large part to its largest building, the Casino.

But getting everything in that one wants to do during their short sojourn on Catalina is the challenge, a challenge that is met, early on, by querying friends who have been there: What should we do first on Catalina? There's a new package that helps with that specific worry, that you'll miss out on the important to-dos during your getaway, and it has the comforting name of "Unlimited Fun." The Santa Catalina Island Company's three-day package covers a caboodle of Catalina-themed bases, from the ocean-close zip line to history-filled tours of the Casino Building, a structure that saw whole boatloads of partying superstars back in the '20s and 1930s. Along with the Casino tour and zip-lining, the "customizable package," which kicks off at $269 per person per night, includes your way over to the island (via helicopter or boat) and a stay at the Inn at Mt. Ada, Hotel Atwater, or the Pavilion Hotel. So once you've reached Catalina, and you've check in, then what?

YOU'LL WHEEE THROUGH THE AIR... on the aforementioned zip line or venture out on a glass-bottom boat, the better to admire the ocean floor's kelpy riches, or try a ride on the Ocean Runner, or nose around the Casino, the better to hear tales of yesteryear. A dining credit worth fifty clams per night is part of the scene, and the participating eateries include the Descanso Beach Club and Avalon Grille. There are a few to-knows, given the movable parts of this deal, like the fact that a helicopter will be more for your package and such. Oh so nice to know right now? This beaut of a getaway is good through the first of March, so while people are posting icy photos from the east coast, you can post yourself on the sun-soaked sand of Avalon Harbor. We're not saying that you should expressly book the "Unlimited Fun" deal to invoke cross-coast jealousies, but if that's a delightful byproduct, then so be it.

Photo Credit: Catalina Chamber of Commerce]]>
<![CDATA[Resort at Squaw Creek: Holiday Time]]> Thu, 12 Nov 2015 22:15:59 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/christmasatsquawcreek234.jpg

INSIDE THE SNOWGLOBE: Science stays pretty busy pretty much around the clock, so we won't get too huffy that inventor types haven't yet figured out how human beings can enter the world of a snowglobe, or Christmas tabletop village, or the front of a greeting card. Because many people long to, around the end of the year, that get-cozy, hang-the-stocking stretch where everything feels a tad more nostalgic and traditions reign. But we don't need the SnowGlobe Automatica 5000 or whatever science may dream up to find the sort of landscape and loveliness that glittery greeting cards so easily deliver; The Resort at Squaw Creek kind of has the whole pretty snowflakes, skate-and-s'mores thing down pat come the holiday season. After all, the ski-plus destination has been hosting Magical Memories for over a decade now, so to call the resort knowledgeable in the whole joy-delivering department is to just state facts. Festive facts, that is, and we note that because we don't live in a world where sheer festiveness comes to the forefront all that often. But guests at the resort will find that forefront festiveness in high order from Friday, Nov. 27 right through to the end of the year, when a New Year's Eve party breaks out the bubbly and next-day Bloody Marys.

THE SCHEDULE IS PACKED, and certain to-dos happen on certain days, so if you want your Magical Memories experiences at The Resort at Squaw Creek to include specific family happenings, or music-focused festivities, best plan your visit around whatever whimsy you seek. The Grand Tree Lighting gets it all going -- er, glowing -- on Friday, Nov. 27, along with the reveal of the resort's famous Gingerbread Village. The making of s'mores, an alfresco ice rink, a fundraiser for the Tahoe Truckee Humane Society, Breakfast with Santa, holiday films, storytelling for the tots, and a whole sleighful of other seasonal treats fill out the month-plus roster. There are big Christmas dine-out choices, and the New Year's Eve party, too, but let's note that Thanksgiving Day is also a whole turkey'd-out thing, if you're looking to get your feast-on the evening before the tree lighting and gingerbread unveiling. Will you feel like you're in a snowglobe, though? That depends, but we should come clean and say this: The snow falling from above originates from clouds in the sky, and the little buildings and trees are 100% real. 

Photo Credit: Squaw Creek]]>
<![CDATA[Time Travel: Sutter's Fort by Candlelight]]> Sat, 07 Nov 2015 15:50:35 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sutterCandlelighttour.jpg

OBSERVING A LOCATION BY CANDLELIGHT... is something of a staple as the holidays grow close. Candles, after all, are common objects in many of our oft-told Christmas tales, and the flicker and glow invokes a coziness that's synonymous with the season. But often the candles in question are lighting an area that was built after the invention of electricity, so the small flames provide more of an elegant enhancement to the scene, rather than any sense of actual reality or history. But journey to a place like Sutter's Fort State Historic Park in Sacramento for a Candlelight Tour and you know you are in a place that, at one time, relied solely upon wax and wick to illuminate the time from sundown to sunrise. Candlelight Tours aren't every night at the storied site, a site very much associated with some of California's beginnings as well as the Gold Rush and the Donner Party, too. It's difficult to discuss the Golden State of those gold-focused times, or any time around the middle of the 1800s, without Sutter's Fort arising in the conversation. So seeing how people lived, especially after the moon rose at night and darkness settled over the low, thick-walled buildings, is seeing into a vital part of our state's past. Ready to pack your wagon and clip-clop back to the after-sundown Sacramento of 1846? Then be at the fort on...

SATURDAY, NOV. 21: There are a number of Candlelight Tours between 6:30 in the evening and 8 o'clock, and visitors should expect to find "all modern lights turned off." You'll be able to "eavesdrop" on characters inhabiting the fort circa 1846, and find out what a ye olde evening looked like, and how an evening felt, over a century and a half back. To finish it off? Pie and a "hot beverage" to take the chill off. If you can't be in Sacramento for the night but still want to seem some historic-style dress and tale-telling, there are a number of happenings during the day on Saturday, Nov. 21. Should you wear your bonnet? Or your leather britches or boots? No need, really. We're not in the rugged days of yore, where pans and picks and pioneers ruled, but we can slip through the space-time continuum for a night, and slip back out again, richer for the experience.

Photo Credit: Sutter's Fort]]>
<![CDATA[Gold and Snow: Mono County's November Colors]]> Fri, 06 Nov 2015 17:38:19 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/monoaliciav4.jpg Stunning sights are seen around June, Gull, and Silver Lakes.

Photo Credit: Alicia Vennos/Mono County]]>
<![CDATA[Now Open: Boreal Mountain]]> Fri, 06 Nov 2015 11:30:14 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/borealmountainopen.jpg

A STARK CHANGE OF SEASON: It's, like, totally freaky. One day we were all just trying to figure out something to wear on Halloween, a costume that would be clever and topical and memorable, but a costume we wouldn't sweat too much in, because, you know, Halloween around much of the state can sometimes lean warmer than cooler. And then, days later, bam: A cold front calls upon various peaks and mountain ranges around California, at the very start of November, and suddenly ski resorts and tubing mountains and ice rinks are hustling into quick action, the better to revel in all of the surprise flakeage. Well, the snow flakes weren't exactly a surprise, thanks to the modern technology of weather forecasting, but for many a Californian the quick switch from warm-ish kinda fall to almost-winter autumn has been weird and most welcome. Most welcoming of all, though, are the people currently schussing down the slopes at Boreal Mountain, the Truckee resort that kicked off its season with an early opening day of Friday, Nov. 6.

THIS COMES A DAY AHEAD... of the resort's 2014 opening day, and skiers can thank that massive wallop that passed across the Sierra earlier in the week (Boreal revealed that "it's dumping here and we're feeling it!!! Literally!!! What a magical morning" on Nov. 2.) Boreal Mountain joins Mt. Rose, "First Resort Open in Lake Tahoe!" and Mammoth Mountain (first open in California, with a Nov. 5 opening date) as one of the trio of destinations kicking off November with running lifts and several inches of the frosty white stuff. 

TO SAY A CHUFFED FEELING... is in the air at the Golden State's ski resorts is an understatement, especially considering the snow, or lack of, over the winter of 2014-2015. El Niño and early openings are much on the minds of winter sports lovers, so keep on keepin' on, snow-making clouds. Up over the next couple of weeks: The opening of many Tahoe-close resorts, and then, in Yosemite, Badger Pass.

Photo Credit: Boreal Mountain]]>
<![CDATA[Disneyland Holidays (Plus 'Star Wars,' Too)]]> Fri, 06 Nov 2015 22:04:15 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/smallworldholidaydl123.jpg

THE MOON CAN SEE IT: If ever there was a group of people who could build a ginormous, Jules Verne-like telescope on the surface of the moon, the kind of quirky, twisty, brass job that could look back upon the earth, it is probably the Imagineers. Okay, NASA could do the job, too, we know, but Disney's famous batch of braintastic creative types has a way of dreaming up amazing things that do amazing things from amazing places (ponder the Pepper's Ghost effect inside the Haunted Mansion or any of the lifelike animatronics found around Disneyland Resort). So we're expecting the news, any time now, that the makers of rides and creators of attractions at various Disney theme parks will build an actual telescope on the moon, the better to see Disneyland with, and, in particular, one single landmark at a single time of year. We speak of it's a small world and we speak of Christmastime, when the '60s-era boat ride goes for the full twinkly wattage look. Truly, could you see Anaheim, and it's a small world, from the surface of the moon, with a medium-powered telescope, in November and December? Imagineers, ponder that topic while we mere mortals prepare for...

HOLIDAY TIME... at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, which opens on Friday, Nov. 13. As always, the wreaths and bows will be out, and the handmade candy canes at Candy Kitchen, and the toy soldiers in the A Christmas Fantasy Parade. The Jingle Cruise'll throw in some yuletide touches, and the Haunted Mansion Holiday -- complete with Jack Skellington, Zero, Sally, and "Nightmare" crew -- is still gingerbreading up the New Orleans Square spookhouse. Santa Claus will also call upon Critter Country, if you'd like an audience with Mr. Kringle. 

AS FOR THE OTHER NOVEMBER ARRIVAL... at the park? Why a new "Star Wars" experience called "Season of the Force" opens on Nov. 16, bringing with it opportunities to say hello to characters from the universe and "a twist" on the Jedi Training. Also? Space Mountain is transforming into Hyperspace Mountain in honor of the opening. 

OF COURSE... now we're really and truly thinking the Imagineers might be building a telescope on the surface of the moon, both to admire the lights of it's a small world at Christmas and because space, in the form of "Star Wars," is a central theme of the upcoming season at the world's most famous theme park.

Photo Credit: Scott Brinegar]]>
<![CDATA[On the Horizon: 'Star Trek' 50th Anniversary Con]]> Tue, 10 Nov 2015 12:30:02 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/stGettyImages-71675776.jpg

WHEN YOU'RE HELMING THE ENTERPRISE... you have to have a knack for looking far into the distance, across the reaches of space and time, to foretell what challenges you might face in the days and years and decades to come. It's kind of Starfleet Academy 101, really; foreprepared is, well, foreprepared, and wearing one of the most famous uniforms in all of pop culture means you're able to look far beyond tomorrow. To plan a "Star Trek" convention, the majorest of major "Star Trek conventions, one needs a similar set of skills in the whole "foreplanning" department. You don't just throw the whole thing together in a matter of days or even a month, not when it is the 50th anniversary of the cosmic phenom and not when over 100 "Star Trek" celebrities are set to show. You look almost a year out, like a Starfleet captain might, and you start planning your mission months and months ahead of the actual event. It's just logical, is all, and it is exactly what is going down with Creation Entertainment's mondo annual everybody's-there Las Vegas extravaganza. The "Star Trek" convention is a mega extravaganza each and every year, of course, but the 2016 party, the 50th bash, is as big as a wormhole and just as able to pull fans in from every direction of the compass.

AUG. 3 THROUGH 7... are the dates for the 2016 con, and details are already scurrying out, Tribble-style, from the Creation Entertainment headquarters. The aforementioned 100+ "Star Trek" cast members and creatives due to show is a major headline, as is the fact that the term "50th" might be seen on a lot of merch. The Rio Suites Hotel-based bash'll also include giveaways, costume displays, "convention-only freebies," and ample opportunities for you to wear your full Borg regalia. It's a five-day convention and thousands of true-blue Trekkers are expected, especially given the anniversary-year cachet. Ready to start prepping your ship for lift-off? With a destination of Las Vegas? You can follow all the reveals at the Creation Entertainment "Star Trek" site. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Palm Springs Fetes the Sinatra Centennial]]> Wed, 04 Nov 2015 17:14:47 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sinatradavispalmsprings.jpg

IT ISN'T TOO OFTEN... that a performer becomes entwined with a place, but, when it happens, both the artist and the location seem to boast a legendary quality. Look to Elvis Presley and Memphis and Wayne Newton and Las Vegas, and look to Mr. Frank Sinatra, a man who had bonds with cities in the east, and then, later on, Los Angeles and Palm Springs. The desert resort still has a lot of that Ol' Blue Eyes cachet, thanks in large part to its historically cool mid-century vibe, the vibe that ruled when Mr. Sinatra himself called the town home. And speaking of homes, the singer's abode is still there, and occasionally open for tours, making the stately and sophisticated Twin Palms Estate a must-visit for any aficionado of the Chairman of the Board. But what if you're making for the famed Playground to the Stars during the month of December, which happens to be the birth month of Frank Sinatra? And it happens to be December of 2015, so you'll be there right when fans are marking the 100th year of the performer's birth? There are a number of celebrations afoot, so don your fedora, slide it over one eye, sling your jacket over one shoulder, and stroll in the direction of...

THE DOLLY SINATRA LODGE: The Order Sons of Italy in America gave their meeting house a moniker any fan'll know, that of Mr. Sinatra's mom Dolly. You can bet there'll be a bash there, just days ahead of Dec. 12, Mr. Sinatra's birthday proper. Pen Dec. 9 on your calendar, and make a date to savor "the food, song, and dance." The parties around town continue, with a Purple Room party on Thursday, Dec. 10 (AJ Lambert, Nancy Sinatra's daughter, will sing) and celebrations at Spencer's and the Colony Palms Hotel on the night of Saturday, Dec. 12. Lady Blue Eyes shall Sinatra-up Spencer's (Mr. Sinatra is described as being a "loyal patron" of the spot) and the Colony Palms will offer a Sinatra-themed birthday cocktail, in addition to other festive-making touches. Looking to honor the legacy in the location the singer once lived and played? Palm Springs is set to do it up with some crooning, some cocktailing, and lots of conviviality.

Photo Credit: Sinatra Centennial]]>
<![CDATA[Sudden Lake: A Death Valley Wonder]]> Thu, 05 Nov 2015 12:20:40 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/lakemanlydv.jpg

DRIEST, HOTTEST, LOWEST... WETTEST? When you drive into Death Valley National Park with a group of friends, it can be tempting to play a few silly, pass-the-time games in the car, the kind of games that enhance any road trip through a large expanse of land. One such game might be to think of places, things, or concepts that are lower, hotter, and drier than the arid landscape you're entering. Is a piece of toast without butter drier than Death Valley? Is the surface of the sun hotter? Is the deepest trench in the ocean lower? No one ever said that road trip guessing games were serious, but something has emerged in Death Valley which seems so fictional that it might belong to a light-hearted guessing game and not the real world. It's Lake Manly, an actual span of water, as in H20, as in the moist stuff, inside the parched park. Thanks to a drencher of a recent autumn storm, water appeared in the spot where an ancient lake once stood. But while exceedingly cool, this isn't the first time this has happened in this epoch or even in the last few years; Lake Manly has reappeared following especially stormy events, and the snapshot of kayakers out on the desert lake back in 2005 made headlines near and far.

CALL IT A FINE CHANCE... to admire a phenomenon rarely seen around the country's largest national park (largest in the contiguous United States, that is). It's also a way to peer back through the veils of time, back to before the last ice age called it a day, when a lake existed in Death Valley, one that was "roughly 80 miles long and 800 feet deep." Whoa. As for kayaking on this newest version of the old lake? A fan asked the park if he might show with his vessel, to which the park responded with "I don't see why not," though the water is described as not all that deep. 

AS FOR THE LAKE'S NAMESAKE? That would be William L. Manly, an original D.V. pioneer back in the 1800s. If you're also keen to know more about the people who passed through this epic stretch back in the middle of the 19th century, the annual Death Valley '49ers Encampment trots into the area in the middle of November.

Photo Credit: NPS/Dan Kish]]>
<![CDATA[Solvang's Sparkly December Schedule]]> Tue, 03 Nov 2015 13:52:39 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Tenley-Fohl-Photography_Solvang-Village_TFP-2.jpg

MAKING A SCHEDULE... around the holidays is a pretty smart thing to do, especially if you have to buy wrapping paper and you need to find a recipe for cranberry compote and you are thinking you might host the neighborhood block party, though you swore to yourself that last year was the last time you'd run the whole shebang all by yourself. To wade into the final month of the year without a list of must-dos is, in short, folly, though many of us find ourselves there, again and again. It's good, then, that the destinations most associated with Christmas do happen to stick to the whole schedule-organizing, plan-ahead-thing-ing, even if we individuals don't stay quite on top of our own lives. Look to Solvang, which Time magazine called "one of the most Christmassy towns in America" a few years back. While we're carving our pumpkins and deciding if we should be a cute ghost or a scary ghost for trick-or-treat time, the wine country town is busy as a pack of elves making toys. But Solvang isn't in the toy-making business; the burg is known for its seasonal, multi-day bashes, especially around December. For December, in Solvang, is...

JULEFEST: And Julefest doesn't just pop up on a single night, accompanied by a tree and a hot pot of cocoa and a carol or two. The celebration is on, via several different incarnations, from the first day of December right through to Jan. 8, 2016. So giving a studious eye to the whole Julefest schedule, before making your road trip, is essential. Will Santa be there? Yes, at certain times over the first two weekends. Will there be opportunities to "Shop, Mingle & Jingle"? The town has over 150 shops, so count on it. Will Nativity Pageants and trolley tours and looks at Christmas lights and the famous Christmas Tree Burn, when the whole party is over, be woven into the whimsical doings? Count on it. But count on yourself missing something merry if you don't pick your days ahead of time. Lucky for you, though: Solvang has shared its Julefest schedule over a month ahead of the festivities, so you've got time to debate. Wine tasting, then Santa? Light-looking, then the Beer Walk? Decisions, and so on and so forth.

Photo Credit: Tenley Fohl Photography]]>
<![CDATA[Lace Up: Walnut Creek on Ice]]> Tue, 03 Nov 2015 07:03:35 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/1-03-09what.jpg

THE BEGINNING OF NOVEMBER... can only mean one thing. No, it isn't the fact that Christmas carols will start playing in the mall (they've already kind of started, here and there). And you won't be seeing a thousand offbeat recipes for turkey starting up (the number is more like two or three thousand). But what you will be doing, like many other people right about now, is realizing that the holiday extravaganza, is starting up in earnest, which can only mean that you'll need to break out your swimsuit and ice skates very soon. That is, of course, if you honor the Golden State tradition of ice-skating on the first day of the new year while wearing your favorite tankini or board shorts. True, we do also like to run into the Pacific Ocean on Jan. 1, but several seasonal ice rinks around California are now making the "skate in your swimsuit on New Year's Day" a full-on rite of yearly passage. Walnut Creek on Ice observes the brrr-filled ritual, and a lot of other yuletide, rink-lively to-dos, too. And with the opening just days away -- Wednesday, Nov. 11 is the kick-off -- anyone thinking of taking to the ice might want to break out the mittens and/or swimsuit, depending on the day of arrival.

THE 11TH SEASON... for the downtown destination twirls from Nov. 11 through to Jan. 18, so you've got over two months to sharpen your skills. Special happenings include a Children's Winter Festival, a special showing from the Lamorinda Theater, and Family Skate Nights, plus the aforementioned Polar Bear Icepolooza on New Year's Day (not mentioned: Show in your "beach apparel" and you'll get five bucks off the price on Jan. 1). The Veteran's Day opening has a deal for veterans and their guests -- $15 for skate rental and two hours on the rink -- and other festive happenings are currently chilling before their big holiday 2015 debut. But, truly, 2016 going to be the year you welcome while in "beach apparel" on an ice rink? Or by running into the Pacific with a lot of other hearty souls? We're a curious lot out here on the West Coast, full of vim and vitality and a little bit of foolishness, too. As long as we keep the towels and the coats nearby, the New Year's Day in the ocean or at Walnut Creek on Ice seems like a memorable way to jumpstart the next 365.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[A Wine & Food Affair in Northern Sonoma County]]> Mon, 02 Nov 2015 14:31:44 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/160*120/wine12.jpg

CANDY BUCKETS AWAY: No one is demanding that you stow the candy bucket, the one that's still mostly full of random sweets and suckers and chocolate bars. You're enjoying it, you like the sugary side of Halloween, and it only comes once a year. But when November arrives, eaters begin to make the shift away from the lollies and nougats and thematic treats of Oct. 31 into another realm, one that has to do with the deeper, richer tastes of later autumn, and the beverages that pair well with those tastes. One of the first parties of November to be all about the pairings arrives just a week after Halloween, and it is a shift in thought, heart, and palate: It's the Northern Sonoma County tradition called A Wine & Food Affair, and it is all about placing the liquid goods made along the Wine Road with the edibles that'll suit them best.

AND VICE VERSA, OF COURSE: A pairing event is never solely about just the beverage or just the bites, but rather how they work in concert. True, true, the Saturday, Nov. 7 and Sunday, Nov. 8 weekend does happen to take place in wine country, so learning about the pinots and cabs and chardonnays coming out of the regional vineyards will be a major part of anyone's visit. And the major-ness doesn't end with the selection of paired-up wines; look to the lengthy list of participants, wineries that include Fritz Underground Winery, Hook and Ladder, and Pezzi King Vineyards. If you do the full drive over one or two days, you'll wend into the Russian River Valley, Dry Creek, and Alexander Valley, too.

FAVORITE RECIPE TIME: As for the food end of the pair-ups? Each winery will present a favorite recipe "for guests to sample throughout the event." If you've ever asked yourself, while sipping a shiraz, "what would the winemaker serve with this?," you're about to find out. Designated driver tickets are part of the scene, as are two-day options, too. Are you feeling the oncoming of wintry elegance upon our plates and in our glasses, dear foodies? Yes, it's nearly here, but, seriously, there's no rush in finishing up the Halloween candy.

Photo Credit: mocii.com]]>
<![CDATA[Old-Fashioned Festive: La Quinta at Christmas]]> Sun, 01 Nov 2015 10:16:00 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Christmas_Frontlaquinta.jpg

IT ISN'T ALL THAT UNUSUAL.. to pass by a television in a window or a cinema marquee, in December, and see that "It's a Wonderful Life" is playing. It's a film that's been festively folded into our national consciousness, but, more than that, our personal stories, too. Everyone sees a bit of George Bailey and his conflicts and his good heart in their own everyday actions, and revisiting the 1947 classic each holiday season affirms that connection. But seeing the movie played large, against a wall, once a week, at a particular location, can only mean one thing: The movie has important ties to the place. La Quinta Resort & Club, the Waldorf Astoria Resort that sits alongside the grand Santa Rosa Mountains, has little to do with fictional Bedford Falls, the quaint-tastic small town seen in Frank Capra's most famous film, at least visually. But La Quinta has much to do with the filmmaker, a man who wrote and worked on and dreamed about many of his celebrated cinematic works while staying in a casita on the desert-pretty property. 

AND THAT PROPERTY... pauses at the end of each year to pay homage to Mr. Capra, the resort's most famous return guest (and that's saying a lot, since La Quinta was early Hollywood's go-to desert playground, even before Palm Springs became a mid-century icon). True, you can book the recently refurbished casita that saw the writer-director craft some of his most beloved tales, a casita that still has his typewriter on the desk, as if he just stepped away. Or you can be there on a Friday night to see George Bailey writ large on the side of the Fiesta Wall. Or you can get into the spirit with a caboodle of classic holiday callings, from the Nov. 28 tree lighting to the roasting of chestnuts to the lighting of the menorah to live tunes to trunk shows and shopping, too. If you're there on Christmas morning, the tots in your party can receive a personal wake-up call from Santa Claus himself. Special suppers, all with a seasonal feel, shall also be a part of Christmas week. 

DO YOU NEED TO RUN... through the lobby, shouting "Merry Christmas, everyone!" like George Bailey did in "It's a Wonderful Life"? Probably not the best idea, since desert vacationers are looking for a little bit of relaxation. Also relaxing: The not-too-dear starting price of $199 for a room, less taxes and the resort fee. (The rooms, like the Capra casita, just underwent a major rehaul, with fresh carpeting, stylish curtains, and such.)

THEY SAY... the holidays book up at destination hotels, but for a hotel that has some major holiday cred, those book-ups move as fast as a certain Bedford Falls resident running happily through the streets of his hometown. 

Photo Credit: La Quinta Resort & Club]]>
<![CDATA[Monterey Macabre: Giant Octopus Meets Jack O'Lantern]]> Sat, 31 Oct 2015 15:34:21 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/montereyoctopuspumpkin.jpg

SUPERSTAR + SEASONAL SQUASH: To call the Giant Pacific Octopus a superstar of sorts is to not really go quite far enough in the fawning-over department. The many-of-limb, tentacled-of-body, wise-of-spirit cephalopod attracts a constant crowd of admirers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, people eager to see every fluid move the beautiful creature makes. And the beautiful creature, like all octopuses, is intelligent and investigative, both, so when something new enters the area, that something new is going to get thoroughly explored pretty darn quickly.

WHICH IS EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED... when staffers at the Cannery Row-based institution lowered a recently carved pumpkin into the curious critter's tank, just in time for Halloween. Video reveals that the giant seems hesitant at first, as if taking in this fresh object; after all, pumpkin patches do not spring up upon the ocean floor, regardless of what sci-fi or futurists suggest. But soon the octopus is all over the pumpkin, entering crevices and digging deeper into this wondrous round and orange thing. There are round things in the ocean, and the color of orange has been seen often, on both fish and coral, and as for crevices and holes? Well those are incredibly plentiful, too, beneath the waves. A pumpkin is a different thing for a cephalopod, and yet its disparate elements aren't unknown, totally, in the ocean.

WANT TO SEE... this curious Monterey resident say "what the..?" as the jack o'lantern is lowered into the tank? It's a charmer, and just another tick in the octopus intelligence column. Okay, we'll fawn: The Giant Pacific Octopus is as superstarry as superstars come.


MINE! Octopuses are naturally very curious and like to explore things they've never seen before, so the cracks and crevices of this pumpkin made it the perfect Halloween treat for our giant Pacific octopus.

Posted by Monterey Bay Aquarium on Saturday, 31 October 2015

Photo Credit: Monterey Bay Aquarium]]>
<![CDATA[Redwoods Halloween: Find Eerie-Awesome Trees]]> Sat, 31 Oct 2015 09:04:19 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/redwoodsmonsters_richardstenger.jpg

BEYOND BIGFOOT: To ask one of California's iconic supernatural symbols to step to one side, on his own home turf, would not be polite, and so we wouldn't dare do such a rude thing. For when one begins to talk about the redwoods and Halloween and eerie adventures to be had deep among the Big Trees, one will naturally give Bigfoot -- or Mr. Foot, to show some courtesy -- his most deserved due. He's a presence of the most major sort from Humboldt County on up into Washington state, and his visage is seen on everything from magnets to t-shirts around Northern California. So we do tip our hat and pay our respect to this famous figure, even as we give the spotlight to another mysterious part of the woods in Humboldt County: The Monster Tree, and all of the notable redwoods that grow into ghoulish and fabulous forms. Like clouds, it is quite easy to find faces and images within the barkscape and leafy branches of many a shrub and tree, but the redwoods, with their impressive stature and impressive size give us more reason to look (also, they've been here a really, really long time, so history lends some lore to what we see on and inside a redwood, too). Have you wandered into Redwood National Park lately? Then you might have spied...

THE SCABBY TREE: That and the Twisted Snag and the Monster Tree can all be found along Berry Glen Trail, a trail that doesn't wend for too long or too deep into the woods. It's just 3.5 miles, and it "connects the popular Lady Bird Johnson Grove with the Elk Meadow viewing area on Highway 101." Not only does it make for a quintessentially peaceful ramble, the best kind of ramble among the redwoods, but it sends imaginations reeling with the knobby and character-filled trees spied along the way. Even Bigfoot, on his nocturnal strolls, must admire these old beauties and their story-inspiring structural quirks.

THERE'S SO MUCH MORE... to admire in the redwoods, like the albino redwoods located south of Eureka. So atmospheric is this beautiful stretch of our state that even some of the flora can tell a frightful tale, if we pause and peer closer. As for protecting the redwoods, and all of that gorgeousness and occasional ghoulishness? Save the Redwoods League is a fine place to start.

Photo Credit: Richard Stenger]]>
<![CDATA[Holiday Full Moon Tour at Tamarack]]> Fri, 30 Oct 2015 21:20:36 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/holidayfullmoontourtamarack.jpg

HEAD TO THE TREES: The news that outdoors-minded outfitters REI would close on Black Friday thrung around the internet in the days ahead of Halloween 2015. The hashtag accompanying the story said it all: #OptOutside, and the company said it would pay employees to get out and enjoy nature. It might be early yet to call this a larger movement of sorts, but a number of travelers who find themselves at remote destinations for the November holiday will already be doing just that over the days before and after Thanksgiving (and on the holiday itself, of course). They'll be under the sky, and beneath the trees, hiking or snowshoeing or bird-watching or just breathing some crisp fall air deep into the far-down-deepest reaches of their lungs. And while free-roaming and doing your own thing on that famously unstructured day -- well, unstructured for those who have a vacation day to take -- is a gas, there are ranger-led walks in our bigger parks, and boat-cool outings on the ocean, and, in the mountains, near Mammoth, some strolls beneath the light of our lunar neighbor.

HOLIDAY FULL MOON TOURS... are a bit of a Tamarack Lodge tradition, and they're still a bit off-beat, too, because evening programs grow rather rarer after summer wraps its run. "Experience a Winter Wonderland by Moonlight," the site implores, and you can do just that in the days leading up to Turkey Day, if you're staying at or near Tamarack. Cost is fifty five bucks and this includes "equipment, guide for the evening, trail access, and a fireside hot beverage inside Tamarack Lodge." The whole sky-big shebang takes about 90 minutes, and it begins at the very-after-dark time of 7 o'clock. Should you bundle up? You absolutely should. Should you be bummed if your Thanksgiving plans take you elsewhere? Not at all, dear wild-world lover; there are more Full Moon Walks at Tamarack to come, with another holiday set happening just ahead of Christmas. Will you choose to #optoutside more this winter, even if it means pausing beneath a pine to admire its branches and the birds above? The word on the street is nature is rather good for us, regardless of the date on the calendar.

Photo Credit: Tamarack Lodge]]>
<![CDATA[Kimpton Hotels + Movember: A Giveback Deal]]> Wed, 04 Nov 2015 17:16:52 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/mov29323-horz.jpg

GIVING BACK AND GETAWAYS... don't often match up in this world. We so often seem to help out and lend a hand and raise awareness about the causes dear to us while we're at home, and once we venture out for the weekend, that part of our individual world is on hold. It doesn't always have to be that way, and very often a hotel will sponsor a charity or organization, encouraging guests to do the same, via food specials or limited-time packages. If you know Movember, the November-long fundraiser focused on men's health (and the growing of fabulous mustaches by the men raising money and the non-mustache'd Mo Sistas, too), then you'll have a hunch what the "Flash Yo 'Stache" deal is all about at a trio of Kimpton hotels. The properties are all located in Southern California, so if you show at the Shorebreak Hotel in Huntington Beach, Hotel Solamar in San Diego, or The Palomar San Diego any time during November, and you do the requisite flashing of your mustache, you'll "a 20-percent discount on room rates and a special welcome amenity with Movember friendly amenities." Jim Hollister, director of operations for the Kimptons of the SoCal/AZ region, says "In Southern California, we are all about healthy living and love encouraging our guests to do the same. We're excited to play a small role in this effort, and look forward to rewarding guests for their support."

NOVEMBER 1... is the day to get growin' on the 'stach front, gentlemen, but the deal is on for all 30 days of the eleventh month at the three Kimptons mentioned. And if you don't have a mustache to flash for the deal, there are available mustaches "at check-in, to ensure anyone can partake in the promotion." Special drinks and hashtags for Instagram, hashtags that may net the guest a special surprise, are also part of the do-unto-others promotion. 

SO... are you thinking of joining the Movember Foundation movement? Time to find a razor and clean that chin right up. Here are your details, mustache men and Mo Sistas. Thanks for giving back and, should you head to one of the participating Kimptons, enjoy your deal-nice, thank-you getaway.

Photo Credit: Movember/Kimpton]]>
<![CDATA[Scotty's Castle: Adopt-a-Room Program]]> Thu, 29 Oct 2015 20:50:32 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/scottyscastleadoptaroom_nps.jpg

GIVING HISTORY A HELPING HAND: When we visualize remote desert-based landmarks, the kind made of rock or adobe or hardwood, we very often think of a timeless, unchanging structure that'll weather the ages. You might have pictured a Grand Canyon gem, one designed by the great Mary Colter, or perhaps a hard-to-reach hotel or lodge, the kind that's seen a million guests. Scotty's Castle, one of the famous destinations inside Death Valley National Park, also qualifies on the desert-based, timeless front, but sometimes places that are meant to weather the ages get struck with some serious weather. That's just what happened to the popular attraction over the middle weekend in October, when "the largest flood ever recorded at Scotty's Castle" arrived with an epic storm on Sunday, Oct. 18. The videos from the park tell the tale of sudden lakes forming within hours and rushing currents sweeping away branches and rocks. But the further part of the tale is what occurred at the home once owned by Albert and Bessie Johnson: Extensive damage. Scotty's Castle is now closed "and will remain closed for a minimum of several weeks" due to "damage to roads, utilities and some historic structures."

THOSE WHO COUNT THE CASTLE... as a favorite family destination, one that they've revisited multiple times over the years, may heave a sigh of disappointment, especially if a holiday trip was planned to the '20s-era favorite. But the bigger sighs being sighed likely spring from a supporter's wish to do something for this true gem of the American West, one that represents a certain pioneer spirit and remote scrapiness, qualities once possessed by the castle's namesake and local raconteur, Walter Scott. If you want to lend a hand to the landmark, there's the Scotty's Castle Adopt-a-Room Program, which is a nifty way of putting your funds into a specific area of the house. If you want to learn more about the park damage wrought by the mid-October flood, you can stay abreast with the Death Valley Natural History Association or the National Park Service. If you want to make a one-time donation to help with the restoration of the castle, the DVNHA is a fine place to start. 

Photo Credit: NPS]]>
<![CDATA[Vintage Trailer Love: Stranded in Morro Bay]]> Thu, 29 Oct 2015 11:00:27 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/vintagestrandedmorro.jpg

TO SAY THAT THE CENTRAL COAST... has any sort of monopoly on the love of vintage trailers would probably inspire some heated debate, especially among the Airstream aficionados or Serro Scotty buffs who happen to live elsewhere. We don't want to stir this particular pot, especially since pots traveling by camper should stay clean and ready for a stew or baked beans, but we will say that towns of the Central Coast, and definitely snug with Highway 1, do see a lot of vintage trailer va-voom. Gatherings and celebrations are pretty par for the coast -- er, course -- and finding a fellowship that's also into the "tin can tourism" of another era can be pretty darn satisfying for those fans who regularly roll out with their spiffy Vagabond or Shasta Retro in tow. If you're hitting the road Halloween weekend -- heck, you probably hit it most every weekend, if you have a nice little bed to bunk down in, attached to the back of your car -- then keep Morro Bay in mind on Friday, Oct. 30 and Saturday, Oct. 31. Those are the dates for...

STRANDED IN MORRO BAY: The vintage trailer rally'll see a caboodle of shiny homes-on-wheels come to a stop for a couple of days of hobnobbing, admiring, and soaking in that mid-California mid-autumn sunshine. (If there's anything better they should probably bottle it, if they know how.) Cost for two days, with hook-ups, is $180, or $150 for a dry camp. A wine and tunes to-do on Saturday evening, which is Halloween night, is the social scene for the confab, but the Friday Happy Hour and the breakfasts'll keep things humming, too.

CAN'T MAKE IT... due to holiday obligations, like trick-or-treating or a party or such? There are a number of groups that promote the love of camping by way of the road and a fully restored, fully kitted-out roll-along room on the back. Will most of your meet-ups be in the central region of the state? Again, we're not saying that the Central Coast is the place for vintage trailer sightings, but, then again, we might be insinuating as much. And why shouldn't it be? Rolling hill backdrops, the wide Pacific, small towns and easy scenic drives. We get the appeal.

Photo Credit: Stranded in Morro Bay]]>