<![CDATA[NBC Bay Area - Worth the Trip]]> Copyright 2014 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 Thu, 21 Aug 2014 07:22:13 -0700 Thu, 21 Aug 2014 07:22:13 -0700 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[North Tahoe's Human-Powered Sports Tips]]> Wed, 20 Aug 2014 22:36:03 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/GoTahoeNorth2014PhotogChrisBartkowski.jpg

THERE WAS A DAY... not too long ago when every outdoor activity we engaged was human-powered. Maybe not fully human-powered, across the spectrum -- dog-sledding and horseback riding and other animal-person pursuits, of course, require effort beyond our own -- but the vroom-vroom of vehicles and battery-operated anythings was still a ways in the future. And while it can be fun to rumble on a wheeler over bumps and humps, putting our own back into an under-the-sun enterprise is a pleasure that has been around for as long as humans have engaged in play. (Which is, of course, has been around for an impressivly long time.) To help us out with connecting to those human-powered sports options, as they go down around North Lake Tahoe, there is a fresh ebook detailing fresh-air'd go-outs. There are some eight options in all, starting with...

SUP YOGA: If you're deep into your yoga practice and you have a taste for paddleboarding, you likely know about this yoga-paddleboard hybrid. The word "balancing" is a term much used in both pursuits, and it couldn't be more apt here; balance is key to not getting wet (or too wet, rather). Some local pointers are given, like where to find SUP classes -- Mountain Lotus Yoga offers 'em -- and where to find that perfectly pretty shoreline for blissing out.

AS FOR THE OTHER SEVEN SPORTS? Ebooky tips, local shops, and suggested routes are shared for the full range of mountain biking, road biking, aerial fabrics, paddleboarding, disc golf, and hiking. Ready to put your back and shoulders and some sweat into it? Start here.

Photo Credit: Chris Bartkowski]]>
<![CDATA[Santa Cruz Flavor: Tequila & Taco Music Festival]]> Wed, 20 Aug 2014 07:31:22 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/233*120/cmsGFGFDGFDHD.jpg

STOW THOSE GOODBYE BLUES: If you're a maven of bespoke brews and the finest of foams, summertime is your time if you live within shouting distance -- or, more accurately, driving distance -- of Marin and Santa Cruz. That's because the hotter stretch is also when the generously sized, highly tap-laden California Beer Festival shows up, bringing with it beermaker after beermaker after beermaker (and all of the beers they make). It's a pretty big to-do, and draws a pretty big crowd, but once it hits the road for Southern California, as it does each August? It's over, at least 'round NorCal, for another year.

FLAVORFUL FOLLOW-UP: But there is one more fest to go, a fest of the most spirited proportions, and while it doesn't take the foamy road, it will likely appeal to many fans of the beer bash, as well as fans of tacos and tequilas. Whoops, that was total tip of the hand right there, as to the nature of the happening (well, that and the fact that "Tequila & Taco" appears up above). The California Beer Festival organizers are staging one final 2014 grub-filled, libation-lively delight for the people above our state's halfway-up line, and it happens in Santa Cruz on Saturday, Aug. 23.

TOP-SHELF TEQUILAS... from Los Tres Tronos and Tequila Alquimia and Ocho Cientos and Mezcal Vago will be in the half-ounce tasting cups, while piquant ingredients folded inside soft tortillas will be plated by Taco Factory, Conscious Creations, and other spicy eat places. As with the California Beer Festival, live tunes complement the sipping and supping. The location for your taco-ing and tequila-ing? San Lorenzo Park in Santa Cruz. Tickets? It's $30 for the Tequila Experience, ten for admission, and you'll want to pocket cash for the people making/selling tacos.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Furry Learning: Otter Days in Monterey]]> Tue, 19 Aug 2014 18:14:29 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/otterdaysmba.jpg

THE OCEAN'S RASCAL: Every creature in the water has something fascinating to reveal, whether they gestate for extremely long periods of time or travel great distances come spring and fall or if they're the size of the merest mote or if they're as large as a million motes (a whale, we guess, is probably about a billion motes, size-wise, give or take). But it's those ocean denizens that regularly surface, play among the waves, and come close to the shore that capture the fancy of we humans on a regular basis. And if that denizen looks a bit like a land-dweller -- say, the family pup -- and acts in a way people might call "rascally," well, then, you're probably looking at the beloved symbol for a water-close region. And the otter is just that for Monterey Bay.

YOU CAN'T STROLL BY... too many Monterey shops without seeing its whiskery mug on a t-shirt, a poster, postcards, and if you look out into the Pacific itself? You might see one, on its back, snacking on some yummy mussels. What do you know of otters, though, beyond the fact that these water-loving characters are inextricably entwined with the character of Monterey and its environs? There is lots to learn about, beyond the otter's affection for abalone and its propensity to serve as rafts, of sort, for their young. Who can tell us more? Why...

THE MONTEREY BAY AQUARIUM... can, given that it is Otter HQ. Both as a home and frequent destination for the visiting marine mammals, which like the institution's Great Tide Pool, but with behind-the-scenes look at how and what otters eat. There's a whole weekend devoted to those so-called pups of the sea, on Saturday, Sept. 20 and Sunday, Sept. 21, a weekend which shall include "otter feeding and training sessions" (and other otter-y, in-the-know types of things). Are you all about otters? Be in Monterey on the last weekend of summer, and have aquarium admission handy -- that's all that is required to get into the otterly doings.

Photo Credit: Monterey Bay Aquarium]]>
<![CDATA[New Leaf-Tracking Map: California Fall Foliage Blog]]> Tue, 19 Aug 2014 10:06:59 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/196*120/autumnleavessunlight1.jpg

ASPENS, COTTONWOODS, OAKS: True, a California autumn may never appear on a calendar or tote bag like a New England autumn might but... Hey. Well wait just one second. Why shouldn't a California fall be as beloved and as photographed as the famous summer-to-winter seasons in the northeastern United States? For sure, our trees and shrubs and plants are pretty California-y, and perhaps we don't get the big spreads of reds and crimsons, but coming upon an aspen grove on the eastern side of the Sierra, all yellow and clacky-of-leaf, is a singular experience that can flood any heart with awe, regardless of where regional loyalties may stand. But locating those aspens or a clutch of oaks or a creek filled with pinky-pretty bushes isn't just a matter of chance come September, October, or November. There's a blog to help out, one that has the greatest of taglines: "Dude, autumn happens here, too." Too true, and the California Fall Color report is back for the season, with a helpful new addition.

AN INTERACTIVE MAP: Blog founder John Poimiroo says the map "provides a quick way to see where the color is changing in California and at what stage." For now the scene is mostly filled with tiny dark green leaf icons, but you can bet when they start going lighter, or changing to yellow, that peak in particular region is nearing. And, as any foliage fan knows, peak doesn't last forever. It sometimes doesn't even last a week. If you want to keep dibs on June Lake, Plumas County, Big Bear, the Los Angeles Arboretum, Gold Country, and beyond, make the map a must-visit through early December.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Paso Wine, Cambria Beach, Harvest Time]]> Mon, 18 Aug 2014 17:45:13 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/208*120/cambriabeach20432.jpg

THAT HARVEST VIBE: If the idea of toodling around some vineyards come autumn doesn't appeal to you, nor does staying in a quaint bed-and-breakfast in a quaint town by a beach bearing the dreamy moniker of Moonstone, nor does the entire concept of harvest time, well... We'll guess you don't own a corkboard made of wine corks, nor a cork wreath, nor do you have a bottle garden set up on your patio. But if you have one or more of those things? Yeah, you're a wine fan. More than that, you're a smartie about a wide variety of sips, including those that hail from the Central Coast. And you likely know that A) fall is an excellent time to be in Cambria. Any summer bustle is over -- we know, Cambria is the portrait of relaxed and seems to keep summer bustle at bay -- and the charming Cambria Scarecrow Festival kicks in, starting 'round October. So, you say you need a few fresh corks for the cork wreath? And you like a bed-and-breakfast-y beach scene to complete the quaint-a-tude? Yeah, you do. Then best take a look at...

THE BLUE DOLPHIN INN... of Cambria, which is offering a Coastal Wine Package from Sept. 1 through Nov. 30. That's three prime-harvestian months to spend a couple of nights near Moonstone Beach and jump onto a "short and scenic drive through Paso Robles wine country" with The Wine Wrangler, which "will provide a comprehensive wine tasting tour of some of the reputed region's most acclaimed vineyards." The tour lasts for four hours, so, yep, you'll cork-up (if you head back to the Inn with a few bottles, of course). Starting price for two people? It's $499. Is there a comp breakfast? You have to have a good meal before heading out into wine country, right? And will you get a Cambria Inns bottle of wine? For sure. There's another cork for your cork collection, wine lover. Just remember to write on it Harvest 2014 and The Blue Dolphin Inn, for memory's sake.

Photo Credit: Blue Dolphin Inn]]>
<![CDATA[Old Sacramento Americana Weekend]]> Mon, 18 Aug 2014 09:44:15 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/189*120/americanaweekendsactown1.jpg

THE SHOW GOES ON... but with a twist: Old Sacramento's traditional Gold Rush Days, a Labor Day Weekend staple in the capital city, have been canceled this year due to drought conditions. If you've been to Gold Rush Days, you know the streets of the historic quarter are filled with dirt, which requires a good deal of water to manage dust and help with the final clean up. The answer this year, though? Go with an Americana theme, without the ye olde dirt-packed streets. The same waybackery shall be afoot -- think people in bustle-adorned costumes and those popular Underground Tours -- and, indeed, the Gold Rush shall still reign, in theme, which makes total sense, as Old Sacramento was a key location for the Golden State's mad dash for shiny nuggets back in '49 (1849, natch). What's the doings over the three-dayer, which lands at the very end of August and very beginning of September in 2014? Why not mosey by the...

GOLD RUSH BEER CRAWL: Ten bars are participating in the Friday, Aug. 29 event. Whether you talk about the gold-panning you did up the American River that day, just to lend the social happening local color, is up to you. Live music'll sound through the weekend, classic cars'll be fendering up Front Street (autos provided by the California Automobile Museum), and several vintage buses will throw down the parking brake in the area. A speakeasy tour, a country-western dance, train rides from the California State Railroad Museum, river cruises, and a screening of Clint Eastwood's "Pale Rider" fill out the history- and arts-focused weekend. No dirt? No problem -- Old Sacramento just exudes 19th-century-ness, whether the thoroughfares have that certain authentic past look or a more modern asphaltian aesthetic.

Photo Credit: Old Sacramento]]>
<![CDATA[Vintage PJ Sleepover in Long Beach]]> Tue, 19 Aug 2014 10:05:00 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/pajamapartyJChristopherLauniPhotography1.jpg

SATEEN AND FINEST FLANNEL: If you're fond of dressing with wayback flair, a possibility of going to a soiree with a recommended vintage dress code can send you to your closet in search of your best double-breasted tuxedo, your finest sleeveless evening gown, the heels or shiny dress shoes that make you feel your best. Much rarer is the soiree that sends you to your drawers or your pajama armoire -- you have a pajama armoire, yes? -- to dig out a robe or socks or slippers or a public-ready nightie. The Art Deco Weekend aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach, though, does just that. Sure, there are daytime to-dos that do suggest that the ladies and gentlemen in attendance slip into a nice frock or waistcoat-dress shirt-slacks combo, but one of the highlights of the Labor Day Weekend affair is the nighttime Friday night Deco Derby & Pajama Jam.

PAJAMAS ON, SWELL PEOPLE: The Art Deco Society of Los Angeles says "your best vintage loungewear" is the order of the night (think of the shiny robes Nick & Nora Charles might have worn in "The Thin Man") as is enjoying the ship's Queen Salon and the stylish tunes of Jim Ziegler's Band. The derby part? You'll try your hand at cheering on the ponies (think tabletop, not racetrack). Been to a whoop-di-doo in just your lovely loungies lately? It's time.

IT'S ALSO TIME... to attend a Prohibition tasting, to shop a vintage bazaar, to take a Strolling Art Tour of the fabled ship, and to attend a few dances, including a proper Sunday tea dance. Design and architecture of the Art-Deco-iest order are the themes, for sure, but fashion, conversation, food, and the aura of the era will be in full and fabulous effect.

Photo Credit: J. Christopher Launi Photography]]>
<![CDATA[Tarantula Date Night]]> Sat, 16 Aug 2014 10:08:39 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/179*120/tarantulamikewoodring.jpg

WALK INTO ANY STORE... come September and October, at least one with an aisle devoted to Halloween goods, and you're bound to see paper cut-outs of spiders gracing various walls. Or, if you're on the tall side, you'll often feel the crepe paper legs of a ceiling-dangling arachnid brush the top of your head, an instant goosebump-inducer. Spiders are one of the most popular decorative themes of fall, and their hairy smiling creepy-crawly mugs are seen on countless seasonal products. But this isn't just fantasy on the parts of designers: Autumn really is the time for many a spider, at least in the courtship-making department. Take the California Tarantula. Nicknamed "the gentle giant" 'round Mount Diablo, the tarantula, or, rather, the male tarantula, trundles on out of its cozy burrow come fall to find a mate. The love rituals of the animal world fascinate we humans, so much so that nearly every major zoo features a romance-mating themed event come Valentine's Day. But hiking into the wild to learn more about it, specifically with one type of beastie? It's a rarer treat, but the Mount Diablo Interpretative Association will lead a number of "moderate three mile, two-hour hikes" in search of the tarantula as he goes in search of a date.

IT ISN'T JUST ABOUT THE ROMANCE: You'll also discover what the hairy fellows eat, where they live, and "why they're only visible in the fall." They're "essentially harmless to humans," says the association, but, of course, the size of the tarantula, and those spindly spiky hairs, have lent them quite the fearsome rep. So much so that they've kind of become Spider (TM) when it comes to how we humans interpret arachnids in our stories and Halloween decor. But do they deserve another look, the gentle giants? The Walnut Creek-close hikes will both redeem the tarantula's spooky character and show you a softer, mating-sweet side to the eight-legged scurriers. There are seven tarantula-tastic hikes to choose from in September and October. Scurry scurry.

Photo Credit: Mike Woodring]]>
<![CDATA[Posh Style: The Look of SLS Las Vegas]]> Wed, 20 Aug 2014 22:31:42 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/slsvegasdebut.jpg

FANTASY WITH A SIDE OF LUXE: Surely hotels and hostelries through the ages put their own light-to-intense spins on design themes and unifying looks. But no city in history ran with the idea, made it bigger, and covered it with lights in quite the way that Las Vegas has. Some of earliest stay-over spots carried something extra beyond the "hotel" sign out front (hello, historic Golden Gate Hotel), and its current mega-room palaces? Distinctive aesthetics rule. A full flowering of these principles, outlandishness + design + a dose of high posh-o-sity, can be seen in Sin City's newest hotel entry, the SLS Las Vegas. The Philippe Starck-imagined property is readying for a Saturday, Aug. 23, debut, but the hotel shared a peep inside at what's to come, room-wise, in its three towers.

LUX, Story, World: Each tower comes with its own handle -- tres Vegas, of course, especially since towers in other towns often are labeled "north" and "east" -- and its own tale. Those tales are spread over 1,613 guest rooms throughout the trio of towers. The rooms in the Story Tower comes with an "electric yellow vanity that doubles as a bar, the backlit ceiling mirror, and the polished chrome swivel minibar cabinet." The World tower rooms plug into business people and conventioneers, so look for up-to-date work spaces and fast tech. And LUX? It's got the "French influence" -- "oversized sofas" are one sumptuous detail -- a shower that looks out onto the room.

BEYOND THE TOWERS: The SLS Las Vegas, which sits where the Sahara reigned, brims with dining choices as thematic and as design-driven as its guest rooms. Restaurants include the gold-columned Katsuya by Starck to the lodge-y casual vibe of the buffet to the English manor-esque Monkey Bar.


Photo Credit: SLS Las Vegas]]>
<![CDATA[Santa Barbara's Tastiest Month: epicure s.b.]]> Fri, 15 Aug 2014 17:58:31 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sbepicure2014.jpg

CALLING ALL FOODIES: Staging something rather wide-ranging with food in mind, at least these days, can often fall under the "Restaurant Week" header. If a neighborhood or a whole town wants to put the focus on foodly goodness, a traditional Restaurant Week is planned, complete with prix fixe menus and discounts. But what if a location wants to go more lavish? And not be about a set number of menus but rather a few food festivals, a few tastings, a few special events that can't be tied to any particular way of doing things? Some adventurous cities do walk this road, beyond their Restaurant Weeks, but no spot does it with the flair of Santa Barbara. To start with, the American Riviera devotes a full month to edible-nice events and chefly to-dos and weekend-long gatherings that focus on a single fruit. That month is October -- a very fine month to start thinking seriously of the pleasures of the plate -- and the sixth year of epicure s.b. is heading into 31 days of gourmet go-outs, beer tastings, and lemon love.

AND WE DO MEAN LEMON LOVE: It's a festival so beloved that it actually happens outside of October and yet is considered an honorary part of epicure. We speak of the Lemon Festival in Goleta in late September, but if puckery tastes aren't your bag, you can do the Avocado Festival in Carpinteria over the first weekend in October. A wine weekend with harvest-y themes is due over the second weekend in October, and Oct. 18? It's all about the beer. Yep, "epic" is part of the epicure s.b. 2014 theme. (Every good food happening worth its pink salt needs a theme.)

OTHER GOURMAND GATHERINGS... include a curated cocktails event at The Museum of Contemporary Art, and Italian mixology class at S.Y. Kitchen, and a chef shellfish demo (say that three times fast) at the Maritime Museum. Like wine, fruit, interesting ingredients, hobnobbing, Santa Barbara, and early fall? We're not saying to skip any Restaurant Weeks, nope. We're recommending that you give epicure s.b. the eye.

Photo Credit: epicure s.b.]]>
<![CDATA[Goodland Hotel: Opening Deal for Goleta Spot]]> Fri, 15 Aug 2014 17:17:42 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/goodlandhotelsb.jpg

MEET YOUR RECORD CONCIERGE: Hotel staff members who assist you in the quest to have the very best vacation you can have have evolved over the decades. Once upon a time a concierge was a rather rare post to fill, or, at least, was a position only considered by the luxury properties. Then more hotels had the "may I fulfill your wish"-ers, and wishes were fulfilled: great seats at the ballet, the perfect French restaurant, roses for your honey. But what if your hotel is very much about unwinding, about a beachy vibe, about the pool and taking walks and relaxing with your dog and an easygoing evening social hour and yoga? The concierge is going to be a bit different, and so the position is, at the new Goodland Hotel, which opens in Goleta on Tuesday, Aug. 26. The Kimpton property, which is a former Holiday Inn, will have a Record Concierge on the employee call sheet. Oh, did we not mention the record player in each room? Yep, there's a place to place your vinyl during your vacation, and if you don't arrive with your own album suitcase -- you totally have one, right? -- you can ring the Record Concierge for a few fresh platters. We'd totally go "Abbey Road" to start with, right? Right.

A STARTER DEAL: Along with a late-summer opening, The Goodland Hotel is throwing a come-and-try-us deal: Get 10% off your room and twenty five bucks towards a dining experience. The Outpost is the restaurant: Think seafood and local ingredients cooked up and served up in a "laidback" setting that is both indoor and outdoor (please, of course). There's backgammon and billiards in The Good Bar, and a get-to-know-other-guests social hour. Maybe you'll exchange record recommendations? That's a fine starter topic. For more on The Goodland's Goleta-esque, longboard-laden, let's-be-beachy look, and that ten-percent-off deal, surf this way.

Photo Credit: Goodland Hotel]]>
<![CDATA[Among the Animals: Stay Over at the B. Bryan Preserve]]> Thu, 14 Aug 2014 08:15:46 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/zebrabbryanpreserve.jpg

SLUMBER AMONG THE ANIMALS: While California is home to a number of animal parks committed to conservation, a few specialize in particular areas. One spot may tend to exotic and large birds, while another celebrates a very specific beastie, like the toucans that live near Fallbrook. The B. Bryan Preserve of Point Arena is one such spot that keeps a specific focus, and that focus remains on African hoof stock. That means that Grevy's Zebra calls the 110-acre preserve home, and the Greater Kudu, and the Sable Antelope. The Rothschild Giraffe, the Roan Antelope, and Hartmann's Mountain Zebra round out the residents. The park, which was founded by Frank and Judy Mello, isn't a vast expanse full of dozens of various denizens; rather, it's a place that provides visitors a very concentrated and deeper experience with a few particular animals. If you've ever felt that you've glossed over a few cute creatures on your way to see the reptile or mammal you've come to see, call this a more honed-in and intimate way to think about a half dozen animals and their way of living.

VERY HONED-IN: You can stay near 60 or so hoof-happy animals, many of which have come from zoos, in one of three quarters on the property: Bridge Cottage, Chapel Cottage, and Carriage House. One cottage is near a pond favored by ducks, another boasts a vintage stove, so call it a cozy way to stay close to the zebras and antelopes and do so with some vintage, old-school oomph. As for tours of the property? They're twice a day, one in the forenoon and one after, and timed to the animals' feeding schedules. And, for sure, you'll learn some of the animals' names along the way. Given the small group at the park, every resident has his or her own handle, and while they aren't pettable, you can get up-close with the giraffes (close enough for a kiss). To learn more about B. Bryan Preserve, visiting, and ways to lend a hand, click.

Photo Credit: B. Bryan Preserve]]>
<![CDATA[Camping Cool: Santa Barbara Silver Safari]]> Mon, 18 Aug 2014 14:56:43 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/santabarbarasafari123.JPG

WONDERS OF THE ROAD: What do you and your companions notice when you're out on the highway? Perhaps some stunning bluffs in the distance? A grove of tall trees near a rest stop? Thunderheads high over the mountains? Yes, and yes, and yes. Nature often catches our eye, and our deepest affections, when we're out on the asphalt, but there are a few items made by humankind that capture our fancy and become the topic of conversation. Take a beautiful, old-school convertible, or, say, an Airstream. Can the gleaming loafian trailer -- Airstreams are rather loaf-shaped, yes, in their quintessential way? -- pass a car full of history or road-culture mavens and not garner enthusiastic comment? No, it cannot. "I want an Airstream!" is the common cry, but owning one of the mid-century gems, or even walking inside one, is a treat not known to many. But vacationers who like to recreate, and do so with vintage panache, have a chance to live that dream, if just for a night, and camp in a beautiful Airstream from Santa Barbara Silver Safari.

TOW-IN, TOW-OUT: The company isn't just about serving the camping fantasies of enthusiasts who want a retro sleep experience. They rent to commercials and weddings and photo shoots, too. But a segment of its customer does desire that getaway night, meaning falling into REM sleep, and having your morning cereal, inside the loafy curves of an old-school hitch-up is a possibility. You'll need to take care of a few things, including reserving a camp site "with full hook-up" in Santa Barbara, Santa Ynez, or Ventura. There are a few other to-knows, and, you guessed it, some glossy Instagram photos to pore over. Is this the year you cease oohing and aahing over trailers that pass you on the road and start bragging to pals that you've stayed in one? This is one daydream that could totally come true.

Photo Credit: Santa Barbara Silver Safari]]>
<![CDATA[Downtown Napa Party: Blues, Brews & BBQ]]> Wed, 13 Aug 2014 13:26:56 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/ap-ribs.jpg

SOUND, SUDS, SUMMER: What are the prerequisites for the warmest season? Pop culture would have it that we have to waterski, globetrot, build a patio or other addition onto the house, and occupy a floating pool lounger whenever we're not waterskiing, globetrotting, or patio-building. But summer is the most free of boundaries of all the seasons, with no asterisks, bullet points, or must-dos, save back-to-school shopping come August, if there are students in your household. (We'd also add onto summer requisites the need to "ooh" and "aah" on Independence Day, whether fireworks are in the vicinity or not.) One of the most excellent of summer maybe-kind-of-should-dos, though, is the outdoor summer concert. Nope, we're not talking an out-sized festival nor a single-guitar show in the park (lovely and time-worthy though they both may be). We're talking the shut a street or two down, set up two or three stages, invite some great musicians, sell some comfort foodie eats, and voila: You've got the quintessential summer show. Is this on your wish-I'd-done-it roster for summer 2014? There's still time, and there's a great opportunity to make good just ahead: Downtown Napa is hosting its annual Blues, Brews & BBQ on Sunday, Aug. 24.

THE BLUES? Frank Bey and the Anthony Paule Band, AC Myles, and Kingsborough are three of the acts set to take the three stages dotting downtown near First and Main Streets. The Brews? There are 30 microbreweries representing in the beer garden (it's twenty bucks for seven tasting tickets). And the BBQ? "BBQ chicken, pork, oysters, shrimp and corn" shall be piled onto the plates. And, for sure, there's a rib-eating contest, because the end of August calls for a few think-big, be-outlandish acts before we setting in the more serious-minded autumn. Parking and getting into the fest? Why they're both free, indeedy indeedy. Okay, we're officially adding onto the back-to-school/ohh-aah must-do summer list: Go to a free downtown concert with comfy eats and a couple of stages. That's Summer (tm), truly.

Photo Credit: flikr/BBQ Junkie]]>
<![CDATA[Capitola's Brimming with Begonias]]> Tue, 12 Aug 2014 09:01:43 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/begoniawater2345.jpg

BEYOND THE BUD: There are celebrated flower shows which are completely, totally, and unarguably about what is in the vase. Oh, sure, judges and attendees might discuss the vase's setting, or the table, but the happening is fully devoted to the stem, the leaves, and the petals at the plant's crown. But the venerable, quirky, and multi-happening Capitola Begonia Festival? Well, absolutely, begonias are the blossoming heart of the party, as they have been for six decades (make that six decades and two years, to be exact). Guests attempt to secure blossoms to chicken wire in a lively bout of mural-making, and begonias show up on hats, clothing, and, indeed, those famous water-ready floats, which are much photographed as any H2O-besting begonia-bedecked vessel should be. The Labor Day Weekend bash, however, has flowered well beyond its initial vase. True, the Nautical Parade is the centerpoint, but concerts, sand sculpture contests, a movie on the beach ("Annie," hooray), a fishing derby, and art to-dos aplenty fill in the calendar as well. It's the rare flower-themed event that remains both about the bud in question but handles a lot more. Want to see how Capitola does it? Be there from Friday, Aug. 29 through Monday, Sept. 1.

BEGONIA-RIFFIC: Pretty much everyone's first visit to the Festival involves Sunday's colorful Nautical Parade, where "Begonia-covered barges float down Soquel Creek to the Lagoon." It draws the bridge-lining, creek-clustering lookie-loos, for sure, but if you want a longer look at the sail-by floats, arrive earlier to watch as they "get their finishing touches." The celebration has been around for 62 years, and with fine reason: Ending the traditional summer season in a sunny, bright-petal'd manner feels like a rite we can all sign onto.

Photo Credit: Capitola Begonia Festival]]>
<![CDATA[San Diego Swank: Tiki Convention]]> Fri, 15 Aug 2014 17:18:25 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/MarinatheFireEatingMermaid.jpg

POP CULTURE TWOSOMES: The story of pop culture, those fancies and trends and entertainments and diversions that capture our attention, our time, and our wallets, is a fascinating one, and one that impacts the ways of the world at large. Something curious, though? Two trends that seem to have little in common often arise around the same time, and the very same people very often appreciate both, or, at least, lend their allegiance to one while admiring the other from afar. Think of the New Wave scene in the early 1980s as juxtaposed with the puffy-shoulder'd, flower-dress-y, return-to-nature trend, or, even, the tiki vibe of the late '50s and early 1960s, which thrived around the same time as The Beats. Tiki and Beat life don't seem to have much to do with each other at first glance, but at second? Oh yeah. They're both cool, stylish, down with what needs to be down with and full of poetry and panache. So they make the perfect partners at Tiki San Diego, the four-day, out-sized celebration devoted to the tunes, styles, and vibrant interpretations of a certain era. The "Beat-Tiki" weekend is on from Thursday, Aug. 14 through Sunday, Aug. 17 at a caboodle of spots around the city.

INCLUDING... a few hotels where a lot of the action will center. There are three hotel partners, so if you want to stay among fellow Tikians, check 'em out (and keep an eye on the Crowne Plaza, which is a centerpoint for the weekend). The oh-so-mid-century Bai Hai is the setting for a social mingle, too. As for the flower-shirt'd, beret-sporting to-do? Look for symposiums on Tiki and Beat culture, sing-alongs, Beat poetry writing workshops, a Jazzville dance class, fashion events, music events, singer El Vez, lounge-y comedy duo The Lampshades, a magical appearance by Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid, and a whole bouquet of good things that look like they flowered in 1961. Have your lei and/or turtleneck ready? Go San Diego, cool cats.

Photo Credit: Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid]]>
<![CDATA[Car Week: Monterey's Got the Gleam]]> Tue, 12 Aug 2014 14:19:25 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/montereycarweek2452.jpg

SEEING SOMETHING "IN-CAR": The beauty of cinematic and television technology is that it can transport an image and audio over huge, earth-circling distances. (We hope we're not shaking anybody up with that rather unremarkable, everyone-knows-it revelation.) But for all that beauty we still want to see some things in this world in person. Or, to put it more poetically, we want to see an orca "in whale" and we'd like to see a redwood "in tree" and we'd like to behold Barcelona "in city" and we'd like to admire a Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa "in car." Seeing that particular vehicle "in car" -- and lots of other swank rides, too -- is a possibility if you find yourself in Monterey Bay during the middle of August. That's when some of the finest wheels ever to roll come to a gentle stop, as part of Monterey Car Week. It's an out-sized, fine-fender'd affair, with nearly as many moving parts as an engine in good working order, so finding the automobile you want to eye first seems key. But you can't beat starting at...

PEBBLE BEACH CONCOURS D'ELEGANCE: Well, one doesn't exactly "start" there since this affair is the prestige to-do that rounds out the week. But it is a must-do, if you like really, really, really fine cars. (Now we're wondering if three "reallys" is enough? Maybe.) Other happenings include a muscle cars show in Monterey on Thursday, Aug. 14, the Automotive Film and Arts Festival (also in Monterey on Aug. 14), and the charming and quirky Concours d'LeMons in Monterey on Saturday, Aug. 16 (you don't need to look too deeply at the name to guess the sort of character-packed cars you'll see). Just being in the area over the week means you're sharing road with auto enthusiasts who've come from all over, so here's hoping you finally see your dream machine "in car" and not simply in an ad or on a screen.

Photo Credit: Monterey Car Week]]>
<![CDATA[Westerns Rule the Lone Pine Film Festival]]> Thu, 14 Aug 2014 18:51:23 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/alabamalonepinefilm.jpg

TEN-GALLON WEEKEND: While director John Ford is very much associated with the cinematic expanses of Monument Valley, and a number of films have landed in spots like White Sands in New Mexico and Arizona's Sonoran Desert, California has its own entry in the Western movie mythology-making: the Alabama Hills and Lone Pine. Indeed, the glorious spot -- and "glorious" is not a word used lightly here -- has shown up as a craggy, epic, and highly distinctive background in hundreds of films, from "Gunga Din" to "Bad Day at Black Rock" to various iterations of the Lone Ranger. It's true that the Eastern Sierra-close spread of low hills has occasionally been seen in a non-traditional non-Western Western (think "Tremors") but saddle cinema has absolutely dominated the area. And Lone Pine, the snug and historic town straddling Highway 395, celebrates its movie past each year with an autumn celebration of Westerns, movie stars, and those picturesque Alabama Hills. The dates are set for 2014, so pencil in Oct. 10-12, buckaroos.

ON THE FESTIVAL SCHEDULE: It's year 25 for the Western-sweet party, meaning a lot of movie types'll be out for the big Silver Anniversary. Bruce Boxleitner, Donna Martell, and Johnny Crawford are three of the thespian guests, and special effects experts, authors, and stunt people will also make appearances. And "12 exciting location tours" shall go down throughout the weekend. Did we actually mean "go down" there? We meant head into the epic Alabama Hills and nearby environs. It's really one of the Golden State's most singular landscapes, one that early directors made known the world over via vintage Westerns. And it still looks pretty much the same, back in those hills, as it did when the first cinema cowpokes clip-clopped in nearly a century ago. Westerns lovers and those who adore the Eastern Sierra? Better saddle up for the second weekend in October.

Photo Credit: Lone Pine Film Festival]]>
<![CDATA[Vino on the Mountain: Mammoth Wine Weekend]]> Sat, 09 Aug 2014 09:27:19 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/wine-bottles.gif

HIGH-ELEVATION BEVERAGES: If you were to sip something delicious above, say, 7,000 feet, what would you guess the beverage in your hand to be? Your first answer might be a foamy-headed craft brew, a sip that's long been associated with mountain living, fresh streams, and the perfectly crisp air (to go with the crisp beer). Or maybe you're picturing yourself drinking a hot toddy, by a fireplace, something with warm rum or warm whiskey. Perhaps you alighted on that classic cold place libation, cocoa, something that people pretty much of every age welcome, especially after an icy-mitten'd run down a long slope. But wine? It's absolutely a favorite at lodge restaurants and snowy resorts, but we'll stand on the opinion that beer can still dominate the mountain markets, at least in many minds. Which is why when a wine party lands in a Sierra town, it is worth taking notice and experiencing a libation that doesn't always grab the headlines over hot drinks and craft beers. And there's one to take notice of now: Mammoth Wine Weekend, which will set out the primo vino at two local restaurants from Thursday, Aug. 14 through Sunday, Aug. 17.

WINE WALKS AND GONDOLA RIDES: The mountains typically mean getting active, and the Mammoth Wine Weekend will observe that tradition. Look for a gondola ride up to Parallax Restaurant for a sunset and supper whipped up by Mark Estee ("the winner of Guy's Grocery Games," yep). That's on Friday, Aug. 15, and the next day? A Village Wine Walk invites strollers to move about Mammoth while trying bites and sips and talking about both (and also soaking in all of that pure Sierra-o-sity the village delivers). A Mineral Wines Winemaker Dinner and a Campo Brunch bookend the long, libation-y weekend. So, ready to unhand the mug -- both the toddy mug and the beer mug -- and go for wine in the mountains? Yep, crisp air and a crisp Riesling are as perfect a pairing as fresh breezes and an IPA.

Photo Credit: wine]]>
<![CDATA[50+ Libations: Santa Barbara Tequila Harvest]]> Mon, 11 Aug 2014 07:54:34 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sbtequila234.jpg

EACH DRINK HAS ITS DAY... around the Golden State, but there are certain beverages that seem to get the lion's share -- or make that the whole animal park's share -- of attention when it comes to tasting events. Even very niche libations are getting their own parties -- think flavored beers or vintage soda-flavored paletas -- so if you like a particular sip, you only need to wait long enough for its annual, or bi-annual, celebration to come back around. And agave enthusiasts keep an eye on the late-summer calendar, and on the American Riviera, in anticipation of trying various iterations of their favorite spirit. It's the Santa Barbara Tequila Harvest we speak of, and it is hanging its half-decade banner in 2014.

SO... what have the last five years brought to tequila-ists who make the journey to sniff and swish and discuss and drink that deep and powerful beverage? Loads of new labels to try, experts to chat with, and maybe a new brand to add to the liquor cabinet. Eager to grow your mescal knowledge and to wile away the day with smarties who know this spirit very well? Then plan on spending the final Saturday in August in Elings Park.

THAT DAY WOULD BE... Aug. 30, and "over 50 hand-selected premium tequilas and mezcales" will be on the pour. Pepe Marquez & The Groove Line are providing the entertainment, the day's funds benefit the Elings Park Foundation, the Legal Aid Foundation, and the Pacific Pride Foundation, and is there a dress code? You bet: It's not too fussy but organizers are recommending that sun hats and khakis come under consideration as you gussy up for the classy, raise your glass event. Need cab information to a local hotel? That's incredibly important, too, and organizers have the info posted here.

A SPIRITED TIME: Will you leave Santa Barbara having found both a solid mixer and a fine sipping tequila? That's what the day is all about: appreciation, complex flavors, and an afternoon spent in the sunshine. Get your ticket info.

Photo Credit: Santa Barbara Tequila Harvest]]>
<![CDATA[TahoeART Month: September Surprises]]> Thu, 07 Aug 2014 18:17:21 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/InnerRhythmsdancersLetitBe_.jpg

LIVELY TIMES BESIDE THE LAKE: When there's a large body of water that's considered to be one of the planet's most glorious spots -- let's just cut straight to the absolutely true, watertight statements here -- it can be challenging to turn your gaze from the water for any length of time. Oh, perhaps if you're a skier, and there are snowy slopes nearby, but all that shimmery blue expanse? Yep, it's captivating. But the rather wonderful thing about Lake Tahoe -- we're talking about Lake Tahoe here, lest you were sitting in suspense -- is that its shores tend to be laden with lovely and mind-expanding and thought-challenging and heart-gladdening happenings. And if you arrive in September? Well, just multiply those happenings by two or three. That happens to be TahoeART Month around North Tahoe, which is the time of year a whole spring of cultural to-dos burble up and take flight (or, less poetically and more accurately, appear before your eyes in galleries and on paths near the lake). Wait strike that: It is plenty poetic, TahoeART Month, fanciful flight or not, and it is set to swan lakeside from Sept. 1 through 30. The only difficult part for you? Nope, it isn't tearing your attention away from the crystalline surface of the water. It's choosing what weekend to arrive and what to do.

ON THE SCHEDULE: Everything glitters, as one wants from an out-sized art month, but look to the plein air painting event near the start. Some thirty artists will put brush to canvas in an outdoor setting and then, voila, the paintings shall go on display. Call it very, very fresh art. That's on from Sept. 2 through 7. An Autumn Food & Wine Festival falls over that weekend -- that's the 6th and 7th -- and the Trails & Vistas guided art hikes trek on that Saturday and Sunday as well. Dance, tunes, and more high-elevation goodies of the most elevating sort await. Going to the lake for some early fall action? Love on some quality art, too.

Photo Credit: Inner Rhythms]]>
<![CDATA[100+ Swimmers: Extraterrestrial-Themed Synchro Show]]> Thu, 07 Aug 2014 18:20:51 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/aquanuts23452.jpg

WHIMSY AND WATER: There are several athletic pursuits that are very much about pure power, speed, grace, agility, talent, commitment, and a dozen other amazing attributes that raise a peak performer to a level of top ability. But add a layer of theatricality onto these qualities, and maybe a pinch of whimsy, and you have ethereal athleticism, a rarer calling that displays an unusual and charming combination of power and plotline. That's what fans of synchronized swimming can expect when the Aquanuts return to Walnut Creek over Labor Day Weekend with an end-of-the-summer spectacular of cosmic proportions. Truly cosmic -- the theme is extraterrestrials. 

LAUDED SWIM TROUPE: The acclaimed synchro team, which will mark its 50th in a few years, is famous for the 17 Olympians that have swum under the Aquanut banner. Part of the fun in watching is that so many swimmers take part, making the spectacle seem nearly effortless (at least in appearance, but anybody who has tried moving in unison with several other swimmers can confirm this is not the case). The title of the extraterrestrial show is "Earth Odyssey," which is "a routine that celebrates Earth as seen through the eyes of extraterrestrials." Nice.

DATES AND DETAILS: The Olympic sport will undergo a "dazzling display" for the show, complete with "music, special lighting effects, and a monumental 3D stage complete with glittering costumes." Call it an extravaganza of galactic proportions. But are there swimming pools in space? Just for an evening or two, we'll pretend. Be at the Clarke Memorial Swim Center at Heather Farm Park any night from Thursday, Aug. 28 through Saturday, Aug. 31.

Photo Credit: Aquanuts]]>
<![CDATA[Cosmic: Mountaintop Supermoon Party]]> Thu, 07 Aug 2014 11:55:04 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/206*120/supermoon_detail23.jpg

GET READY TO "WHOA": Regardless of how many times one beholds a Supermoon -- which is a full moon that occurs when our lunar satellite is closest in its orbit to our home turf -- it is always a wonder. We gather in dark spots and sky-big spots and spots where we can spread out a picnic blanket, gaze up, and simply soak in the cosmic show. And, yes, we "whoa" a whole bunch, especially as the big, big moon begins to peek over the far horizon. There's one due on Sunday, Aug. 10, but you can bet that the moon mavens'll be out on Saturday, Aug. 9 to admire the crater-laden orb in all of its Supermoon-o-sity. (Not a totally scientific term, of course, but one that sums up the appropriate hugeness of the event.) Mammoth Mountain will be celebrating the weekend's way-up-high show by inviting revelers to go way up high here on earth, terrestrial-style. How? The resort's gondola will run people up the mountain, where the vistas will be vast and the air especially clear and the stars appropriately twinkly. Oh yes, and Supermoon will be fully whoa-inducing.

GET THE DETAILS: As mentioned, the date is Aug. 9, which is Saturday, and not Sunday, which is the date tied to this Supermoon. The party is on from 6 to 10:30 p.m., admission is fifteen bucks and kids under 12 get in for free, and a "moonlit gondola ride to the summit" is a highlight. Look also for live tunes, a cash bar, and a "(l)ighted walk to the lakes basin overlook from the summit" which is called "an ideal location for moonrise photography." Oh, that's right: You can bet plenty of shutterbugs are eager to go up the mountain with their cameras. You should, too, but be sure to spend a few minutes simply whoa-ing with no other task at hand.

DOES THE MOON REALLY GET BIGGER? Giggle. Don't you wish there was a thrilling blockbuster out about the ever-expanding moon? Of course it doesn't grow, though it will seem notably closer and brighter to we earthlings. How can we not find a remoter place, be it a mountaintop or the desert, to whoa over that?

Photo Credit: Mammoth Mountain]]>
<![CDATA[Death Valley's "Cold" Day in Summer]]> Sat, 09 Aug 2014 09:27:52 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/deathvalleysanddunesfurnace.jpg

NO JOKE: Have you ever told your pal a lengthy rib-tickler, with a really hilarious punchline, but, when you get to the big finish, they sort of blink at you, several times in a row, as if they're trying to comprehend what they've just experienced? We joke-tellers have all been there, and we all know The Repeated Blink. That's essentially what's gone down, in many meteorological-minded quarters of the weather-watching world, since Death Valley National Park hit 89 degrees Fahrenheit on Sunday, Aug. 3. That's a pretty acceptable, run-of-the-mill summer temperature for most places, it's true, but let's pause here to again consider where that high temperature occurred: Death Valley, "the hottest place on the planet." Hottest, driest, lowest -- these are terms frequently stuck all over the national park, like so many burrs on a cattleman's boots. Meaning this: 89 is pretty dang cool for that sometimes-cauldron-y spot. The National Weather Service Las Vegas noted that the "chilly" record breaker undid the "previous record low max of 104 deg set in 1945." And the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang blog observed that Missoula, Montana was hotter on Aug. 3 than Death Valley.

BLINK, BLINK: The unusual occurrence is rather stunning, though the park is no stranger to cold storms -- Furnace Creek Resort recently posted a photo to Facebook of historic Scotty's Castle frosted with snow a few winters back. So while the wet front of early August has moved on and temps have again climbed in Death Valley, a package is still on to stay on a summer's day. The Ranch at Furnace Creek is the destination, the price starts at $163, and breakfast is included. Oh, and, don't worry about keeping your own temperature down: There's a spring-fed pool on the property. Nope, there's no telling if an 89-degree day will come back around any time soon, but Death Valley is glorious regardless of the season, be that season less sweaty or as sweaty as condensation on a glass of lemonade.

Photo Credit: Ranch at Furnace Creek]]>
<![CDATA[End-of-Summer Soiree: Bodega Seafood Art & Wine Fest]]> Tue, 05 Aug 2014 23:56:50 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/oystersladlebodegamargotduane.jpg

THE SCHOOL SUPPLY SEASON: Even if you haven't signed up for any classes, and it has been a decade (or two or three) since you actually walked into a lunchroom or gym or science lab, the urge to prepare for the return to school is a strong one. Unsharpened pencils take on a special poignancy, and all of those lunchboxes lining the supermarket shelves? Yeah, you're probably pondering if packing your lunch in a colorful superhero-laden box would be frowned upon at the office. In short, back-to-school-ing impacts a lot of people, and even if you aren't technically headed back, those unsharpened pencils remind us that summer is going. So, what's left to do? Eat oysters, drink wine, take in some sunshine, shop for art, chitchat with interesting creative people, and enjoy a weekend drive that is sure to include some picturesque countryside? That's exactly the tonic that the end of summer requires. Thank goodness, then, that all of these things can be found at the Bodega Seafood Art & Wine Festival, which is humming towards its 20th year on Saturday, Aug. 23 and Sunday, Aug. 24.

BELIEVE IT: Seafood is a major part of the goings-on at Watts Ranch on Bodega Highway. BBQ oysters, oyster po'boys, fish tacos, and you betcha, clam chowder will be in various ladles/atop various spatulas. There are many other edibles, and several non-from-the-ocean choices, so eye all. Bodega Bay Winery, Anderson Valley Vineyards, and a caboodle of other regional vino-makers'll be pulling corks out of bottles. And the artists? They work in paint and fiber and leather and glass and a host of media. It truly is one of the classic late-in-the-summer foodie-arty-winey to-dos, and a reminder that we all should try and breeze-it-up, a little, before fall sets in, unsharpened pencils and all.

ON SECOND THOUGHT... where can we get a lunchbox bearing images of Bodega? And BBQ oysters? We'd be happy carrying that to work each and every day.

Photo Credit: Margot Duane]]>
<![CDATA[Feathers in Flight: A Condor Celebration]]> Wed, 06 Aug 2014 13:59:38 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/CondorObserve.jpg

AVIAN AFICIONADOS: While we have plenty of ways to get close to wildlife in California, whether through animal park visits or venturing with a guide into a forest or desert, there are certain beasties that aren't always as accessible. That's okay, of course -- constant access is something we humans don't need to ask of any creature -- but if we want to witness something a little rare, there is planning, waiting, and, ultimately, fingers crossed, enjoyment. The condors of Big Sur aren't exactly elusive, but hoping on an occasional tour with the Ventana Wildlife Society is a fine way to drink in lots of information regarding the huge-of-wing, once-nearly-extinct birds. But if you want to go a bit further, and see a condor at a closer distance, and a few raptors, too, and lend a hand to the preservation efforts surrounding the craggy-coastal icons, you can: Feathers in Flight, an afternoon fundraiser, will alight at Rancho Grande in Big Sur on Saturday, Sept. 6.

MEET DOLLY: Dolly, a condor, is expected to make a cameo. Her handlers "are approachable and knowledgeable" and "will allow photos of Dolly." Sweetness. Falconers will also be at Rancho Grande with a few raptors. Auctions, merch for sale, and "Adopt-a-Condor opportunities" are also part of the feathery doings. Will there be Central Coast wine for sipping and hor d'oeuvres? For sure. Live music? Yes. Condor-centered chitchat and cooing? Expect it. Tickets are $75 each.

AND IF YOU DO WANT TO TOUR IT... you best sign up way in advance for one of the Ventana Wildlife Society adventures. They happen every month and do fill up, but lookie here: As of this typing, there are openings for the November and December 2014 tours.

Photo Credit: Ventana Wildlife Society]]>
<![CDATA[Koalas Behind the Scenes: A New San Diego Zoo Tour]]> Mon, 04 Aug 2014 07:12:39 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/koalanewtoursd.jpg

MAKING MARSUPIAL MEALS: If you've ever gone on a walk-through of a historic estate or house, you know it is fun to see the formal rooms, the dining area and the salons, but the real gas of the tour comes from the downstairs portions, the kitchen and the luggage storage and the bathrooms and the garden shed. It's one thing to see the front of how something is presented, but how it is truly run is the more interesting backstory. Surely the same principle goes for seeing a friend on the job -- what's the real nitty-gritty like? -- or admiring an animal at a zoo. Sure, you can watch the wee beastie snooze in a tree, but what's it like behind-the-scenes, where the keepers prepare meals? That's one of the interesting components to the San Diego Zoo's new koala tour Koala & Friends. What's it all about? "Koala & Friends is a two-hour tour adventure that also includes a tour around the Zoo in a VIP cart, with stops to view some of the zoo's other animals along the way."

PLUS... there is a chance to go inside the Queenslander House and see keepers prep food for the awww-sweet marsupials. A "stroll through the male koalas' 'bachelor pad'" is on the schedule, as is a session where visitors will "get the inside scoop on how the Zoo takes care of these marsupials and learn how it is supporting their survival in the wild."

DAILY SUMMER HOURS: It's on each day during the toastier weather from 2 to 4 p.m. and the prediction? It'll be a "popular tour," says the zoo. If you've visited the koalas again and again (and again and again) and want a new view and more info, call 619-718-3000 to reserve your spot.

Photo Credit: San Diego Zoo]]>
<![CDATA[Venice Cool: Hotel Erwin's Fresh Extras]]> Sat, 02 Aug 2014 09:37:38 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/hotelerwinsurf1.jpg

WHAT WAS IN YOUR LAST HOTEL ROOM? Do you recall? There was probably a television of some sort, a remote control, a chair or two, a bureau, some wall art. We'll wager that your just-for-the-night spot was pretty complete, overall, but it likely didn't come with its own DJ booth. We don't want to make assumptions, and if you spent the night in the new Red Bull Dogtown Suite at Hotel Erwin in Venice Beach, well then, you most certainly did have a DJ booth of your very own, not to mention funky art, a patio facing the water, and a very au courant atmosphere (or just "atmos" if you want to be particularly hip). The steps-from-the-boardwalk property has recently undergone a freshening-up, both on the rooms front and the extras front, and the suite is at the lead of the luxe touches.

THERE'S ALSO... the roaming Happy Hour cart, which will eventually find you. Typically a Happy Hour-type set-up means that the patron has to locate the bar, but sit tight and enjoy the sunset from your room: A cart may brimming with "handcrafted cocktails," vino, and brews may soon materialize at your door. A new menu at High, the restaurant offering sweeping, Pacific-pretty vistas, just debuted at the start of summer, and brunch at Barlo Kitchen + Cocktails? Look for old-school cartoons to screen and an "all-you-can-eat cereal bar with a buffet of vintage cereals plus lunch box milks." That's every Saturday and Sunday at 11 a.m.

TOUR DE VENICE: That social media-happy contest is afoot through September, so if you're in a hashtagging type of mood, and you pay a visit to the hotel, you could post your snapshots and maybe win "an ultimate Venice vacation package." We'll raise a spoonful of vintage cereal and milk to that.

Photo Credit: Hotel Erwin]]>
<![CDATA[Heritage Tour: Ye Olde Ghost Town Road Trip]]> Fri, 15 Aug 2014 17:19:21 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/bodieaurora112.jpg

ROAD TRIPS... may have not been invented for ghost town-type excursions, but the visiting of historic cities that are no longer occupied, at least by human beings, is very much a road trip staple. One may drive between San Francisco and Chicago, or Los Angeles and Albuquerque, but one may not pass up a sign that indicates there is a ghost town five miles off the main highway. But what of the road trip that hops from ghost town to ghost town? That's a rarer occurrence, except among serious ghost town aficionados (who are pretty legion). There are a few organized tours, too, with one of the biggies falling just ahead of fall. It's the Heritage Tour, a two-day ramble through two fascinating, ye-olde-wayback burgs and surrounding sites. Yep, you drive -- you can bring your oldster wheels if you like, that Model T, but note that "a higher clearance car is recommended" -- and, yep, Bodie, that most famous and perfectly preserved of ghost towns, is on the roster. And, yep, it is two days, so you'll need to book a place to spend the night somewhere nearby in Mono County. Terri Geissinger of the Bodie Foundation says "we recommend folks to stay at Virginia Creek Settlement or anywhere in Bridgeport." Easy? Peasy? Good.

DATES AND DETAILS: The touring kicks off on Saturday, Sept. 13 in Bodie, where "you'll receive an in-depth tour of the town, stamp mill, and cemetery." You'll then head over Geiger Grade to the Masonic and Chemung Mill. Day two, which is Sunday, Sept. 14? It's all about "traveling the historic stage route between Bodie and Aurora." Samuel Clemens once called the town home, and there are brick foundations and a cemetery to see. The tour is a popular one, says the Bodie Foundation, which any ghostie -- a buff of ghost towns -- can imagine. For it's one thing to swing by a yesteryear location for an hour, but quite another to build a weekend, with car-touring, around a few history-rich spots. Been to Bodie but want to go deeper? The Heritage Tour may be just your sepia-toned ticket.

Photo Credit: Bodie Foundation]]>
<![CDATA[Rare Chance: Redwood Run Without Autos]]> Thu, 31 Jul 2014 19:59:05 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/194*120/redwoodsrundrury.jpg

THE JOYFUL JOGS: Many a runner has a favorite route or two close to home, but there are some dream paths out there, those wonderful wends through epic places that can enhance a run and raise a person's drive, outlook, and spirit. But those wonderful wends aren't always accessible, or, if they are, there's traffic to think about, and other factors, too. But traffic won't be a consideration on Saturday, Sept. 13 when the Run in the Redwoods half-marathon and 5K heads out into Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. The capacity will be limited -- think 200 people -- and the famous Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway? It'll be "closed to all vehicle traffic on race-day... to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the California State Parks." That means you and your 199 co-runners shall have a scenic parkway mostly to yourselves, or, at least, you won't need to share it with automobiles.

REDWOOD PARKS ASSOCIATION: The run's sponsor is "a local nonprofit that supports interpretative activities and visitors centers in 8 locations throughout the Redwood National and State Parks." The Run in the Redwoods, which is the first-ever, will help fund, in part, improvements on the Revelation Trail, an "interpretative trail with special features for visually impaired users."

THE PARKWAY: The portion set to close on Sept. 13 is ten miles long, so you'll get plenty of big tree enjoyment along the way. Look for families, kids on bikes, and people taking a saunter, the better to marvel at the tallest trees on earth. Registration deadline for Run in the Redwoods is Aug. 30.

Photo Credit: Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway]]>
<![CDATA[Oh, It's On: Napa Valley Harvest 2014]]> Tue, 05 Aug 2014 12:30:13 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/grapes_vineyard_winefest.jpg

HARVEST IS NOW: While we wine lovers may be pretty knowledgeable, to the point of being charmingly unbearable, about how the collecting and pressing of grapes works, and how all of that delightful juice eventually becomes a sophisticated wine, many of us can be a little hazy on the facts and figures behind harvest time. We equate it with the autumn, and with days growing shorter and night temperatures dropping and a particularly picturesque mist that may or may not hang over the grapes before dawn (in our daydreams there is always a good amount of mist). But harvest isn't solely an autumn thing, not at all. It isn't even an August-September deal, either, for Napa Valley's 2014 Harvest officially kicked off on the morning of July 30. "The first of Napa's sparkling wine producers began picking grapes around 6 a.m. on Wednesday, July 30, just two days earlier than the start of last year's grape wine harvest," reads the Napa Vintners site. It continues with this cheery news: "Although this past winter was one of the driest on record, Napa's vintners and growers are predicting an abundant, high-quality harvest for the third year in a row."

WANT TO FOLLOW THE GRAPE-GOOD ACTION? The site has plenty of photos up, and Vines of the vines, and peeks at the first clusters of grapes picked, and such harvesty doings. Want to head up for some of the early hubbub? There are events, events, and, yes, more events. Rutherford Hill has a merlot blending to-do on Saturday, Aug. 2 and Napa Cellars hosts a Rockin' Food Truck Party on Saturday, Aug. 9. Look for more flavorful doings with "harvest" in their names to be working their way up the calendar in the coming weeks.

Photo Credit: grapes]]>
<![CDATA[The Wineries and Farms of Butte County]]> Wed, 30 Jul 2014 22:25:04 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sierradeloro29344.jpg

UNOFFICIAL WINE ENJOYMENT WEEKEND: If it is a day of the week starting with an S, chances are that the winery tasting rooms of the Golden State are a-hummin'. People are out in happy throngs come the weekend, checking out the smoky Cabernet that their pal told them about over dinner in the city last Tuesday. In short? Every weekend is wine enjoyment weekend, but if we were to give a big blue ribbon to a particular weekend of the year, one that shines above all the others in the regard, it might be the second weekend in October. First off, the handing out of ribbons tends to be a wine-awarding thing, right? So you see why we went that imagery. And second? That weekend in October comes after the main harvest hubbub has settled but excitement still fizzes in the vineyard air. It's autumn, the weather is crisp -- crisp or brisk, take your choice, but both are highly autumnal weather words -- and people are in the mood to buy wine for the holidays. Oh, second weekend in October, we do love you, and so do the people of Butte County. The Sierra Oro Farm Trail Passport Weekend falls just about then, with almost 30 wineries opening their doors for special tasting.

PLUS... farms along the trail welcome visitors as well. It's a twist on a traditional winery passport affair, in that many a food grower and purveyor also jumps into the mix. Specialty nuts? Yep, you'll try 'em. "Tasty artisan olive oils"? Those, too. And lots of the best wine of the region north of Sacramento, an area well-known for its agra-offerings. If this is your year to get familiar with a new vino-making area, and you are also enamored of that second weekend in October, keep an eye for tickets when they go up for sale in September. A sell-out is expected, and with good reason: wine, food, Butte County, specialty nuts, and fall good times following all of that harvest busyness.

Photo Credit: Sierra del Oro Passport Weekend]]>
<![CDATA[Elvis Fest: Thank You, Thank You Very Much]]> Wed, 30 Jul 2014 09:39:41 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/192*120/elvisocviolin.jpg

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, ALL SHOOK UP: It won't come as a surprise to anyone to learn that Graceland is not in Los Angeles. Nor are the famous Tennessee haunts of one Mr. Elvis Presley, nor the neighborhood restaurants and places he frequented while his star was rising. But does the Golden State possess a few very highly Presley-esque destinations and events? For sure. And the fans? They flock there, happily. "There" is typically Palm Springs, which is home to the Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway (yep, the very spot the King and Priscilla retreated to following their 1967 Las Vegas nuptials). Our regional music destinations -- think the Grammy Museum in downtown Los Angeles -- very often pay tribute to the icon's legacy via exhibits and special happenings. And what of the OC Marketplace? That is a special place, indeed, for Elvis aficionados come August. The Costa Mesa venue hosts a full-on day full of Elvis tribute artists and Elvis music and hula dancers and tributes and specially themed activities that fit with the Presley legacy as snugly as a microphone fits inside a hand. Tempted to don your spangly jumpsuit and make for The Wonder of Elvis? Then clear your calendar on...

SUNDAY, AUG. 24: That's the big day. Arrive at 10 a.m. for treats like "Elvis Sings the Beatles" and Gary Anderson performing "Songs from the Aloha Concert" and a hula hoop contest and a "King-Size Bubble Gum Blowing Contest." Is there a charity fundraiser on at Bob's Old-Fashioned Ice Cream, for the Orangewood Children's Home? You bet. A car show, karaoke, and a Priscilla hair and Elvis hair competition are afoot. In fact, the full six hours will be as crammed as a jukebox brimming with 45s, so best plan on spending the day Elvising it up in Orange County. That's an actual real dictionary term, right? Elvising something up? We should us it more, when the words "cool" and "legend" just don't go the distance.

Photo Credit: The Wonder of Elvis]]>
<![CDATA[Palm Springs Modernism: Retro Yard Sale]]> Sat, 02 Aug 2014 09:36:35 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/RetroYardSaleModernism1.jpg

THEMED YARD SALE: If you've ever swung by a garage or sidewalk sale hosted by one family or a few, you know that the items on offer truly run a wide-ranging gamut. Old bar stools sit next to '80s VHS tapes which are nestled against some long-unused barbells. But finding a yard sale that truly focuses on a single period? And a stylish and swanky period at that? They're pretty rare, but one of the big ones unfurls in Palm Springs in the autumn. The location is a giveaway as to what kind of goods'll be for sale -- think mid-century -- and the fact that some excellent for-the-home buys shall be found. But the Retro Yard Sale isn't the only October highlight to land in the desert resort. It's just one component of Modernism Week's Fall Preview, the long holiday weekend devoted to design and sleek lines and shift dresses and cocktail glassware and everything vintage and '60s-era cool (and '50s, too, of course). That holiday weekend is Columbus Day Weekend and the bigger-than-last-year schedule was announced on Monday, July 28.

MODERNISM GALORE: The mid-century sale isn't the only treat to circle on the calendar. A poolside bash with a nod to The King'll roll out at the Hacienda Cantina & Beach Club, while the double-decker bus architectural tour makes its return. Look for tours of Frey House II, the always bustling Modernism Show & Sale, and a cocktail reception themed to photos of the nearby Salton Sea. Tickets for the Modernism Week Fall Preview go on sale at noon on Friday, Aug. 1.

WANT TO... hang tight for the mega February Modernism Week? Well, the Columbus Weekend to-do keeps on growing, so you'll get your fashion-y, domestic-cool fill. But the full-on wintertime extravaganza is scheduled for Feb. 12-22, 2015.

Photo Credit: Modernism Week]]>
<![CDATA[Zip by Night: A Catalina Island Adventure]]> Fri, 15 Aug 2014 17:22:41 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/CatalinaIslandNightZip.jpg

UP IN THE EVENING AIR: A committed zip-liner'll vow that each trip is a distinct and individual one. Maybe the sunlight looks rather different on the trees or distant water or a new bird is spied or perhaps you just laugh your head off the whole time (or make the appropriate exuberant noises). But those zip trips? They tend to happen in the daytime, when the land is well-lit and the air is warm. What might it be like at night? A fine question, though sometimes a fruitless one: Not every zip line operates after-hours. But, every so often, one ventures into evening runs, and when that zip happens to be nestled alongside the ocean, the atmospheric result can be pretty spectacular. We speak of the zip line operated by the Santa Catalina Island Company. Yes, it is indeed on Catalina, and, for sure, it is close enough to the ocean that you'll have some solid glimpses as you fly, and absolutely, you will be taking on beautiful Descanso Canyon at speeds of up to 45 mph. By night. We mentioned the night bit of this a few times, right? It's nifty and cool. Only bats and planes fly by night (well, okay, and a few other things, too, of course, like Catalina's famous flying fish). 

GET EDUCATED: The adventure isn't merely about sailing along, connected to a line, at some 300 feet off the ground in certain parts. "(G)uests will pause at several eco-stations along the way where they will be given a presentation on some of the unique and interesting aspects of Catalina Island, its wildlife, history, and local areas." Just be prepared for "minimal lighting" between the stations and get ready to be geared-up with head lamps and reflective strips. Call it a new way to zip line, if you've only ever done the daytime, and call it a mysterious but ultimately info-packed way to take in a slice of the wilder island. It happens Fridays through Sundays and costs $125 a person.

Photo Credit: Santa Catalina Island Company]]>
<![CDATA[Tahoe and Napa: Finding Summer Shakespeare]]> Mon, 28 Jul 2014 14:28:44 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/jenschmidtshakespeare1.jpg

BARD BENEATH THE SKY: Did William Shakespeare know that, several centuries after his wordly, worldly reign as a prolific playwright and literary game-changer, he'd be synonymous with summertime? Maybe, right? After all, he wrote about flowers and grasses and the sybaritic pleasures of warm weather with aplomb and style. So that summer belongs to Shakespeare makes sense. It also makes sense that we might build our weekend road trips or to-brief vacations around seeing some al fresco plays, if that is indeed what we are into (and fingers crossed that many of us are). The cities have their outdoor Shakespeare, for sure, but so do a few of our popular getaway spots, like Lake Tahoe and Napa Valley. Headed for either? Then make for...

SAND HARBOR STATE PARK: The Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival is in full, tight-wearing, soliloquy-speaking swing, and the ever-delightful "As You Like It" is the work of the summer. Is that the lake in the background? Indeed it is, making this one of the more scenic of the outdoor Shakespeare happenings. Will it feel as though you've been transported to the Forest of Arden? Well, you are in the alpine-y beauty of the high Tahoe country, so that's a good fantasy to have. And will you picnic, with wine? That is permitted. We'd say that Tahoe is very Shakespeare like, what with Emerald Bay and its sublime vistas. Yep, it is very Arden indeed. Through Aug. 24.

NAPA VALLEY: A different production will be presented indoors at the Napa Valley College Performing Arts Center in September, so hooray to that. But beforehand, in August? Here's a twist on summer Shakespeare: A Gold Rush-themed presentation'll go down in Downtown Napa's Veteran's Memorial Park. It's all about thespians performing the Bard's works in 1849, and the ensuing high jinks. Ready for a wine country weekend and a twist on ol' Will's world? Click here, lovers of al fresco theater.


Photo Credit: Jen Schmidt]]>
<![CDATA[104 Celebrities: Sin City's "Star Trek" Con]]> Tue, 29 Jul 2014 07:16:30 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/borg71679832.jpg

SERIOUSLY, THOUGH: Really. How do the fans do it? We're talking about the mega "Star Trek" buffs who put in the time, the effort, and the costuming at Comic-Con International and then, almost immediately, turn around and do it all over again at the official convention for the sci-fi stalwart in Las Vegas. Do they pack the protein power bars and take regular naps? Do they have one costume for Comic-Con and a whole other outfit for Sin City? Really, should there be an instructional how-to video on this, for cosplayers who face two major events in two different states in the space of the week? There should be. Until then, we'll consider the fans who ably do both to be privy to some sort of Trekkian space-time technology. And they'll be glad that they made the effort to get to the Las Vegas convention, which, as mentioned, is the official "Star Trek" convention: Some 104 Trek-related celebrities are set to show. Make that 104 "and counting," as a release says. Yes, William Shatner will be in the house at the Rio Suites Hotel, as will Kate Mulgrew. And the extras? There as plentiful as twinkling stars in the sky. Let's start with...

THE TREK WEDDING: A pair of attendees met in a queue back at the 2012 convention, love bloomed, and now a full-on "Imzadi" wedding ceremony'll go down at the con. And, yes, fans are invited (fingers crossed everyone in attendance will be in costume). The "Star Trek" centerpiece contest returns, as do trivia contests and behind-the-scenes peeks and "two special panels" from NASA, a first-time participant in the long-running convention (it marks a decade this year). So how many Trekkers are expected to show for this cosmic convening, which is on from Thursday, July 31 through Sunday, Aug. 3? Oh, 15,000, give or take. Surely a few of those will have been at Comic-Con, and we do doff our hat -- or give the Vulcan salute, rather -- to your tireless tenacity and devotion to all things Starfleet.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Magical Road Trip: Disney Fanniversary Celebration]]> Tue, 29 Jul 2014 07:17:59 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/192*120/Fanniversary-social-1d32.jpg

A GLAD GATHERING: Summertime is known as the season when some of the largest, most elaborate, and truly tidbit-packed pop culture conventions unfurl. Comic-Con International lands in San Diego in late July, and the official "Star Trek" convention in Las Vegas around early August, and then? It just might be time for D23 Expo, the mega Disney fan party that magically alights, Tinkerbell-style, at the Anaheim Convention Center. But like Tinkerbell often finds herself busy and off flitting about, sprinkling sparkles, the expo comes around every two years, with 2015 the next big date. So what's a California buff of All Things Magic Kingdom to do? They can make for the nearest D23 Disney Fanniversary Celebration, a traveling, treat-laden show that'll visit eleven cities around the U.S. from August to October. Three of those cities are in the Golden State, meaning that if you're near Burbank on Aug. 9, San Diego on Aug. 10, or San Francisco on Aug. 16 and 17, you can join the mouse-eared fun. And on the Disney-esque docket? A commemoration of the "dozens of magical Disney milestones celebrating landmark anniversaries this year."

"MARY POPPINS"... is absolutely one of those -- happy 50th, Mary! -- and her iconic hat will be part of the tour. As will a host of other goodies, and they'll be stellar: Disney archivists and the D23 team are behind the Fanniversary fun. Look and listen for artifacts and/or fresh excerpts from the 55-year-old "Sleeping Beauty," from "The Little Mermaid" (that's 25 this year), and the hinge-creakiest attraction of them all, the Haunted Mansion, which marks its 45th in August. Oh, and, you betcha, Donald Duck shall get plenty of accolades and attention, as the irascible, sailor hat-sporting character practically demands. General public tickets? They're forty dollars, and less for D23 members. Can and should you wear your mouse ears, your pirate hat, your Mr. Toad vest, your Space Mountain button? Yes, yes, yes, and you have one of those? Cool. Jealous, in a friendly, fan-like way.

Photo Credit: Disney Fanniversary]]>
<![CDATA[Grizzly Bear Fest: Rancho del Oso Celebrates]]> Fri, 25 Jul 2014 13:54:29 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/160*120/generic-grizzly-bear.jpg

A FEST WITHOUT THE ANIMAL OF HONOR: Can you throw a party for a very special guest who is not expected to attend? Actually, who definitely won't attend, having not been seen in a particular region for several decades? The answers are yes, of course, you should, absolutely, and definitely when the special guest is an iconic animal who once roamed a region but now does not. Rancho del Oso Nature and History Center at Big Basin Redwoods State Park reveals, by its very name, that it has strong ties to the bear community, a community which was prevelant with Grizzlies at one time. The bear was "once-abundant" around the Waddell Valley, says the rancho's site, and the outdoors-loving spot pauses to pay homage to the California Grizzly. The Grizzly Festival, which is on Saturday, Aug. 16, makes for a fun, family-focused day, but it also serves to give pause and remind we humans that many animals were at home in places they no longer reign (or are even seen or accounted for). And given our bearly connections here in the Golden State, a little Grizzly-style love is an important thing, indeed.

ON THE SCHEDULE: "Crafts and activities" that have a Grizzly-esque theme will be on the roster, as will a 2 p.m. "guided walk into the forest" where guests can "imagine what the forest might have been like with Grizzly Bears roaming around." Stories and other bearly doings will fill out the daytime fun. If you're an ursine buff and want to pay memory to a majestic animal that was last seen in the state in the 1920s, this is your gathering. Of course, the myth of the Grizzly and California lives on, quite strongly, and remains a robust search term online. Some people believe that these particular bears still roam, and some want to know how the California Grizzly became an extinct sub-species. More can be learned at Rancho del Oso's day of Grizzly learning.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[First-Time Event: Calistoga's City-Big Outdoor Dinner]]> Thu, 24 Jul 2014 15:44:52 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/calistogaevent20494.jpg

OUTSIDE GATHERING: How is the idea of harvest time quickly conveyed to someone via an ad or a film or a commercial? The picking of grapes, yes. The strolling among barrels, of course. And people coming together to eat outside in a festive, full-scale setting that brims with wine, more wine, and foodly offerings. Too often, though, it can seem that those harvest lunches and dinners are merely a product of fiction or fantasy and not of our homey, community-driven world. There are exceptions, though. Case in delicious point? Calistoga's about to host its first Calistoga Harvest Table on the perfect, here-comes-autumn day of Sunday, Sept. 7. "Fourteen Calistoga Restaurants will move their tables to the center of downtown Calistoga for an al fresco dining experience." The place those tables are headed? Lincoln Avenue, which will be closed to traffic for the event, making it truly one of those offbeat, large-scale, oh-so-cinematic settings where fresh air and fresh food rule. Oh, and speaking of the food scene? Here's the twist: Those fourteen eateries will be doing the serving, rather than one catering company, meaning you can order from your favorite ahead of time, narrowing in on the kind of cuisine you want. In short? Choices, choices.

THE RESTAURANTS INCLUDE... Barolo, which serves up "contemporary Southern Italian," Kopio, which focuses on the flavors of Malaysia and Singapore, and Hydro Grill, which has American eats on offer. You choose which one, you pay, and that's what you enjoy in the center of Lincoln Avenue. The only catch? Particular restaurants are starting to sell out, so if you don't want to read "sold out" on your Calistoga favorite, jump in now, diners. And take heart that those grand-scale outdoor harvest dinners, with their clinking wine glasses and pretty skies overhead, aren't simply the stuff of creative advertisements and movie montages.

Photo Credit: Calistoga Harvest Table]]>
<![CDATA["Sideways" 10th Anniversary: Wine Country Celebrates]]> Sat, 26 Jul 2014 12:43:25 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/sideways_06.jpg

CINEMATIC SIP: There are some films and shows that are so associated with a particular libation that it's nearly impossible to mention the title without immediately naming its quintessential sip. Think "The Big Lebowski" and the White Russian or "Sex and the City" and Cosmopolitans or James Bond and his shaken, never stirred Martini. But what of the movie that takes a stand against a particular beverage? Will it, too, be forever linked to the beverage in question? "Yes," is the short answer, if you look to Alexander Payne's quirky and layered "Sideways." Paul Giamatti's wine-loving Miles rails against merlot in the film, memorably, and his viewpoint quickly caught on as one of the touchstones of the independent darling. So how does one celebrate the approaching 10th anniversary of the independent festival favorite, then? With chardonnay? Cabernet? Something else? Oh heck no: Merlot is the drink of choice at the upcoming "Sideways" celebration day, which flows on Saturday, Sept. 13. And there's only one spot such a glass-raising moment could happen...

SOLVANG: Of course. The windmilliest town in the West is featured prominently in the film, as is the Santa Ynez Valley. So you can bet that a party marking the anniversary of the release of "Sideways" -- which provided a tour bump for the region, complete with "Sideways" maps -- will land there. It will, in fact, take place at the Solvang Festival Theater, and serve as a fundraiser for the venue (which is celebrating its 40th). And joining the Merlot Taste-Off? It's $65, if you buy your ticket before Sept. 1.

AND, SURE... you can speak your mind about merlot, if you like, but, really: Miles grew as a character in the movie, meaning that, just perhaps, his feelings about merlot were a little ill-judged. One can love "Sideways" and still love merlot, too.


Photo Credit: Sideways]]>
<![CDATA[Santa Barbara by Train: A Good Deal]]> Wed, 23 Jul 2014 16:29:31 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sbevening092.jpg

POINT OF ORIGIN: Typically travel deals don't specify a particular direction. Oh, maybe a starting city, on occasion, but the discount has to do with where you're going, not where you begin from, and very, very infrequently the general direction of your origin. That's one reason the Amtrak Coast Starlight/Santa Barbara Car Free 15%-off ticket deal is something of a charmer: You have to be north of the city to nab. The other charming parts include the fact that this nice money-saved window lasts through the end of April 2015 and you save a chunk (15% is nothing to sniff at). So what exactly does "north" mean here? We know, we know, it is generally a fairly unwavering concept -- ask any compass. It means that if you start your Santa Barbara-ending journey north of the city, as far north as Seattle, you'll get the deal. Start-point cities include Washington State's largest metropolis, as mentioned, Portland and Eugene in Oregon, Redding, Sacramento, Oakland, San Jose, San Luis Obispo, and more stations along the way.

THE ASTERISKS: There are a few dates blocked out on the deal calendar -- yep, Thanksgiving is one, and the week leading up to New Year's Eve, as well as a few others -- so plan your getaway jaunt accordingly. You'll need to start somewhere north and return somewhere north. Aaaand there are a few other standard to-knows, so know them. But once you get that sorted and get your money-saving ticket? Picture Stearns Wharf and shopping along State Street and Old Spanish Days in early August. Pretty much any time is an excellent time to unwind in the American Riviera. Oh, we know, "unwind" is so brochure-y, but have you been to Hendry's Beach or Butterfly Beach? If unwinding isn't automatically done at either of those pretty places, then the whole idea of unwinding should be reconsidered.

Photo Credit: Santa Barbara Convention & Visitors Bureau]]>
<![CDATA[Mountain View Vroom: Ferrari Picnic]]> Wed, 23 Jul 2014 09:46:11 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/ferrarishoreline1234.jpg

FERRARI GATHERING SPOTS: Where is one most likely to see a gleaming dream machine? As in, a classic or new Ferrari in shiny, spectacular form? A spy thriller, perhaps. Maybe a convention center during a major auto show. Or an exotic locale, on the main freeway, cruising along in elegant form. But finding a clutch -- meaning a few dozen, give or take -- Ferraris at a peaceful lakeside location is a bit more offbeat. And yet? It's a lovely summer setting, and Ferraris are just about impressing; they also convey their driver to pleasurable spots, which do, on occasion, include lakes. And many a Ferrari enthusiast shall point their iconic vehicle towards Mountain View and Shoreline Lake Aquatic Center on Sunday, July 27. It's the Ferrari Club of America Pacific Region's annual picnic, and you can count on many a classic and new car sidling up to the lake, or at least to a nearby spot.

NOT SIMPLY ABOUT THE CARS: There's a barbecue picnic lunch (open to members only, so be sure to pack your own picnic if you're swing by to admire the cars), and games and pursuits on the water and grass -- think paddle-boarding, biking, and canoeing -- but the day will be very much about giving some of the gleamiest automobiles around the full-on lookie-loo. (You've seen the full-on lookie-loo when a bunch of cars of similar type are gathered in one spot. There's leaning over, there are hands on hips, there is much discussing of dashboards and hubcaps. Want to soak in some Ferrari goodness? Be at the lake on July 27.

MORE ACTIVITIES: And if you're just headed to the pretty water spot for some family chillaxing, there are to-dos on all the time, fancy car picnic or not. For the full rundown, turn your canoe this way.

Photo Credit: Shoreline Lake Aquatic Center]]>
<![CDATA[Mount Diablo: Things That Go Bump in the Night Hike]]> Tue, 22 Jul 2014 11:13:00 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/197*120/diablobynight1.jpg

THAT CLASSIC HIKE: When is the optimal time of day for a walk in nature? Some might say dawn, when the world is still dewy and critters are waking up and stretching and yawning (in the particular way that critters do) and the crowds haven't yet amassed in various parks and on trails. Other would vote for late afternoon, after work, where the stresses of the day can be shaken off and discarded with every advancing step. But nighttime? It doesn't get too many votes, typically, on the hiking front. If you're out on a trail you're either trudging back to your tent or making your way to your car after a day out under the sky. But what of hiking after sundown just for hiking's sake? It happens, with the help of flashlights and our planet's lunar satellite, and it helps when there's a rather intriguing goal: Look for the denizens of the night. Nope, not vampires -- this isn't a Hollywood blockbuster -- but rather the tiny creatures that scurry and burrow and chitter and squawk when gloaming comes and the world cools for another twelve hours. You ready for a different walk? Then make for Mount Diablo on Saturday, Aug. 9 or Saturday, Aug. 23 for...

THINGS THAT GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT: Volunteers from the Mount Diablo Interpretative Association will set out from 6:30 to 9 p.m. that first Saturday and 6 to 9 p.m. on the second in search of "owls, bats, scorpions, tarantulas, poorwills, and other denizens of the dark." A flashlight, water, and layer-dressing is recommended, and the fee? Six bucks for your car. Call it an early welcome to that autumn atmosphere, a feeling which is very much about the velvety, wild texture of earlier evenings and all of the beasties that rule it. Need more nature but want to change up your morning or noontime hike? Things That Go Bump in the Night could be your peaceful, moonlit ticket. You'll want to reserve your spot, though, owl aficionados. Hoot.

Photo Credit: Mount Diablo]]>
<![CDATA[Felton Fun: Thomas the Tank Engine Visits the Redwoods]]> Mon, 21 Jul 2014 13:17:57 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/thomastank245.jpg

PICTURE YOURSELF... standing near some train tracks in a beautiful verdant setting (though not too near, of course). You hear the wind in the trees, you hear the bushes rustle, and then, around the bend, you hear a train on approach. You expect to see a traditional engine, perhaps something old-timey and puffed with steam, and then... Thomas shows up. That Thomas. The celebrated and beloved-by-tots-everywhere Thomas. As in Mr. the Tank Engine. (Serious question: Is "the" Thomas the Tank Engine's middle name?) Seeing his smiling blue visage and happy eyes, wouldn't you let out a small blurt or exclamation? Because it isn't every day one sees a train with a face round the bend. Only on television, right? Well, yes, except for a few special weekends a year in a handful of lucky spots. One such lucky spot is Felton, which, yes, is home to Roaring Camp Railroads, and those special weekends? The final weekend in July and the first weekend of August. Get ready, Thomas buffs, because a beloved toot-toot-er will be wending his merry way through the redwoods near Santa Cruz.

THE THRILL OF THE RIDE TOUR 2014: Thomas the Tank Engine has called upon Felton before, but here's the big-big-BIG news of this go-around (seriously, we meant that "BIG" in all capital letters): The tank engine will be able to talk to people. He'll greet visitors and kids'll hear his Thomas-sweet voice. Nice and magical,  yes? Yes. Other favorites'll be back, like Sir Topham Hatt, Controller of the Railway (kids can actually meet and say hello to him) and jugglers and tunes and live storytelling. Oh, and a ride with Thomas, too, which lasts about 25 minutes. Ready for some sweet fairytale-ish-ness before the school year hums back around? Is this a lovely bookend to summer vacay? Get your Thomas ticket info here, train buffs.

Photo Credit: Thomas the Tank Engine]]>
<![CDATA[Pool in the Middle of the Mojave]]> Thu, 24 Jul 2014 08:36:38 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/218*120/socialpoolalfredobarsuglia.jpg

SUN-BAKED STATEMENT: Finding a pool in the middle of a vast and arid landscape? Kind of a usual thing, right? You're driving down a two-laner through a small town, you see the fizzy-bright neon sign of a motel, and, there, underneath the sign, is a blue rectangle, complete with diving board or poolside lounge chairs. But finding that same pool less the diving board, the lounge chairs, the motel, and the entire town, not to mention the highway, is, well... less expected. Highly unusual, in fact. But artist Alfredo Barsuglia sees things rather differently. He didn't require all of those other details -- the motel, the town -- for his desert-based swimming pool, which is very far away from everything and not so easy to get to. Finding his "Social Pool," which is somewhere in the Mojave, requires a bit of time, some coordinates, some effort, the right day, and a visit to the MAK Center for Art and Architecture, which is providing a key to adventurers seeking the remote pool.

SEVEN DAYS A WEEK: The pool is out there, way out there, awaiting visitors, seven days a week through the end of September. "The GPS coordinates of 'Social Pool' as well as the key to open its mobile cover are provided by the MAK Center for Art and Architecture in West Hollywood." It will depend, of course, if the key is available that day, so, yep, there's the luck part. But if the fates are with you? Then you're spending the afternoon in what is surely the Golden State's most esoteric swimming hole of the moment.

BEHIND THE IDEA: The concept behind Mr. Barsuglia's desert-remote pool "embodies the massive socio-economic changes that have taken place in the last forty years." It "combines elements of the sublime and the ridiculous" and aims to have the visitor consider our "consumption and entertainment-driven lifestyle." For more on the artist's intent and the fluid ideas behind this hours-to-get-to slice of desert noir, hike this way.

Photo Credit: Alfredo Barsuglia]]>
<![CDATA[State Park Sweetness: I Love You CA Bear]]> Mon, 21 Jul 2014 13:24:16 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/ilovebearca.jpg

STATE SYMBOL SHOUT-OUT: If you've ever participated in Flat Stanley, or something similar to the paper, globe-trotting boy that every school kid knows as well as her or his favorite cartoon, then you know the fun of seeing something that's easy to pack show up in a remote or faraway place. It is a unifying thing, in short, and when a particular Flat Stanley has made the rounds, the community that participated is pretty dang chuffed. With that come-together spirit in mind, and a spirited love for nature and protecting our wild places, the people behind the California State Parks are marking the parks' 150th anniversary with one very sweet project: The I Love You CA Bear. Yep, there's a furry fellow hugging our state and he's showing up in all the parks. He's made recent appearances at Hearst Castle, Huntington State Beach, and Sonoma State Historic Park via fans who've printed out the bear from the official web site. Are you and the family journeying to a state park this summer? Feel like printing out our venerable animal ambassador and snapping a few photos for Instagram or another social media corner of the web?

THEN RAISE A HAPPY ROAR... and print out your bear here. You may want to print out two, one for the front of the fridge, given that the illustration may raise some Golden State pride. And if you aren't traveling to a park in the next month or two, but want to see all the places the bear is making a colorful cameo, you can follow along on Facebook. Where will the I Love You CA Bear pop up next? Wherever there's a park that needs our love, our commitment to its future, and, yep, a little whimsy. That's all the state parks, right? We'll raise a roar to that.

Photo Credit: California State Parks]]>
<![CDATA[TV Fans Flock to LA Costume Show]]> Fri, 18 Jul 2014 06:17:49 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/232*120/tvcostumedfidmliberace2.jpg

THAT DRESS: If you get obsessed with a television series -- and just about everybody who is in possession of a television has at one time or another -- certain elements draw you in, captivate you, and stay with you long after the show has left the air. Maybe it is an actor's particularly brooding performance, or the sparkly banter, or it could be a frock the star wore to the big ball in episode 5 of the third season. Do you admire the clothing worn by your favorite characters? Yeah, we watch television for fashion-based reasons, too, and often principally, given that the small screen has jump-started numerous sartorial trends over the decades. Enter the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in downtown Los Angeles. The school is famous for its innovative students and faculty, and for knowing what the mode of tomorrow might be. And it is known, and beloved, for two major exhibitions it stages each year. Make that free-to-see shows, which is rather remarkable, given that the exhibits brim with celebrated movie and television costumes. The film exhibit? That lands in the late winter and spring, around the Oscars. And television's time? 

IT'S HAPPENING: The Outstanding Art of Television Costume and Design grandly fills out the FIDM Gallery ahead of The Emmys each year. That means that any Tuesday through Saturday you can make for the school and see, for free, costumes from "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." and "The Good Wife" and returning show "Downton Abbey." "Portlandia" and "True Detective" and "Pretty Little Liars" are in the round-up, too. Some 98 nominations are represented, and over 20 shows, and, yes, those are really the suits and skirts seen on the screen and not replicas. Opening date? Tuesday, July 22. Closing date? Saturday, Sept. 20. Between those two days? Loads of looking and admiring and a little dress envy (and inspiration, too).

Photo Credit: FIDM]]>
<![CDATA[Watch the Perseids at Glacier Point]]> Tue, 22 Jul 2014 14:51:39 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/234*120/glacierperseidtenaya.jpg

METEOR SHOWER WOW: When a nighttime sky show comes along, there's much discussion among cosmos mavens as to the optimal place to watch it. At an observatory? Near the ocean? Far, far away from any major artificial light sources? While we can all agree, pretty much, on that final situation, landing on the ideal spot from where one may admire light streaks in the bowl above us can be a challenge. But what if something on earth, a terrestrial object, helped to form part of a spectacular frame for the sky? That's exactly what the granite mammoths of Yosemite National Park do. Ponder watching the Perseid Meteor Shower, which is due on Tuesday, Aug. 12, from practically anywhere. Now picture watching it from Glacier Point, with Half Dome giving your eye a rather epic resting place when your face is not turned toward the heavens. It's hard to top that setting for a sky show, given that Half Dome is one of the most recognizable hunks of rock on this planet or maybe any other. ("Hunks of rock" said with total love, of course.) Tempted by this rare opportunity? Then make your reservation at...

TENAYA LODGE: The grand property, which sits just south of the Yosemite gate, has a special on just for lovers of meteors and granite domes and mythical settings: Book a room at the hotel, for starters. Then, for an additional $99, you can secure a spot on the drive to Glacier Point. A night sky map, a Tenaya Blanket, and a glow stick -- oh yeah, scoring big time -- are part of your field trip package. "(E)xpert astronomy guides" will join, meaning it won't simply be about appreciating the Perseids but learning about them as well. Perhaps most fun of all? You meet at 8:30 p.m. for the jaunt into the park. Really, how many field trips of your youth began at 8:30? It's a rare treat. And we take that back: Most fun of all has to be seeing Half Dome and the other features of Yosemite framing the bottom part of the sky during a cosmic event.

Photo Credit: Tenaya Lodge]]>
<![CDATA[Bee There: Comic-Con International]]> Fri, 18 Jul 2014 06:56:32 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/comiccon174029110.jpg

BIGGEST, MEGAEST, HUGEST: There are a number of "gets" in the entertainment-obsessed world of fandom. The autograph of every Avenger, a photo with Stan Lee, a visit to the "Community" set, an actual prop from a "Harry Potter" film. Whatever your taste, your fancy, or your interest, the bar has likely been raised fairly high when it comes to showing your fanship. But what of fans of Comic-Con? Surely the world's largest and most buzzed-over fan convention has a few hardcore, need-to-do-and-have-everything fans of itself. Are there those people who attend the July-busy, San Diego-based extravaganza just for the sake of being at Comic-Con and no other reason? We'll wager those attendees are plentiful. But what are the "gets" here? Sitting front row at every panel? Talking with every artist? Meeting every surprise guest? Whatever your must-do list contains for the huge-huge-really-huge convention, it is good to go in with some realistic expectations and one or two pie-in-the-sky dreams. Maybe you will get into your favorite TV show's panel, if you line up early.

AND THOSE LINES SHALL START... well, one might say on Thursday, July 24, which is opening day of Comic-Con, but fans tend to show early and prepared. They have maps and have downloaded the apps, which will tell them know that animator Willie Ito, artist David Lasky, and con favorite Mark Evanier will all be in attendance. "The Simpsons" will get a 25th anniversary celebration, "Bloom County" visionary Berkeley Breathed'll be in the house, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles'll raise a slice of pizza to their big 30th birthday. Plus? Everything else ever. Oh, we josh: Comic-Con does not contain everything else ever in terms of entertainment, but it makes a completely legitimate and successful go at it. For sure, any big movie or big comic book or big big thing on the horizon will have its moment at the 2014 spectacular. You? All you need to do is put your costume together, fast. You've totally started building that already, right? The wings? The helmet? The glowing platform boots? Best get sewing, stat.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>