<![CDATA[NBC Bay Area - Worth the Trip]]>Copyright 2017http://www.nbcbayarea.com/blogs/worth-the-trip http://media.nbcnewyork.com/designimages/nbc_bayarea_blue.png NBC Bay Area http://www.nbcbayarea.comen-usTue, 21 Feb 2017 15:42:00 -0800Tue, 21 Feb 2017 15:42:00 -0800NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Lake Tahoe: Hotel Becket Deal]]> Tue, 21 Feb 2017 10:47:33 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/newtahoejoiefeb.jpg

WHEN YOU THINK OF MID-APRIL, a few different things likely spring to mind. You might imagine searching for brightly hued eggs in a backyard, or finishing up your taxes, or watering your crocuses, or thinking about what sorts of summer road trips you'd like to take. But no matter what you do, and where you are around the Golden State, you're likely pondering stowing your sweaters, at least the heavier knits. For that's when sweater weather truly starts to make its final bow for another winter, even though winter is officially a month over by then. If you do dig cardigans, though, and scarves, and mittens, and the ski scene, there's a way to get your sweater-action on before those crocuses bloom: The newest Joie de Vivre property, Hotel Becket, is offering a special through the middle of April 2017. The code? That's a snap. It's...

SWEATER: That's right. Just use "SWEATER" and snag a third night when you buy two nights, with a start price of $238. The recently renovated hotel actually combines a pair of existing properties, Park Tahoe Inn and 968 Park Tahoe, and can be found oh-so-adjacent to Heavenly Mountain Resort and a short drive from the lake. So if you need your late-winter lake communing — the water truly seems to be at its most mercurial and magnificent as slightly warmer days arrive — and you need your time on the slopes, Hotel Becket could be your optimal locale. To check out the rooms, dining, and the SWEATER special, click. But don't pack those sweaters yet: The ski-strong region has received well over 300 inches of snow over the 2016-2017 season, with more to come.

Photo Credit: Hotel Becket]]>
<![CDATA[Taste of Yountville: Welcome Spring]]> Mon, 20 Feb 2017 17:22:21 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/yountvillebeets922938232.jpg

YOUNTVILLE FRAME OF MIND: While balmier days have a way of turning our thoughts to wine country-type idylls and adventures, a person never truly sets aside their love of a sip-ready spread of countryside. Even if it isn't the height of summer, when it is light late into the evening, the notion of day-tripping around Napa Valley is a pleasant one. After all, some February road-tripping may take you past some bright mustard blooms, the kind readymade for their debut on your social media feeds, and March? Well, you can gaze upon a few favorites, including a foodie, soundie celebration 'round about Yountville. If you've been in a Yountville frame of mind, what with mustard season and the notion that summery days are not far in the future, make for the food-famous town over St. Patrick's Day Weekend for...

TASTE OF YOUNTVILLE... which will once again dovetail in a big, all-the-senses festivity. The dates are Friday, March 17 and Saturday, March 18, and a quartet of tasting pavilions will pop up around the strollable burg. The Wine Pavilion will have the primo local vinos (no spoiler alert required) while V Market Pavilion'll hold some "customized programs." The Culinary Program'll brim with succulent, noshable fare (and solid beer offerings, too), while the North Yountville Pavilion boasts the tunes. As for Yountville Live, which'll be rocking from March 16 through 19? Best check up on tickets, times, and the to-knows for this springtime-meets-summer's-spirit soundfest. People who dig dining, and seeing some great bands, carve out some space over the weekend to indulge in both passions.

Photo Credit: Yountville]]>
<![CDATA[California Nut Festival: Chico Delish]]> Mon, 20 Feb 2017 13:54:05 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/nuts2.jpg

SMOOTHIES AND BUTTERS... and candies and breads and brittles are just some of the edibles that can feature one kind of nut or several. The vast array of vittles that incorporate almonds or walnuts or other sorts of nutmeats is pretty astounding, especially when you consider all the other bites around the pantry that can pop up in as many dishes and drinks. (There are a few, but it is an exclusive edibles club.) In short, if you're an almond aficionado, or wild for walnuts, chances are good that you not only grab a handful, raw or lightly salted, as frequently as you can, but those same nuts cameo in a host of other dishes in your home. If "(n)ut-inspired cooking demos" sounds right up your almond-adoring alley, then, there's a feasty festivity plunk in the middle of April: It's the California Nut Festival, and it will once again showcase all of the small, oval, knobby, protein-packed, flavor-riffic nuts that grow so well in particular parts of the Golden State. And by the "middle of April" we mean...

SATURDAY, APRIL 15, and by "flavor-iffic nuts" we mean "almonds, walnuts, pecans, and pistachios," or the "(l)ocally-grown tree nuts." The spot is the Patrick Ranch Museum in Chico, and nutarians'll be out noodling about, tasting, talking with Butte Country growers, and watching those cooking demos. Plenty of vendors shall be on the grounds, too, including Harrison's California Chestnuts, California Olive Ranch, and Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella. Tunes, art, and a spirit of well-grown, tummy-satisfying sustenance shall reign. A ticket is $30 ahead of time, $35 there, while tickets for kids ages 7 to 12 are $10. For all of the nutly, nummy doings at this tasty time, throw a few more almond slivers in your smoothie, find a comfy seat, and read on.

Photo Credit: Nuts]]>
<![CDATA[Explore the Sounds of Monterey Bay]]> Sun, 19 Feb 2017 12:34:25 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/montbayGettyImages-56778689.jpg

WHEN NEAR THE WATER, the big water, as in the Pacific, we're often encouraged to keep our peepers peeled for interesting sights. That could be a boat out on the very edge of the horizon, or a seal popping his whiskery face above the waterline, or, even, fingers crossed, the distinctive water-puff that arises from a whale's blowhole. But having a deeply experiential moment at the ocean involves not just keeping a watch but keeping an ear out for various sounds. Those sounds can definitely dominate both ends of the gamut, from nature-made (the soft "pssssh" that comes from a whale's water-puff) to the humanmade (oars in the water, motors, and such). If you've always been an advocate for listening to the waves, and what beasties live below them, and what we landlubbers do atop them, then ponder an upcoming evening at the Sanctuary Exploration Center in Santa Cruz. The Friday, March 3 night, which is open to grown-ups and kids alike, is called...

"SOUNDS IN THE SANCTUARY," a straightforward name that says exactly what the focus will be: The "art and science evening" shall put the spotlight on "sounds in the Sanctuary." Cool artworks on display, a chance to "listen in" to what's happening, ocean-wise, with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, and activities fill out the audible, sensory-driven to-do. While you may have heard everything the ocean has to offer, from oars dipping into the water to a dolphin's amazing whistles and clicks, well... You surely haven't. No one has, truly, and that's a good thing. Has any human fully, 100% known that great, vast, and mystery-filled expanse? One step for becoming better acquainted with the ocean's residents, and how the sounds we humans create can impact their worlds, is to delve into an evening of aquatic sound. Admission to the night? It's free.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Rhododendrons: Coastal Spring Blooms]]> Mon, 20 Feb 2017 15:12:27 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/18.PinkRodiesdonforthuber.jpg

THE REDWOODS... have several besties, from the fog (which provides the massive trees a lot of magnificent moisture) to a robust root system to, yes, the redwood-loving humans who advocate on their behemoth behalf. But, come May and early June up in the northerly reaches of California, another pal to the redwoods comes calling, or at least a picturesque neighbor that has long thrived in the area of the trees: rhododendrons. If you've spent some time hiking deep into the woods along some quiet, green trails around Redwood National Park, specifically over Memorial Day Weekend, or thereabouts, you might have come across the striking pink blooms.

THE SOFT, SUNSET-LIKE HUE... of the flowers complement the aforementioned green of a redwood-rich expanse, and the wild rhodies are just about the only thing that can draw the eye downward from those amazingly tall trees. And while fog and roots and other good things help the redwoods to grow strong, these flowers are a perfect, and all-too-brief, adornment to the ground where the giants grow. To find the floral fabulousness, the Rhododendron Trail at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park is a solid path to take. As for show rhododendrons? Make for...

FORT BRAGG... for the 40th Annuel John Druecker Memorial Rhododendron Show at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. The 2017 dates are April 22 and 23, juuuust a pinch ahead of when the rhodies'll pop up, all wild-like, in certain redwood-laden areas. It's free to attend, and you'll surely leave with ideas on how do lavish your own at-home 'dendrons with oodles of affection, care, light, water, and love.

Photo Credit: Don Forthuber]]>
<![CDATA[Dana Point: Whale Party Time]]> Mon, 20 Feb 2017 13:35:21 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/190*120/danapointparadewhales234.jpg

IF YOUR PEEPERS ARE PEELED... and you're hoping to see a real-life, oh-gosh-it's-huge whale, where do you look and what do you look for? Many stalwart seafarers have their tips and notions, from keeping an eye out for "fluke prints" (the distinctive surface patterns left by a whale's tale) to watching for the "puff" that arises from a blowhole (which is actually fairly easy to discern, even at a good distance, when the weather is fine). But if you're in Dana Point over the first two weekends of March, all you really probably need to do is grab some curb for the parade, an ocean-adoring procession that includes "(g)iant helium parade balloons" depicting a few different whales, including an orca and a blue. True, those whales'll be up in the air, and not in the Big Water, but they're a part of the larger party, one that's been around for nearly a half century (or 46 years, which qualifies as a good amount of time). It's the Dana Point Festival of Whales, and it will once again splash about, in water and on the land, on...

MARCH 4, 5, 11, AND 12: Four days of whale love equals a whole bunch of blowhole-esque to-dos, from the already mentioned parade to Ocean Awareness Day to a free outdoor screening of "Finding Dory" to whale watching trips galore (it's that time of year for some chances-are-good gray sightings). The whale watching'll has a fee, but many of the happenings around the charmer of a Pacific-adjacent town are free. A rubber ducky derby, sand sculpting, and a cardboard dinghy dash lend the lark an air of community spirit and not-too-serious pizzazz. Of course, staying aware of our co-mammals, the ones that live out in the ocean and rock their majestic flukes, is important, and knowing what hurdles they face, and future, is on the serious side. Both stewardship, and light-hearted doings, weave together over the two-weekend tradition. How do you spot a whale? It all depends if that whale is in a parade or happily cruising out in the watery distance, just below the surface but near enough to give those on a boat a true thrill.

Photo Credit: Festival of Whales]]>
<![CDATA[Santa Barbara Food & Wine Weekend]]> Fri, 17 Feb 2017 14:05:54 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/bacaraSundayMarket.jpg

WHEN YOU THINK OF SANTA BARBARA, and of excellent supping, and of those chefs who've perfected a zingy approach to both their art and outlook, a certain superstar most certainly springs to mind, instantly: Julia Child. Beyond beloved, and beyond emulated, and beyond beyond, the titan of 20th-century cooking called the red-roof'd paradise home prior to her 2004 passing, and had some well-known local go-tos outside of her kitchen (La Super-Rica Taqueria is often cited as being favorite of the chef during her Montecito sojourn). There are many delicious and devotional ways to remember the life, times, adventures, and zingy approach to all things food that Ms. Child so deftly mastered, but one of the most delectable, and Santa-Barbara-y, takes place at Bacara Resort & Spa each year. It's the Santa Barbara Food & Wine Weekend, "...the only culinary event in the world sanctioned by the Julia Child Foundation." The flavorful fourth annual outing is coming up, over the second weekend of April 2017, so take a peek at the schedule, which includes an appearance by...

ALEX PRUD'HOMME, the great-nephew of Ms. Child. Mr. Prud'homme will be Q&Aing about his new book "The French Chef in America: Julia Child's Second Act." A screening of 2009's "Julie and Julia" will also take place during the April 7 through 9 gourmand gathering — the film is free to see — and a Neighborhood Market Tour & Tasting in the Bacara courtyard will capture that chatty, get-acquainted spirit Ms. Child so readily exemplified (a ticket is $50). There are a few spicy, sippable doings throughout the three days, including a swanky Grand Dinner, and you can alight upon what you'd like to do in an a la carte fashion, rather than booking the whole fell swoop (though you can do that as well, if you're game). That a la carte vibe suits the memory of the colorful cook well, as one always got the sense that Ms. Child was quite warm and understanding about a person devouring just those dishes that particularly appeal. The same goes for the Santa Barbara Food & Wine Weekend at bluff-breezy Bacara; do what you like, taste what you will, meet fellow food fans, and raise a glass to a gourmet, grand-eating festival.

Photo Credit: Erin Feinblatt]]>
<![CDATA[Humboldt Sweet Spots: Snap Four Photos]]> Thu, 16 Feb 2017 19:13:49 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/16.ArcataPlazadonforthuber.jpg

IT'S TRUE: You adore Humboldt County. You know all the backroads. You always ask for the same table at the Samoa Cookhouse. You've spent many a sunny summer afternoon soaking in the rays on Arcata Plaza. You not only have a favorite redwood, you have a personal top ten list, and you visit 'em all when you're in their neck of the (literal) woods. And Ferndale? You have to be among the quaint Victorian buildings, each December, when the big tree is lit. But how do you best show all of your amour for the wild-wonderful, historical-happy, waves-and-wood-and-murals destination? Well, by visiting it regularly, surely, and sharing its many treasures with those friends who would also appreciate that admirable Humboldtian approach to living well (it has a touch of wise ease that all people in all counties could surely benefit from adopting). But you can also show your redwood-based affections by taking four selfies, or snapshots of friends, and posting them on the Redwood Coast Facebook page. If you don't want to go that route, you can...

EMAIL FOUR PICS... to a contact on this page, which has the list of the locations that the pictures should include. Arcata Plaza made the roster, and Willow Creek's beloved Bigfoot statue, and, of course, Avenue of the Giants, too. Peruse the pretty places, see if you have four pics, or, better yet: Plan a trip up to snap some fresh ones. What you'll get for sharing your photos? A "comfy tee." There are 16 Humboldt spots in all that you can include, and we just know you've been to all of 'em, or most of them, because you love trees and picturesque plazas and storied restaurants and trees. Oh, did we type "trees" twice? Well, we're leaving it, because trees are at the heart of much of area's particular, eons-old magic. If you love all things Humboldt, snap or send your four pics, and then get and wear your comfy tee, the one the Eureka-Humboldt Visitors Bureau will give you, as long as supplies last, on your next trip to the fabled region.

Photo Credit: Don Forthuber]]>
<![CDATA[Death Valley Pupfish: Spring Superstar]]> Sat, 18 Feb 2017 10:07:02 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/dvpupfishnps.jpg

IF YOU WERE TO SAY... to someone who wasn't fully up on desert-based critter knowledge that you were going to take a trip to spy some fish in Death Valley National Park, well, they just might tell you to "pull the other leg." After all, "hottest" and "driest" and "lowest" are oft-used terms when it comes to the magnificently arid expanse, and notions of water and water-based life don't spring to the forefront of the mind. But, of course, there is water in the desert, and it appears in all sorts of spectacular and even surreal ways. Death Valley is home to several such aqua-related spots and events, from the here-today-gone-tomorrow lakes that can form on the flats to the pupfish of Salt Creek. Ah yes, we're returning to the fish topic, because, well, the fact that fin-laden creatures call the famously dry destination home is about as cool as cool California things come. And springtime for the cute fishies? That's primo mating time, which means you might just spy some interesting activity. They're as...

"PLAYFUL AS PUPPIES..." reveals the official Facebook page for Death Valley National Park, which means that while they're quite wee, and you'll need to keep your peepers peeled, you might see some memorable darting and dashing about in the creek. It's a "shallow creek," so you won't have to gaze too deeply, and the pupfish? Look for some pretty hues, which makes the small creek dweller somewhat simple to find. Of course, while observing this desert denizen will fill a person with the correct sensation that nature is flush with amazing wonders, do keep a respectful distance: The pupfish is endangered, and we landlubbers want these creek-based beasties to go about their springtime mating dance unhindered. Peeking in to admire the splendor of this finful phenom, though, is a fun spring to-do in the park, in addition to looking for those famous wildflowers.

Photo Credit: NPS]]>
<![CDATA[California Strawberry Festival: Tickets on Sale]]> Wed, 15 Feb 2017 20:17:59 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/csfhandholdingberryview.jpg

A FLAVORFUL RIDDLE: What's shaped like a heart, with a pointy bottom and heart-like top? It's also red, and sweet, and it appears around the middle of February? If you guessed something along the lines of "Valentine's Day" or any of the candies or decorations or gifts associated with the love-strong occasions, well, you're right: There are a lot of heartsy items all around when Feb. 14 arrives. But another heart-shaped, red, and oh-so-sweet thing happens to be the strawberry, which isn't associated with February all that much, save those yummy chocolate covered-strawberries that seem to be everywhere. Rather, the berry is a springtime staple, and, given the number of Golden State parties it enjoys, an important one. One of the mondo-est of the merrymaking haps, at least on the strawberry's calendar, is the one that happens in Oxnard in May. It's the California Strawberry Festival, a large-scale, two-day shindig, and tickets are now on sale for the May 2017 to-do. That's right, as is tradition, tickets became available on...

VALENTINE'S DAY, which seems like a good device for remembering to buy yours, if you adore strawberries and the fourteenth day of February, both. Of course, you can wait for the party itself to buy your entry — the luscious lark happens on Saturday, May 21 and Sunday, May 22 — or you can go ahead and snag it now, which gives you a few extra months to daydream of shortcake and recipes and pie-eating contest and carnival rides. No one would ever pit fruit fan against fruit fan — yes, we said "pit" and we're leaving it — but we can say, with total accuracy, that strawberry lovers make their favorite fruit a bit of a lifestyle, from strawberry-scented lotions to strawberry salsas in the fridge to strawberry-laden decor around the kitchen. It's a pretty piece of produce, after all. Perhaps because it looks so much like a sentimental heart, or perhaps not, but, either way, do remember this: Valentine's Day is ticket day for the California Strawberry Festival, one of the tartest to-dos on the food festival calendar.

Photo Credit: California Strawberry Festival]]>
<![CDATA[SLO Craft Beer Festival Just Ahead]]> Wed, 15 Feb 2017 10:03:33 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/219*120/beerweek.pg.jpg

MANY COLORFUL AND QUIRKY THINGS... happen just off the 101 in San Luis Obispo, right in the area of Madonna Road. That's where the Madonna Inn has stood, with oomph-filled room theming, for over nearly 60 years, and that's where steaks are savored, martinis are sipped, and indoor rock waterfalls are... admired. (And sometimes used for other things, as a visit to the downstairs men's bathroom, the one under Alex Madonna's Gold Rush Steak House, so memorably reveals.) But the famous highway-close landmark also hosts a rollicking assortment of conventions, festivals, and special events, including one that'll highlight all of the hopsy sort of doings among some of the the Golden State's best brewers. It's the SLO Craft Beer Festival, and it will line up the tasting cups over the final Friday and Saturday of February 2017. That's...

FRIDAY, FEB. 24 AND SATURDAY, FEB. 25, so make your way to the hotel's Expo Center for a look at, and, more importantly, a taste at, a number of well-made brews. The suds'll come from in-state, as mentioned — Ballast Point of San Diego, Bootlegger's Brewery of Fullerton, and Devil's Canyon of San Carlos will all be represented — but brewhouses beyond our state, from Oregon and beyond, will also make cameos. Beer-enhancing bites are also part of the 21-and-over party, as are info-packed beer seminars and live tunes. As for bedding down nearby? That's wise, and you can either look into a Madonna Inn room or someplace nearby (several motels and hotels are but a short taxi ride away). Best book your stay-over before going SLO.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Cool Kites at Morro Bay]]> Tue, 14 Feb 2017 21:12:43 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/kite+festival.jpg

SPRINGTIME AND SOARING... feels perfectly perfect, thanks to those ol' breezes which are practically synonymous with the season. It's true, though: We tend to be outside more when the first full month of spring starts up, for the days are stretching and the mercury in the thermometer is heading northward. And those afternoons spent under the sky? We're savoring the rays, and the blooming flowers, and, yes, the winds that the time of year is known for (after all, "in like a lion" and March have been a folksy twosome for years). This all leads to one lively, look-up, feel-the-sun-on-your-cheeks thing: Kite festivals tend to rule when the weather grows balmier. And if you can throw a beach into the equation? Well, now you're talking. Add a famous natural landmark, one that's stood for eons, and you have a flier festivity that's ready for cameras, onlookers, and anyone who wants to pass a pretty late-April weekend in Morro Bay. For sure, it is the...

MORRO BAY KIT FESTIVAL... that we're mooning over here, and it is coming back around again, with all the majesty of Morro Rock (the stately backdrop to the event, along with the as-stately Pacific Ocean). All of those bright, tail-flapping wonders'll dart and soar on Saturday, April 29 and Sunday, April 30 at Morro Bay Beach, just a pinch to the northeast of Morro Rock. But you'll find the kites, if you only look up. Also something that's looking up? All of the free-o-sity afoot. You won't have to pay for parking or to join the breezy bash. The event page says that pro kiters have called the Morro Bay winds "...some of the best..." around, so you should enjoy some awesome sky action. The beach, kites, sunshine, and free fun? It's like springtime distilled, with Morro Rock adding its magnificent, ancient flavor to the batch.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[Paso Robles New: 'Experience kukkula' Tour]]> Fri, 17 Feb 2017 13:46:30 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/kukkulapaso1.jpg

THE TRUTH OF IT... is this: If you want to go to brunch at the home of a winery owner, you probably have to be friends with the winemaker, or have some acquaintances in common, or some history together. But that doesn't mean that an oenophile with a devotion to local vittles can't find their way to such a table, and memorable meal, in one of California's great wine countries, no less. Look to kukkula, and the new "Experience kukkula" tour, which makes its official debut at the vine-nice destination on Saturday, Feb. 18. The tour begins with an into-the-vines hillside hike at the Adelaida District winery, with peeks at, and information on, the Syrah and Grenache vines (just to name a few varietals that start on the spread).

AFTER SOME FRESH AIR, and some Grenache-tastic, Syrah-sweet gabbing, tour participants shall head indoors for a locavore brunch at Kevin Jussila's home. Mr. Jussila is co-owner of kukkula, and winemaker, too, and he'll not only lead the hike but he'll join guests for the delish dishes, dishes prepared by Mr. Jussila's wife and winery co-owner Paula. While wineries typically offer an array of traditional outings and ways to get closer to the wine vibe, a brunchy gathering at the owners' own home, on the property, has to be one of the more vibrant and unusual.

THE COST? It's $40, and it is set to happen a few more times in 2017, following the Feb. 18 debut (March 19 is next, then May 21, Aug. 20, and Oct. 22). Definitely wear tennies or comfortable hiking boots, and don't feel as if you'll need to fancy up, too much, for brunch. Put your mind to the hike first, as that will include "a little exercise," and then the eating, and the private tasting back at the winery which will follow brunch. "kukkula" is "high place" in Finnish, and guests on the new tour should expect, and anticipate, some Paso-pretty, vines-all-around vistas.

Photo Credit: kukkula]]>
<![CDATA[Sand Gems: Cayucos Sea Glass Fest]]> Mon, 13 Feb 2017 18:01:46 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/seaglasscayucos0293232.jpg

FOUND TREASURES: The ocean is vast (as you know) and many objects that had once been in the water end up on the beach (as you've seen) and human beings strolling by, on the sand, often reach down to give these objects some closer examination. You might find a shell, or a bit of kelp, or a piece of driftwood, but if the object nestled into a beachy bank has some glimmer to it, there is a chance it could be sea glass. If you know this magical stuff, you know it has its beginning on land, quite far from the water's edge, oftentimes. It might have been a bottle at one point, and it made its way to the water via boat or by being swept out on a wave. Years and years and even decades of tumbling about in the salty brine — tumble tumble tumble — turns the humanmade item into something gem-like, and bright, and, held up to the sunshine, full of hue. It's a collectible, and there are fans up and down the California coast, and many of those mavens make for Cayucos each year to join the...

SEA GLASS FESTIVAL: The celebration of this interesting and long-running marriage between land and sea will spread out, like a sand bar, over two days: Saturday, March 11 and Sunday, March 12. A Mermaid's Ball kicks it off (or fins it off, rather) on Friday, March 10, while artisans who create displayable works out of sea glass will be out in festive force on on March 11 and 12. Jewelry pieces created from the smooth-to-touch stuff, and sculptures, too, will be part of the weekend, as will eats and sips from area winemakers and breweries around the region (think San Luis Obispo County). If you adore all the aquatic awesomeness that lands on the shore after a spin in the sea, but you hold a special space for sea glass, which has ties to terra firma, call upon charming Cayucos near the end of winter for this winsome weekend.

Photo Credit: Sea Glass Festival]]>
<![CDATA[North Lake Tahoe SnowFest!]]> Mon, 13 Feb 2017 21:16:48 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/snow928323.jpg

THERE ARE SOME YEARS... when snow-oriented celebrations are a little bit light of, well, snow. Or at least the spirit of snow, and the notion of snow, for the simple reason that flakes have not really fallen in any notable way. Then there is the winter of 2016-2017, which has seen mondo storm after mondo storm, making any flaky festivity quite timely. Good thing, then, that the lively and quirky SnowFest! in North Lake Tahoe is heading our way with the speed and grace of an aloft snowball. The annual party, which lands near the end of winter, will take up a whole week, plus another half week, at locations around the northerly end of the big lake. The 2017 dates are...

MARCH 3 THROUGH 12, and deciding what you'd like to watch, root on, or participate in is as simple as reviewing the calendar. Want to join a Polar Bear-type dip in the alpine waters? That's happening on the afternoon of Saturday, March 4. Are you skilled at devouring a lot of hot wings over a short period of time? There's a contest for that, on Sunday, March 5. And the popular Snow Sculpture contest'll round the whole multi-day merriment out on Sunday, March 12 at River Ranch Lodge & Restaurant (or nearly, as the Tahoe Donner Iditarun happens later that day).

PANCAKES, CLAMS, CHILI, numerous parades, alfresco happenings, and other occasions worth bundling up for are also on the calendar. If snow is your jam, and you want to extend the wonder that has been this snow-filled season just a bit longer, and you love to love upon Lake Tahoe and all of its oh-so-local to-dos, SnowFest! is your shivery soiree.

Photo Credit: Snowflake]]>
<![CDATA[Free: Presidents Day at the National Parks]]> Tue, 14 Feb 2017 14:23:40 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/joshuatreenpsbradsutton.jpg

BUCKET LISTS... get a lot of play near the start of the year, in large part because our resolutions are so strongly tied to our future goals, must-dos, and dream accomplishments. And while the sort of day-to-day resolutions we make about our health, our sleep, our work, and our relationships obviously hold a lot of water, the visions we hold in our heart, and slightly out-sized daydreams, have a lot of resolution-based cred, too. And if travel-based articles regularly catch your attention — like train trips that call upon major landmarks and adventurers who visit every state capitol over the course of a year — perhaps it is time to mull over your get-out, see-America plans. And if one of those plans is to visit every national park (yep, that's a big one), or at least visit every national park in California, well, there are some very helpful days on the calendar to note. These are the...

FEE-FREE DAYS, where well over 100 national parks, monuments, and historic sites tell at-the-gate fees "goodbye" and "so long," at least for a day or two. The first fee-free day of 2017 has happened — it was on Jan. 16, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day — but the next is just ahead. It's Presidents Day, which falls on Monday, Feb. 20, and spots like Yosemite National Park and Joshua Tree National Park will waive fees and wave nature fans on through, no wallet-opening required. And if you really want to fell-swoop a few parks over a few days, for free (at least "for free" at the entrance), note that there are a full four free days coming up in April, in honor of National Park Week. They don't happen concurrently, but rather on April 15 and 16 and April 22 and 23, but bet you could get mighty bucket-list-y within that quartet of days, as far as finally visiting a slew of national parks goes. You can do it. This is your year. Break out the maps.

Photo Credit: NPS/Brad Sutton]]>
<![CDATA[Tater Tots and Beer Festival]]> Mon, 13 Feb 2017 11:27:31 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/tater-horzbeerzoranmilich.jpg

SPUDS + SUDS: Look, you probably won't be the person to make a "spuds" and "suds" joke at the Tater Tots and Beer Festival, but that's okay. Make it anyway, for the truth is that rhyming words is still a time-honored way to summon a few smiles among those standing within earshot, and also? Both spuds and suds are pretty tasty, and even tastier together. But a festivals that is bouncing around the Golden State during the late-winter months of 2017 isn't just about any spud, nor any sud, but rather a certain wee barrel-shaped potato produce and top craft beers. Yes, we're not so subtly referring to Tater Tots here, a mid-century noshable created by Ore-Ida. So popular is the Tater Tot that is has come to stand in for potato nugget-type foodstuffs in general, the kind of edibles you throw on a cookie sheet after you've had a long day and need some comfort. And California comfort-seekers who also happen to dig divine brews can make for the...

TATER TOTS AND BEER FESTIVAL... should it show up in their town, or near their town, in February and March 2017. A quartet of southern-ish Golden State cities are on the map, with Los Angeles rounding it all out on the first Saturday in March (that's Saturday, March 4). The brews? They'll be three-ouncers, and eight Tater Tot "creations" will be there for the sampling. One tip from festival organizers? Arrive on the early side to make sure you get to try the full complement of Tot-based bites. For tickets, where-tos, how-tos, and all of the deliciousness that so easily hails from this spuds-suds combo, follow the scent of potato-lusciousness in this delectable direction.

Photo Credit: Ore-Ida/Getty Images-Zoran Milich]]>
<![CDATA[Mendocino Majestic: The Whales of March]]> Mon, 13 Feb 2017 11:24:38 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/whalemendofest1212121.jpg

DO YOU SEE A WHALE... before you actually hear it? Or, if you hear something before you see it, do you hear the other people on your boat, or on the bluff, excitedly calling out a fluke in the distance? It isn't a riddle, or a competition, and there's no stress involved in the art of whale watching. But keeping both ears peeled and eyes open (or maybe the other way around) is essential as you go out on the ocean or stand and keep watch on a cliff, hoping to spy the behemoths of the Pacific, the mega mammals that migrate by our shores. Eye and ear and palate, too, are all entertained on land, as well as on the water, during the multi-weekend, county-big Mendocino Coast Whale Festival. This March-merry happening definitely keeps a watch on the waves, but the terra firma action, from art displays to special dining events, also ask visitors to stay in touch with all of their senses. The 2017 festival's opening weekend is...

SATURDAY, MARCH 4 AND SUNDAY, MARCH 5, with Mendocino out of the proverbial gate first. The Little River Whale Festival makes a splash on the following weekend, March 11 and 12, while Fort Bragg rounds it all out on March 18 and 19. Depending upon where you land and when, you might just find yourself at a chowder tasting, or a crafts fair, or participating in a 5K, or admiring an art exhibit devoted to nature. There are also boat tours, too, to sweep you away from the coast and to, fingers crossed, the whale highway, where a blowhole or two might be seen. And, yes, you can sometimes hear a whale the moment before you see it, if its amazing head-topping air-releasing passageway is within ear shot. Ever heard a whale releasing air in dramatic fashion, after a brief rise to the surface? It can be as thrilling as spying a fluke. Whether or not you see a tail, though, you're sure to have tales to tell after your Mendo idyll. (And, yes, one must always use "tail" and "tale" when speaking of whales, as they're magical beasties who inspire landlubbers to whimsical wordplay.)

Photo Credit: Mendocino Whale Festival]]>
<![CDATA[Summer in Spring: BBQ & Beer Fest]]> Fri, 10 Feb 2017 12:27:30 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/240*120/BeerBaconClassic.jpg

SUMMERTIME AND SUPPING... have as many prisms as a glass wind chime hanging from an old oak, the kind of wind chime that makes music with every warm July breeze. You have your cold treats, the ice pops and frozen slushies, in the hotter season. You have your salads, and your easy-to-make sandwiches, and just about anything that doesn't require the oven. And you have your large-scale, sip-and-nosh spectaculars, the kind of alfresco festivals where everyone throws on a pair of shorts and a tee for easy-breezy strolling around (and easy-breezy eating). To find such a festival weeks or even months before summer says its first official hello, though, can offer up a tantalizing challenge. But here's one way over the first hurdle: Look to the people who stage the oh-so-big, oh-so-brew-tastic California Beer Festival. This mondo traveling happening does indeed visit Santa Cruz, and Ventura, too, but there are a few other flavorful to-dos on its calendar way, way ahead of summertime. Those include a...

TEQUILA & TACO MUSIC FESTIVAL... in San Diego in late March, a BBQ & Beer Festival in Santa Clarita in May, and an April bubbly bash on Ventura's Main Street. If you have a hankering for any of these libations or plate-based classics (tacos and BBQ are beyond classic, we know), best find a spot to bed down for the night nearby. And move towards a ticket, too; the Tacos & Tequila affair and the Champagne on Main party are already on sale. As for the summer-into-fall California Beer Festival? Watch this space for upcoming info (though tickets do go on sale for the Aug. 11-13 Santa Cruz festival on April 27).

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Cuddly Cove: Nick's Loves Love Package]]> Thu, 09 Feb 2017 21:27:59 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/nicksvalday234.jpg

WATER AND AMOUR: You don't have to delve too deeply into the nature of lovey-dovey duos to discover that H2O plays a role in romance. From the anniversary gifts — a crystal goblet, perfect for water, is a traditional third anniversary gift — to waterside honeymoons, the waves and wooing go together well. As they will over Valentine's Month, in a place that is rather strong in the aquatic cred department: Marshall. We do speak of the spot near the tremendous Tomales Bay, and if the Tomales Bay has you picturing a clutch of winsome cottages near a pier, then you are thinking in the right direction. It is...

NICK'S COVE... Restaurant, Oyster Bar & Cottages that we're wending our way to, and it is correct to think that the picturesque getaway is doing it up for the February holiday. Speaking of February, the Nick's Cove Valentine's package — it's called Nick's Loves Love — is not on for a single night, on the 14th, but is, rather, available throughout the whole of the month (well, on particular nights). If you're thinking honoring the hearts-iest day on the calendar later in February, then you're a-ok in booking this package, which is available Sundays through Thursdays, save the 14th and 19th. But what's involved in...

NICK'S LOVES LOVE? Plenty, and as it is the decade-anniversary for this stay-over package — yes, even hotel packages have anniversaries — the property has had time to polish its offerings. You and your honeybun'll stay in a Waterview Cottage, and you'll enjoy in-room massages a deux (an hour long, so nice), a bottle of cabernet (Nick's is on the label), an "amuse bouche" supper, breakfast the next morning, and, to kick it all off, BBQ oysters when you first set your bags down upon arrival. Oysters and Nick's, like romance and water, are also a tight twosome, so this should not surprise. But it should delight, and enchant, and if you're ready for a February steal-a-way, on a Sunday (or Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday), flap this way, lovebirds.

Photo Credit: Nick's Cove]]>
<![CDATA[Sip in SLO: Tasting Pass Program]]> Wed, 15 Feb 2017 14:29:47 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/219*120/winein+wine+country+use.jpg

FEBRUARY... can be fertile and fecund, for sure, on the ready-to-bloom landscape front. True, it is still the frosty heart of winter, and plants and flowerbeds have gone a bit fallow, but then? Leafy shoots begin to show during the month, and the random petal, and our thoughts turn to all of the gifts of greenery that the wilder world bestows during the weeks before spring truly revs up. If you want to embrace February or March while embracing your love of leafy things, and your love of leafy things also incorporates the leafy vines found in wine country, there's a way to celebrate the season of growth 'round San Luis Obispo Wine Country. The vino-perfecting region has a new Sip in SLO tasting program, and it welcomes chard fans and cab mavens and aficionados of all sorts of libations for a taste-around at four wineries. That's right: Purchase the pass and then proceed to a quartet of wineries and see (and imbibe) what they have to offer. There are...

SIXTEEN WINERIES IN ALL, including Autry Cellars, Cutrozzola Vineyards, Biddle Ranch Vineyard, and a bouquet of other awesome spots for oenophiles. You'll be able to select the four wineries you want to taste at, as well as the date you want to head out into the SLO-tacular hills and valleys. A nice bit to a nice program? Any date in February and March is available. Another nice bit to a nice program? If you miss it in February and March, or you do it and absolutely love it, it'll come back around in November and March. To eye all of the participants, and line up your chosen four and date, you don't need to go to the Central Coast. Well, not ASAP, anyway; start here and start planning your leafy, weather's-warming, spring-is-coming outing among the soon-to-be leafy vines of SLO Wine Country.

Photo Credit: Wine]]>
<![CDATA[South Lake Tahoe Polar Plunge]]> Wed, 08 Feb 2017 18:28:04 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/SLT_PolarPlunge2232.jpg

POLAR PLUNGE TIME, at least in many parts of the world, coincides, in chilly and optimistic fashion, with the first day of the year. Groups of people will don their bathing suits on New Year's Day and find the nearest body of brisk water to dash into, and while they don't spend much time splashing about, the move is a bold one. And oftentimes, an important and community-minded move, too. For Polar Plunges aren't simply about doing something a bit wacky for the sake of being wacky; they oftentimes raise much-needed funds for a local or regional non-profit. And one of the biggest of the Polar Plunge fundraisers is still on the horizon, on the last Saturday of wintertime. You may ponder if a March Saturday is as cold as New Year's Day, but, at Lake Tahoe, the waves are still mighty brrr-inducing at that time of year. And it is at that time, on Saturday, March 18, 2017, when a caboodle of swimsuit- and costume-rocking plungers'll hightail into the water at Zephyr Cove Resort. The South Lake Tahoe Polar Plunge will again raise money for the...

SPECIAL OLYMPICS... of Nevada and Northern California, via the contributions of "individuals, companies, law enforcement, families, schools, and organizations." Which means that even if you aren't plunging as a group, you and a friend can sign up, or you can even go it on your own. It all happens at 10 o'clock in the morning, before the sun has had time to lend much warmth to the lake, so, truly, the South Lake Tahoe Polar Plunge very much earns the "polar" in its name. And after you towel off, and enjoy a hot buffet at the MontBleu Resort Casino & Spa (which is part of the registration package), you can gaze back at the lake and think how you really did it: You plunged.

AND YOU'LL KNOW... that the money you raised for the event will support an organization that helps to "...showcase the capabilities and achievements of individuals with intellectual disabilities..." via the "...free year-round training and sports competition..." Special Olympics has made a positive difference in so many lives over the decades, and fundraisers like the South Lake Tahoe Polar Plunge truly are an essential part helping the group do what it so wonderfully does throughout the calendar. What's one quick plunge in Lake Tahoe at the end of winter? Sign up now. And if you can't make Tahoe on March 18? There are several others around Northern California that also support the many programs provided by the Special Olympics Nevada and Northern California.

Photo Credit: Special Olympics of Nevada and Northern California]]>
<![CDATA[American Riviera Wow: Orchid Show]]> Wed, 08 Feb 2017 07:03:49 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/PaphiopedilumFairlyStonedChosValentineHCC-AOSgrowerDonBrownphotoRamondelosSantos.jpg

IT ISN'T SPRINGTIME, so much, that gets our flower-obsessed, sunshine-seeking, breeze-desiring hearts aflutter so much as the weeks before the spring even arrives. For while the season may officially kick off 'round the third week in March, buds and blossoms and leafy things are going to town long before that particular moment arrives. It is a moment filled with happy portent — happytent, if you will — and it reminds us that this is the year we actually wanted to grow roses, or a fig tree, or, what is an ultimate dream for many horticulture mavens, orchids. Finding inspiration — or orchidspiration, if you will — just ahead of spring's start, though, isn't too hard. For sure, you can do research online, or ask some orchid-knowledgeable friends, but a visit to Santa Barbara, and the Earl Warren Showgrounds, from Friday, March 17 through Sunday, March 19 will surely set you on your path to orchid-growing pleasure. For that's where/when the...

SANTA BARBARA INTERNATIONAL ORCHID SHOW... takes place, and the 72nd annual go-around will be as big and as glorious as an especially impressive tiger orchid bloom. A large-scale flower market is a central feature, and an orchid-riffic art show, and corsages on display, and a visit by the Orchid Doctor, Bruce Kidd (so arrive with your orchid-focused queries). The petal-delicate, hearty-of-spirit extravaganza is a true long-runner on the flower scene, but it isn't only longtime growers who attend. Newcomers to orchid love are also a major part of the party, and everyone can find some ideas, some tips, and some new specimens to dote upon over the three-day happening. Do you feel spring on approach, way in the distance? It isn't too far, which means flowery daydreams, probably about awesome orchids you've grown on your own, are soon to start.

Photo Credit: Ramon de los Santos]]>
<![CDATA[Petaluma New: Cheese & Cocktails]]> Tue, 07 Feb 2017 20:46:03 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/ArtisanCheeseFestivalDerrickStory.jpg

PALATE-PLEASING PALS: No one who has ever enjoyed a glass of wine and a few triangles of cheddar or gouda would ever say that vino and cheese aren't a perfect pair of palate-pleasing pals. In fact, if some manchego and a chilled goblet of chardonnay were placed in a "best BFFs competition, category: food" showdown, they might even beat out peanut butter & jelly and even milk & cookies for the title. Even beer has come onto the cheesy scene lately, giving wine a run for its mouthfeel-y money, but gourmands would still likely name the vine-vivacious beverage and spreadable dairy products as the ultimate duo. But, and there is always a "but" when it comes to the world of foodiedom, for it keeps things lively, there is a fresh pairing on the scene: cocktails and cheese. In fact, one only need look to Petaluma, and the California Artisan Cheese Festival, which revealed that a new night will be on the schedule. It's an evening devoted to...

SPIRITS AND CHEESERY, and how a mixed drink, say, with a whiskey or vodka base, complements a hunk of goat cheese or a cracker topped with gorgonzola. The Cheese & Cocktails night will make its debut at the festival on Saturday, March 25 at The Sheraton Sonoma County. Distilleries from around the region will be on hand with their handcrafted, expertly made spirits, while cheese-making honchos will set out the tangy, creamy stuff, all in the hopes of helping guests find that perfect beverage/bite blend. "Straight pours" will be on the menu in addition to traditional cocktails, so you might, just maybe, will discover that you like a Manhattan with your manchego (rather than cabernet). There are other new additions to the weekend-long festival, including Wine and Dine Cheesemaker Dinners, and an array of off-site tours, too. Ready to indulge in your devotion to the lush and delicious Golden State dairy world? Start here, cheese people, to secure your tickets to the March 24-26, 2017 cheese-abration.

Photo Credit: Derrick Story]]>
<![CDATA[WinterWonderGrass: Tahoe String Scene]]> Tue, 07 Feb 2017 09:05:05 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/3DUSTBOWLhouse1.jpg

WHILE SPRINGTIME AND SOUNDS... weave together, annually, in wonderful ways, the big sound-oriented spectaculars have a way of landing later in the season, or even summer. For gathering for a huge multi-day concert, outdoors, is an April classic (at least 'round the desert) or something that's done in July and August (look to Outside Lands, and many others). But early spring, even the beginning of spring, has a freshness that pairs well with fresh sounds, and if you put all of that fresh-o-rama up in the mountains, where snow is likely to be on the ground? The fresh factor goes through the non-existent roof. It is just this sort of sparkling, invigorating, and oh-so-crisp feeling that pairs well with the rootsy, bluegrassy ways of WinterWonderGrass. The strings-sweet extravaganza is a Tahoe favorite, and, nope, it isn't a late-spring or summertime staple. It happens when springtime has just kicked off, in its very nascent days, which means in 2017 it is indeed starting in...

MARCH: Okay, so it is the last day of March, the 31st, and it all wraps by April 2, but we do believe we can still call this a season-starter, one that revs up adjacent to all of those lovely Squaw Valley snowflakes. The last two years were sold out, do know, so if you want to get on board to sway along to the music of The Dustbowl Revival, or Yonder Mountain String Band, or The Infamous Stringdusters, or Hot Buttered Rum, schuss toward your ticket as quickly as a skier heads down a freshly powdered slope. Yes, we said "freshly" again, for it is fresh, to hear snappy stringful sounds, at the start of springtime, up among the snowy peaks. Need the full rundown, the brew-oriented outlook, and to get your ticket 411? Keep schussing, and schuss on over here, bluegrass buffs.

Photo Credit: The Dustbowl Revival]]>
<![CDATA[Bike Tour: The Doors of Palm Springs]]> Mon, 06 Feb 2017 11:32:26 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/PalmSpringsDoorTour_PinkDoor_PalmSpringsStyle.jpg

SO MANY ARCHITECTURE TOURS... are about the whole building, from a structure's sleek roof line to the way a walkway wends along the drive. This is a smart approach, of course, especially when a building buff wants to better understand how all of the disparate parts work in stylish symphony (and, of course, efficient and sensible living). But sometimes an architecture aficionado wants to simply put the focus on one distinctive element of a house, say, the swimming pool (if it goes well beyond the classic kidney bean shape) or the kitchen (forever an obsession for many fans of domestic design). And devotees of doors, as in front doors, as in the first thing a visitor will likely notice and then pass through, once it is opened, of course, are in for a treat during Modernism Week. Why? Several of the most mostest doors around the Indian Canyons neighborhood of Palm Springs will get the look-at-it love over a few special tours. That's right, this is a full-on...

FRONT DOOR EVENT, one that's presented by Dunn-Edwards Paints. There are a couple of dates to consider — Feb. 19 and 26, 2017 — and a few tour times to sign up for (in case you're super-busy with the seemingly endless parade of other Modernism Week to-dos). Palm Springs Style is the curator of the $20 tour, a tour that involves going it on your own, on a self-guided adventure, on a bicycle. If you need to rent a bike, you can, separately, at The Saguaro Palm Springs. And if you need to know more about the fabulous and colorful mid-century doors, docents'll be available, along the way, to chat with you and fill you in on door shape, hue, and how an entrance serves as the centerpoint for the entire structural shebang. A front door is a specialized passion for many design and architecture followers, but rarely does one have the chance to fully indulge in amour d'entrance. You can, during Modernism Week, by bike no less. Get pedaling, get admiring, and get dreaming about your own front door, back at home.

Photo Credit: Palm Springs Style]]>
<![CDATA[Sequoia Splendor: A Dark Sky Celebration]]> Sat, 04 Feb 2017 12:45:38 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/215*120/sequoiaalison12345.jpeg

WHAT IS THE STILLEST SEASON? There isn't too much back-and-forth-ing to do over that particular question, for wintertime has long held a reputation for landing on the lower-key, embrace-the-quiet side of things. Perhaps it is the busyness of the holidays that makes us long for a more chillaxed January and February, or the near-silence of snow falling, but the coldest season of the year oftentimes seems to operate at a reflective, think-deeper state. This isn't always the case with summer, which we wish was about playing in sprinklers and napping in hammocks (but often times feels like a hurried slide into fall). There is a gentle route, though, to finding the quiet spirit of wintertime right in the center of summer, and even though there will not be snow on the ground, what you'll be gazing at will be quite chilly, indeed. It's the...

DARK SKY FESTIVAL... in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, and it will turn its gaze reverently upward, to the cosmos, from Friday, July 21 through Sunday, July 23. The fourth annual fest reminds us of the critters who thrive by night (hello, bats) and how clearly we can admire far-off planets and stars when we're in a low-lit (or no-lit) situation. A host of happenings revolving around telescope enjoyment, awesome astronomy, the national parks, and more are on the after-sundown docket. But don't pile up the must-dos too high; rather, take the quiet joy that comes more easily to us in the winter, and apply it to a summer getaway that's built on the very ancient and very meditative experience of savoring the night sky without illumination impacting our view. If summer's gotten too full of the hubbub for you, here's a weekend that's all about wonder, some silence, and connecting with the wider universe from where we stand on this planet.

Photo Credit: Alison Taggart-Barone]]>
<![CDATA[Milliken Creek Valentine's]]> Thu, 09 Feb 2017 21:27:37 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Milliken_Valday.jpg

FEBRUARY IS THE SHORTEST OF MONTHS, even when it has an extra day, like it did in 2016. But there are some nice perks to this swift time period, especially when it comes to packages and deals built around the heart-filled holiday that falls around the middle of the month. Quite often — not always, of course, but frequently — a hotel or restaurant or attraction will take a special happening related to Valentine's Day and stretch it all the way to the end of the month. So, in essence, when this happens, the shortest of months can become one of the most deal-laden, or at least a month full of merry good things that aren't restricted to a single occasion. And if you're hoping for a wine country-close getaway during the Valentine's-iest moment on the calendar, then gaze upon Napa, and Milliken Creek Inn & Spa, which is offering a...

"BE MY VALENTINE" PACKAGE... right through to Tuesday, Feb. 28. Naturally, as you'd hope and expect, there's a bottle of wine (sparkling, natch) involved with this Napa-nice package, and "romantic evening turndown service with chocolate-covered strawberries and scattered rose petals," too. True story: Evening turndown is a treat any time of the year, but this sort of sumptuous approach really finds its fancy footing in February. A Chocolate Decadence body treatment, breakfast for both of you, the inn's Magic Hour reception, and a chance to compose a message in a bottle are all on tap, too. (You'll just need to let the hotel know the message ahead of your arrival, so they can prepare both note and bottle for your sweetheart.) It's a two-nighter, this package, so plan on some unwinding, if jumping into the start of the year has you fully wound. For prices, rooms, and all of the dote-ready details, ring the swanky Napa stay and let them know you and your Valentine are keen on the "Be My Valentine" getaway. And start composing that special note. For how often is one presented a note in a bottle? (Answer: not nearly enough.)

Photo Credit: Milliken Creek Inn & Spa]]>
<![CDATA[Beloved Cypress: A Lotusland Farewell]]> Sun, 12 Feb 2017 11:41:49 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/lotuslandcypress.jpg

AUGUST AND ELEGANT: If you've spent some time around the Central Coast, from Santa Barbara up through Monterey, you not only have come to love the Monterey cypress trees, but you may have picked out a few favorites. Maybe you love a particular specimen that's a bit south of Carmel-by-the-sea, or perhaps you found a cypress on 17 Mile Drive that captured your heart (and time, if you spent 20 happy minutes taking photographs of the tree from various angles). In short? Becoming besotted with the august and elegant tree is a passion many Californians have enjoyed for many years.

ONE SUCH ELEGANT TREE... may be found at Ganna Walska Lotusland, a Monterey cypress that's stood on the property's great lawn for more than 130 years. It began as a seedling over 13 decades back, and now the Monterey cypress stands tall, an instant favorite for those calling upon the plant-lush spread. But, fans of old trees are getting some heart-tender news in February 2017: The tree must come down at the close of the month. "The tree took a turn for the worse," reveals a garden representative, "...with the top turning brown and large portions of the green growth just giving up." There is concern over falling branches at this point, but buffs of the cypress may see it when Lotusland re-opens its tours on Feb. 16. But do make a reservation and visit by Feb. 25, if you want to see the tree.

POSITIVE NOTES: Garden staffers have strung Tibetan prayer flags in the tree's limbs, and its place? A "small Monterey cypress, grown from the seed of the current tree," shall be planted where the big tree once stood on Arbor Day. Lotusland has also "...invited people to send a farewell message to this wonderful icon," so contact the landmark for more information, if you can't visit. 

AN "AMAZING" RUN: Gwen Stauffer, the Executive Director of Lotusland, says "In its native habitat, the tree could have lived up to 200 years. The species thrives in the rain, fog, and cooler climate of Northern California." She continues: "Today, the tree is found naturally only in Monterey County at Cypress Point, Point Lobos, and Carmel Bay. Considering this tree is not in its native habitat, but a much more southern location that is hotter, to lasted this long is amazing." If you've had an amazing experience at the garden, and admired this cypress, stop by, over the second half of February, to say farewell. And stop by again, post-Arbor Day, to wish the young, soon-to-be-planted cypress loads of treeful luck.

Photo Credit: Lotusland]]>
<![CDATA[Wrapping Up: That Monarch Moment]]> Fri, 10 Feb 2017 12:27:06 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/monarchgetty190322.jpg

LATE FEBRUARY'S TO-DO LIST... can be surprisingly stout and notably long. You may have resolved to finally take the Christmas lights down (after all, January was only last month, and January still has that holiday vibe). You might be planning what mondo spring music festivals to attend, and how to secure a place to stay. And you might be heading for Horsetail Fall, in Yosemite National Park, to see the water go aglow at sunset (something that only happens at the end of February, depending upon cloud-cover and luck). But another keep-in-minder, at least if you're...

SWEET ON THE CENTRAL COAST, and you're entranced by eucalyptus groves, and you could watch clutches of butterflies flap and flutter and find stillness for the better part of the afternoon, is this: California's famous Monarch butterfly migratory season will soon fold its wings for another run. The iconic insects, which find a wintertime home at their typical treeful traditional spots in Goleta, Pismo Beach, Nipomo, Pacific Grove, and other regional points, depart around the end of February. In fact, the Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove has a closing date of...

FEB. 27, 2017, so flap there ASAP. Other groves near the coast give "mid February" to the end of the month as general goodbye dates, but best call the spot you long to visit to make sure they'll be open to visitors. Even if you don't get to spy thousands of colorful creatures all up on a branch — as wowza a Golden State phenom as wowza phenoms come — take heart, and then prepare to take wing this fall: The Monarchs return around November.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[The Luffa Farm: Free Tour]]> Tue, 14 Feb 2017 14:43:18 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/luffafarmcentralcoast.jpg

IF YOU HAVE A SHOWER RITUAL, it probably includes some or all of the following: shampoo, conditioner, soap, a shower cap, a washcloth, and some sort of brush or loofah, the tool that'll give your skin a thorough scrubbing and some deep exfoliation. And even though cleansing is a regular part of our lives, and we depend upon suds and scrubbers each day, getting to go to the places where such products are made, or, wait for it, grown, is pretty difficult to do. (As difficult as switching conditioner after years of using the stuff that keeps your locks extra shiny.) There is a place on the Central Coast, though, that offers free tours built around one of the staples of the shower and/or tub. It's The Luffa Farm, found along the Highway 1 Discovery Route, and it is a spongeful spot in Nipomo, not too far from Pismo Beach.

IF THE MENTION... of Pismo Beach brings Monarch butterflies to mind, and clams, best add the scrubby sponge that's actually a gourd in the cucumber family to your Central Coast cool-stuff list. (Surprising, yes, but not surprising, in a way, since cucumber scents play a large role in bathtime rituals.) The Nipomo spread offers free 30-minute tours, giving luffa lovers and those just getting to know the gourdly good some insight into what goes into raising the "all-natural Heirloom Luffa Sponges." There's a gift shop, too (think fine glycerin soaps and such), so you just might depart with some luffa-lovely items. The farm, which is billed as "... one of the only growers of luffa sponges in the USA," is closed Mondays and Tuesdays, do note. And while your shower scrubber might be spelled differently on its package, the loofah (the skin tool) and the luffa (the plant) are the same thing at different points/places in their timeline. Eager to know more? Go Nipomo for all of your luffa learning.

Photo Credit: The Luffa Farm]]>
<![CDATA[Horsetail Photography: Yosemite Course]]> Sat, 11 Feb 2017 11:53:17 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/HorsetailFallChrisF.jpg

SO YOU'VE CAPTURED HALF DOME... at sunrise, and sunset, and high noon, too. You've taken the time to photograph Tuolumne Meadow in all of its majesty, in all of the seasons. And Glacier Point? That, too, has been a longtime go-to subject of yours. But if you haven't yet turned your lens upon Horsetail Fall in late February, but you've been hoping to do so one of these years, your time has arrived. That is, if you're up for a chance to "(s)harpen your camera skills in Yosemite Valley" over not just one day but a few. For the Yosemite Photography: Horsetail Fall & Winter Landscape course will roll out over a few February days, giving participants not only the chance to spend some quality hours learning from nature photographer John Senser, but the opportunity to put that learning into lovely practice. An...

EVENING SESSION... kicks off the Feb. 21 through 24, 2017 Yosemite Conservancy event, which includes "three full days of guided outdoor photography workshops in Yosemite Valley." You'll camp, too, at Upper Pines Campground, so keep in mind you'll want to consider some warm duds (and your own camera). For the full list of need-to-brings, click. As for heading into this immersive shutterbug experience as an expert? You don't need to be, at all. In fact, all skill levels are welcome, and the hiking is deemed "Easy," though keep in mind you might be trudging through snow and wintry conditions. Above all, will you finally snap the glowful Horsetail Fall during its sunlit February show? It's one of the fantastical phenomena found in a fantastical place. To burnish your snapshot skills at the same time Horsetail is set to put on its spectacular show is flat-out neato, and utterly memorable, both. Prices and all the in-the-snow to-knows? Over here, shutterbugs.

Photo Credit: Chris Falkenstein]]>
<![CDATA[Chocolate Lipstick: A Tony Temecula To-Do]]> Wed, 08 Feb 2017 07:03:22 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/ChocolateLipstick2017.jpg

SWEET TREATS... have a way of dominating the shelves (and our daydreams) come February. We long for ice cream cones on the occasional warmer day, and we sniff out boxes of chocolates, the kind filled with caramel and nougat, when Valentine's Day draws near. But finding a full-on event that's devoted to all of that chewy, nut-filled, salt-topped sweet-a-tude isn't quite as easy as discovering where the nearest ice cream cone or chocolate bar might be. And finding such an event that gives back to the local community? Even trickier, but hold fast: The Pechanga Resort & Casino is throwing one such dessert-y, wine-a-riffic happening, and it all rolls out over the Friday and Saturday before the heart-biggest day of the year. Make your way to Temecula for...

THE CHOCOLATE DECADENCE... & Pechanga Wine Fest. The gooey, sweet-tooth-y end of the party is scheduled for Friday, Feb. 10, while the wine takes centerstage on Saturday, Feb. 11. One of the newest offerings on the table at the Friday gathering is chocolate lipstick, though traditional bite-sized squares, full of traditional and surprising ingredients (think everything from marshmallow to lavender), will also be a part of the eat-around, try-it-all night. Tunes, a silent auction, and more convivialities are in store both the Friday and Saturday soirees.

HABITAT FOR HUMANITY... Inland Empire is the beneficiary, with a specific focus on "...programs that provide housing needs and home repairs to senior citizens and those who are no longer able to do such work themselves." Want to support this important effort? Secure your ticket now to one or both days of the festival.

Photo Credit: Chocolate Decadence & Wine Festival]]>
<![CDATA[Revealed: Santa Barbara's 2017 Official Drink]]> Tue, 07 Feb 2017 20:46:41 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/2017OffclDrinkofSB_photoDanielleMethmann_VisitSantaBarbara_5377.JPG

IF YOU'VE EVER SAT DOWN... at a new restaurant or bar, in a city you don't know too well but enjoy visiting, you may have been inclined to ask about a "house dish" or "house drink," the sort of things that would allow you to have a better sense as to what the city is about. Or, at least, the city's foodie, beverage-based leanings, for every place seems to favor some particular local-grown ingredients or styles of cookery or cocktail-making. And while many eateries and taverns do actually boast a house dish or a house drink (or a house dessert or a house appetizer, and so on), it is rarer to find a city with a house fill-in-the-blank. Santa Barbara, though, is a stand-out here, as it so often is, for it does actually have an official 2017 signature drink, its first official drink, and this special libation was discovered through a craft cocktail contest. The winner, which was named at the contest's big wrap-up on Jan. 26, 2017? It's the memorably named Ginspiration Point, which is a moniker that is not only catchy but informative (spoiler alert: There is gin in this drink). Alcazar Tapas Bar is the place to find it, and milk & honey, too, but you won't be able to find it forever. It's available...

THROUGH 2017, so make your way to Alcazar or milk & honey for the refreshing sip, which is "an homage to Inspiration Point," the picturesque spot found in Santa Barbara's oh-so-hike-able hills. Cutler's Gin is a principal part of the concoction, and Bénédictine, too, as well as Chartreuse, Nostrum Pineapple Turmeric Ginger Shrub, lime juice, an egg white, and rosemary flowers and mint, both from Earthtrine Farm. There is some lime zest, too, which feels right, since a hike to Inspiration Point might just fill an adventurer with a zesty spirit (this is not a stretch; if you've hiked before, you know that particular zesty feeling). The Visit Santa Barbara folks say the "one-of-a-kind craft cocktail... truly captures the essence of Santa Barbara in a glass." If only all cities could have a house drink or house dish that did just that. Or, we suppose, they'd be called a city drink or city dish, more accurately. To find that zesty Ginspiration Point before 2017 wraps, hike not into the hills but in the direction of Alcazar Tapas Bar.

Photo Credit: Danielle Methman]]>
<![CDATA[New: Mission Inn Valentine's Lights]]> Wed, 08 Feb 2017 18:29:11 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/missioninnpool2938923212.jpg

VALENTINE'S WITH VA-VOOM: Should you call upon The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa after Thanksgiving, but before the first week of January, and if you're there after sundown, you'll see it: millions of lights aglow. The venerable Riverside hotel is, in fact, quite famous for its seasonal illumination, so much so that the castle-like landmark is often cited as one of the best Christmassy places to bed down for the night. But the hotel is ready for a fresh experience, and a fresh holiday, when it comes to its eveningtime glitter. Worry not, if you fretted, for a moment, that the hotel would be moving its holiday lights to another part of the calendar. The Festival of Lights, a Mission Inn staple, will stay put, but joining it? The inaugural Festa Dell' Amore, "a month-long Valentine's celebration" that will include plenty of red, pink, and white lights around the property. Oh...

AND HEARTS: Lots of hearts, to pay tender tribute to the candy-sweet occasion. There shall be other snuggle-up doings around the sizable structure, from spa treatments created for couples at Kelly's Spa to a Romance Tour, which delves into the Mission Inn's kissy history, a timeline that includes honeymoons, weddings, and other duo-delightful moments aplenty. (In fact, Ronald and Nancy Reagan honeymooned at the hotel in 1952.) Some sweetheart-ready, ready-to-share desserts are on the special February menu — a chocolate soufflè called Love Is Decadent is one of the treats — and there's a splashy stay-over package that gives couples a chance to spend the night in the Alhambra Suite (indeed, that's where the Reagans spent their honeymoon). If you're interested in the Timeless Romance package, or the spa treatments, or a tour, or simply seeing all of those Valentine's-sparkly lights, pop by the hotel's site or give the historic spot a call.

Photo Credit: The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa]]>
<![CDATA[Tasting Trail: Solvang's Plate-Packed Path]]> Tue, 07 Feb 2017 09:04:39 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/solvangwindmillvisitcal.jpg

ONE FLAVORFUL, FELL SWOOP: If you were to say to someone visiting Solvang for the first time that this one eatery or this other tavern were "sort of close to the windmill," well, you'd probably be mostly right, depending upon your definition of "sort of" (or "kind of" or whatever your preference is here). The Santa Ynez Valley town is incredibly strollable, and if your friend set off from Alisal Road, where the oft-photographed windmill stands, they'd soon come across the pastry shop or wine bar you first recommended (and probably wouldn't make too many lefts and rights in the process). But how does one become acquainted with the eats of this eats-big burg beyond one or two recommendations from an in-the-know pal? The answer is to take the Tasting Trail, which pops up during Taste of Solvang each March. The 2017 date for the Tasting Trail is... 

SATURDAY, MARCH 18 — that's but a single date in the larger Taste of Solvang multi-day schedule — and a host of restaurants will participate. The theme of the event is "bite-sized edible treats," which means you won't get overly full from the outset (meaning the 14 other places you had intended to try would be a no-go). As for the 2017 participants? Copenhagen Sausage Garden, Mortensen's Bakery, Old Danish Food Farm, Olsen's Danish Village Bakery, and Hummingbird Restaurant shall all dot the trail. And if you pass that famous windmill on Alisal while out strolling, well, that won't be unexpected. After all, "sort of close to the windmill" is pretty accurate, in Solvang terms, one of the foodiest, on-foot-iest places in the state.

Photo Credit: Visit California/Blaise]]>
<![CDATA[Lotusland: Flowery Gem to Re-Open]]> Mon, 06 Feb 2017 11:31:40 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/220*120/LotusatLotuslandJune.jpg

CHANGING OLD HABITS... after the start of the new year can take a few committed weeks (or even months). If you've long existed in a constant state of rushing around, finding a fresh way to some meditative moments in your day can prove a tad tricky, at least at first. You want to begin a new calendar year by finding some quiet, by settling your mind, but making the time to do so, well... it's easy it is to let a lot of time pass. But one instant way to reconnect with a resolution to be more mind- and heart-peaceable is to visit a garden, the kind of spot where mind-settling and heart-quieting happen with almost no effort.

CALIFORNIA OFFERS LOADS... of such lovely destinations, though a few of them do take a bit of time off in the winter. But there is a place, in Santa Barbara, that re-opens to public tours each year juuuust about at that moment when resolution-makers are thinking about re-connecting with that commitment to meditate, to find a gentler path, to spend an hour organizing a few thoughts, goals, plans in a pretty place. The pretty place we speak of here is...

GANNA WALSKA LOTUSLAND, the lush estate that was once the home of the celebrated opera singer. True, lotuses bloom when the weather warms up, so they won't be doing their full-flower thing on 2017's opening day. But when general tours open back up, post-winter recess, on Thursday, Feb. 16, visitors can call upon the serene spread, which includes numerous gardens and plots beyond its eponymous flower. If you want to view the orchids, or the cacti, or the ferns at this history-laden gem, just make a reservation at Lotusland after the 16th. Then find your quiet, your nature, your mind-easing views, and return to your new year's resolution as you stroll the pathways and let your thoughts be at peace.

Photo Credit: Lotusland]]>
<![CDATA[Condor Love: Micro Trash Clean-up Days]]> Tue, 31 Jan 2017 16:15:44 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/CondorObserve.jpg

ENDANGERED SPECIES... often face a host of dangers and obstacles, but there are ways for humans to volunteer to help make a difference here and there. One of the ways that supporters of the California condor regularly pitch in is by signing up to participate in micro trash pick-up day with the Ventana Wildlife Society. You don't have to guess too hard as to what "micro trash" means: It is refuse that is "(t)ypically smaller than a quarter," the kind of items that an adult condor may deliver to a chick in a nest (the parent condor is believed to be looking for bone fragments that "chicks need during development," so it is easy to see how a small piece of plastic or metal might be picked up by the bird). There is a way to reduce the micro trash in Big Sur and help the dozens of condors who call the Central Coast home: Sign up to join a micro trash pick-up day. There are a number of dates now listed on the 2017 calendar, which was released in late January.

APRIL TO AUGUST: Find a quintet of micro-trash pick-up days during the warmer months, with a sixth day coinciding with Coastal Cleanup Day. The first volunteer day of the season? Saturday, April 22, with more Saturdays to come. The meet-up point? Make your way to Andrew Molera State Park's Discovery Center for the morningtime event. There's a list of items that the society will have on hand, but you're encouraged to peruse what else you might want to show with (water, for sure, and sunscreen, also for sure). Do you adore those mega-wing-span'd flyers? Have you wanted to go to where the condors are and lend them some love and TLC? This is an action-oriented way to spiffy-up their natural world. More info can be found this way.

Photo Credit: Ventana Wildlife Society]]>
<![CDATA[The Super Skunk: It's Back in May]]> Wed, 01 Feb 2017 16:25:28 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Old45Northspur1.jpg

THE PERFECT THEME SONG: Clearly if your name is Super Skunk, and you've got a lot of history woven through your personal tale, and you are quite picturesque, and you've encountered thousands of train-loving fans over the years, you need some sort of rousing, feel-good, hum-it-down-the-tracks theme song. But, when you think about it, the famous steam engine — No. 45, to be fully specific — already boasts its own ditty, and it involves the wind blowing through the redwoods near the winding Mendocino County rails, and the sweet bird calls, and gentle gurgle of nearby streams and rivers. If you long to hear this theme song in person, and to see the No. 45 engine toot-tootin' again, hitch up your wagon and trot for Fort Bragg over Memorial Day Weekend. That's when...

THE SUPER SKUNK... will make its picturesque return to the tale-laden, through-the-woods, gently twisty rail line. If you were wondering where the giant engine might have gone in recent days, it took some time away from chug-chuggin' along for "a mandatory inspection and rebuild that happens every 15 years." Call it a little R&R for the hard-working steamer, then. And call it successful: After bidding The Skunk Train line-up farewell in the autumn of 2016, The Super Skunk'll be back, at the front of the cars, some four to five days a week beginning in late May (that's "depending on season," but you likely figured as much). If old-school train lines (the 131-year-old Skunkie qualifies), bridges galore, tall trees, and beasties from deer to ducks float your boat (or run your engine), make a summertime date with one of the majestic symbols of Mendocino County.

Photo Credit: The Skunk Train]]>
<![CDATA[Paw Walk at San Diego Botanic Garden]]> Fri, 27 Jan 2017 10:40:33 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/189*120/puppygrasssweet.jpg

PET PETAL HANDLES: You don't need to become acquainted with too many dogs — though knowing as many dogs as you can is always an exemplary idea — to realize that we humans often select pooch names from petal-pretty things. If you've known a wide assortment of tail-waggers in your time, then you've probably met a Rosey along the way, or a Daisy, or even a Petunia (which, let's be honest, is an amazing handle for a Pug or French Bulldog). Maybe we simply love flowers and Fidos, we humans, or maybe we connect canines with the outdoor world, for it isn't a stretch to say that our BFFs rather like romping around under the sun. And pairing the notion of gorgeous plants (both of the flowery and non-flowery assortment) and a gorgeous day out with our hounds isn't too much of a stretch, either. We can definitely hit a dog park whenever, but calling upon a botanic garden, one that generally doesn't permit pets, is an unusual chance. But that chance is coming up, as fast as a loping Lassie, on...

SATURDAY, FEB. 18: The San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas will once again stage its popular 5K Paw Walk in the Garden, a morningtime ramble which will help support both the garden as well as the Rancho Coastal Humane Society. Some dog-focused vendors'll be on site, with foods, goods, and pup-related info, so the vibe of the day is definitely four-footed, even beyond the walk itself. And if you're hoping you'll cover a lot of the 37-acre spread, you will. Prepare to pass the Hawaii section, and the Australia area, and others, with Daisy or Rosy or Petunia happily leading the way.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[Merry Sierra: Nevada City Mardi Gras]]> Sat, 04 Feb 2017 12:47:19 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/IMG_1693-2erinthiem.jpg

NOLA IN NORCAL: Whether or not you don a feathery mask, or the sort of fancy get-up you might see on Bourbon Street, or you have your own slice of King Cake waiting for you back home or not, the fact is this: Mardi Gras has a way of making even the most obstinate of non-revelers sway a hip and tap a toe. Thank the brassy sounds of horns, thank the cheerful clapping and hollers that accompany a lively Fat Tuesday procession, and thank the le bon temps spirit of the old celebration that permeates everything for the holiday's ability to charm and draw people into the proverbial parade. Finding an actual parade, though, can be slightly challenging, and definitely if you're outside of Louisiana. True, many towns line up the trumpets and floats, and one of those towns has been doing so for several years now. Slip into your glittery purple, yellow, and green togs and sashay your way to...

NEVADA CITY: There shall be more gold in the Gold Country burg come Sunday, Feb. 19, thanks to golden instruments, golden fashion, and golden good times. True, Feb. 19 isn't Mardi Gras proper in 2017 — that's on Tuesday, Feb. 28 — so consider Nevada City celebration to be an early kick-off, if you're a tried-and-true Fat Tuesday observer. Attending is free, though, of course, you may want to imbibe or eat during the daytime doings. You have to keep your energy up, yes, to reach for all of those aloft beads, toys, and such? It's tradition, a slice of NOLA charm, in a cool Sierra village that boasts buckets of ready-to-have-fun cred.

Photo Credit: Erin Thiem]]>
<![CDATA[Monterey Bay Aquarium: Volunteer Now]]> Thu, 26 Jan 2017 22:04:13 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/TR16-204mba.jpg

BUCKET LISTS... have never been a one-size-fits-all sort of thing. Desires run the gamut, depending on the bucket list in question, but one common feature is the chance to get closer to nature (and to lend wildlife a hand). Whether that's done on a giveback-themed vacation, or via a donation, or finally volunteering at a favorite animal park or aquarium is up to the keeper of the bucket list. And many a landlubber has one of the world's best-known aquariums somewhere on their roster, either as a place to one day work at or finally visit. It's the...

MONTEREY BAY AQUARIUM... we speak of, of course, a otter-lovely, sardine-spectacular destination that is as bucket-list-y as bucket-list-y bastions come. If you adore visiting the fish-filled spot, but find you want to do something a bit more when it comes to to this bay-beautiful repository of fabulous fishdom, you can: The aquarium is looking for volunteers. 

"BE A VOICE FOR THE OCEAN!"... and sign on to "help care for sea critters" or even be a diver. "More than 1000 volunteers" play a vital part in many different departments and areas at the aquarium, if you're curious as to how sizable the volunteer brigade might be (yep, "sizable" works). Chatting with guests, and sharing your love and knowledge of our vibrant ocean and the beasties who call it home, is on the delightful volunteering docket, too, once you join an informational meeting and learn more about your role. Is something you can give some time to, now and then, in the months ahead? Can you be an advocate for the otters and seahorses and rays? Sign up and fulfill that bucket list wish, the one that has you devoting time, knowledge, and love to the beloved aquarium.

Photo Credit: MBA]]>
<![CDATA[Catalina Island: Chihuly Exhibit to Open]]> Sat, 28 Jan 2017 16:43:38 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/New-Chihuly-02.jpg

YOU DON'T NEED TO DIG... too deeply into your bag of florid adjectives and descriptive terms to find all sorts of sublime words to describe the light on Catalina Island. From an orange-pinky sunrise filling Avalon with illumination to the watery sunlight that helps glass-bottom boat guests view beneath-the-waves kelp forests, light plays an important role on the pretty island. That glass is often used to diffuse light, or make it glow even further, is widely known, but we don't often get the chance to view glass wonders while visiting a place that rocks the whole sunshine-moonlight thing so spectacularly. That will change beginning in March 2017 when an exhibit celebrating the colorful artworks of glass-tastic innovator Dale Chihuly debuts at the Catalina Island Museum. The multi-month display is on from...

MARCH 26 THROUGH DEC. 11, 2017, and it will boast a caboodle of twisty, curving, hue-packed, ethereal pieces. This is "the second major exhibition of Chihuly's work in Southern California," and the pieces will be displayed in the museum's "outdoor atrium" and in the "landscaped gardens" (which possess "...views of Catalina's canyons and clear waters"). If you're pondering Chihuly works you've seen in the past — perhaps the ceiling of the Bellagio in Las Vegas or a botanical garden-based show — count on seeing the color and glinting-light gorgeousness that you've known in the past. "Seaforms" and "Red Reeds" are just two of the pieces in the show. Ready to indulge in some glass-lovely art enjoyment on a light-laden island? The notion of glass and Catalina just go together, from the aforementioned glass-bottom boats to the wide-of-window'd buildings that look out onto the harbor. It's an ideal place for the Washington artist's works to glimmer.

Photo Credit: NBC 5]]>
<![CDATA[Gilroy Garlic Festival: Poster Contest]]> Mon, 30 Jan 2017 13:24:03 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/185*120/garlicgetty2038923423.jpg

SOME PRODUCE AISLE HALLMARKS... seem readymade for a moment in the spotlight. An apple and a few bananas in the center of a painting can make for a fine and traditional bowl of fruit, while a satyr or nymph eating a bunch of grapes lends mythology-focused zing to a gallery-wall work. Artichokes, too, are oh-so-photographable (thank all of those lovely leaves), while plums, with their variegated lavender-to-purple skins, have a particular light-ready glow. As for a garlic bulb? Well, let's start with the fact that it is a bulb, as in bulbous, which suggests some interesting contents (spoiler alert: cloves). Already a painter or an illustrator has a lot to work with when it comes to the small, papery member of the Allium family. And artists have deftly shown garlic's many prismatic and pretty ways over the decades via the posters for the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival. These charming promotional materials have long been standouts on the food festival circuit, thanks to their whimsy, their cleverness, and their ability to depict a bulb or clove of garlic in such a panache-filled, appetite-stoking way. Are you a fan of the festival's long line-up of posters? Then best...

ENTER THE 2017 CONTEST... and see if your garlic-themed artwork is chosen as the new poster for the end-of-July gathering. There's a roster of rules to keep in mind as you work (the piece should be logo-free, for one), and the deadline is Friday, March 17. If you take first place, you'll win $500, so that's as sweet as a scoop of garlicky ice cream (which is actually sweet, save some after-burn to the tongue). Best make yourself some pasta or stew, throw a handful of chopped-up cloves in, and start daydreaming about how to best depict this kicky kitchen staple. How would you show a bulb of garlic the love, dear artists? Here's your chance to find out.

THE 39TH ANNUAL GILROY GARLIC FESTIVAL... heats it up from Friday, July 28 through Sunday, July 30, 2017.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Desert by Night: 'Park After Dark']]> Tue, 24 Jan 2017 23:15:20 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/livingdesertpad3.jpg

IF IT IS A FRIDAY NIGHT, chances are pretty solid that you're seeking out some sort of entertainment. It could be at the cinema, or on the small screen, but many people jump into fictional storytelling for a few minutes or hours, the better to unwind, leave the stresses of the week behind, and learn a little something about the world, even. And very often our Friday night escapes involve critters, whether they're the animated, talking sort, or the kind of beasties who star in documentaries and TV series (or at least play important parts). What we're distinctly not doing on a Friday night, as humans, as a rule, is interacting with real, out-in-the-world animals, without a screen separating us from all of their scaly, furry amazingness. But that all changes, now and again, at The Living Desert in Palm Desert. The animal park, which puts the educational, wonder-packed emphasis on denizens of warmer, drier climes, has a special series called...

PARK AFTER DARK: If you're guessing, by the name, that this happening is all about enjoying The Living Desert after the sun packs up its last daily rays, you'd be correct. And you'd be correct again if you surmised that seeing a couple of animals, up close, is part of the end-of-the-week fun. A "guided walk through the zoo" and s'mores-savoring enjoyment are also on the Friday-night plans, in addition to eyeing beautiful tail-boasting, claw-rocking residents from a near distance. Park After Dark isn't every Friday night, do note, but if you're planning a desert getaway, and you dig animals, and you'll be there over a weekend, you might check if the stars will be aligned for your visit. After all, how better to start the weekend than by communing with a beautiful desert beastie or two?

Photo Credit: Jennifer Yount Photography]]>
<![CDATA[Literary Lark: Riverside Dickens Festival]]> Fri, 27 Jan 2017 08:20:21 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/160*120/DickensFestival1_crDickensFestival.jpg

MANY EVENTS... are a touch blasé on the matter of attendees wearing the sort of outfits appropriate to the occasion. Which is just fine, of course; people should be comfortable and do their thing. But when you're dealing with a venerable affair that has some truly terrific costumes, the kind of sartorial wonders that clearly had a lot of thought and care behind their creation, well, you can wish you had stepped up your gussy-up game, just a tad. Such is the charming case of the Riverside Dickens Festival, a wintertime revelry that finds people decked out in all sorts of Victorian-inspired wear. You can, of course, attend one of the events in your modern trousers and contemporary shirts, but you may wish you had packed a top hat or a hoop skirt or the kind of mustache pomade that gentlemen used to fancy 150 years ago (or so). Either way, this annual literary lark, billed as "The Most Celebrated Event in the Inland Empire!," attracts a caboodle of book-loving, history-obsessed people who dig two days of parties, talks, and story-focused happenings. The 2017 dates are...

SATURDAY, FEB. 25 AND SUNDAY, FEB. 26, and the roster includes an Authors' Salon, Parasol Dueling (a fresh addition in 2016), period music, a steampunk element, a cameo by Charles Dickens himself, a Victorian fashion show, and several more book- or time-perfect doings. Speaking of books, the featured book for the 2017 festival is "American Notes for General Consideration," by Mr. Charles Dickens, natch, so best get a jump on reading it (or reading it again) if you want to attend and take a seat for the discussion. Top hat on? Love of tales a go? Then secure your tickets for this dress-up, read-up, history-up happening.

Photo Credit: Dickens Festival]]>
<![CDATA[Cali4nia Pass Free (After Four Lessons)]]> Mon, 23 Jan 2017 11:01:50 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/bbmr-20free-20pass-20blank23.jpg

FINDING THE CORRECT STANCE, or burnishing how you grip your poles, or discovering the ideal way to point your knees, are all essential bits of knowledge when it comes to mastering skiing (or, at least, beginning to master the sport). But usually, after a few lessons, you are left to your own devices when it comes to getting more time on the slopes in (necessary time, let us add, the kind of time that helps a new-to-skiing skier work on her skills). But make for a lesson, or rather four lessons, or rather four lesson "points," at Mammoth Mountain, Bear Mountain, Snow Summit, and June Mountain, and you'll eventually nab a Cali4nia Pass for the remainder of the 16/17 season.

AND OH WHAT A SEASON... it has been, thus far, what with the copious amounts of white, cold, flaky stuff that has fallen. So if you schuss in the direction of this deal, and you sign up for, and pay for, a quartet of helpful classes (and any of the four aforementioned places), you will get your own, oh-so-helpful Cali4nia Pass. And that pass, if you don't know, though surely you do, will give you "unlimited access to any of the four resorts in the Mammoth family."

CHECK OUT THE POINT VALUES... of various lessons, and where they are happening, and their various levels, to get on track with what you want to do. And after those four are done, well, onto more fantastic late-winter, and, fingers crossed, springtime ski action.

Photo Credit: Big Bear Mountain]]>
<![CDATA[Romance in the Redwoods: Trees to Slugs]]> Mon, 23 Jan 2017 11:04:24 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/redwoods123GettyImages-177068764.jpg

IT'S DIFFICULT TO QUIBBLE... with the notion that Valentine's Day is just about the glitteriest of goings-on. From shiny hearts, the kind that top candy boxes, to shiny greeting cards, the kind that sparkle in light, to shiny pieces of jewelry, it is a holiday that's very much built around the aesthetics of iridescence. Christmas is another shimmery occasion, and New Year's Eve, too, but the fourteenth day of February takes the proverbial cake on this matter (or the chocolate-dipped strawberry, if you prefer). But if shininess isn't your jam, and you prefer faux bois and fir needles to glittery gewgaws, there is a way to honor the spirit of the lovey day. You only need to step into nature, and pack a picnic for your paramour, or go on a hike with your sweetheart, or head out for an invigorating morning of birdwatching with your honeypie. Or, if you'd like a more guided-type event with Valentine's at its heart, only on the Sunday before the holiday (which is on a Tuesday in 2017), consider a visit to Big Basin Redwoods State Park for...

ROMANCE IN THE REDWOODS: People and their approach to kissy feels will not be the topic of the Sunday, Feb. 12 outing; rather, you'll be learning all about the trees in the event's very name, and banana slugs, too, and how the notion of "romance" works in the ecosystem of this glorious, branchy-behemoth'd state park. It's free, this two-hour stroll, making it even more appealing, given that sometimes Valentine's Day involves a splashy dinner out, or lunch, or flowers, or a movie, or a custom-made watercolor painting of a banana slug (which might be the coolest gift ever, if your partner digs banana slugs and watercolors). You'll need money to park for the 11:30 a.m. event, ten bucks, but nothing to enjoy some of the most sublime sights around. Need to feel wonder just ahead of what is often depicted, rightly, as a wonderful occasion? Go nature. Go redwoods. Go banana slugs. And save the sparkly stuff for Feb. 14, if you like.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Huge Heart: Valentine's Week in Oceanside]]> Tue, 24 Jan 2017 23:14:50 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/oceansideballoonvalday.jpg

13 DAYS OF LOVEY-DOVEY: While many places — think restaurants, zoos, hotels, and attractions — will give a day or two to the kissiest occasion on the calendar, there is a town that blocks off a half month, or nearly, to honor the moment. That town has several pluses, including a gorgeous ocean-snug setting, so filling out its schedule with heartsy happenings seems like the obvious course of action. It is Oceanside that we're not so subtly referring to here, and locals made the wise and rose-scented decision in 2016 to celebrate February's biggest day in multiple ways. The name of the multi-day doings? It's Oceanside Valentine's Week, which is actually nearly two weeks, giving Valentine's revelers plenty of time to do all that they'd like to do to mark the emotion-filled festivity. It all begins on...

THURSDAY, FEB. 2, and wraps up on Valentine's Day proper, Tuesday, Feb. 14. The huge, 25-footer of a heart-shaped balloon'll be back, but it won't be confined to just one location. It'll call on several places around Oceanside, a dozen in all, so keep those peepers peeled. Other goings-on include "Sweetheart Skydiving," a bike ride, a "Show the Love" run, tango fun at the Oceanside Museum of Art, a screening of "The Notebook" on the pier, and a host of lodging specials, if you want to nest-down for a few days in the area and savor more than one to-do. If the love holiday doesn't get quite enough love, in your estimation, this could be one route to savoring it for as long as you'd like, in outdoorsy, athletic, art-lovely, movie-nice ways. Yeah, and a traveling heart balloon of enormous size is pretty eye-catching, too.

Photo Credit: Oceanside]]>
<![CDATA[Bodie Calendar Contest: Send in Your Top Pics]]> Fri, 27 Jan 2017 10:35:20 -0800 //media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/bodiehouseagp.jpg

THE NEXT YEAR... is still a good distance away, but you can bet that people who make calendars already are thinking about 2018. And while most calendar companies have their on-staff photographers and artists, there are those treasured places that will, on occasion, turn to shutterbugs who happen to be devoted fans of the spot. Bodie Foundation, the organization that lends a lot of love to Bodie State Historic Park, holds a calendar contest each year, one that many mavens of the Mono County ghost town dig. Why? Because Bodie, as a general rule, is simply one of the most stunning spots to capture visually. That's subjective, of course, and "stunning" can't be quantified, but flip through a web site devoted to the 1800s-era mining town, a place kept in "arrested decay," and you can't help but marvel at how marvelous the buildings, mountains, and streets look. Calling them a similar to a movie set isn't quite accurate, though, for Bodie is a real place, once the home to thousands of hopeful, silver-seeking dreamers. But photographs of Bodie do possess a movie-like quality, making them ideal for a calendar.

READY TO SEE IF YOUR SNAPS HAVE THE STUFF? The deadline to enter is Saturday, Feb. 4. There's a "(n)ew maximum" of entry photos — you may submit five — and some other good-to-know details, so peruse the Bodie Foundation site before setting your sights on which ghost-town-y photos you'll send in. It would be mighty brag-worthy to have a picture you took of a hazy window or vintage rocking chair or the mountains beyond town in an honest-to-rootin'-tootin' calendar. If you are a Bodie buff, through and through, and consider it one of your favorite places to visit (and take pictures), enter now.

Photo Credit: Bodie]]>