<![CDATA[NBC Bay Area - Worth the Trip]]> Copyright 2014 http://www.nbcbayarea.com/blogs/worth-the-trip http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/nbc_bayarea_blue.png NBC Bay Area http://www.nbcbayarea.com en-us Sun, 14 Sep 2014 19:17:49 -0700 Sun, 14 Sep 2014 19:17:49 -0700 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Sactown Spirits: Ghosty Gold Rush Tales]]> Sun, 14 Sep 2014 09:33:19 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/ghostssac234.jpg

THREE-DIGIT CHILLS: Honest and true? It can be 103 in our state's capital city -- and boy howdy, that does happen -- and an evening walk along one of the raised wooden sidewalks of Old Sacramento can lend a spirited sense of the eerie to your sweaty, hot-temperature night. It doesn't have to be chilly in Sacramento to picture spirits roaming those historic streets; the simple "clomp, clomp, clomp" of your footsteps against the wood can up the atmosphere, heat wave or cold wave or somewhere in the middle. That said, October is prime wraith-communing time 'round the Old-West-y destination, and ghosty walking tours shall make for those wooden sidewalks over a half dozen nights.

STARTING ON... Friday, Oct. 10. Nope, these aren't the subterranean tours of underground Sacramento, though one might think that, being that areas below the streets can lean eerie. Rather, you'll roam the 19th-century-esque byways of the oldest part of the city, learning about rapscallions of the past, anecdotes that are dang eerie, and maybe having a sighting or two. Maybe? Consider, at least, that there are few spots in the state more atmospheric than Old Sacramento on a fall evening, especially when it is visited, as it often is, by a rather large murder of crows.

AS FOR UNDERGROUND SACRAMENTO? That's still going, too, though not for long -- the go-below strolls roll up the carpet -- or wooden sidewalks -- for the cooler winter months. Old Sac Underground is on through the middle of December, though the adults-only evening tours wrap on Oct. 30. Could you spend a few days in the storied neighborhood and do both? Stories below ground and ghosties above? The tale-filled twosome lend a textured layer to the Gold Rush history of the area.

Photo Credit: Historic Old Sacramento Foundation]]>
<![CDATA[Ye Olde NorCal Renaissance Faire]]> Sat, 13 Sep 2014 09:45:42 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/181*120/norcalrenjimsamanthadowdall.jpg

YEAR-LONG MERRIMENTS: People with a passion for wayback times -- both of the historic and the fictional sort -- live that life all year long. True, they might not show up to their cubicle rocking a ruff or hoop skirt or a full-on, clanky-as-heck suit of armor, but they do belong to clubs IRL and social media sites in onlinedom where they can talk all about what life might have been like, or really was, during medieval times and the renaissance. Topics covered? Oh, jousts, of course, since those are pretty novel in these modern times. Fashion, yes. Food, yes. How one conducted themselves and courted a maiden or gentleman, you bet. But there's really only a few times a year when immersing one's self in that world, beyond chat rooms and small in-home gatherings, can come to full flower. It's during a Renaissance festival, and one of the largest in the state has just opened in Hollister. It's the Northern California Renaissance Faire, and people are jesting, and flirting, and sashaying in frolicsome frocks at Casa de Fruta from Saturday, Sept. 13 through Sunday, Oct. 12. That's weekends only, but even if you attend one day -- you and your clanky-clank suit of armor -- you'll get the opportunity to revel in all the revels, from shopping to laughing to noshing to waving at the queen.

YEP, THE QUEEN: Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth and Sir Francis Drake do make regal cameos at the Casa de Fruta affair, so best practice that curtsy. Commedia Volante performs scenes of a most uproarious and fascinating sort on the Royal Garden stage and shall there be entertainments and jesters and watchable whimsies throughout the grounds? Forsooth. (Surely we used "forsooth" correctly? Anywho, we find ourselves uttering it at every chance during a robust Renaissance Faire.) Theme weekends also reign, so if a Celtic Gathering or an Oktoberfest tempt, circle those particular dates on your calendar. Which, of course, is made of parchment, yes? Yes. For ideas on dressing in the spirit, things to do, things to buy, and how to get there, turn your steed in this direction, ye olden times partier.

Photo Credit: Jim & Samantha Dowdall]]>
<![CDATA[150 Years: Historic Hot Springs Reach a Milestone]]> Fri, 12 Sep 2014 11:05:10 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/bentonhotsprings_deboradelaneytalahimediaarts1.jpg

HISTORIC HOT WATER: It's true that the Golden State and Yellowstone National Park are a good distance apart, but believing that there are not plentiful thermal features dotting California is not correct. Hot springs burble up in pockets throughout the 31st state and all, of course, boast their own stories, town-centered histories, and fables. Benton Hot Springs of Mono County marked its 150th anniversary on Saturday, Sept. 6, but the sesquicentennial didn't go to the area's head. That's because Benton Hot Springs isn't a place known for putting on airs but is, rather, rustic, chill, remote, down-to-earth, and pretty unfussy. That charms bone-weary travelers looking for a deeply unfussy experience, but one that comes with some epic mountain vistas, some far-off-the-beaten-track peace, some probable cell-phone-spottiness, and some time spent deep in one of the state's most storied mining areas. Looking for a hot tub, fed by springs, next to an old-school inn, that's away from everything? "Everything"=stress, traffic, neighbors who like different tunes than you (and like 'em loud), general life challenges? Yep, then...

MEET BENTON: The seven-room inn "is housed in a 1940s historic building" with a trio of private houses with tubs and ten more private tubs on top of that. We unleashed the word "unfussy" earlier and we stand by that compliment: You're in Benton to catch up on your magazines, read up on local history, and sit in the "(n)atural mineral water that rises to the earth's surface at 140°" for a good long spell. Want to eye what each tub looks like (as they're all a bit different)? Click. Want to know more about the history of the inn and the hot springs? Towel off and head this way.

Photo Credit: Debora Delaney/Talahi Media Arts]]>
<![CDATA[Plumas County: A Fall Color Tour]]> Thu, 11 Sep 2014 14:47:02 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/160*120/autumnleaves_640x480.jpg

THAT ONE TREE: If you grew up in a postcard-perfect New England village, the kind with the steeple in the center of town and a creek babbling at the far edge, you probably would be hard-pressed to name a favorite tree, come autumn. They're all beautiful, right? The maples and the oaks and the vines that go from peachy to yellow to a deep burgundy, all over the course of a single month. But if you live in the west, you're apt to have a favorite tree or two from your hometown, if, indeed, your hometown experienced any significant amount of foliage. You might name the tree by the bridge or the one by the pizza parlor as being particularly spectacular around early October. But you are a local, or were, at least; how do visitors find those particularly spectacular trees when and where they occur? There are handy maps, thank goodness, and while foliage finders can't tell leaf peepers when branches'll go glorious, they can tell you where past years have been especially exciting in the fall color realm. Plumas County, not too far from Chico and Redding, is one of the state's most spectacular, if that sort of thing can be rightly measured. And since trees are starting to go full fall, or at least the maples are flirting with the notion, putting together your Plumas plan is a smart idea.

HIGHWAYS 89 AND 70: You'll take in a lot of nature while cruising through the county, if that's your bag: the area "boasts more than 100 lakes, 1,000 miles of streams, and over a million acres of forest land." Hello, wilderness, goodbye, daily frets. Plumas has plenty of pine, which, of course, never seems to get the foliage memo, but the dogwood and aspen? They look vibrant when contrasted to all of that green fir action. The toodle'll take at least a half a day, depending if you follow the whole map, so landing in one of the towns dotting Plumas County for the night is a fine idea, and a way to keep your foliage-admiring eyes well-rested. Start plotting your season-fantastic course here.

Photo Credit: Autumn Leaves]]>
<![CDATA[New Vegas: Delano Hotel Debuts]]> Wed, 10 Sep 2014 11:39:26 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Delanopenthouse.jpg It's a "touch of South Beach on the Strip" next to Mandalay Bay.

Photo Credit: Delano Las Vegas]]>
<![CDATA[Rocking in the Redwoods: Old Grove Festival]]> Wed, 10 Sep 2014 10:44:06 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/204*120/motherhips-press2grove.jpg

REDWOODS INSTEAD OF WALLS: If you think back to the best concert you ever saw, where do you start the anecdote about the night, when you tell your friends? Probably with the music, right? Or perhaps the vibe of the crowd? The beers on tap, the tour tees, the lighting? Maybe. You probably also cite the venue, too, if it was especially beautiful or vintage or had great acoustics. But indoor venues all share certain commonalities -- they're indoors, for one (spoiler) -- while outdoor venues have the sunshine, the sky, and, yes, occasionally weather. But there are a few very distinctive outdoor venues around the state, that aren't like any other, and one of the most prominent, and pretty, happens to be Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve. It's the Redwood Forest Theater, and "(c)oncerts and theatrical events took place there for decades until the theater was closed in the 1980s out of concern for natural resource protection." But in 2006? The occasional event would pop up at the theater, every now and then. And every now and then is arriving on Saturday, Sept. 13 when the Old Grove Festival pulls into one of the Golden State's most singular settings for a music-laden love-fest.

MOTHER HIPS: The Bay Area favorites'll be strumming, singing, and raising funds for the Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods, an organization that does exactly what its name says: It keeps an eye on the iconic trees and our wilder world, preservation- and protection-style. Midnight North opens the show, there's a pre-show meal and other beverages to consider, and are the benches wooden? It's definitely a more rustic setting, which lends to the special and rare feeling an audience member gets. Gets? Let's say the loveliness can overcome a visitor to the Redwood Forest Theater, in the best and most heart-filling ways. If you want to commune with the big trees, luxuriate in some Mother Hips-good tunes, and help out the Stewards, get on those tickets.

Photo Credit: Rodrigo Pena Photography]]>
<![CDATA[Happy 25 Years, Napa Valley Wine Train]]> Sat, 13 Sep 2014 18:13:31 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/napavalleytraindaylight.jpg

25 YEARS OF TOOT-TOOT-ING: Any business worth its "We're Open" sign knows that stirring up a loyal customer base, and the occasional curious-minded just-passing-througher, isn't as much a matter of charts and spreadsheets and graphs as waiting it out and being patient and allowing word of mouth to build. Then, maybe in a few years, or a few decades? You're set (if an innovative business ever truly wants to be set). But the Napa Valley Wine Train seemed to do a bit of time-and-space folding when it came to rising in the ranks of our general knowledge, our ability to pick it out of a train-based line-up, and the amount of adoration it got from both tourists and locals looking for a different day out. People talked about it from the get-go -- you're drinking wine! On a moving train! And you're visiting wineries! And eating! And it is all pretty dang cinematic! -- and people rode it, too, in droves, or whatever the fancier word for a throng of wine-loving train-riders might be. (A vinorailian? Yes, we think that's it.) Now the NVWT -- call it that if you want to be catchy -- is celebrating its big Silver Anniversary on Tuesday, Sept. 16, and longer than that, with a trio of fan-forward contests.

SELFIES AND WINE PHOTOS: The convivial competitions run throughout September and involve snapping selfies around Napa or anywhere else in the world and sharing them. There are some rules to know, and how points are earned on Instagram and Twitter, so read on before you and your camera set out. Not a selfie-taker? Try the Wine Train Photo contest. Submit your best NVWT pics and the train's crew'll post some of the best in a special Facebook album. The prizes? Ohhhh, you guessed it: Wine train tickets are up for grabs. There's a bouquet of things to know, as with all contests, so roll along the rails this way, vinorailians. And a happy 25 years to the train. It has helped "preserve the historic rail corridor" of the valley, and antique railcars, too, as well as brought many (many many many) wine buffs to vineyards snuggled up against its route. Would every business worth its "We're Open" sign be such a flowering source of good stuff for its community.

Photo Credit: Napa Valley Wine Train]]>
<![CDATA[Santa Cruz Celebration: Mariachis, Mole, and Mojigangas]]> Mon, 08 Sep 2014 21:59:56 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/molemariachisantacruz.jpg

THAT LAST SATURDAY OF SUMMER: The ol' chestnut "time is money" can sound cold to the ears, but there's a kernel of truth there. Actually, strike that: There's an entire cob of kernels, and if we really took stock of our days, we'd see that some have a higher currency than others, at least to our own hearts. And one day of the year we'd all probably agree has an inordinate amount of natural sweetness is that final summer Saturday, the one that arrives around the third week in September. Yep, the mornings feel autumnal, but the equinox is still a few days off. What to do with that precious 24 hours, or the 16 hours you're awake? Going outside and lunging-up on fresh air seems key. So does live music. So does really good, taste bud-awakening food. And so does some merry whimsy, to remind us that the passing of the equinoxes and the coming of seasons means time itself goes and we should laugh more. (Those inspirational posters have it right on that front.) The Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks have a rather grand plan for the second year in a row: Mole & Mariachi Festival. In short? Eat a bunch of different moles, dance to mariachi music, and marvel at mojigangas, those gargantuan, oh-so-festive puppets.

WHERE AND WHEN? At Santa Cruz Mission Adobe State Historic Park on Saturday, Sept. 20. You get in free, and the listening/enjoying of Mariachi Gilroy and Mariachi Sonora is gratis. The sampling of the rich chocolate-y spicy goes-well-on-pork-and-everything sauces? Tasting kits are ten bucks. And the trolley running from downtown Santa Cruz? That's totally free, too. There are other happenings at the park, but trust that they fall under the creative, art-nice, last-day-of-summer, get-up-and-shake-it umbrella. That's a rather nice umbrella to be under, too. Really, what do you intend to do the last Saturday of summer? We only get so many, which, honest and true, is a positive thing. We think about how we can best enjoy each one.

Photo Credit: Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks]]>
<![CDATA[Hands-On Harvest: Sonoma Valley CRUSH]]> Wed, 10 Sep 2014 21:31:13 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/205*120/sonomavineyardsunset1234.jpg

IT'S TRUE IN THIS LIFE... that there is guessing and there is knowing. Most of us, outside of our professional spheres, probably land solidly somewhere between the two on most topics, coming closer to the "knowing" part, fingers crossed, than the shadowier area of simple conjecture. And if any realm is mythologized more than most, it is the art, and business, of growing grapes and turning them, with time, into wine. But the Heart of Sonoma Valley Association seeks to create a window into the wine world for its ardent fans each and every fall via Sonoma Valley CRUSH. The three-day, first-weekend-of-fall to-do is, yes, about the trying of wines, but also the knowing of wine-making, and how the day-to-day of harvest, that big, big, big push from vine to bottle, happens. It's happening from Friday, Sept. 26 through Sunday, Sept. 28, and the "hands-on" experience awaits eager-to-learn students at 15 area wineries.

LIKE... Deerfield Ranch Winery in Kenwood, which'll give attendees a peep at the "crush pad and harvest equipment." Ohhh, neato. (We know, we know, "neato" isn't a posh wine-smart sort of word, but exuberant enthusiasm for learning new wine stuff shall win out over fusty manners during CRUSH weekend.) And VJB Vineyard & Cellars, also of Kenwood, shall show visiting fans a refractometer and how to measure brix, or sugar levels. Neato to the max. There shall be the tasting of fermenting wines -- did you just feel a sour note in your throat, reading those words? -- and the sipping of wines that are all done and cooked and finished and voila. Plus vineyard strolls, winemaker hellos, and such. Call it deep knowledge with a delicious twist.

WANT TICKETS? They're thirty five bucks a pop. Just check on the wineries to make sure the stuff you want to learn and try is happening at the places you'd like to learn and try it. Neato? Yes.

Photo Credit: Eric Luse ©2009]]>
<![CDATA[Red Carpet on the Island: Catalina Film Festival]]> Sat, 06 Sep 2014 15:45:36 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/catalinaredcarpet1.jpg

Photo Credit: Catalina Film Festival]]>
<![CDATA[Wolf Awareness Week at the California Wolf Center]]> Fri, 05 Sep 2014 16:08:50 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/californiawolfcenterwolfweek.jpg

Photo Credit: California Wolf Center]]>
<![CDATA[Prospector Rates Return to Furnace Creek]]> Sun, 07 Sep 2014 13:42:41 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/furnacepalmsdv.jpg

WHERE LEAVES ARE SCARCE: There's no argument to the statement that California gets a traditional fall season, and a vibrant one. Foliage fans keep watch for the aspens and oak that go golden around the Eastern Sierra and up near Shasta, spending weekends finding the most colorful copses of tree-spectacular goodness. But there's another way to mark autumn in the Golden State, and that's via a trip to the moon. Surely the moon is a little mysterious and autumnal and just right for October? Well, getting to our actual lunar neighbor is still pretty tricky, for the most part, but you can visit the next best moon-esque place: Death Valley National Park. Nope, it isn't pocked with craters in the way the moon is, but you also don't need head gear to draw oxygen, either. It's wonderfully atmospheric, in short, and an October or November trip makes creative counter-programming to all of fall's tree-focused doings. And deal-cravers are in luck: Both of the Furnace Creek properties are packed their saddlebags full of Prospector Rates, which are making a return appearance at the casual (Ranch) and deluxe (Inn) expressions of the historic Death Valley property.

YEEHAW: If you want to invoke classic prospector sayings and tropes -- such as "yeehaw!" -- while booking your room under the rate, we're pretty sure no one would mind. And the upshot on the special? The Prospector Rates feature "30 percent discounts on select rooms throughout the park's fall season." Those rates kick up their boots starting on Oct. 15 and ride straight through to Dec. 21 at the Ranch; the Inn's dates are Oct. 20 through Dec. 20.

AND... why not counter-program your fall? If you're a leaf peeper, usually? Badwater Basin sits just south of the properties, lending a lunar experience to a stay in the area. We'll call a trip to the moon, or the next most moon-like place, ideal for the time of year when shadows grow deeper and longer.

Photo Credit: Inn at Furnace Creek]]>
<![CDATA[Harvest Sweet: Stomping Grapes in Sonoma County]]> Fri, 05 Sep 2014 09:00:36 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sonomagrapeharvest123.jpg

QUALIFYING STOMP: We're called upon to do and be many things in this life. Maybe we have to helm the park picnic or oversee the cupcake drive or volunteer to wash all the dogs on the block for a good cause or read every Jane Austen novel by the end of summer (and "Pride & Prejudice" twice, of course). But we rarely have the opportunity to pencil the word "stomp" onto our calendar or call ourselves "stompers" or "stompees" or even describe our talents as particularly "stomp-a-rrific." That can change come fall when loads of small, glistening grapes need their juices separated from their skins, all with a pretty good end goal in mind: wine. For sure, we rely on industry and machinery to do some of our human-touch work nowadays, but there are still a few spots in a few wine countries around the state that ask people to remove their shoes, and socks, too, please, and roll up those pant cuffs. The Sonoma County Harvest Fair is one of the biggest stompee scenes around, as there are numerous barrels lined up in a row (some wineries bring out a single barrel so that visitors may give the ancient art a whirl). And, for sure, there are spigots below, where all of their hard work, taken liquid form, may be captured in jugs and such. Tempted? Then make for Santa Rosa from...

OCT. 3 THROUGH 5: The fair mentions that stompers hail from spots around the globe, and teams form to compete for greatness, laughs, and a few stained articles of clothing along the way. (Of course; you want visual proof that you put some effort into it.) There are also Stomps After Dark, if you like to squish fruit underfoot by the glowing light of dusk. Key, though? Signing up early -- Sept. 22 is the date -- and planning your team's costumes/outfits. Wedding dresses have been spied in the past, and other sartorial zaniness. We'd imagine a hem that won't get in the stomper's way is important, but beyond that? Good grape, the sky -- or fruit-filled barrel -- is the libation-lovely limit.

Photo Credit: World Championship Grape Stomp]]>
<![CDATA[Trees Are A-Turning: Mono County Fall]]> Sun, 07 Sep 2014 07:44:06 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/monocountyfallcolorsept.jpg

IF ONLY WE HAD SOME SORT OF GUIDE... People who "chase" certain events in nature know the value of on-the-ground or in-the-water information. We're talking about those who love to see a lightening storm in play, or find the most surfable waves, or admire hidden waterfalls during the couple of weeks a year they might run. Leaf-peeping, or the seeking of fall foliage, is not often paired with "chase" or any other breathless term, but that's a bit of what autumn aficionados do: They chase down rumors of what groves of aspens are turning yellow in what mountain-snug valleys and they act on the intel they've received. Because if you love brilliant leafage you know that a week can change things, drastically, especially if a wind swirl kicks up or early snow falls. Some of the more foliage-rich places in our state want to lend a hand in the intel department, though, which is a major help to the leaf chasers -- er, leaf peepers. Mono County is at the forefront of the foliage wave each late summer, posting photos of when and where crimson-bedecked branches are showing up and offering a link to its free downloadable foliage guide.

WALKER CANYON TO JUNE LAKE: All of the hot spots for autumn action are listed on both the guide's main page and in the guide itself, with percentage updates as to what's starting to turn where. As of early September everything is still looking green, green, green along Highway 395 and into the Eastern Sierra, but Mono County Tourism posted some snapshots from the Rock Creek area. For sure, emerald leaves still dominate, but in a week when much of the state is still rocking temperatures in the 80s and 90s, it is cooling to see those golden signs of fall peeking through.

Photo Credit: Mono County Tourism]]>
<![CDATA[Autumn Outlandishness: The Scarecrows of Cambria]]> Wed, 03 Sep 2014 22:22:59 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/196*120/cambriascarecrowsbestwesternpluefiresideinn.jpg

ADDING ART TO ART: Say you're a small town with a penchant for breezy, open-air art shows and bottle-lined walls and funky buildings and a general live-and-let-live vibe. Could you ever reach maximum art-o-sity, the ultimate cap on your arty expressions? Would you ever say "we're done here, we've had just about enough art, thankyouverymuch?" Nope. You would never, ever say that if you were a sassy small town with a creative streak. You'd search out more ways to let your vivacious vibe flow, often allowing the seasons to guide your denizens to delightful new heights.

HOLD ON... one second: Are you Cambria, by chance? Because Hearst Castle-close Cambria is one such snug burg, a place that embraces art in all of its kaleidoscopic hues and yet adds onto that, wherever it can, with more whimsy. And the whimsy goes through the roof -- or, rather, the early morning fog layer -- come October, when the Cambria Scarecrow Festival opens. It bows, or, rather, it sticks its arms out straight as a pole, on Oct. 1, and runs right through Halloween.

CREATIVE FIGURES: If you're think you might only pass one or two of the famous fall figures on your way through town, we'll stop you right there to say "au contraire." Locals and business owners bring it on the hilarious and thought-provoking and beautiful front, fashioning over 350 scarecrows that run the gleeful gamut. The artworks summon the cinema -- Edward Scissorhands has made past cameos -- and books -- good day to you, Mary Poppins and lots of other concepts, too. Topical themes, the occasional dabble into politics, sweet flashes of humor, and a full stuffed-shirt of ideas blossom during the fest, which can be seen all over town. And, yes, as with most things seen all over a town, this is free to see.

NEED A GUIDE? One'll pop on the web site, or you can toodle around town on your own time. And if you're wondering if Cambria is the only California city to go scarecrow come fall, it is not: Others do it, including, famously, Solvang. Call it a fairly easy way to get your art on, fast, with seasonal flair.

Photo Credit: Cambria Scarecrow Festival]]>
<![CDATA[Death Valley's Happening Nightlife Scene]]> Wed, 03 Sep 2014 12:41:43 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/furnacecreekevening1.jpg

HOW'S THE NIGHTLIFE? The term "nightlife" isn't exactly a portmanteau, though we'd dearly love to say it is, because "portmanteau" should come back into more common usage, but it could qualify as the less colorful (but highly accurate) compound word. And the fairly new word "nightlife" -- well, newish, since it came well after "night" and "life" -- means just one thing nowadays: entertainment, action, go-go-go. Okay, that was a few things, granted, but people generally take it to mean a city's bars, clubs, restaurants, the whole going-out scene. But why can't a remote area also boast a nightlife, especially if it, too, has a show to stage? Maybe not of the neon-bass thumping-swanky cocktail variety, but a show that is spectacular nonetheless. A show that may involve the universe, or at least the cosmos as viewed from earth, in all of its Milky-Way-esque glory.

IF WE CAN USE... that measuring stick, then Death Valley National Park has a MAJOR nightlife. Nope, the thumping bass and valet line is not to be found, but there are full moon guided hikes led by park rangers. There's a reason these after-dusk strolls are popular: The International Dark-Sky Association named Death Valley a Gold-Tier location. "With clear nights the norm and the exterior lights of the resort dim by design, the big sky of the desert shines with starscapes that can be experienced in few places in the U.S.," says a Furnace Creek rep.

OH, AND FURNACE CREEK? We know you've got some lovely nightlife in the form of restaurants and pools to swim in under star-twinkle. So we're not saying some touches of traditional nightlife don't show a little bit in the very nice lobby bar at the Inn at Furnace Creek. That exists. But if you're version of nightlife is more about the moon and quiet and scurrying lizards and actually seeing the streaky evidence of the galaxy in which we call home, then your night will take on life -- yep, we did that -- in D.V.

Photo Credit: Furnace Creek]]>
<![CDATA[Prickly Fruits: A Walnut Creek Tasting]]> Tue, 02 Sep 2014 17:58:25 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/192*120/pricklyfruitpear123.jpg

A FLURRY OF FRUIT FESTIVALS: It isn't difficult to locate an entire weekend devoted to a single fruit in California, which is considered to be one of the hubs for all things juicy and peel-covered and sweet. The only issue is narrowing down which weekends to go to, especially considering that some fruits have multiple large-scale happenings. (Strawberries, we're looking right at you.) Even the apple gets a three month-long spotlight in Oak Glen, while simultaneously enjoying the pie-themed love around San Diego-close Julian. So finding a fruit that's a little off the beaten bowl -- that's like a beaten track, but only in food terminology -- can be a delightful challenge for the foodie forever in search of new flavors. But that challenge is given a helping hand every October when The Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek invites the curious, the cuisine-minded, and the cactus lover into the succulent- and local-lovely plant expanse to snack upon the pricklier side of the fruit family.

NOPE... these fruits don't get multiple weekend-long parties around the state, complete with a carnival and live music, but they are in many a yard and store. Granted, they're not in every produce section, but if you taste palm fruit and dragon fruit during your walk, won't you seek it out in your market or online? The better to zest up salads? The pricklies aren't just pretty additions to a salad in a magazine spread. The date for the walk and taste is Saturday, Oct. 18, the cost is $20, and you might sup upon other treats from the garden that aren't so prickly, like pineapple guava. It may be a few years before palm fruit or dragon fruit festivals are popping up in foodie hot spots around the state, but the more love for them grows, the more their prickly profile rises.

Photo Credit: Ruth Bancroft Garden]]>
<![CDATA[Mondo Celtic Gathering Shines in Gold Country]]> Tue, 02 Sep 2014 13:17:08 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/mcleancelticgoldcountry.jpg

BANDS TO GUILDS: A veritable garden of festivals bearing a dose of history, charm, and ye-olde-ness blooms each year in the Golden State, and each boasts its own flavor and characters. There's the large brigade of Renaissance Faires, with some showing a more historic bent and others putting the emphasis on fantasy. There are 19th-century weekends, complete with ball gowns and chamber music, and, in a few special spots, Celtic sounds ring out via fiddles and accordions. Grass Valley in the north neck of Gold Country is one such place, and the joyful happening? It's the KVMR Celtic Festival and Marketplace. Yep, KVMR is the beloved indie radio station out of Nevada City, and, for sure, the huge festival -- think 10,000 people in attendance -- is fast approaching its two-decade marker (2014 serves as year 18). As for the weekend? It's the perfectly Celtic-cool, oh-so-atmospheric first weekend of fall, meaning that last weekend in September. (Friday, Sept. 26 through Sunday, Sept. 28, if you want to jot it down). As for the music end of the lively doings, which happens to be a huge end overall? Look for...

MAINSTAGE HEADLINERS... like Celtic-rocking The McLean Avenue Band, Irish flutist Nuala Kennedy, and Runa. Off-stage the Nevada County Fairgrounds "will be transformed into a Celtic village where Celtic musicians perform, shopping and dining opportunities abound, and O'Dea's Irish Pub celebrates the change of the season." Guild encampments, an educational exhibit featuring falcons and ponies, and demos showing how people lived in wayback Ireland, Scotland, and Wales are on the docket as are, for sure, Scottish Games. Anyone have a caber they can loan?

PERHAPS LOVELIEST OF ALL... are the stately Ponderosa pines lending the setting loads of character. We do love our Ren Faires, we do we do, but turning our hearts straight to matters of Eire, and Wales and Scotland, too, is a fine journey to make come the first weekend of fall.

Photo Credit: McLean Avenue Band]]>
<![CDATA[Tickets on Sale: 2015 Big Sur Foragers Festival]]> Thu, 04 Sep 2014 12:27:18 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/bigsurforagersplate.jpg

INVOLVED WITH YOUR EDIBLES: There are food-focused getaways that are all about the attendees relaxing with a glass of wine, making new friends (do people still trade cards or do they move directly to the sharing of @'s and Facebook handles?), and the strolling to a dinner table where an elaborate, trimming-filled feast awaits. There are eat-fun weekends that include a bit of hands-on participation, say, a chopping class or a demo of creating the lightest broth. Then there is the quirky cuisine-cool occasion where people don boots and trudge into the forest to locate part of what might be their next meal. Could this be called hands-, feet-, and entire body-on participation? Definitely. The Big Sur Foragers Festival is one of those rare treats where people do stroll out among the trees and undergrowth in search of the fungi with the flavor (led by experts in foraging, of course). And, of course, there are hallmarks of other types of food festivals, too; it isn't all walking and scanning terra firma. "Big Sur area restaurants will host the culinary expertise of notable chefs preparing unique fare from rustic to elegant, paired with the region's amazing selection of wines and beers." Rustic to elegant, yum and yum.

TICKETS ARE NOW ON SALE: The foragers'll set out -- and set in to dine upon some excellent dishes -- in the middle of January 2015. Jan. 16 through 18, to be specific, so if you've got a fungi fanatic on your holiday gift list, well... how timely are those dates? Very well-scheduled, indeed. Peruse the line-up of events, which include a "Fungus Face-off" at Ventana Inn & Spa, a Grand Celebrity Chef Dinner (at the same spot), and a foraging walk into Pfeiffer State Park and the Big Sur Wilderness (for beginning and intermediate foragers, respectively). To start daydreaming, peek back at the 2014 Fungus Face-Off. Mushroom-infused cannelloni, lemon pepper chowder, wild boar and truffled mushroom rilletes...

Photo Credit: Big Sur Foragers Festival]]>
<![CDATA[The Heirloom Tomatoes of Kendall-Jackson]]> Mon, 01 Sep 2014 16:25:36 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/kendalljacksonheirloom1.jpg

BEYOND THE BURGER: If you were to stop an eater on the street and ask them what libation goes best with tomato-y products, chances are pretty strong that the tomato-y products end of things will bring a burger and fries to mind. Consider that a patty between to halves of a bun, plus a side order of potatoes, usually arrives with a tomato times two: a slice for the meat and ketchup for the dippable shoestrings. So the libation answer? Oh, a beer or cola. But the juicy fruit pairs well with other beverages, including the drink commonly seen on the other side of an ampersand from beer: wine. Wine and tomatoes show together in the great pairing of a chardonnay with Caprese salad, and merlots go with any tomato-dotted pasta. Thus it should surprise no one who is sweet on both vino and vine-grown fruits that Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate & Gardens has a culinary plot which yields dozens upon dozens of tomato types. Beyond "dozens upon dozens" actually -- over 175. And beyond "tomato types," too -- heirlooms are the order of tomatodom for the Fulton winery. And those fancy fruits get their day come early autumn when the wine house turns over a pleasant afternoon of tomato-tastery to its wine- and tomato-loving fans.

SATURDAY, SEPT. 27: The tony tomato slices and chunks'll be out come the first Saturday of autumn, a day that's often as golden as a Gold Medal heirloom. Garden tours, seminars, and food + wine meet-ups complement the seedy-sweet enjoyment. A chef's challenge and live tunes gussy up the garden party. Tickets? They're $95, and the Ceres Community Project, which engages teens "as gardeners and chefs" while encouraging "leadership skills and commitment to healthy eating" is the day's partner. (Low-cost and free meals are also delivered through the region, courtesy of Ceres, to family's dealing with a "health crisis such as cancer.") Help out, buy a ticket, and clear that Saturday for autumnal fruit savoring.

Photo Credit: Kendall-Jackson]]>
<![CDATA[Detective Dogs: Bodie Spotlights Canine Forensics Team]]> Mon, 08 Sep 2014 10:07:12 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/bodiedogs1234.jpg

HISTORIC-MINDED HOUNDS: While an hour spent at Bodie State Historic Park in Mono County might consist of taking a few pictures of buildings, admiring the craftsmanship of the town's early layout, and chatting with a park ranger about a few of the 19th-century mining hub's more prominent characters, there are people, and sometimes animals, hard at work to preserve the place, and to protect and further research. The people end of things we understand -- Bodie is a favorite for historians and Golden State-focused scholars -- but the animals? They hail from the Institute of Canine Forensics in Woodside, California, and they call upon the fabled settlement to seek out the historic unknown  gravesites that might slip the attention of those human stewards of the town. Those detective dogs, and their efforts, were spotlighted at the Bridgeport Founder's Day Dinner on Aug. 31.

OVER 400 UNMARKED GRAVES: It started a few years back when John Grebenkemper, an associate with the Institute, visited Bodie with pup Tali in tow. After meeting with Bodie Foundation historian Terri Geissinger, and explaining that "Tali was being trained to detect human historical remains" with the ICF, plans to invite more Institute-smart pups into the park began to form. The dogs would prove a big help to those attempting to know more about Bodie, since many burgs from the 1800s did not immediately establish cemeteries upon their founding, but rather chose random and unmarked places as final resting places for the local citizenry. Tali, Rhea, and more of ICF's four-footed detectives made for Bodie-close spots that were believed to be likely first burial areas for Bodie, and discovered, through their amazingly sharp canine senses, over 400 unmarked graves.

THE PUPS... of course aren't always in the park, but perhaps, on your next visit to the place that many consider America's best-preserved ghost town, you'll think of their work, their abilities, and how dogs can partner with people in the unfolding of history.


John Grebenkemper
John Grebenkemper

Photo Credit: Bodie Foundation]]>
<![CDATA[Monterey Wharf Walks: The Story of Squid]]> Fri, 05 Sep 2014 16:16:23 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/squidmonterey_ashleytedesco.jpg

Photo Credit: Ashley Tedesco]]>
<![CDATA[Santa Rosa, Wine Month's Chillaxed Hangout]]> Sat, 30 Aug 2014 09:38:47 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/santarosawinemonth134.jpg

WINE COUNTRY METROLIBATIONS: When we visualize a day spent noodling around wine country, a blood pressure-lowering activity that many people engage in about 12 to 20 times a weekday, we visualize, above all, bucolic vineyards. We see rows and rows of grape-producing leafy tendrils, and we picture a rustic winery, too, somewhere in the background. But towns dot the wine country map, regardless of where that wine country happens to be, and the occasional larger city, too. Santa Rosa is one such city -- it's the largest burg in Sonoma County, of course, and while it has the typical city-y things, it also participates in what its home county is known 'round the world for. That participation grows robuster come September, which is Wine Month throughout the state. It's year 10 for the celebration in 2014, and Santa Rosa is breaking out the corkscrew, and the party hats, with a roster of full-bodied, bouquet-sniffy events. Such as...

SONOMA WINE COUNTRY WEEKEND: This is the mondo-of-mondos, the big event to kick it all off, and it flows over Labor Day (through Sunday). But there are more Rosa-near doings afoot. Like? A Sept. 13 Lobster Feed at Trentadue Winery (shrimp, sausage, and artichokes complement the crustaceans) and Korbel Winery's Flavors of Fall, which breaks out the bubbly. The Wine & Sunset Seasonals'll go down at Paradise Ridge every Wednesday through Oct. 2 -- and here we'll type "pretty pretty pretty" to emphasize how lovely the setting is -- and a Porsche show on Sept. 21 at Ledson Winery & Vineyard.

FOR THE ALL OF THE SIPPABLE STUFF... going down around Santa Rosa and spots close to Santa Rosa during California Wine Month's 10th anniversary, point your corkscrew this way.

Photo Credit: Santa Rosa Wine Month]]>
<![CDATA[Happy 10th: The "Sideways" Celebrations Grow]]> Mon, 01 Sep 2014 10:37:15 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/216*120/sideways10.jpg

BEYOND THAT ONE GLASS OF WINE: Just like there are numerous vinos sipped in the seminal wine-loving flick "Sideways," there must be numerous celebrations marking the 10th anniversary of its release. Yes, "must" is a strong word, but consider the lavished love the Alexander Payne flick bestowed upon the Santa Ynez Valley, where the film was memorably and picturesquely set. Maps to locations seen in the film, and wineries where Miles and Jack tasted everything but merlot, soon appeared on stands around Solvang and Buellton, and the already popular weekend-y region grew in further stature. So when a merlot taste-off sprung up to pay homage to the movie's 10th anniversary, well... like a single glass of wine, fans guessed more to-dos would soon follow.

AND SO THEY HAVE: That aforementioned merlot taste-off, which is a bit winky, given that Miles, the film's lead, was having no merlot nope nope nope, lands in Solvang on Saturday, Sept. 13, but there is a veritable bouquet of "Sideways" happenings flowering around the valley during the fall. Want to see stills from the movie? Head for the Elverhoj Museum in Solvang from Oct. 4 through Nov. 2. Kalyra Winery in Santa Ynez will screen the film on Oct. 10. And will Fiddlehead Cellars in Lompoc raise a toast to the film with the sauvignon blanc seen in the film? You bet, on Sept. 20.

THERE ARE MORE... more more "Sideways" happenings springing up all around the already famous wine country it helped to make super extra tremendously famous, but if you just want to snag a map and go where the film's characters went, you can do that, too, any ol' time.

Photo Credit: Sideways]]>
<![CDATA[Tahoe Tastes: Autumn Food & Wine Festival]]> Thu, 28 Aug 2014 22:32:26 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/tahoefoodsky1234.jpg

DINNER FUN, DAPPLED DAYS: Fall can summon a whole grab bag of words -- caramel, foliage, woodsmoke, and crabapple among them -- but Lake Tahoe is a slightly different place. Well, you know that, if you know the mythically beautiful spot of pure amazingness, but it can be difficult, at first glance, to land upon some of those Tahoe-type words that might be said a little bit more come September and October. We'll start with salmon, since the fall is spawning season for the lake's ruddier denizens. We'll start with skiing, which actually isn't going on yet, but will be, almost immediately, so the chit chatter is on the rise. We'll start with mellow, which Tahoe often is, but its mellow dial gets turned up when the summer takes its last golden bow.

BUT... more than anything, we'll say dappled is a fall-Tahoe-y kind of term. Sure, sun dapples during other times of the year, but to see it twinkling through the trees in September is to feel like you're at the bottom of a pitcher of lemonade. In short? It's the ideal time for anything, but if you're going to throw a food festival, you do it then. No snow, no crowds, just dapply, mellow good times good-times-ing up the Autumn Food & Wine Festival at North Lake Tahoe.

 THE LOCAL DELICIOUSNESS... hits the grills and pans and plates from Friday, Sept. 5 through Sunday, Sept. 7. The weekend starts off with an Art of the Cocktail seminar -- how very Friday -- and dips into other dining treats along the way, including Hands-On Mozzarella Cheese-Making, a wine and brew walk, and a hike into Tahoe National Forest with "tasting stations along the way" (think "craft beer" and "light snacks"). Farm-to-table themes, seafood, freshness, and the bounty of the high-elevation region shall come into play. A gourmet vendor fair, a long table harvest dinner -- how very autumn -- and a seminar all about how we should rock our own personal preferences when it comes to tastes are on the calendar. Wait. Did we say there's a hike with tasting stations? Oh, goodness, we did.

AND, JUST TO CONFIRM: We also called Tahoe a "mythically beautiful spot of pure amazingness." Not toning or dialing that down, either. It stays because it is true.

Photo Credit: Jeff Lamppert/Autumn Food & WIne Festival]]>
<![CDATA[Guac Next to the Big (Morro) Rock]]> Wed, 27 Aug 2014 22:57:33 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/tlmd_tlmd_071612_guacajpg_bim.jpg

TO PIT YOUR PAL... or not? It's always the admittedly delicious dilemma of the person standing at the cutting board before the perfect avocado. When you slice it lengthwise -- and 100% of people pretty much do, yes? -- and you gaze upon those two harmonious halves, with their paler yellow color near the middle and the greener hues near the skin, do you hand your dining companion the 'cado that's still with pit? If you're not slicing it into a salad? Or do you keep the pitty part for yourself? Is that the "lucky" half? Or does it bear the more tender fruit, at least in kitchen lore? The questions are numerous. (And we didn't even get to whether you should save the pit, to grow it on the kitchen sill.) But the only conversation to have is this one: mashed or not? Will you guac it or scoop it out of the bumpily skin, the better to enjoy it plain? That's a query answered in more ways than two at Morro Bay's yearly Avocado & Margarita Festival, which mashes the queen of green fruits on Saturday, Sept. 13 and Sunday, Sept. 14.

OH, AND, HELLO... lime and salt and ice and tequila. A particular zingy beverage also gets it due during the weekend, which is the eighth go-around for this not-too-far-from-the-water whoop-di-doo. There shall be other libations and there shall be other foods, but "special avocado dishes" and the chance to win "a year's supply of avocados" are what will keep attendees talking about the alligator pear. Now we're pondering this most excellent challenge: A year's supply of avocados. What would you do if you were picked to be the winner? Click your heels and plan on making guac 365 ways, yes?

COST? It's five bucks to enter, but bring food and drink cash. And a last aside: Shouldn't all food festivals arrive with a complementary beverage in their names? Two things that go together as well as two halves of an avocado? And seriously: Is the half with the pit just better?

Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[Fashion Up, Theme Parkers: Disneyland Dapper Day]]> Wed, 27 Aug 2014 10:12:28 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/206*120/dapperalbertsanchez1+-+Copy.jpg

REPEAT VIEWING: If you're a fan of a classic theme park attraction -- say, Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room -- then you likely know the feeling of wanting to repeat the experience of sitting under the singing birds (and flowers!) a few times during the day. Just once more, you think. That just-one-more-time line of thinking folds into a lot of Disney-type diversions very well, especially because you can feel that you missed something on the ride's first go-around. And Dapper Day? That very same principle applies. You know the event that comes around twice a year where people dress up, many in vintage togs, and visit Disneyland Resort? The outfits are so swanky and panache-filled and pretty that it can be difficult not to look at them all, once you land on the Dapper Day Instagram or Facebook accounts. There's something about seeing the perfect '70s necktie or 1940s shrug against the also-retro-y background of the park's carousel or Main Street that inspires you to keep clicking (and clicking and clicking) on photographs. In short? Dapper Day and the Magic Kingdom make for a match made in a fashion-setting daydream. Eager to participate in the retro spectacular? Be at the park on...

FRIDAY, SEPT. 12: That is Dapper Day for the fall -- or the "Fall Soiree," if you prefer -- and you'll just need to pay admission to the park, like you normally might. Only you'll be in heels and stockings or a vest and suspenders, and a lot of other people will be, too. There's also a new Dapper Day Expo at the Grand Californian Hotel on Friday, Sept. 12 and Saturday, Sept. 13. So should you forget an old-school hat, or you want to pick up some snazzy cufflinks, that's your sartorial spot. Nope, you don't have to dress in vintage gear -- contemporary classiness is a-ok -- for simply looking spiffy is the happy order of the day. Up to it?

THEN... get inspired by photos. Just note: You'll think "just one more" over and over as you look through these swanky snaps.

Photo Credit: Albert Sanchez]]>
<![CDATA[Napa Nice: Support Your Winery on #CabernetDay 2014]]> Tue, 26 Aug 2014 22:24:07 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/Private+Wine+Tasting.jpg

THE PHOTOS... are telling the story: Barrels upon barrels, and bottles upon bottles, toppled from cave shelves at wineries dotting Napa Valley. And while rallying behind wineries struck particularly hard from the Sunday, Aug. 24 earthquake has already begun in the close-knit region, with wider ripples reaching out to wine industry at large, people elsewhere are asking how they can support the vineyards that mean a lot to them if a visit isn't on the horizon. (And, for a few places, the welcoming back will be a little slower going.) 

THE WELCOME BANNER... however is out at spots throughout Napa Valley, with the message being "check with your destination before you come." But lookie here: Thursday, Aug. 28 is Cabernet Day, a holiday that leaves a delightful crimson ring on the calendar page denoting the last Thursday in August, each and every year. So how to mark #CabernetDay 2014, if you can't be at your Napa go-to, standing in a tasting room, trying a new release? The suggested by sommelier Rick Bakas that you "buy from the wineries hit the hardest" to help them deal with "the quake and challenges from the state's drought."

BUT... if you do want to make the trek and support the Napa businesses in person, the call went out from Downtown Napa on Aug. 26 that "We're Open!" The post lists the hotels, properties, and restaurants that are up, running, and welcoming customers. Surely you can order some wine for #CabernetDay 2014 and pay a hello to Napa? There's no reason both plans cannot be realized.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Herbie Hancock + Monterey Jazz + Legendary Music]]> Wed, 27 Aug 2014 10:14:27 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/hh184242433.jpg

THAT FULL WEEKEND OF FEELING: What music fan would ever pit festival against festival, in the quest to raise his or her favorite party up above all the others? Well... a lot of music fans might. We have our loves, and the weekends we block out automatically, year after year, in expectation of standing in front of a stage, watching a longtime favorite, or a brand-new performer, make magic on a keyboard or a xylophone or a guitar. But there are a few chord-and-strum-and-horn lovely parties around California which kind of sit outside of the "which fest is best" debate, if only because they've earned that distinction through several decades of being around, yes, but also drawing the most stellar performers of their particular form. Monterey Jazz Festival qualifies in the "been around for several decades" arena -- some five decades in all, plus seven years -- and it is le ultimate for jazz greats and jazz fans and jazz scholars. Is "le ultimate" going far enough, though? Because the 2014 roster is rich with luminaries, like...

HERBIE HANCOCK: The recent Kennedy Center honoree will open up the Arena Artists run on Friday night, Sept. 19. The influential artist is the leader in the wider world of jazzdom, experimental audio journeys, and creative giving-back-a-tude, so call Mr. Hancock's let's-start-this-fest appearance a complement to the festival's tip-top reputation. But more, more, more excellent performers are set to follow over the three-day sound celebration, from Booker T. Jones to The Roots to Michael Feinstein to Shawn Colvin to The Charles Lloyd Quartet. There's the Arena section and the Grounds Artists, which alone will host 78 shows from Sept. 19 through 21. An "international shopping bazaar" and food and drink and jazzy happenings outside of the live tunes are the way things flow in Monterey. Other festivals around California? You are great, but if you ever need a dash of oomph, you know the music celebration to look to, for inspiration and how-to-do-it-ness.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Indie Flicks, Cool Town: Nevada City Film Festival]]> Tue, 26 Aug 2014 08:07:10 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/ncfilmpopcorn.jpg

THE SIGH AT THE END OF SUMMER: Whether you're into very serious and very hard to find independent films, or the kind of boom-boom-crash theater-shakers that start to take over multiplexes around April, you can find yourself breathing a sigh at the end of summer. Nope, your sigh doesn't have much relief to it, and you're not giving thanks for something being done. You're at the end of a season, the summer season, when cinema, both wide and handcrafted, changes its look, like so many fall leaves. But the big film festivals haven't quite started yet -- Toronto is on the horizon -- meaning the funkier mountain low-key conventions can boot-up, don the denim, and make for higher elevation cinemas.

FOR EXAMPLE... Telluride makes the headlines in the "mountain movie merriment" categories come late August and early September, but there's a lovely and laidback entry from California: The Nevada City Film Festival. For sure, plenty of Golden Staters make for Colorado come the end of summer, but planning a jaunt to the north part of Gold Country for indie goodness and a small, Old-West-y town is on a number of movie lovers' bills.

THE 2014 PARTY: It unspools from Thursday, Sept. 4 through Sunday, Sept. 7. A documentary about the co-founder of The Byrds, the George Takei-narrated fairytale "The Missing Scarf," the car-cool classic "Bullitt," and a night of live comedy with Marc Maron are on the roster. For sure, there is something to look forward to come the close of summer, in the quiet dip between blockbusters and award-y events. And while Telluride is indeed terrific, Nevada City is a great mountain town in love with cinema, and it is right here, in California. We can do that indie-fresh-air-big-tree movie thing, too.

Photo Credit: Nevada City Film Festival]]>
<![CDATA[Paddlefest: Head Out onto Humboldt Bay]]> Mon, 25 Aug 2014 22:37:43 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/paddlefest1_jackhopkins.jpg

A MORE ENGAGING EXPERIENCE: One does not visit Eureka without admiring one of its many murals. Nor does one spend a lookie-loo day in the town without a gawk at the dramatic Carson Mansion, which sees its image show up, in dozens of ways, all around the world, when Halloween rolls around. And Humboldt Bay? It's certainly beautiful, and serene, and, per the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, one of the most "beautiful and biologically rich places in the world." But how engaged have you been with that beautiful and robust spot, on your pass-throughs of Eureka? Has it merely been a pause to glance at the water, and that's it? Or have you been out on it? A fine chance to commune with the interesting and diverse bay while being out on the waves is just ahead: Paddlefest. The Saturday, Sept. 13 happening is all about putting humans out on the H2O, in kayaks, and paddleboards. Put together by the Humboldt State University Activities and Humboldt Bay Aquatic Center, the event will see a lot of locals and students though those "further afield" are invited to participate. Call it an easy way, complete with classes and knowledgeable people standing by, to get out on the bay for the first time.

ON THE SCHEDULE: Clinics that'll happen both on the water and on land -- think stand-up paddleboard basic skills, kayak basic skills, and "dressing for the water." A Eureka Channel Fun Race happens noon-thirty, and a make-your-own-kayak to-do will be afoot (make it out of cardboard, note). As for tours? They're happening, too, including of the U.S. Coast Guard Barracuda. Even if you don't jump into the 2014 Paddlefest, it is worth remembering that Humboldt Bay isn't just for the gazing at, for a minute or two, but engaging with. Want to read more of its estuaries, wildlife, and rich, winged, fin-filled plenitude? Paddle this way.

Photo Credit: Jack Hopkins]]>
<![CDATA[Half Moon Bay: The Pumpkining Starts Early]]> Mon, 25 Aug 2014 18:54:08 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/tlmd_pumpkin_hair_mask_111612_ew_380.jpg

SEASONAL SUPERSTAR: Certain towns, during certain times of the year, embrace a particular look or feel or centerpiece, something so huge that it sort of changes up the general vibe of the place. Palm Springs goes full-on modernism, architecture-style, come February, and Riverside's Christmas bustles with the Mission Inn's millions (and millions) of twinkly lights (lights visitors show in droves to see). And what of Half Moon Bay? It's hard not to think of the burg's autumntime without thinking of a globular fruit that's full of seeds and gutsy stringy bits, a squashy superstar of the tallest, and widest, order. We speak of the pumpkin -- "gusty stringy bits" probably clued you in there -- and speak of the Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival, which is probably the planet's most famous huge-huge-huge pumpkin party. (We know, "probably the planet's most famous" flirts with hyperbole, but try signing onto any news site during the third weekend of October and not seeing a photo of a thousand-pound pumpkin on a scale.) The fest will roll, maybe in some cases quite literally, over the Oct. 18-19 weekend, but Half Bay Brewing Company is not going to wait. The pumpkin-flavored doings start early, complete with the brewery's Pumpkin Harvest Ale.

FALL FOAM: The big kick-off date for the libation is Monday, Sept. 8, and sippers should prepare for an amber ale of the falliest proportions. More hyperbole? Check it: "more than 500 pounds of Sugar Pie pumpkins" went into the brew, which was created by Brewmaster James Costa. The beverage'll be around through Nov. 30, complemented by the Company's Oktoberfest menu (think sausage platters and wiener schnitzels), which will be available from Sept. 17 through 28. Oh, and as for October itself? The menu will expand with pumpkin-esque offerings, including a bisque and a cheesecake. Half Moon Bay is indeed the gourd-greatest place around, come the fall, and the town steps up its seedy-sweet doings to support the orange extravaganza.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Happy 98th, National Park Service]]> Sat, 23 Aug 2014 09:16:01 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/joshuatree.jpg

TWO YEARS SHY OF A CENTURY: Any person or place or landmark or animal or event or special, treasured item that reaches its 98th year should just be automatically feted in all corners, even by those who aren't necessarily close acquaintances. We'll call 98 years the better part of a century -- we're not too off in that, we hope -- and we'd also call it deserving of a huge whoop-di-doo. Consider that parties can taper off a bit, around the 97th, 98th, and 99th birthdays, if only because the 100th is just ahead and everyone is sort of storing up for the mondo blowout. But, honestly? Anything that requires almost five packs of candles -- twenty to a pack -- deserves the streamers and balloons and songs. Wellll... with one major exception: the national parks. Nope, we don't want to see neon purple streamers and tinsel dangling between two Joshua Trees, but we do love seeing those delightful fee-free days that roll through the calendar every few months. Monday, Aug. 25 happens to be one, and, as you might be able to guess, it's a big, big 98th birthday.

NOPE... not of Yosemite or Channel Islands or Lassen Volcanic -- as physical places they're a few eons older than 98 -- but of the National Park Service itself. The parks that usually charge are going fee-free for the day (and "(o)nly 133 of our country's 401 national parks usually charge an entrance fee," says the site) so that's pretty dang festive indeed. Also? It's still summertime, yessirree, which means that park calendars are lush with lively ranger talks, walks and a few special to-dos in honor of the 98 candles on the proverbial NPS cake. Ready to bid the traditional summer season adieu, ahead of Labor Day, with some trees, canyon, ocean, and sky? Oh, and by warbling "Happy Birthday" in the middle of a huge meadow? Okay. You've got the when, the where, and the fact that you're saving money.

Photo Credit: David McNew/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[62 Years of Beautiful Work: Sausalito Art Festival]]> Fri, 22 Aug 2014 16:19:13 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sausalitoart1345.jpg

THE CREATIVE CAP OF SUMMER: The concept of "spring cleaning" will exist for eons to come, we imagine, for the concept of warm weather arriving and our windows opening and us spiffing up our places for easier, social days ahead is a pretty long-lasting one. But is it totally true? Many of us tend to be busy come spring, what with school, so the re-organizing sits until summer. That's an a-ok plan, if because, in large part, some of the best and most accoladed art festivals around fall in the summertime, which means all of our cleaning can make room for a true object of beauty. Out with the clutter, in with something beautiful to covet and enjoy and admire. And if you get to chat up the artist in the process? Even better. The Sausalito Art Festival, "(o)ne of the oldest, most prestigious open-air art events," draws those artists, and aficionados, to the snug burg over Labor Day Weekend. It's been drawing top-notch artists from points all over for over six decades, and its 62nd outing will be as photo-laden and painting-filled and jewelry-packed as collectors have come to expect and first-time buyers have heard.

THE DETAILS: "America's Premiere Waterfront Art Festival" booths it up from Saturday, Aug. 30 through Monday, Sept. 1. Some 260 artists will be in the house -- or, um, near the H20 -- with their whimsical and elegant wares in tow. Think ceramic art, think mixed media, think fiber, think woodwork, think digital art. Live tuneage, from big band to blues, keeps the lookie-loos a-strollin', and food vendors shall be nearby, ready to fortify art lovers. A general admission ticket? It's $25. Finding that vase or funky fiber sculpture for the table you finally cleaned off over the summer? Gratifying and emblematic of a nice day spent at one of the most major of our country's warm-weather art spectaculars. Knowing that the Sausalito Art Festival comes at the end of every traditional summer season is all the goosing we need to keep the house clean and walls, or shelves, ready for fab new fine art discoveries.

Photo Credit: Sausalito Art Festival]]>
<![CDATA[Sunset Soiree: Savor the Central Coast]]> Thu, 28 Aug 2014 11:34:05 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/brittanyapp13savor.jpg

NO COAXING REQUIRED: If you're a scholar of just-from-the-garden ingredients, and your hobby is trying offbeat herbs, or you have an opinion on decanting times and methods for wine, or you've eaten short ribs in a sandwich, in a pie, atop pasta, and completely plain, then taking the opportunity to visit a food-nice part of the state requires zero coaxing. None. You'll go, just to go, to enjoy the gardens and wine bars and outdoor dining patios, hooray and yay to all that. But if a major cuisine event is happening, with a venerable host, and the setting is a food-nice part of the state? Hoo boy, it is on, with bells on. The "venerable host" probably tipped our hand here, because Sunset Magazine is known far and farther for setting up its annual autumn eat-and-cook-and-sip-and-tour to-do, Savor the Central Coast. The long weekend of pleasurable pursuits of the palate is again scheduled for the last part of September, meaning it'll be the ideal time of year to be out at...

SANTA MARGARITA RANCH: Make that historic Santa Margarita Ranch, which has to be one of the Top 10 California Buildings That Looks As Though It Should Be in a Watercolor Painting (not the snappiest of titles, but true). Chefs shall demo, meals shall be served, and tours shall be taken around the Paso Robles region. Some highlights? The Main Event at the ranch is "an epicurean and adventure playground" featuring chefly doings, beer mavens, fishermen, and makers of artisanal eats. Adventure tours shall highlight everything from abalone to Hearst Castle to balsamic vinegar. And the special dinners? They happen hither and hitherer, from the aforementioned castle to local vineyards.

TICKETS? They can fly away for some of the events, so best land on the lovely respite you've got your eye, and possible your wine glass, on. Dates are Sept. 25 through Sept. 28. And will you wish you lived inside Santa Margarita Ranch? The chances are very good. Just prepare. That's a longing you'll leave with.

Photo Credit: Brittany App]]>
<![CDATA[North Tahoe's Human-Powered Sports Tips]]> Thu, 21 Aug 2014 12:19:10 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/GoTahoeNorth2014PhotogChrisBartkowski.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Capitola Begonia Festival]]>