<![CDATA[NBC Bay Area - Worth the Trip]]> Copyright 2015 http://www.nbcbayarea.com/blogs/worth-the-trip http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/nbc_bayarea_blue.png NBC Bay Area http://www.nbcbayarea.com en-us Mon, 30 Mar 2015 16:22:52 -0700 Mon, 30 Mar 2015 16:22:52 -0700 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Now Open: Yosemite's Glacier Point Road]]> Mon, 30 Mar 2015 12:27:02 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/glaciernowopen132.jpg

THAT MAJESTIC VISTAS: Mondays can make some of us feel as though we see the same things over and over. Same route to work (though common wisdom says changing that up, from time to time, is a good thing). Same inbox and outbox on the desk, same view out the conference room window, the same half sandwich you left in the office fridge last week, staring back at you. The solution, of course, is new views, when we can get them. One of the best-known life-freshening views to be found on this side of the earth -- and possibly the whole of the Milky Way, if we might be so bold -- is to observe Yosemite National Park's own Half Down from a higher-up point than the Valley floor.

G.P. LOVE: Sure, that could be Tunnel View, which is really the legendary long-scope view of the granite wonder, or even Olmstead Point, which gives a different look at the ol' H.D. But many a visitor speaks of journeying up to Glacier Point, a vista which lends Half Dome that sort of more sideways-on view. It's the place where, at sunset, Half Dome seems to be facing the dying light of the day, in contemplation. And standing at Glacier Point gives you a better feel for its smoother "backside" (well, backside, at least, in terms of facing away from the Valley). Is it time you reset the stuff you see every single day? 

GLACIER POINT ROAD IS OPEN: The route up to Glacier Point debuted for the season on Saturday, March 28 (yep, that's pretty early, which goes in line with the drought the state has been weathering). "All visitor services at Glacier Point will be fully operational," says the official Yosemite site. It's a leisurely hour-ish when you drive from the Valley to Glacier Point, depending on taking your time, enjoying the scenery, and letting the wildlife have the right of way. So how's the opening 2015 date for Tioga Road looking? No estimated opening at this time, says the National Park Service.

Photo Credit: Yosemite National Park]]>
<![CDATA[Desert Cool: Family Crafting Fest at The Ace]]> Sat, 28 Mar 2015 15:58:26 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/craftingace456.jpg The May gathering, called "a Coachella for families," is all about making cute stuff (and togetherness).

Photo Credit: Crafting Community]]>
<![CDATA[Juicy April: Pixie Month in Ojai]]> Fri, 27 Mar 2015 18:02:29 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/202*120/pixieiguanainnojai1.jpg

A STAR CITRUS, SO MANY WAYS: Typically when one speaks of many ways to approach a pixie tangerine, they're talking specifically, and solely, about recipes. You can juice it, throw it into a smoothie, use the peel as a garnish in an old-school cocktail, create an avocado/arugula/pixie salad (or a thousand other salads), or go the dessert tart route. But Ojai's "so many ways" takes on a different meaning, where the pixie is concerned, during the fourth month on the calendar. For April is Pixie Month in the grove-pretty Ventura County burg, and businesses from one end of Ojai to the other are honoring the brightly sweet staple with a host of deals, packages, and such.

THE IGUANA INNS... has a seasonal Pixie Gift Basket & Dining Package, which is all about a basket brimming with properties' "signature gourmet tangerine-flavored chocolates," some Casa Barranca wine, and, yes, real pixie tangerines, in addition to other treats. The Inns also offer in-room Pixie Tangerine Facials, an invigorating way to pep up should you be heading out for a tour of a citrus grove or other tangerine tie-in event, like a Cloud Climbers Jeep Tour, which can take you above a grove to give you a wider view of all of those leafy trees boasting all of those orange-y dots of goodness.

OTHER TO-DOS/GOODIES... around the town include a Pixie Fizz cocktail at Azu Restaurant, a pixie cooking demo at Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, a Pixie Cosmopolitan at Suzanne's Cuisine, and pixie muffins for Lavender Inn guests each morning. Truly, the list is on the lengthy side, and the pixie-perfect food and drink concoctions fill out the gamut and then some. There are also the classic grove-walking tours of Friends Ranches, too, still happening into April. Will you finally get your fill, citrus devotees? Maybe not, but you'll come dang close. Ojai goes all out each April for its star fruit. Shouldn't every town treat its famous foodstuff as well as the O does? And, at the same time, treat visitors and locals who love the foodstuff enough to plan an April outing around it? Yes and yes.

Photo Credit: Iguana Inns]]>
<![CDATA[Bunnies and Trains: Engines Steam Into Spring]]> Sun, 29 Mar 2015 08:15:16 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/roaringcampeaster12345.jpg

YOU'RE BOUND TO SEE A BUNNY... or other woodland creature from the open car on a vintage train, if you peer between the trees for long enough (and if the engine is doing more old-school, slow-and-easy chugga-chugging than speeding up the tracks). Rabbits, it'll come as no surprise, have been watching trains go by since trains were invented. Long-eared denizens of the woods came along a bit before the arrival of trains, by a few years, at least, so our choo-choos our younger than the whiskery hoppers of the forest. But, once a year, the two have a meeting of the minds, just around Easter time, when the Easter Bunny visits some of the Golden State's best-known tracks for a little holiday-style celebration. A few of them are feeling the floppy-tailed love, with some egg-finding action to boot, and they include...

THE SKUNK TRAIN: Fort Bragg's curvy-tracked, redwood-stunning train goes by an animal name itself -- hello, Skunkie -- and it enjoys hosting springtime's favorite animal celebrity each Easter. Look for an egg hunt not on the train but at Northspur, which is a stop along the rails, and look for an appearance from the E.B. Date? Sunday, April 5, which, you are correct, is Easter.

ROARING CAMP RAILROADS: Not only does this beautiful roll also have redwoods to gaze upon, but there shall be an egg hunt on Bear Mountain, which sounds pretty darn whimsical. They're chocolate eggs, which only ups the whimsy factor. And for sure, the main bunny'll be hopping about. Dates? Saturday, April 4 and Sunday, April 5.

FILLMORE & WESTERN RAILWAY: Not only does this historic track run by some citrus groves northwest of Los Angeles, which lends it a springtime scenic vibe, but it hosts the Easter Bunny on Easter Sunday, with brunch aboard the train, too. (You may know Fillmore & Western from its movie appearances, such as in "Inception").

IRVINE PARK RAILROAD: It's a wee train, compared to the trio of trains above, but the Orange kid-sweet railway boasts such charms. And so much Easter Bunny goodness, too. Face painting, the looking for eggs around the park-like setting, and snapshots with He of the Long Ears are on the docket. This is going on daily, too, in case you can't make Easter Sunday. Hoppity hop, hopsters.

Photo Credit: Roaring Camp Railroads]]>
<![CDATA[A Bouquet of Happenings: Napa Valley Arts in April]]> Thu, 26 Mar 2015 14:49:30 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/yountvilleartsapril12345.jpg

A "MONTH-LONG CULTURAL IMMERSION": Art-focused Saturdays, where a whole block of galleries get together on the same bill, are not uncommon, nor are entire weekends devoted to the visual bounty of one neighborhood or area's art scene. But Napa Valley goes one better in April, or, perhaps a few weeks better, if you want to consider first the impressive time span. The cities of wine country embrace the entire fourth month of the year as something very special and sparkly and artsy, and, in turn, a whole cavalcade of happenings pop up under the umbrella of Napa Valley Arts in April. Called a "month-long cultural immersion," the Arts in April calendar celebrates film and painting and conversation and anything, really, that pleases, challenges, or furthers ideas in an invigorating way. Architecture tours are on the docket, and, yes, wine tastings, too (you probably aren't too surprised). Ready to give a few weekends, or, even better, weekdays over to the April art-excellent experience? Then make for...

YOUNTVILLE: "Napa Valley Collects" opens at the Napa Valley Museum on April 2. It's "a distinctive selection of works from private collections throughout Napa Valley" that includes names such as Rembrandt and Warhol. "The Art of Creation at Domaine Chandon," and "Art, Sip, and Stroll," and other engaging engagements dot the calendar.

OAKVILLE: Ever wanted to eye the Robert Mondavi art collection from up-close, with details on the pieces and who created 'em? Beniamino Bufano is the sculptor and a series of gratis daily walks, all scheduled from April 6 through 10, will give art lovers some background.

NAPA: There are many doings flourishing around the city, from Slow Art Day 2015 on April 11 to The Art of iPhotography later in the month. Truly, every nook and several galleries and numerous wineries all have a finger in the Arts in April, so it is really up to where you want to go and what you'd like to see. See this to start.

Photo Credit: Albert Dicruttalo]]>
<![CDATA[Sam's Social Club Debuts at Indian Springs Resort]]> Wed, 25 Mar 2015 13:19:59 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/samssocialclub12345.jpg

THE MINERAL POOLS... of Calistoga have been a draw for decades and decades (and decades and more decades and centuries, too). Stroll the grounds of a destination like Indian Springs Resort, or go wading in its Olympic-big mineral pool, and you understand that the palms and fountains weren't put in the ground last Tuesday, but thousands of Tuesdays ago. Having a place this historic -- Sam Brannan first put that pool in, or what would become the pool, rather, in 1861 -- means that updates and refurbishments and additions should be considered with thought and style and not too much startling newness.

GENTLY NEW: Yes, of course, renovations always come with the aspect of the new, but many a traveler has called upon a storied property only to see a recent update that sticks out like a flat-screen TV sitting in the middle of a Victorian living room. Indian Springs, which just completed a recent renovation, did not go the route where the renovations stick out but rather folded them into the 17-acre property, like one might fold into a toasty and sticky mud bath. Which is, of course, one of the spa staples of the resort, along with the mineral waters. So what's new with the resort's renovations and additions, which were recently unveiled..?

SAM'S SOCIAL CLUB... named after the resort's 19th-century founder Sam Brannan, just made its open-to-the-public debut. The restaurant serves "new rustic American cuisine" just below Mount Lincoln as well as "artisan cocktails, local wines, and craft beer." Chef Kory Stewart is at the helm of the indoor/outdoor eatery. As for places to tuck away post-mud and post-grub? There are 75 new Mission Revival bungalows as well as lodge rooms, too. An Event Barn, which features an Agave Garden and more interesting spaces to socialize, marry, and such, is part of the reno scene as well. If you want to hang around for the resort's centennial, that happened in 2010. But surely the 125th year party, and the 150th, will make a mineral-watered splash.

Photo Credit: Indian Springs Resort]]>
<![CDATA[California State Parks: Earth Day Volunteering]]> Thu, 26 Mar 2015 10:39:07 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/215*120/SanOnofre2012.jpg

BUCKETS, SHOVELS, COMMITMENT: Ever arrived at a beach or a shore or a pond after a group of volunteers have swept through, determined to pick up every can and bag and random bit of plastic in sight? You can have the feeling that you're the first person ever to call upon the pond or shore, which is a magical and all-too-rare emotion to experience in these modern times. That isn't to be self-focused or selfish -- everybody should have that feeling when they go to nature. "Leave No Trace" is a prominent policy that lends love to this idea, an idea that we must travel with a light, light footstep.

EARTH DAY, as well as California Coastal Clean-Up Day in the fall, is a powerful way to provide our fellow humans that "Leave No Trace"-style experience in a wild place. But, of course, volunteers join Earth Day projects not solely so the spot in question can be enjoyed by people, but that it is more itself, cleaned up, tended to, and cared for by many. The Earth Day initiatives through the California State Parks aren't solely about clean-up, though that will be part of the Saturday, April 18 happening at some locations. It's about small painting projects and the planting of native trees and removing invasive plants and much more. Much.

LOCATIONS ACROSS CALIFORNIA... are looking for some elbow grease and enthusiasm on the third Saturday in April, so head for Hearst San Simeon State Park, where you may help prepare a shore whaling site or San Onofre State Beach to plant native plants (the sanding and painting of beach benches is on the docket as well). A few dozen state parks have sign-up needs, and a number of volunteers required, so make sure you pick the place you're going and let them know ahead of time to expect you. And, of course, you don't need to wait for April 18. California State Parks offers several ways to pitch in, both by restoring the benches and fences and human-helpful objects of our parks and by cleaning them up, too. 

Photo Credit: California State Parks]]>
<![CDATA[Support Your Local Bison: Catalina Island Conservancy Ball]]> Tue, 24 Mar 2015 14:38:51 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/BisonCatalinaJackBaldelli.jpg

FOXTROT FOR THE FOXES: SoCalers who need an island getaway don't need to glance longingly at tropical spots half a world away; they don't even need to look to an airport. We know that Santa Catalina Island is just 22 miles, give or take, across the ocean, and a day spent on a history-laden, bison-o-riffic land mass that's completely surrounded by the Pacific is a day that can be had without a daylong flight. One of the best bits of Catalina is, of course, the Casino Building, which just happens to be its most iconic structure, the one you see pictured on the postcards and brochures. You can enter it, of course, on tours and special events and New Year's Eve, too, which makes it a slice of living history, a place that's still very robust and very much alive. So that it becomes a place that salutes, and holds dear, the robust life on the island every now and then charms and brings comfort. We speak of the Catalina Island Conservancy Ball, which will again take to the ballroom to waltz it, rumba it, and, yes, perhaps even foxtrot it, on Saturday, April 11. Yes, you got us, we *are* being slightly winky about the whole foxtrot-fox connection, but that's because the evening of dance and dressing up is all about supporting the island's foxes, and bison, and bald eagles, and the many beasties of wing and paw who make Catalina their roost and den.

TICKETS: A single ticket is $275, but if you move upward to some of the larger packages, which may include admission for multiple people and other goodies, you get to be a Southern Alligator Lizard Sponsor or Slender Garden Salamander Sponsor or such. Fun fun, to put on a fancy frock and know that just beyond the Casino Ballroom's grand balcony there are foxes and lizards and birds nearby, all of which are going to benefit from your Conservancy-directed money. It's a way to enjoy an iconic human-built structure while saluting those animals that give the island its nature magic. Few events build a bridge between the two as well as the Catalina Island Conservancy Ball. Can't make the party? You can still get involved with the organization and help out. We mean... the bison of Catalina Island. Aren't they forever splendid? Time will never dull the wonder, nor should it.

Photo Credit: Jack Baldelli]]>
<![CDATA[Yosemite National Park's 125th Anniversary Kick-Off]]> Mon, 23 Mar 2015 21:39:56 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/hdynp452872764+%281%29.jpg

WHAT DO YOU GET... something that has everything? Some of the planet's most photographed waterfalls, some of the most recognizable granite hunks in this Solar System, and a valley floor that has frequently been compared to fictional places only found in books and daydreams? There really isn't a shop that exists that will have just the right gift or greeting card. But you're not expected to show with a wrapped package for Yosemite National Park's 125th anniversary; as always, fans and visitors and those who care for the precious wild expanse are the ones getting the gift. It's a gooey emotion, all righty, but we refuse to wipe away any excess goo. Stand before El Capitan during a winter's sunset and that all-is-right-with-the-world feeling comes as an automatic courtesy. Tromp about the Merced River or watch a moonbow in a water fall -- a rainbow by moonbeam, of course -- and you know that Yosemite can't help but keep on giving. So whatever will we humans do for the anniversary celebrating all of those ginormous pine cones and hiking trails and meadows and vistas? Well, we can make for Lower Yosemite Fall's special viewing area on...

TUESDAY, MARCH 24: Park officials will be launching the 125th anniversary celebrations with speeches, a special appearance by Ranger Gabriel (who "became an honorary ranger last summer through Make-A-Wish America"), cake, and a cameo by the Mounted Patrol. There are more memorable moments to come during this year, with an asterisk by October 1. Of course, yes, absolutely, Half Dome and Glacier Point were around a wee bit before President Benjamin Harrison put pen to legislation in 1890, making Yosemite the country's third national park. But protections for Half Dome and the surrounding lands were put in place, allowing all people onward to experience the park in a fully nature-encompassing fashion. That's a pretty nifty thing, and things are bound to get niftier the year after Yosemite's 125: The National Park Service marks its centennial in 2016.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Sierra Spring: Lighten Up at Tenaya Lodge]]> Fri, 27 Mar 2015 18:01:35 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/226*120/PackagesHighSierraMtnBiking.jpg

THE RUSH OF WARMTH: Springtime usually says its hellos ahead of the vernal equinox, at least around the middle of swath of California, where waterfalls in Yosemite National Park and wildflowers throughout the Sierra begin to flow and flower in the weeks running up to the big day. But the big day's arrival does possess a certain amount of magic, for it reminds those who've been noodling over whether they're going to take a vacation or not, just a quick nature-nice weekend away, to jump on it. Warmer days are coming, and with warmer days come al fresco pursuits. Tenaya Lodge, which sits just south of the national park, is gearing up on the get-outside front, now that snowier times are receding in the rearview mirror.

BIKING TO HIKING: There are several ways to get out among the trees during a Tenaya Lodge, with "onsite hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, and archery" among the choices. If you want to saddle up, there shall be saddles (and the sweet horses that are part of the whole giddy-up deal, too). As for rafting and fishing? Sierra-based pursuits don't come more seasonal. And speaking of seasonal, spring is the time for waterfalls in the big valley. Should you want to combine your affection for spokes with your love of gazing up at falling H20, Tenaya Lodge suggests a Sierra Waterfall Bike & Hike. It's self-guided, and five miles, so prepare to pedal. And be prepared to have your bike rental and picnic lunch included in an all-in-one package for thirty-five bucks.

AS FOR CLASSIC SPRING CELEBRATIONS? Like those with long bunny ears and brightly hued eggs? Those are on the Tenaya horizon as well. Look for an Easter Bunny scavenger hunt (a quintet of holiday-festive rabbits are hidden around the mountain-air property and Easter egg workshops, too (get ready to swirl and dye and design away). A hunt is in the works, too, and Easter brunch. For all the early-April doings, point your grassy basket this way.

Photo Credit: Tenaya Lodge]]>
<![CDATA[Butterfly Jungle: Wing Your Way to Safari Park]]> Sun, 22 Mar 2015 10:19:54 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/219*120/sdsafaributterflies23456.jpg

BE AMONG THE BOWS: If nature is a gift, and every leaf and plant and breeze and ray of sunshine is something else nice contained in the larger present, then butterflies would be the bows. Oh, they're part of the grand present that is the natural world, too, but given their beautiful bow-like shape, and their talent for alighting atop things in the bows top packages, butterflies do have a way of catching attention. So when you place them in true profusion, as many zoos and natural history museums and animal parks do in the springtime, you can feel as though the gift that is nature is just alive with beauty. It isn't necessary to spy every single species contained within a netted butterfly area, but bet you can pick out several of the residents and name what they are by the hue or design of their wing.

BUTTERFLY JUNGLE... at San Diego Zoo Safari Park just debuted this week, and there are over 30 species on the 2015 team roster. Orange Julias, Giant Swallowtails, Monarchs, and Grecian Shoemakers, Golden Heliconds, and Giant Owls, which are not giant owls, of course, but rather insects bearing beautiful owl-eyed designs on their wee bodies. Can you name them all, though? No one will quiz you to get inside the jungle -- or out -- but brushing up on your butterflies is always a fine idea before a visit. Of course, we'll assume, you can name the Monarch, which is just wrapping up its California seasonal stop-over.

OTHER JOYFUL JUNGLE DOINGS: Eateries in the Butterfly Jungle vicinity are keeping in theme with goodies like butterfly-decorated cupcakes. There are Instagram photo contests, an I.D. guide to keep your Golden Heliconds straight, and other ways to maximize your visit with the mini-sized superstars. The whole enterprise flits away on April 12, which happens to be the exact date that LA's own Natural History Museum throws the netting wide on Butterfly Pavilion.

Photo Credit: San Diego Zoo Safari Park]]>
<![CDATA[Mousequerade: Dress Up at D23 Expo]]> Sun, 22 Mar 2015 10:20:16 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/d23mousequerade1.jpg

HALLOWEEN AFTERNOON, THIS IS NOT: Remember when you are a kid, and it was just about 4 o'clock on Halloween afternoon, and you asked your mom what you should wear to go trick-or-treating? Because you hadn't quite put all of your costume ideas together quite yet? The major, mondo, and oh-so-very Mouse-o costume of D23 Expo, the every-two-years Disney fan convention, is the opposite of all that. Yes, for sure, there shall be people in amazing get-ups at the Anaheim Convention Center when it lands there over the third weekend in August, but those Disney devotees will not have decided the day before what they might wear. Not, that is, if they're involved in the Mousequerade.

MOUSEQUERADE: The convention's costume contest is big, big as Space Mountain, even, and this is, in large part, why: People who want to throw their hat into the ring, to participate, must enter their costume submission by April 30. That's a full three-and-a-half months ahead of D23 Expo, so the costumes you ultimately see there at the Friday, Aug. 14 Live Contest will have been worked on for well over a fourth of a year (and probably longer). There are five categories, including "Heroes Unmasked" and "Once Upon a Costume," and fifteen participants will be selected to compete in each (making for 75 participants in all come August). The winner and a guest get a trip to Disney's Aulani in Hawaii. That sounds like a prize that suits the bigness of the planning that will go into all of those Iron Mans, Cinderellas, Haunted Mansion ghosts... Want to try for it? April 30, as mentioned, is your mouseline. We mean, the time you have to enter by. 

D23 EXPO DESIGN CHALLENGE: If costuming isn't your thing but you do like to draw, there's also a contest focusing on Sleeping Beauty's Castle. Twenty three sketches will be selected to be displayed at the convention, and artists of all ages are welcome to try their hand at drawing the fairytale palace. The deadline to submit is also April 30 and the winner shall receive the sum of $2,300, a lovely amount that fits with the 23-y theme of the event. You know where the "D" comes from, but why does D23 have "23" in it, too? Because 1923 was the year Walt Disney arrived in Los Angeles, of course.

Photo Credit: D23 Expo]]>
<![CDATA[Monterey Open Sea Exhibit: Now With More Sardines]]> Fri, 20 Mar 2015 16:16:46 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sardinesopenseamba.jpg

FLOW IN ACTION: Scroll through any social media site long enough and you're bound to come across an article, a quote, a meme, or a short film about flow. It's a catchy word that is a bit of a sticky wicket to define, unless you have experienced it yourself while painting a painting, writing a story, dancing to a favorite tune, or just communing with friends or nature. For flow is something not seen, only experienced, and only after experience may a person know what all of the fuss is about (fuss that is well-founded).

FISH AS PHILOSOPHY: But there is a way to witness what the concept of flow sort of kind of maybe feels like, a bit, inside your head and heart, and that's by watching a very large school of fish move together in beautiful unison. Spying the fish work as seemingly one body is reminiscent of how disparate ideas move within the mind during a period of artistic flow. If you want to see this in action you can, on the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Open Sea Cam or in-person at the actual Open Sea exhibit at the Cannery Row-based institution. And here's some fun news: The below-surface flow has grown among the Pacific sardines, fishes that are masters of flow, in all ways.

3,000 PACIFIC SARDINES... have been introduced into the Open Sea Exhibit, which means there are over 12,000 Pacific sardines in the wondrous ocean-rich water (water that can be viewed through a massive 90-foot window). These sardines swim in "huge, glittering schools," says the aquarium's web site, which all leads up to we landlubbers gazing upon them in wonder, yes, but also deeper understanding. Deeper understanding of what it means to be a sardine -- surely you've pondered such important questions before, yes? -- and how the flow we seek in our creative and/or athletic pursuits is pretty much made real when thousands of shiny fish seamlessly dart and turn and move as one. 

Photo Credit: Monterey Bay Aquarium]]>
<![CDATA[Silverado Celebration: Pink Wine for a Pink Moon]]> Thu, 19 Mar 2015 21:43:19 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/219*120/wine+country.jpg

CUISINE ACCORDING TO THE COSMOS: For all of the books and web sites and shows and blogs that recommend various tricks and tips for planning a meal -- spend a week making only those dishes and drinks that begin with T, eat according to texture, only dine from the middle shelf of the pantry and refrigerator -- there's a simpler, more timeless way to approach the table: the universe. Clearly we have the cosmos to guide us when it comes to cuisine. We can make our meals according to the phase of the moon (cheese will probably be a prominent theme) or whether asteroids or meteors are in the news (we're picturing a more fiery dish or perhaps fondue) or whether water has been found on a hunk of rock near Jupiter (making a cocktail called "Jupiter Water" is obviously the way to go). Silverado Resort and Spa is taking a cue from the cosmos, and the Napa Valley wine favorite isn't looking too far. Yep, Silverado has taken our silvery satellite as inspiration for its next special supper on Saturday, April 4, though the moon will not be too silvery, at least in spirit , that night. That's the Pink Moon, and Silverado will celebrate it with an outdoor wine-and-apps night centered around rosé.

PINK WINE... is very much the beverage of the night, so enjoy its soft hue by the soft moonlight as you toast your friends, the people putting on the dinner, or the moon itself. The Terrace is the setting and rosé vintages will be in the glasses. Appetizers, not full entrees, will bring up the bites-worthy end of the evening, so look for swanky snacks that are described by the resort as being "over the moon." A glass of Domaine Carneros Brut Rosé is ten dollars and the moon-jumping snacks? They're gratis, in the way that enjoying the moon, whatever hue it is, is also free. How very poetic, Silverado.

QUESTION, THOUGH: Does the Pink Moon make things on earth pinkier? Sadly not; the name pays homage to spring blooms. So best wear something pink, to up the spring-sweet hue's presence. 

Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[Yountville Yum: Taste the Wine Country Town's Best]]> Wed, 18 Mar 2015 15:55:47 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/shutterstock_159421754.jpg

DISCUSSION-ENDER (IN THE BEST SENSE): If you love people getting along and finding common ground and meeting in the middle and compromising their way to the best solution for the entire group, then you can't totally sign on to the concept of the discussion-ending statement, thing, or event. Because discussion-enders, by nature, can be a little brusque, a little "and that's that," and a little apt to close matters down, kaput, for good. Consider a day out with a good friend, in wine country, where you share a similar goal: Enjoy lunch in Yountville, which is billed as the "Culinary Capital of Napa Valley." If your friend lands on pasta, and you want to chow down on gourmet sandwiches, one of you will have to launch a discussion-ender. That is, of course, if you want to dine together. But drastic dining measures are not required when a town is hosting a "Taste of" event, where everyone can get anything they want, across the full spectrum of supping, and no one has to say "harumph" or "that's that" or "I better get my way." (For sure, you're friends would never say that, would they? We didn't think so.) Yountville has been hosting its bustling Taste of Yountville for over two decades, which means that a whole caboodle of beloved places come out with the bites and the bevs.

BELOVED PLACES LIKE... Bouchon and Pacific Blues Cafe and Clos du Val and Grgich Hills Estate and so many more. The wine is plentiful, the food is local, and what's that, that's also going on? Why it's Yountville Live, a four-day music festival. But if you just want to hone in on the grazing aspect of the day -- and that day would be Saturday, March 21 -- you can. "Grazing" often reads like uncommitted eating, but think of it, in terms of a Taste of happening, as being where you snack upon slices of the whole, to gain the whole picture. If you're not a cheese person, and your pal is, all you need to do is wait to wander down to the dessert table together. That's what makes an event with lots of different dining possibilities so nice -- no discussion-enders are required, only easy strolling and get-to-know-us grazing. The Premium Tasting Passbook is $85 and gives you a wide swath of the scene, plus a few extra goodies. More here.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[Skiing and Strings: WinterWonderGrass]]> Tue, 17 Mar 2015 19:47:57 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/WWG_TheInfamousStringDusters11.jpg

FIDDLES AND FINE WEATHER: How exactly would you define the notion of "fine weather"? Are there dandelions popping up on the hillsides, and bluebirds in the trees, and are flowers flowering and creeks burbling and are your shoulders and knees showing, the better to take in some sunshine? And would you be listening to bluegrass, outside, which people frequently do during the warmer months? Yep, you're not alone: Many people would go to that definition, choosing a high of about 78 degrees and some al fresco tuneage and more sunshine than cloud cover. But a fine day, for a fan of frosty living, isn't necessarily about heat and sun. It often involves snow, and skiing, and bundling up, and a spot by a fireplace. As for the summer-style tunes, like bluegrass, a form that rules July and August at outdoor amphitheaters around the country? Well, those can happen on occasion, too, most notably at Squaw Valley over the first weekend in spring. True, WinterWonderGrass isn't in the chilliest heart of winter, but there is skiing to be done, and the donning of snowshoes if that's your thing, in addition to catching some really excellent, old-timey masters of the twang. Those twang purveyors will converge, bows and fiddles in hand, at the Lake Tahoe-close destination from March 20 through 22 for another big, joyful round of WinterWonderGrass.

HEATED BEER TENTS: The beer tent is a symbol of a summertime show, and that's still around, despite the chillier clime and time. But this one is heated, and there's actually two of 'em. So sip your craft beer and take in the likes of The Infamous Stringdusters and Elephant Revival, The California Honey Drops, and other bands. As for the bluegrassy tickets? You can buy standalones for the show or you can combine them with a ski package. Really, how often is skiing combined with that summer stalwart of bluegrass good-time-having? Not nearly enough. Be happy that WinterWonderGrass is making a stand in the snowy mountains for the not-too-controversial notion that bluegrass is to be enjoyed year-round, not just when knees are showing and bluebirds are singing in the trees.

Photo Credit: WinterWonderGrass]]>
<![CDATA[Bloom Time for Russian River Valley Roses]]> Tue, 17 Mar 2015 13:25:45 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/yellowroserussianriver123.jpg

PETALS HIGH IN THE AIR: So many traditions and holidays involve the throwing of items in the air, from beads during Mardi Gras to rice, birdseed, and flowers at a wedding. But rose petals are something a bit more special, at least in the "how we honor this moment" annals. Ask any flowergirl or flowerboy who has walked down a church aisle lined in white satin, carefully dropping each perfect little pink petal in just the right spot (and taking care not to dump the whole basket, as sometimes happens). Or check in with any hotel planner about whether couples have requested a swath of rose petals covering the suite's bed. (They have, and often, countless hotel packages do reveal.) Standing in a garden and throwing petals, though, is something less seen, though it is an occasion that bears a lot of bliss, good will, and general convivialness.

ROSE PETAL THROWS... happen in spots around the world, including Bulgaria, where Jan Tolmasoff first experienced the tradition. The petal throw welcomes a "bountiful harvest" according the Russian River Rose Company, and it is a tradition they honor at their rosy spot outside Healdsburg. Want to have the singular pleasure of throwing petals in the air in the hopes that a fine harvest shall be enjoyed? They make for the Blessing of the Rose Harvest on Saturday, April 18. Gradina Slavic Singers will also be on the grounds of the bud-brimful estate, saying hello to spring.

OTHER ROSY DOINGS... on the scentful schedule ahead include tours, a May Pole-centered happening, and an April weekend devoted to irises. There are demos devoted to gardening and Mother's Day is a big, big, big moment for the stroll-and-sniff spot. If you want to plan your first-ever petal throw -- or if you're an old-hand at the picturesque ritual -- point your nose this way, rose fans.

Photo Credit: Russian River Rose Company]]>
<![CDATA[Sactown Steam Trains and Subterranean Journeys]]> Mon, 23 Mar 2015 21:38:11 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sacsteamtrainunderground.jpg

FIRST WEEKEND IN APRIL: Though we play at summertime, a bit, in March, if the temperatures allow it (or at least mimic short-sleeve-y days), the official season beginner for getting outdoors is truly April. For sure, there may be showers, here and there, and damper days, but gardens are abloom, boats are abusy, and people who savor sunshine (pretty much all people, then) are looking for reasons to be out from under a roof. Old Sacramento State Historic Park is one of the first destinations out of the proverbial warmer-days-are-here-again gate with its annual kick-off of weekend train rides. The excursions have been around for three decades and two years, so this tradition of welcoming finer days is now truly multi-generational. But adding to the toasty time adventuring? Old Sac is also opening those ever-popular peek-beneath-the-streets Underground Tours starting in April as well.

SACRAMENTO SOUTHERN RAILROAD: Opening weekend is Saturday, April 4 and Sunday, April 5, so dig out your conductor's hat and stripe-y overalls -- or just any comfortable outfit -- and choo-choo chugga chugga your way to Central Pacific Railroad Freight Depot in Sacramento. A vintage steam locomotive is at the lead, and there shall be occasional Diesel Days through the summer as well. Have a tyke in the house who is super-into trains? As if there were any other way to be into trains beyond "super-into"; truly, that's the level of passion that's standard. Get your rail-riding info here, trainees.

OLD SAC UNDERGROUND: Anyone who has spent ten minutes strolling about Old Sacramento can see that stuff -- "stuff" being buildings, streets, lamps, and so forth -- is very well-preserved. But even better preserved, if you can believe it, is the stuff beneath the streets, which has stayed almost hidden, save recent tours, for a century and a half. Peek back at Sactown's wild/wooly social life in the 1800s on this go-below tour, which involves subterranean snooping at its finest. And look at that: The Underground Tours also open the first weekend of April. Perhaps summer really is just moments away.

Photo Credit: Old Sacramento]]>
<![CDATA[Wine, Views, Pups: Saracina Earth Day Dog Hike]]> Mon, 16 Mar 2015 09:46:28 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/saracinadoghikegrasstrees.jpg

SARACINA SPRING TRADITION: Seeing waggers hanging about wineries is not an unusual sight. In fact, those who are obsessed with Fidos are bound to encounter one or two during a day out touring wineries. You've been there, dog people: You pull up, park the car, stroll up the front walk to the winery's entrance, and there before you is the shaggy mascot of the grand estate, sunning himself on the front terrace. It can be a little disruptive, in the best sense, to your firm, set-in-stone plans, plans which were basically all about heading to the tasting room and trying the libations made and sole at the vineyard. Now? All you want to do is kneel down and spend time with the happy tail-thumper. There is a way, though, to both enjoy wine at a winery and get your dog-love-on time in, too. It's the annual Earth Day Dog Hike at Saracina Vineyards, which sets out into the ramble-ready hills around the winery's Hopland headquarters on Saturday, April 18. 

DOGS GO WITH: Since the hike is officially a dog hike, this means you won't have to bid any dogs you encounter goodbye as you set out. The pups shall join in, and yours can, too, if she or he stays on a leash. Just make sure your little on can make the four-mile trek, which shall be taken at an easy pace for both humans and four-footers alike. So easy, in fact, will the day be that there's a wine country picnic lunch, which'll give all participants involved a chance to rest the feet, in case the dogs are barking. (Question: Do dogs also think of their sore feet as "the dogs are barking," too? Discuss.)

COST AND MORE: This rustic, outdoorsy, wine-nice merriment happens a few days before the official Earth Day, and it costs $35. Will you find a new pinot you adore? Perhaps. Will you snuggle the pups of people you just met? That is so incredibly likely. If you're the kind of wine lover who can't make it inside a winery if a happy dog happens to be out front, this is event is squarely in the court of your specific interests.

Photo Credit: Saracina]]>
<![CDATA[Foamy Confab: California Beer Festival]]> Mon, 23 Mar 2015 12:20:16 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/CaliforniaBeerFestival2010.jpg

SET YOUR COOLER BY IT: People get a little bit prickly around Daylight Saving Time, especially if that hour lost was one that could have been spent reading or brunching or gardening or doing something grand. First off, we always bemoan that hour more than most others -- true? True. And second, think of it reappearing this autumn, when we fall back. What you can do, if you wish, is turn your clock-setting thoughts to one of the biggest beverage traveling shows in our state, an annual hop-around that makes a quartet of summertime or near-summertime stops starting in Marin and ending in Ventura. It's the California Beer Festival, and even if you don't set your clock by it you can set your cooler by it.

ACTUALLY, NO COOLERS ARE NECESSARY... because the California Beer Festival takes care of attendees with taste after taste, served up in small sips by the bespoke, every-last-bubble-and-fizz-considered brewhouses who are on the grounds. Representatives from the brewhouses are out meeting fans and talking up their product, while bands play, hobnobbing is plentiful, and the ursine mascot of the whole affair is often on the grounds, posing for photos.

MARCH 17... was the first on-sale date for the four-cities festival; the Marin festival is up first, so if you want to do the June 20th party, then nab your tickets now. The two Southern California festivals, San Dimas and Ventura, roll out over the second and third weekends of September. And the on-sale dates? They're one and the same: May 8th.

CALIFORNIA BEER FESTIVAL AT SEA: There's even a cruise, yep yep, if you need some waves with all of your suds. That sets sail in early April, if you can't wait for the terrestrial action of summertime. Details on the beer-themed boat? They're over this way, sudsy sailors.

Photo Credit: California Beer Festival]]>
<![CDATA[Backstage Peek: San Diego Zoo]]> Fri, 13 Mar 2015 19:00:03 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/backstagepasszoosd.jpg

UP-EVEN-CLOSER: Backstage-y peeks and behind-the-scenes-style sessions existed long before cable shows ruled and the internet had caught our fancy (and eyeballs), but the modern era has seen a true flowering in opportunities to go a bit further and deeper outside of one's own day-to-day. Look up most any attraction or landmark or destination and you're bound to find some sort of tour describing how bottles are made or hotels are run or how the beasties get their morning chow. That last example, of course, is what you might see at an animal park, and one of the best-known on the planet boasts its own version of the get-more-knowledge tours that have become so very popular. It's the San Diego Zoo we speak of, of course, and the zoo's own Backstage Pass, which takes animal aficionados on a different sort of walk through the expansive Balboa Park grounds.

CHEETAHS, RHINOS, OH MY: The pass, which covers about 90 minutes and includes different areas of the zoo, puts the focus on a rhino feeding, conservation, and, wait for it, a cheetah-close photograph. When you call upon the rhino exhibit you'll have "the opportunity to touch and feed our gentle giant," and there shall be further "eye-to-eye contact with more of our exotic wildlife friends." Information on the animal park's work with conservation is part of the hour-and-a-half tour, too.

IF YOU NEED MORE BEASTIES... then there's another tour that should tempt: An early morning visit with the pandas. It's a separate ticket but also in-depth and up-even-closer. We say "up-even-closer" because you get pretty dang close already, as a zoo visitor. But those backstage-y peeks are pretty irresistible, especially when you need to know more about how a favorite place ticks.

WILL YOU MEET PALOMA, TOO? She's a wee sloth who is one of the stars of the Backstage Pass.

Photo Credit: San Diego Zoo]]>
<![CDATA[Bright Buds, Big Sky: Death Valley Spring Break]]> Fri, 13 Mar 2015 09:35:37 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/springbreakfurnacedv1.jpg

LISTEN UP, BEACH: Hello, ocean? Sandy shores? Little tide pools and places to place a giant towel? First off, know that we love you, and while that may seem very forward, expressing real emotion for the coastline, the Big Water, the waves, every grain of sand and all of the bits and bobs that go along with beach life is a very proper thing to do, if you're a person. (And even if you're not; gulls and crabs and kelp and myriad other plants and fishes love the beach, too.) But how the beach began taking all of the spring break traffic is a study best left to those peering into the annals of college vacations, where colder campuses are located, and the building of beach town culture.

ALL INTERESTING STUFF, and while we'd never want the beach's hotness to cool down, we'd love to see the desert rise in the spring break ranks. Here's our thought: It's warm in the desert (spoiler alert). Here's another thought: It's actually quite warm, and there are often swimming pools, meaning that those who seek a break, whether they're in school or not, will get that desired time splashing about in the water. Look to Death Valley, and The Inn at Furnace Creek and The Ranch at Furnace Creek, where spring breakers with a love of long vistas, starry night canopies, and all of those desert-bright wildflowers are in ya-don't-see-this-every-day bloom.

KNOW YOUR RANCH FROM YOUR INN: The two historic properties each have their own character, and character to spare, but the Ranch is down, on the valley floor, and the Inn is up, on a striking rocky outcropping. Both have spring-fed pools, and opportunities abound for outings in the area (The Borax Museum, golf, biking). But if you're trading the beach for the sand of the desert, don't you want a little something out-of-the-ordinary? We'll answer for you, if we might: You absolutely do. Wildflowers are going to town, well, desert-style, which means that while you may not come across great carpets of them, the pinks and purples you do spy in the sparse stretches will stand out like a colorful beach towel against pale sand. Why wouldn't you want to see that at least once, or, preferably, every other spring break? We know, it is hard to leave the beach completely, and we wouldn't want you to do so. Beach/desert love is real, and can be accomplished, spring breakers. 

Photo Credit: Inn at Furnace Creek]]>
<![CDATA[Spring Babies: Hello, Wee Tarantulas of Diablo]]> Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:04:05 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/babytarantulatimediablo1.jpg

FUZZY, FINGERNAIL-SIZED, FAB: Spring zoo babies and wild babies and babies of every stripe and horn are popping up in galleries around Onlineland. And while you'll coo over many cuddle beasties, animals who, perhaps, don't look too different from your own cat or dog, you'll likely notice that not to many spring babies of the eight-legged sort make the cute cut. Oh, that's not always true -- you'll see a spider here and there, but arachnids typically have their internet heyday come the fall, when spooky snapshots reign. Tarantulas, though, of course have babies, wee ones that might be as "small as a fingernail" (and, yes, grow "as big as a dinner plate," perhaps). Many tarantulas call Mount Diablo home, and while there are autumn treks to find the many-limbed denizens of the area, you can also head out into the spring, with the added benefit of blooms popping up all around. Wildflowers and baby tarantulas possibly emerging from burrows... who would want to wait for fall for a hike?

APRIL STROLLS: The series is through Lindsay Wildlife, and naturalist Jim Holmes'll head out every Saturday in April with the hope that a little scurrier -- or several -- might be seen. Called "essentially harmless to humans," tarantulas brim with interesting tidbits, like the fact that females may live three or four decades. Mr. Holmes will point out the burrows, so you'll learn to identify them, and discuss all of the delightful details of La Vida Tarantula while hiking two miles along Mount Diablo's north face with an eye out for "newly hatched tarantulas." Cost? Fifteen dollars per hiker, with an extra six bucks to park your car. Reserve here, nature enthusiasts.

NEWLY HATCHED TARANTULAS: That sounds like a three-word pitch a filmmaker might make to suggest a new scary film. But baby tarantulas have a lot in common with the other baby beasties we admire and sigh over. They're fresh to this world, and getting their sea legs, and ready for new adventures. Maybe a filmmaker should make an upbeat story of some tarantulas finding their way back to their burrow, with insects, wildflower petals, and other high jinks thrown in. Isn't that a bit more fun than the expected fright flick? Tarantulas, we'll coo over your babies, too.

Photo Credit: Lindsay Wildlife]]>
<![CDATA[First Showing: "Citizen Kane" at Hearst Castle]]> Thu, 12 Mar 2015 08:54:11 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/citizenkane.jpg

74 YEARS ON: It's not all that unusual for a film to take a few months to reach your local cineplex or movie palace, especially if you're a single-screen theater and the film didn't make it your way during its initial run. It's rather more unusual for that movie to take three-quarters of a century to make it your way, unless, of course, the film is "Citizen Kane" and the screening room is inside Hearst Castle. For while many a real person and grand personality has appeared in fictional form on the silver screen, few portrayals have garnered as much consistent and fascinated press, and public wonderment, as Orson Welles' intense take on William Randolph Hearst in the 1941 drama.

ROSEBUUUUUD: Meaning that for decades upon decades there have been more rosebuds, as in the flowers, at the San Simeon landmark than "Rosebud," the iconic whispered mystery of "Citizen Kane." And while the media magnate was wild about the movies and the Tinseltown crowd -- he has a ladyfriend in starlet Marion Davies, famously -- the "Citizen Kane" reels never made their way up to the Central Coast spot. That will change on Friday the 13th, March 13th, to be specific, when the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival holds a fundraiser screening at Hearst Castle, with "Citizen Kane" front, center, and unspooling right where its main subject once lived.

TICKETS ARE A THOUSAND DOLLARS EACH, and only fifty people will be seated in the castle's "original private theater." The fundraiser is a joint deal, for both the film festival and Friends of Hearst Castle, a laudable organization that tends to the heart, soul, and tomorrow of one of America's grandest estates. Film honchos and historians will be in attendance, chatting about the decades-weathering work, and a "short tour" is part of the evening (before the film begins). It's a big day in film fandom, and one that was said, over the years, would never arrive. But movies, and the histories of moguls, do have a way of surprising, even if it takes the better part of a century to deliver the twist. After all, we don't find out what Rosebud is until we've reached the end of the film. (Not saying here, of course. Plus, you know already, surely.)

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[The Poppies of Mariposa County]]> Wed, 11 Mar 2015 18:44:00 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Poppies10LRadanovich.jpg

HARD TO BE HUMBLE: When the topic of "what is your state's dot dot dot?" arises with people who live elsewhere, it can be difficult not to excitedly pounce all over each symbol-oriented question, even as the other present participants hem and haw and try to recall their state bird or state rock. We mean, of course, yes, absolutely, other states possess magnificent state cookies and state songs and state symbols. No one is doubting that. But when your home turf has the redwood & sequoia as its state trees, and the grizzly bear as its state animal, becoming puffy-of-chest, and jumping to answer with pride, is kind of expected. Californians has many official symbols which provoke our puffy-of-chest-ness, bears and redwoods among them, but to watch a Golden State resident bloom when asked the state flower is a thing of rare beauty, indeed.

THE CALIFORNIA POPPY... is our best bud, as you well know, and it is a source of orange-hued happiness for many, even those who find flowers a bit on the fussy side. But those people often change their tunes when they see a wild hillside of poppy glory, up in the Sierra foothills or at the edge of a more arid desert. For when the poppies get to blanketing wherever they are going to blanket, for a week or three or just the briefest of windows, Californian pride grows. So, where to go to see some good poppy action, and some fine wildflowers that are not poppies?

HELLO, MARIPOSA COUNTY: The Official Yosemite/Mariposa County Tourism Bureau has a page of wildflower-nice routes, including a toodle from Mariposa to Coulterville, where poppies may, if you're lucky, be seen. Ben Hur Road is also a suggestion, and while this is a longer drive, from three to four hours, the "canyons, streams, and views" are worth it. Or will you head for Merced River Canyon to see redbud and goldfield, as well as some possible poppies? Who knows? When wildflower roaming calls, it is hard to say. As always, what's blooming is a tricky thing, but enjoying the drive with a friend -- and quizzing them on all of the California state symbols as you go -- is a scene that's as pretty as a poppy. Yes, we said it and we're standing by it, too.

Photo Credit: L. Radanovich]]>
<![CDATA[Dine Out Delights: What's Fresh in Healdsburg]]> Wed, 11 Mar 2015 12:47:50 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/KCValette.jpg

LIKE SO MANY SPRING BUDS: The ice-melting-iest, leaf-growing-iest of all the seasons is one often described as "making the blood run" or "raising one's temperature and spirit." However you term it, springtime is very much about the notion of awakening, again, for another year, after the somnolent, stay-in, hibernate-plenty days of winter (even in California where "wintertime" is sometimes just a suggestion). Much of that awakening involves seeing new things popping up. Not just buds and little lime-green leaves and furry cones and baby animals, though those are all plenty springy. More outings mean more chances to see fresh stuff in the places you love, and one of those lovable places is getting a lot of fresh stuff, at least in terms of its restaurant scene. It's Healdsburg we speak of, and, yes, we did assume it's among the places you love, because, hey, Healdsburg. A stroll through town is a temperature-raising, spirit-coaxing event, and more so in the spring when you see a clutch of new eateries (like a clutch of new roses on a hillside). Where will you be eating now that the warmer weather is nearly here? Try these new-to-the-town spots, spots like...

VALETTE: If you know Dry Creek Kitchen, you know Chef Dustin Valette. His newest outing is just a quick walk from the plaza and is co-helmed by Aaron Garzini, Mr. Valette's brother. On the menu? Crispy skin local sable fish, a chocolate dessert featuring mousse and broken meringue, and a "trust me" tasting menu (that's what it is, in fact, cheekily called).

WILD FLOWERS SALOON: If you need live tunes and a chillaxable space (surely chillaxable is a Healdsburg-appropriate word), then make for the fresh spot from spousal team Vivian and Howard Flowers. Shall there be ribs, burgers, and other hearty Americana-type grub? There shall be and is (plus a nice line-up of fancy cocktails, too.

THE TEA LOUNGE: A recently debuted lounge at The Taste of Tea means that if you need a little liquid pick-me-up before driving home -- always a fine idea after a lazy-day idyll 'round Healdsburg -- you can get it in hot cup form. And relax, too, while sipping an Emerald, which is "matcha shaken with coconut milk and Sonoma mint" complete with a mint sugar rim. Yum.

Photo Credit: Kim Carroll/Valette]]>
<![CDATA[Farmhouse Inn: Spring Into Sonoma Special]]> Tue, 10 Mar 2015 16:44:02 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/240*120/sonomafarmhousespecial1.jpg

FARMHOUSE FRESH: If your family has called a ranch home for the better part of a century, and you spend a good deal of time freshening up that idyllic, far-from-the-bustle spot, with updated, oh-so-posh accommodations and the swimming pool and the spa, when would you want the big reveal to happen? Probably, we imagine, when flowers and vegetables and plants are bursting around the rustic property, the better to match the spirit of renewal and brand-spanking-ness afoot. That's just what has recently gone down -- or up, rather, to match buds pushing through soil -- at the Farmhouse Inn in the Russian River Valley. The property still brims with that winsome, wayback charm while the guest rooms have received a gentle, modern-meets-timeless burnish. (If only all historic settings could receive such a care-sweet burnish from time-to-time.) To mark springtime on the flower-laden ranch, and to celebrate the finishing-up of the renovations, the Farmhouse Inn has a special on, called Spring into Sonoma. The deal? Reserve a king room for three nights and pay for two. Oh, we do like when our springtime, stroll among the flowers, ye-olde-20th-century-farm-y dreams are made easier, and easier on the pocketbook.

FOR A LIMITED TIME: Like spring passes with a burst into summer, so shall the Spring into Sonoma end. Stay through May 31 on this deal, say hello to owners (and siblings) Catherine and Joe Barolomei, and play-act, in your mind, what it might have been like to grow up on a soil-rich ranch. (Surely you do this, right? When you visit an historic spread that was a former home? It can't just be our own head-spun fantasies.) There are some asterisks, like blocked-out dates over Memorial Day Weekend and a nice dealie if you make those three nights during the middle of the week, so read all. If you need to get your flower-breathing, oxygen-sunshine-bees-butterflies enjoyment in, and you fear springtime'll zip without that happening, a foray to this Forestville favorite should do the trick.

Photo Credit: Farmhouse Inn]]>
<![CDATA[Shelter Cove: Lost Coast Outpost Turns 50]]> Thu, 19 Mar 2015 12:28:17 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/scShelterCoveCourtesyArleenOlsonHumboldtWild.jpg The way-out-of-the-way ocean-sweet nook hosts a half-century party over the first weekend in May.

Photo Credit: Arleen Olson/Humboldt Wild]]>
<![CDATA[Re-Opened: Death Valley's Zabriskie Point]]> Tue, 17 Mar 2015 07:09:56 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/221*120/zabriskiedvnp.jpg

THAT SPECIAL PLACE: Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park is one of the special places for the thousands of hikers who trek about the stark landscape each year. You know what we mean by "special place" if you've ever spent a few minutes in a natural setting: That place that is timeless, and sometimes soundless, too, where the woes of the workaday world seem wee and the sky as vast as your thoughts. True, the rugged, crevice-y area has had its cinematic moments, including 1970's "Zabriskie Point," but many visitors think of it as a personal place rife with introspective possibilities (and some fine views, too). So when word arrived in the fall of 2014 that the badlands-y treasure would be shuttered for "major rehabilitation work" from the end of October into the spring, regulars needed to find their next "special place" and pretty darn quick. But fret not, Zabriskie devotees, and pine for it no longer: Death Valley National Park announced on its Facebook page that the work was completed ahead of schedule, on March 5, and the vista point was re-opened to one and all.

THIS ISN'T TO SAY... that Artist's Drive or Dante's View, which were visit-here-in-the-meantime recommendations from the park, should be dropped. Any true-hearted Death-Valley-ian would say see 'em all, and plan accordingly, since the big stretches seem bigger in that far-far-far-away world.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Well, warmer weather, for one. Much warmer weather, three-digit-y days, and fairly soon, too. But the Ranch at Furnace Creek stays open all summer long, while the Inn at Furnace Creek does close for some of it (but is open in July and August). If you want to make one of the world's most magnificent natural places before summer strikes, go for the spring wildflowers. You can follow their floral progress here.

AS FOR OUR CLAIM... that Death Valley National Park is "one of the world's most magnificent natural places"? Truly, we're worried we weren't quite hyperbolic enough. Have you seen that place? Other locations are lovely as anything, but there is only one Zabriskie Point on the third planet from the sun.

Photo Credit: Death Valley National Park]]>
<![CDATA[Brush Up, Ren Fans: Renaissance Symposium]]> Mon, 09 Mar 2015 14:13:49 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/renfairefolsom.jpg

BEYOND THE TURKEY LEGS: One of the electrifying and, yes, occasionally intimidating hallmarks of a large warm-weather Renaissance-themed festival is that one and all are welcome to dress up. But is "welcome" a strong enough word? The vibe of the outdoor events is colorful and costume-y, and anyone showing up can join the performers and organizers in hoop-skirted, breech-fabulous glory. Getting the look pretty right, however, can stump at times, and if you want to be a part of the festival's lively song-and-show vibe? A little practice and know-how go a very long way. Good thing that Renaissance festival fans have gained a rep of being an inclusive bunch. If you've got the will and a little moxie, and you don't mind wearing tights or a wreath of daisies in your hair, well, by jim, you're in.

MAKING IT ALL THE EASIER, though, to be in the merry, mirthful, often sassy mix is the Renaissance Workshops & Symposium, which unfurls, like so many medieval banners, over the first weekend of spring in Folsom. Consider this very well timed: Renaissance and fantasy faires are very much a springtime and summertime staple, so a brush-up on all things Ren just ahead of warmer days gets everyone back in the action, from festival veterans to people wanting to join the joustian, jovial doings for the first time.

MARCH 21 THROUGH 23: Join the symposium and learn about history, "improv, costuming... and fitting into the Renaissance atmosphere." It's part of the organization behind the San Jose Fantasy Faire and San Jose Renaissance Faire, so if you're thinking of attending either, this is a fine and frolicsome place to begin. But honing those ye olde skills, whether you'd like to act, sing, be in guest relations, or even just attend, is always an excellent choice if your summer is built around faire hopping. How many do you hope to attend during 2015? California has plenty, with two of the biggies in San Jose. Best study up on your style -- sartorial and beyond -- ahead of spring.

Photo Credit: Renaissance Symposium]]>
<![CDATA[Borrego Bliss: Warm Days, Spring Sun, and Wildflowers]]> Fri, 13 Mar 2015 12:06:09 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/borregomassagepool.jpg

MAKE YOUR PETAL PLANS: Plotting to eye, and admire, the too-brief, typically wowza (depending on when you show up) desert flower show is a combination of luck, timing, some more luck, a little moxie, and a dash of kismet. Buds pop in the far reaches of our state's driest regions, if the rain has been kind, and it is up to the petal peepers (spring's version of autumn's leaf peeper) to seek out where the show might be on what day, which can prove to be a wicket most sticky. What is the easy part of this equation, however? Booking your overnight accommodation that's adjacent to all of that floral, arid-awesome beauty. That only takes a phone call, or a web site visit, and it doesn't involve tracking down rumor of where a certain cactus flower is suddenly unfurling, or in which canyon a particular bush is now ablush with pink petals.

BORREGO SPRINGS RESORT & SPA... which is a location-nice launchpad for Anza-Borrego State Park, sees a profusion of petal peepers come March and April, so it is no surprise that the property has a package on for guests hoping to get a glimpse of one of the springtime's more unusual displays. The Wildflower Package is on -- you might have remembered it from a past visit, so, yep, it now is apparently a Borrego Springs Resort & Spa staple -- and you get overnight accommodations plus items to power your petal search.

BOX LUNCH, BUD BROCHURE: The extras include a box lunch -- chances are you won't find too many restaurants out in the deep desert spots where the flowers are showing -- and a brochure detailing desert flora. A map of prehistoric animal skyart structures is also yours, as well as a few other goodies. With warmer weather finally arriving, will you even go for a pre-swim before heading out on your search? The desert has many pluses in the spring, but the chance for a quick dip ahead of scouting for wildflowers is high among them.

Photo Credit: Borrego Springs Resort & Spa]]>
<![CDATA[Wee Okapi: Aww Over Amaranta at Safari Park]]> Fri, 06 Mar 2015 10:48:39 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/okapisafaripark1.jpg

YOUR NEW FAVORITE FURRY ONE: Books and posters and videos and stories told us much of the animal world when we were youngsters. We gazed upon illustrations of fish and mammals and birds and asked our teachers and parents questions -- What's the tallest of the small cats? How high can an eagle fly? -- and we gazed upon the pictures further. And, very often, we lived with beasties, dogs and cats and parakeets and geckos. And while our animal knowledge and love may be deep by the time we reach adulthood, deep and true and, if not complete, then pretty dang vast, we can still come upon animals that seem a bit unfamiliar to us, even after all of the gazing at picture books we did. 

MEET THE OKAPI: This is an animal you've surely heard about. You've seen photographs, now and then, and maybe even caught the mammal on television as he employed his impressive prehensile tongue to reach some leaves. But actually beholding an okapi in-person -- or in-okapi -- is something strange and wonderful. It's an animal that seems summon thoughts of several other animals at once: the stripes of a zebra are found on the okapi's hindquarters and his noggin, and tongue, are very giraffe-like. The San Diego Zoo Safari Park goes into this phenomenon a bit on the okapi site, but you can see the animal's astonishing beauty for yourself, with your own marveling eyes at the vast animal preserve. And if you want to see a baby okapi -- cue the cuteness -- be at the park on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday mornings. Make for the African Woods and coo over...

AMARANTA: This okapi calf isn't too wee -- he's a sturdy young lad -- but his day of birth wasn't all that long ago (Jan. 18, to be specific). He's about a hundred pounds, or was the day before Valentine's Day (growing children grow, so he could be slightly heftier than that), and "strutting" is his manner of walking, or at least according to a charming post on the San Diego Zoo Safari Park's Facebook page. To see a baby mammal that looks like a few different animals strutting about, a sight we should all see outside of a picture book or educational video, make for the Escondido preserve.

Photo Credit: Ken Bohn]]>
<![CDATA[Spectacular Sunnylands: Take a Tour]]> Thu, 05 Mar 2015 08:36:47 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sunnylandsexterior1.jpg

RANCHO MIRAGE MIRAGE: The desert resorts are dotted with domiciles that have been splashed across the pages of decor-oriented magazines and architecture-focused coffee books. Mid-century is the very pronounced theme, as you know if you've driven down one or two streets of Palm Springs, Palm Desert, or Rancho Mirage. Rancho Mirage, though, has had a special flower in its buttonhole for just about a half century, the glorious estate of Walter and Leonore Annenberg. Sunnylands, which was designed by A. Quincy Jones, a visionary much associated with high mid-century modern style (and those oh-so-recognizable deliberately drawn roofs), is suited to its hometown, because it can seem a bit mirage-y with its water elements, pink walls, and just-got-in-from-1966 feel. It's an authentic feel many other mid-'60s buildings would love to reclaim, or the owners of such buildings, but Sunnylands never lost it, even when the lavishly appointed retreat stopped serving as a private residence in 2009 and opened to the public in 2012. Sunnylands is open almost all year, save July and August, but Modernism Week is one of its busiest times, thanks in large part to its large reputation as a creme de la landmark among mid-centurians attending the design gathering. Modernism Week has wrapped, but tours of Sunnylands are continuing...

IF YOU CAN BOOK ONE: We do not mean to be ominous at all, only firm: To get on a tour of the 25,000-square-foot estate, you must secure your ticket well in advance, when they become available. This is not a drive up to the house kind of thing, though you can visit the Center & Gardens without an appointment Thursdays through Sundays. As for what's inside the house? The renovations leading to the 2012 opening are plentiful -- paintings, furniture, and tony touches blend well with the idea of a desert vacation home for the art-loving Annenbergs. A year-long exhibition, which is on through January 2016, is absolutely worth spending some time admiring. Name? "Treasures at Sunnylands: Selections from the Gift Collection of Walter & Leonore Annenberg." Eight U.S. presidents visited the estate, and several other luminaries, too, and, as was and is tradition, a gift was presented to the hosts. It's a peek inside a charming domestic ritual as seen through a prism of power, affluence, and decades gone by. You're keen to see, yes? And to swan about Sunnylands, one of the desert's poshest playgrounds.

Photo Credit: Sunnylands]]>
<![CDATA[Santa Barbara Blooms: Orchid Extravaganza]]> Mon, 09 Mar 2015 12:08:26 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/edt-2014-orchid-152885605.jpg

WHAT'S IN THE MOVIE WINDOW: Set designers know what's what when it comes to fancying up a cinematic street scene. If you want your meet-cute characters to pass along some interesting, camera-ready shops, you'll add a store selling vintage vinyl, a colorful old tavern or pub, and some sort of flower seller. If there are flowers in the window of your fictional store, chances are promising that the petals are of the dramatic variety. Think vanda orchids and encyclia orchids and odontoglossum orchids and every flower type that boasts an unusual shape and storied history. This isn't to say that other flowers aren't rare or exotic or hard-to-find or eye-catching, because hundreds can compete for this title (even the ubiquitous carnation has been undersold here, since its frilly edges do enchant). But orchids still have that enigmatic air, the air of a reclusive and alluring movie star, hence their appearance in shop windows when something floral and striking is required. Now imagine the number of blooms in a small shop window multiplied by thousands, and you've got a famous flower show that's been around for 70 years. It's the Santa Barbara International Orchid Show, and it shall spread its petals at the Earl Warren Showgrounds from March 13 through 15.

BEGINNERS WELCOME: One of the most important things to note about this long-running expo is that people just starting out with orchid ownership are most welcome. While orchids might seem dainty and hard-to-tend, lovers of the not-so-fussy flora want the curious to come by and give that first orchid a try. For sure, like all things, orchids run the gamut, so experts will be on hand, and growers, and there shall be "(f)abulous displays of exotic orchid species and hybrids installed by exhibitors from around the world." Free workshops are part of the three-day orchid extravaganza -- orchidanza, is perhaps the better word -- and a corsage exhibition. Plus more, which, really, one wants when it comes to the luscious and mysterious orchid, in all of its hues and spidery, extravagant shapes and forms. There is an admission fee to get in, but for sure bring extra funds: Orchids are for sale. This is your chance to start a lifelong floral friendship with the most cinematic of flowers.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Cultura RF]]>
<![CDATA[Desert Gem: Cabot's Pueblo Museum]]> Tue, 03 Mar 2015 08:42:23 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/cabotspueblomuseumagp.jpg

HOUSES OF MEMORY: The just-wrapped Modernism Week is the stylish centerpiece of the desert resorts' winter season, a social-strong celebration of mid-century architecture, and mid-century everything else, that draws fans from all across the world to Palm Springs. But just a bit north is a home that was already around when all of those mid-century abodes, complete with sparkling swimming pools, sprung up around the Springs. The abode is in a different Springs -- Desert Hot Springs -- and it is as storied as the man who built it: Cabot's Pueblo Museum. The sprawling structure, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was the vision of Cabot Yerxa, an adventuresome homesteader who took part in the Alaska Gold Rush before making for the region now occupied by the desert resorts (with a few other near-and-far stops along the way). Mr. Yerxa began to construct his now-famous pueblo in 1941, but to call the undertaking a multi-year project is to not give full credit to the many years the building took (the visionary passed away in 1965, and the pueblo's site says he was still working on his dream at the time of his death at age 81). If tales of buildings that took years to come together, via one man's vision, out in the desert, intrigue you, you're in luck: The museum offers info-rich tours for much of the year.

EXCEPT FOR SUMMER: It can get a mite toasty in Desert Hot Springs 'round about July, rumor has it, and the pueblo is not air-conditioned (though it boasts 150 non-matching windows, all of which were reclaimed by Mr. Yerxa from various sources). So visiting in the Springs in the spring is the way to go, before the museum shutters for the warm months. You'll walk through several rooms of the pueblo, though not all, but the nooks visited will give you a view to life in the home -- there are even a few delightfully incongruous sights, like a blue mid-century bathtub Mr. Yerxa installed for his wife. The grounds boast winding paths, artworks, and desert shrubs like the oh-so-odoriferous creosote bush, which is the very smell of the desert when it rains.

SO... does Cabot's Pueblo Museum have anything in common with the mid-century gems a half hour to the south, across the 10 Freeway? Well, in spirit, perhaps. Architecture that lasts does benefit from a visionary with spirit, a love of location, and can-do on its side. The desert has had such visionaries in plenitude, working in multiple building styles, which makes the area a stand-out, stylistically, on several levels. Plus, those mountains, sunsets, and the creosote -- Palm Springs to Desert Hot Springs, it is a place brimming with beauty, even beyond its interesting buildings.

Photo Credit: Cabot's Pueblo Museum]]>
<![CDATA[On Its Juicy Way: Tomatomania!]]> Mon, 02 Mar 2015 11:10:24 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/169*120/Tomatoes+Vine.jpg

SPRING'S TANGIEST SIGN: It isn't like one day a group of ladybugs will come a-knockin' at your door, with the sole purpose of informing you that springtime is here. (If they did, however, they might inform you that any group of ladybugs is sometimes referred to as a "loveliness" of ladybugs -- oh so poetic and spring-sweet.) Spring, in fact, can be hard to predict, apart from the date on the calendar that tells us when we can start thinking about our gardens in a serious way and our sunhats and our grass-ready clogs and our warm-weather pursuits, gardening and otherwise. Some February days (and March days and April days) seem to trumpet, with dew and sun, that the season has started, while others leave us damp and flat. But one predictor of the bloomiest season is a hard-stay on the calendar. It can't be felled by a sudden cold snap, nor can a loveliness of ladybugs move its schedule one way or another. It's Tomatomania!, an on-the-road celebration of heirloom tomatoes, and it sticks to a springtime series of dates that take it (and its tomato-loving organizers) to points around California. Are you ready to embrace this annual symbol of the season? And to start to grow some glorious globes, orbs that arrive in all sorts of heirloom-lovely shades (think yellow, orange, red, brown)? Then see when the show, which "(s)tarted in the early '90s" in Pasadena, is headed for your area.

FIRST UP IS CORONA DEL MAR... over the first full weekend in March, and the last Golden State stop is Geyserville on the last Saturday in April. Several other cities shall be called upon, where fans of the fruit will comb through over "300 heirloom and hybrid tomato varieties." Beyond the selling of seeds, however, there shall be "classes, sales events, tomato tastings, and impromptu social gatherings at popular nurseries and gardening hotspots from coast to coast." We're just glad that our coast is so beloved by the "Tomatomaniacs" and that so many California cities get a springtime visitor. Could you set spring's beginning to when Tomatomania! shows up in your town? Well, maybe not, but until a loveliness of ladybugs shows up at your front door, to tell you spring is here, Tomatomania is a very good (and delicious) predictor of warmer days. 

Photo Credit: Tomatoes]]>
<![CDATA[Indian Wells Idyll: Spring Break in the Desert]]> Sat, 07 Mar 2015 11:37:39 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/renaissanceindianwellspool1.jpg

YOU, A LOUNGE CHAIR, AND AN UMBRELLA: So many of us have the desire to purchase pencils and erasers and a lunchbox and a backpack each and every August, even if we're long past the pencil sharpener phase. (Though are we ever really truly past a really good pencil sharpener? No, is the answer.) And come March? We start hearing word of spring break destinations, and we imagine ourselves in a pool, or on a sandy shore, soaking in some rays and leaving our workaday world back where we left it. That we're all still on a semi-school schedule, in our brains, even if it has been awhile since we actually were in school, is a fact for many, but just because it is a quirk doesn't mean it won't work for us: We can go on a spring break, of sorts, if we just find the right balmy, sunny, pool-close spot.

THE RENAISSANCE INDIAN WELLS RESORT & SPA... is helping our spring-break-y longings with a special package made for spring-breakians and those who are just living spring break as a state of mind. It's called Spring Break in the Desert and, what luck, its dates extend far past the shorter window a typical spring break might follow. Which makes it easier to plan, and actually do, for those wanting to jump into a sunny spring getaway, at least for a couple of days.

MARCH 20 TO APRIL 9: Call it a nice, long, languorous stretch, as languorous as spring break should be. That's your window to book the package which starts at $299 per night and includes accommodations for the night, fifty bucks to spend around the resort, and "two ice cream treats" (score). As for where you'll likely be hanging out, spring-breakin' it up? Look for a trio of pools, a sandy beach, and waterfalls at what's billed as "the largest swimming pool complex in the region." Oh, and as for who may book? Nope, you don't to be be a true spring-breaker: Spring Break in the Desert is open to both grown-ups and families.

Photo Credit: Renaissance Indian Wells Resort & Spa]]>
<![CDATA[SLO Sip Springtime: Roll Out the Barrels]]> Mon, 02 Mar 2015 11:05:33 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/BarrelPourCourtesySLOWineCountry.jpg

HOW TO CELEBRATE 25 YEARS? There's no book in the world that's going to tell you that a 25th anniversary isn't a big deal. It's one of the biggest of the big, an occasion met with special rituals and celebratory traditions galore (if you're a doubter, go to any party supply store and admire the sizable section devoted to 25th anniversary balloons, banners, and invites). But how does one celebrate if one isn't a couple, or isn't marking a work anniversary, and a lot of people will want to join the party? Well, you make that anniversary a full month, rather than a day, and you fill it with happenings of the jolliest order. Surely "jolliest" is a word that can be used when it comes to easygoing wine confabs, especially when they take place in that easiest of regions, the Central Coast.

MAKE THAT SAN LUIS OBISPO, to be exact, which is known for its area wineries and its relaxed approach to all things, including big anniversaries (it doesn't go by SLO just for kicks -- it is a local philosophy that's very much observed). Roll Out the Barrels is the doing marking its quarter-century birthday, and the people behind SLO Wine Country are blowing it out, SLO-style, with a month of merry gatherings. That month might just be the merriest of all, according to poets and weather forecasters and those who love the blooming of flowers and the coming of warmer days: April.

APRIL OUTINGS AROUND SLO: The wine-trying starts on April Fool's Day -- no fooling -- and wraps a couple of days into May. On the roster? A caboodle of "winery adventures and activities" including the largest of the larks, the Barrels on the Plaza party on April 30. Along the April way there shall be tours (Niner Wine Estates and a host of other vineyards have 'em going through the month) and oyster pairings at Ancient Peaks (that's on April 11) and a falconry demo at Autry Cellars on the 25th of April. (Beautiful birds and beautiful beverages so go together.) Want to find your ideal SLO weekend and wish a Barrels of a good time a happy 25th? The Cabernet-and-more calendar is this way, Central Coast sippers.

Photo Credit: SLO Wine Country]]>
<![CDATA[Santa Barbara's Lotusland]]> Thu, 26 Feb 2015 13:25:17 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/LotuslandMother.jpg

SUMMONING SPRINGTIME: The longing for the bloom-iest time of year typically begins around Valentine's Day, when roses and dahlias and lilies fill the floral sections of stores and our own shrubs and trees look as though they're considering undertaking the whole budding-early thing (especially when February temperatures have been warm). Poets would say that hearts are quickening or thumping or longing around this time, but those less poetical among us would simply say we like when it is lighter later and the natural world is going to town with bloomy beauty. One of the bellwethers of springtime, at least on the West Coast, is the re-opening of places that have been closed for the winter. Ganna Walska Lotusland, "a public garden in a private, residential neighborhood," is one such tree-filled spot. It takes a break in the wintertime from regular tours, shuttering from the middle of November to the middle of February. Which means the stroll-and-sniff-and-be-under-the-sky time is nigh for the Santa Barbara-based historic plot, which fills the former estate of early 20th-century singer Ganna Walska, to re-debut for the season. And so it did on Wednesday, Feb. 18.

TOURS, TALKS, MORE: While the fresh-air walk-arounds in the 37-acre garden are popular, there are talks on birds and plants and more throughout the warm-weather season. As to the foliage and flora strollers admire? There are thousands of different leafy, bud-pretty things at Lotusland, with an aloe garden, a cycad garden, a bevy of bromeliads, and a blue garden adding vibrant visuals (let us also swoon a bit over the topiary, the water garden, and the succulents). Tour reservations? You can make those. Special events? There's a calendar for that. Having that longing for springtime and blossoms and birds and soft sunshine finally fulfilled with a grand garden's re-opening? Oh so nice. When nature-filled outdoor places start to open the proverbial doors, that's almost a good a sign that spring is due as a new nest in the oak tree outside or camellias popping as they so nicely do come this time of year.

Photo Credit: Ganna Walska Lotusland]]>
<![CDATA[Capital Crafts: Sacramento Beer Week]]> Wed, 25 Feb 2015 21:08:24 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/tlmd_032114_beer_gi.jpg

HOW TO TACKLE THAT FOAMY FLIGHT: Every beer buff under the hops-ripening sun has lofty, been-there advice on how to best approach a four- or eight-glass flight of tony brews. There's the time-honored tradition of going with the lighter flavors, wheatier hues first, rather than tackling the beers that are so heavy you'd think they're part cake batter. But some brew mavens would simply say "have it" -- if there's a certain hue of beer you favor, well, start with that one, and then work your way along the row towards those brews that are more of a mystery. Sacramento Beer Week, which is actually a bit more than a week, which makes sense given Sacramento's rise and rise as a beer-making town of towns, is very much about the good stuff, but letting people be relaxed as they approach it. No one is going to scold you for wanting to take a sip of a heavier IPA first in that flight, if that's your wish; the scholars and beerheads and foam fans who organize and oversee the week are very much about Good Times First.

AND, OH, THEY'RE PLENTIFUL: As mentioned, Beer Week is really about a week-and-a-halfer, so plan on all of the hopsy happenings going down from Thursday, Feb. 26 through Sunday, March 8. There's a full on IPA takeover at 36 Handles to kick the week off on Thursday, Feb. 26, with IPAs filling out "all 36 taps." The Sacramento Brewers' Showcase also starts things out on the 26th, at the California Auto Museum, but the beer-oriented learning and tasting head straight through the first week of March, wrapping with Capitol Beer Fest. A Beer as Food event at the Oak Park Brewing Company intrigues, as do the Craft Beer and Bacon Pairings at Auburn Alehouse.

DO YOU KNOW YOUR NORCAL BREWERS? A whole bouquet of them will pop up during the week-plus, and the Capitol Beer Fest'll be the place to catch up with what they've got on the horizon. Bike Dog Brewing Company of Sacramento, FoxCraft Hard Cider Co. of Mendocino, and Heretic Brewing Company of Fairfield will all be in the house.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Quirky Free: San Diego Spring Busker Fest]]> Wed, 25 Feb 2015 15:44:23 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sdbuskermusic2345.jpg

BE CLEVER, BE QUICK: A person can find connection with most every occupation and passion, even if that pursuit has never actually been something they've pursued or made a part of their day-to-day. Take buskering, that outlandish and lively artistic calling. It's street art, if you're trying to place where you've encountered buskering before, so if you're picturing mimes or a unicyclist or harlequins on stilts or someone juggling vases, you're in the right quirky corner. Even if you've never buskered, or performed anything ever, you have something in common with these talented bards of the boulevard, if you've ever had to put together a project or a plan and catch eyes quickly. We've all been there, in our working lives, at one time or another, which brings us closer, in spirit to the hard, hard work a busker does: They have to catch the attention of passerby, fast.

THOSE AMAZING BUSKERS... must then delight those pedestrians, and keep them laughing/wowing/scratching their heads, because pedestrians can stroll off at any moment. So we pause to applaud the buskers of the world, and the challenge they face beyond the challenges of their act: gaining notice quickly. If you're intrigued, and buskering is about the most intriguing of lickety-split, stop-and-watch art forms, be in San Diego's Seaport Village on Saturday, March 7 and Sunday, March 8, where a whole bevy of buskers will be out in fantastical force at Spring Busker Fest.

IT'S FREE TO SEE... and boasts a wide range of acts. Past performers have included "Balloon Man" Skip Banks -- picture a guy climbing inside a giant balloon -- and unicycling juggler Bekah Smith. Who will juggle/unicycle/drum/balance/tumble their way into your street-art-loving heart in 2015? Best clear an afternoon for standing and smiling at some of the most difficult of creative callings. If we consider how hard we've worked in our own lives to catch an eye, ponder the performer who must do so, while juggling, atop a stack of teetering boxes. Let's doff our clown-cute top hats, a sartorial staple of buskering, to the buskers of the world.

Photo Credit: San Diego Spring Busker Fest]]>
<![CDATA[Beer Camp: Go to Suds School at Sierra Nevada]]> Fri, 06 Mar 2015 10:53:25 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sierranevadahops293213.jpg

HOP TO IT: If you've ever strolled through Sierra Nevada Brewery in Chico on a tour, and you're something of a home brewer, you've likely gazed about with envious eyes. The employees are so knowledgeable about the 36-year-old brewery's history, character, and many iconic releases, the facility is so spacious and state-of-the-art, and the room where tour attendees get to stop and rub the hops in their hands, the better to enjoy the aroma... it's a slice of nose-pungent heaven, if you're into strong hoppy scents. Even if you can't get a dream job at the famous brewhouse, you can try for three dreamy days of learning all about libations of the beery sort. It's called Beer Camp, and Sierra Nevada hosts those selected entrants who make a winning video about why they should attend. Can you, dear craft brew lover, create an impassioned and clever plea as to why you need to spend June 17 through 19 in Chico, getting all of the know-how you need to rise, foam-like, in the world of beer-based artistry.

VIDEOS TO PERUSE: There are already some videos up on the site, so you can check out the vibe of what your co-entrants are doing, while you plot your own individual video. "We are looking for creativity!" says the Sierra Nevada site, so go the distance, imaginative people. The deadline for your video is the last day of March 2015, and there are some things to do and things to avoid. Check it all out, sudsy cineastes.

IF YOU WIN... there's a tour of the brewery (be sure to eye all of those rooftop solar panels helping the beer inside rise to its best) and there are visits with the "mad beer scientists" behind the Quality Assurance and Packaging Labs. Fun fun, but the fun continues when you "learn the science behind beer storage and chemistry." Will you win? Can you go the zingy distance, and get picked, meaning you'll get the opportunity to discover how to make your ales and IPAs the very best they can be? Time to make that video, over-21-ers, and maybe, foamy fingers crossed, spend a few days deep within the not-so-secret, totally-wicked-awesome backrooms of Sierra Nevada Brewery. 

Photo Credit: Sierra Nevada Brewery]]>
<![CDATA[Camp Indoors: South Lake Tahoe's Basecamp Hotel]]> Sat, 07 Mar 2015 11:39:09 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/greatindoorstahoe12.jpeg

TREES, TENT, BUT NO RAIN: Acting as though the world is divided into two types of people -- people who want to rough it under a canopy of rain-drippy treetops and people who will only order from room service if the meal is served alongside a linen napkin -- is to do a disservice to all travelers. We all possess some facets to our personality that respond to both kinds of getaways, be they indoor or outdoor. Do we adore the idea of adventure, of a tent, of trees, and sky? Many do. Would it be nice to have a bathroom right there, and maybe a comforter that isn't too damp, and soft carpeting rather than hard ground? That's pretty to find, too, when on vacation. But it can be a challenge to find a winning, and charming, combination of the two.

LOOK TO RUSTIC-QUIRKY DESTINATIONS... like South Lake Tahoe's Basecamp Hotel, an inside-meets-outside medley of lanterns and bear prints and, yes, a tent inside a room. Everything at Basecamp, which five minutes, on foot, to the lake and even less than that to the Heavenly Gondola, is under roof, but not under the rules of traditional hotel decor. Call it a campout, but without the piece of lumpy bark under your back all night long. The hotel's founder Christian Strobel wanted to bring the "spirit of exploration" to his property, which mirrors "the ideals of a base camp." It has been delivering that communal-nice feeling, but with the privacy of individual hotel rooms, since the summer of 2012.

LOOK, WE'RE NOT BAGGING ON THE BARK -- that's part of camping fun, feeling the earth under you as you snooze -- but staying in The Great Indoors, one of the hotel's theme-sweet suites, will give you that tent-specific taste, but with a bed. The tent is indeed over the bed, and across from it? A wall of trees, plus benches, plus a faux campfire. Stars that glow lend some night-sky cuteness to the accommodations, and camping chairs are for your chillaxing pleasure. There's wifi and a walk-in shower, to remind you you're actually in a hotel room and not near some remote stream. If you don't require a bed-inside-tent sitch, ponder booking an Explorers Club room, or the Mountain View Suite. Every room has a touch of the wilder world, but brought inside, stylishly. Thank goodness there's a middle place for lovers of outdoorsy adventure who have to have nice bedding and a walk-in shower, too.

Photo Credit: Basecamp Hotel]]>
<![CDATA[Rain Forest Weekends at Roaring Camp Railroads]]> Mon, 23 Feb 2015 19:08:32 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/181*120/rainforestweekends.jpg

SO MANY PLACES TO LOOK: If you asked a lover of vintage trains and a lover of forests and a lover of weekend outings and a lover of people-watching what most grasps their attention when everything great seems to be happening at once, you're apt to get an answer that goes along the lines of "all of it." You've been there, in a pleasant place, where much is going down: You're trying to soak it in, and memorize every last detail, which means that your eyes and ears are darting all over the dang place (if ears could be said to actually dart). But picking out one major element of an outing, for your full focus, is often the better route.

THE EXTRA CONCENTRATION... pays rewards later on, when you rhapsodize about what you admired via that singular focus. And deserving of our singular focus, as often as we can give it, are our coastal redwoods, those bark-laden behemoths that dot our state's water-close regions. The Roaring Camp Railroads wends by a number of redwoods along its Santa Cruz Mountains route, redwoods that can always be seen regardless of the theme of the trip (Halloween, the holidays, heritage happenings). But what if the sentinels that stand near the tracks, or not too far, at least, were given their own from-the-train spotlight of sorts? Then you'd have a...

RAIN FOREST WEEKEND... which is going on through March at Roaring Camp. The trains'll consider those giants and how "the forest flourishes in moderate temperatures and a year-round water supply provided by the Pacific systems and dense fog." Fascinating facts for all forest fans, and if you love trains as dearly as the woods they roam? This could be your double-the-delight ride. The Rain Forest Rides are happening every Saturday and Sunday through the end of March. Here's a question we'd ask from the rails: How much smaller were the trees when Roaring Camp was founded back in the mid-1800s? Probably not too much smaller, given a redwood's rather epic timeline. There are many trains in the world, but only a fortunate few visit some of the tallest living things on the planet.

Photo Credit: Roaring Camp Railroads]]>
<![CDATA[All-Zinfandel Paso Robles Weekend]]> Tue, 10 Mar 2015 15:54:53 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/bottleshutterstock123456789.jpg

THE SPICIEST OF SIPS: While there are some truly palate-tickling wines out there, the zingiest of the zingy, no one wine can summon a description that includes "spicy" as often as zinfandel. Maybe it is because it has very strong ties to the Golden State, a pretty zingy, spicy, palate-strong region, or maybe it is because a sipper can expect more of a laid-back blush experience which isn't always what a zin delivers. Cabernets can be strong and chardonnays lighter but zinfandel isn't filling the gap between: It occupies its own powerful space, full of personality -- or wineality -- and presence. The flavor-packing grapes get their due at numerous wineries and happenings around their home turf, but few California wine weekends can rival the one that lands in Paso Robles at the start of springtime. It's a full-on zinfandel weekend, complete with a pair of grape-y gatherings under the single header of Zinposium.

SPICY SEMINARS: The Zinposium includes both the 100% Zinfandel Seminar and the Zinfandel Blends Seminar, both of which take place at the Paso Robles Inn. "Each seminar will feature a panel of six different winemakers that will guide you through the heritage grape of Paso Robles Wine Country." Joining the seminars are wine houses such as Tobin James Cellars and Chronic Cellars Winery. The weekend? All of that zingy libation liquid loveliness gets a-flowin' over March 20 through 22. And isn't zinfandel a nice winter-into-spring kind of wine? There's some hearty body there, for colder temps, but enough kapow and brightness to bring warmer days to mind.

PASO'S BEST BOTTLES: For all of the wine-focused to-dos on the Paso Robles Wine Country calendar -- and they do burble up come the spring and summer -- leave a wine charm on this page, so you'll remember to return.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[First Flower Report: Joshua Tree Wildflowers]]> Sat, 21 Feb 2015 10:32:04 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/205*120/ActonsBrittlebushEnceliaactoniRHannawacker.jpg

BUDS AMONG THE BOULDERS: It's not difficult to find delightful sights to capture your attention while inside Joshua Tree National Park. The boulders, for one, which seems to take on different hues and levels of softness and hardness during the day, depending on where the sun happens to be in the sky. (We won't rank them, but, truly, isn't that time that falls about an hour or two before sunset the most marvelous at all, for creamy golden boulder-beautiful hues?) Then there are all of those cholla cactus, and the overlook that allows you to take a peek at the San Andreas Fault, and the big sky, and the clouds, and, and, and... Well, the things to admire within the desert expanse are pretty numerous. But each springtime, if we floral fans are lucky, and if precipitation has been on our side, we get one more thing to admire, for a brief time, if it shows up and if we know where to look: wildflowers. California's most arid regions are not wildflower-less, as anyone who has made the trek to Death Valley or the Anza-Borrego around March knows (especially if they've been out following a rainy winter). It's a sight from a fairytale book, bright yellow petals against the backdrop of a hard-dirt ground, but one that is making its debut for 2015. For...

THE FIRST FLOWER REPORT... of Joshua Tree National Park was posted ahead of Valentine's Day on the park's Facebook page, and it is promising. "The chuparosa (Justicia californica) bushes are starting to show their best" as are "bladderpod bushes" and "desert globe mallow." And if you know Smoke Tree Wash, look for a bud-filled Bush Peppergrass. One charming note from the Feb. 13 report? That ocotillo blooms at Pinto Basin Road are being "guarded by hummingbirds." Certainly a hummingbird knows a good thing when a good thing is found.

FIND YOUR GOOD THING HERE... flower lovers, and keep a watch for weekly reports throughout the springtime.

Photo Credit: NPS/Robb Hannawacker]]>
<![CDATA[Savory Contest Sutter Home's Build a Better Burger]]> Fri, 20 Feb 2015 12:48:31 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/SutterHomeBuildaBetterBurger2015FinalistApresSkiTripleGingerBaconBurger.jpg

FINALISTS REVEALED: Well, we don't even know where to begin with you, if you're the sort of person who attends a barbecue but retreats to the privacy of the kitchen to dress your burger. If you're the sort of eater who favors offbeat ingredients, or unusual combinations of toppings and condiments, then you've likely had a private moment with your plate while all of the ketchup-favorers and cheese-only people are in the backyard, munching away. You've dug through the host's refrigerator for marmalade, and blue cheese, and maybe yogurt, and maybe Sriracha. Maybe you diced up a hard-boiled egg, too, and grabbed a handful of arugula. And when you slipped back outside, to the barbecue, and your pals asked you why your burger was stacked so high, you could only shrug, smile, and nosh away. If this is you, you needn't feel the shame of slipping away to the kitchen for your offbeat burger any longer. You are a star, in the world of the Sutter Home Build a Better Burger Recipe Contest.

THE ANNUAL CONTEST... culminates in a springtime cook-off at the winery's St. Helena headquarters, but home burger builders get to plotting their patty additions months of time (or even years). The 2014 finalists were just announced in mid-February, which gives potential 2015 finalists some inspiration in the whole recipe-making department. Among those chosen to push their burger to savory superstardom in May? Priscilla Yee's Chorizo Beef Burger, with orange piquillo relish and smoky tomato aioli and Jennifer Gentry's Apres Ski Triple Ginger Bacon Burger, with rosemary onion rings and brie. 

THINK YOU HAVE THE STUFF... to show off your stuff, and loaded beauty of a burger, at St. Helena down the road? And walk away with that oh-so-longed-for $25,000 grand prize? Study up on all things savory, Sutter Home-style, and what the finalists did that got them noticed. And then retreat to the corner of the kitchen while the others just go the usual condiment route.

Photo Credit: Sutter Home]]>
<![CDATA[Santa Cruz Quirky: Costume-Up, Run Into Ocean]]> Sun, 22 Feb 2015 16:48:44 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/189*120/polarplungesantacruz134.jpg

EVERYBODY PLUNGE: If we were a beach -- not a big one, and not an especially popular one, mind you, but just any ol' sandy shore along the ocean or a big lake -- we might get a mite jealous if humans did not organize an annual Polar Plunge at our waterfront, each and every year. What's the reason for our envy? Just that so many of our fellow beaches, from Huntington Beach all the way up to Humboldt Bay and over to Lake Tahoe, do the whole "everybody take most everything off and run into the chilly water to raise money for charity!" It's a good plan, a funny one, one that gets a lot of play on social media (meaning more money is raised, fingers crossed), and people bound to a workaday world like getting rather silly come Saturday. Nope, Polar Plunges aren't just for New Year's Day nowadays, though, worldwide, that's the date they're most often attached to, but they show up throughout the wintertime at various spots. The next spot to host one? Santa Cruz, right near the boardwalk, and this go-around is more about gussying-up (rather than showing some skin). Participants are invited to wear a costume as they dash into the not-too-chilly ocean.

OKAY, SATURDAY, FEB. 28... will be plenty cold in the Pacific, though given the fact that spring is on the horizon, the goosebumps should dissipate pretty darn quickly. The funds raised from the day "benefit the more than 19,960 Special Olympics athletes in Northern California & Nevada!" And you don't have to Plunge to raise funds -- even a toe dip is cool, or staying out all together (yep, you're designated a "Chicken," but you'll just have to run with that adorable label and wear some feathers as you stand on the beach). Even if you don't take part, it'll be a pretty memorable sight, full of costumes, if you like the color of the boardwalk and outlandish revelers and the ocean. And we all do.

IS HOT STEAMY LIQUID... more your thing? The boardwalks hosts its annual chowder showdown the Saturday before the Polar Plunge, on Feb. 21. Better chowder-up if you're going to do the sand-to-water dash the following week.

Photo Credit: Kelley L. Cox (KLC Photos)]]>
<![CDATA[Nevada City Charm: The Inn Town Campground]]> Tue, 03 Mar 2015 08:44:39 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/228*120/airstreamInnTownCampgroundKatAlvesPhotography.jpg

NEVADA CITY CHOICES: If you've ever hemmed and hawed and pondered and mulled over a Gold Country getaway -- and hemming and pondering and approaching the topic in a laidback fashion is oh-so-necessary, if you want to match the easy style of living to be found up in the Sierra foothills -- then you've found yourself facing some delightful dilemmas. One? Is this a trip about wine tasting, local history, the eating of good food, or the enjoying of nature? Well, that's the only true question, and there's only one true answer: D. (Doesn't "D" always stand in for "all of the above"?)

THE TOWNS OF THE RAMBLING REGION... are close enough to each other that you can do all four things, and maybe four more beyond those, without too much exertion, within a long weekend. But where to stay? That question is always a hard one, even in a place as compact as that charming Nevada City. You have a clutch of colorful motels, B&Bs, and 1800s-y hotels to choose from, but drive into the countryside and you can soon snooze under the pines, by a river. If only you could have both city and country for the place you stay.

YOU CAN: Nope, they haven't developed an open-ceiling motel yet, where you can stare at treetops, but you can daydream about the coming of Nevada City's Inn Town Campground, a vision of Erin and Dan Thiem of the Outside Inn (you know this place, the one with the quaint vegetable stand out front that implores passersby to take-one-leave-one, and all of those themed rooms). So is the Inn Town Campground, which has an opening date of 2016, actually in town?

PRACTICALLY: The Inn Town Campground's info-packed site, which includes a blog and lots of photos about the construction's progress, says the "future campground is located on an historic 15-acre site, just under two miles from downtown Nevada City." The Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum is just a hop/skip away, but if you stick close to camp you'll find a camp store, laundry, kitchen, and other help-you-out things. But you won't be out deep-deep in the forest -- if you want that fancy-plate-fancy-silverware dinner, you're not far from the great restaurants of Broad Street (and the great eateries near Broad Street, too). Want to follow the campground's coming-together, and start planning an away-from-it-all camping trip that's sorta kinda in a town? And a lively, funky, camper friendly town at that? Dream on here, tent-pitchers.

Photo Credit: Kat Alves Photography]]>
<![CDATA[Drink of the Desert: Date Shake]]> Sat, 28 Feb 2015 07:40:51 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/189*120/hadleysdate12345.JPG

SUNNY SUPPING: What are the go-to eats of desert dining? Some might say various foods served inside other, cooler foods (cooler meaning temperature, of course). Think a scoop of cottage cheese nestled inside a grapefruit half or shrimp salad looking perfectly pink against a backdrop of creamy avocado. Drink-wise, fans of a more arid resort region will cite the Arnold Palmer as a seen-everywhere beverage, though whether it needs more lemonade, or more iced tea, to reach that perfect flavor note, is up to the individual Arnold Palmer fan. Mimosas are popular, and anything iced, too (coffee, lattes, chais), but let us pause and doff our sunhat to that king of desert -- and dessert -- creaminess, an unlikely candidate in the legion of libations that kind of trumps all other comers in the popular drinks category.

IT'S THE DATE SHAKE, a decades-old treat that rose with the Palm Springs-to-the-Salton-Sea popularity of the fruit, and the roadside stands of the early 20th century. To some the notion that a thicker drink, that doesn't have a refreshing component, might have the most local cred seems unlikely, but you can't stop the sweet-plus-fruit train that is a classic, sipped-through-a-straw date shake. Springtime might just be its best time, too, at least where visitors are concerned. The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is about to take early spring by stylish, sound-laden storm, meaning many a highway traveler will toodle by...

HADLEY FRUIT ORCHARDS: The Cabazon, freeway-close stand that trumpets "since 1931" on its sign, a sign that can be seen from waaaay down the 10. The date shake, and date banana shake, can be enjoyed neat or with a sprinkle of cinnamon (the shaker is generally on the counter). And the cost? The largest of the Hadley's treats goes for just under a fiver, plus tax. Other stands throughout the region, like Shields in Indio, also do a mighty fine date shake, so be on the lookout for milkshake opportunities (always good advice). We're guessing that with the springtime desert hugely attended spectacles coming up, a few people might sample one for the first time, ever. Lucky them. Now, which beverage deserves the desert's crown: the date shake or the Arnold Palmer? Discuss as you drive, 10 Freewayers.

Photo Credit: Alysia Gray Painter]]>