<![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 Thu, 07 May 2015 01:44:47 -0700 Thu, 07 May 2015 01:44:47 -0700 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[National Park Photos: "Share the Experience" Winners]]> Wed, 06 May 2015 21:36:45 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/169*120/zarcticnationawildliferefuge_cameronteller.jpg The amateur shutterbug contest brought out some stunning snapshots

Photo Credit: Cameron Teller]]>
<![CDATA[Paso Pedals: Great Western Bicycle Rally]]> Wed, 06 May 2015 13:30:05 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/greatbrpaso.jpg

ALL BIKES ALL THE TIME: It can seem, when May arrives, that our collective thoughts turn not to begonias and barbecues and other pleasures of the outdoors but to one "b"-fronted word in particular: bicycling. Thank warmer days or thank the summertime schedules popping up or thank the special, multi-week events (like Nevada County's nearly two-month-long bike event) or thank the AMGEN Tour of California, which always rolls down the Golden State in the middle of May. Thank all of those things, but then lift your kickstand and get busy bicycling, because the halcyon days of springtime don't last forever and fine afternoons must be seized. Paso Robles shall be seizing fine afternoons, several of them, from May 22 to May 25, when the Great Western Bicycle Rally returns to the Central Coast burg. Tempted by the idea of taking in some of the wine country-sweet vistas in the area, the usually perfect temps, and that laid-back Paso spirit? Then don your helmet and pedal for...

THE PASO ROBLES EVENT CENTER: It isn't just a bike bash but a food bash as well. Of course, hello, this is a town that likes things pretty dang tasty, so a Wine, Cheese & Pasta Feast and a barbecue on the final day and pies from Pacific Pizza are all on the savory end of the schedule. As far as the pedaling part of the rally goes, you can head out to a local goat farm "and learn how cheese is made, pasture to plate!" Yep, there's a creamery tour in the bargain, too, so hooray that. There's a ride to Hearst Castle, and if that isn't lovely enough (it totally is, no argument there), there's a beachy clam bake to round things out. And is there a Garlic Lovers Ride? Hoo boy. If handlebar action and hotness in the mouth are two of your most favorite experiences, you're in some luck. There's a Hot Springs ride, too, in case the muscles need some soaking, which they will.

FOR ALL THE THEME-FUN RIDES... and rally must-knows, turn your front wheel in this direction.

Photo Credit: Great Western Bicycle Rally]]>
<![CDATA[Free for Moms: Mother's Day at Ruth Bancroft Garden]]> Tue, 05 May 2015 13:46:20 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/ruthbancroftmothers12345.jpg

THE PARENTAL HOLIDAYS... are sometimes portrayed in a rather straightforward manner. Pick up your parent, take them to brunch, ask them if they had a fine time, and part ways. But that's not all there is to Mother's Day, nor Father's Day, of course, though the eating-nice-food bit is always welcome. Many children, both of the younger and over-21 variety, want to not only connect with a parent during their spring holiday but spend some true time reminiscing, sharing private jokes, and reflecting upon days to come. Gooey? Maybe. Greeting-card-ish? Perhaps. But time is a gift that can't be returned -- it is always the right size, the right material, the right everything. So building out from the Mother's Day meal to a fuller day together seems the wiser, capitalize-upon-the-clock course, and making the fuller day about something pleasant is the solution. Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek can absolutely be defined as "something pleasant," though describe three-plus acres of well-tended gardens, gardens that put a special spotlight on succulents, is an understatement. But picture yourself, with your mom, on Sunday, May 10, strolling the grounds and talking about long-ago times, and picture your mom getting in for free.

YEP, MOTHERS PAY NO ADMISSION... to the Ruth Bancroft on Mother's Day, and kids under 12 can get in for zero dollars as well. A nice bonus? You can bring in your own brunch -- er, picnic -- to enjoy (lest you're concerned about missing that all-important, oh-so-traditional holiday meal. Did you and mommy eat ham sandwiches together every day when you got home from kindergarten? Maybe pack those, and some other memory-inspiring edibles. You've got six full hours to nosh, stroll, look at plants, and hold your mom's hand. When's the last time you held hands with her? If any day is the day to start, it is Mother's Day, and the place to do it is in a garden that's in marvelous May bloom.

Photo Credit: Ruth Bancroft Garden]]>
<![CDATA[Spring Surprise: Rhododendrons Among the Redwoods]]> Mon, 04 May 2015 21:21:37 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/rhodoredwoodsdonforthuber.jpg

THERE ARE NO SPOILER ALERTS... required for visiting Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, which is located snug in Humboldt County not too too far from the Pacific Ocean ("not too too far"=a few thousand feet, not several miles). You can see that "redwoods" is in its very name, so when you arrive and see some of the stretch-toward-the-sky-iest trees on this planet, well... You can say you knew about it ahead of time. But surprises closer to the ground exist in the redwood groves of the Golden State, and we can sometimes be delightfully taken aback when we come across those unexpected sights. (We thought we'd add "delightfully" there as "taken aback" sometimes arrives with a less than welcome follow-up.). For our tall tree forests are not just home to the tall trees in question but myriad other plants. Yes, you're right, ferns are rather plentiful, and the maples and laurels, too. But come the springtime, if you're around Prairie Creek, you just might spy something pink and frilly and sweet and garden-ready. That's because rhododendron, or rhodos or rhodies, if you prefer, rather like popping up among the majestic redwoods, at least in this specific area.

BEYOND THE GARDEN GATE: If you've always thought of the delicate flowers as being a stalwart of domesticity, a petal symphony that sticks close to garden fences and yards, an April-to-June stroll at Prairie Creek may put a wilder rhodie in mind. "The hillside trails of Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park... have exceptionally thick concentrations of wild Pacific rhododendrons, and are some of the best viewing places." May is a fine time to look for the flowers, and there's even a Rhododendron Trail to stroll while staying on the lookout. Do the pinky petals enhance the surrounding reddish trunks of the park's main superstars? We'll leave that to color-mad artists to determine. But admiring something that we typically see in a tended-to plot near the backdoor out in a rustic and wonderful park is definitely a new way to view an old friend.

Photo Credit: Don Forthuber]]>
<![CDATA[Now Open: The Tioga Road]]> Mon, 04 May 2015 21:25:06 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/monocountytioga12345.jpg

GO WHOA NELLIE DELI: Just about every driver keeps a quick list of easy-to-reach gas stations in mind, depending on where they might be around their town or region and how low in the tank they prefer to get (or not get, of course). This one gas station is close to home, this other gas station has your favorite grape soda, and the station at the edge of town pipes classical music into the pump area. But there are some very special places to gas up in the Golden State, the kind of places that are less quick, spur-of-the-moment pull-over stops and more "let's spend part of a day driving there" destinations. If you're thinking the Whoa Nellie Deli and adjoining Mobil, the restaurant/gas station combo that serves up wine, beer, and lobster taquitos at the eastern end of the Tioga Road, well, we, and other fans, are thinking it, too.

OVER THE SIERRAS TO HIGHWAY 395: What other gas station can you enjoy a nice Chardonnay at while gazing upon one of the most famous lakes in the world, the fabled Mono Lake? The numbers are probably very few. But getting to the Whoa Nellie, at least from the western side of the Sierra Nevada, can be a sticky wicket in the wintertime, or, rather, snowy wicket. Highway 120, the Tioga Road, is shuttered for much of the colder span of the year, meaning those lobster taquitos and Mono Lake views must wait.

BUT WAIT NO LONGER... for the Tioga Pass, which wends alongside the granite monoliths and flowery meadows of Yosemite National Park, opened on the morning of Monday, May 4. People living west of Yosemite don't necessarily need to drive the whole road, to the beloved gas station and deli, but many daytrippers keep those outdoor picnic tables bustling all summer long. Don't delay, though, if you're going to drive the Tioga this year: It shutters again in the fall.

Photo Credit: Mono County Tourism]]>
<![CDATA[Springtime on the Sugar Pine]]> Wed, 06 May 2015 22:07:39 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sugarpineyos.jpg

HISTORY BEFORE YOUR EYES: Any grown-up who is at all honest will admit that the field trips of yore, those school outings where you got to go somewhere and learn local history -- after you had a parent sign your permission slip, of course -- were pretty much The Best Thing Ever, Like, Ever and Ever. You anticipated the bus ride to the farm or gold camp or city hall for weeks, and when the day came... well, you clearly got no shut-eye the night before. What a pity that we, as full-fledged adults, let this former delight lag. There are still field-trip-y fun times to enjoy, and you don't even need a family member to sign a mimeographed permission slip (unless you really want to).

SUGAR PINE TIME: One of the most charming, and one that wears its Old West clothes quite well, is the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad at the south gate of Yosemite National Park. Yep, field-trippers, it is an old-school, oh-so-historic railroad, a line of tracks that once saw loggers at work decades and decades ago. The Sugar Pine still wends four miles through the picturesque Sierra National Forest, giving riders a chance to not only get the As, Bs, and Cs of this slice of California history but to soak in some tree-dapply sunshine as well. And as for the off-train doings? Don't tell your elementary school self all about the gold-panning and such, because younger you might be a mite jealous.

SPECIAL DOINGS... on the Sugar Pine Railroad include the Moonlight Trains, which include gathering around a campfire and singing songs, Moonlight Melodramas, a photo train (for shutterbugs who like to capture steam against trees against sky), and, as mentioned, gold-panning, that activity that would surely make younger you jump up and down with anticipation. You're allowed to jump up and down as an adult, of course. Because field-trippery? It should never be just a part of our past; there's still stuff to learn, sights to see, gold to pan, campfire songs to sing.

Photo Credit: Sugar Pine Railroad]]>
<![CDATA[Safari West: Mother's Day and Mimosas]]> Fri, 01 May 2015 21:51:18 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/safariwestmother1.jpg

FIRST LOVES: The first person who ever put a kitten or puppy gently into our tiny, dimple-elbowed arms was very likely our mother. Likewise, our mom was probably that adventurer who pointed out the butterfly on the daisy to us -- look look look! -- and the turtle in the pond and lifted us higher so we could admire the fish tank at our pediatrician's office. And it happens quite a lot that our mom isn't just pointing out the pelican or the lizard to educate us on the natural world (though that's definitely a large part of her action). She loves animals, is mad for mammals, she could swoon all day over reptiles and felines and snakes and the occasional hamster. If you had a hamster growing up you likely had to clean up its hamster home, per your parents, but surely your mother snuck in to cuddle the little furry ball of joy now and then. If this is your mom -- a true-blue friend to animals, through and through -- then perhaps her special day out, on the second Sunday of May, requires that our four-footed co-earthlings be a part of it. And they can be, at Safari West, which pauses each year to celebrate moms on Mother's Day.

PLUS, MIMOSAS: That's always an important "plus" to add, because the meal on Mother's Day is often mimosa'd. There shall be two seatings for brunch at the Santa Rosa animal preserve, mid-morning and early afternoon, and the price is forty two dollars and fifty cents for the grown-ups (less for the kids). But the delightful focus of the day, beyond the Champagne brunch, is the chance to admire the zebras and giraffes and other denizens of the nearly 400 acres sometimes dubbed "The Sonoma Serengeti." And a charming add? There shall be a face painter, on the ground, but the colorful touch-ups are not just for kids; "(m)others are also welcome to get a small animal painted on their faces or even hands." That's a big awww right there, and a sweet memento for the person who might have very likely started you on your own lifelong road of animal adoration.  

Photo Credit: Safari West]]>
<![CDATA[Carlsbad Package: Follow The Hops Highway]]> Thu, 30 Apr 2015 20:58:57 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/HOPS_HWY_PIC1.jpg

THE SUDS OF ROUTE 78: Wine-tasting routes, and someone to drive you along them, are such a part of Golden State tourism that they can seem as plentiful, and varied, as a shelf holding a hundred different vintages. Some tours involve a van, or bus, some only involve red wines, some focus solely on organic vineyards. But finding that same type of tour that focuses fully on craft breweries is a little trickier. That may be because bespoke-style brew-making is a newer industry, all told, at least in California, than the growing and creation of wine, or because breweries haven't clustered in the way that wineries do. There is crafty clustering going down along Route 78, however, from Oceanside to Julian, and Carlsbad's West Inn & Suites is making it easier for guests to take all of that foamy regional beer-mastery in in one sudsy swoop.

THE HOPS HIGHWAY PACKAGE: The get-better-acquainted-with-area-beers deal goes something like this... You'll check in, enjoy your room, and then meet a brew expert from Sterling Rose. Is that "luxury private vehicle" out in front of the inn your roll for the day? It is indeed. You'll set out along Route 78, stopping at a quartet of breweries to taste, talk about bitterness and depth and tone, and you'll meet some of the people working the big tanks, too. Peeks around the breweries -- touring is part of the deal -- and snacks plus water are part of the package as well. All in all, the day lasts about four hours, and you'll see one of California's Gold-Rush-iest roads (truly, not everything Gold Rush-y happened in the Sierra). 

COST AND DATES? This is a Saturday and Sunday kind of thing, and the price starts at $499 for two people (you can book more into your party, up to eight, if you wish). As for the four brewhouses you'll get to know? Stone Brewing, Ballast Point, The Lost Abbey, and Mother Earth Brew Co., too. Will you be an expert on their beverages by the end? That's up to the knowledge you soak in, but just enjoying the Saturday- or Sunday-style easy sipping is pretty choice, too.

Photo Credit: West Inn and Suites]]>
<![CDATA[Bike Nevada County: 52 Days of Cycle-Sweet Haps]]> Thu, 30 Apr 2015 12:16:26 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/bicycle+new.jpg

BEYOND THE SINGLE AFTERNOON: Biking confabs are often anticipated by cyclists, as a fresh ride or a new trail or a food-added-to-the-fun element puts a new spin on a favorite outing. (Yep, we said "new spin" and we're leaving it right where it is, no apologies.) But finding ongoing get-out-and-pedal happenings that go beyond a single afternoon can be a bit of a challenge. That is, if you're looking for a bunch of bike-related plans to all unfurl in the same general area. But Nevada County has cyclists covered there, and beyond the single afternoon ride, too. On May 1 Bike Nevada County lifts the kickstand and heads into 52 days of different maps and meet-ups and to-dos that all have to do with you being up on the seat with flying feet. It is, in fact, "a grand celebration of pro, amateur, and recreational road cycling and mountain biking in Northern California" with "(o)ver 3,000 competitors" at every level expected to take part in the outings.

THOSE OUTINGS INCLUDE... the Nevada City Dirt Classic Series, Stage 2 of the Amgen Tour of California, The Union's Community Bike Ride, the Folsum Historic Criterium, and the 55th Nevada City Classic, which rolls on the first day of summer. Other rides wend through the May and June calendar, with opportunities to take in the tree-beautiful, slope-y hillside scene on your own (the Donner Lake Loop and Old Highway 40 to Cisco Grove are two beautiful roles among many). Need a map? Find that map here. And do you, if you're interested, need to sign on for more than one of the bike events during the 52-run? Not at all, but if Nevada County is on your list of must-pedal places, May or June will be fine times to try it out and meet other riders out enjoying Bike Nevada County.

WHAT ELSE WILL LATE SPRING BRING... beyond bicycles and blossoms to the county? Find your wildflower action and more over here, outdoorsians.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Maypoles and Mother's Day: A Springtime Russian River Party]]> Wed, 29 Apr 2015 15:17:50 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/maypolerose232122.jpg

THAT QUINTESSENTIAL SEASONAL SYMBOL: We all remember the many symbols of the various seasons from grade school craft time. Cutting out maroon and orange leaves for the fall posters and snowflakes for the windows during the wintertime and big yellow bursting suns, the ultimate sign of summertime, is still fresh in our grown-up brains (as is the enduring love we developed for thick, colorful construction paper and scissors with rounded ends). As for the symbols of springtime? Bees and butterflies and pretty bugs were on the craft-making roster, as were flowers and maypoles and puffy clouds. Rather remarkably, there are still places where all of those can be found and enjoyed, all on one day. Nope, you don't need to drive to the Bee Place to see bees or the Flower Spot to admire petals. You can get all of your spring symbols in at the Russian River Rose Company, on a single day. Or make that two days, if you wish and you're a lifelong maypole maven: Saturday, May 2 and Sunday, May 3.

"PEAK OF BLOOM": That's the delightful description coming out of the Healdsburg nature-nice destination, so if you want to eye roses in full, luxurious petal, now's the time. There shall be a maypole up over the first weekend in May, and you can participate, if you remember how it goes, another special memory from grade school. The ribbons are for weaving, of course, but much of the joy of a maypole is smiling at all of your co-weavers as you pass them in succession. The price? A suggested donation of two bucks. Wandering the nursery and garden and sniffing the 650 types of roses? That's free.

MOTHER'S DAY OPEN GARDEN: If you'd like to return the following Sunday -- that's May 10 -- with your main lady, to celebrate her day, there is an open garden happening. The big buds should still be in glorious bloom and taking them all in sounds like the perfect pursuit for you and mommy. Cost? Again, a suggested donation of two dollars. Happy spring-symbol-ing, maypolers and flower fans.

Photo Credit: Russian River Rose Company]]>
<![CDATA[Early Opening: Cedar Grove Lodge]]> Thu, 30 Apr 2015 20:59:23 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/KCCedarGroveLodgeExterior.jpg

SUMMERTIME AMONG THE GIANTS: It's hard to choose a favorite time of year to visit the sequoias, because every time of year possesses numerous charms. Summer is for shorts and short-sleeves, when long hikes rule and late twilights and the ability to stay out past midnight, star-watching, without having to dash inside in search of a fireplace or heavier jacket. Winter sees fewer visitors up the mountain, and there is that delightful crunch, crunch, crunch that boots against the snow in a silent sequoia grove produce. As for spring and fall? Sweet breezes and crisp winds punctuate the so-called seasonal shoulders of the year. But there are only a few months when you can stay at some of the places around the Big Trees, the warmer months, so in this respect -- the respect of having a wider number of hotel offerings -- summer is king. Cedar Grove Lodge in Kings Canyon is one such spot, and while it typically has a springtime opening, its 2015 debut is truly on the early side: Friday, May 8.

GOOD DEALS: Not only does the early opening invite fans of the 21-room lodge a chance to get near to North Dome, Roaring Falls, and Muir Rock, but there are "special early season rates" to be enjoyed as well. Rates start from $109 per night -- think Sundays into Thursdays -- and move to $135 over the weekends for a standard room. Is the lodge "creekside"? Yes, which is refreshing on a toasty late spring day. Is it open into fall? For sure. Think the middle of October. Can you get to the General Grant, the most famous tree within Kings Canyon? The beloved (and behemoth-big) sequoia is 35 miles from the lodge. Which gives you another clue about where you'll be staying: It is "geographically remote" at Cedar Grove Lodge, so if you've been wanting to go deeper, and beyond the popular sights of Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, and to make it more than a daytrip, this could be your overnight. For the other nearby wonders, and the lodge's come-early-and-save special, point your walking staff this way, nature hiker.

Photo Credit: Cedar Grove Lodge]]>
<![CDATA[Laguna Beach Passport to the Arts]]> Tue, 28 Apr 2015 07:15:17 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sawdustpathway13453.jpg

SUMMERTIME IN ART CENTRAL: Laguna Beach, come the days of warmer weather, can be many things. It is bustling, for sure. It hums with action of both a tourist and local sort. It is the social center of the art festival scene along this stretch of the coast. It is rife with things to look at, of the painting and sculpture and textile and jewelry variety. And it is beautiful, which anyone who has ever set toe one in the town assuredly knows. But let us also add to all of this that the historic culture-smart burg can overwhelm with choices in the whole "what to take in and enjoy" department. Which translates to this: You need some support from people who understand. Meet...

THE PASSPORT TO THE ARTS: The quickity, what-is-this, tell-me-now upshot about the passport, which has been connecting people with culture for seven years, is this: It's a "triple-value, unique season pass" that "provides unlimited entry to the three premier art festivals in Laguna Beach throughout the summer festival season, which runs June 26 through August 31, 2015." Ah, you guessed it -- the trio of festivals that make up that top tier are indeed the Festival of the Arts, Art-A-Fair, and the Sawdust Art Festival. The cost? Twenty three bucks, which, seriously. Should we retype that, but in italics this time? Seriously. If you're planning on visiting all three of these festivals even once, you're saving. Multiple times and you're sitting pretty, summer-style.

BUT WAIT... there are more savings, including play discounts, whale watching discounts, free museum visits, savings on purchases at various galleries, yep. We were right to italicize that "seriously" earlier, though do note: The Pageant of the Masters is not part of the passport's roster, so make your separate plans for that ticket. All in all it is very good stuff, especially if your summer visitors love Laguna Beach and want you to drive them there. Have more than one or two groups of out-of-towners and your schedule is set (and money-saving, thanks to the Passport). For the whole caboodle of save-money-heres, and pre-festival anticipation, saunter on over to the Passport HQ (like you might saunter down to the beach along Forest Avenue). (Really, Forest Avenue is one of the prettiest of street names, though it is rivaled by its neighbors Ocean and Mermaid and Mystic Walk and Cliff.)

Photo Credit: Sawdust Art Festival/Bob Torrez]]>
<![CDATA[Ventura Old-School: Roadshow Revival]]> Mon, 27 Apr 2015 21:06:39 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/197*120/venturaroadshow1212.jpg

FEEL THE RHYTHM: While Mother's Day traditionally summons a host of celebratory events, as do the spring holidays, the very last of the seasonal to-dos, the one that falls just days ahead of the official first day of summer, doesn't always have a roster of traditional fun go-outs associated with it. We speak of Father's Day, of course, which falls on the final Sunday of spring (we know, we know, it is deep within June, but you get us: Summer, and how summer is traditionally observed, are two distinct viewpoints). So what do you do with Dad? You might go golfing or to lunch or maybe to surf. Or, if you're an aficionado of alt-country, old-school twang, souped-up autos from another era, and the music of Mr. Johnny Cash, you make for Ventura and the Roadshow Revival.

THE DAYLONG CONCERT... and car show has become a bit of a Father's Day thing, for music-loving parents and their grown-up kids, as the Ventura County Fairgrounds show typically fell on the Saturday before Father's Day. Well, there's a bit news in that respect, and fans'll likely think it is pretty darn good: The Roadshow Revival is moving to the last weekend in June and expanding to two full days.

ON THIS YEAR'S ROSTER? The Reverend Horton Heat've been making a retro-tastic splash at the 2015 Coachella Festival, and they'll be tuned up and ready to headline the Saturday, June 27 and Sunday, June 28 Johnny Cash bash. The Blasters, Billy Joe Shaver, Slim Jim Phantom, John Doe, and a bevy of tribute artists shall also summon the power of Cashian sound. And this is truly a full-on love-in for the Man in Black: The party's subtitle is "A Tribute to the Music of Johnny Cash." Want to get those tickets lined up, maybe for you, or you and your pops, if this is his bag? They're available now.

Photo Credit: Roadshow Revival]]>
<![CDATA[Blossoms, Bees & Barnyard Babies: Sonoma County Sweet]]> Mon, 27 Apr 2015 11:50:54 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/5WiseAcreFarmHens.jpg

THE WONDERS OF NATURE: If you ever need to decompress or take that workaday worked-up feeling down a few notches, you know that watching videos of baby lambs in mid-romp or looking at photos of dandelions swaying in the breeze or catching a clip of a bee calling upon the heart of a bright flower can instantly take you to a calmer place. Even better, though, than photos and clips is standing in that field with the flowers or the lambs or the dandelions on a perfectly puffy-clouded May day. The Farm Trails of Sonoma County want to make that bee-observing, lamb-loving daydream a happy reality, and a reality filled with interesting knowledge about how bees are kept and hens are tended to and plants are watered and horses are cared for and how everything that calls a farm or ranch home thrives. So, for sure, Blossoms, Bees & Barnyard Babies has a fascinating educational component but, there's no doubt about it, when "Barnyard Babies" is in the name you'll want to do some serious cooing and awwwing and look-at-that-ing. And you will, if you make for the farm-dotted paths of the county on...

SATURDAY, MAY 2 and SUNDAY, MAY 3: The big two-dayer covers a lot of territory with a lot of different themes. If you adore cows or bees or the making of cheeses or the cultivation of honey or flower arranging or piglets -- piglets! -- or just about any artisanal or traditional farm-related pursuit, get on the Farm Trails. We almost suggested that mavens of the homespun arts would love this, before thinking about the word "homespun" and if it now feels too nostalgic. But it is nostalgic and modern, both; the making of jam and the raising of chickens thrives on, and is not a vintage scene from a beautiful postcard. To get out and know it is to understand how animals are raised and food is made on a daily basis. These pursuits are not far away from us, any of us, regardless of where we dwell, and learning more from the farmers and vintners you meet is always a positive. As for which places will participate? Oh goodness, there's a bunch: Gabriel Farm, Beekind, Kick Ranch, and Old Seeder Farm are all on the map. Need to plot out your day in the country? Start here. Need to squeal over chicks and piglets? You will not be alone in that, trust. Squeal away, fans of springtime babies.

Photo Credit: Wise Acre Farms]]>
<![CDATA[Salmon Stravaganza at Old Fisherman's Wharf]]> Sun, 26 Apr 2015 08:11:38 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/OldFishermansGrottoSalmon.jpg

WHEN YOU PONDER MONTEREY... you're apt to think of sardines and Cannery Row and of the aquarium and otters and jazz and John Steinbeck. Titans all, in their musical, artistic, science-minded, nature-beautiful ways, and absolutely emblematic of the Bay-snug burg. But salmon has a stake in the city's history, too, with dozens of salmon fishing boats dotting the bay in the early years of the 20th century. To honor Monterey's ties with the fish, and to spotlight the opening of salmon-fishing season -- April 4 for recreational lines and May 1 for those fishing commercially -- a number of restaurants are hosting a Salmon Stravaganza throughout the coming weeks.

ANYTHING WITH "STRAVAGANZA"... in its name sounds mighty hefty indeed, and this culinary happening shall be. Look for spotlights on salmon offerings around Old Fisherman's Wharf, from a fresh Pacific salmon at Crab Louie's Bistro (that's pesto shrimp sauce as the topper) to almond wood-grilled salmon served with basil cream sauce. As for your lunch or dinner conversation with your salmon-craving companions? Pondering the wharf's beginnings and the early stories of fishing and boats and the establishment of a full-on, out-to-the-ocean, catching-today's-haul industry is an interesting thing to do when one is in a storied place. "Old Fisherman's Wharf," after all, isn't just a catchy name meant to draw tourists: It has roots. Find out what those are, and some of the characters who made Monterey a fishing draw way back when, on a Wharf Walk. The walks cover many aspects of the town's history, but the theme on May 2 is tied to the Salmon Stravaganza: How salmon fishing was established and grew in the town.

Photo Credit: Old Fisherman's Grotto]]>
<![CDATA[Pedal Power: Nobody Walks in LA Package]]> Sat, 25 Apr 2015 07:51:55 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/farmersdaughter23212.jpg

FAIRFAX BY FOOT: The hoary notion that Los Angeles is a megalopolis obsessed with cars is... well, not really all that hoary nor dated nor wrong, really. You can't deny that it is a city crisscrossed by muscular, multi-lane freeways, nor that more than one regional museum is devoted to car culture. But LA is also a collection of neighborhoods, like all huge cities, and those snug clutches of restaurants and pubs and galleries are easily taken by foot. The Farmer's Daughter Hotel, which is smack dab in one of the city's thrivingest, liveliest neighborhoods, wants people to know that pedaling -- or pounding the pavement -- is an absolutely fine way to see Fairfax Avenue, The Grove shopping center, the historic Original Farmers Market, and The Miracle Mile, which is home to a few of the city's top museums. All of those sights can be reached from the colorful, farm-themed hotel by foot, though the group of bicycles out front all suggest that a couple of wheels and some leg power'll take you to where you need to be, too. The Nobody Walks in LA package is all about walking, and cycling, around this middle-of-LA neighborhood, an area that is best seen, and appreciated, from a close-up view on the sidewalk and not from the driver's seat. Bonus? There are swanky sneakers involved.

SEAVEES STANDARD COLLECTION... sneakers, in fact. It's an offbeat add-on for a hotel package, but a perfect one that matches both the hip-happy vibe of the Farmer's Daughter (check out the bright yellow rubber duckies in the pool) to the attraction-filled neighborhood. Book the Nobody Walks package and receive a pair of sneakers for your stay (and to take, too). Each guest booked gets a pair, in fact, and you'll also receive complimentary use of the retro bikes out front of the gingham-painted hotel and a Metro card, too (several bus lines go up and down Fairfax Avenue, which runs outside). And, yes, we did say "gingham-painted hotel." Haven't you ever stayed in one of those before? For all the info on the sneaker-swanky Nobody Walks in LA deal, and other stayover sweet spots, strut this way, city-loving pedestrians.

Photo Credit: Farmer's Daughter]]>
<![CDATA[Lucero Olive Mill: Spring Bloom Gathering]]> Fri, 24 Apr 2015 14:50:40 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/springbloomlucero.jpg

DESCRIBE IT, IF YOU CAN: When something is simple and straightforward, we're compelled to describe it in a simple and straightforward manner, if possible. But sometimes just using one word, or two, doesn't quite cut the mustard. Or the olive, in this particular case. How would you describe the shiny small palm-sized orbs to someone who'd never popped one in their own mouth? You might start with "juicy," which would be correct, or "pitty," which is right, or "oily," which we can go with, or "chewy," which is absolutely on the money, as are "meaty" and "zingy" and "aromatic." For something so eensy, the olive can be difficult to pin down in a word. Put it down to its long history as a savory dish staple, perhaps; it has had a few years to flourish in our imaginations, growing ever more complex in our minds and lexicons. So a straightforward tour, one that reveals how olives grow and how they're harvested, can do much to de-mystify this complicated little icon, a fruit many need to have on a nearly daily basis (hello salads, hello tapenades, hello pastas or olives eaten straight from the jar). The Lucero Olive Oil Mill celebrates its iconic orb with a Spring Blossom Event, which is filled with tours, tastings, and other flavor-rich happenings for the olive aficionado.

OH, WE FORGOT "RICH," TOO: Because aren't olives such the rich food? They deliver a lot of punch for as notably wee as they are. You can sample one of fifteen olive oils made by Lucero -- and twelve balsamic vinegars, too -- or hop on a tour of an olive grove. Yep, this is the same Lucero with the tasting room in Downtown Napa, so if you're dreaming of lemon olive oil or rosemary olive oil or olive oil taken neat, you'll try it. That this is all going down in Corning, a town north of Sacramento and south of Redding, puts you at the source of olive goodness (Corning, as you likely have heard, dear foodies, is something of an olive nexus). As for the date for all of the chewy/meaty/zingy doings? Which also include chefly demos, kid to-dos, beer sipping, artisanal vendor items, and more food-focused goodness? Saturday, May 2. As for tickets? Find them here, oliveans.

Photo Credit: Lucero Mill]]>
<![CDATA[Magic Kingdom Sweepstakes: Disneyland Diamond Days]]> Thu, 23 Apr 2015 16:48:35 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/mickeyminniediamonddays1.jpg

HAPPY 60TH DISNEYLAND: So many legends exist about Disneyland's opening day back in July of 1955 that it can be hard to divide the true things from the delightfully outlandish rumors. For sure, it was very hot, as the second half of July tends to be, and some attractions weren't nearly finished. And did far more people show than expected? You betcha.

But there is a true thing to know and it is this: The world's most famous theme park has come a long way over six decades, setting the tone for other parks to come -- parks under the Disney umbrella and not -- and establishing oodles of classic attractions from the big mountains (hello Matterhorn, Space Mountain) to teacups you sit inside and spin around. So bet that the Magic Kingdom has a whole bunch of stuff planned for its 60th, which actually kicks off, with one extremely grand, party-riffic day, on May 22 (lest you're thinking July is the big party -- nope, it starts a couple of months before the actual opening-date anniversary). Announced ahead of the May 22 celebration, however? Oh, just your over-the-top, Cinderella-shoe-sparkly sweepstakes, is all.

DISNEYLAND DIAMOND DAYS... are on, and there are braggable prizes aplenty, including, yes, a glass slipper that hearkens to a certain midnight-running lass. There's "a private excursion and dinner at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure," too, up for grabs, and Disney Diamonds of various carats. Cars Land'll host a tailgater for one winner, too. But there's more, for Mark Twain Riverboat mavens, and stays in Disneyland Dream Suites.

AS WITH ALL SWEEPSTAKES... there are rules and know-thises and such, so know what you need to know before jumping into the anniversary sweepstaking. There are daily prizes, too, given to people at the parks, in addition to the prizes for which you do not need to be present. Good? You're singing, with happy sweepstakes joy, like Cinderella does when she sings to the birds and the mice? Then get started here, Mouseketeers.

Photo Credit: Paul Hiffmeyer]]>
<![CDATA[Crispy by the Coast: Monterey BaconFest]]> Sun, 03 May 2015 10:14:18 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/194*120/D8706BB13DC732386D599DDE5F25637D.jpg

PUT A STRIP ON THAT SANDWICH: Of all the cities in the nation that cameo on menus, Monterey is seen quite often, if not the most. True, true, there is dear Denver, and the Denver omelet, and Boston Cream Pie, but if you want to describe a foodstuff as being a bit Californian, a bit fresh, a bit spicy, and likely laden with ranch dressing (another California classic), you'll likely call it "Monterey," if you're in charge of naming dishes. There are a number of Monterey-monikered sandwiches in this world, in short, and many of them, over time, have acquired bacon, in the way that things over time generally do acquire bacon, eventually. Because? Bacon. If ever a salty rich edible could stand on its own, as a one-word answer, complete with a period to shut doubters down, it is the breakfast side that went big. So big that it now stars in its own summertime festival in, you guessed it, Monterey. The pairing feels right, given how often the savory strips show up on Jack-cheese-y, ranch-rich sandwiches, but the foods available at the Saturday, June 27 and Sunday, June 28 gathering will run the gamut. Did we mention the Bacon Margaritas yet?

THERE SHALL BE BACON MARGARITAS... there, oversight corrected -- and Bacon Bloody Marys, too, a combo that is seen more and more at brunches and bars across this great land. There's a competition, too, called Best in Bacon, live tunes, and more festival-type doings. By the by, if you're looking for a Bacon Margarita, best make for the BaconBar, which will be on the grounds. Oh, and those grounds? You'll want to make for the Monterey County Fair and Event Center, which, coincidentally, will have just hosted the Castroville Artichoke Festival a few weeks before. Aren't artichokes fairly common in foods named after Monterey as well? Well, any city that gets a flavor combination or dessert or sandwich or omelet named in its honor is fortunate, indeed. For many reasons, but consider how often we think of Denver when we order eggs at breakfast or Boston when we ask for baked beans or cream pie. Regional foodstuffs have moxie. Happy bacon-ing to one of our favorite places with loads of moxie to spare.

Photo Credit: Monterey BaconFest]]>
<![CDATA[Beachy Keen: Wine, Waves, and Beyond]]> Wed, 22 Apr 2015 21:47:38 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/winewavesbeyondvws.jpg

SURFBOARDS AND WINE STEMS: If you were asked to describe a place for a friend, perhaps a place they're soon to visit, you'd probably start with the sort of distinctive icons that have become mythical over time, the images that end up on postcards, brochure covers, and the occasional t-shirt. Maybe you'd describe the skyscrapers of New York City or the cherry blossoms of Washington D.C. or that Arizona classic, the saguaro cactus. But where would you start with California? Oranges, maybe. Sunshine, for sure. Classic cars, because the Golden State and car culture are a longtime duo. And, absolutely, our beaches, yes, and our wine, because we've rather gained a solid reputation in that area over the decades.

SAN LUIS OBISPO COUNTY CONFAB: It's a lovely thing, then, that the annual springtime Central Coast soiree Wine, Waves, and Beyond embraces so many of our brochure-worthy icons so handily. The wine? That's there, in the Rabobank's Barrel to Barrel Tasting Event, a sip-and-sup happening that's on an ocean-fronting lawn (a lawn where you'll enjoy the flavors and libations of "over 50 visiting wineries, breweries, and restaurants"). There's also a celebratory Winemakers Dinner at the Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort. The waves are there, too, in the surf-centered happenings, and a surf film, too, which is always part of the party (the 2015 flick is the wave-riding documentary "Attractive Distractions.") And as for the cars?

VINTAGE VWS: The 805 Classic Beach Party rounds out the multi-day doings with a full-on VW display in Pismo Beach. Will there be an old-school cruise? That's pretty California-iconic, so yes. Will there be lookie-loo-ing and chatting up VW Bug buffs while you're standing just feet from the beach? That's really the best way to admire a decades-old VW. For all of the wine and the waves and what's beyond, turn your VW Bus -- or your surfboard, if you prefer -- for San Luis Obispo County's chillest spring gathering.

Photo Credit: Wine, Waves, and Beyond]]>
<![CDATA[Central Coast Celebration: PASO ARTSFEST]]> Wed, 22 Apr 2015 11:06:56 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/pasoartsfest12345.jpg

COUNTING THE DAYS... ahead of the annual Olive Festival, the one that makes the middle of August extra juicy 'round Paso Robles, is not only a-ok but perfectly understandable. After all, fans of festivals held under the sky, with a strong summer-fun social component -- oh, and good eating, too -- like to anticipate when the party celebrating their favorite food will roll around again. (And surely olives are up there on the favorite food charts for many people. Surely? Surely.) But the wine-nice, vista-nice, weather-warm, food-lovely Central Coast burg gets the whole summer conviviality revved up well ahead of the middle of August; in fact, it revs up ahead of summer, at least technically. We know, we know: Memorial Day Weekend, while not actually part of summer, is the traditional beginning to the summer season, as observed, and Paso is right in there, at the starting gate, with PASO ARTSFEST.

CASTLES TO CUISINE: While the heart of the party is a festival in the downtown park, revelers will also hit the road for a few festivities, notably a sunset reception and tour at Hearst Castle. Back in Paso there's an Artmaker Dinner, too, which goes on the idea of a Winemaker Dinner, but rather than hobnobbing with vintners you'll be meeting the creatives who paint and sculpt. And a hands-on section of the Saturday festival is a draw for the grown-ups to make art. Called CREATEspace, adults will try their hand and fashion visual artworks. If you've ever seen the kids' area for this, at various art gatherings, you've likely been a little jealous that such an area for grown-ups does not exist. But it does, in Paso Robles. Dates? The whole shebang goes down from May 22 through 24, so best choose what you'll want to do before going Central Coast. 

Photo Credit: PASO ARTSFEST]]>
<![CDATA[Green Globes of Goodness: Castroville Artichoke Festival]]> Mon, 27 Apr 2015 21:05:56 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/artichokedipartichokefest.jpg

PICKING PRODUCE FIGHTS: Why in the world would we, or anyone, pit one vegetable or plant or fruit against another piece of produce? We absolutely would not, because everything on the misty, refrigerated-shelf side of the market has something luscious and healthy and tangy and flavorful to offer, even if you can't compare a plum and a pepper (though a plum jam made with spicy pepper bits sounds mighty yummy and perfect for zinging up an entree). There are a few superstars of the produce shelves, however. Call them divas or stand-outs or notables or headliners, but you know them when you see them. We'll put the banana in this group, that most portable, in-its-own-suitcase potassium-deliverer, and we'll add garlic, too, which hides a family of cloves within one smooth head.

HELLO, ARTICHOKES: And then there is that great globe of greenness, one of the roundest of edibles, the crown of a thistle, the artichoke. True, true, this superstar demands a little work -- there's no popping the entire thing in your mouth, even the small ones, because, uh, sharp-pointy-leafy bits -- but it delivers a bundle in teeth-scraping meaty texture. (Disclaimer: Of course there is no meat in artichokes, but one can't write about them without using the term "meaty" -- it's practically law.) Castroville, the center of the Milky Way, and probably beyond, for all things artichokean, pauses to celebrate its star thistle each spring with a weekend-long bash full of country tunes, shopping, wine tasting, kidly diversions, and yes, so much artichoke-y eating.

MAY 30 AND 31... are the Saturday and Sunday of the 2015 party, and there shall be so many culinary creations based on artichokes: cupcakes, raviolis, burritos, and ice cream are just four of the things you might try. Wait, did we accidentally type "might" right there? Forget it: You're not leaving Castroville without having bitten into an artichoke cupcake. By the by, "nearly two-thirds" of America's artichokes hail from the area, so consider yourself at the source. One more by the by: The festival has growngrowngrown. It's the 56th annual, and it is big, so it now happens at the Monterey County Fair & Event Center. Yep, when you're the star of the produce shelves, and your hometown party has been around for over a half century, you gotta go fairgrounds to hold all of your fans. Fans who probably like to dip their leaves, but may not. Did we mention the versatility of this age-old thistle? It makes any condiment sing. Move over, hot dogs and fries.

Photo Credit: Castroville Artichoke Festival]]>
<![CDATA[Nick's Cove: Food and Farm Tour Packages]]> Mon, 20 Apr 2015 21:46:48 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/215*120/marinfarmtour12345.jpg

APRIL SHOWERS... may bring May flowers, but the fifth month on the calendar has other gorgeous gifts to share beyond bright petals and glossy leaves. The weather is warming up and adventures of an outdoor, or semi-outdoor nature, involving bounties and bites, start to rev up in earnest. Look to Nick's Cove and Cottages, which is featuring a gourmet-focused gadabout of West Marin all May long. The upshot? Book a particular package at the Tomales Bay-close property and nab yourself a five-to-six hour tour of the farms and food-makers of West Marin. There are some asterisks and such, like your stay at Nick's Cove needing to be two nights, but that works just dandy if you think of that middle day, between your nights, as the day you get acquainted with Cowgirl Creamery or Bovine Bakery or one of the other stops included on the West Marin Food and Farm Tours schedule. The only tricky bit will be deciding if you want to hop on The Cheese Lover's Tour or The Oyster Lover's Tour. 

THE CHEESE LOVER'S TOUR... does swing by the famous Cowgirl Creamery, a visit that includes a tasting (of course -- you'd be sore if it didn't, because visiting a famous cheesemaker practically demands some nibbling go down). You'll get acquainted with "the dairy life with a farm tour of Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company." And other rich, meltable stops, including Bovine Bakery, will fill out your five-to-six-hour-long adventure.

THE OYSTER LOVER'S TOUR: Phew -- the Bovine Bakery is also included on this one (it's the stop where you learn local history). The Marshall Store, The Tomales Bay Oyster Company, and more know-your-bivalves bopping around is in store. And will you get a shucking lesson from a pro? Oh, you'll be opening oysters like nobody's business.

HOW TO CHOOSE? We honestly can't say, but thank goodness that back at Nick's Cove, while in your waterfront one-roomer, you'll be able to dream about one or the other over comp'd BBQ oysters and a bottle of merlot.

Photo Credit: West Marin Food & Farm Tours]]>
<![CDATA[Animal X-Rays: Santa Barbara Exhibit Debuts]]> Fri, 24 Apr 2015 15:04:35 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sbzooflamingoxray.jpg

LOOK CLOSER: Many a person who makes a life among animals has known the feeling of standing alongside a veterinarian as brightly backlit x-rays dot the nearest wall. Perhaps your pup swallowed a button or your cat jumped from the arm of the couch and landed wrong, fracturing a paw in the process, but there you are, seeking ways to make sure your beloved beastie gets care and heals without too much pain. Beyond those moments, though, people not in animal medicine field don't generally spend a lot of time gazing at radiographs of birds and reptiles and canines. There isn't that much opportunity, or need, if the people don't call those birds or reptile or canines their pets. But the Santa Barbara Zoo is inviting people to sate that curiosity as they get to know the natural world better by looking deeper, closer, and more thoroughly at the internal workings of those who share our planet. "Animals... Inside Out" is a new exhibit at the zoo's Discovery Pavilion, a show that features 28 radiographs all taken from residents of the animal park. 

NEW PORTABLE X-RAY SYSTEM: When the zoo acquired state-of-the-art machinery back in 2013, the better to care for the zoo's 500-plus denizens, the radiographs that were produced gave crystal clear views as to the skeletal structures of a Chilean flamingo, the African lion named Gingerbread (whose forefoot x-ray is on display), and an endangered California condor's wing. Other animals making cameos in the show include an Asian small-clawed otter and an American brown pelican. 

ART, SCIENCE, HEALING: Is this of interest to a kid who might want to grow up to tend to animals? Absolutely. Is this of interest to anyone who considers lions and frogs and birds beautiful beings, inside and out, worthy of getting to know on a deeper level? And in this case, quite literally? Absolutely. The show is on through June 29 and is included in zoo admission. Also lovely? The images are for sale and money raised benefits the facility and the beasties who call the Santa Barbara animal park home.

Photo Credit: Santa Barbara Zoo]]>
<![CDATA[#Instameet: National Park Fans to Meet Up]]> Sat, 18 Apr 2015 16:28:37 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/236*120/findyourparkinstameet.jpg

MAVENS OF MARVELS: We're about to make a fairly sound guess here, and we don't think we'll be venturing out onto any limbs when we make it. And it is this: If you come across somebody else in a national park, say, out on a hiking trail or wading in a stream, chances are they, too, are a maven of marvels, a lover of the outdoors, a friend to nature. But you probably don't exchange a word, beyond a passing "hi." They, after all, have their adventures ahead, and you yours, and nobody wants to harsh anyone's mellow while they're out among the gorgeous rocks or pines or cliffs. But the mavens of marvels'll go beyond that simple "hello" on Sunday, April 19 when the first-ever #Instameet takes place in a number of a national parks. What did you just say? Come again? Ah, yes, you're correct: April 19 is a free day at any national parks that normally charge entrance fees, as a part of National Park Week (Saturday, April 18 is also a free day). What is that? You're right again: The Find Your Park promotion, which is a joint venture between the National Park Service and National Park Foundation, just launched as well, so anyone who wants to tell their fun and deep park stories can do so, via the special web site. Pair those things together -- a free day and a new park-oriented happening -- and you have a third thing in the maven-y mix: an #Instameet. 

THE GATHERINGS... will go down from 2 to 4 P.M. Eastern Standard Time, so if you're sticking to a West Coast scene, that's an 11 a.m. start for you. Alcatraz, Golden Gate, and Yosemite are three of the California-based parks participating in the day, if you were planning on visiting.

WHAT IF... people visiting our national parks, which will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in 2016, all went beyond the hello? That is, if strangers passing on a trail wanted to hike together or chat for awhile or share a sandwich? Well, we can only imagine that sharing stories of park love will only strengthen their profile and protections down the road even further. Getting united behind our parks, through in-park #Instameets, is a fine first step.

Photo Credit: Find Your Park]]>
<![CDATA[Chili, Pacific Breezes, and Cambria Charm]]> Fri, 17 Apr 2015 17:53:11 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/182*120/chili+and+cornbread.JPG

GLORIOUS VIEWS AND STRAIGHTFORWARD FARE: One of the Hearst Castle sights that tends to tickle visitors the most is not the Neptune Pool, supernaturally beautiful though it is, nor the vistas seen from The Enchanted Hill. It's the placement of the ketchup and mustard bottles on the long and elegant dining room table, an homage to the home's namesake, a man who liked his condiments close. That stretch of California coastline does boast tony dining choices, and very good ones, too, but we like to think that the spirit of simple and hearty supping reigns as well. Look down aways from San Simeon to Cambria, a nestle-y nook of a town with a host of tasty eateries and one springtime eating event that is all about that most comforting of comfort foods: chili.

SPICY SUPPING: Oh, absolutely, you're right: Chili can be complex, given that it is a stew that can have two or twenty different ingredients, depending on the flair and fickle nature of the cook. But it is a simpler idea, in spirit, and hearty, too, and we think it pairs well with its spectacular surroundings and pretty Pacific setting. Like Hearst's ketchup bottles inside his grand estate, a day dining on chili in the beautiful burg of Cambria feels like a nice balance of comfort and grandeur. That balance will be struck again, flavorfully, on Saturday, April 18.

THERE'S BEER TASTING, TOO... and a car show and the enjoying of a fine springtime Saturday at the Vets Hall and Pinedorado Grounds. To try the chili you'll need a tenner, and cash for beer, too, but the pleasure of comfort-eating in a lovely Central Coast town has no pricetag. And, honestly, back to William Randolph Hearst's condiment-focused obsessions: Wouldn't you put out the ketchup, too, if you liked it? You probably would. There's no rule that amazing surroundings dictate that we need to ultra-fancify our foods or manner of comporting ourselves. 

Photo Credit: Lars Howlett]]>
<![CDATA[Drakesbad: Book Your Summer Stay]]> Fri, 17 Apr 2015 10:22:14 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/drakesbad2015.jpg

DEFINE "UNPLUG," PLEASE: Some terms become buzzy nearly overnight, or at least over a few months, taking on a load of meaning, and various interpretations, before the general populace decides, almost without discussion, to retire the word altogether. "Unplug" is such a multi-faceted word, as trendy as all get-out in these times of staring at our palms and the screens in our laps while we swear, we absolutely vow, we're signing off and decompressing for a few hours. But is unplugging simply hiding one's phone in the drawer for the afternoon during a quick family getaway, or is it visiting a place where electricity is not happening and old-school lanterns, games, and pastimes rule the roost?

KEROSENE SCENE: Yep, there are many interpretations of unplug-a-tude, but we'll vote that the latter sounds pretty nice, at least for a couple of nights, in our super-connected-always society. Drakesbad Guest Ranch is one of the centers of unplug-a-tude in California. True, this is in part due to the property's fairly remote location, in Lassen Volcanic National Park, but consider that most of the rooms on the property lack electricity. So rather than getting the hotel's wifi password at the front desk, you are instead given the specifics about your kerosene lamp, which are the items seen in guests' hands come nightfall (versus the typical glowing rectangle.

FRIDAY, JUNE 5... is the 2015 opening date (the Drakesbad observes a warm-weather season, closing in October). Reservations are open now, and guests should consider, when they book, all of the pursuits they'll want to fill their stay with: fishing, archery, and trotting by horseback. And, yes, stargazing, which is so much easier when you're looking up and not down at your hand. Want to know unplug-a-tude in one of its purest forms, the "there's no electricity in this room" route? Best map your route to the northern national park, with plans to stow your phone when you arrive.

Photo Credit: Drakesbad]]>
<![CDATA[The Winged Beauties of Mount Diablo]]> Thu, 16 Apr 2015 12:54:59 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/204*120/mountdiablobutterflywalk1.jpg

BUTTERFLIES AND NATURE: To say there is but one season to enjoy the beauty of butterflies is to not fully acknowledge that California is home to winged wonders throughout several months of the year, be they the famous Monarchs that include the Golden State as part of their migrations or the many zoo- and museum-based butterfly attractions. Those attractions tend to flutter for a few months in the spring, when many a mind turns to admiring the fabled flying insect among plants and flowers. But if you can't make a zoo-close butterfly attraction, you can go in search of the sweetly poetic insects in the wild. Naturalist David Morris will lead a springtime stroll up Mitchell Canyon Road and Red Road at Mount Diablo. The stroll's goal? To search for butterflies and the flowers they frequent (or, really, just any of the glorious wildflowers that pop up around Mount Diablo come April). The date? Saturday, April 18.

WHAT YOU'LL LOOK FOR: The "common ringlet, mylitta crescent, various blues, whites, and swallowtails." A representative of the Mount Diablo Interpretative Association says that eight to 12 butterflies may be spied, so you are welcome to pack binoculars (oh, and a lunch, given that this is a three-hour hike). It's just six bucks for your vehicle, and free beyond that. The gentle communing with nature begins at 10 a.m. on the 18th.

IF STRAIGHT-UP WILDFLOWERS... are more your game, and you don't mind a nine-mile hike, pen in Sunday, April 26 on your getting-out-into-nature calendar. There's a big search for seasonal buds around Pine Canyon. The seven-hour day'll get wildflower mavens deep into the nooks and dips of the Mount Diablo region, so dress and shoe-up appropriately.

Photo Credit: Mount Diablo Interpretative Association]]>
<![CDATA[Old-School Motors Purr Into Carmel]]> Wed, 15 Apr 2015 16:15:41 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/quailmoto4.jpg The Quail Motorcycle Rally honors past champions and major vroom.

Photo Credit: Quail Motorcycle Gathering]]>
<![CDATA[Stockton Sweet: Asparagus Ice Cream]]> Tue, 14 Apr 2015 22:07:17 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/161*120/860445081.jpg

DESSERT'S LENGTHY ACCESSORIES: While most of the standard courses of a meal arrive with utensils and implements and edible additions of a rather reasonable length -- toothpicks holding little ham folds neatly in place, French fries that can be handled in one bite, butter knives that are barely as long as a ring finger -- dessert is another matter. Due to its slightly whimsical and indulgent nature, the final course of the night, that sugary respite, tends to have some of lengthiest flatware and ornamentation: long silver spoons designed to reach the last of milkshake, colorful stretchy straws perfect for slurping syrupy sodas, tall, thin birthday candles stuck in cakes. Why longer things end up at the close of a meal is a topic best left to the food historians, but suffice it to say that when a group of eaters is pepped-up on sugar, straw fights and spoon tricks begin.

SO PERHAPS THE FACT... that one of the thinnest and gangly of vegetables is being paired with the concept of dessert is just the twosome that many an adventurous diner has been seeking. We speak of asparagus -- that's the gangly vegetable hinted at above -- and we speak of ice cream, a sweet that typically arrives well after the lemony, buttery asparagus platter has left the table. But you can try both concepts together, in Stockton, when the San Joaquin Asparagus Festival gets flavorful from April 17 through 19.

ASPARAGUS ALLEY: There shall be many spear-focused tasties along Asparagus Alley, asparagus ice cream included. Look also for fried asparagus, which sounds like it might be a little bit of crunchy, savory heaven. Live tunes, carnival rides, a petting zoo, and a craft beer and wine pavilion lend the spear scene beyond the eating area further crunch. But, seriously, what would you use as a dip for a deep-fried asparagus? Mayo? Mustard? Melted cheese? Or, ohhhh... asparagus ice cream? That sounds rather tantalizing, in a try-it-once way. We're just content to see the parties celebrating the hearty greens of spring come 'round again (see you soon, Castroville Artichoke Festival).

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Stars Glitter: International Dark Sky Week]]> Tue, 14 Apr 2015 10:44:35 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/darksky51556365.jpg

THAT VELVETY, STARLIT BOWL ABOVE US: So many odes and sonnets and short stories and films have made comment, over the ages, about how we all share the same sky. That goes for modern people, the humans around today, co-existing, but also the earthlings who lived on the planet before we got here. But it hasn't been quite the same sky for the last century-plus, give or take, not in many places. True, we do have wonders like planes and satellites dotting the heavens now, and thank goodness, too -- we get to travel vast distances to see family and we have our contemporary communications -- but nighttime has visibly changed in many metropolitan areas. No longer is the Milky Way a lush and deep spectacle for those staring up, as it was a few centuries ago, nightly, depending on cloud cover. Now we often must search to find easier celestial stand-outs like Orion's belt or the Big Dipper. Thus seeking out dark sky, truly dark sky, the velvety starlit bowl that came standard just a few generations back, is part of what the International Dark Sky Association supports. And it supports a week called International Dark Sky Week, too, which is glows -- or rather dims -- through Sunday, April 19.

TO "INSPIRE PEOPLE": One of the purposes of the week is to "(i)nspire people to celebrate the beauty of the night sky." Energy waste, the impact on the environment, and other topics are considered throughout the lights-off stretch. But you can simply celebrate it by finding the low-light-iest place you can access, in your region, and making contact, at least visually, with signs of our galaxy. California is also home to two Dark Sky places: Borrego Springs, an official International Dark Sky Community, and Death Valley National Park, an International Dark Sky Park. And hang tight for summertime: Some of our national parks throw Dark Sky events, where fans of the cosmos gather to stare up, socialize, and turn those flashlights off.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[New: Historic Hotels Launches American Dreams]]> Wed, 15 Apr 2015 15:52:48 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/192*120/historichotelsamericandreams.jpg

BEAUTY OF THE ROAD TRIP: There's joy to be found while tooling down a long stretch of asphalt ribbon, but it's a joy that begins long before you even get in the car, pack the suitcase, or ask your neighbor to swing by and water the ferns (fingers crossed they don't forget this time). The beauty of a road trip begins weeks or even months in advance, the moment when you start to ponder how much time you can take, what you want to do, and how far you can go. Anticipation is half the journey, it is often said, and the people who are often saying it are 100% correct: You get the first jolts of fun time energy when you start to look at maps, routes, attractions, and hotels. Historic Hotels of America, the organization that oversees some of our country's oldest and grandest lodges and stayover properties, wants to help with that last bit, and all of the other bits, too. The group just announced an "American Dreams" super site, much like the "Romance" super site that launched back around Valentine's Day. What's American Dreams all about? The perfect, quintessential, get-out-and-see-the-U.S. road trip, with some history and past-knowledge and luxe-nice overnighting to be enjoyed along the way. 

THE CATEGORIES... include Family Vacations, Road Trips, National Parks & Sites, Heritage & Culture, Culinary Destinations, and Urban Adventures. Hotels that are part of the organization are in the mix -- The Wort of Jackson Hole is suggested as a good base for a Grand Tetons adventure -- and there are some additional adventuresome add-ons as well (like a list of Road Trip Songs). For Family Vacations a trip to Hershey, Pennsylvania, and The Hotel Hershey, is on the roster. The ghosty tales of the 1886 Crescent Hotel & Spa are given a shout-out (or whisper-out, given the spirited topic), too.

DO YOU NEED TO KNOW WHERE YOU'RE GOING? Nope. Three quarters of the fun of hitting the highway is daydreaming about it months in advance. But road-trippers who adore decades- or centuries-old hotels would do well to start their daydreaming at the new American Dreams super site. How would you put together, jigsaw puzzle-like, your historic hotel must-visit and the attractions or parks you've got to see? Time, the open road, and your ability to plan a road trip playlist are the limits.

Photo Credit: Historic Hotels of America]]>
<![CDATA[Santa Cruz Quacky: Ducky Derby]]> Sun, 12 Apr 2015 09:41:00 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/rubberduckiegetty1.jpg

BE MESMERIZED: There are many beautiful ways to raise money in this world, for a bevy of community- and individual-enhancing goals and purposes. And while all are important, not every event is quite as mesmerizing as the annual Ducky Derby hosted by Omega Nu. The Santa Cruz happening, which quacks boldly into its 25th year in 2015, is hosted by a philanthropic organization with longtime ties to the area, an organization that has raised well over a million dollars for scholarships ("(t)otal scholarships funded since 1957 is over $1,307,000"). Such a good thing indeed, and the rubber duck race is behind a lot of those dollars. Could it be because, as least in small part, it is hard to look away from thousands upon thousands of brightly hued birds racing along the waves? While you try to follow the ones you believe to be yours? Though knowing that when over 12,000 rubber ducks are involved, following a single faux fowl along its quick journey is pretty much impossible? Yeah, it is mesmerizing all right, and that easy-to-watch, easy-to-give spirit'll be back, at Friendship Gardens in Harvey West Park, on Saturday, April 25.

SPONSOR A DUCK: While getting in to watch the merry madness costs zero dollars to all observers, buying a duck to back -- and thus supporting Omega Nu's education-nice programs -- does cost. Oh, hold the duckie: You actually adopt a duck, not buy, and the cost is five dollars for one (though if you adopt more ducks, you find savings, aka six ducks for twenty five bucks). You can go the online route, if you can't make it that day, but you'll make it, right? Because a sweet carnival, the eating of food in the sunshine, and the traditional staring-at-thousands-of-rubber-duckies moment all tantalize. And are there prizes? Oh there are, including hotel overnights, restaurant gift certificates, and beauty treatments. Wouldn't it be amazing if you purchased but one duck and that little guy won? It could happen, but more amazing than that is helping Golden State students move forward in their learning. That the two dovetail -- er, ducktail -- so nicely, in Santa Cruz, on one springtime Saturday, is a bonus. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[New in Los Altos: Enchanté Boutique Hotel]]> Mon, 13 Apr 2015 12:03:11 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Enchant0412212.jpg Visit France by way of Silicon Valley at the just-opened swanky stay.

Photo Credit: Paul Dyer]]>
<![CDATA[Springtime at the Wild Horse Sanctuary]]> Sat, 11 Apr 2015 15:12:40 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/wildhorsesanctuary123.jpg

IT'S NOT EVERY DAY... that a city dweller says the words "chaparral" or "woodland" or "burro" or "manzanita" or "buttercup." They can seem like storybooks terms, romantic and distant from our hustlebustle, consta-plugged-in-always lives. But, of course, such terms do exist, now, in our world, and while we may not find buttercups nor burros outside our building or at the end of the drive, we can get to know both during a weekend along a trail. Not just a trail but the trails near Shingletown, which is home to the Wild Horse Sanctuary. 

THE WILD HORSE SANCTUARY... was founded in 1978 to protect "America's wild horses and burros," ultimately becoming "a haven for these disappearing symbols of the American West." Not just home to two or three maned beauties but "nearly 300 rescued wild horses and burros," the preserve regularly welcomes equine enthusiasts and friends of natures for trail rides, fundraisers, and horsey-sweet events. The 2015 trail rides are just about to clip-clop for the season, starting on Saturday, April 25 and Sunday, April 26 for the annual wildflower ride. That's full-up, pardner, but not long after is the Work Ride, where riders will help with "trail maintenance." Several May and June rides are open and on the schedule, and a trio of rides in September and October, too. What's more beautiful, though? Seeing the "landscape of native grasses, manzanita, oaks, pines, creek, and lava rock" in the spring or early fall? We vote both.

OPEN HOUSE: If you want to get to know the Sanctuary apart from heading out onto the trail, mark August 15 down on your horse calendar. That's the open house, which includes a Parade of Mustangs, a barn dance, a barbecue, and loads of hoof-y happiness. Bonus: You're not all that far from Lassen Volcanic National Park, which is glorious, and mud-bubbly in spots, any time of year.

Photo Credit: Wild Horse Sanctuary]]>
<![CDATA[Nature Legend: John Muir, in Person]]> Fri, 10 Apr 2015 11:36:05 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/LeeStetsonJohnMuir.jpg

GENTLE BUT FIERCE FORESIGHT: When we think of inspirations, those leaders who stood for a cause and saw it through despite the fashions of the era and opinions and which was the wind was blowing, we very often find people who held a fierce foresight gently but persistently delivered. There are few, in history, to match John Muir, a man as tall in spirit and dignity as the trees he loved, for those qualities. Not only did Mr. Muir write beautifully of places in the Sierra and throughout California, but he championed those places, not as destinations to be developed but as sacred spots that should remain forever wild and unto themselves.

A SPECIAL CELEBRATION: Born in Scotland, Mr. Muir went onto to co-found The Sierra Club, and his legacy is remembered throughout the Golden State always, but especially come his April 21 birthday, which happens to be the annual eve of Earth Day. Several spots around the state remember the naturalist in myriad ways, but it is a lovely and moving treat to receive a visit from the legend himself, in the form of actor Lee Stetson. Mr. Stetson, who was seen portraying John Muir in the Ken Burns' series "National Parks -- America's Best Idea," will call upon the Sequoia Grove Winery on Saturday, April 25 to stage a trio of performances recalling the gentle but fierce friend to the wilder world.

EARTH DAY CELEBRATION: The Rutherford vineyard is throwing a five-hour bash, with timed tickets at thirty dollars apiece. There shall be pizza, from Pizza Politano, and there shall be vino, too, of course. The wine flight hails from Sequoia Grove's 2012 Historic Vines Cabernet Sauvignon. Wine and pizza and a moving performance that is tied to California, history, the land, and a man who is much admired? All during his birthday week? It's a fine way to raise a toast to John Muir and all of the earthy goodness he so passionately protected.

Photo Credit: Lee Stetson]]>
<![CDATA[Dancing in the Santa Cruz Streets]]> Thu, 09 Apr 2015 21:35:26 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/219*120/breakdancescale.jpg

THERE ARE SEVERAL WAYS... to pass a performer who is performing in public, say, out on a street corner or in the middle of a pedestrian mall. There's the Hurry Hustle, where the person zooming by doesn't even glance at the performer. There's the Gotta Get Somewhere Trot, where the person gives a glance but doesn't pause to enjoy. And then there's the Soak This Moment Up and Enjoy kind of passerby. You can guess what this one involves: The person passing the performer stops, listens, watches, cocks a head, stays for a second song, and is enriched by the experience, however brief. It's a fortunate thing that most of us tend to fall in the last category, if the semi-circles that form around street buskers are any evidence. And it is a fortunate thing, too, that Santa Cruz Dance Week summons so many of those lookie-loo, savor-the-moment spirits, the kind of people who don't go head-down by a dancer on a boulevard but rather pause to connect with what is happening, right then. For dancers truly do take to the street during the late April week, which frolics, pirouettes, and goes for the high leaps from Thursday, April 23 through Saturday, May 2.

FLASH MOB, AHOY: You won't merely be watching a bevy of talented troupes shake their skilled stuff in the street, however. There is a flash mob you can join, which is especially nice if you have "little or no technical dance experience." Also keep a watch for Dance in Unlikely Places, which is just what it is says it is. Any person strutting by you may begin to samba or do the snake at any ol' time over Dance Week's opening weekend, in any strange or delightful place. Open classes are another fine choice, too, if you've been wanting to give your proverbial tailfeather a workout. As for the night of Dancing in the Streets? That's Thursday, April 23, and it is truly quite the delightful spectacle. Everyone around Downtown Santa Cruz goes into Soak This Moment Up and Enjoy mode at the sight of "dozens of Brazilian drummers" and "aerial artists" and a host of remarkable artists. Call it a freeing moment, of the highest order, to see dance intersecting with intersections normally dominated by cars. And, of course, intersecting with the hearts, eyes, and imaginations of the people who stop to watch. If you think that "hearts, eyes, and imaginations" bit is too gooey and goes too far, then we recommend seeing more live dance. If you think it doesn't go quite far enough, then you're a dance fan, for sure.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[It's a Very Strawberry Time of Year in Oxnard]]> Thu, 09 Apr 2015 13:28:44 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/californiastrawberryfestival1234567.jpg

BERRY INDIVIDUAL: Foods that have a more triangular shape, say, like a pizza slice, tend to be consumed in one way, or one way only, if a fork and knife aren't involved: from the tiny end. That's where the eater typically places their mouth when taking on an edible that comes to a point of sorts, and, no, we don't think this applies to such traditionally three-cornered snacks as tortilla chips (because every corner makes a pretty fine starting point). Like a pizza slice, a strawberry is larger at one end, and smaller at the other, but unlike a triangle of cheesy pie, you can't really start at the thicker side, lest you want a mouthful of greeny stem. Beyond that one sort of common sense-specific rule, however, you should, and can, take on strawberry consumption in all of the ways it is available to you at the California Strawberry Festival. We mean, this is the grandstrawberry among berry bashes, one of the biggest, a party that sprawls over a full weekend and contains a lot of moving parts. Literally, in some cases, given that there is a ride-sweet carnival called Strawberryland on the festival grounds (it's for the little ones, yep yep). And those festival grounds? Why they're in...

OXNARD, of course, the longtime home to this longtime festival ("longtime"=starting in 1984). Some twenty charities are beneficiaries for money raised during the May 16 and 17 party, which includes more strawberry treats than you can likely picture. That is, if you're solely picture pie and tarts and shortcake. Speaking of pie, there are pie-eating contests, a contest involving the tossing of strawberry tarts -- that's tossing, gently, to hit your pal's mug, not throwing hard -- as well as a dress-up contest for babies and a strawberry-decorated hat contest for the grown-ups. Tickets? An adult is twelve bucks. A sunny mid-May party all about fruit? It doesn't come more California-y than that (seriously, this can probably be proven by experts). Eating a strawberry from the top, bottom, or sideways? We all take our strawberries how we like, and if the stem is removed, we say go for it. The bright-flavored fruit is used in dozens of nontraditional ways, from salads to appetizers; why not consume it, raw, however you dang well please?

Photo Credit: California Strawberry Festival]]>
<![CDATA[Free Days: National Park Week]]> Thu, 16 Apr 2015 12:24:12 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/redwoods177068764+%281%29.jpg

AN INVITATION FROM NATURE: The wilder under-the-sky world is forever calling to us, and it doesn't even need a telephone or megaphone or a device which can send texts (though we imagine that nature would employ some amazing and occasionally offbeat emoji). The Great Outdoors only needs sunshine and moonlight and wind to get our attention and rattle our panes, the better to remind us that glowing screens and paperwork and the day-to-day can, and should, be put on hold from time to time. No other time of the year reminds us this as fervently, nor verdantly, as springtime, when crocuses are popping and petaling and doing all of the usual things that crocuses generally do. What a lovely thing, then, that National Park Week spreads out just around then, like a colorful picnic blanket over a spread of glossy grass. Yes, you guessed it, it also coincides with Earth Day, so if you want to be in a national park and be helping a national park through a volunteer effort, you can and should. But if you simply want to commune with the cliffs and tall trees and waterfalls and cacti and wind, you can do that, too, and you can do it for free over the first two days of the specially designated week. Which are...

APRIL 18 AND 19: That's a Saturday and Sunday -- National Park Week spools out after that -- and if you do make for a park, maybe possibly make for one that normally has an entrance fee. Not all of the monuments and sites and parks under the NPS system do. Heck, not even the majority do, to be honest: "Only 127 of our country's 407 national parks usually charge an entrance fee" says the NPS, so landing at one of the 127 fee-charging parks over those two fee-free days is a fine plan. What's to do in terms of ranger talks, special walks, and hugging the outdoors close to your heart? There are volunteer ideas through the National Park Foundation and a way to search parks by your chosen activities. But you don't need to go and be busy. One of the best parts of the parks is just being among the plants and animals in the crisp air and diffuse sunshine. Fee-free or not fee-free, that's a gift. Happy National Park Week, park people, and happy almost-100th-birthday, National Park Service.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Tahoe Storm: More Flakes, More Fun]]> Wed, 08 Apr 2015 10:33:04 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Northstartahoeapril7.jpg

BUCKET LISTS... tend to extend over the reach of a lifetime, but managing must-dos seems better approached, and accomplished, when they only have to be met over a year or a season or even a month. Time feels more urgent, and of the essence, and rather than delaying that delightful experience for "down the road" -- which could be in a decade or two, because time flies etc. -- you jump on the experience in a more lickety-split fashion. So how did you do with your bucket list over the 2014-2015 winter? Did you consume enough hot toddies? Binge-watch enough quality TV series? And how did that skiing a whole bunch plan go? Not so hot?

THANK GOODNESS FOR APRIL SNOWSTORMS, then. They happen, though in this time of drought a springtime flurry of flakes feels even more surprising and more welcome. "Welcome" is very much the word at California's mountain resorts following the April 7 precipitation, which brought several inches to several high elevation spots, from Mammoth Mountain to the destinations around Lake Tahoe. Speaking of those destinations, Heavenly, Northstar, and Kirkwood released several snapshots from their slopes, slopes that look more January than the middle of spring. Need to get your board on before summer saunters this way?

MAKE FOR THE LAKE... where ten to 28 fresh inches are now powdering things up nicely at the resorts. Resorts, by the by, which are already looking to the 2015-2016 season, with a special pass price to (ski) boot. The deal? Purchase before April 12 and score "the lowest guaranteed price." The adult pass kicks off at $479 and includes "unlimited skiing or riding" at the trio of resorts above (with a few asterisks about blocked-out holiday dates). Need info? Schuss this way. Need to finish out your winter bucket list? You can, if you're pronto about it, snow enthusiasts.

Photo Credit: Northstar]]>
<![CDATA[Culture LA: Stay the Night, Get Fun Deals]]> Tue, 07 Apr 2015 21:11:12 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/freehammermuseum14.jpg

NO ONE WOULD DARE DISAGREE WITH YOU... if you were to call Los Angeles "overwhelming" or "colossal" or "a tremendous lot a town." It's on the rather impressive side of bigness, both in space and in stuff that goes on, and that sheer size-a-tude proves delightful and vexing even for those locals who know the city's boulevards and beats very well. What is helpful, when it comes to The Big Orange's many cultural and enjoyable events and happenings and destinations, is a deal. A deal, moreover, that is clear-cut, to the point, and places all the specifics before the interested party. Discover LA, the visitor-minded organization behind many of the city's clear-cut discount-finding cultural promotions, is hosting a new push into the deepest of spring (so, most of April and some of May). It's called Culture LA and the straightforward, let's-not-be-overwhelmed message is this: Book one of these participating hotels for a night and get a buy-one-get-one admission deal, or a discount in the bookstore, at a whole caboodle of LA landmarks and museums and animal parks and concert halls. 

THE HOTELS... include Hotel Wilshire (close to LACMA and the La Brea Tar Pits) and W Los Angeles in Westwood (just a short walk to the Hammer Museum) and The Los Angeles Athletic Club (pretty dang close to the Museum of Contemporary Art). The impressive to-do list includes Zimmer Children's Museum, USC Pacific Asia Museum, California Science Center, and Battleship IOWA. So what's the run time on this deal? Monday, April 6 through Tuesday, May 19. If a museum is already free, like The Hammer, will there be other discounts? You bet -- if it is on the list, it's a money-saver. Will you finally cover all of the bases in that colossal and magnificently overwhelming city? Proooobably not, if you're coming for but a night, but taking in one or two new places, or new to you places, will help you make progress on your lengthy LA bucket list. And given the city's ongoing cultural renaissance, isn't it time to take a good look at what is on that particular roster? And, moreover, cross must-dos and must-tries off? Culture LA can help.

Photo Credit: Hammer Museum]]>
<![CDATA[Nevada City's Thematic Art Walks]]> Tue, 07 Apr 2015 17:40:52 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/189*120/artwalknc1.jpg

TOASTIER DAYS... lead to warmer, or at least less chilly nights, and less chilly nights lead to more outside doings, like street fairs, concerts in the park, and First Friday-type events. Not every town in the state goes the get-outside-and-enjoy route come the middle of spring, but a number of towns rev up their night markets and plays under the stars. Nevada City is known as a pretty outdoorsy place -- it does, after all, have that Inn Town Campground headed its way, further cementing its spot in the hearts of nature people -- and it keeps a full calendar of special under-the-sky happenings throughout the summer, from the late June Soapbox Derby to the annual Halloween festivities at the end of October to Victorian Christmas (which, yes, isn't in or near summer at all, but further shows how much the citizens of Nevada City like going al fresco for the fun events).

THE GOLD RUSH BURG'S... big summertime get-out-and-stroll happening does indeed fall under the First Friday umbrella, but unlike a lot of other First Fridays elsewhere, each one is themed, from May to October. Of course, the themes are pretty dang N.C., too, in spirit: Think "Water" and "Circus" and "Gathering." Oh, Nevada City: You don't just wear the label of funky town, you live it, through and through.

BEFORE THE FIRST FRIDAYS... officially kick off in Downtown Nevada City on May 1 -- and best prepare for live tunes and performances and booths selling local crafts and eats and kid areas and such -- there are other happenings in the area, such as wildflower walks at Bridgeport along the South Yuba River. As for other summery nighttime to-dos around the colorful town? They happen. Here's proof.

Photo Credit: Nevada City Chamber of Commerce]]>
<![CDATA[Sactown Sweet: Chocolate Week]]> Mon, 06 Apr 2015 22:20:18 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/chocsactown12345.jpg

OLD WEST CANDY: When you think of the sugary sweets of the 19th century, what sort of candies do you picture? Maybe those penny stick candies, the ones swirled like a barbershop pole, and all of the traditional to "what exactly does that taste like?" flavors that spring to mind (sassafras and horehound chief among the latter examples). Sugar-dipped fruit slices, or chalky peppermints, or caramels shaped in the palm of a hand also represent the era, as does chocolate. True, true, things were apt to get melty if a bar of chocolate sat too long under a saddle -- or sat under a saddle at all -- but a number of major chocolatiers, the names we still recognize today, were on the rise around the country from California's Gold Rush boom into the late 1800s (hello Ghiradelli, hello Whitman's, hello Hershey). Thus placing a palate-pleasing modern chocolate event around the streets of Old Sacramento, one of the Old-West-iest of all destinations around the Golden State, does not feel anachronistic or out of time. Perhaps the people of the 19th century did not have our vast aisle of snacky choices, but to say they had no sweet tooth is to not know your sugary stuff. So get on your horse and ride for the first-ever...

OLD SACRAMENTO CHOCOLATE WEEK: Things are going to get melty-gooey-crunchy sticky from May 4 through 10. Join an array of special happenings like Beer & Chocolate Pairings (think High Water Brewing's Campfire Stout teamed up with cocoa bread pudding complete with two kinds of chocolate) and Tango and Treat Tastings (people shall dance and everyone shall chow down upon chocolates). Demos, tours, and other goodies await. Do you have to slide a bar or two of chocolate under saddle before clearing out the capital city? Probably not -- your purse or glove compartment is fine. But don't forget to pause and think of the West's cowpokes and gold seekers, and how a sugarplum was not just a passing goodie for many, eaten and forgotten, but something rather rare and delicious. There were no super aisles with four hundred candies back when Old Sacramento was lit by gas light. Was candy worth its weight in gold? Hmm. That's one for the historians to quibble over, cheekily.

Photo Credit: Old Sacramento Chocolate Week]]>
<![CDATA[On Sale: Robert Mondavi Summer Concerts]]> Mon, 06 Apr 2015 22:30:41 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/tshorty+722.jpg

THERE IS GOING TO SEE A CONCERT... at a stadium or club or venue or bar or park or amphitheater. Then there is going to see a concert at a winery, in Napa Valley, on a soft summer evening, and the only thing you have above you is starlight, if the weather is nice, and the breezes to remind you that the whole affair is al fresco. The concerts of wine country, those music-oriented shows that roll out when finer weather arrives, aren't quite like concerts anywhere else, as lovely as those gigs might be. The setting is vineyard-close, oftentimes, and winery-close, too. The wines served are made there, and the food for sale is often of the swanky-meets-chillaxed variety (not too fussy, not too everyday). Robert Mondavi Winery, along with other winemakers throughout Napa Valley and beyond, is known as one of the go-to spots to get your summer-night-gig-fun on, fun that increases when a band or singer is playing you're especially stoked to see. So get stoked: Tickets just went on sale for 2015, and the trio of performers has been announced.

THIS SUMMER'S SHOWS INCLUDE... Lyle Lovett and His Large Band on Saturday, July 18, Melissa Etheridge on Saturday, July 25, and Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue on Saturday, Aug. 1. There are two more to-be-announced shows, in early July, but you can nab tickets now for the announced performers. If you don't want to go with the food vendors at the winery -- Vintage Sweet Shoppe, Ben & Jerry's, and Off the Grid are mentioned as three -- you may arrive with your own grub (just make sure any libations are non-alcoholic). 

BE SURE TO EYE... the new art installation at the winery, which was unveiled in March. The 3,000-pound sculpture by artist Len Urso pays homage to the Oakville winery's founder and his "unique spirit and strength of character." Look for it at the front of the property.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[New: Burger Butler at Merryvale Vineyards]]> Mon, 06 Apr 2015 12:32:27 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/237*120/gottsroadside12.jpg

THE TOTALLY-WORTH-IT QUEUE: Any person who ventures out and about in the world, to try talked-about restaurants, attend cultural events, or go to a game, understands that they're likely to encounter a queue. A long line, while slightly frustrating at first -- you want to get into the gallery/stadium/bakery faster -- is, of course, a sign that whatever is inside is sought after and appealing. So when you toodle out for a Sunday drive, through Napa Valley, and you see the impressive queue of burger buffs at around 12:45 outside Gott's Roadside in St. Helena, you get it: This is an edible of note. And so it is, whether that burger is Western Bacon Blue Ring -- hello, Point Reyes crumbled blue cheese -- or the super savory Texas Avocado Burger. Would you queue up for either kapow-packing patty? Of course. Would you also be open to heading across the street from the sweet stand, to Merryvale Vineyards, and parking yourself on the Merryvale porch as you wait for a Burger Butler to pick up and deliver your Gott's order, straight to your patio table? Wait. Is that even a thing?

IT IS SO VERY MUCH A THING... as of April 15. Merryvale Vineyards is introducing its Burger Butler program, and it works like this: Grab some space at the St. Helena winery, in the pretty patio area, and put your sandwich order in with the on-hand butler. You can go for whatever burger you choose and some onion rings or fries or both to round it out. The butler hightails it across Main Street, to Gotts, and picks up your posh patty while you chillax and tour the winery while you ponder which Merryvale wine you'll sip alongside your Ahi Burger or Patty Melt. Merryvale will present a trio of vinos to choose from ("two of which will be barrel tastings not yet released") and you're welcome to take that glass of wine on your winery stroll. Cost? It's $65 per person. Do you need to reserve a spot prior to making for Merryvale? You do. Should you have at least two people in your reservation? You should. Does the $65 cover your sandwich and fries? It does. Will you miss the Gott's queue as you sip your Merryvale wine just steps away from the stand, across the street? Well... Some queues are acceptable in this world, when the food quality is high, the craft beer is cold, and the sun glimmers softly upon the picnic tables. We say going Gott's, or going Gott's with a Merryvale twist, makes everyone a weekend winner.

Photo Credit: Gott's Roadside]]>
<![CDATA[Bodie Sunshine: Summer Schedule Starts]]> Sun, 05 Apr 2015 09:19:34 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/bodiesummerfb1.jpg

MAVENS OF MONO COUNTY... can tell you that weather is changeable and apt to jump around faster than a frog, from clear skies to rumbling thunderheads to crisp star twinkle and... repeat. The ol' chestnut of "wait 10 minutes if you don't like the weather" may be true for a lot of places in this world, but not all, which makes the beautiful extremes of Mono County all the more notable. And the seasons have been having some fun in early April, that time of prankery and joke-making and the pulling of legs: Bodie State Historic Park has now moved to its summer schedule, just in time for a little chilly spring-style snowfall. Well, what else would one expect during the few weeks surrounding April Fool's-ing? And who says the idea of flurries and the idea of warmer days ahead can't co-mingle in the season that's sandwiched in the middle?

THE PRETTY PHOTOS... of the spring snowfall are on the Bodie Foundation's Facebook, and Mono County Tourism -- Eastern Sierra shared the good word about the ghost town's summer hours, which started up for 2015 on March 18. Of course, Bodie isn't simply a "ghost town"; it's widely regarded as just about the best preserved ghost town in the world. So being able to spend a bit more time wandering its streets, peeking in dusty windows, and soaking up the away-from-it-all-ness, which one can do in the summertime, appeals.

THE SUMMER HOURS, by the by, are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and loads of people, many with cameras in hand, do stay the whole day. And, on a trio of special occasions, part of the evening, too, when Bodie opens up to nighttime visitors (a rare, rare thing). Of course, you'll only leave with photos, yes? The ghost town has a bit of a curse that says, essentially, leave with anything, even a nail found on the ground, and you may not be happy. Do visitors who didn't heed the rule sometimes return the items in the mail to the park? Oh, they do, they do. Bodie is best captured through a lens, the eye, the ear, and even the skin, as those Eastern Sierra breezes -- maybe bringing snow, maybe not -- play over your hair and skin.

SO WHEN DO SUMMER HOURS END... for the ghost town? Appropriately on Halloween.

Photo Credit: Bodie State Historic Park]]>
<![CDATA[Easter Treats for the Monterey Otters]]> Sat, 04 Apr 2015 09:03:16 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/187*120/amontereyotterseaster2.jpg Icy delights with a springtime theme made for a picture-ready moment.

Photo Credit: Monterey Bay Aquarium]]>
<![CDATA[Golden State Wines: Down to Earth Month]]> Thu, 02 Apr 2015 13:03:10 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/downtoearthmonthcawines.jpg

SUSTAINABLE WINEGROWING IN ACTION: Much talk is made of sustainable practices around the Golden State's plentiful wineries, but knowing just what exactly that means, in a day-to-day way, is a leap from reading the words on a wine label. Asking at your favorite vineyard is one way to get up-to-speed on what that particular winehouse is doing, in terms of caring for the resources of the land and keeping the process of grape-growing and wine-creating an environmentally nice thing. But the California Wines of the Wine Institute make it easier to educate yourself faster, and in a thorough fashion, each April. The fourth month of the year is, of course, Earth Month, and a number of vineyards open up their doors, and speak to what they're doing to sustain sustainability, throughout April. The door opening isn't simply door opening, however; several events have popped up, like new leaves on a vine, including...

PARTY FOR THE PLANET: The Mendocino-based bash spends the day at the Solar Living Institute, where a spotlight will shine on "organic gardening methods" as well as local organic vinos. A Central Coast party in Paso Robles pays tribute to the region's sustainable foods and libations from April 17 through 19 -- it's the Central Coast Earth Day Food and Wine Weekend -- and Down to Earth wine tastings'll spring up around Livermore over the third weekend in April. Wherever your home lily pad happens to be around the Golden State, you're bound to find a winery within leaping distance, one that is participating in this smart-forward, sustainable-important chain of eco events.

AS FOR THE WINE INSTITUTE? It's an "association of 1,000 California wines and affiliated businesses." To get bird's-eye coverage on what sustainable month among the state's vineyards is all about, this page, right here, is an excellent place to alight. As for the total line-up of April winery Down to Earth events? Turn your wings and fly this way.

Photo Credit: California Wines]]>
<![CDATA[Sunny Supping: Desert Restaurant Week]]> Wed, 01 Apr 2015 22:25:40 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/203*120/palmspringsrestaurant12344567.jpg

DON'T EVER CHANGE... Palm Springs. You either, Rancho Mirage and Palm Desert and Indian Wells and all of the Desert Resort cities. We know that some of your biggest events arrive in the winter months -- The Palm Springs International Film Festival and Modernism Week follow each other chockablock, in January and February respectively -- and we know the cooler months see an uptick in touristy traffic (the kind of traffic that says "let me sit by a pool slathered in sunblock ASAP"). With this in mind, we food-loving fans, which makes all of us, really, keep an eye on your annual Restaurant Week. It comes right at the start of the traditional summer season, if not the actual summer season, meaning a Memorial Day Weekend start.

WARM AND WONDERFUL: And it has for over a half decade now, so that timing is clearly working out. So why do we keep an eye on the dates? Because the Palm Springs Desert Resorts Restaurant Week lands at just about the loveliest stretch of the year for the area. For sure, it's already on the far side of warm even at 8 o'clock in the morning, and high noon requires an iced tea and a handfan. But perfect evenings spent on pretty patios, before pretty plates of food made by award-winning chefs, feel just right, and May 29 through June 7 is just the time of year to deliver those. So get prepared for special deals and interesting dishes from...

ALICANTE OF PALM SPRINGS... and Castelli's Ristorante of Palm Desert and Cork & Fork of La Quinta and Jackalope Ranch of Indio. Nope, you don't have to sit on a patio to enjoy -- and it isn't the law that every restaurant in the desert requires an al fresco section, either -- but you should prepare to try a few courses, from a nice array of selected dishes, from every eatery on the list. The list is well-sized and covers a wide swath of DesertResortslandia. So, will you find a pool to sit by after you save some cash at a restaurant you've never tried? It will be late May and/or early June, and the nights, as everyone knows, are perfect 'round the P.S. and just beyond.

Photo Credit: Palm Springs Restaurant Week]]>
<![CDATA[Find Your Park: A Centennial Celebration]]> Wed, 01 Apr 2015 22:27:48 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/timhaufchannelislands1.jpg

THAT DEEPER CONNECTION: If someone were to ask you your favorite Beatles song or your best-loved flower or your must-have type of birthday cake, chances are very, very tiny that you'd wave them away while saying something like "but I love all the cake!" Okay, well, maybe we're kind of wrong on that one -- the majority of us love all the cake. But you're bound to choose one favorite ditty ("Blackbird") and one favorite flower (amaryllis) and one favorite anything among those items and places and works of art you favor. Same goes with the national parks. Of course if you're a nature fan -- and you are, being an earthling, we'll assume, in the way we'll assume you love all the cake -- then you probably love all the national parks in the National Park Service. We get that. We embrace it. But do you find yourself daydreaming of Badlands National Park in South Dakota? Or Montana's Glacier National Park? Is Channel Islands National Park your go-to getaway? Okay then: You have a favorite. Embrace that favorite, or favorites, as the case may delightfully be, during the Find Your Park campaign, a new initiative from the National Park Service and National Park Foundation that is "encouraging people to connect with and celebrate our national parks and public lands."

HAPPY 100TH: It's the start of the National Park Service's big centennial, and First Lady Michelle Obama and Mrs. Laura Bush are co-chairing the program, which seeks to bring more story to the national park experience. Nope, it isn't just a visit to see some big trees or mountains. It's about finding meaning, and renewal, away from the noisy hubbub of daily life. There's a fresh Find Your Park site, which has a bunch of ways narrow down your park loves (including a helpful quiz regarding what you look for in a national park). The park-oriented stories of others also take a centerstage role at the site. And, you bet, absolutely, there's a hashtag, too: #findyourpark. Want to share your park story to the delight of other park fans? You can. Want to begin the birthday confetti throwing for the NPS? You can do that, too. (Of course, we're speaking of proverbial confetti, as leaving our national parks tidy and as we find them is the right way to go.)

Photo Credit: Tim Hauf/Island Packers]]>