<![CDATA[NBC Bay Area - Worth the Trip]]> Copyright 2014 http://www.nbcbayarea.com/blogs/worth-the-trip http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/nbc_bayarea_blue.png NBC Bay Area http://www.nbcbayarea.com en-us Sun, 23 Nov 2014 06:48:26 -0800 Sun, 23 Nov 2014 06:48:26 -0800 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Crab-Feasting, the Mendocino Way]]> Sat, 22 Nov 2014 21:38:37 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/crabjan2345.jpg

DELICIOUS DEBATE: Introducing a few tender topics over a seafood feast shared among friends is best done at your own peril, if you don't want to find yourself gently refereeing a long-standing culinary feud. Like... Should shrimp be butterflied when fried? If you go lobster roll, do you go hot, where the meat is drenched in butter, or cold, which is all about the mayo, herbs, and chopped celery? And for that matter, is the lobster roll bun all that important, or should it be pretty standard issue sandwich-y stuff, as is treasured tradition in some quarters? And what is the proper way to dine upon crab? Does one enjoy the crab covered in Old Bay, upon a sheet of butcher paper, or does one savor their crustacean-based eats in cake form?

HEATED BUT FRIENDLY EXCHANGES... do carry on, even in friendly circles, but here's some excellent news for mavens of Mendocino County and buffs of all things crabby: The sprawling January-time celebration covers all bases, from "blinis topped with creamy crab" to a three-course crab-themed supper to judge-approved crab cakes at the Mendo Bistro in Fort Bragg. Everyone who is in a particular crab corner, in short, can find their feasty favorites, and the fact that wine and beer are along for the rich ride only enhances the fun. Oh, and that fun has an official name: The Crab, Wine, & Beer Festival.

DUNGENESS CRAB... is the centerpiece of the celebration, as might be expected, as it is very much in season around that wind-swept coast. (Honest? Ever coast kind of deserves that title, to some extent, but Mendo kind of clinches it, hence why we're pulling it out here.) Special events, like the Skunk Train's Crab & Wine Express on Jan. 17 and 24 and the crab and vino pairings at a host of local wineries dot the January calendar. As for the full running dates? Jan. 16 through 27, 2015 is the stretch of time all hardcore crabbists should make for Mendo. Wouldn't it be sort of a dream to spend a chunk of January in the postcardian town, complete with its wind-swept cliffs? Crab cakes, local merlots, and train rides into the redwoods just complete the scene.

<![CDATA[Santa Makes His Big, California-Style Water Arrivals]]> Sat, 22 Nov 2014 08:19:54 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/santaseaportvillage123.JPG

GOLDEN STATE QUINTESSENTIAL: A certain toymaker of elfly talents, a man who resides in a very northerly clime, has a propensity for the Big Arrival. Save when he's silently scooting down chimneys and leaving gifts, Santa Claus is not content with the quiet entrance. His public appearances tend to come with much splash and dash, some live music, possibly a red carpet, and, frequently, a plush velvet throne that seems to have been dipped in gold (or something like gold). In colder locations, he'll sometimes pull up to an event via sled or snowmobile, but in California? It's all about the famous icon showing up via the water. That water's very typically the Pacific Ocean, though there are a few exceptions. But the upshot? Santa's wave-based arrival is Golden State Quintessential. Here's where the man in the shiny buckle is grand-entrancing via the H20 in the weeks ahead...

SAN DIEGO: Surfin' San Diego makes his Saturday, Nov. 29 Seaport Village entrance via, you got it, "special water craft." Nope, he won't be rocking his red winter outerwear, but something from the board shorts/Hawaiian shirt end of his closet. (Santa so has summer wear; we just never see it.) 

CAPITOLA: We so often hear the details on Santa's reindeer-pulled sleigh -- the size, the specs, its in-the-air speed, that it is roomy enough for sacks and sacks of toys -- but we don't always hear about Mr. Kringle's personal outrigger canoe. And yet that's his chosen mode for his yearly arrival on Capitola Beach, so watch for the main man, and his team of oar buddies, on Saturday, Nov. 29. 

PETALUMA: Where does The Jolly Ol' Elf arrive by riverboat? In the Egg Basket of the World. It's a charmer -- his boat is festively be-bow'd and be-swag'd -- and it happens on Saturday, Nov. 29. (We know, Santa's showing everywhere on Nov. 29, but forget not this true thing: He's magic.)

NICK'S COVE: Santa Claus hearts the beautiful Tomales Bay, as we all do. He'll show at the water-close destination -- show by "water sleigh," natch -- on Sunday, Dec. 7. Seasonal sips and oysters are on the merry menu, oh yes they are. If only Santa arrived by water everywhere, instead of air (though that seems to work out for him, too).

Photo Credit: Seaport Village]]>
<![CDATA[Giant Gingerbread Houses on Approach]]> Fri, 21 Nov 2014 08:30:47 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/233*120/fairmontgingerbread12345.jpg

EDIBLE EDIFICES: Hotels have gained a reputation through the ages in a few specific areas. They're places to bed down for the night, for a fee. Sometimes they have a restaurant, where one may take a meal, before the bedding down. Other services often dot a hotel's C.V., from spas to shoeshine to tours. And sometimes, if a hotel has received a dusting of holiday magic glitter -- you can totally find that in industry catalogs, we've heard -- ginormous houses made of gingerbread, frosting, and candy canes show up in their lobbies for a few weeks at the end of the year. It's not every inn that walks this whimsical road, but some of the Golden States grand dames do so, year after year. Including...

THE CLAREMONT HOTEL, CLUB & SPA: The historic, up-a-hill Berkeley landmark has laid some 1,600 bricks -- make those gingerbread bricks -- and some peppermint stick touches in its walk-in treat. The sugary structure isn't the only holiday thing going down at the hotel. There's a Home for the Holidays package and a Holiday Faire on Nov. 30, complete with "merry sips and bites" and the lighting of the big tree. We're still wondering, though, why we don't have a giant walk-in edible of our own.

THE FAIRMONT: Oh goodness. This one is a glittery people-gatherer, as you know if you've ever tucked into the Nob Hill topper for a quick December look around (or attended one of the hotel's sumptuous teas). There is usually a guest or visitor milling inside the two-story house -- yep, it is a gingerbread house with multiple stories -- at all hours of the day. You can't miss it, either: It's right inside The Fairmont. Two stories! Now we kind of want someone to build a gingerbread tower, life-sized, or a gingerbread dorm? It can be done, we just bet.

GINGERBREAD MANSION: Speaking of walk-in gingerbread structures, Ferndale is home to the Gingerbread Mansion, which looks as gingerbready as any baked good. Nope, it isn't made of real gingerbread -- it would get super soggy in the rain -- but it is a festively monikered place, in a beautiful Victorian-esque town. If you don't need real gingerbread to complete your season, but only gingerbread in spirit, this could be your Christmas stayover. (Just pack a box of gingerbread cookies to eat in your room, to complete the experience.)

Photo Credit: Fairmont San Francisco]]>
<![CDATA[Palms and Pirouettes: The Del's Skating by the Sea]]> Thu, 20 Nov 2014 21:52:34 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/202*120/skatingdelevening123.jpg

A PLACE OUT OF PLACE: If you were to pause and picture the last time you ice skated, and you could get out of your head for a moment -- because we're very much within our heads when we ice skate, what with the keeping of our balance and such -- and think about the surroundings, what would you recall? The Plexiglas partition that separates the stands from the rink? The instant cocoa vending machine in the far corner? The hockey-ready line layout of the ice? There's a lot to look at, even as you keep your upright posture. But picture, now, gazing upon foamy waves, or perhaps a seagull, or even a row of palm trees. Nope, you're not looking at some tropical mural painted on a wall of your ice rink: You're looking at the real Pacific Ocean, and actual palm trees. Well, that is, if you're standing on the Hotel del Coronado's seasonal rink, one of the most unusual expanses of ice in all the state. The Thanksgiving-to-just-after-New-Year's rink is indeed situated between the turret-topped hotel and the sand, which means you could skate and swim all within the hour. (Let's be honest, though: That water isn't as tropical as the balmy scene set just beyond the waves.)

WANT TO GIVE IT A TWIRL? It costs twenty five bucks per skater and that includes skate rental (though not your swim trunks or waterwings, if you decide to take an after-dip in the water). A pro skater will call upon the rink, to lend tips and instruction, and if you want to bed down for the night at the landmark that's staging the whole icily offbeat scene? There's a Holiday Sea & Skate Package, which includes a $25 resort credit and discounted self-parking.

AND ARE THOSE HOURS... extended come the week of Christmas into New Year's? If you know the Del, you know it absolutely bustles with visitors who want to admire the baubles, bows, and lobby tree. You can bet ice rink hours grow come the end of the year. 

Photo Credit: Hotel del Coronado]]>
<![CDATA[Opening Days Ahead: Hello, Tahoe Snow]]> Thu, 20 Nov 2014 13:16:45 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/squawfreshsnowfb.jpg

BOOK YOUR DATE WITH THE BRRRR: November is quite the month for releases or launches or let's-get-this-going deals. You have the release of much-anticipated holiday postage stamps during the month (yep, those cute "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" debuted on Nov. 6). You have the annual bow of Beaujolais Nouveau, the so-called "Thanksgiving" wine (it's always the third Thursday in November, a date met with many a vino-sipping party). And you have, at resorts around the Golden State, the opening dates at our high-elevation, fast-downhill ski destinations. Some get going early -- Mammoth started its run the second week in November -- and Badger Pass in Yosemite National Park usually waits it out a bit and debuts in December. But the big Lake Tahoe resorts? Yep, they often cluster those anticipated openers around the second half of November, so best boot-up if you're planning on some snow-conquering over the holiday weekend. Some of those resorts and dates include...

KIRKWOOD MOUNTAIN RESORT: The destination had planned a Saturday, Nov. 22 but a Facebook posting put that in question, due to "Mother Nature" needing to give a little more of an assist. Want to keep tabs? Follow here.

SQUAW VALLEY: All eyes are on the day before Thanksgiving -- that's Wednesday, Nov. 26 -- and it appears things are still a go, go, go "weather and conditions permitting."

NORTHSTAR: Oh, it's on, complete with "WINTER IS COMING" writ large on the play place's homepage. Opening day is set for Friday, Nov. 21, meaning skiers who are in town for all of the holiday week'll get some early schuss action in.

HEAVENLY MOUNTAIN RESORT: Nov. 21 is also the date when Heavenly cuts the proverbial ribbon on its ski season. And those good-dealie Epic Passes are still available, at least through Nov. 23.

BOREAL MOUNTAIN RESORT: Two words on the winter favorite's homepage say it all: We're Open!

Photo Credit: Squaw Valley]]>
<![CDATA[Turkey, Then Wine: A Post-Holiday Holiday in Sonoma County]]> Wed, 19 Nov 2014 18:18:53 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/winesonomaholidaynovember1.jpg

A HUNDRED SUGGESTIONS: Cookbooks and cooking web sites and cook-snappy tip lists have grown more niche, more focused, and more pinpointy over the years. Even baked potatoes have their own hefty cookbooks, and yay that, because everyone knows the baked potato is the king of foods, and that's every food included. (When baked potato toppings finally get their own cookbook, only then will we be fully happy.) And a whole new cottage industry of what-to-do-with-Thanksgiving-leftovers also sprung up in recent years, covering everything from how to use leftover gravy (baked potato topper) to how to make day-old cranberry jelly sing (again, baked potato topper). But wine has received special consideration as an after-Thanksgiving fact of modern life. What does one do with all of those half-finished open bottles? Yes, drink them is a fine answer, but several recipes also deal in the matter of how to enjoy all of that vino following the Thanksgiving party. Here's one thought: Give those bottles back to the friends who brought them, tell them to stow them in the cupboard, and then head out together to find a real wine time the weekend after Thanksgiving, one that involves no recipes or standing at the stoves (you already were there, what with the turkey and all).

THE FRIDAY AND SATURDAY... following T Day happens to be the Heart of Sonoma Valley's annual Holiday Open House, a vineyard-by-vineyard toodle that spotlights 26 valley wineries, like Benziger Family Winery, Orpheus Wines, and Moondance Cellars. The mood'll be merry, and definitely shall summon the spirit of upcoming December celebrations, so if you want to don your Santa hat while you sip -- surely you have a Santa hat made for sipping? -- then do. Munch-along snacks, caroling, wine discounts, and gifts fill out the festivities. Note again that this is a Friday and Saturday deal, not Saturday to Sunday, and note that the Nov. 28 and 29 happening is $45. Will you still have relatives in town? Need to get them out of the house for a bit? Do you not want to consider recipes that call for leftover wine, at least not the day or two after you spent making food for lots of friends and family members? So many questions but only 26 wineries to visit. You could take in quite a few, over two holiday-happy days.

Photo Credit: Heart of Sonoma Valley]]>
<![CDATA[Sparkle Flash: Retro Pinball Fashion Sale]]> Wed, 19 Nov 2014 08:29:36 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/188*120/pinball2.jpg

TOGS TO TILT BY: If you had to describe the perfect pinball outfit, where would you begin? Most people might start by suggesting that the clothing be a little loose fitting, though not too loose. The player at the machine does not want to be constricted, and yet one does not to dress too freely, lest a pocket or belt loop gets caught on the plunger in a fit of heated play. Also, dare we say it? Pinballers should wear a get-up that can take a bit of sweat, because if you're going to beat your personal best, you're going to perspire a little (if you're playing right). Most of all, something vintage and waybacky feels right. Think of all of those photos from the 1970s, where dudes in flared jeans and no shoes -- and sometimes no shirt -- hovered over pinball machines intent on scoring their 100th jackpot of the day. It turns out pinball traditions do have sartorial back story, clothing connections that played out in both the players and the illustrated people depicted on the machines. Pacific Pinball in Alameda shall celebrate retro fashions that go well in the pinball hall, with some music and open pinball play, on Saturday, Nov. 22.

VINTAGE PINBALL STYLE: A retro clothing sale'll go down -- "See pinball fashions come to life!" -- in conjunction with the Pinball Style exhibit now on display. There shall be entertainment, such as comedy stylings and DJ-helmed music, and attendees are welcome to play, sans quarters, any of the 100 machines in the house. Yep, they're free, but the event is ticketed, at $15. So if you need some retro old-schooling and funny ha-ha-ing and some time besting various kickholes ahead of the holidays, the time is nigh. Well, the time is Nov. 22, 1 to 5 p.m.

NO, REALLY... don't early '70s flared jeans make the perfect pinball-adjacent wearable? Few pants are as full of attitude, which one needs some of to master the small ball.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[Nevada City's 1800s-esque Kind of Holiday]]> Tue, 18 Nov 2014 16:20:30 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/216*120/victorianncxmaschamber.jpg

YOU CAN TAKE THE TOP HAT OUT OF LONDON.... and it is usually just fine. We speak, of course, of the many iterations of "A Christmas Carol" that pop up around the globe come the yuletide season. Only a few of them actually are anywhere near the streets that Charles Dickens imagined Ebeneezer Scrooge roaming, but that doesn't matter: We're able to fill in much of that London-foggy color, even if we're watching a performance in a small, 12-seat strip mall theater or at a high school auditorium (one of the most charming places of all to see the ghosty tale spin out). But entering a real Victorian-esque street scene, sans players from "A Christmas Carol" but with buildings built in the general time period of the story, can capture the flavor of top hats and holly and pudding. Few places in the U.S. pull that off as well as Nevada City, which is not surprising, since the Gold Country burg still wears many of its 1800s styles along Broad Street and the surrounding thoroughfares. So when the town throws its annual Victorian Christmas celebration, you can bet you'll get much of that "God Rest Y Merry Gentleman" flavor from the fun, and you can find ye olde London right here in ye olde California.

DATES AND DELIGHTS: The merriment is happening over a host of Wednesdays and Sundays in December. There shall be carolers in full dress, flickering gas lamps, twinkling lights, "savory yuletide treats and libations," carriage rides, and a host of other to-dos as bright as a holly berry. Attendees are invited to also dress in hoop skirts and capes, in the hopes that the whole scene goes fully Currier & Ives (or your favorite nostalgia-nice painters of the general era). Nope, again, this is not a performance of "A Christmas Carol" but rather that time come to life, with a Gold Country twist. The 2014 Victorian Christmas, by the by, is the 36th one, and it has proven so popular that rooms do book up around the snug city. Have your top hat? Your carols memorized? Your love of lit-interesting settings come to life? Clip-clop, carriage-style, to Nevada City.

Photo Credit: Nevada City Chamber of Commerce]]>
<![CDATA[New: Palm Springs Architecture and Design Center]]> Tue, 18 Nov 2014 15:47:35 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/psfacebookarchcenter1.jpg

MID-CENTURY CREATIVE LAB: When a city is on the rise, one destined to become a tony destination of world-class proportions, the builders and designers and landscapers and urban planners aren't always cognizant, in the moment, of the overall look of the town, its visual vibe and forward-facing character. Sometimes quick growth means quick decisions, decisions that have more to do with making an attractive play place that appeals to the changing tastes of current users rather than vacationers 50 years into the future. That's one of the many things that makes Palm Springs a stand-out in terms of a cohesive look and consistent architectural practices.

FOR SURE... the desert resort has a history that stretches far earlier than the mid-century, and some pretty Spanish-Mission structures to show for it, but once that streamlined, flat- or triangled-roofed, outdoor-living style arrived in the 1950s and '60s, Palm Springs embraced it and never looked back. Which makes this pool-dotted destination a vast open-air museum, a love letter to mid-century modernism, and a city ripe for a high-minded hub dedicated to mid-century style, philosophy, and lifestyle. And it got it: The Palm Springs Museum's Architecture and Design Center, Edwards Harris Pavilion opened its doors earlier in November, with the mission to support research, education, and the enjoyment of the region's mid-century heritage.

FIRST UP... is an exhibit spotlighting E. Stewart Williams, the man who designed the Santa Fe Federal Savings & Loan (the year was 1961, a prime time for the flowering of all wonders mid-century). The show runs through Feb. 22, so if you're planning on swinging by Modernism Week, the multi-day gathering of mid-century enthusiasts that lands in Palm Springs each February, you'll be able to see it, and the new structure-celebrating center. To keep tabs on what's happening at the 13,000-square-foot center, which takes in both Palm Springs and the San Jacinto Mountains, big-glass-wall-style, click.

Photo Credit: Palm Springs Art Museum]]>
<![CDATA[Rise 'N Shine, Pandas: An Early Morning Tour]]> Mon, 17 Nov 2014 21:48:32 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/earlypandasd.jpg

A DIFFERENT LOOK: You might hear "San Diego Zoo" in a sentence without hearing "pandas" a few seconds later, but it is quite rare to hear or read a whole paragraph about the zoo without both place and panda coming into play. For while the well-known animal park is famed for beasties of every stripe/purr/bark/claw/roar, the resident pandas have the whole superstardom thing tight in their grasp (as tightly as they might clutch a tasty shoot of bamboo). Visitors to the park very often are seen making for the giant pandas as soon as walking in the gate, and Panda Cam? People from around the planet peek in on it daily, the better to see the beloved bears trundling, gnawing, and roly-poly-ing (the most apt word for what younger cubs do). But what if you could spend a bit more time at the viewing area, before the critter-lovin' crowds stream through the main entrance, the better to get your bear knowledge on? And what if you were something of a morning person, or at least could be, for a day, much in the way that many animals of the San Diego Zoo are up with the first rays of the sun? Then you're in luck. Unhand the screen with the Panda Cam on it and make for the real thing, because...

EARLY MORNING WITH THE PANDAS... is a yawn-and-smile way to take in the giant panda viewing area in a fresh, dewy light. The "new, small-group tour starts before the Zoo opens," which gives panda fans a chance to peek in on Xiao Liwu -- remember when he was just a little tyke a couple of years back? -- and Bai Yun and the other bears in a before-hours setting. A shuttle tour through the zoo provides a look at other denizens of the animal park. And as for the "early morning" hour? Gosh, it is isn't all that early: It starts at 8:30 a.m. and wraps by 10:30 a.m. Figure if you're that person who always beelines -- bearlines? -- for the pandas at opening, this is a fine way to nudge that time just a hair earlier, the better for a little more focused panda-directed admiring. The cost? It's $89, plus admission. You waking up at the crack of dawn? Well, you could, to be like many of the zoo beasties, but with an 8:30 start, you're probably okay rising/shining closer to 7 or 7:30, depending on how much time you need to get ready and how long you need to eat your breakfast bamboo. Er, cereal.

Photo Credit: San Diego Zoo]]>
<![CDATA[Livermore's Pajama-iest Day of the Year]]> Mon, 17 Nov 2014 15:07:37 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/219*120/pajamas-generic.jpg

A SEPARATE CALENDAR: Many of us likely have a paper calendar, topped by photographs of kittens or castles or a child's sports team, on the front of the refrigerator. Standard, true-blue, easy-to-use stuff, the calendar helps us keep our dates straight. But the calendar hasn't been invented yet, as far as we know, that offers a supplementary page for November, the page that doesn't show "Nov. 28" but rather "Black Friday" or "Small Business Saturday" rather than Nov. 29. It can be sticky keeping all of the nicknames for the online/brick-and-mortar/large/small shopping days untangled. Which is why, if you're planning a shop day for your city, it's better to leave the weekend after Thanksgiving behind and alight on the Saturday beforehand, a day which hasn't yet been claimed in pop culture (as of this second). Livermore has the right idea, and they're making it a little zingy: Wear your pajamas and shop around Downtown Livermore. Yep, making gift purchases around a downtown could fall under the header of "Small Business Saturday," which is technically that post-Thanksgiving Saturday, but the pajama elements definitely means this offbeat outing, called Earlier Than the Bird, needs its own starring day. And that day shall be...

SATURDAY, NOV. 22: So make sure wallet has a bit of cash and your favorite bunny- or puppy-bedecked flannels are on the clean side, since you'll be parading 'em in public. (Probably should skip the feetie pajamas, though, as they might get a little scuffed after awhile.) "Free giveaways" are promised for pajama wearers, but the dress code isn't merely about acting daffy for a day: A pajama drive for Tri-Valley Have is part of the event, so bring a new pair for kids ages 3 through the teen years.

OH, AND ARE SWEATS PAJAMAS? Nope, not in Livermore and not on Nov. 22. Want to be part of the spirit and nab a gratis goodie? Put on your softest duckie button-up and stringed drawers. With all of the themed shopping days coming at us, it is pretty nice to have one that's very much on the kooky side.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Monterey Cowboy Festival]]> Mon, 17 Nov 2014 07:43:20 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/cowboyhat.jpg

AN AMERICAN ART FORM: In discussion of what major cultural genres flowered first in the United States, it is hard for the discussees not to alight first upon jazz, and then perhaps comic books, and a few other areas that are more up for debate. (Did the screwball comedy start here, or is it an offshoot of European vaudeville?) But to the roster of mind- and heart-growing forms born here we add cowboy poetry and songs of the range. The American West, with its stretches always described as "vast," inspired the people on horseback traveling great distances to spin yarns, tell tall tales, and fashion a particular kind of poetry that was a straight-up paean to a life lived under the Big Sky. But that poetry did not fade away as the West was settled (and settled and settled); there are still true-hearted practitioners of the popular form, a form enjoyed both in private domestic settings and larger gatherings. Such a gathering is set for Monterey over the weekend ahead of Thanksgiving, and if range ways, with its fences and horses and crisp air and distant mountains, appeals, then clip-clop down to the 16th Annual Monterey Cowboy Poetry and Music Festival.

NOV. 21 THROUGH 23: As you might expect, Monterey's wayback draw for vaqueros is a focus of the fest, which will include the "music, poetry, and storytelling" of artists who are able to aptly capture place, vocation, and the soaring of spirit. The California cowboy's life -- and that of the cowgirl as well -- is a life tied to both the traditions of Mexico and the United States, so look for a unique Golden State take on that open-range existence. Beyond the poetry and tunes, look for a Vaquero breakfast, a marketplace, a dance, and an open mic event. Performers like Juni Fisher, Cow Bop, and Verlon Thompson will be there, and there shall be a Cowboy Meet and Greet with "some of the performers." Good stuff, and especially good if you feel as though your citified heart has lost some of the expansive, stars-overhead hope in the hustle/bustle of your day-to-day.

Photo Credit: Stock Image]]>
<![CDATA[Winter Solstice Hike Up Diablo]]> Sat, 15 Nov 2014 22:30:54 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/205*120/wintersolsticediablo1234.jpg

CALM CHANGE OF PACE: Do a search for "holidays" and "stress" and then prepare to spend the rest of your day, or perhaps week, sifting through various links pointing to study after study and the fact that we all know and many of us live at the close of each year: The sparkling season has a way of sparking our tendency to get worked up and spun out. We have a role in controlling our reaction to the piled-on must-dos of December, of course, though it is a part many of us refuse to play, even after vowing that this year will be entirely different. Because the meat of the matter is we probably do have to go to the office party, the drinks at the in-laws, and a school bake sale or two. Those things can't be changed, nor should they be, really, but what we can do is turn to nature. Nope, we didn't say breathe deeply, stare at a blue wall, or drink more herbal teas, though what works for someone has merit. But an hour or two spent in nature is so very full of merit, as well. It has a way of undoing the done-up feeling of December, which makes the arrival of winter solstice a wonder. Why? Because dawn celebrations and outdoor gatherings are planned here and there, with one of the most plant-nice and peaceful going down up Mount Diablo.

SUNDAY, DEC. 21: The shortest day of the year lands on a weekend day -- hooray that -- so plan to pause the wrapping and the greeting cards to head for the Walnut Creek-close ascent, where a naturalist will point out lichen and mistletoe and berries and various critters. Ahhh, relaxing already, just thinking of lichen and berries. It's a moderate hike, five miles, so if you need to work out some of the gingerbread ales and plum cakes you've been devouring, this is a start. And the meditative qualities of connecting with the wilder world on a day when people have made for the outdoors for reasons both personal and communal? They're present, too. It's six bucks to cover your car, you'll meet at the Mitchell Canyon Visitor Center, and, nope, it isn't a crack-of-dawn-er, a time of day we often associate with that other solstice. It starts at 9:30 a.m., so you can sleep off the office party the night before. Hobnob, then nature, then hobnob again? Folding in some trees, sky, and quiet sounds like the solution to a much calmer holiday season. If you can't turn down the hobnob, turn up the nature.

Photo Credit: Save Mount Diablo]]>
<![CDATA[General Grant Ceremony: Trek to the Tree]]> Sat, 15 Nov 2014 16:39:21 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/trektothetreegrant123.jpg

GENTLE GIANT: There are, without doubt, some very celebrated and photographed and visited trees that pop up around the country come Christmas time. The White House tree is one of the most well-known, and the shrub that dominates the ice rink at Rockefeller Center, and city trees from Chicago to Atlanta to LA (where the "world's tallest live cut tree" stands at The Citadel Outlets). But few celebrated Christmas trees actually still stand where they grew, with roots in the ground. One major example does, and it in fact earned the title "The Nation's Christmas Tree" from President Calvin Coolidge back in the 1920s.

IF YOU'RE GUESSING... that it has to be in a national park, probably located within the Golden State, given our rep for plants of a very colossal nature, you'd be totally correct. If you're guessing it is a redwood or sequoia, you're in the right ballpark (or, um, national park). And if you think it might be a tree that already comes with its own name and well-documented stats, right again: The Nation's Christmas Tree is the General Grant, which is located in King's Canyon. And each and every December fans snowboot-up and make for a touching tribute, complete with carols and a salute to lives lost by members of the military.

SUNDAY, DEC. 14: Revelers and those wishing to have a reverent moment will head into the possibly snowy giant sequoia grove on the middle Sunday of the last month of the year. It's year 89 for The Trek to the Tree, and The Grant Grove Restaurant has a special holiday menu available in honor of the day (for either lunch or dinner, note). The Trek happens at 2:30 in the afternoon, and there are buses from Sanger or you can drive yourself in. It's a good thing to get the details on this one, since you're going deep into the forest of giants, and deep into our national past and the spirit of the season, too.

Photo Credit: Trek to the Tree]]>
<![CDATA[Major Masa: Oxnard and Indio Tamale Festivals]]> Fri, 14 Nov 2014 21:47:31 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/tlmd_tlmd_071612_tamalesjpg_bim.jpg

DECEMBER'S DELECTABLE DELICACY: If you're not well-acquainted with someone who hosts his or her own tamale-making party each December, and you adore anything that comes wrapped in a corn husk, you can find yourself at loose ends. For sure, you have your go-to restaurants and stands at the local farmers market, the places where they know that you like a little extra hot sauce or calabacitas or green chile or cheddar. But branching out becomes easier come early December, the time of year when tamale-making kicks into high gear both in private kitchens and larger festival settings. For that's when both Indio and Oxnard host their masa-plus-good-ingredients bashes, and, for sure, the wide array of tamale tastes is impressive.

INDIO: Make for the Coachella Valley over the first weekend of December -- that's Saturday, Dec. 6 and Sunday, Dec. 7 -- for the Indio International Tamale Festival. This is where a Guinness record for World's Largest Tamale was set back in 1999 (think 40 feet long and a foot around) and this is where tamale specialists come to make the masa moist and the carne asada and other flavorful fillings spicy, savory, sweet. Is there a carnival to boot and other doings away from the food booths? For sure. Is this the place you see on the food channels, December after December? It's the very one.

OXNARD: Make for Oxnard's Plaza Park on Saturday, Dec. 6 for a bevy of rectangle-shaped packets bearing tamale goodness. (Real question: Is there a food that's more rectangular than the tamale? Okay, maybe chocolate bars, but on the dinner end of the question, the tamale wins.) There's an eating contest and rows of vendors vending delish things you'll need a plastic fork to dig into. Or will you? How you do a tamale is up to you, and since it fits so nicely in the palm, going forkless, we imagine, is a-ok. Gets all that shrimp-good, chicken-hot masa to the mouth so much quicker.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[A Wine Country Fried Chicken Tasting]]> Fri, 14 Nov 2014 21:53:29 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/friedchicken_list.jpg

BEYOND THE TONY TASTES: Quibbling with a good friend over drinks about what makes something a tony or swanky foodstuff might be a fool's errand, but the two you will likely have a pretty lively time running that particular errand together. Once upon a long ago, alighting upon just what was sophisticated eating, according the swells in the know (think ultra-famous chefs and magazine editors), was kind of a snap: look at price, look at rarity, look at how far one had to travel to eat the food in question. If it was around the block, forget it -- not a swanky foodstuff. If you had to cross statelines, or venture to Europe, then you probably meant business. Caviar, sparkling wine, and certain mollusks fit the bill, but nowadays? 

PRACTICALLY EVERY FOOD... has gotten its chance to leap out of the luncheonette and go for greater gastronomic glory. Comfort foods, from mac 'n cheese to pot pies, count here, as does fried chicken, which has had a renaissance -- or, quite honestly, four or five renaissances -- since the whole culinary-comfort wave began at the end of the last century. If this is your favorite dish, then Flavor! Napa Valley has your event on Saturday, Nov. 22 at the CIA at Greystone.

FRIED & TRUE: Culinary author Lee Brian Schrager hosts a two-hour session that's about the many ways to prepare the outdoorsy, pack-it-anywhere staple. Napa Valley chefs will chime in on the matter, and you'll likely leave having fresh opinions on frying times, oils, temperatures, and the all-important question of what goes into the batter. 

MORE FLAVOR! The fried chicken afternoon is just one reason that Napa Valley's falltime feast isn't all about straight-up rarefied eating; a session on the perfect English muffin is also on the Flavor! Napa Valley calendar. So, truly, what make a dish, ingredient, or taste rare beyond compare? One might wager that the answer is if it special, and singular, to the taster.

Photo Credit: Fried Chicken]]>
<![CDATA[Calistoga's Winter in the Wineries]]> Thu, 13 Nov 2014 22:38:05 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/calistogawinterpassport12345.jpg

A FUN EXPERIENCE, WITH WINE: Philosophers from centuries ago and modern studies that pop up on your social media feeds both landed on the same conclusion, when it comes to happiness: Doing stuff is key, preferably with a pal or partner. Making memories is the shorthand for the theory, and while it sounds as pat as all get-out, thinkers from way back when and our contemporary sociologists were and are onto something. Which makes making an "experience purchase" a very attractive thing come the gift-giving season, but being spurred onto what exactly that means for the giftee you have in mind can be tricky. What are they into? If the answer is food, a nice dinner out works, and wine? Well, hoo boy.

THE CHOICES ARE PLENTIFUL... but all revolve around tastings, vineyards, winemaker talks, and being out in the dapply-sun air that seems to be a hallmark of California's most photo-perfect vineyards. It so happens that an easy "experience purchase" comes along in Calistoga each and every December. Make that early December, which is officially the week we start to panic slightly about getting the goods for the good people in our lives. Winter in the Wineries, the area's cold-season passport program, starts on Dec. 6, which leads up to this: If you buy a passport for a pal, and one for yourself, you can start ahead of the holidays on the whole "experience"-gathering front.

BECAUSE A WINE PASSPORT... and the relaxation that comes from trying a bouquet of vintages is something many of us would enjoy in the thick of holiday stress. But if you choose to gift your pal on the holiday itself, you're in luck: Winter in the Wineries is on through Sunday, Feb. 8. It's fifty bucks, you'll get a crack at 14 wineries, and you can undertake the tastings at any time during the Dec. 6 to Feb. 8 stretch. Discounts at area eateries and hotels are part of the wintry largess, too. Clos Pegase, Tank Garage Winery, and Lava Vine Winery are all on the list, and several others. Bam: Fifty bucks, or a hundred, if you buy one for yourself, as well, and you've fulfilled what the philosophers and sociologists say to do: Make experiences, with people. Done and done.

Photo Credit: Winter in the Wineries]]>
<![CDATA[Spend the Last Night of the Year on Catalina Island]]> Wed, 12 Nov 2014 22:04:20 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/duskavalanchamber.jpg

THAT NOSTALGIC HOLIDAY: Peppy top ten lists may recommend how we approach a new year, what with the resolutions and the high hopes and the starting-over promises we make, but the end of the year, any year, is strongly about nostalgia. Yes, Christmas plays a large part in that, but so does New Year's Eve, which, try though some of us might, is still very much about streamers, paper top hats, and "Auld Lang Syne," a heart-tugger of a ditty that's threaded through and through with past longings and wayback wistfulness. And if ever there was a building that possessed wayback-a-tude in its very pillars and pilings, at least 'round California, it is Catalina Island's Casino Building. It opened in 1929, the heyday of starlets and swells making for Avalon's fair harbor for a little off-the-SoCal-mainland whooping-it-up. And it has kept that late-'20s air to it, making it the perfect wistful setting for a holiday steeped in yesteryear. The Casino has marked New Year's Eve for 42 years running this year, and its dress-it-up bash is once again scheduled for, you guessed it, Dec. 31.

HEADING FOR NYE... on Catalina Island, however, isn't like going to a wingding on this side of the Pacific; planning is involved, and getting there, and spending the night. Which you'll want to do, after the Champagne split you share with your date, after the dancing to the live tunes, and after the balloon drop. The balloon drop! Sights don't get more yesteryear, hoo boy. Once you mix in hats, noisemakers, and a buffet dinner, you've had a grand night in a grand building. Plus, you get to stroll out onto the Casino's upper balcony, the one that overlooks the harbor and lights of Avalon, and if you don't break into song, or get dipped, dance-style, by your date, you're not fully in the ye-olde-1920s spirit of the night. Tempted to time-travel, and across some ocean water, no less? Best book your passage, hotel, and New Year's Eve Ball tickets at once, dapper ladies and romantic gentlemen.

Photo Credit: Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce]]>
<![CDATA[Beastie Cheer: Safari West Holiday Open House]]> Wed, 12 Nov 2014 22:49:41 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/meerkatssafarisantarosa.jpg

NO HOSTESS GIFT REQUIRED: What's the one place most people stop by on the way to a friend or co-worker's holiday open house? "The store" is a fine answer. Nobody likes to show up empty-handed -- there are etiquette rules to follow -- and a pound cake or bottle of bubbly is just the right thing to have when one walks in the front door. But what of an open house at an expansive animal preserve? The meerkats aren't really into Champagne -- they're bubbly enough, energy-wise, as is -- and the giraffes would probably turn a long nose up at the idea of a pound cake, as it isn't really their bag, as edible things go. Still, the other tenets of a good open house stand at Safari West's annual open house days. And one of those tenets? Get better acquainted. The Santa Rosa animal park makes this easier by changing up the price on their African Queen tour, making it just $25 for adults and free for kids under 13. This is a reserved deal, so you'll need to ring up for your spot on Nov. 16, Dec. 7, or Dec. 14, which, yes, are all Sundays. But isn't Sunday the most open-house-ish of all the days of the week?

MORE SAFARI WEST HAPPENINGS: While Thanksgiving is now sold out at the park -- mark your 2015 calendar for this seriously popular, always-booked-up-way-in-advance meal and event -- there are other choice experiences, like spending a night near the animals. Luxury tents with "polished wood floors, gleaming copper basins in private bathrooms, and one of a kind hand-hewn furniture" are part of the swanky stay, a stay, of course, that keeps you close-ish, or at least not-too-far-ish, from the gnu and the buffalo and the other peepers and chitterers of Safari West. You can also, of course, just visit on a normal day, no open house, no overnight, to get your fill of the fauna that's made the preserve so very famous.

Photo Credit: Safari West]]>
<![CDATA[Twinkly Tractors: A Calistoga Tradition Sparkles On]]> Tue, 11 Nov 2014 16:58:52 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/calistogatractor1234.jpg

MERRY MACHINERY: While fancy wheels are often pictured in wine advertisements, the people who make wine aren't driving convertible, low-to-the-ground sports cars out among the vines. It's tractors all the way, and trucks, and ATVs, and other large-wheeled, track-tough vehicles, vehicles that can get the growers through the mud and the muck. That doesn't mean wine isn't the glamorous sip it is said to be; it, of course, is quite chic, but peek behind the chic and you find some serious machinery helping transport winemakers. These vehicles receive their delightful, holiday-ready due each year in wine country, when the Calistoga Lighted Tractor Parade rolls through the heart of the wine-making, mud-burbling town. Year number nineteen is coming up, meaning this mirthful and photo-snappable parade is now drawing locals and many out-of-towners, too, people eager to see a rumble-y twist on the classic Christmas parade.

SATURDAY, DEC. 6: The tractors and trucks and construction equipment don the bulbs and bows on the first Saturday of the last month of the year, and then make for Calistoga's Lincoln Avenue. A few vintage vehicles make a cameo, in addition to modern wheels, but all have some sort of yuletide-cute adornment (from many lights to drivers dressed for the occasion). And does Santa show up? Of course. You just know Kris Kringle has some sort of ski-laden ATV up at the North Pole, the better to get from workshop building to workshop building on an especially snowy night.

THE VILLAGE... is doing it up over that weekend -- Dec. 6 and 7 -- with carolers and cookie decorating and an art market and more. Wait, scratch that -- it isn't merely cookie decorating going down at the Bella Baker but tractor cookie decorating. Say no more. We're fully and happily sold, so hand us the icing squeezie thingamabob, please.

Photo Credit: Calistoga Lighted Tractor Parade]]>
<![CDATA[A Very Napa Valley Noël]]> Tue, 11 Nov 2014 12:07:04 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/santanvwinetrain1.jpg

YULETIDE ALL YEAR: If Santa Claus were to emerge from the bullpen on opening day down at the ballpark, or light the first firecracker of the Fourth of July, we might be a mite surprised. But seeing Kris Kringle stroll down the main aisle of a train on any day of the year? We wouldn't even look twice, regardless of the month on the calendar. That's because old-timey choo-choo-ing and the Jolliest of Elves are like two pieces of a puzzle, like peanut butter and jelly, like two ideas that always fit. Perhaps it is the nostalgia factor, the sentimental attachments we put on both train and elf, but we'd be happy to hear some ho-ho-ing on a train ride in March. But come December, tracks around the state welcome a certain Very Special Guest, including some rails that are more associated with the libations of grown-up-hood: The Napa Valley Wine Train.

HERE COME THE SANTA TRAINS: "Popular" is a term that's freely applied to many December doings, but check it, it really needs to be said here: The wine train runs that host Mr. Kringle do sell out, even before the month they happen in. Once your ticket is secured, imagine you and the family socializing with Santa and enjoying the scenery. Nope, these are not gourmet lunch trains -- as the $25-$45 ticket prices denote -- so best grab a bite before boarding. These are all about fun, adventure, a few festive hours on the train, and Mr. Claus making his way to your car.

AS FOR THAT OTHER WINE TRAIN FAVORITE? Carols sung at the depot is a tradition near the tracks, and it returns again. Ready to warble? Be there on the evening of Thursday, Dec. 4. Nope, you won't be on the train, but station-based singing, complete with live piano accompaniment, has a way of jump-starting the festive feeling.

Photo Credit: Napa Valley Wine Train]]>
<![CDATA[California State Parks Honor Veterans]]> Tue, 11 Nov 2014 13:35:22 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/222*120/veteransdaystatepark123.jpg

A MOMENT IN NATURE: Veterans Day is honored in multiple ways around California, from speech-filled ceremonies to quiet remembrances to film presentations and beyond. But there's a new way, as of 2014, to pay homage to those who have served, and for those veterans who love spending time in our natural landscape to do so, for free. Assembly Bill 150 ushered in new legislation that now makes it possible for veterans and active duty military personnel to have free day-use access to our California State Parks on Veterans Day (and Memorial Day as well). "This new benefit was established on January 1, 2014" writes the California State Parks Foundation, which supported the bill. Need to find your moment in nature this Tuesday, Nov. 11? Head this way.

MORE WAYS TO HONOR: The National Park Service has a list of several sites of remembrance around the country. And the U.S.S. Iowa, which is now located in San Pedro? As is tradition, the World War II-era battleship will welcome active duty military and veterans for a Veterans Appreciation Weekend on Saturday, Nov. 8 and Sunday, Nov. 9 and a morning service on Tuesday, Nov. 11.

BAY AREA CEREMONIES: Make for either the S.S. Red Oak Victory or the U.S.S. Hornet on Tuesday, Nov. 11 for tours, screenings, exhibits, and discussions. Air Group 11, the subject of the film "Eleven," will receive a wreath-tossing tribute as part of the special proceedings.

Photo Credit: California State Parks]]>
<![CDATA[New Holiday Hotline: Napa Valley's Domaine Carneros]]> Fri, 14 Nov 2014 15:44:24 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/champ.jpg

A NEW NUMBER FOR HOLIDAY HELP: The invention of the phone brought many a fine and necessary thing to our world. Dial-A-Joke was once all the har-har rage, as was the inspirational quote of the day. But few phone-'em-up features have been as lasting, and as charmingly nostalgic, as seasonal food-oriented hotlines. It's still a simple, straightforward, and highly excellent idea: If you have an issue with something you're cooking for the big holiday party, and you need advice from an expert, you can call a special phone number and get somebody on the horn who can guide you through the steps before your casserole or cookies or cocktails go flat. Sure, we could phone a relative or a friend, but being able to get someone on the line at Butterball, when it comes to our turkey, is major. Also major, and brand-new to the holiday hotline scene? A number to call regarding that cork-topped, fizzy-fun drink that can be sipped on its own or with a few other lively ingredients. We speak of sparkling wine, a common and classy sight around Thanksgiving and December party tables, and there's a new Sparkling Holiday Hotline to lend our libations life. And it comes from...

DOMAINE CARNEROS... no less. The prestigious Napa Valley wine maker debuted its call-us-we'll-help line near the beginning of November, and it is already fielding calls on all things bubbly. Is a Brut too dry to sip alongside a dry stuffing? Should a sparkling wine cocktail come before or after the wine? And is it okay to have half a glass before the guests show up? (Okay, that probably isn't a common question, but many a host has wondered.) The Domaine Carneros line is open seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., save Thanksgiving and Christmas, and founding winemaker Eileen Crane, who has over three and a half decades of sparkling wine expertise, may just answer your call. Somebody knowledgeable will, though, meaning that your cork-topped addition to the holiday dinner is in good hands, both on your end of the line and theirs.

AS FOR THAT NUMBER? 800.716.BRUT800.716.BRUT will get you through to the sparkling-wine-o-logist you need.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Napa Valley Film Fest: Lodging Specials]]> Sun, 09 Nov 2014 22:04:29 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/nvfflodgingspecials123.jpg

THE BEST PART OF A FILM NIGHT: If you had to point at ten particular minutes as being the best part of going out to see a movie in a theater, which ten minutes would get your nod? When you first start munching on your popcorn, when it is still hot and salty? The sneak peeky trailers? Or the ride home, when you can dish on the actors and the plot and the cinematography with your pal, picking things apart and celebrating what you loved before reaching your front door? Many of us would choose that last category, and many of us would also agree the after-the-movie conversation is only improved when you don't have to go home but rather are staying in a hotel or inn or someplace that feels a tad vacation-y. Do movies improve, in hindsight, when one is lounging on a huge bed in a hotel robe, eating snacks from the vending machine? Does sitting in a lobby people-watching up a film's coolness? You can find out by making for the Napa Valley Film Festival, which isn't just about the fine flicks of tomorrow but staying overnight -- or overnights -- in the valley, the better to enjoy the scene (and not face a long, loooong drive home after the credits). Want to find your deal?

THERE ARE AREA STAYOVERS... with savings and cool stuff attached. The Meritage Resort & Spa shaves off ten percent on its film fest package (there's a code) and passes to the festival are involved when you book at the Napa Valley Marriott Hotel & Spa. And breakfast is part of the scene at a couple of the destinations, including the Napa River Inn and the Napa River Terrace Inn.

THE FESTIVAL... is on from Nov. 12 through 16, and wine, more wine, some food, and wine are a hallmark of the Hollywood-meets-Highway-29 happenings. Best stay over in the area, the better to lounge on a hotel bed with your pal and engage in talking about the film you just saw. True, that is fun on the drive home -- the best ten minutes of a night at the movies -- but it is even more fun while wearing a soft hotel robe or eating hotel vending machine snacks. Try it.

Photo Credit: Napa Valley Film Festival]]>
<![CDATA[Hearst Castle, with Bells and Bows On]]> Tue, 11 Nov 2014 15:03:44 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/205*120/hearsttableenchanted1.jpg

THE ONSLAUGHT OF IDEAS: Holiday mavens do enjoy a good seasonal catalog or web site cheerfully listing decorating tips in the form of a top ten list. Those tips and catalogs tend to multiply come November, and soon one is pondering if they should set out a spray of pine cones and acorns on the family dining room, in honor of the Christmas meal, or perhaps faux snow and tiny deer toys and shiny red ornaments. The choices are plentiful, and that overwhelmed feeling can creep in, but consider this: You'll never be called upon to decorate, from end-to-looooong-end, the dining room table in The Refectory at Hearst Castle.

BIG BIG BIG: It's one of the state's stretchiest -- a word suitable for our purposes here -- dining rooms, with a stretchy table to match (think of those long tables in old films where two people sat at opposite ends, sipping soup while about half the length of a football field apart). Suddenly putting a few pine cones and ornaments out on your own table seems doable, and one does not feel catalog-overwhelmed. Still, seeing this famous table and all of the Hearst holiday decorations up close can lend both cheers and ideas for future festivities. Eager to idea-up? Then make for San Simeon from...

THANKSGIVING THROUGH THE END OF THE YEAR: The big boughs and seriously super-sized swags and all of that great greenery is hung, with a nod to the feel of Christmas past, from the holiday of gratitude right through New Year's Eve. The era of William Randolph Hearst -- that would be the '20s and 1930s -- shines in the guest houses and main house, and visitors'll eye baubles and gewgaws and twirly bows aplenty. It should be noted that Hearst Castle has no specific Christmas tour, but the Grand Rooms Tour or Evening Tours are recommended as an "excellent" way to be bedazzled by bows -- and decorated dining room tables -- presented on a large and lavish scale.

Photo Credit: Hearst Castle]]>
<![CDATA[Veterans Day Aboard the USS Hornet]]> Mon, 10 Nov 2014 13:30:19 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/195*120/fourthhornetjuly.jpg

DOCUMENTARY AND TRIBUTE: USS Hornet pauses each year come November to pay tribute to those who have served. But each Veterans Day ceremony has its own distinctions and hallmarks, and the one set to take place aboard the aircraft carrier berthed in Alameda will put a special focus on Carrier Air Group 11, "one of the heroic air groups that flew from USS Hornet CV-12 during WWII." The documentary "Eleven" will screen, which spotlights the surviving members of Group 11 and their World War II missions, and a commemorative wreath toss will be a moving moment on the day's roster. The screening will feature "local surviving members" of the group, in addition to the director, who will be on-hand to meet audience members and share recollections. But reserving a space at the evening-scheduled documentary is key, so call 510-521-8448510-521-8448 x 224 to secure your spot.

EARLIER IN THE DAY: The wreath-tossing ceremony happens well before the 7:30 p.m. documentary showing, so be at USS Hornet by 11 a.m.; the ceremony also includes "a panel of WWII Veterans from Air Group 11." A ribbon-cutting will follow at 1 p.m., ushering in a new on-carrier exhibit about the group. Part of the two-room exhibition will "depict the living quarters of a pilot on-board the Hornet in 1944," lending a look at day-to-day life among members of the squadron.

MORE EXHIBITIONS: The history-filled artifact -- make that very, very large-sized artifact -- is filled with exhibitions that are open throughout the year. The flight deck and hangar deck give visitors a sense of what the duties were among the people who oversaw and worked each, while special looks at the Hornet's history, including its important role in the Apollo 11 mission to the moon, are also a big part of what those who go aboard see.

Photo Credit: U.S.S. Hornet]]>
<![CDATA[Four Million-Plus Lights: Holidays at the Mission Inn]]> Fri, 07 Nov 2014 18:36:27 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/209*120/festivaloflightsmission12.jpg

THE NUMBER FOUR AND LOTS OF ZEROES: When you hear that that Mission Inn in Riverside hangs over four million lights each holiday season, and you haven't yet been to the landmark to see the spectacle with your own dazzled eyes, you can be forgiven if you try and conjure up the mental picture of the brightest house or building on your block. Once you are visualizing that one casa covered in strings of lights, you feel fairly satisfied that you know what the Mission Inn's deal is, starting the night after Thanksgiving, and you won't be overly wowed by the sheer bright-a-tude that decks out the castle-y structure each yuletide season. But your preparation may be in vain, because chances are high you'll be wowed: Over four million lights -- or 4,000,000-plus, if you prefer to see a lot of zeroes in a row -- is a lot of lights, and when they're lined up together on a single, albeit large destination, it is memorable. And, do we even need to say it? Popular, too, very, especially on weekend nights and as Christmas grows closer. So planning an evening to check out one of the state's-- and possibly the planet's -- most lit-up holiday scenes requires a little calendar-assisted planning. So check off the dates of...

NOV. 28 THROUGH JAN. 6: The Mission Inn will stay lit up each night during the Festival of Lights, and the animatronic figures -- trumpet-playing angels and polar bears alike -- will be moving about, a cute complement to all of that illumination. Real human Victorian-garbed carolers often join the fun, and the hotel has other cinnamon-scented goodies in store, including stay-over packages (this is a fine idea if you do not call the I.E. home and you want a place to retreat to when the bustle of the lobby and sidewalks gets a little too bustle-y). Ready for one of the Golden State's most famous seasonal glows? No sunglasses are required, but planning a Riverside idyll soon is key.

Photo Credit: Mission Inn]]>
<![CDATA[Roaring Camp: Delivering Letters to Santa]]> Fri, 07 Nov 2014 18:40:41 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/201*120/roaringwalterscriptunasII.jpg

FESTIVE ETIQUETTE: As often as we visit the bookstore these days, we can't find the shelf that has the etiquette guides that detail how to get in touch with Santa Claus in the digital ones-and-zeroes age of World-Wide-Webiana. Should we email him? Follow The Man in Red on Twitter? Does Kris Kringle update his Tumblr regularly? What if we "liked" enough of his Facebook posts to get his attention? Some guidance is needed, for sure, but, until we get it, we're more than happy to go with the tried-and-true route of getting Father Christmas's notice: An old-fashioned letter. And getting that ink-on-paper missive to the North Pole should come with a hefty dose of charming old-fashioned-ness to match, though finding that can be tricky. Unless you make for the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk this season, where a "North Pole mailbox" will be erected near Neptune's Kingdom. What will happen if you stick your letter to Santa in that box? Why something as quaint as quaint can be: The Roaring Camp Railroads Holiday Lights Train will deliver your important message to the North Pole, courtesy of that pretty, puffa-a-huffa engine.

DATES AND DAZZLE: The train, which is indeed dotted with lights, will run on the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving, and over a handful of select December nights (we say the earlier your letter can get to Santa, the better -- that guy's December gets way hectic). Caroling, the sipping of warm cider, and other spirit-lifting happenings take place on board the train, which not only carries letters to Mr. Kringle but riders looking for a festive time. Are you looking for a festive time? Want to be aboard a rail line that's also carrying envelopes addressed to Santa? Get your letter started here, and find out about dates and such for the Holiday Lights Train.

Photo Credit: Walter Scriptunas II]]>
<![CDATA[Posh US Grant Package: "12 Days of San Diego"]]> Thu, 06 Nov 2014 23:18:00 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/202*120/usgrantnighthotel.jpg

SWANKY SEASONAL GETAWAY: Presidential suites inside landmark hotels always have a touch of the holidays to their decor, regardless of the date on the calendar. It might be the flower bouquets or fine linens or sparkling mirrors or a combination of everything inside the luxe hotel room that lends itself to an extra-special, "it's the holidays" feel. So come the actual holidays? A stay in such a suite fits the festive feeling oh-so-well. And while most travelers looking to do it up might book a single night in such a place, there is a pretty posh treat awaiting that guest who secures the US Grant's Presidential Suite for not one but twelve nights. Make that twelve consecutive nights, in December, which all adds up to this: The people in the Presidential Suite will experience "The 12 Days of San Diego" over their stay, a stay that shall be filled with fancy 'n fun go-outs and goodies that are pretty quintessentially San Diego.

HOTEL CHRISTMAS: One of the 12 treats on the list? The suite will be personalized "with your choice of themed holiday decor and tree designs in the style of Coastal Christmas, Victorian Holiday, Retro Holiday, or White Christmas." (Um, can we have them all at once? Too much?) Another treat? You'll make for Tijon, the frou-frou La Jolla perfumery, to make your own perfect-for-you cologne. And perhaps you can wear a dab of it to see the symphony, where you and sugarplum'll score two orchestra seats for the Holiday Pops. "The Nutcracker," fine cheeses, and paragliding -- make that *tandem* paragliding -- at Torrey Pines are also on the once-in-a-lifetime roster. This is all, by the by, "provided with compliments by the US Grant" to the couple who makes that 12-night Presidential Suite booking.

GAME? Start with a ring-up to the reservations office. Your December is about to be as glittery as a landmark hotel covered in lights.

Photo Credit: U.S. Grant Hotel]]>
<![CDATA[December Tradition: Lighting the Eye of Diablo]]> Thu, 06 Nov 2014 23:20:27 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/197*120/mtdiablobeaconlight.jpg

50 YEARS OF MEMORY: The month of December and the lighting of lights come sundown is a duo that's as old as December and objects that could be easily illuminated. Winter is coming and we mark the passage by giving brightness to the night. But this ceremony isn't always about the season or the celebration. Very often, the lighting of a prominent lantern or landmark is very much about history and memory, and pausing to look back in solemnity and silence. That's just what people gather to do on Mount Diablo each Dec. 7, to mark the anniversary of Pearl Harbor. The tradition has been around since 1964, which means that Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014 will be the 50th anniversary.

THE EYE OF DIABLO: The beacon atop the Walnut Creek-close wilderness area was "extinguished in 1941 just after the attack on Pearl Harbor." The Commander in Chief of Pacific Forces during the war was the one who came up with the notion of lighting it again each Dec. 7, and it has become a way for both veterans and locals to pay tribute to lives lost and the memory of the event. If you're a Mount Diablo regular, you'll know that the beacon was recently renovated, making this its first relighting since its new buff-up. Its history extends well before World War II; it was once used for aviation, and Charles Lindbergh was behind its initial lighting in the late 1920s.

AFTERNOON CEREMONY: Be at Eye of Diablo beacon at 3:45 p.m. on Dec. 7 for this historic and peaceful gathering.

Photo Credit: Save Mount Diablo]]>
<![CDATA[Foam on the Rise: San Diego Beer Week]]> Wed, 05 Nov 2014 21:49:19 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/timkingsdbeer.JPG

EVERY WEEK IS BEER WEEK: If you were to ask any smart sudsian who calls greater San Diego home when the big Beer Week occurs, they might be wont to smile, spread their arms wide, and proclaim "why every week is beer week around San Diego!" (Complete with enthusiastic exclamation point, of course.) And they'd have a point, in a way, since the city has been reigning atop various brew blogs' lists as the Top Beer City in America, or some other re-arrangements of those particular words. Yes, San Francisco comes close, as do our West Coast siblings Portland and Seattle, but San Diego's proliferating bespoke-y brewhouses and craft masters are setting the pace in the ale-and-lager race. So while you can indeed find a really solid craft beer any day of the year in the city, making it always sort of Beer-Week-y there, you'll want to be in San Diego from Friday, Nov. 7 through Sunday, Nov. 16 for the actual and official and on all the posters San Diego Beer Week, when the events and sips and sightings flower high like foam on an extra burp-worthy beer.

20,000+ BEER AFICIONADOS... roam the city during the week-plus happening, heading for places like SD Brewers Guild Festival, on Saturday, Nov. 8, which'll be well-food-truck'd, live-band'd-out, or the Beer Garden at The Lodge at Torrey Pines at the fest's closing day. (Yep, you'll be on that easy-on-the-eyes-and-soul Arroyo Terrace as you taste those sublime suds.) And is there a full-on map of the city's restaurant, pubs, brew hot spots, and festival locations? We wouldn't have typed "full-on" there if it wasn't FULL. ON. (If you make it through spot #191 by the end of Beer Week, you must be in possession of a personal jet pack.) For the full scroll of IPA-lovely, lager-major, hopsy-happy doings, places, and people, make for the headquarters for the actual, honest-to-ale San Diego Beer Week. Yes, it's always beer week 'round the top beer city, but call this the beer week among beer weeks. You get where we're coming from.

Photo Credit: Tim King]]>
<![CDATA[Dickens Dinners at Madrona Manor]]> Wed, 05 Nov 2014 15:05:24 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/dickenswinecountry123451.jpg

CAROLS AND CUISINE: Christmas, or at least the celebrating of Christmas, isn't a one-size-fits-all-festivities kind of thing. Some people prefer the tinsel-kitschy touches of the 1950s, some like a more nature-inspired observance circa the '70s, and some go for that ye olde Scrooge-and-sweets Christmas that a certain Mr. Charles Dickens made famous. Oh, who are we kidding here? The Dickensian Christmas has become somewhat the gold standard of Christmas celebrations, with caroling and figgy puddings and people in their ruffled-skirted, velvet-jacketed best. A few places around the state mark the merriment with a throwback to the days of "A Christmas Carol," but Madrona Manor throws down some Michelin-starred meals to complement all of those cheerful carols. The Healdsburg inn and restaurant festoons its December calendar with a handful of Dickens Dinners, popular nights that tend to sell out due to the multi-course dinners and the presences of bonnet-rocking, top-hatted carolers doing their "God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman"-y best to brighten up the proceedings with song and quaint-a-tude (and succeeding). Want a time-travel-esque dose of Dickens this season? Then find your velvet frock and mark...

DEC. 7... on your parchment calendar, for that's the night when the whole England-meets-Sonoma Valley celebratory shebang begins. The gussied-up Twelfth Night Singers do the caroling, and a sample menu? Oh, it might include Smoked Egg Sabayon, Dungeness Crab Salad, Beef Wellington, and, you got it, a classically figgy Christmas Pudding. Price? It's a hundred dollars, except for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. For the full festivitivies, drive your carriage to the Madrona Manor web site (and don't forget your Scrooge-like candle, to light the way).

Photo Credit: Madrona Manor]]>
<![CDATA[Vine and Screen: Napa Valley Film Festival]]> Wed, 05 Nov 2014 21:48:33 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/nvff2014_12.jpg

THAT CINEMATIC SETTING: Where a film will take place -- outdoors, indoors, an old winery, a quaint cottage -- is typically one of the first things mentioned in a script. Because the setting? Well, it's setting the scene and serving as the wider backdrop. And film settings don't come more film-setting-ish than a particular wine-blessed valley that's not too far from San Francisco and kind of far from Hollywood, though not in spirit and certainly not in the middle of November. For that's when the Napa Valley Film Festival spreads out to a quartet of cities along Highway 128 -- Napa, Yountville, St. Helena, and Calistoga -- and that's when a whole caboodle of Tinseltownian movie stars make their way north for socializing, Q&A-ing, screening-watching, wine-drinking, and the accepting of honors. It's quite the party, a bash so large it takes four towns to hold the whole darn thing, and five days in all to play out. That's because that meals and libations are as much a part of the scene as the cinema during the NVFF, and attendees discuss crush as much as their crushes on the big screen. What to see and where to land? You have to start with...

THE GRID: A good grid is at the sort-out-your-schedule heart of any larger movie gathering, and the Napa Valley Film Festival's is up and full of treats, from "Big in Japan" -- about the real band, the Tennis Pros -- to "Teacher of the Year," starring comedian Keegan-Michael Key. The Vintner Circle Dinners, the celebrity honors, and a panel on Women Behind the Camera are a trio of highlights on the jam-packed Special Events calendar. (It would be fig jam-packed, of course, this being Napa.) One can imagine that most foodie film lovers strike a tasty balance between popcorning it up during a feature and Chardonnaying it up during a wine event. A movie, a meal, a glass or two, repeat. That's one of the very special things about this special setting's cinematic blowout -- its film-food match-up -- and the reason that Hollywood and Napa aren't that far apart at all, at least for a few days in November.

Photo Credit: Napa Valley Film Festival]]>
<![CDATA[Veterans Day on the SS Red Oak Victory]]> Mon, 10 Nov 2014 13:29:51 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/redoakvictorynpsphotolutherbailey1.jpg

MEMORY AND HONOR: Pausing to pay homage to those who have served is an act that can be done anywhere, and people do choose to mark Veterans Day in many ways, from private, at-home remembrances to large-scale events held at centers, cemeteries, and landmarks. Making for a ship where an impressive number of veterans once served is a choice made by those who want to connect people to time and place, and it is just what will happen next to the SS Red Oak Victory in Richmond on Tuesday, Nov. 11. The Veterans Day Ceremony will coincide with an anniversary for the World War II-era cargo ship: It's the Red Oak Victory's 70th, and some stirring words shall be said to mark the several decades of shiply service. Lending the day a time-travel-esque element? A USO dance will be held on Nov. 11 from 1 to 3 p.m. The dance follows the speeches and remembrances, which begin at 10:30 a.m. at The Rigger's Loft next to the ship (which can be found in former Shipyard #3).

THE SS RED OAK VICTORY: The cargo ship, which was launched on Nov. 9, 1944, is part of the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park, will be "free to board" all day on Veterans Day 2014. A "1945-style boxed lunch" is available for seven dollars. As for other happenings aboard its historic decks? Of-the-era films are typically screened throughout the summer months -- "Casablanca" and "Across the Pacific" were two recent offerings -- and the cargo ship opens to a Father's Day pancake breakfast each year. The Richmond Museum of History oversees the landmark vessel.

Photo Credit: Luther Bailey]]>
<![CDATA[Bows and Mouse Ears: The Holidays Head for Disneyland]]> Fri, 07 Nov 2014 18:41:06 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/carslandholiday13456.jpg

SUNNY TO SNOWY: There are a number of Disneyland fans out there who automatically pair the parks at the Anaheim resort with sunshiny days, balmy breezes, and brilliant blue skies. They want to be in line for Dumbo in their shorts and sunscreen, lapping up the long, bright days that Southern California is known the world over for. Fewer people pair the Orange County landmark with frigid, wintry days, though that may now be a thing of a past. If you were to summon, to your mind, the most famous snowy pop culture property of the last decade, you'd likely summon "Frozen," which is, yes, a Disney property, and you betcha, royal sisters Elsa and Anna do hold court within Disneyland's Fantasyland. But your feelings that Disney had a frostier side likely started before the 2013 hit film, perhaps around the time you first walked into the theme park on a December day and spied dancing snowmen and giant Christmas trees and twinkling snowflake decorations. Disneyland, in short, may be in sun ray-laden SoCal, but it takes on the holidays and winter wonders in a way no other place ever has. That seasonal celebration kicks off the carols on Thursday, Nov. 13.

FAREWELL, HALLOWEEN: For sure, that's about a fortnight after Halloween says farewell to the resort, but one attraction keeps its spooky-seasonal clothes through early January: The Haunted Mansion, which is dressed for "A Nightmare Before Christmas" for both Halloween and Christmas. The yuletide, though, will take firm and festive hold in other areas of Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, from the tire wreaths of Cars Lands to the World of Color show (where "Frozen" figures prominently). And Sleeping Beauty's Castle? It's an icicle-bedecked wonder. And "...it's a small world"? It's so brightly and merrily lit you can probably see it from the moon, or at least high, high up in the sky. A Christmas Fantasy Parade and fireworks themed to the season ornament the proceedings.

AND THOSE PROCEEDINGS? They're on through Jan. 6, 2015. How does "fa la la la la" sound in Mickey Mouse's voice? Can you hear that, right now, in your head? Yep, it's nearly holiday time at the Magic Kingdom.

Photo Credit: Paul Hiffmeyer]]>
<![CDATA[Holiday Pampering at La Casa del Zorro]]> Fri, 31 Oct 2014 07:11:50 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/zorroborregoholiday.jpg

TO THE DESERT: Much is made about seasonal stress come the end of the year, and for wise reason: We all have a tendency to work ourselves up in a flash. That's not to say that the numerous social obligations and must-dos and commitments don't play an actual toll, because most adults have weathered those things, and how, come November and December. But we're very much the author of how we handle the onslaught, and we tend to write the same sequel over and over again each year: I'm going to freak out this December. Combatting that can involve a few things, including fully unplugging (not really a possibility for most people), changing up every tradition (ditto), or making for somewhere incredibly quiet and peaceful and restorative, preferably with a stark landscape and big sky, the better to declutter eye and mind. The Anza-Borrego offers just that, and La Casa del Zorro is a resort that happens to call Borrego Springs home. The property understands that the holidays arrive with multiple, highly specific stresses, and is introducing a few seasonal spa treatments that serve to remind us that slowing down and taking pleasure in the parade of it all is paramount. Ready to be pepperminted, over-stressers?

THEN GO ZORRO... and book a 50-minute (or more) massage at the resort's Balance Spa and Salon, which arrives with a free peppermint scalp massage (an add-on that's good with any massage you choose). The gratis goodies go on from there, though (just make sure you're securing a treatment that's 50 mintues or more). Book any facial and nab a free pumpkin peel, or pick a pedicure and receive a free chocolate scrub. As for hair services? Balance offers those, too, and you'll receive a deep-conditioning treatment, for free, during the holidays. Nope, this one isn't scented to match the desserts in your holiday kitchen, but that's okay, because we'd kind of want to eat the peppermint atop our head. (Too weird? You can bet everyone who receives delicious-smelling pampering says the same.) These nice add-ons are available in November and December, meaning your desert, I-need-a-stress-break trip is about to get very seasonally scented, indeed. 

Photo Credit: La Casa del Zorro]]>
<![CDATA[12-13-14: Vegas Weddings Make a Date]]> Sun, 02 Nov 2014 15:50:48 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/455061601.jpg

THAT STALE JOKE... the one about an anniversary date being forgotten, year after year, could probably be officially retired. It's pretty dang hoary, is the thing, not to mention it has been trotted out so many times that all surprise -- the soul of comedy -- has been pretty much wrung out of it, fully. But finding more comedic fun in wedding dates is not off the table, and there's a fairly spectacular day on the calendar just ahead. Not just any day, mind you, but a day when many a couple will knot-it-up, nuptial-style, with that The Reigning Capital of Knot-Tying, Las Vegas, being a much-discussed destination. So, what's that date, anyway? At first glance it looks like the other 364 squares containing numbers on any given calendar: Dec. 13, 2014. But when written this way -- 12-13-14 -- it suddenly taken on magical properties, thanks to its sequential nature. Okay, if you want to trot out that old chestnut, one last time, about needing to remember an anniversary date, now's the time: This is a nifty and number-nice anniversary, one that's hard to put out of your head. 

EVEN BETTER... in matters of wedding planning? Dec. 13 is a Saturday. When other lucky dates fall on the calendar, involving 7s, or Valentine's Day rolls around, Sin City still sees a huge influx of marry-us twosomes, even if the date in question falls on a Tuesday. But a Saturday means that packages like the MGM Grand's Numerology Package, which nets you a professional pianist and hair service at Christophe Salon, may get snapped up. And Sweethearts Wedding Chapel is offering a few different heart-laden deals, including For My Love and Love of My Life (music, roses, and more sentimental goodies await). Wherever you step into that romantic sunset with your pumpkin, best book soon. If you decide to head over to The Strip the day before, on 12-12, you may not find too many packages left. Say, 12-12 is an easy-to-remember, lovely-sounding wedding date, too...

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Flickr RF]]>
<![CDATA[Destination PSP: Palm Springs-Focused Shop Debuts]]> Sat, 01 Nov 2014 06:54:20 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/davidaleephotographyPSP.jpg

SUNNY SHOPPING: Trends exist in shopping, of course -- we hear about a new one every week -- but how shopping changes, evolves, and introduces new ways of getting product to customer is also subject to fresh trends and ways of doing business. Take those stores that focus on a particular area. Nope, we don't mean the souvenir shops that only carry mugs and magnets bearing a city's logo; we're talking about shops where a lot of the stuff within is made locally, or at least regionally, and the merchandise has ties to the area beyond the sale, as in supporting local causes. More of these stores have been popping up around the Golden State over the last few years, the better to present the authentic flavor of the area to visitors (and to cater to neighbors who'd like to display some local love as well). Palm Springs is the newest entry onto this list, and the just-debuted Destination PSP is all about made-in-the-sunny-region stuff. For sure, the "unique retail experience," which is located just across from where Hotel Palomar is headed, has Palm Springs-branded products, but shoppers will also find a host of panache-packed original goods, many boasting philanthropic ties.

THOSE TIES INCLUDE... products for the Palm Springs Animal Shelter, Desert AIDS Project, and PS ModCom, which supports architecture. "The majority of Destination PSP merchandise is manufactured regionally with sustainablly produced packaging, and all items are designed in-house." Several non-profits are part of the store's mix, in short, and their missions and fundraising efforts are expected to get the love from Destination PSP and its "products for the Palm Springs Lifestyle." In short, if you want an item with local cachet, made in the area, that can help out the area as well, this stylish stop could be your spot. Also, the "PSP" part of the name? Why that's the abbreviation code for the Palm Springs International Airport, of course. Mucho stylish, like its namesake city, non? Find Destination PSP at 170 N. Palm Canyon Drive.

Photo Credit: David A. Lee Photography]]>
<![CDATA[Death Valley Time Machine: '49ers Encampment]]> Thu, 30 Oct 2014 07:07:22 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/encampment49ers1234.jpg

FAR, FAR IN THE FUTURE: If you'd asked someone crossing Death Valley back in the middle of the 1800s what Nov. 5 through 9 might be like, circa 2014, they'd probably scratch their chin and ponder far into the future, imagining wondrous things. Whether those wondrous things have come to pass is up for discussion -- many have, for sure -- but here's a certainty: People on Nov. 5 through 9 will be thinking back, across the same time span, pondering the lives and dreams and travails of those 19th-century adventurers who crossed the very hot, very dry expanse in the hopes that they'd get rich. Very rich, in fact: The Gold Rush was on, and the area that would one day become a famous national park saw its own share of wagons and miners and the people who had glittery dreams. Modern history lovers remember those '49ers each year with an encampment, complete with old-school costumes and boots and wagons and such. It's such a sight, and while you don't need to sleep out under the stars, you can make for Death Valley National Park over the first weekend of November to remember those bold journeys to gold.

AS FOR NOT SLEEPING UNDER THE STARS? The Ranch at Furnace Creek has a package on that includes a souvenir program, a ranch BBQ dinner, and some other goodies, with some asterisks (like you have to stay for at least three nights). As for the encampment itself? It's rootin' and, yep, it is tootin', and it is year 65. So look for a horseshoe contest, Western art, twangy tunes played live, and a bunch of ye old merriment, with a California-meets-Gold-Rush flavor. How did everyone cross Death Valley back in the day? And did they dream of the future? Well, yes to that, though whether those early travelers pondered 2014, specifically, may be lost to the proverbial sands of time.

Photo Credit: Death Valley '49ers]]>
<![CDATA[Ventura's Got Spirit (and Many Ghost Tours)]]> Mon, 27 Oct 2014 06:40:07 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/183*120/ghost2.jpg

THE SPECTER OF TIME: The decades change a whole plethora of things about our lives, our cities, and the way we do things, but we might expect that ghosts, as a topic, are left generally alone. After all, visitors from the Other Side are believed to be fairly timeless, or at least unconcerned with our human clock-watching and trend-following and tide-turning. This, however, isn't always so, at least when it comes to the venerable concept of the ghost tour.

WALKS TO SEEK OUT WRAITHS, or at least to share fascinating stories of citizens who've moved to another plane, have been around for a good long time, and people have likely been doing it informally, with friends and family, well, forever. But group strolls around city are newer than that, though not too new. And back in the day? Even if a city had a ghost tour, it was likely the only one, or one of the few. Cable, however, and the internet has stoked a new wave of intrepid ghost searchers, and phantom fans, so tours have gotten more varied, more plentiful, and more juicy, by and large. Look to Ventura, that historic burg that is rife with a certain spirited atmosphere come sundown on a fall night. The area has long hosted ghost tours, but you may be delighted to learn how much your choices have grown, as to what sort of tour you seek. Want to take a peek, ghostians?

THERE ARE MANY... to choose from this autumn. If you've always wanted to poke about an adobe from the middle of the 19th century, sign up for the Ortega Ghost Hunt on Oct. 30. And Victorian Ventura gets its shivery due on Nov. 8. Want to put your hands on the whole phantomy flier? It's right here, seekers of spirits.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Ojai + the Other Side: A Spirited October Evening]]> Sat, 25 Oct 2014 05:16:27 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/ojaiinnoctoberevent.jpg

AN ATMOSPHERE-FILLED EVENING: We can name the principal flavors that food arrives bearing -- salty, sour, sweet, and so forth -- and we can name most of the flavors in a standard, multi-stick pack of gum. But what are the flavors of non-edible things, and are they as manifold as we think? Take popular holidays. Pretty much everyone puts a small-to-large twist on the proceedings, even as we observe the same traditions, year in and out. Halloween, though, is only ever labeled "kid" or "adult" when it comes to costumes, events, and such, though we grown-ups like a lot of different types of Halloween: loud parties, big parades, and the rare, sophisticated, slightly goosebumpily event that involves cocktails, conversations, and possible a message or two from the Place Beyond the Veil. The Ojai Valley Inn and Spa is throwing that particular flavor of grown-up ghostiness, and, nope, it doesn't involve a boisterous parade nor a crowded bash or even Oct. 31. Messages from Beyond: A Magical & Mystical Evening lands at the expansive property on All Hallow's Eve eve, the better so you can jumpstart your Halloween -- with a few juicy thrills, fingers crossed -- on Thursday, Oct. 30.

THOSE JUICY THRILLS... may come courtesy of medium Vickie Emanuele, who will be glancing into the other side -- or Other Side, rather -- to see what contacts can be had. It's a setting that fits. Ojai is known as a center for the spiritual, and the city's come-one-come-all character allowed it to flower, early on, with people getting in touch with their spirited side.

FANCY COCKTAILS... appetizers, "and a special Apothecary-blended All Hallow's Eve Ojai Elixir" -- it's a body oil -- are part of the mood-laden doings. Cost? Ninety five dollars, and Oct. 28 is your deadline for purchase. For sure, you can stay over, too, as there is a "special stay rate available!" Is this the flavor your grown-up Halloween will be this year? A little quieter, a little velvetier, a little more ghostly, and a little lacking in the holiday's wilder charms? It's okay to change up something annual now and then, because, spoiler alert: It'll be back next year, like creepy clockwork.

Photo Credit: Ojai Valley Inn & Spa]]>
<![CDATA[Mysteriously Magnificent: Shark Days in Monterey]]> Fri, 24 Oct 2014 13:37:08 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sharkdaysmba1224.jpg

SIMPLY SHARKS: There will never come a day, in terms of creative pop culture offerings, when a shark is not colorfully combined with something that is not a shark and made into a movie or book or comics property. Tornadoes? Ghosts? Octopuses? They've all been sharkified in recent years, on the small screen, and the big screen has seen its share of menacing baddies who want nothing more than to chomp around the shallows of our holiday beaches, sending vacationers running. But sharks tend to not do most of the things Hollywood says they do, spoiler alert, and yet what they do do, on a daily basis, is so very fascinating and study-worthy that a whole weekend devoted to sharkdom, at one of the planet's premiere aquariums, seems like a no-brainer. Actually, make that a big-brainer, rather; sharks are smart, and we humans would do well to get to know them better, and de-clutter some of the myths and pop culture references that surround them. The Monterey Bay Aquarium will help us all with that, over the Saturday, Nov. 1 and Sunday, Nov. 2 weekend, which arrives with a rather memorable handle: Shark Days.

THAT'S SHARK DAYS, as in just sharks, not shark-seahorses or shark-dogs (you know those are in some movie pipeline somewhere). With aquarium admission you'll get to spy a "developing skate embryo" -- neat -- and you'll learn how the largest sharks at the aquarium, the ones that regularly elicit the wows and gasps from visitors, are cared for by staffers. Feedings, tagging talks, and chatting with a diver are all on the sharky schedule. While you'll admire sharks of many spots and stripes -- hello, bat rays and horn sharks -- you won't see a Great White, as they're not on exhibit. But the aquarium has housed a few in the past, and the conservation work done on the Great White's behalf by the Monterey Bay Aquarium is applause-worthy, for sure. Where's the thrilling movie about that topic. And, nope, creative minds of Tinseltown, we don't need the hero to be half-shark, half-human. We're okay with sharks being sharks in all of the interesting ways they are.

Photo Credit: © Monterey Bay Aquarium Photo b]]>
<![CDATA[Santa Cruz Spicy: Chili Cook-Off]]> Thu, 23 Oct 2014 09:15:00 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/chilicupsantacruz1.jpg

THAT DIFFICULT DISCUSSION: Friends who love food, and love to food it up together, can have many a vocal, semi-colorful disagreement. A light beer or something IPA, when ordering a pitcher? Do you okay the bread basket on the table, or send it away? If you're going to share nachos, do you go guacamole or straight-up mole or a little bit of both? And do you take your chili neat, a la bare, with just the hearty stew gracing the cup, or do you load on the extras, which are so very plentiful for this palate-hot icon? You can still remain tight with your food bud, we bet, if she goes plain and you ask for a scoop of sour cream and a sprinkling of green onions, because the base matter is clear: You're both devoted to chili, as so many people are, and any festoonry, or lack of it, is not cause for a quibble. And how would even dare quibble while standing on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, on a nippy Saturday, enjoying that most autumnal of tummy-warmers? You'll be there on Oct. 25, we'll guess, if you're a chili-head, because that's the day when the boardwalk summons some of the region's most gifted chilians for a day of cups, spoons, beans, meat, tomato pastes, and dashes of secret spices and hot sauces. It's the 5th annual Chili Cook-Off, and even lookie-loos can get a taste.

OR SEVERAL: There's a delightful thing called a Tasting Kit floating about at the cook-off, and it costs nine bucks, and it scores you five taste tickets (plus a spoon and cup). Plus? You'll get to vote on your would-eat-again. (Shouldn't that be how every food item is judged in a contest, to some extent? The "yeah, I'd eat it again" vote?) The Haven of Hope Homes is the day's beneficiary.

IT'S NOT CLAM CHOWDER TIME YET... on the boardwalk, but bet your creamy-loving ways that that popular eat-up is very much on the way.

Photo Credit: Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Chili Cook-Off]]>
<![CDATA[Ye Olde Yosemite Yuletide Good-Timery]]> Mon, 03 Nov 2014 10:42:06 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/braceyostickets1234.jpg

CHRISTMAS GOOD TIMES... should not stoke any competitive spirit within us, and yet we can feel the fire inside, the fire to be the most festive. We want to have the best front door wreath, the tastiest of sugar cookies, and a roast to out-roast all other roasts on every holiday sideboard, everywhere. We can also take this good-natured competitive spirit elsewhere, during the season, especially when we attend events that are full of showmanship and pizzazz. Add to that a holiday event that has the most sublime setting, and all of a sudden we are chatting with our date or tablemates as to whether we're seated in the Prettiest Dining Room in the Entire State and Maybe the World. California is rife with elegant dining rooms, and many of them happen to be in our grandest hotels, and one of those grand hotels contains The Most Harry Potter-riffic Dining Room in All the Land. It's The Ahwahnee in Yosemite National Park, of course -- admit it, you've thought so, while dining there -- which makes it, again, the best-best place for the annual Bracebridge Dinners, which are as fairytale and fun as a magical book series about a boy wizard.

2014 DATES: Do you recall, way back, when tickets were doled out by lottery? No longer, of course, does that happen, meaning you can alight on whatever night suits you, if tickets remain. Dec. 13 is the first date for this year, and Christmas night is the last, and while not every evening between the two shall be Bracebridge'd-out, several will feature the dinner and doings. And those doings? Imagine attending a feast in a royal medieval hall, complete with theatrics and costumes and bedazzlements. Yes, "bedazzlements"; if we're going to compare The Ahwahnee's dining hall to Harry Potter's world, we're not going to leave this post without breaking out the word "bedazzlements" (we're only sorry we didn't use it sooner). The evening lasts for three and a half hours, the courses are plentiful, the crowd and actors are dressy, and the room is decorated in full-bore yuletide. Plus? There are stay-over packages, natch. December is nigh, lovers of ye olden times fun; why shouldn't you make merry in one of California's most stunning great halls?

Photo Credit: Bracebridge Dinners]]>
<![CDATA[Sonoma Sips: A Wine & Food Affair]]> Wed, 22 Oct 2014 08:14:02 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sonomafoodwineaffair12345.jpg

IS HARVEST A STATE OF MIND? Obviously and without question it is, in all things, and not just those foods that we regularly pick and clean and prepare for consumption, year after year. We can, in fact, live with a harvesty outlook in our own lives (which essentially means that we're always ready for our projects to be bountiful and presentable to the world). But certain stricter, more universally observed harvest periods do stick to the calendars, because the seasons and schedules suggest that they must. Wine's harvest time is a pretty well-defined window, and one that starts to close, at least around California, when the holidays begin to approach. The grapes are picked, the action has moved away from the vines in large part, the crushing is wrapping up, and next year's harvest seems a ways off. Which all kind of makes a big wine event in early November a beautiful and bittersweet experience. Life is leveling out a little, in terms of the big push, but the yuletide, a busy time for wineries and visitors, has yet to arrive. So, hello there, A Wine & Food Affair, which lands on that perfect post-harvest-y first weekend of November, when everyone can breathe easy but fall is still hanging a few harvest notes in the air.

NOV. 1 AND 2... are the dates for this year's Wine Road tasting celebration, which spotlights "110 participating wineries stretching across Sonoma County's Alexander, Dry Creek, and Russian River Valleys, sampling food and wine pairings along the way." Look at this way: While other people -- adults and kids alike -- will be digging through Halloween candy that weekend, you can be swirling a very smooth Cabernet while thinking autumnal thoughts. So is an autumnal state of mind different from a harvest state of mind? Absolutely: Autumnal thinking makes you mellow, and harvest is about producing, producing, and producing some more. We're more than game to catch that perfect weekend when harvest has chilled down, autumn's still rolling, people elsewhere are eating tiny candy bars, and wine lovers are roaming Sonoma, eyeing the best of what each winery has to offer, post-crush cool-down.

OH... And tickets? They come in a few types, and a dollar from each ticket goes to the Redwood Empire Food Bank.

Photo Credit: A Food & Wine Affair]]>
<![CDATA[Flavor! Napa Valley: A Silverado Package]]> Tue, 21 Oct 2014 12:00:44 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/195*120/mansion_fsilverado.jpg

DISH-FOCUSED DAYDREAMS: Fantasies had during our waking hours are never defined quite correctly, by those who define such things. They're presented as fully formed flights of dream-a-tude, where plots are formed and the roles are cast and our daydream is, start to finish, a little like a film. But we daydreamers know such stuff is at least a few miles away from the truth. Many daytime brain-flights involve flickering scents and images, of things we'd like to do, and at least 95% of those brief, passing impressions involve edibles. Too low? That 95%? You're right -- it's probably close to 100%.

WE'RE DAYDREAMING... about what we'll have for lunch, then dinner, then what we'd like to bake this weekend, or eat out. And our little flits and fantasies very much revolve around the big foodie to-dos, those multi-day spectaculars that attract chefs with their own highly regarded restaurants and writers who know their whisks and people who love to be in that meal-oriented mix. So do many Californians daydream about happenings like Flavor! Napa Valley, which cooks again from Nov. 19 through 23? Absolutely they do -- five days to mingle and taste is the stuff daydreams are made of. And do they daydream about a luxe hotel stay that isn't far away from the mingling and tasting? Also yes, and it so happens that Silverado Resort has a package that's tied to the tastiness.

IT JUST SO HAPPENS... that the Napa property's own Chef Jeffrey Jake is a Flavor! founder, so the connection is solid. As for the deal? Score 25% off the best available rate, a twenty-five-buck resort credit each night, and more goodies, like sommelier-led wine seminar each morning on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, before Flavor! gets going (yep, we said morning). There's more in the mix, so daydream on. Or, better yet, pull all of this into the real world, and make it a plan, not a hope.

Photo Credit: Silverado]]>
<![CDATA[Holiday Teas at Shadelands Ranch]]> Mon, 20 Oct 2014 12:33:21 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/194*120/holidayteawalnutcreek1.jpg

DRESSING UP AND PLAYING PROPER: Any one of us -- or make that every single last one of us, if you prefer -- would answer the same way if asked this particular question: "Do you have a proper side?" Of course we do, it's not even a question, we can be as polished and as polite and as courteous and as proper as a whole row of very proper people. But how often we get to be all of these things at once is up for debate. For sure, being polite just makes sense in making the larger world work, but we're all fairly casual these days, making a truly proper and charmingly prim and sweetly sophisticated outing something of a rare treat. It is a treat that swings through come the holidays, when we dress up to go see seasonal ballets (and get proper) or take in caroling events (properly). But the most picture-book of all these quaint traditions must be the holiday tea. Yes, we said "must be," which sounds like we're standing pretty firmly on the point, and we are; consider that during a holiday tea you're probably on the dressy side and you're offering cookies and crust-less sandwiches to your table-mates, properly. What fun, no? It's a storybooky as all get-out, and if you make for Shadelands Ranch in Walnut Creek without rocking a velvet dress or plaid bow time and you're most polished of elegant manners, well, we're sure you can.

A BELOVED OUTING: The holiday teas open on Saturday, Nov. 29, they're three courses each, and, for sure, "Victorian" is in there name -- this is the yuletide, after all, that most Victorian time of the modern year. Cost? It's thirty dollars a person. Families welcome? Absolutely -- this is a must-do for many a group in the area. Are things dressy-dressy but relaxed? Of course. This is Walnut Creek, and California, for that matter, where we are proper and polite but never fussy or uptight. Whether you want to dab at the corners of your mouth with a napkin, though, very polite-like, is your call.

HOLIDAY FAIRE: A craft-fun sale'll go on concurrent to the teas, and there's a distinct Teddy Bear Tea at Heather Farms over the first weekend in December. Velvet up, proper lovers.

Photo Credit: Shadelands Ranch]]>
<![CDATA[Percy Toot-Toots Into Felton]]> Sun, 19 Oct 2014 21:36:25 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/dayoutpercyfelton.jpg

OH YEAH, THIS IS BIG: If you can think back, to when you were a tot, you can probably alight upon that book or television show that had The Best Characters in the World Enjoying the Most Whimsical Adventures, and the flitting thought that you'd ever cross paths with your mostest favoritest character -- totally a real term, when it comes to kid fandom -- was enough to make you run around in circles and leap for joy. There is some leaping going on these days around Roaring Camp Railroads in Felton, or at least the leaping of fan-happy hearts, because Thomas the Tank Engine has been joined, for the first time, by Percy, the green engine from the beloved British series. If you're a parent, you get that this is major; Percy is that guy, or, um, engine, that stokes a lot of cheer and good will (well, he is the BFF to Thomas, after all).

AND... while Thomas the Tank Engine has been making stops around the country at various railroads, Percy is newer to this. Want to give him a warm welcome, and celebrate Halloween, too? Join Thomas and Percy for a 25-minute ride at the Santa Cruz-close rails, and, on the platform, take part in activities related to the series. The fun stuff is toot-toot-ing weekends through Nov. 2.

OF COURSE... if simple, straightforward seasonal merrymaking is more your bag, then mark Friday, Oct. 24 and Sat, Oct. 25 on your creepy calendar: Roaring Camp Railroads is braving two nights of ghost trains. The theme? Wait for it: Ichabod, a horse, and a rather cranky fellow who may or may not have a pumpkin for a head could be out and about in the woods. Lit-scary stuff, for sure, but Sleepy Hollowians can handle it, we bet. Clip-clop and giddy-up; we hear hooves behind you...

Photo Credit: Day Out with Thomas]]>
<![CDATA[Looking to 2015: World Championship Abalone Cook-Off]]> Sat, 01 Nov 2014 06:49:16 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/abalone_keithwyner123.jpg

BUY THAT 2015 CALENDAR: Many of us simply wing it when it comes to our foodie pursuits. We phone a pal at 11:45 for a noontime lunch date, and we determine on a Friday if we're going to round up some of our fruit-forward friends for strawberry-picking on a Saturday morning. But there are some sectors of the cuisine world that require a little bit of planning, and we're not talking about penciling in a dinner date a week ahead of time. Take abalone, that chewtastic, meaty-rich mollusc adored by our otter friends and our human friends, too. It's not seen everywhere, on every menu -- an understatement, we know -- and the rules and regulations as to when and where one might collect wild-caught abalone are extensive (if you're not going farm abalone). So when an abalone cook-off pops up, as it does every autumn in Mendocino County, it is something rare, something unusual, and something that gets very, very sold-out. Do tickets to the yearly World Championship Abalone Cook-Off sell faster than an otter can separate the mollusc from its iridescent shell? Well, that's pretty quick, but, yeah, they go.

SO MAKE PLANS NOW... for the October 2015, which may be a year away but already boasts six chef sign-ups (yep, those abalone aficionados are some serious business). If you're curious, and like you're appetite for abalone wetted -- er, whetted -- check out some of the dishes cooked up in the past: abalone chowder, abalone egg roll, BBQ abalone bacon rolls, and, wait for it, abalone corn dogs. Yep, we'll buy a paper calendar, and hang it on the wall, over our desk, if only so we can dream about devouring an abalone corn dog, or something similarly rare and whimsical, in the fall of 2015. Also dream-about worthy? How this event lends support for state park programs.

THE 2015 DATE... for the 2015 World Championship Abalone Cook-Off is Oct. 10.

Photo Credit: Keith Wyner]]>
<![CDATA["Recycled Holidays" in Morro Bay]]> Fri, 31 Oct 2014 07:09:34 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/morrobaytreasures11.jpg

FRINGED LAMPS TO '70S FLARE JEANS: It's a marvel that anyone trots out the whole "one size all fits all" chestnut nowadays. The suggestion may be accurate, literally, with some articles of clothing, but when it comes to our larger world, our tastes, our preferences, and how we spoil the people in our lives, it can only be fair to say that approximately five billion sizes fit all (and given our changeable tastes, even that number might be low). All of which can make holiday shopping a bit daunting. We see gift ideas that are a little one-size-fits-all-y, in spirit, and we know our funky friend or our free-spirited mom will not groove to the potential gift in question. The only thing route left to take here? Buy them a really outlandish squirrel-shaped lamp, complete with a fringed lampshade, an unusual conversation piece that may rock, and even alter, their whole world and conscience.

YEAH... we're talking in grand terms, but we're also talking about a grand location: Morro Bay, which sits adjacent to big, big Morro Rock. It's a town rife with swanky vintage and affordable thrift stores, and, yes, the occasional junky shop, too (said with ultimate love and respect). It's a town famous for its springtime, city-wide yard sale, a sale that boasts over 300 stops, and thus it knows non-one-size-all-y gifts. Ready to pump up your holiday shopping, possibly save some real cash, and find your mom that fringe-fun lamp you know'll rock her personal cosmos? The "Recycled Holidays" are on in Morro Bay.

SO MAKE FOR... Castaways, which has clothes, old paperbacks, and cool skateboards, or the vendor-plentiful Highway 41 Antique Emporium. A day spent browsing around the bayside town may not net you the velvet painting of your dreams, but bet you'll find something else strange, useful, and completely devoid of one-size-fits-all-ness. Want a larger shop listing list? Sure you do, adventurous shopper.

Photo Credit: Morro Bay]]>