<![CDATA[NBC Bay Area - Worth the Trip]]> Copyright 2016 http://www.nbcbayarea.com/blogs/worth-the-trip http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/nbc_bayarea_blue.png NBC Bay Area http://www.nbcbayarea.com en-us Thu, 11 Feb 2016 11:21:43 -0800 Thu, 11 Feb 2016 11:21:43 -0800 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Suds Celebration: Beer Prom in Sacramento]]> Wed, 10 Feb 2016 18:30:19 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/CAMBeerPromcamperbeercool.jpg

THE IDEA OF A PROM... once strictly belonged to high school. It was a dealie involving tuxedos and frocks and punch bowls and crepe streamers and balloons and a live band, if someone knew a live band who could play a few dance-ready hits. But proms have graduated into the adult sphere, taking on several new attributes from retro themes ('80s-style proms are not uncommon) to specific foodstuffs and beverages as a centerpoint. One such prom will soon sashay into Sacramento, and the California Automobile Museum, during the capital's mondo Sacramento Beer Week. We say "mondo," without any qualifiers, because the city has become something of a leader on the hops-based innovation front, with numerous brewhouses pushing the foamy artform to new flavorful places. The late-winter celebration, then, is a way to get to know those makers, and the fans, and the many ales now giving the capital drink scene a whole bunch of body and depth. Pair this with a lively night out, at Beer Prom, and you have a social entry into the Sactown sip scene, with a cool 'n historic place to see.

THE DATE'S FRIDAY, MARCH 4... and the museum fundraiser will serve as the setting for the '80s-funky shindig (okay, you likely knew that glittery decade would be involved). Some 20 craft brewers are expected, so line up your ride, or your designated driver, and don your brightest neon. If a 21+ prom isn't the only goal you have for the out-sized foam festivity, best check out all that's doing around town, from the Sacramento Brewers' Showcase to the Capitol Beer Fest. A number of happenings at local taverns fill out the Feb. 25 through March 6 schedule, from cask nights to tap takeovers to Pints for Pets, an event in support of a local animal shelter. There are ways to zone in on ciders or particular brewing outfits, as well as ways to taking in the general overview and scene. But there's no doubting the city's stalwart-y character on the beer-making front, and the many bev-minded artisans who call it home. Meet a few, see what the latest is behind the taps and barrels, and raise a crafty-cool sip to our historic capital.

Photo Credit: California Automobile Museum]]>
<![CDATA[Bodie Calendar Contest: Enter Your Photo]]> Wed, 10 Feb 2016 10:50:46 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/bodiehouseagp.jpg

CALENDAR IMAGERY... can truly have an impact on how we see a place. After all, photographs in books are lovely, and in galleries, too, but consider the fact that the snapshot on a calendar is something you might glance at a dozen times each day over the course of four weeks. Even if you're not looking directly at the image -- and you often do, given its calendar-ready fabulousness -- a glance in the calendar's general direction can deepen your sense, and ultimately your feelings, about a particular location, or castles, or puppies, or roses. Call calendars wall portals to other places and times, and call them important everyday objects in our homes and offices. Getting a picture in one is a pretty big deal, then, especially if your picture details a destination that's near to your heart, and the hearts of many other travelers who adore California history. We're about to reference Bodie State Historic Park here -- no shocker, given the photo above -- and we're about to talk about you getting your snapshot of the celebrated ghost town, the one you took last summer or fall or in a snowstorm, into the brand-new 2017 Bodie Foundation calendar.

IT'S AN HONOR... to be picked, truly, because so many wonderful snaps are taken at the Mono County landmark each and every year. It's often said it is difficult to take a bad photograph of the storied structures and streets of the fabled village. The flip side of that notion, of course, is that taking a stand-out snapshot can be a challenge, one that captures the much-captured spot in a novel and/or notable way. Do you have such a pic? February 14 is your deadline to send it into the Bodie Foundation, for possible choosing/inclusion, but there are a few to-knows, like it should be horizontal and you can send in ten pics (only one photo per shutterbug'll make the calendar, however). Are you a mondo Bodie buff? Need to be out there, in the crisp air, at least once a year? Or more? With your camera and equipment by your side? Maybe it is time for you to be one of the storytellers of the burg's visual history. Calendars are our daily reminders of places we adore, and calendar photos are an essential component in that emotion-strong equation.

Photo Credit: Alysia Gray Painter]]>
<![CDATA[The Desert, a Sunset, and Big Balloons]]> Tue, 09 Feb 2016 21:07:21 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/161*120/HotAirBalloon_82072163.jpg

PRETTY MUCH ANY BACKDROP, be it a forest or a canyon or an ocean or a mixture of all three, helps a hot air balloon in the foreground look mighty distinctive. There is no so-so place in which to admire these high-flyers, of course, be they drifting over an amazing vineyard or a river or a farm-filled valley. But we let's pause here and put an extra star next to "the desert" in terms of fabulous places where balloons may be found. The earthy tones of the landscape, paired with the highly decorative look of the envelopes "floating" gently above, is a scene made for the kitchen calendar, and a hundred coffee table books, too. That's one reason The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is so rightly famous, and the autumn balloon party in Yuma, too. These cities aren't total deserty spots -- Albuquerque's bosque is quite green, and Yuma rocks trees, too -- but no one can deny a desert balloon party is utterly striking. This is one reason the Cathedral City Balloon Festival draws the devotees. The typically great February weather is one plus, of course, but spying a balloon with that big-sky sunset, and some palms, and the craggy San Mateo mountains nearby, can take the breath away. But don't let the mere thought of it take your breath away now: Best start planning for the Feb. 12 through 14 event.

YEP, THAT'S VALENTINE'S WEEKEND, and President's Day Weekend, too. There'll be several packages and deals around the desert resort cities themed to the love holiday, and maybe a few giving nods to Mardi Gras as well (not to mention a presidential package in not-too-far-off Riverside). Combining your long weekend with balloon glows and special breakfast races and balloon rides and a relaxing day spent out at The Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort & Spa is something that needs to happen sooner than later, if you're a balloon buff and you plan on spending some of the weekend either admiring the scene or taking photographs. It's year two for the event, by the by, which joins other desert-gorgeous locales in welcoming balloonists and their amazing envelopes. Is that a balloon drifting near the mountain ridge, with the sun turning the sky peach and pink? Best grab your camera and click.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Beach Pursuits: A Hotel Del Package]]> Tue, 09 Feb 2016 13:54:07 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/delbeachpackage12345.jpg

IT'S HUMAN NATURE TO COMPARTMENTALIZE... the various areas of our lives. Throwing everything into a big brain stew, all of the things we want to accomplish and enjoy, seems, at first glance, to be positively overwhelming. But we don't need to draw such hard lines around various columns, if only because various columns can meld well together. Look to our new year's resolutions, which very often align with our health and happiness goals, goals that are shaped by getting out more and doing. Those don't need to be sent to separate and distinct columns all the time, however, especially if resolutions regarding "exercise more" and "travel more" can happen over one quick getaway. Such getaways do flower come the winter, and one of the closest for SoCalers is happening on Coronado Island. There's the giveaway, as to what the hotel is (as if the photo above didn't reveal that as well). The Hotel del Coronado, or the Del, if you prefer, has a post-holiday package on that is both about being outside at the beach and having that travel experience you vowed to take when 2016 kicked in.

SOCAL BEACH ESCAPE: Book two nights at the red-turret'd hotel and receive a fifty dollar credit each day towards fun on the beach. This could include paddleboarding, one of the big pursuits in the area, but if you've never tried it before, it's cool: That $50 credit can go to lessons or rental. Bicycle rentals are in the mix, too, which is ideal, given Coronado Island's affection for the two-wheeling lifestyle (that the streets are so picturesque surely enhances the ride). A spin class, too, is also up for grabs with your get-out-get-active credit. You'll be moving more, too, once you leave your car at the hotel -- valet parking is gratis with the package. And should you just want to hang at the beach, there is a complimentary beach bag. But what of those dovetailing resolutions? Travel more, exercise more? Well, a bit of both while at the Del should get 2016 moving in the right direction on both counts.

Photo Credit: Hotel del Coronado]]>
<![CDATA[LA Mid-City Getaway: The Orlando]]> Mon, 08 Feb 2016 17:14:42 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/orlandopooldeckviewla.jpg

WALK IN LA: There are at least a dozen wisecracks associated with the unwalkability of Los Angeles, and a few songs and essays, too. Everyone's in love with their car, no one takes the train, and hopping from shop to shop requires returning to your vehicle, even if the places in question share the same block. It's all stuff and nonsense, of course; the City of Angels brims with neighborhoods that are prime for strolling, from downtown to the Hollywood Studio District, and one of the spots in the top ten happens to be Mid-City West. It's plunk in the middle of the action, is why, and it also happens to be home to The Orlando, a boutique hotel that serves as an anchor of sorts to West Third, one of the restaurant-iest, window-shop-iest stretches in all the city. Magnolia Bakery, the famous pastry place out of New York City, is The Orlando's neighbor across the street, and a few blocks to the east? The Grove, a outdoor shopping center that's a solid nexus of starsightings. Between Magnolia and The Grove small shops abound, covering specifics from stylish travel to upscale vintage. To celebrate this walkable area, The Orlando has a few stayover packages, one that could appeal to canine lovers looking to land in LA at a dog-nice, dog-strollable spot. If that's you, check out The Orlando's...

BOW-WOW PACKAGE: It's starts at $299, and includes a treat, an Orlando waterbowl to pack and keep, and doggie daycare in the area, including pick-up and drop-off. Of course, you don't have to go the daycare route if you want your wagger by your side as you saunter down West Third, a thoroughfare that sees plenty of Fidos each and every day. If you're not traveling with your little fluffster, there are other packages and special stays, like the American Girl Page (yep, there's an American Girl at The Grove) and a Galentine's Day Package, too, for pals to enjoy (in addition to the on-site pool and spa).

SOME ROOMS... do have a view of the Hollywood Sign -- you're not to far from Tinseltown on West Third -- and there's the roomy Entertainer's Suite, which includes a balcony, the better to watch the scene on West Third, as well as people entering The Churchill, the glam gastropub inside the hotel. Can you really walk in LA? Well, yes, in certain pockets that's pretty much all you'll want to do. Zipping about the larger city is another matter, but West Third is certainly on its toes when it comes to getting out and walking.

Photo Credit: The Orlando]]>
<![CDATA[Wine Passport: Santa Ynez Valley Valentine's]]> Mon, 08 Feb 2016 07:05:19 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/160*120/wines.jpg

SOLVANG'S FAMOUS COMESTIBLES: If PastryVision were a thing, we'd all walk around rocking futuristic sunglasses that, through a special prism in the lens, allowed us to search out anything soft and sugary and buttery and filled with jam or chocolate or cream. If you're bumming that such glasses don't exist, at least not yet, fret not; there are some towns and neighborhoods where PastryVision is not required. Why? Because the chewy, doughy, nummable delights are found all over. At the front of this pastry pack, of course, is Solvang, a windmill-whimsical burg that knows dessert well. So well that sweets are part of the main swing of thing during Taste of Solvang, the town's big Marchtime to-do. So popular are aebleskivers, Solvang's most celebrated noshable, that one of the other celebrated offerings of the region must stand apart in its own spotlight, from time to time. It's wine -- no spoiler alert required, if you know Solvang's location -- and on Valentine's Weekend some fifteen tasting rooms will offer a passport. Stow those PastryVision glasses, or at least the dreams of them, find your designated driver or line up your van service or shuttle pass, and get to know the sippable spots of Solvang and the larger Santa Ynez Valley.

A WINE FANTASY IN FEBRUARY... will fill up the long Valentine's-into-Presidents-Day Weekend, from Friday, Feb. 12 through Monday, Feb. 15. Shuttle passes are available in addition to the $55 wine passport (the passes are ten bucks a pop). You'll be able to chat up winemakers, snack upon some chocolates or wee bites depending on the day you're there and where you are, and even swirl a few special, uneveryday wines in your glass (hello reserves). Can you put your pastry love aside for a few hours while you indulge in some vino? It doesn't have to be stowed permanently, of course. You are in the heart of Pastry Central for much of the passport-fun weekend. Grabbing a box of indulgent treats could be the ideal sweet capper to your Valentine's trip.

Photo Credit: Wines]]>
<![CDATA[Shutters on the Beach: Rain Day Fun]]> Sun, 07 Feb 2016 08:47:38 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/keepcozyandcuddlesm.jpg

COMMITTED PLANNERS... have a spot of trouble "letting go" when the time arrives to stow the calendar and the computer and simply unwind at a pretty property. They've likely mapped out an itinerary, complete with asterisks and suggestions and details so eensy you'd to hold the piece of paper up to the sunlight to find them (assuming, of course, the itinerary is printed on paper). So what's to be done when a rain day springs up on a vacation? Is the itinerary balled up and thrown away, with drama? (You'd recycle it, of course, if it indeed was on paper.) Is the whole soggy sojourn to be considered a wash? Well, no and no. The itinerary could be followed a bit, if it isn't too damp outside, or at the very least you can save it for another day. And the soggy sojourn is most definitely not a wash if you find yourself, alongside your honey, cuddled in a cashmere scarf, one that comes as part of your deluxe room package. What sort of spot might include a soft and sublime wrap in a hotel deal? Why Shutters on the Beach, which knows a thing or two about chilly foggy nights.

SO ANY WET SHOWING... from El Niño in no way ruffles the Santa Monica landmark. It has been shoulder-to-shoulder with the Pacific Ocean for decades, and some damp days are nothing to fear. In that spirit the hotel created the Keep Calm & Cuddle package, which includes two locally made cashmere scarves, in gray or neutral, the better to wind around the shoulders while reading a rainy-day novel (You may be presented with Hemingway's "Old Man and the Sea" or another riveting classic.) To toast you up, through and through, there's Hot Buttered Rum, or Peppermint Mocha, so sip away as you read and cuddle into your cashmere scarf (your BFF will get one, too). And an Ocean View Room, complete with a whirlpool bath and other tony touches? That's also a part of the package, which starts at $1,070, plus tax. Ready to go luxe, even on a day for ducks? "A day for ducks" is such a sweet way to describe rain, which comes and goes, regardless of vacation plans or not. Don't ball up that itinerary just yet; maybe, though, add a Santa Monica stayover to it, one that comes with novels, warm beverages, and cashmere comforts.

Photo Credit: Shutters on the Beach]]>
<![CDATA[Omni La Costa's Family Adventure Package]]> Sat, 06 Feb 2016 07:37:32 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/omni-la-costa-family1.jpg

THE RUN UP TO THE HOLIDAYS... is often described as "hectic" and "busy" and "non-stop" but everyone knows December also has its longer stretches. Think of the 45 minutes you waited for the school pageant to start, because the backdrop wouldn't hang right, or the line for gift wrap at any store (just fill in the blank with a name). It's no wonder that vacation packages that start near the start of the year talk about "unwinding" and "slowing down" and "taking it easy" after those hectic/busy holidays that went non-stop. It's the rarer getaway package, at least 'round January and February, that involves some zoom, some go, some get-up-and-do.

OMNI LA COSTA RESORT & SPA in Carlsbad recognizes that not only were our holidays not completely hectic, as we're sometimes told they are, but that people still want to be on the active, have-fun side of things even after the eventful season ends. Especially if there are kids about, kids who adore LEGOs, and own approximately 5,698 of 'em -- too low? -- and especially if there are two one-day tickets to LEGOLAND in the package. Did you visit the recent LEGO-focused convention in Pasadena? Are you excited for those LEGO-created beasties headed for Rancho Palos Verdes in February? Then book at the Omni La Costa Resort & Spa, ask for the Family Adventure, and get those...

TWO ONE-DAY TICKETS... to LEGOLAND, in addition to "free meals for kids under 12" at the resort. The hotel is also home to more than one pool, including Splash Landing Pools, which include "two 100-foot waterslides," and the Sandy Beach Family Pool, where it is indeed possible to construct a pool-close sandcastle. The Family Adventure Package is available through March 15, and rates kick off at $179 per night. If your December didn't have quite enough "do" to it, here's where you step it up (between bouts of relaxing poolside, natch).

Photo Credit: Omni La Costa]]>
<![CDATA[Inspiring: San Diego Cheetah's Story]]> Fri, 05 Feb 2016 17:32:01 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/CheetahRuuxa_003_Web.jpg

HOW FAST CAN YOUR HEAD SWIVEL? It's an easy thing to try and find out, as you sit before your computer (just be careful, head-swivelers, as you don't want to pull anything). We can generally glance from left to right, or vice versa, pretty quickly, depending upon what we're watching. But a person truly discovers what their head-swivel speed is when they're sitting at Shiley's Cheetah Run at San Diego Zoo Safari Park. That's the loooong stretch where the preserve's cheetahs have been known to stretch a leg at very, very high speeds. How long is the run? It's 330 feet, and since a cheetah can top out around 70 mph, that means, yes, that they can best the distance in about four seconds. But a young Cheetah Ambassador at the park named Ruuxa faced a much bigger challenge, beyond completing the run in the blink of an eye.

RUUXA'S ROAD: Born with "a growth abnormality in his forelegs," a feature which caused bowing, Ruuxa faced many mobility challenges from the outset. You may have heard about his story, in large part because of his constant canine friend Raina (Ruuxa and Raina have become a popular duo via various online videos and snapshots). But here's the next development in the cat's tale: When Ruuxa hit his four-month-old mark, in September 2014, he underwent surgery at the Harter Veterinary Medical Center, which is located in Safari Park. The great news? His recovery was "remarkable," so much so he is newly running at Shiley's Cheetah Run. 

WANT TO SEE RUUXA? Cheetahs are out doing their lickety-split thing each day at the park at 3:30 in the afternoon. You might see the young cheetah, or another of the cats who call the park home, but whichever cheetah you see, just be prepared to do that lightening-quick head swivel. Cheetahs are, after all, "the fastest land mammal," and that young Ruuxa can now display his prowess here is an inspiration. Surely an inspiraiton to Raina, too, his sweet pal who remained close to her cheetah friend throughout his recovery. They're so close-knit, and awww-dorable, that it's no wonder these two sweeties are some of the darlings of the internet. Want to admire them in person? Run this way.

Photo Credit: Ken Bohn]]>
<![CDATA[Beastie Sweetness: Safari West Valentine's]]> Fri, 05 Feb 2016 10:22:26 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/209*120/febsafariwest9283023.jpg

IT MATTERS NOT... how many nature shows you watch, or blogs you subscribe to, or the books you read on the topic of our amazing world. A factoid will always come along, seemingly out of the blue, that will rock your socks and make your brain hum. "A frog can jump how far?" you ask in wonderment. "A gazelle can run how fast?" you ponder, amazed. Our planet is plush with fascinating minutia about each and every beastie that calls the earth home, and factoids don't come plusher -- or blushier -- than when they have to do with the birds and the bees. Or the rhinos or the gnus or the meerkats. Animal romance -- cough animal reproduction cough -- is not a topic to get squidgy over in the least, of course. It's flat-out interesting, in all the ways, and finding out how various species approach date night is part of our ticket to the ride we call life. But if you've had your momentary fill of shows and blogs, and would like to get out under the sky, in a real "you are there" situation, among exquisite creatures aplenty, look no further than Santa Rosa. Safari West, a large animal preserve in the region, pauses each February 14 to throw an educational Valentine's outing, one that includes brunch and terrific trivia all about how animals do the mating dance. So popular is this happening that it is landing upon two days in 2016, so book your spot either on...

SATURDAY, FEB. 13 OR SUNDAY, FEB. 14: Those are the dates for the 15th annual Rumble in the Jungle, an educational overview of animal amour. It's adults only, the cost per person is $148 and change, and there are several parts to the event. A noontime brunch, complete with African wine, is the starter, then there's a info-filled session on beastie canoodling (complete with a memorable take-home gift), followed by a tour around the vast property (yep, it's mating themed). Is the vehicle you're rolling in open to the elements? It is, safari-style. Will you come away with fresh info on this juicy topic? Perhaps, depending upon how well-studied you are on furry flirtation. Either way, consider it a Valentine's you and your honeybun will talk about down the road, as certain facts are sure to stick in the noggin. How much do your really know about animal intimacy, in all of its many, many forms? Time to find out.

Photo Credit: Safari West]]>
<![CDATA[The Gondolas of Channel Islands Harbor]]> Wed, 10 Feb 2016 10:59:32 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/IMG_8474gondola.jpg

VENICE MEETS THE PACIFIC: The shoreline of California sees a whole host of boats, from the gussied-up glitter wonders that parade just before Christmas to the kayaks that take adventurers into sea caves and near where sea life is known to roam. We're also known for those cruises that cross various channels, to our off-shore islands, places like Channel Islands National Park. If you think of Oxnard, and Channel Islands Harbor, and you think of a boat, you just might alight upon the image of such a cruise, one that makes a big trip, across several miles, in search of nature and some sightseeing. But there's another type of vessel associated with the harbor, and it has its roots in Italy, and not Santa Cruz Island or San Miguel. It's the gondola, of course, and Gondola Paradiso offers 50-minute boat rides around the harbor to those looking for a closer-to-shore, old-school romantic experience. And the time is nigh for that: Valentine's Weekend is ahead, and reservations are open for the company's Valentine's Specials.

FEB. 12, 13, AND 14... are the 2016 dates, and the cost? It's one hundred and fifty dollars per duo. You can cuddle up and look for gulls or seals while snacking upon that classic sweet of the holiday, chocolate-covered strawberries. There are no beverages provided during the trip around the harbor, but showing with your own bottle of wine is a-okay. As for having the boat to just the two of you? Well, you will, though of course the gondolier is present and operating the vessel, as is tradition.

IF VALENTINE'S... is already fully booked for you, your gondola experience could happen any ol' time, as this isn't a holiday-only adventure. And if you have kids? They're welcome on the boat, and young'uns under age 11 get a free trip (and, yep, they'll wear a life jacket, too). Ready for a slice of Venezia in a spot known for whale-watching trips? The California coast boasts a multitude of on-the-water trips, including the storied, snapshot-worthy gondola.

Photo Credit: Gondola Paradiso]]>
<![CDATA[Mission Inn Presidential Suite Stay]]> Tue, 09 Feb 2016 21:07:59 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/riversidemissioninnpresidential19321322.jpg

HAIL TO THE CHIEF: If a celebrated stay-over spot has seen a few decades, chances are that at least a few of its rooms bear either the name of a famous guest or have a story attached. That's true for many California and West Coast hotels, thanks in large part to the number of actors who called the hotels home during on-location shoots. But what of presidential guests and the Golden State? Well, we've had a few presidents call California home, of course, and candidates do travel through quite often. But finding presidential-themed rooms in a landmark isn't quite the common thing it is around our nation's capital and the East Coast at large. There is a prominent exception here, a hotel so major that it served as the location for a recent president's honeymoon getaway, not to mention that it also boasts a piece of lobby furniture related to an earlier Commander in Chief. We speak of the Mission Inn, that castle-like, turrets-and-passages destination known for its holiday lights, its European aesthetic, and its Alhambra Presidential Suite. It's the same suite where Ronald and Nancy Reagan honeymooned, and guests may book it for their own stay. Which they do, frequently, especially when Presidents Day is on the horizon.

MONDAY, FEB. 15... is the date of the patriotic, history-filled holiday in 2016, and the Riverside hotel's Live Like a President package includes an overnight in the Alhambra Presidential Suite, a VIP tour of the rambling, trivia-filled hotel, and dinner at Duane's Prime Steaks & Seafood (plus a spa treatment at Kelly's Spa). You can also call upon the Presidential Lounge for a special presidential-themed cocktail (several are named after past White House denizens). What to discuss while you sip? How that's the very room where Richard and Pat Nixon exchanged their wedding vows back in 1940. Hotels may have had presidents on their guest roster before, but to claim a honeymoon, and wedding, within your walls, is a big deal. Be sure, during your Mission Inn sojourn, to visit the President Taft chair in the lobby, near the hotel bar. It's a handsome piece of furniture, and, like so much else at the hotel, full of lore and history, both.

WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT THE PACKAGE? Call the Mission Inn at 951-784-0300. The Live Like a President package is available from Feb. 13 through 15, 2016.

Photo Credit: Mission Inn]]>
<![CDATA[Butterfly Fun at San Diego Zoo Safari Park]]> Wed, 03 Feb 2016 21:46:10 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/ButterflyJungleImportation_2_large.jpg

A FLASH OF WOW: Sorry, flowers and plants, but when humans stroll a lush garden come the spring they're also on the look out for winged things. We're not saying that pink petals aren't lovely, because they truly are, and succulents and trees provide the majesty and greenness and oxygen that we seek when we seek the outdoors. Finding a flitting creature, though, stopping upon a leaf, can make the heart stop, for just a second, at least in the poetic sense. One can feel, in fact, downright lucky to have spied a butterfly, even if the insect is clearly on its quick way to its next stop (and then its next and then its next). So how do we find a bunch of that butterfly-based goodness, all in one place, all in one time, without searching for it, sometimes haplessly, in the gardens we visit? The trick, of course, is to go to where the butterflies reside, lots and lots of butterflies, and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park has such a place. It's called Butterfly Jungle, it's a spring staple, and it will include "more than 30 species of butterflies, hailing from Africa, Asia, Central, South, and North America," too. That's a bunch of butterflyia, right before your happy eyes, so, yep, you'll see one, or maybe a dozen, or maybe a hundred, depending on where you're looking and how long you linger.

MARCH 12 THROUGH APRIL 10... is your window. And speaking of windows, there aren't any, lest those wee creatures flit, flit, flit away. You're actually in an aviary, an amazing aviary at that, one that's full of "lush greenery and flowers." (We're still feeling a bit badly about not giving flowers and plants their full and deserved due earlier.) Some "exotic birds" also call the aviary home, so butterflies on the wing won't be the only flying superstars you see. As for the butterfly roster set for 2016? Monarchs, giant swallowtails, Grecian shoemakers, and blue morphos are just four of the many. Did your heart just stop for a second, at least in the poetic sense? Clearly you need a delicious dose of spring, in San Diego, flutter flutter.

Photo Credit: San Diego Zoo]]>
<![CDATA[Santa Barbara Savings: Go Car Free]]> Mon, 08 Feb 2016 07:03:07 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/carfreesbdeals2016.jpg

BRINGING YOUR WHEELS ALONG... on a getaway truly is a two-sided coin (or any other two-side thing that floats your boat, if coins are too common). On the one hand you need to get to your destination, somehow -- spoiler alert -- and cars have a very handy way of making that dream a reality. On the other hand once your car is there, with you, at the place you want to chillax, there's the figuring out where to put it, and how much it'll be to put it there, and if you take it out of where you put it how much it'll be to put it somewhere else, like a restaurant or attraction. Finding that restaurant or attraction, from your homebase of your hotel, can be more delightfully, and money-saving-ly, done on foot, of course, or with public transport. Questions, question, should I take the car or should I not, if I plan to walk a lot. Santa Barbara sweetly helps out the traveler in this querying regard, each and every year, via the Santa Barbara Car Free program. It's back around, for 2016, and the savings and suggestions are plentiful, and earth-nice-able, as always.

SHOW YOUR TRAIN TICKET: If you arrived in the American Riviera by Amtrak -- both the Pacific Surfliner and the Coast Starlight are included, natch -- then hold onto your ticket to show around town. Why? You'll get discounts on hotels like the Cheshire Cat Inn, institutions like the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, and on those all-important bike rentals (check out Wheel Fun Rentals for your deal). There are more spots, too, that want to see your train ticket and help you save cash, so eye all.

IF YOU DID DRIVE TO THE CITY, but you plan on keeping your ride stowed for your entire weekend stay, there are other cool car-free things to do. Santa Barbara Car Free has several recommendations, from hopping on the MTD Electric Shuttle to biking around wine country to strolling Stearns Wharf. You don't need to do any of the usual stressing over where to move your car next while on vacation. Leave it at where you're staying, hop a shuttle or rent a bike, and off you go. Is an entirely vehicle-less vacation possible? In several cities, absolutely, with Santa Barbara, once again, at the robust forefront of car-free fun-having.

Photo Credit: Santa Barbara Car Free]]>
<![CDATA[Snuggle Up: Damp Days at Quail Lodge]]> Mon, 08 Feb 2016 17:15:12 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/quaillodgeelninopackage.jpg

CARMEL DESPITE THE CHILL: Weather pages tend to break down the forecast into hourly, daily, weekly, and 10 Day sections, for ease of use. It's this last category that travelers so often visit, as they keep a coming vacation in view, and what exactly the skies'll reveal when they arrive. Will it be sunny and 74 degrees? Shall there be some wind? And what if El Niño decides to call upon my destination at the very same time I do? We can't impact the weather -- spoiler alert -- but letting the weather decide our calendar isn't something any of us are into, either, as a rule. So what if it is a bit rainy, and you'll need to pull those galoshes out of the deepest recesses of your car's trunk? There are lovely hotels dotting the Golden State ready for the rain, and there are those umbrella-toting adventurers looking for a package that's themed to a particularly famous weather event. One of those aforementioned lovely hotels is Quail Lodge & Golf Club, in Carmel, which is offering the "Escape El Niño" package through March 2016.

THE GOODIES INCLUDE... midweek "discounted room rates" that kick off at $175. You'll be staying in a Deluxe Guestroom but not paying the Deluxe Guestroom rate (the rate's for the Superior Guestroom). Whether it happens to be sprinkling or not during your stay, you might want to book a fireplace-pretty Grand Deluxe King Guestroom, with a starting price point of $195. There's also an opportunity to secure a Garden King Suite for $250, and all come with goodies like a morning visit to the Light and Tasty Continental Breakfast Bar.

DOES A RAINY HOTEL STAY... require a fireplace, yummy breakfast vittles, and a swanky room for cozying into? Nope, but it definitely enhances your indoor time a bunch. And reading that 10 Day weather forecast, over and over, trying to predict where a storm will land can get a bit stressful. Best do some nesting at Carmel, and Quail Lodge, and not worry a peep whether you'll need your parasol or not.

Photo Credit: Quail Lodge & Golf Club]]>
<![CDATA[Orchids Ahoy: Santa Barbara Extravaganza]]> Thu, 04 Feb 2016 19:00:23 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/160*120/orchid2.jpg

PERSONALITY OF FLOWERS: Any bud buff will swear on the nearest nasturtium that every flower comes with its own sense of self. Call it character, if you will, or an aura, but putting a rose and a daisy in the same personality grouping is like eating peanut butter with steak. (Actually, that might kind of work.) We're not saying pretty petal-laden things can't co-exist beautifully, but, rather, understanding their general oomph, and outlook, is part of the joy of gardening. And the flower that seems to arrive with the most mysterious of personalities, and the most alluring, is the orchid. No one will quibble over that; "The Orchid Thief" detailed, in riveting storytelling form, the elusiveness of this distinctive blossom. But can you generalize about a whole stratum of flowerdom, calling all orchids mysterious, or is this such a unique plant that each and every blossom has its own vibe? Prepare to delve deeply into this delightful enigma, and, perhaps, pick up a few orchids for your home collection, at one of the most esteemed gathering of orchidists around: the Santa Barbara International Orchid Show.

IT'S YEAR 71... for the flowery festivity, which includes "stunning exhibits & plant sales & orchid art & photography" plus "cultural demonstrations" and "floral arrangements." The upshot? If it has to do with orchids in any fabulous form, it'll pop up at the Earl Warren Showgrounds. As for theme of the 2016 happening? "Wild World of Orchids," yep. Over 50 vendors are expected, so if you are just getting started, and you need someone to chat with on the "water/sunlight/care" front, that front shall be well-covered. But how to choose from the some 25,000 orchid species out there? It's just like we were saying earlier: Character and personality can be found in each distinctive flower, and not singularly across a whole spectrum. That's a lot of orchids to get to know, and there will be a lot in Santa Barbara. Thank goodness flower fans will have three days to explore. Dates? Everything blooms from Friday, March 4 through Sunday, March 6. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Palm Springs Zing: Retro Pinball Mania!]]> Mon, 01 Feb 2016 13:55:50 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/188*120/pinball-shutterstock_1096500.jpg

A CONVENTION'S QUIRKY SIDE: Hearing that there's a huge, multi-day gathering devoted to the design and architecture of another era can make an especially merry person quake a bit in their boots. Your initial thought is that things might be on the stuffy side, even a little dry, and though you love the architecture of that era you pause to think twice about attending. Such feelings may hold water for many history-related conferences and happenings, but it is unfair to paint all with such a wide, boring brush. History and architecture and design have pizzazz, as do the events built around them, too. One of the leaders in the field of pizzazz-honoring historic happenings is Modernism Week. The February-fun Palm Springs extravaganza may be about mid-century style, but it isn't overly textbook-y at all. ("Textbook-y," too, is rather a good thing, let us note.) There are lively bus tours and vintage trailer shows and what is sure to be a popular, good day out: A field trip to The Museum of Pinball. It isn't located in Palm Springs, but, rather, in nearby Banning, and on the evening of Monday, Feb. 15 a bunch of Modernism Week attendees'll load up and make for the museum for a bright night of chasing a small silver ball.

CHOICES APLENTY: Look for "...more than 700 beautifully restored, pristine arcade and pinball machines lit up and ready for your high score!" The machines hail from multiple decades -- the '60s on into the '90s -- and many have the zazzy, live-big lines and details that mid-century modernism wrought. For sure, pinball, as an aesthetic, was never about straight-arrow subtlety nor snooty elegance, but neither was mid-century-ism, though some of its physical forms are as straight as a straight arrow. That's their commonality: Being highly visual in an accessible way. Of course, they also share the 1960s in common, so if that's your favorite decade, and you consider yourself an especially merry person, then book the day after Valentine's for a grown-up field trip from Palm Springs to Banning.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[Joshua Tree Funky: Spin and Margie's]]> Sun, 31 Jan 2016 11:58:12 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/frontentrancespinmargies.jpg

THE ARID OFFBEAT: Most every sort of destination, be it in the mountains or on the beach, has its own aesthetic vibe, a vibe that may or may not be followed by the denizens of the area. But hotels and inns often do observe the regional aesthetic, to varying degrees, if only because when travelers think of, say, the beach, they think of seashells or creams and blues or airy linens (conversely, for the mountains, visitors like logs and fireplaces and such). So what's the desert aesthetic, at least around California? That's a challenge to pin down, for the Anza Borrego is different from the Mojave is different from the eastern Salton Sea. But look to Spin and Margie's Desert Hide-a-Way, a funky stay-over right outside Joshua Tree National Park, for so deftly, and delightfully, incorporating the Arid Offbeat.

RETRO, COLORFUL, UNFUSSY: So what's Arid Offbeat? Think highly saturated hues, like rich reds and deep blues, to complement the earthy surrounding desert, and think retro-ish furniture that pays homage to all of the adventure novels and shows that used the cacti-dotted landscape as a setting. Spin and Margie's perfects the funky laid-back-a-tude that people seek around Joshua Tree, thanks in part to the natural but well-gardened property and mid-century metal garden chairs made for sitting and admiring the big sky. The five casitas, some sharing a wall, some not, have charming handles like The Mojave Wanderer and The Desert Rambler. And each boasts its own distinctive old-school artwork, furniture, and such, and a couple come with kitchens as well (for those longer sojourns, so needed when one requires some cosmic communing with the desert). Homey to the max, with the added benefit of a picnic and barbecue area outside on the grounds.

GATEWAY TO THE MOJAVE: Need to know what's happening in the area as far as hiking and adventuring goes? Co-owner Mindy Kaufman, who bought the property with Drew Reese in 2000, keeps a lively blog about nature outings in the area. Find your Arid Offbeat dreams here, before you load up the wagon and head for the boulderiest bastion in all of the Golden State.

Photo Credit: Drew Reese]]>
<![CDATA[Spring Doing: Highway 1 Discovery Route]]> Tue, 09 Feb 2016 13:47:17 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/hwy1_central991321.jpg

MARCH'S OTHER MAJOR TO-DO: No one will say you shouldn't indulge in some spring cleaning come March or April, especially since you've likely spent a bit of the winter shoving various things into various cupboards and closets. True, you vowed, as you shoved, that you'd return in a few months to deal with the clutter, and that's a good thing, for sure. But spring cleaning, as a calling and a pursuit, should not dominate what is one of the loveliest, soul-awakening-est moments of the year. March is also about crocuses and dragonflies and all of the touchstones of poetry, and if we can swap out spring cleaning for spring doing, at least over a long weekend, well, we should, what with life's fleeting ways and such. You don't need to go too big on the spring doing front, if a mondo vacation to some faraway island isn't in the cards; you can simply alight upon one of the Golden States iconic locations, or a series of them, if you take a certain road that is next to a certain ocean. Hint: It starts with a 1.

MANY A CALIFORNIAN... has driven a portion of Highway 1, at least in part, but fewer can claim that they stopped at several famous destinations along the way. To solve this admittedly delightful dilemma, there's the California Highway 1 Discovery Route, which wraps up a bevy of beautiful, historic, and natural sights into one map-ready adventure. For sure, the map on your phone shows how Highway 1 wends, but if you check out the route's HQ you'll spy several stops along the way, and the pertinent information for each. There's Ragged Point, and San Simeon, and further down the way Avila Beach and Nipomo. Each location comes with sub-categories that highlight places to stay and to dine, which helps the whole streamlining process to the max. And isn't spring about the streamlining, from cleaning out the cupboards to planning a quick trip to awaken our slumbering senses? If the senses do slumber a bit, in the winter, that's just fine, and expected, but spring isn't only for organizing. It's for organizing one's larger life, and spying seals, and vistas, and castles. Good thing that there's a road nearby that can help put us in touch with all of those sights.

Photo Credit: Highway 1 Discovery Route]]>
<![CDATA['A Taste of Romance' in Healdsburg]]> Fri, 29 Jan 2016 18:09:37 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/healdsburgvalentines12346.jpg

THE THING ABOUT VALENTINE'S DAY, as in the general concept of it, is that the occasion is mostly associated with two particular times on the clock. The biggest time we think of when we think of the 14th day of February is evening, around 7 o'clock, when couples are starting to take their dinner seats and ponder if they're going to go red or white. (Red, right, because hearts and balloons and stuff? Right.) The other time of day you're apt to get a Valentine's feel? This one's a bit trickier, but we'll vote mid-morning, if Feb. 14 falls on a weekday. That's when flowers and singing telegrams and special chocolates start to show up at various offices. But a time of day that needs some Valentine's love -- and probably the love from a lot of other holidays, too -- is 4:30 in the afternoon. Because, no offense 4:30, but not too much is afoot, except the late-in-the-day yawns and the evening-plan-making. Wine Country Walking Tours, however, is gathering the in-need-of-love time close and making it something fun, at least over the course of Valentine's Weekend, and at least around the hub of Healdsburg. It's the "A Taste of Romance" tour, and it is all about pairing those observing love's holiday with some yummy tastes and sips around town.

FEB. 12, 13, AND 14... are the 2016 dates, or Friday through Sunday. You can pick whatever date you'll be in the area, then book your spot. What will happen then? You'll meet up at the gazebo, the famous one in a lot of photos, and then proceed to hop around different, walk-there spots, sampling "award-winning wines, decadent chocolates, sweets, and delicious savory bites" along the way. It'll all wrap by 7ish, so if you want to go do the sit-down, tablecloth-fancy dinner, that can still be in your plans, too. Or maybe all of that invigorating walking and excellent snacking will have sated your appetite? Think of the tour as a lavish first-courser to a sumptuous holiday spent in a food-forward town. The price is $49 per person, and you'll get a sense of what's happening at some of the eateries around Healdsburg. Who says 4:30 in the afternoon isn't the coolest time of day? True, a cup of coffee is often required, but if we can swing it so we're in a charmer of a town, on a tasty tour, that is all the better.

Photo Credit: Wine Country Walking Tours]]>
<![CDATA[Dry Creek April: Prelude to Passport]]> Wed, 10 Feb 2016 21:11:20 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/passporttodrycreek2938923.jpg

PASSPORT WEEKENDS... around the Golden State are such a staple, nowadays, that one expects to see them on the calendar, just like a vino fan looks forward to the yearly harvest party and the holiday open house. For a region to not have some sort of passport weekend, which gives visitors a chance to not only try some new places but sip rarer wines and chat up the winemakers, is pretty unusual. What's also unusual, though, on the passport front? A Friday event that stirs up the excitement for the two days to come. We'd never cast an eye on the standard passport weekend format as it exists, the Saturday-into-Sunday schedule, but adding a Friday on is a pretty festive choice. It's a choice made by Dry Creek Valley, in Sonoma County, and the "Passport to Prelude" will have its inaugural roll in 2016. That's on Friday, April 22, so, yep, the passport weekend itself is on Saturday, April 23 and Sunday, April 24. So you probably know what a passport weekend will be all about, what with the visiting of vineyards and the sipping of reserves and the noshing on tidbits. But what does an anticipatory "Passport Eve" hold in the way of visitor-fun doings? 

YOU CAN JOIN IN... with a "vineyard tour lunch or winemaker dinner" on that day, allowing you to go a bit deeper before the weekend has even begun. The prelude is all about furthering your wine knowledge, either by getting acquainted with the people who make your favorite wine or upping your general knowledge of how the grape gets into the glass. The lunches are set for a variety of spots around the valley, including Cast Wines and DaVero, while the dinners are landing at Capo Creek Ranch and Simoncini Vineyards, among others. After your lunch and/or dinner is complete, you have the whole passport-y weekend to look forward to, with, perhaps, another stop at the place you spent part of Friday. Add to all of this the exquisite April-ness of Dry Creek Valley, with everything in early bud and bloom, and you have a prelude not just to a wine-nice weekend but, also, to one of the best times of year in the area.

TICKETS... go on sale on Feb. 1.

Photo Credit: Passport to Dry Creek Valley]]>
<![CDATA[Chowder, a Boardwalk, and Santa Cruz Smiles]]> Thu, 28 Jan 2016 16:04:10 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/clamchowderbeachboardwalk2232232.jpg

TASTE-OFFS AND COOK-OFFS... and competitions of a culinary sort can happen in most any setting. They pop up in hotel ballrooms, from time to time, and public parks, and school campuses, and shopping malls, too. But if you're going to stage a savory showdown at one of the most colorful places on the California coast, you best bring both the flavorful chops and the outlandish fun. It's hard to outdo the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk for vim and vivacity, thanks to the Giant Dipper, the historic carousel, and the thousands of eye-popping details that command the visitor's attention, of course. But the annual Clam Chowder Cook-Off & Festival makes a great go of living up to its famous location. The February happening, which takes place on the 20th of the month in 2016, will once again bring together a host of teams that get the whole flour + cream + spices + clams equation. But those teams, or at least many of them, will get into the boardwalk-y spirit of the day by showing up in theme-team costumes, or at least aprons that lend some oomph to the proceedings. Those proceedings also include...

TASTING KITS: Oh yeah, if chowder is your jam, and you can happily sample several in one stroll-around, then be at the boardwalk at 10 o'clock in the morning on Feb. 20, when the kits go on sale for ten bucks. You'll get a half dozen tastes for that price, plus a spoon and cup -- so necessary -- and a ballot, for People's Choice voting (again, so necessary, if you want to have your say). The eating is fun, yes, but so is the aforementioned stroll-around, because you get to chat up the teams and see all of the zany outfits. Past years have seen mermaid regalia, pirates, metal rockers, medieval teams, and lots more. The cooks are on Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, after all, so they best bring the outlandish spirit. Here's hoping for a gray day, though not stormy, the better to get into the clam-chowder-esque mood. Will you finally find your perfect cup? The chowderist, as is tradition, is forever on the search. As for the day's beneficiary? That would be Santa Cruz Parks & Rec.

Photo Credit: Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk]]>
<![CDATA[Winchester New: February Flashlight Fridays]]> Sat, 30 Jan 2016 08:07:20 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/204*120/WinchesterMysteryHouse_crWMH_1.jpg

THE CALENDAR IS CORRECT: Everybody but everybody seems to receive a calendar over the holidays, whether it is under the tree or sitting atop the gift table or the dry-cleaner or grocery store you regularly visit presents you one on the final day of the year. It isn't a stretch, then, to say that there's a calendar nearby, right now, maybe within reaching distance, but what we're about to tell you next doesn't require you peeking at it. Here it goes: The famous flashlight nights at the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, the ones that take guests through the said-to-be-haunted mansion after dark, are about to start up again. Okay, there it is, we said it, that's what we had to share, but here's the next calendar-related bit: It is not October. It isn't even fall, or near fall, which is when the flashlight tours traditionally take place. Indeed, it is still the wintertime, an unusual occurrence for the eerie attraction to launch the tours, but, then again, another pretty rare occurrence is about to happen in the Winchester's neck of the woods: Super Bowl 50.

FOR SURE, there'll be many out-of-towners in the Santa Clara-San Jose nexus over the second month of the year, and, for sure, they've heard of the Winchester Mystery House on countless cable shows (and all of those ghost books that regularly give the maze-y destination a shout-out). It makes sense, then, to hand out the flashlights each Friday night in February to those guests who want to check it out in the gloaming. ("In the gloaming" seems to suit the mansion's Victorian-era vibes.) There are only four of these February flashlight nights ahead, starting on Friday, Feb. 5, so alight upon an admission soon, if you just can't wait for its regular October schedule. What will you see, by the by? Well, we don't want to walk the spoiler-alert route, for visiting football fans, but Sarah Winchester's sprawling abode is known for staircases to nowhere, doors that open onto brick walls, and windows in floors. It's pretty fascinating stuff, and especially by starlight. Intrigued? Don't need to double-check the calendar? Then start here.

Photo Credit: Winchester Mystery House]]>
<![CDATA[Death Valley: An Astronomical Experience]]> Fri, 29 Jan 2016 10:31:36 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/dvstarnight12345.jpg

DEEP INTO THE UNIVERSE: If only the Crab Nebula and the various moons of Pluto knew how often they showed up on various social media feeds, they might get pretty big heads. The sun, too, makes its Facebook cameos, but more often as a background player, in a pretty vacation destination. As for the moon? Our lunar satellite probably deserves its own Instagram by now, thanks to all of the full moon pics that regularly pop up. But communing with the cosmic superstars above us -- and all around us, yes -- isn't solely about clicking "Like" when we see a stunning new photograph of some faraway galaxy pop up on our feed. The glittering jewels of the night sky are so amazing that we need to stop the scrolling, once and awhile, and just spend some quality time in a very low-lit spot. Finding that very low-list spot, however, can be very hard when one calls a megalopolis home, but thank goodness a certain national park is only a few hours drive from several of California's bigger cities (and Las Vegas, too). Death Valley has the night sky chops -- it even nabbed a "Gold Tier" Dark Sky Park Certification -- and fans gather frequently to stare up after our nearest star goes down. But every so often a full-on Star Party comes along, complete with astronomers on site, and another one is due. When? Be at Furnace Creek Resort on...

FRIDAY, FEB. 5 AND SATURDAY, FEB. 6: Astronomer John Heller, and other members of the Las Vegas Astronomical Society as well as star pros from further afield, will be on hand to talk about all of that epic twinkle, the very twinkle that can get lost in the smudge-y flood of artificial illumination (Mr. Heller refers to such places as "light domes"). Mr. Heller also says that "(t)he winter Milky Way can be an amazing sight in Death Valley" (as if any devoted stargazer would need to hear more). But here's the more you probably should here: You can book your spot at the Ranch at Furnace Creek or the Inn at Furnace Creek, which are both on the close side to the golf course where the Star Party is happening. Does this jazz you? Are you a tad weary of only seeing the magic of the universe on your daily social media scroll? Death Valley is as lunar as spots on earth come, and pretty darn dark. This is your moment to make good with the Milky Way alongside other aficionados of all things universe.

Photo Credit: Furnace Creek Resort]]>
<![CDATA[Budweiser Clydesdales Visit Fairfield]]> Fri, 05 Feb 2016 17:29:57 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/budweiserclydesdales1234353232.jpg

HISTORIC HOOVES: Famous animals are so much a part of the fabric of our pop culture, and general knowledge, that it can be a challenge not to immediately spout off a torrent of factoids and trivia tidbits upon hearing the name of a beloved giraffe or a movie star dog or a team that won the Iditarod in a particularly snowy year. The Budweiser Clydesdales have earned that cachet over the eight-plus decades they've trotted through our lives, in both commercials and public appearances. We're more likely to see the elegant equine grouping on television, but there are chances, every so often, to spy them in-person (or in-horse, if you prefer). One's coming up, in Fairfield, so if you need to brush up on those factoids and trivia tidbits, best start now, because they're Clydesdale-ing it for California.

FEB. 3 THROUGH FEB. 14: The celebrated team will be in the Golden State for Super Bowl 50, but the horses aren't staying in Santa Clara. Rather, they'll make camp, stable-wise, at the Anheuser-Busch Fairfield Brewery and Tour Center during their West Coast sojourn (they typically live, when not traveling, at the company's breweries in St. Louis, Missouri, Fort Collins in Colorado, and Merrimack, New Hampshire). There are several days of stable viewing, from Feb. 3 through 8, and a couple of Clydesdale Camera Days, on Feb. 9 and 10, when a professional shutterbug'll be snapping photos of the horses' fans. To round out the visit? Look for the full hitch parade each early afternoon from Feb. 11 through 14. Check the entire schedule before clip-clopping for Fairfield, to make sure you can see what you'd like.

OF COURSE, you'll discuss, on the way, all of the Clydesdale history you know with your co-horse buffs. Like? The famous team is celebrating its 83rd year in 2016, and they've appeared in over 25 commercials seen during the Super Bowl. The team once had six horses, but it moved to eight steeds in 1950. As for that well-known, long-ago beer delivery to the White House? It happened to fete the close of Prohibition. For all of your Clydesdale trivia, as well as photos of the iconic ponies, trot to their mane -- er, main -- HQ now.

Photo Credit: Anheuser Busch]]>
<![CDATA[New: DoNapa Behind the Scenes]]> Mon, 08 Feb 2016 07:07:38 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/ChefKen-3napa.jpg

"AUTHENTIC EXPERIENTIAL": Just about every traveler wants to connect with where they're going, even if they're only there for a day, on some necessary, non-adventurous business. There's likely not a person'll who'll choose the non-descript, no-local-knowledge category for their stay, but finding that "authentic experiential" experience, while in a new city, can be a bit tricky, if guidebooks seem overwhelming and the internet offers a sea of choices. Some cities, however, are on top of their game here, and their desire to draw visitors into the daily, we-live-here fold is creating some lively happenings. Look to Downtown Napa, which will launch its DoNapa Behind the Scenes program in early February, an every-Wednesday event which pairs people staying the night in town with a host of go-deeper to-dos.

FEB. 3, 2016... is the launch date, and those "deeper to-dos" will run each Wednesday through April. What will the middle weekday hold for Napa overnighters? You could meet up with a chef for a demo, the better to hone your kitchen acumen (though no heat from us if you simply enjoying watching demos for the sake of seeing someone else make edible art). Tastings are on the calendar, too, of the chocolate variety, as are those involving hoity beers and cheeses (yep, beer's a thing in Napa, for sure, and, no, "hoity" is not a bad thing; on the contrary, hoity things taste delicious). "(G)arden painting classes" will take us right into spring, so get on one of those, if that's your fancy, or do them all. 

WELL... we suppose a Wednesday getaway to Downtown Napa, each and every Wednesday for three months, isn't doable, but daydreaming is free. To book your stay -- again, this is open to people staying at least a night in town -- and to see what is coming up on the "authetnic experiential" horizon, peruse all here, while envisioning your night with hoity beers and cheese. Mmm and mmm.

<![CDATA[Valentine's Weekend on Catalina Island]]> Mon, 01 Feb 2016 13:55:11 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Catalina-Island-Co-FiglewiczPhotography-00028.JPG

ACROSS THE WAVES: While those who celebrate Valentine's Day approach the occasion in their own fanciful or sensible way, there isn't a one-size-fits-all-ness that reigns, regardless of what people might say. You can go the tried-and-true route -- chocolates, greeting card, flowers -- or you can fly, with some velocity, along a zip line over an island at dusk. It's all good, and we all have our preferences and particular tastes, but stating that many more people have known the former, vs. the latter, isn't going out on a limb. Or going out on the stern of a boat, rather, in this case: We're about to talk about Catalina Island here, where an offbeat Valentine's Weekend package will soon be afoot for those couples that sign up.

OF COURSE, flowers and chocolates and loving sentiments enclosed in cards pretty much rule, too, if that's your bag, so do remember to give your sweetheart some of the traditional goodies before the boat or helicopter ride over. Ah yes, there's a boat or helicopter involved, this being an island, and some other spectacular stuff, too. Like? A credit worth one hundred and twenty five dollars to Island Spa Catalina -- that's per adult -- and a Twilight Zip Line Eco Tour, which takes you from Hog's Back gate to other locations of the island (look down and spy Descanso Canyon, the ocean, and Avalon itself as you zoom along). If you need some quiet time with your honey to discuss all of that high-in-the-air adventuring, there's dinner credit at Avalon Grille worth one hundred dollars. That's the moment, over your meal, when you'll dish and dissect everything you saw, felt, and remembered from the bucket-list-y outing.

AS FOR STAYING THE WEEKEND? This is a three-night package, from Feb. 12 through 15, and you have a pair of hotels to pick from, with some various price points. Pavilion Hotel starts at $432 a night and Hotel Atwater at $335 (The Santa Catalina Island Company, by the by, is the outfit that put this all together). Those are both "per couple" prices, and for duos traveling by water, not air (helicopter rides to and from Avalon do bump up the price a bit). It's not exactly the tried-and-true route for Valentine's, but if you're not a twosome that typically takes that route, or any set path, this could be your not-so-far adventure. You do cross water, a good deal of it, but you're still in California. Call it the perfect hybrid of a far-off adventure and a home-close cozy getaway.

Photo Credit: Figlewicz Photography]]>
<![CDATA[Films About Wine: Santa Barbara Fest]]> Sun, 24 Jan 2016 09:19:25 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/wineshutterst-horz.jpg

FINDING A CINEMA... close to a wine bar isn't too much of a challenge for most city dwellers. It's really a matter of locating a movie you want to see, at a theater you like, and then searching up and down the block for a place to enjoy a post-credits chardonnay. That post-credits chardonnay isn't just an afterthought, after all, but rather an essential part of the movie-going experience. You and your friend need to download all of those opinions about character and plot and that twist you thought you saw coming, yes? Call vino, for some over-21-ers, as much a part of a film night as a bucket of popcorn. That there are loads of movies, then, about wine, or the process of growing grapes and running a vineyard, shouldn't surprise. Sometimes the winery is but a stunner of a backdrop to the action; sometimes entire thrust of the film is about the ancient libation. We can all name a wine film we've seen, and probably a dozen on top of that, so that there's a new fest celebrating sips on screen shouldn't surprise in the least. It's called the...

INTERNATIONAL WINE FILM FESTIVAL, and it is headed for Santa Barbara County from Feb. 14 through March 5, 2016. There are a number of screenings actually happening at various vineyards -- "Somm: Into the Bottle" rolls at Larner Vineyards in Solvang on Sunday, Feb. 14, complete with a lush-tastes meal -- and there's a night of wine and film pairings in Santa Maria in early March. Even if you can't make the Santa Ynez Valley wine country region during this time period, there's a "live online screening event" of wine shorts on Feb. 17. Wine relies on time to give it some of its inimitable magic, as does a film, which can take its time building to a (fingers crossed) satisfying conclusion. And a wine-themed film festival looks to be a tasty addition to the Golden State's busy film festival calendar. "Would you like butter on your popcorn?" could be replaced with "red or white?" down the road.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[Evening Kayaking on Tomales Bay]]> Sat, 23 Jan 2016 11:41:50 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/SunsetKayak2JackGescheit.jpg

WATERY WONDERS... come and go with the seasons. Sometimes Pacific gray whales are passing by on their way to Mexico, and sometimes there's a full-on algae bloom, along certain shorelines, making for a hue-tastic sight. Perhaps your friend has seen the green flash, at sunset, and another has spied a bunch of crabs or turtles or dolphins all in one place. It can stir a little bit of old-fashioned, true blue -- or true green-eyed -- jealousy, of the friendliest sort, to learn from a pal that you missed something super amazing out on the ocean, just because of timing or luck.

MYSTERIOUS AND BEAUTIFUL: But catching of the Golden State's most spectacular just-off-short sights is a matter of being around Point Reyes and Tomales Bay at the right time of year. We speak of bioluminescence, the product of all of those eensy-weensy teeny-tiny dinoflaggelates that seem to go a shimmery, glow-pretty green. Getting a little one-on-one time with a dinoflaggelate, say, in palm of your hand probably isn't possibly, given that they're single-cell organisms. But seeing a bunch illuminate the waters of Tomales Bay is possibly, and Nick's Cove Restaurant, Oyster Bar & Cottages is pairing up nature lovers with these microscopic marvels via evening kayaking jaunts in February.

MAKE THAT FRIDAY EVENINGS: You can book your spot, and a spot for your BFF, and snag a "cozy cottage for two," too, on "select" Friday evenings through the end of April. Blue Waters Kayak is your out-on-the-waves outfitter, and you're sure to learn more about how those wee creatures produce phosphorescent views. Plus? You'll be out kayaking in the evening, which is a bit offbeat as well. A cottage near the water, a kayak by night, and dinoflaggelates doing their ancient glow-y things -- fingers and paddles crossed -- makes for an un-run-of-the-mill adventure. And don't those make we humans rather glow inside, dinoflaggelate-style? Details on the package are right here, wonder lovers.

Photo Credit: Jack Gescheit]]>
<![CDATA[Madera Delish: Wine & Chocolate Weekend]]> Mon, 01 Feb 2016 12:02:55 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/glasswine92322-horz.jpg

NARROWING DOWN OUR FAVORITE PAIRINGS... is as difficult as assuming that everyone likes peanut butter and jelly or marshmallows and cocoa. Some people go for donuts and whiskey, and others like Sriracha with their avocados. Placing great tastes side by side is a tradition as longstanding as humankind, and we're forever on the search for the next savory combo. But one that stands at the top, for just about every adult who is still in touch with their sweet tooth, is vino and chocolate. A really rich and spicy red is enhanced by a square of something rife with caramel, and a nut-filled bar straight off the drugstore shelf has a way of adding zing to a zinfandel that needs a bit of oomph. The only thing left to do for chocolate-and-wine lovers, which is a pretty big, pretty passionate crowd, is to find an area that's putting the scrumptious spotlight on both. Madera Wine Trail is going to do just that, and over the ideal weekend, too. Indeed, Valentine's Weekend 2016 -- that's Saturday, Feb. 13 and Sunday, Feb. 14 -- will be devoted to great Gold Country wineries and interesting dessert/drink pairings. It's the...

WINE & CHOCOLATE WEEKEND: Put down your twenty five bucks ahead of making for the Sierra-close wine trail (or buy your ticket there), and then enjoy visits to Birdstone Winery, San Joaquin Wine Company, Ficklin Vineyards, and more spots dotting the hilly-pretty area. Designated drivers are free, or you can organize transportation ahead of time. Best of all, it's a Valentine's adventure that steps outside of the normal bounds and suggestions, but with some of the tried-and-true touchstones of the holiday. (Spoiler alert: wine and chocolate.) If you want to know the specific plans of each vineyard, along the trail, keep an eye on this page. And never, ever feel guilty about your favorite duo. Why shouldn't egg salad and canned peaches be a thing, if it is your thing? We all have our commonalities in the edible match-up department, starting with, for many people, wine and chocolate.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[Leap Year Stays: Hotel Deals]]> Wed, 27 Jan 2016 14:44:33 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/LuxeRodeoDriveHotelnight.jpg

A LEAP YEAR... is a pretty quirky happening, an every-four-years to-do that sends those who are into calendars in a considerable way into a happy tizzy. There are so many factoids surrounding the 29th day of February, from famous birthdays (Dinah Shore and Jimmy Dorsey both were born on the day) to all of the lucky traditions you're supposed to participate in, the kind of observances that take on more weight for a few scant hours before March begins. If you're feeling especially quirky and lucky come the day, best be on the lookout for those businesses honoring the rare occasion. L.E. Hotels is making the mirthful most out of the day, which is no surprise, as "Leap Year" and "L.E. Hotels" both start with the very same letters. It's almost a mystical coincidence, in fact, and since Feb. 29 is one of our most mystical days, best check out the "29"-themed specials and perks the Los Angeles-based company is offering at its properties.

THOSE PERKS 'N QUIRKS... aren't the same across the board, so if you're hoping to bed down at Creekside Inn in Palo Alto or Hotel Los Gatos in Los Gatos or the Luxe Rodeo Drive Hotel in the thrumming heart of Beverly Hills, best take a peeksie to see just what a Leap Year stay will bring. (Yes, we said "peeksie," and we stand by it; this is the quirkiest of days, as has been determined.) The Empress Hotel in La Jolla's sweet deal is "(s)tay two nights and receive $29 off your first night" while The Bristol Hotel in San Diego is all about a savings of $20.16 on your first night with continental breakfast and wifi access as part of the deal. Leap Year, let it be said, is the important thing to keep in mind here, so if you already have your Feb. 29 plans booked solid, you can still do an L.E. Hotel getaway during 2016 and score one of those discounts (note some hotel deals are solely about Feb. 29 and some will last the year through).

WANT TO EYE... the whole list, which includes international properties? Leap, with enthusiasm, into your leap year travel plans now.

Photo Credit: Luxe Rodeo Drive Hotel]]>
<![CDATA[Cinema Santa Barbara: Film Fest on Approach]]> Thu, 21 Jan 2016 20:12:02 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sbfflights2015.jpg

MOVIE TIME IN THE AMERICAN RIVIERA: The weather has a funny way of timing well with our human concerns, despite the fact that the wind and rain and heat likely pay no attention to our tweets or posts or updates or our online craving for likes and various shows of support. But it does, each winter, tend to cool down enough, even 'round sunny Southern and Central California, to put people in a go-indoors state of mind, the state of mind that's perfect for watching movies. What's going on with the clouds and sun can't take all the credit for this of course; it's also Oscar time, and advertisements and commercials for front-running films are everywhere. So put together the chill weather, and all of those Oscar ads, and you have a bunch of cinephiles who want to retreat to a theater to see some rocking acting and directing and writing and places they've never been (and situations that are unfamiliar, too). The Santa Barbara International Film Festival lands just when the weather cools down and our film interests heat up, in another marvelous feat of timing. The early-February fest spreads out around the American Riviera, summoning headlining thespians for big awards and panel-ready pros and over 200 films from all over the planet. The 2016 dates are...

FEB. 3 THROUGH 13... and the doings are plentiful. "The Little Prince" will enjoy its U.S. premiere on the festival's opening night, and director Terrance Malick's will enjoy its U.S. premiere a few days later. Johnny Depp is set to receive the Maltin Modern Master Award, while the Outstanding Performers of the Year Award will go to Brie Larsen and Saoirse Ronan. Special events festoon the schedule, outside of the awards and screenings, and the savory Santa Barbara Film Feast runs concurrently to the confab. It is, indeed, eleven full days for those mad about movies (and meals), and the timing is top-notch. Just ahead of the Oscars, when the weather can be at its coolest, and film fans just want to spend a lot of time indoors, in the dark, having an Experience, capital E.

Photo Credit: SBIFF]]>
<![CDATA[Joshua Tree: Centennial Hiking Challenge]]> Mon, 25 Jan 2016 14:22:56 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/hikingboots29392323.jpg

JOURNEY TO A NATIONAL PARK... during 2016 and you might just see information on various centennial-themed happenings. There's no mystery as to why that is: The National Park Service is turning 100 years old in 2016, and the festivities will be numerous, nature-filled, and nicely celebratory. But not every festivity is about the special speakers and the eats and the usual touchstones of a to-do; sometimes a centennial pursuit is more solitary, and all about the visitor's quiet connection with place. That's some of the spirit behind the Centennial Hiking Challenge at Joshua Tree National Park. A few NPS sites around the land are hosting hike-themed challenges, and they all focus on the ultimate goal. Which is a simple one: Hike (and log) 100 miles in the park before the close of the year. Joshua Tree's notice about the get-out-and-move movement describes it as "a healthy and invigorating challenge to people of all ages." There's a booklet involved -- it is free -- and it includes rambles around the high desert destination, a spot lush with chollas and scrubby wildlife and those epic, epic, epic boulders. (Surely three epics is more than enough to describe the rock-tastic icons of Joshua Tree. No? Not nearly? We concur.)

SUPERINTENDENT-LED HIKES: To hop on a guided hike, if that's your pleasure, just take a look at this page and find your optimal date. A six-miler is headed out for Monument Mountain on Friday, Feb. 6, while Eagle Peak is the hike for March 5. If you just want to snag a booklet and review the suggested hikes, that's cool, but note that the stickers for the booklet, to show you completed a hike, will come after a ranger signs off on a particular page. Good? Standard? The way it goes? A fine goal for 2016? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. Really, though, we're sorry about leaving out all the epics that the epic boulders of Joshua Tree deserve. Do you deserve to spend some time among them in 2016, completing the Centennial Hiking Challenge in honor of the big NPS birthday? (You so do.)

Photo Credit: Stock Image]]>
<![CDATA[Away-Away Getaway: East Brother Light Station]]> Fri, 22 Jan 2016 08:04:51 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/eastbrotherlightstation289382.jpg

A NOVEL SETTING: You don't need to search too hard to find romantic and windswept settings around California, the kind of picturesque places you might find in a novel. For sure, we have little ocean-charming villages -- hats off, Mendocino -- and winery country abounds, both north and south. We even have a castle or two (high five, Hearst Castle, and you, too, Scotty's Castle). But novel settings don't come more novel than lighthouses, those romantic, beam-beautiful structures that serve an important, and often dramatic, purpose. Staying in one, though, is as likely as spending the night in a castle, but novels always come with a twist: It turns out there is a nearby lighthouse that you can sleep inside, and it is just a ten-minute boat trip off Richmond.

A BOAT TO THE LIGHTHOUSE: We speak, of course, of the much-adored East Brother Light Station, the pretty, 142-year-old Victorian structure that's proudly plunked atop a rocky outcropping "in the strait that separates San Francisco and San Pablo Bays." The lighthouse -- er, light station, if you want to be fully accurate, and we'll assume you do -- is open to overnighters, making for an adventurous jaunt out to the wee island quite novel (in both commonly used meanings of the word). It's open to booking Wednesday through Sunday nights, and while you can stay multiple nights, there is one shower, so arrangements should be made with your hosts Bryan and Stephanie ahead of time.

INTIMATE STAY: There are five rooms to choose from, four in the light station and one in the building that houses the vintage foghorn, so plan on getting to know, over appetizers and dinner and breakfast, the other occupants of the rooms. You'll in fact make the boat trip over with them, when the sweet innkeepers pick you up at the designated, Richmond-based marina. No need to hang with everyone on the island for the night, but it is a snug situation, with some outdoor areas providing a little alone time, and some mysterious, city-in-the-fog views of San Francisco to the south. Yep, your boat trips to-and-from are included, as are the meals, but there'll be a few things to chew on ahead of time, as with any novel adventure. Can you climb a swimming pool-type ladder from the boat to the island? Are you okay with a muted but definitely-there foghorn calling out to area ships? Do you like doing exceptionally cool things that everyone you tell will want to do, too? 

THEN YOU'RE GOOD TO GO: The foghorn isn't too much, most guests have said, but earplugs are provided if earplugs are your jam. Comparing it to the older foghorn, which Bryan sounds for everyone on the island the following morning, will make the newer job seem positively understated. As for the history of the light station? Books and photographs are available in the upstairs parlor, which sits below the now-LED beam (which you can visit via two flights of narrow stairs). East Brother Light Station was once in disrepair, but the care, love, and vast volunteer efforts of the nearby community brought it to its present state, a thing of glory. It's worthy of a novel, in fact, even if the night you stay isn't especially windswept (you can still stand upon the island in a velvet cape, looking like a fictional heroine, if you choose, but take care not to overpack). 

AND WHAT'S THAT OUT IN THE WAVES? That's West Brother, East Brother Island's eternal neighbor, looking for all the world like a frozen-in-place whale emerging from the waters of the bay (and not the rock it essentially is). See if such novel assessments don't start to take over your increasingly romantic outlook while on the island, too. They will.

Photo Credit: Alysia Gray Painter]]>
<![CDATA[San Jose Landmark: Hotel De Anza's Refresh]]> Mon, 25 Jan 2016 13:17:12 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/hoteldeanzasign123.jpg

DIVE INTO HISTORY: Many eyes will be on Santa Clara come Feb. 7 -- the date of Super Bowl XIX, natch -- which means that many travelers will be bedding down in area hotels ahead of the big game. One of the most historic of the region's hotels is the built-in-1931 Hotel De Anza, a downtown icon that's not only known for its vintage mien but two distinctive outward features: The neon-glowing sign on top and the painted diver on the side. If you've strolled the downtown at any time over the last few decades you likely have seen one or both, while locals count the quirky visuals as part of that San Jose vibe. So when a fan of the sign and/or swimmer heard that Destination Hotels, the owner of the historic property, was going to treat the hotel to a refresh, there surely had to be some pause regarding what might happen to the pair of building-based icons. Take heart, adorers of all things historic as well as travel-sweet touchstones: Both are in place still and the refresh of the property, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is complete. 

ROARING '20S: This was one of the principal aesthetics that design firm HFS Concepts4 kept in mind during the update, while keeping in mind that the Hotel De Anza's 100 rooms should come with the expected modern conveniences (they do). Art Deco, as a notion, arrived on the timeline just a pinch after the Roaring '20s, and it, too, has a place in the look of the hotel, which keeps a contemporary character even with some nods to the past. So let's get down to it, jazz babies: Where can you get your Jazz Age cocktails, and, on occasion, actual jazz? The hotel's Hedley Club Lounge.

THE DIVING LADY, by the by, has been a fixture at the hotel's west-facing exterior wall since 1951. Have a guess as to what she initially promoted? The property's heated pool, which was all the rage back in the day. The pool has vamoosed but the 25-foot diver remains. Remains, of course, as a retro avatar of the hotel, but also of the downtown itself.

Photo Credit: Hotel De Anza]]>
<![CDATA[Pacific Edge Hotel: El Niño Package]]> Sat, 06 Feb 2016 07:39:28 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/pacedgeelninopackage123.jpg

LUGGAGE INSIDE, THEN HEAD OUTSIDE: Every traveler has a different arrive-at-the-hotel ritual. Some sniff the complimentary soap found in their bathroom, some try out the television, and others check out the closet. But many people, it can be said, share this trait in common: They place their suitcase on the luggage rack and then head back out, the better to eye the hotel's immediate environs, the area sights, and possibly the beach, if there is a beach nearby. But what if, while checking out your room, you notice a whole bunch of rain streaming down the window? Kind of puts a damper -- literally -- on your later exploration plans. Some hotels, however, are greeting the wintry rainy season with pluck and packages, too.

PACIFIC EDGE HOTEL... in Laguna Beach, which sits cheek-by-jowl -- or surf-by-beach -- with the ocean, is greeting the El Niño forecast with a way for guests to savor a stay and not mind any moisture in the process. The package is indeed named after the every-so-often weather event, and it includes an "(i)n-room DVD player with a wide selection of movies for all ages," a cheese and charcuterie platter to nibble while watching the films, and an Oceanfront Room or Village View Apartment, which'll give the guest an eye on the ocean, should they pause the movie now and then. Oceans, of course, look postcard-perfect in the sunshine, but a rainstorm brings out new depth and character in the powerful Pacific.

SHOULD YOU VENTURE OUT... you'll have a "Laguna Local" umbrella to keep you dry, and a trucker hat paying homage to Laguna Beach's Sleep Hollow. If communing with the rain for a few minutes has you wishing for a warm up, there's one back at the hotel: A comp bottle of wine for your room, which you'll snag upon arrival. It turns out you can weather the weather and do a bit of neighborhood exploring, or, conversely, stay tucked up in your hotel room with films and cheese and wine and a window to watch the droplets meet the wide, wide water beyond the beach.

HOW TO BOOK: Use the code ELNINO through March 15, 2016.

Photo Credit: Pacific Edge Hotel]]>
<![CDATA[St. Helena Valentine's: Poetry Written for You]]> Thu, 21 Jan 2016 20:12:44 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/harvestinnvaldaypoetry.jpg

LOVEBIRDS FLOCKING TO A GETAWAY... aren't merely thinking of the lovely room that awaits, and the fine food, and the possibilities for hand-in-hand nature walks or evenings spent fireside; they're also pondering, in some sense, the fuller meaning and theme of it all. We don't often get a chance to put love into words, or the excitement of an experience, which is why poetry has sung our songs for us throughout the ages. But what if we could meet with a poet, during a love-themed weekend, and have that wordsmith elaborate on some of the emotions and deeper threads that we cannot, or haven't taken the time yet to express? It's a rare thing, for weekends away usually have different commemorative mementos, like mugs or towels or such. But sweethearts booking the St. Helena Love Story package this Valentine's Day at The Harvest Inn by Charlie Palmer will leave with a different in-hand memory, one that doesn't hold coffee or dry hair but rather is personalized to the twosome in question: a poem. 

FOR SURE, there are some other tantalizing additions to the wine country getaway, including a bottle of St. Supéry, a couples massage (performed "side-by-side," as is traditional), and a trio of ultra-luxe Woodhouse Chocolates. The poetry part weaves its way into the weekend courtesy of Poet Silvi Alicar, who will meet you and your co-adventurer and, after three minutes, fashion a word-whimsical expression for you both. (Her colorful, and colorful-of-heart, process can be spied in this video.) This emotion-celebratory meet-up happens at St. Supèry Estate & Vineyards & Winery, where, in addition to having a poet zip off a zippy poet in your lovey honor, you'll also indulge in a quartet of Cabernet Sauvignon tastings from the estate's "diverse portfolio."

WILL THE POEM... spun in honor of you two taste as rich and deep as a rich and deep red? Even deeper? Will the side-by-side sips, and sitting with a poet, lend the Valentine's more va-voom? Capped by a happy night in luxury accommos at The Harvest Inn and in-room breakfast the following morning? Just keep track of your poem during your stay, and tuck it into your suitcase upon check-out. Keepsakes don't come quirkier, nor more memory-filled, than a poet writing a poem for you in front of you.

Photo Credit: Harvest Inn]]>
<![CDATA[Savor Sonoma Valley: Tickets on Sale]]> Sun, 17 Jan 2016 11:59:51 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/savorsonomavalley23456789.jpg

THAT WINTER-INTO-SPRING MOMENT: Seasonal changes have typically been met with a host of around-the-house to-dos. When summer arrives the window screens are checked and the backyard is readied; winter's arrival typically sees the boxes of cold-weather gear come out, and the holiday decorations, too. But how do we greet spring? Well, by stowing some of that aforementioned cold-weather gear, yes, and maybe doing a de-clutter session, too (also known as "spring cleaning," of course). But must the seasonal change be fully domestic? What if we could get out of the house, and into nature, the better to greet the transformation not by cleaning out some drawers but by opening our mind and heart to sunlight and leaves and wines and good times? It could be a new way to leap into the next chapter of the year for many people, but many people are already onto this notion. Look to the fans of Savor Sonoma Valley, which falls on the final weekend of winter 2016, the big adieu to chillier times. The timing is excellent, as is the robust line-up of wineries (some nineteen in all). Ready to postpone the big spring clean by a week, or even do it a week early? Then save Saturday, March 19 and Sunday, March 20 for...

SAVOR SONOMA 2016: Tickets are now on sale for the weekend, which includes happenings at Eric Ross Winery, St. Anne's Crossing Winery, Ty Caton Vineyards, and more spots around the valley. There are transportation companies and drivers you can book with, if you don't have a designated-driving pal, so check out the complete list. As for getting to shake a few of the winemakers' hands? That's happening, as are tastes of some of the fresh-from-the-barrel releases. Want to do the whole weekend? It's $65, but there are some other options, including a Sunday-only pass and lower-priced tickets for the designated driver of the group.

Photo Credit: Savor Sonoma Valley]]>
<![CDATA[Cypress Inn: Puppy Love Time]]> Thu, 04 Feb 2016 05:49:11 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/puppylovecypress92832.jpg

WHAT'S ON YOUR CANINE'S CALENDAR... for February? Probably, we imagine, what's typically on your sweet one's schedule during any random month. There'll be some potential toy chewing, and the licking of a leg now and then, and some staring out the front window, and some waiting by the door when you run to the store. Your dog's all-important, set-in-stone -- er, fur -- schedule pretty much repeats on any and every day of the year, except those times when you travel and have to arrange for your little lovey to stay with a pal or sitter. You could, of course, significantly change up your cuddlebun's calendar, and in a way that involves them and their awesome abilities (or merely there awesome cuteness). A visit to The Cypress Inn at Carmel-by-the-Sea is a dog-welcoming event any day of the year, but come the second month things get seriously sweet. That's when the Puppy Love package launches, just in time for a certain occasion that falls near the middle of the month, but the historic spot keeps the canine-a-tude woofing from Feb. 1 straight through to the last day in March. Surely that's okay with your dog's schedule? Do you need to check his day planner to make sure there are no conflicts in the staring-out-the-window/awaiting-the-mail department? Do so, and then book your (and his) room at The Cypress Inn and snag...

AN UPGRADE... if young mister can perform a trick at check-in. Can you he sit, shake, woof on cue? Not only will he garner applause but you'll garner that upgrade, if one's available. There's a Friday and Saturday "Tea with Toto" in the hotel's often photographed Day Room, and trust there are treats for your four-footed co-adventurer in addition to treats for you (just be sure to pre-reserve your place). Yappy Hour at Terry's Lounge, as always, romps daily, and there's a Muttini in it for your muttsie should you show from 4 to 6 o'clock (the traditional Yappy Hour span). Treat turndown service and a collar tag with The Cypress Inn's iconic logo are also part of the package, as is this feel-good element: Ten bucks from each Puppy Love Package reservation will be donated to the Doris Day Animal Foundation. Ms. Day, of course, is the celebrated co-proprietor of The Cypress Inn, and her declaration that the hotel would forever embrace our Fido friends still stands. Not every place accepts dogs, but far fewer spoil them in such awww-worthy ways. Now, really: Can your little guy woof on command? Best start practicing for the possible upgrade.

Photo Credit: Cypress Inn/DM Troutman]]>
<![CDATA[No-Fee Entry: National Parks Honor MLK]]> Fri, 15 Jan 2016 21:23:46 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/joshuanpsbradsutton.jpg

MANY A CALENDAR... was given and received in the last few weeks, what with the holidays and all. And if it was an old-school calendar, and we mean the really awesomely vintage kind of calendar, then it likely came with a set of small stickers tucked into the last page. Those are the stickers that denote birthdays and anniversaries and other special days, and they're so completely handy, for remembering stuff, that it's a joy to find a calendar that still carries them (not the easy task). But among those birthday and anniversary stickers, it is almost impossible to find those stickers that say "free day at the national parks!" For one, that's a lot of words for a tiny calendar sticker, and, for two, we can only guess that the calender makers out there assume we all memorize, on New Year's Day, which parks will waive their admission fees on which dates throughout the year. And so we should, really; it's a treat to drive into a park that normally carries a fee without paying a thing for the day (unless you count paying attention to the surrounding beauty). Have you got your dates memorized for 2016? As to when your favorite park'll go free for the day? Then you know that...

MONDAY, JAN. 18... is day number one for the year. It's Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and the National Park Service waives all entrance fees in honor of the civil rights leader for the entire day. There are more to come, though not immediately (which you also know, since you memorized the park's free days): Mid-April is next up, in honor of National Park Week (April 16 through 24). And, as is tradition, Veterans Day, on Nov. 11, is the final no-admission-required day of the year at those parks with a fee. Of course, only 127 parks out of the 409 sites do charge a fee, so it is quite likely that your go-to spot is free to see any ol' day of the year. Why not see them all, though? If you've already memorized the fee-free days, best start memorizing every park name out there. It can be done. But can you visit every last one? (Many people are working on it, a fine and noble goal.)

Photo Credit: NPS/Brad Sutton]]>
<![CDATA[Wings to Whales: Migration Festival]]> Fri, 15 Jan 2016 17:04:21 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/monarchbutterfly.jpg

WE WON'T SLOW YOUR ROLL: Nobody but nobody likes to have their roll slowed, not when they've got their roll going at a fine speed and their destination is nearly within sight. This goes for you, too, even when sauntering down any street you saunter down -- you gotta get where you gotta get -- and this goes for travelers making half-planet hops to locales in places on the other side of the globe. And it definitely, and most certainly, goes for any animal, be it wee or ginormatron, making its seasonal migration. Ever seen a Pacific gray headed south in January? Those mammoth mavens are making time, hoo boy, and there isn't anything that's going to throw up a wall between wherever you see them and their final arrival (probably some cozy lagoon off Mexico). And while we regularly throw festivals honoring various creatures who call California home, either permanently or occasionally, a rarer party to see is one that involves the journey itself. And isn't the journey so much a part of nature? For sure, that sounds like a line from a greeting card, and no apologies: Watching a Monarch butterfly or gray whale go, go, go is uplifting to the soul. (Greeting card line #2.) Want to honor the migratory visitors to the Golden State? Then be at...

NATURAL BRIDGES STATE PARK... in Santa Cruz on Saturday, Feb. 13. That it is the Saturday of Valentine's Weekend says that this gathering will have a lot of heart, in the form of our love for animals and nature. Get ready for "migratory animal talks, active kids' games, crafts, skits, live music by the nature-loving 5M's Band, educational booths and display, along with the now-famous habitat-free cake served at the end of the event." Want to park? It's ten bucks. Want to revel in the migratory facts of those beauties of sky and water we seek out each fall and winter and spring? Drop in for an hour or two and expand your vision to encompass not just the beastie in question, but the beastie's vital annual quest.

Photo Credit: Monarch Butterfly]]>
<![CDATA[A Hiking Map That's Got Heart]]> Thu, 14 Jan 2016 21:56:30 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/valentinemdia.jpg

SOME LOVERS... write their names in the sand at the beach, capping the eternal gesture with a giant heart drawn around both monikers. ("Eternal" in spirit, of course; when the tide arrives those names will become one with the sea.) Some lovers make heart patterns on grassy hillsides, symbolic gestures writ large courtesy of autumn leaves or the petals of wildflowers. And some, on rare occasion, go the skywriting route, the better to tell one and all of their abiding amour. But lovers ready for quite a "strenuous" hike, of 11.2 miles, on Valentine's Day 2016, will write a heart upon nature in a different way: They'll do it with their hiking boots.

AN OUTING ON MOUNT DIABLO, one that heads from the summit "down to the Falls Area along the Falls Trail and back up the mountain," will not only trek, elevation-wise, over 5,600 feet up, up, up (5,671 feet, to be exact); it'll trace a heart of sorts, at least in spirit and map-wise, upon the mountain. No actual trace will be left, of course, but if you check out hike number 32 in the recently released "Hiker's Guide to Mount Diablo State Park," you'll see there is a definite Cupid-ish shape to the not-just-for-Valentine's hike. If you and your honeybun hike a bunch, and you're up for the elevation change, and all of those miles, and you haven't got plans on Feb. 14, book your spot on the...

ROMANCING THE WATERFALLS HIKE: That's the official name of the guided hike, which will call upon waterfalls -- spoiler alert -- as well as features like Devil's Elbow and Bald Ridge Trail. And will some wildflowery petals make a showing, ahead of their springtime extravaganza? There may be some Valentine's magic in the air. After all, it isn't every day that one treks over eleven miles to create a heart of sorts, across a vast amount of mountainside and over several hours. Kind of puts sand hearts, made on the beach, in perspective. That said, we're hoping that sweethearts never, ever stop drawing hearts upon the sand, even if it takes a bit less time than hiking around a mountain in the shape of a trail heart.

Photo Credit: MDIA]]>
<![CDATA[Woofers in Wine Country: Greyhound Fest]]> Mon, 18 Jan 2016 11:50:16 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/160*120/greyhound2.jpg

TAPESTRY TITAN: So many breeds of dogs have become associated with various aspects of pop culture and our lives that it can be difficult to separate the pups from where we know them best. Corgis and royals have a long and regal relationship, and Poodles and the fashion industry are an iconic duo. Pugs are often the comical stars of internet videos nowadays, while a Golden Retriever will sometimes show up in catalogs depicting a rustic, cabin-cute lifestyle. And what of the Greyhound, that long of neck, long of leg, long of snout, long of everything canine? Old-world paintings and tapestries easily spring to mind. Picture any great textile you've ever seen hanging in the hall of a castle or in the foyer of a great home; was a Greyhound among the beasties that some weaver, centuries ago, captured artfully in thread? In short, humans' friendship with the sweet G has much precedent, a vibe and spirit that's very much on display in Santa Ynez wine country each wintertime. That's when dog devotees and their beloved Greyhounds trot for Solvang, the site of the annual Greyhound Festival. It's one of the biggest in the nation, which suits one of our biggest -- or more accurately tallest -- breeds.

FEB. 19 THROUGH 21, 2016... are the dates for the 12th annual gathering, which will include a wine tasting, a buffet dinner, an appearance by keynote speaker Darren Rigg (founder of the Greyhound Adoption Center), and the always popular Solvang Streak. That's when the attending hounds, and their people, "leisurely walk, trot, or flat out run for fun!" Beyond the events and activities, look for those who adore this breed, those who've committed to rescue causes, and those who know much and can share information on care, cuisine, and day-to-day cuddling. We're not sure if spying several Greyhounds gathering in repose will summon a tapestry to your mind's eye or not, but the fact is that these elegant canines have been companions to humans for many, many years. And artists, through those many years, have often been inspired to capture that friendship in paint and thread. It's a touching testament to the hounds and humans, both.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Palm Springs Cool: Vintage Trailer Show]]> Wed, 03 Feb 2016 21:44:29 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/DAL_4123.jpg Road trip dreams and nifty design scenes rule in the desert.

Photo Credit: David A. Lee]]>
<![CDATA[Rainy Days at Ojai Valley Inn & Spa]]> Fri, 15 Jan 2016 11:23:11 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/ojaiinnandspafireplace123.jpg

RAIN, RAIN, PLEASE COME AND STAY: Sometimes a time-honored nursery rhyme deserves something of a topical twist or modern interpretation. In that spirit, many Californians are imploring wet weather to make itself comfortable 'round the state this winter, the better to build up that snowpack and bust some drought. It's a spirit many destinations are embracing as well, and not just the ski resorts, places that love to see the flaky inches build up. Even some spots in sunnier areas are not chiming in with the ol' "rain, rain go away" rhyme, but rather are supporting any showers that come along with cozy-times packages for guests. 

THE OJAI VALLEY INN & SPA... is one such resort that isn't resorting to bemoaning any moisture but, rather, applauding it. For sure, you're bound to see a lot of sunshine in the inn's online snapshots -- Ojai is, of course, home to the daily Pink Moment, a sun-pretty, sky-lovely phenomenon -- but the resort knows how to play in the rain as well. There are two packages available through March 2016, one for lovebirds looking to dry their wings -- Romancing El Niño -- and one for families who don't mind playing in a puddle or two (that's the Me, You & El Niño, Too). Each comes with its own stay-inside perks -- a Dark & Stormy cocktail for two is included in the romance package, while the family deal has "an array of complimentary family-friendly in-room movies." And both include an Ojai Valley Inn & Spa umbrella, not just for use around the property should it rain, but for those back-at-home storms, too.

FOR SURE, SUNSHINE AND VACATIONS... go together like sunblock and swimming pools, but the weather, as every traveler knows, often has different plans. Definitely in an El Niño year we should expect unpredictable skies, but with gratitude. Snowpack, keep building up while Ojai vacationers retreat to their pretty rooms to sip cocktails, watch films, and cozy in.

Photo Credit: Ojai Valley Inn & Spa]]>
<![CDATA[Juicy Jaunt: Ojai Orchard Tours]]> Fri, 15 Jan 2016 21:24:06 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/202*120/pixieiguanainnojai1.jpg

BEFORE THE PRODUCE AISLE: There's no doubt about it: We all know tangerines grow on trees. We don't need to pause, scratch our chins, and ponder where exactly the small-ish orange orbs hail from -- shrub? ground? lake? -- because school and TV and books and everything have thoroughly informed us about how a citrus grows. But how many people have seen, from feet away, just how a citrus fruit grows, and where exactly, and the care and attention and challenges that go into the process? It's probably a slim percentage of all fruit fans. Many of us experience orange and lemons and their ilk in the produce aisle, but we're there so briefly we don't even see the boxes the fruitstuff arrived in. There's a way to fill out our experience here, and it doesn't involve catching another cooking show, one where the chef visits a local orchard to pick tangerines for the dessert to be baked later in the episode. We ourselves can go full orchard, any time we like, well, nearly, if we're in California and can get to Ojai and the tours have opened for the season at that long-running Golden State staple Friend's Ranches. 

SHELDON RANCH... is the bloomy spot, and "bloomy" should be a strong clue that springtime is the thingtime for this particularly rich-of-knowledge (and rich-of-fresh-air) outing. But Friend's Ranches does like to start its spring fun a bit early, so the first tour of 2016 will actually occur in winter, and in deep winter at that: Saturday, Jan. 16 is date number one. The final Saturday tour is on April 30, and the dates between fall every two weeks or so, though there are a few variables like some Wednesday afternoon tours. What will you see? The packing house, for an early start at 9 a.m., followed by a stroll among the trees of the orchard and the all-important tasting. You'll also be able to pluck "many varieties of citrus as you go" and learn about the world of the Pixie. Is this the year you go beyond the produce shelf, and even the cooking show, to handle the fruit right where it begins? To stand upon the soil that gives oomph to the fruit trees? It's a juicy experience, as experiences go. Prepare for sticky hands, and maybe a sticky shirt, and a mind full of new facts. Ready to book? 

Photo Credit: Friends Ranch]]>
<![CDATA[Sheeply Sweet: Queen Mary ScotsFestival]]> Tue, 09 Feb 2016 13:45:45 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/QueenMary20thScotsFest.jpg

A CELEBRATION OF PLACE: Sometimes a celebratory moment is best experienced in an important location, like the birthplace of the honoree or another destination that holds some history. But transporting the Queen Mary back to the place where she first grandly came together -- the River Clyde, in Scotland -- might be a bit harder than springing for a train ticket for your best pal on his birthday or a plane seat for your mom on hers. After all, the Queen Mary is now permanently -- make that capital P Permanently, rather -- in Long Beach, California, where she has stayed, in very still fashion, since 1967 ("very still fashion"=moored for always). So whisking the Queen Mary away, to Scotland, for a surprise birthday weekend is definitely not in the cards. What is in the cards? Bringing the Scottish-sweet bash to her current location, which makes more sense, since sheepdogs can trot and bagpipe players can drive to the shore-close boat. The boat can't move, in short, but the moving weekend of Scots-tastic treats will once again jig it up over the middle of February, when a host of to-dos put on the tartans and celebrate one of the most famous ships in the land -- er, sea.

FEB. 13 AND 14... are the 2016 dates for a cavalcade of happenings that pay tribute to the ship's homeland. ScotsFestival & International Highland Games XXIII is very much about the traditional athletic displays one might see at a Highlands-based match-up, so prepare to see cabers and hammers and burlap bags and pitchforks and darts aplenty brandished. On the performance side of the equation look for the Scottish Lilt and the Highland Fling and all of that reverberating, feel-it-in-the-solar-plexus bagpipery. Ponies and sheepdogs and sheep have also made past appearances, too, and, yes, whisky and haggis are part of the sips and sustenance side of the soiree.

THE QUEEN MARY... will not be sailing back to Scotland to party (it might be easier to build a time travel machine and send her back to the mid-'30s, her initial era). But we can party, Scots-style, in honor of her long-ago location. Tickets? Toss your caber in this direction.

Photo Credit: Queen Mary]]>
<![CDATA[Barrel Tasting 101: A Mendo Adventure]]> Mon, 11 Jan 2016 22:06:00 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/barreltastingupland23892.jpg

A SPECIFIC FOOD... being paired with a specific place is not all that unheard of, especially around the Golden State. Make for Julian, in the southern part of California, and you're bound to see apple-filled foodstuffs aplenty, and barbecue reigns, with piquancy and kapow, around Santa Maria. The same can be said for crab up and along the Mendocino County coast. Mendo menus are so mad for crab that full-on yearly festivals are built around the succulent seafood, and yet finding a wine tasting that robustly features the crustacean isn't always a given. What is a given, however, is that Barrel Tasting 101, the end-of-January wine weekend happening in the county, will incorporate "delectable crab-inspired pairings" to go with pours. Crab won't claw the spotlight away from the wines -- this is, after all, called Barrel Tasting 101 -- but think of its presence on the plates as a good way to fully explore some of the region's hallmark edibles and drinkables. Have your Saturday, Jan. 30 and Sunday, Jan. 31 cleared? Lined up your designated driver, with the promise to spoil them with a hotel room and maybe a few bottles of wine to take home to enjoy at a later date? Then plan your trip up to...

REDWOOD VALLEY, UKIAH, AND HOPLAND... for a peek at what's inside the woodsy containers at a dozen and a half area vineyards. You'll nab a "commemorative wine glass" as well as "complimentary tastings of soon to be released wines straight from the barrel." And, yes, some bites along the way, too (with some of that aforementioned crab popping up, lusciously). Who's involved? Saracina Vineyards, Jeriko Estate, McNab Ridge Winery, and SIP Mendocino, among others. Nope, we're not quite to whale festival time along the Mendo coast, nor is it the music-filled summer yet, but it is winter, when many wineries are sharing some of their deepest flavors and boldest beverages. Wine country in no way shutters come January; it just gets a bit more intense, in the form of first peeks and initial pours. Intensely good, that is, especially when a local food staple shows up, here and there, to complete the Mendo-major experience.

Photo Credit: Saracina Winery]]>
<![CDATA[June Lake Fun: Double Eagle Resort and Spa]]> Wed, 13 Jan 2016 10:00:51 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/junelakedoubleeagle.jpg

MOUNTAINS, CABINS, POND, SKY: The peak-lined valleys and mountain-pretty dells of the Sierra are numerous and as individual in their distinctive beauty as people are. Simply put, it's hard to lump a bunch of massive peaks into one grouping, a grouping that contains the header "Really Tall Pointy Earth Features." Each is a poem, to get gooey, and Sierra regulars have their favorites. For many travelers Carson Peak is at the top of that hallowed heap, and it is not hard to see why: Not only is it extravagantly tall and craggy and full of rocky features, but it just seems so near and sheer, giving it all the more presence.

HELLO, JUNE LAKE: It is quite near, at least as massive peaks go, lovely June Lake, and specifically Double Eagle Resort and Spa, a cabin-filled property that's become something of a Sierra staple. Thank the many choices for bedding down -- you can pick a loggy-style, oh-so-woodsy building that contains four rooms, or a set-alone cabin -- and thank that pretty pond that's a central feature. The resort'll celebrate its two-decade anniversary in just a couple of years, a good amount of time for a hotel but a little less time than Carson Peak, the 11,000-foot mountain that watches over the picturesque spread, has been around.

SPA TO SUPPER: Going the cabin route so often means either keeping close to your room or heading to the outdoors for some nature-based play, with fewer ways to pass the time beyond those two things. Double Eagle offers both the woods-close, cabin-y experience, but with a few mix-it-up options, like the on-site spa (look for the rustic Old West-style theming in the locker rooms and next to the hot tub) and Eagle's Landing Restaurant, which boasts not one but two windows that frame Carson's Peak. Is it distracting to look up a rocky feature that lends June Lake its nickname, "The Switzerland of California," while you dine? Au contraire: You feel away as away can possibly get from whatever bustling environment you left behind for the weekend.

Photo Credit: Double Eagle Resort and Spa]]>
<![CDATA[California's Funky Mardi Gras]]> Tue, 12 Jan 2016 06:45:35 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/ncmardi16.jpg

THAT LIVELY JOIE DE VIVRE: Ask anyone who has ever marked a Mardi Gras in New Orleans to share their favorite part and you'll probably hear as many answers as a string has shiny beads. Some specific references'll be noted, from the King Cakes to the outlandish krewes, but many a reveler will simply cite the joie de vivre of the festivities and the funky, live-outlandishly nature of it all. That can be harder to pinpoint than a physical object, but finding that funky-fun spirit is something fans of the occasion look for, whether they're in Louisiana or not. It's a bit harder to find a party on the scale of The Big Easy, of course, but if you're seeking out a small-town version, one that comes with a Main-Street-y vibe, then turn your eyes upon Nevada City. You won't find the mondo floats nor the crowds of thousands along the town's walkable Broad Street, and, unlike the French Quarter, there aren't oodles of balconies providing a rain-down of beads (courtesy of people on the balconies doing the throwing). What you will find is a charming parade, and costumes, and the kind of funky fun-having that comes naturally to the go-its-own-way burg. Are you ready to dance a little, NOLA-style, but without wading through streets upon streets of revelers? Then go N.C. on...

FEB. 13 AND 14, 2016: True, true, Mardi Gras officially lands upon Tuesday, Feb. 9, but it is just Nevada City's thing to keep the party going a bit longer. The parade is complemented by a masquerade ball, and the feathers and sequin-cool masks shall be out in full force, wherever you happen to land. That it is also Valentine's Weekend throws a twist in the to-do, so think red sequins, perhaps, in your Fat Tuesday-themed togs. The parade's on Sunday, the capper to the weekend, and temps can be nippy 'round the Sierra town in mid-winter, so plan accordingly. Is this the year you make New Orleans? Cheers to that, but if that isn't in the cards, and you want an accessible 'n awesome interpretation of the holiday via a charmer of a village, make for the hills.

Photo Credit: Nevada City Chamber]]>