<![CDATA[NBC Bay Area - Worth the Trip]]> Copyright 2014 http://www.nbcbayarea.com/blogs/worth-the-trip http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/nbc_bayarea_blue.png NBC Bay Area http://www.nbcbayarea.com en-us Tue, 21 Oct 2014 04:10:47 -0700 Tue, 21 Oct 2014 04:10:47 -0700 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Holiday Teas at Shadelands Ranch]]> Mon, 20 Oct 2014 13:33:21 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/194*120/holidayteawalnutcreek1.jpg

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Shadelands Ranch]]>
<![CDATA[Percy Toot-Toots Into Felton]]> Sun, 19 Oct 2014 22:36:25 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/dayoutpercyfelton.jpg

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Day Out with Thomas]]>
<![CDATA[Looking to 2015: World Championship Abalone Cook-Off]]> Sat, 18 Oct 2014 09:35:21 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/abalone_keithwyner123.jpg

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Keith Wyner]]>
<![CDATA["Recycled Holidays" in Morro Bay]]> Fri, 17 Oct 2014 11:57:03 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/morrobaytreasures11.jpg

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Morro Bay]]>
<![CDATA[Kinetic Whimsy Machines Roll in Ventura]]> Thu, 16 Oct 2014 14:36:30 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/venturakinetic123.jpg

AN OUTLANDISH, IMAGINATION-TESTING TASK: When you were a kid tasked with doing something a bit offbeat, you jumped at, beginning before you got all of the directions. Construct a rocket ship out of cardboard and aluminum foil? No problem, just tell me how high. Make a jungle gym out of couch pillows, one that goes higher than the dining room table? I'm on it. But put a similar task to a grown-up and the likely result is some hemming, some hawing, and a lot of over-thinking. That's one reason the world of kinetic sculpture building, and racing, is so in tune with those childhood ways of approaching an issue -- start with the dream first, and then take considered steps backwards, through the materials and what-ifs and can-dos. California is very good with putting dreams first -- we're sort of famous for it, actually -- which makes our state something of a hotbed for kinetic sculpture racing. They do it up north, every spring, around Humboldt County, and come the fall? Ventura is the place to be, and the Turning Point Foundation, an organization that supports "positive places of recovery for persons with mental illness," is the beneficiary of the day out on land and water.

YES, WATER: Part of the fun of a kinetic race, which involves whimsical machines shaped like ducks and shoes and beds or fill-in-the-blank, is to see how they perform on the sand and in the H20. Ventura's race, which rolls on Saturday, Oct. 18 in 2014, is also famous for its sticky, goopy mud challenge, which means those sculptures, which were so lovingly crafted, will get very, very filthy. It's all pretty uproarious, and there are many photos to take, and it is a pleasure to watch the teams work together (or get vaguely frustrated from a stuck-in-sand contraption, from time to time). The biggest pleasure, of course? Helping Turning Point and backing the community of Ventura. Roll/float on, kinetic muddy machines of wonder.

Photo Credit: Kinetic Sculpture Race]]>
<![CDATA[Historic Chills: Sacramento's Haunted Fort]]> Wed, 15 Oct 2014 23:12:39 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/suttersfortsactown1.jpg

UNSETTLING SETTLER STORIES: The funny thing about ghosts -- if ghost tales could be said to be funny at all -- is that many spirits in modern pop culture tend to hail from, oh, somewhere in the 19th century. The Ladies in Grey wear high-necked dresses with puffed sleeves and pinched waists, and the gentleman ghost? He's always elegantly outfitted in a cravat square or old-school Scrooge-like nightshirt (elegant even as he's being most eerie). But ghost stories have been around for just about as long as people, and yarns of the flappy veil between worlds stretch back over the centuries. So who exactly were the ghosts to the denizens of the 19th century, those high-neck-dress-rocking souls who now star in our modern-day wraith stories? Find that out, and discover if those around-the-fire narratives of California's Gold Rush-era settlers bore a different sort of ethereal visitor, at The Haunted Fort, a two-evening extravaganza at Sutter's Fort State Historic Park in Sacramento.

CAPITAL CITY CHILLS: For sure, there shall be elements of real, it-happened-here history -- you will be standing inside the landmark fort, a spot that's plenty atmospheric even under the noonday sun. It's a family event, but look for the pioneer spirits to return, for the night, in period dress, to rhapsodize about their own demise, and time on this earth. It's truly a mix of the haunted and the historic, something not too many Halloween-time attractions offer, and whispers may sound about contemporary ghost sightings, so keep an ear out. Price? Eight dollars, plus a fee, for those over 17 and a little less for those a little younger. Dates? Friday, Oct. 24 and Saturday, Oct. 25. 

AND... if you're curious about the most famous and fear-laced tale tied to the fort -- the story of the Donner Party -- mark Saturday, Nov. 15 on your calendar. The party was headed for Sutter's Fort, and docents at the state park will pause to recall the snowbound trekkers and their tragic tale with a full-day of looking back.

Photo Credit: Sutter's Fort State Historic Park]]>
<![CDATA[Paso Autumn: Harvest Wine Weekend]]> Wed, 15 Oct 2014 14:46:35 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/208*120/harvestwinepasosign.jpg

THE DE-HOITY-TOITY-ING OF WINE: California has boasted a host of inventions and firsts over the decades, from the first video record to the Egg McMuffin. (Oh, and hello to you, too, Pixar and Apple and movie technologies aplenty.) And while it probably can't be pinpointed with any measuring device, we'll wager that we're the first to de-hoity-toity something that's gotten a bit too big for its britches, or at least seemingly so. Gardens and outdoor living is a prime example; beautiful plots were once for aristocrats, but Californians showed the world that living with the land is a way of easy-breezy, patio-chill life. Same with wine. Oh, we won't take all the credit for the Golden State, but winegrowers throughout California's grape-plentiful regions keep the enjoyment of a cold glass of Riesling from getting too snooty. Look to the welcome literature for the Paso Robles Wine Country Harvest Wine Weekend, which runs from Friday, Oct. 17 through Sunday, Oct. 19. The opening lines say, with a wink, "So you like wine. You drink it. You think about it. And sometimes you can't pronounce it. No matter. Here there are no rules..." Well put, Paso Robles. You don't need to be a wine scholar to love Chardonnay, you only need to keep on keepin' on in the enjoying, learning, and meeting winemaker departments. And you can...

DURING THE HARVEST WINE WEEKEND... which offers over 140 to-dos for people who aren't fussy about their sips (but do love them something fierce). Straight-up, old-school tastings dominate, but food pairings are up there during the weekend, as are vineyard walks, art displays, picnicking, library tastings, grape stomps (there's still time to get the soles of your feet plenty juicy this season), and chats with the people who swish/spit on a regular basis, all in order to bring wine lovers the good stuff. Nope, we're not being snooty about snootiness, but taking the Paso path, which is about good-time-having in the wine realm, and not outdoing everyone in the areas of expertise, seems pretty solid to us.

Photo Credit: Harvest Wine Weekend]]>
<![CDATA[A Vertical (Ish) Dash: Running Up San Jacinto]]> Sat, 18 Oct 2014 10:46:41 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/pstram234556.jpg

HOW UP CAN YOU GO? You can tell a lot by a runner's time, especially when it comes to that much mythologized mile. Sure, the abilities and training and strength of the runner come into play, but the time talks about the terrain and weather and conditions, too. If an elite runner turns in a mile that takes closer to ten minutes than five, bet there was some mud, or something else, afoot (and underfoot). Likewise, if the grade is steep, that'll tell in the times as well. So, math mavens, if very talented runners are completing a 3.7-mile run in a minute or two shy of the 30-minute mark, what's the elevation gain? That's right, S.A.T.-acing smarties: The elevation gain is 2,643 feet, which is a whopper of a run up -- and up, up, up -- for a dash that's not even nearly four miles. But participants know what they're in for, when they make for the fabled course each autumn. The run happens at the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, and runners hoof it from the bottom of the Tram Way to the Tram's Valley Station which is, for all accounts and purposes, up a big ol' slab of Mount San Jacinto.

SATURDAY, OCT. 25... is the date for one of the state's most unusual runs, and one of the runs with the shortest of courses. The Tram Road Challenge is six kilometers, the beneficiary is United Way of the Desert, and awards? They're given out "in each age category for both male and female finishers." As for past finishers and their times? Mexico's Rubin Garcia completed the run back in '87 in a lickety-split 26 minutes, 5 seconds, and Russia's Lubov Kremleva "set the fastest woman's time -- 28 minutes, 56 seconds in 1998." No doubt about it, running uphill in Palm Springs is one of the most brag-worthy races around, and while the hills of Bay to Breakers and other hillier trots can prep a runner, this one's in an elevated, cardio-major class by itself. See you up the mountain, runners!

Photo Credit: Palm Springs Aerial Tramway]]>
<![CDATA[Pumpkin Fest by the Lake]]> Tue, 14 Oct 2014 09:47:12 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/lakesilicons21.jpg

THAT EVERYWHERE ORB: Round things can dominate different times of the year, from ornaments in December to tennis balls around Wimbledon to beach balls in August. But October fully belongs to a particularly roundish, though sometimes oblong-y, orange fruit filled with seeds and guts and lore and flavor. It's the pumpkin, a seasonal delight so dominate that it takes over our coffee drinks, our candles, and our family outings during the 10th month of the year. But the pumpkin isn't simply a product that cinnamons-up various hand creams; it's a bright wonder of nature, which makes a day out among pumpkins, both snapping photos and purchasing, probably one of the most nature-oriented activities we participate in, come the fall, and maybe all year long. A trip to the lake, combined with all of that pumpkin-oriented nature goodness, might push the pumpkin patch experience a little further into the wild -- or, at least, into the realm of fresh-air-fun-family-outing-ness. Shoreline Lake in Mountain View hosts a yearly Pumpkin Splash, and while no gourds don a suit and go swimming -- that we've heard -- it does make a pretty backdrop to all of those cute-baby-by-a-pumpkin pics. And is there a "Pumpkin and Pedalboat" ticket? Oh yeah. You're pedalboating, post-pumpkining.

OCT. 18-31: And the Pumpkin Splash's window is slightly smaller than most patches, so it's one of those things to make a date with, rather than hope you catch along the way. "(K)id-friendly activities, an old-fashioned bake sale" and other to-dos dot the nearly two-week, shore-close run. Even if you can't make it to Mountain View to get your gourd on, though, have you patched-it-up yet? True, you generally want to aim closer to Halloween, so your pumpkin stays fresh for carving, but in our all-pumpkin-product world, it seems a folly not to visit the source, at least once during the autumn. And a lake-y background just adds to the calendar-pretty quality of the day out.

Photo Credit: Shoreline Lake]]>
<![CDATA[Morro Bay Getaway: Vintage Trailer Rally]]> Mon, 13 Oct 2014 19:01:09 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/vintagetrailermorro1.jpg

THE DRIVE-PAST: There are vase collectors who ponder how many attics -- or, nowadays, storage lockers -- hold the exact make of vase they like to collect. Painting lovers think the same, as do people who devote their lives to mantel chime clocks, 19th-century porcelain dolls, and any other fairly compact and collectible item that has a way of staying inside attics and basements, much to the chagrin, and longing, of the fans who have a passion for finding (and owning) them. But people obsessed with vintage trailers? Their longings are a bit more public; they only need to drive by a house to see a trailer sitting outside, next to the back gate. That trailer might be in good shape, or not, but it always has a way of stoking the fire in a fan, the fire to find the cutest, most character-filled, most road-worthy trailer. That inner fire is happily aflame at Stranded in Morro Bay, a vintage trailer rally headed for the town by the Big Rock. Nope, it isn't a sale, so you can put your trailer-coveting ways away, retro lovers. But you can enjoy the Canned Hams and Airstreams and other overnighters that set up shop over the three days, and meet people who share your vintage trailer passion, too.

THE DETAILS: Morro Bay State Park is the place, and if we didn't say it was dang pretty, well, we'd be sore at ourselves. The camp-out and trailer showing-off is the fun heart of the fall weekend, but so is a Night of Tastings. Picture yourself sipping from a dozen breweries and wineries, which is a dang pretty picture, when paired with all of the trailer-relaxing goodness. A Saturday barbecue lunch, music, and general outdoorsy socializing are part of the trailer-minded get-together. Dates? Thursday, Oct. 16 through Saturday, Oct. 18. Vintage trailers and wine lovers? Out in force. The Tinker Tin Trailer Co., which is based in the Central Coast but rents trailers throughout the Golden State? In the house. Your dreams of driving past a house with your ideal trailer sitting out on cinderblocks? Well, it could happen, and you could buy it, and you could restore it to its past glory. Figure that unlike other treasures, vintage trailers are typically on display, and almost never locked away in attics. Lucky you, if that's your passion.

Photo Credit: Tinker Tin Trailer Co.]]>
<![CDATA[Walnut Creek's Newest Wildlife Ambassador]]> Sat, 11 Oct 2014 11:38:08 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/topazeaglewc.jpg

GUESS WHAT WE SAW: It matters not what you do on a vacation -- tobogganing, hiking, eating, sitting upon a rock and writing sonnets -- because if you see a Golden Eagle, perched high on a bare branch, that will be the moment that will trump all other moments, regardless of how terrific they were. It's a serendipitous event that doesn't come around for everyone, even if we're often in forests frequented by the dramatic birds. So, yes, we return home talking about it, replaying the moment, again and again, for friends (because we were too in awe to snap a photo). Seeing a Golden Eagle up close, though? It's far rarer, but visitors to the Lindsay Wildlife Museum in Walnut Creek are getting that opportunity, courtesy of Topaz. Topaz is, in fact, a Golden, and she is now serving as an exhibit hall animal ambassador.

HER BACK STORY: Topaz hails from the Lake Tahoe area, with a pretty sticky issue: Her wing would not fully extend, making flight impossible. She's lived at the Lindsay Wildlife Museum for a few years now, but keepers determined that the 11-pound eagle was ready to join the ambassador team, which includes "hawks, ravens, owls, turkey vultures, and other winged representatives." Want to see her in person? Or in eagle, rather? She holds court on three days a week at 1 p.m. Details.

BEHIND THE SCENES: Wildlife care and medicine is quite different from how we treat our at-home pets, but the on-site hospital at the Lindsay Wildlife Museum gives visitors a deep peek into what it is like setting a raccoon's leg or tending to a hawk's wing.

Photo Credit: Lindsay Wildlife Museum]]>
<![CDATA[El Capitan Canyon's Rustic Autumn]]> Mon, 13 Oct 2014 19:00:15 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/elcapcanyondinefireside.jpg

INCREASING USE OF "CABIN": If there's a season when people start to say the word "cabin" more often, we'll wager it is fall. Something about the air turning a tad brisker, and the holiday decorations appearing on shelves, have us pondering greeting-card-y settings in the woods, where we might read paperbacks and do puzzles and poke at embers and become sticky with s'mores.

Retreating to a cabin is, in fact, a rite of fall and winter, but because we're in California, we're off the hook when it comes to locating a cabin that has a roof laden with snow. We can, in fact, find a cabin, or hefty tent, nearer to the beach, which feels very West (tm) and very Golden State and very right for autumn near the Pacific Ocean. El Capitan Canyon near Santa Barbara fits that bucolic-meets-ocean-waves bill, but there's a streak of posh-properness to an overnight stay there, too. "Glamping" is often the word used for the property's nicely outfitted tents and cabins, and if you want to use it, you can. Us? We prefer saying the word "s'mores" over and over, as the gooey dessert is part of the property's Fireside Dinner Package.

THAT PACKAGE... is indeed all about dining near an outside fire pit, and it includes a s'mores kit and a barbecue dinner kit (it arrives on "the guests' doorstep with pre-marinated meat, side dishes, beverages, tableware, and the grilling tools and firewood needed to cook over a fire pit"). Oh yeah, this feels fall-y, and you can book it any night of the week, starting at $245 (weekends'll require a two-night minimum, though). When's it available through? Just a pinch before Thanksgiving, meaning you'll have to enjoy this one in the autumn (a good thing). Interested in other packages around the creek-close property? The Autumn Sunrise Special and the Rustic Relaxation Package are also in the air. However you slice it -- or smoosh it, s'mores-style -- you'll get some nature, some cabin/tent time, some brisk air, and a chance to decompress prior to compressing over the holidays.

Photo Credit: LOOK Photography]]>
<![CDATA[Monterey Bay Aquarium Awww: Baby Murres]]> Thu, 09 Oct 2014 13:26:34 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/babymurremba.jpg

SWEET BIRDS O' THE SHORE: Many people are drawn to a shoreline for its epic vistas, its wave-crashy sounds, the possibilities of finding the perfect shell, or for the general briny atmosphere. But others? They're all about the shorebirds, which flightless or not, or colony-minded or not, endlessly fascinate, living, as they do, betwixt water, air, and land. "Betwixt" perhaps seems too poetic a word to appear in next to something with "common" in its name, but there's not much common, to we human bird-lovers, about the common murre. It does spend quite a bit of time in the water, but it makes for land when chicks are due.

SOMETIMES... though, chicks arrive inside world-famous institutions, as some common murre babies did at the Monterey Bay Aquarium a few weeks back. "It's the first time we've had baby murres at the Aquarium!" trumpets the aquarium's blog, which includes a gif of a murre chick eating (you're allowed and encouraged to "awww"). Different murre moms laid the eggs, which hatched at the end of August. And while the babies are being raised off stage, the public'll get a first peek at them come mid-October. The mothers have interesting histories -- one arrived in Monterey after weathering an oil spill -- so get the full 411 on these cuties before seeing them in person.

THE FEETSIES: We'd never forgive ourselves -- well, maybe eventually, but not for some time -- if we left this post without admiring the large and seemingly cumbersome feetsies of the baby murre. Can we type "feetsies" in a post that also contains a highbrow term like "betwixt"? Well, we just did. And surely those feet aren't cumbersome at all for the chicks, but, my, they are on the comical side, at least to our people eyes. And now, we fight the urge to type "adorbs" or somesuch. Fighting. Still fighting.

Photo Credit: Monterey Bay Aquarium]]>
<![CDATA[Winemakers, Fall Breezes, and El Capitan]]> Wed, 08 Oct 2014 20:42:14 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/218*120/vintnersholidays2094.jpg

LIBATIONS IN THE LODGE: California offers many pleasures that could easily be set to a lilting piano solo, then projected in slo-mo. Otters playing in the foamy waves of Monterey Bay (humorous piano solo). Snow falling atop Mount Shasta (deep piano solo). And sitting inside The Ahwahnee, staring out at the golden trees and evergreens dotting the grounds of the Yosemite National Park landmark hotel (autumnal piano solo). Many a fan of the hotel feels that autumnal piano solo of the soul call to them each fall, and it doesn't hurt a bit if they love to drink excellent wine and get to know the people who make it. For fall is the time when the Vintners' Holidays Sessions set up swanky shop at The Ahwahnee. What are the sessions? Yes, for sure, they're about people drinking and learning about wine, but there's a social spirit to the three-day gatherings, a wish to learn from the people behind the labels, and some straight-up fine dining, too.

NOV. 4-6... is the first of seven 2014 sessions, and the professionals who make grapes do that singing thing will be chatting and pouring with fans (look for people from Simi, Joseph Phelps Vineyards, Wild Horse Winery, and Hartford Family Winery). "Executive Chef Percy Whatley and The Ahwahnee Culinary Team" is behind a "five-course gala dinner" that is served during each session. And wine tastings and seminars? They set the pulse of the event. There are seven different sessions in all, stretching through early December, with smarties like sommelier and writer Ellen Landis at the helm. To find your favorite vineyard or wine wiz, or to score a seat alongside the winery you want to get better acquainted with, scroll. And to spend a couple of nights at The Ahwahnee, the better to be near all of that wine action? There are ways.

AUTUMNAL CALL: Just make time, between tastings and talks, to wander the valley and soak in El Capitan and Glacier Point and the handful of glorious trees that do change color. Nope, you won't be accompanied by an autumnal piano solo, unless it is the one on your MP3 player (or the one inside your head).

Photo Credit: Vintners' Holidays]]>
<![CDATA[Sonoma County Pairing: Giant Pumpkins & Fine Wines]]> Wed, 08 Oct 2014 09:15:03 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/160*120/LAgenerics+pumpkins.jpg

VINES AND VINES: There are vines, as in Red Vines, as in the snacky licorice you snack up on in the theater, ahead of a blockbuster. There are Vines, as in short, very short, videos, many of which deal with a dogs chasing their tails or kittens playing the piano. There are vines, as in grapevines, as in channels for sharing and spreading gossip and the dish. And then there are vines, as in nature, and they very often grow things we rather like a lot, like pumpkins and grapes for making wine. But pumpkin vines and grape vines are very rarely neighbors, and they'd never appear in the same snug plot, lest the larger, seedier orbs crush the smaller, juicier orbs in spectacular, grape-ending fashion. The two round fruits of varying bigness and tinyness do appear together, though, sometimes, especially when a fall festival is held at a winery. Nope, the pumpkins seen during the day aren't grown among the wine-making grapes, but they are brought in by revelers, people who hope to score the crown for most colossal pumpkin. So where can one get their vine time on? Why Kunde Family Estate, in Sonoma County, is just such the viney spot.

OCT. 11 AND 12: That's the weekend of the big weigh-off, but it isn't just about the plumpest pumpkins. Face painting and pumpkin decorating are around for the kiddo set, and food trucks for all, and, yep, wine tasting for the grown-ups. Call it the harvest fall festival spirit imbuing an elegant winery, a twosome that should truly meet up more. The weigh-off itself, note, is on Saturday, Oct. 11, but the convivialities will go on all weekend at the Kenwood-based estate.

MORE WEIGHING OFF... And if you happen to be in Half Moon Bay on Monday, Oct. 13, that's where and when the thousand-pounders -- make that thousand-pounder-plus -- hit the pumpkin scales during the Safeway World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off. 'Tis the week for humongous squashery and autumn delights, truly.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Dark Sky, Death Valley: A Fall Star Gathering]]> Tue, 07 Oct 2014 13:58:20 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/darkskydvfurnace123.jpg

THAT QUIET COMMUNION: The weekend before Halloween night is a funny one. Many people are in costumes, elaborate costumes, despite the fact that Oct. 31 is still days away, and the party scene? It is rip-roarin', to say the least. In fact, when Halloween falls on a weekday, the Saturday before seems to step up and take on the mantle of Day with the Wildest, Wackiest Parties. Some people dig this, and plan all year long, but others are looking for a different after-dark experience, one that involves silence, or near silence, and deep gazing into the cosmos, and a quiet communion with land and sky. Call it Halloween's Opposite, but with a definite dose of mystery and wonder, and call Death Valley the place to be. That's a bit Halloween-y though, right? A Death Valley sojourn ahead of Halloween? No costumes are required, though jackets surely will be, when you make for the Death Valley Fall Star Party in Partnership with the Las Vegas Astronomical Society, which'll spread out at the Ranch at Furnace Creek on Friday, Oct. 24 and Saturday, Oct. 25.

SPECIAL DESIGNATION: You may correctly think to yourself "oh, Death Valley, there'll be a lot of prime Milky Way action overhead," and you'd be right, but that's not the half of it; the national park was designated as "the largest international dark sky park" in 2013 by the International Dark-Sky Association. This is nothing to sniff at, considering how fast our world is becoming lit-up after sundown, and how eagerly those who want a full-on starry sky experience are seeking spots lacking in nighttime light.

DARK SKY FESTS: National parks from here to somewhere far from here are starting to host Dark Sky parties, if communing with the quiet and low-light of space intrigues. Sequoia National Park held on earlier this year, as did Lassen Volcanic; both were well-attended. Could quiet, cold, and the night sky become all the rage soon? Even if you spend that Saturday-before-Halloween partying it up in the city, the sky is still overhead, to be enjoyed/pondered.

Photo Credit: Furnace Creek Resort]]>
<![CDATA[1930s Again: Evening on the Enchanted Hill]]> Mon, 06 Oct 2014 22:27:15 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/hearstcastlesunset1.jpg

DOWNTON DAYDREAMING: Don't try, for a minute, to tell us or anyone that you don't imagine yourself as a resident of a certain idyllic (if drama-riddled) abbey on a particular series where the clothing is period, the grounds are sweeping, and the flatware-to-table's-edge distance is measured with a straight ruler. It can be easy to get lost in "Downton Abbey," even if you don't necessarily desire the characters' humdinger problems. It can, in fact, be easy to get lost in any drama set in a past time, when cocktails were served extra chilled and absolutely on the hour of eight o'clock, when croquet mallets and swimming caps dominated the recreational pursuits, and when tuxedos were worn to play cards. There is a way to go through the television screen, for a night, and be in that world, or at least a version of that world, high up on the Enchanted Hill. Hearst Castle, after all, rather dominated the '30s social calendar, or at least was a powerful player in the West Coast swan-about-and-socialize scene. That vibrant, drop-waisted, martini-riffic time comes to real life, via real people, during the Evening Tours at the San Simeon landmark. And they just opened again, for a fall run, so if you're keen to soak up more of that era...

STEP INTO THE 1930s: You'll saunter, as one must, in that decade, in Hearst Castle's Casa del Mar, the Library, the Gothic Suite, and other areas, all the while encountering "guests" of the publishing magnate who famously built the fabled spread. The gloamy, evening-falling atmosphere brings the play-acting to life a bit more vibrantly than under the brighter sun of day, and, for a moment, you could pretend that you'll retreat to your suite later that night, after you go for a dip in the Neptune Pool. Tickets? They're $36 for adults. You tying a scarf around your head and knotting it to one side, like a starlet might? That can only add to the general conviviality. That soft just-after-dark air that falls on the hill, something daytime visitors don't always get to bask in? There's no television magic to that; it's enchanted alright, and if you end up really stepping into the 1930s, a la Brigadoon, be glad you've worn a jaunty scarf and are semi-dressed for the part.

Photo Credit: Hearst Castle/California State Parks]]>
<![CDATA[Rosy Weekend: Russian Tea & Fragrance Fest]]> Mon, 06 Oct 2014 11:31:21 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/198*120/roserussianwkd3.jpg

FALL'S FLOWERY ROLE: While springtime tends to hog the spotlight on all flower fronts -- if, indeed, a season could be said to hog anything -- autumn has its important ties to blossoming plants. It is, after all, prime time for planting roses, which means intrepid gardeners are already plotting their plots for a gorgeous bloom months from now. So, nope, spots like the Russian River Rose Company do not bid bud buffs adieu when the cooler months arrive. Rather they step up things up, on the festival front, by throwing a bash complete with tea leaf readings and singing and dancing. It's a bash that pays homage to the area's local Russian settler roots, too, so lovers of history and fragrant flowers are in for a double boon. It's the Russian Tea & Fragrance Festival, and it'll take to the company's rosy gardens on Saturday, Oct. 18 and Sunday, Oct. 19.

SORBET TO SINGING TO SUNSHINE: The region's strong Russian heritage and the release of "Rose Embrace," the company's most recent rose oil perfume (produced right there, at its rambling estate), are the reason for the celebration, which will include the Gradina Slavic Singers on Sunday and Joella Olsen and her violin on Saturday. Walks among the bramble-y beautiful rose plants, tea sipping from Dragonfly of Healdsburg, and a feeling of "mystique" permeate the weekend. (That's the company's word for the happening, and we'll share it here, given that our workaday worlds can rather lack in that quality.) Cost to get in? A five-dollar donation. Oh, and goodness goodness: Rose sorbet shall be made. Even just typing that makes one feel fancier and more elegant.

MORE RUSSIAN HERITAGE: A harvest festival, and wine tasting to-do, take over Fort Ross State Historic Park on Saturday, Oct. 18. Old-fashioned buggy rides? Admiring a Russian-style windmill in action? Yes and yes. This weekend is serious about connecting with those Russian roots of the valley.

Photo Credit: Russian River Rose Company]]>
<![CDATA[The Whaley House's Creaky-Stair October]]> Sat, 04 Oct 2014 08:08:29 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/whaleysdstairs.jpg

QUIRKY QUIZ: What's more foreboding and tingly to the spine on a moonlit October night: a creepy stare or a creaky stair? We're bound to say both, especially if the stare hails from some sort of apparition or wraith that you think you might see at the end of a long hallway. But a creaky stair sound, one that comes from behind you, deep in the recesses of a possibly haunted abode, may actually be more chilling, for you can only hear it, or feel the floorboards vibrate through your feet, and your imaginings may grow.

THE WHALEY HOUSE... may not always have the creepy stares going, though many visitors report seeing unusual sights and strange figures about the house. But the general antique creak-a-tude of the 19th-century San Diego landmark cannot be denied. When you're standing inside the beautiful Old Town casa, whether it is a bright and hot July morning or it is midnight on Halloween, the house's potential for raising the hairs on your forearms over the slightest creeeeeak is quite high. And while its history draws many visitors throughout the year, those who like their forearm hair tested arrive in October, for all of the Halloween-flavored doings offered.

TOURS TO TALKS: Choosing what sort of ghosty pursuit that suits you at the Whaley is a hard one, as there are a few choices (and you are inside what is called by many "the most haunted house in California"). Silent Screams -- screenings of silent era films -- will unspool in the Whaley House Theatre, which began in 1868, while Ghost Hunting Tours and Past & Presence Ghost Tours dot other October dates. Nighttime Tours shall creak it up on Oct. 29, and Halloween? The Whaley'll push through to midnight. Surely there are fans of both the house's history and its ability to be eerie. And no one could deny that, October or not, the old house of Old Town definitely has some rockin' creak going down, around the stairs and otherwise.

Photo Credit: The Whaley House]]>
<![CDATA[Savory November: Mendo's Mushroomy Month]]> Fri, 03 Oct 2014 22:18:13 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/mendoforestmushroom1.jpg

THAT PERSON: Cock an eyebrow at that one friend who picks all the chanterelles from the risotto for himself, or each little slice of portobello from a salad you're sharing? Most people cannot cock that eyebrow, as they themselves are mushroom seekers (and finders). Flavorful fungi is very often the best part of a dish, the dish's very reason for being, with all due respect to the basil and pasta and alfredo sauce and walnuts, or one of the other one hundred -- or one thousand? -- ingredients that go well with mushrooms. In short, mushroom mavens are legion, and many of them make for Mendocino County come the middle of autumn, when a week and a few days are handed over to the pursuit, and pleasure, of the perfect forest-floor cap. For the Mendocino Mushroom, Beer, & Wine Fest isn't just about the culinary enjoyment of the meaty (but not meat) ingredient; it's about the whole mushroom world, the search, the study of, and the deep background of the deep-ground treasure.

NOV. 7-16: Mendocino County doesn't just hand over a couple of days to the fungi; it gets a full week-plus, meaning you could join a mushroom workshop at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, meet a mycologist at the Stanford Inn for mushroom-based chitchat before making for the woods (and mushrooms in their wild habitat), join a yummy winemaker dinner, take a mushroom-themed train ride, or head out on mushroom hunts by bicycle and horseback. Finding mushroom by horseback? Well, that sounds mighty romantic, and fit for the cover of a sweeping novel. (If anyone knows of a mushroom-cookery-horseback-coastal-dramatic romance story, please let us know at once -- we might be extremely intrigued.) Hotel deals related to all of the mush-magic are pushing up through the proverbial soil, too, in advance of November, so myco mavens can find a place where other fans of fungi might have landed. But should you make new friends, and head out to dinner together, will they attempt to pick out all the mushrooms first, from the table-share salad? Better ask your waiter to double those portobellos, or, better yet, just give everyone present a dish of their own.

Photo Credit: Mendocino Mushroom, Wine & Beer Fest]]>
<![CDATA[Napa Meets NOLA: Wine Country Cajun Festival]]> Fri, 03 Oct 2014 19:05:20 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/160*120/crawfish1.jpg

SEAFOOD AND SONG: It wasn't long after the South Napa Earthquake that the call went out via Facebook and Twitter and a host of social media sites: Come to Napa. Don't delay. The lists of wineries still operating, even during the clean-up, quickly followed, and fans of the region vowed to support the area by buying local and paying a visit to its hotels and attractions. And while a few staple happenings were canceled, including the early September Artisan's Festival, Napa is moving forward, with its typical bravado and élan, and its popular weekend happenings are looking robust. Case in point? The Wine Country Cajun Festival is rolling, with a burst of zydeco-style brassiness, on Saturday, Oct. 4. Love crawfish, dancing, and want to lend some love to downtown Napa? Then be at Dwight Murray Plaza from...

NOON TO EARLY EVENING... on Oct. 4, where the Main Stage entertainment will trumpet on. Gator Beat, Zydeco Flames, Beaufunk with Michael Jeffries, and the Element Brass Band make up the quartet of main-stagers for the 2014 go-around, but there's a Dance Alley Stage, a Chefs' Alley stage, and a Beer Garden Stage as well. So shall you be zydeco-less during the day? Trust you will not be -- somewhere, near you, within the block, an accordion will likely be wheezing. And seafoody foods shall be stewing, and microbrews a'brewin' (or pouring, more accurately), and two parades'll march down First Street, at 3 and 5 p.m. For sure, Mardi Gras is still a third of a year away, but embracing that spirit of joy that Napa is synonymous with is a good thing. Raise your ale, load up your bowl with gumbo, and love on the city a little. Oh yeah, free dance lessons are on the docket, if you've never shaken it, beads and all, to zydeco. Surely that's something you can fix, lickety-split?

Photo Credit: crawfish]]>
<![CDATA[Fort Ross Celebration: Harvest and Wine Time]]> Thu, 02 Oct 2014 15:55:01 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/fortrossharvestwine.jpg

HISTORICAL AUTUMN: To say a place in Sonoma County is "full of history" is to have expended words not in need of expending. The county is lush with vintage wineries and tale-filled inns and parks that have traditions stretching back decades, if not a century or two. But Fort Ross State Historic Park certainly sits high up in the pantheon of Sonoma's most storied locations, given that it is known as an early Russian settlement in the Americas (a settlement settled upon in the early 1800s). The fort still bears that ye-yonder-esque 19th-century feel, but it is no locked-tight, enjoy-not museum; rather, it hosts a multitude of events, and family-fun to-dos, and one of the biggest, with the most festive facets, falls in the fall. It's the Fort Ross Harvest Festival, which also includes the Fort Ross-Seaview Wine Tasting and Luncheon, a double-dose of outdoorsy, history-laden, libation-lovely goodness that falls on the third Saturday in October in 2014, which, of course, is probably the most perfect of all October Saturdays.

SATURDAY, OCT. 18: Well, some might dispute that, but with the Pacific breezes brushing into the fort, and the soft Sonoma sunshine, activities like apple picking, buggy rides, the making of Russian crafts, the enjoyment of cider and other autumn-type edibles, and a demo of a Russian-style windmill. As for the wine tasting end of the most perfect Saturday in October? The grand luncheon will boast "(f)our courses of seasonal local fare" from local award-winning chefs. Freestone Artisan Cheese will go the cheese sampling route, and other goodies await. If you just want to taste regional wine? That option is on the table, too; look for local bottles representing the ocean-close AVA. Want to do all three? You probably could, if you make a day of it, but landing on just the harvest high jinks, the posh lunching, or the vino sipping is probably the way to go. You'll totally be back in some future year, right? This is, after all, a storied Sonoma spot, not far from the ocean, an ideal location to linger on that third Saturday of October.

Photo Credit: Fort Ross]]>
<![CDATA[Santa Barbara Cool: The Funk Zone's Funky New Hostel]]> Sat, 04 Oct 2014 08:08:59 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/wayfarer1234.jpg

CASH-SAVER GETAWAY, HOSTEL-STYLE: Santa Barbara can be portrayed as the toniest of the tony, and that's a rep that holds some water. It is, after all, called "The American Riviera," which means that some of the luxury-nice destinations of the area can out-luxury other luxurious spots elsewhere.

But there are bargain getaways to be found throughout the beach-blissful city. After all, Motel 6 has its early company roots in Santa Barbara, and a number of quirky properties keep the prices from getting too dear. The latest has an on-the-road twist in that it isn't a motel, nor a hotel, nor even a B&B: It's a hostel, and it has landed plunk in the middle of the wine-trail-happy, bohemian-rhapsodic Funk Zone.

THE WAYFARER... is the hostel's handle, and it is a bit different from the hostels of your college-backpacking youth. For one? There are private accomos, in addition to shared rooms, which isn't necessarily a feature at every hostel you ever landed at, back in the day. As for the rooms? Style is key, which makes sense, given the visual district it calls home (and the stylish city that houses the visual Funk Zone). "(I)ndustrial cool" is the name of the game, as is free Wi-fi, a tricked-out, full equipment kitchen, a colorful, hang-out communal area, a library, and complimentary breakfast. Another twist to the tale? A hotel company is behind the contemporary-design hostel, Pacifica, to be exact, which worked with Funk Zone's own Central Coast Real Estate to develop The Wayfarer.

TO LEARN MORE... about the hostel-style living sitch -- the communal rooms are split into female quarters and male quarters -- don your backpack and trekkers and make for the Funk Zone, now.


Photo Credit: The Wayfarer]]>
<![CDATA[Kayak Pleasures: The Rivers of Sonoma County]]> Wed, 01 Oct 2014 14:21:41 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/227*120/riversonoma12.jpg

BEYOND THE SUMMERTIME: If we had a dime for every time a travel report put a spin on the words "crowds are gone" when talking about an autumn getaway, well... we'd have a very large jar full of small coinage. But that particular chestnut is called into service frequently because it happens to be true, and anyone who has ever visited a popular nature spot on July 1, and then again on Oct. 1, can pretty much say, across the board, that they had more breathing room during the falltime visit. Falltime visits, though, aren't simply restricted to fall-like things, like foliage trails and campfire events and such; summer-sweet happenings are still afoot around California, and you don't even need to dress all that differently. (Okay, maybe throw a hoodie in the car, just in case.) The rivers are still "rushin'" say the Sonoma County visitor-minded people, which means that kayaks are up for rental and you can take to the Petaluma or Russian or Gualala waterways without too much gridlock or five o'clock traffic action (not that summer kayaks ever reach that peak, of course, but fall, as mentioned, boasts space). Where to get those rentals?

MAKE FOR... spots like Russian River Adventures for "self-guided rafting through vineyards & redwoods" along "the most secluded section of the Russian River." And Getaway Adventures? They offer "fun and easy" trips along the Russian River, where redwoods are spied, in addition to vineyards. The water is still looking good, is the word on the street -- er, river -- so find your hoodie and do the slower, more chill autumn thing. Why can't a summer favorite show up a month or two later, when temperatures are still quite fine and the quiet is fine, too?

Photo Credit: Sonoma County]]>
<![CDATA[Wave-Adjacent Wine: Big Sur's Food Fab Weekend]]> Tue, 30 Sep 2014 21:23:08 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/Cheersredwoodsbigsur.jpg

BEYOND THE MIND VISIT: Thank goodness daydreaming is free, and we don't have to pay a toll every single time our thoughts alight upon a favorite destination or a favorite pastime. We have a sense that spots like Pfeiffer State Park and Esalen and other Big Sur locations and retreats would stay mighty busy hosting all of the mind-wandering daydreamers, as the area makes for prime daydream material. As do the wines of the area, and the foods as well. Put together? Location and lunch? Big Sur, the nature-beautiful place, and Big Sur, the delicious foodie gathering spot, makes for a potent daydream subject matter and a desired real-life one, too. And the real-life end of Big Sur devotion gets a significant boost come November, when gourmands, winemakers, winethinkers, chefs, nature ramblers, and Big Sur aficionados gather for the Big Sur Food & Wine Festival. Visualize four days of walks and wine-tastings and vista-enjoyment and socializing and the savoring of suppers made with bravado and zest.

THOSE FOUR DAYS... are Thursday, Nov. 6 through Sunday, Nov. 9, and the regional places on the roster are a who's who -- or a where's where, rather -- of Big Sur classics. The Henry Miller Library will host the Saturday night Dinner with Friends, Pfeiffer State Park has the Auction Experience and a Grand Public Tasting, a Tuscan BBQ at Big Sur Roadhouse, and a Paul Lato Winemaker Dinner at Esalen. Local top toques from Deetjan's Big Sur Inn, the Esalen Institute, and more major spots -- major both locally and on the wider foodie scene -- will be preparing the fresh-fresh-fresh eats (you can bet seasonal/local'll be two of the bywords). As for the vineyards? Big Basin, Banshee Wines, and Wind Gap Wines shall be the sparkling libations in many of the tasting glasses.

AS FOR TICKETS? They're a la carte, so pick what you want to do (and pick soon -- events do sell out). As for the setting? The web site says it best: You're in the land of "roughed coastline," the ultimate daydreamer's go-to. That there's a gourmet angle to it all, and that you'll really be there, is the cherry on the lovely icing.

Photo Credit: Big Sur Food & Wine Festival]]>
<![CDATA[Funky Nevada City: Outside Inn]]> Mon, 29 Sep 2014 19:34:16 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/169*120/nevadacitysharetable.jpg

MARVEL OF A MOTEL: Pop culture and the motel have had a rather colorful relationship over the decades, with the road-close, drive-up-to-your-door properties weathering a few fictional characters that might be called notorious. (It's autumn as of this typing, so, yes, it feels appropriate to mention Norman Bates right about now.) But motels in reality? They're usually not at all what pop culture has presented: They're tidy and friendly and efficient and a bargain to boot. And sometimes they go further than that, way further, and ascend to something rather esoteric and marvelous and a little wicked and a little whimsical, especially when the town they're in also shares those flavorful characteristics.

TAKE THE OUTSIDE INN... a motor-court-y landmark in Nevada City. It doesn't boast guests so much as fans, those hikers and kayakers and Gold Country buffs and nature-seekers who love some themed-fun with their motel room. And they get it: The Outside Inn offers gently imagined rooms that pay homage to climbing, to fishing, to winter, to the stars above. But it isn't just its non-cookie-cutter character that makes the motel, which has roots in the '40s, such a charmer: Look to its free vegetable table, its photo-packed blog, and its haunted pathway come Halloween.

IT'S TRUE...  that they're just dashing that Norman-Bates-y thing completely, though you may meet Mr. Bates outside the motel come Halloween. The haunted pathway, found adjacent to the Outside Inn, is full of ghoulies, meaning excited people from the town come to call on Halloween night (and not just guests). As for the vegetable table? It's a neighborly Nevada City staple, and you can take a squash/apple/cuke or leave one. As for the blog? Erin Thiem, who owns the motel, is an ace photographer who documents La Vida Nevada City, and the laidback life around the Outside Inn. Should you need to get stoked before you book your themed motel room at a funky, free-spirited property famous for haunted pathways and free veges, spin down the motel blog.

Photo Credit: Erin Thiem]]>
<![CDATA[Thank You, Rain: Bridalveil Fall Makes a Showing]]> Mon, 29 Sep 2014 08:58:13 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/bridalveil2234.jpg

HYDRO HAPPINESS: There've been several signs of the drought over the summer of 2014, but perhaps none have been so widely shared, and oft-bemoaned, as the waterfalls of Yosemite Valley. Springtime is waterfall time, but summer's falling water typically makes a powerful showing, too, with things starting to lighten up come the autumn. But what have should have been the peak of the powerful show was not peak-like at all, due to drought conditions. Water flows lessened considerably, and Yosemite Falls went dry in mid-July. But an end-of-September rain brought a positive showing to Bridalveil Falls, which is seen in a photo shared on the national park's Facebook page. Nope, it isn't "crashing" or "thunderous" but it is water where water typically is, so fall fans are rejoicing.

FALL FANS...  though can be buffs of both waterfalls and the season of autumn. So while waterfall aficionados look up, to the rock faces, for signs of moisture, fans of autumn are watching the trees that turn (there aren't too many of them around Yosemite, given its forest-pretty evergreenness). Autumn is not yet in full effect around the Sierra, but signs are everywhere. Want to see it yourself? Land in the valley and its environs some time in October or November. Want an early taste now of what the soft hue-gentle foliage looks like 'round the big Y? There's a video that will transport you there.

Photo Credit: Yosemite National Park]]>
<![CDATA[Furry Cute-a-tude: San Diego Cheetah Sisters]]> Sat, 27 Sep 2014 08:02:50 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/cheetahsandiego12345.jpg

I CAN'T: Catchy phrases among young people come and go, from "out of sight" to "dynamite" to "for sure" and beyond. "I can't" has been a major part of the parlance over the last few years, and it basically signifies that the viewer or reader or onlooker cannot take the level of cuteness or awesomeness or beauty or joy that is being presented to them. A perfect example of the phrase, should you want to fold it into your own lexicon (extending the saying's shelf life for a bit longer), would be what you might utter upon encountering two cheetah cubs being fed by bottles. That is, in fact, prime "I can't" territory, because there probably isn't a human around who could handle that high, high level of furry sweetness. Squealing helps the I-can't-ness, as does a good amount of sighing. And plenty of squealing/sighing is going on 'round San Diego Safari Park these days, where two cheetah females were born on Monday, Sept. 1. They're already quite alert and responsive, say the keepers, and they've got an interesting and helpful path ahead of them.

ANIMAL AMBASSADORS: The sisters will become representatives for the park and "each will be paired with a domestic dog for companionship, as are all ambassador cheetahs at the Safari Park and San Diego Zoo." Domestic dog friends for the cheetahs? Yeah, "I can't" would work here, as this is the very definition of heart-tuggery. The cubs, who aren't even a month as of this typing, are already "swatting and interacting with each other" and boast a lot of personality. As for the scale-tipping? They're both about three pounds, which you can eye for yourself, as the cubly duo is on view each morning around 9 a.m. "for a few hours" (you'll want to head for Safari Park's Animal Care Center). Keepers are raising the pair, as mom Allie has not had great luck in raising previous litters. So the littermates? They're being hand-raised. Staffers report that the sisters are "great eaters," too, so if you want to spy the furry ones take to their food, try and grab a spot one morning, the better to admire animal babyhood at its fuzziest. Yep. I can't.

Photo Credit: Ken Bohn]]>
<![CDATA[Mapping (and Helping) Yosemite's Bears]]> Fri, 26 Sep 2014 14:06:06 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/bearyosemitemap12345.jpg

BEAR LIFE, STEP BY STEP: What would your map look like if someone were to painstakingly plot out everything you did or tried and every spot you visited during a two-day visit to a national park? There might be a line connecting your tent to a cantina, then a line from the cantina to a trail, then a line from the trail to a picnic area, then a line from the picnic area to a waterfall.

Times at each stopping point would give a good indication as to how long it took you to reach each resting/eating location, and maybe how long you spent there. It's a pretty fascinating bit of knowledge, and it is one that National Park Service wildlife managers are looking at in regards to the black bears of Yosemite National Park. Bears and Yosemite are a famous twosome, so much so that pamphlets advise visitors what to do upon encountering a bear (there are also those iconic yellow "Speeding Kills Bears" signs, too). So the service decided to employ GPS collars to see how much of the developed area of the park a bear might cover over a couple of days and where that bear might go. The result? A fascinating map that reveals at least one bear, in particular, covered an impressible swath of Yosemite in just a couple of days.

TWO DAYS IN AUGUST: "A handful of bears" are part of the program, says Yosemite's Facebook page, which provided a visual peek into what one particular bear was up to over two August days. The rambler's start and end points are rather close together, but from a Sunday to a Tuesday the bear called upon a spot close to Upper Pines Campground and a location not far from Yosemite Lodge at the Falls. The ultimate plan for the GPS program is to "keep bears wild and visitors safe,"  says Don Neubacher, Yosemite National Park Superintendent. For more on what's behind the bear maps and how Yosemite will employ the information on behalf of Yosemite's big-pawed denizens and its occasional human guests, ramble on.

Photo Credit: Yosemite National Park]]>
<![CDATA[Clams, Clams, Clam Chowder, Clams: Pismo Party]]> Thu, 25 Sep 2014 20:12:13 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/clams2.jpg

GRAZERS OF THE DEEP: Food industry specialists who create the graphs and charts and figures and studies about who goes out to eat, what they order, and how often, must have a bit of a special case when it comes to seafood enthusiasts. Do lovers of lobsters only stick with their go-to crustacean, or do they venture widely into bass, shrimp, and beyond? It's a twisty wicket best left to those who pick apart the restaurant numbers, but anyone who knows a chowder maven knows this: The chowderist will always, always go for a big bowl of the steamy briny stuff even if it is 100 degrees out. There's kind of no question with this particular dish, right? It will be enjoyed as an appetizer and entree and often both, if Manhattan- and New England-style are both on the menu. If this is you -- if you'll order two types of chowder as both your starter and your finisher -- we'll correctly guess that you do know the way to Pismo Beach, California's salt-airy capital of clam domination. How clam-associated is the Central Coast burg? Well, clams are seen on Pismo-y t-shirts and beyond, yes; you can't pass through town without some clam smiling at you. But there's also...

THE PISMO BEACH CLAM FESTIVAL... each fall, and, goodness, that thing brings the brine. There shall be a Wine Walk over the Oct. 17 to 19 weekend, which fits, since this is the Central Coast, a region that boasts a fine vineyard or two or twenty. There shall be surfing, because, after clams, surfers are pretty much Pismo's next beach-found ambassador. And there shall be chowder, much chowder, because, well, chowder. Rounding everything up? An old-school clam dig, followed by an old-fashioned clam bake. Charming stuff, but, then again, this party has been around for 68 years, meaning they've got what works humming nicely. You can purchase tickets in a la carte fashion, or go for a two- or three-day pass. Bowls and spoons up, chowderians -- this is Pismo's big party, dig to bake to chowder to wine.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Ending Forever: Mariposa Big Tree Tram Tour]]> Tue, 30 Sep 2014 12:56:58 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/228*120/bigtreesfinalweekstour1.jpg

RETURN TO NATURE (ISH): There was a day, oh, long about the mid-century, when snack bars and gift shops and parking lots regularly sprung up across this great land on the grounds of a natural wonder or ancient site, very often in close quarters with the treasure in question. Many planners and preservationists have taken a different approach over the last few decades, not only not adding a gift shop that's cheek-by-jowl with a natural wonder, but also stripping away what was added over the last century. The purpose? To again let nature flower and the processes of time take their course without our sticking our hand in (well, sticking our hand in too much). The Restoration of Mariposa Grove, that stately clutch of trees inside Yosemite National Park, is one such wide-scope project that falls in this category. It's a visionary project that Yosemite Conservancy sums up thusly: The project is "an ambitious, multiyear effort to preserve these majestic trees and reverse 150 years of development by balancing visitor needs with ecological patterns." This means that various features around the grove, like trails and such, may be closed "intermittently," while one main feature is set to disband forever: The Big Trees Tram Tour.

FINAL WEEKS: The tour, which takes headphone-wearing visitors among the giants, will run through its typical season, which ends come November. After that "it will permanently end," says the Mariposa Grove site. If the tour isn't your thing, you can still visit Mariposa Grove in the coming year or two, but you might check ahead to see the stage the project is at. Yosemite has also provided other locations where big trees can be found, such as the Tuolumne Grove and Merced Grove, which are both in the park, and Nelder Grove, which is in the Sierra National Forest.

Photo Credit: Yosemite National Park]]>
<![CDATA[Bellagio Whimsy: Autumn Arrives in Sin City]]> Wed, 24 Sep 2014 15:23:52 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/bellagiohorsefall1234.jpg

TONY, WITH SOME TWINKLE: Anybody who has observed the hospitality industry, especially in a big, competitive market like Las Vegas, can absolutely understand why hotels would want to go the swanky route. People on vacation are seeking a bit of fantasy, some escapism, and perhaps the luxury they don't see as often as they'd like in their day-to-day lives. But the Bellagio in Las Vegas, while absolutely swankified, has a bit of twinkle to its tony ways. Any visitor who has ever strolled the massive property's Conservatory & Botanical Gardens, regardless of the season, understands that the giant animals and storybook touches fit right in with all that fancy, and pretty darn well. Oh, and come every autumn? Designers erect a talking tree, which, at first glance, seems like it might be something more akin to a children's theme park. But it is pure Bellagio, beautifully imagined and full of fictional fizz, and it only makes one wish that more hotels would take that whimsical plunge, rather than keeping only to the elegant side of things, far more often.

BELLAGIO, YOU'RE DOING IT RIGHT... with your 40-foot-tall windmill and your mega-sized floral apples, which each boast over 1,200 red carnations. The indoor, glass-roofed gardens feature a "28-foot-tall enchanted talking tree" and a pair of horses dotted with hydrangeas. Fall-hued flowers fill the nature-nice exhibit, over 51,000, in fact, and dancing waters, a baby bear, a harvest basket, colossal pumpkins, and "mystical wooden forest creatures" round out the picturesque wonder.

WHEN CAN YOU SEE IT? Be in Sin City through Nov. 30 for one of the desert's quintessential autumn experiences. True, it may be Vegas-bright out on the Strip, but a fall fantasy is tucked inside the Bellagio, in plain, photo-pretty sight.

Photo Credit: Bellagio]]>
<![CDATA[The Line: Hello Kitty Con's Official LA Stay]]> Thu, 25 Sep 2014 09:08:31 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/hellokittylinehotel1.jpg

"NOT A CAT": It's not too often that news headlines confirm what something is not rather than what something might be, but bold text trumpeted a rather startling mind-befuddler of a revelation back in August: Hello Kitty, the superstar Sanrio bow-topped feline, is not. A. Cat. It was enough to send pop culture bloggers to their keyboards to ponder what this means, given that Hello Kitty is coming upon her 40th anniversary and, for sure, most fans, over those four decades, have believed the feline-like character to be, well, feline. "She's a cartoon character. She's a little girl. She's a friend," said one anthropologist.  It is a revelation, we're sure, that will be much meowed over -- or pawed over, or whisker-nuzzled, if you prefer -- during the Hello Kitty Con, which lands elegantly on all four feet at the Geffen Contemporary in Los Angeles from Oct. 30 through Nov 2. Indeed, that's over Halloween, but Hello Kitty's very true-hearted followers are famous for dressing in the eye-bright, happy-pink hues of their pop-sweet character favorite. Thinking of planning your weekend around the Geffen gathering? Then purr your way towards...

THE LINE HOTEL: The color-pow, oh-so-stylish Koreatown stayover is the official hotel of the Hello Kitty Con, and "special travel packages, rooms themed to the Hello Kitty style, and a special lounge by designer Sean Knibb," which will be the setting for the Nov. 1 birthday party, are all in the works. Plus? "An exclusive Hello Kitty 40th Anniversary welcome kit" is presented to guests at check-in, should they choose the Hello Kitty package. It isn't often that a mega con's whimsy and storyline extends to the attendees' hotel, but anyone who has followed the Japanese cute cat -- we mean kid -- knows that fans want the whole experience, the dress-up, the products, the tunes, the scene. Between the Geffen and the Line, Hello Kitty's bow-wearing fans shall find plenty of rainbow-sparkle times. Don't forget your lunchboxes, lip balms, or hairbrushes, kitty conventioneers.

Photo Credit: Getty Images and Adrian Gaut]]>
<![CDATA[Safari West Halloween: The Beauty of Bones]]> Tue, 23 Sep 2014 12:28:27 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/safariparkhalloween12.jpg

BEYOND THE RUBBER AND PAPER: Skeletons are seen in all corners 'round the month of October, from the party aisle at your local drugstore to cartoons to masks to t-shirts to decorations. But these merrily grinning reminders of the Halloween season's connection to the veil between worlds are very often constructed out of paper or rubber or wax or cotton. They're not made of actual bone, in short, which is what real skeletons are made of (or so rumor has it). Learning about bones, however, is quite important, and, nope, rubber decorations don't count, and nope, that song that goes "the hip bone's connected to the thigh bone" doesn't count, either, delightful though it is (and impossible to get out of your head, too). 

RATHER... a deeper understanding of that deeper substance is a good thing, and the Osteology Department of Safari West, the Santa Rosa-close African animal preserve, wants to delve into the topic over Halloween weekend. Make that Halloweekend, Safari West's first Halloween celebration, and the bones that shall be discussed? Why animal bones, of course. Prepare to be fascinated, intrigued, and to have your osteo-knowledge grow.

THAT SAID... the animal park will observe some of the traditional touches of the holiday, like a trick or treating trail through Safari Park's new skeleton exhibit on Friday, Oct. 31 (dinner and lodging packages are available, too). The park then celebrates Dia de los Muertos on Saturday, Nov. 1 and Sunday, Nov. 2, when the bone-learning begins in earnest. You'll discover the methods the osteologists employ to learn more about a beastie from its bones, and you'll get up-close with some beautiful animal skulls. As for the Dia devotions? Safari West "will be celebrating the lives of the animals that have passed away on our property." That's lovely, and a lovely spin on a storied celebration. There's much muerto-love going on over the Friday night through Sunday afternoon gathering, so gaze ahead and plan, nature-happy Halloweenies.

Photo Credit: Safari West]]>
<![CDATA[Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Weigh-Off: A Look Back]]> Mon, 22 Sep 2014 22:44:24 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/175*120/184586787.jpg Some scale-tippers were seen -- and hefted -- at the 2013 contest.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Dining Destination: Taste of Carmel]]> Mon, 22 Sep 2014 17:21:10 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/202*120/carmeltasteofshutterstock.jpg

BEYOND THE BUCKET LIST: Whether or not every adult human being is actually in possession of an official-type Bucket List, whether that list be inside their brain or on a piece of paper, is likely of some dispute. Some people are very much into the idea of pursuing all the life-enhancing experiences one must pursue before they reach the end of the trail, and some people kind of want to take what comes. And while buckets are pretty capacious vessels that can hold a lot of liquid, we'll wager that a lot of people out there opt for Wine Glass Lists instead of Bucket Lists.

THOSE WINE GLASS LISTS... include all of the wineries and vineyards and wine towns and wine walks they want to visit, and what makes it all rather nicer is that a wine glass is far smaller than a bucket. Meaning? Finishing the Wine Glass List is doable, and not an overwhelming project. At the opposite end of the spectrum from "overwhelming" is the town of Carmel-by-the-Sea, which just happens to be on many a person's Wine Glass List. That's because of the excellent variety of tasting rooms in the small, cottage-dotted village, and the fact that there's a marquee eatery every fourteen feet (or so it seems). Want to take care of a lot of your personal Wine Glass List in one foodie fell swoop? Then make for Taste of Carmel, which is set to cuisine-up the cuisineful city from Oct. 2 through 5.

WINE WALKS, a dessert and wine tasting at Aubergine, a De Tierra Vineyards Winemaker Dinner at La Playa Carmel, a food tour, a tour by bike, and other gourmand goodies await. Events are priced in an a la carte fashion, too, so if you simply want to dip in and dip out, to do what you'd like to do, that's cool, too. So, ready to fill up that Wine Glass List a little bit? We're not saying that anyone chuck the Bucket List, but there are smaller vessels with great symbolism we can use for our enjoying-life rosters, too.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[Gold Country Quirky: Musical Organ Rally]]> Sun, 21 Sep 2014 22:37:29 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/451724368organ.jpg

A SOUNDTRACK FOR A CITY: If you've ever strolled Jackson, the town that serves as both the Amador County county seat as well as the busy burg at the heart of Gold Country, you kind of know it comes with its own inherent soundtrack. It's just one of those picturesque places, full of the spirit of 1849, that summons the echoes of banjos and fiddles and the twangy, deep, storytelling instruments of yore. Many of those instruments have found new life in modern pop and country -- call it Suspender Rock or Alt-Nostalgia or one of the other affectionate names journalists have applied to contemporary twang -- but there's another instrument that may be due for, well, its larger due on the Billboard charts: the musical organ. But make no mistake: Musical organs have plenty of love from their devotees, people who both appreciate the cranks the organs boast and their calliope-esque cadence and their wood-carved and metal-shiny beauty. Fans also appreciate that these instruments were oftentimes some of the only live music people regularly enjoyed a century or two ago. Are you sweet on that particular storybook sound? A number of organists are ready to roll into Jackson, with their gorgeous instruments in tow, over the last Saturday in September.

LISTEN UP: "Unusual musical band organs" will set up shop, along with their humans, of course, down Jackson's Main Street on Saturday, Sept. 27. The nickelodeon-type wonders are free to see and hear, and there's a concert at the United Methodist Church on Sunday at 1 p.m. if you need some more time with the antiques. It isn't all about the tunes, though: The musical organ weekend coincides with The Days of 49, which will see an "authentic wagon train of twenty horse-drawn wagons pull into Jackson..." on that Saturday. And the reason? Amador County is 160 years old. (Fun fact: Did you know Amador City, which is just a pip up the way from Jackson, is California's smallest city?) Organ pipes, wagon trains, Gold Country history: If you aren't wearing suspenders and sleeve garters out on Main Street, we'll probably be a mite disappointed. And may musical organs remain as whimsical and beautiful as they are, even if a hot band soon takes the instrument's unique sound to the very top of the pop charts.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Pacific Grove Icons: Monarchs on the Way]]> Sat, 20 Sep 2014 13:05:23 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/monarchbutterfly.jpg

NATURE MIGRATION CHART: If you had a giant swath of paper on the wall filled with colorful lines, and each line represented a major migratory season for an animal or insect that entered or departed or passed through or passed by or or passed over California, well... you'd need a whole lot of wall. Our state is flush with beasties making that seasonal journey, the one made by their forebeasties and the one that their progeny beasties will make long after them. We humans tend to be rather on the stay-put side, at least comparatively, but we do have the good sense to be aware of animals' internal clocks and rhythms and the pathways they wend in order to create offspring or cocoon or nest or seek warmer or cooler climes. Natural Bridges State Park near Santa Cruz throws a full-on Migration Festival each winter, in fact, to honor all migrating animals but to spotlight a few in particular, including the state's most famous seasonal winged thing, the Monarch Butterfly. Those colorful wee ones are rather fond of the Central Coast and Monterey Peninsula, and while several villages will throw their own butterfly hellos, Pacific Grove is first out the proverbial gate, in October.

OCTOBER 4, TO BE SPECIFIC: That's the date of the Butterfly Parade & Bazaar, and if you feel like you saw the parade as a kid, you probably did -- it stretches back, like a butterfly stretching its wings, over the last three-quarters of a century. For sure, you'll see tots and a few grown-ups in butterfly gear, but if you want to see the Monarchs themselves, they have a date with various groves and tree tops starting around mid-October. Pacific Grove's Monarch Grove Sanctuary is an excellent look-up-and-point spot, but note that you'll want to keep your pointing finger limber for a few months, as the Monarchs hang around through the middle of February. And, yes, pointing is rude, but if it is up, towards a branch, where a cluster of ethereal wings are slowly moving in time, well... we can be excused. Migrations may happen every year, but that doesn't mean they're everyday or humdrum. They're quite extraordinary and invite our full-on attentions.

Photo Credit: Monarch Butterfly]]>
<![CDATA[Painting the Lost Coast]]> Fri, 19 Sep 2014 13:49:09 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/lostcoastpainting1.jpg

THAT BEAUTIFUL BALANCE: Keeping a special spot wild and remote and in its peaceful, nature-a-riffic state is the work of many people around the Golden State. But it can be a challenging task. On the one hand you want those out-of-the-way locations to stay as out-of-the-way-ish as possible, where they may remain very much themselves. And yet making them known, to spread the notion of their beauty, is the flipside, and also important work, because the more experience people have with such beauty, the more protections can slide into place. It's a balance, and one that the communities in and around The Lost Coast strike very well. There are welcoming events, like the springtime Tour of the Unknown Coast, and an early fall plein air happening, which invites painters to set up their easels in some of the sweetest empty stretches of the state. But such every-now-and-then events enhance the protective relationship between humans and place. Take Plein Air at the Lost Coast, which rolls out over the first five days in October. Artists will use brush and oil (or acrylic or watercolor) to capture the softness that is this wild space, and, fingers crossed, those paintings will spread out to spread the Lost Coast love. Are you handy with a canvas and love you some remote spectacularness? Head up 'round Southern Humboldt for a...

PLEIN AIR HAPPENING: The Shelter Cove Arts and Recreation Foundation oversees the affair, which will include workshops if painters need a touch-up on their talents and nature walks and a free concert and a Quick Draw contest at the Historic Benbow Inn. And, indeed, lots and lots of outdoor painting, and the participants' subjects? The sky, the water, the shoreline, and all of that pristine wonder that makes up the section of California that pretty much, hands down, rules in the romantic name department. We mean, if you were to tell your pals back home that you spent several days painting the Lost Coast, they'll think you stepped from the pages of a novel. Whether you want to wear a puffy-shouldered poet's shirt, or rhapsodize on the state of man and nature while you paint, is up to you.

Photo Credit: Plein Air at the Lost Coast]]>
<![CDATA[Catalina Island's Swashbuckling Weekend]]> Thu, 18 Sep 2014 23:03:11 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/catalinacaninebuccaneer1.jpg

AVALON AFICIONADO: Even if you regularly find yourself making for Santa Catalina Island's largest port-of-call, perhaps to attend the annual September film festival or a vintage ball at the Casino Building, you might occasionally ponder if you should venture beyond the town's borders a bit more. Sure, you might go on a few hikes, into the inland, or call upon the sweetest landing strip in existence, Airport in the Sky, but for many Avalon aficionados a boat trip to Catalina means dining, hoteling, snorkeling, and staying put within the snug city's confines. All of this can make Two Harbors, Catalina's other outpost, seem positively exotic. It's not on the mainland-facing side, it's smaller, and getting there? Well, it takes commitment. You might want to arrive by boat, in fact, which lends Two Harbors a rather wayback feel (something that locals rather like and cherish). So when buccaneers arrive over the first weekend in October, to whoop it up and speak pirate-talk, and raise a glass of grog (or beer, more likely), the smaller of Catalina's burgs bristles with colorful action. As it will again, from Thursday, Oct. 2 through Sunday, Oct. 5.

BUCCANEER DAYS: The Santa Catalina Island Company's matey-ist party marks its quarter century turn in 2014. There shall be live music and DJs every day of the big bash, and costume contests, and treasure hunts, and a deck's worth of revelers rocking tri-cornered hats. Camping packages, too, are part of the plan. There's definitely a party atmos, one that encourages the raising of the glasses, so call it the liveliest weekend on the Two Harbors calendar. But unlike other pirate-themed parties you've attended, in backyards and living rooms, this one has a major plus: It's in a scenic cove on the Pacific. That's an arrrrr-worthy setting, if there ever was one.

Photo Credit: Buccaneer Days]]>
<![CDATA[Vroom and a Room: La Quinta Cool Car Package]]> Sat, 20 Sep 2014 14:43:17 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/quintacars123456.jpg

THAT GLEAM MACHINE: If you've ever pulled up to the front door of a rather grand and historic hotel or resort, you've likely passed a lovely car or two at the valet stand. A touch of envy can ensue, and some admiration, and you may find, for a moment, that your mind is less on finding the registration desk than strolling around the automobile while eyeing the dash, the wheels, the fenders. But what if, after registering and locating your room and sniffing all of the complimentary toiletries and hanging up your clothes lest they wrinkle (you do do that, right?), what if you could return to the hotel driveway and slide into the front seat of one of those amazingly shiny autos? That's just the plan La Quinta Resort & Club has in mind for motor mavens booking a stay at the desert destination from Wednesday, Oct. 15 through Monday, Oct. 20. The package's name? It's the Waldorf Astoria Driving Experience, and if you're crossing your fingers that you'll get a chance to tool around those wide, pretty streets of La Quinta in something fancy, well, uncross those fingers and slide on the posh driving gloves: That is exactly the case.

FERRARI, MCLAREN, PORSCHE: A trio of famous names are in the package's mix -- visualize a Ferrari 458 Italia Spider, a McLaren MP4-12C, and a Porsche 911 Turbo. The Experience pairs with pro race car driver Didier Theys of Belgium for a three-hour experience. The price? It kicks off at $1258/double plus fees and taxes, and, for sure, you'll get to eye the mega renovation the historic-and-newer property just underwent. Also, if you get knots in your shoulders, as drivers do, from time to time? Some special spa add-ons are available for an additional cost.

AS FOR THE CARS? You'll get an instruction lesson from Mr. Theys ahead of time, and you'll get to rotate cars, too. And, true true, you'll go beyond La Quinta, heading for picturesque turns in San Bernardino National Forrest. If you've ever wanted to drive one of these gems, with an accoladed fast-car smartie at your side, this is a fine moment. And it should, for the time being, alleviate the need to linger too long before any fancy cars in any fancy driveways. You'll get to try one -- or three, rather -- out for yourself.

Photo Credit: La Quinta]]>
<![CDATA[Walnut Creek: Hometown Charm and Walnut Kings]]> Wed, 17 Sep 2014 18:10:06 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/walnuts-generic.jpg

FOOD MASCOTS: We're all familiar with those spokespeople -- and spokesclowns and spokescats and spokessharks and spokes-you-name-it -- that represent fast food restaurants and large-scale eat-out chains. So familiar that we probably have a toy or two with their visage in some box under some bed. But hometown festivals are known for their symbolic hosts, those people who greet visitors to the party, wave a lot, and in general represent the town as well as a person can. Or, in some cases, as well as a walnut can represent. Walnut Creek's Walnut Festival has a walnut celebrity front and center, and he's no mere face for the posters -- he's the king, complete with a crown and robe, and his reign goes deep back into the festival's 77 year history. Yep, the walnut head has changed a bit over time -- today's Walnut King is a smiler -- but his mission is clear: Represent the venerable festival, which is indeed about a particular nut that goes well in both savory and sweet dishes. The long-running late-summer closer is on again, and the king is in the wings. Be at Heather Farm Park during the Sept. 18-21 weekend for...

TUNES AND RIDES: There is indeed a carnival atmosphere, which suits the walnut's frequent appearance in fun, celebration-ready foods. (Is it the holidays without some kind of walnutty bread? Nope, it is not.) The city's centennial will also be a festive focus, and there are haps beyond civic doings -- think a car show and lake fishing and parades and community chum-nice doings. ("Chum-nice"=that small town atmosphere that Walnut Creek rocks so well.) Let's also give it up for the fact that the Walnut Festival started as the Grape Festival over a century ago. How is that for roots? May every festival be as long-running, and may every spokeswalnut -- or spokescharacter -- be as charming and where his crown with as much ease.

Photo Credit: Pauline Mak/Flickr]]>
<![CDATA[Pismo Sparkle: BUBBLYFEST by the Sea]]> Fri, 26 Sep 2014 14:57:50 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/bubblyfestbythesea.jpg

NEVER CHANGE: Pismo Beach and clams are such an enduring Golden State place-plate duo that they can make all other food-location pairings feel a little envious by comparison. True, sourdough and San Francisco are probably up there, too, and abalone and Mendocino County, but it is a challenge to spend a day toodling through the Central Coast's beachiest playspot without coming across multiple images of buckets and small shovels. We don't want the P.B. to ever change on this clammy respect -- Pismo Beach + bivalves 4evr ♥ -- but, in the spirit of dynamic duos, we also don't mind a new delicious liquid partner coming onto the slurping scene. It would be sparkling wine, which probably doesn't surprise you, as fancy beverages full of bubbles and seafood that arrives in shells is something, rumor has it, that discerning eaters rather appreciate.

SO... that BUBBLYFEST by the Sea, which is billed as "the nation's only dedicated sparkling wine celebration," is going to be as cozy with Pismo as a clam in sand makes beautiful sense. That several Central Coast winemakers'll be in town to pour their glitter-golden drinkable elixirs -- too much? Nah, you've probably trucked out "elixir" yourself while drinking fine sparkling wine -- makes beautiful sense, too. And the lovely fall weekend that this is all set for?

OCT. 24-26: True, that's just after Pismo Beach's venerable Clam Festival, so you can get your clam on the proceeding weekend and then grab a fancy glass of wine (or several). Some "40 producers of sparkling wine" are expected at the three-day bash, including Arroyo Robles Winery and Cass Vineyard & Winery. As for the tony to-dos? A grand tasting at Seacrest Oceanfront Hotel, a cocktail mixer at Dolphin Bay Resort & Spa, and a Sunday party at Dolphin Bay round out the first-ever BUBBLYFEST. And the beneficiary? Big Brothers Big Sisters of San Luis Obispo County. Here's a question to break the ice at those mixers: Are there more clams in the sand of Pismo Beach or more bubbles in a whole warehouse of sparkling wine? Number mavens, break that down as you beverage-up.


Photo Credit: Bubblyfest by the Sea]]>
<![CDATA[Harvest Fest: Mega Craft Fair Hits the Road]]> Tue, 16 Sep 2014 23:27:35 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/venturaharvestfest345.jpg

CRISPNESS AND CRAFTS: If something about mornings turning a bit crisper at their edges -- you know that feeling, that arrives just around 7 a.m., that says a new season is about to dosey-do this way at any moment -- and school fairs selling crafty goods gets your blood a-stirrin', then autumn must be your Official Favorite Time of the Year. (Don't feel guilty -- we all have one or two.) It is a time known for brisker mornings and scholastic fundraisers full of homemade treats and items, but only in a few places do those two elements reach their zenith. And at the top of that cinnamon-scented, calico-lined ladder? Harvest Festival Original Art & Craft Show. The traveling mega-vendor mega-everything show toodles around California and the West throughout the autumn months, landing in various centers and locations that are large enough to hold thousands and thousands of items. There will be well over 24,000 goods for sale in Ventura over the first weekend of October, meaning you'll want to spend a goodly chunk of your day eyeing each eyelet-frilled apron and jar of apple butter and hand-carved wooden jewelry box and walking stick and silver dangly gemstone earring. There are, in fact, hundreds of vendors, all with a craft-eye and artistic heart, so whether you find a holiday gift or several small goodies for yourself is up to you. (Our guess? Both.)

DATES AND CITIES: Pleasanton is the first of the California cities, over the last weekend of summer -- that's Sept. 19 through 21 -- and Pomona rounds it all out over the first weekend of December. Ventura is early October, San Jose is the Friday through Sunday following Thanksgiving, and everywhere it goes the fest'll have entertainment, tunes, kidly haps, and food-to-buy (for noshing on there, not the tied-up-in-ribbons munch mixes and cookies you'll see among the vendors). Are you feeling the autumn wave, the one that intersects with craft-cute, art-sophisticated shopping? Check out the schedule and many talented vendors and eye-and-palate-delighting categories the festival boasts.

Photo Credit: Harvest Festival Original Art & Craft Show]]>
<![CDATA[Joshua Tree Music Fest: Vibes Among the Boulders]]> Sat, 20 Sep 2014 14:44:29 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/joshua_samenglish.jpg

SPRING AND SUMMER... have a happy hold on giant-hearted, village-style, music-centered encampments that spread across the West. They can be very art-oriented -- howdy, Burning Man -- or more about the tunes -- high five, Coachella -- or they can incorporate a very complete cuisine scene into the proceedings (Outside Lands, we're looking at you). But some of the finest weather in the state happens in the deserts come fall, when the nights are getting brisker but aren't yet fully lunar and the daytimes possess a golden warmness that everyone on the coast has to envy just a pinch. This is when the fall version of the Joshua Music Tree Festival flowers like a waxy bud atop a cactus, and, nope, it isn't just about the music (though that serves as its beating, beat-filled heart). As befitting its connect-to-the-earth-and-everything location, the festival features a bouquet of beautiful, look-inward doings, from a Positive Vibration Station to Pop-Up Tea Parties to Yoga & Healing sessions to Kidsville (yep, if you show with the tots you can set up in a Family Camp, which not every festival boasts). And as for the tunes..?

THE LIST IS LONG... and includes Black Joe Lewis of Austin and Colombia's Bomba Estereo and Ribab Fusion of Morocco and a full complement of acts and singers and instrumentalists that represent a world sound of the flowingest, tune-in sort. Beyond the stages? There's more vibe-feeling to enjoy, from Random Acts of Mindfulness to the recording of your own songs to astronomy pursuits to t-shirt making. And, indeed, you'll be within shouting distance of the Joshua Tree boulders, though, really, they are not to be shouted at. Rather admiring those epic rock formations, and thinking nature-y, creative-cool thoughts, is the order of the weekend. Oh, and that weekend? The autumn Joshua Tree Music Festival goes down from Oct. 9 through 12.

Photo Credit: Sam English]]>
<![CDATA[A Felton Festival of Steam]]> Mon, 15 Sep 2014 21:23:23 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/steamroaring123.jpg

AIRY WONDER: Natural watery phenomena are regularly paired with seasons that best symbolize some of their most apparent properties. Rain and springtime are an old twosome -- April showers and so on and so on -- while winter and snow (and icicles and sleet and flakes and so on and so on) are a common duo. Summer? We'll say sweat is its frequent moisture-based feature, though lakes and creeks seem pretty darn summery, too. But what of fall? That's a little tougher. Sure there's rain, and sweat, and, on occasion, snow, but those gloamy early evenings and hue-tinged leaves speak of a much more romantic expression of water: steam. It's old-timey, and appears in films at their most heart-tuggy heights, like when people wave goodbye to each other train platforms. Oh, that's where you're apt to see steam these days, on platforms, though don't go looking for it in modern stations: Places like Roaring Camp Railroads in Felton rule the steam thing. And the nostalgia-sweet trackline pauses each autumn to bid autumn hello, yes, but to also celebrate steam, the airy substance often seen trailing above the Roaring Camp engines.

OCT. 4 AND 5: October's starting-out weekend gets harvest-y on the scarecrow-constructing, pumpkin patch-enjoying end of things, but steam'll be a superstar of the two-day festival, too. "Behold steam-powered line shafts, player pianos, letter-presses, printing presses, and more!" advises the Roaring Camp HQ. Given the rise (and rise and rise) of steampunkery as a lifestyle and creative aesthetic, and the return to some of the ye olde ways of doing things ("doing things"=homekeeping, gardening, beer-makery), pondering steam as a very solid subject matter, in a fun and kid-nice setting, is a fine way to spend a weekend afternoon. Riding a steam-puffing train? The icing on the cake, or, perhaps more fittingly, the toot out of a steam-powered whistle. Admission? It's free, while steam train rides are extra.

Photo Credit: Roaring Camps Railroad]]>
<![CDATA[Yosemite Summons Tolkien to Advise Hikers]]> Mon, 15 Sep 2014 18:47:28 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/yosemitetolkienfb.jpg

FRODO IN CALIFORNIA: Stewards of our state's wilder places know that catching some people's attention, when there's a fire or storm or headline-making event, can be a bit of a challenge. You can post yet again about trail warnings and advisements to steer clear of certain peaks and meadows, and it is up to the public to cautiously heed and take note. But Yosemite National Park's Facebook page found a memorable way to grab public attention about the very real concern of a fire in the park. It's the Meadow Fire, and while hundreds of firefighters are working towards containment -- Sept. 21 has been given as a possible date for full containment -- the national park's social media site went the literature route to bring news of the fire, and those all-important trail closures, to hikers' attentions. How? By summoning "Lord of the Rings" and author J.R.R. Tolkien, of course.

"FOULER THINGS THAN ORCS": A rather striking and startling photo of the blaze appeared on Yosemite's Facebook feed on Sunday, Sept. 14 with a warning and a hard-to-forget passage from "The Fellowship of the Ring": "If you decide to venture down trails that are closed, remember 'There are older and fouler things than Orcs in the deep places of the world.'" A link to trail closures due to the fire followed, as did a flurry of comments likening the Meadow Fire photo to something from a "Lord of the Rings" film.

LIT AS PUBLIC SERVICE: Could referencing stories many of us know, and employing quotes as gentle cautions to take heed during a blaze or other major park event, catch more eyes down the road? And, indeed, keep people safe and off closed trails? It's food for thought, for sure, but Yosemite National Park's deft employment of Orcs and Tolkien and myth made people stop and take note. Thinking outside the box, or park, clearly has its merits where public safety is concerned.

Photo Credit: Yosemite National Park]]>
<![CDATA[Sactown Spirits: Ghosty Gold Rush Tales]]> Sun, 14 Sep 2014 09:33:19 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/ghostssac234.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Jim & Samantha Dowdall]]>
<![CDATA[150 Years: Historic Hot Springs Reach a Milestone]]> Thu, 18 Sep 2014 23:02:29 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/bentonhotsprings_deboradelaneytalahimediaarts1.jpg

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

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

Photo Credit: Debora Delaney/Talahi Media Arts]]>