<![CDATA[NBC Bay Area - Worth the Trip]]> Copyright 2014 http://www.nbcbayarea.com/blogs/worth-the-trip http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/nbc_bayarea_blue.png NBC Bay Area http://www.nbcbayarea.com en-us Sun, 21 Dec 2014 19:28:46 -0800 Sun, 21 Dec 2014 19:28:46 -0800 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Celebrating Frank Sinatra's 100th (at His Palm Springs Casa)]]> Sat, 20 Dec 2014 09:07:33 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sinatracentennialmodernismweek.jpg

HE DID IT HIS WAY: Productions seem to come along every week, on the stage, on television, and in the movie theaters, shows that pay homage to a certain era when martinis were well shaken, pool surfaces were unstirred, and the hi-fi took up the better part of the sunken living room (a living room that naturally came with shag carpeting, mirrored walls, and pendant lamps). But no one did the look as well as people who lived through the era, and few people who dominated the time were as famous, and famously cool, as Frank Sinatra. The music of Mr. Ol' Blue Eyes pretty much dominated every hi-fi in every sunken living room in all the land, lending the finger-snapping soundtrack that the mid-century required. And mid-century style is at its zenith in the home where the iconic crooner once lived: The Twin Palms Estate in Palm Springs. Many Sinatra mavens know of this storied abode, the very place where Mr. Sinatra would run a flag up between its pair of eponymous palms to say he was in residence, but few people have been able to visit it. That'll happen, though, in February, via the mid-century-mad Modernism Week. But this is no mere visit to Frank Sinatra's estate. It's a...

CENTENNIAL PARTY... in honor of one of the great interpreters of the American Songbook. A dinner shall be served poolside, with five courses in all, and expert mixologist Devon Espinosa will keep all of those pretty, long-stemmed glasses well-filled. The "magnificent soiree" will also feature a performance from Nick D'Egidio and plenty of time to scope out this fabled, music-celebrated abode.

THE SWANK-A-TUDE... happens on Sunday, Feb. 15. A ticket? It's $265. But if you can't swing-a-ring-a-ding that, you can still join in a history-focused walking tour of the Chairman of the Board's neighborhood, where mid-century beauties still hold court. That's happening over multiple days during Modernism Week, which fills up a good part of the middle of February (much in the way that Sinatra still fills up much of our music-fueled playlists). 

Photo Credit: Modernism Week]]>
<![CDATA[New Year's Outdoors: California First Day Hikes]]> Fri, 19 Dec 2014 10:49:57 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/firstdayhikes111.jpg

SKIP THE COUCH: Whenever the doings of New Year's Day are portrayed in popular culture, they very often feature a couch, and someone sprawled upon it, with an ice pack on his head, or someone bundled up while movie-watching, or someone taking a nap. In short, the first day of the year is thought of as a "recovery" day, when we need to sleep off one too many glasses of bubbly enjoyed the evening before. But many a Golden-Stater would rather skip the couch, and the whole hurting-on-day-one thing. The prospect of being out in the sunshine, or fog, or some sort of breeze feels clearing, and renewing, and a positive, healthy, active, and joyous way to start something new. Not just something new, but a new year, and the ol' ice pack-on-the-head routine likely isn't doing much in the "new starts" department. If you feel drawn to a woodsy path or desert vista or photo-worthy beach as the place you want to say hello to 2015, you're in luck: The California State Parks want to lend you a hand. Or, rather, a park, some 40 of them in all, where a few dozen First Day Hikes will be going down (and up and into valleys and over hills) on Thursday, Jan. 1.

FORTY PARKS, FORTY FIVE HIKES: You can't hit 'em all on the first day of 2015, but you have a fine selection to peruse: The Asilomar State Beach and Conference Center is hosting a Poetry Hike, where "(s)elected excerpts of nature poetry" will be read as strollers enjoy the native Monterey Pine Forest, and beyond. Crystal Cove State Park is heading out onto a three-mile loop on New Year's Day, and Humboldt State Lagoons Park is all about a Jan.1 paddle on the water (though a hike option is available). Note that there are some day use fees, depending on the park, and possible paddle rental and such. You'll want to get the details on any payments you'll need to make. But think of what you'll gain: A fine day out, among flora and fauna, to ponder those still fresh days ahead. There are 365 of 'em, and if only they could be as lovely as a New Year's Day spent hiking. A most excellent New Year's resolution. 

Photo Credit: California State Parks]]>
<![CDATA[January Debut: "Frozen Fun" at Disneyland Resort]]> Thu, 18 Dec 2014 12:07:14 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/190*120/olaffrozendl12345.jpg

THAT JOYFUL JUGGERNAUT: If you grew up in the second half of the 20th century, and into the start of this century, you probably experienced a pop culture juggernaut or two. "Star Wars" springs to mind, that juggernaut that out-juggernauted all other juggernauts, but plenty of television shows, films, and books have delivered on the build-a-huge-fanbase front. A new stalwart has appeared on the huge fanbase front over the last year, and if you know some or all of the words to "Let It Go," you can probably guess its icy title. It's Disney's "Frozen," the 2013 animated movie that captured the fancies of many, many kids (and singing adults, who continue to post "Let It Go" videos to youtube). The only thing better than seeing Anna and Elsa on screen is to meet them, at Disneyland, which has been happening for several months now. But the Magic Kingdom is going a giant step further into Frozen-iana, with a new happening called Frozen Fun set to debut at Disney California Adventure on Jan. 7, 2015.

"IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCES": The limited-time "immersive experiences" will include a sing-along celebration -- of course, because everyone knows "Let It Go," and "Love Is an Open Door," and the troll song by now -- and Olaf's Snow Fest, which will include a snow slide and a visit from the sunny-smiley snowman himself. And will Anna and Elsa bid farewell to Disneyland's Fantasyland and make for this new adventure? They shall indeed. An evening family dance part -- "Freeze the Night!" -- will also rev up, or down, rather, in the park's Hollywood Land. (We say "down" because a giant thermometer will record the drop in temperature.) A store brimming with merch -- hello, Elsa's diaphanous cape-cool dress -- and other cinematic touches are set for their wintertime bow. 

AND TWO MORE SWEETNESSES? A nod to "Frozen" will appear on the Storybook Land Canal Boats, so be on lookout for the kingdom of Arendelle, in miniature. And Olaf's Frozen Ice Rink is open in Downtown Disney through Feb. 22, 2015. 

Photo Credit: Disneyland Resort]]>
<![CDATA[Chowder Day: Bodega Bay's Heartiest Holiday]]> Thu, 18 Dec 2014 08:51:58 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/031309-clams.jpg

STILL THE BOWL STANDARD: Many a savory dish has recently found fresh life as a frosty, end-of-the-meal treat. Look to Thanksgiving turkey, which recently showed up in ice cream at a posh Los Angeles scoop shop, and look at bacon, which has graced everything from milkshakes to chocolate bars to donut glaze. But soups and stews have not yet made the leap into the realm of a meal's sugary final note, even though hearty bowl fillers like chowder are on the creamy side. ("Creamy" very often leads next to into some sort of cakey, whipped filling. Not always, but often.) But we're pretty sure we don't want chowder to debut as the liquid center of next year's trendy cookie. It performs most excellently when in a small bowl, topped with crumbled crackers, and served with a spoon (or without, if the spoons count be found; sipping chowder from the lip of a bowl is nearly as tasty as going the traditional utensil route). You'll find plenty of foodies willing to engage in "what's next for chowder?" ponderings on the final Saturday of January around Bodega Bay. Yep, the salty, gulls-and-glorious-sunsets burg does chowder well every single day, but Jan. 31, 2015 happens to be Chowder Day.

TURN YOUR CAR FOR THE TIDES... Tides Wharf, that is -- and hop out to sample the chowder being cooked up by competitors going ladle-to-ladle for glory. The site for Chowder Day says it can take "2-3 hours to taste all the chowder," which, you probably can guess, is a substantial amount of time. Meaning? You'll find many a savory sample throughout the afternoon. A ticket is ten bucks, and if the chowder pots run dry, well, they run dry. Time to go watch a gull, or a dinghy, and ponder whether chowder could ever leave its quintessential vessel, the bowl, and enter the unusual dessert pantheon. As adventurous as we fancy ourselves, we rather like chowder remaining a creamy, zingy meal, rather than the sticky-sweet after-course. Let bacon and turkey try their hand outside of the main entree, but we like our chowder classic, clammy, and enjoyed by a beautiful bay, if possible.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Holiday Time, Over-the-Top: Madonna Inn]]> Thu, 18 Dec 2014 12:06:43 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/madonnainnholiday234.jpg

WHIMSICAL WORM HOLE: Any first-time visitor to Alex Madonna's Gold Rush Steakhouse at the Madonna Inn can be forgiven if they truly believe, for an instant, that they've whooshed through some whimsical worm hole, the type of time-space portal that delivers people from wherever they were to a very over-the-top, pink-and-gold, dressy-dressy, dolly-cute dining room, a space that speaks of the most merry holiday cheer. A first-timer might believe that they in fact landed in the Madonna Room's booth-y dining room at the holidays, but they'd probably need to check their phone's calendar to confirm that, because Alex Madonna's Gold Rush Steakhouse, and much of the hotel it calls home, always looks a little bit like the holidays, thanks to the 101-adjacent landmark's love of ornate ornamentation, color, kitsch, and humor. So when December does trot into view -- we used "trot" there, as the Madonna family was famed for its horses -- it can astound and delight how much more merry the Madonna Inn gets, in both its decoration and its yuletide events. And things are looking very merry, and very busy, 'round about the San Luis Obispo hotel, right about now, what with...

NEW YEAR'S EVE... on the way, and Christmas, too. Both dates'll bring with them big Madonna Inn to-dos, including "festive cocktails" and "seasonal entrees" (on Dec. 25) and a music-filled partay on the last day of the year. Before that, though, there's a shopping happening, on Dec. 11 and 12, and the opening of the Winter Wonderslo Jiffy Lube Ice Skating Rink on Dec. 19 (that's only on through Jan. 5, so get there in a dash if you want to twirl by one of the pinkest properties on the Golden State). As for the already decked-out dining room? It's even more decked-out in baubles and twirly touches, if you can believe it. And you can believe it, if you know the M.I., a place that has a knack for upping its visual game.

NOW... which Madonna Inn room would you say is the Christmasiest of all the Madonna Inn rooms? Hearts & Flowers is pretty red, and Irish Hills is very green. But there is a room called Currier & Ives, and just the sound of it sounds like the season itself.

Photo Credit: Madonna Inn]]>
<![CDATA[Vegas Yuletide: Sin City's Sparkliest Season]]> Wed, 17 Dec 2014 15:03:53 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/bellagiopolar1234345.jpg

BRINGING THE RAZZMATAZZ: Though a certain natural-nice, twine-pretty, evergreen-and-snowflake aesthetic has taken hold of our collective hearts in recent years, we still want our holidays to arrive with plenty of razzmatazz. You could use the words "blingy" or "sparkly" or "twinkly" or "out-sized" and all would apply, very well, to our desire to see the end-of-the-year proceedings do it up, a bit. And only one place has a true lock on the business of razzmatazz. Oh, for sure, New York's got the knack, and other big cities, and little towns devoted to decorations, but Las Vegas is Razzmatazz Central all year long. It's no shocker, then, that its holiday gewgaws and goings-on don't exactly level the playing field for anywhere else; Sin City is going to go further on the festive front. And so it is, again, in 2014, at several spots along The Strip, and off the main thoroughfare, too. Take a look at...

BELLAGIO CONSERVATORY AND BOTANICAL GARDENS: You can take a guess, each and every year, about how many poinsettias the indoor plot plants, but you'll probably underestimate it by several thousand. Any of us would, because The Bellagio has 28,000 poinsettias on display, which is about 27,999 more than most of us have in our home. Seven thousand warm white LED lights, topiary polar bears, and animated penguins complete the razzmatazzian scene, through Jan. 8. 

MANDALAY BAY SHARK REEF: The Christmas doings at this watery wonderland naturally take on an aquatic theme, so don't be surprised to see "Santa in the Shipwreck" happening every December weekend (and extra dates near Christmas). Free pics with admission are one plus, as is the appearance of Santa Jaws. Santa. Jaws. Wowza. How have we gone forever without pairing Kris Kringle and sharks?

NEON MUSEUM: Take an after-sunset stroll in the Boneyard and admire the signs with a little twinkle. There was the beautiful December to Remember event, too, on Dec. 13, which featured a holiday spin on the classic signage.

JEAN PHILIPPE PÂTISSERIE: The Bellagio-based chocolatier is taking the whimsical notion of the chocolate Santa and going much, much, much bigger. How much? There's a life-sized, fully edible Jolly Ol' Elf in the window of the posh candymaker. Some 230 pounds of dark chocolate and 50 pounds of fondant went into the festive figure. 

AND... if all of that chocolate further sweetens your mood, step outside and eye The Bellagio fountains, which are caroling up The Strip through Jan. 4, complete with the classic water show.

Photo Credit: Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Gardens]]>
<![CDATA[Listen to "The Nutcracker" Among Redwoods]]> Tue, 16 Dec 2014 11:40:11 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/202*120/nutcrackerface12345.jpg

TUNES AMONG THE TREES: If you've ever seen a performance of "The Nutcracker," where were you? We'll guess you sat in a chair, in a row, inside a venue with a stage. If you've ever watched "The Nutcracker" on a screen, where did you sit? We'll wager your couch, in your den, at home. And if you've ever listened to Tchaikovsky's stirring score, you might have been in your car, your kitchen, or at work. But taking in the winter-whimsical tale of a girl, imagination, a magical toy, and spritely beings isn't solely the province of the indoors; "The Nutcracker," after all, is threaded with themes of nature, from the enchanted Christmas tree to all of those sparkly scenes of snow. Listening to it in nature, near actual trees, can lend a lovely new perspective on the story, especially if a stroll by some of the most ancient trees in California add the magical backdrop to the proceedings. Such a stroll is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 20 when docent Karen DeMello leads a group of redwood-and-ballet lovers out among the giants of Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Participants will walk the not-too-strenuous Redwood Loop while listening to "The Nutcracker."

A DIFFERENT TAKE ON THE SEASON: The interesting, and yet totally apt, pairing of redwoods and classical suites will last about an hour to 90 minutes, and dressing warmly is key (nope, you won't need to wear any ballet togs, if you own them; this is strictly a strolling deal). The site encourages those who join to "imagine the forest performing the ballet" while walking the level half-mile Redwood Loop. Call it an airy antidote from too much busyness this time of year, but an antidote that pays warm heed to the holidays.

IF YOU CAN'T MAKE IT... the Redwood Loop of Big Basin Redwoods State Park is there to be discovered. Perhaps you can listen to "The Nutcracker" through headphones and enjoy the experience on your own? Truly, nature and music are the oldest of friends.

Photo Credit: Nutcracker]]>
<![CDATA[Mountain Glow: New Year's Eve Torchlight Parades]]> Tue, 16 Dec 2014 13:23:44 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/tahoedonnertorch12345.jpg

SCHUSSING INTO 2015: When we talk about New Year's Eve, we very often land first upon the food and drink. Will there be bubbly there? Appetizers? Should we have dinner before heading for the midnight countdown? Vital questions, all, to those revelers looking to jump-start their celebrations. But there's another way to deconstruct the sparkly night, and that's through a sartorial prism. Will you be in feetie pajamas? (You're watching movies at home.) Will you be in a tuxedo or sequin-covered dress? (Probably at some fancy-pants party that has a chocolate or fondue fountain.) Will you be in a knit cap, heavy gloves, some sort of zipper-heavy, waterproof jumpsuit, and ski boots? Chances are very solid you'll find yourself on a ski slope, at a mountain resort, come midnight, and there may or may not be a torch in each of your hands. Even if you're not going to zoom down one of the Golden State's famous slopes carrying a bit of fire, you can still head out to watch the singular sight, a night-mysterious run that involves excellent skiers, their in-the-dark prowess, and moving glows down a mountainside. Where can you see this New Year's Eve tradition? In so many places, if you're willing to forgo the jammies and sequined dresses. Make for...

TAHOE DONNER: The New Year's Eve Torchlight Parade comes with a flurry of fun to-dos, such as a parade and "intermediate nighttime skiing," which sounds very brisk and very amazing. Need details on this and other holiday happenings at the Truckee-snug resort? Point your poles this way.

KIRKWOOD: It's another popular take on the torchlight tradition, and it heads from high to lower at Kirkwood Mountain Resort. The resort'll be lively that night with Dec. 31 to-dos, so plan accordingly, to get the mostest out of bidding 2014 farewell, frosty-style.

SNOW SUMMIT: Southern California is in on the glow show, and this destination's torchlight'll get a-glowin' at 7 p.m. on New Year's Eve. Some 100 skiers and snowboarders are expected to participate, which will form quite the stunning and serpentine ski line down the slope.

Photo Credit: Tahoe Donner]]>
<![CDATA[Bodie After Sundown: 2015 Dates Announced]]> Sat, 20 Dec 2014 09:08:33 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/211*120/bodieelviralavell.jpg

ACCESSING THE INACCESSIBLE: In our get-everything-now-now-now kind of world, it can be a pleasure to know that some places and products are a little harder to access. Maybe it is the ease with which any item can be summoned to our doorstep within 24 hours, or how modern travel can whisk us to all corners in no time at all, that makes us long for a slower approach, one that allows some anticipation to build. Thus we treasure those old hotels that keep to a summer-only (or winter-only) schedule, and those natural places that are sometimes made briefly hard-to-get-to because of snowy conditions. They are the places that feel away from time, on their own plane, and that is ever so attractive in our have-it-today world.

BODIE STATE HISTORIC PARK... is one such rarity. Come winter it can take some effort to reach, thanks to the cold white stuff on the ground, and it is not a place that is open after sundown. But... there are attractive asterisks to both points. Intrepid people do make wintertime visits to what's billed as America's most perfectly preserved ghost town, and, three times a year, fans get to see the Gold Rush era structures by starlight. Those nights don't happen during the chillier months -- no surprise there -- but we can get to anticipating them during the winter. The 2015 dates for the Bodie evening time ghost walks have been set, and they are...

JUNE 27, JULY 18, AND AUGUST 29: Nope, you won't be shooed out in late afternoon on those three dates, if you buy a ticket. You'll be able to wander the storied streets of the Mono County gem by moonlight and hear phantom-y tales. Or you can pull out your camera and snap some softer, star-twinkly photos of the town, a place that is known to never, ever deliver a bad picture. Those summer dates were just announced, so keep tabs on ticket info and more to-knows here, Bodie buffs.

Photo Credit: Elvira Lavell]]>
<![CDATA[Rustic Seasonal: Carmel Valley Ranch Holiday]]> Mon, 15 Dec 2014 11:41:43 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/carmelvalleytreeseason1.jpg

YOUR MERRY ITINERARY: Hotels have been staging holiday-themed activities practically since the invention of hotels. Historians can quibble over why this is so, but the reason seems to come down, pretty squarely, on this: Hotels are people's homes, at least for a night, and if we'd observe a holiday at home, we're going to do so on the road, somehow, especially if it is tradition for us. Several stay-over spots have excelled in this regard, particularly destination hotels that regularly erect a glittery lobby tree come Thanksgiving and host a roster of cinnamon-scented events throughout December. But not all hotel holiday happenings are cut from the same sequin-sparkly cloth. There are the big city properties, that do a lot of over-the-top, twinkle-and-bustle seasonal stuff, and there are the more rustic destinations, that go in for a quieter Christmas. Carmel Valley Ranch offers a more bucolic end-of-the-year experience, and the list of lovely, home-away-from-home happenings is as long as a popcorn or cranberry string on a tree. They include...

HOMESPUN HOLIDAY CRAFT AND CULINARY WORKSHOPS: Oh yes. This is where you're going to learn how to make a beeswax candle, and distill lavender oil (something the property knows a lot about, also being a famous lavender farm), and make gingerbread houses, and make lavender soap, too. Maximizing the marvelously hill-and-dell-y setting are the Holiday Burn-Off Hikes, which, no surprise, happen on Dec. 26 and Jan. 2. And will there be s'more-making and cider-sipping around a fire pit? It hardly seems like a more nature-snug vacation without it.

THERE ARE OTHER GOINGS-ON... from Nutcracker Holiday Teas to Santa Family Portraits, so it isn't all an outdoorsy yuletide. There is, however, a strong emphasis on the natural world at Carmel Valley Ranch, and that extends to the property's seasonal celebration. Gotta love a big-city hotel's celebration, but making a beeswax candle, and noshing on s'mores, has that slow-down but still celebratory vibe many people desire come December. 

Photo Credit: Carmel Valley Ranch]]>
<![CDATA[Casita Updates Debut at La Quinta Resort & Club]]> Tue, 16 Dec 2014 13:26:12 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/laquintasunset12345.jpg

THE SAME BUT SPIFFIED-UP: If ever there was a bard with a knack for spinning a tale dealing with the hearts of men and how we seek to transform our lives and stand taller in our shoes, it is Frank Capra. The screenwriter, the legend behind movies like "It Happened One Night" and "It's a Wonderful Life," favored themes of the upbeat and transformational sort, themes that very much suit the property with which the scribe is most associated: La Quinta Resort & Club. Mr. Capra typed out some of his most celebrated stories in a casita on the grounds of the landmark hotel, a property that's kept its 1920s-style cred while gently and stylishly updating its casitas, Starlight Villas, suites, and outdoor areas over the decades. That's no easy feat, as any hotelier can tell you -- keep the charm while freshening up the look, feel, fabrics, and furniture. But Mr. Capra's favorite writing hangout, and one of the desert resort region's oldest enclaves, has just complete a multi-million dollar room refurbishment, and just in time for the holidays, too, when many a "It's a Wonderful Life" fan makes for the flower-lined driveway for a little George Bailey-esque celebrating.

SO WHAT'S BEEN UPDATED? Smith & Firestone, a firm based in Los Angeles, "created a residential-style design featuring custom tilework and wrought iron elements, new furniture, floor coverings, and two-toned blocked drapery panels." Other touches include "oversized, nail-embellished headboards," "new fire features" on the Starlight Casita patios, upgraded lighting, fresh patio furniture, wingback chairs, leather bed benches, 42- to 47-inch flat-screen TVs, and Keurig coffemakers. Fancy stuff.

AS FOR THOSE LA QUINTA-SWEET GROUNDS? Look for more bougainvillea, the green most associated with the mountain-close expanse, more roses, and more citrus trees. Need a dose of all of that, plus some holiday spirit? The seasonal happenings are on during December. Look for nightly menorah lightings, cooking classes geared towards families, and holiday dining at Morgan's in the Desert.

Photo Credit: La Quinta Resort & Club]]>
<![CDATA[Columbia's Gold Rush Christmas]]> Thu, 11 Dec 2014 08:40:32 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/columbiasnowvictorian1.jpg

A MINER'S CHRISTMAS: We live in a day and a time when returning home for a holiday, or having our people return to us, is rather expected. If someone can hop on a bus or a plane or travel a city or two over, they can get to us, the better to celebrate whatever familial traditions have grown over the years. But there was an era, not too far back, when people didn't return home to their kin come late December, because returning home took several days to several weeks (or passage couldn't be made at all).

THOSE OL' GOLD MINERS...  famously kept to the hills of the Sierra come the yuletide season, forming their own festivities out of their hardscrabble camps and day-to-days. Columbia State Historic Park happens to be smack dab in the middle of Gold Country, and the ye olde township pauses each December to throw a few parties of the sepia-toned sort. A Miner's Christmas is a very local one, and, as you might guess, it involves a campfire, some chestnuts to snack upon, and the telling of stories. Nope, you don't need to arrive on Dec. 13 or 14 with your gold pan or pickax or head lamp, but you should expect to meet Father Christmas and engage in some kid-nice crafts. If your elementary schoolers have been studying the '49ers as of late, this is a fine and in-person way to get the feel of the time.

BUT... there are fancier to-dos around the charmer of a park, including the Victorian Christmas Feasts at Columbia's City Hotel (not all of life was too mud-encrusted back in the Gold Rush), a Christmas Equestrian Parade on Sunday, Dec. 14, and an evening time Las Posadas, complete with a processional and singing. Call a visit to Columbia during the 12th month a reflection of a time that lacked in screens, hubbub, last-minute madness, and our oh-so-modern obligations. But there were plenty of chestnuts, candles, and songs to go around.

Photo Credit: Friends of Columbia State Historic Park]]>
<![CDATA[Vegas Neon Museum's December to Remember]]> Wed, 10 Dec 2014 22:51:57 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/neonmuseumdecembertoremember.jpg

NEON NOËL: The holiday season and lights of the twinkliest sort are an expected pairing, but we can enjoy bright lights out of the December loop, too. They very often arrive in the form of a large neon sign, especially the old-school signs that boast a glittery starburst or whimsical script. There's something very festive to an elaborately designed neon sign, in short, and one can get that yuletide-y thrill, or at least momentary happiness, any time of the year upon seeing one. There is a place in Sin City that's gathered together some of the most iconic ye olde signs, signs that no longer stand on The Strip, for safe-keeping and care. It's the Neon Museum, a boneyard of sorts where casino billboards and tubes that once lit up the desert sky have found a final resting place. But it's a resting place that's not too restful, as the museum frequently does it up, come the holidays, with a special happening or two. In 2014 it's all about a December to Remember, on Saturday, Dec. 13.

DECEMBER TO REMEMBER: As you might guess, this is an afternoon-into-evening event, meaning you'll get to enjoy the giant signs, which sit not up but on or near the ground, during the sunlight and starlight. The event starts with the making of holiday ornaments -- ohhh, now we're picturing a tree full of neon ornaments, pretty pretty -- and ends with cocoa and Boneyard holiday concert presented by the Las Vegas Academy Choir. That starts at 5 p.m., just after sunset, and the signs? They'll do some holiday-color-y showing off, with reds, greens, and golds all lit up.

IF YOU CAN'T BE THERE... on the 13th, you can still sign up for a post-sundown tour and spy the seasonal lights, neon sign-style. That's on through Jan. 1. Whether it is the yuletide or not, though, neon will forever be a bit festive, regardless of what it is advertising or the date on the calendar. Glow on, neon signs of the world, glow on.

Photo Credit: Neon Museum]]>
<![CDATA[Granite and Ice: Curry Village Rink Open]]> Fri, 12 Dec 2014 15:28:29 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/185*120/yosemitenationalparkhistoricrink123.jpg

WHERE CAN YOU FIND TWO ANCIENT THINGS... side by side? Well, you can see sand and surf down at any of California's glorious shorelines. You can gaze up, in the redwoods, and admire a very high tree top against the sky. And you can enjoy the contrast of ice and rock in Yosemite National Park. True, the ice we refer to can be seen each winter at the Curry Village Ice Rink, so, granted, the ice isn't all that old. But frozen water as a concept definitely is -- no quibbles there, right? Ice=old -- and Half Dome, the granite giant that often symbolizes the national park, has seen a sunset or two. Which makes them the perfect duo to sit adjacent, or fairly adjacent-ish, from November through the beginning of March, when the skaters are out enjoying icy twirls and granite views.

PHOTOGRAPHS REVEAL... that the rink has held recreational sway in the picturesque valley for over 80 years (though today's skaters are more apt to don Lycra and fleece rather than long wool coats and muffs). That Half Dome is framing the scene, and Glacier Point, too, speaks volumes about that early decision to place a rink there: It was a good one.

AS FOR COST? Well, you'll need to get into Yosemite National Park, so there's a fee, and the rink? It's ten and a half bucks for adults and seniors, a tenner for kids, and skate rentals cost four dollars. A fire pit is snug with the rink, and guests are welcome to purchase warming beverages at the not-too-far-away Curry Village Gift and Grocery Store.

WE'RE NOT SAYING... to forsake your favorite slab of ice, the one down the block from you. Nor should you give up the seasonal rinks that pop up outside malls and shopping centers. But for that spectacular natural experience, gliding under the watchful, eternal granite eye of Glacier Point is unparalleled, here in California, or anywhere. Hyperbole? Sure, but if ever a place merited an occasional hyperbolic statement, it is the big Y.

Photo Credit: Yosemite National Park]]>
<![CDATA[A Very Napa Holiday]]> Tue, 09 Dec 2014 11:53:16 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/mondavichristmas1234.jpg

BOWS 'N BARRELS: Like Solvang, a crafts store, tea shops, and mountain lodges, a winery can give off the vibe, all year long, that it is Christmas. From bows to swag to boughs to cute gifts, a winery's gift shop or lobby feels a touch yuletide-y, even on the most leafy of spring days or during the heat of crush. Thus when December actually rolls around, and the vineyards of Napa and Sonoma counties truly break out the boxes of baubles and lights, the whole festive look is multiplied, merrily, by at least ten. Will you be engaging in a pre- or post-Christmas afternoon of tasting, perhaps with a few visiting relatives in tow? Then make for...

THE ROBERT MONDAVI WINERY: The grand tree got to glowing on Saturday, Dec. 6. Stop in at the Oakville icon to check out the shrub-pretty sight and have a sip or two. Mondavi's open every day during the season save Christmas Eve, Christmas, and New Year's Day. As for specific tours and tastings? There's a veritable holiday bouquet to pick from, from Wine Tasting Basics to Exclusive Cellar, which is a private seating for four.

V. SATTUI: Like wine cork crafts, finding an ornament to signify every winery in a region is the must-do goal for many an oenophile. a winery doesn't have its own signature ornament, well, one can be made via a label). The St. Helena winemaker does sell namesake ornaments, and it has its tasting room nicely wreathed out, too. If only every winery sold an ornament, that might make the perfect topper to a gifted bottle of wine. 

SANTA TRAINS: The Napa Valley Wine Train is still fully Kris-Kringled-out on certain days, if you like a dash of whimsy while you gaze out upon vines. Want to take a ride closer to Christmas? The train is on from Dec. 8 through 11 and 15 through 18. (Note this is not a traditional wine train ride but very much about families, kids, and visiting with the Jolly Ol' Elf.)

DOWNTOWN NAPA: The Holley Trolley and downtown carriage rides are clip-clopping on certain dates throughout December. As for ice skating? That's pirouetting in Downtown Napa, too, at the corner of Coombs and Second through Jan. 11.

Photo Credit: Robert Mondavi Winery]]>
<![CDATA[Nevada City Natural: Wild & Scenic Film Festival]]> Sat, 20 Dec 2014 09:09:12 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/196*120/wildandscenicjoshmillerphotography1.jpg

THE SPIRIT OF THE OAR: Even if you saunter down Broad Street, the main thoroughfare of Nevada City, and you don't happen to have a backpack, or hiking gear, or an oar, or a river-ready hat or get-up, you still, in a way, carry the spirit of the oar with you. It's a nature-loving town in the beautiful, tree-laden, river-gurgly hills of Nevada County, and its denizens can often be found outside walking, swimming, or communing with leafs, rocks, and the wider world. Thus the fact that the Wild & Scenic Film Festival lands in this funky burg each year is no surprise at all: Nevada City also boasts a strong arts-nice streak, meaning that it is an ideal town for art and nature to dance the tango together, film festival-style, over several days. Those days will be Jan. 15 through 18, 2015, and a caboodle of filmmakers who want to celebrate and honor and save and study the outdoors shall row their proverbial boats, or, um, films into Nevada City and Grass Valley. 

YEAR 13: Call it a very lucky year for the South Yuba River Citizen League's Wild & Scenic Film Festival, which has as its theme "A Wild Life." A film looking at lawns -- yep, it is indeed a hot issue in many a town -- is on the roster, as are flicks spotlight the Grand Tetons, glacial fresh water reserves, marine pollution, and the 250+ bird species that inhabit Yosemite National Park. Climate change, conservation, wildlife, and that human-earth dance will all get the big-screen treatment.

PLUS... tours, art receptions, an enviro fair, coffee talks, workshops, and several other outside-of-the-cinema happenings shall dot the long weekend. Nope, you don't need to arrive with your oar or your goggles or your helmet or any other gear to get the most out of this well-regarded film-meets-nature festival. But having an interest in topical issues surrounding our homebase, and how we interact with it, is absolutely essential.

Photo Credit: Josh Miller Photography]]>
<![CDATA[New: Monterey Bay Aquarium Live Jelly Cam]]> Thu, 11 Dec 2014 13:22:45 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/243*120/jellycamlive2345.jpg

WE CAN EASILY... and quickly relate to otters -- they're mammals like us, after all -- and to certain fish, which have two eyes, just like we humans, and dolphins, because they can pretty much do basic trigonometry and accounting, or so it is said. But there's one creature of the deep, a diaphanous being who comes in many iterations and forms, who is so far out of our easy-to-grok-to league that we can't fully wrap our minds around it, even if we're standing just feet away. It's the jellyfish, of course, a beastie that looks like it arrived here from the other side of the Milky Way, on a specially built jellyfish spaceship. There are many types of jellies -- hello crown jelly, comb jelly, egg yolk jelly, purple-striped jelly -- so we would never dare lump 'em all as one. But as a unit, they mystify, perplex, and very deeply delight. You don't need to see them in person, behind a wall of glass, to get that mystified buzz; you can watch a jelly cam, a live jelly cam, to boot, via the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The institution just introduced its Live Jelly Cam, which is part of the popular Jellies Experience, and, for sure, there is some strange gelatinous action going down on that thing.

LIKE... jellies drifting, turning, floating, and basically behaving in all the ways that seem distinctly alien to humankind. Which is why it makes a wonderful and peaceful watch. Call it a break in your busy, screen-filled day, or call it an impetus to visit Monterey and see the strangeness up-close. Beautiful strangeness, of course. Want to eye for yourself? The "mesmerizing sea nettles" are drifting before our amazed eyes each day from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Pacific Time. Watch now.

NEED MORE? Get your jelly facts here. Did you know they're "more than 95% water"? Yep, they've definitely come from across the Milky Way, or at least in our happy jelly-themed daydreams. More marvelous than that, though is that they are truly our co-earthlings.

Photo Credit: Monterey Bay Aquarium]]>
<![CDATA[In Full Wing: Goleta Monarch Butterfly Grove]]> Fri, 05 Dec 2014 17:05:24 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/monarchbutterfly.jpg

EMPERORS OF THE EUCALYPTUS: You've probably trucked out the word "profusion" on occasion, to describe something you've seen that seemed, to your eyes, to be made up of a prodigious number of individual elements. Oh, maybe there were a profusion of trick-or-treaters on your street over Halloween, or perhaps there was a profusion of candies left at the bottom of your bowl when the night was through. (We know, we know, you had to eat them, or else they'd go stale in a day.) But you may pause to review every instance in which you've employed that particular word once you call upon one of our state's hallowed Monarch butterfly groves. There's one in Pacific Grove, and the butterflies are rather sweet on Pismo Beach, and Goleta goes the grove road every November through February. Which all leads up to this: We're now entering the prime months to view a beautiful insect, or many, many beautiful insects, up in the eucalyptus trees, as they call upon Goleta during their annual migration. There's a good chance that you'll say "profusion" once or twice, seeing how those butterflies do like to cluster. And as of Nov. 16? About 500 butterflies have been reported.

THE GOODS ON THE GROVE: "The site is open sunrise to sunset with no admission fee, but the City of Goleta does accept donations to support the Monarch Butterfly Docent Program." Nice. There are a few to-knows: You should stay on the paths, and keep dogs on their leashes, and avoid making loud noises. All totally sensible stuff, of course, to keep our winged winter visitors happy. Docents are around on weekends near midday, if you want to chat with someone knowledgable about the Monarchs. Peak populations of the Monarchs, by the by, have risen in recent years, per the grove. Fingers crossed that the whole profusion thing'll be going down up in the trees on the day you choose to visit.

A GROUP OF BUTTERFLIES: You may also want to call the superstars by their collective name. "Swarm" is a popular suggestion, as is a "flutter" or a "kaleidoscope." Yeah, that sounds about right: Our California butterfly groves do welcome a veritable kaleidoscope of Monarchs each wintertime.

Photo Credit: Monarch Butterfly]]>
<![CDATA[Palm Springs Tram Tree: A Bright Light]]> Sat, 06 Dec 2014 09:50:31 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/treetrambluenight.jpg

IT'S A TREE: Have you ever gaze up the side of a very large hill, or even a mountain, because a twinkling light in the distance caught your notice? And did you ask the people you were with "hey, what is that up there? A house? A fallen star? A particularly powerful campfire?" It can be a mystery to see a light upon a mountain. But, starting on Sunday, Dec. 7, when you see a certain sparkle up the side of Mount San Jacinto in Palm Springs you won't have to guess at its mysterious origin: It'll be the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Christmas tree, a 6,500-LED light sparkler that stands large 'n lovely atop Mountain Station. 

SINGER JACK JONES... shall be the 2014 honorary tree lighter, and the Palm Springs High School Madrigal Singers will lend their voices to the festive evening proceedings. The tree, by the by, is 45 feet tall "and can be seen from throughout the Coachella Valley." If you can't make it up the side of San Jacinto for the first night of celebrations, singing groups'll lend seasonal flavor over several other December nights, including Dec. 19, when the Cathedral City High School Choir brings the caroling cheer. Santa'll be on the revolving tram on Dec. 20, ho-ho-ho-ing and visiting with good girls and boys (and men and women).

AS FOR THE SNOW GUESSING CONTEST? As to when the first inch would fall at Mountain Station? That is now over and done, as, yes, flakes fell in a flurry on Friday, Nov. 21. Over 554 people made guesses, starting on Oct. 1, which is the usual start to the tram's annual "when will it snow?" contest. For, you betcha, Mountain Station not only has Santa, and a see-it-from-all-over LED tree, but it does get that Christmassy cold stuff starting at just about this time of year.

Photo Credit: Palm Springs Aerial Tramway]]>
<![CDATA[Skating, Gingerbread, Snow: Tenaya Lodge Holidays]]> Thu, 04 Dec 2014 07:05:37 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/220*120/tenayabynightsnow.jpg

DECORATING A VACATION: A Christmas tree may be covered in lights and ornaments and strings of popcorn, but we rarely apply that same festive philosophy to our getaways when the holidays come around. Things have felt so hectic -- the modern, go-go-go way of life come November and December -- that merely booking a stay-over in a pretty place is all we can garner the time and energy to do. But, like a well-appointed tree, we'd like our getaway to come with gewgaws and baubles and ornaments, in the form of seasonal activities and cookie-scented happenings, and we'd like for those things to be readily available at our destination. Wintry mountain lodges very often appeal on all of those fronts, as they get the whole decorated tree analogy: Festoon a vacation with ice rinks and Santa visits, much like a fir is festooned with ornaments, and let tired, end-of-the-year vacationers nestle into their stay, rather than running hither and thither. Plus, hither- and thither-running doesn't work out when snow is in the forecast, as it often is at Tenaya Lodge, which sits just a nudge south of Yosemite National Park. And cozy, nestle-in, activity-nice holidays are just what the end-of-the-year specialists have ordered up for the 2014 celebrations.

ICE SKATES ON: The lodge's on-the-grounds rink debuted on Wednesday, Nov. 26, and the grand tree lighting made the Sierra destination a little night-brighter on Saturday, Nov. 29. Horse-drawn sleigh rides are available for a fee, and the gingerbread decorating workshop? The Tenaya tradition breaks out the gumdrops on Saturday, Dec. 20. Other ornaments on the tree -- er, vacation rather -- include a Christmas Eve Cookie Decorating Workshop, a Kids Dinner with Santa Package, and a package involving s'mores and skating. A big Christmas buffet and yuletide-y dinner specials in the lodge's restaurants round out the timely touches.

SO... is a year-closing vacation a bit like a decorated tree? If you want to make the comparison, we say make it. But how nice, after the busy days of the year's final weeks, to find your vacation already decorated with baubles and ribbons and ice skating and s'mores.

Photo Credit: Tenaya Lodge]]>
<![CDATA[On Sale: 2015 "Pageant of the Masters" Tickets]]> Wed, 03 Dec 2014 13:10:11 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/pageant2015painting.jpg

LAGUNA BEACH SPLENDOR: Southern California may be having its first real, multi-day rain since last winter, and its damp 'n chilly charms may be setting many a mood to colder thoughts and many a fireplace to high. But summer is on the far yonder, and there are few things that speak of that mythical season more than one of the Golden State's most mimicked, buzzed-over, and homaged cultural events, a happening that will hit its centennial in less than two decades. We speak of The Pageant of the Masters, also known as a tableaux vivant, also known as the on-stage show where people freeze in place, barely breathing, in order to accurately portray a famous work of art. Tickets went on sale on Monday, Dec. 1 for the 2015 event, so Pageant buffs can those close, close, close-up seats, the better to see the real human beings portraying painted human beings.

AND, OKAY... you got us: Everyone on stage is definitely breathing, and thank goodness. In fact, watching for little signs of life within the masterfully recreated works of art is one of the many charms of the Pageant, which recently marked its 80th year as a Laguna Beach and California icon. Yes, for sure, you want "The Last Supper" and that Monet and this Picasso to be exquisite and perfect, from costume to frame. And yet? It's rather fun to see the Mona Lisa blink, or a Degas ballerina slightly tilt her head before your eyes.

AS FOR THE 2015? It's "The Pursuit of Happiness." But best be on the pursuit for those tickets: The Pageant of the Masters, which is part of the larger Festival of the Arts, traditionally only fills out the months of July and August. We say "only" in a slightly greedy fashion, because it is a popular event, and those seats, particularly near the stage, fill up with art lovers, culture fans, and audience members looking for the slightest breath and blink.

Photo Credit: Pageant of the Masters]]>
<![CDATA[Lighting the Tallest Living Christmas Tree]]> Fri, 05 Dec 2014 14:31:05 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/160*120/ferndale123455664.jpg

CALIFORNIA COLOSSAL: We're known for our love of treely grandeur here in the very long state that runs up a good chunk of the west coast. We've got some of the oldest, tallest, and largest trees on earth -- bristlecone pines, redwoods, and sequoias, don't blush, you totally know we're talking about you -- and we like to do it up, when it comes to special events. The holidays absolutely qualify in the special event category, and we put some of our regional tree-bigness into the various bashes. The tallest live cut tree happens to be here in the Golden State for the 2014 season, at the Citadel Outlets in Los Angeles. It's lit up and decorated for the yuletide (and not all that far from the World's Largest Bow, which tops the shopping center). Not lit up, but oh so very tall, is The Nation's Christmas Tree, which is the General Grant sequoia (a designation given in the 1920s by Calvin Coolidge). The Nation's Christmas Tree can be found in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, and it is honored with a special ceremony each December (but it is not, of course, decorated). As for America's Tallest Living Christmas Tree? Head up to Humboldt County, and Ferndale, festive-seekers, to see the spruce at the end of Ferndale's Main Street all a-glitter with hue-pretty lights.

DATE AND DETAILS: The tradition, a merry Ferndale thing since 1934, goes down, or sparkles up, rather, on the evening of Sunday, Dec. 7. A Portuguese Linguica and Beans Dinner at Portuguese Hall, free cookies and punch, carols, and more nice doings dot the night like so many bulbs on a really super-big spruce. 

DID YOU KNOW... that Ferndale is home to "the most westerly hotel in the continental United States?" It's the Hotel Ivanhoe. Nope, you don't need to know that fact to enjoy the very, very tall tree, but it is yet another reminder that we like to stand out, whether it is biggest, tallest, or most westerly, here in California.

Photo Credit: Matt Knowles/ADP]]>
<![CDATA[New: 125th Yosemite Anniversary Site]]> Tue, 09 Dec 2014 09:04:59 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/halfdome452872764.jpg

MULTIPLE MAJOR ANNIVERSARIES: Every human being, every relationship, and every institution boasts not just one meaningful date on their particular calendars, but, very likely, several. We people have birthdays, but there are other significant happenings that we pause and remember. Same with relationships: You might celebrate the anniversary of when you met, and your first date, and your engagement, and your marriage. It is no surprise, then, that something as large and as grand as Yosemite National Park has numerous important occasions and momentous anniversaries orbiting its magnificent, tree- and granite-filled expanse. We just marked the 150th anniversary of the Yosemite Grant in 2014 (that's when President Lincoln signed into law protections for this not-so-little slice of wilderness). Now, as the Facebook page for Yosemite National Park wryly notes, it seems like the park "is getting younger" with its next big anniversary: 125 years in 2015. The 125th celebration will spotlight Yosemite's official entry into the national park system, which happened in 1890 (yep, the grant was much earlier, in 1864). So, how do you mark a quasquicentennial for one of the planet's most treasured treasures?

YOU START WITH A SITE, OF COURSE: And the Yosemite National Park 125th Anniversary site is now live, complete with stunning graphics, a timeline tab, and a portal to events that'll roll out during 2015. Oct. 1, by the by, is the actual date Yosemite reached the zenith of national-park-dom, if you want to circle that on your own calendar, so you're sure to be in the park on that pretty, probably-warm-and-glorious fall day. Want to get involved, volunteer, or even look ahead to yet another related anniversary, the National Park Service's centennial? The 125th anniversary site will lead you there, much as the Merced River leads adventurers deeper into beautiful Yosemite Valley. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Taylor Guitar Factory: Tours and Toy Donations]]> Mon, 01 Dec 2014 22:34:35 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/taylorfactorytoydrive1.jpg

KNOWING YOUR INSTRUMENT: Many a music teacher who sits down with a first-time pupil will do a bit of talking about the history of the instrument that the pupil has selected to learn. Maybe when it was first developed -- perhaps hundreds of years ago -- and where and famous players and some tidbits not known widely among its fans. And many a teacher will pause to describe how the instrument is hammered or welded or soldered or molded, before encouraging the pupil to see for herself how the magic all ignites in one single piece made from wood, metal, or both. There are a number of shops and factories that allow enthusiasts to take a informative peek inside, with Taylor Guitars of El Cajon being one of California's oft-cited examples. Why? Because the factory welcomes visitors every weekday at 1 p.m. -- save holidays, that is -- for a tour around the guitar-constructing space. (Let's also add that the company has been around for four decades and is, indeed, "one of the world's leading manufacturers of premium acoustic and electric guitars," with some 700 people in its employ.) If you have been keen to get the "how it comes together" background on one of your favorite instruments, whether you play or simply enjoy hearing others rock out, and you want to do a little bit of good this season, hop on a free Taylor tour before Dec. 17.

OH, AND REMEMBER THAT TOY... or food item to donate. Taylor Guitars is asking all tour attendees to show with either a toy -- unwrapped, natch -- or a nonperishable edible, items which will be collected leading up to the week before Christmas. The factory's hope is to "make a difference for nearly 10,000 East County San Diego families this holiday season." And tour guests will be entered in a raffle, one ticket for each item them show with, and the prizes? TaylorWare goods or, the grand prize, drum roll please, or, rather, guitar riff: a GS Mini guitar.

NICE STUFF... all around, the giving, the learning, and the understanding how an instrument comes together at its origin point. If music is indeed the food of love -- thank you, Shakespeare -- then a music-related donation drive is the kind of big-hearted community builder that lends some magic at the holidays.

Photo Credit: Daniel Knighton]]>
<![CDATA[Hotel Week LA: Score Savings Now]]> Mon, 01 Dec 2014 14:05:43 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/thelinehotelweek123.jpg

SHOP-BROWSE-LOOK: The weekend of Thanksgiving, and the days that follow, are some of the scroll-iest of the year. True, many of us venture into stores, to score an electronic or holiday gift at a discounted price. But a lot of scrolling goes down as people sitting on their couches ponder possible purchases, of both the physical and the experiential sort. Hotel Week LA, though not strictly a Cyber Monday kind of deal, does fall across Cyber Monday, and a few days before and after it, too. And its easy-to-remember upshot is this: A bunch of swanky Southern California spots are shaving a good amount of the price off of a caboodle of hotel rooms. Yes, there shall be asterisks, and paragraphs of fine prints, and particular dates, but if you've got a SoCal getaway down the road -- or were scrolling and daydreaming of one -- the first-ever Hotel Week Los Angeles could be your ticket.

IT'S SAVING THE BUCKAGE... through Dec. 14, meaning you should get on this, pronto. Nancy J. Friedman Public Relations is the engine behind this inaugural push, which features many a posh Los Angeles hotel, the kind of swanky spot that might brandish a loftier room rate. Oh, shall we list names? We shall: The Line in Koreatown -- they just served as an HQ for the whole Hello Kitty Con at the end of October -- and the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel (home to the first Academy Awards and the latest in pool-party-esque socializing) are two of the candidates. Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel puts you close to the sand, the "Beach" part providing a big hint, and The Hotel Wilshire is smack dab next to Museum Row (hello, Hollywood Costume show and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art).

AS FOR PRICES? There's a wide gamut, but look for rates to hover at $200, with a few $300s popping up here and there. Do you need a special code and to say you found the rate via Hotel Week? Oh, yes, Cyber Monday Week scrollers -- you most certainly do.

Photo Credit: The Line]]>
<![CDATA[Vintage Vegas Package: Your Golden Gate Getaway]]> Sat, 29 Nov 2014 12:30:28 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/goldengatenighthotel1.jpg

GO BACK, BACK, BACK IN TIME: Without argument -- not even the littlest quibble -- one can say this, with a certain firmness: Las Vegas is one of the most costume-laden cities in the country, if not the planet. You could, and do, see an Elvis or two, complete with spangly white jumpsuit, pretty much every day you're in and around The Strip, and feathery headdresses atop sequin-rocking showgirls? Pretty par for the course, in certain quarters of Sin City. But less is made of visitors to Vegas rocking the costume look, and, nope, we don't mean bachelorette parties all wearing baseball caps denoting their wedding roles (though those do have certain Vegas-sweet charms). We mean the old-school Las Vegas mavens, the people who show up at the casinos dressed as though they're about to see Sammy and Dean sing together at The Stardust, or catch Louis Prima's late, late show over at the Desert Inn. They're in suits, and "Mad Men"-era frocks, and they do stand out a bit, sartorially, from our casual-loving modern way of dressing. If you're out under the neon by night sporting a skinny necktie, and Sinatra dominates your playlists, it's time for you to go full Vintage Vegas at, where else? The Golden Gate Hotel and Casino.

WE SAID "WHERE ELSE"... there, in a totally cheeky way, because every Vegas fan knows this: The downtown inn is the oldest in Las Vegas, built in 1906, and its petite charms -- petite compared to the colossal hotels found elsewhere around the city -- and those famously low-priced shrimp cocktails, makes it a favorite with the lovers of Sin City's retro style. The hotel recently introduced its Vintage Vegas package, which includes accommodations (the rooms have been upgraded in recent months), two classic Prohibition-style cocktails, and two tickets to the Mob Museum. Plus? You'll be right downtown, on Fremont Street, among some of the oldest hotels and restaurants in Las Vegas. Best pull out your best dress or suit, because costume-ing up around one of the planets most costume-cool cities is part of the pleasure.

Photo Credit: Golden Gate Hotel]]>
<![CDATA[Yosemite Tent Cabin: Pay the Previous Night's Low Temp]]> Fri, 28 Nov 2014 08:05:37 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/currycanvastemperature1.jpg

EYE ON THE MERCURY: A vacationer can spend his entire holiday without once opening up a newspaper to the weather page or scrolling through his favorite rain-watching app. And when he returns home, and friends ask how the temps were wherever he'd traveled to, he might simply say "oh, it was sunny, maybe in the 70s, maybe low 80s, thereabouts." But there's no thereabouting at Curry Village in Yosemite National Park come the winter months. Keeping a keen eye -- the proverbial eagle eye, really -- on the thermometer, pretty much throughout the night, is a typical element in this particular stay, a stay where people pay the previous night's low temperature for their bed. Of course, that bed is inside an unheated cabin tent, so the challenge takes on a bit of a brrrr factor. And while people do get chilly in the night -- the lows are dipping into the mid-20s a week ahead of Thanksgiving -- some guests do will the mercury a bit lower, all in the spirit of saving a little cash the next night, if a multi-night stay is planned. Because if the low hits 19 degrees, per official data reported by the National Park Service? Yep, that's what guests in the unheated tent cabins will pay the following night: nineteen bucks.

A FEW SHOULD-KNOWS: You'll need to put a bit of money down -- thirty nine dollars -- to reserve your tent cabin, so there is that in advance (though "(r)ates will be adjusted the morning after each night's stay"). Degrees are measured in F, not C. You can, and should, layer up as much as you want to, to ward off the brisk. There are a few dates where this deal is not on, like around Thanksgiving and Valentine's, and certain days of the week are blocked-out, too. And, wait for it, if that ol' mercury slips below the big zero near the bottom, and temperatures samba into the minuses, well, you probably know what is coming: You'll be paid to stay, rather than paying to stay. Surely it is one of the most unusual lodging deals around -- surely -- and it has gained quite the rep as something cold buffs, adventurers, outdoors mavens, and lovers of the offbeat want to try once (or once a winter, for those who get hooked). Need to know more about possibly getting paid to stay in a tent, in a bed, in a national park, if temps really do go that low? Get all you need to snow. Er, know.

Photo Credit: DNC Parks & Resorts]]>
<![CDATA[Deep Death Valley, Velvety Night Shining Bright]]> Mon, 08 Dec 2014 14:12:04 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/dvstarnight12345.jpg

A NATIONAL PARK... couldn't and shouldn't be summed up by one pursuit or activity or theme or landmark. It's for lovers of flora, it's for enthusiasts of fauna, it's for people who like to hike, bike, and be physical. History mavens have found much to delve into, too, as have visitors who dig the science behind tree rings and the ages of rocks and why the hills erode. But a fairly recent reason for being in a national park has been flirting with the forefront, even if it involves something humans have been doing since visiting forests and deserts and beaches: looking up at the night sky.

TRUE... we've always enjoyed the stars while communing with nature, but the movement away fro city light sources and into darkness, the kind of darkness that existed hundreds of years ago, has been gaining steam. (We're picturing steam from a fumarole and not an electrical source, of course.) Both Sequoia and King's Canyon National Parks and Lassen Volcanic National Park have fairly recently introduced Dark Sky Festivals, and both summertime events were well-attended. Death Valley National Park has also been trading lamps for low light, or no light, via Star Parties. The low 'n hot expanse is recognized as "the world's largest International Dark Sky Park," and a telescope-laden gathering there insures some serious one-on-one-ing with the Milky Way. Game to get away from our human-made glow and into some true nightfallian dimness? Then mark Feb. 20-21, 2015 on your calendar, and make a heart around those dates, because you're going to love on the sky.

FURNACE CREEK RESORT, in partnership with the Las Vegas Astronomical Society, is the host of the two-dayer, which is all about searching out "constellations, planets, deep-sky objects, celestial events" and more without bright bulbs or screens muscling their way in (there's a solar component, too, with daytime viewing hours). If you can't make the February Star Party, ranger-led happenings around Death Valley frequently gaze up into the cosmos, with an eye to the moon's surface, meteors, and other wonders that don't need our electrically produced illumination competing with their beauty.

WANT TO ADD... Sequoia's Dark Sky Festival to your list? The September 2015 dates are live.

Photo Credit: Furnace Creek Resort]]>
<![CDATA[Solvang's Cozy Christmas Lead-Up]]> Sat, 29 Nov 2014 14:09:20 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/160*120/JulefestWinterfestBallerinas.jpg

CHRISTMAS'S CALIFORNIA ADDRESS: If you've ever bopped around the country, or the world, because of school, or a job, or a series of family moves, you know that sometimes you have to keep an address, or a way to contact you, in a few different places, maybe via a friend's house or a post office box. Christmas, we suspect, also does just this, as one can find outposts of the North Pole, or at least North-Pole-y touches, throughout the United States. And while the yuletide bubbles up, with authenticity, charm, and many, many decorations throughout the Golden State, there is one town that is clearly its California address: Solvang. It has been said before: The Danish, windmill-y town feels like Christmas even on the most broiling, sweat-beads-everywhere July day, so when December shows up, laden with pastries, carols, and lights, Solvang shifts up into some serious sparkle courtesy of Julefest, its annual yuletide multi-day celebration. That shift starts juuuuust about the beginning of the month, but the tree lighting that really pumps up the jolly goes down on Friday, Dec. 5.

AS FOR THE PARADE? That follows the lighting of the big fir, on Saturday, Dec. 6, and visitors can view that whole first weekend of December as a sort of Christmassy open house. (It is, indeed, the Shop, Mingle & Jingle weekend, officially.) The grown-up glittery Solvang Julefest Wine About lands over the following weekend -- think 12 tasting rooms offering tastes for forty bucks a person -- and the wrap-it-all-up Christmas tree burn happens on Jan. 9. But whenever you find yourself in the town over the final month of the year, trust that it shall be well-baubled out. And is there a food more suited to the holiday than the aebleskiver, the plump doughy snack that's synonymous with Solvang? Yep, it's true: This is where Christmas keeps its post office box in the state of California.

Photo Credit: Solvang]]>
<![CDATA[Cypress Inn: Love on the Rocks Package]]> Wed, 03 Dec 2014 13:09:45 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/cypressinnloveontherocks1.jpg

THAT ONE WORD: If you visualize some of California's most famous getaways, do particular words instantly pop into your mind? Perhaps when you hear Hotel del Coronado you think "turret," and "glass" is what you most associate with LA's own Westin Bonaventure. What, pray tell, do you visualize when The Cypress Inn comes up in conversation? For sure, you probably think "Doris Day" or "Carmel-by-the-Sea" but "dogs" are what people, especially Fido fans, easily alight upon first. For Ms. Day's 1920s charmer is so sweet on the pooches that one can almost feel as if the hotel's visiting pups made the reservations and their humans are just along for the trip. How famously animal-oriented is this historic landmark? There's a dogly Director of Pet Relations, complimentary pet blankets, and maps of hound-happy destinations around the area. So planning a trip to The Cypress Inn with an initial focus on couple fun, rather than your furry charges, can be the slightest bit discombobulating at first. But an upcoming couples-oriented package should soon ease any discombobulation. Love on the Rocks is the Carmel nook's wintertime special, it starts on New Year's Day and runs through the end of February, and just because it is about you and your honey does not mean your doggy BFF can't join you -- he or she can, of course, and should.

JUST MAKE SURE... that you book one of the Inn's suggested pet sitters before the two of you humans head out by kayak, which is part of the package. It's a rental through Adventures by the Sea, and the outing includes "scouting the rugged shoreline at Lover's Point in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary." Will you spy otters and seals? Chances are good. (You'll have to tell Fido all about it, when you return to your hotel room, but just make sure he knows that he's always and forever the numero uno animal in your life.)

OTHER PARTS OF THE PACKAGE... include those well-appointed Cypress Inn accommodations. You'll stay for a night, you'll get breakfast, turndown chocolates, and a cocktail flight (that's poured for two, natch). Price? The kick-off is $225 per night, covering both of you. Can your pupster join? Absolutely. This is The Cypress Inn, the California stay-over must likely to summon the word "dog" to every hotel- and hound-loving traveler's mind.

Photo Credit: Michael Troutman/DMT Imaging]]>
<![CDATA[Announced: Mega Summertime Death Valley Run]]> Mon, 24 Nov 2014 17:12:41 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/BadwaterMarathon1.jpg

LET'S TALK ABOUT THE "135": A number following the name of an event is a funny thing. It can mean how many times the event has happened, or signify a special address, or, in the case of the Badwater 135, it encapsulates how many miles shall be run over three short days. Runners of every ability would agree that completing 135 miles, over a trio of days, is on the epic, can-it-be-done? side of the athletic prowess scale, no question. After all, a marathon clocks in at a very impressive 26.2 miles, and it is still a jaw-dropper, even among longtime enthusiasts, to hear of someone running three marathons three days in a row. The Badwater 135 is the equivalent of five marathons, plus a little extra, over three days, but here's the nearly fiction twist: It takes place in Death Valley, or at least substantially so, at the end of July. Nope, it isn't a pleasant 68 degrees Fahrenheit out in one of the world's hottest and driest spots come the middle of summer. It's mind-meltingly hot, the kind of hot that tests the soles of shoes and, sometimes, the spirit. But that doesn't stop challenge-seeking participants from signing up for "The Toughest Foot Race in the World." And the 2015 epic outing was just announced in mid-November, so clear your calendars, and put the water bottles on ice, for...

JULY 28-30, 2015: This is a return to the traditional course for Badwater 135, which set off for the Mt. Whitney portal from Lone Pine earlier in 2014 (a change prompted by a course review by national park staffers). Entries will be accepted from Jan. 19 through Feb. 2 and only 100 runners will be accepted. And, you bet, they are allowed support vehicles, an oh-so-necessary addition to their trek up and through the Inyo Mountains. If you can't wait for July to try a major, major California-based dash, there's the Badwater Salton Sea in early May. Is it 135 miles? Nope, it stops at 81, but this run is two days, not three, though you have to complete the whole Salton Sea in 18 hours, and the Death-Valley-to-Whitney in 48. (Whew.) Talk about your tough foot races and challenging treks, treks that draw participants from all over eager to stretch their legs and abilities.

Photo Credit: Badwater Marathon]]>
<![CDATA[A Very Charming Cambria Christmas]]> Mon, 24 Nov 2014 12:54:44 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/cambriacommercexmas1.jpg

QUAINT, SPARKLY, CUTE: Fans of holiday entertainment often mention "The Nutcracker," the stop-motion kid classics, and "It's a Wonderful Life," but there's a whole heartwarming strata of made-for-TV films that are A) love stories that B) take place around the end of the year in C) incredibly charming, picture-book-y, easy-to-stroll-about towns. A family inheritance is involved, or a lost letter, or a special recipe, and sitting wrapped up in a fuzzy blanket, on the couch, devouring cookies and cocoa is just the way to digest this particular, special-to-December delight. But where do such winsome made-for-TV towns actually exist? Well, the Golden State has a few, some of the mountain variety, and an impressive number up against our shores. One of the biggies in the charm-the-fuzzy-slippers-off-of-people category happens to be a place that goes fully festive each holiday season, with lights, more lights, and a holly-pretty bouquet of special to-dos. Yep, you got it: We speak of Cambria, a burg that's sweet any time of year, but very much so from Dec. 1 through 24 when it celebrates "Holidays in the Pines."

FA LA LA AND SO FORTH: This is a place that sets out dozens upon dozens of scarecrows in October, so expect bulb after blinky bulb to line the shops and restaurants. The multi-week celebration also promises "live music, gifts, raffles, and discounts at many lodgings, shops, and galleries." A Christmas market at Cambria Pines Lodge, lighthouse tours, art sales, and hospitality nights are also part of the festivities.

NOT TO MENTION... that Hearst Castle, which rumor has it gets rather gussied up for the yuletide, is just a pop along the road from the TV-movie-worthy town. Want to step into the holiday small town scene for a few? Cambria just popped off your small screen, bedecked in bows and lights.

Photo Credit: Cambria Chamber of Commerce]]>
<![CDATA[Crab-Feasting, the Mendocino Way]]> Sat, 22 Nov 2014 21:38:37 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/crabjan2345.jpg

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

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

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

<![CDATA[Santa Makes His Big, California-Style Water Arrivals]]> Thu, 27 Nov 2014 15:44:10 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/santaseaportvillage123.JPG

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Seaport Village]]>
<![CDATA[Giant Gingerbread Houses on Approach]]> Fri, 28 Nov 2014 08:07:40 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/233*120/fairmontgingerbread12345.jpg

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Fairmont San Francisco]]>
<![CDATA[Palms and Pirouettes: The Del's Skating by the Sea]]> Mon, 01 Dec 2014 22:33:46 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/202*120/skatingdelevening123.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[Nevada City's 1800s-esque Kind of Holiday]]> Mon, 24 Nov 2014 17:13:16 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/216*120/victorianncxmaschamber.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Save Mount Diablo]]>
<![CDATA[General Grant Ceremony: Trek to the Tree]]> Fri, 05 Dec 2014 17:04:35 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/trektothetreegrant123.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Winter in the Wineries]]>
<![CDATA[Spend the Last Night of the Year on Catalina Island]]> Thu, 27 Nov 2014 06:11:50 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/duskavalanchamber.jpg

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

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

Photo Credit: Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce]]>