<![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 Fri, 25 Jul 2014 09:09:48 -0700 Fri, 25 Jul 2014 09:09:48 -0700 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[First-Time Event: Calistoga's City-Big Outdoor Dinner]]> Thu, 24 Jul 2014 15:44:52 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/calistogaevent20494.jpg

OUTSIDE GATHERING: How is the idea of harvest time quickly conveyed to someone via an ad or a film or a commercial? The picking of grapes, yes. The strolling among barrels, of course. And people coming together to eat outside in a festive, full-scale setting that brims with wine, more wine, and foodly offerings. Too often, though, it can seem that those harvest lunches and dinners are merely a product of fiction or fantasy and not of our homey, community-driven world. There are exceptions, though. Case in delicious point? Calistoga's about to host its first Calistoga Harvest Table on the perfect, here-comes-autumn day of Sunday, Sept. 7. "Fourteen Calistoga Restaurants will move their tables to the center of downtown Calistoga for an al fresco dining experience." The place those tables are headed? Lincoln Avenue, which will be closed to traffic for the event, making it truly one of those offbeat, large-scale, oh-so-cinematic settings where fresh air and fresh food rule. Oh, and speaking of the food scene? Here's the twist: Those fourteen eateries will be doing the serving, rather than one catering company, meaning you can order from your favorite ahead of time, narrowing in on the kind of cuisine you want. In short? Choices, choices.

THE RESTAURANTS INCLUDE... Barolo, which serves up "contemporary Southern Italian," Kopio, which focuses on the flavors of Malaysia and Singapore, and Hydro Grill, which has American eats on offer. You choose which one, you pay, and that's what you enjoy in the center of Lincoln Avenue. The only catch? Particular restaurants are starting to sell out, so if you don't want to read "sold out" on your Calistoga favorite, jump in now, diners. And take heart that those grand-scale outdoor harvest dinners, with their clinking wine glasses and pretty skies overhead, aren't simply the stuff of creative advertisements and movie montages.

Photo Credit: Calistoga Harvest Table]]>
<![CDATA["Sideways" 10th Anniversary: Wine Country Celebrates]]> Thu, 24 Jul 2014 13:04:03 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/sideways_06.jpg

CINEMATIC SIP: There are some films and shows that are so associated with a particular libation that it's nearly impossible to mention the title without immediately naming its quintessential sip. Think "The Big Lebowski" and the White Russian or "Sex and the City" and Cosmopolitans or James Bond and his shaken, never stirred Martini. But what of the movie that takes a stand against a particular beverage? Will it, too, be forever linked to the beverage in question? "Yes," is the short answer, if you look to Alexander Payne's quirky and layered "Sideways." Paul Giamatti's wine-loving Miles rails against merlot in the film, memorably, and his viewpoint quickly caught on as one of the touchstones of the independent darling. So how does one celebrate the approaching 10th anniversary of the independent festival favorite, then? With chardonnay? Cabernet? Something else? Oh heck no: Merlot is the drink of choice at the upcoming "Sideways" celebration day, which flows on Saturday, Sept. 13. And there's only one spot such a glass-raising moment could happen...

SOLVANG: Of course. The windmilliest town in the West is featured prominently in the film, as is the Santa Ynez Valley. So you can bet that a party marking the anniversary of the release of "Sideways" -- which provided a tour bump for the region, complete with "Sideways" maps -- will land there. It will, in fact, take place at the Solvang Festival Theater, and serve as a fundraiser for the venue (which is celebrating its 40th). And joining the Merlot Taste-Off? It's $65, if you buy your ticket before Sept. 1.

AND, SURE... you can speak your mind about merlot, if you like, but, really: Miles grew as a character in the movie, meaning that, just perhaps, his feelings about merlot were a little ill-judged. One can love "Sideways" and still love merlot, too.


Photo Credit: Sideways]]>
<![CDATA[Santa Barbara by Train: A Good Deal]]> Wed, 23 Jul 2014 16:29:31 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sbevening092.jpg

POINT OF ORIGIN: Typically travel deals don't specify a particular direction. Oh, maybe a starting city, on occasion, but the discount has to do with where you're going, not where you begin from, and very, very infrequently the general direction of your origin. That's one reason the Amtrak Coast Starlight/Santa Barbara Car Free 15%-off ticket deal is something of a charmer: You have to be north of the city to nab. The other charming parts include the fact that this nice money-saved window lasts through the end of April 2015 and you save a chunk (15% is nothing to sniff at). So what exactly does "north" mean here? We know, we know, it is generally a fairly unwavering concept -- ask any compass. It means that if you start your Santa Barbara-ending journey north of the city, as far north as Seattle, you'll get the deal. Start-point cities include Washington State's largest metropolis, as mentioned, Portland and Eugene in Oregon, Redding, Sacramento, Oakland, San Jose, San Luis Obispo, and more stations along the way.

THE ASTERISKS: There are a few dates blocked out on the deal calendar -- yep, Thanksgiving is one, and the week leading up to New Year's Eve, as well as a few others -- so plan your getaway jaunt accordingly. You'll need to start somewhere north and return somewhere north. Aaaand there are a few other standard to-knows, so know them. But once you get that sorted and get your money-saving ticket? Picture Stearns Wharf and shopping along State Street and Old Spanish Days in early August. Pretty much any time is an excellent time to unwind in the American Riviera. Oh, we know, "unwind" is so brochure-y, but have you been to Hendry's Beach or Butterfly Beach? If unwinding isn't automatically done at either of those pretty places, then the whole idea of unwinding should be reconsidered.

Photo Credit: Santa Barbara Convention & Visitors Bureau]]>
<![CDATA[Mountain View Vroom: Ferrari Picnic]]> Wed, 23 Jul 2014 09:46:11 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/ferrarishoreline1234.jpg

FERRARI GATHERING SPOTS: Where is one most likely to see a gleaming dream machine? As in, a classic or new Ferrari in shiny, spectacular form? A spy thriller, perhaps. Maybe a convention center during a major auto show. Or an exotic locale, on the main freeway, cruising along in elegant form. But finding a clutch -- meaning a few dozen, give or take -- Ferraris at a peaceful lakeside location is a bit more offbeat. And yet? It's a lovely summer setting, and Ferraris are just about impressing; they also convey their driver to pleasurable spots, which do, on occasion, include lakes. And many a Ferrari enthusiast shall point their iconic vehicle towards Mountain View and Shoreline Lake Aquatic Center on Sunday, July 27. It's the Ferrari Club of America Pacific Region's annual picnic, and you can count on many a classic and new car sidling up to the lake, or at least to a nearby spot.

NOT SIMPLY ABOUT THE CARS: There's a barbecue picnic lunch (open to members only, so be sure to pack your own picnic if you're swing by to admire the cars), and games and pursuits on the water and grass -- think paddle-boarding, biking, and canoeing -- but the day will be very much about giving some of the gleamiest automobiles around the full-on lookie-loo. (You've seen the full-on lookie-loo when a bunch of cars of similar type are gathered in one spot. There's leaning over, there are hands on hips, there is much discussing of dashboards and hubcaps. Want to soak in some Ferrari goodness? Be at the lake on July 27.

MORE ACTIVITIES: And if you're just headed to the pretty water spot for some family chillaxing, there are to-dos on all the time, fancy car picnic or not. For the full rundown, turn your canoe this way.

Photo Credit: Shoreline Lake Aquatic Center]]>
<![CDATA[Mount Diablo: Things That Go Bump in the Night Hike]]> Tue, 22 Jul 2014 11:13:00 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/197*120/diablobynight1.jpg

THAT CLASSIC HIKE: When is the optimal time of day for a walk in nature? Some might say dawn, when the world is still dewy and critters are waking up and stretching and yawning (in the particular way that critters do) and the crowds haven't yet amassed in various parks and on trails. Other would vote for late afternoon, after work, where the stresses of the day can be shaken off and discarded with every advancing step. But nighttime? It doesn't get too many votes, typically, on the hiking front. If you're out on a trail you're either trudging back to your tent or making your way to your car after a day out under the sky. But what of hiking after sundown just for hiking's sake? It happens, with the help of flashlights and our planet's lunar satellite, and it helps when there's a rather intriguing goal: Look for the denizens of the night. Nope, not vampires -- this isn't a Hollywood blockbuster -- but rather the tiny creatures that scurry and burrow and chitter and squawk when gloaming comes and the world cools for another twelve hours. You ready for a different walk? Then make for Mount Diablo on Saturday, Aug. 9 or Saturday, Aug. 23 for...

THINGS THAT GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT: Volunteers from the Mount Diablo Interpretative Association will set out from 6:30 to 9 p.m. that first Saturday and 6 to 9 p.m. on the second in search of "owls, bats, scorpions, tarantulas, poorwills, and other denizens of the dark." A flashlight, water, and layer-dressing is recommended, and the fee? Six bucks for your car. Call it an early welcome to that autumn atmosphere, a feeling which is very much about the velvety, wild texture of earlier evenings and all of the beasties that rule it. Need more nature but want to change up your morning or noontime hike? Things That Go Bump in the Night could be your peaceful, moonlit ticket. You'll want to reserve your spot, though, owl aficionados. Hoot.

Photo Credit: Mount Diablo]]>
<![CDATA[Felton Fun: Thomas the Tank Engine Visits the Redwoods]]> Mon, 21 Jul 2014 13:17:57 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/thomastank245.jpg

PICTURE YOURSELF... standing near some train tracks in a beautiful verdant setting (though not too near, of course). You hear the wind in the trees, you hear the bushes rustle, and then, around the bend, you hear a train on approach. You expect to see a traditional engine, perhaps something old-timey and puffed with steam, and then... Thomas shows up. That Thomas. The celebrated and beloved-by-tots-everywhere Thomas. As in Mr. the Tank Engine. (Serious question: Is "the" Thomas the Tank Engine's middle name?) Seeing his smiling blue visage and happy eyes, wouldn't you let out a small blurt or exclamation? Because it isn't every day one sees a train with a face round the bend. Only on television, right? Well, yes, except for a few special weekends a year in a handful of lucky spots. One such lucky spot is Felton, which, yes, is home to Roaring Camp Railroads, and those special weekends? The final weekend in July and the first weekend of August. Get ready, Thomas buffs, because a beloved toot-toot-er will be wending his merry way through the redwoods near Santa Cruz.

THE THRILL OF THE RIDE TOUR 2014: Thomas the Tank Engine has called upon Felton before, but here's the big-big-BIG news of this go-around (seriously, we meant that "BIG" in all capital letters): The tank engine will be able to talk to people. He'll greet visitors and kids'll hear his Thomas-sweet voice. Nice and magical,  yes? Yes. Other favorites'll be back, like Sir Topham Hatt, Controller of the Railway (kids can actually meet and say hello to him) and jugglers and tunes and live storytelling. Oh, and a ride with Thomas, too, which lasts about 25 minutes. Ready for some sweet fairytale-ish-ness before the school year hums back around? Is this a lovely bookend to summer vacay? Get your Thomas ticket info here, train buffs.

Photo Credit: Thomas the Tank Engine]]>
<![CDATA[Pool in the Middle of the Mojave]]> Thu, 24 Jul 2014 08:36:38 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/218*120/socialpoolalfredobarsuglia.jpg

SUN-BAKED STATEMENT: Finding a pool in the middle of a vast and arid landscape? Kind of a usual thing, right? You're driving down a two-laner through a small town, you see the fizzy-bright neon sign of a motel, and, there, underneath the sign, is a blue rectangle, complete with diving board or poolside lounge chairs. But finding that same pool less the diving board, the lounge chairs, the motel, and the entire town, not to mention the highway, is, well... less expected. Highly unusual, in fact. But artist Alfredo Barsuglia sees things rather differently. He didn't require all of those other details -- the motel, the town -- for his desert-based swimming pool, which is very far away from everything and not so easy to get to. Finding his "Social Pool," which is somewhere in the Mojave, requires a bit of time, some coordinates, some effort, the right day, and a visit to the MAK Center for Art and Architecture, which is providing a key to adventurers seeking the remote pool.

SEVEN DAYS A WEEK: The pool is out there, way out there, awaiting visitors, seven days a week through the end of September. "The GPS coordinates of 'Social Pool' as well as the key to open its mobile cover are provided by the MAK Center for Art and Architecture in West Hollywood." It will depend, of course, if the key is available that day, so, yep, there's the luck part. But if the fates are with you? Then you're spending the afternoon in what is surely the Golden State's most esoteric swimming hole of the moment.

BEHIND THE IDEA: The concept behind Mr. Barsuglia's desert-remote pool "embodies the massive socio-economic changes that have taken place in the last forty years." It "combines elements of the sublime and the ridiculous" and aims to have the visitor consider our "consumption and entertainment-driven lifestyle." For more on the artist's intent and the fluid ideas behind this hours-to-get-to slice of desert noir, hike this way.

Photo Credit: Alfredo Barsuglia]]>
<![CDATA[State Park Sweetness: I Love You CA Bear]]> Mon, 21 Jul 2014 13:24:16 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/ilovebearca.jpg

STATE SYMBOL SHOUT-OUT: If you've ever participated in Flat Stanley, or something similar to the paper, globe-trotting boy that every school kid knows as well as her or his favorite cartoon, then you know the fun of seeing something that's easy to pack show up in a remote or faraway place. It is a unifying thing, in short, and when a particular Flat Stanley has made the rounds, the community that participated is pretty dang chuffed. With that come-together spirit in mind, and a spirited love for nature and protecting our wild places, the people behind the California State Parks are marking the parks' 150th anniversary with one very sweet project: The I Love You CA Bear. Yep, there's a furry fellow hugging our state and he's showing up in all the parks. He's made recent appearances at Hearst Castle, Huntington State Beach, and Sonoma State Historic Park via fans who've printed out the bear from the official web site. Are you and the family journeying to a state park this summer? Feel like printing out our venerable animal ambassador and snapping a few photos for Instagram or another social media corner of the web?

THEN RAISE A HAPPY ROAR... and print out your bear here. You may want to print out two, one for the front of the fridge, given that the illustration may raise some Golden State pride. And if you aren't traveling to a park in the next month or two, but want to see all the places the bear is making a colorful cameo, you can follow along on Facebook. Where will the I Love You CA Bear pop up next? Wherever there's a park that needs our love, our commitment to its future, and, yep, a little whimsy. That's all the state parks, right? We'll raise a roar to that.

Photo Credit: California State Parks]]>
<![CDATA[TV Fans Flock to LA Costume Show]]> Fri, 18 Jul 2014 06:17:49 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/232*120/tvcostumedfidmliberace2.jpg

THAT DRESS: If you get obsessed with a television series -- and just about everybody who is in possession of a television has at one time or another -- certain elements draw you in, captivate you, and stay with you long after the show has left the air. Maybe it is an actor's particularly brooding performance, or the sparkly banter, or it could be a frock the star wore to the big ball in episode 5 of the third season. Do you admire the clothing worn by your favorite characters? Yeah, we watch television for fashion-based reasons, too, and often principally, given that the small screen has jump-started numerous sartorial trends over the decades. Enter the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in downtown Los Angeles. The school is famous for its innovative students and faculty, and for knowing what the mode of tomorrow might be. And it is known, and beloved, for two major exhibitions it stages each year. Make that free-to-see shows, which is rather remarkable, given that the exhibits brim with celebrated movie and television costumes. The film exhibit? That lands in the late winter and spring, around the Oscars. And television's time? 

IT'S HAPPENING: The Outstanding Art of Television Costume and Design grandly fills out the FIDM Gallery ahead of The Emmys each year. That means that any Tuesday through Saturday you can make for the school and see, for free, costumes from "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." and "The Good Wife" and returning show "Downton Abbey." "Portlandia" and "True Detective" and "Pretty Little Liars" are in the round-up, too. Some 98 nominations are represented, and over 20 shows, and, yes, those are really the suits and skirts seen on the screen and not replicas. Opening date? Tuesday, July 22. Closing date? Saturday, Sept. 20. Between those two days? Loads of looking and admiring and a little dress envy (and inspiration, too).

Photo Credit: FIDM]]>
<![CDATA[Watch the Perseids at Glacier Point]]> Tue, 22 Jul 2014 14:51:39 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/234*120/glacierperseidtenaya.jpg

METEOR SHOWER WOW: When a nighttime sky show comes along, there's much discussion among cosmos mavens as to the optimal place to watch it. At an observatory? Near the ocean? Far, far away from any major artificial light sources? While we can all agree, pretty much, on that final situation, landing on the ideal spot from where one may admire light streaks in the bowl above us can be a challenge. But what if something on earth, a terrestrial object, helped to form part of a spectacular frame for the sky? That's exactly what the granite mammoths of Yosemite National Park do. Ponder watching the Perseid Meteor Shower, which is due on Tuesday, Aug. 12, from practically anywhere. Now picture watching it from Glacier Point, with Half Dome giving your eye a rather epic resting place when your face is not turned toward the heavens. It's hard to top that setting for a sky show, given that Half Dome is one of the most recognizable hunks of rock on this planet or maybe any other. ("Hunks of rock" said with total love, of course.) Tempted by this rare opportunity? Then make your reservation at...

TENAYA LODGE: The grand property, which sits just south of the Yosemite gate, has a special on just for lovers of meteors and granite domes and mythical settings: Book a room at the hotel, for starters. Then, for an additional $99, you can secure a spot on the drive to Glacier Point. A night sky map, a Tenaya Blanket, and a glow stick -- oh yeah, scoring big time -- are part of your field trip package. "(E)xpert astronomy guides" will join, meaning it won't simply be about appreciating the Perseids but learning about them as well. Perhaps most fun of all? You meet at 8:30 p.m. for the jaunt into the park. Really, how many field trips of your youth began at 8:30? It's a rare treat. And we take that back: Most fun of all has to be seeing Half Dome and the other features of Yosemite framing the bottom part of the sky during a cosmic event.

Photo Credit: Tenaya Lodge]]>
<![CDATA[Bee There: Comic-Con International]]> Fri, 18 Jul 2014 06:56:32 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/comiccon174029110.jpg

BIGGEST, MEGAEST, HUGEST: There are a number of "gets" in the entertainment-obsessed world of fandom. The autograph of every Avenger, a photo with Stan Lee, a visit to the "Community" set, an actual prop from a "Harry Potter" film. Whatever your taste, your fancy, or your interest, the bar has likely been raised fairly high when it comes to showing your fanship. But what of fans of Comic-Con? Surely the world's largest and most buzzed-over fan convention has a few hardcore, need-to-do-and-have-everything fans of itself. Are there those people who attend the July-busy, San Diego-based extravaganza just for the sake of being at Comic-Con and no other reason? We'll wager those attendees are plentiful. But what are the "gets" here? Sitting front row at every panel? Talking with every artist? Meeting every surprise guest? Whatever your must-do list contains for the huge-huge-really-huge convention, it is good to go in with some realistic expectations and one or two pie-in-the-sky dreams. Maybe you will get into your favorite TV show's panel, if you line up early.

AND THOSE LINES SHALL START... well, one might say on Thursday, July 24, which is opening day of Comic-Con, but fans tend to show early and prepared. They have maps and have downloaded the apps, which will tell them know that animator Willie Ito, artist David Lasky, and con favorite Mark Evanier will all be in attendance. "The Simpsons" will get a 25th anniversary celebration, "Bloom County" visionary Berkeley Breathed'll be in the house, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles'll raise a slice of pizza to their big 30th birthday. Plus? Everything else ever. Oh, we josh: Comic-Con does not contain everything else ever in terms of entertainment, but it makes a completely legitimate and successful go at it. For sure, any big movie or big comic book or big big thing on the horizon will have its moment at the 2014 spectacular. You? All you need to do is put your costume together, fast. You've totally started building that already, right? The wings? The helmet? The glowing platform boots? Best get sewing, stat.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Blues and Brews: A Mammoth Mountain Tradition]]> Wed, 16 Jul 2014 07:05:46 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/185*120/buddyguymammothblues234.jpg

UPPER ELEVATION GOOD TUNES: If you pass a billboard of Mammoth Mountain, or flip by a magazine advertisement, you're bound to see one thing: snow. Lots of snow, and people in snow gear, and big puffy jackets and snuggly wool hats and not a pair of shorts or sandals in sight. Of course, this makes the summertime scene on the mountain a secret for some, though it is a secret that is pretty widely known these days. The Bike Park is hopping when the temps push into the 80s, and the fishing and hiking scenes are remarkably robust. What snow, some might shrug (though, truly, there's a lot of crossover business of visitors who love both). And many a grown-up visitor anticipates that moment near the middle of summer when things take a turn for the suds and the sounds. We speak of the Mammoth Festival of Beers Bluesapalooza, which will celebrate its 20th in 2015. That means it has had two decades to gather together some fine regional brewmakers -- and some who make their suds beyond the Sierra, too -- and some of the tip-top-iest musicians for the tip tip of California (okay, that's Mt. Whitney, but close enough). So who's the headliner for the 2014 party? Why it is...

MR. BUDDY GUY: Big news, indeed. The six-time Grammy winner will be up the mountain, making beautiful blues, as will Taj Mahal Trio, John Hiatt and The Combo, Nikki Hill, and a host of other lauded performers. As for the brews end of things? You can count on Mammoth Brewing Company to play a major role at the Saturday, Aug. 2 Grand Tasting Event. Other foamy names include Anderson Valley Brewing Company, June Lake Brewing, and Moonlight Brewing Co. It's a list as tall as Mammoth Mountain is high. (Disclaimer: poetic license employed.)

AS FOR DATES? Think the last Thursday in July and the first weekend in August. How's that for hitting high summer in a libation-nice, tunes-filled fashion? (It's pretty dang good, is what.)

Photo Credit: Buddy Guy]]>
<![CDATA[Happy 50th, Morro Bay!]]> Tue, 15 Jul 2014 15:34:00 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/morrorockboats643.jpg

THE FOREVER ROCK: When one hears that beautiful Morro Bay is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, one might be apt to pause, scratch his or her head, and ponder if the ocean burg's most famous symbol showed up a half century ago, too. Did a whole bunch of movers truck Morro Rock just offshore 'round about 1964? Did it suddenly rise from the Pacific, fully formed, one Monday morning? Of course not, although that might be been mighty dramatic. Morro Rock, being an ancient volcanic plug, was around long before the town of Morro Bay ordered the first roadside signs and government letterhead proclaiming itself as incorporated. But it did indeed incorporate, next to the Big Rock, back in 1964, and the picturesque destination is throwing a Founder's Day to commemorate its half century of being the M.B.

COMMUNITY PICNIC: The Thursday, July 17 event is a community picnic, and you can bet there'll be some looking back and history talk, about the town's fishing industry and and farming and dairy contributions and Dahlia Days and tourism. There shall be "1964 memorabilia" to admire and music and birthday cake. But if you can't make it down to the weekday shindig, the town is spotlighting its half-century anniversary all year long. Coming up? The bloomy Dahlia Days and a margarita and guacamole festival in September. A push to restore the all-important eelgrass of Morro Bay is coming up in August, too (and volunteers are needed). It's a place that epitomizes the Central Coast charms often sold to us via brochures, for sure, but it feels extra authentic and sweet in Morro Bay. Call it an enchanted combo of the very ancient mystery of Morro Rock paired with the mid-century style of its early '60s town beginnings. How many places can claim a giant rocky landmark and small-town funkiness? Glad the M.B. rocks 'em both so well.

Photo Credit: Morro Bay]]>
<![CDATA[Olives Rule in Paso Robles]]> Sun, 20 Jul 2014 17:12:54 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/olivefestival245.jpg

NO JUDGMENT: We would never cock an eyebrow in the direction of anyone who hovers near the start of most any celebration's buffet table, where all of the platters of cheese cubes and bread squares reside. Why do we forgo the eyebrow-cockery? Because we are that person. We are probably all that person at some point, the reveler who would rather sample every cheddar twice, every crudite, and, yes, every olive. Have you ever dominated the olive dish? Not just at a friend's house, but, say, the wedding of a distant cousin? Again, no side glances here: We are that person. Olives are the ultimate easy-to-eat food, save the later pit disposal. Eat one, eat five, eat a dozen, and soon your halfway through the dish, a dish that was meant for everyone in attendance. There are only a few full-on olive affairs for people who dominate the dish, and one lands in Paso Robles each August. It is, in fact, the Olive Festival, and the wine country town couldn't be better suited for celebrating a shiny orb that goes perfectly with every vintage, red or white or a little of both.

DATE AND DETAILS: The olive-iest day of the year on the Central Coast falls on Saturday, Aug. 16. For sure, there'll be interesting things to look upon, like an olive oil press. (Seriously, when will every home have its own?) There shall be olive oil ice cream to eat. There will be olive oil products -- soaps and beyond beyond beyond -- to smell and touch and purchase. And cuisine? Yeah, there's that. We only take a slightly sassy tone because given that Paso is plunk in the middle of wine country, they've got the good food end of the spectrum covered. There's a contest, too, involving cooking and olives.

OH, AND ABOUT THAT WINE PART... Are you honestly going to venture to the Central Coast without visiting some vineyard? No? Good. This'll help you plot your grape-nice route following all of that olive consumption.

Photo Credit: Paso Robles Olive Festival]]>
<![CDATA[The Creative Accordions of Cotati]]> Thu, 17 Jul 2014 18:10:49 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/greatmorganicotati.jpg

THE BEAUTIFUL BELLOWS: Some musical pursuits go in and out of fashion, depending if they make a cameo in the summer's hit song or an actor wields a particular instrument in a blockbuster film. But the accordion? Let's call that the setter of sound standards. Let's call it above and beyond and outside of whims and trends and flitting fancies. For while song-making devices summon subjective opinions aplenty, we can all land on the fact that accordions summon Before Times like nothing's business. Those bellows and keys and wheezes tell of romance and travel and melancholy days watching the rain (and days spent dancing and raising various roofs, too). So musical trends? You keep comin' and goin' while accordionists and their most enthusiastic aficionados make for Cotati in August. Oh, you knew that Cotati is home to one of the most beloved accordion festivals in all the accordion-loving world? Of course you did. So strap on your instrument -- both shoulders, if you please -- and clear the weekend of Saturday, Aug. 16 and Sunday, Aug. 17.

THAT'S WHEN... fabulouso accordion acts and players like the costume-creative Great Morgani and the oh-so-lively Mad Maggies and the dance-fun Motordude Zydeco will raise those squeezeboxes high and make that sweet-sad-sweet music. Yep, there's a play-along "Lady of Spain" moment in the weekend, and some polka party action, and there are ripe opportunities to simply listen if you like. But accordion appreciation takes some involvement, too, yes? Yes. So swing your skirt or a partner to the stomping tunes or the slow smoky ballads that get the couples on the floor. In short, you can head to Laplaza Park simply if you are a lover of the most cafe-iest of all instruments. Accordion love is an inclusive love, for sure.

Photo Credit: The Great Morgani]]>
<![CDATA[On Sale: October Flashlight Tours at the Winchester]]> Tue, 15 Jul 2014 09:01:40 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/204*120/WinchesterMysteryHouse_crWMH_1.jpg

AGE-OLD ARGUMENT: Call it one of the most invigorating and, indeed, spirited debates you'll ever have with a good friend: Are ghosts real? Surely whatever side of the issue you stand on you've found yourself in a lively go-around with a group of pals who think differently (we're picturing the conversation happening over a bottle of wine or perhaps an atmospheric coffeehouse). Studies are cited and personal anecdotes, and, in the end, everyone likely walks away standing their ground -- and still friends, one hopes. But not up for argument? That the flashlight tours at San Jose's Winchester Mystery House are incredibly popular. This could be due, in part, to their relative scarcity. The wander-the-famous-manse-by-dark evenings only ever land on Friday the 13ths and during the month of October. And those Friday the 13th nights? Zip-zow-boom, those tickets fly like they've got little fairy wings attached to their edges. October's the more robust period for the flashlight walks, but, believe it (regardless of what you believe): They fill up. So, are you tempted to see the Other Side? Or at least ramble, by night, through the World's Most Notorious Rambling House? Then click for your ticket info.

AND TRUE: It was, in fact, announced that the Winchester would allow overnight stays on the grounds earlier this year. We suppose it is true what they say: Wraiths sleep in the daytime but come out to play by moonlight. No? That's not how the legend goes? Well, regardless, many fans have longed to stay from dusk through dawn at Sarah Winchester's stairways-to-nowhere labyrinth. What they see under the stars and in the shadows will depend on the guests' quick eyes, their sixth senses, and their devotion to the pursuits of fun and imagination, too.

AS FOR THOSE FRIDAY THE 13THS? There was only one in 2014, and it happened in June. But there are three ahead in 2015. Get ready, flashlight adventurers...

Photo Credit: Winchester Mystery House]]>
<![CDATA[Corn Dog Days: California State Fair Opens]]> Fri, 11 Jul 2014 14:19:44 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/160*120/corndog_448x336.jpg

IN A GINORMOUS STATE... with so many fine and robust county fairs, the state fair has to be extra state-fair-a-rific, extra animal-tastic, and it has to unfurl somewhere that comes with the pomp a big fair deserves. The California State Fair has been doing the livestock/quilt/new innovations thing since the 1800s, and its Sacramento-set location of Cal Expo feels grand enough to support its many components and two-week run. That run kicked off on Friday, July 11, and happy fair times'll be fairing-it-up through Sunday, July 27.

FEATURED ATTRACTIONS: The truth is you know you'll find some cotton candy (if you have a sweet tooth) or a corndog (if you possess a savory tooth) or something coated in batter and dunked in oil (if you have a fried tooth). There shall be Ferris-wheeling and goat-petting, too. But what of the special areas to visit? Nature lovers -- that's all of us, we'll guess -- can make for California Building B and Treecircus, which includes an exhibit on recycled urban lumber and climbing ropes. A special commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the state parks is happening at Expo Center Building 2, and a "tasty journey through Rock Candy Mountain" is part of the candy exhibit in Expo Building 5. And the concert series? Look for Macy Gray, Phil Vassar, and Joan Jett & The Blackhearts to appear on the big stage during the fair's run.

FOR MORE ON... Camp Smokey and craft demos and the Stilt Circus and jam-making presentations and everything x everything -- an actual mathematical fair formula -- ride your Ferris wheel car this way.

Photo Credit: Corndog]]>
<![CDATA[Even Bigger: Halloween Grows at Disneyland]]> Sat, 12 Jul 2014 09:23:01 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/dlhalloweenexpanded.jpg

OUT-SIZED OCTOBER: Back in the day -- so, lo about the 1960s and '70s, give or take -- you couldn't top summer for Disneyland's busiest season. Grad nights and date nights and concerts and special events filled out the warm weather months, and those oh-so-popular overnights, too (those still come up, when the park stays open for 24 hours, as it did just before Memorial Day Weekend). But other seasons grew in popularity at the World's Most Famous Theme Park, chiefly the holidays at the end of the year and Halloween.

HAUNTED MANSION AND BEYOND: Yep, "A Nightmare Before Christmas" cemented the witching season and Disneyland in many a mind, but so did Mickey's Halloween Party, that after-hours, kids-costume-up, trick-or-treat-on-Main-Street dealie that's got a separate ticket and one very popular reputation. So popular that it has been growing over the years, increasing in nights, and 2014 will see more ghoul-ready grown: The Halloween bash'll run for fourteen nights this coming fall.

COSTUMES ON, MOUSEKETEERS: Halloween Time will run from Sept. 12 through Oct. 31, and Mickey's Halloween Party? That'll land on select nights starting on Sept. 26 and ending on Oct. 31. Yep, adults can dress up as well, and, yep, even though it is a separate ticket, you're invited to show three hours ahead of the party to play in the park. Eager to secure your spooky date? The pre-sale begins July 16, with the general sale starting on July 30.

OH... and will Ghost Galaxy be back at Space Mountain? Are the cosmos cold? You betcha it will, boo buffs.

Photo Credit: Paul Hiffmeyer]]>
<![CDATA[Meet Shadow, San Diego Zoo Superstar]]> Thu, 10 Jul 2014 11:19:45 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/shadowsdzoo.jpg

AND THE INTERNET AWWWS... It can be challenging, these days, to predict what furry or feathery or scaly beastie will grab the attention, sighs, and clicks of people online. Should the animal be able to play piano? Walk a tight rope? Chase her tail? The ultimate superstar-making formula remains an unknown. Perhaps, though, a role in educating the public about animals is key, along with heaps and heaps of cuteness. Take Shadow, the San Diego Zoo wolf pup currently garnering the swoons of thousands of fans in California and 'round the world. The Balboa Park-based zoo recently posted a playful photo of Shadow -- he's down on his front legs, ready to romp -- and followed it up with a video. The clip is full of moves and trotting and scratching that will be familiar to any Fido person (and, truly, anyone fond of animals at large). But it won't be all letting loose for young Shadow, who is finishing up a 30-day quarantine; the two-month-old will soon be "an ambassador for his species" at the animal park's Wegeforth Bowl.

PEEK NOW: There is a way to get a look at little Shadow now, if you can't wait for his Wegeforth debut: He's in the Children's Zoo nursery. Or you can admire his spirited energy and wolf-happy wonder sooner, in this short video posted by the zoo.

Photo Credit: San Diego Zoo]]>
<![CDATA[Hike to Yosemite's Geographic Center]]> Thu, 10 Jul 2014 11:18:25 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/yosemitehikegeographiccenter.jpg

THE MIDDLE OF THE PLACE: Not every museum or college campus or theme park marks its exact center with an X or dot or plaque, but those locations that do know that the middle of a place can be popular indeed. People want their photos snapped, they want to stand at the nexus, they want to spin and soak in the scenery, or whatever there is to be seen, from the very spot on which they stand. But sometimes getting to that center dot on the floor isn't as easy as striding through the front doors of an institution. Sometimes a moderate hike is involved, of several miles, but the pay-off at the end? It's glorious. We're thinking specifically of hiking to Yosemite National Park's geographic center, which is where one can find beautiful Mount Hoffmann. The Yosemite Conservancy is going to hike the mountain on Sunday, Aug. 24, and naturalist Michael Ross will be along to "discuss geology and alpine ecology of the area" as well as the region's "diverse landscapes." Plus? You'll be able to look all around and take in the park in one fell, dizzy-making swoop (turn slowly and don't get dizzy). This means you'll be able to look down into Yosemite Valley and toward "the jagged peaks of the north." Gorgeousness? Grandeur? Both of those things, for sure.

NOW THE DETAILS: The hike is described as "moderate" and there's a gain of 2,000-feet as you go up in elevation. It's a six-mile round trip, too, so, yep, you'll probably want to stay nearby. Camping at Tuolumne Meadows Campground is part of the Experience Package, and there's an upgrade option, too, to stay at the close-by lodge. Prices? Click. Vistas? You'll get 'em, boy howdy. If you love hiking with some grade and you've been craving a different view of the big Y, a toodle up Hoffmann could be just the spirit-lifting, sunshine-basking key.

Photo Credit: Yosemite Conservancy]]>
<![CDATA[Crew for a Day: Join the Historic Sierra No. 3]]> Tue, 08 Jul 2014 22:20:38 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sierrano3_1.jpg

Photo Credit: Railtown 1897 State Historic Park ]]>
<![CDATA[Friends of Bodie Day]]> Mon, 14 Jul 2014 11:49:03 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/friendsofbodieday.jpg

QUESTION: What's the difference between a remote ghost town full of trash and modernisms and decay that isn't necessarily healthy decay and a remote ghost town that looks very much like it did back in its 1800s-era heyday? Nope, not luck, and not the heat of the sun or whether there's a good postcard/t-shirt shop nearby. It has to do with support, human support, with people lending their love and time to the preservation of the historic place. Mindful preservation, meaning that the structures are not fixed as to reflect contemporary tastes but rather are tended to in such a way that the natural decay is slow and authentic. There are many ghost towns around the U.S. that fit the former description and just a few that land within the latter. And at the top of that historic heap? Bodie State Historic Park, which has the support of thousands of fans, with the Bodie Foundation at the lead. The foundation looks after the vintage mining town, a town so authentic that you can still see old nails and cans in the streets (look but don't take; there's a curse associated with removing items from Bodie). And come summer? The foundation parties and raises money and spreads knowledge about their important mission.

FRIENDS OF BODIE DAY: Will there be living history presentations on Saturday, Aug. 9? You bet. Lots of activities to fill the daylight hours? For sure. And tours of the dozens of structures that have dotted this silent valley for the last century and a half, give or take? You betcha. Pack mule demos and horse-led buggies'll be on the grounds, too. And do we even need to mention this? That period dress is encouraged? You know to show in your bonnet and boots, right? Make it truly living history, all around. It's about the yippee-ki-yay-iest day in one of the country's, and world's, most loved-on and true-to-its-former-self places. Are you a friend to Bodie? Show your love by costuming up and partying like it is 1878.

Photo Credit: Friends of Bodie Day]]>
<![CDATA["Living Fireworks Show": The Flower Hat Jelly]]> Wed, 09 Jul 2014 14:28:32 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/fireworksjellies244556321.jpg

A WONDER TO SEE: Whenever a science buff reads about a new discovery or hears about a fresh finding, they can long, a bit, to see it with their own eyes and feel the wonder in person. Did we say "a bit"? Make that a lot. But it's often the case that the report is coming from a faraway mountain top or a closed lab and there's just no way, and no chance, that we're going to get the audience with the innovation or delightful development that we desire. Every once and awhile, though, the headlines and the chance to see what's afoot dovetail in a rather fantastic way. Take the flower hat jellyfish, or Olindias formosus, if you prefer. The Monterey Bay Aquarium calls its life cycle "elusive" but that didn't daunt a group of intrepid jelly biologists. (Is there any other kind of jelly biologist, though, really?) Scientists had been "unable to culture it to adulthood," even though it was "originally described in Japan" over a century ago. Give anything a hundred years and researchers can usually ferret out some or all of its story, but the flower hat jelly? Nope. It remained ever mysterious.

MYSTERIES GET SOLVED... though, and the jelly biologists of the Cannery Row landmark now stand on a successful discovery. "We're thrilled to discover the life cycle of the flower hat jelly," said Senior Aquarist Wyatt Patry. "Our team succeeded through collaboration, diligence, and a bit of good luck." One positive result of the research? Wild jelly "blooms" could be more easily predicted (a good thing, given that they're described as "dangerous"). But the aquarium has been at the forefront of the flower hat research, from the "special blue lighting" that has allowed scientists to observe the jellies as "polyps and tiny baby jellies" to exhibiting the diaphanous creatures, creatures described by the aquarium as "living fireworks" given their "brilliant tentacles."

WANT TO SEE A FLOWER HAT? You can, in the aquarium's "The Jellies Experience." 

Photo Credit: Monterey Bay Aquarium/Randy Wilder]]>
<![CDATA[Pre-Bastille Day Bash: Santa Barbara French Fest]]> Mon, 07 Jul 2014 10:47:18 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/160*120/FrenchFestival1.jpg

STAYING POWER: Is it hard to keep a baguette around the house, especially when there's a hefty triangle of cheese in the ice box and some grapes to eat it with? Indeed, it is. How about a box of croissants or chocolates or pastries that hail from a favorite boulangerie? For sure, those tempt, too. Being adjacent to French-nice treats is often an exercise in "how long can this last?" And the answer is very often: "not very." Croissants are made for gobbling, and cheeses, too. But what has shown the ability to weather onward, even through the occasional cancellation and postponement, in the fantastique French Festival in Santa Barbara. It just can-can'd its way to its quarter-century birthday in 2013, meaning that it is one of those colorful gatherings that is just here to stay. But not stay put: People dance and they sing and there's the ever-popular Poodle Parade, which does, in fact, involve a slew of Fidos who don't happen to have an ounce of Poodle lineage in their background (though the non-Poodles are very often seen sporting berets). Tempted by this Bastille Day merriment? Then make for the city's Oak Park on...

JULY 12 AND 13: So, really, we're looking at pre-Bastille Day merriment, on the Saturday and Sunday ahead of the actually July 14 holiday. There shall be food and drink, but of course: cheeses, wines, pates, onion soups, crepes, and escargot are on the menu. There shall be entertainment, both of the can-can-y kind and the musical assortment (keep an ear out for all of the accordion). Crafts fill out the days, and art, too, and the dog strut? Things'll get very furry and very French-tastic on the Sunday evening. It's a beautiful and barky way to round out one of the state's largest French Festivals. Nope, you don't have to eat escargot or kick your can-can legs, but why wouldn't you? It isn't every day that Paris visits the American Riviera.

Photo Credit: Santa Barbara French Festival]]>
<![CDATA[New Disney Tour: California Adventure]]> Sat, 05 Jul 2014 11:44:39 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/dcatour234.jpg

Photo Credit: Paul Hiffmeyer]]>
<![CDATA[New at El Capitan Canyon: Corral Cabins]]> Tue, 08 Jul 2014 11:44:21 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/corralcabinelcapitan.jpg

OPTIONS OUTDOORS: If you've ever joined your pals on a spontaneous camping trip, you know it is pretty much about you and your sleeping bag and Nature, capital N. Which is cool: It's so soft and plaid and nubbily and you like it, for options for ways to spend the night outdoors don't typically abound. That is not the case at El Capitan Canyon, which has become known for approaching the art of outdoor overnight enjoyment in a myriad of offbeat and whimsical ways. There are the posh tents that have been written up in every magazine from here to the furthest place from here, and the gorgeous yurts. The cedar cabins, too, get the love, as do the make-your-own-s'mores kits and the on-property llamas and the whole feeling of being one with nature but also having one's own private little slice of privatedom (not to be undervalued for the adventurer who wants to be very adjacent to the al fresco world but perhaps not in the middle of it). Now the Santa Barbara property has something new for the summer of '14, though, like other structures around the bucolic space, the new things fit snugly in, like a corral cabin next to a creek. Oh, did we just tip our hand there?

WE DID: El Capitan Canyon opened thirteen Corral Cabins in June. The "contemporary rustic" buildings are slightly set apart from the Safari Tents and yurts and Cedar Cabins, lending a little bit more quietude (though that abounds throughout the grounds). The cabins include separate living areas, and fireplaces and kitchenettes with full fridges. There are bathrooms, too, and Western decor to hee-yaw over (the cabins' name hails from a corral which was once in the area). If you stay in these luxe-y, larger spaces, you still have a crack at the gratis El Capitan bikes and the other good things the property offers (like the summer activities -- hello hikes, yoga, stargazing...). Want to know more? Grab your hiking stick and wend your way over here.

Photo Credit: El Capitan Canyon]]>
<![CDATA[Sequoia National Park's First-Ever Dark Sky Fest]]> Thu, 03 Jul 2014 11:23:06 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/NASA-Comet-Ison-Pic.jpg

BACK TO THE SKY: People have used the term "back to the land" for more than a few decades now. It's a call to living closer to the earth and the seasons and to our own inner clocks and the larger clock that governs patterns and nature and weather and time. Saying "back to the sky," though? Yeah, that's not quite in common use, or in use at all, really. Which is a shame, given that the very dark, very star-sparkly sky known by our great-grandparents, and even our grandparents, doesn't exist in many of the places we exist now. Sure, we can still pick out the Milky Way in a larger city, even with the street lights, but what of distinctive constellations and particular stars? A lot of squinting and guessing and frustration is involved. Enter the Dark Sky Festival, which is becoming a more common event in our country's national parks and remotest spots. It's a gathering that truly takes people "back to the sky," to the very dark and low-lit, or no-lit, heavens, where picking out Cassiopeia or Pegasus was a cinch, telescope or no telescope. Lassen National Park has one, at the beginning of August, and the sequoias? They're kicking off the first-ever Sequoia National Park-based Dark Sky Festival from July 25 through 27.

LOOK UP, SKY MAVENS: If you've been among some of the biggest trees -- or, for that matter, living things -- on earth at night, you know they nicely frame the sky when you look up. The Dark Sky Festival will add to that magical mix telescopes, astronaut speakers, talks about the constellations, and other goodies to enhance the experience of being in near pitch-blackness (save the starshine). Ready to return to velvety night, if only for an evening? Pencil in a sequoias adventure near the end of July.

Photo Credit: NASA/MSFC/Aaron Kingery]]>
<![CDATA[New Lassen Camping Program: RentMyTent]]> Thu, 03 Jul 2014 11:25:25 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/362lassen123.jpg

THAT OLD CHESTNUT: There's a joke that's been around for approximately a thousand years and it goes a little something like this: "Camping, for me, is anywhere beneath the fourth floor of a hotel." Heard it, or some variation? It doesn't garner the biggest laughs, and it points out a rather broad generalization which may not hold much water: Camping people and hotel people are two different sets of people. But we disagree. There are many people who enjoy both, and, moreover, crave a setting and a stay-over that has a little bit of both, though maybe more of the Great Outdoors. If this is you -- if you're an in-betweener on the matter, like many are -- you might want to toodle over to Lassen Volcanic National Park, which is launching the RentMyTent program on Monday, July 7. Yep, you'll be under the sky and by the trees as you saw logs by night (as in sleep, not actual log-sawing) but your tent will be set up and waiting for you. Isn't that a tiny dash of hotel-style mixed in with camping life?

THE DETAILS: Campsite fees are normally eighteen bucks for people who haul in and set up their own gear. You'll pay that, plus another $67 to have someone do the whole shebang and set-up for you. It'll be "waiting for you on the day of your arrival and taken down on the day of departure" so, yep, we do mean set-up, not spread out on the ground awaiting assembly. How to nab this make-things-easy-breezy deal? Stay two nights and book at least four days in advance. You'll need to rent a campsite through www.recreation.gov first and then head over to the Lassen Volcanic site to set up RentMyTent. And the tent you'll snooze in? A 17' x 9' Adventure Tent. You just need to show up with sleeping bags (cots and lanterns'll be found inside the tent). Sound like a good hotel-camp combo? You're still outdoors, breathing Lassen-lovely air, but your room -- we mean your tent -- is all taken care of. Maybe that old chestnut of a joke deserves a rewrite.

Photo Credit: National Park Service]]>
<![CDATA[Mondo Finds: Moss Landing Antique Fair]]> Sun, 06 Jul 2014 13:59:48 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/mosslandingantique12.jpg

Photo Credit: Moss Landing Antique Fair]]>
<![CDATA[Time Travelers Wanted: Old Sactown Historic High Jinks]]> Tue, 01 Jul 2014 11:37:09 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/216*120/timetravelsac34.jpg

OLD WEST NEW AGAIN: When we look back at our childhoods from a few decades along, we tend to recall a few things. The first time we scored an extra scoop of ice cream is probably up there in many a memory bank -- heck, we're excited about that now -- and the first time we pet a horse or a llama or a pig. Seeing the beach is huge, as is seeing a huge tree like a redwood, and watching an Old West show, complete with cowpokes and ten-gallon toughies? Many of us can recall the weather, what we wore, and the stick of penny candy we ate (usually horehound or peppermint). Beholding such a historical yet hysterical event is part of many a Californian's childhood past, whether they visited a ghost town on a field trip or the family summertime vacation. Old Sacramento remains one of the biggest purveyors of the costumed-characters-joshing-and-orating scene, especially come July when the ye olde district's Time Travel Weekends kick off. And they shall again, the Saturday after the Fourth of July, meaning that July 5 is one of your first days to see...

SKITS AND PERFORMANCES... in the streets of Old Sacramento. The entertainments will be staged by people in full bustle and beard, and while some get mirthful, some are straight-up tell-the-story-of-the-past. Look for military encampments, historic shows, and mining camps (fitting, since Old Sactown was a Gold Rush hub). Medicine shows and musical merriment fill out the Saturdays and Sundays. Oh, and those Saturdays and Sundays? They run through Aug. 24. Oh, and the price to board a time machine and see past-Sac in all of its leather-booted, parasol-wielding glory? Free, free, free. Even if you don't have a tot who hasn't had the experience of history come to life, we're just betting you yourself want to revisit the experience. We're just betting, you betcha.

Photo Credit: Old Sacramento]]>
<![CDATA[Watch Fireworks from Angel Island]]> Mon, 30 Jun 2014 22:42:55 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/angelislandfireworks.jpg

STAR-SPANGLED SETTING: There's watching fireworks, then there's watching fireworks from an island, which is something a little special and sparkly and rare. Some distance from the pyrotechnics lends something a little lovely, and, yes, the water can do that shimmery mirroring-fireworks-y thing if close enough to the show. But the fun in it is also catching a special ferry on a holiday, which feels slightly out-of-the-ordinary, adding to the convivial spirit of the night (we mean, you can drive to wherever, too, to watch fireworks; no judgment there, of course). Angel Island will welcome fireworks fans for an evening of "live music" and "dancing" and "delicious food" and "wine" and "beer" but you have to hop a ferry to get there. Those start in the late afternoon of Friday, July 4, they depart from Tiburon and Pier 41, they take about 20 or so minutes, and they leave the island around 10:45 p.m. That means once you're there, you're there, which is one of the joys of an island. The fireworks? Those start around 9:30 p.m., meaning music enjoyment, conversation, and eating with your pals is on the docket for the early part of the night.

AS WELL AS... soaking in Battery Ledyard, which is the night's setting. The food? Cove Cafe and Cantina Oyster Bar has got the grills and spatulas (you can pre-buy your dinner at the web site and pick it up, in a box, before you get on the ferry). The cost to get to the island is the same as a normal ferry plus ten bucks. Stow some cash for grub and drink, too. And blankets? You'll want to haul those in as well (as well as folding chairs of the compact assortment). Because you're going over the water, and because you'll want to have what you need when you arrive, and because tickets are going and you'll want to think about order that box dinner, read, read, read it all. Seriously, though: Ever done the Fourth on an island? Call the experience a bit of the ol' red, white, and ocean blue.

Photo Credit: Angel Island State Park]]>
<![CDATA[Fourth of July on the U.S.S. Hornet]]> Mon, 30 Jun 2014 09:52:50 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/195*120/fourthhornetjuly.jpg

RED, WHITE, AND BLUE BASH: Fourth of July events'll happen in every town, in every way, but going to a place of history can add a patriotic dimension to that most patriotic of holidays. The U.S.S. Hornet, an Alameda-based carrier that served in World War II, is one of the most storied spots in the state. There've been other Hornets, stretching back into previous centuries, but the current one has a pretty fabled tale, including a vital role in the Apollo 11 splashdown recovery (more on that major milestone in a moment). The ship pauses each year on the Fourth of July to celebrate America with a caboodle of live tunes, kidly activities, foodstuffs, and a view of the fireworks over San Francisco.

AND A FLIGHT SIMULATOR: Of course you're going to do this, right? One doesn't come across a chance to fly all that often. You can roam the ship as well, visiting the torpedo room, officers' quarters, the Apollo exhibit, the sick bay and the captain's bridge. If your previous Independence Days were big on sparklers and potato chips and a little short on the historical element, this is a fine and educational and poke-around and fun way to gain some ground on that. It's thirty bucks at the door, if you're an adult, and a little less if you're a kid.

ABOUT APOLLO 11... The 45th anniversary of the mission's splashdown is just ahead, and people will gather on the Hornet to remember the carrier's role in recovering the astronauts. Will Buzz Aldrin be in the house for the momentous occasion? You bet. Head for Alameda on Saturday, July 26 for all of the space-historic doings.


Photo Credit: U.S.S. Hornet]]>
<![CDATA[Kooky Craft Brew: Super Hero Beer Fest]]> Sat, 28 Jun 2014 06:14:22 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/heropaulbarnett02.jpg

SUPERHEROES AND SUDS: If you've been to Comic-Con, or anywhere within a ten-mile radius of San Diego's mega pop culture everything-a-ganza, then you know that attracting a little attention is the goal of many but gaining that attention is the achievement of few. Oh, we're not saying Comic-Con as a whole is major -- it can make other major things look positively minor -- but smaller satellite events can be plentiful, so plentiful that standing out is a July-long job. Heroes Brew Fest, which isn't affiliated with Comic-Con though it happens during the mondo event, doesn't have an issue in the standing-out department, though, because it neatly does two things. A? It invites attendees to wear their favorite tights, boots, shiny capes, and other superhero gear and B? It serves quality beer.

YEP... there's not much more needed to gild this particular lily, because there aren't a lot of other craft beer festivals where the majority of people show up in glittery eye masks or with giant letters emblazoned on their chests. Hmm, tapping our chin... nope. This might just be the only one, and, if indeed it is not, it is one of the big entries. That's due to its Comic-Con adjacent location in Embarcadero Park North, it's perfectly summery date -- Saturday, July 26 in 2014 -- and that it raises funds for the Warrior Foundation -- Freedom Station.

BUT BEST GET THOSE TICKETS... because it turns out people really like wearing long capes and sipping lagers. There's also a costume contest -- Group Costume and Superhero Look-A-Like are two of the categories -- and other convivialities. Just know that people bring it, fully, so don't throw on some tights and call it a day. You've always considered yourself something of a superhero on the inside? You can be one on the outside, for a day, and enjoy some complex craft beers, too, while rocking those vinyl platform fly boots.

Photo Credit: Heroes Brew Fest]]>
<![CDATA[Purple Pretty: Sonoma Lavender Festival]]> Fri, 27 Jun 2014 18:13:58 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/lavenderpurple2345.jpg

STUNNING SETTING: There was a day, in music videos, when great fields of something in bloom became all the rage, as a setting. Sunflowers were a popular choice, as were wildflowers, as were roses and violets and fill-in-your-favorite-flower. The ballads were often enhanced by the beauty of the scene, so it is clear why the singer or bands or, more than likely, the director chose to go with something wide, deep, natural, and highly colorful. But few flower fields are as evocative of place and scent and a certain elegant joie de vivre as a lavender field. Lavender flowers say wine country, yes; they're a common symbol of certain parts of Southern France and several pockets of the U.S.; and you just want to smell any television or film screen they appear upon. That would be a little weird, right? So the lavender lover's best bet is to turn off the screens and make for a five-acre lavender field that's currently in "full bloom." Make for the Sonoma Lavender Barn in Kenwood and be there on Saturday, June 28 and Sunday, June 29.

THAT'S PARTY TIME... or sniffin' time, if you prefer. The Sonoma Lavender Festival is on, meaning free seminars on growing lavender and its benefits, and demos aplenty, and craftmaking, and just about everything to do with the lovely lavie that you can imagine. Music and wine are part of the purple days, too. Cost? Twenty bucks at the door. Dress code? None, but you're totally wearing something in the periwinkle-grape-violet family, right?

FINAL QUESTION: Do you lean down to smell the purple buds or do you rub a leaf a little between the fingers to release aroma? Both? Both is nice, though beware of the occasional bee.)

Photo Credit: Sonoma Lavender Festival]]>
<![CDATA[Farmhouse Inn: Learn the Culinary Arts]]> Fri, 27 Jun 2014 14:49:52 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/farmhouseinn3456.jpg

BACK-TO-THE-LANDIA: Boning up on how to do what our foremothers and forefathers did just a few generations ago is both a pleasure and an education. The pleasure is in the serving and enjoying of the delicious foodstuffs made from scratch; the education is in the making them. And while many an institute and kitchen school offers classes in everything from crepes to burgers and beyond, returning to the farmhouse arts very often takes, well, returning to a farmhouse. The Farmhouse Inn can help out on that front, given that the Russian River Valley property is about as farmhouse-y as all get out and it offers classes in jam-makery, butchering skills, foraging for flowers and herbs, and egg collecting. Since you'll be right there, in nature, or in a very rustic setting that's highly nature-adjacent, consider that much of your classroom will be the outdoors. And the lessons learned? They have a vintage sheen, for sure, but they aren't sweet simply for nostalgia's sake: Learn to make jam now and you may make it a habit for years to come.

THE CULINARY EXPERIENCES: Let's land on jam first, since that often helps start the day. You'll pick your favorite herbs in the Farmhouse Inn garden -- while sipping white peach Bellinis, which sounds pretty perfect -- and then head to the Relish Culinary center for the making of peach-basil jam (there's a peachy peach-themed lunch as well). But if sweet spreads aren't your thing, then the Farmhouse offers lessons in butchering and roasting pigs, the foraging of edible flowers, and the art of egg collecting (and egg enjoyment). Feeling summer's spell on you just thinking of these homey pursuits? Then make for Forestville for that white peach Bellini, lessons in edible flowers, and a day making and thinking about food at a true-blue farmhouse.

Photo Credit: Farmhouse Inn]]>
<![CDATA[Silicon Valley Beer Week]]> Fri, 27 Jun 2014 16:18:14 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/beer+bottles+generic+edit.jpg

HOW DO YOU GREET... August, which, rumor has it, can be notoriously roasty and notoriously draggy-of-day and truly earns its "dog days of summer" label? Do you find a friend with a swimming pool? (Should've done that back in May.) Do you invest in one of those whirly caps that fits on a sprinkler, the better to cool down? (Even though the neighbors may cluck as you dash across the lawn, squealing, for the 38th time.) Or do you find a really nice craft beer event that's slated for the end of July and the first couple of days of August? Well, honestly: You probably do all three, if you can, but the craft beer part of the equation may be easier to enact. That's because Silicon Valley Beer Week makes it a snap for suds mavens to find excellent foams made in the region, find the other appreciators of ales and lagers to share 'em with, and find the food that those beers enhance. The week is ready to roll for its second annual outing from Friday, July 25 through Saturday, Aug. 2.

ON THE ROSTER: The Pizza & Beer pairing night at Oak & Rye is an obvious eye-catcher. A trio of brewmakers -- all local -- will pit a flagship beer and a specialty beer against a particular pie. Much chewing, sipping, eyebrow-raising, and pondering shall occur, and, above all else, eating/drinking enjoyment. That's on Saturday, July 26. And will there be a full-on Beerwalk on Santana Row, come July 30? There shall be. And will there be a look at some local hopsy history with Anchor Brewing? There will indeed. Think of it as a grown-up, beverage-admiring way to take on the sweatiest days of summer. Wouldn't you rather see a pint glass do some sweating for a change? Let Silicon Valley Beer Week and its brewistos lend a heat-cooling hand.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Later Weekend Hours: Monterey Bay Aquarium]]> Wed, 02 Jul 2014 16:16:28 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/montereylaterhours2.jpg

WHAT DO FISH DO AFTER-HOURS? It's not a riddle, though it sounds like the very opening line that might send a 3rd grader into giggle fits (and net you an array of colorful responses). The fact is fishes do pretty much what they were doing earlier in the day, given that they tend not to follow our human calendars and schedules, and thank goodness for that. But what humans do adjacent to fish after-hours is a whole other bucket of worms, indeed. If we people are inside an aquarium, and the sun is setting, we tend to want to listen to live tunes, take it all down a notch, post-afternoon bustle, and maybe enjoy a glass of wine as we stroll by the jellies exhibit, murmuring and making chitchat. True? Sort of? Yep. So nope, the denizens of the aquarium don't change up what they're doing post-6 p.m., but we humans can, now that the Monterey Bay Aquarium is keeping later hours on Saturdays and Sundays through the summer.

WHAT THAT MEANS: Starting on July 5 -- that's the Sunday of Fourth of July weekend -- and running through Sunday, Aug. 31, the Cannery Row institution will stay open through 8 p.m., adding an extra two hours onto the aquarium day. But it isn't just a matter of someone arriving with the lock-up keys a little later; a whole slate of jazzy live music and a no-host bar and a "specially crafted menu" created by Chef Cindy Pawlcyn, the aquarium's culinary partner, will fill out those 120 minutes. And, yes, you'll be able to "roam the aquarium with wine in hand" admiring the spindly crustaceous fin-laden things, all by the calmer vibes of twilight. Sounds summer-y, right? A little more chillaxed than the go-go vacation push sometimes yields? Truly, this is the vibe: easy, educational, and wine-nice.

PLUS... don't forget: The much-talked-about and squidged-over Tentacles exhibit is still sucker-sweet and swimming onward. Make that your first stop-by, if possible. (And, yes, "squidged-over" is what people do when they're delighted by particularly inky, multi-limbed creatures of the deep; it's practically a scientific term.)

Photo Credit: Monterey Bay Aquarium/Randy Wilder]]>
<![CDATA[Mmm: Hello, Sacratomato Week]]> Wed, 25 Jun 2014 11:26:21 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sacratomato1224.jpg

ALL THE FOOD WEEKS, TOGETHER: Plenty of larger cities around our state host week-long festivals devoted to a singled dish or ingredient or foodstuff. This is good and this is lovely, especially if the dish happens to delight you, but we do wish we could smoosh a few of the disparate weeks together, the ones that show up across the calendar, into one mondo eat party. Take our state capital, which hosts some very fine beer festivals and an excellent all-bacon-all-the-time event, too. They've got a tomato affair up next, which means we're only a Lettuce Week away from BLT Week (well, we'd need Sliced Bread Week and Mayo Week, too, it is true). Restaurants of Sacramento, if Sacratomato Week is a complete rager and success -- as we predict it will be, because, tomatoes -- would you consider melding some of your biggest foodie events into BLT Time? Just a suggestion. A keenly made, we-want-it suggestion. Given that the tomato is called Sacramento's "signature commodity" we think a BLT spotlight event is in order. But until then we have the delicious-sounding...

SACRATOMATO WEEK: From July 21 through 27 "restaurants, bars, and nightclubs located in midtown's Sutter District" will be all about that juiciest of vine-ripened fruits. Look for it in the Heirloom Tomato Sandwich at Cafe Bernardo and the Heirloom Tomato Salad at Centro Cocina Mexicana (as well as the restaurant's own Bloody Maria) and search for it in several other spots around Sutter. You know people who are fairly tomato-obsessed, right? Who require the tart healthy zing of tomato-ery in drinks, sandwiches, pastas, and even desserts? Our wish is that they find themselves in the capital city near the end of July. Really, though, Sactown: Can we see some full-on BLT action next year at this time, too? In addition to Sacratomato? We want it all, is the thing, and we're not apologizing.

Photo Credit: Sacratomato]]>
<![CDATA[Mountaintop Learning: Explore Mammoth]]> Tue, 01 Jul 2014 11:20:35 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/229*120/exploremammothphoto.jpg

A NEW "LEARNING ADVENTURE": Skiers know that a day spent on the slopes is, very often, given over to the slopes, fully. It's all about ski meeting snow, and crystal-sharp vistas, and letting go, and finding a little peace and a lot of physical exertion. True, there's the ever-present, always lively social aspect, too, but a ski weekend is very often a weekend of skiing, as it should be. But what of the chance to visit a ski destination in the summer for a different slice of things? A get-to-know-the-background kind of trip, complete with a gondola ride up the big mountain and a look at the area's geological history and its deep background? A new "learning adventure" at Mammoth is giving people a peek into a different side of the mountain, beyond the busy hub that many visitors get familiar with each winter. The adventure is called "Explore Mammoth" and it debuts, and the top of the big hill, over the Fourth of July weekend.

AREA EDUCATION: "Through a combination of guided hikes, a museum, and a movie theater, 'Explore Mammoth' will shed light on the region's explosive geological, natural, and human history." Volcanic history is considered, as well as the "unique weather patterns that produce the monster snowstorms' that has put the region on the map. And, yep, you'll get some pretty up-high, take-in-far-distances views of the Eastern Sierra. As for the price? You'll get into the learning stations and Eleven53 interpretative center when you purchase a Scenic Gondola ticket. It's a fine route to get acquainted with an area known as one of the Sierra's most bustling play places, and a nice way to spend a summer day in a higher elevation. Education, elevation, and views? Plus, plus, plus. Plus? You can brag it up, next winter, off the slopes, to your friends, people who will soon dub you a true Mammoth maven.

Photo Credit: Explore Mammoth]]>
<![CDATA[Skunk Train Fun: Camping on the Noyo]]> Mon, 30 Jun 2014 18:50:11 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/197*120/campnoyoskunk.jpg

SUMMERTIME ADVENTURE: There are industries, as in plural, as in multiple businesses, built around the notion of selling people "adventure" come summertime. Now, what adventure means to one person is not what it means to another, of course, but let's land on a common quality of all adventures had: They incorporate a new thing. Now, fingers crossed, that new thing enhances the fun, and adds something to the outing, and maybe gives the day a bit of charm and class, too. Take camping, which almost always arrives with the words "outdoor" and "adventure" attached, even if your intention with that new tent is to take it to the same spot you always visit. Spending the night in nature is adventuresome, and that doesn't need a ton of tweaking. But a nifty way to change up a favorite getaway is to change up how the getaway is gotten. In short, how do you reach that camp site? Your car, a friend's truck, or a historic fabled train that twists through the redwoods? Oh, did we just reference Fort Bragg's own Skunk Train there? Why yes we most certainly did. 

THE TRAIN TO CAMP NOYO: Not only is the much-loved Skunky known for taking daytrippers on a half-day trip into the woods, it also hauls campers up to Camp Noyo, a former logging camp that's some 17 miles east of the train's origin point in Fort Bragg. Here are the key words on this adventure: The camp is "only accessible by train." Really, do you need to know more? Well, probably. It's a full service tent campground, there are barbecue opportunities and campfire rings, and working restrooms with hot showers (okay, so, yeah, you don't have to get too adventuresome in the shower-taking arena). Call it a different way to approach your al fresco sleepover, if you're an intrepid camper, and call it an ideal way for people who happen to love trains and sleeping under the stars to pair their two interests. Really, where else can you camp that's only reachable by an ol' train rumbling down the tracks? That feels like a slice of wayback Americana, and just the sort of thing to further burnish an offbeat summer adventure.

Photo Credit: Skunk Train]]>
<![CDATA[Helping Music Education: Petaluma Music Festival]]> Sun, 22 Jun 2014 21:56:02 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/brokedowninbakersfield1.jpg

EVERY GATHERING... about art has purpose at its heart and it is this: Enjoy the art. Be in the moment, be inside the song, enter the painting, embrace the craft or the dish or whatever the thing that has been created and presented to you happens to be. Scholars have argued throughout time that art is for art's sake and the pleasure of it is in the taking of pleasure. But, of course, if some extra special nice good stuff can be done, well, then, by all means, do it. This is the tack taken by the Petaluma Music Festival, which celebrates its seventh year in 2014. Summer time is tunes-played-outdoors-on-a-big-scale time, for sure -- you can't pass an amphitheater or pavilion without seeing that fact -- but the non-profit Petaluma gathering keeps it especially local, and lovely, with its aim: Help music education in the region. "Keeping music in our schools" is the theme of the day and "(p)roceeds from this annual event will be distributed among Petaluma's public elementary and secondary schools to provide funding for their music programs." The festival gave over twenty grand in 2013. Want to play a part in that paying-it-forward-ness? And groove to some early August tunes? Then make for the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds on Saturday, Aug. 2.

THE LINE-UP: Galactic -- they're from New Orleans, yep yep -- is the day's headliner. The Mother Hips, Brokedown in Bakersfield, Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds and several more acts'll twang-Americana-jazz-roots-funk-rock-chill it out. A ticket is forty bucks and that's good for nine hours of music-festival-giving-back-non-profit-coming-together awesomeness. Yes, awesomeness. Our teachers in school cautioned against trucking out words like "awesome" when one wasn't truly filled with awe -- yours, too? -- but a day spent raising funds for teaching children about music, and to love music, absolutely qualifies on the awesome scale of things. We're standing by it.

Photo Credit: Brokedown in Bakersfield]]>
<![CDATA[Pacific Picnic: World's Biggest Salmon BBQ]]> Wed, 25 Jun 2014 11:27:32 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/salmonbbqnoyo.jpg

FISH FANS... can be pretty passionate about their favorite fins, but, moreover, their favorite cooks and how those cooks prepare the dish in question. Oysterists will stand by a stand that hands out buckets of the bivalves, buckets that are pure oyster and little seasoning. People into trout swear by pine nuts and blue corn meal as the perfect topping and crust, or no topping or crust at all. But salmon lovers? We're talking about a big group boasting a wide variety of opinions. Should the meaty delicacy be smoked on a cedar plank? Is it best drizzled in teriyaki sauce? Or neat? How about kebab'd or, mmm, made into jerky? It's one of the most versatile gifts of our waters, it is true, but regardless of how you take your salmon, taking it next to the water, on a glorious early summer day, at an event that's solely about this particular fish, has to be a singular pleasure. And salmonians who seek that pleasure seek out South Noyo Harbor in Fort Bragg each July, as that's the very smoke-nice spot that the World's Largest Salmon BBQ heats up.

DATE AND DETAILS: The fiery coals and fragrant woodsmoke'll get going on Saturday, July 5. Tickets are thirty bucks at the door, there's live music, there's socializing, there's ocean breezes. Oh, and, indeed, there shall be sides: corn on the cob, green salad, and garlic bread have been served in years past. (Don't even start a salmon enthusiast on the perfect side, because that conversation is going to grow colorful and complicated; we'll stand by broccolini ourselves.) And the ultimate beneficiary? The eaters, of course, win, but so does the Salmon Restoration Association, which employs the day's proceeds to "improve salmon populations on the Northern California coast." A worthy cause regardless of what your favorite seafood happens to be.

Photo Credit: World's Largest Salmon BBQ]]>
<![CDATA[Walnut Creek Wildlife Hospital: Peek Behind the Scenes]]> Fri, 20 Jun 2014 14:07:01 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/194*120/babyraccoonwalnut1.jpg

WILDLIFE CARE: If you have a kitten or a pup or an iguana or a parakeet, you've very likely sat through a veterinarian exam (or, more accurately, stood through one, or a dozen, as you cuddled your furry or feathery or scaly charge in attempts to keep them soothed). But seeing how wildlife is cared for is not something most people are privy to, outside of catching a show on cable. The Lindsay Wildlife Museum of Walnut Creek is setting out to change up that particular disconnect, however. Throughout the summer, through Labor Day, the museum's hospital will invite visitors to watch medical exams "in a specially created area with a view into the treatment room, while staff narrates." That means that you could watch the setting of an owl's wing or a raccoon get a wound cleaned and bandaged. Thousands of beasties pass through the Lindsay Wildlife Museum hospital -- some 1,900 so far in 2014 -- and a full-time veterinarian tends to their needs. But the vet is not alone: A bevy of veterinarian technicians and hundreds of volunteers lend loads of help and smarts and services, meaning that if you're an injured hawk or bat or snake, and you're brought into the hospital, you are in luck.

HOW THE PROGRAM WORKS: The viewing area open times are 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays through Labor Day. An adult admission is $8.50, children 2 to 17 get in for $6.50, and seniors pay $7.50. The vast majority of the animals who enter the hospital are there due to "adverse contact with human activity," says a rep, and the patients truly run the gamut, from hummingbirds to bobcats. For sure, you'll see some touchstones of when you visit the vet with your own pet, but wildlife care and treatment is quite the different and often delicate pursuit, given that the animals treated are not adapted to the rhythm of we humans in the way our own animals are. Call it a rare glimpse into a human-meets-nature world, one that seeks to benefit and heal.

Photo Credit: Lindsay Wildlife Museum]]>
<![CDATA[Catalina Island Beach Parties]]> Tue, 24 Jun 2014 10:34:22 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/catalinadescansobeach243.jpg

CATALINA FAVORITES: What do people do when they head some 26 miles out to see, from Southern California, for a day spent on Catalina Island? There are a few iconic musts, from admiring the non-native buffalo to the nighttime-loving flying fish to the off-shore kelp forests (seen through a glass-bottomed boat, of course) to driving a golf cart to partying like a pirate at Two Harbors to dressing up in vintage wear and dancing until the wee smalls inside the iconic Casino Building. Catalina isn't all that big, as you might know, so that it has several famous touchstones and have-to-sees speaks to its rather sparkly and mysterious character. But here's something of a spoiler alert and a good reminder for those who stick to their tried-and-true gotta-dos on the water-surrounded hunk o' land, again and again: Catalina is an island. It is, in fact, in its very name, which means it boasts some great waterfront and beachy play places, spots where people gather to sun and play bingo and watch the occasional outdoor movie. And, yes, sometimes there's a beach party, too, complete with DJs and cocktails and the perfect stretch of sand. That's going down at the Descanso Beach Club over the summer of 2014, and there's a way to get in on it.

HOW? Pay a two-dollar beach access fee, then settle in for the afternoon and take in the tunes and scene. That's it. Well, you'll want to stash some cash in your swim trunks for drinks and bites, for sure. The Descanso parties are on every Saturday and Sunday afternoon, from 2 to 5 p.m., through the final Saturday in September (note that they move to just Saturdays in September). We would dare tell you not to go find a buffalo or drive a golf cart, but, really: If you're on an island, don't you kind of want a bit of a beach bash, complete with cocktails and happy hour specials and DJs doing the spinning thing? California has many great beaches, but very few island beaches. This is one to enjoy.

Photo Credit: Visit Catalina Island]]>
<![CDATA[Mill Valley's Gourmet Good Times]]> Wed, 18 Jun 2014 17:07:48 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/millvalleygourmet2.jpg

60+ WINERIES: The first day of summer is actually the first weekend of summer in many a mind, and when June 21 doesn't fall on a weekend day, many of us resort to celebrating the first week of summer (or, even, the first fortnight). We want to stretch out our welcome for the most winsome of seasons, and we want to do so through the tried-and-true rituals of food, drink, and socializing. Did we say "tried-and-true"? Make that perfected-and-beloved. It so happens that Mill Valley is down with this notion, and has been for well over three decades. Why? The Mill Valley Market throws a foodie-fun feast come the very beginning of summer, one that summons strollers who want to sip local wines, try hand-crafted, crafty-cool beers, and eat from local restaurants. Oh, all while enjoying Mill Valley's Depot Plaza and some sunshine (if the sun plays nice). It's not a typical street fair, though, in that attendees should be 21-and-over, and there are tickets to eat and drink by. Cost? Those are $50 ahead of time and $60 once you get there. Oh, and as for the when? That's the day after the first day of summer: Sunday, June 22.

ON THE PLATES, IN THE GLASSES: Look for new vinos from spots like Balo Vineyards, chardonnays and pinots from Deovlet, and Melka Wines cabernets. Food purveyors will include Tony Tutto Pizza, Beth's Community Kitchen, and Pasta Pomodoro. As for the brews? Street Ales and Anderson Valley Brewing'll be some of the names on the taps. Yep, the summer street festival is a snacking-ready favorite when the sunniest of seasons arrives, and Mill Valley Market's party is no different. But it is: It's got a gourmet bent, and it is made for just the grown-ups, so call it a summertime done swanky. Yep, you can still wear something casual, a sundress or tank top, but plan on the fest leaning slightly posh-ier, wine-ier, and foodie-ier, too.

Photo Credit: Gary Ferber]]>
<![CDATA[Sonoma-Marin Fair World's Ugliest Dog Contest]]> Fri, 20 Jun 2014 15:07:24 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/dog171080038.jpg

IF EVER... there was an eye of the beholder-type situation, it is the one that unfurls, with a bark and a yippity-yap, in Petaluma each June. That's when the World's Ugliest Dog Contest trots across the stage of the Sonoma-Marin Fair, and humans cast a "fun" online vote for the hound with the most memorable mug. The spirit of the competition, which has been wagging its furry tail for a quarter of a century, is very much in sweet fun, and no pooch is made to feel unpretty. Rather, the Ugliest Dog contestants are showered in hugs and attention, given both by their attentive owners and a clamoring public. And, boy howdy, does that public clamor; hundreds upon hundreds of people vote for their favorite dog ahead of the Petaluma showdown, and adoring fans showing up in person to get an up-close eyeful.

For while many an event may stick "world's" on the front of their name, to lend some oomph, the Ugliest Dog Contest qualifies: It is famous around the planet, and the news crews descending upon the fair bear witness to that. If you want to bear witness now to some of the cutest waggers taking the 2014 stage, you can, on the voting page, and you can also vote through 10 p.m. on Thursday, June 19.

THE FIDO FIELD: We mean, just. How to choose? You gaze lovingly upon Boogie, a Pekingese/Lhasa mix with "not so much fur" or Grovie, a Pug who is an Ugliest Dog Contest regular, and you just don't know where to throw your dog-loving weight. The stories are as touching as the faces, and you'll leave the for-fun voting site wishing you could have given all a push, or at least a cuddle. For "Ugliest" is subjective but a loving animal face is not: We humans recognize when a beastie is kind of eye or gentle of soul. And, truly, that's what people will be out watching for, when the Friday, June 20 affair takes the stage in Petaluma. Gentle souls and cute, lopped-over-to-one-side tongues.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Street Painting Pop-Up Meets '40s California]]> Mon, 16 Jun 2014 18:14:41 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/194*120/popupmarincalifornia.jpg

HIGH SUMMER'S ART FORM: Surely there are some destinations where Madonnari, or street painting, thrives in the winter months. Maybe locals like the chalk artworks to be a bit smeary or gray, due to the weather or moisture, to lend some moodiness. But, in general? Street painting is a long-standing al fresco tradition that very much belongs to summertime, those warm weather months when the sidewalk isn't chilly for the artist to sit upon for hours and when admirers of art might be out strolling into the late-day hours. Pasadena's huge chalk festival is a June staple and San Rafael's own Italian Street Painting Marin will have its day, or days, over the final weekend of the month. This outing is actually a pop-up version of the every-so-often festival, and it has a specific theme and feel: California in the 1940s.

DATES AND DETAILS: Street painting fans, and lovers of history combined with artistic flair, will make for the Mission San Rafael Arcangel on Saturday, June 28 and Sunday, June 29. Admission? It's free, as it so often is with street painting gatherings. As for that 1940s theme? Look for the artists to spotlight "the wide-ranging contributions the state of California made to the country and its culture in the 1940s. The artwork will be complemented by music of the decade, and tastes and sips of Italy will be available for purchase." While street painting events often keep a general viewpoint, inviting participants to draw what moves them, a locally and topically themed spectacular is a special treat in the Madonnari universe. Oh, and fun fact? All of the artists hail from California and Hawaii.

THE CHILDREN'S MURAL: Kids often want to draw when they see the artists at work, and the Italian Street Painting Marin pop-up will give them a chance. The theme? A classic 1940s animated film. Teens'll start it and then young artists'll take a crack at the colorful work. Fun summer weekend times, with an old-school street painting bent.




Photo Credit: Italian Street Painting Marin]]>
<![CDATA[Free Santa Ynez Shuttle: The Valley Loop]]> Mon, 16 Jun 2014 08:30:24 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/190*120/valleyshuttle345.jpg

VALLEY HOPPING, SAFE AND EASY: Everybody who has ever planned a Saturday of wine or beer tasting around one of California's beverage-blessed regions knows that the first order of business isn't making sure your friends are all off work and can take the time, nor that you have your beer-drinking pants on, nor that you have a little cash for tastings and trinkets you might come across at various brewhouses and vineyards. You want to line up that designated driver, or car service, so you're not driving. Period. End of story. Right? That's number one. And Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co. is making a day out trying the libations of the Santa Ynez Valley a safe adventure: They're introducing the Valley Loop shuttle. Yep, it is a shuttle, and yes indeed, it visits a number of breweries, wineries, and restaurants around the valley. Oh, and did we mention the "free" part? Should that have come at the beginning? It is free.

SO HERE'S WHAT YOU NEED... to know. It runs from Friday to Sunday, with the first pick-up happening at the Figureroa Mountain Buellton tap room at 11 a.m. Later pick-ups at that spot will go down at 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9 p.m. (that's a good long day for a free shuttle). Other pick-up points include Avant Tapas & Wine, Andersen's Pea Soup, both of Buellton; the Figueroa Mountain tasting room in Los Olivos; Roblar Winery in Santa Ynez; and a few other stops. The shuttle visits six cities in all, so call that a wide swath of the valley. Arrive early, stay for the better part of the afternoon, and you'll see several of the ales and chardonnays and pea soups on offer. Pea soup! We want a bowl at the beginning and the end, to better fortify us.

TO GET THE FULL SKED... and all the good stuff before rounding up your friends and plotting your daytrip, read, read, read.

Photo Credit: Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co.]]>
<![CDATA[Vegas Sparkle: 60 Signs Debut at Neon Boneyard]]> Wed, 11 Jun 2014 17:53:06 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/184*120/VegasNeon_1_MG_9631.JPG The museum's north gallery is reserved for special events.

Photo Credit: The Neon Museum Las Vegas]]>
<![CDATA[Santa Barbara Summer Solstice]]> Thu, 12 Jun 2014 05:50:13 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/summersolstice136.jpg

THE LONGEST DAY OF THE YEAR: How do Northern Hemisphereans typically greet June 21, that sunshine-packed day of the year when there's lots of light and not too much night? They might gather on a hilltop to enjoy the dawn or head for a garden to watch flowers open or do something that puts them in touch with nature, the cosmos, and our nearest star. Or, if you're Santa Barbara, you host one of the nation's best-known Summer Solstice happenings, a three-day festival and one-time parade that is attended by over 100,000 people. That's what happens when you've been around for four decades -- word gets out, and how.

THE FESTIVAL: Make for Alameda Park on Friday, June 20, Saturday, June 21, and Sunday, June 22 for loads of tunes -- Raw Silk with Leslie Lembo, a local favorite, will play, as will the funky Area 51 and rock-loving Ambrosia, among others -- and loads of other beyond-tunes to-dos. A children's area filled with magicians and storytellers is one festival staple, as are the art projects kidlets jump into (at no cost to join). As for the other festy doings? A beer and wine garden, and arts and crafts boutique, and a look at the floats after the Saturday parade.

THE PARADE: And about that famous parade that shimmies up the heart of State Street... It's colorful. The costumes are downright outlandish. The spirit is vibrant and community-good. There are often inflatables and other eye-catching props. And the theme this year? Games. The floats are people-powered, as befits a city that takes its Earth Day heritage seriously, and no "commercial elements" -- words, logos, and such -- are permitted. The parade, which is on at noon on June 21, is outlandish and sweet and a great coming-together, year after year.

Photo Credit: Santa Barbara Summer Solstice]]>