<![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 Sat, 19 Apr 2014 06:28:02 -0700 Sat, 19 Apr 2014 06:28:02 -0700 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[A Very Otter Easter]]> Sat, 19 Apr 2014 06:13:26 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/ottereggsmonterey134.jpg

TREAT ENVY: Look, no one is asking anyone to give up their basket, the one full of the fake green grass and foil-wrapped chocolate bunnies. No one. But once you see the famous otter residents of Monterey Bay Aquarium hanging with their colorful ice treats, well.

The envy grows, just a little. Right? But we'll let the otters have their otter-appropriate treats without coveting them too much. The pretty "ice eggs" showed up in the otters' aquarium-adjacent hangout on Friday, April 18, and adorable, viral-worthy photographs ensued. That's because the over-sized eggs came in a rainbow of color -- blue, pink, yellow -- and included designs like butterflies. Oh yeah, and aquatic mammals chillaxing with their chilly snackage? That's pretty dang viral, too.

THEY CAN SEE COLOR: A fan on the aquarium's Facebook page asked if otters can recognize colors and the Cannery Row institution answered that they indeed can, hence the hue-happy treats. The ice has gone now, and the otters are back to dreaming about mussels, crab, and the other ocean-y edibles they live on, but it made for a festive moment. Does it outdo the pumpkins given to zoo animals to gnaw upon each Halloween? We don't want to get embroiled in that discussion. 

OH YES... and the ice eggs were made by aquarium staffers, lest anyone get the notion that they emerged from the Pacific looking that way. The ocean is a wondrous place, full of magical properties, but ice eggs aren't a thing created by nature (yet). Need more otter love? Check out the aquarium's Sea Otter Cam, or take a peek back at the mom and baby who recently paid a visit to the aquarium's neighboring tidepool.

Photo Credit: Randy Wilder/Monterey Bay Aquarium]]>
<![CDATA[Hello, Eastern Sierra: Sonora Pass Opens]]> Fri, 18 Apr 2014 11:43:22 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/bodieagp.jpg

THE MODERN WORLD... isn't known for weathering inconveniences very well. We don't like to be rerouted in our car; we don't like train delays, and we aren't keen to get a package next week when we can have it in two days. And businesses respond to this with hurry-up-quick policies, which translates into many people typically getting what they want practically instantaneously. But what isn't instantaneous and never shall be? Nature. We're talking about the wild world, our leafy, watery cradle, the place where seeing a seed sprout takes time, and no amount of wheedling will produce faster results. Nature's unique timetable also means that, come winter, snow makes some of our state's mountain passes impassable, and thoroughfares like the Tioga and Sonora Passes hang up the proverbial "closed"  sign for people who want to get from east to west, or vice versa, via their wheels. This is good, right? To slow down and remember that we don't occupy a world that's gone fully on-demand. But when spring springs, and ice melts, we long to road-trip-it, and travel we shall: The Sonora Pass, one of the winding hearts of the Sierra, opened on Friday, April 18.

MEANING... you're on your way to Bodie State Historic Park -- the perfectly preserved ghost town is so pretty come springtime, without summer's bigger bustle -- and fishing. Yep, fishing opens in Mono County on Saturday, April 26, if that's your pleasure, but if it isn't, Mammoth Mountain is keeping the ski scene going right through Memorial Day, thanks to some surprise springtime snow. And are wildflowers popping along the pass yet? They have a way of doing that 'round the Sierra 'round this time of year. Indeed, we're always happy to live by nature's timeline and not always our own. Good to see you again, Sonora Pass.


Photo Credit: Alysia Gray Painter]]>
<![CDATA[Know Highway 1? Show Off (and Maybe Win)]]> Thu, 17 Apr 2014 19:22:49 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/bixbybridgebigsur456.jpg

WE OWN IT: If you were to visualize how you typically describe road trip or weekend suggestions to an inquiring friend, a friend who has plans to visit an area you know very well, how do you imagine yourself conveying the helpful information and local facts that they seek? Do you see yourself lifting a cup of tea that's randomly materialized before you, with your pinky out, as you politely talk about regional museums and historic figures and annual events? Of course you don't. There's no phantom tea cup, there's no raised pinky, there's only you doing your darndest not to flail your arms and rave, in all capital letters, about a place you know so well and love so much you practically own it. (Please, we've all had those acquaintances who act as if they've discovered this one village or that one resort or lake. We might on occasion be those people, honestly.)

TRUTH TIME: Do you feel that way about Highway 1? Don't blush, because many people are Highway 1 practically-owners. It's a positive way to be about a place, because it means many a visitor cares madly for the historic stretch. If you happen to know one of the highway's very best places -- a restaurant, a park, an overlook, a funky stop -- then here's where your rubber meets the road, or, rather, your knowledge meets a great travel contest. Lonely Planet wants to know your best Highway 1 pick.

HERE'S WHAT TO DO: Pin a photo of it, on Pinterest, before June 30th, and hashtag it the heck out with #lproadtrip. "Lonely Planet will select monthly winners and from these pins and award them with the complete Best Trips series." Oh yeah -- a travel-themed guidebook-y prize is for grabs. That works. There are a few more roadtrips across the country that are part of the "What's Your Detour?" contest, so take a look at all. But if you have a Highway 1 pin that's nice and beachy or ottery or butterfly-y or redwoodian, get pinning, pinner.

Photo Credit: California Travel and Tourism Commission/ thatgirlproductions.com]]>
<![CDATA[Gibbon Conservation Center Welcomes Baby Surprise]]> Sat, 19 Apr 2014 06:21:10 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/gibboncenterbabysurprise.jpg

ANIMAL OFFSPRING: An infant at an animal park or preserve is typically an anticipated event, with staffers awaiting the new koala or giraffe or condor. But beasties have a way of surprising we humans -- they always have and always will -- and sometimes a bouncing baby that was not expected arrives to exclaims and well-I-nevers and a flurry of doctor check-ups and announcements. Such was the case at the Gibbon Conservation Center in Santa Clarita earlier this month.

Tuk, a female gibbon who appeared to be "just a little bit pudgy," gave birth to a baby girl on Wednesday, April 9. "It's the third offspring for Tuk and Domino," reads the center's Facebook page, which goes onto explain why the infant's arrival took staffers unaware. Tuk had been implanted with a contraception device, which leads the center to believe the pregnancy began just beforehand.

THE NEW BABY... debuted alongside her mother in a series of sweet photos. "Strong and healthy" is how the center describes her, so bet she'll be participating in the gibbons' famous vocal "songs" very soon (if you visit the center on one of its weekend-morning walk-throughs, you're apt to hear the memorable vocals).

VISITING THE CENTER: While self-guided tours are available each weekend, you can book a private tour, too. And the center hosts fundraisers quite often, like bowling tourneys, so keep an eye if you want to lend a hand. The GCC was founded in 1976 and "houses the rarest group of apes in the Western Hemisphere," assisting in rescue programs, study, and more conservation efforts.

Photo Credit: Gibbon Conservation Center]]>
<![CDATA[Melt the Butter: Castroville Artichoke Festival]]> Thu, 17 Apr 2014 06:57:18 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/artichokes+produce+pete.jpg

TALK-WORTHY FOOD: Gourmands are sometimes satirized for discussing future meals as they sit down to a nice dinner, but discussing food over food isn't always unusual. Take the foodstuffs we talk about while we're eating them. Toast typically isn't discussed, with passion and heat, while we consume it; same likely goes for eggs, which are as hearty as can be, but perhaps so ubiquitous that we don't think to sing their yolky praises as we consume them. But a flaming Baked Alaska? Yeah, we're talking about it while we eat it. A four-tiered tower of crab claws? Probably discussing that in real time, too. And the artichoke? Flat-out yes. We have a theory that it is nearly impossible to eat an artichoke while not discussing artichokes. Can you and a friend share a thorny bit of heaven and not ponder the artichoke's greatness while you teeth-drag over the leaf ends? You cannot. That's one of the many wonders of that most thistle-y of all cravings, a treat that gets its due each late spring.

CASTROVILLE ARTICHOKE FESTIVAL: The delicious dippable will once again leaf-it-up at the Monterey County Fair and Events Center. Dates? Saturday, May 31 and Sunday, June 1. Happenings? Wine demos, cooking demos, a classic car show. Field tours? You betcha -- buses await those who want to know how the bulbous delights grow. Artichoke edibles? So very many at the fest. But our second question is this: Do you prefer to enjoy your chokie the old-fashioned way, or breaded, fried, split, and smothered in sauces? That may be the final topic that artichokeans need to meet on and call a truce. For while everybody likes to discuss the artichoke while eating an artichoke, we still possess our own preferences with how we take the succulent plant. Can't we savor it in all the ways? Someone please open up an all-artichoke restaurant chain at once and prove there is no wrong way to eat an artichoke.

Photo Credit: Artichokes]]>
<![CDATA[Photographer's Special: The Skunk Train]]> Wed, 16 Apr 2014 17:54:34 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/SkunkTrainphotoday2.jpg

IT WILL BE A FINE TURN OF EVENTS... when all of California's historic locations and cultural institutions and outdoor landmarks set aside one morning or evening of the year as "Photographer's Day." We speak of the full day, or few hours of a day, set aside to welcome shutterbugs, both professional and just-starting-out, to snap the sights of a location in a more studied and unhurried manner. That might mean an animal park staying open past 5 p.m., which translates into fewer crowds and interesting sunlight for the person wielding a camera. It might mean opening early, to catch the first rays, as Bodie State Historic Park has done before during its own Photographer's Day. And it might mean welcoming photographers to get a little up-close with the sharks and rays, as Long Beach's Aquarium of the Pacific has welcomed photographers to do. But what do you do when what you're famous for is very much on the move? We speak here of the historic Skunk Train, one of the handsomest trains in the West. If you're snapping a picture of Skunky, from the side of the rails, you know you only have a few seconds before it chugs away. Except when the...

PHOTOGRAPHER'S SPECIAL...  rolls into Skunk Train Land. That's the day when all train-lovin' picture takers may venture to Fort Bragg for some quality lens-focused time with a truly picturesque engine and railcars that go way, way back. "Staged photo run-bys" are a part of the special June 8 event, as is a barbecue lunch up at Northspur. (Very rustic, very ye olde California, very relaxing, so you'll have plenty of time to talk equipment with new photo-mad friends over the meal.) Cost? Ninety nine bucks, and the day starts early: 8 a.m. Yep, we bet you'll get some pretty light to capture the Skunkster and its steamy ways by. Happy framing, snapshotters.

Photo Credit: Skunk Train]]>
<![CDATA[Ways to Wheel: Bike Month in Cambria]]> Wed, 16 Apr 2014 10:09:33 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/160*120/bicycle.jpg

MAJOR ROLL-THROUGH: When a large-scale, news-making sportsy happening alights in a smaller village for a few hours or a day, some magic tends to happen. People come from all-over to catch the big tennis tourney or golf swing or bike ride, and the town very much benefits. But one side benefit perhaps not immediately seen, at least over the hours of the event itself, is this: Visitors want to golf or play tennis or swim or bike, like the big event, in the town where they saw it. It makes sense, right? If a mondo bike competition pedals through a seaside city, fans want their own crack at doing some pretty pedaling, too.

THAT'S GOING TO BE... very much the case with Cambria come May. The funky snug of a village is a host city for the AMGEN Tour of California, meaning that loads of top-tier, Spandex-rockin' cyclists, and even more loads of fans, photographers, and support teams, shall be doing the Cambrian thing for a night. (That night is Wednesday, May 14.) If you're one of the following fans, or you'd love to return to the city in the prime season of summer for some cycling action, you should and can. There are bike-ready trails at the wild and gorgeous Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, and as for wine country, vineyard-adjacent wheelin'? Cambria to Paso Robles via Highway 46 West is recommended. There are also swaths of ocean-close roads to take on, in the area, if toodling by bluffs and wave-crashery is your thing.

WANT TO WATCH... and save the riding for elsewhere? The AMGEN Tour of California rolls from May 11 through 18, covering Folsom, Sacramento, Cambria, Thousand Oaks, and beyond.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Stockbyte]]>
<![CDATA[Vegas New: SLS Debut, Neon Nights, Offbeat Sweets]]> Tue, 15 Apr 2014 14:54:15 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/slsvegas.jpg

YOU DON'T HAVE TO KNOW VEGAS... all that well to recognize it as the change-iest city in all the land. New towers rise; a few towers fall; and restaurants are forever reimagining themselves, their menus, their waitstaff uniforms, and, above all, their brand, look, and presentation.

Fresh things flow down The Strip like so many winds through the nearby canyon, for sure. The new stuff tempts regulars to come and see the new-new-new while tempting not-so-regulars with nifty ideas and outrageous takes on things we thought we knew already. Cadbury Creme Egg Souffle, anyone?

Here's what au courant around Sin City:

SLS Vegas Hotel & Casino:  The SLS in Beverly Hills in an artsy bon bon of a seen-and-be-seen-scene, with playful monkeys dominating the logo, fancy foaming cocktails, and the eye-poppingest decor around. Count on the Vegas property to be as swanky, cheeky, and foam-filled, at least on the beverage front. Is it due for a huge Labor Day Weekend opening? It is. Are reservations on first rooms being accepted now? They are. Can you actually stay *ahead* of the opening, starting on Aug. 25? Indeed. And is the hotel in the former Sahara, meaning some retro throwbackery'll be afoot? You just have to see for yourself.

The Chocolate Cadbury Egg Souffle: Now this one is just tickling us, for timeliness, Vegas-o-sity, and holiday cheek. Andre's Restaurant & Lounge at the Monte Carlo has an Easter dessert on built around what is basically the go-to indulgence of April: the Cadbury egg. Once we heard about it we thought about it for the next hour, we'll admit it. Tempted? It's there through Easter Sunday, for 15 bucks.

The Neon Sign Summit: One might view the neon sign through the window of time, as though the tube-bright icons are a thing of the past. But sign smarties of today will gather at Sin City's Neon Museum to talk signs -- past, present, and future -- and what lies ahead. Cool for the neon fan or anybody into the character of cities and how businesses present themselves. Date? Tuesday, April 22.

Photo Credit: SLS Vegas]]>
<![CDATA[Orchid Party: Winchester Mystery House Abloom]]> Wed, 16 Apr 2014 17:32:07 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/160*120/orchid2.jpg

A CERTAIN CHARACTER: With the busy, noisy, image-packed world we occupy, it can be rather too simple to put certain places, things, and buildings in particular slots and categories. This one pier might be "touristy" while this one beach is "private" and this other ski run is "party-riffic." We too often boil every locale down to its one-word qualifier (though, to be honest, many a destination lacks even that, in many minds). So how do you describe San Jose's most famous abode, the Winchester Mystery House? Spooky? Creepy, even? Ghosty? Those are likely high on many a fan's list. But when you consider the gorgeous grounds, and the dignified and historic presentation of Sarah Winchester's rambler of a mansion, and the colorful buds that pop throughout the spring, well... "flowery" is another apt word for a house often associated with the night. Things blossom at one of the world's most eerie, said-to-be-haunted destinations, meaning the Winchester is indeed about petals and not just phantoms. It's the perfect setting, then, for the San Jose Orchid Exposition, which flowers at the Winchester from Thursday, May 30 through Sunday, June 1.

ORCHID HISTORY: Okay, yes indeed, the orchid is kind of the perfect flower for the Winchester -- mysterious, elegant, laden with baroque history and legends -- so it naturally fits in more ways than one. High quality orchids aplenty will be for sale -- seriously, orchid aficionados, prepare yourself -- and experts will talk all things soil and sunlight and water and growth. Sessions on growing will be given, and orchid conservation will be a topic as well. Consider that the complete spectrum on this stunner'll be covered, for new fans and serious enthusiasts alike. Want to start the summer with a few in your own atrium or light-soft corner? Make for the Winchester Mystery House, in the daytime, to buy and learn. Nope, no ghosts shall be present, that we know of, though Ghost Orchids may be discussed.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Got a Garlic Recipe? Get It Into the Big Fest]]> Wed, 16 Apr 2014 17:30:26 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/garlic+cloves.jpg

PUNGENT DISHES: If you've ever been to a food festival, then you know there tends to be one or several centerpiece cook-offs, many involving home cooks with Really Big Ideas about the star ingredient of the weekend. But those home cooks didn't just get everything together that morning, pots, pans, and their dish's concept, before leaving for the festival grounds. They've spent months perfecting their plate, from flavor and tone to appearance and finish. Months? Okay, a year, quite often, if they started immediately after the last festival wrapped. So while we attendees may drift by a cook-off, plastic spoon and paper plate in hand, ready to try, we should all pay respect to those recipe-smart competitors, people who have planned. And the planning for one of the biggest food festivals in all the land is already very much underway. Did you just get a spicy taste in your mouth, some sort of foodie foreshadowing? We bet you did, because we're talking about the Gilroy Garlic Festival, which cloves up the weekend of July 25 through 27.

RECIPE WANTED: If you have a ginormously popular garlic recipe, one the friends and fam rave over, then best get it into the fest people by May 1. Garlic pasta with brie, garlic tahini bliss, garlic cookies -- why not? -- garlic milkshakes -- why not again? -- garlic anything, the lines are open. There are a few rules, like the number of cloves that must appear in each dish or amount of minced or chopped garlic, and, if you make it to the top, you'll cook alongside seven other garlic lovers on stage at the fest on July 26. So performance under pressure is key. The 2013 winning recipe? Carnival-Style Fish Sticks with Lemony Jalapeno Mayonnaise and Spicy Apple Kohlrabi Slaw, by the by, so get inspired, garlicians. Oh, and top price? Five thousand cloves, er, clams, er, bucks. The heat, as the song says, is on.

Photo Credit: Garlic]]>
<![CDATA[Walnut Creek, Ahoy: Short Films and Restaurant Week]]> Sun, 13 Apr 2014 08:35:01 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/160*120/Popcorn_103008.jpg

BREVITY=BLISS: There's much to say about lickety-split-ing something that typically takes a good bit of time. A slice of banana instead of the whole dealie lends as much flavor, and a shorter shower versus an epic wash? You'll still get clean. The same goes for our entertainments and culinary pursuits. While we might claim to want more, more, more of the good stuff, the tasty stuff, the long-lasting stuff, getting a proverbial nibble here and there can, in the end, make time for more variety. Walnut Creek is rocking this very notion, with a pair of happenings just ahead: Walnut Creek Restaurant Week and the Walnut Creek International Short Film Festival.

WALNUT CREEK RESTAURANT WEEK: Nope, restaurant weeks don't go *too* nouveau -- we're talking about a single scallop served on a large plate -- but they make for an excellent way to try a wide swath of tastes over a single prix fixe meal. Head for any of the participating restaurants and sample a three-courser, appetizer, entree, and dessert. "Over 2 dozen restaurants" are on board, including Hamachi Restaurant & Lounge, Katy's Kreek, and Salvatore Ristorante. Restaurant week is on from April 21-27, and the menus? They're right here.

WALNUT CREEK INTERNATIONAL SHORT FILM FESTIVAL: It's true and good that web sites like Funny or Die have created new avenues for one of the greatest of cultural forms, the zippy flick. And while we can sit at our computers and watch plenty, the pleasure of viewing with other people, on a big screen, is unparalleled. Dig a whole bunch of shorties, all screened in a row? Animated and live action and docs, too? Then you'll want to make for the Century Walnut Creek 14 from May 2 through 4. Filmmaker chats and other popcorn-scented mind treats await.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Mega Run: Badwater Goes Salton Sea]]> Tue, 15 Apr 2014 12:19:05 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Salton+Sea1.jpg

DRIVEN BY THE SALTON SEA? Then you know it, and the Anza-Borrego Desert to the west, have a quiet, big-sky'd vastness that seems to have arisen from a painter's brush or a poem about remote and epic spaces. You probably stick to your wheels, mostly, except to get out at vantage points and look across the water, or the scrubby hills, contemplating the earth and clouds and other Important Thoughts of Life. Have those Important Thoughts of Life, though, included what it might be like to hoof it over 81 miles, through the Anza-Borrego and to the crest of Palomar Mountain and along the shoreline of the Salton Sea? Maybe, maybe not. But that's just what several elite runners will do over the first Monday and Tuesday in May, when they tie on the running shoes and head out for a very warm -- very, very warm -- and memorable super-run through some of Southern California's most scenic wild places. It's Badwater Salton Sea

YEP... if you're thinking you've heard the term "Badwater" before, you have. It's a gorgeous and alien place in Death Valley, of course, where a summertime run, in a three-digit swelter, has challenged some of the top runners on the planet. The Salton Sea event isn't quite so middle-of-the-summer-y, but trust: legging it over 81 miles in two days is nothing to sniff at. The race begins in Salton City, which is 125 feet below sea level, and ends at Palomar Mountain, "almost the tallest mountain in San Diego County" (the finish line checks in at 5500 feet above sea level).

LOVE A GOOD RUNNING CHALLENGE? The Palm Springs Tram Road Challenge sends runners straight up, or nearly, for 3.7 miles of San Jacinto each autumn. That doesn't sound too hard, but picture climbing some 2000 feet in elevation. Yep. It's major.


Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Spring Flowers: Death Valley's "Wild Surprise"]]> Mon, 14 Apr 2014 12:38:52 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/179*120/dvflowers_6.jpg A bigger bloom than expected, given the dry winter, is popping in the desert.

Photo Credit: Furnace Creek Resort]]>
<![CDATA[Bodega Bay Challenge: Build a Boat on the Spot]]> Tue, 15 Apr 2014 17:59:29 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/FishermansFestBoat.jpg

TO BE QUITE HONEST... most people, even those sorts who love all things sea, might have a head-scratcher of a time figuring out how to make one of those tiny, toy-like paper boats float. Water-worthiness is no mere walk in the park -- or, um, float upon the waves -- and putting together anything that can handle tides, even wee waves, is impressive. Now imagine being provided the tools and materials to build a boat, a boat that humans have to sit in, not dolls, and having to do it over the course of three hours. Yes, we did in fact mean "hours" there, not days or weeks. That's what's afoot over the last weekend in April in Bodega Bay at the annual Fisherman's Festival, one of the area's longest and most venerable annual celebrations of life on the water and those who fish. Timed to mark the start of salmon season, the Fisherman's Festival marked four decades last year, meaning its time-worthy traditions are very much in place: The Blessing of the Fleet is one, as is the bathtub race and the eating of barbecued oysters. And, yes, the ever-watchable, ever-root-it-on-able Wooden Boat Challenge, which does set people to sawing and measuring at 10 a.m. with the expectation that they'll be afloat by 1 p.m.

THERE ARE SOME ASTERISKS... with the boat building, too, which make it all the more lively and fascinating. Like? No power tools permitted. And decorations are okay, as long as they're not structural. Paddles and oars are okay, but, you betcha, they have to come from "materials provided" and not from the local oar shop. It's an educational watch, watching a boat come together from scratch. Make that a sailable boat. But, the whole of the Fisherman's Festival is about knowing what the lives of those who fish and bring back food from the watery deep are like and thanking them for their service and industry. If a barbecue oyster or some chowder is part of the scene, well, so much the better.


Photo Credit: Bodega Bay's Fisherman's Festival]]>
<![CDATA[Rare Walk: Finding Mount Diablo's Fire Followers]]> Fri, 11 Apr 2014 07:21:57 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/MountDiabloflowersMorgan_Fire_by_Brad_Heckman.jpg

SPRINGTIME NATURE STROLLS... are common when the weather gets fine, as common as a bee in lavender or noisy birds on a branch. The wilderness is doing its best bursting show-off job, and everything is looking mighty fecund, meaning a day spent legging it among bud and blossom is restorative to body and mind.

But not all flowers, or flower-growing areas, are created equal. Rather, not every spot that boasts blossoms share similar histories, stories, or, perhaps most importantly, futures. Fire, of course, changes the landscape in radical and profound ways, as was the case with the Morgan Fire, which swept over 3,100 acres of Mount Diablo in September. And while viewing the charred chaparral of an ashy hillside can make it seem as though it will be some years, or even decades, before anything leafy sprouts again, there are the fire followers to consider, those hearty and unusual plants that can pop up after a fire pushes through a wild area.

FIRE FOLLOWERS... are showing in the wilderness area now, a sight that a Diablo rep calls a "silver lining" to the devastation of the late summer fire. "These unique species require an element of the fire-heat, smoke, ash, or access to sunlight in order to repoplulate." The good news is that "the mountain is already recovering itself after the blazes..." and experts are heading out during a 24-hour "Bio Blitz" to identify the flowers and rarely seen species. These are species "never seen on the mountain," says botanist Heath Bartosh, who is set to lead a public walk on the topic.

YOU CAN JOIN... the botanist on a Mount Diablo stroll on Saturday, May 3 as he talks about the fire-following flowers, pointing out where the buds are popping up. You'll head into some of the burn area, which is closed to the public. Reserve a spot at 925-947-3535925-947-3535.


Photo Credit: Brad Heckman]]>
<![CDATA[St. Helena Hounds: V. Sattui Winery's Dog Day]]> Thu, 10 Apr 2014 22:23:44 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/vsattuidogday.jpg

A WINERY'S FURRY GREETER: It's rare to spend a day out wine tasting, wending here and there, and not be greeted along some vineyard's driveway by a friendly Rhodesian Ridgeback or Pug. Dogs and the people who make wine have a hallowed partnership, evidenced by the pups holding court around various lawns and winery entryways as well as the photos of the winery's family inside. (And, yep, dog-themed items tend to be a thing in winery gift shops, from coasters to picture frames.) Which means that when a winery throws a Fido-focused day -- as wineries are doing more often -- both oenophiles and owners of the place get a little peppier. It just feels homier and ease-filled with dogs about, at least for dog people (yep, the people who'd love to take their little furry ones everywhere). V. Sattui Winery in St. Helena is about to kick off the canine love with its first-ever Pamper Your Pooch Day, but the special event isn't merely about sipping pinot while scratching your woofer's back. It's a day that'll stir up some support for Napa Humane, given that a portion of the day's sales will go to the organization. And the dogly date? Sunday, May 4.

THE DAY... is very much about trying wine, hanging with your hound, and admiring other pups. A Cutest Dog Contest is afoot, and a vineyard stroll with your dog is on the schedule, too. (We are seeing these a bit more at various wineries, which makes sense, since we heard a rumor that strolling with one's dog in the sunshine in nature is pretty mood-improving.) Fideaux Outfitters for Dogs and Cats will be in the house, or, winery, handing out gratis goodies (dog goodies, of course), and there are other niceties to consider, like a swanky on-the-spot dog photo studio and "V. Sattui-branded doggie wear" for sale. Yep, we weren't pulling tails before when we said posh wineries and pups are truly simpatico.

Photo Credit: V. Sattui Winery]]>
<![CDATA[Rockin' Rockabilly Summit: Viva Las Vegas]]> Tue, 15 Apr 2014 14:55:03 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/RayCollinsandTheHotClub_MilaReynard.jpg

THE SEASON FOR STYLE: Do springtime and swingin' down to old-school rhythms have something in common? It's a question that has some legs, given that a few of the West's best rockabilly gatherings break out the shiny guitars, paper parasols, and tubs of Brylcreem within a few weeks of each other. We'll put it down to spring's sunny ways, which translate into more muscle t-shirts, halter dresses, and the windows rolled down on your '60s-era T-Bird. Sure, rockabilly and mid-century cool can reign in the winter, but coats can hide the cool clothes (especially those beautiful Western-style big-shouldered suits, all rhinestones and faux pearls). So the spring parties roll out: The end-of-April Rockabilly Showdown in Orange County, Ventura's Roadshow Revival in June, and Viva Las Vegas, which is billed as "The Biggest Rockabilly Party in the World." Three guesses as to where it happens -- bet you'll get it on try one -- and one guess as to what you'll need to go: A deep love of rockabilly culture, cool, togs, sounds, cars, the works.

WELL... you'll need tickets and a hotel room and such, too. But the doings are plentiful, so plentiful that four days are required to catch all the tiki-burlesque-alt-country-punk-hairdo-ing up that attendees love to do. Dates? Thursday, April 17 through Sunday, April 20. The to-dos? A sprawling shined-up car show, burlesque bingo, guitar demos, hula girls, and oodles (and oodles) of bands playing the Orleans Hotel ballroom. History maven Charles Phoenix'll be there, with his '50s-era slides and bolo ties, and jiving classes and contests shall be afoot (literally). A fashion show and pin-up beauty academy round out the style-serious proceedings. Not "serious" as in no fun, but definitely come to dress, dance, and admire others as they don their fashionable best. Dates, details, tickets, hotel stuff, and the huge calendar are behind this door.

Photo Credit: Mila Reynard]]>
<![CDATA[Easter Egg Hunt at Roaring Camp Railroads]]> Thu, 10 Apr 2014 22:14:07 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/feltonroaringeaster.jpg

DIFFERENT YEAR, SAME HIDING PLACES: Look, no judgment here. We know the Easter Bunny is way busy around the springtime, what with the donning of natty vests and the tying of bowties and the hippity and the hopping. And we haven't even gotten to the whole egg-hiding thing, which has to take up the bulk of his time, as does the arranging of Easter basket goodies. (Yep, that green plastic grass gets everywhere for the Easter Bunny, too; he has no tricks on managing it, either.) So when it comes time to hide eggs, welllll... He might go back to the very same secret yard spots he went to last year, and the year before. The place under the rose bush, the spot near the bird fountain. This is why it is good to mix it up, every so often, and head for a new location where the Big Bunny is doing the egg-hidery thing, just to keep it fresh. And if a steam train ride is involved, well, so much the better.

YEAH, THAT WAS A JUMP... but then bunnies are known for jumping. We're talking about Roaring Camp Railroads here, out of Felton, and we're talking about Easter, obviously, and we're talking about what a certain long-eared fellow does in honor of the holiday (hide eggs). Group all of those delightful things together and you have a nice family outing and a chance for the kidlings to look for eggs in all new spots. (Please -- they remember where the bunny hid the eggs last year, those bright young tots.) The upshot? The steam train heads up to Bear Mountain, "over Indian Creek Trestle and through the Santa Cruz Mountains," for a little egg-looking-for liveliness. Dates? Saturday, April 19 and Sunday, April 20. And will the Easter Bunny make a cameo? Please. That guy loves vintage trains. Bunnies live in the woods and trains wend through the woods, so it isn't a pairing that's too offbeat. For ticket prices and more hippity-hop info, hop hop hop here.

Photo Credit: Roaring Camp Railroads]]>
<![CDATA[Seasonal Debuts: Yosemite Stables and Bikes]]> Sat, 12 Apr 2014 10:11:00 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/trailrideyosemite98.jpg

WHAT TO DO, WHAT TO DO: Scientists and sociologists and marketers who study play -- and that's actually a thing -- must cast a keen eye on how people approach vacations. Companies in the holiday industry want to know, for reasons, but it is an intriguing concept over all: What do people do on vacation, or, more specifically, when do they choose to do it? Do they simply show up at a destination, ready to wing it, or have they got an itinerary planned out, minute-to-minute? Most travelers likely dabble a little in both sides, but when you get to an epic nature spot -- say, a Yosemite National Park -- the desire to see where the day takes you can grow. But your choices depend on the season, which makes warm-weather times in the park the prime times to wake up and decide to hike, ride a horse, or pedal a bike. Yep, you can leg it all year, but the Yosemite Valley Stables and the Curry Village Bike Stand traditionally have springtime openings. And lo and behold, they're arriving with in 24 hours of each other this year.

Dear vacationers who decide that morning what to do, in Yosemite, your choices just grew. Because...

YOSEMITE VALLEY STABLES... opened on Friday, April 11. A few rides are available, including a two-hour clip-clop to Mirror Lake or a half day right to Clark's Point. The half day ride has some switchbacks -- no surprise there, if you're going deeper into the park -- so perhaps start with the two-hour-er if this is your first ride in the valley. If pedals rather than saddles is more your style hit...

CURRY VILLAGE BIKE STAND: Can you rent by the day? You can. Can you rent by the hour? You can do that, too. Will it be a new way to take all of that oxygen-perfect fresh air the valley is known for, in a fresh, invigorating way? Indeed, indeed. Happy cycling, nature mavens: The stand debuted for the season on Saturday, April 12.


Photo Credit: Yosemite National Park]]>
<![CDATA[The Llamas of El Capitan Canyon]]> Wed, 09 Apr 2014 13:13:37 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/197*120/llamaelcap1.jpg

WHETHER... March is in like a lamb and out like a lion, or vice versa, can confound some people, even people who use the phrase, year after year, to describe the season's famous bluster. But whether you feel solid in your lion-lamb usage, one thing is for sure: 'Tis the season to admire furry animals of a sheeply, pasture-pretty sort. Spring demands it, really, by its very nature, given that the world is in a state of renewal, and alongside that renewal come the newborn beasties. But you don't need to visit with a brand new baby animal to savor this springly connection; walking among sheep and llamas and goats, in a gorgeous, not-too-far-from-the-beach setting, should do the trick. As should a rustic-type stayover in a cabin, tent, or yurt. Nope, you can't visit with llamas at most hotels in the Golden State, or even casual countrified inns, but you can at El Capitan Canyon of Santa Barbara. They've got beasties on the property, and a beastie-inclusive package on for spring: The Springtime Adventure Package.

THE PACKAGE... is on through most of the spring, wrapping up on June 12. The deal? Two nights in a Creekside Canyon Cabin, a guided hike -- make that privately guided -- out to see the property's llamas, sheep, and goats, a massage for two, and hot breakfast coupons. Call it rustic posh, with some spring-furry animal admiring thrown in, to keep you grounded as to the time of the year. It's a Sunday through Thursday thing and starts at $795, with some extras and asterisk. We're not going to demand that you have some lamb- or sheep-type interaction, but, please: It's spring. You can see the springtime animals on greeting cards and wrapping paper or you can get out and enjoy nature in a natural setting for a few days. (Choose the latter.)

Photo Credit: El Capitan Canyon]]>
<![CDATA[Wine Country's Offbeat Easter]]> Tue, 08 Apr 2014 23:08:15 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/196*120/Family_of_four_Small.jpg

HEADING OUT FOR THE HOLIDAY: While commercials and greeting cards and magazines often tell us that special holidays and family coming-togethers are stationary in nature, we know the truth: Holidays typically involve going and doing. Nobody is gathered around the fireplace or dining room table all day, in most households. Rather we're driving to Grandma's on Thanksgiving, we're cruising by Christmas lights at the end of December, and we're out motoring to enjoy fine weather, flowers, sunshine, and maybe an egg hunt come the springtime. Which makes a trip into wine country on Easter pretty doable in a lot of books. More than doable, though, really: pleasurable. If you can put a twist on your typical family traditions, and you want the Sunday-driving-sunshine thing, then make for...

THE NAPA VALLEY WINE TRAIN: Yep, it's pretty challenging to place eggs along the rails -- spoiler alert: they'll squash -- so the Easter trip is devoted to fine dining and families around tables. Oh, and all of that great wine country scenery that the famous train provides so well. There's a children's rate for the Gourmet Express package, so look into that if you'll have all of your little bonneted ones in tow.

HUNT FOR THE HARE: Safari West in Santa Rosa hasn't cut the traditional egg hunt loose, but it has added an offbeat element: Visitors search for the Easter Bunny himself. The bunny is out there, among the animals of the expansive park, so kids have to keep the ol' eyes peeled. Brunch and other to-dos shall festoon the day out in a festive way.

WINERY EGG HUNT: Many a posh winery-associated restaurant'll be doing up brunch that day, but full on Easter Egg searches? Those are a bit rarer. If you really want to do an egg hunt, you can make for Pope Valley Winery, which has an egg hunt created just for the kidlings and one for adults. Will the adult egg hunt happen before or after the wine tastings? We're just curious, is all. Sounds like a grand day out.

Photo Credit: Napa Valley Wine Train]]>
<![CDATA[Summer Specials at Pebble Beach]]> Wed, 16 Apr 2014 17:24:09 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/PebbleBeachGolfLinksJoannDost.jpg

IT'S A GLORIOUS SPOT... that's open all year long, but Pebble Beach truly bustles in the springtime. The splashy celebrity-filled golf tournaments and April's Food & Wine bash have a way of stirring things up around the beautiful burg in a way it typically doesn't get stirred during other times of the year. This is good, because, well, fancy golf and fancy foods -- no argument that those have their pleasures -- but chillaxing on a bluff at a sunset, without any temptations or happy hullabaloo, also has a caboodle of things to recommend it. So visiting the P.B. a little bit after the bustle? It's all about you, the bluff, sunset, a cocktail, and your special someone. Making it easier is the fact that summertime specials are afoot around the resorts, meaning you can plot out Memorial Day Weekend, Father's Day, or the Fourth of July now and then wait on the day to arrive, all the while anticipating.

THOSE SPECIALS... include a few different parts, but some highlights are "reduced nightly rates" at The Inn at Spanish Bay, plus two breakfast vouchers worth fifty bucks -- that's at Roy's and STICKS -- and, you guessed it, some golf play. The deal with that? Sign up and pay for day at Pebble Beach Golf Links, Spyglass Hill Golf Course, or The Links at Spanish Bay and nab "a complimentary round of golf" at The Links at Spanish Bay. Hoo boy. That's a lot of golf, but, you know, once you're out there, above the ocean, soaking it all in, over a late spring or early summer holiday weekend, welp. It's hard to knock off and head back to your room. You've heard golf and Pebble Beach, together, kind of form one united superpower, right?

FOR ALL THE DETAILS... on the Memorial Day, Father's Day, and Fourth of July packages, swing through here, golf-beach-sun-fun aficionado.

Photo Credit: Joann Dost]]>
<![CDATA[Fast Forward Sacramento]]> Mon, 07 Apr 2014 19:03:36 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sacramentotimelapse2.jpg

NEW TOURISM POLICY: Those intrepid souls who work to draw visitors to their town or city generally have very full plates, and we do doff our cap politely in their direction. You have to present your municipality's finer points, with flair and fun, and you have to do so in mere seconds lest attention is lost. That's challenging in a world of TL;DR, even a basic brochure might be summarily glanced at and then left in a hotel room. Do these go-go-go, all-the-info-all-the-time times explain the rise in the arty and excellent timelapse video? Those videos that focus on a single region or place? Perhaps. Perhaps its also technology steadily improving, day by day.

VIDEO MAVEN... Justin Majeczky had another reason for making his terrific valentine to our state's busy capital city: He's a newbie, or was a couple of years ago, and a short, sped-up film was an ideal way to get to know the historic area and the government buildings and the delta and Tower Bridge. (Seriously, though, Tower Bridge by night; is there not something rather mythic and storybook about its great golden-glow presence?)

"Over 20,000 individual photographs and 18 months of hard work" are behind the timelapse eye-feast, says the filmmaker. Think you might spy your favorite Sacramento must-visit? Watch on, capital fans, and be sure to ooh and aah over a certain golden-glow bridge. 

Sacramento Timelapse from Justin Majeczky on Vimeo.

Photo Credit: Justin Majeczky]]>
<![CDATA[Wacky Roadsters: Kinetic Grand Championship]]> Wed, 16 Apr 2014 17:25:55 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/kineticferndale9854.jpg

NORMAL CARS EXIST: If you know anything about the kinetic wonderland that exists in the Arcata-Ferndale nexus of Humboldt County, you know that wacky, outlandish, odd, and wonderful vehicles pretty much rule the school. So it can be a tad discombobulating to head into the area and see actual cars, like, with run-of-the-mill fenders and license plates and four wheels -- four wheels, not eleven or seventeen! -- and a windshield and doors. You can think to yourself, "wait, this isn't the freak-flag-y land I know and love -- where are all of the whirligig-topped roadsters and toy-glued pedal cars?" Trust, they exist in the magical land of Humboldt, coming out in full force over one happy and high-jinks-ian weekend of the year. That weekend is Memorial Day, and the Kinetic Grand Championship will once again pedal, push, heave, coast, and lurch from Arcata to Ferndale over three deliriously delightful days.

PREPARE YOURSELF... for the "Triathlon of the Art World," a colorful run devoted to ingenuity, pluck, and slapdash bravado. The 42-miler involves bike power, but, nope, they're not straight-up cycles. They've been tricked out to the nth degree which means a) they're quite photographable and b) sometimes things don't always go as planned. But such is the way with kinetic sculptures, which have a lot of love put into them, even if they're not always road-worthy. Oh, did we say "road-worthy" there? The sculptures also enter the water during the Championship, meaning they have to float, not sink. Right? Simple enough. Sand, mondo inclines, and other challenges away.

CAMERA TIME, CAMERA PEOPLE: It's fun and it's colorful, as is the way with all things in the Universe Kinetic. Plus, Humboldt at the verrrry start of the summer season is a good place to be. Need some wacky? Yeah, you do. You don't have to race, but you should pick a sculpture to root for. Go for the weirdest one, we say, though that might be hard to choose.

Photo Credit: Tina Kerrigan Photography]]>
<![CDATA[Hot Clubs: Golfing in Death Valley]]> Tue, 08 Apr 2014 12:22:06 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/deathvalleygolfspringfling.jpg

CAN TEMPERATURES... already be pushing up in the desert? If it is springtime, the answer is a resounding you betcha. Even the Sierra getting an early April snow dump, and breezy winds are cooling the coast, the desert starts to feel the soft side of a sizzle, especially around high noon. This means many things -- pool time, bike time, horseback riding time -- but it definitely means golf, especially around Death Valley. Oh, didn't know the lowest and driest spot in all of North America came with a few places to putt? Indeed it does, and, yep, golfing is good pretty all year long. But the tourney come in the spring and summer, along with the rising Fahrenheit, which a number of golf aficionados find just fine. Want to jump into the competition? Or just find a great golf package, the better to swing on your own? Then check out...

SPRING FLING: It's the first of a trio of on-the-greens competition, and it is on the weekend before Easter. That's April 11 through 13, so maybe -- maybe? -- you'll catch a few Death Valley wildflowers on your trip in. Prefer things toastier? The famous Heatstroke swings in June, when temps are well into the three digits. And the Fall Kick-Off is in early October. Fall is the best time, for all pursuits, in the D.V. Right?

STAY & PLAY: If you'd rather not pull your bag into competition, you can still reserve a golf package at Furnace Creek. Upshot? A night at the Inn at Furnace Creek or Furnace Creek Ranch, a day of unlimited play, and other golfian goodies. And one bonus, if you don't mind the intense sun? Prices drop in the summertime. Truly, how many courses can say that? For the details on playing one of the world's most unusual golf courses, play through now.

Photo Credit: Furnace Creek]]>
<![CDATA[Monterey Cool: Behind-the-Scenes Octopuses]]> Sun, 06 Apr 2014 11:21:35 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/210*120/tentaclesmontereybayrandywilder35.jpg

BEHIND-THE-SCENES AQUARIUM: In this age, the age where all things ever are online, accessible, see-able, and knowable, there are fewer and fewer in-person experiences that carry with them a sheer sense of novelty and niftiness. Call it the "gee whiz" factor or wow-o-sity, that feeling of looking at something for the first time. Something that still delivers on goosebumps, though, or at least a feeling of something different and good, is the behind-the-scenes tour. It might be at a museum, where you can see how paintings are saved, or a zoo or a theater or a music hall. Secrets are revealed, you're right there, people in the know are standing by to answer questions. Yeah, you're jazzed, right? And you love octopuses, too, we'll assumed. (Not that being jazzed about fresh experiences and loving octopuses are connected, but we think there's a parallel.) Then best enter the Monterey Bay Aquarium's contest to venture behind the scenes of the institution's newest exhibit Tentacles: The Astounding Lives of Octopuses, Squid, and Cuttlefishes.

FIRST THINGS FIRST: You'll need to like the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Facebook page. But that's par for the course in this day and age of contest entering, yes? Then fill out the form and keep those fingers -- or tentacles -- crossed that you're the lucky person. If you win, you get to stay at the aquarium all dang day long, if you wish (and you wish, yes?) and you get a gift card to the bookstore. Where, we're expecting, you'll leave with something tentacle-y and terrific. Here's hoping that more wonder-filled places host more behind-the-scenes-y events. Some may say that all-knowing eye of the internet has all the info we need, but, c'mon. You want to see the Juvenile pharaoh cuttlefish and its suction-cupped besties up-close, right?

Photo Credit: Randy Wilder/Monterey Bay Aquarium]]>
<![CDATA[April Is Pixie Month in Ojai]]> Fri, 04 Apr 2014 06:17:56 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/pixietimeojai.jpg

IF... the rose is the gorgeous and seen-everywhere symbol of Pasadena and the date the chewy-good fruit that stands for Indio and the Coachella Valley, what might Ojai's flavorful icon be, the edible that appears on posters and in artworks and is very much associated with the snug, Ventura-close town? In a word, it's the Pixie. Or, in a couple of words, tangerines, citrus, fruits that can be consumed in sweet sections and make terrific juices. The art- and wine-nice city is known for its orchards, orchards that start to hum after the turn of the year and proceed into full flavorful Pixiedom come April. April is, in fact, Pixie Month in Ojai, which means a few things. One? You're probably not leaving the city without consuming one or a dozen. And two? There are plenty other Pixie-fied ways to celebrate the local citrus.

STARTING WITH... a visit to the Oaks at Ojai. A platter of Pixie wedges await checking-in guests at the front desk, and Pixie-infused water is available in the lobby. Over the spa? A Pixie tangerine seasonal scrub is one of the treatments (and the recently scrubbed get a Pixie for the road). The resort's menus are also rife with the fruit. Look for Pixie-dotted salads, Pixie cupcakes (topped with Pixie marmalade), and Pixie Sweet Potatoes (oh goodness) among the edibles. And truth? There's more Pixie-based mischief afoot, or apeel, around the Oaks at Ojai, so get up to speed with the concierge, fruit fans.

IF YOU WANT TO GO DEEPER... then be sure to hop on an orchard tour while in town. Friend's Ranch offers them on certain days, and lookie here: April is blossom time for area citrus. You do know that the citrus blossom is the very best scent on earth? It's true. Ask any bee.

Photo Credit: Pixies]]>
<![CDATA[Fantasy Frolics in San Jose]]> Fri, 04 Apr 2014 11:17:55 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sjfantasy_wattersmarkphotography.jpg

PERFECT PARTNERS: While any era or decade or time period can be folded into fantasy, or vice versa, there's something about the Renaissance, and ye olden times, that invites a sense of spirited outlandishness. Maybe it's the castles or the woods or the costumes that encourage thoughts of dragons and spirits and fairies and sprites, elements less seen in dress-up events involving, say, the 1970s. (Although a disco dragon party would be hot.) So when a Renaissance fair rolls around, one is apt to see both traditional costumes -- royals and knights -- as well as the occasional winged creature flitting about. But what's a Ren regular to do when he or she wants fewer fact-based pursuits at a festival and more fire-breathers? Ah, there's an answer for that: the San Jose Fantasy Faire.

DATES AND DETAILS: The springtime lark, which'll swan about Guadalupe River Park on Saturday, April 12 and Sunday, April 13, is a merry melding of the principles behind Renaissance festivals and those of a fantasy-only gathering. Meaning you may see crowns and musical instruments -- usual sights -- next to fairytale characters in all of their lovely outlandishness. And speaking of fairytale characters: Elsa and Anna of "Frozen" and Merida of "Brave" will visit the Fantasy Faire. Dragons'll be in the house -- er, uh, park -- and creatures from fiction and imagination, both. Music, artisan-type items for purchase, foodstuffs, puppets, stories told, and other high-spirited high jinks shall traipse through the weekend.

COST: Twelve bucks for an adult and five for parking. Not sure what that translates to in Renaissance coinage -- er, uh, doubloons -- but best have some cash tucked inside your dragon head.

Photo Credit: Watters Mark Photography]]>
<![CDATA[The Benbow Historic Inn at 88]]> Thu, 03 Apr 2014 12:33:34 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/benbow88.jpg

THE HOSPITALITY BUSINESS... for all of its glamour and go-go-go, is not the easiest one, any hotelier can tell you. There are unpredictable months, guest cancellations, the ebb and flow of running a 24-hour, 365-days-a-year business. But when an inn is fast approaching its century mark, well, longevity must be in the air. Or perhaps in the nearby woods, even. The Benbow Historic Inn, of Garberville, will indeed hit its centennial in a decade and two years, which is a triumph, indeed. Of course, the Benbow sits near the redwoods, trees that know a thing or two about weathering the years. The Tudor building complements its famously tall neighbors, in short, and many a Benbow guest is in town to soak in all things redwood. There's also golfing to do, and afternoon teas, and other refined, ye-olde-pursuits (you almost feel as if you've walked into a Cotswalds building when entering the Benbow). So in honor of its big 88 -- that's happening in 2014, by the by -- the Benbow is lifting a cocktail, and a golf club, in cheers to its guests and its anniversary with an 88-themed lodging special.

YEP, WE SAID "GOLF CLUB": Part of the anniversary special is an 18-hole green fee, per guest, and if you think golfing in that particularly glorious landscape is pretty, well, you're totally right. Also in the lodging special? "Historic rooms starting at $88 per night" (that's without taxes). A 1920s tasting menu is available -- that $8.88 -- and some 1920s cocktails, too, also for $8.88. Yep, we're already daydreaming about relaxing on the Benbow's front veranda with a vintage Ramos Fizz in hand, soaking in all of that NorCalian freshness. Happy 88, Benbow Historic Inn. May your Tudor-terrific ways take your right into your next century in just a handful of years (which, of course, is nothing to your redwood neighbors).

Photo Credit: The Benbow]]>
<![CDATA[Golden State Inns Make Wacky Top Ten]]> Fri, 04 Apr 2014 06:17:22 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/featherbedcloseup2.jpg

OVERSTATING THE OBVIOUS: Not envelopes will be pushed or truisms shall be tested by us stating the fact that weirdism is embraced in California. Is that quite true, though, "embraced"? Or, rather, does our state live in a general aura of wackiness, and we instead embrace the normal, given that normalness is in shorter supply than extravagant outlandishness? That. That's the theory we'll rest upon. Which means this: When it is time to choose and pick and spotlight the oddest places in the Golden State, well, the chooser has her or his work cut out. Beyond that, really; there are oodles of places marching to their own drummer and raising their own freak flag and jumping to their own dance. And thank goodness, too. Isn't that how we like it out here on the West Coast, the home of do-your-own-thing-a-tude? Hotels.com recently took the plunge on finding the wackiest hotels in the world, and, lo and behold and wouldn't you know it: Two of the ten, a full one-fifth, are in California. Have a guess?

WELL... the photo above is one hint. The Featherbed Railroad Bed & Breakfast of Nice is one of the two, as it should be, given that you sleep in an authentic rail car. Each of the inn's rooms are different and distinct, but the old-timey feel that permeates the place is unwavering and era-less. Fun mystery events and such are part of the Featherbed tradition, too.

AND TO THE SOUTH... we have the Queen Mary, of Long Beach. Is it the best-known in-port-for-eternity ocean liner? Perhaps. Is it storied? It participated in World War II and zipped royalty and movie stars around the world. Is it purported to be haunted? So very ghosty, ghosty as all get-out, in fact, with the spooky tours to back it up.

So, other odd hotels of the Golden State: Do you need to step up the strange? As long as wacky top tens are in the making, let's hope that all stayover spots keep the uniqueness ultra-unique.

Photo Credit: Featherbed Railroad]]>
<![CDATA[Art Below: Napa Riverfront Chalk Festival]]> Wed, 02 Apr 2014 12:18:12 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/212*120/napachalk0987.jpg

ART AT OUR FEET: What's the last thing you drew in chalk? A grocery list? A complicated theorem? Hopscotch squares out in front of your house? Like all drawing implements, chalk is great for rendering images, words, and numbers, but unlike most drawing implements, you frequently bend over while wielding it. That's because chalk works well on the ground, not just for hopscotch and other child-sweet games but for lavish and complicated artworks, some that are optically challenging and some that deserve the attention of a gallery or museum. Chalk festivals are fantastic for highlighting these works in a breezy, stroll-and-look, and typically free-to-see fashion. Such a fest is just ahead, at the Napa Riverfront, on Sunday, April 6. It's part of the larger, multi-day, multi-place Napa Valley Arts in April campaign, and a fine thing, indeed, to festoon the first weekend of the month-long to-do.

BEHIND THE CHALK: Artist Amy Gallagher Hall will "painstakingly create her 9-feet by 12-feet original work of art" of that Sunday, and "painstakingly" is apt. Imagine working before a group of onlookers who are watching your every stroke. Kristina Young, an artist local to the region, will also create a panel-board piece out of pastels, alongside other creative people from the area. "(S)everal local and student artists" will also be turning out flowers, vistas, frames, and whimsical abstracts on the walking areas around the riverfront.

HAVE AN ARTISTIC TOT? There's a Children's Chalk Walk, so prep your young Picasso or Kahlo for an afternoon of pretty and interesting picture making. The hours for the fest are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.


Photo Credit: Napa Riverfront Chalk Festival]]>
<![CDATA[Mondo Tunes: Sacramento Music Festival]]> Tue, 01 Apr 2014 22:31:30 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/trombonesacramentomay.jpg

THE START OF SUMMER: What's your official way of welcoming the summer season? Oh, we're not talking about the actual start of the warmest period of the year, the summer solstice. We're talking about Memorial Day Weekend, which is the traditional time many of us move into the period of brighter evenings, sweeter weekends, and road trips. Do you spend that weekend shopping for flip-flops and tank tops? Do you hit an outdoor art fair, finally buying that rainbow streamer you've vowed to hang in a breezy spot on the patio? Or do you truly go large and welcome summer in a mega, sound-a-riffic way? That's the path many a musicphile takes, given that summertime in multi-day music festival time. And one of the largest spreads out, in the capital, over Memorial Day Weekend. It's the Sacramento Music Festival, and it happens from Friday, May 23 through Monday, May 25.

ON THE BILL: "Nearly 100 bands" have signed up to do the "hellooooo, Sacramento" thing, including The Texas Tornados, Zydeco Flames, Mat Kearney, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Purple Haze Band, and Mick Martin & The Blues Rockers. The genres? Hoo boy, it's a wide swath, for sure. Roots rock, jazz, blues, swing, rockabilly, ragtime, street beat, Latin music, banjo, and big band, plus a whole heck of a bunch of other tuneful categories, are part of the four-day scene.

SPECIAL PASS PRICE: Now when one hears "four-day scene" they're apt to think mondo dollar signs. But check it: A four-day event badge is currently $99 through May 1. Then it goes up, wait for it, eleven bucks, to $110. Not bad, especially when you consider that the Sacramento Music Festival has been rocking for four decades, plus a year, so it draws some of the best, the most interesting, and, you got it, the eclectic-cool acts. Isn't this the way you want to start summer? Rather than shopping for more tank tops? Please, you probably have enough. But can you ever get enough mega summer music?

Photo Credit: Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue]]>
<![CDATA[Nab Discount Passes: Napa Valley Film Festival]]> Mon, 31 Mar 2014 16:07:51 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/napavalleyfilmfestivalsign5.jpg

WHAT WILL YOU BE DOING... on November 12? If it happens to be your birthday, well, happy early birthday, then. (Make that an extra happy birthday: November 12 is a Wednesday in 2014, and Wednesdays might be the best days to have birthdays on, because you can take the party for five days into the weekend. Monday and Tuesday don't nearly have the run-up or execution to deliver on this front.) If it isn't your birthday, you're probably doing what most people are: Wondering if it is too late to finish the growing-staler Halloween candy, the toffee that still sits in a bowl by the door. Or perhaps you're planning Thanksgiving dinner, and trying to juggle multiple stops and households and friends' feelings (sooo many friends' feelings, as you well know, if you've ever enjoyed a five-day Wednesday-starter birthday celebration). But wouldn't you rather spend November 12 -- and the handful of days following it -- sitting in a theater, downing big fist scoops of buttery popcorn, watching films that may go into contention for the major awards? And drinking wine afterwards? With fabulous film-loving people? Yes. You want this, November 12 wants this, everyone wants this. And lookie here: That happens to be night one of the Napa Valley Film Festival.

WE KNOW, WE KNOW... that that's a ways off, at least from this typing. But if you know you'll go, come the autumn, because wine + movies=good, then jump on a discount deal that's just wrapping up: a festival pass for $205. Can't slip under the wire by March 31? The Spring Sale comes next, and it is all righty, meaning passes are $255 a pop. Consider that they'll be a fiver under $300 come the festival itself, so buying now'll save you a cool few twenties. So, is this on? Are you really going to sit around stressing over Thanksgiving assignments, or are you going to watch terrific films in Napa Valley from Nov. 12 through 16, 2014? Thanksgiving will definitely come, but film and vino is a rarer combo.

Photo Credit: Napa Valley Film Festival]]>
<![CDATA[Area Wineries Mark Down to Earth Month]]> Tue, 01 Apr 2014 08:43:28 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/downtoearthAlexanderValleyVineyards.jpg

IT'S NOT SPOILER... to say that Earth Day, and Earth Month, for that matter, impact people who work with and have frequent contact with the land in a rainbow of different and important ways. For while the April holiday has a particular meaning for many people, which heavy emphasis on recycling, reusing, and using less, those who grow things ponder a full spectrum of timely issues, with sustainable practices at the forefront. But just because people on the agricultural side of the fence have unique focuses doesn't mean that their sustainable-minded interests can't dovetail with the public at large. Look to the wineries of the Golden State as they mark "Down to Earth" month via a host of outdoor-nice, organic-tasty, earth-forward happenings.

APRIL + EARTH: The whole month celebration will pop up at vineyards from here to yonder. "Wineries across the state" will stage "sustainability focused festivities" to learn about California's wines eco-friendly practices and the people and places behind them," says a Wine Institute representative. This means vineyard walks, horseback rides, and days out with your dog, glass of vino in hand.

A FEW EARTH-NICE EXAMPLES? Mendocino County will stage a Party for the Planet week from April 18 through 24. Translation? Area wineries and hotels'll have specials, events, and more haps geared to the topics of earthly awareness. The Livermore wineries will mark the month on April 27 -- hello, tastings and such -- and Taste of Pismo the day before will shine a light on sustainable wines. Want the whole April-y rundown on this Wine Institute state-wide spectacular? Click here, globe-loving wine maven. And raise a glass to grapes grown with care, a little wisdom, and the knowledge that every day is, of course, Earth Day.

Photo Credit: Alexander Valley Vineyards]]>
<![CDATA[Napa Valley Arts in April]]> Mon, 31 Mar 2014 14:11:55 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/napavalleyartsinapril124.jpg

DO YOU... go on winery-focused daytrips for the libations or for the looking? Probably a little bit of both, we'll guess. You love to head into a tasting room and try the latest zinfandel, all while getting up to speed on the vineyard's new releases. And, at the same time, you're glancing about, taking in the winery's art collection, its vine-close sculptures, the giant carved cherub-packed fountain that dominates the property's long driveway. In short, wine regions are just about as famous for what's on the walls and in the gardens as what's in the glasses. Napa Valley appreciates this, and thus has designated April as a full month devoted to the region's visual arts. The cultural campaign has an easy handle to remember -- Napa Valley Arts in April -- and dozens of happenings, tastings, and spring-pretty to-dos. Tempted?

THEN MAKE FOR... Sterling Vineyards, which will spotlight the work of Jim Dallas, a San Francisco painter who uses "wine as a medium in his paintings." Intriguing. Or head to Silverado Vineyards for a gratis tour of the property's pieces -- that's on April 3. Holman Cellars will feature artist Ben Nelson, who considers "the industrial side of wine country." The topics and themes and varieties of expression are diverse, but, for sure, expect to see vino come up more than once as a centerpiece or a supporting player in a painting, either through subject or as part of the canvas-paint nexus itself.

OHHH, A MAP: Need something a bit handier than a list of what's happening at what winery when? There shall be a map. Keep in mind that while some shows'll be up throughout April, a few special events land on a single day, or clutch of days, only.

Photo Credit: Napa Valley Arts in April]]>
<![CDATA[Campground Openings: Yosemite Getaway]]> Tue, 01 Apr 2014 14:09:18 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/186*120/yosemite15.jpg

CAMPING, AHOY: There are a couple of phases to the year for the person who loves to sleep under the stars, or at least star-adjacent, in a tent or cabin, at Yosemite National Park. There's the day when reservations open up at a favorite camp, a day that often arrives in the cooler months, meaning that the dreaming of summer getaways can start. Then there's the moment that campgrounds actually throw the doors wide, or, um, fire pits and picnic tables, around the start of spring. Of the 13 Yosemite campgrounds, "four are open year-round," says an introduction video, but the majority of camp sites, located in the park's higher elevations, are not. Some of those have been enjoying their seasonal debuts in recent days; Lower Pines Campground made its yearly hello on March 26, while North Pines'll do the opening thing on Wednesday, April 2. And all of Upper Pines opened on March 19. And, yep, camping is indeed supposed to be a relaxing pursuit, but things bustle in the valley proper, where sleep sites are concerned (aka reservations are made way ahead of time, so don't pull into the park on a Saturday in June hoping to bed down at one of the busiest spots).

DETERMINED... that this be the year you finally do it? Best consider those meadow-close spots outside of the valley first, if so, but wherever you want to head, this introductory video'll be a help for the first time Yosemite sleeping-bagger. Take it away, ranger...

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Happy 50th, it's a Small World]]> Sat, 29 Mar 2014 11:13:53 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/192*120/smallworlddisney8.jpg The song-famous Disney attraction reaches its half-century marker.

Photo Credit: Paul Hiffmeyer]]>
<![CDATA[Catalina's Amazing Airborne Aquatic Stars]]> Sat, 29 Mar 2014 11:15:05 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/flyingfishfestival1.jpg

IF YOU'VE MADE IT ONTO A VINTAGE POSTCARD... you've made it, period. Isn't this true for most famous attractions found in California's best beloved getaways? Look at any old-school, hue-rich, linen-era postcard made 80 or 90 years ago, and see if an area's go-to symbols haven't pretty much remained intact and as ever popular. Exhibit A? Catalina Island. You're apt to find historic postcards featuring the Casino building, the buffalo, and, you betcha, the flying fish. Those seasonal superstars -- they rather like the summer months, you probably know -- are as sought-after now as they were in the 1930s, when tourists would head out onto nighttime boats starting in May, with the hope that something aquatic and be-gill'd would flap out of the water in the way a bird might. And lest you think the popularity of Catalina Island's flying fish would ever take a break or waver, fear not, fin fans: The Flying Fish Festival returns from May 29 through June 1, prime time for seeing these wonders of the deep.

ORRRR... not so deep, since the flying fish start their amazing "flight" from just below the water's surface. It truly is a wonder to see, but if you prefer to put some time in on shore, plenty'll be going down during the four-day festival. Taste Around of Avalon, Avalon Restaurant Week, sand sculptures, music, beach bingo, and the cardboard boat derby are just a handful of the doings. Call it old-school summer-greeting high jinks, with a wet and whimsical celebrity at its heart: the flying fish. Yep, they'll be back, as they always are. Nope, they don't have tiny calendars beneath the waves -- those would get soggy, after all -- but perhaps they know that they've been showing up as a postcard favorite 'round Catalina for the better part of a century. And you know what they say: If you make the early postcards, you're a local classic.

Photo Credit: Catalina Island]]>
<![CDATA[Rosy Doings in the Russian River Valley]]> Fri, 28 Mar 2014 12:16:58 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/yellowrose_mikalakennan.jpg

LION'S SHARE: Do roses get the lion's share of love, attention, and honor when it comes to spring-themed odes and sonnets and plays and ballads? We don't have a rose-o-meter on hand, to measure a cultural product's sheer rose-a-tude, but we're pretty sure that the flower is up there -- way, way up there -- as far as frequent mentions. Shakespeare went to the rose's garden for inspiration, and just about every other nature-entranced bard to follow. And with good reason: The rose is often called the queen of the garden. It's instantly recognizable, and nameable, even if the labeling the amaryllis and the delphinium may occasionally stump us. And the smell? It's up there, in icono-scent land, with coffee, grass, and ocean. So spending a springtime Saturday among a profusion of roses ("profusion" and "roses," by the by, are old-school sentence buddies) seems a happy and peaceful thing to do. You can do it in a public garden, your own garden, or you can head up to rose central, aka the Russian River Rose Company, which has a full bouquet of rosy happenings ahead.

APRIL AND MAY... positively brim with petal-rich doings. In fact, every weekend has something going, from April 12 and 13 (that's irises and early blooming roses) to May 3 and 4 (think May Day Festival) and the following weekend, which is the bustling and popular Mother's Day to-do. Workshops and wanderings among the rose bushes are both popular, and, yep, perfume is also a centerpiece to the Healdsburg plot. (Perfume Rose Harvest Tours are, in fact, a frequent thing around the grounds.) Should you take your mom there for her big day? Sure. Should you go there on your own, to think poetic thoughts and sniff the superstar flowers? Yes. Do you need a dose of spring right quick? Head north and bask in the beauty. ("Bask," of course, is another go-to rose word, so remember if it you're inspired to pen odes while there.)

Photo Credit: Mikala Kennan]]>
<![CDATA[Safari West's Quirky Twist on the Egg Hunt]]> Wed, 26 Mar 2014 20:01:32 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/182*120/527011_10151564733755727_594253291_n.jpg

HOLIDAY SNAPSHOTS: Do photographs taken on particular days of the year tend to follow particular paradigms? For example, is every picture of you and your siblings from every October 31 of your youth snapped in front of your family's front door, just as you're heading out to trick-or-treat? Chances are good. We're nostalgic at the holidays, and fall into patterns, particularly photographic patterns. Take, for instance, kids searching for eggs. Snaps that frequent our scrapbooks include our tots peeking under shrubs, under flowers, under rocks. But what if there was a different sort of Easter hunt? One that involved not looking under but out or up?

THAT'S... one offbeat twist to Safari West's annual springtime celebration, which indeed features a rabbit -- or, at least, some costumed humans paying tribute to the Easter Bunny -- and a big, exciting search. But rather than peeking about for eggs, kids and their parents take a tour of the animal-filled Santa Rosa park and stay eyes-peeled for a great big bunny. Kids, to lend a hand and help the giant rabbit during the merry adventure, will leave "Carrot Clues" along the way.

CUTE, HUH? Yep, it is sweet, plus little ones, and their grown-ups, get to spy giraffes and meerkats and zebras and the oodles of beasties who call the vast preserve home. And while searching for the hare is indeed a twist on the holiday, traditional Easter touches shall abound, like brunch, face painting, and, wait, what's this? An egg hunt. Okay, well, we're happy, and surely tots will be, too. We don't like things *too* different come holidaytime, just a little bit. The date is Sunday, April 20 and there's a morning and afternoon package to choose from. Hippity hoppity hop.

Photo Credit: Safari West]]>
<![CDATA[Good Vibes: Redwood Coast Jazz Festival]]> Wed, 26 Mar 2014 09:41:43 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/212*120/redwoodjazzfest1234.jpg

SERIOUS QUESTION: If you were to stage a music festival, say, one that would run over three or four days, and you had your pick of cities across the state, is there anything that could dissuade you from choosing Eureka? It's a city that already embraces the arts in a daily and public way -- those famous and found-everywhere murals is one sign that this is so -- and its Humboldt base, it's water-close vibe, and its Carson-mansion-y old-time funkitude make for a setting where any tune-making artist might feel inspired. Or at least ready to perform a set or two. Call wonderful Eureka one of the many reasons that the Redwood Coast Jazz Festival will soon celebrate its quarter-century mark, and call everyone you know and cancel plans from March 27 through 30. That's when the festival'll flow at spots around town, including, you got it, the one of the world's most famous Victorian manses, the Carson.

ON THE BILL: Bob Draga & Friends, High Street Band, Gator Nation, Red Skunk Band, Stompy Jones, Sister Swing, and Mitch Woods and His Rocket Eighty-Eights are a few of the names on the lengthy roster. As some of the band handles might suggest, the Redwood Coast Jazz Festival isn't straight-up, straight-forward jazz, or at least not simply that style alone. Zydeco brings a piquant flavor to the proceedings, as does swing and Dixieland. Yep, you could be dancing in Eureka, which sounds so appealing that someone should name a movie that. (We'd see "Dancing in Eureka" on opening weekend on the title alone.)

TICKETS? You can buy 'em a la carte, but an all-event, all  pass is $85. That's for three days -- March 28 through 30 -- but if you can get up by the 27th, you can attend the opening night dance. See? The dance vibe is strong with Humboldt. Which reminds us to ask you another serious question: Have you ever visited nearby Arcata and not seen impromptu dancing, like, in the park or on the street? We vouch that we have not. It is a lively tribute to a region that greets its arts scene with joy, spirited feelings, and a whole lot of booty shaking.

Photo Credit: Redwood Coast Jazz Festival]]>
<![CDATA[Morro Bay's Exceptional April]]> Thu, 27 Mar 2014 22:23:12 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/MorroBayKitesBackdrop.jpg

SEASIDE BURG: We rather like our quaint ocean-snug towns to be a bit laid-back, a bit easy, rather breezy, and full of colorful wind socks, taverns with copious outdoor seating, and a great view. No hustle or bustle, thank you very much. So when we say that Morro Bay has a rather busy April ahead, you can take heart, and feel relief, that the charmer of a rock-close village won't be giving up all that makes it so dang Morro-Bay-y. Nope, it just has a few hopping happenings, but hopping Morro Bay-style. Want to know more? Then read on about...

CITYWIDE YARD SALE: This one's growing increasingly more well-known, and for good reason: Not all that many cities go full garage- or sidewalk-sale. Sure, neighborhoods or streets might, but Morro Bay is one of the few towns to go all-in. Need to find a funky old pair of jeans and a lamp to match? Be there on Saturday, April 5 and Sunday, April 6.

MORRO BAY KITE FESTIVAL: Hoo boy. You can photograph a fluttering kite with most anything in the background, but Morro Rock? That kind of snapshot is just made for framing. Haul out your own string-sweet creation if you like for some fly time, or just swing by to watch. Everything goes down, or, um, up, over the final weekend in April.

HAPPY 50TH, MORRO BAY! And it happens to be the half century mark for the town, which was incorporated a half century ago. We know, we know, the mondo rock out in the water is a wee bit older -- and it is actually a volcanic plug, truly, right? -- but the beautiful town came together, all official-like, in the mid-60s. Lively doings'll go on throughout 2014.

Photo Credit: Morro Bay Kite Festival]]>
<![CDATA[Beasties and Beauty: National Park Week]]> Thu, 27 Mar 2014 14:05:56 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/npsjoshua1.jpg

GRANDEUR AND GLORY: It deserves no spoiler alert, and we don't have to be hush-hush as we mention it, but here goes: The National Parks? They're always there. Always. The sequoias don't pack up and head to a warehouse each night at 10 p.m. and the boulders of Joshua Tree have a rather profound way of staying put, regardless if visitors are around to see them or not. So it would not be inaccurate to say that it is always National Park Week, Day, Night, Hour, Minute, as long as rivers are flowing and cliffs are, uh, cliffing and the wilderness is being its wonderfully wild self. But an actual scheduled National Park Week is something nice and indeed important for we humans to reflect upon. It gives us a chance to pay tribute to these epic destinations, many of which are at our proverbial doorstep here in California. And, indeed, it gives us a chance to slip in free, at least for a couple of days in April, and at least at a few of the parks that typically charge admission.

AND THOSE DAYS ARE... Saturday, April 19 and Sunday, April 20. That happens to be Easter weekend, as well, so a lot of families might be on the road and near a natural wonder that's ripe for the (free) visiting. But even if you can't make the fee-free days, National Park Week is, indeed, a week. That means it extends from April 19 through 27 and it is chock full of special doings. Point Reyes National Seashore will feature a gray whale-focused to-do during the week, and Junior Rangers get the spotlight in the Santa Monica Mountains. Wherever you go to experience nature, and however you do it -- by hiking, volunteering, bird-watching, rafting, or just chillaxing -- the week is a fine time to reflect on these natural gifts and all that they bring.

Photo Credit: NPS]]>
<![CDATA[Dine in Nature, for Nature]]> Mon, 31 Mar 2014 11:26:16 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/167*120/foxbouverie1.jpg

FEATHERY FINE DINING: Having a bite out while admiring birds isn't a totally unlikely pairing. Plenty of restaurants are situated on wharves or strands where gulls and pelicans can be seen outside the dining room windows, and quite a few places feature parrots and macaws in the entryway and waiting room, as a colorful and frequently loud way to greet patrons. But eating next to egrets? Not quite as common. Actually, not common at all. The gorgeous, big-of-wing beauties very often live in protected reserves where, spoiler alert, the building of restaurants isn't exactly a thing. Fans of the egret have come to love the annual Mother's Day event at Martin Griffin Preserve of Audubon Canyon Ranch, but, given that the preserve is shuttered at the moment, access to the egrets is not to be this year. But being adjacent to wildlife at the ranch is possible, and helping the wildlife out, too. That's exactly what will happen at the Bouverie Preserve at Audubon Canyon Ranch on Sunday, May 18. The Sonoma County preserve's annual "Art of Eating" benefit takes on a "Vintage Country Picnic" theme for 2014.

M.F.K. FISHER: The legendary food writer is the inspiration behind the event, an event which features a live and silent auction, a nature education display, and loads of fine wine from the region. It will also honor nature advocate Martin Griffin and wine expert Carolyn Wente. A ticket? It's $150, and that will go toward helping the ranch's conservation and protection programs. And the spot, on a fine May Sunday, absolutely deserves the word "glorious": "The 525-acre Bouverie Preserve" is located in "Glen Ellen's Valley of the Moon in Sonoma County." Chaparral, woodlands, and forests provide the bountiful fauna of the area a most excellent home. 

AND... if you really want to see those famous egrets of Martin Griffin Preserve, also of Audubon Canyon Ranch, hang tight. The preserve, as mentioned, is closed at this time, but you can keep a watch here to find out what's next for the pretty expanse. As for the animals of Bouverie Preserve? Be on the lookout for the gray fox, the bobcat, and coyotes.

Photo Credit: Bouverie Preserve]]>
<![CDATA[Roadshow Revival: Cars, Tunes, and Johnny Cash Love]]> Sat, 22 Mar 2014 07:49:25 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/roadshowrevivalcar1.jpg

FANCY CARS, RETRO STYLE: Roadshow Revival, "one of the largest tribute concerts on the West Coast," marked its half decade in 2013. This means that more people, more old-school cars, more pin-up fashions, and more Johnny Cash love is on the rise, as things often are after a solid five years of fanship building. But the rockabilly-country-bluegrass concert, and all of the related happenings, can only expect to grow in year six. Again, the revival spreads out over the better part of Father's Day Weekend Saturday -- that's Flag Day in 2014, June 14 -- and the confirmed music acts are already coming down the pike. The Paladins out of San Diego, country music's Dale Watson, James Intveld, and "the highly energized American music-makers the Snake Oil Salesmen" will be on the stage, with several acts offering a song, a memory, or a few words about the memory of Mr. Johnny Cash, the man the day is built around.

AND OFF THE STAGE? Souped-up automobiles, a pin-up pageant, and rockabilly raucousness rule the Ventura Fairgrounds. We're not sure if someone will drive up in Johnny Cash's Mercedes Benz , which went up for sale in Ventura in January, but you can bet that the cars'll be plenty vintage and plenty loved-on, with oodles of craftsmanship and tender care on display. Also much on display? Wayback fashion, from Brylcreemed pompadours to parasols to ladies rocking the Bettie Page bangs. Roadshow Revival is both a tribute to the Man in Black and one of the alt-country-iest, rockabilly-nicest gatherings in all the West, and it continues to grow. Want tickets? Get 'em now, for $35.

Photo Credit: Roadshow Revival]]>
<![CDATA[Rare Giant Anteater Twin Born in Santa Barbara]]> Fri, 21 Mar 2014 07:23:22 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/190*120/babyanteater1.jpg

MANY OF US... have our first experience with anteaters, or at least see our first visuals, not in person but via a cartoon. There are good reasons for this, starting with the anteater's rather remarkable proboscis.

The image of him comically vacuuming up ants is also the stuff of lively animation, and it is something many a kid remembers for always. So seeing an anteater in person can be... just as fantastic. Because the animators of yore didn't stray very far from the real animal, at least in appearance. In action? Well, the mammals actually gather ants via their tongue, and not a magical suction device deep inside their long noses -- sorry, cartoons -- but they're just as wonderfully shaped and lopey and amazing to watch. Noses play important roles in the digging for insects; we don't want to downplay the anteater's most beloved feature. But here's a question to ponder: Do anteaters grow into their proboscis or are they born with a marvelously lengthy appendage? There's one way to know rather quickly: Admire a baby anteater. 

THE SANTA BARBARA ZOO... just happens to have one. He's a giant anteater, to be accurate and specific. The bouncing 3.5-pounder-at-birth was born on March 1, and he's a twin (the female twin did not survive). Interestingly the young lad's mother was also a twin, and the zoo calls the birth a rare one, given that anteater twins don't come along all that often. The prognosis for the cub? "Good" but "guarded." He's being hand-raised, and will not be on public view for months to come. But photos have been released and they're mighty full of awww. And, yep: His famous anteater ant digger is on the large size, indeed.

WANT TO KEEP TABS? The zoo is a major player in giant anteater conservation, so they'll help the baby's new fans stay up on his growth, milestones, and when they can have a first peek in person. Follow along at the Santa Barbara Zoo site.

Photo Credit: Santa Barbara Zoo]]>
<![CDATA[Announced: D23 Disney Fan Expo]]> Sat, 22 Mar 2014 07:50:42 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/183*120/expod23mickey1.jpg

DISNEY EVERYTHING: Going up against a through-and-through Disney fan in the trivia department can be an education in the company's vast backstory. Who's the Ghost Host inside The Haunted Mansion? (Answer: Paul Frees.) What animated short did Walt Disney try out his multiplane camera on? (Answer: "The Old Mill.") Which hotel served as an inspiration for The Grand Californian? (Answer: The Ahwahnee in Yosemite.) Disney love is a vast love, and it incorporates the worlds of Pixar and Marvel and Star Wars and The Muppets, too. So a convention encompassing all of these properties has to be big, three-day big, across-the-street-from-Disneyland big, and it has to come with oodles of booths and merch and presentations and talks and star appearances and sneak peeks. And so it does: D23 Expo is the convention's name, a convention so capacious and audaciously Mouse-mega that it only shows up every two years. The next go-around was expected to be 2015, since the third D23 Expo rolled in August of 2013, and so it shall be: The fourth D23 Expo has been announced for Friday, Aug. 14 through Sunday, Aug. 16 at the Anaheim Convention Center.

EARLY HIGHLIGHTS: The convention will gel over the next seventeen months, but the announcement revealed a few early highlights. There shall be a 2015 Disney Legends Ceremony, a display of pieces from the Walt Disney Archives, and the Collectors Forum, a favorite from past events. Count on clips of upcoming films, celebrity cameos, and more Disneyana, to admire, study, and purchase, than you can shake a Mary Poppins-style umbrella at. Yep, it is a ways away, but ticket-buying? That starts in 2014. Aug. 14, to be specific, so best keep a watch on the D23 Expo site. And start boning up on all of that Mickey-sweet trivia.




Photo Credit: D23 Expo]]>
<![CDATA[Water Wonders: Tentacles Exhibit in Monterey]]> Sun, 30 Mar 2014 08:02:25 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/199*120/tentaclesmba.jpg

IF EVER... there was a video to give the cat playing a piano a run for viral superstardom, it is the wee octopus opening a jar, a jar holding food he'd like to get. True, there are multiple videos of cats rocking the tunes, just as there are now several clips of the tentacled stars of the deep slipping masterfully through holes and plotting out puzzles that they seem to solve in a snap. (Seriously, how did that jar lose its lid so fast?) In short, we're fascinated by octopuses and all suction-y, multi-legged things that lurk beneath rocks and scurry along the bottom of the ocean. Fictional cephalopods play a rather large and looming role in our stories -- octopuses provide a frequent motif in steampunk comics and Victorian horror thrillers -- but the real ones intrigue, bewitch, and mystify. They should both intrigue and bewitch, of course, but the Monterey Bay Aquarium hopes to dispel the mystify part via a mega new exhibit. It's called Tentacles: The Astounding Lives of Octopuses, Squid, and Cuttlefishes and it dramatically debuts, much like a little creature running out from under a piece of coral, at the Monterey Bay Aquarium on Saturday, April 12.

YEAH, WE SAID "MEGA"... and we meant it. Let's start with the big run time of two-and-a-half years, give or take. Tentacles will stay put at the Monterey institution through Labor Day 2016. The special exhibition cost $3.5 million to put together, so count on educational and visual additions aplenty. Nemo Gould, a Bay Area artist, has created kinetic sculptures, digital elements shall be interactive, and "up to two dozen species" will cameo through the dozen different displays.

IN SHORT... if you love a cephalopodist -- or are one -- it looks like a Monterey weekend is in your future. The world's largest cuttlefishes and the world's smallest squids will make appearances during the run, alongside a rainbow of octopus favorites. Here's hoping, though, that none of the residents inside Tentacles decide to take a midnight walk -- or midnight scurry? -- as a small octopus did at the aquarium a couple of years back.

Photo Credit: Monterey Bay Aquarium/Randy Wilder]]>
<![CDATA[90th Birthday: Cypress Inn Celebrates Doris Day]]> Tue, 25 Mar 2014 15:52:33 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/182*120/dorisdaycarmel12.jpg

MAJOR MOVIE STARS... often become synonymous with particular film genres or eras or style of film-making. Certain fashion trends may be tied to them as well, and even fads, from time to time. Doris Day can check several of those things off her list, given that we love the actress for her sparkly turn in '50s charmers like "Pillow Talk," optimistic romantic comedies that stylishly led the way for all romcoms to come. But Ms. Day isn't just about those mid-century gems nor romantic banner; she's a co-owner of the Cypress Inn in Carmel and a longtime resident of the area. And, of course, a major animal advocate. Her Cypress Inn and her advocacy have dovetailed over the years, making her property extremely pet friendly and a place that California canine lovers and fans of Doris Day films vow to visit at least once. And if ever the time was ripe for such a visit, it's now: Ms. Day is turning 90, and there are a few treats in store 'round the historic pup-loving property.

LIKE... a Sentimental Journey weekend, from Thursday, April 3 through Saturday, April 5. A room, a welcome gift bag, and a spot on the wait list for her official birthday dinner are part of the package. But if you can't make the weekend, you can swing by the inn's bar and order a Bourbon & Bone, the cocktail created in honor of her birthday. Yep, your pup gets a chew toy and you get an adult beverage and best of all? The $9.90 you spend on the special drink -- "90" again being the theme -- goes to Ms. Day's work with animals, rescues, and spay and adoption efforts.

EVEN IF YOU CAN'T... be around Carmel on April 3, which is the legend's birthday proper, a trip to the Cypress Inn, with your hound at your side, is a quintessential overnight for those Golden Staters who love cinema history as well as their four-footed friends.

Photo Credit: a]]>
<![CDATA['Tis the Season for Subterranean Strolls]]> Mon, 24 Mar 2014 12:25:37 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/forestierestairs1.jpg

GO BELOW: It won't be a spoiler or anything to reveal this, so here it goes... whatever is beneath our feet tends to be beneath our feet regardless of season, weather, change or time of year. The land upon we stand doesn't take a hike each winter, given that the ground, save seismological events stays fairly constant. But subterranean spaces created by humans? Those are rather more dependent on the calendar, given that damper, cooler days can make for less-than-optimal walks below. Which means when spring comes a-callin', two of the Golden State's best-known below-the-ground spots open their doors -- or, um, ceilings? -- to welcome curious lookie-loos.

FORESTIERE UNDERGROUND GARDENS: It's a twisty, rock-bedecked labyrinth in Fresno, with trees and leafy shrubs dotting its more open spaces and an interesting, man-on-a-singular-mission history. (That man would, of course, be Baldassare Forestiere, who built his tucked-under-the-surface abode over four decades starting in 1906.) The shadowy space shutters come winter, but oh, summertime. It's a fine place to be when things are heating up, because the gardens stay plenty cool. The quirky destination opened for weekends in early March, while the Wednesday to Sunday schedule kicks off in April (and wraps in October).

OLD SACRAMENTO: Our capital's rough-and-scrabble historic outpost, once the fabled terminus of the Pony Express and play place of Gold-Rush-ers on break from the whole getting-rich-quick thing, has an underground that boasts a bevy of tales from long ago. Costumed guides tell the tales -- including some catered strictly to the grown-up set, on specialized tours -- over hour-long walks. Intrigued, subterraneania buff? They start up for the season on Saturday, April 5.


Photo Credit: Forestiere Underground Gardens]]>