<![CDATA[NBC Bay Area - Worth the Trip]]>Copyright 2016http://www.nbcbayarea.com/blogs/worth-the-trip http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/nbc_bayarea_blue.png NBC Bay Area http://www.nbcbayarea.comen-usSun, 26 Jun 2016 08:43:22 -0700Sun, 26 Jun 2016 08:43:22 -0700NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Vintage Train Ride: LA to Santa Barbara]]> Sat, 25 Jun 2016 07:16:15 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/vintagetrainadsla123.jpg

VIEW ANY ROMANCE FILM... that's set in the 1930s or '40s and you're bound to see two lovers reuniting, or, more excruciatingly, parting, while standing on a train platform. One of them most go — oh, the pain — and while all of the hankie-waving, and fedora-wearing, and gentle crying can move the film's viewer, that same viewer is often agog over the train in the background. Period films typically boast gorgeously appointed train cars, the kind unseen today except in the rarest instances. Such a rare instance, though, will choo-choo out of Union Station in Los Angeles — itself a treasure from the era under discussion — and head for Santa Barbara and back. What will you be riding in, if you become a member of the Art Deco Society of LA and buy a ticket for the train? Prepare yourself, fedora fans and swooners of old-school travel: It's an...

OVERLAND TRAIL CAR, one that is about as Streamline Moderne as railcars come. Think tasteful carpeting, muted textiles and tones, and the sort of light fixtures that reigned eight decades ago or so. Surely you'll have to wear your Peggy Carter-style two-piece suit, or something Clark Kent might have donned, to sit on the retro chairs. As for food and drink? You're allowed to bring your own, though wine, coffee, and a few other beverages will be for sale. The date is Saturday, Nov. 12, and while traditional fall colors don't dominate the area where the track runs, you will, fingers crossed, sense a crispness in the air. Will such crispness call to mind a train station scene from a period romance? We have to think it can only enhance the vintage day out on the rails.

Photo Credit: J. Christopher Launi]]>
<![CDATA[Danish Days: Pastries and Parades]]> Fri, 24 Jun 2016 19:43:39 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/arnesfamousaebleskiver.jpg

A DANISH DELIGHT: Summertime, and specifically July, can put the notion of eating contests in one's noggin. After all, hot dogs are the culinary star come Independence Day, when eaters vie for honors on Coney Island. But watermelons, and strawberries, and other warm-weather staples are also part of the eating contest scene, whether that scene is at a national festival or staged in a backyard, with a few pies (no hands allowed, of course, for that particular contest). Solvang likes to get into the grub-devouring scene, too, each year, and with no less than the town's best-known sweet: the aebleskiver. If you know this Danish delight, you know that few things on the planet are softer, or doughier, or more pliant to the teeth or touch. Eating a few, or several, over five minutes, is something that doesn't seem too daunting, and competitors will once again line up to take on the iconic dessert. The Aebleskiver Eating Contest, which is free to join, isn't the only doing at the wine country town's big late summer festival. There is plenty on the...

DANISH DAYS... calendar, such as a crafts-packed Living History Festival, a Viking Encampment, a Torchlight Parade, and a couple of Aebleskiver Breakfasts (which are separate from the eating contests). It all falls over the middle weekend in September — that's the 16th through the 18th — and it brims with culture and food, both (oh yes, and Hans Christian Anderson makes a cameo, too). So if July-style hot dog eating contests aren't quite your thing, nor is taking on a whole fruit pie, but you wouldn't mind a few aebleskivers, Solvang in September should be on your schedule. Truly, you likely won't have a dough-deep experience this year, or any other.

Photo Credit: Jeremy Ball/Arne's Famous Aebleskiver]]>
<![CDATA[Champagne Dinner at the Mission Inn]]> Fri, 24 Jun 2016 12:51:34 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/missioninnbeautysunsetbubbly.jpg

A GLASS OF SOMETHING SPARKLY: There are many picturesque spots in which to quaff a glass of Champagne. You can do so among the vines where the grapes were grown, if you make your way to France. You can do so on a boat, or with the ocean as a backdrop, perhaps with sunset thrown in for good measure. And finding a stunner of a structure, one with lofty towers and grand colonnades and castle-like touches, definitely weaves well with most bubbly-based fantasies. If your daydream has long been to quaff French bubbles in a castle, you'll come pretty darn close in Riverside on Friday, July 8. Yes, that's Riverside, as in California, and the castle we speak of is, of course, the Mission Inn. The hotel is throwing an Under the Stars Champagne Dinner, and the "under the stars" part isn't simply poetic fancy. The swanky summer truly will be served under the night sky, at the landmark's International Rotunda. And while French sips will be a star, so will dishes from...

THE MISSION INN'S FOUR RESTAURANTS: Each course, and dessert, will feature "a signature dish" created by one of the hotel's four eateries. A Champagne reception starts off the $150 evening, and a docent-led talk about the hotel's history will add further flavor to the proceedings. There are five courses in all, plus bubbly, plus hotel stories, plus the general feel of dining in a multi-room castle, only a castle built in the citrus-y heart of the Inland Empire. Call it a Gallic Golden State kind of gala, one that has all the trimmings of a party on the Continent, with the closeness, and charm, of historic Riverside. For information call the hotel at 951-784-0300.

Photo Credit: Mission Inn/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Catalina Wine Mixer: Oh Yeah, It's Back]]> Thu, 23 Jun 2016 16:47:14 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/DescansoBeachCub_Overview_Jan2015_1.jpg

THERE ARE SCENES... that you and your friends regularly act out, line for line, should somebody in your party say a particular word or reference a certain location. For many comedy fans, a mention of "Catalina Island" often brings to mind 2008's "Step Brothers," starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly. You know just the pivotal scene that the island played a memorable part in: The Catalina Wine Mixer. It's a moment that's moved into movie legend for a lot of fans, who've regularly incorporated the reference in their film lingo, or even ventured to host their own Catalina Wine Mixer at home (less the helicopter, we'll assume). If your dream, though, has been to actually go to Catalina Island and enjoy an actual wine mixer named the Catalina Wine Mixer, you're in luck. The fresh flick-inspired tradition kicked off, rousingly, in 2015, and it'll be back for more music, more vino, more fancy foodstuffs, and more argyle-wearing in September of 2016. The exact dates for the brotherly love are...

FRIDAY, SEPT. 23 THROUGH SUNDAY, SEPT. 25: As with the first year, the stars of the film are not expected to show, but revelers will be much in the spirit of the comedy. The Dan Band is the headliner, an outfit you surely know from films like "The Hangover" and "Old School." It's a long weekend of supreme relaxing at the Descanso Beach Club, but if you need a little more authentic movie magic in the mix, check it out: You can book a flight on an Island Express helicopter. But how are your drumming skills? And do you know all the lyrics to "Por Ti Volare"? Best start practicing now, as you go digging for your favorite sweater vest.

Photo Credit: Descanso Beach Club]]>
<![CDATA[Laguna Beach Must: Festival of Arts]]> Wed, 22 Jun 2016 22:51:10 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/FOA_LookingAtArt_RonAzevedo.jpg

THE RITES OF SUMMER... so often revolve around A) food straight from the icebox and B) some sort of water, whether it is a lake or a stream or a sprinklerhead. But let us give love to the tradition of the grand and time-honored art festival, the kind of happening that takes place in a location esteemed for nurturing creativity of all sorts. Laguna Beach just happens to be such a destination, but it didn't come by this honor in the last year or two. Rather, it has been the home to The Pageant of the Masters for over eight decades, and the just-as-venerable Festival of Arts. That's thanks in large part to the artist enclaves that have popped up in the waves-adjacent burg over the year, as well as many locals working to create events that reflect the town's devotion to paint and clay and drama and photography. To dip into that delightfulness, and see hundreds of examples of local artworks, make for the famous...

FESTIVAL OF ARTS FINE ART SHOW: It opens for its 84th season on Tuesday, July 5, when it will host "140 of Orange County's most talented artists." Jewelry, ceramics, textiles, mixed media, and other forms of expression share the scene with watercolors and collages and paintings. It isn't all about artwork viewing, though, at the festival; wine and chocolate tastings, live jazz tuneage, classes for both adults and kids, and informative tours are also on the schedule. If Laguna Beach is on your road trip map from July 5 through the last day of August, a peek at what's on the easels, walls, and pottery wheels is a peek at what's happening now, on the art scene, and a peek long into the past. Soon this celebration will mark its centennial, a true stalwart on the Golden State arts scene. That the sand is only a few blocks away, and great restaurants, too, fills out the other traditions of summertime nicely.

Photo Credit: Ron Azevedo]]>
<![CDATA[Drakesbad: Old-Fashioned Ranch Charm]]> Tue, 21 Jun 2016 18:23:25 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/215*120/drakesbadlassennps.jpg

JUST ABOUT EVERY ARTICLE... detailing the pleasures of summer takes a sepia-toned nostalgic view of the past. Well, maybe not "sepia-toned" as much as "Polaroid-like," for the recent past of the '60s, '70s, and '80s is the past that many of today's adults pine for, with feeling. They recall looking for bugs into the twilight, and eating sticky ice cream treats next to a stream, and, most of all, not being so easily summoned via email or other messaging (save the timeless messaging of a parent standing on the porch and calling them inside at sundown). Where does one find such Polaroid-like larks nowadays, if we don't work to create them ourselves? Making for a vacation spot that is mostly without electricity has a way of doing the trick. There aren't many places that forgo power in their guest rooms, but Drakesbad Guest Ranch in Lassen Volcanic National Park is one. And it is open, for visitors...

THROUGH OCT. 10, 2016: "All accommodations are rustic and quaint, most without electricity," says the historic lodging, which has roots in the beginning of the last century. So how does a family fill the hours not spent with the usual at-home pastimes, several that likely involve being plugged in? Horseback riding, swimming, sing-alongs, the making of campfire s'mores, and all of this into-the-woods doings that we remember, or wish we did, reign at the national park spot. Oh yes, and then there's the fact that a leisurely drive will take you by mudpots and steam features and the other wonders of Lassen. It's almost as if you've jetted back to 1974, and you've got your knee socks on, and denim shorts, and you're planning a day exploring nature and perhaps putting on a skit after dinner. Feeling the nostalgia? It's a real thing at Drakesbad, a California classic with one hiking boot in the past.

Photo Credit: NPS]]>
<![CDATA[Salsa Fest: Oxnard's Piquant Party]]> Tue, 21 Jun 2016 11:23:26 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/212*120/salsadipgetty.jpg

HEAT IS HAPPINESS: If you're going to sit on the couch in the corner at the party, the one that is right in front of the salsa bowl, and continue to dip chip after tortilla chip, looking for that happy jalapeño jolt and cilantro spiciness, well, move over, because we're coming to join you. Hardly anyone can blame a person for wanting the salsa bowl mostly to themselves, especially if you've ever made salsa from scratch in your own kitchen, only to find that, by the completion of the recipe, you've basically already consumed half of it. There's a party for people who find happiness in habañero-based heat, and it arrives in one of the sun-intense-iest times of the year: The very end of July. The two-day festival just happens to be in a place much associated with strawberries, but come July 30 and 31, the seedy fruit will have to make way for peppers, onions, and tomatoes.

SALSA DANCING... is also a major part of the Oxnard Salsa Festival, which may be one of the few fests that holds a duo-style party celebrating both meanings of its titular word. While people shimmy on the dance floor, performing their best sways and shimmying, eaters'll be roaming the Salsa Tasting Tent, where the "region's biggest salsa bar" will be on full, tastebud-tempting display. That's five bucks, and you get a bag of Mission tortilla chips to help you expedite the salsa-enjoying process. Of course, the Plaza Park party has a lot of other doings afoot, from live tunes to vendors galore, but for those who like their salsa in both bowls, and in front of a band, well, there's plenty to fill the time. Just be ready for fiery fun, and, yes, that late July sunshine, which may be as hot as a bowl of green chile. Mmm.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Salty Snouts: Surf Dog Classes]]> Mon, 20 Jun 2016 22:57:33 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/2015SurfDogClassesLinzie2.jpg

A BEVY OF CANINE COURSES: Finding something instructional and life-enhancing to do with your furry BFF isn't too difficult. There are the classic training classes, the kind that help your pup know when to sit and know when to heel. There are dog-themed yoga seminars, which make sense, since every dog pretty much knows the downward dog pose like the back of their own paw. And dog dancing? It is definitely a delightful trend, one that is here to stay. But dog surfing just might be one of the more unusual pursuits to co-do alongside your barker, and finding someone to instruct you both isn't the easiest bone to wrestle from the toy box. Still, you only need look to one of the most famous surfing dog festivals in the world, the Surf Dog Surf-A-Thon, which takes place in Del Mar each September. The Boston Terriers and Bearded Collies don't simply take to the boards for the first time that day. There are...

LESSONS THROUGHOUT THE SUMMER, both of the surfing kind and those taking on stand-up paddleboarding. The GromMUTT Surf Dog Lessons begin with an on-the-land group class, and then a Fido-sweet foray into the waves with an instructor. The final class ahead of the big event is Aug. 28, and then, on Sunday, Sept. 11, the dogs'll be out, in their floaty vests, raising money for pets who need homes. The organization behind it all? The Helen Woodward Animal Center of Rancho Santa Fe. The chance to paddleboard with your ocean-loving pup? It doesn't come around all that often. This might just be the kind of bucket-list-y thing you've both been looking for, along the lines of dog yoga and dog dancing. Any recreation with your little lovey is time well spent, and spending it in service to other pooches? Yeah, that's way gnarly.

Photo Credit: Helen Woodward Animal Center]]>
<![CDATA[Pony Party at L'Auberge Del Mar]]> Sat, 25 Jun 2016 16:32:27 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/LDM_OpeningDayAfterParty_poolcloseup.jpg

HORSES, THEN HOBNOBBING: When you're a summertime tradition that's stuck around, grandly and gaily, for the better part of a century, you likely can make some recommendations in the whole "throwing a fabulous time" category. And the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club could certainly do so, having roots with both the players of Hollywood's Golden Age (Bing Crosby played a pivotal role in its beginning) and the stunner of a seaside community it has long called home. "Long called home" here translates to "since 1937," and the major part of that longevity is due to the ponies who run during July and August. But another important part of the club's success story? The festive spirit of the summer meet. Parties, fancy dress opportunities, and other happenings festoon the multi-week equestrian event, and opening day, after the races, puts the whole socializing scene into a full trot. It's the...

OPENING DAY AFTER PARTY... at L'Auberge Del Mar, a luxe hotel that's about a five-minute drive from the Thoroughbred Club. As always, it will throw an opening night bash, one that includes "jockey-themed entertainment" as well as bites straight from the posh California cuisine annals. Will you discuss the ponies you rooted for during the Friday, July 15 soiree? Or how you decided on the design of your opening-day hat? Or what you might name a competitive horse if you ever had the opportunity? (That makes for a lively after-the-track topic.) Tickets are $229 apiece, but if you can't make the posh lark, note that L'Auberge Del Mar is one of the swanky local spots to bed down for the night after a day of cheering on the mane action at one of the Golden State's most hallowed pony palaces.

Photo Credit: L'Auberge Del Mar]]>
<![CDATA[Safari West: A Quartet of Hoglets]]> Sun, 19 Jun 2016 08:39:12 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/hogletnikki123.jpg

LANGUAGE IS EVOLVING, all the time, as popular phrases come and go and fresh words for fresh innovations capture our fancy and, for a time, our tongues. But wherever the course of language may lead, and however many permutations it undergoes, the fact of the matter shall forever remain this: When one adds "-let" to basically any animal name, what results may cause the speaker and anyone in earshot to squeal in delight. 

TRUE, most baby animals do not boast a "-let" at the end of their designation, but piglets do, those most squealable of newborn beasties (it's just science, that they summon such delighted squeals). But one might call a recently arrived hog a hoglet, if one wishes, and that goes for baby warthogs, too. It just so happens that Safari West in Santa Rosa recently welcomed not one warthoglet but a quartet of the snout-sweet cuties, courtesy of mom Lulu. Lulu gave birth on May 5, and the wee hogs (one girl, three boys) have been making their way out and about with their mother. "They've been spotted by some eagle-eyed guests already!" reveals Safari West, so if you're planning on a jaunt around the spacious preserve, put on your hoglet sensor and see if you can't discern these delightful little snarflers.

THERE'S LOTS MORE TO SEE... around Safari West, from giraffes to crested porcupines. If only we could call the babies of both "giraffelets" and "porcupinelets" but, truthfully, a newborn beastie is pretty awww-worthy, whatever their official designation might be.

Photo Credit: Nikki Smith/Safari West]]>
<![CDATA[Flower Fantasy: LotusFest! 2016]]> Wed, 22 Jun 2016 12:24:59 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/LotuslandMother.jpg

WHAT'S IN A NAME: Most public gardens, or private nature spreads, tend to have names that reflect an early proprietor of the garden, or an early owner of the estate, or a moniker that pays tribute to the general climate or larger area in which the garden exists. The occasional garden, however, incorporates a single plant or flower in its handle, which can only lead the potential visitor to one conclusion: You're going to see that flower or plant, in profusion, should you arrive at the right time of year. Case in point: Ganna Walska Lotusland, in Santa Barbara, indeed has "lotus" in its very name, but the mythical bloom only makes its magnificent presence known during particular times of the year. At Lotusland, that time of year falls during July and August, and so pretty are those pinky petals that the historic estate throws a party to welcome them. Lotusfest 2016 is that party, and will unfold its to-dos and activities, much like its namesake unfolds, on...

SATURDAY, JULY 9: There shall be wine from area vintners — this is Santa Barbara, after all — and there shall be savory bites, to keep your energy up for all of that lotus-directed appreciating you intend to do. It's an afternoon affair, with all the charms of a traditional garden soiree, and tickets are a pinch over a hundred bucks for non-members. As for the lotus love? You'll see 'em in their open-to-the-sky form. But here's a lotus fact to know, just in case you ever long to see the blossoms by moonlight: Like human beings, lotuses take a rest after dark. They don't tuck into bed, but they do tuck those petals away, an age-old rite that further lends the lotus its well-deserved aura of mystery.

Photo Credit: Ganna Walska Lotusland]]>
<![CDATA[Palm Springs Tram: Military Days]]> Mon, 20 Jun 2016 12:31:05 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/pstramway1234.jpg

JULY GRATITUDE: When summer arrives, so do the three-digit temperatures around the Coachella Valley. Wait... what? Summer-style temps actually have a way of showing up in the springtime? You're absolutely correct. It doesn't suddenly become warmish as Independence Day grows nearer; rather, toastier days can begin in April. All that said, July really has a lock on roasty Palm Springs afternoons, the kind when a mister and a hand fan and a glass of iced tea are the three things many a glistening human is searching out. That's where the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway comes in, what with its admirable ability to whisk overly hot people to a location nearly 6,000 feet above where the tram leaves the valley. And to get through July, and to honor the meaning behind Independence Day, and to say "thank you" to those who serve, the tram is hosting "Military Days" through the entire month. Yes, that does mean...

FREE ADMISSION... for military personnel over the 31 days of July, and not just around Fourth of July weekend. You'll want to have your ID to show at the ticket counter, and you'll want to let any guests joining you that they'll get 25% off (and that's up to six guests, which is pretty dang great). So what can you do at the top? Explore Mount San Jacinto State Park via the 50-plus miles of trails, or have lunch at Mountain Station, which has both a quick-grab cafe as well as a sit-down restaurant (with incredible views of the Coachella Valley). And are summer hours a bit different at the tram? They are, with slightly later cars on Fridays and Saturdays, as well as an early start on Friday mornings. It's a lovely show of gratitude for the our military members and their loved ones and friends, and an easy route to staving off some of those thermometer-testing summer days. A mountain trip, one that can happen in mere minutes, is always kind of the solution come July, and for free? Even sweeter.

Photo Credit: Palm Springs Aerial Tramway]]>
<![CDATA[Santa Barbara's Summer Solstice Shindig]]> Fri, 17 Jun 2016 18:03:52 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/SolsticeParade2_PatriciaClarke_VSB.jpg

WELCOME SUMMER: There's no one correct way to approaching the start of summer, though many people do tend to stock up on sunblock, and pool noodles, and flip flops, and board shorts, as they should. But greeting the summer solstice specifically, and not summer as a whole, is another merry 'n magical matter altogether. Some solstice observers rise with the dawn, to get the most out of the longest day of the year, while others take a nature hike, or find a bluff or mountain rock for some prime sunset watching. Those are quieter happenings, pursuits that truly fall on the more introspective side of the solstice.

WILDER WHIMSY: But on the extrospective side of the occasion? It's the Santa Barbara Summer Solstice Celebration, a gigantic street parade that has roots back in 1974. This isn't a reflective and silent sunset walk, note, but rather a middle-of-the-day, music-packed parade. A parade, by the by, which comes complete with some of the most colorful costumes to be found in the Golden State, outlandish and fun outfits donned by the 1000+ participants shimmying their way down State Street, as well as surrounding thoroughfares.

FLOATS, TUNES, and "choreographed dancing ensembles" fill out the festive scene further. It's a scene that summons the sunny side of the solstice, though do keep in mind that the 2016 party is not happening on June 20, the longest day of the year. Rather, the parade is set for Saturday, June 25, while the larger festival will kick up its heels from June 24 through 26. Workshops have been helping to get everyone involved in the community-darling to-do, so you're bound to see some people who are walking in their first-ever parade. It's full of cheer, hula hoops, inflatables, streamers, smiles, and summery whimsy, all things that Santa Barbara pretty much rocks all year long. But at its long-running Summer Solstice parade? It is like the sun itself has provided a little extra light, and a spare sunbeam or two, to the light-in-spirit gathering.

Photo Credit: Patricia Clarke]]>
<![CDATA[Happy World Sea Turtle Day]]> Thu, 16 Jun 2016 17:52:12 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/turtle-on-turquoise-d-small1.jpg

NO SPOILER ALERT REQUIRED: Sea turtles existed a few (hundred million) years before 2003's "Finding Nemo" was released, a fact that shouldn't require any asterisks or explanations. But Crush, the incredibly easygoing, smiles-for-miles sea turtle in the film, did much to spread turtle-tastic love wide, especially among younger viewers who may have never encountered such a wondrous creature before, either in person or, more likely, at an aquarium. It's timely that the sequel to the animated blockbuster is debuting on Friday, June 17, which just happens to be the day after June 16, which every turtle maven knows is World Sea Turtle Day. To celebrate this lovely occasion, Monterey Bay Aquarium is offering a download for turtle fans, and Crush buffs, and those who are simply sweet on these placid swimmers of the deep. It's wallpaper, and it features one...

VERY HANDSOME SEA TURTLE, the kind of critter that might have served as an early inspiration for Crush. By the by, Pixar, which has its HQ a couple of hours north of Monterey in Emeryville, visited the institution for research (research that went beyond sea turtles and to other aquatic animals, too, such as the Nemo-adorbs clownfish). It's all cool stuff for film fans, ocean aficionados, and people who simply dig how nifty sea turtles are, with their "flipper-shaped forelegs" and how they can "stay under water for up to two hours before coming to the surface."

SWEET, shell-rocking, rudder-leggy creatures, we salute you on your big day. While Crush may be a fictional fellow, we do believe that, if you could all speak to humans, you might be as easygoing and kind-of-heart. May we terrestrials do the honor of helping water-dwelling turtles everywhere, in addition to their land-living cousins, too.

Photo Credit: Monterey Bay Aquarium]]>
<![CDATA[Summer Solstice Saunter]]> Thu, 16 Jun 2016 16:07:27 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/sunsettwimtdiablo.jpg

SUN WORSHIPER: You don't have to look to far for the sun, even though, spoiler alert, it exists quite far from us. It is a symbol that carries loads of meaning for we earthlings, and whether it is drawn as a circle with emanating lines (the classic illustration of our youth) or with sunglasses and a smile (as seen on beach towels), we recognize our nearest star. But one of the best ways to commune with our sun, save a rocket trip to its surface — seriously, do not do that — is to find a slice of nature to enjoy right around the longest day of the year. That's the summer solstice, a day full of early risings, and special ceremonies, for loads of people who call this watery planet home. You can find your slice of nature a couple of days ahead of June 20 by joining the Summer Solstice Saunter at Mount Diablo State Park. The date of the hike? It's...

SATURDAY, JUNE 18, which is technically summer's eve eve (June 20, as mentioned, is the longest day in 2016). A group'll meet up in the twilight hour to "hop, skip, and jump from ponds to meadows to hillsides..." while keeping an eye out for local Diablo denizens, furry and scaly and scurrying beasties alike. So what does "twilight hours" mean? It's 6:30 in the evening. So what does "hop, skip, and jump" mean? The Summer Solstice Saunter is described as a moderate hike of four miles (and not on uniformly flat land, so take the elevation change into consideration). You'll meet at Mitchell Canyon Visitor Center, which is approximately 92,900,000 miles from the sun, give or take (as is earth itself). But just because we're at a notably great distance from the star doesn't mean we can carve out a few hours to ponder it in all of its epicness. Whether that means stretching out on a beach towel bearing its sunglasses-wearing visage, or enjoying a nature-nice hike just before the solstice, is up to you, star people.

Photo Credit: Mt. Diablo Interpretative Association]]>
<![CDATA[Surfing with the Chef in Carlsbad]]> Tue, 21 Jun 2016 11:13:43 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Surfingwiththechef123.jpg

CHEF SIGHTING: When staying at a luxe hotel, where are some of the places you might run into the top toque on the property? The executive chef might stop by your table during dinner, to see if the lamb was to your liking, for sure. That's probably the way most guests encounter a chef, via an impromptu tableside conversation. What's rather rarer, though, is joining a fine hotel's executive chef on the beach for a bit of surfing, and then doing some cooking together. But Chef Pierre Albaladejo of Park Hyatt Aviara Resort in Carlsbad is just that rare chef. Raised in the South of France, Chef Albaladejo is an enthusiastic surfer, and it is a beloved pursuit that he is sharing with guests via the Surfing with the Chef program. You won't just be slipping into a wetsuit and wading into the nearby Pacific Ocean, however; there are several parts to the program, including starting the salty adventure with the most important meal of the day. Indeed...

WE'RE TALKING BREAKFAST... here, but you won't be waiting at a table for Chef to emerge from the kitchen, plates in hand. You'll join him at the stoves while you learn what techniques he employs, then, after a hearty meal, it is surf time at a Carlsbad stretch of sand. A beach meal follows — Chef Albaladejo will prepare it there —and you'll depart not only laden with tips of the surfing and cooking kind, but your own longboard, too. Will you need to find room in your car, or on the plane, for your new surfboard? Nope. The hotel will ship it to you. The only question that remains is this: How will future tableside chats with a chef live up to actually surfing with a chef? Well, they're still pretty cool, and nothing can dim that. But hanging ten with a gentleman typically rocking a toque is a pretty singular getaway experience, one that isn't easily replicated.

Photo Credit: Park Hyatta Aviara Resort]]>
<![CDATA[Gilroy Delish: Garli-que BBQ Challenge]]> Fri, 24 Jun 2016 12:11:51 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/AP_154546494337.jpg

BARBECUE SAUCE INGREDIENTS... can run the gourmet gamut, from heirloom tomatoes to cinnamon powder to organic honey to pure maple syrup. It all depends on the tastes of the person helming the grill, and whether the cook's creation will rock a sweeter rub, or a fiery sauce, very much depends upon what got slathered upon the meat in the early stages of preparation. But whether you prefer to go sweet or spicy with your own barbecue, it isn't difficult to see how a garlic clove or two can transform most any barbecue dish. The zestful bulb has a way of enhancing a pulled pork sandwich or chicken breast, without going the overpowering route. If you've got a major way with both the grill and garlic, and you'd like to show off your stuff for glory and cash, best throw your oven mitt into the ring at the...

GILROY GARLIC FESTIVAL: The celebrated food festival, which heats it up over the final weekend in July, has sent out the call for barbecue buffs looking to compete. There's a pro category, and five categories in which the teams shall square off, savory-style. One of the categories indeed involves the superstar clove -- it's called "Anything Goes with Garlic" -- and the only ask is that the chefs incorporate a bulb of garlic. The event is overseen by the venerable Kansas City Barbecue Society, and comes with thousands in cash prizes and trophies. Want to compete as an amateur? Best look in to joining the Backyard BBQ Rib Throwdown, which takes place on Sunday, July 31.

TROPHY TIME: If you snagged such a trophy, for your Super Mondo Garlicky Baby Back Ribs, where would you proudly display it? We have to assume you'll have a shelf built, on the patio, just a few feet from your grill and favorite tongs.

Photo Credit: Whitney Curtis/Invision/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Happy 75th, Marin County Fair]]> Tue, 14 Jun 2016 22:57:33 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/_MG_4806marin.jpg

OF ALL THE POTENT MEMORIES... in the world, at least 70% involve some sort of carnival or fair we attended as kids, and at least 70% of those recollections deal with us trying to pull melty cotton candy off our chin as we queue up for the Ferris wheel. Hmm. Is 70% too low? Maybe a bit higher? Well, it's true, we're guessing here, but there's no conjecture involved when it comes to talking about the powerful pull old-timey summer fairs have on our hearts. If we went even once, at age 8, we remember the smells, sights, and sweets like we were just there this morning. If you want that chin-sticky cotton candy feeling again, for a day, you can give the files of your deep memory a rest and giddy up for San Rafael, which is about to celebrate the opening of the Marin County Fair. But it isn't just any opening, no sirree; it's...

THE 75TH ANNIVERSARY... of the midway-blinky, pig-snarfly, fireworks-twinkly party. All the nostalgic touches you expect will fill the Marin County Fairgrounds, from 12,000+ exhibits (think quilts, paintings, woodworking, and such) to the forever-and-always popular petting zoo. There are concerts, too, like sets from Kool & the Gang, Foreigner, and Plain White T's. And an exhibit looking back at 75 years of the San Rafael ring-a-ding will lend the lark a historic dimension, while acrobatic feats from the Chinese Circus of Beijing will keep fair goers riveted. As for those classic carnival rides? Look for 28 of 'em, and they're all free with your fair admission, from the solar carousel to the Giant Ferris Wheel. Can you see the racing pigs or the Rawhide Express Train from the top of the wheel? That is yet another fair-fun to-do — spy things on the ground from wayyyy up above. If you're hoping to revisit some of these long-go memories, whether they involve a sticky cotton candy chin or not, clear June 30 through July 4 for your fair idyll. 

Photo Credit: Marin County Fair]]>
<![CDATA[Summer Sizzle: Monterey BaconFest]]> Thu, 16 Jun 2016 21:29:35 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/e5f14e57ae9d43c2ac1acf4455526ca6.jpg

LIKE SUMMER, bacon arrives with a bit of sizzle. Thus throwing a bacon-centered bash over the first weekend of the toasty, roasty season seems like an ideal pairing of time of year and breakfast food (though, of course, it is a breakfast food that has a knack for making wintry dishes even heartier). Whether you prefer your salty strips to still be hot from the pan, or cooled down a bit as they complement a pitcher of Bloody Marys, you'll want to seek out what's happening at the Monterey County Fair & Event Center over the final weekend of June. It's...

MONTEREY BACONFEST, a taste-a-lot-of-things to-do that puts the noshable meatstuff at the center of the action. It isn't just about the first meal of the day, either, at the Saturday, June 25 and Sunday, June 26 party; every meal of the day now seems to possess a bacon-y element, from lunchtime Cobb salads to dinner-style pasta carbonaras. Even cocktails are in the salty swing, and not just Bloody Marys, either (a drink that bacon has been much associated with in recent years). Even margaritas are getting their bacon moment. Chef Todd Fisher of the "United States of Bacon" TV show and Chef Tony Baker of Baker's Bacon will be bacon-ing up the joint, and live music will lend those munching bacon-tastic treats at various vendors a soundtrack to bacon-up by.

TICKETS? They're twelve bucks in advance. Gates open at 11 a.m., which begs the question: Will you stop for some bacon and eggs on your way to the festival? For some bacon buffs, the notion of only chowing down on the savory favorite later in the day is just far too late.

Photo Credit: Bacon]]>
<![CDATA[Fest Time: Music, Oysters, Avila Beach]]> Wed, 15 Jun 2016 22:20:24 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/219*120/oyster111.jpg

THE BEST SPOT... to slurp an oyster is wherever you come across the oyster, whether you're at a raw bar, or in a posh restaurant, or at a cookout not far from the shoreline. Oyster aficionados aren't going to get fussy about their favorite food, but if it can be well-prepared, and arrive with the traditional accouterments (horseradish, lemon), so much the better. Picture, though, actually learning how to shuck the briny gems, and perhaps even competing for an amateur or pro title, and cash, too. That's how serious — and seriously lighthearted — the Central Coast Oyster Festival is in its approach to the pop-it-open, slurp-it-down bivalve. The Avila Beach-based bash has been around for a half decade, and it is preparing to go into its 5th outing on Saturday, July 9 with bands, eats, local wines, and a...

SHUCKING CONTEST: How fast are you at getting to the good stuff? There could be a cash prize awaiting you. If you're more into the supping the salty icon, sample the glistening oysters from Grassy Bar Oyster Co. (you'll be dining upon finds from "the southern reaches of Morro Bay"). If oysters are only sort of your jam, but you dig brats and sandwiches and dessert, other sorts of edibles shall be available as well. And naturally there will be Central Coast-born libations from Castoro Cellars, Cypher Winery, and more, as well as live tunes by which to shuck and/or slurp and/or sip. As for the general sunny/breezy atmosphere that Avila Beach so deliciously delivers? That can't be packaged, of course, but it can be deftly delighted in, especially after a feast of briny bites and a locally made, oyster-enhancing beverage.

Photo Credit: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[California Clambake on Coronado Beach]]> Mon, 13 Jun 2016 13:05:54 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/031309-clams.jpg

ALFRESCO EATS: So many of our favorite foods are tied with particular times of the year, but there's a special subset of supping that is all about dishes made under the sky. Venn Diagram those two notions -- edibles that fall during certain annual occasions, and edibles prepared in the Great Outdoors -- and you have a particularly iconic strata of cuisine. Of course you can make s'mores at your stove, but they're very much about high summer and campout fires (and having to stick your marshmallow-gooey fingers in the nearest stream after you've devoured six or seven). And hot dogs on the grill? That tends to be a taste associated with the start of baseball, in the spring. Clambakes, too, pop up during the toastier time of year, and they're very much associated with a single sort of destination: the sand. It turns out Coronado Island has a surfeit of sand (spoiler alert) and a hotel-close tradition that involves this New England-famous favorite. If you can't make Maine, but you want your clambake in 2016, best make for...

HOTEL DEL CORONADO... on June 24 or July 22 or Aug. 12. Those are all Fridays, woot woot, and the Del will put together a full-on feast of oysters, clams, shrimp, crab, and that sometimes unsung star of the clambake pot, corn on the cob. Will everything cook in sea water? That's tradition, so you bet. Will there be nearby games (yay, bocce ball) and tunes and such, as befits a clambake-y confab? We're going to break out the word once again: It's tradition. And can you join in, if you're not staying at the historic hotel? You can: Price is $99. The "seafood spread will be paired with a signature cocktail from Zaya Rum or a local beer," says the Del, but if you want a different bev head for the cash bar.

WE DO ADORE S'MORES... and barbecue cookouts, but there isn't a supping situation as sandy nor sunset-y as a summertime clambake. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Lavender of the Central Coast]]> Mon, 13 Jun 2016 13:16:17 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/lavfieldCredit_CentralCoastLavender2.jpg

THAT PEACEFUL PLACE: Few destinations are as tranquil as a bloom-laden field of lavishly purple lavender. Oh, there might be a bit of unruffledness, but those ruffles come from the breezes that play through the tall stalks. It is so sweet a sight that it regularly makes calendars and greeting cards, and travel shows frequently send mavens of summery smells out in search of lavender farms. There are a few of those around the Golden State, and some major lavender-themed larks, too. Ojai, being home to a number of purply places, hosts a lavender festival near the end of June, and Paso Robles? Why that is up in July. July 9, in fact, is 2016 date, the date of the 8th annual...

CENTRAL COAST LAVENDER FESTIVAL: As with many gourmet and nature-nice gatherings — think of the famous Olive Festival and tons of wine to-dos — the Lavender Festival will flower in City Park. Over 100 vendors are expected at the Saturday scene, vendors purveying in all manner of lavender loveliness. Need sachets, soaps, and such? You'll fill your trunk, or at least your passenger seat, with goodies made for the bathroom or linen shelf. Tunes and talks focused upon lavender and lavender lovers (hint: bees) are part of the daylong fun as well. Cost to attend? Free. Sniffing hue-happy herbs as you wander by tables? Also free. Daydreaming of standing in a calendar-worthy lavender field? Always free. Picking up a few vinegars for the kitchen or bubbles for the bath? That'll take some cash, so be sure to arrive ready to get your fill of the fragrant summertime wonder herb.

Photo Credit: Central Coast Lavender Festival]]>
<![CDATA[Reds Meadow: 'Little Yosemite' to Open]]> Fri, 17 Jun 2016 07:04:07 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/RedsMeadowcourtesyofLaraKaylorVisitMammoth.JPG

FAREWELL, WINTER SNOW: It seems strange to finally bid the flakes of wintertime goodbye just days ahead of summer's official arrival, but that's what's happening around Reds Meadow and Devils Postpile National Monument. Tucked up high in the Sierra, and not all that far from Mammoth Mountain, the area sees a substantial amount of snowfall each year, so much so that its opening can happen in May or even June. The latter date is the case for 2016, thanks to the impressive and needed precipitation of the 2015-2016 winter season. But the snow clearing is just about done, and soon summer revelers can enjoy both the column-cool Devils Postpile and the waterfall-lush Reds Meadow region, which has been dubbed in some quarters as "Little Yosemite."

LITTLE YOSEMITE... is a sweet title to bear, and it feels natural, thanks to the "crystal-clear streams, sparkling lakes and majestic forests," per the Visit Mammoth people, not to mention a septet of campgrounds. As for Devils Postpile National Monument? It is among the most geometric of natural wonders, thanks to the spectacular columnar basalt (if you're picturing a bunch of drinking straws all lined up, only 60-foot drinking straws that aren't hollow but are made of hard, eons-old basalt, you're in the right visual territory). You won't want to miss Yosemite, as in the actual Yosemite National Park, if you're tooling around the Sierra, but swinging by Reds Meadow to love upon Little Yosemite, and those ancient basalt columns, is a recommended side trip. Or a main trip, if you don't have much time to spare.

OPENING DATE? We got swept away in alpine mountain dreams of streams and natural wonders, as one does, so apologies. Opening date for both destinations is Saturday, June 18.

Photo Credit: Lara Kaylor/Visit Mammoth]]>
<![CDATA[Abalone Camp at Little River Inn]]> Sat, 11 Jun 2016 12:42:46 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/WPP_1899abalone.jpg

WHERE OUR FOOD BEGINS, and how it is procured, is a mystery to many, though recent years has seen an uptick in educational courses, and informative getaways, built around just this important theme. One of the rarer experiences in our state involves a rarer delicacy, one that may only be pursued at particular times of the year: the abalone. The meaty marine snail and its iridescent, shell-splendid home is nearly mythic in some circles, and diving for one seems like something that might exist solely in a food maven's fantasy. But a Mendocino-close Abalone Camp pairs people with diving professionals on a quest that goes beneath the waves, and then back up, to the place where the abalones will be cleaned and prepared ahead of a "gourmet feast." That feast will take place at the Little River Inn, in Mendocino County, which is offering its second annual Abalone Camp at the end of June. The 2016 dates are...

JUNE 26 THROUGH JUNE 28 -- that's a Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, note -- and Triton X, the spearfishing and freediving outfit, will lead the underwater, abalone-seeking adventure. You'll be suited up and kitted out for your dive, and the inn's chef, Marc Dym, is at the helm of the straight-from-the-Pacific supper. Two nights at the inn -- June 26 and 27 -- are part of the camp's package price, as are the two days of diving (yep, two), Sunday brunch, a Monday morning breakfast, the "gear and equipment needed for the dive," and other goodies, from eats to instruction (the abalone feast is included). Of important note: An abalone dive license is essential, and should be purchased ahead of arriving. Price for the camp? It starts at $618 a person. Getting all the details before you slide on the mask and dip into the Big Drink? You'll find all your abalone information at The Little River Inn.

Photo Credit: Brendan McGuigan]]>
<![CDATA[Indian Wells Getaway: Sunshine on Sale]]> Fri, 24 Jun 2016 12:52:14 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Hyatt-Regency-Indian-Wells-Adult-Pool.jpg

MEASURING SUNSHINE... doesn't just exist in the minds of sci-fi writers and artists who like to think about light in poetic terms. It can be done, at least in terms of calculating the kilowatt output of a solar panel or how much daylight we have over the course of any given day (just to name a few different regularly employed yardsticks). But how do you measure the quality and intensity of sunshine on vacation? That's a bit trickier, and more subjective, but pretty much anyone would vow that sunlight on a January day in snow country is rather more filtered than sunshine savored poolside in June in the desert. If the second version is more to your liking, and you adore short bouts of beautiful, lemony sunbeam-strong goodness (while wearing your SPF lotion and sunhat, of course), best make for Indian Wells and the new...

SUNSHINE ON SALE... package at Hyatt Regency Indian Wells Resort & Spa. Okay, yes, the sunshine is the free part — it is always free, no admission required, to do a little basking wherever you are — but the deal comes from snagging a third night after you pay for two. There's the recently introduced DesertPipe (a go-fast water slide) and seven pools to linger by, on the soak-up-the-rays front. On the how-much-is-it front? Nightly rates are starting at a hundred bucks. For all the details, don your swimsuit and slide over here, lovers of summertime heat created by our planet's nearest star. 

Photo Credit: Hyatt Regency Indian Wells Resort & Spa]]>
<![CDATA[Marin Marvelous: Italian Street Painting Fest]]> Thu, 09 Jun 2016 20:24:52 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/PhoenixdelRocio.jpg

BEAUTY BELOW: Gazing downward to find something fascinating or to fix our gaze on a gorgeous sight is something we do quite often. Perhaps we're looking at a rug beneath our feet, or a spray of wildflowers on the bank of a creek, or our cat stretching out in a soft sunbeam. But gazing downward at chalk-based works of art is a rarer experience, one that comes around in the summertime in cities around California. A few of the majors run over the course of a month, from the i madonnari happening in Santa Barbara at the end of May, through the Father's Day weekend chalk-tacular in Pasadena, to the hue-meets-concrete confab in San Rafael at the close of the month. Well, not quite the close, but close: The 2016 Italian Street Painting Marin will stake a colorful claim on the final weekend of June. That's...

JUNE 25 AND 26, and the area surrounding 5th Avenue and A Street in downtown San Rafael will take on a museum-lovely dimension, though, of course, the paintings will not be hanging upon walls (nor will they be created from paint). "Artwork from over 100 Madonnari (street painters) from around the U.S. and around the globe will fill the streets..." that weekend, making lively visual tableaux that might be abstract, or Impressionistic, or a bit tromp l'oeil (walk around the piece to see if your eye it truly being tricked).

CIAO BELLA ROMA... is the romantic theme of the year. Tickets? They're ten bucks. A Children's Avenue showcasing works by young artists? Part of the tradition. Live entertainment? That is on tap, too. It's a summer staple that reminds us to point our chins ground-ward to admire art. Art, of course, that's just about as ephemeral as a sunbeam or a spray of wildflowers, in the way that chalk-on-sidewalk tends to rather poetically adhere to the notion of "here today, gone next week." Enjoy it while it is there, ground gazers.

Photo Credit: Joy Phoenix]]>
<![CDATA[Glam New: Sheraton Grand Los Angeles]]> Sat, 11 Jun 2016 07:41:17 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sheratongranddowntown123.jpg

MAJOR RENOVATION: It's true that buds become full-fledged flowers in the springtime, but sometimes other things beyond the plants in our gardens can flower, and unfold, and become something new and rather spectacular. Look to the Sheraton Los Angeles Hotel, which, in April, that floweriest of months, spread its proverbial petals and became, officially, something else: a Sheraton Grand. Sheraton Hotels & Resorts bestowed the swanky designation after the property underwent a full-scale $75-million renovation, one that buffed up all 496 suites and guest rooms. The private spaces weren't the only spots to receive the tony makeover; the lobby and meeting rooms, too, were given a thorough rethinking and a signature hue: gold. Pillars and other details are flush with sparkle, or at least a metallic aesthetic, one that feels like a sophisticated take on chic '70s styling as seen through some future-forward prism.

THE DINING EXPERIENCE... features a coffee shop lobby by day and bar by night (look for signature sips in the "Paired" menu, a Sheraton Grand staple). District on the Bloc is the new restaurant on the Plaza Level, one that features sustainable ingredients in dishes like chile-miso cured beef carpaccio and purple potato gnocchi. "Plaza Level" might suggest there's a rooftop deck nearby, a deck made for lingering as one looks upon LA (and rhapsodizes about the sights seen, if the person wishes), and indeed, there is one. As for where the Sheraton Grand sits? It's part of The Bloc, the site of the downtown Macy's, which itself is undergoing a major re-imagining. The hotel's redo is a look at more redos to come in that immediate area, and one that came to full flower in, appropriately enough, the springtime.

Photo Credit: Sheraton Grand]]>
<![CDATA[Rare Autos: Peek Under the Hood]]> Fri, 10 Jun 2016 13:45:23 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Cars_1913-Peugeot-Model-BP-1-Bebe_08.jpg

SEAT OF POWER: While California, being famously enamored with all things on wheels, does have dozens of primo cars shows — even "hundreds" would be accurate and without too much hyperbole — finding a museum-style automobile exhibit that welcomes visitors to look a little deeper is a more unusual occurrence. Absolutely, a parking lot gathering may see some vehicles with their engines on full, come-peruse display, but not so with cars inside hallowed institutions devoted to the art of driving. Every now and again, however, the bonnets are popped and lookie-loos are invited to swing by and study all of those pistons and reservoirs and the engine. The Mullin Automotive Museum is sending out just this call, a welcome to those car buffs who want to study the seat of power in a host of exquisite vintage vehicles. Make that incredibly vintage; the cars hail from the 1930s, and even earlier, and represent makers from Bugatti to Delahaye. The hoods'll be open for one day only, on...

TUESDAY, JUNE 21, and the cars all have pedigrees rooted in "France's prominent coachbuilders." Visitors can eye a 1902 Panhard et Levassor B1 Rear Entrance Tonneau engine, and what makes the 1935 Hispano-Suiza J12 full of vroom. These are all moving works of art that have come to a stop for the ongoing "Cars and Carriages" exhibit, which is open at the Mullin through December 2016. But after June 21? The hoods will once again be lowered on the gleamy wonders of another age. See them later, hoods down, or get a thorough look at an area of an auto not often on display inside a museum. Tickets? They're forty bucks.

Photo Credit: Mullin Automotive Museum]]>
<![CDATA[Lake Casitas Confab: Ojai Wine Festival]]> Wed, 08 Jun 2016 13:29:32 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/ojaiwinefestjennamariephotography.jpg

"GOING TO THE LAKE"... is a phrase many a Golden Stater longs to utter around early June, and, nope, it doesn't matter where that lake might be. But if that lake is a bit magical, and it has a lavish wine festival on its shore (upping the general lake-y magic), and that festival raises money for local philanthropic efforts, then the summertime phrase takes on some gravitas. If you're a wine fan, and an Ojai enthusiast, and you say you're "going to the lake" on the second Sunday in June, you very likely could be talking about Lake Casitas, which will once again be the scene for the Ojai Wine Festival. It's long-running, if you consider three decades to fall under that header, and since its 1987 founding it has raised a lot of funds for area charities ("a lot"=$1,000,000+). Numerous vineyards have also made the scene, and made some new fans, over the last 30 years, with over 60 wineries from around the state signed on to participate in the 2016 festival. That festival is on...

SUNDAY, JUNE 12... and will also include "an expanded beer garden" with "30 national and regional craft breweries" in addition to the multiple wine vendors. There's a VIP tasting area, with chances to try "exclusive" libations of Nobelle Wines, Gainey Vineyards, and spirits and beer, too, and live dance tunes'll keep the lakeside reverie full of fizz. 

FUNDRAISER: If you want to lend some love to The Rotary Club of West Ojai's service projects, which are supported in part by funds raised via the Ojai Wine Festival, you can do so right here, or find out more about the organization and what it does.

Photo Credit: Jenna Marie Photography]]>
<![CDATA[Bellagio Gardens: Go Under the Sea]]> Tue, 14 Jun 2016 10:46:32 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Summer_Display_West_Garden.jpg

SIN CITY SPLASH: There's little quibble in saying that many a Las Vegas visitor is thinking about water. They're pondering a visit to the famous fountains of the Bellagio Hotel and Casino, or they're thinking about lounging next to the pool at their resort, or they're in search of a bottle of water after a strenuous midday stroll along The Strip. But there's a new destination that's all about aqua, and it happens to be a short walk off Las Vegas Boulevard. And "new" it isn't, exactly, though a part of it definitely is, and how. But, like an ocean wave, it won't stay still for long before receding back into the horizon. It's the... 

TREASURES OF THE DEEP... display at the Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Garden, and it is bubbling through Saturday, Sept. 10. As with all of the Bellagio garden spectaculars, Treasures of the Deep is elaborate, detailed, and brimming with several distinct, design-thorough parts. (If you're thinking back to past garden themes, like the autumn one, with its giant flowery rocking horse and personality-filled tree, you're on the right track.) The ocean-nifty features include a 35-foot "sunken" ship, a mermaid (made of carnations and sand), a coral reef, and a pair of arching aquariums that serve as the dramatic entryway to the garden space. A whale created from succulents — about 1,000 of 'em — stretches some 14 feet, while colorful jellies dot the display.

WATER IN THE DESERT: So, where's the water at? Yes, the Fountains at Bellagio contain H2O, and so does the pool at your hotel, but a certain garden inside the Bellagio will keep the cool waves flowing through the Saturday after Labor Day. One bonus, beyond its free-to-get-in price? The garden is open 24 hours a day, for those looking to cool it down at 3 in the morning.

Photo Credit: Kelly McKeon/Bellagio]]>
<![CDATA[New: Hotel Carmel Debuts]]> Fri, 10 Jun 2016 13:30:10 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Hotel_Carmel_Lobby_2_1253.jpg The 27-room boutique inn debuts after a refresh.

Photo Credit: Hotel Carmel]]>
<![CDATA[Color Your Park Coloring Book]]> Thu, 09 Jun 2016 14:02:29 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/colorparknps12345.jpg

COLORING BOOKS... for adults have featured a multitude of subjects in the last year or two, from citified skyscrapers to flower-lush gardens to abstract shapes and forms. They're hugely popular, and the themes continue to widen into new territory. Here's one, and it dovetails nicely with an important anniversary: the Color Your Park Coloring Book. The "Park" part has to do with the national parks, places that inspired people to make art for decades (think of how often you see someone with a sketchpad while hiking through Yosemite National Park). And the anniversary? It's the centennial of the National Park Service, an occasion that will be honored in several ways during 2016. In the spirit of a momentous moment, and because coloring books are just so dang cool, the National Park Foundation has teamed up with Joseph Gordon-Levitt's hitRECords to offer a fresh way to explore parkly love: via coloring pencils. The...

COLOR YOUR PARK COLORING BOOK... is available online at the Find Your Park store, along with a host of other items developed by the actor's production company (think hip baby onesies, hats, and such). The coloring book is 96 pages, and features Bryce Canyon National Park, the Statue of Liberty, Half Dome, and dozens of other favorite places across the nationwide park system. The National Park Foundation, by the by, is the "Official Charity of the National Parks," so call it a fine group to support if you love supporting your go-to getaway. And if you know someone who is super-into their coloring books at the moment, and that same someone is a nature fan who digs a good park-themed road trip, you've just found the perfect gift. It's twenty bucks and easily orderable from this very page.

Photo Credit: National Park Foundation]]>
<![CDATA[Wine Walk: Solvang Third Wednesday]]> Tue, 07 Jun 2016 12:27:14 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/solvangwindmill09887.jpg

SUMMER STROLL: A trio of Solvang celebrations are so well-attended and widely known, and for fine reason. Taste of Solvang in March, Danish Days in September, and Julefest near Christmas also see an influx of visitors, as well as locals, enjoying special activities, special foodstuffs, and, of course, wine, which is very much a Solvang sort of sip. But the wine-focused festivals and to-dos don't fall quiet for the six-month stretch that connects March to September; rather, Solvang keeps up the wine walking straight through the summertime via its Third Wednesdays.

THIRD WEDNESDAYS... are easy to remember, date-wise -- they're the third Wednesday of the month -- and the Solvang Third Wednesday Beer & Wine Walk covers a host of spots serving some of the most interesting libations grown/made around the Santa Ynez Valley as well as vinos from abroad. Cost? It's twenty bucks, and it has a slightly earlier start than many evening wine walks. That start time is 3 p.m., with a wrap-up at 7, but you can dip in at any time you want, if you can't make Solvang before 4 or 5 on your chosen Third Wednesday. 

ADVANCE TICKETS? They're here. Not sure if you want advance tickets, because you can't quite land on a time to visit yet? Buy your same-day pass at the Wandering Dog Bar, Olive House, or Sort This Out Cellars. That's where you'll also get your glass, map, and vouchers, says the site.

MUSIC, TOO: Solvang Third Wednesdays will also coincide with the free concerts at Solvang Park. Those rev up on June 15, and they go an hour past when the Wine and Beer Walk ends, allowing sipping strollers to do a bit of both.

Photo Credit: Solvang]]>
<![CDATA[Mammoth: Open Through Fourth of July]]> Sun, 05 Jun 2016 11:10:55 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/2016-06-01_UNBOUND_PIPE_GREG_BRETZ_4TH_JULY_PMM_2468.jpg

SUMMERTIME SKI TIME: While many peak-pretty resorts push on into Memorial Day Weekend, in terms of keeping the slopes open, there are some decisions to make when June is fast on approach. Is it time to wrap the whole shebang up for another season? Should the poles be stowed and the knit caps put away and should skiers and snowboarders enjoy their final run? Several factors are weighed, and then the party parties on, or, conversely, the light switch is flipped. Mammoth Mountain, which did stay open through Memorial Day, has determined that there shall be no switch-flipping on the 2015-2016 season: It will schuss on right to Fourth of July.

INDEPENDENCE DAY: This isn't the first Fourth that the Sierra destination has celebrated via snow -- let's pause to say summer activities like hiking and biking are big on the mountain, too -- but it has been rather touch-and-go the last few years, precipitation-wise, to see how deep into spring or summer the final date could go. That's Monday, July 4, 2016, a late date thanks to the 361" of snowfall at Mammoth Mountain. How's the summit doing in early June? It has a base of 130", which is nothing to shake a pole at (not that you'd even consider it). As for hours? The mountain is moving to a mostly morning schedule on Monday, June 6, with opening times from 7:30 a.m. to a pinch after lunch -- 1 o'clock -- each day.

<![CDATA[The Lavender of Ojai]]> Mon, 06 Jun 2016 11:18:50 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/lavGettyImages-89261459.jpg

PURPLE PRETTINESS: Loving lavender doesn't mean that you only have to stick to certain soaps on the store shelves or potpourris found in catalogs. You can go to places known for the growing of the pungent-lovely, purple-glorious herb, places that are right here in the Golden State. True, parts of Southern France are nearly synonymous with lavender fields, but an art town that's just a scoot away from Santa Barbara also holds its own on the lavender end of things. It's Ojai, and June just happens to be its most lavender-y month. Look to the...

OJAI VALLEY LAVENDER FESTIVAL... on Saturday, June 25, which offers the chance to stroll by over 100 vendors, many of them selling sachets and perfumes and vinegars and oils all scented with soft-scented lavender. One of the main events of the purple-hued party is the cooking class at The Lavender Inn, a class that will make goodies like blueberry lavender no-bake cheesecake and a posh salad accented by a lavender-scented olive-caper vinaigrette. Of course, the inn is open all year long, if you can't make the festival but still want a getaway with a touch of lavender to it. As for visiting a lavender farm?

FROG CREEK FARM is one of the biggest growers in the area. A bonus? It's open during lavender season, also known as June, on the weekends. Info? Point your lavender-loving sniffer in this direction.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Hike On: National Trails Day]]> Thu, 02 Jun 2016 15:47:28 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/228*120/Hiking-Mountain-88515955.jpg

LET YOUR MIND FREE: A trail through the woods, or along a grassy bluff, or through a desert canyon, is helpful in so many ways. Principally? It keeps you on course, from your start point to the next vista or rest stop or fork in the road, and, if you're lucky, maybe you'll pass a few fellow travelers heading in the opposite direction. (A wave or a nod and a kind hello are some of the currency of trail life.) But trails are also excellent ways to free the mind, and dig into a few daydreams, and work out the knots and tangles of everyday life. If you can discern the path ahead of you clearly, and know that whatever twists it takes it'll still clearly unfold beneath your feet, you can begin that whole let-go process that hiking truly helps with.

A DAY TO CELEBRATE: This isn't to not give love to wilder, untrekked routes, but trails do help body and soul leave some worries behind while presenting a well-trod route. National Trails Day honors those routes, and the people who use and love them, with a reminder to get out and enjoy the pathways through our wilder spaces, and to take part in a special event, if that so interests you. National Trails Day is...

SATURDAY, JUNE 4, and a map provides places where revelers'll be out in honor of the occasion, roaming, biking, and participating in beneficial trail projects. The American Hiking Society is behind the annual observance, which is called "the country's largest celebration of hiking trails." Is there a trail you're especially enamored of, perhaps near where you live? Visit it for an hour or two. Is there a trail you haven't taken on yet? Make June 4 the day to do so. Can you hike every trail in the world? Wellll... That's an impressive goal. But lending support and regular, considerate use to those trails you adore goes a long way toward elevating the eternal passion humans have for trekking into nature.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Mill Valley Gourmet Tasting]]> Wed, 01 Jun 2016 21:51:35 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/mvwineandgourmet1.jpg

STACKING A SANDWICH HIGH, or adding several extra items to your salad, including a few heaping spoonfuls of croutons, or dolloping extra fudge on top of a sundae are indulgent pursuits many people indulge in from time to time, with the knowledge that getting a little fancy, food-wise, keeps life fizzy. The same keep-life-fizzy notion applies to our major food and/or beverage festivals, too. Sometimes a gathering of gourmands can be straightforward, built solely around a single fruit or a lone type of libation. But sometimes the whole proverbial sandwich gets stacked, and not only are extra croutons thrown onto the salad, but a bunch of sunflower seeds and cheese shavings are added to the mix, too. Look to the 2016 Mill Valley Wine, Beer & Gourmet Food Tasting, a celebration with a big handle, and a big handle on a lot of the area's best wines, brews, and bites. 

WHAT'S IN A NAME? The 35th outing of the grand afternoon party rounds up over 70 wineries and several regional breweries to lend bubbles, flavor, and thirst-quench-a-bility to the proceedings, while a number of eateries and makers of posh foodstuffs'll offer everything from spring rolls, scones, pies, olive oils, soup shooters, and more on the meal side of the equation. Who is set to show at the Sunday, June 5 foodie festival? City Cellars, Keenan Winery, Devoto Orchard Cider, Pugs Leap Cheese, Sol Food, and El Paseo are just a few of the names on the sizable slate of purveyors.

ATTENDING? Your ticket is fifty bucks ahead of time, sixty if you buy it there. The Mill Valley Chamber of Commerce and Kiddo! The Mill Valley Schools Community Foundation are the tasting's beneficiaries. 

Photo Credit: Mill Valley Wine, Beer & Gourmet Food Tasting]]>
<![CDATA[National Parks Centennial Bash]]> Fri, 03 Jun 2016 12:05:31 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/redwoodGettyImages-177068772.jpg

WHILE HYPERBOLE HAS A WAY... of reigning these days, you wouldn't be going too far by claiming that some of the tallest trees on the planet have seen a few birthdays. Not only that, you could go even further and rightly state that the redwoods of Northern California have passed several centuries, and quietly so, without a lot of fanfare or fuss or brightly wrapped gifts. They're trees, in short, that resonate with the power of time, which makes the Redwoods National and State Parks the ideal place to mark an important occasion.

THAT OCCASION... is the 100th birthday of the National Park Service, an organization that has done much to protect these burl-dotted behemoths, and the beaches, and the mountains, and other wilder spots across the nation. But if you can't journey around the nation to attend all of the centennial parties for the NPS, you can, perhaps, make the one that is happening in the redwoods on the final Sunday of June (or the first Sunday of summer, if that feels more poetic). That's...

JUNE 26, and a whole plethora of celebration-sweet doings'll go down among the trees, from pony rides to live tunes to interesting forays led by rangers. But just saying "meet me at the redwoods" proooobably won't work, given that they cover a rather sizable amount of land. So head for the "former lumber mill at the junction of Highway 101 and Bald Hills Road just north of Orick" for the afternoon jamboree. A photography exhibit, a plaque unveiling, and more birthday-fun activities will fill the five-hour celebration.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Roll Out the Barrels in SLO]]> Sun, 05 Jun 2016 12:47:18 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/rollslobarrels123.jpg

26 YEARS: If people are now discussing your longevity -- as in, you're a whole quarter of a century old, plus a year -- then you can raise a toast to what you do right. In the case of SLO Wine Country's Roll Out the Barrels, which is indeed turning 26 in 2016, that longevity is due in part to a lively soiree that draws on the charms of early summer in the charming heart of the charming town. That heart is Mission San Luis Obispo, which is the scene for the vino-luscious lark's Thursday evening kick-off. That evening shall be June 23, just a pinch after summer's official start, so count on the sun going down in the slowest, latest fashion possible (the best way for the sun to set when you're sipping limited-release wines next to a picturesque landmark). "(B)arrel samples of the 2015 harvest" will be on the pour, too, from area wineries, and "artfully prepared bites prepared by area chefs" will keep the savories stacked on revelers' plates. That's just the start of the four-dayer, though. There's more to come, like a...

TASTE THE COAST... Collaborative Winemaker Dinner at Claiborne & Churchill Winery the following night. And "Adventures in SLO Wine Country" shall reign from Friday through Sunday (look for special open houses, doings, vineyard walks, barrel tastings of new vintages, and more at wineries around the region). If barrel sneak peaks are your bliss, and starting summer in a soft-of-air, good-of-grape town, then Roll Out the Barrels is likely on your list. And may have been for, oh, 25 years or so. Here's to another quarter century of barrel-y bashes, and another, and another...

Photo Credit: Roll Out the Barrels]]>
<![CDATA[Bennett Juniper: 4,000-Year-Old Wonder]]> Sat, 18 Jun 2016 06:55:09 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/bennettjuniper123.jpg

TREE TREK: Planning a vacation solely around visiting a magnificent and stately shrub isn't unheard of; in fact, many an adventurer regularly plots to call upon the General Sherman, that superstar sequoia, or the Torrey Pines near La Jolla. And, yes, even trees that have been gussied up, as in the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, make it onto some vacationers' travel itineraries. But few leafy living things garner the attention of California's very (very very) old trees. For sure, the General Sherman and the Torrey Pines do qualify when it comes to being of an esteemed age, as do the redwoods and those Bristlecone Pines of the Inyo National Forest. One of the oldest trees around, however, in the Golden State or anywhere, can't be admired for much of the year, at least not in person. If you're patient, and you plan, you can call upon the Bennett Juniper when the time is right (in other words, when the road in is accessible). And the time is getting righter, for...

THE MIDDLE OF JUNE... is generally when Bennett buffs may visit the protected tree, a tree of some age. The beautiful juniper is "believed by some to be 4,000 years old," says the Save the Redwoods League, which oversees the Bennett Juniper Stewardship Project. Standing at some 8,400 feet, the Bennett Juniper was named for naturalist Clarence Bennett, and is only accessible by the public for just a little less than half the year. Best call first to make sure the route is open and read all the to-knows before packing the car (of course there's no climbing on the tree, which almost can go without saying, but we're repeating it).

THE BENNETT... isn't alone, as there are other ancient junipers in the area, and its ability to weather the weather, whether that means freeze or breeze, is impressive. It's a fine tree to know, or at least make the acquaintance of, and your window to do so is just ahead. The Bennett Juniper is patient; after all, it has grown, and thrived, in the Sierra about four millennia, which is nothing to shake a branch at, no sirree.

Photo Credit: Save the Redwoods League]]>
<![CDATA[Paso Robles: It's Olive Time]]> Mon, 30 May 2016 21:11:45 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/olivesGettyImages-56908420.jpg

TWO PARTIES, ONE TINY FRUIT: It can be exciting, if a tad frustrating, when you find out two favorite bands are playing over the same weekend but a few hours apart. What to do? The answer is A) be happy that your musical taste is so popular and widespread, and plan your weekend hopping-about accordingly. Nope, there's no B) here, for A) should truly say it all. The same theory can apply to favorite foodstuffs, specifically foodstuffs that are full of legend and flavor and boast many uses. For example, A) the olive. There are some B) choices, when it comes to flavor and legend and multiple uses, but let us focus solely upon the storied small fruit, the pit-rocking icon of tapenade-centered dishes, the glistening goodie that makes its eponymous oil so famous and famously loved. Why the focus? The olive will rule the school in two separate but semi-close places over the first weekend in June, with a Saturday, June 4 party in Los Olivos, and a festival in Paso Robles on June 4 and 5.

FORMERLY OF AUGUST: Indeed, the Olive Festival has traditionally landed in August, but the 2016 party will spread evenly out, like the aforementioned tapenade on a cracker, over an early-in-June Saturday and Sunday. There shall be olive oils to taste, and wine to enjoy, and beer to sip, and an Open Olive Dish Cooking Contest, and gratis Olive Oil ice cream (which almost feels/tastes creamier than the traditional stuff). Shall there be savory eats, too? This is wine country, so count on it. Should you make for Downtown City Park in Paso? That's the picturesque heart of the olive-flavorful festival. Should you start plotting how you'll make both Los Olivos and Paso Robles over the same weekend, much in the way you'd travel to see a couple of favorite bands? Well, the two towns are only about 80 minutes apart, driving-wise, give or take, with a lot to see along the way. Chew on that, olive aficionados, and plot your course.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Vegas Neon Museum: New Early Mornings]]> Wed, 01 Jun 2016 12:18:08 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/neonvegasearlymorning123.jpg

MORNING IN LAS VEGAS... is very rarely pictured on the front of guidebooks and visitor magazines, truth be told. And with understandable reason, too, for when you are a city that is synonymous with nightlife, with lavish shows running into the wee smalls, with casinos and clubs that push past the hour when even devoted night owls begin to yawn, morningtime can take a backseat. Of course, it's a secret time of day for some visitors, beloved for the fact that a solid buffet, and an uncrowded, no-rush stroll along The Strip, are two major, easy-to-obtain benefits. If Sin City just after sunrise is your jam, and you're looking to fill some fun time between a wake-up hike out at Red Rock Canyon and your date with your hotel's pool later in the morning, look to the Neon Museum, which just announced early-in-the-day tours for the summer of '16. 

"EARLY IN THE DAY"... means different things in different places, but at the signage destination it means the first tour'll start at 8 o'clock (which, let's be honest, is still pretty dang early, if not crack-of-dawn-ish early). It's a fresh way to admire all of the Vegas-to-the-max over-sized artifacts, especially because the signs were originally built for nighttime wow . The morning tours of the Neon Boneyard -- there'll be five each morning, on the half hour, from 8 to 10:30 -- will take in some of these bulb-laden behemoths, all in the fresh light of day. The final date for the guide-led morning walks? Sept. 18, 2016. 

TRUE, the vintage signs of Las Vegas weren't solely meant to be seen by night, as they were perfectly readable in the daytime, too. So ponder how a morning tour will give a little love to that under-loved legacy, the neon sign's daytime duties. And maybe we should take it all back, that Sin City isn't a morning town. After all, many a reveler pushes through the moonlit hours with a vow to see the sun come up over the tops of all of those mega hotels, a sight that belongs to Vegas alone.

Photo Credit: Neon Museum]]>
<![CDATA[Buena Park: A Year of Milestone Anniversaries]]> Sun, 29 May 2016 08:05:04 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/buenaparkknottshistoric.jpg

WHEN A FAMILY... or group of friends experiences a spate of major anniversaries -- a couple's 40th anniversary, a person's 10th year in a dream profession, the 15th anniversary of a big move -- the entire 12 months can turn into something of a celebration.

BUENA PARK... is experiencing just those very 12 months in 2016, with three of its famous attractions marking milestones. Milestones that come with special anniversary deals for the fans. The longest-running of the anniversary revelers? The Ghost Town at Knott's Berry Farm, which turns 75 in 2016. To honor the famous area of the theme park, which is rife with wooden buildings, old-timey tunes, and chaps-rocking, spurs-wearing actors, Knott's will host a summer full of yippee-ki-yay-style good times starting on Friday, May 27. There's a new interactive experience in Ghost Town, and GhostRider, the park's wooden coaster, will be back in early June after a refurbishment.

JUST A SKIP AWAY... from the world's most famous berry-stand-gone-big is Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament. Any guesses as to what anniversary the pony-laden, banners-waving spectacular is marking? Nope, it hasn't been around since ye olden 1400s, but it has been on Beach Boulevard knightly (joke) for 30 years.

ARRR: And the relative newcomer on the Buena Park block? The Pirate's Dinner Adventure, which is celebrating 10 years of arrr-ing and adventuring. If you plan to tip your hat at all three attractions, you could probably do so in a very full day. And where else, in a day, can you swing, at least in feel, from the Old West, to a tall ship, to a long ago court of some far-off castle? Here are your discounts to get started on that full and festive and oh-so-Buena-Park-y day.

Photo Credit: Buena Park]]>
<![CDATA[Mono County's Wildflower May]]> Fri, 27 May 2016 21:25:05 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/mono5.19.16+Mill+Canyon+Walker_Jeff+Simpson_1.jpg

FROM FEBRUARY TO JUNE: When your state's showiest time of year -- hint: the huge wildflower bloom -- kicks off within weeks of New Year's Day, it can lead one to imagine that the whole flowery shebang'll be wrapped up and thoroughly over by spring break, or perhaps April, at the latest. This isn't true, not wholly, not when the elevation changes within California run from the below-sea-level-ness of Death Valley National Park (typically one of the first places out of the annual door with the wildflowers) to the 13,000-foot peaks, and beyond, of the Sierra Nevada. For sure, the deserts do it first, on the bud-breaking front, but the mountain's petal-gorgeous showtime doesn't really rev up before May, give or take. That's happening now, around the Eastern Sierra, which is indeed vast, but Mono County Tourism has been tracking the irises and poppies and everything else via its Facebook page.

BEST GO, though, if you're gonna, as they say, because the life cycle of a wildflower, even those in crisper elevations, wait for no adventurer. But we'll assume lots of people are making for the Mammoth area over Memorial Day Weekend, what with the Mammoth Lakes Film Festival and the Ski/Bike/Golf Challenge going down (er, we mean "up"). True, Devils Postpile National Monument isn't yet open for the season -- look to the middle of June -- but fishing is, as of the last Saturday in April. There's a lot of summer-y doings afoot along Highway 395, and up into the crags and canyons and lake-y areas of the region. Including, yes, those late-blooming wildflowers, though they're only late, calendar-wise; they're right on time for where they are. It's good to know that we truly have a lengthy wildflower run that lasts, if not half a year, then a full third. Nicely done, California-based blooms, wherever you may grow.

Photo Credit: Jeff Simpson]]>
<![CDATA[Nature-Close Cool: Redwood Mountain Faire]]> Tue, 31 May 2016 12:20:32 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/redwoodmountainfaire12345678.jpg

IF A MOUNTAIN TRIP... is on your summer must-do list -- along with wearing flip-flops far more than shoes with laces, and trying the latest trendy version of sangria, and stretching out on a few grassy hillsides -- best know you don't have to put it off for too long. A fine 'n festive opportunity is just ahead, and while isn't high up in the peaks of the biggest mountains, it does take place in an easy-to-reach mountain-cool destination, one that has a whole huge group of redwoods to enjoy. (Aside: What's a grouping of redwoods called, in the tradition of animal collective names? Can we call such a group a "burl"?)

SO... where are those redwoods we reference, and when is the opportunity? It's on Saturday, June 4 and Sunday, June 5, and the occasion is the Santa Cruz-close classic Redwood Mountain Faire. We say "Santa Cruz-close" but you'll want to head for Roaring Camp, which is just a hop and/or jump from Santa Cruz. And you'll want to wear your jamboree pants, for the Redwood Mountain Faire offers two days of...

AWESOME TUNEAGE: All the bands have their own vibe -- soul, funk, roots, Americana -- but just the act of enjoying the music under the sky and adjacent to the redwoods gives it an old-timey and oh-so-sweet sepia tone. So many mountain-charming crafts -- a Bigfoot-themed table has shown in the past -- and so many nostalgic activities, from bubble blowing to the making of art, are part of the weekend. And is there beer near? There is, and wine, too (you're in the right neck of the woods). All of this, by the by, helps local non-profits. Tickets? Here. The chance to call a grouping of redwoods a burl, as in "a burl of redwoods"? That's up to you, if you feel like that word works. A burl of redwoods. Yes. 

Photo Credit: Michael Pegram/Redwood Mountain Faire]]>
<![CDATA[Memorial Day Weekend on a Famous Train]]> Thu, 26 May 2016 21:07:25 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/160*120/SierraNo3June222010.jpg

STUMPING FROM THE CABOOSE: We never may get the chance to pull into a small town and make a rousing speech from the end of a caboose, a caboose that's lined with patriotic bunting and flags, but we can spend a Memorial Day Weekend with an old-timey train participating in a host of to-dos adjacent or close to the tracks. Those tracks? Why they run through Gold Country, near Jamestown, a slice of Golden State landscape that looks very much like it has over dozens and dozens of Memorial Days. As for the place you'll head? That, too, has pastimes woven into its very name: Railtown 1897 State Historic Park.

EXCURSION RIDES: And while you probably won't get to don a top hat and clutch your lapel and say stirring words from a caboose, you can hop aboard the Sierra No. 3, one of this state's, and any state's, most fabled rides. (Yep, it was in the third installment of "Back to the Future," as well as a saddlebag full of other Western flicks.) There are a quartet of excursion trains running each day of Memorial Day Weekend 2016 -- Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, yes indeedy -- and each ride shall leave plenty of time for off-the-tracks activities. Like... 

A PHOTO EXHIBIT called "In Train View," visits to a historic caboose, chances to dig deeper on the topics of railroad signage and such, and a book signing ("Seamstress of Jamestown") are part of the rustic fun. And can you show with a picnic lunch? You may. Whether you create a patriotic picnic, complete with red, white, and blue treats, or go for something simple, prepare for a day that's rife with nostalgic pursuits.

Photo Credit: Railtown 1897 State Historic Park]]>
<![CDATA[Kinetic Quirky: Grand Showdown in Humboldt]]> Thu, 26 May 2016 12:25:04 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/tinakerrigankinetic1234567.jpg

BEYOND THE BOBBLEHEAD: Many a car owner has done something a bit outlandish, design-wise, to their wheels. It might be a toy glued to the dashboard, or a funky bumper sticker, or curtain-style tassels for the windows, or seat covers in a rainbow of neon hues. But going a bit further is more to the tastes of some auto lovers, or rather leaps and bounds further. Think cars in the shape of Bigfoot's foot, or vehicles re-imagined as gigantic insects, or machines that boast whirligigs and a hundred other whimsical details. If we get into that sector of auto decor we're likely talking about kinetic sculptures, those on-the-move works of art that are famously human-powered. Oh yes, and they're able to leave the road and head into...

THE WATER... when the time comes. That time shall arrive over Memorial Day Weekend when the Kinetic Grand Championship rolls and sails around Humboldt County. While many places around the U.S. have gone kinetic, the heart of Humboldt, from Arcata to Ferndale, is the home of the famous "Triathalon of the Art World." That quirky contest will start at Arcata Plaza on May 28 and end on Main Street in Ferndale on May 30, with stops at Manila Dunes Fest, Loleta Hill, and other spots around the county. Cheering on the kinetic wonders, as well as their always intrepid crews, is a major part of the lively and creative jaunt. A jaunt that celebrates ingenuity, grit, and a general gladness, the kind of gladness one needs to drive a vehicle shaped like an over-sized gnome or flower.

Photo Credit: Tina Kerrigan]]>
<![CDATA[Mission Inn: Heroes' Welcome Package]]> Thu, 26 May 2016 21:09:01 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/missioninndomesky.jpg

HONORING THOSE WHO SERVE... can be done in many moving ways, from parades to picnics to concerts to ceremonies full of pomp. But if you're a hotel, and not a full-on town or community, how do you say "thank you" to military members and first responders? A bit of inn-spiration is in order, and the historic Mission Inn in Riverside has gone the distance for a Memorial Day Weekend special. This shouldn't surprise anyone who knows of the hotel's patriotic history, and the Commanders in Chief who have stayed there (yes, there's a President Taft chair in the lobby, and yes, the Reagans honeymooned at the castle-like property). And to honor its many fans who are active or retired military, or who serve as firefighters and police officers, the Mission Inn is taking Memorial Day -- and a day beyond -- to offer the Heroes' Welcome package. The package is on through...

TUESDAY, MAY 31, and it includes an overnight stay for two, plus a dinner for two at Bella Trattoria Italian Bistro (in the amount of $65), gratis valet parking, and a pair of treats from Casey's Cupcakes. The package price? It starts at $229 per night (just be sure to have your military ID at the ready). In addition, several Memorial Day Weekend buffets will be happening, and while they're not included in the package, feel free to make a reservation if the concept of a hotel buffet is your thing. What is a nice thing, for all businesses, is to find a way to show gratitude to heroes on Memorial Day and every day. The Mission Inn, with its presidential past, is on board.

Photo Credit: Mission Inn]]>
<![CDATA[World Ocean Day in Monterey]]> Tue, 31 May 2016 09:42:13 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/worldoceandaymba16.jpg

HIYA, OCEAN: If you adhere to the notion that everything is connected, from the smallest jacaranda bud to the highest peaks in the Sierra Nevada, then you likely greet each natural wonder you encounter not just with reverence but with a spoken hello, or wave, or shout of acclaim. Think of the redwoods coming into view after a long drive -- do you yell "hooray, redwoods"? Do you let out a sigh when a cloud of birds passes suddenly overhead on a hike? And do you give the ocean some love, or at least a loving glance, when you see it? These are all sweet gestures, but, of course and as always, there are bigger gestures to make, when and where we can. World Ocean Day reminds us of this urgent calling each year, via the information it shares about our planet's Great Water and the earthlings that call it home. If you're a "hiya, ocean" kind of person, someone who regularly ponders the larger cycle of all ecosystems (and how humans can play a helpful role in their care), make for...

MONTEREY BAY AQUARIUM... on Saturday, June 4 and Sunday, June 5. "You'll learn about the treasures of the ocean, the threats it faces and what we can do to keep it healthy," says the Cannery Row aquatic institution. Actor/producer Adrian Grenier will receive the Paul Walker Ocean Leadership Award, as will ocean advocate Meg Kikkeri. Crafts, tunes, and educational doings will fill out the weekend, wall-to-wall, giving those who adore the salty and sublime part of our planet their knowledge-packed fill. Are you ready to move a bit beyond greeting the ocean upon seeing it and learning how you can lend it support and stewardship? Make for Monterey over the first weekend in June.

Photo Credit: Monterey Bay Aquarium]]>
<![CDATA[The Epiphany: New Bubble Brunch]]> Thu, 26 May 2016 13:38:18 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/epiphanybubblebrunch.jpg

THAT STROLLABLE STRETCH: While many Golden State towns may vie for the title of Most Strollable, only a few can achieve this desirable, stow-the-car crown. Well, that's not wholly the case, as several cities have worked diligently, over the last couple of decades, to create neighborhoods that are all about benches, and trees, and places devoted solely to pedestrians. Downtown Palo Alto is a prime example of a spot where those on foot have ample room to move about, and enjoy a coffee, and shop, and take in the sunshine. But what to do before you head out on a Sunday afternoon stroll, the kind of walk that has no real purpose save for pleasure? Savoring a solid, three-course brunch, complete with something sparkling in a nearby glass, is a capital way to prepare for your Palo Alto amble. And it so happens that The Epiphany, a Joie de Vivre hotel, is offering a new Bubble Brunch at its on-site restaurant Lure + Till. So what's the...

BUBBLE BRUNCH... all about? It starts with a flat fee -- $49 -- and it heads out into a lunchy land of a trio of "coursed-out" dishes (meaning you can take a bit of time with each glass of Champagne and not gobble hurriedly through your meal). That's right -- every dish is paired with a different bubbly. Examples of a the dishes (and drinks) on the three-course menu might include slow-cooked eggs with guianciale and trumpet mushrooms paired with Billecart Salmon Brut. Even the dessert course, which there is one ohhh yeah, arrives with its own festive, dessert-perfect libation. It's a swanky but relaxed way to start your day of strolling around Palo Alto. Available dates? The two brunchiest days of the week: Saturday and Sunday.

Photo Credit: The Epiphany]]>