<![CDATA[NBC Bay Area - Worth the Trip]]> Copyright 2015 http://www.nbcbayarea.com/blogs/worth-the-trip http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/nbc_bayarea_blue.png NBC Bay Area http://www.nbcbayarea.com en-us Fri, 22 May 2015 14:08:37 -0700 Fri, 22 May 2015 14:08:37 -0700 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[The Garlic Dream Wedding Contest]]> Thu, 21 May 2015 17:01:29 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/garlicweddinggilroy.jpg

WEDDING FOOD, TURBO-CHARGED: Choosing a menu for your magical day can be a rather complex affair. We won't go into the desire to please the palates of everyone in attendance, which anyone choosing appetizers or a cake always considers, at least for a moment. And we won't address the trends of the time, which do have an impact upon what a couple goes for, in the cuisine department. (Did your parents choose fondue over a wedding cake, because that was all the rage at the time? Yeah, trends are powerful.) What we will say, though, is any duo longing to make their union fully official should go with exactly the sorts of edibles that they love the most. If their mutual taste is tony, and veers towards the posher, pricier plates, so be it. If the twosome wants to do an all-dessert reception, well, why not? It's their day. And if they're goo goo for garlic, as in over the moon, as in they go to the Gilroy Garlic Festival each and every July, well, by clove, that's the flavor that should dominate the party. But what if the party could be taken to the summertime, happy-hot-heat party? What if a pair of bulb-loving lovers could actually get married on the Garlic Cook-Off stage, right then and there? It will happen for whatever couple wins...

THE GARLIC DREAM WEDDING CONTEST: Oh, this is a thing, and it. Is. On. How to enter? Well, there are a few to-knows, but you start with sharing "how garlic brought you together." It's serious, all right. If you win, will you get to enjoy boutonnieres and bouquets flush with the star bulbs rather than traditional flower buds? You bet. Will there be cake and bubbly? Of course, the better to balance the sweet with all that heat. Will there be other goodies, like professional photography, a Monterey Bay Aquarium tour for two, a Gilroy Premium Outlets gift basket, and more congratulations-you're-married niceties? Yes, we're nodding, uh-huh, you betcha. Will you and your honey have quite the story to tell those friends and family members who don't make the festival for the Sunday, July 26 wedding date? You so will (and, just so you know, the winning couple gets to invite twenty people, for free, inside the fest). And isn't July 26 a nice day for a wedding, should you win? By the by, don't be glum if you garlicky lovers are already married: The festival says the contest is open to those wishing to renew their vows. Now, who has a garlic-shaped bowtie or veil they can lend out?

DID WE EVEN MENTION... who will preside at this delicious ceremony? Mr. Garlic himself! If ever something deserved an exclamation point, it is that tasty tidbit. 

Photo Credit: AP/Getty]]>
<![CDATA[Amador City Hosts State's Shortest Parade]]> Thu, 21 May 2015 10:14:43 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/AmadorCity1234.jpg

GOLD COUNTRY HAMLET: California is a state of record-makers, from the biggest trees (high fives, redwoods and sequoias) to the lowest golf course (we're looking at you, Death Valley) to some of the oldest living things on the planet (bristlecone pines, holler). But while several of the state's records go for the out-sized vibe, there is, of course, a few notable smallests, like the smallest incorporated city in the Golden State. That title has long gone to Amador City, in Gold Country, and while it now bills itself as "one of the smallest towns in California," a short, short stroll through its charming historic center will inspire any visitor to think "yeah, this is absolutely the most petite place in all of California." With that in mind, the community will stage "the shortest parade" in the state on Saturday, May 30 in honor of its centennial. Oh yes, the wee spot, which has its roots in the rootin' tootin' days following the Gold Rush, moseyed its way to cityhood over several decades. The deed was done in 1915, making 2015 Amador City's big 100th birthday. Or should we say "teensy" 100th birthday, given the state's shortest parade and all? However you want to approach the celebration, make for the Sierra foothills on...

SATURDAY, MAY 30: The party's on from 11 a.m. to 3 o'clock, and, in addition to the parade, tunes shall be provided by the Banjo Racketeers and the Ukemaniacs. There are some shops to peek in, and two dozen or so buildings that look as if they were transported straight from the 1800s (including the oft-photographed Imperial Hotel). And, yes, Amador City is plunk in the middle of the winding wine country that Highway 49 wends through, so you can probably pick up a bottle of award-winning Amador County red wine before you split. As for Amador City's actual birthday? That's June 2. As for Amador City occupying time and space in this century? The jury's still out on that, given that most cities balloon with modern additions, some good, some meh, over time. This sepia-toned slice of Gold Country never really did, at its heart, and that makes it a very big-in-heart smallest city. Happy 100th, Amador City!

Photo Credit: Amador City]]>
<![CDATA[Brut-camp: Work Out at Domaine Carneros]]> Thu, 21 May 2015 16:50:40 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/domainebrut1234567run.jpg

WORKOUT WITH A VIEW: Bootcamps can land, with a joyful grunt and an adrenaline-packed oof, in most any spot that affords the room to do some push-ups and some sit-ups and a few sweat-inducing dashes. Wait, did we say a few? We meant "many," of course, since we're talking about bootcamp here. And while some participants may claim to be fully in the zone, and not aware if they're doing those push-ups under a beautiful tree or not, most bootcampers are up for some bucolic surroundings and inspiring vistas, the kind of sights that compel a person to strive just a little harder for maximum achievement. Enter Brut-camp, a new bootcamp high-knee-ing it into Napa Valley.

VINEYARD PUMPED: If you're guessing the "brut" part of the name has to do with bubbly, and a very fine libation at that, you'd be correct. And if you're hoping that this might be your first bootcamp in a vineyard, complete with a tasting when all of the grunting and sweating wraps, well, you are right on point again. Brut-camp is the newest event jogging into Domaine Carneros in Napa Valley, a one-hour fitness-fest that involves "rope whips, kettlebell swings, and ball slams" right on the grounds of the elegant winery. Is this the first time you've handled a kettlebell in the vicinity of cuvée-making? We'll go out on a limb -- er, a vine -- and guess it just might be.

THE GRAND STAIRCASE: Not only will participants be out and about on the grounds and among the vines, but some exercise action'll go down on the Domaine Carneros grand staircase, too. It's a Monday through Friday deal, it's $175 to join, and you'll need to make an appointment (there are six people in each group). Keep in mind that the Sparkling Cool-Down not only involves the estate's celebrated sips but a selection of seasonal bites as well. Bootcamp, you've gone gourmet, in one truly sublime setting. Will all our future drills require a delicious drink and dining experience at the end? We might get spoiled.

Photo Credit: Domaine Carneros]]>
<![CDATA[And the San Diego Zoo Baby Hippo Is...]]> Tue, 19 May 2015 20:13:52 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/HippoBabyzoosd.jpg

SWEET SWIMMER: Hippos have often appeared upon the big screen, both in fascinating documentaries and live-action feature films, but our minds very often alight upon the animated works that summon a zanier, quirkier side to the noble creatures. For rather than doing the usual things hippopotamuses typically do, as in eat, snooze, and such, these movies show the animals having adventures, making friends, and, yes, sometimes performing ballet. If you just called out "Fantasia" at that reference you're right on the money: The ballerina hippos twirling through the Walt Disney classic are some of the most famous dancers ever to grace the silver screen.

AND YET... they're not so fantastic or outlandish when you consider how beautifully, and fluidly, a hippo swims. This was brought home to cooing San Diego Zoo followers around the planet in recent weeks, as they watched enchanting video of Funani, a mother hippo, swimming with her baby at her side. Were their movements positively ballet-like? Positively, and so heart-tugging as well. But a mystery remained: What sex was the baby? This was as of yet unknown, "(d)ue to the very protective nature of a hippo mom." The infant "was often kept tucked under vegetation growing along the edge of the hippo pool," reports the zoo, making it challenging to discern whether the beauty was a girl or a boy. But the word went out just a few days after Mother's Day, that keepers had made the discovery, and Baby is...

A GIRL: And her name is Devi. If you want to see the delightful Devi with your own aww- and awe-filled eyes, she's with Mom in the hippo pool each Tuesday and Thursday, plus all weekend, too. The pool, in case you're wondering, holds an impressive 150,000 gallons. As for Devi, who made her happy hippo debut on March 23? She's now weighing somewhere between 90 and 105 pounds, is the zoo's estimate (Funani weighs about 80 times that). 

Photo Credit: Ken Bohn]]>
<![CDATA[Swim Chess: Vegas Pool Ups the Game]]> Tue, 19 May 2015 10:04:44 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/delanobeachvegaschess.jpg

THERE WAS ONCE A DAY... where poolside activities, or to-dos related to a hotel-adjacent body of water, could be listed on one hand. Perhaps you took some sun or read a book or played shuffleboard or gabbed with a friend and... that was about it. But water-close pursuits have flowered in recent decades in many ways. You can book a posh cabana in some spots (complete with a TV and mini fridge). You can raise a tiny flag on your lounger, which will summon a server to your side, and, moments later, a tropical cocktail of some sort. You can request a waterbottle spritzing, if the sunshine has proven too warm. And you can, if you're in the right location, wade into the H20 for a rousing game of water chess. Fear not -- you don't have to drag your favorite board into the pool to make this happen. You just need to find your way to Delano Beach Club in Las Vegas, which just revealed its new in-pool chess game, and just in time for the 2015 summer season.

DELANO LAS VEGAS... is the property, and the oversized chess set can be found on the wet deck. Will wearing your swimsuit assist you in plotting your next move? A bikini or swim trunks aren't the typical sartorial choices when one is sitting down to face off with a friend at home. If chess isn't your deal, there are, take heart, cabanas with both bottle service and big televisions ("big"=46 inches). Or perhaps a cabana is just what you need, a place to retreat to between matches, the better to suss out your next move.

ARIA RESORT & CASINO: If you book at this center-Strip property's Sky Suites, you now have exclusive dibs -- along with other Sky Suites guests, natch -- on the brand-new Sky Pool. "Complimentary refreshments" arrive every hour and a half, and if you're needing a chilled towel, a chilled towel you shall have. Daybeds and chaise lounges dot the pool deck and the cocktail menu? Craig Schoettler, the Property Mixologist, has created a menu just for Sky Pool. Yes, there is a Frozen Mudslide, made with top-shelf spirits, in case you're wondering. (You were wondering.)

Photo Credit: Delano Beach Club/Jim Decker]]>
<![CDATA[Old-School Road Trip: The Mystery Spot]]> Mon, 18 May 2015 07:43:22 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/mssignentrance1.jpg

PRE-MEMORIAL DAY DISCUSSIONS: People who dig adventure, but who are tied to their daily lives a little tightly, can feel a certain pressure rising come the week leading into Memorial Day. The summer season is near -- it's practically on top of us -- and yet we haven't put in for time away from the desk, and we couldn't go all that far even if we had. This is the sort of bind that California's old-time, charm-laden, been-around-for-decades roadside stops help to address. They're not all that far from where we are and we don't need more than a tank, or even half a tank, to reach their front doors.

CALIFORNIA CLASSICS: Trees of Mystery, near Klamath, is at the top of the state, it is true, and the Madonna Inn is near the middle, but by gosh a road-tripping Californian can probably push towards either over a weekend. And then there is the area near Santa Cruz, one of the verdant sources for all things roadside. There's a Bigfoot museum in the region, and Roaring Camps Railroad, and the venerable, balls-roll-uphill Mystery Spot. When moviemakers want to tap into our nostalgia, these are the kinds of places the characters go. You can, too, of your summer vacation is limited and you want to give the kids that feel of hitting the open road in the way you did, not so long ago. The Mystery Spot has been around for 75 years, and people are still leaning way, wayyyy sideways, to the delight of their friends; are you and your small ones next up for this Golden State tradition?

THEN HEAD FOR THE REDWOODS... and the "gravitational anomaly" and place of "strange phenomenon" that's up a tree-dotted hill. There's always the issue of spoilers when it comes to the Mystery Spot, but you likely know, even if you've never visited, that illusions and strangenesses with how people tilt to one side and how ropes swing and how balls roll in ways balls seemingly do not roll at home. Kids think it is a gas, the adults laugh and scratch their heads, trying to ferret it all out, and everyone but everyone buys an iconic yellow bumpersticker before they split. It's all very nostalgic, as it should be, as it looks much as it did in 1940, when it first opened. And summertime=nostalgia, at least in terms of the vintage-style roadtrip. Best of all? You don't need to plan, plan, plan to go. It's no mystery that the Mystery Spot is but a doable drive away.

Photo Credit: Alysia Gray Painter]]>
<![CDATA[Olives in Los Olivos (and Great Jazz, Too)]]> Tue, 19 May 2015 10:02:50 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/olivestenleyfohlphotography.jpg

NOSHING ON THE NAMESAKE: The Golden State is rife with marvelous monikers that are much associated with a particular municipality. There are the Rancho Mirages and the Lone Pines and Glendoras and the Twentynine Palms, too, and each bears its own serious history or quirky beginning or headscratcher of an origin tale. But few towns are named for foodstuffs, edibles that actually, at one time, inspired its charming handle. Los Olivos of the Santa Ynez Valley, though, is such a town. Long ago the hills dotting Rancho de los Olivos were rife with thousands of trees growing a particularly succulent little fruit, the one with the pit in the middle. It went through a few Olivos-related permutations, name-wise, but Los Olivos, today, is its official name, a name that suits its charming hamlet-a-tude, tucked as it is in the hills of wine country. So what's a town with a food-cool name to do about its snackable symbol? Well, throw a party in its honor, and make sure there's some good music, too. And so Los Olivos shall, on the first Saturday in June, when the...

11TH ANNUAL LOS OLIVOS JAZZ & FESTIVAL spreads throughout the downtown of the easily strollable town. The orb, palm-fittable food will be the star of the day, with many vendors selling the best in olive oil and olive-y products. (What's the best offbeat olive-related edible, do you think? We have to go with a heavy, hearty bread that's studded with the wee fruits, or, perhaps olive oil ice cream.) The tunes shall sound throughout the afternoon affair, of the smooth 'n jazzy sort, and it just wouldn't be a party in the Santa Barbara-close wine country without some major winery presence. And so there shall be: Thirty or so local vintners are expected. The price? It is sixty bucks. The sweet and old-fashioned thrill of being a know-it-all about California towns and their name origins, and feeling charmed that you're in a place inspired by a tasty, tree-growing, treasure? That's there for the enjoying.

Photo Credit: Tenley Fohl Photography]]>
<![CDATA[Redwood Mountain Faire: Tunes, Crafts, Nature]]> Sat, 16 May 2015 15:01:28 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/thecaliforniahoneydropskeithberson.jpg

A FUSS-FREE START: All of those articles that talk about making the start of a vacation stress-free have solid points aplenty, from how to pack to what to pack to the various lists we need to make before we even get out the door (including the list that sums up all of the many lists we need to track). But there's another side to the start of vacation season, the list-less one, as in "free of lists" and not lacking in energy. We don't want venture into summer, or at least the end of spring, all wound up and ready to burst from over-planning; we want to go to the woods, or someplace equally as beautiful, in our favorite jeans, and listen to some old-school strummy tunes and eat some tasty vittles and shop for quirky and necessary things made by artisans who live in the same region we do.

STRESS-FREE FAIRE: Some would call this the de-acceleration of the vacation concept, but let's not overthink it too hard: Let's just call it the easy balm that heals a busy spring and starts a low-key summer. Redwood Mountain Faire embodies a lot of these concepts, and it falls just over the weekend when many of us are pushing to final get that week away in, somewhere, on some road, if only we could make the lists we have to make. Put the list-making pen down and make for Roaring Camp in Felton over Saturday, May 30 and Sunday, May 31 for...

TUNES, CRAFTS, LOCAL BREWS... and fundraising for area organizations. The Meters Experience, The California Honeydrops, Los High Tops, Birds of Chicago, and Sugar by the Pound, plus moremoremore, shall bring hot twang and other sounds that are not twangy but still pleasing to ear and eye. The aforementioned arts & craft booths shall dot the grounds, and kid to-dos, too, and all of it will be redwood-adjacent, in case your summer-starter needs a majestic dose of nature. Two things about the summer to come, should be said, here and now: 1) Nature is an instant summer-maker, fact (we all know this). And 2? Getting all revved-up and laden with lists isn't all that helpful, usually. Taking it easy with some homespun music and noshable eats in the woods is very N.L.R. (no list required).

Photo Credit: Keith Berson]]>
<![CDATA[Bernardus Lodge & Spa Completes Renovation]]> Thu, 14 May 2015 22:20:23 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/bernarduslodgeexterior2.jpg The Carmel Valley property unveiled its fresh updates in April.

Photo Credit: Bernardus Lodge & Spa]]>
<![CDATA["Peter Pan" Alights at The Mountain Play]]> Thu, 14 May 2015 12:02:29 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/mountainplaypeterpan1.jpg

PACKING LIST: When one goes to the theater, one is generally not presented with a packing list by the people behind the venue. You're free to include what you like in your purse or bag or pockets, if you show with anything (mints and lip balm and tissue and house keys are standard, however).

But The Mountain Play is not your typical theater or, really, your typical day out. There is a suggested packing list, on the Mill Valley venue's site, and it not everything will fit in your front pocket. A hat? A hiking map? Sunscreen? Layered clothing? Nope, you're not going to be on a plush chair in an enclosed setting that comes with its own AC or heat. You'll be at some elevation -- hence the name The Mountain Play -- and you'll be watching a musical that suits the adventurous spirit of hiking up Mt. Tamalpais to enjoy a cultural treat: "Peter Pan." The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up, and his Londoner pals, and Captain Hook, too, of course, are the singing stars of the 2015 presentation, which opens for six daytime performances on Sunday, May 24.

THEME DAYS: As with many past Mountain Play happenings, each performance comes with its own lovely theme. The nature of the musical doesn't change -- Peter Pan will still stand, hands on hips, and laugh at convention -- but the pre-show entertainment will bear a different flavor each time. Kid & Family Day, Mother Earth Day, LGBT Day, Community Day, Arts Education Day, and Father's Day, which is Closing Day, will all unveil their own ahead-of-the-musical fun times, starting at 12:30 p.m. (the musical begins at 2 p.m. on each of its six days). Father's Day also brings a picnic contest, so best prep for that, al fresco-loving foodies. As for hauling food along your hike to the outdoor theater? You can, and alcohol is permitted, too (or it may be bought at The Cushing Memorial Amphitheater). As for testing your friends on how much they know about they long, long history of The Mountain Play, one of the most venerable of Mill Valley traditions? Well, this is the 102nd annual, so, absolutely, many a theater lover has been a Mountain Play maven over many decades.

AND IF YOU'RE A PUPPET PERSON... arrive even earlier on any of the dates. The Fratello Marionettes will be in the house. Or, er, on the mountain. Marionettes dancing atop a mountain sounds like just the whimsical start an imaginative summer season requires.

Photo Credit: The Mountain Play]]>
<![CDATA[Final "Sunset" Celebration Weekend in Menlo Park]]> Sun, 17 May 2015 12:24:46 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/menlosunsetwine1234.jpg

MYTHICAL MENLO PARK: If you had ten publications spread before you, and you had to match them to ten cities on the map, the magazines' homebases, could you do it? Well, sure, "The New Yorker" is kind of an easy one, as is any city-focused magazine with the town's name on the cover. But how about those long-running favorites that aren't readily associated with any particular place by their theme or style? That becomes a bit trickier, save one magazine that's synonymous with the West: Sunset. Readers of the monthly know Menlo Park nearly as well as anywhere, even if they've never visited the California hamlet. That's because Sunset's bring-the-outside-inside philosophies -- and vice versa, of course -- were made real, and incredibly picturesque, at the magazine's Menlo Park headquarters.

CELEBRATION WEEKEND: Part of the reason Sunset's basecamp has been so familiar to fans is that, unlike many publications, it is open to visitors, or at least a portion of the outside area: The gardens are open for self-guided tours. But even if you never made it to Menlo Park, you know it from the snapshots of the rustic-posh property seen in Sunset's pages. Sunset, however, is moving later this year following the sale of the property, and its upcoming Celebration Weekend, a staple on its social calendar, will be its last in the Menlo Park location. Which means this: If you've been meaning to commune with all of that Menlo-ness that has become rightly mythologized over time, Saturday, June 6 and Sunday, June 7 are the dates to do so.

THE SEVEN-ACRE CAMPUS... will brim with Western living-focused to-dos, from ideas for planting drought-tolerant flora to DIY printmaking to the maximizing of tighter nooks. It's year 17, so many people -- "tens of thousands" -- are expected to join the home-and-more bash. Cuisine is at the heart of much of what Sunset is about, and there shall be two cooking stages, stages that shall feature the feats of major toques like Martin Yan, Chris Cosentino, and Joanne Weir. And will there be a Wine Lounge and beer seminars, too? There shall be. Sunset hasn't yet revealed its future home, but with the popularity of the Celebration Weekends, and the devotion the 1898-begun magazine regularly engenders, we can only imagine everyone, staffers and fans alike, will take the spirit of the Menlo Park headquarters onward to the next stop down the line. 

Photo Credit: E. Spencer Toy]]>
<![CDATA[Lodi Lark: The Vintner's Regatta]]> Wed, 13 May 2015 14:00:44 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/vintnersregattalodi.jpg

THERE'S NEVER A TIME OF YEAR... when Californians aren't dreaming up something a little madcap and quirky. Our state does, after all, have the reputation of being the sort of place where innovative ideas practically rain down, droplet-style, on a regular basis. State residents, in turn, are known for seizing moments and going distances and trying things that might be deemed droll -- read: wacky -- in certain quarters. Take the Golden Stater's love of building unusual sailing vessels, at least those Golden Staters who consider themselves big boat buffs. While any time of year is the right time of year to do something a little different in the realm of boat construction, it is the springtime when several offbeat boat events reign. Both the Wooden Boat Races at the Bodega Bay Fisherman's Festival and the Kinetic Grand Championship, which rolls/floats in Humboldt County over Memorial Day Weekend, boast unusual and fantastic float machines, but they're about to have competition when ZinFest arrives. "Lodi's premiere wine tasting event" is absolutely about the vino -- zinfandel, to be specific, though you probably could have guessed that from the zinsational name -- but there is a to-do of a humorous bent that draws onlookers to Lodi Lake. It's...

THE VINTNER'S REGATTA: The regatta is set to sail on Saturday, May 16, which happens to be the middle day of the three-day-long party. Winemakers will sit upon vessels that are, fingers crossed, seaworthy, though "lakeworthy" is more accurate. Those vessels? Why they're wine barrels, oh yes they are, and while the barrels are aces at holding liquid, how they remain atop liquid, while keeping their pilots upright and afloat, remains to be seen. It's a lively day, full of healthy competition, but if you're looking to stick just to the zin-tasting side of things, you're in luck: The Saturday-afternoon-long wine festival is by the lake. Plan on sipping some of the "200 handcrafted wines from over 40 Lodi wineries." Are you up on your Lodi-local love, as far as what the grapes are giving, how zingy the zins are, and all of the choice stuff that comes with knowing your appellations? ZinFest is a fine place to get in the know. That a little sail-a-strange-ship fun is thrown in, and a few barrels standing in for boats, is just how we do it in California come the spring.

Photo Credit: Zin Fest]]>
<![CDATA[Pavement Palette: Santa Barbara's I Madonnari]]> Tue, 12 May 2015 17:42:22 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/StreetArtSB_NCampbell.jpg

ART IN ANY SETTING: Admiring a swirl of color on a canvas is a treat in whatever environment you happen to encounter it, but the treat-happy nature of the moment only grows when the surroundings match the canvas in beauty. Look to the Santa Barbara Mission, a treasure of a structure that has appeared in many (many many) paintings and photographs. To throw an art festival here seems to be the perfect marriage of beautiful spot plus beautiful thoughts, and so such a festival is thrown, annually, each Memorial Day Weekend, just outside of the mission's majestic front exterior. It's the I Madonnari Festival, a three-day celebration devoted to the ancient art of placing paintings upon the pavement.

TOTALLY CHALKTASTIC: Those paintings are made with chalk, of course, making the artworks that appear, suddenly, in hours or a day or two, highly ephemeral, far more so than the countless photographs snapped of the adjacent building. But it is the ephemeral nature of a chalk festival that lends is nowness wowness, an of-the-moment thrill, and a soak-it-up-here urgency. Absolutely, photographs of the festival live on, online, and great videos, too, but to be in Santa Barbara on a May Gray morning, chatting with the artist creating a three-dimensional sea scene, or castle, is a pleasure best not denied. A sweet asterisk? It's free to attend.

MAY 23, 24, 25... are the dates for 2015. The festival will soon celebrate its 30th, so expect a whole parade of talented picture-realizers to bend down to the sidewalk below, all in the name of art. The Children's Creative Project is the festival beneficiary, which means arts programs -- both visual and performing -- for "50,000 children in more than 100 schools" in the Central Coast area (Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties). That's a nice way to bid farewell to another school year, at the end of May, with a glance of good things to come. And, of course, plenty of glances downward, at the brief-before-the-eyes, always-in-the-mind artworks.

Photo Credit: Nell Campbell]]>
<![CDATA[Made in Tahoe Fest: Local 'N Lively]]> Tue, 12 May 2015 13:02:14 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/madeintahoepillow.jpg

CONNECTION TO PLACE: When we go anywhere outside of our sphere we typically travel with a toothbrush, a small tube of toothpaste, some favorite pajamas, and the desire to make a connection with the place we're landing. Desire to connect is rather hard to pack, so we hold it in our hearts, or our heads, if you prefer, lest "hearts" seem to gooey (it is pretty gooey, and that's okay). But connecting with place isn't just breathing in vistas or admiring the local flora or finding a few historic markers, as lovely and as essential as those things can be. It's finding out about the locals, what they do, what they make, and how they connect to the place they call home all year long. Travel guides often suggest striking up conversations and finding locally owned stores -- two excellent plans -- but a third route, when one chances upon it, is also quite ideal: the local goods festival. Not every town has 'em, but plenty of neato nooks do, places so awesome and chillaxed in their identity that they'd never mind be called "neato" (a compliment). Lake Tahoe absolutely qualifies here, above and beyond and through the roof, and it boasts, no surprise, a sizable multi-day festival devoted to local artisans, local products, local tunes, and anything that has to do with living lakeside (or in the lake-y area, like in Truckee). Want to stock up on some of your alpine-originating products, from home goods to bath goods to you name it?

MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND... is the time to head up, though note the Made in Tahoe Festival lands on Saturday and Sunday only (so plan on doing something else cool on Monday). The Village at Squaw Valley is the place, and vendors will be plentiful. Who'll be there, selling swell stuff and chatting people up? Gypsy Soul Glass, Old Forty Skate Company, Sierra Essentials, Tahoe Naturals, and Tahoe Dog Gear, plus about 70 other artisans and small companies. There shall be live music and food for sale in the area, and there shall be strolling straight into the summer season, Squaw Valley-style. And don't you always think your Tahoe getaway ends too soon? This is a way to have some true Tahoe-ness, created by a resident, back at your own pad, to remind you of vacation good times.

Photo Credit: Court Leve]]>
<![CDATA[Sonoma County Farm Trails Barn Dance]]> Mon, 11 May 2015 21:35:44 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/CahootsatBarnDance1.jpg

DESCRIBE IT: Nostalgia is such a potent, daydreamy force, as are the movies, that we're easily able to summon experiences, at least through imagination and description, that we ourselves have never tried. A hayride on a moonlit October night? Even if we haven't yet signed up for one, we can guess that the rustic road'll have some bumps, that the trees above'll be dewy, and that the hay has a very distinctive hay-like smell (well, no shocker there, that hay smells like hay). Similarly there is the barn dance, another experience of another day, the sort of gathering a grandparent might have spoken of glowingly for years after the event. You can picture that, too, the fiddles, the swing-arounds, the swish of your skirt or vest. Of course, October hayrides still happen, and barn dances do, too, and nostalgia can take on the spirit of now if you happen to be in the right place on the right day. That day will be Saturday, May 30, and the place is Sebastopol, and the people behind Sonoma County Farm Trails are throwing an old-style barn dance, and a barbecue, too, to boot. Which reminds us that boots would not be out of place, nor the other sartorial stylings one might associate with twirling a partner under a barn's rafters.

DUTTON RANCH... is the spot, tickets are seventy five bucks each, proceeds support The Gravenstein Apple Fair, Cahoots is providing the live tuneage, and the evening revelries shall start with a Brew and Cheese Reception (and "Fine Sonoma County Wines," too, of course). Specific Gravity Cider, Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery, and a host of other regional good-thing-makers'll be fooding and drinking up the early part of the night, while the barbecue dinner commences at 6:30 p.m. (think "mixed grill" so a variety of meats plus tempeh). There shall be barbecue-worthy sides, there shall be a very vintage dessert -- strawberries + whipped cream + vanilla ice cream -- and there shall be an auction to round it all out.

THE OCTOBER HAYRIDE... shall have to wait -- October is months away, after all -- but we can sometimes grasp a daydream from the past, or a movie still from a black & white flick, for a night. You have gingham, right? Well yeehaw.

Photo Credit: Sonoma Farm Trails]]>
<![CDATA[Humboldt Offbeat: Grand Kinetic Championship]]> Wed, 13 May 2015 05:36:50 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/179*120/kinetic_tinakerrigan_.JPG By land and by water, fanciful machines shall progress, over Memorial Day Weekend.

Photo Credit: Tina Kerrigan]]>
<![CDATA[Marini's in Santa Cruz: 100 Sweet Years]]> Sun, 10 May 2015 13:11:24 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/marinisonthebeachsc.jpg

SALT WATER TAFFY, SAND, AND SURF: There are a few rules for visiting a ride-filled, treat-tastic, oh-so-historic beach-fronting boardwalk, but rule number one is this: Rules are flexible. Part of the charm of spending a day out in your shorts and tank top, eating candy apples and riding roller coasters, is that you don't need a schedule or a to-do list or an agenda. Want to have popcorn before lunch? Why in the heck wouldn't you? Want to grab the front seat on the loopity-loop coaster as often as you can? Queue up and go for it. But we would add one gentle and polite asterisk to the "rules are flexible" notion if the beach boardwalk happens to be in Santa Cruz and it is this: You should always stop by Marini's for a piece of salt water taffy or a hunk of fudge or the kind of candy of your particular choosing.

HAPPY 100TH, MARINI'S: For Marini's at the Beach is part of the hallowed boardwalky tradition of ocean-close candy-makers, the kind of candy-makers who found their sugar-coated beginnings at the end of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th. The Santa Cruz candyhouse definitely qualifies here, as it got its sweet start back in 1915. That means that Marini's is marking its centennial in 2015, and chewing on some taffy as you head down to the waves is as much a part of a Beach Boardwalk summer as the waves themselves.

THE BEACH BOARDWALK, by the by, officially kicks off its summertime season on Saturday, May 16. "Special brass rings will be added to the Carousel's ring machine" to ramp up the warm-weather party, and "1,000 free Marini's collectible pins will be given out at Boardwalk Ticket Booths with the first 1,000 All-Day Wrist Bands purchased!" Oh yeah. And if you do snag a designated brass ring while riding the vintage ponies, you can take it to Marini's for a gratis goodie. Even if you don't, you can still swing by to purchase that candy apple for gnawing on down on the shorefront. Careful of sand, though. Though, of course, a little sand on a candy apple is also a beach boardwalk summertime classic that is to be revered, appreciated, and enjoyed. Nostalgic pleasures of sunny good times still exist, for a song. Just don't forget your bathing trunks and parasol.

Photo Credit: Marini's at the Beach]]>
<![CDATA["Phantom" Fun on Catalina Island]]> Sat, 09 May 2015 07:48:18 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/catalinaphantom1234567.jpg

A MATCH IN MOVIE LOVER HEAVEN: There isn't a cinephile on the planet who would turn her or his nose up at catching a famous silent era flick in a theater, any theater, especially if a fine fundraiser is behind it. But it is a rare day when a film from the 1920s is shown in a theater from the 1920s. Very often we see vintage works on screens in modern cinemas, and while we are definitely there to look straight ahead, at the action unfurling before us, we're aware, even in the dark, of the contemporary surroundings. Ah, but to see a deeply atmospheric treat like "The Phantom of the Opera," which was made in 1925, in the exquisite Avalon Casino Theatre, a venue that debuted in 1929, just a few years after "Phantom" opened. How's that for an era-ideal match between setting and cinema? It doesn't come along all that often. Add the fact that this is a one-night-only fundraiser to this most excellent pairing, a fundraiser for the history-important Catalina Island Museum, and you have another cherry atop the cake. 

SPEAKING OF CAKE... would it be wrong to call the Casino Building, which the Avalon Casino Theatre is a part of, a bit cake-like in its iconic appearance? Surely we can't be the first. Just about every Catalina Island aficionado knows the cinema is inside the burg's best-known building, but if you don't know that, you're in for a treat. The Phantom goes a-haunting on Saturday, May 16, there shall be live accompaniment by a 30-piece orchestra, and organist Dennis James shall be filling the air with ye olde sounds of the '20s. Lisa Vroman shall sing, too, adding further exquisiteness to an exquisite night.

WE KEEP SAYING "EXQUISITE"... but we must. The interior of this theater is not really a best-kept secret. It's not a secret at all. It brims with Art Deco murals by artist John Gabriel Beckman and the kind of style and dash and atmosphere that shall match all of the spooky Paris-based action on the big screen. Truly, we don't get that twosome often enough, a theater and movie born of the same time. That you get to do it all on Catalina Island, itself a place out of another decade, is frosting on the aforementioned cake. Want a ticket? Sweep your cape dramatically about your person and sail your subterranean boat this way.

Photo Credit: Catalina Island Museum]]>
<![CDATA[Tenaya Lodge: Yosemite 125th Anniversary Package]]> Fri, 08 May 2015 12:47:20 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/216*120/packages-lrg-yosemite-125-anniversary.jpg

JOURNALING AND THE GREAT OUTDOORS: While journaling has been around since the advent of paper and writing implements, the act of chronicling thoughts, jotting down random ideas, sketching images, and sharing one's mind with a blank page has gone through some ups and downs, over time. Sometimes our society encourages self-reflection of the quietest sort; sometimes it suggests public sharing, on a wider form (hello, internet). But journaling about one's time in nature, with notes on the squirrels and the pine cones and how sunlight dots the ground in a thick grove of trees, will never be a trend.

IT IS AN ETERNAL ACT, one championed by the poets of yore and great naturalists like John Muir. Thus a journal seems the right item to have in one's hand as one ventures into Yosemite National Park, a place Mr. Muir was highly fond of (if "highly fond" is worded strongly enough). It is, in fact, the 125th anniversary of Yosemite National Park in 2015, and properties and organizations are doing much to celebrate. One spot, Tenaya Lodge, which sits just south of the iconic destination, is offering a 125th Anniversary-themed package that includes both a nice accommodation and, you guessed it, a journal, too.

IT'S A NICE TOUCH... but best stow it in your backpack before you venture into the canyons and meadows of Yosemite. Naturalists have plunked down on a variety of large rocks to record their of-the-moment observations, and so should you. A keepsake travel mug is part of the package -- sip tea out of it later, when you're re-reading your journal and reminiscing -- and breakfast for two, too. And yes, we know: Yosemite, as a land, is far older than a century and twenty five years. But protections were put in place in 1890, and those protections have made it possible for countless visitors to journal about their spectacular visit to the park in the years that followed. Does it sooth the soul to sit upon a large rock and write about a squirrel gnawing at an acorn in the distance? Find out.

Photo Credit: Tenaya Lodge]]>
<![CDATA[Sequoia Shuttle: On the Road Again]]> Thu, 07 May 2015 21:44:03 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sequoiashuttle0923212.jpg

THE DRIVER TAKES A BACKSEAT: If you've ever sat at the steering wheel on a family road trip, you know the joy that comes from having the people riding in your passenger seat, and the backseat, look out the window as you drive by nature's wonders (more easily achieved if everyone has stowed their small screens for a few miles). You can hear them ooh and ahh as you keep your eyes firmly on the road ahead, and all of that oohing and aahing makes you glad that you've given your nearest/dearest this chance to connect with nature. But, as for you? Well, you're all eyes on the road, because safety matters, and, as the pilot of your ship, be it a station wagon or minivan or convertible, you want to make sure the journey is a smooth one. There is a way, however, to go to the natural wonders, some of the most famous in California and the wider world, and not have to be eyes-on-the-asphalt-ing the whole time. It's the Sequoia Shuttle, a seasonal ride that wends fans of the Big Trees up the mountain from Visalia and Three Rivers.

THE SEQUOIA SHUTTLE... is a warm-weather ride, and its 2015 dates were recently announced. First trip up is on May 21, last trip down is Sept. 27, and a roundtrip ticket is just fifteen bucks (which gets you into the national park, too). If you go on day one, May 21, your ticket is only a fiver. And what does that get you? The chance to daydream, to stare out your window at some of the largest living things on the planet, and to anticipate a stop-off at the General Sherman Tree (if you take the Giant Forest shuttle) or Moro Rock (if you hop on an alternative route) or the Wuksachi Lodge (a fine place for a bite and forest-pretty views). 

AND DOES THIS HELP... with traffic and impact in the national park? It does, and you'll be a part of that. And will you get to point out all of the cool sights to your family, instead of asking them to describe them to you, as you drive? Yep, you got it: The Sequoia Shuttle is a full-participation roll. Something a little novel for the family roadtrip, where the driver at the helm is always on duty while the rest of the car sightsees. You can change that paradigm, at least during your sequoia summer visit.

Photo Credit: Sequoia Shuttle]]>
<![CDATA[Happy 110th, La Playa Carmel]]> Sat, 09 May 2015 07:47:16 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/laplaya110.jpg

CHOCOLATE, GUESTS, AND 1905: Travelers like their hotels to have a bit of a story or some lore. Perhaps there's a time capsule in the foundation, or the roses out front are named after the children of the family who built the property, or a beautiful building was built as a love letter to an adored spouse. Such is the case of La Playa Carmel, which rose in the snug picturebook burg back in 1905 thanks to artist Christian Jorgensen. Mr. Jorgensen constructed the hotel in honor of his wife Angela, who was a member of the Ghiradelli family. It's a sweet twist on the typical hotel-meets-candy story, which typically only involves the chocolates left upon your pillow at turndown. La Playa Carmel went one better, boasting a chocolate-y tie that only adds a sprinkle to its love-story-esque beginnings. Add a mixture of time to the tale -- a century and a decade, to be specific -- and you bring the hotel, one of the grand dames of California's hotel landscape, up to today. To celebrate its 110th anniversary, the landmark is offering a trio of packages, two built around the number of years it has been open and one built around past duos that have made the getaway their love retreat (as well as $110, as a theme).

THE WHOLE HOTEL: You can book the entire property for yourself, and your nearest, dearest, and, we imagine, most grateful, by plunking down a cool $110,000. You'll be able to "make it your own private estate for one week" so, yes, all 75 guest rooms are yours to fill or not. La Playa shall keep its full staff, and if you're crossing your fingers that there'll be a full Champagne brunch daily, uncross them at once and practice holding a glass flute. (Translation: Yep, there's a bubbly bash each morning.)

$110 SECOND NIGHT: There are some crossed-out dates on this one, and availability has an asterisk, but here's the very solid deal: Book two nights, pay the regular rack rate for night number one, and then owe $110 for night two. There you have it. 

RETURNING COUPLES: Did you throw your wedding at the not-too-far-from-the-ocean getaway? Or honeymoon there? Or anniversary there? Tuck the snapshots of the event in your bag -- or email them, perhaps, if you only have them electronically (but, seriously, back those up) -- and show them at the hotel to receive a "special anniversary rate of $110 per night, up to two nights." 

Would you like to return to the days of yore at La Playa Carmel? We can't send you back to 1905, when the awning-clad, flower-fancy structure made its grand debut, but we can send you to the official site for the anniversary, which has some lively look-back photos.

Photo Credit: La Playa Carmel]]>
<![CDATA[National Park Photos: "Share the Experience" Winners]]> Fri, 08 May 2015 12:46:42 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/169*120/zarcticnationawildliferefuge_cameronteller.jpg The amateur shutterbug contest brought out some stunning snapshots

Photo Credit: Cameron Teller]]>
<![CDATA[Paso Pedals: Great Western Bicycle Rally]]> Wed, 06 May 2015 13:30:05 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/greatbrpaso.jpg

ALL BIKES ALL THE TIME: It can seem, when May arrives, that our collective thoughts turn not to begonias and barbecues and other pleasures of the outdoors but to one "b"-fronted word in particular: bicycling. Thank warmer days or thank the summertime schedules popping up or thank the special, multi-week events (like Nevada County's nearly two-month-long bike event) or thank the AMGEN Tour of California, which always rolls down the Golden State in the middle of May. Thank all of those things, but then lift your kickstand and get busy bicycling, because the halcyon days of springtime don't last forever and fine afternoons must be seized. Paso Robles shall be seizing fine afternoons, several of them, from May 22 to May 25, when the Great Western Bicycle Rally returns to the Central Coast burg. Tempted by the idea of taking in some of the wine country-sweet vistas in the area, the usually perfect temps, and that laid-back Paso spirit? Then don your helmet and pedal for...

THE PASO ROBLES EVENT CENTER: It isn't just a bike bash but a food bash as well. Of course, hello, this is a town that likes things pretty dang tasty, so a Wine, Cheese & Pasta Feast and a barbecue on the final day and pies from Pacific Pizza are all on the savory end of the schedule. As far as the pedaling part of the rally goes, you can head out to a local goat farm "and learn how cheese is made, pasture to plate!" Yep, there's a creamery tour in the bargain, too, so hooray that. There's a ride to Hearst Castle, and if that isn't lovely enough (it totally is, no argument there), there's a beachy clam bake to round things out. And is there a Garlic Lovers Ride? Hoo boy. If handlebar action and hotness in the mouth are two of your most favorite experiences, you're in some luck. There's a Hot Springs ride, too, in case the muscles need some soaking, which they will.

FOR ALL THE THEME-FUN RIDES... and rally must-knows, turn your front wheel in this direction.

Photo Credit: Great Western Bicycle Rally]]>
<![CDATA[Free for Moms: Mother's Day at Ruth Bancroft Garden]]> Tue, 05 May 2015 13:46:20 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/ruthbancroftmothers12345.jpg

THE PARENTAL HOLIDAYS... are sometimes portrayed in a rather straightforward manner. Pick up your parent, take them to brunch, ask them if they had a fine time, and part ways. But that's not all there is to Mother's Day, nor Father's Day, of course, though the eating-nice-food bit is always welcome. Many children, both of the younger and over-21 variety, want to not only connect with a parent during their spring holiday but spend some true time reminiscing, sharing private jokes, and reflecting upon days to come. Gooey? Maybe. Greeting-card-ish? Perhaps. But time is a gift that can't be returned -- it is always the right size, the right material, the right everything. So building out from the Mother's Day meal to a fuller day together seems the wiser, capitalize-upon-the-clock course, and making the fuller day about something pleasant is the solution. Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek can absolutely be defined as "something pleasant," though describe three-plus acres of well-tended gardens, gardens that put a special spotlight on succulents, is an understatement. But picture yourself, with your mom, on Sunday, May 10, strolling the grounds and talking about long-ago times, and picture your mom getting in for free.

YEP, MOTHERS PAY NO ADMISSION... to the Ruth Bancroft on Mother's Day, and kids under 12 can get in for zero dollars as well. A nice bonus? You can bring in your own brunch -- er, picnic -- to enjoy (lest you're concerned about missing that all-important, oh-so-traditional holiday meal. Did you and mommy eat ham sandwiches together every day when you got home from kindergarten? Maybe pack those, and some other memory-inspiring edibles. You've got six full hours to nosh, stroll, look at plants, and hold your mom's hand. When's the last time you held hands with her? If any day is the day to start, it is Mother's Day, and the place to do it is in a garden that's in marvelous May bloom.

Photo Credit: Ruth Bancroft Garden]]>
<![CDATA[Spring Surprise: Rhododendrons Among the Redwoods]]> Mon, 04 May 2015 21:21:37 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/rhodoredwoodsdonforthuber.jpg

THERE ARE NO SPOILER ALERTS... required for visiting Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, which is located snug in Humboldt County not too too far from the Pacific Ocean ("not too too far"=a few thousand feet, not several miles). You can see that "redwoods" is in its very name, so when you arrive and see some of the stretch-toward-the-sky-iest trees on this planet, well... You can say you knew about it ahead of time. But surprises closer to the ground exist in the redwood groves of the Golden State, and we can sometimes be delightfully taken aback when we come across those unexpected sights. (We thought we'd add "delightfully" there as "taken aback" sometimes arrives with a less than welcome follow-up.). For our tall tree forests are not just home to the tall trees in question but myriad other plants. Yes, you're right, ferns are rather plentiful, and the maples and laurels, too. But come the springtime, if you're around Prairie Creek, you just might spy something pink and frilly and sweet and garden-ready. That's because rhododendron, or rhodos or rhodies, if you prefer, rather like popping up among the majestic redwoods, at least in this specific area.

BEYOND THE GARDEN GATE: If you've always thought of the delicate flowers as being a stalwart of domesticity, a petal symphony that sticks close to garden fences and yards, an April-to-June stroll at Prairie Creek may put a wilder rhodie in mind. "The hillside trails of Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park... have exceptionally thick concentrations of wild Pacific rhododendrons, and are some of the best viewing places." May is a fine time to look for the flowers, and there's even a Rhododendron Trail to stroll while staying on the lookout. Do the pinky petals enhance the surrounding reddish trunks of the park's main superstars? We'll leave that to color-mad artists to determine. But admiring something that we typically see in a tended-to plot near the backdoor out in a rustic and wonderful park is definitely a new way to view an old friend.

Photo Credit: Don Forthuber]]>
<![CDATA[Now Open: The Tioga Road]]> Mon, 04 May 2015 21:25:06 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/monocountytioga12345.jpg

GO WHOA NELLIE DELI: Just about every driver keeps a quick list of easy-to-reach gas stations in mind, depending on where they might be around their town or region and how low in the tank they prefer to get (or not get, of course). This one gas station is close to home, this other gas station has your favorite grape soda, and the station at the edge of town pipes classical music into the pump area. But there are some very special places to gas up in the Golden State, the kind of places that are less quick, spur-of-the-moment pull-over stops and more "let's spend part of a day driving there" destinations. If you're thinking the Whoa Nellie Deli and adjoining Mobil, the restaurant/gas station combo that serves up wine, beer, and lobster taquitos at the eastern end of the Tioga Road, well, we, and other fans, are thinking it, too.

OVER THE SIERRAS TO HIGHWAY 395: What other gas station can you enjoy a nice Chardonnay at while gazing upon one of the most famous lakes in the world, the fabled Mono Lake? The numbers are probably very few. But getting to the Whoa Nellie, at least from the western side of the Sierra Nevada, can be a sticky wicket in the wintertime, or, rather, snowy wicket. Highway 120, the Tioga Road, is shuttered for much of the colder span of the year, meaning those lobster taquitos and Mono Lake views must wait.

BUT WAIT NO LONGER... for the Tioga Pass, which wends alongside the granite monoliths and flowery meadows of Yosemite National Park, opened on the morning of Monday, May 4. People living west of Yosemite don't necessarily need to drive the whole road, to the beloved gas station and deli, but many daytrippers keep those outdoor picnic tables bustling all summer long. Don't delay, though, if you're going to drive the Tioga this year: It shutters again in the fall.

Photo Credit: Mono County Tourism]]>
<![CDATA[Springtime on the Sugar Pine]]> Wed, 06 May 2015 22:07:39 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sugarpineyos.jpg

HISTORY BEFORE YOUR EYES: Any grown-up who is at all honest will admit that the field trips of yore, those school outings where you got to go somewhere and learn local history -- after you had a parent sign your permission slip, of course -- were pretty much The Best Thing Ever, Like, Ever and Ever. You anticipated the bus ride to the farm or gold camp or city hall for weeks, and when the day came... well, you clearly got no shut-eye the night before. What a pity that we, as full-fledged adults, let this former delight lag. There are still field-trip-y fun times to enjoy, and you don't even need a family member to sign a mimeographed permission slip (unless you really want to).

SUGAR PINE TIME: One of the most charming, and one that wears its Old West clothes quite well, is the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad at the south gate of Yosemite National Park. Yep, field-trippers, it is an old-school, oh-so-historic railroad, a line of tracks that once saw loggers at work decades and decades ago. The Sugar Pine still wends four miles through the picturesque Sierra National Forest, giving riders a chance to not only get the As, Bs, and Cs of this slice of California history but to soak in some tree-dapply sunshine as well. And as for the off-train doings? Don't tell your elementary school self all about the gold-panning and such, because younger you might be a mite jealous.

SPECIAL DOINGS... on the Sugar Pine Railroad include the Moonlight Trains, which include gathering around a campfire and singing songs, Moonlight Melodramas, a photo train (for shutterbugs who like to capture steam against trees against sky), and, as mentioned, gold-panning, that activity that would surely make younger you jump up and down with anticipation. You're allowed to jump up and down as an adult, of course. Because field-trippery? It should never be just a part of our past; there's still stuff to learn, sights to see, gold to pan, campfire songs to sing.

Photo Credit: Sugar Pine Railroad]]>
<![CDATA[Safari West: Mother's Day and Mimosas]]> Fri, 01 May 2015 21:51:18 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/safariwestmother1.jpg

FIRST LOVES: The first person who ever put a kitten or puppy gently into our tiny, dimple-elbowed arms was very likely our mother. Likewise, our mom was probably that adventurer who pointed out the butterfly on the daisy to us -- look look look! -- and the turtle in the pond and lifted us higher so we could admire the fish tank at our pediatrician's office. And it happens quite a lot that our mom isn't just pointing out the pelican or the lizard to educate us on the natural world (though that's definitely a large part of her action). She loves animals, is mad for mammals, she could swoon all day over reptiles and felines and snakes and the occasional hamster. If you had a hamster growing up you likely had to clean up its hamster home, per your parents, but surely your mother snuck in to cuddle the little furry ball of joy now and then. If this is your mom -- a true-blue friend to animals, through and through -- then perhaps her special day out, on the second Sunday of May, requires that our four-footed co-earthlings be a part of it. And they can be, at Safari West, which pauses each year to celebrate moms on Mother's Day.

PLUS, MIMOSAS: That's always an important "plus" to add, because the meal on Mother's Day is often mimosa'd. There shall be two seatings for brunch at the Santa Rosa animal preserve, mid-morning and early afternoon, and the price is forty two dollars and fifty cents for the grown-ups (less for the kids). But the delightful focus of the day, beyond the Champagne brunch, is the chance to admire the zebras and giraffes and other denizens of the nearly 400 acres sometimes dubbed "The Sonoma Serengeti." And a charming add? There shall be a face painter, on the ground, but the colorful touch-ups are not just for kids; "(m)others are also welcome to get a small animal painted on their faces or even hands." That's a big awww right there, and a sweet memento for the person who might have very likely started you on your own lifelong road of animal adoration.  

Photo Credit: Safari West]]>
<![CDATA[Carlsbad Package: Follow The Hops Highway]]> Thu, 30 Apr 2015 20:58:57 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/HOPS_HWY_PIC1.jpg

THE SUDS OF ROUTE 78: Wine-tasting routes, and someone to drive you along them, are such a part of Golden State tourism that they can seem as plentiful, and varied, as a shelf holding a hundred different vintages. Some tours involve a van, or bus, some only involve red wines, some focus solely on organic vineyards. But finding that same type of tour that focuses fully on craft breweries is a little trickier. That may be because bespoke-style brew-making is a newer industry, all told, at least in California, than the growing and creation of wine, or because breweries haven't clustered in the way that wineries do. There is crafty clustering going down along Route 78, however, from Oceanside to Julian, and Carlsbad's West Inn & Suites is making it easier for guests to take all of that foamy regional beer-mastery in in one sudsy swoop.

THE HOPS HIGHWAY PACKAGE: The get-better-acquainted-with-area-beers deal goes something like this... You'll check in, enjoy your room, and then meet a brew expert from Sterling Rose. Is that "luxury private vehicle" out in front of the inn your roll for the day? It is indeed. You'll set out along Route 78, stopping at a quartet of breweries to taste, talk about bitterness and depth and tone, and you'll meet some of the people working the big tanks, too. Peeks around the breweries -- touring is part of the deal -- and snacks plus water are part of the package as well. All in all, the day lasts about four hours, and you'll see one of California's Gold-Rush-iest roads (truly, not everything Gold Rush-y happened in the Sierra). 

COST AND DATES? This is a Saturday and Sunday kind of thing, and the price starts at $499 for two people (you can book more into your party, up to eight, if you wish). As for the four brewhouses you'll get to know? Stone Brewing, Ballast Point, The Lost Abbey, and Mother Earth Brew Co., too. Will you be an expert on their beverages by the end? That's up to the knowledge you soak in, but just enjoying the Saturday- or Sunday-style easy sipping is pretty choice, too.

Photo Credit: West Inn and Suites]]>
<![CDATA[Bike Nevada County: 52 Days of Cycle-Sweet Haps]]> Thu, 30 Apr 2015 12:16:26 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/bicycle+new.jpg

BEYOND THE SINGLE AFTERNOON: Biking confabs are often anticipated by cyclists, as a fresh ride or a new trail or a food-added-to-the-fun element puts a new spin on a favorite outing. (Yep, we said "new spin" and we're leaving it right where it is, no apologies.) But finding ongoing get-out-and-pedal happenings that go beyond a single afternoon can be a bit of a challenge. That is, if you're looking for a bunch of bike-related plans to all unfurl in the same general area. But Nevada County has cyclists covered there, and beyond the single afternoon ride, too. On May 1 Bike Nevada County lifts the kickstand and heads into 52 days of different maps and meet-ups and to-dos that all have to do with you being up on the seat with flying feet. It is, in fact, "a grand celebration of pro, amateur, and recreational road cycling and mountain biking in Northern California" with "(o)ver 3,000 competitors" at every level expected to take part in the outings.

THOSE OUTINGS INCLUDE... the Nevada City Dirt Classic Series, Stage 2 of the Amgen Tour of California, The Union's Community Bike Ride, the Folsum Historic Criterium, and the 55th Nevada City Classic, which rolls on the first day of summer. Other rides wend through the May and June calendar, with opportunities to take in the tree-beautiful, slope-y hillside scene on your own (the Donner Lake Loop and Old Highway 40 to Cisco Grove are two beautiful roles among many). Need a map? Find that map here. And do you, if you're interested, need to sign on for more than one of the bike events during the 52-run? Not at all, but if Nevada County is on your list of must-pedal places, May or June will be fine times to try it out and meet other riders out enjoying Bike Nevada County.

WHAT ELSE WILL LATE SPRING BRING... beyond bicycles and blossoms to the county? Find your wildflower action and more over here, outdoorsians.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Maypoles and Mother's Day: A Springtime Russian River Party]]> Wed, 29 Apr 2015 15:17:50 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/maypolerose232122.jpg

THAT QUINTESSENTIAL SEASONAL SYMBOL: We all remember the many symbols of the various seasons from grade school craft time. Cutting out maroon and orange leaves for the fall posters and snowflakes for the windows during the wintertime and big yellow bursting suns, the ultimate sign of summertime, is still fresh in our grown-up brains (as is the enduring love we developed for thick, colorful construction paper and scissors with rounded ends). As for the symbols of springtime? Bees and butterflies and pretty bugs were on the craft-making roster, as were flowers and maypoles and puffy clouds. Rather remarkably, there are still places where all of those can be found and enjoyed, all on one day. Nope, you don't need to drive to the Bee Place to see bees or the Flower Spot to admire petals. You can get all of your spring symbols in at the Russian River Rose Company, on a single day. Or make that two days, if you wish and you're a lifelong maypole maven: Saturday, May 2 and Sunday, May 3.

"PEAK OF BLOOM": That's the delightful description coming out of the Healdsburg nature-nice destination, so if you want to eye roses in full, luxurious petal, now's the time. There shall be a maypole up over the first weekend in May, and you can participate, if you remember how it goes, another special memory from grade school. The ribbons are for weaving, of course, but much of the joy of a maypole is smiling at all of your co-weavers as you pass them in succession. The price? A suggested donation of two bucks. Wandering the nursery and garden and sniffing the 650 types of roses? That's free.

MOTHER'S DAY OPEN GARDEN: If you'd like to return the following Sunday -- that's May 10 -- with your main lady, to celebrate her day, there is an open garden happening. The big buds should still be in glorious bloom and taking them all in sounds like the perfect pursuit for you and mommy. Cost? Again, a suggested donation of two dollars. Happy spring-symbol-ing, maypolers and flower fans.

Photo Credit: Russian River Rose Company]]>
<![CDATA[Early Opening: Cedar Grove Lodge]]> Thu, 30 Apr 2015 20:59:23 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/KCCedarGroveLodgeExterior.jpg

SUMMERTIME AMONG THE GIANTS: It's hard to choose a favorite time of year to visit the sequoias, because every time of year possesses numerous charms. Summer is for shorts and short-sleeves, when long hikes rule and late twilights and the ability to stay out past midnight, star-watching, without having to dash inside in search of a fireplace or heavier jacket. Winter sees fewer visitors up the mountain, and there is that delightful crunch, crunch, crunch that boots against the snow in a silent sequoia grove produce. As for spring and fall? Sweet breezes and crisp winds punctuate the so-called seasonal shoulders of the year. But there are only a few months when you can stay at some of the places around the Big Trees, the warmer months, so in this respect -- the respect of having a wider number of hotel offerings -- summer is king. Cedar Grove Lodge in Kings Canyon is one such spot, and while it typically has a springtime opening, its 2015 debut is truly on the early side: Friday, May 8.

GOOD DEALS: Not only does the early opening invite fans of the 21-room lodge a chance to get near to North Dome, Roaring Falls, and Muir Rock, but there are "special early season rates" to be enjoyed as well. Rates start from $109 per night -- think Sundays into Thursdays -- and move to $135 over the weekends for a standard room. Is the lodge "creekside"? Yes, which is refreshing on a toasty late spring day. Is it open into fall? For sure. Think the middle of October. Can you get to the General Grant, the most famous tree within Kings Canyon? The beloved (and behemoth-big) sequoia is 35 miles from the lodge. Which gives you another clue about where you'll be staying: It is "geographically remote" at Cedar Grove Lodge, so if you've been wanting to go deeper, and beyond the popular sights of Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, and to make it more than a daytrip, this could be your overnight. For the other nearby wonders, and the lodge's come-early-and-save special, point your walking staff this way, nature hiker.

Photo Credit: Cedar Grove Lodge]]>
<![CDATA[Laguna Beach Passport to the Arts]]> Tue, 28 Apr 2015 07:15:17 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sawdustpathway13453.jpg

SUMMERTIME IN ART CENTRAL: Laguna Beach, come the days of warmer weather, can be many things. It is bustling, for sure. It hums with action of both a tourist and local sort. It is the social center of the art festival scene along this stretch of the coast. It is rife with things to look at, of the painting and sculpture and textile and jewelry variety. And it is beautiful, which anyone who has ever set toe one in the town assuredly knows. But let us also add to all of this that the historic culture-smart burg can overwhelm with choices in the whole "what to take in and enjoy" department. Which translates to this: You need some support from people who understand. Meet...

THE PASSPORT TO THE ARTS: The quickity, what-is-this, tell-me-now upshot about the passport, which has been connecting people with culture for seven years, is this: It's a "triple-value, unique season pass" that "provides unlimited entry to the three premier art festivals in Laguna Beach throughout the summer festival season, which runs June 26 through August 31, 2015." Ah, you guessed it -- the trio of festivals that make up that top tier are indeed the Festival of the Arts, Art-A-Fair, and the Sawdust Art Festival. The cost? Twenty three bucks, which, seriously. Should we retype that, but in italics this time? Seriously. If you're planning on visiting all three of these festivals even once, you're saving. Multiple times and you're sitting pretty, summer-style.

BUT WAIT... there are more savings, including play discounts, whale watching discounts, free museum visits, savings on purchases at various galleries, yep. We were right to italicize that "seriously" earlier, though do note: The Pageant of the Masters is not part of the passport's roster, so make your separate plans for that ticket. All in all it is very good stuff, especially if your summer visitors love Laguna Beach and want you to drive them there. Have more than one or two groups of out-of-towners and your schedule is set (and money-saving, thanks to the Passport). For the whole caboodle of save-money-heres, and pre-festival anticipation, saunter on over to the Passport HQ (like you might saunter down to the beach along Forest Avenue). (Really, Forest Avenue is one of the prettiest of street names, though it is rivaled by its neighbors Ocean and Mermaid and Mystic Walk and Cliff.)

Photo Credit: Sawdust Art Festival/Bob Torrez]]>
<![CDATA[Ventura Old-School: Roadshow Revival]]> Mon, 27 Apr 2015 21:06:39 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/197*120/venturaroadshow1212.jpg

FEEL THE RHYTHM: While Mother's Day traditionally summons a host of celebratory events, as do the spring holidays, the very last of the seasonal to-dos, the one that falls just days ahead of the official first day of summer, doesn't always have a roster of traditional fun go-outs associated with it. We speak of Father's Day, of course, which falls on the final Sunday of spring (we know, we know, it is deep within June, but you get us: Summer, and how summer is traditionally observed, are two distinct viewpoints). So what do you do with Dad? You might go golfing or to lunch or maybe to surf. Or, if you're an aficionado of alt-country, old-school twang, souped-up autos from another era, and the music of Mr. Johnny Cash, you make for Ventura and the Roadshow Revival.

THE DAYLONG CONCERT... and car show has become a bit of a Father's Day thing, for music-loving parents and their grown-up kids, as the Ventura County Fairgrounds show typically fell on the Saturday before Father's Day. Well, there's a bit news in that respect, and fans'll likely think it is pretty darn good: The Roadshow Revival is moving to the last weekend in June and expanding to two full days.

ON THIS YEAR'S ROSTER? The Reverend Horton Heat've been making a retro-tastic splash at the 2015 Coachella Festival, and they'll be tuned up and ready to headline the Saturday, June 27 and Sunday, June 28 Johnny Cash bash. The Blasters, Billy Joe Shaver, Slim Jim Phantom, John Doe, and a bevy of tribute artists shall also summon the power of Cashian sound. And this is truly a full-on love-in for the Man in Black: The party's subtitle is "A Tribute to the Music of Johnny Cash." Want to get those tickets lined up, maybe for you, or you and your pops, if this is his bag? They're available now.

Photo Credit: Roadshow Revival]]>
<![CDATA[Blossoms, Bees & Barnyard Babies: Sonoma County Sweet]]> Mon, 27 Apr 2015 11:50:54 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/5WiseAcreFarmHens.jpg

THE WONDERS OF NATURE: If you ever need to decompress or take that workaday worked-up feeling down a few notches, you know that watching videos of baby lambs in mid-romp or looking at photos of dandelions swaying in the breeze or catching a clip of a bee calling upon the heart of a bright flower can instantly take you to a calmer place. Even better, though, than photos and clips is standing in that field with the flowers or the lambs or the dandelions on a perfectly puffy-clouded May day. The Farm Trails of Sonoma County want to make that bee-observing, lamb-loving daydream a happy reality, and a reality filled with interesting knowledge about how bees are kept and hens are tended to and plants are watered and horses are cared for and how everything that calls a farm or ranch home thrives. So, for sure, Blossoms, Bees & Barnyard Babies has a fascinating educational component but, there's no doubt about it, when "Barnyard Babies" is in the name you'll want to do some serious cooing and awwwing and look-at-that-ing. And you will, if you make for the farm-dotted paths of the county on...

SATURDAY, MAY 2 and SUNDAY, MAY 3: The big two-dayer covers a lot of territory with a lot of different themes. If you adore cows or bees or the making of cheeses or the cultivation of honey or flower arranging or piglets -- piglets! -- or just about any artisanal or traditional farm-related pursuit, get on the Farm Trails. We almost suggested that mavens of the homespun arts would love this, before thinking about the word "homespun" and if it now feels too nostalgic. But it is nostalgic and modern, both; the making of jam and the raising of chickens thrives on, and is not a vintage scene from a beautiful postcard. To get out and know it is to understand how animals are raised and food is made on a daily basis. These pursuits are not far away from us, any of us, regardless of where we dwell, and learning more from the farmers and vintners you meet is always a positive. As for which places will participate? Oh goodness, there's a bunch: Gabriel Farm, Beekind, Kick Ranch, and Old Seeder Farm are all on the map. Need to plot out your day in the country? Start here. Need to squeal over chicks and piglets? You will not be alone in that, trust. Squeal away, fans of springtime babies.

Photo Credit: Wise Acre Farms]]>
<![CDATA[Salmon Stravaganza at Old Fisherman's Wharf]]> Sun, 26 Apr 2015 08:11:38 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/OldFishermansGrottoSalmon.jpg

WHEN YOU PONDER MONTEREY... you're apt to think of sardines and Cannery Row and of the aquarium and otters and jazz and John Steinbeck. Titans all, in their musical, artistic, science-minded, nature-beautiful ways, and absolutely emblematic of the Bay-snug burg. But salmon has a stake in the city's history, too, with dozens of salmon fishing boats dotting the bay in the early years of the 20th century. To honor Monterey's ties with the fish, and to spotlight the opening of salmon-fishing season -- April 4 for recreational lines and May 1 for those fishing commercially -- a number of restaurants are hosting a Salmon Stravaganza throughout the coming weeks.

ANYTHING WITH "STRAVAGANZA"... in its name sounds mighty hefty indeed, and this culinary happening shall be. Look for spotlights on salmon offerings around Old Fisherman's Wharf, from a fresh Pacific salmon at Crab Louie's Bistro (that's pesto shrimp sauce as the topper) to almond wood-grilled salmon served with basil cream sauce. As for your lunch or dinner conversation with your salmon-craving companions? Pondering the wharf's beginnings and the early stories of fishing and boats and the establishment of a full-on, out-to-the-ocean, catching-today's-haul industry is an interesting thing to do when one is in a storied place. "Old Fisherman's Wharf," after all, isn't just a catchy name meant to draw tourists: It has roots. Find out what those are, and some of the characters who made Monterey a fishing draw way back when, on a Wharf Walk. The walks cover many aspects of the town's history, but the theme on May 2 is tied to the Salmon Stravaganza: How salmon fishing was established and grew in the town.

Photo Credit: Old Fisherman's Grotto]]>
<![CDATA[Pedal Power: Nobody Walks in LA Package]]> Sat, 25 Apr 2015 07:51:55 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/farmersdaughter23212.jpg

FAIRFAX BY FOOT: The hoary notion that Los Angeles is a megalopolis obsessed with cars is... well, not really all that hoary nor dated nor wrong, really. You can't deny that it is a city crisscrossed by muscular, multi-lane freeways, nor that more than one regional museum is devoted to car culture. But LA is also a collection of neighborhoods, like all huge cities, and those snug clutches of restaurants and pubs and galleries are easily taken by foot. The Farmer's Daughter Hotel, which is smack dab in one of the city's thrivingest, liveliest neighborhoods, wants people to know that pedaling -- or pounding the pavement -- is an absolutely fine way to see Fairfax Avenue, The Grove shopping center, the historic Original Farmers Market, and The Miracle Mile, which is home to a few of the city's top museums. All of those sights can be reached from the colorful, farm-themed hotel by foot, though the group of bicycles out front all suggest that a couple of wheels and some leg power'll take you to where you need to be, too. The Nobody Walks in LA package is all about walking, and cycling, around this middle-of-LA neighborhood, an area that is best seen, and appreciated, from a close-up view on the sidewalk and not from the driver's seat. Bonus? There are swanky sneakers involved.

SEAVEES STANDARD COLLECTION... sneakers, in fact. It's an offbeat add-on for a hotel package, but a perfect one that matches both the hip-happy vibe of the Farmer's Daughter (check out the bright yellow rubber duckies in the pool) to the attraction-filled neighborhood. Book the Nobody Walks package and receive a pair of sneakers for your stay (and to take, too). Each guest booked gets a pair, in fact, and you'll also receive complimentary use of the retro bikes out front of the gingham-painted hotel and a Metro card, too (several bus lines go up and down Fairfax Avenue, which runs outside). And, yes, we did say "gingham-painted hotel." Haven't you ever stayed in one of those before? For all the info on the sneaker-swanky Nobody Walks in LA deal, and other stayover sweet spots, strut this way, city-loving pedestrians.

Photo Credit: Farmer's Daughter]]>
<![CDATA[Lucero Olive Mill: Spring Bloom Gathering]]> Fri, 24 Apr 2015 14:50:40 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/springbloomlucero.jpg

DESCRIBE IT, IF YOU CAN: When something is simple and straightforward, we're compelled to describe it in a simple and straightforward manner, if possible. But sometimes just using one word, or two, doesn't quite cut the mustard. Or the olive, in this particular case. How would you describe the shiny small palm-sized orbs to someone who'd never popped one in their own mouth? You might start with "juicy," which would be correct, or "pitty," which is right, or "oily," which we can go with, or "chewy," which is absolutely on the money, as are "meaty" and "zingy" and "aromatic." For something so eensy, the olive can be difficult to pin down in a word. Put it down to its long history as a savory dish staple, perhaps; it has had a few years to flourish in our imaginations, growing ever more complex in our minds and lexicons. So a straightforward tour, one that reveals how olives grow and how they're harvested, can do much to de-mystify this complicated little icon, a fruit many need to have on a nearly daily basis (hello salads, hello tapenades, hello pastas or olives eaten straight from the jar). The Lucero Olive Oil Mill celebrates its iconic orb with a Spring Blossom Event, which is filled with tours, tastings, and other flavor-rich happenings for the olive aficionado.

OH, WE FORGOT "RICH," TOO: Because aren't olives such the rich food? They deliver a lot of punch for as notably wee as they are. You can sample one of fifteen olive oils made by Lucero -- and twelve balsamic vinegars, too -- or hop on a tour of an olive grove. Yep, this is the same Lucero with the tasting room in Downtown Napa, so if you're dreaming of lemon olive oil or rosemary olive oil or olive oil taken neat, you'll try it. That this is all going down in Corning, a town north of Sacramento and south of Redding, puts you at the source of olive goodness (Corning, as you likely have heard, dear foodies, is something of an olive nexus). As for the date for all of the chewy/meaty/zingy doings? Which also include chefly demos, kid to-dos, beer sipping, artisanal vendor items, and more food-focused goodness? Saturday, May 2. As for tickets? Find them here, oliveans.

Photo Credit: Lucero Mill]]>
<![CDATA[Magic Kingdom Sweepstakes: Disneyland Diamond Days]]> Thu, 23 Apr 2015 16:48:35 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/mickeyminniediamonddays1.jpg

HAPPY 60TH DISNEYLAND: So many legends exist about Disneyland's opening day back in July of 1955 that it can be hard to divide the true things from the delightfully outlandish rumors. For sure, it was very hot, as the second half of July tends to be, and some attractions weren't nearly finished. And did far more people show than expected? You betcha.

But there is a true thing to know and it is this: The world's most famous theme park has come a long way over six decades, setting the tone for other parks to come -- parks under the Disney umbrella and not -- and establishing oodles of classic attractions from the big mountains (hello Matterhorn, Space Mountain) to teacups you sit inside and spin around. So bet that the Magic Kingdom has a whole bunch of stuff planned for its 60th, which actually kicks off, with one extremely grand, party-riffic day, on May 22 (lest you're thinking July is the big party -- nope, it starts a couple of months before the actual opening-date anniversary). Announced ahead of the May 22 celebration, however? Oh, just your over-the-top, Cinderella-shoe-sparkly sweepstakes, is all.

DISNEYLAND DIAMOND DAYS... are on, and there are braggable prizes aplenty, including, yes, a glass slipper that hearkens to a certain midnight-running lass. There's "a private excursion and dinner at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure," too, up for grabs, and Disney Diamonds of various carats. Cars Land'll host a tailgater for one winner, too. But there's more, for Mark Twain Riverboat mavens, and stays in Disneyland Dream Suites.

AS WITH ALL SWEEPSTAKES... there are rules and know-thises and such, so know what you need to know before jumping into the anniversary sweepstaking. There are daily prizes, too, given to people at the parks, in addition to the prizes for which you do not need to be present. Good? You're singing, with happy sweepstakes joy, like Cinderella does when she sings to the birds and the mice? Then get started here, Mouseketeers.

Photo Credit: Paul Hiffmeyer]]>
<![CDATA[Crispy by the Coast: Monterey BaconFest]]> Sun, 03 May 2015 10:14:18 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/194*120/D8706BB13DC732386D599DDE5F25637D.jpg

PUT A STRIP ON THAT SANDWICH: Of all the cities in the nation that cameo on menus, Monterey is seen quite often, if not the most. True, true, there is dear Denver, and the Denver omelet, and Boston Cream Pie, but if you want to describe a foodstuff as being a bit Californian, a bit fresh, a bit spicy, and likely laden with ranch dressing (another California classic), you'll likely call it "Monterey," if you're in charge of naming dishes. There are a number of Monterey-monikered sandwiches in this world, in short, and many of them, over time, have acquired bacon, in the way that things over time generally do acquire bacon, eventually. Because? Bacon. If ever a salty rich edible could stand on its own, as a one-word answer, complete with a period to shut doubters down, it is the breakfast side that went big. So big that it now stars in its own summertime festival in, you guessed it, Monterey. The pairing feels right, given how often the savory strips show up on Jack-cheese-y, ranch-rich sandwiches, but the foods available at the Saturday, June 27 and Sunday, June 28 gathering will run the gamut. Did we mention the Bacon Margaritas yet?

THERE SHALL BE BACON MARGARITAS... there, oversight corrected -- and Bacon Bloody Marys, too, a combo that is seen more and more at brunches and bars across this great land. There's a competition, too, called Best in Bacon, live tunes, and more festival-type doings. By the by, if you're looking for a Bacon Margarita, best make for the BaconBar, which will be on the grounds. Oh, and those grounds? You'll want to make for the Monterey County Fair and Event Center, which, coincidentally, will have just hosted the Castroville Artichoke Festival a few weeks before. Aren't artichokes fairly common in foods named after Monterey as well? Well, any city that gets a flavor combination or dessert or sandwich or omelet named in its honor is fortunate, indeed. For many reasons, but consider how often we think of Denver when we order eggs at breakfast or Boston when we ask for baked beans or cream pie. Regional foodstuffs have moxie. Happy bacon-ing to one of our favorite places with loads of moxie to spare.

Photo Credit: Monterey BaconFest]]>
<![CDATA[Beachy Keen: Wine, Waves, and Beyond]]> Wed, 22 Apr 2015 21:47:38 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/winewavesbeyondvws.jpg

SURFBOARDS AND WINE STEMS: If you were asked to describe a place for a friend, perhaps a place they're soon to visit, you'd probably start with the sort of distinctive icons that have become mythical over time, the images that end up on postcards, brochure covers, and the occasional t-shirt. Maybe you'd describe the skyscrapers of New York City or the cherry blossoms of Washington D.C. or that Arizona classic, the saguaro cactus. But where would you start with California? Oranges, maybe. Sunshine, for sure. Classic cars, because the Golden State and car culture are a longtime duo. And, absolutely, our beaches, yes, and our wine, because we've rather gained a solid reputation in that area over the decades.

SAN LUIS OBISPO COUNTY CONFAB: It's a lovely thing, then, that the annual springtime Central Coast soiree Wine, Waves, and Beyond embraces so many of our brochure-worthy icons so handily. The wine? That's there, in the Rabobank's Barrel to Barrel Tasting Event, a sip-and-sup happening that's on an ocean-fronting lawn (a lawn where you'll enjoy the flavors and libations of "over 50 visiting wineries, breweries, and restaurants"). There's also a celebratory Winemakers Dinner at the Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort. The waves are there, too, in the surf-centered happenings, and a surf film, too, which is always part of the party (the 2015 flick is the wave-riding documentary "Attractive Distractions.") And as for the cars?

VINTAGE VWS: The 805 Classic Beach Party rounds out the multi-day doings with a full-on VW display in Pismo Beach. Will there be an old-school cruise? That's pretty California-iconic, so yes. Will there be lookie-loo-ing and chatting up VW Bug buffs while you're standing just feet from the beach? That's really the best way to admire a decades-old VW. For all of the wine and the waves and what's beyond, turn your VW Bus -- or your surfboard, if you prefer -- for San Luis Obispo County's chillest spring gathering.

Photo Credit: Wine, Waves, and Beyond]]>
<![CDATA[Central Coast Celebration: PASO ARTSFEST]]> Wed, 22 Apr 2015 11:06:56 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/pasoartsfest12345.jpg

COUNTING THE DAYS... ahead of the annual Olive Festival, the one that makes the middle of August extra juicy 'round Paso Robles, is not only a-ok but perfectly understandable. After all, fans of festivals held under the sky, with a strong summer-fun social component -- oh, and good eating, too -- like to anticipate when the party celebrating their favorite food will roll around again. (And surely olives are up there on the favorite food charts for many people. Surely? Surely.) But the wine-nice, vista-nice, weather-warm, food-lovely Central Coast burg gets the whole summer conviviality revved up well ahead of the middle of August; in fact, it revs up ahead of summer, at least technically. We know, we know: Memorial Day Weekend, while not actually part of summer, is the traditional beginning to the summer season, as observed, and Paso is right in there, at the starting gate, with PASO ARTSFEST.

CASTLES TO CUISINE: While the heart of the party is a festival in the downtown park, revelers will also hit the road for a few festivities, notably a sunset reception and tour at Hearst Castle. Back in Paso there's an Artmaker Dinner, too, which goes on the idea of a Winemaker Dinner, but rather than hobnobbing with vintners you'll be meeting the creatives who paint and sculpt. And a hands-on section of the Saturday festival is a draw for the grown-ups to make art. Called CREATEspace, adults will try their hand and fashion visual artworks. If you've ever seen the kids' area for this, at various art gatherings, you've likely been a little jealous that such an area for grown-ups does not exist. But it does, in Paso Robles. Dates? The whole shebang goes down from May 22 through 24, so best choose what you'll want to do before going Central Coast. 

Photo Credit: PASO ARTSFEST]]>
<![CDATA[Green Globes of Goodness: Castroville Artichoke Festival]]> Mon, 27 Apr 2015 21:05:56 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/artichokedipartichokefest.jpg

PICKING PRODUCE FIGHTS: Why in the world would we, or anyone, pit one vegetable or plant or fruit against another piece of produce? We absolutely would not, because everything on the misty, refrigerated-shelf side of the market has something luscious and healthy and tangy and flavorful to offer, even if you can't compare a plum and a pepper (though a plum jam made with spicy pepper bits sounds mighty yummy and perfect for zinging up an entree). There are a few superstars of the produce shelves, however. Call them divas or stand-outs or notables or headliners, but you know them when you see them. We'll put the banana in this group, that most portable, in-its-own-suitcase potassium-deliverer, and we'll add garlic, too, which hides a family of cloves within one smooth head.

HELLO, ARTICHOKES: And then there is that great globe of greenness, one of the roundest of edibles, the crown of a thistle, the artichoke. True, true, this superstar demands a little work -- there's no popping the entire thing in your mouth, even the small ones, because, uh, sharp-pointy-leafy bits -- but it delivers a bundle in teeth-scraping meaty texture. (Disclaimer: Of course there is no meat in artichokes, but one can't write about them without using the term "meaty" -- it's practically law.) Castroville, the center of the Milky Way, and probably beyond, for all things artichokean, pauses to celebrate its star thistle each spring with a weekend-long bash full of country tunes, shopping, wine tasting, kidly diversions, and yes, so much artichoke-y eating.

MAY 30 AND 31... are the Saturday and Sunday of the 2015 party, and there shall be so many culinary creations based on artichokes: cupcakes, raviolis, burritos, and ice cream are just four of the things you might try. Wait, did we accidentally type "might" right there? Forget it: You're not leaving Castroville without having bitten into an artichoke cupcake. By the by, "nearly two-thirds" of America's artichokes hail from the area, so consider yourself at the source. One more by the by: The festival has growngrowngrown. It's the 56th annual, and it is big, so it now happens at the Monterey County Fair & Event Center. Yep, when you're the star of the produce shelves, and your hometown party has been around for over a half century, you gotta go fairgrounds to hold all of your fans. Fans who probably like to dip their leaves, but may not. Did we mention the versatility of this age-old thistle? It makes any condiment sing. Move over, hot dogs and fries.

Photo Credit: Castroville Artichoke Festival]]>
<![CDATA[Nick's Cove: Food and Farm Tour Packages]]> Mon, 20 Apr 2015 21:46:48 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/215*120/marinfarmtour12345.jpg

APRIL SHOWERS... may bring May flowers, but the fifth month on the calendar has other gorgeous gifts to share beyond bright petals and glossy leaves. The weather is warming up and adventures of an outdoor, or semi-outdoor nature, involving bounties and bites, start to rev up in earnest. Look to Nick's Cove and Cottages, which is featuring a gourmet-focused gadabout of West Marin all May long. The upshot? Book a particular package at the Tomales Bay-close property and nab yourself a five-to-six hour tour of the farms and food-makers of West Marin. There are some asterisks and such, like your stay at Nick's Cove needing to be two nights, but that works just dandy if you think of that middle day, between your nights, as the day you get acquainted with Cowgirl Creamery or Bovine Bakery or one of the other stops included on the West Marin Food and Farm Tours schedule. The only tricky bit will be deciding if you want to hop on The Cheese Lover's Tour or The Oyster Lover's Tour. 

THE CHEESE LOVER'S TOUR... does swing by the famous Cowgirl Creamery, a visit that includes a tasting (of course -- you'd be sore if it didn't, because visiting a famous cheesemaker practically demands some nibbling go down). You'll get acquainted with "the dairy life with a farm tour of Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company." And other rich, meltable stops, including Bovine Bakery, will fill out your five-to-six-hour-long adventure.

THE OYSTER LOVER'S TOUR: Phew -- the Bovine Bakery is also included on this one (it's the stop where you learn local history). The Marshall Store, The Tomales Bay Oyster Company, and more know-your-bivalves bopping around is in store. And will you get a shucking lesson from a pro? Oh, you'll be opening oysters like nobody's business.

HOW TO CHOOSE? We honestly can't say, but thank goodness that back at Nick's Cove, while in your waterfront one-roomer, you'll be able to dream about one or the other over comp'd BBQ oysters and a bottle of merlot.

Photo Credit: West Marin Food & Farm Tours]]>
<![CDATA[Animal X-Rays: Santa Barbara Exhibit Debuts]]> Fri, 24 Apr 2015 15:04:35 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sbzooflamingoxray.jpg

LOOK CLOSER: Many a person who makes a life among animals has known the feeling of standing alongside a veterinarian as brightly backlit x-rays dot the nearest wall. Perhaps your pup swallowed a button or your cat jumped from the arm of the couch and landed wrong, fracturing a paw in the process, but there you are, seeking ways to make sure your beloved beastie gets care and heals without too much pain. Beyond those moments, though, people not in animal medicine field don't generally spend a lot of time gazing at radiographs of birds and reptiles and canines. There isn't that much opportunity, or need, if the people don't call those birds or reptile or canines their pets. But the Santa Barbara Zoo is inviting people to sate that curiosity as they get to know the natural world better by looking deeper, closer, and more thoroughly at the internal workings of those who share our planet. "Animals... Inside Out" is a new exhibit at the zoo's Discovery Pavilion, a show that features 28 radiographs all taken from residents of the animal park. 

NEW PORTABLE X-RAY SYSTEM: When the zoo acquired state-of-the-art machinery back in 2013, the better to care for the zoo's 500-plus denizens, the radiographs that were produced gave crystal clear views as to the skeletal structures of a Chilean flamingo, the African lion named Gingerbread (whose forefoot x-ray is on display), and an endangered California condor's wing. Other animals making cameos in the show include an Asian small-clawed otter and an American brown pelican. 

ART, SCIENCE, HEALING: Is this of interest to a kid who might want to grow up to tend to animals? Absolutely. Is this of interest to anyone who considers lions and frogs and birds beautiful beings, inside and out, worthy of getting to know on a deeper level? And in this case, quite literally? Absolutely. The show is on through June 29 and is included in zoo admission. Also lovely? The images are for sale and money raised benefits the facility and the beasties who call the Santa Barbara animal park home.

Photo Credit: Santa Barbara Zoo]]>
<![CDATA[#Instameet: National Park Fans to Meet Up]]> Sat, 18 Apr 2015 16:28:37 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/236*120/findyourparkinstameet.jpg

MAVENS OF MARVELS: We're about to make a fairly sound guess here, and we don't think we'll be venturing out onto any limbs when we make it. And it is this: If you come across somebody else in a national park, say, out on a hiking trail or wading in a stream, chances are they, too, are a maven of marvels, a lover of the outdoors, a friend to nature. But you probably don't exchange a word, beyond a passing "hi." They, after all, have their adventures ahead, and you yours, and nobody wants to harsh anyone's mellow while they're out among the gorgeous rocks or pines or cliffs. But the mavens of marvels'll go beyond that simple "hello" on Sunday, April 19 when the first-ever #Instameet takes place in a number of a national parks. What did you just say? Come again? Ah, yes, you're correct: April 19 is a free day at any national parks that normally charge entrance fees, as a part of National Park Week (Saturday, April 18 is also a free day). What is that? You're right again: The Find Your Park promotion, which is a joint venture between the National Park Service and National Park Foundation, just launched as well, so anyone who wants to tell their fun and deep park stories can do so, via the special web site. Pair those things together -- a free day and a new park-oriented happening -- and you have a third thing in the maven-y mix: an #Instameet. 

THE GATHERINGS... will go down from 2 to 4 P.M. Eastern Standard Time, so if you're sticking to a West Coast scene, that's an 11 a.m. start for you. Alcatraz, Golden Gate, and Yosemite are three of the California-based parks participating in the day, if you were planning on visiting.

WHAT IF... people visiting our national parks, which will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in 2016, all went beyond the hello? That is, if strangers passing on a trail wanted to hike together or chat for awhile or share a sandwich? Well, we can only imagine that sharing stories of park love will only strengthen their profile and protections down the road even further. Getting united behind our parks, through in-park #Instameets, is a fine first step.

Photo Credit: Find Your Park]]>
<![CDATA[Chili, Pacific Breezes, and Cambria Charm]]> Fri, 17 Apr 2015 17:53:11 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/182*120/chili+and+cornbread.JPG

GLORIOUS VIEWS AND STRAIGHTFORWARD FARE: One of the Hearst Castle sights that tends to tickle visitors the most is not the Neptune Pool, supernaturally beautiful though it is, nor the vistas seen from The Enchanted Hill. It's the placement of the ketchup and mustard bottles on the long and elegant dining room table, an homage to the home's namesake, a man who liked his condiments close. That stretch of California coastline does boast tony dining choices, and very good ones, too, but we like to think that the spirit of simple and hearty supping reigns as well. Look down aways from San Simeon to Cambria, a nestle-y nook of a town with a host of tasty eateries and one springtime eating event that is all about that most comforting of comfort foods: chili.

SPICY SUPPING: Oh, absolutely, you're right: Chili can be complex, given that it is a stew that can have two or twenty different ingredients, depending on the flair and fickle nature of the cook. But it is a simpler idea, in spirit, and hearty, too, and we think it pairs well with its spectacular surroundings and pretty Pacific setting. Like Hearst's ketchup bottles inside his grand estate, a day dining on chili in the beautiful burg of Cambria feels like a nice balance of comfort and grandeur. That balance will be struck again, flavorfully, on Saturday, April 18.

THERE'S BEER TASTING, TOO... and a car show and the enjoying of a fine springtime Saturday at the Vets Hall and Pinedorado Grounds. To try the chili you'll need a tenner, and cash for beer, too, but the pleasure of comfort-eating in a lovely Central Coast town has no pricetag. And, honestly, back to William Randolph Hearst's condiment-focused obsessions: Wouldn't you put out the ketchup, too, if you liked it? You probably would. There's no rule that amazing surroundings dictate that we need to ultra-fancify our foods or manner of comporting ourselves. 

Photo Credit: Lars Howlett]]>
<![CDATA[Drakesbad: Book Your Summer Stay]]> Fri, 17 Apr 2015 10:22:14 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/drakesbad2015.jpg

DEFINE "UNPLUG," PLEASE: Some terms become buzzy nearly overnight, or at least over a few months, taking on a load of meaning, and various interpretations, before the general populace decides, almost without discussion, to retire the word altogether. "Unplug" is such a multi-faceted word, as trendy as all get-out in these times of staring at our palms and the screens in our laps while we swear, we absolutely vow, we're signing off and decompressing for a few hours. But is unplugging simply hiding one's phone in the drawer for the afternoon during a quick family getaway, or is it visiting a place where electricity is not happening and old-school lanterns, games, and pastimes rule the roost?

KEROSENE SCENE: Yep, there are many interpretations of unplug-a-tude, but we'll vote that the latter sounds pretty nice, at least for a couple of nights, in our super-connected-always society. Drakesbad Guest Ranch is one of the centers of unplug-a-tude in California. True, this is in part due to the property's fairly remote location, in Lassen Volcanic National Park, but consider that most of the rooms on the property lack electricity. So rather than getting the hotel's wifi password at the front desk, you are instead given the specifics about your kerosene lamp, which are the items seen in guests' hands come nightfall (versus the typical glowing rectangle.

FRIDAY, JUNE 5... is the 2015 opening date (the Drakesbad observes a warm-weather season, closing in October). Reservations are open now, and guests should consider, when they book, all of the pursuits they'll want to fill their stay with: fishing, archery, and trotting by horseback. And, yes, stargazing, which is so much easier when you're looking up and not down at your hand. Want to know unplug-a-tude in one of its purest forms, the "there's no electricity in this room" route? Best map your route to the northern national park, with plans to stow your phone when you arrive.

Photo Credit: Drakesbad]]>
<![CDATA[The Winged Beauties of Mount Diablo]]> Thu, 16 Apr 2015 12:54:59 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/204*120/mountdiablobutterflywalk1.jpg

BUTTERFLIES AND NATURE: To say there is but one season to enjoy the beauty of butterflies is to not fully acknowledge that California is home to winged wonders throughout several months of the year, be they the famous Monarchs that include the Golden State as part of their migrations or the many zoo- and museum-based butterfly attractions. Those attractions tend to flutter for a few months in the spring, when many a mind turns to admiring the fabled flying insect among plants and flowers. But if you can't make a zoo-close butterfly attraction, you can go in search of the sweetly poetic insects in the wild. Naturalist David Morris will lead a springtime stroll up Mitchell Canyon Road and Red Road at Mount Diablo. The stroll's goal? To search for butterflies and the flowers they frequent (or, really, just any of the glorious wildflowers that pop up around Mount Diablo come April). The date? Saturday, April 18.

WHAT YOU'LL LOOK FOR: The "common ringlet, mylitta crescent, various blues, whites, and swallowtails." A representative of the Mount Diablo Interpretative Association says that eight to 12 butterflies may be spied, so you are welcome to pack binoculars (oh, and a lunch, given that this is a three-hour hike). It's just six bucks for your vehicle, and free beyond that. The gentle communing with nature begins at 10 a.m. on the 18th.

IF STRAIGHT-UP WILDFLOWERS... are more your game, and you don't mind a nine-mile hike, pen in Sunday, April 26 on your getting-out-into-nature calendar. There's a big search for seasonal buds around Pine Canyon. The seven-hour day'll get wildflower mavens deep into the nooks and dips of the Mount Diablo region, so dress and shoe-up appropriately.

Photo Credit: Mount Diablo Interpretative Association]]>
<![CDATA[Old-School Motors Purr Into Carmel]]> Wed, 15 Apr 2015 16:15:41 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/quailmoto4.jpg The Quail Motorcycle Rally honors past champions and major vroom.

Photo Credit: Quail Motorcycle Gathering]]>