<![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 Mon, 26 Jan 2015 08:38:06 -0800 Mon, 26 Jan 2015 08:38:06 -0800 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Spam Love on the Sacramento River]]> Sun, 25 Jan 2015 13:15:03 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/201*120/041509+Recession+Spam.jpg

FAMOUS FOODSTUFF: Notoriety is an organic occurrence, mostly, in this everyone-wants-to-be-famous-now era. You can't push the public to adore something, or even know something, if that something doesn't have some star quality to it (and if things don't unfold naturally in the fame-gaining game). Look to Spam for inspiration on this matter. When Hormel first developed the meat-in-a-can wonder back in the late 1930s, it couldn't have foreseen that a British comedy troupe would take it to great heights by repeating "Spam" over and over, nor that that the word "Spam" would go on to front the name of a Broadway musical. Nor would Spam evolve into a word that means "unsolicited/unwanted messages" on a place called the internet (which, spoiler alert, was not around in the 1930s, which means Hormel execs might have been befuddled to hear that their product's name would evolve in such a way). But Monty Python and the World Wide Web and the canned icon's many fans have done much for its very high profile over the years, and the city of Isleton only furthers it, tastily, each February. The Sacramento River town throws a Spam Festival, and if you're fingers-crossing that Spam tossing will be part of the merriment, uncross those fingers at once and get ready to toss.

SUNDAY, FEB. 15... is the day in which cube-shaped meat shall fly. Spam shall also be eaten, and discussed, and fawned over, and there is a cooking contest, to boot. And if you're someone who has been on the "haven't tried it" side of the fence, prepare to be converted, or at least to meet evangelists that understand that a slice of savory fried Spam alongside some scrambled eggs, or inside a cheese sandwich, is its own kind of beautiful thing. Peter's Steak House Del Rio Bar is the spot, there shall be prizes and "FUN-FUN-FUN!" and so much Spammery. Getting Spammed is actually a fine thing when there's eating to do and quirky culinary history to discuss. And if Spam can tell the fame-seekers of the world how to do it, the attention cravers would be ever so appreciative. Honest: What modern food has such instant name recognition? Hats -- and can tops -- off to you, dear Spam.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[The Claremont at 100]]> Fri, 23 Jan 2015 15:39:22 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/claremontat100.jpg

A LANDMARK CENTENNIAL: Grand hotels, the kind of sprawling, multi-building, multi-recreational area resorts where the well-heeled repaired to a hundred years ago, have become deeply romanticized in our modern minds, and in our literature and entertainment, too. Perhaps because the large hotels that reigned at the start of the 20th century served as some of the first places where the burgeoning middle class could dream of staying, alongside the swells. Even if people couldn't buy a manor, they could dream of spending a week at a fine property where tea is served in the afternoon and brandy before bed. It's just this daydream that has worked its way into the romantic myth -- and truths -- of the grand hotel, an icon that doesn't solely belong to a past day.

GRAND HOTELS OF YORE... still exist, though not in the flowering number of ten or eleven or twelve decades ago. One of the West Coast's best examples has a foothold in both Oakland and Berkeley and sits high enough where the Golden Gate can be admired on a clear day (even a clear-ish day, truth be told). It's The Claremont Hotel Club & Spa, and while the rail tracks that famously ran up to the hotel are long-gone, and nobody wears giant veiled hats or Edwardian bustles in the lobby these days, you can still pretend it just might be 1915, the opening year for the white hotel with the seen-from-all-over tower.

1915-2015: So how does a landmark acknowledge its first century? By introducing a stay-over package for guests, for one. The package includes dinner for two at Meritage at the hotel, two 50-minute massages, and other goodies. What else is ahead for the hotel? Look for a full complement of to-dos, from foodie nights to holiday gingerbread displays, on the 2015 calendar.

Photo Credit: The Claremont Hotel]]>
<![CDATA[Sup Among Stars: Santa Barbara Film Feast]]> Thu, 22 Jan 2015 21:52:39 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/212*120/sbfilmfeast2015.jpg

THAT LONGTIME TWOSOME: Claiming that food and movie-watching are forever entwined is akin to saying that day is bright and night is dark, and yet we still rhapsodize on the pairing at length. We ponder if it is better to eat during a film, or if that big bucket o' popcorn distracts from the action on screen. We wonder if a meal before a movie gives you the energy to stay peppy, or if it puts you to sleep. And we consider if having dinner after the credits wrap, on a first date, isn't the way to go, as you can discuss the movie you just saw together if the conversation in general lags. What is rarer, though, are large-scale cinematic events specifically built with a food component in mind. We're not talking about a lavish dinner for award show nominees, nope; we're talking about festivals where attendees have as many interesting cuisine choices as films to see. Napa Valley does each fall, and, of course you betcha, there's a strong wine component. And come winter? It is Santa Barbara's scene. So much so that the food part of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival arrives with its own unique identity: Santa Barbara Film Feast. 

JAN. 27-FEB. 7, 2015: The Film Feast runs concurrent with the film festival, offering "(s)pecial menus and hotel packages" for people in town to catch the celebrity tributes, industry panels, or opening and closing night screenings ("Desert Dancer" opens the fest and "McFarland, USA" closes it). Those menus includes a meatball sandwich Inspired by "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" at Belcampo Meat Company, "Wallace and Gromit"-inspired cheeses at C'est Cheese, and made-for-the-fest cocktails at Ty Lounge at the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara. A goodly number (think a dozen-ish) hotels in the area are offering packages tied to the festival, with discounts in the mix. If your movie-meal love goes well beyond licorice-snacking during a film's second act, Film Feast could be up your culinary alley. A plus? It spreads the party to places beyond the theaters, and pretty much anyone who has made the effort to attend a festival enjoys that fully immersive vibe. Go wider, film fests everywhere, is what we're blatantly saying, and look to Santa Barbara and Napa Valley for inspiration.

Photo Credit: Santa Barbara Film Feast]]>
<![CDATA[Cab Confab: Silver Oak Release Day]]> Thu, 22 Jan 2015 13:02:46 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/200*120/releasedaysilveroak1.jpg

THE FLUID NATURE OF TIME: It is right about late January that the clock can start meddle, in a merry if taunting fashion, with our perception of time, both the time of day and how far along we are in the year. For after a couple of months of darkness falling by 5 p.m., it seems brighter, nearly overnight, at around 6, as though the sun itself has gotten sick of winter and decided, on its own, to jumpstart this whole spring thing. It's not unusual to see springly soirees popping up about this time, even though we get that winter has a few weeks to go. Exhibit A? Silver Oak's mondo Release Day Party, which happens outdoors at the Oakville winery and which features a much-anticipated libation: The 2010 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Okay, cabernet probably speaks to it still being wintertime, but the vineyard-close setting for the daytime to-do and general al fresco atmosphere says that people are ready to partay like short-sleeve weather is here to stay. Adding to the partay atmosphere? Chef Charlie Palmer will be cooking, in honor of the day's star sip, and not just cooking for a few: The Silver Oak Release Day celebration is billed as "the single biggest individual winery release party" on the Napa Valley calendar. Good times with a good group and lots of wine a-flowin'.

SO WHAT'S THE HAPS? Tasting the wine is the order of the morning-to-afternoon gathering, of course, but fine eats from Chef Palmer -- and a talented crew of other top toques -- plus a live painting demo, tunes, and other convivial, raise-a-glass goings-on will rock the proceedings. Cost? Fifty bucks. Hint? Best get those ahead of time, if you're going to, as a "limited number" will be available there, on the day of. Oh, and that day? It's Saturday, Feb. 7. Should that be our unofficial start of spring? At least in our hearts? The nights are getting lighter, so let's just say spring's nearly here and then act like it is by attending events like wine release parties in the beautiful, vine-y outdoors.

Photo Credit: SilverOak]]>
<![CDATA[Animal Amour: Safari West's Rumble in the Jungle]]> Wed, 21 Jan 2015 11:05:59 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/204*120/rumbleinthejunglesafariwest1.jpg

WHILE WE'RE SURE OF MANY THINGS -- including that big animals can make little animals, which has been done with regularity since animals began -- we're not sure where "the birds and the bees" sprung from. Of course, it is a snappy way to summarize falling in love, and all of the intimacy that can follow, but how winged, feathery creatures and little stinger-bearing insects got saddled with standing in for talk of sex, well... The idiom-obsessed scholars can politely duke out where that saying began, though it seems to have early origins as a commonly said stand-in back in the 1800s (or even further back). And we're sure of this: Birds-and-bees-ism is not just practiced by the saying's namesakes. Earthlings of every feather and stripe and gait and genus are expert in it, which means that a day out at an animal preserve learning about rhino love and giraffe love and how cheetahs perform their snuggle rituals can be highly enlightening. Enlightening and important for we humans to know, if we're going to consider our knowledge of our fellow earthlings well-rounded in this department. Helping us be well-rounded is Safari West in Santa Rosa, which has scheduled amour-themed outings not just on Valentine's Day but the day after, too. And better yet? Brunch is involved.

BRUNCH AND BEASTIE LOVE... are the name of the days, which are suited for the "adults only." Brunch and an "ice breaker" detailing "the ins and outs of animal courtship" start the late-morning merriment, and then? Get ready for the early afternoon Safari Sex Tour (a beautifully clear name, just in case you're wondering what all will be discussed). It's an open-air trip around the park with visits to the cape buffalo area, the wildebeests, and more.

PRICE? It's $135 for the whole shebang. Will you be well-brunched and well-informed about animal mating when you depart? Yes on both counts. Will this relieve the birds and the bees from having to carry the banner on this topic? Well, maybe not: Saying "the birds and the bees" is just so darn handy, and full of nostalgia, and sweet. But, for sure: The topic of animal love is so much livelier, weirder, and wonderful. Know it.

Photo Credit: Safari West]]>
<![CDATA[Cask Room Cinema: Winery Meets Movie Theatre]]> Tue, 20 Jan 2015 16:32:31 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/merryvalemovies123.jpg

A SETTING WORTHY OF CINEMA: Movie mavens tend to watch flicks in one of two places: The den at home (or the living room or the basement) and a movie theater. Add on a third place, if you're feeling particularly wacky, and call it the local park in summertime, the one that sticks a temporary screen between two tall trees. But we don't really watch movies, as a whole, beyond those three places (nope, your friend's den and another multiplex down the freeway do not count as four and five). Occasionally a drive-in, occasionally a backyard, but that's about it. And then... the winery movie hums into view. It's a film shown not in a den or multiplex or park or backyard but inside a softly lit cave or space that's lined with wine after wine. It's cinematic to look upon without a film screening, but it lends a lovely flavor to any flick seen in that setting. A number of wineries walk this Hollywood-meets-merlot route every so often, but Merryvale Winery in St. Helena is going to show a trio of films in the months ahead in its famous Cask Room, starting with a work that truly fits good wine, the quest for perfection, kitchen drama, and the flair of the table: "Big Night."

OH, AND THERE'S TIMPANO... to enjoy, too, during the screening (think bites and tastes, not an entree). Plus? A gratis glass of wine. Price? Twenty dollars. Date? Saturday, Feb. 27. If you've seen the 1996 charmer, you probably didn't watch it surrounded by giant casks in an atmospheric wine-filled nook. Nor did you snack upon timpano, the film's famous dish. Call the Merryvale event a gourmet do-over. Two more flicks are ahead, if you can't make the foodie favorite: "The Natural" on April 17, just in time for baseball season, and "Four Weddings and a Funeral," just in time for the traditional wedding month (so June 19 is the night). Nope, you won't bid seeing cinema at the cinema goodbye, and your den couch is safe, but adding "gorgeous winery cask room" to your favorite places to watch old favorites just might be the next thing added to your list.

Photo Credit: Merryvale]]>
<![CDATA[Alabama Hills Adventure: Travel "The Movie Road"]]> Tue, 20 Jan 2015 09:30:59 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/alabamahillslonepinechamber.jpg

BEYOND THE BOULEVARD: If you had to pick the thoroughfare with the most movie connections, in your mind, what road would you land upon? Hollywood Boulevard? Maybe Sunset Boulevard? Or Mulholland or Melrose or one of the studio-dotted streets of Tinseltown? They're all good and true entries, but another movie road exists in California, and it has so much hallowed history that it is called The Movie Road, capital M and capital R. If you've seen "Gunga Din" or "Tremors" or a host of Western or wide-open-range-y films made over the last 90 or so years, give or take, you've seen this epic alien landscape, a gorgeous slice of wilderness that looks like a cross between a beautiful mountain painting and a faraway planet. There's nothing quite like the Alabama Hills, in appearance, which is why the location, which is a few hours up Highway 395 from Los Angeles, became such a draw for scouts looking for a cinematic place that would deliver a hefty amount of wow and wild beauty.

AND... while the movie sets have been dismantled, and there are no more cowboy hats nor lassos to be found in the vicinity, the hills have not changed, perceptibly, whatsoever, making a Movie Road road trip something of a drive back into the past of Western-themed filmmaking. Best of all? The drives are self-guided, and open all year, depending on weather.

WHAT YOU'LL SPY: Spots where films like 1963's "Showdown" took place, and the "Rawhide" grave site. Look also for a rocky outcropping that was very much part of the look of "The Gay Caballero" of 1940. The Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce has a link to the helpful, get-out-and-discover pdf, which includes maps to several cinema-famous sites. Take care that every road may not be made for every vehicle, and the usual precautions when heading into bumpier territory. Want to turn your pony towards the Roy Rogers Movie Flats, Lone Ranger Canyon, and the plaque that pays tribute to the silver-screen legacy of the Alabama Hills? Clip-clop this way, cowpokes.

Photo Credit: Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce]]>
<![CDATA[Nevada City's Merry Mardi Gras]]> Thu, 22 Jan 2015 21:53:23 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/mardinevada123.jpg

WE WOULDN'T BE GOING OUT ON A LIMB... if we were to say that many of the people who settled in and around Nevada City back in the 1800s were on the search for shiny things. Very shiny things, the kind of things that might glint from the bottom of pans, pans filled with river water and muck. But even if gold wasn't struck, Gold Country became pretty dang golden, what with its rambling natural stretches and covered bridges and impressive waterways and burgeoning, but not too burgeoning, hamlets. One of the best known of these burgeon-y burgs is Nevada City, a town that has hung onto its distinctive ye olde flavor, courtesy of its exceptional 19th century buildings, but also acquired a funky flair over the decades. It's the home of a major summertime soap box derby, and come Halloween? Saying half the town is decked out in costume would do a disservice to the other half of the town that is also decked out in costume, or is at least is out admiring what everyone else is wearing. Thus the N.C. is not a place that would let any opportunity pass by that involved the wearing of feathery masks, the dancing and raising of roofs, the listening to accordion-sweet tunes, and the tossing of shiny objects. So is Mardi Gras a big deal in this snug Sierra spot? One of the biggest.

AND NOPE... those shiny beads aren't made of gold, but they stand in well for the shiny spirit of the Gold Country town, which gives the whole weekend before Fat Tuesday over to celebrating. A Saturday night Masquerade Ball at the historic Miners Foundry and a Sunday parade fill the festive two-dayer, as does a carnevale, which follows the parade (look for Hurricanes and Bloody Marys to flow). Interesting tidbit? Mardi Gras Weekend is also Valentine's Weekend in 2015, so here's hoping some enterprising costume lover incorporates a few sparkly hearts into that traditional Bourbon Street-ready mask. Now that we think of it Nevada City's own Broad Street isn't too far from Bourbon Street in name, nor in wayback charm. Hey New Orleans, if you're ever in California's Gold Country, you should look up your cousin Nevada City -- we just bet you'll have a lot in common. 

THE NEVADA CITY MARDI GRAS... is on Saturday, Feb. 14 and Sunday, Feb. 15.

Photo Credit: Nevada City]]>
<![CDATA[Name Picked: Big Sur's Mystery Condor]]> Tue, 20 Jan 2015 21:43:08 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/condorbabyname1.jpg

A NAME THAT FITS: Families can spend so much happy and occasionally heated time choosing a name for a new family pet that a puppy or fish or parakeet can go handle-free for a days, and even weeks, while a decision is made. Potential names are jotted down on strips of paper and put into a hat or a vote is taken or another vote is taken if that one left anyone in tears or a family member flips through a baby name book at random, choosing whatever name they first see when the flipping stops. But how is a name chosen for a rare and critically endangered bird that popped up, seemingly out of the proverbial blue, one day? Despite the fact that numerous volunteers and bird watchers keep an eye upon the area and the winged residents within? Well, that's a very special case, for sure, which means only one thing: Turn to the internet for ideas.

THAT'S WHAT... the Ventana Wildlife Society, the organization that oversees the Condor Cam and the tracking of condors in and around Big Sur, did after a young condor popped up on the camera over the holidays. The mystery condor had no tag, and the society guessed that it had been born to two known condors "in a very remote section of the Arroyo Seco drainage." As for the names suggested by condor-loving Facebook fans, and the name ultimately chosen?

WILD, HOPE, FUTURE, LIBERTY... were among the names suggested once the 275 votes were counted, and the beautiful "Moonbeam," too, made the list (it was a favorite with VWS staffers). But gaining 9% of the vote? Mystery. How fitting that Mystery is now the moniker of the mystery bird, a beautiful beastie that might just be spied, if you're lucky and the timing is right, on a tour out to see the condors of Big Sur. Want to know more about those special outings? Fly this way, condor supporters.

Photo Credit: Ventana Wildlife Society]]>
<![CDATA[All Aboard: The Skunk's Special 2015 Trains]]> Wed, 21 Jan 2015 13:37:10 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/218*120/skunkallaboard12.jpg

LANDMARK ON THE GO: When something is beautiful and historic and classic and brimming with adventure, you don't need any bells or whistles or gewgaws to dress things up: You simply enjoy the experience at any given time and view it as a gift. Such is the case with the Skunk Train, which is not only one of California's most beloved and best known old-timey railroad experiences but one of the most beloved and best known old-timey railroad experiences to be found anywhere. Yes, "beloved" and "best known" border on fawning, but here's our case: Few public conveyances wend among such stately trees, and fewer still among redwoods (Trees of Mystery, don't be sore, we know you do, too, with your epic Skytrail). So it's not simply the picturesque engines and on-board balladeers that lend the Fort Bragg-based Skunk Train such atmosphere; it is the wilderness through which it travels. Meaning this: Any ride, on any day, is bound to be a good one, but the train goes one better: It offers a host of annual event trains throughout the year, rides built around specific holidays and foodie to-dos. The train's first one of the year is tied to Mendocino County's crab celebration, so hop on the Crab & Wine Express on Saturday, Jan. 24.

OR YOU CAN MARK YOUR SKUNK TRAIN CALENDAR FOR... the Easter Egg Express, the Mother's Day Brunch, or a Photographer's Day in June, which will allow shutterbugs to capture the train "on staged photo run-bys." Halloween and Christmas trains are down the line, of course, and a Father's Day ride, plus a mushroom-themed choo-choo in the fall (timed to coincide with all of the mushroomian happenings in Mendo about that time). 

THE QUESTION IS... do you take your Skunk Train neat -- do you choose any day of the week to ride, the better to enjoy the standard (but not standard in any sense of the word) trip -- or do you take a few bells and whistles with your roll? And crab and mushrooms and brunch and such? Oh, decisions. Thank goodness Skunky is patient with its numerous fans, forever heading along the tracks while we dither over a number of fine choices. 

Photo Credit: Skunk Train]]>
<![CDATA[Hotel del Celebrates "Vowentine's Day"]]> Sat, 17 Jan 2015 08:02:41 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/vowvalentinesdel.jpg

HEARD THE RUMOR? A wisp of information might have passed through your ether once or twice before and it is this: The Hotel del Coronado has seen a wedding or two as well as some proposals and engagements announcements. Heard the word on that? Of course you have, and of course we're employing extreme understatement to pack a bit of a humorous punch: The landmark, beach-close resort is one of the state's premiere, ultimate, and dream-spot places in which to go down on bended knee or toss a bouquet. Brides and grooms have secured their own nuptial knots there for decades -- make that centuries -- and a number of will-you-marry-mes have taken place on the beach near the turret-topped hotel at dusk. Thus the chance to enjoy a vow renewal or wedding ceremony is something that lingers deep with in the romance-loving Californian's being, though many might think such a dream might never come to pass. It can, and there's a fun, big-party twist to it, and it is all happening under the famous crown chandeliers in the hotel's known-far-and-wide Crown Room. (We're not even talking-up the "far and wide" part -- author L. Frank Baum of "Wizard of Oz" fame designed the whimsical lighting implements.) So what's this dream event called and when does it happen? Well, the "when" is Valentine's Day and the name is...

VOWENTINE'S DAY: You got it, and you can guess what'll happen in that spacious space: Couples will renew their vows of love to each other. And lo and behold: Wedding ceremonies will play a part of the proceedings, too. Call it a large-scale celebration, one that loved ones may attend (be they over 16 and buy a $150 ticket). As for the package price? It's $400, and that includes a boutonniere, bouquet, three-course meal and wedding cake, live tunes, and, you betcha, a wedding photo (5x7, in case you're wondering if this is for your desk or over the mantelpiece -- it's for your desk). Is there a stay-over package available, too, to keep the warm feelings in the air? You bet. Will it be fun to tell people you're vow-renewing at such a stately hotel? For sure, especially because just about everyone knows it. Will it be pretty lively with a bunch of twosomes locking lips and crying and dancing in the Crown Room? Oh yeah, we're feeling the good vibes ahead of time. For details and such, throw your bouquet this way, lovers.

Photo Credit: Hotel del Coronado]]>
<![CDATA[The Domaine Carneros Sparkling Suite]]> Fri, 16 Jan 2015 11:48:47 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/195*120/domainecarnerossparkingsuite.jpg

THAT FABULOUS SETTING: If you've ever had something exciting to share with your sweetheart -- a bit of good news about work or life or family or such -- you probably don't give too much consideration to the setting in which you make the big reveal. Perhaps it is the kitchen, after your honey has returned home from the office, or a car, or the living room couch. These are all most excellent spots for spur-of-the-moment sharings, but a togetherness happening that will be retold (and retold and retold), say, like an engagement, requires a bit more stage-management in the where-exactly-you-are arena. And if a table and wine and flowers are what you've imagined for your question-popping, or anniversary celebrating, but you don't necessarily want to coo/laugh/jump up and down within earshot and eyeshot of others, there's a way to have your vino and drink it, too: The Domaine Carneros Sparkling Suite.

THINK OF IT... as a restaurant built for two, with a view that you can not possibly oversell or exaggerate in the retelling: You'll look upon the Napa winemaker's famous vines, with some picture-nice hills in the distance to lend a framing aspect. As for your two-top table? It's set near the window, so you can enjoy the charcuterie and cheese and caviar that come part and parcel with a reservation while plotting when you might do any question-popping (or bring up whatever wonderful news or story you want to share; let's spread the love beyond betrothals, as heart-lovely as they are). There's a "private chateau balcony" to enjoy as well, and, of course of course of course: a "tasting for two of Domaine Carneros sparkling wines and Pinot Noirs" (which the Sparkling Suite site says pairs very well with the meats and other bites on the table). And if you particularly loved a wine? That's your "memorable gift" of the day, meaning you get to leave with a bottle. 

THE COST? It's $500 for the two of you, and reserving is dependent on the weather, something to keep in mind. But what stops love? If a few storm clouds delay your visit to the winery's suite au deux, you can further plan how you'll make that proposal -- or anniversary celebration or other nice moment -- even more story-worthy.

Photo Credit: Domaine Carneros]]>
<![CDATA[San Diego New: Climb the California Tower]]> Thu, 15 Jan 2015 21:41:43 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/balboapark82275809+%282%29.jpg

GOLDEN STATE TOWERS: The tall and slim and elegant and bell-housing and not-bell-housing towers of California are pretty legendary. Whether they grace a centuries-old mission or newer university or a seen-on-every-postcard landmark like San Diego's Coit Tower, the skyward-reaching structures become symbolic of a place and dear to its denizens. Count the California Tower at the San Diego Museum of Man has such an icon. Built in 1915 -- yep, the same year as the Panama-California Exposition, no coincidence -- the California Tower is no less than a highly recognizable, stay-put ambassador for Balboa Park. But going up into the tower? That hasn't happened for decades upon decades. "Decades upon decades" here translates to 1935, so while many of us perhaps visited as a child, or heard tales of a parent or grandparent walking the seven stories up, up, up to the top, a wide swath of Balboa buffs have never been inside the Bertram Goodhue-designed delight. But that changed on New Year's Day when visitors were welcomed into the tower for the first time in some eighty years.

VIEWS, STAIRS, A GUIDE: "The tour goes to the first viewing deck of the tower," says the Museum of Man ticket site. It's a 40-minute tour, with "10-15 minutes" on the deck, so you'll get your picture-taking time in. There's a guide present, who shall share the history and facts of the tower, and you'll need to stow your stuff in a locker. You can get all the to-knows here, and then you can start daydreaming of entering a place inspired by "churches of Mexico and Spain." How many times have you seen the California from the sidewalk or the road? One hundred? Thousands of times? It's a rare day when the lock drops on a place that's long been closed to the public. Could this inspire towerists to take a full-on tower tour of all of our state's great lookouts and monoliths and turrets? There are a few to cover, but the California Tower is just about the most iconic place to begin. (Okay, you, too, Coit Tower, count here, for sure.)

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[El Capitan's Big February Show]]> Tue, 20 Jan 2015 09:31:46 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/160*134/HorsetailFallYosemite.jpg

THAT HUNK O' GRANITE: El Capitan, one of the most known, beloved, and visited monoliths in the world, was around long before the internet and television and newspapers and books. But the internet and television and newspapers and, yes, soon books and movies, too, are and will make up for lost time covering the Yosemite National Park icon, thanks to the epic Dawn Wall climb completed by Kevin Jorgeson and Tommy Caldwell on Wednesday, Jan. 14. It's big news, and for good reason: Many said that a hand-and-foot climb of one of the sheerest walls in the world couldn't be done. Now it has been, and while most people aren't plotting their own Dawn Wall ascent, many are pondering a Yosemite visit, the better to ponder El Cap and all of its marvelous mysteries. And one of those mysteries happens to be just ahead, though it is only mysterious on the surface (so, in other words, science explains the magic, as it often does, which doesn't deplete the thrill at all). We speak of Horsetail Fall, a waterfall located "on the shoulder of El Capitan" that seems to catch fire, courtesy of our planet's nearest star, each year for a few days come the middle to late February.

ACTUALLY, MAKE THAT A FEW HOURS... maybe. It's tricky to predict when the "firefall" effect will be seen, because so much of it depends on timing and the weather. But the promise of the stunner of a light show still draws people who love a good natural spectacle. You'll need to head for the El Capitan picnic area, around evening, because the day's "waning light" helps set the waterfall aglow. Keeping an eye on the forecast, to make sure cloud cover isn't too thick, is smart, and researching past experiences of people who've spied the non-fire firefall can inspire when you make for the park. Need more on this strange once-a-year phenomenon? Click. And hope that the sun and water and rock again come together in that perfect, photo-ready way. (They've been doing so for a few years now, so chances are good.)

Photo Credit: Horsetail Fall]]>
<![CDATA[National Parks: First 2015 Fee-Free Day Ahead]]> Mon, 19 Jan 2015 06:46:28 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/yosemite452872754.jpg

133 OF 405: Not every national park under the National Park Service umbrella stops you at a gate to collect admission and tape a small piece of paper inside your windshield. Only 133 out of the just over 400 parks charge a fee, so far less than half, meaning many parks are there for you to enter, sans cash, or at least cash to get in, every day of the year. But Yosemite National Park does have a fee, and so does Joshua Tree National Park, so when the annual fee-free days roll around for the service, as they do each year, they're absolutely worth noting -- noting and applauding, that is. It's a way to get more people into the parks, in every season. And the first day on the national park fee-free calendar is always...

MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. DAY: The holiday is on Monday, Jan. 19 in 2015, so if you're in the neck of the Yosemite woods, or Joshua Tree, or further abroad around the United States, you don't have to pay anything to visit a place of quiet, tree- and/or rock-filled peace. It should be said that activities and concessions and stay-over sites within the parks will still charge, so let that be known.

OTHER FEE-FREE DAYS AHEAD... include Presidents Day Weekend, April 18 and 19 (the weekend that kicks off National Park Week), Aug. 25 (it's the National Park Service's birthday), Sept. 26 (where people pause to pitch in over National Public Lands Day), and Nov. 11 (Veterans Day). And while the NPS will be marking a pretty auspicious age in 2015 -- 99 -- stay tuned for 2016, when centennial events will abound. And abound they should, given that the service has helped protect many wild lands for nearly a century -- protect and, on occasion, make sure every last one of them is free to see.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Thomas Keller Pop-Up Inspires Silverado Stay-Over]]> Mon, 19 Jan 2015 12:36:07 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/silveradokellerpackage1.jpg

DOWNTIME IS DELICIOUS TIME: So what do you do while your world-famous, much-written-about, heavily-swooned-over restaurant undergoes remodelling? Do you A) catch up on some shows queueing up on the DVR or B) do a bit of light reading or C) take your esteemed culinary chops to a new location, for the interim, to try your hand at something new and a bit off-the-cuff? The answer is C) for Mr. Thomas Keller, and that "off-the-cuff" bit wasn't fully off-the-cuff. The superstar toque-ster is unveiling a pop-up with a very off-the-cuff-ian, not here for long, enjoy it now name: Ad Lib. The place of the unveiling? Napa Valley's own Silverado Resort and Spa is where Ad Lib shall be Ad-Libbing while The French Laundry undergoes some freshening up. The date of the unveiling? Wednesday, Jan. 21. Are seats filling up? Oh goodness. You've followed Mr. Keller's accoladed career, yes? Made reservations weeks in advance for his Yountville landmark? Yes, seats are filling up, so fast it is like some fold in the space-time continuum has occurred. (Even the space-time continuum knows that a Thomas Keller pop-up is a Pretty Darn Big Deal.) 

SO... how do you get a seat at the not-around-long table, and enjoy some of the swanky stay-over spirit offered by Silverado? The resort has a package on, something a representative cheekily refers to as "Farm to Table (to Pillow)." The package is only through March 5 -- we weren't elbowing you when we said things are pretty lickety split with Ad Lib -- and you get overnight accomos, breakfast a deux at The Grill, and, you betcha, reservations for Mr. Keller's here-today-but-not-for-many-days restaurant. And, yes, we said "accomos" because typing out "accomodations" would have taken too much time. The very name of the eatery implies a certain brevity, so we're attempting to employ that here. Oh, as for the menu? Look for "traditional, straightforward food" with specials inspired by The French Laundry Culinary Garden.

AND... HONESTLY: Mr. Keller may very well be catching up on shows and doing some light reading while The French Laundry is freshened, but food fans have to be thankful that ad-libbing Ad Lib is part of his plans.

Photo Credit: Silverado Resort and Spa]]>
<![CDATA[Resolutions Made Easy: Free Sonoma Vineyard Walks]]> Tue, 13 Jan 2015 12:28:19 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/160*120/WTD-+winery+and+vineyard.jpg

TIPS... SO. MANY. TIPS: Top ten lists and top twenty lists and rundowns flooded with tips and must-dos and don't-dos and stop-thats tend to dominate much of our media towards the close of the old year and the start of the new one. And while many of them do possess worthwhile information -- "drink more water" is one that carries water for a lot of life-improvers -- there's one major suggestion that isn't cited often enough when it comes to exercise routine. Nope, it isn't do more push-ups or more leg lifts or more downward-facing dogs, though if that's your bag, well then. That's your bag. It's about incorporating new views into your walking exercises, fresh scenery, and unexplored places of beauty.

AND, FOR SURE... many places do advise changing up your route now and then, so the daily walk doesn't become stale, but not too many say "go to one of the most beautiful spots in the state to stretch a leg." We get that -- that isn't always possible, to just zip away to somewhere beautiful and rustic and soul-settling at a moment's notice -- but it gets easier when free maps are involved. Sonoma Wine Country has free maps, if free maps appeal (and they should), and those maps take visitors on walks through vineyards. How's that for changing up the exercise routine at the start of the year? A leafy, grape-sweet, rolling-hill-happy adventure through one of the region's iconic vine-thick spots.

HOW TO GET YOUR MAP: It's as easy as asking for it via the Sonoma County web site. The program kicked off in 2010 and has since doubled the wineries open for walking (from four to eight). On the roster? Schug Carneros Estate Winery, Balletto Vineyards, and Stryker Sonoma Winery. Does your exercise-walking-routine-y thing need some jazzing? In other words, pretty views, air that's crisp, and the chance to maybe take in a tasting at the end of the walking-the-vineyards day? Get your free map, resolution-keepers.

Photo Credit: Vines]]>
<![CDATA[Colony Palms: Posh Palm Springs Times]]> Mon, 12 Jan 2015 14:18:43 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/colonypalmsps123.jpg

WINTERTIME WOWZA: "Wowza" is a pretty funny word, at once old-fashioned and yet appealing for its ability to brighten up ads and pepper conversation and be a bit retro and youthful, all at once. It's a word that the Palm Springs tourism powers that be could deftly use in any marketing that involves wintertime in the sun-warm stretch of desert-resort-y goodness. At start of January you have a happening that's rife with wowza-a-tude, the Palm Springs International Film Festival, a star- and film fan-attracting stretch that's very much about cinema and the scene. And near the middle of February there's Modernism Week, which draws students and lovers of mid-century style for a visual feast of all that is cool. So what does one participate in when one is in Palm Springs in the middle of those two happenings? Going for a posh stay, at a spot like the historic Colony Palms, keeps this particular brand of stylish sparkle going. Looking for a lavish warm-weather retreat to ward of the chill of the year's first two months? Then make for Colony Palms and...

THE PALM D'OR RESIDENCE: The inspired-by-Cannes residence -- we wouldn't dare call it a room or even suite -- is part of the Échapper package, which includes a two-night stay in the swanked-out getaway, bubbly when you arrive, a "Stocked kitchen of your favorite snacks and indulgences," and an in-room private chef on one of your nights. Yep, you get a private cabana at the pool and the price? The package kicks off at $3,899 for weekdays. We can't say if you'll ever walk the red carpet at the Palm Springs Film Fest -- best of luck if that's a goal -- or if you'll have a landmark house featured during Modernism Week. But getting a bit posh during the poshest time of year in the starry Springs is a wintertime tradition filled with a little glitter, a few Champagne bubbles, and a hefty amount of wowza. (For sure, Palm Springs visitor people, feel free to use that for your own materials -- we feel it represents the city's winter face quite accurately.)

Photo Credit: Colony Palms]]>
<![CDATA[Mystery Condor: Help Name the New Chick]]> Mon, 12 Jan 2015 14:21:33 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/condorbabyname1.jpg

CONDOR CAM SURPRISE: When one peeks in on the Condor Cam, which one should do regularly, if one adores the magnificent, wide-of-wingspan birds that call the Big Sur region home, one expects to see a few things. Maybe a California condor relaxing -- do condors chill out? -- they kind of do -- or a condor eating or a condor warming his wings or maybe a cameo by another animal in the area, say a golden eagle or deer. But seeing a baby condor pop up, when a baby condor wasn't necessarily expected, is a treat for both those who've made it a mission to care for the critically endangered birds and those who consider themselves big fans. That's just what happened, though. The Ventana Wildlife Society, the organization that leads cares for the condors and condor concerns (as well as leading tours in the area), trumpeted on its Facebook page on Jan. 8: "Mystery Condor discovered on the Condor Cam over the Holidays!" The society goes on to guess that Shadow and Wild 1 -- condors #209 and #231, respectively -- may be the parents as they've been "nesting in a very remote section of the Arroyo Seco drainage in central CA. How exciting that condors are surviving on their own!" Truly and indeed. Want to take part in naming the chick?

FLY THIS WAY, THEN: The society has opened up a survey so that supporters and fans may weigh in. This isn't a pick-one-of-four-choices deal; people are making original suggestions on the Facebook page. Want to join in? Here's where you can suggest a name and here are some of the names already thrown into the ring. Want to join a two-hour condor-viewing tour? This is the branch upon which you should alight, then.

Photo Credit: Ventana Wildlife Society]]>
<![CDATA[Victorian High Jinks: Riverside Dickens Festival]]> Tue, 13 Jan 2015 18:36:49 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/160*120/DickensFestival1_crDickensFest.jpg

MORE SWEET THAN SOMBER: For sure, Charles Dickens and the other novelists of the Victorian era can get a bit of a serious reputation. This is for good reason, of course; the Industrial Revolution was full steam ahead (quite literally) and any manner of misfortunes clouded day-to-day life, with far too much frequency. But lighter vignettes appear in the work of the lauded author, and his peers, too, which reveal that the middle of the 19th century wasn't all widow's weeds and scowling villains and gloomy, cloud-heavy skies. Fezziwig of "A Christmas Carol" very much signifies the sweeter side of things, as do many of the characters behind the all-dominating Ebenezer Scrooge. It's a fine reminder that making merry is an a-ok, totally acceptable, and highly laudable thing to do, when it comes to feting the colorful era of Mr. Dickens. Riverside stops each February to spend a whole weekend doing just that, and the party is far more Fezziwig than Scrooge. Queen Victoria herself makes a cameo, and everyone is in their hoop-skirted, high-hatted finery, which lends a regal and costumey air to the party-nice proceedings.

FEBRUARY 21 AND 22... are the dates for the Riverside Dickens Festival, though there is a Friday night kick-off at Pickwick's Pub (Friday the 20th, natch). The featured book of the 2015 confab is "Little Dorrit" and Mr. Dickens will be at the festival himself (or make that performer Paul Jacques). Firing and drill demos, the Ten Bells Tavern, Mr. Fezziwig's Ball, Evensong (think "(a) beautiful program of readings and fine music) and more very-of-the-period convivialities fill the big weekend calendar. One of the most important bits of the bash takes place well before anyone turns their carriage for Riverside: The choosing of an era-perfect costume. If you're waving your hand dismissively and saying "people don't really dress for this fest" take a moment to look at photos from past years. Everybody but almost everybody likes to hoop-skirt-it up, not just Queen Vic. If you're going to be in character, and find that new friend to chat "Little Dorrit" with, best start planning your gentlemanly suit or celebratory frock now.

Photo Credit: Dickens Festival]]>
<![CDATA[Celebratory Sonoma Sips: Winter WINEland]]> Fri, 09 Jan 2015 16:09:28 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/sonomawinterwineland123445.jpg

DO YOU TAKE BUSTLE WITH YOUR WINE? Most people would describe wine as a beverage they enjoy in a relaxing environment or when they're looking to hang out with friends and wind down from the week. It isn't a go-go-go, octane-fueled sip, by any means, though there are busier times of the year in which to do a winery. Vineyards can lean more octane-y come crush and the holidays, where nearly every weekend seems to have a little something on the schedule. And while jovial bustle-based enjoyment is part of the harvest-time, holiday-fun scene, one does not desire it in January. No one does not: One wants chilled-out chill days in which to chillax, and maybe to score some discounts on favorite vinos, too (since the first month of the year is rather famous for people making new budgets). That quieter, no rush, no bustle winery-based time can be found at many Northern Sonoma winemaking houses most any day of the first month, but Winter WINEland, a long-running cold season party that's soon to mark its quarter-century anniversary, is a confab that collects lines up many of the region's wineries for one low-key but still lively weekend.

THAT WEEKEND... in 2015 is Saturday, Jan. 17 and Sunday, Jan. 18. It's billed as "a great opportunity to meet the winemakers, taste limited production wines, new releases, or library wines." Also? "All wineries will have something on SALE for the weekend!" Seeing SALE in all caps, complete with an exclamation mark, is promising to those who saw their wine cabinet emptied during their holiday hosting duties. For sure, this is a go-to-the-winery kind of thing, so expect some traveling, and your ticket prices includes "all of the participating wineries" in and around the Wine Road.

SO... what's your favorite way to experience wine country? During the wine stomps and seasonal concerts and gift fairs or during the laid-back days of deeper winter? Can't we like both? (We can.)

Photo Credit: Wine Road]]>
<![CDATA[Rare Tour: Trinidad Head Lighthouse]]> Fri, 09 Jan 2015 10:41:32 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/lighthouse29482.jpg

A FAMOUS RUN, A RARE PEEK: When one hears of the Trinidad to Clam Beach Run Honoring Ford Hess, which celebrates its 50th dash along some of the state's most fictionally beautiful, sea stack-bedecked coastline on Saturday, Jan. 31, one is apt to think soggy thoughts, at least for a moment. That's because the buzzed-about run crosses the Little River at low tide (so, yep, participants do splash directly into the wet). Not too many running events in this world involve a water element, but this beauty-famous one is very much about people fording one of Humboldt County's best-known waterways at the precise moment that fording is possible. A fun and nice fact? Ropes are on hand to lend a hand.

BUT AS WITH ALL HUMBOLDT TO-DOS... there are some history-rich doings to enjoy in addition to the nature-nice outdoorsy happening. And the one that'll have runners and shore buffs sticking around through Sunday, Feb. 1 involves the Trinidad Head Lighthouse, a built-in-1871 beacon that has clearly weathered some decades -- centuries, actually -- and "the highest recorded wave on the West Coast." A "wall of water crash(ed) into the lighthouse balcony" back in 1914, surely an astounding sight, given that the lighthouse sits nearly 200 feet about sea level. You can hear that story, and more lore from the picturesque landmark, on Feb. 1 if you attend the "rare open house" involving a few of the agencies and historic organizations of the area. It's a walking tour only, and in the morning and over lunchtime, so if lining up the Golden State's iconic beacons for your viewing pleasure is on your personal life list, best get on this one, lighthouse lovers.

AND AS FOR RUNNING ACROSS THE LITTLE RIVER? Lots of people do it, there are the aforementioned ropes to assist runners on their way through the wet, and Coast Guard Rescue Swimmers are close and at the ready. It's an unusual race paired with a rare-to-see lighthouse, but both have more than their gorgeous Humboldt County location in common: They involve water, and lots of it.  

Photo Credit: Trinidad Head Lighthouse]]>
<![CDATA[Vintage VaVoom: Trailers in Palm Springs]]> Thu, 08 Jan 2015 13:14:50 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/trailerps123345.jpg

THE COMFIEST PART OF COOL: Ask anyone to describe the mid-century aesthetic and you're bound to hear words like "elegant" and "refined" and "swank" and "cool" and "cocktail" and "chic." True terms, all, but modernism boasts some very comfy, easy-to-chillax-in corners, with one of the majors being the rise of the kitsch'd-out travel trailer. The hook-it-on-the-back-of-the-station-wagon icon was an icon of the middle of the 20th century, the happy-go-lucky side to all of that chic-style happening in homes and public buildings. So when Modernism Week arrives in Palm Springs, with its salutes to all that encompassed the idea, the humbler, oh-so-fabulous travel trailer is not left out of the party. In fact, the transportation is given its own spotlight, over a single evening, with some 40-plus examples of the forward-motion form on display (think Airstreams, too). Not only that, but the doors shall be open, so you can peek inside the snug little nooks, to get a better idea of how people five or six decades ago hit the open highway. So, where in the P.S. shall you go to see these wheeled wonders? Why that would be...

THE HILTON HOTEL: But not the ballroom or lobby, nope nope; the travel trailers will dot the parking lot. Since there's so much room, you're bound to see chairs, pink flamingos, and barbecues dotting the exterior areas of the trailers, and some attractively striped awnings. Trailer restorers and those who just love the look and lifestyle make for Palm Springs with their beauties in tow, so trust you'll see some of the best of the West. And, truly: How many videos and ad shoots turn to vintage trailers nowadays to convey a certain retro joie de vivre? They're instant signifiers of a certain carefree, backroads way of doing things. Even if you don't yet have your own, you can get close-up with several prime examples.

WHEN? The trailers shall brake at the Palm Springs Hilton on Saturday, Feb. 21. The cost? It's $15 to get up and close. Good-natured jealousy, and wishing you had your own, is totally free.

Photo Credit: Vintage Travel Trailer Show]]>
<![CDATA[Museum Month: San Diego's Half-Off February]]> Wed, 07 Jan 2015 21:48:51 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/220*120/sdmuseummonth1234.jpg

HALF-OFF, WE LIKE YOU: Look, plain and simple, the story is this: If we have to choose between "half-off" and "free," the chances are very strong that we're going to slide over to the free side of things. But "half-off" should be given half a chance, too; that's a chunk of change saved on whatever you're spending on, and if it happens to be a beautiful, brain-growing, culture-nice kind of thing, well... you almost feel like you want to put the chunk of change saved back towards the institution you just enjoyed. And while museums very often have a free-day-of-the-month, it is a far rarer sight to see a bundle of museums in a major city -- say, a city like San Diego -- go all in together, in the half-off realm, for an entire month. But some 45 places do just that, each February, in what is called Museum Month, which is presented by the San Diego Council Museums.

MUSEUM MONTH, REVEALED: The institutions run the geographic, topical, genre gamut -- The California Center for the Arts, Escondido, Heritage of the Americas Museum, and the Museum of Photographic Arts are all participants -- and the exhibits and doing within go beyond the gamut's lines into varied and individual areas. It's a diverse and fascinating collection of places, for sure, and one could probably do all 45 museums in one February-long swoop if one was gifted with plenty of time. But if you've got a San Diego weekend ahead, best choose a couple of must-see spots, and then make for a San Diego area Macy's, which is where museum goers will find passes.

HOW MANY CAN VISIT? On one pass? Oh, that's a fine question, and one that is best answered before you and your party approach a museum's gate. "Up to four people" may enter on a pass, so find your trio of nearest and dearest adventurers, and then soak up San Diego's delightful cultural offerings for half-off. See, "half-off" really is so lovely. "Free"? You still rule the roost, but make a little room on your throne for all of the good half-off deals in this world.

Photo Credit: Museum of Contemporary Art La Jolla]]>
<![CDATA[A Capital Idea: Sacramento Museum Day]]> Wed, 07 Jan 2015 15:13:18 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sacmuseum1234567.jpg

FREE (AND FULL OF HISTORY): If you can tap back into your elementary school self, you can recall learning about all of the various components that construct what is the modern state of California. The Gold Rush, your elementary school self was fascinated to learn, was at the heart of the making of the Golden State and Sacramento served as the thrumming, turning centerpoint for several developments to come. But we grow up, and some of us grow away from historical knowledge of our region, how it came to be, and all of the characters that populated its stories. This isn't a willful turning away from facts and figures. It's simply that few of us get the intense privilege of learning about state history, day in and day out, in our grown-up, go-go-go lives. There are ways to correct this, though. Reading works. The watching of documentaries, and the going-to of places like Coloma and Jamestown. And visiting the museums of our capital city, which is made all the more easy, and all the more wallet-coddling, when Museum Day rolls around each winter? Why? Because Museum Day is free.

FREE, FREE, FREE OR REDUCED-PRICED ADMISSION: So if you road trip it to Sactown on Saturday, Feb. 7, the official day when almost 25 places vamoose with the admission, or discount it, stow some cash for parking or eating or postcards but don't stow it to get in -- you won't need it for several of the places on the roster. And on that roster? The Aerospace Museum of California, which will offer an "open cockpit" day ("where most of the aircraft will be open for viewing (weather permitting)"). There shall be gold-panning going down at the Sacramento History Museum. And will the Old Sacramento Schoolhouse Museum fete both Laura Ingalls Wilder and the first school in Sacramento, which opened not long after that fabled year of 1849? It will. It's a grand day of soaking in state stories, and getting to see the cultural offerings of the capital. And did we mention it was free? Ah right. Typing "Free" three times in a row tends to convey that pretty well. 

Photo Credit: Sacramento Museum Day]]>
<![CDATA[BottleRock Napa Valley 2015: Line-Up Announced]]> Wed, 07 Jan 2015 21:47:48 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/bottlerocknapaballoons.jpg

SUMMER MUSIC FESTIVALS, AHOY: It can be hard for early January to find a true friend. What's sometimes correctly billed as the soggiest, dreariest third of the soggiest, dreariest month also carries the burden of carrying our collective Fun Hangovers (if we indeed went all out over the holidays). Pair this with putting our bank accounts in order, and dropping a few pounds, and we humans can get a bit slumpy in the shoulders right after New Year's Day. Thank goodness, though, that California's mondo music festivals have our slumpy-shouldered backs. It's just about now, or near now, when the huge sound- and art- and food-focused extravaganzas start to announce line-ups and participating chefs and such, which are reveals that can coax a smile from any post-holiday party person. There is summer to look forward to, in short, and the mega music coming-togethers. BottleRock Napa Valley is one of the Golden State's premiere weekend-long affairs, and it just so happens to fall at the close of May, which lends it an extra air of officially starting off the summer show season. And so it shall again, over Memorial Day Weekend 2015, which runs from May 29 through 31. As for the line-up?

IMAGINE DRAGONS IS ON THE STARRY ROSTER, as is No Doubt, and Robert Plant, too. Young the Giant joins, as do the Gipsy Kings, Snoop Dogg, The Avett Brothers, and Michael Franti & Spearhead. Local and much-accoladed Napa Valley chefs'll be doing the haute and tasty cuisine thing, and shall there be wine? There shall be, what with this all going down at Napa Valley Expo (rumor has it a one or two vineyards are within short driving distance). Past food purveyors have included Il Posto, Oakville Grocery, and Sprenger's Tap Room, and the winery list has been lavish, with libations from Bello Family Vineyards and Cakebread Cellars. 

SO, WANT THAT TICKET? The on-sale date is Thursday, Jan. 8. So who says January is dreary, when music mavens and wine and brew buffs have stuff to anticipate?

Photo Credit: BottleRock Napa]]>
<![CDATA[Olive Days Around Sonoma County]]> Mon, 05 Jan 2015 22:58:19 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/189*120/olivegetty123344532.jpg

IN THE DRINK OR ON THE DISH? When it comes to most edible, eatable things, there tends to be only two or three manners of proper consumption. Milk comes in a glass, atop cereal, or in coffee. A cracker sits upon a plate or is crumbled atop soup. And a banana? Eat it out of the peel or place it atop a few scoops of ice cream, split-style. (There are other manners of eating a banana, but surely those two are near the top.) But what of the olive? It's a fruit we can drop in alcohol, full submerging in liquid. We can mash it to a chunky little pulp, for a tasty tapenade. It can be converted into oil, ready for bread to be dipped, or it can be eaten straight out of a jar. Fruits may come larger or brighter or easier to display in baskets or bowls, but the olive is just about the most versatile, and chameleon-like, of all the foodstuffs found in the refrigerator crisper drawer (though we don't even really keep our olives there, alongside their fruitful kin). Sonoma County embraces all the many facets of the olive, with a flavorful fete that lasts for much of January and February.

SONOMA VALLEY OLIVE SEASON: Choosing what to do from the array of tangy go-outs is a happy exercise in deciding how you like your olive. Toothpicked and floating in a strong libation? Be at Martini Madness at MacArthur Place Hotel on Friday, Jan. 9. Debittered? There's instruction on that at Jacuzzi Family Vineyards on Sunday, Jan. 25. In a grand and feasty setting? Ramekins Culinary School presents the Feast of the Olive Dinner on Saturday, Jan. 31. There's a host of doings built around the slippery-to-the-touch orb, and around fine dining, too. So whether you like your olives neat but sans pit, or converted to oil and flavored with citrus, or dotting a piece of fish or hunk of country bread, you're olive-y wishes will likely come to fruit-nice fruition. Again, is there a more versatile fruit? Okay, bananas, you, too. Like the olive, you're good in liquid form, in breads, plain and on your own...

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Golden State Savings: California Restaurant Month]]> Mon, 05 Jan 2015 18:36:16 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/TLMD-cena-navidad-2014-restaurantes.jpg

DINNER UNTANGLED: Even if you're the foodiest of foodies among your super foodie friends, alighting upon which eateries to visit in a not-too-known-to-you city can send you around the internet and guidebook shelf more than once. Do you find a place that very new and in the headlines, or a tried-and-true-and-tasty classic that's stood time's test and weathered the years, a feat that's not small in the restaurant business? If you don't know the landscape, choosing your meals out over a weekend getaway can fill you with pre-FOMO. (Fear of Missing Out, of course.) If you're a foodie FOMO-ist abiding by a vacation budget -- and we dare say everyone is abiding by a vacation budget, when vacations occur, even if you're not the hugest of foodies -- then January is your month to explore, try new things, and eat out across the state: It's California Restaurant Month. Nope, not every restaurant within our borders is going the less-money, prix-fixe-y route, but thousands will, in various cities and towns, with some places even giving their specific Restaurant Week a theme.

FOR EXAMPLE? Pasadena Cheeseburger Week and Santa Monica's Eat Well Week -- think healthy dining -- are two of the specific Restaurant Weeks popping up in January. Look also for Santa Barbara Film Feast, a crab extravaganza in Mendocino County, and a bevy of all-encompassing Restaurant Weeks, from South Tahoe to Stockton to Dana Point. As for dishes? Well, with a caboodle of participating venues, the gamut will be more than covered, but look for the bulk of participants to go the two- to three-course road, with apps and desserts in the mix, and prices to fall in the $15 to $30 window for lunch and a bit more than that for dinner.

NO FOMO: So, traveling foodies, you don't need to fear you've landed on the wrong dining experience in a new city. Just travel in January and keep the Restaurant Month list handy. Deals and popular joints? It is win and win, which is very unFOMO (a good thing).

Photo Credit: ShutterStock]]>
<![CDATA[On Sale: California's Artisan Cheese Festival Tickets]]> Mon, 05 Jan 2015 13:45:14 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/170*120/fondue.jpg

THE SAVORY SEASONAL STALWART: What ingredient or foodstuff did you consume the most over December? Was it nutmeg? Maybe mince? Whipped cream? Those little chunks of edible glitter that are pretty much pure, light-catching sugar? It's hard to nail down what we enjoyed the most over the holiday run, but bet that cheese was a centerpiece for most people. The gooey dips on the coffee table during the Christmas party, the cheesy latkes come Hanukkah, the various fondues that have become a stylish, throwback staple to New Year's Eve all up our cheese consumption come late December. And then... the drop-off. We adhere to new eating plans, we bid fond farewell the Brie and Swiss, and we hope to revisit cheese, in a serious way, when the sunnier months arrive and wine-nice outdoor parties, complete with trays of cubed cheeses, arrive. But cheese-revisiting starts in earnest come March, and in a very regional way, too: The California's Artisan Cheese Festival is a yummy staple of the Golden State food calendar, and it will again melt hearts, and its namesake edible, in Petaluma come the first weekend of spring. Make that Friday, March 20 through Sunday, March 22. Need to look forward to that right away, given your cheesy longings? 

TICKETS ARE NOW ON SALE: Meaning you can dream away about hours spent on farm tours and info-packed seminars and snacking your way through the Artisan Cheese Tasting and Marketplace. You'll get to know some of the most awarded purveyors around -- hello there, McEvoy Ranch, Central Coast Creamery, and L'Artisane Box -- and maybe find your favorite wedge to serve for the *next* holiday season. But if you want to hop on a creamery tour, which is quite popular, as you might expect, jump on those tickets now, much in the same way that people jump on a fresh pot of fondue that's just emerged from the kitchen. Tickets? They'll go from $135, for a tour to $45 for a Marketplace entry (which is $20 for a kid). Don't delay: You're ready to cheese-it-up again, even if the holidays just wrapped. ("Wrapped" makes us think of that hunk of Parmesan in the fridge door, excuse us...)

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Dorling Kindersley]]>
<![CDATA[A National Park New Year's Resolution]]> Mon, 05 Jan 2015 12:21:47 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/nationafoundationresolution2015.jpg

SPACE, PEACE, QUIET, JOY: Once upon a time people spent most holidays in nature as a matter of course. An evening stroll or a picnic or a visit to a neighbor through the woods was as natural as nature itself. But that's changed, for many, over the last several decades: Now we must schedule some some time in a forest, or the desert, or at the beach, and we very often do so when the new year rolls around. Call it a resolution to be outdoors more, or a commitment to not get quite as tangled in day-to-day errands, or view it as a wide look at the 365 days to come, but booking time with nature is something many of us do come early January. Now the National Park Foundation is making that commitment-stating rather easier, with a bit of inspiration and a few ideas from other people, courtesy of its National Parks resolution page.

IT'S SIMPLE: Just state on the page what you're going to do in the months ahead -- "Finally make it to the furthest Channel Island" or "get out to the Channel Islands for the first time" or "ice skate at Curry Village in Yosemite" or "watch a full moon rise in Death Valley" and publish it. You can also click a box for correspondence from the National Park Foundation, which supports many proactive programs and initiatives that honor and help our wildest treasures. And reading what other park fans are planning to do in 2015 is a definite gooser. ("Gooser" meaning one gets goosed to actually get out and go to the national parks.)

SO, WHAT WILL YOU DO IN 2015? There's lots to choose from on the resolution-making front: An upcoming dark-sky, telescope-nice event in Death Valley, the running of the waterfalls in Yosemite, all of those grand birdwatching months around Santa Cruz and the other Channel Islands...

Photo Credit: National Parks Foundation]]>
<![CDATA[Sactown Sizzle: Bacon Fest]]> Sat, 03 Jan 2015 11:50:49 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/226*120/bacon112409.jpg

THE CRISPIEST CONSULTANT: Does anyone know if bacon lends out its services, for, like, a small fee or manageable commission? Because we're pretty sure that there are several foodstuffs that would like to sit down with the salty-strip superstar for an hour's consult. After all, bacon burst onto the pop culture scene over a half decade ago, turning up in trend pieces and memes and commercials and, you got it, milkshakes and other desserts. Prior to the aughts the breakfast item had been, well, a breakfast food item, only occasionally offering a surprise cameo in dinner dishes like spaghetti carbonara and the classic BLT. But the rise of social media has dovetailed with bacon's quirky rise -- coincidence? -- and its many tasty ways exalted. Festivals soon sprung up, or sizzled up, perhaps, with one of the bacon biggies landing in the capital, landing as soundly as a greased pan hits a hot stove. It's the Sacramento Bacon Fest, and it is up for its fourth year of meaty and mirthful bacon-focused festivities, festivities that take up the better part of a week. Check it: The dates are Monday, Jan. 19 through Sunday, Jan. 25.

IN THE PAN... or on the calendar: An opener at Hook & Ladder'll get things going (formerly listed at Grange Restaurant) and the closer is at Mulvaney's Building and Loan. Also? Look for a "Kevin Bacon Soundtrack tribute show at Old Ironisides on the 23rd." And a chefly competition is a savory centerpiece to the week. So, is bacon your jam? Best get to the capital. And best figure out a way the edible can serve as an inspiration to other foodstuffs in need of a little, or big, rather, social media, food fandom boost.

Photo Credit: Bacon]]>
<![CDATA[New in 2015: Hike Death Valley Program]]> Sun, 04 Jan 2015 12:10:17 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/deathvalleygetty12345.jpg

UNDER THE VAST SKY: The end of a year and the beginning of a new one is very much the time of Penciling in Big Ideas for Changing Up One's Life, Positively. Eating better is often among those, as is seeing friends, starting a long-put-off project, traveling, and getting more fresh air and exercise. Many of those Big Ideas dovetail nicely in the recently announced Hike Death Valley Program, a new-to-the-national-park deal that involves getting a decal, a few selfies and/or photos, and trail-oriented achievement. Could you look at your Big Ideas list and check off travel, seeing friends, getting fresh air and exercise, should you participate? Yep; it's one of those programs that encompasses so very much.

HERE'S THE UPSHOT: "Simply hike trails from the designated list to earn points," says the national park's Facebook page. Those trails include three miles in Desolation Canyon, four miles in Mosaic Canyon, and two miles at Darwin Falls. The trails fall into a few sections -- Basic, Intermediate, Advanced, and ADA Friendly -- and hikers who obtain four points by hiking a few of the trails on the list nab a waterproof decal. Posting photos and a bit about your hike online is in the cards here, and visiting a ranger for your decal. 

IS THERE A COLLECTION ELEMENT TO IT? You bet. The trails will switch up in 2016, as will the decal, so if you start now, you're in the front door on this brand-new program. Isn't it the best to start at the start with something fun, collectible, and nature-oriented? You'll never have decal-envy of you jump into the hiking scene in 2015.

WAIT: If Death Valley had an actual front door, where would it appear? We say somewhere deep within the Panamint Range, possibly near Telescope Peak.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Stylish Cinema: Palm Springs International Film Festival]]> Thu, 01 Jan 2015 10:18:14 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/henrihenrips.jpg

LET'S GET THIS PARTY STARTED: We may let our resolutions take a few easy days to kick in -- Jan. 4th or 5th, or the first Monday following New Year's Day, feels like the right time to buckle down -- and we may not get around to cleaning out the files for the previous year for a couple of weeks. But the film festival and awards business is not about dilly-dallying when the first month of the year steps up: In short, when the year starts, it is as if the cinema world says "let's do this" with one collective breath. Stop number one in doing this -- hailing fresh films, screening gems, and bestowing honors upon creative types -- is always the desert and the Palm Springs International Film Festival, which will rev up movie award season just hours into 2015. Make that hours plus a day: The mega movie-celebrity-Q & A happening, which is awash in both red carpet glamour and nook-ish to-dos aimed at niche tastes, opens on Friday, Jan. 2.

THE FILM FESTIVAL... is indeed the traditional start to the annual cinema calendar, and while the scene and pool parties and La Vida Resort Living is part of the party, so are the screenings: "(Y)oung, emerging filmmakers" shall get their time to shine in the Breaking Waves screenings, while Another Europe applauds filmmakers from Central and Eastern Europe. There are secret screenings, a free film ("X + Y"), documentaries, and the bountiful bevy of works that come from a festival being around for a quarter century (make that a quarter century plus a year: PSIFF turns 26 in 2015). "Selma" is the centerpiece of the Opening Night Gala and "Boychoir" closes out the festival on Sunday, Jan. 11.

SO... are you ready for all of the red-carpet-y, camera-flash-bulb-y happenings that will roll out over the first fifth of the year around Southern California? Palm Springs is, too. And, nope, the festival isn't just for industry insiders; any film fan is welcome to purchase a ticket or line-up for a stand-by seat, if that option is available. If the Oscars and even the Golden Globes are still too faraway, go P.S. to get your film fandom on.

Photo Credit: Henri Henri]]>
<![CDATA[Festive Flukes: Monterey Whalefest]]> Wed, 31 Dec 2014 12:40:19 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/whalefestflukemonterey1.jpg

BLOWHOLE OF A BASH: We're not sure what the gray whales and humpback whales have been up to over the holiday season, though they probably have not been wearing those little paper crowns found inside Christmas crackers, because the ocean makes paper crowns rather soggy. And they're probably not kissing anyone under the mistletoe, because it is hard to hang mistletoe under the waves (though, on second thought, maybe a friendly seahorse would hang it over the heads of the kissers). In short? Whales are not engaging in any of the activities we humans love come wintertime around the Golden State, no matter how whimsical the mega creatures make us feel (and whales are frequent stars of our films and storybooks for a reason). But the migrating whales just might have a special weekend marked on their whale-y calendars, and a special spot, too: Monterey.

THAT WEEKEND... is Saturday, Jan. 24 and Sunday, Jan. 25. It's Monterey Whalefest, the whale-iest time of year at Old Fisherman's Wharf. And, okay, no, whales don't actually have calendars filled with landlubber festivals -- they've got other things to pay attention to, like annual migrations -- but we people can head for the shore, and out on boats, to see if we spy any beautiful blowholes or majestic flukes. The on-land happenings include appearances from whale-minded scientists and experts, a Humboldt squid dissection, a "Whale Disentanglement Team Demo," walking tours, Coast Guard displays, and more.

AND WHALE WATCHING EXCURSIONS, OF COURSE: The Monterey Whalefest is a free to-do, but there are ticketed trips out into the Bay, trips that allow whale mavens to watch for the some "15 species of whales" that visit the area, as well as all of the dolphins, otters, and other ocean-frolicsome life that makes a home, temporary or otherwise, near Monterey. And if you don't see a whale, check out the mega model on shore: A climb-inside 60-foot whale model is a centerpiece of the yearly event, an event that spotlights the educational elements of our humanly whale love, and a few whimsical, magical elements as well. (Nope, whales still don't wear paper crowns, no matter how storybooky the giant creatures make us feel.)

Photo Credit: Whalefest]]>
<![CDATA[Paso Robles: Glow-in-the-Dark New Year's Eve]]> Mon, 29 Dec 2014 09:03:30 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/pasoglownye.jpg

BEYOND THE BALL DROP: No one would claim that New Year's Eve parties only ever come in one flavor, but there are certain tropes and beats and hallmarks that are revisited, December 31st after December 31st. You have the confetti, you have the bubbly, you have the kiss at midnight (okay, that last one should stay around, always). Super excellent things, all of 'em, but finding a different kind of party that bids the year farewell -- and says hello to the next one -- can be a wicket of the stickiest sort. But Paso Robles has that sorted out for all of us. And, bonus: The Central Coast destination is also paying happy tribute to its 125th anniversary, too (a neat trick to perform two nice feats at once). So, what's the haps? Think four words: Glow. In. The. Dark.

RIGHT? Why hasn't every New Year's Eve party ever had a glow-in-the-dark element, or full-on incandescent theme? They all take place at night, for the most part, and glowing in the dark is typically takes place after sundown (spoiler alert). The free bash is actually called "Glow in the Park," and if you know your Paso you know this means it shall unfurl in the Downtown City Park. There shall be bocce ball, croquet, hula hooping, corn hole -- awww, yeah -- and football tossing and "giant rolling balls" all with a glow-in-the-dark vibe. Face painting and a laser show round the offbeat doings out. And, yep, there's a "warming zone" -- outdoor parties on the Central Coast at the end of December probably definitely require one.

EVEN IF YOU CAN'T MAKE IT DOWN... you can still wish Paso Robles a happy 125th anniversary on some future winetasting weekend. Or be inspired to push your own neighborhood or town into glowing in the dark on New Year's Eve. No one is cocking an eyebrow at confetti, nor bubbly, but playing bocce ball in the dark, with a glow element, sounds like a fairly nifty way to do the whole hello-ing of a new year to us.

Photo Credit: Paso Robles]]>
<![CDATA["Goonies" Grub: A 1985 Movie Menu, in Santa Barbara]]> Wed, 31 Dec 2014 12:41:18 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/365960872.jpg

SKIP THE SOUR CANDY (FOR NOW): If you had to think back to what you might have eaten when you saw "The Breakfast Club" or "The Goonies" or a host of movies in the theater back in 1985, could you recall what you ate? Popcorn with a little too much butter and salt, sure -- that's probably a given. Maybe some sour candy or chocolate-laden caramels. Or a hot dog? Okay, maybe you ate a hot dog, too. Movie food is in its own class, and definitely the movie food of our youths, but food based on movies is something entirely different. A gourmet spread can be concocted, in homage, to particular cinematic works of art, and there doesn't have to be a piece of popcorn or sour bear in the house (as yummy as those both are). A chef might be inspired by an actor, a character, the setting, or, yes, even a scene within the film involving eating. The toques behind the recently opened Barbareño will be so inspired, come the end of the January and beginning of February, when they fashion a seven-course meal spotlighting a host of films from 1985, including, you got it, "The Goonies" and the handful of teens spending a dour (but ultimately delightful) Saturday serving detention in a certain Chicago school library.

"THE BREAKFAST CLUB" DINNER: Those two flicks are among several 1985ers that will fill out the fine-dining-y menu at the Santa Barbara restaurant during Film Feast, a cuisine-cool happening that runs concurrently with the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. The to-dos that appeal to appetites, and the cuisinaire's wish to forever try newer things, are plentiful during Film Feast, but those cinema buffs with a special love of 1985 -- and, really, there are so many of us -- should book a spot at the special Barbareño dinners now. Will you wear your jelly shoes and neon headband? Who wouldn't dress outlandishly a la 1985 at a dinner tributing mid-80s flickdom? Go big, as '80s people did, for a cheeky fine dining experience, where the sour bears may be few but the silver-screen whimsy will be high.

Photo Credit: Stock]]>
<![CDATA[Mmm, Mushrooms: Santa Cruz Fungus Fair]]> Sat, 27 Dec 2014 17:38:02 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/mushrooms_.jpg

THAT MEATY NOT-MEAT SUPERSTAR: Various meats are discussed at length around the holidays, from turkey to ham, but the word "meaty" makes a bigger stand in certain spots around the state come January, when a number of fungus-focused festivals flourish. Because the food-nice fact of the matter is that meaty and mushrooms are old friends. Has another term been used as often, and as passionately, to describe how hearty a dish becomes when mushrooms are a key ingredient? It's a quirky element that suits the quirky world of the fungus, something fans can delve into further at the Napa Truffle Festival, the Big Sur Foragers Festival, and the Santa Cruz Fungus Fair, which are must-attends during the first month of the year.

SANTA CRUZ SAVORY: The fans of fungusdom gather at the Louden Nelson Community Center over the second weekend in January to discover more about "the hundreds of beautiful and fascinating species of mushrooms found in the Santa Cruz/Monterey and Bay Area." Attendees will find woodland displays of mushroomonia in its natural formations ("a re-created woodland habitat" is part of the Fungus Fair) and there are speakers to learn from and demos to eye. And shall there be wine and mushroom-y food pairings? Oh yes. Beyond being described as "meaty," the mushroom is widely considered to be one of vino's closest buddies. (Maybe it is the mushroom's softly pungent character that brings out the tartness of a pinot noir better than any other foodstuff -- please discuss, fungusians.)

ADMISSION: It's just ten bucks, on Saturday or Sunday, and five on Friday. Call it an appetizing investment in your future cooking experiments in 2015. Haven't we all vowed to cook a bit more in 2015, or at least hone our at-the-stove skills? If mushrooms are a base food for you, the building block of many of your meals, the Santa Cruz Fungus Fair can enrich -- or make meatier, perhaps -- your knowledge.

Photo Credit: Mushrooms]]>
<![CDATA[New: First-Ever Catalina Island Destination Resort Spa]]> Thu, 25 Dec 2014 11:10:36 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/catalinaspa01.jpg The Island Spa includes Pacific views, nine treatment rooms.

Photo Credit: Island Spa]]>
<![CDATA[Monterey Merry: The Otters' Christmas Treats]]> Thu, 25 Dec 2014 11:09:28 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/ottertreatsxmas1.jpg

'TIS THE SEA SEASON: Regardless of how we mark the merriest time of year, we probably don't go the minced-clams-as-dessert-frosting route. But, then again, we're not otters -- though we don't want to make assumptions of course about anyone reading this -- and we don't wriggle about with icy, poinsettia-shaped treats laden with clammy goodness to celebrate Christmas. Nor do we call the Monterey Bay Aquarium home, sad to say. A bevy of real honest-to-whiskers sea otters do, however, and staffers treated the resident raft to some brightly hued sweets a few days ahead of Christmas. Well, the "sweets" weren't chocolate cookies or cinnamon fudge: They were ice treats, which are a-ok for the otter diet, but they weren't strictly frozen water: The treats boasted a slathering of minced clam zing. 

AND MINCED CLAMS... are some of an otter's mostest favoritest things ever. Have any doubts about that? Then check out the video of the otters spying the tree- and candy cane-shaped treats and them pulling them into the water for some quality gnawing-upon time. 

WANT MORE BEAUTIFUL OCEAN LIFE? The Cannery Row-based aquarium has a busy calender of 2015 doings, including daily sea otter feedings at 10:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., and 3:30 p.m. If you can't wait, you can check out the live cam spotlighting the sea otters right this very second, or you can watch them discover their yummy minced-clam-ice holiday treats below.

Photo Credit: Monterey Bay Aquarium]]>
<![CDATA[Pasadena's Big Show: The 126th Rose Parade]]> Tue, 23 Dec 2014 10:02:52 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/roseparadedrumsgetty123.jpg

CROWN CITY'S CROWNING DAY: Even if your out-of-state relatives aren't able to make it out west for the holidays, they can still have their Golden State sojourn via one of the best known, most colorful, and sunniest spectacles on the planet. (Well, sunniest most years, we'll add, and 2015 looks as if it will follow that tradition.) Well, they can have their televised sojourn, that is; the Rose Parade screens just about everywhere there's a screen, and while it is a total delight to see the bud-bedecked floats, the brassy bands, and the mane-combed horses on a 27-inch TV, seeing it just feet away is another matter entirely. Which means that we Californians have the chance, with just a drive, to witness the pomp, circumstance, and mondo moving parts of all of those state-of-the-art floats up-close, on Colorado and Orange Grove Boulevards. Is it a bucket list kind of thing, for many a Golden State resident? You bet: That and seeing the redwoods are bullet points that tend to show up on a lot of life lists. Have you, as a Californian, seen the Rose Parade live yet? No? And it is on your gotta-do-it-once roster? Well, it is coming back around, which is no shocker, as everyone but everyone knows the date.

JANUARY 1, 2015... is the 126th roll for the procession at the flowery heart of the Tournament of Roses. The theme is "Inspiring Stories," which hopes will encourage "everybody to celebrate the many people who elevate the human spirit." The list of floats is lengthy -- AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Kiwanis International, and Trader Joe's will all make a showing -- and visitors to the Crown City can check out the floats being decorated in the days ahead of the parade. (Also, anyone can eye them after they park after the parade, at the ever-popular Float Showcase.) And while the stands do get busy come New Year's Day, there are many spots to stand and see the action, though tried-and-true fans do arrive well in advance. So, is this that bucket list year? Where you get some Golden State icons done, done, done? Let's make 2015 a bit more about travel, fun, and following through, and kicking that off on New Year's Day is a very promising start.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Pungent, Please: Napa Truffle Festival]]> Fri, 26 Dec 2014 09:22:00 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/napatrufflefestivaloxbowpublic.jpg

THE MENU'S MAIN STAR: You can enter just about any fine restaurant with a total plan on your mind regarding what you'll order. You've been thinking about the lobster quiche for days -- lobster quiche, lobster quiche is scrolling across your mind, much like a crawl along the bottom of a television screen -- and you're so eager to eat it that you almost order it at the host stand, before you're even seated. And then... you spy it, on the menu, a few listings down from the lobster quiche: A truffle risotto. A truffle pasta. An omelet speckled with truffles and drizzled with white truffle oil. And suddenly the crawl in your brain stops and you find yourself not ordering the very thing you came to order. Because truffles happened. It's a common situation, among diner-outers, but one that all cuisinaires can be forgiven for indulging. For there are few flavors and scents to compare to the superstar fungus, the knobbiest of the knobby and as dear as all get-out (and with good reason). Napa, being something of the foodie center of the universe, loves the truffle with a hot heat, and pays tribute to the pungent knob each winter with a long weekend of seminars and tastings. Are you ready, truffle-minded obsessives? Then make for wine country from...

JAN. 16 THROUGH 19, 2015: The Napa Truffle Festival roster goes well beyond the supping, though there is that. There's a truffle orchard tour with dog training demo -- on-the-ground info for those truffle fans wondering how the little vaguely round-ish, rock-looking gems are found and gathered -- and there's a wild mushroom forage, too. And, you betcha, there shall be wine sipping and truffle-laden lunching, which sounds like a most excellent thing to do at the start of the year. (Isn't there a good luck wish to be made upon truffles at the beginning of a new enterprise? If not, such a tradition should be started at once.) And the Oxbow Public Market is hosting a free Napa Truffle Festival Marketplace on Monday, Jan. 19. You'll need to ticket-up for the other events, though, so get perusing, truffleans, much in the way you peruse an online menu before visiting a restaurant, forever on the search for dishes that include that knobbiest knob and flavoriest flavor.

Photo Credit: Napa Truffle Festival/Oxbow Public Market]]>
<![CDATA[Celebrating Frank Sinatra's 100th (at His Palm Springs Casa)]]> Sat, 20 Dec 2014 09:07:33 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sinatracentennialmodernismweek.jpg

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Modernism Week]]>
<![CDATA[New Year's Outdoors: California First Day Hikes]]> Tue, 23 Dec 2014 10:00:16 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/firstdayhikes111.jpg

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

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

Photo Credit: California State Parks]]>
<![CDATA[January Debut: "Frozen Fun" at Disneyland Resort]]> Thu, 25 Dec 2014 11:11:47 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/190*120/olaffrozendl12345.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Nutcracker]]>
<![CDATA[Mountain Glow: New Year's Eve Torchlight Parades]]> Mon, 22 Dec 2014 07:35:49 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/tahoedonnertorch12345.jpg

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Tahoe Donner]]>
<![CDATA[Bodie After Sundown: 2015 Dates Announced]]> Mon, 29 Dec 2014 08:39:36 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/211*120/bodieelviralavell.jpg

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Elvira Lavell]]>