<![CDATA[NBC Bay Area - Worth the Trip]]>Copyright 2016http://www.nbcbayarea.com/blogs/worth-the-trip http://media.nbcnewyork.com/designimages/nbc_bayarea_blue.png NBC Bay Area http://www.nbcbayarea.comen-usFri, 09 Dec 2016 10:10:11 -0800Fri, 09 Dec 2016 10:10:11 -0800NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Clam Chowder Bash: Now a Full Weekend]]> Thu, 08 Dec 2016 22:15:17 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/clamchowderSC2013.jpg

THE TRUE TRICK TO A TASTY CHOWDER... experience isn't about Manhattan vs. New England or lots of clams vs. a few or a brothier liquid vs. a creamier base. Rather, you want to always make sure you have enough oyster crackers to finish your cup and bowl, with one or two crackers per spoonful of clam chowder (that's the general standard, but to each her own). Because should you gobble up all of your oyster crackers with several more ounces of chowder to go, or if you should have nothing but crackers at the end... Oof. Balance was not obtained, and you'll be left wishing for more of the thing you need. Wishing for just a bit more, though, is kind of a calling when it comes to chowder devotion, for the chowderist is always seeking one more spicy spoonful, one more briny sample, one more, one more. Well, that "one more" gift is arriving in Santa Cruz in 2017, and it comes not in the form of more chowder in the bowl, or more oyster crackers, but a whole second day added on to one of the state's best known chowder celebrations. We speak of the...

CLAM CHOWDER COOK-OFF AND FESTIVAL... and the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. It's marking its 36th go-around with something pretty special: An entire weekend of chowder deliciousness (and not just a day). That weekend is Feb. 25 and 26, 2017, and costume-rocking teams will once again be out stirring up the smoothest of sippable, spoonable, clammable concoctions. Amateur outfits are creating chowder magic on Saturday, the pros go on Sunday, and the essential tasting kit you'll need is ten bucks (which nets you six tastes, the method to taste them — cup/spoon — and a way to vote for your favorite). Do you make a mouthwatering Manhattan or a blissful Boston? You and your team can enter. Or simply show as someone ready to appreciate a dish that seems even more delicious when eaten steps from the ocean. Can you try, though, to make sure you have enough crackers for the amount of chowder you eat? It's a delightful challenge, one all devoted chowderians know all too well.

Photo Credit: Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk]]>
<![CDATA[Offbeat R & R: Kate's Lazy Desert]]> Thu, 08 Dec 2016 11:19:12 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/joshuatreekate9281.jpg

TRAILER-RIFFIC DREAMLAND: If the desert, as in the whole desert, as in, say, the Mojave, received an invitation to a hoedown, a real jamboree, who do you think the desert might ask to be their partner? If you said "winter" that's a really fine guess. For those two ideas — desert and winter — have long been paired in many a vacationer's mind as the optimal place and time of year for a sunshiny sojourn that's not too cold. Of course, devotees of creosote and lizards and big skies would rightly argue that any ol' time is ideal desert time, even the height of summer, which brings its own intense beauty to the scrubby lunarscape. Still, winter doesn't see three-digit highs, and it is even a bit brisk at night, making a Mojave idyll in the heart of January or February utterly desirable. If you're looking to commune with the desert, and you always welcome a merry dose of kitsch, load up your wood-paneled station wagon and roll out for...

KATE'S LAZY DESERT: If you know your B-52s, you know that Ms. Kate Pierson is the co-proprietress of both Kate's Lazy Meadow in New York and Kate's Lazy Desert outside of Joshua Tree (along with her partner Monica Coleman and their bevy of pretty pups). This means some of the zow and eye-pop-a-tude synonymous with the iconic band can be found at Kate's Lazy Desert, a clutch of stylish trailers that each boast their own zingy vibe. Look for the Tiki, which includes a bevy of bright masks, and Hot Lava, which is like snuggling inside your own lava lamp, thanks to the red oozy dots found on the walls and ceiling. And Hairstream may have you thinking about finally getting that foot-tall bouffant you've been longing for. The swirliness of the trailers' style and the epicness of the outside desert complement each other, the eye candy and the eye rest. It's a solid combo to savor in wintertime, or any time of the year, even when it is hot, or not, or that exquisite in-between temperature that a desert afternoon seems to do so well. Settle into an old-school patio chair outside your trailer, the aluminum kind with the soft webbing back and seat, and connect with that singular Mojave magic (a magic that can be accessed summer, winter, fall or spring).

Photo Credit: Kate's Lazy Desert]]>
<![CDATA[SLS Beverly Hills: Holiday Indulgence]]> Wed, 07 Dec 2016 21:47:11 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/slsholiday02323.jpg

FINDING THAT CHRISTMAS COMBO, of a relaxing moment paired with a must-get-this-done-pronto to-do, is oftentimes an unreachable goal come December. Your calendar is twice as packed (or even more than that), and the obligations are stacked as high as gingerbread men on a cookie platter. But securing a single overnight, just one, to savor some unwinding, and finding your unwind-ready location near a shopping area or two, feels like mastering the Christmas Combo. It's the match-up of your de-stress needs with your list-checking-off requirements, and it is unfolding, through Friday, Dec. 30, at the SLS Beverly Hills.

THE SWANKY STAY-OVER SPOT... is right in the bustle of the lively LA-BH border, which means it is close to hundreds of stores, big and unique. It's just a ten-minute drive from the heart of the Golden Triangle, and five minutes from The Grove, and a easy walk to the Beverly Center and West 3rd Street. The upshot? You can take care of those stocking stuffers, and then return to the hotel, put on your robe, and enjoy the...

HOLIDAY INDULGENCE PACKAGE: A well-appointed room is first on the package list, for sure, as are two treats at the Ciel Spa by Pearl Wellness. A 75-minute aromatherapy massage, complete with a posh peppermint scent, is on the table, as is some arm and hand exfoliation and an Oxygen Facial Mist. And will there be bubbly to sip, complete with a few cranberries? It is Champagne's big season, after all, so yes. For details on the overnight package, and carving out some pool time for extra ultra relaxing, give the close-to-everything hotel a jingle.

Photo Credit: SLS Beverly Hills]]>
<![CDATA[Bright Boats of Channel Islands Harbor]]> Wed, 07 Dec 2016 10:14:33 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Christmaschannellights2932.jpg

OVER ON THE CHANNEL ISLANDS... on any given Saturday night, you'll find a low-lit night-sweet darkness settled in, with only the moon above lending glow. The national park, save for overnight campers, looks much like it did a thousand years ago when the sun goes down, and the myriad local residents are either settling in for a rest or following their eternal nocturnal rhythms. But over on Channel Islands Harbor, just across the Santa Barbara Channel? Nighttime is much brighter, and especially so during the yearly Parade of Lights. The Oxnard illumination-big bash is all about resplendent boats, from big to wee, all done up in strings of lights and festive holiday figures and messages. It's a once-a-year thing that is sailing back into the harbor on Saturday, Dec. 10, and it has an extra-bright, extra-splashy theme for 2016. That theme is...

HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD, so don't be surprised to see a yacht or two take on a movie look, or even pay tribute to a specific cinematic favorite. True, the heart of Tinseltown is about a 60-mile drive from the area, but the spirit of filmdom will shine as various boat masts go for a merry and movie-ish mien. The cost to see all of this on-the-water spectacle? It's totally free, though a number of Pacific-adjacent restaurants and taverns are great places to perch for the show (so prepare to buy dinner, drinks, or such). Santa's arriving earlier in the day, and there's stuff to do before sunset, so if you want to make it a full-on thing, plan your getting-there on the early side. 

Photo Credit: James L. Bass/Parade of Lights]]>
<![CDATA[Cosmic: Death Valley Star Celebration]]> Tue, 06 Dec 2016 23:01:05 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/dvstarnight12345.jpg

CONSTELLATION NAMES, and the other handles we've applied to various stars and nebulae and other features of the wide, sky-filling universe, are as mellifluous as poetry and meaningful on a mythic scale. Cassiopeia, The Big Dipper, Canis Major, Orion, and Gemini are just a few of the twinkling icons we're apt to see in the colder months around here, the figures of the canopy-cool sky show we look forward to when the air grows brisker. But there is a place where the names on the ground are also quite poetic, and meaningful, and rife with history, and it is extremely solid in the star-watching sense, too. It's Death Valley National Park, which is home to Dante's Canyon and Badwater Basin and Twenty Mule Team Canyon and The Racetrack and a load of other locales that sound so fantastical that they could be fictional (and yet they are most definitely real). The desert-lovely destination, with its marvelously monikered points of interest, is an excellent place to take in the also interestingly named constellations above us. And fans will once again do so, over the...

LAST WEEKEND IN JANUARY... in 2017. The Furnace Creek gathering will once again boast a host of knowledgeable sky-studiers from the Las Vegas Astronomical Society as well as the Astronomical Society from Ventura County. That means your questions will be answered by pros, so be sure to ask why some stars look a bit bluer and other stars seem to stay flat (instead of doing that classic twinkly thing). It's a beautiful night out in a very low-lit environment, one that can feel quite lunar, all in all, and the telescopes only enhance the experience. So what has the most memorable names, the epic-of-terrain Death Valley or the vast cosmic display over our heads? Both have their utterly awesome aspects, and both complement each other nicely over the course of a star-loving, telescopes-pointed-up sort of night. Details on the Jan. 27 and 28 gathering? Watch this... space.

Photo Credit: Furnace Creek Resort]]>
<![CDATA[Cinema '17: Palm Springs International Film Fest]]> Tue, 06 Dec 2016 13:55:11 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/psff2017.jpg

BIG CINEMA: There are those Decembertime revelers who plan their days around shopping trips, and others who prefer to think about what sorts of sweets and snacks they'll consume, the sorts of edibles that only make an appearance during the yuletide. But as for movie lovers? They're very much plotting their must-see dramas, comedies, and musicals, the better to bone up on all the buzz before awards season fully moves into festive, famous-people gear. The boning-up can be done at your local theater, in part, but one fell-swoop-y way to take in a lot of movie-based goodness, all at once, is to hit one of California's top-notch popcorn parties. It's the...

PALM SPRING INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL, and it could not be more out-of-the-gate-ish, calendar-wise: It opens the day after New Year's Day in 2017. And the big Awards Buzz Program was revealed on Dec. 6, a program that will "screen 43 of the 85 official submissions to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Best Foreign Language Film." So call your film-loving friends and make for the P.S. on...

MONDAY, JAN. 2: Film reveals are still to come, but you can hop on your opening and closing night plans, as well as those handy passes, pronto. Hopping onto a hotel, too, during this popular festival, is important ahead of time, so do that soon. Special happenings, like Book to Screen, fill out the non-watching-a-movie part of the proceedings, so it isn't strictly about film-viewing during the Jan. 2 through 16. As for past years? Big stars regularly show, including Angelina Jolie, Natalie Portman, Cate Blanchett, and Helen Mirren. Who will you see on the red carpet and what new favorite film will you discover? The holiday movie stretch will soon stretch to the desert and one of January's premier film parties.

Photo Credit: Palm Springs International Film Festival]]>
<![CDATA[New: Sip, Savor & Stroll Healdsburg]]> Thu, 08 Dec 2016 10:31:14 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sipstrollhealdsburg1.jpg

EVEN IF YOU FIRMLY VOW... that your getaway is going to be alllll about your softest pair of pajamas and the three (er, five) novels you have stacked on your nightstand and a bottle of really excellent pinot noir and your phone in the "off" setting, a certain curiosity can set in, after an hour or two, that can inspire you to peek out the window. What's the town like, just beyond the inn's front door? Is there nifty stuff to peruse? And, most importantly... Is it walking distance? Because...

A GETAWAY... so often is about ditching the car keys for a couple of days. Healdsburg Inn has a whole best-of-both-worlds-y situation going on, in that it absolutely is the sort of spot you can tuck into with your pjs and novels in tow, and yet? The Plaza is just a few steps out the door, meaning you can go toodle through tasting bars and ceramics stores and specialty food shops and the host of swanky mercantiles that lend the wine country town its genteel flair. If this combo appeals, pj time and poke-around time, then look to the new...

SIP, STROLL & STAY PACKAGE: The Four Sisters Inn property has a two-nighter afoot that's about getting out on foot, around Healdsburg, whenever the guest should please. Other benes, like "a complimentary bottle of sparkling wine," the inn's Perfect Bath experience (think posh bath scrubs and such), some comfy robes, nosh-rich truffles, and a tasting at Dutcher Creek Winery are some of the stay-in, no-wait-go-out additions. Hankering to get to know Healdsburg better, and the surrounding wine scene, and yet desire a destination where bath time and nap time and easy time are also part of the whole? It doesn't have to be either/or at the Healdsburg Inn (but book soon, as it wraps on March 2, 2017).

Photo Credit: Healdsburg Inn on the Plaza]]>
<![CDATA[Go 'Round the Mountain' at Mount Diablo]]> Mon, 05 Dec 2016 16:28:58 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/189*120/guidemountdiablo29923.jpg

DECEMBER DEEP BREATH: Much ado is made about the last day of the year, from what parties we should attend to what we should eat to what we should drink to the gussy-up outfits we'll wear to get into the full festive swing of things. This is all aces, if that's how you like greeting a fresh year, with glitter and bubbly and balloons and such. But less consideration is given to taking a deep breath in the days ahead of the calendar turning over, of connecting with your thoughts and goals and what just happened and what you hope shall go down in the twelve months to come. That's where the second to last day of the December comes in, the penultimate day, the moment when we connect with nature, our minds, and some contemplation before the big ball drops and fancy bottles of brew are uncorked. Finding your slice of nature is as simple as walking outside, but if you feel up to a more major hike, one that'll last about 6 hours and cover some interesting ground, look to...

MOUNT DIABLO, which will be circled by a group of hikers on Friday, Dec. 30. It's the Round the Mountain hike, an outing that will find participants going around the impressive peak. It's a guided hike, with a "(s)teady, relaxed pace," and some 7.5 miles in all (so not a quick jaunt, do note). Layers are best, and water is key, and getting to know Murchio Gap and Devil's Elbow along the way will lend Diablo devotees some deeper knowledge of the area. Even if you can't jump into quite the sizable strut on a weekday ahead of New Year's Eve, consider committing to one of Save Mount Diablo's guided hikes in 2017. Being under the sky, and admiring trees, flowers, and scampering critters, has a way of helping even the busiest of minds flow toward a more meditative, feel-good state.

Photo Credit: Save Mount Diablo]]>
<![CDATA[Desert Sky Show: Geminids and Ursids]]> Mon, 05 Dec 2016 11:52:24 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/desertgemGettyImages-107569159.jpg

THE EYE-POPPING WONDERS... of the desert are too numerous to count, but just about every aficionado of an arid and eternal landscape can pick a favorite. Maybe it is spying the first blossoms atop a prickly pear pad, blossoms that are so sunset-y in hue they might give an actual sunset some competition. Perhaps you love to come across a bighorn sheep standing with chilled-out majesty on the side of a rocky incline, or a sudden water sighting in the middle of total dryness may make you catch your breath. Whatever your route to awe in the desert, it is likely a great one, though most of what we love about dryer spaces occurs on the land itself. There is, however, a lot to be said about what happens above a desert, too. And it turns out one of the desert's biggest shows is when a meteor shower comes to town, and while cosmic events don't belong to any single place from which they may be viewed, let's get down to it: The desert is one of the best places, if not the most primo, #1, amazing-amazing place to witness nighttime sky shows, thanks to the clear air, low lights, and vastness of the low-lying horizon. With that in mind, best hightail it to...

ANZA-BORREGO DESERT STATE PARK, or Death Valley National Park, or Joshua Tree National Park, or the Salton Sea, or the scrubby-spectacular destination of your choosing, for December is Geminids meteor shower time. The sky-streaky occurrence isn't all December long, mind you, and the Ursids come along around the winter solstice, so plan out your dates now for Dec. 4 through 16. The biggest night for some "did you see that?!" type sights? You'll want to pitch your tent on Dec. 13 (and look to the Anza-Borrego Foundation, which has great suggestions on how to best enjoy the event from the beautiful Southern California desert). Spying any of the shower, of course, isn't predictable, and there is the thrill of looking in the right direction at the right moment. But being surrounded by cacti, and rocky hills, and ancient ravines, and the occasional coyote howl, feels like the way to set the scene, whatever you might spy in the sky. Need a break from the pre-holidays? Let the Geminids draw you to the desert, and out of day-to-day doings for a night.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Morro Bay Boat Parade]]> Sun, 04 Dec 2016 09:47:22 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/morrobaylighthowarddignatius.jpg

MORRO ROCK... requires no decorations or lights or gewgaws or ornaments. It is an ancient treasure, a volcanic plug of mammoth proportions, and adding even the teensiest bow or ribbon or doodad to it would alter its perfect, and perfectly eternal, presence. That said, we're all about doing it up in the waters below the famous rock, especially when December drops anchor. And while lighted boat parades dot California's busy pre-Christmas schedule, the one in Morro Bay is truly about the most middle-y of all the merry on-the-water events. And by "middle-y" we mean that people from northern parts, southern parts, and those who live east can find their way to the bay, to see all of those sparkling ships, from bigger boats to those who hold a single person (captain and passenger, both). The date? Well, it was Dec. 3, but the 2016 glittery go-out has hopped down the calendar due to "Extreme negative tide." So if you wanted to get your rock-tastic fill in, and see some Pacific-pretty sights, go Central Coast on...

SATURDAY, DEC. 10: Look for "...skiffs, yachts, fishing boats, cutters, sailboats, and kayaks" to begin their oar-dipping around 6:30 in the evening, though the holiday tunes and Claus-y snapshots kick off earlier in the afternoon. The lighted boat parade may be admired from points around the Embarcadero, but South T-Pier is the center of the action. Bundling up? A must. Loving the pairing of nature (Morro Rock) and the Noël (Santa and shimmery skiffs)? That's a must, too, but we're just betting every visitor will arrive with both of those things in merry tow.

Photo Credit: Howard Dignatius]]>
<![CDATA[A Whale of a Holiday Party]]> Sat, 03 Dec 2016 11:51:04 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/msbluewhalesantacruz.jpg

A WHALE AND SOME WHIMSY: When we see footage of a behemoth, blow-hole-y mammal swimming beneath the surface of the ocean, it is, spoiler alert, rather light (otherwise we wouldn't be able to discern the aforementioned blowhole, nor the fluke, nor the other parts of the whale). There needs to be some sort of sunlight filtering through the water to illuminate the beautiful beastie, and that light is often refracted as it meets H20, creating a sparkly, gorgeous, and whale-enhancing backdrop. But there's another place where light meets the world's biggest mammals, and it doesn't happen during a submerged, ocean-gurgly documentary shoot. It's on land, at the Seymour Marine Discovery Center of Santa Cruz, and the light + whale meet-up happens in the area where the center's phenomenal blue whale skeleton, Ms. Blue, is located. Nope, it isn't refracted watery light illuminating Ms. Blue, but rather blue bulbs that give the massive and magnificent bones their definition after dark. Have to eye this wonder for yourself? See Ms. Blue lit up on...

SUNDAY, DEC. 11, which happens to be the date for the center's annual Jingle Shells Arts and Crafts Festival. Shop the "ocean-themed gifts," and know that the "proceeds directly support marine science education." There shall be live tunes, there shall be touch pool access, there shall be the sipping of hot cider (which, truth be told, is rather in short supply out in the ocean, but it does fill a reveler with warmth and cheer). And reigning over it all? The lit-up wonder that is Ms. Blue. If you yourself rather like hanging holiday lights, but don't see erecting an 87-foot blue whale skeleton in your yard, best call upon the water-wonderful marine center to celebrate one of the season's most special sights.

Photo Credit: Seymour Marine Discovery Center]]>
<![CDATA[Desert Yuletide: La Quinta Resort & Club]]> Mon, 05 Dec 2016 11:24:07 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/Christmas_Frontlaquinta1.jpg

A SANTA-READY SKY: The nice thing, at Christmas, about waiting on the arrival of the Jolly Old Elf, is this hard-to-dispute fact: The sky is always above us, wherever we happen to be. It might be morningtime, and a pinky sunrise sky, or it might be evening, and lush with stars. But keeping an eye out, and moreover up, for Santa during his big month, means that a bigger, vaster sky, the sort of skyscape that one finds in the desert, may be the preferable way to go (should you want to see if you can see Mr. Claus on approach). In fact, the desert is a delight all-around at the yuletide, from crisp-but-not-cold daytime temperatures to even crisper, bring-a-sweater evening weather. That's exactly what La Quinta Resort & Club, in La Quinta, enjoys each December, mostly every day. And, yep, that big sky above just seems to have more sky to it than most other places' skies do, even with the mountains on the horizon. Ready to gaze to the stars and keep watch for Santa? Then eye the full...

2016 HOLIDAY SCHEDULE... at the resort, which was long famous as the favorite getaway for filmmaker Frank Capra, the man behind "It's a Wonderful Life." The '20s-era property, which has grown to incorporate over 40 pools, keeps that "Wonderful" whimsy high during the holidays with special seasonal dining, spa treatments geared to the merry moment, movie screenings, and, of course, the dramatic tree that stands near the main entrance plaza. And might there be "freshly roasted chestnuts" for snacking upon in the lobby? Well, that's the word. Best get some protein, and sustenance, the better to enjoy that seemingly limitless desert sky for the stars, the moon, and, who knows, a reindeer sighting or two.

Photo Credit: La Quinta Resort & Spa]]>
<![CDATA[Tractors to Twinkle in Calistoga]]> Fri, 02 Dec 2016 14:28:01 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/calistogatractor928232.jpg

IF IT MOVES, MAKE IT MERRY: When people from other places call California "quirky," well, they may not be going quite far enough. We're a state that likes sunshine, it is widely known, and when the sun makes its nightly exit we turn to other sources of illumination to give us the sparkle we crave. Whether it is a massive bridge done up in LED bulbs or a light-fantastic water show at a theme park, we're going to keep things mightily bright come night. That extends to our vehicles when the holidays arrive, of course, and we don't simply mean the charming wreaths that many California drivers stick on their front grills. We rather like dressing up our scenic and historic trains, and as for our boats? The ships have glitter, too, whether be yachts or kayaks (look to the caboodle of on-the-water boat parades that happen all along the coast). Tractors, too, get some love in Northern California communities, like, for instance, Calistoga. Each year the Napa Valley town is the shimmery scene for some unlikely and wonderful parade "floats," and by floats we mean construction equipment and tractors all done up in a multitude of lights. The 2016 date is just ahead, on...

SATURDAY, DEC. 3, and once again area tractor owners have been working hard to make their rides completely photo worthy. And it isn't just about the lights, but also the figures and messages that are included on the sides of the trucks and tractors. Oh yes, vintage pick-ups and such also make a quaint showing at the Calistoga Tractor Parade, making it truly unlike many other vehicle-based processions. Want to finally check out this famous hour-long lark? It starts at 7, when the sky is truly dark, but arrive with plenty of time to check out Calistoga's oh-so-walkable downtown, and to find that perfect, tractor-watching spot.

Photo Credit: Calistoga Tractor Parade]]>
<![CDATA[Leaves Hold On: Fall's Not Quite Done]]> Mon, 05 Dec 2016 14:26:15 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/160*120/%5BKNSD%5D+Fall_Leaves_generic_Image.jpg

DECEMBER'S SOFT CHANGES: When the final month of the year says its first hello, a person begins to think of the coldest season in earnest. After all, paper snowflakes are making appearances in school windows, and candy canes on store shelves, and animated snowmen are dancing on our television screens. December=wintertime in many minds, even if, technically, it is an autumnal month, primarily (or at least for the first three weeks). But December's take on fall is different from October's, and the biggest signs of the mellow stretch, colorful leaves, have mostly put on their annual show and bid us adieu (by, of course, gently and poetically drifting to the ground). Still, though, it is autumn, even in December, and russet leaves cling to some branches, and a few golden leaves and tawny berries, too. It reminds us to get one last eyeful of fall's finest foliage, if we can find it. And a solid place to look is the...

CALIFORNIA FALL COLOR BLOG: The annual tribute to the Golden State's golden-leafy look revs up in summer, when the tips of the first leaves are losing their green, right past Thanksgiving, though not by much. It's still going for the year, with looks at Yosemite and redwood color, and the lower elevations continue to put on a colorful show. Finding a botanical garden, or a spread with a vibrant variety of flora, is a good bet in early December, though, of course, it won't be quite the same visual as coming across a grove of aspen trees fluttering in the October wind. Call it a gentler approach to autumn, the one that arrives near the close, the graceful goodbye. For one last look at the 2016 show, call upon the photo- and tip-filled blog, which dutifully, and with a delight in nature's wonders, covers the whole state's leaf show for the second half of each year.

Photo Credit: Leaves]]>
<![CDATA[Catalina Island's Festive December]]> Thu, 01 Dec 2016 13:00:47 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/shutterstockxmashatpool123.jpg

THE NO-SNOW CAROL: While Christmas songs run the glittery gamut, from ditties about talking snowman to halls being delightfully decked to carriage rides in the woods, few deal with the notion of a snowless holiday. There are a few examples, however, and one of the most charming is "Christmas Island," a standard that's been covered by Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, and a host of famous songsters. It's a pleasing idea, the notion of getting away from it all but still making merry, in honor of the holidays, on some ocean-surrounded burg. But how to find such a place? We here in California don't need to look too far, with a host of nearby islands beckoning us with sportsy doings, cultural pleasures, or the chance to commune with nature. It so happens that Catalina Island boasts all three elements, and then some, and as it sits a short boat ride from Southern California, celebrating in Avalon is a possibility. But you don't even need to plan a Christmas day trip to the island, for several happenings are already revving up. Look to...

THE CATALINA ISLAND MUSEUM, which is giving a festive feel to its First Friday night on Dec. 2, complete with a hot chocolate bar and a visit from the Claus family. The fa-la-la-ish first weekend of December continues in Avalon with a shopping- and deal-oriented evening on Saturday, Dec. 3 and a tree-decorating fundraiser on the afternoon of Sunday, Dec. 4. A Holiday Open House at beautiful Mt. Ada follows on Dec. 8, and, then, on New Year's Eve? The Casino Building has the balloons, and band-big sounds, for the final party of the year. Best hum "Christmas Island" now as you plot your getaway to the fair shores of Avalon, Two Harbors, and one of the Golden State's most fair isles.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[Evening Idyll: Cambria Christmas Market]]> Thu, 01 Dec 2016 21:41:56 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/cambriadecmarket123.jpg

FROM SCARECROWS TO SPARKLE: It isn't all that surprising when a picturesque place has a knack for knowing how to celebrate a holiday in style. And it isn't all that surprising, part two, when that place actually displays a delightful affinity for gamely observing multiple festivities, even those months apart on the calendar. Let us clap heartily for dear Cambria, that steps-from-the-ocean town that is nearly synonymous with scarecrows, thanks to the hundreds of figures that pop up hither and yon during October. But the San Luis Obispo County-based burg is just as joyful when late November arrives, and all of those sweet and spooky scarecrows have been stowed. For that's the time of year when the Cambria Christmas Market makes its sparkily return, and it keeps on keepin' on for several evenings right through to Friday, Dec. 23. Yes, we did say...

"EVENINGS"... there, for the market is, like so many shop-arounds seen in Europe and Asia and even here, a post-sundown kind of thing. So tie on a scarf, buy a ticket, and visit a vivacious assortment of open-air stalls, the kind of booths selling everything from December-type desserts to warm, wrap-your-hands-around-'em sips to flavorful jarred olives to lavender honey to bird feeders to jewelry. This is where you find something special for your mom/uncle/boss/bestie, and you tell them "I got it at a night market in Cambria!" (which, of course, lends a seasonal twinkle to your tale). Many shopping events start at the crack of dawn, or at least early morning, around the holidays, so finding a village-adorable bazaar observing the tradition of the night market is a seaside slice of salt-air-y sweetness. What will you find there? A bauble, a beverage, or the bliss of a December dawdle in pretty Cambria?

Photo Credit: Cambria Christmas Market]]>
<![CDATA[Furnace Creek's Pre-Holiday Deal]]> Fri, 02 Dec 2016 23:01:16 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/poolfurnacedecdeal.jpg

WHEN PUSH COMES TO...POOL: The notion of "bustle" gets a lot of prominent play come December. People bustle about, with bags and packages in hand, as they buy ribbons and bows and the 97 other accouterments that go into staging a present-filled festivity. But finding presence, as in a quiet moment to reflect upon the season and the year as a whole, is also a good thing, and no bustle is required. In fact, removing the bustle from the whole equation can be a plus, allowing the former bustlerer to take a day or two to de-whatever: de-stress, de-hurry, de-bustle, before jumping back in. That's where the early Decembertime hotel deals come in, those getaway eye-catchers that provide people with some desired downtime amid all of the hectic happenings. And few places qualify for the title of Downtime Central like Death Valley National Park, which happens to be where the...

FURNACE CREEK RESORT... is located. The historic desert-gorgeous spread, which includes both the root-and-toot-y Ranch at Furnace Creek and the elegant Inn at Furnace Creek, is offering 30-percent off stays on select December nights. The Inn's deal is on for Dec. 4, 6, and 9th through 18th, while The Ranch has lasso'd the cash-keeping special for Dec. 4 and 9. There are asterisks, just like there are stars over Death Valley at night, including the fact that resort fees and taxes aren't included. What is included? Removing yourself from the bustle for a day or two, the better to catch your breath before heading back into the fun and festiveness of the end of the year. Will a little desert time do you good? And will this deal smile upon your holidaytime budget? Saddle up and ride for the details.

Photo Credit: Furnace Creek Resort]]>
<![CDATA[Historic Holiday in Monterey's Adobes]]> Tue, 29 Nov 2016 21:56:18 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/christmasintheadobeswhaling12.jpg

SHIPS IN THE MIST: Many a tale told close to shore has centered around those ghost-like galleons that sit a nautical mile or so out at sea. Some landlubbers may even imagine that they see these ships on especially foggy nights, or hear a horn, or another tell that reveals a boat from another century is dropping anchor out in the night. Surely fans of such tales must occasionally wish that they, too, could board such a boat now and then, not simply to enter a tale but truly visit a time gone by. Such portals to other centuries don't exist, as far as we know, but other real-world ones absolutely do, and a few sit near the water, on the land end of things. One such historic portal opens up each December, inviting visitors to call upon some of Monterey's most famous structures, the sort of structures that have seen generations of Californians live and work within their hallowed walls. They're the earthen-and-beam buildings of the old city, and they say hello to guests each year during...

CHRISTMAS IN THE ADOBES: Ah yes, there's a sweet yuletide-y sheen to the historic evening out, one that includes trees and firs and songs and the feel of festiveness from decades long before our own. The 2016 dates are Friday, Dec. 9 and Saturday, Dec. 10, and a host of historic figures, in authentic dress, will greet visitors as they call upon the Custom House, Casa del Oro, the Whaling Station, First Brick House, House of Four Winds, and several other regional treasures. Dance lessons will pop up along the way, and bagpipe playing, and, of course, seasonal sweets to snack upon. It will be like a trip back to 19th-century Monterey, without the dramatics of needing a time-traveling galleon waiting for you out at the dock. You'll simply need to purchase a ticket, find your favorite shawl or vest or pocket-watch (or simply something warm and casual to wear), and stroll through another Monterey. It's a Monterey that's always accessible, of course, via museums and historic home visits and civic events, but ye olde Monterey truly becomes known to all during this spirited annual to-do.

Photo Credit: See Monterey]]>
<![CDATA[Solvang Sweet: Hotel Corque Gingerbread]]> Wed, 07 Dec 2016 21:48:00 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/HotelCorqueGiantGingerbreadHouseLobby.jpg

CORQUE FOR CHRISTMAS: When you're taking a joyful jump into the holiday season, the sort of run-up-and-say-"yippee" leap that sends you deep into caroling events and tree lightings and cocoa sippings and ornament admirings, you want the full spectrum of shiny, sparkly, cockles-warming experience. And that's an experience many a yuletide reveler desires when they turn their station wagon for the most Danish burg in all the land, Solvang. It's a town that regular makes Christmas-themed must-see lists, on the national and international level, thanks to its storybook buildings and annual Decembertime to-do, Julefest. But when one arrives for Julefest, one likely wants a bit more whimsy outside of the party. Maybe, even, a storybook-type sight in the lobby of the hotel they've booked. Look to...

HOTEL CORQUE, the well-appointed boutiquery, for tips on making the joyful days of Julefest extra, well, gingery. Baker Bent Olsen has again created another amazing gingerbread manor expressly for the elegant public space of this hotel, one that will give cheer through Julefest and into the end of the year. Perhaps you've been to Mr. Olsen's own Olsen's Danish Village Bakery, or maybe you've called upon Hotel Corque over the last 20 years and seen another of the baking artiste's handsome cookie-made homes. He has been creating gingerbread houses for the hotel for two decades, now, making it a true Solvang tradition. The photograph with this post is from 2012, so hightail it to Hotel Corque for a peek at the 2016 house, sure to be one of the beautiful, in-the-spirit touchstones of Solvang's Julefest celebrations.

Photo Credit: Hotel Corque]]>
<![CDATA[Wintry Camping in Nevada City]]> Fri, 02 Dec 2016 23:00:48 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/nccampIMG_8200.jpg

CAMPGROUNDS + COOLER DAYS: Here's something true that can't be quibbled with: Even when snow arrives, and brisk breezes blow through, the summery places we love and adore still stand. Swimming pools don't simply pack up their luggage and make for sunnier climes, and beaches known for hot-weather vacationers don't roll up all of that sand and stick it in storage. Likewise, campgrounds, those play places of May, June, July, August, and beyond, absolutely don't get their goodbyes on when the first flakes start to fall. True, some may temporarily shutter, or keep a different schedule, but they're still right where summer lovers left them.

EVERY NOW AND AGAIN, though, a camptastic destination keeps on trucking right through the longest nights of the year, with a few tempting tweaks. Exhibit A? Look to the Inn Town Campground, the new Nevada City spread that is, as it says, very close to the pleasures of the funky, walk-around Gold Country village. It's keeping open hours through the winter of 2016-2017, which means getawayers can enjoy things like the...

WILD & SCENIC FILM FESTIVAL... in January, and Nevada City's charming Victorian Christmas (a December staple, on select afternoons and nights). The tents have been stowed at the Inn Town, do note, but if you have a motorhome or RV you can reserve a spot in the heart of January or February. The campground also has suggestions on where to rent an Airstream or Teardrop trailer, the kind of old-school roll you've been vowing to try out for years. And shall there be s'mores kits just in time for the yuletide, with artisanal marshmallows (think peppermint bark)? The campground owners want to bring some festiveness to their guests' goodie-based cravings. To check out all of the wintry haps in Nevada City, and how things change slightly at the campground over winter (though not too much), give the Inn Town a buzz. Then start packing some of your warmer, downier wear, for a summer-style adventure in the heart of the winter's beautiful brrrr.

Photo Credit: Erin Thiem]]>
<![CDATA[Foxen Canyon: Christmas on the Trail]]> Fri, 02 Dec 2016 09:40:47 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/winechoctaw.jpg

DESCRIBING A PRETTY WINE COUNTRY VISTA... in December might inspire the describer to say things like "bare branches" and "the occasional golden leaf" and "crisp sunsets" and such. For while it is still autumn, at least for much of the month, the busyness of a wine country fall, at least in terms of harvest and crush time, is now in the rear-view mirror. Leaf-free vines and colder temperatures reign, giving the vineyards a quieter "winter is ahead" feel. But wait: It turns out there are more bustling moments to come, and they're focused on a particularly festive happening: the holidays. This is the moment when wineries put up their over-sized door wreaths, and break out the luscious ports and sparkling wines and deeper reds, and ask carol-playing string trios to sit in on the weekends. If this extra-December-y feel is just to your liking, and the final weeks of the year are the ultimate weeks to be in wine country (in your excellent opinion), best hop to Foxen Canyon Wine Trail over the second weekend of December for...

CHRISTMAS ON THE TRAIL: The two-dayer (Dec. 10 and 11 in 2016) connects a host of Santa Maria-, Los Alamos-adjacent wineries for a convivial to-do. Fess Parker Winery, Zaca Mesa Winery, and several other regional favorites will offer "small bites" along the 30-mile route, as well as other holiday-ready details (hello, cookies) and the all-important commemorative glass. It's a passport-type weekend, so if you want to try all 20 single-ounce pours (from a total of 13 destinations), best look into hopping onto a shuttle while savoring the celebration. Or find your designated driver, someone who also loves the sights/smells/wintery wonder of wine country when fall is saying its final adieu.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto]]>
<![CDATA[Sippin' Street Fair: Ventura Wine Walk]]> Mon, 28 Nov 2016 22:43:01 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/219*120/shutterstockwine029223.jpg

SWEATER WEATHER: While a number of locales around the U.S. begin to talk about the need for heavy sweaters, and even coats, as December draws near, we here in California are simply looking for real opportunities to don a cozy scarf. Those opportunities don't always come along in the days after Thanksgiving, which can still see warmer temperatures around the region, but 2016 is bringing a dose of wintery temperatures, at least wintery in terms of Southern and Central California. It's perfect timing, then, for a festive outdoor happening, one that will coincide with true, Golden State-style "scarf weather" (even "jacket weather," if highs in the 60s make you reach for something a bit toastier). It's the Ventura Winter Wine Walk & Holiday Street Fair, and it is set to stroll again on Saturday, Dec. 3. Indeed, the name suggests it is very much about...

WINE, and there shall be numerous tastings dotting the downtown map. Latitudes Fine Art Gallery is one such spot, and Goldie's on Main will also have sips to try. But craft booths, areas plum-full of foodstuffs, live-on-the-stage musical performances, and a "snowfall" add to the holly-and-happiness atmosphere. Strolling all of the outdoor booths, and they are plentiful, is totally free, but if you want to jump into the Winter Wine Walk side of the celebrating, securing a ticket ahead of time is as important as digging out a favorite scarf, the one that's sat in the trunk since last March. Eager to know the vinos of the Ventura County area, and get into the scarf-y spirit of the season? Find your ticket here.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[Greet 2017 on Catalina Island]]> Sat, 26 Nov 2016 07:34:54 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Casino_SCICo9898-horz.jpg

LET'S JUST GET ONE THING STRAIGHT: Fish, as a rule, don't dance. They may swim like champions, and occasionally gurgle, and they dart and dash when required, and they sometimes even fly, but doing the tango, or performing a waltz, is of little interest to them as they move around the Big Drink. But the ocean denizens don't mind a bit if human beings dance and waltz and tango just steps away from the water, inside a beautiful building that's overlooked the place where the fish live for well over 80 years. And dance people definitely do, inside the building, especially when a rather magical night pops up on the calendar: New Year's Eve. For some 44 years now the Casino Building, Catalina Island's stately symbol, has been the sight of an old-style celebration, the kind of party with a live band and bubbly and the other hallmarks of a grand hullabaloo. The fish outside may be swimming in the harbor, and in the kelp forest beyond, but, inside, on Dec. 31, 2016? 

THERE SHALL BE DANCING, and a buffet supper, and music performed by The Xceptional Music Company, and a split of Champagne for each 21-and-over reveler, and the essential (but still fairly uncommon) balloon drop at the stroke of midnight. Paper hats, sparkly noisemakers, and the kind of wave-it-toot-it accessories synonymous with the final day of the year are also provided. Good to know? You should make your reservation in advance, and secure passage to the island (by boat or by air), and find a hotel room in Avalon, as the whoop-di-do-ing will wrap after midnight. Will the fish be awake before you arise on New Year's Day? Well, yeah, because they didn't stay up late, awaiting 2017's entrance. But you can sleep in, after a grand night in a grand landmark. Of course, just make sure not to miss your boat, or you'll be running for the dock, possibly with your party hat still perched atop your head.

Photo Credit: Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce/Bubbly]]>
<![CDATA[Westin St. Francis Holiday]]> Fri, 25 Nov 2016 06:39:58 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/WSFExteriorIceSkating.jpg

WHEN YOU'VE SEEN A CENTURY GO BY, plus a few years beyond the first 100, you probably have your approach to the close-of-the-year convivialities pretty polished. And "polished" is an apt word for The Westin St. Francis, the grand hotel that's been neighboring San Francisco's Union Square since nearly the start of the last century. You might have peeked inside before catching a cable car out front (there is, of course, a stop nearby, which serves the steady stream of visitors both staying at the multi-wing landmark and calling upon it for a brief look-around). You might have admired it during a spin on the seasonal ice rink that pops up at just-as-historic Union Square. But if you haven't yet explored those close-of-the-year convivialities mentioned earlier, consider 2016 a prime time to do so, as much will be on the hotel's plate. And speaking of plates, the...

OAK ROOM RESTAURANT... shall be doing it up, with bells, whistles, and stylish details for a trio of tony dinners (you're right, solid guess, we are referring to Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Eve there). And for those guests who go straight for the gooey-good stuff, The Westin St. Francis Sweet Boutique, located just off The Westin St. Francis lobby, will "orange-scented shortbread, gingerbread men," and a host of other goodies that will fortify those just in from the ice rink (or a cable car ride up Powell). And a special Holiday Tea, scheduled on Saturdays and Sundays from late November through Dec. 18, will add a dash of nutmeggy niceness to the whole sledful of special doings (also, check out the whimsical display in the lobby, and light-laden tree). Peek inside the famous getaway spot yourself, and ponder a dinner, a cookie, or a posh tea during your upcoming San Francisco idyll.

Photo Credit: The Westin St. Francis]]>
<![CDATA[Winchester Mystery House: 'Spirit of Christmas']]> Wed, 07 Dec 2016 10:13:35 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/216*120/winchester92922-horz.jpg

MAKE NO BONES ABOUT IT: There isn't any quibble to be made, and arguing the point is pointless. This is the phantom-fun fact of the matter, when it comes to the famous Winchester Mystery House in San Jose: Autumn, October, and Halloween are major occasions at what is often described as one of the planet's most haunted homes. Fans arrive from afar to spy the windows placed in floors and doors opening onto solid walls, and to hear atmospheric tales of Sarah Winchester's mission to never let the hammers fall silent on her massive manse. And the nighttime tours flower during the fall, the tours involving flashlights and spooky tales, and those, too, are well-attended by mansion mavens who need more. But this home, which is an amazing and enormous and offbeat example of high Victorian style, also wears its yuletide finery quite well. The pine and the greens and the bows pair well with the Winchester's carved wood details, and Christmas trees lend the domestic scene a Noël-nice nostalgia. Want to spy the Winchester wearing its seasonal robes? The...

"SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS"... is just around the corner. The event, which includes "A Taste of the Holidays," will sparkle, like those vintage glass ornaments of yore, over nine nights in the final month of the year. There shall be celebratory snacking, and carols to hear, and some 20 Christmas trees to admire, and the general feeling that you've transported back to a bells-and-whistles celebration as seen at the turn of the (last) century. It's just under an hour, all of this conviviality, and tickets start at ten bucks for younger guests and end at $30. First night? It's Dec. 16, while it all rounds out on New Year's Eve Eve (yep, the 30th).

Photo Credit: Winchester Mystery House/Gazimal]]>
<![CDATA[Monarch Beach Resort: Pet Photos with Santa]]> Wed, 23 Nov 2016 18:06:46 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/PetPhotosSanta33e.jpg

COAXING YOUR COCKER SPANIEL... to don a pair of felt reindeer antlers or an elf hat (complete with jingling bell on the end) can take a treat or two or five, with an added promise that you'll visit the park later. (Granted, your pup may not be able to piece together the whole sentence, but his ears will surely perk up upon hearing the word "park.") But hound-loving humans are not deterred when our dogs demur upon first seeing their brand-new Christmas costume. After all, canines typically wear their elf or reindeer costumes for a few minutes, and after the perfect photograph is captured, the antlers and bells are retired for another year. If you want your pup's holiday portrait to be especially special this year, considering all the preparation and coaxing that goes into it, consider making a visit to the Monarch Beach Resort in Dana Point, a place that knows how to put some extra sheen on the holiday sparkle. That includes the offbeat but sweet chance to queue up for...

PET PHOTOS WITH SANTA: Book a stay at the ocean-close destination and a heart-tugger of a pet pic, complete with St. Nick, shall be yours. The photo sessions are scheduled on Sundays "from Thanksgiving — Christmas" and donations to the Pet Rescue Center are most welcome. The pet photos, though, aren't the only treat on the resort's calendar: holiday teas, the lighting of the menorah, cookie decorating, and a host of relaxed activities with a gingerbread-scented spirit await. Do you have Fido's felt reindeer antlers yet? Well, he can arrive as is, no costume required, for his Monarch Beach Resort photograph with the Jolly Ol' Elf.

Photo Credit: Monarch Beach Resort]]>
<![CDATA[The Redwood Coast's December Sparkle]]> Wed, 23 Nov 2016 09:58:06 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/HumboldtChristmasCarsonMansion.jpg

TREE CENTRAL: If you're a region that's rife with trees, the kind of trees that people regularly describe as "mythic" and "epic" and just about every other "-ic" word available, you can become symbolic, for many people, of the tree-iest season of all. Add to the fact that Humboldt County has a caboodle of picturesque Victorian homes and buildings, in addition to all of those mythic/epic redwoods, and you are talking about a holiday-ready spot that boasts an inordinate amount of twinkle, tradition, and nature-magical charm. And the Redwood Coast does do it up each year, in a few different ways, from various lightings to quirky parades to quiet processions that are built around the beauty of the tall trees. Ready to find that perfect Humboldt-y holiday outing? Take a glance at the...

OH-SO-CONVIVIAL CALENDAR... and get to mapping out your December weekends. The Lighting of the Tallest Living Christmas Tree is a Ferndale must-do, and it happens on the first Sunday of the final month (so, Dec. 4 in 2016). Add to the tree the many 1800s-vintage buildings of Ferndale's Main Street and you have a classic California Christmas party. A pair of lighted truck parades will vroom-vroom in Fortuna and Eureka over the second weekend of the month (just make sure you land in the right city on the right date), while Ferndale celebrates the offbeat Lighted Tractor Parade on Sunday, Dec. 18. As for finding a peaceful moment among the giants of the area? Look to the Candlelight Walk in the Redwoods on Saturday, Dec. 3.

Photo Credit: Don Leonard]]>
<![CDATA[Announced: Fee-Free 2017 NPS Days]]> Mon, 28 Nov 2016 15:01:30 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/feefreenpsGettyImages-450421924.jpg

CALENDAR SHOPPING, as a close-of-the-year pursuit, can be rather pleasurable on an aesthetic level. You know you'll be staring at it for the next twelve months, should you hang it somewhere prominent, like the refrigerator, so picking out the perfect theme is essential. Will you go with kittens in baskets for 2017? Or rainbows? Or ponies? Or some ultimate mythical calendar that features all three? So many delightful decisions. But you don't need to dither over the first dates you'll circle when you buy your date-keeper, beyond the birthdays and anniversaries you need to keep in mind. You'll want to promptly call out, via the thickest pen you have, all of the fee-free days coming up at the national parks. They're pretty special, and definitely money-saving, and there are but a handful each year, so heeding when they pop up is important. The 2017 dates were just revealed in the middle of November 2016, giving you time to circle away.

THE FIRST FEE-FREE DAY... of the new year is Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, Jan. 16. Presidents Day follows, on Feb. 20, while two weekends pop up in April in honor of National Park Week. The National Park Service's birthday on Aug. 25 will be part of the celebratory, pay-nothing-to-enter batch, while National Public Lands Day on Sept. 30 and Veterans Day Weekend round out the calendar. Oh, and you're correct if you just remembered that not every national park charges an entrance fee; just over a fourth of all the parks, monuments, and sites do on a normal, everyday basis. But those 127 treasures will once again waive admission on select and special days in the new year. Better start circling when on your new refrigerator calendar.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Birds of Prey: Lynch Canyon Hike]]> Tue, 22 Nov 2016 12:20:10 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Red-tailedhawk8_ByPaulSchwafel_3MB.jpg

SOARING IN THE DISTANCE: Spend a day at one of California's state or national parks, or in another corner of the many wild spots that dot the map, and you're bound to see something spectacular in the sky above: A wide-of-wing-span raptor riding the currents while keeping a beyond-keen eye on the landscape below (and, yes, that all-important next meal). It's not a sight to take for granted, though we do spy it from time to time, a gorgeous reminder of the avian wonders who dart and soar above our heads. To go in search of such wonders, rather than simply come across them, makes for a memorable outing for bird buffs, as well as those nature lovers who want to know more about hawks and eagles and falcons. But where to find such an outing? Look to the Solano Land Trust, which is leading a hike at Lynch Canyon that's focused on the beautiful...

BIRDS OF PREY: Feathery fliers seen in the past have included "Golden and Bald Eagles, Rough-legged Cooper's, Sharp-shinned and Ferruginous Hawks, Peregrine and Prairie Falcons," as well as "other more common raptors." Both birds who call the area home, as well as those birds that are just passing through or spending the winter in the region, will be a part of the day out. A day, by the way, which arrives a week ahead of Christmas, in case you're longing for a little quietude and wilderness-connection amid the hustle and the bustle of the season. Date? It's Sunday, Dec. 18, and the cost is ten dollars to join (plus put six bucks aside for parking). Will you spy a soarer you've never seen before? Again, a falcon or eagle on the wind is not a sight those on terra firma forget once they've seen it.

Photo Credit: Paul Schwafel]]>
<![CDATA[Snowy Santa Barbara: Snow Leopard Romp]]> Mon, 21 Nov 2016 21:53:34 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/SBZooSnowLeopardFestivalSnow22323.jpg

SNOW IN THE FORECAST: You can count on some snowy sights showing up in the mountains of California in the weeks ahead, for sure, but there's another surprising spot that will soon see the flurries: the American Riviera. There are a few caveats, of course: Santa Barbara's icy moment will happen on a specific day in early December, and the snow will bring the chill solely to the Santa Barbara Zoo. The animal park actually has two famous residents with "snow" in their very names, and we're not talking about their given names, which are Everett and Zoe. We speak of the snow leopards, the gorgeous, beautiful-of-coat, intelligent-of-eye felines who can be found (if one were to search very hard) in the high peaks of central Asia. But Everett and Zoe call the...

SANTA BARBARA ZOO... home, a home that throws the pair a frosty bash each year. It's the Snow Leopard Festival, and it shall swish its long tail on Sunday, Dec. 4. Snow will be out for the youngs'un to play in, while Santa will be nearby for photos. As for the art-making and craft-creating? It will boast a snow leopard theme. Learning more about these large cats, their high-up-there homes, and what challenges they face — and what we humans might do — is part of the heart of the late-fall festivity. Ever seen a snow leopard in person? You might, if you go to the zoo for this special and spirited day.

Photo Credit: Santa Barbara Zoo]]>
<![CDATA[Grass Valley Vibrant: Cornish Christmas]]> Tue, 22 Nov 2016 18:56:54 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/184*120/christmas+decorations.jpg

STREET FAIR SHINE: While summertime is (correctly) known as being the biggest season for street festivals, the holidays also have their share of alfresco, stroll-around, eat-and-walk celebrations. True, most of the attendees are bundled up, or at least rocking a hat or scarf, the kind of warmer clothing that does not make a showing in June, July, and August. But you can count on the conviviality to have a particular focus which you don't see in the summer, and that is yuletide cheer, a cheer that's found in the hot drinks and caroling-filled moments and other fa, la, la hallmarks. The Cornish Christmas in Grass Valley is a thriving example of a street fair that's flush with the good feelings of the holidays, and history, too, and it stretches out over a few Friday nights, beginning on...

FRIDAY, NOV. 25: If the northern Gold Country burg is one of your go-to getaway spots, then you know that this festival has been around for nearly 50 years. In fact, it kicked off in 1967, as "a way to preserve Grass Valley's Cornish heritage and holiday traditions," something it has been doing, with music and food and costuming and crafts, with aplomb and moxie, both. Along the stroll look for wines to sample in local tasting rooms, the roasting (and eating) of chestnuts, and other touches that speak to the day when Cornish miners first arrived in the Grass Valley area. The final Friday of 2016? It's on Friday, Dec. 23, which comes a few days after the close of another big street fair up the road, Nevada City's Victorian Christmas.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Plaid Friday Amador]]> Mon, 21 Nov 2016 21:52:34 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/plaidGettyImages-82211436.jpg

WHILE CHRISTMAS INSPIRES CREATIVITY, and many a reveler discovers satisfying ways to express their inner selves (from ornament crafts to cookie baking), the day after Thanksgiving has shown some interesting flair in recent years. Yes, that's Black Friday, the day when stores put out some of the biggest deals of the year on electronics, home goods, and, well, everything, hoping to catch those early holiday dollars. But that particular Friday now wears many different mantles, depending on your location and interest, and it isn't solely about the big sales anymore. Small businesses are getting into the swing (ahead of Small Business Saturday), and those include the shops of Amador County. In fact, the Gold Country region puts a seasonal spin on the Friday theming each year, by designating November's fourth Friday as...

PLAID FRIDAY: But the retailers of the area's charming shops are going beyond the cute name. If you're bopping about Gold Country on the day after Turkey Day, and you have something plaid on (a skirt, a shirt, a scarf, you name it), you can score a deal at "participating locally owned businesses in Amador City, Jackson, Ione, Sutter Creek — from Shenandoah Valley all the way to Pioneer." The deals go beyond the stores in some spots, with Jackson's Kennedy Gold Mine offering a second ticket to a tour at half off. Celebrating in the hilly, historic area, with plans to stay through Friday? Make sure to pack your plaid (and, even if you forget, now you'll know why people will be out and about in their plaid on Friday, Nov. 25).

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Hakone Gardens: Final 2016 Tea Ceremony]]> Sat, 19 Nov 2016 11:40:56 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/hakonetea0293202.jpg

BEYOND THE PUSH/PULL: November can be a month with many demands, and those demands are, more often than not, centered around the approaching holidays. On the one hand people are lining up various social obligations and must-dos, all while reading that keeping a sense of calm, and an inner light of peace, is essential during this hectic stretch of the year. There are, however, those harder-to-find festivities that both fulfill the "get out of the house" part of the season as well as the "connect with your sense of calm" bit that is the other side of the coin. The traditional Japanese tea ceremony at Hakone Estate and Gardens is one such serene scene, and the very final one for 2016 is on the near horizon.

SUNDAY, NOV. 20... is the date, and joining the venerable ceremony is seven dollars (in addition to your entrance fee). The service "demonstrates the Omotesenke family style of tea preparation and serving, one of the three traditional methods used in Japan for centuries." It is a contemplative moment, one that gives attendees an understanding of a beautiful tradition, one that lives on. Furthering that contemplation, and the theme of connecting, is the chance to stroll around the gardens before or after the tea service, taking in the autumnal changes to both tree and shrub while pausing to admire a water element or bridge. If you miss this chance to partake in the Hakone tea ceremony, take heart: The April-to-November happening is a staple of the warmer months at the Silicon Valley landmark.

Photo Credit: Hakone Estate and Gardens]]>
<![CDATA[Watery Wonderful: Newport Dunes Lighting]]> Wed, 23 Nov 2016 09:59:02 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/DunesLites23232.jpg

HOW DO WE LIKE OUR TREES? As least the trees we stand in our dens and living rooms each December and proceed to cover with tinsel and cranberry and popcorn? The question is one with many answers, for each person likes their Christmas tree to look a bit different, according to taste and fashion and tradition. But an element that has made a strong showing in recent years, where our Christmas trees are concerned, is H2O (and we're not just talking about the water at the tree's base). Ocean-themed ornaments, and those little bubbly lights, make a strong showing on many trees and wreaths nowadays. But for the strongest tree-water connection, one that that takes the theme to a new level of sparkle, best make for Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort where a host of bright firs will be placed around the bay. True, the sparklers aren't actual trees, being made from bulbs, but they pay homage to the shape and spirit of the Christmas tree through light, color, and beauty. Nov. 25 is opening night for...

LIGHTING OF THE BAY, and several festive doings will go down, from a few choral performances to the flipping of the switch to a Grinchly screening adjacent to the water. But if you can't make it to the day-after-Thanksgiving switch-flipping (a day that traditionally sees the start of several lights-oriented happenings around California), know that the Dunes-pretty trees will glimmer nightly out on the bay through the first week in January. Consider the last time you saw a boat covered in lights and how the waves below became a reflective mirror. Now picture a number of light trees, all out on the surface of the water, creating the same ethereal effect. It's pretty stuff, and further strengthens our love of incorporating water elements with our yuletide celebrations.

Photo Credit: Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort]]>
<![CDATA[Christmastime at JW Marriott Desert Springs]]> Fri, 18 Nov 2016 14:02:15 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/JWMarriottDesertSpringsResortSpa.jpg

SNOW IN CALIFORNIA... isn't something that's found in bags on the seasonal aisle at your local store. It truly exists, up at our higher elevations, and it is quite the cold-lovely sight to see. But not everyone needs to build a snowman, or throw a few hastily formed snowballs, to get into the swing of the sparkly season. Gaze upon our desert resorts, places that also flower with the festive spirit, even if daytime temperatures hover in the 70s and 80s and a person is far more likely to take a dip in a pool than shovel a front walkway. (At least when it comes to the frosty white stuff.)

THE CLOSE-OF-THE-YEAR CELEBRATIONS... have a home at the pool-laden, grab-your-sunblock resorts, thanks to the special dinners and dishes at the resort restaurants, the lobby Christmas trees, and the quirky to-dos. The JW Marriott Desert Springs is embracing all that is effervescent and celebratory as Christmas and Hanukkah 2016 approach, so ponder a Palm Desert sojourn if you like your holiday merrymaking with a splash of warm sunshine. The hotel's 2016 merrymaking will include...

GONDOLA SLEIGH SLIDES... as well as "a desert landscape-inspired massive spiced cookie abode. The Desert Winter Wonderland is on for December, but best check with the resort about times and such before you book, if you want to try out that elf-piloted gondola sleigh slide. The desert's halls are soon to be decked, and while snow isn't in the picture, chances to find classic cheer abound.

Photo Credit: JW Marriott Desert Springs]]>
<![CDATA[Hearst Castle's Holiday Style]]> Wed, 23 Nov 2016 18:06:14 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/hearst092923.jpg

IT'S RIGHT AROUND THANKSGIVING... when many people venture out to the storage room to ponder what bows and boughs and ribbons and lights they'll unbox, all with the notion of getting the house ready for yuletide fun to come. Typically, though, at least for many of us, our holiday goodies reside in a bin or two, or perhaps three boxes maximum. Which means our lights and ornaments'll be up and on dazzling display within an hour or two, and we'll be free to move onto other major must-dos, like baking five pans of cookies (six, actually, but one obviously gets devoured during the process).

MAJOR MERRIMENT: What, though, if you had far more than a single bin of decorations to unpack? And what if you had not an apartment or house to festoon but a whole castle, a colossal structure that's known well beyond California? It would be a big undertaking, to say the least, but then Hearst Castle's annual holiday finery is an important part of its character. Guests to William Randolph Hearst's San Simeon abode count on the glitter and pomp come December, for that's tradition at The Enchanted Hill. And tradition has begun again, for 2016, for the castle's social media revealed that...

THE CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS ARE UP: And you didn't even have to wait for December to arrive. The tree is now asparkle, as of mid-November, and the wreaths and holly are up in the spaces seen on the Grand Rooms Tour. But don't dally, devotees of seasonal decorations, as the up-for-a-few-weeks grandeur is only on view through the day after New Year's Day. Make for the castle overlooking San Simeon, and the Pacific beyond, for your fill of what a posh Christmas might have been like decades ago.

Photo Credit: Hearst Castle]]>
<![CDATA[Fungi Face-Off: Big Sur Foragers Festival]]> Thu, 24 Nov 2016 08:07:36 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Mushroombigsur1931232.jpg

IT IS JUST ABOUT THANKSGIVING WEEK... when loads of lively articles and recipes begin to pop up, many detailing ways to incorporate more vegetables and fruits and such into the typically heavy meal. One earthy, non-meat staple always slides into the spotlight come late November, thanks to chefs and food bloggers recommending its inclusion in various stuffings and dressings and breads. It's the mushroom, and while it can rule any season of the year, its time to shine is truly in the damper fall and winter months, at least up around the Big Sur area and Mendocino County, too. Though "shine" isn't exactly the right word, since foragers typically make their fungi finds in shadowy forest groves (and, true, the fungi is beneath the ground, a place that isn't known for its shine). But take the spotlight the mushroom shall, and how, in the middle of January up around Big Sur and Carmel Valley. The flavorful festivity is the...

BIG SUR FORAGERS FESTIVAL, and it will start 2017 off with some yummy, memorable meals from Jan. 13 through 15 (a Friday through Sunday, yep). A number of eat-oriented, adventure-seeking happenings are on the roster, including the mondo Fungus Face-Off, a competition which'll see top-notch toque-wearers showing off their skills with locally sourced mushrooms. Serene Carmel Valley Ranch is the setting for the face-off, and that is, indeed, a place known for its lovely lavender and honey (in addition to its dedication to dining that honors sustainability). What else is on the calendar? A Grand Chef's Forager Dinner, a Local Artisan Market, and more to-dos built around the deep-of-tone taste-filled fungi will fill out the three-day cuisine-big gathering. Just eye the location of the to-do that interests you, to make sure you're in the right spot at the right time. And, really, if you're still pondering Thanksgiving dishes to make, a few mushrooms in the stuffing do pack some pow. Let that be a starter to your fungi-fun wintertime eating. 

Photo Credit: Big Sur Foragers Festival]]>
<![CDATA[Surfin' Santa at Seaport Village]]> Wed, 16 Nov 2016 22:42:12 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/surfinsantaseaport16.jpg

SANTA'S RED OUTFIT, with its iconic hat and shiny buckle and big boots, is something we can describe well, while most of us have a handle on what his sleigh looks like (it has room enough for a multitude of toys, plus it has a few extra seats for any elves who might be traveling with Mr. Claus). And how would we say St. Nick makes his grand arrival? There are a few ways to tell that part of the tale, from describing how his reindeer easily alight upon a snowy rooftop to discussing Santa's love of using a chimney for entry. But sometimes the North Pole's most famous resident likes to change it up a bit, and definitely when calling upon quirky California. While we're not disputing that Santa Claus lands on snowy rooftops in the Golden State, and definitely around the mountains, he also likes to come ashore, either with the help of a trusty boat or kayak or a surfboard. And one of the best-known spots to see Santa and his surfboard is in...

SAN DIEGO... just after Thanksgiving. That's when Surfin' Santa makes his cameo, and while he has left the red suit at home, and traded it for board shorts and a tropics-style shirt, he has the moxie and merriness that we expect from St. Nick. Do note that in 2016 Santa's on-the-water transport will be a speedboat, but he'll have his six-foot surfboard nearby for photographs once he's on land. The Holiday Hipsters will also be around at the Saturday, Nov. 26 event, providing "eclectic" carols, and eco-nice ornament-making will keep young visitors busy at the tables. But should you show in your own surf wear? That's up to you, of course. Just knowing that you live in a state that sports a Surfin' Santa should provide inspiration, and expand how we think of Santa's usual ways of making a splashy entrance.

Photo Credit: Seaport Village]]>
<![CDATA[Swanky Bourbons: Copper Lounge]]> Fri, 25 Nov 2016 06:37:44 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/copperloungedintercon.jpg

FINDING A TONY TAVERN... that specializes in a particular type of libation isn't too hard these days, but discovering a full and robust line-up of a certain spirit can be a bit more of a slog. If you're a fan of gin you might come across five or six juniper-piquant labels, while vodka-ists are lucky to find a vivacious collection of their go-to sip. As for bourbon buffs? The amber-hued favorite has been growing (and growing and growing) in recent years, in terms of menu- and shelf-presence, but discovering a bar that puts a real focus on bourbon is still a bit of a sticky wicket. Prepare to make your way to such a spot, and in the swanky InterContinental Los Angeles Century City, no less. It's...

COPPER LOUNGE, a hotel-based bastion of all things bourbon-tastic (as well as a host of other spirits, wines, and beers). Yes, if you've been to the Century City landmark, you probably recall a different bar in years past. And, yes, Copper Lounge recently underwent a re-imagining, one that puts the spotlight on the swanky spirit, one that helps Mint Juleps and Old Fashioneds and Whisky Sours find their inner oomph. There are some 44 varieties of bourbon at the lounge, "including an exclusive Angel's Envy blend that you can't get anywhere else" (there's also a "barrel-aged vanilla Old Fashioned" made with the posh label). Look also for Angel's Envy in some of the menu's new bites (hello, Angel's Envy bourbon-cured ora king salmon tartar). It's Bourbon Central, in short, a warm-toned spirit that is matched in the warm metallics and woods of the space's design. As we head into wintertime do you find yourself longing for a fine bourbon cocktail in a hotel-elegant setting? Look to Century City and the InterCon, home to one of Southern California's new bourbon-centered spots.

Photo Credit: The Copper Lounge]]>
<![CDATA[Saracina Vineyards: Caroling in the Caves]]> Tue, 15 Nov 2016 16:53:44 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/saracinacaroling09232.jpg

IF FESTIVE MUSIC IS YOUR THING, and you're a fan of any song that starts with a "tra" or a "la," and you're playing ditties about snowmen and candy canes at the exact minute that Halloween wraps at midnight, then you're probably kind of a carol aficionado. Okay, more than "kind of": You adore cheerful songs hung with tinsel and holly, and you enjoy them however and whenever you hear them. You might be strolling by a shop and catch a fragment or you could hear the hum of a seasonal ballad from some distant radio. But one of the most unusual places to experience the singing of Christmas carols has to be in a cave. That can be a mite hard to orchestrate, for when we picture caves we're apt to understandably imagine damp places where stalactites rule. Wine caves, though, aren't damp (except what's inside the bottles inside the cave) and they don't have stalactites, only barrel after barrel of delicious, ripening, time-deepening vino. To experience Caroling in the Caves consider a Dec. 4 visit to...

SARACINA VINEYARDS... in Hopland, which stages an annual afternoon devoted to sipping and season-lovely pleasures. Songs of the season performed in the acoustically awesome wine cave are a highlight, as is the hayride that follows. And will you get to taste some of the Hopland destination's delightful libations? That's part of your thirty dollar ticket (and, yes, "wintertime treats" will be on hand to address your post-hayride appetite). Think you're ready to experience a Christmas song in an offbeat setting? Beyond your car or kitchen? A wine cave qualifies. For info and ticket buying, visit the Saracina site now.

Photo Credit: Saracina Vineyards]]>
<![CDATA[Thanksgiving Feast with Snoopy]]> Wed, 16 Nov 2016 22:41:52 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/tgivingsnoopysantarosa.jpg

SPYING A CELEBRATION ON TV... is pretty normal when the holidays roll around. Just about every series features an episode where the characters go home to see their parents for Hanukkah, or travel a great distance to join a New Year's Eve party always thrown by a childhood best friend. But it is hard to top the television special that's been around since 1973, a show that features the beloved Peanuts gang on a certain November holiday. That holiday, of course, is...

THANKSGIVING, and Charlie Brown and Peppermint Patty and Franklin and Marcy all want to get into the sweet moment of the occasion with their own feast. It's a feast that's become rather famous, and some people even recreate it at home while viewing the annual airing of the show (if they don't already own it). Have you ever wanted to be a part of "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving"? Then make for the...

CHARLES M. SCHULZ MUSEUM... on Saturday, Nov. 19, the Saturday before the family-sweet holiday. There'll be a large-screen showing of the episode, as well as jelly beans and popcorn and toast for snacking (the three important components of the Peanuts' animated dinner). Sonoma Cold Stone Creamery will also call upon the Santa Rosa institution, with ice cream in tow, and crafts'll keep the kids thinking about the themes behind the holiday. Plan to stop by? Please help out the Redwood Empire Food Bank and show with a pair of cans for donation. A bonus? That donation will give your party a free kid's admission to the museum. It's one of the cutest suppers in all of TVdom, and it is coming to life in fine and festive form at the place that knows Peanuts best.

Photo Credit: Charles M. Schulz Museum]]>
<![CDATA[Earthy Eats: Napa Truffle Festival]]> Fri, 18 Nov 2016 12:13:00 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/trufflehands0928323.jpg

BITE INTO ANY RICH DISH, whether it is pasta or pizza or a burger or an omelet, and you'll likely make an observation about what strikes you first (that is, if you're dining with someone who might want to know such an observation). The pizza's chewy crust might be the first sensation the pie provides, while the most outstanding feature of a pasta could be its tangy sauce. As for the burger or omelet? A piquancy might stand out or a cheesy element, if cheese is present. But try any entrée that has the merest hint of a truffle, be it a slice or a shaving, and that's probably the part you'll talk about first (again, if someone is dining with you and has an ear to lend on such matters). Truffles are so distinctive, and so stand-out-y, that they'll be the first ingredient out of the gourmet-grand gate when it comes to greeting your senses. So what's it like to be at an all-truffle gathering, where the straight-from-underground wonders are fragranting-up foodstuffs aplenty? It's delicious, but you can see so for yourself at the...

NAPA TRUFFLE FESTIVAL: The mid-January jubilation is back, with three days packed with seminars, lunches, a "Wild Mushroom Foray," area vinos, vendors purveying in yummy tidbits, and a tour/dog-training demo (since our pup pals play a vital role in truffle-based discoveries). The 2017 dates are Jan. 13 through 16, and locations include Nickel & Nickel as well as Davis Estates. How does a sip of merlot enhance a truffle's salty I'm-here-ness? How do the fungi stars make a bread or quiche more itself? For sure, a truffle can be the most prominent of flavors, but it has a way of lifting the dish as a whole to something superb. Maybe even something that transcends the original idea of what the dish could be. (Plan on expressing such flights of fancy if you're eating truffles with someone who won't mind listening to such things.)

Photo Credit: Napa Truffle Festival]]>
<![CDATA[Condor Release at Redwood National Park]]> Sun, 27 Nov 2016 10:15:15 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Condor3redwood029823.jpg

CONDORS MAY BE ADMIRED... in a few special spots around California, including Big Sur and Pinnacles National Park. But soon a new place will be known for the giant-of-wingspan birds, an endangered species that saw its numbers drop way, way down only three decades ago due to issues like lead-poisoning ("an all-time low of 22 individuals," if you're curious as to how many condors were in the world in the 1980s, and you likely are). People mightily concerned with this drop have come together on numerous projects over the years, all with an eye to supporting a robust condor population and making sure their environments are safe and healthy and can continually provide a base for happy and continued condor furtherment. The news grows happier and healthier, for the condors' base is expanding in the years ahead, thanks to a multi-organization project that aims to "attain 'flight ready' status and release condors in Redwood National Park in Fall 2019."

A NUMBER OF ELEMENTS... are part of this huge undertaking, a project that has partners in the National Park Foundation, the Yurok Tribe, the National Park Service, and the Pacific Gas and Electric Company. Condors, which are important and sacred birds to the Yurok Tribe, will be released within the tribe's ancestral territory, which is located inside the tree-beautiful national park. But before that happens, several parts must slide into place, including the "(c)onstruction of a condor release facility at a site in Redwood National Park" and the "(d)esign of a remote tracking and monitoring system to better understand flight and habitat patterns." The funds helping the condor release stem from the $350 million Centennial Campaign for America's National Parks, but the public will also play a part via a series of upcoming meetings in January 2017 in Klamath, Eureka, Sacramento, and two Oregon cities, Medford and Portland. If you'd like to join this bird-amazing bridge-building for one of our state's most epic, in-the-air symbols, check out when and where you can join a meeting and learn how we can all help the condors.

Photo Credit: Chris West/Yurok Tribe]]>
<![CDATA[WildLights: A Living Desert Tradition]]> Sat, 26 Nov 2016 07:31:42 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/WildlightsDesert11.jpg

THE DESERT IS ALIVE... with scurrying lizards and cooing birds and howling coyotes and any number of furry, scaly, feathery denizens, but the time of day a lot goes down is the question mark. Many critters who call warmer landscapes home tend to be more active after sundown, while some trundle along in the heat of the day from shady shrub to shady shrub. Discovering the day/night patterns of desert denizens is a worthwhile course of natural study, but you don't need to wonder what time of day or night that twinkly little bulbs lend a famous desert destination glow, for that's right on the destination's web site. It's The Living Desert we reference here, the Palm Desert animal preserve that's home to a caboodle of arid-awesome beasties, from tortoises to wolves to bighorn sheep to badgers to bobcats. And it is WildLights we also reference, the November-into-December dazzle-tacular that's all about lighting up the typically dark spaces of animal park. 

WILDLIGHTS... has been around for quite some time now — 2016 will be its 24th go-around — and both regional residents and those from around California call upon it to get a sense of how illumination enhances a space that isn't tree-filled so much as lush with the scrubbier (and always splendid) flora of the desert. Prepare to view "over a million twinkling lights" during the multi-night happening, which opens on Thanksgiving Eve and runs right through to Christmas Eve. Might you even arrive earlier in the day to see the animals, too? It's a good idea, especially since WildLights is about viewing the seasonal displays (a tunnel of lights, animal lanterns, and such) and not about saying hello to The Living Desert's denizens. Santa, by the by, will be around, too, at the seasonal staple. Consider a twinkle-lovely night spent in a place that typically is mostly lit by the moon, a place where wolves and tortoises and badgers rule the roost.

Photo Credit: The Living Desert]]>
<![CDATA[Indio International Tamale Festival]]> Sat, 19 Nov 2016 12:52:04 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/75287822.jpg

TAMALES AND TOGETHERNESS: While most famous foodstuffs can be made by a single cook, there are some dishes and treats and classics that are known for drawing family members or friends to the kitchen for one big delicious group effort. A Thanksgiving turkey can often benefit from a couple of chefs (one in charge of the rub and basting, the other overseeing the bird) while complicated cakes sing under the guidance of a few pastry pros. And as for the tamale? That's one of the great come-together edibles, for it takes time, and a number of friends, to create several dozen perfectly wrapped perfect-to-eat goodies. Someone is on the husks, a few people are at the masa station, and as for the fillings? It really is an all-hands-on-deck project. That's one reason a popular tamale festival is a true, heart-embiggening bash, for it isn't simply about the comidas sabrosa for sale: It's the community spirit, both of those who excel at the venerable art of tamale-makery and those who love their tamales dearly. Prepare for this comity and happy eating-togetherness at the...

INDIO INTERNATIONAL TAMALE FESTIVAL, one of the majors on the tamale festival calendar. It's celebrating its first quarter century in 2017, and foodie magazines to cable shows have detailed its savory path since the beginning. The first weekend in December is your moment to head for the desert — that's Saturday, Dec. 3 and Sunday, Dec. 4 — and, once again, there's no admission to enter (you'll just need funds for all of the amazing tamales you intend to consume). Will you find the perfect calabacitas tamale this year? A pumpkin-luscious packet of yumminess? A carne asada tamale that you'll talk about for decades to come? The possibilities are plentiful. You may even be inspired to host your own tamale day back home, the kind of day where friends come over to kneed some masa, flattened some husks, and find joy in connection, community, and calabacitas-stuffed rectangles of epicness.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Nation's Christmas Tree: Sequoia Ceremony]]> Mon, 14 Nov 2016 12:51:15 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/trektothetreegrant123.jpg

SPIN ALL OF THE FANCIFUL TALES... you like about the various trees you hike by at Sequoia & Kings National Parks, for they definitely won't mind. Tell your son that a gnome lives in that knobbily tree in the distance, the one that kind looks like it could easily have a moat around its base. Tell your friend that the gorgeous tree you just strolled past is from outer space, or perhaps is the queen of the forest. And if a clutch of sequoias in the distance looks like a band of fairies frolicking to you, that's a fine yarn to dream up while on an invigorating walk in the outdoors. But some of the noble trees found around the national park have true and timeless tales to tell, and those tales have histories that appear in books and files and other important places of record. Look to the General Grant, one of the best-known icons of the area, a colossal, branch-laden titan which has filled a famous role since the middle part of the 1920s. That's when it received the title of...

"THE NATION'S CHRISTMAS TREE," and ceremony and sweetness has surrounded it ever since. There's a "Trek to the Tree" each December, when people gather to remember "the men and women of the Armed Forces who have fought and died for their country." Admission to the park is free on the day of the 2016  — Sunday, Dec. 11 — but do note that Grant Grove Restaurant is temporary closed "(d)ue to construction." It's oftentimes snowy, or at least the ground can be crunchy with flakes, so bundle up and find those ready-to-trek boots. It's a hallowed occasion, one with meaning and memory, and it is all attached to a single tree that holds a story that needs no embellishment. It's the General Grant, the National's Christmas Tree, and while the tree is ancient, it will mark the first century of its pomp-filled title in 2025.

Photo Credit: Sequoia & Kings Canyon Parks]]>
<![CDATA[Carmel Quaint: Inns of Distinction Tour]]> Mon, 14 Nov 2016 21:59:17 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Cypress+Inn_Fulls32.jpg

GRAND HOTELS, the kind of multi-story, huge-of-hallway places that have stood in the middle of metropolitan downtowns for decades (and even centuries), are known for their lavish approaches to the seasonal baubles, bows, and bunting. The lobby will be decked from the balcony to the stairs to reception, while each hotel restaurant and bar sports its own tree. This can make big hotels a destination unto themselves come December, but let us also remember that smaller stay-over spots also hang the holly and the ivy and the popcorn and the cranberries. Find a cozy bed & breakfast, the kind with a gable or two, and you're bound to find lights on the porch and a candle in the window. You don't need to search far/wide for such a place around Carmel-by-the-Sea, though, and if you're there around the first Sunday in December? You have a chance to call upon several historic overnighteries in one festive and fell swoop. The name of the annual walk-around (and sip-around, but more on that in a moment) is the Inns of Distinction Tour, and it is scheduled to bring charm and cheer, both, on...

SUNDAY, DEC. 4: The $40 tour is an afternoon affair, from 2 to 5 p.m., and a quaint clutch of the quaint town's quaintest structures are on the map, from Cypress Inn to Carriage House to the Lamp Lighter. There shall be "tastings from local vineyards" and a gratis glass to keep, if you're hoping for a souvenir to remind you of this seasonal tradition. And while some inns may only have a few Christmassy details about, you're bound to feel the comity and beauty of the time of year. Need to know more? Would love to Carmel-it-up in December? Adore a cozy inn and all its appointments, whatever time of year it happens to be? Your tour info is here.

Photo Credit: Cypress Inn]]>
<![CDATA[Holidays High Up: Tram Tree]]> Thu, 24 Nov 2016 08:01:52 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/pstramxmastreeblue9022.jpg

WHERE TREES GROW: It wouldn't be very controversial to say, as a true and factual statement, that trees are often found rooted in the ground. Okay, granted, sometimes a wee fir will call a large pot a home, and there are those strange smaller trees that grow upwards from the large branches of the redwoods of the Trees of Mystery in Klamath. But, in general, if you're looking at a tree, you're probably seeing it at eye-level, and if it is far taller than you, you can spy its earthen base from where you stand. But there are some more offbeat specimens come the sparkly season, the sort of festive symbols that are placed on rooftops and in pickup beds and, on rarest occasion, very, very high up a mountain, on a restaurant reachable by tram. It turns out that there is such a magnificent wonder in California, and while it is a tree made of lights, it counts as one of the quirkiest pyramid-y symbols of the holidays. It's the bulb-tastic tree at...

THE PALM SPRINGS AERIAL TRAMWAY, and it will again glow beginning on the evening of Sunday, Dec. 4. The illuminated wonder sits at the Peaks Restaurant at Mountain Station, which is over 8,500 feet up Mt. San Jacinto, and you can spy it up close while you dine inside (after your thrilling tram ride up). Or if you have a keen eye, you might even see it from Palm Springs, where it appears as a glowing dot in the darkness of the state park. There are some sweet surprises at the tram beyond the tree's lighting (and the nightly sparkle show), like Santa visits, holiday choir performances, and more. But as far as really, really high elevation Christmas trees go? Well, for sure, there are trees higher than the tram's tree in our mountain-marvelous state, but only the tram tree's bright lines can be spied from great distances in the desert below. 

Photo Credit: Palm Springs Aerial Tramway]]>
<![CDATA[Holiday Lights Train at Roaring Camp Railroads]]> Tue, 22 Nov 2016 07:35:15 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/roaringcamprailroad02183232.jpg

SING IT OUT: While coming together and weaving our voices into one melodic passage after another is often said to enhance comity and the spirit of togetherness, we don't always find opportunities to do so. To do so while on the move is even more unusual, unless you count singing with a friend in the car (always a positive act, especially if your pal knows exactly what parts you prefer to shine on). And harmonizing on a train? Generally not the thing to do, since trains are quiet places where passengers are attempting to work or catch a little shut-eye. But the...

SANTA CRUZ HOLIDAY LIGHTS TRAIN, from Roaring Camp Railroads, is not your typical Point-A-to-Point-B choo-choo, and singing is definitely encouraged. You'll carol your way along the streets of Santa Cruz, in fact, and quaff a little apple-y cider (warm, natch) to enhance the festive flavor of the outing. And will the departure point for the train, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, add a dash of conviviality to your evening? Best hop on the carousel before hopping on the train to up the mood (few people can say they've been on a carousel and a train in a single day).

THE DATES FOR THE TRAIN: Sign up for Nov. 25 or 26 or a number of select days in December. And keep in mind that the Felton-based attraction has more beautiful events ahead, including a night celebrating Chanukah and a Holiday Tree Walk, which includes a bit of decorated nature-nice goodness. Longing for a get-out family getaway that gives singing, and cider-sipping, and general sweetness the forefront? Felton's your next stop.

Photo Credit: Roaring Camp Railroads]]>
<![CDATA[Winter Arrives Early in Laguna Beach]]> Mon, 14 Nov 2016 12:45:07 -0800 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/SawdustLagunaXmas2012.jpg

THAT STORYBOOK SCENE: One way to call upon a darling little village, the sort of place that boasts twisting, walkable lanes and wee nooks filled with treasures, is to crack open the fairy tale-filled tome you loved as a kid. The pages will instantly transport you to such a locale, as they did when you were small, but once you close the cover you'll have to bid it goodbye as you acknowledge that such a spot probably doesn't exist on this particular plane. Oh, but it does, and it comes with a ho-ho-ho costume on in November and December, which ups the "fantasy" part of its name. It's the Winter Fantasy at the Sawdust Art & Craft Festival we quite obviously and on-the-nose-ly refer to, the colder weather outing of Laguna Beach's popular summertime handmade fair. The Winter Fantasy typically falls, like the most delicate of snowflakes, onto the calendar just around Thanksgiving, so shoppers can begin to shop as they cross loved ones' names off their lists. But you'll have just...

FIVE WEEKENDS... to browse all of the nifty earrings and pretty headbands and striking photographs and glass ornaments and hand-painted wearables among the many booths (and we do mean many, as some 175 artists show and sell at Sawdust). Santa makes a showing at the annual to-do, and carolers, too. First day? Crunch-crunch along the sawdust beginning on Nov. 19 (the Saturday before Thanksgiving). It all bids goodbye on Dec. 18, the Sunday before Christmas. And in that time period? Gifts to buy, music to hear, and storybook quaint-o-sity to soak up. It's charm-plus-plus-plus, all a short walk from the heart of Laguna Beach.

Photo Credit: Sawdust Winter Fantasy]]>