<![CDATA[NBC 7 San Diego - Worth the Trip]]> Copyright 2014 http://www.nbcsandiego.com/blogs/worth-the-trip http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/KNSD+RSS+Feed+logo+blue.png NBC 7 San Diego http://www.nbcsandiego.com en-us Sat, 20 Dec 2014 09:30:34 -0800 Sat, 20 Dec 2014 09:30:34 -0800 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Salton Sea: Winter Solstice Kayak Tour]]> Sat, 20 Dec 2014 09:08:16 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/saltonbird55976148.jpg

LOW SUNLIGHT, MUCH BEAUTY: The fans of the Salton Sea are pretty true blue, as the blue as the sky over the storied desert-based plot of water on any given summer's day. They like tales of its early days, of its ties to the Colorado River and how developers pushed it to become a recreational playground (that was not a hope that came to pass, famously). But the lonely expanse of water is a fertile gathering place for birds, and for photographers, and for any adventurer who knows about its ups-and-downs of fortune (and its current stewardship under the California State Parks). You can visit the sea, but you don't have to just stand on an edge for a few minutes, looking outward, before wrapping up your visit: You can head out by kayak.

AND YOU CAN DO SO... on the solstice, if you like, marking the shortest day of the year in a remote and scenic setting, a place where the sun really does rule all, or seems to some days. Salton Sea SRA and the California State Parks have a kayak program designed for entry-level kayakers, and it is one that introduces people to the water beyond the shore (and some of the beautiful bird life, like the pelicans that flock there). There are a few kayak days to come, including one on New Year's Day, and they all fall at noon, but the Winter Solstice outing? It's at 3 p.m., so you'll get some of that afternoon-into-evening softness as you dip your oar into our inland sea and admire the feather-laden fauna.

YOU'LL NEED TO RESERVE... and donations are definitely accepted. Tips on weather and wearables are on the site, tips that should be heeded, given the Salton Sea's way-out-there-ness. But isn't that way-out-there-ness why so many of us like it so? What a treat, then, to be on the water on the solstice or on New Year's Day, a rare and memorable outing.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[In the Near Distance: Gray Whale Season]]> Fri, 19 Dec 2014 12:32:24 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/whalewatchingoxnard12345.jpg

GIANTS ON THE HORIZON: Few creatures are both known and a tad mystical, but whales have an almost supernatural knack for existing fully in each column. On the one hand we humans know these magnificent mammals top-to-blowhole. We understand migration patterns, what they eat, how they sleep, and the hundreds of quirks that define the largest living creatures on the planet. And yet..? That doesn't stop us for centering the whale on color-swirl posters, and rainbow-hued t-shirts, and writing poems and paeans to the our mammalian brethren. It's true that something can be known and still inspire enchantment and art, and few creatures do this as aptly, and as often, as the whale. We're fortunate, here in the Golden State, that the known-but-fantastical beasties pass by our shores each winter during their annual migration, and that we get a chance to maybe possibly fingers crossed admire them from the vantage point of a boat. Gray whale spotting season kicks off the day after Christmas, if the holidays have you in a poetical, grandeur-seeking mood. Want to see an earthling that is both a star of scientific research and a favorite subject of psychedelic-minded painters? Book a passage from Oxnard starting on...

DEC. 26: Both Island Packers and Channel Islands Sportfishing Center will be nosing the passenger boats out of Channel Islands Harbor in search of the magnificent grays. The Island Packers trips run about 3 1/2 hours, are narrated, and are non-landing, so it is about you, the boat, and a possible blowhole. As for the Channel Islands Sportfishing folks? That excursion a half day, so keep those whale-lovin' eyes good and peeled, because "an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 Pacific Gray Whales migrate through the Channel on their way to and from the warm lagoons of Baja California, Mexico." Will you see one of those thousands of grays? Well, a little luck should be on your side, but you'll see some birds, and maybe a seal or dolphin, and plenty of sunshine or that quintessential soft sea air. That soft foggy setting lends to the whale's mystical rep, something we never want to see go away. Yes, we should understand these creatures, the better to preserve and help where needed, but a whale t-shirt full of rainbows and planets it kind of amazing, too. May these giants always be on both side of the science/art line.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Modernism Week]]>
<![CDATA[Casita Updates Debut at La Quinta Resort & Club]]> Tue, 16 Dec 2014 13:26:12 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/laquintasunset12345.jpg

THE SAME BUT SPIFFIED-UP: If ever there was a bard with a knack for spinning a tale dealing with the hearts of men and how we seek to transform our lives and stand taller in our shoes, it is Frank Capra. The screenwriter, the legend behind movies like "It Happened One Night" and "It's a Wonderful Life," favored themes of the upbeat and transformational sort, themes that very much suit the property with which the scribe is most associated: La Quinta Resort & Club. Mr. Capra typed out some of his most celebrated stories in a casita on the grounds of the landmark hotel, a property that's kept its 1920s-style cred while gently and stylishly updating its casitas, Starlight Villas, suites, and outdoor areas over the decades. That's no easy feat, as any hotelier can tell you -- keep the charm while freshening up the look, feel, fabrics, and furniture. But Mr. Capra's favorite writing hangout, and one of the desert resort region's oldest enclaves, has just complete a multi-million dollar room refurbishment, and just in time for the holidays, too, when many a "It's a Wonderful Life" fan makes for the flower-lined driveway for a little George Bailey-esque celebrating.

SO WHAT'S BEEN UPDATED? Smith & Firestone, a firm based in Los Angeles, "created a residential-style design featuring custom tilework and wrought iron elements, new furniture, floor coverings, and two-toned blocked drapery panels." Other touches include "oversized, nail-embellished headboards," "new fire features" on the Starlight Casita patios, upgraded lighting, fresh patio furniture, wingback chairs, leather bed benches, 42- to 47-inch flat-screen TVs, and Keurig coffemakers. Fancy stuff.

AS FOR THOSE LA QUINTA-SWEET GROUNDS? Look for more bougainvillea, the green most associated with the mountain-close expanse, more roses, and more citrus trees. Need a dose of all of that, plus some holiday spirit? The seasonal happenings are on during December. Look for nightly menorah lightings, cooking classes geared towards families, and holiday dining at Morgan's in the Desert.

Photo Credit: La Quinta Resort & Club]]>
<![CDATA[Rustic Seasonal: Carmel Valley Ranch Holiday]]> Mon, 15 Dec 2014 11:41:43 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/carmelvalleytreeseason1.jpg

YOUR MERRY ITINERARY: Hotels have been staging holiday-themed activities practically since the invention of hotels. Historians can quibble over why this is so, but the reason seems to come down, pretty squarely, on this: Hotels are people's homes, at least for a night, and if we'd observe a holiday at home, we're going to do so on the road, somehow, especially if it is tradition for us. Several stay-over spots have excelled in this regard, particularly destination hotels that regularly erect a glittery lobby tree come Thanksgiving and host a roster of cinnamon-scented events throughout December. But not all hotel holiday happenings are cut from the same sequin-sparkly cloth. There are the big city properties, that do a lot of over-the-top, twinkle-and-bustle seasonal stuff, and there are the more rustic destinations, that go in for a quieter Christmas. Carmel Valley Ranch offers a more bucolic end-of-the-year experience, and the list of lovely, home-away-from-home happenings is as long as a popcorn or cranberry string on a tree. They include...

HOMESPUN HOLIDAY CRAFT AND CULINARY WORKSHOPS: Oh yes. This is where you're going to learn how to make a beeswax candle, and distill lavender oil (something the property knows a lot about, also being a famous lavender farm), and make gingerbread houses, and make lavender soap, too. Maximizing the marvelously hill-and-dell-y setting are the Holiday Burn-Off Hikes, which, no surprise, happen on Dec. 26 and Jan. 2. And will there be s'more-making and cider-sipping around a fire pit? It hardly seems like a more nature-snug vacation without it.

THERE ARE OTHER GOINGS-ON... from Nutcracker Holiday Teas to Santa Family Portraits, so it isn't all an outdoorsy yuletide. There is, however, a strong emphasis on the natural world at Carmel Valley Ranch, and that extends to the property's seasonal celebration. Gotta love a big-city hotel's celebration, but making a beeswax candle, and noshing on s'mores, has that slow-down but still celebratory vibe many people desire come December. 

Photo Credit: Carmel Valley Ranch]]>
<![CDATA[The High Roller's Happy 12-13-14]]> Sat, 13 Dec 2014 09:09:30 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/188*120/highroller121314.jpg

WEDDING ON THE WHEEL: If you've ever been involved in nuptialing before, either as one of the people taking the vow or as an attendant or family member, you know that a certain sense of movement can set in, a blur, if you will, as bouquets and caterers and limo rides and hotels are all lined up. But actually having a wedding on the move is something quite unusual; generally two people stand still, before an officiant, and repeat their vows. Even in drive-through chapels, those Nevada kitsch-colorful icons, the car comes to a stop, so the merry marrying people may say the words they need to, to secure that license and their future together. But a whole veiled-up, tuxedo-cool group of adventurers will actually and honestly get married on the move on Saturday, Dec. 13. The not-so-stationary place staging the exchanging of the rings? The High Roller, at The Linq in Las Vegas. The reason? Saturday, Dec. 13 happens to be 12-13-14, "the last sequential date of this century." Yes, for sure, the rare occurrence is holding a lot of whimsical water for people looking to get hitched, and, perhaps in part, find an anniversary that's a snap to remember.

SO IF YOU MAKE... for the High Roller on 12-13-14, look up: Several "in-cabin" weddings will be going down. (Or, more accurately, up, and then down.) Some couples will be marrying, while others will be renewing their vows. The weddings kick off at 10:11 a.m. and wrap at 12:13 p.m. -- check out the nicely sequential nature of those two times -- and, you guessed it, all of that nuptialing will be happening simultaneously, so one of the most famous Ferris wheels in all the land truly will be, for a couple of hours, a circle of love.

IF YOU'RE NOT MARRYING... on 12-13-14, you can still call upon the Strip-close wheel on another date. It's $24.95 to ride the 550-foot High Roller, which is billed as the World's Tallest Observation Wheel, and, yep, entire cabins can be rented for a higher fee, if you're looking to do some proposing or have private time with pals. But the real question is if you can see your house from the top of the High Roller. Almost, right? Regardless of where you live? Those Vegas vistas do stretch on, practically into the next century.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Gardens]]>
<![CDATA[Granite and Ice: Curry Village Rink Open]]> Fri, 12 Dec 2014 15:28:29 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/185*120/yosemitenationalparkhistoricrink123.jpg

WHERE CAN YOU FIND TWO ANCIENT THINGS... side by side? Well, you can see sand and surf down at any of California's glorious shorelines. You can gaze up, in the redwoods, and admire a very high tree top against the sky. And you can enjoy the contrast of ice and rock in Yosemite National Park. True, the ice we refer to can be seen each winter at the Curry Village Ice Rink, so, granted, the ice isn't all that old. But frozen water as a concept definitely is -- no quibbles there, right? Ice=old -- and Half Dome, the granite giant that often symbolizes the national park, has seen a sunset or two. Which makes them the perfect duo to sit adjacent, or fairly adjacent-ish, from November through the beginning of March, when the skaters are out enjoying icy twirls and granite views.

PHOTOGRAPHS REVEAL... that the rink has held recreational sway in the picturesque valley for over 80 years (though today's skaters are more apt to don Lycra and fleece rather than long wool coats and muffs). That Half Dome is framing the scene, and Glacier Point, too, speaks volumes about that early decision to place a rink there: It was a good one.

AS FOR COST? Well, you'll need to get into Yosemite National Park, so there's a fee, and the rink? It's ten and a half bucks for adults and seniors, a tenner for kids, and skate rentals cost four dollars. A fire pit is snug with the rink, and guests are welcome to purchase warming beverages at the not-too-far-away Curry Village Gift and Grocery Store.

WE'RE NOT SAYING... to forsake your favorite slab of ice, the one down the block from you. Nor should you give up the seasonal rinks that pop up outside malls and shopping centers. But for that spectacular natural experience, gliding under the watchful, eternal granite eye of Glacier Point is unparalleled, here in California, or anywhere. Hyperbole? Sure, but if ever a place merited an occasional hyperbolic statement, it is the big Y.

Photo Credit: Yosemite National Park]]>
<![CDATA[New: First-Ever Catalina Island Destination Resort Spa]]> Wed, 10 Dec 2014 10:26:32 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/catalinaspa01.jpg The Island Spa includes Pacific views, nine treatment rooms.

Photo Credit: Island Spa]]>
<![CDATA[New: 125th Yosemite Anniversary Site]]> Tue, 09 Dec 2014 09:04:59 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/halfdome452872764.jpg

MULTIPLE MAJOR ANNIVERSARIES: Every human being, every relationship, and every institution boasts not just one meaningful date on their particular calendars, but, very likely, several. We people have birthdays, but there are other significant happenings that we pause and remember. Same with relationships: You might celebrate the anniversary of when you met, and your first date, and your engagement, and your marriage. It is no surprise, then, that something as large and as grand as Yosemite National Park has numerous important occasions and momentous anniversaries orbiting its magnificent, tree- and granite-filled expanse. We just marked the 150th anniversary of the Yosemite Grant in 2014 (that's when President Lincoln signed into law protections for this not-so-little slice of wilderness). Now, as the Facebook page for Yosemite National Park wryly notes, it seems like the park "is getting younger" with its next big anniversary: 125 years in 2015. The 125th celebration will spotlight Yosemite's official entry into the national park system, which happened in 1890 (yep, the grant was much earlier, in 1864). So, how do you mark a quasquicentennial for one of the planet's most treasured treasures?

YOU START WITH A SITE, OF COURSE: And the Yosemite National Park 125th Anniversary site is now live, complete with stunning graphics, a timeline tab, and a portal to events that'll roll out during 2015. Oct. 1, by the by, is the actual date Yosemite reached the zenith of national-park-dom, if you want to circle that on your own calendar, so you're sure to be in the park on that pretty, probably-warm-and-glorious fall day. Want to get involved, volunteer, or even look ahead to yet another related anniversary, the National Park Service's centennial? The 125th anniversary site will lead you there, much as the Merced River leads adventurers deeper into beautiful Yosemite Valley. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Deep Death Valley, Velvety Night Shining Bright]]> Mon, 08 Dec 2014 14:12:04 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/180*120/dvstarnight12345.jpg

A NATIONAL PARK... couldn't and shouldn't be summed up by one pursuit or activity or theme or landmark. It's for lovers of flora, it's for enthusiasts of fauna, it's for people who like to hike, bike, and be physical. History mavens have found much to delve into, too, as have visitors who dig the science behind tree rings and the ages of rocks and why the hills erode. But a fairly recent reason for being in a national park has been flirting with the forefront, even if it involves something humans have been doing since visiting forests and deserts and beaches: looking up at the night sky.

TRUE... we've always enjoyed the stars while communing with nature, but the movement away fro city light sources and into darkness, the kind of darkness that existed hundreds of years ago, has been gaining steam. (We're picturing steam from a fumarole and not an electrical source, of course.) Both Sequoia and King's Canyon National Parks and Lassen Volcanic National Park have fairly recently introduced Dark Sky Festivals, and both summertime events were well-attended. Death Valley National Park has also been trading lamps for low light, or no light, via Star Parties. The low 'n hot expanse is recognized as "the world's largest International Dark Sky Park," and a telescope-laden gathering there insures some serious one-on-one-ing with the Milky Way. Game to get away from our human-made glow and into some true nightfallian dimness? Then mark Feb. 20-21, 2015 on your calendar, and make a heart around those dates, because you're going to love on the sky.

FURNACE CREEK RESORT, in partnership with the Las Vegas Astronomical Society, is the host of the two-dayer, which is all about searching out "constellations, planets, deep-sky objects, celestial events" and more without bright bulbs or screens muscling their way in (there's a solar component, too, with daytime viewing hours). If you can't make the February Star Party, ranger-led happenings around Death Valley frequently gaze up into the cosmos, with an eye to the moon's surface, meteors, and other wonders that don't need our electrically produced illumination competing with their beauty.

WANT TO ADD... Sequoia's Dark Sky Festival to your list? The September 2015 dates are live.

Photo Credit: Furnace Creek Resort]]>
<![CDATA[Palm Springs Tram Tree: A Bright Light]]> Sat, 06 Dec 2014 09:50:31 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/treetrambluenight.jpg

IT'S A TREE: Have you ever gaze up the side of a very large hill, or even a mountain, because a twinkling light in the distance caught your notice? And did you ask the people you were with "hey, what is that up there? A house? A fallen star? A particularly powerful campfire?" It can be a mystery to see a light upon a mountain. But, starting on Sunday, Dec. 7, when you see a certain sparkle up the side of Mount San Jacinto in Palm Springs you won't have to guess at its mysterious origin: It'll be the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Christmas tree, a 6,500-LED light sparkler that stands large 'n lovely atop Mountain Station. 

SINGER JACK JONES... shall be the 2014 honorary tree lighter, and the Palm Springs High School Madrigal Singers will lend their voices to the festive evening proceedings. The tree, by the by, is 45 feet tall "and can be seen from throughout the Coachella Valley." If you can't make it up the side of San Jacinto for the first night of celebrations, singing groups'll lend seasonal flavor over several other December nights, including Dec. 19, when the Cathedral City High School Choir brings the caroling cheer. Santa'll be on the revolving tram on Dec. 20, ho-ho-ho-ing and visiting with good girls and boys (and men and women).

AS FOR THE SNOW GUESSING CONTEST? As to when the first inch would fall at Mountain Station? That is now over and done, as, yes, flakes fell in a flurry on Friday, Nov. 21. Over 554 people made guesses, starting on Oct. 1, which is the usual start to the tram's annual "when will it snow?" contest. For, you betcha, Mountain Station not only has Santa, and a see-it-from-all-over LED tree, but it does get that Christmassy cold stuff starting at just about this time of year.

Photo Credit: Palm Springs Aerial Tramway]]>
<![CDATA[New: Historic Del Mar Walking Tour]]> Sun, 07 Dec 2014 08:08:19 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/historicdelmarwalking1.jpg

WHAT DID THAT BUILDING USED TO BE? It's a common question asked by lovers of cities and towns and those who need to know our common civic backstories. But it isn't a question that's always easily answered. Perhaps the current shopkeeper inside the building can piece together a few facts, or the chamber of commerce, but learning the history of a structure as you stand before it is kind of a rare treat. That's less rare, though, at least around Del Mar, which has recently introduced a number of plaques on some of its more prominent, well-known, and well-storied landmarks. True, many a city hangs austere and fact-filled facts, but the Del Mar plaques have a fresh twist: There's a scannable QR code that will summon the information about the structure to your phone. Meaning its a history-packed walking tour, but one without a guide. Or, rather, your smart phone is your guide.

SO SATE YOUR CIVIC-COOL CURIOSITY... about the Del Mar Library, "which was formerly the St. James Catholic Church, which celebrated its first mass in 1914 without pews, lights, or an altar." And L'Auberge del Mar once housed Hotel del Mar and the Stratford Inn. (Year built: 1910.) Every street, every thoroughfare, and every burg has a tale or two, and being able to access those tales any time, via technology, is a very nice, oh-so-convenient thing, indeed. 

WANT TO DO A LITTLE READING... about the Davidson Building and Del Mar Plaza now? You can, here. Honest, how many times a year -- or a month or a week -- do we zip by these places without knowing what they have to tell? Cities, like the people who occupy them, brim with dates, anecdotes, and vivacity, too.

Photo Credit: Del Mar]]>
<![CDATA[General Grant Ceremony: Trek to the Tree]]> Fri, 05 Dec 2014 17:04:35 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/trektothetreegrant123.jpg

GENTLE GIANT: There are, without doubt, some very celebrated and photographed and visited trees that pop up around the country come Christmas time. The White House tree is one of the most well-known, and the shrub that dominates the ice rink at Rockefeller Center, and city trees from Chicago to Atlanta to LA (where the "world's tallest live cut tree" stands at The Citadel Outlets). But few celebrated Christmas trees actually still stand where they grew, with roots in the ground. One major example does, and it in fact earned the title "The Nation's Christmas Tree" from President Calvin Coolidge back in the 1920s.

IF YOU'RE GUESSING... that it has to be in a national park, probably located within the Golden State, given our rep for plants of a very colossal nature, you'd be totally correct. If you're guessing it is a redwood or sequoia, you're in the right ballpark (or, um, national park). And if you think it might be a tree that already comes with its own name and well-documented stats, right again: The Nation's Christmas Tree is the General Grant, which is located in King's Canyon. And each and every December fans snowboot-up and make for a touching tribute, complete with carols and a salute to lives lost by members of the military.

SUNDAY, DEC. 14: Revelers and those wishing to have a reverent moment will head into the possibly snowy giant sequoia grove on the middle Sunday of the last month of the year. It's year 89 for The Trek to the Tree, and The Grant Grove Restaurant has a special holiday menu available in honor of the day (for either lunch or dinner, note). The Trek happens at 2:30 in the afternoon, and there are buses from Sanger or you can drive yourself in. It's a good thing to get the details on this one, since you're going deep into the forest of giants, and deep into our national past and the spirit of the season, too.

Photo Credit: Trek to the Tree]]>
<![CDATA[Laguna Cliffs Marriott's Holiday by the Sea]]> Thu, 04 Dec 2014 07:02:12 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/214*120/lagunacliffsmarriott123.jpg

THE SEASONAL COMFORTS OF HOTEL: We love to think cozy thoughts of home, particularly during the twelfth month of the year, when every third commercial shows family members walking through the door and hugging various relatives, all before the group sits down to the perfect meal or perfect present-opening session. But being at home isn't strictly necessary for making the most of the Noel. Hotels famously do up the comforts of the season, and even if they aren't physically as cozy as a small den -- some lobby ceilings are quite high -- that coziness is very much implied by the full complement of extras and additions the hotel offers during December. The Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa is doing the Christmassy complement thing, with one new bonus: It's walking distance to Dana Point's first-ever IlluminOcean, the the glowing light show that's all about LED-cool creatures of the deep. That might be enough of a reason for any holiday buff to make a date with the Pacific-snug hotel, but, as mentioned, the Christmas-cozy roster at the Laguna Cliffs is jam-packed. Starting with...

BREAKFAST WITH SANTA: Be sure to have that list written for the Man in Red prior to Sunday, Dec. 14, when families gather at the resort to sup and sit with Santa, talking wishes and that whole naughty-nice deal. Adults pay $35 and kids get in for $15. Leading up to the 14th are S'mores and Stories -- that's on the 12th and 13th -- and the IlluminOcean Package, which includes an overnight stay, a blanket, and two mermaid-themed glow-in-the-dark cocktails. 

WAIT... Why have we never had a mermaid-themed glow-in-the-dark cocktail before? Truly a glaring omission on our bucket list. The Laguna Cliffs Marriott, by the by, is billed as "the only hotel in walking distances of IlluminOcean." If you've been wanting to take in Dana Point's glittery 40 Nights of Lights, and score a glow-in-the-dark libation of mermaidian proportions, this, Christmas revelers, is your chance.

Photo Credit: Laguna Cliffs Marriott]]>
<![CDATA[On Sale: 2015 "Pageant of the Masters" Tickets]]> Wed, 03 Dec 2014 13:10:11 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/pageant2015painting.jpg

LAGUNA BEACH SPLENDOR: Southern California may be having its first real, multi-day rain since last winter, and its damp 'n chilly charms may be setting many a mood to colder thoughts and many a fireplace to high. But summer is on the far yonder, and there are few things that speak of that mythical season more than one of the Golden State's most mimicked, buzzed-over, and homaged cultural events, a happening that will hit its centennial in less than two decades. We speak of The Pageant of the Masters, also known as a tableaux vivant, also known as the on-stage show where people freeze in place, barely breathing, in order to accurately portray a famous work of art. Tickets went on sale on Monday, Dec. 1 for the 2015 event, so Pageant buffs can those close, close, close-up seats, the better to see the real human beings portraying painted human beings.

AND, OKAY... you got us: Everyone on stage is definitely breathing, and thank goodness. In fact, watching for little signs of life within the masterfully recreated works of art is one of the many charms of the Pageant, which recently marked its 80th year as a Laguna Beach and California icon. Yes, for sure, you want "The Last Supper" and that Monet and this Picasso to be exquisite and perfect, from costume to frame. And yet? It's rather fun to see the Mona Lisa blink, or a Degas ballerina slightly tilt her head before your eyes.

AS FOR THE 2015? It's "The Pursuit of Happiness." But best be on the pursuit for those tickets: The Pageant of the Masters, which is part of the larger Festival of the Arts, traditionally only fills out the months of July and August. We say "only" in a slightly greedy fashion, because it is a popular event, and those seats, particularly near the stage, fill up with art lovers, culture fans, and audience members looking for the slightest breath and blink.

Photo Credit: Pageant of the Masters]]>
<![CDATA[Cypress Inn: Love on the Rocks Package]]> Wed, 03 Dec 2014 13:09:45 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/cypressinnloveontherocks1.jpg

THAT ONE WORD: If you visualize some of California's most famous getaways, do particular words instantly pop into your mind? Perhaps when you hear Hotel del Coronado you think "turret," and "glass" is what you most associate with LA's own Westin Bonaventure. What, pray tell, do you visualize when The Cypress Inn comes up in conversation? For sure, you probably think "Doris Day" or "Carmel-by-the-Sea" but "dogs" are what people, especially Fido fans, easily alight upon first. For Ms. Day's 1920s charmer is so sweet on the pooches that one can almost feel as if the hotel's visiting pups made the reservations and their humans are just along for the trip. How famously animal-oriented is this historic landmark? There's a dogly Director of Pet Relations, complimentary pet blankets, and maps of hound-happy destinations around the area. So planning a trip to The Cypress Inn with an initial focus on couple fun, rather than your furry charges, can be the slightest bit discombobulating at first. But an upcoming couples-oriented package should soon ease any discombobulation. Love on the Rocks is the Carmel nook's wintertime special, it starts on New Year's Day and runs through the end of February, and just because it is about you and your honey does not mean your doggy BFF can't join you -- he or she can, of course, and should.

JUST MAKE SURE... that you book one of the Inn's suggested pet sitters before the two of you humans head out by kayak, which is part of the package. It's a rental through Adventures by the Sea, and the outing includes "scouting the rugged shoreline at Lover's Point in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary." Will you spy otters and seals? Chances are good. (You'll have to tell Fido all about it, when you return to your hotel room, but just make sure he knows that he's always and forever the numero uno animal in your life.)

OTHER PARTS OF THE PACKAGE... include those well-appointed Cypress Inn accommodations. You'll stay for a night, you'll get breakfast, turndown chocolates, and a cocktail flight (that's poured for two, natch). Price? The kick-off is $225 per night, covering both of you. Can your pupster join? Absolutely. This is The Cypress Inn, the California stay-over must likely to summon the word "dog" to every hotel- and hound-loving traveler's mind.

Photo Credit: Michael Troutman/DMT Imaging]]>
<![CDATA[Solvang's Cozy Christmas Lead-Up]]> Sat, 29 Nov 2014 14:09:20 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/160*120/JulefestWinterfestBallerinas.jpg

CHRISTMAS'S CALIFORNIA ADDRESS: If you've ever bopped around the country, or the world, because of school, or a job, or a series of family moves, you know that sometimes you have to keep an address, or a way to contact you, in a few different places, maybe via a friend's house or a post office box. Christmas, we suspect, also does just this, as one can find outposts of the North Pole, or at least North-Pole-y touches, throughout the United States. And while the yuletide bubbles up, with authenticity, charm, and many, many decorations throughout the Golden State, there is one town that is clearly its California address: Solvang. It has been said before: The Danish, windmill-y town feels like Christmas even on the most broiling, sweat-beads-everywhere July day, so when December shows up, laden with pastries, carols, and lights, Solvang shifts up into some serious sparkle courtesy of Julefest, its annual yuletide multi-day celebration. That shift starts juuuuust about the beginning of the month, but the tree lighting that really pumps up the jolly goes down on Friday, Dec. 5.

AS FOR THE PARADE? That follows the lighting of the big fir, on Saturday, Dec. 6, and visitors can view that whole first weekend of December as a sort of Christmassy open house. (It is, indeed, the Shop, Mingle & Jingle weekend, officially.) The grown-up glittery Solvang Julefest Wine About lands over the following weekend -- think 12 tasting rooms offering tastes for forty bucks a person -- and the wrap-it-all-up Christmas tree burn happens on Jan. 9. But whenever you find yourself in the town over the final month of the year, trust that it shall be well-baubled out. And is there a food more suited to the holiday than the aebleskiver, the plump doughy snack that's synonymous with Solvang? Yep, it's true: This is where Christmas keeps its post office box in the state of California.

Photo Credit: Solvang]]>
<![CDATA[Encinitas Enchantment: Garden of Lights]]> Fri, 05 Dec 2014 10:11:48 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/sdbg_rachelcobb1.JPG

GLIMMERS AND BLOSSOMS: The very first person who placed a candle near some flowers, by night, was onto something, for seeing our flora by the flicker or glow of an incandescent object is a wonderfully esoteric experience. True, we can see all of those buds and branches much better during the daytime, courtesy of our nearest star, but all of those further away stars, come sundown, don't engage in the full illumination thing quite as well (though the moon does lend its muscle). So spying an iris or prickly pear by soft, see-able light, or twinkling light, requires some human assistance, via candles or, in our modern age, strings of bulbs.

MANY A LARGE GARDEN... decks the halls -- er, trees -- with such strings each season, then invites nature lovers and enjoyers of holiday traditions to wander among the lit-up plants, savoring the scene without the sun to send every shadow running. The San Diego Botanic Garden does just that, each December, via The Garden of Light. Picture over 100,000 lights in all -- probably many, many more than even the most of intrepid of we decorators display around our homes -- glittering-up the agave and cypresses and leafy scenes. Is there less hustle and bustle than spying all of those lights on a home? For sure, you're in nature. 

DATES AND TO-DOS: Dec. 6 through 23 and Dec. 26 through 30 are the scarf-up, stroll-about dates for 2014. Marshmallow roasting, that king of cooler night outdoor activities, visits with Santa, and clip-clop wagon rides (meaning a horse is at the lead) also lend the garden glow some more seasonal flavor. As for special somethings to keep an eye out for, on select nights? "Snow" falling -- yep, snow's in quotes, so no need to don that parka -- and the serving of hot mulled wine.

Photo Credit: Rachel Cobb]]>
<![CDATA[In Full Wing: Goleta Monarch Butterfly Grove]]> Fri, 05 Dec 2014 17:05:24 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/monarchbutterfly.jpg

EMPERORS OF THE EUCALYPTUS: You've probably trucked out the word "profusion" on occasion, to describe something you've seen that seemed, to your eyes, to be made up of a prodigious number of individual elements. Oh, maybe there were a profusion of trick-or-treaters on your street over Halloween, or perhaps there was a profusion of candies left at the bottom of your bowl when the night was through. (We know, we know, you had to eat them, or else they'd go stale in a day.) But you may pause to review every instance in which you've employed that particular word once you call upon one of our state's hallowed Monarch butterfly groves. There's one in Pacific Grove, and the butterflies are rather sweet on Pismo Beach, and Goleta goes the grove road every November through February. Which all leads up to this: We're now entering the prime months to view a beautiful insect, or many, many beautiful insects, up in the eucalyptus trees, as they call upon Goleta during their annual migration. There's a good chance that you'll say "profusion" once or twice, seeing how those butterflies do like to cluster. And as of Nov. 16? About 500 butterflies have been reported.

THE GOODS ON THE GROVE: "The site is open sunrise to sunset with no admission fee, but the City of Goleta does accept donations to support the Monarch Butterfly Docent Program." Nice. There are a few to-knows: You should stay on the paths, and keep dogs on their leashes, and avoid making loud noises. All totally sensible stuff, of course, to keep our winged winter visitors happy. Docents are around on weekends near midday, if you want to chat with someone knowledgable about the Monarchs. Peak populations of the Monarchs, by the by, have risen in recent years, per the grove. Fingers crossed that the whole profusion thing'll be going down up in the trees on the day you choose to visit.

A GROUP OF BUTTERFLIES: You may also want to call the superstars by their collective name. "Swarm" is a popular suggestion, as is a "flutter" or a "kaleidoscope." Yeah, that sounds about right: Our California butterfly groves do welcome a veritable kaleidoscope of Monarchs each wintertime.

Photo Credit: Monarch Butterfly]]>
<![CDATA[Taylor Guitar Factory: Tours and Toy Donations]]> Mon, 01 Dec 2014 22:34:35 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/taylorfactorytoydrive1.jpg

KNOWING YOUR INSTRUMENT: Many a music teacher who sits down with a first-time pupil will do a bit of talking about the history of the instrument that the pupil has selected to learn. Maybe when it was first developed -- perhaps hundreds of years ago -- and where and famous players and some tidbits not known widely among its fans. And many a teacher will pause to describe how the instrument is hammered or welded or soldered or molded, before encouraging the pupil to see for herself how the magic all ignites in one single piece made from wood, metal, or both. There are a number of shops and factories that allow enthusiasts to take a informative peek inside, with Taylor Guitars of El Cajon being one of California's oft-cited examples. Why? Because the factory welcomes visitors every weekday at 1 p.m. -- save holidays, that is -- for a tour around the guitar-constructing space. (Let's also add that the company has been around for four decades and is, indeed, "one of the world's leading manufacturers of premium acoustic and electric guitars," with some 700 people in its employ.) If you have been keen to get the "how it comes together" background on one of your favorite instruments, whether you play or simply enjoy hearing others rock out, and you want to do a little bit of good this season, hop on a free Taylor tour before Dec. 17.

OH, AND REMEMBER THAT TOY... or food item to donate. Taylor Guitars is asking all tour attendees to show with either a toy -- unwrapped, natch -- or a nonperishable edible, items which will be collected leading up to the week before Christmas. The factory's hope is to "make a difference for nearly 10,000 East County San Diego families this holiday season." And tour guests will be entered in a raffle, one ticket for each item them show with, and the prizes? TaylorWare goods or, the grand prize, drum roll please, or, rather, guitar riff: a GS Mini guitar.

NICE STUFF... all around, the giving, the learning, and the understanding how an instrument comes together at its origin point. If music is indeed the food of love -- thank you, Shakespeare -- then a music-related donation drive is the kind of big-hearted community builder that lends some magic at the holidays.

Photo Credit: Daniel Knighton]]>
<![CDATA[Yosemite Tent Cabin: Pay the Previous Night's Low Temp]]> Fri, 28 Nov 2014 08:05:37 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/currycanvastemperature1.jpg

EYE ON THE MERCURY: A vacationer can spend his entire holiday without once opening up a newspaper to the weather page or scrolling through his favorite rain-watching app. And when he returns home, and friends ask how the temps were wherever he'd traveled to, he might simply say "oh, it was sunny, maybe in the 70s, maybe low 80s, thereabouts." But there's no thereabouting at Curry Village in Yosemite National Park come the winter months. Keeping a keen eye -- the proverbial eagle eye, really -- on the thermometer, pretty much throughout the night, is a typical element in this particular stay, a stay where people pay the previous night's low temperature for their bed. Of course, that bed is inside an unheated cabin tent, so the challenge takes on a bit of a brrrr factor. And while people do get chilly in the night -- the lows are dipping into the mid-20s a week ahead of Thanksgiving -- some guests do will the mercury a bit lower, all in the spirit of saving a little cash the next night, if a multi-night stay is planned. Because if the low hits 19 degrees, per official data reported by the National Park Service? Yep, that's what guests in the unheated tent cabins will pay the following night: nineteen bucks.

A FEW SHOULD-KNOWS: You'll need to put a bit of money down -- thirty nine dollars -- to reserve your tent cabin, so there is that in advance (though "(r)ates will be adjusted the morning after each night's stay"). Degrees are measured in F, not C. You can, and should, layer up as much as you want to, to ward off the brisk. There are a few dates where this deal is not on, like around Thanksgiving and Valentine's, and certain days of the week are blocked-out, too. And, wait for it, if that ol' mercury slips below the big zero near the bottom, and temperatures samba into the minuses, well, you probably know what is coming: You'll be paid to stay, rather than paying to stay. Surely it is one of the most unusual lodging deals around -- surely -- and it has gained quite the rep as something cold buffs, adventurers, outdoors mavens, and lovers of the offbeat want to try once (or once a winter, for those who get hooked). Need to know more about possibly getting paid to stay in a tent, in a bed, in a national park, if temps really do go that low? Get all you need to snow. Er, know.

Photo Credit: DNC Parks & Resorts]]>
<![CDATA[Afternoon Doldrums Dashed: The WOW Cart]]> Mon, 24 Nov 2014 10:29:42 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/192*120/wowcartps12345.jpg

THAT 4 P.M. LOW: No matter how many tips and tricks you read for besting that whole bottoming-the-heck-out thing so many people tend to do come mid-afternoon, it can be a sticky wicket finding what actually works for you (and making it a regular practice). A cup of green tea is good, if you remember to keep the green tea jar stocked. Stretching is excellent, if you don't mind downward-dogging alongside your desk. And getting enough sleep at night is always key. But what if you could have a cart, loaded with goodies (both of the snacky and the straight-up fruit variety) roll straight up to your desk or chair, regardless of where you happen to be at 4 p.m.? That might be a very good day, and a perk you could get accustomed to (especially if the snacky, fruit-nice edibles were totally complimentary). The Hyatt Palm Springs gets the allure of having a beverage or bite swing your way at that time of day, and how it is extra nice once you're ensconced in a hotel room to stay ensconced and not have to venture out. With that in mind, the hotel introduced the WOW Cart earlier this fall. Think of a large tray on wheels loaded with whole fruit, candy, soda, and water, plus cups, ice, napkins, and utensils.

AS FOR THE WOW CART'S SCHEDULE? It calls upon each room at the Hyatt Palm Springs from 4 to 6 p.m. each day. Well, it alone doesn't do the calling; look for a Hyatt staffer to play Santa here. (What's a Santa-like person operating a WOW Cart called? A Wowzer?) And, yep, that's every room, so if you're chillaxing with a movie during that time, it'll get to you eventually. Don't want the complimentary service? Just hang the "Do Not Disturb" knob-hangee-mabob on your door handle. By the way, may those never be phased out. We see some hotels are going to electronic "Do Not Disturb" signs, but there's something charming about paper and plastic versions. Not that we'd hang one on our door during the WOW Cart's hours anyway; a piece of fruit and some water in the afternoon is just the thing to kick those ol' doldrums right in the keister. 

Photo Credit: Hyatt Palm Springs]]>
<![CDATA[Fall Foliage Report: SoCal, You're Last Up]]> Sat, 22 Nov 2014 07:28:06 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/160*120/autumnleaves_640x480.jpg

WARN THE RELATIVES: Out-of-staters who touch down in Southern California to join in the Thanksgiving celebrations with their relatives likely feel a bit discombobulated. After all, many of our trees and vines have a blush of color in late November -- indeed, some fall shows are only just peaking -- which doesn't exactly fit with the foliage flow in much of the rest of the country. Peak comes in some parts of New England and the Midwest in early October, or even earlier than that, and when the snow falls? Well, bye-bye leaves, especially if those flakes were joined by a chill wind. But here around the lower half of the Golden State? Autumn goes truly gold by Thanksgiving Week, with sumac and oak and the occasional maple doing its crimson or honeyed best to dress up in some fresh hues.

NOPE... we don't have quite the extensive foliage run that other places do, but our gently turning trees still capture many a fancy, both among locals and those visiting for Thanksgiving. The California Fall Color blog has been moving slowly southward, and it is now focusing on SoCal's show as it wraps up for another season. "Southern California moves to the top of the list for fall color this week winning both Peak of the Week and Hike of the Week." Valerymo in the San Gabriel Mountains is the Peak pick, while the Lower Doane Valley Loop/Weir Trail in San Diego County scores the top hike spot.

ALSO NEAR PEAK? The Los Angeles County Arboretum, which is classified by the blog, as of the Thursday before Thanksgiving, as being 50% to 75% near peak. And Silverwood Lake in the San Bernardino Mountains is also still boasting some photo-worthy leaf action. There's still time, leaf peepers, to find your SoCal foliage, and to impress the heck out of holiday visitors who already bid their autumn leaves adieu over a month ago.

Photo Credit: Autumn]]>
<![CDATA[Vintage Vegas Package: Your Golden Gate Getaway]]> Sat, 29 Nov 2014 12:30:28 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/goldengatenighthotel1.jpg

GO BACK, BACK, BACK IN TIME: Without argument -- not even the littlest quibble -- one can say this, with a certain firmness: Las Vegas is one of the most costume-laden cities in the country, if not the planet. You could, and do, see an Elvis or two, complete with spangly white jumpsuit, pretty much every day you're in and around The Strip, and feathery headdresses atop sequin-rocking showgirls? Pretty par for the course, in certain quarters of Sin City. But less is made of visitors to Vegas rocking the costume look, and, nope, we don't mean bachelorette parties all wearing baseball caps denoting their wedding roles (though those do have certain Vegas-sweet charms). We mean the old-school Las Vegas mavens, the people who show up at the casinos dressed as though they're about to see Sammy and Dean sing together at The Stardust, or catch Louis Prima's late, late show over at the Desert Inn. They're in suits, and "Mad Men"-era frocks, and they do stand out a bit, sartorially, from our casual-loving modern way of dressing. If you're out under the neon by night sporting a skinny necktie, and Sinatra dominates your playlists, it's time for you to go full Vintage Vegas at, where else? The Golden Gate Hotel and Casino.

WE SAID "WHERE ELSE"... there, in a totally cheeky way, because every Vegas fan knows this: The downtown inn is the oldest in Las Vegas, built in 1906, and its petite charms -- petite compared to the colossal hotels found elsewhere around the city -- and those famously low-priced shrimp cocktails, makes it a favorite with the lovers of Sin City's retro style. The hotel recently introduced its Vintage Vegas package, which includes accommodations (the rooms have been upgraded in recent months), two classic Prohibition-style cocktails, and two tickets to the Mob Museum. Plus? You'll be right downtown, on Fremont Street, among some of the oldest hotels and restaurants in Las Vegas. Best pull out your best dress or suit, because costume-ing up around one of the planets most costume-cool cities is part of the pleasure.

Photo Credit: Golden Gate Hotel]]>
<![CDATA[Announced: Mega Summertime Death Valley Run]]> Mon, 24 Nov 2014 17:12:41 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/BadwaterMarathon1.jpg

LET'S TALK ABOUT THE "135": A number following the name of an event is a funny thing. It can mean how many times the event has happened, or signify a special address, or, in the case of the Badwater 135, it encapsulates how many miles shall be run over three short days. Runners of every ability would agree that completing 135 miles, over a trio of days, is on the epic, can-it-be-done? side of the athletic prowess scale, no question. After all, a marathon clocks in at a very impressive 26.2 miles, and it is still a jaw-dropper, even among longtime enthusiasts, to hear of someone running three marathons three days in a row. The Badwater 135 is the equivalent of five marathons, plus a little extra, over three days, but here's the nearly fiction twist: It takes place in Death Valley, or at least substantially so, at the end of July. Nope, it isn't a pleasant 68 degrees Fahrenheit out in one of the world's hottest and driest spots come the middle of summer. It's mind-meltingly hot, the kind of hot that tests the soles of shoes and, sometimes, the spirit. But that doesn't stop challenge-seeking participants from signing up for "The Toughest Foot Race in the World." And the 2015 epic outing was just announced in mid-November, so clear your calendars, and put the water bottles on ice, for...

JULY 28-30, 2015: This is a return to the traditional course for Badwater 135, which set off for the Mt. Whitney portal from Lone Pine earlier in 2014 (a change prompted by a course review by national park staffers). Entries will be accepted from Jan. 19 through Feb. 2 and only 100 runners will be accepted. And, you bet, they are allowed support vehicles, an oh-so-necessary addition to their trek up and through the Inyo Mountains. If you can't wait for July to try a major, major California-based dash, there's the Badwater Salton Sea in early May. Is it 135 miles? Nope, it stops at 81, but this run is two days, not three, though you have to complete the whole Salton Sea in 18 hours, and the Death-Valley-to-Whitney in 48. (Whew.) Talk about your tough foot races and challenging treks, treks that draw participants from all over eager to stretch their legs and abilities.

Photo Credit: Badwater Marathon]]>
<![CDATA[Starry Sleepover: Geminids, the Desert, the Night, and You]]> Wed, 26 Nov 2014 13:05:18 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/189*120/geminidskydazzle123.jpg

THE UNIVERSE'S POST OFFICE BOX: If the vast and never-ending cosmos possessed the ability to receive mail at a single address, we might send a thank you card, in gratitude, for the Geminid Meteor Shower. Oh, we're pretty stoked about all the sky shows that come our terrestrially based way, eclipses and Super Moons included, but the Geminids should hold a particularly soft spot in the hearts of all astronomy-loving humans. Why? Well, they take place in December, for one, a time when plenty of songs featuring starry and cosmic imagery are being sung around various pianos, choir boxes, and front doors. But the meteor shower is also a reminder to all of us who practice a very hectic and stressful holiday season to chill way out. And is there any better antidote to the go-go-go, the-toy-store-is-out-of-that-one-toy, I-can't-do-it-all way of modern December life than going deep into the desert and silently staring at the sky for a night? No stress. No calendars. No "but I need tos." The middle-of-the-month pause is all about the eternal, the quiet, and the wonder, things many of us could reintroduce into our mad-dash holiday seasons. Borrego Springs Resort & Spa is on board with this, as they often are with astro-fun events, and they'll be looking up at the Geminids on...

DEC. 13-14: The "Rain of Fire" night -- ohhh, dramatic -- features astronomer Dennis Mammana and a caboodle of amateur astronomers, who will discuss the meteors, their back story, and the best ways to take them in (and snapshot them, if you're so inclined). The resort has a stay-over special on for that night, so you can bed down after soaking in the vast stretches of time and space ("a buffet dinner with the astronomers" is included). And you get a late checkout on the 14th, should your looking-up go into the wee small hours. And how's this: Dec. 13 happens to be a Saturday, so this year's shower is perfectly timed for many meteor mavens who work during the week. Hey, we're going to send the universe a thank you note for scheduling this shower so well. Now, where do we find the universe's post office box again?

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Lively Libations: Ventura Winter Wine Walk]]> Tue, 18 Nov 2014 15:48:58 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/180*120/Private+Wine+Tasting.jpg

VINO IN A VARIETY OF SPOTS: If you've been to a town that's located in or adjacent to a well-known wine country, and you've done a tasting or two, chances are very good that your tasting happened at an actual bonafide wine shop or tasting room, the kind of place with a counter, a few stools, some nicely hung paintings, and loads of bottles lining the walls. But sometimes a clutch of wine shops and tasting rooms isn't quite enough to hold a full-on, large-scale, labels-aplenty wine walk. Then the tastings have to move beyond tasting rooms and into other stores, stores that have never sold a bottle of vino, ever. Such is the yearly case of the Ventura Winter Wine Walk, which features "over sixty tasting locations" in a fairly snug three-or-so-block stretch (the 300, 400, and 500 blocks of Main are the main hub). Sixty-plus tasting locations in an easily bounce-around area means that shops that sell shoes, surf gear, eyeglasses, fine soaps, and, indeed, work in real estate, will be taking on the wine pouring duties for the event. When one considers that five dozens locations are involved, one considers a stay-over, and the Marriott has a deal on, one that includes two Wine Walk tickets.

DATE AND DETAILS: The Winter Wine Walk happens on Saturday, Dec. 6, which just happens to be the same day as the Holiday Street Fair, which ramps up, in its boothy, stock-up-on-stocking-stuffer ways, at noon. The tasting room roaming kicks off at four, participants'll get a cup -- so hang onto that cup -- and a map. It wraps a smidge after 7 p.m., so don't dilly-dally and show late. And later, you'll be in downtown Ventura, which adds up to several good local eateries, to end that Holiday Fair shopping, local wine sipping, bopping from shop-to-shop kind of day. Wine walk tickets? They're fifty bucks. Dressing in festive hues and enjoying one of Ventura's big holiday alfresco affairs? You can do the street fair and not pay a nickel to attend. Save those nickels for holiday gifts and a stay-over in town that night.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Giant Anteater Born in Santa Barbara]]> Mon, 17 Nov 2014 09:11:50 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/160*120/anteatersantabarbara1.jpg

PREPARE YOUR HEARTS, BABY ANIMAL FANS: Look, we thought it, like you thought it, like everyone thought it: This fall, on the wee infant animal end of life, would be fully owned by Pup 681 one, the rescued otter pup who made her way, with some keepers' help, from California to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. We basically closed the books on the competition for our hearts, at least for the season, because watching an otter "learn how to otter," which was one of her directives, can shut down all other contenders. And yet... there are still baby animals eliciting the "awwws" out there, daily, and one of the buzzed-about beasties just happens to be in Santa Barbara. So very close, so very cuddly, and so dang cute: It's a baby giant anteater, a boy, and he was just born on Nov. 6, so, yep, he's just getting his sea legs with this whole "being on the planet" thing. (Do anteaters get "sea legs" or "earth legs"? Discuss, lovers of language.) Nope, he doesn't yet have a name, though we imagine he's hearing "awww" enough from the staffers of the Santa Barbara Zoo that he well might think that's his given handle. And, nope, he isn't yet on exhibit, but he will be, in another week or so.

"SECOND BIRTH": He's baby #2 for Anara and Ridley -- yep, they're both giant anteaters, as you might expect -- and he's also the second male. The first pup is headed for Staten Island this November, so if you wanted to see him -- he was born last March -- you'll now need to make for New York. But you can see his baby brother, very soon, in Santa Barbara. "A total of 27 giant anteaters have now been born at the Santa Barbara Zoo since 1975," says the animal park, so if you swing by to eye this long-proboscis'd cutie, you'll be witnessing a legacy that's some four decades along. Of course, there are several doings at the zoo at any one time, but bet that visitors over the next few weeks'll be looking to get their heart-tugging dose of anteater sweetness.

Photo Credit: Santa Barbara Zoo]]>
<![CDATA[Thanksgiving Morning: Run the Del Mar Track]]> Fri, 14 Nov 2014 09:30:08 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/delmartgiving.jpg

PHYSICAL ACTIVITY, THEN THE FOOD: Thanksgiving morning fun runs have become the Thing with a capital T over the last decade or so. They're never too long, distance- or time-wise -- people have to get home and check on the bird in the oven -- and there is typically a fundraising element, which lends the gratitude-filled day a true sense of giving back. And almost all Turkey Day dashes have a zany or unusual element, which might incorporate dressing up like a yam, carrying a can of cranberry in each hand as you jog, or, in the case of the run that goes down at the Del Mar Racetrack, hoofing it along the very track where the ponies fly by.

THURSDAY, NOV. 27: Not just the very track, but participants line up at the starting gate, too, so consider this a fine chance to get a horse's eye view as to what they're seeing before their fleet-of-hoof races kick off. The run itself is one mile long, around the track, and lookie at this: Jockeys will also run the race, too. (If you want to neigh as you go, or flap your hair about like a mane, to get into the spirit of the place, that's your prerogative.) But everyone's large-hearted prerogative, or at least initiative, is to help out the Helen Woodward Animal Center of Rancho Santa Fe, which is the day's beneficiary. All proceeds'll help out the beasties at the center and the programs that the animal careplace supports. An adoption will go on that morning, too, if you've been thinking of a new cat or pup of your own.

STAY AND WATCH: Races -- the horsey kind -- start at 11 a.m. that day, and runners shall get free admission. That is, if you don't need to get home and check on the bird. Wherever you head out to Thanksgiving dinner, though, whether it be your own home or a pal's, you have to brag about running from the starting gate at famous Del Mar Racetrack. Giddy up, grateful Thanksgiving trotters.

Photo Credit: Del Mar Racetrack]]>
<![CDATA[Skating, Gingerbread, Snow: Tenaya Lodge Holidays]]> Thu, 04 Dec 2014 07:05:37 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/220*120/tenayabynightsnow.jpg

DECORATING A VACATION: A Christmas tree may be covered in lights and ornaments and strings of popcorn, but we rarely apply that same festive philosophy to our getaways when the holidays come around. Things have felt so hectic -- the modern, go-go-go way of life come November and December -- that merely booking a stay-over in a pretty place is all we can garner the time and energy to do. But, like a well-appointed tree, we'd like our getaway to come with gewgaws and baubles and ornaments, in the form of seasonal activities and cookie-scented happenings, and we'd like for those things to be readily available at our destination. Wintry mountain lodges very often appeal on all of those fronts, as they get the whole decorated tree analogy: Festoon a vacation with ice rinks and Santa visits, much like a fir is festooned with ornaments, and let tired, end-of-the-year vacationers nestle into their stay, rather than running hither and thither. Plus, hither- and thither-running doesn't work out when snow is in the forecast, as it often is at Tenaya Lodge, which sits just a nudge south of Yosemite National Park. And cozy, nestle-in, activity-nice holidays are just what the end-of-the-year specialists have ordered up for the 2014 celebrations.

ICE SKATES ON: The lodge's on-the-grounds rink debuted on Wednesday, Nov. 26, and the grand tree lighting made the Sierra destination a little night-brighter on Saturday, Nov. 29. Horse-drawn sleigh rides are available for a fee, and the gingerbread decorating workshop? The Tenaya tradition breaks out the gumdrops on Saturday, Dec. 20. Other ornaments on the tree -- er, vacation rather -- include a Christmas Eve Cookie Decorating Workshop, a Kids Dinner with Santa Package, and a package involving s'mores and skating. A big Christmas buffet and yuletide-y dinner specials in the lodge's restaurants round out the timely touches.

SO... is a year-closing vacation a bit like a decorated tree? If you want to make the comparison, we say make it. But how nice, after the busy days of the year's final weeks, to find your vacation already decorated with baubles and ribbons and ice skating and s'mores.

Photo Credit: Tenaya Lodge]]>
<![CDATA[Santa Loves Art: Sawdust Winter Fantasy in Laguna Beach]]> Wed, 12 Nov 2014 15:46:45 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/177*120/wintersantasawdust1.jpg

CRAFTS AND CLAUS: Read any book describing a celebration from, oh, about 1900 to the beginning of books, and you're bound to read about gifts that were made by someone's hand (and very often made expressly for the giftee). Knitted scarves and embroidered vests and ceramic cups and other presents, presents that now seem homespun and charming to our eyes but were very much the thing in past centuries, dominated a child's birthday or a yuletide gathering. We still give those kinds of presents of course, much to the delight of the person we're treating, but finding a good made by a specific craftsperson's hand, and meeting that person one-on-one, is a rarer thing.

THANK GOODNESS... so many solid art and craft fairs spring up near the holidays, and happy days, one of the country's best examples, and longest-runners, and most Santa-nice, happens to be in Southern California. It's in Laguna Beach, to be specific, it's a colder-weather cousin to the summertime Sawdust Art Festival, and it's called the Winter Fantasy. Are there booths of blown glass and feather-laden earrings and earthen mugs and watercolors of the ocean? So many, and so quaintly situated in the alfresco, tree-dotted, sawdusty-floor setting.

PLUS... Santa's about, quite often, as people are making their one-of-a-kind holiday gift purchases. Not only Santa but holiday touches'll be hither and thither, lending the already picturesque grounds cheer. As for the buying-of-interesting-things opportunities? There are over 175 artists in all, so you very likely will find that made-by-hand goodie for the lover of deeply considered gifts in your life. The dates? The Winter Fantasy fa-la-las each weekend from Saturday, Nov. 22 through Sunday, Dec. 21.

Photo Credit: Sawdust Winter Fantasy]]>
<![CDATA[Hearst Castle, with Bells and Bows On]]> Tue, 11 Nov 2014 15:03:44 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/205*120/hearsttableenchanted1.jpg

THE ONSLAUGHT OF IDEAS: Holiday mavens do enjoy a good seasonal catalog or web site cheerfully listing decorating tips in the form of a top ten list. Those tips and catalogs tend to multiply come November, and soon one is pondering if they should set out a spray of pine cones and acorns on the family dining room, in honor of the Christmas meal, or perhaps faux snow and tiny deer toys and shiny red ornaments. The choices are plentiful, and that overwhelmed feeling can creep in, but consider this: You'll never be called upon to decorate, from end-to-looooong-end, the dining room table in The Refectory at Hearst Castle.

BIG BIG BIG: It's one of the state's stretchiest -- a word suitable for our purposes here -- dining rooms, with a stretchy table to match (think of those long tables in old films where two people sat at opposite ends, sipping soup while about half the length of a football field apart). Suddenly putting a few pine cones and ornaments out on your own table seems doable, and one does not feel catalog-overwhelmed. Still, seeing this famous table and all of the Hearst holiday decorations up close can lend both cheers and ideas for future festivities. Eager to idea-up? Then make for San Simeon from...

THANKSGIVING THROUGH THE END OF THE YEAR: The big boughs and seriously super-sized swags and all of that great greenery is hung, with a nod to the feel of Christmas past, from the holiday of gratitude right through New Year's Eve. The era of William Randolph Hearst -- that would be the '20s and 1930s -- shines in the guest houses and main house, and visitors'll eye baubles and gewgaws and twirly bows aplenty. It should be noted that Hearst Castle has no specific Christmas tour, but the Grand Rooms Tour or Evening Tours are recommended as an "excellent" way to be bedazzled by bows -- and decorated dining room tables -- presented on a large and lavish scale.

Photo Credit: Hearst Castle]]>
<![CDATA[Flurry Force: Mammoth's Opening Day Ahead]]> Mon, 10 Nov 2014 14:23:29 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/MAMMOTH__12345678.jpg

DISBELIEF, THEN DELIGHT: Early November can be a strange time of year for ski buffs who make a home in Southern California. On the one hand, the Santa Anas can still blow, and do, bringing that hot heaviness that is an odd but ever-present hallmark of a desert-close fall. And yet ski-mad SoCalers also see promising reports from the mountains, and hear of first big snowfalls, where a foot or more of snow has accumulated. It's a time of disbelief -- how is 90 degrees down here and snowily deep up there? -- and then delight, when those opening days start to roll in. Mammoth Mountain is looking to its hello-welcome-back-let's-schuss opening day, with a sense of optimism, a sense of fun, and many layers of socks and scarves: Some 12 to 16 inches fell on the Sierra resort over the first weekend in November, which is fine timing, as opening day is set for Thursday, Nov. 13.

MAKE THAT OPENING WEEKEND: For sure, Nov. 13'll have the usual first day touches -- the banner breakthrough, the first lift up -- but the days to follow brim with frosty-fun doings, from film screenings to DJs to live music and that all-important socializing and catching up with those you spied on the slopes last season.

ARE THERE DEALS AND SUCH? You bet and such. An opening day lift ticket is fifty bucks, and forget not about that new-new-new Cali4nia Season Pass, which covers a full quartet of peaks in the middle and lower parts of its namesake state (Mammoth, June, Big Bear, and Snow Summit).

Photo Credit: Peter Morning/MMSA]]>
<![CDATA[Desert Dazzle: WildLights]]> Sat, 08 Nov 2014 15:31:12 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/lighttunnelwild1.jpg

SPARKLY SUCCULENTS, CHRISTMASY CACTI: Celebrating the yuletide in an arid clime isn't exactly like winding strings of cranberries and popcorn around a tall fir tree. The desert is a starker scene, typically with less flora though the plantlife, and wildlife for that matter, is no less impressive than any fir-lined mountain ridge or meadow. Thinking about how to festoon a rockier, more thorny, sun-bright stretch takes creativity, something that The Living Desert people have shown for several years via WildLights. The annual nighttime walk-around is very much about the holidays, about sparkle, about thousands of bulbs clustered together, and about that oh-so-Palm-Desert-y setting. Nope, the designers of the evening spectacle aren't trying to reproduce a Christmas glow show found elsewhere; they're devoted to their desert environs.

BUT... that doesn't mean there won't be traditional touches of the season. Past years have seen carolers, s'mores, visits from Mr. and Mrs. Claus, a train, and more merriment. Tunes round out the greeting-card-cute doings, and animal presentations, too (The Living Desert is home to many a desert critter). The 2014 dates kick off just before Thanksgiving -- Tuesday, Nov. 25 is the official night #1 -- and the final date is Wednesday, Dec. 31. (Note that WildLights isn't on every night, so check before you go.)

AS FOR DAYTIME OUTINGS? Those are still on during the holidays, though the sun shall provide the illumination, and not thousands of cheerful strings. Look for bobcats, badgers, and tortoises, among other critters, around the pretty grounds.

Photo Credit: WildLights]]>
<![CDATA[California State Parks Honor Veterans]]> Tue, 11 Nov 2014 13:35:22 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/222*120/veteransdaystatepark123.jpg

A MOMENT IN NATURE: Veterans Day is honored in multiple ways around California, from speech-filled ceremonies to quiet remembrances to film presentations and beyond. But there's a new way, as of 2014, to pay homage to those who have served, and for those veterans who love spending time in our natural landscape to do so, for free. Assembly Bill 150 ushered in new legislation that now makes it possible for veterans and active duty military personnel to have free day-use access to our California State Parks on Veterans Day (and Memorial Day as well). "This new benefit was established on January 1, 2014" writes the California State Parks Foundation, which supported the bill. Need to find your moment in nature this Tuesday, Nov. 11? Head this way.

MORE WAYS TO HONOR: The National Park Service has a list of several sites of remembrance around the country. And the U.S.S. Iowa, which is now located in San Pedro? As is tradition, the World War II-era battleship will welcome active duty military and veterans for a Veterans Appreciation Weekend on Saturday, Nov. 8 and Sunday, Nov. 9 and a morning service on Tuesday, Nov. 11.

BAY AREA CEREMONIES: Make for either the S.S. Red Oak Victory or the U.S.S. Hornet on Tuesday, Nov. 11 for tours, screenings, exhibits, and discussions. Air Group 11, the subject of the film "Eleven," will receive a wreath-tossing tribute as part of the special proceedings.

Photo Credit: California State Parks]]>
<![CDATA[On Sale: Irvine Park Christmas Railroad Tickets]]> Thu, 06 Nov 2014 12:37:44 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/irvinexmasrail.jpg

CHRISTMAS CLOSET TIME: Everybody but everybody makes a fuss about how early the holidays appear, year after year, in our stores and the malls and on television. Seems like we've hardly broken into those Halloween candy buckets and zing! There's a snowman selling us snazzy strings of light during the commercial break. But privately? In your own home? You aren't keeping strictly to your "no holiday music/fun/decor before Thanksgiving" rule. You're combing your kids' closets finding those green, sparkly sweaters, for the holiday photos, the ones you need to take ASAP because tickets to various seasonal events are going on sale as fast as a snazzy string of lights flicker on. One of the classics of the "find your tot's cutest holiday wear" season, at least 'round Orange County, is the Irvine Park Railroad Christmas Train, which comes complete with a certain Mr. Claus and decorations and a Tunnel of Lights and a Santa's Village. Meaning that this is the moment many a parent chooses to take those card-worthy snapshots of the kidlets enjoying the charm-filled setting, which has the sweet bucolic bonus of being outdoors. Ready to forsake your swearing-off of the holidays before the holidays actually begin?

THEN GET ON THOSE TICKETS... because Irvine Park Railroad made them available for purchase on Nov. 1. The Christmas Train toot-toots -- that's trainese for "opens" -- on Friday, Nov. 28, and tickets are $12 per person, with some additional fees, like photos with Santa Claus. Given that opening weekend is Thanksgiving -- hellooooo, relatives in town -- best jump on those if you will. But the train chugga-chuggas -- that's trainese for "rolls" -- throughout December, so even if you don't get a cute, photo-worthy outfit for your kid together by late November, you can still just enjoy the old-timey scene. It's sweet stuff, a nature-nice tradition, and one of the ways Orange gets into the spirit of the season.

Photo Credit: Irvine Park Railroad]]>
<![CDATA[Four Million-Plus Lights: Holidays at the Mission Inn]]> Fri, 07 Nov 2014 18:36:27 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/209*120/festivaloflightsmission12.jpg

THE NUMBER FOUR AND LOTS OF ZEROES: When you hear that that Mission Inn in Riverside hangs over four million lights each holiday season, and you haven't yet been to the landmark to see the spectacle with your own dazzled eyes, you can be forgiven if you try and conjure up the mental picture of the brightest house or building on your block. Once you are visualizing that one casa covered in strings of lights, you feel fairly satisfied that you know what the Mission Inn's deal is, starting the night after Thanksgiving, and you won't be overly wowed by the sheer bright-a-tude that decks out the castle-y structure each yuletide season. But your preparation may be in vain, because chances are high you'll be wowed: Over four million lights -- or 4,000,000-plus, if you prefer to see a lot of zeroes in a row -- is a lot of lights, and when they're lined up together on a single, albeit large destination, it is memorable. And, do we even need to say it? Popular, too, very, especially on weekend nights and as Christmas grows closer. So planning an evening to check out one of the state's-- and possibly the planet's -- most lit-up holiday scenes requires a little calendar-assisted planning. So check off the dates of...

NOV. 28 THROUGH JAN. 6: The Mission Inn will stay lit up each night during the Festival of Lights, and the animatronic figures -- trumpet-playing angels and polar bears alike -- will be moving about, a cute complement to all of that illumination. Real human Victorian-garbed carolers often join the fun, and the hotel has other cinnamon-scented goodies in store, including stay-over packages (this is a fine idea if you do not call the I.E. home and you want a place to retreat to when the bustle of the lobby and sidewalks gets a little too bustle-y). Ready for one of the Golden State's most famous seasonal glows? No sunglasses are required, but planning a Riverside idyll soon is key.

Photo Credit: Mission Inn]]>
<![CDATA["Into the Woods" Cast Reunites in Costa Mesa]]> Tue, 04 Nov 2014 09:06:07 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/180*120/SegerstromCenterBernadettePetersAndrewEccles.jpg

THAT "SEMINAL" MUSICAL: It's a word that gets used and used and used again when it comes to big, form-changing Broadway shows, but "Into the Woods" is full-on, no-doubts-raised, let's-embrace-it seminal. The '80s stage hit from Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine did much to revive fairy tales as stories worth plumbing, re-interpreting, considering, changing up, and satirizing. Before then, our tales of yore had almost remained entirely untweaked and not meddled with on a large scale, for few people wanted to undue those tales beloved by all. But their undoing courtesy of "Into the Woods," or rather redoing, breathed proverbial new life into a centuries-old form, meant that many creative people jumped into the fairy tale fray, eager to rethink and retell the moral-standard yarns in fresh and funny ways. That Bernadette Peters played The Witch, and Joanna Gleason The Baker's Wife, only added to its stellar reputation, and "Into the Woods" became, yes, that seminal musical. Now Ms. Peters, Ms. Gleason, Mr. Sondheim, and Mr. Lapine will join other friends involved in the original 1987 Broadway production for a one-day-only, oh-so-lively look-back at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

ON THE DELIGHTFUL DOCKET: The Sunday, Nov. 9 event, which just added a matinee in addition to an evening show, won't be a full reprisal of the stage show. Rather, expect it to be "(p)art conversation, part musical selections" and brimming with reunion-style charms. Will your favorite song be referenced? Will a backstage memory be shared? And how many later fairytale-esque properties can you name that owe "Into the Woods" some respectful due? Probably at least a dozen, which makes this catch-it-now reunion something mighty seminal, indeed. The fact that there's a mega-buzzy "Into the Woods" film on the immediate horizon is an exclamation point on an exclamation point-filled event. Tickets are $59 each.

Photo Credit: Andrew Eccles]]>
<![CDATA[Ye Olde Yosemite Yuletide Good-Timery]]> Mon, 03 Nov 2014 10:42:06 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/214*120/braceyostickets1234.jpg

CHRISTMAS GOOD TIMES... should not stoke any competitive spirit within us, and yet we can feel the fire inside, the fire to be the most festive. We want to have the best front door wreath, the tastiest of sugar cookies, and a roast to out-roast all other roasts on every holiday sideboard, everywhere. We can also take this good-natured competitive spirit elsewhere, during the season, especially when we attend events that are full of showmanship and pizzazz. Add to that a holiday event that has the most sublime setting, and all of a sudden we are chatting with our date or tablemates as to whether we're seated in the Prettiest Dining Room in the Entire State and Maybe the World. California is rife with elegant dining rooms, and many of them happen to be in our grandest hotels, and one of those grand hotels contains The Most Harry Potter-riffic Dining Room in All the Land. It's The Ahwahnee in Yosemite National Park, of course -- admit it, you've thought so, while dining there -- which makes it, again, the best-best place for the annual Bracebridge Dinners, which are as fairytale and fun as a magical book series about a boy wizard.

2014 DATES: Do you recall, way back, when tickets were doled out by lottery? No longer, of course, does that happen, meaning you can alight on whatever night suits you, if tickets remain. Dec. 13 is the first date for this year, and Christmas night is the last, and while not every evening between the two shall be Bracebridge'd-out, several will feature the dinner and doings. And those doings? Imagine attending a feast in a royal medieval hall, complete with theatrics and costumes and bedazzlements. Yes, "bedazzlements"; if we're going to compare The Ahwahnee's dining hall to Harry Potter's world, we're not going to leave this post without breaking out the word "bedazzlements" (we're only sorry we didn't use it sooner). The evening lasts for three and a half hours, the courses are plentiful, the crowd and actors are dressy, and the room is decorated in full-bore yuletide. Plus? There are stay-over packages, natch. December is nigh, lovers of ye olden times fun; why shouldn't you make merry in one of California's most stunning great halls?

Photo Credit: Bracebridge Dinners]]>
<![CDATA[Destination PSP: Palm Springs-Focused Shop Debuts]]> Sat, 01 Nov 2014 06:54:20 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/davidaleephotographyPSP.jpg

SUNNY SHOPPING: Trends exist in shopping, of course -- we hear about a new one every week -- but how shopping changes, evolves, and introduces new ways of getting product to customer is also subject to fresh trends and ways of doing business. Take those stores that focus on a particular area. Nope, we don't mean the souvenir shops that only carry mugs and magnets bearing a city's logo; we're talking about shops where a lot of the stuff within is made locally, or at least regionally, and the merchandise has ties to the area beyond the sale, as in supporting local causes. More of these stores have been popping up around the Golden State over the last few years, the better to present the authentic flavor of the area to visitors (and to cater to neighbors who'd like to display some local love as well). Palm Springs is the newest entry onto this list, and the just-debuted Destination PSP is all about made-in-the-sunny-region stuff. For sure, the "unique retail experience," which is located just across from where Hotel Palomar is headed, has Palm Springs-branded products, but shoppers will also find a host of panache-packed original goods, many boasting philanthropic ties.

THOSE TIES INCLUDE... products for the Palm Springs Animal Shelter, Desert AIDS Project, and PS ModCom, which supports architecture. "The majority of Destination PSP merchandise is manufactured regionally with sustainablly produced packaging, and all items are designed in-house." Several non-profits are part of the store's mix, in short, and their missions and fundraising efforts are expected to get the love from Destination PSP and its "products for the Palm Springs Lifestyle." In short, if you want an item with local cachet, made in the area, that can help out the area as well, this stylish stop could be your spot. Also, the "PSP" part of the name? Why that's the abbreviation code for the Palm Springs International Airport, of course. Mucho stylish, like its namesake city, non? Find Destination PSP at 170 N. Palm Canyon Drive.

Photo Credit: David A. Lee Photography]]>
<![CDATA[Death Valley Time Machine: '49ers Encampment]]> Thu, 30 Oct 2014 07:07:22 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/encampment49ers1234.jpg

FAR, FAR IN THE FUTURE: If you'd asked someone crossing Death Valley back in the middle of the 1800s what Nov. 5 through 9 might be like, circa 2014, they'd probably scratch their chin and ponder far into the future, imagining wondrous things. Whether those wondrous things have come to pass is up for discussion -- many have, for sure -- but here's a certainty: People on Nov. 5 through 9 will be thinking back, across the same time span, pondering the lives and dreams and travails of those 19th-century adventurers who crossed the very hot, very dry expanse in the hopes that they'd get rich. Very rich, in fact: The Gold Rush was on, and the area that would one day become a famous national park saw its own share of wagons and miners and the people who had glittery dreams. Modern history lovers remember those '49ers each year with an encampment, complete with old-school costumes and boots and wagons and such. It's such a sight, and while you don't need to sleep out under the stars, you can make for Death Valley National Park over the first weekend of November to remember those bold journeys to gold.

AS FOR NOT SLEEPING UNDER THE STARS? The Ranch at Furnace Creek has a package on that includes a souvenir program, a ranch BBQ dinner, and some other goodies, with some asterisks (like you have to stay for at least three nights). As for the encampment itself? It's rootin' and, yep, it is tootin', and it is year 65. So look for a horseshoe contest, Western art, twangy tunes played live, and a bunch of ye old merriment, with a California-meets-Gold-Rush flavor. How did everyone cross Death Valley back in the day? And did they dream of the future? Well, yes to that, though whether those early travelers pondered 2014, specifically, may be lost to the proverbial sands of time.

Photo Credit: Death Valley '49ers]]>
<![CDATA[12-13-14: Vegas Weddings Make a Date]]> Sun, 02 Nov 2014 15:50:48 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/455061601.jpg

THAT STALE JOKE... the one about an anniversary date being forgotten, year after year, could probably be officially retired. It's pretty dang hoary, is the thing, not to mention it has been trotted out so many times that all surprise -- the soul of comedy -- has been pretty much wrung out of it, fully. But finding more comedic fun in wedding dates is not off the table, and there's a fairly spectacular day on the calendar just ahead. Not just any day, mind you, but a day when many a couple will knot-it-up, nuptial-style, with that The Reigning Capital of Knot-Tying, Las Vegas, being a much-discussed destination. So, what's that date, anyway? At first glance it looks like the other 364 squares containing numbers on any given calendar: Dec. 13, 2014. But when written this way -- 12-13-14 -- it suddenly taken on magical properties, thanks to its sequential nature. Okay, if you want to trot out that old chestnut, one last time, about needing to remember an anniversary date, now's the time: This is a nifty and number-nice anniversary, one that's hard to put out of your head. 

EVEN BETTER... in matters of wedding planning? Dec. 13 is a Saturday. When other lucky dates fall on the calendar, involving 7s, or Valentine's Day rolls around, Sin City still sees a huge influx of marry-us twosomes, even if the date in question falls on a Tuesday. But a Saturday means that packages like the MGM Grand's Numerology Package, which nets you a professional pianist and hair service at Christophe Salon, may get snapped up. And Sweethearts Wedding Chapel is offering a few different heart-laden deals, including For My Love and Love of My Life (music, roses, and more sentimental goodies await). Wherever you step into that romantic sunset with your pumpkin, best book soon. If you decide to head over to The Strip the day before, on 12-12, you may not find too many packages left. Say, 12-12 is an easy-to-remember, lovely-sounding wedding date, too...

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Flickr RF]]>
<![CDATA[1930s Again: Evening on the Enchanted Hill]]> Tue, 28 Oct 2014 10:56:30 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/hearstcastlesunset1.jpg

DOWNTON DAYDREAMING: Don't try, for a minute, to tell us or anyone that you don't imagine yourself as a resident of a certain idyllic (if drama-riddled) abbey on a particular series where the clothing is period, the grounds are sweeping, and the flatware-to-table's-edge distance is measured with a straight ruler. It can be easy to get lost in "Downton Abbey," even if you don't necessarily desire the characters' humdinger problems. It can, in fact, be easy to get lost in any drama set in a past time, when cocktails were served extra chilled and absolutely on the hour of eight o'clock, when croquet mallets and swimming caps dominated the recreational pursuits, and when tuxedos were worn to play cards. There is a way to go through the television screen, for a night, and be in that world, or at least a version of that world, high up on the Enchanted Hill. Hearst Castle, after all, rather dominated the '30s social calendar, or at least was a powerful player in the West Coast swan-about-and-socialize scene. That vibrant, drop-waisted, martini-riffic time comes to real life, via real people, during the Evening Tours at the San Simeon landmark. And they recently opened again, for a fall run, so if you're keen to soak up more of that era...

STEP INTO THE 1930s: You'll saunter, as one must, in that decade, in Hearst Castle's Casa del Mar, the Library, the Gothic Suite, and other areas, all the while encountering "guests" of the publishing magnate who famously built the fabled spread. The gloamy, evening-falling atmosphere brings the play-acting to life a bit more vibrantly than under the brighter sun of day, and, for a moment, you could pretend that you'll retreat to your suite later that night, after you go for a dip in the Neptune Pool. Tickets? They're $36 for adults. You tying a scarf around your head and knotting it to one side, like a starlet might? That can only add to the general conviviality. That soft just-after-dark air that falls on the hill, something daytime visitors don't always get to bask in? There's no television magic to that; it's enchanted alright, and if you end up really stepping into the 1930s, a la Brigadoon, be glad you've worn a jaunty scarf and are semi-dressed for the part.

Photo Credit: Hearst Castle/California State Parks]]>
<![CDATA[Winemakers, Fall Breezes, and El Capitan]]> Wed, 29 Oct 2014 06:54:43 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/218*120/vintnersholidays2094.jpg

LIBATIONS IN THE LODGE: California offers many pleasures that could easily be set to a lilting piano solo, then projected in slo-mo. Otters playing in the foamy waves of Monterey Bay (humorous piano solo). Snow falling atop Mount Shasta (deep piano solo). And sitting inside The Ahwahnee, staring out at the golden trees and evergreens dotting the grounds of the Yosemite National Park landmark hotel (autumnal piano solo). Many a fan of the hotel feels that autumnal piano solo of the soul call to them each fall, and it doesn't hurt a bit if they love to drink excellent wine and get to know the people who make it. For fall is the time when the Vintners' Holidays Sessions set up swanky shop at The Ahwahnee. What are the sessions? Yes, for sure, they're about people drinking and learning about wine, but there's a social spirit to the three-day gatherings, a wish to learn from the people behind the labels, and some straight-up fine dining, too.

NOV. 4-6... is the first of seven 2014 sessions, and the professionals who make grapes do that singing thing will be chatting and pouring with fans (look for people from Simi, Joseph Phelps Vineyards, Wild Horse Winery, and Hartford Family Winery). "Executive Chef Percy Whatley and The Ahwahnee Culinary Team" is behind a "five-course gala dinner" that is served during each session. And wine tastings and seminars? They set the pulse of the event. There are seven different sessions in all, stretching through early December, with smarties like sommelier and writer Ellen Landis at the helm. To find your favorite vineyard or wine wiz, or to score a seat alongside the winery you want to get better acquainted with, scroll. And to spend a couple of nights at The Ahwahnee, the better to be near all of that wine action? There are ways.

AUTUMNAL CALL: Just make time, between tastings and talks, to wander the valley and soak in El Capitan and Glacier Point and the handful of glorious trees that do change color. Nope, you won't be accompanied by an autumnal piano solo, unless it is the one on your MP3 player (or the one inside your head).

Photo Credit: Vintners' Holidays]]>
<![CDATA["Recycled Holidays" in Morro Bay]]> Fri, 31 Oct 2014 07:09:34 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/morrobaytreasures11.jpg

FRINGED LAMPS TO '70S FLARE JEANS: It's a marvel that anyone trots out the whole "one size all fits all" chestnut nowadays. The suggestion may be accurate, literally, with some articles of clothing, but when it comes to our larger world, our tastes, our preferences, and how we spoil the people in our lives, it can only be fair to say that approximately five billion sizes fit all (and given our changeable tastes, even that number might be low). All of which can make holiday shopping a bit daunting. We see gift ideas that are a little one-size-fits-all-y, in spirit, and we know our funky friend or our free-spirited mom will not groove to the potential gift in question. The only thing route left to take here? Buy them a really outlandish squirrel-shaped lamp, complete with a fringed lampshade, an unusual conversation piece that may rock, and even alter, their whole world and conscience.

YEAH... we're talking in grand terms, but we're also talking about a grand location: Morro Bay, which sits adjacent to big, big Morro Rock. It's a town rife with swanky vintage and affordable thrift stores, and, yes, the occasional junky shop, too (said with ultimate love and respect). It's a town famous for its springtime, city-wide yard sale, a sale that boasts over 300 stops, and thus it knows non-one-size-all-y gifts. Ready to pump up your holiday shopping, possibly save some real cash, and find your mom that fringe-fun lamp you know'll rock her personal cosmos? The "Recycled Holidays" are on in Morro Bay.

SO MAKE FOR... Castaways, which has clothes, old paperbacks, and cool skateboards, or the vendor-plentiful Highway 41 Antique Emporium. A day spent browsing around the bayside town may not net you the velvet painting of your dreams, but bet you'll find something else strange, useful, and completely devoid of one-size-fits-all-ness. Want a larger shop listing list? Sure you do, adventurous shopper.

Photo Credit: Morro Bay]]>
<![CDATA[Dana Point Adventure: Bioluminesence Night Cruise]]> Thu, 30 Oct 2014 07:09:45 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/biolumtour1234.jpg

KISSES, WHALES: We would never, ever be less than kind to those gentle behemoths of our oceans, the blue whales and the gray whales and those amazing orcas that we've seen more of over the last few watching seasons. Whales that come near shore, or skim past the boats of shore, are some of the superstars of the Golden State, despite never setting foot -- or fluke, rather -- on land. (Aside: Is it odd that we sometimes consider visiting whales to be honorary Californians, out of pride? True, whales belong to the earth, and are far greater than any one terrestrial location -- point taken.)

BUT... our region's famous whale-watching cruises aren't the only on-the-water boat trips that head out, further into the deep, to look for the gifts of the mighty Pacific. There are cruises that look for something far, far, far, far smaller -- four "fars" should do it -- than a whale, an organism so eensy that it might appear at the opposite end of one of those posters that line up the smallness-to-bigness of every earthling. For if the whales are on one side of that poster, than euphasids -- "small 'bug-like' organisms" -- must be near the other end. They're tiny, but they pack a visual punch on the right night, as people who've joined an Ocean Institute Bioluminescence Night Cruise have discovered. The Dana Point on-the-water trips depend on factors like what phase the moon is in, so they happen every so often, but when they do, it can be glow-water magic.

WELL, NOT MAGIC... but the science of why euphasids show up, on board, when a net is drawn up the boat's side, carrying their own very tiny flashlights. (Not really, but figuratively.) It's beauty, it's ocean poetry, and it is rife with knowledge and marine-fascinating facts. Want to see that sometime, so it can fill your head and stir the science-y parts of your brain and heart? Keep a watch for the next moon phase, and trip, here. Tickets are $35 per adult, $22 for kids ages 3 to 12. Glowing ocean stuff! Can we get a "wow"?

Photo Credit: Ocean Institute]]>
<![CDATA[Bows and Mouse Ears: The Holidays Head for Disneyland]]> Fri, 07 Nov 2014 18:41:06 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/carslandholiday13456.jpg

SUNNY TO SNOWY: There are a number of Disneyland fans out there who automatically pair the parks at the Anaheim resort with sunshiny days, balmy breezes, and brilliant blue skies. They want to be in line for Dumbo in their shorts and sunscreen, lapping up the long, bright days that Southern California is known the world over for. Fewer people pair the Orange County landmark with frigid, wintry days, though that may now be a thing of a past. If you were to summon, to your mind, the most famous snowy pop culture property of the last decade, you'd likely summon "Frozen," which is, yes, a Disney property, and you betcha, royal sisters Elsa and Anna do hold court within Disneyland's Fantasyland. But your feelings that Disney had a frostier side likely started before the 2013 hit film, perhaps around the time you first walked into the theme park on a December day and spied dancing snowmen and giant Christmas trees and twinkling snowflake decorations. Disneyland, in short, may be in sun ray-laden SoCal, but it takes on the holidays and winter wonders in a way no other place ever has. That seasonal celebration kicks off the carols on Thursday, Nov. 13.

FAREWELL, HALLOWEEN: For sure, that's about a fortnight after Halloween says farewell to the resort, but one attraction keeps its spooky-seasonal clothes through early January: The Haunted Mansion, which is dressed for "A Nightmare Before Christmas" for both Halloween and Christmas. The yuletide, though, will take firm and festive hold in other areas of Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, from the tire wreaths of Cars Lands to the World of Color show (where "Frozen" figures prominently). And Sleeping Beauty's Castle? It's an icicle-bedecked wonder. And "...it's a small world"? It's so brightly and merrily lit you can probably see it from the moon, or at least high, high up in the sky. A Christmas Fantasy Parade and fireworks themed to the season ornament the proceedings.

AND THOSE PROCEEDINGS? They're on through Jan. 6, 2015. How does "fa la la la la" sound in Mickey Mouse's voice? Can you hear that, right now, in your head? Yep, it's nearly holiday time at the Magic Kingdom.

Photo Credit: Paul Hiffmeyer]]>
<![CDATA[Ventura's Got Spirit (and Many Ghost Tours)]]> Mon, 27 Oct 2014 06:40:07 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/183*120/ghost2.jpg

THE SPECTER OF TIME: The decades change a whole plethora of things about our lives, our cities, and the way we do things, but we might expect that ghosts, as a topic, are left generally alone. After all, visitors from the Other Side are believed to be fairly timeless, or at least unconcerned with our human clock-watching and trend-following and tide-turning. This, however, isn't always so, at least when it comes to the venerable concept of the ghost tour.

WALKS TO SEEK OUT WRAITHS, or at least to share fascinating stories of citizens who've moved to another plane, have been around for a good long time, and people have likely been doing it informally, with friends and family, well, forever. But group strolls around city are newer than that, though not too new. And back in the day? Even if a city had a ghost tour, it was likely the only one, or one of the few. Cable, however, and the internet has stoked a new wave of intrepid ghost searchers, and phantom fans, so tours have gotten more varied, more plentiful, and more juicy, by and large. Look to Ventura, that historic burg that is rife with a certain spirited atmosphere come sundown on a fall night. The area has long hosted ghost tours, but you may be delighted to learn how much your choices have grown, as to what sort of tour you seek. Want to take a peek, ghostians?

THERE ARE MANY... to choose from this autumn. If you've always wanted to poke about an adobe from the middle of the 19th century, sign up for the Ortega Ghost Hunt on Oct. 30. And Victorian Ventura gets its shivery due on Nov. 8. Want to put your hands on the whole phantomy flier? It's right here, seekers of spirits.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>