<![CDATA[NBC 7 San Diego - Worth the Trip]]>Copyright 2017http://www.nbcsandiego.com/blogs/worth-the-trip http://media.nbcnewyork.com/designimages/KNSD+RSS+Feed+logo+blue.png NBC 7 San Diego http://www.nbcsandiego.comen-usTue, 28 Mar 2017 18:53:16 -0700Tue, 28 Mar 2017 18:53:16 -0700NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Wowza: Pacific Grove's Magic Carpet]]> Tue, 28 Mar 2017 12:36:33 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/pacificgrovemagiccarpet1.jpg

SATURATED SIGHT: Even if you're a devout wordsmith, and someone who can pull out a whole plethora of beautiful ways to describe the most delicate of snowflakes and the most dramatic of sunsets, it can be a challenge to accurately capture, in summary, how an ocean-adjacent ice plant looks when it is in full and magnificent bloom. "Color plus more color and some other color, too" kind of captures the general sense of saturation the flowers give off, as if can after can of neon pink paint, the kind that's so bright it can be seen in the dark, has been added to the petals. But nature is behind this particular paintbrush, and it is a sight that is very much associated with Pacific Grove when the first full month of springtime starts up. And any calendar can tell you that April is nearly here, which means it'll soon be ice plant time along certain coastal spots.

PROPS FOR PURPLE, TOO: Of course, pink isn't the only startlingly drench-worthy shade that the ice plants take on; deeper purples, too, make a showing, and lighter lavenders, depending on the plant and place. And if you want to see what's been charmingly dubbed "the magic purple carpet," heading out to the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail is a truly fine idea. And, no, you don't need to be out promptly at sunrise on April 1 to see the ice plant bloom in action (no foolin'). While early April is the general start time, the eye-popping petals can keep on keepin' on right up to Memorial Day Weekend. Want to get a sense of what the scene is in Pacific Grove, if you're headed there specifically to admire ice plants? Check in with the visitors bureau for the up-to-the-day report.

Photo Credit: See Monterey]]>
<![CDATA[Guac Delish: Fallbrook Avocado Festival]]> Mon, 27 Mar 2017 07:03:37 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/222*120/guacamole+dip+3434.jpg

WHEN IT COMES TO GUACAMOLE, the question isn't whether one should use a squeeze of lemon or lime, or extra cilantro, or scallions instead of onions. It's all about whether the bowl of creamy, tomato-dotted, piquant-perfect dip will make it allll the way to the refrigerator or not before being fully and totally devoured. And, if it does make it to the fridge, the follow-up question is this: How long will it remain there? An hour? Part of an hour? Will the light inside the refrigerator not even have a chance to go off before the bowl is retrieved? So many questions. But there's no question that some of the best guac-gifted innovators around make for Fallbrook each April, where the large-of-scale Avocado Festival takes place. It's a one-day to-do, and one of the headlining happenings is the Guacamole Contest. So if you have the perfect mixture of sour cream, a hint of hot sauce, some garlic shavings, and a few other additions you don't want to reveal at this time, then...

READ THE RULES... and fill out the form. "Best Tasting" and "Best Presentation" are two of the categories, and there are two prizes in each, for first place and second. As for the chips? Leave the bag at home; those are "provided," meaning your hands and arms are free to haul in the bowl of your carefully crafted concoction. A concoction, of course, that starts with the bumpy-of-skin, green-amazing fruit that is at the heart of every classic and non-traditional guacamole. Which route are you taking? You have a little time to ponder that, but not too long: The 2017 Fallbrook Avocado Festival is on Sunday, April 23.

Photo Credit: Guacamole]]>
<![CDATA[Rare Chance: Spend the Night on the USS Iowa]]> Sat, 25 Mar 2017 12:17:33 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/DSC07244ussiowanight.jpg

FAMOUS DESTINATIONS... that offer the occasional sleepover opportunity? They definitely exist, with many aquariums and museums occasionally offering offbeat overnights, complete with educational seminars and fun dinners (and breakfasts). But finding a place of historical importance, one with stories aplenty, is rather harder to find, as is finding a place that's rarely stayed in one place for long. The USS Iowa, sometimes called "Battleship of Presidents," was on the move for much of its existence, serving in World War II in addition to the Korean War (as well as the Cold War as well). It's now at home in San Pedro, where tours and special events, such as Independence Day and Veterans Day, round out its bustling calendar. Quirky happenings also pop up, from time to time, such as when the ship's barbershop returned for a single day. Now Atlas Obscura, those urban explorers of history and meaning, is hosting an...

OVERNIGHT ON THE USS IOWA: No doubt about it: This is not an everyday occurrence, or even every week or every year. The sleepover is on Saturday, April 1, a deep-dive tour is in the works, and a "hot breakfast" is part of the $125 (plus a fee) ticket, as is dinner. Note that you won't be out on the ocean, for the USS Iowa is now permanently home in San Pedro. And note that you'll encounter "several flights of narrow, steep stairs" while visiting the battleship. There are a number of crucial must-knows, as you might imagine, so study up on everything (such as the asterisk that kids must be 16 or over and with an adult). Even if you've taken a fantastic tour of the USS Iowa, and there are many, think how sleeping on the ship might add layers to your experience of it. Reservations are definitely limited, so check it all out, and book if you're interested, now.

<![CDATA[Spear Soiree: Asparagus Fest]]> Fri, 24 Mar 2017 07:59:31 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/181*120/20091225st1226stchristmas05.jpg

IF YOU ARE A BELIEVER... in the concept of the "cook's treat," then you know that taking a nibble, in the kitchen, while you wash up the bowls and dry the measuring cups, is all part of the bargain. After all, the cook has done the work for those who will soon enjoy a delicious summer, so an extra knob of cheddar, or a few croutons, are just the kind of cook's treat that the person doing the work has earned. And few foodstuffs are as high up on the cook's treat pyramid as a spear of asparagus. Consider how flavorful it is, how graspable, and how easy to eat (it can go down in just a few chomps). Few at-home chefs would dare say they never grabbed a spear before the plating a few dozen slender green asparagus for those waiting at the dinner table. Does this fact make the asparagus spear the world's most perfect cook's treat, category: vegetables? While you debate that hot topic, break out your road-trip planner, and look to Stockton, where the...

SAN JOAQUIN ASPARAGUS FESTIVAL... will sprout, over a trio of celebratory days, on April 21, 22, and 23, 2017. Will you eat deep-fried asparagus while there? It's for sale, as is asparagus ice cream and asparagus corn dogs. The idea of asparagus slaw sounds as fresh as a spring afternoon, while bacon-wrapped asparagus feels like something we might attempt to make at home. There's a whole plethora of plate-filling, spear-crunchy choices, as well as a host of family-oriented happenings. But is the perfect asparagus the one you nab from the pan on your own stove, the ultimate cook's treat? Well, try the ice cream first, and the fried spears, before deciding. We say all asparagus types should receive a lot of love, whether we devour them at a huge spring festival or standing over our stove at home.

Photo Credit: Chris Preovolos]]>
<![CDATA[Omni La Costa: Splash & Stay Package]]> Mon, 27 Mar 2017 07:00:53 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/splashandstayomnilacosta123.jpg

SPRING BREAK... in a close-to-the-surf spot is pretty nifty, however you look at it. You have the sand nearby, and some sunshine, most likely, and the sorts of eateries and shops that cater to a hang-ten, take-it-easy kind of vacation. But what isn't often seen in such places is that other symbol of March merriment, a bright-of-color flower. For sure, Pacific-pretty spots do have their palms, and sometimes ice plants or other flora that stays hearty in the briny air, but as far as finding flowers in massive, long-acreage form... that's harder. However, one glance in the direction of Carlsbad reveals that the charmer of a town has both. To the west there's the waves and castles made of sand, and just off the 5 Freeway? Ranunculus buds, so many of them, all in hue-bright, eye-wowza color, courtesy of the hard work done at The Flower Fields. If you'd like a bit of both, ocean and flower, consider making your spring trip to...

THE OMNI LA COSTA, which just happens to have a spring break-ready package on. It's called the Splash & Stay, and it has been fashioned for optimal family fun-time having. There's a welcome bag for each child in your group, and a hundred bucks to spend on food, and the Kidtopia Kids Club on the property. Plus? Waterslides at the swimming pool. As far as Kidtopia goes, you'll want to reserve your tot a spot (and, yep, this means you can spend the time they're playing at the club poolside a deux, or wherever else you'd like to go). Prices, dates, details? Here. Spring, and spring break, of course, are as fleeting as a flower in its prime or a wave on the shore, so best book soon, before March, then April, meld into May.

Photo Credit: Omni La Costa]]>
<![CDATA[Morro Bay Favorite: City-Wide Yard Sale]]> Sat, 25 Mar 2017 12:17:55 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/219*120/shutterstock_5901136.jpg

A SLIGHT ZING... can course through one's veins upon visiting another town and finding that the town is flush with quirky, interesting thrift and vintage stores. A bigger zing arises when those stores put some of their funky items out on the curb, for better display, and possibly because they're on sale. And the zing goes through the proverbial roof when several stores, as well as homes, get in on the stuff/curb action, meaning you'll get a lot of looking in while passing through town. Such block-long or street-big yard-sale-y happenings don't occur all that often, but there are a few places around California that are so into the idea of "everyone sell whatever you like, all together, at once!" that the town puts it on the calendar. 

MORRO BAY... is one of those towns, and the Pacific-snug burg's annual City-Wide Yard Sale has become something of a legend among lookie-loos (as well as buy-y-loos, too). Locals shop at their neighbors' yards and driveways, but visitors from elsewhere swing through, too, to see what cool lampshades or mid-century end tables or fringe-laden jackets they can find and purchase. The 2017 weekend-long tradition is up soon, on Saturday, April 1 and Sunday, April 2, with a preview on Friday, March 31. Need a map to the aptly named "Treasure Hunt Weekend"? There are a couple of ways to score one, but starting here is a solid first step. Happy finding, lovers of yard sales, and happy enjoying the Central Coast, all others who've come just to soak up the social 'n sweet shop-around scene.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[Mammoth Mountain: Memorial Weekend Deals]]> Fri, 24 Mar 2017 18:27:52 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/febNEW_SNOW_PMM_0001.jpg

THERE WAS A TIME, during the winter of 2016-2017, that a mountain maven, watching from the flatlands below, just wanted to put a care package together for those people playing up on the slopes of the Sierra. And in that care package would be hot cocoa packets, of course, and extra mittens, and a whole slew of rulers, like the kind of classic, made-of-wood measuring devices you used back in school. Because it did seem that, with inch after inch and foot after foot of snowfall, people might run out of rulers at Mammoth Mountain. It was, in short, a wallop of a winter, one that's still going as of this typing, and none of our cheeky musings, about whether they need more rulers up the mountain to measure all the flakeage, can change the fact that major amounts of snow fell over a short span of a few months. Which all leads to this: Skiers'll press through to Independence Day in 2017, with Memorial Day Weekend looking like a busy one for Mammoth. That means...

BOOKING YOUR LODGING, in advance, is an ace move. Save 25% on your late-May ski sojourn, when you stay up the mountain for three nights. Make that three nights or more, if you're really feeling the moment, and you know that summer is nigh and November is a ways off and this will be the time to get your last schuss in for a few months. The trio of hotels making the offer? The Village Lodge is on the list, as is Juniper Springs and Mammoth Mountain Inn. And if you have your heart set on Tamarack Lodge, there's a deal there, too, to the tune of 10-percent off your 3-nights-or-more stay. Is this where you'll play when the official summer season (if not summer itself) begins? Can you even believe this winter? Are there enough rulers in the world? Well, yes: There are. But with all of those inches piling up, one had to pause, at times, and marvel about all of that beautiful, heaps-of-it, it-keeps-falling snow.

Photo Credit: Peter Morning/Mammoth Mountain]]>
<![CDATA[Strawberry Fest: Sweet Cooking Showdown]]> Mon, 20 Mar 2017 11:07:17 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/Strawberries3.jpg

MAYBE YOU'RE THE TYPE OF BERRY BUFF... who only ever eats a strawberry in its plainest, stand-alone-iest form. Sure, you wash it, but after that, you remove all other possible ingredients or additions from its near vicinity. That includes sugar, and cereal, and balsamic vinegar, and vanilla ice cream, and yogurt, and all of the many, many edibles that pair so very well with seed-a-licious star. Or, just perhaps, you're on the other side of the garden patch fence on this topic. Maybe you prefer your strawberries to sing inside a recipe, one that includes a complex pastry crust, or loads of spinach and other salad fixings, or even roasted poultry. If this is your strawberry story, and you have really buzzed-about berry dish that wins accolades at all of your summertime potucks and picnics, best consider entering it in the Berry Blast Off Contest, the cooking showdown at the California Strawberry Festival. While the festival itself, a longtime Oxnard tradition, is on May 20 and 21, 2017, the deadline for the Berry Blast Off is...

FRIDAY, APRIL 7: And that's at noon, do note, and not close of business. Which means you should start perfecting and/or experimenting with your tried-and-true strawberry dessert, salad, or entrée. There are more categories beyond those, even — hello jams, hello drinks — so eye all you need to know. And check out the prizes, too, which include a VIP getaway to a Welk Resort, a swanky knife set, and a single-night's stay at Courtyard by Marriott (with dinner included at Tierra Sur Restaurant at Herzog Wine Cellars). But, even before that, best peruse the winners from past years, which include strawberry-inventive spins on tiramisu, coconut cake, shrimp, and chicken wings. Totally dig that strawberry flavor in a big, multi-ingredient dish? Give your recipe a whirl at one of the state's biggest fruit-fun fests.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Ojai Fresh: Pixie Month Specials]]> Sat, 18 Mar 2017 10:12:14 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/pixiesmoira-tarmy-04+%282%29.jpg

THE HUES OF A CITY: If you had to pair a certain shade of a particular color with each town and village and metropolis you adore, where would you begin? Would San Francisco summon International Orange to your mind, the very color of the Golden Gate Bridge? Or more of a soft, fog-fantastic gray? And is Santa Barbara's symbolic hue that deep maroon-red of the roof tiles seen throughout the picturesque place? It really may be an eye of the beholder, and traveler, kind of thing. But here is one of the toughest questions from this chroma-filled category: Is Ojai, in your heart, more the rosy-pink of the nightly Pink Moment or the orange-tangerine of a citrus tree in full, springtime glory? Truly, both hues are so very Ojai-esque, and we wouldn't dare ask an Ojai aficionado to make such a choice. But if Pink Moments as well as Pixies are your pleasure, then April must be your dream Ojai month. For that's...

PIXIE MONTH... around the scenic, art-lovely burg, a time when deals, specials, and other to-dos flower like so many small, fragrant buds on a tangerine tree. If the "petite, sweet, and seedless tangerine" is your ultimate fruit, eye the full list of doings. Some temptations? You can book a lodging package at The Oaks, for example, and receive a gratis Ojai Pixie Scrub. A stay at The Lavender Inn in April means your breakfast will arrive with a hint o' Pixie goodness (or even more than a hint). Azu is rocking the Pixie Drop Martini during the fruit-forward fourth month, while Suzanne's'll mix a Pixie Cosmo for those customers who crave tangerine-y tastes. There are several supping, stay-over, shopping, and sippable to-dos during Pixie Month, and a few spa happenings, too, so best study all. Don't forget to peel a Pixie from your own kitchen, though. You'll need something to munch as you go over what Ojai-centered goings-on you want to join. Surely at one of the spots on the roster you can both enjoy a Pixie-themed drink or dish while watching the evening Pink Moment? Two iconic Ojai hues, pink and tangerine-orange, together and oh-so-vibrant.

Photo Credit: Pixies]]>
<![CDATA[West Coast BBQ Classic: New Categories]]> Wed, 22 Mar 2017 12:47:12 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/160*120/BBQ.jpg

A PLATE OF BBQ, especially BBQ that boasts just the right rub or sauce, and has been cooked at the ideal length, doesn't need any fussing and/or mussing. It is, in the eyes of a 'cue-seeking buff, absolutely perfect, and can stand, in savory fashion, alone. But a BBQ festival is notably different from a plate of BBQ. It runs for several hours or days, and while a perfect plate of ribs, or brisket, can fill up a half hour nicely, there's a lot more space when it comes to a festival. The upshot? You're bound to see additions beyond that well-sauced meat, the better to fill out a lengthy, multi-hour roster. And the roster the sixth annual West Coast BBQ Festival on the Queen Mary is getting a couple of new additions in 2017, but additions that won't steal any spotlights from any spicy cuts of beef. Bacon is one addition, that true complement to traditional barbecue foodstuffs, and dessert is the other, another appetizing choice. Both categories will see pros and amateurs competing to create the most strip-sizzly, sweet-to-the-tooth concoctions. Of course...

BBQ IS STILL THE CELEBRITY... and the Saturday, May 13 Long Beach bash'll reflect that fact. "Over 50 barbeque pitmasters and amateur grillers will once again come together..." for the "classic showdown," a showdown that gives meat mavens (and dessert devotees) a chance to try out the good stuff, for two bucks a sample. The Kansas City Barbeque is on board, as in years gone by, and a number of doings throughout the day, from backyard-style games to live tunes, will make the Mother's Day Eve event extra-effervescent. So, for sure, there's a lot more to this happening than a simple plate of well-made BBQ, but that's okay: The fixings, from dessert to music to games, have a way of making all of that succulent spicy supping even tastier.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Laguna Niguel Mega Eggs: Spring Tradition]]> Sat, 18 Mar 2017 10:10:51 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/DSC07956.jpg

THAT COLORFUL CANVAS: There are many offbeat places to create an artwork in this world, from a sidewalk, with chalk, to a sandy bit of beachfront (both, of course, are ephemeral, and prone to disappearing in days or even hours, making the creations even more meaningful). And there is the egg, a popular canvas, especially when springtime rolls around and we begin dipping the wonderful 'n wobbly yolk-holders in various swirls of brightly hued dye. There are many ways to approach decorating an egg for Easter, including stickers and crayons, but The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel has one of the most picturesque and locally lovely egg displays around. As is tradition at the water-close resort, a few mega-sized eggs, that aren't real or edible, let us note, are painted by artists who live in the area. Those artists in 2017 include Trevor Mezak, James Galindo, Robin Hiers, and Kym de los Reyes, and your first peek at their work is coming up quickly, on...

SATURDAY, APRIL 1: That's when the whimsical over-sized eggs go on display near the resort's front entrance. Can you and the family stop for a sweet, everyone-line-up photograph in front of the beach-scene'd eggs? For sure — that is also a tradition at the hotel. These big eggs are far too large to fit in a basket, but a snapshot of you and yours standing in front of them will fit nicely in a frame one day. And another seasonal tradition at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel? A swanky Easter brunch, flush with you-pick-the-ingredient omelets and a fancy dessert spread, will happen on Sunday, April 16. But if you and your loved ones can't be at the hotel on Easter proper, but still want to admire the enormous eggs, just be sure to stop by from April 7 through April 23.

Photo Credit: The Ritz Carlton, Laguna-Niguel]]>
<![CDATA[Images: San Diego Botanic Garden]]> Thu, 16 Mar 2017 08:16:13 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/Rachel_Cobb_SDBG_corktrees.jpg Photos from the San Diego Botanic Garden located in Encinitas, north of downtown San Diego, California.

Photo Credit: Rachel Cobb, San Diego Botanic Garden]]>
<![CDATA[Old Sac: New 'Gold Fever!' Tours]]> Thu, 16 Mar 2017 21:12:45 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/GoldFeverDaynaWergedal.jpg

IT'S A FACT, that when you go on a trip, or a quick getaway, or even an afternoon-long outing, you're you. You still have your own particular history, and quirks, and traits, and that's how it will be whether you're at home or away on an adventure. But, sometimes, if the place and circumstances are right, and you alight in a location with a storied past, and interesting ways to connect to that past, you nab the chance to be someone else for a little while. Call it role-playing, or play-acting, or simply assuming the name and details of someone from a couple of centuries back. And call it Gold Fever!, the newest of the Old Sacramento, get-to-know-the-Gold-Rush offerings. It's a...

FRESH TOUR... for the 2017 season, which always revs up when the weather warms up. Opening date is Saturday, April 1 — no fooling — and Gold Fever! is expected to wrap up around December, with an asterisk attached (the tours will look to the seasons and weather for their cues). How Gold Fever! will work? Tour guests will "...take on the persona of a character in history — or a 'real-life rascal'..." and discover the great lengths Gold-Rushers went to to find their personal pot of wealth at the end of the proverbial rainbow.

ROLLICKING YARNS, with a dose of hard reality, are, of course, part of any Gold Rush-themed tour, and who you'll play, and what they did/achieved/plotted, will likely have been quite memorable. It's a $10-per-adult, $6-per-kid weekend to-do, with a start/end at the Sacramento Visitors Center. So, who will you be in Old Sac? You'll surely be yourself as you arrive and leave, but, for a few minutes, you'll have assumed the cloak of a long-ago local figure. 

Photo Credit: daynastudios]]>
<![CDATA[Taste of Solvang: Wine & Beer Walk]]> Tue, 14 Mar 2017 11:42:00 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/tenleyfohlwinebottleschilling123.jpg

BEYOND THE SWEETS: When it comes to food love and beverage passions, it never, ever has to be an either/or proposition. We're not only people who love sundaes, we're people who love sundaes and grilled cheese sandwiches and vintage cocktails and Cobb salads. For the truth is this: Passions run long when it comes to the pleasures of the table, and we can dig many different cuisine categories at once. Likewise, you can be a pastry person, and specifically an aficionado of the æbleskiver, the famous doughy delish ball much associated with Solvang. But you might not want to devour a dozen doughy, jam-laden balls in a row. (Maybe; we wouldn't judge, if so.) And that's the beauty of Taste of Solvang, the yearly, just-before-spring's-start event that fills out a few days with all sorts of palate-pleasing activities. Yes, there shall be æbleskivers, and cookies, and lots of 'em, but, for those buffs of regional beverages, there is the...

WINE & BEER WALK: No surprise, really, that the mid-March eat- and drink-tacular will pause again to spotlight regionally made/craft sips (this is, after all, the Santa Ynez Valley, a thriving heart of the wineverse). It's so central to Taste of Solvang that it happens on not one but two afternoons — March 18 and 19, a Saturday and Sunday — so you have your choice as to which one suits you best, though your pass is good for both days (that's right, BOTH, oh yeahhhh). A souvenier glass is part of the deal, as is the chance to jump into tastings at over 15 winery tasting rooms around the village. There are "beer bars," too, if that's more your favor (brews have been on the up, up, up around the wine-dominated region, too). Tickets? Finding your place to stay the night? Start here. And, yes, you don't need to forsake the pastries. As mentioned, we humans can have many loves of the foodie, foamy, straight-from-the-vine assortment.

Photo Credit: Tenley Fohl Photography]]>
<![CDATA[Base Camp: Desert Festival Glamping]]> Mon, 13 Mar 2017 09:42:25 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/basecampAS6A7100-copy+%282%29.jpg

MEMORABLE OVERNIGHTS: The major music and art spectaculars that flower around California in the warmer months are very much about what's on the stages, and what's in the food and drink halls, and what installations are bringing the visual wow. But attendees also take into consideration what's the optimal path away from the festival, in terms of where they get some needed shut-eye, after a day of singing along, dancing, admiring art, and basking in (a lot of) sun. Your cousin's friend's couch has sometimes been an option, and the large-scale, multi-pool resorts, too, but if glamping is more your vibe, then prepare to make camp at Base Camp. The tent and RV pop-up, located in Thermal, is just a scoot south from the Empire Polo Club ("scoot" meaning about a 10-minute drive) and starts at $59 a night. Base Camp promises the sorts of amenities you might find at a stylish hotel, such as... 

CONCIERGE SERVICE, and swimming, and cocktails for sale, and ways to get to the festivals, and those all-important charging stations. Look for "a sandy beach lagoon" and pool, if you're planning on a little chillax time away from the festivals. As for open dates? You only need check the dates for the Coachella Music and Arts Festival and Stagecoach Festival to find when the Base Camp shall make camp. Opening date is Thursday, April 13, while everything shutters on Monday, May 1. Like the festivals, though, the camp'll be in operation around the weekends, so if you're planning to stretch out your desert stay, double check your dates.

Photo Credit: Base Camp]]>
<![CDATA[Sweet Adoption Fair: 'Cookies and a Critter']]> Sat, 11 Mar 2017 09:06:15 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/GirlScouts_01_wtext12345.jpg

THIN MINT MAVENS... and those who call Tagalongs or Trefoils or Samoas their favorite annual treats can start to expect to see a piled-high table at the entrance to their grocery store or a favorite restaurant. For once cookie season commences, and your neighborhood Girl Scout troop is out selling the boxes of those iconic treats, well... A person can start to hope it will always be this way. You won't need to save that last sleeve of Thin Mints, the one in the freezer, for several months. You won't need to canvas your pals to see who has a box or two of Lemonades. But, like all wonderful things that follow a here-now, back-next-year calendar, Girl Scout cookies do bid us farewell just around the time that spring arrives. That means that the season is winding down, though there is a winsome, and woofer-cute way, to buy a few more boxes before they're fully gone. Just look to the...

HELEN WOODWARD ANIMAL CENTER... in Rancho Santa Fe, which has invited Girl Scout Troop #4204 to stop by around the middle of the day on Saturday, March 11. The scouts'll be selling those superstar sweets, and if you find a Fido or feline you love, you'll get a box of cookies gratis to fuel your adoption process. That's a nice thank you to those people adopting animals during the day, though, of course, purchasing a few boxes does support the troop. And Troop #4204 keeps community service, including making "...a difference for orphan pets," per leader Lori Burchell, as an important goal. The "cookies and a critter" event is sweet to the tooth, to the heart, and to the troop's dedication to helping others. That a few "furry 'junior sales assistants'" will be wagging their tails and keeping the scouts company only ups the day's cheeful, give-back factor.

Photo Credit: Helen Woodward Animal Center]]>
<![CDATA[Historic Hotels: 'Spectacular Spring Savings']]> Sat, 11 Mar 2017 11:57:05 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/claremontat100.jpg

ROAD TRIP DAYDREAMS: March has many gifts to give, from some impressive breezes and showers, to college basketball showdowns, to green beer and delicious corned beef, to that traditional hit-the-road week, spring break. But even if we're a few years, or decades, out of school, and haven't truly taken a quick trip in March or April, the notion can still call to us, much in the way rooting for our favorite team, or finding some old-school corned beef on March 17, can call to us, too. The lovely thing, of course, is that some hotel groups make taking a break in the spring, even if it isn't a spring break, a bit easier, thanks to a slate of specials, deals, and discounts. Those tend to flower, like so much lilac or wisteria, around the start of March, and, before you know it, those specials will blow out on the next spring-sweet breeze. In short? Best act soon, in this season of change. 

HISTORIC HOTELS OF AMERICA... can help those getaway-based spring fancies, via its Spectacular Spring Savings Sale. Note first that you'll need to choose and book by the last day in March, though when you can stay, and travel, will vary. You'll want to move quickly for the Omni La Costa Resort & Spa and Omni San Francisco, which are offering savings for March 2017 stays. La Valencia in La Jolla is shaving off 25% for select nights through June 1, while Claremont Club & Spa, A Fairmont Hotel, is offering 20% select overnights through the end of June. The best bet? Peruse the whole list, see what the discounts are, and what nights they'll apply. If all of the elements dovetail for you, and you can follow those spring breezes and longing to take to the road to a vintage and lovely property, cheers to that.

Photo Credit: Claremont Club & Spa, A Fairmont Hotel]]>
<![CDATA[Palm Springs Tram: High-Elevation Hikes]]> Sun, 19 Mar 2017 12:28:22 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/hikingbootsgeneric123.jpg

SNOW IS SWEET: No one is going to quibble with you over your affection for the cold, flaky, winter-wonderful stuff that sometimes falls at Mountain Station at the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. For spying snow when you disembark from the world-famous tram is a treat. Also a treat? Enjoying the brrr-ful action while gazing upon the snow-free desert floor far, far below. Call it a charming study in contrasts, and photo-worthy, too. And call it a sight many tram visitors long to see right around January, February, and even into March. But when we nudge up against springtime, and the equinox, and all of those ocotillo and cactus flowers bursting around the Coachella Valley, we can long to make a snow-less hike in the upper reaches of Mt. San Jacinto State Park. And there are paths, and trails, and tree-lined rambles aplenty up beyond Mountain Station. How to get there? Well, buy your tram ticket and take the ride up, up, up, and then head out for some incredibly clear and crisp air, some looong views, and a day of sun, exercise, and peace.

HIKE SEASON... is almost here, and barring any more snowfall — which could definitely happen, given what we've seen over the past few months — you'll soon be able to hit those high-elevation trails in shorts and a tee. But check the weather first, as Mountain Station sits at over 8,500, and study up on the hiking trails (the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway offers up this not-to-scale map). There's a lot of wilderness up there, with over 14,000 acres to admire, and slew of summery days-to-come, the kind of days that are downright toasty in Palm Springs but mellow and temperate up Mt. San Jacinto. Tempted to know more about these great trails? Grab your walking pole and trek this way.

Photo Credit: Hiking Boots]]>
<![CDATA[Palm Springs New: La Serena Villas]]> Fri, 10 Mar 2017 19:33:01 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/desert192812912.jpg

PALM SPRINGS, let it be known, is open all year long. There is no "closed" sign on Highway 111, as you pull of the 10 Freeway, ever, and it matters not what the calendar says. But right around the end of wintertime, and the beginning of spring, the resort city truly begins to flower, much like an ocotillo blossom or prickly pear bud. Sitting-by-the-pool season is well and truly kicking in, the big festivals, from Modernism Week in February to the music festivals of April, are drawing locals as well as visitors from afar, and the night is shaking off a bit of its lunar-like desert chill. It's the ideal time for other things to flower, too, like new stay-over properties that have longtime roots in the city. The 18 villas at 339 South Belardo Road have those roots, thanks to the fact that the property can date its start back to 1933. As with desert flowers, though, hotels can bloom anew, which is just what's happened with the recently debuted La Serena Villas.

"THE SECLUDED PRIVATE VILLAS"... were re-imagined by architect May Sung and designed by Avenue Interior Designs, and they come with a flurry of tony details, from claw-footed tubs to fire pits located on the private patios. The acre-big spread also boasts a pool, and Whispers Spa, and is a short walk down to restaurant- and shop-plentiful Palm Canyon Drive. Yes, we said "down to," indicating that La Serena Villas is located where the city starts to roll up towards the San Jacintos. That means you'll be fairly mountain-close, a great place to be, come evening, when you want to hang out on your patio and enjoy that spring-crisp twilight that the desert does so well. Prices, details, and a peek inside the sizable villas? That's all flowering, ocotillo-style, right over here.

Photo Credit: Peak Photography]]>
<![CDATA[Daffodil Hill: Opening Date Announced]]> Tue, 07 Mar 2017 13:38:45 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/daffodil-days1.jpg

AMADOR COUNTY AMAZING: It can be a mite hard to hold one's horses when springtime sights are on the near horizon. A person gets pretty dang eager to shake off wintertime, and soak in some rays, it's true, and finding those flowery spots that brim with sunshine hues becomes a top-of-the-list goal. But shaking off wintertime, especially in a winter that's seen a lot of snow action at higher elevations, is an easier-said-than-done proposition quite often. Still, though, even places that have seen a notable amount of flakes and raindrops over the 2016-2017 are still on schedule to do the whole flower thing in the weeks ahead. One of the best known is Daffodil Hill in Amador County, a Gold Country gem that is truly golden in color. Nope, you don't have to guess too hard about what the star blossom is at the bucolic destination, but pinning down that opening date, what with recent snowfalls in the area, is another matter. Still, though, the pretty spot recently revealed when those proverbial doors will open for the season. It's... 

FRIDAY, MARCH 17, an easy date to remember if you happen to be heading for Murphys for the mondo March 18 St. Patrick's Day parade (Murphys is not in Amador County, of course, but close enough where it could be included in a weekend-long road trip). Weekend traffic can be notable, reveals the Daffodil Hill Facebook page, so, during its spring-bloom run, think about how wonderful a Wednesday stroll might be. Admission to the vivaciously bright Volcano attraction, which is on an historical property that dates back to the late 1800s, is free.

<![CDATA[Tomatomania! Delish Tour on the Roll]]> Mon, 06 Mar 2017 15:06:00 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/214*120/Tomatomaniasign123.jpg

WHAT'S THE MOST SUMMER THING, like, ever? Is it running through a sprinkler while squealing with pure joy? Is it watching a pair of hummingbirds dance around a feeder full of nectar? Or is it a piece of country bread slathered in lightly salted butter and topped with a couple of generously sliced heirloom tomato slices? Okay, okay, you got us: These all exemplify the warm spirit of warm weather, as do about a thousand other classic pursuits/foods/pastimes. But surely, even if you adore 100 different summery things, you'll want to make sure you're well-tomato'd well in advance of the season even arriving.

THAT MEANS... springtime tomato plant tending, and before the tending can begin, the purchasing and learning. That's where Tomatomania! comes in, that on-the-road, all-around-California tour that puts those who love their lycopene, and juicy, multi-hued fruitstuffs, in contact with experts and a host of heirloom-handsome seedlings. If 2017 is the year you boost the tomato's presence in your own garden, or you improve upon the plants you have, best...

CHECK OUT THE SCHEDULE: There's an early-March start for the tour in Corona del Mar, and a final, near-the-end-of-April stop in Sonoma County. Between those two lovely locations? Tomatoists can talk seeds 'n more in Ojai, Culver City, and other Golden State spots. Even juicier than the juiciest heirloom picked at the height of July? Tomatomania! is free to attend. It's that time, garden people and eaters of succulent, sandwich- and salad-ready orbs of goodness: Find where the tour will land near you.

Photo Credit: Tomatomania!]]>
<![CDATA[Desert X: Mega Art Show]]> Sat, 04 Mar 2017 13:04:09 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/desertxartshow1.JPG

WORDSMITHS AND PHILOSOPHERS... and adventurers and dreamers have long compared arid, nearly empty landscapes to blank canvases. But, of course, and this does not go without saying, so say it, we shall, there is this: An arid place isn't empty, not by a long shot, not with its scrubby shrubs and darting lizards and strangely shaped rocks and the million other items/ideas that can be found there. A desert is, in fact, an ideal canvas, though not empty, for some large-scope notions of the most creative, envelope-pushing sort. And a desert-delightful region in California, the Coachella Valley, in fact, is playing just that epic canvas through the end of April. The event? It's Desert X 2017, a widespread "curated exhibition" involving a host of artists and their drive-to-them "site-specific" artworks. Meaning that you won't get a glass of Chablis and walk around a gallery to see the show; you'll be on the road, around Palm Springs and other desert resort cities, where you'll seek out each fresh piece for a new and singular experience.

SUNDAY, APRIL 30... is the final day of the experience, which means that the installations and pieces will remain up through the big music festivals that arrive in the valley during the fourth month of the year. Many pieces are outdoors, do note, and some are inside, and the "established and emerging artists" address a host of topical issues with urgency, wisdom, and humor. The artists include Doug Aitken, Jennifer Bolande, and several innovative thinkers who are adept at translating dreams, the news, love, local issues, and more into pieces that are whimsical and thought-provoking and memorable. The desert, of course, is not a blank canvas but a very complex portrait, and Desert X is adding to the landscape's eternal story with a multi-week, big-idea'd celebration of art.

Photo Credit: Desert X 2017]]>
<![CDATA[MarsFest: Interplanetary Desert Adventure]]> Fri, 03 Mar 2017 12:10:07 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/183*120/3235346.jpg

IF YOU WERE TO DRIVE A ROVER, as in the sort of Rover that covers many, many miles in space, how long would it take you to reach Death Valley National Park? It's a good question, starting with where your point of origin happens to be. Likewise, if you were to fly a spaceship, or a shuttle, or an old-school saucer, the kind from a vintage '50s flick, how soon before you set your ride down near Furnace Creek Resort? Again, that whole point of origin thing is kind of important. But you can leave your Rover in the garage, and your space-ready saucer, too, and simply make your way by car to Death Valley over the second weekend in March. That's when...

MARSFEST... will bloom with all of the mystery, beauty, and science that belongs to the famous Red Planet. A planet, of course, that lovers of the not-too-far-off sphere can't reach in a weekend, what with needing to be back for work on Monday and all. But Death Valley doubles nicely for an alien-awesome landscape, a landscape that will see visitors from SETI, the Jet Propulsion Labratory, the Death Valley Natural History Association, and a host of partners all play a part in the annual look-up outing, one that is all about sharing information "...about our planet and Solar System..."

THE UPCOMING MARS MISSIONS... will be a big topic, of course, as well as "...robotic and human exploration beyond Earth." Prepare to admire a Curiosity mini-rover, as well as other nifty science items at the on-site expo. There will be field trips around the national park during the March 10 to 12, 2017 run, as well as lectures and more at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center. Death Valley, like Mars, is vast, though, of course, not quite as vast as our neighboring planet. Best, though, read all the details before setting off for outer space. Er, rather, we mean the desert, of course, which can look quite rocky, and Mars-like, in the right light. A true treat for those who dream of what's beyond our home turf.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Mountain Mmm: Taste of Julian 2017]]> Thu, 23 Mar 2017 20:59:21 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/applepie93828121.jpg

EVERY MOMENT IS PRECIOUS, of course, and every hour a gift, no matter the day or time of year or what happens to be on your particular plate. But, let's be honest: An April Saturday, while no more precious than any other day in any other month, just rocks some extra enchantment. It possesses panache, the sort of specialness that comes with a warm-of-weather weekend day near the start of springtime. If all goes well, the light breezes will be just strong enough to gently muss the hair, the sunshine will be soft, and you'll be outside, somewhere interesting, walking around and admiring interesting buildings and noshing on something you don't have back at home. This is all leading up to the true thing we're about to say: Taste of Julian, happening, as it will, on the second Saturday of April in 2017, is an event filled with major minutes of the early-April-ish, nosh-around-a-nice-town-ish sort. The kind of time that does feel precious, and memorable, and worth a toodle up the hill to the Gold Rush village. Yes, you'll likely...

WANT TO EAT PIE: Because how could you not? The apple delicacies will call to you, loudly and longingly, because, after, this is Julian. But a host of eateries will participate, with several going the savory, beyond-the-sugary-crust route. Past participants have included Miner's Diner, Volcan Mountain Winery, Granny's Kitchen, and Mr. Manitas Taco Bar & Fruteria, and, of course, several pie-worthy places, so count on variety. It's a "self-guided culinary tour," so you can move at your own pace, but then you know that, if you've been to Taste of Julian before (it'll mark its first decade in just a year). Want to alight upon your $25 advance ticket, what with the lure of spring and April and Julian and pie and edibles that aren't pie and then even more pie? You can, now, at the Taste of Julian online headquarters.

Photo Credit: Apple Pie]]>
<![CDATA[Eye-Popping: Flower Fields to Open]]> Wed, 01 Mar 2017 08:52:16 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/flowerfieldsyellowpinkblue.jpg

CARLSBAD'S COLOSSAL COLORFULNESS: If you were to stick a couple of ranunculus blooms in a simple bottle or vase on the kitchen table, you're almost inviting comment when the neighbors or your friends stop by. If they don't know what this many-petal'd bloom is, they might inquire, and, if they do know, there might be some discussion about the name "ranunculus," and its origins, because, unlike "rose" or "daisy" it isn't a flower handle that's spoken all that often. Unless, of course, you're talking about the most ranunculus-y place around, a destination that's sure to win new ranunuculians to the flower-loving fold. It's the famous Flower Fields of Carlsbad we speak of, a place that's so petal-packed over a few spring weeks, and so darn hue-saturated, that it is almost hard to believe you haven't stepped into a Technicolor film from MGM, circa 'round about 1952. So, picture those two or three ranunculus flowers on your kitchen table, and now imagine...

THOUSANDS UPON THOUSANDS OF FLOWERS, all in pink and yellow and red and white bloom at the agricultural attraction. As is tradition, The Flower Fields will open on March 1, and, as is tradition, the final day of the 2017 season will be Mother's Day, or Sunday, May 14. Note that the flowers aren't in bloom for the full stretch, so you'll want to keep an eye on the Facebook page to see how the fields are doing. There are "over 50 acres" to take in of Giant Tecolote Ranunculus splendor, and some of that splendor will be available for sale. "A portion of the flower crop is sold as cut flowers," says the Flower Fields site, meaning you may soon have a few bright blooms for your kitchen table. But will the neighbors know what the unusual, incredibly vibrant flowers are? Probably, if they're into petals, lots of color, and a California springtime-traditional sight.

Photo Credit: Flower Fields]]>
<![CDATA[Wildflowers: Find Mono County Blooms]]> Tue, 28 Feb 2017 15:58:07 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/lupinemonocounty1.jpg

HOW MANY FLOWERS... do you drive by while toodling around the back byways of California? We know, there are a few different levels and asterisks to that question. Do the blossoms need to be right along the road? Or are we talking in the general vicinity of the highway? Also, should the buds be fully open to qualify, and what of those flowers that have lost most or all of their petals in the wind? We won't put anyone to this test, for no on-the-road adventurer could accurately answer such a whimsical question. But we will ask this of backroaders and off-the-beaten-pathers: If you were to drive by a field of flowers you'd never seen in a wild setting, such as an expanse of blue-purple lupine stalks, would you safely pull over, park, and bound out of your vehicle with joy, enthusiasm, and, don't forget it, your camera? It's a yes-no question, and we're betting you said "yes," without delay.

GOOD THING... such a wide variety of blossoms grow in the Golden State, and very much so in Mono County, where lupine flowers and Mojave asters and fiddlenecks and a host of plant- and shrub-based buds pop up later in the spring and early summer. This is the Eastern Sierra area, with some elevation changes, so the lower desert-y flowers will soon make their showing, while the higher slopes will hold out for summer, or close to summer's start. Mono County Tourism wants to help outdoors lovers to find these flowers, via an online BLM guide called Wildflower Hot Spots of the Eastern Sierra. There are maps, and tips on where to look and when, and once you spend a half hour perusing the info on Mazourka Canyon, and Fish Slough, and Tioga Pass, you may want to load up the trunk ASAP. But take note of your favorite flower's timing, and when your favorite area of Mono'll be putting on its annual show. Will it be the lupines this year for you, or poppies, or a new flower? Or all of the above?

Photo Credit: Mono County Tourism]]>
<![CDATA[Swallows Day Parade: Capistrano History]]> Mon, 27 Feb 2017 12:29:57 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/214*120/swallowsparadesjc12345.jpg

NOT EVERY PLACE... is lucky enough to have a famous flutterer or feathery visitor associated with it. True, hummingbirds do seem to love a flowery garden, and ospreys are sometimes seen in high up, regally serving the landscape from a tall, mountain-based tree. But as far as a particular town's particular relationship to a particular bird? That doesn't happen all that often, except, of course, in the mission-magnificent burg of San Juan Capistrano. The old town has long had a fabled relationship with the swallow, and when the swallows are said to return to the area. That time has traditionally been around March 19, or St. Joseph's Day, but even if you don't spy a vibrant winged icon flying around the bells of the mission, you can trust you will see something in the village that'll warm your history-loving cockles: a parade. Not just any parade, of course, but the...

SWALLOWS DAY PARADE... and Mercado Street Fair. The procession, billed as "...one of the nation's largest non-motorized parade(s)," has been around for nearly six decades. Community spirit and costume-ready charm? You'll definitely see that, and horses, carriages, and a host of historical flair. Plus? So many sweet young'uns in their swallows outfits, which only ups the air of quaint-a-tude. Do note, however: The 2017 parade is not on March 19, but, rather Saturday, March 25. And while the downtown-based festivities roll at 11 a.m., you'll want to arrive earlier for the start of the mercado (which begins at 9 o'clock). Prepare to flutter your own wings for one of California's quintessential celebrations, Fiesta de las Golondrinas, which easily weaves together feathers and tales and tradition, not to mention the locals and visitors who love it all. 

Photo Credit: Mission San Juan Capistrano]]>
<![CDATA['Beauty & the Beast' Tea at SLS Hotel]]> Sat, 25 Feb 2017 11:37:37 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/BeautyTheSLS1.jpg

HOW DO YOU FIND BEAST'S CASTLE? Well, you'll first need to cross the Atlantic Ocean, and then make your way into the forests of France, and a trusty horse might be good, and, perhaps, a talking teapot or candelabra to give you advice, direction, and support. Oh, and you should probably have a time machine, too, in addition to your boat ticket, or whatever way you'd like to return to the splendorific age of magic and fairy tales. But if you haven't secured your Atlantic passage yet, and you don't know a talking candelabra, perhaps you only need find your way to SLS Hotel. The Beverly Hills poshery has teamed up with Walt Disney Studios and the El Capitan Theatre to offer a variety of Belle-issimo experiences for those who are looking forward to a new live-action film debuting in March. It's the much-anticipated "Disney's Beauty and the Beast," and while the feature rolls at the Hollywood-historical El Cap, in addition to other cinemas, SLS will be setting its tables for an "Enchanted Afternoon Tea" inspired by the story and film.

THE "BE OUR GUEST" TEA SERVICE... includes Mrs. Potts' Savory Snacks, Chip's Sweet Delights, a glass of Cava for the grown-ups, and a host of premium teas. The swanky spot? Tres by José Andres (Chef Andres, in fact, is curating the sip-and-be-splendid experience). As for other tale-as-old-as-time to-dos around the hotel? A "commemorative 'Beauty and the Beast' tasting menu" at The Bazaar — it includes an "Enchanted Rose" dessert — and an overnight package complete with a two-people "styling session" at Ciel Spa as well as two VIP Preferred tickets to a screening of the film at El Capitan in Hollywood will also be offered. And is there a "decadent 'Enchanted Rose' amenity"? Well, fairy tales often arrive with a sprinkling of wonder (so: yes). Magic spells do end, however, and this sparkly spell, the one cast by SLS, must eventually say "adieu," too. So contact the castle — er, we mean the hotel, rather — and book your tea, tasting menu, or overnight stay soon, and definitely before March 26, when this particular fairy tale bids farewell to the whimsical Beverly Hills hotel.

Photo Credit: SLS Hotel]]>
<![CDATA[WonderCon: OC Pop Culture-a-Rama]]> Sat, 25 Feb 2017 11:37:17 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/wonderconGettyImages-517695828.jpg

COMIC-CON INTERNATIONAL... is definitely and absolutely on the horizon, the same sort of horizon that, in a comic book or blockbuster film, might bear the vision of a shimmery spaceship or unusual alien moon. Horizons, in short, are important in the stories that fill our favorite television shows and movies and graphic novels, because, so often, the characters we love our gazing out into the distance, searching for what they'll soon face. But mavens of popular culture, and intricate storytelling, and fabulous costuming, and adventuresome cosplay only need gaze into the nearer horizon, and not quite as far as Comic-Con, to see another major happening: WonderCon, in Anaheim. Yep, this convention was formerly in San Francisco, and, indeed, it is in the Comic-Con International family. But calling it prep for the Julytime San Diego jamboree isn't nearly the whole story, given that WonderCon has long been on the colossal, cram-in-lots-of-cool-stuff side of things, as it should be, of course. It's been delivering all sorts of pop culture delights for three decades. The 2017 dates are...

MARCH 31 THROUGH APRIL 2, the list of special guests has filled out (hello to the legendary Sergio Aragonés and Mark Evanier), there shall be the beloved, gussy-up Masquerade, as is tradition, and oodles of vendors, too. If you need fresh comic books, new toys, new tees, new action figures, or to replace an old favorite (a book you loaned out to a pal and never got back), WonderCon has a way of having what fans are seeking. Badges are on sale, artist Michael Cho's retro-tastic t-shirt and cover art is live and the whole shebang is just a few weeks out. Have your room in Anaheim? This is, after all, right around spring break, when Disneyland Resort is humming. Best book what you have to book, then get to work on that Masquerade costume, the one you meant to start sewing in November. You have time, but go, go, go.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Santa Barbara Food & Wine Weekend]]> Thu, 23 Feb 2017 15:57:39 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/bacaraSundayMarket.jpg

WHEN YOU THINK OF SANTA BARBARA, and of excellent supping, and of those chefs who've perfected a zingy approach to both their art and outlook, a certain superstar most certainly springs to mind, instantly: Julia Child. Beyond beloved, and beyond emulated, and beyond beyond, the titan of 20th-century cooking called the red-roof'd paradise home prior to her 2004 passing, and had some well-known local go-tos outside of her kitchen (La Super-Rica Taqueria is often cited as being favorite of the chef during her Montecito sojourn). There are many delicious and devotional ways to remember the life, times, adventures, and zingy approach to all things food that Ms. Child so deftly mastered, but one of the most delectable, and Santa-Barbara-y, takes place at Bacara Resort & Spa each year. It's the Santa Barbara Food & Wine Weekend, "...the only culinary event in the world sanctioned by the Julia Child Foundation." The flavorful fourth annual outing is coming up, over the second weekend of April 2017, so take a peek at the schedule, which includes an appearance by...

ALEX PRUD'HOMME, the great-nephew of Ms. Child. Mr. Prud'homme will be Q&Aing about his new book "The French Chef in America: Julia Child's Second Act." A screening of 2009's "Julie and Julia" will also take place during the April 7 through 9 gourmand gathering — the film is free to see — and a Neighborhood Market Tour & Tasting in the Bacara courtyard will capture that chatty, get-acquainted spirit Ms. Child so readily exemplified (a ticket is $50). There are a few spicy, sippable doings throughout the three days, including a swanky Grand Dinner, and you can alight upon what you'd like to do in an a la carte fashion, rather than booking the whole fell swoop (though you can do that as well, if you're game). That a la carte vibe suits the memory of the colorful cook well, as one always got the sense that Ms. Child was quite warm and understanding about a person devouring just those dishes that particularly appeal. The same goes for the Santa Barbara Food & Wine Weekend at bluff-breezy Bacara; do what you like, taste what you will, meet fellow food fans, and raise a glass to a gourmet, grand-eating festival.

Photo Credit: Erin Feinblatt]]>
<![CDATA[Magic's Afoot on the Queen Mary]]> Thu, 23 Feb 2017 22:18:12 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/qmfantasea123456.jpg

IF YOU COULD DESIGN A MAGIC CLUB, the kind of ultimate place for old-fashioned abracadabra-ing, what would you put in it? We're talking design-wise, here, and not specific rooms, because of course there'd be a green room backstage, where the illusionists can hang out between performances. What materials would you use? Sumptuous woods, and gorgeous low-lighting, and some mysterious spaces? Would you put your club somewhere rife with history and fables? And would your magic club inspire patrons to get a bit dressy ahead of attending? All of those wishes correspond to an actual place that really does exist in this dimension: the Queen Mary. The Art Deco landmark is layered in interesting woodsy, metallic notes, and the inclination to gussy up, like travelers did back in the 1930s, when the ship sailed the seas, still remains. Thus we don't have to conjure this ultimate magic club out of thin air: It will exist, for a single night, on the stunner of a ship, this...

SATURDAY, APRIL 8: That's when "Fantasea: Where Magic Lives," returns to the multi-deck destination. The Magic Castle in Hollywood is part of the Long Beach-based evening, an evening that'll see a string of now-you-see-it-now-you-don't-y shows from a flight of talented prestidigitators. The afternoon-long affair, which materializes at noon and vanishes at 6 p.m., includes up-close magic, illusionists on-the-roam, and some foodly, drink-delightful treats, from a Magic Mixology Tasting to a special dinner show. Also? The ship's famous phantom-focused ghost tours weave right into the wonder of the event. And if you're on the ship the following day, check out the Abracadabra Brunch. Is the whole of the Queen Mary a kindred spirit to a classic magic club, the kind that's lined with luxe woods and beautiful drapes and whimsy and enchantment? See for yourself when illusion arrives at the iconic ocean-liner. 

Photo Credit: Queen Mary]]>
<![CDATA[Dana Point: Whale Party Time]]> Mon, 20 Feb 2017 14:35:21 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/190*120/danapointparadewhales234.jpg

IF YOUR PEEPERS ARE PEELED... and you're hoping to see a real-life, oh-gosh-it's-huge whale, where do you look and what do you look for? Many stalwart seafarers have their tips and notions, from keeping an eye out for "fluke prints" (the distinctive surface patterns left by a whale's tale) to watching for the "puff" that arises from a blowhole (which is actually fairly easy to discern, even at a good distance, when the weather is fine). But if you're in Dana Point over the first two weekends of March, all you really probably need to do is grab some curb for the parade, an ocean-adoring procession that includes "(g)iant helium parade balloons" depicting a few different whales, including an orca and a blue. True, those whales'll be up in the air, and not in the Big Water, but they're a part of the larger party, one that's been around for nearly a half century (or 46 years, which qualifies as a good amount of time). It's the Dana Point Festival of Whales, and it will once again splash about, in water and on the land, on...

MARCH 4, 5, 11, AND 12: Four days of whale love equals a whole bunch of blowhole-esque to-dos, from the already mentioned parade to Ocean Awareness Day to a free outdoor screening of "Finding Dory" to whale watching trips galore (it's that time of year for some chances-are-good gray sightings). The whale watching'll has a fee, but many of the happenings around the charmer of a Pacific-adjacent town are free. A rubber ducky derby, sand sculpting, and a cardboard dinghy dash lend the lark an air of community spirit and not-too-serious pizzazz. Of course, staying aware of our co-mammals, the ones that live out in the ocean and rock their majestic flukes, is important, and knowing what hurdles they face, and future, is on the serious side. Both stewardship, and light-hearted doings, weave together over the two-weekend tradition. How do you spot a whale? It all depends if that whale is in a parade or happily cruising out in the watery distance, just below the surface but near enough to give those on a boat a true thrill.

Photo Credit: Festival of Whales]]>
<![CDATA[Death Valley Pupfish: Spring Superstar]]> Sat, 18 Feb 2017 11:07:02 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/dvpupfishnps.jpg

IF YOU WERE TO SAY... to someone who wasn't fully up on desert-based critter knowledge that you were going to take a trip to spy some fish in Death Valley National Park, well, they just might tell you to "pull the other leg." After all, "hottest" and "driest" and "lowest" are oft-used terms when it comes to the magnificently arid expanse, and notions of water and water-based life don't spring to the forefront of the mind. But, of course, there is water in the desert, and it appears in all sorts of spectacular and even surreal ways. Death Valley is home to several such aqua-related spots and events, from the here-today-gone-tomorrow lakes that can form on the flats to the pupfish of Salt Creek. Ah yes, we're returning to the fish topic, because, well, the fact that fin-laden creatures call the famously dry destination home is about as cool as cool California things come. And springtime for the cute fishies? That's primo mating time, which means you might just spy some interesting activity. They're as...

"PLAYFUL AS PUPPIES..." reveals the official Facebook page for Death Valley National Park, which means that while they're quite wee, and you'll need to keep your peepers peeled, you might see some memorable darting and dashing about in the creek. It's a "shallow creek," so you won't have to gaze too deeply, and the pupfish? Look for some pretty hues, which makes the small creek dweller somewhat simple to find. Of course, while observing this desert denizen will fill a person with the correct sensation that nature is flush with amazing wonders, do keep a respectful distance: The pupfish is endangered, and we landlubbers want these creek-based beasties to go about their springtime mating dance unhindered. Peeking in to admire the splendor of this finful phenom, though, is a fun spring to-do in the park, in addition to looking for those famous wildflowers.

Photo Credit: NPS]]>
<![CDATA[Paso Robles New: 'Experience kukkula' Tour]]> Fri, 17 Feb 2017 14:46:30 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/kukkulapaso1.jpg

THE TRUTH OF IT... is this: If you want to go to brunch at the home of a winery owner, you probably have to be friends with the winemaker, or have some acquaintances in common, or some history together. But that doesn't mean that an oenophile with a devotion to local vittles can't find their way to such a table, and memorable meal, in one of California's great wine countries, no less. Look to kukkula, and the new "Experience kukkula" tour, which makes its official debut at the vine-nice destination on Saturday, Feb. 18. The tour begins with an into-the-vines hillside hike at the Adelaida District winery, with peeks at, and information on, the Syrah and Grenache vines (just to name a few varietals that start on the spread).

AFTER SOME FRESH AIR, and some Grenache-tastic, Syrah-sweet gabbing, tour participants shall head indoors for a locavore brunch at Kevin Jussila's home. Mr. Jussila is co-owner of kukkula, and winemaker, too, and he'll not only lead the hike but he'll join guests for the delish dishes, dishes prepared by Mr. Jussila's wife and winery co-owner Paula. While wineries typically offer an array of traditional outings and ways to get closer to the wine vibe, a brunchy gathering at the owners' own home, on the property, has to be one of the more vibrant and unusual.

THE COST? It's $40, and it is set to happen a few more times in 2017, following the Feb. 18 debut (March 19 is next, then May 21, Aug. 20, and Oct. 22). Definitely wear tennies or comfortable hiking boots, and don't feel as if you'll need to fancy up, too much, for brunch. Put your mind to the hike first, as that will include "a little exercise," and then the eating, and the private tasting back at the winery which will follow brunch. "kukkula" is "high place" in Finnish, and guests on the new tour should expect, and anticipate, some Paso-pretty, vines-all-around vistas.

Photo Credit: kukkula]]>
<![CDATA[Signs Point to Banner Bloom for Desert Wildflowers]]> Thu, 16 Feb 2017 17:06:48 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/HendersonCanyonRd-SteveBier-Anza-BorregoFoundation.jpg

Vibrant fields of yellow, white and pink wildflowers are expected to soon blanket Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in Southern California in what experts think will be a banner blooming season.

Every year, around late February to mid-March, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park becomes the stage for Mother Nature’s spectacular show known as the “Desert Bloom.” This year – thanks to a trifecta of rainfall, mild temperatures and wind – all signs point to a memorable, picturesque bloom that could very well be worth the trip for San Diegans.

The Formula & The Process:

Betsy Knaak, executive director of the Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association (ABDNHA), told NBC 7 the peak of the Desert Bloom, traditionally, arrives in mid-March.

This winter, the desert has experienced a healthy dose of rain – and, according to Knaak, the right type of rain.

“We’ve had winter storms with that gentle rain that has soaked into the ground,” she explained. “So, with that, we’re anticipating really beautiful blooms this year.”

Knaak, who has lived in the Anza-Borrego desert since 1978, said that typically, the formula for a successful Desert Bloom includes regular rain in November, followed by winter storms in December and January, and maybe a little extra rainfall in February. Simultaneously, temperatures must remain on the mild side. The same goes for the wind, as stronger gusts can dry out the Earth and damage some of the more delicate wildflower species.

Under these conditions, seeds germinate, sprouting stalks and leaves. After that, come the flowers. Once their short but sweet life cycle is over, wildflowers shed their seeds onto the soil and those seeds wait their turn until the next Desert Bloom, Knaak said.

If this formula remains steady over the next few weeks, the Desert Bloom is in business. Knaak has faith this will be the case.

“The rain has soaked into the sand this year and the roots and seeds have enough moisture to combat the heat and winds,” she said.

However, in the end, she knows it’s all up to Mother Nature to decide the outcome.

“This is the part no one knows, except Mother Nature herself,” Knaak added.

Ernie Cowan, president of the Anza-Borrego Foundation (ABF), also believes it will be a banner year for blooms.

“From everything we’re seeing, it’s shaping up to be a great Desert Bloom,” he told NBC 7. “It’s all coming together.”

Cowan likened the formula for a successful bloom to a “three-legged stool.” One leg is the rain, in just the right amount, one leg is the temperature, and the third is the wind.

According to NBC 7 meteorologist Jodi Kodesh, the desert has received above average rainfall, so far, this rainfall season.

At last check with the National Weather Service on Feb. 15, Kodesh confirmed that Anza-Borrego had received 3.28 inches of rain since Oct. 1, 2016. Since Jan. 1, 2017, the area has received 2.15 inches of rain.

“Normal rainfall for that area, since January, is 1.79 inches,” she explained.

Kodesh said if desert temperatures stay below 85 degrees for the next few weeks and if the wind is not too strong, all of the ingredients will be there to create the recipe for a perfect bloom season.

Kodesh said two other rainfall gauges in the desert near Anza-Borrego State Park – Thermal and Palm Springs – are also reporting above average precipitation for this season. Since Oct. 1, 2016, Thermal has measured 2.99 inches of rainfall – 1.21 inches above average. Since Oct. 1, 2016, Palm Springs has measured 5.32 inches of rainfall, which is 2.06 inches above average.

Kodesh said those area, though not in Anza-Borrego, are good examples of what Southern California’s deserts are experiencing.

And, with the winter storm forecasted for this weekend, the rainfall totals in those areas will increase.

“We will be further above average,” said Kodesh.

It’s Showtime:

Once the Desert Bloom arrives, it yields fields of pink desert sand verbena, desert sunflowers, Dune Evening primrose, desert lilies, brittlebrush and Ocotillo – to name a few of the showy species seen in the region.

Knaak described the flower-filled, seasonal sight as “colorful patches all over the desert, carpeting the sand,” living against the backdrop of the mountains and blue, clear skies.

“It is beautiful,” she said. “It’s the birth of spring.”

In addition to wildflowers, Knaak said Ocotillo plants, with their thin, eight to 12-foot-tall stalks, produce spectacular blooms. She said a “bonus” desert perk is the cactus bloom, which yields magenta and chartreuse-colored blooms, typically from mid-March to mid-April.

Mike McElhatton, of the ABDNHA, told NBC 7 the Desert Bloom brings out White Lined Sphinx Moth, a colorful yellow and green species of caterpillar. The critters tend to come out in full force during the event.

“They’re like an Army that springs to action,” McElhatton explained, adding that the critters start out in the west valley and head east.

The caterpillars then attract Swainson's Hawks migrating from South America. They take break to feed on the caterpillars in the Anza-Borrego Desert.

“It’s an explosion of life in the desert,” he added, referring to this special time.

Where the Wildflowers Grow:

Cowan said the western edges of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park – the Badlands – is a well-known wildflower zone. Already, desert lilies are sprouting there.

Both Cowan and Knaak also said Henderson Canyon Road is a must-see spot for blooms, including Dune Evening primrose, desert sand verbena and desert sunflower. Knaak said that spot is highly-photographed by park visitors looking for an unforgettable view.

Cowan also recommends checking out Di Giorgio Road where, at the end, there are sand dunes and a spectacular pod of colorful wildflowers.

“It’s a great place to get out and go for a walk,” he explained.

For hikers, Cowan said Borrego Palm Canyon offers a mild, 3-mile hike. The area is home to a stream, which can lead to some big horn sheep sightings as the water and palm groves create what he described as an “oasis-like environment.” It gets busy here, so Cowan said the best bet is to visit on a weekday.

Knaak said hikers also enjoy trekking in the Western Canyon.

Best Practices for Anza-Borrego Visitors:

Anza-Borrego State Park, the largest state park in California, is located about 90 miles east of downtown San Diego. One-fifth of the park lies in San Diego County, while the rest lies in Imperial and Riverside counties, spanning Borrego Springs and Shelter Valley. 

For those visiting Anza-Borrego State Park during the Desert Bloom, the experts have a few tips for an enjoyable trip.

For starters, Cowan said visitors should call the park’s Wildflower Hotline at (760) 767-4684 when planning their visit. Updated daily, the hotline offers details on what’s growing and where, and other informative tidbits.

“Desert lilies are in bud, but not blooming yet,” the hotline’s recorded message said on Feb. 16.

Cowan recommends visitors start their trip at the Anza-Borrego State Park Visitor Center, located at 300 Palm Canyon Dr. in Borrego Springs. There, they can enjoy manicured trails and flowers as an introductory course, so to speak, to desert life.

Knaak said visitors can drop by ABDNHA’s Desert Nature Center, located at 652 Palm Canyon Dr., to pick up a free flower map that is updated weekly with tips about where to see which blooms. Also available: a $1 brochure with information on the 55 most common blooming plants in the desert.

For gear, both Cowan and Knaak suggest visitors wear comfortable, sturdy walking or hiking shoes.

Knaak said the weather is a bit hotter than what San Diegans are used to, so light-breathable clothing is best, plus sun hats, sunglasses and sunscreen.

Bring plenty of water to avoid becoming dehydrated during the trip.

Cowan also said it’s smart to pack a small comb in your bag. He said a comb is a handy tool for removing cactus spines from shoes and clothing so you don’t have to use your hands.

Both the ABDNHA and ABF will host nature walks throughout the Desert Bloom season. Visitors can check their websites for those events as the season blossoms.

On March 18 – at the height of the Desert Bloom – the ABDNHA will host its Garden Tour from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., which will take visitors to seven locations in Borrego Springs. Tickets are $30 per person.

On April 1, the ABF will ring in a milestone with its 50th Anniversary Celebration from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Steele/Burnand Anza-Borrego Desert Research Center located at 401 Tilting T Dr. in Borrego Springs. The party includes live music, auctions and a chance to speak with park staff, volunteers and ABF leaders. Julian-based craft brewery, Nickel Beer Company, will be pouring a special brew at the 50th Anniversary party, too. Tickets are $55 per person.

Desert Bloom of Seasons Past:

It’s been a while since Anza-Borrego State Park experienced a top-notch Desert Bloom, which makes this season all the more exciting.

In recent memory, Cowan said 2010 was the last “wonderful year” for the Desert Bloom. Seven years have passed, and the area is due for another good show. Before that, he said the 1993 Desert Bloom was an unforgettable one – an event that the ABF measures the season by.

From her experience as a longtime desert resident, Knaak said the late 1970s to early 1980s also brought great Desert Blooms.

“The sand verbena fields would carpet the agriculture fields,” she recalled, adding that this created imagery often seen in the pages of calendars.

More recently, she said 2005 was a “super bloom year,” as well as the 2008 to 2010 seasons. She said last year’s bloom was pretty good, but this year’s should be even better.

To learn more about the Desert Bloom, visit these websites:
Anza-Borrego State Park
Anza-Borrego Foundation
Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association

Photo Credit: Steve Bier/Anza-Borrego Foundation
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<![CDATA[Daffodil Splendor: Julian's Spring Hello]]> Wed, 22 Feb 2017 22:52:58 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/spring+weather+getty1.jpg

A CERTAIN SUNNY BUD... is renowned for its ability to grow, and grow well, in some of the higher climes around the Golden State. That this golden flower brings such a spring-sweet dose to the spring-sweet months means that those who love to grow it, and those who love to simply admire it, will seek it out in such spots as Daffodil Hill in Amador County and Running Springs, near Big Bear. Another upper-elevation town that's gained daffodil cred over the last several years is Julian. True story: The Gold Rush destination isn't only known for its pies or apples or charming Independence Day parade. Come March, or thereabouts, there's a gathering of daffodil devotees, and while it doesn't take place on some daffodil-strewn hillside, but rather Julian Town Hall, it does bring out a lot of blossoms, just when we need them the most (read: late winter). The 2017 date for the annual Daffodil Show is just ahead, on...

MARCH 4 AND 5: Yes, that's a Saturday and Sunday, so you can day-trip up to Julian for the aforementioned pie, and lunch, and a peek at the "thousand blooms on display" (actually, there should over a thousand blooms, so anticipate a nice flowery spread). Daffodil growers will show with the prize blooms on Friday, March 3, for the judging, while fans can turn up throughout the weekend to get their 'dil fill, no admission required. There's a Daffodil Art Show, too, to further summon the good vibes of spring, which, as of that first weekend in March, really and honestly will be juuuust around the corner. Stay sunny and keep dreamin' those daffodil dreams.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Sip in SLO: Tasting Pass Program]]> Wed, 15 Feb 2017 15:29:47 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/219*120/winein+wine+country+use.jpg

FEBRUARY... can be fertile and fecund, for sure, on the ready-to-bloom landscape front. True, it is still the frosty heart of winter, and plants and flowerbeds have gone a bit fallow, but then? Leafy shoots begin to show during the month, and the random petal, and our thoughts turn to all of the gifts of greenery that the wilder world bestows during the weeks before spring truly revs up. If you want to embrace February or March while embracing your love of leafy things, and your love of leafy things also incorporates the leafy vines found in wine country, there's a way to celebrate the season of growth 'round San Luis Obispo Wine Country. The vino-perfecting region has a new Sip in SLO tasting program, and it welcomes chard fans and cab mavens and aficionados of all sorts of libations for a taste-around at four wineries. That's right: Purchase the pass and then proceed to a quartet of wineries and see (and imbibe) what they have to offer. There are...

SIXTEEN WINERIES IN ALL, including Autry Cellars, Cutrozzola Vineyards, Biddle Ranch Vineyard, and a bouquet of other awesome spots for oenophiles. You'll be able to select the four wineries you want to taste at, as well as the date you want to head out into the SLO-tacular hills and valleys. A nice bit to a nice program? Any date in February and March is available. Another nice bit to a nice program? If you miss it in February and March, or you do it and absolutely love it, it'll come back around in November and March. To eye all of the participants, and line up your chosen four and date, you don't need to go to the Central Coast. Well, not ASAP, anyway; start here and start planning your leafy, weather's-warming, spring-is-coming outing among the soon-to-be leafy vines of SLO Wine Country.

Photo Credit: Wine]]>
<![CDATA[The Luffa Farm: Free Tour]]> Tue, 14 Feb 2017 15:43:18 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/luffafarmcentralcoast.jpg

IF YOU HAVE A SHOWER RITUAL, it probably includes some or all of the following: shampoo, conditioner, soap, a shower cap, a washcloth, and some sort of brush or loofah, the tool that'll give your skin a thorough scrubbing and some deep exfoliation. And even though cleansing is a regular part of our lives, and we depend upon suds and scrubbers each day, getting to go to the places where such products are made, or, wait for it, grown, is pretty difficult to do. (As difficult as switching conditioner after years of using the stuff that keeps your locks extra shiny.) There is a place on the Central Coast, though, that offers free tours built around one of the staples of the shower and/or tub. It's The Luffa Farm, found along the Highway 1 Discovery Route, and it is a spongeful spot in Nipomo, not too far from Pismo Beach.

IF THE MENTION... of Pismo Beach brings Monarch butterflies to mind, and clams, best add the scrubby sponge that's actually a gourd in the cucumber family to your Central Coast cool-stuff list. (Surprising, yes, but not surprising, in a way, since cucumber scents play a large role in bathtime rituals.) The Nipomo spread offers free 30-minute tours, giving luffa lovers and those just getting to know the gourdly good some insight into what goes into raising the "all-natural Heirloom Luffa Sponges." There's a gift shop, too (think fine glycerin soaps and such), so you just might depart with some luffa-lovely items. The farm, which is billed as "... one of the only growers of luffa sponges in the USA," is closed Mondays and Tuesdays, do note. And while your shower scrubber might be spelled differently on its package, the loofah (the skin tool) and the luffa (the plant) are the same thing at different points/places in their timeline. Eager to know more? Go Nipomo for all of your luffa learning.

Photo Credit: The Luffa Farm]]>
<![CDATA[Mendocino Majestic: The Whales of March]]> Mon, 13 Feb 2017 12:24:38 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/214*120/whalemendofest1212121.jpg

DO YOU SEE A WHALE... before you actually hear it? Or, if you hear something before you see it, do you hear the other people on your boat, or on the bluff, excitedly calling out a fluke in the distance? It isn't a riddle, or a competition, and there's no stress involved in the art of whale watching. But keeping both ears peeled and eyes open (or maybe the other way around) is essential as you go out on the ocean or stand and keep watch on a cliff, hoping to spy the behemoths of the Pacific, the mega mammals that migrate by our shores. Eye and ear and palate, too, are all entertained on land, as well as on the water, during the multi-weekend, county-big Mendocino Coast Whale Festival. This March-merry happening definitely keeps a watch on the waves, but the terra firma action, from art displays to special dining events, also ask visitors to stay in touch with all of their senses. The 2017 festival's opening weekend is...

SATURDAY, MARCH 4 AND SUNDAY, MARCH 5, with Mendocino out of the proverbial gate first. The Little River Whale Festival makes a splash on the following weekend, March 11 and 12, while Fort Bragg rounds it all out on March 18 and 19. Depending upon where you land and when, you might just find yourself at a chowder tasting, or a crafts fair, or participating in a 5K, or admiring an art exhibit devoted to nature. There are also boat tours, too, to sweep you away from the coast and to, fingers crossed, the whale highway, where a blowhole or two might be seen. And, yes, you can sometimes hear a whale the moment before you see it, if its amazing head-topping air-releasing passageway is within ear shot. Ever heard a whale releasing air in dramatic fashion, after a brief rise to the surface? It can be as thrilling as spying a fluke. Whether or not you see a tail, though, you're sure to have tales to tell after your Mendo idyll. (And, yes, one must always use "tail" and "tale" when speaking of whales, as they're magical beasties who inspire landlubbers to whimsical wordplay.)

Photo Credit: Mendocino Whale Festival]]>
<![CDATA[Horsetail Photography: Yosemite Course]]> Sat, 11 Feb 2017 12:53:17 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/HorsetailFallChrisF.jpg

SO YOU'VE CAPTURED HALF DOME... at sunrise, and sunset, and high noon, too. You've taken the time to photograph Tuolumne Meadow in all of its majesty, in all of the seasons. And Glacier Point? That, too, has been a longtime go-to subject of yours. But if you haven't yet turned your lens upon Horsetail Fall in late February, but you've been hoping to do so one of these years, your time has arrived. That is, if you're up for a chance to "(s)harpen your camera skills in Yosemite Valley" over not just one day but a few. For the Yosemite Photography: Horsetail Fall & Winter Landscape course will roll out over a few February days, giving participants not only the chance to spend some quality hours learning from nature photographer John Senser, but the opportunity to put that learning into lovely practice. An...

EVENING SESSION... kicks off the Feb. 21 through 24, 2017 Yosemite Conservancy event, which includes "three full days of guided outdoor photography workshops in Yosemite Valley." You'll camp, too, at Upper Pines Campground, so keep in mind you'll want to consider some warm duds (and your own camera). For the full list of need-to-brings, click. As for heading into this immersive shutterbug experience as an expert? You don't need to be, at all. In fact, all skill levels are welcome, and the hiking is deemed "Easy," though keep in mind you might be trudging through snow and wintry conditions. Above all, will you finally snap the glowful Horsetail Fall during its sunlit February show? It's one of the fantastical phenomena found in a fantastical place. To burnish your snapshot skills at the same time Horsetail is set to put on its spectacular show is flat-out neato, and utterly memorable, both. Prices and all the in-the-snow to-knows? Over here, shutterbugs.

Photo Credit: Chris Falkenstein]]>
<![CDATA[Tater Tots and Beer Festival]]> Mon, 13 Feb 2017 12:27:31 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/214*120/tater-horzbeerzoranmilich.jpg

SPUDS + SUDS: Look, you probably won't be the person to make a "spuds" and "suds" joke at the Tater Tots and Beer Festival, but that's okay. Make it anyway, for the truth is that rhyming words is still a time-honored way to summon a few smiles among those standing within earshot, and also? Both spuds and suds are pretty tasty, and even tastier together. But a festivals that is bouncing around the Golden State during the late-winter months of 2017 isn't just about any spud, nor any sud, but rather a certain wee barrel-shaped potato produce and top craft beers. Yes, we're not so subtly referring to Tater Tots here, a mid-century noshable created by Ore-Ida. So popular is the Tater Tot that is has come to stand in for potato nugget-type foodstuffs in general, the kind of edibles you throw on a cookie sheet after you've had a long day and need some comfort. And California comfort-seekers who also happen to dig divine brews can make for the...

TATER TOTS AND BEER FESTIVAL... should it show up in their town, or near their town, in February and March 2017. A quartet of southern-ish Golden State cities are on the map, with Los Angeles rounding it all out on the first Saturday in March (that's Saturday, March 4). The brews? They'll be three-ouncers, and eight Tater Tot "creations" will be there for the sampling. One tip from festival organizers? Arrive on the early side to make sure you get to try the full complement of Tot-based bites. For tickets, where-tos, how-tos, and all of the deliciousness that so easily hails from this spuds-suds combo, follow the scent of potato-lusciousness in this delectable direction.

Photo Credit: Ore-Ida/Getty Images-Zoran Milich]]>
<![CDATA[Beloved Cypress: A Lotusland Farewell]]> Sun, 12 Feb 2017 12:41:49 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/lotuslandcypress.jpg

AUGUST AND ELEGANT: If you've spent some time around the Central Coast, from Santa Barbara up through Monterey, you not only have come to love the Monterey cypress trees, but you may have picked out a few favorites. Maybe you love a particular specimen that's a bit south of Carmel-by-the-sea, or perhaps you found a cypress on 17 Mile Drive that captured your heart (and time, if you spent 20 happy minutes taking photographs of the tree from various angles). In short? Becoming besotted with the august and elegant tree is a passion many Californians have enjoyed for many years.

ONE SUCH ELEGANT TREE... may be found at Ganna Walska Lotusland, a Monterey cypress that's stood on the property's great lawn for more than 130 years. It began as a seedling over 13 decades back, and now the Monterey cypress stands tall, an instant favorite for those calling upon the plant-lush spread. But, fans of old trees are getting some heart-tender news in February 2017: The tree must come down at the close of the month. "The tree took a turn for the worse," reveals a garden representative, "...with the top turning brown and large portions of the green growth just giving up." There is concern over falling branches at this point, but buffs of the cypress may see it when Lotusland re-opens its tours on Feb. 16. But do make a reservation and visit by Feb. 25, if you want to see the tree.

POSITIVE NOTES: Garden staffers have strung Tibetan prayer flags in the tree's limbs, and its place? A "small Monterey cypress, grown from the seed of the current tree," shall be planted where the big tree once stood on Arbor Day. Lotusland has also "...invited people to send a farewell message to this wonderful icon," so contact the landmark for more information, if you can't visit. 

AN "AMAZING" RUN: Gwen Stauffer, the Executive Director of Lotusland, says "In its native habitat, the tree could have lived up to 200 years. The species thrives in the rain, fog, and cooler climate of Northern California." She continues: "Today, the tree is found naturally only in Monterey County at Cypress Point, Point Lobos, and Carmel Bay. Considering this tree is not in its native habitat, but a much more southern location that is hotter, to lasted this long is amazing." If you've had an amazing experience at the garden, and admired this cypress, stop by, over the second half of February, to say farewell. And stop by again, post-Arbor Day, to wish the young, soon-to-be-planted cypress loads of treeful luck.

Photo Credit: Lotusland]]>
<![CDATA[Free: Presidents Day at the National Parks]]> Tue, 14 Feb 2017 15:23:40 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/joshuatreenpsbradsutton.jpg

BUCKET LISTS... get a lot of play near the start of the year, in large part because our resolutions are so strongly tied to our future goals, must-dos, and dream accomplishments. And while the sort of day-to-day resolutions we make about our health, our sleep, our work, and our relationships obviously hold a lot of water, the visions we hold in our heart, and slightly out-sized daydreams, have a lot of resolution-based cred, too. And if travel-based articles regularly catch your attention — like train trips that call upon major landmarks and adventurers who visit every state capitol over the course of a year — perhaps it is time to mull over your get-out, see-America plans. And if one of those plans is to visit every national park (yep, that's a big one), or at least visit every national park in California, well, there are some very helpful days on the calendar to note. These are the...

FEE-FREE DAYS, where well over 100 national parks, monuments, and historic sites tell at-the-gate fees "goodbye" and "so long," at least for a day or two. The first fee-free day of 2017 has happened — it was on Jan. 16, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day — but the next is just ahead. It's Presidents Day, which falls on Monday, Feb. 20, and spots like Yosemite National Park and Joshua Tree National Park will waive fees and wave nature fans on through, no wallet-opening required. And if you really want to fell-swoop a few parks over a few days, for free (at least "for free" at the entrance), note that there are a full four free days coming up in April, in honor of National Park Week. They don't happen concurrently, but rather on April 15 and 16 and April 22 and 23, but bet you could get mighty bucket-list-y within that quartet of days, as far as finally visiting a slew of national parks goes. You can do it. This is your year. Break out the maps.

Photo Credit: NPS/Brad Sutton]]>
<![CDATA[New: Mission Inn Valentine's Lights]]> Wed, 08 Feb 2017 19:29:11 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/missioninnpool2938923212.jpg

VALENTINE'S WITH VA-VOOM: Should you call upon The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa after Thanksgiving, but before the first week of January, and if you're there after sundown, you'll see it: millions of lights aglow. The venerable Riverside hotel is, in fact, quite famous for its seasonal illumination, so much so that the castle-like landmark is often cited as one of the best Christmassy places to bed down for the night. But the hotel is ready for a fresh experience, and a fresh holiday, when it comes to its eveningtime glitter. Worry not, if you fretted, for a moment, that the hotel would be moving its holiday lights to another part of the calendar. The Festival of Lights, a Mission Inn staple, will stay put, but joining it? The inaugural Festa Dell' Amore, "a month-long Valentine's celebration" that will include plenty of red, pink, and white lights around the property. Oh...

AND HEARTS: Lots of hearts, to pay tender tribute to the candy-sweet occasion. There shall be other snuggle-up doings around the sizable structure, from spa treatments created for couples at Kelly's Spa to a Romance Tour, which delves into the Mission Inn's kissy history, a timeline that includes honeymoons, weddings, and other duo-delightful moments aplenty. (In fact, Ronald and Nancy Reagan honeymooned at the hotel in 1952.) Some sweetheart-ready, ready-to-share desserts are on the special February menu — a chocolate soufflè called Love Is Decadent is one of the treats — and there's a splashy stay-over package that gives couples a chance to spend the night in the Alhambra Suite (indeed, that's where the Reagans spent their honeymoon). If you're interested in the Timeless Romance package, or the spa treatments, or a tour, or simply seeing all of those Valentine's-sparkly lights, pop by the hotel's site or give the historic spot a call.

Photo Credit: The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa]]>
<![CDATA[South Lake Tahoe Polar Plunge]]> Wed, 08 Feb 2017 19:28:04 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/SLT_PolarPlunge2232.jpg

POLAR PLUNGE TIME, at least in many parts of the world, coincides, in chilly and optimistic fashion, with the first day of the year. Groups of people will don their bathing suits on New Year's Day and find the nearest body of brisk water to dash into, and while they don't spend much time splashing about, the move is a bold one. And oftentimes, an important and community-minded move, too. For Polar Plunges aren't simply about doing something a bit wacky for the sake of being wacky; they oftentimes raise much-needed funds for a local or regional non-profit. And one of the biggest of the Polar Plunge fundraisers is still on the horizon, on the last Saturday of wintertime. You may ponder if a March Saturday is as cold as New Year's Day, but, at Lake Tahoe, the waves are still mighty brrr-inducing at that time of year. And it is at that time, on Saturday, March 18, 2017, when a caboodle of swimsuit- and costume-rocking plungers'll hightail into the water at Zephyr Cove Resort. The South Lake Tahoe Polar Plunge will again raise money for the...

SPECIAL OLYMPICS... of Nevada and Northern California, via the contributions of "individuals, companies, law enforcement, families, schools, and organizations." Which means that even if you aren't plunging as a group, you and a friend can sign up, or you can even go it on your own. It all happens at 10 o'clock in the morning, before the sun has had time to lend much warmth to the lake, so, truly, the South Lake Tahoe Polar Plunge very much earns the "polar" in its name. And after you towel off, and enjoy a hot buffet at the MontBleu Resort Casino & Spa (which is part of the registration package), you can gaze back at the lake and think how you really did it: You plunged.

AND YOU'LL KNOW... that the money you raised for the event will support an organization that helps to "...showcase the capabilities and achievements of individuals with intellectual disabilities..." via the "...free year-round training and sports competition..." Special Olympics has made a positive difference in so many lives over the decades, and fundraisers like the South Lake Tahoe Polar Plunge truly are an essential part helping the group do what it so wonderfully does throughout the calendar. What's one quick plunge in Lake Tahoe at the end of winter? Sign up now. And if you can't make Tahoe on March 18? There are several others around Northern California that also support the many programs provided by the Special Olympics Nevada and Northern California.

Photo Credit: Special Olympics of Nevada and Northern California]]>
<![CDATA[Merry Sierra: Nevada City Mardi Gras]]> Sat, 04 Feb 2017 13:47:19 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/IMG_1693-2erinthiem.jpg

NOLA IN NORCAL: Whether or not you don a feathery mask, or the sort of fancy get-up you might see on Bourbon Street, or you have your own slice of King Cake waiting for you back home or not, the fact is this: Mardi Gras has a way of making even the most obstinate of non-revelers sway a hip and tap a toe. Thank the brassy sounds of horns, thank the cheerful clapping and hollers that accompany a lively Fat Tuesday procession, and thank the le bon temps spirit of the old celebration that permeates everything for the holiday's ability to charm and draw people into the proverbial parade. Finding an actual parade, though, can be slightly challenging, and definitely if you're outside of Louisiana. True, many towns line up the trumpets and floats, and one of those towns has been doing so for several years now. Slip into your glittery purple, yellow, and green togs and sashay your way to...

NEVADA CITY: There shall be more gold in the Gold Country burg come Sunday, Feb. 19, thanks to golden instruments, golden fashion, and golden good times. True, Feb. 19 isn't Mardi Gras proper in 2017 — that's on Tuesday, Feb. 28 — so consider Nevada City celebration to be an early kick-off, if you're a tried-and-true Fat Tuesday observer. Attending is free, though, of course, you may want to imbibe or eat during the daytime doings. You have to keep your energy up, yes, to reach for all of those aloft beads, toys, and such? It's tradition, a slice of NOLA charm, in a cool Sierra village that boasts buckets of ready-to-have-fun cred.

Photo Credit: Erin Thiem]]>
<![CDATA[Lotusland: Flowery Gem to Re-Open]]> Mon, 06 Feb 2017 12:31:40 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/220*120/LotusatLotuslandJune.jpg

CHANGING OLD HABITS... after the start of the new year can take a few committed weeks (or even months). If you've long existed in a constant state of rushing around, finding a fresh way to some meditative moments in your day can prove a tad tricky, at least at first. You want to begin a new calendar year by finding some quiet, by settling your mind, but making the time to do so, well... it's easy it is to let a lot of time pass. But one instant way to reconnect with a resolution to be more mind- and heart-peaceable is to visit a garden, the kind of spot where mind-settling and heart-quieting happen with almost no effort.

CALIFORNIA OFFERS LOADS... of such lovely destinations, though a few of them do take a bit of time off in the winter. But there is a place, in Santa Barbara, that re-opens to public tours each year juuuust about at that moment when resolution-makers are thinking about re-connecting with that commitment to meditate, to find a gentler path, to spend an hour organizing a few thoughts, goals, plans in a pretty place. The pretty place we speak of here is...

GANNA WALSKA LOTUSLAND, the lush estate that was once the home of the celebrated opera singer. True, lotuses bloom when the weather warms up, so they won't be doing their full-flower thing on 2017's opening day. But when general tours open back up, post-winter recess, on Thursday, Feb. 16, visitors can call upon the serene spread, which includes numerous gardens and plots beyond its eponymous flower. If you want to view the orchids, or the cacti, or the ferns at this history-laden gem, just make a reservation at Lotusland after the 16th. Then find your quiet, your nature, your mind-easing views, and return to your new year's resolution as you stroll the pathways and let your thoughts be at peace.

Photo Credit: Lotusland]]>
<![CDATA[Sequoia Splendor: A Dark Sky Celebration]]> Sat, 04 Feb 2017 13:45:38 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/215*120/sequoiaalison12345.jpeg

WHAT IS THE STILLEST SEASON? There isn't too much back-and-forth-ing to do over that particular question, for wintertime has long held a reputation for landing on the lower-key, embrace-the-quiet side of things. Perhaps it is the busyness of the holidays that makes us long for a more chillaxed January and February, or the near-silence of snow falling, but the coldest season of the year oftentimes seems to operate at a reflective, think-deeper state. This isn't always the case with summer, which we wish was about playing in sprinklers and napping in hammocks (but often times feels like a hurried slide into fall). There is a gentle route, though, to finding the quiet spirit of wintertime right in the center of summer, and even though there will not be snow on the ground, what you'll be gazing at will be quite chilly, indeed. It's the...

DARK SKY FESTIVAL... in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, and it will turn its gaze reverently upward, to the cosmos, from Friday, July 21 through Sunday, July 23. The fourth annual fest reminds us of the critters who thrive by night (hello, bats) and how clearly we can admire far-off planets and stars when we're in a low-lit (or no-lit) situation. A host of happenings revolving around telescope enjoyment, awesome astronomy, the national parks, and more are on the after-sundown docket. But don't pile up the must-dos too high; rather, take the quiet joy that comes more easily to us in the winter, and apply it to a summer getaway that's built on the very ancient and very meditative experience of savoring the night sky without illumination impacting our view. If summer's gotten too full of the hubbub for you, here's a weekend that's all about wonder, some silence, and connecting with the wider universe from where we stand on this planet.

Photo Credit: Alison Taggart-Barone]]>
<![CDATA[The Super Skunk: It's Back in May]]> Wed, 01 Feb 2017 17:25:28 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/Old45Northspur1.jpg

THE PERFECT THEME SONG: Clearly if your name is Super Skunk, and you've got a lot of history woven through your personal tale, and you are quite picturesque, and you've encountered thousands of train-loving fans over the years, you need some sort of rousing, feel-good, hum-it-down-the-tracks theme song. But, when you think about it, the famous steam engine — No. 45, to be fully specific — already boasts its own ditty, and it involves the wind blowing through the redwoods near the winding Mendocino County rails, and the sweet bird calls, and gentle gurgle of nearby streams and rivers. If you long to hear this theme song in person, and to see the No. 45 engine toot-tootin' again, hitch up your wagon and trot for Fort Bragg over Memorial Day Weekend. That's when...

THE SUPER SKUNK... will make its picturesque return to the tale-laden, through-the-woods, gently twisty rail line. If you were wondering where the giant engine might have gone in recent days, it took some time away from chug-chuggin' along for "a mandatory inspection and rebuild that happens every 15 years." Call it a little R&R for the hard-working steamer, then. And call it successful: After bidding The Skunk Train line-up farewell in the autumn of 2016, The Super Skunk'll be back, at the front of the cars, some four to five days a week beginning in late May (that's "depending on season," but you likely figured as much). If old-school train lines (the 131-year-old Skunkie qualifies), bridges galore, tall trees, and beasties from deer to ducks float your boat (or run your engine), make a summertime date with one of the majestic symbols of Mendocino County.

Photo Credit: The Skunk Train]]>
<![CDATA[Catalina Express: Two-for-One Birthday Deal]]> Tue, 31 Jan 2017 14:50:48 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/AvalonPostcardcatexpress.jpg

IF YOU HAVE THAT FRIEND... who is forever imploring you to think bigger on your birthday, to reach beyond the bounds of the traditional meal or movie out, then best text that friend at once and tell her you've hatched an ultra-nifty, out-of-the-everyday plan. And that plan is this: You're both going to hop on the Catalina Express, when the actual day of your birthday arrives, and you're going to enjoy a two-for-one deal. This is a new program from the venerable get-to-Catalina-Island boat company, a fresh twist on the "ride free on your birthday" deal that's been a staple of the Catalina Express since 2011.

HOW IT WORKS? You and your island-lovin' bud will need to start your journey on the actual day of your birthday, and you'll both need to cover the full fare for one adult ticket (though you'll both get to ride). It is round trip, though daydreams of staying in Avalon forever are free. But you don't need to return to the mainland on that day, if you want to bed down in a local hotel and savor buffalo sightings and strolls along the town's historic thoroughfares; you'll just need to get back within 30 days.

THERE ARE SOME WHAT'S-WHATS... to observe, like pre-registering online, and age requirements, and birthday-revealing identification, and so forth. Once on Catalina Island, you will come across, with the help of this handy pdf, some snazzy birthday-related discounts and to-dos.

Photo Credit: Catalina Express]]>