<![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-usThu, 23 Feb 2017 05:51:51 -0800Thu, 23 Feb 2017 05:51:51 -0800NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Magic's Afoot on the Queen Mary]]> Wed, 22 Feb 2017 08:19:10 -0800 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 13:35:21 -0800 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 10:07:02 -0800 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 13:46:30 -0800 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 16:06:48 -0800 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 21:52:58 -0800 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 14:29:47 -0800 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 14:43:18 -0800 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 11:24:38 -0800 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 11:53:17 -0800 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 11:27:31 -0800 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 11:41:49 -0800 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 14:23:40 -0800 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 18:29:11 -0800 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 18:28:04 -0800 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 12:47:19 -0800 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 11:31:40 -0800 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 12:45:38 -0800 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 16:25:28 -0800 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 13:50:48 -0800 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]]>
<![CDATA[Gilroy Garlic Festival: Poster Contest]]> Mon, 30 Jan 2017 13:24:03 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/185*120/garlicgetty2038923423.jpg

SOME PRODUCE AISLE HALLMARKS... seem readymade for a moment in the spotlight. An apple and a few bananas in the center of a painting can make for a fine and traditional bowl of fruit, while a satyr or nymph eating a bunch of grapes lends mythology-focused zing to a gallery-wall work. Artichokes, too, are oh-so-photographable (thank all of those lovely leaves), while plums, with their variegated lavender-to-purple skins, have a particular light-ready glow. As for a garlic bulb? Well, let's start with the fact that it is a bulb, as in bulbous, which suggests some interesting contents (spoiler alert: cloves). Already a painter or an illustrator has a lot to work with when it comes to the small, papery member of the Allium family. And artists have deftly shown garlic's many prismatic and pretty ways over the decades via the posters for the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival. These charming promotional materials have long been standouts on the food festival circuit, thanks to their whimsy, their cleverness, and their ability to depict a bulb or clove of garlic in such a panache-filled, appetite-stoking way. Are you a fan of the festival's long line-up of posters? Then best...

ENTER THE 2017 CONTEST... and see if your garlic-themed artwork is chosen as the new poster for the end-of-July gathering. There's a roster of rules to keep in mind as you work (the piece should be logo-free, for one), and the deadline is Friday, March 17. If you take first place, you'll win $500, so that's as sweet as a scoop of garlicky ice cream (which is actually sweet, save some after-burn to the tongue). Best make yourself some pasta or stew, throw a handful of chopped-up cloves in, and start daydreaming about how to best depict this kicky kitchen staple. How would you show a bulb of garlic the love, dear artists? Here's your chance to find out.

THE 39TH ANNUAL GILROY GARLIC FESTIVAL... heats it up from Friday, July 28 through Sunday, July 30, 2017.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Catalina Island: Chihuly Exhibit to Open]]> Sat, 28 Jan 2017 16:43:38 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/New-Chihuly-02.jpg

YOU DON'T NEED TO DIG... too deeply into your bag of florid adjectives and descriptive terms to find all sorts of sublime words to describe the light on Catalina Island. From an orange-pinky sunrise filling Avalon with illumination to the watery sunlight that helps glass-bottom boat guests view beneath-the-waves kelp forests, light plays an important role on the pretty island. That glass is often used to diffuse light, or make it glow even further, is widely known, but we don't often get the chance to view glass wonders while visiting a place that rocks the whole sunshine-moonlight thing so spectacularly. That will change beginning in March 2017 when an exhibit celebrating the colorful artworks of glass-tastic innovator Dale Chihuly debuts at the Catalina Island Museum. The multi-month display is on from...

MARCH 26 THROUGH DEC. 11, 2017, and it will boast a caboodle of twisty, curving, hue-packed, ethereal pieces. This is "the second major exhibition of Chihuly's work in Southern California," and the pieces will be displayed in the museum's "outdoor atrium" and in the "landscaped gardens" (which possess "...views of Catalina's canyons and clear waters"). If you're pondering Chihuly works you've seen in the past — perhaps the ceiling of the Bellagio in Las Vegas or a botanical garden-based show — count on seeing the color and glinting-light gorgeousness that you've known in the past. "Seaforms" and "Red Reeds" are just two of the pieces in the show. Ready to indulge in some glass-lovely art enjoyment on a light-laden island? The notion of glass and Catalina just go together, from the aforementioned glass-bottom boats to the wide-of-window'd buildings that look out onto the harbor. It's an ideal place for the Washington artist's works to glimmer.

Photo Credit: NBC 5]]>
<![CDATA[Bodie Calendar Contest: Send in Your Top Pics]]> Fri, 27 Jan 2017 10:35:20 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/bodiehouseagp.jpg

THE NEXT YEAR... is still a good distance away, but you can bet that people who make calendars already are thinking about 2018. And while most calendar companies have their on-staff photographers and artists, there are those treasured places that will, on occasion, turn to shutterbugs who happen to be devoted fans of the spot. Bodie Foundation, the organization that lends a lot of love to Bodie State Historic Park, holds a calendar contest each year, one that many mavens of the Mono County ghost town dig. Why? Because Bodie, as a general rule, is simply one of the most stunning spots to capture visually. That's subjective, of course, and "stunning" can't be quantified, but flip through a web site devoted to the 1800s-era mining town, a place kept in "arrested decay," and you can't help but marvel at how marvelous the buildings, mountains, and streets look. Calling them a similar to a movie set isn't quite accurate, though, for Bodie is a real place, once the home to thousands of hopeful, silver-seeking dreamers. But photographs of Bodie do possess a movie-like quality, making them ideal for a calendar.

READY TO SEE IF YOUR SNAPS HAVE THE STUFF? The deadline to enter is Saturday, Feb. 4. There's a "(n)ew maximum" of entry photos — you may submit five — and some other good-to-know details, so peruse the Bodie Foundation site before setting your sights on which ghost-town-y photos you'll send in. It would be mighty brag-worthy to have a picture you took of a hazy window or vintage rocking chair or the mountains beyond town in an honest-to-rootin'-tootin' calendar. If you are a Bodie buff, through and through, and consider it one of your favorite places to visit (and take pictures), enter now.

Photo Credit: Bodie]]>
<![CDATA[Literary Lark: Riverside Dickens Festival]]> Fri, 27 Jan 2017 08:20:21 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/160*120/DickensFestival1_crDickensFestival.jpg

MANY EVENTS... are a touch blasé on the matter of attendees wearing the sort of outfits appropriate to the occasion. Which is just fine, of course; people should be comfortable and do their thing. But when you're dealing with a venerable affair that has some truly terrific costumes, the kind of sartorial wonders that clearly had a lot of thought and care behind their creation, well, you can wish you had stepped up your gussy-up game, just a tad. Such is the charming case of the Riverside Dickens Festival, a wintertime revelry that finds people decked out in all sorts of Victorian-inspired wear. You can, of course, attend one of the events in your modern trousers and contemporary shirts, but you may wish you had packed a top hat or a hoop skirt or the kind of mustache pomade that gentlemen used to fancy 150 years ago (or so). Either way, this annual literary lark, billed as "The Most Celebrated Event in the Inland Empire!," attracts a caboodle of book-loving, history-obsessed people who dig two days of parties, talks, and story-focused happenings. The 2017 dates are...

SATURDAY, FEB. 25 AND SUNDAY, FEB. 26, and the roster includes an Authors' Salon, Parasol Dueling (a fresh addition in 2016), period music, a steampunk element, a cameo by Charles Dickens himself, a Victorian fashion show, and several more book- or time-perfect doings. Speaking of books, the featured book for the 2017 festival is "American Notes for General Consideration," by Mr. Charles Dickens, natch, so best get a jump on reading it (or reading it again) if you want to attend and take a seat for the discussion. Top hat on? Love of tales a go? Then secure your tickets for this dress-up, read-up, history-up happening.

Photo Credit: Dickens Festival]]>
<![CDATA[Paw Walk at San Diego Botanic Garden]]> Fri, 27 Jan 2017 10:40:33 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/189*120/puppygrasssweet.jpg

PET PETAL HANDLES: You don't need to become acquainted with too many dogs — though knowing as many dogs as you can is always an exemplary idea — to realize that we humans often select pooch names from petal-pretty things. If you've known a wide assortment of tail-waggers in your time, then you've probably met a Rosey along the way, or a Daisy, or even a Petunia (which, let's be honest, is an amazing handle for a Pug or French Bulldog). Maybe we simply love flowers and Fidos, we humans, or maybe we connect canines with the outdoor world, for it isn't a stretch to say that our BFFs rather like romping around under the sun. And pairing the notion of gorgeous plants (both of the flowery and non-flowery assortment) and a gorgeous day out with our hounds isn't too much of a stretch, either. We can definitely hit a dog park whenever, but calling upon a botanic garden, one that generally doesn't permit pets, is an unusual chance. But that chance is coming up, as fast as a loping Lassie, on...

SATURDAY, FEB. 18: The San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas will once again stage its popular 5K Paw Walk in the Garden, a morningtime ramble which will help support both the garden as well as the Rancho Coastal Humane Society. Some dog-focused vendors'll be on site, with foods, goods, and pup-related info, so the vibe of the day is definitely four-footed, even beyond the walk itself. And if you're hoping you'll cover a lot of the 37-acre spread, you will. Prepare to pass the Hawaii section, and the Australia area, and others, with Daisy or Rosy or Petunia happily leading the way.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[Palm Springs Snazz: Cake & Cocktails]]> Wed, 25 Jan 2017 09:30:21 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/214*120/cakeslice9028932cocktail.jpg

THERE ARE PAIRINGS... in the world, beyond the oft-cited, right-on-the-money peanut butter and jelly, that just make sense. An ice cream and a hot day is an ideal twosome, and cozy slippers and a crackling fireplace are hand-in-hand BFFs. As for mid-century structures and Palm Springs? It would be a challenging task to find a place and an architectural style that meld together as well. Both are a pinch offbeat, and ever-so-slightly outlandish, giving homes from the '50s and early '60s, and the sunny desert city, loads of panache. Which means a party thrown during a mid-century event, in Palm Springs, should arrive with a panache-filled pairing, even if the pairing is a little bit quirky. If you're ready to indulge in cocktails and cake, then circle Saturday, Feb. 25 on the ol' getaway calendar. For that's the night that history-loving, retro-funny entertainer Charles Phoenix'll be master-of-ceremony-ing a party at the recently refurb'd Monkey Tree Hotel. If you know the...

MONKEY TREE, you can guess the theme colors of the night: yellow and turquoise. Guests at the Cake & Cocktail Party, which is happening during Modernism Week, are invited and encouraged to arrive wearing the hues, which are seen throughout the eye-wowza property. There shall be adult libations, as the name suggests, and one of Mr. Phoenix's famous and humorous "towering" cakes'll be the sweet on everyone's plate. Price? It's fifty bucks, and the Palm Springs Modern Committee is the organizer. Cake, cocktails, mid-century buildings, yellow and turquoise dress, snazzy attitudes, snazzy everything... if one or all of these things is your jam, and you're going to Modernism Week, best jump on that ticket as fast and as smoothly as peanut butter spreads on jelly.

Photo Credit: Cake/Cocktail]]>
<![CDATA[Pier 39 Turns 39]]> Tue, 24 Jan 2017 13:02:34 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/p39sfGettyImages-97054323.jpg

IF YOU ARE A FAMOUS CALIFORNIA DESTINATION, and you happen to have a number in your name, you can bet that when you reach that number, age-wise, some special things will go down. One might check with with Twentynine Palms to see how the desert town marked its 29th birthday, and whether 17 Mile Drive honored its 17th decades ago would also take some looking back through the deep archives. But we don't need to guess what Pier 39 in San Francisco is up to on its 39th; that's happening in 2017, over a series of upcoming Fridays (in fact, 39 in total). That's right...

PIER 39 IS 39, and a host of special doings, like discounts and such, will make the end of each week from January to October that much more Fridayier. (Sure you know that "Fridayier" is when something is the most ultimate Friday thing it can possibly be.) Be sure to visit the shop- and eatery-lined attraction, a former cargo pier, for "discounts and giveaways" as well as special to-dos like film nights and a "70s Roller Disco Party." That's right, Pier 39 did...

BEGIN IN THE 1970s, on Oct. 4, 1978, to be specific, making the disco theme most apt. Honestly, though, will the famous sea lions rock a sparkly outfit and join the disco fun? Not likely, and, plus, the barky, beautiful symbols of the pier did not arrive in the late '70s but at the very end of the 1980s (so dressing disco wouldn't make much sense for them). If you dig bustling piers, amazing pinnipeds, and parties that stretch out over several Fridays, stop by and wish Pier 39 a very happy 39th.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Wine Country Mmm: Santa Ynez Valley Restaurant Week]]> Mon, 23 Jan 2017 11:01:08 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/shutterstock_74171587.jpg

VIVACIOUS VALLEY VITTLES: Sunshine seen through a glass of wine doesn't exactly cast a shadow, but more like a colorful liquid bit of hue. A merlot's shadow is going to be seen as a garnet-gorgeous red, while chardonnay is a shimmer of lemon-pretty loveliness. This ability of wine to make art, with a bit of light, speaks to its ability to be the dominate player at times, even over some of the other goodies on a table (it is hard to beat something that is both tasty and a work of art). But vino's shadow isn't so long that it obscures the fact that great food often arises in a popular valley that doubles as a lauded slice of wine country. Wine country vittles, too, have their own work-of-art-ness to display, even if they're not casting the same sort of liquid shadows on a table cloth that a glass of sauvignon blanc so easily can.

EXHIBIT A? Gaze upon the Santa Ynez Valley, if you will, and all of the eateries that complement the wine-driven scene and stand apart from it, doing their own distinct thing (while, of course, still offering wine on the menu). A solid chance to get to know both sips and sustenance is Santa Ynez Restaurant Week, which will roll out from Sunday, Jan. 22 through Saturday, Jan. 28. Bell Street Farm in Los Alamos, First & Oak in Solvang, and Alma Rosa Winery in Buellton are just three of the participants. A number of wineries will offer pairings of the "wine & cheese" or "wine & chocolate" assortment, so peek and see if there is a spot you've been wanting to check out (the chance to nibble cheese while trying the local libations is a pretty strong draw). What beautiful hues will your sip of chardonnay make when held up to the sun? For the full list of wine-country-y cuisine places and vineyards, peek here.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[Desert Spring Show: Almost Flower Time]]> Sat, 21 Jan 2017 11:24:59 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/wildflowerfurnace929390232.jpg

IF YOU'VE EVER TENDED A GARDEN, or had a yard, or a little plot of soil and seeds on a windowsill, you know this: Flowers make surprise cameos. They don't send an announcement postcard well in advance, saying "save next weekend for my arrival," nor do they always have a predictable run up. One day there'll be a wee green shoot and the next? A taller flower, maybe even a bud, maybe even the first sign of petals. It's a life truism that applies to lots and lots of flowers, wildflowers, in particular, too. You can watch the skies, and the clouds, and the rainfall, all the while predicting when the first poppies or primroses will appear in the glens and valleys a few hours out of town. But, like the box on your windowsill, desert wildflowers also can be a little unpredictable, and they definitely don't mail postcards detailing specific dates and places. So taking a chance, and looking at the bloom times of past years, is recommended as you...

BOOK YOUR STAY... out in one of California's epic and arid stretches. It's worth considering an early booking, for it is an especially large bloom, hotels do fill up (one only need remember 2005's huge Death Valley wildflower show, and how difficult it was to find a room, to know this holds water). Furnace Creek Resort, both Inn and Ranch, serve as homebases for the Death Valley National Park flowers, where spots around Borrego Springs, like La Casa del Zorro Resort & Spa, are prime starting-out points for visitors to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Late January, though, has the scent of "go time" to it, as far as planning your desert blossom adventure slightly in advance. If you decide to wait, and see how the bloom does, well, hooray to that, too (that's another viable and popular avenue of flower fanship). Whether you get a hotel or not, here's to a big desert bloom, and all of the rain that continues to encourage such a stunner of a sight.

Photo Credit: Furnace Creek Resort]]>
<![CDATA[Cali4nia Pass Free (After Four Lessons)]]> Mon, 23 Jan 2017 11:01:50 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/bbmr-20free-20pass-20blank23.jpg

FINDING THE CORRECT STANCE, or burnishing how you grip your poles, or discovering the ideal way to point your knees, are all essential bits of knowledge when it comes to mastering skiing (or, at least, beginning to master the sport). But usually, after a few lessons, you are left to your own devices when it comes to getting more time on the slopes in (necessary time, let us add, the kind of time that helps a new-to-skiing skier work on her skills). But make for a lesson, or rather four lessons, or rather four lesson "points," at Mammoth Mountain, Bear Mountain, Snow Summit, and June Mountain, and you'll eventually nab a Cali4nia Pass for the remainder of the 16/17 season.

AND OH WHAT A SEASON... it has been, thus far, what with the copious amounts of white, cold, flaky stuff that has fallen. So if you schuss in the direction of this deal, and you sign up for, and pay for, a quartet of helpful classes (and any of the four aforementioned places), you will get your own, oh-so-helpful Cali4nia Pass. And that pass, if you don't know, though surely you do, will give you "unlimited access to any of the four resorts in the Mammoth family."

CHECK OUT THE POINT VALUES... of various lessons, and where they are happening, and their various levels, to get on track with what you want to do. And after those four are done, well, onto more fantastic late-winter, and, fingers crossed, springtime ski action.

Photo Credit: Big Bear Mountain]]>
<![CDATA[Huge Heart: Valentine's Week in Oceanside]]> Tue, 24 Jan 2017 23:14:50 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/oceansideballoonvalday.jpg

13 DAYS OF LOVEY-DOVEY: While many places — think restaurants, zoos, hotels, and attractions — will give a day or two to the kissiest occasion on the calendar, there is a town that blocks off a half month, or nearly, to honor the moment. That town has several pluses, including a gorgeous ocean-snug setting, so filling out its schedule with heartsy happenings seems like the obvious course of action. It is Oceanside that we're not so subtly referring to here, and locals made the wise and rose-scented decision in 2016 to celebrate February's biggest day in multiple ways. The name of the multi-day doings? It's Oceanside Valentine's Week, which is actually nearly two weeks, giving Valentine's revelers plenty of time to do all that they'd like to do to mark the emotion-filled festivity. It all begins on...

THURSDAY, FEB. 2, and wraps up on Valentine's Day proper, Tuesday, Feb. 14. The huge, 25-footer of a heart-shaped balloon'll be back, but it won't be confined to just one location. It'll call on several places around Oceanside, a dozen in all, so keep those peepers peeled. Other goings-on include "Sweetheart Skydiving," a bike ride, a "Show the Love" run, tango fun at the Oceanside Museum of Art, a screening of "The Notebook" on the pier, and a host of lodging specials, if you want to nest-down for a few days in the area and savor more than one to-do. If the love holiday doesn't get quite enough love, in your estimation, this could be one route to savoring it for as long as you'd like, in outdoorsy, athletic, art-lovely, movie-nice ways. Yeah, and a traveling heart balloon of enormous size is pretty eye-catching, too.

Photo Credit: Oceanside]]>
<![CDATA[Death Valley Valentine's: Romantic Getaway]]> Wed, 18 Jan 2017 12:09:39 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/FC-Inn-Room_DeluxeKing2romance.jpg

VALENTINE'S DAY IMAGERY... runs a glamorous gamut, from photographs of gussied-up couples doing it up on the town to lavish floral bouquets to pricey candies to yachts and beyond. Likewise, the terms that flutter around the holiday tend to be consistent each year, with "love" and "hearts" and "heat" and "hot" showing up in advertisements and articles alike. But "heat" has a few different expressions, from the warm 'n gooey fondue that's popular on the holiday to sizzle-up-your-relationship quick tips. But if you're seeking out a different sort of heat, the kind that is associated not with cooking, or canoodling, but an actual visit-ready place, look no further than one of the hottest spots in all the land: Death Valley National Park. Of course, when it is February, right around Valentine's Day, you're more apt to find jacket-ready days around the arid desert space, instead of the famous three-digit-y heat waves that arrive around late spring. Still, here's your heat-making plan for a (normally) hot place: Peruse the...

ROMANCE GETAWAY... suggestions at Furnace Creek Resort. The historic spread has a host of ways to spend "(t)hree idyllic days" while staying on the property, including watching the sun come up from Zabriskie Point, hiking at the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, and spa-ing the afternoon away at The Inn at Furnace Creek. The suggested, self-guided itineraries are reminders that while Death Valley is famously vast, it isn't "empty" in any sense of the word, and building a lovey lark, with plenty of adventures, is a snap. Just be sure to pack a few layers, for those chillier February evenings, for while Valentine's Day is all about "hot" fun, one of the hottest and driest places on the planet won't be in its peak summer form. Eager to see what Furnace Creek Resort suggests for lovebirds, as far as outings around the national park go? Here are your hot tips. 

Photo Credit: Furnace Creek Resort]]>
<![CDATA[Main Street Electrical Parade: Disneyland Return]]> Tue, 17 Jan 2017 14:00:57 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/goofyDisneys-Electrical-Parade-9.jpg

SEMI-SERIOUS QUESTION: Which is greater, the number of blinking bulbs in the Main Street Electrical Parade at Disneyland Resort or the number of times the parade's synth-sweet theme song has looped through your brain since you first saw it, live, at the Anaheim theme park? It's might be difficult to pin down, for A) there are thousands upon thousand of sources of illumination covering the parade vehicles and B) the nighttime event's theme is a pop culture icon in large part for its ability to get charmingly stuck deep inside your head. You'll have a chance, though, to weigh both considerations again, for something rather special is blinking on the horizon: The return of the legendary after-sundown spectacle to the place where it started back in the early '70s. It was right in the middle of...

JUNE 1972... when the post-dark parade kicked off, and while it has popped up in Florida in the past, Golden State fans have been eager for its California comeback. It wrapped up at Disney California Adventure in April of 2010, but it is back, at Disneyland, starting on Friday, Jan. 20. All of the illumination, all of the characters, and that theme, an especially upbeat take on the upbeat "Baroque Hoedown," shall be a part of the Main Street party. But it is a party that has an end date, and an end date that'll approach faster than a lit-up dragon: June 18, 2017. You got it, that is the 45th anniversary, which'll make its farewell extra bittersweet. Best see it during its five-month stay in Orange County, and feel good, in your heart, that even after it wraps, you'll still be humming the delightful "da da da daaaa da daaaa" theme song. 

Photo Credit: Disney Enterprises, Inc.]]>
<![CDATA[Desert by Night: 'Park After Dark']]> Tue, 24 Jan 2017 23:15:20 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/livingdesertpad3.jpg

IF IT IS A FRIDAY NIGHT, chances are pretty solid that you're seeking out some sort of entertainment. It could be at the cinema, or on the small screen, but many people jump into fictional storytelling for a few minutes or hours, the better to unwind, leave the stresses of the week behind, and learn a little something about the world, even. And very often our Friday night escapes involve critters, whether they're the animated, talking sort, or the kind of beasties who star in documentaries and TV series (or at least play important parts). What we're distinctly not doing on a Friday night, as humans, as a rule, is interacting with real, out-in-the-world animals, without a screen separating us from all of their scaly, furry amazingness. But that all changes, now and again, at The Living Desert in Palm Desert. The animal park, which puts the educational, wonder-packed emphasis on denizens of warmer, drier climes, has a special series called...

PARK AFTER DARK: If you're guessing, by the name, that this happening is all about enjoying The Living Desert after the sun packs up its last daily rays, you'd be correct. And you'd be correct again if you surmised that seeing a couple of animals, up close, is part of the end-of-the-week fun. A "guided walk through the zoo" and s'mores-savoring enjoyment are also on the Friday-night plans, in addition to eyeing beautiful tail-boasting, claw-rocking residents from a near distance. Park After Dark isn't every Friday night, do note, but if you're planning a desert getaway, and you dig animals, and you'll be there over a weekend, you might check if the stars will be aligned for your visit. After all, how better to start the weekend than by communing with a beautiful desert beastie or two?

Photo Credit: Jennifer Yount Photography]]>
<![CDATA[Worth the Trip: Wintertime in Joshua Tree National Park]]> Tue, 17 Jan 2017 07:38:57 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/1-15-17-Joshua+Tree+National+Park.jpg

Southern California residents looking for a quick one-day - or weekend - getaway this winter should consider taking a trip out to this desert gem. 

BEAUTIFUL, QUIET SOLITUDE: This nearly 800,000 acre park, just a couple hours from San Diego and Los Angeles, near Big Bear and Palm Springs, has some of the most serene and peaceful scenery to offer its visitors - especially in the winter, when it's quieter. If its your first time in the park, come in from the West Entrance Station and follow Park Boulevard down to Hidden Valley, a popular bouldering spot for climbers. Continue east on the road toward Jumbo Rocks and down Pinto Basin Road for a stop at Cholla Cactus Garden. Don't be afraid to stop at the frequent viewpoints along the road and take in some of the beautiful, quiet solitude of the park and it's iconic trees. 

HIDDEN TREASURES: One of the park's gems is a hike out to Lost Horse Mine, one of the best-preserved gold mines in the park. From the trail head, you can hike a full 6.7 mile loop or a four mile round trip loop - each with its own set of stunning views of Pleasant Valley during the moderate hike up into the mountains. Be warned: there is limited parking near the start of the trek to the trail head, so you'll likely have to park in one of the select pull-out lots down the road and walk for half a mile or so. 

PIE FOR THE PEOPLE: When it comes time to stop for a bite, you won't find anything inside the park. But don't fret, it's a quick drive back to Joshua Tree, the small town outside of the park's north entrance off Highway 62. Treat yourself to a hot slice from this local not-so-hidden gem, Pie for the People: hand-tossed pizzas baked in a real stone-deck gas fired pizza oven. It's right on your way in- or out. If you've packed a lunch, Joshua Tree National Park offers a map with picnic locations, each one with an undoubtably beautiful view of the Joshua Trees. 

Before you head to the park, be sure to check alerts and conditions on their website

Photo Credit: Samantha Tatro]]>
<![CDATA[Ojai's Orange-Yummy Outings]]> Sat, 14 Jan 2017 11:32:34 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/edt-2012-tangerinetango-179806014.jpg

PERHAPS FOOD, and the making of food, and where your food comes from, has been on your mind since the beginning of the year. After all, edibles, and how they fortify us, and how they're grown and prepared before they reach the stores and markets, are incredibly important matters for human beings to ponder (and ponder in a consistent, be-aware manner). But getting out to locations where one's foodstuffs actually start can be a bit tricky. How to find a peek or a tour at a spot where the growing is done? Begin, perhaps, with those California places that regularly hold events that give visitors a behind-the-scenes tour of how good things start (long before they reach our kitchen counter). Friend's Ranch in Ojai has held orchard-interesting tours for years, tours that pop up, like a surprising winter flower, in January. True, April is traditionally Pixie Month around Ojai, with plenty of juicy jamboree-ing, but a look at the whole arc of the citrus-growing process begins long before springtime arrives. In fact, the first tour date for 2017 is coming up, on...

SATURDAY, JAN. 14: You'll get to eye what a packinghouse looks like, and what goes on, as well as an honest-to-minneola orchard, where some "15 varieties of tangerines" are grown, in addition to other flavorful fruits. "TOURS TEND TO FILL UP," says the Friend's Ranch online HQ, so gather with your fruit-loving friends soon to decide if you're making a day trip and on what Saturday (there are a couple of Wednesdays in the mix, too). And if you want to time your day at the orchard with a certain tangerine-y release, review the whole schedule to make sure your moment is perfect. So, how does a tangerine or orange grow, and how is it packed, and what goes into keeping all of those trees so healthy? Here's where you go to the source, in Ojai, from mid-January to mid-May.

Photo Credit: UIG via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Hollywood Roosevelt: Awards Season Packages]]> Thu, 19 Jan 2017 21:25:24 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/Roosevelthotelawardsshow1234.jpg

YOU HAVE THE SNACKS... on the coffee table, and the beverages lined up just so, and your paper ballots are fanned out on the kitchen counter. You are, in short, ready for the Academy Awards, and the friends sitting on your couch are eager to see if their picks for cinematography or costumes are inside those fabled envelopes. You can almost pretend, for a moment, that you're all attending the Oscars, but, alas; somehow, this year, it wasn't to be. But what could be, if you want to be a bit splashy, and glittery, and find your inner hand-waver (the kind of inner hand-waver who waves so serenely to a stand of enthusiastic fans), there is a way to watch moviedom's biggest night in not just an lore-filled location, but, perhaps, one of the ultimate lore-lovely spots.

WE SPEAK OF... the Blossom Ballroom at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. It's where the first Academy Awards were held in 1929, and it was "recently restored to original grandeur." Want to see for yourself? And watch the 2017 Academy Awards ceremony, inside the very space the first statuettes were handed out? Then book the...

BEHIND THE VELVET ROPE PACKAGE... and find your way to the Blossom Ballroom to watch the 89th annual Academy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 26. You'll also spend two nights in a Studio King Suite, in case all of the excitement you experience while awaiting your favorite category to be announced tuckers you right out. There's a Red Carpet Rituals package, too, which includes the Blossom Ballroom viewing party in addition to an "in-suite make-up" session from The Glam Squad and some lovely hair color from celebrity stylist Lenny Strand of Sally Hershberger (plus the two nights in the Studio King Suite).

ONE MORE PACKAGE... on the 2017 line-up includes those fancy-pants things, less the viewing party, in case you've got your own bash to attend (it's called the Award Season Is Upon Us package). For all of your glam'd-out, get gussied-up options, the prices, and general Tinseltown history (history that's rooted oh-so-deeply at The Roosevelt), start here or give the Hollywood Boulevard a jingle on the telephone.

Photo Credit: Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel]]>
<![CDATA[Santa Barbara Flavor: Winter Wine Classic]]> Fri, 13 Jan 2017 11:20:37 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/160*120/shutterstock_43667188.jpg

SPRING'S STILL ON THE FAR HORIZON, and summer is farther past even that, but awaiting the sort of lighter-of-days to-dos that are staples of those two seasons isn't all that necessary. Oh, we're not claiming the bulk of breezy festivals don't happen when temperatures grow warmer, but we are claiming that festivals that happen in California, regardless of what the calendar says, can pull of finding that summery party spirit (even if the breeziness is on the chill side). The American Riviera understands that summer's spirit can be found even in deepest winter, even if things wrap up a little more warmly and move indoors. If you have a hunch we're talking about the...

WINTER WINE CLASSIC, in Santa Barbara, well, the "American Riviera" part probably gave us away (though good guess on the wine part). It's one of the most vivacious vino gatherings on the sippable schedule, and that goes for winter, spring, summer, or fall. And it happens just a month after winter's official start, on Saturday, Jan. 21 at Fess Parker: A Doubletree by Hilton Resort.

"CALIFORNIA'S ELITE WINE-MAKING MASTERS": This event, top to stem to rim, is all about the top-flight labels being produced by Golden State vine-smart superstars. You'll encounter "nearly 100 classic California wines" during the evening, with mondo regional names like Ahnfeldt and Lieff Wines popping up. Local restaurants'll be on plate-filling, sustenance-lovely duty, and the beneficiary of the night is The Foodbank of Santa Barbara County. Do you feel spring, or even summer, on the wind? Prepare for a little pocket of tannin-terrific sunshine'll pop up, near the ocean in Santa Barbara, on the third Saturday of January.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[Riverside County Fair: Summer in Wintertime]]> Thu, 12 Jan 2017 12:32:32 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/214*120/fairride923929392.jpg

SALADS OR PIZZAS... or appetizers or casseroles or cookies or cakes: Everything is enhanced, in edible-incredible fashion, by the chewy-sweetness of a date. How many dates you sprinkle onto a dish is up to you, and whether they're fresh, or dried, or doused in some fine sugar, will also impact the impact that the dish delivers. But the fact of the meal-based matter is the date, like nuts, is a timeless addition that can bring song to both dessert-like treats and savory entrees. That's not an easy thing, nor can every fruit claim such a wide scope, which all leads to this: Of course the date deserves its own annual festival, and one with "national" in the name. And, of course, part deux, such a festival should also fold in with a major county fair, and an unusual county fair, given that it falls in the wintertime (something that's rare for this sort of summer-weather event). You're in luck, date devotees, if you dig both fruit and fair, for the Riverside County Fair and National Date Festival are both returning, as they do each year, in the middle of February. The 2017 dates are...

FEB. 17 THROUGH 26, and once again Indio will twinkle with a major midway, and food competitions, and rodeo action, and concerts (The Eli Young Band, Voz de Mando, Cheap Trick, and WAR are all on the 2017 schedule). A Superhero 5K Run/Walk will see a fluttering of capes, and a Presidents Day Parade will honor the holiday. As for date deliciousness? It's all around, so prepare to sip a shake, or snack upon some bread, if those are your pleasures. And if your pleasure is finding a slice of summertime weeks ahead of spring actually arriving, wending for Riverside over the second half of February is a time-honored way to locate the season, even when it is out of season.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[Horsetail Fall: Yosemite's February Show]]> Wed, 11 Jan 2017 14:41:54 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/HorsetailFallChrisF.jpg

SUN THOUGHTS: A lot of people begin to turn their most pleasurable and idle thoughts to our nearest star when the new year commences. That's because the sun rocks a ton-load of positive symbolism for many people, and that days are getting longer around this hemisphere weaves into our goals of getting outside more and facing the bright side of more situations. But it isn't just the fact that daily darkness is arriving later and later that has some human beings meditating on the wonders of the sun; we're also contemplating when the annual Horsetail Fall show will begin. This isn't a show with traditional seating and tickets, though you will need to pay entry at a Yosemite National Park gate, as the waterfall is inside the nature-riffic destination. There are no curtains to draw back on the show, nor is there a concessions stand in the show's lobby. And there isn't an exact time or date for the presentation, meaning luck and timing and a lack of cloud cover will play a part. But if you do encounter the show, well, what lovely luck: You will have witnessed the setting sun give an epic waterfall an unreal, fire-like glow.

FEBRUARY... is the month for the setting sun to hit Horsetail Fall juuuust so, specifically later in the month. Travel Yosemite puts the length of time that the show could happen at "20 days" (with a start date around the second week of the second month). How to know you're in the right spot to see the light and water weave together in an enchanted fashion? The El Capitan picnic area is your go-to parking area, advises the site. Also, you're bound to see photographers out, and fall fans, so best gather near where they are. Here's hoping for a few cloud-free evenings come February, when an old, old, very old and long-running and impossible to duplicate sun-illuminated water show unfolds once again.

Photo Credit: Chris Falkenstein]]>
<![CDATA[Mondo Movie Fest in the American Riviera]]> Sat, 14 Jan 2017 11:30:10 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/214*120/sbifftheater928923.jpg

A SOLID CINEMA CELEBRATION... isn't just about placing people in seats, dimming the lights, and rolling the titles and credits. There should be a lot of moving parts, over multiple days, and a few movie star sightings, as well as some up-and-coming talent, to better round out the sense that fans have journeyed to become a part of something rather special. That specialness has been building, via screenings, award presentations, and other top-notch to-dos in the American Riviera for just over three decades now, courtesy of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival Presented by UGG. This is the fest that wraps just a fortnight (or so) ahead of the Academy Awards, making it one of the last stops for lauded actors and filmmakers on the wintertime Q&A circuit. What this means for movie mavens is this: You're experiencing contemporary film love at its near peak, with polished panels, awards-season-y fervor, and red-carpet-esque action in full flower. That flower comes to bloom from...

FEB. 1 THROUGH 11, 2017... at the 32nd annual SBIFF, and while the slate of screenings hasn't fully been revealed — look to mid-January for that action — some of the centerpiece parties and offerings have (update: eye the 2017 films here). Jeff Bridges, recently seen in "Hell or High Water," will receive the 2017 American Riviera Award, while the Maltin Modern Master Award will go to Denzel Washington (the artist's lauded "Fences" will surely be discussed). More award-themed nights are on the slate, as well as the ongoing Santa Barbara Film Feast, a concurrent happening that puts the flavorful focus on nearby restaurants. It's a packed run, one that feels like it is scooping up all of the cinema-y goodness that's been rolling out in one fell swoop (fell swoops, film-wise, tend to arrive with February and the approach of the Oscars). To be a part of this, and spend a pleasurable day or two in a highly pleasant, pleasure-packed place, brush up on your upcoming SBIFF 411.

Photo Credit: SBIFF]]>
<![CDATA[Happy Winter Trails Month]]> Mon, 09 Jan 2017 12:04:18 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/CTTC150420125730_007.jpg

THE SNOWIEST SPORTS... are, of course, quite spectacular and powerful and full of cold-breathed vim. But just because you long to try out a mountain-based pursuit, or a calling at a higher elevation, doesn't mean that you need to take zooming down a pro-level slope from the get-go. There are other ways to connect with the snowflake-laden larks of wintertime, ways that also involve poles and gear and bundling up against the elements. One only need visit a popular trail to see all manner of cross country skier and snowshoe-rockin' adventurer to understand that the byways of the coldest season aren't just about the boards and alpine skis.

WINTER TRAILS MONTH: If you long to try your hand at the vigorous, cheek-warming, and spirit-lifting trail sports of cross country and snowshoeing, a fine first place to start is the online center for Winter Trails Day, and Winter Trails Month, which encourages those who dig the outdoors to give a hearty, frosty-landscaped adventure a try. And, no surprise, Winter Trails Month coincides with...

JANUARY 2017, the first full month of winter. A number of states have participating locales, but if you're sticking close to California, look to Kirkwood or Eldorado County, which will both honor the invigorating day out. Even if you can't make either location (and check the specific dates), learning to snowshoe, or try cross country skiing, can be done at a number of mountain resorts around the Golden State. Check with the ski center at your favorite destination and see if there is an instructor-led intro, or guided walk/outing, that'll help you safely try a trail that's at its snowiest, winteriest best.

Photo Credit: Visit California/David Collier]]>
<![CDATA[Mojave Maxine: Awaiting a Desert Superstar]]> Sat, 07 Jan 2017 11:30:28 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/livingdesertmojavemaxine.jpg

A NICE, SNUG BURROW: Much of California has experienced a host of chilly temperatures and damp days at the beginning of 2017, which tells us that wintertime is well and truly here. But when winter will actually end, beyond the easy-to-note arrival of the spring equinox in March, can be a bit of a head-scratcher. Does spring make a true showing when the jasmine blooms near the coast or when the desert ocotillos sprout little red flowers from their spiny limbs? Is spring a thing when the ski resorts move to shorter schedules or when the first pair of flip-flops are donned? Or is the warmer season semi-officially here when Mojave Maxine emerges from her subterranean burrow at The Living Desert? Let's just say that the famous desert tortoise, a beastie known well beyond her Palm Desert-based home, is highly regarded for her talents in the prognostication field. And when she finally does leave her burrow after her brumation ("reptilian hibernation," per The Living Desert), fans'll know that spring has sprung, at least in her more arid clime.

THE LIVING DESERT... holds a contest each year for Southern California students hailing from nine counties. The K-12 students submit a guess pinpointing the date and time Mojave Maxine will emerge, with the winner netting a bundle of cool things, including "gift certificates for themselves and their teachers, t-shirts for their class, and a visit from a live desert tortoise!" Nifty stuff, all around.

SO WHEN WILL MAXINE... make her 2017 hello? She appeared on Feb. 8 in 2016, but whether the year-starting cold snap will keep her brumating a bit longer will be up to the guessers to predict. As for when desert tortoises seek out their burrows for the winter? The Living Desert reports that this annual event happens "around Thanksgiving." Do note that you can visit the animal park, which spotlights fascinating desert critters like the tortoise, any time of the year, whether Maxine has bid her burrow goodbye yet or not.

Photo Credit: The Living Desert]]>
<![CDATA[Wintertime Package: Escape to Catalina]]> Fri, 06 Jan 2017 10:09:21 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/AvalonAerial_2015_423.jpg

ADVENTURING IN AVALON: Someone in California, right now, is telling a friend or a co-worker or a neighbor about an upcoming trip. As for the listener? Perhaps it is because of past experiences, or their own see-the-state inclinations, but they're likely half-expecting the vacationer to mention a popular spot, one that sees a lot of travel traffic. But there's a city that, when mentioned as a getaway spot, always feels slightly magical, slightly unexpected, and oh-so-bison-y (or at least bison-adjacent): Avalon. Put it down to the fact that you need to hop a boat or helicopter to get to this particular town (nope, you can't ride a flying fish, no matter how famous they are 'round Catalina Island), and the notion that Avalon still possesses the allure of a location that emerges from the morning fog, day after day. Thank the historic landmarks, like the Casino Building, and thank the buffalo (they're not in Avalon proper, granted, but up in the hills), and thank the easygoing, golf cart-charming lifestyle. It's a lifestyle that's open to visitors all year long, and not just in summer, and there's a package on to emphasize that fact. It's the...

SEASON OF ESCAPE... package, and it involves A) you getting to the Southern California-close island, and back and B) an overnight at Hotel Atwater, Mt. Ada, or Pavilion Hotel and C) twenty five bucks toward a nosh at Avalon Grille. There you have it: Three of the important components covered, and all starting at $106 per getawayer. Where you bed down depends on what your fancy is — chaise lounges at Descanso Beach Club can be booked should you choose Mt. Ada for your stay — so peek at each hotel and see if it floats your boat. And as for boat-floating? Your ride to Avalon, and back, will be on the Catalina Express from one of three mainland cities: Dana Point, San Pedro, or Long Beach. So go on and tell the co-workers you're off to Avalon, a place that instantly summons an air of enchantment.

Photo Credit: Santa Catalina Island Company]]>
<![CDATA[Anza-Borrego Bloom: On the Near Horizon]]> Tue, 10 Jan 2017 08:38:37 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/DESERTFLOWER_3464.jpg

ALL OF THIS DAMPNESS... is prompting skiers to turn their goggles in the direction of the mountains, and their favorite slopes, with visions of morningtime runs and awesome fresh powder in view. For when a lot of precipitation arrives in early January, a lot of cold, flaky stuff has a way of falling in just the right spots (i.e. our state's mountain resorts). But there are other devotees of the damp who spend the early part of a new year not looking in the direction of the mountains but, rather, the deserts. These are the wildflower fans, the adventurers who can't wait for the very first substantial sighting of the desert dandelion or the chuparosa or beautiful brittlebush. True, the floweriest time of the year in California's more arid landscapes is still a ways out, but not by much, and wildflower-watching sites are active and, of course, making note of all the early-January rain (and what good that might do for the pretty February and March buds).

SO WHAT TO DO... in advance of the late-winter show, which can be a mite unpredictable, timing-wise? Have a few open weekends, or days, around the middle of February to the middle of March is a solid plan for the desert flower devotee, just in case your favorite flower suddenly springs up, carpet-like, in a canyon that's a few hours away. A bud buff might also consider booking a hotel or stay-over if going more than a couple of hours from home (especially in more remote spots where lodging is rare and can fill up). If you want to follow along with the upcoming 2017 reports about the amazing Anzo Borrego Desert State Park, which has a knack for putting on a notably petal-pretty show around the second month of the year, keep an eye on DesertUSA, the Anza-Borrego Foundation, and the Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association, which has an early "here and there" flower report up as of Jan. 4, 2017. More rain, more blooms? There's snow for skiers up in the mountains, but, very soon, the desert'll welcome its annual colorful show.

Photo Credit: NBC 7 San Diego]]>
<![CDATA[Migration Fest at Natural Bridges]]> Wed, 04 Jan 2017 20:16:49 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/160*120/NaturalBridgesStateBeach_CalStateParks.jpg

IT'S A REVELATION... that won't surprise you, or any earthling, at least if the earthling in question has had a look at a Pacific Gray whale, and, at another time, a Monarch butterfly, but here it is: The first being mentioned is rather larger than the second. We're not saying there isn't a whale-sized Monarch butterfly out there in the world, but... wait. Yes we are totally saying that. And that's just fine, for the colorful wing-rocking superstars are magnificent in their wee-amazing way and the colossal ocean-dwelling mammals are 100% perfect, just as they are (and, no, there are not butterfly-sized whales flitting around eucalyptus trees, either, even if our fancies want to believe it is so).

BUT EVEN THOUGH... they're quite different, in numerous ways, the whale and the butterfly share this important factor: They go on important migratory journeys, and while their trails don't exactly cross in the way we humans think of trails intersecting, they're pretty dang adjacent, with one major thruway found just off the California shore (whales) and the butterflies' trail wending along the tree-nice groves of the coastline. How better, than, to celebrate the Pacific Gray and Monarch and other migratory beasties than with a...

MIGRATION FESTIVAL? It's happening at the picturesque Natural Bridges State Beach on the second Saturday in February 2017 — that's Saturday, Feb. 11 — and "birds and the many creatures that travel" will be honored in addition to butterflies and whales. There shall be "migratory animal talks" at the Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks to-do as well as kid-nice activities and music and more to-dos that both up the general well-being-a-tude of the day out and help guests grok to what a migrating critter does, eats, goes through, and such. Showing with your own picnic for the 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. event? That's cool, or you can buy your vittles there. Knowing more about animals' journeys? It's just so essential to stay up on what other earthlings are up to, even as we go about our day-to-days.

Photo Credit: a]]>
<![CDATA[Kilt Confab: Queen Mary's ScotsFestival]]> Tue, 03 Jan 2017 15:05:33 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/193*120/QueenMaryScottishFest_QM_14.jpg

A TARTAN-TASTIC TRIBUTE: If you had been in Scotland back in the early 1930s, somewhere along the River Clyde near Clydebank, you would have seen a colossal ship coming together, complete with wide decks and towering smokestacks and a royal name to proudly bear: RMS Queen Mary. The ocean-liner became a favorite of movie stars, and then Winston Churchill's office at sea during World War II, before sailing again as a passenger ship. The grand boat's final sail happened in 1967, when it arrived in Long Beach, where it remains to this day, a permanent hotel, attraction, and historic point. But how such a marvel came together on the banks of the River Clyde is well-remembered, as is the Queen Mary's country of birth. Not only can you find a notable amount of documentation on the ship about Scotland and the ship's beginnings, but you can delve into the delights of food and sport and style each February, when the ocean-liner celebrates...

SCOTSFESTIVAL: Don your tartan and prepare for a full two days of Scottish-style celebration, days that include traditional athletics, sheep-herding demonstrations, and the enjoyment of fine whiskys (enjoyment that's guided by "aged malt experts"). Bagpipes, drums, darts, Highland dancing, and vendors aplenty encourage the notion that you've somehow left the fair shores of California for the Clydebank of another era. If you've never witnessed a sheaf toss or hammer throw in person, the palpable, "how do they do it?" feeling among the spectators is worth getting to know. For Highland games excitement, tartan traditions, and some sweet sheeply doings, plan on making for the started-in-Scotland landmark on Saturday, Feb. 18 and Sunday, Feb. 19.

Photo Credit: Queen Mary]]>
<![CDATA[June Lake Winter Festival]]> Mon, 02 Jan 2017 13:09:39 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/snowshutterstock29323.jpg

IT'S "SNOW" JOKE... that the Sierra Nevada sees a flake or two or two majillion when wintertime plows into town. It's the ski-ready, board-a-licious, get-your-mittens white stuff that keeps the region's popular resorts a-hummin' over several cold-weather-y months, and it is the sweater-up conditions that draw those who want to find a fireplace, and the nearest hot toddy, for some old-school cabin-style enjoyment. But a few communities around California's epic mid-state mountain range push the teeth-chattery, snowman-sweet fun just a smidge further every year with special outside to-dos built around the celebration of snow and its parka-necessary pleasures. The...

"SWITZERLAND OF CALIFORNIA," pretty June Lake, has plenty of parka-wearable happenings each winter, but one of the biggest is one of the biggest bashes on the June Lake Loop: The June Lake Winter Festival. The 2017 outing isn't a January or February deal, though; the date is Saturday, March 4, which tells you that the area likes to even celebrate snow at the very end of the season (a commendable thing, indeed). So what's on the docket? The Triple Threat Winter Triathlon, the Snow Sculpture Contest, and a Snowmobile Poker Rally. And during the afternoon, best seek out the Family Fun Zone and Party, which is going down in the ski-ready region of June Mountain.

WINTER IS WONDERFUL... when the mountain-traditional pursuits are in full flower, and the June Lake Loop embraces this spirit each year. If you're longing to commune with some earmuffs and ice and full-body underwear and double-up socks, but can't really do so due to the balmier conditions of your immediate surroundings, look to our mountains and the way they love upon the snowflakiest season on the calendar.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[Calistoga Passport: Winter in the Wineries]]> Sat, 31 Dec 2016 12:17:54 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/219*120/shutterstock_33492784.jpg

MUCH OF THE PLEASURE... to be found in wine isn't built around the taste or the fragrance or the potency or the hue. Rather, a glass of wine, slowly quaffed, has a way of slowing time down for the quaffee, at least in the sense that nothing too urgent needs to happen in the window the wine is enjoyed. Many an oenophile purposefully makes that window on the large side, the better to draw out the not-rushed feeling, the sit-back-and-talk vibe. Calistoga's yearly December-to-early-February festivity, Winter in the Wineries, is all about the larger window, too, a window constructed for easy, at-your-own-pace vino enjoyment. For rather than offering passport situation begins on one day and expires the next, Winter in the Wineries boasts a passport that's good for several weeks. That means you can drop in on Clos Pegase or Fairwinds Estate for a tasting on one Friday, and then call upon August Briggs or Tank Garage a couple of weeks later, when your schedule and/or fancy allows. That's right, it's an at-your-own-pace kind of thing, much like a drawn-out glass of cabernet.

15 WINERIES... in all are participating, and you only need complete your passport by Sunday, Feb. 5, 2017 (or, if not complete, then at least call upon all the wineries you wanted to see). The passport is fifty bucks, and a number of local lodgings and businesses are tied into the savings, so with 10 percent or 20 percent (or more) off a room or spa treatment, depending on a couple of asterisks like length of stay or the day of the week. Is a multi-month passport a solid reason for visiting a pretty part of wine country a few times to stave off the winter ho-hum-ery? That's up to you, but if you're the kind of person who does like to make a glass of wine last for the better part of an evening, you just might get into stretching a winery-winter passport out for a few weeks.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[NYE Fun: Temecula Grape Drop]]> Fri, 30 Dec 2016 11:44:44 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/214*120/temeculagrapedrop123.jpg

NOTABLE NEW BEGINNINGS: If you're the sort of person who likes a fresh start to arrive with something memorable, even a little zing, then you likely look for a lively way to kick off a new year. Oh, you might incorporate a glass of bubbly, or some fancy finger foods, but you're mainly seeking out a novel path into the next 365 days. There are many ways to find a fresh doorway into a fresh year, but one of the quirkiest, at least 'round the United States, is to seek out unusual midnight ball drops. For sure, the sparkly orb that descends in New York City's Times Square is the most famous, but places around the country do up the final minute of the year with oodles of local flair. And if you want to talk flair, you only need to look to Temecula, and wine country, to find an oh-so-regional New Year's Eve tradition. Nope, the vineyard-laden locale doesn't drop a ball, but a glittery bunch of grapes, when midnight arrives on Dec. 31. If you're a merlot maven, or you simply adore the pleasures of a day out among the vines, consider stopping by...

OLD TOWN TEMECULA CIVIC CENTER... on the final day of 2016. The enormous bunch of grapes will drop when the clock strike midnight, but there are other to-dos ahead of the big moment, like "unlimited kids games and activities" for a fiver. Tunes and other happenings will keep the evening moving in the direction of the countdown, or, rather, countdowns, as there'll be one at 9 p.m. and one when 12 chimes sounds out. Do you plan to do more wine-country-ing in 2017? Perhaps this is a capital way to show off that grape-tastic goal, all while checking off another "offbeat ball drop" on your travel-oriented bucket list.

Photo Credit: Temecula CVB]]>