<![CDATA[NBC 7 San Diego - Worth the Trip]]> Copyright 2016 http://www.nbcsandiego.com/blogs/worth-the-trip http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/KNSD+RSS+Feed+logo+blue.png NBC 7 San Diego http://www.nbcsandiego.com en-us Thu, 11 Feb 2016 17:30:07 -0800 Thu, 11 Feb 2016 17:30:07 -0800 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Food-stravaganza: Bon Appétit's Vegas Uncork'd]]> Thu, 11 Feb 2016 13:01:29 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/TheNightMarketIsaacBrekkenforBonAppetit%29.jpg

GET TO TALKING ABOUT LAS VEGAS... with a friend who is going or just got back and your initial discussion will generally swirl around a quintet of topics: the hotels, the casinos, the shows, the nature, and the food. We're not saying that the two of you won't leap into another area from the first five discussion points, because Sin City has much to offer on other fronts, too. But visitors do have a way of gravitating to those topics, at least to begin with, and the matter of meals out does have a way of dominating the conversation. "Where did you eat?" "What did you eat?" "Who's the chef there now?" can reign, but maybe no more so than during Vegas Uncork'd by Bon Appétit. On the food festival front, it is one of the biggies, in Nevada or elsewhere, and the fact that it happens close to the Strip, and all of those already-celebrated restaurants, makes it an undeniable draw for foodies from around the Western United States (and well beyond). What's on the dining docket for the 2016 affair, which just happens to be the tenth anniversary for the popular sup-and-sip shebang? Oh, plenty, but the thing you'll want to do immediately is clear your calendar. Best circle...

APRIL 28 THROUGH MAY 1, and book your stay in the Caesars Palace/The Cromwell/The Venetian/The Palazzo nexus, for that's where all the stove-close action is going down. The headliners for 2016 can pretty much out-headline anything/anyone, with Emeril Lagasse, Giada de Laurentiis, Michael Chow, Gordon Ramsay, Guy Savoy, Nobu Matsuhisa, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten making cuisine-delicious cameos. Special events, like the making of sushi (and the tasting of sake) at Nobu and an "Italian-inspired feast" brunch at GIADA are part of the busy, bite-brimful schedule, as are the Master Series happenings, cocktail-oriented soirees, and a comfort food-themed shindig at Downtown Container Park. (This is, it should be noted, the first time Vegas Uncork'd has headed downtown.) Does this fit your foodie-slash-Vegas daydreams? Are you the person who, when chatting up a pal making for McCarran, has to go over all of the glorious grub to be found at eateries new and vintage along the Strip and beyond? Then put some spin on your palate (in the way a roulette wheel packs power as it goes 'round) and make an eat-oriented Sin City trip even more foodie, as if that's possible. Wait, it so is.

Photo Credit: Isaac Brekken for Bon Appétit]]>
<![CDATA[The Gondolas of Channel Islands Harbor]]> Wed, 10 Feb 2016 10:59:32 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/IMG_8474gondola.jpg

VENICE MEETS THE PACIFIC: The shoreline of California sees a whole host of boats, from the gussied-up glitter wonders that parade just before Christmas to the kayaks that take adventurers into sea caves and near where sea life is known to roam. We're also known for those cruises that cross various channels, to our off-shore islands, places like Channel Islands National Park. If you think of Oxnard, and Channel Islands Harbor, and you think of a boat, you just might alight upon the image of such a cruise, one that makes a big trip, across several miles, in search of nature and some sightseeing. But there's another type of vessel associated with the harbor, and it has its roots in Italy, and not Santa Cruz Island or San Miguel. It's the gondola, of course, and Gondola Paradiso offers 50-minute boat rides around the harbor to those looking for a closer-to-shore, old-school romantic experience. And the time is nigh for that: Valentine's Weekend is ahead, and reservations are open for the company's Valentine's Specials.

FEB. 12, 13, AND 14... are the 2016 dates, and the cost? It's one hundred and fifty dollars per duo. You can cuddle up and look for gulls or seals while snacking upon that classic sweet of the holiday, chocolate-covered strawberries. There are no beverages provided during the trip around the harbor, but showing with your own bottle of wine is a-okay. As for having the boat to just the two of you? Well, you will, though of course the gondolier is present and operating the vessel, as is tradition.

IF VALENTINE'S... is already fully booked for you, your gondola experience could happen any ol' time, as this isn't a holiday-only adventure. And if you have kids? They're welcome on the boat, and young'uns under age 11 get a free trip (and, yep, they'll wear a life jacket, too). Ready for a slice of Venezia in a spot known for whale-watching trips? The California coast boasts a multitude of on-the-water trips, including the storied, snapshot-worthy gondola.

Photo Credit: Gondola Paradiso]]>
<![CDATA[Sheeply Sweet: Queen Mary ScotsFestival]]> Tue, 09 Feb 2016 13:45:45 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/QueenMary20thScotsFest.jpg

A CELEBRATION OF PLACE: Sometimes a celebratory moment is best experienced in an important location, like the birthplace of the honoree or another destination that holds some history. But transporting the Queen Mary back to the place where she first grandly came together -- the River Clyde, in Scotland -- might be a bit harder than springing for a train ticket for your best pal on his birthday or a plane seat for your mom on hers. After all, the Queen Mary is now permanently -- make that capital P Permanently, rather -- in Long Beach, California, where she has stayed, in very still fashion, since 1967 ("very still fashion"=moored for always). So whisking the Queen Mary away, to Scotland, for a surprise birthday weekend is definitely not in the cards. What is in the cards? Bringing the Scottish-sweet bash to her current location, which makes more sense, since sheepdogs can trot and bagpipe players can drive to the shore-close boat. The boat can't move, in short, but the moving weekend of Scots-tastic treats will once again jig it up over the middle of February, when a host of to-dos put on the tartans and celebrate one of the most famous ships in the land -- er, sea.

FEB. 13 AND 14... are the 2016 dates for a cavalcade of happenings that pay tribute to the ship's homeland. ScotsFestival & International Highland Games XXIII is very much about the traditional athletic displays one might see at a Highlands-based match-up, so prepare to see cabers and hammers and burlap bags and pitchforks and darts aplenty brandished. On the performance side of the equation look for the Scottish Lilt and the Highland Fling and all of that reverberating, feel-it-in-the-solar-plexus bagpipery. Ponies and sheepdogs and sheep have also made past appearances, too, and, yes, whisky and haggis are part of the sips and sustenance side of the soiree.

THE QUEEN MARY... will not be sailing back to Scotland to party (it might be easier to build a time travel machine and send her back to the mid-'30s, her initial era). But we can party, Scots-style, in honor of her long-ago location. Tickets? Toss your caber in this direction.

Photo Credit: Queen Mary]]>
<![CDATA[Santa Barbara Savings: Go Car Free]]> Mon, 08 Feb 2016 07:03:07 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/carfreesbdeals2016.jpg

BRINGING YOUR WHEELS ALONG... on a getaway truly is a two-sided coin (or any other two-side thing that floats your boat, if coins are too common). On the one hand you need to get to your destination, somehow -- spoiler alert -- and cars have a very handy way of making that dream a reality. On the other hand once your car is there, with you, at the place you want to chillax, there's the figuring out where to put it, and how much it'll be to put it there, and if you take it out of where you put it how much it'll be to put it somewhere else, like a restaurant or attraction. Finding that restaurant or attraction, from your homebase of your hotel, can be more delightfully, and money-saving-ly, done on foot, of course, or with public transport. Questions, question, should I take the car or should I not, if I plan to walk a lot. Santa Barbara sweetly helps out the traveler in this querying regard, each and every year, via the Santa Barbara Car Free program. It's back around, for 2016, and the savings and suggestions are plentiful, and earth-nice-able, as always.

SHOW YOUR TRAIN TICKET: If you arrived in the American Riviera by Amtrak -- both the Pacific Surfliner and the Coast Starlight are included, natch -- then hold onto your ticket to show around town. Why? You'll get discounts on hotels like the Cheshire Cat Inn, institutions like the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, and on those all-important bike rentals (check out Wheel Fun Rentals for your deal). There are more spots, too, that want to see your train ticket and help you save cash, so eye all.

IF YOU DID DRIVE TO THE CITY, but you plan on keeping your ride stowed for your entire weekend stay, there are other cool car-free things to do. Santa Barbara Car Free has several recommendations, from hopping on the MTD Electric Shuttle to biking around wine country to strolling Stearns Wharf. You don't need to do any of the usual stressing over where to move your car next while on vacation. Leave it at where you're staying, hop a shuttle or rent a bike, and off you go. Is an entirely vehicle-less vacation possible? In several cities, absolutely, with Santa Barbara, once again, at the robust forefront of car-free fun-having.

Photo Credit: Santa Barbara Car Free]]>
<![CDATA[Biggest Heart Balloon: Oceanside Valentine's]]> Sat, 06 Feb 2016 07:38:21 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/heartballoonGettyImages-52175774.jpg

SPYING FLOATING OBJECTS... or flying objects or fluttering birds or the other hovering things isn't all that unusual when near the beach. You might see a plane trailing a banner, or a flock of gulls, or some heavy fog, if you only look up. But come the week of Valentine's -- actually, the days heading into the love holiday -- visitors to Oceanside could see something a bit more offbeat high above their heads. Well, not all that high, but this item will definitely be on the large side, and on the unusual side, too: It's a 25-foot heart-shaped balloon. This isn't your usual grocery store heart-shaper, the kind of balloon you grab for a friend on the afternoon of Feb. 14, just to say you're thinking of them. It's grando, its mammoth, and it'll be on the move around the town over several February days. It's all to spotlight Oceanside's inaugural Valentine's Week, an eleven-day run that includes a run as well as other sweetly themed to-dos.

WHERE WILL THE MONDO BALLOON... pop up first? Well, there was an appearance at the Oceanside Art Walk on Feb. 5, and some Valentine's-y boat rentals going on at Oceanside Harbor, and a Classic Car Cruise Night on Wednesday, Feb. 10. There's no telling where the hard-to-miss symbol of the occasion will cameo during the week, so plan on keeping the peepers peeled while you bop around town to different events. 

NEED THE FULL RUNDOWN... of everything Oceanside that's on the way, with bells -- er, hearts -- on? You can get your Cupid-ready knowledge at the Valentine's Week HQ.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Snuggle Up: Damp Days at Quail Lodge]]> Mon, 08 Feb 2016 17:15:12 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/quaillodgeelninopackage.jpg

CARMEL DESPITE THE CHILL: Weather pages tend to break down the forecast into hourly, daily, weekly, and 10 Day sections, for ease of use. It's this last category that travelers so often visit, as they keep a coming vacation in view, and what exactly the skies'll reveal when they arrive. Will it be sunny and 74 degrees? Shall there be some wind? And what if El Niño decides to call upon my destination at the very same time I do? We can't impact the weather -- spoiler alert -- but letting the weather decide our calendar isn't something any of us are into, either, as a rule. So what if it is a bit rainy, and you'll need to pull those galoshes out of the deepest recesses of your car's trunk? There are lovely hotels dotting the Golden State ready for the rain, and there are those umbrella-toting adventurers looking for a package that's themed to a particularly famous weather event. One of those aforementioned lovely hotels is Quail Lodge & Golf Club, in Carmel, which is offering the "Escape El Niño" package through March 2016.

THE GOODIES INCLUDE... midweek "discounted room rates" that kick off at $175. You'll be staying in a Deluxe Guestroom but not paying the Deluxe Guestroom rate (the rate's for the Superior Guestroom). Whether it happens to be sprinkling or not during your stay, you might want to book a fireplace-pretty Grand Deluxe King Guestroom, with a starting price point of $195. There's also an opportunity to secure a Garden King Suite for $250, and all come with goodies like a morning visit to the Light and Tasty Continental Breakfast Bar.

DOES A RAINY HOTEL STAY... require a fireplace, yummy breakfast vittles, and a swanky room for cozying into? Nope, but it definitely enhances your indoor time a bunch. And reading that 10 Day weather forecast, over and over, trying to predict where a storm will land can get a bit stressful. Best do some nesting at Carmel, and Quail Lodge, and not worry a peep whether you'll need your parasol or not.

Photo Credit: Quail Lodge & Golf Club]]>
<![CDATA[LA Mid-City Getaway: The Orlando]]> Mon, 08 Feb 2016 17:14:42 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/orlandopooldeckviewla.jpg

WALK IN LA: There are at least a dozen wisecracks associated with the unwalkability of Los Angeles, and a few songs and essays, too. Everyone's in love with their car, no one takes the train, and hopping from shop to shop requires returning to your vehicle, even if the places in question share the same block. It's all stuff and nonsense, of course; the City of Angels brims with neighborhoods that are prime for strolling, from downtown to the Hollywood Studio District, and one of the spots in the top ten happens to be Mid-City West. It's plunk in the middle of the action, is why, and it also happens to be home to The Orlando, a boutique hotel that serves as an anchor of sorts to West Third, one of the restaurant-iest, window-shop-iest stretches in all the city. Magnolia Bakery, the famous pastry place out of New York City, is The Orlando's neighbor across the street, and a few blocks to the east? The Grove, a outdoor shopping center that's a solid nexus of starsightings. Between Magnolia and The Grove small shops abound, covering specifics from stylish travel to upscale vintage. To celebrate this walkable area, The Orlando has a few stayover packages, one that could appeal to canine lovers looking to land in LA at a dog-nice, dog-strollable spot. If that's you, check out The Orlando's...

BOW-WOW PACKAGE: It's starts at $299, and includes a treat, an Orlando waterbowl to pack and keep, and doggie daycare in the area, including pick-up and drop-off. Of course, you don't have to go the daycare route if you want your wagger by your side as you saunter down West Third, a thoroughfare that sees plenty of Fidos each and every day. If you're not traveling with your little fluffster, there are other packages and special stays, like the American Girl Page (yep, there's an American Girl at The Grove) and a Galentine's Day Package, too, for pals to enjoy (in addition to the on-site pool and spa).

SOME ROOMS... do have a view of the Hollywood Sign -- you're not to far from Tinseltown on West Third -- and there's the roomy Entertainer's Suite, which includes a balcony, the better to watch the scene on West Third, as well as people entering The Churchill, the glam gastropub inside the hotel. Can you really walk in LA? Well, yes, in certain pockets that's pretty much all you'll want to do. Zipping about the larger city is another matter, but West Third is certainly on its toes when it comes to getting out and walking.

Photo Credit: The Orlando]]>
<![CDATA[Orchids Ahoy: Santa Barbara Extravaganza]]> Thu, 04 Feb 2016 19:00:23 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/160*120/orchid2.jpg

PERSONALITY OF FLOWERS: Any bud buff will swear on the nearest nasturtium that every flower comes with its own sense of self. Call it character, if you will, or an aura, but putting a rose and a daisy in the same personality grouping is like eating peanut butter with steak. (Actually, that might kind of work.) We're not saying pretty petal-laden things can't co-exist beautifully, but, rather, understanding their general oomph, and outlook, is part of the joy of gardening. And the flower that seems to arrive with the most mysterious of personalities, and the most alluring, is the orchid. No one will quibble over that; "The Orchid Thief" detailed, in riveting storytelling form, the elusiveness of this distinctive blossom. But can you generalize about a whole stratum of flowerdom, calling all orchids mysterious, or is this such a unique plant that each and every blossom has its own vibe? Prepare to delve deeply into this delightful enigma, and, perhaps, pick up a few orchids for your home collection, at one of the most esteemed gathering of orchidists around: the Santa Barbara International Orchid Show.

IT'S YEAR 71... for the flowery festivity, which includes "stunning exhibits & plant sales & orchid art & photography" plus "cultural demonstrations" and "floral arrangements." The upshot? If it has to do with orchids in any fabulous form, it'll pop up at the Earl Warren Showgrounds. As for theme of the 2016 happening? "Wild World of Orchids," yep. Over 50 vendors are expected, so if you are just getting started, and you need someone to chat with on the "water/sunlight/care" front, that front shall be well-covered. But how to choose from the some 25,000 orchid species out there? It's just like we were saying earlier: Character and personality can be found in each distinctive flower, and not singularly across a whole spectrum. That's a lot of orchids to get to know, and there will be a lot in Santa Barbara. Thank goodness flower fans will have three days to explore. Dates? Everything blooms from Friday, March 4 through Sunday, March 6. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Madera Delish: Wine & Chocolate Weekend]]> Mon, 01 Feb 2016 12:02:55 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/glasswine92322-horz.jpg

NARROWING DOWN OUR FAVORITE PAIRINGS... is as difficult as assuming that everyone likes peanut butter and jelly or marshmallows and cocoa. Some people go for donuts and whiskey, and others like Sriracha with their avocados. Placing great tastes side by side is a tradition as longstanding as humankind, and we're forever on the search for the next savory combo. But one that stands at the top, for just about every adult who is still in touch with their sweet tooth, is vino and chocolate. A really rich and spicy red is enhanced by a square of something rife with caramel, and a nut-filled bar straight off the drugstore shelf has a way of adding zing to a zinfandel that needs a bit of oomph. The only thing left to do for chocolate-and-wine lovers, which is a pretty big, pretty passionate crowd, is to find an area that's putting the scrumptious spotlight on both. Madera Wine Trail is going to do just that, and over the ideal weekend, too. Indeed, Valentine's Weekend 2016 -- that's Saturday, Feb. 13 and Sunday, Feb. 14 -- will be devoted to great Gold Country wineries and interesting dessert/drink pairings. It's the...

WINE & CHOCOLATE WEEKEND: Put down your twenty five bucks ahead of making for the Sierra-close wine trail (or buy your ticket there), and then enjoy visits to Birdstone Winery, San Joaquin Wine Company, Ficklin Vineyards, and more spots dotting the hilly-pretty area. Designated drivers are free, or you can organize transportation ahead of time. Best of all, it's a Valentine's adventure that steps outside of the normal bounds and suggestions, but with some of the tried-and-true touchstones of the holiday. (Spoiler alert: wine and chocolate.) If you want to know the specific plans of each vineyard, along the trail, keep an eye on this page. And never, ever feel guilty about your favorite duo. Why shouldn't egg salad and canned peaches be a thing, if it is your thing? We all have our commonalities in the edible match-up department, starting with, for many people, wine and chocolate.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[Valentine's Weekend on Catalina Island]]> Mon, 01 Feb 2016 13:55:11 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/Catalina-Island-Co-FiglewiczPhotography-00028.JPG

ACROSS THE WAVES: While those who celebrate Valentine's Day approach the occasion in their own fanciful or sensible way, there isn't a one-size-fits-all-ness that reigns, regardless of what people might say. You can go the tried-and-true route -- chocolates, greeting card, flowers -- or you can fly, with some velocity, along a zip line over an island at dusk. It's all good, and we all have our preferences and particular tastes, but stating that many more people have known the former, vs. the latter, isn't going out on a limb. Or going out on the stern of a boat, rather, in this case: We're about to talk about Catalina Island here, where an offbeat Valentine's Weekend package will soon be afoot for those couples that sign up.

OF COURSE, flowers and chocolates and loving sentiments enclosed in cards pretty much rule, too, if that's your bag, so do remember to give your sweetheart some of the traditional goodies before the boat or helicopter ride over. Ah yes, there's a boat or helicopter involved, this being an island, and some other spectacular stuff, too. Like? A credit worth one hundred and twenty five dollars to Island Spa Catalina -- that's per adult -- and a Twilight Zip Line Eco Tour, which takes you from Hog's Back gate to other locations of the island (look down and spy Descanso Canyon, the ocean, and Avalon itself as you zoom along). If you need some quiet time with your honey to discuss all of that high-in-the-air adventuring, there's dinner credit at Avalon Grille worth one hundred dollars. That's the moment, over your meal, when you'll dish and dissect everything you saw, felt, and remembered from the bucket-list-y outing.

AS FOR STAYING THE WEEKEND? This is a three-night package, from Feb. 12 through 15, and you have a pair of hotels to pick from, with some various price points. Pavilion Hotel starts at $432 a night and Hotel Atwater at $335 (The Santa Catalina Island Company, by the by, is the outfit that put this all together). Those are both "per couple" prices, and for duos traveling by water, not air (helicopter rides to and from Avalon do bump up the price a bit). It's not exactly the tried-and-true route for Valentine's, but if you're not a twosome that typically takes that route, or any set path, this could be your not-so-far adventure. You do cross water, a good deal of it, but you're still in California. Call it the perfect hybrid of a far-off adventure and a home-close cozy getaway.

Photo Credit: Figlewicz Photography]]>
<![CDATA[Death Valley: An Astronomical Experience]]> Fri, 29 Jan 2016 10:31:36 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/180*120/dvstarnight12345.jpg

DEEP INTO THE UNIVERSE: If only the Crab Nebula and the various moons of Pluto knew how often they showed up on various social media feeds, they might get pretty big heads. The sun, too, makes its Facebook cameos, but more often as a background player, in a pretty vacation destination. As for the moon? Our lunar satellite probably deserves its own Instagram by now, thanks to all of the full moon pics that regularly pop up. But communing with the cosmic superstars above us -- and all around us, yes -- isn't solely about clicking "Like" when we see a stunning new photograph of some faraway galaxy pop up on our feed. The glittering jewels of the night sky are so amazing that we need to stop the scrolling, once and awhile, and just spend some quality time in a very low-lit spot. Finding that very low-list spot, however, can be very hard when one calls a megalopolis home, but thank goodness a certain national park is only a few hours drive from several of California's bigger cities (and Las Vegas, too). Death Valley has the night sky chops -- it even nabbed a "Gold Tier" Dark Sky Park Certification -- and fans gather frequently to stare up after our nearest star goes down. But every so often a full-on Star Party comes along, complete with astronomers on site, and another one is due. When? Be at Furnace Creek Resort on...

FRIDAY, FEB. 5 AND SATURDAY, FEB. 6: Astronomer John Heller, and other members of the Las Vegas Astronomical Society as well as star pros from further afield, will be on hand to talk about all of that epic twinkle, the very twinkle that can get lost in the smudge-y flood of artificial illumination (Mr. Heller refers to such places as "light domes"). Mr. Heller also says that "(t)he winter Milky Way can be an amazing sight in Death Valley" (as if any devoted stargazer would need to hear more). But here's the more you probably should here: You can book your spot at the Ranch at Furnace Creek or the Inn at Furnace Creek, which are both on the close side to the golf course where the Star Party is happening. Does this jazz you? Are you a tad weary of only seeing the magic of the universe on your daily social media scroll? Death Valley is as lunar as spots on earth come, and pretty darn dark. This is your moment to make good with the Milky Way alongside other aficionados of all things universe.

Photo Credit: Furnace Creek Resort]]>
<![CDATA[Mission Inn Presidential Suite Stay]]> Tue, 09 Feb 2016 21:07:59 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/riversidemissioninnpresidential19321322.jpg

HAIL TO THE CHIEF: If a celebrated stay-over spot has seen a few decades, chances are that at least a few of its rooms bear either the name of a famous guest or have a story attached. That's true for many California and West Coast hotels, thanks in large part to the number of actors who called the hotels home during on-location shoots. But what of presidential guests and the Golden State? Well, we've had a few presidents call California home, of course, and candidates do travel through quite often. But finding presidential-themed rooms in a landmark isn't quite the common thing it is around our nation's capital and the East Coast at large. There is a prominent exception here, a hotel so major that it served as the location for a recent president's honeymoon getaway, not to mention that it also boasts a piece of lobby furniture related to an earlier Commander in Chief. We speak of the Mission Inn, that castle-like, turrets-and-passages destination known for its holiday lights, its European aesthetic, and its Alhambra Presidential Suite. It's the same suite where Ronald and Nancy Reagan honeymooned, and guests may book it for their own stay. Which they do, frequently, especially when Presidents Day is on the horizon.

MONDAY, FEB. 15... is the date of the patriotic, history-filled holiday in 2016, and the Riverside hotel's Live Like a President package includes an overnight in the Alhambra Presidential Suite, a VIP tour of the rambling, trivia-filled hotel, and dinner at Duane's Prime Steaks & Seafood (plus a spa treatment at Kelly's Spa). You can also call upon the Presidential Lounge for a special presidential-themed cocktail (several are named after past White House denizens). What to discuss while you sip? How that's the very room where Richard and Pat Nixon exchanged their wedding vows back in 1940. Hotels may have had presidents on their guest roster before, but to claim a honeymoon, and wedding, within your walls, is a big deal. Be sure, during your Mission Inn sojourn, to visit the President Taft chair in the lobby, near the hotel bar. It's a handsome piece of furniture, and, like so much else at the hotel, full of lore and history, both.

WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT THE PACKAGE? Call the Mission Inn at 951-784-0300. The Live Like a President package is available from Feb. 13 through 15, 2016.

Photo Credit: Mission Inn]]>
<![CDATA[Leap Year Stays: Hotel Deals]]> Wed, 27 Jan 2016 14:44:33 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/LuxeRodeoDriveHotelnight.jpg

A LEAP YEAR... is a pretty quirky happening, an every-four-years to-do that sends those who are into calendars in a considerable way into a happy tizzy. There are so many factoids surrounding the 29th day of February, from famous birthdays (Dinah Shore and Jimmy Dorsey both were born on the day) to all of the lucky traditions you're supposed to participate in, the kind of observances that take on more weight for a few scant hours before March begins. If you're feeling especially quirky and lucky come the day, best be on the lookout for those businesses honoring the rare occasion. L.E. Hotels is making the mirthful most out of the day, which is no surprise, as "Leap Year" and "L.E. Hotels" both start with the very same letters. It's almost a mystical coincidence, in fact, and since Feb. 29 is one of our most mystical days, best check out the "29"-themed specials and perks the Los Angeles-based company is offering at its properties.

THOSE PERKS 'N QUIRKS... aren't the same across the board, so if you're hoping to bed down at Creekside Inn in Palo Alto or Hotel Los Gatos in Los Gatos or the Luxe Rodeo Drive Hotel in the thrumming heart of Beverly Hills, best take a peeksie to see just what a Leap Year stay will bring. (Yes, we said "peeksie," and we stand by it; this is the quirkiest of days, as has been determined.) The Empress Hotel in La Jolla's sweet deal is "(s)tay two nights and receive $29 off your first night" while The Bristol Hotel in San Diego is all about a savings of $20.16 on your first night with continental breakfast and wifi access as part of the deal. Leap Year, let it be said, is the important thing to keep in mind here, so if you already have your Feb. 29 plans booked solid, you can still do an L.E. Hotel getaway during 2016 and score one of those discounts (note some hotel deals are solely about Feb. 29 and some will last the year through).

WANT TO EYE... the whole list, which includes international properties? Leap, with enthusiasm, into your leap year travel plans now.

Photo Credit: Luxe Rodeo Drive Hotel]]>
<![CDATA[Fess Parker Inn Restaurant Week Special]]> Tue, 26 Jan 2016 12:23:25 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/fessparkersantaynez12345.jpg

JUST ABOUT EVERY TRAVEL GUIDE, at some point or another, makes some great recommendations that adventurers don't always heed. Pack sunscreen and a hat. Don't overstuff your suitcase, and find basic outfits you can depend on over several days. And always keep a little spiral notebook in the glove department, to write down those places you'd like to visit on your next time through town. Even the most skilled traveler, after all, doesn't get a chance to tuck into that bistro off the square they saw while driving by, nor the museum with the vintage sewing machines. (Because, please, everyone wants to see vintage sewing machines.) So how many places in the Santa Ynez Valley have you jotted down, in your little spiral notebook, over the years? We're guessing, politely, that you've made a few trips, either for pastries and shopping in Solvang or perhaps to visit a trio of lauded wineries. But did you pass a bunch of restaurants along the way, eateries you vowed to try? And did that include the famous Fess Parker Wine Country Inn? There is a moment to make good on what's in your glove compartment notebook, the list of spots you want to experience around Los Olivos and Buellton and Ballard and beyond. How? Well, there's a deal afoot at Fess Parker, and it involves a...

RESTAURANT WEEK ONE NIGHT PACKAGE: Book a stayover at the luxe Los Olivos landmark -- rates kick off at $445 -- and be closely situated to all of those tasty taverns and elegant dining rooms going the multi-course, one-price route from Jan. 24 through 30. Your beverages and tip and tax are extra, do note, but also note the catchy price for the three-course menus: $20.16. That's a cinch to remember, what with the year and all, and you don't even need to jot it down in your glove compartment notebook. Bell Street Farm in Los Alamos, Root 246 in Solvang, and the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn's own Petros are all participating, in addition to several other excellent local spots. Oh, and wineries, too, which are doing tastings and small bites for Restaurant Week. So there's a room deal at the lovely Fess Parker, and your restaurant rundown, too. Does it match up with all of the places you've jotted down and promised to sample over the years? Let 2016 be the year you make good on that promise to yourself.

Photo Credit: Fess Parker Wine Country Inn]]>
<![CDATA[San Diego for Fourth of July: Bikes, Beer and Brats]]> Mon, 25 Jan 2016 15:09:34 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/0000000000000000cms.jpg

Plan Ahead: For those thinking about a summer trip to San Diego, consider taking part in a free bicycle ride along the coast as part of this year’s Fourth of July weekend. On July 1, members with the San Diego Bicycle Club will take part in the SDBC Red, White & Brew! Event. Beginning at 8 a.m. at the Karl Strauss Brewery in Solana Beach, riders will follow a 57-mile route. For those interested in a little less pedaling and a little more drinking, there’s a shorter, alternate route that’s about half the distance leaving an hour later.

Brats & Beer: Once the ride is over, you can hang out for a picnic including beer and brats or hot dogs. Members get in for free with non-members paying just $10.Get more information at the club’s site here

<![CDATA[San Jose Landmark: Hotel De Anza's Refresh]]> Mon, 25 Jan 2016 13:17:12 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/hoteldeanzasign123.jpg

DIVE INTO HISTORY: Many eyes will be on Santa Clara come Feb. 7 -- the date of Super Bowl XIX, natch -- which means that many travelers will be bedding down in area hotels ahead of the big game. One of the most historic of the region's hotels is the built-in-1931 Hotel De Anza, a downtown icon that's not only known for its vintage mien but two distinctive outward features: The neon-glowing sign on top and the painted diver on the side. If you've strolled the downtown at any time over the last few decades you likely have seen one or both, while locals count the quirky visuals as part of that San Jose vibe. So when a fan of the sign and/or swimmer heard that Destination Hotels, the owner of the historic property, was going to treat the hotel to a refresh, there surely had to be some pause regarding what might happen to the pair of building-based icons. Take heart, adorers of all things historic as well as travel-sweet touchstones: Both are in place still and the refresh of the property, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is complete. 

ROARING '20S: This was one of the principal aesthetics that design firm HFS Concepts4 kept in mind during the update, while keeping in mind that the Hotel De Anza's 100 rooms should come with the expected modern conveniences (they do). Art Deco, as a notion, arrived on the timeline just a pinch after the Roaring '20s, and it, too, has a place in the look of the hotel, which keeps a contemporary character even with some nods to the past. So let's get down to it, jazz babies: Where can you get your Jazz Age cocktails, and, on occasion, actual jazz? The hotel's Hedley Club Lounge.

THE DIVING LADY, by the by, has been a fixture at the hotel's west-facing exterior wall since 1951. Have a guess as to what she initially promoted? The property's heated pool, which was all the rage back in the day. The pool has vamoosed but the 25-foot diver remains. Remains, of course, as a retro avatar of the hotel, but also of the downtown itself.

Photo Credit: Hotel De Anza]]>
<![CDATA[Joshua Tree: Centennial Hiking Challenge]]> Mon, 25 Jan 2016 14:22:56 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/hikingboots29392323.jpg

JOURNEY TO A NATIONAL PARK... during 2016 and you might just see information on various centennial-themed happenings. There's no mystery as to why that is: The National Park Service is turning 100 years old in 2016, and the festivities will be numerous, nature-filled, and nicely celebratory. But not every festivity is about the special speakers and the eats and the usual touchstones of a to-do; sometimes a centennial pursuit is more solitary, and all about the visitor's quiet connection with place. That's some of the spirit behind the Centennial Hiking Challenge at Joshua Tree National Park. A few NPS sites around the land are hosting hike-themed challenges, and they all focus on the ultimate goal. Which is a simple one: Hike (and log) 100 miles in the park before the close of the year. Joshua Tree's notice about the get-out-and-move movement describes it as "a healthy and invigorating challenge to people of all ages." There's a booklet involved -- it is free -- and it includes rambles around the high desert destination, a spot lush with chollas and scrubby wildlife and those epic, epic, epic boulders. (Surely three epics is more than enough to describe the rock-tastic icons of Joshua Tree. No? Not nearly? We concur.)

SUPERINTENDENT-LED HIKES: To hop on a guided hike, if that's your pleasure, just take a look at this page and find your optimal date. A six-miler is headed out for Monument Mountain on Friday, Feb. 6, while Eagle Peak is the hike for March 5. If you just want to snag a booklet and review the suggested hikes, that's cool, but note that the stickers for the booklet, to show you completed a hike, will come after a ranger signs off on a particular page. Good? Standard? The way it goes? A fine goal for 2016? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. Really, though, we're sorry about leaving out all the epics that the epic boulders of Joshua Tree deserve. Do you deserve to spend some time among them in 2016, completing the Centennial Hiking Challenge in honor of the big NPS birthday? (You so do.)

Photo Credit: Stock Image]]>
<![CDATA[Away-Away Getaway: East Brother Light Station]]> Fri, 22 Jan 2016 08:04:51 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/eastbrotherlightstation289382.jpg

A NOVEL SETTING: You don't need to search too hard to find romantic and windswept settings around California, the kind of picturesque places you might find in a novel. For sure, we have little ocean-charming villages -- hats off, Mendocino -- and winery country abounds, both north and south. We even have a castle or two (high five, Hearst Castle, and you, too, Scotty's Castle). But novel settings don't come more novel than lighthouses, those romantic, beam-beautiful structures that serve an important, and often dramatic, purpose. Staying in one, though, is as likely as spending the night in a castle, but novels always come with a twist: It turns out there is a nearby lighthouse that you can sleep inside, and it is just a ten-minute boat trip off Richmond.

A BOAT TO THE LIGHTHOUSE: We speak, of course, of the much-adored East Brother Light Station, the pretty, 142-year-old Victorian structure that's proudly plunked atop a rocky outcropping "in the strait that separates San Francisco and San Pablo Bays." The lighthouse -- er, light station, if you want to be fully accurate, and we'll assume you do -- is open to overnighters, making for an adventurous jaunt out to the wee island quite novel (in both commonly used meanings of the word). It's open to booking Wednesday through Sunday nights, and while you can stay multiple nights, there is one shower, so arrangements should be made with your hosts Bryan and Stephanie ahead of time.

INTIMATE STAY: There are five rooms to choose from, four in the light station and one in the building that houses the vintage foghorn, so plan on getting to know, over appetizers and dinner and breakfast, the other occupants of the rooms. You'll in fact make the boat trip over with them, when the sweet innkeepers pick you up at the designated, Richmond-based marina. No need to hang with everyone on the island for the night, but it is a snug situation, with some outdoor areas providing a little alone time, and some mysterious, city-in-the-fog views of San Francisco to the south. Yep, your boat trips to-and-from are included, as are the meals, but there'll be a few things to chew on ahead of time, as with any novel adventure. Can you climb a swimming pool-type ladder from the boat to the island? Are you okay with a muted but definitely-there foghorn calling out to area ships? Do you like doing exceptionally cool things that everyone you tell will want to do, too? 

THEN YOU'RE GOOD TO GO: The foghorn isn't too much, most guests have said, but earplugs are provided if earplugs are your jam. Comparing it to the older foghorn, which Bryan sounds for everyone on the island the following morning, will make the newer job seem positively understated. As for the history of the light station? Books and photographs are available in the upstairs parlor, which sits below the now-LED beam (which you can visit via two flights of narrow stairs). East Brother Light Station was once in disrepair, but the care, love, and vast volunteer efforts of the nearby community brought it to its present state, a thing of glory. It's worthy of a novel, in fact, even if the night you stay isn't especially windswept (you can still stand upon the island in a velvet cape, looking like a fictional heroine, if you choose, but take care not to overpack). 

AND WHAT'S THAT OUT IN THE WAVES? That's West Brother, East Brother Island's eternal neighbor, looking for all the world like a frozen-in-place whale emerging from the waters of the bay (and not the rock it essentially is). See if such novel assessments don't start to take over your increasingly romantic outlook while on the island, too. They will.

Photo Credit: Alysia Gray Painter]]>
<![CDATA[Big Bear New: Snow Festival]]> Thu, 21 Jan 2016 11:53:18 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/bigbearnewsnowfest123.jpg

WINTERTIME SPORTS... have traditionally been of the ski or snowboard or ice skate or luge variety, and while we wouldn't want to see those snowy standards schussing away, it's always interesting to see what flakes-based fun people are getting up to these days. Something that's been growing for awhile now is the bike-to-snow trend, as in fat bikes, those cycles ready-made for snowy terrain (well, groomed snowy terrain, of course, not a situation that's feet-deep). And Big Bear is all about this here-to-stay trend, so much so that there's a new festival ready to roll on the final weekend of February. It's the first-ever Big Bear Winter Festival, but the poles and skis'll be stowed as the fat bikes -- and the snowshoes -- reign.

SATURDAY, FEB. 27... is the date of the fest, which isn't alone in its firstness on the fat bike-focused forefront; several snowier destinations are getting into the swing. People participating in the Big Bear event, which is billed as "the only organized fat bike ride in California," will have a quartet of courses to roll down, from six miles to 18, and all tracks are groomed. The Snow Summit party continues into Sunday with a snowshoe showdown, some live tunes, and other mountain-style haps of a sportsy, soak-in-the-sun (or snowy skies) nature.

IF YOU WANT SOME SNOW... but don't plan on biking through it, there are several doings throughout the cold season 'round the village, including simple places to go out and make a snowball or two. The photos from the early January El Niño storms showed several inches piled up around the shops and restaurants, and more flakeage is expected in the weeks to come. Best keep those mittens close, winter lovers.

Photo Credit: Big Bear Snow Festival]]>
<![CDATA[Cypress Inn: Puppy Love Time]]> Thu, 04 Feb 2016 05:49:11 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/puppylovecypress92832.jpg

WHAT'S ON YOUR CANINE'S CALENDAR... for February? Probably, we imagine, what's typically on your sweet one's schedule during any random month. There'll be some potential toy chewing, and the licking of a leg now and then, and some staring out the front window, and some waiting by the door when you run to the store. Your dog's all-important, set-in-stone -- er, fur -- schedule pretty much repeats on any and every day of the year, except those times when you travel and have to arrange for your little lovey to stay with a pal or sitter. You could, of course, significantly change up your cuddlebun's calendar, and in a way that involves them and their awesome abilities (or merely there awesome cuteness). A visit to The Cypress Inn at Carmel-by-the-Sea is a dog-welcoming event any day of the year, but come the second month things get seriously sweet. That's when the Puppy Love package launches, just in time for a certain occasion that falls near the middle of the month, but the historic spot keeps the canine-a-tude woofing from Feb. 1 straight through to the last day in March. Surely that's okay with your dog's schedule? Do you need to check his day planner to make sure there are no conflicts in the staring-out-the-window/awaiting-the-mail department? Do so, and then book your (and his) room at The Cypress Inn and snag...

AN UPGRADE... if young mister can perform a trick at check-in. Can you he sit, shake, woof on cue? Not only will he garner applause but you'll garner that upgrade, if one's available. There's a Friday and Saturday "Tea with Toto" in the hotel's often photographed Day Room, and trust there are treats for your four-footed co-adventurer in addition to treats for you (just be sure to pre-reserve your place). Yappy Hour at Terry's Lounge, as always, romps daily, and there's a Muttini in it for your muttsie should you show from 4 to 6 o'clock (the traditional Yappy Hour span). Treat turndown service and a collar tag with The Cypress Inn's iconic logo are also part of the package, as is this feel-good element: Ten bucks from each Puppy Love Package reservation will be donated to the Doris Day Animal Foundation. Ms. Day, of course, is the celebrated co-proprietor of The Cypress Inn, and her declaration that the hotel would forever embrace our Fido friends still stands. Not every place accepts dogs, but far fewer spoil them in such awww-worthy ways. Now, really: Can your little guy woof on command? Best start practicing for the possible upgrade.

Photo Credit: Cypress Inn/DM Troutman]]>
<![CDATA[Cinema Santa Barbara: Film Fest on Approach]]> Thu, 21 Jan 2016 20:12:02 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/sbfflights2015.jpg

MOVIE TIME IN THE AMERICAN RIVIERA: The weather has a funny way of timing well with our human concerns, despite the fact that the wind and rain and heat likely pay no attention to our tweets or posts or updates or our online craving for likes and various shows of support. But it does, each winter, tend to cool down enough, even 'round sunny Southern and Central California, to put people in a go-indoors state of mind, the state of mind that's perfect for watching movies. What's going on with the clouds and sun can't take all the credit for this of course; it's also Oscar time, and advertisements and commercials for front-running films are everywhere. So put together the chill weather, and all of those Oscar ads, and you have a bunch of cinephiles who want to retreat to a theater to see some rocking acting and directing and writing and places they've never been (and situations that are unfamiliar, too). The Santa Barbara International Film Festival lands just when the weather cools down and our film interests heat up, in another marvelous feat of timing. The early-February fest spreads out around the American Riviera, summoning headlining thespians for big awards and panel-ready pros and over 200 films from all over the planet. The 2016 dates are...

FEB. 3 THROUGH 13... and the doings are plentiful. "The Little Prince" will enjoy its U.S. premiere on the festival's opening night, and director Terrance Malick's will enjoy its U.S. premiere a few days later. Johnny Depp is set to receive the Maltin Modern Master Award, while the Outstanding Performers of the Year Award will go to Brie Larsen and Saoirse Ronan. Special events festoon the schedule, outside of the awards and screenings, and the savory Santa Barbara Film Feast runs concurrently to the confab. It is, indeed, eleven full days for those mad about movies (and meals), and the timing is top-notch. Just ahead of the Oscars, when the weather can be at its coolest, and film fans just want to spend a lot of time indoors, in the dark, having an Experience, capital E.

Photo Credit: SBIFF]]>
<![CDATA[Woofers in Wine Country: Greyhound Fest]]> Mon, 18 Jan 2016 11:50:16 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/160*120/greyhound2.jpg

TAPESTRY TITAN: So many breeds of dogs have become associated with various aspects of pop culture and our lives that it can be difficult to separate the pups from where we know them best. Corgis and royals have a long and regal relationship, and Poodles and the fashion industry are an iconic duo. Pugs are often the comical stars of internet videos nowadays, while a Golden Retriever will sometimes show up in catalogs depicting a rustic, cabin-cute lifestyle. And what of the Greyhound, that long of neck, long of leg, long of snout, long of everything canine? Old-world paintings and tapestries easily spring to mind. Picture any great textile you've ever seen hanging in the hall of a castle or in the foyer of a great home; was a Greyhound among the beasties that some weaver, centuries ago, captured artfully in thread? In short, humans' friendship with the sweet G has much precedent, a vibe and spirit that's very much on display in Santa Ynez wine country each wintertime. That's when dog devotees and their beloved Greyhounds trot for Solvang, the site of the annual Greyhound Festival. It's one of the biggest in the nation, which suits one of our biggest -- or more accurately tallest -- breeds.

FEB. 19 THROUGH 21, 2016... are the dates for the 12th annual gathering, which will include a wine tasting, a buffet dinner, an appearance by keynote speaker Darren Rigg (founder of the Greyhound Adoption Center), and the always popular Solvang Streak. That's when the attending hounds, and their people, "leisurely walk, trot, or flat out run for fun!" Beyond the events and activities, look for those who adore this breed, those who've committed to rescue causes, and those who know much and can share information on care, cuisine, and day-to-day cuddling. We're not sure if spying several Greyhounds gathering in repose will summon a tapestry to your mind's eye or not, but the fact is that these elegant canines have been companions to humans for many, many years. And artists, through those many years, have often been inspired to capture that friendship in paint and thread. It's a touching testament to the hounds and humans, both.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Vegas Splendor: Chinese New Year]]> Sat, 16 Jan 2016 07:44:32 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/198*120/vegasillumdragon.jpg

YOU DON'T HAVE TOO LOOK HARD... to find year-round examples of spectacle in Sin City. If we go back -- way back -- you can start with the distant mountains and vast sky and all of those red rocks, natural features that lend the pizzazz-iest place on the planet even more pizzazz (if such a thing could be possible). Mondo LED signs along the Strip, old-school blinky bulbs lining casinos still wearing their '60s-style snazz, and over-the-top shows up the spectacle factor further. But Las Vegas has a way of going the dazzling distance come the start of the new year, when decorations for the Chinese New Year pop up. From beautiful mums lining the entrances to various hotels to the sparkly dragon at The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace to Bellagio's garden-glittery paean to the occasion, the Year of the Red Monkey is arriving in Las Vegas in some astounding ways.

THE FORUM SHOPS AT CAESARS PALACE... once again welcome back a red-and-gold dragon display that's some "22-ft. long, 6-ft. wide, and 12-ft. high." Those are some impressive measurements, numbers that truly lend a presence to this fantastical creature. As with so many things in Sin City, some of the wow factor springs from the numbers: "(T)he massive 950-lb. steel-framed dragon is covered in 30,000 red and amber LED lights, many of which flicker, giving the mythical beast a vibrant look and dynamic feel." So, how long will the dragon call upon the Strip? Admire it through the Chinese New Year season.

BELLAGIO CONSERVATORY & BOTANICAL GARDENS: The special Chinese New Year wonderland debuted inside the resort on Friday, Jan. 8. The final day? March 12. As always, this plant-filled paradise is free to see, and very thematic to the holiday. Don't be surprised to find a floral monkey at play somewhere, as well as over-sized gold coins made of natural materials. Incense, water elements, and other peaceful touches are yearly symbols of the Bellagio's garden-pretty presentation.

Photo Credit: The Forum Shops]]>
<![CDATA[Rainy Days at Ojai Valley Inn & Spa]]> Fri, 15 Jan 2016 11:23:11 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/ojaiinnandspafireplace123.jpg

RAIN, RAIN, PLEASE COME AND STAY: Sometimes a time-honored nursery rhyme deserves something of a topical twist or modern interpretation. In that spirit, many Californians are imploring wet weather to make itself comfortable 'round the state this winter, the better to build up that snowpack and bust some drought. It's a spirit many destinations are embracing as well, and not just the ski resorts, places that love to see the flaky inches build up. Even some spots in sunnier areas are not chiming in with the ol' "rain, rain go away" rhyme, but rather are supporting any showers that come along with cozy-times packages for guests. 

THE OJAI VALLEY INN & SPA... is one such resort that isn't resorting to bemoaning any moisture but, rather, applauding it. For sure, you're bound to see a lot of sunshine in the inn's online snapshots -- Ojai is, of course, home to the daily Pink Moment, a sun-pretty, sky-lovely phenomenon -- but the resort knows how to play in the rain as well. There are two packages available through March 2016, one for lovebirds looking to dry their wings -- Romancing El Niño -- and one for families who don't mind playing in a puddle or two (that's the Me, You & El Niño, Too). Each comes with its own stay-inside perks -- a Dark & Stormy cocktail for two is included in the romance package, while the family deal has "an array of complimentary family-friendly in-room movies." And both include an Ojai Valley Inn & Spa umbrella, not just for use around the property should it rain, but for those back-at-home storms, too.

FOR SURE, SUNSHINE AND VACATIONS... go together like sunblock and swimming pools, but the weather, as every traveler knows, often has different plans. Definitely in an El Niño year we should expect unpredictable skies, but with gratitude. Snowpack, keep building up while Ojai vacationers retreat to their pretty rooms to sip cocktails, watch films, and cozy in.

Photo Credit: Ojai Valley Inn & Spa]]>
<![CDATA[Surprise Flower Show: Death Valley Bloom]]> Mon, 18 Jan 2016 11:53:45 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/221*120/dvfurnace2016.jpg

TURNING TO PEOPLE ON THE GROUND... in a particularly remote destination has forever been the time-honored way a traveler can tell when the optimal moment is to go. Absolutely, webcams have helped a bit here, as we can now see, with our own peepers, just how much snow a favorite ski slope might have or if a beach is looking crowded or not. We still, however, await word from Death Valley National Park, and the people who work there, on the matter of a yearly phenomenon that can be great, or on the so-so side, depending on the weather and rain. We speak of the springtime bloom, a marvel of the desert, something that truly has to be seen in person. And reports are coming in from the rangers and hotels of the national park that "Spring Has Sprung in Death Valley!" and on the early side, too. Of course, past Januaries have seen some sprightly flower action, but thanks to those epic October rains, and other factors, it looks like the Desert Gold and the Brown-Eyed Evening Primrose and other classic desert buds are revving up for a good show.

A SHOW SO GOOD, in fact, that Death Valley National Park exclaimed on its Facebook page that "I know it's early January, but the flowers didn't get the memo. Spring has sprung!" Those are veritably the same words employed by the people of the Furnace Creek Resort lodgings. Both the Inn and the Ranch have a way of filling up around flower time in the valley, so a fresh message is imploring petal-peepers to "book your room now." It's good advice: The bloom of 2005, which many called a once-in-a-lifetimer, or at the very least a once-in-a-decade event, saw hotel rooms in and just out of Death Valley stay full for weeks. You can follow the ongoing flower show via Wildflower Wednesday at the Death Valley National Park Facebook page -- it posts every Wednesday, as you might have guessed -- or you can book an overnight in the weeks ahead and hope you land on a day when the petals are a-poppin' around the arid landscape. Does an early January showing mean a robust February and March to come? Only the desert holds that particular secret, as does its eternal BFF, time itself.

Photo Credit: Inn at Furnace Creek]]>
<![CDATA[June Lake Fun: Double Eagle Resort and Spa]]> Wed, 13 Jan 2016 10:00:51 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/junelakedoubleeagle.jpg

MOUNTAINS, CABINS, POND, SKY: The peak-lined valleys and mountain-pretty dells of the Sierra are numerous and as individual in their distinctive beauty as people are. Simply put, it's hard to lump a bunch of massive peaks into one grouping, a grouping that contains the header "Really Tall Pointy Earth Features." Each is a poem, to get gooey, and Sierra regulars have their favorites. For many travelers Carson Peak is at the top of that hallowed heap, and it is not hard to see why: Not only is it extravagantly tall and craggy and full of rocky features, but it just seems so near and sheer, giving it all the more presence.

HELLO, JUNE LAKE: It is quite near, at least as massive peaks go, lovely June Lake, and specifically Double Eagle Resort and Spa, a cabin-filled property that's become something of a Sierra staple. Thank the many choices for bedding down -- you can pick a loggy-style, oh-so-woodsy building that contains four rooms, or a set-alone cabin -- and thank that pretty pond that's a central feature. The resort'll celebrate its two-decade anniversary in just a couple of years, a good amount of time for a hotel but a little less time than Carson Peak, the 11,000-foot mountain that watches over the picturesque spread, has been around.

SPA TO SUPPER: Going the cabin route so often means either keeping close to your room or heading to the outdoors for some nature-based play, with fewer ways to pass the time beyond those two things. Double Eagle offers both the woods-close, cabin-y experience, but with a few mix-it-up options, like the on-site spa (look for the rustic Old West-style theming in the locker rooms and next to the hot tub) and Eagle's Landing Restaurant, which boasts not one but two windows that frame Carson's Peak. Is it distracting to look up a rocky feature that lends June Lake its nickname, "The Switzerland of California," while you dine? Au contraire: You feel away as away can possibly get from whatever bustling environment you left behind for the weekend.

Photo Credit: Double Eagle Resort and Spa]]>
<![CDATA[Bearpaw: It's Summer Booking Time]]> Tue, 12 Jan 2016 06:45:59 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/BearpawHighSierra.jpg

SCROLL THROUGH ANY FEED... in early January -- make that the early January of an El Niño year -- and you're bound to see lots of snow at the higher elevations. Does "lots" go the distance here, though? You'll see heaps of snow, mounds of the white stuff, more flakeage than you thought was possible in one place. Skiers are loving it, of course, and everyone is rooting for a robust snowpack. A snowpack that, come summertime, will lead to rivers doing their rushing thing, and waterfalls, too, and lakes looking lovely and not so parched. It's a fine time of year to remember that a few of California's coolest and remotest and night-star-iest spots begin to open up their calendars, too. Bearpaw High Sierra Camp, for example, is way up in the tippy-top of the Sierra, in a not-easy-to-reach neck of the woods. Is there an actual number we can put to that hyperbole? There so is: The camp's elevation is 7,800 feet, and it enjoys sigh-inducing vistas that include the Great Western Divide. That's certainly nothing to sniff at, but fans of the hike-in spot'll be sniffing, sadly, if they let all of those warm-weather beds fill up while they themselves are busy scrolling through other people's snowy snapshots. Those snaps are pretty, but leave them for one moment and head to the Bearpaw site for...

2016 BOOKINGS ARE NOW OPEN: Plan your mountain-high stay from June 10 through Sept. 17, but know a few things before you make the exciting leap. It's small, a wee bit of wonderfulness, with just six available tents (which is surely heaven for many an adventurer looking to leave the hubbub behind). Are there hot showers? Yes. Are there toilets that flush? Yes. Is there pie? Ha, you totally didn't know we'd ask that next. Or did you? Bearpaw buffs know that the "cooked to order" meals are filled with deliciousness, like pie and chocolate cake and frittatas and quiches. Is the trek to Bearpaw 11.5 miles? It is indeed. Call it pure bucket list, a chance to soak in backcountry, Sierra-style, and call now, or rather tromp your way here, mountaineers and lovers of pie and the Great Western Divide.

NOW... back to scrolling through snowy photos, your previously scheduled activity. Thank you.

Photo Credit: Bearpaw]]>
<![CDATA[Delish Decade: Newport Beach Restaurant Week]]> Mon, 11 Jan 2016 17:53:06 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/FlynfishHalibutnewport.jpg

A 10TH ANNIVERSARY, in the world of romance and coupledom, is sometimes signified by tin (if you're following the traditional suggestions) or diamonds (if you're looking at a contemporary article on the matter). But restaurants, and restaurant-related events, also reach important milestones, and yet they do not have the same roster to turn to in matters of what items symbolize what anniversaries. If the eateries of your area were celebrating the 10th go-around of Restaurant Week, what might be the thematic gift? A spoon set? A stack of linen napkins? A menu holder? The eatery-inspired ideas are pretty limitless. And yet Newport Beach Restaurant Week, which is indeed marking its first decade in the coming days, asks its patrons and fans and regular attendees for no such gifts. Rather, the dining public gets the treat, in the form of discounts and specials on some of the most tony dishes at the most top-notch cafes and steakhouses and seafooderies. But that's the way it is with Restaurant Week; prix fixe meals mean that people score both a tasty, and sometimes rarer, dish, while not having to place too much money on that little check tray at the end of the night. Ready to feel the 10th anniversary love? Then clear...

JAN. 18 THROUGH JAN. 31... on your cuisine-focused calendar. Over 50 regional restaurants in the Newport Beach neck of the woods -- er, neck of the sand? -- will take the lunchy or dinner-delish prix fixe route, with the hand-selected menus running from $10 to $25 earlier in the day and $20 to $50 in the evening. Pizzeria Mozza is participating, as is Red O, and Fly 'N' Fish's dinner offerings include the joint's signature clam chowder (a cup) or salad as well as choices like macadamia lemon-crusted halibut, cioppino, or English Dover sole. (Plus more, which is often the case with prix fixe line-ups.) You can peruse all, and then decide where to alight during the late-January run. Could you possibly pick a day with a bit of sun in this rainy winter? Do some walking along the water before saving some clams at a place you've longed to try? You could, and you don't even need to stop a store to give Restaurant Week a 10th anniversary gift. The gift is in the grub, and the gladness of the diners trying fresh spots while not shelling out too much dough.

Photo Credit: Fly 'N' Fish]]>
<![CDATA[Alpine Adventure: Take a Hawk Walk]]> Sat, 09 Jan 2016 07:48:07 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/hawk_walk_sky_falconry-194342.jpg

BEYOND THE DRAWBRIDGE: Putting together a sweeping medieval drama, with jousts and thrones and great halls and turret-lined castles, is a challenging task for any creator. There's a lot you want to depict, of another time, but nearly without fail, along the way, a falconer will appear. Perhaps he's a main character, the swain who wants to romance the princess, or he might work for the king. Whatever his place in the story, the viewer is sure to see some beautiful, big-of-wing action, courtesy of hawk perched upon the falconer's forearm. But we here in Southern California don't need to locate a foreboding castle on some long-ago Scottish coast; falconry exists today, and bird buffs can learn it via outfits like Sky Falconry. The organization, which "has a mission..." to "educate the public about falconry, raptors biology, and conservation," leads courses in Alpine during the cooler months and at the La Jolla Glider Port in the summertime. The SoCal adventurers in Atlas Obscura will pay a visit to the mountain-pretty Alpine location on Sunday, Jan. 10 to learn all about this ancient art, how the birds are trained, and the relationships between falconer and the beautiful beastie upon his or her arm.

9 AM OR 11AM... are the early-start times for your lively lesson, and nature is your classroom. You'll need to wear shoes appropriate to the setting, and showing with a camera is very much encouraged. (How else will you show everyone you know that you had a beaky superstar in your personal space on a glorious Sunday?) About the glorious part... We're thick in the run of El Niño, so best be ready for a storm to possibly change the date. (Fingers and talons crossed that won't happen.) Do you want to simply observe? There's a ticket for that. Do you want to jump straight into learning falconry, just in case you somehow get transported back to a castle in 1601? Well, better to be up on that knowledge than find yourself wanting. For all the prices, times, and location info, flap this way.

Photo Credit: Sky Falconry]]>
<![CDATA[Napa Music Fest: BottleRock Line-Up]]> Fri, 08 Jan 2016 11:32:19 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/214*120/bottlerocknapaballoons2345.jpg

EARLY JANUARY... may be about frostier weather, and returning to work after some time off, and returning those two sweaters you got that in no way fit you through the arms, and the finishing of various treat tins (if you couldn't do so by New Year's Eve). But the start of the year is also about sound, and not simply the pitter-patter of raindrops or the cash register recording your return. These sounds are sunny, and are very much about the large-scale music festivals of the spring and summertime. For it is right in the heart of winter that many of the biggest parties start to come together in terms of line-ups and special happenings and foods featured and hotel deals. It's enough to make one forget all of the stuff they put off during the holiday season, at least for a few minutes, while they peruse various web sites to see if the singers and musicians they love will be there. Coachella Music and Arts Festival just announced its springtime roster on Jan. 4 -- it's a two-weekender in the middle and near the close of April -- and the big (big big) BottleRock Napa Valley is doing the same, with an also-huge line-up of headliners aplenty. Thinking of doing wine country around Memorial Day Week? You may want to plan a day or two to see...

STEVIE WONDER... and the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Florence + The Machine. The city of Napa is the spot, the final three-day holiday weekend in May is the time, and the chance of it all selling out in some speedy fashion is pretty much a given (look to 2015, which saw tickets fly). Lenny Kravitz, Walk the Moon, The Lumineers, and Death Cab for Cutie will also be rocking out, and not too far, in space nor time, from the Williams-Sonoma Culinary Stage, where a whole informative, appetite-whetting cooking demo scene'll be happening. BottleRock Napa Valley is known for putting some serious emphasis on the spatula-and-measuring-cup side of things, in addition to the all-out jamming happening amp-side. Of course, "bottle" is in the name, and the location says it all: This one's for the foodies, too, who just happen to love a top-notch warm-weather tune-tacular. Those kind of things don't come around every day, but here's a day you will need to know, if you want to go: Passes go on sale on Thursday, Jan. 7.

Photo Credit: BottleRock Napa]]>
<![CDATA[Vintage Airport Swank in Palm Springs]]> Sat, 09 Jan 2016 14:38:57 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/PSPRenderingFinal.jpg

NOW LANDING: Mid-century chic touched a lot of areas of a lot of lives back in the day. Clothing shops, with their zig-zaggy entrances, and living rooms, with their giant glass fronts, and restaurants, with their Eames-cool furniture, all effortlessly conveyed the '50s-into-1960s aesthetic. And while you can see mid-century-ism, in some form, in all of those places still, one place where it is less seen is an airport or on an airline. The art of flying has changed a lot, stylistically, in the last half century, and that "Mad Men"-like vibe that was often seen back in the day is pretty hard to find at most major plane ports. It's a style that is missed by many, though, and, with that in mind, Virgin America and Modernism Week are pairing up to do something a bit splashy at the Palm Springs International Airport.

DURING THE MODERNISM WEEK RUN, which takes up the bulk of mid-February, the Virgin America gate at the airport will take on a colorful and interactive throwback look courtesy of Marc Joseph, the owner of Wonderama, a Palm Springs shop specializing in art and vintage furniture. It's fun news for two reasons: One? Our airport gates rarely, if ever, get the full gussy up, specifically in a period that was once the Thing, capital T, fifty years ago. And two? We do long for those chic days of travel, when getting a little fancy for a flight was simply the thing to do.

LET MODERNISM FLY: Virgin America is also behind a "fly-away contest" which involves "a chance to win a stylish getaway for two to Modernism Week," a chance that involves roundtrips on the airline and a four-nighter at The Saguaro Palm Springs. That's cool, but so is this: Dress up in your mid-century best and pose for a photo at the gate during the 2016 Modernism Week. Then hashtag it #LetModFly for a chance for an upgrade with the company. If you nab that upgrade, though, will you dress mid-century for your actual flight? Dressing fashion-forward for your time in the air used to be done on the regular. Might funky and fabulous fashion once again reign when we fly?

Photo Credit: Modernism Week/Virgin America]]>
<![CDATA[Run Across Catalina: The Avalon 50]]> Wed, 06 Jan 2016 09:52:51 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/CatalinaIslandWestchambercommerce.jpg

ACROSS THE ISLAND: Saying a visit to Catalina Island isn't complete without heading into the interior is a bit of a tried-and-trite truism. Yes, you hear it quite often, so much so that a traveler can feel a little bound to following it, lest their trip to the pretty burg not miss something essential. It also happens to hold some water, too, and just because a suggestion is oft-repeated doesn't mean that it should be discarded as yesterday's news. Seeing Avalon and heading out into the hills of Catalina, and admiring the lovely and idyllic Two Harbors, is indeed part of the whole experience, an experience that is very often enjoyed through the window of a bus or touring car or, on occasion, from the seat of a bicycle. Less done is crossing the island on a fleet foot, as part of an epic, up-and-down race that comprises 50 miles and vistas that can't be matched. It's the Avalon 50 we speak of, a run that is so big-of-spirit, and challenging-of-ability, that it counts as one of California's, and everywhere's, most epic runs (let's put the Badwater 135, the huge multi-day Death Valley run, in that same amazing camp). Ready to head from Avalon, to Two Harbors, to the north side of the island, then through the interior, and back to Avalon? If so, prepare to hoof it on...

SATURDAY, JAN. 9: "No cars, no smog, just great terrain, incredible views, fascinating historical sites, a well-organized race, nice people, great food... and even an occasional buffalo sighting." Ah, yes, those famous Catalina denizens might make a surprise cameo as you trot by, but even if you're not looking at a furry local, you'll be looking at some pretty hills and sweeping -- yes, sweeping -- views of the Pacific. If training for ultra races isn't your bag, and you're more in the 5K camp at the moment, that's cool; there are still motorized tours to enjoy on the SoCal-adjacent destination throughout the year. But if you're a mondo marathoner with a penchant for reaching new heights, this benefit run, which supports several Avalon organizations, could make you as happy as a buffalo standing in the salty-air'd sunshine. Slip into your athletic socks and favorite trainers and jog this way for more Avalon 50 info.

Photo Credit: Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce]]>
<![CDATA[National Parks: Winter Sport Picks]]> Tue, 05 Jan 2016 11:48:02 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/Skiing_Boarding_Family_at_Badger_Pass_20141.jpg

HOLIDAY TRAVEL... has a tendency to be very much about, well, the holidays. We plan our plane trips around Thanksgiving, and when our relatives are arriving (lest our parents make numerous trips to the airport). Our drive home to make the first night of Hanukkah, or our train trip to our best friend's town on New Year's Eve, are very much built around the festivity that awaits us later that day. But after January 1 wraps up, journeys to other places become less about the occasion and more about the season. Winter comes into full view during the first and second months of the year, and all of its frosty, mitten-up, brave-the-flakes pleasures. Many of those pleasures occur in the national parks, which can, it might be said, see their share of snow over the first third of the year (and sometimes into April and May). To spotlight this not-so-subtle shift in post-holiday travel, when holiday travelers transform into outdoorsy adventurers, the National Park Foundation has created a list of winter sports found within the vast and destination-awesome system. And if you're wondering if the Golden State is well-represented among the picks, take heart because...

IT SO IS: Look to Yosemite National Park, and Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, and Lassen Volcanic National Park, too, a group of West Coast stalwarts that stand proud on the icon-packed roster (Glacier and Yellowstone are two of the other picks). The cross-country skiing at Yosemite's Badger Pass got the shout-out love from the foundation, as did the sledding among the sequoias and wintry camping at Lassen, a place known for its burbling, steaming, geothermal features. It's a dynamic trio for Californians, and visitors from all over, to enjoy come January and February and even March, as long as warm clothing and tire chains and weather reports and a sense of the cold's power all come into play pre-trip. Sporting in the winter is quite different from any other time of year, not because it takes less or more exertion, but because heading into a quieter national park -- and they're all a bit quieter come winter, for the most part -- leads to a more peace-centered ski day or trek or overnight. Tempted after the nonstopness of the holidays? The NPF has your picks, so tie your scarf on and peruse all. 

Photo Credit: DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite]]>
<![CDATA[Toot Toot! Modernism Week Draws Near]]> Sun, 03 Jan 2016 06:13:26 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/psmodernismfeb2016.jpg

THE YULETIDE... often comes wrapped in the textures and patterns of a century or two ago. Think of the plaids and soft hues of wrapping paper and ribbons, the Victorian-like ornaments, the plush pillows that look as though they were handcrafted in 1915. We like our Christmas to arrive with a long-ago feel, because the holiday has, at its sentimental heart, a deep connection to nostalgia and the past. But for many revelers the close of the year is all about a slightly more recent past, as in the 1950s and '60s. For them the tree has to be tinsel, or at least one of those metallic jobs with a spinning color wheel that changes it from pink to blue to purple. And the party they're throwing? It's all about stylish Tom Collins cocktail glasses and Eames furniture and "Mad Men"-style suits and frocks. The mid-century has nostalgia, too, so trading in some of the Edwardian touchstones for a streamlined, aerodynamic celebration is just par for the course for many people. And many of those many people will spend the holidays discussing what is now just a few weeks out, the biggest mid-century happening on the calendar. It could only be in one place, of course...

PALM SPRINGS: It's the city that embraced, and stuck to, its '50s-to-'60s vibe, and in so doing championed an aesthetic that draws devotees from all over. Those devotees show up for one third of February to celebrate Modernism Week. Yep, it's the party that's so out-sized that it takes up well over a week (so it is just easier to say a chunk o' February). The Modernism Show & Sale is a really big deal, so make for the Palm Springs Convention Center from Feb. 12 through 15 to pick up looks for your own home. Those double-decker bus tours, the home tours, the speakers, and more all do fill up, but even before nabbing your spots for those, best nab your hotel room, as those, too, go early and go fast. The host hotel is the Hilton Palm Springs, and a bevy of properties around the town, many of them mid-century, will welcome attendees. As for the dates? Hang another boomerang-cool ornament on your tinsel tree and grab a calendar: The chic soiree runs from Feb. 11 through 21, 2016.

Photo Credit: Modernism Week]]>
<![CDATA[Journey to Winter WINEland in January]]> Sat, 02 Jan 2016 10:31:42 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/wineroadcorks928323.jpg

THE HUES OF THE HOLIDAYS... could match, tone for tone, the hues found on a wine shelf. Yes, the reds and crimsons are popular in both yuletide decor and among the cabernets and pinots in your pantry, but, truly, the richly rosy colors run the gamut for both the celebration and the sip. It's a solid connection to make if you allow those holiday hues -- vermillion and scarlet and ruby and cerise -- to remind you that another ruddy-tastic event is on the horizon. The near horizon, too: Winter WINEland, the Wine Road's Januarytime jubilee, falls just after the close of the end-of-the-year festivities. This means it makes a solid gift for the oenophile in your life, or simply a breezy, head-into-Northern-Sonoma-County adventure if you've felt a little too hectic over the holidays. The 2016 dates are Saturday, Jan. 16 and Sunday, Jan. 17, and the celebration is an auspicious one.

IT'S THE 24TH ANNIVERSARY... of Winter WINEland in 2016, but the weekend-long happening is part of the larger year-long 40th party for the Wine Road itself. Both anniversaries fall on the impressive end of the equation, and the numerous to-dos and deals over that middle weekend of January will be out in full, flavorful force around NoSoCo. Look for new wines to try, as well as limited-production wines and library wines. Every participant will have something for sale that comes with "a special event price," say organizers, so if you're hoping to restock the kitchen, post-company, then this could be your moment.

MULTIPLE VALLEYS... are part of the glass-fun doings -- Alexander, Dry Creek, and Russian River, holler -- and multiple wineries within each valley are on the roster. So many vineyards are participating that the roster is especially large: Over 120 places around the trio of wine-making areas will be putting out, and on, their WINEland best. Whether they'll have wines in every hue of the holidays -- ruby, crimson, rose -- is up to the eye of the sipper, but calling Christmas and wine longtime neighbors on the color wheel isn't taking too much of a leap. Neither is making for Northern Sonoma over a chilly, bright-of-air January weekend to get the Wine Road's 40th anniversary year properly started. 

Photo Credit: Wine Road]]>
<![CDATA[Carrot Festival: Crunch in Holtville]]> Fri, 01 Jan 2016 10:52:13 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/carrotsjuiceshutterstock.jpg

VEGE-FRESH FUN: Though we tend to think of foodstuffs around the holidays as being of the sweet, cakey sort, there are vegetables and fruits that make a very strong standing once winter begins. Brussels sprouts are spied in many a roast dish, as are potatoes, and green bean casserole couldn't be properly made without, well, green beans. But we'll stand behind a certain root vegetable that is commonly orange in hue as the most popular, gotta-incorporate-it piece of produce of the holiday season. Carrots show up in so many places, from main dishes to appetizers to the occasional dessert (thanks to their somewhat sugary characters). And are they often seen on a plate left out on Dec. 24, alongside Santa's cookies? Well, the reindeer do need something to nosh upon, after all that flying. We're in a carrot-cool frame of mind around the holidays, and after the holidays wrap, too, thanks to all of those new year's resolutions regarding healthier eating. This all means that the January start to the annual Holtville Carrot Festival, which has been around for nearly 70 years, is very well-timed to our seasonal, carrot-centered interests. Are you carrot cuh-razy? Did you end up eating all of the healthy treats left out for Santa's antlered crew? Then make for the El Centro-adjacent fest from...

FRIDAY, JAN. 29 THROUGH SUNDAY, FEB. 7: Yeah, this one's big, and there's daily stuff to do throughout the orange-amazing festivity. Look for a carnival and a cooking contest and a parade and an antique tractor show and a caboodle of homespun fun, all with a particular brightly colored, green-topped icon at its heart. Now that we ponder it, is there any edible that can cameo in savory dishes as well as sweets in the manner of the carrot? Well, yes, peanuts do a fine job here, so our favorite root vegetable is not alone. If you're feeling incredible healthy as the new year begins, and vegetable-oriented, and salad-obsessed, pencil in Yuma's annual lettuce celebration at the end of February. Could you, in fact, make a veritable green salad, of sorts, by traveling from festival to festival this late wintertime? Hang tight; tomatoes and garlic and artichokes get their festivals later in the year in Northern and Central California.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[Knobby, Flavorful, Rare: Napa Truffle Fest]]> Thu, 31 Dec 2015 11:56:52 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/truffle_in_studionapa.jpg

THE SALT SHELF VISIT: Observe any person who claims to be a devotee to the pleasures of the palate enter a specialty foods store and you'll see someone who makes a beeline for a particular bite as soon as they stroll in the front door. Those with a sweet tooth might make for the lavender or honey chews, the cheese lovers might seek out the logs of goat-y goodness in the refrigerated section, and the people into flavored syrups will be found crouched down over in the bottle section. But truffle-ists? They deserve they're own special mention, because a specialty store visit immediately tests their mettle. Do they seek out the whole or sliced truffles, the ones weighed by the ounce and often priced like gold (or seemingly)? Do they sniff out the truffle-flecked cheeses, and dare ask the cheese monger for the smallest of samples? Or is it all about the shelf with the truffle salt, that one dish topper that can bring most any past to exuberant new heights? Oh, decisions and so forth. Lovers of the truf can take a break from their store-based indecision, though, over the middle weekend of January, and make for Napa Valley, where the truffle shall be celebrated in myriad ways.

JAN. 15-18, 2016... are the coming-up dates of the Napa Valley Truffle Festival, a piquant party that'll put the focus on "the black Perigold truffle and the black summer Burgundy truffle through a variety of cooking classes, demonstrations, and truffle cultivation seminars, culminating in a multi-course truffle banquet with each course prepared by a celebrated chef. Also in the house? "Top truffle scientists," experts who will plumb into all of the plummy topics surrounding the "principles of truffle cultivation." The Westin Verasa Hotel is "truffle central" for the fragrant, flavorful event, and you're bound to achieve that knobby-love, higher-palate level that all truffle fans desire. Sometimes a trip to the truffle salt shelf in your favorite specialty shop just stokes those desires for immersing yourself more fully into a truffleverse -- like a universe, but with truffles -- for a weekend. That weekend is coming up, in Napa Valley, so hang tight and keep your sniffer ready to sniff out all of those amazing truffle-forward scents.

Photo Credit: Napa Truffle Festival]]>
<![CDATA[Oceanside's Inaugural Valentine's Celebration]]> Fri, 01 Jan 2016 11:16:41 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/valentinesdaysd123.jpg

ELEVEN DAYS OF SWEETNESS: The truism that Valentine's Day should be every day holds a lot of water, or, if you prefer, chocolate and roses. We should be lovey to our partners and our relatives and our pals and the world at large pretty much every day of the year, when possible, but when it comes right down to it February 14 is just a single day made up of 24 fleeting hours. That said Oceanside lives the sunset-awesome, beach-snug life every day of the year, and is thus pretty proficient at stretching out the important stuff in life. (Ask an Oceansider when an ocean-pretty twilight was last enjoyed, and they'll likely answer back with a very recent date.) This stretching-out of life's little pleasures will become even more real during the second month of the year, when the community kicks off its first-ever Valentine's celebration. We were hesitant to add "Day" after Valentine's just then, because this thing is going to last for a full third of the month, from Feb. 5 right through to the 15th. And, no, it isn't all roses and hearts and dinners, but rather an array of go-outs and to-dos with a Valentine or at least upbeat, get-out-be-together theme (which feels pretty dang Valentine's-y to us, at least in spirit). So what's on tap for Oceanside's inaugural, eleven-day, everyone-Valentine's-up happening? Look for...

HOTEL DEALS... and a 5K run and a First Friday Art Walk to start it all up on Feb. 5 (yep, there's a love holiday theme to the event). On Monday, Feb. 8 Oceanside will offer ten gratis elopement ceremonies to military couples (in honor of neighbor Camp Pendleton) along with Elope to Oceanside and Vows from the Heart Ministries. And for those looking for a day-of to-do, there's the first-ever Oceanside Valentine 5K Run and Bike Ride on Valentine's Day proper. As for a stayover with a sweet touch or discount? The Holiday Inn Oceanside Marina, SpringHill Suites Marriott Oceanside, and North Coast Village all have tender add-ons or perks for Valentine's travelers to the area. An area, we don't need to add, which is as beachy as all get-out, a setting that lends itself very well to the hand-hold-iest, hug-one-more-time-iest holiday of the year. Where and when will you celebrate in early-to-mid-February around Oceanside? Start here, lovers.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Luna: A Sea Otter's Story]]> Tue, 29 Dec 2015 11:07:08 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/lunaottersstory12.jpg

TO NOT STAND AND COO... over the famous sea otters of the Monterey Bay Aquarium is to have a heart that isn't furry and a mind that's not open to sheer, squee-worthy love. Since we're fairly sure all visitors who stand before a somersaulting, whisker-faced lovebug do squee and do have minds open to love, we're also certain everyone who visits the world-famous Cannery Row institution does a fair amount of cooing. Cooing, of course, leads to giving the otters personalities, and stories, and nicknames, because it is only right that we'd long to know lots more about these web-footed superstars who've captured our affections. There is a way, by making time to visit an on-site aquarium presentation called "Luna: A Sea Otter's Story." 

AN ANIMAL'S TALE: The 15-minute show follows "a single sea otter's journey -- from stranding as an orphaned pup to rescue, care, and release by Aquarium staff." Filling in the spaces and gaps of our knowledge, the knowledge that includes what a sea otter faces, the care he or she receives at the institution, and a release back into the Pacific, is how we better build a base for all of our cooing to stand upon, the cooing we do in front of the pool where the otters play. The "threats facing California's otter population," and the aquarium's helpful role, are also discussed in the presentation, so plan not just on the squee-able parts of Luna's arc to come to the forefront but all of the hurdles faced by the otters who call our coast home.

LUNA'S STORY... occurs throughout the day -- check the schedule -- which gives you loads of time to catch a sea otter feeding, a sight that's among the most heart-tuggable at the MBA (though the otters, of course, are quite serious about getting their daily calories in, so they'd view eating as more stomach-fillable than heart-tuggable). Both the presentation, and the live feedings, give a fuller picture to the furry celebrities. Here they are before your eyes, romping and frolicking, and over here is an otter's full and dramatic journey, from ocean to rehabilitation to ocean.

Photo Credit: © Jim Capwell]]>
<![CDATA[Your Cheesy Dream Is in Petaluma]]> Mon, 28 Dec 2015 06:46:37 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/cheesederrickstory.jpg

THE PROPS INSIDE OUR DREAMS: We're sometimes asked, over breakfast, what our dreams were the night before, and we can usually recall some major imagery -- a dinosaur, a city, a dinosaur in a city. Less often do we recall what we're holding, like the reins of a unicorn, a magic wand, or a toothpick for spearing cubes of cheese. As for this last implement, surely you, too, have visited tables groaning beneath the weight of dozens of cheeses in your dreams, with a toothpick in hand, if you're a fanatic of all things creamy and spreadable and dairy-based. And while we're not quite certain when you might ride a unicorn in real life, or cast a spell with an actual wand, we can tell you where to go, and when, to make your toothpick-in-hand, cheese-table-tastic dreams come true, in the waking world: Petaluma. The Sonoma sup-happy town is the scene for one of the West Coast's most mondo, and fancy, cheese gatherings each year, and each year the California's Artisan Cheese Festival brings up the veryyyy tail-end of wintertime. So unhand your dream toothpick and grab your nearest calendar and promptly pen in March 18 through 20, 2016. That's when the professional cheese artists'll be out, and the fans, too, for three full days of eating and talking and sharing and everything else to do with the creation of some of the Golden State's poshest noshes.

JANUARY 1... is the on-sale date for the festival, which marks its first big decade at the 2016 outing. How do you do up a 10th anniversary? By rolling out a whole delectable schedule of stuff, from farm tours to creamery peeks to informative seminars to brunches to the overwhelming (in the best sense) Artisan Cheese Tasting and Marketplace. The hub for all of this, save the off-site tours? The Sheraton Sonoma County in Petaluma. The participants? Hoo boy, the line-up is as long as a table filled with cheese cubes. Valley Ford Cheese Company, Cypress Grove Chevre, and Orland Farmstead Creamery are just three of the many makers of fine blues and Bries and Goudas and more. Have you brought your dream toothpick, the one you wield when you're asleep and eating all the cheese of your dreams, with you? You won't need it. Leave it by your bedside, buy your ticket, and find all the toothpicks and dishes and demos and meet-and-greets you need come March.

Photo Credit: Derrick Story]]>
<![CDATA[Desert Stars: Palm Springs Film Fest]]> Sat, 26 Dec 2015 06:40:14 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/198*120/psff2016.jpg

THE CLOSE OF THE CALENDAR... is a big time for the film biz, given that many studios are releasing (and extolling) their Oscar hopefuls in the final weeks of the year. Add to this push the many lists reflecting on the year that was, in the cinema, and you have a major moment, movie-wise, one that rivals the enormity of the blockbuster season, and perhaps of the Academy Awards, too. Adding to the general film fervor are the prestigious film festivals which start up, lickety-split, the second we turn the calendar page to January. There's Sundance in Utah, of course, but before filmmakers make for the snowy clime they're celebrating in a far warmer one: Palm Springs. And the 27th annual Palm Springs International Film Festival truly doesn't wait a day into the new year to rev up the screenings and presentations and Q&As: It opens on Friday, Jan. 1.

STARRY SCENE: A caboodle of headliners and aspiring artists will nab a line-up of top awards at the week-plus party, which stretches from New Year's Day through Jan. 11. Actor Will Smith and writer-director Charlie Kaufman will be honored by Variety, while the Chairman's Award will be handed to Matt Damon. Alicia Vikander, whose chilling and powerful turn in "Ex Machina" rippled through sci-fi circles in early 2015, will collect the Rising Star Award, and awards of note will also be presented to actors Rooney Mara and Michael Fassbender.

HOTELS AND MORE: But where to stay after the credits roll and the parties wrap for the night? A few places (as well as airlines and car rental companies) have partnered with the festival, including The Ace Hotel & Swim Club. There's a creative vibe to the whole scene, much like its later-in-the-spring cousin, The Coachella Music & Arts Festival. The desert, it turns out, is abloom with artistic innovation and imaginative endeavor, and the fact that Palm Springs doesn't even wait a day into the new year to get that particular vibe going is a tribute to the arts-embracing city.

Photo Credit: PSIFF]]>
<![CDATA[Pasadena Pageantry: The 127th Tournament of Roses]]> Mon, 28 Dec 2015 06:41:31 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/RoseSigns136342628.jpg

THE BIG SHOW: Surveying the many parts of a glorious garden while selecting which rose to sniff can be delightfully overwhelming, but the truth is you can sniff all the roses, or at least make a good go of it with a little time and energy. The Tournament of Roses is a similar glorious garden, and it, too, brims with roses of another sort: Events and sights and floats and must-dos that stretch throughout the week of New Year's. But where shall you turn your nose -- or, in the case of the Rose Parade, your scheduler and interest -- first? You only need to call upon the Tournament's online HQ, which has everything sorted for the thousands of visitors who call upon Pasadena during the final week of the year.

BANDFEST TO MARVELOUS MANES: While the garden that is the Tournament boasts a copious number of things to see, look to the biggest blooms to fill up up your sojourn around the LA-snug burg. Bandfest, a brassy, song-filled preview of the many uniform-and-tuba outfits marching on New Year's Day, is so huge it needs two days to properly sound its trumpet. The place? As is tradition, it is Pasadena City College. ("As is tradition" should be the Tournament's official sentence starter, as it tends to start many a thought about the event.) The dates? Dec. 29 and 30. And Equestfest, the horsey sneak peek, trots on Tuesday, Dec. 29 at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center (the only Rose Parade happening to take place outside of Pasadena proper).

FLOAT DECORATING, FLOAT ADMIRING: As for the non-trumpet-y, non-trot-y stars of the parade? They're the flower-covered floats, and the enjoyment of these wonders on wheels arrives in three distinct stages: Watching/participating in the placing of the petals ahead of the parade, viewing the parade itself, or taking in the Post-Parade Float Showcase. Do super-fans, the devotees who return each year, place all three to-dos on their roster? You bet. After, the parade, for many, isn't a spectacular that rolls on Jan. 1 but a mega-spectacular that fills up the better part of a week. There are, in turns out, many roses to sniff in this particular garden, and fans find the fragrance of each pretty darn intoxicating.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Birdy Boat Trip: A Channel Island Adventure]]> Mon, 28 Dec 2015 06:48:29 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/islandpackersbirding029323.jpg

FLUKES TO FEATHERS: We'll go out on a bow and confidently state that any person joining an excursion out onto the Pacific to enjoy wildlife is not going to limit their animal-sighting enjoyment to any one single animal. Yes, there are boat trips themed around particular beasties, particularly gray whales come wintertime. But a whole line-up of lovely aquatic creatures may be spotted, from pods of dolphins to gulls to sea lions, and no passenger of such a trip would wave away such phenomenal, spirit-boosting encounters. In this frame we do tip our hat, the warm hat we wear to ward of chilly ocean breezes, to those superstar behemoths of the Pacific, the migratory whales. Whales, be they gray or blue or orca or beyond, are most often what half-day, beastie-seeking boat trips are built around, but, on occasion, an excursion company will go in search of something far smaller and not bound to the water. We are referring to the birds of the Pacific here, and not so cagily, either. There's a multitude of feathery wonders to admire just off our shores, but Island Packers, the official get-you-there outfit of Channel Islands National Park, pauses now and again to go in search of winged beauties. Like...

THE SANTA CRUZ ISLAND SCRUB JAY... and Brown-Footed Boobies and Blue-Footed Boobies and Brown Pelicans and Double-Crested Cormorants and a whole host of nesting, chirping, flying island denizens. Loads of gorgeous flyers may, in fact, show themselves during the nine-hour trip out. The next Birding Excursion for the company is on Saturday, Feb. 27, and given the fact that they don't happen all that often, slots do fill up, both with photographers and those who just want to soak in the beaky sights of the national park. Speaking of which, the island views will be spectacular, too, in addition to the birds you'll see; a toodle by the postcard-perfect Anacapa Arch is in the plans, and if you've ever wanted to chug over Hueneme Canyon, well, this is your moment. What birds will actually be seen? That is up to chance, the day, and where you're looking (Bald Eagles and Peregrine Falcons are two other icons of the islands who might show their handsome visages during your trip). The cost? It's eighty dollars. Will you disembark at all? Yes, "briefly" at Santa Cruz Island. Will you also spy a whale or two? Well, they are the celebrities of Santa Barbara Channel during the winter, so your captain might point out a whale or two, if the timing is right. But the timing is always right when there are dolphins and scrub jays and arches and islands to experience, even if the whales or eagles are feeling on the shy side on a particular day.

Photo Credit: Island Packers]]>
<![CDATA[Foraging Adventure: Big Sur Mushrooms]]> Wed, 23 Dec 2015 09:10:45 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/bigsurmush92832323.jpg

LOOK DOWN AT THE GROUND: If you had to name the period of the year where you spend the most time glancing down, would you pick wintertime? There's a solid argument to be made here. After all, we glance down, at the ground, when we need to find our presents under the Christmas tree. We keep an eye on ice and snowy patches when we're in a colder clime. And the start of the year, and the heart of the winter, is prime mushroom time around much of the state. Making for an especially mushroom-laden location, alongside a guide or chef, can make for a fine bout of foraging, which, of course, involves a bit of scoping the earth beneath your feet. It's a meditative pursuit, though, and a flavorful one, too, if fungi happen to be your jam (and mushrooms are so very tasty in jam, and honey, and a host of dishes beyond the traditional pastas and bakes). Big Sur is rich in mushroomiania, and it takes a long weekend, each January, to spotlight those chefs and mavens who love the idea of a solid forage followed by some excellent eating. The Big Sur ForagersFestival pops up from the new ground of the new year on Jan. 15, 16, and 17, 2016.

RESTAURANTS TO NATURE: "Big Sur area restaurants will host the culinary expertise of notable chefs preparing unique fare from rustic to elegant, pairing with the region's amazing selection of wines and beers," reveals the site. Fungus presentation, cocktail gatherings, a Grand Chef Dinner, and a Sunday morning forage-focused hike alongside Chef John Cox are bright lights on a bright roster, as are the two Wild Foraging Walks and Talks. One happens at beautiful Pfeiffer State Park and the other in the Big Sur Wilderness. (The events are beginner and intermediate, respectively.) A Forager's Kitchen session takes on a host of foraged goodies, from chanterelles to sorrel, at the hands of "some of Big Sur and Carmel's best chefs," artists who know their straight-up-from-the-ground stuff. 

WE DO... look down at plates while we eat, out of necessity, but there aren't too many getaways where keeping our eyes on the earth below is key. This is one of the biggies, and one of the tastiest, too, if mushrooms are, as we said, your jam. Seriously, though: mushroom jam. Think about it. It's pretty dang zingy on a burger, and a host of other dishes, too.

Photo Credit: Jim Pinckney/Big Sur Foragers Festival]]>
<![CDATA[Catalina Island's 'Best of Winter' Packages]]> Tue, 22 Dec 2015 12:23:50 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/catalinadeals928932323.jpg

ON THOSE CLEAR DAYS... when a person standing in Rancho Palos Verdes can see Catalina Island in the distance, with its peaks and curves and distinctive outline, there's only one thing to do: daydream. It's a before-your-eyes reminder that there's an enchanted isle off the coast of Southern California, and you don't need to go through a series of airports, or book months in advance, to enjoy a day or two on the sand, on land fully surrounded by water. This daydreaming fully comes home to roost in the winter, when slightly chillier temps on the mainland raise the island equation in many a mind. To help turn our daydreams into something doable, the Catalina Express and Paradise Package Hotel Partners have created a series of "Best of Winter" packages centered at properties and attractions in and around Avalon. 

THROUGH MARCH 2016: This is not the sort of act-now deal that requires you to hop on a plan, and enact it, by the end of the year. You probably don't want to dally though; the discounts and such are good through the third month of next year. Seaport Village Inn, Hotel St. Lauren, Hotel Mac Rae Beach, Hotel Villa Portofino, and a number of other destinations have packages that might include roundtrip on the Catalina Express or a pair of tickets on the iconic glass-bottom boat tours. It all depends on your pleasure -- having your travel to the island included, having some restaurant discounts in the mix with your hotel stay-over, or enjoying a swimming pool -- and going from there. 

EVENTS ON THE HORIZON: Winter stays full around the burg, from the Catalina Island Conservancy Marathon (plus 10K, 5K, and Kids Run) to the Annual Avalon Harbor Underwater Cleanup. So is winter truly winter on Catalina Island? There are still loads of sunny days, and to-dos and activities and boat rides and such. Scoring those not-summer deals, though, reminds you of the season.

Photo Credit: Catalina Express/Paradise Package Hotel Partners]]>
<![CDATA[Desert Ice Skating at Indian Wells]]> Thu, 24 Dec 2015 07:22:46 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/180*120/1-03-09what.jpg

THAT PICTURESQUE BACKDROP: Many seasonal rinks, those here-today, gone-in-a-few-weeks ovals that delight those looking for a dose of wintry recreation, boast stunning or at least highly picturesque backdrops. We like our alfresco ice skating to look a bit like a greeting card, and the towers of Rockefeller Center and the historic shops of Union Square, and the skyscrapers of Pershing Square all lend ice skaters in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles that sense of occasion and grandeur. But finding a natural sight is the aim of some alfresco fans, a mountain or treeline that lends a rink pomp. Yosemite has it, with the annual ice rink at Curry Village (that's Half Dome in the background, natch), and the pop-up Christmas skate place at the Hyatt Indian Wells Resort & Spa has it, too, courtesy of the striking Mount San Jacinto and some pretty palm trees. Of course, the quirky thing about that particular mountain is that it overlooks the desert resorts, so skaters who see it while they're spinning are actually spinning in a fairly unlikely spot for cold recreation. The twist? It's a nighttime rink, unlike most of the other December-January ice spots that have popped up around the country, so "skating under the desert stars" is the theme.

MORE HOLIDAY HAPPENINGS: There are a number of bells-on doings around the 45-acre property, which underwent a major refresh a couple of years back. Beyond the pirouette scene at the palm-pretty outdoor rink, guests can attend the Friday and Saturday Dive-in Movies through Jan. 3 (there's a five-buck Hot Chocolate Bar) and snap a photo with Santa. A game room is live through the holidays, and, for the over-21 people in the house, there's a Margarita Class on Tuesday and Saturdays (we didn't know we needed such a thing in our life, but making a better margie seems like a solid lesson heading into the new year). As for NYE? The sparkle is on at Agave Sunset, complete with a bubbly toast and performer Gina Carey on stage. A special hoiday dinner at Lantana rounds out 2015 in a celebratory way. Raise a glass to the old, the new, and unusual sights like San Jacinto and skaters, a vision not seen every day of the week.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[Lodge Tree Tradition: Tenaya's Sparkly Fir]]> Sat, 19 Dec 2015 07:03:19 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/tenayalodgetree9389329.jpg

THAT WOODSY SETTING: "Indoor/outdoor living" has been a passionate pursuit for Californians ever since the first patio and the first swimming pool and the first sliding glass door was installed, an historic, though likely lost to time, moment. The whole "indoor/outdoor" bit is no trite, overly tossed-around label, either; Golden Staters, as a rule, are an outdoorsy lot, thanks to the copious sunshine and soft sea breezes and all of that mountain air found in our many peak-filled ranges. It can be most satisfying, then, when holiday decor reflects the world beyond the front door. We're not going to bag on snowmen baubles if a person loves to decorate with them but happens to live in the desert; snowmen and snow globes and snowflake ornaments always charm, even if you walk outside to see warm sun and lots of succulents. But strolling in from a famed forested area into a woodsy lodge and beholding a grand fir inside can, in a way, psychically cement that indoor/outdoor relationship that we Californians dearly prize. You can find such visions at some of our state's big lodges, which just happen to be located in a region brimming with fir trees. Look to Tenaya Lodge, which is just a scoot south of Yosemite National Lodge, for that alfresco fir fun, indoor fir wow feel. The hotel just lit its grand tree, and it'll stand at the heart of the lobby throughout the yuletide season.

TALL TREE: It's a 35-footer, which is likely a smidge taller than the trees found inside most homes (unless you built an especially massive den just for the purpose of having a super sky-high tree each December). If you like the idea of admiring the tree for a few minutes before heading out to be among the thousands of Sierra-spectacular trees just beyond the hotel's front entrance, there are winter plans to be made, from snowshoe excursions to sledding and tubing. That's always the issue, though, with a Christmastime trip to the mountains, right? Stay cozy by the lobby tree, with a book, or be among the trees in the wild? Whatever your choice, it is nice to experience both the indoor and outdoor parts of "indoor/outdoor California living" in one fell and festive swoop.

SO, ocean-close hotels of California, are you doing the same? Decorating with shells and seaweed motifs, to make your holiday decor as indoor/outdoor as possible, too?

Photo Credit: Trev Lee/Tenaya Lodge]]>
<![CDATA[Green-tastic Gathering: Yuma Lettuce Days]]> Fri, 25 Dec 2015 14:49:02 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/072614lettuce.jpg

NOT JUST A SIDE OR SALAD: While the entrees and main courses and centerpieces of our meals tend to take up much of the spotlight, every dine-outer should pause, now and then, to observe what sits near the edge of the plate. We speak of the garnish, of course, that frilly bit of vegetation that serves to provide an attractive framework to the food you ordered. It might be a sprig of parsley, or maybe a cherry tomato or two, or a pepper, but chances are good that some Romaine lettuce is playing the garnish role next to what you're eating. How often, though, do we love on lettuce beyond its salad-y ways, its hamburger-topping abilities, and, yes, its garnish-good talents?

The answer is more and more often, these days. Lettuce was widely considered the stuff of the salad bowl a few decades back, as well as healthy filler, but modern times have witnessed the rise and rise of the lovely, leafy good stuff. It's positively a star now, with tastings and recipes under its green belt, and full-on paeans written about its many pleasures. In short, it is no mere garnish, but the hearty and spicy and tangy and flavorful main-y parts of our plates, quite often. Yuma knows all about this, being a major lettuce capital, and the southeastern Arizona city pauses each February to love upon the fresh vegetation, in myriad ways.

YUMA LETTUCE DAYS... are set for Saturday, Feb. 27 and Sunday, Feb. 28 at the University of Arizona's Yuma Agriculture Center, and it shall be a chefly celebration, indeed. Chef Michael Cairns of the Omni Scottsdale Resort and Spa will be in the house, so prepare for informative demos that pull apart, and reconstruct, the notion of lettuce, much like we might pull apart some iceberg in our own kitchens (before reconstructing the snappy stuff into a salad). "Other activities planned for Yuma's homegrown celebration include other live cooking demonstrations and contests, a ginormous salad bar, and the Recipe Box tasting event on Saturday that showcases specialties from local restaurants, including beer and wine," say organizers.

"GINORMOUS SALAD BAR": If only every food festival on the planet, be it about chocolate or shrimp or anything, could have such a wondrous creation. And lettuce is the hearty heavy-lifter of the salad bars of the world, a player that goes well beyond a plate's garnish. Time to salute it, in its many yummy forms, over a bright-sky'd Yuma weekend this February.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Alfresco Dazzle in Encinitas]]> Sat, 26 Dec 2015 06:42:24 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/sdbg_rachelcobb1.JPG

HOW MANY STRINGS OF LIGHTS... have you draped over the shrub next to your front door? One? Three? None? It's a touchy topic for the enthusiastic decorators who feel passionate about doing it up for the holidays come December. Those who are looking for the most wow from their twinkly trees and the most beauty from a path lined with lanterns are often careful about sharing their sweetest secrets, lest they see the very same lanterns and twinkly trees turn up on a neighbor's lawn next year. It's all in friendly competition, of course, and to make it even friendlier we recommend inviting your neighbor, the decorations devotee who also puts up a blaze of Christmas lights, to join you at the San Diego Botanic Garden. It's a fine place for two chummy Christmas competitors to stroll together, thanks to the pretty plants, the fab flowers, and the thousands of lovely lights that blink on after dark when the sparkliest season of the year arrives. We speak of Garden of Lights, the natural destination's end-of-the-year treat. And a treat it is, for while the Botanic Garden is typically associated with daytime visits, Garden of Lights is all about the nights. Though not every night in December, do note; it opened on Saturday, Dec. 5 and runs through Wednesday, Dec. 30, with a few closed evenings around Christmas.

WHAT WILL YOU AND YOUR NEIGHBOR SEE? "More than 125,000 sparkling lights" around the "37-acre urban oasis," lights that illuminate the native plants and oaks that dot the gorgeous grounds. Several family-nice to-dos are part of the event, from horse-led wagon rides to marshmallow roasting to snow sledding to mulled wine for the grown-ups. Posh pizza and beverages, warm and cold, will be for sale, and the gift shop'll have several items for the gardener you adore (perhaps that's you). Above all, the peace and beauty of the gardens, all lit up by wee bulbs, is a wind-down way to enjoy the go-go-go season. If you do attend with your neighbor, the person you're always trying to outdo, lights-wise, will you both bond at the Garden of Lights? And perhaps come up with ideas about mutually decorating next year? In one fabulous, two-house display? We're just betting that a trip to see some nature sparkle might smooth over any competitive feelings you've had, and make you work as a twinkle-tastic team on your next house-lighting theme.

Photo Credit: Rachel Cobb]]>
<![CDATA[Disneyland Hotels: The Lobby Trees]]> Sun, 20 Dec 2015 08:23:45 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/198*120/pacificpiertree12345.jpg

DAZZLE BEYOND THE GATES: Much is written, and rightly so, about the ornaments and boughs and gewgaws found around Disneyland and Disney California Adventure in November, December, and early January. There's the ginormous tree on Main Street in Disneyland, the one that always has a queue for photographs. There are the poinsettias lining the walkways, and a festive Mickey, created by flowers, seen at the entrance. And Cars Land is as twinkly as a traffic light, what with the tire wreaths hanging above the central thoroughfare. But there are decorations to admire in the hotels of Disneyland Resort, specifically the trees and touches found in the lobbies of the Grand Californian, Paradise Pier, and the Disneyland Hotel. Like anything inspired by Disney lore, and storydom, and the vivacious vibe of the Happiest Place on Earth, the hotels' holiday dress has a way of serving up a side of dazzle to what the parks have to offer.

THE GRAND CALIFORNIAN TREE... is the multi-story centerpiece to the Arts & Crafts lobby, and the ornaments reflect the structure's woodsy style. There's a bit of shine, courtesy of golden, copper-cool balls, but the natural elements of the tree truly tie it to the lobby in which it sits. Add to that the oversized lanterns hanging from the tree and you have a Craftsman vision. Is there a handsome chair at one side? There is, so feel free to snap a quick family pic there.

THE PARADISE PIER TREE... has a full-on, under-the-waves theme going. Jellyfish-type ornaments hang -- er, float -- from the blue-and-green tree's branches, and ornaments serve as "pearls" (very large pearls, we'll add). A woven-around ribbon adds the feel of the surf. If you put your ear to the tree, can you hear the Pacific, though?

THE DISNEYLAND HOTEL... once again has a gingerbread castle to greet guests, and a sitting area, near the convention center, that's straight out of a Christmas card from 1955 (the tinsel-nifty tree adds to that feel). Will you run into Mickey there? Well, he's pretty busy come the holidays, but stopping by a resort hotel for some tree time, and a photo or two, does have a way of giving one a bit of Mickey-merry cheer.

Photo Credit: Disneyland]]>