<![CDATA[NBC 7 San Diego - Worth the Trip]]>Copyright 2017http://www.nbcsandiego.com/blogs/worth-the-trip http://media.nbcnewyork.com/designimages/KNSD+RSS+Feed+logo+blue.png NBC 7 San Diego http://www.nbcsandiego.comen-usMon, 16 Jan 2017 07:57:21 -0800Mon, 16 Jan 2017 07:57:21 -0800NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Worth the Trip: Wintertime in Joshua Tree National Park]]> Sun, 15 Jan 2017 15:22:12 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/1-15-17-Joshua+Tree+National+Park.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: UIG via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Hollywood Roosevelt: Awards Season Packages]]> Fri, 13 Jan 2017 14:57:54 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/Roosevelthotelawardsshow1234.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Temecula CVB]]>
<![CDATA[Catalina Express: Best of Winter Deals]]> Thu, 29 Dec 2016 09:57:09 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/160*120/catalinaexpress12345.jpg

AVALON IN THE DISTANCE: Catalina Express, the hop-aboard, go-to-Catalina boat service that travels between the mainland and the bison-lovely idyll just out in the Pacific, has a way of offering money-savers and pay-less deals for daytrippers looking for an island jaunt. The service, which marked its 35th anniversary in 2016, lowered fares in the spring, but that wasn't all that the staffers behind the fleet had in mind. Look to the winter months of early 2017, and the money-saving stay-over packages to be found, packages that are the result of a partnership between Catalina Express and Paradise Hotel Partners. Don your favorite beach wear, make a tropical drink, and prepare to peruse the...

"(C)OMBINATION BOAT AND HOTEL PACKAGES... at 20 hotels in Avalon..." The name of the deal, which is on through March 2017? The Best of Winter, which says it all (well, not "all" but at least you know the season you're dealing with). And as anyone who covets the Catalina lifestyle knows, wintertime is full of straight-up gorgeous-o-sity around the 22-miles-from-LA getaway. What inns are on board? Hermosa Hotel and Seaport Village Inn and The Catalina Canyon Resort & Spa, which has a swimming pool. You'll want to eye whether the deal is a midweek thing, or includes weekends, and how your boat trip, to and from, will work. 

MANY A HOTEL... in many a place has a package deal going, but The Best of Winter package, with its boat transportation and sleeping quarters, is rather on the special side. For, spoiler alert: One can't roll their wheels for Avalon, and Catalina Island, so hopping onto a ship pretty darn essential. If boarding that boat in the winter appeals, and the idea of some island time during a period that isn't summer, start planning your trip out to sea — er, ocean — now.

Photo Credit: Catalina Express]]>
<![CDATA[Ocean Astonishing: Whalefest Monterey]]> Wed, 28 Dec 2016 07:27:21 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/MontereyWhaleFest2012.jpg

MAMMOTH MAMMAL MAGIC: If only we could ask the migrating Pacific Gray whales to pause for a moment, as they pass by our shoreline on their important seasonal journey, well... we wouldn't. They've got places to be, those thousands of blowhole-boasting wonders who appear just off our beaches and bluffs in the wintertime, and dropping them a text or an email asking them to hold up for a day, so we can spend some time getting to know them, would not be the correct course of action. But we can take action on the land, near the water, should we want to know more about the magical world of these mammoth mammals, their migration patterns, their babies, what they eat, their everything, really. So whale-themed parties spring up to keep we humans in the know, while the whales swim on by out in the water, with no need to disrupt their vital schedules. Look to one of the most fabled of the free festivities, an informative weekend-long shindig called...

WHALEFEST MONTEREY: It's happening over the final weekend in January 2017 — that's the 28th and 29th — and once again "The Whale Watching Capital of the World" will have several whale-tastic doings to choose from. You can listen to a lecture or watch a documentary or browse the "educational displays" that let we landlubber sorts take a more thorough look into how a whale travels, thinks, lives, thrives. There are boats, too, that head out into the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, in case you want to see a whale or dolphin or sea bird from a closer, camera-at-the-ready distance. That's for an additional cost, of course, and, of course, the whales may not be around, for they've got places to go (that said, the sanctuary is known as a nicely be-whale'd destination come winter). We would never halt a whale on her migration, for that would be rude, but we would find our way to Fisherman's Wharf, on a January weekend, to revel in all of the info and enchantment of whaledom. (All while finding out how we humans can help their future, too.)

Photo Credit: Whalefest Monterey]]>
<![CDATA[Wintertime in 'The Switzerland of California']]> Tue, 27 Dec 2016 13:18:49 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/JuneLakeBlanketedinSnowTimTrerise.jpg

MOUNTAINS OF MAJESTY: It isn't too often that a person gets to use "snow-capped" in everyday conversation, at least if one lives within an hour of the ocean. But that doesn't mean that the allure of snow-capped-a-tude, the desire to not only admire gigantic peaks but see them with a solid dusting of flakeage, doesn't exist. The notion of the snow-capped peak is mythic, after all, and myth can stir in a heart deeply, especially when the person who has such a heart knows that snow-capped sights are but a few hours away. Look to the epic, epically craggy, epically everything-that's-amazing Sierra Nevada, and turn your gaze specifically on June Lake. The charmer of a walkable burg sits about a half hour north-ish of Mammoth Mountain by car, and it gallantly rocks one of the most tantalizing, brrr-laden, storybooky nicknames in all of the Golden State. It's...

"THE SWITZERLAND OF CALIFORNIA"... and one glance up at Carson Peak tells the full story. It's a straight-up, ridges-galore kind of sight, one that is Alps-y in its enormity but, of course, is pure Sierra grandeur. Other peaks in the June Lake vicinity offer the same sort of breath-taking-ness, with spots like Silver Lake adding foreground beauty to the not-too-distant mountains. So what's to do in The Switzerland of California when winter pulls into town, and all of the snow-capped gorgeousness? A solid starting place is the Mono County tourism page, which details wintry activities like snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and more. Swinging by the online HQ for the June Lake Loop can also give a peek at the peaks and all of the nearby fun times that go down when the snowflakes are falling.

Photo Credit: Tim Trerise]]>
<![CDATA[Palm Desert Food & Wine 2017]]> Mon, 26 Dec 2016 08:16:37 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/180*120/shutterstock39892032432.jpg

EVEN THE BEST LUNCH, the one that includes your favorite sandwich fixings, and your favorite bread, and your go-to cole slaw, is probably a one-plate, one-and-done, gobble-it-up-and-go affair. Enjoying a more sumptuous feast when the sun is high in the sky is either reserved for special holidays, the kind of holidays where we dine in the middle of the day, or for cool, chef-filled, gourmet'd-out food festivals. And if you're all about the lunch, especially the longer lunch, especially a midday meal that has a few fine-dining components, turn your gaze upon the desert, Palm Desert, in fact, and one of the most sippable and suppable events on the calendar. It's...

PALM DESERT FOOD & WINE 2017, and it 7th annual outing will attract a coterie of foodly artisans who are known for making ingredients sing. Gail Simmons, a judge from Bravo's "Top Chef," is the host, and Agua Caliente Casino Resort and Spa is the place for the Marchtime meal doings. Speaking of meal, let's cut straight to the posh luncheon alluded to earlier, the James Beard Gourmet Four-Course Luncheon, the one that leads into "two days of grand tastings." Those tasting are of the liquid assortment, too, so if finding your next ultra-hopsy beer is paramount, you just might make the foamy find at this desert to-do, which is on from March 24-26. What's next? Well, landing on a ticket, yes, and deciding where to stay for your desert sojourn. And daydreaming, of course, about a quartet of swanky chef-perfected courses that will soon be enjoyed at lunchtime on a probably sure-to-be-brilliant March desert Friday.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[California Strawberry Festival Poster Contest]]> Sat, 24 Dec 2016 10:32:36 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/csfhandholdingberryview.jpg

SPRING FLING: Every month of the year seems to rock some very specific fragrances, those happy scents you associate with a particular season or moment or week. December is rich in this nose-nice department, with cinnamon and peppermint and chocolate and all sorts of straight-from-the-dessert-shelf aromas dominating kitchens and stores and potpourri baskets and such. But maybe you're a May person, when it comes to significant scents. Maybe you prefer orange blossoms and just-squeezed lemons and newly plucked mint and strawberries. There's nothing quite like the middle of May for garden goodies, with the strawberry serving as one of the superstars, scent-wise, taste-wise, and everything-wise. If this is where your head and heart are at, even in these cinnamon-peppermint days, you can happily live in Strawberryland by jumping into an annual California Strawberry Festival contest. Once again, the berry-loving bunch behind the Oxnard-based party is looking for the new...

POSTER ARTIST: Have a zingy way to represent the green-topped, seed-luscious fruit? Then put bristles to canvas and express your strawberry obsessions. Your deadline is the first of February, so you still have some time to daydream and ponder unique ways to show the famous fruit. In a shortcake, or pie, or atop a cake, or in a salad, or just on its own? So many choices. The grand prize is a sweet two grand, and photography is allowed, as well as mixed media (in fact, there are several acceptable formats, so read all). If you simply want to attend, and not create a strawberry-centered masterpiece, you can do that as well: Tickets go on sale for the May 20-21, 2017 hoopla on Feb. 14, a day that has its own red-toned scents (roses, raspberry cordial chocolates, cabernet sauvignon). Happy painting/photographing, strawberry fans, and hold tight: The marvelous days of May are on the way.

Photo Credit: California Strawberry Festival]]>
<![CDATA['Peter Pan' to Visit Catalina Island]]> Thu, 29 Dec 2016 21:30:07 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/Casino_SCICof323.jpg

PETER PAN AND ISLANDS... are a duo that most every fan of children's literature knows about, for the isle of Neverland is one of the best-known water-surrounded spots in all of bookdom. And while finding our way to Neverland nowadays might be a mite tricky (especially if one does not have the power to fly), locating a beautiful island nearby isn't quite as hard. And, nope, sticking one's arms out and flying to this island is not required but a trip on a boat is (though going by helicopter is another option). It's Catalina Island we speak of, and a certain Mr. Pan will be calling upon the Pacific-pretty destination in May, via the annual Silent Film Festival. He'll be on the screen, let us note, as the "film" in the name of the event suggests, and that screen will be showing the 1924 version of the J.M. Barrie tale (as the "silent" in the name reveals). If you know your cinematic "Peter Pan" versions, you'll definitely know that the 1924 movie was...

FILMED ON CATALINA ISLAND, making the place of the screening all the more meaningful. Many "Peter Pan" mavens and those who love the hilly, bison-beautiful island will be out for the Saturday, May 20, 2017 fundraiser, so alighting upon your ticket in advance is recommended. "Period dress is encouraged" for the Catalina Museum benefit, so whether you want to wear your best Tinkerbell wings or something that suits the 1920s, start dreaming sartorial dreams now. To see "Peter Pan" on an island feels a touch meta, and even magical, but when the opportunity comes along, well, you've got to fly with it.

Photo Credit: Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce]]>
<![CDATA[Tournament of Roses: Your Flowery 411]]> Mon, 26 Dec 2016 08:23:20 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/rpGettyImages-503125192.jpg

THE FIRST THING TO KNOW, beyond the indisputable fact that, yes, The Tournament of Roses will again take place in Pasadena, California, its famous location since the late 19th century, is this: The Rose Parade Presented by Honda isn't always on New Year's Day. We know, we know, the parade and game are totally synonymous and partnered forever with the first day of the year, except when they aren't, and that will be the case in 2017. For this is the longstanding rule, and one that the tourney well abides by: The Rose Parade will never, ever happen on a Sunday. And as the first day of the coming year just happens to be a Sunday, well... Look for all of the lavish, dressy, float-tastic festivities to happen the day after, on Monday, Jan. 2. Good? Solid? You won't show up and grab some curb on New Year's Day, on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena, only to be disappointed there aren't any floats passing by? Aces. So plan for...

THE SECOND DAY IN JANUARY... for all of your float-based needs. As is tradition, though (and tradition is very, very big with this event), there are other to-dos, including a few just ahead of the Rose Parade. Look to the float decorating that goes down around town, both at the commercial float builders and the self-built floats. Many volunteers are required to carefully place petal after petal on the massive vehicles. Also? Bandfest will sound the trumpets in full, brassy form at Pasadena City College on Friday, Dec. 30 and Saturday, Dec. 31. This is your opportunity to see the bands that'll march in the parade in all of their musical glory (and to experience a full song in a single place, rather than hear it as it passes by in the parade). And while it isn't affiliated with the Tournament, look to The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, which is offering its first-ever New Year's Weekend brunches. The garden's beloved roses are a popular must-visit sight during all of the rosy doings, and the brunch adds a new and delightful dining dimension. And don't forget about the post-parade "A Showcase of Floats," where all of the floats may be eyed up-close. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Yum: Taste of Solvang Tickets on Sale]]> Wed, 21 Dec 2016 09:22:06 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/tenleyfoholPhotography_Taste+of+Solvang+2013_SolvangUSA.com12345.jpg

WHIPPED CREAM AND POWDERED SUGAR: It can cause a bit of a cheek blush, or at least a sheepish look, when a stranger points out that you've got some powdered sugar on your chin or whipped cream on your lip or your face has been doused in a serious spray of bright pink sprinkles. The nearest napkin is quickly sought, and you clean up as best you can, even if no mirror is available. But in Solvang, during its foodie-iest festivity of the year, it is no big deal to see a dousing of powdered sugar down the front of someone's shirt or a touch of caramel on the tip of one's nose. After all, the windmill-laden Danish capital of America is rightly celebrated for its soft-of-dough, luscious-of-icing, juicy-of-jam pastries. You're almost expected to indulge during a Solvang sojourn, but when tasting and trying is at the center of the edible-tastic action? Well, then, you must be at...

TASTE OF SOLVANG: The 2017 eat-around-town to-do is the 25th annual, and the aebleskivers and cookies and cakes'll be out in full frosting-rich force. Tickets are now on sale for the mid-March to-do, which'll run for four days, from March 15 through 19. Consider making it a new St. Patrick's Week tradition, or simply an event that invites you to get your gooey, chewy pastry on. But it isn't all about the sweets, of course: Solvang's culinary farm-to-table culinary scene has been on the rise-and-rise, and, of course, locally crafted beers and wines play a palate-pleasing role. There is, in fact, a Wine & Beer Walk, as well as a Chef's Walk, so if your preferences lean less to dessert than dinner and drinks, pursue either or both. As for the great swath of it all? The Tasting Trail is what you'll need to focus upon. See the upcoming events and land upon your Taste of Solvang tickets soon, knowing you can dig into all of those icing-sweet, powder-sugary sweets and not show a lick of embarrassment for any gooey evidence left of your cheeks or chin. This is Solvang after all, where indulgences are part of the everyday.

Photo Credit: Tenley Fohl]]>
<![CDATA['You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown' at 50]]> Tue, 20 Dec 2016 15:35:03 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/charliebrownschulz9393.jpg

MANY, MANY PEOPLE, as in millions, as in devoted millions, as in millions of people who are 100% obsessed with Snoopy and Woodstock and the entire Peanuts gang, have watched the beloved holiday television specials over the decades (again and again and again). But another phenomenon brought the characters created by Charles M. Schulz off the comic pages and gave them voices, lines, and laughs: "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown." The stage show has been a staple of community theaters and school performance halls alike, and thousands of actors have participated over the last half century, gamely playing the roles of Linus and Lucy and the boy in the title. And to honor the 50th anniversary of the musical? The Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa is presenting a multi-month exhibit devoted to its history, its popularity, and the people who brought it to laugh-rich life. Was this you? Did you play Schroeder in a 1972 production or Sally in a show staged in 1998? Then give the museum a jingle as...

THEY'D LOVE TO DISPLAY SNAPSHOTS... from a host of "Good Man" shows. Photographs will be an important part of the exhibit, which'll run from Feb. 23 to July 16, 2017, but also keep an eye out for "original letters, sheet music, and playbills," too. Clark Gesner was the artist behind the music and lyrics of those songs known to all Peanuts devotees, and, of course, Mr. Schulz filled the musical with merriment, deep thoughts, and a slew of seriously funny yet introspective lines. Even if you didn't play a part along the way, stopping by the Santa Rosa museum to check out the history of this icon of the stage on its big 50th should hold a place on your 2017 must-visit list.

Photo Credit: Charles M. Schulz Museum]]>
<![CDATA[Bird Fest: Soarers of the Central Coast]]> Mon, 26 Dec 2016 21:19:21 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/birdfestwintermorro1234.jpg

VENTURING TO A PLACE... that is famous for its feathery visitors? It can be just the sort of vacation-in-nature that a bird buff craves. But there's further craving beyond just reaching the spot that's known for its sky-soaring visitors: You want to find that one bird you haven't yet seen. It might be a California Condor or a Surf Scoter or a Cooper's Hawk or another flying wonder that has eluded you, and your all-important "Birds I've Seen" list, for some time now. That's why heading for a wing-wonderful festival, one that's at a beautiful location that's known for its beak-rocking, flight-soaring visitors, can help the birder who is eager to find that quail or hawk or duck they've longed to see. And as anyone who has ever kept a "gotta find it" list knows, the start of the calendar year can rev up the passions to finally fill out your finds (whatever the topic of your "gotta find it" passion list happens to be). Good thing, then, that the...

MORRO BAY WINTER BIRD FESTIVAL... alights upon the Central Coast just a couple of weeks into January. The 2017 dates are Friday, Jan. 13 through Monday, Jan. 16, and the schedule of go-outs, talks, and field trips covers all corners of birddom love. There's a Morro Bay State Park hike, a trip to a regional oyster farm, a talk on drawing birds to your garden, a workshop devoted to bird sounds, an owling field trip, bird photography tips, and kayaking opportunities. Could this be a return to a former hobby for you, a passion you loved but had to bid adieu due to life's busyness? Make a new year's resolution to return to it. Or, if you're deep into your devotion to all things with wings, consider a visit to Morro Bay the birdly burnishing of your skills and enjoyment. But will you finally find that one bird you've longed to see? The crisp-of-air January skies shall soon reveal all.

Photo Credit: Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival]]>
<![CDATA[SLS Beverly Hills: Holiday Indulgence]]> Sat, 17 Dec 2016 13:10:31 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/slsholiday02323.jpg

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

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

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

Photo Credit: SLS Beverly Hills]]>
<![CDATA[Cosmic: Death Valley Star Celebration]]> Mon, 26 Dec 2016 21:18:00 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/180*120/dvstarnight12345.jpg

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

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

Photo Credit: Furnace Creek Resort]]>
<![CDATA[Winter's Night Adventure: Winchester Flashlight Tour]]> Sat, 24 Dec 2016 10:30:45 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/204*120/WinchesterMysteryHouse_crWMH_1.jpg

A FROSTIER FRIDAY THE 13TH: Fans of fright films and eeky books might claim that the best month for a Friday the 13th to fall is, well, October. That's not too surprising, as this happens every-so-often event is tied to eerie occurrences in many minds. But we don't control the calendar, nor can we choose how the days of the week and the dates of the month will fall, so matching up the 13th day of October with a Friday is out of all of our hands. But, there's good news, lovers of ghosty goings-on: October 2017 will have a Friday the 13th, which doesn't happen every year. It isn't the only Friday the 13th on the upcoming year's schedule, however: January has one, too. It feels like an unlikelier pairing, the first full month of winter and a Halloween-y happening, but happen it shall. And, as is tradition, the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose will note the occasion with a special nighttime event. It's the...

FLASHLIGHT TOUR, which includes a souvenir flashlight and a 55-minute opportunity to poke around Sarah Winchester's mega manse. It's a house that's full of phantoms, both of the historical sort and, maybe, according to legend, the vaporous, ether-light sort, too. And while the plentiful-of-room landmark is visitable during the daytime all year long, flashlight tours only happen during October and, as mentioned, every Friday the 13th. Do you think you'll have too much to do when October's Friday the 13th rolls around? Best get your Friday fright-y fun in on January 13 at the world-famous attraction.

Photo Credit: Winchester Mystery House]]>
<![CDATA[Cinema '17: Palm Springs International Film Fest]]> Thu, 15 Dec 2016 13:15:34 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/psff2017.jpg

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Palm Springs International Film Festival]]>
<![CDATA[Fess Parker Inn: Romance Package]]> Fri, 16 Dec 2016 22:32:45 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/fessparkereve.jpg

HOLIDAYS AHEAD: When December arrives, it can be very much about the holly, and the ivy, and the poinsettias, and the latkes, and the egg nog, and the dozens of other delicious and beautiful traditions that go into making the season glittery. And while we find joy in in the occasions that land on the calendar near the close of the year, from Hanukkah to Christmas to New Year's Eve, we also should keep an eye on those emotion-lush happenings that pop up when the year-to-come is still young. Valentine's Day is just about seven weeks in, from day #1, making the lovely getaway packages built for two an ideal thing to start planning in December (and, perhaps, make into a gift). Wine country is the perfect spot to find such packages in full flower, and one of the most elegant of properties happens to have a Romance Package that's all about a pretty room, some flavorful vino, and the chance to leg it around Los Olivos, one of the gems on the Santa Ynez Valley map. It's the...

FESS PARKER INN... we speak of, and if you peek into its bouquet of special packages you'll see one devoted to duos looking to steal away from the day-to-day for some sweet à deux time. A luxury one-nighter is part of the plan, and a bottle of Fesstivity (for sure, it is sparkling, as the name suggests), and a morning meal at Petros Los Olivos. Strawberries and roses add some Valentine's red to your room (whether you book for the middle of February or another date), and a tasting at Parker Family is in the cards, too. Do, of course, savor those latkes and nogs since the time is ripe, but keep a keen eye on the most lovey of holidays, which is on the near and happy horizon. Details, prices, more? Find your way to Fess Parker now.

Photo Credit: Fess Parker Inn]]>
<![CDATA[Evening Idyll: Cambria Christmas Market]]> Mon, 12 Dec 2016 13:02:23 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/cambriadecmarket123.jpg

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

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

Photo Credit: Cambria Christmas Market]]>
<![CDATA[Hearst Castle's Holiday Style]]> Sat, 10 Dec 2016 08:14:17 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/hearst092923.jpg

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Hearst Castle]]>
<![CDATA[Swanky Bourbons: Copper Lounge]]> Fri, 09 Dec 2016 13:40:34 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/copperloungedintercon.jpg

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

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

Photo Credit: The Copper Lounge]]>
<![CDATA[Buena Park: Winter Family Discounts]]> Sat, 24 Dec 2016 10:31:53 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/xcelerator_knotts_berry_farm_mom_and_son%283%29.jpg

ONE OF THE HOLIDAY TRADITIONS... that bears the biggest surprise pay-off is the vacation announcement. It might arrive in the form of a postcard inside a wrapped box, or a refrigerator magnet from the place you're taking the family, or another item that can be stashed at the bottom of the present pile, awaiting its time to shine. True story, though: The big vacation reveal is often built around a trip planned for the following summer, some six months after the holidays. What if you and the kids could do a short jaunt to somewhere known for its family-fun razzmatazz, and you could do it in the weeks following the holidays, and you could score a few kidly cool discounts and deals, too? That can all happen if you plan your getaway to...

BUENA PARK IN JANUARY OR FEBRUARY: The longtime home of Knott's Berry Farm, and Pirate's Dinner Adventure, and Medieval Times, and a number of other laugh/ride/gasp/eat goings-on, has a number of deals afoot in January and February. The discounts pertain primarily to the young'uns in your group, though not totally, so peruse all, from the $20 kid's admission to Pirate's Dinner Adventure to whale watching with Newport Whales (children's admissions are free). Even adults have a few perks, too, along the way, like paying a kid's admission price for a grown-up ticket to the Discovery Cube of Orange County. Is this the holiday you do the big "we're going on a trip" reveal? Find out all the Buena Park-based discounts that pique your get-out-of-town interest before wrapping that postcard or pirate's hat or jar of Knott's jelly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: La Quinta Resort & Spa]]>
<![CDATA[Wintry Camping in Nevada City]]> Fri, 02 Dec 2016 23:00:48 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/nccampIMG_8200.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Winchester Mystery House/Gazimal]]>
<![CDATA[Encinitas Wow: Botanic Garden to Glow]]> Tue, 29 Nov 2016 17:20:58 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/sdbg_rachelcobb1.JPG

TREE DECORATION TIPS... tend to dominate lifestyle sites and publications just after Thanksgiving, for that's the moment when many people are turning their gazes to local corner lots and the storage room (where the faux fir has been sitting patiently since early January). We want to know a faster, non-tanglier way to weave a string of lights through various branches, and we want to have a tree-topper that comes with a lot of moxie and merriment. But consider what a snap it is to festoon your own at-home fir, a single tree, as opposed to decorating a truly big botanic garden, the kind that comes with towering trees and shrubs that can easily be described as sizable. It's a considerable undertaking, but one that staffers at the San Diego Botanic Garden perform each season, the better to get the glow going at the annual Garden of Lights.

THE MULTI-NIGHT SPECTACULAR... is very much about seeing the agave and olive trees and other flora native to our state in sparkly mode, whether that sparkle comes from brightly hued bulbs or simple white lights. But there are other holiday-ish happenings during the Dec. 3 to 30 run, including the roasting of marshmallows, horse-drawn wagons to hop aboard, and snow. Yes, these are all outdoorsy pursuits, so you can bet mulled wine will be for sale. Other sweet happenings, from stories to puppets to Santa cameos (on select dates) round out these Encinitas-based must-do. It's a classic combining of nature and the yuletide, one that brings dazzle to the plants with a few human-fun goings-on in tow. All the details? Wend along a glowing garden path now (and learn all).

Photo Credit: Rachel Cobb/San Diego Botanic Garden]]>
<![CDATA[Announced: Fee-Free 2017 NPS Days]]> Mon, 28 Nov 2016 15:01:30 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/feefreenpsGettyImages-450421924.jpg

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

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

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Happy 39th, Victorian Christmas]]> Fri, 25 Nov 2016 10:28:14 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/vicchristmasnc9328213.jpg

THIS IS NOT A QUIZ, swearsies, but if we were to ask you when the true Victorian era kicked off, in terms of fashion and theater and society, what year would you cite? When Queen Vic herself was born? When the looks of London began reaching New York City and beyond? Or another year entirely? We'll guess that whatever time you suggest, you won't suggest 39 years ago, which happened to be, as of this typing, or just about, 1978. Top hats weren't really the look but disco outfits were, and while lace-up boots didn't make the scene, roller skates with glittery shoelaces very much did. Still, one must tip their aforementioned top hat to that particular year, and to Nevada City, for that's the moment when Victorian Christmas began. The jolly old street faire has evolved into a December staple around the Gold Country town, a multi-day and multi-night to-do that includings caroling, treats, and St. Nick himself in traditional 1800s regalia. Making your way to Victorian Christmas doesn't require a mysterious portal back to the era of carriages and muffs, though. You only need to get to Nevada City on...

DEC. 4, 11, 18... in the daytime or Dec. 14 and 21 at night. Those first three dates are Sundays, yes, while the latter two are Wednesday evenings. Do you need to wear a cape or fascinator or some other piece that's reminiscent of days of yore? No, though many people do. Do you need to arrive with some holiday shopping to get done, a love of chestnuts, an affection for carriage rides, and a desire to have an alfresco holiday experience with a charming, Dickens-like twist? They're all fine plans. It's an event that regularly makes the top ten lists around the close of the year, the lists that detail America's most Christmas-ready towns and their sparkly to-dos. Victorian Christmas, and Nevada City, both bring the charm, the holly, and the 1800s-ness to the party, a December must since that era of roller skates and mirrorballs back in (19)'78.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce/Bubbly]]>
<![CDATA[WildLights: A Living Desert Tradition]]> Sat, 26 Nov 2016 07:31:42 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/WildlightsDesert11.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Big Sur Foragers Festival]]>