<![CDATA[NBC 7 San Diego - Worth the Trip]]> Copyright 2014 http://www.nbcsandiego.com/blogs/worth-the-trip http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/KNSD+RSS+Feed+logo+blue.png NBC 7 San Diego http://www.nbcsandiego.com en-us Fri, 24 Oct 2014 21:16:33 -0700 Fri, 24 Oct 2014 21:16:33 -0700 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Dana Point Adventure: Bioluminesence Night Cruise]]> Fri, 24 Oct 2014 11:51:46 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/biolumtour1234.jpg

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Ocean Institute]]>
<![CDATA[Ventura's Got Spirit (and Many Ghost Tours)]]> Thu, 23 Oct 2014 07:35:23 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/183*120/ghost2.jpg

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

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

THERE ARE MANY... to choose from this autumn, including Classic Ghosts and Ghouls Tour with in-the-know area authority Richard Senate. That's on Oct. 24, but if you've always wanted to poke about an adobe from the middle of the 19th century, sign up for the Ortega Ghost Hunt on Oct. 30. And Victorian Ventura gets its shivery due on Nov. 8. Want to put your hands on the whole phantomy flier? It's right here, seekers of spirits.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Holiday Pampering at La Casa del Zorro]]> Wed, 22 Oct 2014 11:59:53 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/zorroborregoholiday.jpg

TO THE DESERT: Much is made about seasonal stress come the end of the year, and for wise reason: We all have a tendency to work ourselves up in a flash. That's not to say that the numerous social obligations and must-dos and commitments don't play an actual toll, because most adults have weathered those things, and how, come November and December. But we're very much the author of how we handle the onslaught, and we tend to write the same sequel over and over again each year: I'm going to freak out this December. Combatting that can involve a few things, including fully unplugging (not really a possibility for most people), changing up every tradition (ditto), or making for somewhere incredibly quiet and peaceful and restorative, preferably with a stark landscape and big sky, the better to declutter eye and mind. The Anza-Borrego offers just that, and La Casa del Zorro is a resort that happens to call Borrego Springs home. The property understands that the holidays arrive with multiple, highly specific stresses, and is introducing a few seasonal spa treatments that serve to remind us that slowing down and taking pleasure in the parade of it all is paramount. Ready to be pepperminted, over-stressers?

THEN GO ZORRO... and book a 50-minute (or more) massage at the resort's Balance Spa and Salon, which arrives with a free peppermint scalp massage (an add-on that's good with any massage you choose). The gratis goodies go on from there, though (just make sure you're securing a treatment that's 50 mintues or more). Book any facial and nab a free pumpkin peel, or pick a pedicure and receive a free chocolate scrub. As for hair services? Balance offers those, too, and you'll receive a deep-conditioning treatment, for free, during the holidays. Nope, this one isn't scented to match the desserts in your holiday kitchen, but that's okay, because we'd kind of want to eat the peppermint atop our head. (Too weird? You can bet everyone who receives delicious-smelling pampering says the same.) These nice add-ons are available in November and December, meaning your desert, I-need-a-stress-break trip is about to get very seasonally scented, indeed. 

Photo Credit: La Casa del Zorro]]>
<![CDATA[Riverside's Storied Ghosts]]> Tue, 21 Oct 2014 16:33:43 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/dc_ghost_tours.jpg

ELEGANTLY EERIE: We'd never make the claim that some city's spirits are fancier than another town's run-of-the-mill ghosts, but if we had to choose a place where visitors from the Other Side boast a slightly more elegant mien, we might choose Riverside. Yes, the castle-like Mission Inn has much to do with that opinion, and the area's citrus-baron past, and the fact that there's a general ye-olde-ness to the place (as evidenced by its wintertime Dickens Festival). Look also to the California Riverside Ballet, which is the sophisticated outfit behind the city's October Ghost Walks. Nope, not every ghost you'll hear about will be bedecked in a top hat and gloves (we're picturing the top hat as slightly see through); but given that the "history-rich downtown" serves as a setting for the walk, and that the walks boast a "theatrical style of storytelling," you just may sense as much cultural goodness as chilling thrills.

GHOST WALKS FOR FAMILIES, TOO: There are two tours suitable for kids and their grown-ups on Friday, Oct. 24 and Saturday, Oct. 25. Those are the nights of all the ghost walks, for youngsters and those older folks looking for more edge with their eerie tales, and the walks comprise a cornucopia of choices: Spellbound Night is rated G, Blood Springs Road is PG-13, and there are more walks to choose from. Plus? The Dark Dreams Doorway, a separate and lickety-split experience that involves you stepping into a space and hearing all sorts of dread-delightful audio.

A HAUNTED HISTORY TOUR... and a Paranormal Exhibit round things out for 2014. Riverside is storied, no doubt, and there's no doubt that ghosts run the gamut. But something about sundown set against the Mission Inn, and the area's century-old buildings, lend the proceedings a posher air. Best pack your lace hankie, should you need to dab your forehead from all the phantom-y excitement.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[A Vertical (Ish) Dash: Running Up San Jacinto]]> Sat, 18 Oct 2014 10:46:41 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/pstram234556.jpg

HOW UP CAN YOU GO? You can tell a lot by a runner's time, especially when it comes to that much mythologized mile. Sure, the abilities and training and strength of the runner come into play, but the time talks about the terrain and weather and conditions, too. If an elite runner turns in a mile that takes closer to ten minutes than five, bet there was some mud, or something else, afoot (and underfoot). Likewise, if the grade is steep, that'll tell in the times as well. So, math mavens, if very talented runners are completing a 3.7-mile run in a minute or two shy of the 30-minute mark, what's the elevation gain? That's right, S.A.T.-acing smarties: The elevation gain is 2,643 feet, which is a whopper of a run up -- and up, up, up -- for a dash that's not even nearly four miles. But participants know what they're in for, when they make for the fabled course each autumn. The run happens at the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, and runners hoof it from the bottom of the Tram Way to the Tram's Valley Station which is, for all accounts and purposes, up a big ol' slab of Mount San Jacinto.

SATURDAY, OCT. 25... is the date for one of the state's most unusual runs, and one of the runs with the shortest of courses. The Tram Road Challenge is six kilometers, the beneficiary is United Way of the Desert, and awards? They're given out "in each age category for both male and female finishers." As for past finishers and their times? Mexico's Rubin Garcia completed the run back in '87 in a lickety-split 26 minutes, 5 seconds, and Russia's Lubov Kremleva "set the fastest woman's time -- 28 minutes, 56 seconds in 1998." No doubt about it, running uphill in Palm Springs is one of the most brag-worthy races around, and while the hills of Bay to Breakers and other hillier trots can prep a runner, this one's in an elevated, cardio-major class by itself. See you up the mountain, runners!

Photo Credit: Palm Springs Aerial Tramway]]>
<![CDATA[Yuma Yum: Medjools Rule Fall Food Bash]]> Fri, 17 Oct 2014 11:23:01 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/222*120/stuffedmedjools1.jpg

EVERY KIND OF DISH: There are only so many ingredients and flavors in this world that can easily move among both savory and sweet dishes. Most tastes soundly land on one side of the fence, either appearing in a dessert or the main course (and never the twain shall meet). But then there are those golden chameleon-like stars of the pantry and refrigerator that have proven to be most versatile. Peanuts? The crunchy favorite can go into a stir fry or atop a sundae. Rice? It can cameo in a casserole or in a pudding. Maple syrup? It's perfect atop whipped cream-topped pancakes or as a deepening agent in a stew. Add to this lofty list the medjool date, which makes both meaty presentations and frosting-laden cakes something more magical. The fact that these chewy, sticky fruits can also be stuffed with practically anything -- hello cream cheese, hello walnuts -- further elevates their already elevated profile. They absolutely deserve their own daylong party, and medjool mavens should get a further peek into how this old and fabled fruit comes into being. Ready to celebrate this good-in-all-things edible? Then make for Yuma...

ON SATURDAY, NOV. 15: The sun-warm city honors one of its biggest crops with a day of garden tours in the Bard Valley, chefs showing the many ways the capsule-shaped fruit can be cooked, and, you got it, the eating and enjoying of medjools.  "Free coffee and medjool dates" will be given to the first 1,000 people to show, which is nice, but suddenly we're pondering how that is an excellent combo, too -- the richness of the coffee bean and the honeyed viscosity of the date. Oh, medjools, you can show up anywhere, alongside any beverage or food, and still be the star. We'll see you in Yuma, and, yep, we'll be looking for walnut-stuffed dates. Because walnut-stuffed dates are a crisp fall day? That, in the realm of great pairings, has no equal.

Photo Credit: Yuma Medjool Date Festival]]>
<![CDATA[Crab Time: Claws Up for Great Bay Area Bites]]> Thu, 16 Oct 2014 14:26:47 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/187*120/52257551.jpg

AS MUCH AS WE SELL OURSELVES... on the idea that we float through a shrink-wrapped, everything-at-any-time calendar, and the world outside our door is an overflowing cornucopia that always has a bevy of whatever bite we crave, the earth still abides by the seasons, which means that yes, there is a time for all things. The foods of the sea are very much incorporated in that hold-fast philosophy, with Dungeness dominating that roster, at least around NorCal when the middle of fall arrives. For early November is crab time 'round San Francisco and points north, and a number of spots right on the water and a pinch inland'll be filling out holiday orders, creating special stews and hot pots, and serving the crab goodness straight-up, all month long.

SECOND TUESDAY IN NOVEMBER... is the traditional date people keep in mind, but the recreational opening of Dungeness season for 2014 is Nov. 1, per the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. That means that as soon as that first week you could be on a pier, dining on crab and getting butter everywhere. We know, we know -- stuffing and gravy are the official flavors of November, but early November? It's all about the melted butter.

RESTAURANTS OF SAN FRANCISCO... that greet crab season with both open arms include Alioto's #8 on Fisherman's Wharf (think Sicilian specialties), Franciscan Crab Restaurant on Pier 43 1/2 (hello, crab enchiladas), and Chinatown's R&G Lounge, which offers up the crustacean eight different ways. And Scoma's, which is sailing into to its 50th anniversary, knows its Dungeness crab cakes. (Find the restaurant on Pier 47.) So where will you get your crab this November and December? You don't need to rush, as the season extends into late spring, but... oh, never mind. You're totally finding crab early on, because crab in November is as California as golden fall sunshine.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Waggers and Waves: Bow Wow Brunch Cruise]]> Wed, 15 Oct 2014 11:34:43 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/bowwowbrunch123.jpg

ONTO THE WATER: When you pack for a day out on the Big H2O, you likely gather up the sunscreen, the sunglasses, the boat shoes, and a hat (preferably with a chin strap; you don't want to give that thing away, courtesy of sudden gust, to the dolphins, who probably wouldn't wear it anyway). But rare is the day we pack a leash, a collar, and clean-up bags, because rare is the day our dog accompanies us out onto the Pacific. Pacific-adjacent, at a dog beach, is one thing, but boats and barkers are a fairly unusual combo, unless you yourself own a yacht, which, we hope, is named after your dog. Hornblower Cruises is changing that, for a day, all to lend some love, funds, and attention to the Helen Woodward Animal Center of Rancho Santa Fe. Nope, the sail won't be in Rancho Santa Fe -- obvs. -- but on the San Diego Bay, where people and their canine cap'ns shall walk the gangway onto deck of a Hornblower Sunday Champagne Brunch Cruise. The company calls the Bow Wow Brunch Cruise "the only dog friendly San Diego brunch cruise anywhere!" and if brunch, San Diego, cruises, and dogs are your thing, best be at the Grape St. Pier on Sunday, Oct. 19.

OH RIGHT: You'll also want to put your wee wagger in costume, since this is the Sunday before the Sunday before Halloween. There's a costume contest, you betcha, with prizes, but more people-oriented festivities, too, including the aforementioned brunch and bubbly. Dogs get their own buffet and cold water bowls, plus a shaded area on deck and a private table with you (lest they're shy ones, as some pups are). A dog training expert shall be on board, too, offering tips and solutions to our forever problems. (If you constantly repeat "it's the mailman, it's the mailman, it's the mailman" at your barker, perhaps raise the issue with the expert.) Cost? Eighty bucks, and the Helen Woodward Animal Center gets some of the proceeds. Ahoy!

Photo Credit: Helen Woodward Animal Center]]>
<![CDATA[Outlandish Golf Carts Delight Palm Desert]]> Tue, 14 Oct 2014 12:48:34 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/215*120/pdgolfcart12345.jpg

A VERY LOCAL PARADE: You'd have to really be a cackling villainous sort to have a hard heart about hometown parades, and we'd never dare call you a cackling villainous sort. Why? Because everyone likes them. It's just a fact. Whether it is a streamer-tangled float or the battalion of baton twirlers or the tail-waggy dogs in costume or the high school band or the local, sash-wearing dignitaries, the hometown parade is a font of funny and sweet charms. But finding what is truly distinct about a parade may take a minute of close observation. Is there a man dancing in a full-body corn outfit? Is there a whale balloon? Okay, that gives some clue as to the location. You don't need to even wait ten seconds, however, to know that the Palm Desert parade is, well, in Palm Desert. True, it is usually sunny, a big giveaway, but the parade vehicles? They're golf carts, a ride that's synonymous with the fore-forward lifestyle found in the desert resort city. But not just any golf carts, of course: They're wacky, they're outlandish, they're themed, they're re-imagined. And they'll be rolling, in elaborate and offbeat style, on Sunday, Oct. 26, which marks the treasured tradition's 50th anniversary.

A FALL FESTIVITY: The history of the parade is a colorful one -- it used to be a Christmas in July thing, complete with carved turkeys -- but call it an autumnal staple. And call the parade, which was founded by desert-loving stars like Phil Harris, one with far reach. Not only do thousands of spectators turn out, but a few special outfits typically cameo (the USC Trojan Marching Band, The Spirit of Troy shall head east for the 2014 extravaganza). You may see a plainer cart or two roll by, but count on seeing some wheels that have had days upon days of decorating work put in, so much so you may not recognize that there is a golf cart beneath. A Sweepstakes Trophy is handed out, and some cash, so residents go the dolled-up distance, with their beloved mini-autos. The place? Palm Desert's El Paseo. The time? 1 p.m. on Oct. 26. Sunscreen? Of course. A good golf swing? Not required, but if you're going to hang out in the golf'd-up destination for the weekend, chances are you'll pass a putter or two.

Photo Credit: Palm Desert Golf Cart Parade]]>
<![CDATA[El Capitan Canyon's Rustic Autumn]]> Mon, 13 Oct 2014 19:00:15 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/214*120/elcapcanyondinefireside.jpg

INCREASING USE OF "CABIN": If there's a season when people start to say the word "cabin" more often, we'll wager it is fall. Something about the air turning a tad brisker, and the holiday decorations appearing on shelves, have us pondering greeting-card-y settings in the woods, where we might read paperbacks and do puzzles and poke at embers and become sticky with s'mores.

Retreating to a cabin is, in fact, a rite of fall and winter, but because we're in California, we're off the hook when it comes to locating a cabin that has a roof laden with snow. We can, in fact, find a cabin, or hefty tent, nearer to the beach, which feels very West (tm) and very Golden State and very right for autumn near the Pacific Ocean. El Capitan Canyon near Santa Barbara fits that bucolic-meets-ocean-waves bill, but there's a streak of posh-properness to an overnight stay there, too. "Glamping" is often the word used for the property's nicely outfitted tents and cabins, and if you want to use it, you can. Us? We prefer saying the word "s'mores" over and over, as the gooey dessert is part of the property's Fireside Dinner Package.

THAT PACKAGE... is indeed all about dining near an outside fire pit, and it includes a s'mores kit and a barbecue dinner kit (it arrives on "the guests' doorstep with pre-marinated meat, side dishes, beverages, tableware, and the grilling tools and firewood needed to cook over a fire pit"). Oh yeah, this feels fall-y, and you can book it any night of the week, starting at $245 (weekends'll require a two-night minimum, though). When's it available through? Just a pinch before Thanksgiving, meaning you'll have to enjoy this one in the autumn (a good thing). Interested in other packages around the creek-close property? The Autumn Sunrise Special and the Rustic Relaxation Package are also in the air. However you slice it -- or smoosh it, s'mores-style -- you'll get some nature, some cabin/tent time, some brisk air, and a chance to decompress prior to compressing over the holidays.

Photo Credit: LOOK Photography]]>
<![CDATA[Hearse Time in Costa Mesa]]> Sat, 11 Oct 2014 11:53:25 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/ocmarketplacemichaelpetrich.jpg

CARS WITH CHARACTER: Many a person shopping for an automobile has professed to be looking for a car with "character." That could mean a vehicle with a fascinating back story, or charismatic former owner, or perhaps some wheels that crisscrossed the country (and had the paperwork to show it). But there's no car that conveys instant back story, or character, or fascination, in quite the way that a hearse can. Look at the long carriage, which often comes in a somber hue, frequently with curtains in the window, and you know much. Where other cars do not reveal their pasts via their make or model, a hearse tells its tale upfront. But the auto isn't strictly eerie, given its relationship with those who have passed before us; collectors have snapped up the stretch cars in the last few decades and parades and shows regularly pop up, all centered on hearses and vintage ambulances and the funeral vehicles of a particular vintage. Costa Mesa is one of the best known spots for hearse owners and their beloved rides to gather, and they typically do so near Halloween. As they will again, for the 15th year, on Sunday, Oct. 26, when the OC Market Place presents the Halloween Hearse Show.

BUG AND MONSTER CARS JOIN: VW Bugs'll also be on show at the creepy-cool-tastic event, as will the "monster" vehicles (think Spiders, Cobras, Vipers, and so forth). Prizes shall be handed out in a variety of categories, and the owners? They very often accept them while dressed to the teeth in seasonal wear, or something that matches their car.

OTHER FEARSOME FESTIVE DOINGS: Screaming for ice cream, monster sculptors, outlandish pumpkin carvings, and a whole caboodle of snakes and reptiles turn out for the ghouly day. The hearses, in fact, are just one atmospheric end of the proceedings, but they're quite striking, for car buffs, yes, but for anyone who has spied the car a hundred times at the cinema. Truly, is there any vehicle that carries its role so regally? Hearses will always play a part in art, in addition to the important service they deliver.

Photo Credit: OC Market Place]]>
<![CDATA[Haunt a Hotel: Inn at Rancho Santa Fe Trick-or-Treating]]> Fri, 10 Oct 2014 11:28:49 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/trickortreat3.jpg

HOTEL GHOSTS: There are many places that tots trick-or-treat nowadays, locations that go well beyond our neighborhood cul de sac. Malls frequently stay open into Halloween evening to hand out the goodies, as do shopping centers, schools, and recreational centers. But hotels? Not so much. Sure, the front desk may put out a bowl of candy for those guests checking in on Oct. 31, but going door-to-door at a hotel, asking for sweets, would probably prove fruitless. Or candyless, rather, since most travelers don't journey to-and-fro with a bag of chocolate bars in their suitcase (the toiletries would probably crush 'em, anyway). The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe is changing that up with Halloween trick-or-treating for the costumed tot set on Friday, Oct. 31. The posh property's cottages'll be dolled-up -- or more likely ghouled-up -- for the occasion, and young guests are invited to walk cottage-to-cottage to seek seasonal treats.

BUT... that's not the only Halloween-y doings afoot at the Inn. A Graveyard Bar shall be set up for the grown-up ghouls in attendance, and the drinks shall be served under the pretty pepper tree near the Morada Bar. That seems autumnal and atmospheric, and the happy hour pricing suits the festive mood of the holiday. As does the fact that the trick-or-treating is free, and the Inn is inviting members of the community to swing by and pick up a few sweets. The hours? Everything gets spooky from 6 to 8 p.m.

IT'S TRUE... that one is more likely to hear of a hotel ghost than hotel trick-or-treating, but the Inn at Rancho Santa Fe may be the first hotel around to invite ghosts onto its property for the night. Figure its a fresh way to approach the time-honored trick-or-treat tradition, without going along a neighborhood street or to the local mall.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off at Tanaka Farms]]> Thu, 09 Oct 2014 13:29:49 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/234*120/tanakafarmspumpkin1.jpg

BIGGER AND BIGGER AND BIGGER: It can raise one's adrenaline, or at least interior excitement meter, when a particular pumpkin on the backyard vine begins to go for the gold. You've seen what we mean, if you've ever grown pumpkins at home (which is particularly easy, so much so the vines can almost outrun you). There are all of your little pumpkins, trying and huffing and growing, day by day, and then, randomly, there's the Big One, the "one of these things is not like the other" pumpkin, the jewel of the vine that you want to show off to all of the neighbors. And maybe even do, dragging in people off the street to admire your potentially prize-winning gourd. But could your giganto pumpkin go the distance against other pumpkin-growers' giganto pumpkins? You can find out, on Sunday, Oct. 26, when Tanaka Farms of Irvine hosts the Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off.

GARDENING PUBLIC WELCOME: This isn't just about professionals who grow pumpkins for sale; if you've got something mondo and orange-ish and seed-filled going on in your little side plot right now, you're invited to try for the glory. The glory and "$1,800 in cash and prizes for Heaviest Giant Pumpkin, Best Color, Funniest Shape, Youngest Grower, and Unluckiest Grower." Yep, that last category means that even if your pumpkin meets with a squashed/split-open fate before the weigh-off, you can still throw your proverbial hat in the ring. (Don't throw pumpkins though -- they get absolutely everywhere.)

THE PUMPKIN TITANS: For sure, the mega pumpkins of Half Moon Bay, the ones that regularly scale-tip in at more than a thousand pounds, are still among the champions of the California big pumpkin league. But the entries at Tanaka Farms could begin to be a SoCal contender for the Golden State's heftiest gourds. Want to make a run for it, pumpkinists? Better start coddling the Big One out on your backyard vine, ahead of Oct. 26.

Photo Credit: Tanaka Farms]]>
<![CDATA[Desert Magic: Borrego Stardance]]> Wed, 08 Oct 2014 13:10:28 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/borregostardancevideo.jpg

NIGHT SKY, ALIVE: If you've been to the desert after sundown, you've noted three things. One? It gets surprisingly chilly, even if the daytime temps pushed into the three digits. Two? The howls and skitters of surrounding fauna comfort more than they chill. And three? The whole universe is yours, from far horizon to far horizon, just for the looking up. Few locations own this concept more fully than Borrego Springs, which happens to be plunk in the midst of one of our state's most arid and elegant stretches of rocky, silent, ocotillo-dotted beauty. Astronomers flock their to enjoy the after-dark heavens, and, will soon again, and festivals spring up, taking their name inspiration from astronomy-loving videos. Oh, did we just say "astronomy-loving videos"? In fact we did: Gavin Heffernan's Sunchaser Pictures recently created a time-lapse of the twirly, lit-up heavens over Borrego, a work that's so whimsical, thanks in large part to framing the sky against animal statues on the ground, that a local festival is adopting the video's name: Borrego Stardance.

BORREGO STARDANCE, THE VIDEO... captures that quintessential desert night, told over time, but the Borrego Stardance Festival? That's happening at Borrego Days Desert Festival over the Oct. 24-26 weekend (a parade, kidly happenings, food, and more fill out the three-day party). As for more look-up doings around the desert? Borrego Springs Resort & Spa throws a Moon Shadow! party on Thursday, Oct. 23, in honor of "rare partial eclipse of the sun." The telescopes'll be out, and "astronomers from around Southern California," and there are hotel stayover deals to boot. Need to get in the celestial-Borrego state of mind now? Time-lapse wonder awaits...

BORREGO STARDANCE from Sunchaser Pictures on Vimeo.

Photo Credit: Sunchaser Pictures]]>
<![CDATA[JazzTrax: Catalina Island's Smooth Jazz October]]> Tue, 07 Oct 2014 12:51:58 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/abairjazztrax1.jpg

ISLAND HOME OF SMOOTH JAZZ: Music styles boast many birthplaces, with a number of genres claiming three or four cities as early places they put down roots. Still other tune types find later homes in locations that make a lovely match with their particular sensibilities and vibe. We can all probably name a few major branches of music and the cities where they started -- jazz and New Orleans, country and Nashville, psychedelia and San Francisco, grunge and Seattle. Smooth jazz, too, is much associated with a place, and it is one that fits its wave-flow sound, its sky-big rises and dips, and sax notes as long as an ocean vista. It's Catalina Island, where JazzTrax, "the Longest Running Smooth Jazz Festival in the World," has made a home since 1987. Fine fits between culture and setting don't come, well, smoother, and the Casino Building's long, long history of big band and jazzy notes very much lend to the location-musical form love. JazzTrax is set to spread out again, note by note, over two long fall weekends, with several of smooth jazz's superstars set to ferry over.

THE MUSICIANS INCLUDE... Cool composer (and cool keyboardist) Keiko Matsui, the power-performance Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and saxophone Greats, capital G, like Dave Koz, David Sanborn, and Mindi Abair. Yep, it is worth nothing that the fest has gone from three weekends to two, which is a big change, but there are still hotel packages related to the fest, plenty of fans to socialize with (being on an island sort of helps put the hobnobbing in high gear), and the 1929 Avalon Ballroom to enjoy. Are you picturing yourself swaying out to the balcony, the one that overlooks the harbor, as the smoothest sax or old-school swing-rhythm plays from the stage? Yep, it is the perfect match-up of place and style. If only every genre, as it grew and changed and took on new meaning and new musical icons, could find a setting that matched as easily and perfectly as a shiny trumpet slides into a velvet-lined case.

THE 28TH ANNUAL CATALINA ISLAND JAZZTRAX FESTIVAL... plays from Oct. 9 through 12 and Oct. 16 through 19.

Photo Credit: Mindi Abair/Greg Allen]]>
<![CDATA[Wine Country Charmers: Scarecrows of the SYV]]> Mon, 06 Oct 2014 13:05:50 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/215*120/syvscarecrow1.jpg

THE CHARM-O-METER: If futuristic science one day had time to pursue its hobbies -- and science is so busy, constantly solving and addressing stuff, that we're not sure it does -- we'd like to hope that it might invent the Charm-O-Meter. The Charm-O-Meter would take readings on how charming a town is, or various parts of a city, and report back on the area's quaint-a-tude. ("Quaint-a-tude," of course, is based on whether tea houses and quilt shops and strolling musicians and flower boxes are in high numbers in a particular region.) But one place that would never need a Charm-O-Meter, because the readings would be off the proverbial charts? Solvang and the entire Santa Ynez Valley. The cute is high in the Windmill Capital of California pretty much from January 1 through Dec. 31 -- or any other two dates you'd like to pick -- and we don't need a scientific meter to tell us so. And such a meter would break, absolutely crack, come October, when dozens of scarecrows make their debut in the area. No, seriously -- how much quaint-o-sity can you take?

IF YOUR ANSWER... is "plenty" then be in Solvang and Buellton and Los Olivos and the other burgs of the valley from Friday, Oct. 10 through Monday, Nov. 10 for the yearly Scarecrow Fest. The hay- or clothing-stuffed figures will appear outside various businesses, looking spooky or funny or strange or topical or, yes, charming as all get-out. Are they free to see? They are. Are there voter ballots? For sure. Is the spirit one of fun and not too competitive? Well, it is a bit competitive, right? As it should be, if you spend a few hours building a clever scarecrow. For places to spy the 100+ places to spy the autumnal icons -- and this is across five towns, mind you -- follow the hay trail here. And, yep, you can leave that Charm-O-Meter at home. This event is charm-the-boots-off-a-scarecrow cute.

Photo Credit: Scarecrow Fest]]>
<![CDATA[Santa Barbara Cool: The Funk Zone's Funky New Hostel]]> Sat, 04 Oct 2014 08:08:59 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/wayfarer1234.jpg

CASH-SAVER GETAWAY, HOSTEL-STYLE: Santa Barbara can be portrayed as the toniest of the tony, and that's a rep that holds some water. It is, after all, called "The American Riviera," which means that some of the luxury-nice destinations of the area can out-luxury other luxurious spots elsewhere.

But there are bargain getaways to be found throughout the beach-blissful city. After all, Motel 6 has its early company roots in Santa Barbara, and a number of quirky properties keep the prices from getting too dear. The latest has an on-the-road twist in that it isn't a motel, nor a hotel, nor even a B&B: It's a hostel, and it has landed plunk in the middle of the wine-trail-happy, bohemian-rhapsodic Funk Zone.

THE WAYFARER... is the hostel's handle, and it is a bit different from the hostels of your college-backpacking youth. For one? There are private accomos, in addition to shared rooms, which isn't necessarily a feature at every hostel you ever landed at, back in the day. As for the rooms? Style is key, which makes sense, given the visual district it calls home (and the stylish city that houses the visual Funk Zone). "(I)ndustrial cool" is the name of the game, as is free Wi-fi, a tricked-out, full equipment kitchen, a colorful, hang-out communal area, a library, and complimentary breakfast. Another twist to the tale? A hotel company is behind the contemporary-design hostel, Pacifica, to be exact, which worked with Funk Zone's own Central Coast Real Estate to develop The Wayfarer.

TO LEARN MORE... about the hostel-style living sitch -- the communal rooms are split into female quarters and male quarters -- don your backpack and trekkers and make for the Funk Zone, now.


Photo Credit: The Wayfarer]]>
<![CDATA[Torrey Pines Foodie To-Do Fetes California Artisans]]> Fri, 03 Oct 2014 15:33:42 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/214*120/crafttorrey1234.jpg

OCEAN AIR, THAT EXTRA INGREDIENT: If you've ever lingered outside The Lodge at Torrey Pines while gazing at the ocean, which is just beyond the resort's golf course, you likely know the feeling of pure, Pacific-soft, sunshine-sweet relax-o-sity. Yes, we said "lingered" there and we also said "gazing"; one does not simply "sit" nor "look" when in that postcard-perfect spot. (The clothing you wear there also "drapes" and never just "hangs.") It's a fine place to spend a fine weekend day, is what we're saying, but when a foodie-elegant affair arrives right there, and you suddenly find yourself sipping California Chardonnay or dining up fresh seafood or appetizers made with goat cheeses or meats that hail from the Golden State, that state of sunshine-sweet relax-o-sity tends to grow exponentially.

CELEBRATE THE CRAFT... does just that -- it's an annual event that celebrates the craft of our state's cuisine, and the people who grow the grapes and bake the pastries and saute the vegetables and grow the always growing cuisine scene that California is known 'round the world for. And those gifted gourmands shall return to the spot near the lodge, and the golf course, too, on Sunday, Oct. 12.

ON THE LAWN: "Growers, vintners, and culinary artisans from some of California's most renowned farms, bakeries, wineries, and confectioners" are behind the tables and out meeting new fans. The food to nosh upon? It runs the gamut, and off the gamut, too, with sup-nice showings from The Aniata Cheese Co. of Del Mar, Liberty Ducks of Sonoma, and Niman Ranch of Oakland. Alesmith Brewing and Society Brewing, both of San Diego, will pour, and Kalin Cellars of Novato and Falkner Winery of Temecula are just two of the vino producers set to line up the stemware. Cost? It's $125 a person. Are there stay-over packages at the lodge? You bet. Is Slow Food Urban San Diego a beneficiary? Indeed. For more daydreaming of being lawn- and ocean- and beer- and appetizer-adjacent, click here, California cuisinaires.


Photo Credit: Celebrate the Craft]]>
<![CDATA[AI in the IE: Robots of Riverside]]> Thu, 02 Oct 2014 13:28:28 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/199*120/riversiderobotdevo.jpg

HUMAN... OR IS IT? Riverside has a host of colorful reps, including being home to California's second most famous castle (and the one castle you can sleep in). Props to you, dear Hearst, but the Mission Inn is plenty fairytale-ish, right down to its rambling hallways and commanding towers and all of those animatronic pandas and angels that toot trumpets and wave come the hotel's major holiday decorating extravaganza. You might guess that that's about where Riverside and large-scale moving figures end -- the Christmas animatrons of the Mission Inn -- but the area's deep robot knowledge goes far beyond the most festive time of the year. The historic city, in fact, rocks a robot-y streak that makes it a city of the future as well, and definitely on one particular fall Saturday. We're referencing, of course, the Saturday when "the biggest robot event in Southern California" bleeps and bloops into town, bringing with it some artificial intelligence wonders, some comical and creepy figures, some pop culture favorites, and a whole bunch of science-y brain-nice people who love to build robots and discuss them with other enthusiasts, too.

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 11... is the date for the Riverside Robot Expo, and the Woodcrest Library is the location. On the robot roster for the day? A 3D-printed robot (called the Inmoov), Santabot, a singing Elvis robot, RoboDevo "the DEVO robot tribute band," Terminators, robot boxing, robot art, and some much robotian goodness you may return directly to your own garage, inspired to build something amazing for the next year's show. The day also brings a bit of a "Star Wars" vibe, complete with light saber tech and cosplay costumes straight from a galaxy far, far away. And the admission to soak in the science of tomorrow? It's free and kids are very much welcome. Meaning if you have young robot builder in the house, this is their day to get jumpstarted on the wonder front. Bleep and bloop on, robot lovers.

Photo Credit: Riverside Robot Expo]]>
<![CDATA[60 Ferraris, One Luxe Beverly Hills Deal]]> Wed, 01 Oct 2014 09:32:25 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/Ferrari_458_Italia.jpg

AN AMAZING ARRAY: Seeing more than one or two Ferraris in a row requires two things: A visit to a swanky Concours event, where the Italian icons will likely be presented alongside a host of other makes and models or a visit to the Ferrari Museum in Maranello, Italy. If you're lucky you might be invited to a collector's home, or find a few in an automotive museum, but, pretty much, that's that: You'll only ever see one Ferrari zoom by at a time. That's changing on Sunday, Oct. 12, when some 60 Ferraris park along Rodeo Drive -- where else? -- to celebrate the company's 60th year in America. Will you see a Spider, a Coupe, a GTB Fiorano, or one of the other starry iterations of one of the world's most famous cars? With five dozen sets of wheels along the tony thoroughfare, you likely will, or will find your favorite Ferrari. And as for spending the night in the 90210, to keep well-rested for all of that Ferrari-directed admiring? Look to the Luxe Hotel Rodeo Drive, which is offering a package for auto aficionados calling upon the area to check out the cars.

OCT. 10, 11, 12: Those are the available dates for the package, which includes gratis valet (so handy in Beverly Hills), deluxe accomos for two (for a single night), complimentary breakfast, and a chance to win five hundred dollars at the Ferrari Store (plus some other glittery goodies). Price for a night? The starter is $389, and you'll literally be steps away from the Oct. 12 Ferrari action.

WHERE ELSE CAN YOU SEE FINE CARS? While tooling around LA in a car frame of mind? Check out the Petersen Automotive Museum on the Miracle Mile and the Nethercutt Collection in Sylmar.

Photo Credit: Ferrari]]>
<![CDATA[Ending Forever: Mariposa Big Tree Tram Tour]]> Tue, 30 Sep 2014 12:56:58 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/228*120/bigtreesfinalweekstour1.jpg

RETURN TO NATURE (ISH): There was a day, oh, long about the mid-century, when snack bars and gift shops and parking lots regularly sprung up across this great land on the grounds of a natural wonder or ancient site, very often in close quarters with the treasure in question. Many planners and preservationists have taken a different approach over the last few decades, not only not adding a gift shop that's cheek-by-jowl with a natural wonder, but also stripping away what was added over the last century. The purpose? To again let nature flower and the processes of time take their course without our sticking our hand in (well, sticking our hand in too much). The Restoration of Mariposa Grove, that stately clutch of trees inside Yosemite National Park, is one such wide-scope project that falls in this category. It's a visionary project that Yosemite Conservancy sums up thusly: The project is "an ambitious, multiyear effort to preserve these majestic trees and reverse 150 years of development by balancing visitor needs with ecological patterns." This means that various features around the grove, like trails and such, may be closed "intermittently," while one main feature is set to disband forever: The Big Trees Tram Tour.

FINAL WEEKS: The tour, which takes headphone-wearing visitors among the giants, will run through its typical season, which ends come November. After that "it will permanently end," says the Mariposa Grove site. If the tour isn't your thing, you can still visit Mariposa Grove in the coming year or two, but you might check ahead to see the stage the project is at. Yosemite has also provided other locations where big trees can be found, such as the Tuolumne Grove and Merced Grove, which are both in the park, and Nelder Grove, which is in the Sierra National Forest.

Photo Credit: Yosemite National Park]]>
<![CDATA[Spooky Science: Discovery Science Center's Eek-Filled Autumn]]> Mon, 29 Sep 2014 08:59:45 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/dscspookyoctober1.jpg

BUGS AND BEYOND: Many kidlets do love Halloween for the candy-gathering, costume-rocking opportunities, but let's look beyond the October holiday's more obvious cachet with the school-aged set. The eekiest of occasions offers a lot of different educational components, from historical associations to storytelling creativity, and, indeed, there's some science behind Halloween, too. Figure spiders and rats and bugs make frequent cameos in Halloween stories, and they're part of the animal world, amazing to study and behold and watch. The Discovery Science Center in Santa Ana will soon encourage young attendees to do just that -- get up-close and cozy with the bug world -- during this year's whimsical and informational Spooky Science exhibit. It's on for a month, from Sunday, Oct. 5 through Sunday, Nov. 2, and things are about to get as buggy as all bug-out at the Cube.

HANDS-ON STATIONS, TOO: Spooky Science isn't just known for going deep into one territory, like the insect world. Several stations are set up in the institution, stations focusing on those grand gourds of the season, pumpkins, and gooey stuff like green goopy pull-at-it slime. Two favorites of the tots include the costume parades and the 3D maze (which, of course, is very science-y, what with the playing with optical illusions and such). 

PUMPKINS IN FLIGHT: And if you like to see mega squashy things fly and then go splat, hang tight: The Discovery Science Center is teaming up with Cal State Fullerton to launch pumpkins on Saturday, Nov. 1 on the university's campus. It's a marvel, pretty much, of engineering and comedy in one place. The comedy part? Seeing pumpkins sail by, of course -- laughs are expected and welcome. But do pause to admire the machinery that'll launch the gut-and-seed-filled orbs. It isn't easy to give a pumpkin effortless, airy arc.

Photo Credit: Discovery Science Center]]>
<![CDATA[Four-Mountain Ski Pass: Mammoth to Acquire SoCal Ski Areas]]> Sat, 27 Sep 2014 08:02:16 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/passfourmountainssnow.jpg

FOUR MOUNTAINS, ONE PASS: The Lord of the Rings films are full of dramatic moments, but there are few to match the Lighting of the Beacons, the famous fires-upon-the-mountain-tops scene that comes in "The Return of the King." Sweeping in scope and huge in vista, the short sequence shows a handful of mountaintops "communicating" through firelight, lending a sense of majesty and mountain-nice camaraderie to the moment. Four mountains are forming their own alliance of sorts, from the middle of California to Southern: Mammoth Mountain Ski Area has acquired Bear Mountain and Snow Summit, meaning that the two Los Angeles-close ski destinations will join both Mammoth Mountain and June Mountain in a society of snowy getaways.

AND... like in heroic fantasy movies, these four mountains will go beyond merely being under the same company umbrella -- they'll also be joined via the new Cali4nia Pass, a single pass which "unlocks access to nearly 6,000 acres of high quality terrain featuring 240 runs, 61 lifts, and 8,319 feet of vertical." Calling it "the ultimate California snow experience," Mammoth announced the pass on Sept. 24, with an on-sale date just days ahead: Saturday, Sept. 27.

AS FOR THE PRICE? It's $689, and it last for the duration of the season. It'll be sold at the Hot Dawgs and Hand Rails to-do at Bear Mountain on the 27th, and, after that, online, but for a limited time. Do you want to take on all four mountains this winter? Is this your chance to bone up on both the San Bernardino Mountains and the Sierra Nevada? Is the united of a few legendary Golden State peaks putting a flame in your snowboard-loving heart? Congrats, then; your ski destination family just grew stronger.

WAIT... it is the Cali4nia Pass, with a "4" to represent the four mountains. Okay, we honestly got that right away, but still: Cute stuff, mammoth, But you are home to Woolly, the skiing mammoth, so we should expect it.


Photo Credit: Snow Summit]]>
<![CDATA[Guess It: First Snow at the Palm Springs Tram]]> Thu, 02 Oct 2014 16:05:20 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/snowjacintoguess12345.jpg

SKY SOOTHSAYERS, UNITE: SoCalers, right around the roastiest days of September, can start saying the word "snow" a lot more, as in "snowcone" and "snow vacation" and "wish I was somewhere with snow" and "snow snow snow" (call it an incantation, of sorts, for chillier temperatures). The white 'n cold stuff, though, has a way of taking its own temperature-sweet time in the southern half of the state, visiting the mountaintops starting in November (fingers crossed). But the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway people like to get the brrrr-y bash started sooner. For sure, the famous tram gets snow, at least at the top, and it likes to celebrate those flakes way before they arrive. Well, maybe not "way" before, depending on Mother Nature and El Niño and various desert winds and conditions. The tram's Snow Guessing Contest opened on Wednesday, Oct. 1, and there's a lovely prize in it for the correct guesser: Four admissions to the up, up, up, up ride.

CORRECT GUESSERS, rather, as in plural. The tram gives away ten sets of four admissions, and a tram picture frame as well. That's a good prize, especially since the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway boasts loads of '60s-era cachet and feels pretty darn James-Bond-y to boot. Have visiting relatives who love a cinematic ride? This is for them. Now, the contest details: Guess, via postcard, when the "first measurable inch of snow falls" up at the tram's Mountain Station. Need an elevation? You got it: It's 8,516. And guess soon: "Earlier postmarks will prevail" if there are more than ten accurate guesses.

AND THEN? You can use those winning four admissions to head up San Jacinto for a day in the snow. It's very mountain-craggy and there are sweeping views of Palm Springs, too. Mitten up, snow guessers, but maybe after you've submitted the date upon which you think significant snow'll visit that particular SoCal spot.

Photo Credit: Palm Springs Aerial Tramway]]>
<![CDATA[The Line: Hello Kitty Con's Official LA Stay]]> Thu, 25 Sep 2014 09:08:31 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/214*120/hellokittylinehotel1.jpg

"NOT A CAT": It's not too often that news headlines confirm what something is not rather than what something might be, but bold text trumpeted a rather startling mind-befuddler of a revelation back in August: Hello Kitty, the superstar Sanrio bow-topped feline, is not. A. Cat. It was enough to send pop culture bloggers to their keyboards to ponder what this means, given that Hello Kitty is coming upon her 40th anniversary and, for sure, most fans, over those four decades, have believed the feline-like character to be, well, feline. "She's a cartoon character. She's a little girl. She's a friend," said one anthropologist.  It is a revelation, we're sure, that will be much meowed over -- or pawed over, or whisker-nuzzled, if you prefer -- during the Hello Kitty Con, which lands elegantly on all four feet at the Geffen Contemporary in Los Angeles from Oct. 30 through Nov 2. Indeed, that's over Halloween, but Hello Kitty's very true-hearted followers are famous for dressing in the eye-bright, happy-pink hues of their pop-sweet character favorite. Thinking of planning your weekend around the Geffen gathering? Then purr your way towards...

THE LINE HOTEL: The color-pow, oh-so-stylish Koreatown stayover is the official hotel of the Hello Kitty Con, and "special travel packages, rooms themed to the Hello Kitty style, and a special lounge by designer Sean Knibb," which will be the setting for the Nov. 1 birthday party, are all in the works. Plus? "An exclusive Hello Kitty 40th Anniversary welcome kit" is presented to guests at check-in, should they choose the Hello Kitty package. It isn't often that a mega con's whimsy and storyline extends to the attendees' hotel, but anyone who has followed the Japanese cute cat -- we mean kid -- knows that fans want the whole experience, the dress-up, the products, the tunes, the scene. Between the Geffen and the Line, Hello Kitty's bow-wearing fans shall find plenty of rainbow-sparkle times. Don't forget your lunchboxes, lip balms, or hairbrushes, kitty conventioneers.

Photo Credit: Getty Images and Adrian Gaut]]>
<![CDATA[Anaheim Fresh: The Packing House]]> Wed, 01 Oct 2014 08:40:51 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/packinghouseanaheim1.jpg

HISTORY-CHARMING FOOD-A-TERIUM: Eating-out trends may come, go, return, then disappear, all over the course of a month or two, or so it often seems. But something with legs, or, rather, forks and chopsticks and soup spoons and staying power, is the historic food hall. Nope, we're not using "historic" to imply a food hall or public market that's been around for several decades. Rather, we're paying homage to dining-diverse spots that reinvigorate an older building in a close-knit neighborhood, making it a hopping destination rather than a long-past relic of another era. Both types of food-hall-ery have done well throughout the West, from the newer-move-in places -- hello, San Francisco's Ferry Building -- to the long-standing public markets, like Seattle's Pike Place and LA's own Original Farmers Market. Now the new-old kid on the block is garnering attention, loyal fans, and people who love that something orange-y is flowering again in Orange County. It's the Anaheim Packing House, which has been packing patrons in since its debut in the late spring.

OR MAKE THAT "RE-DEBUT": The Packing House came to be in 1919 and was "a hub of commerce for the area" when growers and farmers brought their citrus to the Sunkist-helmed, Spanish-style structure for "washing, grading, and eventual packing." Like many structures of its era, it weathered the decades sometimes for good, sometimes for empty, but it was stylishly revived by LAB Holding of Costa Mesa. So what's within? Several food purveyors, some 28 in all, selling sweets and savories of a gourmand bent. If you're thinking artisan, fresh, local, and a little fancy-pants -- but with the low-level entry of bites bought in a food hall -- you're right on track. The Chippy Fish & Grill, Hans' Homemade Ice Cream, and Strangely Good Juice from Lemon Drop? Three of the 28. It seems fitting to seek out something with a touch of citrus to it, but even if you don't go the orange route with your edibles, consider that cuisine-ing it up in a landmark much associated with food, history, and the community is a fine place to fine (and funky) dine.


Photo Credit: Anaheim Packing House]]>
<![CDATA[Lookie-Loo Weekend: Ojai Studio Artists Tour]]> Tue, 23 Sep 2014 08:39:08 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/ojaiarts0928.jpg

THAT CREATIVE CITY: While many a California town has transformed into a destination for thinkers and innovators and painters and dreamers over the decades, Ojai has long held the easy vibe of doin' its own thing. That thing could be holistic studies or the writing of poems or grape-growing or beer-making or what-have-you, but Ojai has always been very "what-have-you" friendly. One could retreat to the Ojai Valley and ponder a next step, a big change, or pursuing a dream. That this is the Ojai way isn't to be taken lightly; the cities that welcome and encourage creativity and exploration as a core tenet of life are too few to take any for granted. It's also given Ojai a wealth of talented citizens, artists and creators who call the beautiful Ventura County town home. Maybe the nightly Pink Moment -- when the mountains turn the color of papaya, ever so briefly -- helps draw those in the visual arts, or the general natural beauty of the area. But the what-have-you-ness is strong in the city, which lends comfort to every creative person, truly. Over 50 of those creators will welcome visitors into their studios, where all of that sculpting and jewelry making and fashioning of prints goes down, over the second weekend in October.

OJAI STUDIO ARTISTS TOUR: The studios hang out the proverbial "Welcome" signs from Friday, Oct. 11 to Sunday, Oct. 13. A slide show and talk are part of the proceedings, or you can just leg it -- or drive it -- around, seeing what you'd like to see and chatting up the artists within. The glass and stone sculptures of Brian Berman, the face-fantastic sculptures of Ted Gall, and and the paintings of Ruth Farnham are three highlights. Plus? Getting to enter a space where clay and canvas become rather magical things. Too much? The use of the word "magical"? We don't think so. After all, this is Ojai, a pretty magical burg. Have you ever seen a Pink Moment? You, too, will start applying the word "magical" more liberally to the arts and people of the valley.

TICKET AND TOUR... info can be found this way.

Photo Credit: Cindy Pitou Burton]]>
<![CDATA[Bellagio Whimsy: Autumn Arrives in Sin City]]> Wed, 24 Sep 2014 15:23:52 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/bellagiohorsefall1234.jpg

TONY, WITH SOME TWINKLE: Anybody who has observed the hospitality industry, especially in a big, competitive market like Las Vegas, can absolutely understand why hotels would want to go the swanky route. People on vacation are seeking a bit of fantasy, some escapism, and perhaps the luxury they don't see as often as they'd like in their day-to-day lives. But the Bellagio in Las Vegas, while absolutely swankified, has a bit of twinkle to its tony ways. Any visitor who has ever strolled the massive property's Conservatory & Botanical Gardens, regardless of the season, understands that the giant animals and storybook touches fit right in with all that fancy, and pretty darn well. Oh, and come every autumn? Designers erect a talking tree, which, at first glance, seems like it might be something more akin to a children's theme park. But it is pure Bellagio, beautifully imagined and full of fictional fizz, and it only makes one wish that more hotels would take that whimsical plunge, rather than keeping only to the elegant side of things, far more often.

BELLAGIO, YOU'RE DOING IT RIGHT... with your 40-foot-tall windmill and your mega-sized floral apples, which each boast over 1,200 red carnations. The indoor, glass-roofed gardens feature a "28-foot-tall enchanted talking tree" and a pair of horses dotted with hydrangeas. Fall-hued flowers fill the nature-nice exhibit, over 51,000, in fact, and dancing waters, a baby bear, a harvest basket, colossal pumpkins, and "mystical wooden forest creatures" round out the picturesque wonder.

WHEN CAN YOU SEE IT? Be in Sin City through Nov. 30 for one of the desert's quintessential autumn experiences. True, it may be Vegas-bright out on the Strip, but a fall fantasy is tucked inside the Bellagio, in plain, photo-pretty sight.

Photo Credit: Bellagio]]>
<![CDATA[Joshua Tree Music Fest: Vibes Among the Boulders]]> Sat, 20 Sep 2014 14:44:29 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/180*120/joshua_samenglish.jpg

SPRING AND SUMMER... have a happy hold on giant-hearted, village-style, music-centered encampments that spread across the West. They can be very art-oriented -- howdy, Burning Man -- or more about the tunes -- high five, Coachella -- or they can incorporate a very complete cuisine scene into the proceedings (Outside Lands, we're looking at you). But some of the finest weather in the state happens in the deserts come fall, when the nights are getting brisker but aren't yet fully lunar and the daytimes possess a golden warmness that everyone on the coast has to envy just a pinch. This is when the fall version of the Joshua Music Tree Festival flowers like a waxy bud atop a cactus, and, nope, it isn't just about the music (though that serves as its beating, beat-filled heart). As befitting its connect-to-the-earth-and-everything location, the festival features a bouquet of beautiful, look-inward doings, from a Positive Vibration Station to Pop-Up Tea Parties to Yoga & Healing sessions to Kidsville (yep, if you show with the tots you can set up in a Family Camp, which not every festival boasts). And as for the tunes..?

THE LIST IS LONG... and includes Black Joe Lewis of Austin and Colombia's Bomba Estereo and Ribab Fusion of Morocco and a full complement of acts and singers and instrumentalists that represent a world sound of the flowingest, tune-in sort. Beyond the stages? There's more vibe-feeling to enjoy, from Random Acts of Mindfulness to the recording of your own songs to astronomy pursuits to t-shirt making. And, indeed, you'll be within shouting distance of the Joshua Tree boulders, though, really, they are not to be shouted at. Rather admiring those epic rock formations, and thinking nature-y, creative-cool thoughts, is the order of the weekend. Oh, and that weekend? The autumn Joshua Tree Music Festival goes down from Oct. 9 through 12.

Photo Credit: Sam English]]>
<![CDATA[Corn Maze Time: Big Horse on the Horizon]]> Sat, 04 Oct 2014 08:10:03 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/215*120/bighorsecornmaze23454.jpg

EVERY SEASON... has its wonderful and offbeat traditions, from lovey notes from secret admirers (that would be winter, and Valentine's Day) to the intrepid backyard search for hidden eggs (hello, sweet Easter) and the staring upwards in order to admire lights in the sky that aren't the sun, the stars, nor the moon (we speak of July and Independence Day, of course). But fall boasts some of the funniest, most endearing must-dos, from the asking neighbors for candy to the adding tiny marshmallows to the top of sweet potatoes to purposefully getting a little bit lost inside a few acres of corn. Ooookay; no one enters a corn maze intending to stay permanently unfound, but do some people, those who seem to be giggling more than others, take their time wending around corners and sorting out sudden dead ends? Yes, they do, and that's part of the lively fun of the maze: Knowing you'll reach the sign that says "EXIT" eventually (and preferably before sundown). One of the biggest corn mazes in all the land is busy a-growin' those ears, with an opening date of Saturday, Oct. 4 on the horizon. It's the Big Horn Corn Maze of Temecula, and if your first question is "is the corn box going to be back?" you'll be delighted by the answer: yes!

THE CORN BOX: It's a box of corn kids can play in, which is as homespun as all get-out, but there are other diversions beyond the impressive, takes-time-to-solve corn maze. Like? Oh, ducky races, corn cannons, pumpkin bowling, riding in hay wagons, the cheering on of piglet races. It's full-on fall, as potent a day as any pumpkin-flavored hot drink. And, for sure, there shall be pumpkins for purchase, if you want to take a touch of autumn home with you. Isn't that another quirky fall tradition, in addition to getting lost in corn? The carving of scary faces on gourds? We do love the whimsy so, and that places like Big Horse step in each October to jumpstart that particular seasonal joy.

Photo Credit: Big Horse Corn Maze]]>
<![CDATA[Dances, Beer, Pastries: Solvang's Danish Days]]> Thu, 18 Sep 2014 15:08:28 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/dancersdanishdayssolvang.jpg

A SOLVANG FAN... can be forgiven for thinking that every weekend is Danish Days 'round about the Santa Ynez Valley's windmilliest town. That's because the founded-by-Danish-settlers burg doesn't just truck out the color and the music and the pastries and the clogs for a few days each year; they live the lively, culture-celebratory dream every week of every month. But "California's #1 Danish Festival!" only comes but once a year, at the very end of summer, and it adds some bells and whistles to the already bell-and-whistle-packed destination. What could be described as bell-like and whistle-ish at Danish Days? Ohhhh, how about the famous...

VIKING BEER & WINE GARDEN: It's like a beer & wine garden you might find at another town-wide fair, but, well, vikings. Yep, people just might be rocking some helmets with horns, and even if they are not, you're bound to see some vikings in the parade or at the Living History Festival at the Elverhoj Museum of History & Art. The Torchlight Parade, on Friday, Sept. 19, is candle-y and nicely atmospheric, the Opening Ceremonies include traditional Danish dancing, and the Saturday, Sept. 20 parade includes floats, bands, beer wagons, and more photo-ready costume-y flair. As for the consuming of aebleskivers -- many, many aebleskivers? There are eating contests, as you might expect. And why not? It is, after all, the doughy and delicious symbol of the wine country town. (That is, really after wine itself, or perhaps the aebleskiver and the wine bottle are on even ground in this race.)

DANISH DAYS, HELLO: Solvang is a town that likes a party, and you can count on Julefest, the holiday celebrations, kicking up before we even believe Danish Days is packed away. But if a short trip to Europe, or somewhere like Europe but in California, is something tempting, don our clogs and go 'vang. (Or, you know, you can buy them there, too, just so you can brag about your Solvang clogs to everyone forever, which we would.)

DATES: The party is on from Friday, Sept. 19 through Sunday, Sept. 21.

Photo Credit: Danish Days]]>
<![CDATA[Catalina Island's Swashbuckling Weekend]]> Thu, 18 Sep 2014 23:03:11 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/catalinacaninebuccaneer1.jpg

AVALON AFICIONADO: Even if you regularly find yourself making for Santa Catalina Island's largest port-of-call, perhaps to attend the annual September film festival or a vintage ball at the Casino Building, you might occasionally ponder if you should venture beyond the town's borders a bit more. Sure, you might go on a few hikes, into the inland, or call upon the sweetest landing strip in existence, Airport in the Sky, but for many Avalon aficionados a boat trip to Catalina means dining, hoteling, snorkeling, and staying put within the snug city's confines. All of this can make Two Harbors, Catalina's other outpost, seem positively exotic. It's not on the mainland-facing side, it's smaller, and getting there? Well, it takes commitment. You might want to arrive by boat, in fact, which lends Two Harbors a rather wayback feel (something that locals rather like and cherish). So when buccaneers arrive over the first weekend in October, to whoop it up and speak pirate-talk, and raise a glass of grog (or beer, more likely), the smaller of Catalina's burgs bristles with colorful action. As it will again, from Thursday, Oct. 2 through Sunday, Oct. 5.

BUCCANEER DAYS: The Santa Catalina Island Company's matey-ist party marks its quarter century turn in 2014. There shall be live music and DJs every day of the big bash, and costume contests, and treasure hunts, and a deck's worth of revelers rocking tri-cornered hats. Camping packages, too, are part of the plan. There's definitely a party atmos, one that encourages the raising of the glasses, so call it the liveliest weekend on the Two Harbors calendar. But unlike other pirate-themed parties you've attended, in backyards and living rooms, this one has a major plus: It's in a scenic cove on the Pacific. That's an arrrrr-worthy setting, if there ever was one.

Photo Credit: Buccaneer Days]]>
<![CDATA[Snowy Mammoth Deal Starts Early]]> Tue, 16 Sep 2014 11:30:35 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/mammothpetermorningmmsa.jpg

WEATHER, TIMING, ANTICIPATION: SoCalers know that the middle of September can be the time of year most resembling a hot plate 'round the region. That warm-warm-warm desert air is rising, breezes feel as though they're at a standstill, or nearly, through city corridors, and temperature records are beat (or at least tested). It's just about then that some of our mountain resorts start looking a few months ahead, to late fall and to winter, and to snowier, cool-down thoughts. The timing is fortuitous; we want to anticipate days of mittens and sweating a little less (yep, a run down a ski hill isn't totally sweat-free). Mammoth Mountain is ready to stoke those anticipatory fires, or, if not fires, then dreams of colder days, with some just-announced deals.

LIFT TICKETS FOR A SONG: Every person with a pair of ski poles wants to find a sweet deal on getting up the hill, since they've personally got the "down the hill" part well-covered. Mammoth lift tickets are starting at sixty seven bucks a day, and that's "from opening all to closing day." That's when you purchase multiple days, but if you want to go up for just a Friday or Saturday? You're looking at $76. The resort reports being stoked by rumors of an El Niño year, which could bring a good amount of precipitation to the Sierra. Some good rain is the wish of many people, skiers and everybody, so let's all cross our fingers and ski poles on that one.

FOR ALL... those suh-weet up-the-mountain early season deals, schuss this way, winter-dreamers. And if you need more anticipation, grab a fat red marker and circle November 15 on the calendar: That is, for the time being, opening day.

Photo Credit: Peter Morning/MMSA]]>
<![CDATA[On the Search: Fullerton Phantoms]]> Mon, 15 Sep 2014 12:05:55 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/shutterstockghost123.jpg

BEYOND THE RICKETY MANSION: We're not sure how it started -- Victorian gothic literature, perhaps, or stories from even earlier ages -- but it has settled, most firmly, in our imaginations: Ghosts tend to frequent rickety, cobweb-laden mansions that perch high on hills or can be found at the end of shadowy streets lined in dead trees. The cinema has enhanced this particular mythos, a whole bunch, but, of course, one storyline is never the whole story. Meaning this: Spirit tales tend to pop up all over, and frequently in downtown areas and public places, spots that are regularly used by many people and cannot be described as chilling, in any sense of the word. A few towns around Southern California pause each autumn to explore those local ghosty stories, the spine-pricklers that have grown and flourished over the decades. At the forefront of the phantom tours? Fullerton, which, being quite historic, boasts a bevy of skin-tinglers that guides share each fall. And since fall is fast on approach, phantom fans are readying for another round of tingling skin: The Haunted Walking Tours of Fullerton kick off -- or float off, phantom-like, rather -- on Wednesday, Sept. 17.

BOO! The City of Fullerton Museum, the institution behind the evening strolls, advises "tours book up fast." They're on Wednesdays and Thursdays through Nov. 6, so, no doubt, those spooky spots are limited. Members of the North Orange County Paranormal Society will mingle at a meet-and-greet starting at 5 p.m. on tour days, and then the two-and-a-half-hour walk sets out at 6 p.m. Visited locations may change up over the autumn run, but you may hear wraith-creepy tales of Plummer Auditorium or the California Hotel. For sure, Fullerton has the layers of time going, so the sightings from beyond the veil reach back. And will there be a special Halloween tour? Indeed, even though Oct. 31 falls on a Friday in 2014. For all the eerie info, float this way, wraith seekers.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[Happy 25 Years, Napa Valley Wine Train]]> Sat, 13 Sep 2014 18:13:31 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/napavalleytraindaylight.jpg

25 YEARS OF TOOT-TOOT-ING: Any business worth its "We're Open" sign knows that stirring up a loyal customer base, and the occasional curious-minded just-passing-througher, isn't as much a matter of charts and spreadsheets and graphs as waiting it out and being patient and allowing word of mouth to build. Then, maybe in a few years, or a few decades? You're set (if an innovative business ever truly wants to be set). But the Napa Valley Wine Train seemed to do a bit of time-and-space folding when it came to rising in the ranks of our general knowledge, our ability to pick it out of a train-based line-up, and the amount of adoration it got from both tourists and locals looking for a different day out. People talked about it from the get-go -- you're drinking wine! On a moving train! And you're visiting wineries! And eating! And it is all pretty dang cinematic! -- and people rode it, too, in droves, or whatever the fancier word for a throng of wine-loving train-riders might be. (A vinorailian? Yes, we think that's it.) Now the NVWT -- call it that if you want to be catchy -- is celebrating its big Silver Anniversary on Tuesday, Sept. 16, and longer than that, with a trio of fan-forward contests.

SELFIES AND WINE PHOTOS: The convivial competitions run throughout September and involve snapping selfies around Napa or anywhere else in the world and sharing them. There are some rules to know, and how points are earned on Instagram and Twitter, so read on before you and your camera set out. Not a selfie-taker? Try the Wine Train Photo contest. Submit your best NVWT pics and the train's crew'll post some of the best in a special Facebook album. The prizes? Ohhhh, you guessed it: Wine train tickets are up for grabs. There's a bouquet of things to know, as with all contests, so roll along the rails this way, vinorailians. And a happy 25 years to the train. It has helped "preserve the historic rail corridor" of the valley, and antique railcars, too, as well as brought many (many many many) wine buffs to vineyards snuggled up against its route. Would every business worth its "We're Open" sign be such a flowering source of good stuff for its community.

Photo Credit: Napa Valley Wine Train]]>
<![CDATA[Vroom and a Room: La Quinta Cool Car Package]]> Sat, 20 Sep 2014 14:43:17 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/quintacars123456.jpg

THAT GLEAM MACHINE: If you've ever pulled up to the front door of a rather grand and historic hotel or resort, you've likely passed a lovely car or two at the valet stand. A touch of envy can ensue, and some admiration, and you may find, for a moment, that your mind is less on finding the registration desk than strolling around the automobile while eyeing the dash, the wheels, the fenders. But what if, after registering and locating your room and sniffing all of the complimentary toiletries and hanging up your clothes lest they wrinkle (you do do that, right?), what if you could return to the hotel driveway and slide into the front seat of one of those amazingly shiny autos? That's just the plan La Quinta Resort & Club has in mind for motor mavens booking a stay at the desert destination from Wednesday, Oct. 15 through Monday, Oct. 20. The package's name? It's the Waldorf Astoria Driving Experience, and if you're crossing your fingers that you'll get a chance to tool around those wide, pretty streets of La Quinta in something fancy, well, uncross those fingers and slide on the posh driving gloves: That is exactly the case.

FERRARI, MCLAREN, PORSCHE: A trio of famous names are in the package's mix -- visualize a Ferrari 458 Italia Spider, a McLaren MP4-12C, and a Porsche 911 Turbo. The Experience pairs with pro race car driver Didier Theys of Belgium for a three-hour experience. The price? It kicks off at $1258/double plus fees and taxes, and, for sure, you'll get to eye the mega renovation the historic-and-newer property just underwent. Also, if you get knots in your shoulders, as drivers do, from time to time? Some special spa add-ons are available for an additional cost.

AS FOR THE CARS? You'll get an instruction lesson from Mr. Theys ahead of time, and you'll get to rotate cars, too. And, true true, you'll go beyond La Quinta, heading for picturesque turns in San Bernardino National Forrest. If you've ever wanted to drive one of these gems, with an accoladed fast-car smartie at your side, this is a fine moment. And it should, for the time being, alleviate the need to linger too long before any fancy cars in any fancy driveways. You'll get to try one -- or three, rather -- out for yourself.

Photo Credit: La Quinta]]>
<![CDATA[Harvest Fest: Mega Craft Fair Hits the Road]]> Tue, 16 Sep 2014 23:27:35 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/venturaharvestfest345.jpg

CRISPNESS AND CRAFTS: If something about mornings turning a bit crisper at their edges -- you know that feeling, that arrives just around 7 a.m., that says a new season is about to dosey-do this way at any moment -- and school fairs selling crafty goods gets your blood a-stirrin', then autumn must be your Official Favorite Time of the Year. (Don't feel guilty -- we all have one or two.) It is a time known for brisker mornings and scholastic fundraisers full of homemade treats and items, but only in a few places do those two elements reach their zenith. And at the top of that cinnamon-scented, calico-lined ladder? Harvest Festival Original Art & Craft Show. The traveling mega-vendor mega-everything show toodles around California and the West throughout the autumn months, landing in various centers and locations that are large enough to hold thousands and thousands of items. There will be well over 24,000 goods for sale in Ventura over the first weekend of October, meaning you'll want to spend a goodly chunk of your day eyeing each eyelet-frilled apron and jar of apple butter and hand-carved wooden jewelry box and walking stick and silver dangly gemstone earring. There are, in fact, hundreds of vendors, all with a craft-eye and artistic heart, so whether you find a holiday gift or several small goodies for yourself is up to you. (Our guess? Both.)

DATES AND CITIES: Pleasanton is the first of the California cities, over the last weekend of summer -- that's Sept. 19 through 21 -- and Pomona rounds it all out over the first weekend of December. Ventura is early October, San Jose is the Friday through Sunday following Thanksgiving, and everywhere it goes the fest'll have entertainment, tunes, kidly haps, and food-to-buy (for noshing on there, not the tied-up-in-ribbons munch mixes and cookies you'll see among the vendors). Are you feeling the autumn wave, the one that intersects with craft-cute, art-sophisticated shopping? Check out the schedule and many talented vendors and eye-and-palate-delighting categories the festival boasts.

Photo Credit: Harvest Festival Original Art & Craft Show]]>
<![CDATA[Julian's Juicy: Apple Days Festival]]> Thu, 02 Oct 2014 18:21:44 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/julianappledayschamber1.jpg

FLAKEY, PLAIN, OR DUMPLING? We mean... just. We don't want to be that person, but, really, if we think about it, we're all that person when faced with the deep and important matter of pie choosing. We're all the sorts of folks who queue up in a famous pie shop, say, like Mom's Pies of Julian, and stand there with their eyes wide, and mouth on the hangy side, gaping at the menu as the kind and patient employee asks us for our order, and then asks again. We know what we want, when we line up -- straight-up apple pie, of course, the classic -- but then we see alllll of the other apple-y choices. Apple Caramel Crumb Pie, Apple Cherry Flakey Pie, Apple Dumpling. It's always a delightful challenge landing on what apple-y goodie you'll happily gorge upon for the next fifteen minutes, but consider how that challenge grows ever more delightful during Julian's Apple Days Festival. It's an autumn-welcomer, typically happening around the start of October, and the seed-middled, stem-topped fruit favorite is seen and baked and considered and consumed, again and again, over the weekend. So, if we're all that person, the person who can't choose between the apple flakey pie and the dumpling, we best prepare for a full-on fruit-tastic onslaught.

AND THAT APPLE ONSLAUGHT... happens on Saturday, Oct. 4 and Sunday, Oct. 5. It isn't all about the pies, though they play a large part: "apple displays, music and dancing, an antique tractor display, children's games and activities, gold panning demonstrations, a beer and wine garden..." and food and contests round it out. But, please: Come ready to pie it up in all the flakey, cheddar-topped, milk-complementing ways. It's a homespun and whimsical weekend, complete with the choosing of Mr. and Mrs. Apple Days, so if your fall needs a fast jumpstart, we couldn't pick a better town or time. Now if only we could order faster when queued up at the pie shop... Nah, that'll never happen. Too. Many. Juicy. Choices.

Photo Credit: Julian Chamber of Commerce]]>
<![CDATA[Accordions of Orange County: The Big Squeeze]]> Tue, 09 Sep 2014 13:16:41 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/bigsqueezeaccordionoc1.jpg

THE SEASON OF THE ACCORDION: If instruments were tied to seasons, how would you pair 'em up? We'd probably place the piano with winter, given all of those deep and sonorous sonatas that can feel like a swirling snowstorm. The harp would be matched with spring -- all of those lilts and flourishes summoning the breaking open of buds -- and guitars? Totally summer, what with their laid-back, languorous chords. As for the accordion? It belongs to autumn. Think about the movies you've seen that take place among falling leaves and sweater-weathering characters, and think of the background music. Were there a few wheezes? Some slightly melancholy riffs? The feel of walking down a rain-wet sweet in a faraway country? Yep, accordions + autumn 4evr. That relationship will be on full seasonal display when a bevy of accordions, and their accordionists, head for the OC Market Place in Costa Mesa on the first Sunday of autumn. That's Sunday, Sept. 28, the day when bellows and keys shall sound at The Big Squeeze, one of the state's major accordion gatherings.

BRING YOUR SQUEEZEBOX... or just show up to hear the likes of Jim Gilman's Oktoberfest Band, The Ploughboys, or one of the strolling accordionists. (Question: Is there another instrument that pairs as often with "strolling"? We do believe that the accordion is king in this category.) There's also an open jam -- hence the reason you'll want to show with your own accordion -- and free lessons, too. Plus, gratis appraisals of instruments'll be going down from noon to 3 p.m. If you couldn't make Cotati in NorCal over the summer -- you know the weekend where a whole bunch of accordionists play "Lady of Spain" -- this is your spot. But The Big Squeeze, now in its sixth year, is a big bellows bash in its own right. Nope, a SoCal autumn day might not bring falling leaves or rained-on cobblestones, but the accordion music can summon that quintessential cinematic feeling.

Photo Credit: The Big Squeeze]]>
<![CDATA[Detective Dogs: Bodie Spotlights Canine Forensics Team]]> Mon, 08 Sep 2014 10:07:12 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/214*120/bodiedogs1234.jpg

HISTORIC-MINDED HOUNDS: While an hour spent at Bodie State Historic Park in Mono County might consist of taking a few pictures of buildings, admiring the craftsmanship of the town's early layout, and chatting with a park ranger about a few of the 19th-century mining hub's more prominent characters, there are people, and sometimes animals, hard at work to preserve the place, and to protect and further research. The people end of things we understand -- Bodie is a favorite for historians and Golden State-focused scholars -- but the animals? They hail from the Institute of Canine Forensics in Woodside, California, and they call upon the fabled settlement to seek out the historic unknown  gravesites that might slip the attention of those human stewards of the town. Those detective dogs, and their efforts, were spotlighted at the Bridgeport Founder's Day Dinner on Aug. 31.

OVER 400 UNMARKED GRAVES: It started a few years back when John Grebenkemper, an associate with the Institute, visited Bodie with pup Tali in tow. After meeting with Bodie Foundation historian Terri Geissinger, and explaining that "Tali was being trained to detect human historical remains" with the ICF, plans to invite more Institute-smart pups into the park began to form. The dogs would prove a big help to those attempting to know more about Bodie, since many burgs from the 1800s did not immediately establish cemeteries upon their founding, but rather chose random and unmarked places as final resting places for the local citizenry. Tali, Rhea, and more of ICF's four-footed detectives made for Bodie-close spots that were believed to be likely first burial areas for Bodie, and discovered, through their amazingly sharp canine senses, over 400 unmarked graves.

THE PUPS... of course aren't always in the park, but perhaps, on your next visit to the place that many consider America's best-preserved ghost town, you'll think of their work, their abilities, and how dogs can partner with people in the unfolding of history.


John Grebenkemper
John Grebenkemper

Photo Credit: Bodie Foundation]]>
<![CDATA[Free September Yoga at San Francisco Kimpton Hotels]]> Sat, 06 Sep 2014 15:49:43 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/219*120/yogaredshutterstock1.jpg

Photo Credit: Kimpton Hotels]]>
<![CDATA[Trees Are A-Turning: Mono County Fall]]> Sun, 07 Sep 2014 07:44:06 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/monocountyfallcolorsept.jpg

IF ONLY WE HAD SOME SORT OF GUIDE... People who "chase" certain events in nature know the value of on-the-ground or in-the-water information. We're talking about those who love to see a lightening storm in play, or find the most surfable waves, or admire hidden waterfalls during the couple of weeks a year they might run. Leaf-peeping, or the seeking of fall foliage, is not often paired with "chase" or any other breathless term, but that's a bit of what autumn aficionados do: They chase down rumors of what groves of aspens are turning yellow in what mountain-snug valleys and they act on the intel they've received. Because if you love brilliant leafage you know that a week can change things, drastically, especially if a wind swirl kicks up or early snow falls. Some of the more foliage-rich places in our state want to lend a hand in the intel department, though, which is a major help to the leaf chasers -- er, leaf peepers. Mono County is at the forefront of the foliage wave each late summer, posting photos of when and where crimson-bedecked branches are showing up and offering a link to its free downloadable foliage guide.

WALKER CANYON TO JUNE LAKE: All of the hot spots for autumn action are listed on both the guide's main page and in the guide itself, with percentage updates as to what's starting to turn where. As of early September everything is still looking green, green, green along Highway 395 and into the Eastern Sierra, but Mono County Tourism posted some snapshots from the Rock Creek area. For sure, emerald leaves still dominate, but in a week when much of the state is still rocking temperatures in the 80s and 90s, it is cooling to see those golden signs of fall peeking through.

Photo Credit: Mono County Tourism]]>
<![CDATA[New Vegas: Delano Hotel Debuts]]> Wed, 10 Sep 2014 11:39:26 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/Delanopenthouse.jpg It's a "touch of South Beach on the Strip" next to Mandalay Bay.

Photo Credit: Delano Las Vegas]]>
<![CDATA[Tickets on Sale: 2015 Big Sur Foragers Festival]]> Thu, 04 Sep 2014 12:27:18 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/bigsurforagersplate.jpg

INVOLVED WITH YOUR EDIBLES: There are food-focused getaways that are all about the attendees relaxing with a glass of wine, making new friends (do people still trade cards or do they move directly to the sharing of @'s and Facebook handles?), and the strolling to a dinner table where an elaborate, trimming-filled feast awaits. There are eat-fun weekends that include a bit of hands-on participation, say, a chopping class or a demo of creating the lightest broth. Then there is the quirky cuisine-cool occasion where people don boots and trudge into the forest to locate part of what might be their next meal. Could this be called hands-, feet-, and entire body-on participation? Definitely. The Big Sur Foragers Festival is one of those rare treats where people do stroll out among the trees and undergrowth in search of the fungi with the flavor (led by experts in foraging, of course). And, of course, there are hallmarks of other types of food festivals, too; it isn't all walking and scanning terra firma. "Big Sur area restaurants will host the culinary expertise of notable chefs preparing unique fare from rustic to elegant, paired with the region's amazing selection of wines and beers." Rustic to elegant, yum and yum.

TICKETS ARE NOW ON SALE: The foragers'll set out -- and set in to dine upon some excellent dishes -- in the middle of January 2015. Jan. 16 through 18, to be specific, so if you've got a fungi fanatic on your holiday gift list, well... how timely are those dates? Very well-scheduled, indeed. Peruse the line-up of events, which include a "Fungus Face-off" at Ventana Inn & Spa, a Grand Celebrity Chef Dinner (at the same spot), and a foraging walk into Pfeiffer State Park and the Big Sur Wilderness (for beginning and intermediate foragers, respectively). To start daydreaming, peek back at the 2014 Fungus Face-Off. Mushroom-infused cannelloni, lemon pepper chowder, wild boar and truffled mushroom rilletes...

Photo Credit: Big Sur Foragers Festival]]>
<![CDATA[Prospector Rates Return to Furnace Creek]]> Sun, 07 Sep 2014 13:42:41 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/214*120/furnacepalmsdv.jpg

WHERE LEAVES ARE SCARCE: There's no argument to the statement that California gets a traditional fall season, and a vibrant one. Foliage fans keep watch for the aspens and oak that go golden around the Eastern Sierra and up near Shasta, spending weekends finding the most colorful copses of tree-spectacular goodness. But there's another way to mark autumn in the Golden State, and that's via a trip to the moon. Surely the moon is a little mysterious and autumnal and just right for October? Well, getting to our actual lunar neighbor is still pretty tricky, for the most part, but you can visit the next best moon-esque place: Death Valley National Park. Nope, it isn't pocked with craters in the way the moon is, but you also don't need head gear to draw oxygen, either. It's wonderfully atmospheric, in short, and an October or November trip makes creative counter-programming to all of fall's tree-focused doings. And deal-cravers are in luck: Both of the Furnace Creek properties are packed their saddlebags full of Prospector Rates, which are making a return appearance at the casual (Ranch) and deluxe (Inn) expressions of the historic Death Valley property.

YEEHAW: If you want to invoke classic prospector sayings and tropes -- such as "yeehaw!" -- while booking your room under the rate, we're pretty sure no one would mind. And the upshot on the special? The Prospector Rates feature "30 percent discounts on select rooms throughout the park's fall season." Those rates kick up their boots starting on Oct. 15 and ride straight through to Dec. 21 at the Ranch; the Inn's dates are Oct. 20 through Dec. 20.

AND... why not counter-program your fall? If you're a leaf peeper, usually? Badwater Basin sits just south of the properties, lending a lunar experience to a stay in the area. We'll call a trip to the moon, or the next most moon-like place, ideal for the time of year when shadows grow deeper and longer.

Photo Credit: Inn at Furnace Creek]]>
<![CDATA[Death Valley's Happening Nightlife Scene]]> Wed, 03 Sep 2014 12:41:43 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/furnacecreekevening1.jpg

HOW'S THE NIGHTLIFE? The term "nightlife" isn't exactly a portmanteau, though we'd dearly love to say it is, because "portmanteau" should come back into more common usage, but it could qualify as the less colorful (but highly accurate) compound word. And the fairly new word "nightlife" -- well, newish, since it came well after "night" and "life" -- means just one thing nowadays: entertainment, action, go-go-go. Okay, that was a few things, granted, but people generally take it to mean a city's bars, clubs, restaurants, the whole going-out scene. But why can't a remote area also boast a nightlife, especially if it, too, has a show to stage? Maybe not of the neon-bass thumping-swanky cocktail variety, but a show that is spectacular nonetheless. A show that may involve the universe, or at least the cosmos as viewed from earth, in all of its Milky-Way-esque glory.

IF WE CAN USE... that measuring stick, then Death Valley National Park has a MAJOR nightlife. Nope, the thumping bass and valet line is not to be found, but there are full moon guided hikes led by park rangers. There's a reason these after-dusk strolls are popular: The International Dark-Sky Association named Death Valley a Gold-Tier location. "With clear nights the norm and the exterior lights of the resort dim by design, the big sky of the desert shines with starscapes that can be experienced in few places in the U.S.," says a Furnace Creek rep.

OH, AND FURNACE CREEK? We know you've got some lovely nightlife in the form of restaurants and pools to swim in under star-twinkle. So we're not saying some touches of traditional nightlife don't show a little bit in the very nice lobby bar at the Inn at Furnace Creek. That exists. But if you're version of nightlife is more about the moon and quiet and scurrying lizards and actually seeing the streaky evidence of the galaxy in which we call home, then your night will take on life -- yep, we did that -- in D.V.

Photo Credit: Furnace Creek]]>
<![CDATA[Happy 10th: The "Sideways" Celebrations Grow]]> Mon, 01 Sep 2014 10:37:15 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/216*120/sideways10.jpg

BEYOND THAT ONE GLASS OF WINE: Just like there are numerous vinos sipped in the seminal wine-loving flick "Sideways," there must be numerous celebrations marking the 10th anniversary of its release. Yes, "must" is a strong word, but consider the lavished love the Alexander Payne flick bestowed upon the Santa Ynez Valley, where the film was memorably and picturesquely set. Maps to locations seen in the film, and wineries where Miles and Jack tasted everything but merlot, soon appeared on stands around Solvang and Buellton, and the already popular weekend-y region grew in further stature. So when a merlot taste-off sprung up to pay homage to the movie's 10th anniversary, well... like a single glass of wine, fans guessed more to-dos would soon follow.

AND SO THEY HAVE: That aforementioned merlot taste-off, which is a bit winky, given that Miles, the film's lead, was having no merlot nope nope nope, lands in Solvang on Saturday, Sept. 13, but there is a veritable bouquet of "Sideways" happenings flowering around the valley during the fall. Want to see stills from the movie? Head for the Elverhoj Museum in Solvang from Oct. 4 through Nov. 2. Kalyra Winery in Santa Ynez will screen the film on Oct. 10. And will Fiddlehead Cellars in Lompoc raise a toast to the film with the sauvignon blanc seen in the film? You bet, on Sept. 20.

THERE ARE MORE... more more "Sideways" happenings springing up all around the already famous wine country it helped to make super extra tremendously famous, but if you just want to snag a map and go where the film's characters went, you can do that, too, any ol' time.

Photo Credit: Sideways]]>
<![CDATA[Santa Barbara Bird Love: Vulture Day]]> Sat, 30 Aug 2014 09:38:25 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/212*120/vulturewidewingsb.jpg

BEYOND THE GLOWER: There are signs that you're watching a romantic comedy -- a sudden downpour, surprise meetings in elevators, a merry misunderstanding or two -- and signs that you're viewing a western (horses clip-clopping, cowpokes, saddles). But what are the tropes of the scary movie? Yes, eerie harpsichord-type music. Yes, an old house at the end of a remote road. And, most definitely, a vulture perched high above the crumbling manse. He's looking peevish and creepy and foul-tempered, and his wings seem to form some sort of foreboding cape. In short? You're in a horror flick, boy howdy, when you reach full-on vulture ville. But some birdists feel that relegating vultures to the creepier end of the cinematic or bookly spectrum isn't fair. After all, they can't see ghosts -- at least we don't think -- and they don't typically live outside enchanted castles or magical cottages. What vultures do do is delight we humans with their beauty and wingspan and grace, like the ones at the Santa Barbara Zoo. Three species of vulture call the American Riviera animal park home, including Ruppell's Griffon vultures, turkey vultures, and, you guessed it, the California condor. And the zoo is ready to fete some of its most famous feathery denizens with a special holiday.

IT'S VULTURE AWARENESS DAY... on Sunday, Aug. 31. Of course, to the vultures, and the keepers who care for them, every day is Vulture Day, but visitors will get a bundle of info from the keeper talks while engaging in vulture-focused activities and crafts. And will there be chat about conservation and helping the vulture, who helps the wider world maintain a "healthy ecosystem"? There shall be. You get into all of the vulture-y doings by paying zoo admission.

AND LOOK... if vultures like glowering from dead trees in fictional scare flicks, we're not going to harsh that particular mellow. But how come we never see a bluebird or cardinal whistling joyfully outside the crumbling castle? Storytellers, time to refresh your go-to avian associations.

Photo Credit: Santa Barbara Zoo]]>
<![CDATA[Wolf Awareness Week at the California Wolf Center]]> Fri, 05 Sep 2014 16:08:50 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/californiawolfcenterwolfweek.jpg

Photo Credit: California Wolf Center]]>
<![CDATA[Sunset Soiree: Savor the Central Coast]]> Thu, 28 Aug 2014 11:34:05 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/214*120/brittanyapp13savor.jpg

NO COAXING REQUIRED: If you're a scholar of just-from-the-garden ingredients, and your hobby is trying offbeat herbs, or you have an opinion on decanting times and methods for wine, or you've eaten short ribs in a sandwich, in a pie, atop pasta, and completely plain, then taking the opportunity to visit a food-nice part of the state requires zero coaxing. None. You'll go, just to go, to enjoy the gardens and wine bars and outdoor dining patios, hooray and yay to all that. But if a major cuisine event is happening, with a venerable host, and the setting is a food-nice part of the state? Hoo boy, it is on, with bells on. The "venerable host" probably tipped our hand here, because Sunset Magazine is known far and farther for setting up its annual autumn eat-and-cook-and-sip-and-tour to-do, Savor the Central Coast. The long weekend of pleasurable pursuits of the palate is again scheduled for the last part of September, meaning it'll be the ideal time of year to be out at...

SANTA MARGARITA RANCH: Make that historic Santa Margarita Ranch, which has to be one of the Top 10 California Buildings That Looks As Though It Should Be in a Watercolor Painting (not the snappiest of titles, but true). Chefs shall demo, meals shall be served, and tours shall be taken around the Paso Robles region. Some highlights? The Main Event at the ranch is "an epicurean and adventure playground" featuring chefly doings, beer mavens, fishermen, and makers of artisanal eats. Adventure tours shall highlight everything from abalone to Hearst Castle to balsamic vinegar. And the special dinners? They happen hither and hitherer, from the aforementioned castle to local vineyards.

TICKETS? They can fly away for some of the events, so best land on the lovely respite you've got your eye, and possible your wine glass, on. Dates are Sept. 25 through Sept. 28. And will you wish you lived inside Santa Margarita Ranch? The chances are very good. Just prepare. That's a longing you'll leave with.

Photo Credit: Brittany App]]>