<![CDATA[NBC 7 San Diego - Worth the Trip]]> Copyright 2015 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 Mon, 26 Jan 2015 02:28:45 -0800 Mon, 26 Jan 2015 02:28:45 -0800 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Frosty Freebies: Mammoth Kids' Ski Deal]]> Sat, 24 Jan 2015 08:53:34 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/218*120/mammothwoolys123456.jpg

IF MOONS HAVE NAMES... such as Harvest Moon and Strawberry Moon, and seasons do, too, why shouldn't particular fortnights, or three-week spans, also get some sort of helpful handle to signify what part of the year they happen to cover? Some would be quite easy: Call the first two weeks of December "Holiday Run-Up" and the last week in August and first week in September "School Start" (prosaic names, both, but perhaps the poets among us can think of something as lyrical as "Harvest Moon"). But here's a small quandary: What would one call the very end of February and beginning of March? It's after Valentine's, but before the spring break rush, before the Final Four, and before St. Patrick's Day.

IT'S STILL WINTER, but late winter. It's a time that needs some love, or, at least, something fun to do, and for less money (given that we're saving for summer vacations). Why don't we call it Last Chance for Snow, and honor that by heading for the mountains to play in the cold stuff before crocuses bloom. Mammoth Mountain wants to help us there, even if that period is truly not the last chance (skiing, depending on the weather, can stretch into spring). The Sierra-based resort has a deal on from Feb. 22 through March 15 where "kids 12 and under ski and stay free at Mammoth Mountain." That's pretty dang clear.

ALSO CLEAR? That Woolly's Tube Park and SnowPlay Area is getting in on the frolicsome action by giving young midweek visitors an extra hour of free time swishing down snowpack. And, and, and... kids ages 5 to 12 can nab $35 lift tickets through the rest of the year (well beyond that late February into early March period). If you want to get the family into some snow, and still save for whatever you have brewing for the summer, take a peek at the mountainside deals. Snow's still snow, whether it arrives with the excitement of a November opening day or just before the start of spring. And a deal is a deal, always, and always welcome.

Photo Credit: Mammoth Mountain]]>
<![CDATA[Joshua Tree: Your Long Weekend Tips]]> Sat, 24 Jan 2015 19:07:06 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/180*120/joshuatree-geology-NPS.jpg

OBLIGATED TO THE DESERT: While we all adore the chummy get-togethers of the late fall and holiday season, there is a sense that They Will Happen Each Year, Like Clockwork, and us telling our family that we won't make it this year absolutely wouldn't stand. Our weekends are set in stone, over the last quarter of the year, what with tried-and-true rituals, visits, and gatherings of the celebratory season. But the new year has an open spirit, like the desert has an open spirit; wide vistas spread before us, long weekends without a must-do in sight. Matching that big anything-is-possible-a-tude is a feat best performed in a wide space, like the desert: A wide weekend and a wide setting make ideal partners after a busy, go-go-go, cheerful but cramped season.

IN THE SPIRIT OF THE NEW YEAR... and endless possibilities for our weekends, it might be worth stopping your camper along the National Park Foundation's most excellent list of tips for long-weekend-ing it in Joshua Tree National Park. Call Joshua Tree the perfect place to spend Presidents Weekend or Easter Weekend or even Memorial Day; that high desert cool, lemonade-y sunshine, and golden-at-sunset boulders are the exact tonic we need to start fresh in the first half of the year.

AND THOSE LONG WEEKEND TIPS INCLUDE... the 18-mile Geology Motor Tour, a look-see of the five oases associated with the park (the famous Oasis of Mara is indeed included), and the wildflowers of Black Rock Canyon which, lo and behold, bloom in springtime, just about the time of all of those delightful three-day weekends. "Desert sunflowers, Indian paintbrush, and wild hyacinth" are noted for their hues, as are the cacti that produce their iconic, full-petaled, waxy-nice buds come the warmer days of spring. For sure, our lives are all different, whether we were over-obligated around the holidays or not. But everyone has hope for an adventurous new year, and, for most people the calendar come January is a bit freer than it was during the previous month. You can make this boulder-filled national park for a long weekend, you can, and find an actual oasis or two in which to find some needed space.

Photo Credit: National Park Foundation]]>
<![CDATA[Big Bear Sweethearts: Your Frosty Valentine's Day]]> Thu, 22 Jan 2015 10:39:47 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/bigbearvday1.jpg

EVEN IF YOU DIDN'T GROW UP WITH SNOW... you know that the white cold stuff, when it is even and sparkly on the ground, makes a rather wonderful and stark canvas for any works of art, or expressions of love, you want to undertake. For sure, two snow people kissing can convey the true-hearted-ness of the couple that constructed them, and, yes, snow angels are sweet. But spelling out an "I Love You" below someone's window, on a vast bed of the chilly white stuff, with pine needles and pine cones for your materials, is also way up there in the annals of touching romance. Or a proposal, or any declaration of affection. Which all leads to this: Your fun and flirty getaway with Your Someone Special doesn't necessarily have to happen on some roasty beach (though, let's be honest: Sand makes a pretty spectacular canvas upon which to show someone your love).

YOU CAN GO... the snow route, even in Southern California, which happens to have a few mountaintops within shouting distance. ("Shouting distance" if you have a megaphone attached to a microphone, maybe, but close.) Big Bear is one of those spots, and there are a number of doings around the big lake dotting the Valentine's Weekend calendar. Oh yes, you know this, right? Valentine's Day in 2015 is on a Saturday, so if you don't start planning two minutes ago, it could be sad trombone time when the middle of February arrives.

THE KNICKERBOCKER MANSION... will present overnight Valentine's Day duos with a gratis bottle of bubbly, and Altitudes Massage is upping the couples massage game with the giving of a rose, some Champagne, some chocolates as a part of the 90-minute, two-in-one-room massage. And for those twosomes who schuss? Goldsmith's Boardshop has some rent-one-get-the-second-set-free deals going down over the middle of February. For all the Big Bear February haps, ski this way. For what you'll spell on the snow outside your honey's window, spell out of pine cones and pine needles, well... We suggest you start plotting that bit of heart-cheering whimsy, pronto.

Photo Credit: Big Bear]]>
<![CDATA[Vegas Astronomy: Star Party in the Neon Boneyard]]> Wed, 21 Jan 2015 10:26:58 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/203*120/starneonvegas12345.jpg

THE SEARCH FOR SIGNS: It's funny, but not too funny, how many business names in Las Vegas have incorporated "star" and starry themes. There's the Stardust, yes, but so many places bearing twinkly heavenly bodies or vintage starbursts as part of their iconography that a retro fan can lose count. Clearly the message is this: If you're in Sin City, even for a night, you get to play the part of a star, by dressing up, standing at a craps table, being catered to, enjoying that fine steak and martini. It's part of the vibe of one of the vibe-iest cities on the planet. But beyond that planet are actual stars, not simply neon starbursts, and it is possible to gaze up and find a few, even with all of that bright signage lining The Strip. The Neon Museum will do just that on Saturday, Jan. 24. It's a telescope bash in the famous Neon Boneyard -- "Stars and Stardust: Sidewalk Astronomy in the Neon Boneyard" is the name -- and, you guessed it, you'll be discerning very, very faraway objects while standing not to far from the very signs that have long made the night sky so bright in that particular area of Nevada. An unlikely pairing? For sure, but consider it a beautiful and unusual setting for a beautiful pursuit.

THE LAS VEGAS ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY... is at the helm of the event, which is free and open to every star lover of every age (but kids, please be with your grown-ups). And if you're concerned that the highly illuminated signs of the Boneyard will knock out any viewing-of-the-heavens pleasure, take comfort: The signs'll be dimmed in time for the telescope gazing.

IF YOU LIKE YOUR STARS... seen by darkness and your vintage Strip signs to stay extra twinkly, hang tight: The museum, which is headquartered at the quirky La Concha Motel, always covers a full complement of quirky to-dos throughout the year, including some choice nights out around the holidays. And as you gaze upon those starburst-filled signs, ponder if there's another city in the history of cities that has turned to the cosmos as often for its own iconography and symbolism. (Probably not.)

Photo Credit: Neon Boneyard]]>
<![CDATA[El Capitan's Big February Show]]> Tue, 20 Jan 2015 09:31:46 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/160*134/HorsetailFallYosemite.jpg

THAT HUNK O' GRANITE: El Capitan, one of the most known, beloved, and visited monoliths in the world, was around long before the internet and television and newspapers and books. But the internet and television and newspapers and, yes, soon books and movies, too, are and will make up for lost time covering the Yosemite National Park icon, thanks to the epic Dawn Wall climb completed by Kevin Jorgeson and Tommy Caldwell on Wednesday, Jan. 14. It's big news, and for good reason: Many said that a hand-and-foot climb of one of the sheerest walls in the world couldn't be done. Now it has been, and while most people aren't plotting their own Dawn Wall ascent, many are pondering a Yosemite visit, the better to ponder El Cap and all of its marvelous mysteries. And one of those mysteries happens to be just ahead, though it is only mysterious on the surface (so, in other words, science explains the magic, as it often does, which doesn't deplete the thrill at all). We speak of Horsetail Fall, a waterfall located "on the shoulder of El Capitan" that seems to catch fire, courtesy of our planet's nearest star, each year for a few days come the middle to late February.

ACTUALLY, MAKE THAT A FEW HOURS... maybe. It's tricky to predict when the "firefall" effect will be seen, because so much of it depends on timing and the weather. But the promise of the stunner of a light show still draws people who love a good natural spectacle. You'll need to head for the El Capitan picnic area, around evening, because the day's "waning light" helps set the waterfall aglow. Keeping an eye on the forecast, to make sure cloud cover isn't too thick, is smart, and researching past experiences of people who've spied the non-fire firefall can inspire when you make for the park. Need more on this strange once-a-year phenomenon? Click. And hope that the sun and water and rock again come together in that perfect, photo-ready way. (They've been doing so for a few years now, so chances are good.)

Photo Credit: Horsetail Fall]]>
<![CDATA[Sup Among Stars: Santa Barbara Film Feast]]> Thu, 22 Jan 2015 21:52:39 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/212*120/sbfilmfeast2015.jpg

THAT LONGTIME TWOSOME: Claiming that food and movie-watching are forever entwined is akin to saying that day is bright and night is dark, and yet we still rhapsodize on the pairing at length. We ponder if it is better to eat during a film, or if that big bucket o' popcorn distracts from the action on screen. We wonder if a meal before a movie gives you the energy to stay peppy, or if it puts you to sleep. And we consider if having dinner after the credits wrap, on a first date, isn't the way to go, as you can discuss the movie you just saw together if the conversation in general lags. What is rarer, though, are large-scale cinematic events specifically built with a food component in mind. We're not talking about a lavish dinner for award show nominees, nope; we're talking about festivals where attendees have as many interesting cuisine choices as films to see. Napa Valley does each fall, and, of course you betcha, there's a strong wine component. And come winter? It is Santa Barbara's scene. So much so that the food part of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival arrives with its own unique identity: Santa Barbara Film Feast. 

JAN. 27-FEB. 7, 2015: The Film Feast runs concurrent with the film festival, offering "(s)pecial menus and hotel packages" for people in town to catch the celebrity tributes, industry panels, or opening and closing night screenings ("Desert Dancer" opens the fest and "McFarland, USA" closes it). Those menus includes a meatball sandwich Inspired by "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" at Belcampo Meat Company, "Wallace and Gromit"-inspired cheeses at C'est Cheese, and made-for-the-fest cocktails at Ty Lounge at the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara. A goodly number (think a dozen-ish) hotels in the area are offering packages tied to the festival, with discounts in the mix. If your movie-meal love goes well beyond licorice-snacking during a film's second act, Film Feast could be up your culinary alley. A plus? It spreads the party to places beyond the theaters, and pretty much anyone who has made the effort to attend a festival enjoys that fully immersive vibe. Go wider, film fests everywhere, is what we're blatantly saying, and look to Santa Barbara and Napa Valley for inspiration.

Photo Credit: Santa Barbara Film Feast]]>
<![CDATA[National Parks: First 2015 Fee-Free Day Ahead]]> Mon, 19 Jan 2015 06:46:28 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/yosemite452872754.jpg

133 OF 405: Not every national park under the National Park Service umbrella stops you at a gate to collect admission and tape a small piece of paper inside your windshield. Only 133 out of the just over 400 parks charge a fee, so far less than half, meaning many parks are there for you to enter, sans cash, or at least cash to get in, every day of the year. But Yosemite National Park does have a fee, and so does Joshua Tree National Park, so when the annual fee-free days roll around for the service, as they do each year, they're absolutely worth noting -- noting and applauding, that is. It's a way to get more people into the parks, in every season. And the first day on the national park fee-free calendar is always...

MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. DAY: The holiday is on Monday, Jan. 19 in 2015, so if you're in the neck of the Yosemite woods, or Joshua Tree, or further abroad around the United States, you don't have to pay anything to visit a place of quiet, tree- and/or rock-filled peace. It should be said that activities and concessions and stay-over sites within the parks will still charge, so let that be known.

OTHER FEE-FREE DAYS AHEAD... include Presidents Day Weekend, April 18 and 19 (the weekend that kicks off National Park Week), Aug. 25 (it's the National Park Service's birthday), Sept. 26 (where people pause to pitch in over National Public Lands Day), and Nov. 11 (Veterans Day). And while the NPS will be marking a pretty auspicious age in 2015 -- 99 -- stay tuned for 2016, when centennial events will abound. And abound they should, given that the service has helped protect many wild lands for nearly a century -- protect and, on occasion, make sure every last one of them is free to see.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Palms Casino Promotion: Win a Fantasy Suite Stay]]> Fri, 16 Jan 2015 13:02:34 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/palmscasinofantasysuitesvegas1.jpg

YOUR DASHING VEGAS SELF: We expect that you're still very you when you arrive in a flashy Las Vegas casino, because people should always be themselves, one of the first and truest lessons of life. That said, the general feeling that one should grow slightly sparklier, and ever so glittery, while visiting Sin City, is not only a mood transmitted by Vegas advertising: Walk into any Sin City venue and the flash/dash element is fairly high, from what people are wearing to what they're sipping to the big-o-sity of the stage shows and concerts. (Is "big-o-sity" a word that goes far enough, though, to describe a show rife with sequins, searing guitar solos, and props that descend from ceilings?) And when one ups their flash/dash, dress- or suit-wise, one tends to daydream of returning to one of the famous suites that one has seen on various cable shows detailing the glamorous life of high rollers. But how to get in? Must one visit the Baccarat table and win big? Should one book a private jet to arrive in, the better to nab a suite booking? It could be as simple as booking a room and, some time later, being chosen as the person who wins a night in such a suite. That's currently happening at the Palms Casino Resort where...

THE STAY TO WIN PROMOTION: The swanky upshot is this: Book at room at the Vegas hotel by the end of January and be automatically entered in a drawing. If you book a superior guestroom you could win an upgrade to a Celebrity Suite. If you reserve a premier guestroom or Palms Place Studio you could win a stay in the Crib Suite or Hot Pink Suite, among others (the Hot Pink Suite, by the by, has a Barbie theme). And if you reserve an ivory suite, grand suite, or Palms Place Studio one bedroom you may find yourself following a bellman and your luggage into the Kingpin Suite, which boasts two bowling lands.

SO IS THIS THE YEAR... that your Vegas room matches your on-the-casino-floor fashions? Where your personal dash is mirrored in the high-flying suite you return to later in the evening? For all of the promotion's details and asterisks, strut this way, snazzy players.

Photo Credit: Palms Casino]]>
<![CDATA[Back and Bright: Old-School Disneyland Fireworks]]> Thu, 15 Jan 2015 09:01:56 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/fantasycastlefireworksdisney12345.jpg

TO EVERYTHING, A STORY: Ask a serious maven of the Magic Kingdom about the names on the windows of Main Street or how Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room developed or the story behind the Sherman Brothers penning the theme to "it's a small world" and you're likely to get a full and colorful discourse on the topic. So it makes perfect sense that even those elements of Disneyland that don't seem to come bearing their own highly specific tale actually, in fact, very much do. For example? Well, if you've seen one fireworks show at the Anaheim theme park, you have not seen them all. The pyrotechnics pizzazz seen over Sleeping Beauty's Castle has its own variations and backstory, enough to fill a few fan blogs. So when a former fireworks show reappears, it is quite the huge deal among regular park attendees.

AND THAT HUGE DEAL... popped and fizzed like a sparkly flower in the sky when "Fantasy in the Sky" made a grand re-entrance on Jan. 9 after saying adieu in 2004 (and only showing up on various New Year's Eves). Yep, that means it is a fireworks show that has been very rarely seen at the world's most famous theme park, but its roots go even further back: It started in 1958, just a few years after Disneyland debuted, meaning it has some real cred. The soundtrack for the fireworks is "the most recent" (just in case you're listening for the sounds of 1958) and the sky show is on "for a limited time." Have you seen "Fantasy in the Sky" at Disneyland Paris or in Orlando? It has played there as well, but it has been a rarer sight in Anaheim, at least for the last decade.

AS FOR FINDING THAT PERFECT SPOT... to watch? Well, everyone has an opinion on that, from a curb along Main Street to Frontierland to as close as you can possibly get to the castle. But it serves as a reminder that the park is built on the business of nostalgia, very much so, so any element you've fretted over, thinking it might be gone, could one day make a dazzler of re-debut. Did you see this fireworks program in the 1950s? Wonder if any memories of a night spent at Disneyland during its first decade will pop up as the fireworks pop above you.

Photo Credit: Disneyland]]>
<![CDATA[Sin City's Tony Tally: Vegas by the Numbers]]> Wed, 14 Jan 2015 13:50:49 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/highroller495461239.jpg

IT'S ALL ABOUT THE NUMBERS: If you appeared on a quiz show and had to answer a question that asked what place was the most number-oriented, you might pause, scratch your chin, and consider. There are universities and institutes that are quite math-minded, so they'd qualify. There are towns that survive by watching the amount of rainfall received, down to the millimeter. And there's Las Vegas, a glittering casino-opolis that showers visitors in numbers and amounts from every angle, including the poker table, the roulette wheel, blackjack, and the slots. Thus when it is time to tally up a full year, Sin City naturally looks to a way to add it all up, since that's the route the desert destination tends to take the most. And the impressive numbers have been released: A lot of people go to Las Vegas to participate in a lot of out-of-the-ordinary things. For starters, how many $5,000 burgers were sold at Fleur during 2014? Scratch your chin and ponder for a moment. Okay, we'll 'fess up. The number was...

26 FLEURBURGERS: Yep, that happened. The numbers grow a lot in terms of margaritas served at the MGM Grand's Hecho en Vegas -- 46,363 -- and fountain shows at The Bellagio (if you guessed 11,336, you're absolutely correct). Speaking of MGM Grand, the estimate of how many pillows were fluffed over the course of 365 days astounds -- that's 7,982,550 -- and there were some 520 victories at Excalibur's Tournament of Kings. And as for those new lion cubs at Mirage? They're three of them. As for the pounds of caviar served at The Bellagio's buffet? About 360, so figure that guests are eating roughly a pound of caviar a day. And did you see the couples marrying on The Linq's High Roller on Dec. 13, 2014 (which was 12-13-14)? Almost 100 couples in all tied the knot on the mega Ferris wheel.

IT'S A REMINDER... that Las Vegas works both the posh, try-it-once angle, and the up-all-the-time corner, too, meaning its numbers push, push, push the limits. But then it is a city built on numbers pushing limits, so large amounts of swanky suppers sold and stay-overs enjoyed is not that strange. Surely the city'll try to out-do itself in 2015, the way that something that's forever trying to top the last amazing thing goes a little bit further? 

SO WHAT'S AHEAD? Here's a crystal ball for you.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Victorian High Jinks: Riverside Dickens Festival]]> Tue, 13 Jan 2015 18:36:49 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/160*120/DickensFestival1_crDickensFest.jpg

MORE SWEET THAN SOMBER: For sure, Charles Dickens and the other novelists of the Victorian era can get a bit of a serious reputation. This is for good reason, of course; the Industrial Revolution was full steam ahead (quite literally) and any manner of misfortunes clouded day-to-day life, with far too much frequency. But lighter vignettes appear in the work of the lauded author, and his peers, too, which reveal that the middle of the 19th century wasn't all widow's weeds and scowling villains and gloomy, cloud-heavy skies. Fezziwig of "A Christmas Carol" very much signifies the sweeter side of things, as do many of the characters behind the all-dominating Ebenezer Scrooge. It's a fine reminder that making merry is an a-ok, totally acceptable, and highly laudable thing to do, when it comes to feting the colorful era of Mr. Dickens. Riverside stops each February to spend a whole weekend doing just that, and the party is far more Fezziwig than Scrooge. Queen Victoria herself makes a cameo, and everyone is in their hoop-skirted, high-hatted finery, which lends a regal and costumey air to the party-nice proceedings.

FEBRUARY 21 AND 22... are the dates for the Riverside Dickens Festival, though there is a Friday night kick-off at Pickwick's Pub (Friday the 20th, natch). The featured book of the 2015 confab is "Little Dorrit" and Mr. Dickens will be at the festival himself (or make that performer Paul Jacques). Firing and drill demos, the Ten Bells Tavern, Mr. Fezziwig's Ball, Evensong (think "(a) beautiful program of readings and fine music) and more very-of-the-period convivialities fill the big weekend calendar. One of the most important bits of the bash takes place well before anyone turns their carriage for Riverside: The choosing of an era-perfect costume. If you're waving your hand dismissively and saying "people don't really dress for this fest" take a moment to look at photos from past years. Everybody but almost everybody likes to hoop-skirt-it up, not just Queen Vic. If you're going to be in character, and find that new friend to chat "Little Dorrit" with, best start planning your gentlemanly suit or celebratory frock now.

Photo Credit: Dickens Festival]]>
<![CDATA[Alabama Hills Adventure: Travel "The Movie Road"]]> Tue, 20 Jan 2015 09:30:59 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/alabamahillslonepinechamber.jpg

BEYOND THE BOULEVARD: If you had to pick the thoroughfare with the most movie connections, in your mind, what road would you land upon? Hollywood Boulevard? Maybe Sunset Boulevard? Or Mulholland or Melrose or one of the studio-dotted streets of Tinseltown? They're all good and true entries, but another movie road exists in California, and it has so much hallowed history that it is called The Movie Road, capital M and capital R. If you've seen "Gunga Din" or "Tremors" or a host of Western or wide-open-range-y films made over the last 90 or so years, give or take, you've seen this epic alien landscape, a gorgeous slice of wilderness that looks like a cross between a beautiful mountain painting and a faraway planet. There's nothing quite like the Alabama Hills, in appearance, which is why the location, which is a few hours up Highway 395 from Los Angeles, became such a draw for scouts looking for a cinematic place that would deliver a hefty amount of wow and wild beauty.

AND... while the movie sets have been dismantled, and there are no more cowboy hats nor lassos to be found in the vicinity, the hills have not changed, perceptibly, whatsoever, making a Movie Road road trip something of a drive back into the past of Western-themed filmmaking. Best of all? The drives are self-guided, and open all year, depending on weather.

WHAT YOU'LL SPY: Spots where films like 1963's "Showdown" took place, and the "Rawhide" grave site. Look also for a rocky outcropping that was very much part of the look of "The Gay Caballero" of 1940. The Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce has a link to the helpful, get-out-and-discover pdf, which includes maps to several cinema-famous sites. Take care that every road may not be made for every vehicle, and the usual precautions when heading into bumpier territory. Want to turn your pony towards the Roy Rogers Movie Flats, Lone Ranger Canyon, and the plaque that pays tribute to the silver-screen legacy of the Alabama Hills? Clip-clop this way, cowpokes.

Photo Credit: Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce]]>
<![CDATA[Flying for Del Mar: The Marvel Experience]]> Sat, 10 Jan 2015 17:19:04 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/219*120/marvelexperiencesd1.jpg

IF YOU WERE A SUPERHERO -- and we'll totally assume you are, because superheroes, by nature, do not go around touting their superherodom but rather read blog posts, stay current on newsy items, and go about their day-to-days, fully uncaped -- where would you go to present a mega splashy tech-of-tomorrow presentation of some of the most famous superheroes of all time? San Diego, is that place (we're sure you were also saying "San Diego" so forgive us if we interrupted you). The city, after all, is the shiny tights, shield-holding centerpoint of all things superhero, what with being the home of Comic-Con International. But given that so many superheroes are in town in July, for the pop culture convention, when would you make for the city? Well, maybe winter, and maybe you'd make for Del Mar, a smidge outside of the town, the better to present your superhero-y feats in full flower. That's just what The Marvel Experience shall do, in all of its out-sized, effects-impressive ways, when it flies its supersecret millionaire jet to the Del Mar Fairgrounds on Saturday, Feb. 7.

AND THERE IT SHALL STAY... for a fortnight, but just a fortnight, though it shall be a wowza two weeks. What's so wowza? It's a hyper-reality tour that has, as its centerpiece, "the world's only 360-degree Stereoscopic 3D Dome." (No joke: How do we get one for the den?) Other "interactive and immersive elements" fill out the attraction, which features a motion ride and dozens of Marvel icons. 

AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. IN TRAINING: That's how guests are designated, so, if you're game, you'll "swing with Spider-man, smash with Hulk, fly with Iron Man" and participate in a number of righteous and totally rad superhero-y activities. The cost? The starting point is $27.50. The final wrap-up say bye-bye to Cap and Black Widow and Hawkeye? Circle Feb. 22 on your supersecret invisible millionaire jet's calendar, the one that you hang by the controls to keep track of all the cool comics-y stuff that lands in San Diego.

Photo Credit: The Marvel Experience]]>
<![CDATA[Free Birthday Trips Extended: The Catalina Express]]> Sun, 11 Jan 2015 17:00:00 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/160*120/catalinaexpress12345.jpg

OVER THE WATER, FOR A SONG: Birthdays have long been tied to free things and giveaways and deals and business-oriented birthday goodies. The freebies and discounts depend a bit on where someone lives, but a stack of pancakes, a scoop of ice cream, a balloon, a coffee, and other you-were-born-this-day goodies are traditional, outside-your-home treats. But Southern California has an especially remarkable birthday freebie, one that is quite different from the desserts and drinks given away, and it involves whisking birthday-having people away to an island, in the Pacific Ocean, for zero dollars. We speak, of course, of the Catalina Express, which launched a Free Ride on Your Birthday program a few years back, a program that has done very well. How well? Well, the fourth year was just announced, meaning the ride-free-to-Avalon promotion will be extended into 2015. The ferry service made the announcement on Thursday, Jan. 8, so if you were fretting about your lack of birthday plans for this year, pin this one to the board.

ON THROUGH THURSDAY, DEC. 31, 2015: Have a birthday on March 8? How about Oct. 10? You could save up to $76.50 on a round trip to the island. There are a few asterisks, including this important one: The round trip must begin on your birthday, even if you're spending a night or two on the island (but you'll need to complete the trip within 30 days). Pre-registering, too, is essential, so make sure you have that t crossed and i dotted before making for a Catalina Express port. And a very nice extra superlicious thing? Hotels and restaurants and attractions on Catalina are in the birthday swing of things, so check to see what places have jumped into the "if it is your birthday, you get deals and free things" loop. (Think trail maps, free miniature golf, and such.) For the details on birthday island stuff, boat this way. 

Photo Credit: Catalina Express]]>
<![CDATA[A Desert Birthday: Happy 80th, Elvis]]> Thu, 08 Jan 2015 09:07:03 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/chancetinder123455.jpg

80 YEARS OF KINGLY COOL: What was music and style and fan worship and kitsch and utter cool like before Elvis Presley arrived on the sound and cinema scene, with his hips in full shake mode and his 'do fully pompadoured? We have to guess that the world was a little less razzmatazz-y, a little lacking in bravado, and a lot more in need of a man who could croon, smile, and honey-voice his way into a million hearts. Thank goodness one Elvis Aaron Presley debuted in 1935, bringing his song and gentlemanly swagger to stages and screens around the world. And while The King left the building too early for those million hearts -- make that millions and millions -- fans still remember him on his birthday each year, which is Jan. 8. That's what loyal devotees will do again, around the planet, but there's a special party planned for the Saturday following the anniversary of Mr. Presley's birth, and it just happens to be at his house. Nope, not his Memphis digs, but the California abode where he and Priscilla spent the days following their honeymoon back in May of 1967. The bash'll rage at the Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway, in Palm Springs, where Elvis tribute artist Chance Tinder will sing in honor of 80 years of Elvisian magic.

SATURDAY, JAN. 10... is the date, and there's a bevy of guests scheduled to appear, from Jamie Nudie of Nudie's of Hollywood -- oh yes, the outfitters behind some of The King's most iconic clothing -- to Glen Glenn, who served as The King's Chief of Security once upon a time. Cake and house tours are part of the stylish '60s-era doings, so be sure to dress in your beehive-y, bell-bottom-y best (or, truly, come as you are, if coming as you are means you'll be able to relax and enjoy to scene more comfortably). Elvis was a great host, it was said, so a relaxed and easygoing 80th birthday party, at his house, will follow that form. What tickets, "Love Me Tender"-loving peeps? Blow a kiss this way.

Photo Credit: Chance Tinder]]>
<![CDATA[Vintage VaVoom: Trailers in Palm Springs]]> Thu, 08 Jan 2015 13:14:50 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/trailerps123345.jpg

THE COMFIEST PART OF COOL: Ask anyone to describe the mid-century aesthetic and you're bound to hear words like "elegant" and "refined" and "swank" and "cool" and "cocktail" and "chic." True terms, all, but modernism boasts some very comfy, easy-to-chillax-in corners, with one of the majors being the rise of the kitsch'd-out travel trailer. The hook-it-on-the-back-of-the-station-wagon icon was an icon of the middle of the 20th century, the happy-go-lucky side to all of that chic-style happening in homes and public buildings. So when Modernism Week arrives in Palm Springs, with its salutes to all that encompassed the idea, the humbler, oh-so-fabulous travel trailer is not left out of the party. In fact, the transportation is given its own spotlight, over a single evening, with some 40-plus examples of the forward-motion form on display (think Airstreams, too). Not only that, but the doors shall be open, so you can peek inside the snug little nooks, to get a better idea of how people five or six decades ago hit the open highway. So, where in the P.S. shall you go to see these wheeled wonders? Why that would be...

THE HILTON HOTEL: But not the ballroom or lobby, nope nope; the travel trailers will dot the parking lot. Since there's so much room, you're bound to see chairs, pink flamingos, and barbecues dotting the exterior areas of the trailers, and some attractively striped awnings. Trailer restorers and those who just love the look and lifestyle make for Palm Springs with their beauties in tow, so trust you'll see some of the best of the West. And, truly: How many videos and ad shoots turn to vintage trailers nowadays to convey a certain retro joie de vivre? They're instant signifiers of a certain carefree, backroads way of doing things. Even if you don't yet have your own, you can get close-up with several prime examples.

WHEN? The trailers shall brake at the Palm Springs Hilton on Saturday, Feb. 21. The cost? It's $15 to get up and close. Good-natured jealousy, and wishing you had your own, is totally free.

Photo Credit: Vintage Travel Trailer Show]]>
<![CDATA[Costa Mesa Crunch: An All-Popcorn Kind of Weekend]]> Tue, 06 Jan 2015 13:42:51 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/160*120/Popcorn_103008.jpg

STAND ASIDE, HAMBURGERS AND DONUTS: What's Southern California's official foodstuff? For sure, we're known for quality fast food hamburgers, and hot dogs, too. Our donuts have won raves in all of the rave-giving places, from the humble plains to the fancy candy-coated. And do we do fish tacos the best? Well, San Diego makes a claim there, but let's say that Golden State fish tacos really are famous for a reason. And yet popcorn does not make many lists, when it comes to pinpointing the edibles that SoCalers regularly snack upon. How can this be, given that we're the movie dream factory for the planet, and popcorn is Movie-Watching's Official, Forever-and-Ever Treat (tm)? It seems like a straightforward pairing, and yet you won't find too many occasions spotlighting the bumpily kernels or our unwavering obsession with popcorn consumption. But the OC Market Place pauses each January to celebrate National Popcorn Day, a day that may have something to do, timing-wise, with where the Super Bowl falls. We'd also wager that January is the thick of awards season, so why not honor the salty icon of the concession stand at the very same time? While you discuss which theory holds more butter, popcornists, you can make your way to Costa Mesa for...

A POPCORN PARTY: "(F)ree bags of Gaslamp Popcorn" will be handed out on Jan. 17 and 18, a Popcorn Prize Wheel will spin, and Captain Popcorn, "a strolling pirate," will be in the house (or, rather, the grounds of the OC Fair & Event Center." Kaptain Kernel -- "The King of Korn" -- shall juggle popcorn balls and perform gags that involved spilled popcorn. (If he could give tips on how to make this seems like something we meant to do, as we're running for a movie theater with a popcorn bag in our hand, that would be fab.) Other popcorn-y quainteries shall pop, pop, pop throughout the weekend, too. So, seriously, donuts, hamburgers, and fish tacos: Can you invite popcorn to join you on the SoCal famous foods lists? Because a movie capital deserves to have its representative snack given its salty, in-the-spotlight due.

Photo Credit: Popcorn]]>
<![CDATA[A National Park New Year's Resolution]]> Mon, 05 Jan 2015 12:21:47 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/nationafoundationresolution2015.jpg

SPACE, PEACE, QUIET, JOY: Once upon a time people spent most holidays in nature as a matter of course. An evening stroll or a picnic or a visit to a neighbor through the woods was as natural as nature itself. But that's changed, for many, over the last several decades: Now we must schedule some some time in a forest, or the desert, or at the beach, and we very often do so when the new year rolls around. Call it a resolution to be outdoors more, or a commitment to not get quite as tangled in day-to-day errands, or view it as a wide look at the 365 days to come, but booking time with nature is something many of us do come early January. Now the National Park Foundation is making that commitment-stating rather easier, with a bit of inspiration and a few ideas from other people, courtesy of its National Parks resolution page.

IT'S SIMPLE: Just state on the page what you're going to do in the months ahead -- "Finally make it to the furthest Channel Island" or "get out to the Channel Islands for the first time" or "ice skate at Curry Village in Yosemite" or "watch a full moon rise in Death Valley" and publish it. You can also click a box for correspondence from the National Park Foundation, which supports many proactive programs and initiatives that honor and help our wildest treasures. And reading what other park fans are planning to do in 2015 is a definite gooser. ("Gooser" meaning one gets goosed to actually get out and go to the national parks.)

SO, WHAT WILL YOU DO IN 2015? There's lots to choose from on the resolution-making front: An upcoming dark-sky, telescope-nice event in Death Valley, the running of the waterfalls in Yosemite, all of those grand birdwatching months around Santa Cruz and the other Channel Islands...

Photo Credit: National Parks Foundation]]>
<![CDATA[Golden State Savings: California Restaurant Month]]> Mon, 05 Jan 2015 18:36:16 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/TLMD-cena-navidad-2014-restaurantes.jpg

DINNER UNTANGLED: Even if you're the foodiest of foodies among your super foodie friends, alighting upon which eateries to visit in a not-too-known-to-you city can send you around the internet and guidebook shelf more than once. Do you find a place that very new and in the headlines, or a tried-and-true-and-tasty classic that's stood time's test and weathered the years, a feat that's not small in the restaurant business? If you don't know the landscape, choosing your meals out over a weekend getaway can fill you with pre-FOMO. (Fear of Missing Out, of course.) If you're a foodie FOMO-ist abiding by a vacation budget -- and we dare say everyone is abiding by a vacation budget, when vacations occur, even if you're not the hugest of foodies -- then January is your month to explore, try new things, and eat out across the state: It's California Restaurant Month. Nope, not every restaurant within our borders is going the less-money, prix-fixe-y route, but thousands will, in various cities and towns, with some places even giving their specific Restaurant Week a theme.

FOR EXAMPLE? Pasadena Cheeseburger Week and Santa Monica's Eat Well Week -- think healthy dining -- are two of the specific Restaurant Weeks popping up in January. Look also for Santa Barbara Film Feast, a crab extravaganza in Mendocino County, and a bevy of all-encompassing Restaurant Weeks, from South Tahoe to Stockton to Dana Point. As for dishes? Well, with a caboodle of participating venues, the gamut will be more than covered, but look for the bulk of participants to go the two- to three-course road, with apps and desserts in the mix, and prices to fall in the $15 to $30 window for lunch and a bit more than that for dinner.

NO FOMO: So, traveling foodies, you don't need to fear you've landed on the wrong dining experience in a new city. Just travel in January and keep the Restaurant Month list handy. Deals and popular joints? It is win and win, which is very unFOMO (a good thing).

Photo Credit: ShutterStock]]>
<![CDATA[Tour and Taste: Savor Yuma]]> Mon, 05 Jan 2015 18:36:37 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/yumasavorjan12345.jpg

THE FIRST THING TO KNOW: When visiting a town, what's the most important first bit of knowledge to get under your belt? Maybe the year the town was founded, or if it is a university town, or if agriculture or art or transportation figure heavily would be interesting firsts for the first-time visitor. But everybody but everybody, pretty much, arrives in a place asking thing: Where can I get lunch? (Or dinner or breakfast... You understand.) Supping, and supping well, in the manner of the locals, is a key initial step when entering any city for the first or third or twentieth time. If only ever municipality followed Yuma's lead in matters of sustenance, knowledge, and showing off the city's culinary best. The southwestern Arizona burg is home to the Savor Yuma tours -- yep, obviously Savor Yuma tours would be in Yuma, so that's a handy helpful bit of naming right there -- and the tours take in a wide swath of savory and sweet offerings around the town. Ready to join a progressive dinner-style motorcoach offering that provides an appetite-whetting (and -satisfying) overview of La Cuisine Yuma? Then mark...

TUESDAY, JAN. 6... on your calendar. That's when the tours rev up for 2015, and there are six to come: Two in January, two in February, and two in March. The tours are fifty bucks a person, and that includes the motorcoach, the meals, and "two adult beverages." Participating venues may/will include Tina's Cocina, The Farmhouse, and Yuma's Main Squeeze.

AGRICULTURAL POWERHOUSE: Yuma is, of course, one of the go-to places for a variety of crops, fruits, and grown-goodness (hello, Medjool dates). Let's give the Big Y a hearty pat on the back for doing lettuce, that healthy salad-and-beyond staple, so very well. There's a lettuce fest, in fact, at the end of February and beginning of March. If you're a lettuce lover, best attend, lest you're green with envy. (Yep, "green" as in lettuce -- salad humor.)

Photo Credit: Savor Yuma]]>
<![CDATA[Stylish Cinema: Palm Springs International Film Festival]]> Thu, 01 Jan 2015 10:18:14 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/henrihenrips.jpg

LET'S GET THIS PARTY STARTED: We may let our resolutions take a few easy days to kick in -- Jan. 4th or 5th, or the first Monday following New Year's Day, feels like the right time to buckle down -- and we may not get around to cleaning out the files for the previous year for a couple of weeks. But the film festival and awards business is not about dilly-dallying when the first month of the year steps up: In short, when the year starts, it is as if the cinema world says "let's do this" with one collective breath. Stop number one in doing this -- hailing fresh films, screening gems, and bestowing honors upon creative types -- is always the desert and the Palm Springs International Film Festival, which will rev up movie award season just hours into 2015. Make that hours plus a day: The mega movie-celebrity-Q & A happening, which is awash in both red carpet glamour and nook-ish to-dos aimed at niche tastes, opens on Friday, Jan. 2.

THE FILM FESTIVAL... is indeed the traditional start to the annual cinema calendar, and while the scene and pool parties and La Vida Resort Living is part of the party, so are the screenings: "(Y)oung, emerging filmmakers" shall get their time to shine in the Breaking Waves screenings, while Another Europe applauds filmmakers from Central and Eastern Europe. There are secret screenings, a free film ("X + Y"), documentaries, and the bountiful bevy of works that come from a festival being around for a quarter century (make that a quarter century plus a year: PSIFF turns 26 in 2015). "Selma" is the centerpiece of the Opening Night Gala and "Boychoir" closes out the festival on Sunday, Jan. 11.

SO... are you ready for all of the red-carpet-y, camera-flash-bulb-y happenings that will roll out over the first fifth of the year around Southern California? Palm Springs is, too. And, nope, the festival isn't just for industry insiders; any film fan is welcome to purchase a ticket or line-up for a stand-by seat, if that option is available. If the Oscars and even the Golden Globes are still too faraway, go P.S. to get your film fandom on.

Photo Credit: Henri Henri]]>
<![CDATA[New in 2015: Hike Death Valley Program]]> Sun, 04 Jan 2015 12:10:17 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/deathvalleygetty12345.jpg

UNDER THE VAST SKY: The end of a year and the beginning of a new one is very much the time of Penciling in Big Ideas for Changing Up One's Life, Positively. Eating better is often among those, as is seeing friends, starting a long-put-off project, traveling, and getting more fresh air and exercise. Many of those Big Ideas dovetail nicely in the recently announced Hike Death Valley Program, a new-to-the-national-park deal that involves getting a decal, a few selfies and/or photos, and trail-oriented achievement. Could you look at your Big Ideas list and check off travel, seeing friends, getting fresh air and exercise, should you participate? Yep; it's one of those programs that encompasses so very much.

HERE'S THE UPSHOT: "Simply hike trails from the designated list to earn points," says the national park's Facebook page. Those trails include three miles in Desolation Canyon, four miles in Mosaic Canyon, and two miles at Darwin Falls. The trails fall into a few sections -- Basic, Intermediate, Advanced, and ADA Friendly -- and hikers who obtain four points by hiking a few of the trails on the list nab a waterproof decal. Posting photos and a bit about your hike online is in the cards here, and visiting a ranger for your decal. 

IS THERE A COLLECTION ELEMENT TO IT? You bet. The trails will switch up in 2016, as will the decal, so if you start now, you're in the front door on this brand-new program. Isn't it the best to start at the start with something fun, collectible, and nature-oriented? You'll never have decal-envy of you jump into the hiking scene in 2015.

WAIT: If Death Valley had an actual front door, where would it appear? We say somewhere deep within the Panamint Range, possibly near Telescope Peak.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA["Goonies" Grub: A 1985 Movie Menu, in Santa Barbara]]> Wed, 31 Dec 2014 12:41:18 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/180*120/365960872.jpg

SKIP THE SOUR CANDY (FOR NOW): If you had to think back to what you might have eaten when you saw "The Breakfast Club" or "The Goonies" or a host of movies in the theater back in 1985, could you recall what you ate? Popcorn with a little too much butter and salt, sure -- that's probably a given. Maybe some sour candy or chocolate-laden caramels. Or a hot dog? Okay, maybe you ate a hot dog, too. Movie food is in its own class, and definitely the movie food of our youths, but food based on movies is something entirely different. A gourmet spread can be concocted, in homage, to particular cinematic works of art, and there doesn't have to be a piece of popcorn or sour bear in the house (as yummy as those both are). A chef might be inspired by an actor, a character, the setting, or, yes, even a scene within the film involving eating. The toques behind the recently opened Barbareño will be so inspired, come the end of the January and beginning of February, when they fashion a seven-course meal spotlighting a host of films from 1985, including, you got it, "The Goonies" and the handful of teens spending a dour (but ultimately delightful) Saturday serving detention in a certain Chicago school library.

"THE BREAKFAST CLUB" DINNER: Those two flicks are among several 1985ers that will fill out the fine-dining-y menu at the Santa Barbara restaurant during Film Feast, a cuisine-cool happening that runs concurrently with the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. The to-dos that appeal to appetites, and the cuisinaire's wish to forever try newer things, are plentiful during Film Feast, but those cinema buffs with a special love of 1985 -- and, really, there are so many of us -- should book a spot at the special Barbareño dinners now. Will you wear your jelly shoes and neon headband? Who wouldn't dress outlandishly a la 1985 at a dinner tributing mid-80s flickdom? Go big, as '80s people did, for a cheeky fine dining experience, where the sour bears may be few but the silver-screen whimsy will be high.

Photo Credit: Stock]]>
<![CDATA[Superhero OC Fun: Noon Year's Eve]]> Tue, 30 Dec 2014 09:21:37 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/205*120/superherodiscoveryoc234.jpg

DAYLIGHT'S MIDNIGHT: To be frank, if you gave an adult the option of attending a traditional New Year's Eve bash or one where superhero costumes were the name of the game and everyone could be home asleep well ahead of 10 p.m., well... We're just saying: Some grown-ups might go digging for that shiny red cape and sparkly magic boots. Kids, very often, know exactly how to greet a holiday, and the Discovery Science Center in Santa Ana is once again lending a lively hand. The Cube's Noon Year's Eve party has become a two-dayer of delightful proportions, a celebration that is all about making merry at the end of the year but not doing so in a yawny, sleepy, it's-too-late fashion. Which means this: Kids and their families can make for the science-loving institution on either Tuesday, Dec. 30 or Wednesday, Dec. 31 to greet 2015 in an appropriately whoop-it-up, dress-it-up fashion. And, yes, you read that correctly: The event is called "Noon Year's Eve" which means the big countdown is at noon on both days, not midnight.

THAT'S A GRAND IDEA... as it gives the young'uns, who are typically tucked up in the wee smalls of Dec. 31, the chance to jump around and throw streamers and have a bit of fun. The fun is extended to the costumes -- dressing as superheroes is the name of the day(s) -- and the activities (the drawing of action scene storyboards, the making of Hollywood-style sound effects, and more superhero-y stuff). As for the countdown haps? There'll be a ginger ale or apple juice toast, confetti blasts, and colorful hats and traditionally loud horns. Awww, yeah, we're getting a mite jealous: What if every New Year's Eve party, for the big or the small, could rock confetti blasts and superhero costumes and a time when guests aren't stretching and dreaming of bed? Could all of us do two countdowns from now on, one early and one late? Well, Discovery Science Center has been in front of the curve on this cute tradition.

Photo Credit: Discovery Science Center]]>
<![CDATA[Bodie After Sundown: 2015 Dates Announced]]> Mon, 29 Dec 2014 08:39:36 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/211*120/bodieelviralavell.jpg

ACCESSING THE INACCESSIBLE: In our get-everything-now-now-now kind of world, it can be a pleasure to know that some places and products are a little harder to access. Maybe it is the ease with which any item can be summoned to our doorstep within 24 hours, or how modern travel can whisk us to all corners in no time at all, that makes us long for a slower approach, one that allows some anticipation to build. Thus we treasure those old hotels that keep to a summer-only (or winter-only) schedule, and those natural places that are sometimes made briefly hard-to-get-to because of snowy conditions. They are the places that feel away from time, on their own plane, and that is ever so attractive in our have-it-today world.

BODIE STATE HISTORIC PARK... is one such rarity. Come winter it can take some effort to reach, thanks to the cold white stuff on the ground, and it is not a place that is open after sundown. But... there are attractive asterisks to both points. Intrepid people do make wintertime visits to what's billed as America's most perfectly preserved ghost town, and, three times a year, fans get to see the Gold Rush era structures by starlight. Those nights don't happen during the chillier months -- no surprise there -- but we can get to anticipating them during the winter. The 2015 dates for the Bodie evening time ghost walks have been set, and they are...

JUNE 27, JULY 18, AND AUGUST 29: Nope, you won't be shooed out in late afternoon on those three dates, if you buy a ticket. You'll be able to wander the storied streets of the Mono County gem by moonlight and hear phantom-y tales. Or you can pull out your camera and snap some softer, star-twinkly photos of the town, a place that is known to never, ever deliver a bad picture. Those summer dates were just announced, so keep tabs on ticket info and more to-knows here, Bodie buffs.

Photo Credit: Elvira Lavell]]>
<![CDATA[New at Knott's in 2015: Voyage to the Iron Reef]]> Sat, 27 Dec 2014 13:27:27 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/194*120/knottsvoyageconceptart1.jpg

PERISCOPES UP, THEME PARKERS: When the close of the year arrives, and the start of the new one, many people turn to cleaning out their refrigerators, and stocking up on healthy foods, and fresh resolutions, and minds turn very much to specific issues involving tomorrow and a multitude of to-dos. But ask any maven of roller coasters and haunted houses what their year-end pondering involves and "what's ahead for area theme parks?" is probably high on the list. Because many a Southern Californian park is starting to tease the big, new attractions of the warm-weather months, the rides and walk-throughs that will get park-goers talking even before they arrive at the front gates. Disneyland is taking a different route with its new "Frozen" area in Disney California Adventure, with a January opening, but that makes sense: "Frozen" is, well, frozen, and snow-filled, and a winter debut fits. Knott's Berry Farm, a hop over from Anaheim, is keeping its attraction-focused eye on springtime, though, and water, and sea monsters of a giant, mega-tentacled bent: Voyage to the Iron Reef makes its splashy hello in Buena Park in 2015.

4-D ATTRACTION: The glub-glub extravaganza will bow on the theme park's Boardwalk. Think a "mystic lair" and "creatures who have risen to wreak havoc" and a "Kraken Queen" and "swimming mechanical monsters" that adore chowing down on metal. Which means that the coasters and such of Knott's Berry Farm may be one of the creature's next meals. Bring on the eeks, the thrills, and the steampunk-y style that the sneak-peek-y renderings boast. "The four-minute gaming adventure" pits guests against the Kraken Queen and her metal-craving minions, in a below-the-surface adventure. Nope, Buena Park isn't on the Pacific, but you can play at being under the waves, for a few minutes, among beasties boasting brass-neat Victorian flair. Will you be the victor? Will the metal of the park's coasters be snatched from the sea creatures' maws? And will you be first to try out the new Knott's Berry Farm treat? Keep an eye out, theme parkers: 2015 has some weird new universes to explore.

Photo Credit: Knott's Berry Farm]]>
<![CDATA[New: Monterey Bay Aquarium Live Jelly Cam]]> Sat, 27 Dec 2014 07:50:23 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/243*120/jellycamlive2345.jpg

WE CAN EASILY... and quickly relate to otters -- they're mammals like us, after all -- and to certain fish, which have two eyes, just like we humans, and dolphins, because they can pretty much do basic trigonometry and accounting, or so it is said. But there's one creature of the deep, a diaphanous being who comes in many iterations and forms, who is so far out of our easy-to-grok-to league that we can't fully wrap our minds around it, even if we're standing just feet away. It's the jellyfish, of course, a beastie that looks like it arrived here from the other side of the Milky Way, on a specially built jellyfish spaceship. There are many types of jellies -- hello crown jelly, comb jelly, egg yolk jelly, purple-striped jelly -- so we would never dare lump 'em all as one. But as a unit, they mystify, perplex, and very deeply delight. You don't need to see them in person, behind a wall of glass, to get that mystified buzz; you can watch a jelly cam, a live jelly cam, to boot, via the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The institution just introduced its Live Jelly Cam, which is part of the popular Jellies Experience, and, for sure, there is some strange gelatinous action going down on that thing.

LIKE... jellies drifting, turning, floating, and basically behaving in all the ways that seem distinctly alien to humankind. Which is why it makes a wonderful and peaceful watch. Call it a break in your busy, screen-filled day, or call it an impetus to visit Monterey and see the strangeness up-close. Beautiful strangeness, of course. Want to eye for yourself? The "mesmerizing sea nettles" are drifting before our amazed eyes each day from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Pacific Time. Watch now.

NEED MORE? Get your jelly facts here. Did you know they're "more than 95% water"? Yep, they've definitely come from across the Milky Way, or at least in our happy jelly-themed daydreams. More marvelous than that, though is that they are truly our co-earthlings.

Photo Credit: Monterey Bay Aquarium]]>
<![CDATA[Pungent, Please: Napa Truffle Festival]]> Fri, 26 Dec 2014 09:22:00 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/napatrufflefestivaloxbowpublic.jpg

THE MENU'S MAIN STAR: You can enter just about any fine restaurant with a total plan on your mind regarding what you'll order. You've been thinking about the lobster quiche for days -- lobster quiche, lobster quiche is scrolling across your mind, much like a crawl along the bottom of a television screen -- and you're so eager to eat it that you almost order it at the host stand, before you're even seated. And then... you spy it, on the menu, a few listings down from the lobster quiche: A truffle risotto. A truffle pasta. An omelet speckled with truffles and drizzled with white truffle oil. And suddenly the crawl in your brain stops and you find yourself not ordering the very thing you came to order. Because truffles happened. It's a common situation, among diner-outers, but one that all cuisinaires can be forgiven for indulging. For there are few flavors and scents to compare to the superstar fungus, the knobbiest of the knobby and as dear as all get-out (and with good reason). Napa, being something of the foodie center of the universe, loves the truffle with a hot heat, and pays tribute to the pungent knob each winter with a long weekend of seminars and tastings. Are you ready, truffle-minded obsessives? Then make for wine country from...

JAN. 16 THROUGH 19, 2015: The Napa Truffle Festival roster goes well beyond the supping, though there is that. There's a truffle orchard tour with dog training demo -- on-the-ground info for those truffle fans wondering how the little vaguely round-ish, rock-looking gems are found and gathered -- and there's a wild mushroom forage, too. And, you betcha, there shall be wine sipping and truffle-laden lunching, which sounds like a most excellent thing to do at the start of the year. (Isn't there a good luck wish to be made upon truffles at the beginning of a new enterprise? If not, such a tradition should be started at once.) And the Oxbow Public Market is hosting a free Napa Truffle Festival Marketplace on Monday, Jan. 19. You'll need to ticket-up for the other events, though, so get perusing, truffleans, much in the way you peruse an online menu before visiting a restaurant, forever on the search for dishes that include that knobbiest knob and flavoriest flavor.

Photo Credit: Napa Truffle Festival/Oxbow Public Market]]>
<![CDATA[January Debut: "Frozen Fun" at Disneyland Resort]]> Thu, 25 Dec 2014 11:11:47 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/190*120/olaffrozendl12345.jpg

THAT JOYFUL JUGGERNAUT: If you grew up in the second half of the 20th century, and into the start of this century, you probably experienced a pop culture juggernaut or two. "Star Wars" springs to mind, that juggernaut that out-juggernauted all other juggernauts, but plenty of television shows, films, and books have delivered on the build-a-huge-fanbase front. A new stalwart has appeared on the huge fanbase front over the last year, and if you know some or all of the words to "Let It Go," you can probably guess its icy title. It's Disney's "Frozen," the 2013 animated movie that captured the fancies of many, many kids (and singing adults, who continue to post "Let It Go" videos to youtube). The only thing better than seeing Anna and Elsa on screen is to meet them, at Disneyland, which has been happening for several months now. But the Magic Kingdom is going a giant step further into Frozen-iana, with a new happening called Frozen Fun set to debut at Disney California Adventure on Jan. 7, 2015.

"IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCES": The limited-time "immersive experiences" will include a sing-along celebration -- of course, because everyone knows "Let It Go," and "Love Is an Open Door," and the troll song by now -- and Olaf's Snow Fest, which will include a snow slide and a visit from the sunny-smiley snowman himself. And will Anna and Elsa bid farewell to Disneyland's Fantasyland and make for this new adventure? They shall indeed. An evening family dance part -- "Freeze the Night!" -- will also rev up, or down, rather, in the park's Hollywood Land. (We say "down" because a giant thermometer will record the drop in temperature.) A store brimming with merch -- hello, Elsa's diaphanous cape-cool dress -- and other cinematic touches are set for their wintertime bow. 

AND TWO MORE SWEETNESSES? A nod to "Frozen" will appear on the Storybook Land Canal Boats, so be on lookout for the kingdom of Arendelle, in miniature. And Olaf's Frozen Ice Rink is open in Downtown Disney through Feb. 22, 2015. 

Photo Credit: Disneyland Resort]]>
<![CDATA[Savory January: Temecula Valley Restaurant Month]]> Fri, 26 Dec 2014 09:23:20 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/176*120/cheftemecularestaurant1.jpg

IF DECEMBER... is the time of year for the most traditional foodstuffs in our lives -- the cookies we've baked, without fail, for the last two decades, the same pot roast the whole family asks for, the pie recipe we know by heart -- then January is the month for adventurous eating, for new horizons, for fresh starts that encompass our food-focused interests. It's the ideal stretch for California Restaurant Month, and for all of the city- and county- and regional Restaurant Months that fall within the 31-day, state-big stretch. Temecula Valley celebrates its local eateries during that time period, and the robust, variety-impressive roster gives a peek, and a taste, inside some of the area's biggest names, winery and otherwise. 

THE ROSTER INCLUDES... Baily's Old Town Temecula, which is offering a chicken schnitzel for fifteen dollars at lunch and baby back ribs for twenty bucks at dinner time; The Broken Yolk Cafe, which is doing a minute steak & eggs at breakfast for a fiver; and Creekside Grille at Wilson Creek (think signature sandwiches and salads, plus chocolate lava cake, for fifteen dollars). 

NEED A REASON TO GO VALLEY? In addition to taking in a few fresh eating spots during January? Probably not, right? When paired with wine tasting, it feels like a fine Saturday road trip. But if you want to burnish your Temecula Valley itinerary a little further, there's a calendar to consult. As for wine tours and tastings, make your sip-worthy start here (and get to talking about all of the tasty deals you'll score during Restaurant Month while planning away).

Photo Credit: Temecula Valley Restaurant Month]]>
<![CDATA[New Year's Outdoors: California First Day Hikes]]> Tue, 23 Dec 2014 10:00:16 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/214*120/firstdayhikes111.jpg

SKIP THE COUCH: Whenever the doings of New Year's Day are portrayed in popular culture, they very often feature a couch, and someone sprawled upon it, with an ice pack on his head, or someone bundled up while movie-watching, or someone taking a nap. In short, the first day of the year is thought of as a "recovery" day, when we need to sleep off one too many glasses of bubbly enjoyed the evening before. But many a Golden-Stater would rather skip the couch, and the whole hurting-on-day-one thing. The prospect of being out in the sunshine, or fog, or some sort of breeze feels clearing, and renewing, and a positive, healthy, active, and joyous way to start something new. Not just something new, but a new year, and the ol' ice pack-on-the-head routine likely isn't doing much in the "new starts" department. If you feel drawn to a woodsy path or desert vista or photo-worthy beach as the place you want to say hello to 2015, you're in luck: The California State Parks want to lend you a hand. Or, rather, a park, some 40 of them in all, where a few dozen First Day Hikes will be going down (and up and into valleys and over hills) on Thursday, Jan. 1.

FORTY PARKS, FORTY FIVE HIKES: You can't hit 'em all on the first day of 2015, but you have a fine selection to peruse: The Asilomar State Beach and Conference Center is hosting a Poetry Hike, where "(s)elected excerpts of nature poetry" will be read as strollers enjoy the native Monterey Pine Forest, and beyond. Crystal Cove State Park is heading out onto a three-mile loop on New Year's Day, and Humboldt State Lagoons Park is all about a Jan.1 paddle on the water (though a hike option is available). Note that there are some day use fees, depending on the park, and possible paddle rental and such. You'll want to get the details on any payments you'll need to make. But think of what you'll gain: A fine day out, among flora and fauna, to ponder those still fresh days ahead. There are 365 of 'em, and if only they could be as lovely as a New Year's Day spent hiking. A most excellent New Year's resolution. 

Photo Credit: California State Parks]]>
<![CDATA[Mountain Glow: New Year's Eve Torchlight Parades]]> Mon, 22 Dec 2014 07:35:49 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/tahoedonnertorch12345.jpg

SCHUSSING INTO 2015: When we talk about New Year's Eve, we very often land first upon the food and drink. Will there be bubbly there? Appetizers? Should we have dinner before heading for the midnight countdown? Vital questions, all, to those revelers looking to jump-start their celebrations. But there's another way to deconstruct the sparkly night, and that's through a sartorial prism. Will you be in feetie pajamas? (You're watching movies at home.) Will you be in a tuxedo or sequin-covered dress? (Probably at some fancy-pants party that has a chocolate or fondue fountain.) Will you be in a knit cap, heavy gloves, some sort of zipper-heavy, waterproof jumpsuit, and ski boots? Chances are very solid you'll find yourself on a ski slope, at a mountain resort, come midnight, and there may or may not be a torch in each of your hands. Even if you're not going to zoom down one of the Golden State's famous slopes carrying a bit of fire, you can still head out to watch the singular sight, a night-mysterious run that involves excellent skiers, their in-the-dark prowess, and moving glows down a mountainside. Where can you see this New Year's Eve tradition? In so many places, if you're willing to forgo the jammies and sequined dresses. Make for...

TAHOE DONNER: The New Year's Eve Torchlight Parade comes with a flurry of fun to-dos, such as a parade and "intermediate nighttime skiing," which sounds very brisk and very amazing. Need details on this and other holiday happenings at the Truckee-snug resort? Point your poles this way.

KIRKWOOD: It's another popular take on the torchlight tradition, and it heads from high to lower at Kirkwood Mountain Resort. The resort'll be lively that night with Dec. 31 to-dos, so plan accordingly, to get the mostest out of bidding 2014 farewell, frosty-style.

SNOW SUMMIT: Southern California is in on the glow show, and this destination's torchlight'll get a-glowin' at 7 p.m. on New Year's Eve. Some 100 skiers and snowboarders are expected to participate, which will form quite the stunning and serpentine ski line down the slope.

Photo Credit: Tahoe Donner]]>
<![CDATA[Pasadena's Big Show: The 126th Rose Parade]]> Tue, 23 Dec 2014 10:02:52 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/roseparadedrumsgetty123.jpg

CROWN CITY'S CROWNING DAY: Even if your out-of-state relatives aren't able to make it out west for the holidays, they can still have their Golden State sojourn via one of the best known, most colorful, and sunniest spectacles on the planet. (Well, sunniest most years, we'll add, and 2015 looks as if it will follow that tradition.) Well, they can have their televised sojourn, that is; the Rose Parade screens just about everywhere there's a screen, and while it is a total delight to see the bud-bedecked floats, the brassy bands, and the mane-combed horses on a 27-inch TV, seeing it just feet away is another matter entirely. Which means that we Californians have the chance, with just a drive, to witness the pomp, circumstance, and mondo moving parts of all of those state-of-the-art floats up-close, on Colorado and Orange Grove Boulevards. Is it a bucket list kind of thing, for many a Golden State resident? You bet: That and seeing the redwoods are bullet points that tend to show up on a lot of life lists. Have you, as a Californian, seen the Rose Parade live yet? No? And it is on your gotta-do-it-once roster? Well, it is coming back around, which is no shocker, as everyone but everyone knows the date.

JANUARY 1, 2015... is the 126th roll for the procession at the flowery heart of the Tournament of Roses. The theme is "Inspiring Stories," which hopes will encourage "everybody to celebrate the many people who elevate the human spirit." The list of floats is lengthy -- AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Kiwanis International, and Trader Joe's will all make a showing -- and visitors to the Crown City can check out the floats being decorated in the days ahead of the parade. (Also, anyone can eye them after they park after the parade, at the ever-popular Float Showcase.) And while the stands do get busy come New Year's Day, there are many spots to stand and see the action, though tried-and-true fans do arrive well in advance. So, is this that bucket list year? Where you get some Golden State icons done, done, done? Let's make 2015 a bit more about travel, fun, and following through, and kicking that off on New Year's Day is a very promising start.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Salton Sea: Winter Solstice Kayak Tour]]> Sat, 20 Dec 2014 09:08:16 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/saltonbird55976148.jpg

LOW SUNLIGHT, MUCH BEAUTY: The fans of the Salton Sea are pretty true blue, as the blue as the sky over the storied desert-based plot of water on any given summer's day. They like tales of its early days, of its ties to the Colorado River and how developers pushed it to become a recreational playground (that was not a hope that came to pass, famously). But the lonely expanse of water is a fertile gathering place for birds, and for photographers, and for any adventurer who knows about its ups-and-downs of fortune (and its current stewardship under the California State Parks). You can visit the sea, but you don't have to just stand on an edge for a few minutes, looking outward, before wrapping up your visit: You can head out by kayak.

AND YOU CAN DO SO... on the solstice, if you like, marking the shortest day of the year in a remote and scenic setting, a place where the sun really does rule all, or seems to some days. Salton Sea SRA and the California State Parks have a kayak program designed for entry-level kayakers, and it is one that introduces people to the water beyond the shore (and some of the beautiful bird life, like the pelicans that flock there). There are a few kayak days to come, including one on New Year's Day, and they all fall at noon, but the Winter Solstice outing? It's at 3 p.m., so you'll get some of that afternoon-into-evening softness as you dip your oar into our inland sea and admire the feather-laden fauna.

YOU'LL NEED TO RESERVE... and donations are definitely accepted. Tips on weather and wearables are on the site, tips that should be heeded, given the Salton Sea's way-out-there-ness. But isn't that way-out-there-ness why so many of us like it so? What a treat, then, to be on the water on the solstice or on New Year's Day, a rare and memorable outing.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[In the Near Distance: Gray Whale Season]]> Wed, 24 Dec 2014 12:52:30 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/whalewatchingoxnard12345.jpg

GIANTS ON THE HORIZON: Few creatures are both known and a tad mystical, but whales have an almost supernatural knack for existing fully in each column. On the one hand we humans know these magnificent mammals top-to-blowhole. We understand migration patterns, what they eat, how they sleep, and the hundreds of quirks that define the largest living creatures on the planet. And yet..? That doesn't stop us for centering the whale on color-swirl posters, and rainbow-hued t-shirts, and writing poems and paeans to the our mammalian brethren. It's true that something can be known and still inspire enchantment and art, and few creatures do this as aptly, and as often, as the whale. We're fortunate, here in the Golden State, that the known-but-fantastical beasties pass by our shores each winter during their annual migration, and that we get a chance to maybe possibly fingers crossed admire them from the vantage point of a boat. Gray whale spotting season kicks off the day after Christmas, if the holidays have you in a poetical, grandeur-seeking mood. Want to see an earthling that is both a star of scientific research and a favorite subject of psychedelic-minded painters? Book a passage from Oxnard starting on...

DEC. 26: Both Island Packers and Channel Islands Sportfishing Center will be nosing the passenger boats out of Channel Islands Harbor in search of the magnificent grays. The Island Packers trips run about 3 1/2 hours, are narrated, and are non-landing, so it is about you, the boat, and a possible blowhole. As for the Channel Islands Sportfishing folks? That excursion a half day, so keep those whale-lovin' eyes good and peeled, because "an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 Pacific Gray Whales migrate through the Channel on their way to and from the warm lagoons of Baja California, Mexico." Will you see one of those thousands of grays? Well, a little luck should be on your side, but you'll see some birds, and maybe a seal or dolphin, and plenty of sunshine or that quintessential soft sea air. That soft foggy setting lends to the whale's mystical rep, something we never want to see go away. Yes, we should understand these creatures, the better to preserve and help where needed, but a whale t-shirt full of rainbows and planets it kind of amazing, too. May these giants always be on both side of the science/art line.

Photo Credit: Island Packers]]>
<![CDATA[Holiday Time, Over-the-Top: Madonna Inn]]> Thu, 18 Dec 2014 12:06:43 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/madonnainnholiday234.jpg

WHIMSICAL WORM HOLE: Any first-time visitor to Alex Madonna's Gold Rush Steakhouse at the Madonna Inn can be forgiven if they truly believe, for an instant, that they've whooshed through some whimsical worm hole, the type of time-space portal that delivers people from wherever they were to a very over-the-top, pink-and-gold, dressy-dressy, dolly-cute dining room, a space that speaks of the most merry holiday cheer. A first-timer might believe that they in fact landed in the Madonna Room's booth-y dining room at the holidays, but they'd probably need to check their phone's calendar to confirm that, because Alex Madonna's Gold Rush Steakhouse, and much of the hotel it calls home, always looks a little bit like the holidays, thanks to the 101-adjacent landmark's love of ornate ornamentation, color, kitsch, and humor. So when December does trot into view -- we used "trot" there, as the Madonna family was famed for its horses -- it can astound and delight how much more merry the Madonna Inn gets, in both its decoration and its yuletide events. And things are looking very merry, and very busy, 'round about the San Luis Obispo hotel, right about now, what with...

NEW YEAR'S EVE... on the way, and Christmas, too. Both dates'll bring with them big Madonna Inn to-dos, including "festive cocktails" and "seasonal entrees" (on Dec. 25) and a music-filled partay on the last day of the year. Before that, though, there's a shopping happening, on Dec. 11 and 12, and the opening of the Winter Wonderslo Jiffy Lube Ice Skating Rink on Dec. 19 (that's only on through Jan. 5, so get there in a dash if you want to twirl by one of the pinkest properties on the Golden State). As for the already decked-out dining room? It's even more decked-out in baubles and twirly touches, if you can believe it. And you can believe it, if you know the M.I., a place that has a knack for upping its visual game.

NOW... which Madonna Inn room would you say is the Christmasiest of all the Madonna Inn rooms? Hearts & Flowers is pretty red, and Irish Hills is very green. But there is a room called Currier & Ives, and just the sound of it sounds like the season itself.

Photo Credit: Madonna Inn]]>
<![CDATA[Celebrating Frank Sinatra's 100th (at His Palm Springs Casa)]]> Sat, 20 Dec 2014 09:07:33 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/sinatracentennialmodernismweek.jpg

HE DID IT HIS WAY: Productions seem to come along every week, on the stage, on television, and in the movie theaters, shows that pay homage to a certain era when martinis were well shaken, pool surfaces were unstirred, and the hi-fi took up the better part of the sunken living room (a living room that naturally came with shag carpeting, mirrored walls, and pendant lamps). But no one did the look as well as people who lived through the era, and few people who dominated the time were as famous, and famously cool, as Frank Sinatra. The music of Mr. Ol' Blue Eyes pretty much dominated every hi-fi in every sunken living room in all the land, lending the finger-snapping soundtrack that the mid-century required. And mid-century style is at its zenith in the home where the iconic crooner once lived: The Twin Palms Estate in Palm Springs. Many Sinatra mavens know of this storied abode, the very place where Mr. Sinatra would run a flag up between its pair of eponymous palms to say he was in residence, but few people have been able to visit it. That'll happen, though, in February, via the mid-century-mad Modernism Week. But this is no mere visit to Frank Sinatra's estate. It's a...

CENTENNIAL PARTY... in honor of one of the great interpreters of the American Songbook. A dinner shall be served poolside, with five courses in all, and expert mixologist Devon Espinosa will keep all of those pretty, long-stemmed glasses well-filled. The "magnificent soiree" will also feature a performance from Nick D'Egidio and plenty of time to scope out this fabled, music-celebrated abode.

THE SWANK-A-TUDE... happens on Sunday, Feb. 15. A ticket? It's $265. But if you can't swing-a-ring-a-ding that, you can still join in a history-focused walking tour of the Chairman of the Board's neighborhood, where mid-century beauties still hold court. That's happening over multiple days during Modernism Week, which fills up a good part of the middle of February (much in the way that Sinatra still fills up much of our music-fueled playlists). 

Photo Credit: Modernism Week]]>
<![CDATA[Casita Updates Debut at La Quinta Resort & Club]]> Tue, 16 Dec 2014 13:26:12 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/laquintasunset12345.jpg

THE SAME BUT SPIFFIED-UP: If ever there was a bard with a knack for spinning a tale dealing with the hearts of men and how we seek to transform our lives and stand taller in our shoes, it is Frank Capra. The screenwriter, the legend behind movies like "It Happened One Night" and "It's a Wonderful Life," favored themes of the upbeat and transformational sort, themes that very much suit the property with which the scribe is most associated: La Quinta Resort & Club. Mr. Capra typed out some of his most celebrated stories in a casita on the grounds of the landmark hotel, a property that's kept its 1920s-style cred while gently and stylishly updating its casitas, Starlight Villas, suites, and outdoor areas over the decades. That's no easy feat, as any hotelier can tell you -- keep the charm while freshening up the look, feel, fabrics, and furniture. But Mr. Capra's favorite writing hangout, and one of the desert resort region's oldest enclaves, has just complete a multi-million dollar room refurbishment, and just in time for the holidays, too, when many a "It's a Wonderful Life" fan makes for the flower-lined driveway for a little George Bailey-esque celebrating.

SO WHAT'S BEEN UPDATED? Smith & Firestone, a firm based in Los Angeles, "created a residential-style design featuring custom tilework and wrought iron elements, new furniture, floor coverings, and two-toned blocked drapery panels." Other touches include "oversized, nail-embellished headboards," "new fire features" on the Starlight Casita patios, upgraded lighting, fresh patio furniture, wingback chairs, leather bed benches, 42- to 47-inch flat-screen TVs, and Keurig coffemakers. Fancy stuff.

AS FOR THOSE LA QUINTA-SWEET GROUNDS? Look for more bougainvillea, the green most associated with the mountain-close expanse, more roses, and more citrus trees. Need a dose of all of that, plus some holiday spirit? The seasonal happenings are on during December. Look for nightly menorah lightings, cooking classes geared towards families, and holiday dining at Morgan's in the Desert.

Photo Credit: La Quinta Resort & Club]]>
<![CDATA[Rustic Seasonal: Carmel Valley Ranch Holiday]]> Mon, 15 Dec 2014 11:41:43 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/carmelvalleytreeseason1.jpg

YOUR MERRY ITINERARY: Hotels have been staging holiday-themed activities practically since the invention of hotels. Historians can quibble over why this is so, but the reason seems to come down, pretty squarely, on this: Hotels are people's homes, at least for a night, and if we'd observe a holiday at home, we're going to do so on the road, somehow, especially if it is tradition for us. Several stay-over spots have excelled in this regard, particularly destination hotels that regularly erect a glittery lobby tree come Thanksgiving and host a roster of cinnamon-scented events throughout December. But not all hotel holiday happenings are cut from the same sequin-sparkly cloth. There are the big city properties, that do a lot of over-the-top, twinkle-and-bustle seasonal stuff, and there are the more rustic destinations, that go in for a quieter Christmas. Carmel Valley Ranch offers a more bucolic end-of-the-year experience, and the list of lovely, home-away-from-home happenings is as long as a popcorn or cranberry string on a tree. They include...

HOMESPUN HOLIDAY CRAFT AND CULINARY WORKSHOPS: Oh yes. This is where you're going to learn how to make a beeswax candle, and distill lavender oil (something the property knows a lot about, also being a famous lavender farm), and make gingerbread houses, and make lavender soap, too. Maximizing the marvelously hill-and-dell-y setting are the Holiday Burn-Off Hikes, which, no surprise, happen on Dec. 26 and Jan. 2. And will there be s'more-making and cider-sipping around a fire pit? It hardly seems like a more nature-snug vacation without it.

THERE ARE OTHER GOINGS-ON... from Nutcracker Holiday Teas to Santa Family Portraits, so it isn't all an outdoorsy yuletide. There is, however, a strong emphasis on the natural world at Carmel Valley Ranch, and that extends to the property's seasonal celebration. Gotta love a big-city hotel's celebration, but making a beeswax candle, and noshing on s'mores, has that slow-down but still celebratory vibe many people desire come December. 

Photo Credit: Carmel Valley Ranch]]>
<![CDATA[The High Roller's Happy 12-13-14]]> Sat, 13 Dec 2014 09:09:30 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/188*120/highroller121314.jpg

WEDDING ON THE WHEEL: If you've ever been involved in nuptialing before, either as one of the people taking the vow or as an attendant or family member, you know that a certain sense of movement can set in, a blur, if you will, as bouquets and caterers and limo rides and hotels are all lined up. But actually having a wedding on the move is something quite unusual; generally two people stand still, before an officiant, and repeat their vows. Even in drive-through chapels, those Nevada kitsch-colorful icons, the car comes to a stop, so the merry marrying people may say the words they need to, to secure that license and their future together. But a whole veiled-up, tuxedo-cool group of adventurers will actually and honestly get married on the move on Saturday, Dec. 13. The not-so-stationary place staging the exchanging of the rings? The High Roller, at The Linq in Las Vegas. The reason? Saturday, Dec. 13 happens to be 12-13-14, "the last sequential date of this century." Yes, for sure, the rare occurrence is holding a lot of whimsical water for people looking to get hitched, and, perhaps in part, find an anniversary that's a snap to remember.

SO IF YOU MAKE... for the High Roller on 12-13-14, look up: Several "in-cabin" weddings will be going down. (Or, more accurately, up, and then down.) Some couples will be marrying, while others will be renewing their vows. The weddings kick off at 10:11 a.m. and wrap at 12:13 p.m. -- check out the nicely sequential nature of those two times -- and, you guessed it, all of that nuptialing will be happening simultaneously, so one of the most famous Ferris wheels in all the land truly will be, for a couple of hours, a circle of love.

IF YOU'RE NOT MARRYING... on 12-13-14, you can still call upon the Strip-close wheel on another date. It's $24.95 to ride the 550-foot High Roller, which is billed as the World's Tallest Observation Wheel, and, yep, entire cabins can be rented for a higher fee, if you're looking to do some proposing or have private time with pals. But the real question is if you can see your house from the top of the High Roller. Almost, right? Regardless of where you live? Those Vegas vistas do stretch on, practically into the next century.

Photo Credit: Denise Truscello]]>
<![CDATA[Vegas Yuletide: Sin City's Sparkliest Season]]> Wed, 17 Dec 2014 15:03:53 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/bellagiopolar1234345.jpg

BRINGING THE RAZZMATAZZ: Though a certain natural-nice, twine-pretty, evergreen-and-snowflake aesthetic has taken hold of our collective hearts in recent years, we still want our holidays to arrive with plenty of razzmatazz. You could use the words "blingy" or "sparkly" or "twinkly" or "out-sized" and all would apply, very well, to our desire to see the end-of-the-year proceedings do it up, a bit. And only one place has a true lock on the business of razzmatazz. Oh, for sure, New York's got the knack, and other big cities, and little towns devoted to decorations, but Las Vegas is Razzmatazz Central all year long. It's no shocker, then, that its holiday gewgaws and goings-on don't exactly level the playing field for anywhere else; Sin City is going to go further on the festive front. And so it is, again, in 2014, at several spots along The Strip, and off the main thoroughfare, too. Take a look at...

BELLAGIO CONSERVATORY AND BOTANICAL GARDENS: You can take a guess, each and every year, about how many poinsettias the indoor plot plants, but you'll probably underestimate it by several thousand. Any of us would, because The Bellagio has 28,000 poinsettias on display, which is about 27,999 more than most of us have in our home. Seven thousand warm white LED lights, topiary polar bears, and animated penguins complete the razzmatazzian scene, through Jan. 8. 

MANDALAY BAY SHARK REEF: The Christmas doings at this watery wonderland naturally take on an aquatic theme, so don't be surprised to see "Santa in the Shipwreck" happening every December weekend (and extra dates near Christmas). Free pics with admission are one plus, as is the appearance of Santa Jaws. Santa. Jaws. Wowza. How have we gone forever without pairing Kris Kringle and sharks?

NEON MUSEUM: Take an after-sunset stroll in the Boneyard and admire the signs with a little twinkle. There was the beautiful December to Remember event, too, on Dec. 13, which featured a holiday spin on the classic signage.

JEAN PHILIPPE PÂTISSERIE: The Bellagio-based chocolatier is taking the whimsical notion of the chocolate Santa and going much, much, much bigger. How much? There's a life-sized, fully edible Jolly Ol' Elf in the window of the posh candymaker. Some 230 pounds of dark chocolate and 50 pounds of fondant went into the festive figure. 

AND... if all of that chocolate further sweetens your mood, step outside and eye The Bellagio fountains, which are caroling up The Strip through Jan. 4, complete with the classic water show.

Photo Credit: Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Gardens]]>
<![CDATA[Granite and Ice: Curry Village Rink Open]]> Fri, 12 Dec 2014 15:28:29 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/185*120/yosemitenationalparkhistoricrink123.jpg

WHERE CAN YOU FIND TWO ANCIENT THINGS... side by side? Well, you can see sand and surf down at any of California's glorious shorelines. You can gaze up, in the redwoods, and admire a very high tree top against the sky. And you can enjoy the contrast of ice and rock in Yosemite National Park. True, the ice we refer to can be seen each winter at the Curry Village Ice Rink, so, granted, the ice isn't all that old. But frozen water as a concept definitely is -- no quibbles there, right? Ice=old -- and Half Dome, the granite giant that often symbolizes the national park, has seen a sunset or two. Which makes them the perfect duo to sit adjacent, or fairly adjacent-ish, from November through the beginning of March, when the skaters are out enjoying icy twirls and granite views.

PHOTOGRAPHS REVEAL... that the rink has held recreational sway in the picturesque valley for over 80 years (though today's skaters are more apt to don Lycra and fleece rather than long wool coats and muffs). That Half Dome is framing the scene, and Glacier Point, too, speaks volumes about that early decision to place a rink there: It was a good one.

AS FOR COST? Well, you'll need to get into Yosemite National Park, so there's a fee, and the rink? It's ten and a half bucks for adults and seniors, a tenner for kids, and skate rentals cost four dollars. A fire pit is snug with the rink, and guests are welcome to purchase warming beverages at the not-too-far-away Curry Village Gift and Grocery Store.

WE'RE NOT SAYING... to forsake your favorite slab of ice, the one down the block from you. Nor should you give up the seasonal rinks that pop up outside malls and shopping centers. But for that spectacular natural experience, gliding under the watchful, eternal granite eye of Glacier Point is unparalleled, here in California, or anywhere. Hyperbole? Sure, but if ever a place merited an occasional hyperbolic statement, it is the big Y.

Photo Credit: Yosemite National Park]]>
<![CDATA[New: First-Ever Catalina Island Destination Resort Spa]]> Thu, 25 Dec 2014 11:10:36 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/catalinaspa01.jpg The Island Spa includes Pacific views, nine treatment rooms.

Photo Credit: Island Spa]]>
<![CDATA[New: 125th Yosemite Anniversary Site]]> Tue, 09 Dec 2014 09:04:59 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/halfdome452872764.jpg

MULTIPLE MAJOR ANNIVERSARIES: Every human being, every relationship, and every institution boasts not just one meaningful date on their particular calendars, but, very likely, several. We people have birthdays, but there are other significant happenings that we pause and remember. Same with relationships: You might celebrate the anniversary of when you met, and your first date, and your engagement, and your marriage. It is no surprise, then, that something as large and as grand as Yosemite National Park has numerous important occasions and momentous anniversaries orbiting its magnificent, tree- and granite-filled expanse. We just marked the 150th anniversary of the Yosemite Grant in 2014 (that's when President Lincoln signed into law protections for this not-so-little slice of wilderness). Now, as the Facebook page for Yosemite National Park wryly notes, it seems like the park "is getting younger" with its next big anniversary: 125 years in 2015. The 125th celebration will spotlight Yosemite's official entry into the national park system, which happened in 1890 (yep, the grant was much earlier, in 1864). So, how do you mark a quasquicentennial for one of the planet's most treasured treasures?

YOU START WITH A SITE, OF COURSE: And the Yosemite National Park 125th Anniversary site is now live, complete with stunning graphics, a timeline tab, and a portal to events that'll roll out during 2015. Oct. 1, by the by, is the actual date Yosemite reached the zenith of national-park-dom, if you want to circle that on your own calendar, so you're sure to be in the park on that pretty, probably-warm-and-glorious fall day. Want to get involved, volunteer, or even look ahead to yet another related anniversary, the National Park Service's centennial? The 125th anniversary site will lead you there, much as the Merced River leads adventurers deeper into beautiful Yosemite Valley. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Deep Death Valley, Velvety Night Shining Bright]]> Mon, 08 Dec 2014 14:12:04 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/180*120/dvstarnight12345.jpg

A NATIONAL PARK... couldn't and shouldn't be summed up by one pursuit or activity or theme or landmark. It's for lovers of flora, it's for enthusiasts of fauna, it's for people who like to hike, bike, and be physical. History mavens have found much to delve into, too, as have visitors who dig the science behind tree rings and the ages of rocks and why the hills erode. But a fairly recent reason for being in a national park has been flirting with the forefront, even if it involves something humans have been doing since visiting forests and deserts and beaches: looking up at the night sky.

TRUE... we've always enjoyed the stars while communing with nature, but the movement away fro city light sources and into darkness, the kind of darkness that existed hundreds of years ago, has been gaining steam. (We're picturing steam from a fumarole and not an electrical source, of course.) Both Sequoia and King's Canyon National Parks and Lassen Volcanic National Park have fairly recently introduced Dark Sky Festivals, and both summertime events were well-attended. Death Valley National Park has also been trading lamps for low light, or no light, via Star Parties. The low 'n hot expanse is recognized as "the world's largest International Dark Sky Park," and a telescope-laden gathering there insures some serious one-on-one-ing with the Milky Way. Game to get away from our human-made glow and into some true nightfallian dimness? Then mark Feb. 20-21, 2015 on your calendar, and make a heart around those dates, because you're going to love on the sky.

FURNACE CREEK RESORT, in partnership with the Las Vegas Astronomical Society, is the host of the two-dayer, which is all about searching out "constellations, planets, deep-sky objects, celestial events" and more without bright bulbs or screens muscling their way in (there's a solar component, too, with daytime viewing hours). If you can't make the February Star Party, ranger-led happenings around Death Valley frequently gaze up into the cosmos, with an eye to the moon's surface, meteors, and other wonders that don't need our electrically produced illumination competing with their beauty.

WANT TO ADD... Sequoia's Dark Sky Festival to your list? The September 2015 dates are live.

Photo Credit: Furnace Creek Resort]]>
<![CDATA[Palm Springs Tram Tree: A Bright Light]]> Sat, 06 Dec 2014 09:50:31 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/treetrambluenight.jpg

IT'S A TREE: Have you ever gaze up the side of a very large hill, or even a mountain, because a twinkling light in the distance caught your notice? And did you ask the people you were with "hey, what is that up there? A house? A fallen star? A particularly powerful campfire?" It can be a mystery to see a light upon a mountain. But, starting on Sunday, Dec. 7, when you see a certain sparkle up the side of Mount San Jacinto in Palm Springs you won't have to guess at its mysterious origin: It'll be the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Christmas tree, a 6,500-LED light sparkler that stands large 'n lovely atop Mountain Station. 

SINGER JACK JONES... shall be the 2014 honorary tree lighter, and the Palm Springs High School Madrigal Singers will lend their voices to the festive evening proceedings. The tree, by the by, is 45 feet tall "and can be seen from throughout the Coachella Valley." If you can't make it up the side of San Jacinto for the first night of celebrations, singing groups'll lend seasonal flavor over several other December nights, including Dec. 19, when the Cathedral City High School Choir brings the caroling cheer. Santa'll be on the revolving tram on Dec. 20, ho-ho-ho-ing and visiting with good girls and boys (and men and women).

AS FOR THE SNOW GUESSING CONTEST? As to when the first inch would fall at Mountain Station? That is now over and done, as, yes, flakes fell in a flurry on Friday, Nov. 21. Over 554 people made guesses, starting on Oct. 1, which is the usual start to the tram's annual "when will it snow?" contest. For, you betcha, Mountain Station not only has Santa, and a see-it-from-all-over LED tree, but it does get that Christmassy cold stuff starting at just about this time of year.

Photo Credit: Palm Springs Aerial Tramway]]>
<![CDATA[New: Historic Del Mar Walking Tour]]> Sun, 07 Dec 2014 08:08:19 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/historicdelmarwalking1.jpg

WHAT DID THAT BUILDING USED TO BE? It's a common question asked by lovers of cities and towns and those who need to know our common civic backstories. But it isn't a question that's always easily answered. Perhaps the current shopkeeper inside the building can piece together a few facts, or the chamber of commerce, but learning the history of a structure as you stand before it is kind of a rare treat. That's less rare, though, at least around Del Mar, which has recently introduced a number of plaques on some of its more prominent, well-known, and well-storied landmarks. True, many a city hangs austere and fact-filled facts, but the Del Mar plaques have a fresh twist: There's a scannable QR code that will summon the information about the structure to your phone. Meaning its a history-packed walking tour, but one without a guide. Or, rather, your smart phone is your guide.

SO SATE YOUR CIVIC-COOL CURIOSITY... about the Del Mar Library, "which was formerly the St. James Catholic Church, which celebrated its first mass in 1914 without pews, lights, or an altar." And L'Auberge del Mar once housed Hotel del Mar and the Stratford Inn. (Year built: 1910.) Every street, every thoroughfare, and every burg has a tale or two, and being able to access those tales any time, via technology, is a very nice, oh-so-convenient thing, indeed. 

WANT TO DO A LITTLE READING... about the Davidson Building and Del Mar Plaza now? You can, here. Honest, how many times a year -- or a month or a week -- do we zip by these places without knowing what they have to tell? Cities, like the people who occupy them, brim with dates, anecdotes, and vivacity, too.

Photo Credit: Del Mar]]>
<![CDATA[General Grant Ceremony: Trek to the Tree]]> Fri, 05 Dec 2014 17:04:35 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/trektothetreegrant123.jpg

GENTLE GIANT: There are, without doubt, some very celebrated and photographed and visited trees that pop up around the country come Christmas time. The White House tree is one of the most well-known, and the shrub that dominates the ice rink at Rockefeller Center, and city trees from Chicago to Atlanta to LA (where the "world's tallest live cut tree" stands at The Citadel Outlets). But few celebrated Christmas trees actually still stand where they grew, with roots in the ground. One major example does, and it in fact earned the title "The Nation's Christmas Tree" from President Calvin Coolidge back in the 1920s.

IF YOU'RE GUESSING... that it has to be in a national park, probably located within the Golden State, given our rep for plants of a very colossal nature, you'd be totally correct. If you're guessing it is a redwood or sequoia, you're in the right ballpark (or, um, national park). And if you think it might be a tree that already comes with its own name and well-documented stats, right again: The Nation's Christmas Tree is the General Grant, which is located in King's Canyon. And each and every December fans snowboot-up and make for a touching tribute, complete with carols and a salute to lives lost by members of the military.

SUNDAY, DEC. 14: Revelers and those wishing to have a reverent moment will head into the possibly snowy giant sequoia grove on the middle Sunday of the last month of the year. It's year 89 for The Trek to the Tree, and The Grant Grove Restaurant has a special holiday menu available in honor of the day (for either lunch or dinner, note). The Trek happens at 2:30 in the afternoon, and there are buses from Sanger or you can drive yourself in. It's a good thing to get the details on this one, since you're going deep into the forest of giants, and deep into our national past and the spirit of the season, too.

Photo Credit: Trek to the Tree]]>
<![CDATA[Laguna Cliffs Marriott's Holiday by the Sea]]> Thu, 04 Dec 2014 07:02:12 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/214*120/lagunacliffsmarriott123.jpg

THE SEASONAL COMFORTS OF HOTEL: We love to think cozy thoughts of home, particularly during the twelfth month of the year, when every third commercial shows family members walking through the door and hugging various relatives, all before the group sits down to the perfect meal or perfect present-opening session. But being at home isn't strictly necessary for making the most of the Noel. Hotels famously do up the comforts of the season, and even if they aren't physically as cozy as a small den -- some lobby ceilings are quite high -- that coziness is very much implied by the full complement of extras and additions the hotel offers during December. The Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa is doing the Christmassy complement thing, with one new bonus: It's walking distance to Dana Point's first-ever IlluminOcean, the the glowing light show that's all about LED-cool creatures of the deep. That might be enough of a reason for any holiday buff to make a date with the Pacific-snug hotel, but, as mentioned, the Christmas-cozy roster at the Laguna Cliffs is jam-packed. Starting with...

BREAKFAST WITH SANTA: Be sure to have that list written for the Man in Red prior to Sunday, Dec. 14, when families gather at the resort to sup and sit with Santa, talking wishes and that whole naughty-nice deal. Adults pay $35 and kids get in for $15. Leading up to the 14th are S'mores and Stories -- that's on the 12th and 13th -- and the IlluminOcean Package, which includes an overnight stay, a blanket, and two mermaid-themed glow-in-the-dark cocktails. 

WAIT... Why have we never had a mermaid-themed glow-in-the-dark cocktail before? Truly a glaring omission on our bucket list. The Laguna Cliffs Marriott, by the by, is billed as "the only hotel in walking distances of IlluminOcean." If you've been wanting to take in Dana Point's glittery 40 Nights of Lights, and score a glow-in-the-dark libation of mermaidian proportions, this, Christmas revelers, is your chance.

Photo Credit: Laguna Cliffs Marriott]]>
<![CDATA[On Sale: 2015 "Pageant of the Masters" Tickets]]> Wed, 03 Dec 2014 13:10:11 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/pageant2015painting.jpg

LAGUNA BEACH SPLENDOR: Southern California may be having its first real, multi-day rain since last winter, and its damp 'n chilly charms may be setting many a mood to colder thoughts and many a fireplace to high. But summer is on the far yonder, and there are few things that speak of that mythical season more than one of the Golden State's most mimicked, buzzed-over, and homaged cultural events, a happening that will hit its centennial in less than two decades. We speak of The Pageant of the Masters, also known as a tableaux vivant, also known as the on-stage show where people freeze in place, barely breathing, in order to accurately portray a famous work of art. Tickets went on sale on Monday, Dec. 1 for the 2015 event, so Pageant buffs can those close, close, close-up seats, the better to see the real human beings portraying painted human beings.

AND, OKAY... you got us: Everyone on stage is definitely breathing, and thank goodness. In fact, watching for little signs of life within the masterfully recreated works of art is one of the many charms of the Pageant, which recently marked its 80th year as a Laguna Beach and California icon. Yes, for sure, you want "The Last Supper" and that Monet and this Picasso to be exquisite and perfect, from costume to frame. And yet? It's rather fun to see the Mona Lisa blink, or a Degas ballerina slightly tilt her head before your eyes.

AS FOR THE 2015? It's "The Pursuit of Happiness." But best be on the pursuit for those tickets: The Pageant of the Masters, which is part of the larger Festival of the Arts, traditionally only fills out the months of July and August. We say "only" in a slightly greedy fashion, because it is a popular event, and those seats, particularly near the stage, fill up with art lovers, culture fans, and audience members looking for the slightest breath and blink.

Photo Credit: Pageant of the Masters]]>