<![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 Tue, 01 Dec 2015 01:45:49 -0800 Tue, 01 Dec 2015 01:45:49 -0800 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Sparkle: Festival of Lights Packages]]> Mon, 30 Nov 2015 13:09:42 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/missioninnspecial2015.jpg

YOU CAN EASILY COUNT... how many round ornaments are in a pack-of-12 box -- spoiler alert, it's a dozen -- and you can probably count how many wee bulbs are on a string (as it says so right on the package). And can you tally up the number of cranberries on the tree, or pieces of popcorn? That's more of a challenge, but we believe in you, and guess you could come by an accurate number in under ten or so minutes, or about the length of three carols. But counting the number of lights now asparkle on The Mission Inn in Riverside? Nope. Not going to happen. Can't be done. Well, it could be done, if you had several weeks, and a calculator- and pad-toting assistant nearby, a loyal companion who could trail you as you reached the high, high numbers. Because the historic hotel doesn't just go for a string of lights or two; there are famously "4 million bright lights" to be found all over the castle-like property. Pointing those out, one by one, doesn't have to be on your agenda, however; you only need to make for the shiny stay-over for an evening of dazzlement. And should you not feel like driving home after all the dazzling images and luminations and holiday scenes you spy? There are packages to be had, hotel-style bed-downs, both of the weeknight variety and those specific to the weekends, as well.

THE FIRST THING TO KNOW... is that the Festival of Lights is on through Wednesday, Jan. 6, so choose your night ahead of that date. The Festival of Lights & Delights packages is specific to Sundays through Thursdays, and it kicks off at $359. Included? Look for a nice accommo, a fifty-buck spa credit at Kelly's Spa, Roberts Reserve pinot noir (a bottle to enjoy in your room), and gratis valet. As for the Friday/Saturday or Saturday/Sunday package? That's called Miracle on Main Street, it involves a two-night stay, and it starts at $799. What's on board? That bottle of pinot noir, dinner at Duane's Prime Steaks & Seafood, a pair of Casey Cupcake's, fee-waived valet parking, and, yep, a deluxe room for two nights. Two nights might be a good route, too, if you feel overwhelmed, and in need of rest, after counting all 4,000,000+ lights. You don't have to, though. You may need to count all the ornaments on your own tree, to make sure you've got them all up and in place, but the Festival of Lights at The Mission Inn is all about standing back and taking in the glow-y swath of sparkle in one grateful glance.

Photo Credit: Mission Inn]]>
<![CDATA[Flavor! Napa Valley: 2016 Tickets on Sale]]> Sat, 28 Nov 2015 06:50:08 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/flavornapatickets2016.jpg

CONVERSATIONS OVER GRAVY: Keeping the Thanksgiving gravy free of lumps is pretty much among the most important of kitchen duties, and one that requires patience and dedication and the ability to talk on a range of subjects, the better to draw other people to you who will keep you occupied while you stir, stir, stir. Invariably the conversation turns to food, because, well, you're standing over a simmering pot of gravy, in a kitchen rife with biscuits and turkey and stuffing and pie, and that's what's on the meal-focused mind of both cooks and guests. Once you've exhausted what you'll soon dine on at the table, you can turn to other table-oriented news items of recent days, and one of the most delectable of those items will surely be the fact that tickets are now available for Flavor! Napa Valley, the multi-day confab that brings together a host of taste-makers, in all senses of the term, for a gustatory gathering at the Culinary Institute of American in St. Helena (the institute is the beneficiary).

MARCH 16-20, 2016... are the down-the-road dates, but not so down-the-road-y that you won't look around, surprised, when the beginning of March rolls around and you think "huh, maybe should have gotten a ticket." If you do get a ticket, and you get it before Dec. 1, and you employ the promotion code FNVEARLY, then you'll save 15 percent.

AS FOR EVENTS? And special appearances and such? Those'll roll out in the months to come, but you can look forward to happenings already on the calendar, like First Taste Napa -- The Downtown StrEAT Market at the CIA's Copia campus, a Napa Valley Wine Tour, a Brunch Party, and a bouquet of chef demos and meet-and-hellos. It's a full-hearted, full-fork'd weekend of foodie knowledge and foodie plate-cleaning/glass-sipping, and anticipating what you'll learn and what you'll quaff is part of the joy. So if you and your food-loving brother or cousin need to talk about edibles while you make Thanksgiving dinner, but would rather those edibles be something other than what you're cooking, here's your anticipation: March 2016, and its Napa-esque pleasures, is just a few months away.

Photo Credit: Flavor! Napa Valley]]>
<![CDATA[Bricks & Blooms: Art Meets Nature Meets LEGOs]]> Mon, 30 Nov 2015 21:29:55 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/seankenneylegos6.jpg Spy birds, bears, and other wonders created brick by brick, at an upcoming OC display.

Photo Credit: Sean Kenney]]>
<![CDATA[Historic Holidays: Christmas in the Adobes]]> Sat, 28 Nov 2015 06:46:32 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/christmasintheadobeswhaling12.jpg

CALIFORNIA HISTORICAL LANDMARK #1: There are well over a thousand designated California State Historical Landmarks throughout our storied state, and true-blue history buffs are eager to see every last one.

IT'S A PURSUIT... that's similar in theme to those intrepid adventurers who vow to visit all 50 states over the course of their lifetimes, but rarely do people go in order of when the states entered the union or the order of the California locations that received the historic protection. If you'd like to take on this latter adventure, visiting all Golden State Historical Landmarks in order, then here's where you start: The Custom House in Monterey. It's the very first on the list, a lofty designation, but one that the venerable adobe structure more than deserves. If a building could breathe history, tales of old, and regional significance, it is this one, a place that saw the early settlers of the area pass through along with their tale-telling possessions. And while you can walk through the structure throughout the year, seeing it after-dark, and by the glow of candlelight and luminarias, is a rarer treat. It's a treat, though, that's very much tied to the holiday season, and Christmas at the Adobes, a 31-year-old Monterey happening that includes not just the Custom House but several centuries-old landmarks in the area.

DEC. 11 AND 12... are the 2015 dates -- a Friday and a Saturday, if you don't have a calendar nearby -- and a ticket price for one night is $25 (if you do both nights the total entry cost is $40, sweet). That's an adult price, but the event is "custom"-made for kids, too, as it brings to life a slice of ye old Monterey. ("Brings to life" is a bit overused in historic tourism, but it fits here, most ably, so let's all agree to look beyond its typical trite-y nature and embrace it when it works.) What will you see beyond The Custom House, should you visit every spot on the self-guided, you-follow-the-map roster? Casa Serrano, the Robert Louis Stevenson House, the Cooper-Molera Adobe, and Colton Hall are just a few of the many. 

SO... is 2016 the year you finally take on your dream of visiting every state historical landmark? You don't need to go in order of when each received its designation, but if you do buy a ticket for Christmas at the Adobes, and you start at The Custom House, well, you've covered #1 on that particular list. That cookies and music and seasonal cheer are involved are just cherries on top of this knowledge-filled, history-rich festivity.

Photo Credit: See Monterey]]>
<![CDATA[Bark Friday at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club]]> Wed, 25 Nov 2015 07:17:47 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/barkfridaydelmar123.jpg

FRIDAY FURRY: When you turn your carriage for the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, and clip-clop in the direction of the track, you can pretty dependably count on seeing some gorgeous, mane-marvelous, four-legged wonders during your day out. What you don't count on quite as much? That your day might be a bit about dogs as well. The ocean-close landmark, which is currently near the close of its Bing Crosby Season, traditionally does it up over the Thanksgiving holiday, with both a Family Mile Fun Run on Thursday and special events throughout the holiday weekend. Things get a bit furrier on Friday when the track partners with the Helen Woodward Animal Center's AniMeals Program, a powerhouse partnership that is both a sweet seasonal gift for people who want to save some money to see the ponies and for area pups needing good food. The giveback upshot? Show with "a donation of unopened pet food" on Friday, Nov. 27 and receive free admission to the hooves-a-flyin' races. And, yes, if you're wondering if this whole shebang is indeed called "Bark Friday," you bet it is.

ANIMEALS PROGRAM: If you're not familiar with AniMeal, you likely do know Meals-on-Wheels, a food-delivery drive which inspired the Rancho Santa Fe animal center to create a supplementary service for pets. "In 1984, a volunteer with the Meals-on-Wheels program discovered one of her clients was sharing her delivered food with her cat." The volunteer approached the Helen Woodward Animal Center, and AniMeals was born. "Often the pets of these clients are the only family they have, and a nutritious meal for their furry friend means the world to them." Today, over 250 pets per week are fed via AniMeals. It's a moving backstory, and an important program to support, both for the beasties and the humans they adore (and who adore them back). If you can't make Del Mar Thoroughbred Club on Bark Friday, you can get involved in the program, which is on all year long and is forever open to donations and support.

AND IF YOU ARE DOING THE FUN RUN... on Thanksgiving, know that the Helen Woodward Animal Center is also involved, with several sweet animal-helping things afoot during the morning. Need more info? Clip-clop this way.

Photo Credit: Helen Woodward Animal Center]]>
<![CDATA[Santa, Sawdust, and Laguna Art]]> Thu, 26 Nov 2015 11:00:09 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/177*120/wintersantasawdust1.jpg

MAKING A MARK... on Christmas morning or the first night of Hanukkah or at a friend's December birthday party can be a bit of a challenge, gift-wise. You want your present to stand out a bit, but finding something memorable that will weather the years, and changing tastes, can be an exercise in frustration. There are positive pathways to walk here, including A) grilling your friend about exactly what they want for the holidays (which takes some of the fun out of the gift-giving) or B) finding an object that is handmade and beautiful and brims with California cool and art-tastic vim. If you're not into the whole grilling-over-gift-desires scene -- and not too many people are -- then ponder a morning spent at the Sawdust Winter Fantasy, the seasonal version of the popular summertime art-and-more festival. You're right, this is in Laguna Beach, not too far from the ocean, and you're right again, if you guessed that it is one of the sparkly stalwarts on the Golden State art festival calendar. The Sawdust, after all, has been serving up paintings and photography and jewelry for decades, and its whimsical setting, complete with crunchy sawdust on the ground, lends it that "been around for a long ol' time" feel. It's a feel we crave at the nostalgia-thick holidays, and we also crave a Santa sighting, too, while we shop.

THE SAWDUST WINTER FANTASY... can deliver on the Santa front -- he'll be popping by during the festival's run -- and it will deliver on the caroling and cute touches front, too. It shares a lot with its summer cousin, but you're bound to see more quintessential end-of-the-year themes and hues among the gifts and decorations. As for select dates? It all ends on Sunday, Dec. 20, and the open times cluster around the weekends, so give the web site the eye before making for Laguna Beach. As for your friend's gift? You just might find the perfect scarf or weaving or barrette or watercolor, one that represents your pal's personality. We don't always have to grill our loved ones about their holiday desires; sometimes finding something fabulous, and handmade, and meeting the artist in the process, can more than fit the festive bill.

Photo Credit: Sawdust Winter Fantasy]]>
<![CDATA[Love for State Parks: Holiday Gift Ideas]]> Mon, 23 Nov 2015 12:21:22 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/bodiecalendarstateparks123.jpg

ASK A PARENT OR FRIEND... what they want for the holidays and you're bound to hear "your presence is my present" as a pert response (or something equally as catchy, overly used, and ultimately true). They do have a good point, about experience and togetherness enhancing the most hectic of all seasons, but being with a beloved relative or out-of-this-world pal isn't always possible, thanks to the aforementioned "hectic" part of the equation. You may want to take them on a weekend getaway, or daylong road trip, in lieu of a physical, to-be-opened gift, but obligations keep you, and pretty much everyone, hustling in December. So if your presence can't be their present, and a jaunt to the redwoods or a stunning cove or a desert landmark isn't in the cards at the moment, how to give them a slice of experience? Well, experience can't be held in the hands, only the heart, except when it can be, a little bit. Look to the foundations that support the California State Parks, those invested and passionate organizations that bring the issues of various parks to light, host events, and, yes, occasionally boast honest-to-commerce online stores. 

THE BODIE FOUNDATION... supports the famous Mono County mining town in many ways, including the sale of items that recall the town's many handsome and historic features. There's an ornament for 2015, a wooden ornament features Bodie's famous Methodist church, and there's a calendar for 2016, too (no shocker that photographers + Bodie=some jaw-dropping snapshots). 

THE CALIFORNIA STATE PARKS FOUNDATION... also has a large online store, and the goods run the gamut from wearables to things you might need on your next hike at your favorite park. Speaking of which, your favorite park very well might have its own supportive foundation, which is just the place to find for-sale items for gifts (or yourself). It's a fine way to spread the word about the park, to lend some support, and to let your mom or best bud know that, even if you can't do a getaway for the holidays, you're thinking of them and a place you both adore. Maybe a calendar or ornament can be the stand-in of sorts? A reminder that you will take that road trip together soon? It turns out presence is a great present, especially when enjoyed in a nature-amazing destination.

Photo Credit: Explore Historic California/Roger W. Vargo]]>
<![CDATA[New: Sugar Rush Event in Costa Mesa]]> Sat, 21 Nov 2015 13:23:37 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/sugarrushtreat15.jpg

BACON TO BUTTERSCOTCH: If you've ever attended the oh-so-popular bacon-themed extravaganzas hosted by Big Bite Events, you know that the superstar strips in the spotlight don't just appear in savory dishes like roasts and omelets. Bacon strips show up in cupcakes and cookies and in milkshakes, too, further bolstering what everyone pretty much knows by now: salty + sweet is a dream team. And it wasn't a dream, but a reality, that Big Bite Events would take some of the sweet-making know-how to a whole new frosting-covered stage, one that put the sole focus on the dessert end of the deal. The bacon is taking a break but the over-the-top treats are not at the brand-new Sugar Rush, the company's two-day, everything's-coming-up-dessert happening at the OC Fair & Event Center. 

THE DATES... for the gooey gathering are perfectly situated over the first weekend of December, that small but sugartastic time of year when cooks are starting to plan their cookie exchanges and cupcake giveaways. Saturday, Dec. 5 and Sunday, Dec. 6 are the exactamundo dates, and they'll be packed as a box holding a triple-tier layer cake. The "one-of-a-kind dessert showcase and sweet market experience" will be loaded high with "entertainment, competitions, demonstrations, walk-about tastings of decadent and delicious sweet treats," many made by some of the top-notch-iest pastry chefs in the region. It's a icing-laden lark, and a fine way to become acquainted with a bevy of bites from some of the most-drooled-over sweet shops in Southern California. And, just perhaps, get a little inspired to change up your famous walnut butterscotch vanilla drops, just a pinch, to see if there's new treat territory to explore within your own kitchen.

COST? It's twenty bucks to get in, and thirty if you buy your entry there. A VIP admission, for fifty dollars ahead of time, comes with some extra trinkets, like a Swag Bag as well as a chocolate and alcohol pair-up session.

Photo Credit: Enrique Nunez/Sugar Rush]]>
<![CDATA[Chilly Pursuits: Yosemite Ice Rink Opens]]> Wed, 25 Nov 2015 21:26:34 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/curryrinkyosmite15.jpg

DIGGING INTO A TIN... of Christmas cookies is one of the pleasures of December, as is observing the bucolic winter painting that is very frequently found atop the tin. You know these old-timey landscapes, the one's with the snug cottage with the curl of purple wood smoke above it, and, all around, snowy drifts and snowy banks. It seems to suggest that winter is a time for staying indoors, and away from nature, but people who follow the November-to-March schedules at our national parks know otherwise. Winter is flush with frosty outdoor pursuits, the kind of to-dos where you pack an extra parka or set of gloves and go with whatever the chilly day brings. For sure, there's time later for staying snug next to the fireplace, but you've got to trek and ice skate and look at the full moon over a field of snow. Few spots around California get into this glacially good time-having better than Yosemite National Park, which keeps a full program of fun alfresco activities going throughout the colder months. One of the most popular? It's the outdoor rink at Curry Village, which makes its seasonal debut on Friday, Nov. 20.

QUESTION ONE... would be whether you need to be a guest at Curry Village and the answer is absolutely not -- even if you're over at The Ahwahnee or Yosemite Lodge at the Falls or are just in the park for a few hours, you can take a spin in the stunning setting. (Yep, Half Dome will watch your whole ice routine, even if your spouse or kids are too busy skating to look over and see your awesome pirouette.) Half Dome, in fact, has been watching skaters at the rink for the better part of a century: The rink, which is operated by Delaware North, opened in 1928. Session times dot the daytime and eveningtime schedules, so whatever time you're in that neck of the woods -- literally -- you can probably grab some ice action. And some cocoa action, too; find the hot beverage for sale at the Curry Village Gift and Grocery Store. If the holidays have you running, when you wish you were skating, take heart: The rink keeps on truckin' into March.

Photo Credit: DNC Resorts]]>
<![CDATA[Opening Soon: V Palm Springs Hotel]]> Fri, 20 Nov 2015 14:04:25 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/pshoteldebutspring2016.jpg

CONTEMPORARY DIGS IN THE DESERT: Much is written about "Coachella style" each spring, so much so that even the word "much" might be a bit of an understatement. But whatever festival attendees wear, or do, or how they fashion their hair or post to social media, all contain a single something in common: There's a breezy, off-the-cuff, pretty-dang-relaxed method to everything that goes down around the Indio extravaganza. The quickly thrown-together denim-and-muslin ensemble, the hasty side ponytail, the last-minute skipping of a better-known act to catch a brand-new band... you can't look like you're trying all that hard at the springtime festival. But there's one huge, blinking, write-it-in-neon exception: You need to line up where you're staying way, way in advance. How "way in advance" is up to various attendees, but hotel rooms go, and the boutique hotels, those that cater to that Coachella vibe, go in stunningly fast fashion. Breathe a sigh, though, desert travelers looking for a fresh stay-over that'll be as new as the new acts debuting at the April songfest: V Palm Springs will open in the former Curve Palm Springs Hotel & Resort right before the whole denim-and-side-ponytail-and-new-band bash gets rolling. 

THE BOUTIQUE DESTINATION... comes be-pool'd, of course, and be-fire-pit'd, and be poolside-bar'd, which are three requisite items when you're talking about a desert getaway that's got au courant cred. It's not big, but you probably won't bump into the same three people the whole time you're there (so, yes, if you guessed 140 rooms, you're on the money). "LA-based celebrity lawyers Mark Geragos and Brian Kabateck" are the new owners (Mr. Kabateck resides in town) and Filament Hospitality are doing the full-service management helming of the property, which will rock a "Garden of Eden-esque vibe." As for the visuals and hues? Desert tones rule, but so do chevrons, which will appear around the property in various motifs. If a South Palm Springs stay is in the cards for you, and Coachella is, too, or Restaurant Week in late May and early June, or the Modernism Preview Weekend in the fall of 2016, and a boutique-y place is what you've got in mind, and you like trying stuff out before all of the other try-stuff-out-ers arrive, keep March 2016 on the calendar. That's the opening month for the new hotel in the '60s-era structure on E. Palm Canyon Drive.

Photo Credit: V Palm Springs Hotel]]>
<![CDATA[Trek to the Tree: Sequoia History + Holidays]]> Thu, 26 Nov 2015 10:56:48 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/trektothetreegrant123.jpg

SO MANY SEASONAL TRADITIONS, whether it is a visit to see Santa Claus or a trip to admire the lighting of an outdoor menorah at sundown or a stop by the ice rink or an afternoon at "The Nutcracker" involves a special meal or snack. Your family might always call upon a particular cafe for a cup of cocoa following the ballet, or a steakhouse for hamburgers, or a restaurant known for its latkes, or somewhere where you can sit and discuss the delights of what you've just witnessed and how it all made you feel. But what do you do when you're having a bit of a yuletide-style adventure, out into the woods, in a regal corner of a regal national park, where cafes and steakhouses tend to be rather few-to-none?

WELL, you look for the nearest eatery on site, and, if there is a special holiday meal attached to what you've come to see, you give a little whoop in celebration, for that means no picnics need to be packed. Not that you might want to dine outdoors, at length, in the middle of December in the middle of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. It is rather frigid, spoiler alert, and there tends to be some snow action. Which makes the annual Trek to the Tree, a hallowed tradition that stretches back nine decades, back to the White House no less, when President Calvin Coolidge deemed the General Grant "the Nation's Christmas Tree."

ON SUNDAY, DEC. 13... fans of the colossal sequoia and history and the park and the holidays will make the yearly trek to the gathering, which honors fallen military personnel in addition to serving as a peaceful, reflective moment in the middle of the larger holiday season. And if you've never seen the General Grant, it is hard to convey its enormity, elegance, epic-o-sity.

AS FOR THE AFOREMENTIONED RELATED MEAL? There's no posh cocoas-only cafe near the General Grant, but there is the lovely Grant Grove Restaurant, which has a meal designed specifically for the Trek to the Tree. Perhaps the crunch-crunch-crunch trek -- that's the snow underfoot -- followed by a bit of crunching, food-wise, in the restaurant, could be a fresh and festive tradition for the family. And one full of meaning and history and silence and sweetness, too.

Photo Credit: Trek to the Tree]]>
<![CDATA[Fisherman's Wharf New: Hotel Zephyr]]> Tue, 17 Nov 2015 12:22:54 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/TheYardatHotelZephyr.jpg

AQUATIC QUIRK: If you've spent any time calling upon the businesses near a sea port, you know that a certain nautical theme can rather dominate decor. Fishing nets and painted buoys and anchors are common touches, as are knotted ropes and various paddles and paintings of whales in mid-breach. And while nobody would ever knock such decor -- it charms, it traffics in nostalgia, and it can capture the flavor of the port -- coming along the use of nautical design in a contemporary way can be as fresh and bracing as a sudden sea spray, or a zephyr, if you prefer. Hotel Zephyr, one of the newest additions to the San Francisco hospitality scene, made its debut in the summer of 2015, with an iconic location and some waves-worthy touches that take the ocean's depths to new heights. 

FISHERMAN'S WHARF... is its neighbor -- the hotel is on Beach Street, just steps from always bustling Powell -- and fishermen and sharks and gulls inform its city-meets-ocean look, from a porthole-shaped lobby look-through to shipping-container-esque walls to pillows that boast art-sweet images of sharks and seabirds. Are there rooms with stylish bunks that recall sleeping below deck? There are. Are there stripes hither and yon, on chairs and such, recalling the classic striped shirt of a sailor? You betcha.

DAVIDSON HOTELS & RESORTS... is behind the porthole-posh property, which sits in a highly renovated former Radisson. As for what's in walking distance? "Everything" is an almost accurate answer, but let's just say "a lot of everything seen in the San Francisco guidebooks." Pier 39, with its resident barkers (the flippered sea lion kind), is a short stroll, as are the Boudin Bakery, the history-laden cocktail spot The Gold Dust Lounge, and The Buena Vista Cafe, which is all about those Irish coffees. Above all, will you take a moment to be laughed at, awesomely, by Musée Méchanique's Laffing Sal? She, too, is a local icon. What's not to like about staying in the hubbub next to the tourist-busy, everyone-busy wharf and its whimsical pleasures? If the sea lions like it, and Laffing Sal, too, they must clued into something big.

Photo Credit: Hotel Zephyr]]>
<![CDATA[Borrego Springs Resort: Early December Deal]]> Wed, 25 Nov 2015 12:17:21 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/borregopool9282283.jpg

COULD "BEFORE THE HOLIDAYS"... become the new "after the holidays" in the years to come? It's a thought. Consider how often you tell a friend that "I can't get together now, I'm too busy, too stressed, too over-scheduled." Plans are made in pencil for January, which then becomes February, and you end up seeing your pal on the first of June. The go-go-go nature of the weeks ahead of the holidays are often written about and often sighed over, with suggestions and tips as to how we can undo a lot of our so-called must-dos ahead of New Year's Day. If ever there was a time of year to take back a few hours, or a day or two, it's the stretch from Thanksgiving into the December celebrations. While this is a busy period for retail it has been, in the past, a quieter period for hotels and travel, but no longer: Deals and packages and savings frequently spring up ahead of Christmas at hotels hither and yon.

LOOK TO... Borrego Springs Resort & Spa, which wants to give people a pre-relax moment in early December. Families hoping to incorporate a trip to the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park for some not-so-hectic hiking will find crisper daytime temperatures but plenty of sunshine (if El Niño doesn't pop up, unannounced). Hanukkah also falls within the time period of the resort's offer, so celebratory get-togethers can also happen, bringing together family members from different points around Southern California as they fete the Festival of Lights. So, what's the deal?

IT'S A 25% DISCOUNT... on "any guestroom" at the hotel from Tuesday, Dec. 1 through Thursday, Dec. 24. You'll need to ring the resort to book this one -- phone number's 760-767-5700 -- and tell your reservation agent these two words: The Gift. That's the code for the deal, a deal that approaches what is typically the busiest period of the year in a new, go-hiking, relax-by-the-pool, gaze-at-the-stars light. Could you actually and truly get together with that good friend in December instead of pushing your reunion to February, March, next June? Maybe with a quick overnight in the desert? It's time we rethink our time. And as for saving money on a getaway? It's always the right time for that.

<![CDATA[CHILL: Early Sale for Queen Mary Fun]]> Sat, 14 Nov 2015 07:12:30 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/chillsaleqm12345.jpg

FROSTY FUNDS: Money, as in the concept of money, enjoys a number of nicknames and alter egos and sayings and such, and many of them involve the word "cold" or its synonyms. Cold hard cash? That's one. Frozen funds? Okay, yes, that's another, though maybe not quite as delightful. Make it rain? Certainly rain can be chilly, if it arrives just ahead of snow. So how will you describe the savings you enjoy ahead of CHILL, the Queen Mary's annual holiday time ice-plus-everything spectacular? Calling the money you keep "pretty snowflakes in your bank account" isn't quite as catchy as "cold hard cash," but call it what you like, as it is your money and you are saving it. Well, you will save it if you book your ticket for the multi-week Long Beach to-do ahead of time, on a particular day, and you use a code. 

THE DEAL? CHILL begins brisking up our holidays on Friday, Nov. 20, complete with its sculpture- and slide-packed Ice Kingdom and that massive ship-close rink and Santa, too. If you nab your ticket by the day before -- hello, Nov. 19 -- and use CHILL15 as the code, you can score a general admission for $18.99. That's nothing to sniff(le) at; you're saving several dollars on the typical get-in fee. As for the dates? You can apply this code, and snag the deal, for a bevy of days in both November and December, including Nov. 21, 24-27, Dec. 1-4, and Dec. 8-11. There's some additional small print, and such, but the big small print is this: You've got to purchase by a second before midnight on Thursday, Nov. 19 at queenmary.com.

AS FOR WHAT'S THERE? Yep, we mentioned the ice slides and sculptures, which are a major part of this yuletide-y wonder. A brand-new Victorian Village is also part of the 2015 sights, and the Giant Rocking Horse is back. But will you brave the Enchanted Forest Hedge Maze? (We predict you probably will; too forward of us?) For all the delightful, gingerbread-scented doings at the big ship, strap on your skates and glide to the Queen Mary's CHILL HQ.

Photo Credit: CHILL]]>
<![CDATA[St. Regis Monarch Beach's Winter Sandy-Land]]> Sat, 28 Nov 2015 06:48:37 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/SandytheSnowmanSRMB1.jpg

THE GRITTY GO-TOS: What are some of the go-to designs that beach goers re-create, visit after visit? For sure, someone often gets buried in damp sand, up to his or her neck. Oftentimes a sandcastle is the favored structure, one with bucket-shaped turrets and a little bit of kelp for a flag. And writing one's name along the place where the water meets the earth -- or, more commonly, the name of a loved one, complete with a heart -- can be admired in countless Instagram photos. But what of the snowman made of sand? We'd call such a creation a sandman, though the Sandman occupies a different corner of our fantasies and dreams (so we'll let him be). If you've never rolled out a bottom and torso and head for the classic flake-and-ice figure at a beach, you can change all that, and swankily so, by booking a stay at The St. Regis Monarch Beach. The Dana Point luxe resort has a just-in-time-for-the-holidays package afoot, one that rocks a glittery sprinkling of seasonal cred. It's the Winter Sandy-Land Package, and not only does it start with "(a)ccomodations in a recently renovated Signature Guest Room," but it goes on to loop in lovely holiday stuff like milk and cookies delivered during the nightly turndown service and a kit to build a sandy snowman right on the property's own private beach.

FUTURE CARD SNAPSHOT: Could your sweet Mr. Santa Snowman snaps make it onto the front of your holiday greeting cards next year? Or maybe even in 2015, if you book early enough? The offer is good through Dec. 30. Oh, and you'll be well-fortified for all that snowman-building you do; daily breakfast is comped, as are your children's meals during the day. It all kicks off at $245 a night. But how will your friends in colder climes react to seeing you posing with a sandy snowman on a sunny beach? They'll probably be tickled.

THE PROPERTY, do note, is currently undergoing a big spiffy-up (read: renovation), so even if you don't opt for the holiday-themed package there are deals on rooms to be had. What do we mean by "deals"? The rates start at $195 for the swanky ocean-close stay-over (and they, like the renovation, won't last forever).

Photo Credit: Elena M. Kiryan]]>
<![CDATA[San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival Returns]]> Tue, 17 Nov 2015 08:08:52 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/55WFF.jpg

The 12th annual San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival (SDBWFF) will make its tasty return next month, bringing delectable dishes and premiere wines to feasting foodies.

The week-long fest, which runs Nov. 16-22, will showcase San Diego’s thriving food scene and local culinary talent in a series of events including tastings, workshops and special dinners. Of course, like in years past, luxury wines and spirits will also take center stage.

With so many events where one can sip and savor, here is a scrumptious sample of a few of those mouthwatering activities for foodies to sink their teeth into. Cheers!

Bayless + Plascencia + White Opening Feast (Nov. 16)
5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. or 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Bracero Cocina De Raiz
Three local chefs and restaurateurs – Rick Bayless, Javier Plascencia and Chad White – host a very exclusive opening night feast at Bracero Cocina De Raiz in Little Italy. With only 30 seats available, the upscale chic dinner event includes a private meet-and-greet with the talent and a four-course dinner paired expertly with wines from the Valle Guadalupe region. Diners will even get a chance to watch the chefs in action from an observation kitchen, seeing first-hand what it takes to put perfection on a plate. Tickets cost between $100 and $250 per person.

Fish Tacos & Craft Beer Featuring the Fish Taco TKO (Nov. 17)
6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Quartyard Urban Park
Anyone who lives in San Diego knows Taco Tuesday is a big deal, but this SDBWFF event in downtown San Diego takes the concept to another level. Back for the fourth year, this battle features fish tacos created by 12 of the city’s top chefs competing head-to-head for votes. In the past, winners have included tacos from the PB Fish Shop and Sandbar Sports Grill. Organizers say this casual event will also include 12 unique craft beer station and live music. It’s presented by “Dining Out” Magazine. Tickets are $45.

Bernard Guillas & Friends Host an Ocean to Table Lunch (Nov. 18)
11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at The Marine Room
Join The Marine Room’s celebrated Chef Bernard Guillas and some of his culinary pals for a coursed, fresh seafood lunch topped with wine pairings and breathtaking views. The daytime event includes a champagne reception, followed by hors d’oeuvres and four courses for discerning palates. Tickets cost $85 per person. Check out the menu here.

Wine Faults Workshop: Yeast, Bacterial and Sulfer Defects in Wine (Nov. 19)
9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., Manchester Grand Hyatt, Golden Hill AB
This SDBWFF seminar – led by Patrick Farrell of Inventive Technologies, Inc., and Amy Christine of Black Sheep Wines – explores the root of the most conspicuous wine faults, from visual defects like protein instability and tartrates to microbial issues that stem from yeast, bacteria and rot. The workshop costs $55 per person.

SommCon Tasting & Silent Auction (Nov. 20)
5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Manchester Grand Hyatt, Grand Ballroom
For the first time, SommCon, a leading conference for sommelier-level education and training of wine professionals and serious enthusiasts, has paired with the SDBWFF to bring this educational tasting event to the festival’s lineup. Attendees will be able to sample sips from more than 100 wine, spirit and brewery producers while mingling with industry professionals. The event also includes a silent auction to benefit the American Institute of Wine & Food and the Chaine des Rosisseurs culinary arts scholarship programs. Tickets cost $65.

The Lexus Grand Tasting Event (Nov. 21)
12 p.m. to 3 p.m., Embarcadero Marina Park North
If you attend only one San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival event this year make it this – the big finale of the SDBWFF. The Grand Tasting at Embarcadero Marina Park North, right behind Seaport Village, will boast 150 wine and spirit purveyors pouring more than 700 different wines from a range of domestic and international wineries. In addition, more than 60 of San Diego’s top chefs will take the spotlight at The Grand Tasting, whipping up their finest fare. A “Chef of the Fest” competition will determine the best of the best, with one winning chef walking away with up to $50,000 in cash and prizes and, of course, serious bragging rights. Attendees will also enjoy samples from more than 30 gourmet food companies, plus live entertainment. Tickets range from $135 to $200, depending on the extras you’d like to add. Designated Driver tickets are also available.

Sail With Gale (Nov. 22)
10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Marriott Marquis & Marina
Sail around San Diego Bay with award-winning author and Chef Gale Gand and her closest chef friends while feasting on some of her favorite dishes (cold, warm and hot options, plus dessert) and sipping on custom cocktails. There are only 40 spaces available aboard this 60-foot, private luxury yacht, so buy your tickets early to snag a spot. Tickets are $125.

There you have it – a small slice of what’s ahead at the 2015 San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival. By the way, foodies who want to attend more than one of these events may want to opt for special packages, which include tickets to multiple activities and other swag.

For all of the details on San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival, visit the event website.

Photo Credit: John Audley]]>
<![CDATA[Tamale Fests: Masa, Music, Merriment]]> Fri, 13 Nov 2015 13:07:05 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/180*120/75287822.jpg

MUCH IS MADE, each mid-November, of people growing more and more frantic as Thanksgiving plans are put into motion. The person doing the mashed potatoes has to be confirmed, and the relative who is in charge of the cranberry salsa, and looking for a couple of volunteers to oversee the deep-frying of the turkey can take the better part of the morning. But let us also pause and acknowledge another bit of food-oriented planning that goes on right about the middle of fall, planning that frequently involves relatives and assignments and store trips and an entire day blocked off on the calendar (much like Thanksgiving often is, too). We speak of the tamale-making party, a tradition that's as set in masa -- we mean stone, rather -- as any other during the holiday season. One person typically organizes the affair but it takes a lot of hands, and, occasionally, a few pitchers of margaritas, to turn out several dozen tamales. If you haven't heard what's happening with your annual stuff-and-fold soiree yet, fear not, tamaleans: Some regional tamale festivals are heading this way, as they often do this time of year, with one popping up, for a change, in the springtime. 

INDIO INTERNATIONAL TAMALE FESTIVAL: This is one of the stalwarts on the tamale calendar, a large-scale snack-and-snack-some-more gathering that is pinned to the first weekend in December. The dates for 2015 are Saturday, Dec. 5 and Sunday, Dec. 6, and bevies of unwrappable, moist, meat-and-vege-packed goodies will be for sale. It's been around for nearly a quarter of a century, so bet you'll bite a wide range of tamale specialties.

SOMERTON TAMALE FESTIVAL: This one's just a pop over the border, into Arizona, in the community south of Yuma. Put on by ASU folks living in the area, the tamale festival, which spreads out along a few blocks of Main Street, is on the big side, so if you're want to try well over a dozen different examples of tamales made in the beautiful Colorado River-close area, this is it. Date? Saturday, Dec. 19.

RIVERSIDE TAMALE FESTIVAL: Should you get your fill of masa-based delights in the masa-riffic month of December -- if that's even possible -- hold tight, for the Riverside food party is just ahead, in April of 2016. Who says tamale love can't make every month a traditional tamale month? We know, December and tamales go way back, but if you go way back with tamale enjoyment, it matters not what the calendar says. You're seeking out the savory stuff, and lots of it, in festival form.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Ramona Cute: Feed Pomegranates to Camels]]> Fri, 13 Nov 2015 21:15:38 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/oasiscamel123-horzpom.jpg

ANIMALS EATING ADORABLY: If you live with a pup or a cat or a gecko or a guinea pig or a cockatoo or any number of sweet beasties, you know that watching them eat can be as pleasurable as any other entertainment option out there. A dog'll gnaw at a jerky treat, a kitty will bat about a piece of cat kibble, and if you've ever watched a mouse's miniature mouth take on an overly large seed, you know it is a squealable sight. And what of watching a camel have a snack, a snack delivered by your own hand? That, too, is quite the sight, to observe its jaws and teeth in action (and to see the happy, this-is-yummy look on its face). It isn't going out on any limbs to say that we probably have more chances to feed our Fidos than we do a dromedary, but that chance comes along now and then, and definitely when the Oasis Camel Dairy in Ramona opens its doors to the public. The hump-tastic farm does just that, each year, during Watermelon Days, but another fruit, one that is fall-famous, comes up at the camel-cute patch each November. It's the pomegranate, the inspiration behind the dairy's Pomegranate Days, and, yes, you yourself can feed the seed-packed goodies the resident camels. 

NOV. 27 THROUGH 29... are the 2015 dates, so, yes, this can definitely be in your post-Thanksgiving, get-out-of-the-house, show-the-visitors-a-good-time plans. Fresh air, some countryside, some camel rides, camel milk soaps and such for sale, and the fruit-to-camel-mouth action are all on the holiday weekend to-do roster. It's fifteen bucks for adults to get in, a bit less for members of the military and kids, and there shall be a few things happening, like face painting and birds to observe and a family circus show and such. It's a day out at a country destination, in short, and a quaint one at that. But even if you do it all, can anything quite top opening your hand, the one holding a pomegranate, before the muzzle of a grateful hump-cute new pal? As you watch him chomp, best ponder if you yourself ate your potatoes or turkey as ravenously, and adorably, on Thanksgiving. One good thing to know? This tradition has been around for over a half decade now, so if you want to add it to your family's yearly seasonal go-outs, it has proven to be a keeper.

Photo Credit: Oasis Camel Dairy/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[On the Horizon: 'Star Trek' 50th Anniversary Con]]> Tue, 10 Nov 2015 12:30:02 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/stGettyImages-71675776.jpg

WHEN YOU'RE HELMING THE ENTERPRISE... you have to have a knack for looking far into the distance, across the reaches of space and time, to foretell what challenges you might face in the days and years and decades to come. It's kind of Starfleet Academy 101, really; foreprepared is, well, foreprepared, and wearing one of the most famous uniforms in all of pop culture means you're able to look far beyond tomorrow. To plan a "Star Trek" convention, the majorest of major "Star Trek conventions, one needs a similar set of skills in the whole "foreplanning" department. You don't just throw the whole thing together in a matter of days or even a month, not when it is the 50th anniversary of the cosmic phenom and not when over 100 "Star Trek" celebrities are set to show. You look almost a year out, like a Starfleet captain might, and you start planning your mission months and months ahead of the actual event. It's just logical, is all, and it is exactly what is going down with Creation Entertainment's mondo annual everybody's-there Las Vegas extravaganza. The "Star Trek" convention is a mega extravaganza each and every year, of course, but the 2016 party, the 50th bash, is as big as a wormhole and just as able to pull fans in from every direction of the compass.

AUG. 3 THROUGH 7... are the dates for the 2016 con, and details are already scurrying out, Tribble-style, from the Creation Entertainment headquarters. The aforementioned 100+ "Star Trek" cast members and creatives due to show is a major headline, as is the fact that the term "50th" might be seen on a lot of merch. The Rio Suites Hotel-based bash'll also include giveaways, costume displays, "convention-only freebies," and ample opportunities for you to wear your full Borg regalia. It's a five-day convention and thousands of true-blue Trekkers are expected, especially given the anniversary-year cachet. Ready to start prepping your ship for lift-off? With a destination of Las Vegas? You can follow all the reveals at the Creation Entertainment "Star Trek" site. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[New: Winter Fest at OC Fair & Event Center]]> Mon, 09 Nov 2015 17:09:45 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/WinterFestEntranceOC.jpg

SNOW IN ORANGE COUNTY... is a bit unlikely, unless you're inside the Matterhorn, and then you have other more monstrous issues to think about besides flakes and icicles and such. (Seriously, the Abominable Snowman is a pretty hairy, scary fellow.) But holiday revelers will be able to find a little frosty fun within the county this Christmas season, if they drive their sleigh to Costa Mesa any time from Saturday, Dec. 18 through Sunday, Jan. 3. And all-new, oh-so-inaugural, see-it-for-the-first-time to-do is kicking off at the OC Fair & Event Center, and it is bringing with it loads of lively, mitten-up charms. It's Winter Fest OC, and it "embodies the spirit of the winter season" via a host of thematic activities. Let's start with the loooong slide, the one that's ice-covered and ready-made for you in a tube, the...

130-FOOT, SIX-LANE ICE SLIDE: Yep, you'll be wheeeee-ing past your friends at a notable rate of speed, as if you were atop some Alpine peak and not just a few miles from the beach. There shall be ice-skating, and if your twirls and axels don't keep you busy enough, there's the huge screen nearby, the one playing all of the candy cane-filled flicks we associate with the season. (Just don't sniffle on the ice, at a moving scene, or your tears might get a little cold against your cheeks.) Carnival rides and games, over two dozen of 'em, bring the midway merriness to the yuletide scene, and "the world's largest ornament" is custom-made for social media braggery. Honest now; if you don't get a pic of it, how will people know that you were really at Winter Fest?

CHRISTMASSY COCKTAILS... and fortifying bites, the kind you need to chow down on before heading back on the rink, are also on the Winter Fest menu. Live performers, carolers, a tree-lighting, and more baubles of the outlandish, big-party-ish sort fill out this over-sized trunk full of toys. And if you don't feed a graham cracker to a reindeer, how will you start 2016? Won't you feel as though your 2015 needed a little bit more? You have to time to make that dream a reality. Tickets to get in kick off at ten bucks online, and all the details are shimmering, like a snowman in the near distance, right over here. 

Photo Credit: (C) AES - All Rights Reserved]]>
<![CDATA[Guessing Time: Big Bear Snowfall Contest]]> Mon, 09 Nov 2015 17:10:21 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/bigbearsnowfall92832323.jpg

HOW WINTER BUFFS SENSE SNOW... that may or may not be on the way is as quirky as wearing mismatched thermals and ski pants and mittens (which, let's be honest, a lot of people do, and with frosty flair). Some snow foretellers can feel an itch on their arm or a pang in the elbow. Other cold weather fans swear they can smell snow, on the air, while some snow lovers claim that there's a simple shift in the ozone. The predictions, and methods of predicting, are as numerous as flakes on a slope, but predicting people best sharpen whatever skills they use in regards to snow, for a good prize is on the line. It's the Guess the First Six Inches of Snow Contest at Big Bear Mountain Resorts, and it is sure to heat up -- er, cool down? -- now that Mother Nature has brought the chill, and the precipitation, to many of California's mountain destinations.

HOW THE CONTEST WORKS: Put your nose to the air -- or your elbow or knee or foot or whatever gauge you use -- and attempt to predict when the first half foot of the frozen white stuff'll be on the ground in Big Bear Village. The prize? A season pass to Big Bear Mountain Resorts or a quartet of two-day passes for Big Bear Snow Play. Here are some specifics before you and your elbow guess when snow is due: The snow has to be natural. Good? Good. And a "dusting" of snow has accumulated as of Nov. 4, about an inch, so there's five inches to go as of this typing. The contest, which is from the Big Bear Visitors Bureau, will continue right up to the moment the first guesser has guessed correctly.

AS FOR THE FINE PRINT? There's a bit to read over, like "one guess per household." But if your sniffer or big toe or pinky finger is telling you that five more inches of snow for our mountains are not far off, better get cracking, should you want to score that sweet ski pass. 

Photo Credit: James Cassimus]]>
<![CDATA[Temecula Harvest Celebration Tour]]> Fri, 06 Nov 2015 10:40:50 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/temeculaharvest25grapes.jpg

THE EARLY NOVEMBER RAINS... brought a good deal of snow to the mountains of California, and the ski resorts and cold-weather play places proceeded to shower various social media sites with pictures of the much-desired precipitation. But while the snapshots of the snowflakes make a lot of Golden Staters glad, other photographs from the chilly storm caught eyes and hearts. Several Temecula Valley wineries shared pictures of dramatic clouds hanging low over the vines, clouds backed by soft pink skies and the sort of sunsets one hopes to see while in any wine country. The cloud + Temecula winery photos remind us that the storm truly delivered autumn, and visitors to the Temecula Wine Country Harvest Celebration will get to enjoy the system's brisk-air'd, chilly-clear aftermath. Well, temperatures will be in the 70s on Sunday, Nov. 8, so it isn't exactly bundle-up weather, but after a toastier September and October, it feels rather festive to do a winery tour on a true fall-feeling Sunday. Grapeline Wine Tours is at the driver's wheel for this one, a 25th anniversary party that'll make for several vineyards around the valley over a single sit-back-and-ride day.

AN OCTET OF WINERIES... are on tap to be part of the full day of barrel tastes and yummy eats. The still-new Carter Estate is a 2015 participant, and Baily, too, at "the reservations-only production facility." Cougar, Callaway, Danza del Sol, Falkner, Lorimar, Doffo, Europa Village, and "the new cave" at Oak Mountain. Oenophiles'll also get a crack at trying out some new releases, and the cuisine shall be chef-prepared and wine-pairable. Cost? It's one hundred and forty nine dollars a person, and that includes your Grapeline ride, and not just to the wineries, either; the transport also swings by Old Town Temecula (as well as "Temecula-area hotels").

DID YOU DELAY... your day out at the wineries, because the start of fall was just a tad too fierce in the heat department? That's changed, as the puffy-cloud photos over pretty-vine estates now show. Catch that end-of-a-storm-week feeling around Temecula Valley during a party that proves harvest time hasn't quite wrapped up.

Photo Credit: Grapeline]]>
<![CDATA[Sudden Lake: A Death Valley Wonder]]> Thu, 05 Nov 2015 12:20:40 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/lakemanlydv.jpg

DRIEST, HOTTEST, LOWEST... WETTEST? When you drive into Death Valley National Park with a group of friends, it can be tempting to play a few silly, pass-the-time games in the car, the kind of games that enhance any road trip through a large expanse of land. One such game might be to think of places, things, or concepts that are lower, hotter, and drier than the arid landscape you're entering. Is a piece of toast without butter drier than Death Valley? Is the surface of the sun hotter? Is the deepest trench in the ocean lower? No one ever said that road trip guessing games were serious, but something has emerged in Death Valley which seems so fictional that it might belong to a light-hearted guessing game and not the real world. It's Lake Manly, an actual span of water, as in H20, as in the moist stuff, inside the parched park. Thanks to a drencher of a recent autumn storm, water appeared in the spot where an ancient lake once stood. But while exceedingly cool, this isn't the first time this has happened in this epoch or even in the last few years; Lake Manly has reappeared following especially stormy events, and the snapshot of kayakers out on the desert lake back in 2005 made headlines near and far.

CALL IT A FINE CHANCE... to admire a phenomenon rarely seen around the country's largest national park (largest in the contiguous United States, that is). It's also a way to peer back through the veils of time, back to before the last ice age called it a day, when a lake existed in Death Valley, one that was "roughly 80 miles long and 800 feet deep." Whoa. As for kayaking on this newest version of the old lake? A fan asked the park if he might show with his vessel, to which the park responded with "I don't see why not," though the water is described as not all that deep. 

AS FOR THE LAKE'S NAMESAKE? That would be William L. Manly, an original D.V. pioneer back in the 1800s. If you're also keen to know more about the people who passed through this epic stretch back in the middle of the 19th century, the annual Death Valley '49ers Encampment trots into the area in the middle of November.

Photo Credit: NPS/Dan Kish]]>
<![CDATA[Disneyland Holidays (Plus 'Star Wars,' Too)]]> Fri, 06 Nov 2015 22:04:15 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/smallworldholidaydl123.jpg

THE MOON CAN SEE IT: If ever there was a group of people who could build a ginormous, Jules Verne-like telescope on the surface of the moon, the kind of quirky, twisty, brass job that could look back upon the earth, it is probably the Imagineers. Okay, NASA could do the job, too, we know, but Disney's famous batch of braintastic creative types has a way of dreaming up amazing things that do amazing things from amazing places (ponder the Pepper's Ghost effect inside the Haunted Mansion or any of the lifelike animatronics found around Disneyland Resort). So we're expecting the news, any time now, that the makers of rides and creators of attractions at various Disney theme parks will build an actual telescope on the moon, the better to see Disneyland with, and, in particular, one single landmark at a single time of year. We speak of it's a small world and we speak of Christmastime, when the '60s-era boat ride goes for the full twinkly wattage look. Truly, could you see Anaheim, and it's a small world, from the surface of the moon, with a medium-powered telescope, in November and December? Imagineers, ponder that topic while we mere mortals prepare for...

HOLIDAY TIME... at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, which opens on Friday, Nov. 13. As always, the wreaths and bows will be out, and the handmade candy canes at Candy Kitchen, and the toy soldiers in the A Christmas Fantasy Parade. The Jingle Cruise'll throw in some yuletide touches, and the Haunted Mansion Holiday -- complete with Jack Skellington, Zero, Sally, and "Nightmare" crew -- is still gingerbreading up the New Orleans Square spookhouse. Santa Claus will also call upon Critter Country, if you'd like an audience with Mr. Kringle. 

AS FOR THE OTHER NOVEMBER ARRIVAL... at the park? Why a new "Star Wars" experience called "Season of the Force" opens on Nov. 16, bringing with it opportunities to say hello to characters from the universe and "a twist" on the Jedi Training. Also? Space Mountain is transforming into Hyperspace Mountain in honor of the opening. 

OF COURSE... now we're really and truly thinking the Imagineers might be building a telescope on the surface of the moon, both to admire the lights of it's a small world at Christmas and because space, in the form of "Star Wars," is a central theme of the upcoming season at the world's most famous theme park.

Photo Credit: Scott Brinegar]]>
<![CDATA[Mammoth's Opening Date Is Moved Up]]> Tue, 03 Nov 2015 13:53:31 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/mammothopeningdate123.jpg

SKIERS HAD THE SECOND WEEK OF NOVEMBER... circled, several times, in thick red pen, on their personal calendars. They knew the Opening Day at Mammoth Mountain, and that was that, and they'd organize their time and life around getting up to the slopes around the ski destination's sure-to-be-set-in-stone first day. After all, California's less-than-wet winter last year still lingers in many a flake fan's mind, and the idea that an opening day could actually arrive early seemed to be something out of fiction. But things are getting fictional up the big mountain, and that Opening Day has been moved up, by seven days, to Thursday, Nov. 5. That's moved up, not back, as in sooner, not later, and no, this is not a prank: All the El Niño swirl is clearly already reaping benefits for the slopes of the Golden State.

"1ST RESORT OPEN": Mammoth Mountain is pretty darn stoked about the date change, proclaiming that the Eastern Sierra snow spot will be "the 1st resort open in CA!" The "nearly three feet of snow" that just dropped at the summit at the start of the month can be thanked for nudging the date up, and Chairs 1 and 3'll be in business as of Nov. 5. With more snow comes the expanding into more terrain, so keep those fingers crossed, inside your woolen mittens, that the continued cold continues on and, with it, precipitation.

50 BUCKS... gets you on a lift on Nov. 5, so if you need to break out the thick red pen again, and start circling new dates on the calendar, and talking to the boss about a day off, or, better yet, inviting the boss along to Opening Day, better get cracking. It isn't every year that a resort's date to unlock the proverbial gates jumps forward by a whole week, but, then again, it isn't every year we receive a visit from a particularly strong weather event that begins with El and ends in Niño.

ANNUAL PASS: If the new Opening Day is jumping ahead of you receiving your annual pass, Mammoth Mountain has a helpful suggestion for what to do in the comments of this post.

Photo Credit: Mammoth Mountain]]>
<![CDATA[On Sale: Christmas Train Tickets in Orange]]> Tue, 03 Nov 2015 11:06:28 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/santairvinetrees12345.jpg

CHRISTMAS KICK-OFF: There is a bit of sighing over the fact that festive ornaments and red-and-green lights and plastic reindeer for the front lawn show up on our store shelves weeks ahead of Halloween, but the sighing ceases when Halloween is done. Once the skeletons come down from the front door we're in the clear to hang our wreaths and our stockings and whatever seasonal bunting and swag we like. Thus the timing was very good for the Irvine Park Railroad's big on-sale announcement, which arrived just hours after Halloween came to a creaky close: Tickets for the Christmas train, a true Orange County kid tradition, are now on sale.

THIS DOESN'T MEAN THE TRAIN... is quite choo-choo-ing just yet -- that would be a little fast, even with the "early November is okay for holiday stuff" rules we're working with. But it does mean you can secure your ticket for the weekend following Thanksgiving, if you've got the grandparents in town and you're all looking for a fine way to get out of the house and snap some photos for the holiday cards. It's sure to be a busy one, thanks in large part to be the 19-year-old railroad's opening weekend (well, opening for the Christmas Train). 

SO WHAT'S ON THE CHRISTMAS TRAIN? Well, cheer, obviously, but Santa Claus is a major draw, as is the nearby Christmas Tree Farm. The night ride features the Tunnel of Lights, and more yuletide-cute details, including a Santa's Village area. So stow the jack o'lantern decorations and the fake ghosts and orange candles: Kris Kringle is pulling into the Irvine Regional Park for photos and kid-cute chitchat. That you get to board a tot-sweet train, too, the better to up the general seasonal merriment, is the icing on this particular gingerbread.

THE CHRISTMAS TRAIN... at Irvine Park Railroad runs each evening from Nov. 27 through Dec. 23.

Photo Credit: Irvine Park Railroad]]>
<![CDATA[Kimpton Hotels + Movember: A Giveback Deal]]> Wed, 04 Nov 2015 17:16:52 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/214*120/mov29323-horz.jpg

GIVING BACK AND GETAWAYS... don't often match up in this world. We so often seem to help out and lend a hand and raise awareness about the causes dear to us while we're at home, and once we venture out for the weekend, that part of our individual world is on hold. It doesn't always have to be that way, and very often a hotel will sponsor a charity or organization, encouraging guests to do the same, via food specials or limited-time packages. If you know Movember, the November-long fundraiser focused on men's health (and the growing of fabulous mustaches by the men raising money and the non-mustache'd Mo Sistas, too), then you'll have a hunch what the "Flash Yo 'Stache" deal is all about at a trio of Kimpton hotels. The properties are all located in Southern California, so if you show at the Shorebreak Hotel in Huntington Beach, Hotel Solamar in San Diego, or The Palomar San Diego any time during November, and you do the requisite flashing of your mustache, you'll "a 20-percent discount on room rates and a special welcome amenity with Movember friendly amenities." Jim Hollister, director of operations for the Kimptons of the SoCal/AZ region, says "In Southern California, we are all about healthy living and love encouraging our guests to do the same. We're excited to play a small role in this effort, and look forward to rewarding guests for their support."

NOVEMBER 1... is the day to get growin' on the 'stach front, gentlemen, but the deal is on for all 30 days of the eleventh month at the three Kimptons mentioned. And if you don't have a mustache to flash for the deal, there are available mustaches "at check-in, to ensure anyone can partake in the promotion." Special drinks and hashtags for Instagram, hashtags that may net the guest a special surprise, are also part of the do-unto-others promotion. 

SO... are you thinking of joining the Movember Foundation movement? Time to find a razor and clean that chin right up. Here are your details, mustache men and Mo Sistas. Thanks for giving back and, should you head to one of the participating Kimptons, enjoy your deal-nice, thank-you getaway.

Photo Credit: Movember/Kimpton]]>
<![CDATA[Opening: Pismo Beach Monarch Grove]]> Sat, 31 Oct 2015 15:17:37 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/monarchsvisitpismobeach.jpg

THE SWEETEST LITTLE STARTLE: The prospect of being startled, around Halloween week, carries with it a bit of light dread but a sense of delight, too. The act of the startle isn't generally all that pleasant, of course, in any form, but seasonal, gentle-of-heart startles are more typical in the days leading up to Oct. 31. We're talking about that moment when a co-worker dons a funny mask and pops up above the cubicle wall or a pack of trick-or-treaters rounds a corner, causing us to jump (a jump that we likely manufacture solely for the kids' delight). Let us add a sweet little startle to this Halloween week cavalcade, one that brings a dose of nature and sunlight and winter migration and joy. We speak of the Monarch butterflies, those colder-weather visitors that begin to call upon the Golden State's central stretch around the end of October. It's currently just that time of year, which means you could be out, walking down a sidewalk, just a few days ahead of Halloween, and admiring yard decorations, and zing! A Monarch zooms by your head, giving you the smallest of heart jumps and a dash of unexpected happiness. You weren't expecting to see such a wee wonder, but, there it is, and you recall that the time of year is right on for such a special sighting. And if you're in Pismo Beach on Sunday, Nov. 1, you'll be right on again, as the Monarch Butterfly Grove opens for the season.

FLUTTER FLUTTER: Monarchs, with their sizable wings and saturated orange-to-black hues, are the stars of the kick-off event, of course, but "the work of local artists and photographers, local musicians, face painting and art work from Nipomo High School students" add loveliness to the lovely day. No worries if you can't make it down for the opening, though; the Monarch Butterfly Grove'll stay abuzz into February, when the butterflies once again bid us adieu as they head back out on the migration trail. Have you seen the clustering up in a copse of eucalyptus trees? It's a sight, for sure, startling in its beauty and butterfly-thick profusion. So some startles, such as startling beauty and the startle of seeing the first Monarch of fall, have their pluses. Though the whole co-worker popping up over the cubicle wall in a comical mask could probably be retired, we're thinking. 

NEED YOUR MONARCH 411? Get your migration info, what they eat, how much they weigh, and more. It's Monarch time, butterfly people, up and down our Central Coast.

Photo Credit: Visit Pismo Beach]]>
<![CDATA[Encinitas Eerie: Halloween + Nature Fun]]> Fri, 30 Oct 2015 08:52:08 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/hweensdbotanic.jpg

PLANTS, PUMPKINS, AND A PARTY: While Halloween has a lot of charms that spring from things created by humans -- witch costumes and spooky candles and glowsticks and all of those too-easy-to-eat miniature candies -- much of the holiday finds inspiration in nature. Look to vintage postcards and decorations and you'll see a surfeit of full moons and bare-branched trees and owls and cats lending the eeks, a testament to the fact that the spookiest day of the years has one foot in the wilder world. So to spend a couple of hours among plants and trees and flowers, in the fresh air, while marking the last day in October feels like one is honoring a very venerable tradition. The San Diego Botanic Garden will be doing just that on Saturday, Oct. 31 via its annual Fall Festival. The kid-sweet, craft-tastic day is definitely about being in the open air, but it also involves dressing up (at least for the tots, though not the grown-ups) and maybe snapping a few photos with the Big Pumpkin, who is as sweet and approachable as can be (not to mention the most ginormous gourd you'll likely ever encounter, and possibly the only ambulatory, social pumpkin around). 

THE DAY WILL BE ALL ABOUT... Halloween crafts -- pumpkin painting was a popular exercise at past fests -- as well as hay wagon rides, a tradition that seems nearly as old as the holiday itself. The garden also promises a petting zoo, so make sure your little one's costume does not hold them back from giving a goat a few gentle head pats. As far as food goes? Leucadia Pizza and The Taco Man'll both be on the grounds, selling lunch-ready bites to keep the fall activities going.

AS FAR AS WHAT'S BLOOMING GOES? The garden is alive with autumn beauty, so keep an eye out for the Dragon Fruit, the Brazilian Plume, the Coral Vine, and more fall florals that may be showing their best stuff off. We may not get the fall foliage of New England 'round these parts, with the fiery maples and such, but the season has its own soft sweetness close to the Pacific. And few places show that off as well as the Encinitas-based garden. 

Photo Credit: San Diego Botanic Garden]]>
<![CDATA[National Park Nosh: Chefs' Holidays]]> Thu, 29 Oct 2015 20:51:54 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/Chefs_Culinary_Demonstration_2_20141117191850891_resized_low.jpg

DELICIOUS DENOUEMENT: The run-up to the holidays, if you're a dedicated home cook who likes to mix in a few adventurous dishes with some tried-and-true-and-tasty classics, can be a veritable whirlwind of get-it-done proportions. You have to make sure the invitations are in the mail in a timely manner, you have to check on your guests' allergies and preferences, and you have to find the culinary challenge within yourself, to push your talents just a smidge past last year's fabulous feasts. Which all leads, in the end, to a lot of applause, and the gratitude of your guests, and one pretty quiet January. No complaint there -- busy December people do crave a slower first month of the year -- but a cook who likes the thrill of staging a savory show can still secretly long for December's bustle and more cooking good times. Those cooking good times rev up right after New Year's Day, in Yosemite National Park, when the Chefs' Holidays return to The Ahwahnee for several sessions of tip-sharing, skill-sharpening, and general camaraderie built around a love of cuisine (and making that cuisine, too). The dates have been revealed for the 2016 happening, which opens on Jan. 10 and closes down the kitchen for another run on Feb. 4.

EIGHT SESSIONS: There's an octet of learning/eating experiences, so landing upon the two- or three-day gourmand gathering that appeals to you the most should be a pretty easy thing to do. Maybe you're a fan of Chef John Cox of Sierra Mar at Post Ranch in Big Sur or Suzanne Goin of Lucques in Los Angeles. Both famous food-minded honchos'll visit The Ahwahnee, for different sessions, along with winemakers who are equally as well-known. It isn't all demo-ing, though, during the Chefs' Holidays; a Meet the Chef reception, a gala dinner, and kitchen-themed behind-the-scenes tours are also what's on your brimful plate. Think of this as a way to up your cookery mojo, just after you've spent a few weeks showing off your stuff for family and friends. Upping your cook skills, though, among accoladed chefs is the added pleasure, as is being in one of the great national park lodges in the heart of wintertime. Cozy and culinary, both, together, all at once.

Photo Credit: DNC Parks & Resorts]]>
<![CDATA[Indian Wells Chillax: An End-of-the-Year Spa Deal]]> Wed, 28 Oct 2015 13:36:02 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/spapackagehyattiw.jpg

MENUS IN RESTAURANTS... revolve and evolve quite often, and very typically with the seasons and new food trends. Lemon and lettuce and lighter flavors held sway in the summer but winter's arrival means that richer eats -- stews and toddies and such -- will reign. Spa menus, too, do transform from time to time, and while the goods aren't edible so much as spreadable (think body salts and muscle-nice oils and the other things used to ease our aches) there's no reason that what a destination offers must forever be set in stone. Change, as they say, is a positive.

THE HYATT REGENCY RESORT & SPA is introducing a fresh roster of spa treatments in 2016, but, like a restaurant spotlighting a few early tastes before a new dish is launched, the spa is sharing a sneak peek with guests. Not only will those looking to relax be able to glance into the crystal ball of what's to come at the property, but spa guests can currently "take advantage of some very special offers including discounts on services, retail and menu items, as well as complimentary add-on treatments." Is this hitting the sweet spot for you, just ahead of the whirl 'n swirl that the holiday season so frequently becomes? Then unhand the shopping list and recipe cards and various party-planning manuals and book a... 

SPA PACKAGE... at the resort's Agua Serena Spa. It's available through the last day of 2015, so it is timed just right for those people looking to slip out of the aforementioned "whirl 'n swirl" of the season for a bit. The spa is offering 20% off services, and a "(c)omplimentary treatment enhancement of choice." The discounts continue on the retail side of things, with 15% off items you'll want to stock your own bathroom shelf with, and 15% off goodies found on the Spa Bits menu. You'll stay at the resort, too, with this deal, for a night, and receive breakfast (for two people). Oh, and a credit equal to a hundred bucks to use at the spa. Do the discounts include the Ultimate Dreamer Package, the spa's extra-luxe line-up of treatments, which includes a scrub, facial, and more? It does, pre-holiday weary people.

TRULY, the holidays are as sparkly as all get-out, but much of the sparkle depends on hosts and hostesses keeping the good cheer. Bottles of wine presented at the door help that cheer, quite often, as do other thank-you gifts and helping the after-dinner clean-up. But a night in the quiet, chill-down desert, with some spa love to boot, also counts quite high on the list as an effective holiday-time self-care regimen.

Photo Credit: Hyatt Regency]]>
<![CDATA[Newport Dunes Delight: Lighting of the Bay]]> Tue, 27 Oct 2015 12:46:57 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/DunesLites23232.jpg

THE OCEAN IN AUTUMN: The pretty Pacific, our vast neighbor next door, that fluid world of sharks and seahorses and those fishes with those light thingamabobs on their heads -- er, anglerfish -- is often sold, on land, as being a place solely devoted to spring and summertime play, at least where human beings are concerned. You know the t-shirts and the postcards and the commercials, the ones that depict laughing suntan-lotion'd people on surfboards, the ones that suggest it is July, sunny, and a hundred degrees. But SoCalers love their big blue neighbor in the autumn and winter, too, of course. Things start to chill out, temperature-wise, usually, so we're not as likely to be doing the stuff the brochures say we should do, but we make the most of our ocean's beauty and, at the very same time, holiday lights. Look to the impressive number of boat parades that truck by our shores in December, yachts and skiffs all done up in bulbs and bows. And look to the ever-popular Newport Dunes happening, The Lighting of the Bay. Like some of the other big flip-the-switch ceremonies around the state, in places like Riverside and Yountville, The Lighting of the Bay happens on Thanksgiving Friday, the day after Turkey Day. The timing is nice, for locals who have out-of-towners still about, out-of-towners longing to get out of the house. (Well, as are the hosts, too, of course.) 

GLITTER WATER: And The Lighting of the Bay, which features over 50 Christmas trees that reflect upon the water, is a fine way to show those out-of-towners that our ocean has a place in our play come the holidays, and not just summer. There are three days of celebration for the Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort, starting on the 27th, so check the whole schedule. But if you want to see Santa, and maybe pick out your own tree for home at the tree farm, and enjoy local choir and dance troupes perform, be there on Nov. 27. A boutique craft fair, a puppet show, and more merry doings fill out the remainder of Thanksgiving Weekend. But if all you want to do is admire lights glittering against the Pacific's surface after dark, that's a-ok, too. We love to play around the Pacific even during those few weeks of the year we need a scarf, and this 25-year-old tradition, and the light-up boat parades, show this is so. But are the sparkly trees at Newport Dunes brighter in wattage than an anglerfish's headlamp? Debate that with your Thanksgiving visitors as you drive to the celebratory lighting.

Photo Credit: Newport Dunes]]>
<![CDATA[Disneyland Adds Second Fireworks Show Thanksgiving Week]]> Mon, 26 Oct 2015 09:41:41 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/6_09_DLR_103014fantasmic.jpg

Chances to catch Disneyland's popular fireworks show just got better--at least during Thanksgiving week.

From Nov. 21 to Nov. 28, the "Disneyland Forever" fireworks show will now have an earlier run at 6:30 p.m., adding to the previous show that ran at 9:30 p.m.

During the holidays, Disneyland experiences an overflow of people, at times causing gate closures. Officials hope the added shows can ease the problem and thin out crowds.

If the strategy works, Disneyland will consider adding a second show to future selected days.

As the Disneyland Resort celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, the company launched an "all-new" fireworks spectacular, complete with visual projections, inflatable units and computerized laser-mapping.

Fireworks at Disneyland began in 1956 with a pyrotechnics display called "Fantasy In the Sky." Since then, Disneyland's has launched a number of themed shows.

Photo Credit: Paul Hiffmeyer]]>
<![CDATA[Haunting Space: A Storied Monterey Restaurant]]> Mon, 26 Oct 2015 08:56:06 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/stokesrestaurant1833.jpg

THERE ARE RESTAURANTS... that break out the distressed wood and weathered tiles and hammered copper sheets, all in the hopes of lending a semi-new structure the patina of time. It often works, too, and you're charmed by the result. But even the most divinely distressed space can't quite match the eatery that occupies a centuries-old building that has seen some stories, some characters, and, just perhaps, a phantom or two. Enter Restaurant 1833, a Monterey favorite that has been around for a few years, though the same cannot be said of its handsome setting, the historic Stokes Adobe. There's no "few" about it: The Stokes Adobe can be traced back to 1833, hence the year in the eatery's history-homaging name. And when you've got nearly two centuries under your belt, and a long-ago tenant who was a true rapscallion of a dubious nature (he posed as a doctor), you've got some seriously potent tales brimming at the edges of your building. Thank goodness the weathered, leather-and-metal menus also brim with bespoke, top-shelf cocktails, the better to sip as you keep an eye out for any possible spirits at play around the nook-filled, low-lit, room-wending eatery.

THOSE COCKTAILS INCLUDE... the rummy, kirsch-cool Dark Forest and One Last Vegas Memory, which rocks the Four Roses Bourbon, among other zesty flavors. The libations come under the old-timey heading of "House Remedies," by the by, furthering the 1833-ness of the setting. The cuisine side of the eat-it-want-it equation boasts Buffalo Style Sweetbreads, English Pea Soup, and the tony 1833 Burger, a fancy patty that's topped with quality cukes and quality tomato confit and comes with sauerkraut-dusted steak fries on the side. Think New American with some "Bay seasoning" -- not the traditional Old Bay Seasoning, of course, but rather that special Monterey-style localness that includes good produce and fine meats. Is it that slightly salty morning fog that make Monterey-made eats especially scrumptious? We'll vote on the side of yes.

BUT WILL YOU SEE A GHOST? That depends. Autumn is the ideal time to sit outside Restaurant 1833 and sip a Torrid Affair (hello, Sombra Mezcal + more) on the expansive patio, a patio enhanced by fire pits and turned-down bulbs and the towering oak, palm, and redwood trees that dot the property. What have those stately shrubs seen throughout the ages? A spirit or two? They've definitely noticed couples and friends below, sharing a bottle of wine and a few ghost stories outside one of Monterey's most storybook-worthy settings.

Photo Credit: Restaurant 1833]]>
<![CDATA[Copper Top BBQ: Big Eats in Big Pine]]> Sat, 24 Oct 2015 11:26:01 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/coppertopbbq.jpg

FLAVOR OF THE WEST: To say that Highway 395 is having its moment is to not really and truly look at the larger picture of time. True, true, Sunset magazine did just feature the Eastern Sierra's main byway in a recent issue, and the highway's many natural wonders and awesome roadside stops, too. True, true, other publications further afield are recommending it as a way to both see Yosemite and the tallest peak in the continguous U.S. (holler, Mt. Whitney) and some gorgeous Death Valley action, too. But Highway 395 isn't a recent phenomenon, if you look at the cowboy flicks filmed around the Alabama Hills nearly a century ago, or the Bristlecone Pines, near Big Pine, which predate the building of the highway by a few thousand years. Still, though, let's all love on the ever-rising profile of this stunning stretch of road, and a sauce-tasty restaurant that's been getting accolades aplenty.

IT'S COPPER TOP BBQ... we speak of, a meat-smoking stand that's been lovingly covered by both Sunset and Yelp, which named it "the best restaurant in the country" at the beginning of 2015. If you've plunked down at a picnic table, in all of that wood-fragrant, mountain-adjacent air, and dug into a Santa Maria tri-tip, and a bowl of green chile-laden beans that'll make you swear you're in the Land of Enchantment, then you get how the place won the title: Copper Top is tops.

AS ARE HANK AND MATT OTTEN, the friendly father-son team behind the charming and chow-down-able enterprise. Matt's at the window, busy as all get-out with the steady stream of road-trippers looking for pulled pork piled high on a soft bun, and Hank is frequently tending the smoke and shanks out front. After a little easy socializing -- both with the owners and the nice strangers you're sharing a picnic table with -- it is time to get town to the business of biting into the mustard-kicky potato salad, the toothsome Hawaiian rolls, the tender chicken, the ribs (good with or without sauce) and coleslaw. Hours aren't all the time -- if you're splitting from Mammoth on a Monday or a Tuesday, you'll find Copper Top is closed -- so check ahead. It might be worth extending your trip.

AND, TRUE, the charmer of a eat-and-drive spot is located on Highway 395, but the proper address is 310 N. Main Street in Big Pine. You'll see it, if you're on the north end of the snug high desert town, and you'll sniff it if your windows are rolled down (as they should be, at least partway, on the highway). Do you like woodsmoke and savory noshing and vast skies and cottonball-puffy clouds and the Sierra in the distance? Then you best 395-fy your life this instant, and clip-clop for Copper Top.

Photo Credit: Alysia Gray Painter]]>
<![CDATA[Gaze Up: Colorado River Crossing Balloon Fest]]> Mon, 26 Oct 2015 20:37:52 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/yumaJohnathanLines.jpg

IT IS VERY TRUE... that Yuma can be on the toasty, throw-on-a-tank-top-and-little-else side, for several months out of the year, thanks to its ever-present sunshine and its desert-snug setting. But to think that Yuma lacks in a glorious autumn is to not know the historic Arizona burg all that well. Like many cities set in an arid clime, among cacti and scrub and mountains, the fall of the year can be exquisite. It's not leaf-changing chilly, of course, which is not a problem, as there aren't all that many leaves around, but it is that perfectly soft temperature, especially in the mornings, that only the desert can deliver around November. It's a feeling that's a bonus to all the beauty that comes along with the Colorado River Crossing Balloon Festival, an annual happening in the area that brings out the pilots, people longing to ride, and those on the ground who are content to turn their cameras to the sky. The colorful envelopes, and the gondolas below them, are set to rise, rise, rise again over the weekend ahead of Thanksgiving, which is...

FRIDAY, NOV. 20 THROUGH SUNDAY, NOV. 22: The three-day gathering, which marks its 25th year in 2015, is one of the biggest balloon to-dos in the Grand Canyon State, thanks in large part to a mass ascension every morning. Surely you know the term "mass ascension," even if you haven't attended a balloon festival before? It's when all the balloons in attendance, or pretty much most of them, at least, go up, if not all at once, then in a few waves. The result? The sky is soon dotted with stripes and animals and symbols and bright hues. But shutterbugs who dig a good balloon bash know that the clouds and wide open blue aren't the only backdrops for the high fliers; the Colorado River and surrounding mountains also make for some stunning, social media-worthy images.

OTHER HAPS DURING THE WEEKEND include a Balloon Glow -- ohhh, pretty illuminations after nightfall -- and tether balloon rides, should you want to go up, but not too far up. The celebratory spirit of the early part of Thanksgiving week, paired with that aforementioned perfect fall temperature, makes this Yuma-tastic balloontacular one of the jewels of the desert. Mountains, sky, fall, balloon -- what else is there, really, to please the eye and heart?

Photo Credit: Johnathan Lines]]>
<![CDATA[Winchester Ghost Report: Share What You Saw]]> Sat, 24 Oct 2015 11:24:34 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/214*120/winchesterexterior234.jpg

LETTING THE ATTIC OFF THE HOOK: Any true-hearted fan of haunted flicks knows that there's but a single place where a whole lot of phantom action goes down, or up, rather. It's the attic, the go-to room for the gothic, lurid-lovely scribes of yore and modern fright filmmakers, too. Oh, for sure, we can't argue the fact that cellars are also commonly depicted as don't-go-in-there-alone locations, and you'll probably want to think twice, if you're a character in a murky mansion, of venturing down any long, loooong hallway on your own. (Especially, of course, if there are heavy, foreboding doors on each side of the hallway, leading to who knows where.) We're happy to report, however, that one of the Golden State's most spirited spots, the San Jose landmark that brims with tingly tales, has the whole location-sighting issue sorted for us. Well, at least as far as phantoms and the Winchester Mystery House is concerned. For while other fictional places -- and perhaps non-fictional, too -- have a lock on the whole ghosts-in-the-attic bit, the forever residents of Sarah Winchester's rambling pile seem to be impressively dispersed throughout the home's many twisty, turny rooms. And why shouldn't they be? After all, it is, famously, one of the largest private homes anywhere.

THE HALLOWEEN SEASON... thrums with a lot of potential ethereal action at the Winchester, what with the after-dark Flashlight Tours, so it seems like a fine moment to visit the attraction's roster of where ghosts have been seen by guests. Thirteen accounts have been submitted of a ghost on the back steps -- that seems lucky, as Sarah Winchester had an affinity for the number -- and 28 ghosts have been spied in the Grand Ballroom. The South Conservatory isn't quite the happening haunt spot, with 2 sightings, but the Sarah Winchester bedroom and Seance Room boast dozens of sightings each. Have you felt or sensed something spooky in the house? Do you remember where? You can leave your tale on the web site, and perhaps see the numbers inch upwards for the Linen Room or Front Parlor. After all, no one ever said that vaporous beings had to strictly stick to the upper reaches of a home. Wraiths have a whole giant Victorian house to explore beyond the attic, and all of eternity to explore it.

Photo Credit: Winchester Mystery House]]>
<![CDATA[Bing Crosby Season: Opening Day Festivities]]> Wed, 21 Oct 2015 14:51:47 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/bingcrosbyopener293823.jpg

DEL MAR REVS UP: It seems like only yesterday, or a few weeks ago, at least, that you tucked your lucky horseshoe and bracelet and earrings and belt into the trunk, bidding them adieu as the summer run at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club wrapped up. But you didn't stow them too deep down, of course, because you knew that it would be late October before you knew it and time for the Bing Crosby Season at the ocean-breezy track. The autumntime horsey hubbub brings with it many of the hallmarks of summer, from special food festivals to a splashy opening night party, and it also has the ponies, lots of top-notch ponies, and their talented jockeys. So, have you found your big hat yet, the one shaped like a giant saddle, and are you ready to trot into the fall track-close action? Then make a date for Del Mar on Thursday, Oct. 29, when the Fall Meet Opening Day party spreads out, near the sand, at L'Auberge Del Mar.

"1930s GARB": If you don't have a snood or a old-school frock, no worries, but revelers at the chic bash are encouraged to sartorially summon the era when the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club first opened for business and all of Hollywood, or seemingly so, drove down to cheer on the ponies. A three-courser of a prix fixe dinner and Big Band music are part of the evening, as well as those famous ocean views from the hotel's Sunset Terrace. If you're at Opening Date proper, there's a Hollywood Fashion Contest, which will reward goodies to the Best Dressed Couple or Debonair Man, the Most Glamorous individual, Famous Character, and Best Celebrity Look-Alike.Even if you can't kick off the Fall Meet, Tinseltown-of-yore-style, you can trot for the track where several doings outside of the races'll be happening, like...

THE BEER & CIDER FESTIVAL... and the Reggae Festival and a whole Food Truck-packed shebang. A Thanksgiving Day Fun Run is a track tradition, as are the pay-nothing concerts. As for the Fall Meet dates? Thursday, Oct. 29 is the start and the ponies head for the paddocks for the final time this year on Nov. 29, the Sunday after Thanksgiving. So, where's your lucky belt and earrings? Hope you didn't stow them too far down in the trunk following the summer season.

Photo Credit: Bing Crosby Season Opener]]>
<![CDATA[Fungi Festivity: The Mushrooms of Mendocino]]> Tue, 20 Oct 2015 12:34:33 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/edt-mushrooms.jpg

DIG INTO ANY DISH... that's full of vegetables and grains and nuts and other good things and certain flavors and textures typically stand out. Bite into a cherry tomato and feel a sense of red-toned brightness wash over your senses. Come across an almond and an earthy crunch naturally dominates whatever else is in your spoon or on your fork. And should you chew on a mushroom, you'll find yourself, or at least your mouth, automatically transported to the deepest part of a primeval forest. Few tastes are as complex, so to call a mushroom "meaty" or a mere recipe enhancer isn't giving fungus its full due. True, it does have the weight and solidness one associates with a meat-centered entree, sans the meat, but mushrooms often bear a lighter touch in the feeling-too-full department. And the variety is astonishing: In Mendocino County alone, thousands of shroom-tastic varieties spring from the ground. Make that over 3,000, to be specific, making the Mendo area one of the capitals of mushroomania. The plant-rich region likes to celebrate one of its nature-nice, forest-flavored favorites each fall, but the mushroom isn't the only thing on the menu at the Mendocino Mushroom, Wine & Beer Festival.

WINE & BEER, as the name suggests, are the beverage superstars of the week-plus celebration, which includes exhibits detailing the natural history of the mushroom, wine tastings at local vineyards, horseback rides and mushroom hunts, and, prepare your taste buds, mushroom ice cream. We can only imagine a scoop of that particular concoction might go nicely with the garlic ice cream famous in Gilroy, but if sweets aren't your scene, there are a number of mushroom-themed dinners and tastings to attend. As this is beach- and redwood-tastic Mendo, there shall be numerous ways to connect with the outdoors between your mushroomy meals, so balancing our your fungus-forward bites with trips to the beach is part of the party. And that party? It's on during the most mushroomiest time of year: Nov. 6 through 15. Are you giving the mushroom its due, for instantly summoning the forest for us, in every forkful? This is your moment to love on the cap that makes for capital cuisine.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Hello, New Year: Party at Tenaya Lodge]]> Mon, 19 Oct 2015 09:18:33 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/217*120/nyeballoontenaya.jpg

IT'S ONE OF THE OLDEST TROPES... involving New Year's Eve celebrations. Nope, we're not talking about the one where the party poppers won't pop or the Champagne cork won't give or how the balloons in the net above the dance floor wouldn't drop balloons. After all, those are pretty rare instances among what's typically a glittery and good party. But lots and lots of people have talked about transportation issues on the last night of the year, specifically finding a cab or bus after the big party wraps. Where this isn't an issue is the woods, specifically Yosemite, when you're staying at a resort that happens to have its own balloon-drop-y, bubbly-beveraged New Year's Eve bash. You don't need to step outside to hail a ride home, and find one, if you're lucky; you only need to pat the pockets of your jacket or frock to locate your hotel room key (well, and you need to saunter down a few hallways, from the party, to reach your room). Could this be the year that you both A) wake up on Jan. 1 to commune with nature, in a spirit-reinforcing, positive way and B) not have to find that ride home on one of the chilliest and most-people-packed nights of the year? It definitely could be, if you choose to stay at...

TENAYA LODGE AT YOSEMITE, which has posted all the Ps and Qs about its mondo year-ender of a party. Shall there be a special nod to the hotel's 25th anniversary, a silver-shimmery nod of the highest order? Oh, for sure. Will there be lovely dining? You bet; you need sustenance so you can shake it later. Shall there be magic? There shall be, in the form of the cheerful Chipper Lowell, a Comedy Magician of the Year twice over. Will there be a caboodle of performers, like Dueling Pianos and The Valley Cats, lending their voices and instrument-playing talents to the celebration, the better to get revelers out on the dance floor? It hardly would seem like a traditional NYE event without some shakin' of your stuff. Shall there be party favors, the better to toot horns at midnight? Lots of favors. And will there be balloons falling from the ceiling, and the all-important toast when the clock strikes twelve? Yes and heck yes.

STAY AND HIKE THE NEXT DAY: There's a Tenaya Lodge stay-over deal, for couples starting at $499 per pair, but you can nab a ticket to the party for a hundred and a half, if you're over at The Wawona or another nearby property. But staying the night means you get to wake up near the woods, the better to start your next 365 days in a peaceful, meditative, walk-and-think way. And that seems a tad gentler than starting the new year in a rush to find a ride at 12:15 in the morning. Don't the woods set our heads right? Especially after a night of a bit too much bubbly? Lucky for you you booked a room right down the hall. 

Photo Credit: Tenaya Lodge]]>
<![CDATA[Holiday Lights: Stay at California's Brightest Hotel]]> Sun, 18 Oct 2015 08:36:10 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/missioninnlights02939023.jpg

SEARCHING OUT YOUR STAY-OVER SPOT, if you've never visited the hotel you've booked before, can sometimes be a bit of a challenge, especially if you're driving down streets by night, looking for signs and intersections you studied on the map before hopping in the car. Did you just drive by the hotel? Was that it? Was that a bellman out front? Oh darn; you're going to have to turn around and circle back. Here's the hard-to-dispute, completely and utterly true thing about approaching the landmark Mission Inn, around the holidays, after the sun has gone down over the hills near Riverside: You. Will. Not. Miss. It. You will not miss it, no way, no how, nope. How much will you not miss it? You will not miss it times four million.

MAKE THAT FOUR MILLION LIGHTS, or just over, actually, for that's what the castle-like structure puts up, each and every year, around its vast, block-plus property. It's a tradition in the area, and, for that matter, the region and state, to visit the Mission Inn to get an eyeful of what 4,000,000-plus lights look like, all in one place (as well as all of those bows and baubles and the hotel's famous animated figures). It's a wowzer of a sight, in short, and few homes can compete, even those that venture into the million lights realm. So now that you know you'll find your way there, after dark, by car, how do you choose your date during the hotel's traditional Festival of Lights?

BE THERE... from the Friday of Thanksgiving Weekend right through into early January. If you're going to do this, and you're not an Inland Empire resident, you'll probably want to bed down among the bright lights for the night. (Nope, you can't see them from your room once the curtains are drawn.) It gets pretty bustling, what with the Victorian carolers that appear on special days throughout the Festival of Lights and the nearby ice rink and the yuletide happenings that crop up adjacent to the Mission Inn. It's one of those travel-style bucket lists things, a holiday stroll around what's thought to be the most bulb-laden landmark hotel in California. And if this particular goal is still lingering inside your bucket, and you haven't yet reached inside your bucket to draw it out, the better to actually do, this could be your year. Don't worry if you have to arrive after sundown; as mentioned, you'll find the Mission Inn, no problem. It is one of the glitteriest sights in the Golden State.

Photo Credit: Mission Inn]]>
<![CDATA[Curry Village's All U Can Heat Deal]]> Mon, 19 Oct 2015 09:16:14 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/Curry_Village_Tent_Cabins_Fall_resized_lowDNC.jpg

A WELL-KNOWN HOTEL DEAL... has a way of making headlines, either for the astoundingly low price or an unusual element. But the yearly Curry Village happening called Temp-RATE-ture captures the public imagination on two fronts: It can cost as low as zero dollars, or even lower, getting paid to stay. Paid to stay, yessirree; that isn't a promise that's made by hotel companies every day, or, really, any day. But DNC Parks & Resorts, the company behind the tent- and cabin-filled Yosemite National Park property, understands that staying in an unheated tent cabins in Yosemite in the wintertime -- or even a tent that happens to be heated -- can challenge even the most adventurous and rugged of outdoorsy souls. The aforementioned Temp-RATE-ture deal opens in early October each year, and runs over several weeks, and it basically goes like this: If the temperature, as determined by National Park Service data, was 19 degrees Fahrenheit the night before, that's the price you'll pay to stay in your unheated tent. For sure, you have to put a deposit down to hold the reservation -- that's thirty nine bucks -- and that's also "the maximum cost" of staying. And if the temp dips below zero? That's when DNC pays you to stay. 

BUT WAIT! There's more, as in another offbeat seasonal deal associated with the tent cabins at Curry Village. Turns out that some of the tents are heated, and there's a special dealie for them as well: the All U Can Heat deal. How this one works is a cinch: You'll pay the previous night's temperature, as with the Temp-RATE-ture deal, plus twenty five bucks on top of that. It requires that you put a bit more down to reserve your spot -- sixty four dollars -- but this hooks you up with a heated tent cabin, as in heated, as in heat, as in heat in the winter. It'll still be brisk, no doubt, but there is a bit of a comfort gulf between heated and unheated tent cabins (a gulf that hearty types don't mind crossing now and then). There are some extra info bits, like the nights you can stay -- sometimes Sunday through Thursday, sometimes Friday and Saturday -- depending upon when you book. Dare you do this over Valentine's Day in 2016? Might you have a honey you can cuddle up with, close, the better to score a sweet price on your Curry Village sleepover? Bundle up and start here.

Photo Credit: DNC Parks & Resorts]]>
<![CDATA[Happy 50th, Borrego Days Desert Festival]]> Fri, 16 Oct 2015 09:16:11 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/borregodays092932.jpg

HAPPY HALF-CENTURY: How do you do up a special 50th birthday party when there's a lively community involved, one that boasts many artists and hikers and bird enthusiasts and amateur astrologists and devotees of the desert? You can't go too subtle, is the first order of the celebration, nor can you throw the shindig under the high desert sun. You wait for a month or so into autumn, when temperatures'll still be warm but not too toasty, and then you create a full-on three-day festivity around the anniversary. Such is the case with Borrego Days Desert Festival, a long-running parade that comes festooned with doings over a long 'n lively fall weekend. ("Long 'n lively" meaning three days, from Oct. 23 through 25.) There's a music festival, too, one that'll feature blues, country, mariachi, and the U.S. Marine Corp. Jazz Band. As for the parade? That marches on Saturday, Oct. 24, complete with horses and bands and floats. A fly-over is on the schedule, too, and family to-dos, and cars to admire, and entries from the ever-vibrant Borrego Springs art scene. 

BEDDING DOWN IN BORREGO: If dipping into all that is Borrego Springs, and its festival, too, gets you a tad worn out, there's Spa Serenity at Borrego Springs Resort & Spa, which reopened on Wednesday, Oct. 14. There's a special on, from Oct. 14 through 25, too, through Saturday, Oct. 31, which nets you 25% off your service (there's an ad to mention for the special, do note). And La Casa del Zorro has two packages on, The Legend and Stargazing, which is available through the end of the year and gives guests a chance to get acquainted with the velvety, twinkle-pretty sky above the property, and all of Borrego Springs. 

THANKS, BORREGO SPRINGS: Is the desert enclave one of your longtime go-to getaways, when you need to commune with the Milky Way or sunsets or art or a little dry heat? Then the Desert Festival might be a good time to celebrate a place you love, alongside locals and other Borrego buffs.

Photo Credit: Borrego Days]]>
<![CDATA[Glen Oaks Big Sur: Redwoods, S'mores, Peace]]> Thu, 15 Oct 2015 09:42:29 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/glenoaksbigsur123.jpg

BOTH, PRETTY PLEASE: It's a common party question, when travelers and travelers-at-heart gather, and one just about everyone has an answer to: Do you prefer the ocean or the mountains? "Both" is a common answer, with a laugh, but then the question-asker prods further, saying that a choice must be made. But many a traveler, and traveler-at-heart, knows that the spirit of the mountains -- streams and huge redwoods and snug woodsy cabins -- and the spirit of the ocean -- condors and crashing surf and briny breezes -- exist in concert in Big Sur. It's one of the area's bliss-centered, view-bedecked, whale-wonderful strong points, of many, and it just goes to show that you can have your ocean and mountains on the same day, no difficult decisions necessary. Look to Glen Oaks Big Sur, the stay-over that features both a stylish built-in-1957 motel on its Highway 1-close grounds and a deeper-in clutch of cabins. And when we say "deeper-in" we mean further into the property's impressive grove of stately redwoods, the kind of old trees that seem to keep company with the sky (and, depending upon your from-the-ground perspective, also seem to whisper secrets to each other via their upper branches). To get your cabin-cute, redwood-adjacent mountain night in during your Big Sur jaunt, after a day of watching for whales and condors along the nearby cliffs, book a...

LITTLE SUR CABIN... with Glen Oaks, or one of the larger cabins that dot the spacious, path-wending grounds (Big Sur Cabin, Sycamore Cabin, Redwood Cabin). Fire pits and Adirondack chairs are at the ready outside, and there's a burbler of a stream to wander down to (and the occasional wild turkey sighting; perhaps they're bird-buddies with Big Sur's famous condors?). A s'mores kit, inside the cabin, for an additional fee, is guaranteed to make fingers stickier near the fire pit, and possibly a few strands of hair, too, depending on which way the breeze blows or how messy you are regarding marshmallow consumption. The interior touches of the snug cabins, like their mid-century motel counterparts, are modern, well-appointed, eco-conscious, and unfussy as all get-out.

POST-S'MORES DINNER: Adding to the outdoors-nice, s'mores-eating scene? The cabins are TV-free. But if you need some hubbub, saunter up the path -- the front desk'll give you a map -- to the Big Sur Roadhouse, the property's adventurous-of-plate eatery (call it Big Sur Chic, which means casual and classy and craft-beer-y). It's another element of your mountain getaway, with the ocean just over that ridge over there. So, yes, "both" is an acceptable answer when it comes to longing for both mountains and ocean over the course of one weekend. Glen Oaks has you covered on the mountain end of that delightful duo and the Pacific? Drive about five minutes and you'll see it (but wash the s'mores from your fingertips first or else you'll make your steering wheel pretty goopy).

Photo Credit: Glen Oaks Big Sur]]>
<![CDATA[New: Coachella Valley Beer Week]]> Tue, 20 Oct 2015 21:40:39 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/shutterstock_206456653.jpg

A PERSON DOESN'T HAVE TOO DIG FAR... to see that the dining scene around the Desert Resort cities has been in full bloom, much like a gorgeous cactus flower, for several years now. A big late spring Restaurant Week further enhances this reputation, as do chef-attracting happenings like the annual Food + Wine Festival in Palm Desert. Along with the vittles, though, there come libations, of every stripe, and the chic hotel bars of the desert have been pulling their stylish weight on the bespoke cocktail scene, too. Let us, however, not leave the rise and rise of craft beer in the desert behind, for stand-out brews are also making a stand. This only makes sense, given that California has been a lively and innovative leader in the beer-making scene, with San Diego and San Francisco often topping nationwide rosters that celebrate quality and craftsmanship (and Los Angeles is not far behind on those lists, not at all). So will the Coachella Valley soon be taking its place among the big-name suds regions of the U.S.? An initial look with a wide scope can happen in November, when the inaugural Coachella Valley Beer Week stirs up the IPAs and lagers for a multi-day run in multiple cities. Make that...

NINE CITIES IN ALL, including Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage and Indian Wells and beyond. A Beer Goddess Brewmaster Dinner starts it all off on Friday, Nov. 13 in Palm Springs, and a BBQ & Beer Competition follows the next day at the Indio Golf Course. And the whole sudsy shebang calls it a week on Nov. 21 when the Props & Hops Craft Beer Festival wings its way for the plane-packed Palm Springs Air Museum. A bonus? While you're tasting and learning and hobnobbing, there shall be vintage plane fly-bys to enjoy. 

OVER 30 BREWERIES... are on board for the crafty kick-off, and we're fairly sure that the fine foam buffs around the state'll want to make a date to get acquainted with what's happening in the kettles and roller mills of the desert. And isn't the desert a most excellent place to slowly sip a cold, expertly made beer? Coachella Valley, welcome to the California famous foam mold. Surely it can't be long before the Golden State takes the majority of slots on Top Ten U.S. Beer lists? 

Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[Death Valley 'Super Bloom' Possible]]> Fri, 16 Oct 2015 09:20:06 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/springbreakfurnacedv1.jpg

APRIL SHOWERS BRING MAY FLOWERS... but what happens when a famously dry stretch of California gets a drenching dose of autumn rain? What could happen, and is looking nicely likely at the moment, is a big showing for the springtime flowers of Death Valley. These aren't any normal flowers, mind you. They're not magic and they don't sparkle but they are colorful petals that pop up in some of the scrubbiest, most arid landscape that this planet, and possibly any other, has to offer. That means a whole bunch of fans, from the Golden State and beyond, make the trek to the remote national park each March and April to admire the purples and pinks and yellows and blues and all the beautiful dabs of color that stand out against the earthy hues of the desert. Some years the flowers are sort of here and there, and a photographer or day-tripper can find themselves shuttling around great distances to find even a few buds. But then there are years, like 2005, when full "fields" of Death Valley get riotous with floral color (and when we say "riotous" we mean desert-style, so a little sparser than greener places but still pretty dang phenomenal). And it is looking like, early on, just maybe, 2016 could be closer to 2005's big bloom than the lighter blooms seen in recent years. In fact, it could just be a...

"SUPER BLOOM": That's the word from Death Valley National Park, posted on Oct. 7. A recent bout of autumn rain is just what a desert wildflower-to-be is thirsty for, and that's what the area has experienced in 2015. We're not saying to run out and book your late March Death Valley room just yet -- oh, heck, maybe we are, because even if there aren't wildflowers you'll be in one of the most visually astounding places in the solar system, and that's a fact. But chances are good that springtime will bring some showiness in the flower department, thanks also to what the ever-growing El Niño might deliver. C'mon, Super Bloom!

AND WE TAKE IT BACK... that "fields" of flowers in Death Valley are not "riotous" with color. They absolutely can be. They're living proof that a spread of gorgeous petals don't always require grass to get going. Making the Death Valley flower showing, in the spring, one of nature's loveliest and seemingly unlikeliest gifts.

Photo Credit: The Inn at Furnace Creek]]>
<![CDATA[Alpine Atmosphere: Halloween Up the Mountain]]> Mon, 12 Oct 2015 13:54:22 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/bigbearhweennight.jpg

THE GREAT THING... about a Halloween costume is that it can be just about anything. You can go as an Olympic diver, complete with goggles and swimsuit, and you can cross your fingers that temperatures on Oct. 31 will stay in the warm department (because throwing a coat over a swimsuit, or any costume, can prove to be kind of a bummer). Or you can go as Chewbacca, in full faux fur, and hope that temperatures will lean to the brisk after the sun goes down. The truth of the matter is we tend to lean more diver than Chewbacca 'round Southern California, at least in terms of what it is comfortable to wear on Halloween night. That tends to be the end of our annual October heat streak, and short sleeves are still seen at various parades and festivals. But up the mountain, at Big Bear Village and Lake Arrowhead, chances are good you can break out the Chewbacca get-up, or at least one with a few more layers. It's a mite brisker at the higher elevations, which won't surprise you, but it is just as festive as the towns down below. Both burgs host their own Halloween evening to-dos, and both will be out in full not-too-fearsome force on Oct. 31, 2015, which just happens to be a Saturday.

WHICH MEANS, of course, that you could book a room and bed down in Lake Arrowhead or Big Bear, the better to spend the following day catching some of the pretty changing leaves in the area. (It isn't all fir and pine.) Big Bear Village will host trick-or-treating from 5 o'clock to 7:30 p.m. on Halloween night, and over 50 spots'll be doing the candy-handing-out thing. Earlier in the afternoon the Big Bear Alpine Zoo's "Boo in the Zoo" will hold an animal-cute, spooky-cute confab. And over in Lake Arrowhead? A concert and afternoon trick-or-treating and lively doings around the clutch of Bavarian-style buildings will lend atmosphere to your up-the-mountain Halloween getaway. Both'll bear a small-town sweetness, so if a bigger raucous blocks-and-blocks-long bash is your bag, then this might not be your scene. But if you desire cooler temps, some costume action, and a walkable Halloween, spread your bat wings and flap for either village on Oct. 31.

Photo Credit: Big Bear Halloween]]>
<![CDATA[Bugs to Bones: Spooky Science in Santa Ana]]> Sat, 10 Oct 2015 20:30:49 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/DCSpookyScience-4578RESIZED.jpg

GOOD 'N MESSY: Any scientist, regardless of whether they work with beakers or magnifying glasses or computers or brushes meant for scraping dirt from ol' dinosaur bones, can assert one thing: Learning is not about neat and straight lines. Science gets a little icky, a little weird, and totally wonderful, and that is a-okay, for that is often how the process of furthering knowledge can occur. Discovery Cube Orange County is very much about learning, in all of its icky, awesome forms, and its annual Spooky Science exhibit is clear evidence of this approach. The "spooky" part means that kids and their parents will encounter everything from bugs to bones -- eek and eek, though both are pretty dang cool -- but there are other wonders to see. For example, holograms are part of the show, and while they aren't goopy or especially messy, they do tend to show up in films of a frightful or sci-fi nature. If your young'un has only seen the bewitching play of light on the big screen, perhaps it is time to delve into what makes a hologram work (which, granted, may make it a bit less scary, if you and your kid are cool with that plot twist). And while the exhibit is open every weekday, right through to Sunday, Nov. 1, the weekends are really when the Spooky Science ramps up, complete with...

THOR'S BUG SAFARI... and a visit by the Rat and Mouse Club of America. No, our whiskery friends aren't all that scary, either -- many animal mavens keep pet ratties and mice at home -- but they have provided a few fearsome moments in pop culture. Again, it may be time to defang that myth as well and get to know the critters that are too often described as "creepy." Dr. Sue's Traveling Insects and Anthropod Zoo will also make a weekend appearance, so you'll get your fun fill of getting to know the close-to-the-ground scurry set, those wee beasties that can make us jump. Science, after all, has some adventure to it, and it isn't all 2+2=4 (though that's pretty dang important, too; let us not discount that). Ready to feel prickles on your arms and the love of discovery in your brain? The OC institution has the brainy eeks.

Photo Credit: Discovery Cube]]>
<![CDATA[Free: La Jolla Art & Wine Festival]]> Fri, 09 Oct 2015 12:11:02 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/1280lajollaartwine123.jpg

FORGOING "THE LAST GASP": It's right around the middle of October when Californians are frequently implored to get out and enjoy "the last gasp of summer," before cooler temps and rainy skies and possible El Niño conditions set in. We Golden Staters, especially those of us around Southern California, often cock an eyebrow at this suggestion. It just seems like summer goes on and on, especially when temperatures flirt with the 90s and hit three-digit levels in the desert. But the calendar tells the story: The middle of October truly is when that summery feeling begins to wind down and leaves start to show a little color here and there. We're lucky, then, that in the "last gasp" department there is something that's going to give us a delightful dose of that summer-style fun and strolling and eating and sipping, all over one particularly warm weekend. We speak of the La Jolla Art & Wine Festival, one of the town's largest culture-plus-cuisine affairs, and one that's especially well-timed. The weather on Saturday, Oct. 10 and Sunday, Oct. 11 looks to be beyond perfect, if your definition of "beyond perfect" means donning a sundress and sandals and playing like it is July rather than a few weeks into fall.

"150 JURIED ARTISTS"... will display their works -- paintings, photos, jewelry, pottery, everything -- in row after row, which gives we strollers ample chance to pause, admire, chat, and perhaps buy. The "wine" in the name of the happening is quite serious, as evidenced by the over 40 local vineyards that are expected. But there's a beer component, too, and a crafty confab later in the evening on Saturday, Oct. 10. Nice things: It is free to attend, though, of course, have some cashola if you want art or beer or wine or eats. Also nice: Public schools in the region are the beneficiaries of this bash, so being there and lending some support to an artist or winemaker means your support ripples on. It's lucky year 7 for the festival, and perhaps the lucky summer-style weather is staying so nice because of the good lucky vibe surrounding the party. Where is all of this strolling/art/vino goodness? Why smack dab in the middle of La Jolla Village. P.S. Those beachy breezes come complimentary, too. 

Photo Credit: Stephen Simpson]]>
<![CDATA[Apple Time: Oak Glen Is Cider-Sweet]]> Thu, 08 Oct 2015 12:26:12 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/applesciderGettyImages-129214286.jpg

JUST WHEN YOU THOUGHT... that apple-based cuisine and apple-flavored drinks and apple-cute desserts had reached the apex of apple-awesome ingenuity, along comes a new way to fry apples and slice apples and make apple smoothies, the kind that are chunky with almond butter and oatmeal and the thousand other foodstuffs and ingredients that go well with the shiny-of-skin tree fruit. In short, it is a delicious and healthy edible that is forever finding fresh invention, new fans, and its annual reintroduction as the crunchiest of seasonal treats when autumn rolls around. Apples and autumn are a twosome as old as apple trees and fall, and places like Oak Glen, near Yucaipa, find whimsical and tasty ways to honor that pairing each and every October and November. That's the heart of apple time at the mile-high spot, and not only are trees a-changin' in the area, but restaurants and stands and craft booths and orchards are doing their charmingest darndest to delight in all things pomme.

WELCOME TO APPLE COUNTRY: That's one of the names for the Oak Glen region -- "Apple Country" -- and it fits, from the many ranches and farms (Riley's, Snow-Line, Los Rios) to the eateries serving up classic apple pies (Apple Annie's, Law's Coffee Shop) to the shops lined with candles and lotions and apple-bedecked greeting cards and apple-shaped sugar shakers and apple-shaped everything. It's pretty much Autumn Central, for the Southern California stretch, along with Julian near San Diego. Oh, for sure, other places know their apple-y stuff, but Oak Glen and Julian see a lot of fall fans come the close of the year, and with good reason: With all of our sunshine and ocean and palms, we still want a dose of pastry-topped apple filling and apple cider and apple donuts, along with all of the country crafts and hearty lunches and wineries and orchard visits a day in the hills promises. Want to plan your Saturday drive and all of the apple-esque edibles you'll consume, the better to fill up on all the autumnal goodness you can before winter arrives? Find your fruit-forward fun here, fall people. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>