Thursday, July 30, 2009

LA's fab fall foodie fest

Who says LA doesn’t have a heart? The 27th American Wine & Food Festival, hosted by the Puck-Lazaroff Charitable Foundation, is held each fall in Los Angeles and serves up a world-class culinary celebration. It all goes to benefit Los Angeles Chapters of Meals On Wheels. With California’s job and budget woes, the need is greater than ever now. Yes, the tickets are pricey but they're a passport to a marvel of feasting and fundraising (and costs should be tax deductible-check with your tax advisor). Stay overnight, tour the backlots, the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Beverly Hills and make a weekend of it.

This star-studded festival runs October 2 - 4 and features world-renowned chefs, vintners and spirit purveyors. Don't wait: the event usually sells out in advance, so start your planning and get your tickets now.

Here’s a brief lineup:

Friday, October 2, 2009 - 7 p.m.
Red Hot @ Red Seven Kickoff Event
Location: Red Seven by Wolfgang Puck at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood
Designed to whet the appetites of Festival first-timers and alums alike, this party offers chic eats and innovative libations in an intimate lounge setting. Mingle with philanthropists and foodies alike. Be part of the LA scene.
Cost: $150 per person.

Saturday October 3, 2009 - 5-11 p.m
Saturday Evening Event at Universal Studios Backlot
Location: Universal Studios Backlot.
Includes a Wolfgang Puck VIP Cooking Demonstration, and an unrivaled epicurean feast prepared by world-renowned chefs, superb libations including fine wines and smooth spirits, and a silent auction filled with luxury items - all set to swinging sounds of live bands. Cost: $300

Sunday, October 4, 2009 - 6:00 p.m.
Chefs Grand Tasting Dinner
Location: Spago Beverly Hills
Okay, if you can spend the big bucks, you can hobnob with celebs at Spago Beverly Hills and dine on exquisite dishes paired with select wines. Celebrity chefs who will each prepare one course for the grand gala dinner : Thomas Keller of Bouchon; Dean Fearing of Fearing's at The Ritz-Carlton, Dallas; Jereme Leung of Jereme Leung Creative Concepts Pte Ltd; Laurent Gras of L2O; Nobu Matsuhisa of Matsuhisa & Nobu LA; Gina DePalma of Ristorante Babbo. Each Reservations for the Chefs Grand Tasting Dinner are available for $750 per person or $7,000 per table. Call Ellen Farentino, Spago, at 310/ 385-0880.

Details: For info or to purchase tickets, visit

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Fee-free fun in the national parks

Tired of the 'staycation' but can't afford a big weekend splurge? So go take a hike... in a beautiful national park (that's me in Yosemite's Mariposa Grove, at right). The National Park Service is offering up one more fee-free weekend this summer. All 147 National Park Service sites that charge entry fees (ranging from from $3 to $25), will waive them on August 15 and 16.

Their goal: to encourage cash-strapped families to visit national parks (and thereby boosting local economies). Your goal: free fun, of course. *Fee waiver includes: entrance fees, commercial tour fees, and transportation entrance fees. Other fees such as reservation, camping, tours, concession and fees collected by third parties are not included unless stated otherwise.

A sampling of free national parks in California on Aug 15-16:
Death Valley
Kings Canyon
Muir Woods

Details: Fee waiver includes: entrance fees, commercial tour fees, and transportation entrance fees. Other fees such as reservation, camping, tours, concession and fees collected by third parties are not included unless stated otherwise.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Save money when you travel

So I was cruisin' around the CNN Money site, when I found this interesting tidbit: "In a typical family sedan, every 10 miles per hour you drive over 60 is like the price of gasoline going up about 54 cents a gallon. "

Yikes! As if the price of gas isn't high enough. It's something to keep in mind during your summer driving season. So if you’re going to the wine country deal for foodies I wrote about, or to see the wildflowers in Tahoe I blogged about earlier, and especially if you’re driving up to Lassen Volcanic National Park for the upcoming free weekend I mentioned earlier, you'll want to keep your cruise control set to 60 MPH.

I knew 'speed kills', but I didn't know speeding could kill your fuel efficiency so effectively. The article concluded that the cost is even higher for vehicles with poor fuel efficiency to start with (hear that, SUV and RV drivers?).

Details: To read the whole fuelish story, go to the CNN link.

Monday, July 27, 2009

An Italian master comes to Palm Springs

If you like the works of glass sculptor Dale Chihuly, you’ll probably flip over Lino Tagliapietra in Retrospect: A Modern Renaissance in Italian Glass, the show coming to the Palm Springs Art Museum this fall. We don’t usually mention happenings this far ahead, but this show is such a big deal, you’ll want to plan ahead for it.

Tagliapietra is widely revered as the master of glass blowing, a teacher and expert who is credited with shaping the course of international studio glass. This is the first exhibition to provide an overview of Tagliapietra’s work, which has influenced glass centers around the globe.

You’ll marvel at some 169 art works that range from a room-size installation of the 35-piece Endeavor boat series, to groupings of goblets, to elegant and evocative sculptural forms. The exhibition features works from Tagliapietra's own collections and collections around the world. Some of these delicate objects will be on show for the first time anywhere.

There is no doubt Dale Chihuly was familiar with the Italian master’s work: Chihuly studied glass in Venice before founding the Pilchuck Glass School near Stanwood, Washington in 1971; in 1979, he invited the master to demonstrate his techniques at Pilchuk.

Details: Running Sep 26- Dec 27 at the Palm Springs Art Museum. Call 760/322-4800 or visit

EVENTS: On November 14 and 15, the museum will feature a Mobile Hot Shop, a fully equipped glass blowing studio that was designed by the Tacoma Museum of Glass. The Mobile Hot Shop will offer an interactive glassblowing demonstration from highly skilled artists working with molten glass while a trained commentator explains the art and science of glass. On December 1 at 10:30, Tagliapietra will appear for a panel discussion that is open to the public and includes a tour of the exhibition (admission $10). An optional luncheon with the panelists following the tour will be offered for $75.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Wildflowers in North Lake Tahoe

When the weather is just right, the alpine wildflowers around Lake Tahoe (left) can put on quite a show (hey, free fun!), and they're bursting into bloom this month—at these high elevations, it's still spring. And an early summer hike is the best way to get great views of Big Blue while checking out the blooms.

“Several weeks of unusually wet and cool weather last spring has resulted in one of the best wildflower seasons on record,” says Tourism Director Andy Chapman of the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association.

Result: the trails and paths throughout North Lake Tahoe are offering up an unusual bounty of colorful displays. But go soon:right now is the perfect time to hike the trails of North Lake Tahoe, when the days are sunny but cool. The region’s wildflowers are expected to hang around until the end of July.

Jump on the Tahoe Rim Trail, a 165-mile loop trail that traverses the ridgelines around Lake Tahoe. You’ll get easy way to access higher elevations ablaze with wildflowers; some of North Lake Tahoe’s best flower-spotting spots: the area northeast of Marlette Lake between the Tahoe Meadows and Spooner Summit trailheads; Paige Meadows, between Barker Pass and Tahoe City trailheads.

Don’t want to hike, or have toddlers in tow? Then stick to the heart of Tahoe City; within walking distance from restaurants and retail, you’ll find the Gatekeeper’s Museum and the Marion Steinbach Indian Basket Museum at the Tahoe City Dam, both home to lush grounds bursting with wildflowers. And just about one mile north of Tahoe City, at Lake Forest Beach and at the end of Bristlecone Avenue, the lupine are blooming with what many local residents are calling the best showing in the last 30 years.

Details: For hiking trails, lodging reservations, recreation and special event details, call North Lake Tahoe at 877/949-3296 or visit
PHOTO CREDIT: Zikas, North Lake Tahoe Resort Association

Friday, July 17, 2009

Berries and butlers in San Diego

Did you know July was National Berry Month? Yeah, me neither, but it sounds like a great idea. And one celebration has SoCal's Driscoll’s berries teamed up with the Loews Coronado Bay Resort in San Diego. Their gimmick? To provide the resort with an official 'Berry Butler', on hand every Friday and Saturday, July 3 – August 1, the berry butler will be greeting guests with fresh berries, helping kids whip up fresh smoothies, and staging tastings with the resort’s Executive Chef Marc Ehrler (who is also a French Master Chef).

The Loews' Mixology Team will also conduct cocktail courses for adults. And
for the kidlets? Mocktail courses, of course. And it's all made with—you guessed it—Driscoll’s antioxidant-packed berries. Tastings and berry treats for guests of the resort will be free. (Note: Any guest - overnight or just in for cocktails and a bite, can take part in the berry mixology!)

Driscoll's is a 100-year-old, family-owned company and is the leading provider of fresh and organic berries; most of their berries are grown in California; to find your local source, go to The Loews Coronado Bay Resort is situated on a private 15-acre peninsula edged by the Pacific Ocean and Coronado Bay and is minutes from downtown Coronado. The charming resort village is a short drive to San Diego’s world-famous attractions and is the perfect summer weekend getaway. Rates for the resort for the month of July start at $319 per night for a Superior King room. Click on

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A wine country deal for foodies

My friends up in Healdsburg (Sonoma County) just sent me this note:
"Wine Country Inns of Sonoma County is pleased to announce a very special package featuring a total sensory experience for you. “Purveyor to Palate” pairs a 2 night stay during July and August at one of our member inns with a five course dinner for two at a Michelin two- star restaurant - Cyrus, preceded by a unique tour of three of the purveyors to the restaurant. Experience this unique opportunity at a price starting as low as $519 (exluding tax, gratuity and wine at dinner and subject to availability). Please visit or call 1.800.946.3268."

Now, I've stayed at some fab inns up there, and you really can't miss with any of them. Go to the website and check them out-each is different and will appeal to a different sort of guest. Vintage Towers is really into the whole locavore movement; Hope-Merrill and Hope-Bosworth inns are big on winemaking (you can even pick your own grapes and make wine if you join their classes), and the Glenelly Inn has ongoing cooking classes.

In short, they're all pretty food-and-wine crazy. Which is why this deal is so great for true food fanatics, because it comes with a five-course dinner at Cyrus, which may be the only Michelin-starred restaurant in the county. My dinner at Cyrus was an unforgettable experience, from the
brilliant and beautiful cocktails,to the indulgent Champagne and caviar cart to the foie gras three ways (all served by a wait staff who circle around your table like ballet dancers).

Okay, two nights' lodging and a fab dinner-what are we waiting for? If you want a memorable weekend, this package is worth a splurge.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Chilling out on cool rooftops and pooldecks

On these sizzling summer days, I just want to get away and lounge (drink in hand) by a pool or atop a breezy rooftop deck-preferably someplace a lot cooler and more glamorous than my own four walls (booooring).

But the budget (that control-freak) says I can’t afford a weekend stay. So my solution? Drinkies at a glam local hotspot with a pool and rooftop deck.

Closest to me is the swanky Hotel Valencia Santana Row. At Ceilo, a relaxed rooftop wine bar, I can sit beside an outdoor firepit on the rooftop and savor a full-bodied Santa Cruz Mountain Cab while watching the glow of sunset on the Santa Cruz Mountain Range. Or just stretch out beside the gorgeous rooftop swimming pool (wind-sheltered, it’s open year-round). Details: 408/551 0010 or

Now, for those whose budget will stretch a little bit further, an overnight excursion to one of these sexy SoCal pooldecks and rooftop terraces can be real urban escape.

Getting Altitude in Beverley Hills

Altitude, situated on the sixth floor of the SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills, is an oasis above the busy downtown L.A. scene. Exclusive to guests of the SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills (and customers that use the hotel’s Ciel Spa), Altitude allows guests to people watch, nibble on Jose Andres cuisine and enjoy the stunning, panoramic views of Los Angeles surrounded by the eye-catching poolside d├ęcor designed by Philippe Starck. The all-encompassing pool deck is surrounded by unique and antique inspired, open frames and mirrored frames giving the space a glamorous but whimsical feel. One pool is a reflecting pool with chaise lounges resting in the shallow end. A second pool is a quaint plunge pool, great for dipping and cooling off. Poolside manicure & pedicure service is available as well as beverage and food service.

Andaz West Hollywood

Andaz West Hollywood, located on Los Angeles’ vibrant Sunset Strip and the site of the legendary Hyatt West Hollywood, is home to one of LA’s premier rooftops. The rooftop boasts panoramic views of the Hollywood Hills on one side and the Sunset Strip and downtown Los Angeles on the other, offers sun-seeking hotel guests a beautiful heated pool and daybed seating. Andaz West Hollywood’s rooftop is the perfect place for guests to unwind and enjoy drinks while taking in the sun.

Hard Rock Hotel San Diego

The Hard Rock Hotel San Diego, in the heart of the hoppin' Gaslamp District, is home to the hottest pool in the city, with a beautiful crowd lounging during the week and dancing their Sundays away with the weekly Detox party. The oversized rooftop pool features a large bar, fire-pits, private cabanas and bali beds. Details:

Friday, July 3, 2009

North Lake Tahoe fires it up for the Fourth

One summer, I watched a Fourth of July fireworks show from the shore of a northern lake, and I'll never forget it. The bright colors reflecting off the water made each explosion look doubly powerful. And the crowd gathered along the beach watched in mellow rapture.

So where can you go this weekend? Well, how about North Lake Tahoe? It plays host to a number of independence events and celebrations, and it’s not that far away (North Lake Tahoe is a 45-minute drive from the Reno area, two hours from Sacramento, and just over three hours from San Francisco airport). My pal, Pettit Gilwee, emailed me the other day about some fun events. Here’s a summary:

Incline Village July 2 through Saturday, July 4: parade, dress-up-doggie contest, ice cream social, patriotic chalk drawing contest and rubber ducky race. Fourth of July Fireworks, July 4, 9:30 p.m. at Incline Beach.

Kings Beach Friday, July 3 Fireworks, 9:30 p.m. and can be best seen from the Kings Beach State Recreation Area. There’s also a Viewing Party at the North Tahoe Event Center, right on the water in Kings Beach ($10, live music and dancing, along with a no host bar and food available for purchase).

The Village at Squaw Valley USA. Groove to Hell Bound Glory, a live, free concert with a country, rock ‘n’ roll twist Friday, July 3, 4-7 p.m. in the Plaza.

Village at Northstar in Truckee, Friday, July 3: Arts & Crafts Festival showcasing more than 60 artists’ work. Evening outdoor showing of the movie Little Giants. Kids’ Parade Saturday, July 4, noon to 2:30 p.m --children are invited to decorate their bikes, scooters, big wheels, pets or themselves and then parade through the village plus Arts & Crafts Festival.

Tahoe City’s fireworks celebration begins July 4 at 9:30 p.m. at Commons Beach Saturday, Prime viewing: the beach, where family picnics are popular; or make reservations at one of Tahoe City’s lakefront restaurants (Jake’s on the Lake, Christy Hill, Wolfdale’s Cuisine Unique).

However you see the show, stay safe n' sane this holiday weekend. And Happy Birthday, America!

Details: Visitor information centers are located at 380 North Lake Boulevard in Tahoe City and 969 Tahoe Boulevard in Incline Village. For lodging reservations, recreation and event details, call North Lake Tahoe at 877/949-3296 or visit
Photo credit: Tom Zikas/North Lake Tahoe

Thursday, July 2, 2009

My favorite free fun in California

California is so blessed. Even in this terribly challenging time in the state (we're broke, I hear), there is so much to celebrate about living here. Without even spraining my brain, I can think of ten fun things to do that cost nothing, or next to nothing. What's on my list of favorite things to do?

Well, my favorite spot to take visitors for a hike is the Marin Headlands, just north of San Francisco at the other end of that gorgeous gorge-spanning bridge. Part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the Headlands never fails to impress them (and me, truth to tell). If there's time, we'll hike up to the top of Hawk Hill, or roam around Rodeo Lagoon, stopping at the beach for a picnic. If we have kids along, we'll stop in at the new Marine Mammal Center in its splendid new hilltop facility, usually filled with rescued seals, sea lions, and hard-working volunteers.

But most often, we just pull off into a viewing point, stand there slack-jawed and snap pix.
California. Gotta love it! What's you're fave free fun? Leave me a comment!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A Cambria getaway with free weekend garden demos

Right about now, I'm looking forward to throwing some big backyard barbecues on the long holiday weekend. My garden, alas, is not quite ready for prime time. Oh well, if I was smart, I'd head to Cambria for a long weekend with some garden 'how-to' classes thrown in for free.

Why Cambria? One reason is the lovely, flower-bedecked Cambria Pines Lodge and their occasional Gardener’s Getaway Package. Just walking around the coastside lodge will inspire any plant-lover— a bevy of different pocket gardens enliven the sprawling grounds. There's a wedding garden, butterfly garden planted with species that attract butterflies; and a California Certified Organic Farmers vegetable garden, plus an extensive collection of plants that thrive in a Mediterranean climate (that's where I always get good ideas for my own yard).

The lodge's some five acres of colorful themed gardens are linked via a California native plant pathway to Cambria Nursery and Florist. On select weekends, the Nursery offers free classes. That's the other good reason for a visit soon. Coming up:
July 18, 2009—Shade Gardening: Learn how leaf litter, shallow soil and filtered light are just the right elements for certain shade-loving plants. August 15, 2009—California Native Gardening: Learn how to select and plant drought-tolerant California native plants. September 19, 2009—Drought Tolerant Gardens: Discover how to reduce water requirements in your garden. Learn tips about soil preparation, efficient irrigation and water-wise plant selection.
And in fall: October 17, 2009—Basic Pest Control: Learn good cultural practices and strategies for dealing with common garden pests. November 28, 2009—Deer-Resistant Gardens: Learn to choose plants that are less attractive to deer. Enjoy a guided tour of a deer-resistant garden and take home a recommended plant list. December 19, 2009—Winter Color: Discover how to fill your garden with seasonal color that will head off the winter blues. Learn that preparations made this t time of year set the tone for a spectacular garden throughout the year.

Call ahead to ask if there's room in the next garden demo class, then ask the lodge about the best deal for gardeners. You might find it's a bloomin' good time for a Cambria getaway.

Details: free events begin at 10 AM. Space is limited, so pre-registration is recommended. Call: 805/927-4747 or 800/414-6915. Classes are offered at Cambria Nursery & Florist at 2801 Eton Drive, Cambria; for more, email Cambria Pines Lodge offers a Gardener’s Getaway Package on all nursery event weekends except during Thanksgiving week. The package includes a room or suite; two dinner entrees and a bottle of house wine at the Cambria Pines Lodge restaurant; a gardener’s gift; and a breakfast buffet for two. Rates on a March weekend recently ranged from $198 for a Standard Room to $398 for a Deluxe Spa Tub Suite. For more, click here or call 800/966-6490.
COPYRIGHT Lora Finnegan 2008-2009

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