Monday, February 23, 2009

Finnegan's free fun: art and picnics at Stanford

He was the Johnny Depp of his day: a brooding artistic genius, a rebel, and a roaring success. The 19th-Century French artist Auguste Rodin is today best known for his iconic sculptures like The Thinker and the Burghers of Calais. And he did so many more. You can see hundreds of his works, free, at the Cantor Arts Center on Palo Alto's Stanford University campus.

You needn't be a major art buff to enjoy these works: they're so human and lifelike (the artist was initially accused of creating not art, but mere castings of the bodies of his models). Even kids get Rodin.

You can stroll a lovely, open Rodin Sculpture Garden, filled with life-sized (and larger) Rodin bronzes like
Adam and Eve and The Gates of Hell. Or go inside the museum and see some 90 more works, recently brought out of storage and put on display, including a cast of The Thinker.

It's the largest collection of Rodin works in the world, outside of France. And for kids, a visit is like a living (and fun) class in art history. Bring a picnic lunch, there are plenty of tables at grassy spots around campus.

Details: Rodin: the Complete Stanford Collection; Cantor Arts Center, Museum Way and Palm Drive, Stanford University. Call 650/723-4177 or click here.

Friday, February 20, 2009

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

New Napa Valley classes for food lovers

After touring one of the world’s premier wine and food regions—the Napa Valley—you might be inspired to burnish your own food and wine knowledge. Now you can learn where tomorrow's top chefs are enrolled: at a grandly beautiful campus in St. Helena, in the heart of the valley.

It’s a first for the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) at Greystone— weekend classes for us everyday food lovers (versus the professionals they already train). Saturdays at the CIA offers a wide array of hands-on cooking and wine exploration classes for Napa Valley visitors with no prior professional training. Each of the two-hour classes is taught by the same expert faculty that has made the CIA the world's premier culinary college—and costs only $75 per person.

Want to learn Hot Latin Cooking or Street Foods of the Middle East? Such hands-on cooking classes can take you on a culinary journey inspired by global cuisine. Class sizes are small—12 students—so you get to work one-on-one with the chefs of the CIA.

For wine lovers, Saturdays at the CIA wine exploration classes bring you into the state-of-the-art Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies. Instructors guide you in tasting various grape varieties and exploring the world's wine regions. Of course, you'll get all kinds of helpful tips on tasting, buying, and serving wine. You won't emerge as a full-fledged sommalier, but maybe your friends and family will ask you to be the guide on your next wine tasting trip. 

Tip: All Saturdays at the CIA participants get a 10% discount on any purchases from the college's Spice Islands Marketplace.
And Saturday students can get more out of their trip by making a lunch or dinner reservation at The Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant; you'll be seated with classmates and get a pre-fixe menu price.

Details: Get a schedule of all the new food enthusiast courses at Reservations are recommended; 707/ 967-2320.
PHOTO: Courtesy of the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

North Tahoe ski deals

Right now, we're seeing the best ski conditions of the year in North Lake Tahoe, with more than six feet of new snow hitting the destination over the last seven days (much of it arriving over the Presidents Day weekend).  

“The powder party continues,” said Tourism Director Andy Chapman of the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association. “Skiers and snowboarders are in for a treat with optimal conditions at area resorts, and for those that love groomers, our teams are out in full force making rows and rows of corduroy.”

Why go now, well, besides the great snow? Because there are also some great deals and great events to watch.

Bargain tips: A North Lake Tahoe vacation doesn’t have to break the bank—thanks to a new electronic kiosk, put together by the area visitors bureaus at Check it out for great values and specials for activities, dining, entertainment, lodging, and skiing.

Upcoming events:  February 21, Sugar Bowl has Jam 4 The Cure, a benefit with Boarding for Breast Cancer. Feb. 19-22 at Northstar-at-Tahoe, the best in skiing and snowboarding push the envelope at the Winter Dew Tour. Feb. 27-Mr. 5, Squaw Valley hosts the Freeride World Tour and the world’s finest international freeskiers and riders conquering the steep and seemingly unskiable rock faces. Feb. 27 through Mr. 8 is SnowFest, a 10-day winter carnival and one of the region’s most popular annual family celebrations, with parades, a polar bear swim, and dress up your dog contest.

Details: For more on ski resorts, events, current weather conditions in North Lake Tahoe, click on North Lake Tahoe is a 45-minute drive from the Reno Tahoe International Airport, two-three hours from Sacramento International Airport and just over four hours from San Francisco International Airport. Carry chains.

PHOTO: Courtesy Squaw Valley USA

Monday, February 16, 2009

Monarch butterfly watching: free family fun

How can you find beauty on the fly (and for free)? It’s easy, when you visit wintering clusters of monarch butterflies at sites along the California coast from Pacific Grove (near Monterey) to as far south as Huntington Beach (near L.A.).

And right now is prime time. The insects’ wintering season (October through March), brings clouds of orange and black -winged butterflies to select coastal locations, where they cluster in thick bunches on trees (often eucalyptus or pine). Volunteers have played a big role in preserving these sites and are often on hand to answer visitors' questions.

The monarchs' story—and their migration— is unique. These featherweights may cover up to 2,000 miles to get to a place they’ve never been before. With most migrating species (like birds), the same individuals traverse the same routes yearly; presumably, older individuals teach younger ones the way. But the monarchs in these spots have never been here before; they’re several generations past last year's butterfly visitors.
How they get here is still somewhat mysterious: the Earth's magnetic field and the sun's positioning are involved, say scientists. 

But when you see them up close as I did in Pacific grove recently—the pattern on their quivering wings as fragile and lovely as a stained glass window—their continued survival can only be called a miracle.

Look for them on branches, in the air around the trees (especially on warm days), and on the ground and low bushes. Their lives are short, so the butterflies make the most of their sunny winter resort, which means you can see their tender mating rituals as well. 


Pacific Grove: The Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary is at Lighthouse Ave. & Ridge Rd. For more, check with the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History at 831/648-5716 or click here.

Huntington Beach: Shipley Nature Center within Huntington Central Park,17851 Goldenwest St.; the Shipley Nature Center is free, donations appreciated; call 714/842-4772 or click here. Another site: Norma Gibbs Butterfly Park, 16641 Graham St., near Meadowlark Golf Course.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Wildflowers popping in Anza Borrego State Park

Desert LilyThis is why I love this state: even in the depth of February, there are wildflofwers blooming somewhere in California. I've just heard that early blooms of brittlebush, popcorn flower, sand verbena, and the spectacular desert lily are popping up in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, in Southern California near Borrego Springs.

Stretching across
more than 600,000 acres into three counties--San Diego, Imperial and Riverside--Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is California’s largest state park and the largest state park in the contiguous United States. You can make it a daytrip from San Diego, or stay longer: there's plenty of camping in the park, along with hiking and wildlife watching.

“We anticipate the peak blooming season to hit between the 3rd week of February and the 2nd week of March, depending on the weather,” says Michael Rodriques, the manager of the park’s Visitor Center. “For those who enjoy the thrill of the hunt and would like to beat the crowds, right now is the perfect time to visit. Little pockets of wildflowers are being found along roadsides, in sandy washes, and along trails in the park.”

When the bloom season peaks, you'll find massive fields of wildflowers at the northern edge of Borrego Springs on Henderson Canyon Road and at the northern end of DiGiorgio Road, about ¼ mile beyond the end of the pavement. And a variety of wildflowers spring up along washes and in the canyons of the park. An off-road trip through the badlands, a hike up Borrego Palm Canyon or a trip to Plum Canyon may yield a startling array of wildflowers.

For updated reports, call the Wildflower Hotline (760/767-4684) to get regularly updated information about this year’s bloom. You can also visit Anza-Borrego Desert State Park’s website .

PHOTO: Courtesy of California State Parks, 2009

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Mount San Jacinto State Park's 75th birthday

Get ready to party: on June 13, 2009, Mount San Jacinto State Park celebrates the 75th anniversary of the development of the park by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) . It's worth planning a trip around.  The CCC built  the Idyllwild campground, warden’s residence, and several historic structures still in use today.
There will be children’s games and activities, guest speakers, a book signing by a local author. Historic displays of “Park Rustic” architecture and stonework, and original footage will celebrate the work of the CCC.  An evening campfire program, “A Tribute to the Civilian Conservation Corps”, with hot cocoa and cider will top off the day’s events.  
Details: 25905 State Highway 243, Idyllwild
PHOTO: Courtesy of California State Parks, 2009
COPYRIGHT Lora Finnegan 2008-2009

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