Friday, January 29, 2010

V-Day Weekend in Santa Barbara

How handy! Valentine’s Day falls on a three-day weekend this year, which means there’s more time to wine, dine and be lovey-dovey (or just recover from the workweek). For northern or southern California lovebirds, Santa Barbara makes an ideal choice for an overnight getaway or a long romantic weekend. It's tough to beat all that early California ambiance for romance; picture yourself strolling hand in hand past adobe-style buildings with arches and red tile roofs, or ducking into one of the grandest missions in the California chain.

And you don't even have to stress about the budget (such a
buzzkill for romance). A bunch of package deals means the getaway is more affordable. Can't get away for the big weekend? Not to worry: most of the packages are good throughout the winter. Spend your time roaming Mission Santa Barbara, strolling the beach, dining along the waterfront, or poking into the shops and cafes on historic State Street. Or not. Whatever happens, romantic Santa Barbara will work its magic. Details: Romance on the Riviera at the Brisas Del Mar Inn at the Beach (from $188/night; package includes accommodations that are walking distance to the beach plus a $50 dinner credit at Chuck’s Waterfront Grill). Or book the Book the “It’s Complicated…Not” package at Inn of the Spanish Garden, a boutique-style inn (shown in photo, above). You can have a classic “date night” in downtown Santa Barbar,
with dinner and a movie (two cinema tickets included); rates start at $279/night. Visit for more packages and full travel info.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

For Love or Money in LA

Okay, the name of this V-Day deal is clever: the For Love or Money Package at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel, Los Angeles. But it seems like a pretty good deal for downtown LA (especially if you're a SoCal guy who forgot to plan anything for that special weekend).

Choose the “Love” option, you get luxe accommodations in one of the historic Millennium Biltmore’s Classic Rooms, plus chocolate truffles, a bottle of pink champagne, and a late checkout. Take the “Money” option, and the Biltmore offers a complimentary upgrade to your choice of a Junior Suite or the exclusive Club Level, with access to the Club Lounge (offering complimentary breakfast, afternoon hors d’ouevres and beverages, evening turndown and Biltmore bathrobes and slippers in-room). For either one, rates start at $179 per night.

There's plenty to do here: visit the famed Getty Center, roam the historic Pueblo, of gawk at (sort of) celebs at the Hollywood Wax Museum.

Details: Offer valid for travel throughout the month of February. To book, please visit t or call 213/ 624-1011 and use the booking code LOVE! for “love” option, MONEY! for the “money” option.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Monterey and Big Sur winter escape

Lightning, rainstorms, mudslides, oh my! When this rain stops (as if!), I'm going to need some serious relief from a case of cabin fever that's been building up for about the last 10 days. I can't think of a better place for some fresh air and classic CA scenery than the Monterey area.

One of my faves: Point Lobos State Natural Reserve (so named for the wolf-like barking of sea lions who hang out here). What's to do? Hiking, winter bird watching, photography, and wildlife watching (look for 250+ animal and bird species in this 544-acre park). head for the ocean-front perimeter trail or just hit the key points including Cypress Grove, home to one of two naturally growing strands of Monterey Cypress in the world, Bird Island, Whaler's Cove and China Cove. The sight of the jade-green waters, crashing waves and fresh breezes of Point Lobos' is a sure cure for anyone's cabin fever.

And if I'm in a Jack Kerouac road-trippy kind of mood, a drive down to Big Sur (depending on road conditions on Hwy One), and a gander at the classic lines of the 1932 Bixby Creek Bridge, will do the trick. It's quite the marvel, stretching 714 feet long and one of the top ten highest single-span bridges in the world; it's so lovely, they're honoring it with a stamp Feb. 3!

Details: Any excuse for a package deal, right? Along with the new stamp, area hotels have teamed up to offer a "Bixby Bridge Package" this winter. Big Sur River Inn (accommodations, breakfast and dinner for two starting at $160/dbl). Treebones Resort, with 16 upscale yurt accommodations (two-night mid-week stay with breakfast at 20 percent off, starting at $124.00/dbl. per night). The Post Ranch Inn, (two nights' accommodations, two one-hour spa treatments, dinner at Sierra Mar and daily breakfast starting at $2120.00/dbl). Ventana Inn & Spa ($250.00/dbl. rate including a complimentary upgrade and $50 resort credit for the luxury spa or restaurant). Or try a quaint cottage at Big Sur Lodge, in Julia Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, (breakfast and guided hike with bag lunch for two at $180.00/dbl). NOTE: packages exclude taxes and are based on availability, restrictions and blackout periods apply. For more lodging and dining, check

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Celebrating Shanghai in San Francisco

I've been reading about the fascinating cities of the Far East recently, in books like The Piano Teacher by Janice Y. K. Lee (about Hong Kong) and so I'm looking forward to the start next month of The Shanghai Celebration, an unique, year-long festival presented by more than thirty San Francisco Bay Area organizations. It's a chance for local families to broaden the kids' horizons and learn about important world cities without leaving town!

It commemorates the 30th Anniversary of the sister city relationship between San Francisco and Shanghai and is spearheaded by the Asian Art Museum. The Celebration runs through 2010, coinciding with the World Expo in Shanghai from May to October. The more than 50 Shanghai-related programs run the gamut from exhibitions, concerts, performances, films, and lectures, to book readings, artist demonstrations, and other special events. Delve into topics such as Shanghai's architecture, jazz, historic Jewish communities, Art Deco design, filmmaking industry, contemporary art, cuisine, high-rise urban planning and fashion.

Details: One main event: the Asian Art Museum's presentation of Shanghai, a major exhibition examining the visual culture of one of the world's most cosmopolitan cities, scheduled for February 12-September 5, 2010. For the Shanghai Celebration program calendar of events, and a list of participating organizations, click here. For details on the Asian Art Museum, click here.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Search to save on travel with SideStep

Heard of this new way to save money on travel costs: Yeah, we've all tried Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz. Well, it seems you can, ahem, sidestep the best known travel search engines (Travelocity, Expedia and Orbitz) by heading straight for, which will search them all at once. Sounds like a great way to save both time and money.

Details: Caveat: I don't have a trip coming up for a bit, so I haven't had the chance to try this tip out myself. When I do, I'll let you know how it works.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Yosemite in winter-an insider speaks

You don't have to have a friend living in Yosemite National Park to get the inside track on what's cool about a winter visit there, but it doesn't hurt. My pal Teri just moved there to work for the park concessionare. Yep, she and her husband live right in the middle of Yosemite Valley! (I can only imagine the view out their front window). How cool is that?

Her latest report? "Right now we’ve got Chefs’ Holidays at the Ahwahnee going on until early February. Winter is awesome because there’s hardly anyone here and you often get the feeling you’ve got the park all to yourself. Badger Pass is California’s original ski area, celebrating its 75th anniversary this season, and is seriously the safest place for families to teach their kids how to ski. They’ve also got a Nordic Center that’s all about world-class cross-country skiing and snowshoeing." Thanks for the scoop, Teri.

Details: To help plan your visit, click here. For lodging and dining info, click here.
PHOTO CREDIT: Kenny Karst, DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite, Inc.

Friday, January 8, 2010

A Napa Valley hidden gem

If you're passionate about all things “green” and “sustainable”, Long Meadow Ranch in Rutherford should be on your must-see list. For years, the organic farm, organic winery, and organic ranch has been a leader in the use of organic and sustainable farming methods.

Set in the Mayacamas Mountains, Long Meadow Ranch has been featured as one of the settings and local food providers for Bravo Television’s 2009 Top Chef Finale. Though the grand tour is $175, it includes a hike around the grounds, a memorable lunch of ranch-produced fresh produce, olive oils, and grass-fed beef accompanied by their world-acclaimed organic wine. Not up for that kind of fee? Then check out their new St. Helena tasting room location (which also boasts a farm-to-table restaurant named Farmstead, slated to open in February 2010, and long-time St. Helena favorite, Whiting Nursery); taste a flight of wine for $10.

Details: Long Meadow Ranch is at 1796 St. Helena Highway, Rutherford; book tours at 707/963-4555 ext. 161; or stop by the new tasting room for Long Meadow Ranch Winery, Logan-Ives House, 738 Main Street, St. Helena. For details on lodging and dining, click here.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A dreamy (free) home show in Santa Clara

Want to while away a Saturday with your honey without spending a dime? This weekend, you can dream about creating your ideal kitchen, bathroom, or outdoor room at the California Home, Garden, & Gourmet Show at the Santa Clara County Fairground. Pick up a San Jose Mercury News for a free entry coupon. You'll see some great design, a lot of 'green' ideas, and you can catch a few how-to and cooking demos. The seminars offer a lot of help for those looking to go solar.

Details: Friday Jan 8 (noon-8), Sat/Sun Jan 9, & 10 (11-6) at the SCC Fairgrounds (344 Tully Road, San Jose). For more, call 650/593-3462 or click here.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Dining deals in Yountville/ Napa Valley

There's still time to take advantage of one of the coolest dining deals in the Napa Valley: the Moveable Feast program, good through February. It's Yountville's way of showing off the best of their best.

Say you and your squeeze want to get in some exercise, while experiencing some of the finest food in Napa's wine country. Here's the deal: some 15 top notch restaurants are within strolling distance of one another in the walkable town of Yountville: the new Bottega from Food Network’s Michael Chiarello, restaurant at Bardessono, Cantinetta Piero at Hotel Luca, and Thomas Keller/Laura Cunningham’s Vita, and more.

Want to extend your trip into the weekend? For more lodging, dining, and wine tasting info, contact the Yountville Chamber of Commerce at 707/944-0904.

Details: The Moveable Feast program and free passport can be downloaded by clicking here. The passport links you to hotel packages and restaurant deals (like a three-course prix fixe dinner for $70/couple, $1 oyster specials, 50% off VIP winetasting and up to 25% off hotel/dining packages, starting at $165/double).
COPYRIGHT Lora Finnegan 2008-2009

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