Monday, June 14, 2010

A purely Nor Cal experience

Pixies, men in sarongs, children in butterfly wings with painted lions on their faces, half dressed women hula hooping to reggae, wafts of marijuana smoke, this is our entrance to this emblematic Northern California event—the Harmony Festival. Created as a guide on how to live sustainably, this expanding Wine Country festival (which now stretches over three days in June) lures families from as far as Washington.

This year my family was invited to explore the wealth of activities for kids. Armed with a squirt bottle and some snacks, we entered the Children’s Magical Playground. Face painters and balloon animal artists shared space with a car shaped like a shoe with drummers and violinists towed behind on a flatbed. Like pied pipers, they handed capes to children and asked if they would join the People’s Parade. We surely weren’t in San Francisco anymore. Our son selected a blue cape, blew some bubbles, grabbed a free applesauce and started marching with the parade through the crowd.

Like us, he was quickly distracted by the wealth of stands selling everything from doll houses crafted out of real wood, leaves and stones to 3-D paintings. Everywhere we looked there was something (or really, someone) to marvel at: The pot-smoking tent, where smoking is encouraged in an area quarantined from the rugrats; the ecovillage cluttered with yogis stretching upside down and speakers touting the benefits of composting; the skate ramp, the food vendors hawking raw organic vegan wraps and peach lassis; and the music.

To draw city types and hippies from the innards of Mendocino County, the Harmony Festival has upped the ante, departing from its typical lineup of meditation guides (though they can still be found in the ecovillage) and peace loving songstresses (they too can be found in the aptly named Goddess Village), this year they brought Slightly Stoopid, Zion I, Chali 2na, and Lauren Hill to the main stage.

Instead of watching the music, my munchkin, Kai delighted in learning to skateboard from a couple of 9 year olds, playing beach-ball soccer with another toddler and hula hooping with the hottie hoopsters. This was exactly why we enjoyed these types of festivals—we can stand in the sun with a beer and enjoy live music (or not, in the case with a slightly bitter Lauren Hill) and all sorts of entertaining peeps—including the lady decked out in cowboy gear and furry knee-high boots.

In terms of Harmony, this festival brought out all types, but it was the families that shone amongst the crowds. How can you not appreciate the child being towed on a skateboard, the kiddos flipping in the bouncehouse, the naked baby taking a break inside a hula hoop, the tweens skating the half pipe, and their parents, deservedly lounging on grass, maybe smoking some of their own, or merely pausing in a sea of humanity to wonder what their little babe will become and if a trip to a wonderland like this festival can inspire a love for all people, and the planet?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Yosemite Waterfalls For Free

Just in time for the spring show, American's 392 National Parks offer free admission to to celebrate National Park Week, April 17-25.

Rumors up in the Sierra hint that the waterfalls of Yosemite have begun to sparkle and ultimately dazzle visitors.

If you have some spare time (or extra sick days) celebrate the end of tax season, the beginning of spring, the quiet of kids being in school, or your favorite national parks, with a visit to Yosemite.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Last Minute Spring Break Ideas

As spring break approaches, many families scramble to come up with a plan. Many of us yearn to jet off to tropical strands, while others plot endless snowy days capped off my hot tubs, hot toddies and exhausted kiddos. Here's my list of Northern California spring break ideas for families and the young at heart.

1. Take the kids to Wine Country. Sure moms and dads prefer to get sloshed without Little Timmy's constant whining, but I've found that my kid loves traveling to the country--and what better country to explore than one that promises insanely good food and world class vino?

Favorite destinations with kids include Sonoma's MacArthur Place, Calistoga's Calistoga Hot Springs Spa. For more info on Wine Country travel with kids click here.

2. Head to the beach. Though you probably won't be graced with endless sunny days to bake in the rays, you can wander through tidepools, hiking trails, and chill out with books and balls. My current favorite NorCal beachy getaways include Point Reyes, Pacific Grove, and Arcata.

3. Go Glamping: OK, this might have been a fad from a decade ago, but that doesn't mean it's not a blast to take the family into a plush tent to sleep in a fancy bed, while getting the perks of sleeping under canvas. My favorite spots include Safari West, Costanoa, El Capitan Canyon in Santa Barbara and Big Basin.

4. Hit the slopes. While the masses head for Tahoe, why not motor up Hwy 4 to Bear Valley or make the trek up to Mt Shasta for some stellar scenery to boot. The slopes cost way less and have way less folks slipping and sliding on them.

5. Stay home and make a weekend out of it. Instead of heading off to explore other places, why not enjoy a full fledged vacation at home. Try out new restaurants, check out a museum, and do the touristy stuff you often ignore. If you need some ideas and have an i-anything, Download this.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

New Family Friendly SF iPhone App Launches

My iPhone app -- Family Friendly San Francisco -- was just released this past week and is published by Sutro Media. It's available through iTunes (by searching "San Francisco travel Michele Bigley") or by clicking here (or copying and pasting this link into your browser):

If you are an iPhone/iPod Touch devotee, please feel free to download it and review it (and give me feedback). It's well worth the price of admission. (Hey, you probably spent more than this on a cup of Starbuck's this morning, and this app will last much longer..... You get free updates for life!!!!)

If you don't have either an iPhone or iTunes, but you have friends in SF or traveling to to the Bay Area, please feel free to forward this email to them. I'd be eternally grateful. (So will they -- it's quite good.)

What the heck is this app all about?? It has 100 "essential" entries and hundreds of photos -- entries about places to see, things to do, reliable eats, toy stores, bathrooms with changing tables, playgrounds, parks, beaches, touristy, hidden gems, and SF originals. I've included places that both parents and kids will appreciate. They're all sortable with filters for cost, distance (GPS), and neighborhood. Fun and utilitarian. Early analytics suggest it's being used as much by visitors as locals. Another 100 entries are on the way.

Keep your eyes open for my next iPhone app: Family Friendly Napa/Sonoma, which, of course includes wineries the kids will love as much as mom and dad.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Wanna Get Away to the Central Coast This Weekend?

This just in: Anton Inn one of my favorite low key hotels in Pacific Grove is offering an unbeatable deal from Dec 11-14. $59 a night! Book now--this will go fast.

If you can swing this weekend, they also have deals through December for $69 a night. Click here to read my review of Anton Inn.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Here Comes The Snow

Well folks, looks like the only way in and out of Yosemite are the highways. No more scenic routes until spring. Snow has officially closed many of the High Sierra roadways. So if you plan to head up to Yosemite for the holidays, be sure to check road openings with the Highway Patrol.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

New Gig

Just wanted to clue everyone in to the new site I am writing for. I will be covering Bay Area hotels and attractions. Check it out!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Here Comes the Powder

It's official, Lake Tahoe has snow. Powdery perfect snow. Ideal to drop all plans of munching on turkey with the family and instead huff it up to the mountains to delight in the winter wonderland. Better act fast--before all the good powder melts under the hordes of folks boarding down the hills.

If you can, check into Deerfield Lodge for a night of luxury mixed with easy access to Heavenly lifts and the gondola.

I've also heard through the grapevine that Southwest Airlines has released some unbeatable deals to fly to Reno--something to the tune of two for one trips.

Finally, on your way up to the mountains be on the lookout for the fall colors dotting El Dorado County. I've heard it is quite a show right now, but going away fast.

Happy Winter Everybody!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Acme Chophouse is closing

AT&T Park's steakhouse is shutting its doors to make way for a new eatery. Stay tuned for updates on the new tenant. All I can say is: It better be good. I will miss Acme's macaroni and cheese.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Central Valley Doesn't Stink

Writers cannot please, nor appeal to everyone. I recently received feedback on my Northern California: An Explorer's Guide from a woman who lives in Modesto. She said that I misrepresented the Central Valley, by presenting the information in a snarky, insensitive way, highlighting the pastoral smells rather than the cultural highlights of California's Central Valley.

Of course to her, I did present the region poorly. She lives there and loves it. She has friends and community and all the ingredients of home, regardless of how this traveler perceives Modesto. And surely there are highlights, scenic spots, worthy treats for all palates, including theater, poetry slams, and international cuisine.

However, I live in San Francisco and love it here. As a guidebook writer, it is my job to siphon through all the possible journeys you will take in this region and present you with the worthy trip for your taste buds. Yet, on all levels you are traveling with me, using my perception. That is the glory (and occasional) problem with using and depending on a guidebook. You may not have the same worldview as the writer, food tastes, inherent belief system, but you are getting her opinion, her eyes on a locale.

I write this to encourage you to travel with your own eyes. To use the book as it is meant to be used: as a catalogue of information, painstakingly researched by this humble writer and her family (A writer who doesn't mean to insult or be snarky about any person's hometown). We will not agree on everything. Nor do I want us to. That is part of the conversation. I use your feedback (and the generous responses like the woman from Modesto) to update information and get to know towns with your eyes as well.

Writing a guidebook is ultimately a group effort; a give and take between writer and reader and place. And while I may (and will) get information wrong, my book also informs you of a restaurant or hike you never knew existed; a town's charms; a region's quirks. Together we can get to know Northern California's highs and lows even better. And maybe we'll learn to look past our various smells and appreciate all towns--big and small.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Which Northern California county offers summer festivals with cowgirls, salmon, art, and music?

Some destinations rely on their notoriety to draw tourists back year after year. Mendocino County has a different agenda. Combining rich redwood forests, windswept beaches, and artsy towns with one-of-a-kind festivals, San Francisco's northern hippie neighbor makes it nearly impossible not to take advantage of her riches year after year.

For more information, click here.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Northern California's top inns for romantic getaways--part one

With honeymoons, anniversaries, and the summer heat all begging to be celebrated, Northern California has its fair share of places to woo your sweetheart. Selecting which is right for you is the only problem. Here are my top romantic inns for all budgets.

To keep reading, click here.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Last minute Northern California Fourth of July ideas

San Franciscans have a love/hate affair with the 4th of July. Oh how we love to celebrate BBQ, family and friends, the languid days of summer, lounging in Dolores Park with Bi Rite honey lavender ice cream, and a six pack, just waiting for the fireworks to explode. Yet, most years we are plagued with dense fog and chilly winds that make the holiday downright miserable. Most years, we wait to see what the weather is like before getting in the car and heading to warmer pastures. So if you are like me and looking for some summer on the first weekend of July, here are a few last minute ideas.

For details, click here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The How-To guide to planning a trip in the Internet age

After prowling through Travelzoo, Travel-ticker, and Smarter Travel, we finally found a reasonable airline flight to Thailand. But this fickle traveler had to marinate on the price ($670--in summer!), the dates, and if I could handle a 25 hour travel day with a two year old. When I return to the above-mentioned websites the next day, I suddenly found that I could fly from San Francisco to Rome, or Athens, or Barcelona, or Paris, or Amsterdam for $350. Now my brain was fried. Would I rather sip sangria or ouzo on a beach or drink from a freshly chopped coconut? Would I sacrifice some rainy days in Phuket for epic sun drenched strands on the Costa Brava?

For more, click here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Searching for that special romantic getaway?

Sometimes a hotel captures your heart. In the most unlikely of Sonoma County locations, the Farmhouse Inn is my Wine Country destination of du jour.

For more information, click here.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Northern California's top kid-friendly music venues--part one

People call me crazy when I say I bring my toddler most everywhere. He's stayed at Meadowood, eaten Thomas Keller meals, and been to more festivals than many adults I know. With all this experience, though he might not remember his night, say, at Auberge du Soleil, I imagine he will be a more adaptable adult because of it.

For more information, click here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Northern California hot springs

Imagine dipping your toes in a pool of natural hot springs, while surrounded by whizzing birds and prancing deer. Or maybe you prefer soaking in clawfoot tubs perched on a cliff with the ocean crashing below. Whether you aim for maintained hot springs or wild hike-in ones, Northern California offers a wealth of soaking options.

For more information, click here:

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Hob Nob Tours in San Francisco--the correct contact info

HI all,

I just learned from Val at the wonderful Hob Nob tours that the phone and address for Hob Nob is incorrect in the new Northern California: An Explorer's Guide. The correct contact information is 650-814-6303 and P. O. Box 2302 Livermore, CA 94551. As you might expect with us humans, we occasionally mess up. I hope you all understand and forgive my blunder.

For detailed information about the excellent Hob Nob Tour of Nob Hill, pick up Northern California: An Explorer's Guide (Countryman Press).

Escape to California's secret mountain towns--Part two

I'm letting the cat out of the bag. But I assume that if you are on the prowl for secret mountain towns, you probably deserve to know about Northern California's finest. This is the second installment of my favorite hidden mountain towns, this time highlighting Dunsmuir.

Click here for information about Dunsmuir.