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March 2015

LiteGear Bags are lean and green in Vallejo California

LiteGear™ Bags - Pack light, pack tight!
Promo Code Vallejo35 gets you 35% discount!

Bella LiteGearHow could you resist this face? Or the bags? I couldn't! Darling Bella and LiteGear™ Bags will steal your heart. Well, Bella for sure. But you'll fall in love with LiteGear™ Bags once you hear the first of California Travel Insider's 58 Counties 58 Stories!

Nothing is random! Touring a new Blu Home on Mare Island in Solano County, I spotted Bella the model talent for LiteGear™ Bags. After I stopped going all ridiculous over Bella, I settled down with Magi Raible, president and creative director of LiteGear™ Bags. Just coming up on their one-year anniversary, I’m thrilled to be telling her story!

This tale couldn't be more local. A Vallejo native, Magi's dad was transferred to Mare Island when she was only two years old. After a stint in the Air Force, Magi came back to Mare Island. While attending Solano College, she learned about a local company named North Face. She got hired, promoted quickly, and started traveling as the purchasing manager for Magi Raible Courtesy of LiteGear Bagsgoose down, Gor-Tex, Polartec, YKK zipper and Easton aluminum tent poles. More upward movement to Director of Product Development and Product Acquisition for finished goods -- ski jackets, tents and sleeping bags. Phew! She joined North Face at 23. Within seven years, she was a director buying $38 million in total purchases of finished goods and raw materials.

In 1994, a subcontractor approached Magi to launch a new brand, Kiva. An unstoppable force in the boutique luggage and travel accessories realm, she took over as President/CEO in 2010 and sold Kiva in 2013. Phew! You'd think that's where this story ends. Not!

"I thought I would primarily do some design and consulting work," said Magi, "But then I had the idea for LiteGear as a brand and concept. Lightweight, durable bags made with recycled fabric; very few companies are doing recycled fabric. The price of oil has gone up, but not the price of garbage! I like the idea of helping the environment and creating great products."

Synthetic fibers are petroleum based. America ships all their plastic bottles -- a petroleum-based product -- to China. We need to stop, but we don't! Magi saw the future for LiteGear™ Bags. "It doesn't take a drop of oil to make my fabric. Plastic bottles are just another form of oil. My 'aha moment' came thinking about alternative energy. We needed to do something to reinvent Kiva and I began thinking about conserving energy in a different way."

Magi knew the industry. She knew fabric suppliers. Okay, really short story even shorter: From conception to giving birth, they took LiteGear™ Bags to market in less than six months. That's really fast y'all! Fifteen pieces. Everything from backpacks and Trifold Garment Sleeves to rolling luggage; the heaviest piece, a 26-inch Hybrid roller, weighs 7.5 pounds.

LiteGear™ BagsLiteGear_BluHomes Courtesy of LIteGear Bags started with three pieces and shipped their first orders in September 2013. Magi took all of her years of expertise with raw materials and engineering techniques to create LiteGear™ Bags. "It's as light and strong as possible." That's the foundation of LiteGear. They're now in more than 200 stores across the country. "I've been in the business a long time and knew a lot of the retailers; relationships and trust are so important. A TravelSmith category merchandiser loved the concept. They bet on me and had faith I could do this." And she did. LiteGear™ Bags was on the cover of the TravelSmith Gear Guide Summer 2014 insert!

Magi, Bella, and team were working in a industrial park in Benicia before relocating to their regal Mare Island digs -- a one-time Naval Capitan's mansion. "I was looking for something completely opposite to fit the feel and culture of our company and the products. A place that supported creativity and had a good feel to it," she said, "This was very much a coming home for me. As I child I dreamed of went on inside these mansions. Some angel smiled down on me and this place was just there."

The company culture is family-oriented; most of the employees came from Kiva. Six staff (including Magi) work on Mare Island with Bella who works in HR in charge of employee morale, but she's clearly moving into marketing. This is how Magi and I met. And that, as they say, is the rest of story.

LiteGear™ Bags are my bag of choice. The Kompressor Poncho and City Tote just joined my collection. These new itLiteGear Poncho and City tote Credit Barbara L Steinberg @ Are You That Woman 2015ems along with smaller carry-on rollers are heading to Taiwan with me in March.  LiteGear just upgraded their website with a shopping cart and PayPal. You can now go to and purchase LiteGear travel bags and accessories through PayPal using your PayPal account or your credit card. They have created a Coupon Code for you.  On your shopping cart page, you may enter Vallejo35 in the coupon code box to receive an instant 35% discount on your purchase.

Public House Theater in Sacramento combines beer, wine, popcorn and a movie

Best beer, wine, popcorn and a movie in Sacramento
Best beer, wine, popcorn and a movie in Sacramento
Courtesy of Public House Theater
Rating: Star!Star!Star!Star!Star!

The Public House Theater, for me, is as good as it gets and deserves FIVE, count 'em, FIVE STARS! Why? Well a bunch of reasons. First: To have the vision to open something so cool and neighborly. Second: To discover this building in need and see the potential. Three: To create an atmosphere of good will, friendship, and fun is not easy in the world today. Four: To feel the fear and make a leap-of-faith - well, that sums it up. Owner/operator Jackie is all that!

This unremarkable corner has new purpose. Beer, wine, sodas, popcorn and (wait) movies and sometimes sporting events on the biggest home-entertainment screen I have ever seen. Comfy Lazy-Boy recliners, old wooden theater seats, couches, arm chairs, bean bags -- all the comforts of home and with lots of great beer on tap.

Not quite dive-worthy but that's okay. Jackie is so nice. Really nice. She's working on have some food besides fresh popcorn, chips and the requisite movie candy. By summer we should see some BBQ and pizza. But everyone is so happy to see evolution come to this little Sacramento neighborhood and we hope to see them thrive!

Weekend movies are wonderful old comedies, classics, and kid-friendly too. Check online for upcoming shows. And, yes, available for events and celebrations. Coolest birthday parties ever!

Public House Theater
5440 -14th Avenue
Sacramento, CA 95820
Telephone: 916-662-7262
Event Booking and Information

Happy New Year Stockton: Again!

Year of the Ram Goat 2015Stockton is culturally diverse. Beautifully and deliciously so! The impending Chinese and Vietnamese New Years are a perfect indicator of this fact.  A lunar celebration – parade and feasts will take place within two months of the Western Gregorian/solar calendar.  More reasons for merriment and festivities I always say. Can’t get enough of a good thing.

In the Vietnamese tradition, 2015 is the Year of the Goat – one of the 12 Eastern zodiac animals.  The Vietnamese zodiac also incorporates five elements: Metal, Wood, Wind, Water, Fire and Earth. The coming celebration is actually Ất Mùiwhich means Wood Goat

People born under the sign of “goat” are said to be hard-working and determined. I’m not sure if the owners of Saigon Vietnamese Restaurant are born under this sign, but they are incredibly hard-working and determined. There’s a wonderful “My Stockton” story that supports that thought, but for now the focus is the upcoming Tet – Vietnamese Lunar New Year.

Saigon Vietnamese Restaurant has a long history on Pacific Avenue. The current owners took over in 2001.  Annually, Saigon Vietnamese celebrates with a prix fixe dinner and lots of traditional fanfare. Firecrackers, martial arts demonstrations, dragon dancers, friends and family pack the restaurant, and Belly Buddha another good luck sign, he’s always laughing. 

Chúc Mừng Nǎm Mới The restaurant's celebration is February 21st – reservations should be made ASAP for the $36 per-person party – it’s nearly sold out! Appetizers, salad, special New Year’s eggroll, Nem a traditional Vietnamese sausage just for the celebration, and dessert – of course!

恭禧發財Following close on its heels, Stockton’s 37th Annual Chinese New Year CelebrationChinese New Year Courtesy of Stockton Chinese New Year Festival March 1, 2015; 11am to 5:30pm marks the Year of the Ram.  A great community and cultural event it attracts more than 3,000 attendees.  City-sponsored, this one-day parade and festival is family-friendly and it’s all FREE!  The parade begins at 10:00am rain or shine! You don’t want to miss the Lion Dance Troupes!

The festival at Stockton Memorial Civic Auditorium features continuous stage entertainment from 11:30am to 3:30pm and includes the Stockton Chinese Ladies Dance Troupe, Bayland Dancing, Capitol Chinese Orchestra and the Stockton Bukkyo Taiko Group. This year’s festival features a KidZone with carnival games and Paul Buethe “The Yo-yo Man” – he’s very cool and Uber across the pond, so I'm told! Not to be forgotten, lots of food – chow mein, sweet & sour pork, Dim Sum, sesame balls and the usual festival food – come famished. 

Proceeds from the festival benefit cultural programs and scholarships for local youth through the Chinese Cultural Society of Stockton.  

California romantic getaways this Valentine's Day or whenever

Romancing the Soul 100 Miles More or Less from Sacramento: Urban Urbane,  Bayside Bliss, and Brookside Gold

#1 rule this Valentine’s Day/Month: Your California romantic getaway begins by leaving day-to-day worries behind – embrace the call to loving escapades. Every journey begins with some urban highway or interstate miles. Whenever possible, this insider recommends the roads less-traveled.

P1260703There are country byways to inspire and lift your spirits as if the journey's end weren't reason enough. Stupefying scenic roads are the only access to Nick's Cove. Pick one off Highway 101 South – Lucas Valley, Shoreline Highway, Point Reyes-Petaluma Road – don't rush this romantic odyssey. The stimulus of lush landscapes, rolling hills, valleys, craggy canyons and (eventually) bay and ocean views is visual foreplay.

Romantic...OMG! Twelve luscious cottages tucked away overlooking Tomales Bay. Through sunshine and fog, draped in natural beauty. Breathtaking views. The first encounter will leave you giddy. No detail has been ignored. Plush beds, cozy sitting areas, music, mini-fridge with drinks, and the most 2 Nick's Cove Bandits' Bungalow credit ©2012 frankenyimages.comfantastic bathrooms. Deliciously prepared food, much of it local! Breakfast is delivered to your cottage -- juice, fresh fruit, homemade pastries, and coffee are included or for an additional charge -- buttermilk waffles, crab Benedict, steel cut oatmeal, bacon -- you decide. As if by magic, barbecued oysters appear upon arrival! You know what they say about oysters? Wink! Wink!

Dine at Nick's Cove Restaurant where menus change frequently and are a locavore's dream. Chocolate is an aphrodisiac! So they say. Savor gourmet s'mores fused fireside. Sensuous and finger licking good! “Nick’s Loves Love” package is available throughout February, Sunday - Thursday. Be sure to ask for details.

This corner of California abounds in beautiful scenery. Take in the Tomales Bay views from decks, docks, or a kayak built for two.

Downton Abbey fans, embrace romantic times gone by at the Berkeley City Club. Designed and built by Julia Morgan (of Hearst Castle fame), the Moorish “Little Castle” is classic Julia. If architecture and ambiance is what you seek, the Julia Morgan-inspired Berkeley City Club is the key to your 8 Berkeley CC Mezzsweetheart sanctuary.  All the genteel grace of the post-Edwardian era – you can imagine this amorous tryst!  If your heart's desire is to live like kings or queens, you will love the Berkeley City Club – a romantic kingdom. 

Originally a women-only club, it’s been painstakingly restored and is part of Historic Hotels of America. Not today's boutique, the BCC is all about quiet elegance of bygone times. Affectionately known as "The Little Castle," it's the closest you'll ever come to a night at Julia’s legendary Hearst Castle. Only members and guests can indulge in the indoor heated swimming pool, reminiscent of the bigger castle's famous Roman Pool. A late-night swim is sublime as you may be the only ones luxuriating in the heated pool.

Guestrooms are TV-free – remember the operative  word here is “romance”. Common areas beckon you to unwind and garden courtyards offer secluded spaces to gaze long and lovingly. A quiet loge has games of all kinds. Check online for special events and theatrical productions performed at the Club. The rate includes a sumptuous expanded continental breakfast!  Just blocks from Shattuck, Telegraph, and UC Berkeley campus BCC is an ideal location to dine, but consider lunch or dinner and the cocktail hour at Julia’s. Coffee and tea are available in the lobby throughout the day. We know it’s hard to resist the WiFi, but try.

This is a one-of-a-kind. Leave your notions of modern hotels behind. There are some larger suites but hotel rooms are of the era – smaller. Julia never intended you to spend all your time in the room, but they are still plenty cozy. It’s all about the public spaces and gardens. The exquisite tile work in bathrooms, architectural details throughout, the pool, garden courtyards – sensory overload.

Park and walk Berkeley’s urbane landscape. Valentine’s chocolates are a must from Chocolatier Blue (two nearby locations) so perfectly paired with a sake tasting at Takara Sake.

17  Cottages at La Honda Park  Murphys California Credit Barbara L Steinberg 2011 112For a tranquil and romantic retreat, The Cottages at La Honda Park is a fantastic antidote. Located in Calaveras County, the five cottages, barn and main house, once ramshackle and rickety,  are a tribute to recycling. Beautifully restored and utilizing many cast-offs, each of the themed rooms is comfort supreme. Cottages are equipped with a kitchenette and wood-burning stove. Front porches beckon to those in love. The restored barn built from many of the original materials, is a cozy recreation area with fireplace, pool table, foosball, darts, and board games. The original barn doors open onto the creek. The Park sits on the edge of Angels Creek and an old weir – the sound of cascading water is spellbinding – Mother Nature’s own brand of romantic background music. With six secluded acres, the natural setting is home to many birds and wildlife. TV-free, there is free WiFi – maybe Netflix your favorite romantic flick.

This quiet and romantic respite is just one-mile from the bustle of Main Street and Historic Murphys’ wine and culinary delights. More than 20 wine tasting rooms are just that close.  Best cocktails are imbibed at V Restaurant, Bar & Bistro and something very special The Spice Tin will, yes, will spice up your love’s life.

Whatever you choose this romance season – or any season – always remember to ask about seasonal and mid-week rates and AAA and AARP discounts. Oh, and pet-friendliness, too!