21st Annual Flyway Festival celebrates return of millions of migrating birds to San Francisco Bay Area

Birdwalk-7597-1 Courtesy of SF Flyway Festival
For this year's Flyway Festival, organizers welcome a team of staff from the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Nathan Hawkaluk - Deputy Refuge Manager, Heather Bartlett - Wildlife Refuge Specialist  and Julie Mahler - Rural Resident of the Yukon Flats will give a talk at the Wildlife Expo, Building 221, 880 Walnut Ave. on Mare Island in Vallejo, CA both Saturday, February 11 and Sunday, February 12 at 1:00pmentitled:  "Alaska’s Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge: Feeding the Flyways, Sustaining the Residents". The Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge is located in the interior of Alaska at the far northern end of the Pacific Flyway.
The speakers note that "Each autumn, millions of migratory birds that nest and raise their young on the Flats disperse, spreading across much of the globe to be shared and enjoyed by countless others who appreciate wildlife and wild places. This is the legacy of the Yukon Flats today – and tomorrow. Come learn from Refuge staff about how these migratory birds connect Alaska with California and the San Pablo Bay. Get a glimpse of what it’s like to live, work, and be part of a community in the Far North and learn how Alaska’s public lands support conservation in your backyard."
Jenny Papka, Native Bird Connections (1)Native Bird Connections, a wild bird rehab and education center based in Martinez, CA will once again give its “standing-room-only” live bird shows both Saturday and Sunday at the Wildlife Expo from 11:30am-12:30:pm. Digital presentations include information about the surprising nesting of osprey in San Francisco Bay, not known to have occurred in the 20th or 21st centuries until about the year 2000; how to identify birds and use binoculars; why Ladybugs matter; backyard bird feeding tips and the history of the Mare Island Naval Hospital which will be combined with a visit to the grounds of the hospital founded more than 150 years ago, closed as a Navy hospital in 1957 and now the campus of Touro University.
For the second season “re:sound migration”, an experimental sound art project created by Vallejo resident and sound artist Jen Boyd, will feature a number of other sound artists with a theme of birds and nature during the Flyway Festival. Performances take place Saturday, February 11 at the Mare Island Shoreline Heritage Preserve Building A-168 from 3:30pm-7:00pm. Visit re-sound.net for more details and a full list of all the participating artists.
Host and sponsoring organizations
Once again, Mare Island Heritage Trust, the nonprofit sponsor of the Festival, welcomes Vallejo Watershed AllianceVallejo Sanitation and Flood Control DistrictFriends of San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge, San Francisco Bay Joint Venture, Napa Vine Trail Coalition, Vaca Valley Volks, Marin Audubon Society, and Sierra Club Solano Group. Lennar Mare Island LLC has generously contributed the headquarters building where the Flyway Festival Wildlife Expo takes place on Mare Island in Vallejo.
Heron Courtesy of SF Flyway FestivalRegional guided and self-guided outings scheduled in Contra Costa, Sonoma, Napa and Solano counties - The annual migration celebration offers a range of guided and self-guided outings throughout the “north shore” region of the San Francisco Bay Area including birdwatching, natural history and recreational hikes led on Mare Island. Many of the hikes and outings are oriented to beginning and intermediate birders. Hawk watching outings led by experienced hawk specialists from the Sonoma Land Trust, West County Hawkwatch, the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory, Solano Land Trust and Napa Solano Audubon Society are expected to enjoy enthusiastic turnouts. Skaggs Island, the former US Navy communications facility and now a part of San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge is not normally open to the public except during escorted outings like the total of six, two each day, scheduled during the Flyway Festival.
One of the most popular attractions this year, will be the three guided outings which are planned by the Friends of the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge on the newly restored more than 1200 acres of tidal wetlands at Cullinan Ranch, opened to the Bay’s waters for the first time in more than 150 years in the first part of January 2015. There is also self-guided walking and even a guided kayak and canoe access outing to this new marshland, as well as to a number of other National Refuge lands for birdwatching and hiking. Self-guided hiking and birdwatching can be done on California Department of Fish and Wildlife property in southern Napa County at the Green Island Unit and a number of Units of the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Sonoma, Napa and Solano counties. Sunday, February 12, 10:00am-2:00pm Solano Land Trust will offer a hawk watching hike in Lynch Canyon Open Space led by hawk expert Larry Broderick, West County Hawkwatch. The Solano Land Trust also offers a hike in the Rockville Hills Preserve which does require pre-registration. Two guided hawk watching hikes will also be given by Larry Broderick, West County Hawkwatch, hosted by Sonoma Land Trust, on the Dickson Unit of the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Saturday, February 11 at 10:00am and repeated at 12noon. Visit the Sonoma Land Trust website for details and to register (not required).
Mare Island Nature, Birding, Historic, Cultural, Recreational and Scenic Outings - For the 9th year the Flyway Festival welcomes the Vaca Valley Volkswalkers’ American Volkswalk Association sanctioned 6k to 11k walks on a designated route throughout Mare Island.
Mare Island outings will include guided walks Friday, Saturday and Sundayby local Audubon Society hike leaders and Mare Island Heritage Trust field guides. Hikes and driving birding outing on the Island include access to the Navy’s first ammunition depot in the Pacific founded in 1857 located in an area of the island designated as the 215-acre Mare Island Shoreline Heritage Preserve which will be open daily during the Festival from 9:00am-sunset with a “Very Informal” almost full moon party Saturday evening February 11 6:30pm-8:00pm for those interested in viewing the moon and sky from a telescope. Digiscoping with phones and cameras should be good in the Preserve with nesting great blue herons and possible osprey sightings. Other guided outings on Mare Island include beginning birding walks on the San Pablo Bay Wetlands Trail. Docent led history tours of the Mare Island Naval Cemetery will be offered both Saturday and Sunday from 12noon-2:00pm
St. Peter’s Chapel, home to the most Tiffany stained-glass windows in a single site in the West, will be open for tours Saturday, February 11, and Sunday, February 12, 11:00am-3:00pm. The Mare Island Museum will be open Friday, February 10, 10:00am-2:00pm and Saturday February 11, 10:00am-4:00pm. Both require a $4.00 admission donation.
Flyway Festival Art Exhibition and opening reception
Artists and photographers will show original art work that depicts local wildlife, wetlands, marshes, and native habitats from San Francisco Bay to the ridgetops of Mt. Tamalpais and Mt. Diablo. The show is open to all ages and skill levels and the deadline for art entries has been extended to Monday, February 6. Artists’ work will be available for purchase at the Art Show beginning with its opening reception Friday evening, February 10 at 5:00pmand continuing through the two-day show, Saturday and Sunday, 9am-4pm.
Most Festival activities are free. Some require preregistration. For more information and directions, call or text Myrna Hayes 707-249-9633 or Sarah Cain 510-579-1008 or visit sfbayflywayfestival.com.
Digital photos available prior to and during the event. Call or text Myrna Hayes at 707-249-9633 cell or e-mail myrnahayes@mac.com

Julia Morgan's Berkeley City Club is so special

Julia Morgan's Little Castle is a Well-Kept Berkeley Secret
Berkeley City Club1

Yes, you can actually stay in an honest to goodness Julia Morgan-designed and built hotel. Originally a women-only, member club, the Berkeley City Club is now part of the prestigious Historic Hotels of America.  The Julia Morgan-designed Berkeley City Club turned 86 in 2016. Celebrate its past, present, and future! Treat yourself to something so very special.

Call (510) 848-7800 or for more information to book your stay at the “little castle”, check online. Be sure to check-out the calendar of Berkeley City Club theatric and musical events.

Oh, and about that indoor pool....

Berkeley City Club5 Berkeley City at the Holidays Credit Barbara L Steinberg  Berkeley City Club one of the Many Royal Subjects Standing Guard 2 Credit Barbara L Steinberg 2010 Berkeley City Club The LIttle Castle 2 Credit Barbara L Steinberg 2010 T Johnson Room 2 Courtesy of BCC

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 LiteGearBags.com 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.

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!

3 Rs of Nick's Cove: Recreation, Relaxation, Romance(ation)!

Quilted comfort and early morning sunlight filterd upon your berth. Nick's Cove has defined romantic escape, raised the bar, and exceeded all expecations. by Barbara L. Steinberg

Marin County back roads to Nick's Cove Credit Barbara L Steinberg 2012The romance begins by leaving urban shackles behind. There 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 -- Lucas Valley, Shoreline Highway, Point Reyes-Petaluma Road -- don't rush this odyssey. The stimulus of lush landscapes, rolling hills, valleys, craggy canyons and (eventually) bay and ocean views is visual foreplay. Tiny hamlets along the way offer comfort and Marin County specialties. Be one with the locals. If it's true what they say about oysters, be certain to shuck a dozen at Hog Island Oysters.

And finally, when you think it can't be any better...Nick's Cove...the gold at the imagined rainbow's end.

Romantic...OMG! Twelve luscious cottages tucked away in Nicks Cove Fly Fishermens Cottage Credit Barbara L Steinberg 2012Marin County overlooking Tomales Bay. Through sunshine and fog, natural beauty abounds. Breathtaking views. The first encounter will leave you giddy. No detail has been ignored. Plush beds. Comfortable sitting areas, music, mini-fridge with drinks, and the most fantastic bathrooms. Delicious 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. Barbecued oysters are delivered upon arrival!

Dine at Nick's Cove Restaurant where menus change frequently and are a locavore's Nick's Cove Gourmet S'mores Firieside Credit FrankeyImages.comdream. Chocolate is an aphrodisiac! So they say. Savor gourmet s'mores fused fireside. Sensous and finger licking good!

Back in your cottage, a cozy fire and sunset views await. Wink, wink!

The Point Reyes National Seashore and Tomales Bay State Park provide more reasons to escape and romance Marin County's abundant natural and agricultural landscapes. As if the enchantment of Nick's Cove could leave you wanting, there are other nearby distractions. Kayak, hike, explore or just enjoy the quiet serenity of this one-of-a-kind destination. Made for lovers, Heart's Desire Beach in Tomales Bay State Park is a favorite with kayakers. Scheduled kayaking tours are available.

Ask about seasonal and mid-week rates and AAA and AARP discounts. The staff is there to serve! Romantics will love that Nick's Cove is incredibly pet friendly.

Romancing Nick's Cove on Tomales Bay Slideshow: Barbara’s trip to Marin County was created with TripAdvisor TripWow!
Romancing Nick's Cove on Tomales Bay Slideshow: Barbara’s trip to Marin County was created with TripAdvisor TripWow!

Lake Berryessa getaway at Markley Cove Resort & Marina

 Travel Insider Headers


What an absolutely perfect place and way to spend a holiday or weekend getaway with family and friends. Rough it in small cabins at Markley Cove Resort overlooking Lake Berryessa. Not enough superlatives for this latest adventure. The cabins are small sleeping anywhere from two to six people. Check with marina staff to determine the maximum.
Markley Cove Marina Credit Barbara L Steinberg2
The sleeping areas of Eagle's Nest are nicely appointed; cabins include linens and towels. Nice not to have to schlep all that stuff with you. The living space is open, friendly and sunny. The large covered deck is a huge plus -- plus more private with gated and enclosed ends. Each cabin is different. Some cabins are also pet friendly.

Kitchen's are equipped but should inquire about what that means if you plan any serious cooking. Additional ovenproof bake ware would be helpful and any special implements if you have something specific in mind. Aluminum foil and plastic wrap and plastic containers for food storage are up to you. The full-size gas grill on the deck is fantastic plenty big and also has another burner if the interior stovetop is full.

The bath includes nice touches of soap, shampoo and conditioner and little packs with Q-tips and sewing kits. The marina store has the usual odds and ends but you'll definitely want to bring all your food and spices. Markley Cove staff was extremely helpful and friendly so don't be afraid to ask questions about what to bring or not to bring. Recreation enthusiasts will not lack for things to do. Of course for boaters and anglers....this is heaven!

Lakeside cabins don't have covered decks, BUT they overlook the lake! Upper level cabins have forest views, but are still very nicely situated. Mild temps accommodate spending time on the deck. In colder and wet weather, the 6-person cabins might feel cramped without the use of outdoor spaces. Certainly warm months are more crowded and mean more noise. Visiting during the off-season late fall and winter months make this a quieter and more restful experience. See for yourself! It's an easy daytrip from Sacramento or San Francisco.

Markley Cove Getaway at Lake Berryessa 7521 Highway 128 Slideshow: Barbara’s trip to Lake Berryessa Recreation Area (near Spanish Flat) was created with TripAdvisor TripWow!

Saratoga Oaks Lodge comfort and tranquility

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Towering Oaks adorn this one-time motor court now well-dressed lodge by Barbara L. Steinberg

Saratoga Oaks Lodge Credit Barbara L Steinberg9No surprise! California back roads never disappoint. While you may not consider Interstate 280 a back road, exiting at Saratoga Avenue and winding your way through the outskirts of San Jose brings you to Big Basin Way and the small town of Saratoga, California and the Saratoga Oaks Lodge.

Saratoga Oaks Lodge has shed its motor court cocoon and turned into a beautiful butterfly. From a single-queen room to two-room suites, the Saratoga Oaks Lodge has something for everyone. Newly constructed “tree house" bungalows accommodate families or groups via an interior staircase – great for wedding parties. Your bungalow-suite will provide the perfect getaway to relax after exploring the Village of Saratoga and other nearby attractions. An in-room whirlpool bathtub and steam-bath shower help you find your bliss. Balconies and garden patios shaded by towering oaks are a joy during the warmer months. Other amenities include microwave, mini-fridge, coffeemakers, free Wi-Fi, and continental breakfast.

Within walking distance: Saratoga's finest dining, day spa and hair salon, wine tasting, art galleries, fabulous retail of all kinds and a small-town flavor....a very good thing! Nearby, Montalvo Arts Center and The Moutain Winery provide world-class entertainment; historic gardens, hiking, dining, horseback riding, wineries, and breathtaking views are just a few distractions to bring you back again and again.

Innkeepers welcome you with smiles and laughter. The Lodge is evolving and more upgrades are on the way. So quiet...for a perfect night of Zs!

Retreat & Relax at Saratoga Oaks Lodge Slideshow: Barbara’s trip to Saratoga was created with TripAdvisor TripWow!

Hakone Estate & Gardens in Saratoga California

Travel Insider HeadersThis Hidden Gem is True Zen by Barbara L. Steinberg 

Moonviewing House cica 1917 built without nails Credit Barbara L Steinberg

What a very special place! Again, we are so blessed in California. So many magical places tucked away on hillsides and down country lanes. Hakone Estate & Gardens -- on the outskirts of Saratoga, California -- is just such a place.

Come and relax. Enjoy the musical waterfalls and the joy Mother Nature at her finest. Buddhist and Zen influences are everywhere. Every season presents something new. Delicate maples show their best fall colors. Winter brings a wall of camellias. An ever-changing landscape. The oldest Japanese and Asian estate garden in the Western Hemisphere, it is also a Save America's Treasures site, part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Hakone Estate & Gardens was also the film location for Memoirs of a Geisha

Kizuna-En the bamboo garden Credit Barbara L. Steinberg

More than 18 acres, visitors are invited to stroll in the gardens and meditate on benches overlooking the koi pond or bamboo forest. An ideal location for meetings and weddings, Hakone also orchestrates a variety of special events including tea ceremonies and Maturi (Spring Festival).

Hakone was on my radar and the ever-expanding "bucket list" of California must sees. Had I known just how magical a place this is, I would have crossed it off long ago! Move Hakone at the top of your list!  At the edge of the village of Saratoga, the approach to Hakone is an incredibly steep, paved drive. Don't be deterred.

You must sometimes climb a mountain to reach the stars.



Beautiful Bennett Lane Balloon

BalloonUp, Up, and Away in Napa Valley! But first, name that balloon.

You don't want to miss this incredible opportunity. Bennett Lane Winery has announced the launch of their “Name the Bennett Lane Balloon” contest, in which the winery’s fans, followers and members of the public of legal drinking age are invited to submit names for Napa Valley's first winery branded hot air balloon via social media. Winery owners Randy and Lisa Lynch will choose the winning name, which will be announced at the balloon’s official launch on Wednesday, August 15th, as well as on the winery’s website, Facebook and Twitter accounts. The person who submits the winning name will receive several fantastic rewards, including an hour-long flight for two over Napa Valley in the new balloon, a complimentary reserve wine tasting, and a sleek, fitted black jacket and hat emblazoned with the Bennett Lane Winery logo.

Contest entries for the name are submitted on the winery’s website. Participants and the public are invited to keep up with the contest by visiting the winery's Facebook fan page, and by following Bennett Lane Winery on Twitter at @BennettLane and searching for the #nametheballoon hashtag.

The contest will be closed for submissions at 5 pm on Sunday, August 12th. The winning name will be announced by special guest, baseball legend Tony La Russa, at the balloon launch on August 15th.


More Tour of the 'Villes: Beach Street Diner, Watsonville - RIP

What the World Needs Now is More Diners! by Barbara L. Steinberg

Beach Street Diner Watsonville 2011 Credit Barbara L Steinberg 2 Not just "faux" diners. But real, dyed in the wool, funky, colorful, full of locals, and true to those food genre diners! The Beach Street Diner in Watsonville is just such a diner. And scores twice because it's located in one of California's many 'Villes. 

You have to stumble on places like Beach Street Diner. That's exactly what happened. I had just rolled into Watsonville, was on my way to another local restaurant, driving through an industrial area of produce and farm warehouses, and there glowing in the fading light was Beach Street Diner. My head spun around. I had to make sure they weren't still open because my dinner plans weren't set in stone. They were closed. Note to self: I know for certain where I will be having breakfast tomorrow.

Back at my hotel I did the logical thing and Googled Beach Street Diner.  No website but plenty of stars on the Yelp scale.  Okay, good to go for breakfast. Leave your cholesterol counters at home folks.

Beach Street Diner has just the right funk curb-appeal. Darling. You just have to love it. Well, you don't but I did. As soon as I walked inside the funkiness and old-fashioned charm embraced me. This is the locals place! Young and old. And I am on track to becoming one of them. My waitress, Connie, has worked at Beach Street for more than 10 years. We exchange more than the usual pleasantries and now new BFF. Well, close. She hugs many customers as they leave.

Food. Yes, the food. Homemade. Salsa, chili, biscuits, eggs Benny "smothered" in homemade Hollandaise and waffles. They serve real butter -- gasp! There's a choice of home fries or (the healthy choice) slice tomatoes. Hand-formed burgers -- not pre-formed and frozen.

You will laugh when I tell you my breakfast choices: (1) Side of pancakes and (2) Side of extra-crisp bacon!  Now that's health food baby! I was staying away from eggs thinking I might be allergic (it's been determined I am not, thank God!). But I love big, fluffy pancakes. And everything tastes better with bacon. Though the sweet and salt of this can never meet on my plate. Do not get that maple syrup on my bacon! Ever!

I say what I mean and I mean what I say. I jumped right to the truth of the matter and Yelped on Beach Street Diner big time! Clearly I didn't get to publishing this article fast enough and my wish that what we need is more diners not one less! The sad news I just discovered online today. Beach Street Diner falls victim....help me out here people. What the Hell is going on in this country? Please find someone to revive this piece of Americana and my faith in life in America.

Watsonville and the stunning Parajo Valley need you! Rural California needs you! If you're looking for a fantastic getaway -- please, See California First!  If you are in need of advise on where to go in California, all the back roads, all the best of the Golden State...Just Ask Barbara at JustAskBarbara@yahoo.com.