Yosemite’s Tenaya Lodge Unveils Special Craft Beer Weekend

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Small groups seeking a getaway showcasing a bounty of superb brews matched with compelling cuisine should set their sights on Yosemite at the start of June. That’s when one of the famed locale’s most renowned properties—the Tenaya Lodge—debuts their first annual High Sierra Hops event, which includes both adults-only and family-friendly components.

Slated for June 1 and 2 and forged in partnership with South Gate Brewing Company, the celebratory weekend will showcase some of the best craft beer the area has ‘on tap.’ The fun includes an exclusive beer pairing dinner and a casual backyard barbecue brew party. Attendees can come for the day or purchase an overnight package that includes accommodations and access to a bounty of brews and enticing eats.

The weekend will begin with an enchanting, adults-only Beer Pairing Dinner at Tenaya’s open-air Pavilion on the evening of Friday, June 1. The night kicks off with a beer and hors d’oeuvres reception followed by a three-course dinner paired with local craft beer. Adding to the intrigue, expert brewers from South Gate Brewing Company will be sharing their insights about each craft beer. Live tunes from the talented Eva Scow will round out the night at this memorable event for a limited number of guests. Tickets to the beer pairing dinner are $125 per person.

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On Saturday night a casual, family-friendly Pool Party Tasting event will enliven Tenaya’s inviting outdoor pool and encircling lawn area. The shindig will show off signature South Gate Brewing Company pints and tastings, as well as gourmet barbecue eats, house-made root beer floats, live music by local band HR7 and lawn games. Attendees receive a souvenir High Sierra Hops mug to commemorate the fun. The event takes place from 6 to 9 p.m. and is $85 per adult and $35 per child ages 3-12.

Tickets for the events can be purchased individually through the concierge at 877-247-9241. Guests who purchase tickets for both events receive discounted pricing of $195 per adult. Visitors also can book the resort’s High Sierra Hops two-night package, comprising a premium lodge or cottage room accommodations, two tickets to the beer pairing dinner, two tickets to the barbecue beer event, two Sierra Restaurant beer mimosa vouchers and a welcome amenity that includes two souvenir pint glasses, an event growler and snacks. The package is bookable at http://www.tenayalodge.com/hops using promo code SIERRAHOPS and starts at $1,039 for the weekend.

If you’re not familiar with Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite, the popular all-season resort is set by Yosemite National Park’s South Gate and offers 302 rooms, suites and mountain cottage accommodations. The property is also home to several unique dining options and an impressive spa, and is the site of many meetings and events. For more information, visit TenayaLodge.com.

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The Mystery Spot Is Not Just Another Roadside Attraction

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While everyone headed to Santa Cruz, Calif., for a getaway seems to make a bee-line for the boardwalk, tucked away in the city’s surrounding redwood forests is another unforgettable venue.

We’re referring to the Mystery Spot, an offbeat treasure that has drawn visitors since 1940 and is undoubtedly one of the American West’s most enigmatic enclaves. A so-called ‘gravitational anomaly,’ the venue plays tricks on the eyes and mind, with balls that roll uphill, skewed perspectives that can make a tall man look shorter than a child, and malfunctioning compasses and electronic tools.

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“I think what makes the Mystery Spot such a great, family fun experience is the knowledge the Tour Guides have,” says Rachel Miller, herself a tour guide supervisor for the attraction. “The tours are engaging, perplexing, and have a nice touch of humor thrown in as well. My favorite part of the tour would definitely be our cabin! Built in 1942, this cabin is unlike anything you’ve seen before, one you enter inside everyone stands at a 17 degree lean, which makes for some fantastic photos!”

The focus of the enigmatic activity is in a circular ‘area of effect’ that is about 150 feet in diameter, but the attractive setting also hosts hiking trails through towering redwoods, a dahlia garden, snack shop and even a cozy button shack where you can turn on-site pics into cool mementoes for only $5.00.

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Group visits of all kinds are popular here, ranging from school field trips to teambuilding groups, and the Mystery Spot can even cater to groups with their snack shop given advance notice.

The Mystery Spot is only about a 15-minute drive north of downtown Santa Cruz. Visit their website for directions and more details.

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Twenty-Four Hours in Napa’s Coolest Community

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Calistoga has become my family’s go-to place for a Napa getaway, for a variety of reasons, and we returned in early August for a one-night visit that couldn’t have been pleasanter.

The village is just a short drive from the East Bay, where we live, but takes you to a whole different world. It’s relatively affordable compared to other places in Wine Country, and compact enough to explore easily by foot once you arrive. There’s also a nice variety of shops, dining options and lodging.

When it comes to the latter, the Calistoga Spa Hot Springs resort is definitely the best place within miles for a family stay. The rooms are perfectly nice, but the real lure is a sprawling patio area boasting three different pools of different varieties and a large Jacuzzi gazebo that could probably fit about 20 people or so comfortably. Another huge plus is the resort’s location on Washington Street just a block off the heart of downtown. You can walk to a dozen restaurants in 10 minutes or less, or bring back some take-out food from Cal-Mart—a wonderful supermarket loaded with a massive spread of prepared eats ranging from tacos and corn dogs to soups and salads.

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The property no longer offers a ‘day-rate’ as it used to, for those who wanted to just pool-lounge without sleeping over, but it does have a nice policy allowing guests to stay the day by the pool even after they’ve checked out.  As for other lodgings, we’ve also enjoyed the Sunburst, a handsomely spruced-up motor lodge near the end of town—but it seems far-more ideal for couples than families with young children. Dr. Wilkinson’s, famed for their mud baths, is another possibility, though I can’t claim to have stayed there since the late seventies, when my brother and I along with a friend raised the ire of management by placing all the lounge chairs in the pool. File that one under ‘it seemed like a good idea at the time.’

I should also mention the Washington Street Lodging, a charming little place a short walk from downtown that offers a variety of nice cottages and is pet-friendly. But it’s probably more ideal for a cold-season escape as there are no pools on premises.

As for the dining-out spots, we have come to rely on Checkers as the best family-friendly choice. It’s a perfect blend of classy but casual, and offers a solid menu blending Italian and continental fare; some offbeat options like a delicious Chinese chicken salad add to the choices. I thoroughly enjoyed the butternut squash ravioli on our most recent visit, and everyone else at our small party gave a thumbs-up as well. One nice touch with the deserts is you can order the ice cream by the scoop depending on how hungry you still are, with single scoops arriving in old-timey silver bowls akin to something from a 1950s soda fountain.

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While we spent most of our time lounging poolside on this most recent escape, in the past we’ve enjoyed visiting the town’s serene Orthodox Monastery and the colorful Ca’Toga Art Gallery—loaded with unique art and showcasing a fantastical mural on its high ceiling.

Truthfully, regardless of what you do, in my mind Calistoga is all about relaxing and going with the flow. It really is one of those places where it’s hard not to have a good time.

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Three Reasons to Put Dana Point on Your Bucket List

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Let’s face it, the Southern California coast is a trove of cool places and amazing experiences. Why should groups—or families—take the time to explore in particular the upscale enclave known as Dana Point?

I discovered during a small press junket that there are plenty of reasons, but three stood out as especially ‘can’t-miss,’ beginning with an unforgettably amazing boat outing and ending with one of the most impressive meals I’ve had in ages.

Here’s a quick take on the trio of temptations that should have parents and planners considering this southern slice of coastal Orange County.

Capt. Dave’s Dolphin & Whale Watching Safari

Debarking from the picturesque Dana Point Marina, Captain Dave’s offers a veritable mini-armada of possible ships (and outings) to enjoy, but the Manute’a is hard to top—a comfy and spacious catamaran with a special touch that took our enjoyable outing to another level.

 

Humpback Whale

The Manute’a has been specially designed with two viewing pods below deck—and below sea-level—that allow you to swim at eye level with sea creatures. It was already a breathtaking sight when the ship became accompanied by literally thousands of dolphins who seemed to make a game out of racing alongside us almost close enough to touch. But it truly became otherworldly when I entered the left viewing portal and lay down flanked by massive windows along my side; the proximity to these wonderful animals, and the forward motion of the ship, really makes it feel like you’re part of the pod swimming along with them.

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And this description barely does the outing justice; you really have to experience it to truly grasp the sensation. The crew adds to all the fun with humorous trivia, fascinating facts and one of Capt. Dave’s home-made fudge brownies to dig into at trip’s end.

The Stonehill Tavern at Monarch Beach Resort

Operated by famed Chef Michael Mina this is without doubt one of the best restaurants in California. While the setting is modern-sleek, the food is both creative and comforting (and of course delicious); it’s also a great place for groups, with some compelling private dining areas and many of the plates served ‘family-style.’ Our small group of seven especially enjoyed the establishment’s iconic dish, Lobster Pot Pie. Yes, this might sound like heresy to lobster purists, but you’ll be a believer after one bite.

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The appetizers are another highlight, and it doesn’t really matter which ones you order since they’re all sensational. We shared something that included tortellini and quail eggs, which sounded a bit questionable to me on paper. And it was delectable. Make sure to give yourself a few hours to enjoy your meal here, it’s a marathon not a sprint—and every dish is worth savoring.

The Ocean Institute

Set along the Dana Point Harbor, this is a venue that groups and families should know about. It’s home to some interesting event spaces—including a conference hall complete with 25-foot-long gray whale skeleton hanging from the ceiling—and also maintains a pair of replica tall-ships for seafaring fun. It additionally hosts a facility of various aquaria that kids will love to explore, and is home to numerous educational programs.

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Kids can even take a seafaring field trip overnight aboard one of the ships, or a three-to-five day educational jaunt to Catalina where they become part of the crew. It’s hard to imagine a more unforgettable escape for children with a sense of adventure.

On a final note, it would be unfair to leave out our host property, the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel. This is a first-class resort in every way and is literally steps from the beautiful beach. The cuisine here is also impressive, including Raya, where our group savored some fantastic finger foods for lunch—including lobster tacos and ‘piloncillo’ shrimp that were simply mouthwatering. The views from the resort’s bluff-top locale are yet another bonus, and it’s only a 10-minute walk down the beach from the Stonehill Tavern and Monarch Beach resort.

Dana Point Vista

Photo credits: Swimming dolphins – Mark Tyson/DolphinSafari.com; catamaran exterior: Mike Johnson/DolphinSafari.com.

Six Cool Summer Spots to Explore in Richmond

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Richmond, Calif., might not be on everyone’s summertime bucket list, but that’s one of the reasons it’s such a cool locale to explore in the hot season. You definitely won’t be dealing with San Francisco-level traffic or parking, and you’ll likely also discover some uncharted territory. Here are six family-friendly lures to uncover in Rich City.

The Gyuto Foundation

Who would have thought that the Bay Area’s largest Tibetan Buddhist Monastery (pictured above) would await at a remote location in the Richmond Hills? This serene oasis is a great little getaway for a walk in the woods—down their designated ‘path to enlightenment’—some blissful meditation, or just some fun photo-ops by their gorgeous alfresco murals and quiet courtyard complete with fountain. An offbeat little gift shop, run on an ‘honor system’ of payment, is a must-stop for a charming memento. Don’t forget to turn the massive Dharma wheel (clockwise!) to spread joy and good energy before departing.

The Plunge

This Point Richmond icon underwent some major upgrades in recent years, and offers indoor swimming in a historic building adorned with some impressive murals. The Plunge teams with the Richmond Swim Center (behind Kennedy High on Cutting Boulevard) as the City of Richmond’s Aquatic Division venues. For family fun, consider the Tot Splash at the Plunge from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays, or the Family Recreation Swim at the Swim Center from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. every day except Friday.

Alvarado Park

This overlooked oasis is a favorite picnicking spot for those that have discovered it, and offers plenty of shady trails and places for kids to safely splash around in the creek that cuts through Alvarado. There’s also a playground, public restrooms, and large fields for Frisbee tossing and other fun. Groups can also contact the Parks Department and reserve one of the superb picnicking spots for a memorable party or reunion. A handsome gazebo offers yet another gathering spot.

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Rosie the Riveter Welcome Center

Located by the Craneway Pavilion along Richmond’s waterfront, this vital venue is officially part of the state parks system but is really a blend of industrial museum, gift shop and free movie theater showing historical documentaries. The theme here is local Richmond home-front history during WWII, when countless women—epitomized by the legendary icon Rosie the Riveter—took on key roles with shipbuilding and other traditionally male roles. It’s airy interior and location along the windswept bay makes it a good place to beat the heat as well.

The Red Oak Victory 

Another showcase of Richmond’s WWII heritage, the massive Red Oak Victory warship is hidden away down Canal Boulevard by the charmingly industrial Riggers Loft wine cooperative. The Red Oak is a worthwhile visit just for a low-key tour (self-guided or volunteer-led), but is also home to frequent events like community pancake breakfasts right on deck and even classic film showings in the ship theater. The kitschy gift shop is a must-see and on-board volunteers are knowledgeable and filled with quirky facts.

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Model Train Museum

This is a truly offbeat venue that will only take about half-an-hour to explore fully, but anyone even halfway intrigued by scale-model railroads will have a blast. Located in a cavernous edifice at 900A Dornan Drive (near the bay in Point Richmond), the Golden State Model Railroad Museum offers visitors the chance to view some exceptional model landscapes offering historical takes on various California locales, plus an array of model trains scooting along the tracks. Currently, Sundays are the best time to come visit as that’s the only day trains are officially slated to be operating. Bring a picnic lunch and make a day of it by exploring the sprawling and popular park across the street.

 

 

 

Monterey’s Best Meetings Hotel Gets Even Better

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The Portola Hotel & Spa in Monterey has achieved its status as the city’s top event property almost by default—with its location adjoining the popular Monterey Conference Center and abutting vibrant Alvarado Street.

Now the hotel is seriously earning that status following a lengthy and ambitious overhaul that has culminated in the recent opening of Jacks Monterey, a snazzy new dining spot that focuses on local, sustainably grown foods and fresh seafood.

While that might not be earth-shattering in itself, and more or less follows the major dining trend of the day, what I like most about Jacks is the group-friendly aspects of dining there. The sharing of food and drink is always a good conversation starter and the new restaurant clearly has groups in mind with a selection of menu items that can be shared, including cocktails.

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Sharing plates feature the Chef’s Signature Bread with creamy artichoke and pecorino cheese baked in a cast-iron skillet; Jacks N’ Cheese Bake created with locally sourced Schoch Farms Monterey Jack cheese and persillade; Halibut Paupiette served with Asian vegetables, shitakes, steamed rice, black beans and garlic sauce; Pajaro Pastures Goat Moussaka with herb béchamel sauce; and the Harris Ranch New York Strip with potato gratin, prosciutto, watercress salad and pink peppercorn butter. Hungry yet?

In addition to the numerous regional wines on the menu, guests can enjoy brews made right on the premises at Peter B’s Brewpub, and there are also plenty of handcrafted cocktails to consider. But my favorite concept is the “Group Effort” experience curated by an onsite mixologist. Tuyet. Guests can order bespoke drinks served in a copper pineapple for two to share, or in a larger copper pineapple for four or more, accompanied by a serving ladle. One favorite features a mashup of Elyx Vodka, hibiscus bitters, mint-honey syrup and soda.

The Jacks launch is just one facet of the major makeover that has also introduced a new entry plaza, revamped the atrium lobby, added a new bar and revitalized the adjoining conference center.

The Portola Hotel & Spa also offers 379 guestrooms, outdoor pool with a Jacuzzi and cabanas, numerous special packages (including offers exclusively for families), bicycle rentals and on-site shops and galleries.

New Portola Lower Lobby

Why Groups Should Care About Portland’s Newest Hotel

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If you’ve been watching the Portland (Ore.) hotel scene over the past several years you probably know by now it’s been expanding explosively, just as the city’s drinking and dining landscape has taken off.

Hip and luxurious boutique properties have been at the heart of the Portland hotel renaissance, so it’s easy even for a cool property like the brand-new Hi-Lo Hotel to get lost in the shuffle. So why should groups and event planners start looking this property over rather than overlooking it?

Here are a few good reasons:

  • Launched by Marriott’s Autograph Collection, the new 120-room lodging blends comfortable luxury with the architecture of the 1910 Oregon Pioneer Building.
  • The property has a number of interesting meeting/function spaces to consider, ranging from The Draft (a cozy boardroom for about 12) to The Commons (just under 1,200 square feet of classy meeting space).
  • Killer craft cocktails at the Lo Bar or mouthwatering Mexican cuisine at the stylish Alto-Bajo restaurant, guided by the well-known Chip Barnes—formerly of Moto. Another nice touch is that the menu was developed in concert with acclaimed Oaxacan Chef Iliana de la Vega to add even more flair and authenticity.
  • Attendees will also enjoy details like the free Wi-Fi and in-room entertainment enhanced by Netflix and various apps.
  • A location in the heart of the city gives groups easy access to the best restaurants, attractions and business venues in Portland.

This is definitely a luxe property, so it’s probably not a perfect fit for every group or event. But for small to mid-size groups that have the freedom to splurge a little bit, it seems certain to be a big hit.

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Also, while not really group-focused, the property was still offering a special ‘Exactly Like Nothing Else’ package as this article was being posted. The package includes a two-night stay and a meet-up with a top local designer to create customized clothing for the guest.

Marriott’s Autograph Collection launched about seven years ago and is on track to reach 200 hotels over the next five years.

(Photo Credit: William James Photography)