Get Crafty at a Winery This Holiday Season

You could grab some friends and go have a glass of wine at a local bar – again. Or, you could grab those friends, have a glass of wine and create some holiday decorations you made yourself. Doesn’t that sound like a nice change of pace? These small wineries across the U.S. offer guided craft classes, complete with the ability to sip while you craft. Make your reservations as soon as possible – these fun events often sell out.

Wine Glass Painting at Laurita Winery, New Egypt, NJ

Create your own original artwork on not one but two wine glasses – one for you and one to share with a friend. You’ll be given everything you need, including step-by-step instructions, to turn wine glasses into Santa and one of his elves.

  • Where: Laurita Winery, 85 Archertown Road, New Egypt, NJ
  • When: Wednesday, November 29, 6:30 pm – 9 pm
  • Tickets: $35 online; $45 at the door, includes one glass of wine

Holiday Wreath Making at Labelle Winery, Portsmouth, NH

Take a breather during this hectic time of year for some relaxing wreath making in the winery cellar. Create your own beautiful evergreen wreath that you can hang in your home or maybe give away as a hostess gift. Instructors will give directions, provide tips and offer suggestions. Wreath rings, tools, wire, mountain laurel, white pine and eastern hemlock will all be provided along with winter berries, and you’re welcome to bring some of your own natural elements to include, too.

  • Where: Labelle Winery, 104 Congress Street, Portsmouth, NH
  • When: Sunday, December 3, 10 am or 1 pm
  • Cost: $30, wine available at an additional cost

Grapevine Snowman Wreath Making at Vineyard View Winery, Keuka Park, NY

Bring a little bit of the vineyard into your home by turning vines into an amazing wreath snowman. You’ll paint the wreaths and add embellishments while an instructor walks you through the whole process. To make it a little more snazzy, bring your own string of white lights to wrap around your snowman.

  • Where: Vineyard View Winery 2971 Williams Hill Road, Keuka Park, NY
  • When: Wednesday, November 22, 6 pm – 8 pm (registration required by November 20)
  • Cost: $30, wine available at an additional cost

Wood Sign Painting at Summerset Winery, Indianola, IA

Customize a wooden sign just the way you want it when Gena’s Designs of the Heartland guides you through the steps to make a 12×12 inch piece of art. Sign style and design are chosen in advance so you’ll know exactly what you’ll be bringing home with you to brighten your decor.

  • Where: Summerset Winery, 15101 Fairfax Street, Indianola, IA
  • When: Wednesday, December 6, 6pm – 8pm
  • Cost: $65, includes one glass of wine

Cork Ornaments at Cougar Vineyard, Temecula, CA

Sip, nibble & craft away while creating holiday ornaments out of wine corks. Bring home something special to hang on the tree and something stuff in someone’s stocking – you can make several cork ornaments during this event.

  • Where: Cougar Vineyard, 39870 De Portola Road, Temecula, CA
  • When: Wednesday, December 13, 4pm – 6pm
  • Cost: $15 wine club members, pre-paid; $18 non-wine club members, pre-paid; $20 at door if still available, includes one glass of wine and light snacks

Slate Painting at Chateau Bu-De, Chesapeake City, MD

No experience is necessary to creating a beautiful painting on slate to add to your holiday and winter decor. During this festive evening, you’ll be guided through the steps necessary to paint a winter scene that will make you look like a professional artist. All supplies needed to finish your slate that evening will be supplied.

  • Where: Chateau Bu-De, 237 Bohemia Manor Lane, Chesapeake City, MD
  • When: Friday, December 8, 5:30 pm – 7 pm
  • Cost: $50, includes one glass of wine

Snowman Wood Pallat Painting at Benigna’s Creek Winery, Klingerstown, PA 

Let everyone know ‘There’s snowplace like home” with this folksy wood pallat painting of a cheerful snowman.  Graphic designer and artist Connie Higgins leads painters through the process step-by-step. Even if you’ve never painted before, your artwork will come out looking like a masterpiece.

  • Where: Benigna’s Creek Winery, 1585 Ridge Road, Klingerstown, PA
  • When: Friday, December 1, 7 pm -9:30 pm
  • Cost: $37, includes wine tasting and snacks



10 Popular National Parks Free this Veteran’s Day Weekend

Zion, Glacier, Yellowstone, and Yosemite National Parks conjure images of majestic vistas and grandeur. In total there are 59 national parks in the United States. The National Park Service (NPS) runs 417 sites such as national monuments and battlefields, in addition to the parks. Ten days out of the year, the NPS offers free entry everywhere (full list available here). The next free entrance days are Veteran’s Day weekend November 11-12, 2017. Here are 10 popular parks you can save money, honor our veterans, and observe the changing seasons for free!

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park is located in three states:  Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana. The Old Faithful geyser attracts visitors from around the world. North America’s massive supervolcano the Yellowstone Caldera contains the largest body of water in the park Yellowstone Lake. Also in the caldera, the stunning geothermal Grand Prismatic Spring exhibits crazy, surreal colors. Other points of interest include American bison herds, mudpots, and hot springs.

Yosemite National Park

California is home to Yosemite National Park. Famous for cascading waterfalls, rainbows, and granite peaks, Yosemite will take your breath away. Rock climbing on El Capitan, sleeping in a Half Dome Village canvas tent, or ascending the Yosemite Falls Trail, the park offers countless opportunities to explore nature. It’s no wonder John Muir and Ansel Adams loved this unique place.

Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon is truly a spectacular wonder of Arizona! The South Rim Trail provides plenty of level hiking, or you can descend on several other trails toward the Colorado River. Dine in the El Tovar lodge (reservation recommended) and dream about a rim to rim adventure or mule ride to the bottom. The North Rim is open until November 30, 2017; the South Rim remains open all year.

Grand Teton National Park

Jagged peaks reflecting on alpine lakes make Grand Teton popular amongst photographers and hikers. 200 miles of trails and the beautiful Snake River make this Wyoming park a serene adventure. Only 10 miles from Yellowstone, an ambitious adventurer could take advantage of the free weekend by visiting both parks! Jenny Lake, Lake Solitude, and Jackson Lake are park highlights. Grand Teton is notorious for world-renowned trout fishing.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Located in Estes Park, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park contains the highest elevation paved road in America and a fourteener, a peak above 14,000 feet (4267 meters) in elevation. Elk and bear abound here, as do spectacular vistas. Sledding, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing are popular winter activities. Crossing through the park, the Continental Divide marks the hydrological separation of the United States separating watersheds that flow to the Pacific or Atlantic Oceans.

Zion National Park

Narrow slot canyons and sandstone cliffs make Utah’s Zion National Park unforgettable. Billions of years ago, the Virgin River created its remarkable, distinctive geological features. Zion is a hiker’s dream best visited in the November through April to avoid crowds and hot temperatures. The name means “heavenly city” or place of sanctuary. The park is full of biblical and Mormon references.

Bryce Canyon National Park

The Queens Garden Trail in Bryce Canyon National Park is the easiest trail to enter the canyon and is an epic sunset location. Located near Zion National Park in Utah, visitors often take in both parks in one trip.  Bryce is known for its red hoodoos, thin spires formed by erosion and frost wedging. Other popular park features include the Sinking Ship, Twin Bridges, Fairyland Point, and Thor’s Hammer. In November, it’s possible to see snow dusting this one-of-a-kind landscape.

Acadia National Park

Located along the coast of Maine, Acadia National Park’s Cadillac Mountain is one of the first places to see the sunrise in America. Parking lots fill up quickly, so arrive early or plan for other transportation options. Cadillac Mountain, Ocean Drive, carriage roads, Mount Desert Island, and Jordon Pond are centerpieces of the park.  The rocky Maine coastline with its spectacular scenic views is a photography treasure.

Crater Lake National Park

7,700 years ago, a violent volcanic eruption of Mount Mazama formed Crater Lake National Park. Situated in the Cascade mountain range of Oregon, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in America (1,949 feet). It is considered one of the most pristine regions on Earth. In the middle of the lake, Wizard Island forms cinder cone accessible by boat tours. Other awesome hallmarks of the park include the Pinnacles, Rim Drive, old growth forests, and the Pacific Crest Trail. Dormant volcanoes riddle the region. The park receives heavy snowfall in the winter.

Glacier National Park

Straddling the Canadian border, Glacier National Park in Montana is notorious for grizzly bears. Deemed the “Crown of the Continent”, the park is home to the headwaters of waterways that flow to the Pacific Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and Hudson Bay. Going-to-the-Sun Road offers many vast vistas and wildlife sightings, including bighorn sheep and mountain goats. Lake McDonald is the largest of over 700 lakes in the park many of which have not been named.Infamous glaciers such as the Jackson Glacier are threatened by climate change.  The 150 glaciers that existed in 1850 in the park have been reduced to 25 in the 21st century.

The Washington Post describes national parks as “America’s Natural Heritage”.

National parks are the “spacious skies” and “mountain majesties” of elementary school choirs. They’re living postcards from adventurers who had the foresight to preserve natural wonders for those who followed.

Our National Parks compare to the cathedrals and castles of Europe. Yellowstone was the first park established by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. President Theodore Roosevelt established five national parks during his administration. President John F. Kennedy called our parks an “integral aspect of intelligent use of natural resources … thus ensuring that future generations may know the majesty of the earth as we know it today.”

Accessibility to national parks can be limited by income. National park entry fees range from free to $30 per car. The most popular national parks charge the highest entry fees ($15-$30). The Trump administration has proposed increasing the entrance to 17 of the most popular national parks. This new fee could be as much as $70 per vehicle during the peak season making free days all the more enticing.

Although free park days can be a little more crowded, they are well worth the savings. Plan ahead for lodging (sometimes a year in advance) and dinner reservations.  Check each parks’ cancellation policies and call for last minute bookings. Be sure to confirm road openings and weather conditions.

Seasonal changes, such as late fall colors and snow, make November the perfect time to visit our national parks.  Free entrance makes it a no-brainer.



8 Wicked Good Things to Do In Salem, Massachusetts

Among the oldest settlements in New England, Salem, Massachusetts was once the home of rich sea captains and Revolutionary privateers, and became a seafaring power after the Puritan era. Notable examples of our country’s earliest styles of architecture are on display here, as are cultural institutions such as the Peabody Essex Museum – with its world-class collection of art and artifacts. Salem is also the birthplace of both the National Guard and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

None of these things, however, are what people think of when they think of Salem.

The mere mention of this city north of Boston conjures witches, sorcery, and the supernatural. When the residents of Salem held the Witch Trials in 1692, they probably didn’t know they were forever sealing Salem’s fate. During the mass hysteria, 19 people (mostly women) were hanged and one was crushed to death for allegedly practicing witchcraft. So it’s somewhat ironic that, in the modern era, Salem has become a sort of mecca for Wiccan, warlock, and sorcerer types.

Wizard shops, psychics, wax museums, and other hokey tourist traps cater to visitors year round, but in October, Salem turns into full-blown Halloween Town, with a grand parade, street fair, ferris wheel, haunted houses, and so much more. All of which is to say that this historically odd place has undeniable charm – and for anyone who loves Halloween and American history, Salem in October is on their bucket list. Skip the frightfully obvious hocus-pocus, and dig in to the best the city has to offer. Ironic as it is, this historically odd place, as they say in the region, is a wicked good time.

The Witch House

Salem is unusual even among historic New England in that every major early American architectural style – Post-medieval, Georgian, Federal, Greek Revival, and Italianate – is well represented here. Post-medieval buildings are the earliest type found in New England; the first English colonists would have built in this fashion. Massive central chimneys, gabled roofs with steep pitches, and diamond-paned leaded windows are all typical of the style. The Witch House – home to Judge Jonathan Corwin, who oversaw the infamous 1692 Witch Trials – is a stellar example. Tour the home to explore the quotidian details of 17th-century life, as well as the extraordinary events that made Salem famous.

“Cry Innocent: the People vs. Bridget Bishop”

“The year is 1692. Bridget Bishop has been accused of witchcraft and you are on the Puritan jury.” So begins this historical reenactment and interactive theater experience that invites the audience to play along in the testimonies, cross-examinations, and eventual judgements of Salem’s accused citizens. This “empathic imagination” experience encourages the audience to engage with history, so that they “might broaden their understanding of the present and gain a fresh sense of purpose within their own era.”

Peabody Essex Museum

The beginnings of this museum date back to 1799, when a group of Salem sea captains founded the East India Marine Society and filled their headquarters with “natural and artificial curiosities,” collected on their global trips. Today, the museum’s diverse collection of 1.8 million works still includes some of those very first objects, as well as paintings, sculptures, photographs, textiles, and more from the 1700s through the current era. A 2003 expansion made PEM one of the biggest museums on the east coast, with tons to offer art lovers of all stripes.

It’s Alive! from the Kirk Hammett Collection at PEM

Kirk Hammett, best known as the guitarist from Metallica, happens to be an avid collector of classic horror and sci-fi movie posters, which he credits as being part of his own creative inspiration. On display through November 26, It’s Alive! Classic Horror and Sci-Fi Art from the Kirk Hammett Collection shows off dozens of posters, electric guitars, monster masks, and sculptures that recall the golden age of Hollywood and provide some interesting insight into the evolution of the genre.

Wynott’s Wands

As one might expect, not just warlocks but also wizards galore roam the streets here. Just steps from the Peabody Essex Museum is Wynott’s Wands, a delightful Harry Potter–inspired shop where any old Muggle can browse the stacks and stacks of boxes containing artfully hand-carved wooden wands.

House of the Seven Gables

Born in Salem on July 4, 1805, Nathaniel Hawthorne would write his world-famous novel The House of the Seven Gables – which explores themes of romance, guilt, atonement, and the supernatural – based on inspiration from his native town, and named for this very house. Built in 1668 on the edge of Salem Harbor for one of the richest families in the Thirteen Colonies, the house is now dedicated to Hawthorne’s life and work, and to local history.

Herb Mackey’s Metal Sculpture Yard

Just beyond the ferry landing, local resident Herb Mackey creates imaginative creatures from found objects. Mackey makes frequent additions to the collection, which lives in his yard, much to the delight of locals and visitors alike.

Historic Cemeteries

Salem is filled with Colonial-era burying grounds that feature beautiful headstones with fascinating engraved folk art and lettering. Howard Street Cemetery is said to be where Giles Corey – a victim of the Witch Trials – was gorily pressed to death under the weight of rocks slowly piled upon him after he refused to stand trial. The Broad Street and Charter Street cemeteries also have ties to the hysteria of 1692, with members of the court buried here. Behind the latter is the Witch Trials Memorial, a quiet space commemorating the innocence of those killed and acknowledging the injustice of the events.


Plated Food

8 Affordable New Orleans Restaurants (That Locals Love, Too)

There’s never a bad time to visit New Orleans, but Halloween has got to be one of the best. In addition to all of the usual food, culture, and general wackiness the city has to offer, the annual Voodoo festival is a weekend-long music and arts adventure. More than 65 bands, immersive art installations, a beer hall, and, of course, amazing costumes are all part of the experience. The food on-site is made by some of the city’s top local chefs, but at some point, you’re going to have to eat outside of Voodoo. When you do, here are eight top picks for uber-delicious, not-too-expensive, super-chill places to go. These locals-approved restaurants might be busy, but they won’t be overrun with tourists.

Pizza Delicious
Neighborhood: Bywater
It’s really hard to get pizza that tastes like it’s from New York outside of New York. But the aptly named Pizza Delicious makes it possible. Their thin crust is crispy but still doughy, and also completely satisfying. Funky toppings (sriracha pineapple, anyone?) and house-made pastas will further delight your palate.

Jack Dempsy’s Restaurant
Neighborhood: Bywater
Don’t let its hole-in-the-wall appearance fool you: Jack Dempsy’s serves up some fine New Orleans fare. With recipes passed down through generations, the fried seafood platters, po’ boys, and mac n’ cheese here are the real thing. This is Southern-style fill-you-up food – you won’t leave hungry.

Satsuma Cafe
Neighborhoods: Marigny, Bywater
Local, fresh, and healthy is the mission at Satsuma, which serves up scratch baked goods, fresh juices, and fine coffees, plus salads and sandwiches. With cafés in two locations – in the Bywater and the Marigny – it’s a great place to fuel up for the day.

Neighborhood: Bywater
Bacchanal describes itself as “a wine laboratory where food music and culture collude with Holy Vino,” and it’s a wonderful place to gather. With live jazz in the courtyard seven nights a week, patrons pick their poison from the “Old World” wine shop (yes, there are cocktails, too), then move into the dining rooms or backyard to enjoy the Mediterranean-meets-NOLA menu. This is a popular destination with locals and tourists alike; expect a wait most evenings.

The Joint
Neighborhood: Bywater
The ribs, brisket, slow-cooked pork, juicy chicken and house-made sausage at The Joint are all smoked right out back. Add some proper sides and fixins, sit back, and enjoy the shack-like décor. This isn’t just some of the best BBQ in New Orleans, it’s some of the best anywhere.

Juan’s Flying Burrito
Neighborhoods: Uptown, Garden District, Central Business District, Mid-City
If you have a hankering for some really good Mexican, head to Juan’s Flying Burrito, which calls itself “the world’s first Creole Taqueria.” This crowd-pleaser serves interpretative traditional Mexican mixed with local ingredients, so if your squad is on a Margarita kick, this is the place to go. And with locations in four neighborhoods, you’re never too far from one.

Casamento’s Restaurant
Neighborhood: Garden District
For more than 90 years, Casamento’s has served up traditional New Orleanian fare alongside Italian classics. Joe Casamento, an Italian immigrant who opened the space, covered the eatery floor to ceiling in tile, and the original décor still remains. (Be sure to make a trip to the rest room here, which will through the incredible kitchen.) Eat anything you want off the menu, but if you don’t order the chargrilled oysters, you’re a fool.

Café du Monde
Neighborhood: French Quarter
There are plenty of great spots to eat in the French Quarter, but the famous Café du Monde really shouldn’t be missed. Opened in 1862, this New Orleans institution retains an old time-y feel, as servers in paper hats deliver plates of beignets and dark-roasted chicory coffee round the clock. It’s impossible to resist these squares of fried dough topped with mountains of powdered sugar. Is it touristy? A bit. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go.

Beer sampler
Photo by Quinn Dombrowski and Creative Commons.

5 Pubs in Galway Where You’ll Find the Perfect Pint

With its pretty coastline, Galway is often thought of as a popular destination for summer. But with its Bohemian vibe, arts scene, and buzzing nightlife, this city on Ireland’s west coast is a great stop at any time of year. It’s especially tantalizing during the last weekend of September when, every year since 1954, the Galway International Oyster & Seafood Festival brings foodies galore to town (This year’s event will be held September 22–24.) Oyster shucking contests, talks, and tasting events are all on the menu – as are champagne and stout beers, of course.

If you’re heading to the festivities, you’ll want to partake in the local culture, too. Which, of course, means heading to the pub for a pint (or two). Beloved by tourists and locals alike, here are five pubs worth bellying up to:

Tig Coili

It’s all about the music at this charming spot, located in the heart of the city’s Latin Quarter. Here at Tig Coili, where many of the area’s best players are drawn, you’re likely to catch a lively session of traditional tunes. Fancy a seat outside? You’ll still be in luck; excellent regular buskers tend to play just outside the front door.

Tigh Neactain

Open fireplaces, live music, and an artsy, intellectual vibe can be found between the walls at Tigh Neachtain, also located in the Galway’s Latin Quarter. If beer’s not always your thing, don’t worry – whiskey is theirs. Choose from more than 130 varieties to sip on. Since 1894, this traditional pub has been a gathering place for eclectic crowds, and to this day it attracts actors, musicians, artists, business people, and tourists alike.


Popular with a younger crowd, Bierhaus supplies an outstanding selection of regional and international craft brews that would surely get any American beer snob excited. But you don’t have to don a manicured beard to feel at home here – the diverse crowd is friendly and warm. Tucked into Galway’s West End neighborhood, Bierhaus has a fresh take on music and food – offering gourmet sandwiches like Banh Mi in place of traditional fish and chips.

The Quays

Yes, it’s listed in every tourist guide, but there’s a definite reason why. For almost 400 years, The Quays has served the good people of Galway and it’s happy to serve you, too. A beautiful stage and pipe organ serve as backdrop for the lively bands that play at Galway’s most famous and historic drinking establishment.

Monroe’s Tavern

Housed in a historic building, this three-story bar is large, but its interior spaces are inviting and cozy. On the ground floor of Monroe’s Tavern, you’ll encounter traditional Irish dancing and song, along with hearty pub fare. Head upstairs later in the evening, where the crowd favors more contemporary bands and a club-like scene seven nights a week. A Galway institution, Monroe’s has been family-owned for decades.


Northern California Hiking

5 Best Northern California Day Hikes for Fall

Fall rains bring an end to California’s Mediterranean summer. As a result, many of NorCal’s popular trails become less-crowded. Deciduous trees begin to change colors. Cool, crisp mornings and warm afternoons make for ideal hiking weather. Autumn is the perfect time to explore the amazing landscapes of the region before winter snows and heavy rain inundate trails. Here are 5 Norcal day hikes you can safely enjoy after the rains commence.

The Miners’ Ridge and James Irvine Loop

Walk among towering, ancient, old-growth redwoods are that between 500 and 2000-years-old.

Length: 7.5 miles round trip
Elevation gain:  1000 feet
Trailhead:  Prairie Creek State Park Visitor Center,  Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, Humboldt County

Redwood National Park and California State Parks co-manage Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. This is the only park in the United States where such a relationship exists. Located in far northern Humboldt County, Prairie Creek is home to the world’s tallest tree, Hyperion, measuring 379.1 feet (its location is undisclosed for protection). It is also home to the Murrelet State Wilderness area.

The James Irvine-Clintonia-Miner’s Ridge loop will take you through a remarkable old growth forest. The trail begins at the Prairie Creek Visitor Center on Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway. There are two exits off the 101 for the parkway. In the meadow in front of the visitor center, Roosevelt elk are often grazing.

Start on the James Irvine Trail. Approximately 3.5 miles down the trail, turn south on the Clintonia trail. The Clintonia trail meets Miner’s Ridge after 1.5 miles. Follow Miner’s Ridge back to the James Irvine trail to return to the visitor’s center.

Miner’s Ridge is home to many burly, gnarly, old redwoods. You will also see Douglas fir, grand fir, huckleberry, sorrel, and a variety of ferns. Parts of the trail can get muddy, but the forest duff keeps it in good shape throughout the fall. The trail should be avoided in high wind, as flying branches called “widow makers” can cause serious injury. Wooden bridges cover all creek crossings. The towering redwoods offer some protection during light rain. There are no fees for day use, and all trails are clearly signed. Here is a map of Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park to get you started.

Dipsea, Steep Ravine to Matt Davis Loop

Start at the beach, hike along coastal bluffs to redwood forests, stroll past two waterfalls, and climb a ladder along this lush trail.

Length: 6.8 miles round trip
Elevation gain:  1600 feet
Trailhead: Stinson Beach, Marin County

Mt. Tamalpais State Park offers a plethora of hikes in the Bay Area. It is less touristy than neighboring Muir Woods. From epic views of the San Francisco Bay to lush waterfalls, this gem of Marin County is not to be missed. Fall rains add to the beauty of this loop. The Dipsea-Steep Ravine-Matt Davis route is quite popular in the summer. Fall is the perfect time to avoid the crowds. Be prepared for changing weather conditions, like fog.

The Dipsea trail begins at Stinson Beach near the junction of Highway 1 and the Panoramic Highway. (Please check current road conditions for Highway 1. At the time of publication, the 1 is closed between Muir Beach and Stinson Beach. The trail must be accessed from the north.) Follow the Dipsea Trail about one mile along coastal bluffs enjoying epic views of Stinson Beach, the Pacific Ocean, and Point Reyes. When the Dipsea Trail intersects with the Steep Ravine Trail, turn left.  Head into to the redwood forest and lush canyon of Web Creek. The trail steadily climbs past two waterfalls. At the second waterfall, climb a 10-foot ladder with 14 rungs to continue on the trail.  Use caution as the ladder can be slippery when damp. After another 1.5 miles, you will reach the Pantoll Ranger Station. Cross the Panoramic Highway to the Matt Davis Trail and begin your descent of approximately four miles back to the beach. There is an option to make this hike shorter by taking the Old Mine Trail for a three-mile loop (Dipsea-Old Mine-Steep Ravine-Dipsea).

The Dipsea-Steep Ravine-Matt Davis loop will take you through a mixed-species forest, a narrow canyon of Redwoods, and along coastal bluffs with amazing views. You can even catch a glimpse of San Francisco’s Sunset District to the south. Like any loop, it can be done in reverse; however, the Matt Davis trail is a more challenging, longer ascent than Dispea to Steep Ravine. This map for Mt. Tamalpais State Park can help you plan your route.

Horsetail Falls

Climb over granite slabs along the cataracts of Pyramid Creek to view the impressive Horsetail Falls.

Length: 3-5.6 miles round trip
Elevation gain:  1200 feet
Trailhead:  Twin Bridges, El Dorado County

The Desolation Wilderness near Lake Tahoe consists of 63,960 acres. This sub-alpine and alpine forest were formed by glaciers during the last ice age. Granite peaks, cascading waterfalls, and easy access makes this wilderness area one of the most popular ones in the United States. A free permit is required for day use and is available at most trailheads.

The trail to Horsetail Falls is not well established, but Caltopo can help you map your route. A large parking lot along Highway 50 near the town of Twin Bridges serves as a trailhead (fee required). Arrive early for parking if you plan to hike on the weekend. Beginning in the Eldorado National Forest, follow various cairns and signs posted on trees along the banks of Pyramid Creek for about .08 mile until you reach the Desolation Wilderness. Fill out a day-use permit before continuing on. Trust your intuition as you ascend, choosing routes along the granite slabs. At approximately 1.5 miles, you will reach the base of Horsetail Falls. If you wish to reach the top, continue bouldering up for another mile.

Horsetail Falls is spectacular! Following cairns on granite slabs and climbing over boulders gives one a sense of freedom. This short, steep hike offers amazing views and wilderness experience typically only available on longer, overnight backpacking trips. The US Forest Service ranks this hike as moderate. Before you go, check the weather forecast for any low elevation snow. The trailhead is at 6,000 feet.

Lassen Peak

Ascend to the top of California’s only volcano to erupt in the 20th century, offering breathtaking views of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Ranges.

Length: 5 miles round trip
Elevation gain:  2000 feet
Trailhead:  Lassen Peak Trailhead, Lassen County

Lassen Volcanic National Park contains over 150 miles of trails. The epitome of these trails is the peak itself with its classic volcanic crater. Technically a lava pinnacle plug dome, Mt. Lassen is the southernmost volcano in the Cascade Range. It last erupted in 1921. This national park is one of the few areas in the world featuring all four types of volcano: plug dome, shield, cinder cone, and strato.

The north entrance to the park is accessible off Highway 44 out of Redding, and the south entrance is accessible from Highway 36 out of Red Bluff (park entrance fees required). Both highways intersect with Interstate 5. The Lassen Peak trailhead is closer to the southern entrance; however, a fall drive along Lassen Volcanic National Parkway is breathtaking. Yellow aspen leaves, lush meadows, alpine lakes, and lava beds are a feast for the eyes of any nature lover.

The trail begins at an elevation of 8,500 feet. This hike is best done in early fall, as the park sees an average of three inches of snow in October. It’s possible to hike in light snow with sturdy boots and trekking poles. The trail bed consists of porous volcanic rock that handles precipitation well.

The Peak Trail is a short, two-and-half mile climb to the caldera which offers breathtaking vistas of lakes and distant mountain ranges. Along the switchbacks, you can smell sulfur reminding one of the volcano’s history. Once on the rim, glacier-covered Mt. Shasta, a plug dome that still has its peak, looms off to the north. This trail can cause mild altitude sickness. It’s important to drink twice as much water as you think you need, and rest along the way if you have any symptoms. Always be aware of changing weather conditions. It can be quite windy on top.

The Lassen Peak Trail is a relatively easy first mountain to climb, even for children. The park offers many less challenging trails to explore with geothermal features, like Bumpass Hell, and epic waterfalls, like Kings Creek Falls. Unlike other national parks in California, Lassen Volcanic is not crowded, there’s plenty of parking, and never a traffic jam. You can use this map of Lassen Volcanic National Park to help plan your day.

McCloud Falls

This short, easy trail through woodland and canyon takes you on a tour of three waterfalls.

Length: 4.2 miles round trip
Elevation gain:  95 feet
Trailhead:  McCloud River Loop Rd., Shasta County

Located in Shasta-Trinity National Forest, the McCloud River is world-renowned amongst fisherman for its wild trout. The three waterfalls along the river are considered amongst the best in Northern California. They have been delighting tourists since the 1800s. Fed by the subterranean waters of Mt. Shasta, these large waterfalls are stunning. The native Winnemem Wintu tribe called this area, “The falls where the salmon turn back.” The trail is easy with little vertical climb. It is partially paved and partially ADA-accessible. There are several picnic areas.

To reach the trailhead, take the 89 east from Interstate 5 near Mt. Shasta City. Travel 14.7 miles past the town of McCloud. Turn onto the McCloud River Loop Road (40N44) towards Fowlers Camp and Lower Falls. Turn right after 0.6 of a mile, following the signs to the Lower Falls. The parking lot is another half mile.

The hike begins at the Lower Falls. Follow the staircase down from the picnic area to view the Lower Falls. To continue, take the paved trail to reach Fowlers Campground. Follow the signs to the impressive Middle Falls. At 100 feet wide, this feathery waterfall is the most spectacular of the three. Continue past the Middle Falls to the canyon rim, then ascend to the Upper Falls. This tiered waterfall also features huecos, or hollow holes, in the bedrock. The trail is not a loop. Once you reach the overlook of the Upper Falls, retrace your steps back to the trailhead.

Each waterfall on the McCloud River has its own unique characteristics. These impressive falls gain volume with seasonal rains. The easy trail is accessible for all levels of fitness and age. This map of Mt. Shasta can be used to help you get around.

Remember to always check the weather before heading out, use sun protection, and wear layers as conditions in the mountains can change rapidly. Cooler temperatures, autumnal leaf colors, and diminishing tourists provide optimal conditions for exploring NorCal’s regional beauty in the fall.

Best NorCal Day Hikes for Fall

  1. James Irvine-Clintonia-Miner’s Ridge Loop: Humboldt County
  2. Dipsea-Steep Ravine-Matt Davis Loop: Marin County
  3. Horsetail Falls: El Dorado County
  4. Lassen Peak Trail: Lassen County
  5. McCloud Falls Trail: Shasta County



Guy Confused by Beer

Awesome Things to Do in Munich (Besides Drinking Beer)

As far as locations to drink beer go, Munich rates pretty high on the bucket list. After my first night there, I woke up with a large bruise between my thumb and index finger – from lifting and swilling liters of beer at the Haufbrauhaus the evening before. (How do those beer maidens do it?) I also ended up on the lap of a man in lederhosen. On stage. In an Oompah band. But that’s another story.

If you’re headed to Oktoberfest, you’ve probably already sussed out the 15-plus beer tents that are part of this massive festival. But there’s so much more to Munich than beer. If you decide to take a short break from drinking, there’s plenty else to take in.

Munich is the capital city of the German state of Bavaria, and the country’s third largest city. Home to centuries-old buildings and cutting-edge architecture, it houses a fascinating array of art and culture. In the city center lies the Marienplatz, a great place for a stroll and some fabulous people-watching at one of the many cafes. Located in the Altstadt (Old Town), this square houses landmarks including the neo-Gothic Neues Rathaus (New Town hall). The building’s famous glockenspiel, a cuckoo clock of sorts, is built of chimes and life-size figures. Twice a day – at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. – the glockenspiel reenacts fanciful stories from the 16th century.

St. Peter’s Church has been standing since the 11th century, and after many renovations and additions, it tells the story of time itself. Climbing the tower’s 299 stairs is worth it for a stunning view of the city. If the workout leaves you hungry, check out the Viktualienmarkt (Farmers’ Market) next door to find some delicious, local eats.

Considered a seminal symbol of the city, the Cathedral Church of Our Lady is also located in Munich’s Old Town. Dating back to 1468, this Gothic masterpiece was heavily damaged by air strikes during World War II, but has since been rebuilt. Climb the south tower – topped by an onion dome – for fantastic views of the city and even, on a clear day, the Alps.

Not far from the Marienplatz, the Odeonsplatz is lined with ornate 19th century buildings like the Feldherrnhalle, which was built in the 1840s in honor of the Bavarian Army. To the west, the bright yellow Theatiner Church, was built in 1662; it’s all-white interior will amaze you. The Residenz Munich is an impressive and stately palace that was built for the monarchs of Bavaria; today it’s a museum open to visitors who can peruse its lavish interiors and royal artifacts. The adjoining Hofgarten (courtyard) is a peaceful place to sit and take in the views, or relax. Beyond it lies the entrance to the Englischer Garten, a huge urban park with miles of walking trails, as well as a lakeside beer garden (just in case you start craving a brew).

West of the Englischer Garten, the Nymphemburg Palace sits on a 500-acre estate. Originally the summer residence of Bavarian monarchs, highlights include intricately painted ceiling frescoes, rococo furnishings, and expansive baroque gardens.

But Munich’s alluring – and enduring – design isn’t limited to ancient history. Marvels of modern architecture abound. The Allianz Arena – the 75,000-seat home to the Bayern Munich soccer team – was built by renowned architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron, with an inflatable plastic exterior that changes color. Other sporty design includes Olympiapark, site of the 1972 Olympic Games, which was remade into a beautifully landscaped sports facility with bicycle paths, concert venues, and restaurants.

With a such a broad and rich history, it’s no surprise Munich has its share of world-class museums featuring everything from medieval to modern art.

The futuristic BMW Museum, with its gleaming silver exterior, will delight car lovers with vintage and cutting-edge cars, as well as history of design. The Deutsches (German) Museum, is a 540,000 square foot homage to humankind’s technological achievements and understanding of science. At the Judisches (Jewish) Museum, visitors can engage in a rich and vast display of Jewish history, art, and culture that goes well beyond Germany’s borders. The Pinakothek der Moderne, meanwhile, is one of the world’s largest spaces dedicated to art, architecture, and design of the 20th  and 21st centuries.