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Venturing Into West Texas
Panoramic sunsets and whimsical doll museums. Paranormal phenomena and 1940s-era motels. High art and cowboy kitsch. Across the expanses of Big Bend Country, at Texas's extreme southwestern border, attractions run from oddball to sophisticated, quaint to amazing. Mining and ranching towns have transformed themselves into tourist destinations, each locale working its own little niche. Meanwhile, Big Bend National Park, the main draw, needs no gimmick. As the Rio Grande turns east, rough desert converges with mountains, creating a landscape that'd make a giant feel small, an egoist insignificant. Just remember that this kind of isolation doesn't come easy. Marathon, the first stop on this road trip, is a two-and-a-half-hour drive from the nearest airport, Midland International. And Midland International isn't what anyone would call a hub. Day one: Midland to Marathon The initial part of the drive from the airport to Marathon is, in a word, hideous. On either side of the road, barbed wire encloses flat oil fields that stretch to the horizon. Only a belch of smoke from the occasional refinery breaks the monotony. Then, somewhere around Fort Stockton, everything changes. The rusty pumps and industrial wasteland disappear in favor of the desert hills and valleys of Big Bend Country. Cactus flowers bloom along the highway and roadrunners periodically scurry across the road. As it materializes in the distance, the tiny town of Marathon (the last syllable rhymes with "sun") looks like nothing more than a few feed stores and mobile homes. But as you arrive in the center, its nature becomes apparent. Upscale shops and galleries line the main street, most in adobe buildings with well-tended gardens. There's even a day spa. A leisurely afternoon helps me adjust to the slow pace of Big Bend Country. When I ask someone to name the most popular entertainments, he says, "Sunset watching and stargazing." I poke about in the shops and galleries, chitchat with locals and other visitors. The name Texas comes from the Spanish word tejas, meaning friend. Although welcome, misanthropes and recluses may find themselves uncomfortable. Two Marathon hotels are attractions in their own right. Opened in 1927 by a prosperous banker, the luxurious Gage Hotel quickly became the region's social epicenter. It eventually fell into disrepair, but a lush 1992 restoration returned the brick-and-adobe structure to its former glory. On any given night, all of Marathon's visitors and quite a few locals gather in the elegant bar and courtyard. Just west of town on I-90, the less expensive Marathon Motel & RV Park has a vintage 1940s ambience, with its original neon sign and windmill. Postcards and posters sold across Big Bend Country feature the sign, which boasts that the rooms have TVs. From a small wooden building on the premises, the owner also operates what is pretty much the only radio station available out here (100.1 FM). When I knock on the door, the DJ/desk clerk invites me inside the booth for a tour and offers to take my requests. The motel's adobe courtyard has a fireplace and a shrine to the Virgin Mary; it's a great place to enjoy the sunsets, which are straight out of a Technicolor Western. Afterward, I head back to the Gage for dinner, drinks, and, indeed, stargazing. Day two: Marathon to Terlingua The drive to Big Bend National Park takes about 45 minutes; the entrance is nothing more than a small gate, usually unattended. (Park headquarters is at Panther Junction, another 30 minutes' drive.) Once inside the gate, most evidence of civilization vanishes. Gone are the fences and livestock, leaving only the brutal desert and distant mountains and mesas. Vultures circle overhead, but the cactus flowers that splash the land in yellow and purple somehow make them less intimidating. The speed limit drops to 45 mph, and I follow it. I'm tempted to go faster, but driving at lower speeds prevents pollution, and gives me a chance to stop for the two coyotes that dash in front of my car. The park teems with wildlife, and if you don't see a coyote, you'll likely see a deer or a javelina (also called a peccary). Though they're plump and pig-like, javelinas aren't pigs; park rangers insist they're only distantly related. Native only to the American Southwest, these non-pigs inhabit every corner of the park, moving about in groups and eating prickly pears. They're the mammals most often spotted by visitors. Just don't approach: They smell mighty bad. The 801,163-acre park can't be seen in a day, so I choose to explore the green and mountainous Chisos Basin. Its temperatures tend to be moderate and its trails well maintained, and it's home to the only full-service restaurant in the park. The Basin's twisty mountain roads (with the prerequisite daunting precipices) mark the beginning of bear and mountain lion country, but the map assures me that sightings are rare and attacks rarer. I take the medium-level Window Trail hike, which winds into the basin and affords utterly gorgeous views of the mountains, the desert, and waterfalls caused by recent rains. In the midafternoon, I drive into Terlingua, historic ghost town and self-styled chili capital of the world, famous for an annual cook-off. Skip the newer part of town, with its souvenir stands and river outfitters, and drive to the ghost town proper. Its squat stone buildings are on the side of a hill a few miles up the road. Most have been restored by artists and other eccentrics. Walking around the old mining village is encouraged, but signs warn you not to disturb the many private residences. Public buildings include the former jail (converted into restrooms), a partially renovated church, and an upscale gallery. My favorite spot is the peaceful, crumbling cemetery, where rocky graves and makeshift crosses memorialize doomed fortune hunters. If you have a yen to shop, the Terlingua Trading Company sells souvenirs to fit every budget--from small carved crosses ($6) to unassuming woven baskets ($600). After carefully putting down the basket, I wonder if some of the adventure tourists milling around might have more cash than their looks imply. Day three: Terlingua to Marfa Marfa, the ranchers' town made famous by the 1956 movieGiant, attracts visitors on three fronts. It has the James Dean connection (he lived here during filming). The town also has the Marfa Mystery Lights, unexplained colored lights that appear outside of town. Then there's the art: Marfa is home to one of the world's largest private art installations. After a quick stop for coffee at the Marfa Book Company, I arrive in time for the Chinati Foundation tour. Big-shot minimalist artist Donald Judd set up the Chinati in 1986 so he and select cronies could show large-scale, permanent works. He chose an old cavalry base for the cheap land, cavernous buildings, and lovely vistas. Judd created big aluminum boxes and laid them out in rows, while his friend Dan Flavin made fluorescent-light displays. The Chinati can only be seen via guided tours Wednesday through Sunday. Part 1 starts at 10 a.m. and lasts for a couple of hours. After a lunch break, Part 2 begins at 2 p.m. Good shoes, sunglasses, and water are recommended; the walks between buildings are long. Minimalist art isn't for everyone. I like it rather than love it, and when the effusive praise of aluminum boxes becomes too much, I can at least admire Judd's ambition and the enthusiasm of the art scenesters who make the pilgrimage. Back in town, I peek in the lobby of the Hotel Paisano, decorated with enough animal heads and leather furniture to make a rancher proud. It's where the cast of Giant, including James Dean, Rock Hudson, and Elizabeth Taylor, stayed during filming. The movie is perpetually screened in the lobby, and you can buy related T-shirts and trinkets at the front desk. After sundown, I go in search of the Marfa Lights. First reported in the 1880s, the lights dart and bounce above the ranch land between Marfa and Presidio. Or so they say. Different people have different explanations: reflecting headlights, swamp gases, evidence of alien visitors and/or government conspiracy. Assorted tourists and I wait at a viewing center west of town on Highway 90, but a local says that going east of town on 90 gives you the best odds of seeing them. I try that, too. It's rather like waiting for Godot. Day four: Marfa to Midland Since I have a late-afternoon flight, I stop at Fort Davis, a countrified resort town near the Davis Mountains. Stables offering trail rides are plentiful, and the shops sell plaques with aphorisms like never squat with your spurs on. Astronomers consider isolated Fort Davis "the darkest place in the lower 48," or so says a guide at the University of Texas's impressive McDonald Observatory. Touring the giant telescopes pleases the scientific part of my personality the way the Chinati pleased the artsy side. If you're not into telescopes, outdoorsy attractions include Davis Mountains State Park and the Fort Davis National Historic Site. Meanwhile, the free Neill Doll Museum nearby houses a strange, impressive collection. I head back to Midland through some lovely mountains and ranch land. Savor the view: Midland and Odessa's industrial scenery reappears before you know it. Finding your way Midland International is served by Sun Country, Continental, Southwest, and American Eagle; many flights connect via Houston or Dallas. Fall is high season: Rains cause the desert to bloom and the air to cool. 1. Midland international to Marathon 168 miles Arrive early: Marathon is over two hours from Midland/ Odessa. Take I-20 west to Hwy. 18. At Fort Stockton, get on Hwy. 385 south to Marathon. Stay at the Gage Hotel, the Marathon Motel, or the Adobe Rose Inn. Meals at the Gage are $20-$30 per person, but the food and ambience are excellent. Marcie's Kitchen, at the Marathon Motel, serves only breakfast. 2. Marathon to Terlingua 110 miles From Marathon, take Hwy. 385 to the west entrance to Big Bend. Leave the park via the western gate and Hwy. 118. Take Hwy. 170 to the Terlingua ghost town and Lajitas. Chisos Mountains Lodge is the only full-service restaurant in Big Bend, but all the stores sell snacks and sandwiches. (Cell phones rarely work, and the heat kills, so bring plenty of water. Carry cash because there are no ATMs.) The Hungry Javelina, a roadside stand on Hwy. 170, serves burgers and hot dogs. Dinner at the Starlight Theatre and Bar in Terlingua is a must. There are no hotels in the ghost town, but there are a few nearby. Stay inside the park at the Chisos Mountains Lodge, or near Terlingua at the Chisos Mining Company or the Longhorn Ranch Motel. 3. Terlingua to Marfa 110 miles From Terlingua, take Hwy. 118 to Alpine, then U.S. 90 west to Marfa. Grab coffee downtown before heading to the Chinati Foundation. Stay at Hotel Paisano or the Riata. Jett's, in Hotel Paisano, serves decent American food. 4. Marfa to Midland 200 miles Take Hwy. 17 to Fort Davis (about 20 miles). Continue on Hwy. 17. Sometime after Balmorhea, it will become I-10 for a few miles; take Hwy. 17 north, when it exits I-10, to Pecos. At Pecos, get on I-20 east and it'll lead you to the airport. The ride from Fort Davis takes approximately three-and-a-half hours.
21 New Airline Routes Launching Soon
Can't decide where to go for your next vacation? With lots of new routes launching, the decision might be easier than you thought. Here is a sampling of what's coming up. Airline: Alaska Airlines Destinations: Washington, D.C, San Antonio, Atlanta, Orlando The airline launched service between Seattle and Washington's Reagan in late August, plus will be adding a Seattle to San Antonio route on September 17—the same day they double the amount of flights between Seattle and Atlanta (from one to two per day). There will also be a new service between San Diego and Orlando starting October 11, with five flights per week. Airline: Allegiant Destination: Hawaii The budget carrier launched flights to Hawaii in June 2012 and are adding five new routes this fall. Starting in November you will be able to fly nonstop to Honolulu from Bellingham, Washington; Eugene, Oregon; Santa Maria, California; and Stockton, California. The airline will also offer a nonstop between Bellingham and Maui starting in November. Airline: Delta Destination: Caribbean December will be a good time to fly to the Caribbean from New York. Starting that month, there will be daily nonstop flights between LaGuardia and Nassau, Bahamas as well as JFK and Aruba and Montego Bay, Jamaica. Daily service will start between JFK and Punta Cana in February 2013, while daily flights between LaGuardia and Bermuda in April 2013. Airline: Frontier Airlines Destination: Orlando Taking the kids to Disney will be a little easier starting in November, when Frontier launches nonstop flights to Orlando from Columbia, Missouri; Greensboro, North Carolina; Trenton, New Jersey; and Shenandoah Valley, Virginia. Airline: JetBlue Destination: Charleston Northeasterns looking for some southern comfort can start flying nonstop on JetBlue starting in February 2013. There will be two daily flights from New York's JFK and one from Boston's Logan Airport. Airline: Spirit Destination: Los Cabos The budget airline will launch a nonstop between San Diego and Los Cabos starting in November (with a connection from Dallas/Fort Worth), four times per week. Airline: United Destinations: Bahamas, Paris United is still figuring out routes post merger with Continental and has been on a spree of launching new routes, from Newark to Istanbul to D.C. and Dublin. Expected in the next few months are a weekly nonstop between Chicago and Nassau, Bahamas starting in February (through July 2013) and a daily nonstop between San Francisco and Paris starting in April 2013. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL 11 Surprisingly Lovable Airlines 10 Scenic Airport Landings 4 Common Airport Security Questions—Answered!
Planning to visit Maine? Read these tips from a top guidebook author
It's leaf-peeping season! We asked Moon Maine author Hilary Nangle how to make the most of a trip to Maine. (Moon is, of course, a wonderful guidebook series with a great emphasis on budget-minded travel.) When should out-of-state folks visit Maine to see the fall foliage? When you go will determine where you go. Maine's a huge state, and foliage usually peaks in the northern zones by the last week in September, while along the southern coast, peak is closer to mid October. A great planning tool is: http://www.state.me.us/doc/foliage/ Your biggest decision will be where to go. Among my favorite spots for foliage: —Rangeley, which blends lakes and mountains; —Greenville, a quiet end-of-the-paved-road town on the shores of Moosehead Lake and edged by wilderness. It's within striking distance of Baxter State Park, home to Mt. Katahdin, Maine's tallest peak and the terminus of the Appalachian Trail; —Mt. Desert Island, home to Acadia National Park, for the combo of foliage and ocean. (See more on Acadia, below.) —Bethel, on the Maine side of the White Mountains, a classic New England village, complete with ivy-covered prep school and white steepled churches, cradled by forested peaks. It's often possible to find a last-minute reservation or accommodation, but don't count on it. Book in advance for lodging and any must-do dining or activities. Sure you can drive by the foliage, but it's even better to get off the road and hike, bike, or paddle. That's especially easy in the Acadia National Park or Baxter State Park areas, but Maine has fabulous state parks that offer opportunities for hiking and paddling, as well as plentiful preserves. What is your advice about what people can typically expect weather-wise in Sept. and in Oct. in Maine? September through mid October is my favorite time of the year weather-wise in Maine. The weather remains mild—days are often warm, with temperatures in the 60s to low 70s, nights cool, dropping into the 40s or lower in the mountains or up north. That said, this is northern New England, so be prepared for anything, including rain, fog and, in the northern parts of the state or over the highest peaks, perhaps even snow. And truly, there's nothing prettier than a dusting of white atop a mountain in full fall color. Any tips on planning a visit to Acadia National Park? Acadia is spectacular in autumn with the color-dappled peaks reflecting in the lakes and ocean. It's a quieter time in the park, but not too quiet. Bar Harbor can be busy with cruise ship visitors, but it's easy to escape any crowds by stepping into the park for a walk or bike ride on the carriage roads or an invigorating hike. A real plus is that The Island Explorer bus system runs through Columbus Day, so there's no need for a car. It circulates around most of the island, and even carries bicycles. Just be sure to purchase a park pass. While the major resort hotels and the fancier B&Bs; tend be booked well in advance, smaller motels and less-fancy places as well as those outside of the Bar Harbor often not only have room, but are charging off-season rates. If you don't like to be in hub of the island hubbub, consider staying in either Southwest Harbor, a year-round community with a nice selection of lodgings and restaurants, or Northeast Harbor, which is primarily a peak summer resort community (note that it's downtown suffered a devastating fire this summer that burned three buildings). If you arrive without lodging reservations, stop at the Thompson Island Visitor Center, open through Columbus Day, which often knows where rooms are available. You can also buy your park pass here. Visit the park's web site, download a copy of The Beaver Log, and use it to plan park activities. It lists walks, talks, hikes, boat cruises, and other activities within the park. Must-dos for me include a sunrise drive along the Park Road, a walk or pedal on the carriage roads, tea and popovers on the lawn at the Jordan Pond House (weather permitting), an invigorating hike, a cone from Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream in Bar Harbor, visiting the Whale and Abbe Museums in Bar Harbor, the Gilley Museum in Southwest Harbor and the Seal Cove Auto Museum, and, again weather permitting, a boating excursion. What's new in Portland? Portland has long been a foodie favorite, and it has a number of new restaurants that are well worth a visit. —Evangeline, French —Emelitsia, Greek, —The Grill Room: Steaks and pizzas —Green Elephant: Vegetarian and Vegan And Stephen Lanzalotta, previously of Sophia's Bakery, has moved his baking talents to a new kitchen at Micucci's Market. Keeping with the food theme, Oct. 23-25 is Harvest on the Harbor, a delicious celebration of local foods. This new event will bring more than 100 food experts to the city for talks, tastings, demonstrations, a marketplace, and meals. Also new is the Ocean Gateway terminal, home to The Cat ferry to Nova Scotia and other large vessels visiting Portland. Also worth noting is the reopening of the Inn by the Sea, in Cape Elizabeth, 15 minutes from downtown Portland. Renovations added a full service spa to this oceanfront inn that's always been ahead of the curve: It's certified green and pet friendly. What's a best-of-coastal Maine trip look like, with perhaps a few highlights or a few suggestions of lesser known towns, restaurants, beaches, forests, or whatnot? In my book, I outline a 10-day Icons-of-the-Maine-Coast tour, and that, as the name suggests, hits only the high points. I think any "Best-of" tour along the coast needs to hit those, but ideally also will hit some off the off-the-beaten-track gems, and those often require noodling down the fingers of land that reach seaward from Route 1, Maine's coastal artery, and also ferrying to some of the offshore islands. So, staring in Kittery, I'd mosey through the Yorks and Kennebunks, and up to Portland, always sticking to the roads closest to the coastline in order to visit beaches and see lighthouses and wander about the smaller villages. In Portland, I'd ferry out to one of the islands dotting Casco Bay, perhaps Eagle Island or Peaks, or book a trip aboard Lucky Catch Lobster Tours to learn everything there is to know about the tasty crustaceans. Must visits include the Portland Museum of Art and Victoria Mansion, and don't miss French fries and a shake at Duckfat, mmmmm. Continue up through Freeport, home to L.L. Bean, and Brunswick (don't miss the Bowdoin College Museum of Art) and onto Bath, with a visit to the Maine Maritime Museum and a detour down to Phippsburg and Popham. Continue north, passing through Wiscasset, then dropping down the Pemaquid Peninsula to see the lighthouse and Fort William Henry and stopping in Round Pond for lunch or dinner at one of two dueling, classic, no-frills lobster shacks on the postcard-perfect harbor. Return to Route 1, then drop down the Port Clyde peninsula, and perhaps take a day trip (ideally an overnight) on Monhegan Island. Rockland, home to the Farnsworth Museum of American Art, and Camden are Mid-coast icons, and Maine's windjammer fleet is based in this region. Most go out for sails of three to seven days, but there are day-sails, such as A Morning in Maine or Appledore. For a quieter, quirkier taste of the mid coast, stop in Belfast and Searsport, and visit the Penobscot Marine Museum and BlueJacket ShipCrafters, which has an amazing display of model ships. If you're craving fried fish and good pie, you can't go wrong at either Angler's or Just Barb's. In Stockton Springs, stop at Fort Knox and (if you're not afraid of heights) zip up the elevator to the new Penobscot Narrows Bridge Observatory, in the tower for spectacular views; on a clear day, they extend from Mt. Katahdin, Maine's tallest peak in Baxter State Park, to Cadillac on Mount Desert Island. Noodle down the Blue Hill Peninsula and cross the bridge spanning Eggemoggin Reach to Deer Isle. This region is salted with artists and artisans, thanks to the presence of the renowned Haystack Mountain School of Craft, as well as with boat builders, thanks to the WoodenBoat, both the magazine and the school. If this is still a bit too crowded for you, ferry over to Isle au Haut to visit a remote section of Acadia National Park. Back on Route 1, continue northeast, then drop down to Mt. Desert Island for a visit to Acadia National Park. Be sure to walk or pedal the carriage roads, and splurge on tea and popovers at the Jordan Pond House. If you have kids, don't miss a boat trip with Diver Ed. Another unique way to view the park is on a bird-watching tour with Michael Good of Down East Nature Tours. Afterwards, chill with an ice cream from Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream. Be sure to loop around to Northeast Harbor—Redbird is a fabulous spot for lunch—and on to Southwest Harbor—sip on coffee or wine at Sips. From Bass Harbor, join Kim Strauss on a cruise to Frenchboro, for a taste of a real island. Back on the mainland continue north on Route 1. If it's autumn, and the foliage is near peak, take Route 182 which loops inland through the rolling countryside and lakes of the Donnell Pond Public Reserved Land, it's a gorgeous drive. Otherwise, scoot down the Schoodic Peninsula to the pink granite shores of the Schoodic section of Acadia National Park. If you're a bird watcher, be sure to visit the Petit Manan section of the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Reserve, in Steuben. In season, I'd dip down to Jonesport for a puffin-watching trip to Machias Seal Island, otherwise on to Lubec, if for no other reason to indulge in Bold Coast Smokhouse's salmon sticks and Monica's Chocolates. Walk off the ice cream on the trails near West Quoddy Head. Finish up in Eastport, the first city in the country to see the sun's rays. Its fortunes vary from year to year, but it's always fun to poke around a bit. Tell us about the guidebook Moon Maine. Covering a state the size of Maine in the depth required for a detailed guide book is a difficult task in itself, given the travel required, but making it even more of a struggle is that shops, restaurants, and accommodations open, close, or change hands. I can visit a town, then find out two weeks later that a restaurant I loved has closed, an inn where I stayed has a new owner, or a shop has changed its inventory. It's an endless task, but one that I thrive upon. I have a good network of friends who keep me updated on changes, and that helps immensely. So does reader feedback, and my readers let me know when I'm right or when their experience hasn't matched mine. That's the primary reason I blog: to keep readers updated of changes that might affect their plans. I think what makes Moon Maine and Moon Coastal Maine stand out is that I've lived in Maine since childhood, I'm not someone swooping in to write a guidebook, and because I live here, I'm privy to a lot of info that's not widely available. I'm also a foodie, not in the fine dining sense (although I do enjoy that), but in that I seek out local finds: cheesemakers, chocolatiers, wineries, lobster shacks, fried seafood dives, fish smokers, hot dog havens (okay, that's really my husband's thing), farmers' markets, farm stands, homemade ice creams, and other places where one can get a real taste of Maine, perhaps piece together a picnic, or purchase delicious souvenirs. Want to know more? Hilary has a blog. You can also buy her guidebook, Moon Maine, at Amazon.com.
San Francisco: 5 Best February Values
Tour Chinatown's bakeries Start the Chinese New Year (Feb. 14 this year) out right by visiting two Chinatown bakeries that still make fortune cookies the old-fashioned way: by hand. Stop by Mee Mee Bakery or the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, located in Chinatown's oldest alley, to watch a free demo. While you're there, pick up a bag of fortune cookies—a perfect souvenir to share (or not). Reservations not needed. Mee Mee Bakery, 1328 Stockton Street, 415/362-3204. $3 for a bag of cookies, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, 56 Ross Alley, 415/781-3956, $1 for a bag of cookies, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. everyday. l See Kermit Lynch at Omnivore Books On Feb. 20, the famed Berkeley wine importer Kermit Lynch, whose wine business earned him France's highest national decoration—the Legion d'honneur—will be hosting a free wine tasting and reading. Sample the latest vino discoveries while Lynch reads from two of his books, Adventures on the Wine Route and Inspiring Thirst. The event is being held at Omnivore, Noe Valley's book store dedicated to all things food, where the collection of vintage cookbooks (including the first-edition signed copy of Chez Paniesse Desserts) is worth a browse in itself. The hour-long event begins at 5 p.m., 3885 Cesar Chavez Street, omnivorebooks.com, 415/282-4712 San Francisco IndieFest's Big Lebowski Party at CellSpace The annual film festival launches Feb. 4 and features award-winning independent films like Wah Do Dem (with Norah Jones) and Harmony and Me. Each film is $10. Be sure to buy tickets in advance, since this festival, which has premiered big films in the past from indie favorites like David Lynch and Gus Van Sant, draws crowds. Additionally, The Big Lebowski Party on Feb. 12 is always a highlight, complete with white Russians, mini-bowling, a trampoline, and a costume contest (expect plenty of bathrobe-clad Dudes) held at the arts co-operative CellSpace. Save 5 bucks if you show up in costume. Film Festival February 4th-18th, at a variety of locations. $10 tickets. Big Lebowski Party starts at 9 p.m., 2050 Bryant Street, 415/648-7562, $10 ($5 in costume); free with Indie Film fest ticket stub. $3 Moonlight Martinis at the Cliff House Sutro's bar at the Cliff House has floor-to-ceiling windows directly overlooking the Pacific ocean, the famous Seal Rocks, and the Sutro Bath ruins, making it a perennial favorite among visitors and locals alike. It's the perfect spot to end up after an afternoon hiking the rocky shoreline at the Presidio's Land's End or visiting the Camera Obscura. Try visiting on a weeknight (Sunday through Thursday) to get the most bang for your buck—$3 Skyy and Tanquery martinis (usually $8) mean you can still afford a cab ride back. 1090 Point Lobos, 415/386-3330, 6- 10 p.m. $5 stand-up at the Clubhouse Clubhouse, a downtown underground Comedy Club, features some of the best up-and-coming local stars, like Ali Mafi and Nico Santos. Normally, these comedians perform at high-priced clubs like Cobb's or the Punch Line—but at Clubhouse, see them for a fraction of the price. The BYOB policy creates a no-holds-barred atmosphere where comics can test new material and crack jokes too off-color for the mainstream. 414 Mason St., 415-921-2051, Tuesdays through Sundays, tickets start at $5. Just back from San Francisco? Going there soon? Leave your recommendations, comments, and questions on our city page.
More Places to go
Lodi ( LOH-dye) is a city located in San Joaquin County, California, in the center portion of California's Central Valley. The population was 62,134 at the 2010 census. The estimated population is approximately 67,586 according to 2019 census data. Lodi is the 132nd largest city in California based on official 2019 estimates from the US Census Bureau.Lodi is best known for wine grape production although its vintages have traditionally been less prestigious than those of Sonoma and Napa counties. However, in recent years, the Lodi Appellation has become increasingly respected for its Zinfandel and other eclectic wine varietals, along with its focus on sustainability under the Lodi Rules program. National recognition came from the Creedence Clearwater Revival song "Lodi" and continued with the "2015 Wine Region of the Year" award given to Lodi by Wine Enthusiast Magazine.
Modesto (Spanish for '"modest"') is the county seat and largest city of Stanislaus County, California, United States. With a population of approximately 218,464 at the 2020 census, it is the 18th largest city in the state of California and forms part of the San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland Combined Statistical Area. Modesto is located in the Central Valley, 68 miles (109 km) south of Sacramento and 90 miles (140 km) north of Fresno. Its distance from other places include 40 miles (64 km) north of Merced, California, 92 miles (148 km) east of San Francisco, 66 miles (106 km) west of Yosemite National Park, and 24 miles (39 km) south of Stockton. Modesto has been honored as a Tree City USA numerous times.The city is surrounded by rich farmland. Stanislaus County ranks sixth among California counties in farm production, and is home to Gallo Family Winery, the largest family-owned winery in the United States. Led by milk, almonds, chickens, walnuts, and corn silage, the county grossed nearly $3.1 billion in agricultural production in 2011. The farm-to-table movement plays a central role in Modesto living as in the Central Valley. The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index for 2011, which interviews 1,000 participants about their jobs, finances, physical health, emotional state of mind and communities, ranked Modesto 126 out of the 190 cities surveyed. In December 2009, Forbes ranked Modesto 48th out of 100 among "Best Bang-for-the-Buck Cities". In this ranking, Modesto ranked 8th in housing affordability and travel time but also ranked 86th in job forecast growth and 99th in foreclosures.
Calaveras County, officially the County of Calaveras, is a county in the northern part of the U.S. state of California. As of the 2010 census, the population was 40,171. The county seat is San Andreas. Angels Camp is the county's only incorporated city. Calaveras is Spanish for "skulls"; the county was reportedly named for the remains of Native Americans discovered by the Spanish explorer Captain Gabriel Moraga. Calaveras County is in both the Gold Country and High Sierra regions. Calaveras Big Trees State Park, a preserve of giant sequoia trees, is in the county several miles east of the town of Arnold on State Highway 4. Credit for the discovery of giant sequoias there is given to Augustus T. Dowd, a trapper who made the discovery in 1852 while tracking a bear. When the bark from the "Discovery Tree" was removed and taken on tour around the world, the trees became a worldwide sensation and one of the county's first tourist attractions. The uncommon gold telluride mineral calaverite was discovered in the county in 1861 and is named for it. Mark Twain set his story "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" in the county. The county hosts an annual fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee, featuring a frog-jumping contest, to celebrate the association with Twain's story. Each year's winner is commemorated with a brass plaque mounted in the sidewalk of downtown Historic Angels Camp and this feature is known as the Frog Hop of Fame. In 2015, Calaveras County had the highest rate of suicide deaths in the United States, with 49.1 per 100,000 people.
The Tri-Valley area is grouping of three valleys in the East Bay region of California's Bay Area. The three valleys are Amador Valley, San Ramon Valley, and Livermore Valley. The Tri-Valley encompasses the cities of Dublin, Livermore, Pleasanton and San Ramon, the town of Danville and the CDPs of Alamo, Blackhawk and Diablo. The area is known for its Mediterranean climate, wineries, and nature. It is a primarily suburban area with a population of about 361,000. It offers more affordable living accommodations than the cities of San Francisco and San Jose.