Friday, November 16, 2012

Secret Santa Cruz Mountains Vineyards

Only four times each year, boutique wineries hidden high in the Santa Cruz Mountains open their doors to curious tasters. Some of the biggest vintners - for example, Thomas Fogarty, which has foggy hilltop vineyards and pours award-winning vintages - are open year-round. But if you're seeking smaller connoisseur labels, a quarterly Passport Day event might be your only chance to taste these award-winning pinot noir and chardonnay varietals.

The next Passport Day for Santa Cruz Mountains wineries is happening Saturday, November 17. Most tasting rooms will be open from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m., but call ahead to check on any you're particularly eager to visit (damn, Kathryn Kennedy isn't open to the public). For $45, you'll get a printed passport that waives your tasting fee at any participating winery. That passport is valid for tastings at any time, even months after the Passport Day, because seriously, how many can you visit in six hours?

If you miss tomorrow's event, you'll have to wait until 2013 for another chance: Passport Day typically takes place on the third Saturday of January, April, July and November. If you'd rather not drive up into the mountains, chic Vinocruz wine shop in downtown Santa Cruz pours five different Santa Cruz Mountains wines every week at its mod stainless-steel tasting bar. In recent years, a handful of wineries have also opened tasting rooms in central Santa Cruz, including such major players as Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard and Bonny Doon Vineyard. They're clustered in industrial warehouses off Ingalls St., west of downtown and the UCSC campus via Hwy 1.

Related links:
Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers
Fall Travel: Sunshine on California's Coast
Coastal California: The Anti-Hotel Top 10 List

Photo credit: Sara J. Benson

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Freebie Alert! US National Parks Free This Weekend & All Day Monday

In honor of Veterans Day, US national parks are waiving entry fees this weekend and during the holiday on Monday. That's right: you can visit any national park for free. So, whether you're dreaming of heading to California's Yosemite Valley or Hawaii's Haleakala volcano, you won't pay a cent. (Of course, some parks are free year-round, like Nevada's epic Great Basin out in the desert, but that's another story.)

And since the national parks are letting you in for free, why not give back by helping them out with a volunteer project? Even if you miss the public programs this weekend, you can still find an opportunity to help out near you, wherever you live, just by searching the volunteer database anytime.

What's your all-time favorite national park in the US or abroad? Tell us where we should travel next by leaving a comment below. Thanks!

Related posts:
Winter's Last Lucky Call in Yosemite Valley
Wild Weather High on Hawaii's Haleakala Volcano
Insta-guide to Rocky Mountain National Park

Photo: Rocky Mountain National Park (Sara J. Benson)