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Mermaids in Ventura Harbor Village
It’s all about mermaids this month in Ventura Harbor Village. Join a meet-and-greet with mermaids, enjoy special cuisine at the harbor restaurant and participate in family activities. Courtesy photo
Columns Hit the Road

Hit the Road: Festivals, food, fun and more

Temecula Valley, about an hour’s drive from North County, has regular events that reflect its heritage and casual, wine-country culture. Here are a couple:

It’s all about chocolate and wine this weekend at the 12th annual Chocolate Decadence and Pechanga Wine Festival at The Summit, Pechanga Resort Casino, 45000 Pechanga Parkway, Temecula. The two-day event offers festival-goers the chance to sample some of the hundreds of wine varieties, sweet and savory chocolate confections, gourmet food offered by vendors. Also featured: live music and a silent auction. Proceeds to benefit Habitat for Humanity Inland Valley. Call (877) 711-2946.

It’s only March, but really not too early to put this popular event on your calendar. It’s the Temecula Valley Balloon and Wine Festival, May 29 to May 31 at the Lake Sinner Recreation Area (25 minutes northeast of

Hot air balloons in near Temecula
Up to 40 balloons ascend during the annual Temecula Valley Balloon and Wine Festival, which runs May 29 to May 31 at the Lake Skinner Recreation Area (25 minutes northeast of Old Town Temecula). Visitors can ride up, up and away in a balloon or take a less hair-raising ride in a tethered balloon. Courtesy photo

Old Town Temecula). Up to 40 balloons will ascend together in the mornings, and at sunset, experience the other-worldly “balloon glow.”  Eight balloons tethered to the ground inflate their canopies and simultaneously ignite their burners for a breathtaking sight. As the festival name indicates, wine tasting is also a part of the scene, with 50 local wineries offering samples. Check out for more on Temecula Valley.

Say Nevada and most everyone thinks Las Vegas. But our neighboring state has oh-so-many other fascinating places to see — like the Carson Valley, just southeast of Lake Tahoe. This area, bordered on the east by the eye-popping peaks of the Sierras, is the destination for serious and amateur photographers alike when hundreds of bald eagles arrive for the annual winter/spring calving season. Other things to do: Visit Genoa, which features the Genoa Bar, Nevada’s oldest “thirst parlor” and mule deer that saunter casually around town and local subdivisions. (Though Carson Valley’s population includes many hunters, don’t even think about putting these town mascots in your sites.) Not to miss: the Basque family dining experience at J T Basque Bar & Dining Room in Gardnerville, owned by the progeny of local sheep herders, where the food is excellent, plentiful and reasonably priced. For more,

The winter and spring months also are the best times to visit our state’s coastal towns because — you know — the tourists haven’t arrived yet. It’s also a time to stage festivals like Mermaid Month, hosted by Ventura Harbor Village. Special events are held on March 7 and March 21, including a parade, kids’ activities, chalk art, special “sea-sonal” cuisine at local restaurants and more. (P.S. The drive to Ventura is pretty spectacular, too.) Visit

If you’ve been considering riding the rails, now’s the time. Amtrak Pacific Surfliner is offering a deal between now and May 31. Purchase a full-fare ticket and get the second one for half price. From Oceanside, you can visit San Juan Capistrano for Swallows Day (March 21); Santa Barbara’s Earth Day Festival (April 17-19); and the bustling neighborhood around Los Angeles’ Union Station. Visit

California wines, beers and barbecue will be celebrated this year at events organized by California Wine Festival in three local, ocean-view locations: Dana Point (April 17 and 18); Carlsbad (May 29 and 30); and Oceanside (Sept. 26). The festivals offer rare and reserve vintages, wine and food pairings, artisan cheeses, live music and more.

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