Out with Mommy

Kids of all ages get excited about the latest electronics, and tech-savvy parents know that sharing in their kid’s enthusiasm and wonder for technology is an excellent way to bond. When kids have reached their screen time limit, it’s time to get real with physical games and toys that engage them the old-fashioned way. For every child on your list, here are 10 great gifts that help kids grow in their understanding of technology, develop their creative skills and encourage connection with others.

Two hit wonder

For those of us of a certain age who remember the rock-em-sock-em toy robots, whose heads popped off with a firm jab to the jaw, there’s a new heavyweight in the ring. Big Robot Data Rate and Tenderizer Remote Control Fighting Robots are eight-inch fighting machines with Innovative Motion Control Technology so that each user can steer, maneuver and punch using a handheld nun-chuck controller. The trash talking robots also feature quote damage tracking LEDs and other effects to keep the match fun and exciting. Ages 4 and up.  $59.99 each or $99 for two-pack. Available at Toys R Us.

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The sky (and imagination) is the limit

Portal masters can take their creativity to the outer limits with Skylanders Imaginators, the latest iteration of the popular Skylanders video console game franchise with new capabilities that empower players to unleash their imaginations and bring their creations to life in an all-new adventure with puzzles, battles, a compelling storyline and new lineup of heroes and villains.  Take the fun to another dimension with the Skylanders free Creator mobile app which allows kids to design and print out their own unique playable 3D printed figure.  Ages 8 and up. Skylanders Imaginators Starter pack includes two Sensei characters, one Creation Crystal, Portal of Power and game disc available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox 1, Xbox 360 and WiiU. The Starter Pack is available for $39.99 at Toys R US, Target, Wal-Mart and all major retailers. Custom 3D printed figure available for $49.99.

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Crack the code

Dick Tracy decoder rings of yesteryear were child’s play. Today’s coding toys teach real world computer coding skills, such as Monster, an intelligent iPad game by Osmo that helps budding  computer developers master AI technology and harness their creativity to animate physical drawings, with the help of Mo the Monster, who comes to life to interact with children’s drawings.  The Osmo Monster Starter Kit includes an iPad stand, iPad camera reflector, and two sets of game pieces with alphabet letter tile sets and wood tangram shapes.

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Once kids get the hang of coding, they can expand their talents with additional Osmo learning tools, like the Coding game that uses hands-on physical blocks to control Awbie, a playful character that kids use coding skills to direct on strawberry-munching adventure. Starter kit $74.99, Coding game $49. Ages 6 to 10. Available at www.playosmo.com.

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Little listeners

Sometimes kids don’t listen, and then sometimes they listen to much, by way of earphones with the volume turned up too loud, which can be especially harmful to hearing when using low-end earphones that come with electronic devices. Etymotic’s ETY•Kids Safe-Listening Earphones are engineered to protect young ears by sealing off ambient noise so kids are not tempted to crank up the volume to unsafe levels.  The earphones’ s high quality, clear playback is safe for listening for up to eight hours (or four hours at the highest volume levels), so parents can rest easy, and kids can experience their music, games and movies as they were meant to be heard. $39.99, etymotic.com. Ages 5 and up.

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Smart and cool phone

When it’s time for that first phone, kids want the coolest bone, but parents don’t want to outlay a chunk of cash for a device that might get lost or broken. VeryKool smart phones fill the bill for kids who want a feature-filled phone of their very own – with a front- and rear-facing camera and lots of multitasking abilities, and parents will love its affordable price. The VeryKool Fusion SL4500 and the Jet SL5009 are available for $109.00, and the line includes several models under $75.  No contracts are required, and the phones will work with every GSM carrier across the US including AT&T, T-Mobile, Tracfone, etc., (Note, VeryKool phones are not compatible CDMA networks like Verizon or Sprint)  Ages 10 and up. Available on Amazon.

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Glow phone

Once kids have their very own phone, they want to protect and individualize it with a cool case. Ballistic Case Company has launched a line of protective, sleek cases in limited edition colors that protect phones from dust, bumps and dings and will help kids distinguish their phone from their friends’ phones. The lightweight and durable Jewel Series, Spark and Neon editions offer reinforced silicone corners and is engineered with six-sided drop protection technology. The Neon collection boasts bright hues that even glow in the dark, so they are easy to find in a backpack. Ages 10 and up. .$20 to $30, available at  www.goballisticcase.com.

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A ton of bricks

Kids love LEGOS, and now they can combine their favorite brick building activity with their affinity for video games with LEGO Dimensions. To begin the adventure, kids build the minifigure heroes and then assemble bricks into the LEGO Gateway, which they place onto the LEGO Toy Pad. The game expands as kids collect more mini figures, vehicles and gadgets and go to new levels with Expansion Packs, that call up the likes of Fantastic Beasts, Gremlins, Ghostbusters, Harry Potter and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, making the game completely customizable and infinitely expandable. Ages 7-14. The Starter Pack is available for $79.99 at Target, Toys R Us, GameStop, Walmart, Best Buy, and Amazon. Additional expansion packs range from $11.99 – $49.99.

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Gem dandy

Light up the little ladies on your gift list with Gemmies the next evolution of 3D beading craft. With a click and connect process using elastic rings, kids can design crystal creations, from sparkling jewelry to flowers and tiny toy animals. The intuitive design templates use a repetitive pattern that lets kids develop their cognitive abilities and progress to designing their own creations. The kits come with a storage Design Studio with a light up pedestal to display creations. Ages 6 and up. $24.99.  Available at Target or www.makegemmies.com.

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Puzzle me this

For families on the road, take a break from mobile video games for some real, tactile interaction with a travel puzzle that engages kids in creative play while helping them to build an inner sense of the relationships between forms and colors. Bella Luna’s Magnetic Tiles Indian Squares puzzle comes packaged in a handy 8×8 metal storage box that doubles as a play surface with 36 magnetitic birch wood pieces enclosed.  All ages, from children to adults, will enjoy coming up with beautiful designs and geometric forms. $39.95, ages 3 and up. Available at www.Bellalunatoys.com.

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If you are shopping for a tech geek this holiday season, here are 12 great electronic gifts that will light them up.

Take charge

The myCharge RazorPlatinum portable charger ($99.99) is the perfect companion for the MacBook on the go. It charges a MacBook in 100 minutes via a USB – C port, and it also can charge any compliant USB – C or USB-A device, such as tablet, phones and other devices. It has an anodized aluminum body, and a rapid – recharge power bank and includes a USB – C cable.  This heavy-duty battery will add a bit of weight to your load, but the power it packs is worth its weight. To check if the myCharge is topped up, you simply shake it, and it will light up with one to four flashing dots, depending on remaining battery life.

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Just in case

For the iPhone aficionado who takes their phone everywhere – who doesn’t – OtterBox makes a hard-core hard case that will protect their prized possession from dings and scratches with the stylish and durable Defender Series. The case can be customized with a variety of colors for the slipcover ($29.95) and shell ($29.95), which is always helpful since so many cases look alike. For added protection, the charger and headphone jack inputs feature rubber covers to keep out dirt and dust, and another huge plus to the Defender Series is the touch surface is incorporated into the shell, so you do not need to apply a separate protection film.

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Not your dad’s (or mom’s) smart watch

For parents who would love to get their kids a smart phone to keep track of their whereabouts and call them when needed, but they are afraid the child will lose such an expensive device, Tinitell is the perfect wearable solution.  This wristwatch phone has voice calling and smart location features so kids can run and play without having to carry a phone. With the touch of a button, kids can connect with the phone’s directory of contacts, and using the Tinitel app, parents can geo-locate their kids. Tinitell looks cool and comes in a variety of colors, and at the cost of $149 it’s far less expensive than a smart phone.

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No jack, no worries

Audiophiles who might have been disappointed in the headphone-jack free iPhone 7 will no longer have to suffer thanks to Wicked Audio Reach Bluetooth Audio Receiver ($19.99). This little device, about the size of a money clip, can connect wirelessly to any Bluetooth-enabled mobile device to stream music to headphones in a 30 foot range. It also has a built-in microphone for calls. The little magic matchbox device can slip into a pocket or clip on to clothes for people on the go, and it recharges in an hour and a half for five hours of play.

I stream, you stream…

The neat freak geek who loves streaming video but hates the clutter of cords connecting HDMI devices to the TV will go nerd crazy over the Nyrius Aries Pro ($249) wireless HDMI transmitter and receiver. This receiver will send video wirelessly to your TV without any latency or lag time — where audio and video don’t match up. It transmits up to 160 feet, allowing you to show video from your laptop or other device on the TV screen in another room. Because there are no wires, you can free up space around your TV and even place your game controller or other device across the room. The small receiver can also attach to drones or cameras, and up to eight devices total, so you can view video from those sources remotely.

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A cord of a different color

Techies can never have enough charging cables for their iOS devices, but cables don’t have to be white and boring. NewerTech makes premium USB 2.0 lightning-fast charge/sync cables ($7.99-$24.99) for Apple iPhone iPod and iPad devices in exciting colors and a variety of lengths ranging from 20 inches to 118 inches, to make plugging in anywhere easy. The multicolored cables feature a woven sheath over them so they are more durable than most cables, and because of their bright colors it’s less likely they will get left behind or mixed up and taken by your friends and family by accident.

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Search and protect

The ALLY Plus Whole Home Smart Wi-Fi System by Amped Wireless will connect your entire household to Wi-Fi, up to 15,000 feet, even out to your patio. This two-component rounter and extender system offers high power, buffer-free coverage for streaming HD and 4K games and videos on multiple devices at once, and all your internet needs. Using the app, parents can pause the internet for homework or dinner time and monitor what sites their children visit.  For extra protection the system uses AVG software to guard against malware and phishing attacks. $379, www.ampedwireless.com

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Switch hit

for the tech geek on your list who is a freak for holiday decorations, give them the ultimate turn on, and I devices outdoor switch. This switch can power up and control all their outdoor electronics such as lights, fans, speakers, fountains and more with the ease of Siri voice control and the I devices connected app. The switch theaters old outlets to control to products simultaneously and comes equipped with mounting hardware and easy instructions to connect the switch to your home Wi-Fi network and control devices with any home to compatible iOS device. $79, Available at Lowe’s Stores, Apple Stores and www.idevicesinc.com

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Store it up

Any smartphone-carrying tech aficionado knows it’s hard to choose what videos, photos and music to delete when your hard drive gets too full. The same is true for laptops.  With the Seagate 2TB Wireless Mobile Storage Device you can keep it all, safety stored and easily accessible on the wallet-sized external hard drive, which creates its own personal Wi-Fi network and features a 10-hour battery life.  Using the Wireless Plus free Seagate Media app for iOS, Android, Kindle Fire and Windows 8/RT, you can carry, manage and stream hundreds of movies or thousands of photos, songs and documents. $179, Amazon or retailers found at www.Seagate.com.

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Warm regards

Everyone hates to get up off the sofa to adjust the thermostat when the room gets too hot or cold. With Honeywell Lyric WiFi Thermostat you can regulate the temperature from anywhere – at home or outside the home, using an app or even voice commands with Siri or Alexa in a smart home.  Cool off or warm up the house before you get home or set a program to change the indoor climate when you sleep, wake, or are away at work. $199, Home Depot and hardware retailers nationwide.

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Suck up

Cordless vacuums are usually great for fast-and-dirty pick-ups, but with the Dyson V-6 Absolute, the once-over will be the end-all. Its portable size makes it perfect for those quick jobs to clean up the floor, carpet or sofa when guests are coming over and you don’t have time to get out the heavy-duty vacuum, but unlike other mini-vacs, this powerful bagless vacuum has super strong suction that doesn’t quit, with a full charge lasting up to 26 minutes. It also features a variety of attachments and a handy holster to mount on the wall.  $599, available at Dyson dealers nationwide found at www.dyson.com

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Snap a pic

The old meets the new, with the latest shoot-to-print camera from the first name in instant photography.  The Polaroid Snap Instant Digital Camera has an all-new style in a compact pocket-sized camera that can capture photos and print them out in minutes.  The camera features six different capture modes, including a vintage-Sepia tone, and a timer mode to snap a quick selfie.  Prints use ZINK zero ink print technology, and each print can double as a sticker.  $84.99, Amazon

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Power up

For those who love electronics but hate the tangle of charger cables on their bedstand, Easy-Dok has a solution.  The Dök CR33 5-Port Smartphone Charger features a organizer cabinet with a built-in Bluetooth speaker and ports to simultaneously charge up a smartphone, iPad, iPod, tablet, MP3 player and most any device that can be charged with a USB cable, up to five devices simultaneously.  The multipurpose dock can display and play one device while charging another all while streaming music streaming and allowing hands-free calls via Bluetooth. To protect devices and persevere batteries, the dock features SCD (Smart Current Detection) Technology to protect your device’s battery from being over charged. $65.67, Amazon or www.easy-doks.com

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Giving someone a personal care gift can be touchy. For instance, unless a woman has asked for a cellulite massager, she might take it the wrong way. Here are six non-offending personal gifts that loved ones are sure bring comfort and joy.

No Pain, their gain

The Oska Pulse device is the latest technology in pain relief. About the size of a large computer mouse, the device can be strapped to the body with the included sling or even placed under the user’s pillow. Employing pulsed electromagnetic field energy, the same technology used by NFL players and the military special forces to promote healing at the cellular level, the device glows and works its magic, painlessly, silently, and with no side effects. It also has a moneyback guarantee if you do not get relief. $400, www.Oskawellness.com

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Smooth Shaving

You may not think a man’s bald head and a woman’s legs have much in common, but the makers of Skull Shaver electric razors get that the delicate knees, ankles and other contours of a woman’s body deserve the same gentle care as a man’s head when achieving a close, smooth shave. The mushroom-shaped cordless Butterfly Shaver has five flexible rotating heads plus a foil head attachment for bikini and under arms. Holiday sale price $54.99, www.skullshaver.com

Smile Pretty

With all the “to floss, or not to floss” debate, only one thing is for certain, debris between your teeth is unsightly and unhealthy. The Oral Irrigator, despite its aggressive name, gently removes particles from teeth and gums with a stream of pulsed water. Unlike bulkier dental devices with cords and separate tanks, this pulsing water device charges up and then can be picked up and used like an electric toothbrush. It has three settings and a two-minute auto shut off and is safe for braces implants and bridgework.  $49.95, www.toilettreeproducts.com

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Sock it to me

Socks might seem to be a rather pedestrian gift, but not when those stockings are ready for the cat walk. Lily Trotters are fashionable high-performance women’s compression socks that look as good as they work.  Lily trotters are designed thin so they can pair easily with running shoes or boots, and despite their snug squeeze, they are easy to get on and off and can be worn comfortably for hours on end. They may be just what you need to slip into for recovery after exercise or during pregnancy or air travel when it’s most important to keep blood circulating in the lower legs for vein health and to keep legs feeling refreshed and energized. Available in dozens of sassy styles. $48, www.LilyTrotters.com

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Pillow talk

A good night sleep can improve productivity, mood and general health, and it all starts when you lay down your head. The Sleep Innovations Versacurve memory foam pillow, engineered by a team of sleep experts who studied people while they slept, cradles your cappie with gentle therapeutic support and a curved design that accommodates those who change sleeping positions from side, back and stomach during the night, promoting a sounder sleep. $38.99, www.Amazon.com

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Cool it

If someone you know has a hothead, or hot body for that matter, MISSION’s EnduraCool neck towels ($14.99-$29.99), will cool them off.  The MISSION line of athletic accessories are made with dry-to-cool wicking fabric technology embedded into wraps and other gear such as hoodies, hats, headbands and helmet liners use patented technology that can lower the fabric’s surface temperature by up to 30 degrees when activated with water, and the technology is embedded in the fabric so it can’t wash out. Available at www.mission.com

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The first thing you pick up on meeting the folk of Temecula Valley wine country is that they love where they live and what they do.  Take one part wine, two parts passion, add family, and you get a blend of people dedicated to their craft of wine making and their lifestyle in this best-kept-secret valley of Southern California.

Home to about three dozen wineries, a number that increases almost annually, Temecula is growing in popularity as a wine country destination in California, partly because of its warm and inviting hospitality and optimal climate for growing grapes but mostly because of its outstanding wines that continue to win national awards, often to the chagrin of their brethren wine makers to the north.

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Temecula’s wine roots

Owner of Baily Vineyard and Winery, Phil Baily, a pioneer of the Temecula Valley winemaking business, recalled how he took a risk in 1986 when he announced his new winery would release its first vintage in the French Beaujolais nouveau tradition, after just a few weeks of fermenting.  Baily had beginners luck, earning the praise of wine aficionados and critics, including a Los Angeles Times reviewer, who helped put Baily on the map.  The rest is history.

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Now Baily helps his fellow winemakers hone their craft.  While his neighbors are his competitors, they all share the goal of making better and better wines in Temecula

Nick Palumbo, owner of Palumbo Family Vineyards and Winery, a forty-something winemaker who is one of the youngest owners in the region, says the spirit of collaboration has made Temecula a great place to make wine.

“If I have a problem, I go to these guys who have been doing it for decades, and they make me work for the answer, but they share their education and expertise.  They understand that if one of us does well, we all do well,” says Palumbo.

Palumbo, a former New York indie rocker and chef, bought a farm and moved to the area in 1998.  He lives on the farm with cows, pigs, turkeys and chickens along with his wife and four children and says Temecula has answered his dreams of having a livelihood and lifestyle where he can spend quality time with his family and pursue his passion for marrying his love of food and music.dsc_0498

“Wine and food and music are all intrinsically related,” said Palumbo.  “It’s a great life.  We keep it simple.  We grow grapes, and we make wine.”

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A Valley awash with passion

The note that repeats throughout conversations with denizens of the region is the good life that valley brings.  The small town feeling, where everyone knows everyone, is a point of pride for the people who live there, and it’s what attracts new growers to the area.

David Bradley is typical of the atypical winegrower who landed in Temecula.  At age 14 Bradley learned to pilot hot air balloons, and he and his wife Gail now own California Dreamin’ Balloon Adventures and Videmia Winery in Temecula.

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As Bradley toured above the region’s vineyards, he met many of the characters in Temecula who made wine. He learned about their craft and shared facts and lore about the region with passengers. Bradley continued to educate himself, gleaning from his experience as a pilot who studied the subtleties of region’s climate, and utilizing his familiarity with science as the grandson of a chemist, and eventually he realized his dream of buying a vineyard and winery where today he and his wife and close-knit family of four boys make wine together and enjoy the bounty of the land.

After returning from a 6 am sunrise balloon tour, Bradley is just getting started with his day as the heat rises to 90 degrees, and it’s only 8:30 am.  He and his boys are showing some tourists the wonders of wine, with hands-on, or rather feet-on interaction, including a stomp competition where visitors smash grapes in a barrel barefoot to produce carafes of juice (don’t worry, it’s used in compost, not for drinking).

As Bradley stands in the shade of an umbrella by the winery’s makeshift restaurant, consisting of a bar and a mishmash of patio chairs and tables dressed with floral tablecloths and adorned with centerpieces of glass jars with olive branches, he removes his safari hat and runs his fingers through is shoulder length spiral-curly hair and reminisces with visitors about his love of wine and the Temecula lifestyle.  Just then, two of the family’s mutt dogs that roam the property dash through the crowd chasing a wild rabbit.  They don’t catch it, but the tourists delight in watching the dogs sniff around frantically in search of their prey.  Bradley looks at the crowd, as if to say, “Need I say more.”

Passion meets paradise

If you needed more convincing about the wonders of Temecula Valley, just ask Maria Mello, who worked at Vindemia as an intern, splitting her time between Palumbo’s winery and Vindemia Winery.  After studying winemaking techniques in France, Germany and South Africa, she connected via LinkedIn with Bradley and planned a trip out to see this budding wine country.

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Mello, who is now back in school pursuing her doctorate, was intrigued by Temecula as an up-and-coming wine country where she could bring her latest techniques and concepts to a place where viticulture was still blossoming and receptive to new ideas, rather than to areas like Napa or Sonoma, where she felt the old ways are more established. Upon meeting Bradley, Mello learned like many in the valley who know him and his family, Vindemia is a place where learning and challenging the expected is a lifelong passion, and it was a perfect proving ground for her as a budding winemaker.

The Temecula Valley way

The wineries of Temecula Valley are like each wine — each has its own unique flavor, personality and experience.  While the list of wineries is too long to inventory here in this article, and each winery cannot be summed up in a sentence, here are a few highlights of the Valley’s offerings.

Lorimar Vineyards and Winery boasts captivating views of the Valley and a philosophy that art and wine belong together, so they blend their handcrafted fruit-forward wines with live music, local art and gourmet food.

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Miramonte Winery is an artisan winery specializing in adventurous, succulent Rhone-based varietal wines.  This cliffside winery is also known for its gorgeous garden verandas, casual chic tasting room, and jam packed music and events calendar.

Wilson Creek Winery and Vineyards, which offers lodging at the Wilson Creek Manor, is the most family oriented of the Temecula Valley wineries, with a playground for children and the welcoming party of Gerry and Rosie, the founding grande dame and gentleman of the winery, who frequently tour the property escorted by their pet pig Molly on a leash.

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Ponte Winery is a romantic getaway surrounded by 300 acres of mature vineyards and views of rolling hills. Ponte began farming the vineyards in 1984 and opened the winery in 2003. The winery’s excellent service has become a benchmark for great service among Temecula wineries. Their motto is “If you like it, it’s good wine.”

Maurice Car’rie Winery offers a charming arts and crafts fair every weekend, and features an inviting picnic grounds where patrons can browse the fair and enjoy a bottle of wine.

A few of the wineries offer accommodations in addition to the few hoteliers in the area, including Temecula Creek Inn, which features excellent restaurants on site and a unique 1800s bunkhouse for special events.

While a trip to the Valley to explore the wineries any time of year is worthwhile, the area hosts a number of events to showcase the wineries, such as tastings, art and crafts shows, and tours. Besides wineries, the area also offers quaint shops like the Temecula Lavender Company, the Old Town Sweet Shop, and the Temecula Olive Oil Company, which offers tastings of their variety of flavored olive oils. For kids, the Penny Pickle’s Workshop is a cornucopia of fun activities for curious young scientists and adventurers.

For more on the wineries in the area and what’s happening in Temecula Valley wine country, visit www.TemeculaWines.org.

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The Off the Hook Santa Monica Seafood Festival attracted hundreds of visitors to sample tastes from local eateries.

When I lived in Washington, D.C., every visitor from out of town wanted to site see downtown — the White House, Washington Monument, the museums and the other landmarks and attractions. As a resident of LA, visitors asked me to show them the Hollywood sign, Sunset Boulevard, and always, my favorite tourist spot, the Santa Monica Pier.

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The Pier is a great place to people watch, shop for trinkets, play arcade games or ride thrill rides, or spend a casual day by the beach and even go fishing. In the evening there are plenty of great restaurants for every taste, and for those staying overnight, there are many wonderful luxury and boutique hotels. If visiting just for the day or weekend, here are our picks for places to go, see, dine and stay.

Sea and be seen, and eat

A great place for lunch or dinner is Del Frisco’s Grille, directly across from the Pier entrance at the corner of Ocean Avenue and Colorado Boulevard. While this happening eatery is right on the beaten path, it’s glass-walled patio is a shelter from the crowd, while diners can still note the qualities of the people going by; or those at the buzzy bar or seated inside in the upscale dining room can take respite from the throngs of tourists outside. The menu includes signature entrees including a generously portioned non-fried lump crab cake and adorable aha mini tacos in a with avocado, spicy citrus mayo and fresh tuna tartar spilling out of them. Then menu describes their offerings aptly, such as large salads (Big Greens) ample burgers (Two-Fisted Sandwiches), and chef specialties (Knife & Fork) along with an array of signature steaks and fish, like the delicate parmesan lemon sole with arugula-crab salad, roasted tomato and chive-lemon butter. Save room for the incredible heap of Nutella bread pudding with coffee ice cream.

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Stay a while, leave no footprint

The Shore Hotel boasts ocean views, on Ocean Avenue, and it’s easy walking distance to the pier and many other Santa Monica attractions, including the bike path along the ocean and shopping, cinemas, and many restaurants. It’s a cleanly designed and chic hotel, with lots of glass and chrome, but despite its modernism, the hotel is known for being down to earth. It is a LEED-certified building, with building materials, paints, carpeting, bedding and other textiles within the hotel all conforming to the hotel’s eco-friendly policy. Sure hotels goes beyond simply asking people to reuse their bath towels, they provide a recycling trashcan in each room, and there are reminder signs throughout the hotel to encourage visitors to reuse and recycle.

Even the landscaping around the hotel uses recycled water and features region appropriate succulents. The pool is also solar heated, and conditioning in each room automatically goes off when the balcony door is opened to save energy. The rooms themselves are designed to let in lots of natural light, and since 90% of the rooms have an ocean view with plenty of daylight, there’s no need for artificial lights in the room during the daytime, and the lobby is equally light and airy with floor-to-ceiling glass windows to let in the light and show off the hotels spectacular setting across from the beach.

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Take a long walk on a historic pier

The Santa Monica Pier itself is a main attraction of the city. Like most boardwalks, it is a mix of souvenir shops and walk-up and casual restaurants offering custard ice cream, pizza, French fries, hot dogs on a stick and other typical fast food fare, along with a few sit-down restaurants, like Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., and an upscale option of The Lobster for fine dining. At the entrance of the pier, the beautiful historic carousel is only one dollar for rides and a must experience for children. There’s also an aquarium that while small in size has many exotic fish and is a great educational sidetrip for kids. For those who prefer their fish on the end of a hook, the Pier has license-free fishing, where my son snagged a spiny backed stingray — which we threw back, due to the the fellow fisherman warning us that fish caught there were contaminated because of pollution.

There is, of course, a noisy arcade with cranes and video games where you can spend $50 to win prizes worth about $2. The Pacific Park, located on the pier, offers midway games, like skee ball and the water balloon filling game, and an assortment of rides for all ages, including the West Coaster, a small roller coaster. The rides can be expensive, up to $8 each for the premium rides, but you can purchase an all-day wristband for $29.95 for adults and $17.95 for kids under 7.

What is considered the boardwalk, a walkway along a strip of shops and restaurants adjacent to the pier, is known as a great place for people watching, where tourists can see street performers jump into piles of glass and the famed Jimi Hendrix on rollerblades often cuts through the crowds jamming on his electric guitar. The scene can get rather seedy at night, so usually families and kids start to disappear around nightfall, when the hippies burning sage and drum circles make their appearance.

Lounge around

If you enjoy a see-and-be-seen lounge atmosphere, head over to the Viceroy Hotel, an ocean front stylish boutique hotel known for its fashionable crowd and hipster happy hours. The hotel’s restaurant, CAST, features an eclectic menu of California cuisine with unexpectedly delicious food and flavor combinations artistically presented in a swanky atmosphere, at the poolside patio restaurant, with its Alice in Wonderland high-back chairs and black and white checkered tables. The restaurant has an award-winning weekend brunch, but get reservations early, or you will get left out of the in crowd.

Shop a while

Shopping in Santa Monica includes indoor and outdoor retail destinations. Besides the random boutiques, there is Santa Monica’s 3rd Street Promenade plaza, which is basically a three-block-long outdoor mall of stores and restaurants, with a variety of food and drink offerings, from juice and smoothie bars to fine Italian dining at Locando del Lago. 3rd Street Promenade also features movie theaters and street performers, including one dead ringer for James Taylor who usually draws a huge crowd. The shops themselves are mostly retail chains, such as Banana Republic, GAP, Abercrombie and Fitch, and Pottery Barn but there are also a slew of independent stores worth checking out.

A short walk away is Santa Monica Place, a galleria of upscale shops, such as Kate Spade A, Michael Kors, Louis Vuitton, and Coach and healthy food offerings like True Food Kitchen, Fresh Healthy Café, and 40 Carots (inside Bloomingdale’s). The mall features concierge services and parking valet and other high-end services for the discerning shopper. The good and bad thing about Santa Monica Place is that it almost always seems deserted, so you can have the place to yourself, but you can also feel like you’re walking in a ghost town. 1280px-santa_monica_place_macerich

For the A-type tech junkie who likes to stay plugged in at all times, working on a treadmill desks is the ultimate multitask. Not only is walking while you work a great way to stimulate your mind and body to boost productivity, active lifestyle pundits like Kathleen Hale, founder of the Chair Free Project, point out that rising and moving instead of sitting all day at a desk could save your life.

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That’s right, sitting is the new smoking. Those long hours on your butt are not only the cause of what my desk-jockey cousin’s husband nick-named “spreading a**,” but sedentary habits are a factor in heart disease, diabetes, cancer and a host of other bad things that can happen to a body that sits too much.

So if you are so inclined to avoid overly reclining and chair sitting, here are some great tips for effectively using a treadmill…

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Today at 2 am clocks rolled back one hour to observe daylight savings time, which is also when safety experts recommend you check and change batteries on home smoke and CO detectors.

Taking a few minutes to swap out batteries could save your family’s life.  Most 9 volt batteries, which are the most commonly used in smoke and CO alarms, can last several years, but the minor expenses of about $4 per battery is worth the security and peace of mind of knowing your home is protected.

If your smoke detector is mounted in a place that is hard to reach, or if you don’t like to have to frequently change batteries, consider an alarm with a sealed lithium battery, such as the Kidde Worry-Free combination smoke and CO alarm. The system eliminates the need for up to 20 9-volt batteries, which is not only easier on the user but…

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