For more than 60 years, the Castroville Artichoke Festival has been a much-anticipated spring event, celebrating the area’s reputation as ‘Artichoke Center of the World.’ (As of today, this year’s event will take place on August 8 and 9. Check the website for updates). A year before the festival began, a young actress named Norma Jeane Mortenson – later known as Marilyn Monroe – became California’s first honorary Artichoke Queen.
During the typical two-day Festival, daily crowds top 20,000 people. Sip and quaff favorite beverages in the Wine, Beer & Spirits Garden, and listen to live music. Watch professional chefs demonstrate how to prepare artichokes and much more, then load up your car with fresh produce from the farmers market.
There’s even an unusual Agro Art competition. Participants create three-dimensional fruit and vegetable sculptures in front of festival attendees, for a chance to win a total of $5,000 cash prizes. Perhaps the best way to understand why Castroville is considered the Artichoke Center of the World is to take a 90-minute educational tour of artichoke fields. The California Artichoke Advisory Board sponsors this activity, with advance ticket purchases required.
There's a good reason why banners throughout Castroville's quaint downtown declare this the Artichoke Center of the World. That’s because 70-80% of U.S. artichokes grow in the area. This perfect growing climate is usually cool and overcast with the peak growing season from March through May, and a smaller harvest in October.
Italian immigrant, Andrew Molera, got things started during the 1920s, when he planted an acre of artichokes on his ranch. Two years later, Angelo del Chiaro and his cousin leased 150 acres from Molera, which significantly expanded the crop size. Within a few short years 12,000 acres in California – most in Castroville – produced artichokes. Today, Castroville-based Ocean Mist Farms is the nation’s largest artichoke producer.
While in Castorville during a typical artichoke season, there are several must-visit destinations. The first is family-owned Pezzini Farms, which has grown heirloom Green Globe artichokes (and other crops) for more than eight decades. Inside the open-air farm stand, artichokes of multiple sizes occupy a wall full of waist-high displays. There’s plenty of other fresh produce here too, as well as mouthwatering baked goods and shelves full of pantry items.
No matter what time of year you visit, artichokes star in packaged foods too. Purchase items such as artichoke Parmesan pasta sauce, artichoke seasoning, and artichoke pesto. If you time it right, you may also get to order fresh, fried or steamed artichokes from an onsite food truck.
The other can’t-miss stop is the Giant Artichoke Restaurant (in Salinas, CA). In fact, there’s no way you can miss the enormous decorative artichoke beside the entrance to this eatery, which has operated for decades.
The restaurant is famous for fried artichokes served with a choice of dipping sauces. In addition, try an artichoke dip with jalapeno or spinach; artichoke salad; artichoke and angel hair pasta; meatloaf with roasted veggies and artichokes; or The Giant Artichoke Burger. You may even find artichoke cupcakes on the menu.
If you love artichokes, be sure to visit Castroville when you're in California, for sights and tastes of the freshest artichokes available in the U.S.
Please note: As a writer associated with the travel industry, I received a complimentary tour and samples, for the purpose of this review. While it has not influenced this post, I wish to disclose all potential conflicts of interest.
DRIVE TIME TO LARGER CITY:
-Milwaukee: 2 hours, 2 minutes
I have no idea how I missed this year's National Cheese Day, on June 4. I guess I'll blame it on the pandemic. When I realized I'd forgotten this important holiday I found myself reflecting on cheese makers I've met through my travels. One of my favorite cheese makers was Hook’s® Cheese Company, Inc.
Co-owners and college sweethearts, Tony and Julie Hook, operate in the heart of charming little Mineral Point, WI, an hour from the bustling college town of Madison. They have perfected their craft through nearly five decades, with plenty of awards to show for it.
During our factory visit, Tony Hook described the process of making blue cheese while holding two large molds used to craft it. He then invited us to sample ultra-fresh and luscious cheddar cheese varieties, alongside Colby and specialty cheeses.
Julie’s 1982 Colby won ‘Best of Class’ and ‘Finest Cheese in the World’ recognition (out of 482 entries) at the World Cheese Championships. And their Ten Year Sharp Cheddar won first place in the 2006 American Cheese Society competition.
Today, the company makes 50 different cheeses. In 1997, the pair began crafting Blue Cheese and they added a Gorgonzola four years later. The dizzying array of cheeses that Hook's Cheese Company currently makes also includes Muenster; mild, medium and sharp cheddars. Monterey Jack comes in a variety of flavors such as Hook's Maple Jack and Hook's Pesto Jack. The company also makes Tilston, Gouda, Havarti and Pecorino cheeses, to name a few.
This is a must-do visit for cheese loving travelers in Wisconsin. Check for current hours and tour availability during the pandemic.
Please note: As a writer associated with the travel industry, I received a complimentary tour and samples for the purpose of this review. While it has not influenced this post, I wish to disclose all potential conflicts of interest.
DRIVE TIME FROM LARGER CITY:
-Mobile, AL: 1 hour, 4 minutes
Inside the Coastal Arts Center of Orange Beach, a pale lilac chandelier overhangs a spacious gallery area. On first glance, I could have sworn this was a creation by renowned glass artist, Dale Chihuly. But then I learned the piece was actually handcrafted by two artists who staff The Hot Shop, near Gulf beaches. Visitors are welcome to watch artists at work in what has become Alabama’s premier hot glass blowing facility. This is also a great place to take a "Make Your Own Glass" class and walk away with your choice of a paperweight, vase, tabletop decorative glass piece or even a holiday ornament.
During my first visit, I crafted a turquoise ribbed Christmas ornament with the expert help of our instructor. On my most recent visit, I created this gorgeous paperweight that now adorns my desk.
It was such fun to see our pieces emerge from nothing! Super-heated metal rods, and water became the vehicle for converting glass beads into molten and cooled layers. Our instructors used hand tools and we shared blow torches with them, to further transform each piece. The entire process took less than 20 minutes.
Creating gorgeous glass pieces inside The Hot Shop was a blast. Classes are available on weekday mornings, cost $85, and require reservations. Treat yourself to this creative opportunity, the next time you visit Orange Beach, Alabama.
Please note: As a writer associated with the travel industry, I received a complimentary class for the purpose of this review. While it has not influenced this post, I wish to disclose all potential conflicts of interest.
More chocolate? Heck, yes - especially since it's one of my favorite foods. Make that chocolate organic, ethically sourced, and stone ground, and I'm even more interested. Such was the case during our group visit to Olive & Sinclair Chocolate Co., which bills its products as 'Southern Artisan Chocolate.' The state’s only bean-to-bar chocolate maker, this small operation uses pure brown sugar plus cacao without preservatives. Everything is hand molded with shipping available throughout US plus overseas.
From the moment we arrived, at this Nashville shop, I felt intrigued by what we would find. I wasn't disappointed. The retail space exuded an old-school vibe, from antique shelves that displayed vintage-inspired labels on round containers of specialty candies, to the vintage Hershey's cupboard that supported a broad display of chocolate bars.
Gregarious owner, Scott Witherow, hosted our brief tour of the small factory, where we saw cacao roasting and the massive stone grinder, which help to create Olive & Sinclair chocolate. We also watched as an employee enrobed small candies from a compact assembly line.
But, the number one draw, for me, was the chocolate bars. They broke with a cracker-like snap and burst onto my tongue with rich chocolate goodness. Luscious flavor profiles such as Mexican-Style Cinnamon Chili (a 2012 Specialty Food Association Silver Finalist for Best Chocolate), Salt & Pepper (a 2010 Specialty Food Association Silver Finalist for Best Chocolate), or 67% and 75% Cacao, aren't your kid's chocolate bars either.
If you're visiting Nashville and love great chocolate, pay a visit to Olive & Sinclair Chocolate Co. For a small charge, book a factory tour too, beginning July 11, 2020. Make your reservation here.
Please note: As a writer associated with the travel industry, I received a complimentary tour, and several sample chocolate bars for the purpose of this review. While it has not influenced this post, I wish to disclose all potential conflicts of interest.
Although Cedar Rock State Park is certainly a gorgeous setting, what actually drew me to The Lowell and Agnes Walter Estate - and this Iowa park - was the architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. A fan of his architecture for decades and fresh off a trip along Wisconsin's Frank Lloyd Wright Trail, I made a detour, here, during my return trip to the Kansas City area. Boy, am I glad I did!
Wright designed almost every aspect of this estate, which reflects his Usonian architectural style - from his signature red tile mounted on an outside wall, to furnishings throughout the house. Today, mature trees dot the property, and a long flight of stairs leads to a boathouse.
With light streaming in through several skylights, and plush stools beside one wall, the narrow front hallway ended near the stunning living room. Floor-to-ceiling windows wrapped this space in natural views. Additional light poured through wide narrow windows above indoor planter boxes. Multiple seating areas paired low white upholstered chairs and benches, with wood-grain tabletops. A grand piano stood near the fireplace and a cozy couch.
Another long, narrow hallway led to the bathroom and bedrooms. In the hall, a brick wall stood opposite of tall built-in, wood-faced cabinets. Large and transom windows flooded each bedroom with light. A horizontal wood plank wall stood behind each bed too. This was my favorite bedroom, of the two. In the spacious, fully-equipped kitchen, open shelves displayed a gorgeous collection of copper, and sunlight streamed in from above the stove.
Tours are available at the Walter Estate, May to October and on Thursday through Sunday. Make your reservation by email or by phone (319-934-3572). Suggested donations for tours are $5 per person.
Please note: As a writer associated with the travel industry, I received a complimentary tour, for the purpose of this review. While it has not influenced this post, I wish to disclose all potential conflicts of interest.
If you appreciate classic architecture, then be sure to schedule a historic tour at Flagler College when you're in St. Augustine. Built as Hotel Ponce de Leon by railroad magnate, Henry M. Flagler in 1888, it is also a designated National Historic Landmark. On a campus full of tall palms, this once highly exclusive resort exemplifies Spanish Renaissance architecture at its finest. It's also one of .my favorite architectural styles.
From the moment I arrived, for our complimentary tour, the buildings' pale walls, red roofs and ornately decorated towers captivated me. The view from one rooftop (see top photo) took my breath away, too.
Inside we saw incredible artistry at every turn. Strategically placed lighting and stunning painted design covered a 68-foot domed ceiling inside the rotunda, above carved wood railings and decorative posts.
In the dining room, ornately painted arches visually 'framed' 79 luminescent Tiffany stained glass windows that illuminated the space with broad streams of natural light. Stunning wall and ceiling murals also punctuated this enormous room.
Our tour ended in the Flagler Room, once christened the Women's Grand Parlor. This was quintessential elegance, punctuated by handcrafted Austrian crystal chandeliers and original hotel furnishings. Ornate fireplaces and crown molding complemented thick, full-length curtains and yet another gorgeous ceiling mural. A modern podium and desk chair were the only incongruous elements in this beautiful space.
The entire city of St. Augustine is steeped in history - including Flagler College. Find updates regarding tour availability amid the coronavirus pandemic, here.
Note: As a writer associated with the travel industry, I received a complimentary tour, for the purpose of this review. While it has not influenced this post, I wish to disclose all potential conflicts of interest.
My friends and family also know I'm CRAZY about chocolate (see previous post :). So any time I have a chance to visit a chocolate shop, it's a no-brainer for me. Such was the case during an Appleton, Wisconsin press trip, which included a stop at Wilmar Chocolates.
This bright and spacious shop has offered chocolates and confections for more than 60 years, with no signs of slowing down. And the list of awards garnered by these chocolatiers is incredibly impressive. They have won nineteen “Seal of Excellence” awards from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, in addition to multiple national and local awards.
Whether you prefer a milk chocolate confection with vanilla crunch (above), a truffle treat, dark chocolate caramels, or chocolates with creamy centers, there are plenty of choices available. During our visit a long hallway full of chocolate-related memorabilia showcased a Chocolat CD, enormous rich brown cups with Chocolate in bold white letters, and even chocolate-themed wall signs.
At the end of the hall we found the surprisingly small production area and the Mix It Up! Chocolate Bar Station. A draw for kids of all ages, this is the ultimate in chocolate customization. The process pairs one-part personal flavor preferences with one-part handcrafted genius.
It starts with molten milk, semi-sweet or blended chocolate, so I chose semi-sweet. After that there's a dizzying array of flavors and textures available. I picked cherries, coconut, pistachios, espresso and cinnamon as add-ins. And then I watched my bar in the making. I couldn't wait to taste it!
Alas, there's only one downside to creating a custom treat at the Mix It Up! Chocolate Bar Station. These bars take some time to 'set' from their melt-y character. So if you order a custom bar, at Wilmar Chocolates, just make sure you can pick it up a little later - or ask to have it shipped.(During the coronavirus pandemic, the Mix It Up! station is closed, but you may order a custom bar, online).
And skip visiting in July; that's the month when this shop always closes.
Note: As a writer associated with the travel industry, I received a complimentary tour and bar, for the purpose of this review. While it has not influenced this post, I wish to disclose all potential conflicts of interest.
Anyone who knows me well also knows that I'm addicted to Mexican food. Add brightly colored, tropically-inspired decor and a Mexican restaurant gets more big points. Incorporate a broad range of fresh seafood and place an eatery within blocks of 'big water' - in this case, an estuary of Monterey Bay, California - and it's no wonder The Whole Enchilada stole my heart and taste buds several years ago (The restaurant recently reopened following temporary closure due to COVID-19. Check for current hours).
Amid the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, my travel has been put on hold - as is the case for many people. But more time at home has provided a great opportunity to 'revisit' some of my favorite spots across the U.S.
At Henschel's Indian Museum & Trout Farm, in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, fishing enthusiasts enjoy a quiet, peaceful environment at their Hidden Springs Trout Farm. Two spring-fed ponds are full of fish, which the family sells by the pound. They also offer filet services and will package caught fish, on ice.
However, our group of history buffs focused on the museum and adjacent grounds. A fifth generation of the Henschel family currently runs the operation, and members of the family's 7th generation have also lived here. Earlier generations of the family lived with members of the Ojibwe, Potawatomie, Winnebago, Menominee and Ottawa tribes for approximately two decades.
Today the Henschel collection is one of the most complete in Wisconsin, demonstrating evidence of more than 10,000 years of human presence. From chipped, bone and ground stone tools to projectile points, to copper implements, and pottery this tiny museum is packed with treasures - many of which were found loose on the property. Other items come from the immediate vicinity and/or loan.
During our visit a glass case displayed turquoise and sterling jewelry alongside small pieces of pottery and a massive dream catcher hung beside the window. Across the room open trays displayed animal bones beside stone chips and flakes from making arrowheads.
Tutorial signs described the healing benefits of holding raw stones and seven distinct historical periods related to indigenous peoples. Another sign stated, "The most important thing in life is your relationship with the Great Spirit."
The owner’s great-grandfather once stumbled upon 2 ½ feet of skeletons, when his horse fell into what looked like a ‘hole.’ Actually an Indian mound that is likely 2,000 years old, it housed 45 skeletons 'sitting' around an enormous conch shell that measured 21 inches long and 29 inches in circumference. Stone walls and white oak logs are in the lower chamber, which may date back more than 2,000 years.
The family has since built a representation of this ancient mound, to share with visitors. After a Native American named Rolling Thunder blessed the site, a 1996 dig uncovered the state's oldest Red Ochre burial site here, too. The team also found two cremation pits and a ‘turkey tail’ used to fan smoke in blessing.
Located near the resort area of Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, Henschel's was a completely unexpected and intriguing spot to spend an afternoon. Admission is $6 for adults and $3 for children.
out and Rainbow Trout.
Fish anytime of the year—without a license. You won’t go away empty handed from here.
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