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This summer, Melting Pot Food Tours celebrates its fourth year as the original food tours provider for Los Angeles. The company has pioneered walking-tasting culinary tours of the city's best restaurants in the most historic neighborhoods.

Their three tours--The Original Farmers Market and 3rd Street, Old Pasadena, and East LA Latin Flavors—are chock full of stories of local color, introductions to merchants, and exotic tastings of world cuisine.

LadiesSalad-Joans SMALLEnjoying a taste of signature Chinese Chicken Salad from Jones on Third.

Melting Pot Food Tours was founded by native Angeleno sisters Lisa and Diane Scalia, who share a passionate desire to put Los Angeles on the map as a world-class epicurean destination. Their aim is to acquaint locals and tourists with extraordinary neighborhoods and the foods that make them so special and unique.

"Starting a LA-based food tour company just as the economy tanked in 2008 wasn't precisely our plan," mused Lisa Scalia, who changed careers mid-life to start the business with her sister Diane, who happens to be a chef. "But we knew we had a winning concept, and our continuing success in a down economy has certainly proven our instincts to be right."

The sister team is supported by a vibrant group of tour leaders, who share their passion for LA's diverse neighborhoods and the special international cuisine that helps define the City of Angels.

"Los Angeles is incredibly blessed that immigrants came here and brought their foods with them. They're sharing a very important part of who they are," gushed Diane, who considers herself a gourmet storyteller. "We're so lucky to have amazing international cuisine around every corner. Foodies visiting LA really deserve to experience these special cafes and restaurants, some of which are hidden gems."

The flagship Melting Pot Food Tour launched in July 2008 at The Original LA Farmers in mid-city Los Angeles, and along adjacent 3rd Street. Guests sample a taste of Japan, India, Mexico, France, Brazil, and also savory and sweet American fare. Merchants add their personal anecdotes to the tour leaders' narrative, familiarizing guests with this neighborhood that holds allure for celebrities, tourists, and locals alike.

Harriot Manley of Sunset magazine heralded this tour as, "A great way to take a big bite of the Original Farmer's Market—especially for a first-timer like me. Lisa Scalia gave us intimate insights and a chance to enjoy it all in an efficient and enjoyable way."

Jessica Gelt of the Los Angeles Times stated that this tour is, "Not just for tourists, but for Angelenos looking to learn more about the splendid flavors of the city they love."

Simon Todd, publisher of Essentially America, the UK's leading consumer magazine about travel to the US and Canada, positively cheered. "Great tour guides. Great food. Great fun! Highly recommended."

Olive Oil Tasters SMALL 433728Do a comparative tasting of olive oils at Beyond the Olive in Pasadena. The Old Pasadena Tasting Tour, offered on both evenings and weekends, was added in July 2009. Guests explore back alleys and secret throughways while filling up on delicious tastings from the Middle East, Mexico, France, Peru, Italy, and Asia. Visits to an artisan chocolatier, unique handmade soap kitchen, and a California olive oil boutique round out the itinerary.Orange County's Coast magazine writer Denise Adams commented, "There is no better way to see the area than with Melting Pot Food Tours. The Old Pasadena food tasting and guided walking tour was the highlight of our stay."

LA's Latin core district at the eastern end of downtown, including Boyle Heights, is the site of the East LA Latin Flavors Tour since winter 2010. Adventurous tour guests savor both time-honored and contemporary Central American and Mexican foods whilst learning all about their origins, including birria (goat stew) that dates back to a century-old recipe.

 

Hungry visitors to Los Angeles interested in learning more about these tours may visit http://www.meltingpottours.com.

 

TravMedia.com contributed to this article.

 

Editor's note: This article also appears in the Drives and Destinations category of our Visit section. Visitors to the Los Angeles area will find links to hundreds of lodging and dining options in Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.

 

A world of possibilities await visitors to San Francisco this summer, from navigating the legendary culinary scene, diving into diverse neighborhood festivals, experiencing live music or events to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge. To help visitors make the most of their days and nights in the city, the San Francisco Travel Association has launched a guide to “49 Hours of SF” at www.sanfrancisco.travel/49hours.

Joe DlAlessandro SMALLJoe D'Alessandro of San Francisco Travel

“Everyone knows that the average weekend is 48 hours, but in San Francisco there is no average weekend,” said Joe D’Alessandro, San Franciso Travel president and CEO. “A lot can happen in this city, even with just an extra hour, so we’ve designed nine different itineraries that will give our visitors an unforgettable experience here.”

A “build your own itinerary” tool on the site allows visitors to select items from each of the itineraries and build their own 49 hour excursions, which can be shared via Facebook, Twitter or email.

“49 Hours of SF” hotel packages, which can be booked on the website, include amenities such as free parking or breakfast. In honor of the Golden Gate Bridge’s 75th anniversary, American Express has a special hotel offer through September 30, 2012. Visitors who book their hotel stay with any American Express Card will receive a $75 Westfield Gift Card.

San Francisco Travel suggests nine different itineraries based on visitors’ interests in and around San Francisco. These itineraries are great ideas for all visitors and provide many reasons for convention attendees to arrive early or stay a few days longer. Itinerary ideas include:

 

The History Buff – The 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge was marked on May 27 at the Golden Gate Festival and there are tributes and celebrations across the city throughout the year. There are permanent improvements to the way visitors experience the bridge, such as a new pavilion at the south end of the bridge, improved shopping and dining options and guided tours of the bridge by day and night.

 

The Escapist – Shake off the everyday with this collection of unique experiences – Blue & Gold bay cruises, Hiking Yoga tours, Bay Trek hikes, RocketBoat rides and more. For the first time in 14 years, the U.S. Open Championship will bring the world’s best golfers to the historic Olympic Club on June 11-17. The America’s Cup sailing regatta is returning to the United States for the first time since 1995, pulling in to San Francisco for the World Series Races on August 21 – 26.

 

de Young Picasso SMALL Portrait of Dora MaarSee a Picasso at the deYoungThe Culture Seeker – The San Francisco CityPASS opens the doors to the city’s best museums, including admissions to the California Academy of Sciences, Aquarium of the Bay, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), the Exploratorium, the deYoung and Legion of Honor fine arts museums. The Stern Grove Festival, admission-free since 1938, celebrates its 75th anniversary this summer with a season of top outdoor musical performances.

 

The Shop-a-holic – Retail therapy is everywhere in this city, including places like PIER 39, Westfield San Francisco Centre, Gump’s department store – a San Francisco institution since 1861. Discover unique boutiques like Urban Bazaar, Alexander Book Company, the Levi’s Plaza Store, Favor (featuring Hotcakes Designs), Rickshaw Bags, Amoeba Music and Swankety Swank. For inspiration, “The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk” at the deYoung Museum (through August 19) is truly a work of art.

 

The Day Tripper – San Francisco is the perfect base camp for exploring “Beyond the Bridge” to California’s upper half. Venture out to California’s Great America theme park, the intriguing Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, the East Bay communities of Oakland, Berkeley and beyond. Head south to Pacifica, Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz and stop at Roaring Camp & Big Trees Railroad on the way to Monterey, Carmel and Pebble Beach. Head north to the famous Wine Country and Mendocino, or east to historic Sacramento, dramatic Yosemite National Park and Mariposa County or cool, clear Lake Tahoe.

 

The Fun Seeker – Find your smile again at places like the Exploratorium, the Bay Area Discovery Museum, the Children’s Creativity Museum, House of Air (indoor trampoline park) and the little-known Seward Street Slides. Relive happy days on the Magic Bus tour and at the Walt Disney Family Museum. After dark, giggle your way through “Beach Blanket Babylon” and the Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar inside the Fairmont Hotel.

Tyler Florence WAYFARE 3843  SMALL JOHNLEEPICTURESTV's Tyler Florence cooks at WAYFARE. 

The Foodie – Everyone who eats is a foodie in San Francisco. Start the day at the Ferry Building Farmers Market on Saturday (or the Marketplace inside anytime), walk down the Embarcadero to Tcho Chocolates, then head up to Chinatown to see the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. Gourmet Walks and Grub Crawl offer food explorations on foot. Come during a great food event--SF Chefs, July 30-Aug. 5--to be part of the culinary in-crowd. Grab some fresh Boudin sourdough bread and dip it in We Olive’s golden oil, followed by See’s Candies, a California classic.

 

The Shutterbug – What better souvenir of a trip to San Francisco than photography? This itinerary highlights some of the most scenic spots in the area. Look toward the skyline from the Marin Headlands, Horseshoe Bay, Treasure Island and Twin Peaks. Find nature in the midst of the city in Golden Gate Park, get a look at art and architecture at Coit Tower, the Legion of Honor, the Palace of Fine Arts and Alamo Square. And find an “only in San Francisco” shot of the cable cars and Chinatown.

 

The Explorer – Forty nine miles of diverse neighborhoods and hidden gems await visitors who venture past the iconic landmarks. The murals of the Mission District, the Wiggle to Golden Gate Park and the Wave Organ at Crissy Field are delightful discoveries. Places known to locals include Creativity Explored, Paxton Gate and 826 Valencia. To really get the lay of the land, take the 49 Mile Scenic Drive to sample each neighborhood. Then return to “go deep.”

 

By entering a specific travel date and event interests, visitors can also see a list of arts and culture special events taking place over the 49 hours they’re in San Francisco, which are also outlined by location on a map, making exploration even easier.

To create additional buzz around the program, San Francisco Travel has launched a contest using Instagram, the popular photo sharing application. Visitors and locals who tag their Instagram photos #49hoursofSF have the opportunity for their photos to be featured in the campaign, and will be entered to win a “Stay & Play in SF” package including a two-night stay at the San Francisco Marriott Marquis, $100 dining certificate, two CityPASS Booklets, two tickets on RocketBoat and two passes to the Wax Museum at Fisherman's Wharf.

The number 49 has long had special significance for San Francisco. The city’s population exploded with the Gold Rush of 1949. The city itself measures 49 square miles (or “49 square miles surrounded by reality,” as one luminary once said). Motorists can tour the city on the 49 Mile Scenic Drive. And don’t forget that famous football team with 49 in the name.

 

(TravMedia.com sources contributed to this article.)

 

Editor's note: Links to websites of hundreds of San Francisco & Bay Area lodging and dining options can be found in Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.

 

Aside from good food, nothing pairs with wine better than spectacular scenery. Wine lovers will get that perfect pairing this summer when they combine one of California’s 25 beautiful national parks with a nearby iconic wine country experience.

Yosemite Falls NPS Photo yf-spr415 SMALLYosemite Falls and Cooke Meadow in early MayWith dozens of diverse wine regions and even more grape varieties across the Golden State, wine lovers can savor their favorite wines and explore new ones on their way to and from great parks from Yosemite in the High Sierra down to Joshua Tree in the desert. Like the stewards of California’s unique national parks, winemakers and growers also feel a deep connection to the land, making California a world leader in sustainable winegrowing – and making it easy for eco-minded travelers to find the perfect wine to complement their journey.

While in wine country, outdoor enthusiasts should make time to add an inspiring hike, bike ride or picnic in a stunning vineyard or valley. Or take it all in with a bird’s eye view on a sunrise hot air balloon ride followed by brunch with your favorite local wines.  Below are some great wine regions to experience as part of a trip to some of California’s leading national parks.

 

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA

 

Redwood National and State Parks and Mendocino County Wine Country

Home to the world's tallest trees, these coastal redwood parks inspire visions of mist-laden primeval forests bordering crystal-clear streams. A perfect way to break up the drive and stay overnight is in picturesque and historic Mendocino, a great jumping point to the Mendocino County Wine Region. The county, which boasts a high percentage of acres farmed by sustainable, organic or biodynamic disciplines, grows a wide variety of winegrapes. If you’re a Pinot Noir lover, don’t miss the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Celebration on Sept. 7, where you can taste wines and meet the winemakers from 25 outstanding wineries, located at the Little River Inn overlooking Pacific Ocean.

Tupeelkpointreyes Wiki photo SMALLTule Elk at Pt. Reyes are just a half-hour drive from Sonoma County vineyards. One of the lesser-known but incredibly scenic parks, Point Reyes National Seashore is an easy 90-minute drive north of San Francisco, just south of the quaint town of Occidental and the dramatically beautiful Sonoma County Wine Region. Take the famous Highway 1 along the coast to this park, featuring thunderous ocean breakers crashing against rocky headlands and expansive sand beaches. Sonoma has many distinctions, but here’s one to note: it grows more Pinot Noir than any other county in the state. Gourmet farm and vineyard dinners are common here—a fitting expression of the area’s great wine, homegrown culinary culture and love of the great outdoors. This June 9-10, don’t miss the Russian River Valley Passport to Pinot Weekend, featuring barrel tastings at nearly 30 wineries, as well as amazing food pairings, artist demonstrations, vineyard tours and entertainment. The place to be for wine lovers on Labor Day Weekend is the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, featuring more than 200 world-class wineries and chefs showcasing their talents at stylish winemaker lunches and dinners, a show-stopping Taste of Sonoma event as well as the hugely popular Sonoma Valley Harvest Wine Auction.

Muir Woods and Napa Valley Wine Country

One of the most celebrated redwood tree parks in the world, Muir Woods, a mere half hour north of San Francisco and an hour to the legendary Napa Valley Wine Region, was once declared by John Muir as the "best tree-lovers’ monument that could possibly be found in all the forests of the world." Reward yourself after a hearty stroll in this nature preserve with a day or two in another natural wonderland: the Napa Valley. Recognized on the global stage at the Judgment of Paris in 1976, Napa Valley’s world-renowned wines have found an equal match in the region’s cuisine. If in town July 13-22, meander to the 7th Annual Napa Valley Festival Del Sole, an event the New York Times calls a “feast for the senses.” Featuring world-class artistry, gourmet cuisine, fine wines and lifestyle programs this 10-day experience celebrates the art of life.

Tahoe National Forest and Sierra Foothills Wine Country/Lodi

This 800,000-acre national forest just east of Sacramento offers outstanding recreation year-round including hiking, camping, skiing and nearby Lake Tahoe. Pairing it with a visit to the Sierra Foothills Wine Region makes the trip even more special for wine lovers. Check out Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Nevada and Placer counties. Nestled in the heart of California’s storied Gold Country, the regions are known for their rich history and rich reds. This June 23-24 check out the 16th Annual Passport "Wine" Weekend, featuring gourmet foods, entertainment and special discounts at 23 Calaveras County wineries/ tasting rooms. On the way to Tahoe, you can also stop by the Lodi Wine Region, home to 80 wineries and an area known for Zinfandel.

 

CENTRAL CALIFORNIA

 

Yosemite and Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks and Madera County/FresnoFeatured on many bucket lists, Yosemite National Park stirs the soul of nature lovers, with its soaring granite walls, cascading waterfalls and majestic forests. Madera County is a great addition to a Yosemite visit with its fertile farmlands and vineyards. Don’t miss the Madera Wine Trail, featuring local wineries serving their highly acclaimed dessert, port-style and late-harvest wines, among others. If you’re going to Sequoia & Kings Canyon, visit the Fresno State Winery, the first university in the U.S. to have a fully licensed winery. You can enjoy tastings or buy the wine at the Fresno State Gibson Farmers Market where you will find a variety of award-winning offerings all harvested, created or grown by Fresno State students. The winery will be part of a 2012 Winemakers Dinner on August 25, featuring wines from several local wineries, dinner and dancing under the stars.

Pinnacles National Monument and Monterey/Paso Robles Wine Country

Rising out of the chaparral-covered Gabilan Mountains is Pinnacles National Monument, the mighty remains of an ancient volcano with massive monoliths, spires, sheer-walled canyons and talus passages. This impressive park is just over an hour from Monterey County Wine Region and approximately 90 minutes from Paso Robles Wine Country, both wonderful scenic areas to explore, wine and dine. While in Monterey, which along with the nearby Santa Cruz Mountain Wine Region was also recognized in the Judgment of Paris, check out Fisherman’s Wharf and the nearby tony shops of Carmel-by-the-Sea, then head over to one of the area’s 85 wineries. If around on June 9, you’ll want to stop by the 8th Annual Art & Wine Festival in Carmel Village, featuring pourings by regional wineries of their latest vintages, local bands and family activities from pony rides to arts and crafts. If exploring the Paso Robles wine region, a hot spot for Rhône varietals and blends as well as many other grapes, don’t miss the charming downtown square or nearby Hearst Castle on the coast. If you’re visiting during the beautiful Indian Summer, don’t miss one of the area’s iconic wine and food events, Sunset Savor the Central Coast in San Luis Obispo County, Sept. 27-30.

Los Padres National Forest and Santa Barbara Wine

A stone’s throw from Santa Barbara Wine Country, Los Padres National Forest offers 1,257 miles of coastal and mountain trails which provide both day-use and extended backpacking opportunities. Celebrate a morning of hiking with a tasting or picnic at one of the area’s many wineries, immortalized in 2004 by the film “Sideways,” which celebrated the area’s signature Pinot Noir. On June 30, celebrate another popular area varietal at The Chardonnay Symposium, featuring seminars and samplings from more than 50 wineries, and paired gourmet foods provided by local restaurants and caterers.

  SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

 

Temecula Vnyd Vertical cr WDC SMALLRecently-planted Temecula Vineyard.

Joshua Tree National Park and Temecula Wine Country

Viewed from the road, this desert park only hints at its vitality, with its beautiful Joshua trees. Closer examination reveals a fascinating variety of plants and animals that make their home in this land shaped by strong winds, unpredictable torrents of rain, and climatic extremes. Dark night skies for astronomy buffs, a rich cultural history, and surreal geologic features add to the attraction of this place. A visit to this park wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Temecula Wine Country, about 2.5 hours southwest. Tempered by coastal fog, this warm region is best known for its Italian and Rhône varieties—and its annual Balloon and Wine Festival, taking place this year June 1-3. A great way to sample the wines from this charming region is to check out the 3rd Annual Wine and Culinary Showcase, CRUSH on Sept. 15 during California Wine Month in September, featuring award-winning wines from 30 wineries.

Mojave National Park and Cucamonga Valley

Singing sand dunes, volcanic cinder cones, Joshua tree forests, and carpets of wildflowers are all found at this 1.6 million-acre park. A visit to its canyons, mountains and mesas will reveal long-abandoned mines, homesteads, and rock-walled military outposts. A great way to round out the trip is to stop and stay on the way to Los Angeles in the Cucamonga Valley, one of the oldest regions in the state and known for its historic wineries specializing in Old Vine Zinfandels and port wines. A cool happening this summer is the Los Angeles Food & Wine event August 9-12, featuring incomparable tastes from 140 celebrity chefs and nearly 300 acclaimed wineries.

 

(Wine Institute contributed to this article.)

 

Editor's note: Links to the websites of thousands of lodging and dining options near California's national parks can be found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.

 

 

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