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Frog Jumping Champ SMALL photo courtesy of Calaveras CountyFrog Jumping Champ.    photo courtesy of Calaveras County

It's difficult anymore to find a corner of Earth where we are separated from our electronic devices. Even at  30,000 feet, two little syllables - Wi-Fi - keeps travelers plugged in. But California's Gold Country, the state's northeast/central region connected by meandering Highway 49, offers some steller spots where visitors can disconnect from technology for a digital detox.

Whether unplugging is a choice or a geographic happenstance, California's Gold Country offers everyone the chance to unplug and recharge. Here are twelve places to drop the call:

Rock Climb and Hike, Amador County: Remember what it feels like to be alive by hanging from a cliff by your knuckles 1,000 feet above a pristine mountain lake. http://www.touramador.com.

Cave and Mine Adventures, Calaveras County: Change your perspective zip lining over forests or crawling into the depths of the Earth, 165 feet into Moaning Cavern and through amphitheater-like rooms covered in stalactites. Sometimes visitors can hear the cavern actually moaning. Thankfully there is no cell reception. http://www.caveandmineadventures.com/

Kennedy Meadows Resort and Pack Station, Tuolumne County: Spend days reading books with real pages, petting horses in the stables, trout fishing in the Stanislaus River, or dancing to old country music from the Saloon's juke box—who needs iTunes? For Teddy Roosevelt-like adventure, see Southern Yosemite National Park on horseback. http://www.kennedymeadows.com/

Susan's Place Restaurant, Sutter Creek (Amador County): Nosh on artisanal cheeseboards and homegrown mustards while sipping local wines on a brick patio enjoying the trellised landscape. The sign on the door, "please turn your cell phones off", sets the mood. http://www.susansplace.com/index.htm

Cascade down rivers, El Dorado County: Nobody can effectively shoot the rapids while texting. http://www.visit-eldorado.com/river-rafting.php

Concerts in Ironstone Vineyard, Murphys (Amador County): This year choose a concert by Reba McIntire, John Fogherty, Tony Bennett, Jeff Foxworthy and others while wining and dining at the vineyard. Even if your ring tone is "I left my heart..." it is taboo to leave your phone on. http://www.ironstonevineyards.com

In the footsteps of Ansel Adams, Yosemite National Park: This half-day photography class allows photographers to capture the same images Ansel Adams made famous through his classic black and white images. (OK, there may be a digital device involved.) Step back in time with an overnight stay in the historic Wawona Hotel, a mid-19th century wooden lodge in Yosemite National Park. http://www.yosemitepark.com

Take a soak at Yosemite Bug Rustic Mountain Resort, Highway 140/Midpines: Buy a day pass for access to a 10-person stainless steel hot tub, cold-rain shower, cedar hot-rock sauna and a seven-jet show in the Health Spa. www.yosemitebug.com

American River Bike Trail, Folsom (to Sacramento): City cyclists will enjoy a break from competing with autos on the longest continuous paved cycling path in the United States. With 32 miles of trails, there are plenty of options for riders of all levels. http://www.visitfolsom.com/cycling/

Christmas Tree Vineyard Lodge, Forest Hill (El Dorado County): Escape the news at this rustic six-room bed and breakfast abode because rooms are TV, radio and telephone-free. http://www.christmastreevineyardlodge.com

Off Road, Placer County:See this beautiful area on ATV's and motorcycles down mountain trails and through parks. www.visitplacer.com/northern-california-off-road.aspx

Jumping Frog Jubilee, Calaveras County:Immortalized by Mark Twain, this annual event in May attracts young and old, individuals and teams (and their bug-eyed competitors) for the Jumping Frog Jubilee at the Calaveras County Fair.  Visitors aren't off the grid here but might have their hands full. http://www.frogtown.org

The northeast/central California region known as the Gold Country, where gold was discovered in 1849, is an area made up of 12 counties and dozens of historic towns dotting Highway 49. It has been named one of the top ten U.S. travel destinations to see in 2012 by Lonely Planet. For more information call toll free (U.S.) 800-225-3764 or 916-985-2698, or visit www.calgold.org.

 

(TravMedia.com contributed to this article)

 

Editor's note: Links to the websites of hundreds of lodging and dining options in Gold Country can be found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.

 

CSW WeHO SMALL 4703736256 eede4766e0 zOn Christopher Street in West Hollywood.

LA's trademark industries — entertainment, fashion, art, design and cuisine, among others — have been magnets for creative gay and lesbian trendsetters for more than a century. And by their sheer numbers and substantial influence, these pioneering men and women have left a permanent, positive and gay-friendly legacy on LA's culture, political climate and sense of community.

LA's gay scene goes back to before Christopher Isherwood wrote about it in A Single Man (reborn as the 2009 Tom Ford movie). That story was set in the 1960s, when there was a Stonewall-style riot in LA, two years before Stonewall. The Advocate magazine was born here, as were America's first gay church and synagogue (Metropolitan Community Church and Beth Chayim Chadashim). If you know PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) moms or dads, you can thank LA for them, too.

Outfest, the LGBT film festival that takes place each July, is the city's largest and longest-running film festival of any kind, celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2012. Theater companies citywide stage productions of gay interest (the Celebration Theater in Hollywood specializes in gay-themed productions), and the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles has set national standards since 1979. There's even a gay bus tour offered by Out & About Tours for those wishing to learn more about LA's gay history. But it's not just history. LGBT life in this county of 10 million people continues to be as diverse and dynamic as the City itself, with sights, sounds, tastes, languages, nightlife and adventures for every visitor. In fact, there is not just one gay neighborhood in this glittering metropolis. They dot the region. You could spend an entire week just exploring unique and engaging gay and lesbian enclaves throughout the City.

LA's original gay neighborhood is Silver Lake, along and around Sunset Boulevard, northwest of Downtown and east of Hollywood. Amid Silver Lake's rolling hills, trendsetters mix with one of America's most ethnically diverse populations in pillbox-sized homes, hip clubs and friendly bars.

At the center of Silver Lake is the cluster of low-key chic boutiques called Sunset Junction. Browse for star-worthy leather messenger bags, handbags and duffel bags at Dean or museum-quality barware at Bar Keeper; or try out restaurants like the hyper-locavore Forage, the Kitchen for comfort food done right, German sausages at Berlin Currywurst, brunch at Dusty's, or LA's favorite Cuban guava-cream cheese pastry at Café Tropical. You can also visit the site of that pivotal, pre-Stonewall riot, which took place in 1967 at 3909 West Sunset Boulevard. The building now houses a laundromat, but a Black Cat logo marks the spot.

After dark, Akbar is a den of alt-cool, gay but straight-friendly, with Moroccan-inspired décor, a jukebox filled with hip-again oldies, theme nights from craft-making to "Bears in Space," and a dance floor. Up Hyperion Avenue, rock with the go-go boys at busy MJ's, or listen to talented pianists and singers at The Other Side piano bar. Drag acts from Chico's Angels to Jackie Beat camp it up at the Cavern Club Theater, inside Casita del Campo Mexican restaurant.

And, of course, there's West Hollywood, also known as WeHo — the gay and lesbian capital of the world, where fully 50 percent of the resident population identify as gay or lesbian. "Boys Town" along Santa Monica Boulevard is the disco-beating heart of gay Southern California. Here, LA's Gay Pride Parade and festival takes place each June, and half a million costumed revelers gather for the annual Halloween Costume Carnaval along Santa Monica Boulevard. The rest of the year, it's busy day and night with cafés, gyms, restaurants, bars and dance clubs.

An evening in WeHo might start over margaritas and mingling at Marix Tex-Mex restaurant — barely more than a covered patio but always a big gay party — or power-lunch with power-lifters from the nearby gyms at the local chicken chain Koo Koo Roo. For something more upscale, ramble down the Boulevard to chichi Eleven or Revolver video bar, or dance to the thumpa-thumpa-thumpa of Rage or Micky's. Not your scene? How about bingo hosted by drag queens at Hamburger Mary's?

Then there's The Abbey, a world unto itself. What started as a simple coffee shop has grown into practically an empire of flavored martinis served by eye-candy staff in an indoor-outdoor setting with Goth-gone-wild décor.

Nearby, Hollywood's gay scene reflects its diversity. Arena Night Club and Circus Disco are favorites among LA's large Latino community. The Faultline attracts scruffy men, especially at Sunday Beer Bust on its patio.

Between Hollywood and West Hollywood lies the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), the most extensive and encyclopedic collection of art west of Chicago. In seven buildings on extensive lush grounds, right next door to the "only-in-LA" La Brea Tar Pits, visitors can experience the works of groundbreaking gay and lesbian artists, including William Burroughs, Marcel Duchamp, David Hockney, Jasper Johns, Annie Leibovitz, Robert Mapplethorpe, Catherine Opie, Robert Rauschenberg and of course, the inimitable Andy Warhol.

From LACMA, it's just a short jaunt over the hill to Studio City, gay hub of the San Fernando Valley. Oil Can Harry's is an institution (since 1968) for country line dancing and retro disco nights. And new this year to the Valley is the upscale Rain nightclub. Rain gives bar-goers fresh entertainment seven nights per week from some of Southern California's top promoters and tastemakers. Patrons enjoy everything from drag shows, musicals and acoustic sets to '80s, '90s and Top-40 hits and electronic dance music. Rain features a custom, state-of-the-art video and sound system. In addition to gay-themed entertainment, Rain features a world-class, Cuban-inspired tasting menu born from a collaboration between two renowned celebrity chefs.

Finally, what's a trip to LA without the beach? Will Rogers State Beach (affectionately known as "Ginger Rogers") in Santa Monica has been a gay hangout since Isherwood and his kind lived just up the nearby canyon. A few miles down the coast in Venice Beach, Roosterfish has been serving honest drinks at honest prices to the men of the beach since 1979. (It's on the downtown chic Abbot Kinney Boulevard.)

And on LA County's southern shore, Long Beach is a lesbian and gay hub in its own right: Classic nightspots include Ripples (recently featured on Bravo TV's Tabatha Takes Over) and the Silver Fox.

 

TAG-Approved hotels in Los Angeles County

LA offers many hotels that are TAG-Approved, which means they meet six LGBT welcoming qualifications, including enforcing policies that are non-discriminatory due to sexual orientation, fair treatment of homosexual employees and their domestic partners, and giving back to their communities. Below is a listing of several TAG-Approved hotels in LA and their neighborhoods:

Andaz West Hollywood, West Hollywood

Chamberlain, West Hollywood

Elan Hotel Los Angeles, West Hollywood/Beverly Center

Four Points by Sheraton Los Angeles Intl Airport, Los Angeles International Airport Area

Hilton Checkers Los Angeles, Convention Center/Staples Center/Nokia Theater

Holiday Inn Long Beach Airport, Long Beach

Holiday Inn Santa Monica at the Pier, Santa Monica

Hollywood Hotel, Hollywood/Silverlake/Universal Studios

Hotel Angeleno, a Joie de Vivre Hotel, West Los Angeles

The Huntley Hotel Santa Monica Beach, Santa Monica

Hyatt Regency Century Plaza, Century City/Beverly Hills

The London West Hollywood, West Hollywood

Luxe Hotel Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills/Los Angeles

Maison 140, Beverly Hills/West LA

Montage Beverly Hills, Beverly Hills

The Mosaic Hotel Beverly Hills a Gemstone Property, Beverly Hills/Los Angeles

The Orlando, West Hollywood Adjacent

Palomar Los Angeles - Westwood, a Kimpton Hotel, Wilshire Corridor/Westwood

The Redbury @ Hollywood & Vine, Hollywood

Renaissance Montura Hotel, Los Angeles, Los Angeles International Airport Area

Residence Inn by Marriott Beverly Hills, Los Angeles/Beverly Hills

Sheraton Agoura Hills Hotel, West San Fernando Valley

Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles, Los Angeles International Airport Area

Shore Hotel, Santa Monica

SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills, West Hollywood/Beverly Hills

Sofitel Los Angeles, West Hollywood

The Westin Bonaventure Hotel and Suites, Downtown

Thompson Beverly Hills, Beverly Hills

W Los Angeles, Westwood

The Westin Long Beach, Long Beach

 

(TravMedia.com contributed to this article)

 

Editor's note: Links to the websites of hundreds of lodging and dining options in the Hollywood/Los Angeles area can be found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.

 

LA may be known largely for its red carpets, velvet ropes and a lot of other activities that go deep into the night, but that doesn't take away from the fact that the City is a fantastic place to explore with the family. From its miles of wide, sandy beaches to sun-kissed baseball games at Dodger Stadium to its dozens of museums, LA lets a parent give the kids a one-of-a-kind adventure that's long on excitement and short on the typical.

There Are Parks, and Then There Are ParksGriffith Park

Make no mistake: Griffith Park is big. How big? It's the biggest urban park in the U.S. and almost five times the size of New York's Central Park. But that's no reason to be intimidated, as the park provides a ton of activities for the family. Griffith Observatory will wow adults with its stunning architecture while providing a fantastic place for kids to explore with its interactive space displays and its views of the City below, as well as its "Centered in the Universe" show inside its planetarium. The Travel Town Museum lets kids explore, touch and climb over trains from all eras, while Ferndell's creeks and greenery lets the family truly enjoy a nature walk in the heart of the city. The Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens has more than 1,200 rare and endangered species, while the Autry National Center provides a fascinating way to teach the kids about the American West and Native American culture. Finally, Griffith Park has more than 50 miles of hiking trails, many of which are stroller-friendly. And when you're done with that hike, Shane's Inspiration — the first universally accessible playground in the Western U.S. — fills two acres with slides, paths, bouncing areas, chutes and other areas where the kids can have a blast while their folks can take a breather.

Not to be outdone in the "park" department is Exposition Park south of Downtown. Packed within its 160 acres are institutions ranging from the Natural History Museum, which celebrates its centennial in 2013, to the California Science Center to the California African American Museum. And most are within a touchdown sprint of the historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and its eternal Olympic torch. The California Science Center, which spans more than 400,000 square feet, is free of admission, while tots under 5 years old get in for free at the Natural History Museum and the California African American Museum. And once a day of museum hopping is done, the family can relax by exploring the seven-acre Rose Garden, which includes more than 16,000 roses and lets everyone savor the day.

Feeling Outright Beachy

Like LA's diverse group of individual communities, the area's beaches provide a bunch of variations on the coastal experience, all engrossing for the kids and adults alike. The City of LA alone provides a wide range of ways to spend the day on the coast. San Pedro's Cabrillo Coastal Park gives families a chance to soak up a full marine-life education by way of the beach's tidepools and saltmarsh, in addition to its Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, which also includes a touch tank and interpretive exhibits. Looking for the classic, surf-and-sand volleyball, Beach Boys type of day? Will Rogers State Beach has that in spades. And then there's Venice's Ocean Front Walk, a world unto itself complete with body builders, chainsaw jugglers, hippies, peddlers, surfers, pickup basketball players and everything else under the LA sun.

One If By Land, Two-By-Two If By Sea

Griffith Park's Travel Town takes care of the trains, but what about a place for the little ones to check out automobiles and one big boat? No worries; LA's got that covered. The Petersen Automotive Museum on LA's Miracle Mile has more than 150 rare and classic cars, motorcycles and trucks covering four floors and more than 300,000 square feet of space. Recent exhibits include sections dedicated to Italian-car design and scooters, in addition to the Museum's permanent exhibits of cars that were featured in TV shows and movies, and alternative-fueled vehicles. Meanwhile, in the San Fernando Valley, Sylmar's Nethercutt Museum has more than 130 antique, vintage and classic cars, all for the admission price of absolutely nothing.

As for boats, the Skirball Cultural Center in West LA features an exhibit on one really big one: Noah's Ark. The 8,000-square-foot "Ark," which took 5 years to build, is fully interactive, complete with "animals" (life-sized puppets and such), storms, music and other stuff, providing doses of fun in Biblical proportions.

Culture Club

Little Tokyo may be part of Downtown, but it's a quieter section with a slower pace, making it a great place to explore LA's long Japanese-American history with the kids. The Japanese American National Museum combines exhibits detailing cultural history for the adults with exhibitions on things like origami and mask-making that can be appreciated by the younger set. Nearby, the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center features the James Irvine Japanese Garden, where families can escape the bustle and enjoy blooming trees and a 170-foot-long stream. Finally, the district has dozens of noodle houses and sushi joints where the family can sample familiar and not-so-familiar variations of Japanese cuisine.

And no cultural visit to LA is complete without experiencing the area's ultimate homage to the Mexican cultureCinco de Mayo PhotoOlvera Street that gave birth to the City: Olvera Street. That venue, located in the northern section of Downtown, features dozens of open-air vendors selling leather goods, artwork and myriad other authentic items. Nearby, El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument commemorates the founding of the city in 1781 with an outdoor plaza that often features live music and other performances. Also, families can explore La Plaza de Cultura y Artes, which opened in 2011 and includes a 2.2-acre campus that features exhibits, educational programs, a public garden and two historic buildings.

Something to Cheer About

With its Dodger Dogs cooking, the San Gabriel Mountains in the background and Vin Scully as a soundtrack, Dodger StadiumDodger Stadium has provided the classic baseball experience with a Southern California twist since 1962. The games run from April to October, and there are usually about a dozen afternoon games sprinkled in the 81-game home season, making the excursion to Chavez Ravine an extra magnificent one.

But if you happen to be in town when the Dodgers are either away or only playing night games, no fear. UCLA, USC and Loyola Marymount provide top-notch college-baseball experiences, all within the city limits. That means more day games, closer seating to the field and ticket prices that can drop to $2 a pop on some days.

. . . and Finally

...an answer to the eternal question: Is the word spelled Fairy or Faery? Parents can ponder that riddle while letting their kids experience the Faery/Fairy Hunts that actors put on every week at locations such as Griffith Park's Fern Dell and West LA's Crestwood Park. The hour-long adventure — best for kids ranging from 2 to 10 years old — provides an experience full of humor, music, environmental education and adventure. The hunts happen one weekend morning every week and let you turn a make-believe experience into a reality for your kids.

 

(TravMedia.com contributed to this article)

 

Editor's note: Links to the websites of hundreds of lodging and dining options in Los Angeles can be found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.

 

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