24 Great Places to Grab a Beer When Hiking in California’s Gold Country

Pull on your hiking boots, get out the trail maps, and pick out the perfect place for a beer. Afterall, our mantra is that the tastiest beer every is the one you quaff after a hike. And what better place to do so than in California’s gorgeous and historic Gold Country.

Known for its rolling hills dotted with forests and scenic vistas as well aits many artisan breweries, Placer County is an outdoor adventurer’s – and a beer lover’s – dream. With 30 miles of trails,

Hidden Falls Regional Park is a great stop for a leisurely hike before checking out the local breweries such as HillenbrandGoathouse and Dueling Dogs. Near the Auburn State Recreation Area, the 10.8-mile Quarry Trail will take you along the American River, surrounded by sheer limestone.

Then head to Moonraker Brewing for renowned lagers, IPAs, sours and hard seltzers. Also popular trail is the 4.5-mile Lake Clementine Trail, which passes under the highest bridge in California. Post hike, stop by Crooked Lane Brewing for their fruit infused beer such as their Fruited Sour with Raspberry, Tangerine, and Pineapple as well as Mandarin Pale Ale.

Photo: Erik Bergen, Placer County

While you’re at the Auburn State Rec Area, take the easy Olmstead Loop Trail that parallels historic Highway 49 near the town of Cool on one side and the American River Canyon on the other. The trail passes through rolling oak woodlands and includes canyon descents, climbs and water crossings, with elevations ranging from 1,350’ to 1,500’.

Three minutes away, Cool Beerwerks offers cold beer in warm environs with occasional live music. The Monte Vista Trail, located in El Dorado Hills near Folsom Lake, is a scenic three-mile loop that boasts various views, including the South Fork of the American River as it curves toward Folsom Lake. You may see wildflowers, green meadows, and birds depending on the time of year. Off Salmon Falls Road, the trailhead also accesses the Brown’s Ravine trail and New York Creek for a longer hike. Either way, a cold beer awaits just seven minutes away at Mraz Brewery.

Closer to Sacramento, many trails including the American River ParkwayLake Natoma Trail and Hidden Falls Regional Park offers trails for all levels of hiking experiences.After visiting these awesome trails, head on over to the Rancho Cordova Barrel District and experience six breweries (as well as local distilleries), including Burning Barrel Brewing Co.Claimstake Brewing CompanyFort Rock Brewing, LogOff BrewingMovement Brewing Company and hard kombucha brewer Shorebirds Brewing Company.   

In Calaveras County, after exploring the Arnold Rim Trail, go for a cold brew at the Watering Hole and or the Pour House in Murphys for an eclectic list of rotating local, regional and international craft brews

Finish your Gold Country Hike & Beer tour around Yosemite National Park. In the park, you can cap off a hike on virtually any trail with a cold one Mariposa’s own 1850 Restaurant and Brewery which has taps at The Mountain Room at the Yosemite Valley Lodge.

Outside of the park, 1850’s tap house in downtown Mariposa is a great spot to grab a burger and brew after a day at the park or a hike at Stockton Creek Preserve, which is just a three-minute drive away.  The Lewis Creek National Scenic Trail is a popular trailhead in the Oakhurst area and South Gate Brewing is a perfect place to grab a cold one after this four mile trek.

If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s historic buildings and their former occupants

Now one of the most popular retirement area for Americans and Canadians, the Lake Chapala Region, nestled in a valley almost a mile high in Mexico’s Volcanic Axis,  has long been a draw for ex-pats and vacationers, lured by its almost perfect climate and beauty.

In his book If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s historic buildings and their former occupants about Mexico‘s earliest international tourist destination (also available in Spanish), award-winning author Tony Burton shares his knowledge and interest in a region where he has spent more than two decades. Burton, a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society who was born and educated in the United Kingdom, first visited Mexico in 1977. That visit was obviously a big success as he returned and for almost 18 years lived and worked full-time in Mexico as a writer, educator and ecotourism specialist.

He met his wife, Gwen Chan Burton who was a teacher of the deaf and then director at the Lakeside School for the Deaf in Jocotepec, one of the three main towns lining the shores of Lake Chapala. Though they now reside on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, the Burtons continue to revisit Mexico regularly and he is currently editor-in-chief of MexConnect, Mexico’s top English-language online magazine. The other two towns, each with its own distinctive vibe, are Ajijic and Chapala, native villages resettled by the Spanish Conquistadors in the 1500s. “This book looks at how Chapala, a small nondescript fishing village in Jalisco, suddenly shot to international prominence at the end of the nineteenth century as one of North America’s earliest tourist resorts,” writes Burton. “Within twenty years, Chapala, tucked up against the hills embracing the northern shore of Mexico’s largest natural lake, was attracting the cream of Mexican and foreign society. Thus began Lake Chapala’s astonishing transformation into the vibrant international community it is now, so beloved of authors, artists and retirees.”

The book, organized as a walking tour, covers not only existing buildings but also pinpoints the spots where significant early buildings no longer stand but their histories still weave a story of the town. It’s only a partial guide, explains Burton, noting that an inventory prepared by the National Institute of Anthropology and History identified more than eighty such buildings in Chapala including many not easily visible from the road but hidden behind high walls and better viewed from the lake.

Among the famous people who lived in Chapala at some point in their careers was author D.H. Lawrence, probably best remembered for his risqué (at the time) novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

In 1923, Lawrence and his wife, Frieda, rented Casa de las Cuentas (House of Rosary Beads), a house that dates back to the 1800s. At the time, a one-story abode with a half-moon entrance and heavy wooden gates, it was located at 307 Calle Zaragoza, a street formerly known as Calle de la Pesquería (“Fishing street”) so named as it was where the local fishermen repaired their nets and hung them out to dry. It was while living on Calle Zaragoza that Lawrence wrote the first draft of The Plumed Serpent, published in 1926. The novel is described asthe story of a European woman’s self-annihilating plunge into the intrigues, passions, and pagan rituals of Mexico.”

Over the decades, after the Lawrences moved out, subsequent changes were made to Casa de las Cuentas including  the addition of a swimming pool in the mid-1950s when artist Roy MacNicol and his wife, Mary, owned the home.

While Lawrence’s writings were considered by some as scandalous, MacNicol’s life had its scandals as well. Burton describes him as “colorful” in that he was married multiple times and was involved in many escapades as well as lawsuits.

Mary, embracing the local culinary traditions including the use of flowers in cooking, authored Flower Cookery: The Art of Cooking With Flowers.

It wasn’t the work of a dilettante as reviews of her book such as this one on Amazon shows.

“Flower Cookery is recipes, but far more than recipes,” writes one reviewer. “The book is organized by the popular name of the flower in question. Each section is introduced with quotations from literature, philosophy, and poetry that feature the blossom. This is followed by the recipes, interwoven with mythology, stories, and aphorisms about the flower, the plant from which it grows, its symbolism, and the culture or society in which humans discovered the value of the plant or blossom. The recipes include original favorites as well as recipes collected from historical sources and contemporary sources around the world. Here is just the tiniest sampling of the riches in the book.”

Burton shares her Christmas Cheer recipe from when she lived at Casa de las Cuentas.

Christmas Cheer

10-12 squash blossoms with stems removed

2 eggs, beaten

2 to 3 tablespoons water

Flour, enough to thicken mixture about one tablespoon

Salt and pepper

1 cup neutral oil such as grapeseed, canola, or safflower

Wash and dry squash blossoms on paper towels, making sure to remove all the water. Mix remaining ingredients except oil to make a smooth batter. Place oil in a large, heavy skillet to 350-375°F. Dip blossoms in batter and fry in oil until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Serve hot.

As for the house, it was renovated again in the early 1980s and is now Quinta Quetzalcoatl, a lovely boutique hotel.

If Walls Could Talk is one of four books that Burton has written on the Lake Chapala region. The other three are Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: decades of change in a Mexican Village; Lake Chapala Through the Ages: an anthology of travelers’ tales  (2008), and the recent Lake Chapala: A Postcard history. All are available as print and ebooks on Amazon.

The above maps, both copyrighted, show Chapala 1915 [lower map] and 1951 [upper map].

In all, he’s planning on adding several more to what he currently calls the Lake Chapala Quartet, these focusing on the writers and artists associated with the area.  I asked him  to describe the region so readers who have never been there can get an idea of what it is like, but it turns out the Burton is NOT a traveler who meticulously plots every moment of a trip before he arrives. Instead, he tells me that part of the fun when traveling is to not know in advance what places are like and instead to see and experience them for yourself.

“That said,” he continues, “the various villages and towns on the shores of Lake Chapala are all quite different in character. The town of Chapala, specifically, is a pretty large and bustling town. It is growing quite rapidly and has added several small high end boutique hotels in recent years, as well as some fine dining options to complement the more traditional shoreline ‘fish’ restaurants. The many old–100 years plus–buildings in Chapala give the town a historic ‘air’ where it is relatively easy to conjure up images of what it was like decades ago. By comparison, Ajijic, now the center of the foreign community on Lake Chapala, has virtually no old buildings and more of a village and artsy feel to it, though it also has very high quality accommodations and more fine restaurants than you can count.”

Other structures still standing include the Villa Tlalocan, completed in 1896 and described by a contemporary journalist as “the largest, costliest and most complete in Chapala… a happy minglement of the Swiss chalet, the Southern verandahed house of a prosperous planter and withal having an Italian suggestion. It is tastefully planned and is set amid grounds cultivated and adorned with flowers so easily grown in this paradisiacal climate where Frost touches not with his withering finger…”

Also still part of the landscape is Villa Niza. One of many buildings designed by Guillermo de Alba, the house, according to Burton, was built in 1919 and looks more American than European in style. Located at Hidalgo 250, it takes advantage of its setting on Lake Chapala and has a mirador (look out) atop the central tower of the structure, which affords sweeping panoramic views over the gardens and lake. De Alba’s strong geometric design boasts only minimal exterior ornamentation.

Burton, who specializes in non-fiction about Mexico, related to geography, history, travel, economics, ecology and natural history, has written several fascinating books about the history of the Lake Chapala region.

In If Walls Could Talk, Burton invites you to walk with him through time as you explore the city.

2023’s Best Cities for Fast Food Lovers: 200 Cities Ranked

From the drive-in to the drive-thru, America loves finger-lickin’ good fast food. 

But which cities are best for satisfying on-the-go hunger (or on-the-couch cravings)? 

LawnStarter compared the 200 biggest U.S. cities to rank 2023’s Best Cities for Fast Food Lovers.

We looked for cities with access to plenty of fast-food establishments. We also considered affordability and quality, including Thrillist’s Fasties Awards. 

Have it your way on National Fast Food Day (Nov. 16) with the help of our ranking below, followed by some highlights, lowlights, and expert tips.


City Rankings 

A Chick-fil-A fast food restaurant location on an early summer evening in West St. Paul, Minnesota.

See how each city fared in our ranking:


Overall Rank (1=Best)CityOverall ScoreAccess RankQuality RankAffordability Rank
1Orlando, FL67.3721146 
2New York, NY66.343291 
3Miami, FL61.16193147 
4San Francisco, CA59.00101415 
5Chicago, IL58.919969 
6Philadelphia, PA58.79114127 
7Huntington Beach, CA56.9933632 
8Washington, DC56.8962228 
9McAllen, TX56.2491362 
10San Diego, CA55.6047741 
11Los Angeles, CA54.51261096 
12Las Vegas, NV54.461413128 
13Scottsdale, AZ54.09142116 
14Chandler, AZ53.5471174 
15Killeen, TX52.53765149 
16Boston, MA52.3244876 
17Torrance, CA51.95242342 
18Glendale, AZ51.203112160 
19Atlanta, GA50.89204320 
20Austin, TX50.77412833 
21Palmdale, CA50.61152875 
22Pasadena, CA49.91363729 
23Seattle, WA49.24394426 
24Long Beach, CA49.012825124 
25Rancho Cucamonga, CA49.001082625 
26Tempe, AZ48.20254285 
27Orange, CA48.06326221 
28Tampa, FL48.041747104 
29Phoenix, AZ48.025518141 
30Mesa, AZ47.84823343 
31Pomona, CA47.75872482 
32Glendale, CA47.641064612 
33Peoria, AZ47.511571671 
34Escondido, CA47.491073049 
35San Antonio, TX47.236120143 
36Plano, TX47.19735713 
37Anaheim, CA47.01375068 
38Moreno Valley, CA46.971322166 
38Corona, CA46.97844527 
40Naperville, IL46.9165753 
41McKinney, TX46.141026511 
42Oceanside, CA45.801033590 
43Louisville, KY45.505117112 
44Dallas, TX45.36198670 
45Charlotte, NC45.241502981 
46Fontana, CA45.20795944 
47Olathe, KS45.191713238 
48Henderson, NV45.041703439 
49Santa Ana, CA44.74219545 
50Denver, CO44.67407958 
51Fort Lauderdale, FL44.641213151 
52Thornton, CO44.611005857 
53Fullerton, CA44.59468835 
54Salt Lake City, UT44.59905372 
55Norfolk, VA44.564951135 
56Lexington, KY44.511763152 
57Portland, OR44.481216034 
58St. Louis, MO44.334355140 
59Sunnyvale, CA43.40291572 
60Springfield, MO43.2015915181 
61Jersey City, NJ43.16816050 
62Sacramento, CA42.541513799 
63Frisco, TX42.49671328 
64Riverside, CA42.301137460 
65Waco, TX42.079368105 
66Garden Grove, CA42.038063137 
67Eugene, OR41.9817338117 
68Winston-Salem, NC41.921954147 
69Hampton, VA41.877552170 
70Fresno, CA41.875272152 
71Chula Vista, CA41.561221305 
72Overland Park, KS41.481747616 
73Pittsburgh, PA41.3816147110 
74Columbus, OH41.338566153 
75Raleigh, NC41.311688024 
76Little Rock, AR41.2113361122 
77Houston, TX41.1435103121 
78Roseville, CA41.095713823 
79Lincoln, NE41.0416256106 
80North Las Vegas, NV41.0219627134 
81Colorado Springs, CO40.968378129 
82Modesto, CA40.813813361 
83Knoxville, TN40.694587163 
84Fremont, CA40.581481247 
85Santa Clarita, CA40.421447774 
86Richmond, VA40.4018112171 
87Nashville, TN40.261726484 
88Baltimore, MD40.2527104162 
89Ontario, CA40.238610673 
90Alexandria, VA40.06719517 
91Tallahassee, FL39.955096151 
92Tulsa, OK39.8713670133 
93Virginia Beach, VA39.73979898 
94Kansas City, KS39.7319219184 
95San Jose, CA39.63621649 
96Rockford, IL39.5816440177 
97Clarksville, TN39.5219154108 
98Amarillo, TX39.3258122100 
99Kansas City, MO39.2019736145 
100St. Paul, MN39.209814822 
101Fort Worth, TX39.1910111965 
102Lubbock, TX39.186694156 
103Salinas, CA38.933017614 
104Tacoma, WA38.8864110136 
105Providence, RI38.8010591154 
106Elk Grove, CA38.7611514330 
107Columbus, GA38.5914690103 
108Irving, TX38.267716118 
109Bellevue, WA38.09951771 
110Laredo, TX38.0815882138 
111Jacksonville, FL38.0769107158 
112Oxnard, CA38.008115446 
113Durham, NC37.8917510254 
114Madison, WI37.761788992 
115Lakewood, CO37.6918071142 
116Greensboro, NC37.6616110193 
117Surprise, AZ37.65114111132 
118Rochester, NY37.6313128191 
119Fort Collins, CO37.5311215048 
120Murfreesboro, TN37.5112015631 
121Omaha, NE37.51149100109 
122Chesapeake, VA37.2418311436 
123Augusta, GA37.1716584157 
124Mobile, AL37.1319449172 
125Indianapolis, IN37.07140109119 
126Wichita, KS37.03124120107 
127Hialeah, FL36.9123124185 
128Milwaukee, WI36.9011881180 
129Baton Rouge, LA36.80111108168 
130Corpus Christi, TX36.8013413477 
131Anchorage, AK36.781998567 
132Carrollton, TX36.765917340 
133Cincinnati, OH36.5660146148 
134Buffalo, NY36.554473196 
135Tucson, AZ36.529569190 
136Hollywood, FL36.413418337 
137Santa Rosa, CA36.3411615279 
138Lancaster, CA36.2015412995 
139Albuquerque, NM36.17143121115 
140Stockton, CA36.0894118169 
141Vancouver, WA36.025316789 
142Bakersfield, CA36.0192153111 
143San Bernardino, CA35.8418267179 
144Denton, TX35.8218810597 
145Arlington, TX35.7074159102 
146Oklahoma City, OK35.6519383150 
147Warren, MI35.6416016319 
148Oakland, CA35.596317453 
149Sioux Falls, SD35.3616614178 
150Boise, ID35.3413715864 
151Grand Rapids, MI35.2951151173 
152Shreveport, LA35.2313492182 
153El Paso, TX35.20117144144 
154Dayton, OH35.167097188 
155Fort Wayne, IN34.71151115161 
156Irvine, CA34.6913818210 
157Aurora, CO34.50123113176 
158Huntsville, AL34.5019014259 
159Midland, TX34.1513117156 
160West Valley City, UT34.14189123113 
161Macon, GA33.93155135155 
162Minneapolis, MN33.347218080 
163Grand Prairie, TX33.2912717086 
164Newport News, VA33.2799139183 
165Des Moines, IA33.25163155125 
166Akron, OH33.1716739200 
167Memphis, TN33.16156140167 
168Yonkers, NY33.124818987 
169Fayetteville, NC32.96179127165 
170Garland, TX32.837818483 
171Hayward, CA32.7689175130 
172New Orleans, LA32.64184149118 
173Birmingham, AL32.04147116187 
174Salem, OR31.71145168139 
175St. Petersburg, FL31.2468194101 
176Reno, NV30.88153178114 
177Savannah, GA30.7656181174 
178Toledo, OH30.7114199198 
179Springfield, MA30.55119136193 
180Spokane, WA30.4554179178 
181Mesquite, TX30.41130185116 
182Paterson, NJ30.30126186123 
183Pembroke Pines, FL30.2613918794 
184Pasadena, TX30.14169165164 
185Port St. Lucie, FL30.13110191126 
186Worcester, MA29.92109193131 
187Cleveland, OH29.74125126199 
188Chattanooga, TN29.25177169159 
189Cape Coral, FL29.06104190166 
190Montgomery, AL28.58181166175 
191Aurora, IL28.4512919963 
192Charleston, SC27.6819818855 
193Detroit, MI27.29185145194 
194Jackson, MS27.14187162186 
195Joliet, IL27.06128172192 
196Newark, NJ26.6242197189 
197Brownsville, TX26.05186196120 
198Syracuse, NY24.9422198195 
199Miramar, FL24.5920019288 
200Bridgeport, CT20.4388200197 

Showing 1 to 200 of 200 entries

Behind the Ranking

For each of the 200 biggest U.S. cities, we gathered publicly available data on the factors listed in the table below. 

We then grouped those factors into three categories: Access, Quality, and Affordability.

Next, we calculated weighted scores for each city in each category. 

Finally, we averaged the scores for each city across all categories.

The city that earned the highest average score was ranked “Best” (No. 1), while the city with the lowest was ranked “Worst” (No. 200). (Note: The “Worst” among individual factors may not be 200 due to ties among cities.)

A Big Thank You!

To Lawnstarter and to writer/researcher Sav Maive

Sav Maive is a writer and director based in San Antonio. Sav is a graduate of the University of Virginia and is a loving cat and plant mom.

50 Exhibitions and Events to Celebrate Picasso

2023 marks the 50th anniversary of the death of one of the most important Spanish and universal artists of all time, Pablo Ruiz Picasso, a genius born in Malaga in 1881. To commemorate his life and work, an extensive programme of exhibitions, initiatives and events has been planned around the world, especially in the host countries, Spain and France. In Spain, the focus will be on the Spanish cities with the strongest ties to Picasso and which were a source of inspiration, leaving a mark on his personality and art.

He created his first works in the Fine Arts schools of A Coruña, Barcelona and Madrid and on his initial trips to Paris. In 1907 he painted “Les demoiselles d’Avignon”, the starting point of cubism, a revolutionary artistic movement that he devised together with Georges Braque, a Parisian painter. Cubists wanted to move beyond showing what things looked like and instead wanted to show the whole structure of objects in their paintings without using techniques such as perspective or graded shading to make them look realistic. Instead they wanted to show things as they really are. Cubism so impacted the art world that it made Picasso one of the most influential artists of all time.

Pablo Picasso at work at the Madoura pottery. Vallauris 23.3.1953.

Probably Picasso’s most famous work, Guernica is certainly his most powerful political statement, painted as an immediate reaction to the Nazi’s devastating casual bombing practice on the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. Upon its completion in 1937, it was shown around the world–a stark message on the horrors of Nazism and the destruction the wreaked during the war. It also would be, a harbinger of what was to come during World War II.

Picasso not only painted, he also explored genres such as stage design, sculpture, ceramics and engraving. He died in 1973 at Mougins, a hilltop village in the Alpes-Maritimes département in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region in Southeastern France. But despite his death, Picasso’s legacy is more alive than ever. Experience the year of Picasso first hand, and learn about his legacy through exhibitions and events in Spain by visiting one or more of the many exhibits and events throughout Spain.

Exhibitions and Events

23.09.2022 – 08.01.2023

«Julio González, Pablo Picasso y la desmaterialización de la escultura»

Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

01.10.2022 – 21.01.2023

«Fernande y Françoise»

Kunstmuseum Pablo Picasso Münster, Alemania

11.10.2022 – 15.01.2023

Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

«Picasso / Chanel»

14.10.2022 – 19.02.2023

«Fernande Olivier y Pablo Picasso, en la intimidad del Bateau-Lavoir»

Musée de Montmartre, París

14.10.2022 – 12.02.2023

«Picasso y la abstracción»

Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Bélgica

20.10.2022 – 22.01.2023

«El cubismo y la tradición del trompe-l’oeil»

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Nova York

Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler

November 18, 2022 – March 12, 2023

Picasso Museum Barcelona

White Picasso on the Blue Souvenir

March 23, 2023 – June 23, 2023

A Coruña Museum of Fine Arts

Picasso. Masterpieces from the Nahmad Collection

March 29–to July 2, 2023

San Fernando Royal Academy of Fine Art

For more events, visit Picasso Celebration.

Best Holiday Events in Toronto

Distillery Winter Village: Nov 17 – Dec 31

Join us and experience the magic of the holiday season. Stroll the cobblestone streets under the canopy lights while you shop for that perfect gift, marvel at the centerpiece Christmas Tree in Trinity Square, wave hello to Santa, and enjoy live entertainment.

This year’s 50 foot tall White Spruce Christmas tree has been designed by DIOR by PARFUMS CHRISTIAN DIOR, this year’s title sponsor of The Distillery Winter Village. It will be decorated with 400 custom midnight blue ornaments, 1,700 shiny and matte gold balls, and 70,000 twinkling lights. The tree also features 1,000 custom DIOR by PARFUMS CHRISTIAN DIOR star charms. Restaurants, shopping

Holiday Hills at Stackt Market

Holiday Hills will transform STACKT into a show stopping winter wonderland where you can immerse yourself in the holiday spirit with a whole roster of cozy, fun + festive activities + experiences. 

From November 18 – December 31, Holiday Hills is a FREE festival that will take over a whole city block of Toronto with immersive photo installations and experiences, eye-catching holiday ambience, unique hospitality concepts, small business holiday shopping, community-led events, workshops + family programs.

Evergreen Brickworks Holiday Market – December 17 – December 22
Shop at one of the largest sustainable holiday markets in Toronto! Featuring a rotation of over 40 locally-crafted, sustainably produced and handmade vendors, you’ll be sure to find a unique gift for everyone on your list. 

Grab a bite to eat of local street fare from the food trucks and food stalls. From dumplings to arepas, gluten-free goodies to gourmet grilled cheese, there is something for everyone to enjoy.

The Bentway – Polar Bear Skate

We’re thrilled to welcome back local neighbours and fun-seekers for our fifth year of winter programming at The Bentway! In addition to the Skate Trail opening December 17 (weather permitting), this year a number of festive favourites are back, including free skate rental nights, free hot chocolate nights, beginner skate lessons, and The Bentway’s Polar Bear Skate.

Adding some extra warmth this year, we’ll be celebrating the experiences of newcomers encountering Toronto’s cold season for the first time. Featured “First Winter” programming includes a glowing new art installation by Shellie Zhang, plus performance, music, storytelling, and community care initiatives. December 17, 2022 – February 20, 2023

Cavalcade of Lights

Since 1967, Toronto has announced the arrival of the holiday season with the Cavalcade of Lights. This glittering festival captures Canada’s winter spirit and transforms Nathan Phillips Square. The plaza is filled with over half a million LED lights, ice sculptures and Toronto’s official Christmas tree—typically a spruce tree around 18 m high. Enjoy fireworks, cultural celebrations, art installations and ice skating performances. For the past 20 years, the Cavalcade of Lights also had free Saturday night skate parties on the schedule, amping up the interactive magic until after New Year’s Eve.

Glow Christmas Toronto
Glow Christmas Toronto – It’s like being transported straight into a Christmas storybook, holiday-lovers of all ages can delight in the joys of the season without commuting to the North Pole. At Canada’s premium indoor holiday festival, you and your loved ones are invited to savour delicious food, sip on holiday inspired drinks, shop for one-of-a-kind gifts, decorate cookies with Mrs Claus and enjoy story time with Santa himself—all beneath the glow of a million twinkling lights. Takes please at Toronto Congress Centre, December 1 – 31st, 2022

Northern Lights is coming to the city for the first time ever, and it’s described as an “an unparalleled winter wonderland.” Said to be the “most immersive holiday experience in Toronto,” Northern Lights will transport you to a world filled with the cheerful lights, sights, sounds, and feelings of the holidays.December 1, 2022 – January 8th, 2023

MICHELIN Guide: https://www.destinationtoronto.com/restaurants/michelin/

Other Culinary Updates:

Toronto is already known as a destination for their endless multicultural restaurants. Lately chefs are turning to the plant-based concepts and offering dishes showcasing the actual plants and grains in their simple beauty while also getting creative with textures and faux-meats. Below are some of the hot spots to hit up for vegan travelers.


Osteria Du

 Italian can be vegan and is done so perfectly at this eatery. The menu changes regularly with availability of seasonal ingredients and the creativity from the team of chefs. Highlights include Fritto Misto with lightly battered and fried maitake and oyster mushrooms, chili pepper, served with a pesto sauce, house made agnolotti filled with almond ricotta and mint, and a variety of pizzas perfect to share with the table.

Hogtown Vegan

Toronto’s plant-based food game is so strong now they even have vegan junk food: a lot of it. At Hogtown Vegan, guests indulge on the signature Un-Chicken and Waffles and other dishes like “phish ‘n chips” to fake steak to every kind of sandwich you can think of, this restaurant has possibly the biggest variety of junk vegan food you can find in the city.


Earlier this year, Toronto welcomed a taste of Montreal’s vegan food scene as the beloved and insta-famous LOV restaurant joins the neighborhood of King West. LOV stands for Local, Organic and Vegan, principles the restaurant tries to adhere to in every way. Standout dishes include dumplings stuffed with mushroom, leek, onion and cabbage and deep fried, Kale Mac n Cheese, Quinoa Croquettes and more.


1 Kitchen
Located inside 1 Hotel Toronto, 1 Kitchen is zero-waste and utilizes their on-site garden, the Garden Pavilion, to supply produce, including herbs, edible flowers and fruits. In addition, they also have a composting program on location to turn organic wet waste into reusable soil, further supporting their garden and other plants within the hotel.

Hotel Updates and Eco-Friendly Approaches

W Toronto – Opened July 21, 2022

The W Toronto is the newest and most sought-after hotel destination in Yorkville. Surrounded by iconic galleries, sophisticated shopping, and electric nightlife, the brand-new luxury hotel is an urban oasis of culture and style located in the heart of one of Toronto’s most stylish areas – Yorkville. Explore what’s New/Next at the live music and DJ series in the Living Room. 

More Hotel Selections

Gladstone Hotel
The Gladstone Hotel is a trailblazer when it comes to its sustainability model and social impact initiatives. Not only does the accommodation have numerous eco-friendly projects happening—green roofs, nontoxic cleaning products, compost and recycling initiatives—but the company is 100% woman-owned and queer feminist led.

1 Hotel Toronto

With nature as our true north, sustainability comes naturally at 1 Hotel Toronto. We allow nature to guide our journey, breathe life into our vision, inspire us to place intuition before expectation, and continuously realign us with our sustainability keystones—environmental impact, health and wellbeing, resiliency and ongoing performance improvement, and food and beverage responsibility.

Hotel X Toronto

Designed with a focus on the vibrant Toronto community and driven by environmentally sustainable practices and eco-friendly initiatives, the new Hotel X Toronto is a proud member of the Library Hotel Collection and perfectly encapsulates authentic hospitality by offering a modern hotel experience in the heart of Toronto’s most historic and iconic location.


The Meadoway
The Meadoway is transforming a hydro corridor in Scarborough into a vibrant 16-kilometre stretch of urban greenspace and meadowlands that will become one of Canada’s largest linear urban parks.

University Park

University Park is revisioning of Toronto’s iconic street as a 90-acre park, running from the provincial legislature to the city’s waterfront. 


The Ode Toronto

Ode is the latest Black-owned hostel in Toronto. Opened in 2021 and located in one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in Toronto— Dundas St West, Ode offers something completely different from the typical hospitality experience.



If you’re looking to improve your self-care routine and make some new friends while you’re at it, this new retreat is the place to do it. Othership is a one-of-a-kind oasis in the city built for social connection and transformative experiences through a sauna and ice bath circuit.

Unbound Well

Toronto’s First Outdoor Wellness Playground. With an emphasis on hot and cold therapy, breathing techniques and movement, we promote thoughtful and somatic wellness experiences to support both physical and mental well-being.

Art Gallery Of Ontario (AGO)
Denyse Thomasos: Just Beyond

One of the finest painters to emerge in the 1990s, the late Trinidadian-Canadian artist Denyse Thomasos (1964-2012) left an indelible, yet frequently overlooked, mark on contemporary painting. A career retrospective, Denyse Thomasos: Just Beyond, brings together more than 70 paintings, many rarely seen, to show how she challenged the limits of abstraction, infusing personal and political content onto her canvases through the innovative use of formalist techniques. October 5, 2022 – February 20, 2023

Leonard Cohen: Everybody Knows

The first museum exhibition to present the holdings of the Leonard Cohen Family Trust, Everybody Knows immerses visitors in the many facets of Cohen’s creative life. Rare concert footage and archival materials, including musical instruments, notebooks, lyrics and letters are featured alongside photographs, drawing, and digital art created by Cohen across several decades. Opens December 7, 2022.

Why Branson Is the Most Christmassy Place I Know

Mindy Bianca’s new hire, an elf named Jolly Jinglebutton, has been sending me information about some of her favorite holiday destinations. I guess elves in general know a lot about Christmas, after all, they work for Santa and so are privy to all things holiday-wise. So, here it is, straight from Jolly Jinglebutton, who in this post is talking about Branson, Missouri.

“I’m going to tell you about the town that – IMEO (in my elf opinion) – takes Christmas to entirely new levels,” Jolly wrote.” I’m talking about Branson, Missouri – population around 13,000. And that means that there are 500 Christmas lights per capita … and that’s if you only count the lights in the town’s brightest attraction, Silver Dollar City. Let me illuminate things for you!

Silver Dollar City

Silver Dollar City

Fireman’s Land at Silver Dollar City

The town’s biggest attraction, an award-winning theme park that celebrates the culture, food, music and crafts of the Ozark Mountains, launched An Old Time Christmas a few weeks ago. Through the end of the year, Silver Dollar City is home to an astounding 6.5 million lights. Santa would take away my elf credentials if I lied, so you can trust me when I say that there are parts of the park where it’s actually brighter at night than it is by day! Other highlights include an eight-story musical Christmas tree, a light parade (featuring my buddy Rudolph!), and Broadway-style stage shows. I’m more of a creative right-brainer, but for those of you who enjoy numbers, be amazed by these stats:

In this single location in Branson, you can find more than 680 miles of lights, 1,000 decorated trees, 600 wreaths, and 3 miles of garland and ribbon! Whew! If you’re covering THAT much territory on a visit, you’ll need some energy … which should come in the form of their famous Holiday Dinner, which stars smoked turkey, ham and prime rib. If you have a sweet tooth, be sure to get a hearty portion of warm apple pie topped with house-made cinnamon ice cream! Yum-o!

The Trees

Silver Dollar City may have an astounding number of trees inside the park, but there are plenty of other trees around town, too. Several tourism-related businesses decorate trees themed to what they do – so, for example, The Track Family Fun Parks uses old go-kart tires to build their tree, and Level 2 Steakhouse transforms used wine bottles into beautiful glass trees! It’s upcycling at its finest! One tree does stand a little taller than the rest, and that’s the “community tree,” whose theme changes each year. This year that theme is “We All SHINE ON!” and the tree was lighted in a special ceremony on November 1. It stands 39 feet high and is covered in stars that represent the unity and perseverance of this community.

Ice Skating        

The community tree is located right next to the Branson Ferris Wheel, which – by the way – is decorated in holiday colors and has an incredible synchronized show featuring 16,000 LED lights “dancing” to favorite Christmas music every hour on the hour once night falls. Since 2020, The Track Family Fun Parks have partnered with a company called Holidays on Ice to install a 7,200-square-foot ice rink adjacent to the community tree and Wheel. Fun fact: The rink is the same size as that famous one in Rockefeller Center in New York City. More fun fact: I am the least coordinated elf you’ll ever meet. When I say I’m going to “hit the ice,” I mean it very literally. I think it has something to do with trying to cram my little elf shoes into my skates. This attraction is very dependent on Mother Nature, but the hope is that the rink will be open from 4:30 to 9 p.m. on weekdays and 4:30 to 10 p.m. on weekends. The rink should officially open next week and remain operational until at least New Year’s Day. If you see a tiny figure out there practicing a triple Axel, it’s probably me!

Live Entertainment

I’d have to check the law books, but I’m pretty sure you’re not allowed to live in Branson if you don’t have some sort of amazing talent. It’s like everyone here is born with the ability to sing, dance, make music, create magic, tell jokes … or do some combination of all of those things at the same time. There are entire families (the Haygoods, the Presleys and the Duttons, just to name a few) in which I’m pretty sure the kids learn how to sing before they speak, dance before they walk, and play an instrument before they clutch a rattle. At this time of year, the theatres transform into winter wonderlands and shows celebrate all the feelings of the season. I’m wondering if maybe one of these gifted families would like to adopt me for the season so I can join their show. I do love to sing-sing-sing and tap my little toes. I also play drums AND the tuba. Like the families of Branson, we elves are a multi-talented lot.

Yummy Food!

If you know anything about elves, you know that we overflow with energy … and we’re helped along by generous portions of caffeine and sugar. Branson offers plenty of both. If you’re heading to town, I encourage you to stop at the College of the Ozarks, which is nicknamed “Hard Work U.” Students here don’t pay tuition or room and board, but they do work for their education. Among the jobs is running the bakery, which churns out thousands of fruitcakes each year and then ships them across the country. I know, I know … but ignore every joke you’ve ever heard about fruitcake and trust me when I say that these are amazing. You can order them here.

If I haven’t convinced you, that’s okay … my second suggestion is to hit Sugar Leaf Bakery Café for one of their famous yule logs and one of the richest cups of cocoa you’ll ever sip. Pro tip: Don’t skip the toasted marshmallow!


One of my favorite parts of Branson is its historic downtown. It’s a few very walkable blocks that take you past museums, shops and restaurants. This year they’ve decorated this part of town with 65 lampposts that celebrate a “Winter Wonderland” theme, featuring a combination of nearly 400 snowflakes and pure white swirls of light that have been created by 87,568 LED lights!

These lights will help me find my way to Dick’s 5 & 10, a family business that’s one of the last proper dime stores in America. Amazon has nothing on this place, which sells everything you’ll ever need and all the stuff you didn’t even know you needed. That makes it the perfect stop for an elf who’s responsible for loading up on stocking stuffers!

Job 1545Chateau On the Lake Snow 1/08

There’s so much more I could tell you about Branson! I could share how the Chateau on the Lake hotel displays an amazing village made not just from gingerbread, but from all kinds of sweets (in this village, the sheepdogs are made from frosted shredded wheat!).

Or I could tell you that this is the home of the World’s Largest Toy Museum, which is where Santa goes when he needs to get blueprints for beloved old toys so he can pass them to the elves in his workshop. But we don’t want this release to go on for pages and pages.

So … I’ll leave you with the knowledge that there’s a whole lot of Christmas tucked away in this Ozark Mountain town. I hope you can come visit … if not this year, then soon.

Great Value and Premium Winter Sports in the Black Forest Highlands

Skiing, snowshoeing, tobogganing, relaxing spas in the Black Forest Highlands holiday region create serious fun for great value with the brand new digital Red Inclusive Card.

In the winter months, situated at an altitude of approximately 2,700 to almost 5,000 feet, the Black Forest Highlands holiday region offers visitors many winter attractions. The skiing area in the vicinity of the Feldberg mountain promises winter sports enthusiasts guaranteed snow. On the region’s sunny peaks, it is possible to enjoy unique views of the Alps and the Rhine valley as the region is so close to France and Switzerland.

With 74 ski lifts, skiers and snowboarders can take to more than 50 miles of slopes. The “highest peak” in Baden-Wuerttemberg, the Feldberg, offers superbly prepared runs at every difficulty level from the challenging FIS World Cup piste and the more straightforward family slope on the Seebuck.

For cross-country skiers, the Black Forest Highlands are home to 150 cross-country trails totaling 560 miles. At an altitude of over 3,000 feet, the Thurnerspur trail at St. Märgen offers optimal conditions for ambitious sports enthusiasts and beginners alike: Suitable for both the classic and skating technique, two cross-country trails, almost 10 miles long, wend their way over snowy expanses and woodland, while the 1.5 mile night trail offers floodlit skiing several times a week.

The Thurnerspur trail is also part of the Schonach-Belchen long-distance skiing trail which is just over 60 miles long, and approximately half of it makes its way through the Black Forest Highlands, passing Waldau at Titisee-Neustadt and on to Notschrei. The Nordic Center Notschrei, with cross-country trails of 2 miles to 12 miles in length, are suitable for both the classic and freestyle techniques. Cross-country skiing courses are on offer and equipment is available to hire at the Ski Nordisch sports base, which features biathlon facilities and evening floodlit opening.

The 466 miles of winter hiking trails on the sunny uplands of the Black Forest Highlands provide unique views of the Alps and the Rhine valley. Several premium winter hiking trails are specially signposted and are checked and maintained on a daily basis. They have been designed so that they offer especially attractive views and are easy to walk along. The entire network of trails, which has been created in collaboration with the Southern Black Forest Nature Park, provides for both a safe and eco-friendly winter hiking experience.

Along the 13 signposted snowshoe trails, those who love the great outdoors can enjoy the free and authentic landscape. The trails are signposted especially and reserved for snowshoe walkers. A variety of different difficulty levels and offers promise varied experiences – whether it is a short tour of the peaks, around Hinterzarten, or a guided walk on the Feldberg as the sun sets.

The Black Forest Highlands are also famous for their excellent toboggan runs. The longest downhill tobaggan runs are the Hasenhorn (2 miles), the Todtnauer Hüttenweg (2 miles), and the toboggan run from Saig to Titisee (just under one mile). Several of the runs are floodlit and open in the evening.

After an action-packed day in the snow, the spas and swimming pools in the Black Forest Highlands, not to mention several hotels with day spa facilities, are a great place to relax and stock up on energy. Seven hotels in the holiday region have the Wellness Stars Germany seal of approval, which guarantees the independently verified quality in the area of wellness.

With the brand new digital Red Inclusive Card, guests can take advantage of more than 70 basic leisure offerings in the region every day, free of charge, including for example, free entrance to in-and outdoor swimming pools, museums, and free rental of cross-country equipment. In addition, the Red Inclusive Card offers many attractions a discount of at least 20%. The Red Inclusive Card is available as a free added benefit at approximately 500 hotels for guests staying for at least two nights. For further information, please visit www.hochschwarzwald.de/Card.

The Story of the Pioneering School for the Deaf in Rural Mexico

          In 1982, Gwen Chan Burton, who had previous taught in a government secondary school students in both  Australia and Canada for 12 years was faced with a big career decision.

            Burton (whose name at the time was still Chan but that would become part of her adventure as well) had recently been certified as a teacher for the severely hearing impaired. She could either again teach in Canada albeit in her new specialty or move to Jocotepec, a small village in the Mexican state of Jalisco where several years earlier two retired  Canadian women, Jackie Hartley and Roma Jones, stated a small school for children who couldn’t hear. The impetus for the school came about after meeting a young deaf boy in the plaza of the town where they were living.

            It was quite an undertaking particularly considering that Hartley and Jones weren’t teachers and spoke little Spanish. Add to that, they had no building to house their school nor did they have the money to fund it.

For Hartley and Jones these were just mere details and within 15 years their Lakeside School for the Deaf, which started off with classes in an upgraded chicken coop, would become an international success. The term Lakeside is an English term used by local expats and tourists to refer to the general area along the north shore of Lake Chapala where thousands of expats live – stretching from city of Chapala, through Ajijic to Jocotepec at the western end of the lake.

            But when the Hartley and Jones tried to recruit Burton and another teacher of the severely hearing impaired named Susan van Gurp, it was still very early days indeed—one that promised hard work in an unknown environment and barely subsistence pay.

          “As a student at Melbourne University in the late 1960s, I had dreamed of volunteering as an English teacher in the wilds of Papua New Guinea, then administered by Australia,” says Burton.  “However, after I learned that the government required three years teaching experience before applying–I ended up in Toronto instead of PNG. I guess Jackie Hartley’s offer re-awoke my dream of volunteer teaching and since I was single and debt free, my main concern was how to learn basic Spanish in the three months before we flew south.”

            Within a  few years, Burton would become the school’s director, a position she held from 1985-1994. The school’s enrollment grew as did the number of teachers, resulting in scores of disadvantaged deaf children and youths who found life-changing communication, free education.

            Burton, who now lives on an island off the coast of Vancouver, recounts the story of what is now The School for Special Children (CAM Gallaudet, Special Education Centre) in her awe-inspiring book, New Worlds for the Deaf: The Story of the Pioneering School for the Deaf in Rural Mexico (Sombrero Books 2019; $14.99 Amazon price).

            “The book describes the school’s much loved teachers, first Canadian then Mexican, who opened new worlds for those atypical students, with specialized teaching methods and amazing special events,” says Burton. “Also described is the school’s unique home-based  boarding program that allowed many children from distant villages to attend classes.”

In between all her work, Burton met geologist Tony Burton on Canada Day at an Octoberfest celebration in Guadalajara. After the couple married and had children, life became even more hectic  especially when Tony was away leading field studies courses and eco-tours around the country.

“Thankfully a wonderful Mexican grandmother was willing to care for our children whenever needed and from her they learned the local customs, the Spanish language and a love of Mexican food,” says Burton. “She was also a generous boarding mother for two adolescent deaf brothers for several years.”

Often issues were time related –needing time to make new ear molds for students using the classroom FM systems, but also needing to attend a morning meeting of the school board 20 kilometers away or taking time to show visiting former teachers around the classrooms and answer all their questions. Many challenges were unexpected such as the arrival of new students unannounced and needing accommodation.”

            But the rewards were many such as seeing the changes in new students as they learned to communicate using Mexican sign language and were able to ask questions and understand the answers for the first time in their lives; then seeing their enthusiasm and their parents’ pride as they learned to write their own name, and later begin to read.

 Asked to share a story about one of the school’s students, Burton takes time to think—there were so many—before deciding to talk about Juan Luis, who after being abandoned by his mother was sent out to beg in Guadalajara by his next caregiver.

“He was rescued by an aunt who sent him with a truck driver to the home of Rita, one of our staff,” recalls Burton. “The young boy, profoundly deaf, was called Carlos by the truck driver and spent his first week at school as Carlos. When his aunt visited Rita the next weekend we found out his real name and the following Monday at school we need to erase Carlos from his workbooks, and create a different sign name, because  he is actually Juan Luis, nearly nine years old, bright, personable but unschooled and unable to recognize or express his own name….or count to nine.”  

For those deciding on such an adventure, Burton offers the follow advice.

“Go, with an open mind and positive attitude about the people and customs you will encounter,” she says. “Preferably have a good friend with you at least for a long settling-in period, unless you are joining a well-established group of like-minded people. Be able to carry on a basic conversation in the local language and learn whatever you can about your host nation before you arrive. But definitely go if you feel you have skills, knowledge or a harmonizing philosophy to contribute and accept that it will undoubtedly be a pivotal experience in your life.”

All proceeds from the sale of New Worlds for the Deaf benefit the hearing aid program for children in the Lake Chapala region, a program the author runs in partnership with the local committee that supports the CAM Gallaudet Special Education Centre in Jocotepec, Jalisco.