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California: Century-old castle in Pacifica opens for public tours

For more than a century, a castle designed as a refuge from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake has stood in Pacifica, Calif. The fortress-like building with views of the ocean has turrets, towers and 24 renovated rooms that now are open once a month for tours.

Known informally as Sam's Castle, it was built by San Francisco attorney Henry Harrison McCloskey (grandfather of former California Rep. Pete McCloskey) who wanted a place that wouldn't tumble in a quake. The family moved in in 1908.

The castle off Highway 1 about 15 miles southwest of San Francisco changed hands several times before Sam Mazza spotted it in 1959 and bought it for $29,000, according to a timeline on the castle's website. Mazza, who painted and restored San Francisco theaters and other buildings, kept it for 43 years and filled it with kitschy furnishings.

"Sam Mazza's passion for collecting led him to acquire antique furniture, a jade and black lacquer screen once owned by William Holden, stained glass windows,...

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Halloween in Las Vegas? It's very chill, guys and ghouls

Halloween month is a bewitching time to come to the Las Vegas. If the cooler weather doesn’t do the trick, the superbly decorated haunted houses with their casts of goblins are sure to send chills down your spine.

Halloween is Oct. 31, a Friday and the start of the weekend in Las Vegas, which is always a frenzy of activity anyway. The fright fest only ramps it up, with an array of ghastly, ghostly and goofy activities. 

If you’re all about the sugar on Oct. 31, you’ll find holiday-themed goodies without having to ring a stranger’s doorbell.

Costumes are optional, but encouraged, at many of the spooky settings throughout the Las Vegas Valley.

To check out some of the festivities, see the photos above. For a calendar of events, go to Vegas.com 

Follow us on Twitter at @latimestravel

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Ebola and Africa: Geographic misunderstandings scaring tourists away

When the first U.S. case of Ebola was diagnosed in Dallas, did you cancel your fall foliage tour of New England? When American healthcare workers infected with the fatal disease were flown to Atlanta for treatment, did anyone you know cancel a family trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.?

Of course not. But that's what's happening in Africa.

"The tragedy of Ebola goes far beyond the heartbreaking suffering of the people in hardest-hit West Africa," Ashish Sanghrajka, president of Florida-based Big Five Tours & Expeditions, writes in an email.

"Behind the scenes, another lesser known level of devastation is taking place. Tourism to Africa’s great wildlife destinations including Tanzania, Kenya, South Africa and Botswana is in free-fall, as travelers scheduled to go on safari holidays cancel in droves."

Blake Fleetwood, president of Cook Travel in New York, told the Associated Press that about half the people booking African travel through his agency canceled. He has canceled at...

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California: Pre-Halloween creepout at Tarantula Festival in Coarsegold

You might not like tarantulas much, but Coarsegold does. The mountain town on California 41 near the southern entrance to Yosemite National Park will celebrate its 17th Tarantula Festival on Saturday with tarantula races, costume contests and arts and crafts activities.

Why tarantulas and why now? Because they're wildly misunderstood (do not kill them!), and they come out of their burrows in October to mate.

"I’ve had hundreds of people who say they spared the life of a tarantula because of the festival," founder Diane Boland says in a statement. "People report they now gently move them from places they’re not wanted, instead of resorting to a shoe or bug spray."

Boland should know. When she was new to town, she smushed a tarantula. She was admonished by a neighbor who pointed out the spider's importance to the local ecosystem.

Since then, Boland has spread the word, particularly through the festival, which is sometimes called the Tarantula Awareness Festival.

Here are some things to...

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Las Vegas: Elton John replaces Celine Dion on some dates at Caesars

The future of Celine Dion’s Las Vegas career remained uncertain this week as Caesars Palace announced that Elton John would extend his run to include some of the dates Dion canceled.

The residency for John’s Las Vegas show, “The Million Dollar Piano,” is being extended for three years, Caesars Entertainment said in a news release. Tickets will go on sale Sunday for 23 newly announced performances between Jan. 16 and April 14.

On six of those nights, he will replace Dion, who said in August that she was canceling all of her scheduled shows through at least March 22.

The Canadian superstar cited her husband Rene Angelil’s health as the key reason for her hiatus. Angelil continues to battle throat cancer.

It’s unknown when Dion might resume performing, a Caesars Entertainment spokesperson said in an email.

But her name was conspicuoulsy absent in a news release earlier this month in which the gaming giant announced that the Colosseum had been honored at the Global Gaming Expo convention. ...

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Best cities, best bathrooms, best islands and more on these best lists

Lonely Planet's expert travelers chose Washington, D.C., as the top travel city for 2015 and Conde Nast Traveler readers still adore Charleston, S.C., which was voted top U.S. city this year for the fourth year in a row.

But there's more in these two publications that go beyond the best city-best country-best-hotel fare.

For example, Lonely Planet looks at the "Most Gay-Friendly Places on the Planet," which gives a shout out to "progressive, inclusive and accepting destinations that open their arms to the LGBTQ traveler." One California destination makes it into the top 10.

1. Copenhagen
2. New Zealand
3. Toronto
4. Palm Springs
5. Sitges, Spain
6. Berlin
7. Skiathos and Mykonos in Greece
8. New York City
9. Reykjavik, Iceland
10. Montevideo, Uruguay

Meanwhile, Lonely Planet has "The Royal Wee," a list of the best bathrooms in the world. No. 1 is the Park Hyatt Tokyo in Japan, featured in the film "Lost in Translation," which comes with this description: "Expect robotic toilets covered in...

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