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California sparkles in AAA ratings

California’s luxury lodgings were big winners in the 2003 AAA five-diamond listings released this month. AAA’s highest rating was awarded to 130 North American hotels and restaurants, a record number.

The St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort & Spa in Dana Point; the Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay; and the Lodge at Torrey Pines in La Jolla were added, giving California 14 five-diamond lodgings, the most of any state. (Florida was second, with seven.)

California has four five-diamond restaurants in 2003 after San Francisco’s Charles Nob Hill, listed for 2002, lost a diamond. In Hawaii, the Kahala Mandarin Oriental Hawaii returned to the list after being dropped in 2002.

Mobil, which also issues ratings, awarded its highest, five stars, to 44 lodgings and restaurants in North America for 2003. Notable additions include the Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco and Ritz-Carltons in Chicago and San Francisco. Notable demotions to four stars include the Phoenician in Scottsdale, Ariz., and two Las Vegas restaurants: Picasso at the Bellagio and Renoir at the Mirage, which AAA continues to list as five diamonds.

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Boarding pass rules tightened at some airports

You’ll need to get a boarding pass before you go through security under a pilot program at Los Angeles International and airports in Long Beach, Detroit and Newark, N.J., and New York’s John F. Kennedy and La Guardia.

Only certain airlines and terminals are affected. At LAX, it’s American Airlines at Terminal 4, and in Long Beach, it’s JetBlue. Fliers must get a boarding pass from an e-ticket kiosk, ticket counter or skycap before going to security checkpoints. An itinerary with a seat assignment is not sufficient.

The Transportation Security Administration is trying to “reduce the hassle factor for travelers” by testing whether initial security checks can eliminate random checks at the gates, TSA spokesman Nico Melendez said. “We will continue to test it through the holidays, and that will determine whether or not the pilot program becomes permanent.”

Picture this: A museum of book art

A $15-million museum of picture books opened this weekend in Amherst, Mass.

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art features works of its namesake author-illustrator, known for his 1969 “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.” Carle’s publishers and a foundation formed by Carle and his wife, Barbara, helped build the museum.

Other artists’ works are also displayed. Opening exhibits focus on Maurice Sendak (to Jan. 12) and Robert Ingpen (to Feb. 23).

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Admission is $4 for adults, $2 for ages 1 to 18, $10 for a family up to six. Open daily except Mondays and holidays; hours vary. (413) 658-1100, www.picturebookart.org.

Aloha, Hawaiian airlines shuffle island flights

If your trip to Hawaii in the next few months includes inter-island flights on Aloha or Hawaiian airlines, it’s a good idea to check schedules for changes.

The two carriers are adjusting schedules month by month under an unusual program approved this fall by the U.S. Department of Transportation. In some cases they are adding flights, in other cases subtracting. The program lets the two airlines coordinate capacity on inter-island flights to avoid duplicating service; transpacific routes are not affected.

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Aloha will reduce its inter-island flights “a bit” Dec. 2 to Dec. 19, then restore some for the holidays, a spokesman said. Hawaiian has similar plans. Expect more significant changes on both airlines to kick in after the holidays.

A burning question: Where can you smoke?

More tourist spots are looking to limit where you light up.

In actions this month, Florida voters approved a ban on smoking in workplaces, including restaurants. In Hawaii, Kauai’s mayor said she would sign a bill to prohibit smoking in restaurants but not in bars, starting Jan. 1. Oahu already restricts smoking in restaurants. Maui, Lanai and Molokai will begin restrictions Jan. 1. In New York, the City Council held a hearing on a proposal to ban smoking in most workplaces.

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Traveler’s Notes

The second annual “Dine-About-Town San Francisco” will be Jan. 11 to 31. About 150 restaurants will offer three-course, fixed-price menus for $19.95 at lunch and $29.95 at dinner; days and meals vary. You must pay with a Visa card. Reservations are recommended. (415) 391-2000, www.sfdineabouttown.com. ... Holland America canceled last Thursday’s Caribbean sail of the Amsterdam after scores of people became ill with a flu-like virus on previous sails. It earlier sanitized the ship. It was planning to resume sailing next weekend.

DEAL OF THE WEEK

Stay two nights and get one free

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Hyatt Corp. has renewed its “Faster Free Nights” deal, which debuted earlier this year. Members of its frequent-guest club are awarded one free night at a Hyatt hotel for every two stays when they pay with a MasterCard. The offer is good for stays through Feb. 28; you must use the free nights by April 30. Joining the Gold Passport club is free. (800) 514-9288, www.goldpassport.com.

FREE FOR THE ASKING

Ways to play in Montana snow

The “Montana Winter Guide 2002-2003" has handy reference charts profiling dozens of areas where visitors can downhill and cross-country ski and snowmobile. To order: (800) 847-4868. You can find similar information at www.wintermt.com.

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