Escapes: A toast to Napa and Sonoma, unscathed

Downtown Sonoma, Calif., includes the historic Sebastiani Theatre and Sonoma Plaza.
Downtown Sonoma, Calif., includes the historic Sebastiani Theatre and Sonoma Plaza.
(Jim Edwards / For The Times)

Take a breath, travelers. By today, you should be where you are supposed to be if you were traveling. If you weren’t in motion, maybe you’re wrapped in a blanket and watching the rain turn our landscape into the Southwestern version of Monet’s “Bridge Over a Pond of Water Lilies.”

My name is Catharine Hamm, and I’m the travel editor for the Los Angeles Times. Your cocoon may be quiet, but here at the word factory, we are still hustling to make your travel interesting and trouble free (to the extent that’s possible).

We’ll update you on one of our favorite California wine regions, tell you about free military base tours, alert you to some changes in getting to Disneyland and let you look into our Vegas crystal ball. Want to move to Alaska? We have a great opportunity for you. And in the End paper (at the very end), we also give you a nudge to book that trip, even if life’s demands try to strong-arm you into taking no action.


All of this plus our best wishes for a new year that takes you where you’ve always wanted to go. Onward!

Uncrowded + less expensive = win for wine travelers

Every year when wildfires break out — especially this year— I receive calls and emails from people who are worried and, thankfully, don’t need to be. The geography of where these fires rage is confusing. And so it was with Napa and Sonoma, Rosemary McClure writes. The Kincade fire last fall slightly menaced Napa and Sonoma valleys but did not damage the place known for its superlative wines. (The main blaze was more than an hour away.) McClure celebrates the off-season in these areas, when prices tend to be lower and the throngs are curled up with Netflix for a long winter’s nap. That means you’ll have the place mostly to yourself. Cheers!

Tour these military bases for free

MREs. Machine guns. Rocket launch pads. These are but a few things you’ll see on unusual and free tours of California’s military bases. Anne Burke writes about the tours of bases that enhance your understanding of the men and women who protect us and the jobs they are called to do. But you’ll need to book soon; tours fill up fast.

Disneyland Express stopping service

First, SuperShuttle announced it was ceasing operations. Now, the Disneyland Express, which serves LAX and John Wayne passengers, has announced that it’s getting out of the biz on Jan. 7, Mary Forgione reports. It used to provide round-trip service from LAX and John Wayne.

The wait for Global Entry approval isn’t over, but maybe the anxiety is

Customs and Border Protection got further behind in processing its Global Entry applications, adding about 50,000 more to a backlog reported at 300,000. That’s the price of the program’s success, at least for those who are anxiously awaiting renewal but find their application pending, pending, pending. If you’re stuck in the seemingly unending loop — you’re not accepted but you’re not rejected — CBP has some good news: If you have submitted an application for renewal and haven’t received a nay or yea, your benefits stick around even if your card says they have expired.


A way to get through customs faster

You already have expedited service because you have Global Entry, you say? You do if you paid the $100, had the interview and got the OK. But if you didn’t or didn’t want to, you still can get through customs faster by using the Mobile Passport app (for iOS and Android). It’s free (there’s a premium version, of course) and is approved by Customs and Border Protection. Now the app that expedites you through security can help you with passport renewal and, in the future, with obtaining visas. You can still go through the State Department’s regular channels, so this service, which charges for its processing in addition to your passport fees, is significantly more expensive than handling the paperwork yourself. But sometimes you just need a helping hand, and this could be one.

What’s ahead for Vegas, what’s left behind

Here’s a word you rarely associate with Las Vegas: dull. And so it will be in 2020. Jay Jones gives us a rundown of what we can expect from our favorite adult playground in Nevada: new supper clubs, flat-rate taxis from McCarran airport to the Strip and, of course, Meow Wolf, an interactive art experience that promises, its founder says, to be “an insane, shocking experience.” Meanwhile, some of the best restaurants in Las Vegas aren’t on the too-too category; they’re in outlying areas where the chefs who traded their position on the Strip for smaller restaurants that are off the beaten path, Michael Hiller writes. And Mary Forgione writes about what you will miss in 2020 in Vegas (Donny and Marie! The Hard Rock!) and one thing you won’t: PfP, Paying for Parking.

What we’re reading

Perhaps you’ve always wanted to live in Skagway, Alaska. Perhaps you’ve always wanted to own a newspaper. Your dreams can come true, Matthew Cantor writes for the Guardian. The paper is for sale, and it’s a bargain: free, which tells you something about the state of publishing. The good news, the departing owner says: Your salary will be about $50,000 a year.

Quickly, how many micro-nations are there? Micro-nations form when people decide to break away from the country where they live. Quartz reports. You can read about micro-nation history, including one near us: Zaqistan, which exists inside Utah’s borders. Answer to the question of how many: 67, based on Google maps. Some of these are jokes, but some are serious to the point of having passports (attention, country collectors), money and flags. Some even ban books, Quartz reports, including the Kingdom of Elleore, which banned “Robinson Crusoe” because of how it depicts small islands.

Does anybody really want to spend time in an airport? Yes, if it’s Changi Airport in Singapore, Stephanie Rosenbloom writes for the New York Times. Her descriptions of her airport vacation sound fanciful, but she’s not making this up. You will find a waterfall and a forest, butterflies and tube slides; you can watch movies for free at any hour of the day or night. It’s consistently rated the top airport in the world and has become more beloved with the addition of what is basically an airport version of an adult amusement park.


What you’re reading

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I fell asleep at my desk the other day, perfectly upright but completely in LaLa Land. Fortunately, I did not drool, nor did I snort myself awake as I so often do on an airplane (where I am usually embarrassed but not as mortified as I would be if I did this in front of colleagues).

Like many of you this holiday season, I suffered from Calendrical Confusion, which occurs as you are finishing the leftover turkey and dressing and realizing it’s already December. You’re behind before you’ve even started.

Then I did what would have been unthinkable even in normal-sized holiday season: I took a weekend in New Orleans to gather with seven longtime dear friends, all linked by travel journalism.


I made this trip knowing I’d need to go into shopping overdrive (though I enjoyed giving “How to Talk to Your Cat About Gun Safety”), mailing (thank you, U.S. Postal Service) and baking. (One cake doesn’t exactly make me a candidate for “The Great British Baking Show,” but it was the best I could do.)

I lost a weekend that I otherwise would have devoted to the orderly reduction of the task list and spent many late nights wrapping, cooking, writing cards and speaking colorfully about my predicament. Given this, if I had the trip choice to make again, would I?

In a heartbeat.

So, yes, I’ve been a little sleep deprived and maybe a little shorter than usual, and I don’t mean in stature. Some of my packages looked as though they starred in a slasher movie. None of it really mattered.

What did matter is that by getting on that plane, I had a chance to be in a great city and to say thank you to these seven strong women who, when I was just starting, explained to me how travel journalism was supposed to work. We listened to one another’s life stories, laughed a little, cried a little but mostly we savored how travel had shaped our lives.

Christmas came early for me, defined not by the shopping season but by this amazing celebration of the power of travel. During the holidays and in the new year, if you find yourself daydreaming about a place you want to go, let me suggest you not debate too long. Book it. Everything else will still be there when you arrive home.

As will we. My wish for you is that you always travel safely and well and know that we will be here to welcome you and your memories home.

Legendary Commander's Palace, established in 1880, is in New Orleans' Garden District. It proved an excellent place for a reunion of colleagues.
(Kylie McLaughlin / Getty Images / Lonely Planet Image)