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Late winter brings special events that offer promise of spring, while the festivals of both seasons are enough to make you feel warm year round. From whales, to flowers, to victory celebrations, these celebrations both connect visitors with local communities and offer everyone a chance to thaw out.

Mendocino Whale Festival, Mendocino California -- March 1 to 2, 2008
This year marks the 26th annual Whale Festival which is actually two separate events in the same area -- the Mendocino one held over the first weekend of March and the Fort Bragg festival, two weeks later. The events celebrate the migration each season of some 20,000 plus Pacific Gray whales with their newborn calves from the western coast of Baja California, Mexico to their ancestral feeding grounds in the Bering Sea, Alaska. This is a great opportunity to see these majestic mammals from three spectacular whale viewing vantage points: The Point Cabrillo Light Station, MacKerricher State Park in Fort Bragg and the Ford House Visitors Center at Mendocino Headlands State Park.

Over a dozen local wineries set up tasting stations at inns, galleries and shops throughout Mendocino Village and Little River and the region's top chefs concoct their favorite seafood chowders in a tasting event ($5 for four tastings). A marine mammal art exhibit at the Mendocino Art Center, live outdoor painting demonstrations and guided walks are part of the two-day festival. There will be whale-watching walks on the headlands, the Gray Whale exhibit at the Ford House Visitor's Center, whale watching by horseback and whale watching cruises from Noyo Harbor in Fort Bragg on both days. At Jughandle Creek Nature Center, an on-site naturalist will set up guided whale watching walks and will provide spotting scopes and educational materials. Point Cabrillo Light Station will feature exhibits and children's activities including a Marine Mammal Center of Sausalito rescue demonstration. In the evening the festivals has a comedy performance and a screening of Save The Whales: The Japan Concert film. For more information, visit www.mendowhale.com.

Texas Pinball Festival, Grapevine, Texas -- March 14-16, 2008
Calling all you pinball wizards out there, dust off that satin jacket and those platform boots and head on down to the Texas Pinball Festival in Grapevine, Texas for some serious flipper action and a chance to either relive your youth or discover a new past time. There will be bells and lights and noise aplenty in a 10,000 plus square feet space at the Hilton DFW Lakes Executive Conference Center with 125 pinball machines, classic video games and an entire area set up for free play for an entire weekend.

Highlights include a raffle, children's and adult tournaments, seminars, memorabilia and of course, vendors to sell you pinball machines, slot machines, jukeboxes and video games. And just like any decent gaming center, the event will be open for night owls until 2am on Friday and Saturday evening including a cash bar and musical entertainment. Outside the festival venue, there will be a huge free outdoor flea market/swap meet catering to coin operated collectibles. A weekend pass is $25 in advance or $30 at the door for adults, $25 or $20 for children aged five to 12. Day tickets on either of the first two days are $15 for adults and $8 for kids and final day admission is $7 for adults and $5 for children. For more information, visit www.texaspinball.com.

Green Apple Festival, New York City, Washington, DC, Chicago, Miami, Denver, Dallas, San Francisco CA and Los Angeles -- April 18 to 20, 2008
Go green and celebrate Earth Day with half a million others at one of the eight all-inclusive, interactive and free public events in New York City (Central Park), Washington, D.C. (The National Mall), Chicago (Lincoln Park Zoo), Miami (Bicentennial Park), Denver (City Park), Dallas (Fair Park), San Francisco (Golden Gate Park) and Los Angeles (Santa Monica Pier). Billed as "America's largest Earth Day celebration," Green Apple is a weekend of music and environmental awareness culminating on Sunday, April 20 with eight free festivals occurring simultaneously at landmark locations across the U.S.

At the National Mall event in Washington, organizers are expecting several world environmental leaders and community activists plus A-list talent to entertain the crowd. With a "small footprint, large impact" ethos, Green Apple Festival organizers have selected concert sites based on eco-considerations like public transport infrastructure, pedestrian and bicycle accessibility and the use of green parks rather than concrete stadiums. In addition to Sunday's simultaneous events, over 150 venues will become "Green Apple Venues" over Earth Day weekend with 1000 plus performers conveying environmental messages and venues using recyclable, non-toxic and sustainable products, creating a 'carbon neutral' event. Names of confirmed acts have not yet been released so check the website for updates at www.greenapplemusicfestival.com.

Flower Festivals, locations throughout the U.S. -- April, May 2008
There are literally dozens of festivals celebrating spring blooms occurring during the months of April and May across the country, so instead of highlighting just one, here is a small sampling of the nation's botanical highlights:

  • Nantucket Daffodil Festival, Nantucket, MA -- April 25 to 27, featuring over three million daffodils, an antique car parade, the Daffodil Tailgate picnic, the Nantucket Garden Club's Annual Daffodil Show, Children's Daffodil Parade and The Daffy Hat Pageant (www.nantucketchamber.org)
  • The 25th Annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, Skagit Valley, WA -- April 1 to 30, an entire month of fairs, parades, children's activities, wine tastings, tours, parties and exhibitions (www.tulipfestival.org)
  • 2008 Red Poppy Festival, Georgetown, TX -- April 26 to 27, live music, dancing, children's activities, bike rides and fields of red (www.redpoppy.georgetown.org)
  • 61st North Carolina Azalea Festival, Wilmington, NC -- April 9 to 13, with a parade, street fair, circus, concerts, pageantry, and Southern culture (www.ncazaleafestival.org)
  • 72nd Atlanta Dogwood Festival, Atlanta, GA -- April 4 to 6 , art shows, sculpture, paintings, pottery, jewelry, photography, concerts, canine competitions, youth art exhibition, rock climbing (www.dogwood.org)
  • Lilac Festival, Rochester, NY -- May 9 to 18, offers children's activities, arts and crafts shows, live performances, concerts, a parade, a Festival Queen and a farmers' market. All events are free (www.lilacfestival.com)
  • 101st Portland Rose Festival, Portland OR -- May 29 to June 8, featuring a Grand Floral parade, fireworks, the Champ car Grand Prix, dragon boat races, concerts and a children's waterfront village, all attended by more than two million people (www.rosefestival.org)

Fiesta Cinco de Mayo, Old Town San Diego, CA -- April 30 to May 1, 2008
Spending Cinco de Mayo in San Diego is the next best thing to traveling south of the border. Although most people see it as a day to down Mexican beers, do shots of Tequila and swallow Mezcal worms, historically, the 5th commemorates Mexico's victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. The free two-day festival in Old Town a few days earlier attracts close to 200,000 revelers each year. San Diego Avenue, a touch of little Mexico throughout the year, becomes a traditional Mexican marketplace with arts, dancing, live music, entertainment, delicious food and crafts. There are eight venues featuring various forms of Mexican music including cumbia, mariachi, banda and norteno, plus a re-enactment of the 1862 battle of Puebla and children's activities at the Pueblo de los Ninos Kids' Village. For more information, visit www.fiestacincodemayo.com.