Jessica Mordo

The West is a big, big place, and every week our staff is all over it, digging up the shops and restaurants, beaches and trails, performances and, well, phenomena that make the region so vibrant. Here’s the Best of the West this week

Sunset Staff  – July 22, 2019 | Updated July 24, 2019

The Most Fragrant Bloom

A titan arum—a.k.a. corpse flower—is blooming for the first time in its 18 years at the University of Washington’s Vancouver (WA) campus! Associate professor of molecular biosciences Steve Sylvester raised Titan Vancoug (this one’s given name) from just a wee pup of a corm into the glorious beast it is today. “This is my baby,” he told Oregon Public Broadcasting reporters. This endangered Indonesian plant produces an inflorescence that smells sort of like boiled chicken carcasses left in the yard debris bin all week in the summer heat (not that I know anything about that): fetid, intense, and if you happen to be a fly, *exquisite.* —Heather Arndt Anderson, garden contributor

A More Relaxing Botanical Experience

I recently attended my first sound bath meditation, which was transportive, relaxing, and beautiful in its own right, but the event was all the more enhanced by the setting. Held at the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers, the meditation leaders offered attendees the opportunity to explore the space for an hour before and another hour afterwards. Getting a chance to meander through the Victorian greenhouse and take in the more than 2,000 species of tropical plants on display—minus the normal volume of visitors—was quite a treat. Some highlights included the main hall, with its jungle of palms and other tropical trees, and soundtrack (real or played on loop? I wasn’t sure) of cicadas chirping, as well as the water-plant room’s enormous Amazon water lilies and orchids (like the ones pictured above). They’ve got a corpse flower, too, which stole the show with its unique shape, giant size, and prominence. It was just days away from blooming (these rare plants only do so once every seven to ten years); my visit was slightly off the mark, alas. The maximalist eye candy was the perfect precursor to the sound journey that followed. More sound meditation events at the Conservatory to be held in August; $35.Jessica Mordo, associate digital director

James Dean’s Last Stop 

I’m typically annoyed by navigation systems but have to thank Waze for a seemingly non-sensical detour that recently a) shaved time off a long drive and b) sent me into an unexpected and awesome roadside attraction. Driving down Highway 101 to L.A. after a weekend getaway on the Central Coast I was shuttled toward Interstate 5 around Paso Robles into the great expanse of farmland and unincorporated pasture around Lost Hills. It’s a lonely-feeling zone even before a sign tells you you’re on James Dean Memorial Highway. And right when my gas gauge hit the halfway mark, I saw a filling station with a 20-foot-high cut-out of Dean himself in Rebel Without a Cause red and cigarette in hand. Apparently it’s the last place he stopped to gas up and it’s now a massive market and deli called Blackwell’s Corner that’s filled with Dean memorabilia, a life-sized statue of Marilyn Monroe sitting at the counter, and something called the East of Eden Fudge Factory. Oh yeah, they also sell pickled quail eggs. And bullet shaped pill boxes. And work gloves. It’s Americana at its finest and worth a detour down a lonely road.—Hugh Garvey, executive editor

An Italian Feast at MAMA’s House 

MAMA Oakland is the latest project from the couple behind Bay Grape, a beloved wine shop on the shores of Lake Merritt in downtown Oakland. MAMA, “designed to feel like suppers at your Italian grandmother’s house,” offers a fixed-price, three-course menu of Italian comfort food. The prix-fixe menu, inspired by owner Josiah Baldivino’s tutelage under restaurant pioneer Michael Mina, significantly cuts down on food waste (no need to buy perishable goods for an endless list of menu items) and it keeps the staff small (higher wages and better tips). The whole restaurant experience is exceptionally thoughtful. From beautifully prepared dishes and an awesome wine menu (they do own a wine shop!)  to magazine-worthy interior design, this restaurant is one of my new favorites in the East Bay. —Kendra Poppy, audience growth editor

The Minimalist Linen Table Runner I Use for Every Dinner Party

I, like any California local, am linen-obsessed. I’m instantly at ease around the breezy, sustainable textile. It feels casual, lived-in, and cozy—the exact mood I want to bring into my home. Right now my favorite linen product is the Raw Edge Linen Table Runner from Rough Linen. The woman-owned company makes fresh, soft linens from bedding to napkins, but this table runner is my $50 quick dining room fix. I use the runner as a tablescape base when I have friends over for dinner, adorned with a mix of farmers’ market flowers and some cheap Ikea candles. The fabric is heavy and strong with a “rough” texture. Plus, the classic, neutral color means I won’t get tired of it anytime soon, or ever. —Maya Wong, assistant editor

Wolves Return to California—on Enormous Puppy Paws

The Oakland Zoo is an East-Bay attraction that is often—stop me if you’ve heard this one before—overshadowed by its bigger counterpart across the water in San Francisco. But the Oakland establishment does have some things going for it that San Francisco has no answer for, including stunning bay views and a 56-acre section devoted to the wildlife of California. This California Trail area has been open since last summer, but the reason you need to go right now is that the two resident gray wolves have just become parents to four pups. The little ones have started venturing out of their den and you can now watch them frolic like puppies from a viewing platform overlooking their habitat. Pro tip: Bring binoculars—the wolf enclosure is that big. —Nicole Clausing, digital producer

Art and Architecture Festival, Telluride Colorado

Telluride is one of those idyllic mountain mining towns you almost don’t want to write about, for fear of ruining the vibe with a deluge of visitors. That runs counter to my job, of course, and so the responsible thing to do is to promote activities and events that might fall during a more fallow season, rather than winter or the film festival, for example. Take the Art and Architecture Weekend, which I just attended. The five residences on Saturday’s home tour focused on the town proper; an epic four-bedroom high on a hill at the far edge of the box canyon where the town is situated; an overhauled former bordello across the street from the town jail; a restored late-1800s meeting hall used by Finnish immigrants, complete with an intact stage and hand-painted drop-down backdrops. Day two featured a newer crop of homes over the hill (accessed via free gondola); these were broader in scale and scope and newer—but still respectful of the landscape. Throughout I saw touches of the Sunset aesthetic: Accessible, but aspirational. And a fantastic (and responsible!) introduction to the town. —Matt Bean, editor in chief