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WINTER WILDLIFE. California's San Luis Obispo County is a popular destination for wildlife watching. You can spot gray whales on their annual migration along the coast from February to mid-April; watch elephant seals gather on the coastline of Piedras Blancas, and visit Pismo State Beach, a winter gathering place for migrating monarch butterflies. But wait, there's more. The brant goose winters in Morro Bay estuary after flying nonstop from Alaska; further inland at Carrizo Plain National Monument you'll find sandhill cranes.

The Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival, Jan.13-16, celebrates the area's importance to birds. It is considered one of the top bird-watching spots in the country. The festival features birding hikes, tours, field trips on the ocean and the bay, guest speakers and exhibits. www.morrobaybirdfestival.org.

For information about San Luis Obisbo County, call 800-634-1414, or visit the Web at www.SanLuisObispoCounty.com

EATING WELL. The Zagat Survey released its 2006 America's Top Restaurants guide. As far as Utah restaurants go, the Tree Room at Sundance took the top spot for food, followed by the Red Iguana, Mariposa and Michelangelo Ristorante. Twenty Salt Lake and mountain-resort area restaurants are listed in the 2006 guide, available at bookstores, www.zagat.com or 888-371-5440. Through Nov. 7, the Zagat ratings will be available on the Web free of charge.

Trends noted in the survey: San Francisco, Las Vegas and Miami have the highest average food ratings; New York City is the most expensive city for eating out, with an average meal tab of $37.61, compared to Atlanta ($24.72) and New Orleans ($24.45).

COLORADO SCENIC DRIVES. Two highways were recently designated National Scenic Byways by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation. The Colorado River Headwaters National Scenic Byway follows the Colorado River and goes through Rocky Mountain National Park and Arapaho and Roosevelt national forests. Trail of the Ancients runs for 116 miles in Colorado. Key areas of interest include Hovenweep National Monument, Mesa Verde National Park and the city of Cortez. The state already had eight national scenic byways. Information: www.coloradobyways.org


E-mail: kclayton@desnews.com