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Locals Spotlight

California is home to some of the greatest destinations in the world — but it’s truly the community and the people in each of these destinations that give them a sense of personality, and make it a special place to be. Here is a sampling of some of the most influential people in both well-known and under-the-radar spots across California.  

Chefs, Bakers and Community Makers


Thomas Birkholm of Birkholm's Bakery & Café in Solvang 

Thomas Birkholm, co-owner of Birkholm's Bakery & Café in Solvang, CA, is a third-generation baker and Solvang business owner. Thomas' grandfather, Carl “Cookie” Birkholm, opened the first rendition of Birkholm's Bakery in 1951 – the family business is known as one of the oldest of the "fab five" Danish bakeries in town. Thomas is the only offspring of any of the bakeries' founding families who are currently carrying on his family's traditions.

Jamaar Anderson, Owner of Savvy House Coffee Bar

Jamaar Anderson is the owner of Savvy House Coffee Bar in Elk Grove, CA, a Black-owned business created from the ground up by him and his wife. Anderson has used his coffee shop to uplift small businesses, POC and Black creatives with pop-up shops and events such as when he recently celebrated Black History Month by hosting a two-day event, with speakers. 

“Mr. Santa Monica”

Santa Monica’s Nat Trives might as well be hailed as “Mr. Santa Monica.” He’s a family man who’s still married to his childhood sweetheart and an influential public figure in the local community. Trives has served numerous leadership positions in Santa Monica including becoming the city’s first Black mayor, working as a city council member, and working as a police officer. In addition to these outstanding achievements, Trives was a member (and former President) of the Santa Monica Gems organization, which served as a local philanthropic scholarship organization providing thousands of dollars to Black students attending Santa Monica-area schools in an effort to widen educational opportunities within the community. 

Elisha Greenwell Brings Black Joy to Oakland 

Elisha Greenwell was born and raised in Northern California. In 2018, she was the recipient of the Ad Color Change Agent award after founding “The Black Joy Parade,” a non-profit based out of Oakland that celebrates the Black experience and community's contribution to history and culture with its signature parade and celebration, partnerships and events, and a movement that brings 30,000 people together to celebrate Black culture and community in the city.  



Leading Women 

America's #1 Woman and Black-Owned Gourmet Vegan Cookie Company

Maya Madsen founded Maya's Cookies in San Diego back in 2015, and since then her business has grown to become America's #1 Black-Owned Gourmet Vegan Cookie Company. From "Chocolate Chip S'mores" to delightful "Marble Fudge,” every flavor has its own story grounded in Maya's travels, memories and experiences. 

Los Angeles Local Spotlight: The Founders of RE:Her

In November 2020, nine female restaurateurs in Los Angeles – with leaders including Mary Sue Milliken (Socalo), Lien Ta (All Day Baby) and Dina Samson (Rossoblu) – formed the nonprofit Regarding Her (RE:Her) as a response to the devastating impact of COVID-19 on the restaurant industry. Since then, the organization has distributed 15 cash grants of $10,000 to female-identifying food and beverage entrepreneurs in the county, and hosted the RE:Her festival which brought 100 female-owned restaurants and F&B brands together to offer 85 events across Los Angeles County. 



Regenerative Hospitality 

Restorative Tourism Near Yosemite National Park

Travelers can enjoy Sierra Meadows, a glamping resort owned by Charlie Sheldon and Reid Spice. The two have been friends and business partners for over 15 years, and with their project in Ahwahnee, they spent months meeting employees and community members looking over the property, and sharing their love for the planet. They purchased the land as an 18-hole golf course and since then have diligently transformed it into a beacon for eco-conscious travelers. The property uses best practices like a solar system, free EV charging for all guests, an EV fleet for housekeeping staff, and a 90% transition to electric landscaping equipment. Their well-insulated cabins are energy and water efficient and use no single-use plastics.

Hotel General Manager Anthony Jones Does it All

General Manager of the National Exchange Hotel in Nevada City, Anthony Jones, has a striking gothic visage – visitors may mistake him for a touring musician (and they wouldn't be wrong!). His graciousness and abiding sense of hospitality are only surpassed by his love of this National Historic Landmark hotel, where he regards himself as a docent offering fascinating history and stories for an unforgettable experience. 



Eateries that Serve the Community More Than Just Good Food

Putting down roots in Monterey County with Ken Donkersloot and Mona Calis

Monterey County’s agriculture scene is the top economic driver in the region, with many restaurateurs showcasing the rich local bounty on their menus. Leading the way is the visionary Coastal Roots Hospitality led by Ken Donkersloot and Mona Calis, who have elevated the menus and dining scene at local favorite restaurants Tarpy's, Rio Grill, and the Michelin-rated Montrio. Their 'Pick It Up, Pay It Forward' initiative donates 10% of proceeds from all take-out orders to Monterey County charities and nonprofits. 

Oceanside Punk Rock Eco-Warriors and Restaurateurs, Jessica + Davin Waite 

Jessica and Davin Waite inspire a healthier lifestyle for the planet and for visitors at each of their veg-friendly, zero-waste Oceanside restaurants. The eateries aim to be completely sustainable and regenerative businesses benefiting all partners, community members and the planet. From using techniques like dry-aging fish at Wrench and Rodent to feed the zero-waste seafood movement to the total utilization of daily catches using the remaining skin of fish to make fried fish "chips" at Shootz Fish + Beer, and implementing a zero-waste kitchen at The Plot — a meal at any of Jessica and Davin’s restaurants is better for the planet and for diners’ health. 



Farmers and Agricultural Icons

Meet Farmer Bob of Farmer Bob's World in Visalia

At Farmer Bob’s World near Visalia, CA, visitors can learn all about the citrus industry as they embark on a wagon tour through the groves, walk through the demonstration garden, or even pick their own juicy gems straight from the trees. But one of the best parts of visiting the ranch is connecting with the owner himself, farmer Bob McKellar. He and his family have been growing oranges on this land for nearly 100 years, and every day in addition to working his commercial citrus ranch, 88-year old Bob personally welcomes his guests to the farm.

Casa de Fruta’s especially sweet story

Casa de Fruta has been offering travelers fruitful goodies at the roadside location in the fertile Pacheco Valley between Monterey and Yosemite for more than 100 years. The first orchards were planted back in 1908, and since then, this century-old outpost has been the legacy of brothers George, Joseph and Eugene Zanger. The three originally opened a cherry stand on the Pacheco Pass Highway but were encouraged by their mother, Clara Bisceglia Zanger to expand their business operations beyond its humble origins into what it is today. The families of Joseph and Eugene now operate it as one of the country's most unique businesses, which stands as a legacy and must-stop roadside spot in the region. 

More than four generations of farming in Newcastle

Camelia Miller leads the charge at Twin Peaks Orchards in Newcastle, where her family has been providing locally grown tree-ripe fruit to the community since 1912. Camelia is entrenched in the local community and has the support of regional chefs, who use the top-quality Twin Peaks produce in their signature dishes.