Mobil Travel Guides has a long tradition of pointing travelers to rigorously vetted destinations and amenities. This year, they celebrate 50 years of travel publishing with anniversary editions of regional travel planners, such as the Mobil Travel Guide: Northern California. An alphabetical list of northern California towns and notable regional sites (e.g., state/national parks), it features Mobil's meticulous "gold standard" star ratings (1 to 5 stars) for hotels, restaurants, spas and attractions from Auburn (Gold Rush country) to Yountville (vineyards) for both the budget-minded and more cash-splashy traveler. Though the guide is short in the map/photo departments, it is long on venue descriptions and details, sprinkled throughout with informational sidebars and fun facts that'll have you hanging with the locals in no time flat.

MIGHTY MISSISSIPPI
Witty, iconoclastic foodie Alton Brown hits the road, following the route of the mighty Mississippi River in Feasting on Asphalt: The River Run. If you have a secret Southern soul that yearns for gumbo, "paaaah" (aka pie) and pork, you'll relish this companion book to Brown's Food Network series chronicling a gustatory journey from the Mississippi Delta north to the river's Minnesota headwaters (pull-out route map included). Brown and his film crew head out on motorcycles searching for the best "road food" and the stories behind the people who prepare it. His handwritten diary, plus six funny, informative and tender-hearted essays (I loved "Fry Me a River") are enlivened by quirky graphics and photography. The ensemble frames an endearing snapshot of a fast-disappearing rural America, including actual roadie recipes.

CHARTING CHICAGO
Die-hard list-makers will love the pocket-sized Eyewitness Travel: Top 10 Chicago, Your Guide to the 10 Best of Everything. Authors Elaine Glusac, Elisa Kronish and Roberta Sotonoff offer a comprehensive guide to the Windy City, written in crisp prose, that reveals Chicago's multicultural delights. The "top 10" theme is extreme here and the effect is nautilus-like: the guide lists Chicago's top 10 highlights, then offers further lists for those highlights, plus a range of 20-plus categories (and their top 10s) - from eateries to bars, to museums, film locations, blues venues and parks. Included are spotlight sections on Chicago neighborhoods, each with their own top 10s, and a "Streetsmart" section for navigating around town while staying safe, entertained and well-fed.

Time Out Chicago: Eating and Drinking features the hip prose of three wickedly humorous contributors-about-town (N. Day, C. Rush and C. Sudo) who dish about Chicago's eats and libations. Pair this with the Top 10 guide, and you'll have everything you need for a fun, frolicking Windy City stay. Restaurants, from the luxe to the lowdown, addressing every food ethnicity and category imaginable, are listed here, along with the skinny on bars and lounges. Each alpha listing has an "I've been there so I know" tone (like the entry on Nookies Tree diner: "We'll admit it: We've never really considered trying the food here when we were sober enough to taste it."). Even if you never reach Chicago, this guide is worth reading for its acidly funny writing.

TRAVELS WITH LITTLE TYKES
Family vacations can be memorable - for both fun and fiasco! Make this summer's excursions easier and more pleasurable with The Rough Guide to Travel with Babies and Young Children by Fawzia Rasheed de Francisco. This down-to-earth resource for traveling with tykes offers the ultimate blueprint to plan a relatively snarl-proof trip. Organized into four sections ("Preparation," "Making the Journey," Being There" and "Around the World"), de Francisco's commonsense, psychologically insightful narrative is an A-to-Z list of travel suggestions and to-dos, from planning, paperwork and packing to tips on traveling by jet, car or train. This guide has you covered from the moment you settle in for your holiday (how to childproof your hotel room) to daily activities and challenges parents face when shepherding children (water safety and nappy rash).

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