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My Perfect Day in LA

October 19, 2011 at 4:31 pm

People seem to either love Los Angeles or hate it, and in the past I’ve always been a bit overwhelmed by the seemingly endless snarls of freeways that run through it and the blonde, beachy beauties that inhabit it. But a recent weekend spent in Los Angeles visiting family revealed to me some of the highlights of living there: a beautiful beach, endless sunshine, great shopping … and food trucks!

Beach Day

My perfect Los Angeles day began as my boyfriend and I met up with my cousin and her 18-month-old baby for a trip to Santa Monica Beach. The white sands stretched out before us as we trekked along, looking for the perfect spot.  The beach was fairly empty since for Los Angeles the 75 degrees was a little chilly. I kept Baby Lila entertained by hauling buckets of seawater back to our picnic spot so that we could play in the wet sand together, methodically creating and destroying drip castles. Finally, I could resist no longer–the warm waves of Southern California’s Pacific Ocean called to me and I spent nearly an hour bodysurfing and splashing in the water.

Next, finished with the beach, we took a long walk from Santa Monica Beach to Venice Beach, one of the most popular and scenic walks in Los Angeles. Though we were on foot (or in a stroller, in Lila’s case), many people whizzed by on roller blades or bicycles as we made our way along a concrete path lining the beach. Our arrival in Venice Beach was marked by stands hawking Bob Marley t-shirts and henna tattoos, beachfront shops selling surf-wear and plenty of ice cream places.

We briefly explored the beautiful canals that give Venice its name, and then shopped our way back to where the car was parked in Santa Monica, ambling along Main Street and stopping in boutiques and quirky art stores. In between purchasing a pack of Big Lebowski playing cards at a toy store and trying on summer dresses at a boutique, we happened upon what must have been a budding reality TV star. She beamed at the camera following her around as she pranced down the street; later we saw her happily eating a cupcake for the (presumed) viewers at home. What an LA experience!

A Night Out in Los Angeles

After a day in the sun, we were pretty drained, but we cleaned ourselves up, put on appropriately trendy outfits and headed out to Elysian Park for Los Angeles’ popular Outdoor Cinema Food Fest. Food trucks serving unique, gourmet food have grown in popularity around the US, even snagging their own reality TV show, but they were born in Los Angeles. This festival was a great way to experience Los Angeles: we got to try Los Angeles’ own multicultural culinary invention, Korean tacos, and we got to see a classic movie, LA Confidential, projected onto an outdoor screen with the skyline of downtown LA in the background.

Though full from all the food truck goodies, and tired out from a full day of fun, we had to make one last stop before heading home. We cruised by a few late-night Pasadena taco trucks before deciding on the one with the longest line. After a few tongue, brain and chorizo tacos scarfed down in a dark parking lot, we were ready to call it a night, but we resolved to return someday soon to Los Angeles for more fun!

 

Visit Los Angeles:

A weekend in Los Angeles is difficult without access to a car. If you don’t want to rent a car while you’re there, you can join tours that will transport you to all the famous sightseeing spots. California Tours offers a 3-day tour to Los Angeles from San Francisco that visits Hollywood, Santa Monica, Venice Beach, Santa Barbara and more. If you’d rather go on your own, staying in Universal City or Anaheim is a great choice for travelers with children, as these locations are walking distance from two great theme parks. The Los Angeles airport area is the most budget friendly while still being centrally located, whereas staying in Santa Monica can get pricey.

For more on loving L.A., check out Fall in love (or at least like) with Los Angeles on A Little Adrift!

Travel Tips and Activity Ideas for Thanksgiving

October 14, 2011 at 5:33 pm

Autumn Leaves at ThanksgivingLet’s admit it: American Thanksgiving has changed drastically from a hallowed day of giving thanks and celebrating the pilgrims’ discovery of North America, to a commercialized occasion for eating egregiously and flailing over football. However, one thing that has not changed about Thanksgiving, held on the fourth Thursday of November, is the tradition of Americans spending time with their loved ones — consequently ramping up travel business by driving or flying hundreds of miles per capita over a mere four days.

Travel tips
Because Thanksgiving is a hectic time for travel, we suggest finalizing your plans now. Advance tickets and accommodations are more available in October than they will be even in early November. Furthermore, planes will be stuffed like a traditional turkey with all the passengers jetting cross-country, so pack light to eliminate checked bag fees and ensure you have space in the overhead bins. Roads will be more crowded on Thursday for trips under 100 miles, so consider driving on Wednesday for short distances. Likewise, airport and road traffic will be heavy Sunday, so plan accordingly!

Thanksgiving Traditions

Thanksgiving - Travel Tips for the Holiday

Turkey Trots and Football
Americans often gain several pounds from November to January — after all, can you really refuse Nana’s third offering of mashed potatoes with gravy? Tripwolf’s blog paints a caricature of the typical Thanksgiving post-prandial state: “TV and movies don’t usually show the very unsexy parts of Thanksgiving where you’re watching football in a half-comatose state after having covertly unbuttoned your jeans.” So get out of that house or hotel!

Burn off those two (ok, three) slices of pumpkin pie by finding a Turkey Trot run or race near you. This is great for family bonding and guilt reduction, and many events allow you to run for a good cause. Check active.com’s event listings for a race in your city. You might also opt to start a friendly game of (American!) football in lieu of watching the NFL game on TV with 39 million others — to kill time while the chefs are in the kitchen!

Macy's Thanksgiving Parade in New York - Snoopy Balloon

© musicwala

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York
The famous parade of performers, floats and giant cartoon characters is a Thanksgiving tradition for many families as they anticipate the evening meal. For those not in New York, catch the parade on TV from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Thursday. For a good seat when viewing in person, layer up, arrive as early as 6 a.m., and sip on hot chocolate while you wait. For less stress, head to the Museum of Natural History at Columbus and 77th on Wednesday around 4 p.m. to watch the giant balloons being inflated!

Black Friday and Cyber Monday
On Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, try your luck alongside the millions of others nationwide who will line up early for store sales beginning at 5 AM, but be safe! Overly enthusiastic shoppers have been known to trample and fight others just to get their deal. Cyber Monday, an online discount shopping event following Thanksgiving weekend, should prove slightly more calm!

Travel Extras

What are your plans for Thanksgiving? Any advice for the best travel at this time of year?

New York: Unique Eats on the Lower East Side

September 30, 2011 at 8:05 pm

Lower East SideVisitors to New York must strategically plan their energy – if you shop all day in SoHo and then drop when you get to the hotel, food can seem like too large an undertaking. But in New York, food is one of the greatest attractions of all. Luckily, the Lower East Side is snugly nestled between SoHo, the East Village and Chinatown – all sweet little cake toppers on this larger smorgasbord of visual and cultural delight. The Lower East Side represents a culturally rich corner that has always drawn attention, from the Europeans populating its tenement-littered ghetto in the early 1900s, to the hipsters and Hispanic communities of today who rule the increasingly trendy bar and foodie scene.

In the LES, a clever bit of detouring can make the most boring or hectic city errands into sweet treats: after snagging a few necessities, I stopped at Doughnut Plant to taste a few exotic variations on New York’s second favorite dessert (the first being, of course, the ever-popular cupcake). Recommended doughnut taste test: tres leches and crystallized ginger, two nods to the area’s heavy Hispanic and Chinese influences.

Clinton Street Bakery

Clinton Street Baking Company: the best place in New York for inventive pancakes

I also came across the Clinton St. Baking Co., which hosts a Pancake Month in February and also delights year-round, with amazing dishes like pancakes with fresh blackberries, pecan streusel and maple butter – heaven! They’re open until well into the night for prime-time craving relief, and the mere thought of their inventive pancake creations will forever be my Pavlovian bell… pancakes with crunchy bananas and cinnamon-chili-chocolate sauce – where can I begin my praises?

ABC No Rio

Cogs and wheels in public art on the LES.

Even ignoring the food – although this is highly discouraged! – the LES is bursting with endless cultural and historical venues to discover. I toured an old tenement house from the early days of Ellis Island immigration, where painfully poor Jewish immigrants endured stifling heat and cramped quarters just to have a slice of the American Dream. The neighborhood also has some fantastic public art, notably in the Hispanic area. Avenue C was even given a second name, Loisaida Ave., for the Hispanic pronunciation of “Lower East Side.” The display at left can be found at ABC No Rio, whose website says, “ABC No Rio is a collectively-run center for art and activism. We are known internationally as a venue for oppositional culture.”

My wanderings led me to the recently-defunct Café Charbon, a longtime favorite of the neighborhood and always a pleasant sight to behold when meandering nearby, with its authentic French mailbox, window of (fake) cheese, and recreation of the classic French tabac (smoke shop). Now visitors of the francophile persusasion will surely gravitate down the block to Les Enfants Terribles, a Moroccan/French fusion restaurant. From corner to corner, the Lower East Side is truly a place to witness the fabled “melting pot” that is New York City.

Cheese window at old Cafe Charbon

Cheese wheels in the now-defunct Cafe Charbon

After so much walking, my mind was set on the highly-anticipated end note of the trip: Rice to Riches. Rice pudding and snark bundled together like me and my favorite blanket on a cold day. I got the hazelnut, which tasted a little like plain chocolate, but still good, with whipped cream, but the flavors and topping possibilities are endless (Cinnamon Sling? Fluent in French Toast? Why must New York offer so many choices when we have so little time to explore?). I’ll leave you with this delightful image from the inside of Rice to Riches. Now, how to decide if I have room for spicy grilled corn and tacos at my favorite corner Cuban joint, Café Habana… For a day of foodie indulgence, anything goes.

Snark inside Rice to Riches

“Eat all you want… you’re already fat.”


Doughnut Plant
, 379 Grand St.

Clinton St. Baking Co., 4 Clinton St.
ABC No Rio, 156 Rivington St.
Rice to Riches, 37 Spring St.
Café Habana, 17 Prince St.

Bonus recommendations:

Photos © A. Furukawa

How to Enjoy Las Vegas

September 9, 2011 at 10:15 am

“What happens in Vegas…stays on Facebook!” shouted a middle-aged woman holding three beer bottles in each hand as she stumbled down the Las Vegas Strip at 4pm. This updated version of Vegas’ popular catchphrase is actually an important warning—you wouldn’t want photographic proof of your hedonistic weekend immortalized on the internet!