Category: The Un-Planner’s Guide

The Un-Planner’s Guide to Surviving San Diego Comic-Con (When You Don’t Have a Ticket)

Q: What do you do when you accidentally take a trip to San Diego during one its busiest events of the year (i.e. San Diego Comic-Con)?

A: You use all your Un-Planner skills to find out ways to have fun, even without a ticket.

Free SDCC Shenanigans

Even if you don’t have tickets to San Diego Comic-Con, there’s still a ton of fun stuff to get into downtown. Plenty of the entertainment networks and companies that are hosting events inside of the convention center also are hosting activities outside for free!

Me, gazing adoringly upon one of my favorite no-nonsense TV characters, Captain Holt.

They had plazas with giveaways and games to play, a karaoke bus, an axe-throwing club, stand-up comedy shows and more! It all just depended on what you wanted to to and how long you were willing to stand in a line.

Tips for More Fun and Less Frustration:

  1. If you hate crowds or waiting in line, this is uh… probably not for you. Organizers seem to have this down to a science though, because the lines move pretty quickly.
  2. If you want to do an event or activity that has limited hours, they’re not joking when they tell you to show up early. We showed up to something at noon that was already booked until it was closing THREE hours later.
  3. If you want to avoid steep parking fees and traffic, rideshare/cab your way downtown. Or, if you are driving, use a parking app to pre-pay for parking downtown. If you don’t mind walking an extra ten minutes toward the convention center, the parking garages and lots are basically half the price of those closer.
  4. Maybe this tip is obvious, but if you’re meeting people downtown, don’t make them try to find you in the crowds. I thought the Coin-Op Game Room bar and arcade was a pretty good meeting place for those 21+. It was easy to find and being farther away from Comic-Con made it way less crowded.
  5. This is less of a tip and more of a helpful suggestion for food, especially in the packed Gaslamp Quarter. Cafe 21 has plenty of seating and killer happy hour (just look at this precious fondue board).

If you find need a break from all the fanfare, may I suggest these activities/places:

The Balboa Theatre

If you enjoy the theater (or even funky architecture – the building was built in 1924!), check out what’s going on at the Balboa Theatre. We saw a live podcast show here and it was both an entertaining and relaxing end to our day.

Convoy Street

About 15 minutes from downtown (without traffic), in the Kearny Mesa area, there is an amazing cluster of Asian restaurants and shops along Convoy Street. Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese food – you name it, it seems to be there.

Tip: Once again, parking can get kind of dicey here. So either rideshare/cab it to the area or if you’re driving, you might have some luck parking in the complex that Mitsuwa Marketplace is in and then walking from there.

Here are a couple popular places that I visited that I really enjoyed:

Mitsuwa Marketplace

I wish we had a Japanese grocery store like this in Arizona! In addition to Asian grocery and beauty items it would be hard to find in most stores in the U.S., they also have five little restaurant/food stands inside.

We grabbed some tasty ramen bowls at Santouka Ramen – there were a ton of different options and combos to choose from. I got my usual Shoyu.

Tip: This stand is cash only.

Somi Somi/Sul & Beans

Somi Somi and Sul & Beans are two excellent Korean dessert establishments in one building. We ate Somi Somi, which has soft serve and taiyaki (a fish-shaped cake with filling). Or you can go nuts and get the soft serve IN the fish-shaped cone with a filling.

Matcha and black sesame soft serve in a goldfish waffle cone with Nutella filling. Honestly, can you believe this thing?

Hillcrest Farmers Market

If you really want to wind down your weekend, it’s worth taking a trip out the Hillcrest Farmers Market.  The market is open every Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Normal Street. Here you can take in some live music, check out the craft stalls and of course, enjoy a wide variety of food from their many vendors.

Veggie dumplings and BBQ pork bun from House of Bao.

See? Even if you don’t make it into Comic-Con, there’s plenty to do! (But maybe next time, I’ll plan ahead. Maybe.)

Until We Meet Again,
Katie

In My Humble O-PIN-nion

Fourth of July Fireworks in NYC (How to Not Lose Your Mind, Save Money & Actually Have a Good Time)

Just like the Thanksgiving Parade, Macy’s annual Fourth of July fireworks show in New York City are, as you might have guessed, kind of a big deal. And definitely something worth seeing at least once in your lifetime, in my humble opinion. But Katie, you ask me, with eight million (in 2017) New York City residents and roughly 65 MILLION tourists a year, how am I even going to see the dang things?

Well, for one, most of the locals don’t seem to want to battle traffic, crowds and tourists. So that just leaves… you to do it. But, if you consider some of my tips I’m about to lay out here, I think you’ll have an easier time navigating the hubbub and will actually – gasp – HAVE A GOOD  TIME.

 

Tips for a Fun Fourth Fireworks Experience

  1. It’s freeeeeeeeeeeeeee. That is, if you go to the fireworks viewing stations that are laid out specifically for the event. (Plenty of hotels and other venues were offering rooftop views for $$$.)
  2. Speaking of viewing stations, if the event for the year is on the East River or centered on the Brooklyn Bridge (like this year’s) and they have stations on Manhattan side and Brooklyn – PICK BROOKLYN. Pros for the Brooklyn view based on our experience:
    1. Brooklyn Bridge Park had multiple piers to view the fireworks so it was never too crowded.
    2. It’s a park! Easier to keep the kids occupied when there’s space to run around and basketball courts to play on.
    3. There are actually places to sit. Turf on the ground, benches, tables, etc.
    4. Last but not least, there are BATHROOMS. I mean, nothing fancy,  just port-a-potties, but at least it’s something. Complaints from relatives who were on the Manhattan side was that there wasn’t an easily accessible bathroom anywhere.
  3. Continuing the pro-Brooklyn for fireworks viewing thread, you can get there pretty easily by subway. It’ll be much cheaper and faster than attempting to rideshare, especially with traffic.
  4. When they say get there at least a couple hours before show time, they mean it. You’ll get a better seat if you get there early, plus when the pier stations started reaching capacity, they started closing off the entrances for safety reasons. IMPORTANT NOTE: They are SUPER serious about safety, so if police/security has closed off an entrance and you’re thinking about leaving an area, check with them to make sure you can get back in. 
  5. I’m sure you already know this, but it bears repeating – cell service can (and DID) get spotty when there’s crowds around so always know where your people are at and stick together!

Things to Bring (Or Wear)

Keeping in mind that they did a quick bag check when we were walking to Brooklyn Bridge Park, I think I still would have wanted to come a little better prepared with  the things below.

  1. Food! Double check what’s allowed at the viewing stations (I just searched for the event at Brooklyn Bridge Park on the Googs and found a super helpful guide), but it seems like most food and drink is welcome EXCEPT for alcohol. Some people brought snacks, some families made a huge event of it complete with serving trays, coffee carafes, etc. There also are usually a bunch of vendors outside the area selling food and beverages.
  2. Something to sit on! People brought chairs and blankets to relax on, or even a jacket will do.
  3. Games! Maybe a deck of cards to help pass the time before the show starts.
  4. Comfy clothes and shoes. It’s July – so most likely, it’s going to be humid during the day. And if you’ve chosen to take the train and walk to the viewing stations, you’ll want to do so in comfort.

Why I Enjoyed the Show (And Am Pushing the Brooklyn Side So Hard)

Despite my hesitation and worries about how difficult it might be to see the fireworks, it was actually a wonderful time. Getting to Brooklyn Bridge Park was easy and so was getting swept up in all the excitement. Kids ran around laughing with their friends and waved at helicopters flying by. People ‘ooh-ed’ and ‘ahh-ed’ at the FDNY boats spraying red, white and blue water streams for their hoses. Everyone settled in close to showtime as breezy air from the water cooled down the area. Then, the Brooklyn Bridge lit up in a shower of pyrotechnic sparks signaling the start of the show with huge barges now launching huge bursts of color into the NYC skyline.

Anyway, you don’t have to take my word for it. Try it for yourself! But keep these tips in mind so you can stress less.

See ya next time travelers!
Katie

In Case You Find This Pin-Teresting

The Un-Planner’s Guide To Montreal

Welcome, welcome, readers, travelers, and internet wanderers to another chapter in the official Un-Planner’s Guide (accept no substitutes!). Today I bring to you a brief list of notables from a quick family jaunt to Montreal this summer.

It is by no means a) a complete or b) professional list because I have been there exactly TWO times. Nevertheless, if you find yourself visiting America’s Hat with no idea what to do in Montreal, perhaps this will help.

Things to Do

Mount Royal Park

Mount Royal is exactly what you would think, a small mountain (or large hill) that is also home to the sprawling Mount Royal Park, just about 10 minutes from downtown Montreal. There’s quite a bit to do and see here, whether you want to take a leisurely walk around the lake, have a picnic lunch or check out plenty of interesting sculpture work throughout the park. If you’re feeling a bit more motivated, you can take a half-hour walk up to the chalet where you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful view of the city.

The Village

A historic LGBTQ neighborhood and great place to stroll comfortably, especially in the summer when Rue Sainte-Catherine essentially becomes a pedestrian mall in the area. If you’re visiting around the third week of August, you can celebrate Montreal Pride Festival, culminating in its Pride parade just one street over on Rue Rene Levesque! Pro tip: on the weekend, stop at Saloon Bistro Bar for an egg-cellent brunch.

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

For folks that love art (and also want to be inside during the humid summer or cold wintery days), The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts boasts quite a collection, plus a number of engaging pieces just outside for the public to see (and an underground tunnel leading to different buildings, which is fun in itself). Plus, admission is free for visitors 12 and under for all exhibitions and most of their collections (minus major exhibitions) are actually free to for ages 13 to 30.

Things to Eat

Crepes at Spanel

Sweet and savory, the crepes at Spanel were a delicious, breath of fresh air for us travelers coming straight from the airport, bleary-eyed from our red-eye flight and smelling of airplane stink. Pro tip: if you order a side of bacon, you’re gonna get your money’s worth.

Ramen at Yokato Yokabai

No matter where I go, I’m probably going to eat ramen there. So it’s no surprise that we ended up at Yokato Yokabai. In addition to providing a tasty and authentic ramen experience (yay Tonkotsu!), they have veggie broth and veggie options for all of our vegetarian friends out there. Pro tip: They don’t take reservations and the main dining room is kind of small space, so plan accordingly! We went on a Sunday in the early afternoon and that seemed to be a good time.

Bread (I’m Serious) at Premiere Moisson, Atwater Market

Atwater Market is charming public market chock full of goodies, from floral, to fruits, to cheeses and most importantly, BREAD. If you’re in the mood for impeccably delicious fresh-baked bread, you’re gonna want to pick up a baguette or 10 are Premiere Moisson.

Other quick notes:

  • If you’re driving, I say this with so much love, Montreal, but geez, good luck with that. Parking in the city proper is rough (especially Old Montreal) and definitely factor in rampant road construction if you’re trying to get to places in a timely manner (I am not joking, construction is so frequent in Montreal that they have souvenirs of traffic/construction cones).
  • Knowing French is a plus, as it’s Montreal’s official language. Most folks will be speaking French and most things (signs, menus, etc.) will be written in French.

I think that’s all she wrote. Thanks, as always, for stopping by and enjoy your future (or current) stay in Montreal!

If you’re looking for other Un-Planner installments, fear not, there’s more from when I visited New York in two parts.

xo,
Katie

The Un-Planner’s Guide To: New York City (Day 2)

Hello, wonderful person! If you’ve made it here, that means you’ve made it to the second and final part of  Un-Planner’s Guide to New York City.

I hope my itinerary, and I use that term VERY loosely, for Day 1 serves you well. Now, let’s get the show on the road for Day 2, we don’t have much time to waste.

Day 2:

Herald Square

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  • Plan to meet up with family for breakfast, but start your day off a little bit earlier so you have time to wander.
  • Realize that you’re a block from Herald Square and its Macy’s of Miracle on 34th Street fame. Use store as a landmark to return to because it’s impossible to miss, considering it takes up an ENTIRE city block.
  • Pick a completely random direction to go in and enjoy strolling at your own leisure while watching sleepy businesses open and traffic buzz by.

Koreatown

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  • Be lucky that Koreatown is close enough to Herald Square that you can stumble upon it by accident.
  • See a street sign for Korea Way. Follow the sign.
  • Decide that Korean food would be an AMAZING breakfast. Meet up with your people and tell them so.
  • Find that there’s an abundance of Korean (surprise, surprise) places to eat that you know nothing about.
    • We interrupt this guide for the Un-Planner’s Mini-Guide to: Selecting a Restaurant (A guide within a guide. Guide-ception.)
      1. Yelp it.
      2. Be indecisive.
      3. Walk up and down the street looking at menus.
      4. Wonder how you ever make any decisions in your life.
      5. Say “to heck with it” and just walk into a random place.
  • Fortune smiles upon you and the restaurant you’ve chosen is New Wonjo, a popular Korean BBQ eatery that also happens to serve a really dope breakfast.
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This beef and kimchi soup was as delicious as it was enormous. Pictured in the background are all our side dishes or banchan, plus some excellent fried veggie dumplings.

  • Be thoroughly stuffed, but it’s fine, because you’ll need all those calories for all the walking you’re about to do.

American Museum of Natural History

  • Take your first subway trip of the day.
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For this iconic blurry subway train picture, I stood just a little too close to the platform edge and got the breath sucked out of me as it went by extremely quickly.  100% DO NOT RECOMMEND. Seriously, take your blurry photo from a distance.

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KNOWLEDGE.

  • Buy the Super Saver pass because you want to do all the things and then realize you may have made a mistake because you have roughly three hours and 5 floors of museum. TRY TO DO IT ALL ANYWAY.
  • Run around from floor to floor ‘oohing’ and ‘ahhing’ at things, but mostly getting lost because seriously, how is this place so large.
  • Pause to watch a planetarium show about the universe. Or more accurately, watch two minutes of the show and fall asleep because the chairs are comfy, the planetarium is just the right amount of dark and Neil deGrasse Tyson’s voice is really soothing.
  • Spend the rest of your time enjoying the dinosaur exhibit the most because they are GREAT.
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SO MAJESTIC.

Central Park

  • Morning has somehow quickly bled into afternoon. Head over to Central Park, which happens to be just across the street.
  • Walk through Central Park while thinking, “I think I’ve seen that in a movie.”
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I can’t tell you what part of Central Park this is, but you’ve probably seen it in a movie.

  • Keep walking a find yourself amidst a lot of hubbub you don’t understand. Tourists are standing in a circle and taking photos of the ground (and of themselves and the ground).
  • Make it to a break in the circle and it suddenly all makes sense. You wandered into Strawberry Fields, an area paying tribute to late Beatles member, John Lennon.
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Imagine all the people… trying to take a photo with this mosaic. It was a lot.

Chelsea Market

  • It’s time to regroup with the rest of the family, so back to the subway you go.
  • Really experience the ride. People watch. Read the poetry that the MTA has put up in the cars, or the other fascinating literature other passengers have left behind.
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Uh, where exactly is this train going, again?

  • Decide on Chelsea Market because your group cannot agree on dinner. Thankfully, the market is a block long and chock full of a variety of restaurants and shops.
  • Let the smell of french fries take you to the Creamline for a burger and fries that you practically inhale. Then for dessert, the mini-donuts that your brilliant father has gotten from the Doughnuttery.
  • Roll out of Chelsea Market.
  • Struggle to find the right train station with machines to refill your metro card.
  • Arrive at correct station.
  • Zombie walk to hotel because you’re full of a combination of sun, food and exhaustion.
  • And finally, sleep.

That’s all she wrote, folks. Thanks for joining me for this brief and devil-may-care tour of NYC!

Happy Un-Planning,

Katie

The Un-Planner’s Guide To: New York City (Day 1)

Welcome to the first installment of the Un-Planner’s Guide, a wholly un-serious and unusual approach to travel itineraries.

I’m Katie, and I’ll be your host through approximately one-and-a-half days of New York City, NY.

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Yes, this hat is part of our required tour guide uniform.

 Trip Pre-work:

  • Know about the trip, in my case, AT LEAST a year in advance.
  • Book your flight accordingly, apparently for domestic flights the magic number is 54 days for cheapest fares.
  • Have ample time to pack and let that dwindle down to months, weeks, days and mere hours before your trip.
  • Go out to dinner with friends and/or family the night before your flight.
  • Struggle to pack within the window of 12 a.m. to 2 a.m. (Stop mid-packing to justify your procrastination.)
  • Sleep for 2 hours.
  • Wake up to leave for airport and hate yourself a little bit.

Day 1 (or Day 1/2):

Getting There

  • Be at airport.
  • Go through security rigamarole.
  • Fly.

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  • Land and realize you lost half your day because of time changes. Curse.
  • Rideshare from the airport to your hotel and get stuck in traffic. Learn your lesson and take the subway for the rest of the trip.

Ice Cream Break

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It has to be soft serve. From a truck. No exceptions.

  • Wrangle large group of Filipinos (who are your family so it’s okay) and proceed.

Oculus – World Trade Center Transportation Hub

  • Take subway to get to the Oculus, which is the World Trade Center’s transportation hub.
  • Exit train and enter Oculus. Be impressed. Take a moment to admire the architecture.
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The structure of the Oculus was like being inside the skeleton of great beast.

National September 11 Memorial

  • Cross the Oculus, meaning just walk straight across it and up a flight of stairs, and you’ll find yourself back at street-level and able to walk right over to the National September 11 Memorial. There’s a museum there, as well.
  • Visiting the memorial, as you would imagine, is a truly sombering experience. But beautifully moving, too, if you take in not only the construction of the memorial but the fact that they place white roses next to the names of the people being remembered on their birthdays.
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The day we visited, there were two birthdays.

One World Observatory

  • Check out One World Observatory. It’s just a short trip across the street. The building itself if stunning, but it also offers you 360-degree views of the city from 100 stories up.
  • The trip up to the observatory does require admission, so expect to pay about $30+ for a single person.

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If you were to ask me what part of the city this way or what any  of those buildings were, I couldn’t tell you. They had these tablet thingies for purchase that you could point out at the city, like a virtual tour guide, but I was more keen on just looking.

Chinatown (And Little Italy, Sort Of)

  • Find that after all the subway riding and walking you are famished, as one ice cream alone cannot hold you down.
  • Fumble through the subway with your herd and somehow make it to Canal Street.

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  • Arrive late enough that most of the shops are closed, but just in time for the restaurants to be bustling with business.
  • Let your dad pick the place, though his relationship with Google is tentative at best, and then let him lead the way (???).
  • Walk into an unfamiliar neighborhood almost to the point of concern until you reach Shanghai Asian Manor. Note that this restaurant only accepts American Express or cash.
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Eat delicious food and not realize until later that this is actually a really popular place.

  • Leave and enjoy the light sprinkles of rain as you walk. Let your family make ill-advised hat purchases at a souvenir shop about to close.
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Pass up Little Italy (sad-face) because majority rules to go to Times Square.

Times Square

  • Arrive in Times Square and be baffled by the fact that the city is still buzzing at 11:00 p.m. on a Wednesday. Assume that maybe all the huge electronic billboards are making people think it’s still daylight.
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SO BRIGHT. MY EYES.

  • Be horrified by the discount store-looking nightmares that are parading around as notable characters. Pull your unsuspecting aunts away from a particularly disturbing Minnie Mouse and Woody.
  • Decide you’ve had enough of these shenanigans and decide to turn in so you can get up early for more exploring tomorrow.

Well, that’s it for the first part of The Un-Planner’s Guide to NYC! Come back next week for part deux.

Your Humble Host,

Katie

 

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