Tag: California

Tips for A Unique LA Itinerary

LA itinerary

I grew up in Phoenix, AZ so I have been to Los Angeles more times than I can count. The last time that I visited, however, I forced my friends to come with me to some of the tourist spots that the city is famous for. My husband tried to warn me away from some of them, particularly the Walk of Fame, but let’s just say… sometimes I just need to see how bad something is before I can believe the stories. Luckily for me, it’s easy to go back to LA to discover the good about the city. Not everyone has that opportunity, so I’ve written up this detailed guide to some of the major attractions that you should and should not visit on your LA itinerary.

Famous Locations to Make Time For

Griffith Observatory

LA itinerary

(c) ABR 2018

I’m going to be honest here and admit that I had no idea that the Griffith Observatory existed until I saw La La Land. So, the last time that I visited Los Angeles I wanted to give it a try and I ended up loving it. Whether you are a nature lover, fan of beautiful architecture, or just looking to snap a good picture of the Hollywood sign, this place belongs on your “what to do in LA” list.

The Observatory itself has a beautiful astronomy museum inside the building that is free to visit. There are talks and educational events throughout the day for all visitors as well. When I was there, I caught two talks, one about the iconic Foucault Pendulum in the entry rotunda and another about the mysterious Gottlieb Transit Corridor outside. In either case, it was a lot of fun to learn how these tools work and what we can learn from them. Adults and kids will enjoy the museum and it’s well worth an hour or more of your time.

LA itinerary

(c) ABR 2018

Of course, you should also take some time to explore the outside grounds, because you will not only get a great view of the entire city from the Observatory vantage point, but the Hollywood sign is perched nearby. It’s a great place to indulge your inner tourist and snap a few pictures with the sign in the background.

Finally, if you are looking for a half-day experience, you might consider parking at the base of the mountain and then hiking up to the observatory. This will take you through a hilly, wooded area and give you a chance to escape the crowds for a bit.

LA itinerary

(c) ABR 2018

The Observatory itself is free, however parking is not. If you’d prefer to save some money or aren’t comfortable parallel parking, there is a bus that you can take up. The DASH Observatory bus will get you up the mountain from the Vermont/Sunset Metro Red Line.

Disneyland

southern California road trip

(c) ABR 2018

Personally, as a Disney fan, I don’t think any LA itinerary would be complete without a trip to Disneyland. Even on the most crowded day, I just enjoy being in the park and taking in all the beautiful environments that have been created there. There’s really nowhere else in the world that you can wander from the Old West to a busy African marketplace in a matter a minutes.

Of course, Disneyland is a great place for families as well, although it is the most expensive attraction here by far. Some of my best memories as a kid were made in Disneyland, and of course, this is the best place to get great pictures with all of your favorite Disney, Marvel and Star Wars characters.

LA itinerary

(c) ABR 2018

Besides the great rides, I enjoy trying all of the great foods in the park (something they have really upped their game on in the past couple years). If you want to keep updated on all the food news in Disneyland, I would suggest checking out the Wonderful World of Food Youtube Channel.

All that being said, Disney recently increased their prices and last I read we are up to $150 a day during peak season and $104 otherwise. Parking is $25 per day on theme park grounds, so if you can, try to stay in one of the hotels that are within walking distance or have a shuttle. There are a few that aren’t overly expensive, surprisingly.

LA itinerary

(c) ABR 2018

Lesser Known Locations that you MUST Visit

Little Tokyo

LA Itinerary

(c) ABR 2011

We have an entire post on Little Tokyo, so I always consider this in my “what to do in LA” lists. It isn’t a large area, but we never fail to spend a few hours there. In particular, if you have been to Japan, Little Tokyo will be a nice reminder of that beautiful country across the sea.

For a lovely afternoon in Little Tokyo, I would suggest going around lunch and planning to get dinner there as well. There is a lot of good food in this area, and they serve things that you really can’t get easily in other places. After lunch, take some time to visit the Japanese-American National Museum. This is a great place to learn about the history and vibrant lives of Japanese-Americans, from the shameful parts of our history to the beautifully unique art and culture that has resulted from the mixing of American and Japanese heritage. It is $12 dollars to get in for adults.

LA Interinary

(c) ABR 2011

After spending some time in the museum, taking in all the history and art, take time for a tasty snack or dessert and then enjoy the shopping in Little Tokyo. There is a ton of stuff that you would find in Japan, but also shops with unique items that mix Japanese and American culture with the unique character of the shop owners. It is a really great place to find a unique souvenir. Top the night off with some delicious Japanese food, or a downtown LA restaurant if you want to mix it up.

Parking in downtown LA is not free, so budget for parking; there is a big parking structure right next to Little Tokyo if you prefer to avoid street parking.

Santa Monica National Recreation Area

southern california road trip

(c) ABR 2018

This is a massive national park unit, and there are definitely trails in the park that you will probably see in top ten lists here and there. But I would highly suggest getting out of the city a little bit to really explore this majestic slice of urban nature in your LA itinerary.

Solstice Canyon is a must-do. The trail there is not difficult or long, but the canyon is beautiful and ends at the ruins of a mansion. The nature and architecture tell a story unique to Los Angeles, so it is a great place to find a mix of my two favorite things, culture and nature. There is also a lovely picnic spot at the trailhead that’s the perfect place to eat lunch with the family.

For those of you looking for a harder hike, head up into the mountains to summit the tallest peak in the range, Sandstone Peak. It’s only a little over 3,000 feet, so it’s not extremely challenging but there are unparalleled views from the top. The ocean will be on one side and the city on the other, sandwiched in the middle will be you and the wilds of the mountains.

Best of all, this park is free, so you can wander at your leisure.

What to Avoid in your LA Itinerary

Walk of Fame

LA itinerary

(c) ABR 2018

The Walk of Fame is my least favorite thing that I have ever done in LA, and I insisted on going the last time because I see it on so many “what to do in LA” lists! I just wanted to do the tourist thing and experience this place, but I ended up just absolutely hating it. Parking was extremely expensive compared to everywhere else in the city, and as soon as we walked out onto the street it was impossible not to notice how dirty the street was. The stores were little better for the most part.

Like any tourist trap, basically everything that you want to do here, besides just walking around will cost you something. And I just got a very predatory feel while I was there. I doubt that this is an area that many local people go to, so coming to the Walk of Fame just slaps a TOURIST sign on you. I’ve never liked that feeling and a few pictures of the Chinese Theater and the stars just don’t make the experience worth it.

LA itinerary

(c) ABR 2018

The worst part of the whole thing was the people wandering around in costumes. Unless you want to pay to take a picture with one of them, stay far, far away. They like to fluster people with handshakes and then pull you in for a picture. One of them even grabbed a friend of mine in a very inappropriate way. It was very uncomfortable. As far as I know, none of these people are actually sanctioned to be there as those characters either. As an example, you might get manhandled by a Mickey or Chewbacca, and it’s not something that Disney would ever allow.

I’m sure there are people out there who have had a good experience on the Walk of Fame, but in my opinion, it just really isn’t worth your time. Save your money and go elsewhere. You can get great Hollywood pictures from Griffith Observatory, and there are plenty of unique spots in LA that you can go without the tourist scams and people trying to pull you into pictures with them for a buck.

Downtown LA in general

LA itinerary

From Wikimedia Commons

Besides Little Tokyo, I find downtown LA to be one of the worst downtowns that I have ever been to (and I’m from Phoenix). There is some really good food here, which is still worth the trip, but I would never spend the day walking around in the city like I would elsewhere. The streets are just dirty, and there isn’t a lot to see when you are walking around.

That being said, I feel a lot more ambivalent about this than the Walk of Fame. I think people that really love the city could keep this on their LA itinerary and have a good time. There are certainly some cool museums in the city and instagrammable spots, so it wouldn’t be impossible to enjoy an afternoon there. However, it certainly won’t be the best downtown experience that you have, and if you have limited time, this is definitely something that you can skip.

If you like this post, you might also enjoy:

LA intinerary

(c) ABR 2018

The Ultimate Southern California Road Trip for Hikers and National Park Enthusiasts

Escape the City in 5 LA National Parks

Nightborn Travel’s Guide to the California Channel Islands

LA Itinerary

LA Itinerary

The Ultimate Southern California Road Trip for Hikers and National Park Enthusiasts

Southern California is an absolutely wonderful place for hikers and national park enthusiasts. There are deserts, beaches, mountains, and cities with attractions that I think any nature lover will enjoy. If you are like me, and love getting as much out of your vacation time as possible, this intense itinerary for a Southern California road trip is for you.

BEFORE YOU LEAVE

(1) Set up your trip to the Channel Islands with Island Packers in advance, and buy necessary permits from the National Park Service.

(2) If camping, be sure to have all of your permits squared away.

(3) Reserve your hotels/hostels/etc. and your rental car. If possible, rent an off-road vehicle.

(4) Bring all necessary safety equipment and hiking gear. Make sure a friend and/or family member has a detailed itinerary including the trails that you are planning on hiking.

DAY ZERO: STARTING IN LOS ANGELES

Los Angeles is a great starting place for this Southern California road trip, because it is the definitive capital of life in Southern California. There are tons of flights into the city and some of them are a great deal. That being said, there are some things about Los Angeles that make it a little difficult as well. LAX is a massive airport and can have issues with delays and construction, and the city itself is a warren of highways and crowded streets. I would suggest doing your best to time any drives through the city around traffic hour because it can literally take 2-3 hours to get across the city without lots of traffic jams.

DAY ONE: MT. BALDY

southern california road trip

(c) ABR 2016

Mt. Baldy is the tallest mountain in the San Gabriel Mountains that hem in the city from the east, and the trail to the summit is no joke. With about 3,900 feet of elevation gain and 11.3 miles from start to finish, the trek up this mountain is a challenge for all but the most seasoned of hikers. If hiking is something you enjoy, however, and you don’t mind the challenge, I highly recommend this hike. It took me about half a day to complete it, and to this day is probably one of the more difficult summits that I have completed.

The trail itself is really beautiful, and has some unique sections. The Devil’s Backbone was one of my favorites, where you follow the ridge of the mountain with major drop-offs on either side of you. There are also stretches of forest with tiny waterfalls, and of course the view from the top of the mountain may be one of the most amazing for this Southern California road trip.

southern california road trip

(c) ABR 2016

If hiking isn’t your thing, not to worry, there is a ski lift that you can take up to the lodge part of the way up the mountain during the weekends. You can also enjoy the trails lower down on the mountain for nice day excursions.

If you’d like to go for the summit, however, park just past the Mather Flats Campground and hike towards San Antonio Falls. Just past the falls, you will find yourself at a fork in the trail. The trail to the right will take a more gradual (but long) route up the mountain to the ski hunt, and the other trail is a steeper, more direct route to the top. I would personally suggest taking the steeper route up, which I think will allow you to appreciate Devil’s Backbone and Baldy Bowl more, and you won’t destroy your legs with a steep downhill.

DETAILS
southern california road trip

(c) ABR 2016

For more detailed information on this hike, see Hikespeak’s post, which I used to plan my own trip. Note that you will need to purchase a pass for the national forest, and these can be picked up at the nearby gas stations on the road into the mountains.

STAY: Los Angeles Area, potentially near the Santa Monica Mountains if you’d like to avoid driving more the next day.

DAY TWO: THE SANTA MONICA NATIONAL RECREATION AREA

southern california road trip

(c) ABR 2018

The Santa Monica Mountains are partially managed by the National Park service, and they offer some really varied hiking as well as ocean views. I would suggest warming up in the morning in the foothills so that you can experience some of the rolling grasslands that are so characteristic of coastal southern California, then moving onto a visitor center to grab a park stamp and speak with the rangers. From there, I did the Solstice Canyon trail, which is pretty gradual and relaxing, and has the perfect picnic area for lunch.

For hikers, my next stop would be Sandstone peak, the high point in the Santa Monica Mountains, where you can get some amazing views of not only the city and the ocean, but the backbones of the mountain range itself.

In case you don’t want to do more hiking that day, you can also head out from Solstice Canyon and spend the day exploring Malibu and enjoying the beach.

DETAILS
southern california road trip

(c) ABR 2018

Hiking in Santa Monica is free in National Park lands.

For more information on the Santa Monica Mountains see our guide to the best hikes in the park.

Note that the Woolsey Fire damaged this area in 2018, so I would suggest checking with the park website and/or rangers to get the latest information on what’s open at the time that you visit.

STAY: Ventura, CA

DAY THREE: THE CHANNEL ISLANDS

southern California road trip

Santa Rosa (c) ABR 2018

There are an endless number of trips that you could plan for the Channel Islands, and I would suggest looking through our guide to help you decide. If you only have a day to spare on your Southern California road trip, I would suggest taking a day trip to Anacapa or Santa Cruz. But if you have more time, consider camping on Santa Cruz or Santa Rosa where you can explore the unique landscape of the islands more thoroughly on the trails and sea (if you like kayaking/snorkeling). If water-based activities are more your thing, Anacapa can also be a great place to camp, because there is a ton of kayaking and out-of-this-world kelp beds there.

DETAILS
southern California road trip

Santa Rosa (c) ABR 2018

Whatever you decide to do, make sure that you have reservations with Island Packers before you leave for your trip, because without that, you won’t have access to the islands. If you are camping, you will also need a reservation with the park service. Prices will vary with the location that you choose and the length of the trip you decide to devote to these beautiful islands.

STAY: Ventura, CA

DAY FOUR-FIVE: SEQUOIA AND KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARK

southern California road trip

(c) ABR 2018

It’s about a 4-hour drive from Ventura to Sequoia, so get an early start. Once you reach the foothills, consider enjoying a picnic near Lake Kaweah or grabbing food in one of the small cafés in the Three Rivers Area. Then work your way up into the mountains through Sequoia. Of course, the stars of this park are the redwoods, which you will start to see in the higher reaches of the mountains. On the way up, stop by Hospital Rock, the Crystal Cave (summer only), and the Giant Forest Museum. But of course, make sure that you leave plenty of time for the redwood forest. The General Sherman Tree is a must-see and there are lots of lovely trails among the giants to explore.

On day two, continue exploring the forest landscape in Kings Canyon (if you go during the summer). Enjoy the beautiful views of the canyon, and enjoy some mild hiking (unless you still have tons of energy). Note that the road through this park is closed during the winter.

DETAILS
southern California road trip

(c) ABR 2018

The $35.00 vehicle pass covers both parks and lasts for 1-7 days.

There are lots of road closures in both parks during the winter as well as strict rules about chains and four-wheel drive when there is snow. You can rent chains in the Three Rivers area on your way up if you need to, just keep your eyes open while passing through the small towns.

STAY: If you can, I would highly suggest trying to get a room in one of the lodges in the parks. If that isn’t possible, stay in one of the small towns in the mountains.

DAY FIVE-SIX: DEATH VALLEY

southern California road trip

(c) ABR 2018

It is about 5.5 hours from Sequoia National Park and Death Valley National Park, so I would plan a quiet day driving to some of the main spots in the park. Mesquite Flat Dunes, the Badwater Salt Flats, Artist’s Palette, and consider Dante’s View for sunset are some of the main things that you could consider checking out to get your lay of the park.

On day two in Death Valley I would pull my hiking boots back on. We have a detailed list of my favorite hikes in the park, but there are so many trails in Death Valley. There really is something for everyone. In order to see the most while you are there, I would suggest a mix of short trails and more moderate length trails and a nice mix of the different aspects of this unique desert landscape. If you want to do a major summit hike, Death Valley also has options like Wildrose Peak (8 miles) and Telescope Peak (14 miles).

DETAILS
southern California road trip

Road trip rental car in Death Valley (c) ABR 2018

The park entrance fee is $30 per vehicle for 7 days.

STAY: There aren’t a lot of places to stay near the park, so if you can afford it, I would try to stay in Furnace Creek.

DAY SEVEN: MOJAVE NATIONAL PRESERVE

southern California road trip

(c) ABR 2018

Mojave National Preserve is one of the lesser known spots on this epic Southern California road trip, but this desert is full of unique landscapes and hikes. It is a great place for hikers and nature lovers to escape the crowds and see a place that mixes some of the best aspects of Death Valley and Joshua Tree.

We have a detailed description of hikes in this National Park unit here, but I would highly suggest the Teutonia Peak and Hole-In-The-Wall trails. These aren’t too hard but offer some amazing views of the park, as well as some very fun trail experiences. There is also a historic landmark in the park, the Kelso Depot, and access to Mitchell Caverns State Park ($10 entrance fee and $10 for a cave tour- get reservations ahead of time here).

DETAILS
southern California road trip

(c) ABR 2018

The Mojave National Preserve has no entrance fee.

It is about 2 hours from Death Valley National Park to Baker, CA just outside of Mojave; it is then 1.5 hours from Kelso to Twentynine Palms.

STAY: Twentynine Palms area

DAY EIGHT: JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK

southern California road trip

(c) ABR 2018

Joshua Tree National Park has become extremely well known in the past couple years for its climbing, fascinating rock structures, and its chill vibe. For hikers, and road trippers, this national park has a huge variety of stops and trails. Hidden Valley is my personal favorite spot in the park and is suitable for people of all hiking abilities. Ryan Mountain offers a more difficult trek, although it is relatively short, and for those looking for a big summit challenge, consider the Pinto Summit (details here). Other spots to see in the park include Keys Views and Cottonwood Spring, although if you have time I would give all of the big points in the park a stop. For more details.

DETAILS

$30 vehicle entrance fee

STAY: Palm Springs

DAY NINE: PALM SPRINGS

southern California road trip

(c) ABR 2018

By this point, I would be pretty tuckered out, so the next few days will give you time to rest and ready yourself for the journey home at the end of your Southern California road trip.

First stop for this rejuvenation is Palm Springs. This small city is known for its mid-century modernist architecture, adorable downtown stretch, and characteristic palm springs. If you are interested in seeing some of the architecture, look here for details. If you still have the energy to hike, this guide will give you the details about hikes to some of the desert oases that this city is named for.

southern California road trip

(c) ABR 2018

I would highly recommend the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway for any kind of traveler. It is about $26 dollars to ride, and the views from the tram and top of the mountain are absolutely beautiful. There are also hikes and nice walks at the top so you could make this into a whole day if you wanted, or a half day trip.

STAY: Palm Springs or Los Angeles

DAY TEN: LOS ANGELES

southern California road trip

(c) ABR 2018

After all your hiking and exploring, it is time for the last day of the Southern California road trip before you head home.

If you are a Disney fan, treat yourself to a day in Disneyland/California Adventure.

If you want to get a taste of Los Angeles before you leave, I would suggest visiting the Griffith Observatory, which is free, and Little Tokyo in the downtown area. The Observatory has some more hiking, if you are a real champ, but there is plenty to see there even without a trek. There is a small museum in the observatory which is free (although you will need to pay for parking), and this is a great place to take pictures of the Hollywood sign and the city.

southern California road trip

(c) ABR 2018

Little Tokyo is also free to visit, but you will need to pay for parking. There is TONS of Japanese food in this area as well as great shopping. I usually spend 3-5 hours here shopping, eating and visiting the Japanese American National Museum ($12).

STAY: Los Angeles

NEXT DAY: HEAD HOME

southern California road trip

southern California road trip

Santa Cruz Island Camping and Hiking Adventure

King of the Channel Islands National Park

santa cruz island camping

(c) ABR 2016

Santa Cruz is the largest of the Channel Islands, and it is one of the most accessible islands, with both day-trips and overnight trip options. There are miles and miles of trails open to visitors, making this bit of California the perfect destination for hikers looking for some quiet places to explore. The island is also home to some of the world’s most beautiful sea caves, which can be viewed by kayakers, and some lucky people will also get to check out the Painted Cave from an Island Packers boat (they sometimes stop there on the way back from Santa Rosa or San Miguel). In any case, Santa Cruz Island camping is the best way to enjoy the many things that the island has to offer.

Scorpion Anchorage

santa cruz island camping

(c) ABR 2011

Scorpion Anchorage is going to be your primary landing for Santa Cruz Island camping, kayaking, and hiking. This has the best access to the parts of the island that is open to National Park users, and thus it is the perfect spot for explorers that are looking to freely wander the trails of Santa Cruz.

When you land here, you will come upon a pebbly beach, and campers will need to lug their gear up the trail from the landing, past the beautiful, green roofed ranch homes that the NPS currently uses for its personnel. The campground is past here, tucked away in a calm canyon that is still lined by the massive eucalyptus trees that were brought to the island by ranchers. Unlike Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz is a much less windy place to camp, making this verdant camping place a serene location to relax and pitch your tent.

santa cruz island camping

(c) ABR 2011

From here, if you rent a kayak or bring your own, you can walk back out to the beach and explore the coast of the island. There are beautiful sea caves on Santa Cruz and some of them are accessible to sea kayakers. You should check with local rangers for details about this, and follow all safety precautions. Remember, your safety is your responsibility.

Santa Cruz Island camping will also allow visitors to spend more time on the trails and explore deeper into the interior of the island. Since Santa Cruz is so large, there are some varied landscapes that you are sure to find if you hike for long enough, but expect rolling hills and rounded mountains covered in grasslands similar to those found on the mainland nearby.

santa cruz island camping

(c) ABR 2011

Prisoner’s Harbor

santa cruz island camping

(c) ABR 2016

Prisoner’s Harbor is a small landing where you can access part of the Nature Conservancy’s claim to Santa Cruz when accompanied by a guide. This is one of the most special places for Santa Cruz Island hiking, and worth the trip for any fan of the Channel Islands.

There is a small wetland here that is close to the landing, and which is a great place for island fox and bird watching. From here, the trail into TNC’s land curls up a steep hill to the west and then starts a tiring but enchanting hiking in and out of several washes that run out from the island to the sea. Larger trees fill the areas where water funnels to the ocean, and the more dry-adapted giant coreopsis crown many of the hills. So, while you are huffing and puffing, you get a great sample of the island’s flora.

santa cruz island camping

(c) ABR 2011

The end of the trail leads out to a beautiful beach, where you can relax for a while, and gather your strength back for the trek back to Prisoner’s Harbor.

Tips for Visiting

santa cruz island camping

(c) ABR 2011

You will need to book a boat ride with Island Packers.

To learn about camping permits, be sure to read through the National Park Service’s info page.

And if you are curious about the other Channel Islands, look through our guide!

Eat Your Way Through L.A.: Places to Try

I visited Los Angeles for New Year’s shenanigans and proceeded to eat my weight in, well, basically everything. I’ve listed a few of the places I liked the most – give them a try the next time you’re in the City of Angels.

Disclaimer: I’m 99% sure that I’ve got the locations right, but I don’t travel to L.A. much, so maybe double check their Yelp/websites/social media pages before you go.

Quick Breakfast

Sam’s Bagels

Location: Main St., Santa Monica

If you love bagels (and really, who doesn’t?), then you’ll be a fan of Sam’s Bagels. Even though it’s along Main St. in Santa Monica, it’s a bit of a hidden gem, tucked between a tavern and a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. Its own sign is pretty high up on it’s brick wall that you won’t notice it and the window signs won’t really help you either. You’ll know it’s Sam’s when you walk in and there’s a just a strange, inexplicably large bagel on the wall for decoration and not much else.

In case you thought I was lying about the large wall bagel.

Bagels are big and toasty, schmear is excellent (I got a strawberry spread that was perfect) and the place is small and quiet.

Extra perks:
1) It’s a stone’s throw away from the beach.
2)  Window seating to bask in the morning/afternoon sun and people-watch.

Not-So-Quick Breakfast (Or Brunch)

Nick’s Coffee Shop

Location: Pico Blvd., Pico-Robertson

Breakfast is 100% my favorite meal of the day, so obviously Nick’s is my pick for best place. What you’re looking at here is a delicious waffle combo.

I would move to L.A. for this place, I’m only half-joking. I only had breakfast at this diner, but it was SO good. And the people were so nice – surprisingly jovial in the aftermath of New Year’s Eve and always checking to see if we were happy with our food and needed anything else. They seemed to know and have a great relationships with their regulars and the walls look to be chock full of “celebrity” diner portraits, even locals.

It’s not a big establishment, being a diner, after all. So if you’re thinking about dropping by, you can actually call ahead an ask to hold a table.

Extra Perks:
1) A few outside tables if the weather is nice or if you have a furry companion.
2) Perfectly crispy hash browns.
3) Did I mention that the staff is lovely?

Lunch/Dinner

Tatsu Ramen

Location: Sawtelle Blvd, Little Osaka (other location available)

Their Old Skool ramen with Tonkotsu broth – ’cause you can’t go wrong with a classic.

Little Osaka has a TON of restaurants in the area. Even the complex Tatsu is in has like four or five of them packed in there. But if you’re in the mood for some tasty Ramen, go to Tatsu.

Portions are generous, especially if you order extra noodles for just a couple bucks more. Space is limited, because of the small size of the restaurant (even with the extra seating outside) and because of Tatsu’s popularity. You won’t have to wait to order, thanks to the tablet ordering system out front, but you’ll most likely have to wait for a table. Just give your number to the hostess and they can send a text when your table is ready, meanwhile, you can pop into the other little shops nearby.

Extra Perks:
1) A true vegan/vegetarian ramen bowl for your veggie/vegan friends.
2) I say lunch or dinner, but this place is open until 2 a.m. (sometimes 3 a.m.) for your late-night ramen cravings.

Dessert

Honeymee

Location: Sawtelle Blvd., Little Osaka (other locations available)

You definitely won’t BEE sad when you eat this ice cream.

Once you’re done with ramen or some other savory goodness in Little Osaka, stop by Honeymee for a sweet treat. Not only is their ice cream swirled into a perfect dessert, it’s accompanied by a delicious little honeycomb from a local bee farm.

Extra Perks:
1) After you’ve had a heavy meal, it’s a great light dessert.
2) Particularly picture-worthy (I’m looking at you, food bloggers).

For the Trip Home

Bibi’s Bakery and Cafe

Location: Pico Blvd., Pico-Robertson

Bibi’s is a great place to stop for reasonably-priced neighborhood baked goods for the drive (or plane ride) home and to take back to family, friends and co-workers.  Gentleman working the register was extremely helpful/patient as I figured out what I wanted and then inevitably came back to buy more, and seemed to be the bakery’s owner, Dan – which is always a good sign.

This chocolate rugelach might be TOO good. I bought three of these to share… and I ate most of them myself.

Extra Perks:
1) Kosher!
2) Also excellent bagels and schmear.

Well, I think that’s enough for you to chew on. Can you tell that I love to eat?

Bon appetit,
Katie

Little Tokyo Feels Like a Little Slice of Japan

map_littletokyo_aug07

I have been to Little Tokyo in Las Angeles twice now, and my experience both times has

been totally different, despite the fact that the place stayed the same. The reason for this is simple. The first time that I visited Little Tokyo, I had never been to Japan, and

(c) AB Raschke

(c) AB Raschke

honestly, knew very little about Japanese culture. In going the first time, I had a good experience, but I couldn’t appreciate how much this little spot really is like a tiny slice of the country for which it is named. Being there after having traveled to Japan in the spring, I actually felt something akin to homesickness. Little Tokyo made me miss Japan, and reminded me about a lot of the little things that I enjoyed while visiting the country. It should also be noted that during my second trip, we also stayed out in Torrance, rather than Anaheim, which doubtless added to the feeling of familiarity. This part of Los Angeles is home to a large population of Americans with Japanese ancestry as well as immigrants, and they have imparted some lovely things on this part of the city. Besides all sorts of delicious restaurants, Torrance is home to Mitsuwa Marketplace, a market that is truly reminiscent of the massive stores that Japanese cities have. Not only were there groceries to be found here, but there was an entire food court, as well as candy stores, cosmetic stations, and spaces for cultural classes and events.

(c) AB Raschke

(c) AB Raschke

In Little Tokyo itself, my favorite thing to do is dine. Not only are there amazing sushi restaurants here (probably one of my all-time favorite foods), but there are also a variety places with Japanese noodles. As far as I have seen, you really can’t go too wrong eating out in Little Tokyo if you enjoy Japanese fare. There is also a pretty comprehensive Japanese bakery here, where I always love to stop for dessert. Stores on the main drag of Little Tokyo are nice souvenir stops, and they have some of the most adorable little things. If there was one thing I learned about Japanese knick-knacks, it’s that they are the cutest. America has nothing on the cuteness that Japanese artists and designers can attain, and for anyone who loves adorable things, Little Tokyo will not disappoint. There are also stores in an underground, mall section of the area that sell model kits (great selection for an American store, very modest when compared to what you can find in Japan), complete with the blinding white lights that Japanese stores love to use to showcase their hundreds of model kits for sale.

Little Tokyo also comes complete with traditional temples. I actually don’t know if these are open to the public, but their presence certainly lends a certain authenticity to the area. Finally, Little Tokyo is home to the Japanese American National Museum, which has a library for Japanese ancestry research, traditional and modern Japanese art and photography, as well as an extensive exhibit covering Japanese American internment camps. I really wasn’t expecting to enjoy the museum as much as I did, but it has some of the immersive elements that I enjoy in museums, and I learned a lot of history that I didn’t know previously while there. It is definitely a nice addition to any trip to the area.

(c) AB Raschke

(c) AB Raschke

San Diego: A City with Something for Everyone

 

From: https://c2.staticflickr.com/4/3304/3272838018_8cbd96f330.jpg

From: https://c2.staticflickr.com/4/3304/3272838018_8cbd96f330.jpg

Ok, so I am finally writing about San Diego. I want to say that it is one of my favorite cities in California, but I’ve only really been to southern California so far, and honestly (not to stroke the egos of Californians- cause let’s face it, they already have a great state) I have loved every city that I have visited there. I think it is something about that warm, ocean air. Whatever it is, San Diego is a beautiful city, and it has a lot to offer any visitor, from major attractions like Sea World and the San Diego Zoo, to cultural landmarks like Balboa Park, and natural parks like Cabrillo National Monument and Torrey Pines State Park.

 

(c) AB Raschke

Balboa Park (c) AB Raschke

My favorite of these, when it comes to San Diego is the cultural aspect. Balboa Park is home to several Spanish-inspired buildings- their sandy colored walls, and varied sculptures are particularly appealing in contrast to the vibrant, green gardens arranged around them. The land that the park sits on now was set aside 1868 for a city park, which was eventually beautified and named Balboa for the Panama-California Exposition in 1915. Now, it is a nice place to spend an afternoon, exploring the gardens, enjoying the architecture, and taking advantage of the varied museums that call the park home. There is also a really neat area called the House of Pacific Relations International Cottages, where they have different cultural events on Sunday afternoon. My only complaint about Balboa Park is that most everything required an entrance fee, and the Botanical Building, which I was really hoping to visit and is one of the few free attractions has weird hours and is closed on Thursdays.

Rhino at the San Diego Zoo (c) AB Raschke

Rhino at the San Diego Zoo (c) AB Raschke

The San Diego Zoo is also in Balboa Park, and I make it a point to visit this zoo almost every time that I am in San Diego. The San Diego Zoo is one of the most famous zoos in the world, or so I read, and it is home to over 4,000 animals. While it isn’t the largest zoo on Earth, the sheer size of this place can be daunting for the animal lover. It feels like there is just no way that you can visit every part of the park in one day, especially if you have little kids with you. Besides being large, half the time that you are in San Diego Zoo you feel like you are either hiking down a steep hill or hiking back up. On the bright side, you get a good work out while you’re there, but it can make seeing everything even more difficult. This sounds like a bit of a struggle, but it is something that I love about San Diego Zoo. You could literally spend all day here and still have new things to see, and there are so many animals there that I almost always end up seeing something new. Also, as a conservation scientist, I really enjoy seeing all of the interactive, educational materials at this zoo. Not only that, but the San Diego Zoo has done a wonderful job with immersive enclosures, and they have recreated a bunch of different environments that can be explored throughout the park. Really, I can’t sing the praises of this place enough. It is definite must for anyone that enjoys zoos and will be in the area.

Awesome cupcake from Frost Me (c) AB Raschke

Awesome cupcake from Frost Me (c) AB Raschke

Another area in San Diego proper that I have always enjoyed is Seaport Village. This is just a nice little area to walk around in, grab some tasty food, and do a bit of touristy shopping. I highly recommend visiting Frost Me Cupcakes if you are in this area. Their treats are not only delicious but beautiful. Seaport Village is also walking distance from the Gas Lamp District, which didn’t have as much shopping, but there are tons of restaurants here, including a pretty tasty Irish pub, the Dublin Square Irish Pub and Grill. It should be noted that parking at Seaport Village is not free, however, and I am not sure what parking is like downtown. Pretty standard urban annoyance, but worth being mentally prepared for nonetheless.

 

Lighthouse at Cabrillo (c) AB Raschke

Lighthouse at Cabrillo (c) AB Raschke

Finally, while there are probably tons of other attractions that I could highlight for San Diego, I just want to mention one of my favorite places in the city that isn’t as well known as the other places that I have mentioned here, and that is Cabrillo National Monument. As I have previously mentioned elsewhere, I am huge national park buff, and so Cabrillo was a must-visit for me. The park has a mix of cultural and natural aspects as well, so I think that is could potentially be appealing to a good mix of travelers. The park is named for Rodriguez Cabrillo, who became the first European to set foot on the United States western coast in 1542. Cabrillo National Monument, interestingly, is also a rather unique and historic place in terms of my PhD research as well, because this is considered one of the birth-places of whale watching! Migrating gray whales can still be seen from the shore of Cabrillo to this day, and if you are ever in San Diego during this season, I would highly advice visiting to park to take a peek at the whales. Onshore whale watching is one of the best ways to see whales if you are concerned for the well-being of the animals, as boats can get you much closer but can also harass cetaceans in the absence of protective laws (which the US has) or operator self-regulation.

Cabrillo (c) AB Raschke

Cabrillo (c) AB Raschke

Besides these, Cabrillo is home to the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, which was first lit in 1855 and is not only fun to explore, but is one of the original eight lighthouses of the US West Coast. There are also beautiful tidepools and coastal hiking here. We did this towards the end of our visit, after hiking and exploring the rest of the park, and since we took our trip towards the end of summer, the unshaded coast got pretty toasty, and probably shortened the time that we would have spent looking for animals in the shallow pools in the sandstone. So, besides suggesting that people visit Cabrillo, and that they take advantage of all the attractions that this park has to offer, I would also suggest that you plan your trip around the tidepools if that is something you are interested in.

And if you have any questions about my experience in San Diego or my travels feel free to leave me a comment. 🙂

My next update will be on March 1st, and I writing about my budget travels in Washington DC.

Coronado: A Historic Island City

(c) Access Maps

(c) Access Maps

Like much of the American Southwest, the story of the landscape begins with the first exploration by the Native Americans, and the eventual colonization of the Spanish. For Coronado, this chapter of the story began in the seventeenth century with the explorer Sebastian Vizcaino, who charted the island for Spain and named it and the surrounding islands Las Yslas Coronadas. It wasn’t until the nineteenth century that Europeans really started to use the area, and it wasn’t until after the independence of Mexico that anyone other than whalers took advantage of the beauty and natural resources of Coronado. However, for several decades the island was bought and sold on more than one occasion, apparently by people who were somewhat short-sighted, until the island ended up in the hands of E.S. Babcock Jr., H.L. Story, and J. Gruendike in 1885. These three visionaries organized the Coronado Beach Company, and began to gather investors and buyers in order to develop a resort town between San Diego and the open ocean. In 1888, the historic Hotel del Coronado was opened, and between 1900 to 1939 Coronado became one of the major tourist draws in the area. People flocked to Tent City at the base of the Del to swim and partake in the fair-like atmosphere of the area. Movies were made there, and Hollywood stars graced the halls of the Del. After 1939, the fickle demands of tourism shifted, but the value and beauty of this area ultimately continued to draw visitors to the island, and helped maintain some of San Diego’s unique landmarks. (Source).

(c) AB Raschke

(c) AB Raschke

As with its history, the atmosphere of Coronado is unique, even for the generally sublime nature of San Diego and the warm, ocean environment of Southern California. The massive Coronado bridge, which arches over San Diego’s bay waters, serves as a portal to this beautiful place in the mind of the imaginative. Drivers need to keep their eyes on the road here, as California traffic isn’t forgiving, but for passengers the bridge can inspire a feeling of flying, and at the very least, offers views of San Diego and Coronado that are impossible to capture from the ground. Once across the water, the roads get smaller and I always immediately get the feeling of a small town. The houses here are manicured, and varied, but have a standard of beauty that suggests the wealth of anyone who can afford property on the island. The bridge dumps its passengers into the neighborhoods, which most people navigate through to the main street of Orange Avenue. Anyone spending a day or more in Coronado would be missing out if they didn’t spend some time strolling the lesser traveled streets, however, as the houses themselves are lovely, but there are also a couple small churches tucked away in the more residential areas that merit a visit.

(c) AB Raschke

(c) AB Raschke

Orange Avenue is where most visitors spend their time, when not basking on the beach or exploring the Del Coronado. Here, shops and restaurants line the street and display a variety of historical and modern architectural types. The mix of buildings is appealing in themselves, and while the wares of most of the shops are fairly tourist-oriented, the restaurants are tempting. Anyone who enjoys a sweet crepe should visit Fabrison’s French Creperie Café. I have never had a disappointing crepe here, but they are only open in the morning and afternoon, so be sure to drop by before they close up. For dinner, seafood lovers should check out Brigantine’s Seafood, and Village Pizzeria has tasty pizza and a casual atmosphere; they will also deliver to your hotel room. MooTime Creamery.

(c) AB Raschke

(c) AB Raschke

Of course, the crown jewel of Coronado is the Del Coronado Hotel or the Hotel Del. I personally haven’t stayed there, but just visiting and taking advantage of the beach in front of the hotel has inspired my appreciation for this place. The design of the hotel was drawn up a few years after the Coronado Beach Company was founded in 1886, and building began a year later. By 1888, the Hotel Del opened its doors to the public, was the center of the bustling tourist town of Coronado, and claimed the title of being the largest resort in the world at that time. Prominent Hollywood and government figures passed through the halls of the Hotel Del, and even the casual visitor today would be hard pressed to miss the hotel’s proud display of photos of the Del’s historic heyday. By World War II, the hotel was no longer sought after

(c) AB Raschke

(c) AB Raschke

by Hollywood stars, and by the 1960s the buildings were aging, neglected, and slated for demolishment. Luckily, however, ideas of destroying the old hotel gave way to a desire to see it restored to its historical grandeur when M.L. Lawrence invested heavily in expanding the Hotel Del and adding modern resort amenities to the property. As for myself, I enjoyed taking in the hotel’s unique architecture and historical interior design. Downstairs there are a variety of expensive shops, but also an interesting display of historic photos and plaques that tell the story of the Hotel Del Coronado. I have heard that getting tea at the Hotel is something of a visitor must, but I have never had the opportunity myself. Besides exploring the public areas of the hotel, I have spent most of my time there on the beaches outside, which are cared for daily and seemed to be fairly quiet in terms of crowds.

And if you have any questions about my experience in Coronado or my travels feel free to leave me a comment. 🙂

My next update will be on February 1st, and I will be writing about Coronado’s neighbor, San Diego.

Torrey Pines State Reserve, San Diego, CA

As its name implies, the Torrey Pines State Reserve is one of only two places in the world where the rare Torrey Pine (Pinus torreyana) grows. To my eyes, the Torrey Pine is a squat, hearty tree that makes its way in the world by clinging to the sandy cliffs of the La Jolla area. Coastal storms and the harsh desert environment that the tree calls home have twisted some of the plants, but many look unexceptional. Nonetheless, I always find myself enjoying the company and experience of rare species; there’s something special about being in their presence.

Torrey Pine! (c) AB Raschke

Torrey Pine! (c) AB Raschke

Outside of visiting for the trees, the Torrey Pines State Reserve also has a set of trails that weave through the dry, coastal environment of San Diego, and it sports a long, sandy beach perched just under the crumbling cliffs of the shrubby bluffs that characterize the park. It also home to the Los Penasquitos Marsh, which has been closed to all use save one trail. The components that constitute the reserve make it a varied place, that is appealing to hikers, travelers, and beachgoers and which kept me busy for more than half the day.

When I visited the park, I hiked up the north beach first. In the morning, the crowds were fairly limited for a California beach, but there were swimmers, sunbathers, and surfers scattered all the way from the parking lot to the northern end of the park. There was also a large group of devoted volunteers combing the beach for trash when I was there, and I always find it heartening to run into people spending their time caring for the environment. The beach seemed otherwise unremarkable, and it was made somewhat unpleasant by the close proximity of a busy railway.

Neat coastal, sandstone formations (c) AB Raschke

Neat coastal, sandstone formations (c) AB Raschke

The southern half of the reserve was more appealing, but due to my lack of research before visiting, I was somewhat surprised by the fact that I had to pay for parking two separate times as my ticket for the northern parking lot didn’t work for the other half of the park. The northern half of the reserve is home to most of the Torrey Pines hiking trails, has a visitor center, restrooms, and its own beach.

Many of the trails here meander through the green capped dunes of hard packed sand, that are crisscrossed by increasingly deep ruts and ravines that have been carved out of the cliffs over the years. These paths can take hikers out towards the cliff edge, where you can gaze out at the ocean, and take in the adventurous nature of the Torrey Pines, as many of them grow along the cliffs and in the recesses of the water-carved sandstone. I took several of these trails, and enjoyed the unique vegetation and beautiful scenery of the ocean along all of them, however, the path down to the beach from the northern bluff to Flat Rock, was my favorite place here.

Beautiful views in Torrey Pines (c) AB Raschke

Beautiful views in Torrey Pines (c) AB Raschke

And if you have any questions about Torrey Pines or my travels feel free to leave me a comment. 🙂

My next update will be on New Years, and will be about my first impressions of New York City. I can already say that I do not enjoy the cold!

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