Touring the Golden Gate Park, Japanese Tea Garden and a walking food tour in the Mission neighborhood.
Rather than take the faster I-5 route to Monterey we opted to take Hwy 101 instead (most of the way anyway). With some ocean views, and not much more time, it would take us through Santa Barbara, Pismo Beach, San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles and Salinas. It was a beautifully sunny day and not too hot. There were views of the ocean as well as driving past wine, almond and pistachio orchards.
We stopped in Santa Barbara with the sole intent on having some McConnell's ice cream again! Luckily it was also lunch time and we needed fuel. Worked out perfectly.
Lunch was at El Pollo Loco. We'd never been but heard good things. It was surprisingly fresh and didn't taste like "fast food". Fresh sauces, grilled chicken, guacamole and tortillas. Plus, the staff was super friendly.
Then we drove over to McConnell's. I was a tad disappointed to learn that the L.A. version is a bit different that the Santa Barbara version. So, no "Breakfast of Champions" shake. Enter sad face. Ellie and I both opted for a scoop of the salted caramel chip which wasn't a terrible second choice. We were happy.
The rest of the drive to Monterey was uneventful but quite beautiful really. There was one horrible moment of realization as we drove right past Firestone Walker Brewing with no time to stop!! Really sad to miss that opportunity. I'd gladly do that drive again though and make the time. My one consolation, we chose to have dinner at the Cannery Row Brewing Company in Monterey. They have all kinds of local beers and wines. Lucky for me they had Firestone Walker DBA (double barrel ale) on tap. So...at least there was that.
My other disappointment was that even though the restaurant was named Cannery Row Brewing, they don't seem to actually brew beer!
They make up for that by having really really excellent food! And a fabulous beer selection. Pfew. Dinner was saved.
I wasn't terribly hungry so I opted for a salad and clam chowder. Paul got the sand dabs (a flatfish caught right in Monterey) and we could just share. The salad was substantial. Not just boring iceburg lettuce and the clam chowder had a nice amount of bacon to make it quite good. The real star though was the sand dabs. Panko crusted, with lemon-shallot butter and served with mashed potatoes and green beans. Definitely a happy surprise after a rough start. We were perfectly content when we left.
Knowing we wouldn't have any time the next day to explore the town we opted to walk down from the restaurant to see the ocean. Then we drove out to the lighthouse just on the edge of town. Such a beautiful town. Business signs are kept low profile so you don't just see advertisements but also the trees, well kept homes and quaint scenery.
Now to wrap up our whirlwind tour of L.A. My friend described Grand Central Market to us and since that's where Eggslut was located we made sure to get it on the agenda. It's also near MacArthur Park and we wanted to at least drive by there too. To be honest, I'd never heard of either place but we were game to check them out.
MacArthur Park has been featured in, or the subject of, quite a few movies and music videos. Unfortunately, there are a lot of homeless people hanging in and around that area so it didn't feel very safe to stop and get out. We opted to drive around it instead.
There's a parking garage connected to the Grand Central Market and at only $2 for 90 min. it's a great value. I'd say it's on par with Pike's Place Market in Seattle albeit on a much smaller scale. One of the first vendors we came across had a variety of moles scooped out like ice cream. We so wished to be close enough to home to take advantage of those!
After walking all around and seeing what was available we decided on Sarita's Pupuseria and McConnell's Fine Ice Cream. A couple vendors we might have chosen were closed for the day (Wexler's Deli and Horse Thief BBQ) but we were not disappointed with our choice of what was left open.
I had my first pupusa while in Honduras 9 or so years ago. They were unlike anything I had ever had up to that point with a nice mix of corn masa, cheese, cooked onions and cabbage slaw. A perfect little bite from a street vendor. Sarita's loroco y queso version sounded closest to what I'd had before. These were El Salvadorian but almost exactly like I'd remembered. Creamy masa dough stuffed with cheese and loroco (a vine with edible flowers) grilled until crispy on the outside with melty goodness on the inside. Their version was also served with cabbage slaw and a sweet, vinegary sauce on the side. I also tried their version of horchata. Typically seen here as a rice drink with some cinnamon. Their version featured an ingredient I'd never heard of, semilla de morro. It had a slight nuttiness and was less sweet than the rice version.
We took our food over to the nearest table, and as we ate we were in full view of a little ice cream stand. Remembering our friend talking about a "breakfast shake" of some sort we realized this was the spot to get it. Ellie opted for a cone of some of the best salted caramel chip ice cream to ever grace my lips. Paul and I decided that even though we didn't really need a milk shake...this one was special and mustn't be passed over.
The menu reads: Breakfast of Champions Shake
Let me just say this. They must have cast some sort of magical spell to create this concoction. As best as we can tell, they have to make their own cornflakes? They're a bit salty and somehow keep their crunch. The shake itself is made with sweet cream ice cream blended with cornflake-steeped cereal milk and cornflake crumbles! Let that sink in for a bit. Then...be sad you can't have one right now. I know I am.
Our food adventures ended there for the day but we did explore L.A. just a bit further. Driving through MacArthur Park again as we headed towards Rodeo Drive BABY!! Because....Pretty Woman. You know the scene I'm talking about.
We drive down Wilshire Blvd. and lucked out going past the La Brea Tar Pits. Ellie was excited to stop and see what they were all about. I think her exact words were, "now things are getting interesting!" Nothing feels stranger than walking through a beautiful city park and seeing tiny tar puddles coming up through the flowers and grass. It's quite a scientific marvel in the middle of millions of people.
Afterwards we continued on Wilshire. It's interesting to see the neighborhood change, from poverty stricken to working class to filthy rich. Once you turn onto Rodeo Dr. in Beverly Hills you enter another world all together. There's no point in even getting out and walking around. Ain't no way I'm affording anything on that street! After the shops you move into estates with homes that are truly beautiful. Classic in a vintage way. Not mansions really but homes that have known money for a very long time.
We headed home via the Sunset strip and through Laurel Canyon. Tons of traffic since it was around 5 pm but it was actually better to go slow enough to look around and see everything. Places like The Comedy Store, House of Blues, Laugh Factory, The Viper Room, and The Roxy. So many iconic places. Wish we had time to go to one or all of them but that'll have to wait for another visit.
We were tired but fulfilled when we got back to the apartment. It was nice to sit down to a dinner with friends, make some cocktails and debrief. Paul and I mutually decided that based on our amazing day in L.A. we could up our friend's status to being our very own Anthony Bourdain, and that's high praise in our world.
Tomorrow we leave for Monterey.
There are so many choices in L.A. It's easy to get overwhelmed. Rather than have a hard and fast agenda we generally do better with a list of possible options. Then we can choose what works best and when. Spontaneous stops can be way more memorable than planned ones. Rudy's Barbershop was one such stop. We saw it on the corner while at a stop light heading towards Bar Keeper. There are other locations in Portland (planning to take Ellie when we get there) as well as New York and Seattle. Paul was in desperate need of a cut, so I suggested we run in for a quick pit stop and get him looking presentable.
This is where things get good! I really wanted some authentic Asian food since L.A. is known for having all sorts of cuisines. With neighborhoods dedicated to the needs of Thais, Filipinos, Chinese, Koreans and more, it seemed silly to only seek out "American" food. So our trusted friend suggested Sapp Coffee Shop. There's no way we would have stopped without a recommendation. It's an unassuming spot in a myriad of other establishments bearing signs not in English. For one, it's so hard to just pick a place when you have blocks worth of choices. For another, it's called "coffee house" and who would expect to get crazy good authentic Thai food there?!
We were told to try three things. The Thai iced coffee, jade noodles and boat noodles with pork. Sitting down to the menu we were glad for the guidance. I'm sure we would have picked out something good but most likely not these three items.
The Thai iced coffee was a glorious blend of crushed ice, sweet cream and coffee. I couldn't ask for anything more splendid really.
Jade noodles are unlike anything I've ever had. The name jade obviously comes from the color of the noodle but the toppings are what get you. There's BBQ pork, duck and crab meat, peanuts, cilantro and green onion. It's a bit pungent upon arrival but when you dig in and get a bite of everything, you'll want to finish the whole bowl all by yourself. We topped ours with a tiny bit of chili paste and vinegar. I know that if I lived here, I'd have a hard time not ordering this Every. Single. Time. I went. My mouth is watering just writing about it.
You'd think nothing could compare to the jade noodles but then they place this bowl of goodness in front of you. It's warm. Steamy. Heady with fragrance. We chose the pork version which comes with things most people probably wouldn't try. Opting to not tell Ellie what was in it until she had tasted it all. A nice mound of rice noodles are topped with pork meatballs, liver, tripe and some crispy pork belly on top. What you would commonly know as cracklins, pork rinds or chiccharrons. The kicker in this dish is that they use pork blood to thicken and flavor the broth. Doubt you'd ever know that without being told but what a rich, flavorful broth it is. Basically, between all three of us, we negotiated who would get what and who would get the last bites. The liver was probably the least favorite part and yet, none was left in the bowl.
Sadly, we didn't order anything else since we still had places to go and more things to eat.
I can't say that I've really ever wanted to go to L.A. and be a tourist. It seems too big with too much traffic. It's commercial. Fake. Frivolous. All the things I try to avoid. But, like any other American who enjoys watching movies, listening to music and going to iconic places, I was also curious about life there.
After our time at the previous night's taping of The Voice, I didn't really feel the need to "find" someone famous. I was excited to spend the day driving around, exploring some cool spots and eating some good food. What I didn't count on was my friend being such a good tour guide. Even though he had to work he offered up tons of suggestions about places worth stopping at. So, being the good friends we are, we took his advice. Mixed in with my desire to drive down Ventura Blvd, the Sunset strip and Rodeo Drive, we created an amazingly well-rounded day.
First stop, Joan's on Third.
My brother-in-law Peter also suggested this place and since it was literally around the other side of the block of where we were staying, it made sense we'd go there. My first impression was, "I love it here!" Such a beautiful place. Clean lines and simple colors. Basically leading you to peruse all the baked goods as soon as you come in. I opted for soft boiled eggs and toast while Paul went for the breakfast sandwich and Ellie the fruit and granola parfait.
Coffee was excellent as well.
Paul loved the yolk spilling out.
Second stop, Bar Keeper.
A small local shop providing all the cool little trinkets, accoutrements and fixins to make the best cocktail of your life!! The selection is small but carefully curated. They were totally capable of answering questions and making suggestions. We were invited to try a few Chinese spirits they were tasting at the time we were there.
Always fun to be asked to do that. We left feeling well taken care of and also laden with booze to enjoy later. Apparently they've been featured in Saveur and Imbibe magazines to name a few. If you're looking for something new, unusual or hard to find to upgrade your bar...then this is the place for you.
On the same block as Bar Keeper was a good looking coffee shop called Intelligentsia which was perfect timing for a little pick me up. It doesn't hurt that they have a cool logo too.
We packed so much into our day in L.A. that I broke it up for easier reading. Can't wait to share our lunch spots!
It's always sad to drive away from family. My sister and I spent a lot of years not being very close. With 5 years separating us, I remember looking forward to the time when I could leave home and not have to "take care" of her anymore. Fast forward through the Army, college, marriages, kids, moves and you find us as adults who actually enjoy our time together. She is often times my voice of reason and a trusted friend. We even lucked out and like the spouses we each chose and have kids we like being around. Very lucky indeed.
Driving from Escondido to L.A. isn't very far on a map but inevitably, traffic is slower, there's more of it, and a myriad of options to get there. We have great friends who live in Studio City which puts us in a prime location really. He was able to get us tickets to view a live taping of The Voice! on our arrival day. Once we unloaded at the apartment we were quickly off to Universal Studios. So surreal being there at all, not to mention being a guest of someone who works there. We almost didn't get tickets but someone else couldn't use them and we were happy to accept.
Phones aren't typically allowed but they give friends and family a little leniency if you are subtle about its usage and avoid flash. Before the show started he was able to come say hello, bring us some fresh baked cookies and take our photo with the stage and all in the background.
Needless to say, that whole experience was pretty cool. It's actually hard work doing the stand up/sit down, cheer, clap and be excited all on command. FOR THE ENTIRE 2 HOUR SHOW! They run a tight ship so that everything runs smoothly. Those set changes happen in real time during the commercial breaks. Really quite amazing. Ellie's favorite part was having Carson Daly look over to her and ask how she was. She now has a crush.
One added bonus. The tram that drove us from the holding area to the studio detoured through the Universal Studios' back lots. Giving us a mini tour of movie sets and general movie facts. The highlight for me was the JAWS set. It's my all time favorite movie and here we are, driving by two iconic movie props of the shark out of water and hanging from it's tail (neither of which I have photos of). This memory will have to live in my own head. I'm okay with that though.
I realize not everyone can get onto a taping of The Voice but there are other shows that film in town of course, so it's worth asking friends/family if they have any connections. At the very least, pay to go to Universal Studios to do the official tour. If you like movies at all, I think you'll find it worth your time.
Tomorrow....we hit L.A. proper.
For our last full day at my sister's I wanted to take Ellie to tour the USS Midway and drive around San Diego a bit. They open at 10 am so we tried to get there as soon as we could (that ended up being about 10:45). Buying tickets online through Costco saved us quite a bit. Allow yourself plenty of time because the Midway is huge! So many nooks and crannies to walk through. We were really surprised by how open it felt and how close we were able to get to everything. Definitely a memorable experience as well as educational. Pack a lunch. Bring your camera. Wear good shoes.
Ellie decided to complete the junior pilot program. Basically, they provide audio headsets for your tour. Kids get a special presentation with questions to answer and turn in at the end of the tour. A nice, elderly docent/veteran walked her through a small ceremony and then presented her with wings. It was quite sweet. She was very interested in the whole tour (all 5 hours of it) and we all had a great time.
After our Midway tour we hopped over to Ballast Point Brewing. It was close enough that we couldn't pass it up. Parking is a bit of a challenge but the beer reward is worth it. They have a huge offering of beers on tap. Some tried and true. Some in what they call the "research and development" stage. If these beers are popular enough they'll put them into the regular rotation. We especially loved the Grapefruit Sculpin and the Jalapeño Chipotle IPA (R&D). Halfway through we decided to get a soft pretzel to help wash down our beer, which turned out to be a very good decision on Paul's part!
After beer we headed on over to Coronado. I've had a long standing desire to see the Hotel del Coronado. Ever since watching Marilyn Monroe in the movie "Some Like it Hot". The weather was perfectly warm with a slight breeze. Parking can be found just off the beach. While Paul and Ellie walking out to find the family I toured around the hotel grounds first. What a beautiful area. The building is gorgeous. Old school and truly classic. Next, I hope to stay there, but for now...touring the grounds has to be enough.
To top the day off we saw dolphins swimming through the waves at the beach, drove by the Navy SEAL training facility on "the strand", followed by a quick jaunt through Balboa Park. Our final meal was at In & Out Burger. I never hate going there. A fitting end to a day of touring, sunshine, beaches and kids.
During my last trip to Escondido I visited Stone Brewing under the advisement of a trusted beer drinker. Thanks Dave. Not only is the beer good but the brewery itself is hands down the most beautiful I've been to. Definitely had to make it a point to take Paul there on this trip.
We didn't have plans for dinner there (the food is outstanding though) but we did get an appetizer to have with our beer. The fried castelvetrano olives with rosemary almonds were quite lovely. Yes, we had a variety of tasters but it's hard to beat their Cali-Belgique IPA.
Later in the evening we took the kids on what they call a "jammie ride".
Nothing quite compares to surprising a gaggle of kids with an impromptu, late night trip to get donuts...and what amazing donuts they were.
Peterson's Donut Corner is just that. A corner shop with lines into the parking lot. Typically a good sign for what's inside. You peruse the options through the windows around the building giving you plenty of time to decide before getting in line.
Ellie had the Oreo, Paul a maple frosted cronut and I went with a classic powdered sugar. Easily the best I've ever had.
Oh to be 2 and want an orange donut. Love having this moment in time with her.
Wow. I'm pooped.
The temperature was perfect. Sunny, warm, slight breeze. None of that helps your feet though. We didn't even get through the whole thing but after about 5 hours of walking, I was confident that I'd seen enough. The San Diego Zoo is quite amazing. With the number of people who must go there day in and day out, the place was immaculate. Plenty of little nooks to sit, seek shade and enjoy the wildlife. The place is vast.
Of course you want to take tons of photos of all the cool animals but it's always hard to get close enough or get around the fences, glass walls and such. Here are a couple that turned out pretty good despite all of that.
One of the biggest attractions at the San Diego Zoo is the giant panda exhibit and one of the few zoos to boast having them. Our whole plan was to go early in hopes of avoiding the lines of people wanting to see them. Paul, Ellie and I lucked out by having this one wander around his enclosure when we walked through.
Flamingos not in water...with their heads up. Not sure I've ever seen that at a zoo? We watched a keeper come right out, select one, then pick it up. Taking it back behind the gate for whatever reason. Basically, long legged chickens!
Here's Turbo, the Andean bear. He was quite the character. As the work trucks drove by, he'd climb as high as he could and try to get their attention. Bouncing on the branches and waving. One driver called to him as they came along and stopped to say hi. Obviously, one of the more social species.
The last little funny from our trip to the zoo. Basically, one of the first exhibits we got to. They just so happen to have a Tazmanian Devil named Debbie. I find it quite humorous that one of the most vicious animals out there is my namesake. I immediately texted my husband so that I could laugh at it first, before he did.
The elephants and the reptiles were amazing as well but didn't make for very great photos this trip. The secretary bird was by far the craziest animal I saw. So much so that I didn't even snap one photo of it because I was staring in awe at just how strange and beautiful it was. I'd love to go back and spend more time in the Africa area for sure.
Highly recommend stopping here on any trip to San Diego. It'll spoil you when it comes to visiting other zoos but it's well worth the time and money. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
This was our first day to play in and around San Diego. Generally, we just go and do what's good for my sister's family since they have way more family members to factor in. As long as we could find some sand and sun, all would be good. My sister chose Solana Beach this time.
It was a perfect late afternoon beach day. Not too hot and definitely not cold. Waves were mild enough for the kids to do some boogie boarding on their own. Only downside, sting rays. We saw what was either one ray, many times or multiple rays...not sure. The ole "sting ray" shuffle helped make sure no one stepped right on one. Apparently a sting is quite painful. I wasn't interested in finding out.
Excellent dinner pick by my sister and brother-in-law. After a day at the beach in So-Cal, authentic tacos are the perfect choice. Raul's Mexican Food was right off Hwy 101. This little hole in the wall has the basics and they are all done well. Fresh ingredients, plenty of guacamole and good service. I think the fish taco and the adobada street taco were my favorites. Ellie loved the flautas and to top it all off, they make a must try dish.....carne asada fries.
What you're seeing below....the three flautas plate with rice and beans, two fish tacos, two adobada street tacos and one each of carne asada and carnitas street tacos. Plus, a not to sweet and very refreshing tamarindo drink.
We took our food to a nice little grassy spot near Moonlight Beach to eat and enjoy a perfect sunset.
Perfect way to end the day.
Washington sunsets are still the most beautiful I've ever seen but there's something to be said for warm, sandy beach sunsets too.
The plan was to leave Sacramento early since we had a long drive ahead. Breakfast was part of our hotel stay and wasn't bad all things considered. Coffee, eggs, bacon and toast. Couldn't ask for more really. Plus, the gal running the show making sure everything was full and fresh was so friendly and seemed to truly enjoy her job. Not always found in the hospitality business it seems. We'd wait to get a real coffee in Modesto.
Preservation Coffee & Tea was next on the list all thanks to Alton Brown and his tour stopping there. I didn't know what to expect but what we got was perfect. Definitely a California hipster spot with great offerings. Go figure that one of the beans they use comes from Olympia Coffee Roasting Co.
Since we got them "to go" I didn't get a photo of the crema but it was there and it was glorious. I chose the Havana coffee. Maybe my new favorite indulgence. Cuban coffee with some cream and sugar. So so good!
Nothing very exciting on this stretch. Tuna from the cooler for lunch at a Starbucks parking lot in Fowler. A pit stop at one of CA-99's few rest areas (beautiful though). A detour just off the highway in hopes of finding fresh California dates at California Fruit Depot. Which turned out to be a working orange orchard with a small fruit stand. Super friendly staff and the smell of oranges was intoxicating.
I'm glad we opted to take the more eastern route to Escondido rather than I-5. It was a nice change of scenery as well as cooler temperatures. Wind farms, trains, rolling hills, amazing rock formations and even some Joshua trees.
The dinner stop ended up being in Riverside. So glad we have friends and Facebook to help us find the good spots. Thanks Sketch! I doubt we would have found it ourselves although the name alone was why we had to go there. When you come across a place called The Salted Pig....you stop. Well, at least if your name ends in Schwab as ours does. Needless to say, we were not disappointed. It was a bit dark inside (hence the grainy photos) but since it was a cool, old building that was understandable. Great local beer selection, creative food and they make their own ice cream. Super sweet waitress too.
Paul opted for the boar tamale in molé, Ellie the baby octopus and I couldn't pass up the lamb stew with pumpkin puree, roasted lamb, pickled pumpkin, fried lentils and herbed lebneh. It was good enough that Ellie wanted to help me finish it off.
Last indulgence for the night. Sharing a scoop of their homemade ice cream. Candied bacon and vanilla. Yes please.
We rolled into Escondido just after 9pm. Not too tired but glad to be here and spread out on a comfy couch. All in all, this day of the trip proved to be quite enjoyable. As an added bonus, we hit no crazy California traffic!!