California Adventure – Anaheim, California

I am old enough to remember a time when the California Adventure park in Anaheim California was a parking lot. Literally it was, we parked in it once. Now its a neighboring park to Disneyland, and you can buy a ticket that will get you into both parks in the same day.  The park boasts slightly more grownup rides than the Disneyland site but does still pack in plenty of kiddie things, including my favorite The Little Mermaid Ride.

I have much fewer memories of this park, as it is relatively new. I at least feel like it is new, but I did just look up the open date which was 2001. 17 years ago?! That was a big year for me, but I don’t recall at the time the opening of this park being front and center in my mind. I do however recall my parents going to Disneyland for the first time that year without me and telling me that there was a new park that they visited and “boy was it fun” said they, while their daughter was busy studying in college. Alas education first, and I have since had the chance to visit plenty of times and I do love it.

As far as real estate goes it is a much larger park, the walk ways are wider and there is more space in the waiting areas. It tends to lend itself to a much more relaxed less frantic atmosphere than Disneyland. We often get park hoper tickets when we go and skip over to California Adventure when the afternoon crowds start to get the best of us. But for all intents and purposes it is just as well executed as Disneyland. Rather than the sole focus on cartoon characters California Adventure celebrates the adventurous spirit of the state, while still managing to stay true to its brand. I really can’t say enough good things about either park. If you find your self having to decide between one or the other I would just do your research because they are both equally fun, but in very different ways. But either way you are sure to have a blast, we always do.

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Disneyland – Anaheim, California

I love Disneyland. I have loved Disneyland since I first went when I was nine years old and I will continue to love it for the rest of my life. I am not a Disney fanatic, I don’t wait impatiently for every movie, I don’t obsess about it’s history or collect certain souvenirs. I just really love the park.

There is something truly magical about it that manages to somehow manifest the nicest behavior in everyone. Despite being jammed into a park surrounded by thousands of complete strangers, everyone every single day I have been there is nice. So usually about once a year we pack off for a long weekend and head south to Anaheim with the singular purpose of spending a couple days at the park.

Part of the draw is the sunny dry climate. After sitting around in our perpetually rainy state it is a welcome reprieve. And for better or worse, even though it is a very intentional carefully planned type of magical atmosphere, the place really is magical. The attention to detail in everything, the cleanness, the kindness, the nostalgia…for a couple days a year it really hits the spot like nothing else does. But also Dole-Whip (see picture above).

My love of Disneyland is multi layers.  I love art and models and history and the park itself is a living breathing work of art in miniature (or perhaps more accurately 75% scale). I am and continue to be totally blown away by the attention to detail and seamless creation of an entire world and mood. I could sit in one place in the park all day and be happy just observing all the minuet details that have been put into the place to create the mood of which ever part of the park you are in.

Then there are the rides, if you are a roller coaster person there isn’t a lot of rides in the park for you. They are all small, low key and even the fastest not all that daring. But I love them all the same, and again part of that is the attention to detail. The rides aren’t just about the thrill. Its about waiting in line and being surrounded by this new world, which is approximately 20 feet from a totally different world. I like the nostalgia and the fact that these rides were invented and have been operational longer than I have been alive in most cases.

I first went when I was nine years old with my mom, step-dad and three step-sisters. I was very tiny at the time, and didn’t get to go on many rides. The first time I rode splash mountain was actually several trips later when I went with my dad.

He stood outside the Splash Mountain ride and told me he was going on and either I was going with him or I was waiting at the entrance by myself until he got back. He claims to have no memory of this. But it happened,  and I went on the ride with him. Do the things that scare you right. I loved it.

My husband and I went there to celebrate a big job change for me. We celebrated by Mom’s 50th and 60th birthdays there. I have ridden Space Mountain, and Thunder Mountain so many times I can repeat all the announcements and warnings in my head right now, in both English and probably in Spanish as well if I thought about it hard enough.

Yes the park is crowded, yes the food is expensive, yes the lines can be long. My only suggestion is to find what works best for your family. Once you have an idea of what kind of experience you are looking for a simple web search will be given more options than you know what to do with. For me though the point is to go to a place with a history of family joy and memories. Its bobbing and weaving through crowds and still being able to pick out your people among thousands. Its standing in line with the people you love most in the world and having conversations you might not otherwise because when do you stand still with another person for more than 20 min. It’s about sharing and experiencing the expensive food that you have worked hard as a family to afford. And then going home and having all those memories to cherish for years to come. It’s about parents and aunts and grandfathers and kids and everything in between all getting to be kids at the same time.

It’s magic. Pure and simple.

Questions:

Have you ever been to Disneyland? What are you favorite things about it?

LACMA – Los Angeles, California

As far back as I can remember visiting art museums has been a tradition between my dad and I. No matter where it was that we were at, there was always a museum, or gallery or store full of art to be visited. He is an artist and I have always wanted to be just like him. Real life happened  and I didn’t go into the arts, but I do appreciate them as well as paint from time to time.

There is nothing like one of the best art museums on the west coast to light the artistic fire in you. After visiting the LACMA I spent the rest of my summer afternoons painting in our backyard.

The LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) opened in 1965 and has expanded in both its collection and physical size ever since. The museum is huge, far too much to see in a single day but worth every minuet if you enjoy the arts.

We wandered around for a few hours, had lunch in their cafe which is actually pretty good and then wandered around for a few more hours. Our taste in art differs a lot but mostly in the type that we create. In many cases we do tend to like the same things in other people’s work. Which means spending a lot of time standing around a few pieces and then breezing through entire exhibits that don’t interest us as much.

Aside for the exhibits, the museum itself, like most museums has some pretty impressive architecture as well as exterior installations.  The museum shares a campus with the La Brea Tar Pits, so even if you don’t have time or the energy to go through the museum itself just walking around and taking it all in is an experience. All in all it was a really great visit!

Tocaya – Los Angeles, California

You know when you travel how your schedule gets off and you just start to feel icky. Then on top of the schedule your eating is off because you don’t have your kitchen, your stores, your meal prep and you start to feel more off. I almost immediately start to feel like that. I LOVE food, all kinds, but my system seems to prefer simple unfussy foods. Mostly veggies, no sauces, simple fats and lean protein. This can be very hard to find when traveling, less so on the West Coast but still a challenge.

I was so pleased to find Tocaya on Sunset Blvd, right down the street from where we were staying. It is a build your own food type of place, mostly in theme of Tex-Mex but with the typical SoCal organic flair. I can take or leave the organic thing, but I did very much appreciate the simplicity of the food and the ability to add what I wanted and nothing more.

I ate here more than once in three days, I loved the outdoor seating. Cannot pass up the chance to sit outside in the mild California weather. And the food always left me feeling satisfied but not weighed down. Sword Fish salad for the win, olive oil dressing, simple greens, manchago cheese and mixed fruits/nuts. Perfection.

Greystone Mansion – Los Angeles, California

Back in June my husband had to be in Los Angeles for work so I tagged a long for a semi cheap vacation. I did a lot of walking while down there, since he had the rental car and I was mostly on my own. I spent a lot of that time wandering around the Sunset Blvd. And one of those ended (not really ended because I had to walk back) at Greystone Mansion. Greystone is the former home of Ned Doheny, son of oil tycoon Edward Doheny .  Ned’s life ended in scandal in a mysterious murder suicide with his male secretary only a short while after having moved into his newly completed home.

He was survived by his wife and five children. The house is now a city park, or at least the grounds are. The house itself is used privately for events and not open to the public normally. Though tours can be arranged through the Friends of Greystone, the organization that currently manages the park.

However the grounds are free to the public for 10am to 6pm daily. To see the interior of the building however, you can check out the wide array of movies and TV shows that used the location. Such as my all time favorite Gilmore Girls, where it was used as Rory’s high school, Chilton Academy. It was also used as the Royal Children’s Hospital in Star Trek into Darkness, where can watch Benedict Cumberbatch stand outside the building looking ever so dreamy.

The rules of the grounds are quite strict. Though given how incredible they are and how impeccably well kept I can’t blame them. No dog, picnics, skate boarding allowed. And professional photography is only allowed via permit attained at the park office (so please forgive my unprofessional photos, which they always are, because I am lazy).

To get into the grounds you surprisingly go past the main gate up the road….and turn left. Then continue up past the house to the parking lot. The hill is steep, and I was on foot. I thought I was going to keel over, I was so thrilled when I got to the top and caught my breath enough to enjoy the gardens. I walked all over the grounds, snapping unprofessional photos and enjoying the view.

The mansions exterior is stunning. I walked so far around the grounds I wound up at the bottom of the property on the inside of the main gate, which was not an exit. I was promptly turned back around by the security guard and told to exit the same way I came in. Which was at the top of the giant hill I had just walked up and down. I may have whimpered a bit at the realization that I had to walk back up it. Oh well, I took the stairs with my chin held high, well I was actually watching the stairs because I was about 8 miles into my day and my legs were getting a little jello-ie.

The voyeuristic side of me wished I could have toured the interior. And I may have more than once tried to tiptoe through the rose bushes to see into the windows. That being said, the grounds were truly stunning and the view unforgettable. For everyone with time on their hands and an affinity for architecture or garden design I would highly suggest a visit.

La Conversation – Los Angeles, California 

During my recent trip to Los Angeles I mentioned that I was mostly on foot. Which meant long days of a lot of walking. One such day wound up being 12 miles in total, I had intended to just walk to Greystone Mansion and back but as luck (and lack of planning) would have it I wound up at the mansion three hours before it actually opened. So I chose to hit the bricks and explore the area and if I could find a place to grab breakfast. I wandered around Beverly Hills for a while leering at beautiful homes.

I started to get hungry so I looked up a coffee shop, I wasn’t thrilled with my options there was a Starbucks or a extremely popular local place both still about a mile off.  I toyed with the idea of just not eating but that seemed unwise. So I chose the local spot and headed in that direction. About a half a mile later I walked passed a small store front that just said ‘cafe’ on the awning. I was REALLY hungry at this point so I popped in.

The cafe’s name, La Conversation, I eventually figured out was a really excellent last minute choice. The wait staff sat me right away, at my choice of table. The coffee was delicious and strong. The menu had a lot of really great healthy options without being terribly unsavory (no green juice or other non-food foods). I settled in and enjoyed a leisurely brunch in this heavily antiqued restaurant.

I ended up wishing that I had more time in LA and more time at this end of the Sunset so that I could have gone back, but our time there was limited and I never got the chance to return. Hopefully in the future we will make our way back and I can revisit this charming little shop. Should you chose to give it a go, La Conversation can be found at  638 N. Doheny Drive West Hollywood, CA  90069.

Mel’s Drive-in – Los Angeles, California

When I was last in Los Angeles I twice saw an “Original Mel’s Drive-in”, in two different neighborhoods. I am a huge movie buff so I of course recognized the name as the diner from the movie American Graffiti. However it has been years since I had actually seen the movie and couldn’t recall just by looking at the diner and surrounding area to recall which of the two locations were actually used in the movie.

We were pretty busy when we were in LA, so I completely forgot to look up while we were there which location was used. And then as we were headed out town we needed to grab a bite to eat so we popped into the Sunset Blvd location, which my dad had also suggested as a decent place to eat. I later looked up filming locations of the movie and it turns out neither of the LA locations were used, as the movie was mostly filmed in San Francisco and the original location has since been demolished.

Despite not actually having been used for the movie the Sunset location is full of movie memorabilia and holds true to its 50s style decor and menu.  There isn’t a lot of information out there that I could find out the diner’s history or at least there appears to be some contradictory information. But the general idea is that Mel Weiss and Harold Dobbs built the first location in San Francisco, a true drive in style diner which catered to the ever growing car traffic on the west coast.

Several more locations were added over the years and ownership has since changed hands from the original families that built the drive through empire. Regardless that the location we ate at was not the original we thoroughly enjoyed our experience. As I mentioned the waitstaff was incredibly friendly, helpful and prompt. The diner was clean and while we were there blissfully empty. Which was a nice reprieve for us from the busy LA mood.  I would most certainly go back if I find myself near a Mel’s location, the kitschy decor and delicious diner food made the whole experience quite fun.

Book Soup – Los Angeles, California 

Book Soup is an independent book store and mainstay on the Sunset Blvd since the 1970s. Popular with tourist and celebrities alike the store specializes in hard to find and high end art books but also has a very comprehensive fiction section as well.

The store will suck you in from the street with a beautiful New York style newsstand display at the front door. Where you can then see the curved and towering bookshelves that are begging to be explored. Once in a person could spend hours (and I did) browsing the displays and finding all sorts of new books you want to read.

I found no less that 10 books immediately that I had not heard of and wanted to read. And that doesn’t include the pile of glossy art books that I would have snatched up had I not been on foot and several miles away from where I was staying. I went in more than once, spending at least an hour on my own. But I also wet in once with my family. Every time we were ready to leave we would be missing a member of our party, and in going to try to find them we would find more books that caught our attention and then again someone would be missing and the cycle would continue. Like I said it sucks you in, in the best possible way.

I sadly did not have the pleasure of being there on days with any special events or while one of the many famous locals made their way into the shop. But it is known to be a popular location for celebrity sightings and hosts a large number of events including talks on art and literate as well as book signings.

If you are a fan of books this is a Los Angeles sight not to be missed, but come with dollars because you will windup spending a lot. Even if not on their perfectly curated collection of books, their gifts and souvenirs are impossible to pass up and I wound up spending way too much money on greeting cards which I in no way regret doing.

Sunset Blvd – Los Angeles, California

Back in June of last year as I have mentioned in the previous few posts we were in LA for a part work part play trip. We were also lucky enough to stay with extended family rather than the hotel my husbands office wanted to put us up in.

So while we was off working for half the week (with our rental car) I was on foot. Luckily the house we were fortunate enough to stay in was in a nice part of town and near some pretty  fabulous areas to walk, the Sunset strip being one of them.

The strip, long famous for its night clubs such as the Viper Room, is still packed with venues of all sorts. But the streets are clean, the sidewalks wide and it is dotted with shops, countless restaurants, and plenty of watering holes if you fancy yourself a drink.

I spent a couple days walking around the area, one day I walked east and found myself down at the Farifax Farmers Market. And another day I walked west and found myself on palm lined streets of Beverly Hills.

My favorite spot to stop was of course the book store called Book Soup which famously takes its name from the Groucho Marx movie Duck Soup. I went to the store more than once, wandering around the winding stacks. I never did quite figure out their system. There was certainly a fiction section in the center of the store. Off to the right seemed to be books on California and celebrity biographies. Where as the left offered up art books of all kinds. I didn’t buy any books as I was already toting three library books with me, but I bought some fabulous cards to send to some friends in the upcoming months.

Needless to say, whether you are a person who likes urban hiking like myself or if you would rather tour via a tour bus. Or anything in between, I think the Sunset Strip is well worth exploration while in Los Angeles. There is a lot of see, a lot to eat and plenty of opportunities to see filming locations or possible celebrity sightings.

Fairifax Farmers Market – Los Angeles, California

On yet another ridiculously sunny solo day in LA, I had my husband drop me off at the Farifax Farmers Market on his way to the office. The problem with this plan was that it was sunny.  While I cut my walk in half by getting dropped off, a plan that involves a place to walk around as entertainment and requires a six miles walk back was not my best. But nerveless I did it, and loved it. I returned to our lodging only sightly sun burnt and mildly dehydrated.  I don’t know if you know this, but there is NO shade in LA. And the sun shines ALL the time.

The Fairifax Farmers Market, also known at The Original Farmers Market was established in 1934 as a village area for local farmers to sell their goods. I could regurgitate all the info here or just let you go to the market website and learn all about it. It has a fascinating history and has historically be a place where many stars have been spotted picking up local products. The market is enormous and provides an endless maze of fascinating and delicious ingredients as well as hot take away foods.  I am a terrible judge of distances, but it seemed around the same size at the Pike Place Market in Seattle.

The market is also adjacent to The Grove a popular retain destination in the area, which also hosts a number of celebrity regulars. I did not see any while I was there. I did however spend way too much time wandering around the shady produce stalls trying to decide what to buy. Due to my lack of planning the entire endeavor I forgot that I would be carry by hand back anything I purchased so I had to be a bit more discerning that I would have liked. For example buying everyone I knew a bottle of hot sauce from this incredibly vendor would not be my favorite choice after mile two.

 

I landed on small but mighty choices from Monsieur Marcel. Cheese, crackers and cherry paste. I shoved them in my bag and started the long trek back. Making stops, of course because why would I remember I had to carry everything back, at the Grove, various second hand shops and a Frozen Yogurt shop about halfway through. When I returned, finally I took a shower, and set myself up in the shade to devour my goodies. Have you ever had these crackers from The Fine Cheese Company? They are incredible and I cannot find them anywhere locally.