Weekend Getaway – Long Beach

This Halloween weekend, I made the drive out to Long Beach. It was the last place I took an actual “road trip” to a couple years ago, and it’s one of the places in the greater Los Angeles area that I feel comfortable driving in and navigating. I haven’t been out of town since New Orleans in February, and I was starting to feel a little caged in. Sometimes it seems like a waste to leave only for a day or two, but sometimes these quick trips are the cures for my bouts of anxiety (or ennui depending on the situation).

The dogs and I stayed in a Motel 6 again, because I’m just comfortable in a Motel 6. I don’t know why I always stay at Motel 6; I think the short answer is because it’s cheap, convenient, and pretty much the only motel I feel “at home” in. I say that because it was the only place my parents and I ever rented from when I was a kid (well, the only place  that didn’t scare me half to death – but more on that later), so when I check into one I feel like I’m carrying on some kind of family tradition. A very cheap, sometimes shady, tradition.

When we got into town, I stopped at Veggie Grill for dinner. I’ve had them a couple times before, and they’re one of the best vegetarian/vegan places I’ve come across, at home and not. I’m not vegan or vegetarian, but I like it because it’s big on flavor, while still being healthy. I hate being on the road and eating McDonald’s after Carl’s Jr. after Burger King. Plus, we don’t have a Veggie Grill back home, so the added novelty was a bonus.

Other than that, we just explored. We went to Recreation Park and Uptown Dog Park, and visited the marina.I planned on stopping at Rosie’s Dog Beach before we left, but an early-morning power outage forced me to be on my way much too early for that. It wasn’t the greatest, most lavish weekend getaway ever, but it was relaxing. It was problem-free. It was everything I needed at the present moment, and that’s the hallmark of a good  time.

 

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Las Vegas Eats: El Burro Borracho

If you’re a fan of Diners, Dives and Drive-Ins and you’re in Las Vegas, you’re going to want to try El Burro Borracho. Located inside the Rio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas (there’s an additional location in Laughlin if you’re out that way), this Mexican cantina-inspired restaurant promises a fun time with rich, flavorful food and artisan margaritas and cocktails.

This new addition to the Rio is conveniently located near the convention center and the hotel’s pool area on the first floor. You won’t get authentic Mexican cuisine at El Burro Borracho, but you don’t go to a Guy Fieri joint for authenticity. Fieri’s specialty is fried and flavor, and in that respect El Burro Borracho scores major points. Trash-can nachos, fajitas, and carne asada burritos are popular menu items, but I opted for the roasted chicken tortilla soup. It was the perfect portion size for me, and it went well with my margarita of choice.  

 

Speaking of…you can’t go to El Burro Borracho and not order a margarita. Maybe you can if it’s early and it’s during the week but….no, even then you should order a margarita. I opted for the strawberry margarita with a dollop of whipped cream, and I could have easily ordered three more. The menu also offers “tequila flights”, if you’re not sure what type of tequila would suit you best.

Happy #NationalTequilaDay!

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As far as prices go, El Burro Borracho is moderately priced compared to other nearby restaurants. Cocktails average between 10 and 15 dollars each, and the food dishes can range between 11 and 30 dollars per person. This is also on par with Fieri’s Vegas Kitchen at the LINQ.

 

El Burro Borracho is a great place to go with friends, or on a date. It’s also a great place to go after spending the day at the Voodoo Beach Pool, if you’re in town during the summer.

Five Hiking Trails to Try Around Las Vegas

 

Las Vegas is known for its casinos and nightclubs, but if you venture past the Strip, you’ll find expansive mountains and trails to hike and explore. Here are just a handful of the interesting, colorful, and varied trails you’ll find around Las Vegas.

Mary Jane Falls

#31daysofhalloween #day19: I went up to Mount Charleston yesterday to see the last of the fall colors. I had heard that Lee Canyon was pretty much done but Kyle Canyon still had some trees with leaves left, so I struck out on the South Loop Trail for a little while until I decided it was time to turn around and head home. Some spots of yellow here and there but the trees are mostly bare now, but at one point I did turn around on the trail to see this spectacular view of Mummy Mountain behind me with the sun shining just so, perfectly highlighting the “sarcophagus“ of Mummy Mountain from the Forehead (right) all the way to the Toe (left). Plus it was overcast with a nice fall chill in the air, and I ran across some deer near the trail. All that seemed pretty Halloweeny to me! 🎃👻🕷🕸🦇💀😈🖤🤡🎈🍂🦌#hiking #hikinglasvegas #vegashikers #vegasoutdoors #myvegas #optoutside #halloveen #halloweenish #fall #fallhiking #fallcolors #fallinvegas #halloweeninvegas #vegashalloween #averyvegashalloween #southlooptrail #mountcharleston #springmountains #kylecanyon #mummymountain #vegas #lasvegas #vegaslife #vegaslocal #chasingfallweather

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Mary Jane Falls is a popular trail for locals, especially in the summer. The 2.5 mile moderate hike is located on Mount Charleston, and features a waterfall at the end of the trail. The temperatures in Mount Charleston average at least fifteen degrees cooler than Las Vegas itself, so it’s a nice refuge away from the summer heat. This trail is also open to dogs, but they must be leashed at all times.

This hike starts off harder than you might anticipate, but the view at the end is worth it. For a truly spectacular view of the waterfall, spring is the best time to visit.

 

Ice Box Canyon

Ice Box Canyon is a moderate-to-difficult trail located inside Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. The red rocks and jagged landscapes inside this national park sets it apart from its counterparts, Mount Charleston and Lake Mead.  Since the climate is more arid than Mount Charleston, it’s a nicer park to visit in the cooler months. This 2.5 mile trail is one of the cooler (temperature-wise) hikes inside Red Rock, and is popular in the winter and early spring.

Liberty Bell Arch

Liberty Bell Arch is another great hiking option inside Lake Mead. Due to high temperatures, this trail is not accessible during the summer, but if you visit in the spring and fall, it’s an ideal way to spend time outdoors. The trail goes up and over canyons, and passes by a World War II magnesium mine before reaching the end of the Arch.   

 

Cleopatra Wash

Cleopatra is one of the more difficult washes to hike, but its beauty makes the time spent traversing this trail well worth it. From beginning to end, elevation changes approximately 900 feet from the top of the Wash, through the Black Mountains and down to Lake Mead. Due to dropping lake levels, many hikers will opt to bypass the cliffs that have been created to reach the water.

Black Velvet Peak

Happy to be in the desert again

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The Black Velvet Peak Trail is another popular trail inside Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. This trail is a little harder to get to compared to more popular hikes like Ice Box Canyon, but it’s worth the extra work. The black rocks that give the area its name set it apart from the rest of Red Rock, and the 2,000-foot high walls make it ideal for wall climbing.

Viva Las Vegas.

I don’t know how I feel after October 1st.

 

I wasn’t at the festival, and the people I’m acquainted with that were came home okay. I don’t feel entitled, really, to feel sad, because of that. But in the days since then, I can’t help but feel like someone poked a hole in all of my balloons.  

 

My city always felt safe. That’s not to say there wasn’t violence that went on here before, but it was to such a small degree that it was easy for most parts of the city to forget about. It’s a city where I felt comfortable walking around at five in the morning, or midnight even as young teenager. Las Vegas has never been at the top of any “dangerous city” list; our crime rate even decreased between 2015 and 2016. You might lose your money here, but your life, especially as a tourist, was always a safe bet.

 

I worked at Mandalay Bay as a teenager. My first job was inside the Shark Reef gift shop, stacking stuffed animals and selling shark tooth necklaces. While no one in my immediate circle was at the festival that year, I’ve had family attend in years prior. Being in such close proximity to an act of terror is sobering, and confusing in a way I haven’t yet experienced. Knowing that these things can continue to happen, is even more grievous to me.

 

When I read about the victims, hoping that the number stays where it is and no one else succumbs to injuries, I can’t help but notice how many of the deceased weren’t from here. I think, and I might be wrong about this, that fact makes it feel different for the rest of the country. This shooting affects more than just one city. The victims were from all over the country, here simply to have a good time. If you can’t relax and be free on vacation, when can you be?

 

The other main thing I can’t get my head around is – why here? Las Vegas is a popular tourist destination, but it’s not a pivotal place in terms of politics. We’re not an import/export hub, we’re not even the state capital. Las Vegas is a desert getaway, a place to come when you want to let your hair down and forget about real life for a while. You’re suppose to be safe here. Thankfully, to the quick response of our local SWAT and other law enforcement officers, as well as the security team at Mandalay Bay, the damage stopped after minutes. Hundreds were hurt, and many died, but without their quick action it could have been much, much worse.   

 

If you’ve never been here before, I hope you decide to visit one day. If you have been, I hope you come back. With your help, we can be the infamous party city we’ve always been. While this dark cloud looms over our heads now, eventually, the neon will shine through once more.  

 

To those who lost family and friends, I’m so sorry. To the police and the firefighters and the medics that confronted the shooter and got people help, thank you. To the everyday Joes who risked their own safety to get people out, I applaud you. I hope all of you, one day, will feel safe again, and find some peace.

Visit New Orleans: The National World War II Museum

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to visit the World War II Museum in New Orleans. My visit ended up being a highlight of my time in New Orleans, and shed light on a war that all Americans are vaguely familiar with, but don’t know enough about.

Inside the World War II Museum | © Lauryn Wilder
Inside the World War II Museum | © Lauryn Wilder

I began my day in the French Quarter, with some beignets and chicory coffee at Cafe du Monde. I have a tendency to get up at the crack of dawn no matter where I am, vacation or not, so I needed to kill a little time before the museum opened.

When I was done at Cafe du Monde, I started the walk toward the World War II Museum. I enjoy walking anywhere and everywhere I can in a new place; it’s the best way for me to learn the layout of a new city, and find places to eat or shops to visit. The walk to the museum took me through Jackson Square, where I got to see some of the few remaining Confederate statues in the city.  

Pencil drawings of soldiers, by soldiers | © Lauryn Wilder
Pencil drawings of soldiers, by soldiers | © Lauryn Wilder

When you get to the museum, you’re directed to the ticket counter where you are handed a “dog tag” of a real-life veteran. My veteran was a female pilot named Geri Nyman; throughout the “Road to Berlin” exhibit, I learned about her life before the war and her experiences as one of the first female pilots in the American military. Learning her story while going through the exhibits made going through the museum feel more personal to me; as someone without a World War II veteran in the family, Geri gave me a face to associate with the time period and the cultural makeup of the time.

 

The collection of the National World War II Museum encompasses four buildings, including the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion, and The Boeing Center. Each building’s exhibits cover different aspects of the war; from the warfront in the South Pacific, to the events that started the worldwide conflict in Germany. Inside the Boeing Center, visitors get an up-close look at the vehicles and aircrafts that propelled the war effort forward.

Pin-up girls | © Lauryn Wilder
Pin-up girls | © Lauryn Wilder

I was surprised at the emotion I felt walking through the halls of the World War II Museum. Reading the letters of soldiers to their sweethearts, listening to Geri Nyman’s story, and learning details about the concentration camps that were never made available in school almost brought me to tears. The examples of wartime propaganda in the Road to Tokyo exhibit were reminiscent of our current political climate, particularly between North Korea and  the United States.  

Wartime Propaganda | © Lauryn Wilder
Wartime Propaganda | © Lauryn Wilder
Wartime Propaganda | © Lauryn Wilder
Wartime Propaganda | © Lauryn Wilder

World War II changed everything. It changed relations between countries, and how military operations are carried out. The war brought women to the workforce, and set the stage for the founding of the United Nations and the Cold War. The National World War II Museum tells the stories of the men and women involved in this global conflict, and their heroic effort to preserve freedom for those throughout the world.

Valley of Fire Dos and Don’ts

If you ever visit Valley of Fire, be sure to bring enough water. And make sure you’ve got plenty of gas.


Valley of Fire State Park | Ken Lund/Flickr
Valley of Fire State Park | Ken Lund/Flickr

I’ve been away from this blog for quite a while, and I thought it was time to check back in. As of June, I became the Las Vegas contributor to The Culture Trip, a travel and culture website. Keeping up with that, and my regular job/life has been a little bit of a learning curve. But it’s been fun, and I’m so happy to finally expand my horizons.

I decided to go to Valley of Fire on the fly a couple weekends ago. I’ve kicked the idea around in my head for a while, but could never muster the energy to make the drive out there.  These are the types of things one normally plans out well in advance, with supplies and water and…a plan. But not I, dear reader, not I.

I packed my dogs in the car that morning, initially intent on going to one of the few dog parks near my apartment. As I came upon the freeway entrance, I made a last minute decision (not a last minute turn, I’m not that warped) to jump on the freeway and see the park I haven’t been to since I was a child.

Do leave early

This will be subjective, but I’d recommend seeing Valley of Fire early in the day if you’re visiting in the summer. If you’re staying in Las Vegas, it takes about an hour to drive out to the park, and by 8 a.m., it’s already hot. By the time my dogs and I got out there, we were panting. All of us.

Fill Up Your Tank

This is a no-brainer, but there aren’t many gas stations on the way to Valley of Fire from Las Vegas. As stated earlier, most people do their due diligence and plan for this in advance, but for the fly-by-night, seat-of-your-pants people like me (if there are any), it bears repeating.

Take Your Time

Valley of Fire is a slap in the face of anyone who thinks the desert can’t be beautiful. Whether it’s the Beehives, White Dome, The Cabins or Elephant Rock, Valley of Fire is like an outer space oasis in the middle of the desert.

Bring Extra Water

If you’ve decided to be rebellious and visit the Valley in the middle of the day, take extra water with you, especially if you’ve got pets with you. I wouldn’t recommend taking pets with you to the Valley (mine and I only lasted about 45 minutes in the park total) in the summer, but in cooler weather it shouldn’t be an issue.

 

Let me know if you’ve ever been to Valley of Fire, and what you thought about it.

Happy travels!

Five Things to Do Outdoors in Las Vegas

Paris Hotel & Casino / © Ken Lund/Flickr
Paris Hotel & Casino / © Ken Lund/Flickr

When people come to Las Vegas, drinking and partying are generally at the top of the list. Whether it’s in a nightclub or by the pool, people come to relax and have fun. During the summer, sometimes it’s too hot to do anything else. If you’re looking to venture beyond the Strip, here are ten places and things to do that will let you see a different side of Las Vegas:

Visit Red Rock Canyon National Park

If you’re a camper, a hiker, or a rock climber, you will fall in love with Red Rock Canyon. Just a thirty-minute drive from the Las Vegas Strip, Red Rock offers a different kind of Las Vegas experience. There are 19 trails for hikers, and 6 climbing areas available for permits. Red Rock Canyon Campground is the only developed camping area, which is closed during the summer months because of the high temperatures. If you just want to take in the scenery, you can drive or bike along the 13 mile-loop that cuts through the park.

Go Paddle Boarding

Las Vegas doesn’t seem like the place for water sports, but you’d be surprised. Located off the 95 South in Henderson, Lake Las Vegas offers its guests a wide range of amenities and activities both on and off the water.

You won’t see many speedboats on Lake Las Vegas or find many surfers, but you can do a number of other things on Lake Las Vegas. Introductory paddleboard lessons are available, as well as yoga on the paddleboads, wake boarding and flyboarding. You can also rent a Duffy boat to take in the in views of the lake, or go kayaking.

Visit The Neon Museum

The Neon Museum, or the Neon Graveyard, is one of the more unique museums to visit in Las Vegas. The Neon Museum pays homage to the signage and hotels of Las Vegas’ past. You’ll find signs from old businesses offering “free aspirin and tender sympathies”, and original signage from hotels that are still standing today.

Because the museum is located outdoors, it’s important to keep the weather in mind when you go. If you go in the summer months, be sure to bring plenty of water; temperatures can be as much as 10 degrees higher inside the museum.

Guided tours are the only option available to see the museum, so be sure to book your tickets in advance.

Take a helicopter tour

If you’re really interested in seeing a different view of Las Vegas, the best view is from the air. Helicopter and balloon rides are very popular in Las Vegas for both locals and tourists. You can take a tour of just the Las Vegas Strip, or venture into the desert toward Hoover Dam or the Grand Canyon.

Viator offers a number of tour options at affordable prices, some of which include champagne and dining options. Sundance Helicopters is another popular tour company, which also will include limousine pickup.

Go to a beach concert

You might not think of “beaches” when you think of Las Vegas, but Mandalay Bay has that covered. The Mandalay Beach has become a tourist favorite since its opening; from its topless beach club to its wave pool, Mandalay Beach offers entertainment for all ages. The concerts on the Beach are an added bonus.

The Beach Concert series takes place throughout the summer months, with acts ranging from Ringo Starr to Keith Urban. This year’s acts include UB40, Dirty Heads and Salt N Pepa. You can bring blankets to sit on in the sand, but you’ll have to leave the coolers and the glass containers back in your room; no outside food or drink is allowed.

 

 

 

 

Five Popular Shows on the Las Vegas Strip

Bally's Las Vegas/ © Ken Lund [Flickr]
Bally’s Las Vegas/ © Ken Lund [Flickr]
Long known as “The Entertainment Capital of the World”, Las Vegas has been home to some of the most popular stage shows in history. At one time, Las Vegas was home to Elvis and The Rat Pack; today it’s the home of Cirque du Soleil, Britney Spears and Celine Dion. It’s still the home of more “adult” entertainment acts, including Chippendales and Zombie Burlesque. If you want to see a show and don’t know where to start, check out some of the following recommendations:

Mystere

Mystere is one of the longest-running shows on the Strip, and with good reason. Gracing the stage inside Treasure Island since 1993, Mystere is the longest-running Cirque du Soleil show in the company’s history. Brian Le Petit, Mystere’s resident clown, opens the show with his mischevious antics, from throwing popcorn at guests to stealing their wallets. From his debut, the show takes its guests on a journey throughout the “mystery” that is life itself.

Purple Reign

Purple Reign is a show for anyone that loves the 80s, Prince or both. The Prince tribute show, led by musician Jason Tenner, has wowed audiences in Las Vegas for nearly ten years. Located inside the WestGate Resort & Casino, Purple Reign pays tribute to The Artist (Formerly Known as Prince). With beautiful dancers befitting The Revolution, Jason Tenner brings back the spirit of the beloved singer.  If you go on a Friday night and purchase a VIP ticket, you can attend the after party, Purple Reign After Dark, with the performers.

Beatles LOVE

If you like the Beatles or breakdancing, you will love LOVE. The award-winning production explores the history of the Beatles, from their early beginnings in Liverpool, all the way to their final rooftop concert. There’s more dancing than acrobatics compared to its sister shows, and acts like the Russian swing and skaters give the show its distinctive style. If you decide to see the show and worry about getting a good seat, rest assured; there isn’t a bad seat in the entire LOVE Theater.

Beatles LOVE performs Thursday – Monday.

Tournament of Kings

You won’t find many dinner theater shows on the Las Vegas Strip, which is why Tournament of Kings is so special. The tale of King Arthur comes to life six nights a week inside the Excalibur, complete with pyrotechnics, jousting, and sword fighting. It’s one of the few kid-friendly shows left on the Las Vegas Strip, and allows children under 3 to attend for free.

JabbaWockeeZ

The Jabbawockeez are one of the newer acts to grace the Strip, and perhaps one of the most recognizable. The all-male dance crew first rose to prominence as the winners of America’s Best Dance Crew, and now perform five nights a week inside the MGM Grand. Their track suits and white masks have become their trademarks, as well as their commitment to pushing boundaries with their choreography and special effects.

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Five Things to Do in Santa Monica

venice-beachLos Angeles is one of my favorite places for a weekend getaway. If you’ve been there before, I don’t need to tell you it is practically perfect in every way (except for the traffic, of course). One of my favorite things about it is – you can go to the greater Los Angeles area a hundred times and still not see everything they have to offer. This list just scratches the surface of all that Santa Monica has to offer; I encourage you to venture off this path and find your own adventures as well.

Santa Monica Pier

You can spend an entire afternoon on the Santa Monica Pier. From riding the Ferris wheel, paddleboard competitions, to lunch or dinner at Bubba Gump’s, Santa Monica Pier is one of the top spots to visit in the greater Los Angeles area. The pier originally opened in 1909, and has seen become an iconic

Parking can be a pain at the pier, just as it is at any beach. You can plan in advance and reserve a parking spot for a discounted price, which might be useful if you’ll be in the area for multiple days.

Stop at the Camera Obscura

If you’re into anything vintage or offbeat, you’ll want to visit the Camera Obscura. The Camera Obscura allows its patrons to see Santa Monica through the lense of the past. Located near Palisades Park inside the former Senior Recreation Center, visitors can look through one of the oldest optical inventions known to man at the surrounding city. Another perk to visiting the Camera Obscura is –it’s free.

Visit California Heritage Museum

The California Heritage Museum celebrates the diverse aspects of California culture and history through its engaging exhibits and commitment to community preservation. Located inside the home of Santa Monica’s founding grandson, Roy Jones, The California Heritage Museum is a quaint little gallery right by the beach. Past exhibits include “Mexican Calendar Girls”, “Every Tattoo Tells a Tale” and “Awkward Family Photos”.

Take a Bike Tour

Bike tours are incredibly popular in Los Angeles, especially during the summertime. Biking is an ideal way to explore not only the beaches, but the surrounding neighborhoods and shops also. There are a number of tour companies to book through, but Santa Monica Bike Center and Pedal or Not come highly recommended.

Take a Stroll along the Boardwalk

From Santa Monica, you can take the boardwalk along the beach and over to Venice Beach. The boardwalk has multitude of sights along the way, including: artists, musicians, performers, food stands, and artisans selling anything from hula hoops to flower crowns.  Along the bike path you’ll find Muscle Beach and its

Sights in the Southwest – 7 Magic Mountains

If you find yourself driving into Las Vegas from Interstate 15, you might have seen signs for Seven Magic Mountains. The name doesn’t make the landmark easily identifiable; at first blush it sounds more like an amusement park attraction than any tourist destination. However, the totemic rock installation, described as “symbolically midway between the natural and the artificial” welcomes travelers with pops of color among7MM-3-web.jpg a brown and barren landscape.

When I first heard about Seven Magic Mountains, I wasn’t aware of exactly what it was or its significance. Mentions of the exhibit kept popping up throughout my social media feeds, and even made an appearance once or twice in my Google News Feed. There were stories of the project getting vandalized and praise for its creative ingenuity. I decided to visit the installation on my way to Joshua Tree National park a couple months ago.

When I got out of my car and made my way to the imposing artwork, I realized that there was literally nothing around it. Unlike similar land art installations of the past, Seven Magic Mountains was designed to stand out amongst its landscape. And once you pass the town of Jean, there’s little in the way of human population until State Line. There wasn’t a large crowd when I went, which made finding a parking spot and getting close to the display much easier.

Getting to the exhibit is fairly easy, but the turnoff can be easy to miss if you’re not paying attention. You’ll have to park in the dirt since there’s no paved parking lot or parking structure. I recommend going either in the morning or the early afternoon, especially if you’ll be visiting in the summer. The only nearby shade are the rock totems themselves, so I’d also recommend taking sunglasses and plenty of water. Security patrols the display on a regular basis, but there is no easy access to food or water in the immediate area. Since the display is in the middle of a dry lake bed, I would also advise keeping an eye out for your average “desert life”, including snakes and scorpions.

The exhibit opened in the spring of 2016, and will be on view until 2018.