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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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

Tips on Taking Dogs to the Beach

20150418_174354Puppies Looking Out Window

It was always my dream to take my dogs to the beach and watch them play on the shore. I wanted them to sit beside me after hours of running through the sand, while we took in the sunset and the sound of gently crashing waves. My first trip to the beach did not go this way at all.

I took my dogs to San Diego with me when I decided to visit the Whaley House. I had learned that San Diego had many dog friendly beaches, unlike my experiences further north in Venice/Santa Monica. I settled on taking them to the Original Dog Beach, since it was the closest to my hotel. We arrived at the beach just at sunset, and I thought everything was going to be cool. It wasn’t. That’s not to say it was terrible experience; it was just more stressful than it needed to be. If I had planned better, it would have been more enjoyable for me and my dogs.

Relax.

Taking a dog anywhere can be a lot like taking a child anywhere. Both can be difficult to get in the car, and both can be difficult to manage once in the car. In both instances, you have a better chance of success if you don’t freak out. Not only that, dogs can pick up on our emotions and respond accordingly. If you keep your wits about you, you have a better chance at directing your dog. Before you leave, keep in mind that you’re going somewhere calm and fun. There’s no set time when you have to arrive or when you have to leave, so take your time and remember to take a deep breath.

Take them to the car first.

Dogs can get excitable when they know they’re going somewhere. If your dog gets wild right before you go on a car ride, get them in the car first. I tried to leave with them and my bags all at once, and I ended up forgetting the bag with their treats in it. To make up for it, we had to make an impromptu stop at Walgreens. If you take your dogs to the car first, that will allow you the few extra seconds to ensure you have what you need.

Make sure they poop before you leave.

If you don’t, you run the risk of them pooping as soon as you arrive. This isn’t quite as bad if you are with another person, and you didn’t forget your dog bag. That said, it is difficult enough to walk through sand by yourself, back and forth to get tissue and to pick it up, then proceed to your spot on the sand.

Introduce them to the water slowly.

The waves can be rather intimidating to a dog, especially the smaller ones.  Mine were curious initially with the wet sand and algae, but once the tide rolled in they ran off in a hurry.

Be mindful of leash laws.

The Original Dog Beach was the first leash-free beach, but some beaches do have leash requirements so keep that in mind before you travel. Some beaches have certain areas where dogs are allowed off-leash as well.

Have fun.

Let them explore along the shoreline, play with them, let them run and kick up sand. Bringing your dog to the beach is meant to be fun for both of you; if you focus on that and not on what you forgot or what’s gone wrong, everything else will fall into place.

Sometimes, taking just one dog to the beach can be stressful. Taking multiple dogs to the beach can be especially stressful.  But, if you plan ahead and take your time, it can be a lot of fun for the entire family.

 

My Experience at Venice Beach

 

Venice Beach was one of those places I just had to go to. But every time I went out to Los Angeles, I Googled how long it would take to drive to Venice and it always seemed to be a little too far for the amount of time I had available. Like San Francisco and Seattle, it seemed to call out to me from a very young age. It was a city full of hippies and creative types, according to my parents and everyone I knew that had been there. Two summers ago, I was finally ended up on the famous Venice Boardwalk for the first time. And it was magical.

venice-beach

Go to Venice early in the morning or late in the afternoon

 

Venice Beach is next door to another iconic California tourist spot – the Santa Monica pier. If you’re walking along the boardwalk, you can see the famous ferris wheel in the distance. My friend and I decided to kill two birds with one stone, and stop at both before we hit the road for home. Because we went later in the day, parking wasn’t an issue. If you decided to visit Venice in the summer (or any beach, really) I recommend going either first thing in the morning or close to sunset. I employed this tactic in Venice and San Diego, and it worked like a charm.

Pets Aren’t Allowed on Venice Beach

 

We tried to walk on the sand with my dogs, but we were quickly guided back to the boardwalk by lifeguards on duty. Venice Beach does not allow dogs on the sand, but Santa Monica does. You can, however, walk with your pets along the shore on Santa Monica Beach. While we were on the Venice side, we strolled up and down the boardwalk, past the (actual) freakshow, marijuana tents, dancers, artists and characters that make Venice so famous. We even got to witness a few beach goers try their hands at the rings, poles and ropes that make up the infamous Muscle Beach.

Tips aren’t required but appreciated

 

If you decide to venture down the boardwalk, keep plenty of cash on you. You never know what treasures you’ll find, and it’s the easiest way to do business with the artists. Plus, you’ll want to have tip money if you find a character or performer you’d like to take photos with. During our visit, I met a man who, for a penny, handed me a sticker with the words “Who is John Scott?” printed on the front. I was so curious, I went and Googled him. He’s also known as “L.A.’s Oldest Vandal”.

Venice Beach is a must-see if you’re in the Los Angeles Area. If you’re looking for a unique beach experience, Venice is guaranteed to give that to you. You never know what may happen on Venice Beach, but you know that whatever it is, it’s going to be interesting.

Food Review: Duke’s Huntington Beach

 

dukesEvery time I go to California, I love stopping in at Duke’s. It’s been a family tradition for the last fifteen years or so, ever since my uncle and aunt discovered the original location in Hawaii. Duke’s has six locations throughout Hawaii and California, all located on or near the water.

Duke’s is easy to spot; coming down Pacific Coast Highway, you’ll see it right on the beach. There’s a downstairs bar area meant for those enjoying the beach, and an upstairs/outside dining area for more formal guests. The downstairs menu is a condensed version of the dinner menu, and thankfully both menus have the restaurant’s signature dessert – Hula Pie.

If you eat nothing else at Duke’s, get the hula pie. It’s so good, my uncle will send us pictures of him eating it. The Hula Pie is, by itself, worth an entire trip to the beach. It’s made with macadamia nut ice cream, which is impossible to find in most parts of the country, and a chocolate cookie crust. The fudge and the whipped cream toppings are optional, but…really, they’re not. We typically like to start the meal off with it, mostly to make sure we have the room in our bellies for it.

Duke’s also makes some killer fish and meat dishes. I am personally not a big fish-eater, but my cousins and aunt love their salmon and ahi. The sirloin to me is one of the most juicy I’ve had, and the pineapple garnishes are like the cherry on top. I wouldn’t recommend the wraps though; the last time I went the server told me they are pre-wrapped and they simply warm them up. Nothing wrong with that, but I’d rather have a steaming hot sirloin than pre-made. If I want pre-made, I’ll go to McDonald’s. J

If you’re going for a more formal eating experience, I highly recommend making a reservation. Since it’s located right on the beach, it has a tendency to stay busy. If you decide to go after a long day in the water and on the sand, I would say that’s not necessary. And if you’re there at the right time of day, just as the sun is about to set over the water, opt for outside seating. It makes for one of the dreamiest sunsets you can experience.

 

 

Haunted Hot Spots No. 1 – The Whaley House

whaley

It is now October: the month of ghosts, goblins, dropping temperatures, and pumpkin spice. I decided during October I would focus on the places I’ve been or want to be in that have a spooky reputation on my blog. Ghosts and haunted motels have fascinated me for years, especially since I saw the movie 1408. I have yet to meet any kind of spirit in my own adventures, but I wanted to start this blog series with the creepiest place I’ve been: The Whaley House.

The Whaley House doesn’t appear menacing, unlike the Overlook Hotel or Mrs. Bates’ mansion. Located in San Diego’s Historic District, the Whaley House is an official historic landmark. The two-story house was first occupied by Thomas Whaley and his family, a wealthy New York businessman and the original architect of the house. At one point, it was the sight of San Diego’s first theater, and the county courthouse. Before the house’s construction, it had been the sight of numerous public hangings. Some say the spirits of those unfortunate souls still roam the property, unable to move on from the site of their deaths.

I went during the spring of last year, and the day that I bought my tickets to tour the museum was not a busy one. The staff is friendly and helpful, and Costumed docents greet you at almost every corner of the Whaley House when you walk in, ready and happy to answer any questions you might have. I took the printout they give you when you purchase tickets and followed the prompts through each room; I would have preferred an audio guide to eliminate the amount of time I spent reading, but the information they provided was complete enough to satisfy me.

They don’t offer guided tours during the day, so you will be free to roam the house at your leisure. If you decide to go at night, there are only guided tours. If you decide you want to do a ghost hunting tour, be sure to buy your tickets well in advance. The ghost tours happen after hours, and the last time for a night guided tour is 9:30 p.m. Since I went during the day I can’t comment on those tours, but I can say: with as creepy as the house is during the day, I can only imagine what it is like at night.

If you decide to tour the house on your own, it will take about an hour and a half to make it through every room in the house, including the courtroom. Guided tours take about half the time without interruptions. Ticket prices range from eight to thirteen dollars for adults for the daytime and nighttime tours; children under the age of 5 are only allowed to tour the Whaley House during the day.

The area of the house I found the spookiest was the second floor. I don’t know if it was just the way the house would settle, if the floor boards were uneven or if I was just imagining things, but I felt…something on the second floor. I didn’t see anything move or any spirits, but as I walked through the upstairs hallway I felt cold and anxious. I don’t know what it was, and I’d like to think I was imagining things…but you never know.