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.

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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

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.

 

 

Travel Questions No. 8 – Do you ever travel (for fun) during the holidays?

Las Vegas Night Clubs – Why I Hate Them

lv-nightclub

 

If you ask people why they come to Las Vegas, generally the answer has something to do with partying. They come for the nightclubs, the DJs, the yard-long margaritas, and the freedom to take the walk of shame in bare feet across a casino.

I don’t get it.

I know people like to party. I know people who can do it all night, every weekend, and maybe even during the week. I don’t have an issue with partying. My issue is with nightclubs. Granted, I haven’t spent a lot of time in them in other cities so I can’t say how they compare. Still, when I’m walking through a casino late on weekend, and see girl after girl that can’t walk in her heels because she’s too drunk, I have to wonder: what is the point?

Here are just a few of my grievances with nightclubs in Las Vegas:

The drink prices

 

Drinks are expensive on the Strip, no two ways about it. Here and there you can find a place that won’t stick a knife in your wallet, but when you drink inside a nightclub you can easily spend 20 dollars on a cocktail (and that’s not even a good cocktail). If you want a bottle, you’re looking at hundreds of dollars that, under normal circumstances, would cost you one third of the price. Personally, I’d rather get drunk at one of the many open bars you can find on any casino floor and get hammered there. But that’s just me.

Getting In

 

I don’t get why entering a nightclub has to feel like being in a rat maze. If you’re VIP, you stand in one line. If you’re general admission, you stand in another. If you’ve got a “host”, you have to get in one line until he or she texts you and then they make you go into a different line. This is all before you get in the final line, to actually go in and get your hand stamped. It’s too much work.

The music

 

Most of the music inside nightclubs is…not my favorite. There’s nothing wrong with it; there’s just not a lot of variety. If you’re a big fan of EDM and current hip hop this probably won’t bother you, or if you don’t mind shouting at the person next to you to have a conversation.

Nowhere to Sit

Unless you pay for a table, good luck trying to find somewhere to sit. If you’re lucky, you might be able to flirt your way into someone’s else group (and by extension, seating privileges). If not, you’re pretty much on your own. The idea is that at some point, you get too drunk to care about sitting. I’m never that drunk. Even when I’m four shots of Jameson and a margarita in I still looking for the first clean, flat surface to rest on. Maybe I’m just a lazy drunk, who knows.

The Dress Codes

 

This is actually the main reason I stay away from nightclubs. Dress codes vary from hotel to hotel, and club to club. The dress code goes for both men and women, but sometimes I can’t help but think that maybe they are a little stricter when it comes to the females. Sometimes there’s a very relaxed dress code, other times not so much. Now, for a person who mainly likes to wear jeans and shorts, this can cause a little discomfort. I absolutely hate wearing high heels, especially when I know I won’t be able to sit down on a regular basis. This doesn’t leave me many options in the way of nightclub attire.

 

 

Travel Questions No. 5 – Have You Ever Seen a Ghost on Vacation?