Catalina Island Time

The world is a strange place right now. In a few weeks time, I was supposed to be jetting off on my next international trip, to a whole new continent and a string of new adventures. Of course, that’s on the back burner for now. And, of course, I’m grateful to have my health, my family, and my job. Travel is a huge part of my life, but the world will still be there when we’re all on the other side of this.

I’m also grateful to have gotten in one last trip before everything went to hell – a lovely Valentine’s Day weekend trip to Santa Catalina Island, which I’d somehow managed to never visit, courtesy of the Catalina Island Company.

Stepping off the Catalina Express on a warm weekday in February, I was instantly reminded of Capri, a dreamy island off the coast of southern Italy. The same crystal-clear turquoise shoreline, boats docked in the harbor, and candy-colored hotels and homes dotting the shoreline and hillside.

Just an hour off the Southern California coast, ferries depart daily to Catalina Island from Long Beach, Newport and Dana Point. Established in 1913, Catalina was a favorite escape for Hollywood elite back in the day – Marilyn Monroe even briefly lived on the island with her first husband during WWII – and it was largely developed as a tourist destination by William Wrigley Jr. (yes, that Wrigley!) in the 1920s. As Wrigley attempted to bring publicity to the island, it was the filming location for a number of movies, and the spring training headquarters for the Chicago Cubs for nearly 30 years.

Catalina’s famed art deco casino (which locals ensure you know is not, and never was, a place for gambling – casino is Italian for “gathering place”) was once the tallest building in the United States at the equivalent of twelve stories high, and the acoustics of its theater so awe-inspiring that engineers from New York visited to take notes in order to construct Radio City Music Hall.

Speaking of the theatre, it was the first ever specifically designed for movies with sound. The casino’s ballroom – which is the world’s largest circular ballroom with a capacity of about 3,000 people – and dressing rooms have also played host to plenty of famous bands and starlets, and the Catalina Island Company runs daily tours that offer a behind-the-scenes look at the casino’s history and old Hollywood glamour.

By 1975, the Wrigleys deeded more than 40,000 acres of the island to the Catalina Island Conservancy, giving it control of about 90 percent of the Catalina along with its flora and fauna.

Nowadays, the island is home to just over 4,000 people, a number that swells with tourists come summer. The actual town of Catalina Island is called Avalon, an ode to the legend of King Arthur. There’s hardly ever new construction, and there’s a strict cap on the number of cars allowed on the island – some say the waiting list for approval is 13 years long. Each household is permitted one golf cart, which is the preferred mode of transportation around the island and can be rented when visiting.

Catalina is heaven for outdoorsy types, offering everything from snorkeling and scuba diving to paddle boarding, kayaking, ziplining, and parasailing. For a slower pace, the undersea excursion is a can’t-miss experience that gets you up close and personal with Catalina’s native fish in the protected Lover’s Cover Conservancy.

If you’re craving something a bit more extreme, buckle up for the bison experience, a two-hour expedition around the island in an open-air, eco-friendly hummer. Fair warning that it’s definitely a bumpy (and windy!) ride, and bison sightings aren’t guaranteed, but if you’re feeling adventurous it’s well worth your time to cover a lot of ground while learning a whole lot of history about Catalina.

Of course, if you want to just sit back and relax during your time on the island, there’s more than enough of that to fill your visit, too. The Avalon Grille serves up stellar meals alongside craft cocktails, Toyon Grill serves breezy beach fare, and you can grab a flight of beer with a side of soft pretzels at the Catalina Brew House. If you really want to live like royalty for the day, rent a couple of lounge chairs at the waterfront Descanso Beach Club, where you can recline with lunch or dinner and drinks of your choice. Or, opt to people or wildlife-watch, or just take a blissful nap stretched out in the afternoon sun.

After dark, the island’s nightlife is very much dependent on the season and time of week, but at the very least there are always friendly locals at Catalina’s mainstay bars – Luau Larry’s, The Marlin and El Galleon – plus the Chi Chi Club to dance the night away. As with any destination worth your time, Catalina boasts its own signature alcoholic beverage: buffalo milk. It isn’t, of course, actual buffalo milk, but rather a combination of Kahlua, vodka, creme de cocoa and banana, half and half, and frozen banana, all blended together and topped with whipped cream. It’s basically an alcoholic chunky monkey milkshake, and it definitely isn’t for everyone, but when traveling I’m always game to try a new cocktail I’ve never seen anywhere else.

We were lucky enough to snag a room at the recently renovated Hotel Atwater, centrally located just a block from the water and decorated in an airy, beachy motif that really makes you feel like you’re on a tropical vacation. The hotel offers a buffet breakfast each morning at the Avalon Grille, and a nightly wine hour (!) in the lobby. There are also free bikes and beach towels for guests to use, and the downstairs of the hotel is also home to a post office, bistro, flower shop, and general store, all of which only add to the Atwater’s quaintness.

Catalina really feels like a small town – because it is! – but visiting from Los Angeles, it was certainly a change of pace to repeatedly run into the people from our tour groups during our visit, or the same tour operators who asked about our stay.

Catalina Island is a quick and easy escape just an hour from the hustle and bustle of Southern California,  but you’ll feel like you’ve jetted off to Europe – and will likely never want to leave.

A Year in Ojai

It’s hard to remember now how I stumbled upon Ojai – but that’s exactly what this small town feels like: a hidden gem nestled just inland off California’s central coast. Head an hour and a half north out of LA, veer off just south of Santa Barbara, and wind through shadowy mountains and shady oaks to find the town of Ojai, which offers plenty to do year-round.

It’s got the bountiful agriculture of places like Napa and Monterey, the New Age-y vibe of Sedona, and a small-town feel that offers a respite from Los Angeles while still being chock full of world class dining, hotels and boutiques.

I can’t go more than a few months without paying a visit to Ojai, so I figured it was time to put together my master guide of how to best experience this magical town, no matter the season.

Bart's Books / Summer Camp / Cattywampus Crats
Bart’s Books / Summer Camp / Cattywampus Crats

Shop

  • Summer Camp: This is always my first stop on the way into Ojai, and easily one of my favorite shops in town. The impeccably curated displays of rugs, ceramics, jewelry, art and more are such a visual feast, and locally made prints and clothing make for the best souvenirs from Ojai.
  • Ojai House: Ojai is a place I go to recharge my soul, and Ojai House is basically a one-stop shop for that, whether you want to stock up on an eye-popping array of crystals, candles, incense, or to pop in for a tarot or astrology chart reading from one of the shop’s spiritual advisers. Even if you don’t subscribe to any of that, the Ojai House’s staff is incredibly kind, and we could all use a little magic in our lives, right?
  • Cattywampus Crafts: You don’t have to be a knitter or crocheter to appreciate the beauty of Cattywampus Crafts: whole rainbows of yarn knit into chunky sweaters, throws, socks and more, plus books, jewelry and home goods organized by color. It’s the perfect place to window shop, buy, or browse for inspiration – with a cup of coffee from the adjoining Beacon cafe in hand.
  • Bart’s Books: If you shop anywhere in Ojai, it has to be Bart’s Books, an outdoor bookstore comprised of an eclectic labyrinth of mostly used books. If you know what you’re looking for, there are plenty of deals to be had on books in nearly-new condition – or, you can easily spend an entire afternoon perusing the shelves and maybe find a new favorite author in the process.
Summer Camp / Ojai House / Caravan Outpost
  • Bookends: Ojai’s other literary treasure trove is Bookends, an eclectic collection of books on spirituality, religion, philosophy, and poetry tucked inside the white clapboard of an old, steepled church. Hidden within the bookshelves are also “curiosities” including vintage telephones, first edition poetry collections, and a curio of vaseline glass, which glows neon green under black lights. The property also holds an Airstream trailer full of even more books, and both the shopkeeper and groundskeeper will regale you with both literary history and of the town of Ojai.
  • Pixie’s: Another must-visit for beautifully-curated local wares (especially if you have kids/kids in your life!)
Ojai Rancho Inn

Eat & Drink

  • The Nest: Easily my favorite place to eat in Ojai. This is California casual cuisine that doesn’t skimp on flavor or substance. Grab the ahi poke, perfectly crisp French fries, homemade brownie with coffee ice cream, or a glass of wine (or all of the above!) and chow down on the outdoor patio that offers a stellar view of the stunning mountains crowning Ojai.
  • Bonnie Lu’s Cafe: For a hearty breakfast accompanied by live music in a retro diner setting, look no further than Bonnie Lu’s. The portions are hearty and cheap, and the waitstaff will make you feel like a local.
  • The Farmer and the Cook: This vegetarian, farm-to-table Mexican fare is Ojai personified. Stop in for a plate of raw tacos or pop by the smoothie bar to fuel up for your exploring.
  • Topa Topa Brewing Company: Based down the road in Ventura, the Ojai location of Topa Topa Brewing Co. is one of a few breweries in town, a great place to unwind after a day of exploring the town, especially if you’re partial to lagers and IPAs.
  • Beacon Coffee: My go-to pit-stop for caffeine in town, Beacon Coffee is located adjacent to Cattywampus Crafts and offers coffees, teas, fresh pastries, and plentiful seating with a community coffeehouse vibe.
  • Topa Mountain Winery: The Ojai Valley may not be as well known for its wine as Napa, but what it lacks in quantity it more than makes up for in quality. Stop in to the Topa Mountain Winery for a generous well-balanced tasting flight of wines that you can sip out in the gorgeous vineyard on the property.
Topa Mountain Winery / Ojai Farmer’s Market

Do:

  • Caravan Outpost: This Airstream “campground” is likely the fanciest trailer park you’ll ever see, with the sleek vintage trailers, hammock sitting areas and succulent gardens perfectly curated for a ready-made Instagram op. Sadly, I have yet to stay here, but it’s absolutely worth a visit even if you’re not a guest, both for the photo ops and the gorgeous shop that perfectly embodies the easy, breezy Ojai vibe.
  • Ojai Farmer’s Market: Ojai’s lush farmer’s market is held year-round on Sundays in the center of town. Along with seasonal produce, stop in for local artisan wares including lavender, soaps, lotions, and more.
  • Rancho Ojai Inn: The Rancho Ojai Inn is another place that I’ve always dreamed about being a guest of. Guest or not, you can pop into the inn’s pool house slash bar for a glass of wine or cocktail. If the weather’s nice, kick up your feet on a hammock out in the backyard, taking in the sun setting over the mountains. On select nights, you can even catch a movie screening or live music there.
Caravan Outpost

Hopefully I’ve convinced you to explore this special town for yourself. Until next time, Ojai.

Desert Niland Dreams

I can’t say for sure what had drawn me to Salvation Mountain for as long as I’d lived in California. I’m not religious, but I’ve always had an affinity for the desert, offbeat attractions, and, admittedly, Instagrammable spots. The cherry on top of its appeal, of course, is that I share my last name with the town where Salvation Mountain sits – Niland, California. Despite its powerful lure, it took me five years, and a chance encounter with two travelers passing through Los Angeles by way of Canada and France, to finally visit the utterly surreal, technicolor desert wonderland that is Salvation Mountain.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

When you pass through Slab City, a post-war, unincorporated community that draws wintering snowbirds and those looking to escape society alike, one of its namesake concrete slab structures welcomes you to “The Last Free Place On Earth,” just past which lies Salvation Mountain. Built in the 1980s and ’90s by Leonard Knight, the rainbow-hued mountain lies to the west of Slab City and south of East Jesus in the vast Sonoran Desert. It’s a true feat of construction, slapped together with adobe, straw and vibrant paint over the course of several decades after its creator found a spiritual calling. Leonard’s first two efforts at evangelizing that “God is Love” – through a giant hot air balloon and a first, structurally unstable attempt at Salvation Mountain – were both unsuccessful. But his final vision ultimately became the mammoth that still towers like a technicolor oasis today, withstanding the blistering desert heat and outlasting even Leonard himself, who died in 2014.

These days, Salvation Mountain is a sprawling, living work of art truly unlike anywhere else on Earth. It is entirely donation based, run by a non-profit organization, live-in caretaker and cadre of volunteers who will bellow through airhorns from the base of the mountain at visitors who stray from the designated path, labeled “The Yellow Brick Road.” Still, decades after Leonard’s first rendering of Salvation Mountain, the paint remains as vibrant and the foundation as sturdy as ever, and despite the remoteness of its locations, draws a steady stream of visitors from around the world to the mountain, even with skin-blistering heat of the summer already in full swing.

Perched upon the mountain’s top, you can see for miles and miles across the desert, out to Slab City and the deep blue mountains and the horizon meeting the Salton Sea, so vast and shimmering in a barren land seemingly devoid of life that it could easily be mistaken for a glittering mirage. Surveying the seemingly endless, almost Martian landscape, blanketed in the stillness of the afternoon heat, I felt utterly calm. Time seemed to melt; my traveling companions and I might have lounged there a few minutes, or an hour. It was impossible to say. My time there was less a religious experience and more the kind of peace that pervades when you step away from a city awhile and its din and hum fades to a silence that settles into your soul. Lost in the desert, communing with nature, hundreds of miles from civilization and obligation. It might truly be the last free place on earth. And that’s some sort of salvation.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

When (or if) you decide to leave Salvation Mountain, the Salton Sea is not to be missed – and in fact, as the largest lake in California it would be impossible to do so. You may have heard tall tales about its smell or inhospitable ecosystem, but I assure you that the Salton Sea is more than compatible with life. It feels a bit like being on the moon; it’s an otherworldly sort of place, a shoreline rising like a mirage to meet the desert horizon, ringed by a white beach made of a million fish bones that crackle beneath your feet. Dusk feels like watching the sun evaporate on another planet, sinking behind purple lunar mountains over an accidental lake stretching as far as the eye can see. It is remote and eerie, magical and mythical. The sunset seems to take twice as long out there, and the climate takes on a comfortable humidity as the light lingers, the sky strobing from fire orange to petal pink and lavender. Wild brown hares with cotton tails dart through the brush as night falls, a sliver of moon and smattering of stars appear. The Salton Sea Recreation Area allows for picnicking, camping, or simply gaping in awe at its idiosyncratic beauty.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

The Salton Sea, as a concept, tends to dredge up the cynics. It is symbolic of the inherent desire – and failure – of mankind to insert himself where he does not belong. Imagine, making the journey to a caustic desert environment, vacationing along the shores of a  toxic body of water that nature never intended to exist. It is as incongruous with life as the smog and sprawl of Los Angeles, in an acute and opposite way. Decades after it was a resort town, the Salton Sea still calls to those looking to get lost, to slip between the cracks of reality for a while, not into the lap of luxury, but into an alternate existence of dilapidation and grit that reminds us that we are temporary, while these other things remain.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Like the Salton Sea, nearby Bombay Beach is located below sea level – in fact, it’s the lowest-elevation community in the United States. Originally established as a resort town – which even boasted its own yacht club – it fell victim to the Salton Sea’s fickle rising waters, which have at points flooded the trailer community that has existed there since its heyday. There are just a couple hundred residents of Bombay Beach still, and it’s also home to a bar, some abandoned structures, and enough nuclear fallout-paraphernalia to make you just a little uneasy. It is post-apocalyptic to a tee, some sort of post-war alternate reality in which the war had gone the other way. It is eerie and impenetrable and inexplicably beautiful, its purpose and endurance and very existence make no sense and perfect sense all at once. Bombay Beach feels as though you’ve slipped through the wormhole somewhere in the timeline, where you are free to be either a stranger passing through with wonder or a local born and bred in this alien wasteland where the weight of your own reality has somehow ceased to matter.

IMG_5067

And if you still need more incentive to go get lost out in the desert for a day, the drive winds directly through Palm Springs, where you can stop for a refreshing cocktail and bite to eat. Most importantly, you’ll also pass right by the International Banana Museum, the world’s largest, and kitschiest, collection of all things banana that costs just $1 to enter and is the perfect accompaniment to the offbeat, nowhere-else-like-it spirit of the desert all around it.

West Coast Winter

The concept of a “hometown” has always been a bit trickier for me than for some people I know, perhaps because I’ve made it more complicated than it needs to be, and yet I find myself grappling with it time and time again. I was born in Portland, Oregon, raised in a small town about an hour outside of it, and spent 12 years of my life attending school in a slightly larger (though still small) town adjacent to that one. Because of this, and the fact that few people outside of Oregon have heard of any city other than Portland, I’ve always felt a bit conflicted when telling people where I’m “from.” For the sake of introductions, saying that I hail from the Rose City is typically the easiest way to go; it’s not completely untrue, and usually earns me at least a bit of “cool” cred with my peers (“Oh, I love ‘Portlandia’!” is something I hear frequently.)

DSC_3805As I’ve gotten older, the idea of home–its definition, its significance, its meaning in the life I currently live–has shifted and reconfigured itself more times than I can count. My physical home, the place I return to twice a year or so, is 1,000 miles from the city where I spend most of my time residing, a place to which I feel infinitely more connected, and yet I know I can’t quite call myself an Angeleno, not yet anyway. I haven’t quite earned that title, but maybe, hopefully, someday I will have. For now, my family is in one place, my career and education another, my high school friends all scattered to the winds and wherever I may find myself after graduation as uncertain as throwing darts at a map. And so I mention all of this to say that these days, the place I feel most connected to, perhaps naively, perhaps too ambitiously, is the West Coast in its entirety.

Admittedly, I’ve always felt a strange pride about it; while the East Coast is all jumbled and disjointed, a jigsaw puzzle without rhyme or reason, the West Coast is composed of just three pretty magnificent states, with Oregon nestled snugly in the middle. My family has never traveled much, a source of frequent friction on my behalf, but growing up, I at least had the West Coast to call my backyard, my playground, my great outdoors. Some of my fondest childhood memories include weekend trips to Seattle, summers spent camping beside Washington lakes, baking in the sun of Oregon’s High Desert, snowy winters in Bend and Sunriver out east, forested drives to Northern California, and one glorious summer spent in Los Angeles.

Despite being encompassed by only three states (though people not from around here can often only remember the Golden one,) our beautiful Pacific coastline is still well over 1,000 miles long–an easy fact to forget until one is actually making the trek. I had the opportunity to do just that this winter, winding up Highway 101 from Los Angeles back to my hometown. After a semester of pent-up wanderlust and a finals season that made me, despite my love for LA, quite frankly just want to get the hell out of dodge, I was eager to hit the open road (after one last stop at the Santa Monica Pier and end of Route 66, of with which I’ve always been a bit enamored.) Though our overall roadtrip weather was certainly less than ideal, I was so grateful for the chance to get out of the city, reconnect with nature (and my road trip buddy, my twin brother!) and indulge in an endless amount of roadtrip requisites (and general favorite life necessities) including endless amounts of coffee, music and picture-taking.

DSC_3807

DSC_3845 My last night in Southern California was spent at one of my favorite places, the Santa Monica Pier and 3rd Street Promenade.

The first half of the first day of the road trip was spent finding creative ways to make two-and-a-half years of my college life fit into a sedan older than myself, so we were only able to make it to San Francisco rather late that night. We’d agreed to take this road trip at a leisurely pace though, partly for my own relaxation, and partly for the sake of my dear old car, so I didn’t mind at all. We did make a pit stop sometime that first afternoon in Santa Barbara, where we began to part ways with my beloved Southern California weather. I’d only driven through Santa Barbara before and was glad we stopped at the pier; it was an absolutely gorgeous afternoon, and the town itself is so peaceful. It felt like a blend between Southern California’s South Bay beach cities and the sleepy coastal communities with which I was so familiar in Oregon. After a waterside lunch of fish and chips, we were on the road again for what felt like an interminable amount of time until reaching the Bay.

I’d made the trip from LA to San Francisco before, but I had to admit that this particular stretch seemed inexplicably long. Nevertheless, we crashed for the night and awoke bright and early the next morning to brave what was my first experience with real winter weather this season. We were hit with frigid cold and pouring rain the minute we stepped out of our hotel, but, undeterred, we pressed on into the city for a day of sightseeing. After a failed attempt at trying to see the city from the Twin Peaks scenic lookout (completely blanketed in thick gray fog,) we made our way to Union Square. Much to my surprise, parking was plentiful and affordable, and we were able to mill around for a bit and take in all of the holiday sights. Between the giant Christmas tree in Union Square (and one that looked like an actual Redwood in Neiman Marcus,) cable cars rattling through the streets, and the hustle and bustle of the sloping, slick city sidewalks, I was feeling particularly giddy about the Christmas season in San Francisco.

By the time we made our way from Union Square to the Fisherman’s Wharf, the weather was unfortunately taking a toll, even for us hearty Oregonians. My cheap umbrella (somehow the only one I could find in the entire mall where we made a pit stop) spent most of its time inside out, and we were practically up to our ankles in standing water. A warming lunch of clam chowder bread bowls at Boudin’s Bakery offered some respite from the rain, and though I can’t say that this winter stop in San Francisco was necessarily as pleasant as my trip in June, as we were headed North, I did get to actually drive over the Golden Gate Bridge this time, and even in the rain it sure was breathtaking. We were also able to stop at Fort Point National Historic Site, the Civil War army barrack right under the bridge, which particularly appeased both my inner history buff and paranormal enthusiast (I imagine there’s at least one ghost there, anyway.)

20141219_150918

DSC_3954

The Golden Gate Bridge as seen from above and below

We said goodbye to San Francisco in the late afternoon and slogged our way through the driving rain up to Eureka, situated among the Redwoods. Though the ride was mostly rural small towns, and made almost entirely in the dark, it was still beautiful and peaceful. The 101 North winds through sloping farmlands, jagged mountains and, of course, towering Redwoods. As we would find out the next morning, we had unintentionally driven through the most postcard-worthy trees in the night, but even by dark they were still impressive, and as we wound through mile after mile of dense forests, passing road signs and billboards advertising “Mystery Hill,” Sasquatch souvenirs and UFO sightings, it was hard not to be overcome with just the slightest sense of other-worldliness and wonder.

DSC_3935After realizing that we had missed the most impressive of Redwoods, and that the rain would not relent for us to try and appreciate the rest, the remainder of our trip was a bit of a wet, gray slog. It took us three days just to get out of California, and as soon as we crossed the Oregon state border, as the towns became smaller, the speed limits slower, and the general atmosphere just a bit more subdued, I was left ruminating on the other reason I prefer to think of the entire West Coast as my home.

I’ve always had a strained relationship with my native Oregon, mainly because it is a state composed almost entirely of small towns, entities which have always been a bit too claustrophobic for my taste. I’m far more at ease calling cities my home, whether Portland or Los Angeles or whichever urban enclave I may find myself in next, because they are more than the sum of their parts. Cities represent possibilities, opportunities, there is a perpetual air of mystery and intrigue and anything-can-happen-ness. But small towns, for better or for worse, are what they are. They are the people, they are the small businesses, they are the history, sometimes the secrets, and the experiences. And this is what Oregon is to me, flaws and all; a small town personified by an entire state, a place that is what it is without reservations or apology. And I find that sometimes, when what might be becomes too tentative and all I want is something real, this is exactly what I need.

No matter what may come to pass or where I may find myself in the future, the West Coast will never cease to amaze me with its beauty, with wonder, with the little hints of mystery hiding in every rain drop, every brilliant sunset, just around every forested bend. Perhaps someday I’ll find a place to make my hometown, but for now, I consider myself pretty lucky to have an entire breathtaking coast to call my own.

Los Angeles Through the Lens

IMG_20140625_201954Some people will tell you that living in LA is like living in an endless summer. And save for the occasional torrential downpour come winter time, and the often frigid nighttime temperatures, this is a pretty accurate description of life here. But then, there’s nothing quite like actual summer in LA; the golden season, the epitome of life in Southern California. Outdoor concerts, artisan food truck events, summer nights at the Getty, strolling barefoot along the Pacific by twilight; it’s a magical time of year, for sure.

As I was walking along the shores of Redondo Beach the other night with a friend, I was struck by how stereotypically Southern Californian it all was; the warm ocean water, the sandy shores, lifeguard lookout towers and sun setting out over the horizon. This was the beachy, dreamy, sun-drenched life I’d dreamed of for years in rain-soaked Oregon.

And sure, the parking ticket I picked up after the meter ran out that evening wasn’t exactly dreamy and carefree, but up until that point, everything was really quite perfect. And I’ve had an absolute blast exploring LA this summer as a semi-local, semi-tourist. Frankly, I think this sort of in-between stage is a great compromise because by this point I’ve gotten to know my way around LA–where to go and when–but I’m still always discovering new things, and can still snap away like an awe-struck tourist with little to no shame.

Since this is my first full summer in LA, and it was not especially practical for me to be anywhere else these past few months, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite shots of my Southern California summer (through the lens of my trusty Smartphone and favorite Instagram filter, of course: long live Walden!) You can check out a gallery of these below, and I’ll include the location and event in each caption. And hopefully you’re enjoying the twilight of a beautiful summer wherever you may be!

Oh, and if you’re interested in seeing more of LA through my lens, please feel free to check me out on Instagram @losangelesliv!

Chinatown Summer Nights

Whether you’re a tourist or long-time local, if you’re looking for something fun to do in LA this summer, you can’t go wrong with Chinatown Summer Nights! KCRW has been hosting its Summer Nights event series for the past five years, and the Chinatown Summer Nights event is held once a month throughout the summer.

I attended the kick-off Chinatown Summer Nights event back in June, and it was easily one of the most fun events I’ve attended in LA so far! Chinatown was absolutely gorgeous at sunset, and really came alive once the sun went down, with bright red paper lanterns and futuristic neon lights; it isn’t a wonder I took so many photos! What was cool about this event in particular was that it was part social and fun, with live music, food trucks, and vendors, but also part educational, with a lot of really cool, traditional Chinese arts and crafts.

DSC_0416.NEF

I would highly recommend Chinatown Summer Nights for anyone looking for an inexpensive, interesting and truly special summer night out in LA. And if you missed the June and July Chinatown Summer Nights, never fear! The final run is August 9, so mark your calendar! If you’d like to learn more about the event, go ahead and check out the little piece I wrote about it for Neon Tommy.

And just a few tips: wear comfortable shoes and bring a light jacket for the evening, make sure to have some cash on hand, and take the Metro Gold Line if at all possible, because parking is almost certain to be a nightmare!

DSC_0481

Oh, and make sure to bring a DSLR, or just make space on your camera phone, for some truly Instagram-worthy snaps of #ChinatownSummerNights! And thanks so much to In the Heart of the City for featuring my Chinatown Summer Nights Instagram over on their Instagram (below) and Tumblr!

Summer Solstice at Griffith

IMG_20140621_194648As this is my first full summer in Los Angeles, I’m making a point to do all of the quintessential LA summer activities, no matter how tired or touristy. To be honest, I consider myself to be something of perpetual tourist; no matter how long I’ve lived somewhere, I still love trying to find new adventures, and I take pictures pretty much everywhere I go. So when the summer solstice rolled around, and I had a friend visiting from out of state that same weekend, I knew we had to head up to Griffith Observatory to take in the longest day of the year.

Sure, I knew everyone else in the city would probably have the same idea, and parking would be an absolute nightmare (and it pretty much was,) but I’d never been to Griffith at sunset, and I’ll do anything for photo opportunity (and believe me, this was a photo opportunity!)

After trekking roughly a mile uphill from our parking spot, we arrived at the Observatory right at Golden Hour. It was crowded, but there was still plenty of room to move around on the lawn and take in the view from the patio and the upper decks, and the museum was open and free (as always.) The only noticeable delay was the rather long line to peek through the telescope so we decided to skip that.

DSC_1073But the view from the platform deck offered a stunning panorama for literally hours as the sun set. Everywhere we looked–from the Hollywood sign, back lit with the fiery, summer solstice sun, to the glittering Downtown skyline, from the cotton-candy clouds to the endless miles of crawling boulevards that seemed to stretch straight into the sky–it seemed as though all of LA was celebrating the solstice, too.

The evening was, without a doubt, memorable, and served as a reminder not to listen to people who have fallen out of love with this City of Angels. Despite the traffic, the taxes, the tourists and the smog, Los Angeles more than makes up for its flaws with a wealth of riches, with stunning sunsets and beaches, palm trees and truly warm, diverse, interesting people, with good vibes in the air and adventure around every corner. And at this time in my life, I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

Weekend Travelogue: San Francisco

DSC_0187

About to start the trek up to Fort Mason to see the sun set over the Golden Gate.

Somehow, I’d managed to live in California for two years without visiting the City by the Bay, or even the Bay Area, for that matter, so I jumped at the chance recently to take a weekend trip to San Francisco with friends.

A friend of mine from back home in Oregon mentioned once that San Francisco was a happy medium between Oregon and Southern California; palm trees and nightlife and great shopping, but a little more greenery and a lot less pollution. And it’s true; San Francisco is quite different from any other major West Coast City.

Right off the bat, it was immediately clear that the public transportation is far better than Los Angeles. It’s also sunnier (if not quite warmer) than Seattle, more urban than Portland, and even more expensive than L.A. (which I honestly wasn’t sure was possible.) But once I got past the $40 overnight parking, $6 soy lattes (at a Starbucks!) and sneaky city taxes and fees that seemingly get slapped onto every purchase, I was able to have a truly incredible weekend in San Francisco.

The Golden Gate Bridge from Fort Point

The Golden Gate Bridge from Fort Point.

Now, I know many people who have left their hearts in San Francisco, so I don’t think I need to reiterate what’s already been said about all of the city’s virtues and must-see destinations. We ate bread bowls of chowder at the Fisherman’s Wharf, ventured to Ghirardelli Square for dessert, strolled around Union Square, took a trolley ride up and down the city hills, and paid a visit to the “Painted Ladies” of Full House fame. And of course, took countless tourist photos in front of the iconic the bridge.

Sure, at the end of the day, the Golden Gate Bridge is just a bridge, but there’s just something about it, I have to admit. We were able to catch a glimpse of it from both Fort Mason and Fort Point on two separate days, and I would honestly recommend both vantage points, though Fort Point offers you the most up-close-and-personal experience possible without actually driving over the bridge (which we didn’t do, as it runs north from the city and requires a toll to get back into San Francisco.)

As cliched as some of these destinations may be, I have to admit they’re time-tested for a reason; there isn’t a single activity we did in our three days in San Francisco that was the least bit underwhelming or disappointing. We really lucked out with beautiful weather, and nowhere we visited was excessively crowded, despite it being Memorial Day Weekend. There were, however, some highlights, which I highly suggest checking out for anyone planning a trip to SF anytime soon:

DSC_9656

The “Full House” houses (and a stunning cityscape) at Alamo Square.

Alamo Square: Home to the Painted Ladies, come to get up close and personal with the Victorian town homes made famous in the opening credits of Full House, and stay for the breathtaking 360 degree views of the city, stunning architecture and gorgeous sunset (if you arrive in the evening, as we did.) Golden Hour here was absolutely awe-inspiring and so peaceful for such an urban environment, with sunlight peeking through the weeping willows, couples picnicking on blankets, dogs running around the park, and twilight slowly enveloping the San Francisco skyline.

Fort Point: You know those great pictures everyone takes right in front of the Golden Gate Bridge? This is where they come for them. You can stand literally right under the bridge, or you can hike a short trail lined with wildflowers to reach that perfect photo op with the bridge, hills and sparkling bay in the background. A short hike down from the bridge, you’ll also find biking paths, a pier, a beach, and recreation area for picnicking and barbecuing. Fort Point was colorful, scenic, and nothing short of an urban oasis.

DSC_9741

Bi-Rite Market and Creamery (across the street) are must-do’s in San Francisco!

Bi-Rite Creamery: Bi-Rite Creamery was suggested as a can’t-miss by a foodie friend, and for such a hole-in-the-wall ice cream shop, it certainly has a sizable and loyal fan base. The line was out the door when we arrived just before closing around 9:30 pm, and with its fresh, artisan ice cream, tasty baked goods, and friendly staff, it isn’t hard to see why Bi-Rite is a hit with tourists and locals alike.

Twin Peaks: Head down Market Street and away from the city center to reach the best view in San Francisco: Twin Peaks. Up here, you can see for miles and miles, all the way down Market Street, to the Golden Gate Bridge, and everywhere in between. It’s truly breathtaking at any time of day, and proved to be the perfect way to end such a scenic three day jaunt to the City by the Bay.

View more of my San Francisco photography over on my Flickr.

Artists & Fleas Los Angeles

Fotor0610173251

It looks as though everything old is new again for college students today. From record players to high-waisted shorts, from music festivals to Tumblr and everywhere in between, vintage, and vintage-inspired, items are the trend of the moment.

“I think it’s just like, it’s the cool thing to have vintage now,” said vintage shopper Harlee Kocen, a recent graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, who was wearing an embroidered jean jacket which once belonged to her dad. “This jacket’s held up for like, I don’t know since the ‘60s, and I have another jean jacket that’s starting to completely fall apart, it’s tearing everywhere, and I got it maybe two years ago.”

For some students, vintage items just seem to be of a higher quality than those made today.

“I guess real vintage is well-made and lasts in a way that temporary clothing does not,” said shopper Meredith Argenzio, a student at VCU. “Like we were talking about how Jeffrey Campbell shoes fall apart, how annoying is that?”

And for others, thrift shopping is all about the thrill of hunting down a great bargain and saving a little money, or is an accessible way to emulate the vintage vibes of celebrities and fashion icons.

“Vintage represents something cool,” said recent VCU graduate Diane Nguyen, whose entire outfit during her day shopping at Artists & Fleas was, coincidentally, vintage. “You go to Urban [Outfitters] and everything’s vintage looking, but then it’s like not even vintage anymore.”

DSC_9115Whether students find their vintage goods at more traditional second-hand shops such as Goodwill and St. Vincent de Paul, at a new crop of curated, higher-end vintage stores and pop-up markets, or simply get their fix from vintage-inspired items at chain retailers such as Urban Outfitters and Forever 21, this trend offers a little something for everyone.

“I’m always down to go and check out flea markets, I think they’re really cool, and growing up in New York it’s a really diverse and cultural experience, so I love coming to these kinds of things because I think it really represents that,” said USC sophomore Stephanie Artisakesian.

“Where I get my fashion, I guess like sense or style from, I guess honestly is from a lot of kids on campus as well as celebrities. I follow a lot of them on Instagram, like Kendall and Kylie Jenner will wear types of clothes like this and I’m sure they pay a bunch of money for it but you can find the same type of style at flea markets. I think a more vintage style is definitely ‘in’ in LA and New York, so that’s where I’ve kind of been around that and experienced that style and culture.”

DSC_9196Indeed, while thrifting is a common occurrence across the country, it’s seen a noticeable resurgence in the fashion hubs of New York and Los Angeles. LA’s Melrose and La Brea Avenues are scattered with dozens of carefully curated, celebrity-approved vintage stores such as Wasteland and American Vintage, and the city’s Arts District recently hosted the West Coast’s first Artists & Fleas Market, which originated in Brooklyn, NY. Here, shoppers browsed gently-used and vintage-inspired clothing, handmade jewelry, old records and books, vintage furniture, art and more, all while bobbing along to live music and sipping cold-brewed coffee and fresh smoothies.

“I definitely think that vintage is just the cool thing now,” said Kocen. “I think for a lot of people, at least for me, I don’t have the time to go shifting through racks and racks to find a good deal on something, so I’d much rather go to something like [Artists & Fleas] and have a nice vintage, curated selection.”

The Artists & Fleas Market ran for two days from May 17-18, but with the vintage trend showing no signs of slowing down, it’s safe to say that vintage shops and marketplaces will continue popping up across the country–and college students will continue to find style inspiration in decades past while pushing the vintage resurgence into mainstream fashion.

“Coachella is an example of that [vintage] style, which might seem pretty crazy to other people, but it’s almost normal now, and a lot of that stuff you can find in a flea market,” said Celina Frelinghuysen, a USC sophomore. “I just think it’s cool, how everything old is new again and fashionable, and just finding that way to put those pieces together to make it work.”

Spring Break Travelogue: San Diego

I never imagined myself living or studying in a place where San Diego would be a “cheap and easy” Spring Break destination, but, here we are; Spring Break 2014! I spent six days and five nights jaunting around San Diego with one of my best friends, and, though I had been here before (just once when I was a kid) I was really impressed by how much the area had to offer and how much we were able to pack into our short trip!

We stayed at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Circle, which is essentially a mile long strip of every hotel and motel chain imaginable located on either side of I-8 Freeway. It’s not the most scenic location, but it did end up being incredibly convenient, and the hotel itself was immaculately kept, an incredible bargain (thanks to Expedia!), and staffed by some of the friendliest and most helpful people I’ve ever encountered in the hospitality industry. Hotel Circle is also just a few minutes from Old Town San Diego, “The Birthplace of California.” I love Mexican culture, and I’m a sucker for anything Western or Old Time-y, so I really enjoyed this little tourist area. There have got to be more Mexican restaurants, bars and gift shops per capita than anywhere I’ve ever been in Southern California–not that I’m complaining.

Old Town San Diego sits along the historic California 101.

Old Town San Diego sits along the historic California 101.

The first night, we grabbed dinner at Fred’s Mexican Cafe, one of the many brightly colored, chili-pepper lit Mexican dining establishments located along San Diego Avenue. But Fred’s definitely stood out as one of the best restaurants we tried in Old Town; fresh chips and salsa, tasty fish tacos, and hot, sugary churros to cap off the meal, what more could we have asked for?

Our second day was mostly a beach day, and the hottest day of our trip, so we decided to take a short jaunt up to La Jolla. The coastline is absolutely gorgeous and the water a beautiful crystalline turquoise-blue. Plus, the beach city surprisingly wasn’t very crowded, despite it being a weekend. We intended to make our way to the main beach by the pier, but upon arriving found that we had parked far from the actual beach and instead close to the park, rocks overlooking the ocean, and La Jolla Sea Wall where tourists can get a glimpse of the adorable, pudgy seals who sunbathe there. There was, however, a small beach adjacent to the Sea Wall where we were able to sunbathe, but not for too long! We knew it would be a hot day, but within a matter of minutes even lying on the beach was unpleasant and we realized it was not in the 80’s, as we had anticipated, but rather 92 degrees–in March!

After our failed sunbathing attempt, it was time for a proper meal and a cold drink to cool down! We chose Aroma Bakery and Cafe, where the food was fresh and fairly good, but nothing special, and the service was rather slow. The desserts seemed to be more their specialty, with glass cases of tiramisu and chocolate cake tempting us from our table, but sadly I didn’t have a chance to test out that theory!

Our third day, we ventured out toward Downtown San Diego to Balboa Park, a sprawling arts and culture plaza which is home to art museums, a Japanese friendship garden, botanical garden, Natural History Museum, and so much more. It literally felt like we’d been transported from Southern California to a beautiful old city in Spain, and everything was so lush and well maintained. We easily spent a few hours just roaming around, taking everything in, and snapping countless photos (of course!)

IMG_20140319_090803

The Hotel del Coronado appeared significantly creepier before the sun broke through the clouds.

Next up was Coronado Island, just across the harbor from Downtown San Diego. It’s home, of course, to the infamous Hotel del Coronado, which has been featured on countless travel and ghost hunter shows, as it’s supposedly haunted by the spirit of a young woman. As a lover of anything paranormal, I was eager to visit. When we first arrived, the day was gloomy and overcast and the del Coronado definitely gave off a rather creepy vibe, but once the sun broke through and we made our way to the beautiful white sandy beach, all thoughts of ghosts were forgotten in favor of sunbathing and collecting seashells. The beach was definitely different than any I’d ever been on in Southern California; the sand was soft and white, and as I would later learn, it’s one of the only southward facing beaches in California, and there are no landmasses directly between Coronado Island and Antarctica–crazy!

Sunset Cliffs was absolutely stunning at, well, sunset.

Sunset Cliffs was absolutely stunning at, well, sunset.

On our last day in San Diego, we definitely had to try out the city trolley tour, as we saw trolleys nearly everywhere we went around San Diego. The Old Town Trolley Tour costs about $30 for the day, but this allows you jump-on and off privileges all day long, with stops at Balboa Park, Little Italy, Downtown, Coronado Island, the San Diego Zoo and more. It was a really memorable experience and a great (if windy!) way to see the city and cover a lot of ground without walking or driving everywhere, and the tour guide was very informative and entertaining. I wish every city I visited offered these tours!

Our last little adventure in San Diego was to Sunset Cliffs, which I had just happened to find on a map, and was really the best possible way we could have ended the trip. Sunset Cliffs, as the name suggests, overlooks the ocean and allow for an unobstructed view of some of the most beautiful sunsets. We were able to walk right out onto the cliffs, lay out a towel, and read for a while as the sun sunk over the horizon. It was really beautiful and such a relaxing was to end an incredible Spring Break in San Diego!

If you’re visiting San Diego, don’t miss: Coronado Island, Sunset Cliffs, Balboa Park, Old Town Trolley Tours, Old Town San Diego.

Be sure to check out more of my San Diego photos over on my Flickr!