LA Lately

September was a birthday and back-to-school month well-spent (with plenty of brunch) getting newly acquainted with undiscovered parts of LA. Or, at least, undiscovered by me. Before I had a car, most of my travels around Los Angeles involved specific destinations, always having an endpoint and game plan in mind. And before I was 21, it’s safe to say that most of what the City of Angels had to offer after-dark was off-limits, or at least not quite as fun.

Now that those dark days are behind me, and a new school year, and year of life, were just waiting to be celebrated, I was more than ready to finally see for myself some of the mythical LA landmarks and buzzed-about destinations I still hadn’t had the chance to get to, and to stumble upon a few hidden gems I’d never even heard of at all.

From brunch and books to high-art and my beloved LA street art, September was a cultured month to say the least. Here are a few of my favorite finds and sights from a city that is nothing if not interesting:

  • Between catching up with friends and loading up on carbs after a night of birthday festivities, brunch was a favorite September past time. The Larchmont Bungalow is a perennial favorite for both savory and sweet fare, as well as satisfyingly strong coffee and perfectly sour lemonade. Some new discoveries also included The Hart and the Hunter, an adorably, vintage-vibed restaurant hidden away in the Palihotel on Melrose, which I tracked down specifically for its fried green tomatoes (and where I spotted, and restrained myself from fan-girling over, Aziz Ansari out to brunch, as well.) I also paid a vist to BLD, where the smoked salmon eggs Benedict, homestyle potatoes and fresh coffee, delivered to the table with French Press and all, definitely hit the spot.
  • For my incessant sweet tooth, the decadent waffles, milkshakes and coffees at Syrup Desserts downtown (where USC students seem to hang out in droves but I’d somehow never been) were certainly a treat, though one which should definitely be indulged in sparingly. Other after-dinner detours included margaritas at the Yxta Cocina Mexicana (great food, too) and the rooftop bar at The Standard (pricey, but you may just make back the money you spend on a cover and drinks if some guy pays you $100 to give up your lounge chair.)
  • Another LA bucket list location that I’d had yet to visit was The Last Bookstore, a hipster-y, steampunk-y, book lover’s paradise, two entire floors chock full of books old and new, vintage vinyl records, and even art galleries. I didn’t buy anything because I, admittedly, don’t have much spare time to do recreational reading, and even more shamefully, when I do read, it’s typically an e-book. But the atmosphere was cozy and a bit quirky, and I’m sure if I’d had a little more time to poke around, I probably would’ve walked out with am armful of books, and probably from the Horror, Crime, Law & Weirdness section which especially caught my eye. Oh, and LACMA; that was a first this month, too: I’m more into street art than museum art, but I usually take in at least a museum or two in every city I visit, so I figured it was about time. And as an added bonus, LA residents (including students) get in for free!
  • I also had the chance to poke around a part of Downtown Los Angeles that is rapidly gentrifying, and in particular a tiny little street called Winston, tucked in between San Pedro and Main and spanning just two blocks, where a small little vintage shop with no signage out front, called More Thanne, is bringing a really cool new sense of style, and community, to the area. I wrote about it for Neon Tommy, and I had such a great time photographing the shop too; the shop has such a cool aesthetic!
  • Speaking of writing, I put together a few pieces for the inaugural issue of LA Downtowner, a new monthly circulation which aims to highlight the places, people and events which are revitalizing Downtown Los Angeles. The piece I wrote on the Historic LA Flower Market was featured in the September issue, and it was really cool to see my writing hanging around some of my favorite downtown spots like Urth Cafe, Bottega Louie and Ozero Tea and Desserts.

All in all, September was a memorable month full of good energy and new discoveries, and though autumn in Los Angeles doesn’t quite offer the same atmosphere as fall in the Pacific Northwest, even if the weather seems to stay the same, there’s always something new to discover in LA.

All photos taken with Samsung Galaxy Note 3.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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!)

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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!