A Night at the Hollywood Bowl

Just as LA is warming up to the comfort level of picky Angelino’s, the Hollywood Bowl is getting ready to have its opening night concert. The bowl is one of LA’s best summer concert spots, with a variety of acts and a variety of experiences. There’s a few specific reasons why I love going to the Bowl on any night, even if there’s isn’t a specific concert I want to see. Here’s some of my favorite attributes of the Bowl:

You can bring a picnic!
The Hollywood Bowl actually let you bring your own food in! There are picnic tables and grassy knolls where you can enjoy your food and wine before the show, or you can bring it with you to your seats to enjoy while you listen to music. Some people really go all out, (tablecloths, full meals fit for Thanksgiving), but I like to get some cheese and crackers from TJ’s and have it with a nice red wine. Yes, you can even bring wine. (That being said, that is only for the Hollywood Bowl produced shows, such as the classical nights and sing-alongs. The “leased shows,” i.e. most of the big popular bands, do not allow alcohol. For their policies check this part of their website.)
Not only can you bring food, you can even bring candles! Can you think of a better date night? Under the stars…surrounded by mountains…listening to a live orchestra…eating strawberries and drinking wine by candlelight. *sigh*

Tickets start as low as $1.75
Ok, so you’re not going to see some well-known pop band for under $2 a ticket. But you can see the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, live jazz, or go to a musical sing-along. The Orchestra is amazing, and I almost feel like I’m cheating for seeing them this cheaply. The ticket usually has a small processing fee, but even when you just show up at the Bowl to buy them their still around $7 a person. Even their larger shows are really reasonably priced, especially if you’re willing to sit in the back bench area. This season they have Eddie Izzard live, and the bench seats are only $32! So the gist: live shows thrown by the Bowl = awesome prices.


The view….the sunset!
This place is called the Bowl for a reason…it sits in a bowl, surrounded on all sides by the rolling mountains of the Hollywood Hills. Usually the shows start while it’s still light, and you get to watch the sunset over the hills as the bands play on. Just don’t forget that LA gets chilly at night, so bring a warm blanket or jacket. And a cushion to sit on isn’t a bad idea either.

Where to get tickets and info: http://www.hollywoodbowl.com/
 What to bring: 

  • Warm clothes
  • A blanket
  • A cushion to sit on 
  • A small cooler, bag, or picnic basket (be sure to check their cooler size limitations here.)
  • Good picnic food. (A Trader Joe’s run isn’t a bad idea.)
  • Wine and wine glasses. (Be sure it’s a bowl-sponsored event, and not a “leased” event.) 
  • Candles (if you want some mood lighting) 
  • Napkins or plates to eat on. 

Have fun and long live summer!

A Day in the San Gabriel Valley

The San Gabriel Valley is one of the most interesting, but least appreciated areas of Los Angeles. If you’ve ever been disappointed by flashy Chinatown, consider driving the extra miles to spend a day here. It has some of the best Chinese/Taiwanese food in LA, which is much more than I can say for Chinatown. It’s also nestled against the (very tall) San Gabriel Mountains, which provides outdoor activities for working off all the Chinese steam buns you will consume. In addition to my recommendations, I suggest you try any place you stumble upon that looks promising. There are countless dessert places, bakeries, tea shops, restaurants, grocery stores and shopping. When driving home, you might feel like you just went abroad.

Food:

Happy Family:

This is (hands down) is some of the best Chinese food I’ve ever eaten. The way it’s set up, it’s best to go with a group, as this place specializes in “family style” dining, which is kind of like all-you-can-eat. On the larger tables, there is a circular disc that whisks the dishes around in a circle, so everyone can try whatever comes out. The menu has over 60 dishes on it, and each person can just point to a few, and they will bring them out for everyone to enjoy. If you like one in particular, order a few more plates of it. You also get rice, and endless green tea. I don’t even like mentioning that this is a vegetarian place, because I have surprised even the most picky carnivores with the awesomeness of this place. And it’s pretty easy for folks who don’t eat dairy, since most Chinese food already doesn’t use it. It’s pretty easy to eat gluten free (except maybe soy sauce), and very vegan friendly. Try the house “chicken,” (mushrooms) and the basil eggplant. And really, just about everything else.
500 N Atlantic Blvd, Ste 171, Monterey Park, CA 91754
Phone: (626) 282-8986

A&J Restaurant

Photo by KirbieCravings.com

You might be confused when you arrive at a strip mall right near an auto-parts store. But I swear this little place serves great Chinese(/Taiwanese) food. Their dumplings are made in-house, the sauces are flavorful, and the bill will make you even happier. Try the peanut-sauce noodles, the pickled-anything, or the thousand-layer pancake. Be careful if you’re vegetarian, because even some of the items listed as veggie aren’t really. So make sure to tell them if you don’t want meat. Non-veggies will definitely be satisfied by the large menu to choose from, but even vegans can leave full and happy.
Just don’t forget to bring cash, this place is CASH ONLY.

27 Las Tunas Drive, Arcadia, CA 91007-8511
Phone: (626) 445-7270

Grocery Stores:
I don’t know if I’m slightly strange, but I love a good grocery store. I will stay for hours. If you’ve ever had trouble finding tropical or Asian ingredients, you’ll probably find them in one of the grocery stores in the San Gabriel Valley. Here’s a couple of my favorites: 

The San Gabriel Superstore

This place seriously deserves the title “superstore.” The grocery store itself is huge, and has anything from cassava-coconut cake, frozen whole rambutan, dried bean curd, and bitter melon tea. And it’s really cheap…I get scared when I fill up the grocery chart, but I’m always relieved when they tell me the final amount. But this isn’t just a grocery store…there’s a whole market inside, with little stands of clothes, boba tea, dried foods, and jade jewlery. You could truly get lost in this place, or just go around in awe trying to figure out what-on-earth-is inside of this can….just don’t expect the employees to speak much English to explain it to you.
1635 S San Gabriel Blvd, San Gabriel, CA 91776
Phone: (626) 280-9998Hours: Mon-Sun 9 am – 10 pm

Bodhi Vegetarian Supply

This is a vegetarian’s heaven, or an interesting place for just about anyone. It’s a tiny grocery store packed with-get this-vegetarian meat substitutes. And I’m not just talking veggie-burgers. They have “lamb mutton” (spiced mushroom stems), veggie duck, canned “tuna,” and yes, even vegetarian pigs feet. You could literally find any veggie substitute you can think of…non-meat tripe, anyone? What’s interesting is that these eccentricities actually taste really good! Since the Chinese Buddhists have been making veggie food for over 2,000 years, they really have it right. Plus they have spices, sauces, (mushroom “oyster” sauce!), snacks, and other goodies. You really can’t miss this spot.
8450 Valley Blvd Ste 106, Rosemead, CA 91770
Phone: (626) 280-7936

Hiking Trails: 
For the hard-core workout buff: Mt. Wilson Trail
I’ve done some steep hikes, but this is longer and more-uphill than almost any of the west-side trails. If you choose to do the whole thing, it is 7 miles to the top (meaning 14 miles roundtrip). And it’s a serious incline almost the whole way. I love the challenge, but even I have neglected to bring enough water and underestimated the mid-day heat. It’s got some neat sites, (rivers, waterfalls, and the like), and the view is amazing. Just be prepared for the steep drop-off next to the trail, and don’t feel bad if you turn around a little early. 

89 E Mira Monte Ave, Sierra Madre, CA 91024


For the more mellow hikers who like waterfalls: Eaton Canyon Park and Nature Center

This frequented trail has a few nice attributes. You can explore the visitors center to see local snakes, history, and flush toilets. The trail itself is quite scenic, and ends at a really nice waterfall. It crosses the river quite often on the way, so be prepared to hop stones and maybe get your feet wet. It can get a bit crowded, so if you can, sneak out on a weekday to avoid crowds. But it’s not an uphill battle, so you can relax a bit and even take kids when the water isn’t too high for safe rock-hopping.  

1750 N Altadena Dr, Pasadena, CA 91107
Phone: (626) 398-5420

http://www.ecnca.org/

Tea: 
You can’t visit San Gabriel without stopping for some tea. That doesn’t mean your normal black or green tea, since the tea shops in this area have many many options. You can get a blended taro-root drink, milk tea with boba, matcha lattes, melon tea, or many other exciting concoctions. Try almost any one that looks good, but I do have a few regular places…Au 79 has a great vibe, nice seating, and you can choose your level of sweetness. There are quite a few locations of Ten Ren, where they have good quality hot tea, and fun treats. (Try the thousand-year-old egg, cooked in black tea and soy sauce.) The most unique (and my personal favorite) is Bin Bin Konjac. Instead of using Boba, they use pieces of Konjac, which are like having squares of jelly. But it’s actually made of a nutritious root, which is loaded with fiber (and vegetarian.)
To see the locations of these places, take a look at my tea map:
Tea Map

Day in Santa Monica-Main St.

Main Street in Santa Monica can be a great place to spend a day and night, since it’s nestled right up against the ocean for daytime beauty, and has a lot of spots within walking distance that make a good nightlife. It’s also quite safe and well lit compared to many other neighborhoods, leaving you free to explore the many happy hours, music, and mojito stands Main St. has to offer.

Food and Drinks:

Sunny BlueOmusubi and Organic Frozen Yogurt
This place is quite new, and I was immediately in love at first bite. Omusubi is one of my favorite Japanese foods, and rare to find on the west side. (The website says it’s the first Omusubi shop in Southern California.) So what are they? Omusubi are rice balls filled with different ingredients, then sprinkled with different seasonings or toppings (like sesame seeds), and wrapped in a sheet of Nori seaweed. (The seaweed being optional). Traditionally made with fish or meat on the inside, but this shop always has several vegetarian/vegan options! (Which is so refreshing for Japanese food, because they sneak fish into everything.) Made fresh, try the miso-mushroom or the really traditional umeboshi plum, a slightly sour treat with a fresh umeboshi leave on the outside. And two of these treats can fill you up, and that’s an awesome deal since they range between $1.75-$3.00. And if you’re still hungry, they also serve frozen yogurt and Japanese side dishes.
2728 Main St, Santa Monica, CA 90405
Phone: (310) 399-9030
Hours: Mon-Thu 11 am – 8 pm
Fri-Sat 11 am – 9 pm
Sun 11 am – 7 pm
http://sunnyblueinc.com/omusubi.html

Happy Hour-The Library Alehouse
The Library Alehouse is great for many reasons…it has a HUGE beer and wine selection, which should please the most picky connoisseur. They also have great food, made even better by their happy-hour prices. You can get appetizers for half-off, so I love the Papaya Goat-Cheese Quesidilla for $5. They also have deals on their beer and wine, so make sure to ask if you want to save some money on drinks. The only downside is that it can get a little cramped, which is another bonus for happy hour, since it’s usually not as crowded.
Phone: 310-314-4855
Hours: Mon-Sun 11:30 am – 12 am
Happy Hour: 4-6pm Monday-Friday
www.libraryalehouse.com

One Life-Juice Bar
One Life is a little health-food grocery store, with a large vitamin department downstairs. But the best part of this place has to be the juice bar. They have a couple large, old school juicers that crank out any vegetable you put in them. You can pick exactly what items you want off their list, and make your own crazy concoction. You can have all vegetables, all fruit, or a combo of both. (I like mine with parsley and ginger.) And you can’t beat the price…the 12 ounce of your choices is only $3.50, and they also have larger sizes and smoothies. Get a dose of greens or apples while you walk around Main St.
3001 Main St,
Santa Monica, CA 90405
Phone: 310-392-4501
Store Hours: Mon-Sun 8 am – 9 pm

Holy Guacamole 
If you’re going to go Mexican, I definitely suggest Holy Guacamole. The prices are great, and it’s more fresh and flavorful than your usual chain. They have a serious selection of hot sauces (be careful, I’ve not headed the warning labels of spiciness and paid dearly for it), and their veggie tacos are full of good ingredients (and easy to make vegan.) Plus, they are open really late, so it’s a price-effective way to quell late-night munchies.
2906 Main St., Santa Monica, CA 90405

Phone: 310-314-4850
Hours: Mon-Thu, Sun 11 am – 12 am
             Fri-Sat 11 am – 2 am

Coffee:

Peet’s Coffee and Tea 
This may seem like an odd suggestion, since Peet’s is a chain after all. But after careful inspection and many samplings, I have realized that Peet’s has some of the best coffee. Their loose-leaf tea selection is large and of great quality, and I even like their milk alternatives. It is one of the only cafes I know that uses unsweetened soymilk for their drinks, which gives me the freedom to sweeten it to my taste, instead of being attacked by pre-sweetened overload. There are other great cafe’s on Main St. (like Urth Cafe, of course, which also has great desserts) but Peet’s is a more quiet, and usually less-crowded alternative. And I’ve had consistently great service, which adds to my love of this place.
2439 Main Street, Santa Monica, CA 90405
Phone: (310) 399-8117
Hours: Mon-Sun 5 am – 8 pm
Free Wi-Fi
www.peets.com
Cielo
A decently new spot, but I didn’t want to skim it over, since they are unique. It’s a small place, and their drinks menu is more limited than Peet’s. But they have consistently great coffee, and they even siphon-brew, which not only makes good coffee but is fun to watch. They also have agave at their sweetener counter, and a mellow crowd.

3101 Main St # D, Santa Monica, CA 90405-6411
(310) 314-9999

 Mon-Thu, Sun 7 am – 7 pm

I’m pretty picky about my bar scene (there are many on Main St. that I don’t like.) But if you want to expand your horizons, here is a great site that lists all the main street happy hours:


Museum

California Heritage Museum
If it’s too cold to hit the beach or ride on the bike path, you can always check out the art at the California Heritage Art Museum. It’s a converted two-story Victorian home. They have visiting art selections that are always changing, and there’s often some food trucks milling around on the weekends. 

Phone: 310-392-8537
Hours: Wednesday through Sunday
11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Last tour at 3:30 p.m.
General Admission:  $8
Seniors, Students:  $5

http://web.mac.com/calmuseum/Site/Home.html

Last Fridays
If you happen to be on Main Street on the last Friday of the month, then walk around and enjoy Last Fridays. Some shops stay open late, food trucks abound, and there’s often live music or other activities. Just don’t get stuck driving down Main St. this day…you probably won’t go very fast.


http://www.mainstreetsm.com/last-fridays/