A Day in Santa Monica-Promenade

The SM promenade is a difficult place to find quality deals, since it can be an intense tourist trap. The aggressive sign-holders, the pushy crowds, and the out-of-town drivers can try my patience. But I sometimes can’t avoid going there, and that being said, there’s a few things worth checking out.

Photo by Elan Ruskin

Happy Hour: 
“Cheap” and “The Promenade” aren’t usually in the same sentence, unless it’s followed by “McDonald’s.” The restaurants can be on the pricey side. Fortunately, they often have some great happy hour specials.
Locanda del Lago:
Locanda del Lago is an Italian restaurant right on 3rd St. It’s quite nice inside, and the food is tasty. It tastes even better during happy hour, when the food and wine has special prices. They have a vegetarian menu, (and celebrate meatless Monday), complete with vegan options. Gluten-free can be challenging, but they have great soups and salads, and a list of options. Since they serve a basket of bread with your order, my last dinner there for two (splitting the truffle pizza and a bowl of soup), was around $20. Not bad for Santa Monica Italian.
231 Arizona Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90401
Happy Hour: 
Tuesday: All day at bar stools
Mon-Sun: 4pm to 7pm (weekend only in the bar.)
Phone: 310 451-3525

Pourtal: 

Photo by Caroline on Crack

Pourtal is a relatively new wine-tasting bar, with some really good eats for wine-pairing. You can buy a pre-paid card, then have fun pushing the buttons that dispense great wine from all over the world. One of my favorite features: A selection of woman-owned wineries. You can also order a plate of assorted cheeses form Andrew’s Cheese Shop (one of my favorites.) The flat-bread and desserts are also wonderful. This could get expensive fast (especially a few glasses in), but they have a great happy hour: $6 appetisers, $6 glasses, and 15% of tasting sales are donated to a non-profit (which changes bi-weekly). So now you can drink wine and donate to charity at the same time. Not a bad deal.
http://www.pourtal.com/
Happy Hour: 

Photo by Caroline on Crack

Monday:  All Night (4pm to closing)
Tuesday through Friday: 4pm to 7pm
104 Santa Monica Boulevard, SM, 90401
Phone: (310) 451-3525

Other Food Options:
Swingers:
This is a greasy-spoon diner without the grease. Although it has a lot of “traditional” American diner options (waffles, burgers, fries, etc), they also serve quinoa, tofu scramble, and homemade salad dressings. The tables are donned with organic agave sweetner, the eggs are free-range, and there are tons of veg/vegan/gluten-free options. The food is tasty and the decor is interesting, plus they are open late…until 2am Sun-Wed, and 3am Thurs-Sat. So after the bar, you can satisfy your late-night cravings for quinoa and vegan cupcakes.
802 Broadway, Santa Monica, CA 90401-2711
Phone: (310) 393-9793
Hours:  Sun-Wed: 7am-2am
Thurs-Sat: 7am-3am
http://www.swingersdiner.com/%20

Bay Cities Italian Deli:

Photo by Muy Yum

Located right next door to Swingers is this great deli. It’s existence is no secret, so don’t get too scared by the large cluster of people always surrounding this place. It’s a full grocery store, complete with Italian imports of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Their real draw is the sandwich bar, made-to-order on their homemade bread. If you really don’t like crowds, a good solution is calling ahead of time and placing a phone order. Your sandwich should be ready in back when you arrive, and you can bee-line right to the check-out stand. Just don’t forget a piece of imported European chocolate.

Phone: (310) 395-8279
Hours: Tues-Sat: 9am-7pm
            Sunday: 9am-6pm
            CLOSED MONDAYS

Complete a Mission! 

Photo by TargoPhoto

Santa Monica can be synonymous with working out, but with good reason. The beach views and clear skies beat the gym any day. You can go for a run on the grassy paths or walk up the leg-burning Santa Monica Stairs, and working out yourself can be great if you have disipline and fitness knowledge. I would rather have a fitness guru take me to the next level, especially since it’s easy to get stuck in the same ol’ routine. Jenna Phillips leads her “missions” on the grass overlooking the ocean, or on the SM stairs and Runyon Canyon in the vast gym of the outdoors. The workout is always changing, always fun and always butt-kicking. Her positive vibe motivates me like a perky loving drill sergeant. My body has changed, and I’m always challenged. Check out her website for locations, schedule, and pricing.
http://jennaphillips.com/home.php

See a show!
There are many well-known concert venues and theaters, but steep entry fees, 2-drink minimums, and Hollywood parking can add up fast. Luckily, there are many smaller venues that are often just as good, and sometimes free! There’s a few near the promenade. For something different, check out the a magic show at Magicopolis. For some awesome comedy, try Westside Comedy Theater. They have improv classes for the novice, and performances for the viewer. Definitely check out certain Monday nights, when they have the improv teachers (Team X and The Faculty) do a FREE show. Laughing for free = awesome.

Jenna Phillips TargoPhoto

1323-A 3rd Street Promenade, Santa Monica, CA 90401 (In the alley between 3rd and 4th).
Phone:  310.451.0850
http://www.westsidecomedy.com/

Try Yoga:
I have heard that Santa Monica has the largest concentration of yoga studios in the world (including India). And the largest concentration in Santa Monica has to be the promenade. The best part is, some are by donation! With the growing cost and popularity of yoga, donation-based yoga is a true gift. Plus, if you’re new to yoga, many classes can be tried without the large initial investment. There are two locations of Brian Kest’s Power Yoga, which is the “original” donation studio in SM. Bhakti Yoga Shala is also donation-based. For specific needs, there’s Yo Mama studio for moms, Gentle Senior Yoga studio, and hot yoga at Hot 8. If you want to try other spots, there’s also Home Simply Yoga, Yogis Anonymous, and YogaCo.

Go out and dance:

Photo by Mick Orlosky

If you’re interested in the night life, there’s a couple great dance spots nearby. Harvelle’s is a dark sultry speakeasy that’s been around since the 1931. It’s the oldest live music venue on the Westside, and they continue to have great jazz and blues from around the world. Make sure to catch The Toledo Show every Sunday evening, a sexy jazz show complete with Toledo’s burlesque dancers. Check their schedule to see other upcoming performances.

1432 4th St, Santa Monica, CA 90401

Phone: (310) 395-1676
http://www.harvelles.com/
Another favorite of mine is Zanzibar on 4th St. This place has a great vibe, and most people are there truly to dance (not just to troll the floor looking for girls). They have different DJ’s/performers almost every night, and there always mixing in some funky surprise. I’ve heard a South African band complete with a Xylophone, a whole troupe of bongo drummers, and countless dance-tastic DJ’s. AfroFunk Thursdays is my dancing staple, and their other changing nights rarely disappoint.

1301 5th St, Santa Monica, CA 90401

Phone: (310) 451-2221
http://www.zanzibarlive.com/

A Day at the Huntington Library

The Huntington is a place that no Angelino (or visitor) should miss. The library is only one part of its 207 acres of art, koi ponds, and botanical gardens. The amount of things to see in this place can literally keep a person entertained for days. And there are ways to make your visit cheaper, if you know the right days to go.

The Botanical Gardens

Photo by Sean Byron

Of the 207 Huntington acres, 120 acres are botanical gardens. It would literally take someone several days, if not weeks, to view them all. It’s hard to even list all the 12 gardens (which doesn’t even include everything garden-related, like their greenhouse or botanical center.) They have an Australian, tropical, rose, desert, herb, and Shakespeare garden, just to name a few. It’s easy to spend an entire day at even one of these gardens, especially if you get a docent to explain the details you might miss. (You can get these docent guided garden tours for free Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday between noon and 2pm, or Sat/Sun between 10:30-2:30. For more information on all their tour options, click here.)  

The gardens are truly amazing, with no details spared. In the Chinese garden, they have a full koi pond, rock structures, and traditional Chinese buildings. They have lots of hands-on features in their children’s garden, so kids can indulge in their urge to touch everything in sight. Since there’s so many things to see, locals can return again and again and still experience something new.


The Art:

Photo by Curry Puffy

The Huntington houses an impressive array of famous artwork, concentrating on 18th and 19th century British and French art, and an American exhibition. There are three permanent art collections, plus a fourth that changes. They have famous works from Mary Cassatt, Rembrandt, and one of the largest collections of William Blake around. Sometimes the art and gardens are integrated, as there are many Europeans statues situated among the flowers and trees. Also, the amazing buildings that the galleries reside in are an art show in themselves. If you’ve already seen all the permanent collections, check their website for upcoming new shows.      

The Library:

Photo by Kevin T. Quinn

If you decide to actually visit the library portion of the Huntington, dismiss whatever comes to your mind when you think “library.” There is over 6 million items of extremely rare books, manuscripts, and photos. They actually have the Ellesmere manuscript of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Renaissance literature, medieval manuscripts, and a huge collection of early edition Shakespeare. Whether you’re a scholar who wants to take advantage of the unparallelled research opportunities, or an English major who’s going to geek out over Chaucer, the library at the Huntington is something not to be missed.

Price
Admission to the Huntington varies depending on the day, your age, or student status. Here’s a basic break-down:

Weekdays:
Adults: $15     Seniors: $12     Students: $10     Age 5-11: $6     Under 5: free
Weekends:
Adults: $20     Seniors: $15     Students: $10     Age 5-11: $6     Under 5: free
Free Day! 
On the first Thursday of every month, admission is free! But you do need advance tickets, which you can get here. The hours on Free Day are 10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. This is a great opportunity if you don’t have the cash for a regular entrance, just be aware that it is more crowded on free day.

(Summer) Hours:
Monday-Sunday (excluding Tuesday): 10:30am-4:30pm
Tuesdays: Closed

Parking:
Free! The Huntington has it’s own large lots, which are free to park in. Bonus.

Food:
There is no food or picnicking allowed on the grounds. There is a grassy knoll near the parking lot for the purpose, or they sell food at their Tea Room and the Cafe.
Also, it’s right nearby the Arcadia/Alhambra area, which has some great eats. Click here for suggestions. It is also right near Pasadena.

Other Info:
The Huntington has a great website, so check it out for any kind of info…bringing groups, art exhibits, directions, etc. Just don’t miss this place, it’s such a great day for visiting relatives, friends, or locals.
Address: 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino, CA  91108
Phone: 626.405.2100
http://www.huntington.org/default.aspx

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/

The Joshua Tree Music Festival

I have friends who try to visit every music festival on the west-coast. I am not one of those people. I have been taken to a few, and they can be really fun, but listening to the same kind of music all weekend gets on my nerves. (Whether it be reggae, electronic, folk, blue-grass, or just about anything.) Plus, if the food isn’t good, I’m stuck all weekend eating protein bars.
The consistent exception to this is the Joshua Tree Music Festival in May. This festival consistently provides huge differences to the usual music festival experience, and I almost never miss it. Plus, it’s only a two-hour drive from LA, so I don’t even have to go that far.
http://www.joshuatreemusicfestival.com/

The Music: 
I don’t know how they do it, but they always have the largest variety of music that I have ever seen at a festival. They have bands from all different states, countries, continents, and music genres. In the same weekend, there has been a Korean punk band, a Venezuelan rock band, Australian folk music, British DJ’s, solo guitar players, a local Joshua Tree band, and more. Plus they get the most interesting fusion music…there was a group that did Celtic/Indian fusion, a modern New Orleans brass band, and a Australian band that did traditional chanting/ditchery doo mixed with rock and techno. Plus, the music isn’t just varied, it’s also great! Whoever chooses the music has my vote for good taste.

The Desert:
Joshua Tree happens to be one of my favorite places, so the setting is ideal. It’s very warm in May, so dress lightly for the daylight hours. Luckily, they have the dance area shaded, and they have been providing free water. The backdrop of the desert mountains adds something extra to the good music and good vibes, so I always consider this another excuse to spend a weekend in my favorite camping spot. (Without the hassle of cooking camp food.)


The Food: 

Along with good music choice, the festival also features great food vendors. Since I’ve spent so much time camping in J-Tree, it’s great to be eating gormet food without starting a fire or cleaning camp-ware. The vendors are different every year, but so far they’ve had: a raw food booth, Caribbean (mmm, plantains, coconut rice and gumbo), fancy pizza (strawberry and pesto even!), Acai smoothies, and assorted veggie plates (sauteed greens, yucca, etc). They always have vegetarian and vegan options, so even pickier eaters should be satisfied. And they always have a coffee booth, so you don’t even have to go without your ice-blended macchiato.

The Art and Activities: 
I look forward to the art installations every year, they’re always different and always creative. It’s hard to explain the different set-ups with light, photos, and structures; it’s one of those things you’ll have to see for yourself. There’s also activities through-out the day, such as: yoga classes, hula-hooping, meditation, and workshops. (Almost all of which are included with your festival pass.)

The Price:
Of course, for me a good deal is always what rounds out a good experience. And this music festival is one of the best priced festivals out there. You can buy one day, or all three. If you can’t afford a ticket, there is amble volunteering opportunities. You can check wristbands, or do promotion. So click the “volunteering” button on their website to use that option. The ticket prices go up as the dates get closer. They start as low as $70 for all three days if you buy early! They go up in increments, to $100 for the weekend, and up to #130 at the door. This is still a great price for all the bands, art, and fun. Here are the ticket prices until May 4th, 2012, minus the $15 camping fee:

Three Day Pass- $ 100
Friday Only Pass- $ 50
Saturday Only Pass- $ 70
Sunday Only Pass – $ 50
Buy Tickets Here

Prices After May 5th:

Three Day Pass- $ 120

So if you need a weekend of desert dancing, don’t miss it!

The Joshua Tree Music Festival

I have friends who try to visit every music festival on the west-coast. I am not one of those people. I have been taken to a few, and they can be really fun, but listening to the same kind of music all weekend gets on my nerves. (Whether it be reggae, electronic, folk, blue-grass, or just about anything.) Plus, if the food isn’t good, I’m stuck all weekend eating protein bars.
The consistent exception to this is the Joshua Tree Music Festival in May. This festival consistently provides huge differences to the usual music festival experience, and I almost never miss it. Plus, it’s only a two-hour drive from LA, so I don’t even have to go that far.
http://www.joshuatreemusicfestival.com/

The Music: 
I don’t know how they do it, but they always have the largest variety of music that I have ever seen at a festival. They have bands from all different states, countries, continents, and music genres. In the same weekend, there has been a Korean punk band, a Venezuelan rock band, Australian folk music, British DJ’s, solo guitar players, a local Joshua Tree band, and more. Plus they get the most interesting fusion music…there was a group that did Celtic/Indian fusion, a modern New Orleans brass band, and a Australian band that did traditional chanting/ditchery doo mixed with rock and techno. Plus, the music isn’t just varied, it’s also great! Whoever chooses the music has my vote for good taste.

The Desert:
Joshua Tree happens to be one of my favorite places, so the setting is ideal. It’s very warm in May, so dress lightly for the daylight hours. Luckily, they have the dance area shaded, and they have been providing free water. The backdrop of the desert mountains adds something extra to the good music and good vibes, so I always consider this another excuse to spend a weekend in my favorite camping spot. (Without the hassle of cooking camp food.)


The Food: 

Along with good music choice, the festival also features great food vendors. Since I’ve spent so much time camping in J-Tree, it’s great to be eating gormet food without starting a fire or cleaning camp-ware. The vendors are different every year, but so far they’ve had: a raw food booth, Caribbean (mmm, plantains, coconut rice and gumbo), fancy pizza (strawberry and pesto even!), Acai smoothies, and assorted veggie plates (sauteed greens, yucca, etc). They always have vegetarian and vegan options, so even pickier eaters should be satisfied. And they always have a coffee booth, so you don’t even have to go without your ice-blended macchiato.

The Art and Activities: 
I look forward to the art installations every year, they’re always different and always creative. It’s hard to explain the different set-ups with light, photos, and structures; it’s one of those things you’ll have to see for yourself. There’s also activities through-out the day, such as: yoga classes, hula-hooping, meditation, and workshops. (Almost all of which are included with your festival pass.)

The Price:
Of course, for me a good deal is always what rounds out a good experience. And this music festival is one of the best priced festivals out there. You can buy one day, or all three. If you can’t afford a ticket, there is amble volunteering opportunities. You can check wristbands, or do promotion. So click the “volunteering” button on their website to use that option. The ticket prices go up as the dates get closer. They start as low as $70 for all three days if you buy early! They go up in increments, to $100 for the weekend, and up to #130 at the door. This is still a great price for all the bands, art, and fun. Here are the ticket prices until May 4th, 2012, minus the $15 camping fee:

Three Day Pass- $ 100
Friday Only Pass- $ 50
Saturday Only Pass- $ 70
Sunday Only Pass – $ 50
Buy Tickets Here

Prices After May 5th:

Three Day Pass- $ 120

So if you need a weekend of desert dancing, don’t miss it!

A Day in the Pacific Palisades

 
 

The Pacific Palisades is beautiful little part of LA that’s not very known or visited, so it’s a great place to get some nature and culture without the crowds. It’s north of Santa Monica in the mountains, where Sunset Blvd. goes all the way to the ocean. 
Most of the activities in the Palisades incorporate some outdoors or sun, since it’s almost like a little mountain town that’s not really part of LA.


Lake Shrine (Self-Realization Fellowship)
The well-known Yogi Paramahansa Yogananda dedicated this place in 1950. It’s open to the public and free to get in, and you really can’t miss this beautiful gem. It’s a small lake, filled with turtles and swans and surrounded by lush gardens. There are many really odd and interesting things surrounding the water…namely a houseboat, a Dutch windmill (which is a meditation room), and a shrine containing some of Gandhi’s ashes. (No, really. Him and Yogananda were friends.) It’s a truly relaxing place, with many opportunities to take in the scenery by a small waterfall or under garden trellises. There’s also a small museum and a gift shop which are worth checking out. There’s also a large temple, a “Church of All Religions,” where they host services and group meditation classes. Check their website for a list of classes and holiday hours. They are closed Mondays, and in rainy weather. 
Phone: (310) 454-4114 
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 9 am – 4:30 pm, Sunday Noon – 4:30 pm, closed Mondays

Hiking:

Los Liones Hiking Trail
When I want to go to a more remote spot in the Palisades with easy parking, I come to Los Liones. You turn onto Los Liones Dr. from Sunset going North, and just drive until it dead ends. There is a good amount of parking spaces by the trail, by the restrooms, and on the road, all right by the trail-head. It’s a decent workout going uphill, but all scenic and tree-lined. Once you reach the first “summit,” you’re awarded with a 360 view of the ocean and the city, which I never get sick of. Another great thing about this trail is that you can just keep going for miles after that, as it connected with other trails and goes on for quite awhile. Often it’s just as satisfying to hike back down. The only downside to this trail is that it’s not a loop, you just take the same way down as you did coming up. 


Temescal Canyon Hiking Trail
Temescal is by far the most well-known hike in the Palisades, but can be convenient if you want to walk to the downtown afterwards. The trail goes in a nice loop, which can get quite physically challenging at times, and has some nice stopping points. There’s a few small waterfalls on the way (except in the dry season), and some great views. Parking is a little strange for multiple reasons: You have to pay if you park in the lot ($7 as of this writing), and there are police camera’s in the lot that will send you a ticket if you don’t stop at the stop signs. You can park from free on Temescal Blvd. and walk into the park, although some people believe it supports the park to pay the parking fee. You might have to ask directly to find the exact trail head, there are many entrances and exits, and the trail branches off at certain points.
15601 W Sunset Blvd, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272
Hours: Sunrise to Sunset 

Also worth checking out: Will Rogers State Park farther east on Sunset (also paid parking), and the many many trail-heads hiding in the Palisades, with entrances scattered on many small streets. 

Will Rogers State Beach:
This is a secluded patch of beach where Temescal Canyon hits the PCH. There’s free parking on the PCH (just be careful of fast drivers), and it’s a bit hidden from the rest of the Santa Monica coast. There’s rarely many people there, and it’s so wonderful to jump in the water after a hot hike in the mountains. Be careful on the walk down from the car, but enjoy some sun without the throngs of people that crowd the Santa Monica and Venice sands.
(Pacific Coast Highway & Temescal Canyon Road)

The Ghetty Villa:
Many people have been to the Ghetty museum off the 405, but the Ghetty Villa has recently opened back up, and is a unique setting. This was John Paul Ghetty’s actual residence, and is filled up with art, artifacts, and antiques from ancient Greece, Rome, and Etruria.
The large “backyard” garden is also worth the visit, perched on the mountain and covered in flowers. It’s free admission, but the trade-off is that you do have to pay $15 a car for parking, which isn’t so bad if you go with a couple other people. Parking is actually free on Saturdays after 5pm, when they are open late until 9pm, or when they have free programs and are open late. And don’t try to park in the neighborhood, I know from personal experience that they will give you a ticket or tow your car. And they are closed Mondays, so plan accordingly.
17985 Pacific Coast Highway, Pacific Palisades, California 90272
Phone: (310) 440-7300
Hours: 
Tuesday–Friday, 10:00 a.m.–5:30 p.m.
Saturday , 10:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m.
Sunday, 10:00 a.m.–5:30 p.m.
Monday, CLOSED


Restaurants:
So, I love the Palisades…but I’ll admit to its lack of noteworthy restaurants. (And this is not from lack of experience, I worked in the downtown Palisades for over 5 years.) It’s not that the restaurants are awful, they’re just not fantastic enough to write a whole entry for. If you’re wandering around after a hike, feel free to stop in and try them out. Otherwise, please see my next blog for Santa Monica restaurants, which are only a short drive away.

Bike Downtown LA with CicLAvia

Los Angeles is definitely not known for it’s bike-friendliness. Aside from the beach path, it can be a little scary riding through the streets of LA, weaving through the many angry, fast-moving cars. But this Sunday, April 10th, they will be closing off 7.5 miles of downtown LA for bikes and pedestrians only! Inspired by a similar street closure event in Bogota, Colombia, you can have the chance to walk, talk, bike, socialize, and discover places on the streets of LA you would have never noticed by car.
And, to make it more festive, there will be booths, food, and activities. If you’re worried about parking, there are many “meeting” spots in different parts of town for bikes and buses. Also, participation is free, which always makes a good event even better.
Check the website and blog for FAQ’s, map, meeting spots, and other info.

Basic Stats:

Sunday, April 10th 2011
10am–3pm

http://www.ciclavia.org/
http://ciclavia.wordpress.com/

A Day in the Korea Town Spas

Since life in Los Angeles can be a bit stressful, there’s almost nothing better than spending the day at a relaxing Korean spa. “So why not spend the day at an upscale spa in Santa Monica?” you ask. Well, I can’t really relax when I know I’ve spent half my paycheck getting in. Plus, the saunas in most western spas just don’t get warm enough. (140 degrees? What is that, a warm day in the Palm Dessert?)
But my spa visits in Korea-town rarely disappoint. Since admission can be as low as $15, I don’t even have to feel guilty about spending the money. Plus, a whole day in out and out of steam rooms, cold pools, Himalayan salt saunas, and tea tubs leaves me feeling like a new person. Posted below are my favorites, with a comparison of prices, amenities, and other factors. They’re not too far from each other, but if location is very important you can see a map of all spas in relation to each other here:  Spa Map
Otherwise, click on the address after each description to see the google map location of the individual spas.
Also, please note that bathing suits are not allowed in the spas. So, you have to be decently comfortable with nudity. (It’s a good time to expand your comfort zone, right?)


Natura Spa
Best for: Cleanliness, smaller spa that’s rarely crowded, Korean food cafe, great price. 
Cons: Hard to think of one, but I guess saunas are on the small side. 
This spa is a lesser known find, but it’s a chill alternative to some of the bigger, more crowded spas. It’s especially clean, and provides robes, towels, drinking water with fruit, and other nice perks. It has all the things a spa would need…clay, jade, and wood saunas, steam room, cold pool, and different hot tubs. At $15 for all day entrance, it’s one of the best deals.  
3240 Wilshire Blvd, LA 90010 
Phone: (213) 381-2288

Hours:  Mon-Thu 6 am – 10 pm
              Fri-Sat 6 am – 11 pm
              Sun 7 am – 10 pm
General Admission: $15

Wi Spa
Best for: Couples, families, 24 hour facilities, cleanliness and the most unique saunas.
Cons: Slightly higher entrance fee, not great for people who don’t like kids.
This is truly one of the most unique spas that I have visited. There are the separate women’s and men’s areas, but the top floor is actually coed. (They give you a a shirt and shorts to wear in the coed area). The different kinds of saunas are my favorite part. Most spas have a “mud sauna” and a “salt sauna,” where the walls are covered with mineral mud, jade, and crystal salt. But the Wi Spa makes it special…the Mud Sauna is inches deep in heated mud balls, which you crawl into and cover yourself with. I can feel the healing minerals all around me as I sink deeply into mud bliss. The Himalayan Salt Sauna is similar; a bed of pink salt crystals to lay yourself in. They also have a special sauna called the Bulgarama, which is 245 degrees. I always spend some time there, smelling the warm cedar and chugging water to keep from getting dizzy.
They also have a kids room, complete with toys, and a camera that projects your little ones onto a t.v. screen seen from the coed area. There’s also a restaurant upstairs if you get hungry…just be careful if your vegetarian, because their “veggie” entries usually contain fish.
2700 Wilshire Boulevard, LA 90057
Phone: (213) 487-2700
Hours: 24 hours 
Basic Admission: $25


Hankook Spa
Best for: Woman only, mineral water, large facilities, great prices for admission and treatments, ice room. 
Cons: Often a lot of people, no men’s facility, and treatment room is in the open.  
A few of the Korean spas are women only, and this is one of them. Not only is the entrance fee cheap, but the treatments are well-priced and often eliminate or reduce the spa fee.  They also have some food dishes for sale, and often serve complimentary tea.
3121 W Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90006
Phone: (213) 388-8899
Hours: Mon – Sat: 7am ~ 11pm
Sunday: 7am ~ 9pm   
Basic Admission: $15

Olympic Spa
Good for: woman only, large spa, Korean restaurant, good prices.
Cons: One of the most popular Korean spas, so weekends and evenings can get very crowded.
As mentioned, this is one of the most well-known spas in Korea town. The facilities are very large, so it can be a really fun place to spend a day. But be wary of the after-work and weekend crowd, as there can be a lot of people.
3915 W. Olympic Blvd, LA 90019
Phone: (323) 857-0666 

Hours: Mon-Sun 9 am – 10 pm
Beverly Hot Springs
Good for: Real mineral spring water, not very crowded, stone-cave walls.
Cons: The priciest of the Korean spas, treatments do not include spa admission, 2 hour limit on spa use.
The specifically unique feature of this spa is the actual mineral water used in the tubs. They use it for the hot and cold tubs, and some people swear by it’s healing power. It only has the basic amenities (hot and cold pool, sauna and steam room,) but it’s decorated in an interesting way. The walls are made of stone, in a way that it looks like an underground cave.
The big downside is the price…although it is cheaper on weekdays. And they technically give you a two hour limit, although they don’t seem to hunt you down if you go a little over.
Phone: 323-734-7000
Hours: Mon-Sun 9:30 am – 9 pm
Entrance Fee: Mon-Thurs: $30, Fri-Sun/Holidays: $40