Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Catalina Island

Catalina Island is a rocky island off the coast of California. The island is 22 miles long and 8 miles across at its greatest width.

The island has a rich history. Most of the island is now controlled by the Catalina Island Conservancy, a private nonprofit organization. The mission of the Catalina Island Conservancy is to be a responsible steward of its lands through a balance of conservation, education and recreation. Through its ongoing efforts, the Conservancy protects the magnificent natural and cultural heritage of Santa Catalina Island. Under an agreement with Los Angeles County, the Conservancy has granted an easement to allow day hiking and mountain biking, but visitors must first obtain a permit at the Conservancy's office. Hiking permits are free, whereas bicycle permits are available for a fee.  About a million tourists visit the island every year; Catalina is serviced by ferries from Newport Beach, Dana Point, Long Beach, San Pedro, and Marina del Rey. The trip takes approximately an hour and costs approx $65 round trip. 

I went to Catalina Island to visit my parents who were attending the annual JazzTrax Festival. I took the ferry from Long Beach and the trip was relaxing.  The Island overall is a welcome change if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of LA.  The main drag caters to tourist.  I would recommend getting a hiking permit and exploring some of the Island to get away from the commercial side of the Island.

Comme Ca for Happy Hour

Our goal was to get to Comme Ca for happy hour (5-7), to get the special bartender's choice drink.  However, because of traffic we arrived around 6:56 and sat at the bar.  We asked the bartender if we could still order happy hour to which a chef at the side of the bar promptly responded happy hour is over.  The bartender, very understandingly said we still had a few minutes and could order drinks.  I ordered the hourglass cocktail and Liz got a drink. 

Liz ordered French onion soup while I looked at the menu, wishing I was able to order from the happy hour menu because the crab croquettes sounded extremely good but they were not on the regular menu.  Liz's soup came out which had an extra pungent stench from the Gruyere cheese and while was still deciding what to have from the regular menu. 

We both ordered another round however I had not ordered food yet.  A bit later the chef brought the crab croquettes out without me ordering them.  I was happy and devoured them.  They were extremely good. 

We decided to get another round of drinks, this time I got a drink the bartender recommended called Penicillin which had Blended Scotch, ginger, honey, lemon, and Laphroaig 10 year.  It is vaguely reminiscent of a honey lemon cough drop but in a good way.  The bartender took our dishes away and gave us a new place setting with spoons.  We were confused because we had not ordered anything else.  A few minutes later a server brings out a dessert, which he says is the house specialty.  It was incredibly good. 

The experience at Comme Ca was amazing.  The staff was accommodating, charming, and engaging.  The food was great and the atmosphere was comfortable and elegant.  I highly recommend this restaurant, even if you can only get a drink.

Monday, August 15, 2011


I know most people might wonder why Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is on the list, but I have encountered a number of people that have lived in California their whole life and have never been to the airport. LAX is not just any airport, it is THE airport. It the the 6th busiest airport in the World. It also handles more "origin and destination" passengers than any other airport in the world.

I've flown out of LAX countless times and have never gone without some kind of incident.  With most airports that I frequent (MKE, BOS, ORD) I can show up within a couple of hours of my flight and have no worries about making my flight.  LAX is always a crap shoot so I leave extra early.  The airport can make even the most organized airline look like a disaster.

It's on the list because it is such a great opportunity to visit so many awesome places around the world by cheap direct flights.  If planning to visit most countries in the eastern part of the world you can usually find a deal leaving from LAX.  There are also a lot of places intercontinental to visit that are cheap.  The northwest and the southwest all have spectacular destinations that are a pain to drive to but a hop on the plane from LAX.  Outside of the airports in NY, I don't think any other airport allows this kind of access to travel.  If you like to watch planes its ideal as well because a plane lands every 30 seconds.

Although it may not be always convenient to get through their internal logistics, it's a convenient place to get to other places.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Rodeo Drive

Rodeo Drive is a shopping district in Beverly Hills known for designer label and haute couture fashion. The name generally refers to a three-block long stretch of boutiques and shops.

The shopping district as presently constituted developed in the 1970s. The business district, which extends from Wilshire Boulevard to Santa Monica Boulevard, is an exclusive shopping district, but also a major tourist attraction. The "Rodeo Drive" business district also includes those businesses on the streets that lie for a few blocks in either direction. Some of the more famous retailers include: Girgio Armani, Tiffany's, Chanel, Cartier, Fendi, and Gucci.  There are also resturants with the same designer appeal as the stores.

Rodeo Drive is home to the single most expensive store in the world: Bijan.  You must make an appointment in advanced to shop there.  On a typical visit, Bijan's average customer spends $100,000 on men's fashions, which range from a $50 pair of socks to $15,000 suits.

I don't have to mention the pop culture presence of Rodeo Dr, most notably in the movie Pretty Women.  The famous store where Julia Roberts is snubbed is the women's clothing store, Boulmiche, located just a few steps west of Rodeo at 9501 Santa Monica Blvd. The hotel she and Richard Gere stayed at is the Beverly Wilshire which is at the south end of Rodeo. 

On a typical day you see more tourists on Rodeo than stars but occasionally you can spot a celebrity shopping in the area.  You will also usually see countless rare luxury cars such as an old Rolls Royce or limited edition Bentley. It's a fun place to take friends that are visiting or just people watch, but wouldn't recommend if you want to do some casual shopping.

NBC Universal Tour

There are a lot of studio lots in SoCal and a tour is necessary to get a feeling for the main industry in the city.  I have a friend that works at NBA Universal and was nice enought to take a few hours out of her day to give us a tour.  We arrived at the lot on a Monday morning and got passes curtosey of my friend.  We toured her office and some of the offices of the people that worked with her.  It was interestesting seeing some of their office swag: signed posters or original scripts from NBA shows.  Her boss had a signed picture of the Law and Order SVU cast which is one of my favorite shows.  After the office tour she took out a golf cart and took us on a tourn of the lot.  Although we were unable to go into any of the stages we saw the outside sets of the Desperate Housewives set and some of the Parenthood set.  After our tour we had lunch at Universal City Walk.

If you can get to one of the studios it will be worth it!

Monday, August 8, 2011


MOCA, the Museum of Comtemporary Art Museum is a contemporary art museum with three locations in greater Los Angeles, California. The main branch is located on Grand Avenue in Downtown Los Angeles, near Walt Disney Concert Hall. MOCA's original space, initially intended as a "temporary" exhibit space while the main facility was built, is now known as the Geffen Contemporary, in the Little Tokyo district of downtown Los Angeles. The Pacific Design Center facility is in nearby West Hollywood.  The museum's exhibits consist primarily of American and European contemporary art created since 1940. Since the museum’s inception, MOCA’s programming has been defined by its multi-disciplinary approach to contemporary art.

In a 1979 political fund raising event at the Beverly Hills Hotel, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, Councilman Joel Wachs, and local philanthropist Marcia Simon Weisman happened to be seated at the same table. Throughout the evening, Weisman passionately discussed the city’s need for a contemporary art museum. In the following weeks, the Mayor’s Museum Advisory Committee was organized. The committee, led by William A. Norris, set about creating a museum from scratch, including locating funds, trustees, directors, curators, a gallery, and most importantly an art collection.  The following year, the fledgling Museum of Contemporary Art was operating out of an office on Boyd Street. The city’s most prominent philanthropists and collectors had been assembled into a Board of Trustees in 1980, and set a goal of raising $10 million in their first year. A working staff was brought together; Richard Koshalek was appointed chief curator; relationships were made with artists and galleries; and negotiations were begun to secure artwork and an exhibition space. Following Weisman's initiative, $1-million contributions from Eli Broad, Max Palevsky, and Atlantic Richfield Co. helped securing the construction of a the new museum.

We visited the museum (grand ave and Geffen) on Thursday's after 5pm, which it free. The exhibits were interesting however we did not attend any events or tours. Like the Getty museums, its worth it to stop by especially on a free night and indulge in the great art.  Check the calendar to see if you can catch a special show or event.

History Curtosey of Wikipedia

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Drive Up the California Cost (HWY 1)

Highway 1, is a state highway that runs along much of the Pacific coast of California. It is famous for running along some of the most beautiful coastlines in the world, leading to its designation as an All-American Road.  Highway 1 does not run over the entire Pacific coastline of California. It starts at Interstate 5 (I-5) near Dana Point in Orange County and runs north to U.S. Highway 101 (US 101) near Leggett in Mendocino County. Highway 1 also at times runs concurrently with US 101, most notably through a 54-mile (87 km) stretch in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties, and across the Golden Gate Bridge. It also serves as a scenic alternative in several locations; and a major thoroughfare in the Greater Los Angeles Area, the San Francisco Bay Area, and other coastal urban areas along its route.  Highway 1 has several portions designated as either Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), the Cabrillo Highway, the Shoreline Highway, or the Coast Highway.

State construction of what is now Highway 1 started after the state's third highway bond issue passed in 1919.  The first two approved sections of what is now Highway 1 were Legislative Route 56 from San Simeon to Carmel (connecting with existing county highways at each end) and Legislative Route 60 from Oxnard via the coast to San Juan Capistrano, intended as links in a continuous coastal roadway from Oregon to Mexico.

Although I've driven on Hwy 1 or PCH as its known in SoCal many times we decided to try to take it all the was to San Francisco.  We decided to drive it on the way there because we would have enough time to stop and take pictures, rather than rush back (although on the trip back you're on the edge side of the road.)   We did not check ahead and map out our route so got got lost a few times as the road does merge onto US 101 occasionally and it's not clearly labeled.  Below is a guide that will help map out your drive if you happen to do the drive: 

  • In Orange County and most of Los Angeles County, it's a city street, usually named Pacific Coast Highway. See the Pacific Coast Highway guide.
  • One of the most scenic sections goes from Santa Monica through Malibu to Oxnard.
  • From Oxnard to San Luis Obispo, Hwy 1 and US 101 merge. The road detours from 101 for about 50 miles just north of the Gaviota Tunnel and rejoins it in Pismo Beach. This section is sometimes called Cabrillo Highway.
  • The stretch from San Luis Obispo to San Francisco includes Hearst Castle, the Big Sur coast, Carmel, Monterey and Santa Cruz and is the best-known section.
  • The road continues through the city of San Francisco as 19th Street, leading to the Golden Gate Bridge.
  • From the Golden Gate Bridge through Marin, Sonoma and Mendocino Counties, the official name is Shoreline Highway.