Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Santa Monica Pier

The Santa Monica Pier has to be up there on the list of most photographed places in LA.  I've been before but this time I went with one intention - to ride the Pacific Ferris Wheel.  The pier is picturesque.  On the water, it has a great beach vibe, an aquarium, and an amusement park all in one place.  It is a landmark that cannot be duplicated.

 The pier originally opened in September 1909.  The first roller coaster, The Blue Streak Racer was put in in 1916.  The pier flourished through the decades with rides being replaced or updated or even shut down.  Attractions were added and it quickly became a destination spot for tourist and locals alike. In 1983 a pair of storms wiped out nearly 1/3 of the pier however the people of the community came together, raised money, and it was rebuilt by 1990.  In 1996 the last major addition was added to the pier, the Pacific Park which brought back the full scale amusement park with coasters and an old fashion carousel.
Ideally I wanted to ride the Ferris wheel while the sun was going down but because of other constraints ended up there at night. We got to the pier around 8ish and it was quite dark.  It was a breezy weeknight so it wasn't as crowded as I  expected however there were a lot of tweens running around. We bought our tickets to the Ferris Wheel which were $5 each.  There was a short line but they take your picture while you wait (to of course sell you later).  The ride was about 5 min but it stopped frequently to let  people get on and off.  The view at the top was still amazing even though it was dark.  After our ride we went to the arcade and played a couple of games of skeeball before taking off.

The pier would be a great 1st or 2nd date activity. There are street vendors and lots of concessions and restaurants.  If you go in the winter check the calendar for time for the rides because the hours are limited.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Ramenya - Japaneese Noodle Soup

I've been told Ramenya is the best place in LA for Ramen! The funny thing is it's no where near Little Tokyo.  The website is modest, and features some of their top picks.  I love Asian soups so I was definitely on board to try it out.

We went on a weekday for lunch and arrived around noon.  We were waiting for a third so they asked us to wait to be seated until our party was complete.  We waited in the chairs they have outside the restaurant.  Inside, it was fairly crowded, as people left more people came.  After 20 min. or so I began to worry that we would have to go on the wait list once my friend arrived.  Since there was still a table open Grete and I decided to take a seat and let our friend Jeff catch up once he got there.

Everyone inside was having some sort of soup.  The menu was not overwhelming but everything looked really good.  I'm not schooled in ramen so I didn't really know the differences between the offerings outside of what the description indicated.  I decided on the Aho Noodle which is their garlic ramen. From the look of other people's bowls the 1 order would be enough for Grete and I to share.  We also got an appetizer of gyoza (Japaneses potsticker) just in case.

The potstickers were amazing and the soup came not too long after.  The bowl was huge, the soup was piping hot and smelled amazing.  Now, just fair warning, if you go and get this soup, it is FULL of garlic.  It was great, because I love garlic, but there are literally whole cloves floating in the soup.  They even have garlic cooked multiple ways.  Of course I doctored my soup a bit by adding some rooster sauce (my new favorite condiment.)  We finished the whole bowl.  The meal was incredibly satisfying.  This could be my new go to for the cold days in Chicago very near in my future. It's good we took our seats because when we were leaving there was a long line of people waiting.  Jeff ended up meeting us later in the day, instead of joining us for lunch.

If you're looking for something different, or maybe not so different just something good, grab some soup from Ramenya!  They're open from 11:30 - 9:30 everyday except Wednesday (closed).  Just bring cash because that is all they take :)

Saturday, May 28, 2011

San Pedro Art Walk

Even though San Perdo, the self declared Edge of LA, is so close to Long Beach I had never been to the town before so I thought what better way to see it than through an Art Walk.  Their Art Walk is every 1st Thursday of the month.  We wandered down there this past month which happened to be Cinco de Mayo, so it was an especially festive event.  They have a free 1 hour tour that people can jump on if you're not familiar with the area or just want a little more direction.

We met at the Chamber of Commerce which is where the tour starts.  We were a few minutes early so we were led to the Chamber's board room and gallery for some light snacks and wine.  Most art walks or gallery events feature wine so this wasn't surprising.  We talked with the other patrons who all seemed to be regulars.  Promptly at 6:30 we headed outside to meet a larger group waiting for the tour.  The docent mentioned this was one of the largest tours they have ever had.

We went to 3 galleries on the tour the 1st being Studio 345 where artists Pat Woolley and Gloria Lee had a variety of their own acrylics and watercolors. It was mostly non objective works by Gloria and French village scenes watercolors by Pat, who lives part time in Provence.  We were also able to see their workspace which is in the back of the gallery.  Our second stop was the Croatian Cultural Center which featured 10 artists of Mexican descent.  This was great for Cinco de Mayo because there was Mexican art and lots of Mexican food and drinks.  Very festive and appropriate for the walk.  The last stop on the tour was the Annie Appel Photo Studio for the exhibit Afterglow by Amy Chambers.  Her images were colorful and summer like.  She is a self taught photographer doing very original work.  She also uses a common digital camera (not an SLR) and a photo printer at a local drugstore.

The art district in San Pedro is very cute.  There is a huge difference from where the galleries start to the rest of the city that we saw.  The downtown has a regentrified, urban-chic feel. There are 26 galleries and over 30 restaurants around the art area.  The next walk is this coming Thursday, June 2nd.  If you're looking for a fun, free, relaxing outing you should go to the San Pedro Art Walk!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Pinks Hot Dogs

Pink's Hot Dogs!!! They claim they are the most famous hot dog stand in the country.  I'm not sure about that, but it's probably the most famous one in Los Angeles. Without a doubt!

The stand was started by Paul Pink in 1939.  It was a push cart in those fays.  The oversized dog had chili (his wife Betty's recipe), with a large warm bun, mustard, and oinos which sold for 10 cents.  In 1946 Paul traded the cart for a building which is where it stands now.

The menu offerings are spectacular.  I can't even count how many different dogs they have but it's insane.  They have multiple dogs named after celebrities who frequent the stand. Some of the celebrity dogs include the Martha Stewart dog with mustard, relish, onions, chopped tomatoes, sauerkraut, bacon, and sour cream.  Another is the Rosie O'Donnell Long Island Dog which is a 10" dog topped with mustard, onions, chili and sauerkraut. The Huell Howser Dog is a standard chili dog with two of the regular hot dogs on a single bun while the Ozzy Spicy Dog named for Ozzy Osbourne features a polish sausage, nacho cheese, american cheese, grilled onions, guacamole, and chopped tomatoes.

We went on a weekday around noon.  They only accept cash so we had to find a BOA ATM before getting in line.  We were gone for maybe 20 minutes and by the time we got back the line had doubled.  It took about 30 minuets to get through the line to order but it gave us time to decide what we wanted, which was extremely hard.  I must have changed my mind 3 or 4 times but finally settled on The Mullholland Drive Dog which has a 9" stretch dog with grilled onions, grilled mushrooms, nacho cheese (I subbed the nacho cheese for american cheese), and bacon!

Grete got a Martha Stewart Dog which is mentioned above.  We ordered our dogs and as soon as we payed our dogs were ready.  They looked SPECTACULAR, and also like a heart attack on a plate, but oh what a way to go.  There was so much on both of the dogs that it was hard to eat.  Grete ended up using a fork which I thought was quite funny.  I was able to finish my dog without using utensils.  With all the stuff that was on it, I'm hesitant to call it a hot dog but it was probably the best one I've ever had! I ate it all!  It was soo good.

If I were you, I'd go out of my way to get to this place.  They have opened some places in Vegas and around LA like LAX and Knotts but it's not the same.  Go to the original and experience the real deal!  It will be hard to find something that you won't want to eat.  They even have veggie dogs.  They open at 9:30am everyday and close in the wee hours of the morning.  No Excuse!

Friday, May 20, 2011


Milk is an all around cafe.  They have food, a bake shop with yummy desserts, and they're an ice cream parlor.  The food menu includes hot pressed sandwiches, salads, and soups -- it all looked good but I was there for dessert. They have a slew of cookies and cakes, most notably the blue velvet cake.  Unfortunately I did not get a chance to try it this trip but instead opted for a selection from the ice cream parlor.  For a place named milk I had to try some of the homemade ice cream so I got a strawberry shortcake milkshake. It had vanilla ice cream, malted milk, strawberry sorbet and buttery crunch cookie crumble.

It took a few minutes to make the shake but when it came it looked like a lot of care had gone into it. It was creamy on the top, with delicious vanilla bean ice cream, whipped cream, and strawberry syrup.  Then, we I got to the bottom there was a nice surprise!  Strawberry Sorbet.  It was light and crisp compared to the comparably heaviness of the ice cream.  Of course, I could not finish it alone so Grete helped me!  We both loved it.  If we end up here next time we will get blue velvet cake.  I hear its to die for :)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

UCLA Hammer Museum

I think I'm starting to like Art Museums. I'm still not one to spend all day there and analyze the art but at least I'm now enthused to be there which is a huge change from when I started this blog.  So, I was excited to visit the UCLA Hammer Museum.  Especially because it is free with a student ID!  I, like normal had not looked at the website ahead of time so was not familiar with the exhibits, however the front desk attendant was very helpful when we arrived.  She gave us multiple booklets on the museum and walked us through the exhibits on the map.  I was impressed with her enthusiasm and helpfulness.  Unfortunately, as she went though the exhibits she mentioned quite a few were closed for renovations and installations.

But something was going on that I had never seen at a museum!  An artist was doing an exhibit installation. Linn Meyers creates murals of lines which exhibit a matrix of predetermined circles.  She draws consecutive lines of color, creating rhythmic, repetitive patterns.  The end result is spectacular and we got to witness her work in progress.  After watching her for awhile we continued on our journey.

As I said before a few galleries were closed which included galleries 1 and 2.  We saw an exhibit by Roberto Cuoghi which was a series of self-portraits depicting himself as if he had been a different type of person or led a different life.  There was also a video exhibit from Danica Dakic which shows residents from a psychiatric hospital who put on Victorian masks and tell makeshift theater set against wallpaper depicting an oasis.  This is interesting but doesn't make sense unless you see it from the beginning, and even then you'll probably wonder what's going on. 

All in all, the visit left me filling unfulfilled.  If you make the trip to this museum I would make sure all of the galleries are open before going.  Check their calendar and go for a specific event to make it worth the trip.  Again, you can get in for free if you're a student and it's free for everyone on Thursdays.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Korean Friendship Bell

It's a big bell :) Ok, it's more than that.  The Korean Friendship Bell is a massive bronze bell in Angel's Gate Park in San Pedro, a port neighborhood in Los Angeles.

I was first introduced to the Bell in the movie "The Usual Suspects" where they shoot multiple scenes at the park with the bell in the background. 

The bell is actually a significant monument!  It was given to the American people by the Republic of Korea to celebrate the bicentennial of the United States, to honor American veterans of the Korean War, and to symbolize friendship between the two nations. It was dedicated on October 3, 1976 and declared a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in 1978. 

The bell itself is made of over 17 tons of copper and tin, with gold, nickel, and phosphoroous added to the alloy for tone and quality.  It is set in a pagoda like stone structure which was built by Korean craftsmen over ten months.  It's design is traditional which consists of a hipped rood supported by twelve columns representing each of the Chinese zodiac signs. The bell is rung only four times a year: 4th of July, Korean Independence Day (Aug 15th), New Years Eve, and every September to coincide with bell ringings around the country to celebrate Constitution week.
Located at the corner of Gaffey and 37th Streets, the section of the park is alternatively called the "Korean-American Peace Park," and occupies part of the former Upper Reservation of Fort McArthur. It overlooks the sea gate from which the US troops sailed into the Pacific, and the site affords an unsurpassed view of the Los Angeles harbor, the Catalina Channel, and the sea terraces of San Pedro hill.  Some of the scenes in the movie are shot at night when the strucutre is lit up.  Subsequently I wanted to see the bell at night but since the park closes at 6pm we had to go before the sun set. We were able to take in the view because it was still light out! 

There is no charge to enter or to park.  Its a great place to have a picnic, take pictures, or just relax.  There are also basketball courts by the parking lot if you feel so inclined.  If you're in the San Pedro area drive up to the park and take a peak.  It will be a slightly scenic drive overlooking the port and you'll have a fun place to hang out.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

La Brea Tar Pits

La Brea Tar Pits are apart of The Page Museum which is located in the heart of Los Angeles in Hancock Park.  The tar pits, which are within the Mexican land grant of Rancho La Brea, are one of the world's most famous fossil sites and has the largest and most diverse array of extinct Ice Ages plants and animals in the world.

Upon my visit I knew nothing about what was actually at the site.  So I was very interested in learning the history of the site as well as seeing the fossils.  We started by watching one of the two informational videos on the area and its history. The video was about 10 minutes long and explained how the tar pits were discovered.

A group of Spanish explores led by Gaspar de Portola made the first written record of the tar pits in 1769.  Union Oil geologist W.W. Orcutt is the first person to actually receive credit for finding the bones.  In 1901 he found prehistoric animal bones preserved in pools of asphalt on the then Hancock Ranch. These would be the first of many fossils excavated from the La Brea Tar Pits.

The tar pits are made up of heavy oil or what we call tar which seeps up from the earth as oil.  The oil reaches the surface and forms pools at several locations in the park, becoming asphalt as the lighter fractions of the petroleum biodegrade. This seepage has been happening for tens of thousands of years. From time to time, the asphalt would form a deposit thick enough to trap animals, and the surface would be covered with layers of water, dust, and leaves. Animals would wander in to drink, become trapped, and eventually die. Predators would also enter to eat the trapped animals and become stuck.
After the video we started on the free guided tour.  We stayed on the tour for about 20 minutes then realized we would be better off exploring on our own.  A lot of the information the tour guide mentioned was redundant from the video and we were anxious to actually see the pits. We went outside to see some of the old sites which are covered up now but still marked with plaques.  There is one site that is open but the excavation is on hold due to work on another project.  As we walked around outside we could notice areas where there is still a sticky tar substance seeping up.  In particular in stream-like areas which is also denoted by signs saying don't play in the streams.  There is also a flagrant stench of tar around the area which serves as a reminder that oil is still in the ground.

Among the animals found are saber-toothed cats and mammoths which roamed the Los Angeles Basin between 10,000 and 40,000 years ago.  Outside the Museum, in Hancock Park, life-size replicas of several extinct mammals are featured.

Our visit was on a weekday when there weren't many people around.  We parked on the street to avoid the fee for parking.  Admission is $8 with a student ID, $11 for adults without an ID, and free for USC students, so I lucked out by having my USC ID on me!  This is an interesting museum and quite unique.  I would recommend going for a visit.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Pete's Cafe and Bar - Bacon Blue Cheese Fries

I found this place on a bunch of Best Of lists which features their Blue Cheese Fries.  It was such an interesting concept I thought I had to try it.  This bar is in the heart of downtown, very close to the LA Art Walk (will be featured on another post).  I went on a warm weekday and sat outside.  It was quite entertaining because something was being filmed across the street so we sat and watched them film.  Unfortunately we couldn't really tell what it was, perhaps a music video or something.

Anyway, we ordered a couple of beers and of course the blue cheese fries, but for a little extra excitement I added bacon to make it bacon blue cheese fries...yum!  It was indeed yummy.  The sauce was creamy and the bacon added just enough salt. We weren't insanely hungry and they're not particularly good for you so we shared an order and it was just enough to satisfy us.  Like the famous dodger garlic fries its always nice to have an interesting twist on a classic favorite.  Definitely a good choice!

Diddy Riese Cookies

Diddy Riese is a small ice cream and cookie shop in Westwood Village.  You could easily walk past this place and not think anything of it.  That would be a big big mistake. The restaurant opened in 1983 and has become a local legend since. They are known for known about town for our signature custom-made ice cream sandwiches, where you can choose from ten varieties of freshly baked cookies and from twelve flavors of Dreyers premium grand ice cream known  for their signature custom-made ice cream sandwiches, where you can choose from ten varieties of freshly baked cookies and from twelve flavors of Dreyers premium grand ice cream. The cookies are amazing, the ice cream is delicious, however the best thing is the price.  Originally the sandwich was $1 but the price has increased to $1.50 which is still a steal!

We went during the day.  I got strawberry cheesecake chunk sandwiched between a chocolate chip cookie and candy chip cookie.  It was delicious.  Jeff and Grete got mint chocolate chip sandwiched between peanut butter cookies. Either way you make it, it is guaranteed to be yummy.

Due to this low-cost mainstay, Diddy's attracts long lines on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, when UCLA classes are in session.  If you can, go during the day otherwise be prepared to wait for a bit.  It will give you a chance to decide what combination you want :)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Angels Knoll

Have you seen the movie "(500) Days Of Summer?"  Well if you have you know Angels Knoll very well!  This park and a certain bench is the main character Tom's favorite spot.  Located on what was once an empty dirt lot, Angels Knoll Plaza is a urban pocket park in downtown Los Angeles, adjacent to the Metro Rail station at Pershing Square and Angels Flight, a historic funicular. The park sits on Bunker Hill and the trolley (Angels Flight) will take you to the top, or you can climb the stairs.  There are about a dozen benches, one of which is commemtrated as being the "(500) Days Of Summer" bench.  

Angels flight is a historic monument in itself! From the 1880s to the 1950s, the heart of Downtown LA was filled with Victorian houses and tenements. The neighborhood, Bunker Hill, was one of the busiest, most populated neighborhoods in Los Angeles. These residents got around on a streetcar that ran uphill/downhill for several blocks. Eventually most of Bunker Hill was torn down in 1955 but one block of railway was saved, and that's what Angel's Flight is today. An adorable one-block section of railway, on which two wooden orange streetcars run uphill and downhill for 25 cents a ride.

You can sit on one of the benches in the park and get a great view of the city's downtown historic buildings.  It's a relaxing getaway in the middle of the bustling city.  The best time to go is Best times to go is 1 hour after sunrise OR 1 hour before sunset. and Spring is a good season for viewing.  The trees bloom of pink and white blossoms.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Downtown LA Art Walk

Art walks are always a blast!  Wine, fun people, interesting food, music, creative things to look at :)  LA is an insane creative mecca.  Outside of the whole entertainment industry there is a thriving art scene.  So many museums and galleries all around town.  So I was super excited to go to THE Downtown LA Art Walk.  It's held every 2nd Thursday of the month in the historic downtown area.  The Art Walk website is extremely helpful but unfortunately I didn't take advantage of it before I went.  We showed up at 4:30.  I read somewhere that its held from noon-9 so I thought 4:30 would be prime time for the walk.  The first place we went was the Art Walk Lounge because they were giving out free hand woven bags to the first guests (I'm not sure how many but I wanted one).  But, they were still setting up when we got there.  Apparently the festivities don't really get started until 6pm and we soon learned even that is early.  The noon-9 applies to the galleries so we went in search of them. 

The interesting thing about the downtown gallery area aka gallery row is it's spread throughout a 6 or 7 block area.  Navigating it is a bit confusing and it's not the best area in the city to walk around looking confused.  So in the hour and a half we had before the art lounge opened we managed to find 2 galleries.  The first was the Los Angeles Center for Digital Art.  The exhibit was fun but slightly confusing.  I have a hard time interpreting art that isn't straight forward and this definitely was not straight forward.  After spending some time in the LACDA we went to Bert Green Fine Art Gallery.  The exhibit here was more subtle and understandable.  I could appreciate a lot of the work and it was refreshing.  After the Bert Green Gallery it was approaching 6 so we made our way to the Art Lounge.  This gallery featured a lot of different artists, all young and creative.  I didn't understand most of the depictions.  We stood in line for the tote bad made out of recycled billboard material and it was indeed being sown at the table.  After looking around the lounge we went to the outside exhibits and craft fair in the courtyard where there were trinkets, posters, novelties and what not.

The last stop we made before leaving was the food truck parking lot.  This was the first time I'd seen a big food truck gathering.  There were a lot of interesting and delicious looking offerings.  Most notably the Grilled Cheese Food Truck that had a line 5X another other trucks.  Since we were exhausted I did not stand in line for anything but look for a post soon on food trucks!

All in all, the downtown art walk has a lot to offer.  If you have time this Thursday make the trip into the city for it. My only advice to go around 6:30 so there is a decent crowd to enjoy the shows with.