Monday, February 22, 2010

#112: Temescal Canyon Hike

I guess I've never really gone "hiking" in L.A. before. All of those other things I called hikes were really just leisurely jaunts... brisk walks at best. So when we set off last weekend with some friends to hike Temescal Canyon in the Pacific Palisades, I had my doubts about being able to finish the three hour trek to Skull Rock and the waterfall. Thankfully, it wasn't too difficult, even for a rookie like me. And while the tiny waterfall was a little... underwhelming..., climbing Skull rock was an exhilarating experience.

Skull Rock, Photo by Shimage

The Waterfall, Photo by Shimage

The majority of the hike is off limits to dogs, and much of it is shaded. There's also a good amount of people hiking on the trail (so you feel safer from mountain lions!). As for wildlife, we saw some medium sized paw tracks in the mud (not sure what animal made them), a hawk, and a couple of very adorable little bunnies munching on grass.

Now here's the biggest tip if you're hiking the canyon: Watch out for hidden cameras at the stop signs! There is one camera positioned at the sign leaving the lower parking lot, and there's another camera at the sign entering the upper parking lot. If they catch you rolling through a stop, you will get a ticket in the mail a week later for $125 and a video link of you rolling through the stop. It's sneaky business that they're doing, and Brad and I got a ticket the first time we visited the park a year ago. Please be careful!

Parking is $7, cash or check. You put your payment in an envelope and place it a locked box at the lot. Part of the envelope is detachable, so you display that portion on your dashboard.

Be safe and have fun!

Have you done the Temescal Canyon hike? What did you think of it? Leave me a comment below!

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

#111: Road Trip to Vegas

While we're on the subject of road trips...

Most people in L.A. have taken the 4 hour long road trip to Vegas at some point, and there is far too much to do in Sin City than can fit in one post. Here are just a few of my favorite Vegas destinations...

The Liberace Museum: Two museums in one! They are across the parking lot from each other. One houses his pianos and cars while the other one displays his crazy costumes. Really fun museum--a must see.

Mermaid Lounge and Aquarium: See sting rays, sharks and other fishes up close in a giant circular shaped aquarium. We got there right when feeding time began. There's also a jellyfish bar and mermaid shows.

Ethel M Chocolate factory and Cactus Garden: Take a self-guided tour of the factory, sample free chocolates in the gift shop, and then walk around the cactus garden to burn off the calories.

Siegfried and Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat: My favorite part of this garden was seeing the dolphin sleep swim in the underwater viewing area. White tigers are also housed here.

Bodies.. The Exhibition: Like Body Worlds. If you haven't been to either, this is worth checking out. Take your kids here--if they're disturbed by the sight of the human body stripped down to muscles, bones, and nerve networks, forget about saving up for med school.

Mystere: My favorite Cirque du Soleil Show--another Vegas must see.

Bouchon Bakery: L.A.'s Bouchon doesn't have a bakery section (yet?) so if you're here, stock up on TK Oreos, macarons and croissants!

Bouchon carrot cake

Bouchon's Thomas Keller Oreo (TKO)

Sting ray feeding at Mermaid Lounge

Jelly fish bar at the Mermaid Lounge

Sleep Swimming Dolphin at the Secret Garden

The Liberace Museum

Ethel M Chocolate's Cactus Garden

Ethel M Chocolate's Gift Shop

Thursday, February 18, 2010

#110: Road Trip to Solvang

Solvang is about 50 minutes north of Santa Barbara. This past weekend we spent the night in Santa Barbara and then woke up early to drive out to this one of a kind Danish-American town.

Solvang was founded in 1911 by a group of Danish educators from the Midwest who were looking for a place to build a Danish-type folk school. The rich soil and picturesque setting led them to settle in this area. The Danish heritage is evident everywhere you look, from the architectural style to the many bakeries lining the streets.

Solvang loves Hans Christian Andersen, the child's storybook author who wrote The Little Mermaid, Princess and the Pea and The Ugly Duckling. There's a Hans Christian Anderson Park, a tiny "museum" (it's really just a room) that features a collection of his books, and even a Split Pea Soup Restaurant in honor of him.

I thought that downtown Solvang was cute--albeit a bit touristy. My favorite parts of the trip, however, were actually outside of the town center. The Quicksilver Ranch, just minutes from downtown, was a great find. The ranch raises miniature horses. It was a treat seeing these spunky creatures close up. The ranch is free to visit. We also stopped at Ostrich Land which is $4 admission and $1 for a food bowl. Brad said it was the best buck he's spent. The ostriches and emus at Ostrich Land can bite, so there are detailed instructions on how to feed them. It was fascinating seeing these animals eye to (giant) eye.

Solvang Attractions:

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

#109: Road Trip to Santa Barbara

This past weekend was a long one so we packed up the car and met up with some friends in Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara is only a 1.5 hour drive from L.A.--or 2.5 hours heading back home in President's day traffic.. :P. The drive along the ocean is beautiful, though, so even in traffic it's hard to get in a bad mood.

I've been to SB three times, and each time there's something new. Here are some places I've visited:
  • Museum of Natural History: Imagine stepping into a greenhouse and being surrounded by hundreds of butterflies. Some land on you, some flitter from flower to flower, and others (watch your step!) sun themselves lazily on the ground. The pavilion is seasonal, I believe, so check the website. The museum also offers planetarium shows, an art gallery, gardens to walk around, and more.
  • The Old Mission: Lovely gardens, a church, cemetery, and gift shop. $5 for adults and worth a peek.
  • Alice Keck Garden: I thought this would be bigger; it's roughly one block by one block. It's not a tourist destination per se, but if you're in the area it's worth checking out.
  • The Beach: Brad and I just walked it, but you can also rent a tandem bike or buggy and ride along the beach.
  • State Street: This seems to be where most tourists spend their time. Shops and restaurants line State St.

Other attractions:

The Alice Keck Gardens

The Beach/Pier

The Old Mission
At the Natural History Museum

Butterfly Pavilion at the Natural History Museum

Saturday, February 13, 2010

#108: The Japanese Garden in Van Nuys

I had been wanting to visit the Japanese Garden in Van Nuys for quite a while and finally got the opportunity this past Thursday. The garden is open Sunday through Thursday only for a brief window of time in the afternoon. Call for hours because those on their website are not current, I believe. Admission is $3 for adults.

My friend Mike accompanied me and brought his fancy camera with him. I guess this subconsciously inspired me to take more pictures because I have a lot to share with you!

The garden is a sanctuary for various species of birds, many of which feed on the fishes residing in the lake. While walking the trail loop, I imagined that if I were a bird, I would take up permanent residence in this paradise.

There were not a lot of visitors on Thursday, and there are many benches where you can sit and enjoy the setting. On our walk we saw a majestic blue herring, artfully manicured bonsai trees, and white Cherry blossom trees in full bloom. The pink cherry blossom trees and some other species are not yet in bloom, so I cannot wait to go back in a month and see them.

One of our funnier sightings was a bird (an egret perhaps?) eating--err, struggling to eat--lunch. The problem was that its eyes were too big for its mouth! We watched the determined bird try to eat a large fish it had caught and carried back to land. After positioning it multiple ways in its beak, it finally gave up and a bigger bird stole it.

My biggest tip if you are going to visit the garden is to get good directions. The gardens are north of the 101 freeway. If you type in the address (6100 Woodley Ave) into google maps, for some reason it gives you a location south of the 101. So instead of typing the address, just google "Japanese Garden Van Nuys" and the map that shows up at the top of the google search page is the right location.

Also, as you are driving north on Woodley avenue, the gardens come up pretty quickly on the right hand side. The sign for the gardens is angled so that you can only see it if you are driving south, so keep an eye out for it.

Have you been to the Japanese Garden? What did you think of it? Leave me a comment below!

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