California, Musings, Travel

I Love L.A.

Santa Ana winds blowin’ hot from the north, we were born to ride.

Randy Newman

I grew up in Los Angeles. Okay, technically, I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, but was still in the confines of the City of Los Angeles. I spent most of my life there. It’s where I went to college — undergrad at USC (Fight On!) and Pepperdine for my MBA. It’s where I worked for a good chunk of my life at PR firms and corporations downtown, in the Fairfax District, and near LAX  and Westwood.  It’s where I lived … the Valley and the Santa Clarita Valley, Redondo Beach, San Pedro, and the Hollywood Hills for a short time. 

I take it all for granted. 

Having not lived there for nearly two decades, I find countless reasons to trash it.  We visit often (or at least we did until the COVID-19 pandemic arrived), as my mother still lives there. I find myself constantly complaining … the crowds, the smog, traffic, gas prices, taxes … all seem a bit too much. Oh, and did I mention the traffic?  

And yet …

And yet there remains a certain allure, an appeal to Los Angeles that transcends its faults. Every time Judy and I watch a movie that was filmed there, I constantly point out landmarks (to her considerable annoyment). I talk of the good times there, like when my buddies and I drove to Century City three times over a two week period in 1977 just so we could experience Star Wars in Dolby surround sound. The sailing trophy I won in Huntington Harbor in 1974 still adorns my display case. We proudly display vestiges of my Alma Mater and engage in serious trash talk with my Ohio State Buckeye and Oregon Duck-loving neighbors during football season. I taught Judy to sail in Marina Del Rey during one of our first visits there together.

And, during these difficult times, I tell the positive stories of communities coming together in the aftermath of the 1994 Northridge earthquake, just as the nation did in the wake of 9/11, and communities around the world do following natural disasters of various sorts.

Recently, our granddaughter proclaimed she wanted us to take her to Los Angeles next year for her 10th Birthday “Trip With the Grands” (her older brother opted for some Arizona desert adventures). Whether she’ll still want to do that a year from now remains to be seen, but it was a reminder that, despite my trash talk, L.A. is in my blood.

So for those who want to go there, I offer a tarnished Angeleno’s top 10 tips for “doing” L.A. They’re a bit irreverent perhaps, and the Chamber of Commerce might not approve, but they’ll give you a strong sense of the town I grew up in. (Note: Many places are currently closed due to the pandemic…but plan your trip around these for when things open up!)

Rent a convertible.
  • Rent a convertible. As Randy Newman’s anthem to the streets of L.A. attests, Los Angeles was built around the automobile. The Hollywood stars and L.A. elites may crow about their Priuses and Teslas, but L.A. is best experienced with the top down. Feel the Santa Ana winds on your face, taste the salty air when driving PCH, see the iconic billboards along Sunset Strip, and hear the panoply of voices along the way.
  • See a show. Get a taste of “Old Hollywood” by taking in a musical at the Pantages Theatre. Dress up and grab dinner at Musso & Frank Grill before walking the four blocks down Hollywood Blvd. to the theatre. Look for your favorite “star” along the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Check out Southern California’s canals.
  • Visit California’s version of Mediterranean resorts. Hire a gondola or paddle boat for a cruise around Naples. Then take the high-speed catamarans from nearby Long Beach to the “island of romance” (as the Four Preps called Santa Catalina Island). Eat and drink your day away in Avalon’s many watering holes and feel like you’re in Cannes or Monte Carlo.
Catch a game.
  • Catch a game. Los Angeles is home to two truly legendary sports venues, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and Dodger Stadium. The Rose Bowl is pretty cool when the Trojans play there New Years Day, but otherwise it’s too tight and UCLA plays there. ‘Nuf said. The new SoFi stadium being built near LAX looks like it will be pretty cool. The L.A. Rams and the San Diego, er, Los Angeles Chargers will share it. L.A. has two basketball teams, too. Oh, and soccer!
  • Hit the beach. Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello made Malibu famous, and for good reason. Sun, sand and surf define the SoCal lifestyle, so make sure you dip your tootsies in the Pacific.
Visit a pier … or two.
  • Hit the beach, Part 2. A visit to a California beach isn’t complete without a visit to a pier. Santa Monica Pier is the classic with carnival rides and midway games, and, importantly, a booth celebrating the end (or beginning) of Route 66. Redondo Beach Pier has plenty of food, drink and music … look for fresh dungeness crab. And, any visit to Malibu isn’t complete without a stroll down Malibu pier, or head a few minutes north up PCH to Paradise Cove to dine at the Paradise Cove Beach Cafe … don’t forget to check out the historic photos!
Ride to the Hollywood Sign.
  • Ride a Horse to the Hollywood Sign. Saddle up for a ride to the “best view in Los Angeles” at Sunset Ranch Hollywood. We did it in February a few years back and had truly spectacular views of the city and beyond along with a simply enjoyable ride. Never ridden? Don’t worry, they’ll match you with a horse friendly to novices. 
  • Discover L.A. History. When you grow up in L.A. you learn all about California history in the fourth grade. But you don’t have to go back to your childhood to learn a bit of L.A. history. Head downtown to Olvera Street where the original pueblo was located and stroll through the plaza and market to get a little taste of what old Los Angeles was like. Sure, it’s a bit kitschy with its souvenir shops, but with a bit of imagination, you can step back in time to when Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles was young.  
  • Eat! Fast! Food!  The L.A. area is home to some of the earliest fast food venues, including the first McDonald’s in nearby Downey, and certainly some of the most famous. I took many late-night college study breaks at the original Tommy’s at the corner of Rampart and Beverly near downtown … a double cheeseburger with extra chili would play havoc on my waistline today, but back then I had a healthy metabolism and an iron stomach. The oldest remaining Bob’s Big Boy is in Burbank. Pink’s Hot Dogs is an institution in the Fairfax District; Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles earned the same appellation and has been around since 1945. Philippe’s, across from the iconic Union Station, is home to the original French Dip sandwich and retains its classic 1940s vibe. 
Drive somewhere.
  • Drive. Just, drive. Hop on the freeways, navigate the (mostly) logical street grid pattern, or meander the canyon roads over and through the hills. Forget the GPS and just go. There will be traffic. That’s a given. You might even get lost for awhile, but at some point, you’ll likely come to the ocean, another freeway, or a recognizable landmark. And here’s an insider secret … that street grid helps you gauge distance easily.  Main drags off the freeways are spaced a mile apart. The primary streets between them are a quarter-mile apart. Simple, eh?  

There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored. L.A. is a world unto its own … Go see it!

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Road Trip

What Was That?

On a last-minute trip to the San Fernando Valley over the weekend, we decided to take the “long way” home.  From Santa Clarita we headed out the 14 Freeway to Pearblossom Highway and up curvy mountain roads to Crestview. We meandered through Big Bear with a stop for lunch and down the mountain, navigating hairpin turns and marveling at the stunning views. 

We turned to head through Yucca Valley heading east towards Arizona on a ribbon of a highway that stretched further than the eye could see. As we drove along through desert vistas and deserted roadways, we noticed we were alone. At one point, we didn’t see another car or sign of civilization for about 30 minutes … well not exactly.

We did spot a couple of freight trains slowly chugging along to points unknown. Suddenly, off in the distance, a water pumping plant nestled in against the base of a mountain on the valley’s edge appeared. In a few more miles we spotted the turnoff to the pumping station and a shocking sign of civilization. Right there in the middle of nowhere was a makeshift direction sign. Dozens of hand-painted arrows were nailed to a pole. We slowed to a stop, snapped a couple of pictures and continued on. 

The Rice Shoe Tree

In another 15 minutes or so … at least I think it was about that long, we stopped keeping track of time somewhere on that lonely road … another strange site appeared. This time it was a run-down gas station overhead heavily laden with shoes. What looked like hundreds of pairs of shoes hung haphazardly. 

For the second time we scratched our heads and wondered what we were seeing. Why were these strange sites out here in the middle of nowhere? 

As we stopped for dinner, we grabbed our phones and googled the spots. I’ll let you check out the stories behind our fun desert finds. Read the story of the California Highway 62 sign post. Read the story of the Rice Shoe Tree. 

You’ve seen me recommend getting off the highway and taking back roads many times on this blog. This weekend was another reminder of what makes the back roads so much fun.

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored, hidden gems are just one of the reasons to get out there and start exploring.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

The World A to Z

The Topanga Vintage Market

Ever watch those flea market makeover shows on HGTV and wonder, “Where are these flea markets with all this cool stuff?” I think I found one!

We are spending a few days in the San Fernando Valley northwest of Los Angeles. As we drive past Pierce College, I see a sign for the Topanga Vintage Market. YAY! Finally, we’re here on the fourth Sunday of the month! I turned to Greg and said, “Guess what we’re doing?”

Bargain shoppers head to the Topanga Vintage Market.

The market officially opens at 8am with more than 100 vendors. It’s a reasonable $4 per person to get in (free for Veterans and their families) and it’s well worth the price. 

If you’re in the market for vintage clothing – this is the place. Several of the vendors are even sporting their wares.

Tsotchkes? This place has tsotchkes galore. I love the collection of vintage ash trays. I spot a selection of mirrors in amazing condition. Looking for a dial telephone? There are many options throughout the market.

Furniture is a little limited, but what is here is a really fun combination of like-new condition and ready-to-be-refurbished, mostly mid-century stuff. A smattering of vendors offer what I think of as flea market items – comic books, used-but-not-classic kids items, lamps and whatnot that you’d find in a resale store – you get the point.

Coffee to the stars?

While you stroll the aisles under the gorgeous, Southern California sunshine, you can also grab a coffee or snack from one of the several food trucks on site. Parking is plentiful  and even interspersed with classic cars — it is LA after all. 

Giant tiki statues sit among planters and glassware.

We grab a business card from a guy selling big tiki statues for a future purchase. He says he’s at this market most of the time and if he’s not there, we can call him. Hey … you never know when you might need a giant tiki statue, right?

After all, there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … take a break from landmarks and check out a local open-air market wherever you travel.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Diversion, Route 66, Walks

Take a Walk!

As a recent convert to the principles espoused in Cal Newport’s breakthrough book Digital Minimalism, (http://www.calnewport.com/books/digital-minimalism/), I’ve been taking long,  contemplative walks daily. They free my mind, focus my energy, and provide solitude in a noisy world. This week, such a walk yielded even more … a treasure trove of fun information just a few paces from my hotel room.

Judy was participating in a VIP event hosted by Brighton, the jewelry and collectibles retailer, at their headquarters just east of Los Angeles. While she was in handbag heaven, I spent my day eating lunch at one of my old aviation stomping grounds, then catching up on some work, hitting the gym, and enjoying the pool at our hotel in Arcadia, near Pasadena. With famed Huntington Drive (part of old Route 66) just a block away, I laced-up my runners and set out for a stroll to see what you can’t see through a car window.

I wasn’t disappointed! Within just a few blocks, I was at the heart of Arcadia’s early 20th Century Business District at the corner of First and Huntington, near where the Santa Fe railroad (now a right of way for the Los Angeles Metro “Gold” line) would drop off horse racing aficionados bound for the “first” Santa Anita racetrack. A historic storyboard at the intersection told the story of the first City Hall, a unique “Drive-In” market, and of course, the city’s horse racing legacy. 

Lining the sidewalks along Huntington were further tributes to that heritage … bronze plaques comprising the Thoroughbred Racing Walk of Champions. While I’m not a huge horse racing fan, I appreciated seeing names like “Seabiscuit” and “Laffit Pincay, Jr.” … names that are familiar even to the uninitiated.

All this was a reminder that there is so much to see and learn when you get off the beaten path, and this was on a 30-minute walk!  There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored … often right at your doorstep. Talk a walk and go see it!

© The World A to Z, LLC 2019

Diversion, Road Trip, Route 66, The World A to Z, Trains

The Lonesome Road*

“In the desert, you can remember your name
‘Cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain”
—  A Horse With No Name by America

The road before us stretches for miles, this oft-traveled section of Route 66 in California, near the Arizona border. Top down, the air cool in the February sun, we smile and sing along to the Eagles “Hotel California.”

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The road is ours and ours alone. Most have foregone what was once America’s highway for the Interstates. Today, hurried minivan moms and dads choose to keep their kids entertained with DVDs and tablets, instead of joining in the Alphabet Game and looking outside the window to see the desert for what it is … vast expanses of nothingness … an  American West tamed by cowboys, miners and early settlers, yet teeming with life that can be seen by those who slow down and take a look.

A freight train looms in the distance on the tracks paralleling the road, its single headlight growing larger on the horizon. As the big diesel nears, we wave at the engineer. He signals back with a long blast of his harmonious horn. He rumbles by, tank cars filled with oil or some other chemicals; containers filled with consumable products destined for long, low warehouses built on cheap desert land, only to be transferred to trucks bound for your house and mine, ready to be used and thrown away, feeding our lifestyles.

I think about the engineer, and what he sees and thinks as he crosses this great land, day after day. Do others in passing cars wave hello? Or do they whiz by, oblivious to the train’s massive presence. Does he see the beauty of the desert? Or is it just another route on his way home?

For him and us, it is a lonesome road, but in its starkness, there is beauty and serenity that can only be found when you avoid the beaten path.

There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored. Go see it.

(*Inspired, as they say, by true events.)

© The World A to Z, LLC 2018

Road Trip, Route 66

Route 66: Sunsets and Optimism

For many people I know, missing the sunset on Santa Monica pier would have been a sad start to a vacation. I know people who are so attached to their plans, that a missed event throws their moods into a tail spin. I am NOT one of those people.

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I find it easy to spot the silver lining in almost every situation. Yep, I’m an optimist.
Before we headed out on our Route 66 Adventure, I had spent months researching the route, choosing the perfect book with the best directions, deciding what sites were essential and which we could bypass if we ran out of time, and many more details.

I had lists sorted by states and further sorted by our schedule. The EZ 66 Guide was safely packed in my suitcase before I even loaded my clothes. A folder I had created with day-by-day guides was also packed in a safe place.

We arrived in California, got everything done we needed to do to set off on our adventure and, horror of horrors – NO lists of sites to see. NO day-by-day tips! OH NO! I had taken out some of the information to add some last-minute updates and forgot to repack them.

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I discovered this on the morning we were due to set out on our cross-country odyssey. The night before I had missed the sunset and now I was missing a whole slew of pages of stuff I had spent months researching. It’s enough to throw everything off kilter – or not. We still had the EZ 66 Guide. We still had additional maps.

We decided to make the most of it and make the whole trip more spontaneous. In fact, we could turn it around. We created a new plan as we drove east. We would try to catch some sunsets along the way to make up for missing the one off the California coast. We would ask people we encountered along the way for their favorite spots. We would be even more adventurous!

In the end, we spent two weeks having a blast. We stopped when we saw anything that caught our eye. We managed to take in sunsets in the rear view in Arizona, from our hotel room in New Mexico, across fields in Texas and Kansas. We met loads of new “friends” from the road.

Adventure demands flexibility and adaptation.  There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … join us as we share this little piece of it.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2017

Road Trip, Route 66

Route 66: Santa Monica Pier

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We travel to California several times a year to see family. The trips are usually too short and packed with visits, family meals and essential stops at food places for treats we can’t get on the East Coast.

I have been asking to see a California sunset for about three years, but there always seems to be something on the schedule that stops us from driving to a spot for a great view of the sun dipping below the horizon. Besides, we both reason, we’ll be back. There is always next time. It has actually become something of a joke each time we miss it.

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As we finalized our plans for our Route 66 trip, we added a sunset stop at the Santa Monica pier to grab some shots of that end of the road. It’s the traditional “end” of the road since Route 66 was created to help people get from Chicago to the California coast. We wanted to take the time to sit and enjoy the sunset, so we made our way to the Saturday-evening-crowd-packed pier. We intended to hit the road early Sunday morning so we could take advantage of quiet time on the roads to get out of the busy Los Angeles area.

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We actually had three things on the agenda for our visit to the pier:

  1. Catch the sunset
  2. Snap pics of the pier, the “end of the road” sign, and the neon arch over the pier’s entrance
  3. Pay a visit to the kiosk that sells Route 66 merchandise and visit with its owner

It was a good half hour before twilight when we walked onto the pier amid families, tourists and hand-holding couples. The mood was pleasant. The weather was Southern California perfect. Very near the entrance to the pier is the kiosk. It was easy to spot, located just steps from the “End of the Road” sign. Customers browsed the merchandise and made purchases as we stood back, waiting for a slow moment so we could introduce ourselves and chat.

While we waited, we kept our eyes on the sun, trying to time the sunset. We snapped a few pics.

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A break in the action at the kiosk gave us an opening and we met Ian, the on-duty salesperson and friend of the kiosk’s owner. For a moment, I was saddened to learn the owner was not there, then, as we chatted with Ian, we learned he is a fixture on the Mother Road. In fact, there is a bit of a community of those who travel it regularly. They know each other, stay in contact, and are friends.

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Ian was fascinating! He shared his personal photo album and gave us names of people to “say hi from me.” He pointed out some “must-see” locations and directed us around some construction spots. We told him our plans and he confirmed our choices. The conversation was exciting, information-packed and easy. Suddenly we looked up to notice it was dark. We had missed the sunset! We had been so wrapped up in the conversation, we had let the sky turn dark without even noticing. We laughed out loud and repeated our phrase, “there’s always next time.”
It was an upbeat, fun way to kick off our trip. There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. We were about to set off on another great exploration.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2017

Road Trip, Route 66

The Road is Calling

I grew up a Californian. The ocean, mountains, valleys and deserts all have a certain lure; the automobile was my ticket to ride, the vehicle that took me to all these majestic places. From my earliest days, the road was calling, begging me to explore.

I was on wheels at an early age…first a tricycle, then I learned to ride a bike when I was only five…motorcycles when I was 10. Sailing was introduced to to me when I was 8, and I became a water rat. An early dream to fly became reality in the early 90s. But my first love, the road, was always calling.

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Even though I grew up in the muscle car era, hot rods had no appeal…sports cars like those I read about in Road and Track and Car & Driver were my dreams as a teenager. My dentist had an old Porsche 356…he saw my passion and gave me a ride one day. I was hooked!

The road was calling.

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In 1976, my family took a month-long road trip from Southern California through Arizona and Nevada into Utah and Colorado; up the eastern spine of the Rocky Mountains into Canada and the glaciers of Banff and Jasper. Heading west, we drove south along the Pacific Coast Highway. We had delayed the trip one week so I could complete Driver’s Training. Learner’s permit in hand, mom let me drive a good chunk of the time. I must have logged 2,000 miles that summer, an experience every new driver should have.

The road was calling.

On my 16th birthday, I was at the DMV when they opened. I passed the test and for the first time I was behind the wheel on a public road alone…well, at least legally. An old Toyota Corona bought from my sister for $300 and a new clutch installed by me with her boyfriend’s guidance became my chariot. Every chance I had, I explored the mountain and coastal roads of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. I discovered that a great way for me to shake off teenage angst and trials was to go for a drive through “a dark desert highway.”

The road was calling.

Forty years later, the road is still calling. This time, it’s Route 66…the Mother Road…the road that Bruce Springsteen sang about…”the highway is alive tonight.” As Judy and I prepare to set off on our epic Route 66 adventure, I can hardly contain my excitement…looking forward to driving through the deserts of my youth, into the high plains of Arizona and New Mexico; tornado alley (in Spring, which might make things interesting) and into the Heartland ending in Chi Town.

The road is calling.

I’ve driven cross country once before, when I moved to the East Coast in 2003. I did it in two and a half days…challenging myself to log as many miles each day as I could. The final push was from the eastern border of Oklahoma to D.C. in 16 hours, with stops only for gas and food. It was a monumental feat, but I missed the exploration…the joy that is called the road.

This trip will be different. We’re taking our time…we’re going to stop at every kitschy photo stop, stay in classic Route 66 motels, and eat all-American style.

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There’s a whole world out there, waiting to be explored. Go see it, because the road is calling.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2017

Road Trip, Route 66

Getting Ready to Drive The Mother Road

We’re getting ready to drive the “Mother Road.” We are picking up something big in Los Angeles (too big to ship home) and are using it as a reason to take a classic road trip.

As children of the 60s, some of our earliest memories are of family long-distance road trips and this is a chance to recreate a vacation from our youths. What better route than Route 66?

There are dozens of books about Route 66: historical perspectives, turn-by-turn tutorials, tourism guides, etc. There are websites devoted to everything about the “Mother Road” and its attractions. It’s a veritable cornucopia of research material to make the most of the trip. I’ve spent three months digging into everything I can find to plan the trip and decide what we can’t miss, where we should stay and where we should eat.

As the trip draws closer, we’re both getting down to the nitty gritty of what to pack. That list now includes some items we need to buy once we get to LA. We’re flying out and driving back, after all, and some of what we want to have in the car is just too bulky to carry on a plane.

Maps and a camera are essential. Turn-by-turn instructions are crucial so we don’t miss any of the old road sections as they wind through towns of the west and Midwest. A picnic basket is a key piece of recapturing the “good old days” that we hope to relive. We want to be able to stop for lunch and pull out a sandwich and a drink like when we were kids.

We plan to blog the whole trip and capture images of our nation’s towns and cities. We will continue our typical style of chatting with everyone we meet along the way. We hope to enjoy foods native to every region from Santa Monica to Chicago.

Hitting the road is a great way to see things, especially when you stay off the interstate and stick to local highways. Route 66 will take us through ghost towns, struggling towns and places seeing a surge in tourism as more people opt to take a slower pace to enjoy their travels.

There is a whole world out there just waiting to be explored. This time, we’re taking back roads to do it. Stay tuned.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2017