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

Arizona, Road Trip

Where To From Here?

I had planned to spend my spring exploring all the tourist sites I could get to within a few hours of Phoenix. I created a list and mapped out weekends. Then Covid-19 wrecked my plans. No worries, I thought, I’ll just wait til the coast is clear.

It might not be totally clear, but things are opening back up. Some restaurants are offering dine-in meals, others have perfected the take-out options. Tourist sites are limiting visitors, but are open. It’s time to hit the road.

Here’s a few places in Arizona Greg and I plan to explore over the coming months while we stick close to home, but still get out there and see little pieces of the world. We’ll share our thoughts, impressions, and lessons learned traveling in a post-Covid world.

Tombstone and Bisbee. This is a long weekend. We plan on watching the re-creation of Gunfight at the OK Corral, taking a trip down into the mine and wandering the streets and shops of Bisbee, which was Arizona’s commercial center in the late 1800s..

Cottonwood. We’ve been there before, but we want to go back and sample the wines and pop into the shops and maybe wander off to explore the nature trails along the Verde River.

Flagstaff. There’s so much to see and do in this Arizona mountain town. The Lowell Observatory is on our short list, but so is a winery in town that neighbors told us offers a chance to mix your own blend. 

Wickenburg. For us, this nearby town is a day trip and worth waiting for one of the many festivals that surround the town square. 

Jerome. I love Jerome, another mining town built into the side of a mountain. We’ve been there a couple of times, but I haven’t taken the time to share my observations and pictures with my blog readers … so I’ll head back with my trusty camera (OK, it’s my phone) and bring back images and ideas for you.

Scenic drives. We’ve mapped out a couple of roads to explore. As a reader of this blog, you probably know we like getting off the beaten track and finding these hidden highways, so you can expect a few route suggestions.

Hiking trails and parks. These will have to wait until the fall since our temperatures are already climbing over 100° most days. 

If you have any ideas of places we need to see or things you want us to explore for you, drop me a comment. In the meantime, stay tuned …

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. We’re headed off to see what we can find close to home.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Road Trip, Route 66

Route 66: Hotels, Motels and a Wigwam

Anyone who has ever gone on any kind of trip away from home can tell you there is a little twinge of trepidation about where you will lay your head at night. Going home to see Mom and Dad? Will the bed of your youth be as comfortable as you remember? Headed off on a camping trip? Will the ground be as hard as a rock? Reservations at a swank, spa hotel? Will the bed be as comfortable as you expect?

No matter where you sleep, the goal is a good night’s rest. In every case, it’s the little things that make the difference.

When you’re on a road trip, spending the night in a different bed every night for two weeks, you are sure to face a night or two of questionable conditions.

One our Route 66 trip, we stayed in several classic motels along the Mother Road. We made reservations at three different chain hotels along the way, using points for one of the stays. We opted for a bed and breakfast at one stop and treated ourselves to a couple of upscale hotels, too. It was our way of mitigating the risk of having a bad night’s sleep every night.

It was a good thing to do. As expected, the upscale options were certainly the nicest accommodations. When it comes to comfy beds and soft sheets, you really do get what you pay for.

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At Kimpton hotels in Beverly Hills and Chicago, the beds were just right, the pillows nestled our heads and the surroundings were clean, new and stylish. The mini bars were not just stocked, but offered incredible choices. The concierge from the Kimpton Palomar sent a note a week before our stay. The note said, “We want you to feel as comfortable as possible, so we invite you to send us one photo and we will have it framed and waiting in your room…“ It was a really nice, personal touch.

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At the Kimpton Grey in Chicago, we were greeted by name by nearly every member of the staff we encountered. At one point, we even commented to each other that it everyone seemed incredibly friendly and helpful. The only problem with the Kimpton properties is there was no coffee in the room. Sure, you could go down in the lobby for free coffee in the morning, but in-room coffee options have become pretty standard across the hotel industry (and no one wants to see our just-out-of-bed hair-dos). Of course, the free mini-massages in the lobby during the free wine happy hour was a really nice perk.

From the LaFonda on the Plaza in Santa Fe, we received an actual package…in the mail!

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It included a welcome letter and a book about Santa Fe so we could plan our visit. When we arrived the parking and check-in were a breeze. Our room was incredible … it even had a working fireplace! The balcony afforded us a stunning view of the nearby cathedral. We watched the sunset colors reflected off the cathedral dome in a light breeze.

The chain hotels were, for the most part, just what you would expect. The rooms were clean. The amenities were simple. The beds were comfortable. It was a safe bet we would get what we expected and we did – three good nights’ sleep, three free breakfasts.

The real wild card was the classic motels. Frankly, I was excited about the adventure of it more than I was worried about what I would find.

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First was the Route 66 Motel in Barstow, California. The room was small, the pillows were flat, but the place was clean. The coffee maker provided a steaming cup of Joe in the morning that offset the fact that the shower ran out of hot water before I was rinsed. Greg had showered first, so at least one of us got a hot shower. The owner was a great, fun, chatty guy full of stories and information.

On night three, we checked into the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona. It is, by far, one of the most famous of the Route 66 motels simply because of its unique architecture. These teepee-shaped cabins were spacious and funky. The furnishings were highly-polished log furniture. It was fun even though Greg did have to get up in the middle of the night to fiddle with the heater to get it to turn on. The chair in the room was a bit saggy, but the bed wasn’t and the shower was surprisingly great. Hot coffee was available in the office.

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The Sands Motel in Grants, New Mexico was a block off Route 66, but clearly still offered clean rooms at good prices judging by all the construction trucks in the parking lot. That’s a good sign, by the way. Workers who have to travel routinely often know the best options for a good night’s sleep on a budget. It was quiet, cozy and clean and the friendly dog in the office offered her belly for a scratch along with a welcoming tail wag as I checked in.

In Tucumcari, New Mexico. The Blue Swallow Motel is among Route 66’s most famous.  It’s neon lights brags of 100% refrigerated air for weary travelers who stop for the night. The original free-standing cabins were connected early-on in the motor court’s life with the addition of garages. Comfy chairs in front of each room offered the chance to enjoy the sunny late afternoon weather and chat with other motorists making their way along Route 66. Our two-room suite featured a clawfoot tub behind a screen, a very comfortable bed and a blissfully hot shower. The in-room fridge was a nice touch, but the working rotary dial phone was a stunning novelty. I called home just like I had done as a young girl.

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The Route 66 Inn in Shamrock, Texas, wasn’t in any of the guidebooks we had read, but it got good marks on TripAdvisor and justifiably so. It offered clean rooms and hot showers, but the air conditioner was oddly placed high above the sink and required a chair to reach the controls.

The next stop was our B&B, The Rose Cottage in Baxter Springs, Kansas. We reserved a room in this historic midwestern, three-bedroom Victorian home in town. We were the only guests, so we had the whole house to ourselves. That was probably a good thing since every time we rolled over in bed, the old frame creaked and groaned. It was comfy, though, and our hostess, Jane, had left fresh, homemade cookies for a late-night snack and delicious apple-cinnamon muffins for breakfast.

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In Lebanon, Missouri, we arrived at the Munger Moss Motel before dusk. The desk clerk was friendly, but clearly a heavy smoker as the office air was heavy with the odor of stale cigarettes. The room, however, was fresh and bright and lightly floral scented.
The furnishings were perfectly suited for a room in a Route 66 motel – mid-century modern. I remarked that they were either really good reproductions or must’ve been discovered tucked away in an unknown warehouse as they appeared new.

The bed was covered with a classic quilt and offered a delightfully restful night’s sleep. The only thing missing was the “Magic Fingers” box on the nightstand.

If you’re going to take a classic road trip, don’t cheat yourself out of the chance to stay in some of the historic motels that dot the roadways along your route. They are fun! The owners are usually in the office and always know the best places in town for dinner or breakfast. These little gems of Americana are a great way to remind yourself to slow down and enjoy the journey.

There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored … but don’t forget, you have to sleep sometime, too.

© 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

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