*Special Civic Holiday Post* – Top 10 things to do in Ottawa this summer

It is not necessary to travel very far to enjoy the summer. There’s no need to wait until you’re on vacation to go hiking or to take that fun class or to go to the beach. You can have lots of fun just exploring your own city. And my city is Ottawa. Ottawa’s winters can be cold and long, so why not take advantage of the good weather when it’s actually here! The summer is more than half over, so I figured I should write this post before it’s too late.

So, here is my list of 10 things to do, in no particular order:

Check out a music festival

Whether it is Blues Fest, Folk Fest, West Fest or Jazz Fest, there seems to always be some music festival going on. Check out the line up and you can decide which ones you want to check out!

https://www.ottawatourism.ca/ottawa-insider/ottawas-summer-music-festivals/

Celebrate Canada Day

Of course, one of the biggest events every summer is July 1st, a huge celebration of Canada Day right in the country’s capital city. If you don’t mind crowds, then go ahead and try your luck downtown for some live performances all day long as well as fireworks at night. This year, we tried something a little different and spent most of our day at Dominion Day – a craft beer festival at the Experimental Farm and it was quite fun. I’m not sure if they will do this every year but it’s worth looking into. We enjoyed a few local beers, took a look at some farm animals, ate some good food, then only headed downtown later on for fireworks. Driving downtown is not a good idea. If you’re ok with surge prices, then Uber is an option. Otherwise, public transportation (free that day) is the way to go.

IMG_1736.JPG
Fireworks on Canada Day.

BBQ at Mooney’s Bay

Head over to Mooney’s Bay for a BBQ and then lie on the beach. If you’re still hungry, they have a burger shack with live music sometimes. If you have little ones, don’t forget to check out the super expensive new playground there.

Hiking in Gatineau Park

Gatineau park is merely at 30-minute drive away and here, you will find many different trails with varying difficulty. I enjoyed the King Mountain Trail’s view but I appreciated the Luskville Falls Trail for its more difficult ascent. Just remember to put on some sunscreen and drench yourself in insect repellent.

http://ncc-ccn.gc.ca/hiking-and-walking

IMG_1863.JPG
View from King Mountain Trail. Photo credit: Aaron.

Water sports at Dows Lake

Alternatively, you can stay around town and head to Dows Lake for some stand up paddle boarding, canoeing, kayaking or pedal boating. You can also walk across the street after to check out the gardens.

http://www.dowslake.com/summer_rentals.php

Fireworks at the Casino du Lac-Leamy Sound of Light

If you are a fireworks fan, this is the show to watch out for. There are usually 5 nights of fireworks for your enjoyment and it’s happening right at the gorgeous Canadian Museum of History across the bridge. Get your tickets online and bring some folding chairs to enjoy the show!

http://www.feux.qc.ca/home/

Watch the Sound and Light Show on Parliament Hill

An annual tradition since the first year I moved to Ottawa, this show is visually impressive, using the Parliament Buildings as a backdrop. You can even pick up a few tidbits about the history of Canada!

https://www.ottawatourism.ca/member/sound-and-light-show-on-parliament-hill-northern-lights/

Take a free salsa class at City Hall

Did you know there are free salsa (/kizomba/bachata) classes every Wednesday from 6-7pm at City Hall? If you are lucky and there are no other events happening and the weather is nice, it will even be held outside! For those who want more, there is social dancing right after until 11pm! No experience is needed and the basic steps are taught again every week. They change up the DJ, instructors and dance styles every week!

https://www.facebook.com/OutdoorSalsaOtt/

IMG_1845.JPG
Salsa at City Hall.

Eat your heart out at a cultural/food festival

Ottawa is truly the city of festivals, especially when it comes to food. It feels like every weekend there is some kind of festival happening and sometimes they occur on the same weekend and requires you do to some festival-hopping. Whether it is Asian Fest, Greek Fest, Lebanese Festival, or the Japanese Natsu-Matsuri Festival, head out and enjoy some good food while learning something about another culture. Otherwise, you can always check out the always popular Rib Fest or Poutine Fest as well.

IMG_1861.JPG
Yakisoba (in a hot dog bun) at the Natsu-Matsuri. Interesting… Photo credit: Aaron.

Check out some Canada 150 events

Since it is Canada’s big 150 birthday, there have been quite a few special shows going on this year. The most impressive one, of course, was La Machine, which happened at the end of July. I heard people in the crowds saying they cannot wait to see this next year. Well, sorry to burst your bubble, but my understanding is that this was truly once in a lifetime. I don’t think they will be coming back again 😦 #LaMachineWithdrawal. On to events you can still catch: Get a free ticket online and check out Kontinuum – another very unique experience, happening in the light rail station on Sparks Street until September 14, 2017.  Cirque Du Soleil, Volta, is happening August 3 – 27, 2017.  I still haven’t had the chance to see it, but I’ve seen pictures of the plant sculptures at MosaïCanada 150 at Jacques-Cartier Park which looks amazing. You can still catch it until October 15, 2017. Download the Ottawa 2017 app for more events you might be interested in.

http://www.ottawa2017.ca/ottawa-2017-app/

IMG_1819.JPG
La Machine. Best show ever.
IMG_1862.JPG
Kontinuum. Photo credit: Aaron.

Los Angeles Day 6: Getty Centre, Mount Wilson, Silver Lake

Los Angeles Day 6: Getty Centre, Mount Wilson, Silver Lake

Photo of the day: The gorgeous architecture of Getty Centre. Photo credit: Aaron.

Getty Centre

Aaron had planned to do a road trip up to the mountains today and our first stop was at the Getty Centre, which we did not get to see yesterday. Like the Getty Villa, entrance is free but parking is $15 ($10 after 3pm). Again, if you plan on visiting both the Getty Centre and Getty Villa on the same day, you only need to pay for parking once. It is not as simple as presenting the parking ticket though. Apparently, you will need to go to the information desk to pick up a voucher to present at the other museum. There is a tram which connected the parking lot to the museum and it provided a nice view on your way up. At the entrance, there was a restaurant with gorgeous views of the city, as well as a cafe and coffee cart for snacks. We decided to relax and sit down for some wine and cheese at the restaurant before exploring the centre. There were multiple free guided tours at the centre, each lasting around 45 minutes. We managed to catch the architecture tour and it was very informative and interesting learning about the story behind the design of the Getty Centre. Apparently, after Mr. Getty died, he left a hefty sum of money in the Getty Trust. With this large sum, the Getty Centre was built over 17 years as designed by the award winning architect, Richard Meier. The stones found on the walls of the building are from the same quarry as those used to build The Colosseum in Rome. The square tiles throughout the site were all 30 by 30 inches and this same theme was found throughout the building, on the walls, windows and even the seat cushions and garden hedges! There were also informative iPod audioguides you can borrow for free if you leave your ID with them. As someone who does not particularly love museums or art, I still spent 2 hours here wandering around and admiring the architecture and outdoor sculptures.

 

IMG_0705.JPG

IMG_1646.JPG

In-and-Out

 

We ended up spending more time than we intended at the museum, and we were once again hungry. Aaron had already planned out a route for our drive and we were running behind our schedule, especially with the always present traffic of LA. On our way, we had to stop by In-and-Out. From our fancy breakfast on the hip-top this morning, we now turned to some greasy burgers and fries for lunch. We tried the cheeseburger and fries, both regular and "animal style". We were both impressed by how the burgers had load of vegetables and was definitely more substantial than a cheeseburger you can get at McDonald’s. I cannot distinguish the burger "animal style" vs. the regular burger to be honest. We were both not a fan of the fries compared to McDonald’s tasty salty delights. The "animal style" fries, however, was quite tasty, with its secret sauce and grilled onions. I would probably come back here for its burgers, but I’ll stick to McDonald fries.

IMG_0727.JPG

Mount Wilson

After lunch, Aaron had a ball driving along more windy mountain roads with the top down. We finally made it to Mount Wilson. Unfortunately, the observatory was closed by the time we got there. On our way back, we got to enjoy the view at various lookout points.

IMG_0731.JPG

IMG_0737.JPG

IMG_0754.JPG

Silver Lake

For dinner, we had originally wanted to go check out the 626 area for some soupy Asian noodles; however, from our research, we found out that there was a good Taiwanese restaurant in Silver Lake which was ranked as the number one Chinese restaurant in America on Foursquare. We knew we had to try it! We have not yet been to this area during this trip and we were very intrigued with all the restaurants here. We found a very popular Northern Thai restaurant close to where we parked. Our plan was to check out Pine and Crane, the Taiwanese restaurant, then restaurant-hop here afterwards. Pine and Crane was not easy to find as the roads were blocked off for an outdoor movie event. As soon as we saw the long line in front of the restaurant, we knew we were at the right place. It was actually quite nice that there was an outdoor movie showing, as we were able to enjoy that while waiting in line. The line moved quite quickly and we reached the front counter in maybe less than 30 minutes. We ordered the beef noodles and Dan Dan noodles, along with a side of their seaweed salad. We saw many people ordering their bubble tea so I ordered the Salted Cream Jasmine Green Tea with boba and Aaron had the Taro Milk Tea. We were then given a number and were seated pretty quickly. The drinks arrived first and we were both very impressed. My Salted Cream Jasmine Green Tea was aesthetically pleasing with its layers of cream, tea and boba. After some mixing, I took the first sip and was further impressed with its taste! I haven’t had too much bubble tea in the recent years and when I tried it again the week before in Vancouver, I felt it was overly sweet and artificial tasting. This had a strong tea flavour and was not too sweet. It was the perfect balance. Aaron’s Taro Milk Tea had real chucks of taro in it! The seaweed salad was refreshing, similar to a Japanese wakame salad with more flavours from the bell peppers. Then the Dan Dan Noodles arrived. I’ve had quite a few different versions of Dan Dan in the past and this was probably my favourite. It was not too oily compared to other ones. The sauce/soup was amazingly delicious. The best part was the noodles which had the texture of instant noodles and soaked up the flavours of the sauce so well. This meal kept getting better as the beef noodles was truly the star of the night. The beef was so tender and flavourful. The soup had a good profile of salty and sour. The noodles were thick and looked handmade. Then there was some bok choy as well to change the taste and texture up. This was the best beef noodles I’ve had in North America. It is comparable to the first time we had the Rod Yiam beef noodles in Chiang Mai. We had already toned down our ordering by not getting appetizers but we were both too stuffed to eat any more. We were both super pleased with this meal but wished we had another stomach to order more food here or to check out the Thai place we had intended to also visit. I guess that will have to wait. We ended the night driving down Hollywood Boulevard and it was even more lively now than during the day.

IMG_1668.JPG IMG_1669.JPG IMG_0771.JPG IMG_0774.JPG

Los Angeles Day 5: Malibu, Getty Villa, Santa Monica

Today, we drove over to snazzy Beverly Hills to return our trusty Yaris for a more snazzy convertible, A.K.A. Aaron’s happy day. He planned out a whole nice scenic route to Malibu. Unfortunately, we were running late so we had to cut our drive short, since we had already made a lunch reservation at Nobu.

Nobu

Nobu is a upscale Japanese Restaurant in Malibu. Here you will find refined Japanese dishes with a modern twist. Parking is appropriately valet since they had to double park cars to make good use of the lot. We were lucky enough to get outdoor seating with a lovely waterfront view. Their menu had traditional and new, hot and cold dishes as well as a sushi selection. Everything was meant to be shared and it was suggested that we order two hot and two cold dishes between the two of us. Our server made a lot of recommendations and seemed so passionate about the choices that we had to go with them. Originally thinking of getting sake, we, instead, ordered the Yuzu Kumquat Coolers, as suggested by our server. It was like the yuzu soda we had in Japan. Delicious! We started with the yellowtail sashimi plate with a citrus sauce and thinly sliced jalapeno on top. It was so flavourful, there was no need for dipping in soy sauce. Next we had the grilled jalapeno and the okra fritters. Again, they were bursting with flavours with the jalapeno being more sweet and the fritters being more salty. Next our sushi arrived with the red snapper as well as the shima aji, The red snapper was more simple in taste with what tasted like a perilla leaf sandwiched between the fish and rice and a few grains of salt sprinkled on top. The shima aji had a really nice taste especially with the fried leeks on top. For our hot dishes, we had the shrimp tempura over some salad with a very creamy sauce, as well as the black cod in miso, which was pretty comparable to the ones I’ve had in Vancouver at places like Guu – amazingly delicious!

IMG_0609.JPG
Yellowtail sashimi @ Nobu. Photo credit: Aaron.
IMG_0611.JPG
Yuzu Kumquat Cocktail @ Nobu. Photo credit: Aaron.
IMG_0613.JPG
Grilled jalapeno and the okra fritters @ Nobu. Photo credit: Aaron.
IMG_0615.JPG
Red snapper and shima aji sushiNobu. Photo credit: Aaron.
IMG_0616.JPG
Shrimp tempura @ Nobu. Photo credit: Aaron.
IMG_0619.JPG
Miso black cod @ Nobu. Photo credit: Aaron.

Getty Villa

After enjoying the ocean view a little longer, we headed over to the Getty Villa nearby. We had to make an online reservation but it wasn’t difficult since we managed to do that during lunch right before we went. The entrance is free but parking is $15 (or $10 after 3pm). The parking is valid for both the Getty Villa and Getty Centre. We were hoping to see both but we later realized that the two sites were actually not that close together. It was going to be a 45-minute drive with traffic to the Getty Centre and it would be closed by the time we got there, so we just stayed at the villa. The site itself was not too large, but the architecture was pretty impressive. It was interesting to see an ancient roman building in the middle of a large North American city. I especially loved the outdoor theatre. The outdoor pool was dry during our visit but I’m sure that would look very lovely filled. We took some time to watch the intro film about the villa and learnt the sad story that Mr. Jetty, the oil tycoon, who spent so much time and effort with concept of this grand villa to display his art collection, did not actually get to see it prior to his death in 1976.

Santa Monica

After our visit, Aaron finally got to go on his scenic drive. Who needs to go to Universal Studios and Disneyland to go on the rides when you have a husband who likes to drive fast cars down windy roads? Our drive brought us to Santa Monica, where we enjoyed the festivities on the pier. There were plenty of street performers here, some with amazing talent and some with questionable skills – like singing/dancing to pop songs in a very bizarre manner. We kept dinner simple by grabbing some pizza and churros on the pier. We originally wanted to do some biking but it was getting late and they were not doing anymore rentals for the day. After seeing the sunset from the pier, we walked over to the Third Street Promenade. A lot of the stores were closing by 9pm but it was still a nice evening walk.

IMG_0642.JPG
Scenic drive around Malibu. Photo credit: Aaron.

Los Angeles Day 4: Los Feliz, Mount Hollywood, Griffith Observatory

Los Angeles Day 4: Los Feliz, Mount Hollywood, Griffith Observatory

Photo of the day: Lone bench on our hike in Griffith Park. Photo credit: Aaron.

Los Feliz

We caught up on some work this morning, then decided to hang around Los Feliz today. First, we had lunch at Alcove Cafe and Bakery. It had a large patio, so it was a great place to soak in some sun while enjoying our lunch. The service here was great. We ordered at the counter, then found our own seats but the staff were very attentive when bringing us our food and utensils. The serving sizes here are huge! We ordered a guacamole to share, then a sandwich each and we knew as soon as they arrived that we should’ve just ordered one to share. The guacamole was probably good to feed 4 people. The sandwiches were the size of 2 regular-sized sandwiches. I had the brie and apple panini and they were very generous with their brie. There were 1 cm thick slices of brie with multiple layers of sliced apples. The taste was not bad, since you can’t go wrong with brie and caramelized onions but I think I prefer the taste of brie with pear vs. apple. Aaron had the tuna melt and it was very tasty, going very well with the sourdough bread, even though I’m not a sourdough fan. These came with sides, which were not the most impressive. I had onion rings with a very soggy and thick batter and Aaron had the caeser salad which was lacking in taste.

IMG_0439.JPG IMG_0441.JPG

 

IMG_1487.JPG

After lunch we checked out Skylight Books and found some pretty interest books to add to our to-read list. We then chilled and read at Maru Coffee. I’m absolutely in love with this cute cafe! It has a very simplistic design with minimal seating. They had large windows and I loved sitting by the window with the sun shining on me while enjoying a cup of iced matcha with a good book. I wish we stayed there longer but we had plans to do some hiking and it was getting late.

IMG_0447.JPG

Griffith Park

We got changed and arrived at Griffith Park around 6pm. The paid parking was so congested. We weren’t planning to park in that lot but was forced to drive through it in order to get to the free street parking on the other side of the road. Similar to Runyon, there were many people here hiking along the trails. Unlike Runyon, there were many different trails to take, so it was pretty awesome seeing people in the distance on different trails as we were hiking up to Mount Hollywood. This trail doesn’t take us up to the famous Hollywood sign but it does get us a pretty good view of it. Apparently it is illegal to hike directly to the sign. The best you can do is to hike behind it but still blocked off by a fence. The trail itself was pretty easy. You can challenge yourself further by going up some shortcuts. The terrain is again very sandy so you need to be careful going down especially if you chose to take these shortcuts. Some trails lead to you walking on a narrow ridge and these can be scary for those afraid of heights as there are deep valleys on either side. The view is magnificent though, much nicer than the ones at Runyon.

IMG_1495.JPG IMG_0471.JPG

After hiking around 2 hours, we came down just in time to catch the sunset at Griffith Observatory. The view here was gorgeous. There are also telescopes in the front, which you can look through to see Jupiter. There is also a large telescope upstairs as well but the wait was at least 1 hour. We decided to watch the show in the Planetarium instead. There was no admission fee to the observatory but the show was $7 per person, which we felt was very reasonable. The show was very interesting and definitely a treat for those who like astronomy. It was very education and the narrator was very animated. We left around 9:30pm and the place was still full of people. It closes at 10pm. This is definitely a site to visit at night. We were pretty tired and sweaty from all the hiking, so we decided to just pick up some wine and had a hodgepodge meal at home, finishing up our leftover Thai food and sandwiches from this afternoon.

IMG_0541.JPG IMG_0666.JPG IMG_1550.JPG

Los Angeles Day 3: Original Farmer’s Market, The Grove, Walk of Fame, OUE Skyspace

Original Farmer’s Market

It was another lazy morning, as we casually stroll out at noon to the Original Farmer’s Market for some lunch. Luckily, there was parking on-site with the first 90 minutes free with validation. The market was very lively given it is a weekday. Before arriving, I was expecting the market to be 90% groceries, 10% hot food stalls. On arrival, I realized it was actually the inverse. This market was basically a huge outdoor food court. What a pleasant surprise! We did some research and decided we must get something at Gumbo Pot – a Cajun food stall. We looked through the “New Orleans Favourites” and chose the first item on the list: The Gumbo Ya Ya. It came with a side of their “killer cornbread” as well as a choice of salad. We chose the coleslaw. I’ve never had Gumbo before. It is basically a hearty stew, and in this case it had chicken, shrimp and andouille sausage. I couldn’t really taste the chicken but it was nonetheless a very comforting stew. The coleslaw was lack-lustre but it’s good to get some veggies in.  I must bring your attention, though, to the “killer cornbread”. It was probably the best cornbread I’ve ever had in my life. It was so soft and buttery. Dip some of that in the Gumbo or just eat it by itself.

IMG_0381.JPG
Gumbo Ya Ya, coleslaw + killer cornbread with a side of iced lemon mint tea @ Gumbo Pot. Photo credit: Aaron.

Aaron found out that there was a Singaporean stall so we stopped there to grab some roti or paratha as they called it here. As a seasoned roti-eater, Aaron felt their curry was legit but their roti had the texture of the frozen ones you can get in the supermarket.

IMG_0383.JPG
Paratha with curry. Photo credit: Aaron.

We were heading towards the Brazillian food stall but then our nose came across a buttery pastry scent we could not resist. It was coming from Noona’s Empanadas. We had to get one but there were so many options. We asked what was their most popular ones and they suggested a few but we decided on the Chicken Mushroom & Cheese. They also asked if we wanted chimichurri Sauce and I said sure. This was probably the best decision I’ve made all day. Sometimes I’ve had pastries which are dry and are gross from sitting there all day, but this was fresh. Every bite was nice and hot – both on the soft pastry outside and the creamy contents inside. The chicken and mushroom was already flavourful, but with the melted cheese, it was truly amazing. Next we poured some of the chimichurri sauce and my mind was blown. This pesto-like sauce was the perfect balance of oily and spicy! They also sold this sauce in jars for those interested! Because of our happy detours, we weren’t left with much space in our stomachs for the Brazillian meat stall. I was pretty disappointed but perhaps we will return another day.

On our way out, we saw a bunch of visitors on a market tour eating donuts from Bob’s Coffee & Doughnuts, so we decided to pick up one. We had the simple glazed one and it was one of the lightly, fluffiest donuts I’ve ever had.

The Grove

The Grove was literally next the market but I was pretty pleased with the fact that we managed to get free parking while at the market, so we continued the trend by moving the car to The Grove parking lot for another hour of free parking while shopping there. FYI, you can also get further validation if you spend $250+. There is also valet parking for those who want to be all fancy. Our intention wasn’t to buy anything but it was a nice place to just walk around. There was a nice grassy area in the centre as well as a music fountain. We also hopped onto the trolley, which turned out to be an advertising vehicle informing us of all the newest stores and trends. There are also various bars and cafes as well, including Ladurée, with a lovely patio in the grassy area. The complex itself wasn’t too big, so 1 hour was just the right amount of time for us to spend here.

IMG_1391.JPG
The trolley @ The Grove.

Walk of Fame

We figured we should not come to LA without visiting the Walk of Fame. We managed to find some free street parking on a street a few blocks away. Just like other big cities, it’s not uncommon to see the juxtaposition between luxury condos (i.e. the W) and the homeless in the same area. The Walk of Fame itself was definitely underwhelming, but we were getting thirsty, so we picked up some juices from Pressed Juicery before heading home for a break.

OUE Skyspace

As it neared time for sunset, we headed over to watch it at OUE Skyspace in the US Bank Tower, which until recently was the tallest building in California. Unlike other iconic tall buildings such as The Empire State Building and CN Tower, there were no crowds at all. There was hardly a line up to purchase tickets and we basically had our own private elevator going up. We stopped at the 54th floor for some “interactive exhibits” and the obligatory green-screen photo, which you can choose to purchase later, Then we headed up again, this time to the 70th floor. Here you can see the view of the LA with its many skyscrapers. It was interesting to see the helipads on many of these tall buildings. After you are done with this floor, you can simply walk down the stairs to the 69th floor to enjoy the view from the outdoor terraces, or you can take the SkySlide down through a slide made entirely of glass built to loop outside the building. Aaron was very keen on this experience so this is the route we chose; however, it was incredibly disappointing. The experience itself lasted a mere few seconds and you couldn’t really appreciate much of a view on the way down. Save your $8 and spend it on some good empanadas instead.

IMG_0449.JPG
Skyslide @ OUE Skyspace. Photo credit: Aaron.
IMG_0418.JPG
View from OUE Skyspace. Photo credit: Aaron.
IMG_1462.JPG
View from OUE Skyspace.

Broken Spanish

Speaking of food, it was dinner time! Aaron had thoughtfully made reservations at one of the top restaurants in LA – Broken Spanish. The vibe was chic casual with room for large or small groups. For the food, think upscale, modern Mexican. We started with some pollo prensado, which used the best parts of the chicken, i.e. the thigh and skin, as well as the cockscomb in a saucy chilli. We had ordered some corn tortilla to go with this. I was blown away at the first bite. It was so flavourful with just the right amount of heat. The chicken was so tender. There was something in there that had the consistency of tendon, which we assumed to be the cockscomb – so good. This all went very well with the tortilla, with which we made our own tacos.

IMG_0435.JPG
Pollo prensado @ Broken Spanish. Photo credit; Aaron.

Next came the oxtail quesadilla. They again used the same purple corn tortilla, with gave it a different texture than the usual flour tortillas I’m used to. The quesadilla was unlike any I’ve had in the past. It’s nice and saucy owing to the salsa quemada. There were dollops of sour cream and lime cream on the side which brought the flavours to another level.

IMG_1480.JPG
Oxtail quesadilla @ Broken Spanish.

Next, we had the duck, which was absolutely not what I expected. Presented to us was half a duck bathed in peanuts, grapes and of course, the mole. The meat was probably the most tender duck meat I’ve ever had. It had the texture of bone marrow or fois gras. It was rich and delicious. And it matched so well with the sauce and toppings.

IMG_0437.JPG
The duck @ Broken Spanish. Photo credit: Aaron.

We were pretty stuffed after the duck but we had to try one of their desserts. We chose the cafe de olla which was a beautiful art piece. You have artisan chocolate, crunchy pastry, silky ganache and ice cream on the side. We were glad we pushed ourselves to get some dessert. Overall, we were very impressed by this restaurant. This was probably our best meal in LA to date!

IMG_1484.JPG
Cafe de olla @ Broken Spanish. Photo credit: Aaron.

Los Angeles Day 2:  Runyon Canyon Park, Thai Town and Venice

Raw Cane Super Juice

We started our day like a true Californian by getting some juice for breakfast at a nearby shop called Raw Cane Super Juice. It was a cozy little shop with minimal to none seating. We ordered one with just sugar cane juice, coconut and avocado, as well as a more “green” one with the aforementioned as well as kale and lemon. The first was deliciously smooth and creamy. The second tasted perhaps a little too healthy with the kale and lemon. Our two 16oz cups came out to be around $22 CAD, which was pretty pricey. Apparently this store does a subscription service for those who want a 3 to 10 day “cleanse”.

Runyon Canyon Park

We then headed to Runyon Canyon Park. Trying to find parking again was a headache. There was not parking lot at the trailhead, so you would just have to test your luck by looping around the neighbourhood trying to find street parking. We arrived around noon on a Sunday and the streets were packed. I thought we were being silly but hiking at noon but apparently, we were not the only ones. Luckily, our trusty Yaris managed to fit into a tiny spot and we were on our way. The trailhead was not difficult to spot with a huge sign marking the entrance to the park. There is a small honour-system stall for food and snacks here. Immediately as you enter the park, there was a little grassy area, where people do organized yoga and other fitness classes throughout the week. Note, there are no bathroom facilities along the trail, so just make sure you’ve relieved yourself before you come.

We walked along the nicely paved path before making a sharp turn to the left towards the West Ridge Trails. Those who prefer an easier hike can continue on the inner loop along the paved path, but we opted for more of a challenge. The dirt path soon became quite steep and the terrain was mostly super dehydrated dirt, which basically resembled sand. As I went up, I worried about how I would manage to go down later without slipping and sliding down. Unlike the trails on The Chief in Squamish, BC that we recently hiked, there was no shade to be found anywhere here. I felt like I was in a dessert with just sand, dried plants and some cacti. We finally reached what we thought was the summit of the West Ridge and stopped for a water break and some pictures. Little did we know that there was an even higher point which we had to climb up to. Finally feeling accomplished, we headed back down the other side of this peak, only to find that the path down was super steep, requiring us to go down using our hands and almost our buttocks for support. The rest of the trail was less challenging, allowing to us appreciate views of the large mansions nearby as well as snap a few selfies with the Hollywood sign in the distance. The entire hike took us around 1.5 hours, but definitely felt longer with the steep ascents as well as the dry heat.

IMG_0223.JPG
Runyon Canyon Park. Photo credit: Aaron.

Thai Town

We have pretty much burned off our juices from this morning, so it was time to look for food again. Today, we will explore Thai Town for some good authentic Thai food, since LA apparently has the best Thai food in America. We went to Ruen Pair Thai Restaurant, located in a plaza entirely consisting of different Thai restaurants. Parking was valet only which I found unnecessary as we could’ve easily just pulled up to one of the spots in the lot that they were going to park our car in anyway! Anyway, as you can tell, I am not a fan of the parking situation in LA. As you enter the restaurant, remember to put your name down on the clipboard if there is a crowd waiting. It wasn’t too bad because we got a table within a few minutes. We ordered the highly-rated papaya salad with raw crab as well as morning glory with crispy pork. Of course, we had to also order some staples: Thai iced tea and pad thai. The iced tea tasted authentic but sweeter than how I remembered it to be. We were not able to finish it. The papaya salad was disappointing because I realized was not a fan of the raw crab. The texture was too slimy for me. I also though the crab meat will just be mixed in with the salad but it was full-on crab legs you will need to de-shell. We ordered it to be “spicy” but it was nothing compared the regular spice level in Thailand. The morning glory was very tasty especially if you add the Thai version of nuoc mam onto it. Aaron was a huge fan of the crispy pork but I felt that it was too hard and chewy for me to appreciate. I was expecting more of a crunchy texture, like the Chinese roast pork. Aaron would always order pad thai at any Thai restaurant we go to, as a standard to compare the restaurants. He felt this one was pretty good. It was missing some heat, which we corrected by adding some chilli powder in containers on the table, just like in Thailand! It turns out that we over-ordered, so we had some leftovers.

IMG_0321.JPG
Thai iced tea @ Ruen Pair Thai Restaurant. Photo credit: Aaron.
IMG_0323.JPG
Papaya salad with raw crab @ Ruen Pair Thai Restaurant. Photo credit: Aaron.
IMG_0324.JPG
Pad thai and morning glory with crispy pork @ Ruen Pair Thai Restaurant. Photo credit: Aaron.

Venice

Next, we headed to Venice for some beach time! It was about a 45-minute drive, which was fine as we go to see different parts of LA. As we drove near Venice Beach, we were not amused to see public parking lots charging up to $30 USD! We later found out that the lot right on the beach only charges $9 USD but it probably fills up quickly, allowing these other lots to charge such ridiculous prices. We decide to loop around the neighbourhood and found free street parking instead. Our first stop was at Menotti’s Coffee Shop to enjoy a tiny cup of cortado. Then we walked towards the beach, stopping by the skate park where a crowd formed. There was another crowd on the beach, which was the Sunday drum circle, where people played their drums, danced and smoked some marijuana. There was a police station situated on the beach, so I’m assuming this is legal here. This sighting reminded me of the Tam-Tams in Montreal. We then headed off to the busy boardwalk filled with different types of vendors, from souvenirs and clothing shops to food stands, bike rental shops, as well as a store with vending machines for SnapChat Spectacles. We continued our walk to the Venice Canals, which I was a bit underwhelmed by.

IMG_1358.JPG
Venice Beach.
IMG_1378.JPG
Venice Canals.

For dinner, we had to stop by the highly-rated Tocaya Organica for some fancy tacos. Aaron had the 2 tacos and 2 sides and I had the Sweet Corn En Fuego bowl. You had a choice of protein and queso with your meal and I just went with the suggested turkey picante with the queso manchego. It came with spanish rice, street corn, jalapeno cabbage, salsa, and avocado. The turkey was super flavourful with just the right amount of heat. I was not a fan of the jalapeno cabbage but once I ate all of that, then mixed everything else together, the bowl became a lovely fiesta in my mouth. Aaron had the Barrio Style with the carne asada and the Baja Chipotle with the seabass. The seabass taco was pretty impressive as they were quite generous with a huge piece of fish. The carne asada was ok as I did not like the chewy/touch texture of the beef. Again these were served on a corn taco, which as you know, is not my favourite. For sides, Aaron picked the street corn, which was good and the salsa trio, which was ok. I think I would’ve preferred the plantain chips with guac that people from the other tables were ordering.

IMG_0364.JPG
Tacos @ Tocaya Organica. Photo credit: Aaron.
IMG_0366.JPG
Sweet Corn En Fuego Bowl @ Tocaya Organica. Photo credit: Aaron.

Churros 

Aaron, being Aaron, decided we must stop by the number one churros place in LA, Churros Calientes, on our way home. They were pretty busy on a Sunday night, so we decided to order their original Churros Calientes to-go. As soon as we got it, we took our first bite and it was probably the best bite of churros I’ve ever had. It was so fresh and crispy with the perfect balance of oily and sweet. Aaron has had his fair share of churros and he reports this is probably one of the best he’s ever had as well. It was another pleasant drive home, enjoying some latin pop hits on the radio.

Los Angeles Day 1: Korea Town and Grand Central Market

Since we were on the west coast in beautiful British Columbia visiting family and friends, we decided to take a slight detour south to spend a week in sunny California, specifically Los Angeles. It was just a short 3-hour flight and we were at the busy LAX. It was definitely humbling to see how big the airport was compared to “big” airports in Canada, like YVR and YYZ. It took us around 30 minutes just to get to the gate from the runway! It took another 15 minutes by shuttle to get to the car rental place offsite.

Our trusty little Yaris

At Hertz, there was another long line up just to pick up the car. Luckily they had express booths that we used to expedite the process. It was very bizarre though since it wasn’t fully computerized. It required us to speak with a “live agent” off-site using a video call format. Then we chose our car and were checked out of the lot. We didn’t have too much of a choice so we embarked on our adventure with our cute little Yaris. It’s not too big but was sufficient for our purposes since we had once again travelled with carry-ons only, which fit into the tiny trunk.

First impressions

First impression of LA: the weather was perfect. I, for some reason, was expecting really disgustingly hot weather but there was a constant breeze so I did not sweat one drop. Now I understand why people love LA so much. Coming from Vancouver, I can now finally pack away the jacket and cardigans that I’ve been wearing and pull out the shorts and dresses that I haven’t been giving too much love. Using the Waze app to avoid traffic, it took us around 45 minutes to get to Korea Town. We bypassed the highway which seemed to be bumper-to-bumper even on a Saturday afternoon. Parking is definitely not the easiest with limited street parking, confusing signs and many strange double parking stalls in the parkades.

 

CoCo Curry, take 2

By this time, we were finally feeling hungry after our Richmond Night Market adventures last night. We found out that they had CoCo Curry Restaurants here in LA so we had to try it again since Simon and Martina loves it so much but I did not feel the same way when I had it in Tokyo. I ordered the chicken cutlet with regular spice and rice, plus mushrooms and cheese. Aaron had the pork cutlet with level-4 spice and a extra hardboiled egg. It was too bad they did not serve the “onsen egg” here like they did in Japan. The service was pretty fast and our meals arrived in no time. It did not seem like a lot of food when we ordered but it definitely filled us up. I felt my meal was ok. It was nice to have the melted cheese in my curry. Aaron’s level-4 spice curry was definitely more tasty yet tolerably spicy. The egg was perfectly hardboiled but I think I would’ve preferred the “onsen egg” for the extra creamy texture. Overall, I was underwhelmed once again. Perhaps I am not just not a fan of curry.

IMG_0195.JPG
Pork cutlet curry @ Coco Curry. Photo credit: Aaron.

Hipster Coffee

We still had some time till our check-in time for our apartment, so we went to grab some iced americano at Go Get Em Tiger. It was pretty interesting to see that by driving just 10 minutes, you go from the super Korean part of town with Korean restaurants, malls and supermarkets, to a pretty hipster part of town. The ambience is totally different. Apparently, this is the place to hang out as it had quite of few of Aaron’s must-eats all in a row. The coffee shop itself wasn’t too big but there was a large patio outside which was shared with McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams next door. (This was also on Aaron’s list but we did not have enough stomach space to eat this for now). I was very excited to see that they were selling coffee beans from a Vancouver roaster – 49th Parallel. I’m patriotic like that.

Naps are nice

We finally checked-in to our very chic service apartment. I was in food coma at this time and even the iced americano was not enough to keep me awake, so I took a nice nap while Aaron started researching things to do in LA. I came in and out of sleep as Aaron tried to show me what events are happening today. Interestingly, there was a beer festival as well as a tacos festival but these would have ended by the time I fully woke up from my nap. There was also a Korean Night Market but we figured we couldn’t do night markets two night in a row. We decided to visit the famous Grand Central Market instead.

Grand Central Market

We were still not too hungry after our heavy lunch so we decided to walk around the check out all the food options first. It wasn’t a large market, but I was definitely impressed by the variety of food choices. It ranged from Thai food, vegan ramen, Salvadorean food, seafood, pasta, grilled cheese, and of course, many taco stalls. We decided to just chill out at the Horse Thief patio with a beer first to work up our appetite. This was the perfect place to people-watch while soaking in the lovely weather. I really enjoyed my IPA from Boulevard Brewing Co. – The Calling. It was super grapefruity and hoppy. I was disappointed to find out it wasn’t local, so we decided to also get a local IPA (Wolf Pup Session IPA) from Golden Road Brewing to bring along on our food journey through the market. It was definitely lighter in taste compared to The Calling.

To start off our food adventure, we had the carnitas gordita from Ana Maria. This chubby Mexican pastry was cut open, then stuffed with pork carnitas and creamy veggies. The contents were overflowing so it is served on a plate and a fork with a pile of napkins on the side. When biting into this dense pastry, it reminded me of biting into a hundred layers of tortilla. The creamy sauce was very tasty. I am not a fan of pulled pork, which the texture reminded me of, so I did not enjoy the meat part that much.

IMG_0209.JPG
Carnitas gordita from Ana Maria @ Grand Central Market. Photo credit.Enter a caption

Next, we enjoyed some tacos from the most popular tacos place in this market – Tacos Tumbras a Tomas. We read lots of amazing reviews regarding the trompitas (pig snout), so we had to try that. We only ordered one taco but it came with 4 taco shells as well as a whole pile of pig snout. It was definitely a good amount of food for $3.50 USD. The pig snout was so soft and fatty, I enjoyed it a lot more than just regular pork carnitas. The taco shells were the more traditional corn tortillas, which I am not used to. I actually prefer flour tortillas since the lighter taste does not mask that of the filling of the taco.

IMG_0210.JPG
Trompitas tacos from Tacos Tumbras a Tomas @ Grand Central Market. Photo credit: Aaron.

We were pretty content at this point but we decided to get some dessert before we left. We tried the Earl Grey Shortbread and Sea Salt Cream and Cookies at McConnell’s (flashback to the same Ice Cream place we wanted to visit earlier today). I have not had such creamy ice cream for a long time. To me, this is what real ice cream should taste like. Both flavours were rich, yet not too sweet. The Earl Grey scoop had real chunks of short bread. It was truly amazing. This brings an end to our pretty laid back first day in LA, as it should be in such a laid back city.

IMG_0212.JPG
Earl Grey Shortbread and Sea Salt Cream and Cookies ice cream @ McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams. Photo credit: Aaron.