Sightseeing galore in California

I’ve been so busy moving and starting a new job that I haven’t had as much time for my blog as I would like.

Not that I’m complaining about being gainfully employed, mind you.

Instead of trying to play catch-up and blog about each thing I’ve done, I’m putting everything in one post with a few of the best photos of each activity.

Before I left California, I wanted to make the most of my final days by getting out to the beaches, museums and sights I’d never been to or hadn’t been to in a while. Toward the end there were a few things I did that I didn’t blog about yet:

— I checked out the Endeavour Shuttle at the California Science Center (it’s massive and really cool).

— I drove down to San Diego to spend a day with my uncle and his wife, which included a tour of the USS Midway.

— I visited the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda with my dad the day before I moved. I had completely forgotten about the presidential libraries so I was glad my dad suggested it as an activity to do since he was coming to town to help me move. The history of his life and presidency was interesting and all (especially the Watergate exhibit) but our favorite part was touring the house he was born in and seeing how people lived 100 years ago. As the museum pointed out over and over, the first line of Nixon’s autobiography  is “I was born in a house my father built.” From humble beginnings to the most powerful office in the world, yeah yeah we get it. But ooh look at the old furniture and the tiny kitchen his mom used to cook for four boys — now that was cool.

— Then the first weekend after my move to Vegas, I talked my dad into driving out to the Mojave National Preserve to see Joshua trees and wildflowers in bloom. We got the idea from my friend Mike who had been out the week before. When I had heard about it being a great year for Joshua tree blooms I thought the only place to see them was the aptly-named Joshua Tree National Park. But Mike told me about the Mohave National Preserve, which happens to have the densest Joshua tree forest in all the world. Indeed, the trees dotted the landscape as far as the eye could see. We stopped at the Teutonia Peak trail and walked down the dirt trail for a bit, taking photos of the Joshua trees and the wildflowers. It was beautiful in its own rugged, desert way but not as colorful as my dad had been expecting.

Diverse activities and diverse photos. Enjoy!

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Stanley Kubrick retrospective at LACMA

DSC_0482I was standing next to a wall covered floor to ceiling with Stanley Kubrick movie posters when I overheard a woman ask, “Where’s the poster for my favorite movie? Oh there it is! The Shining.” Kubrick’s classic movie that practically defined “scary” has that affect on people. Even if The Shining is the only Kubrick film you’ve seen, the retrospective of his work at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is worth a look to catch a glimpse inside the mind of a film genius and auteur.

I’ve seen only four of Kubrick’s movies — The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, Eyes Wide Shut and Lolita. But after the LACMA exhibit, I want to watch his other movies, especially Full Metal Jacket, and Spartacus to see a young Kirk Douglas.

I started in a room with two large screens that were looping clips from his movies. It was a helpful introduction to the movies I wasn’t familiar with, especially the early ones, and provided context as I read about them later. I liked the quote from him that flashed on the screen at one point: “The truth of a thing is the feel of it, not the think of it.” It informed my understanding of what made his movies so powerful.

Next, looking at photos from Kubrick’s early career as a photojournalist, I could see why he became such a great filmmaker. He was a smart observer of people and emotion (like the sad, exhausted newsvendor next to a newspaper announcing “F.D.R. dead,” a photo he sold to Look magazine when he was just 17).

It’s a comprehensive exhibit but not too big. I liked reading his hand-written manuscript notes (like the changes he made to the classic scene in The Shining when Wendy discovers Jack’s been typing “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” over and over). It also was interesting to read about the controversies surrounding his movies, like church leaders writing letters deploring his turning Lolita into a film, and censors in Europe pulling A Clockwork Orange from theaters.

After about an hour or so in the Kubrick exhibit I left to finally see Levitated Mass (the boulder you can walk under that was installed last year after a popular voyage from Riverside County). I didn’t quite see how it was art but it was still fun to take photos of.

After that, I tried to get the most out of my $20 ticket by seeing more of the museum, but I was hungry so it was a rush job. I looked at some American paintings, Arts and Crafts furniture, and a creamer made by my 10th-great grandfather Paul Revere (yep, I’m name dropping!).

I left around 2 p.m. and was happy to find that the food trucks were still parked on Wilshire across the street from the museum. I got two fish tacos from The Surfer Taco because I’ve been kinda obsessed with them lately (the whole leaving Cali soon thing), and sat on the grass in the warm sun. Behind me was a section of the Berlin wall that was random but cool nonetheless. It added more culture to my artsy day!

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Next up, the space shuttle Endeavour!

The Hollywood sign up close

DSC_0468For nine years, I had a great view of the Hollywood sign from our window at work. We always knew how smoggy it was by how well (or poorly) we could see the iconic sign atop the Hollywood Hills. Maybe that’s why I never felt the need to get up close to it, at least until now.

On Saturday I met my friend Alex in the Griffith Park parking lot next to the start of the hike. We’d agreed to meet at 10 a.m. but he was running late because he hadn’t followed the directions as closely as I had (I could make a remark here about men and directions … but I’m above that kind of stereotype). From 10 a.m. to 10:15 the parking lot filled up quickly with people who had the same idea we did (it being spring, the weather was perfect for hiking). I waited for Alex on a small grassy area across the street from the parking lot. That is, until I heard a loud snapping sound above my head and jumped up right before a large branch fell to the ground 10 feet from where I was sitting. OK nature, what are you trying to tell me?

Shortly after, Alex arrived and I forgot about that ominous sign. We headed off for what turned out to be a strenuous uphill hike. Since we hadn’t seen each other in a while, we walked slowly as we talked and caught up. I was glad I had watched this video from the Hikes You Can Do website because it helped us know which way to go when the path diverged. When we got to the top, we walked around the back of the sign first and took photos of the huge white letters with Lake Hollywood and the city in the distance. Just like at the Getty, it wasn’t clear enough to get great shots but the view at that height is still cool.

Then we walked down and around to the front of the sign. You can get fairly close without trespassing for the most part (the road up to the sign was closed to hikers but we, like everyone else, scrambled up the rocky area next to the road to get better photos without feeling like we were trespassing too much). I finally experienced a quintessential L.A. moment — taking a photo in front of the Hollywood sign. Only took, oh, 11 years!

Going back down was a bit of a pain because it was all downhill. By the end, 2 1/2 hours after we began, Alex and I were ready to be on flat ground again. Tired and hungry, we went to lunch at Fred 62, a diner in Los Feliz. Sitting outside, sipping my iced coffee and people watching, I was feeling pretty relaxed. It was a good day and a good hike.

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Next up, Kubrick and a rather large rock at LACMA!

Vermeer at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles

Vermeer's Woman in Blue Reading a Letter.
Vermeer’s Woman in Blue Reading a Letter at the Getty.

The Getty was on my list of museums to visit before I move. I’ve been before with my dad, but I wanted to go again, both for the artwork and the view. So when I saw that a Vermeer was on loan from Amsterdam until March 31, I knew I wanted to get there in time to see it. So two days before its last day, my friend and former co-worker Mike and I made the trek north of I-10 to the Getty. The artwork was great, although the views were less than stellar because it was a hazy day (In LA? Imagine that!).

The museum was busy for a Friday but it was Spring Break. We started in the East Pavilion and saw beautiful European paintings, including work by Rembrandt and Rubens. When we got to the room with Vermeer’s “Woman in Blue Reading a Letter,” there were about eight people standing around it so I worked my way around the room looking at the other artwork first. When I got back to the Vermeer there were only two other people standing there so I was able to get close and take a picture. The realistic details and use of light made it stunning to look at it in person.

Next we went to the West Pavilion where they had a really interesting exhibit called “Japan’s Modern Divide” featuring two Japanese photographers, Hiroshi Hamaya and Kansuke Yamamoto. I really liked Hamaya’s images of life in rural, hardscrabble Japan: women covered in mud planting rice, people wearing rainjackets made of straw that looked like teepees, determined workers in the snow bundled up except for their faces, and kids singing in a snow cave as part of a New Year’s tradition. I especially liked these photos because I’ve been to Japan and could connect with what I saw. But I learned things too. I didn’t know that the back coast along the Sea of Japan was one of the coldest inhabited place in the world in the wintertime.

Mike and I agreed that we were less impressed with Yamamoto’s avant-garde photographs. Maybe I’m just not sophisticated enough to get them, but the journalist in me liked the realism of Hamaya’s photographs better.

We made a trip through the room with the Impressionists but it was quick since I remembered those pieces from my list trip to the Getty and from museums in Europe (and college posters!).

After an hour and a half of hard museum floors, Mike and I were complaining that our feet and backs hurt (I know, we sound old!) so we skipped the rest of the museum and walked through the garden, taking pictures of the hazy view and close-ups of the flowers. I could have napped on the lawn in the warm sun like others were doing, but instead we headed home to beat rush-hour traffic.

The Getty is so big it’s a museum you can go back to again and again. I just wish it had been a clearer day so I could have gotten better photos of the city and beyond. If it rains before I leave, I might just have to go back!

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Next up, hiking to the Hollywood sign!

Things to do in Los Angeles before I leave, starting with Crystal Cove State Park

This starfish was on a rock out in the open, which made it easy to get a photo.
This starfish was on a rock out in the open, which made it easy to get a photo.

I’m embarrassed to admit that after 11 years in Southern California, I haven’t been to some of the region’s must-see sights. But as I get ready to leave this gorgeous state, I’m trying to correct that.

First, lets start with the places I have been to, as proof that I do sometimes get out. I’ve been to Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Hollywood Bowl; Dodgers and Angels games (much prefer Angel stadium); LACMA, MOCA (including the Geffen Contemporary for the Murakami exhibit a few years ago) and The Huntington Library and Gardens. I’ve gone hiking on the Palos Verdes Peninsula and run up Runyon Canyon; taken the ferry to Catalina Island (over-rated) and cooled off in the summer and skied in the winter in Big Bear (lovely).

Yes that’s a long list but there’s a lot to do and see in this sprawling metropolis. As much as I have seen, I knew I hadn’t seen it all.

So with plans to move to Las Vegas for a new job (technically, back to Las Vegas since I grew up there), I want to spend these last few weeks exploring classic California, from the beach to the hills to everything in between.

To make sure I wasn’t missing anything, I Googled things to do in Los Angeles and got lots of Top 10 and Top 100 lists (like everyone else, I’m a sucker for a headline with a number!). But in reading these lists I realized I needed to stick to what was important to me. Pink’s Hot Dogs is on every list you’ll find. I’ve never been but I worked down the street from Pink’s for more than nine years so if I had really wanted a hot dog (or a turkey dog, since I don’t eat pork), I had ample opportunities to go. Plus, I hear there’s a Pink’s at Planet Hollywood in Vegas now. So if I get the urge, a Pink’s is close at hand.

Here’s the first item on my personal must-see list, with more to come as I do them:

1. Crystal Cove State Park. I heard about its tide pools shortly after moving to California, but had never been. So on a Wednesday morning after a body pump class at the gym, I drove 25 miles south along Pacific Coast Highway to the state park, which is between Corona Del Mar and Laguna Beach in Orange County. The park includes the beach and canyons where you can hike but I stuck to just the beach because I came to see the tide pools.

I walked down the wooden steps next to Ruby’s Shake Shack and was immediately taken back to an earlier, simpler time. Cute colorful cottages dotted the bluff and families played along the wide, expansive beach. I found the rocky area where the tide pools were, but it was before low tide so I didn’t see much besides lots and lots of mussels. So, being in full relaxation mode, I threw down my towel, stripped down to my bathing suit and took a nap under the warm sun. When I got up an hour later, it was about 2:30 pm and the perfect time to explore the tide pools.

They didn’t disappoint. I saw hermit crabs, snails, sea anemones, tiny fish, a shore crab that scurried under a rock before I could get a proper picture, and then the pièce de résistance –two starfish. The first one I saw was smushed under a overhang so I couldn’t get a great picture. Then I heard a little girl screaming and it turns out she had found a starfish out in the open. I couldn’t understand why she was freaking out — it’s not like the starfish was about to get up and chase after her. I got a couple good shots before I had to walk away to escape her yelling “Can we go now?” and saying how gross it was (her dad tried to pick up the starfish so the family didn’t exactly impress me).

It was a great afternoon and I’d definitely recommend going. Just make sure you bring friends so you can split the cost of the $15 parking, and check the tide tables before you leave so you’re there during low tide and can see the most sea life.

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Next up, The Getty!

Breaking up with my commute

My daily commute. I took this photo in 2011 because I missed the super light traffic during Carmageddon.
My daily commute on the 110 freeway in Los Angeles. I took this photo in 2011 because I missed the super light traffic during Carmageddon.

If my commute were a person, we’d be in a common law marriage.

We’ve driven together for nine years, about 120,000 miles and countless hours. But now our marriage of inconvenience is coming to an end. It wasn’t my idea (the organization where I worked went out of business) but I fully support this decision. I’ve sacrificed a lot of my life for this relationship — up to three hours a day, five days a week to be exact. And I’m not sure what I’ve gotten in return except continual testing of my patience, sciatica and a dirty car littered with crumbs from my moveable feast.

I don’t want sound bitter. It wasn’t all bad. Commuting 60 miles round trip every day from Long Beach to the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles may sound insane, but I adjusted. It was almost like having an out of body experience. I zoned out by listening to NPR and when that got boring or the stories repeated because I’d been in the car for so long, I’d listen to the radio. About a year ago ago I discovered audio books and then podcasts. I’m not sure how I survived before them, but many times on my drive home I was swept up in the history of the Tarahumara runners in Born to Run or the hilarious conversations Aisha Tyler has with comics and actors on her Girl on Guy podcast. Sometimes when I got home I’d want to stay in the car and keep listening, but that lasted all of 10 seconds because, really now, I’d been in the car for over an hour and my butt hurt. And it was best to leave part of the story for next time to give me something to look forward to.

Our starter car was a 2002 Saturn. In 2007 we moved into a brand-new Scion with a V6 engine. That was fun, although I quickly discovered that the Scion was a magnet for other bumpers. I got rear-ended twice on Western on my way to work just months after I got my shiny new car.

We survived three other fender benders and a tire that blew out late at night on the southbound 110 freeway near USC. Luckily it was the passenger side and I felt badass when I changed the tire myself. We survived a spate of freeway shootings and reveled in the emptiness of Carmageddon.

We discovered the city together and cut our own path. I’d take the 710 to the 405 to the 110, most days getting off at Manchester when traffic slowed to a crawl and taking surface streets the rest of the way because that was faster. We laughed at the other drivers who didn’t know that the second lane from the left was actually the fastest lane and lived on the edge deftly traversing three lanes of bumper to bumper traffic just at the right time to exit at Manchester, cursing ourselves if we waited too long and couldn’t get over without a mini heart attack.

My commute knew how to make me happy. No roses necessary, just traffic that was lighter than expected. And I loved the view of downtown Los Angeles from the 110 on a clear day. But boy would I get mad when traffic was backed up for no apparent reason. Summer was when we had the most fun, when all that school traffic was off the roads and every day felt like a Friday.

It was fitting that today, the last day I made that drive, traffic was terrible. On the way to work both the freeways and surface streets were congested and I felt like I caught every red light. It wasn’t any better going home. After our final work lunch, my coworker texted me when he got home. Where was I? Still on the 110 at Slauson with at least 30 minutes to go. That was good though because the last thing I needed was my commute trying to be nice and win me back. It’s time to move on and find someone new, someone shorter who won’t take up so much of my time. Instead of a long-term commute I need a casual fling. Anyone know of a place hiring in Long Beach near my home?