I closed out 2016 and rang in 2017 with a two-week trip to Los Angeles and Orange County. I have been to LA once before in the summer of 2013 so this was not my first visit, but it was my first time in Orange County. The trip was segmented into two areas of SoCal. The first part was a reunion and celebrating New Year’s Eve with Monica’s college friends in LA. Afterwards we went to OC for a three-day U24 dragon boat camp and to see Monica’s extended family.
I flew out of BWI on 12/29 with two layovers, first in Charlotte and then in Houston. When I booked tickets, I did not think it would be such a hassle, but the layovers were tiring and stressful. After nearly 13 hours of traveling, I finally landed in LAX around 9pm PST where Lucy picked up Monica and me. The first stop was, of course, In & Out – the Double Double and Fries Animal Style were so delicious and cheap! We all PTFO at Lucy’s since we were still on east coast time, and the traveling had me feeling extremely pooped.
Lucy picked up the rest of the group from LAX the next morning while we hung out at her place and played with her dog Mango. Just the night before, she ate trail mix with raisins by accident and we had to induce vomiting by feeding her hydrogen peroxide, but she was all good after a night’s sleep! Once the whole crew arrived, we ate at Beijing Pie House where we ordered meat pies, soup dumplings and scallion pancakes. And afterwards we got bubble tea at Half & Half. LA’s Asian food is on point!
In the afternoon, we Ubered to our AirBnb at The Orsini apartment complex near Downtown. Interesting fact, Ubers were super cheap in LA but the drivers were terrible at navigating. Anyway, the apartment was super fancy and the complex was huge. It felt more like a hotel or resort than an apartment complex. Once we got settled around 3pm, we began drinking until dinner when we ordered Halal Guys (UberEats was no good, portions were so small and it was more expensive), then went out to this Kanye Tribute party at The Reserve. We got the Kanye shades and a bunch of flashy things, but Monica and I left early because we were tired and still adjusting to west coast time.
The next day, New Year’s Eve, we had lunch at Hae Jang Chon Korean BBQ in K-Town and it was delicious. Our table - Monica, Lucy, Ryan and I - ordered beef tongue, pork belly and an assortment of other meats. At the end of the meal they cleared our grill and cooked the kimchi fried rice in front of us to the perfect amount of crispiness. I would recommend Hae Jang Chon to anyone visiting the LA area. Afterwards, we went next door to Cottonhi for desserts and we shared the Tiramisu Ice Cream. It tasted just okay in my opinion, however the presentation was cool because the chocolate syrup topping was in a pipette for us to squeeze ourselves.
The plan next was to go to The Broad museum, but the line had already closed. In retrospect, I was glad that happened otherwise we would have had to wait in the rain for an hour. Instead, we checked out the Walt Disney Concert Hall across the street and admired the architecture.
After Walt Disney, we hopped into an Uber to LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) to see the lampposts and got off a mile before to walk along Miracle Mile, which was mainly shops and restaurants. While we were walking the weather turned worse, and we reached LACMA just as it started to rain harder. Despite the rain, we spent a while taking photos at the lampposts outside and doing all sorts of weird poses/moves. Afterwards we went inside the museum and took Snapchats of the art and replaced the faces with our faces. We really did appreciate art.
We did not decide our New Year’s Eve until 7pm the day of and finally bought tickets for the Egyptian Theater for $120 with open bar all night. To beat the Uber surge pricing, we arrived at 8:45pm and the venue opened at 9pm… Kind of ridiculous because we were the first in line, but as it got closer to 9 we were glad we had arrived early because the line grew longer and it took forever to get in. The venue was pretty impressive with multiple indoor and outdoor sections. We scooped up NYE hats and party blowy things and wore them around all night while drinking and dancing. At one point our group was split up and Joe and a couple of others were stuck outside because it was too crowded inside. So Joe made up an excused and told the bouncer he was trying to get to his pregnant fiancé inside before midnight. And it worked… a pregnant fiancé at a NYE open bar party… I was skeptical if we actually counted down at midnight because the countdown was pretty slow, but everyone was probably too drunk to care so it did not really matter anyway. A few of us left immediately after midnight (aka 12:10) to beat the Uber surge again. It was hilarious because we were the first in the party and also the first to leave, but it was great because Uber was so cheap and we felt great the next day! Happy new year!
Happy 2017! We started the new year with some chili dogs from Burger King, noms. And then walked to The Broad museum of modern art to wait in line for over an hour. The museum opened not too long ago and I had heard good things about it. Once we got in, we started Snapchatting the artwork and replacing it with our faces again, real classy. I really enjoyed it because of abstract and unique art and architecture. The building was designed to look like a sponge to be absorbent to balance out the sharp architecture of the Disney Concert Hall across the street.
Afterwards, we met up with Monica’s friend near Santa Monica for ramen at Tsujita. I ordered the dipping Tsukemen ramen where they gave a bowl of noodles and a bowl of thicker broth, and you dip the noodles in the broth. Dipping ramen is typically meant for hotter days when people want ramen but it is too hot out for hot soup. I liked the broth for dipping ramen better, but would have liked it to be hotter. After ramen, we had Philz Coffee before heading to the piers.
Monica and I left first on rental bikes to Venice Beach roughly three miles south of Santa Monica piers to catch the sunset. We sat on the beach for a bit as the sun went down and the entire skyline was lit with shades of purple and orange. While enjoying the sunset, I couldn't help but think how awesome it would be to live by the beach and have this view every day.
We then checked out the skate park by Venice Beach where there were some really good skateboarders. This one guy flew out of the bowl, grabbed his skateboard in the air while he kicked off a tree, and then landed back on his board into the bowl. It was crazy impressive. And there were also fearless kids probably 10 years old with helmets and elbow and knee pads!
We closed out the night with one drink at High Bar Rooftop. It had a pretty sweet view of Santa Monica piers in the distance and the streets of Venice down below. We could see the ferris wheel lit up at Santa Monica and festive lights around the Venice Beach area. That night we had plans to have a chill night out, but everyone ended up passing out pretty early. Much needed rest.
Today we did the hike behind the Hollywood, just hours after the NYE prank changing it to Hollyweed! We took the Mount Hollywood trail which started at Griffith Observatory, and it was a 4-mile one way hike that looped behind the sign. Somewhere along the way, we got off trail and ended up on a mountain bike trail. It was much rockier and strenuous, but it was definitely more fun than the flat trail. The hike itself was very manageable with dirt trails along the way, and there were shorter route options that started in the residential neighborhoods at the bottom of the mountain.
Once at the top, we spent about half an hour taking photos with the sign. The sign was actually bigger than I thought, but I guess it made sense since it was visible from the bottom of the hill and elsewhere in LA. It was fenced off with security cameras monitoring anyone who gets near the sign, so the people who changed it to Hollyweed probably hiked up in front of the sign. After we were done with the photo op at the peak, Monica, Lucy, Joe and I ran most of the way down to the Griffith Observatory and lost the other half the pack. We were eventually able to meet up at Kyochon for Korean fried chicken afterwards.
At night, we went to Huntington Beach (thought it was Long Beach for the longest time) to make a bonfire. We bought firewood from Home Depot and found pits along the beach to build a fire for a couple of hours. There were not many people during this time of the year, so we pretty much had most of the beach to ourselves to listen to music and drink beer. It was really relaxing unwinding after all the activities we did and I liked how the pits were so accessible. After we ran out of wood, Monica and I headed to her cousin Angeli's place in Santa Ana instead of going back with the group to LA.
The first day in OC we literally bummed at the house all day with Angeli’s two kids, Tristan and Trevor, 3 years old and 6 months old. It took a little bit for them to warm up to us, but I usually click well with kids so we became best buddies after like half an hour. During the day, Monica and I took two trips to the Super King supermarket down the block to make lunch and dinner for the fam. Later at night, a bunch of Monica’s aunts, uncles and cousins came over to say hi to Monica so the house got pretty poppin'.
The next morning, we checked out Newport Aquatic Center where the under 24 dragon boat camp was taking place. The boathouse was so nice and had so much equipment! You can easily launch boats from the beach and the channels lead into the Pacific Ocean not far away, which meant the water was cold and salty. We bumped into Randy while at NAC and ended up practicing on the erg for a little bit where I almost pooped myself.
We had time to kill before picking up Vicki from SNA airport, so we got boba from Snow Monster in Irvine. It was very unique since giant cotton candy was swirled around the boba, but it was also $7. We paid an extra $2 for the jar, but that was ours to keep and we could get discounts with the jar on future trips to Snow Monster. After boba, we picked up Vicki and got Poke at Pokenometry with a few other paddlers who had already arrived in OC.
Vicki, Monica and I drove to Laguna beach about 30 minutes south of Santa Ana to catch the sunset. To get to the beach, we descended what was called Thousand Steps down a cliff, but it was actually only 219 steps. The beach was amazing because the ocean and sunset were on one side and the cliff on the other. Further down the shore, there was this small cave that opened up directly towards the sunset and we got the most amazing sunset shot. The sunset only lasted for a little bit and we got there just in time for it. After Laguna Beach, we got Hole Mole tacos for dinner, which had deliciously fried fish tacos.
Three days of dragon boat camp lasted from 1/5 - 1/8. I was glad the erg test was first because that was my weakest and I wanted to get it over with. I got 2:32 on it and my best was 2:27, so it was not terrible considering I have not been practicing, but there were a lot of people way faster. In the three days of camp, we literally paddled, ate and slept. There were video reviews and morning and afternoon sessions on the water with both endurance and sprint pieces. Stretching at night was key otherwise we would have felt more sore than we did in the morning. Throughout the three days, the weather was rainy and cold, which made paddling was pretty brutal and us shivering for warmth whenever we stopped paddling. After practice every night, we were amazed at how much we were able to eat and only feel slightly full. Overall, I am glad I signed up for this even though I have a long way to go if I want to make the roster It was a great experience meeting new people and humbling to paddle with top paddlers in the country. The workouts were tough and I learned a lot from the coaches, so overall I liked camp even though my body may think otherwise.
The next couple of days were recovery days while we hung out with Monica’s relatives. Allen’s kids, Juleeanne and Ace, were about the same age as Tristan and Trevor and they were so cute. Juleeanne was very sassy for a three-year-old and had a strong opinion on everything. She also took a bit to warm up, but we became best buds after I played with her. Ace just puts everything in his mouth and always had a dazed and expressionless face, while Trevor can not crawl yet so he just sat there watching everyone move around him. One of the days, we ate lunch with the entire extended family at the Boiling Crab and desserts at Euro Café. It was so nice to have such a large extended family who all live nearby and it felt so homey and festive.
On Monday, Monica, Vicki, Luis and I drove down to San Diego to hike the Potato Chip Rock. It was an 8-mile trek round trip with 2300 ft of elevation gain starting from Lake Poway, which took us roughly four hours. Compared to Grouse Grind in Vancouver this was nothing, but it was not as easy as a walk in the park. That day, the weather was also a little rainy at first but it helped cool down the temperature. The hike itself was scenic with a bunch of giant rocks scattered along the mountainside. They looked like mantous and giant pebbles, which we all found to be super adorable. At the top, the potato chip rock was anticlimactic because it was not as high as we thought from seeing other people's pictures, and the chip itself was kind of small. I mean, you would still get hurt if you fall, but it was not over a giant cliff or anything. It was a little hard climbing onto the rock, especially with the morning rain, so we had to spend some time mentally preparing ourselves. I was a little scared and shaky climbing onto the chip, but once up there I was fine. In the end, we all made it and took a group photo, so we know the rock can withstand at least 600+ lbs of weight. When we reached the bottom of the trail, we talked to locals and apparently, the hike was not popular until recently when some guy coined it the potato chip rock.
After the hike, we had a late lunch at Lolita’s Taco Shop. We did not know how big the portions were and were overwhelmed by how much food we ordered. The taco meats were cooked perfectly and the sauce combo complimented it very well, and the price was very cheap for the amount of food. Afterwards, we chased the sunset at La Jolla Cove and caught the last bit of sunlight. We also watched the sea lions for a while as they flopped around and made ridiculous arfing noises. To cap off the day, we ate gelato from Bobboi’s gelato – the blood orange and pineapple basil were so refreshing and had so much flavor!
On the final days as we all started leaving SoCal back for DC or Philly, we tried to eat at places we had not hit up yet. We went to Sidecar Donuts for donuts and coffee and Pie-Not for meat pies. The donuts were super heavy and flavorful, but maybe not the best thing to eat at 9am. Not long after our donut adventure I began my journey back to the east coast and arrived back in DC the night of 1/11.
Having spent two weeks in SoCal, I did not want to come back to real life on the east coast. It felt like we lived in OC since we stayed at Angeli’s place, had a car to get around, and hung out with all of Monica’s relatives. It felt very homey and welcoming and I appreciated all their hospitality. I am happy to have met both Monica's relatives as well as new dragon boat friends. I had a great time roaming LA and celebrating New Year’s Eve as well as hanging out with Monica’s relatives in OC. Although dragon boat camp was painful, I am really glad I did it. Now during DC practices I do not have an excuse to complain about how hard the practices are. Overall, it was an amazing two weeks in SoCal meeting new people, trying new things, and making new memories. It sucks coming back to reality, but I guess this just means I need to start planning for my next travel destination!