Holiday Eating

So I’ve been eating pumpkin pie for breakfast every morning since Thanksgiving. Healthy, right? I usually promise myself that I’m going to eat better than the last holiday season, and I always break that promise.

So, I’ve decided to not beat myself up and just enjoy it. After all, I only eat pumpkin pie and other sweets during the four to five weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Happy holidays and happy eating, everyone!

Travel Hangover

Wow. So yesterday I flew out of SFO at 10 p.m.; landed in Charlotte at 7 a.m.; got to BWI at 10 a.m.; left on a train to D.C. at 11 a.m.; hopped on the Metro at noon and got home around 1:30 p.m.

Before that, I was in San Francisco from Friday until Tuesday night and then was in L.A. for a week-and-a-half. And as much as I love traveling, too much of it is exhausting and discombobulating. When you’re constantly in motion and worrying about where you are/what you’re going to do next, it quickly takes its toll on your brain. Right now, I feel sleepy and dazed and hungover without the booze. So I’m excited about staying in one place for the next few months … and to recover from my travel hangover.

L.A. Wrap-up

So now that I’ve been back from L.A. for a few days, I want to reflect on my experience and what I thought it would be like vs. what it actually was like.

1. Although L.A. is filled with beautiful people, it’s not like everyone looks like a model. I thought it would be plastic surgery city, but it wasn’t.

2. For some reason, I had it in my head that L.A. would be just like New York City in terms of how many crazy people wander its streets. But it wasn’t. Although I did see some interesting characters in Hollywood (I mean I really did see people dressed as Darth Vader and other movie characters).

3. Although Venice Beach and Hollywood are sleazy, the rest of L.A. is gorgeous. I especially loved Laguna Beach, Malibu, driving on the PCH and Santa Monica.

4. Even though I think San Diego is prettier, L.A. is more interesting. It’s a living pop-culture quiz. On every street corner, there’s another piece of pop culture history. Overall, it was a pretty, interesting place that I wouldn’t mind returning to.

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The Getty Center–my favorite spot in L.A.

Researching a Place

I’m headed to San Francisco on Friday, and I’m just starting to research where to go/see/do/eat. And it’s tricky to find places to see when you’re in a new place. Sure, there’s a wealth of resources that will provide you with lists of where to go, but it’s tough (and not really fair) to judge whether or not a place is worth visiting by a five sentence description in a guide book. But it’s the best we have. I usually use the following methods to scout out where I want to go.

1. Word-of-mouth recommendations. Assuming you know someone who lives(d) or has been visited the area, they usually know where to go.

2. Guide books. I love Frommer’s–especially its itineraries. They’re a great way to “check off” various places that are near each other and worth visiting.

3. Blogs. I probably don’t use this method enough, but I’ll google things to do and have occasionally found a few interesting sites online.

4. Local travel magazines. I used Where Orange County to find a free hot-air balloon ride in California. Thank you!

5. Visitor’s Centers. These are great places to get coupons and find attractions.

6. Stops on tour buses. I probably would have never stopped by the Farmer’s Market in L.A. if it hadn’t been a tour-stop on my bus route.

7. Sites like Yelp and Urbanspoon are great for finding restaurants if you’re in a specific area.

8. Tripadvisor is good too.

I usually find that word-of-mouth recommendations are the best ones. But unless you know someone who’s been there or lives there, these can be tough to get. Although I once saw a gorgeous home in Lucca, Italy (It’s a shame that I can’t recall its name) because I saw it on a postcard and thought it would be pretty. I was right.

That is one of the best things about traveling. Despite doing plenty of research beforehand, you never know when you’re just going to stumble across an interesting place. Like this adorable brownie shop in Beverly Hills or this cupcake shop in Laguna Beach.

Looking for a free balloon ride in Orange County?

No, my title is not too good to be true. If you’ve always wanted to take a hot-air balloon ride, and if you just happen to be in Orange County, head over to the Great Park Balloon. It was awesome.

The park is a former Marine Corp base and you can see the remnants of the airport there. The visitor’s center is housed in a hanger. Head there first to sign a waiver. Next they give you a coaster pager (just like the ones they hand out in restaurants) that buzzes you when it’s your turn. To pass the time, you can take a ride on a carousel–it’s also free if you get a hand-stamp from the visitor’s center–or you can simply watch other people go up in the sky.

Since I went a few days after Halloween, the balloon was an orange-pumpkin theme. After a fairly long wait (about an hour), the ride itself is short. But it’s smooth. You don’t get strapped in, but you just hold onto the netted sides of the balloon as it leaves the ground. It probably took about 15 minutes total from lift off to landing. After the take off, it’s a very smooth ascent. You can take pictures thought the nets (be sure not to drop your camera) and walk around the balloon so you can get a complete picture all the way around it.

The view was good. The area we looked over was flat so you could see for miles. It was a great way to cap off a wonderful week-and-a-half. And it was free. 🙂

Travel Tip: You’ll want to call ahead of time to make sure the balloon is working since they sometimes have to suspend operations due to wind or low visibility. As of this writing, the balloon is also closed from Monday to Wednesday, so check the schedule before you leave. The park is also not recognized by GPS yet. It’s located in Irvine, and you can get there by finding the intersection where Sand Canyon Ave and and Marine Way meet. Turn onto Marine Way and follow the signs to reach your destination.

Disneyland: Commercialism to the Extreme

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I visited both Disneyland and the California Adventure park yesterday. Overall, both parks were clean and interesting.

Disneyland is really just a micro-version of Disney World–which is better. It was interesting seeing the castle and the old-time entrance at the front in Disneyland. The New Orleans section was also well done and did remind me of the city. But like all things Disney, it’s just too in-your-face commercial. For every one ride, there’s about ten shops–all filled with overpriced, useless merchandise.

That being said, the parks are clean, well-run and being inside them is neat. It’s like being in a living version of fantasy land.

The recreated Hollywood street in the California adventure park is pretty. But it’s nothing like the real Hollywood. I had fun on the ferris wheel, even though it made my nauseous. I went to Disney World two years ago, and it was just too much Disney for me.

If you have a choice between Disneyland and Disney World, pick Disney World. It’s bigger and Epcot is worth seeing. Just try not to lose all your money in the process.