Gardens, Sculptures and Fountains at The Huntington Library Botanical Garden.

We spent our weekend exploring the grounds of the Huntington Library Botanical Garden. The botanical has 16 themed gardens spread out over 120 acres, a beautiful and well maintained area that we found ourselves getting lost in for hours looking at different types of plants and flowers.

The garden with sculptures and water fountains especially appealed to me due to its love theme. For a while, we walked around the area, admiring the sculptures with their own expressions and baroque influences. Each of these pieces has a description of what it’s about, a homage to the 17th and 18th centuries. The setting was incredibly romantic.

Other gardens that I liked was the Chinese Garden because of its unique Chinese inspired structures, bridges and rock formations. I felt like I teleported to a whole new country.

There’s also a room dedicated to Caligraphy that discussed many styles I had no idea existed. It was quite interesting to see the various strokes associated with the different styles. Definitely do not miss it.

Onsite there’s a coffee shop available for refreshments and snacks, galleries, restrooms and a library. There’s so much to see here that you may want to make it a whole day affair. It can also get very hot if you go in the middle of the afternoon so, bring a hat and make sure to wear sunscreen.

There is a price of $25 (weekdays) /$29 (weekends) per adult, with weekend reservations required. Visit their website for more information. You can also visit the gardens for free on the first Thursday of every month. Tickets for the free day are released a week before the date, so keep an eye out for the release. The website will show a link that takes you to an online ticket reservation site and they are in high demand, so make sure you register as soon as possible.

Huntington Botanical Garden is one of the LA attractions worth visiting. There is a lot more to see than what I can describe here, and of course, it is best to see it in person.

A Few Hours in San Diego.

Me in San D iego

Lately, San Diego has been a hot spot to visit for us as it is quite easy to get to and contains a ton of places to see. On our recent visit to Old Town, I was a bit surprised why I’ve never been there before. The place had a history featuring eclectic restaurants, historical sites, colorful shops and an apparent Mexican heritage that made this place unique. We spent a few hours roaming around, eating and then headed over for the rest of the day in La Jolla and watched the sunset.

A weekend in Catalina Island.

Catalina Island
Catalina Island 2020

A hop on an express boat to Catalina Island will get you to the island in less than 2 hours. Once the boat docks, the island is in your hands. Whether you’re there to sightsee, eat, drink, or camp; Catalina Island has a bit of everything for everyone at any age.

Stay
On this trip, my bf and I stayed for a night at St. Lauren Hotel. It was his first time on the island, therefore, it made sense for us to spend a weekend in order for us to truly enjoy the experience. Our hotel (known for its pink colors) was very close to the main square (about 5 minutes walk) yet far enough from the noise. Due to COVID19, there were a few hiccups that we faced as expected. Long story short, there was lack in communication from the hotel but, once we passed the checking in issues everything turned out nicely.

Our room, surprisingly, it was decent. We had a partial view of the ocean with natural lighting illuminating from our 3 window panes. At one point, we were watching the sunset right from our bed and the issues we had at the beginning of the trip became a distant memory.

Eat
Eating at restaurants was another hurdle for us as they were only accepting first come and first serve basis. No one seemed to be taking any reservations whatsoever, therefore, if you want to eat at any particular place you’ll have to get your booty there early or find elsewhere to eat. This can be frustrating especially when you’re hungry but, again this is COVID times and nothing will be the same as it was before so, be patient and plan ahead.

A host at Descanso Beach Club gave us a helpful tip. She suggested to arrive earlier before rush hour if you don’t want to wait or come during that sweet spot after lunch and before dinner time. We took her suggestion in consideration and came back to Descanso Beach Club right before dinner. Boy, she was spot on! The restaurant was 100 times quieter than the first time we tried to get a seat in the middle of rush hour. This time, we showed up at the right time and was seated at a table that overlooked the ocean. We were definitely content.

We ordered a few items from poke over rice and wings plates to the Buffalo Milk drink. Everything we ate and drink were pretty tasty.

Another restaurant we tried was the Blue Water Grill located at the main square. We were seated on the waterfront patio where we ordered the wedge salad, calamari and the chipotle swordfish. We thought the food here were much better than Descanso Beach Club.

For breakfast, we grabbed coffee and pastries to go from Catalina Cookie. I heard about this place when I researched for places to eat and drink in Avalon, Catalina. It had good reviews and I can tell you that their coffee and pastries were delicious! Conveniently, they were located near our hotel too.

Do
If you’re not camping or on a boat in Catalina then, you’re bound to be looking for activities like we did that can be done on foot. The first day on the island we roamed around looking at stores, trying to find places to eat on a whim and basically getting our feet wet per se. We walked on the pier to check it out and on a spare of the moment we ended up going on a 45-minute Semi Submarine Tour that turned out to be quite pleasant. For $39 per person, the Semi Submarine tour allows you to feed fish from your seat. I wasn’t expecting that at all but, I liked the overall experience.

The rest of our trip was spent riding on a golf cart where we went in a loop around the island for an hour. I highly recommended it as it allows you to see viewpoints of the island that are worth taking photos of. In one of the stops, you can also see the botanical garden if time allows for it. We decided against it on this trip because we wanted to do other things but, the botanical garden will be on our list for the next time we return.

Transportation & Tickets
To get to the island make sure to reserve your spot in one of those express boats ahead of time. Each ports have scheduled trips and some are more limited than others. Also, look for ticket deals. At the time I was researching for our mini getaway, I found one or two deals. Make sure to read the fine print as some might no longer be available. See links below.

Ports: Newport Beach, Dana Point, Long Beach or San Pedro
See Catalina Express
Newport Beach Catalina Island Groupon Deal (read the fine print)
See Costco Catalina Island Deal

Lastly, if you want to enjoy the island without the crowds it is best to come in the weekdays or Sunday. We arrived in the middle of Saturday on this trip and the island was jam packed with tourists. It was quite difficult to get a table in the restaurants we wanted or even a spot to sit on the beach without rubbing elbows with other people. However, Sunday was quite the opposite. We were able to do everything we wanted and had plenty of time left for anything else we needed to see. In short, come when the island is less crowded if it is feasible.

Five Things To Do in Orange County, CA

Castaway Park

Did you know the largest city in Orange County is Anaheim? Did you know it was founded by the Germans? At one point the Germans lived near the Santa Ana River and combined the name Ana with heim (it means home). The Germans got it right because Orange County is home to me. With so many things to see and do, it’s no wonder I keep coming back.

Here are the Top 5 Things To Do in Orange County in no particular order.

1. Hit the Beach
Without a doubt, going to the beach is one of the most popular things to do in Orange County. We have more than 100+ beaches to choose from on a 40 miles coastline. Just take a look while you drive down highway 1, better known as the Pacific Coast Highway. You’ll see through this highway the different cities how each one has its own character and as you go through, start counting the amount of beaches you see along the way. It’s almost impossible to count them all.
 
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2. Amusement & Water Parks
Besides the beaches, Orange County is home to the biggest attraction in the world and draws about 18.6 million visits (in 2018) known as Disneyland. It is a staple of Orange County that is a must-see. Another theme park worth noting, although not widely known in compare to Disneyland is Knott’s Berry Farm. Besides the price difference, read here to assess which option suits best for you or here. See other lists of theme parks here.

3. Shopping
For the amount of public beaches we have in Orange County, we also have a comparable amount of shopping centers around. One notable mall that you should know is South Coast Plaza. It is the largest shopping center on the West Coast of United States and is conveniently located near John Wayne airport. For those with long layovers or general shopaholics (like me), you can access this mall via 405 fwy in a mere of 8-10 minutes depending on traffic.

Other Malls:

4. Hiking/Cycling
Hiking and cycling is one of the most popular things to do here in O.C. We have numerous parks with trails around to choose from. The City of Irvine alone is nationally known for its “well-planned parks, greenbelts, open space and interconnected bike network.” Here are a few of my go to places to hike.

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5. Spas and Wellness
In O.C., we are health conscious mentally and physically. It’s quite common to see locals in their gym clothes while running errands which, brings me to Spas and Wellness Centers as one of the Top 5 Popular Things to do in O.C. When it comes to Spas and Wellness centers, you can find various options from moderate to luxurious places. There’s no right or wrong way to go on this one.

Links:
Spa Finder
Spas and Wellness in O.C.
Wellness Experiences

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Visiting Carmel By The Sea.

Driving up north to Carmel from Orange County took about 5 hours. If you’ve never driven from Southern California to Northern California, well, you’re in for a ride through mostly seeing the valley, mountains in the background or occasionally seeing cows roaming in a wide open space. In short, make sure you have a good music and a great company to keep you entertained.

After several sips of coffees, eating munches and switching through music, my bf and I eventually arrived in Carmel late in the afternoon. Not wanting to waste any time, we checked in to our hotel room, changed and headed right back out the door.

Between sitting in the car far too long and being excited we couldn’t wait to hit the beach. Having our hotel room located in downtown was a very good idea as everything we needed was literally within walking distance. At last, we arrived and the salty beach smell welcomed us with open arms as we stood at the entrance taking in the beautiful scenery right in front of us.


Carmel beach was definitely my favorite part about our trip because it is one of the most picturesque beach I’ve seen in California with white sands and plenty of space to move around. There’s something about it that is quite alluring.

In one of our walks, we accidentally found a scenic path along the coast with a view of the ocean and the other side from us were beautiful homes. My mind wondered what it would be like waking up with oceanfront views. The life! Anyhew, the only thing to really keep in mind at the beach is the fact that there are no lifeguards on duty and the waves seemed to drop right at the shoreline making it difficult to enjoy swimming. Nonetheless, people did not mind at all as they sprawled out tanning on the beach, surfing in the water or playing on the sand all day.

After we had enough of the beach, we realized we were hungry. Come to think of it, we haven’t had a meal since breakfast that day and since California was still in between Phase 1 and Phase 2 of re-opening businesses, we had to double check online to see which restaurants were open and made a few calls. It was difficult to get through any phone lines, therefore, we decided to wing it and walked to town.

Downtown Carmel is very charming with cottages and villages that made me feel like I was part of a movie set on Hansel and Gretel. There were streets with alleyways that hid restaurants or shops you would never have known unless you walked through it. The town doesn’t even have regular street signs which truly makes it more unique.

During our search for dinner we found a few restaurants open for dining outdoors but, most of them were way too busy and had line out the door. Also, we weren’t ready to dine in restaurants anyway so, we kept searching. Eventually, we found a cheap Chinese restaurant to order for take out that didn’t have a long line. We ordered our foot, ate our dinner in our hotel then, called it a night.

On Saturday morning we spent a few hours on a short hike at the Mission Trail Nature Preserve. The preserve is quite a nice place to be in complete seclusion away from the city with not much noise except birds chirping and walk in serenity between lush trees. We took 2 routes out of the 5 main pathways that you can take. At some point, we arrived at The Flanders Mansion that was built in the 1920s which, later became part of the Mission Trail Preserve. At first, I thought we accidentally entered into someone’s property but, it turned out that we were in one of the main entrance to get in to the preserve. We found no one around so, we took a couple of photos in front of the building before we headed back to our route.

The rest of our day we decided to drive to San Francisco for a few hours. My bf had never been there and all he wanted was to drive through the Golden Gate Bridge and come back. We did exactly that except we ended up re-routing to stop by Pier 39 to walk around and get lunch. Then, we also passed by the famous Lombardy Street reminding me a little bit of the time when I used to live here. That time in my life seemed so long ago yet, it felt like I was seeing this city for the very first time. Visiting Pier 39 again felt weird without a lot of people around granted that stores are still closed and we are still in the COVID19 situation. However, in light of post semi-lockdown, San Francisco never looked so beautiful with the sun beaming upon us. People walked around with shorts on and it felt like summer was truly here.

With a blink of an eye our 3-Day weekend had come to an end.

Visiting Oceanside, CA

oceanside california

Another day another beach town visited. I arrived late afternoon seeking for a few hours of sunshine at a beach that’s open which I found at Oceanside, CA., a coastal city located in San Diego county. San Diego was among the first counties in California to reopen their beaches, parks, and a few businesses since the “Stay At Home” order was lifted last week. To me, seeing an open beach for the first time in a month and a half felt quite strange. There seem to be a huge unspoken uncertainty in the air as I watched a few people at the beach surfing, swimming, bodyboarding in the water and people rollerblading, jogging, walking or riding bikes with or without masks worn.

Signs about social distancing and staying home were still seen in the area. Despite the beach being open, activities were limited from tanning, bringing chairs at the beach, to anything relating to gathering of any kind. Police patrolled the scene a few times in a given hour to insure that people were following the social distancing rules. Those that didn’t were told to keep it moving.

Much of my time was spent walking around the neighborhood. There seem to be new apartment buildings built in the area with a hefty price tag attached to it. I found a few coffee and juice shops in the area. Since nothing else was open I decided to head home.

May Update: Stay at Home Order Lifted

Exploring San Diego

Word around town is that today is the first day of the “Stay at Home” Order in California being lifted. We are entering Phase 2 which means a few businesses are allowed to re-open for curbside pickup such as retail. Certain guidelines are still in effect like wearing a mask when entering restaurants and social distancing. My employer also have started asking us to work in the office next Monday but, I’m still doubtful about the whole re-opening the economy considering that the virus is still around. I definitely don’t want to risk getting infected especially for someone with asthma which puts me in a “vulnerable” category.

On the contrary, a few other countries are also re-opening their economy. I thought it was nice to see people living their “new normal life” taking a walk outside, jogging, soaking in the sun and the likes. I guess time will tell how this whole thing will play out for all of us.

How do you feel about the economy re-opening at this point in time?

Several hours in Carlsbad, CA.

Carlsbad Beach

Carlsbad has been on my radar for quite some time now; however, I’ve never made it down here for a variety of reasons. After just an hour, I finally made it to downtown Carlsbad where I roamed the beach and the village areas.

Carlsbad Village, the commercial district right off the Pacific Ocean, was my favorite part of the city. There was plenty of parking, the public restrooms were clean, and there were a number of boutique shops and eateries to explore. A store in particular caught my eye because it sold handmade face masks, which the owner claims was the only reason they were open. Even though they were a bit expensive, I bought two to support local businesses. As opposed to my handkerchief, I was pleased to finally wear a mask.

In Carlsbad, the coast line was busy with people riding bikes, skateboarding, jogging, and much more. It was hard not to love the view of the ocean from the sidewalk. Walking along the coastline, I couldn’t help but stare out into the horizon of the ocean. At some point, I turned around and headed back to the village.

Carlsbad Beach

Other nearby attractions in Carlsbad are:

The Flower Fields
Experience fifty acres of Giant Tecolote Ranunculus flowers bloom at best from early March through May. One can easily spend 2 hours here so, make sure to bring plenty of water and an umbrella or a cap.

Admission $18
$1 discount on AAA

GIA Museum
If you like gems and jewelries this is a place for you. The museum holds a free self-guided tour (reservations are required) to learn more about the stones and minerals.

Premium Outlets

Legoland

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Highlights of Downtown Long Beach.

long beach harbor

I like my walks. I take them often usually on familiar paths but, today I decided to take a different route. A stroll in downtown Long Beach took about 2 hours long where I made my way down the boardwalk, to the lighthouse, around the harbor to the Shoreline Village, a walk through the artist town and back to my car. I was pleasantly surprised how I’ve never made it here before as downtown Long Beach offered more to see than what I knew.

What I saw:

The Shoreline Village is as colorful as they get. With shops painted in bright colors of yellow, pink and blue; you can’t miss this area as the waterfront boardwalk stands bright even from far away.

The view of the water was the focal point of my walk. There were boats parked at the harbor against the glimmering water that brought life to my walk. I sauntered my way around the village to check out what else was there waiting for me to see. I found a few shops selling ice cream, candies, knick knacks, benches placed all around the area, and a mini love lock similar to the one in Paris was stationed in a corner. It seemed this place was well equipped for tourists looking for a place to go for a day.

The Aquarium of the Pacific
On the other side of the village was the largest aquarium in Southern California. Although, the prices are a bit hefty, it is home to 11,000 animal exhibits. You can find ticket discounts here.

General Admission
Adult: $34.95
Child (3-11): $24.95
Senior (62+): $31.95

Tour the Queen Mary
From the point of the lighthouse you can actually see the Queen Mary, a famous landmark of Long Beach and a major attraction. The ship is docked near the shoreline where you can stay, eat, and participate in a ghost hunting tour. If you’ve never been I highly suggest going at least once.

The Pike Outlets Shopping Center
Across the street from the boardwalk was the Pike Outlet Mall. I walked through here and found several chain stores including Starbucks. I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. However, it’s worth going if you seek for discounted prices on clothes and/or other items.

East Village Arts District
This was my favorite area of downtown Long Beach because of the art scene. I saw a few cool graffitis on the wall, loft buildings, creative agencies I’m familiar with, healthy juice stores, plenty of parking and the best part was that it’s walkable. If it wasn’t for work, I’d probably move here if given the chance.

The Sunset Sea Cliffs, San Diego. (Video)

sea cliffs in san diego

I have seen my share of sunset views and I can tell you that watching it from the Sunset Cliffs is quite a unique experience.

I came without too many expectations, but it turned out to be more than I expected. Initially, I thought I would walk along the cliffs and see the sights. I was able to look over and enjoy the view as I walked. I was quite mesmerized by the expansive views of the ocean and the dramatic formations of the cliffs. 

In the distance, people were walking down a staircase that led to the water. Curiosity got the best of me and I followed them. There was a tiny cove with the waves of the ocean literally moving under your feet at the bottom of the stairs. In this area, surfers made their way into the water, which didn’t look safe to me. However, they were pros at this and made the process look seamless. After a short stay in the area, I decided to return to where I started.

sea cliffs in san diego

After returning to the top, I walked even further down the coast, which led me to another area where I could descend to the bottom. This time, I thought this path was more risky than the staircase route I had just taken. After seeing people reach their destination, I decided to do the same.

In essence, you have to walk through large boulders of rock and then you have to make your way down to a beach area by pulling a rope. I do not recommend this at all, but I did it to find a cave I saw online. I thought I would find here, unfortunately I didn’t.

What I did find was a secluded beach area and tide pools that allowed me to have a closer look at the rock formations. That part was pretty cool.

On my way back, there was a bit of traffic using the rope. Please note that this is the only way back up; which is what makes this beach so secluded. Once I made it back up I decided it was time to go. At this point, the amount of visitors had increased in preparation to watch the sunset. I stayed for a few minutes and then, decided to head home.

See my previous posts on Visiting Sunset Sea Cliffs, Visiting the Skyline & the Gaslamp District, Staying in at Hotel Del Coronado and must see spots in San Diego.

San Diego Skyline and Gaslamp District visit.

After checking out of my hotel, I walked around Orange Ave. street for a bit. It was near the hotel and thought it was worth exploring. I found out that they actually had quite a few shops and cafès. I took a break and got a latte at 1134 Coffee shop. Orange Ave. has a ton of stores and restaurants to see but, on this trip I did not have enough time to see everything. I left and made my way down to the skyline that I hear had a great view of the city.

The view here is definitely not to be missed! I found myself approaching the edge of the harbor and looked out into the water. I saw boats, kayaks and jet skiers along the water passing by with a backdrop of the skyline buildings in the back. It really was one of the best view around.

After I was done at Skyline, I made my way to the Gaslamp Quarter. About 20 minutes drive from Coronado was a neighborhood town known for its nightlife, Victorian-style buildings, a mix of chain and independent restaurants, pubs, cigar bars, cafes and shops. I walked down the main area where a few blocks were blocked off. It looked like they had a mini fair going on and a few vendors were situated selling various items from food, fashion to paintings. At some point, I made it up to the Hard Rock Hotel and walked around the lobby. I didn’t find anything too interesting, therefore, I left and decided it was time to eat.

I found myself having lunch at the Searsucker restaurant. The food was very tasty. I highly recommend going here if, you’re ever in town. I ordered the Green Eggs and Ham which consisted of poached eggs over a bread with pork inside it. It was very good. I ended my meal with a gelato as a dessert a few doors down at the Ghirardelli store. Totally worth it but, on to the next!

From one district to another, I thought Little Italy was the hip family hangout that everyone should visit. They have a square where everyone gathered, ate, hung out and basked in the sun. I felt like I was back in Italy for a minute sitting outside in the open air and enjoying myself as I watched people go by.

There’s a food hall at the square with various food options. However, I ended up eating a pizza to go from a restaurant across the street (sorry, I did not get the name) and it was very good. Too bad there’s no pizza places around where I live that can match its taste. In any case, if you want good food you’ll sure find it here.

To be continued…