West Coast Trip: starting out

Hello! I am in Sunny CA for a vacation again. This time I am traveling almost the entire west coast from LA to the Pacific NorthWest. My friends Janeen and Carrie are joining me up to San Francisco and then my husband Dan is meeting me and we are going North! I couldn’t tell you lovely people about the awesome month I had in June because my computer decided to break down right before I left… Oh we’ll, it’s vacation time! I left my worries at home and headed out.

This LA visit started out great. After Carrie and I had to starve on the way here (our flights were so close together we literally had to run so we didn’t miss our connection) and after I had to finagle us a car with a trunk (they tried to give us a little smart car type vehicle) we finally got to eat a good lunch. yes.

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We went immediately to the restaurant where our awesome friend Erin works (with whom we are staying with in LA) called The Park in Echo Park. Thank god we got to eat. I went a little over board and ordered a lot of things: a chicken-avocado-gruyere-tomato sandwich, tuscan white bean soup, and home fries with buttermilk ranch dressing. I also wanted to order an egg because I was really hungry for an egg but I refrained. Anyway, it was all awesome.

The rest of our first day was napping, porch hangin’, and going out and about in Silver Lake.

We celebrated July 4th in true LA style… or at least what I think of as true LA style – POOL PARTY! Ace of Base was blasting, the pool was full, and the grill was smoking. Needless to say, we had a really great time.

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We went to a few other parties that were also fun. I think my favorite thing at the end of the evening was that there were a bunch of really cute dogs around and the neighbors were having a firework battle – who can make the loudest boom-sparkle?!

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Today we decided to have a beach day and go to Malibu. But first I needed to get
my egg fix, so we stopped at Silver Lake Coffee for breakfast. They have great egg sandwiches. I got an everything bagel with scrambled eggs, tomato, avocado and cream cheese – yea cream cheese and eggs – try it! They also have great coffee here.

We went to one of my favorite beaches ever – El Matador. Beautiful views, beautiful weather, and some really awesome rocks. You have to climb down the bluffs to get to the beach. Its pretty steep but a lot of people seemed to make the trek today. Once a hidden gem, El Matador was pretty full. Each rock is a little mini ecosystem full of muscles, anemones, barnacles, these weird tube worms that look like they have dragon scales, limpets, snails, and chiton – and of course there are all different types of seaweed everywhere! The rocks are eroded away into pretty formations, some with windows that you can walk through and some little caves to crawl up in and under. We stayed there for most of the day before heading out to get dinner.

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We decided to go to Paradise Cove. It is kind of famous I think, being a place where some older TV shows and retro movies were filmed. Their motto is “probably the best beach in the world” I think it is probably not the best beach in the world. It was very pretty and it did have nice views, but it was not nearly as cool as El Matador. The visit is pricey – if you do not go to the restaurant, it costs $40 for day use. We were eating there so we only had to pay $6 to park. We sat down at an outside beach table, which was cozy – You are definitely paying for location here. I started my dinner with clam chowder, which was creamy and really good. The clams tasted super fresh and it was really filling. However, in between the clam chowder and my fish and shrimp tacos coming out… I started feeling not so good. So I couldn’t eat my dinner at all and I ended up having to take it home. I was feeling ok by the time we got back to Erin’s house and I tried to eat some of it but everything just tasted a little off, except the rice, that was ok. So my opinion of this restaurant is that it is way too overpriced and probably not worth the venture. There are much better places in Malibu with and without the lofty price.

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So overall, we had a nice start to our travels. We are going camping today near Santa Barbara at Lake Cachuma. We plan on exploring the area and doing a little wine tasting over the next few days.

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Vacation Eats – Tar Pits and Hitting the Road

Back to the California trip… It’s about time for a famous eatery stop. So on Wednesday (August 3rd) we had hot dogs for breakfast.

We choose Pink’s Famous Hot Dog Stand on LaBrea Avenue in Hollywood. Pinks has dozens of condiments and topping combinations on their famous dogs. The specials are named after famous stars, chefs, TV personalities and landmarks.

I chose the Emeril BAM! Dog. Emeril has a new show called The Originals that featured Pinks on one of the episodes about LA. It airs on the Cooking channel if you’re interested in finding it.

This special dog had cheese, jalapenos, mustard, onions, bacon, and cole slaw. I had to take a lot of the jalapenos off because there were so many they were falling out of the bun. I also am not a huge fan of pickled jalapenos, or bacon for that matter, but the cole slaw pulled me into picking this dog. The combination overall was BAM good, I would get it again!

Janeen got the Pastrami Reuben Dog, not named after any celebrity but I think it was famous all by itself. it was loaded with sauerkraut, pastrami, swiss cheese, and mustard. I tried it and it was a mouthful of meat. there was so much pastrami on it, it was falling all over the place. It was a fine dog.

With our bellies full of hot dogs we drove through Miracle Mile and into the La Brea Tar Pits. I’m kind of a science nerd so I thought this stop was great. The Page Museum held a lot of the fossils they excavated from the tar pits. There are also open sites that they are working on that you could observe.

We drove back across Hollywood into Echo Park to eat a late lunch at The Park restaurant, which the wonderful Erin caters to the lunch time crowd. Janeen and I had an identical lunch today. We both got Lucifer Ale, a nice light Belgian with hints of apple.

The Park has sandwich specials that all looked so good it made it really hard to choose just one. I went with some thing kind of light because I ate the hotdog for breakfast… I enjoyed the avocado and Gruyère sandwich piled high with avocado, Gruyère cheese, tomato, and lettuce. I added crispy onions, as per Erin’s recomendtion and spread some Dijon on the grilled whole wheat sourdough bread.

It was nice light and delicious, perfect after a morning of looking at gas bubble out of pits of black asphalt smelling pits.

So we headed out late that afternoon to drive up the coast. We had one perfect stop as we made our way North. I was reading “taste of Santa Barbara” magazine in the car and telling Janeen about this amazing looking Gelato in Montecito. A little bit later she noticed that we were passing Montecito on the highway and said “wasn’t something in Montecito? oh yea, isn’t the Gelato place there?” So I checked the magazine and yes! So we pulled off the exit and 2 minutes down the road we were stopping at Here’s the Scoop for a Gelato dinner.

This place it definitely worth the stop! They let you try any flavor you want and they make everything with local ingredients. Yes, I realize I keep writing about these places using local, organic ingredients, but I am drawn to that so I am either a sucker for people writing local on everything or I just pick really awesome places… probably a little bit of both. Anyway… The gelato and sorbet are out of this world awesome at this place.

I tasted the lavender lemon flavor which was crisp and refreshing but I ultimately decided on one scoop coconut, one scoop chocolate strawberry in a waffle cone. Janeen got Italian chocolate chip (which tasted like cannoli filling) and espresso in a chocolate waffle cone.  All flavors got my stamp of approval and left me wanting more.

Vacation Eats – Santa Monica and Venice Beach

On our Tuesday (August 2) in California, we headed down to the beach towns. We strolled along the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica in the morning to window shop and have brunch. We chose a little french cafe in the middle of the promenade called Monsieur Marcel. We sat outside watching passer-bys. I ordered the Benedict Marcel- poached eggs atop a buttery croissant with smoked ham and Hollandaise sauce.

It was good, a solid take on eggs Benedict, but not the best I have ever had… Janeen asked me where the best eggs Benedict was and I immediately replied two places… The Nodding Head Brewery in Philadelphia (they have sunday brunch with excellent bloody marys) and this little shack (can’t remember the name of it) beside a river in Connectitcut that I stopped at on the way back from cape cod.

Janeen had the souffle french toast. I tried it – it was super-good! It was so good I wished I had gotten in. It was soft, fluffy, buttery and it had a slight citrusy taste to it. French perfection, that’s what I would call it. If you ever find yourself eating brunch in Santa Monica, I highly recommend it.

We checked out the pier and rode the ferris wheel to get a birds eye view of everything.

Then we took a tip from Erin’s friend and went to The Lobster for a large bloody mary with a giant prawn and olive attached to it. It was a good bloody mary, kind of mild but really impressive looking. It was a nice break from the sun and we got some post cards written.

We rented bikes and rode the sandy bike trail down to the complete spectacle that is Venice beach. We locked the bikes by the skate park where skaters were zooming around the concrete learning tricks. The two headed turtle was out in front of the freak show and it seemed all the usual buskers were out.

We stopped into a cafe that was set back a little from the boardwalk. They advertised Peach Chai, which sounded good, so we decided to try it. Not really that great, it was ok but I would def not go there again. Janeen got an iced vanilla latte that was so sweet she didn’t even really drink it. I can not remember the name at all but I don’t think I’ll be going back.

We walked the whole ocean front, headed back to our bikes, and rode back to Santa Monica. On our way out, we knew there was going to be a lot of traffic and it was going to take a long time to get back, so we got a snack. We sampled the frozen yogurt at PinkBerry. It is all fat free and made with ultra fresh ingredients.

We both got waffle cones. I tasted the salted caramel, a great little bite but a bit too rich to eat a whole cone. I went with pomegranate and mango swirl with strawberries in the bottom of the come. Janeen stuck with the strawberries and got chocolate and original side-by-side in her waffle cone. I wasn’t sure what to expect because I know some people love Pinkberry and some people don’t. It is a chain that I usually only see in big cities, I think they have a good business plan. I thought it was tasty, but wait until you read what we had on Wednesday…

We had to rush once we got back to Erin’s place because we were going to her comedy show in Downtown LA and we didn’t have much time. Erin was nice enough to make us dinner. Arugula salad with lemon vinaigrette with little cukes and avocado slices.

She even cut up some pickled cauliflower (from giardiniera) and added slivered almonds. Great salad Erin! We also had pasta with olive sauce that we got at Global Gardens on our wine tasting adventure.

Erin’s comedy show was great! It was at a theater called the Downtown Independent. Finally a place with some Sierra Nevada! Good beer, good laughs. Thank you Erin for a wonderful evening!

Vacation Eats – Los Olivos Wine Adventure

Today we woke up bright and early and decided to go north to wine country. Our pick was the tiny town of Los Olivos, in the Santa Ynez Valley.

We began the morning eating Mexican Breakfast at Tacos Delta in Silver Lake. We split two burritos between the three of us because they were pretty big. We got a bacon-potato-egg-rice-bean burrito and a potato-cheese-egg-rice-bean burrito. The salsa at this place was great! It was not too spicy and it had cilantro in it, a good addition to the burritos.

We grabbed a coffee at Casbah Cafe. I had an iced coffee (which was excellent). The shop was really colorful inside and all of the pastries and foods were carefully set up with care to look beautiful. I loved that they had nice brown hard boiled eggs on the counter top and fresh figs.

We got our coffees to-go and we started our journey north. We made it pretty far before we had to make a pit stop…

We stopped in a small beach town called Summerland and walked into a cafe with lots of lawn ornaments and a nice front porch called Cafe Luna. I am mentioning this place because I thought it was really cool that they had home-brewed Kombucha tea. There’s only one girl that knows how to brew it that works there. Unfortunately, she was on her own vacation and their Kombucha supply ran dry until she gets back. We all got their standard black iced tea. It had a nice clean and slightly sweet flavor (it was unsweetened though) and you didn’t have to add anything to it. It was perfect just how it was.


Next stop, Los Olivos. The drive up was mostly highway that ran through beautiful hills next to the coast then we had to turn inland. We drove amongst golden grassy hills with wiry oak trees that looked like they grew slightly tilted from the wind.

Los Olivos was quaint. It had one market, one coffee shop, and numerous wine tasting rooms from the surrounding vineyards and farms.

We stopped at Andrew Murray Vineyards, Blair Fox, and Kaena wine tasting rooms. I can’t even pretend to know exactly what I am talking about when it comes to wine. I do love tasting them though and I think I learned a lot about wine just in one day!

Andrew Murray wines were my favorite. I realized here that I actually like white wine. We tried a Viognier (which I have never had) that was delicious and fruity and seemed perfect for a hot day. I learned pretty quick that I really like the blended wines. I ended up getting one from here called Eleven, a blend of grenache, cabernet and syrah. It is a reference to Spinal Tap and the amplifier that can crank the volume to Eleven.

The one thing that really stuck out at Blair Fox vineyard is that their wine was very earthy. It was like you could taste the differences in the dirt the grapes were grown in. It made me notice different flavors and definitely remember them.

There was one white wine at Kaena that had a creamy, smooth, fruity flavor to it. It is called Hapa Blanc, a blend of grenache blanc and roussanne. I like it so much that I bought a bottle to take home with me. One thing that I will take away from this wine experience is that I learned I like good white wine. White wine (any kind) isn’t my favorite, but I now realize I was probably just drinking some very low quality ones.

Before we left the town center, we went to Global Gardens for an olive oil tasting! This was my favorite part of this little adventure. Yes, I like wine, but I love olive oil! We tasted a few olive oils from first pressings, blood orange infused olive oil, spice blends, olive spread, and infused vinegars. They gave you a really nice little bread roll to soak up all of the flavors and the woman that poured all of our tastings told you all about each one so it was really informative. Of course… I ended up joining the Olive Oil club (with some gentle pushing from Janeen and Erin). You get a shipment of their products four times a year for a pretty good price. I can’t wait to go home and try them out… my first one will be waiting for me when I get back! Here’s our tasting palate…

We also went to Buttonwood winery, a few miles down from all of the wine tasting rooms in Los Olivos center. Their wine was good but maybe not as good as some of the other places. This winery stop was all about the farm. They had chickens, pigs, goats, a horse, flower gardens, a peach orchard, and all kinds of places outside to sit and take it all in. It was beautiful. We had a really fun time taking pictures here…

We had to start heading back to LA after Buttonwood and we had to get some dinner. Tasting all that wine made us work up an appetite….

We tried to find this place called Cold Spring Tavern… and what a find it was! We took a winding desolate road for a while and just as we thought we went the wrong way, we see all cars lining the skinny roadway on both sides. This place was an oasis in the dry hills, and it was packed! It was part dining room, part biker bar, part BBQ pit, with shacks in the woods from the stage coach era. We went for the beef tri-tip sandwiches. You had to go in to the bar to purchase a ticket, then go outside to the BBQ pit to get your giant sandwiches from a big burly Mexican guy.

He took a giant hunk of meat off the grill and sliced it up for the three of us, placed it on grilled bread, handed over the sandwiches and told us to squish it all together. Erin asked him how he eats it and his reply was “horseradish and salsa.” I chose the barbeque sauce and horseradish sauce on mine.

It was so big, I couldn’t eat it all. I am definitely not used to eating that much meat all in one sitting. It filled me up for the rest of the night.

We made our way back to Los Angeles through stretches of traffic. We stopped in at a party at The Park restaurant, where Erin works. Then we headed into Hollywood for a comedy show. All-in-all a great day in CA!