Thursday, February 16, 2012

Old Los Angeles

I became a member of Los Angeles Conservancy last November when I registered for my Art Deco walking tour.  This Sunday, the Conservancy offered a complimentary tour of Union Station to welcome new members, and I used the opportunity for another exploration of downtown L.A.  Union Station is situated on Alameda Street near El Pueblo de Los Angeles State Historic Park (the district considered to be the birthplace of L.A.), so I decided to focus on acquainting myself with this particular area.
I began the day with the Union Station tour which began at 10:00am.  Our appointed guide is a well-informed gentleman who spoke in great depth about Union Station's history as well as its architectural significance.
The Conservancy website describes the tour as an examination of the "architecture, art, culture, and social history...[of] one of the great landmarks of Los Angeles."  The guide covered all of these aspects of the terminal, and it was interesting to learn about Union Station's context within the timeline of L.A. and its impact in the city's growth as a major metropolitan and cultural hub.
Fred Harvey Room
our tour guide
The tour's duration was an hour and a half.  When it ended, I turned my thoughts to lunch and headed up Alameda Street toward Philippe the Original restaurant where I planned to get a french dip sandwich.  I had never been to Philippe's so I was looking forward to their signature roast beef sammy dipped in gravy.  The eatery is also only a few blocks from Union Station so it was a super convenient choice as well.
When I arrived at Philippe's, it was peak lunch period, so the queues were like this:
The ordering process at Philippe's is also very inefficient since it's not set up in a single queue system.  As such, it's a very unpredictable and potentially frustrating wait if one gets stuck in a queue with a slow server and/or an indecisive customer.  After a half hour wait, I finally had my order and hunted down an empty seat at one of the cafeteria-style tables.
double-dipped beef, cole slaw, potato salad, and a pickle
My lunch was good, though anticlimactic.  Based on all the hype I'd heard over the years, I'd expected the sandwich to be mind-blowingly fantastic.  It was not.  It was tasty but not exceptional.  The sides were pretty good, particularly the potato salad.  Overall, I rate my meal 7 stars out of 10.  Still, despite the less than stellar meal, I'm glad that I finally got to try Philippe's since it seems a culinary rite of passage for Angelenos.

After lunch, I walked back down Alameda to famous Olvera Street which is located between Union Station and Philippe's.  Olvera Street is short and bustling, very mired in the tourist trade with stalls lining the entire length of the street and selling food or cheap souvenirs to visitors.
Olvera Street
About midway down Olvera, I found the Avila Adobe house, reportedly the oldest standing house in L.A.  It's free admission to the public and was a welcome interlude to the kitsch of the marketplace.  Avila Adobe is very tiny so I was able to view the entire house in a few minutes.
Avila Adobe courtyard
I continued to the end of Olvera Street to the Plaza (the center of El Pueblo de Los Angeles State Historic Park) where there was a festival of sorts going on.  A group of dancers in beautiful costumes were dancing to a rhythmic drum beat.
performance in Plaza park
I watched the dancing for a while and then made my way over to Old Plaza Firehouse, the oldest firehouse in Los Angeles, which faces the Plaza.  The firehouse is likewise small, and my time inside was brief.
Old Plaza Firehouse
To the Batpole!
Upon emerging from the fire station, I spotted a sign for the Chinese-American Museum, which turned out to be just around the corner from the Plaza.  I decided to check it out and viewed an interesting exhibition called Breaking Ground: Chinese American Architects in Los Angeles (1945-1980) which featured several architects who contributed some recognizable architectural L.A. landmarks.  Photography wasn't allowed in the museum so I have no photos to post.

When I left the Chinese-American museum, I walked back toward Plaza park.  As I did so, I heard flamenco music which I followed until I found myself at La Plaza de Cultura Y Artes, a cultural center consisting of a museum housed in a three-storey building on Main Street and a 30,000 square feet garden.  Located adjacent to Plaza park, the mission statement of La Plaza de Cultura Y Artes is to "celebrate and cultivate an appreciation for the enduring and evolving influence of Mexican and Mexican-American culture."
La Plaza de Cultura Y Artes
On this Sunday, there was an event going on with live musicians and dancers performing in the garden as well as educational workshops and free entry into the museum.
performers at La Plaza de Cultura Y Artes
I took advantage of the latter and went on a self-guided tour of the museum's inaugural exhibit called LA Starts Here!, an engaging, interactive experience that examines and celebrates Mexican and Mexican-American history and identity in L.A.
My visit to the Mexican-American museum capped my day's exploration.  It was a long but very thorough and satisfying day during which I was able to explore about a square mile of downtown L.A. along and around Alameda Street.  In conclusion, I never thought of downtown L.A. as a walkable district, but this excursion (along with my first one) is convincing me otherwise, much to my excitement.  I can't wait for my next downtown adventure!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Hugh Pickett's Frontier 101 Invitational Rodeo

Howdy, pardner!  I was a busy girl last weekend.  Besides OC Great Park, I also went to my first rodeo!  I got the quirky whim last year that I just had to attend a live rodeo at least once in my life.  Web searches at the time yielded nothing in SoCal, but as it always happens, I found out about this one unexpectedly when I stumbled across this list, and #53 took me to the Los Angeles Equestrian Center's calendar of events which resulted in my sitting in a front row arena seat at Hugh Pickett's Frontier 101 Invitational Rodeo!
On the day of the rodeo, I arrived at Los Angeles Equestrian Center a couple hours before it was scheduled to begin to purchase my ticket at the box office.  (I could have ordered it from Ticketmaster, but I refused out of principle to pay the outrageous $8 service fee the rip-off artists were asking for.  Anyway.)

After I purchased my ticket, I drove around Burbank to find lunch.  I didn't have a destination in mind, but I stuck to Riverside Drive which is the street where the equestrian center is situated.  Along the way, I passed several production studios, including Disney's, from which I concluded that I was headed towards the touristy areas.  I eventually hit the part of town where eateries are plenty, and a burst of nostalgia made me stop at Bob's Big Boy.  I hadn't been to a Bob's since I was a kid nor had I ever eaten at this particular location.  Unsurprisingly, it was bustling with tourists, but there was no wait for counter seating.  I ordered a pulled pork sandwich and a chocolate milkshake.  The latter came out first so I had my dessert as an appetizer.  Yum!
When I was done with lunch, I still had an hour before the rodeo.  I had purposely planned it so that I would have some time before the show since I wanted a chance to explore the equestrian center and maybe visit some horses.  Prior to my visit, I had a romantic preconception that the center would be verdant and park-like and that I could walk around and poke my head into stables and see a steady traffic of riders on horses.  Boy, was I wrong.

First of all, I encountered more dirt than lawn.  It felt almost industrial, with all the tractors and trucks parked everywhere.  No doubt I was only seeing a small portion of the equestrian center, but what I saw didn't beckon sightseeing.  Also, stable areas are not really open for random visits, to my disappointment, and I got shooed away by an employee.  Nor did I see many people on horses.  In short, I couldn't discern much to see or to do at the center if one isn't there for an event or for riding lessons.  I found a cafe and a couple of small gift and supply shops next to the box office but that was it.
horse riding supply store
Thus, I ended up being very early to the rodeo (which also happened to start a half hour late).  While I waited, I walked around the arena, watching rodeo participants warming up and staff herding cattle into pens.
getting livestock ready for the show
When the show started at last, I was figuratively chomping at the bit for some entertainment and eagerly awaited cowboys and cowgirls to demonstrate their horse-riding, cattle-wrestling, and bull-riding prowess!
opening ceremony
The rodeo was great.  It was exciting and exhilarating, and there were super funny moments, too.  Cowboys ranged from 5 years old (too cute) to senior citizens.  The horses were diverse and beautiful, and I admired the riders' ease in the saddle.
opening parade
I especially enjoyed the barrel-racing and relay race events where the horses are pushed to go their fastest, and the most adept competitors flash their horsemanship.
Pony Express relay race!
Oh, and bulls are GINORMOUS.
I also liked the camaraderie among the spectators.  My seatmates and I exchanged opinions about who competed well and who wasn't up to snuff.  And we agreed that the sheep-riding contest was the most hilarious part of the rodeo.
It was all super fun. The rodeo was scheduled to last 3.5 to 4 hours, and I tried to stick around for the whole thing, but I left at the 3-hour mark because the temperature had become so unbearably cold.  I doubt that I missed much more, though, since things were winding down by then.
"Howdy, cowboy."
I'm glad I was able to attend this event.  There aren't any other rodeos scheduled for 2012 on Los Angeles Equestrian Center's calendar so I was lucky that I found this one, and at the last minute, too!  Otherwise, I'd have had to wait another year for Hugh Pickett's Rodeo to come around again.

Monday, February 6, 2012

All I care about the Superbowl is how much I will win in the pools.

It's my conclusion that the best day to go somewhere in SoCal is on Superbowl Sunday.  With the exception of Disneyland (I'm told), most attractions, parks, and shopping centers are eerily devoid of crowds.  Traffic is gloriously light, and no one has to queue for anything.

Thus, I set off for the Orange Country Great Park, the as yet unfinished park in Irvine, CA that resides where decommissioned Marine Corps Air Station El Toro used to be.  When Great Park is completed, it will the be the largest municipal park in Orange County and will be larger than New York's Central Park, San Francisco's Golden Gate Park and San Diego's Balboa Park.

Though unfinished, Great Park drew me because of the free tethered hot air balloon ride that it offers.  Let me repeat that--Great Park offers FREE hot air balloon rides. 
hot air balloon in distance
One just needs to register and sign a waiver for a balloon ride at the Great Park visitor center and then wait for one's assigned flight appointment.  Because they are free, the rides are first come, first served basis so my thought was that Superbowl Sunday, of all days, would be ideally suited for guaranteeing a berth in the balloon basket.
However, when I arrived at 1:00pm, I was sad to learn that the day flights were all booked up.  The hours for balloon rides are 9:00am-3:00pm and 7:00pm-10:00pm.  For day flights, I was told that that I should register no later than 11:00am because the rides book up that quickly.  And one cannot book a ride the day before, either.  Nor can one register in the morning for a ride in the evening--registration for evening rides starts at 6:00pm.

Alas, I was very disappointed.  I should have called the visitor center prior to my visit to find out how early I needed to be there to ensure a ride, so it was my fault that I drove all the way to Irvine just to be thwarted.
I should have been up there.
Besides the hot air balloon, Great Park has a free carousel ride that is likewise on a first come, first served basis.  There is also an arts complex that consists of a few art galleries and studios.  Furthermore, Great Park hosts a farmers market every Sunday as well as an antiques flea market on the first Sunday of every month.
Neither the carousel nor the galleries interested me on this day, so I eventually wandered over to the markets to check them out.  I quickly grew bored with the antiques but the farmers market perked me up when I saw that there was a bunch of gourmet food trucks stationed there.  The temperature was very hot and dry so I especially zeroed in on the shaved ice truck.  This hit the spot big time:
coconut & melona flavor with snow cap, ice cream, and red beans!
The shaved ice was in fact my dessert.  Before that, I enjoyed lunch from Rancho A Go Go truck.  There is no photo of my pulled pork grilled cheese sandwich because I forgot to snap a pic prior to my wolfing it down, but take my word for it that it was VERY GOOD.
Rancho A Go Go menu
I left Great Park after lunch.  I spent about an hour there, including the time spent eating.  Despite my disappointment on this trip, I definitely want to return for the balloon ride, and I can't wait to check out Great Park when it is finally completed.

P.S.  I didn't win anything on any of my Superbowl pools.