The Weekend of Firsts: Pacific Surfliner and Hydrobikes

A childhood friend of mine, Rachel Fischer, visited me in Orange County and was looking to spend ample time gazing out at the Pacific Ocean. Due to the impending last few days of finals for summer semester I did not get to plan out a full itinerary as I had originally wanted to but there were two days I wanted to highly focus upon in this post…

Day 1 – “America’s Finest City,” San Diego

Rachel and I, took Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner into the Santa Fe Depot (SAN) which is the closest in proximity to the USS Midway Museum and other major attractions. Let me first take a moment to go over Amtrak’s easy to navigate online booking system…Amtrak’s website looks very similar to that of a major airline’s. I have already included some direct links to portions of their site that include maps of the Pacific Surfliner’s route and also the station my train pulled into. Another piece of information I wanted to point out is that there are discounts even for students!

I had only been on a train one other time going into Los Angeles, which is not the most scenic of routes, so I was determined to change my perception of our train system. I chose the Pacific Surfliner route to San Diego because I wanted to go somewhere Rachel and I could enjoy some views of the ocean–this was the right decision! Enjoying nice comfortable seats by the window, we watched the scenery roll by transitioning from agricultural greenery to tumbling waves and surfers. Wanting a full day in “America’s Finest City” we took the first train of the day at 6:52AM out of Anaheim (ANA) and arrived at the Santa Fe Depot (SAN) at exactly 9AM.

Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner making its last stop at the Santa Fe (SAN) Depot. - Tamara Mendoza/Suitable Travel Today

Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner making its last stop at the Santa Fe (SAN) Depot. – Tamara Mendoza/Suitable Travel Today

Upon arrival, I was immediately impressed with how well taken care of the Santa Fe Depot (SAN) station was and it made me excited for the changes currently being made to the Anaheim (ANA) station. Anaheim’s is located right next door to Angel’s Stadium, Disneyland Resort, Honda Center and The Grove, which will make it a central transportation hub. An article on the construction can be found here.

Downtown San Diego is one of the easiest areas for a tourist to get around and with the help of Uber is extremely cheap (several of my own trips were approximately between $5-10). Our first stop was less than five minutes away in Little Italy! It has been some sort of a tradition of ours to track down unique coffee shops for breakfast each morning of our vacations and the one I chose this particular morning was called Caffe Italia, located right in front of the Little Italy main entrance and sign. Caffe Italia was bustling with activity as regulars stumbled in for their routine brew of fresh ground coffee. I’m not too fond of coffee myself but quite enjoyed their Orange Baba: a combination of Strawberry banana gelato blended with orange juice and topped with whipped cream. There were also an assortment of delicious pastries, bagels and coffee cakes to choose from. If you’re like me the environment is a large factor in my enjoyment of wherever I’m dining and Caffe Italia’s indoor/outdoor patio seating with friendly staff and romantic serenading background music took their small little coffee shop to the next level. And for the animal lover, pets are welcomed and dog treats are complimentary!

Taking another UberX car, our driver Darren laughed with us and shared stories of his own experiences as a college student in Southern California (turns out he had even temporarily lived in Huntington Beach, Surf City U.S.A.). Darren dropped us off right at the park next to the USS Midway and since we had time to spare before we enjoyed a stroll before heading over to check-in with Hornblower Cruises for a two hour tour of the bay; check-in can be found right in front of the battleship. Once on the top deck of the boat passengers can purchase drinks and snacks while the captain provides facts about everything there is to see in the bay. Incredibly scenic views, the harbor cruise is a photographer’s paradise!

"America's Finest City," San Diego Bayfront - Tamara Mendoza/Suitable Travel Today

“America’s Finest City,” San Diego Bayfront – Tamara Mendoza/Suitable Travel Today

USS Midway - Tamara Mendoza/Suitable Travel Today

USS Midway – Tamara Mendoza/Suitable Travel Today

"Unconditional Surrender" invoking both Romance and Patriotism - Tamara Mendoza/Suitable Travel Today

“Unconditional Surrender” invoking both Romance and Patriotism – Tamara Mendoza/Suitable Travel Today

After our tour of the bay, waiting at the dock was a pedicab–I’ve never ridden in one before but since there were so many people looking as if they were enjoying themselves I just had to try one myself. Our driver’s name was Gary who had a simple bike, others blast memorable 90’s songs, I wish could remember the name of the pedicab company Gary works for but should anyone know he deserves recognition. Initially what I thought would be a short ride from here to the Seaport Village turned into another mini tour! Gary took us around the park we casually walked through and pointed out the World War II memorial statues and their importance. As we continued around he pointed out an aircraft carrier across from the USS Midway with a #70 painted on it–this particular vessel was the same that took down Osama Bin Laden. Watching her sit across the way a thought occurred to me: this is either the most dangerous or safest place to be right now. I settled with the latter, what better environment than being surrounded by our troops. Continuing on our ride, we headed towards the Maritime Museum where Rachel and I learned about each of the ships docked there. Among all of them I was extremely drawn to the HMS Surprise which was used in the filming of Pirates of the Carribean and in my opinion the most beautiful ship I had ever seen. Now it was a very hot day so Gary thought it would be fun to take us to the Waterfront Park located directly across the street from the Maritime Museum. We strolled with our feet in the cool water while we watched families playing around us and I was impressed at the level of customer service we were receiving on this simple pedicab ride. Relaxed and cooled off, we got back on the bike and headed toward our final stop, Seaport Village. After we said our goodbyes and gave Gary a generous tip, Rachel and I proceeded to explore some of the shops at the Seaport Village and even rode the carousel (which mind you goes extremely fast) before heading to the next stop on our itinerary.

Dine, educate and relax at Balboa Park - Tamara Mendoza/Suitable Travel Today

Dine, educate and relax at Balboa Park – Tamara Mendoza/Suitable Travel Today

By this time it was about 3:45pm so it was off to Balboa Park to explore! I absolutely love Balboa Park not only for its gorgeous Spanish influenced architectural designs but also because of all that is offered there! Here is a list.

After wandering around enjoying the scenery for a while Rachel and I start to get hungry so we opted for a restaurant in Balboa Park I had been to before called The Prado. Now this is typically not a slip I ever make but I neglected to check the menu to see if there was a difference between the lunch and dinner menus. But when you are as hungry as I was this mistake can cause irritability and frustration which resulted in what Rachel referred to as being “h-angry” (a play on the words hungry and angry). Let me finish by saying that The Prado is not to be shamed in terms of the customer service, their servers are very attentive and delightful which is one of the reasons why I love this restaurant. They also have a gorgeous outdoor patio which is my favorite place to dine while on property, make sure you ask for it! When the sunlight catches the leaves it illuminates the rest of the patio. In my personal opinion, their lunch menu is much more appealing and has variety for everyone in your party. Take a look for yourself!

Surfers at Sunset - Tamara Mendoza/Suitable Travel Time

Surfers at Sunset – Tamara Mendoza/Suitable Travel Time

By the time we left the restaurant it was time to head back for our 6:45PM train departure on the Pacific Surfliner heading back to Anaheim. This was not enough time in order secure first choice seating since there was a huge line to take the last train of the day, I would recommend getting there 30-minutes before departure. We were some of the last passengers to board but we still easily found seating near the rear of the train. Now as I mentioned before the route in the morning to San Diego was absolutely gorgeous…watching the sun set at the end of the evening was even better! I got a lot of great shots on my camera most of them didn’t even require a filter! The passengers on this train were a lot more rambunctious than the morning ride but soon fell asleep shortly after. Exactly at 9PM we arrived at the Anaheim station where an Angels game was going on! I love Southern California, there is always something exciting going on.

At the end of the day we were exhausted from our grand tour, I do not believe we could have had a better day in “America’s Finest City.”

Day 2 – Hydrobiking in the Alamitos Bay, Long Beach

Completely beat from the day before we slept in and then lazily tried to figure out what our plans for today would be. I have used Groupon on many occasions but sometimes it seems to be a hit or miss on what they offer. One that I had been wanting try out for the longest amount of time was a hydrobike. I had seen many of these in the Alamitos Bay Marina of Long Beach while strolling through some of the shops next to the landing and in my mind they appeared to be fun and fairly easy.

On a hydrobike the rider peddles on top of the water on a contraption like this…

*Note: Most items on Groupon you purchase require users to reserve at least 24-hours in advance…do not use it for a spontaneous trip.

Long Beach Hydrobikes highly recommends making a reservation and I was able to do so via text! The attendant responded quickly and we were on our merry way. When we arrived there parking was easy and best of all, free. We got out and walked down to the landing with time to spare, on a busy day I recommend utilizing the I-405 North freeway over Pacific Coast Highway, two words: carpool lane.

The attendants at the landing were pleasant, to some they could come across as scruffy irritable men but deep down underneath their tough exterior they were tremendously helpful. After signing a waiver form, one of the attendants shows you a map of the bay where you will be biking on a pre-routed one hour ride to Treasure Island and back. I was fine with the idea of getting on one of these puppies until it was my turn…instant panic struck as I experienced a “Peter” lack of faith that I would stay afloat. Frozen on top of my hydrobike the attendant tried to coax me to start peddling, “Sweetheart, you have to peddle. You can do it.”

As I finally started peddling away from the landing I suddenly felt as if I was tipping to one side and that at any moment would topple over. Were it not for the approaching yachts I would have never budged from where I sat petrified. One peddle at a time I started to become more comfortable peddling faster and faster until it became easy…like riding a bike.

It was a fun and a great workout! I’m very proud of what we both accomplished.

Conclusion –

Rachel conquered different activities on other days when I was working at the hotel but all in all she had a fantastic time. She has in a way become a great travel buddy for me and I can’t wait for our next adventure–next time hopefully it will be outside the realm of SoCal.

I have some other blog posts coming out within the next few days so keep up, you’re in for a nice treat!

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Taste of the OC: Anaheim’s Packing District and Downtown Disney

It’s time to talk food!

Orange County has always had great food but over the last year I have noticed most cities heavily marketing essentially watering holes for travelers and locals alike. Tourists coming to the area are becoming more adventurous, looking for those popular local hot spots. One of my favorite cities to recommend is Anaheim which is central beacon for most and is filled with something for everyone. As soon as I mention this most guests look at me and immediately begin to question, “Isn’t that where Disneyland is? I thought that was just for kids.” Well I’m here to say that there is more to Anaheim than the looming Disneyland Resort.

Let me first start with the newly built Anaheim Packing House located in the Packing District on the edge of downtown Anaheim:

Built in 1919, the once Sunkist orange packing house is one of the few surviving from the agricultural era for which Orange County received its name. The newly renovated building houses a food hall containing casual food options for everyone and even a “Speakeasy” (1920’s influenced hidden bar) behind a bookcase. Looking around you will notice the inside decor is reminiscent of an outdoor patio; look for the plants and swings (yes swings) surrounding the center of the lower level. Take your time looking around because there are lots of surprises along the way! I found the Packing House to be great for friends and families, casual date outings and even the business traveler.

The Packing District in its glory days as a Sunkist Orange Packing House during the Agricultural Era. /OC History Roundup

The Packing District in its glory days as a Sunkist Orange Packing House during the Agricultural Era. /OC History Roundup

When I was there last week with my mom we proceeded to splurge on a tasting frenzy; needless to say I was in a major food coma afterwards so my warning is to be careful, all of the food is beyond delicious. First stop was Black Sheep Grill Cheese Bar for an Original Grilled Cheese…it is what it says an original grilled cheese and my taste buds were happy but it seemed to lack the extra flavor to give it personality. Let me add that there are other unique options on Black Sheep’s menu which are probably more worth trying.

Next up was Orange Tei for a traditional Japanese style ramen bowl–and no you are not getting top ramen, believe me it’s a lot tastier. Orange Tei creates the perfect combination of noodle and broth in a huge bowl fit for a king. If you’re still hungry sides of shrimp are available, although I’m not much of a seafood eater myself my mom thoroughly enjoyed the tempura. This location is always busy which is expected from the popular food stand. Already being my second time visiting Orange Tei, I will continue to come back for that Pork Bowl. Tip: Go downstairs for some sake after your meal!

For dessert we went to Popbar which currently holds the record for the longest line. When you get up to the counter pick a gelato or sorbet popsicle from an assortment of flavors, have them dip it in a unlimited number of chocolate and finally add nuts and/or sprinkles. After careful consideration I opted for a peach sorbet dipped in milk chocolate, drizzled with white chocolate and doused with chocolate sprinkles. Incredibly fattening but worth it I assure you…after all what’s a cheat day for?

After spending all afternoon at the Packing House, I successfully converted my mother and will be back again soon! Preferably on a weekday early afternoon for lunch when crowds are smaller and parking is easier.

Get your food fix at the Anaheim Packing House today!

Get your food fix at the Anaheim Packing House today! – Tamara Mendoza/Suitable Travel Today

As promised, I am covering two food hot spots in Anaheim. Now let’s move onto an outdoor shopping and food center much closer to Disneyland…Downtown Disney:

Being a local myself, I have seen these same restaurants year after year but one in particular that I never got around visiting until last Monday is Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen. Coincidentally this restaurant happened to be hosting the concierge association’s general meeting for this month so I was able to sample a few popular items…absolute bliss…

Cocktail Hurricane

Cruzan rum and Fresh Fruit juice served in a hurricane glass

Salad – French Quarter Salad

Mixed greens with a Steen’s cider vinaigrette, candied pecans and cherry tomatoes

Entree – Andouille & Pretzel Crusted Pork Loin

Mashed potatoes, bacon braised turnip greens, creole mustard buerre blanc

Desserts – Beignets

A New Orleans classic! French donuts topped with powdered sugar

*By Executive Chef Darrin Finkel

New Orleans Cuisine and Charm at Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen in Downtown Disney - Tamara Mendoza/Suitable Travel Today

New Orleans Cuisine and Charm at Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen in Downtown Disney. – Tamara Mendoza/Suitable Travel Today

With Cast Members you can always expect excellent service and atmosphere; they are what makes this particular experience different than the rest in Downtown Disney. The architecture brings its guests to New Orleans perfect for a casual dinner or a romantic proposal (ask for balcony seating–the fireworks add an extra touch). Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen also offers live entertainment every night from 6pm-10pm. Tip: If you’re driving over their just for the evening, Downtown Disney has free parking the first 3 hours and free for the first 5 hours with validation from participating restaurants including the Jazz Kitchen.

I will be honest, Downtown Disney tends to be my default as a biased former cast member for a late night stroll and good time but I promise there is a reason for it! Especially for our guests who don’t have the budget or means to purchase admission to the parks it still offers that Disney flare. If you walk around by the Disneyland hotel or are looking for a character dining experience, visit Goofy’s Kitchen–reservations at least 24-hours in advance are highly recommended.

Heading back towards where the shops and other restaurants are visit ESPN Zone to catch a game, have a beer, or play some games in their big kid sized arcade. Another popular stop is the Rainforest Café which provides a jungle experience complete with animated animals and rainforest sounds, a great stop for the kids. One of my favorite activities to do is to stop by Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel to rest by their fireplace and maybe visit Napa Rose for a glass of wine. Other highlights in the area include live entertainment, shopping, concerts at the House of Blues, Build-a-Bear Workshop for the kids, the largest Disney store in the area, and an AMC Movie Theater.

Downtown Disney/Disneyland Resort

Shopping and dining at the Happiest Place on Earth at Downtown Disney./Disneyland Resort

As I mentioned there is quite a bit to choose from and that’s just TWO of the shopping districts in Anaheim! Well I’m going to wrap this up since I know as a hungry traveler or local you’re probably getting a little hungry from talking about all this food. Here’s to wishing you a good time–happy and safe travels!

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