The Lab Anti-Mall

Alright you hipsters and trend seekers…

There has been a lot of buzz about The Lab Antimall for quite some time and finally I made it there myself. Just a short five minute car ride away from South Coast Plaza in the city of Costa Mesa, The Lab is a unique shopping destination worth stopping by. **Disclaimer, these photos are not mine–due to marketing policies in place I was not allowed to take my own photos.


 

Located at 2930 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, California; just shy of 5-minutes driving distance from South Coast Plaza.

If there was such a thing a dessert foodie, I would be one. That being said let’s face it, my sole purpose for visiting was to try a cute little macaron shop called Honey & Butter. The store is in a vintage airstream decorated with popular Japanese characters like Totoro…my kind of place!

macarons10.jpg (700×470)

The charming airstream in which Honey & Butter serves their delectable sweets.

Kawaii character macarons are featured on a daily basis. Follow @honeyandbutter on Instagram for updates!

Not only are these macarons simply adorable but they are delicious too! Make sure to get in line early before their opening time to try and “catch ’em all.” Their non-character macarons are also excellent with flavors such as Matcha, Pineapple, and Enchanted Berries.

After about an hour wait time with my macarons in lieu, I headed out of the airstream and into some of the other nearby shops. The Lab is a smaller shopping experience with a hip, eclectic feel and local art lining the outdoor center. This is also reflected in the types of stores which can be found there such as Heirlooms & Hardware and Creme Tangerine.

Heirlooms & Hardware sells furniture, hand crafted jewelry, typewriters, and vintage cameras…for great prices!

There is something about typewriters and cameras that intrigue the writer in me. Walking into Heirlooms & Hardware was like being transported into an antique paradise. I was strolling around the store until I happened upon a beautiful Remington typewriter! Before I knew it, I had purchased it for a low $125 and took it to get repaired a nearby shop the store works closely with. For the condition of the typewriter this was very reasonably priced in comparison to the standard $300+ a more battered version would cost. Thank you Heirlooms & Hardware!

Vinyl has made it’s comeback!

My obsession with vinyl is real, guys. The answer to my addiction is Creme Tangerine who sells only the best for LOW prices! One of the items I bought was an autographed 45″ LP of “I Love Rock N Roll” by Joan Jett and The Blackhearts…for only $1.99! The employees are incredibly well versed in all genres and are extremely helpful; definitely my new favorite place to stock up on the classics.


It can be very difficult to find time to travel when I am needed at the hotel during our peak season, so my goal for the summer has been to visit a new place every week. During my training to become a Certified Tourism Ambassador (CTA) for the Anaheim Orange County Visitor and Convention Bureau (AOCVCB), I heard many wonderful things about The Lab Antimall.

Orange County is as diverse a community as it’s beautiful beaches and towering sky scrapers. To the habitual spender or window shopper–if you are looking for a shopping experience like no other, I strongly urge you to add The Lab Antimall to your list. I know I’ll be back very soon!


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Dumpling Crazed Fans Flood Din Tai Fung in Costa Mesa

     by Tamara Mendoza – Owner and Creator of Suitable Travel Today

     updated 5:33 PM PST, Sun September 21, 2014

 

During my early childhood I met someone who has influenced much of my life, one of my closest friends and web developer for Suitable Travel Today, Karyn Vo. As a young Hispanic girl, my eyes were opened to the rich cultures of Asia as Karyn introduced me to many different foods and products all of which I still love to this day. Din Tai Fung, the popular Chinese dumpling house began construction well over a year ago when I got word that it would be opening at South Coast Plaza, a shopping destination in Costa Mesa. Imagine my excitement as I waited on the edge of my seat for the restaurant to open.

Finally the day came and on my birthday I ecstatically waited in line.

For those of you not familiar with the term dim sum, BuzzFeed describes it as “(點心 in written Chinese, and pronounced dian xin in Mandarin) is a meal—usually taken on a weekend morning—that encompasses a vast roster of small dishes selected from carts.” (Read more in their Essential Guide to Dim Sum.)

Din Tai Fung: Steamed Juicy Pork Dumplings

Once inside the restaurant, I noticed that the carts were not being utilized but instead a long sheet of paper listing the à la carte menu items. Visitors mark each item with a tally to indicate their selected portion and quantity. This change makes ordering significantly simpler to order and if you are unsure what the food you are ordering looks like, there is a full menu for you to browse complete with photos. If you are still confused the servers are always available to answer questions and make recommendations in perfect English.

Din Tai Fung has managed to perfect the art of the dumpling…as each steamer basket is laid out in front of you, one cannot help but gorge themselves on everything, including the non-dumpling menu items. There are an assortment to choose from so allow me to provide you a copy of the menu to peruse. Some of my favorites were the standard Juicy Pork Dumplings, Chicken Fried Noodles, Sauteed String Beans with Garlic, the Pork Bun (pulled pork with BBQ), and the Pork Fried Rice. Enjoy a pot of tea or fresh brewed beer with your meal as well to get the full experience!

Now that we’ve talked about how scrumptious Din Tai Fung’s food really is, I wanted to devote some time to the service because they deserve it. Most will agree that no matter how good the food, the service is the determining factor on whether or not a restaurant makes the cut in the eyes of the consumer. Din Tai Fung does not disappoint in that category, they excel in it. Some visitors may argue about the long wait to get into the restaurant but I infer that it may be because those of us here in Southern California are not accustomed as those in Northern California, Chicago and New York are with waiting more than an hour to be seated. Din Tai Fung, unfortunately, does not take reservations but I urge you to be patient it is well worth the wait. To prevent yourself from running rampant from a severe case of dumpling fever, I recommend arriving earlier than you intend on eating, put in your name, and enjoy a nice stroll around South Coast Plaza. As a convenience, Din Tai Fung will take down your cell phone number and text you as soon as your table is ready.

As you walk through the main lobby of the restaurant there is a bar worth stopping at and a window–which reminded me of a fishbowl–where you can watch as Din Tai Fung’s world famous dumplings are being prepared. Continuing on to the main dining area you are seated among the Chinese style decor while you are waited on hand and foot by the incredibly friendly staff. What really struck me was how present the managers were, in fact one of them was consistently returning to our table to fill up our glasses of water and recommending menu items himself! That my friends is excellent service.

Patrons feast on Din Tai Fung’s world famous dumplings.

Din Tai Fung staff preparing fresh dumplings through a glass window available to peek through in the main entrance.

At the end of our meal my family felt as stuffed as those dumplings and as we waddled back to our car we enthusiastically chattered about when our next visit to Din Tai Fung will be…believe me it will be sooner rather than later.

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It’s a “Pirate’s Cove” Life for Me!

Just a short little blurb from me tonight… It just occurred to me that I have not mentioned the day I spent at Pirate’s Cove in Corona Del Mar! As I talked about during my last post, my childhood friend Rachel visited me here in Huntington Beach for a birthday vacation. Over the weekend, my mom and I had several activities planned out for her to enjoy, among them San Diego and Long Beach. The day she was to return home my mom and I planned a shorter half-day adventure to Pirates Cove. After our beach day we would adjourn to Fashion Island to walk around, enjoy the shops, and pick up her favorite dessert…Pinkberry. Luckily she was departing out of John Wayne Airport (SNA) so we were able to complete every stop. If you have not been to Pirates Cove then you really should put it on your to-do list, on a clear and sunny day the water is illuminated and gives off a pretty blue-green hue. This beautiful paradise is located opposite the Newport Beach Jetty and is technically located in Corona Del Mar. Families can enjoy the calming waves perfect for small children (a lifeguard is always on duty) and couples can enjoy a romantic picnic overlooking the harbor. For the movie buff, here’s a fun fact: Pirates Cove is no stranger to Hollywood and was the filming location for several movies and TV shows including Treasure Island, Pirates of the Caribbean and Gilligan’s Island.

Pirate’s Cove, Corona Del Mar – Tamara Mendoza/Suitable Travel Today (Photo is featured on Visit California’s official Instagram account.)

Corona Del Mar Beach Map - Pirates Cove or Rocky Point can be seen above. Parking is $15 from 6AM to 10PM. Click here for more information.

Corona Del Mar Beach Map – Pirate’s Cove or “Rocky Point” can be seen above. Parking is $15 from 6AM to 10PM. Click here for more information.

After we were all good and tanned it was time to head to Fashion Island for a bit of shopping. This outdoor shopping destination is popular stop for visitors because of its upscale shops yet casual atmosphere. Walking around I have noticed lots of new fun stores opening up and I can’t wait when I have more time to go back and explore them. Fashion Island also offers several upscale dining options including Red O, Fig & Olive and Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar. Our motive for going to Fashion Island was to pick up some Pinkberry frozen yogurt before Rachel headed back to Arizona (there are few locations close to her home), typically I tend to stray from chain restaurants/shops because I really do enjoy finding unique locations but this was a stop made specifically for Rachel. It was a good call, however, because after a hot day at the beach this is just what we needed to cool off. It was now time to take Rachel to the John Wayne Airport for her evening flight so taking MacArthur Blvd. we headed inland–if you take this street it runs directly into the airport entrance! The short drive was super easy and took less than 10-minutes. I love this airport because it is quick to navigate through and is central to a lot of great properties in the Orange County area. Some of you may also know that I frequent this airport for a lot of domestic trips since it is conveniently located so close to my own home. Well as I have said before this is just a short post this evening but I have lots of new posts coming up everyone so keep up with me as I update you on some of the wonderful places I’ve been to recently! Happy and safe travels!

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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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Hiking and Biking in the OC

 Guest Blogger: Ian McGregor – Cela’s Trek

 Hiking and Biking in the OC by Ian McGregor – 11 August 2014

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Apologies for the length of time since the last post. I hope to have a new post out every week, but things have been really busy on this end – moving out by the end of next week, then after five days I plunge headfirst into my last year at Berkeley. So soon!

Anyways, for this post I thought I’d give you guys some tips about a couple places I went to in the last week in Orange County, specifically, Newport Beach and Laguna Beach. Yesterday we had to take a trip down to the Upper Newport Bay Nature Reserve for some irrigation inspiration, and our contact was happy to show us around in the meantime. The Reserve center is much bigger than the conservancy at which I’m interning, and part of that is because the area it oversees is scores of acres larger – it stretches from the ocean all the way to where the 73 freeway meets Jamboree. Growing up with the tradition of going to Fashion Island (think American consumerism at its finest) during the holidays, I’ve always gazed out over the marsh, wishing there was some way I could get in there and explore. Turns out there definitely is! Other than the canoeing and SUP (stand-up paddleboard) opportunities right across the water from the reserve, there’s actually a “Mountains to Sea Trailhead” that’s open for bikes. I asked our guide if by “mountains” the sign meant Saddleback. “Kind of,” he replied, looking out over the marsh. He raised his arm and pointed toward the east, while his other hand shielded the sun. “It starts over in Santiago Canyon, joins some roads, goes on its own…but eventually it winds its way down here to the Reserve.” I, of course, was astonished at hearing this. This is something I would expect to find in a bike-friendly place like Copenhagen, which recently has been looking to expand its 22 km (13.67 mile) superhighway for commuters. But nope! Irvine Ranch has its own 35.4 km (22 mile) path for bikers (albeit recreational), and it looks to be a really fun ride. You can see a map of the route here.

 

View of Newport Back Bay as seen from the trailhead (looking east)
In terms of hiking, let’s move a little further south to Laguna Beach. Since I’ve been involved with Pageant of the Masters for the summer (great show, see my friend Tamara’s take on it here), I’ve gotten the opportunity to explore the Laguna area a bit more, which is something I’ve always wanted to do. Sure it’s just down the coast from Huntington and Newport, but the lifestyle, mindset, and overall culture is just a bit different once you get past Crystal Cove State Park on PCH (Pacific Coast Highway). One of the highlights from my time exploring was the discovery of Top of the World. I have some friends from elementary school I still hang out with, and we were wondering what we could do to show my German exchange student – it would have to be something unique and something he couldn’t really get in the Huntington area, hence for it to be special. We asked my friend’s sister and she immediately suggested this Top of the World place. I’m so glad she did. Although the highest point in the Laguna hills area is really where the 73 freeway reaches its zenith, this is the next highest point that people can access. If you don’t have the time to bike or hike the 1036 ft (316 m) to the top, you can drive practically the whole way and reach the top via a 5 min walk. Whichever way you want to tackle it, the views are spectacular. To the north you can see Mt. Baldy (a spiraling 10,000 ft [3048 m] high peak), to the east you see the two top reaches of Saddleback (both averaging about 5500 ft [1676 m]), to the south-east you can see the hills of San Clemente, and to the west, you have the Pacific Ocean sprawling out toward Catalina and San Clemente islands. From this height, the water is so close that you can almost imagine going down an immense water slide right into the ocean. I personally have gone up there twice now, both times in the late afternoon and the views were good (even with clouds). If you are able to take the time to plan your trip there, though, I suggest going on a cloudless day soon after a rainstorm or Santa Ana wind event (generally very clear days) and going in early morning/midday, because this way the north will be cleared up as well. During the summer in the late afternoon, the setting sun from Top of the World vantage point is NNE, and while sunsets up there are both fantastic and romantic, it can obscure some views. Either way, the drive and the scenery is in my opinion a great find. And if while you’re on the top of the world you get antsy, not to worry! There are trails over the tops of the hills for people to hike or bike on both sides of the CA 133 highway, with a chance to get an in-depth and intimate look at the majesty of this oceanside contour.

Pro-Tip: If you really want that view looking north from Irvine/Laguna, I would suggest taking the 73 highway on a Sunday morning or sometime when there isn’t much traffic in the morning hours (caution; 73 freeway is a no-cash toll road). When traveling north and you crest the hill on a clear day, you can see the whole LA Basin spread out like an interactive map before you. In fact, you can see all the way to Santa Monica Mountains and Malibu hills! If there is a place to stop off and take a picture, I highly suggest it. I personally haven’t discovered anything yet, but I think it’s there.
Two other exciting things about the top of the world. Right by the parking lot (next to the entrance to the tennis courts) is an amazing tree, Arbutus unedo, in the Ericaceae family to be exact. In english, it is known as a Strawberry Tree: it has a reddish, flaky bark and is kind of small for a tree, but the main draw about it is the fruit. Its leaves are littered with orange, yellow, and red lizard-skin berries that taste so good. Think of it like candy hidden in plain sight that no one knows about. While they’re pretty to view, only the red ones are ripe enough to eat, and it turns out you can make the berries into jam and other things! All I know about it is how I discovered it. I had a plant identification course last year and we were wandering around campus identifying the nonnative species that had been planted there. I had kept seeing the Arbutus trees around, so I asked my professor about them and if the berries were edible. He paused, and grabbed a fruit from the tree. “You know, I’m not really sure,” he said with a quirky smile, then promptly tossed the fruit into his mouth and smiled broadly. Since then I’ve taste-tested all the strawberry trees on campus…definitely no obsession there!

Anyways, the other exciting thing: when coming up to top of the world (driving), I suggest coming up the fun way. If you’re coming from the 133, you want to turn left on Forest. If you’re coming from PCH, you’re going to want to turn onto Broadway and eventually make a right on Forest. The reason for this is you get to go up this awesome hill. I’d put it at a 50-60 degree grade – it’s so much fun. Coming down is also fantastic; it looks like you’re about to fall off the edge of the continent itself, and during the summer it’s not surprising to hear screams coming from new drivers tackling the hill. To get to top of the world from there, just turn left at the stop sign once you climb the hill, and just follow the road to the top.

Well, that’s about from this end. It may be a little bit until I do my next post since I’m moving into a new apartment and getting things underway for my semester, but rest assured I have some really great ideas for future posts. Thanks for reading!

– Ian

P.S. After reading more National Geographic Traveler, I think I’m going to try writing these posts in more of a travel writing style, similar to what you’d find in those articles. The passage below is my own exercise into this domain. There’s no new information pertinent to this post, and it’s purely a creative writing jaunt, if you will. If you do want to read it, just know that this is probably much more in depth than I’ll go into every single topic. The goal here is to make you interested, not bored! :]

I have more media than just this blog! Look for me on Facebook  and Twitter, and if you have any questions, go ahead and shoot me an email!

Vi ses!

On top of the world, there was a tree. But it wasn’t a normal tree. Its bark looked familiar, as though coming from a cherished, far-off memory. As I approached the tree I saw it first as a stranger, second as an acquaintance, and third as a long-lost friend. When it was a stranger, I noticed a simple standing statue in the passage of time, dedicated by others in its round home. When it became the acquaintance, I found it to be vaguely recognizable – more than a statue but not quite a monument. As I drew closer it broke from its fog and revealed itself to me as a forgotten friend, one whom I haven’t seen in ages. My smile grew, unbidden, and my hand immediately reached for my friend’s, just to feel the warmth of her touch after so many years. To feel that familiarity, that compassion – it’s what I’ve missed. I ran my hand over the contours of the bark and laughed out loud, for I instantly knew the significance of this find. My companions who ventured with me to the top of the world stood perplexed behind me; I couldn’t tell if they were curious or just couldn’t bring themselves to enter into this moment of joy with me. But it didn’t matter. I took no notice of them as I continued to reminisce with my friend. I was about to rejoin my companions in reality when I turned my gaze upward, and suddenly…reality did not want to return just yet. My joy expanded ten-fold as I discovered the trifecta that lay before me: starburst, sun rays, and oranges. The forbidden fruit that manifested itself above me brought to mind a feast I had only experienced once before, a lifetime ago. Keeping one hand on the aged bark, I stretched the other to find the perfect one, my hand moving as though in a trance until, at last! I found a bright sun ray just within reach. Unable to contain my excitement I settled the sun between my teeth and bit down. OH! The disgust! I quickly expunged the sun from my body – in my excitement I had forgotten the important lesson of preparation. I could just hear my friend laughing at me. Her eyes dancing in the fading light, “Have you really forgotten?” I didn’t answer; the bitterness was too much to take in. After ridding myself of the taste, I quickly remedied my error. I traded my thirst for the sun with a new quest for the starburst. After a quick search I found it: just within arm’s reach and absolutely perfect.

I gingerly put the fruit in my mouth for fear of making the same mistake again, but when I bit down, the world exploded. It was as if the ecstasy of all food consolidated itself in this one small starburst berry. I could hear my friend laughing with pure radiant joy, and her exultation  was as much a reflection of my own state as it was her relief that I remembered. By this point, my companions were as lost to me as though I had never known them, and I reveled in it. I reveled in the mutual reconciliation that was taking place, for to me it was a rebirth of that which I had lost. All too soon the berry was gone and I was left standing in front of her. Though she tood still, her hair glowed and her eyes continously danced while a shy smile lingered on her face. I don’t know how long we stood there, catching up on lost years, but I do know what broke it: a gust of wind reminding me about reality. My friend’s smile faltered for she realized what was happening. I motioned to her and turned to my waiting companions, to give them a chance to experience this kind of joy. Hesitantly they came, but they knew not what to expect. I eagerly gave them a starburst and awaited their reactions. Yet I was soon disappointed. Their collective mistrust of my excitement developed into a disgust of the fruit – from which solicited lackluster expressions. I didn’t dare turn toward my friend with the sadness in my eyes, and one by one my companions began walking down. I finally returned my gaze back to her, only to see she already knew. Her radiant joy had retreated to a melancholy presence, and I was the only one left to receive her, here in this isolated place. She understood what I was saying and I understood her response, though we spoke not a word. I gently reached for her hand one more time. As I lay mine upon hers, I was struck by how despite her fragility, I could sense the strength of life running though her, and God knows this dichotomy explained as much her physical appearance as her spirit. Finally, all was understood; I bowed my head and said goodbye. Her eyes held mine until she relented with a somber smile, “Don’t forget me.” I responded, “Never.” With that I broke the connection and sadness overwhelmed me. I began to rejoin my companions but I couldn’t keep myself from her. I stopped and turned back to see her once more but by then, the fog had already shrouded my memory and my friend was no more.

On top of the world there is a tree. And that tree, is my friend.

Ian McGregor is a guest blogger from Cela’s Trek where he is the Owner and Creator. Visit his blog here!

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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Pageant of the Masters: The Art Detective

Pageant of the Masters tickets

When I walked through the gates of Laguna Beach’s Festival of Arts, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what to expect from my first experience at Pageant of the Masters. Several months back I received a wonderful opportunity from the Laguna Beach Visitors Center for a tour of not only their lovely beach town but an inside look at how they bring art to life. Our tour guide took us backstage to meet the set designers, costume designers, hair and makeup artists, and the lighting designer—all who when their talents are put together with music and performers standing recreate world renown masterpieces.

It is recommended to arrive an hour and a half prior to show time; parking being the most tedious task since Festival of the Arts is located right in the middle of a canyon about 10-15 minutes inland of Laguna Beach. The parking, closest proximity to the main entrance varies between $10-15 and has attendants that direct you where to park. These lots fill quickly which is why I stress that you get there as early as you can. When entering the lot you will see a line in front of a kiosk, this is where attendees will pay, using a credit card or exact cash—it does not give back change. There is also a complimentary shuttle in the form of an old fashioned trolley if attendees park further away.

At this point I’m standing in awe at the center of the Festival of Arts. There is live jazz entertainment, a wine bar, food stands, a full restaurant, and local artists with their own pieces to share. Audience members are encouraged to talk to the artists and can even make purchases! Right before the performance you can walk over to the rental stand for blankets ($5) and binoculars ($10). Initially, I was unsure whether or not both items were necessities but believe me they sell them for a reason.

This year’s theme, The Art Detective highlights pieces that were shrouded in mystery and others that were the center of famous heists. Among my favorite artworks displayed were the Egyptian Discoveries such as the Sun Temple of Ramses II and the Temple of Queen Nefertari both shown near the close of Act One. As soon as the lighting brought these two wonders to life, my mouth dropped. Each of the other masterpieces portrayed are unique in their own right but there’s something about seeing ones you’re more familiar with than the rest. Although I’ve never been to Egypt personally, it felt as if I was instantly taken there. Incredibly realistic and awe-inspiring are only some of the adjectives I can think of to describe the Egyptian Discoveries.

Act Two was significantly faster than the first and was over in flash. I’ll leave the rest for you to see for yourselves. I can see now why many flock back to the event year after year. I think I found myself a new tradition! Special thanks go to Stephanie Reid (Where OC Magazine), Sharbie Higuchi (Pageant of the Masters), and Deanna Durst (Mendocino Farms).

Festival of Arts does not permit photography of any kind inside the arena and guests will be asked to check-in their cameras. Pageant of the Masters is not recommended for children under the age of 4. The Art Detective includes the use of nudity, strobe lights, and fog machines. Go to http://www.foapom.com/pageant-of-the-masters/ for tickets and other information, now playing through August 30th.