For starters, HAPPY THANKSGIVING, MERRY CHRISTMAS, HAPPY KWANZAA, HAPPY HANUKKAH, AND HAPPY NEW YEAR LOL!!! This is the first blog of 2020 so I wanted to cover all the holidays that have passed since you were last here. The year has started off a bit rocky but its time to jump back in.
First stop the LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA CITY OF ANGELS!
This year my winter break was longer than last year, so I knew I needed to use those two weeks wisely. The first week I was able to enjoy all the family festivities of the Christmas holiday. Being that Christmas is my favorite holiday, of course there was a visit to New York City to see the Christmas Tree. New York City is so beautiful during the holidays.
After Christmas it was time to head over to the West Coast for some sun. As much as I wished my entire family could have come, my sister and I only made this trip.
The beginning of the journey wasn’t all that great. Here’s why. Given that we were flying out of JFK – New York (tickets were much cheaper), we decided to head over to New York the day before. Typically we would have my mom and step dad drive us to the airport or, if we leave from Philly we would just park at the airport, but this was different. Since we left on a Monday morning we didn’t want to inconvenience them, so we had them drive us over on Sunday and we stayed at a hotel near the airport. That way, all we had to do was hop on the airport shuttle in the morning.
We chose to stay at The Holiday Inn JFK Airport because it was closest to the airport and a good price for one night. We have stayed at plenty Holiday Inn Hotels before so we figured this would be no different. At first glance there was no difference until we pulled up to the hotel and noticed gentleman that were standing out in the back of the hotel smoking. I think we were more alarmed of the location where they were smoking versus the fact that they were smoking. People smoke at hotels all the time. In addition, I think our awareness of our surroundings were a bit heightened because we knew at some point it would just be the two of us.
As we approached the front of the hotel everything appeared to be as advertised on the website. We proceeded to take our luggage out and go check into our room. Once we were officially in our rooms we dropped our stuff off and then headed back downstairs to the car. We were going to grab dinner before my parents headed back to New Jersey, since this was going to be our last dinner with them before the New Year. While on the elevator two ladies were talking when a gentleman got on. The elevator then landed on a floor that no one had pressed, so one of the women implied it was the floor the gym was on so maybe someone changed their mind. The gentleman then replied there was not a gym on that floor and further noted that the basement and third floor were being used as a homeless shelter.
Hearing him say thing annoyed me. For one, although I understand the need to have homeless shelters, I did not like it being in a hotel that I am paying for. Secondly, I felt like if the hotel is willing to house a homeless shelter, it should some how patrons aware. I don’t like deceit. I felt like anyone staying there should definitely be made aware of their surroundings and allowed to make an informed decision. Given the timing we did not press the issue because we were only going to be there for a few hours. After experiencing this, as a precaution, I will now ask hotels if any portion of the hotel is used to house the homeless. I understand that they may lie in effort to gain business, however, should they do so you have leverage to make an alternate decision or be compensated for the lack of honesty. Once we were passed the initial shock of not knowing, we just made sure we were alert at all times and got through the night. Overall our stay was fine.
The five hour flight was long but manageable. Always remember to download movies and books for entertainment during a flight that long, or catch up on the sleep you didn’t get the night before because you were up late packing.
Upon arrival we headed over to the car rental place and picked up our vehicle for the week. Although we arrived early our hotel was willing to accommodate an early check in which was great because I needed a nap. Here is where reality kicked in. During the planning process of the trip, I wanted to stay near the beach and close to downtown LA. Now when I say close, I mean at least within 30min of both areas. When looking up hotels we decided on staying in Huntington Beach (Orange County) because we loved the resort atmosphere. In looking at the map it appeared to be reasonably within distance to where we were going to go. To be honest, this was probably the first time I didn’t navigate from the hotel to each location I wanted to visit to make sure. However, staying in Huntington Beach turned out to be the best decision.
Upon arrival to our hotel, the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa, check in was quick and easy, and the staff was great in assisting with our luggage. The room was perfect. We had a great view of the courtyard and pool area and it provide the resort experience we were looking for.
Huntington Beach is about a 45min-1hr drive from the airport and downtown Los Angeles. Being that we were going to be able to check in early which was about 1pm we headed straight to the hotel to freshen up and grab a quick nap. On the way to the hotel we just grabbed a quick bite to eat from In-N-Out Burger. I had never been there before and wanted to check it out. The prices were reasonable and the food was pretty good.
After we rested for a bit we got dressed and headed to downtown LA. This is when I really understood how this commuting was not going to work everyday. Since I had an itinerary planned already, we proceeded with Monday night’s plan which was to have dinner at Krab Queenz LA, which is owned by social media influencer Kwaylon Rogers (Blameitonkway). It is located right around the corner from the Staples Center which is great for grabbing something to eat right before catching a game.
The food and drinks were great. I enjoyed the fried crab legs because I have never had anything close to fried crabs before and I had one of the mixed frozen drinks that didn’t disappoint. As a heads up, you have to pay for your meal before your order is placed in the kitchen. The space is a decent restaurant size, with high tables and outdoor seating for warmer days. Due to the size I’m sure on weekends and after hours it is packed and probably a wait so plan accordingly.
Once we finished with dinner we took the nice 45min drive back down to Huntington Beach. We took in some of the resort as we went back to our room. The resort had a lot of little areas with fire pits that were good for sitting and having a glass of wine, people playing board games, and others just sitting and enjoying the breeze. Once we got back into the room we settle into bed and got ready for the next day. As a heads up, prepare for the time difference. The best way to handle it is to push through the tired and try to stay awake as long as possible in the new time zone. After a day or two your body will adjust to the difference, but be prepare because when you return home you’ll have to figure it out lol.
The start of this day was a chill in bed morning. This was a must for this trip because I needed it and I was on vacation lol. Before the trip I had laryngitis and was still recovering from that, and then the plane was freezing so it triggered a head cold and that didn’t help. Once we finally got up and out, we headed to the beach. Although it was mid 70 degrees just about everyday, it still wasn’t warm enough to my liking to wear a bathing suit or get in the water. Instead we just walked the boardwalk and took in the sights. Another beautiful thing about the hotel was the shuttle service it provided. We called valet and someone was ready to drive us over to one of the stops they had on the strip, and we had the option for pick when we were ready to return. We decide to use the drop off option and walk back. Upon arrival it was perfect timing to pull out the camera and capture a few scenic pics.
Huntington Beach is known as surf city. The gorgeous beach stretches for miles and watching the surfers is so much fun. You get to see them planning to catch the next wave or watch them maneuver their surf boards on top of a wave. Outside of a couple of movies I’ve watched, I have never seen up close the process of surfing. The waves were large and frequent so it was definitely plenty to see. I’ve decided that one day I’ll take a lesson just to get a true feeling of what it takes to surf.
While we were out we decided to stop by the adult beverage store lol and prepare for our New Year’s toast. Although we had plans to attend the comedy club to bring in the New Year in LA, we were going to begin the celebration by toasting at 9pm, which was midnight on the east coast. After we went to the store we enjoyed the 10min walk back to the resort. Huntington Beach is truly beautiful during sunset. The bonus was coming across a wedding that was happening as the sun was setting. The beach was a perfect backdrop for the occasion and the landscape of the resort made the scene even more beautiful.
Once we got back to the room we got ready for our last dinner before heading out to bring in the New Year. Unfortunately our original dinner plans didn’t work out but that didn’t stop us from getting dressed in our outfits and catching a couple pictures lol. Once we finished pics we changed and got ready for the comedy show we were going to. Once again we had to endure the 45min drive back to LA, more specifically the Laugh Factory in Hollywood. Now again this could have been different because they have a Laugh Factory in Long Beach which was about 20min closer but again my error. When I booked the tickets I just knew we were within the same area as our hotel. Lesson learned.
Since we arrived about an hour early we decided to enjoy dinner at a little restaurant called Rock and Roll Sushi which was across the street from the comedy club and a shopping area. I didn’t take pictures of the restaurant or my food (I was hungry), but click the link to head over to google to see pricing and some of the photos online. The food was pretty good but nothing too exciting. After dinner we headed back to the show.
The good thing about getting there so early was we had time to get something to eat. The bad thing was when we returned to the venue the line was extremely long. We thought by getting the VIP tickets it would minimize our time in line and it guarantee us to have a seat inside. We quickly realized that the entire line was basically VIP. Either way we finally got inside and ended up with seats to the right of the stage. The show was entertaining and came with a glass of champagne to bring in the New Year at midnight. We didn’t stay the whole show. For one midnight LA is 3am NYC, I was tired lol, and we still had to take the 45min drive back to the hotel.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!!
Let me start by saying this day was very interesting due to my being sick upon our arrival to LA. So please remember I was still recovering lol. So our original plan was to get up and have a light breakfast and then head to downtown LA. This was the plan because for some reason in my mind I thought the basketball game we were going to started at 1pm. I was totally wrong. Here we are at 11:30am fully dressed for the game and heading to the Staples Center. As soon as we got off the highway I knew something was wrong. That’s when the thought to double check the time kicked in.
Now when I originally looked up the games that would be happening during that time I saw a 1pm game. This time stayed in my head the entire time up until that moment. When I entered the ESPN app, I saw the game would not begin until 7:30pm. The look on my face was priceless. I was totally ready to see King James in action and now had another six hour wait. Now our entire day was altered. Originally after the game we were going to hit some landmarks that I’ve wanted to see but we flipped it to do before the game. First stop was Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles. We were going to go to the LA location but the line was out the door. We headed over to the Inglewood location, because it was another landmark there I wanted to see and that line was basically the same but we decided to stay since we had time to kill.
Please understand the food was good but was not worth our 2 hour wait. I could not truly enjoy the meal because I was so over the wait. I will try again another time but for experience sake I endured lol. By the time we finished and left we only had about 3 hours before the game.
Our next stop was a well location. It’s known best for where one of my favorite 30 and up shows was filmed. This show sparked twitter outrage at the conclusion of season one and will still trigger someone to argue for Team Issa or Team Lawrence. Of course by now you have figured it out that show is Insecure. One of the landmarks of the show was where it all began, which is the apartment that Issa and Lawrence shared, called The Dunes. Fair warning, there are people living there and will be staring at you if you decide to have a whole photoshoot outside their apartment building. Although I didn’t feel unsafe, I still quickly captured my pictures and went about my business.
The next spot we went to, I wanted to check out because I was in need of some coffee. I had seen Issa Rae had opened a new spot called The Hilltop but it was already closed due to the holiday. Since we weren’t able to enjoy it that day we decide we would return later in the week. Since we were close by we decided to head over to the Crenshaw neighborhood of Los Angeles. If you are a 90’s baby you have many ties to Crenshaw. Whether it’s from watching Boyz in the Hood or Love and Basketball you recognize the name. For the new generation its the connection to former rap artist Nipsey Hussle. When he first past I couldn’t understand why I felt the pain so deeply. The more I thought about it and tried to get to the root of what I was feeling I realized it was more sympathy and pain for what losing him represented to those that loved him.
In that spirit, to be in the location where he was taken from the community that loved him and he loved, was bitter sweet. You can’t help but to think, what if, as you ride through the neighborhood. The impact that his physical life would have caused, but his legacy will inspire, to the neighborhood he loved. If you ever decide to go and visit the area I recommend you don’t go alone and be aware of your surroundings. The parking lot where the shooting occurred and where his clothing story is located was blocked off. There is a mural on the side of the building, but it is attached to an alley way. The only access, would be to park somewhere and then walk over. I did not do that because there were several people already in the alley way waiting to take pictures and I just didn’t want to deal with finding parking. There are several murals in the area but this one stood out the most and was my favorite that pays tribute to him.
After visiting the murals it was game time! We headed back downtown to the Staples Center. The beauty about this time of year is the holiday lights are still up and in this case the ice skating rink and the Christmas tree was still up. Before entering the game we walked around the arena and took in all the sculptures that are outside. This is one arena I have always wanted to experience a game. For many reasons but one being it was the bane of my existence as a kid watching Allen Iverson play and always losing to Kobe Bryant and the LA Lakers in the finals. But if you are basketball fan the Staples Center rings loud just like Madison Square Garden. It’s the home of legends.
As with anything in life, you really don’t recognize the impact someone has until they are gone. Although I was in LA at the Staples Center to witness the greatness of another NBA legend, the City of Angels would be hit with the loss of another just a few weeks later. Losing Kobe Bryant (8-23-78 – 01-26-20), has been one of the worst losses of my generation. When you watch a player like Kobe you are inspired to strive for greatness beyond your wildest dreams. When you enter the staples center you see his legacy everywhere and he will forever remain in the hearts and minds of the fans who loved him.
Now the basketball was everything I dreamed it would be. The tickets to the game were a Christmas gift from my sister and she did not disappoint. They were club seats that were just off the side of center court. Since we were already in the area we decided to go into the stadium early to look around. With club or premium seats you are allowed to enter the stadium 2 hours before the game vs. 1 hour with regular seating. If you get these seats use them wisely. Walking around the stadium is peaceful and you can see the stadium from different areas.
In addition you have access private access to you club area. You will have to have your ticket on you at all time because in order to get into your club room you will need to scan your game ticket. You also have access to a private food area where you can go throughout the game and you are able to order food to your club section. So because I’ve never experience clubs seating (I know all you fancy folk have lol) I was excited to see everything. At one point during the game servers came to the room with an entire desert cart. I was in love. But be prepared, a slice of red velvet cake can cost you $12. I was not that impressed lol. I like the finer things in life that make sense and $12 red velvet isn’t one of them lol, but enjoy if you choose.
To say Lebron James is amazing is an understatement. To watch his energy during a game and how he leads his team is a sight to see. There were no boring moments during the game. The Lakers played in unison and all of the team members were involved. Now I’ve been to a basketball game before but in this setting it was so much more fun and entertaining. You aren’t cramped in a seat next to someone and you have the space to jump and scream to your hearts desire. Every moment was one I will remember and recommend if you are able to do so, go for it and enjoy it. The ending was even better with a LAKERS WIN!!!
After the game we left the stadium and headed back to the hotel. It was in that moment we decided to stay on our end of town and go sightseeing in Southern California. Again, the commute for us was about 45min without traffic and we had already been in that area the first three days, so it was time for all beach views. Whenever you are planning a trip always try to see as much as you can. No need to stay in the same areas but also don’t overwhelm yourself thinking you need to see everything at once. When you can, just plan to return and visit the other locations you want to see. This was my second time in LA as an adult and this time I went some where I did not go before because there is so much to see.
This was one of the most beautiful days of the trip. It was sunny all day, a nice even warm temperature in the mid 70s and a cool breeze. The first stop was Costa Mesa. This small city is also located in Orange County and near some of the most popular California beaches such as Newport Beach and Laguna Beach. While doing some research on fun things to do in the area, a small outside location called THE LAB Anti-Mall. The Lab which stands for Little American Business is an indoor/outdoor mall with different shops and eateries of small business owners.
It’s a great place to just go and walk around, stop into some of the shops and have a meal. There are creative art designs and photo friendly areas. As we walked around we decided to take pics and I walked into a cute little spot called RUIN Bar. Inside was a lot of unique art work and what I loved most was the wall full of cat photos lol. I spoke to the owner and she noted how its a great afterwork spot because of the happy hour and music. The bar has indoor and outdoor seating but spacing is limited.
Next we walked through and came across an art design where people were able to write empowering messages and hang them. You can stop and read through the messages to gain motivation. Right across from the art is a sitting area where people were enjoying their meals, working on their computers, and reading books. This is a nice space for a relaxing day out of the house. As we continued we came across a cute donut spot. Lately I’ve been trying out coffee from different locations so this was a perfect time to see what this little shop had to offer.
In addition to the coffee, the shop offered unique donut options so I opted for the pure maple bacon donut and it was delicious. Once we gather our items we went and had a seat in the sitting area and dived in. This is the type of vacation where you just explore. No need to be on action packed excursions. Somedays can be mellow where you take in a show, an outside shopping center, or just relax at the beach. All of those moments matter because it’s still outside of your normal routine and provides exposure and even inspiration for when you return home.
After enjoying our donuts we decided to take some pics and view the other stores that offered unique items. One store called ECO NOW is a zero waste and eco friendly shop. They sell items such as bamboo utensils and reusable straws. The pricing was decent and the quality of the items were good. In addition to the unique shops they have outside fun areas. We took the time to take pics against the beautiful green backdrop and even played a round of hopscotch. Great place to go on a first date or just a quick relaxing day out with friends and family.
Once we were finished there we headed over to the legendary Laguna Beach. I call it legendary because during my freshman year in college me and my best friend and college roommate had our favorite shows. My show was The Wire which we watched every Sunday and hers happened to be Laguna Beach. It was definitely an interesting show that depicted the dramas in Orange County California. One thing was the same, the beach area is absolutely gorgeous.
One thing to know when heading to Laguna Beach is the California toll system. While we were driving we saw a sign indicating that we were heading to a toll road. However, there aren’t any actual tolls that you go through where you can pay with cash. Everything was electronic, and given that we were in a rental car we were not prepared for that. So before we continued our journey we pulled over to see what the rental agreement indicated about toll roads, and saw that they had their own account and once they received the bill we would just be charged the price of the toll and a $5 transaction fee. Those were terms we could live with and it turned out to only cost $8. But when traveling, that’s another thing to check out if you will be renting a car and driving to different locations during your trip.
Once we arrived, we found great parking within walking distance to the beach area. We first stopped in theLaguna Beach Welcome Center just to see what they had to offer. After we left, we headed straight to the sand. We arrived just in time for the most beautiful sunset. The orange sun kissed sky was what dreams are made of. People everywhere were just sitting around, parents playing with their children, pet owners were walking their dogs, joggers were getting in an evening run, and even some volleyball games were finishing up. Everyone was out and about without a care in the world. It was the perfect atmosphere to enjoy and relax and begin a New Year.
During this time I was able to capture some great pictures of the moment. I love water so of course I had to give my toes a good dip. The water wasn’t too cold but I still wouldn’t take a full dip in the middle of winter. The laughter of children and families enjoying each other was everywhere and its moments like those that you take time to appreciate life and love. After we finished taking in the sunset we began heading back to our car. This area is packed with different shops and eateries so while you’re there take time to stop and enjoy. We stopped in one of the souvenir shops and gathered a few items before heading back to our hotel. We didn’t stay in the area for dinner because we wanted to get back and check out a spot near the hotel.
Once we got back to the hotel we freshened up and headed out to walk around the hotel and the strip mall in the area. Within walking distance of the hotel is Pacific City. This shopping area is packed with different shops such as Sephora, H&M, Lush, and many more for your enjoyment. You can go there and shop around during the day or enjoy the night life at several different restaurants and inside the food court. Since it was still the holiday season the outside area was beautifully decorated with lights and the Christmas tree, so of course photos were a must. As you walked around you got a nice mix of holiday spirit and beach fun.
Since there were so many options for us to chose from, we decided to walk around and take in the menu of the different restaurants. We finally settled on Old Crow Smokehouse. The restaurant specializes in bar-b-que and it was delicious. Inside, the restaurant was beautifully and uniquely decorated for the holidays with different items hanging from the ceiling. The decor added to the ambiance of the restaurant. As for food options, at the time they were running special where you could build your own platter for $20 which included three meat selections and two sides. I chose to order ribs, chicken, and pulled pork with broccoli and macaroni and cheese. The pulled pork was my favorite but it was all tasty and satisfying. Furthermore, we had arrived on a good night and got to enjoy many of the hilarious karaoke performances. Once we finished dinner we walked back to the hotel and enjoyed our final night.
UGHHHHHH!!! Another vacation was over! Our final morning in California had arrived. Our morning was simple, we got up, packed up, and prepared for our departure. It’s amazing all the wonderful things you realize at the end of the vacation. All week, any time we were ready to leave we would go downstairs to the lobby and scan our ticket for our car. There was no self parking at the hotel so everything was valet. You scanned your ticket and waited for them to bring your car around. Of course it wasn’t until we called down for bellhop assistance with our bags that we realized we could have saved ourselves 20-30 minutes of waiting if we just called down to have our car placed in queue, so that way it was right out front when we got downstairs, but now we know for next time.
After we loaded up the car with our bags we were heading back to Los Angeles to take in more sights. This is the best part about having a late flight, you get to enjoy another full day to see or do more. Since we missed the coffee spot on Tuesday, I got to go back and check out Issa Rae’s new coffee shop called Hilltop Coffee +Kitchen. This is the perfect space to go and have a fresh cup of coffee, the food was great, and the atmosphere was inspiring. Throughout the restaurant are motivational words, its designed to have business meetings, group meet ups, or just a outside work space to get somethings done. The menu is diverse with different items for all palettes. So if you find yourself in Inglewood this spot is a must.
We then headed over to Waterside at Marina Del Rey to a nutrition spot called Kreations Organic who is know for cold pressed juices that I saw on instagram. I was already sick earlier in the week and I saw that they provided drinks and mini shots that were made from natural ingredients (lemon, garlic, alkaline water, turmeric, and many more) for different purposes (antibiotic, digestion, energy, decongestant, etc.). The store offers beverages in large bottles, 3oz shots, and even creative to have syringes that hold a good dose of vitamins.
On average the shots cost about $6 and the larger bottles cost about $7-$10 depending on what you chose. The only downfall to this item is the stores right now are only located in California. This would be great to have in on the East Coast. In addition, you have to drink them within 3 days so you can’t buy in bulk. But again, if you find yourself in Cali be sure to check them out. They have over ten locations there.
Once we got our items we walked around for a bit to some of the other shops before finally heading to the airport. To leave was definitely hard.
Having a late night flight was perfect because I was able to rest up since it was an overnight flight, and it made the flight go by quicker. As in the beginning of our journey we had to get back from JFK to EWR . This time we used a shuttle service JFK provided. The ETS Airport Shuttle service cost $34 per person and you are able to schedule your ride based on your flight arrival. Since we got back a bit earlier than when the van was scheduled to depart, we had to sit in the waiting area for about 20 minutes. After that it was home sweet home.
Although we were back home, and it was 3 days into the New Year, no tradition is ever missed when it comes to my mom. Because we weren’t together on New Year’s Day she made sure to still have our traditional New Year’s meal ready when we returned.
In life its always the little things that matter the most.
I hope you enjoyed this journey. Until next time…..
Rest In Peace
Ermias ” Nipsey Hussle” Asghedom (08/15/85 – 03/31/19)
Kobe Bean Bryant (08/23/78-01/26/20)
(Gianna “GiGi” Bryant, John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Alyssa Altobelli, Sarah Chester, Payton Chester, Christina Mauser, and Ara Zobayan)