Tag Archives: travel

Roadside: The Lafayette Hotel, San Diego, California

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I use to find myself in San Diego more often, but these days I barely even get as far south as Orange County. The work and school double header schedule keeps me on my toes (or more accurately keeps my butt glued to a chair and my eyes crossed in the glow of a computer screen). Thankfully this summer a work conference pulled me out of my orbit around the center of Los Angeles, and sent me out into the wilds of the Balboa Park region of San Diego.

I have a soft spot for old hotels, and when I get to pick the pillow I lay my head on at night, you can bet it’s going to be in a location that’s at least twice my age, if not older. The bright side to this travel affinity is that older hotels are often cheaper, or at the very least equivalent in price, to a decent mid-range modern chain. That was definitely the case on my recent conference jaunt, that led me to a very budget friendly but snazzy stay at the Lafayette Hotel.

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The photos on the web really don’t do the location justice. Sure, there’s a great pool and it was in a convenient location for Balboa Park. But what tops it all is the lingering mid-century pizzazz. It’s like all those years of star stays left a little sparkly residue.

The rooms themselves are clean and relatively basic, but then you get the old bathroom style and the big old windows. The lobby area is really where you feel jazzy. The umbrellas hanging off the ceiling look a little silly in photos, but in person they work.

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And then you can drink San Diego craft beer while overlooking the pool. Good beer outdoors with a view – here’s my number Lafayette, you’ve got my heart.

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Roadside: BBQ Chip Road Trip

Michigan has game when it comes to 20th century snack foods.

Michigan has game when it comes to 20th century snack foods aka the beginnings of helping Americans make themselves fat.

In 2013 I went on a road trip through 11 states in 8 days. Along the road there were plenty of stops at gas stations, and at each one I tried to find something different that I hadn’t seen before. A couple states in I started to realize that there was something regional in the potato chip aisle. Though now-national brands like Lays are well represented across the U.S., little odd ball and generic-y brands would pop up. I decided to make it my road trip quest to find the best of the BBQ chips.

I don’t eat a lot of chips these days, but as a kid BBQ Ruffles were one of my favorites. As an adult I’m a big fan of the spicy heat of Grippo’s BBQ chips, my Dad’s hometown crispy potato. During the road trip from Colorado to Ohio, and then up through Michigan to Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Wyoming, a few chips came close along the way, but I still didn’t find a chip to surpass the Grippo’s spice.

I resurrected the BBQ chip hunt on my latest road trip jaunt through Arkansas and East Texas and figure it’s time to start recording all those BBQ feelings before I complete forget. Still no new champions, but the quest continues. The contenders so far, along with my completely subjective and non-scientific opinions:

Regional BBQ Chip Rankings as of 2015 June:

  1. Grippo’s Bar-B-Q
  2. Better Made Special Barbecue
  3. Golden Flake Sweet Heat Barbecue
  4. Old Dutch Bar-B-Q
  5. Urge Barbeque
  6. Guy’s Barbeque

The Rust Belt region understands the fine art of properly spiced BBQ chips. This is only a scratch on the BBQ dust coated surface, so the rankings will grow as I get the chance to snack in new places. BBQ chip recommendations welcome.

Roadside: Lake Murray Lodge, Ardmore, Oklahoma

Lately I’ve been cleaning up my digital life and trying to give my files some semblance of order. Through the process I’ve been reliving a bunch of trips via old photos.

Lake Murray Lodge

Lake Murray Lodge

Lake Murray Lodge is really, really close to where my Grandma and Oklahoma family live, though I didn’t visit until 2012. I think my great grandpa Aubrey Hickman worked on building some things at Lake Murray through a WPA program, but I haven’t found the paper trail to confirm it yet.

Supposedly Lake Murray Lodge (built in 1949) and a group of cabins from the 1930s were going to be demolished to make way for building a new lodge.  I haven’t kept up on the story and I’m not sure what’s still there, but I do know that I fell in love with the little old 1930s cabins and aspects of the 1949 Lodge while I was out there.

There are newer cabins still open for rent, but we stayed in the old Lodge because when we planned the trip the cabins were already all booked for the weekend we were out there.  The rooms were really dated, but as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, dated just means a place has character to me.  The bathroom tile was so great I actually took photos of it.

When I go back through these photos of Lake Murray I imagine these places when they were brand new, when a family from 80 years ago got to take a summer vacation and stay by the water in their very own cabin space.  Beautiful lake views through big windows and screened in porches.

Sadly the only cabin denizens when I visited were wasps, but there’s still some magic in these old wood and glass boxes:

The 10: Crenshaw

Ok, so maybe when I set out to write about my relationship to the 10 and the Westside of LA and how it’s all chronological, maybe I should’ve left off Crenshaw.  But I think the Crenshaw exit off the 10 has a lot to say about why Los Angeles is appealing to me, even if it’s not the Westside, and my Crenshaw tales aren’t my first LA experiences.

First and most importantly: Earlez’s Grille.  Where I (a whitasian, but mostly white looking person) went up to a counter in a restaurant staffed by African Americans and Latinos (in a mostly African American neighborhood) and specifically ordered a “playaz punch.”  Because Yelp told me it was a deliciously delightful sugary drink.  The cashier looked amused as all hell, handed me an empty cup, and gestured behind me, noting that, “The fountain drinks are over there.”  And yeah, I looked behind me and there was the playaz punch in all its artificially pink glory, next to a tank of lemonade and a coke machine with the usual suspects.  So really all I needed to say was that I wanted a small drink.  Whoops, live and learn.

The most important thing about Earlez’s Grille (sadly temporarily closed at the moment, but in the process of moving further south down Crenshaw to make room for the metro Expo line) is their veggie dog with veggie chili and a side of seasoned french fries (I think my playaz punch expectations were too high.).  One of the owners was also on site the first time I went and he came over to my table and asked what we thought of the food.  Not much is cooler than actually meeting with an owner of an establishment you’re patronizing.

In the context of this trip down the 10, this experience sums up three of the most important things about the opportunities Los Angeles offers:

(a) Food adventures, because at the heart of why I love Los Angeles is a veggie chili dog or some weird flavored ice cream or vegan nachos at 2am.  LA tastes great.
(b) The chance to put myself in neighborhoods and situations that are completely foreign to the context I grew up in.  I don’t generally consider myself all that outgoing, but I occasionally have near masochistic streaks of wanting to feel uncomfortable and challenge myself to see how much I can make myself look like a fool.
(c) Talking to people who are connected to the places you visit.

I’ve felt comfortably uncomfortable in all sorts of LA neighborhoods, I’ve eaten some great food, and I’ve talked to a bunch of people, and that is what makes me happy.

The 10: Los Angeles becomes less of a wasteland.

Before we go for a drive on the freeway, here is some background on my evolving LA relationship:
My very first foray through Los Angeles was when I was around 8 years old.  I “saw” it from the freeway as my Dad drove the family down to Disneyland.  Despite living in LA since 2008 this is still the last time I went to the happiest place on earth.  I remember liking the tea cups and getting lollipops shaped like Mickey ears and getting the crap scared out of me on a very dinky roller coaster I didn’t want to go on.  That’s about it.

The next very brief visit through Los Angeles was a trip to UCLA right before applying to colleges.  My Dad was again in the driver seat and I mostly remember UCLA looking preppy and my Dad giving a homeless woman $5 at a stoplight.  I also visited UCSB that trip and at that time the UCSB campus and area pretty much kicked UCLA’s butt in my mind.

Despite my newfound UCSB dedication and love (that’s where I ended up going to school), while I was in college in Santa Barbara I went down to UCLA to visit high school friends.  I still didn’t feel particularly enamored of the city, but really all I saw was Westwood.

Freshman year of college one of my closest UCSB buddies decided she wanted a weekend in Los Angeles for her birthday.  We spent most of the time in Venice Beach and Santa Monica.  Kind of funny we went to a school on the beach and we drove further south for more sand, but my friend is much more a beach person than me and I guess beach culture in Venice Beach is a special kind of beach culture of its own.

My true appreciation of Los Angeles really first flickered while I was in England.  I studied abroad in a program with a bunch of other UC students.  One of the students went to UCLA and we became friends through our mutual love of food based adventures.  I told her my stereotypically Northern Californian perspective of Los Angeles (a negative one), but she was convinced I would love the place if only I gave it a chance.  I’m pretty sure the great food in LA was part of that argument.  I was skeptical, but I told her ok, I’ll be more open minded when I get back to the states.

I got my chance to be more open minded at the end of college.  Back in the lovely beachy town of Santa Barbara (or more properly Isla Vista, the student community next to UCSB) things started to feel a little constricting.  I still loved school and had a great time with friends, but after a year gallivanting around Europe I needed some more adventure.  The Santa Barbara area is gorgeous, but it felt too rich and too small.

At this point in time my friend’s sister had recently started going to med school at UCLA, so all of a sudden we had a place to crash at the end of the 90 minute drive down the 101 to Los Angeles.  We started heading out to LA once a month to volunteer with a program called Reading to Kids.  We’d head down south on Friday afternoons, hang out around the Westside, and then go to the outskirts of downtown LA early Sunday mornings to read and do book themed crafts with elementary school kids.

After Reading to Kids we’d play tourist, and I think it was around this time that I ran across Grand Central Market.  Grand Central Market’s a big food market with stalls and small restaurants nestled inside the ground floor of a historic building in downtown LA.  It’s been around town since 1917 and I’m a sucker for anything old, especially if it involves food.  (When I start to feel food obsessed I just compliment myself on my great caveman survival instincts, because a passion for food has got to say something good about your priorities for existence, right?)

Los Angeles became the place of escape and adventure that Santa Barbara was not.  It was exactly where I wanted to be.

I looked on craigslist for open rooms.  Graduation was nearing, I had no job lined up and absolutely no idea what I was going to do with myself, other than the fact that whatever I was going to do was in Los Angeles.  It was a combination of being more familiar with the Westside and finding a good priced apartment with some recent UCLA graduates that led me to Culver City.  My foray into escape and adventure had begun.

(P.S. I recently stayed up way too late for the first time in ages because I couldn’t put a book down.  The giant bags under my eyes today are thanks to Kristin Newman’s What I Was Doing While you Were Breeding.  Her tale of her travel and man escapades after getting out of a 6 year long relationship when she was 26 hits way too close to home (RIP LDRC), but in a good too close to home way. (Like in a I hope I have some international escapades in my future way.)

The tale of my relationship with Los Angeles is slightly incomplete without talking about how my relationships with the people of Los Angeles fit into the physical landscape, but this is all a little too fresh to go Newman-style on that part of my city experience.  This is mostly just a super narcissistic tale of my relationship with Los Angeles.  You and me city, you and me.

I do have another project which will remain buried in my hard drive for years and years (and years) from now that involves fictionalized short stories based on (boy) relationships I’ve had throughout my life.  I’ve written an introduction (about a boy I obsessed over in kindergarten) and one set in an apocalyptic future (because the last few weeks of undergrad can feel really apocalyptic) and they are pretty cathartic.  If there are still blogs in 2050 I might share these then.  But for now – Los Angeles off the 10!  Next exit: Crenshaw.)

Poodle Springs.

Big Bear Lake, California

Big Bear Lake, California

I went to Big Bear and all I got was this lousy cold.

Well, actually I also picked up some postcards and some nice scenic shots of the lake and had a good time playing games with friends. Some germs I picked up while in Big Bear just came back to haunt me the following weekend when I was in Palm Springs for an archivist conference. Super drag!

In Palm Springs I managed to lead a pretty awesomesauce panel on privacy issues in archives (yay panel), and then came back to LA Saturday night and spent the rest of the weekend flopping between the living room couch and my bed. I’ve been doing my best to not hack up my lungs, but only with moderate success.

So while I’m confined to spreading my germs within the limited square footage of my apartment I thought it would be a great time to think about not being caged by illness and to relive the past two out of town weekends.

The view from my hotel room balcony, Palm Springs

The view from my hotel room balcony, Palm Springs

When I think about Palm Springs it’s really tough for me to not call it Poodle Springs, since my knowledge of the area was very recently limited to little more than Raymond Chandler’s mocking pseudonym for the city and an awareness of the existence of a crapload of midcentury modern architecture.

I’ve driven by the town on the way to Arizona and Texas.  It’s an easy 2 hour drive from my corner of the LA metropolitan region, but for whatever reason I’d not made my way out there yet.  Now that I’ve been I’d say it’s worth a revisit.  Between getting as much out of the conference as possible and then becoming miserably sick I didn’t get to see as much of the town as I’d hoped, but I saw enough that I now know I want to go back.

The conference hotel was ridiculously expensive so I looked for alternatives.  My inner hipster really wanted to stay at the ACE hotel, but it was even more expensive than the conference hotel!  Instead I ended up three hotels down at the Curve, which despite lukewarm Yelp and tripadvisor reviews is actually a pretty nifty little hotel.

The Curve has the bones of an old motel, but an updated outer appearance.  I got an upgrade from a standard peasant room to a a mountain and pool view room.  I was a little worried that the noise from the pool would be bothersome, but I wasn’t in the room much during the day and they were good about shutting down music and controlling noise after 10pm.

The hotel was great and I’d stay there again.  I had lunch and evening drinks at the ACE, and though the ambience in the diner was retro-fun, the hotel itself didn’t seem all that fancy.  I didn’t see the inside of any hotel rooms there, so I can’t speak to that, but the hotel bar, pool area, and corridors weren’t much swankier than the place I stayed at.

I should probably frame my hotel reviews with the statement that I’m not too picky of a hotel goer.  Sometimes I read hotel reviews and feel like the reviewers’ expectations are way too grand.  I once stayed in a motel in Monterey that my traveling companion said was the type of place where hookers take their clients.  I really didn’t see it that way, but I’m a pretty easy going traveler.

Mostly when I look for hotels I like to find non-chain locations in older well maintained buildings that retain some old timey charm.  Not everyone I know appreciates this aesthetic, but that’s what you’re going to end up with if I’m left organizing the travel plans.

Balcony at the Curve hotel, Palm Springs

Balcony at the Curve hotel, Palm Springs

So the Curve was perfect for my requirements.  I had some mediocre food at Lulu’s Bistro in downtown Palm Springs, but had a pretty exciting blueberry lemon lavender shake at Great Shakes around the corner.  Mixed reviews on other food I also ate there, but there are so many restaurants I think I’ll have to go back and try out a few other places.

I got a little peek at opulent midcentury design with the chance to visit Sunnylands for the conference reception.  I’m not really sure which architectural style is my favorite, but I’ve got an ever growing appreciation of midcentury modern design.  All those strong clean lines and industrial materials are pretty sexy.

Sunnylands, Palm Springs

Sunnylands, Palm Springs

Being out in the desert means seeing stars!  I didn’t drive far enough outside of town in the dark to really appreciate the night sky, but that is definitely at the top of my list of reasons to drive back out into the desert.  I probably should try desert camping one of these weekends to really get to see the universe.

Now, if I could just kick this cold I think I could call last weekend a smashing success.

Pico Adobe, Los Angeles, California

Inside the Pico Adobe

Inside Pico Adobe

One of the things that I love about Los Angeles, but also one of the things that makes its history so enigmatic, is the tendency to find very historic things next to very unglamorous things.  Earlier this week I got a chance to visit the Pico Adobe.  When it was built there was only one other second story house in existence in all of Los Angeles (according to the docent).  The core of the structure was built in 1834 and additional rooms were added on in following years.  Although it was blazing hot outside it was cool and comfortable inside, and I marveled at the usefulness of old timey construction methods.

The adobe is in the northernmost reaches of metro Los Angeles – and right next to a trailer park.  This juxtaposition of über historic California craftsmanship with a cluster of small thin walled dwellings is somehow appealing.  It’s this sort of tucked away quirkiness of Los Angeles history that often makes it difficult to parse, but also gives it its charm.

In the backyard of the Pico Adobe

In the backyard of the Pico Adobe