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  • Travel Challenges
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    Los Angeles, California USA (August 2015)

    Santa Monica Beach
    Santa Monica Beach

    I’ve lived in New York all my life and I didn’t think I would be able to live anywhere else. Until I visited LA. Well, I still prefer NYC > LA, buuuuuut if I ever had to leave NYC, I would head to LA fer sure. Mainly because there is beach, weather is mostly awesome, food is so delicious, AYCE KBBQ is like $15, and I would try to attend all the show tapings. The traffic is meh but so is NYC’s. What was interesting is that I’m usually a typical Noo Yawker in sense of being very fast-paced, efficient, on-a-schedule, and everything is urgent and at first, the lax culture in LA really made me uncomfortable. I didn’t like the pace at all. But after a few days, I loved the chill, beachy vibes.. I could get used to this!

    We spent a total of 5 days in LA. LA is huge and you WILL need to drive everywhere, unless you plan on spending a lot of money on Ubers. Parking is pretty cheap compared to NYC though. We could have crammed everything we wanted to do in maybe 3 days, but I’m glad we took the time to enjoy each point. PLUS, I had way too much food I wanted to try. I’ll do this post a little differently than my SF one, but will of course still give a run down of what we did. I split the trip into East LA and West LA.

    Super long post, but here’s a quick run down:

    Day 1 (Arrival from PCH drive ~1:30PM) – East LA

    Day 2 – East LA

    Day 3 – East LA

    Day 4 – West LA

    • Lunch at Golden Deli (Vietnamese)
    • Stroll Little Tokyo Shopping Center
    • Stroll Old Chinatown
    • Eat dinner at Sushi Show (AYCE Sushi… As a sushi lover, BEST AYCE sushi place I ever encountered)

    Day 5 – East LA

    • Breakfast at 85°C Bakery
    • Griffith Observatory
    • Drive through Beverly Hills
      • Rodeo Drive
      • Niiiiiice, very expensive houses
    • Lunch at Tsujita LA Artisan Noodle (Ramen) (yes, again! so good)
    • Stroll through Hollywood Blvd
      • Walk of Fame
      • TCL Chinese Theatre
    • Dessert at Blockheads Shavery (Shaved Ice Cream) (yes, again!)
    • Santa Monica Beach (Last stroll before airport)
    • Return rental car at LAX

    Accommodations

    Sorry, only helpful if you’re an SPG member with points. However, you can still try to find hotels around these two areas, as I picked these two due to location for East and West LA.. and points value; it seemed to work out pretty well for me.

    Four Points by Sheraton LA Westside (Culver City) – 10,000 SPG pts a night (It was 7,000 in August 2015, so I thought that was a good value, but maybe with the point increase, double check other SPG properties around)

    • The hotel itself is only alright. Four Points are not known to be new or nice (at least not the ones I’ve been to) but it wasn’t terrible. Didn’t spend that much time in the hotel anyway, so it was fine for a few nights. Location was key for me, as it’s only a ~15 min drive to Santa Monica.
    • Parking on-site ($14/day) BUT if you are a SPG Platinum member (not sure if Gold has this), you can waive the $14 parking ticket as your Platinum member check in gift. I still hope that’s true today, since that was an awesome perk.
    • Very conveniently located next to a huge indoor mall that has a Target and other clothing stores, just incase you need something.

    Sheraton Pasadena – 10,000 SPG pts a night.

    • Again, what I expect from Sheraton. Old and average. They did upgrade me to a suite, which I appreciated, but had to turn down since we had a party of 4 and the suite only had one king bed.
    • They have a club lounge, though, but very average food. They also didn’t have snacks out 24/7, like other Sheraton’s I’ve been to.
    • Parking is $18/day (I think). I could not get this waived as the parking lot was not owned by Sheraton.
    • Location was pretty good. Pasadena is a pretty nice neighborhood, great to stroll around if you have time.

    Meals (Lunch or Dinner)

    LA is awesome for food. I would say, LA is the only place (that I’ve been too so far in the US) on par with NYC’s diversity and deliciousness of food finds, especially with Asian cuisines.

    Tsukemen with Char Siu at Tsujita LA Artisan Noodle
    Tsukemen with Char Siu at Tsujita LA Artisan Noodle

    Tsujita LA Artisan Noodle (Yelp: $$, 4 stars)
    2057 Sawtelle Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90025

    • There are two locations right across the street from eachother. We went to the corner one both times, as it has more seating and less wait. Apparently, the menus are slightly different, but each has the Tsukemen Ramen, which is what I wanted to try. I came here from my parent’s recommendations when they went to LA. My dad is very conservative when he rates dishes and he told me I definitely had to try it. I’ve seen Minca in East Village serve Tsukemen, which I’ll have to try eventually.
    • Pictured is the Tsukemen with Char Siu. I think it was $14 when I went. Tsukemen is cold, thick noodles, that are dipped into a hot, thick broth, then eaten. Nor, can you really drink the broth since it is so thick (they do thin it out later, so you can drink it). The waiters are happy to show you the proper approach to eat Tsukemen.
    Don't remember the top sandwich but the bottom is a Cuban with delicious plantain chips and a Pina colada
    Don’t remember the top sandwich but the bottom is a Cuban with delicious plantain chips and a Pina colada

    Porto’s Bakery (Yelp: $, 4.5 stars)
    Multiple locations but I went to the following due to proximity to WB Studios:
    3614 W Magnolia Blvd, Burbank, CA 91505

    • Very very very busy. There is a lot of seating available, but I can see people definitely not finding any seating, since it is so popular. Although my brother told me that he loves their potato balls and meat pies, I opted for a more “lunch” option – had to try their Cuban sandwich with plantain chips… and it was fabulous! One of the best cubans I’ve ever had. AND the plantain chips are addicting. Not too expensive either. Will need to come back to try their other goodies plus pastries.

    Hae Jang Chon Korean BBQ Restaurant (Yelp: $$, 4 stars)
    3821 W 6th St, Los Angeles, CA 90020

    • I’ve heard about the existence of cheap and delicious AYCE KBBQs in LA from my west coast friends. In my neighborhood, we have only one decent AYCE KBBQ but upwards of $35/pp for dinner (before tax…) Getting a cheaper version in LA’s K Town was a must for me. I found this place through a Yelp search “Korean BBQ AYCE in Los Angeles”, and chose it ultimately because my other Yelp friend went here already and said it was good. With almost 3000 Yelp reviews and a 4 star rating, I didn’t think I could go wrong. We arrive around 8:30PM on a Thursday or Friday night and had to wait about an hour. $18.99, at the time. This place was interesting, as it wasn’t a typical KBBQ grill in front of you, but rather a hot stone. I would come again; it was pretty good. Just long waits.
    BBQ Chicken (top left), Beef Short Ribs (top right) on a bed of white rice with a side of Hawaiian macaroni salad (bottom left) and slaw.
    BBQ Chicken (top left), Beef Short Ribs (top right) on a bed of white rice with a side of Hawaiian macaroni salad (bottom left) and slaw.

    Ohana BBQ (Yelp: $$, 4.5 stars)
    11269 Ventura Blvd, Studio City, CA 91604

    • We ended the Conan show taping around 8ish (I think), and was starving.. I thought, “What is something that we don’t have in NY, or not that I know of to be good?”… and my hunger luckily prompted me to think of Hawaiian/Korean BBQ in Hawaii. I tried my luck in yelp typing hawaiian and score. 4.5 stars with over 200 reviews only 10 min drive away? Done. Glad we went, it was DELICIOUS!! I had the Waikiki Special (two combo plate) of the bbq chicken and beef short ribs + Hawaiian macaroni salad. OMGAAAH. $13.90 of HEAVEN. (i’ll be honest that my tastebuds might have been biased by my hunger at that moment, but 4.5 stars in LA? Most likely real.)

    The Cow’s End Cafe (Yelp: $, 4 stars)
    34 Washington Blvd, Venice, CA 90292

    • We planned to spend our day in Venice Beach (bf really wanted to go surfing, and of course I never can turn down time at the beach..) so I yelped for breakfast around the area we were in.
    • The culture in this cafe was so typical beach town LAX. For breakfast, I got the Acai Bowl and bf got a Peanut Butter, Banana and Honey sandwich. While both were great, I think we ended up waiting like 20 minutes for it. Not sure if they’re just way too busy, or because of their LAX culture, they were kind of slow moving. Anyway, my inner New Yorker was raging at the wait. If you just wanted something pre-made and coffee, this place is fine just for that.
    1 lb bag of "The Whole Shabang" styled shrimp and corn at The Boiling Crab
    1 lb bag of “The Whole Shabang” styled shrimp and corn at The Boiling Crab

    The Boiling Crab (Yelp: $$, 4 stars)
    Many locations around LA, but we went to the following due to the proximity from our hotel: 33 W Main St, Alhambra, CA 91801

    • I’m a huge fan of The Boil in LSE here in NYC. It is without a doubt, one of my favorite restaurants. That said, I know they probably got their concept from the OG of Cajun/Creole Seafood scene from The Boiling Crab in West Coast. My friends from California say that The Boiling Crab is better than The Boil, but I’m a loyal The Boil fan. See my review here.
    • Anyway, I had to check out The Boiling Crab, as I’ve heard about their crazy popularity. Just to tell you how popular this chain is, I went on a Wednesday afternoon at 3:30PM (they open at 3:00PM), and I had to wait 45 minutes for a table for 2. I’ve heard ridiculous wait times of up to 3 hours. They do not take reservations either. I went the day before, trying to go to the one in K Town. Arrived at 9PM (closing at 10PM), and they told me that they cannot guarantee me a table, because there were already too many people waiting, and there was a wait list to essentially, “wait”. lol. The hostess also told me that people start lining up 15-30 min before the restaurant opens. Wow. (Don’t worry, it’s not pretentious at all inside)
    • My tip, to try Boiling Crab and minimize your wait time, is to do what we did.
      • Try to go to a less popular location (meaning, don’t try the Beverly Hills one or K Town… the east LA ones near Pasadena might be better as there are multiple locations in one area)
      • Go on a weekday.
      • Go early when it opens or a little after it opens.
      • If you don’t want to wait and have a viable place to eat this stuff, they do have a Take Out option where they will supply all the paper, gloves, etc.

    Golden Deli Restaurant (Yelp: $, 4 stars)
    815 W Las Tunas Dr, San Gabriel, CA 91776

    • If you have great tasting Viet food at your local city, you don’t need to go here but if you’re craving Viet in LA, this place is a solid stop for Pho. The spring rolls here are pretty good. Although in NY, we call spring rolls the fried roll (cha gio). But in LA, they call it egg roll. Just make sure the viet equivalent title is Cha Gio. We got pho and my favorite dish, Bun Thit Nuong & Cha Gio (Grilled Pork & Egg Rolls with Rice Vermicelli).
    All of our orders did not fit on the table at Sushi Show
    All of our orders did not fit on the table at Sushi Show

    Sushi Show (Yelp: $$, 4 stars)
    957 W Arrow Hwy, San Dimas, CA 91773

    • I’m a sushi aficionado, and it’s very hard to find a good sushi all you can eat (AYCE) place (that is not going to kill your budget). My brother said this is one of his favorite places (and he loves sushi too) and I definitely had to try it out. They have ton of rolls and nigiri. They do not do sashimi, but their rice to fish ratio is small (THANK YOU!). Fish and rolls are delicious. Their service is also pretty good, which is really hard to find at any buffet/AYCE. I think we had to wait about 1 hour for a table of 6 on a Friday night around 7:30PM, but well worth the wait. In August, I believe it was $24.99 per person for AYCE, but note that they do a la carte here too (but i doubt anyone does that here). It is a bit far out of main LA area (I think it was about a 30 min drive from the hotel).

    Dessert

    Black sesame with cookies & cream bits (left) and green tea with rice cake and condensed milk (right)
    Black sesame with cookies & cream bits (left) and green tea with rice cake and condensed milk (right)

    Blockheads Shavery (Yelp: $, 4 stars)
    Multiple locations but we went to this one as it was next to Tsujita Noodle:
    11311 Mississippi Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90025

    • I never had shaved ice cream before but because of Blockheads, I’m a fan. A similar place opened in NY called SnowDays but I don’t think it’s as good as Blockheads was. The OG for me. YUMMMMMMMM!!!
    Milk tea and honey boba at Half & Half Tea
    Milk tea with honey boba at Half & Half Tea

    Half and Half Tea Express (Yelp: $, 3.5-4 stars depending on location)
    Many locations but chose this as it was closest to our hotel:
    3007 Huntington Dr, Pasadena, CA 91107

    • Famous for the short, fat cups and their “honey boba”, had to try their bubble tea, or boba tea – as I believe the west coast calls it. I don’t like tapioca/boba but this honey boba was amazing. So chewy and slightly sweet. Their milk tea was awesome too. They have a very extensive list of different drinks and even some snacks. I heard the lines get long on nice days, but luckily we went around 7ish in the evening, right before the lines started.
    Red bean, green tea, chocolate, matcha mochi at Mikawaya (clockwise from top left)
    Red bean, green tea, chocolate, matcha mochi at Mikawaya (clockwise from top left)

    Mikawaya (Yelp: $, 4 stars)
    2 locations, but went to the one in the plaza:
    118 Japanese Village Plaza Mall, Los Angeles, CA 90012

    • This place is known for their mochis. They have a variety of flavors. And I think a 3 for $5 deal so you can sample multiple ones. I honestly thought their mochi was good, but not much better than the Maeda-en Mochi sold in Asian supermarkets. Still a good treat if you’re in the area.

    85°C Bakery (Yelp: $, 3.5-4stars)
    Multiple locations but went to the one down the street from the hotel:
    61 S Fair Oaks Ave, Ste 120, Pasadena, CA 91105

    • Bakery full of baked Asian goodies. Smellllls soooo good in here. The pastries itself are good, but nothing super amazing. I think I got overhyped from it, but it’s a fine stop for some baked breads if you’re in the area.

    Things to Do

    Shopping at Daiso Japan Discount Store (everything is $1.50!)
    Multiple locations around LA, but I went to the one near Tsujita Noodle and Blockheads
    2130 Sawtelle Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90025

    • Okay, I discovered my love for Daiso my first time in San Francisco maybe a few years ago. I also have a love for Dollar discount stores. Daiso is, I would say, the emperor of discount stores as it’s quality (I think) and decent-looking materials only at $1.50! I bought a few home-stuff here to take back to NY.
    Smiles with the Santa Monica Pier sign
    Smiles with the Santa Monica Pier sign

    Santa Monica Pier
    100 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, CA 90401

    • I’ve played Grand Theft Auto V (which is based in LA), and I never made so many comparisons than I did at this pier. Rockstar did an amazing job. Obviously, Santa Monica Pier is high on the list for tourists to visit, but cheap parking is a bit challenging. They have a public parking lot $1/hr on the side near the pier, but it’s very busy… because it’s a $1/hr parking. If you follow signs along the beach, there is additional public parking lots too, just a little farther away from the Pier.
    Could I BE anymore (central) perky?
    Could I BE anymore (central) perky?

    Warner Brothers Studio Tour
    3400 W. Riverside Drive, Burbank, CA 91522

    • I’m a huge Friends fan and once I found out I could have a picture sitting on the legendary couch in Central Perk, I was sold. The tour itself is very interesting; the tour guide was very knowledgable and friendly. There are many sets you could be visiting, but it all depends on if they’re shooting/using it and, what your tour guide decides to bring you on. To be fair, they do ask the group what shows or movies they like/want to see. I was a little aggressive in saying “FRIENDS” “FULL HOUSE” but unfortunately, the famous studio Friends was shot in, was being used to shoot Fuller House (which is a great Netflix spin off of Full House). We got to walk in an actual set of Pretty Little Liars, which was cool.. unfortunately I don’t watch that show, but the other girl in the group was super excited. This is a pretty cool tour that I would totally recommend people going on if they have any interest in how shows/films are made or WB shows/films.
    • Tickets can be purchased online. I believe right now it is $62 per person.. Before buying any sort of ticket, I always do a quick coupon search just to see if there are any additional savings out there. (literally typing: “WB Studio Tour Coupons”. I got -$5 each ticket from RetailMeNot.
    Difficult to get a close-up picture of the Hollywood Sign, but I think this was the closest we could do.
    Difficult to get a close-up picture of the Hollywood Sign, but I think this was the closest we could do.

    Take a pic of the Hollywood Sign

    • There are multiple places you can get a good view/pic with it. I did some research and based on this article, we went to Lake Hollywood Park. I didn’t get the same results as the article did there, so we continued up the hill. Again, didn’t get the same results but I guess we were pretty close… didn’t look like that in the pics though!
    A panoramic of the inside of the Conan studio
    A panoramic of the inside of the Conan studio

    Conan Obrien Show
    6564 Forest Lawn Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90068

    • Tickets are free. All you need to do is sign up and request tickets online in advance at http://teamcoco.com/tickets. It’s fairly easy. You create an account. Request tickets online. They email/notify you if you’ve tickets are available to you. You’ll need to quickly log in and confirm your tickets, then you have “tickets”. They overbook tickets, to ensure each seat is filled in the audience, so the day you really need to pay attention to time is the day of the taping.
    • I read a lot of Yelp and Tripadvisor reviews about the Conan show process. What I picked up, and I did, to ensure seats (we got lucky and sat like CENTER FRONT of CONAN!!.. the interview portion was obstructed by cameras though).. On the day of the show…
      • Depending on the check in time on your ticket, you’ll want to “check in” to the show (and guarantee your seats) generally around 3 hours before the check in time. Our check in time was at 6PM (taping at 7PM), and we just finished the WB tour, so we got there around 2:30PM, and we were Group #12, 12th in line. Don’t worry, after you check in, you can leave but just make sure to be back by check-in time. We went to lunch at Porto’s Bakery!
      • You can park for free at Gate 8, right by the check in area.
      • Once checking in, it was a relatively easy process. Just follow what they say. It’s a very fluid process as they do this every night. Make sure to use the restrooms before going to the studio as there are no restrooms once you leave the check in area.
      • There are more detailed reviews at Yelp telling you the whole process here.
      • I’ll definitely want to return to see more free tapings for shows like Jimmy Kimmel Live and 2 Broke Girls.

    Venice Beach

    • Went on a Thursday afternoon and it wasn’t very crowded. Nice to walk around, there is a little “strip” separating the stores and the sand. Watch the skateboarders do some tricks.
    • Bunch of surfboard/bike rental places around too.
    Sanrio store inside Little Toyko where I was really tempted to buy some of these t shirts
    Sanrio store inside Little Toyko where I was really tempted to buy some of these t shirts

    Little Tokyo
    333 S Alameda StLos Angeles, CA 90013

    • There’s a few shopping centers/plaza this is split up to. It’s cool to walk around.

    Old Chinatown

    • We wanted to go to New Chinatown just to check it out, but accidentally ended up at the Old one. Nothing really to check out here, so I won’t write much about it.

    Griffith Observatory
    2800 E Observatory Rd, Los Angeles, CA 90027

    • Parking may be a little far, as it’s all on a hill, and if it’s busy.. guess what, you’re parking farther down the hill and walking up to the observatory. Everything is free to check out inside and outside the building, except I think for the Planetarium exhibit. It’s pretty cool, and you get to see a cool view of the city.

    Rodeo Drive

    • I believe this is the grand daddy of all rich-kid-shopping districts. I only got to stroll down Rodeo Drive in a car, and unfortunately didn’t see any celebrities, but this is supposedly where all the rich people shop for their luxury goods.

    Beverley Hills (“… that’s where I want to be!”)

    • I think we just drove through it to see nice houses, and see what kind of neighborhood it was.

    Walk of Fame + TCL Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Blvd

    • We parked nearby, luckily found some street parking by the residences nearby. We strolled hollywood blvd, looking at the stars on the Walk of Fame and also passing the TCL Chinese Theatre. We didn’t spend too much time here, as I was just looking for a souvenir magnet to add to my collection.

    I would gladly visit LA again, just to eat, LOL, and go to the beach. And maybe try to catch some free show tapings. But other than that, I think we did the major tourist stuff (there isn’t that much to see). If you’ve been to LA, let me know which sights/restaurants I’ve missed!

    Bon voyage!

    xoxo Eileen

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