My Top 10 Places to Visit in Los Angeles (First Time Visit)

Venice Beach Walk

I have been blogging about so many places that I have visited over the years, but have not yet written anything about the city that I have spent the last 20 years living in. Today I am doing a top 10 of places to visit in Los Angeles if you have not been here before. This is a great start to seeing what my city is all about.

Top 10 Places to Visit in Los Angeles (in no specific order):

1. Venice Beach
2. Hollywood Boulevard
3. Sunset Boulevard
4. Malibu
5. Santa Monica
6. Beverly Hills
7. The Getty Museums
8. Griffith Park
9. The Farmer’s Market & the Grove
10. A Studio Tour

Jim Morrison Mural in Venice

1. Venice Beach. Start here early in the morning and eat breakfast outside at ‘the Sidewalk Café’ which has been there for more than 35 years. The boardwalk has shops lined on one side and booths by locals selling things they have made on the other side. This is a great place to people watch; I personally love the man who is wearing a turban skating along on rollerblades playing an electric guitar and singing as he strolls along the boardwalk. Side note: It is a little dirty here and there are quite a few homeless around; I have stopped taking the kids here even for a quick trip to the awesome beachside playground early in the morning. For a one time visit I say definitely do it!

Hollywood

2. Hollywood Boulevard. Must see sights: Sid Grauman’s Chinese Theater and the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Only one part of the original theater is still here, but you get the feeling of how it used to be in Hollywood. I personally love going to the Hollywood Walk of Fame where they have hand prints and foot prints of famous people that you can take a photo with. I love to see how small or large their feet were! The streets surrounding this area are lined with stars from famous people in music, television and motion pictures. I also suggest leaving the madness and going across the street to the Roosevelt Hotel where the first Academy Awards were held. They have a free little museum on the second floor with lots of Hollywood’s history.

3. Driving Sunset Boulevard at night is spectacular. You can see at all the large billboards lit up while looking at many famous spots along the Sunset Strip (location: Sunset Boulevard between Crescent Heights and Doheny Drive). The street can be quite busy, but don’t worry, it gives you time to check everything out.

Outside of Moonshadows in Malibu

4. Malibu. Driving down Pacific Coast Highway, PCH, through Malibu is a treat. You can take in excellent views of the Pacific Ocean while exploring the area. For me the drive is my favorite part of Malibu. There is a nice pier to visit which has a little cafe at the beginning. You can enjoy some of the small beaches here or the famous Zuma Beach. There are many great restaurants too (please note slightly expensive). I personally like ‘Moonshadows’and ‘Dukes’ where you have ocean views while eating. Pepperdine University sits on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean and is also a nice stop while in Malibu.

5. Santa Monica. The beach town of Santa Monica has a lot to offer. The pier has been redone with a small amusement park and games similar to how the pier would have been in the 1916. In the summer there are free concerts held here which are family oriented. Nearby is 3rd Street Promenade which has shopping and restaurants. In addition to the newly redone Santa Monica Place shopping center there are two other shopping districts which include Main Street and Montana Aveune; you can shop the day away here. You can also spend some quality time at the beach.

To be continued tomorrow……

(day 52)

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A day in the life of a working mother

The kids being silly

Driving home directly from work today I thought I would blog a few words about being a working mother, and salute all the working mothers out there. My regular routine has me dropping off and picking up the kids most days; Max’s schedule is such that he can’t help much here, but he does what he can. Today was one of those days where he could pick up the kids and I was excited to go home straight and relax 30 minutes or so before my little monsters came home. I considered opening up a beer arriving home, but instead sat on the couch watching “The Brady Bunch” while I put together yet another new toy from Matteo’s birthday. Can I tell you boy toys are so much more complicated to assemble than girl toys. Luckily this toy wasn’t so complicated!

As a working mother I really have to organize my time. I am a morning person so I am up early before the kids preparing for the new day. After getting ready I wake them up one by one and we dress, eat breakfast, and become presentable for the outside world. And we’re off…I have to be on time for Malina and I; Matteo being in daycare can show up at any time. Luckily we do not have a commute so it’s really a matter of stopping here and there, talking with teachers and continuing on.

Arriving to work I have already been up at least 2 hours. Work is my ‘break’ of sorts and then I continue on. Weekends are super busy; there is always a party or an event to go to. And with free time we are often out too. Thank goodness for the occasional holiday or family vacations. I really know how to enjoy them.

I enjoy devoting free time to the BoxTop program at Matteo’s school and I am on the Parenting Group Board at the university where I work. There is so much for us working mothers to do. I am a big advocate for the working mom. Having returned to work with my son just 2 months of age I continued to pump for 10 months for his benefit. Not too many lactation rooms out there for the working mom. And it is a headache finding daycare for your small kids too. I have some experience with these challenges and like to share my knowledge with those new to motherhood.

I would love to work part-time to pick up Malina when school ends instead of picking her up from daycare a few hours later. Unfortunately I can’t do that right now, but I do occasionally have the opportunity to do this and treasure those days. I enjoy when the kids have a day off too as I usually time the day off and have some extra time with them. I also enjoy the weekly babysitter visit so I can unwind for a few hours and do chores, go to the gym or play a little tennis.

It is not easy to be a working mom, but almost 6.5 years years into motherhood I have learned how to balance it all out the best I can and thank goodness I don’t do much of the cooking!

(day 51)

Milestones for Kids- Losing a tooth

Malina's toothless smile

Last week Malina lost a tooth. It was her 6th tooth to go. It was a front tooth, her second in the top front, so now she has the beautiful toothless grin. She lost her first tooth on her last day of being 4 years old. Now I watch them go one by one.

Being an adult I had forgotten about all the excitement and joy of losing a tooth until she reached this stage of her life. At school they go to the nurse for help and if they are lucky it comes out and they receive a plastic tooth on a string to store their tooth which they wear on their neck. They also are given a sticker and have their name written on the board on the ‘I lost a tooth this month’ list. I really enjoy watching them all go up to each other smile and jump up and down marveling over the missing tooth.

At home I let Max take care of taking the tooth out. She likes to hold her brother’s hand as he gives it a gentle pull. Her last tooth would not come out with his help. In the end it was barely holding on as she was sitting reading a book rubbing her tongue along it. And then BAM it fell out all on its own, thank goodness.

The best thing about losing a tooth is the tooth fairy. Malina made out quite well with the first tooth, I believe it was a $20 payout; not bad for one tooth! Now we vary the amount, but it’s never less than $10. Her little brother Matteo is afraid of the tooth fairy. Since the kids share a room we now have to leave the money for her in the kitchen instead of under her pillow. The poor little guy can’t sleep thinking about some strange fairy coming in his room.

The dentist says she’s moving along just right with the whole process and sooner than later it’ll be time for adult teeth, braces, and the grown up world. For now I enjoy having a 6 year old excitedly jumping up and down each time she has a wiggly tooth.

(day 50)

A Day in Photos- Paris

Paris is my favorite place in the world. I could spend a year here and never see all there is to see and offer. I have visited twice since being married, but spent much more time in Paris in my 20’s. Next time I will go into my photo archieves for pictures from my first few times here, but for today here a few photos from more recent trips.

Tour Eiffel

The Tour Eiffel, Eiffel Tower, is the most notable landmark in Paris. It was built by Gustave Eiffel for the 1889 World’s Fair and originally approved to stand for just 20 years. Thank goodness they found use of it for more than the exposition and kept it up longer! This photo is taken from the Champ de Mars as we approached the Eiffel Tower from the metro station.

The illy Cafe

This is a fun picture that I took in the illy Cafe located in the 9th arrondissement of Paris. Max is a big espresso drinker so we stopped in the Italian cafe for a drink. Above where we sat down at a large common table there were espresso cups arranged in this most artistic manner.

Outside the Puppet Show (Le Guignol)

Malina posed in front of a van outside of the Guignol, puppet theater, at the Jardin d’Acclimatation which is located in the 16th arrondissement’s Bois de Boulogne park. I had always wanted to take the kids to a puppet show and on this day we stopped to watch part of the show inside after taking this photo.

Sacre Coeur

The church in the background of Malilna and I is the Basilique Sacre Coeur, Sacred Heart church, which is located on the highest point in Paris. There are great views to be seen from here and it’s a great area to explore. I recommend coming in the day time as there are a few pick pockets around due to the large number of tourists. I have great memories of hanging out on the steps in front of the church listening to people playing guitar and talking with my neighbors.

The Paris Opera House

The Palais Garnier , or more commonly referred to as the Opera Garnier, is located in the 9th arrondissement of Paris. It is a beautiful building and mostly used to showcase the ballet. ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ book refers to this famous building and the Paris metro stop is named for this site as well. We stayed in this neighborhood during our last trip to Paris, a first for me, and I enjoyed this area as it was in walking distance to the Musee du Louvre, the Louvre Museum, and the Jardin des Tuileries, Tuileries Garden. Close to the Opera Garnier I saw my first Apple store in Paris and I visited the big department stores of Galeries Lafayette and Printemps which are located behind the Opera Garnier.

(day 49)

Fun things to do in San Diego

The San Diego Zoo

Driving south on the 5 Freeway from La Jolla you can detour to the west or east to reach two favorite spots for visitors to San Diego. Going east you will reach the world famous San Diego Zoo which is located in Balboa Park. Balboa Park contains 15 museums and 8 gardens. In the park you could spend your day biking and your night gazing at the stars. There also is a carousel dating back to 1910 and a miniature railroad that adults and children both enjoy. When I go to Balboa Park it is usually to see the animals.

The San Diego Zoo covers 100 acres and has more than 4,000 animals. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes when visiting and bring plenty of water. I prefer to walk the park, hills and all, but there are also buses to take you around. One is a guided tour and the other is an express bus. You can also take the one way sky tram to move from one side of the park to the other. None of these modes of transportation will take you to the Treehouse Café which is a hike up a massive hill with many exhibits to see along the way. They serve pasta and other Italian favorites which makes my kids happy! What is so wonderful about this zoo is that the animals live in natural habitants instead of cages. My favorite attractions include visiting the giant pandas and the bears in the Asian Passage portion of the zoo.

A bear at the San Diego Zoo

Seaworld is another attraction that many come to see in San Diego. I enjoy watching the Shamu Rocks show. Shamu is a killer whale that for me is the center of the park, and to miss this show is to miss the best thing at Seaworld. In addition there are four other shows for your viewing pleasure. For an additional fee you can participate in a dolphin interaction program where you have the opportunity to swim with the dolphins. Another option for those who do not want to go in the water is to sign up for a dolphin encounter where you can feed and train a dolphin. There are an additional three options for closer interaction with the animals available too. Over the years they have added a number of mild thrill rides to the park and there now totals five options. Lastly there are 5 exhibits to check out. One year we had an annual pass to Seaworld and were lucky to visit a few times in that period.

Downtown San Diego is a nice place to visit. Over the years they have really cleaned it up and made it quite nice. Since building Petco Park where the San Diego Padres baseball team plays at the edge of downtown their downtown has become world class. Horton Plaza, an outdoor mall, is a good spot to park your car free for a few hours and from there you can travel by foot to explore the neighborhood. There are many restaurants and bars in downtowns’ Gas Lamp District. They have a Hard Rock Café and a Croce’s Restaurant, singing legend Jim Croce’s place, in this district along with options for everyone.

A personal favorite spot of Max’s is Coronado Island which is located just south of downtown. You can reach here easily by car crossing the Coronado Bridge or by ferry from downtown San Diego. Taking the ferry you will need to catch a bus to the other side of the island which houses the world famous Hotel Del Coronado and the majoirty of shops and restaurants on the island. This hotel is something special dating back to 1888 and is the premier beach front resort of San Diego. I have not stayed here as it is quite expensive, but visiting for the day you can tour the arcade, eat lunch and enjoy laying out and swimming at the beautiful beach. In the winter they have an ice skating rink up and at the bakery you can have a yummy hot chocolate. On the other part of the island is a Naval Base. I always enjoy seeing the big ships as I descend on the island from the bridge.

There are so many other things to do and explore in San Diego. You can see and tour the historic and tall ships maintained by the San Diego Maritime Museum or you can visit their small community of Little Italy for an authentic Italian meal. Driving north of San Diego you can visit the San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park in Escondido or Legoland in Carlsbad. To wrap up I’ll say I truly enjoy escaping to the relaxed beach feel of San Diego any weekend that my schedule allows.

Side note:

Mexico is about a 30 minute drive south from downtown, but I don’t recommend taking your car across the border unless you plan to drive at least an hour or so to the beach. I personally have not crossed the border in at least twelve or thirteen years, but you can park your car at one of many parking lots and walk across to shops, restaurants or bars. You can refer to my blog on Day 19, I’ll take a beer over a girly drink any day for a little information about night life in Tijuana, Mexico. These days I prefer to stop at the outlet shops in the town of San Ysidro on the U.S. side of the border. Actually upon further thought I would not recommend crossing the border to Mexico right now as the country has faced some serious issues with drug trafficking and kidnapping the past 5 years or so. Border towns are not the safest, but hopefully in a few years Tijuana will be safer again.

(day 48)

Weekend getaway to La Jolla (San Diego) California

Children's Pool, La Jolla

When I want to get away from Los Angeles for the weekend I often take the kids to San Diego. It is only a 2 hour drive from Los Angeles and I have a good friend who lives in La Jolla which is slightly north of downtown San Diego. Today I’ll share some fun things to do in La Jolla and tomorrow I will write more about things to do in other parts of San Diego. La Jolla is an affluent part of San Diego so things tend to be well maintained and slightly more expensive than other parts of San Diego.

La Jolla is known for the beautiful beaches that stretch along the coast. There are local beaches and tourist beaches around town. You will always see people surfing at the beach, and if you go to the La Jolla Cove you’ll see locals going for a swim regardless of the season. There are also many people going snorkeling from this spot. I enjoy taking the kids here because there is also a nice sized green field at Scripps Park where we play ball and run around. La Jolla Shores is a crescent shaped beach that is a mile in length which is pretty busy with both locals and visitors. Kayaking, surfing and swimmers can be found at this beach. You’ll find a number of hotels, beach style shops, and restaurants here. There are also sea caves in the area where you can do kayak tours or you can visit the Cave Store with the kids. For a small fee you can walk in the caves from the store on a manmade tunnel.

I can’t forget to mention the seals and sea lions that have taken over the Children’s Pool of the La Jolla Cove. Way before I ever visited San Diego this area used to be a concrete breakwater for kids to swim, but the seals and sea lions decided to make it their home. You can walk out onto the sea wall glancing back at the mammals and view the beautiful Pacific Ocean. Be careful though, last time we walked on the old breakwater I wasn’t paying attention and a big wave crashed on the walkway and soaked me from the waist down! Luckily it was a sunny day and I quickly dried off. You can also walk down the steep stairs to the beach to look at them closer, but please do not get too close, they need some space! There are usually locals near the seals and sea lions with an information table and a few items for sale.

Other fun things to do in La Jolla include shopping or dining on Prospect Street, the downtown area which is just up the hill from the beach. There is an information center here to help orient you to the town and it’s a good spot to stop for maps and information. You can also catch a beautiful sunset from here since part of the downtown faces the beach. The University of California San Diego is located in La Jolla. Sometimes I’ll take the kids to the Birch Aquarium at Scripps (part of the university) which has 3,000 different animals to view. I like this aquarium because it is not crowded and you can take your time to explore. Outside there are usually exhibits for the kids to enjoy too.

At night I like to drive on the Coast Boulevard and look out at the ocean with the moon light and lights from the coastal homes glaring at it; what a relaxing and beautiful view. You can also go to Mount Soledad ,which is located above La Jolla, and take in a 360 degree view of the city below. It is at an elevation of 822 feet and marked with a white cross. I prefer to go here in the day to look out, but the evening works too! There is always more to do in La Jolla including golfing and museums, but I am sure that the things I have mentioned can keep you busy for a weekend away.

(day 47)

I spent a year doing volunteer work in Western New York

JVC Buffalo

I went to college at a Jesuit university. Jesuits are male priests, a religious order of the Roman Catholic Church. Having studied 8 years in a Catholic school and 8 years in a Jesuit Catholic school we always participated in community service. In high school I volunteered at the Indiana School for the Blind. It was one of the first times I realized how blessed my life has been. Upon finishing college I signed up to spend a year doing volunteer work with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, JVC. It is similar to the Peace Corps, but ran by the Jesuits.

At the time there were 7 regions in the JVC: West, Northwest, Midwest, South, East, Canada, and International. I opted to apply to the Eastern Region as I had not extensively travelled the East coast. I was not planning on being assigned to Buffalo, New York which is more of the Midwest or Canada, but that was the path I was lead on.

I started with a retreat (defined as a “a period of group withdrawal for prayer, meditation, or study”) in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Pennsylvania. I still remember flying into Washington D.C. then taking a Greyhound Bus to the retreat house. I was introduced to 5 new housemates and spent a week in reflection, prayer and building a community. The picture above is of my community posing for our Christmas photo.

We then took the drive to Buffalo crammed into one small car. Being a Jesuit Volunteer was a great experience. I am so glad that I was in a place in my life that I could take a year to serve the poor of the communities of Buffalo and Niagara Falls. Being Catholic but not highly religious I also explored my spirituality and then some. The JVCs main focuses include: spiritual growth, social justice, community, simple living, and peace. We would go to church weekly as a community and held vespers night (defined as a “an evening of worship”) every other week.

Wow, what a challenge and rewarding experience the journey was. We lived in this big Victorian house with 6 rooms and 1.5 bathrooms. Please recall there were 6 of us- we had a definite shower schedule! We took turns cooking family style dinners, and a number of my roommates were vegetarians. We had all of our basic expenses covered and were given a stipend of $85/month for extras.

I held two jobs during my year in Buffalo. The first was at a Catholic community outreach center in Niagara Falls, New York. I would drive a van 30 minutes up the New York State Thruway each day to work in the outreach center. Luckily it was a ‘mild’ Buffalo winter, but I did have the experience of wrecking my van on black ice. At the center we fed the poor in a soup kitchen, gave out baked goods, and helped the homeless find shelter for the night. After spending six months here I continued to work towards social justice in Buffalo with one of my roommates at a housing agency that helped the poor find affordable living. What a humbling experience it was to help the community of Buffalo. I never realized how fortunate I was until this year of service.

I had a good amount of fun as well during my year with the JVC. We would often travel to the other houses in the JVC East community for the monthly parties. I saw areas of the East coast that I haven’t been to since. When it came time to have our party the Canadian and Midwest communities joined us instead of our own JVC East community because we were so far out there.

On weekends we’d visit an artsy area in walking distance from us on Elmwood Avenue; there we would explore the shops and drink at the bars. I did quite a bit of biking too since I did not have a car. During this period I remember often biking across the Peace Bridge to Fort Erie, Ontario, Canada since it was just 20 minutes away. I also first heard one of my favorite bands, The Barenaked Ladies (a Canadian band) while living in Buffalo. Weekly I swam at the local pool thinking constantly about life and my purpose here. Also I volunteered at the children’s hospital in the child life wing. With my ‘free time’ I took classes at the local college which was named Canisius.

I have kept in limited touch with the Former Jesuit Volunteer, FJV, community since completing my service year. I did reach out to one of the many JVC communities here in Los Angeles many years ago bringing them cookies and welcoming them to the neighborhood. I also attended a big rally once held by the director of the JVC East community with another FJV who lived in Los Angeles at the time.

Currently I keep in touch with two of my former housemates. Unfortunately I did lose touch with my housemate whom I related to the most while being a volunteer. Thinking back as I write now I am so glad that I was able to spend that time living life simply focusing on social justice, even if it was just for a year.

(day 46)