Updated: Oct 24, 2018
My intention in starting this blog is to create space to reflect on traveling. For a long time, I kept the photos on my website as an abstract representation of the places I had been. I named each series poetically, like the photos I took in Italy and Sicily in 2015, "A Place Nicknamed Should Be" (I also created a series of short stories there, which are named the same). As photography distorts the context of actually being in a place, physical travel makes it tangible. So I anticipate that written reflection can hold the spaces where photography cannot, and can provide recommendations for others' own exploration of place.
A few weeks ago I traveled for a week to LA, Catalina Island, Palm Springs, and Joshua Tree with my boyfriend Jackson and friends Danise and Ming. Let me first say that the end of September is a perfect time to visit, especially if you are planning a trip to Joshua Tree. It's still warm in LA and hot enough for a dip in the pool in Palm Springs. A few years ago, I spent a week here in August with a similar agenda, but Joshua Tree was unbearably hot and we were confined to the car most of the time.
Places to Visit in Los Angeles
The Getty - Beautiful art museum with outdoor gardens and lush green hills that overlooks the city. Plan to spend several hours strolling outside as well as seeing any special exhibits. I saw a fashion photography and a bookmaking exhibit. There are several permanent galleries but the museum's vibrancy is captivated in its outdoor spaces. Admission is free but you will need to pay a parking fee, and take a trolley uphill to the museum entrance. There is a discounted parking rate after 3 pm.
The Broad- Free contemporary art museum in downtown LA. Parking around here is really expensive, with many maximum daily rates for garages above $25. My suggestion would be to find the cheapest garage (we found about six blocks away with an $18 maximum rate) and plan other activities in the area, or take an Uber/Lyft. The Museum of Contemporary Art is down the street from the Broad but there is an admission fee. You could also potentially walk to Little Tokyo from this area as well. The highlights from the Broad are Jeff Koons' balloon dog and flowers, a wide range of Roy Lichtenstein works, Glenn Ligon's neon, Ed Ruscha's text paintings, and an installation of Kara Walker's cut paper silhouettes.
Family Bookstore - Small, independent bookstore featuring artist books and zines, located on Fairfax Ave. I purchased a few zines here a few years ago but they were closed when I wanted to check them out again this time. They open late at 1 pm, which is particularly late if you're jet-lagged, coming from the east coast. Go support individual artists and buy books because they're cheap! Also, there are a lot of fun shops to check out on Fairfax, especially if you're into streetwear/hype brands (Supreme, Flight Club, Golf, etc...). I ended up buying a hoodie from Melody Ehsani which is branded for women and by women.
Sqirl - Best brunch in Silverlake. They have vegan/vegetarian/gluten-free options and unless you go before 8:30-9 am there will be a line. You place your order at the counter and wait for a table. This probably isn't a good place for a party bigger than 4 people as the tables are small and mostly outdoors but if you go I promise you it's worth it. I ordered the puffed rice salad which had a Mediterranean flavor palette with a lemony dressing and the brioche toast with fig jam.
The Original Farmers Market in the Grove - An outdoor mall with a variety different food stands and shops. We went to a french sandwich and coffee shop, Michelina, where you can build your own sandwich or order off the menu. The portions were huge and definitely shareable (except I devoured all of mine...). They do validate your parking for the Grove lot. The Sticker Planet will also validate your parking with a purchase if you don't want to stop and eat. There seem to be many great options for food here, including hot pink cat shaped donuts.
General Lee's - We happened to be in LA during the Moon Festival and we went through Chinatown where children shot small slips of paper from toy guns and made confetti mountains out of them. Restaurants were selling mooncakes and other pastries outdoors. If you're interested in checking out the Chinatown area, go to General Lee's for a cocktail. They have DJs, dancing, and multiple areas to sit.
Areas of Interest
If you're going when the weather is warm enough to go to the beaches, go to Malibu. Go to a Whole Foods, of which there are plenty, and get fruit and snacks so you can comfortably lay out all day, as there's not much to do or places to eat around there. We had the opportunity through Danise's work connection to go to Mastro's Beach Club which overlooks the water, and I saw the reflection of the sun setting over ocean through someone's glass of water. Poetic, right? Santa Monica and Venice Beach are not super appealing because they are so touristy. I go to Cape May in New Jersey every year and Santa Monica emanates vibes like the Wildwood boardwalk. But if you're down to check out cheap t- shirt shops and overpriced dispensaries, I'd go for it.
Silverlake has the best nightlife and dive bars. The Satellite has live music so I'd check that out to see if there's anyone interesting playing. We stayed in this Air B&B which was walking distance to Sqirl and several bars and restaurants; it was one of the nicest Air B&B's I've ever booked. The hosts leave many recommendations in the area as well.
We took a day trip from LA to Catalina Island, which is close proximity to Newport Beach, where we stayed in a less than clean Air B&B. There was a Groupon available for the ferry to Catalina which is quite pricey otherwise. The ferry leaves at 9 am and returns at 4:30 pm. Honestly, there wasn't much to see or do culturally, other than walk around touristy shops, and check out an old converted casino which is now a historical center. However, the views were astonishingly beautiful and the entire island has several towns where you can visit. One of the highlights was getting a drink at Descanso Beach Club. That link has all of Catalina's (probably somewhat overpriced) activities. After returning to Newport Beach, Jackson and I went out for Thai that night while Danise and Ming went out to Nobu, a high end sushi restaurant. This definitely broke up the time between LA and Palm Springs and gave us a different atmosphere for a day. In all honesty, you could skip Catalina island but if the Groupon for the ferry is available and you find a place to stay, it may be worth it.
Palm Springs + Joshua Tree
Ace Hotel - Funky, hip hotel with both an indoor and poolside bar, restaurant, and spa. There is a karaoke night on Tuesday, which starts at 9 pm (no, I didn't go because 9 pm is nearly past my bedtime). The highlights are the A+ aesthetic packaging of the minibar snacks, the artisan objects that are actually for sale in the rooms, and collaborations with artists: each year they have a different artist create a mural on one of the building's facades. The ladies below were painted by Laura Berger.
Cheeky's - Breakfast and lunch spot in downtown Palm Springs. They have vegan/vegetarian options, and the menu changes weekly. They're also closed on Tuesdays.
Lappert's - Ice cream...dessert...Dole whip and date shakes... I got a dairy free date shake, which was basically a super creamy milkshake made with coconut milk ice cream and a date paste. Yum.
Pelago - New midcentury-modern style furniture. Beautiful, airy showroom with a wide selection of new pieces that are super affordable.
The landscape was so dreamy, especially with an overcast sky. I read The Alchemist on the plane coming to LA and wanted to invoke the mystery of the desert within myself as I walked through the surreal environment of the park. The cloudy, then cloudless sky foretold the wildly fluctuating temperature throughout the day. Walk through the cholla cactus garden, hike one-mile through the Hidden Valley, and try to spy on a bighorn sheep at Barker Dam. We spent about 6 hours in Joshua Tree, Barker Dam being our last stop. The park rangers told us we might see wildlife on this trail, but the lake where the sheep tend to stop was totally dry. At the very end of the trail two sheep were standing above us on a rock, practically posing for a photoshoot.
On the way back to Palm Springs we stopped at Kasa Market, a Mexican grocery with a taco shop in the back. We were so hungry at this point, and were lucky enough to snack on pickled jalapeños from the salsa bar while we waited for our food. This is a no-frills, authentic dining experience.
To conclude, this post might have been more insightful had I written it right after returning home. But I have been commuting outside of DC for work every day and my energy continually escapes me once I arrive back in Baltimore. I have a two-month trip to Asia planned starting in January, so expect more writing then :-).
Do you have any other recommendations for food, drink, art, etc? Any places that should be on this list, or another route or stop along the way from LA to Palm Springs?