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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

CHEAP GETAWAYS: Budget Friendly Bakersfield


One of the things we wanted to do on this blog is to highlight budget friendly trips in this tight economy. 

We’ve been highlighting one of our favorite weekend getaways, Bakersfield, this week. We’ve also been telling you that it’s friendly on budget. So just how friendly is it?
Here is what you can expect to pay in 2014 for two nights in Bakersfield…

First, you have to get there. It’s approximately 120 miles from Los Angeles, so we’ll start from there. The two hour drive, using a car that gets 16 miles per gallon, will cost you $15 each way, or $30 round trip at the current $4 per gallon cost. Figure another 4 gallons for driving around while you’re there and the total comes up to $46.
Be sure to gas up in L.A. and Bakersfield, not in between where the prices can be significantly higher. Bakersfield tends to be a few cents less per gallon than L.A.
GAS - $46

Hotel – Our go-to hotel in Bakersfield is the Springhill Suites where, with a AAA discount, we can usually get a two-room suite for around $85 per night. This price includes a full breakfast. A quick search at the Expedia link below reveals many other quality hotels starting at $50 per night, so a two night stay will be between $110 - $170.
Save up to $500 when you book your flight +hotel!

HOTEL - $110 - $170

Food – Bakersfield is a food lover’s heaven and, apart from the hotel breakfast, one big meal usually is enough for us.  From a low of around $14 for stuffing ourselves silly at Los Tacos de Huicho, to a high of around $60 for two dinners and a bottle of wine at Uricchio’s Trattoria or one of the city’s famous Basque restaurants, you will never go hungry here. We’ll put it right in the middle, $30, for two big meals.  We’ll add another $15 for those of you who want to have a lunch between your breakfast and dinner.
FOOD - $90

Fun – There is a lot to do here for fun. Free stuff includes going to the Kern River east of town for some hiking and dipping your feet in the water (we won’t recommend swimming in this sometimes dangerous river). Many nature reserves, such as the Wind Wolves south of town, offer free wildlife viewing and hiking. You can take a drive up into the nearby mountains and search for Sequoia trees…the largest trees on the planet.
Professional baseball at Sam Lynn Park can be had for $8 per person. $6 will get you into the Crystal Palace to see the Buckaroos play a concert.  If you’re there on the right weekend, Buck Owens’ son Buddy will be there singing along.
FUN - $13 - $15 for two
So there are the prices for all you need for a good Bakersfield weekend, let’s total it up…a two night getaway to Bakersfield from Los Angeles, including a suite, food, gas, and entertainment, will set you back anywhere from $269 to $321 for two people.

Darryl
Copyright 2012 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Friday, January 24, 2014

PHOTO ESSAY: More from Yosemite



It's hard to take a bad shot in Yosemite and it's also hard to cull pictures for our article. There's just so much to choose from. Here are some leftover shots from our recent trip to one of the most beautiful spots on Earth.




Yosemite is about more than just high cliffs and waterfalls. There are also thousands of trees. In fact, there are some great groves of Giant Sequoias here too. Here is one of the trees on the valley floor.




Tim and I take in the view on a bridge over the Merced River.




Even though the weather was warm, it was still winter. You can see some snow in the upper reaches of the mountains surrounding the valley, like these next to Taft Point.




While Yosemite Falls is featured heavily in our report and video, Yosemite has many other spectacular falls too. Here is Bridalveil Falls on the western end of the valley.




This relief map shows the layout of Yosemite Valley.




I'm taking a break from filming for a picture and then to take in the incredible view.




Entering the park from the west, coming in from Mariposa, you need to drive through this tight, little hole in the rocks.




Letty takes some time to take in the scenery at Tunnel View.




And we'll end with another reminder that it was still winter when we were there, a giant frozen waterfall.




Darryl
Copyright 2012 - Darryl Musick and Letty Musick
All rights reserved.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Ethnic Foods of the San Gabriel Valley: The 800 Pound Gorilla


Cuisines covered in previous posts: Mexican, Cajun, NepaleseLebanese, Thai, BasqueArgentinian, Cuban, VietnameseEnglish, Belgian, Spanish, JewishGreek, Greek Diner, Hawaiian, SalvadoranIranian, Armenian, AfghaniIndonesian, Korean, Cambodian, American, California Cuisine, Soul FoodJapanese, Filipino, BarbecueFrench, Italian, Polish, HungarianPizzaMongolian Barcbecue, Pakistani, Indian, Peruvian, Malaysian, Burmese

We've covered 40 different ethnic cuisines, depending on how you slice it. The San Gabriel Valley has proven itself an food diversity powerhouse will all these different cuisines...

...yet we've been holding off on one til the very end.



While most visitors rarely venture east of downtown, and only to Pasadena on New Year's Day...if that...the valley is world renown for one type of cuisine. Yes, it's finally time to talk about the 800 pound gorilla in the room.

You would be hard-pressed to find a larger population of Chinese people anywhere in the world outside of the San Gabriel Valley unless you're talking about China or Taiwan. It stands to reason that the biggest slice of the ethnic food pie in the SGV is covered by the various varieties of Chinese Food.

While most of America has Chinese restaurants in their towns, it's mostly of the Americanized "with six you get eggroll" kind of food. We have a few of those here, notably Wang's Palace in Monrovia which is a very nice representation of that old-school type of restaurant, but it's quickly being supplanted by something more original, authentic, daring, and...most of all...very tasty.

Not to knock the sweet 'n sour pork and chop suey of the older establishments but they just don't compare with what we can get now.


The variety is staggering. You have your Hong Kong style coffee shops; Taiwanese dumpling houses; the steamy Szechuan dinner houses...even Islamic Halal Chinese food and vegetarian places. Starting in Monterey Park through Alhambra, San Gabriel, Rosemead...reaching up into Arcadia with tendrils running along the Puente Hills to Rowland Heights and Diamond Bar, there are hundreds of places to get great (and not so great) Chinese food.

As much as we've tried, we still have a long, long way to go before we get to it all.

A good place to start is the famous Taiwan dumpling chain, Din Tai Fung. The location on Baldwin Avenue in Arcadia is America's first outpost of this Taipei-based chain.  With an extensive menu that is mostly ignored for the star of the show. You come here to get Xao Long Bao...steamed pork soup dumplings.


Very delicate, hot, juicy and tasty. Just how they get all that pork and broth goodness into those soft balls of thin dough is a mystery. Eating them is not.  I like to mix a little rice vinegar in a bowl with a good dose of chili oil...both of which sit on each table.  Poke a hole in the shell of the dumpling, put it into my mixture, roll it around for a few minutes so that the surface and the interior are throughouly mixed with the vinegar and oil.

Pop it into my mouth, whole, for an explosion of juicy, spicy, and incredible flavor.  A serving of 10 dumplings...just enough for me...is around eight dollars.  Come early to avoid the crowd.

Arcadia is also the home of Andy Cherng, who opened a small chain called Panda Inn starting in Pasadena.  You might know of the take out version of the Panda Inn he also started that now has nation-wide outlets bringing their signature orange chicken to the masses, Panda Express.

For a more traditional feast, we'll head to the Golden Dragon...also in Arcadia...to get their incredible, crunchy Mandarin orange beef. It's flash cooked in a wok full of hot chilis and orange peels.  It is similar to orange chicken but much crunchier and with a deeper, savory taste.


One of our best Chinese delights is hot and sour soup.  This tasty broth with both a sour vinegar component mixed with hot chili is what we crave when we have a cold or sore throat. Nothing gets our sinuses clearer or soothes our throats faster. While many passable to very good renditions exist in the valley, it's the fiery broth of Happy Noodle in El Monte that fits the bill for us.

Some of the best Chinese cuisine exists with ingredients your mom told you to avoid. Intestines, feet, rotten eggs, stinky tofu...all can be great in the hands of a good cook.

These are the kinds of foods we make the trek over to Rowland Heights to eat at Remy's Noodle Palace, next to the Home Depot just south of the 60 freeway.


While I've tried a lot of those offal offerings, the best is the gelatinous bits of cow tendon floating in hot broth with soft noodles. Similar to the taste of ossu buco marrow, you will not think there's enough in the giant bowl they serve you.

My wife and I also like to get the half-foot long pot stickers they serve here on the side. Like most really good versions you have had only much, much bigger.

So there you have it. A celebration of diversity with over forty different ethnic cuisines in one, small valley. Next time you're in Southern California, you owe it to yourself to jump just a bit east of downtown L.A. (take the Gold Line if you don't want to drive) and try one of these deliciously different foods.

Chow!



Darryl
Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Ethnic Foods of the San Gabriel Valley: 626 Night Market


Cuisines covered in previous posts: Mexican, Cajun, Nepalese, Lebanese, Thai, Basque, Argentinian, Cuban, Vietnamese, English, Belgian, Spanish, Jewish, Greek, Greek Diner, Hawaiian, Salvadoran, Iranian, Armenian, Afghani, Indonesian, Korean, Cambodian, American, California Cuisine, Soul Food, Japanese, Filipino, Barbecue, French, Italian, Polish, Hungarian, Pizza, Mongolian Barcbecue, Pakistani, Indian, Peruvian, Malaysian, Burmese

We're almost there...this is the penultimate post in this series. Next week, we'll tackle the 800 pound gorilla of the San Gabriel Valley ethnic food scene but this week, we'll take one little detour before wrapping it up.


In Asia, night markets draw lot of people late at night to gatherings of food booths mingling among other merchants, kind of like a late night flea market.


Taiwanese immigrant Jonny Hwang missed the markets and thought the SGV, with it's large Asian population, would be ripe for such a venue. The 626 Night Market was born (the name is taken from the area code of the San Gabriel Valley).

While the first version got off to a shaky start in Pasadena back in 2012, the night market has had much more success after moving to Santa Anita Racetrack in Arcadia.



It's a mostly Asian flavor, although there are some food trucks bringing in other cuisines.  Stands ranging from cheap to expensive sell all kinds of different Asian goodies.


There's Indonesian roasted chicken, stinky tofu, intestine stew, Sriracha lobster balls, and even a Chinese stand selling incredibly delicious Belgian Liege waffles.


Starting at it's afternoon opening time, the market steadily crowds up. After dark, it can get quite crowded and is very busy. If you like that kind of Asian nightlife, you'll love it. If you're more of a quiet, reading-a-book-by-the-fireplace kind of person, come early and you'll love it too.


Since it takes place at the racetrack, you are free to slip over to the grandstand, partake in a little off-track betting, get a drink at the bar, and even eat at the racetrack restaurant but most come here to eat the myriad varieties of Asian cuisines and try their hand at new, exotic, and sometimes scary new stuff.

It's highly recommended. Parking is free and the general admission price of the racetrack, which is less than $5, is all it takes to get in.


Come try a nice slice of Asia plopped right into the middle of the San Gabriel Valley.


Darryl
Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Ethnic Foods of The San Gabriel Valley: ...and All The Rest.

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia
Matthew Levine under CC BY 2.0 license

Cuisines covered in previous posts: Mexican, Cajun, NepaleseLebanese, Thai, BasqueArgentinian, Cuban, VietnameseEnglish, Belgian, Spanish, JewishGreek, Greek Diner, Hawaiian, SalvadoranIranian, Armenian, AfghaniIndonesian, Korean, Cambodian, American, California Cuisine, Soul FoodJapanese, Filipino, BarbecueFrench, Italian, Polish, Hungarian, Pizza

Before we get to the 800 pound gorilla of San Gabriel Valley's ethnic cuisine, I just want to go over what's left on our list.




These are cuisines that you can find here in the Valley except we haven't had a chance to try them yet, save for one. Let's start with that one...

I don't think what we know as Mongolian Cuisine is anything like you'd actually find in Mongolia. From what I can gather, it's something that actually developed in Taiwan. Nevertheless, it is an ethnic food and it is served here.

There are several Mongolian barbecue places scattered around the valley. It's been a long time since we've tried any of them but the setup is basically the same. You walk down a buffet of ingredients and take whatever looks tasty to you. At the end of the line, you give your ingredients to a chef who stir fries it up for you.

Not bad but nothing we'd keep going back to.  Golden Palace at Colorado and Rosemead in Pasadena and Mongolian Hashen in Duarte are the two we've tried.

Now, on to the cuisines we have yet to try...

Pakistani Food is usually served alongside Indian food at many restaurants. In fact, in searching, I cannot find one standalone Pakistani restaurant in the valley but there are several Indian restaurants that serve it.



Which brings us to Indian Food. My wife is a big fan but I'm not so much. Noor's Indian Bistro in Monrovia is her favorite and people rave about Nirvana in Arcadia.

Borneo and Yazmin restaurants in Alhambra serve Malaysian Food.

There are a handful of places serving Burmese Food such as Daw Yee in Monterey Park and the Golden Owl in La Puente.


Picture courtesy of Wikimedia
Hugomon under CC BY 3.0 license

I have loved what little Peruvian Food that I've tried at Inka Trails, outside of the SGV in Claremont, such as the classic lomo saltado. In the SGV, you can find it at Choza Mama in Pasadena.

We're almost there, we have two more entries in this series before we get to the end...



Darryl
Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, January 5, 2014

2013 Year in Review

Seemed like a slow travel year for us but we still managed to get in quite a few trips and even stepped out of the country a tiny bit. We've now hit 40 (43 for me) out of the 50 states and made it back to the Caribbean, too, without stepping out of the country. Look below to see our activity for the year and click on the links to visit our reports for each item...


We started with a trip south of the border into Ensenada, Mexico, which has been the recipient of a lot of bad press and cruise cancellations lately due to drug cartel activity, to see if it was really that bad or dangerous. Conclusion?  Not even remotely...can't wait to go back.

Cocktail Hour suggestion: Margarita Madness.


Barely averting a traveler's nightmare...getting the wrong date down in your hotel booking...we managed to squeak out a parent's getaway to the Danish-themed town of Solvang, California where we spent a few days with hundreds of greyhounds.

Cocktail Hour suggestion: Chilled Chardonnay.

Unfortunately, this year we didn't get to add any new stadiums to our list of accessible ballparks in our Fields of Dreams reports.





We found a new contender for our best hotel chain of the year, Hyatt, with great hotels, easy accessible reservations, and an awesome loyalty program. Then, Marriott, not wanting to give up the title so easy stepped up with the best rooms we had in Tennessee and a really outstanding suite in Arizona..although they did dilute their loyalty program last year.  We'll just say that both chains top our list at the end of 2013.


Spring found us back on the beach in the Caribbean, this time on the lovely U.S. territory of St. Croix in the Virgin Islands at one of the world's great independent hotels, the Buccaneer.

Cocktail Hour suggestion: A St. Croix Drinking Tour.


Just like John Fogerty, we really did get a little stuck in Lodi, California, which instead turned into a nice trip to Sacramento, the Gold Country, and great wine tasting in the Sierra foothills.

Cocktail Hour suggestion: Sierra Foothills Wine Taste Off.

A lot of my travel friends say American Airlines is no fun anymore, and they have dropped quite a bit in their service, we still had good flights for St. Croix on them but we still have to say Southwest is the best as they flew us with great spirits and comfort to Nashville, Tennessee.  Still our favorite airline as we enter the New Year.


Summer found us in a dispute with a festival operator in Monrovia, California, which turned into an opportunity to document the steps to take in an ADA dispute. Complaint resolved, we still visit the festival regularly.


We added some new video to a couple of old trips, a night time helicopter flight over Las Vegas and some newly found footage of our time in Puerto Vallarta back in the 90's.


On a more somber note, Tim and I took a trip to Palm Springs to say goodbye to my aunt, who had her funeral there in the fall.


While we started working on a new foodie video this year, we have yet to finish it (gives you something to look forward to this year) but we did start a new mid-week series when we figured out our home of the San Gabriel Valley has around 40 different types of ethnic foods being served here. We're still going strong with our series, The Ethnic Foods of the San Gabriel Valley, but will be wrapping that up soon.


Finally, this fall had us checking off items on our bucket list as we headed out on the grand Tennessee Tour and the Elvis Trail.

Cocktail Hour suggestion: Beale Street Pub Crawl.


Thanks for making us your stop for accessible travel in 2013, I hope you'll stick around to see what's in store for 2014.


Darryl
Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Ethnic Foods of The San Gabriel Valley: Pizza


Cuisines covered in previous posts: Mexican, Cajun, NepaleseLebanese, Thai, BasqueArgentinian, Cuban, VietnameseEnglish, Belgian, Spanish, JewishGreek, Greek Diner, Hawaiian, SalvadoranIranian, Armenian, AfghaniIndonesian, Korean, Cambodian, American, California Cuisine, Soul FoodJapanese, Filipino, Barbecue, French, Italian, Polish, Hungarian

Last week, we finished off the European cuisines that can be found in the San Gabriel Valley but we must add an addendum...pizza



Of course, when we talk about pizza here, what can be found is American pizza. Although mostly made by Italian Americans, it really bears little resemblance to the pizza you'd find in Italy. Our pies have evolved into several regional varieties like New York pizza, Chicago deep dish, and so on.



Actually, the best pizzas around here are found outside of the SGV, such as the pie at Red Devil (at the top of the page) in La Verne, Casa Bianca (just above) in Eagle Rock, and Tony's Little Italy down in Placentia for deep-dish.

It's not to say we don't have pizza here in the valley, there's lot's of it, just not a lot that rises above bad or mediocre.

We do have two we can recommend, each with two outlets in the San Gabriel Valley.



Carmine's in South Pasadena and Arcadia has some great pizzas. Each location is a comfortable, classic Italian dining room with friendly staff and great food. Beyond the pizza, the rest of the menu is good too.

Petrillo's...either at the very old school original location on Valley Boulevard in San Gabriel or at the newer outlet on Route 66 in Glendora...is the pizza all of us old-time San Gabriel Valleyites grew up with.

Cheesy, generous with the toppings, and...if you eat in the dining room...served with that great, freshly baked Petrillo's bread.

While I'd drive a little farther for the best pizza in Southern California, you can't go wrong with Carmine's or Petrillo's either.



Darryl
Copyright 2013 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved