(Part 1 of these 21 Roadtrip Tales can be accessed at the following link)
8) It’s An LBC Thang – at casual glance, one would be easy to pair up the perception and size of Long Beach in comparison to Los Angeles and parallel it with Oakland compared to San Francisco. That’s not necessarily an accurate take, especially if you know little of how Los Angeles’ neighboring communities perceive its very prominent presence and vice versa.
However, what we can say is we made Long Beach, a practical population duplicate of Oakland (both come in at the mid-400,000s) one of our prime destinations on this trip. It’s hardly a conventional choice, but it was a perfect choice for us.
The city’s nicknames, from the street slang “LBC” (made popular in rap music) to the surprising “Iowa By The Sea” (referring to the many Midwesterners who made this city their home in the early 20th century) to generic (the city’s official and perhaps debatable motto “Aquatic Capital of America”) give a hint of the variety you’ll find here. No, our Honda wasn’t cool enough to roll while we sipped on gin and juice along the Promenade, so we started with something geared far more for our ages with a visit to Aquarium of the Pacific.
Established in 1998, the Aquarium is the largest in Southern California and is home to approximately 12,000 animals. It was also notable for being one of the first such venues in the nation to register its greenhouse gases and implement award-winning sustainable practices.
Our midweek visit score Christmas proved perfect in terms of crowds – nothing felt too cramped, and the warmer weather was appreciated, especially in the outdoor exhibits which mirror those you might find in a primarily amusement park atmosphere. Plenty of exhibits which allow kids (and kids at heart) to interact with the marine life are also found throughout. This aquarium isn’t the largest around (its Northern neighbor which we have visited, Monterey Bay Aquarium, is far more sizable) but it’s a perfectly portioned for a day trip with kids or a casual 2-3 hours of strolling for couples.
Later, we stopped by one of the more unique places that we have visited in The Hangout, a mishmash of cafe, apothecary, vintage shop and arts and crafts outlet in the city’s arts- and restaurant- oriented 4th Street Corridor. Our main reason for visiting this day was their book vendor, Bel Canto Books, a woman-owned business that opened in 2018 whose inventory leans toward Filipino and Asian authors in general. That’s not their entire focus however; coming from Central Ohio, we were happy to find some books from local treasure Hanif Abdurraqib in house. Unsurprisingly. we loaded up on some books from them and some other random craftiness within. In general, The Hangout seems like a place that, if we lived in Long Beach, we’d be hanging out at quite a bit.
9) Until Death Do Us Part – as people who regularly pay our respects to our ancestors who’ve passed from this world, we’ve slowly adopted a habit of visiting historic cemeteries in various cities and seeking out notable gravesites. Unsurprisingly, a place like Los Angeles, which became a center for the rich and famous, has several cemeteries which house numerous celebrities, and we made our way to Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park to do some unusual star gazing.
Somewhat hidden away behind the cityscape (there’s an unmarked alley that allows you vehicular access to the park, as we found out), Westwood Village actually offers a bit of respite from the hustle and bustle of the city jungle and the forever tangled morass that is the nearby I-405 San Diego Freeway. Perhaps most striking to me is how both the relatively unknown and the famous, the honorable and the infamous, and people of all genders, nationalities and backgrounds can be end up nestled together at peace in a tiny patch of land. If only we could bottle that magic somehow and transfer that to the living, that would be incredible indeed.
But until then, moments of silence for the departed and thoughts for more peace in the world will have to suffice, at least while you’re paying your respects to the departed.
Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial | Address: 1218 Glendon Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90024 | Website: https://www.dignitymemorial.com/funeral-homes/los-angeles-ca/pierce-brothers-westwood-village-memorial-park-and-mortuary/4798 | FB: https://m.facebook.com/PierceBrosWestwood/
10) The Hellhole That Is Santa Monica: As I was walking through the Santa Monica Farmers Market, held in downtown Wednesdays & Saturdays, I overheard a discussion with a local and a vendor; from the sound of things, they had known each other for awhile.
“Did you hear about the billboard outside town?” The vendor shook his head, whereupon his customer explained that some man out in the surrounding area had bought a billboard that claimed that Santa Monica was essentially a hellhole, a war zone overrun by crime, homeless, and liberal madness.
The two shared a good laugh over that development. I proceeded to look around me at all the stands with lush produce, eager shoppers of all ages and races wandering to and fro, and birds frolicking above on about as gorgeous a day Southern California can muster in December, and I too chuckled a bit.
I’ve learned delusion can run deep with folks, and I’m not surprised that some have gotten so deep with theirs that they put up billboards as described, or think that places like downtown Portland Oregon are still ongoing warzones. Let’s just say that Santa Monica this morning was nothing close to a war zone, nor was it even close to what I saw walking through Damascus, Syria a decade or so ago, which was in an ostensibly peaceful period but with indicators of the chaos that could happen (plenty of armed men (law enforcement, soldiers, and who knows what) in plain sight.
Perhaps more disturbing is how they deny what our economic system really is. By its very own definition, capitalism has winners and losers. For many of those winners, reminders that there are losers (e.g. a homeless person sighting) is like a mortal affront to them and shrug off any hint of caring. Many are shielded to the fact that this country is very much the beneficiary of cheap goods from people who are paid crap wages in countries like Bangladesh and El Salvador, or how farm workers are still some of the most underpaid in the world (your average 1%-er wouldn’t last a day picking artichokes, much less at the wage-level provided.)
In a way, these folks are like members of a tug-of-war team who decide to sit out a match, but complain from the sidelines that the teammates who didn’t are losing. Those who do actually try to do something to solve the issue, like the city of San Francisco, are doomed to fail as a result, because these efforts are piecemeal in nature and woefully under-resourced.
In addition, many of these folks pride themselves on being Christians. Jesus Christ was ostensibly someone who strove to reach out to society’s despised, poor, and/or forgotten. But for these folks, their attitudes don’t really reflect that King but rather the king whose son became The Buddha. Being told by a soothsayer that his son Siddhartha Gautama would either be a great king or great religious figure, King Suddhodana (who obviously loved his wealth, influence and power) did everything under his power to keep his son shielded from the awfulness of the world. As it turned out, the eventual Buddha could and would not be deluded by his father forever, and his new awareness led to his eventual enlightenment.
Artificially hiding the world’s ills from your own or someone else’s sight and mind doesn’t make them go away, and it’s this “out of sight, out of mind” attitude which makes effectively addressing issues like poverty nearly impossible.
11) The Paradise that is Santa Monica: Suffice it to say, we found Santa Monica far more a paradise than a hellhole. We had heard plenty about their Farmers Market from KRCW’s “Good Food” Podcast, and needless to say, we were blown away by the quality and quantity of fresh produce and other related products available. The Wednesday market, which we visited, is where many of Los Angeles’s top chefs grab their wares – it’s no surprise that this year-round bounty helps fuel the area’s culinary scene into being one of the best in the world.
We didn’t indulge in two popular attractions in the Santa Monica Pier (besides amusement park style attractions, it is the end of the mythical Route 66) nor the Promenade (think long outdoor walkway geared toward shopping) but we did get our fill of coastline viewing. Our hotel, Le Merigot, is not our normal vibe (we felt way too casual to what was otherwise a gorgeous upscale hotel with great service) but it put downtown and the beach within easy walking distance.
Two unexpected pleasures came in the form of Ye Olde King’s Head Shoppe (everything British you can imagine) – while a dine-in option is available, we were in the midst of getting on the road, so their takeout counter fit the bill perfectly including Cornish Pasties and Eccles Cakes. Our coffee, on the other hand, came from locally-based Espresso Cielo. In fact, the latter experience, though simple, may have been my favorite of the whole trip – a cup of delicious coffee with just my spouse and me in the shop, talking life while waiting for the Farmers Market to officially start.
Le Merigot | Address: 1740 Ocean Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90401 | Website: https://www.marriott.com/en-us/hotels/laxsk-le-merigot-santa-monica/overview/ | IG: lemerigotsm
Santa Monica Farmers Market | Address: 155-199 Arizona Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90401| Website: https://www.santamonica.gov/places/farmers-markets/downtown-farmers-market| IG: cityofsantamonica
12) Nothing Beats Freshly Baked – Breakfasts have become more challenging to us, mainly because the allergy effect that eggs have on my spouse. I had mentioned the Espresso Cielo moment in the previous paragraph, but I may have to say that the flatbreads we got from Al-Amir in Claremont might be equally as memorable.
Again, we were the only ones in house at this long time Lebanese Bakery when we put in our order for Sfeeha (minced lamb, tomato, onions & spices) and Soujouk (spiced ground beef, cheese, chili peppers, onion and spices) flatbreads. This was no prebaked and microwaved affair – they took a few minutes and made them fresh.
The smell inside the car proved amazing, and the wrappers that blanketed them just a tiny cut greasy. These golden brown discs of flavor may have been the best breakfast we had this entire trip.
13) Big Sur for Sure – Yes, Interstate 5 will get you from Los Angeles to the San Francisco Bay Area the quickest, while US 101 offers you a little more variety scenery-wise in exchange for an extra hour or two of driving time, depending on when you depart.
However, if you’re not pressed for time and the weather is gorgeous like it was, then the PCH/Highway 1 from Morro Bay through Big Sur into Monterey/Santa Cruz area is the way to go hands down. Even if you don’t stop to walk a beach or two, gander at elephant seal broods lazing in the sunshine, or catch a tourist attraction or two like Hearst Castle or a jaunt into Carmel-by-the-Sea, the accompanying rocky cliff views and crashing waves along this stretch will make you forget your troubles, if only for a few hours.
We didn’t stop anywhere in particular during this drive up the coast, but the pictures below from our many prior travels ought to give you an idea of what to expect should you embrace the PCH.
14) Fourteen Carrots and Other Gems – Food courts seem to be reliable options no matter where you go; unless you are awfully picky, several options end up appealing to your dining mojo of the moment. Rancho Cucamonga’s Haven City Market, opened in 2019, certainly qualifies, featuring 30+ food vendors that have a slight leaning toward Asian cuisines but covers all the basics. We leaned into that aspect, grabbing some Jojo’s Fried Rice (Taiwanese sausage, egg, carrots & peas) from Jojo’s Kitchen and a Pad Thai with Tofu from Sabaidee. A craft beer from the Native Son bar helped wash things down on this evening, the first on this trip where we felt like we could ease back and relax a bit…Lunch in Long Beach was a two-part affair: some solid ramen and karaage at the somewhat hip (think street murals and garage doors) Ramen Hub and some lovely soft serve and our first chance at Ah-Boong at the next door West Coast chain SomiSomi.
The Ah-Boong is essentially a combo of two things you can get separately if you choose – a goldfish-shaped Taiyaki waffle with your filling of choice (I went with taro) topped with soft-serve (several tempting flavors, but the Filipino won out and I went with Ube.) I went modest with the toppings and stuck to shredded coconut. There are several similar constructs available in Columbus but nothing quite like what we had that day…
Santa Monica and Caribbean aren’t necessarily two concepts that you associate together, but Cha Cha Chicken provides a way to get your jerk out with their beachside shack eatery. Food was more savory spicy than Scotch Bonnet spicy, but perfectly fine for takeout…Finally, lunch on the way up to San Francisco ended up at a longtime favorite of ours in Firestone Walker’s Barrelworks in Buellton. This visit in didn’t dissuade us from any future visits – better than average pub-style fare and some of the better funky and sour brews around made for a pleasant outdoor lunch.