California Vacation Pictures Posted

What a job! Four hundred ninety seven pictures from our vacation are now online. I’m not really done yet, but close enough to open it up for viewing&#185.

There are just too many to randomly browse (well, maybe not – it’s up to you). To make things easier, I’ve divided the photos into sub-albums by category. Or, you can look at the entire album by clicking here.

Once you’re in any of the sub-albums, click of the slideshow function, which works great and will move you right through the photos.

Amazing View

Our Day at Malibu

Surfing at Malibu

Animals We Met in California

Looking out our Century Plaza Hotel window

Beautiful California spring flowers

Los Angeles street scenes

Laguna Beach, CA

Palm Springs mountain views

Palm Springs street level views

Universal Studios Hollywood

&#185 – In order to get Google and the other search engines to ‘understand’ my photos, I’ve got to add some sort of caption to each one. Otherwise, they’re undecipherable for searching.

Delayed In Las Vegas

Our flight from Burbank to Las Vegas was right on time and, as is often the case in Las Vegas, a little turbulent coming in.

Our departing flight isn’t quite as cooperative. It was supposed to take off at 2:50 PM PST. It left Reno late and is now 25 minutes from the gate here at McCarren.

It will be a late night getting home to Connecticut. Hopefully I’ll be able to sleep on the flight. Otherwise, it’s going to be an awful drive home.

How Sad – We’re Going Home

The headline of this entry is actually way out in front of the content. I still have a full day to catch up. As far as the blog is concerned, let’s talk Thursday and Palm Springs.

It was breakfast in the room again. And, again, I’m questioning the reviews I read about the Hyatt Suites in Palm Springs. We were so worried about the condition of the hotel, but it was quite nice and the staff was very friendly and helpful. The fact that our included breakfast could be delivered to the room (with a reasonable delivery charge) was a bonus.

The only small… very small… exception is the valet parking. I understand it is run by a contractor and it is not as fully staffed as the hotel, so sometimes we had to wait.

Thursday morning was my time to do something a little unusual – the kind of thing vacations are for. I went 4-wheeling on a quad in the desert.

The back story is, as we first drove toward Palm Springs we passed an area, off the highway, in a desolate desert area on the side of a hill near the wind turbines. There was what looked like a trailer (actually, on closer inspection, it was an old railroad caboose), some off road vehicles and a lot of dust! On the side of the caboose, in big letters, were the words “OFF ROAD QUADS.”

I knew from the first time I spied the place I’d have to go. The big question was when.

Steffie agreed to ride too, though it was obvious she was apprehensive because of a ‘fear of flipping.’ Quite honestly, the place did look a little scary. Little four wheelers, their 90 cc engines whining, were climbing the hills like yellow and red billy goats.

It just seemed like a vacation thing to do.

As we walked onto the lot&#185 hand printed signs said to follow numbered signs 1-5 for a pre-briefing. Sign one pointed into what looked like a cave. Inside there was a TV playing a safety DVD.

Though the people on the DVD looked a little scruffy, you could tell they were concerned with safety. Because of the dust, the DVD was pausing and breaking up every few seconds, but the message got through. Each point on the DVD was demonstrated twice – first by a man, then a woman.

I had driven motorcycles before, so I had an idea what to do. This was foreign ground for Steffie, especially the semi-automatic transmission. She watched and as I would later see, the instructions paid off.

We moved on and got a hair net, helmet and goggles. By the time I was outfitted, I looked like one of the villains in the classic MTV video “Take on Me” by A-ha.

We moved on to a final safety lecture as we sat on our quads. More than once the instructor said if you were rode nicely you’d get extra time. We bought 30 minutes, but got 45 minutes.

When it was time to leave, we headed out into the open expanse of the hillside. Steffie went slowly at first, methodically weighing the surroundings before picking up any speed.

It was easy to see Steffie was still a bit uncomfortable, but she pressed on. Slowly we worked our way higher and higher up the hillside – each time screeching down with gravity as our main propulsion.

I’m not sure I would ever do this again, but I’m glad we did it here. My guess is Steffie feels the same way. She’s glad to have what will probably be a once in a lifetime experience for her!

We headed back toward the hotel and after a quick stop turned toward Rancho Mirach and Palm Desert. Steffie and Helaine had heard of more shopping places and didn’t want to leave any stone unturned.

Our first stop was El Paseo. It was a little tough to find, but we made it!

By outward look, this is an upscale shopping street of boutique type stores. El Paseo’s median strip features lots of large sculptures, some serious others more fun. The store fronts are well kept with flowers blooming nearly everywhere.

The problem, I am told, is what’s in the stores. I’m not the expert here, so I’ll tell you what Helaine and Steffie said. The stores had overpriced merchandise but with little style… or bad style. They were very disappointed.

The good thing about shopping is, even when disappointed, there are other places to go. So we headed back up Route 111 and turned into The River.

Like so much else out here, The River is mainly open air between stores. And, again, as you would expect in an area like this, the stores were upscale and attractive. While the girls scouted around, I headed to their Borders bookstore.

Good choice on my part. You can’t have too many books and magazines to read on the long flight back.

Recently, I had noticed the computer section of the bookstores I visit shrinking. There was less and less of what I like to browse… and sometimes buy. This Borders was very large and had plenty of everything.

By this time it was late afternoon, so we headed back to the hotel.

We had heard Palm Springs hosted a street festival every Thursday evening. The main drag… the one in front of the hotel… gets shut to traffic while vendors set up in the street. This was one of those unplanned for fun things that can happen on vacation.

The other unplanned bonus was the arrival of Cousin Michael, Melissa and Max. After our visit to Laguna with them, we all decided it would be fun if they could make it to Palm Springs for dinner. It’s a schlep – over two hours driving, but they decided to come and spend the night at our hotel.

We really didn’t get to spend that much time at the fair, but I did see lots of fresh produce and vegetables, artwork (some reasonably priced… though not all), crafts and some California-centric items, like pictures of your aura!

It was once said that everyone in Palm Springs was gray or gay. That’s not as true today, though both communities were well represented, including a booth for the Caballeros, Palm Springs Gay Men’s Choir, selling tickets to their Barry Manilow tribute show (and singing along with his songs from their booth).

We ended up having dinner at “St. James.” It has a mixed European menu and a very interesting floor plan. The restaurant has all sorts of little nooks and alcoves with tables, giving you a bit of privacy in an otherwise busy place.

I had linguine with shrimp and a white sauce. It was okay – nothing to write home about. It also probably marks my last close contact with pasta for a while.

I can only imagine how much weight I’ve put on during this vacation. I’ve eaten like a little pig. It will all come off over time, but it’s sad.

Was it worth it? Ask me after I’ve been off carbs for a month or so.

I am writing this blog entry from Gate 4A at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank (and later added this photo of our plane as we boarded using the free wireless access at McCarren Airport in Las Vegas). We’re awaiting our first flight, to Las Vegas. Later this afternoon we’ll pick up another plane and head home to Connecticut.

This morning we were all a little tired and a little sad. This was a great vacation. We all did a lot of the things we wanted to do and had a lot of pleasant surprises. The better the vacation, the tougher it is going home.

Later this weekend (hopefully) I will post more photos to my gallery (to see the vacation photos already there, click here) and begin a post mortem. There are all sorts of little stories, too short or out of context for these trip report entries, that I want to write about.

&#185 – Though this is the same word, lot, used to describe a movie studio, in this case think of it in the context of vacant lot.

Greetings From Palm Springs

Helaine and Steffie are sitting on our little patio here at the hotel in Palm Springs. Of course, if you would ask them, they’re on the lanai.

Palm Springs is beautiful. We have certainly had less than optimal Palm Springs weather. It has rained, a little, each day. But, as soon as the rain ends, the sky clears.

Last night was a perfect example. We had been indoors during the evening. We had obviously missed a shower or two. The roads were wet. Yet when we looked up, the sky was full of stars with no clouds in sight!

I know what happened overnight in Connecticut. Snow! Where I live, there’s around 6″ of snow. Her, today, we’ll hit the mid 60&#176s, with the temperature getting into the 80s over the weekend (alas, we’ll be gone).

We got here on Tuesday and checked into the Hyatt. We had made a conscious choice before we got here to stay downtown, on the main drag. The reviews for this hotel were actually quite lackluster with people complaining that the hotel looked tired and shabby. We have not found that to be the case.

It is a suite hotel, and though this is not the ‘classic’ suite you might see in the movies, Stef now has here own ‘room’. The suite is significantly larger than our room in Century City.

Before we left Helaine had found a deal to get the room plus free breakfast every morning – even room service. Helaine’s diligence has saved us a lot of money, because she spent a lot of timing shopping and comparing before we left home. We changed our hotel and car arrangements more than once as new, better deals became available.

Speaking of cars, we had originally reserved a full size car. As I became more attuned to our baggage needs, I started to think an SUV might be a better idea. I believe the rental description called for a Chevy Blazer or similar. We ended up with a Chevy Trail Blazer.

I am used to driving a Ford Explorer. This Trail Blazer is significantly larger. That makes it tougher to park and get around in traffic. I’m sure this is the kind of thing that gets easier with time.

Tuesday, when we got in, Helaine and Steffie headed to the shops in Palm Springs as I headed to the Palm Springs Aerial Tram. Palm Springs is surrounded by tall, steep mountains and the tram is the only easy way to the top of one of them.

To get there, you drive out of town, past the wind turbines, and into the mouth of a canyon. As you drive further, the road steeply pushes upward. I believe the mile or two of canyon road climbed over 1,000 feet in elevation from the valley floor. I have attached all the tech specs for this tramway. Only click if you’re really geeky.

The tram climbs up the mountain in a little over 10 minutes. The car rotates slowly as it rises, which is good for most, but was bad for me. Every time I got to where I wanted to take a picture, I moved… or was moved. There are some open, tilt out windows, but most of the vantage is through glass or something like it.

As air rises, it cools. It was in the low 70&#186s at ground level. It was in the upper 30&#186s on the mountaintop, and the clouds often drifted over the observatory. There was a reasonably large snowpack (measured in feet) surrounding the paths and patios to the vantage points.

The interior of California unfolds below you. The horizon is wide and very far away. The sky itself is so blue that I took a picture of it!

The visibility to the valley is somewhat reduced. I noticed that from the mountain and I have noticed it from ground level as well. The culprit – blowing dust.

Sometimes the dust is in discrete little storms, so you can see them from a distance. Other times, often when looking down from the mountain, the dust is less defined but obvious in the lack of sharp focus at a distance.

There is one very strange thing I saw at the base of the tramway. The parking lots are named after local animals in much the same way you might park in a Disneyworld lot named “Goofy” or “Pluto.”

Let’s just say the local animal names are less cutesy than Disney’s!

I met up with Helaine and Steffie and, in showery rain, we headed out to dinner. We stopped at Kaiser Grille, a nice looking restaurant on Palm Canyon Drive. Even with the rain, we sat outside on a covered, open air, patio.

Dinner was very tasty. I had pasta with shrimp and scallops. It came quickly and was piping hot. The service was attentive.

It was still early, so while Stef chatted on the computer, Helaine and I headed to one of the Indian casinos here. A few years ago, there were restrictions on these casinos that made blackjack and other games different from the same games in Las Vegas or Connecticut.

That’s changed for the most part, though I understand craps is played with cards instead of dice. Very strange. I have a bad reaction to people, or businesses, that follow the letter, though not the spirit, of the law. That seems to be the case with diceless craps.

I ended up going to two casinos while here, playing poker at both. This was not my finest moment as a poker player.

Of the two, the Agua Caliente Casino in Rancho Mirage was more to my liking. It is small as casinos go. The poker room didn’t have many more than a dozen tables. The dealers and other players were friendly. There was more drink service (I don’t drink alcohol, but do drink coffee, water and soda) than I’ve ever seen in a poker room. That’s no small thing!

The other casino, Morongo, was larger and adjacent to a huge outlet mall where Steffie and Helaine spent an afternoon. I just didn’t like it as much. I was also amazed to see the age limit there was 18.

I was playing poker with 18 year olds – and I didn’t like that. It is only my opinion, but 18 seems much too young. You’ll notice I didn’t get up and refuse to play. But, it is part of the reason I won’t go back.

There is one more thing of interest we did here in Palm Springs. We went house shopping.

OK – maybe that’s a little drastic of a description. We went and ‘window shopped’ a development in Rancho Mirage. The thought is, maybe when we retire, this would be a nice place to go.

The homes, on small parcels of land, but often with amazing views of the mountains were more expensive than similarly sized homes in Connecticut. We did find one design, with an immense open space encompassing a gourmet kitchen, family room and breakfast area to be very appealing. There was even s small swimming pool out back.

This is a very attractive lifestyle in a beautiful place. Desert living isn’t for everyone. It is astoundingly hot here in the summer… and the summer is very long. Temperatures of 115&#176 for days on end is not uncommon. Yes, the humidity is very low, but it is still hot like an oven.

On the other hand, the only snow you see is looking at the mountain peaks while drive dry roads in the sun and warmth.

On To Palm Springs

Our week in Los Angeles was great. The three of us agreed we had a wonderful time. We saw friends, ate great food, visited fun places and (some of us) power shopped.

Now it was time to move our quarter ton of luggage to the next stop: Palm Springs. None of us had ever been here before, but we all like the desert.

Helaine had taken the time to print directions before we left Connecticut. Take a right from the hotel, down to Pico, then right toward Overland and I-10. But when we got to Pico there was a sign for I-10… but pointing left!

Who to believe? We chose the State of California. Bad choice.

The I-10 East signs lasted a few blocks and then… nothing. We continued to drive down Pico. Signs on stores changed from English to Spanish and then Korean. The buildings of Downtown LA grew larger. We were very lost.

When I came to a street I recognized, we turned. There was an overpass ahead, but not I-10. I decided to find a place to turn around and head back to Pico. And then I saw the sign: I-10 East.

The drive to Palm Springs is fairly easy. As you head east, Los Angeles County becomes less pretty. Then it’s bedroom town after bedroom town after bedroom town.

We stopped in West Covina to have lunch at “In-n-Out Burger.” “In-n-Out” is a West Coast chain of fast food burger joints. Steffie had seen one on some show, and she thought it would be fun.

“In-n-Out” has a very short menu. Burgers, fries, drinks – that’s about it.

I was immediately struck by how many people were behind the counter and in the kitchen. They seemed more labor intensive than McDonalds or Burger King.

My cheeseburger was excellent, the fries were light and good… and so, In-n-Out Burger now has a new fan.

We got back on I-10 and headed east. The land is fairly flat and filled with scrub type vegetation. We moved farther into the desert and the population began to thin out.

And then, I spotted the wind turbines.

I knew this place existed, but had never really thought about it. On I-10, just before the exit for Palm Springs, up sprang a huge ‘farm’ of wind turbines. Each was on a tall tower with a three bladed propeller. They seemed to be spinning slower than would be expected with the wind.

At San Gorgonio Pass, hot air rises over the Coachella Valley and forces cooler air through a pass between the San Bernadino and San Jacinto Mountains. Wind speeds there average 15-20 miles per hour (24.1-32.2 kmh), with the prime wind season occurring from March to September. There are over 4,000 wind turbines in this 70 square mile (182 square kilometer) area. Most of the land is privately owned, although the U.S. Bureau of Land Management administers a portion of it.

This is an unbelievable sight, and I will check to see if it’s possible to visit up close.

We’re in Palm Springs now, settled in our hotel. More on what we did last night and what we’ve got planned for today a little later.

Catching Up – Universal Studios Hollywood

This is a second try to write this entry. While Helaine and Stef went to sleep last night, I sat on the bathroom floor typing away. After an hour, I went to save the entry, but -poof-, it was gone!

Frustrating? Tell me about it.

So, where were we? When last we spoke I was complaining about not having enough time to write after visiting Universal. It was an exhausting day.

This was our fourth time to Universal and, maybe, there should be a three visit limit. I’m not saying it wasn’t nice or fun, it just wasn’t as special as it had been and the satisfaction of many of the attractions is based on surprise.

It took us about 20 minutes to drive from Century City into Hollywood and then to Universal City via the Hollywood Freeway.

Though the park is billed as Universal Studios Hollywood, it is not in Hollywood. Considering the large percentage of Hollywood that’s less than lovely, it is surprising how many people use “Hollywood” for added glamor.

We could have and should have bought our Universal tickets before we left Connecticut. Helaine thinks there was a pretty decent discount to be had at AAA. There was a chance we’d get freebies (we did not), so we held off.

Standard daily tickets are $53&#185, and our AAA membership saved us $3 each. That’s nearly enough to pay for $10 parking. You probably already know how I feel about paying for parking at a commercial establishment.

From the 1950s:

Palisades has the rides,

Palisades has the fun

Come on over

Shows and dancing are free

So’s the parking, so gee

Come on over

Palisades from coast-to-coast

Where a dime buys the most

Palisades Amusement Park

swings all day and after dark

We walked in and headed right to the Studio Back Lot Tour. This is always fun, and it was today. It’s just that we had seen it all before. So when King Kong swatted at a helicopter in a 1970s New York City (grungy, with lots of subway graffiti), there was no surprise factor. Same thing on the collapsing bridge and San Fransisco earthquake.

We also knew what was missing. Desperate Housewives is in production, and we didn’t get to go to the street that houses its suburban street. On the other hand, we did see a very cool ‘airplane disaster’ set from the upcoming remake of “War of the Worlds.”

Next, Steffie convinced me to ride “Revenge of the Mummy.” This is an indoor roller coaster. I had taken Dramamine and knew the coaster didn’t exceed 45 mph, didn’t turn over and did go backwards.

As I sat in my seat, waiting for us to take off, I knew I had made the wrong choice. I was right. I got queasy, though it didn’t last too long. I think I’ve ridden my last ‘new style’ roller coaster. The old ones aren’t too bad, it’s the upside down or backwards moves that knocks me down.

Later we rode Jurassic Park, a water flume type ride. As it plunges down the falls, heading toward the big splash guaranteed to get everyone on board wet, a camera takes a picture (which Universal will gladly sell you). Everyone in our car was excited. Steffie was smiling. Others had arms raised in the air. I looked like I had just eaten sun dried mayonnaise.

Universal is more of a theme park than amusement park. There are more attractions than rides.

We took in the live animal show, which was great. In the weeks leading up to the trip, we all joked about this show, creating an imaginary bird named “Tweet.” The first part of the show was… of course… a trained bird.

I would recommend Universal to anyone visiting the Los Angeles area, but it’s just not a place that has the ‘legs’ for multiple visits. I don’t expect to be going back.

We left Universal around 5:00 PM and headed to City Walk. This is a large open air pedestrian mall with lots of restaurants, shops, movies and neon signs. Each and every business has some sort of artsy sign.

Helaine and Steffie turned into the UCLA store. Yup, UCLA is a name worth marketing for merchandise. Stef ended up with a sweatshirt, which we then found out qualified her for a free UCLA t-shirt.

Maybe they could give out a scholarship for random visitors. Now that would increase foot traffic!

We had dinner at Wolfgang Puck Express. This is a fast food restaurant usually found in airports. The menu features simple thing like pasta and pizza. It was very tasty, but there’s no way I’ll be able to look at ingesting any carbohydrates for the next few months. This trip has definitely added pounds to me.

&#185 – There are all sorts of ticket plans available, including one that gets you ahead of the lines. That wasn’t necessary, though it was still on sale.

Odds And Ends After A Busy Day

This was a busy day, spent mostly at Universal Studios Hollywood. Please note – it’s not in Hollywood, but Universal City.

I just don’t have the time to write right now and will try and cover it tomorrow as we move to Palm Springs. In the meantime, there are some things about Los Angeles that are just different… maybe even weird.

It’s possible I’m the one living in space, but it seems odd you have to pay for parking everywhere you go. I’m talking about the mall, restaurants, everywhere. In Connecticut, this is just not the case. A mall that tried to charge for parking would be laughed out of existence.

I mentioned this a few days ago, but it bears repeating. If you go for an expensive meal, can’t they hide the $3-$5 they’re going to charge for parking in the bill? I don’t like paying for it after my meal. It seems cheesy.

I’m not picking on any one, because this is an everyone situation.

In many ways this is like the hidden fees and charge that mysteriously show up on cell phone bills.

And, if a restaurant validates your parking ticket, then they should pick up the whole tab. Don’t leave me with $1.50 owed, as was the case at breakfast today.

Oh there’s one bright spot to this parking stuff. While waiting for your car to be retrieved, you get to see California’s conspicuous love affair with the automobile on display. There have been plenty of Bentley’s and Rolls, a few Ferraris, Jags, Porsches (including the SUV) and Mercedes up the ying yang (whatever that means) at the valet parking stand.

Cars here are in a perpetual state of clean and shiny! There is never road salt. The humidity is low virtually all year, which reduces corrosion. They have never seen a streaked windshield when the defroster can’t keep up with the cold, or had salty spray thrown onto their windshield from the tires of the car ahead of them. SUVs here are nearly all two wheel drive!

We’re leaving Los Angeles tomorrow for the real desert. I’ve got the forecast for Palm Springs in front of me, and it looks like some rain for each of the three days we’re there! On the other hand a viewer wrote from Connecticut asking, why snowflakes are sometimes huge&#185… as they were today. I’ll take a rainy Palm Springs.

I’ve been trying to decide what to write when the vacation is over. I want to write some sort of synopsis of the trip, but more lifestyle oriented than the play-by-play I’ve written for the past week.

My goal would be to illustrate it with some of the hundreds and hundreds of photos I’ve taken. The New York Times has an interesting technique using Macromedia Flash with which they create narrated slide shows. I’d like to try that. We’ll see if it’s over my head.

It probably is.

&#185 – Snowflakes that fall through a layer with temperatures just above freezing become very sticky to each other. Multiple snow crystals attach and form huge fluffy flakes. This is normally ‘wet snow’, with a low snow to water ratio, and very good for packing as snowballs.

Spectacular Sunday In Southern California

When I went on Instant Messenger tonight, my friend Bob jumped in from Florida:

a few more blog posts, and i’ll begin to wonder if you’ll stay there

He is so right. Helaine, Steffie and I find this lifestyle and this place very appealing. I would go in a second.

Whoa! What am I doing? People at work read this blog. Don’t worry. Southern California is an obsession I’ve had forever.

Be quiet for a second. What do you hear? Nothing. No phone ringing. No offer. I came close with KCAL years ago, but I don’t think it’s meant to be.

So, we’ll continue to come out every year or two… continue to be teased by California… and life will go on happily in Connecticut.

As nice as California seems, my Connecticut life isn’t too shabby. After all, it affords me these trips to California!

Where were we?

We have stuffed ourselves like pigs on this trip. Every night has featured a spectacular dinner with appetizer and desert. There comes a point where enough is enough. That came this morning.

Instead of going someplace nice for breakfast, we decided to go to Starbucks and eat light. I had a bagel and coffee. Helaine and Steffie were similarly pedestrian in their meal.

We sat outside. It wasn’t long before Cleo, the dog, came and made friends with us. As we learned, her owner, now working on a movie in production, needed to give Cleo away. She was living in a place with no dogs allowed. Very sad, but we couldn’t bring Cleo back on the plane with us.

This was to be a shopping day. Before the trip Steffie had decided on some stores and some areas she wanted to visit.

I will admit it. She travels in a totally different world from me, especially when it comes to style and fashion. As I have learned during this trip, there are trendy stores, ‘celebrity’ stores, written up in People and US Weekly, featured on “E” and VH-1.

The names of these stores mean nothing to me, but to Steffie, this is a big deal.

We went to two or three of these ‘name’ shops on Robertson Blvd. in West Hollywood. While Steffie and Helaine browsed stores like Kitson, I walked the streets.

Actually, there’s a lot to learn.

For instance, just before the corner of Robertson and Beverly, there’s a sign warning that the intersection is “Photo Enforced.” Adjacent to a few of the traffic lights in the intersection are boxes with strobe lights and cameras.

Run the intersection, and you get a moving violation with photo showing you, the red light you’re running and other pertinent details! I saw it in action. Very sobering.

A block away from the shopping is Cedars-Sinai Hospital. There’s the Max Factor Pavilion, a center with Steven Spielberg’s name on it, and (just outside the hospital) the intersection of George Burns Road and Gracie Allen Drive!

This is Los Angeles, a factory town for TV and the movies. Getting your name out is everything.

Next stop for shopping was Melrose. I’m not sure why, but I gently begged off. I just didn’t want to walk into store-after-store-after-store.

Trust me. This is great sport for Helaine and especially Steffie. And I’d be right there with them if these were computer or camera stores. I dropped them off and decided to go on a search for the Hollywood sign.

I had done this before. There are places where the Hollywood sign is very visible, and then a block or two away, it’s gone. And, if you try and drive toward the sign, you quickly find none of the streets are parallel, nor lead in a single direction for more than a few hundred feet.

Nothing in my luck changed. I saw the sign, headed toward it and then lost sight of it. I got lost enough to end up on a ramp for the Hollywood Freeway with Burbank the first exit.

I got off and looked for a way to loop around and reverse course. Before I could get back on the freeway, I saw I was approaching Mulholland Drive.

Mulholland Drive is a twisty two lane road that runs through the peaks of the Santa Monica Mountains. The Santa Monica Mountains are what separate the ocean side of Los Angeles County from the San Fernando Valley (aka – The Valley).

Back in the 50s I used to watch The Bob Cummings Show. Bob, a perennial bachelor, would always talk about taking his dates to Mulholland Drive.

I turned onto Mulholland and it wasn’t long before I saw the entrance to a small parking lot. Immediately, I knew it was a scenic overlook. What I didn’t know was I had hit the motherlode for seeing the Hollywood sign! Not only that, the overlook also had an amazingly commanding view of Downtown LA and most of the west side of town.

I drove on, pulling to the side of the road a mile or so later for a view to the east of the entire San Fernando Valley. The sky was blue, the visibility was high.

None of these spots are for the faint of heart. These are steep mountains and the best view is close to the edge. In case you’re looking to get these vista, here’s my best guess of where I was!

I was excited at my find, but no longer had a reason to be on Mulholland. I drove to Laurel Canyon Road, made a left, and headed back toward Hollywood proper and Melrose Avenue in particular.

Melrose Avenue is where you go when you need something that looks good with your new piercings or to match the ink color on your tattoo. Whereas most of the parts of LA we had visited so far were pretty and well to do, Melrose Avenue is gritty.

I took a shot of a trash can filled to the brim, because I think it’s indicative of the Melrose feel. So are parking meters covered in concert posters and band stickers.

Amazingly, I found both a parking spot and Helaine and Steffie. As they continued to shop, I continued to shoot photos. This is a very photogenic street. And every ethnic, racial and socio-economic group is well represented.

Well, everything but middle aged white guys. I was the token.

We headed back to the Century Plaza to get ready for dinner. Tonight we were heading to The Ivy on Robertson, where earlier Steffie had shopped.

This was our fourth trip to The Ivy. There are two reasons for that. First, the food is spectacular. Second, there are always celebrities there – always.

Once I sat back-to-back with Martin Scorsese. Drew Barrymore walked by and stopped to talk with ‘Marty.’ The last time we were there, Steffie and Helaine saw Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit.

Tonight, our reservation was for 7:00 PM and we had requested to sit outside. Please, don’t be fooled. Outside in LA means under the stars, but adjacent to a propane heater. Even on a cool night, you’re nice and warm.

More importantly, from an outside table you get to see and be seen.

It didn’t take long for Steffie and Helaine to realize Cojo (OK – I called him Cujo, not knowing who he was), aka – Steven Cojocaru, was at a table nearby.

I’m not going to explain who he is because either you know him and are excited, or don’t and are a loser… like me.

Cojo was sitting at a table with a woman (unknown) and Al Roker, weatherman from the Today Show. As it turns out, I know Al. I’m not saying we’re best friends, but we know each other.

The last time I saw Al was at the White House in Washington. How many people can say that?

Years ago, Al made a very kind gesture to me, recommending me for a job that I didn’t even know existed, and I’ll never forget it. He is first class and one of a kind. He deserves whatever success he has… maybe more.

After dinner, I went over and said hello, and we chatted for a few minutes.

Helaine and Steffie felt the evening was a total success! I agree.

As always, the food was superb and the service attentive. We shared an appetizer pizza and I had linguine with all sorts of seafood. For desert I had ice cream and hot fudge over a pecan square. There were no leftovers from me!

By the way, the Ivy shots here on the blog are ‘stock’ shots taken in the afternoon. So as not to come off as a yahoo tourist, I was asked to leave my camera at home… and I did just that.

I’m probably not supposed to say this, because she’s very private about it, but today was Helaine’s birthday. Going to The Ivy was part of our celebration, and it lived up it our expectations.

Tomorrow is our last day in Los Angeles before heading to Palm Springs. We’ve planned a day at Universal. More tomorrow.

Orange County and Laguna Beach – Excellent

We woke up today to clouds and showers. It was in the sky. It was in the forecast. In fact, the forecast was for rain through the day and into Sunday.

It’s depressing.

This was our day to head south to Irvine and visit my cousins. We got the car, turned right on Avenue of the Stars&#185 and headed toward I-10.

Before we left Connecticut, I went to Google and got maps and directions. Directions are not like horseshoes. Close doesn’t make it. Google’s directions were close, but not totally correct. Somehow, we muddled along and found our way to Orange County and the Foxes of Southern California. Google’s got to do a better job if they’re going to be serious mapmakers.

We visited Michael, Melissa and Max, noshed a little, and tried to decide where to go. There was a temporary break in the weather action, so we decided on Laguna Beach.

On our way, we passed by six year old Cousin Max’s school and decided to turn in and take a look.

None of us have ever seen a school like this. I’m not sure how to describe it except to say the school is a collection of small German fairytale style buildings. There are dozens of animals from pigs to goats to chickens to rabbits… even a llama.

He’s in the first grade, learning French and German. He loves the school, and I can see why. It is one of a kind. In many ways it fits Laguna Beach.

Laguna Beach is known as an artist’s colony. All along Pacific Coast Highway and the surrounding streets are boutiques, galleries and restaurants. It’s a browser’s paradise and, for the shoe-addicted like Steffie, a place to buy another pair of shoes.

Laguna Beach is also a beautiful and expensive place to live. Not far from the ocean are steeply rising hills. Somehow, huge houses have been placed on these hills. From the ground it looks like the ground is steep enough to cause a goat to reconsider where he’s walking. The houses are there none the less.

When you hear about California houses sliding down mountains, they’re talking about houses like these.

As we walked down one street, Helaine pointed out what looked like a TV crew. Though I didn’t see the camera, I did see a guy with a pack filled with wireless microphone receivers. Near him a woman held a clipboard. My zoom lens let me read what was on her papers. They were from MTV, probably taping another season of Laguna Beach.

That show was one of the main reasons Steffie was so anxious to go to Laguna Beach in the first place!

As we kept walking, the sky kept brightening. Before long, the Sun began to poke out and, though by no means warm, it got warm enough to be comfortable.

We headed down to the beach.

Like so much of the California coastline, the area around Laguna Beach is a coast with character. Here the beach is broad. Offshore, there are some rocks visible above the sea’s surface, allowing birds to rest… and poop. From time-to-time the waves break on the rocks, throwing white spray up in the air.

This is a friendly beach. Yes, there are people in the water (though, this being the Pacific, it’s awfully cold), but the real action is at the water’s edge. There’s a beach volleyball net, a playground and a small boardwalk with benches.

I was amazed, and pleased, to see dogs welcome on this beach.

Actually, Laguna Beach seems to be a very dog-friendly town. Many of the shops and stores had water bowls right outside their front doors. Others had signs saying dogs were welcome. I even saw one woman with a novel way of bringing her dog into a restaurant… without bringing the dog into the restaurant!

This is probably as good a time as any to mention something that really worked today. Obviously, what was fun for the adults and Steffie at Laguna Beach was not Max’s first choice. Luckily, he had his Game Boy Advance with him. Every time we stopped, he found a place to sit, pulled out the Game Boy and played Shrek II. He was content pretty much all day.

We continued to walk and browse, but dinner time was approaching so we headed south on the Pacific Coast Highway to South Laguna Beach and “Montage.”

None of us in the East Coast Fox family had ever heard of Montage. Michael and Melissa, the West Coast contingent, had only heard of it through friends, but had never been. What a find.

Situated on a coastal bluff in the picturesque arts community of Laguna Beach, Montage Resort & Spa offers a unique mix: the amenities and conveniences of an ultra luxury beachfront hotel, coupled with the warmth and appeal of a cozy craftsman-style inn.

Excellent description for a property that originally housed a trailer park! It really is beautiful.

We were early for our dinner reservation, so we sat down for drinks in the main area in front of a picture window, looking down on the pool and the ocean. On the other side of the window is a balcony with the same spectacular view. I took my camera and started shooting away, only to be told my camera was “too professional looking” and I wouldn’t be allowed to take any more pictures.

I’m not quite sure why.

Dinner was at The Loft Restaurant, one floor down, but with an equally stunning view. This restaurant was equivalent to anything we had been to in Los Angeles… maybe nicer.

The service was excellent… though any place that refolds your napkin when you get up from the table tends to give me the heebee jeebees. The food was even better. Helaine compared it favorably to Spago, and I agree.

With dinner over, we said goodbye to Michael, Melissa and Max and headed north. We have been very lucky on the Southern California freeways, meeting hardly any traffic. By 8:30 we were back at the Century Plaza – exhausted.

What a great day. Everything we thought we’d do exceeded our expectations. The surprise spur of the moment things, or things Melissa and Michael had planned, were even better.

&#185 – Shoot me – I just like typing that. It’s the world’s most pretentious street name!

The Rain Arrives in Los Angeles

Let me set the stage. Los Angeles has had a ridiculously rainy winter. If people haven’t been directly affected, they know someone who has, or are worried they might be the injured party the next time.

I’m not just talking about houses sliding down hills. There are lesser, nagging problems that come out when the winter is very rainy. Roofs leak. Poorly sealed doors and windows let in water. Trees and branches tumble. Drivers panic, because they’re not sure how to handle their cars on wet roads. It’s a mess.

The truth is, Los Angeles is not built for bad weather. Too much is outside. Too much is exposed to the elements.

So today, when the rain returned, you could see everyone clenching their teeth just a little. No one was anxious to repeat the hell of earlier this winter. Only 1/3″ more rain and this would go down as the 2nd rainiest ever!

We thought we’d take it in stride.

We started the morning with breakfast at the hotel. I had an omelet, which was stuffed full, but only OK for taste. On the other hand, the place we ate itself, Breezes, was excellent. It is tastefully underdone and expansive… and expensive. That’s a given here.

We headed out to a Disney’ish upscale, outdoor mall called The Grove. It is adjacent to The Farmer’s Market (which I remember Jack Benny talking about when I was a little kid) and CBS&#185.

The stores at The Grove are similar to those you’d see at a nice mall. While Steffie and Helaine looked around, I headed to Barnes and Noble. This is an especially nice B&N with a large collection of books on all matters show business, plus how-to’s on writing screenplays, teleplays and books.

As the showers continued, the Grove became less of a fun place to be. There’s little cover, so there’s no avoiding getting wet.

We ducked into the Farmer’s Market, where Steffie proceeded to by a t-shirt. The Farmer’s Market is the antithesis of The Grove.

Here all the stores are one of a kind. There are lots of food stands, plus produce and meats, and clothing. It’s an eclectic mix.

We tired of the Farmer’s Market quickly, especially since we had eaten already. Back to the car, we headed to the Beverly Center, not far down Beverly Blvd.

The Beverly Center is a huge mall. The parking is on the lower levels with the mall running on levels 6,7 and 8. The mall seemed too open and cold. Maybe that’s not a fair judgment for a mall. Something was missing.

I found the Sony and Bose stores interesting in that I wondered why things were so expensive? Sony espcially computers that seemingly doubled as works of domestic art. Call me crazy, but I really look at computers as commodities today… even though this blog entry is being written on my Sony laptop.

Dinner tonight was another notable restaurant, Spago, picked by Steffie. She had heard about it, and its appeal. Helaine and I had eaten there a long time ago. Back then, a busboy had spilled a carafe of coffee all over her white suit. No need to go on.

My friend Paul joined us for dinner. I met Paul back when I met Howard, at Emerson College. Paul is a producer, mostly concentrating of DVD compilations right now.

Back when we went the first time, Spago was a 2nd floor walkup, right on Sunset. Now it’s on Can&#245n, near Wilshire, in Beverly Hills.

It’s a large, dark restaurant. At the end of the dining room is the kitchen, behind a large expanse of glass. It is a very busy kitchen.

We all shared a smoked salmon pizza as an appetizer. For dinner I had a lamb dish. The lamb itself was excellent, but the sauce was a bit overwhelming and the potatoes were puny. My chocolate desert was very tasty.

We were told the menu was printed daily, meaning there was no reason to read specials. They were already on the menu.

If you’re reading this in the East, there is a West Coast practice that is somewhat unusual. All restaurants have valet parking – and the pricier the meal, the more expensive the parking. In the case of a meal like this, they’re really nickel and diming you to death!

We had been told not to expect any celebrities at Spago, and we heard right. It looks like an older crowd, mostly expense accounts , not at all Hollywood and splashy – at least not tonight.

We are going to one more LA restaurant Sunday, which does have a celeb reputation and where we’ve seen big time stars in the past.

Tomorrow, we head into the OC to see Cousin Michael and his family in Irvine. Rain is expected. California is much more fun in the sun.

&#185 – The CBS complex is usually identified by these words, “From Television City in Hollywood.” It is not in Hollywood.

First California Pictures Posted

One thing I do while on vacation is shoot pictures. Sometimes, as I’m told by Helaine and Stef, I shoot too many.

I have posted the first 100+ from this trip to my online gallery.

This is a work in progress as these photos haven’t really been run through Photoshop yet. There is a little dust on the sensor to my camera (or there was – I blew it out yesterday evening).

If you know any of the surfers I’ve shot (what random luck that would be), let me know and I’ll be glad to get them higher resolution copies of their shots.

Later I will reorder the photos. Right now, the link here brings you in on the second page, past some of the more pedestrian shots.