Category Archives: California

Blue-ish Skies in Palm Springs, dr. Seuss at Joshua Tree, dinner in Pioneertown

We did wake up to blue skies which was a welcome change. Outside our sweet little Airbnb casita, we sat beside the pool (not heated so too cold to swim in) and looked out across the green lawn and tall palm trees to the snow-capped mountains in the distance. It finally felt like we were in California (or Tucson). After a nice chat with another Airbnb guest from Rochester NY (by way of Sparta, Wisconsin) and our very nice hosts (she from Dublin, he from Illinois) we set out for a day at Joshua Tree National Park, about an hour drive northeast.

En route we stopped for a very good breakfast (huevos rancheros, mike’s mess – scrambled eggs with goodies) at the rustic Crossroads Cafe in the town of Joshua Tree, then onto the park visitors center where a very nice ranger originally from Romania gave us some great recommendations for short hikes and drives in the park. We also discovered that Dirck is now at the grand old age of 62 able to get a year pass to any national park for $20, cheaper than the $30 one day pass to Joshua Tree.

The weather was nippy (glad I brought my light down jacket) but the sky clear, albeit not always blue, and we spent several hours hiking and diving past the strange Joshua trees, which look like giant bristle brushes used to clean the inside of bottles. Dr. Seuss must have visited. We felt like we were walking The Lorax. The strange giant boulder formations (skull rock and jumbo rocks) were cool to see and we took two easy 1 mile walks (Hidden Valley, Barker Dam). We had a spectacular views from Key Point of The rugged San Bernardino mountains and in the distance the Salton Sea and even Palm Springs. Like Palm Springs, there were also telltale signs of flooding at Joshua Tree but the water had receded by morning in both places, fortunately.

Dinner was delicious ribs, steak, red rice and margaritas at Pappy and Harriet’s, a large ramshackle honky tonk place in Pioneertown, a strange forlorn community high in the mountains on a former film set for westerns. A band was setting up for a sold out show and tons of cars made the climb up a rough mountain road, with some sections covered with dirt after receding floodwaters. Unfortunately it started raining on our drive back to Burbank. Next trip: idlewood.

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Very wet day in flooded Palm Springs

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When in Palm Springs…

We are going to Palm Springs next month for only two days but I have enough recommendations from my well-traveled relatives to last far longer. Here they are in case others can use:

From Mike:

  • Birba is a great choice. The night we went, the kitchen was slow, but that may not always be the case, and the food is really good.
  • Our first night there we stayed at a place called Arrive, which we liked and wasn’t too steep.
  • If you like going out for cocktails at all, you should definitely go to Seymours. Very cool, old PS place.
From Em:
We stayed at the Orbit In which was amazing. But I would try to book right away. It seems to fill up fast. It has a sister property the hideaway. Both were quiet and not party hotels at all. They are right in the heart of PAM springs and walking distance to the main drag. I would stay in Palm Springs and drive to Joshua tree which is about 45 minutes away. You could do a day in Palm Springs and a day In Joshua tree.
Here are the restaurants we went to:
  • Melvyns: Old school steak house in a hotel with live music and table side cooking. I made reservations, but on the day of, so don’t think they were too busy.
  • King’s Highway: Located in the Ace Hotel.  Has a sort of Flinestones Mid Century Road Side vibe with yummy food.
  • Birba: Good pizza.  I made reservations.
  • Norma’s: We went here for a decadent breakfast.  Located in the Jonathan Adler-designed Parker Palm Springs.  For me, the decor of the hotel sights were worth it.  But it was pricey.  We made reservations.
  • El Jefe: We got snacks at this bar located in the famous Sagauro, the Rainbow Hotel.
  • Sherman’s Jewish Deli: For bagels to go on the way to Joshua Tree
  • The Visitor’s Center is located  in a famous Mid-Century Gas Station and has some good maps.
Places that we wanted to try, but didn’t get to:
  • Mr. Lyon: Retro Restaurant with cocktail bar.
  • Hadleys for famous Date Nut Shakes
  • Bootlegger Tiki for Tiki Drinks.  There’s a really cute coffee shop in the front of this place called Ernest Coffee.
The food overall was not outstanding, but the decor of some of the places was pretty incredible.  We borrowed bikes from our hotel and looked at all the mid century housing.  We also did a full day at Joshua Tree.

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Superba Food & Bread, walking the Places (Nowita, Marcos, Amorosa), Salt & Straw Ice Cream – Venice (California)

Baby Benji — my cousin’s so sweet four-month-old son- was the highlight of (and reason for) my trip to Venice but I was reminded of how cool and pretty and pricey this seaside community is. I loved strolling along the narrow pedestrian-only lanes of the Places, “walk streets” each lined with usually small (but sometimes large) houses, some old bungalows and cottages (my favorite) or sleek flat-faced modern newcomers, most with gorgeous overgrown foliage and lush colorful flowers. (Nowita, Marco, Amoroso Places)

I had a delicious (but almost $20) Niçoise salad and green apple lemonade ($4 but u was relieved to learn, after-the-fact that the refill was free) at trendy Superba Bar and Grill. I drove around until I found Rose Street, which I decided was the emerging area I visited a few years ago. It appeared to still be emerging.

I also wandered a little along Abbott Kinney, window shopping and people watching and since I happened to park around the block from the superb ice cream shop Salt & Straw, I decided it was a sign from above and had a large (almost $5) scoop of “freckled woodblock chocolate,” which was delicious although I didn’t really understand the name. (I choose it in part because it was the rare chocolate flavor without salt as a touted ingredient.)

After a ridiculously long drive back to Burbank in rush hour traffic (I started my drive at 4 pm, not 3 pm as planned) I went for a burger with my family at a local place, Simmzy’s (3000 W. Olive) …yet another newish and bustling Burbank restaurant.

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Tallyrand Breakfast, Stough Canyon hike, It’s a wrap/Romancing the Bean – Lucy Day in Burbank

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Golden Morning in Burbank

My favorite meal at the Tallyrand (a diner opened in 1959 ) here in Burbank is the thanksgiving special – turkey with stuffing and mashed potatoes – but that wouldn’t fly at 10 am so I went with the more traditional poached eggs, sausages, hash browns— good food but even better ambiance and people watching. We walked some of the meal off, I hope, at Stough Canyon in Burbank which looked more like Arizona thanks to the recent devastating wildfires that have scorched green grassy hills into brown dirt hills, and left trees charred black. But hopeful tufts of green grass dot the dirt, reminding me of the regeneration that happens on the Kansas range after the annual spring burn.

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sweet pea and her favorite purple bouncy ball

Later we strolled along Magnolia Street in Burbank which had more interesting shops than I remembered. Among the resale and vintage clothing shops is the cavernous “It’s a Wrap,” so named because it sells cloths worn in TV shows by actors. Some of the racks and tags have clothing with codes that refer to the show they were worn on which is fun. The upper floor has the classy designer stuff, most of which was too pricey even with a 40 percent off storewide sale. An amazing Missoni wrap I admired would still be about $200, we calculated — better than the $700 original price but still $200. We stopped at Romancing the Bean, a trendy coffee cafe and passed the surprisingly long line at the Cuban Bakery Porto’s.8097B18B-651B-44F6-90B0-627B158796CA

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Walking in the Rancho and the Old Zoo- Burbank

“Mister Ed” fans take note: you can see Mr. Ed’s descendants up close and personal, in the small backyards of the Rancho area of Burbank, where residents  (and day trippers) on horseback are so common along the wise suburban streets leading to Griffith Park’s more rugged Cowboy-esque terrain that some of the buttons to push at the crosswalks are high enough for riders to reach.

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Could it be Mister Ed? The Rancho, Burbank

We did a short loop through the Rancho and behind Disney studios and along what is apparently the Los Angeles River (it looks more like a concrete spillway or wash), conveniently ending up at our new haunt, the High Horse Dinette/Basecamp (this time for a very good breakfast  (a shared skillet with scrambled eggs, cheese, chorizo). It seemed more in context when approaching it this time after walking past the equestrian center stables in the Rancho and next to the cars and bikes in the parking lot were two horses tied to a post.

Our hike to the old zoo (near the new zoo) in Griffith Park was cut short in a very Hollywood way. A nice PA with an occasionally squawking phone (akin to a walkie talkie) stopped us just as we were about to walk past the old cages to suggest we not enter. The TV show 911 was filming an episode featuring a live tiger that presumably escaped. Turning around was an easy decision.

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Live tiger alert, old zoo, Griffith Park

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Huntington Garden — giftshop, Restaurant near Pasadena

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A break from shopping and strolling at The Huntington

We may have spent as much time indoors as outdoors at The Huntington this visit because it was a little chilly and the indoors includes a great gift shop (where we get a 20 percent discount thanks to my sister-in-law’s membership) and cheerful restaurant with many options including Mexican Street Food (all the rage or maybe near-passé here) and Poke.

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Huntington Fare

On a Thursday the gardens were just the right degree of busy (better than the crowds on the Chinese New Year, word has it.) we wandered through the Chinese and Japanese Gardens, with the mountains rising in the distance and long lush green lawns. It was too mice to spend too much time indoors so we didn’t visit the art Exhibits but we did watch a short and interesting film in the visitors center about the Huntington family.

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sadly true

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High horse dinette/Basecamp in Burbank, Commerson in Miracle Mile, Trespassing in Pacific Palisades and Mouthful eatery in Thousand Oaks

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meal one of three at High Horse Dinette/Basecamp

Unseasonably cold in LA too but not as cold as New Mexico or….Iowa. Plus there is sunshine, green grass and red, purple and yellow flowers and trees with oranges and lemons so not complaining. We have eaten well twice at a great new neighborhood place in Burbank — the High Horse Dinette/basecamp for food and coffee. Excellent rare hamburger, salads, Cafe cortado, southwest chicken wrap and cheerful hip vibe with several outdoor picnic tables set up in the driveway upside small dining area at the end of a quiet residential street. Amazing what one little place can do to change (improve) the feel of a neighborhood.

Later we visited my sister at her cool new apartment on Detroit street in the miracle mile neighborhood, in a pretty 1920s Spanish style building with an entryway courtyard with a bubbling fountain. Dinner was a short stroll away at Commerand where we had another good meal— moist flavorful chicken, chicken liver mousse, a kale and Brussel sprouts chopped salad.

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Sisters hike, near Amir’s garden, Griffith Park

The next day we hiked in Griffith Park and then walked around the Pacific Palisades neighborhood, which includes an odd mix of houses perched high above Pacific Highway 1, with stunning views of the O’Connor and LA in the distance.

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Pacific Palisades staircase to heaven

We were following a walk suggested in our guidebook that as promised always strenous, with lots of uphill steps through foliage and at one point a walk through a nearly washed out trail and worn out steps that left us on the wrong side of a “Private “ sign (that we then crawled under.)

Next stop: Camarillo, a pleasant LA suburb where dirck’s sister recently over. We had an excellent Peruvian meal at MOuthful Eatery in Thousand Oaks, eating lomo Saltwdo, chicken Aji stew, crispy yuca, cucumber mint lemonade and coconut flan while catching up,and occasionally watching the Olympic figure skaters on a big screen TV.

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a mouthful of Peruvian food in Thousand Oaks Eatery

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Griffith Park, Amir’s garden, cypress park, four Cafe/Eagle Rock – Los Angeles 

img_0402Back in grey Des Moines but with fresh memories of sun and green and family and friends in Los Angeles. My friend Susan and I hiked up a hillside in Griffith Park, stopping to see the succulents planted in Amir’s Garden, then onto Cypress Park to see the house where Susan’s son lives (surprisingly roomy and airy group house for five 20 somethings in a transitional neighborhood).

img_0399WE had a late  and delicious lunch in the nearby Eagle Rock neighborhood at Four Cafe (I had a salad with chopped and grilled root vegetables, feta and grilled salmon, plus homemade grapefruit soda.). The best meals, of course, were cooked by my sister-in-law in Burbank!img_0398

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Venice,Mama Hongs, family & friends – la la land!



img_0782I have wandered around the pretty residential backstreets of Venice as a tourist many a time, but never been inside one of the pretty homes — until today. We had a lovely lunch at my cousin’s gorgeous new house, a modern gem of poured concrete and glass with big airy rooms, landscaped gardens with succulents, a tiled hot tub, a cool fire pit and  a fruitful Meyer lemon tree. We walked along the narrow lanes  between rows of small and not-so-small homes admiring the variety of architecture and colorful dr Seuss-ian vegetation. Four year old Lucy rode her scooter down the lanes and around a little circle surrounding a tall thick palm tree. She jumped around on a trampoline in the front img_0789yard of a pretty bungalow (a sign kindly welcomes little kids).

img_0778Dinner was excellent Vietnamese (bun with grilled shrimp and pork at Mama Hongs in downtown Burbank with my friend Susan from San Francisco and her adorable boys (yes 20-something boys can be adorable… especially if you have known them since they were babes) who live here.img_0801

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