Tuesday, February 11, 2014

TAKE ME AWAY - New York City Top 5

I am currently planning a trip to New York so I  thought I'd share some pics from our last trip to the city last September.

And because "why not" here are some of my favorite snaps from the trip and my New York City Top 5.

Favorite Bite - Doughnut Plant
I did a bunch of research on things to do and places to go. I did not research  the best Donut Shop in New York however. Luckily I was informed (via Instagram) that I just HAD TO TRY Doughnut Plant. And so we did! I had a Valrona Chocolate Yeast Donut and Manny had a Pistacio Yeast Donut. Sooo good! Mine was literally covered with chocolate (and not the frosting kind, but actual melted chocolate). Amazing. Can't wait to go back.

 Oh, and their decorations were super fun, too. I loved the benches and Donut pillows.

Favorite View - Top Of The Rock
Choosing my favorite view was tough. I just really like seeing the architecture of large cities. I guess it's because I grew up nowhere near skyscrapers. I loved walking towards Manhattan on the Brooklyn Bridge, seeing Manhattan's skyline from the water when we were riding the Staten Island Ferry, the view from the MET's Rooftop Cafe of the upper west side and central park was unexpectedly gorgeous and spending our last hours in the city walking along HighLine park through Chelsea and the Meatpacking district gave us beautiful view of the east part of the city. But the most impressive view we got was from the Top of the Rockefeller center. Nothing beats seeing all of Manhattan, Brooklyn, even New Jersey. We had the perfect weather and it is really worth the wait.

Favorite Spot - Coney Island
Coney Island is probably the spot that most surpassed by expectations. I'm not sure what it was. Maybe the fact that you can go to the beach without having to spend hours trying to find a parking spot ... We went on a Wednesday, so the boardwalk was super empty and peaceful. I can really see myself hanging out here and next time, hopefully the Amusement parks are open! Also, Nathan's Chili Dogs were pretty amazing!!

Favorite Walk - Brooklyn Bridge
 I don't know if it was because crossing the Bridge from Brooklyn to Manhattan was the first thing we did after arriving in the City, but I just LOVED it! Seeing Manhattan and Brooklyn, all this beautiful architecture and variety of buildings and I can't believe you can see the Statue Of Liberty from there, too! When I visited NY before, we passed underneath the Bridge with a boat, but I'd never actually walked it. It was definitely worth it (eventhough I had to literally drag Manny over it. "We're actually gonna walk over it!? I thought we're just gonna look at it" . . . . In the end, even he enjoyed it.)

Favorite Moment - Riding a bike down Madison Ave during rush hour (and still being alive)
This was probably the most unexpected moment of our trip. I found some deals on renting bikes and I thought it would be fun to ride bikes through Central Park. What I didn't realize was that the place we were renting from was on 56th Street, a couple of blocks away from the park. So we hopped on the saddle, rode down 56th, turned onto 5th Ave, until we realized that was a one-way street, got back onto 58th and than rode down Madison Ave. All of this at 5:30pm .... We eventually made it to the park and  had some fun riding around there. But honestly, navigating through rush hour traffic in a place you don't know well, not really knowing where exactly you are going, is something  .... not anything I want to repeat anytime soon, but it sure was a fun experience. And hey, I even made it just a bit more dangerous by taking pictures ... (we where stopped at a red light though, in my defense).

Favorite Snaps

Saturday, February 1, 2014

2 Days in Avalon on Santa Catalina Island

One of my most favorite trips we took last year was a little 2 day get-away to Catalina Island. I think what made it so great was the fact that I didn't really have any high expectations and had made no plans. The whole trip only happened because I found a 50% off deal on Groupon for a ferry ride to Catalina and I thought "Why not. It's good for the whole year. I'm sure we'll find some time throughout the year to go" (I bought the tickets in January. We went in late November. And that's only coz I really didn't wanted to waste $70).
It turned out to be a fun little trip so I decided to share some stuff to do in Avalon on Catalina, even during off-season.

We went to Avalon via the the Catalina Flyer, leaving from Newport Beach, CA. A roundtrip ticket is $70. Because we went on a thursday during off-season (November 20th) the ferry was fairly empty. I think the ride took about 1 hour and was a little bit rocky at times, but not bad at all.

Find The Bison
After we landed and checked into our hotel, we walked into town. On our way we stumbled upon a Bison. Not a real one, but a pained statue. (Similar to the bears placed all over Berlin, Germany). We had no glue what that was about. Later we found out that Bison are kind of a thing on Catalina, and it is because in the 20s a Hollywood Film crew brought a small group of Bison to the island for a movie project. After the filming was done, they just left the Bison behind and they reproduced and eventually took over large parts of the Island. The problem is now under control due to relocation and birth control but there are still Bison on the island and they have become sort of a Mascot. Years ago there was an event where people could sponsor a painted Bison and they would get auctioned off to raise money for the preservation of the Island. A couple of those Bison statues are placed on the Island still. We found 4, but we couldn't find anyone who could tell us if there are any more. So, if you're in Catalina, keep an eye out and let me know how many you can find!
There's Bison stuff everywhere!! 

Semi Submarine Tour
There are a bunch of different kinds of tours offered. Just go to the pier and check out the booths of the 2 tour agencies. They offer the same kinds of tours but have different pricing. It's kinda funny. They're each others competition but refer customers to one-another. Life on Catalina is a little bit different ...
Because it was off season and during the week, a couple of tours weren't offered, but we decided to go on a Semi-Submarine Tour called the Undersea Expedition via the Santa Catalina Island Company. The water on Catalina is super clear and going on a tour like that gives you great views of Oceanlife.

The Casino
The most iconic building in Avalon is the Casino. It hosts a Ballroom and the only movie theatre in town (which shows 1 movie a week). Currently the Catalina Island Museum is also located in the Casino.

Avalon Museum
So, I have to admit that I am not a giant fan of Museums but we decided to check out the Catalina Island museum at the Casino. So far we had learned a lot about the history of the Island, but there were still some things that did not make sense.
What exactly was up with those Bison? Why can I buy Chicago Cubs merch at Souvenir stores? And who is Mr Wrigley?
Most of those questions were answered in the museum. Catalina has a rich history for being such a small Island and you can check it all out for $5.

Alternative Transportation
Another thing I didn't know about Catalina is that they pretty much don't allow regular cars. Currently there is a 40 year waitlist to bring your car over there. I guess there is just not enough space.
So people ride golfcarts or little Smart cars. There are also multiple bike rental places. So, when in Avalon, do as the Avalonians do - choose alternative transportation!
We rented electric bikes because golfcarts were kind of expensive and you need to be 25 (which neither of us were at that point :( )

Wrigley Memorial Botanic Garden & Catalina Preservatory
On our little bike ride around town, we found the Wrigley Memorial Botanical Garden and the Catalina Preservatory which are both worth checking out if you're a nature lover and want to find out more about the Wildlife on Catalina. (The preservatory is where we found out about the Bison being on birth control)

Avalon Scenic Tour
On our second day in Avalon we decided to go on a tour. I've been really wanting to see the iconic bay from above and the 50min Scenic Tour offered by the Santa Catalina Island Company  did not disappoint. A bus takes you around the city limits of Avalon, up through the mountains and offers beautiful view os the city and the bay.
There are also several other tour offered, some go far inland and promsie Bison Sightings.

Eat Dryers IceCream
Super observed me noticed that all IceCream sold in Avalon is Dreyers. We found 3 Ice Cream shops (2 of them were closed, because, well, it was November) and all of them only had Dryers signs posted. Because IceCream is awesome and Lloyd's looks just too inviting, we decided to have some frozen treats ourselves.

... and Watch Saltwater Taffy being made
If you're at Lloyds to get some Ice Cream, make sure to check out the Live Saltwater taffy Making in the front. Throughout the day you will see them making different flavors and packign them up to be sold at the store. A whole wall is covered in different saltwater taffy!
Lloyds also sells other old fashioned candy.

Check out the shops
Avalon has a little downtown like area. The blocks along Crescent avenue between Catalina Ave & Metropole Ave hosts the Glenmore Plaza. It's a vehicle free area and is home to many little shops and restaurants. Make sure to stroll around. We were surprised that actually not all the shops had the same touristy items! There is also a little promenade called the Metropole Market Place and the Atwater Arcade (which also hosts the Post Office)

Three Palms Arcade
A couple of hours before our ferry back to Newport took off, we were kind out of things to do and it also started to drizzle a bit. We stumbled upon the Three Palms Arcade and decided to check it out. It's a small video game arcade and they had Mini-Bowling which was a lot of fun. We played 2 rounds and I won both :)

General notes about staying in Avalon:
- many places only accept cash
- during off-season, pretty much everything closes at 5. So plan to go watch a movie at night (the one that is being shown that week) or make sure you pick a hotel that has some things to offer.
- there is a Vons Express and a Vons on the Island. Other than that, it's mostly Souvenir shops, little boutiques and restaurants

And most of all, just enjoy the calm Island Life!