An obituary for a homeless man

He sat at the bus stop, at the corner of the street, where the Metro 16/316 used to halt. Sometimes he boarded the bus, with bottles he had collected from the garbage bin, the sale probably earned him his weekly income. He was clean and very well dressed, always had on a nice, warm jacket and good looking sneakers. His possessions included a tiny suitcase, a couple of cozy blankets, a radio that still worked, and a cardboard box where he cleverly put his feet in and covered it up for those rare, chilly, Angeleno nights. He used to sit and watch the world move by, possessing also a divine calmness, one I suppose that comes with no responsibilities and no bills to pay.

He conversed with himself and also with a lady who used to bring him food. She must have been the first one to notice this morning that the conversations had ceased, maybe forever. At times, he would read the newspaper. Maybe by reading, all he did was skim the paper to see photos. His radio kept playing constantly, he would move his head to the rhythm and tap his feet. Music was the familiarity replacing the strangeness. He had a strange expression on his face, one of bewilderment. As if he had cracked life’s greatest mystery but had no one to share the eureka moment with.

He had made the bus stop his home and the passengers his family. Every time I passed him by, we would greet. There was no smile and his eyes bore the shadows of the lingering past. Maybe he once had a family, people to call his own, a roof above his head, and a room of his own. I did not ask him his name, nor the circumstances of his life’s choices and uncertainties. Did it matter what his parents named him or the ethnicity he belonged to? Did any of that matter, when in the end he had nobody to offer him a drop of water before he took his last breath?

You could call him John if you like, he looked like a John. And, you could call me Marie Antoinette since I once bought him a cupcake, true to the adage qu’ils mangent de la brioche. Maybe he was suffering from a terminal disease or diabetes and the cupcake only made his situation worse.

He died peacefully in his sleep, wrapped in a blanket with his feet inside the cardboard box. There won’t be anybody to mourn his death, nobody to place flowers on his burial stone a year from today. But today, today is about him. Today is about the nameless man who owned the bus stop near my house. Today, I will shed a tear for him and only for him.

~ M

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Time Out: 24 hours in Los Angeles

Los Angeles is one of those places where you can do a lot in 24 hours. Most of my friends who visit LA for the first time ask me often for a list of things to do and places to visit. There are the usual touristy things to do such as visit Universal Studios (which requires a full day in itself) or the Hollywood Walk of Fame (which is anything unlike the Hollywood you have in mind, fair warning!) but the real thrill in seeing LA is to get a whiff of what this Southern Californian city is all about. The best way to experience a full day in Los Angeles is to arrive the night before, check yourself into a cheap hotel, or an Airbnb place, or bunk on your friend’s couch. Ideally, if you are booking yourself into a hotel or Airbnb, try to find one in Downtown LA (DTLA). It’ll be much easier for you to get to places on time since DTLA has a lot of public transportation connections. A friend who visited stayed at Hotel Ritz Milner in DTLA, so that’s an option you could consider.

Wake up early, around 6.30 or 7.

7.30 am Walk past Angels Flight and Pershing Square to reach Nickel diner at 8 am for breakfast.

pershing square
Pershing Square looking North on Olive Street, 1920 
Courtesy California Historical Society  Collection, USC  Libraries. 

ps1
Fountain in Pershing Square, 1939
Courtesy Dick Whittington Photography Collection, USC libraries 

9 am If it’s not a weekend, walk to City Hall. Check in at the security desk at 201 S. Main Street and head up to the Observation Desk on the 27th floor. You can see the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Union Station, and great views of the city skyline.

10 am Do a free self guided tour of the Walt Disney Concert Hall designed by Frank Gehry. You will be given a hand-held listening device as you meander your way through the hall. Make sure to visit the Blue Ribbon Rooftop Garden to see Gehry’s ‘A Rose for Lily’ memorial fountain. You can also have great views of the Hollywood Sign, Los Angeles Central Library, and the mountains.

walt
Walt Disney Concert Hall

finch
House finches in the rooftop garden

rose
Gehry’s ‘A Rose for Lily’

11.15 am Catch one of the buses mentioned in Transit to head to Venice Beach.

Transit:

  • Fastest route: The red DASH downtown E from 7th/Spring, Downtown LA. Drops you off at Marina and Marquesas Way. From there, you can walk along the Venice Canal to the Venice pier and boardwalk. This should take you 15 mts.
  • Line 733 from Union Station, Downtown LA will drop you off at Venice/Abbot Kinney. Trip takes around 1.30 hours.

photo (6)

1 pm You must be famished by now. Head to the Sidewalk Cafe on Venice Beach for lunch.

2 pm Catch bus no 1 from Main and Abbot Kinney towards UCLA via Santa Monica. Get off at Ocean/Broadway. You will be able to see the Santa Monica Pier. Catch the 534 towards Malibu to head to the Getty Villa as Naresh has already talked about in his post on Malibu. The Villa is closed on Tuesdays, so make sure you check the calendar before planning your trip.

getty
Inside the Getty Villa 

5 pm Walk along the PCH with great views of the Pacific to your right and head East to Sunset/Pacific Coast Highway layover. Take Metro 302 towards Sunset/Alvarado. This bus winds its way through beautiful Sunset Blvd. You will get to see Santa Ynez lake, UCLA campus, Pacific Palisades, Brentwood, Bel Air, parts of Beverly Hills, the famous Sunset Strip, parts of Hollywood. Exit at Sunset/Virgil (1.5 hours frm Malibu). Take the DASH weekend Observatory shuttle to head to Griffith Observatory.

griffith
Griffith Observatory with LA Downtown in the background

7 pm Enjoy fantastic views of LA from the Observatory and enjoy a beautiful sunset. You can do a bit of a hike and see the Hollywood Sign, if you are still up for it. Otherwise just stroll in the garden and get some fantastic views of the LA night sky through the public telescopes.

8.45 pm Take the Shuttle back to Vermont/Sunset station. Take the 754/204 southbound towards Pico/Vermont. Take the 30/330 Westbound towards Road to Seoul.

9.30 pm Recharge your batteries by having one of the best Korean barbeques in Koreatown.

10.30 pm If you are in the mood for some LA nightlife, end the night by heading back to DTLA to The Varnish for some fancy mixology cocktails. From ‘Road to Seoul’ take the Metro 30/330 Eastbound from Pico/Western towards Broadway/6th. Varnish is a 5 mt walk from there. You can groove the night away here, or walk over to The Edison.

~M

The Wonderful Monterey Bay and Peninsula

Raft of California sea lions at Monterey Fisherman's Wharf

Raft of California sea lions at Monterey Fisherman’s Wharf

The Monterey Bay area is an excellent destination if you like the outdoors. The spectacular Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary provides wildlife viewing opportunities like few other places in California (or indeed the whole country), and there are many miles of open coastline and state parks for a variety of activities. Now, Monterey Bay is hardly a hidden gem of California, so you can run into large crowds on a typical visit—but a measure of solitude is actually not that difficult to find, if you’re by yourself on a bike or kayak, or on a small boat with a few people on a big ocean. Monterey is 320 miles from Los Angeles, which is all the more reason to forget driving and parking hassles, and let someone else do the driving. And public transit schedules almost force you to take advantage of some unique opportunities.

Monterey itself has no direct connections from Los Angeles, so you will have to get to the nearby town city of Salinas, and take a bus to Monterey. Monterey-Salinas Transit (MST) operates a very good transit system, with frequent and comfortable buses that run from early morning to late night, and printed schedules and electronic boards at most bus stops that let you know exactly when to expect the next bus. They make trip planning very easy! Monterey to Salinas is a 30-45 minute bus ride past some agricultural farms and along the Pacific Coast Highway.

My favourite itinerary to visit Monterey is to take an overnight bus on Friday from Los Angeles, spend Saturday in Monterey, and take the overnight bus back. This is what I will describe in this post. You cannot fit all the activities I describe into a single day-trip—I typically do a couple of things and head back. I like the day-trip option because I don’t have to arrange for overnight lodging, and this itinerary also lets me take advantage of late night MST bus schedules on Saturday night (Sunday schedules end a little earlier) to maximise my time there. You may, however, choose to spend a night at one of the hundreds of motels or hotels in the area and extend your trip to two or more days if you find this schedule a bit hectic.


To/From Monterey: There are two ways to get to Salinas from Los Angeles: Greyhound, or Amtrak. Amtrak gives you two options: if you don’t mind travelling during the day, there is a direct train, the Coast Starlight. (Plug: Coast Starlight to Crater Lake). I don’t want to waste valuable daylight hours on a train (this time), so I prefer overnight rides. On Amtrak, you take the Pacific Surfliner to Santa Barbara (Plug: Mythili’s trip to Arroyo Grande) and then connect with a Thruway bus to Salinas. Greyhound has buses from Los Angeles to Salinas along the 101 Fwy.

 The Greyhound bus from Los Angeles leaves at 10:50 pm on Friday, dropping me off at Salinas at 5:45 am on Saturday. The biggest challenge of this trip is getting to the Greyhound Station on time. The Metro Route 60 takes me from Downtown LA, where I just had dinner, to the Greyhound station. There is always some event, construction or other hindrance in Downtown LA on Friday nights, and I have missed my Greyhound bus on one occasion because of how slow the Route 60 was. Tonight, I’m just considering finding a taxi when the bus arrives. I make it to the station with 3 minutes to spare. Phew! My seatmate until Oxnard is a Vietnam veteran from Phoenix who is visiting his son in Thousand Oaks. He has lived in Phoenix for 20 years, and recently returned from burying his wife of 30 years after her struggle with cancer. We talk a little about the cruelty of cancer, the shameful state of Veterans Affairs, I tell him about my Kindle and borrowing books from the library, about my love for the ocean (he asks me if there are sharks, I tell him about whales), and then I doze off for half an hour. The vet leaves at midnight, and a young Hispanic kid settles in for the remainder of the ride. He has moved to my row so his mom can have two seats to sleep a little more comfortably. I finish the absorbing and depressing Beasts of No Nation, and get some sleep before Salinas.

The Salinas Transit center is one block north of the Greyhound Station and two blocks south of the Amtrak station. From Salinas to Monterey is on the MST Route 20, and my sole travel companion in the morning is an easily excitable man who is worried about his transfer connection. He is nervous that our bus starts two minutes late, he asks the driver to radio ahead to the next bus, and eventually makes his connection with seven minutes to spare.

The midnight MST ride back from Monterey to Salinas on Saturday night has two parts. On the first half, to a place called Sand City, our driver is new to the route, and has gotten extremely confused about how to get to the end point. Another passenger and I have to guide her along the route. Eventually, I am the only passenger left, the streets are dark, and I’m trying to make sure she doesn’t panic and I don’t miss my connection. I’m somewhat improvising because it is my first time on this route too, but we somehow navigate to Sand City based on her directions sheet, and the rest of the trip is uneventful.

I’m taking the Amtrak bus back this night, leaving Salinas at 12:45 am and getting to Santa Barbara in time to make the connection to the 6:13 am Pacific Surfliner to Los Angeles. All very comfortable, particularly because the bus is not crowded on Saturday. I’m back home in time for breakfast on Sunday morning.


Getting around the Monterey area: Make sure to check out the MST website. They cover a large area, from San Jose and Santa Cruz to the north to Big Sur to the south, as well as Monterey, Moss Landing, Salinas, Watsonville and other towns. I’m very impressed by the system. When you’ve spent all night travelling and are tired, this is a great thing to do: get on a local bus ride that lasts an hour, and go to sleep. When you wake up, you are in a new unexplored location, rested, and with more sights to see.


Things to do

1. Whale watching: This has to be the number one reason to visit the Monterey Bay. The Monterey underwater canyon provides a huge amount of food for marine mammals small and large, and the whale watching here is superb. It is different in character to whale watching in Southern California: there are large numbers of humpback whales in the bay, particularly in summer and fall when crazy masses of anchovies school in the bay, and these whales are the most showy and acrobatic of the baleen whales. Killer whales visit somewhat regularly in the spring. And while Monterey does not have as many blue whales or the megapods of common dolphins like we see in Southern California, they have large numbers of Risso’s and other dolphins and porpoises as well.

One advantage of coming in to Monterey this early is that the place is empty. I walk to Fisherman’s Wharf at 7 am after a quick coffee and muffin, on to empty docks and not much human noise. It gives me more than an hour to observe California sea lion behaviour on a raft below the dock. A big male with a pronounced sagittal crest guards this raft with females and juveniles, swimming around it, and occasionally barking to signal his presence. Occasionally, another male, coming in from the ocean, breath stinking of anchovies, tries to get up on the raft. Big alpha male aggressively barks at the newcomer, chases him off the raft, and attacks him in the water. Fascinating.

Raft of sea lions under the dock, mostly juveniles and females

Raft of sea lions under the dock, mostly juveniles and females

Big dog will have no other males on the raft

Big dog will not tolerate other males on the raft

Along comes a sea otter, swimming with a powerful backstroke, with a crab in its paws. Loud snapping noises as the shell of the crab is crushed. Its partner comes along, and the two otters roll with each other as some young sea lions watch curiously.

Southern sea otter working on a crab

Southern sea otter working on a crab

Sea lions watch otter play with curiosity

Sea lions watch otter play with curiosity

There are many whale watching operators in Monterey Bay and Moss Landing, but I have only gone whale watching with Monterey Bay Whale Watch. I have been very satisfied with their slightly longer tours (4-5 hours), small boats (not very crowded) and fairly knowledgeable crew. Trips out of Moss Landing may be slightly better because of the location of the underwater canyon (which begins at the beach in Moss Landing), however, I have not tried them. MBWW is located at Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey, a very short walk from the Monterey Transit Plaza, and therefore very easily accessible by MST bus. The early morning tours are the best, when the seas are a little calmer, and they stay out longer. On this summer whale watching trip in August 2014, we saw more than two dozen humpback whales, with all sorts of cool behaviours, including cooperative feeding on anchovies with California sea lions, breaches, tail throws, pectoral slapping and so on. Excellent trip!

Humpback whale cooperative feeding with California sea lions

Humpback whale cooperative feeding with California sea lions

Humpback whale breach

Humpback whale breach

Double fluke!

Double fluke!

Humpback whale tail throw

Humpback whale tail throw

I recommend Crepes of Brittany at Fisherman’s Wharf, yum!


Biking the 17 mile drive: Now that the whale-watching trip is done, a cool way to explore the Monterey peninsula is on two wheels. Unfortunately, there is no simple way to bring your own nice road bike to Monterey, but there are plenty of shops in Monterey that rent bikes. I rented a hybrid bike from Adventures by the Sea, who have several locations on the bay. The bike itself was so-so, quite heavy and it was a struggle to even get up to 10-12 miles an hour, but there is no need for speed on a vacation, right? There are several biking opportunities: you can go up north, towards Moss Landing, or east, but the best scenery is going south, on the famous 17-mile drive to Pebble Beach, with the nice scenery and the golf courses (and cars). You can convert it into a 17 mile ride, and have your fill of looking at the ocean. I biked along the coastal recreation trail in Monterey from Cannery Row, along the coast at Asilomar State Beach, then on the 17-mile drive, and up to Spyglass Hill golf course and back. This was about 20 miles round trip, and it took me about two and a half hours with plenty of breaks to get my feet wet in the ocean, look at some tidepools, etc. You can go farther or less depending on time, interest, and energy levels.

I bought an action camera recently, so here is a long-ish video of the ride as seen from my helmet. It gives you an idea of what you can expect on the ride. The highlights of my ride, apart from the fantastic coastline, were a huge male mule deer, part of a bigger herd, and a couple of pretty white-tailed kites on the golf courses.


Kayaking on the Elkhorn Slough: Possibly the best way to see the smaller marine mammals: seals, sea lions, and sea otters, is out on a kayak. You can rent kayaks on the bay  itself near Cannery Row or Lovers Point, but my favourite place is kayaking through Elkhorn Slough. I first saw the slough on a Coast Starlight train ride long ago, you could see otters floating in the slough from the train, and kayakers paddling away nearby, and I always wanted to be out there. The slough is accessed from Moss Landing on the Pacific Coast Highway. Moss Landing is not as crowded as Monterey, and can be quite a charming little place. From the Salinas Transit Center, take the MST Route 28 to Moss Landing. For access to the beach and harbor, or possibly whale watching, get off at Highway 1 and Dolan. Our interest is kayaking the slough, and the best company is probably Monterey Bay Kayaks at Elkhorn Slough, the next bus stop to the north. Get a wetsuit, lifejacket, single kayak, short instructions on not harassing marine mammals, and off you go. You can kayak as far as you want along the slough, but make sure to check wind and tide conditions! Kayaking about two miles and back to Seal bend (map) is usually enough to see all that the slough has to offer: sea lions (I even saw a giant Steller sea lion!) many many harbor seals and sea otters. There is also a huge variety of birds, making this a perfect kayaking experience.

Brown pelican flyby

Brown pelican flyby

Harbor seals popping up all around the kayak, some were as close as two feet, one swam under the kayak.

Harbor seals popping up all around the kayak, some were as close as two feet, one swam under the kayak.

Harbor seals and birds on the beach

Harbor seals and birds on the beach

Raft of otters in the seaweed

Raft of otters in the seaweed


Hiking: There is so much hiking to do around the Monterey area that I cannot possibly do it justice in this post. I’ll mention some spectacular areas, but there are many more accessible by transit. The MST Route 22 from Monterey Transit Plaza towards Big Sur can drop you off at a number of wonderful locations, including Point Lobos State Reserve, Andrew Molera State Park, and the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Take the morning trip out, and you will have about 5 hours to complete your hiking and sightseeing before the evening trip takes you back to Monterey, make sure not to miss the bus!

Other options for hiking include the Fort Ord Dunes State Park, the several beaches and some County parks that are accessible from the MST network.


Visit the Aquarium: The Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the best in the country, especially in terms of all the research they do, and probably worth a visit if you are interested. Fish in tanks make me vaguely uneasy (though not as much as zoos or Sea World), so I usually avoid going to aquariums, however I recall from a visit a long time ago that this aquarium was quite interesting. A number of MST bus routes serve the aquarium—the Jazz A,B and C routes, routes 1 and 2, and there is even a free shuttle from downtown Monterey to Cannery Row and the aquarium.


Monterey is home to lots of birds as well, out on the ocean, on the shoreline and inland. One trip is never enough, and you will keep wanting to go back for more. There are lots of candy shops and arcade games and restaurants and other boring places too, since Monterey is a typical family tourist destination and so close to the Bay area, but the natural wealth and outdoor recreation opportunities really dwarf these. Go out and experience all that it has to offer.

-N

Hollywood Bowl: The Hills are alive with the Sound of Music

In Los Angeles, it’s difficult to escape the booming music scenario. All throughout the year, the city is bustling with concerts, free music gigs, new music album releases, LA music awards and the Grammys. You don’t need to be a music lover, this city will convert you into becoming one- especially when there are so many free music concerts to go to. For beginners, LA Weekly has an extensive list compiled here for Summer 2014. There are many more resources which tell you what are some of the best music gigs happening, but that post will have to wait.

My favorite outdoor place in LA to hear a concert is the Hollywood Bowl. Nestled in the hills of Hollywood and overlooking the Hollywood sign, the Hollywood Bowl or simply the Bowl is an amphitheater designed by Lloyd Wright in 1922 and later modified by Frank Gehry in 1970s. Every summer, Angelenos gather at the Bowl for a fun evening filled with music, drinks, and food. The site for the Bowl was discovered by William Reed and H.Ellis Reed in 1919 while looking for a suitable outdoor production place for the Theatre Arts Alliance. The Bowl at that time was a shaded canyon and a picnic spot called ‘Daisy Dell’!

download (2)Site of the Hollywood Bowl Development, 1918
Courtesy California Historical Society  Collection, USC 
 Libraries. 

The Bowl has been the home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic since 1921, an association that has run well into it’s 90th season presently. The performance was an Easter sunrise service attended by 800 concert goers on March 27th. There were no seating at that point. People stood, crouched, sat on grass or on blankets. Permanent seating was added between 1926-28 but it was only in 1929 that the circular bowl by Wright was installed. This is how the Bowl looked like in the past.

Aerial-1940-USC-DW   Aerial view of the Hollywood Bowl. Courtesy of the 
Dick Whittington Collection, USC libraries.

 

21407  Worshippers attending Easter Service. Courtesy of the
  Dick Whittington Collection, USC libraries.

 

download  View from the audience during a Bowl Concert. Courtesy
  of the Dick Whittington Collection, USC libraries.

 

download (1)  A small orchestra giving a night time concert. Courtesy
of the Dick Whittington Collection, USC libraries. 

The first popular artist to play at the Bowl was Frank Sinatra in 1946, followed by the Beatles, Bob Dylar, Igor Stravinsky in the 1960s. Here is a photo of some rehearsals from the past.

download (4)  Philharmonic Rehearsals at the Hollywood
 Bowl, 1959. Courtesy Los Angeles Examiner
Collection, USC libraries.

Today, many artists come to the Bowl from different parts of the world to put up spectacular music/dance shows, some of which are followed by fireworks. After I moved to LA, my colleagues and I went for an LA Philharmonic concert at the Hollywood Bowl. And, I was in awe. The massiveness of the place (it can seat about 17,000 people),  the brilliant audio acoustics, and the open air is enough to make you fall in love. The LA Phil was playing this on that August 19, Thursday in 2010, Dvorak (Carnival Overture ), Mendelssohn Violin Concerto (p.b. Augustin Hadelich), Brahms #1 and it was a lovely concert.

40047_425239148633_4329860_n My first ever photo of the Hollywood Bowl!

 

41024_425239223633_8086264_nMy friends sitting comfortably on the wooden  benches.

 

41024_425239238633_7339572_nThe concert begins!

I’ve also gone for many leased events. Some of the ones I’ve had loads of fun at are Coldplay, Mumford and Sons, and Robyn.

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10336734_10103240023388963_5613276147564959609_n

Let me tell you one of the biggest incentives to go to the Bowl (if the music is still not convincing enough for you to go!): you can picnic at the Bowl! Yes, you heard me right. You can pack little picnic baskets, with sandwiches, cheese, fruit, chocolate and take wine or beer with you. There are lot of spots where you can picnic. There is a park right next door to the Bowl, Highland Camrose Park. There will be tons of people picnicking on the lawns there , sometimes you might have an artist playing a saxophone or guitar outside the park, making this a free concert venue. You could go early, find your seat in the Bowl and picnic there. For most classical concerts which happen on a weekday, there should be lots of empty seats. If you are in a group and you want to barbeque, you are even allowed to do that, provided you don’t stumble into someone else’s seat. There are also options to eat and buy liquor at the Bowl, but for classical concerts, it just make so much more sense to BYOB. However, for leased events you cannot bring in food or drinks. These events are the ones where big artists come to perform. So, make sure you check whether the event you will be attending is a leased event or not. Or else, you may have your favorite bottle of Pinot Noir confiscated.

The Hollywood Bowl concerts begin on June 21st with fireworks. In May-June, there may be lease events and it is worthwhile to check their calendar. The season ends in September, after which you can still enjoy the concerts at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Downtown. It is always advisable to buy leased event tickets in advance. The classical concerts should not be too difficult to procure. You can buy tickets at ticketmaster. You can also subscribe to packages and these include some special benefits as well. The tickets range from Expensive Box seats, pricey but not too pricey Super Seats, and the medium to affordable to cheap bench seats. You guessed it right, the cheaper the ticket the farther away you are from the stage. Most of the Classical concerts happen on Tuesday and Thursday nights and sometimes tickets are priced as low as $1.

One of the many reasons why I love the Hollywood Bowl is the accessibility through public transportation. You don’t want to drive to the Bowl, especially if you are picnicking with some wine bottles, or when there are some 18,000 people who are watching this concert along with you. Driving to the Bowl really should be your last resort option. Bowl parking is very limited. There are four parking lots right next to the Bowl and parking is definitely not cheap. Price varies according to the Lot and the type of event. Lot A is the most expensive (being the closest) and leased events cost more money to park. So, how do you get to the Bowl through public transportation.


Hollywood Bowl: 2301 N Highland Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90068

Metro Line 156: Service from Van Nuys to Highland/Santa Monica. It drops you off right in front of the Hollywood Bowl.

Metro Line 222: Service from Summitrose/Tinker in Sunland to Hawthorne and Highland. Drops you off right in front of the Hollywood Bowl.

Metro Line 210: Service from Redondo Beach/South Beach Galleria to Hollywood and Vine. Drops you off at Hollywood/Vine. Walk a mile to the Bowl.

LA Bowl Shuttle: The LA Bowl shuttle lets you park your car in a parking lot accessible by a Metro railway line connection and then take the shuttle to the Bowl. A round trip costs $5 per person and tickets can be bought on Ticketmaster. Buses depart from the lot starting 6 p.m. There are two departures from Ventura: Ventura Blvd Lot and Ventura Blvs Lot Annexe. If you have a Metro Tap Card, you can ride for free provided you took the Metro that day to get to Ventura. You can access this Bowl Shuttle by taking the Metro Red Line from Union Station and exiting at the Universal Studio exit.

The most popular Bowl Shuttle is the Hollywood/Highland shuttle. You can take the Metro Red Line from Union station and exit at the Hollywood/Highland station and then catch the bowl shuttle. All for $1.50. The Bowl is also hardly a 1 mile walk from the Hollywood/Highland Station. I have walked up this path many a times, it is sometimes faster than traffic. Especially after the concert, when everyone is trying to take the bowl shuttle back to their car. Just walk down (it’s downhill, so you can do this in 10 mts) and head to Hollywood/Highland, especially if you are taking the metro back.

Hollywood Bowl Park and Ride Lot: These buses ply between 14 lots in and around LA. They are mainly for people who want to drive to these lots, park their car and then take the bus upto Hollywood Bowl, but you can always get to one of these lots and then take a bus/train to get to your house. If you are traveling from from away, this is your best option to get to the Bowl. If you pre-purchase the ticket, it is $6 for a round trip and the tickets are available 48 hours before the concert. Check the Hollywood Bowl website to see if there is a park and ride option near you. Here is a Park and Ride bus from the 1950s. They still pretty much look the same!

download (3)Bus from Hollywood Bowl, 1956. Courtesy Los Angeles
  Examiner Collection, USC libraries.


If you just want to have a soulful evening filled with some good wine and amazing music, you don’t need to spend a lot of money and get very expensive tickets. There are decent seats available for $30-35. You can also rent seat cushions for $2 to make your experience more enjoyable. Along with taking a picnic basket for non-leased events, you can also take some blankets and even your favorite cushion if you want. There are really no restrictions for a non-leased event.

Summer is here and I hear it’s going to be a hot one! Let’s ease it out with a little bit of music now, shall we? Look up the calendar, buy a ticket and let’s head to the Hollywood Bowl for a fun evening of picnicking and music! After all, the hills are always alive with the sound of music.

Happy concert-going!

~M

 

Fish Canyon Falls

I read this news item the other day in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, and thought I should write a short post on the beautiful Fish Canyon Falls in the San Gabriel Mountains. Southern California and Los Angeles obviously do not have the majestic waterfalls of Yosemite or other places in the Sierras—what we have instead are small streams flowing through very rugged canyons in the San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountains. These streams do make their way down some notable little waterfalls, and they can be quite pretty in the spring, in years of good rainfall.

There are a few problems with our waterfalls: I broadly classify them as access and people. Some waterfalls in the front country of the Angeles National Forest are very easily accessible, such as Eaton Canyon, Sturtevant Falls from Chantry Flats etc.—however these falls are typically overrun by all of Los Angeles and their dogs and their kids and their noise, and you can forget about a wilderness experience. There are only a few notable exceptions: perhaps San Antonio Falls is far enough away that it is both easily accessible (by car) and enjoyable. Then there are other waterfalls that are difficult or impossible to access. The 50-foot Lower Falls in the Cucamonga canyon is the best waterfall I have been to, the experience made sweeter by the remoteness of the canyon and the strenuousness of the hike—but Cucamonga canyon has now been closed to the public for more than a year now, and I don’t know if they have any plans of reopening it. The closure is ostensibly due to fire danger, but probably also because of irresponsible idiots painting graffiti on rocks all over the remote canyon, and because local residents do not want their neighbourhood to be used as an access point by hikers.

But back to Fish Canyon Falls. This pretty little waterfall in Fish Canyon, until recently, had both types of problems. Fish Canyon opens out into the city of Duarte, and a mining company owns the land at the mouth of the canyon, and operates a quarry there. The 80-foot waterfall is about 3 miles into the canyon, but to get there, you’d have to first go through the quarry property for a few hundred yards. For a history of access to the hiking trail, I’d recommend Dan Simpson’s blog here. Until recently, there was no easy access to the waterfalls, except on about 4-5 weekends a year, when the company operated shuttles across their property. This led to huge crowding on those days, here is a description of a particularly bad day when 600 people visited the canyon! You might as well walk around Old Town Pasadena on a weekend if you want to be around that many people. On other days, you walked up to the van Tassel ridge, a 1500 foot climb in a mile and a half, then straight down another 1500 feet. All this, to bypass the quarry and end up at the back of their property, only a half mile away from the start! Remember that you had to climb this in the opposite direction on the way out, making it 3000+ feet of pointless elevation gain. I enjoyed the hike up and down the hill when we went, because of the blooming wildflowers, but there were several downsides: (a) that trail was pretty poor (search for descriptions elsewhere if interested), (b) it was hot and my friend wasn’t feeling too good, and (c) the trail was full of trash—water bottles, paper towels, candy wrappers, what not. My friend and I carried down as much as we could, but I don’t think we even made a dent, even with our backpacks full of trash. In any case, that old trail will be closed from August 2014.

Quarry at the mouth of Fish Canyon in Duarte

Quarry at the mouth of Fish Canyon in Duarte

So much about access to Fish canyon, what about the canyon itself? Fish canyon is one of the most beautiful places in the Angeles front country, and highly recommended. Even if you ignore the waterfalls, which can be spectacular in the spring, the plant diversity and wildlife are quite amazing. The annual spring and summer wildflower bloom brings out several flowers, including California poppies, Matilija poppies, monkeyflowers, penstemons, wallflowers, and several others, too many to name. The hillsides were covered by the fragrant flowering ceanothus (California lilac) bushes when we went. Also, I have never seen a cat in the wild in over 8 years of hiking, but I got a brief glimpse of one on this trail. Since it was a non-visiting day and you had to go up and down the mountain, we were the only people in the canyon. I heard a sound behind me, and turned to see the back half of a large orange cat on the trail. The cat immediately jumped up the mountain and disappeared, so I didn’t see it long enough for a positive identification, but the colour suggested a bobcat (though it seemed to have a longer tail suggesting a mountain lion). Fish canyon is special to me also because of that brief cat half-sighting.

Fish Canyon falls on a quiet March weekend in 2013

Fish Canyon falls on a quiet March weekend in 2013

California lilac plant in full bloom, Fish Canyon

California lilac plant in full bloom, Fish Canyon

I have mixed feelings about this new year-round access to the canyon. I don’t particularly like walking through a quarry to get on a trail—that ugly quarry at the mouth of the beautiful canyon is a terrible eyesore—but perhaps destroying mountains to get rocks for roads is just a necessity in today’s world. There will probably be fewer hikers than the crazy access-days of the past, but there may not be a weekend of solitude any more. I hope hikers are more responsible in taking good care of the canyon and keeping the trail clean.

You should visit Dan Simpson’s blog for a description of the trail, he has several posts about the canyon. Make yourself aware of the new access hours and restrictions. I just wanted to add details about getting there by transit. The nearest major bus stop is on Huntington Drive and Las Lomas Road in Duarte, served by the Foothill Transit routes 187 (7 days a week) and 494 (weekday rush hour only). If you’re hiking on a weekday, you can take the Duarte Transit green or blue lines from the Foothill Transit to Royal Oaks and Encanto Parkway to shave off about a mile from your walk; otherwise just walk or bike to the trailhead on Encanto Parkway from the Foothill Transit bus stop. Encanto Parkway is one block east of Las Lomas Road. The trailhead is next to the mining company, and really hard to miss. This will add about 1.7 miles each way to your hike. Route 187 is easily accessed from Pasadena along Colorado Boulevard, or from the cities of Claremont, Montclair or Pomona to the east, or connect from the Metro Gold Line at the Sierra Madre Villa station (you want the bus going towards Montclair).

Happy hiking!

-N

Six Flags Magic Mountain

I have not been a fan of roller coasters or theme parks for as long as I can remember. No, I’m not scared. It’s just not my idea of fun. So, I hadn’t gone to any theme park for over a decade, until I had some guests over from India who wanted to go to Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, CA. Six Flags entertainment corp is the world’s largest amusement park corporation having properties in over 11 cities in USA including Texas, New Jersey, and Georgia as well as theme parks in Canada and Mexico. Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, Santa Clarita is around 35 miles North of LA. The park has been operational from 1971, and Six Flags entertainment corp acquired it in 1979. This Six Flags park holds the world record for the highest number of roller coasters (19) in any amusement park, also making it one of the busiest parks in North America.

The Six Flags in Valencia is just off the I-5 N and needless to say during holidays and weekends, it gets really crowded on the I-5 and a journey which should take you only an hour may take upto 2.5-3 hours. Not to mention that the parking for a day is $20 and the ticket prices are $69.99 for general admission. You can definitely save on the parking fee if you take public transportation, and also save on the ticket fee if you buy your ticket in advance (goes down to $44.99). There are a couple of ways using public transit to get to Six Flags.


Six Flags Magic Mountain is located at: 26101 Magic Mountain Parkway, Valencia, CA 91355.

The Best Route: Thanks Naresh for pointing this out to me! Take the Metro Red Line 802 from Union Station to North Hollywood Station (NOHO station). This should take 13 stops, about 30 minutes. From NOHO station, catch the Santa Clarita Transit bus 757. This drops you off at the McBean Regional Transit Center (MRTC) Connect to bus numbers 3 or 7 to Magic Mountain. The schedule for 757 can be found here.

Other Options 1: Step A: Head to Union Station, Downtown LA. Take the LA Metrolink Antelope Valley Line towards Lancaster. Exit at the Santa Clarita Metrolink station (55 minutes; 6 stops). If you are commuting on a weekday, proceed to Step B or C.

Step B: Take Santa Clarita Transit bus 501 from the Santa Clarita Metrolink station. This drops you off at the Magic Mountain employee gate. The ride takes about 18 minutes. The timings are very limited, so plan your trip accordingly. More information on the latest schedule can be found here.

Step C:  Other than the route 501,  you can also take Santa Clarita Transit bus number 6 to McBean Parkway and then transfer to Santa Clarita Transit bus number 7 to Magic Mountain. Depending on wait times, this could take you between half hour- 45 mts to get to Magic Mountain. Be sure to check the schedule of the buses so that you can minimize wait time. More information can be found here.

Other Options 2: Take the commuter express service 799/794 from Union Station or Metro Gold line Station to Santa Clarita Metrolink. This bus is very comfortable and is also free wi-fi enabled. The service runs only on *weekdays*. There are multiple stops and options available, which you can check here. You will then need to follow Step C above to continue onto Magic Mountain. This option is highly recommended if you are traveling on a weekday. The fare is quite decent at $4.25 and an interagency transfer (to say LA Metro) costs only $0.55. Free wi-fi is definitely an added bonus. The trip takes between 1 hour to 1 hour 15 mts.

Other Options 3: Instead of taking the Antelope Valley line till Santa Clarita Metrolink station as in Option 1 above, you can get off at Newhall station. Connect to Bus routes 1, 2, 4, 14 to McBean Regional Transit Center (MRTC) and then transfer to Routes 3 and 7 to Magic Mountain.


Magic Mountain: If you are a lover of roller coasters, Magic Mountain is going to be heaven for you. It does not have the legendary King-da Ka (thank god, because my friend had made a bet about going on this ride with me, thankfully he confused Six Flags Great Adventure with Magic Mountain) but there are 19 other great roller coasters which you can go on unlimited number of times. Some of these include Tatsu, Green Lantern: First Flight, Batman the ride, Apocalypse. Apart from these thrill rides, there are also family rides such as Tidal wave, Roaring Rapids, Jetstream, and Cyclone 500. Kids have dedicated rides too, though I saw a lot of kids on the thrill rides as well and they seemed to love it! There are also food courts where you can grab a bite to eat after you are done with all your thrill rides.

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The park is open 10.30 to 9 p.m daily. Some days in summer have early closing, sometimes 8 p.m, sometimes 6 p.m. Do check the schedule before planning your trip. If you love roller coasters, having a fun day out with friends, your family, Six Flags Magic Mountain is definitely worth a trip, or maybe multiple trips! Have fun with thrill!

~M

Transit to Whales in Southern California

Blue whale spouts off Long Beach

Blue whale spouts off Long Beach

The Pacific ocean within a few miles of the California coastline is home to an abundance of life, and this is a sadly under-appreciated fact, even among people who live in Los Angeles. There are several different ecosystems—including the beautiful kelp forests around the Channel Islands that I will talk about at another time—that support an amazing variety of bird, fish, and marine mammal life. This post is about getting on a boat and going out on the ocean to watch the biggest mammals of them all: whales.

A number of different baleen and toothed whales can be found in the California waters at different times of the year. Some species live here year round, such as the various dolphin species (long and short-beaked common dolphins, coastal and offshore bottlenose dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, and Pacific white-sided dolphins). It is not uncommon to go out on a boat, any time of the year, and be surrounded by thousands upon thousands of common dolphins jumping out of the water, vocalizing, and having a good time. They are a delight to watch every time, and there is nothing ordinary about them! Other species visit annually. The Pacific grey whales, once hunted to near extinction, have now rebounded to pre-whaling populations. These animals undertake the longest migrations of any mammals on earth. Every winter (~November to January), they migrate down from their feeding grounds in Alaska to the calm waters of Baja California to give birth to their calves, and migrate back up again a few months later (~February to May). During this time, they stay within a few miles of shore, so it is really easy to watch them, even from shore. In the summer (~June/July to October), the waters are rich in tiny krill, and the majestic blue whales come here in large numbers to feed. Fin whales and minke whales live here year round, humpback whales come down sometimes, and killer whales visit every now and then, sometimes to hunt grey whale calves. This year, there have been several sightings of whales that are very rare for this part of the world, such as Bryde’s whales, false killer whales, pilot whales and sperm whales—very exciting indeed! Other mammals—various sea lions and seals—are commonly seen as well.

A huge Steller sea lion on a buoy outside the Oxnard harbor. He makes the full-grown male California sea lions next to him look tiny!

A huge Steller sea lion on a buoy outside the Oxnard harbor. He makes the full-grown male California sea lions next to him look tiny!

I only learned about all this wildlife some 3 or 4 years ago when someone mentioned it at a party; and since then, my interest in these animals has grown very quickly. I make it a point to go out on the ocean at least 7-8 times a year, and would do it more often if I could afford it. It is a joy to be out on the ocean even if we don’t see anything (which has only happened to me once). We are lucky to live in a time and place where whales are protected from humans, and various organizations are doing a great job of studying and understanding these whales, and lobbying for their protection by minimizing the use of naval SONARs, changing shipping lanes to protect whale feeding grounds and migratory routes etc. Check out the American Cetacean Society (Los Angeles chapter), and consider supporting them by becoming a member. They have very knowledgeable researchers, organize periodic lectures and whalewatching trips, conduct the annual grey whale census, publish some very interesting journals, and so on. Their Whalewatcher journal alone is worth the price of the membership.

There are several whale watching boats up and down the Southern California coast, from Ventura to San Diego. In some places, whale watching trips only run during the grey whale migration season in the winter; other operators have trips running every day of the year except Christmas. It is easier to find grey whales since they hug the shore (particularly mothers with calves on the northbound journey), so the grey whale trips tend to be shorter and less expensive than the summer trips, with a typically higher chance of seeing a whale. But the summer trips to see the blue whales give you more time on the water, and you can’t beat the experience of being surrounded by blue whale spouts several tens of feet high in all directions! In this post, I’ll list some of the whale watching boats I have been on, and how to get there using public transit. I’ve enjoyed myself on all these boats, and they all respected the whales, so I’ll let you pick a favourite!

Blue whale fluke, Long Beach / San Pedro

Blue whale fluke, Long Beach / San Pedro


Santa Barbara:  The Condor Express has whale watching trips year-round, departing from Sea Landing in the Santa Barbara Harbor. Sea Landing is a short half-mile walk from the Santa Barbara Amtrak and Greyhound stations, which are located next to each other. You can also take the waterfront shuttle from the train station, but why? Enjoy the beach :). As of this writing, the first Pacific Surfliner train of the day only gets to Santa Barbara station at 10:19 am, which is too late for the typical 10 am Condor Express trips (it works for the shorter grey whale trips). It is therefore more convenient to take the first Greyhound bus to Santa Barbara, leaving Los Angeles at 6:10 am or North Hollywood at 6:40 am. I prefer the North Hollywood stop, which is a short walk from the Red Line station, is easier to access, and in a much better neighbourhood than the downtown Los Angeles station. The boat gets back to Santa Barbara around 2:30 pm, leaving enough time to look around Santa Barbara and take a train back.

The trips out of Santa Barbara are fantastic for a couple of reasons: there is a much higher chance of seeing humpback whales in the Santa Barbara channel compared to Los Angeles, orcas occasionally visit too, and the boat often makes a trip to one of the Channel islands, weather permitting—so you can see the famous Painted Cave as well! The downside is that like everything in Santa Barbara, it can be a little expensive: $99 in the summer, $50 for coastal grey whale trips.


Ventura and Oxnard:  Island Packers, who are the boat concessionaires for the Channel Islands National Park  run regular whale watching trips during the grey whale migration season, as well as the summer blue and humpback whale season. Grey whale cruises depart from the Oxnard and Ventura Harbors, are 3 to 3.5 hours long for $36; blue whale cruises depart on specific dates from Ventura Harbor, and are 7 to 8 hours long for $79. All whale watching trips cross the Santa Barbara channel and have great views of the Channel Islands. The blue whale cruises go much further to the west, and may include a stop at the Painted Cave as well. Island Packers also has several landing and non-landing trips to the various Channel Islands, and the crew normally keep a lookout for wildlife during the channel crossings, will spend a good amount of time with any whales or dolphins encountered.

One of a pair of humpback whales flukes in the Santa Barbara channel

One of a pair of humpback whales flukes in the Santa Barbara channel

A giant mola mola, largest bony fish in the world, San Pedro

A giant mola mola, largest bony fish in the world, San Pedro

Getting to these harbors is again complicated by the early departure of the whale watching trips, and the first Pacific Surfliner train does not work. The transit option that has worked for me is to take the same Greyhound bus from North Hollywood at 6:40 am that you would take to Santa Barbara, but get off at Oxnard instead. The Oxnard Harbor (confusingly called the Channel Islands Harbor) for grey whale cruises is 5.5 miles from the Oxnard Transportation Center (OTC). Take the Gold Coast Transit Route 5 to Hemlock and Victoria, and walk the remaining 1.7 miles past beautiful homes to the Island Packers dock.

Pretty homes from Channel Islands Blvd

Pretty homes from Channel Islands Blvd

The simplest way to get to the Island Packers location in Ventura Harbor is unfortunately to take a taxi from OTC, an 8 mile ride. This is unsatisfactory, but lets you make it to the harbor well in time for the morning trip. For the return trip or for trips leaving in the afternoon, the Pacific Surfliner is convenient. There is a free trolley service between Ventura Harbor and the Ventura Amtrak station, provided by the Ventura Downtown Harbor Trolley.


San Pedro: Spirit Cruises in the San Pedro Harbor runs whale watching trips during the grey whale season in winter ($25). Trips depart from the interesting Ports O’Call Village, and can be reached using the Metro Lines 450 (Harbor and 1st), 205 (Harbor and 6th) or 246 (Pacific and 7th). Connect with these buses from the Silver Line or other buses at the Harbor Gateway Transit Center. You may also want to ride the cute little Waterfront Rail Car when you are in San Pedro.

Fin whale

Fin whale

Long-beaked common dolphin

Long-beaked common dolphin

Waterfront Rail Car, San Pedro

Waterfront Rail Car, San Pedro

Lighthouse, Port of Los Angeles

Lighthouse, Port of Los Angeles


Long Beach: On the other side of the twin Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach is the beautiful Rainbow Harbor in the city of Long Beach. Harbor Breeze Cruises run several whale watching trips daily from the Rainbow Harbor, located next to the Aquarium of the Pacific. I’m a fan of their whale watching boats—great views, stable, and they have a volunteer from the Education department of the aquarium on every trip, who makes the trips educational for beginners. They have two or three trips daily, with their blue whale trips ($45/$50) slightly more expensive than the grey whale trips ($35). Check their website for discount coupons!

Long Beach harbor is the most conveniently accessible among all the options listed in this post, so I end up going on several cruises a year with Harbor Breeze. I have seen grey, blue, fin and minke whales; some cool birds like a pair of masked boobies a few months ago; mola molas, and various types of dolphins on their cruises. Blue whales are my favourite!

Close look at grey whale, with barnacles and whale lice

Close look at grey whale, with barnacles and whale lice

Grey whale with Mount Baldy in the background

Grey whale with Mount Baldy in the background

Fluking grey whale, Long Beach

Fluking grey whale, Long Beach

Queen Mary and Russian Scorpion submarine, Long Beach

Queen Mary and Scorpion submarine

Ride the Metro Blue Line all the way to the last stop at the Long Beach Transit Mall, and from here, you can walk the half mile to Rainbow Harbor, or take the free Passport Shuttle operated by Long Beach Transit. Long Beach transit also has cool water taxis across the harbor during the summer months. When you’re in Long Beach, also check out the Aquarium of the Pacific and the Lighthouse at Rainbow Harbor, and ride the free Passport bus to visit dining options at Shoreline village, as well as the magnificient Queen Mary and the Russian Scorpion-class submarine on the other side of the Harbor.


Dana Point: The furthest south I have gone whale watching is Dana Point, in Orange County. Two whale watching outfits operate from Dana Point Harbor: Dana Wharf Whale Watch, and Captain Dave’s Whale Watching Safari. They are a little pricier than the other cruises, given that their trips are typically shorter in duration, but they run several trips a day. Dana Point has a large variety of wildlife within a short boat ride from the harbor.

Common dolphins, Dana Point

Common dolphins, Dana Point

Offshore bottlenose dolphins, Dana Point

Offshore bottlenose dolphins, Dana Point

Transit: there are three options to get to Dana Point from LA, and it helps to have a bike.

  1. The easy route: Take the Metrolink Orange County Line (or Amtrak, but it is more expensive, and you need those annoying bike reservations) from Union Station to San Juan Capistrano. From the San Juan Capistrano station to Dana Point is a leisurely 4 mile bike ride along the San Juan Creek trail, which should take 15 to 20 minutes. If you are not on a bike, take the OCTA Route 91 to Dana Point (or Route 191 to Capistrano Beach Plaza) from the train station. Or just walk the 3.5 to 4 miles from the station to the beach.
  2. The scenic route (involves multiple bus transfers, will take quite a long time): The OCTA Route 1 from Long Beach to San Clemente is one of the most stunning bus rides. For $1.25 (until the next price hike), you get to ride on the Pacific Coast Highway for 43 miles, through some very pretty beach towns, and along the Pacific Ocean. Connect to the Route 1 from the Long Beach Transit (LBT) buses at several places in Long Beach—one of my preferred routes is Metro Blue Line to Transit Mall → LBT 121 to PCH and 2nd → OCTA Route 1. You may find a more convenient transfer.
  3. The scenic and long route on your bike: Sometimes the whale watching trip ends at 7 pm, after the last Route 1 bus to Long Beach or Metrolink to Union Station, and you’re too cheap to take an Amtrak ride. If you’re young and foolish (or just foolish), you can bike along the PCH all the way to Long Beach, heading west and north, and watching the sun set over the Pacific Ocean as you ride. (Actually, while the PCH has wide shoulders without potholes outside the towns along the route, it does not have street lights everywhere, and cars are going at 60 miles an hour in places. I do NOT recommend riding after sunset, but it is a fun flat 50 mile ride during the day.)

“Curly” the Blue whale (she has a curled fluke) dives near San Pedro

“Curly” the Blue whale (she has a curled fluke) dives near San Pedro

There are a couple of cruises I haven’t mentioned in this post and would like to try some time in the near future, particularly down in San Diego, but hopefully this will convince you to go out and get on a boat. You’ll never again want to see a marine mammal in cruel captivity in a depressing tank or performing stunts for humans.

-N