Labor Day weekend seemed like a perfect time to getaway. This time it was to the West coast for some beach action. As always flying Southwest airlines (where bags fly free), getting an excellent deal for about $240 roundtrip from Kansas City International airport direct to LAX. Our flight amazingly arrived 30 minutes early. We caught our Alamo shuttle and in no time flat we were well on our way. First stop in Los Angeles was the Farmer’s Market.
It was lunch time and this has always been one of my favorite places to go in this busy city. Farmer’s Market has a variety of dining places, souvenir shops, unique specialty shops, fresh veggies, fruits and meats. The enclosed market does get pretty warm, but you can easily walk outside to the new grounds known as The Grove. Built up around the Farmer’s Market there are many of today’s popular stores (GAP, Bath & Body, Victoria’s Secret, H&M), variety of fine dining establishments and a movie theatre known for its celebrity patrons. I choose to dine in the Farmer’s Market at Charlie’s. There special was a philly steak sandwich with chips for only $6. Despite the wait time to get the meal, the food was very good at an affordable price.
After some shopping it was time head to Hollywood’s walk of fame. Parking is available directly on Hollywood Blvd in hour increments. Make sure to have cash for the meters. We walked around and admired the many stars, ran into a few impersonators and even some CW “Melrose Place” stars. We visited Grauman’s Chinese Theatre where you can compare your hands with the likes of Johnny Depp and Jack Nicholson. Along the walk of fame you will find a wide variety of shops.
Checking into our hotel was next on the list. We stayed at the Marriott in Marina del Rey. The hotel was a little over $200 a night which was a little more than what I would have liked to pay, but it was closely located to Venice Pier. The hotel does charge for parking, and it feels a little overwhelming how they cater to its guest. The pool was below average and extremely small. It was so overcrowded during our entire stay that we could not enjoy it. On the upside of things they were holding the American Idol auditions at the hotel. Seeing many contestants with gold tickets we were aware the judges were at the hotel. We figured we would not see anyone so we headed to Venice Beach.
Venice Pier is one of my favorite piers. You see some interesting characters at this beach. Would not recommend visiting the location at night, but during the day you will get some good double takes. We first visited the pier to watch the surfers catching the waves. Then we headed down to where the shops are located at along with the famous Gold’s Gym at “Muscle Beach”, stopping along the way checking out the unique souvenirs and merchandise. After some quick photos it was time for dinner. We walked back towards our hotel and found a Mexican restaurant with a great happy hour. Cabo Cantina’s was offering 2 for 1 drink specials. Not to mention the food was amazing, definitely my favorite spot during the entire trip. I ordered carne asada tacos that were amazingly fresh. The steak was flavorful and tender. I also tried there burritos which offered a burst of flavor with every bite. This bar was hoping full of fun and energetic servers. I know I will be back!
Once back at the hotel we walked into a crowd of people with cameras. Apparently Katy Perry had just left the American Idol auditions and was sitting in her car. I snapped a photo before she headed out. The hotel guests mentioned that Ryan Seacrest and Randy Jackson had left earlier the evening and ignored the fans. Not so when it came to Simon Cowell. He exited the building about ten minutes later and posed for photos and signed autographs for all those waiting. Alongside Simon was his “ex-girlfriend” Terry Seymour who also posed for photos. Both were extremely friendly and topped off the evening of fun.
Thursday was a busy day; Friday was a little more laid back. We headed to Laguna Beach. While on the road we stopped at Ikea, one of my favorite home furnishing stores. We not only shopped but we got breakfast and lunch here. Breakfast for two was only $5 and was delicious. For lunch we had two hot dogs for $1…I mean where can you get those prices? Next stop was in Newport to get some Sprinkles Cupcakes. I have heard many good things about them and they did not disappoint. I tried the strawberry, chocolate and pumpkin. All were freshly baked and extremely delicious. After about a thirty minute drive we arrived at the Laguna Reef Inn, our home for another four days. Parking is available for free on site. The Inn was a very small resort close to a strip mall with CVS and Albertsons. Made it convenient to get any drinks or snacks you may need during your stay. Our rooms were of decent size with two beds, a large bath room area with full size mirror and a walk-in closet where the small refrigerator was located.
The Inn had an average size pool that received great afternoon sunshine, paired with a sauna and a hot tub. The beautiful ocean is located directly across the street. Be forewarned it is a walk to it. You have to cross the street walk down a good 100 stairs through the large resort across the street and you’ll arrive to a landscaped park area. Offering great views for picture taking of the scenic ocean below. Not quite at the water you have to walk about another 40 wooden stairs to the base of the sand. The ocean waters were refreshing and cool. The tide was pretty strong and high both days we visited. One side of the beach was easy to swim, while the other side offered crashing waves. So strong they knocked me off my feet multiple times. This beach was one of the most beautiful I have seen in the California area.
Basking in the sun was fun, but it was time for dinner. We stayed in Laguna and tried Wahoo Tacos. I ordered the baja rolls. They were ok; I was not overly impressed by them, but what I would come to expect from a joint like this. The facility was clean and service was quick and friendly. The set up to order was a little odd and crowded. They offered indoor and outdoor seating. As the night came to an end we made plans for the next day in Catalina Island.
Up bright and early it was time to head to Dana Port to catch the Catalina Express to the island. They recommend you arrive an hour before departure and you will need to move your car to the long term parking area and walk back to the port. The boat will get you to Port Avalon in an hour and a half. During transport you can pay for drinks and snacks, or feel free to bring your own. Once at Catalina Island it is similar to a cruise ship. Many activities and shopping within walking distance.
We first headed to Descanso Beach Club, a private small beach where admittance is only $2 per person. The beach was extremely busy, but offered an on site bar and lounge chairs for rent for under $5. They play music overhead and there are changing rooms/restrooms making it very accessible for all to enjoy. As dusk fell upon us it was time to head back into town. We made it back to port and returned home for the evening.
Our final exciting day awaited us. Starting out late we grabbed some lunch at La Sirena Grill, an all organic version of Chipotle, but with many more items on the menu and a salsa bar. I tried the carne asada burrito and it was very good. Light and flavorful paired with chips and fresh guacamole to complete the meal. I loved the food at this restaurant and would love to have one back in KC.
The plan for the day was a dolphin and whale watch. We headed back to Dana Point to catch our boat to these magnificent creatures. We cruised on the Capt. Dave’s Dolphin & Whale Safari. Tickets were very affordable and the safari was incredible. While we were at sea we saw two huge blue whales. It was amazing to see the “foot prints” these whales leave behind and how you can see them below the surface where the light blue shadow is cast.
After viewing the whales in all their glory we also saw around a hundred dolphins swimming and feeding in a pack. It was the most magnificent thing I have ever seen. I would recommend this tour to anyone visiting the Laguna area.
Final night was upon us and it was time for some more fun. We drove an hour north to Santa Monica to visit the Pier and 3rd and 4th Street. The streets were filled with visitors from all over and the shops were busy till close. Both streets offer many stores and restaurants along with street performers at every turn. There is affordable parking close by and the pier is within walking distance.
Santa Monica Pier was the most amazing pier I have ever seen. It was huge and completely made of wooden planks. As you walk over you can look down and in between the slats you see the crashing waves below. It was a remarkable sight. After sightseeing we decided to dine at Yankee Doodles. A large bar & grill offering decent happy hours and billiards. We ordered the appetizer sampler which was average but overpriced at $20. Service was great, but the food was nothing exceptional. I would get the appetizer happy hours at the bar and save you some money.
Our trip had come to an end at this point. We packed up and headed out…But we had two final stops. The first at the .99 cent store. By Beverly Hills, this store offers aisle after aisle of products at .99. Amazing deals you can’t find back home, so I stocked up. The last stop was In N Out Burgers. The famous hamburger joint on the west coast that never disappoints. If you are ever in Cali you can not leave without one of these burgers. They are cheap and delicious.
In final my review would be:
SWA – Always perfect flights! Bags fly FREE
Marriott Marina Del Rey – Uptight hotel with tiny pool, great location, good place to meet Simon Cowell
Farmer’s Market/The Grove – Tons of shops, MUST visit
Hollywood Walk of Fame – See your stars as you walk the streets of Hollywood
Venice Beach Pier – Where the freaks come out…Beautiful sunsets
Cabo Cantina – Best place I ate at on this trip!! Terrific Happy Hours.
iKea – Favorite Home Furnishing Store. Even their food is CHEAP!
Sprinkles – Fresh & flavorful cupcakes
Laguna Reef Inn – Clean Inn with friendly staff. Very affordable for location, but not close to any nightlife. Inn is closing its doors next year
Wahoo’s Fish Tacos – Average food served quickly
Catalina Island – Beautiful West Coast Island.
Catalina Island Express – Quick & affordable access to the island.
Descanso Beach – Beautiful beach offering amenities to all guests.
La Sirena Grill – Delicious food, best guac
Capt Dave’s Dolphin & Whale Safari – Worth every penny. Would love to go again.
Santa Monica Pier – Nostalgic pier offering beautiful views of the ocean & city
.99 cent Store – Cheap, Cheap, Cheap
In-N-Out Burger – Old Fashion Burger joint that is a necessity!
Alamo Rent A Car – good rates, but shuttle bus driver refused to help with anyone’s luggage on return shuttle.