Daytripping: Sights from Salton Sea

Here are some pictures I took when I went to film at the Salton Sea last year. It’s a couple hours outside of Los Angeles and a decent detour if you’re in Palm Springs.

The Salton Sea is idyllic from afar. The water is still and seems to stretch as far as the eye can see. The mountains cradle the body of water. But as you get closer and turn all your senses on, you realize that something is off.

Even though the word “sea” is in the name, it’s actually more like a lake. Salton Sea is known for their yearly fish die offs in the summer. However, I were there in March and saw some dead fish near Salton Sea City. And yes, there are residential property along parts of the lake. I do wonder how they get used to the stench of the rotting fish.

When you walk along the shore of the lake, you think you’re walking on sand but when you crouch down and look more closely, it’s actually fish bits and bones that have collected over the years. Most of the fish that you see in these photos are Tilapia. You’re probably wondering why there are so many dead fish. This is a natural lake, actually the largest lake in California, but in 1902 man disrupted the path of the Colorado. The story goes that the Salton Sea used to be known as the “California Rivera” but now with the high salinity and farm run-offs and pollution, it’s far from the Rivera.

But not all of Salton Sea looks like this. When you drive to the other side, it’s a completely different look and feel.

When we drove to Bombay Beach, it’s how I imagined a post-Apocalyptic world. There were some residents living in mobile homes and small houses and lots of open lots but when you walk closer to the water, it’s desolate. Silent.

There were more people inhabiting this area but in the 70s there it was flooded twice. This is what’s left.

Photographers love the Salton Sea – at each turn there is something to capture. I also recommend the Salton Sea to sound designers because there are thousands of birds and the sounds they make during the golden hour is pretty amazing if you have some high frequency mics – the flapping of the weeks, the bird calls, the flitting in the water – it’s an audiophile and photographers oasis.

Sampling good eats at Neptune’s Net

I love it when you don’t make any plans and one thing leads to another and you end up by the beach gorging on a seafood platter during the golden hour. That’s exactly what happened when I ended up at Neptune’s Net on the Malibu and Ventura border.

I actually had never been to Neptune’s Net – a casual roadside seafood heaven with a gorgeous view of the Pacific that’s been around since 1958. My friend was in shock and my other friend and I were coerced into going — no regrets though.

Neptune’s Net reminds me of the little food shacks that Frankie and Annette would go to in their beach movies. You choose either the boiled seafood line or the grill seafood line. Make your order. Pay. Get your number. And sit on under the covered patio and wait for your number to be called as you look across the street and see the ocean.

My friend and I split Neptune’s Sampler.

Don’t you love the lighting? We got our order right at the golden hour. Neptune’s Sampler is mostly fried. Fried calamari! Fried fish! Fried shrimp! Fried clam strips! French fries! Oh… and there’s the crab cake that’s not fried but grilled instead. My favorite was the shrimp and fish – perfectly fried with a great crunch. I tried to stay away from the fries (even though they were tasty) because it was filler food — I needed to spare the space in my tummy for the seafood goodness.

Right when I thought I couldn’t eat anymore, my friend who had driven us here said we couldn’t leave without trying the crab and ordered a Dungeness crab. Before I could slip into food coma, the dungeness crab had arrived in front of me.

The crab came pre-cracked with a side of melted butter. It was perfectly cooked. And the best part is I didn’t have to crack the shell because it was already done.

If you’re headed up the Pacific Coast Highway towards Malibu, drive a little further to Neptune’s Net for a sunset meal – it will be well worth it.

Scenes from Joshua Tree: The Integratron

My friends and I decided to drive two hours east to Joshua Tree a couple months ago. Here’s the first post on what we did during our 36 hours in the land associated with Gram Parsons, hippie artists, and Joshua Trees.

One of the reasons I wanted to go out to the desert was to get away from the city and relax. From LA, you can travel 1-2 hours and be in a setting completely different from where you left from. After you past the suburbs (takes about an hour) then another 45 minutes past the outlet and the wind turbine farms, you end up in Joshua Tree. Our trip to Joshua Tree centered around the Integratron. No, it’s not a ride, it’s more of an experience. The place is about 30 minutes from Joshua Tree’s city center.

Since 1953, meditation sessions have been happening here. Musicians often find their way to the Integratron because of the awesome acoustics inside the dome. It’s common for musicians to rent this place to record. To find out the history of the Integratron and it’s claims to communicate with UFOs, go here.

I’m not sure about all the alien and UFO stuff, but we went to take a sound bath to relax. I had no idea what I’d be in for but from others, I heard it was a relaxing and memorable experience so I was open. When you walk in, you see that the dome is actually two floors. The first floor is cozy and has articles and tidbits of what the Integratron is about a well as instruments.

Above is one of the operators of the Integratron telling us about the construction and background of the building.

We had to walk up the ladder to the second floor without our shoes for our private sound bath. You can also go to a public session in the afternoon for a lesser cost. When I reached the top of the steps, I turned around to see this…

The massive dome gave way to some amazing acoustics. When you went to the center of the room and spoke, you could hear the sound bounce back and you were in stereo sound. I tried to get a recording but it’s something I couldn’t replicate – it’s something to experience yourself. Below, Joanne is setting up the sound bath. During the session, she places these quartz bowls that each make a different sound. It’s very soothing. By the end of the session, I felt like my brain got a massage through the vibrations.

Outside, you can see that there’s not much out there so it’s easy for the stress of daily life to melt away out here. In the evening, you can see endless stars twinkling in the sky because there’s no light pollution. If you want to check out this place and make a reservation to go, here’s the info: The Integratron.

(Night photo by Vahan Baladouni)

Adventures in Ostrichland!

If you drive to Solvang on highway 246, you’ll see stretches of rolling green hills, wineries, and ostriches. Yes, ostriches!

Ostrichland has over 50 ostriches and emus on premises. The place is open year-round and you can pay $4 to feed them or you can hang out in the gift shop where you can buy ostrich meat (which is lean) to emu eggs! Note: The ostrich meat they sell is not from the ostriches raised onsite. Ostriches in Ostrichland are a tourist attraction and not raised to be food.

I know the picture above looks like a pair of avocados but those are emu eggs. The guy behind the register said we could buy it and take it home to make a few omeletes (with just one egg) if we wanted. We decided to pass on the eggs (and ostrich meat) and paid the $5 to feed the ostriches instead.

I admit I was really excited to see ostriches. I always thought they were graceful with their long necks and large eyes. However, when I stepped outside, I saw warning signs that said they bite. I began to have second thoughts and wondered what I had gotten myself into. But before I could turn away, they knew there was food on me.

Below, you’ll see me feeding the ostriches. I almost backed out but figured if I stood my ground, they wouldn’t hurt me. Let me tell you – they have strong beaks! I had to hold the bowl against the wooden fence because the force of them pecking at the bowl almost knocked me down.

I definitely recommend stopping at Ostrichland to stretch your legs and to check out the sights even if you’re not going to feed the two-legged birds.

But before you go, check out these facts about ostriches!

From Angels Flight to blueberry heaven

Brunch is one of my favorite meals. Alas, it’s a meal I haven’t partaken in for a while because of my schedule. But in June, I had a friend visit me from Minnesota – I had to be sure to take him to the best sites of Los Angeles to show him it’s not a soulless concrete jungle but in actuality a vibrant sprawling city with friendly people and lots of culture… that serves up a quality brunch. I had to show him all this in less than 24 hours!

Friday night was all about downtown LA – drinks at the Edison, sushi in Little Tokyo’s Hama, Giant Robot’s screening of Yo Gabba Gabba in the plaza. But what downtown LA experience would it be without a ride on Angels Flight? Angels Flight is the bright orange funicular that takes you up (or down) Bunker Hill built in 1901. It will only cost you 25 cents to go back in time for 30 seconds.

Here’s the view looking down.

And here’s the photo looking up…

The next day we started off with brunch at Food on Pico Blvd. It’s a place I’ve driven by a dozen times but it’s always closed when I want to go in – not this time!

It’s a casual place where I can definitely see myself reading a book or my paper as I nurse my cup of tea. It’s only a few years old and has a really friendly vibe inside. For my first trip, I trusted the server and ordered the ricotta pancakes with blueberries and sauteed peaches – she guaranteed me that I’d be back to eat again and she’s right. It was tasty and not too sweet. There was a light peachy fragrance mixed in with the subtle scent of blueberry and maple syrup. The pancakes were fluffy and had that nice griddle-like crunch on the edge that I love. Yes, I will be back for more! Take a look at my meal…

My friend had the huevos rancheros which were served with edible flowers and equally delicious as my pancakes.

The trip ended with a stop at the Museum of Jurassic Technology, shopping at Giant Robot, and snacks at Royal/T. The perfect ending to the tour were the cupcakes at Royal/T that were baked at Hotcakes (they were featured on the Food Network). I got the chocolate cupcake with cream cheese frosting and my friend got the cookies n cream one. All in all, not a bad ending for a 24-hour tour of Los Angeles. What can I say? I love showing my friends the best of my city.

Two words: Chez Panisse!

Indulgence. I don’t get to do it much since I live paycheck to paycheck like most people. But today I decided to be selfish and indulge in a meal in the restaurant that changed California’s culinary arts: Chez Panisse.

For those who haven’t heard of Chez Panisse, it’s the birth of California cuisine and an eating institution that many well-known chefs got their start  (i.e. Mark Peel, Suzanne Goin, Jonathan Waxman…). The restaurant prides itself in sustainable cooking – they’ve been doing this before the Food Network and celebrities made it cool to eat local. Tucked away in Berkeley, Calif. between shops and other restaurants is the rustic exterior that welcomes foodies and those celebrating a special occasion who have made reservations in advance.

Tonight we sat at the downstairs restaurant and let Alice Waters‘ team of chefs guide us on a culinary trip through California’s seasonal delicacies. But first, let’s take a tour through the kitchen. Oh yeah, that’s one of the coolest bits about this place – you’re welcome to stroll into the kitchen and peak at the chefs at work and chat with them.

Savory dishes station. I wish my photos had smell-o-vision because the aroma was amazing! Mix of garlic, onions, meats… I think I might have gotten slightly full just inhaling what was happening inside the kitchen.

Pastry chefs at work!

The chefs were nice and the servers were super helpful when asked about ingredients and wine. What made this dining experience special was the pace. I never felt rushed to eat or leave. I was able to savor each bite and enjoy the conversation with the people I was dining with.

The atmosphere was was friendly and you could tell people came to Chez Panisse for a reason… whether it was for an intimate birthday dinner, a special date (cute college couple next to us couldn’t stop exchanging glances and holding hands on the table), or out-of-towners who made the pilgrimage for a delicious meal (ahem! yours truly)… we were all there for a special reason.

The flavors I tasted were not complex – it was simple and clean. So what did I eat? This…

I wish I could indulge more but I suppose if I did, experiences like tonight may not be as special. Then again, if food can be this good everywhere, I don’t think I’d ever take good food for granted.

Good food prevails in California!

Stop and smell the flowers kind of day

When you’re a California native, you can’t help but be drawn to public television’s Huell Howser. His program “California’s Gold” is synonymous with my coming of age in the golden state. The first episode debuted early 90s and he’s probably one of the reasons I love being a tourist where I live.

When I first watched the show I thought he was making fun of Californians with his “Golly, gee whiz!” attitude but I realized it was just who he was. I admit that Howser wasn’t the best interviewer but what he did have was an awesome staff of producers and researchers that sought out the precious gems of my home state – like visiting the historic fountains of Los Angeles or the soda shop in Highland Park that sells every kind of soda you know and don’t know. They were everyday places that most Angelenos would pass by and not give a second thought but Howser and his production team made us think twice about the mundane and made it all interesting. I loved it!

So this brings me to the flowers… the California state flower: the golden poppy. Right now is the flower’s peak season and I remember several years back (OK, many years back) when Howser stood in a field of bright orange poppies – I wanted to go there. I wanted to lay down in the field of poppies and stare at the sky and map the slowly moving clouds. And on a spontaneous Sunday (this past Sunday!) I did just that. Thank you, Huell Howser.

Here are the photos from the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve.

From far away it looked like a massive bag of Cheetos exploded over the hills.