The “Best” Eats

Who doesn’t love going out to eat? While one of many reasons we stay at Airbnbs is having the ability to cook and keep fresh food handy, a big highlight of traveling is exploring local restaurants. Once in a while, we’ll stumble across a great find but random picks can often disappoint.

With so many choices, how do you find the good places? From the best coffee to the best bakeries to the best ethnic restaurants, recommendations from locals are our go-to source. I also keep a running list garnered from various travel articles, plus suggestions from friends. Local newspaper and magazine websites are pretty dependable and I like Eater.com. TripAdvisor is handy abroad but back in the States, I’m not a fan.

Yelp? Although our niece Emily works for them, I rarely, if ever, follow their suggestions. Until today.

Our friend MJ forwarded an article about Yelp’s Top-Rated Restaurant for 2020, located right here in San Diego. Michelin-star rated? No. Fancy white table cloths? No. Classically trained chef? No. With a perfect 5-star rating over 500 reviews, Yelp’s #1 restaurant for 2020 is . . . a food truck. Selling shawarma. And who doesn’t love shawarma? We headed to San Diego’s South Park neighborhood to check out Shawarma Guys.

Set up in the parking lot of his buddy’s liquor store, the owner, a former cell phone salesman, serves up to 900 plates a day with the help of his family. The service is friendly. The prices are cheap.

And the food? Frank and I ordered a chicken and a beef shawarma plate. Portions were large and accompanied by tasty sides of rice, hummus, pita and tabbouleh (bonus for me: no cucumbers!). Meat was tender and flavorful. We switched a couple times, having a hard time choosing a favorite. We did agree on one thing though, as far as shawarma goes, it was one of the best. We’ll be back.

As a footnote, we stopped at Eclipse Chocolate Bar & Bistro, also in South Park. Travel + Leisure magazine named theirs “America’s Best Hot Chocolate.” I had the dark chocolate Masala Chai. I’d have to say, it was pretty, pretty good.

San Diego Women’s March – Power in Unity

On January 18, I joined thousands of women (and men and children) at Waterfront Park to support women’s rights. The theme was “Power in Unity.” In addition to inspirational speakers, there were many booths with helpful information on mental health, domestic abuse, trans rights and the like. Being an election year, volunteers were registering voters and advocating for candidates. It was a powerful experience and so invigorating! I hope the energy continues through November!

Happy 2020 from San Diego!

Frank and I begin this new year and the new decade in sunny San Diego. After six months in a cozy(?) 250-sq. foot apartment and dreading the impending Wisconsin deep freeze, it was high time to “get outta Dodge.”

Our California apartment is comfortable and spacious, located in the heart of San Diego. Within walking distance is most of what we need. For anything farther, there’s a trolley stop right behind our building. It’s so liberating not to need a car. We joined a club so Frank is back swimming and in his happy place. Both of us are looking forward to a couple months of relaxation, rejuvenation, exploration and visitors(!).

If you’re reading this and have any San Diego area recommendations, please send us a message!

Go Dodgers!!!

So what’s a girl to do when her husband puts the kibosh on a party for his 75th birthday? How about a trip to see his beloved Dodgers play the Yankees in sunny LA?!!

While Frank is a huge Milwaukee Brewer fan . . .

. . . his heart will always be with the Dodgers. “My dad liked the Yankees but they were always winning. I preferred the Bums (the Dodgers’ nickname) even back when they were in Brooklyn. Roy Campanella. Don Newcombe. Then the Dodgers moved to LA. Sandy Koufax was my hero and pitcher Don Drysdale, too.”

Despite the hideous “Players’ Weekend” uniforms in lieu of their iconic jerseys and the use of nicknames instead of player names, nothing could take away from the historic rivalry. And yes, it was 86 degrees (felt like 100+!) but it IS sunny California. Did you know the Dodgers haven’t had a rainout game in nineteen years?!!!

Frank’s team pulled out a win for his special day — it couldn’t have been a better day for our favorite “Dodger Dog!”

Venice Beach — a fun place to visit but . . .

In our several stays within a block of the Venice Beach boardwalk — some for a week, some for a month — this is the first time we’ve visited when I haven’t said, “I love this place. I could live here.” Having always harbored a soft spot for the diversity, color and vibe of California’s hippie enclave, this trip gave me pause. 

Horrors! The “Venice Freak Show” has been replaced by a renovated storefront housing a Starbucks! I don’t recall ever seeing a “chain” on the boardwalk. “The beginning of the end,” I remember thinking.

Next, was all the construction. Several buildings have been razed, replaced with fancy beachfront housing.

Will the Venice-Beach-as-we-know-it disappear in a few years? As the week went by, however, I began to think, “Will this evolution necessarily be a bad thing?”

We found ourselves experiencing increased aggravation toward many things we once perceived as quintessential Venice Beach. It wasn’t good. 

Gritty has evolved into disgusting. Garbage is everywhere. (Seriously, people. Pick up your trash!) The smell of urine is ubiquitous.

The homeless population has increased dramatically. The odd but harmless are mingled with the creepy and provoking. In the alley outside our bedroom window, a guy bellowed a 30-minute litany of four letter words around 2 am our first night. An irritated neighbor called out, “Hey! You done? If not, I’m calling the cops. Thank you.” We laughed and said, “Welcome to Venice.” Repeat performances on subsequent nights weren’t as funny. 

A cardboard shelter was intermittently set up in our car port surrounded by spilled food, wrappers and countless flies. Once interspersed, mounds of random possessions and makeshift tents now line the Venice Beach boardwalk. More than a few high or mentally disturbed souls aimlessly stumbled along the walkway. We witnessed one guy in the middle of a busy street. My heart goes out to these individuals but it’s extremely disconcerting and sometimes scary.

For now, Venice Beach is still the place to be. Come as you are. Anything goes. Bikes, skateboards and scooters dart through the steady crush of tourists, while mounds of random possessions and makeshift tents line the sidewalks. Street artists peddle their creations. Bikini-clad teens pose for selfies in front of make-shift backdrops (donation only $1!). The kitschy souvenir shops are bustling and there are lines at restaurant pick-up windows.

The future? As luxury homes and boutique hotels sandwich their way onto the boardwalk, I think the Venice-Beach-as-we-know-it will be cleaned up and shifted to a dedicated, compacted area. I see it becoming an almost Disney-esque version of itself that tourists will continue to visit. It will still attract its share of “free spirits” and Muscle Beach strongmen. Skateboarders will skate. Surfers will surf. The Sunday drum circle will drum. And you know there will be plenty of shops selling tie dyed “I Love Venice” t-shirts, along with a few token tattoo parlors and marijuana dispensaries.

The change will inevitably result in at least some displacement of the homeless, which flies in the face of Venice’s culture of diversity and acceptance. Many are boardwalk “fixtures” who have been embraced by the community. Can housing, employment opportunities or some form of social services be implemented to keep them in this area they call home? Safety for all is paramount and those with drug addiction and mental health issues need to be treated.

I’m certain we will continue to visit Venice Beach when we come to Los Angeles. I still love the area, especially around Abbott Kinney and the canals. Many of our favorite restaurants are here.

It will be interesting to see how the beach area evolves. Can homed and homeless residents, city government and hungry developers conquer the challenges and still retain some of the character and embracement of inclusivity that makes Venice Beach the “people’s beach?” Will I again say, “I could live here?” Time will tell.

❤️ San Francisco

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San Francisco’s famous cable cars.

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Painted Ladies

Nick just took a job in San Francisco. I was here twenty-some years ago but that memory is pretty foggy (haha, SF reference). Anyway, it seems like I am seeing the city for the first time. Nick and Maddie have spent quite a bit of time here and love sharing it. With almost 750,000 people, San Francisco is the country’s 13th and California’s fourth largest city. The weather is relatively cool for California, which I prefer. Yes, it’s expensive, there’s a ton of traffic, and there are so many homeless people, but San Francisco is truly one of the country’s most unique and beautiful cities.

Monterey Aquarium

A couple hours along the picturesque Coast Highway is the Monterey peninsula. We took a ride one day to visit the Monterey Aquarium. I LOVE aquariums (as some of you may remember from our trip to Portugal!) and this aquarium was amazing!

 

Berkeley

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When I was in high school, my dream college was Berkeley. My life path diverged (no complaints!) and today I finally got to “go to Berkeley!” Actually, we’ve been in the city a few days and have really enjoyed it. Frank and I like college towns. They are diverse and have so much energy. The city is larger than I imagined but easy to navigate. There are a lot of interesting neighborhoods and there are a lot of great (and surprisingly inexpensive) restaurants.

 

A toast to Napa

The Beach and the Broad

If I could live anywhere in the US, it would probably be Venice Beach, California. It’s creative and colorful, the weather is perfect and the people watching is beyond compare. I love the whole “be whoever you want to be” vibe.

I also love that Venice Beach is a short Metro ride to downtown LA, where Nick and Maddie live. Their apartment has incredible views of the city’s dynamic skyline. Although LA as a whole is sprawling, the downtown area is fairly compact and easily navigable. It’s fun to wander the streets in search of new restaurants, galleries and colorful street art.

So, back to “Beach and the Broad.” The beach is obviously Venice, where we spent five days before our week in DTLA. The “broad” does not refer to Maddie or I(!), but is pronounced “brode” and refers to LA’s relative new contemporary art museum. The museum opened in 2015 and I never seem organized enough to secure advance tickets, which are free and quickly grabbed up.

On this trip though, I took advantage of a newly discovered (for me) ticket “loophole” —  the stand-by line. I got to the museum around 10:30 and was 40th in line. The museum opened at 11 and I was inside by 11:15! I wish I had discovered this plan sooner!

And “How was it?” you ask. Well, let’s just say this broad loved The Broad!

Need more LA?

With Nick going to school in LA, we have visited several times. I wrote about LA back in 2014 as we headed out at the beginning of our adventure.

Fly like a Bird

We headed to Venice Beach, where Frank and I discovered “Birds.” The electric scooters are everywhere and easily unlocked with the click of an Iphone app. Frank’s knee was bothering him but you’d never know it. Every day, you’d see us buzzing along the boardwalk back and forth to Santa Monica and zig-zagging through the streets of Venice! We may have been a few decades older than the average rider, but no one had more fun than we did!