Arizona Says Farewell to Summer

I was able to go and visit Arizona again this month and experience more of their wet, monsoon-ridden summer where dry riverbeds overflowed, streets flooded and businesses and schools shut down because of the intense rain this season. My brother even ruined his girlfriends car by driving it through a flooded street. I only saw raid one of the days that I was there, a rogue leg of Hurricane Odile, and was able to experience the beautiful aftermath of most of the storm. In fact, one of the days I was there I woke up to pouring rain yet was able to go swimming on a perfectly sunny day later that afternoon. You've all already heard about my recommendations on where to stay in my previous post about Tucson, so I won't repeat myself, but I stayed in that area again this time and thoroughly enjoyed my time. Enjoy the photos!

The edge of the Catalina Foothills on the Eastern side of Tucson, AZ.

My father and his new ride, a vintage Chevrolet Jimmy.

Dad is really proud of his vehicle.

Remnants of the monsoon clouds linger over the foothills.

Driving through Saguaro National Park

The Arizona sunsets are just incredible.

Barely enough light to see much of Saguaro National Park. Spectators watch military helicopters fly over.

The Jimmy

Sonoran Mexican food is better than all the other kinds. Actually, I'll hold my tongue until I visit Oaxaca.

Chi Town

I had never visited Chicago until September this year, and I had certainly been missing out. Chicago is such a cool city, food-focused with plenty of delicious beer to be had (Three Floyd's + Founder's). You can walk down any street and bump into a delicious pizza place, an artisanal donut shop, or even a place where they mix cheddar popcorn with caramel (sounds gross, but it's incredible)! My friends and I enjoyed eating at the offshoot of The Girl and the Goat [Little Goat], an upscale diner serving delicious Top Chef-reimagined diner classics that were incredible. We also visited a couple of lunch places and just missed out on our first Bulletproof Coffee experience (next time!). The weather was rainy and a bit cold, but that didn't dampen our spirit of adventure! We checked out Millennium Park, saw the bean, the yacht club on the lake, the Trump building and even visited some locals in their condo which is in a downtown Chicago hotel. We stayed a bit outside the city, near Rush University and took the train into the city when we wanted to go adventuring. I really enjoyed the area near Greektown called West Loop and if I were to visit again I'd stay there. Many great restaurants and things to do when the weather doesn't cooperate with your plans (from what I'm told, it seldom does). I had a great experience and I'd love to visit again! Enjoy the photos!

The Donut Vault truck, serving artisan old-fashioned donuts on wheels. They also have a shop downtown.

My incredible sandwich at Little Goat accompanied by smoked fries (mind-blowing).

A walk in the stormy weather

The famous Honeycomb Towers

A view down the street

One of the city's many decorative horses

The thinking man

Truer words have never been posted on the wall of EATaly

Truer words have never been posted on the wall of EATaly

Veggies of all sorts

Meat!

Freshly sliced prosciutto in EATaly's fresh meat and cheese area

Making beer in EATaly

The EATaly bar

The bean

Checking out EATaly's menu

Tall Ships Festival - Port of Los Angeles

Hey friends!

Although I didn't feel like $80 was a justifiable price to pay to take short ride on one of these magnificent ships, I did wake up nice and early to head down to the Port of Los Angeles to photograph some of the participating ships (but unfortunately not the giant rubber ducky that marks the Tall Ships Festival's arrival in port cities) at my 2nd favorite time of day. The early morning is my 2nd favorite time of the day because you get beautiful light, but the catch is that you have to wake up before the crack of dawn to experience it. The tall ships festival I'm sure was great. I arrived before the gates opened and the tickets went on sale to get better light on the ships but I was unfortunately not able to stay and watch the ships head out to sea. I've been fascinated by sail boats since I was a kid, although I had never had an experience going on them or learning to sail until last year; I suppose my fascination stemmed only from childhood fantasies of being a pirate or a ship's captain. Next year I will put some money aside and go for a ride, for now, enjoy the photos.

San Francisco's Lesser-Known Parts

Hey friends, 

I don't get around to updating my blog as often as I should but I thought I'd share some photos I took in San Francisco over the summer. Some of them are from San Francisco proper, but some are from some of the lesser-visited areas that are incredibly beautiful! I had the opportunity to visit Muir Woods, the Marin Headlands and the Palace of Fine Arts (my first time!) and it was such a cool experience. The natural beauty of the Muir woods and its gigantic trees and the Palace's arcitechtural beauty were truly a photographer's playground. I won't get into where you should stay, and what restaurants you should check out this time around, just enjoy the photos!

The drive out to Marin

Sunlight in the redwood trees of Muir Woods

Walking through Muir Woods

One of the coolest parts of the Woods

Inside Cathedral Grove

The walk down to Muir Beach

The wetlands area of Muir Beach

The bridge peeks out from behind the hills of the Marin Headlands

The abandoned area of Marin Headlands' lookout point

The Palace of Fine Arts

A runner, at dusk, in the Presidio

Chrissy Field at sunset

Arizona in the Summertime

This 4th of July I took a trip to Arizona to spend some time with family and enjoy my favorite season there, summer. Most would assume that I should have my head examined for such a statement, but what most people don't know is not all of Arizona is overwhelmingly hot, dry and miserable in the summer, some of it is actually quite nice. Arizona has a spectacular monsoon season that begins in mid-July but as luck would have it, the monsoon season began a bit earlier than usual. The monsoons bring cooler-than-average temperatures, delightful warm rain that brings a nostalgia-inducing smell from the earth and some dazzling thunderstorms.

An American flag waves proudly over a Tucson, AZ business.

An American flag waves proudly over a Tucson, AZ business.

Some topless palm trees.

Some topless palm trees.

On my drive out to the Grand Canyon state – which I did at night this time to avoid being scorched by the sun for 8 hours as I drove through the desert – I was greeted by a fantastic lightning storm that lasted for miles and miles. A bolt of lightning every second, I scarcely needed my headlights as I motored through the desert, windshield wipers on, mouth agape in wonder. It was a surreal experience I hope to have again next year. 

BBQing in the rain with my dog Chuck.

BBQing in the rain with my dog Chuck.

I was born in Arizona and also lived there until I was 7 years old, so I've still got a special place in my heart for the Southwest and what it represents. Although I've grown up in California I still have a part of me that just wants to light up the BBQ, crack open a cold one and sit outside with the family, a good dog and just soak it all in. I suppose one can have those feelings anywhere, but there's not a place I know of where one's yearning for the simple life can be so adequately satisfied than Arizona. 

My cousin Derek takes a walk with my other cousin's dog before a big thunderstorm.

My cousin Derek takes a walk with my other cousin's dog before a big thunderstorm.

My lady walks the gravel road before the downpour begins.

My lady walks the gravel road before the downpour begins.

The storm comes over the mountains with a fantastic lighting display.

The storm comes over the mountains with a fantastic lighting display.

The 4th has always been one of my favorite holidays. Between the weather, the spirit of celebrating freedom with others who love this country as much (or perhaps even more) than I do; and the excuse to eat a steak, a hot dog and a burger and not be judged as some sort of meat-glutton-freak; I don't know which I enjoy more. Arizona, for me, is an embodiment of the things America is supposed to be about (politics left aside), so naturally, on the most American of holidays, I don't think there's a better place to be. My family lives in Arizona, so I also have a strong family connection to Arizona. I grew up spending my summers in Southern Arizona doing the things kids should do: Throw rocks into the gorge, spray each other with the hose as we jump on the trampoline, build a raft, and just run wild. Those days still sort of exist for me and it all comes together to make this place the beautiful place that it is.

Admiring some fireworks from the ball park's parking lot.

Admiring some fireworks from the ball park's parking lot.

Perched on the hood of my grandfather's old jeep. 

I highly recommend for anyone to visit Arizona in the summertime. It's incredible. Eat some grilled corn in the rain and drink a cold beer and watch the lighting.

For the adventurous traveler: Find a BRBO or an Air BnB Rental in northeast Tucson, light up the BBQ and stock the fridge. You can take jeep tours, visit Biosphere 2 (highly recommend!), and hike in Sabino Canyon for picturesque hiking and nature-walks. This is the Arizona you see on postcards. Then stop by El Guero Canelo for a Sonoran-style hot dog.

For the luxurious traveler: Stay at Hacienda Del Sol in Tucson, right next to the Westin (also a good choice). The northeast side of Tucson is easily the most beautiful and it backs up to a gorgeous view of the Catalina mountain range. Also, there's the nearby La Encantada, home to the only designer-shopping in Tucson and some fantastic restaurants. I recommend North (get the chef's board), they've got an excellent happy hour and amazing northern italian food.

Land of the Flowing Water

This pas weekend I had the opportunity to discover The Great Northwest. Well... part of it! Less the mountainous forested grandeur - thought we did admire it from afar - than the upbeat, yet quaint cityscapes offered by Seattle's polished (but still "hipster") neighborhoods, our experience wound up being a 30-something young professional's perspective of The Emerald City. We spent the majority of our time in the Northern neighborhoods of Seattle, Ballard and Fremont, which were both in their own way reminiscent of our neighborhood at home Silver Lake, Los Angeles. Though the overall sensation of the neighborhood is that of a more polished version of our Silver Lake sister-neighborhood, Ballard gets its character from the remainder of the fisherman's community it once was. 

The drive into Seattle, Seattle's "Great Wheel" on the Horizon.

The drive into Seattle, Seattle's "Great Wheel" on the Horizon.

The Ballard Bridge rising to let a sailboat pass underneath.

The Ballard Bridge rising to let a sailboat pass underneath.

One of the first things I noticed about Seattle was also one of my favorites: There's water everywhere! From freshwater lakes, to rivers, to the mighty Pacific they're all connected and a great place for water activities (paddle boarding, taking a ride in a sea-plane) and viewing the migration and spawning of Salmon! 

A baby salmon swims in the "Salmon Ladder" viewing tank

This way to the Salmon Ladder

While in town we caught the Fremont Naked Bike Ride as we enjoyed some suds at the Fremont Brewery (excellent summer IPAs!). The bike ride, which was followed by a far less-memorable parade (a naked guy body-painted like Santa just rode by, what parade?) was a spectacle to say the least. Men and women, who to my surprise were not all aging hippies, of all ages and shapes - yet surprisingly young and in shape on the whole - rode decorated in body paint, costumes that unnecessarily covered the rider's backs, legs, but rarely genitals and many people who had no intention of decorating themselves rode freely if sometimes self-consciously in droves to the end of the route, Gas Works Park. If the Naked Bike Ride was something I'd never seen before the after-party was something I'd never thought could actually be "for real." 

Naked bike riders underneath Fremont's bridge (the one with the troll!).

Body-painted heroes riding Fremont Ave.

The park was as filled with merriment and festivities as it was with individuals who had no plans of riding a bike that day. In the park all context for 'Why are you naked?' disappeared. There was no more riding bicycles in hoards yelling out "Happy Solstice!" it was just you, yourself and your little version of yourself out in public and hanging out with your friends - hopefully you've got good ones! While we were there we saw a fellow who clearly just showed up to get an all-over tan, a nude photo shoot with a very amateur photographer, and some creepers going around with their long lenses trying to get some photos of the one-day nudists. 

Nude bike riders arrive at Gas Works Park

The main attraction at Gas Works Park

The rest of our trip was filled with trying a lot of craft beer at the local breweries - there are many in Ballard and Fremont alone - and trying the local specialty coffee, another passion of mine. We visited many of the local parks and areas of town, for the most part avoiding the tourist traps. The two we did, however, decide against skipping were Pike Place Market and Kerry Park.

The infamous Public Market sign beckoning tourists in from the downtown Seattle area.

The Pike Place Market is home to the "first Starbucks store," although I hear that this location is more of a symbol than the actual first location, but it was nonetheless interesting to visit the mecca of specialty coffee that got America started on artisanal coffees and improved roasting practices from the company that got me started on my personal coffee journey. We decided to paid some fresh maple bacon donuts with some coffee from the little Ghost Alley Espresso shop underneath the market and look out across the Pudget sound as we sipped down the first stop on our food tour of the market.

Beans line the shelves of Pike Place's Ghost Alley Espresso shop.

Beans line the shelves of Pike Place's Ghost Alley Espresso shop.

Just-made Maple & Bacon donuts from the Daily Dozen Donut Co.

Other stops on our food tour included mac and cheese from Beecher's, artisan ginger beer from Rachel's, and clam chowder from Pike Place Chowder, my favorites were a toss-up between the chowder and the donuts. We also took the time to sample some fresh seafood and the incredible smoked salmon from the ever-famous fish market where 10lb fish are hurled yards through the air to enthusiastic fish market clerks.

Fresh seafood keeps its cool on ice

Our donut and coffee crew.

Even the crabs are friendly and wave hello.

After much beer-drinking, walking, seeing and soccer watching we made our way (after watching the Men's National Soccer Team heart-breakingly tie with Portugal in the World Cup) to Kerry Park, which has the most postcard-like views of Seattle in the city. We saw a woman fall off the wall she'd been standing on and 'blame it on the alcohol' and many families enjoying the view and hopefully each other's company. We took in the sights and then went by my girlfriend's brother's new home which was being worked on. 

Seattle from Kerry Park

The girlfriend and I at Kerry Park outlook.

Although I don't have any photos of the experience, we also went stand-up paddle boarding on Lake Union, I almost got run over by a sea-plane. It was awesome, not the nearly being chopped up by a propeller, but paddling around in astonishingly not cold fresh water. In all, it was an amazing trip I will never forget, full of fresh beer, seafood and coffee from the place where even the homeless know what exceptional coffee tastes like and they don't want anything less. If I were to visit Seattle again, and I will. I'd catch a Sounders/Mariners/Seahawks game, go sailing, spend more time in Discovery Park, make it up to Golden Gardens and maybe go out in Capitol Hill at night. 

The most photographable places were Green Lake, although I hear there are other small lakes that are prettier, Kerry Park, Discovery Park, Phinny Hill, Queen Anne and Capitol Hill. For those of you planning a trip I'd highly recommend staying in Ballard, especially if you're like me and live in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, you'll feel right at home.

The road into Discovery Park

The Lighthouse in Discovery Park

Thanks for the good times Seattle!

Shoot with singer Amanda Krueger

This past weekend I had the opportunity to hang out and take some photos with a long time friend of mine, the incredible singer, Amanda Krueger. She now goes by Amanda Noelle with a small but notable YouTube following and she's about to bust out the big guns with a new pop single she's been working on with a popular Hollywood music producer. To say the least, it's catchy and I have a feeling America is going to be hearing about Amanda Noelle in the very near future if her progress continues the way it currently is! Not only can she sing, but she also has been flexing her hip-hop muscle and has a short rap verse on her forthcoming single. This girl's got swag. 

Amanda asked me to put together a shoot for her, she had an 'abandoned gas station' in mind to give the shoot a cool vintage feel, to go with the vintage clothes and new hair style she sported. So we drove out to Palmdale, California hoping we'd come across a good spot to shoot, something with a dilapidated, derelict exterior long forgotten and cared about. However, what we found was far better than what we could've hoped for! In Los Angeles (and even 100 miles out) there are all sorts of old movie sets and anything and everything that looks like it could be a movie set has a set rate for filming and photography, most of such rates are terribly expensive. 

AmandaKrueg-1315-WebG.jpg

It's an interesting culture around LA because everyone knows they can charge an arm and a leg to shoot at their location if it's even mildly interesting. Luckily for us, we happened upon an old movie set that gets rented out for filming very often, but we happened to be there on a day that nobody was around! Our luck couldn't have been better! Now, if I had been trying to use these images for commercial purposes or if I was being paid to do some kind of ad campaign I would certainly have to have a high budget to rent out this place and take photos. This job happened to be a favor just to promote Amanda's music, so here's to hoping that nobody will mind that we took a few photos there!

The location was just so visually rich and interesting, I don't think we took a bad photo all day. For my setup, I used my Canon 6D with my trusty 50mm 1.4 and my 24-85 3.5 (the old dinosaur that came before the well-loved 24-70). I had Amanda's friend hold a silver/white reflector to help bring in some fill light. The whole thing ended up being sort of a "waiting" story of someone that can easily entertain herself. I'm pretty pelase with the way the photos turned out, I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

Island Life

This post is a big one. This marks the first post on my new Squarespace-hosted blog. As most of  you casual-bloggers probably know, it's hard to keep to a schedule of regular posting, especially when there's a plenty of other social media to continually update. Anyway, here goes:

I wanted to create this blog to be more of a travel blog than a photography blog. I want to talk more than just show you photos. It will be my way to get out my inner writer's pent-up longing to have some [not-so-]creative outlet. 

Sometimes you visit a place and notice the scenery, sometimes you notice the weather, but sometimes you really just notice the vibe. That's what Catalina Island has. I have seen Catalina off in the distance ever since the first time I looked out across the pacific as a 9 year-old kid who moved to California from land-locked deserty Phoenix. I saw it every Sunday as I drove up PCH to the Peninsula in Newport Beach during college, but I'd never been. 

Luckily for me, the Catalina Express was part of the 100 year celebration that many Catalina Island vendors and transportation companies got in on and were giving out free rides to the island on your birthday. As it happened, my birthday fell on a Saturday, creating the perfect conditions for a birthday adventure to the island.

The ride over was quick, only about an hour, which felt a whole lot longer to me having gone out for my girlfriend's birthday the night before and going a little heavy on the drinks. The on-board bartenders hooked me up with a nice Michelada which did the trick and got me feeling somewhat normal again. The drink was not too expensive, which I enjoyed and the staff told my girlfriend that they like to use the ferry for fishing between rides to and from the island, and that if they had the choice they'd just give everybody free alcohol all day (sounds like my kind of party). 

Once on the island, the vibe is very much like any other sort of island. A slower pace, an air of relaxation, people moseying to and fro, until you hit the main street. Unless you're from New York City or some other island where people have places to be and things to do in a small area with few real cars and lots of pedestrians you are probably not familiar with the true meaning of "bustling." Within our first few minutes on the main strip near the harbor, we decided to turn up a street and see what it was like up one of the residential streets. This is where I found the topic of my post.

Everyone here needs a way to get around. Although there aren't streets that go from one point of the island to the other, there are small roads that take you from one point of avalon to the other, a span that takes only about half an hour or so to complete on foot, with stairs and hills involved. What vehicles do SoCal vacationers turn to when the distances between vacation home and bar are longer than a block? Golf carts of course.

There are golf carts to go with every personality. Some that look like Hummers, some vintage complete with cloth "doors" and windshields. The golf carts are the main mode of transportation on the island matched only by bicycles and sprinkled with occasional mini coopers and old models of Fiat 500s. 

A caravan of carts travel the narrow road up to Avalon's infamous lookout point.

Going to Catalina was most like my experience with cruising on large ships, like Princess cruises or Celebrity take your pick. Being dropped off on an Island for a few hours before having to re-board the ship and be hauled off to another destination with a Bloody Mary in hand is an experience I have to say that I don't mind. That's the feeling Catalina gives you. It's like a mini, one-day cruise where the island people you encounter are surprisingly familiar ("Hey, those people were on the boat with me!") and you recognize their way of dress and demeanor from other SoCal beach towns, only today they're here with you on the island. 

The walk - or drive if you're so lucky - up to the lookout point is strenuous but worth the climb. The fantastic postcard views you see on the Yelp reviews and your friends' Instagram feeds comes from up there. By taking the stairs near the far end of the "beach" you climb up through the hilltop homes up to a path that can scarcely be called a road, being just large enough in size for a downhill skateboarder to navigate his way down, or the line of golf carts that must stop when the golf cart in front of them is ready to stop to take a picture of the deer they've just now seen. 

The view from Avalon's lookout

A still-functioning bell tower that chimes on the hour.

Overall I would have to say that our Avalon experience could have only been made better by getting more sleep the night before so my girlfriend and I would have had more energy, and also being able to spend more time on the island. I would recommend spending a full weekend on the island to experience the mini-golf, restaurants, bike rides, scenic drives and luxurious sun-bathing at the resort in the cove about half a mile down the coast from Avalon's port. Camping would be fun and I think we'll try that next time, or renting one of the cottages that line the main streets of the town (many of them come with a golf cart!). Also, I'd recommend going for your birthday! You have to go on your actual birthday, but you get free things and special treatment from nearly every vendor on the island (and strangers wish you Happy Birthday!). In all, it was a memorable trip that we enjoyed greatly. What are you waiting for? Make your summer plans there!

My girlfriend and I in the marina at dusk.

New Website

Hey everyone! 

As you may have noticed, this is a new website! I thought I would just go with a simpler design and an easier platform to manage, Squarespace! They really do make it easy to create a great-looking website.