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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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."
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!