If Journey to Venice Land is a fun and unique way to see Venice, The Fantastic Race Los Angeles is a seriously thrilling and exhilarating way to see the rest of LA. If you like solving puzzles, racing through city streets against the clock, and are as competitive as I am, anyway.
If the Tuacahn Saddle hike satisfied my desire to see sunny vistas reflected among red rock cliffs, Zion National Park satisfied my need to get some serious exercise. The nearly 8 mile round trip hike to Observation Point, which gained 2100 feet of elevation in a continuous, challenging incline, was easily the highlight of my trip. Even when – or maybe partly because – it snowed.
To refresh, I visited the Red Mountain Resort in Utah back in November; it was through the resort’s adventure menu that I booked the day trip to Zion, complete with transportation to the park, a freshly packed lunch, and knowledgeable tour guides. Which, I’ve come to realize, is my preferred way of exploring. No worries about getting lost on the trails (something I do too often), no white-knuckled driving up tenuous cliffs, and kindly people paid to answer every random question I have (a lot).
The bus from the resort left around 7 AM; it took an hour to get to Zion, and another half hour to shuttle to our trail (shuttles pick up and drop off throughout the park to minimize traffic and maximize sightseeing.) And right after our feet first hit the ground, we started climbing; the trail began with an approx 15% incline (thanks, guide) and led into switchbacks that zig-zagged for the length of the hike.
About 2 miles in, we hit Echo Canyon, and the slightly-Seussian slot canyon. After nearly continuous incline, we all enjoyed a 10 minute breather on flat land, taking photos and replenishing with our pre-packed snacks (more on those later).
From there, the mountain opened up, switchbacks grew longer, and the climb grew steeper. Winds picked up, snow flurries fell, and I felt like a pioneer braving the elements for whatever fortune lay ahead… like an iconic Instagram photo.
Other blogs will tell you there is a plateau before reaching Observation Point; I don’t remember – I was so excited, endorphins would have powered me through. Or maybe my desire to eat – the Red Mountain Resort packed the best lunches, including our choice of hearty sandwich, homemade granola/protein bar, chips, fruit and more. Our group sat, and talked, and ate, but mostly sat and ate, preparing ourselves for the inevitable four miles back down the mountain.
Things to know:
- Honestly, I was on vacation and not taking notes for this blog, so I am just going to link to two others who can better tell you what you need to know: Modern Hiker and Joe’s Guide.
- Red Mountain Resort also offers an Angel’s Landing excursion, which is supposed to be fantastic – steeper and more harrowing than Observation Point, with stunning views. It’s officially on the bucket list.
- I can not recommend Red Mountain Resort enough. Small touches like the delicious lunch, zippered insulated lunch bag that we got to keep (though I subsequently lost), and that I could get a massage when it was all over, makes me a fan for life.
In my excitement reading about what I thought was a Venice arts walking tour, which sounded perfectly up my alley and ideal for my 11-year old little sister, I missed the fact that Journey to Venice Land was actually a performance art tour. Yes, we would see Venice art, and have the chance to make some of our own, but make no mistake – improv and live performance art are at the core of this tour. And that’s exactly what makes it so memorable.
Journey to Venice Land, and its sister tour, Arts District Land, were started by former Disney Imagineer Chris Eng under the umbrella brand Mojo Maps. “I’m a huge advocate of bringing play into our lives,” Chris explained to me that morning. He elaborated more over email per my request: “We love Plato’s quote ‘You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.’ Play is at the root of how we learn as people, how we expand and deepen our creativity and how we enjoy life. We believe everyone could bring more play into their life and what better way than with a fun story that makes you laugh. Mojo Maps is about transforming how you see this city and yourself through play.”
And play we did. Led by Chris, plus two improv performers and a guy playing a melodica (new word I learned this weekend; I had to Google “piano that you blow”), the tour started in a small park off Pacific Ave. with a song, skit, and history of Abbott Kinney, the man who established Venice in 1905 with the vision of bringing the beauty of the Italian city to the United States.
From there, we were led through the Venice Canals, over to the boardwalk and Muscle Beach, and finished on the beach at the Venice Art Wall where it is legal to paint graffiti . Each destination featured a new performance from the troupe, imparting historical information, and also requiring full participation from us, the guests. Though our group of seven started off shy, we were soon able to let go of our inhibitions and just have fun with it – “it” being everything from acting out horror movie death scenes to creating the ugliest jump to coming up with a new infomercial product inspired by Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The highlight for me (and my Little) was getting to paint our own graffiti at the end. Free from having to perform in front of a group, this is where us introverts were really able to let our creativity shine.
Things to know:
- A few days before the tour, Chris sends out a really informative email with everything you need to know, so there’s not much for me to add here. I really appreciated that level of detail because I am neurotic.
- I thought the tour was reasonably priced at $25 per person – you get a show, an education, and a light workout! (I hit about 7,000 steps.) We paid $10 for parking in the off-season, but parking can exceed $25 in the summer.
- I’m not typically a big fan of live interactive performance, but this was a great opportunity to let go of inhibitions and just have fun. My Little sister is pretty shy but she REALLY came out of her shell, emboldened by the group and the confidence in her own art. If you take yourself too seriously, this may not be the tour for you. But if you are open to exploring your sense of play within, it’s worth the journey to Venice Land.
Visit www.mojomaps.com to check out their adventures or email Chris (address on homepage) to get a $5 discount.
I was in need of an adventure vacation.
A friend of mine had posted an article about adventure trips to Facebook, and something withing me awoke. I stopped scrolling and opened a new browser, Googling “adventure vacations” within the minute. By that night, I had the destination in mind, though I made myself wait a week to book it.
The Red Mountain Resort had always been on my radar, mainly through my work in the spa and hotel industry. It was just close enough for me to drive (about six hours from LA) but far enough to experience an entirely new landscape, one I had never seen. It was surprisingly affordable, even or especially for someone traveling alone; room rates started at $265 per night, with all meals and tons of activities included. It turns out that they actually cater to solo travelers – they have a community table at each meal to encourage guests to get to know each other. Though I was a bit hesitant about that at first, I ended up meeting so many great people. It was basically like being at camp for five days – but one with gourmet healthy meals, private rooms, wine, and spa treatments. Honestly, it was heaven.
Though the resort offers a number of free hikes and offsite activities, my eye was drawn to all of the “extra” ones. The first was Tuacahn Saddle ($85/person), a five-mile hike in nearby (like, in the resort’s backyard) Snow Canyon State Park that gains 800 feet of elevation and dramatic views in all directions.
The hike started in view of the Tuacahn Amphitheater, where performances are held regularly in warmer weather. We climbed quickly through a rocky ascent, stopping to have fun at the built-in jungle gyms.
We headed down a different route, passing areas where waterfalls and erosion made for stunning scenery.
The last mile and a half or so took us through a stretch of sand, which, while flat, was probably the most challenging part for me. (Don’t I live by the beach?) There were four other guests on the excursion – two other solo women about my age or 10 or so years older, and a couple from New York. I’m guessing we were all about the same fitness level, though some of us walked faster than others.
Things to know:
- The hike left around 7:30 AM and returned in time for lunch at noon. The current schedule seems to have moved this to an afternoon hike since; in any case, it’s about four hours.
- The guides were fantastic – they were exceptionally knowledgeable about the area, and really seemed to love what they do.
- Advanced sign-ups for this hike are required by 6 PM the night before.
- Gratuity is optional but obviously recommended. Receipts are passed around at the end of the trip where you can add to the total cost.
- I am still finding red sand in my hiking shoes three months later despite exhaustively shaking them out and wearing them on other excursions.
I visited the Red Mountain Resort and Tuacahn Saddle in November 2015. I’ll post about my other adventures there – including Zion National Park – shortly.
The new job is great, but very mentally taxing, so I have obviously not been putting too much effort into this blog. Even though my situation has changed, I still plan on posting here, if not with the same fervor or frequency that I had initially intended. In any case, with the new job using up a lot of energy and brain power, I found myself craving solitude this weekend, as well as a chance to commune with nature.
When I first moved here, nine and a half years ago, stress sent me straight to the beach. I craved the ocean air, the crashing sound of the waves, the giant stretches of sand that to me, signaled vacation. Yet somehow, over the past couple of years, I’ve found myself more attracted to the mountains. Whereas the Pacific Ocean used to loom huge, putting my place in life humbly into perspective, the mountains now do the same, grounding me against their majesty. With much less traffic and fewer tourists to contend with.
The hike itself took me just about exactly two hours – one hour up, one hour down. I sat at the peak for a while, enjoying the view, when, through slats in the wooden fence that kept hikers safe from a steep ascent, I caught an unexpected sight: this lone pink rose breezily juxtaposed against the city grid below. The perfect metaphorical reminder to rise above the daily grind to stop and smell the roses.
“I don’t know why I only think of things like kayaking or paddleboarding when I go on vacation. We LIVE on vacation!” – Me to my friend Lauren, lamenting the fact that we waited until the last weekend of the summer to realize how many truly awesome outdoor activities we, as Angelenos, have at our disposal.
Earlier this summer, we had purchased this Groupon for a two-person, two hour Kayak through Marina Paddle. I haven’t kayaked since I was a teenager, and Lauren had never kayaked at all, but I remembered it being easy enough for my younger, uncoordinated self to do, so I didn’t think we’d have any problems. And for the Groupon price ($25, or $12.50 each), and fact that we’d be kayaking the Marina (and not, say, the Pacific Ocean) it seemed to be a low-risk way of finding out.
Fortunately, I was exactly right! Navigating even a two-person kayak was easy to pick up, and so much fun to do. We paddled out from Bali Way towards Mother’s Beach, passing a number of other friendly kayakers, paddleboarders, and boats. Then we turned around and headed towards Fisherman’s Village, and paused for a while in a quiet channel just to float and enjoy the day. The sun was shining, a gentle breeze blowing, and we both agreed we should have done this way sooner!
Two hours was a nice amount of time for the rental, though I think we both would have been fine with three (though that wasn’t an option offered). Paddling was challenging in one area where we seemed to go against the current, but overall was very easy to do. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a great workout – both of our shoulders and forearms felt the burn, though I am not really sore today. (At least not there – my thighs are pleasantly tight after the body sculpt class I took at the gym on Saturday morning. Maybe I need to wait another day for my arms to catch up.)
Overall, it was the absolute perfect way to wrap up what has, for some reason – or many reasons – been one of the very best summers I have had in a looong time. I would absolutely do this again, Groupon discount or not. (Though preferably with.)
Things to know:
- You need to make a reservation on weekends, which, in our case, filled up quickly. There were a couple weekends we tried to book and they only had an 8:30 AM available.
- Free parking! And an abundance of it, even on a holiday weekend. It makes the idea of paying full-price for the activity ($50, or $25 each) MUCH more palatable.
- The rental office will hold your car keys so you don’t risk losing them in an unexpected kayak tip-over. And there are shoe-racks on the dock for the same reason.
- The dock has a large, customer-only bathroom/changing area, which includes a full shower. This was an unexpected perk, and we both rinsed off before changing into clean clothes for drinks and dinner at nearby Whiskey Reds.
So, I have Thursday and Friday off this week, as I transition between jobs. I would love to do something like this again, or maybe like this, while I have the time and the weather is still beautiful. Any suggestions?
This week LA welcomed a very special guest – my mom! She visited from Sunday through Wednesday, but I took the entire week off from work to relax and just enjoy some downtime in the summer. Here are the highlights:
Every trip my mom and I have standing dates at the Cheesecake Factory and Rock Sugar. We’re creatures of habit, but the meals usually inspire her in the kitchen. This time, Mom attempted to create even better lettuce wraps than the Cheesecake Factory, using my slow–cooker for the first time and adapting from this recipe. It was a total success.
Marathon shopping trips (and getting moles removed at the dermatologist) called for carb-loading and day-drinking at Sonoma Wine Garden.
We enjoyed the scenery while whale watching off the coast of Santa Monica.
I found this company which offers daily three-hour tours (altogether, now – a three hour tour…) leaving from Marina del Rey, for only $30/person. It was a beautiful day, we saw a number of blue whales swimming and spouting, and it was absolutely worth the price. Not to mention there is free all-day parking! I saw later that there is even a Groupon for this tour, so if you are in need of a fun, outdoor, LA-centric activity, check it out!
After my mom left Wednesday night, I spent Thursday and Friday just getting myself centered. Thursday night is my regular tennis night, and I’m excited to announce that I’m signing up to play in a doubles league this fall, so I will finally have a chance to put some of my lessons to use! I’m definitely a little intimidated, however. It’s a 3.0 league, and while I am on the better side of a 3.0-3.5 class, I’ve heard that leagues play down – a true 3.5 would (unfairly) be playing at a 3.0 level, for example. My instructor was the one who connected me with the team, though, so hopefully I won’t be too embarrassing.
Of course, the other issue I’m worried about is stamina. I haven’t played an actual tennis match since I was a teenager. We play for quick points in class, but there is always downtime, and when I hit with friends, it is extremely casual. I honestly don’t know that I’ll be able to complete a match at my best, or anything close to it! But that’s exactly why I am looking forward to it – it will be a great challenge and also it doesn’t make any sense for me to be taking lessons every week when I very rarely get to play competitively. The only reason I even take lessons is because they are so fun. Perhaps I can just start playing in the league every season, and take lessons only when I believe there is something specific I need to improve on. (Everything.)
Finally, Friday I laced up my new kicks bought with mom, and went for a long run on the beach.
It reminded me of how I loved doing this when I first moved to LA; over time, though, the traffic and the tourists just made it less enticing. Going on a weekday was perfect – no traffic on the way down, a practically peaceful beach while I was there. I took pleasure in watching the tourists’ faces as they experienced the craziness of the Pier and Muscle Beach for the first time, remembering how enchanted by it all I used to be. And, though it may take longer for my curmudgeonly brain to realize, still am.
Keeping to the theme of my last Throwback Thursday post, here’s a photo of me once I finally learned how to ride my own bike.
Castle-chasing and wine-tasting are two very good reasons to learn.
In 2010, my friend Heather and I (and a few of her friends) traveled to Tuscany for vacation. I had been to Italy before, but only the cities, and it had always been a dream of mine to visit the countryside. The one thing I really wanted to do, I explained to Heather when I proposed the idea, was bike through the hills of Tuscany. Great idea! But:
- I did not bike. My bike experience up until that point was limited to the tandem experience I talked about earlier, and a few beach cruises on the bike path that had given me confidence that I was now a competent cyclist.
- I had no idea that the “rolling hills of Tuscany” were anything more challenging than the subtle inclines in Santa Monica, and that my years of running and lifting and everything else weren’t actually preparing my muscles for this kind of ride.
Heather had about the same level of experience as me, but agreed that we could both handle a day trip and it would be an amazing experience that we’d probably never get to do again. Also, it would burn off some calories, letting us consume even more cheese, pasta, and wine on vacation.
We found I Bike Tuscany and booked the Intermediate Florence to Siena tour, a 20 mile ride that transported our luggage via van from one city to the next. From the link, it looks like they’ve since upgraded the level to Advanced… which is exactly how it felt to us. Granted, we weren’t experienced riders, but apparently we weren’t Intermediate, either. After about the second hill, we started walking our bikes up the inclines. By the end, we rode only downhill and flat, hopping in the luggage van for our final ascent into Siena. It wasn’t our proudest moment, to be sure.
But we did get to uniquely experience the landscape from the ground up, visited a medieval castle or few, and earned ourselves plenty of pizza and wine from the first place we stumbled into in Siena.
I would do it all again in a heartbeat. Though this time, I would actually train first.
The other day, A Hungry Runner Girl asked, How long did it take you to love running, and it got me thinking about how I got hooked on working out. I spent the first 17 years of my life preferring to binge on television and junk food to breaking even the threat of a sweat, so that I developed any healthy habits at all wasn’t exactly a given.
In case you thought I was exaggerating when I said I was uncoordinated and nonathletic as a child, may I present exhibit A:
An east coast transplant making up for all the years weather dictated I stay inside.