Last year, Philippine Airlines (PAL) invited my parents to the event announcing their CEB – LA route. My mom couldn’t go and asked me to take her place to keep my dad company. While in the event, we found out that PAL would be raffling out tickets to a few lucky people in the audience. Guess who won one of those tickets? Thanks PAL!
From a culture perspective, there’s nothing quite like California, that’s where we spent all of our time. There’s no place in the world where you might be walking the street and see that guy/gal from TV walking back at you. I didn’t see any American movie stars, but we ran into a few Pinoy artistas. We visited staples like In-N-Out, Blue Bottle, Eggslut, and even discovered a few small places along the way. I finally experienced a live NBA game, walked into a The Hundreds store, and laughed out loud at a stand up show. But perhaps the one thing I’ll never forget happened in Target.
What follows is my best attempt of putting three weeks’ worth of vacation in a single blog post. Bear with me as it will feel like a mess of recommendations, photos, personal experiences, and plain old fun stuff rolled into a burrito like blog post.
Let’s get started.
First remarkable stop? In-N-Out.
I had never had their burgers before, but the wife kept talking them up. So I was curious. They were delightful. Little did I know, this was a peek into the rest of our trip. Long story short, I gained 13 pounds when I got back to the PH. You only live once and who knows when I’ll be back. So all that eating, three weeks’ worth, was worth it. Now I’ve got to lose the pounds, but I digress.
One of the first places we visited was my dad’s favorite city, San Francisco. We did a lot of walking, we may not have been able to cover a huge area, but walking gave us a different glimpse into the city. I felt the hills on my knees, especially when carrying a twenty pound baby. I saw all sorts of people, not just the tourists, but real people who live in SFO and the hipster dudes you see on the internet. They are real.
One of the items on my wish list was to visit The Hundreds. Lucky for us, they have a San Francisco branch. I just wanted anything with their logo on it. When we walked in, it was one of the darkest stores I had ever been in. Unexpectedly I was feeling nervous. Although I suppose it makes sense, I’m never comfortable in stores. I never really buy clothes. This was something out of my comfort zone. Got myself a shirt! First and only bit of shopping, done!
One of the perks of California is visiting all the different beach towns all over the coast. Our visit to Santa Cruz rekindled my desire to live in a small beach town. It was easy to picture myself running a small coffee shop, waiting for the waves to be just right, going to the water, enjoying life.
When we were roaming around California, I couldn’t help but notice the many Santa Cruz shirts. Turns out Santa Cruz is a small college town. It also happened to be one of my favorite stops in California. A small beach town with a surf history – what more could I ask for.
National Basketball Association
I’ve always wanted to watch a live NBA game. Any game. I didn’t care about the teams. I just wanted to watch a good game. The most logical choice was to watch a Golden State Warriors (GSW) game. Two problems surfaced –many of the seats were already sold, leaving “bad” seats. Second problem, the seats to GSW games were expensive! A seat at the very end of the stadium would easily fetch one much closer to the action for almost any other team. They are one of the best teams in the NBA so this wasn’t surprising.
We looked at other games, the Sacramento vs. Portland game was another option. But in the end, we watched GSW vs. Utah. The moment we saw the stadium from the freeway, we scrambled to take photos. When we got into the stadium, the game had already started, I got my first glimpse of Kevin Durant dunking on a poor schmuck. Utah was an up and coming team, but in the end, the game was lopsidedly won by GSW. Meanwhile the SAC vs. POR game, Boogie cousins went crazy, got ejected, then returned to the game (somehow?), and scored 55 to win a nail biter.
The California coast is filled with little towns ripe for exploring. Each town has something special and unique that makes them different from the other. Carmel Beach is one of those towns.
The wife discovered Carmel Beach years ago when she and her sister decided to drive the coast on a whim. They didn’t know what to expect, they found a beautiful beach town filled with small restaurants and cafes.
Walking around the town of Carmel Beach, you can’t help but notice the many art galleries all over. Each art gallery was different, some were showcasing black and white street photographs, while others showed vibrant paintings full of life. It had a little bit of everything. I’m not well versed in such things so I didn’t know anyone who stood out. Except, this piece.
It’s not a Banksy unfortunately. After careful Googling, I found out this was painted by the maligned Mr. Brainwash.
Have you seen Exit Through the Gift Shop? Watch it. You’ll learn a ton about Banksy and the aforementioned Mr. Brainwash.
Another item on my wish list was to experience standup. I’ve spent countless hours on YouTube watching comedians spin jokes and most of the podcasts I listen to are from comedians.
Luckily for us, San Jose Improv was right in our area. That night we watched Sammy Obeid. He has the distinction of performing 1,000 straight nights of comedy, a current world record.
It’s funny how this experience, the one I was most excited for, I have the least to say. When I was there, I just decided to go all in. Experience it for what it was and just be.
I laughed. I felt uncomfortable. I laughed again.
La Victoria Taqueria
Quick side story.
Have any of you ever visited La Lucha Taqueria? Did you ever get to meet the owner, George? His family owns a well-known Mexican chain in California called La Victoria Taqueria. After watching the standup show, we walked to the restaurant. To my surprise, there was a line at 10 in the evening. I wasn’t hungry, but I still ordered the burrito. Having tasted both, La Lucha seems a pretty decent version of La Victoria.
Blue Bottle Coffee
What started out as a small outpost at the Old Oakland Farmers Market, is now a chain of cafes all over California. Blue Bottle Coffee serves one of the freshest coffees I’ve ever had. Naturally, the bag of beans I brought home was roasted the day before I bought it.
“I will only sell coffee less than 48 hours out of the roaster to my guests, so they may enjoy coffee at peak flavor. I will only use the finest, most delicious, and responsibly sourced beans.” – James Freeman, Blue Bottle Coffee founder
In the beginning, I wasn’t too jazzed about Napa Valley. It felt too hopsnickety to me, but the experience was downright wonderful.
Out of the three wineries we visited, V. Sattui was my favorite. I’m not a wine connoisseur, but based on their menu, they have a variety of highly rated wines. But to be fair, every winery we visited had highly rated wines. The difference with V. Sattui was the wonderful picnic experience and the delicious food from the deli.
The wine tasting area had wine experts behind each bar. Fifteen dollars to taste four highly rated wines of your choice. You can only purchase V. Sattui wines from their winery. They don’t sell them anywhere else. We bought a Merlot for New Year’s Eve and proceeded to the deli for our lunch sandwich.
I’ve never been to a beach that felt more alive than Venice Beach. There were basketball courts, a skate park, shops all over, and lots of people from all walks of life.
The people is what makes Venice beach. You had crazies, cool artists, skateboarders, joggers, and a multitude of street performers. We even caught a show by these guys.
While walking around Venice Beach, we wanted to get good coffee. So we checked Yelp and it led us to Menotti’s. That’s where this exchange happened.
After the costumer in front of me ordered two coffees, he said, “Can you pass me that takeout tray?” So he could hold the two coffees with one hand.
The barista said, “Oh sorry about that. I saw those fingers on your two hands covered with skin and figured you would just hold them.”
I was nervous.
When my turn came, I kept my mouth shut and paid with a tightly folded twenty. He said, “The last time I got a twenty like this, I was selling drugs.”
Love the personality and the coffee was wonderful too. We found out later that the barista happens to be a World Latte Art Champion.
I heard about Eggslut when I was listening to a Short Story Long interview of Alvin Cailan. A few things popped out right away, Alvin is Filipino, killing it in the restaurant scene in the US, and has roots in street culture. Suffice to say, Eggslut was on my list of must visits when we hit Los Angeles.
I’m a sucker for a good sandwich, a brazen attitude, and entrepreneurial ingenuity. Eggslut had it all. We visited the Grand Central Market branch in downtown LA. The line was long and filled with young people. The sandwich did not disappoint!
The Target experience
I can’t count how many times we visited Target. Every time we went I groaned at the inevitable mindless pushing of a cart through aisles. Frankly, it didn’t seem any different than SM to me. But an interaction happened here that I will never forget.
It started because the wife’s sister wasn’t feeling well. I was tasked to buy her Gatorade. In Target, I couldn’t find small bottles, they were all huge two liter bottles or sold in packs of twelve small bottles. As I kept scanning the aisle, I noticed that one of the twelve packs was torn open and a few bottles were already missing. I took three more bottles from the torn pack.
It was late at night. Target was mostly manned by what seemed to be barely college kids. The cash register was this tall lanky kid who couldn’t have been older than 18. He coded the Gatorade and couldn’t come out with a price, at this point I realized that they only sell them in bulk, that’s why he couldn’t find it in the system. Then he said, “We don’t have a price for this. How much do you want to pay? A dollar?” I must have stood there in silence for a few seconds because he asked again, “So I’ll just ring this in for a dollar?” I looked at the screen. It literally said, “How much do you want to pay for it?” Skeptical, I said, “Oh… the bigger Gatorades were about a dollar plus.” Then he said, “Ok so fifty cents?” I said, “Sure.”
This stunned me. Imagine this interaction happening in the Philippines. The sales clerk would have asked me to wait. The supervisor would have arrived and looked at what I tried to purchase, they would have figured out that it was only recorded wholesale, they wouldn’t have sold me the item and the entire interaction would have lasted thirty minutes.
Just another tiny big difference between the Philippines and America.