Archive | tourist in my backyard RSS feed for this section

Tourist in My Backyard: Venice Beach Freak Show

21 Aug

The Venice Beach Freak Show is the kind of attraction you never pay to see when you’re a Southern Californian because all of Venice is a freak show, really. But last week I hosted two lovely Kiwi couchsurfers and when we walked the famous boardwalk and saw the two-headed turtles outside the freak show, the MC lured us in with promises of even freakier animals and objects inside. What was five bucks when it came to having this quirky Venice experience?

When we walked inside two sideshow performers were just finishing up their act and we looked over right as the man was pulling a sword out of his throat.  A young boy was escorted out because he almost fainted and since the next show began in twelve minutes we decided to work our way up to it.

We turned left for the museum of freaky artifacts and animals and saw a live two-tailed iguana in a cage at the entrance. The woman behind the counter introduced us to her five-legged dog and told us he was just featured on an episode of the Dog Whisperer. She pulled out jar after jar of of two-headed pigs with other anomalies: five ears, five legs, two separate bodies conjoined at the head, etc.

The back of the room had skeletons of conjoined human twins and of the mythical Chuppacabra. There were glass cases with an eerie cycloptic dog, the skeletons of bizarre humanistic-alien-looking sea animals, a two-headed goat, a two-headed calf and other taxidermied animals.

We braced ourselves and grabbed our cameras when the freak-show began. The male-female duo took turns performing their unique acts. The woman sat in an electric chair,  showed off her double jointed arms and elbows and breathed fire. The man swallowed a sword and put a hook through his nose and out his mouth. I cringed, I gagged but it was all good fun. Rosa, the Kiwi, sat right in the middle of the action and commented later that the male performer’s skin looked waxy. He reminded me of gothic David Bowie. Do you see it?

Tourist in My Backyard: San Francisco Treats

20 Aug

The fog engulfs the Golden Gate bridge one summer day.

When I get a case of the travel bug and running off to South America, Egypt or some other equally exotic location isn’t possible, I like to pay a visit to California’s ‘ City by the Bay’: San Francisco. Since my best friend, Kat, moved there two years ago I find any excuse to board the hour-long flight: The Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival, Halloween, spring break, a Tuesday in the middle of semester, a cheap flight alert… and I’m off!

The city’s charm extends beyond its unique architecture, hilly streets and foggy summers and into the culinary realm, delighting the palates of foodies and laymans alike. These are the five San Francisco treats I can’t miss:

1. The ‘Dirty Hipster’ at Loving Cup – You won’t find this amazing frozen yogurt concoction on the menu but it is the number one treat I have to have while in San Francisco. Frozen vanilla yogurt, oreo cookies and nutella swirled and ground to perfection make the Dirty Hipster a creamy, gritty indulgence that I don’t dare pass up. The Loving Cup specializes in rice puddings (which are also worth trying) but its their custom blended yogurt that everyone adores. 2356 Polk Street

2. ‘Green Eggs and Ham Benedict’ at Pork Store – This spin on traditional eggs Benedict is also not on the menu, but makes ‘special’ appearances  from time to time and is worth asking the waiter for, with a little wink and a nudge. Poached eggs, country ham and asparagus sit atop a toasted English muffin, covered in green hollandaise  sauce on a warm plate with hashbrowns. It is the ultimate hangover cure and the perfect way to start your Haight-Ashbury sightseeing since it sits right in the heart of the infamous hippie district. 1451 Haight Street

3. Cocktails at Absinthe – The only experience I had with absinthe before discovering this bar was a few wild nights in Europe – sugar cubes, lighters and all. I had to destroy the evidence because the burnt forks I used to melt the sugar into the strange green liquor connotated a heroin habit and I wasn’t about to raise any suspicions.

Absinthe is the perfect place for a date with its dim but warm lighting and impressive range of gourmet ingredients and appetizers. It has an old-fashioned feel and stands out in a world of generic bars and obnoxious clubs. If you’re a cocktail connoisseur who appreciates ingredients such as kaffir lime-pepper syrup and brandied cherries, then this is your place. 398 Hayes Street

4. Crepes at The Crepe House Any crepe is amazing here. Savory, sweet, a la mode … you can’t lose. I prefer ‘the Mediterranean’  (cheddar, onion, tomato, feta, olives, artichoke and avocado) or the ‘Hawaiian’ (cheddar, ham, onion, mushroom, brown sugar, soy sauce and pineapple) for my meals and the Nutella-strawberry dessert crepe for any other time of day. The Crepe House flourished in the last sixteen years and has expanded to included three San Francisco locations. Take your pick! 429 Gough Street, 1755 Polk Street or 1132 Valencia Street

5.‘The Breakfast Burrito’ at The Grove – Be warned, this breakfast burrito is huge! I like to get it for breakfast and save the other half for lunch. The scrambled eggs, refried beans, cheddar and jack cheeses, salsa, and avocado mixture wrapped up in a grilled tortilla is very Californian and the rosemary country potatoes are its perfect accompaniment. The inside of the Marina location has a ski-lodge vibe and the outdoor seating is prime for San Franciscan people-watching. And if you’re only in the mood for a drink, skip Starbucks and try their lavender lemonade or mocha chai. Choose from any of the four San Franciscan family-owned locations: 690 Mission Street, 301 Hayes Street, 2016 Filmore Street or 2250 Chestnut Street

Tourist in My Backyard: Best Coast @ the US Open

9 Aug

Courtesy of the beautiful Lisa Aoyagi

I absolutely adore Best Coast. Their angst-driven lyrics about unrequited love and the pitfalls of dating make me wish I had their tunes to comfort me when I was in high school. And “Summer Mood” epitomizes California garage-pop and makes me feel understood and close to home even when I’m in a far-off land.

When I heard they were playing a free show at the US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach I had to play hooky from work – there was no way I was going to sit in an office when I could have a quintessential Orange County experience in Surf City, USA. Best Coast didn’t go on until 5:30 PM so we made a day of it. The cooler was full of Blue Moons and my flask was full of vodka. We parked miles away from the beach in a residential area to avoid the insanely inflated event parking fees and sipped our libations as we walked to the beach.

The US Open itself was pretty anti-climatic, even though we stood on the wet shore just a few yards from the action. The beach was packed with locals, tourists and teeny-boppers, who couldn’t have been older than 16 and were wearing unflattering and uncalled-for Brazilian-cut bathing suits with obnoxious writing all over their bodies proudly displaying their phone numbers or the words “free hugs”, “single” or some kind of ridiculous hash tag. I prayed to God I would not run into my 18-year-old sister because if I saw her dressed like that I would have to bury her in the sand until I could find her a cover-up.

Just before the show started we left the half-naked kiddie display to grab a drink on Main Street. We ended up at Sharkeez and ordered Long Island Iced-Teas that tasted like lemonade and cost $8. Do not go there. The chips were stale and the $7 shots weren’t even an ounce. Thank God for my flask…

When it was time we joined the herd and pushed our way through the massive, tightly packed crowd from the side of the stage and tried our best to get as close to the front as we could. The crowd waited anxiously for the threesome to appear and wailed as lead singer Bethany Cosentino started strumming her guitar. Do not be fooled by Best Coast’s surfer-stoner vibe or they’re less than perfect acoustic renditions – they have serious talent and are even better live because you can hear the full depth of their sound. Their “I Want To” and “Boyfriend” performances made me fall in love with these songs even harder because I got to feel them and at one point I found myself dancing so hard I bumped into my poor neighbors.

Best Coast is moody, melodic and punky but watching them perform as I swayed, singing along with sand between my toes, felt like the proper way to experience this band. Their name is Best Coast after-all and here we were – on the coast.

%d bloggers like this: