Sunday, December 19, 2021

Los Angeles Getaway (SpaceX, Chargers Game and AcroYoga in Santa Monica)

We planned a weekend getaway to Los Angeles around the Thursday Night Football Chargers Game against the Kansas City Chiefs. Driving up early, we visited SpaceX near SoFi Stadium in Hawthorne, CA. The Falcon 9 Booster B1019 displayed outside was their first orbital-class booster to be launched and return for a successful vertical landing. After it’s December 22nd launch in 2015, it was retired and displayed here outside the SpaceX Headquarters. On Tuesday, 12/21/21, SpaceX landed its 100th Falcon 9 Booster. Running alongside the headquarters is the Mile Long Test Track for the Hyperloop Pod Competition. Student Engineering Teams competed between 2015 and 2019 sending prototypes down the partial vacuum Hypertube. The current record for a self-propelled pod on the 6ft. diameter steel track is 463 km/h (288 mph) by the TUM Hyperloop team. While the 2020 competition was cancelled, 2021 was changed to a automated tunnel boring contest in Las Vegas that was won by the Technical University of Munich who excavated a 22 m (72 ft) bore. Before we left, we also saw a new booster all sealed up on the property and ready for shipment.

After a delicious lunch at Eureka! in the terminal of Hawthorne Airport and checking into our room at the nearby Hampton Inn, we only had a five minute walk to the Hawthorne/Lennox station for the free Metro Shuttle to SoFi Stadium. A light rain started as we arrived a couple hours early, but entering the covered stadium was fast as they quickly checked our tickets and vaccination status. The players for the Chargers and the Chiefs were warming up on the field as we explored the new stadium that opened up to spectators for the first time this year.  This was my first time attending a Chargers game since they moved to Los Angeles and I picked a great one as the winner between the two division rivals would take 1st place in the AFC West. While the Chiefs opened up a 10 point lead, the Chargers were leading 14-10 at half time. The 3rd quarter was pretty quiet with only a field goal by the Chiefs, but both teams scored two touchdowns each in the 4th quarter to force overtime with a tie. The Chargers lost the coin toss and the Chiefs scored on their first drive with a 34 yard touchdown by Tight End Travis Kelce. Despite the deflating ending, it was an exciting game and my voice was hoarse from all the cheering. 

The Infinity Screen at SoFi Stadium was awesome. Hanging 122 feet over the field, the circular 4K screen displayed 70,000 square-feet of video on the dual-sided board and was visible from every seat in the stadium. Even with our nosebleed seats, we had close-up views of all the action. Sometimes I would focus on the board and forget to watch the actual players on the field.

For breakfast the next morning, we walked three blocks from our hotel to Chips Restaurant on Hawthorne Boulevard. Designed by architect Harry Harrison in 1957, Chips is one of LA’s historic coffee shops. With its soaring steel-beam sign, jutting roof and large plate-glass windows, the diner is an example of the space-age style Googie Architecture popular in Los Angeles up until the 1970s. Sitting in our vinyl booth under a photo of James Dean, I ordered the Chilaquiles while Tori had the Huevos Rancheros. It was a sunny morning after yesterday's rain.

After driving to Santa Monica and checking in at the Sea Shore Motel, we unloaded our bikes and went for a cruise along Santa Monica Beach. Our first stop was The Green at the Original Muscle Beach. Since it was Friday, the grassy space was not crowded with only a few people exercising. As we laid down our yoga mat to practice our AcroYoga, we found a lost passport lying in the grass. Tori and I tried a new Acro pose for the first time and we went through a few of our favorite washing machines. It was our first time playing on this bit of grass that is famous in AcroYoga community. If it had been Sunday, I don't know if we would have found space on the lawn among the gymnasts and acrobats during the crowded AcroJam.

Below is the AcroYoga video of the Ninja Star and Big Lemoi Washing Machines.

After our AcroYoga Practice, Tori and I each took a pass on the Traveling Rings nearby. With 10 rings, this was the largest set we have ever swung on so we only went one-way. Having lost our calluses from Trapeze, our hands were dying by the end. I have been out and back on Swing City's traveling rings at Burning Man but their set has only 6 rings.

After dropping off the lost passport with a lifeguard, Tori and I continued our bike ride north of Santa Monica Pier along the Ocean Front Walk. We rode all the way to the wooden boardwalk at North Beach before turning around and biking down to Venice Beach. The bike path becomes very windy after we crossed the border into Venice. We rode all the way down to the skatepark and basketball courts before turning around and heading back. The outdoor gym equipment of Venice's Muscle Beach was roped off due to the pandemic. Riding this beach path brought back a lot of good memories for Tori who used to live in the area and frequently rollerbladed along this route with her friend Rachel.

After biking back to the Sea Shore Motel, Tori and I took a walk along Main Street, checking out all the shops, bars and restaurants. This part of Santa Monica has a nice neighborhood feel, a less exclusive feeling than that of Montana Avenue and much less touristy than the Third Street Promenade. Our first stop was jAdis, a quirky curiosities store filled with antique scientific instruments and sci-fi movie paraphernalia. While many things were for sale, a lot of the displayed items are only rented out as film props. Our next stop was at JuneShine for a drink since Tori and I both enjoy hard kombucha. Even though we had dinner reservations at 7pm, we were too starving to wait after our AcroYoga practice and bike ride so we each ordered one of their delicious empanadas. They were a perfect snack to hold us over as we walked through the rest of the neighborhood. 

For dinner, we had reservations at Forma Restaurant & Cheese Bar in Venice. It was a short walk from our motel and we were given a nice table by the window. With our wine, we enjoyed the Bruschella appetizer, a deconstructed version of bruschetta that tasted delicious and was so much easier to eat this way. Tori ordered the Chitarra Cacio E Pepe, homemade spaghetti with black pepper and extra virgin olive oil, tossed in Pecorino Romano cheese while I had the Fettuccine Bolognese tossed with butter in Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and topped with a beef ragu’. Half way through our dinner, we switched plates to finish off the other's flavorful pasta. For desert, we stopped at Sweet Rose Creamery for ice cream on our walk home.

The specialty of the restaurant is Dalla Forma, tossing fresh pasta in large wheels of four different types of Italian cheese. I thought they would bring the cheese wheel to our table, but it was prepared in a separate area, possibly because of the pandemic. Our server did let us know when our pasta was being prepared so we were able to walk over and watch.  It made my mouth water in anticipation.

In the morning, we walked down to Dogtown Coffee for breakfast burritos. Tori had the Vietnamese Iced Coffee with condensed milk while I tried their signature Salty Dog Iced Coffee, a 24-hour cold brew with deep caramel and sea salt foam. The coffees were really good, but the burritos didn't compare to our favorite Boss Burrito at Bird Rock Coffee in San Diego. On the walk back, the murals covering many of the buildings on Main Street really stood out, glowing in the morning light.

After checking out the Santa Monica Community Gardens on Main Street, we packed up and checked out of our motel. Driving north, we took the California Incline down the beach cliff and drove the winding roads up into Pacific Palisades to visit the Santa Monica Stairs. The long flights of wooden and concrete stairs on the border of the two cities are used for exercise by Angelinos. My legs were really burning as I neared the top. After our stair climbing, we drove over to Montana Avenue for another long stroll along the 10 blocks of the shopping district. We had heard good things about the sandwiches at Bay Cities Italian Deli, so we picked up a couple to take home to San Diego in our cooler. (I am eager to try The Godmother sandwich with Genoa Salami, Mortadella, Capicola, Ham, Prosciutto and Provolone with “The Works”!)  

For a late lunch, we had planned to go to the Father's Office in Santa Monica but it is closed until 5pm. Luckily, the Culver City location opens at noon on the weekends so we drove over there instead. The Office Burger lived up to the hype! I would definitely drive out of my way again in the future to have their famous burger made with caramelized onions, bacon, gruyere, blue cheese, and arugula. No Ketchup needed! Tori enjoyed the Fried Chicken Sandwich with her beer. The Chorizo Fritters served with salsa verde were awesome as well. The restaurant sits inside the historic Helm's Bakery building, the site of the large industrial bakery that operated from 1931 to 1969. Helm's bread was not sold in stores, but was instead delivered daily directly to people's homes throughout the city with their fleet of distinctive delivery trucks. Helm's was the official baker of the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles and supplied Olympics teams for several games in the future.

On our drive home, we stopped at the crowded Irvine Spectrum for some Christmas shopping.

Friday, November 12, 2021

San Diego Zoo (Giraffes, Baboons & Tasmanian Devils)

Taking advantage of our yearly pass, we returned on Wednesday to the San Diego Zoo. Since it was winter, the park was much less crowded with all the children back in school. Our first stop was the Outback section where we saw Tasmanian Devils, Kookaburras and the napping Koala Bears from Australia. In the Urban Jungle, we talked to the docent about the Giraffes, watching a mother feeding with her child before she moved over to the pool for a drink. It was very cool to watch as she splayed out her forelegs so her head could reach, spraying the water out in long arcs as she raised her long neck back up to its great height. I have seen this behavior on nature videos but never in real life. Nearby in the center enclosure, we watched a Rhinoceros being fed, using its prehensile lip to eagerly grab the treats from the keeper's hand. This area used to be the Elephant Mesa with elephant rides when I was a child where I had a chance to ride on their broad swaying backs.

As we approached the troop of Hamadryas Baboons in the Ethiopian Highlands exhibit, we witnessed a battle royal. We saw a female baboon chasing after a male who responded by trying to mate with her. This pissed off another male and the two proceeded to fight, drawing the rest of the males into a screaming rumble as they fought and chased each other around the rocky enclosure. We saw the anxious keepers keeping a close watch over them until they calmed down about 5 minutes later. We learned afterward that the male baboon patriarch had recently died which upset the troop hierarchy and the remaining males where still working out the new power dynamic. In the nearby enclosure, the Geladas must have been riled up by all the hooting and hollering from the Baboons as they began running around their exhibit as well, shaking the trees and screeching at each other with bared teeth. Even though a nickname for the Gelada is Bleeding Heart Baboon, they are in a different Genus from their Baboon relatives.

Leaving the two primate species behind, we wandered the winding trail through the Africa Rocks area where we watched a Leopard feeding on a animal leg and Lemurs from Madagascar climbing the netting of their enclosure. We went through three different aviaries as we climbed the slope of the canyon. The first was filled with birds from Africa like the Taveta Golden Weaver building a nest over our heads and the Exclamatory Paradise-Wydah with long tail feathers that were three times the length of its body.  The Parker Aviary were filled with tropical birds from South America like the Toucan and the Andean cock-of-the-rock, the national bird of Peru with it's distinctive disk-shaped plumage of orange feathers on its head.

After the aviaries, we walked down the Orangutan Trail to visit the enclosure that the hairy red apes from Indonesia and Borneo share with the Siamang Gibbons. With the two mothers sitting nearby, we watched the two youngest members of the different species wrestle and cuddle on the ground. Sela, the three year old gibbon, loved swinging around a thick rope and landing back onto the nine year old Aisha who rolled around on her favorite burlap sack. Sela was born premature, almost half the weight of a normal newborn, but she quickly gained weight to become a healthy juvenile. When we visited the bear exhibits, they were all empty except for the Andean Bear roaming around its enclosure. It is also called the Spectacled Bear due to the white patterns of fur around its face that resemble glasses. This is the same species as Paddington Bear from the children's books who came to England from the Andean mountains in Darkest Peru.

It was a sunny day as we rode the Skyfari aerial tram back across the park to visit the Elephant Odyssey. One of the elephants was playing with the interactive feeding structures while another was using her trunk to give herself a dust bath. In the wild, elephants use this behavior to protect their skin from the sun and repel bugs. We also saw two huge California Condors perched high up in their exhibit before we headed to the Reptile Walk for the last part of our visit. By the shape of their shells, we could identify which of the islands the Galapagos Giant Tortoises originated. By the time we had finished checking out Komodo Dragons in their separate exhibit, we had walked over 5 miles. On the way home, we stopped at El Tianguis for their rolled taquitos, the best in the city!