Posts Tagged ‘travel’

R Street food tour from Local Roots

February 17th, 2020
R Street sign


When it comes to food we’re pretty spoiled in California, with fresh produce from local farms, seafood, and of course plenty of wine to go along with it. So I was a little miffed when all the restaurants were booked well in advance when I arrived in Sacramento on Friday, and were so massively understaffed on Saturday that I couldn’t even get seated at any restaurant bars.

It eventually dawned on me that this wasn’t normal: I’d simply arrived on Valentine’s Day and every restaurant worth dining at in town was squeezed for staff.

Fortunately I’d booked a food tour on Sunday, the R Street food tour from Local Roots. This more than made up for the previous two day’s dining disappointments.

The tour started at the WAL Public Market, a small shopping center in a warehouse building now used for live/work artist studios. The guide met us outside with horchata coffee for the group. I’d never had horchata with coffee in it before — it’s a little sweet but the flavors work well together.

We all went inside for a while to browse while our first meal was prepared. I’d skipped breakfast and was eager for some good food.


R Street Food Tour


Our first dishes were from a Japanese place including miso soup, sweet sushi-style rice, and both vegetable and seafood poke. All of this was amazing — the miso soup really hit the spot on a somewhat chilly afternoon, and one woman in the group who claimed she hated seafood had to admit the salmon poke was delicious.

From there we walked around the R Street area for a while to look at some of the street art, which I’ll get to in a later post. R Street itself was once a key part of the Transcontinental Railroad shipping empire, but due to a decline following World War 2 it became an unofficial arts district.

The next stop was a Mexican joint called Mas Taco Bar. We all shared a big bowl of guacamole and some fried tortillas to break up into chips along with whatever individual tacos we wanted. I had a salmon taco which came with a fresh tortilla, spicy aioli, and small slices of jalapeno. The service was a little slow, though the taco proved worth the wait.


R Street Food Tour


From there we backtracked a little to visit the Shady Lady, an upscale “speakeasy” in an old brick building. We ordered individual cocktails; I had a fancy margarita which doesn’t really fit the speakeasy theme but made sense in my mind after eating Mexican food.

We also split some appetizers, the only one of which I tried was fried green tomatoes. This version was a little crunchy on the outside with a sweet, gooey tomato center.

Our guide said this spot used to be a Wonder Bread factory, which I think I accidentally turned into a debate about modern food production. I mentioned learning at the Sacramento History Museum that sliced bread meant kids could safely make their own sandwiches for the first time.

One woman about my age with two kids said she liked the idea of telling them to make their own lunches, which somehow led to an argument about using using modern technology (GMOs, fertilizers, etc.) to feed the world vs. the long term impacts on sustaining healthy farmland. It was a very lively group on this tour.


R Street Food Tour


Finally we stopped for desert in the “Ice Blocks” area of R Street, which was once a produce packing district where trains were packed with fresh produce and ice for refrigeration. Today the area is all new construction.

The last stop was Creamy’s, a bakery in the Ice Blocks that serves tiny cheesecakes in small cupcake wrappers. These were too rich for my tastes, though the diminutive portions made it more palatable.

My recommendation: If you’re curious about the food scene in Sacramento but aren’t sure what to try, this tour is a great place to start. Local Roots has a few other food tours listed on their website if you’re looking for something different.

California State Capitol tour

February 16th, 2020
California State Capitol


Visiting the state capitol for the tour, I was immediately surprised by two things: one, the front of the building is largely covered up by scaffolding for a restoration project, and two, you can’t even enter through the original building at all.

The entrance is not only in the back “annex” of the building where all the offices are located, but in separate wings added in the early 2000’s to allow for more rigid security screenings. It’s not exactly like the TSA though I had to take off my watch and belt to make it through the metal detector.

I arrived slightly late for the official tour that hour, but since it’s a pretty causal and free tour I was allowed to join anyway. Several tours are offered during open hours nearly every day of the year; call ahead or ask at the information desk in the rotunda on the first floor for details.

As it turns out the government offices are all in the annex building, which dates back from the 1940’s and is unfortunately pretty drab. It feels like an upscale public school building at best. The plan is to tear down and replace this part of the building soon.


California State Capitol California State Capitol


The original building is largely a museum at this point, aside from the State Senate and State Assembly chambers. During my visit on the weekend both chambers were filled with students trying their hands at politics. I have to say a handful of the students sounded very professional.

According to the guide both rooms borrowed their color schemes from their UK counterparts — the red color scheme in the Senate is from the House of Lords, and the green color scheme in the Assembly is from the House of Commons.


California State Capitol


Speaking of connections to the old world, in the middle of the rotunda is a marble statue of Columbus begging Queen Isabella for funding.

The connection between Columbus’ voyage and California is thin at best, but the statue took on a good luck charm status when legislators would go up to the second floor and try to toss coins into the queen’s crown as a superstition for luck in getting bills passed. Today this practice has been forbidden thanks to damage to the statue, though they’re allowed to toss cotton balls instead.


California State Capitol


Due to Jerry Brown’s unprecedented split terms as governor, his original portrait was recently removed and is no longer displayed with the other portraits — a new one is in the works. The previous portrait is in a side hall that’s off limits when certain government functions are in session.

This original portrait by California artist Don Bachardy was considered controversial at the time as it broke with the conventions of how politicians were meant to be portrayed in art. At the same time it’s unmistakably Jerry Brown, and in the years since political portraits have become less homogeneous. For example the portrait of Arnold Schwarzenegger almost looks like a movie poster.


California State Capitol


Unlike the tour I took last year of the superficially similar looking Colorado State Capitol building, there’s no viewing deck or even access up to the top of the rotunda.

According to the guide there is a walkway up some very narrow stairs for maintenance purposes, though the very top of the stairs were sealed off when the building was extensively retrofitted/rebuilt in the 1970’s.


California State Capitol


There’s plenty of other details big and small about the capitol building reveled on the tour — far too many to go into here — so I’ll end on a silly one.

Before he left office, Arnold Schwarzenegger purchased a life-sized bronze bear statue and placed it outside the governor’s office.

On one hand it’s a strange choice and I’m not sure Schwarzenegger is someone I’d consult for decorating advice in general, but on the other it fits the state’s bear motif which is referenced throughout the capitol building. I guess the fact that he left office nearly a decade ago and the bear statue is still there kind of speaks for itself.

My recommendation: It’s a free tour of a building with a lot of history so why not? You may even learn a little about how the state government works along the way.

Old Sacramento Waterfront and the underground

February 16th, 2020
Old Town Sacramento Old Town Sacramento Old Town Sacramento


The waterfront is where Sacramento began, although today it barely feels like a part of the city. It’s all but cut off from downtown Sacramento by an enormous freeway, and most of what you’ll find there are your pretty typical tourist trap stores — tacky jewelry, shirts with “funny” slogans you can buy anywhere, funnel cake vendors, etc.

If you know where to look though there is a lot of interesting history to see. Your best bet to learn more about the history of the area is either the California State Railroad Museum (which I didn’t visit on this trip) or the Sacramento History Museum.

I booked a spot on the Sacramento History Museum’s Underground Tour, which also includes free admission to the museum. Unfortunately for me most of the museum was closed for a refresh of the exhibits. And unfortunately for you, photography isn’t allowed in the underground portions of the tour so you’ll just have to either read my descriptions, or go on the tour yourself.

The Underground Tour was led by a guide who was very much in character as a deputy during the gold rush. As he explained Sacramento began as a series of tents next to the river, which regularly flooded. Later on wood buildings were erected, built tall enough that boats could float between them on the second floors when the area flooded.

Wood structures burn down of course, and nothing from that era stands today. It was all replaced by brick structures after a particularly destructive fire. Yet that didn’t work out well in the long run as the mining activities in the area just caused the floods to get more and more intense.

Eventually the residents decided to do three things: divert the American River around the city, give the railroads land along the Sacramento river in exchange for constructing levies, and manually jack up over 100 brick buildings by about 25 feet to match the new street level set by the levies. Oh, and they jacked the buildings up while people were still working in them, which meant getting in and out required climbing a series of ladders.

The tour goes under two buildings in what are now the basement levels. The second one has excavation sites where various materials have been found, including an early toothbrush, a set of weighted dice to cheat at gambling, and what’s believed to be an early painting of Abraham Lincoln.

Alleys in the area were never raised the entire height, but instead slope downward by about 12 feet. A brick patio in one of the above photos was also not brought up to the full height.

By far the most random and disgusting thing I learned on the tour was when the guide pulled out two corncobs — sans corn kernels — and asked “does anyone know what these are for?” As it turns out, they were used for wiping yourself after going to the bathroom. The worst part is you could wash them off in the river and reuse them — the same river where people were getting their drinking water.

My recommendation: Although most of old Sacramento is pretty sad these days, there’s a lot of history to uncover if you do your research and plan ahead. Do not go unprepared.

California Governor’s Mansion

February 16th, 2020
Governor's Mansion Governor's Mansion Governor's Mansion


For the weekend I decided to take the train up to Sacramento, staying in a bed and breakfast located in a creaky old 19th century Victorian home. As it turns out the Mansion Flats neighborhood is filled with buildings of similar age and architecture, including the California Governor’s Mansion.

Although the mansion was converted into a museum in the mid 1960’s it was recently closed and renovated to bring it up to modern building codes. Jerry Brown moved in it during his final term as governor.

It’s unclear what the future of the building will be; current governor Gavin Newsom decided not to move in. It’s currently closed to the public.

In the end I’m not sure exactly what the point of having an official governor’s mansion is if governors generally don’t want to live in it. It’s not even particularly close to the governor’s office.


Governor's Mansion at night


Walking by the mansion after dark I was surprised to find it was lit from below, giving it the look of a haunted house someone painted white in an attempt to drive the ghosts out.

With no living residents in the mansion, for now it seems the ghosts have won out.

The Broad

October 30th, 2019
The Broad


My final stop on this trip to Los Angeles was The Broad (pronounced more like “The Brode”) a free modern art museum financed by the wealthy Broad family.

The museum’s main gallery is on the top and third floor, which unfortunately was the only part I had time to visit before heading to the airport. So take what I have to say next with a grain of salt.


The Broad The Broad The Broad


The main gallery is an almost paint-by-numbers collection focusing on most of the modern art superstars you probably have seen before: Jeff Koons, Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, etc. If you’ve never seen works from these artists by all means go to The Broad immediately and get up to speed on modern art. For the rest of us it’s largely comfort food.

One clever piece you’ll only see at The Broad is Under the Table by Robert Therrien. This is a giant table and chair set that seems to be a selfie-magnet, as though you’ve somehow been shrunken down after taking the pill that makes you smaller from Alice and Wonderland.

Another artist in the main collection I found particularly interesting was Robert Longo, who takes (or stages) photos, projects them, and then paints them with attention to movement and/or makes subtle differences to re-contextualize them in unusual and interesting ways.

One gallery focused on Ellsworth Kelly, who somehow turned canvases into art that I found physically painful to look at due to the bright contrasting colors. When I attempted to take photos I found some vindication as my iPhone camera had serious issues with autofocus when pointed at his pieces.


The Broad


What I did find particularly impressive about The Broad is the building itself. Designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro — the same firm that designed the Moscone West screen that never really worked — it looks like a white cheese grater on the outside, but on the inside it’s as though someone built an Apple Store inside of a hollowed-out cave.

I don’t mean to sound sarcastic, I just can’t think of any other way to describe the design without sounding like a crazy person.


My recommendation: To be clear I’ve only seen the main gallery on the third floor at The Broad. If you’re unfamiliar with modern art it’s a pretty solid introduction and the price is right — just make a free reservation online and go. Otherwise I’d suggest checking out the special exhibits instead. The friendly staff on the first floor will check in any bags and coats as needed.

Thought Experiments in F# Minor

October 30th, 2019
Thought Experiments in F# Major Thought Experiments in F# Major Thought Experiments in F# Major


The Walt Disney Concert Hall designed by Frank Gehry is the home of Los Angeles Philharmonic, aka “LA Phil.”

In the early afternoon on non-concert days several tours are available. Thought Experiments in F# Minor from artist duo Cardiff and Miller is an immersive video narrative piece that leads the audience around the labyrinth-like building as a story unfolds.

Best of all it’s completely free.

After checking in at a desk just to the left of the entrance, you hand in a photo ID in exchange for an iPad and a pair of headphones. The experience starts at a specific bench in the lobby.

I don’t want to give too much away here but the video begins with an adorable cat in a cardboard box before synchronizing with the current location, and begging you to walk around with it.

A seemingly detached narrator guides you to walk from place to place with the video as you follow two characters played by the wildly talented actress Jena Malone around the building.

The story is difficult to describe, but suffice it to say it involves life, death, the space in between — and Schrodinger’s Cat.

In real life, security guards stationed at key points open doors that would otherwise be off limits to the general public during the tour hours.

At one moment in the narration the audience is instructed to look at their reflection in a mirrored wall — if you ignore this and watch the video instead, you see the camera operator as he mimics the action, revealing himself in the reflection. I thought that was a clever Easter Egg, perhaps a nod to the impossible mirror scene in the film Contact (also featuring Jena Malone when she was a little girl.)

What really sets Thought Experiments apart from any immersive experience I’ve ever done are the musical performances from LA Philharmonic featured throughout. I’m not even a big classical music fan but I found these to be a treat.

In the final segment I found myself almost dancing as I followed the camera choreography in an empty room as the video veers through a small orchestra performing in the same space.


My recommendation: This is an unforgettable experience — I can’t think of a single criticism, it’s the most unique and well put together piece of immersive content I’ve ever seen. Be aware it involves stairs and escalators, and it’s only recommended for those 10 years old or over due to the content. Wholeheartedly recommended.

Angels Flight

October 30th, 2019


For my last day in Los Angeles I was determined to cross a few items off my bucket list, and in order to get there I thought I’d cross off another: riding Angels Flight, the “world’s shortest railway.” It’s really a diagonal elevator with two cars that act as counterbalances.

On my previous visit to LA I went on a walking tour that included Angels Flight, but I didn’t read the fine print correctly. Although they promised a 50% discount off the $1 fare if you had a TAP card, they were not capable of charging the fare to a TAP card and required cash payment — which I didn’t have on me.

This time around I had plenty of quarters left over after going to a fancy new arcade and doing laundry, so I figured I’d give it another go. In the video above I’ve documented this quirky, jerky short railway in all its original 1901 glory.

Well… sort of. The history of Angels Flight isn’t quite what you might think. It was originally located at a different location, closed in 1969, and reopened in 1996 at the new space, only to close repeatedly over the years after a fatal accident. You can read all the details over at Wikipedia.

Armed with a pocket full of quarters I took the trip up the hill — only to find they now have a TAP card reader at the ticket booth at the top. Better late than never.

I also took a few photos of Angels Flight:


Angel's Flight Angel's Flight Angel's Flight

Santa Monica

October 29th, 2019
Santa Monica Pier Santa Monica Pier Santa Monica Pier


After leaving the California Science Center I took the Metro Expo Line — soon to be renamed the E Line and combined with the Gold Line — all the way to the last stop in Santa Monica.

It stops a couple blocks from the beach right by the touristy Santa Monica Pier. Not having been to Santa Monica before I decided to wander around the pier just to see what’s there.

The pier has a few restaurants, a small amusement park with rides called Pacific Park, an arcade, a lot of buskers, and some very nice views. In a lot of ways it felt like a smaller version of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk but with much nicer weather.

It wasn’t particularly crowded when I went but that’s hardly surprising considering it was a Monday afternoon in October. I was more surprised the rides were running at all — there were no lines.

The beach around the pier is fairly pleasant. Lovely sand, lots of space to walk around, sun tan, or play volleyball. Probably best to stay away from the pier if you want to go out in the water though as they do allow fishing from certain parts of the pier.

Walking back up from the beach I wandered along the bike and pedestrian path next to the beach at street level. For whatever reason there’s a couple of old cannons placed there.

As I followed the signs to the nearby downtown area, I saw an older pale guy with long hair, sunglasses with small lenses, a cane, and a mumbling British accent who was having a friendly conversation with a storekeeper. If I didn’t know better — and to be clear I do not — I’d say that guy was Ozzy Osbourne. Then again Halloween’s coming up so who knows.


Downtown Santa Monica Downtown Santa Monica Downtown Santa Monica


The focus of downtown Santa Monica seems to be the Third Street Promenade, a pedestrian street with numerous restaurants, mall stores, two movie theaters, kiosks, and some very 1980’s water features with a dinosaur theme. Unlike most downtown areas these days there’s plenty of seats if you’d like to take a break.

Again, none of this was particularly busy on a Monday afternoon.

On the South end of Third Street there’s a more traditional mall with a Nordstrom. Walking through that mall leads right back to the end station of the Expo Line.

There’s quite a bit more to see in Santa Monica if you have the time of course. The nearby Cat Cafe Lounge would be at the top of my list.

Space Shuttle Endeavour

October 29th, 2019
Space Shuttle Endeavour


Today I went to the California Science Center — a free Los Angeles museum mostly aimed at kids — to see something pretty amazing: a Space Shuttle that flew 25 missions in space.

Looking back it’s easy to see the Space Shuttle program as a weird quirk of space travel history, or at worst as a total flop. It was however the only part of the much more ambitious Space Transportation System (STS) program from the late 1960’s to actually get built and used, so it could also be argued it was a modest success from a certain vantage point of history.

Unfortunately two of the Space Shuttles didn’t make it — the Challenger blew up seconds after liftoff on its 10th mission in 1986, and the Columbia broke apart upon re-entry after its 28th mission in 2003.

The Endeavour was ordered in the wake of the Challenger disaster. In those days the Space Shuttle program was still in full swing and a replacement was needed — the Endeavour would be the last one ever built.

And yes, for the record it’s spelled “Endeavour,” not “Endeavor” despite the latter being the American English spelling of the word. It was named in honor of a ship sailed by Captain Cook in the 18th century, hence the British spelling.

The museum also has an external fuel tank outside. In the near future they plan to exhibit the Endeavour with the fuel tank and two mock solid rocket boosters, but the building for this is not complete.

Seeing it up close the Endeavour looks like an airplane, but of course that’s completely misleading, and a sign in the museum points this out: after taking off straight up strapped to rockets, the wings were only there so it could land like an airplane… kind of. In order to de-orbit it had to do a barrel roll, and as a safety measure that began with the Endeavour it also had a parachute pop out the back to add additional drag.

One interesting aspect of the exhibit is a short film that shows how the Endeavour as well as the fuel tank were delivered to the California Science Center. The Endeavour was strapped to the top of a 747 and flown in, as NASA used to do to in order to move the shuttles between launch pads. The fuel tank was put on a giant barge and shipped through the Panama Canal and up to Marina Del Rey. From there they both had to be placed on giant flatbed trucks and slowly towed in, which meant moving telephone cables, street lights, chopping down trees, and closing streets in order to clear enough space.

The film shows the Endeavor slowly inching along as curious onlookers gather to see this crazy historic event.


Space Shuttle Endeavour


In one corner there’s an engine on display. These are about the size of a small car, and each Space Shuttle had three of them. NASA had plenty of extras on hand and they were apparently relatively easy to swap out for maintenance.

These engines were one of the more successful parts of the Space Shuttle program and will likely be used again in the future.


Space Shuttle Endeavour


Although the above photo may look like a futuristic torture device, that’s actually a Space Shuttle toilet. According to the description there’s a very small hole for defecation, and a hose for urine. Light suction was used to make sure the cabin air was not contaminated.

It’s an interesting reminder that humans aren’t really meant for zero gravity environments.


Space Shuttle Endeavour


Around the interior of the building containing the Endeavour are photos of the crews of each STS mission with a short description of what happened and which Space Shuttle was used. The two disastrous missions show the deceased crew in black and white photos.

One aspect of this I hadn’t considered is the number of people onboard increased toward the end of the program, as the Space Shuttles were later used primarily for bringing people, supplies, and experiments to and from the International Space Station.

My one criticism of the exhibit as it currently stands is it doesn’t really touch on the International Space Station all that much, and yet it was clearly the most successful part of the entire Space Shuttle Program. Not only has it outlived the program, it got Russia and the US to cooperate on a major project. It’s a shame we don’t do that more here on the ground.

I got to see Neil Hamburger live at a small venue in LA

October 29th, 2019
Neil Hamburger live


On Sunday night I went to see Neil Hamburger (with special guests) live at The Satellite, a small venue in LA’s Silverlake neighborhood.

For those unfamiliar with Neil Hamburger he requires a little explanation: he’s not a “real” person but a comedian character played by Gregg Turkington. Neil is a sad sack, third rate comic who appears to be a relic from a forgotten era. On stage he wears large glasses, an ill-fitting suit that looks like he probably woke up wearing it, and his damp hair is swept over his forehead. He frequently whimpers and coughs directly into the mic and constantly spills the many drinks he has cradled in his elbow.

The genius of the character is that he subverts the audience expectations of this seemingly cranky old man by telling dirty knock knock jokes, jokes in the form of questions with tasteless punchlines, and/or intentionally bombing with an idiotic punchline after a long and convoluted set up.

Most of his jokes come at the expense of celebrities — especially musicians. A few examples:

  • Why does Eric Clapton close his eyes during his guitar solos? Well, because his audience is so ugly.
  • What do you get when you cross the members of The Red Hot Chilli Peppers with an octopus? Junkies with eight arms to shoot up into.
  • What does the movie Oceans 13 have in common with rapper Tupac Shakur? Both were shot in Vegas.

Neil also has recorded a few music albums over the years. My personal favorite song of his is “The Recycle Bin,” in which he angrily denounces people who put non-recyclable stuff into recycle bins.

The evening began with Todd Glass. His set ran a little long, but his overall message was about how comedy should be inclusive rather than punching down, and making fun of comedians who can’t wrap their heads around the concept of improving themselves. He was joined by a band on stage.

The Puterbaugh Sisters arrived on stage next as “conjoined twin” ghosts. Halloween is a serious thing in LA and they used it to their advantage. Most of their material covered the problems they were having dating, being dead conjoined twins and all.

Jamie Loftus had a quirky set about eating eggs that included a PowerPoint presentation. She brought a brave member of the audience to play her dad in an embarrassing sketch.

Second to last, Natalie Palamides had a Halloween themed comedy set where she was dressed as a witch. She cast some “spells” and stole the soul of one member of the audience, only to return it after deciding he was too boring.

An unbilled performer whose name I can’t recall came out to test out a short routine he was preparing for an upcoming episode of Conan. It needed work, but that’s obviously why he was testing it on a small audience.

Finally it was time for Neil Hamburger to hit the stage. He started out with some new material, some seemingly improved jokes complaining about the Halloween decorations behind him, finally followed by a set of his classic material — mostly making fun of The Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Neil’s set seemed on the shorter side, although to be fair I wasn’t exactly checking my watch or anything, and the show did unfortunately get off to a late start.

This show seems to be a monthly thing at The Satellite as there’s another show scheduled in November. For all upcoming Neil Hamburger shows, visit his “unofficial” website,