MY "MISSION" TRAILS

So, as part of my yearly birthday tradition, I would pick an activity/site for my college friends and I to do (or go to). The year of 2013, I decided to check off one of the 1,000 sites by going to at least one of the missions recommended in the state of California. Since Mission San Juan Capistrano was the closest, it seemed like the best option to start with. The mission was so beautiful, and much more enjoyable with the warm and sunny weather we had that day of our visit. There is a $9 admission fee, but it also comes with a free audio tour. So you can walk around the large site and enter the corresponding number on your remote, and it spits out history of that particular item or structure. Overall, the mission was beautiful and a great way to spend the afternoon with a loved one or family. It's a great stop between LA and San Diego, and I would recommend it! If you are able to, they recommend checking out the mission around March 19th, when the swallows of birds fly over from their migration.

The second mission I was able to visit was the Mission San Diego Del Alcala during my weekend getaway to San Diego. There is ample parking and it's smaller than the San Juan Capistrano one but still a beautiful mission. There is a docent tour on Saturday's at 11:30 a.m. that you can partake in if you want to learn more about the mission, which I did. You might as well since it is free and comes with your $5 admission fee. This mission is called the "Mother of Missions" because it was the first ever mission built in California, so it really isn't as fancy as the other ones. Some of the area's I recommend you checking out is the nave (the main part of the church where the congregation sit) and the courtyards next to it. Since it is a smaller mission, you'll be able to see everything within the hour and still have time to explore the rest of San Diego.

The next mission I ended up going to was the San Buenaventura Mission, which is about an hour drive north of Los Angeles in Ventura County. Unlike the other two missions I went to before, this mission was right in the middle of town where it was surrounded by shops, thrift stores, and restaurants. Unfortunately, that was the only thing I really enjoyed in Ventura. The mission itself (which comes with a $5 entrance fee) was pretty small, and I was able to see it all in under twenty minutes. There were some similarities that I've seen from the previous two missions, but also a few distinctive items that stood out as well (such as the Pieta statue). However, I wasn't sure if I should have been thankful that there was so little to see or that there wasn't enough to see. In the end, it wasn't much of a sight to see. However, I loved exploring the rest of the town! I've been to Ventura before and stayed at one of their beach hotels a few times, but this was the first time I actually explored the town. And I liked it! The small beach town is walking distance from some of the hotels on the beach, so it's a great spot to go for a quick weekend if you haven't done it before. So, yes, come visit Ventura....but you can probably skip visiting the mission.

LA THEME PARKS: DISNEYLAND, CA ADVENTURE, & UNIVERSAL STUDIOS

We all know one of the main attractions people come to L.A. is for Disneyland. Well, it's not quite in the heart of Los Angeles but more like adjacent in Anaheim. It's about a 45 minute drive from my place, so it isn't too far out to get there! I've been to Disneyland several times throughout my life and I've seen the progression it has made during this time. The parking lots have become bigger, fast pass got introduced, they added in California Adventure, and much more. Yes, young folks, California Adventure was an additional add-on to the theme park. I guess I really wouldn't have much to say about Disneyland since EVERYONE has been there. But I'll try to dole out some pointers as a local. Like, you should definitely try to get there first thing in the morning. That way you can get a fast pass to a busy ride such as Space Mountain, then jump in line for another ride while you're waiting! I'd recommend starting in Adventure Land to try and get on the Indiana Jones ride before it breaks down. I believe that's the main ride that breaks down all the time, so you should try to get on it before it does. Disneyland is also known for their corn dogs, but I think it tastes just like any other corn dog out there. But supposedly people love them and think there's nothing like it! Also, the best show to watch is Fantasia at night. It is hands down the best show I've seen at Disneyland, or any other theme park for that matter. You can buy a prix-fixe dinner package at a participating restaurant inside to score fast pass tickets to the show. There aren't that many bad seats in the area to watch it from, but since it's the best show out there, I would think to get the best seats possible.

For California Adventure, I admit I've only been to this part of the park just once. In the beginning, I felt like it didn't offer as much rides and attractions as Disneyland did based on their equal ticket price. But I was wrong. Since I'm so used to Disneyland's rides and attractions, its nice to stray away and experience a new "land". I feel California Adventure has the newer and more current rides or attractions (Guardians of the Galaxy, Cars, Finding Nemo), while Disneyland is still more classical (Snow White, Peter Pan, Indiana Jones). My most memorable ride is the Ferris Wheel. It's not your ordinary ferris wheel either. There are two lines for the ride, where one is for the regular ferris wheel cabins you are used to and the other is a swinging one. So the cabin moves and slides as you go around! You would think its not scary, but it is! And just like Disneyland, you can get the priority pass for World of Color by eating a prix-fixe course dinner at one of the participating restaurants. However, do not scramble to go up to the front to see the show. We arrived extra early to be right up front for the show and all we got was cold wind and water misted at us. Yes, we got to see the show up close, but the payoff wasn't worth it. If it's a hot night, then I would probably be fine with it. If not, I wouldn't. And it's probably a better view from the middle to back end anyways.

Universal Studios, closer to Hollywood, is the most convenient out of all the theme parks for me. It feels like a hidden city within Los Angeles, but also because it is. It has its own zip code, fire station, post office, and is incorporated. And, if you're a local, one of the most common promotions Universal offers is its Annual Pass that comes with a year's admission when paying for the day admission. Since Universal Studios is a smaller park than Disneyland, you will be able to finish the entire park fairly early. Of all the rides at this theme park, I would say The Mummy ride is my favorite. It's like their version of Space Mountain. Enough said. And you definitely have to experience the Studio Tour Tram ride. Universal Studios also has its own version of Downtown Disney called Universal Citywalk. The strip has a bunch of restaurants, fun stores, smaller attractions, and a movie theater. Sometimes Universal Studios closes around 6 pm, so it's very convenient to exit the park and just walk to one of the many restaurants for dinner.

Side note: Watch a movie at the AMC Theater and you can get a $15 cash rebate from your $20 parking ticket.

If you will be in Los Angeles for at least 3 days, I highly recommend getting the Go Los Angeles Card. With the 3-day Go Card, you get admission into Universal Studios, Knott's Berry Farm, and even Legoland! So you'll be able to save time by not having to buy tickets individually, and you'll save money since it will all be at a discounted rate!

HOLLYWOOD TOURS GALORE

So during my Memorial Day Weekend, I decided to be a tourist in my own city. I didn't have a chance to book a flight out for the weekend, but still wanted to do something fun where I still felt like I was traveling. So why not hit up as many tours from my 1,000 List as I can!

So, the Warner Bros Studio Tour was our first stop of the day! I think it's best to buy the tickets online ($59) and arrive at your scheduled departure time for the tour. There is a small parking lot next to the building hosting the tour, and its $10 to park there. And if you woke up late and missed breakfast like I did, there is a Starbucks inside the waiting area so that you can eat and drink while you wait. You start off by checking in and waiting to go into a small theater where you hear about what to expect, with a little introduction about Warner Bros Studio. Next, you're whisked off to a golf cart that holds about 12 people, so it's a pretty intimate group. Unfortunately, I think we had a sub-par tour guide. She wasn't as knowledgeable as you'd think a tour guide should be, and she had some body odor. And I was seated right next to her the entire ride. Hmph! Plus, she kept talking about 'Pretty Little Liars'. Listen lady, I don't know about you, but I don't watch that show! I'd say my most memorable moment was going into the Archive Museum. This is where they had exhibits of WB's Suicide Squad and Harry Potter. This guy put the Sorting Hat on me, which tells you what school you're assigned to...and I got Slytherin! How appropriate. Peter, whom I went with, got Gryffindor. Even though he's more of a Hufflepuff I think. (Laughs)

After the WB Tour, we headed to Shake Shack for lunch and debated whether we should go nap or push through to our next tour. We decided to power through and head to the Chinese Theatre, where we needed to check in for our Starline Movie Stars' Home Tour (Get Discounted Tours Here). You will be out in the sun for the 2+ hours tour, since it's a convertible van, so be prepared by applying sunscreen! Even though I'm a local, I did learn a ton of stuff on this tour. I found out where Keanu Reeves (very sleek modern house), Katy Perry (right by Runyon's entrance on the other side), Leonardo Di Caprio (owns like a block of houses), the Hilton's (modest house in comparison), and many more lived. We didn't get to see any actual celebrities, but we learned a lot about what kind of cars they drove (lots of Prius' and Range Rovers) and how much their home's were worth or bought for (obviously in the $10+ millions). So yes, a bit depressing that I would never be able to afford those houses. But maybe if I win the lottery...

Since you'll be out in the sun during the Starline/WB Tours, you should stock up on some sunscreen before taking the tours.

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My second to last tour needed to complete the List (well, in regards to taking tours) was the Dearly Departed Tour. Obviously based on the tour title, it was not going to be a happy-go-lucky adventure that we were going to partake. So there are two tours throughout the day, one at about 11 am and another at 2 pm. I had originally been scheduled for the 11 am slot, but I think since there weren't enough people, they moved everyone over to the 2 pm tour instead. So leave room in your schedule for this to potentially happen! If you are into celebrity scandals and murders, this would be your tour. As a local, you hear about these things all the time. So when I learn something new (which I did on this tour), it's exciting and makes the tour worth it. Be forewarned that they give you a binder full of pictures of the topics covered on the tour, and there are some graphic photo's....like crime and murder scene photos. So if you are really squeamish, I would avoid turning the page to see them. The only overlapping thing that they showed on this tour compared to the Movie Stars' Home Tour was Michael Jackson's home, so you won't feel like you are taking the same type of tour again.

The last tour on the List I completed was the Paramount Pictures Studio Lot Tour. Now, this studio tour is very similar in style with the Warner Bros. Tour but on a smaller scale. If you are a California resident like I am, there is a discounted ticket price you can purchase online (I'm not quite sure if it's a promotional price at the time of purchase or a permanent thing). If you want to save some money, avoid parking in the lot across the street ($15) and instead go find street parking. There was plenty of street parking available when we went on that Friday morning. The things I liked about the tour was that it was intimate (only 4 other people in the group), had an interactive prop warehouse where you can try on costumes, and it was quite informative. The disappointing aspects of the tour was that we had limited access to certain areas if they're filming, it wasn't that big of a studio to explore so the tour felt short, and you couldn't take pictures in certain areas when that was the point of coming to a studio. However, I enjoyed myself on the tour and would recommend it to those wanting an authentic Hollywood experience.

I'M A BEACH

Did you see how I put a play on words? Oy vey.

Alright, so the running joke here in LA is that we live close to the beach but we rarely go visit it. I'm one of those people. However, I did go to both Venice and Santa Monica so I can definitely check them off the list!

Let's start with Santa Monica cause it is the cleaner and more active of the two beaches. One of my go-to shopping spots in LA is the Third Street Promenade. Since the remodel, it includes stores such as Louis Vuitton, Bloomingdales, Nordstroms, CB2, 7 For Mankind, Kitson, and Barney's NY. It's an outdoor strip mall that includes several blocks where you can just walk around, eat at restaurants, or enjoy the street performer's acts. One of the many restaurants you should go to while you're there is Border Grill (by chef Susan Feniger; whom I met). It's a Mexican restaurant essentially with her twist to it. I thought the decor was very orange colored, but I didn't mind it since the food was good. I believe they have great brunch specials too. After lunch, might as well head to the beach. Now if you go towards the beach, you'll come across the semi-attached Santa Monica Pier. I like coming here for dates once in awhile cause it can be pretty romantic at night/sunset. And how cute would it be to play carnival games in Pacific Park with your significant other! For those who don't know, Pacific Park is a mini carnival area on the pier that includes a ferris wheel, arcade, mini roller coaster, kids rides, and carnival games.

Now if you go further down south, you'll hit the other sister beach, Venice. I would say the cutest thing about Venice Beach is Abbot Kinney (few blocks of cute shops and restaurants) and the Venice Canals. If Santa Monica Pier is the cute date spot at night, Venice Canals would be the day version. If you've seen the movie Valentine's Day with Ashton Kutcher, you'll be able to see what I'm talking about. The actual Venice Beach strip though is kind of dirty and full of homeless people, skaters, henna tattoo artists, weed shops, and tarot card readers. I'd suggest that you make a brief stop at Muscle Beach to see those big bodybuilders lift heavy weights and then just head back to Santa Monica.

MY HOME, HOLLYWOOD

I love living in Los Angeles! And I love even more that I can call Hollywood my home! I've been at my place for about 6 plus years now, where Runyon Canyon is only a few blocks up, and this place never gets old. This also means I'm walking distance from Grauman's Chinese Theatre (which is now TCL Theatres), Hollywood & Highland, Hollywood Bowl, and the Hollywood Museum. I think I walk by these sites about once a week, mostly because there are so many food options available for me to choose from during dinner time. It's also my go-to movie theater of course! I've seen a few movies at Grauman's (Vice Movie Premiere; Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation) and I highly recommend it. It is so beautiful inside!! It has the feel of old Hollywood glamour with spacious seating and amazing decor, and just because it's been there for awhile doesn't mean that it has old surround sound (because the sound in there is incredible). The other TCL theaters in the attached Hollywood & Highland complex are also cool to watch movies in as well. But if you are visiting, I'd try to sneak a movie in at the Grauman's! And you can't speak of Grauman's without mentioning the Hollywood Walk of Fame! I'm not going to lie, I think the Walk of Fame is overrated...but it could be because I walk through it all the time! Who knows! It lines the streets of Hollywood from Orange Street to about Vine Street. It's a fairly long walk, and there's really nothing to see between the Hollywood & Highland mall and Pantages Theatre, where it ends. But hey, since you're there already for the other sightseeing stuff, might as well right? Actually don't, you have better things to see in LA.

The Hollywood & Highland Center has some cool stores in it, although the vendor list has been changing quite frequently over the last few years. However, we all rejoiced when Dave & Buster's moved in as a permanent tenant! I love D&B, but I hated going all the way to Santa Anita to experience the game haven restaurant. Now that it's so close by, I go there all the time. I'm also thankful for the Red Metro station to be posted there as well, cause its an easy hop on the train if I wanted to head Downtown when freeway traffic is bad. I would also have to mention the Dolby Theatre (known prior as the Kodak Theatre) is inside the mall, where they hold the Academy Awards. I've been inside the luxurious theater to see the short-lived Cirque du Soleil show, Iris, but it's probably not worth it for you to pay exclusively for a tour inside to explore it.

And a block down from the mall is the Hollywood Museum, with four stories of movie and TV memorabilia inside. It's actually mostly costumes and signed pictures from the old days of Hollywood to now. The majority of the items in the museum are from the golden age of TV and movie, with props and pictures of Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe, Jean Harlow, etc. There was one floor dedicated to recent TV/movies that we are all familiar with, like Hunger Games, Good Wife, Dancing with the Stars, etc. And a few more modern movie memorabilia pieces sprinkled throughout the rest of the museum. In the basement was the horror flicks and movies section that contained the likes of Elvira and Jason, so it might be a little too scary for children. Even as an adult man, I was pretty frightened walking into the exhibit.

If you want to stay in the heart of Hollywood so you can be immersed in the experience, I would recommend staying at the Roosevelt Hotel. It's basically in the tourist haven of Hollywood, and it has more history and charm than the Lowe's Hotel behind the Hollywood & Highland mall. Plus they have a great 24 hours burger joint downstairs called 25 Degrees.

Another Hollywood staple is the Hollywood Bowl. It's like the Greek Theatre...but better. The only problem with the location of this venue is that it's near a freeway exit. Can you imagine all the traffic that occurs before and after the events at this place?! I'm going to be dreading the commute this summer when it's the only way to get from work to my place. The only advantage for me with this is that I can walk to the venue instead of scrambling to find overpriced parking. I've seen a few shows here, including Rent the Musical, We Can Survive Concert, and Jason Mraz. One of the highlights of coming here is that you can bring in food & drinks to enjoy during your show. There are also fireworks during certain shows in the summer that you can enjoy at the end. Always great memories here at the Bowl, including being in the bathroom line behind Justin Timberlake!

Now, if you're in Hollywood during the evening, I would recommend going to Musso & Frank Grill. From the outside, it does look a bit outdated and sketchy. And inside...well, its definitely not modern. However, its an homage to old Hollywood. You will probably have the same look on your face as I did when I came into the restaurant. But at the end of the meal, I was excited to come visit the place again! I highly recommend the Summer Squash Ravioli because that dish was amazingly delicious!! The steaks are what they're known for, but their non-steak items are just as delicious. You know you are at a great restaurant when a lot of the other dishes they serve are just as great as what they are known for.

If you plan to be in Los Angeles for at least 1-2 days, consider getting the Go Los Angeles Card! For one low price, you can have admission to a bunch of Hollywood sites (including Hollywood Museum & Dolby Theater Tour, all mentioned above).