12 Days in California December 2016-January 2017
Day 1 Wednesday, December 28th, 2016: Flight from MCO to LAX
Airports were exceptionally busy from holiday travels, but the Delta flight was surprisingly pleasant. The line for bag check was wrapped around and through the terminal, but fortunately we got to use the Sky Priority line for business class, which was significantly shorter. I was amused when I asked someone tending the line if it was the correct line for business class and she kept thinking I was confused and couldn’t possibly have a business class ticket. Granted, the other passengers in the Sky Priority line weren’t wearing their Hogwarts pajamas, like I was.
I was thoroughly impressed with the service and incredible vegan breakfast option on the business class flight. I had requested the Vegetarian (Vegan) VGML meal through Delta’s website when booking. As the attendants were taking orders, I heard them asking other guests if they wanted an omelette or oatmeal, so I assumed we’d be getting oatmeal for breakfast. We didn’t place an order; the attendant just confirmed with us that we’d requested the vegan meal and moved on. I was completely surprised when they delivered our gorgeous plates of tofu scramble with spinach, roasted potatoes and asparagus, a bagel with jam, and a bowl of fruit. It was one of the best tofu scrambles I’ve ever had, and I can’t believe it was on an airplane! It had a great flavor of turmeric with a hint of cinnamon, and the spinach was well cooked and made for a very healthy meal. The potatoes were creamy and rich with a hint of garlic.
In addition to the meal, the in-flight entertainment was great (lots of new movies–we watched Captain America: Civil War, which I enjoyed), and the service was very attentive. If I fly Delta again, I will definitely book business class.
We hailed an Uber from the rideshare pickup platform on the 2nd floor of LAX. Traffic is so bad in LA that our ride from the airport to the Enterprise car rental was nearly 40 minutes. The rental car wasn’t ready when we arrived, so we walked to Grand Central Market for lunch at Ramen Hood. Along the way, we got to sight-see in the downtown area. I particularly liked the library, which was in a gorgeous historic building.
Ramen Hood was delicious as always, but was incredibly busy. The whole market was packed, and Ramen Hood’s bar was full. We opted to wait for seats at the bar, which took and while and resulted with us on the end, which was very uncomfortable with people constantly bumping into us. I’d love to see them move to a different, larger location; they seem busy enough to be able to!
After getting our car, we checked in to the Westin Pasadena. Pasadena is a great location for me; close enough to LA, but with a more suburban feel… and close to Donut Friend! The hotel is modern, stylish, and has great views. Our room was on the 12th (top) floor with a view of a historic church across the street and mountains in the distance. The room was smell-free (MCS approved), which is my first priority in a hotel. As far as mattresses go, though, I was let down by the Westin Heavenly Bed. It’s a pillowtop, but is much too firm for my taste (a pillowtop over a cement slab is kind of a waste of a pillowtop). I managed okay with my “pillow fort”™. The showerhead was also disappointing, as I don’t like the wider, rain-type showerheads. Nevertheless, it was a pleasant stay.
Dinner was at Shojin, which was impressive as always. We got shangri-la hot tea, stuffed shiitake mushrooms appetizer, kiss of the spider woman, crunchy tiger, and baked scallop rolls, and tempura banana chocolate mousse with creme brule for dessert. The crunchy tiger is a new favorite for me (after the baked scallop, of course), but the kiss of the spider woman was a little too acidic from the yuzu chia for my taste.
Notes for future planning:
An Uber from LAX to downtown is about $35.
Ramen Hood is too busy until late lunch.
Pasadena is a fantastic location from downtown, but the Westin’s bed and shower leave something to be desired.
The Enterprise at 445 Figueroa is conveniently walkable to Grand Central Market. First car was a very smelly Hyundai, but they kindly swapped it on our second day to a scentless Chevy Spark that I really enjoyed driving.
Day 2 December 29: Marine Mammal Care Center and Hollywood
Our first stop was back in LA for mochi. Fugetsudo doesn’t have as many of the non-traditional sweet mochi as kogetsudo does, but I enjoyed my red bean mochis nonetheless.
We visited the Marine Mammal Care Center, home to pinnipeds in need of medical or rehabilitaory care. There were several seal lions and a few elephant seals. Some yearling sea lions were just about ready to be released back into the wild. We talked with the volunteers there and learned about the animals and the work the Center does. I took a harbor seal home with me (a plush one, of course!), along with t-shirts and postcards. The views from the hilltop center of the Pacific Ocean were impressive. We saw lots of cranes and cargo ships at the harbor.
After MMCC, we went to Stuff I Eat for lunch. It reminded me a lot of our Dandelion Café back home, but with Soul Food cuisine instead. Everything was made from scratch and was so fresh and healthy. I had the Sumthin Sumthin, which is a somewhat southwest-inspired bowl that is full of flavor. Jacob got the Soul Food Platter. Everything on the platter was delicious, particularly the mac n cheese, potato salad, and tofu (but especially the mac n cheese!). We also got a biscuit and gravy, which was okay, but I think it may have been gluten-free, and I prefer my biscuits with gluten. Jacob liked it though.
Next stop was Griffith Park, which is a huge, mountainous park in LA. We only did a little hiking because it got dark pretty early (around 6 or so). The views of the city from the mountain are spectacular. We saw the Observatory from a distance, which is also a great view from the park.
Since we were kind of near Hollywood, we stopped by the Disney Studio Store Hollywood. We got lucky and they’d recently had a pin flip, and the new PTD was an adorable Lilo pin, so we get a berry sorbet and the Lilo PTD. There were lots of character performers outside like always. We saw Batman hanging out with the Joker, and a Wolverine who resembled Hugh Jackman with an uncanny likeness.
We were still a bit full from lunch and the sorbet and were ready to head back to the hotel, so we decided to get to-go from Little Pine and eat it later at the hotel. The Mushroom Bouginon was spectacular. Every element of the dish was delicious and paired well with every other. The tangy sour cream perfectly complemented the rich sauce and creamy potatoes. The Mushroom Crostini was also excellent. The fresh basil flavor and tasty maitake mushrooms were wonderful. They had a new mushroom ravioli dish that was very good, but not as good as the other 2. The truffle and garlic flavors were a little overwhelming in the sauce and could have used a little more acid to cut through them. The spinach filling and pasta itself were excellent, though.
Day 3, Friday, December 30: Los Angeles to Bakersfield
We decided to try public transportation for the long trip from Los Angeles to Yosemite to spare ourselves from the drive. It turned out to not be better than driving. The Greyhound bus was a disaster and the train was overly crowded from Fresno to Bakersfield (Bakersfield to Fresno was okay though).
We started the day at Pomegranate to get desserts, but unfortunately, I can’t review them, because the bottom of the to-go bag gave out and they splattered on the ground. 😦
However, lunch at By Chloe was fantastic. I had high expectations and they were met. We got the Spinach Artichoke Dip, Mac n Cheese, Meatball Sub, and Kale Caesar. The artichoke dip was incredible. Thick, full of delicious artichokes, and a perfect sauce with a tiny bit of heat. Every component of the meatball sub was perfect and pairs well together. The meatballs were full of flavor and the 3 sauces were excellent. The Caesar had a great dressing and was full of fresh, healthy veggies. I’ve made Chloe’s recipe for mac n cheese before at home, and this one was similar. Nice and mild with a subtle cheesy flavor.
After lunch, we returned the car and began our journey up to Yosemite. The first leg was to Bakersfield on a bus. Note to self: Never ride on a Greyhound again. I won’t go into details, but it was terrible. Hopefully the train the rest of the way up will be much more pleasant.
The Bakersfield Hilton Garden Inn was fantastic. On the 4th floor, they had the Garden Sleep System and fantastic shower pressure/temperature. We did laundry and used the business center.
Dinner was at Chef’s Choice Noodle Bar, which was a good option, as before. I was still pretty full from lunch, so I just shared bites of the ramen bowl and had vegetable gyoza.
Day 4, Saturday, December 31: Bakersfield to Yosemite
The train ride from Bakersfield to Merced was okay. It’s better than flying coach but not as nice as a train with cabins would be. I think driving to Mariposa for the YARTS is probably still the best option.
We had a nice, long layover between the train and the YARTS, so we walked through Merced and ate at J&R Tacos. We were in a residential neighborhood and the houses were all super cute. The vegan options at J&R were plentiful, but on the bland side and lacking variety. However, it was great to have a very filling meal for lunch.
The YARTS ride up to Yosemite was pleasant. The bus wasn’t very full, and we got to move around for great views (starting at the front, then moving to sides for view of the Merced river).
We checked in to a fantastic room at the Yosemite Valley Lodge (Maple 3521). It had a private balcony and views out to the mountains and trees. It also had a heater, which our previous room didn’t. The corridors were internal, so they got noisier than the previous building we’d stayed in (Willow). The beds are all very hard, but options are slim inside the park, and it’s worth it for the convenience. No smells in the rooms and plenty hot, running water, so we make do.
The hotel was hosting a free family-friendly New Year’s Eve party where they had cute games and prizes and snacks like chips. It was a really well done event and we enjoyed playing the games. We won a raccoon, mountain lion, and a snowman clay set. They also had an adults-only party starting at 9pm, but we were long in our room by then.
We ate at the food court for dinner. We only needed a light snack since our lunch was so filling. I got a plain salad from the cooler with Newman’s Own dressing and we shared the vegetarian soup of the day was vegan black bean and corn. Before bed, we had hot tea out on the balcony. It was so nice to be away from the city, and today we finally felt like we were on vacation.
Day 5, Sunday, January 1: Touring Yosemite
All the tours we went on were absolute highlights of the trip. We were on the 10am Valley Floor Tour; their first tour of 2017. The tour was very informative and takes you to sites that are unreachable without a car, like Tunnel View, which was spectacular. After that tour, we went to the Majestic Hotel Tour, which was also fantastic. We learned a lot about the construction and history of the hotel.
Lunch between the tours was again at the food court. This time, there were no vegan options at any of the stations (besides French fries that we quickly scarfed down). It was difficult, but we eventually got someone to come out and they made us pasta and marinara and veggies. It was decent. A good amount of veggies and carbs to get us through the day.
We watched both movies at the Visitor Center. The :00 one was a bit more like a traditional documentary, talking about the origin of National Parks, and the 2nd had beautiful footage of the park.
That evening, we went on the Night Prowl tour. Another fabulous tour. It was a walk in the dark without artificial lights, with the narration focusing on wayfinding. I particularly liked the solo walk portion. Being in the beautiful, expansive park at night without artificial light was such a unique experience. It was a bit overcast to see too many stars, but we did see a few. The guide (same one as for the Hotel tour) was informative and fantastic.
Day 6, Monday, January 2: Touring Yosemite
Today, we walked to Mirror Lake. The path was covered in ice, which made for a long, treacherous walk. The stream along the way, and the lake were beautiful, though.
Lunch at the food court was our best yet. The vegetarian soup of the day was Chickpea and Tomato, and it was delicious and filling. I wanted orange juice, so we went to the Village Store and found it. They also have fresh vegetables, fruit, and lots of non-perishable food items there.
We had dinner at the Majestic Hotel dining room, and it was very good. The chef was able to modify the vegetarian option of a stuffed acorn squash with lentils, wild rice, and broccolini to be vegan (I’m not sure what mod they needed to make; I assume butter in something). It had a great variety of texture and flavor and nice presentation.
After dinner, we recreated our Night Prowl from the previous night. This time, there weren’t many clouds in the sky, so we got a great view of the stars! So many stars! It was lovely standing surrounded by trees looking up at the full, bright sky of stars.
Day 7, Tuesday, January 3: Snowy morning and back to Bakersfield
We woke up extra early to lots of snow falling in front of our window. We headed out right at dawn for a final stroll through the park. It was snowing the hardest I’ve seen yet, and I had a blast running around in the snow up and down trails and catching snowflakes (and generally being covered in it from so much falling). We walked out to Yosemite Falls and around to the meadow that views Half Dome. There was hardly anyone around, and it was peaceful and exhilarating at the same time.
We took the first YARTS out of the park to our train station. We were supposed to have a half hour layover, but the bus was running behind, so we made it with just about 10 minutes to spare. Not having much of a layover made the back-to-back bus and train rides a bit tougher than on the way up. We didn’t eat before leaving the park, so waiting until our arrival in the evening was tiring (in addition to having gotten up at 5:30am for packing and snow play). We were excited to get back to the comfy Hilton Garden Inn and to have a big meal.
Timing: Check out 8:45, on internal bus 9:00, arrive at YARTS stop in Half Dome Village 9:26, YARTS arrive 9:30, YARTS at Amtrak 12:41, train depart 12:51.
Day 8, Wednesday, January 4: Bakersfield to Anaheim
We woke up in Bakersfield and had already decided we weren’t getting on that bus again, so we got a Lyft to the Enterprise airport location and rented a car that we’d take down to Los Angeles. We got a Ford Focus that was odor-free. We took CA-14 instead of I-5, so it was a little better, but it’s still a rough drive with all the mountains. We stopped at Get Fresh Cafe in Lancaster along the way for a break. It was a decent option along the road. I really liked the pasta salad that came with the sandwiches.
When we finally went got back down to Los Angeles, we first stopped at Donut Friend, and then made our way south to Stuff I Eat. Yum! I got my usual Sumthin Sumthin and Jacob his Soul Food Platter.
We returned the surprise Enterprise rental and picked up our reservation from MCar. It was much smellier than the first time we rented from them and very offputting (we tried 2 cars, and the 2nd was better, but still bad).
The Grand Californian welcomed us “home” and we were surprised with our first time in the ground-floor partial-theme-park-view room! Complete with hidden Mickeys. 🙂
Day 9, Thursday, January 5th: Disneyland and California Adventure
It was a bit cold and rainy the first day, so the camera didn’t come out much. We got to see Frozen at the Hyperion, the Paint the Night Parade, and the holiday World of Color: Season of Light, which is one of my favorite versions along with Celebrate. Plus lots of Haunted Mansion Holiday, along with meeting Jack and Sally.
Day 10,Friday, January 6th: Disneyland and California Adventure
Jacob had been sniffly since the beginning of Yosemite, but by this day, I had caught full blown flu and couldn’t get out of the hotel bed. Fortunately, the beds are very comfortable at the Grand! We managed to get out and try Tana Ethiopian nearby in Anaheim. It was good (Ethiopian can’t be bad!), but no Nile.
Day 11, Saturday, January 7th:
We checked out of the GCH today and went to Universal. I was still very weak, so we got a wheelchair and Jacob pushed me around the park. We got to ride the Studio Tour, which was really cool seeing sets and the nostalgia of Jaws still existing on that tour.
Day 12, Sunday, January 8th:
We checked out early, returned our car, and got back to LAX for our flight. We flew on Virgin’s premium economy offering that was very comfortable. The first (bulkhead) row had enough legroom to stand and get out of the row, and the seats were comfortable (for airplane seats).