CategoriesTravel

What Visitors From Abroad Need to Know About Los Angeles

Los Angeles
One of my favorite LAX landmarks. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whenever I connect with travelers visiting the U.S. from abroad, there’s one destination that’s invariably on their itineraries: Los Angeles.

I like Los Angeles – probably more than most Americans. But it has some highly visible warts. And my foreign friends are so eager to see it that I cringe at the disappointment that can follow. I’d like to prepare them for the reality of Los Angeles with this list of observations gleaned from way too many visits to the area.

Hollywood – All the Grunge, Little of the Glamor

Los Angeles
Definitely an icon.

If you have dreams of Hollywood glitz, lower your expectations. It’s shabby and run-down with its best years decades in the past. I actually like the Sunset Strip quite a bit, but not for the usual reasons – the place is packed full of guitar shops selling some serious pro-grade gear. And you can walk from one to the other (perfect for a guy like me who spent way too much time playing in local bands), unlike my city where I could spend a day driving around and never find anything interesting. By and large, dining is pretty much focused on chains. I suppose things could get interesting if you’re interested in seeing where celebrities live or once lived – they have all sorts of tours for that sort of thing.

Los Angeles
Tanning beds not required at Muscle Beach (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Beaches are Meh, But People Watching is Amazing

I know, I know – it’s sunny SoCal! The water should be warm and inviting, right? Nope. This is, year-round, some chilly water. Navy SEAL operators train just 120 miles away because the water is cold enough to test their endurance and fortitude. If you want warm, clear, sparkly water, you will not find it on a Los Angeles beach. You will, however, find absolutely epic people watching. Venice Beach, Muscle Beach, all the spots in Santa Monica -- I’ll just say to bring your camera. The fun part of Muscle Beach is watching people try their hands at some of the activities; my wife once saw an amazing wipeout on a slackline, and we both wished she’d been rolling some video of it.

Los Angeles
Have a mammoth time at La Brea Tar Pits. (Wikimedia Commons)

Natural History in the Concrete

My favorite place in LA is going to surprise you: the La Brea Tar Pits. Here’s the deal -- Los Angeles is a huge mass of concrete. Here, the earth looks completely static. But the La Brea Tar Pits are a reminder that the earth is alive, that it is moving and living right under our feet – even in a city that appears locked into its current form. You can watch scientists at work there, dredging up clues from the earth’s long history. It’s absolutely hypnotic, especially jammed into the backdrop of concrete, crowds and traffic.

Speaking of Sprawling

Travelers from abroad are often used to public transit. If you’re from Tokyo, London, Frankfurt or Seoul, there’s literally nowhere you can’t reach thanks to their world-class public transit and inherent walkability. You will not find that here. Just leaving Los Angeles International Airport is difficult. There is no Tube or Metro to zip you to the most-interesting parts of the city (compare that to Stockholm, where a sweet rail system can help you make the most of a 7-hour layover). There is allegedly some sort of rail system under construction. For now, you’re best-off making prior arrangements. You have taxis, but they can be hit-and-miss from a quality standpoint. I never thought about this before being a parent, but booking something in advance can make sure that you’ll have a car seat, adequate space, a knowledgeable driver -- all very important to get a trip started off well. I’d lean toward booking a car service from LAX.

Los Angeles
Hollywood celebrities and dignitaries at Roosevelt Birthday Ball activities in Washington, (left to… – NARA – 199317 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tons of Theme Parks

If you have kids that watch too much TV, chances are they’re clamoring for a visit to a certain rodent-fronted theme park. It’s here, it’s sprawling and it’s absolutely astounding in its ability to absolutely dominate everything about Anaheim. If you’re traveling without little people, you’ll find better rides at Magic Mountain Parkway or Knotts Berry Farm. But there are other theme parks and attractions, from paintball fields to racecar-themed parks. Los Angeles is pretty astounding that way – if there’s an obscure hobby, you can find people practicing it here.

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CategoriesFitnessAdventuresGear

How to Survive Summer Heat in Phoenix – Or Other Hot Places

summer heat
Dress right for the heat – you’ll feel better.

I hate summer heat in Phoenix – and I’m sure I’d hate it in any other hot, desert city. But you know what? It’s not so much the heat that bothers me. It’s the people who don’t know how to deal with it. I’m going to clue you all in based on my experience living here since 1980.

Stop Obsessing Over the Temperature

Right, that’s it: No more posting graphics about the forecast. No checking the forecast. Look, you don’t need to know whether it’s going to be 95 or 125. In this case, knowledge isn’t power. There is literally nothing you can do as a result of knowing the exact temperature that will make summer heat in a desert any more comfortable or any less challenging. You’re gonna be hot until October, and that’s simply all there is to it. Whether it’s 95 0r 135, you should take exactly the same steps. Repeat it with me: Exactly. The. Same. Steps. The only impact knowing the temperature has is psychological, and it’s demoralizing rather than helpful.

summer heat
Make these your best friend

Drink a Lot of Water, Already

I don’t want to hear anyone say "but you can drink too much water, too." Tell you what – come up with a sourced number of people who have died from hyperhydration  (aka, drinking too much water) in a given year. Then, I’ll reply with stats from the same year from dehydration deaths. Guess which one will be astronomically higher.

I’m now at 6’2, 198 pounds. I usually drink north of a gallon a day – more if I do anything outdoor. Oh, and it helps to know how to drink water. Don’t sip it: Pound a quart per sitting if you can. Read Cody Lundin’s "98.6 Degrees: The Art of Keeping Your Ass Alive" for the science behind it. Something salty to go with your water or even an electrolyte tablet now and then will also help. I have a post with more advice about hydration.

Get Out In It

If you do nothing but scuttle from air-conditioned area to air-conditioned area, you will never acclimate an iota to the summer heat. You need to spend at least some time in the heat. That doesn’t mean you need to be stupid about it, so dress right, wear sunscreen and – I can’t possibly say this enough – drink your damn water.

What does dressing right mean? On days I head to the office, I wear breathable, light clothes. Fortunately, I work in a place where people won’t think twice about my Eddie Bauer Guide Pro pants and (discontinued, damnit) Mountain Hardware McClane shirt.

On my own time, I favor my Onno hemp t-shirts and -- well, pretty much the same sort of pants I wear to work. I don’t believe in shorts. If I’ll be in the heat a long time, I’ll cover my head with something. And I never, ever hike without a pretty good bunch of gear that works for me; one of the more unusual items is a shemagh, which is great for covering up from the sun or even any sudden dust storms that blow in (yes, that happens in the summer).

Why no shorts? Because I like to cover skin from the sun. If I were really smart, I’d probably opt for a long-sleeve version of my hemp t-shirts. Look at traditional Arab dress – it’s light, flowing and layered. Great for insulation from the summer heat. Oh, and avoid wicking materials. They dry too quickly to cool you. Stick with quality cotton or – as I prefer – hemp or bamboo blends. They’ll keep you cooler and won’t make you stink.

CategoriesTastes

Where to Find Nitro Cold Brew – Updated April 2019

Right now, Starbucks is pretty pleased with itself over the nitro cold brew it’s pouring at select locations around the country.

Just don’t ask where those select locations are (hint: nowhere near you). I asked via their Twitter account and received possibly the most unhelpful tweet ever – in essence, call around and ask all 50 of your local Starbucks.

Now, if you know me, I don’t ordinarily go near a Starbucks. But I’m desperate for nitro cold brew. Since having my first taste of it in Portland, it’s been my holy-grail-white-whale of coffee beverages. With the creamy texture of a nitro-charged craft beer and the taste of super-smooth iced coffee, it’s hard to beat. It’s even spread into Costa Rica, where I recently had a super nitro cold brew.

But it’s not easy in Phoenix to find nitro cold brew. No sooner did Hazelrock launch theirs after months of delay did they go out of business. And not even Cartel Coffee Lab seems to be able to keep its nitro tap running. Where does that leave you in the Phoenix area if you yearn for a nitro cold brew? Here’s what I’ve found so far from independent coffee houses.

Chime in with your own leads!

nitro cold brew costa rica
A terrific nitro cold brew from Downtown Coffee Roasters in San Jose, Costa Rica.

Songbird Coffee & Tea House — This downtown Phoenix site pours nitro cold brew into a very nice glass similar to what you’d use for an imperial stout. The cold brew itself was a good example of the nitros I’ve sampled. It wasn’t the best, but it was far from the worst.

FiftyoneWest — This is an oddball coffeehouse that hasn’t decided whether to be a coffeehouse or a music venue -- and it’s honestly hard to do both, as I can tell you from being a musician and a coffee drinker. Anyway, the barista here screwed this nitro brew royally by putting ice in it. I can’t give a fair evaluation of the taste. If you go there, say "no ice, ffs."

Infusion Coffee and Tea — Here’s a terrific place to find nitro cold brew. All of the coffee drinks are excellent here, just as long as you don’t want them to use any alternative types of milk (sorry, anything but the cow just doesn’t work).

The Refuge Cafe — Here’s an interesting little spot. I understand it has some connections to a local Catholic church. Along with that, they also have a nice food menu. The nitro cold brew is solid here, though I’m not a huge fan of their espresso drinks. Very friendly place thanks to both staff and customers.

Press Coffee — Let me start by saying that Press totally violates one of my rules: They have more than one size of cappuccino. Yet the baristas largely know what they’re doing, so we’ll give them a pass. Press has multiple locations, too, and I believe all of them have nitro cold brew. I linked to the Apache location because one of their best baristas works there.

That’s all I have right now. Do you have any to add?