Social in SoCal part 1 | Spring Break 2016

Last time on Spring Break 2016, Ben and I packed a lot of sightseeing into our first day in LA. We got a lot of rain while visiting several art museums and Hollywood, and it didn’t let up on Saturday as we eased up on sightseeing (just a little) and were lucky enough to see some friends!


Santa Monica + Venice

The first friend we saw was my old friend Ran. I attended Chinese school with Ran for a few years before she moved away, but she was one of my most cherished Chinese school friends, easily. My mom remembers her fondly because Ran was great at hamming it up at assemblies as the emcee. We were gunners in our class, striving to beat each other with our test scores and encouraging each other to be better while doing it. At the time, I remember being really jealous of Ran but she was so kind and positive that I could never really resent her. She was a great friend to have.

I hadn’t seen Ran in something like 15 years. Really. We’ve been in close-enough proximity, living in neighboring counties in New Jersey and attending college in the same metropolitan area. She recently moved to Los Angeles and I was living vicariously through her Instagram photos documenting her adventures. When I booked my own trip to LA, I went back to see where she had been visiting and having fun, and I decided to leave a little comment on one of them:

A shout in the dark... and a return!
A shout in the dark… and a return!

So, we headed out to Santa Monica on Saturday morning and walked around a little bit before it was time to see Ran again for the first time in 15 years. I’m always really nervous seeing people after a long time, and Ran and I hadn’t even kept in particularly good touch since we last saw each other. Would we have nothing to talk about? Would Ben feel uncomfortable, or vice versa? What if the coffee shop I looked up was terrible, all because I decided I no longer needed to visit Philz now that they have a DC location?

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(The coffee shop we visited was actually great! We went to The Refinery, where I enjoyed a nice cold brew and sipped some of the toasted lavender cappuccino that I got for Ben. I did have to wait a decent bit for my cold brew, because the handsome barista was doing latte art for the customers before me. He made them a little teddy bear, it was pretty cute.)

But it was great and amazing. Ran is still as bubbly and contagiously positive as I remember her being, maybe more. We talked and talked and talked, and then I refilled our parking meter, and then we talked and talked some more.  Then we went down to Venice Beach  and just walked around enjoying another iconic LA spot.DSC00583.JPG

I was really grateful that we were able to spend time laughing and smiling with Ran after all this time, and it really kicked me off to be nice and extroverted for the rest of the day. (I was actually concerned that I wasn’t going to be in a people mood, especially considering that the friends I would meet later in the day didn’t all know each other, but more on that soon!)

As great as it was to see Ran, we were staaaaarving and immediately set out to get our first…

In-n-Out

We weren’t sure when we’d be able to get In-n-Out without purposely going out of our way to go. There weren’t any near our AirBnB and we weren’t doing sightseeing near any. So, despite locals’ insistence that we don’t make a special trip to eat In-n-Out, we did just that because we wouldn’t have been able to eat the iconic West Coast fast food otherwise!

Our biggest mistake was maybe choosing to eat at an In-n-Out that shared a parking lot with a Costco. On a Saturday. Early afternoon. Yes, we spent about 10 minutes just trying to move through the parking lot to see more filled parking spaces. It was very painful. We gave up on trying to get a parking spot and decided we’d just go through the drive-through and find another parking lot to eat our food in so that we could keep going with our  sightseeing without losing any more time.

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Luckily! we found a spot right after leaving the drive-through as someone pulled out of his spot. It was great digging into our food next to a car in which the driver was doing the same. My animal-style hamburger really hit the spot given how absolutely starving we were. It’s not an amazing burger by any means, and I really don’t understand the comparison with Shake Shack, which I think is equally overhyped but a different category of burger joint, but it was definitely very tasty. I’ve had a lot of mediocre to meh burgers, so I’m glad it was just solid and good and cheap. Our car smelled of fries as we drove off to the Griffith Observatory.


I’ll leave off here for now, because this post will get too long otherwise, and I’ll let you know about the Griffith Observatory and my night out in Koreatown with some Internet friends (!!!) next time!

What do you think of In-n-Out?
Do you have friends from Chinese school, etc. that you still keep in touch with?

Spring Break 2015: Gators and Sarasota (Day 3)

Last time on Spring Break 2015, we spent a full day enjoying Key West, snorkeling, eating key lime pie and conch, and camping out on a quasi-beach before a big day on the road as we get ready to head up to Orlando with a few stops in between.


Waking up in the tent felt pretty nice as I mentally prepared myself for a long car ride ahead. In fact, I have a bit of a hard time thinking of what adventures we had on this day, as we did spend most of it in the car.

Sunrise from the camground
Sunrise from the camground

BUT we did see some gators! It was exciting! I was told that, in Florida, you would see alligators chilling everywhere and, while that wasn’t quite true, I did see a LOT of them chilling on the side of the highway as we headed off towards Sarasota to meet one of Tim’s friends. We even stopped in a few small conservation parks to get a better view of gators (whizzing past them on the highway isn’t a great way to get acquainted…) and we got to see one big ol’ guy chilling in the marshes.

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And this GIANT bug that was about the size of my hand chilling there, too

Since we arrived in Sarasota before Tim’s friend was done with working on a project, we hit up Siesta Beach for some cloudy-day splashing about. (Of course, a cloudy day didn’t stop me from laboriously slathering on my SPF 90.) Siesta Beach is a super popular beach in Sarasota and they had some of the finest sand I’ve ever seen! It was like powdered sugar. Tim loved this, to the point where he was really struggling not to start eating the sand. For me, it was fun for all of 2 seconds until I was promptly covered in sand thanks to the power of my sunscreen, and I soon realized our car would be filled with sand. But the sand was powdery, the water felt great, and we enjoyed our short beach excursion before running back to the car to avoid an incoming thunderstorm. I’m sure the beach is stunning on sunny days but we enjoyed what would be our last contact with the sea for this trip.

Some of the seagulls that were chilling by our beach towels
Some of the seagulls that were chilling by our beach towels

In Sarasota, we had dinner at a Square 1 Burgers with Tim’s friend but otherwise, Monday was a very low-key day for us. While the long drive was admittedly a bit boring (I slept through a lot of it, to be honest), it was nice to relax with my friends and just talk about life (when I was awake). After all, we had a big day ahead of us!

We spent the rest of our evening driving to Orlando, where we were going to be staying in a hotel so that we could properly rest before and after a full day at Disney World. Disney’s All-Star Music Resort was great because — as a Disney resort — there was a complimentary shuttle going to and from the parks that we could take. We filled our hotel room with our things (to be sorted and discarded for the trip home later), enjoyed the showers, beds, and AC, and kicked back to watch some TV as we prepared for a magical day.

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More on the magic bands in day 4!

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Disney magic rising….

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A little break before I finish my spring break recaps because I have a lot of Disney stuff to go through, still, and I’m not sure how to break it down to make it more manageable. (I’ve been working through it already!) But I hope you have enjoyed the recaps so far and are ready for some Disney magic!

Here’s Tiny Hamster at Disney World to tide you over until my post is ready!

Spring Break 2015: Fort Lauderdale (Day 1)

Yelp had their annual spring break in Fort Lauderdale this year. Even though I have gone to Yelp’s Winter Break in Atlantic City, I never really give any thought to going to Yelp’s Spring Break because they’re usually pretty far and I don’t like thinking about the travel logistics. Even when my friend Annie tried her darnedest to convince me to go along with her and our friend Tim, as they were going to make a stop at the Bahamas, I was not too keen on risking vacation days while I was interviewing for new jobs. HOWEVER, the plan then changed to include dining at Cinderella’s Castle at Disney World and I was instantly sold. Fast-forward a few weeks later, and we were ready for spring break!


After I taught Ben the virtues of rolling and making things fit into a backpack for travel, we dragged ourselves up at 4 AM on Saturday morning to fly down to Fort Lauderdale. Things went pretty smoothly with long-term parking. Ben wouldn’t let me have a doughnut because we were still trying to keep our bodies beach-ready, but hangriness aside, it was smooth sailing.

It was our first time flying with a budget airline rather than the ones we had accrued miles with, but we were really pleasantly surprised because we were fortunate enough to get front-row seats. That translate to more leg room than we’ve ever had before, which was a wonderful treat for Ben, who, at 6’3″, ALWAYS finds his legs cramped on airplanes. Towards the end of our flight, we chatted a bit with a lovely and extraordinary lady who had visited so many places and accomplished so much but spoke of her life experiences like they were so ordinary. It was kind of fascinating listening to her talk about her past adventures and her upcoming reunion with her brother, and I think that chat really got me and Ben raring to have our own adventures in Florida.

Soooooooo much leg room. Ben is 6'3" so I mean....
Soooooooo much leg room. Ben is 6’3″ so I mean….

Tim and Annie picked us up from the airport and immediately took us for brunch at The Foxy Brown, which had been recommended to them by Blue, the Yelp BPB (Broward-Palm Beach) Community Manager. (Thanks Blue!) I stuffed myself silly and made sure to get my doughnut fix alongside a s’mores waffle and a few bites of the highly touted short rib Benedict.

S'mores waffle
S’moers waffle – Belgian waffle with marshmallow fluff, Nutella, and graham cracker crumble
Doughnut holes
Doughnut holes served with a dusting of powdered sugar and cereal milk for dunking! (Which was needed because these doughnut holes were, unfortunately, quite dry.)
Short rib Benedict + side of fruit
Short rib Benedict had this great braised short rib and a KILLER chimichurri Hollandaise sauce (get more of this on the side, trust me)

After brunch, it was off to my first Yelp activity of the weekend: a tour of the Funky Buddha Brewery. (Apologies for all the lens flare in these photos; my lens was a bit on the dirty side apparently!)

"We are the music makers and we are the dreamers of dreams"
“We are the music makers and we are the dreamers of dreams”
Brewing tanks named "Rylee", "Miles", "Tyler"
They named the brewing equipment after their kids!

Now I’m not really a big beer fan (or a drinker at all, to be quite honest), but I really like learning about anything and everything, so learning about their brewing processes was really cool. Funky Buddha also has a lot of super interesting flavors. I tasted a PB&J that really truly had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich aftertaste, complete with that toasted bread flavor. They were very generous with the samples (a little too generous for me, personally, as I really wasn’t going to drink more than a sip of each one — more for my friends!) but I learned a lot about the brewing methods and the equipment. I even got to smell hops at different stages of brewing, which was really cool. I may not be much of a beer drinker, but I do like chemistry and I’m always excited to learn something new.

Trying out the brews
Trying out the brews
Our new Yelp friends!
Our new Yelp friends in front of the super cute and educational infographic about the brewing process!

From there, we headed to the beach because well, spring break in Florida, right? Well, technically, we made a quick dollar store/drugstore stop because we needed a few things like flip flops, glowsticks, and sunscreen. I really appreciated that all of my friends were very diligent about SPF, although they were probably more attentive because they had been sunburned already and not because they are SPF fiends like myself. The beach itself was great. The ocean water was the perfect temperature, it was a beautiful day, I was with my friends, it was a good time.

Blue skies, blue seas, sandy beaches...
It had been a really long time since I last saw the beach… and it had snowed in DC about 2 weeks before taking this photo, so you can imagine how happy I was…

Until I got stung by a jellyfish. UGH WHY. I was just splashing around happily in the ocean when I felt a burning, stinging pain on the backside of my knee. (The armpit of the knee, if you will.) (The kneepit?) Ben, bless his heart, did not think too much of my yelling because he thought I had a leg cramp. It wasn’t until I went from yellling “OW!” to “SOMETHING GOT ME” that he came over to help me back to shore while my friends kept offering to pee on my leg. (Note: This does NOT work, please DO NOT go around peeing on your friends’ legs or on strangers’ legs. This is a crazy urban legend that exists solely to test your relationship with a person after he/she pees on you, I think. Especially because it will only make the pain worse.) We were so confused looking at the sting because, if anything, it looks like someone scratched me underwater. Some of us were wondering if maybe I got grazed by a fish with sharp fins? In any case, now I have an interesting scar on my left leg and a mild fear of things getting me in the water.

Back of knee with scar
Ouch. The scar is, in fact, still there and will start stinging every few weeks or so.

Well, that cut our beach visit a little short, so we headed back to the AirBnB to shower and check out before our final Yelp activity: a pirate party on a river cruise. I put together my simple Elizabeth Swann outfit and we were out the door without too much of a problem. The real issue came with finding parking, which was dang near impossible. We were SO scared that the boat would leave without us, but there was just no parking to be found. The farther we drove, the more we worried, but we saw people in pirate garb running towards the dock. We also had an emergency where Tim needed to go to the bathroom, and the stress was not helping. We parted ways with him as we tried to find parking and he tried to find a bathroom. At long last, we found parking about a mile away and then tried to run to the boat. As you may remember, I’m awful at running, so this didn’t go over great.  Luckily, we found out mid-run that they had postponed leaving so we were able to walk the rest of the way. Phew! (Note to self: Get fit enough to be able to run a mile.)

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Funky Buddha draught
Funky Buddha makes an appearance with an awesomely-shaped draught
The crew - Annie, Tim, Ben, and myself
The crew – Annie, Tim, Ben, and myself

Pirate cruise group sun

Our new friends!
Our new friends!

While the snacks and drinks on the boat were, as Tim and Annie reported, not as amazing as they were on the earlier days of Yelp’s Spring Break, we still ate a decent amount of food, got some pretty sturdy tote bags from SlickDeals, and got to see a truly amazing view from the top of the boat. On the East Coast, we don’t get to see the sun set into the ocean very often, so this was a nice little treat for us.

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At the end of the evening, while other Yelpers were heading to an afterparty, we piled back into our rental car and started a long drive towards Key West. Along the way, I swear I saw more adult video stores and strip clubs along this road/highway that we were driving along than I had seen cumulatively in my entire life. Why do you need so many of those, Florida? It just seems like there were so many that they couldn’t possibly all be doing really well financially? Are people really unwilling to drive an extra 2 miles to get to one, you have to have them so close together also? It was weird.

One of my favorite things about this drive was how clear the stars were. I’ve never seen the stars like this, because I don’t think I’ve ever been this far south, this close to the equator before, so I was able to look out closer to the horizon and see the Big Dipper, brighter than I had ever seen those stars before. I spent a good portion of that car trip with my face pressed to the window, staring up at the stars. I can’t imagine living far from a city, but seeing the stars like that made me really wonder what life would be like if I could have a view like that every day, unmarred by light pollution.

The night wasn’t over after hours of driving to Key West. The AirBnB hosts had recommended an interesting bar called Garden of Eden, which is a “clothing optional” institution. As you climb the floors of this bar, clothing gets increasingly rare. Unfortunately for my friends, I was feeling really tired and cranky at this point and didn’t want to see any butts or nipples, so I passed on paying the all-too-necessary $5 cover charge for some free dancing elsewhere. Duval Street seemed to be lined with little else than bars and more bars, with one particularly cute place called Smallest Bar that lived up to its name. It was indeed the smallest bar I had ever seen.

"Garden of Eden - Clothing Optional Bar"
Maybe one day when I’m feeling more adventurous, I’ll venture in? (Probably not though, let’s be real.)
"Smallest Bar in Key West"
It’s basically a room and at the back is a bar. It was pretty cute though.
Night life on Duval Street
A lot of partygoers were out and about on Duval Street. It was kind of a hot mess.

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The plan for the end of the evening was just to crash on the beach. I felt really weird about this, especially in my tired/cranky state, so I opted to sleep in the car. (I definitely spend a lot of time sleeping in cars anyway, so this comes second-nature to me.) I learned some tricks for doing this overnight (pro tip: open two car windows about halfway, drape a towel over the door, and shut the door so that you can still have fresh air come in through the towels but no bugs or other random things blowing in through an open window!) and slept pretty well.

Until the wild roosters of Key West started crowing at 3 AM. But we’ll get to that on day 2.

Me cheesing in front of someone's scooter because it seemed like a good idea at the time
Not pictured: The owners of the scooter who were walking up behind me