Revamp Your Resolutions

•January 2, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Funny New YearsEvery New Year, just under 50% of us make a resolution, and let’s face it, most of us fail at them.  Why is that?  Of course part of the problem is that fact that there is no way that an arbitrary calendar date, even if it is the new year, can possibly mark the right time for 50% of the population to make a change in their lives, but even more important:  our resolutions suck.  They’re often generic, vague and frankly uninspiring.

So I’ve used this list of the top 10 New Year’s Resolutions for 2012 from, published by the University of Scranton.  It’s safe to assume that the list would be pretty much the same for 2013 because, let’s face it, we fail at the same resolutions every year.  Now it’s time to revamp those resolutions to hopefully make them more successful.

1. Lose Weight

Seriously people?  We live in a culture where people will drink maple syrup water spiked with cayenne to lose a couple of pounds.  You gotta do a little better with your resolution than “I want to lose weight.”  Pick a specific goal and focus on that.  I learned that last year and successfully lost my holiday chub by vowing to avoid sweets for the month of January.  That was specific and it worked.  Get specific!  Work out 4 days per week!  Eat cookies only 1 time per week!  If you don’t lock onto a specific goal, it’ll never work, and you’ll have to live with the holiday love handles until you make your resolution next year.

2. Getting Organized

If you’re not organized enough to have a more specific list of what you need to organized, just move on, it’s hopeless.

3. Spend Less, Save More

Pick something specific.  Do you buy too many coffees?  Two years ago, I realized that I was buying too many 20 oz. diet sodas.  It sounds crazy, but cutting back on those $2 here and there made a significant difference.  Or, if focusing on how many lattes you buy a week is just frustrating, then pick something specific to save for, and pick a goal number.  Last year, I chose to save for a trip to London, and you know what?  I didn’t miss many of those sodas or dinners out or drinks at the bar when I thought about strolling past Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament.  Pick specific things to cut back on and save for, it’ll make this one a lot easier.

4. Enjoy Life to the Fullest

Okay, seriously, what does this even mean?  Please stop getting your resolutions off of fortune cookies.

5. Staying Fit and Healthy

See #1.  Actually read it twice because this goal is even vaguer and more annoying than that one.

6. Learn Something Exciting

I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you have something specific that is your “something exciting,” but no, that’s not enough.  Get more specific.  Want to learn an instrument?  Resolve to learn to read music or to play one of your favorite songs.  Want to learn a new language?  Make it your goal to have a 10-minute conversation with a native speaker.  It’s impossible to learn everything about anything in a year, and resolving to do so will only make you frustrated enough to give up on it.

7. Quit Smoking

Really?  People in 2012 still had this resolution?  I hope we’re doing better in 2013.  Smoking is bad for you!  I haven’t had any experience quitting smoking, but as with any bad habit, it helps if you replace the habit with something else, so try to replace your smoke breaks with another activity.  Perhaps a walk, a phone call, or even a solid 10 minutes of your favorite iPhone game.  Whatever can give you the stress relief or social aspect of smoking without the lung cancer.

8. Help Others

This one is pretty admirable, but even while it makes me feel guilty, I still have to criticize it as vague.  Find a charity that you’re passionate about and resolve to volunteer once a month.  It can even help with your other resolutions.  If you find other ways to spend your time, you won’t have time to snack on cookies, spend unnecessary money or even smoke.  Plus it’ll probably help with that irritating resolution #4.

9. Fall in Love

Remember that movie where the shy but adorable girl made a new year’s resolution to fall in love and by the end of the year she was married to her soul mate?  Yeah, I thought it was cheesy too.  You can’t force love, but you can work on putting yourself in situations where you can meet new people.  See #8!  Make your goal more specific, and also less creepy when you explain to your future mate that your new year’s resolution brought the two of you together.

10. Spend More Time with Family

Life is busy, and we always sacrifice time with the people we love for some reason.  But wanting to spend time with them won’t get you quality time.  Schedule in a monthly dinner or put reminders in your calendar to call them to schedule lunch or a hike.  Resolve to make yourself make time.

Now, using these tips, what’s your revised resolution?  And how are you going to make it a success this time?


7 Dos and Don’ts of Camping

•August 31, 2012 • Leave a Comment

ImageNo matter how outdoorsy you think you are, if you’ve been in the city for more than a solid 6 months, Mother Nature will hang your big city butt out to dry.  I practically grew up outdoors running around in the yard and catching frogs down the road at a nearby pond.  Some of my fondest memories are days spent climbing haystacks and rescuing baby birds from our tree forts on my uncle’s ranch in northern Nevada.  And yet, after spending too much time in the city, when I decided to go for an overnight backpacking excursion, I still had to go back to the basics.  So here’s a little summary of what I learned/remembered from my trip along the San Gabriel River to the Bridge to Nowhere.

#1 – Do Get Quality Gear

Do as I do – get your parents to buy it.  No, I’m not trying to sound like a spoiled mommy or daddy’s girl, but people our age don’t tend to spend too much money on quality.  We buy furniture made of plywood from IKEA and clothes sewn together by air from Forever 21. And even more often we tend to be lazy and rely on Internet reviews so that we don’t have to drive over to the actual store (and in LA, can you blame us?).  So instead of ordering a knock off brand backpack and tent off of ebay or Amazon, I asked my dad if that could be my birthday present for the year.  Knowing my dad loves new outdoorsy toys and is always thorough in picking out something that is safe, high quality but still reasonable, I was set.  He probably spent an hour talking to the guy at REI about what might be best for me, which is probably 59 minutes longer than I would’ve been willing to spend after fighting traffic and racing an obnoxious BMW to a parking spot.

So if you’re going to go out, do things right and make sure you’ve got good gear.  And yes, that probably means talking to some human about it.

#2 – Do Do Your Research

(Hehe, doodoo…)

Anyway, the point is you need to know where you’re going.  What will the temperature be like?  What’s the terrain like?  Is there water?  Are there bugs?  What kind of pass or permit do you need?  Believe me, if you don’t read up on wherever you’re going, you might end up with some of the problems described below.  And I wish I could tell you that a book was enough.  But I got a book with a little 3-page blurb about the area and it didn’t have nearly the detail I might’ve needed.  Google it, find an article and research the terrain so that you’re not surprised by some of the things that surprised us on our trip.

#3 – Do Avoid Strange Bugs, Don’t Google

One of the amazing things about venturing into nature is the unusual array of critters that you come across.  But, as we all know, critters can be dangerous.  As we started our hike, I noticed these massive, black bugs with bright orange wings.  I’m not a big fan of bugs, so I steered clear.  On the trip out of the woods, we saw a couple more of the scary looking bugs, and I cleverly quipped that they “probably weren’t as dangerous as they looked because usually the scary looking bugs are actually pretty harmless.

Cut to three hours later, we had returned home to air conditioning and smart phones, we decided to google the bug.  Turns out that beast is a Tarantula Hawk, a type of wasp that lays eggs inside tarantulas so that their babies can slowly eat the tarantula from the inside out.  I repeat, their BABIES eat a giant, hairy spider from the inside out.  And its sting is considered among the most painful insect stings in the world. In fact, according to the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, a list that ranks various stings of insects, the Tarantula Hawk is the second highest on the pain scale described as “Blinding, fierce, shockingly electric.  A running hair drier has been dropped into your bubble bath.”  So yeah, harmless, just like I speculated. The icing on the cake of this whole story came from my father who reminded me that if these tarantula eaters were around, that meant the area also has tarantulas.  Thanks dad.

This goes back to the research rule, but the moral of the story is definitely don’t mess with anything you don’t recognize, and for god sakes don’t google it afterward (unless you plan on going there again).

#4 – Don’t Go During a Heat Wave

Now, this seems like simple advice, but living in California where I’m used to moderate temperatures, I wasn’t expecting the “mountains” we were going to be quite SO hot.  With the sun beating down on me and the heavy backpack on my back, the dizziness, exhaustion and stomach illness started to take over.  We hadn’t even made it to the stupid Bridge to Nowhere, and I was already ready to pass out.  Luckily, I used to live in the desert and used to play tennis in the middle of August, so I knew to find some freaking shade and sit down.  But if I had followed #2 better, I would have realized that it was much more a desert climate than a mountain one.  Fortunately, there was a lovely river, so we weren’t short on water to drink or dive into.

#5 – Don’t Follow People Who Look More Confused Than You

I don’t know why it still shocks me that hikes aren’t marked with clear signs and arrows point me in the right direction.  This trail, like so many, meandered off in different directions, people had worn their own trails to head down to the river and generally created a bit of a mess.  We knew that we had to cross the river a few times, but we were behind another couple who were on their first hike date (Awwww), and it took us way too long to figure out that they had no clue where they were going.  So because we kept tailing behind these two idiots, we crossed the river something like 5 times more than we needed to and generally made our lives more difficult.

On the way back down, we didn’t have anyone in front of us, and we found the trail shockingly easy to follow. It was much farther from the river than we realized when we were following our couple friends.  So, knowing that most of the other people around you probably don’t follow these rules any better than you do, keep your eyes on the trail, not the other hikers.

#6 – Do Find a Walking Stick

I was nursing an old knee injury that had just flared back up, so I didn’t want to hurt myself more, so I knew I needed a hiking buddy.  But in crossing the river and clambering up and down rocky sections, my good friend birch branch saved me from a number of highly embarrassing and probably painful missteps.

So don’t forget to hike with a buddy.  I named mine Glenn.

#7 – Do Cover Yourself In Chemicals

Screw being organic, hooray to chemicals!  I’m serious.  You read the part about the crazy bugs with babies that eat tarantulas, right?  Load up on bug spray, sunscreen, etc.  When you’re a city girl (or guy) out in the wilderness, you don’t want to take any chances.  One day after filming a friend’s student film, I was in the gym taking a shower when I realized that I had a massive black tick hanging out of the side of my hip.  I hated how thick the chemicals of bug spray hang on my skin, so I decided to go without it.  And I was regretting it the next day when I was in the bathroom ripping a small insect out of my skin with a pair of tweezers in between tutoring sessions at the Learning Resource Center where I worked.  And I know there are organic options for bug sprays and sunscreen, so choose those rather than going au natural into the great wild.

Adventures on the LA Metro, Part III – Bus vs. Expo Line – To Culver City We Go

•July 24, 2012 • 1 Comment

LA Buses That’s right people, I didn’t just stop at the rail lines.  I also attempted buses.  Since I was attending a 4th of July party across town and figured, what a perfect time to test out the new rail line to Culver City.  But according to Google Maps, the bus trip would be much faster, so I went for it.  On the 217 bus from Hollywood to Venice, I got a seat and witnessed all manner of people who ride regularly.  From the elderly to those who look like they’re down on their luck, the LA bus accepts all people, along with their overflowing grocery bags.  One woman had such a load of baggage as she stepped on the bus from the area around the Grove that she needed a whole other seat just for her bags.  I would’ve worried about how she was going to get home, but the determination in her face told me she would’ve hauled those bags 50 miles rather than ask for anyone’s help.

I got off the bus on the corner of Venice and Fairfax, along with three British girls who were definitely clones of Jessa from HBO’s Girls – dressed super hip with adorable hats and all wearing some kind of American flag print (what? Brits can show their American pride as good as the rest of us).  As we waited for the bus, they asked me about the liquor laws on the beach.  Being the good, law-abiding citizen I am, I told them to hide hard liquor in bottles of soda or juice, the police will never know the difference.  When they asked me what to do if they got caught, I told them to use their accents and talk their way out of it.  Then they asked me if we were really strict on the drinking age here.  That’s when I hit my facepalm moment.  So not only did I give terrible advice that could get these foreigners in trouble, they weren’t even old enough for my terrible advice.  But I learned an important lesson not to trust the advice of people (me) that you meet at a random bus stop.  I was setting an example, a bad example, but hey, someone has to.

All in all, this trip took about an hour, 1/3 of that waiting for the second bus, which was packed with eager 4th of July beachgoers.  I’ll keep that idea in my back pocket for the next random holiday that would make an excellent beach day.  Take that $20 holiday beach parking!   The bus was probably the biggest step for me in the world of public transportation.  I can’t explain it, but I was completely intimidated by those giant orange vehicles.  But in LA, only the bus lines can guarantee you access to anywhere.  The rail lines are very limited, though they continue to grow.  But the bus is easy enough to use as long as you know what route to take, and it definitely takes the stress and headaches out of navigating the streets of LA.

Expo Line – We’ve arrived at the end of my public transit adventure thus far.  After the 4th of July party, it was about 9:30PM, and I was a little nervous at the prospect of hanging out at a bus stop on my own at night.  If I’ve learned anything living in a big city on my own, it’s that you’re pretty safe as long as there are people around.  It’s when there’s no one around and that one creeper walks up to you that you need to worry.  So instead of a return journey on the bus, I opted for the rail line.

The surrounding area of the new Expo Line stop at Culver City is still under construction and, I won’t lie, a little bit sketchy in the dark.  I walked pretty quickly up to the platform, but there was a train right there so I hopped right on.  Now the thing about the Expo Line is that it pretty much goes straight through a part of LA that I’ve been conditioned to never go to, so though I was confined in the safety of a train, I was a little apprehensive about riding through there at night.  The first few stops there really weren’t many people (I chalk this up to the line being new), but right about when we hit the center of the area that made me nervous, a TON of people piled on.  Families, students, etc. all crowded into the train, excited from their 4th of July activities.  There was nothing to be concerned about, it was all just average people using the train system to go out or get home.

This is really what I love about public transit.  Having a car in this city places most people in a certain group.  It dictates a lot the kinds of people I run into because I’m secluded in my car until I reach my destination.  I rarely see people who don’t run in the same circles I do, be that my neighborhood, workplace, favorite restaurants/bars, etc.  Public transit is such a utilitarian experience.  I go where the bus or train takes me, so I’m taken through areas that I wouldn’t normally see (even if it is just through the glass of the train), and I’m exposed to people I probably wouldn’t be around normally.  People of a different age range, class, race, culture.  I haven’t gotten up the courage to talk to any of these people yet, but it’s so refreshing to be around them.  An besides, when can I experience a crazy old man singing an a capella Sammy Davis Jr. song for tips while sitting in my car?

Adventures on the LA Metro – Part II, The Gold Line

•July 18, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Gold Line – Now we’re getting serious.  The yellow line of the Metro goes from East LA to Pasadena by way of downtown.  Now, because I apparently enjoy punishing myself with endless driving (my nemesis), I’m dating someone who lives up in the idyllic land of Pasadena that, though only 20 miles away from me, feels like a completely different planet.  Unfortunately, a 20-mile drive that should only take 30 minutes can take an hour at the wrong time of day.  So, on a lazy Saturday, I thought I’d try my luck at taking the train up there, so I could be ready to use it if I needed to get over the hills without spending an hour in mind-numbing traffic.  I took the Red Line to Union Station, and then took the Gold Line up to Pasadena.  All in, the trip took about 1 hour, 15 minutes, about double the drive time on a Saturday.

Contrary to the crowds of a Dodger game Saturday, the Red Line had people, but not a crowd.  It was easy to find a seat for the 25-minute ride downtown.  When the line ends and we all disembarked, I headed up the nearby stairs to the train platform.  That’s right, the Gold Line is not a subway like the Red Line.  It’s an above ground train.  Sitting on above ground train, I can’t help but imagine that I’m an overly romantic young lady without a large version in search of love and a husband in a Jane Austen novel from the 1830s.  I lean my bonnet against the window and dream about my Mr. Darcy.  Oops, I can sense I’m getting off track.  So I’m riding the train and it’s fun and scenic, and because I don’t have to watch the road, I scribbled a draft scene of the script I’m currently working on in my notebook.  Look at me being productive!  Around downtown Pasadena, the train takes a turn for the ugly as the track starts to run down the middle of I-210.  So the cute little neighborhood view I had was replace with cement and freeway (isn’t this what I was trying to avoid?), although it was pretty impressive how the train could almost keep up with the cars.  I rode the train the Sierra Madre station, which is a confusing stop, I later learned that it has a passenger pickup area, but I couldn’t find it.  Overall, it’s not a journey I would take every day, but for a day when a long drive and the cost of gas to make it is an unappealing thought, the Metro is a great, if a little slow, alternative.

Adventures on the LA Metro – Part I, the Dodger Express

•July 15, 2012 • Leave a Comment

My new obsession with public transit started when a month ago I was hit and run by some crazy jerk in an ugly mint green sedan on the way to the gym.  Who drives 50 miles an hour on the WRONG side of the street to get around someone on a little side street?  Oh, right, LA drivers.

Since that jerk left a lovely dent in the front, a sag in the hood, a lot of duct tape marks from holding the hood on while I waited for the part to arrive to fix it AND a massive $400+ bill just to fix the alignment problems he caused (I’m gonna live with the cosmetic damage for awhile), I’ve been trying my hand at the money-saving, environmentally-friendly, lower-stress world that is the public transit system.

Luckily I live only 10 minutes from the Hollywood/Highland metro station as well as several major bus lines, so this experiment has been rather successful.

Red Line – The Metro Red Line is a subway that runs from NoHo to Downtown.  And if you’re looking for a way to a crowded venue in the hell that is the gridlock of Downtown LA, this is the way to go.  I took my parents to a Dodgers game recently, and once we got past the onslaught of tourists staring at Hollywood stars on the Walk of Fame and those crazy people dressed in costumes (stop letting your children get close to them for pictures!), we took the two long escalators down, bought each parent a Metro day pass for $5 and boarded a surprisingly crowded train down to Union Station.

The ride took about 25 minutes, and though we were standing the whole time, it wasn’t too unpleasant.  We saw a jovial pair of pudgy old men sitting together in their full Dodgers regalia – high-quality jerseys and hats.  We figured if we followed them after getting off the train, we’d figure out how to find the shuttle to Dodger Stadium.  Either LA Metro or the Dodgers sponsor a free bus that will take you from Union Station to Dodger Stadium directly for free (if you already have a ticket).  When we got to Union Station, we were pleased to see that the signs to the “Dodger Express” were well marked, so we figured we could get ourselves there.  We took what we thought was a very direct route up to a line of three buses, stepped into the front bus, and found our jersey-clad friends already sitting comfortably in the bus.  How the hell did they beat us?  They were behind us getting off the train!  Clearly they knew a secret we didn’t.

The bus ride to the stadium took another 25 minutes (buses unfortunately can’t zip under traffic the way subways can) but the 25 minutes didn’t include any of the yelling and cursing that would have occurred had we driven (motorized vehicles bring out many colorful words in my parents’ vocabulary).  Here’s a great tip – if you buy your Dodgers tickets in advance online, and lets face it, we would all love to avoid the stress of lines when we can, just show them as you’re getting onto the bus, and your ride is free both to the stadium and back.  If you don’t have a ticket, the ride costs a measly $1.50 to get there and nothing for the return trip.  For three of us, the trip cost $13, which is far less than the cost of parking and the fuel it would take to get to the stadium.  So let’s recap, take the Metro to a baseball game, save money, stress and the psychological damage of dealing with Los Angeles drivers.  It’s a win on all fronts.  Try it out, you’ll be surprised!  Join me next time as I try some of the other Metro lines, including the brand spanking new Expo line!

10 Reasons Why the Renaissance Faire is Cooler Than You Think It Is

•April 27, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I know the image that the term “Renaissance Faire” conjures up in your mind: an image of pimply-faced nerds dressing up in drugstore-grade costumes to play with paper swords and talk about Dungeons and Dragons in some remote field.

But that’s where you’re wrong. The Ren Faire isn’t about nerds, and it certaintly isn’t about videogames (hell, in the 1500s, they didn’t even have Atari). It’s an adventure into the past where you can go to day drink, eat, and watch silly shows with all different kinds of people. Since I’m always up for an adventure, I tried it out nearly 4 years ago when a boyfriend’s parents suggested it. Since then, I’ve gone to the LA Faire every year, and had a blast every year. So don’t let high school you’s preconceived notions of Ren Faire’s dampen your energy for adventure! Here are 10 excellent reasons why the Renaissance Faire is cooler than you think:

1) Costumes

Let’s face it, by May, you’re going through a costume withdrawal because it’s been nigh on 6 months since All Hallow’s Eve and it’s another 6 before you get to don your finest costume and trick-or-treat once again. And the best part? Anybody can throw together a frock that screams (or just whispers) Renaissance.

Do you have a white collared shirt, pants/skirt, and a scarf? Poof, thou art a pirate.

Or a long skirt/loose pants, a t-shirt and a vest (or corset if you’ve got one)? Bam, a peasant. (Frankly if you own a corset, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be at the Ren Faire)

I certainly don’t have the means to purchase a full “legitimate” costume, so over the years I’ve thrown together this or that into some pretty good combos. You can see below, I added together some relatively common pieces:


And it became this:

A perfectly pirate-y combo, if I do say so myself. And that’s not even the best part. Although the Faire welcomes all levels of costume attempts, about half the people there are in excellent, well-made costumes that are very impressive and a lot of fun to look at. It’s one of the best places you can go to people watch.

2) Boobs

Men and women alike will be impressed by what some whalebone can do to the female form. The cleavage is everywhere, and it’s plentiful. No wonder the Renaissance was such a saucy and lascivious time, between the corsets and the codpieces, everything was on display.

At the Faire, the cleavage is also functional. Women carry pouches, money, knick-knacks and even shot glasses in their buxom bosoms.

3) Drunken Archery

That’s right, this is one of the few places where alcohol and bows and arrows mix. Get a good day buzz going on ale and mead, and then head over to the archery booth. At $5 for 11 arrows, you might have a chance of actually hitting the target for less than $50.

4) Bawdy Carols

Don’t you wish that we still lived in a time when, rather than pub quiz and beer pong, you leaned unstably against the bar while singing bawdy songs in full volume disharmony? Even though your local watering hole might frown on it (although really, would that stop you), you can sit on a haystack at the Renaissance Faire listening to classics like “I Wear NO Pants” and “She’s a Whore” sung by our favorite band The Poxy Boggards (rated NC-17 for lots of bad language and general roguishness).

5) Creative Catcalls

Everyone knows the confidence boost of being hit on. And though even the tightest corset wouldn’t give me enough cleavage to squeeze a penny in, I feel like the hottest wench on the block when I’m walking down the dirt paths of the Ren Faire because all the rogues and gentlemen are calling out to us ladies. But what makes their enticements entertaining rather than offensive? It’s not that they aren’t vulgar and suggestive because they can be. It’s because they’re creative. I mean, who doesn’t smile when they hear a clever play on the word “javelin”? Or appreciate that someone would pledge 100 goats for one kiss?

6) Weapons Stand

Because where else are you going to buy yourself a new broadsword?

7) Finger Food

Because I’m not talking just chicken strips and fries. I’m talking meat on a stick and baked potatoes – no forks allowed. Grab a frozen banana to enjoy during The Poxy Boggards show for definite bonus points and ridicule.

8) People Not in Costume

Because it’s one of the few times where they’re the weirdos.

9) Jousting

Because I’m not sure the sport even made sense in the idle ages, but it sure is fun to watch.

10) Photo Op

Because you need to spice up your Facebook wall, and what better way than by posing with the knight grinning on billboards all over LA?


**The lovely lady in the pictures with me is the wonderful Lady Steinhoff.  Purchase her book, a raucous tale of bawdy pirate women and a must read for all Ren Faire enthusiasts, on Amazon.

**Several of the pictures (and all of the good ones) taken by the lovely Madame Rima. Find more of her work on her Flickr as well as on her website.

San Diego on a Dime

•April 19, 2012 • 1 Comment

Traveling is probably one of my favorite pastimes. Unfortunately, an entry-level salary and a full time job prevent too many trips to sunny seasides or rocky cliffs. So what’s a tight-budgeted, time-conscious LA gal to do? Visit San Diego of course!

Only two hours away, San Diego offers everything the eager LA traveler could ever ask for – fewer people and less traffic. Parking is still unfortunate. Thank you California. I’m pretty sure the Golden State’s official pastime is circling the parking lot. That aside, San Diego actually offers more than enough to keep a 20-something occupied for an entire weekend. Now, this was only my second time in SD, so this is definitely a newbie’s guide to visiting. But if you haven’t been, here are the top five places you have to hit:

The Zoo (Duh!)

I know, I know, you’ve all heard of the zoo. It’s basically THE place to visit in San Diego. But it’s worth it. Tickets are only $42, and you can buy them here: Zoo Tickets. It’s a huge place and you will probably fall asleep in a cozy corner of the turtle exhibit before you see all of the animals. The Zoo is infinitely better than the other potential animal adventure – SeaWorld. I love all sea creatures, in fact, I used to dream of training Orca whales, but SeaWorld charges you a whopping $73 PLUS $14 for parking. The Zoo is a much more reasonable amount, and parking is FREE. My favorite four letter word. However, there are a few key things that you should remember to fully enjoy your zoo experience on a dime:

  1. Pack a Lunch – seriously, like any other theme park, the food is expensive and unappetizing. And if you’re truly going to travel on a dime, just say NO. We stopped by a Subway and got their “Buy 1, Get 1 Free before 9AM” deal. Add a diet soda (I’m a junkie) and a giant bottle of water, and we had lunch and hydration for 2 for under $10. SCORE!
  2. Go Early – Animals are more active in themorning.It’s cool, they just woke up, and they’rehungry. All of these things are conducive to a better animal viewing experience and a better bang for your 42 bucks. We decided to hit the apes and monkeys first, and I got some great shots before they settled into their afternoon naps. By the time we got around to the pandas, they were fast asleep in adorable, but not terribly exciting, balls of black and white fluff.
  3. Resist the Adorable Stuffed Animals – I know, it’s difficult. I myself find it difficult to tear myself away from the adoring eyes of that fake polar bear. But will your $20 really be well spent on stuffing and synthetic fur? That’s $20 you could have for later in our adventure. Trust me, you’ll be proud of yourself.

Gaslamp Quarter

This former red light district, that featured brothels and bars to distract sailors, is now a popular Victorian-themed hotspot, filled with restaurants, bars, and shopping. I know, this is also sort of a no brainer when visiting San Diego, BUT, without careful planning, you could end up spending a pretty penny on these 16 ½ blocks.

I made the mistake of going at night during my most recent venture to San Diego, but when I went the first time, we did it right – Saturday afternoon. All of the hip bars and restaurants were teeming with afternoon happy hour deals. For that extra $20 you saved on ignoring the pleading eyes of the stuffed platypus you could have a nice afternoon buzz going.

However, if this is your moment to splurge, the Gaslamp is filled with restaurants to try, but if you go on a weekend night, don’t drive. San Diego has a fantastic transit service ( that you could explore to get around, or, if you’re in a group and feeling fancy, share a cab. But on a Saturday night during an event weekend there was nowhere to park for less than $20.

Old Town

If you’re a history buff like me, you’ll get a kick out of this tourist spot/crumbling mission town. Most of the historic and historic-looking buildings have been converted into shops, but there are a number that have become mini museums. Tucked away in the general souvenir shop is an exhibit of artifacts from the old Spanish family who ran San Diego. Inside the bank is an entire exhibit to Wells Fargo, including a full size Wells Fargo carriage and a working telegraph (it only goes from one end of the room to the other). In the former stables, you’ll find old cars and carriages from the turn of the century.

For the frugal tourist, it’s a perfect spot because, if you actually stay to read all of the plaques and boards about the history, the area boasts hours of entertainment for minimal cost. You can not only tour the 20+ buildings with little historical tidbits without spending a dime, you can also stop into the candy shop for a free sample of fresh taffy. You can watch the taffy pulling machine for hours, as well as awkwardly staring at the people cutting and wrapping the stuff. With all the additional shops to browse and delicious food to enjoy (see below) Old Town is a spot not to be missed on your San Diego adventure. Check out the map and all the information here: Old Town San Diego.


When you’re down on the beach all day or schlepping up the many hills in the Zoo, you’ll probably start to crave something sweet. That’s exactly how we felt at the end of our Zoo excursion, but there was nothing fun or different offered at the many Zoo restaurants, so after we left, we pulled up our Yelp app and found us some delicious gelato at Pappalecco.

They must make it with magic dust or something. It’s just that good. Definitely make a stop there. I recommend the fondante (a dark chocolate brownie X 1,000), nutella, or stracciatella (cookies and cream). It was so good we went back the next day for seconds. And I almost packed a to-go pint in my mini cooler for thirds, but my waistline thought better of it.

Casa De Reyes

And finally we arrive at the deliciousness that Old Town is known for – Mexican food. That’s right,along with kitchy shops and historical buildings, you will find upwards of 20 Mexican restaurants to choose from. I have not been to many of them, so I’m in no place to compare one to the other, but I have walked by many:  they all smell delicious and they’re all packed, so that’s a good sign.

The restaurant we chose was based on where we could find parking (this is another area that’s crazy at night). Casa De Reyes is on the North side of Old Town, near the historical courtyard. The tables are in an open-air courtyard lined with small shops. There’s a small stage where a mariachi band was playing, so we could listen while we waited. The vibe and the delicious smells had me rating a 5 on Yelp before I had a bite of food. And yes, as we waited for our table, I was the one awkwardly dancing to the music while everyone else was calmly watching.

When we sat down, I opened the menu. I was craving the tang of a margarita, but not the sweetness, so I settled on the “La Siesta,” which turned out to be the best mixed drink I’ve had, EVER. Seriously. There will be a later post where I chronicle my adventures in trying to make my own version of this delicious beverage. It was tequila, soda, lime and cucumber and what must have been some more magic dust shaken off of an angry Mexican pixie.

The food was also delicious. My gigantic, fresh chicken tostada salad was incredibly filing and only $10.95. And the chips (aren’t free chips always the best part about Mexican food) were clearly homemade and dusted with chili powder.

Overall, it was a delightful little adventure, but I have to go back. Next on my list of things to do are: staying in the historic Old Town Cosmopolitan Hotel, visiting the aircraft carrier USS Midway museum, visiting the Zoo Safari Park up in Encino and snorkeling in La Jolla.  But those are adventures for another weekend.

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