94th Aero Squadron Restaurant, Van Nuys, California
Smaller airports are not often noticed or thought about by the general public since most of us can’t afford charter flights or our own planes. But one small airport in Van Nuys offers a very unique restaurant experience next to the runway.
Named after a United States Army Air Service squadron in World War I, this restaurant has replicas of old war vehicles and paraphernalia. The outside of the building is made to look old, as though it was actually around for the war. When you walk inside, you are treated to views of planes taking off on the runway.
My family and I went for lunch and a cocktail. Well, some of us had a cocktail. Ok. My Mom and I had cocktails. I tried the Aviation, which is amazing! The menu has fish, poultry, and red meat, but not a huge selection for vegetarians. There are sandwiches, salads. Their lunch menu is on the pricey side, so be prepared. But everyone was very happy with everything that was ordered, so well worth the price. Dinner menu includes a filet mignon option, with prices ranging from $20-$44 for an entrée.
You can also sit at the bar to watch the planes. The bar does offer appetizers and has a happy hour on weekdays from 4pm-7pm. They have specialty cocktails that are perfect for the atmosphere.
My Dad on the lookout!
94th Aero Squadron Restaurant, 16320 Raymer Street, Van Nuys, CA 91406
A few weeks ago, my boyfriend, Brian, and I went to the Chowder Barge in Wilmington, CA. It is a barge that was used as a support vessel (whatever that means) for “Mutiny on the Bounty” that was repurposed to be a restaurant on the water in the Leeward Bay Marina, surrounded by boats. I am glad we made the trip to try it, but it wasn’t my favorite bowl of clam chowder. The option of “bread” doesn’t mean a bread bowl, as we are familiar with in San Francisco. It was a piece of bread (not sure what kind) in the middle of the thick soup. We also ordered double clams. What that means is that fried clams are added. I didn’t even notice the clearly written fried part on the menu, but ate them anyway, so had to double exercise the next day. Our waiter was very nice and the restaurant itself is a pretty cool idea, but do not go with any gourmet expectations. Definitely a great place to visit during the daytime, when you can see the view.
While we were eating our clam chowder, I looked at one of my history books of California and found out there is a Civil War museum nearby. We were unable to get to the museum that day, but did return a few weeks later.
Before we ate, we stopped at Urban Americana. It is a really cool vintage store. It has furniture, old signs, toys, books, clothes, art and vinyl records.
Well, this doll is creepy.
This little buddy hangs around the albums.
Very unique and kitschy stuff. No matter where we go, Brian finds a place that sells records. Sometimes, I luck out and they have other things for me to look at. This place is huge and has a lot of cool things, an outdoor area with a nice bench, and they have bathrooms.
Last year, I read a book entitled, “The California Gold Rush and the Coming of the Civil War” by Leonard Richards. There were a few stories that had me on the edge of my seat from excitement. I had a feeling how they would end, but they ended way more spectacularly than I imagined. The gold rush is certainly a big part of what we learn in history class. The gold miners did more of a gentlemen’s agreement on mining claims. They were none too happy when rich Southern slave owners came over, using slaves to do all the work, being able to mine more ground faster and make more money. The disagreement over California being admitted as free state is what some believe was the final nail in the coffin and what officially started the Civil War. Being a free state meant anti-slavery states had a majority of representatives in the government.
Drum Barracks was built to be the Union headquarters for California, Arizona and New Mexico. It was also protecting the harbor. Supplies were based there. Camels were shipped there also, with hopes that they would be more efficient than horses. (Nope.) Most of the buildings are now gone. The Museum was formerly housing for Junior Officers.
There is another building about two blocks away (Eubank Ave and Opp Street) that was the powder magazine, where gunpowder & ammunition were stored. That building has a fence around it, but I didn’t see any signage. Very easy to find, though.
The only way to see the inside of the museum is if you take a guided tour. This is both good and bad. Good, because I certainly got more out of the visit with a human being there to answer questions and explain things. The only bad part was that there are many printed things on the walls that I didn’t read because I didn’t want to hold up the tour. There were only 4 of us. However, no one would have actually cared if I stalled to take anything in longer. That is all on me.
They have 1st edition Ulysses S. Grant books on display, which was absolutely amazing to me. Most of the furniture is that of the era, but not what was actually in the home. Soldiers lived more compactly. The original artifacts are mostly in glass cases, with replicas available to pass around.
The front of the building.
An original well.
There is also a room with different weapons that were used during the Civil War. A man that was on the tour with us was familiar with the weapons of that time. He asked my boyfriend if he had ever shot a gun, being fascinated with the size of the bullets. Kind of thought it was funny because I am the one that has tried shooting. Even tried a machine gun. Anyway, what I loved about that guy was how excited he was to finally be in the museum. He said he had heard about it and seen ads, but never went despite living nearby. That morning, he finally did it!
As you tour the building, you will get to the medical display. I knew about how surgeries were done long ago, but it was nice to have a refresher, gross as it was. Really gross. I think it was the re-using the surgical tools without sterilizing them and just wiping off the blood and moving on to the next surgery that really brought it home for me. Can’t help but wonder what things we now believe to be medical marvels will be thought as horrifying years from now.
Finally, Drum Barracks has a great gift shop, filled with Civil War books to help you further your knowledge.
**Drum Barracks is closed on Monday and Friday. Two tours are available per day. You do not need to make reservations for the tours unless you have a bigger group. Be sure to check their website before you go.
I work on the production side of commercials. Sometimes, the shoots are on stages that have been used in famous and beloved television shows and movies, often with commemorative plaques hung on the wall outside the door. Sometimes, the location is a beach, a house, or a museum. Sometimes, the location is a piece of history.
Though I am not religious, I lose my mind over Christmas and Santa. A few years ago, I even started a tradition of getting my photo with Santa. I have stood in line with children at malls, Union Station in Los Angeles and Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. The adults don’t always get that I am actually in line to get a photo with Santa and ME and have walked in front of me to get photos of their kids. Last December, I worked on a shoot with Santa Claus in an industrial area in Glendale, California.
As soon as I arrived at work, I was tasked with wrapping gifts for kids, which I gladly did while donning my personal Santa hat. The art department built and created an amazing and festive room with crafts, snacks and decorations. When I finally needed a bathroom break, I walked to another part of the building and discovered that I was in an air travel museum! Grand Central Air Terminal was a major airport long ago, attracting the rich and famous. It was the premier airport around Los Angeles before that title was bestowed upon LAX.
Air travel was starting to catch on in the late 1920s in the United States. In 1926, the Feds started to regulate air travel to ensure safety, which would then encourage people to take seriously the idea of flying in lieu of slower modes of transportation. Moving forward into the future of transportation was actually inspired by delivering mail. It had been decided that private businesses should get into mail delivery via plane. Combined with the enthusiasm created by Charles Lindbergh and his solo Atlantic flight, the US got excited about this newer form of getting around.
An airline called Transcontinental Air Transport had a Los Angeles – New York route that began at Grand Central. Lindbergh was hired by the airline and even flew the first leg of the first flight to New York (along with some celebrities.) Without night travel capability, the trips still included connections using trains and took nearly two days. When the DC-3 was introduced, the flights times were reduced, with a few stops for fuel. (The ads for the DC-3 included women so everyone would know that even WE can handle flying.)
When the USA joined World War II, the use of Grand Central was no longer for private citizens. It was used by the US Government to train pilots. Though the runway was extended during wartime, it was reduced when the airport was returned to use by civilians. The airport was unable to survive with said smaller runway due to the larger commercial airplanes that had emerged. The air terminal closed in 1959.
Eventually, Disney took over the building. It was restored and is open for free tours but you must make a reservation here.
I decided to partake in the free Museum Day in Los Angeles, CA last week. I have been spending far too much time indoors and was glad for an excuse to get outside. There were a lot of places taking part, but I chose Descanso Gardens because I had never been. It was a lovely day out, with the temperature in the 80s, despite it being ”winter.”
It seemed as though many people parked in the residential area, but there was ample parking in the actual lot. My boyfriend, Brian, and I got our tickets online, which helped us avoid standing in an extra line. We stopped by the café first, which is right before the entrance. My lunch was good and the perfect amount of food. A woman in the line mentioned that she likes to take advantage of free museum days. Last year, she went to MOCA in Downtown LA, but said it was so crowded that she doubts she would ever go again on the free day. Descansco was definitely busy, but there were moments of complete quiet and peace, which were much needed. We got to enjoy a bench by the lake for a fair amount of time without interruption.
The grounds are enormous, with much to see. Each season has it’s own group of blooming flowers, with spring having the most. I really enjoy how it is set up, allowing you to walk through different sections. The Oak Forest and Ancient Forest were my favorites and Japanese Gardens are always beautiful and calming.
There are a few trails and places that are a bit of an uphill hike. We walked up a bit of a steep hill to find that it was an even steeper walk down, walking next to a fence. Most of the grounds are even and accessible for everyone, though. They do offer wheelchairs at the Visitor Center. Also, there are benches and bathrooms throughout the grounds.
The Boddy House, former home of E. Manchester Boddy, who founded the gardens, was an unexpected hike uphill, at least on the route we chose to take. If you have difficulty with something like that, please make sure to plan ahead and look into other routes/options so that you can enjoy this attraction. Restored in 2007 and opened as a museum in 2008, the Boddy house is considered a “must-see.” There are informational signs within the house and the rooms are, rightly, roped off. There is a functional sink with a sign that asks everyone to please not touch or use it, but, clearly, someone turned the handles because there was splattered water within the basin. (That both annoyed me and made me laugh.) The rooms and furniture are a “re-interpretation” of its appearance. Since the house and furnishings are contemporary, it didn’t have the same historical feel as many other places I have been, making it feel like more like going to a house party at a very nice house. There are docents available, but due to the crowd, it didn’t even occur to me to find one to gain any insight. Again: Free Museum Day. Brian couldn’t help himself as we left the building, telling random people where the keg was. Everyone enjoyed his joke, I think.
We also went to the Sturt Haaga Gallery, which is next to the Boddy House. It has nature-themed art, of course.
On our way out, we did stop in the gift store, where they sell many garden-related items as well as food items, like jellies and bread mix.
I am glad to have visited Descanso Gardens, regardless of the crowd. It did take Free Museum Day to get me to finally visit, but it will only take a change of season to get me to go again. I am looking forward to the lilacs in the Spring.
* Wear comfortable shoes.
**Make sure to bring water in your recyclable bottle.
The first time I went to Salton Sea, I assumed it was some tiny little body of water, so figured it would be a cinch to find Bombay Beach. Sara and I got there and found a closed visitor’s center and a very smelly run down shack. This time, I made sure to actually research where it is. This time was also my boyfriend’s first Dart and Map adventure, where it takes 8 hours to go on a 2 hour trip.
Brian and I went to Pappy and Harriets to meet up with some of his friends and to see Lucinda Williams, who was already on the stage playing by the time we got there. Pappys is a great little restaurant and music joint in Pioneertown, which is about 1 1/2-2 hours from Los Angeles. Pioneertown was originally built as a set for Hollywood Western movies. Now, it has a motel, Pappys & Harriets and the old set buildings with weekend shoot-out reenactments.
We chatted Lucinda up a little bit after the show, which was very cool, and since I had a few drinks by then, I babbled about how I had learned to play one of her songs on the guitar. Except, it probably sounded more like “ohhh! You inspired me to pick up the guitar and PLAY! bleeh awesome! woo supporting women woohoo” or whatever I said. My happy drunk is very puppies and rainbows. And then I was probably asleep by midnight.
The discovery of the International Banana Museum trumped my excitement of finally knowing the location of Bombay Beach. Ever since I met a banana in San Francisco, I have developed a bit of an obsession for all things banana. (No, I do not have a million little banana trinkets.) Brian and I got up and out of our hotel room and drove to the banana nirvana. The website said it was open. I didn’t think to call anyway. So, of course, it was closed.
The owner did answer the phone when I called while in front of the place, but he was on his way out of town. Banana dreams. Foiled. (I can’t think of a good banana pun, so foiled will have to do.)
Next, we went to Bombay Beach. Its heyday was in the 1950s and 60s, with Hollywood celebrities flocking there. The high salinity, followed by storms destroyed this playcation hotspot by the 70s. If you look up the Salton Sea, you always see a picture of a decaying van. So, when you get there and do not see it, there is disappointment. Fortunately, Brian knows a lot of people and ran into a guy he knew. That guy was with a girl that had been visiting since the 80s and directed me to the iconic van. Now it looks like this:
There were some dead fish and random objects along with the rubble of what once was.
Brian grabbed the camera and snapped this very awesome photo.
There are a bunch of trailers off of the beach where people still reside.
We went to a local place called Ski Inn for lunch before we darted off to Salvation Mountain, which is another iconic place you have to visit when you are in Southern California.
Salvation Mountain is the recently deceased Leonard Knight‘s way of sending his message to everyone that “God is Love.” It is about 20 minutes East of Bombay Beach.
People donated paint to him so that he could create his brightly colored mountain, filled with art. We walked around and checked out all of the cool art on and within the mountain. We were curious about Slab City as well, being that it is RIGHT THERE, but have read enough about it to maybe go when we are feeling more adventurous. Slab is an off-the-grid kind of place. Though it sounds like there are plenty of artists and very interesting types of people there, we were advised to skip it.
We decided to go around the Salton Sea instead of back tracking.
Love driving through new places! I don’t know why it fascinated me that it is so close to Mexico, as was made very clear by the Border Patrol stop we had to make on our way back up. Since we weren’t smuggling anyone or anything, we zipped past and watched the Sea on our right until we reached the 10 Freeway to Los Angeles.
Plans are few and far between on the road, as are reservations when Jenn and I travel, and traveling solo was no different for me. As I made my way from East to West across the states I pretty much stayed where I wound up by day’s end that had a vacancy and a cheap rate. And always only after a bedbug bed check Jenn had instilled in me whenever we traveled as I’d watch her strip the sheets of her bed while I was more worried with checking Yelp for what nightcaps were in the area. Once she was satisfied they were clear, we’d settle in and head out.
Sometimes we’d note places to go and things to see and even get to them if they were of utmost importance, and sometimes we’d see a road sign for a landmark or local must-see and take a segue from the path for that instead. For the places we’d wind up missing as a result or didn’t get to in time we’d just add them to our list for the future.
And then there are the fruitless but fun pursuits. Somewhere outside of Atlanta Jenn texted me that the Big Banana Car was on display. So with her as my co-pilot in spirit I turned around and drove in its direction. If you know anything about Jenn then you know she loves her bananas.
And if you know anything about GPS and map apps you know they’re not always right. Half an hour into my journey the directions sent me to some industrial park with a similar named street. There was no banana where I wound up, just an office building and a cop who pulled up alongside to tell me to pull into the parking lot nearby instead of the side of the road where I was attempting to re-route my route. Eventually I did see 3 banana yellow colored cars but no actual banana.
Finally I made it to the strip mall where they had tweeted they were at when Jenn texted they just posted they had packed up and were off to their next destination. Mission Banana was a bust. By this point I was hungry and saw something banana yellow nearby calling my name.
It was named Moe’s and had a great big sign hailing it as the original Moe’s.
I figured it was a local southern fave. Turned out it was more South of the border as it served up southwest fare and was a chain rather than a Mom & Pop’s type place I prefer, but new to these parts it wasn’t a franchise I was familiar with and I’m always up for a quesadilla to quell my hunger, so I ordered up a chicken club one and sampled the salsa bar as I took a bite of a new (for me) regional staple. I was less bummed I passed up something more regionally Southern in these parts, like the BBQ joint I passed back by the industrial park, than I was about being able to connect with a banana for Jenn. We have a very odd bond. But when someone has saved your life in the past you’re willing to jump on board and support what they live for.
On my way to Nashville that night I made a detour to Chattanooga and delighted myself (I’m easily amused) by standing on the tracks of where the Chattanooga Choo-Choo once chugged along.
Whiskey is another passion of Jenn’s. Bananas and whiskey, what’s not to love about that gal? She’s a fun friend. It’s a shared love, as I do enjoy a good whiskey sour time and again, so in her honor as I continued on and saw signs for the Jack Daniel’s Distillery in the distance I also made a sidetrack trip to see that. Sadly it was closed by the time I made it to its gates, which is ironically situated in a dry county, but the scent of the pungent forbidden spirits filled the air. I paid my respects and took a photo before moving on.
Unfortunately Nashville would prove to be a dry stop for me as well even though it was soaking wet. After managing my hydroplaning car through a torrential downpour on the highway I could only find an affordable hotel on the outskirts of the city. I drove down the main strip of fun bars and listened to the live country music coming from each, but decided that to stop for a drink and try to find my hotel in the rain or bothering to go back was not particularly wise or safe (or would be near the legal limit if you saw the number of fun bars there were to try) so I stayed in and added a night out in Nashville to the future to do list for another visit.
The next morning I did find a funky banana yellow van in the parking lot registered to seekers of the paranormal. Proving that on the road you can count on the abnorm.
On my way out the random encounters continued as I drove through the city on a sunnier morning. I was greeted with participants dressed in tutus and even bunny ears gearing up in costume for some sort of run/walk fundraiser. I saw a big boot, a giant guitar, and the birthplace of bluegrass, Ryman Auditorium.
Somewhere outside of Music City there was no love as I came across a very likeable little place called the Loveless Café.
Well in lieu of love they had something even better, lots of bacon!
The BBQ smoker house adjacent was at it filling the air with rich smoky goodness for the dishes being served up inside but there was a line out the door and a wait for a seat so sadly I passed on some ribs and got some of their Piggy Popcorn, candied bacon popcorn, which they sold in their shop alongside an assortment of bacon concoctions and themed gifts as well as a variety of another local fave, pralines, including whiskey ones. I was really enjoying my taste of Tennessee.
As I drove out a loveless-themed tune called “Merry Go Round” by Kacey Musgraves came on the radio with the lyrics, “Mary Mary quite contrary, we get bored so we get married… Jack and Jill went up the hill, Jack burned out on booze and pills and Mary had a little lamb, Mary just don’t give a damn no more.” I turned it up as I was even starting to enjoy Country music too. They sure do know how to turn a phrase and tell a story. I looked forward to my next new story on the horizon as I headed down the road.
On a recent cross country road trip I grew giddy when I discovered I’d be passing through a must see city on my list, Memphis, and was sure to stop to see its local treasure, the hallowed home of Elvis. It was even apropos that my visit to Graceland would fall on Easter weekend to take in where the King of kings once lived.
With my AAA card I got a discount for the Platinum Tour which included a tour of his 2 planes and his beloved car collection.
Daddy’s little girl, Lisa Marie, got a plane named after her. And what a nice ride it was. My dad gave me the keys to the family station wagon to borrow once in a while and later the spare Hyundai we had parked in the driveway growing up. This was definitely a different kind of dad.
There was plenty of leg room on the Lisa Marie luxury liner. The couches and chairs were plastic wrapped for their protection from the public, as well as his bed. And oh what a bed. Would you expect anything less than a blue suede bed for the the man who sang about blue suede shoes?
A friend whose young daughter, Zoe, who was the same age I was when I first fell for the King had just discovered him and wanted to know if it was true Elvis had died on the toilet as she’d heard. I told her I didn’t ask but I did get her a photo of his bathroom on the plane.
In order to tour Graceland you take a shuttle bus you board across the street where you are given a headset device which talks you through the home, room by room, and throughout the total Elvis experience. It was lightly raining that day (or was it the angels shedding tears for the King?) as we drove through the gates and up the driveway to the entrance, decked out with lion statues, naturally.
What was surprising was how in comparison to today’s celebrity homes and suped up cribs of those with lifestyles of the rich and famous how much smaller Graceland is than I had imagined, but what was lacking in size was made up for in the grandeur of decadence as only Elvis could do. Upon entering the residence you are greeted by one of 3 nearby chandeliers.
Off to your right is the peacock themed living room housing a 15 foot couch and a grand piano in the adjoining room reminding you of the music that built this palace.
The upstairs is off limits, as Elvis preferred his privacy and out of respect for that (and for the fact that may very well be where the bathroom is that he passed) you are kept to the first floor and below. (Sorry, Zoe, I couldn’t get close enough to find out.)
The bedroom his parents stayed in is on display just down the hall.
The one love Elvis and I share is for TV, and he loved to have one in almost every room, including his formal dining room.
As Lisa Marie informs us on our recorded headset presentation the kitchen was the central core of the home with ’round the clock meals thanks to there being so many guests and friends over and was a favorite hangout area and has been left intact as it last was actively used and decorated in its current 70’s tone. It was rather homey vs. luxe, and there is a TV there too.
And speaking of TV, again, next up is the downstairs, where you descend a mirrored wall staircase to discover Elvis’ triple threat of 3 TVs on a wall, which we’re told he had airing the 3 different networks at the same time so he could keep up with what was going on just like world leaders and newsmen of that day as he’d heard. Decorating another wall of that room is a lightning bolt, an image he became associated with during the 70’s and liked to have emblazoned on items and clothing. The monkey sculpture is funky and strangely makes sense in that setting.
The pool table in the adjoining room, where the walls are covered in cloth vs. paper, still has a tear on the tabletop where one of his buddies messed up a challenging pool shot as he tried to shark the King.
As you ascend back up another staircase you encounter the jungle, or rather another popular hang out room and recording space, The Jungle Room. Complete with tropical wood carved furniture, a waterfall wall, animal prints and the ever classic floor to ceiling green shag carpeting, it was inspired by Hawaii, one of Elvis’ favorite vacation spots. Talk about a man cave, this is about as groovy as they get.
Just outside is a brick enclosed space once used as a smokehouse by his dad, Vernon, and then later converted into a firing range so the King could get off some shots.
Along with his passion for karate Elvis also took up a love of racquetball and oversaw the building of his own personal court and leisure space, including a piano, for that pastime.
The court has now been converted into a space to showcase his performance wardrobe and several of his many awards.
Another whole room on the premises, The Hall of Gold, has been built to house the King’s gold, his extensive gold record collection and other outfits that marked his well lived life, including his wedding attire and his G.I. uniform.
Presley enjoyed a little poolside time and an area to relax with the Meditation Garden right next to it. Today fans can pay their last respects to where the King now rests alongside his parents.
Last stop on my tour was the Elvis Presley Automoblie Museum.
Quite a roomful of classic cars.
After all of that Graceland gawking it was time to go get me some good eats. As I was in Memphis there was only one thing on my menu: some good ol’ Memphis barbecue! And luckily just down the road was a sweet spot to go get some.
If you’d like, they’ll even give you a little Southern hospitality via their VIP service and pick you up in one of their pink limos.
I opted for their pink drink, called the Pink Cadillac of course. As you can see, even Elvis is a fan.
With its Elvis-themed kitsch adorning the place, in case you didn’t get enough at the Graceland gift shop, Marlowe’s is a tourist’s delight, but that doesn’t take a thing away from its BBQ. In fact I was in for a tasty treat, and award winning at that. The scent of rich smoky goodness envelops you as you walk through the doors courtesy of the barbecue pit in the kitchen.
I ordered the 2 entree combo plate featuring my two BBQ favorites: ribs and pulled pork, accompanied by coleslaw and corn fritters and the most delightful fried bread concoction. At first I thought they were just larger corn fritters but they turned out to be dinner rolls, if you deep fried them like a donut, lightly crispy on the outside but with soft warm delicious bread baked inside. I’m more of a sauce gal vs. a dry rub when it comes to my meat but they feature both and I was not let down. My plate came served up with some of the best sauce that has smacked past these lips. Their sweet tender pulled pork was a delight and the ribs had a deep dense smoke flavor that went beyond the pit and straight on into the bones themselves. I’ve never tasted anything so smoked through and through and it could darn well set off a smoke detector if it too had a tongue to take a taste.
With my belly blessed with some BBQ and my everything Elvis experience checked off my list I hopped back in my Honda, as no King ever got me a plane or a personalized Mercedes, but Memphis had loved me tender and it was time to hit the road.