Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Means Free Public Transit

Heading out on the town for New Year's Eve?  If you want to keep it safe (especially with those DUI checkpoints more than likely to be around town), Go Metro! 

Metro is offering free public transit on buses and trains from December 31, 2009 at 9pm to January 1, 2010 at 2am.  And after you've had a night out, get yourself out of bed to head out to the Rose Bowl.  Enjoy the Rose Bowl Game and Rose Parade.  It'll cost you the regular fares ($1.25 one way and $5 day pass) to use the convenient Metro Gold Line, but as we noted in our Here for Roses?  Enjoy Gold (Red and Purple) Lines post, there's a free shuttle.  Beats paying those parking prices (and do you really want to drive the day after New Year's Eve celebrations?). (More info at Metro.) wishes you all a happy and safe time ringing in 2010!

-Charity Tran

Photo by retro traveler from the ExperienceLA Flickr Pool.

More than just a food truck

In my last post reviewing top cultural moments of 2009 in Los Angeles, item #2 was the rise in food trucks servicing hungry Angelenos. Well, chalk another one to the list. "Vesuvio," a food truck offering traditional Southern Italian fare will be hitting the streets of LA in the New Year.

Founder Matt Giangrande contacted ExperienceLA and informed us of the latest food truck to enter the mobile restaurant business. Initially, my reaction was, "Not another one." But after a brief conversation with Matt, I found that the story and inspiration behind "Vesuvio" was much more interesting than some guy simply capitalizing on an opportunity to make a few bucks.

Matt hopes that people will find this food experience a little different from most other food trucks. While many of the food trucks offer fusion menus, "Vesuvio" looks to bring authentic, Southern Italian food to the game; food which Giangrande grew up eating, and which his grandmother made.

"Many people think of Italian food, and they think of spaghetti and meatballs," he offers. Of course, we know it's more than that, but I think the idea here is that food is more than what you put into your mouth. It's an experience, and a reflection of a culture.

According to Giangrande, Northern Italian cuisine has more French and German influence, with more butter and cream based dishes. In Southern Italian cooking, you'll find more tomato-based recipes and heavier use of cheese, due partially to a greater Spanish and Arabic influence.

One of the menu items I'm looking forward to tasting is the Arancini (pronounced Ah-rahn-CHEE-nee), a deep fried ball of smoked mozzarella, parmesan cheese, rice, Italian salami, herbs & spices...umm, I heard deep fried cheese. Sold.

Aside from sharing foods which he grew up with, the founder of "Vesuvio" aims to provide a reflection of the Neapolitan way of life. Food was an opportunity for Giangrande's grandmother to welcome family and friends into her home. With "Vesuvio," he hopes to create a commonplace for neighbors and strangers to gather.

"Whenever I go to Italy to visit family, I am amazed by the amount of interaction in the streets. Complete strangers will chat each other up, scream at each other, root for their soccer teams...and this is the norm, not the exception."

Is it possible that one day, the streets of Los Angeles will look like those of Italy, with people milling about and chatting with strangers? Not likely, but folks are certainly gathering in the streets waiting to taste the delights of these food trucks. Hopefully, "Vesuvio" can deliver on more than just the food, and people gather just to gather and be neighborly. Perhaps I'll see some of you out there.

(photo courtesy of Vesuvio)


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Here for Roses? Enjoy the Gold (Red and Purple) Metro Lines

Whether you're rooting for Buckeyes, Ducks, Longhorns, or the Crimson Tide at the Rose Bowl  - or in town to see the Tournament of Roses - the Gold Line is a great way to get to Pasadena and enjoy L.A. sights.  While you're at it, explore with the Metro Red Line and Purple Line too.  Need some reasons why?  Read on! 

Skip the Parking, Free Shuttle
If you drive, it will cost you $30 to park for the Rose Bowl game and $40 for the BCS game. (Metro's The Source).  But at $1.25 for one way, one line (or $5 for a daypass), you can hop on the Metro Gold Line light rail.  Four Gold Line stations (Del Mar, Memorial Park, Lake, and Allen) are within walking distance from the parade route.  For those attending the Rose Bowl game or the BCS game, Metro is offering a free shuttle.  Just get off at Memorial Park station and walk over to Parsons.  Need more information on the shuttle and walking from stations for the parade?  Visit Metro's Go Metro to 2010 New Year's Celebrations! page.

Sight Seeing on the Gold Line
Here are some notes and suggestions.  Where possible we've linked to more information on 

Sierra Madre Villa Station:
Hang out at Victory Park or go shopping at Hastings Ranch Shopping Center.

Lake Station
Visit the Carnegie Institution Observatory, Ice House Comedy Club, or take advantage of the daypass by hopping on the Metro 485 and enjoying a play at the Pasadena PlayhouseCamelot starts at the Pasadena Playhouse on January 8th if you'll be in town for awhile.  Get your shopping fix on at Lake Avenue Shopping District.

Memorial Park Station

Visit Museums and Theatres including Armory Center for the Arts, Memorial Park, Levitt Pavilion, Norton Simon Museum, Pacific Asia Museum, and Pasadena Museum of California Art.  Shopping?  Old Pasadena and Paseo Colorado Shopping Center is off this stop too.

Del Mar Station
Visit Central Park or enjoy some ice skating at the Pasadena Ice Skating Rink.  More shopping is available at the Old Pasadena Shopping District (see One Colorado).

Mission Station
Enjoy the Meridian Ironworks Museum or stop in to see the architecture of the South Pasadena Library.  There's also shopping at the Mission West Shopping District.

Highland Park Station
This station offers the Highland Park Recreation Center and the LA Police Historical Museum.

Southwest Museum Station
Visit the Southwest Museum or check out the Audubon Center at Debs Park, the Lummis Home, or Sycamore Grove Park.

Heritage Square/Arroyo Station
Check out Greayer Oak Park and roam around in the history of Heritage Museum Square

Lincoln Heights/Cypress Park Station
Spend some time at Cypress Park or enjoy the gardens at the LA River Center and Gardens.

Chinatown Station
Chinatown offers a wide-range of cultural foods, shopping, and destinations.  It's the perfect place to go sightseeing.  Check out Chinatown Art Galleries, the architecture of Old Chinatown, and Los Angeles State Historic Park.  See Chinatown destinations on ExperienceLA.

Union Station
From Union Station itself to the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument and Olvera Street, there's plenty to see off of Union Station.  You can even enjoy the classic French dip sandwiches at Phillipe's a few blocks away.  Also check out the Chinese American Museum

Little Tokyo/Arts District
In addition to the arts district, check out the Japanese American Cultural Community Center, the Japanese American National Museum (they're hosting a Oshogatsu Family Festival!), and the MOCA-Geffen Contemporary Museum

Mariachi Plaza
Visit Hollenbeck Park or the Mariachi Plaza.

Metro offers a downloadable Gold Line guide.  You can download it here (pdf).

Need More To Do?  Enjoy Red...and Purple! 

We don't mean the red and purple likely to adorn the floats at the 2010 parade, there's a Metro Red Line and Purple Line accessible at Union Station.  Both Red and Purple Lines can take you from Union Station and into attractions in Downtown, Hollywood, Thai Town, and Korea Town.

Civic Center (Red and Purple)
Sight see or take in a show at the Music Center.  The Music Center is home the Ahmanson Theatre, the Mark Taper Forum, and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.   Close to the Music Center is the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA).

Pershing Square (Red and Purple)
Check out Pershing Square and the beautiful Central Library.  Nearby shopping includes the Fashion District, Jewelry District, and Santee Alley.

7th Street/Metro Center (Red and Purple, also transfer point to/from Blue Line)
This station is close to a LA Vistior Information Center, 7+Fig and Macy's Plaza shopping and food.  Head south down Figueroa and you can also find yourself at the L.A. Live plaza to enjoy food options and the GRAMMY Museum.

Wilshire/Western (Purple Line)
Grab the Metro Rapid 720 from Wilshire/Western and explore Museum Row.  Get off at Fairfax to experience the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Broad Contemporary Museum of Art, Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits, and Craft & Folk Art Museum.  You can also take the Metro Rapid 720 further to experience Beverly Hills/Rodeo Drive, Westwood/UCLA offerings like the Hammer and the Fowler Musuems, and 3rd Street Promenade.

This station is a convenient walk to Barnsdall Art Park and Hollyhock House.  With the LADOT Griffith Observatory Shuttle you can head over to experience Griffith Park.  A quick walk up Vermont and you can enjoy shopping and food in Los Feliz - including a 24-hour eclectic dining experience at Fred 62 (order the Bossa Nova). 

Make a stop at this station for Thai Food dining and shopping along Western Avenue.

Convenient to catch a show at the Pantages Theatre (it's across the street from the station) and a quick walk to explore the Hollywood Walk of Fame (just look down at the sidewalk), the Henry Fonda TheatreArclight Cinerama Dome, and shopping at the Amoeba Music.

In addition to the Hollywood Theatre District which includes the Egyptian, the El Capitan, Grauman's Chinese (where all the celebrity foot/handprints are), and Kodak Theatres, explore entertaining museums like the Hollywood Wax Museum, Ripley's Believe It Or Not, and the newly open Madame Tussauds.  The station lets you off right at Hollywood & Highland Center for quick/accessible shopping.  More of the Hollywood Walk of Fame can be seen in this area as well.

Universal City
Grab the shuttle and head into Universal Studios theme park or just enjoy Universal CityWalk for shopping and sightseeing. 

North Hollywood
Experience the richness of art through the NoHo Arts District and the El Portal Center for the Arts

Check out's Interactive Map for more destinations and information.  As always please check transit time tables and plan your trip (and all of its connections) accordingly!

-Charity Tran

(Photo by simonela from ExperienceLA Flickr Pool)

Monday, December 28, 2009

2009: What a year in L.A.

It's hard to believe 2010 is just around the corner. One of the things I look forward to at the end of each year is reading the many "best of lists" that get generated. It's interesting to see what/who made the lists, but also what/who got the snub. In either case, it makes for good conversation and is always fun to reflect on the year that was. Here at ExperienceLA, we decided to compile our own review of 2009. Our topic - what else - top art and cultural events of 2009 in Los Angeles.

So, in no particular order:

#10 - Grand opening of the NoHo gateway. The North Hollywood arts district turned 30 years old in 2009, and the opening of the gateway welcomed a new energy to the neighborhood. Council Member Tom LaBonge, along with the CRA/LA (Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles), artist Peter Shire and members of the community celebrated the gateway's completion, the first of three public art installations for NoHo, back in July. As a resident of the area, I must say the revitalization of NoHo is exciting. The NoHo Commons offers a great place to meet up and hang out with friends before or after a show at one of the many nearby theatres (not to mention the HOW'S grocery store is one of the better grocery shopping experiences in LA). And I can see great live music with the monthly "Hear NoHo" music festival. I heart the valley.

#9 - Cirque du Soleil's Los Angeles show. Ok, it's been in the works for some time (2 years since it was first announced), but it looks like the Kodak Theatre will have a new, permanent resident come 2011. Things are finally moving forward in the development of a dedicated and original Cirque du Soleil show for Hollywood, which is expected to create new jobs and draw in more tourists. The program will be performed year-round, with an estimated 368 shows per year over 10 years. The inaugural season is expected to start sometime after the 2011 Academy Awards. Perhaps we'll see some Cirque du Soleil street performers along Hollywood Blvd. with the other characters.

#8 - Opening of the GRAMMY Museum. Well, technically this opened at the end of 2008, but we got to fully appreciate it in 2009. Situated in Downtown LA on the LA Live complex, the GRAMMY Museum celebrates all forms of music, the recording process and the history of the GRAMMY Awards. It contains four floors of interactive exhibits and experiences as well as a 200-seat theater for special, intimate performances. The museum also provides educational programs that look to inspire children through music. Earlier in the year, the GRAMMY Museum participated in a simulcast of the Michael Jackson memorial, which took place next door at the Staples Center.

#7 - Michael Jackson, The King of Pop. Speaking of Michael Jackson, we couldn't talk about major cultural events in Los Angeles and not mention this. The world paid tribute to the life of an amazingly talented man and his contributions to music this summer. Here in LA, we celebrated through impromptu street dances, gatherings at his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a Michael Jackson exhibit at the GRAMMY Museum, a mass performance of Thriller in Downtown on Halloween, and the premiere of "This Is It" at the grand opening of the Regal Cinema movie theaters at LA Live and across the city. You can read about XLA blogger, Charity's reflection on the Michael Jackson memorial or her experience of the movie premiere.

#6 - Los Angeles Lakers: NBA Champs. Sticking with the LA Live theme, how 'bout them Lakers? Their '09-'10 season is off to a great start, and we're optimistic they'll keep the trophy here in LA.

#5 - Holiday Celebration turned 50. 2009 marked the 50th year of the Los Angeles County Arts Commission's annual Holiday Celebration. That's quite a milestone for an event of this nature. Six full hours of live music and dance performances from around the world, this year's event was accessible all across the world! Those who weren't able to attend the live show at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (which is free to attend every year), could watch it on KCET, hear it on 90.7 FM, or stream it on

#4 - 75 Years of Original Farmers Market. The Original Farmers Market at 3rd and Fairfax celebrated its 75th year in 2009 with an eventful season. One event was the Taste of Farmers Market. Market goers were treated to yummy samples all throughout. It was such a success, they're considering turning it into an annual event. w00t w00t!

#3 - Metro Gold Line Extension. In November, the MTA opened its Gold Line Extension into East LA, making the city a little bit more connected, and allowing people to expose themselves to a great community. A day-long celebration was held, with free rides for all to explore along the route. Stops include Union Station, Little Tokyo, Pico Aliso Station, Mariachi Plaza, Soto Station, Indiana Station, Maraville Station, East LA Civic Center and Atlantic Station. The line opened to mixed reviews with expressed appreciation for a much-needed service and concerns for public safety. For me, it was a positive experience as it introduced me to a part of Los Angeles I wouldn't have considered exploring, but now believe is a gem of a neighborhood in LA County.

#2 - Rise of the Food Trucks. We've had the taco trucks for years, but this year felt like everyone and their parents were getting into the Food Truck craze in LA. From Kogi to LA Fuxion to Nom Nom Truck and more, this piece of LA culture gets Angelenos lined up for some tasty mobile food. Smells like a reality show. Hmm...

And last but not least...

#1 - Gustavo Dudamel arrives. Seemed like you couldn't escape this guy's face and name all summer. The Venezuelan-born Gustavo arrived in LA  this fall and brought with him an electric energy that drew out the masses. A free, sold-out concert at the Hollywood Bowl (read more from XLA blogger, Charity) attracted celebrities, LA Phil concert regulars and first-timers alike. His first performance at the Music Center was simulcast to an audience of about 1,500 on the Music Center Plaza - this was in addition to those who watched the performance from inside the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Maybe it's his youth, or that hair, or that infectious smile that attracts his fans and gets all types of people excited to see an orchestra perform. For me, I can't be more thrilled to see what he's done so far, and what he will continue to do for the world of classical music.

With any "best of" list, there's bound to be something that was missed. So, I welcome your input. What other hot cultural events happened in 2009 in LA?

Happy New Year!


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

From Din Tai Fung to Ozomatli

Most days I find myself appreciating the diverse cultural opportunities of Los Angeles in their individual or regional contexts - whether it's discovering tamales in East LA or having a crazy unexpected adventure exploring Downtown on foot.  But last Saturday I had an even greater appreciation for Los Angeles and how much it has to offer. 

My day began in a holiday traffic drive to one of my favorite Los Angeles restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley - Din Tai Fung in Arcadia.  Luckily, I wasn't driving.  But I will speak on behalf of my friends Melissa and Ian to say the journey was worth it.  It's so good my friends and I have created a club.  The sole purpose of this club is to gather and make plans to eat delicious soup dumplings (um...and spend time together....).  Unlike traditional dumplings, these dumplings contain soup.  So you have to be careful to wait the proper amount of time before devouring (patience really is a virtue).  Be forewarned that this popular restaurant always has wait times. 

We followed up our late lunch of pork and shrimp dumplings, sauteed spinach, chicken fried rice, and tea (with red bean dumplings for dessert) to roam around the store next door and then to JJ Bakery across the plaza.  JJ Bakery is worth a trip just to see their beautiful cake displays.  My friends and I did that - and piled our trays high with cakes and mochi and other sweets.

My evening was a Downtown experience of a birthday dinner and an Ozomatli concert at Club Nokia.  I hopped on the Metro Red Line (no traffic!) and roamed over to Pete's Cafe and Bar in Historic Core Downtown where I met up with friends for my friend Zach's birthday.  After a delicious dinner where I ordered a Hellman burger and blue cheese fries, we roamed out to Club Nokia for day two of Ozomatli's two-day gig at Club Nokia.  (In between they even had a children's program at The GRAMMY Museum).

Ozomatli with its mix of Latin influences and integration of hip-hop and rap was a perfect evening concert.  There was dancing in the audience and on stage.  The band had little choregraphed dance movements and even brought out some Ballet Folklorico in beautiful costumes.  There was also a string quartet - which I adore, especially when integrated into mainstream music.  I love music that is inclusive, opening itself up to the power that comes from bringing different influences together, and I find that is done so well by Ozomatli.  I was definitely dancing and Ozomatli had the floor of Club Nokia dancing out the door - literally.  After the band had made its way to a jam session on the Club Nokia floor, the crowd joined them in a conga-line style exit. 

Maybe the joy of my LA experience on Saturday was just as much related to the distinct groups of great friends - made over time from different aspects of my life - as it was the events I attended.  But with Din Tai Fung, J.J. Bakery, Pete's Cafe, and Ozomatli on the agenda with awesome people - where can you go wrong?  I obviously didn't. 

-Charity Tran

ExperienceLA Holiday Billboards

billboard closeup by plushcattechMy First Billboard by plushcattech
I am one of the few people in Los Angeles who loves advertising, commercials and marketing even though I'm not working in the field.  I love to view flash ads online, Superbowl commercials and billboards during my commute. So when I was given the chance to design the holiday billboards for ExperienceLA, I was ecstatic.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Promotions around Los Angeles

Here are some partner promotions currently going on around Los Angeles that aren't specifically tied to ExperienceLA, but we thought we'd share them with you, our readers. It's the holidays after all, and who knows, one of these might come in handy as a last-minute gift. We're just sayin'...

Go Metro on the Silver Line

Metro recently launched its Silver Line - connecting people from the South Bay (beginning at Artesia Station) and San Gabriel Valley (being at El Monte Bus Station) to Downtown Los Angeles.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

More Than Just Kicks: Clash of the Customizers Exhibition

While I've always thought about shoes as art, I've never really looked at the shoe as being a possible blank canvas where an artist can bring an idea to life.  Whether you're more of a newbie to this world like me or already entrenched in the world of customized sneakers, the collection featured at Clash of the Customizers Exhibition will probably leave you impressed and never looking at shoes in the same way again.  (Left: Goddess Ayra Tara by Yoakustoms)

Running until December 27, 2009, more information, photos, and video about the exhibition after the jump.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Awww... Nuts!

'Tis the season to enjoy great holiday favorites such as the Nutcracker Ballet.
Having a hard time choosing? Here is a quick run-down of the Nutcracker performances in the Los Angeles Area:

Events with a twist on the Nutcracker Theme:
Be sure to check out other great holiday events at!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Holiday Tamale Trolley

Growing up just east of East L.A., I have been quite accustomed to thinking tamales synonymous with the holidays. It's right up there with hot chocolate, peppermint mocha coffees, candy canes, and cookies. There's just something comforting about unwrapping that corn husk and seeing the steam rise from the masa. Like opening up a present with delicious rewards.

While we would get them homemade from our neighbor across the street, not everyone has that option. With the roll out of the Eastside Extension of the Metro Gold Line, getting these delectably filled foods is a little easier.

Check out this list of tamale vendors within walking distance from a Metro Gold Line Eastside station.*


El Rinconcito del Mar Bakery
(bakery only; not sold at restaurant)
2908 E. 1st St.
Los Angeles, 90033

Los Antojitos
2122 E. 1st St.
Los Angeles, 90033


Cinco Puntos Mexican Foods
(market only; no restaurant facilities)
3300 E. Cesar Chavez Avenue
Los Angeles, 90063

Tamales Lilianas
3448 E. 1st St.
Los Angeles, 90063
(also at 4629 East Cesar E Chavez Avenue, Los Angeles; 323-780-0989)

El Gallito Restaurant
(in El Mercadito)
3425 E. 1st St.
Los Angeles, 90063


King Taco
4504 E. 3rd St.
Los Angeles, 90022


Las Delicias
287-A S. Atlantic Blvd.
Los Angeles, 90022

Catching the bus? Here are more options within a local bus ride away from a Gold Line Eastside station.*


La Mascota Bakery
2715 Whittier Blvd.
Los Angeles, 90023

La Indiana Tamales
1142 S. Indiana St.


Juanito's Tamales
4214 E. Floral Drive
Los Angeles, 90063


Sandra's and Lolita's
(to go only; no restaurant facilities)
5390 Whittier Blvd.
Los Angeles, 90022

-Charity Tran

*Suggestions provided by Metro.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

The Grinch Will Steal Your Heart

Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is no doubt a family holiday favorite - from the book, to the cartoon film, to the live-action movie with Jim Carrey.

It also makes the perfect family-friendly holiday musical.

John Larroquette enters as "Old Max" retelling the story of when he was "Young Max" (portrayed by James Royce Edwards) and the Grinch (Stefan Karl) was up to his anti-Whoville holiday scheme. No need to retell the story most already know, but there are great elements that make this musical an enjoyable family experience.

The audience/show barrier is lifted often. Larroquette, Edwards, and Karl's character portrayals directly interact with the audience. Stefan Karl's performance as the Grinch is hilarious here, particularly in numbers where he's being quite the ham to the audience and both Old/Young Max alike warns us not to encourage him.

The stage is a holiday splendor of familiar Who-ville images seemingly lifted from Seuss' books into real life in all that musical stage spectacular. It's the perfect setting to bring the family into the beautiful historic Pantages Theatre.

And of course, the story is as heart-warming as ever - warmly lit by the singing of the Whoville cast, especially Cindy-Lou Who and her heart-changing interactions with the Grinch.

The show evokes the warmth of the holiday season for Human, Grinch, Dog, and Whoville citizens alike.

-Charity Tran

Usage of Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! image and name is authorized. TM & ©1957, 2009 Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P.