Category Archives: ADVENTURES IN THE UNITED STATES

New York City 2019: A Mermaid Parade, The East Village, and a lot of Great Food

Visiting local friends in New York City: The Coney Island Mermaid Parade, Exploring the East Village, Williamsburg, and a lot of great food.

 

I finally feel like I really got to know New York City. My three previous trips to New York City were all quick two-day adventures, mostly focused on hitting up big attractions in the city. This was a solo trip to visit my native New Yorker bestie Keith, for 6 nights. Keith and his partner Mike were kind enough to put me up in their Inwood apartment guest room, and I timed my trip around the Coney Island Mermaid Parade in June. Having seen most of the big tourist attractions, I was able to spend my 5 days in New York City having fun and and exploring some of the amazing food and quirky attractions New York has to offer.

Day 1: The Museum of Sex, The Guggenheim, and a Tiki Bar

Following a three hour flight delay due to thunderstorms in New York, an evening of catching up with Keith and Mike, and a good night’s sleep, I was ready to head out into the city.  Keith’s suggestion for the day was the Museum of Sex in the mid town area. They were having an exhibit on sexuality in the 1970’s -early 1980’s punk scene, and Keith had read about a bouncy house made out of boobs. That there was a bouncy house of boobs was really all he had to say, but the punk exhibit sounded great too.

The punk exhibit was interesting, focused on the early punk scene in New York City. Punk celebrity fashion, show posters, show videos, and photographs were displayed with a lot of text about sexuality in early punk culture.

There was also an exhibit on the history of the stag film, with video clips of various pornographic films and cartoons from the 1920’s on display along with an informative history timeline of pornographic films.

The main highlight however, was SuperFunLand, which was a carnival like exhibit with a kaleidoscope room, various carnival games, and as promised–a bouncy boob house.

SuperFunLand at the Museum of Sex
SuperFunLand at the Museum of Sex
SuperFunLand at the Museum of Sex
SuperFunLand at the Museum of Sex
SuperFunLand at the Museum of Sex
SuperFunLand at the Museum of Sex
SuperFunLand at the Museum of Sex

SuperFunLand costs a bit extra (I think like $4 extra), but it is totally worth it. You only get about 5 minutes in the bouncy boob house, but I really don’t know how much longer than that I could jump around on boobs to Van Halen’s “Jump.” It was a good amount of time for me.

Bouncy Boob House at Museum of Sex
Bouncy Boob House at Museum of Sex

After bouncing on boobs, we went down a dark velvety hallway to a door titled The Tunnel of Love. The ticket man asked us if we were prone to seizures or motion sickness, and if we minded being squirted in the face with water. We weren’t sure what we were in for, but we swiped our ticket cards and forged ahead.

The Tunnel of Love was a large-scale immersive short film exhibit with moving seats and special effects to make you feel like you were moving through the film. And yes, we were squirted in the face with water twice. It was a little sexy, a little psychedelic, and a little obnoxious. Overall, I’d recommend. A note about motion sickness: I am very prone to motion sickness, and I was fine.

After the Museum of Sex and a bit of meandering in a book store and getting coffee, we were ready for a bite to eat. One of my bucket list food spots on this trip was celebrity chef Eddie Huang’s Baohaus in the East Village.

Baohaus New York
Baohaus

I wished I was a bit hungrier, as I wanted to try all the baos. I settled on the Chairman Bao with pork belly, relish, crushed peanuts and cilantro. Keith tried the Birdhaus Bao, which was fried chicken with a lemon-garlic aoli, crushed peanuts, and cilantro. They were really good and if there weren’t so many other great places to eat in New York City, I would have gone back and tried them all. Note that one bao is snack-sized, two would be more of a meal. They also serve rice bowls and taro fries, which we did not try.

Baohaus New York
Baohaus New York: The Birdhaus Bao and the Chairman Bao

Second on my East Village bucket list was getting dessert at Milk Bar. Milk Bar is chef Cristina Tosi’s creation, most famous for her cereal milk ice cream, and Milk Bar Pie (formerly known as “crack pie,” but I guess someone gave them flack about that). Paddy and I really enjoyed the episodes about Milk Bar and Cristina Tosi on David Chang’s segment of Mind of A Chef (Netflix), and I needed to see what the fuss was all about.

Keith and I both opted for the cereal milk and compost cookie ice cream swirl combo, with compost cookie topping. It was pretty damn good, but not something I would go out of my way for specifically. You do have to be someone who really likes the salty-sweet flavor combo (which I do) to enjoy this ice cream.

I really wanted to try a piece of the Milk Bar Pie too, but there is only so much sugar I can consume in one sitting. I vowed to return.

*Note: Milk Bar has several locations around Manhattan and Brooklyn, as well as other states.

Milk Bar East Village
Milk Bar East Village
Milk Bar East Village
Cereal Milk and Compost Cookie swirl ice cream at Milk Bar East Village

 

Later that evening, Keith and I took a walk through Central Park on our way to the Guggenheim Museum.

Central Park
Central Park

The Guggenheim Museum was having a private preview party for it’s members to come view the new Basquiat exhibit after hours. Keith was a member, and what is more New York City than a private party at the Guggenheim?

The Guggenheim had a really awesome corkscrew layout, where you can walk (up or down) the spiral to view the art. There are off-shoots from the spiral levels to larger exhibit rooms. There was also a Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit that was really interesting.

The Guggenheim Museum
The Guggenheim Museum
The Guggenheim Museum
The Guggenheim Museum

The Guggenheim Museum is normally open from 10:00 AM to 5:30 PM daily, and Saturdays until 8:00 PM. Check it out.

After the Guggenheim we took a cab to the East Village to meet up with Keith’s partner Mike for dinner.

Mike has been trying to eat a more plant-based diet lately, so he suggested Bar Verde, a Mexican restaurant serving only plant-based dishes. Bar Verde was packed, but the wait for a table wasn’t too long.

We started with the smoked pineapple mezcalito cocktails, which were pricey ($15) but delicious. We also tried the hearts of palm ceviche, and several types of tacos including tempura avocado, maitake mushroom carnitas, and farro chorizo.

Bar Verde plant-based Mexican food
Bar Verde plant-based Mexican food

I’m not a vegetarian but I do love veggies. The array of veggies used in all the dishes was extremely broad, and everything was packed with flavor. I would absolutely recommend this place, even if you aren’t vegetarian.

After dinner, we went to the one Tiki Bar in Manhattan: Otto’s Shrunken Head.

Otto's Shrunken Head tiki bar
Otto’s Shrunken Head tiki bar New York City
Otto's Shrunken Head tiki bar
Otto’s Shrunken Head tiki bar

Otto’s Shrunken Head was having Rebel Night, a 50s and 60s vinyl dance party that happens every third Friday of the month. We ordered some drinks at the bar (I got the squealer– a lychee and passion fruit slushy in a pig tiki mug) and made our way to the back room to check out the dance party.

*Tiki drinks at Otto’s are $20 including a tiki mug. If you don’t want your mug, just return it to the bar when you’re done for $6 back.

I thought it might be fun to do the twist to some old vintage vinyl, but the back room was full of people who actually knew how to dance. There was a group of about 12-15 people in full vintage rockabilly attire, with rehearsed swing-dance style moves. I was not going to try and join in with that, but was happy to drink my slushy pig on the side bench and watch. It was impressive.

We didn’t stay out crazy late because we had a mermaid parade to judge the next day.

 

Day 2: The Coney Island Mermaid Parade

I timed my visit to New York City around the Coney Island Mermaid Parade in June after Keith told me it existed. We had purchased judge-ships for $200 each well in advance, which included bleacher seats, port-a-potties for judges only, free beer and food, a t-shirt, and the opportunity to view and judge the mermaids. Because mermaids.

Coney Island was a two hour subway ride from Keith’s apartment in north Manhattan, but it was worth it. We donned sailor attire for the occasion.

Coney Island, New York
Keith at Coney Island, New York
Coney Island, New York
Coney Island, New York
Coney Island, New York
Coney Island, New York
Coney Island, New York
Coney Island, New York
Coney Island Mermaid Parade
Coney Island Mermaid Parade

I wrote a more in-depth post on the mermaid parade and how to be a judge, which you can read here.

The parade and costumes were fantastic, and I would absolutely recommend it if you are in New York in June. I read later that there were approximately 850,000 people at the parade. Bring water and sunscreen and try to arrive by 11:00 AM if you want to avoid subway crowds and stake out your spot. Or be a judge, and get a great seat in the shade with all the amenities.

Coney Island Mermaid Parade
Coney Island Mermaid Parade
Coney Island Mermaid Parade
Coney Island Mermaid Parade
Coney Island Mermaid Parade
Coney Island Mermaid Parade
Coney Island Mermaid Parade
Coney Island Mermaid Parade
Coney Island Mermaid Parade
Coney Island Mermaid Parade

The parade lasted from 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM, and included three marriage proposals and one actual wedding. The costumes were impressive, and glitter was everywhere.

After the parade was over, the “mayor” of Coney Island did a beach opening ceremony, which we missed. We walked along the boardwalk where mermaids from the parade were posing for photos. The beach was definitely open, and very crowded.

Coney Island Mermaid Parade
Coney Island Mermaid Parade
Coney Island beach
Coney Island beach

We had enough of crowds for the day, so we headed back to the subway station to go get dinner and relax a bit in Brooklyn.

Keith’s friend suggested a little French Bistro called Bar Tabac right near the subway in the Boerum Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn. We got a little side walk table outside, a nice shady spot to wind down after a day of crowds and mermaids. I had the calamari and the gazpacho, which was delicious on a hot day. Bar Tabac was very cute and everything on their menu looked amazing. I would definitely recommend this place for lunch or dinner if you are in the area.

Bar Tabac, Brooklyn
Bar Tabac, Brooklyn
Bar Tabac Brooklyn
Calamari and gazpacho at Bar Tabac Brooklyn
Bar Tabac Brooklyn
Moroccan chicken dish Bar Tabac Brooklyn

The Mermaid Parade and long subway journey wiped us out, so we ended our Saturday night watching Golden Girls at Keith and Mike’s apartment.

 

Day 3: Lazy Sunday Brunch in Harlem

New Yorkers love their Sunday Brunch. My celebrity chef nerdery led us to Marcus Samulesson’s Red Rooster in Harlem, an easy subway ride from Keith and Mike’s north Manhattan apartment.

Red Rooster has a “gospel brunch” on Sundays, with live gospel singers as entertainment. They don’t take reservations for brunch, and I was worried that the wait might be long. To our surprise and delight, we walked right in and were seated right away.

Red Rooster Harlem
Red Rooster Sunday Brunch in Harlem

I will warn you, Red Rooster is a bit on the expensive side. Expect to pay for brunch what you would for a nice dinner. That being said, the food is heavy and delicious and you will leave full and happy.

We started with some bloody marys, which were strong. I had to try Marcus Samuelsson’s fried chicken that I’d heard so much about, so I ordered the Hot Honey Yardbird which came with sweet corn succotash and tomato salad. The chicken was crispy and a little sweet, and the tomato salad and succotash was the perfect fresh and acidic compliment to the heavy fried chicken.

Hot Honey Yardbird Red Rooster
Hot Honey Yardbird at Red Rooster

Keith had the Rooster Slam, which had a little bit of everything, and Mike had the NY Cheddar & Kale Omelette. Everything was outstanding.

Rooster Slam Red Rooster
Rooster Slam at Red Rooster
NY Cheddar & Kale Omelette Red Rooster
NY Cheddar & Kale Omelette Red Rooster

One of the gospel singers walked around the room with a portable microphone, serenading diners.

When we left, there was a line out the door. I guess we hit the right time. Red Rooster lived up to the hype, and I will definitely want to come back on my next visit to New York City.

After brunch we walked around Harlem a little bit. Mike has a thing for cookies, and said that I had to try one of the enormous cookies from Levain Bakery. We stopped into their Harlem location to pick some up for dessert that evening. The cookies are huge, more like a cookie mountain. I can attest that they are delicious. The bakery was tiny, and there were a few other baked goods for sale, but it was clear that the cookie was the star of the show here. They come in chocolate chip walnut, chocolate chocolate chip, chocolate with peanut butter chips, and oatmeal.

Levain Bakery Harlem
Levain Bakery Harlem
levain bakery
image from https://www.levainbakery.com/chocolate-chip-walnut

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking in Inwood Hill Park, and having drinks with friends and watching the Women’s World Cup at the Tubby Hook Tavern in Inwood.

 

Day 4: Wandering in Williamsburg

On Monday, Keith and Mike had to go back to work so I had a day to myself. I had read about a plus size consignment clothing store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, so I decided to wander around Williamsburg for the day.

Williamsburg was an industrial neighborhood in Brooklyn without a lot going on until the 1990’s. As with any trendy neighborhood, low rents brought in artists and young people and gentrification set in. Williamsburg is now a hipster-mecca in Brooklyn, and I was curious to see what it was all about.

Mural in Williamsburg
Mural in Williamsburg

After three days of walking all over New York, my feet were a little beat up. I had a little time to kill before some of the shops in Williamsburg opened up, so I got a reflexology foot massage at Happy Foot Spa on North 5th St.

Feeling relaxed and my feet rejuvenated, I walked over to Plus BKLYN consignment boutique. It was a super cute shop, but the inventory was a little low. I didn’t find anything I loved this time, but would recommend checking it out if you are a size 14+.

Plus BKLYN Williamsburg
Plus BKLYN Williamsburg
Plus BKLYN Williamsburg
Plus BKLYN Williamsburg

I poked around in a few more shops on Bedford Avenue before I got a little overheated walking in the hot sun. Time for lunch and a cold drink.

I had originally scoped out Pies and Thighs as my lunch option for the day, but after just having eaten fried chicken the day prior and it being so hot, I wanted something lighter. I ended up at Pearl’s, a Caribbean spot on North 8th St, and ordered a refreshing jerk chicken salad with mango and arugula. A variety of sauces were brought to the table, the best of which was a creamy garlic sauce that I ended up slathering all over my chicken.

Pearl's Caribbean restaurant Williamsburg
Pearl’s Caribbean restaurant Williamsburg
Pearl's Caribbean restaurant Williamsburg
Pearl’s Caribbean restaurant Williamsburg

Later that evening, I met up with Keith and Mike in the East Village for dinner at Prune, another restaurant on my celebrity chef nerdery list. On Mind of a Chef, one of our favorite cooking shows on Netflix, Paddy and I fell in love with chef Gabrielle Hamilton. I loved her aprons and mis-matched pots and pans, down-to-earth cooking style, and her creativity. She hates letting anything go to waste in her kitchen, which is also something I greatly admire. I was excited to try her cooking.

Prune New York City
Prune restaurant, New York City

Prune is tiny but intimate. I was glad I had made a reservation, as the place was packed on a Monday night.

We started with the shaved celery salad with blue cheese toast, and the fried anchovies. The anchovies were simple but delicious. The celery salad was really impressive. I wouldn’t think to make celery a star ingredient in anything, but here it was, hogging the spotlight drenched in butter on blue cheese toast. And it was fabulous.

Celery salad with blue cheese toast Prune New York City
Celery salad with blue cheese toast at Prune New York City
Fried anchovies Prune New York City
Fried anchovies at Prune New York City

For an entree I ordered the roasted duck breast with braised beans and smoked tomato vinaigrette, which was smoky and cooked perfectly. Mike had a medley of different veggie dishes which was their vegetarian option, and Keith had some gargantuan hunk of meat on bone that I can’t remember what it was. Forgive me, I was enamored with my duck and wasn’t paying attention.

The dishes didn’t have the prettiest presentation, but that is exactly Gabrielle Hamilton’s style. Food cooked with lots of flavor and love that doesn’t have to dress to impress. I am looking forward to going back here again with Paddy someday.

Prune New York City
Prune New York City
Braised duck breast Prune New York City
Braised duck breast Prune New York City

As tempting as dessert was at Prune, we wanted to cap the evening off with dipped soft serve from the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop around the corner. New York’s best soft serve is big, gay, and covered in delicious toppings. No matter what your sexual orientation is, you have to have Big Gay Ice Cream in New York City. Complete with Heimlich maneuver instructions illustrated with Bea Arthur and a unicorn.

Big Gay Ice Cream New York City
Big Gay Ice Cream New York City
Big Gay Ice Cream New York City
Big Gay Ice Cream New York City
Big Gay Ice Cream New York City
Big Gay Ice Cream New York City

Keith got the Dorothy cone, which was vanilla soft serve with dulce de leche syrup and crumbled nilla wafers. I naturally opted for the salty pimp, another vanilla soft serve cone with dulce de leche dipped in salty dark chocolate. What’s not to love?

Our subway car’s AC was out on the way back to north Manhattan, so we got a free impromptu crowded public sauna to end the evening. It was gross. Se la vie.

 

Day 5: Catacombs and the East Village

Late Monday night before I went to bed, an ad popped up in my Facebook feed for a Catacombs tour at Saint Patrick’s Basilica in the Nolita neighborhood. I didn’t have any solid plans the next day, so I booked it.

The tour is run by Tommy’s New York and is a tour of the tombs underneath the basilica, which contain members of New York’s historical elite. Buried here are bishops, congressmen, and members of the Delmonico family, as well as many others.

The tour started at 11:00 am, where we got a brief history of the church in a waiting room across the street from the basilica. We were then led to a basement room under the church where two huge wooden doors creaked open for dramatic effect, revealing a dark hallway lit only by candlelight and an eerie red glow.

Catacombs Saint Patrick's Basilica New York City
Entrance to the catacombs under Saint Patrick’s Basilica, New York City

Before you get too excited, this isn’t like the catacombs you might see in Paris or other parts of Europe. You aren’t going to see any real human bones. Overall this tour is mostly an interesting New York City history lesson, and not much of a macabre experience. It was fun to tour it by candlelight, however, and we were all given a souvenir electronic tea light to walk with and help us read the inscriptions on the tombs.

Turns out the gothic red glow illuminating the hallways was from red exit signs in the back of the catacombs. It did make for a nice effect.

The catacombs under Saint Patrick's Basilica, New York City
The catacombs under Saint Patrick’s Basilica, New York City

Our guide was informative and fun. If you have time and want to learn about some historic New York families and feel like getting a little spooky, this is a nice way to spend two hours. I’d recommend it as a good escape from the heat or rain as well. That day I was happy to escape both.

We got a brief tour of the inside of the basilica before afternoon mass started, and ended with a tour of the cemetery surrounding the church.

Saint Patricks Basilica New York City
Saint Patricks Basilica New York City
Saint Patricks Basilica New York City
Saint Patricks Basilica New York City

Saint Patrick’s Basilica is only a few blocks from the East Village, so I walked over there after the tour to have lunch and do some shopping. On my agenda for lunch was the B&H Dairy, a kosher deli in business since 1938. B&H advertises itself as a vegetarian restaurant, but in truth it is a pescatarian restaurant (they serve fish). I don’t eat beef, so I thought I’d skip the long lines at Katz’s Delicatessan in favor of this place (I’ll go to Katz’s someday with Paddy on another trip, he is all about the pastrami).

B&H Dairy New York City
B&H Dairy New York City

Seattle is seriously lacking in the kosher deli department, so I felt like I couldn’t leave New York without having some matzo ball soup at a kosher deli, and I’d also never had a knish. I bellied up to the lunch counter and ordered both.

B&H Dairy New York City
Mushroom knish at B&H Dairy New York City
B&H Dairy New York City
Matzo ball soup at B&H Dairy New York City

I have mixed feelings about my meal choice here. On one hand, I was happy to tick New York City matzo ball soup and a knish off my New York checklist. On the other hand, I was kicking myself for not ordering one of the tuna fish or white fish salad sandwiches on thick homemade bread that I watched the deli guy constructing. The sandwiches looked AMAZING, while my knish was kind of like eating mashed potatoes with mushroom gravy. I am determined to revisit this place on my next trip and order one of those sandwiches.

After lunch I walked around and looked at some of the shops in the East Village. Two that stood out for me were Enz’s, Obscura Antiques and Oddities, and Trash & Vaudeville.

Obscura Antiques and Oddities is just that, a place to look at and purchase odd stuff. I am drawn to the weird, so this was right up my alley. Old post cards, creepy dolls, taxidermy, and other random items are for sale. I didn’t find anything I was in love with, but it was fun to explore.

Obscura Antiques and Oddities New York City
Obscura Antiques and Oddities New York City

Trash & Vaudeville is punk rock, and if you have a love for outlandish shoes this is your place. I found Paddy an awesome button down shirt with jellyfish printed on it. Their lack of plus sizes however was a little disappointing, especially when they carried a lot of brands that made their styles in plus sizes.

Trash & Vaudeville New York City
Trash & Vaudeville New York City

Enz’s is a tiny boutique rockabilly clothing shop right next to B&H Dairy. The shop owner was really nice and makes a lot of the dresses herself.  I loved a lot of them, but sadly she doesn’t have a lot of plus sizes either.

I stopped by Milk Bar again to try and get a slice of their famous Milk Bar pie, but they were closed for repairs that afternoon.

I ended my evening spending time with Keith and Mike and their friends. This trip I felt like I really got to know New York City outside of the tourist trail. It was nice to have time with friends and to see different neighborhoods without the pressure of trying to check places off of a sight-seeing list. The East Village is my favorite neighborhood in New York, but there is still so much I haven’t seen. So many meals not eaten. There will be other trips to New York City in my future, I can assure you. There is something for everyone in New York.

Being a Judge at the Coney Island Mermaid Parade

Anyone can be a judge at the Coney Island Mermaid Parade. Here’s how to do it, what it costs, and what to expect:

I am not a New Yorker. I’d never even been to Coney Island before. However, when my native New Yorker friend Keith told me about the annual Coney Island Mermaid Parade in Brooklyn every June, I ended up planning my entire visit to New York around it. Mermaids, glitter, beaches, summertime–I was in!

When Keith told me we could be judges at the parade, that sounded exciting (and important!) I researched it online, and found only sparse information on the Mermaid Parade FAQ. From what I could find on the web page, being a judge requires a $200 membership donation (tax-deductible). In exchange, you receive a t-shirt, free admission to the Coney Island Museum and sideshow performances all summer long, and a seat on the judge stands. I could only assume that a seat on the judge stands meant not having to stand, and a killer view of the parade. At this point in my life, standing for three hours is not something I am able to do without quite a bit of discomfort, and I was not so interested in doing that in a large crowd in the hot sun without guaranteed decent view of the parade. While expensive, the mermaid parade judgeship was worth it to me for that alone. Keith got us the judgeship tickets, and we were excited.

*Tip: to guarantee a judge spot, book your judge membership tickets early. We bought ours in late winter once I had booked my flights.

Keith and his partner Mike were sent an email about a happy hour meet and greet for the mermaid parade judges in May, and they went. They said they had a great time, and reported to me back in Seattle that all the fellow judges they met were really cool and that they were really looking forward to the parade. Apparently, the happy hour included karaoke where the song choices were limited to Ramones and Rolling Stones songs only.

Parade Day:

I made it to New York, we donned sailor outfits, and embarked on the two hour subway journey from Keith’s north Manhattan apartment to Coney Island on parade day.

Coney Island, New York
Coney Island, New York
Coney Island, New York
Coney Island boardwalk, New York
Coney Island Mermaid Parade, New York
Keith and I, Coney Island , New York

Our sailor outfits got a lot of attention. We posed for several pictures for and with strangers. Since we were judges, I thought sailor outfits would be appropriate. There were going to be plenty of lovely mermaids at the parade.

The email communication Keith got a day or two before the parade instructed us to report to the judge stand area at noon (parade started at 1:00). After meandering around the boardwalk for a bit, we reported for duty.

Judge Experience:

Judge stands, Coney Island Mermaid Parade
Judge stands

We were given a program, judge badge, a t-shirt in the size of our choosing, and some other random swag like Swedish Fish and sunglasses. I was glad that we got there to choose our seats before the judge stand was full, because the stands were only partially shaded. I need shade or I’ll burst into flames.

Here are some more perks of being a judge in addition to shade and seating, now that I have had the experience:

  •  Porta-potties for the judge area only (rarely a bathroom line and not far from your seat!)
  •  If you are someone who wants to be up close and get great photos, you are not limited to sitting in the stands. You can walk up to the barrier and get a great front row view in a section only available to judges (no crowding from the general public). We were able to do this as we felt like it, without worrying about losing our spot on the stands or in the barrier area. There was enough room for everyone.
  • Complimentary beer from Coney Island Brewing
  • Complimentary salads and sandwiches. I didn’t get a good look at the food but it seemed that the options were some nice looking BLTs or vegetarian wraps, and salad.
  • Bribing the judges is encouraged. Parade participants often give candy, crafts, booze, and other gifts to the judges. Some handed out individual gifts and some offered bottles of booze or treats that the MC put out for judges to partake in at their leisure.

*Tip: Bring a small bag to carry your t-shirt and mermaid parade souvenirs/bribes.

Our MC donned a judge robe and wig, and announced each parade group as they came down the parade route. We were given a judge sheet on which to write our top three picks for several different categories, including Best Mermaid, Best Sea Creature, Best Motorized Float, Best Musical Group, Best Neptune, etc.

Coney Island Mermaid Parade MC for the judges
Parade MC for the judges, announcing a large, blue parade participant. Not sure what he was supposed to be dressed as.

The participants/groups in the parade all had numbers, but the numbers weren’t always well displayed, and it was hard to keep track of each group. To be honest, I was a pretty terrible judge and was more focused on taking photos and enjoying the parade than remembering to write down various categories.

I think it would be helpful for judges if a list of all the entries for each category were listed on the back of the form with their name/title of the group or costume and the number. Regardless, there were so many good costumes and groups that it was hard to decide.

 

The Parade:

Coney Island Mermaid Parade
Coney Island Mermaid Parade
Coney Island Mermaid Parade
Coney Island Mermaid Parade
Coney Island Mermaid Parade
Sea anemone costume
Coney Island Mermaid Parade
Coney Island Mermaid Parade
Coney Island Mermaid Parade
Coney Island Mermaid Parade

The parade started leisurely, and included one marriage proposal in the beginning. It was sweet, she said yes, everyone clapped and cheered, the parade went on.

A bit later in the parade, the MC was trying to get everyone to pick up the pace. A second marriage proposal happened, and the proposer was trying to give a big romantic speech. The MC asked loudly into the microphone if they could propose while walking and to hurry it along. I felt kind of bad for them.

*Pro Tip: If you are a participant in the parade and want to propose to a fellow parade participant during the parade, try to make sure you are towards the beginning of the parade procession.

There eventually was a real wedding during the parade as well, which the MC obviously knew about because he alerted us to it ahead of time and officiated the (very quick) ceremony. It was short and sweet and fun. The groom’s ring was a giant inflatable ring that the bride adorned him with.

Real wedding on a float in the Coney Island Mermaid Parade, officiated by the MC
Real wedding on a float in the parade, officiated by the MC

Towards the end there was a third rushed marriage proposal, and a tractor float had a tire roll off of it, breaking down and leaking brake fluid everywhere. The MC ended up having to try and direct everyone around the float and the parade fell apart a bit. Overall though, the parade was a fabulous display of creativity.

Coney Island Mermaid Parade
Coney Island Mermaid Parade
Coney Island Mermaid Parade
Coney Island Mermaid Parade
Coney Island Mermaid Parade
Coney Island Mermaid Parade

Once the parade was over, we turned in our judge ballots and walked towards the beach. The “Mayor” of Coney Island does an official beach ceremony to officially open the beach for the season following the parade, which we didn’t get over to the beach in time to see. The beach was open, and it was super busy. Lines for the beach bathrooms were very long, so we were glad we made use of our private judge stand porta potties before we headed to the beach.

Coney Island Beach
Coney Island Beach

 

Advice for Parade-Goers:

I would absolutely recommend being a judge at the Coney Island Mermaid Parade, especially if you are from out of town like me and want to have a unique experience. If spending the dough isn’t for you, I think you can set up camping chairs along the boardwalk parade route, but you’ll need to arrive pretty early and be prepared for rain or shine (umbrella suggested).

Also note that the subway is very crowded to and from Coney Island right before and after the parade. Lines for metro card machines were also long, so be sure to have your metro card balance up before you go so that you don’t have to use the machine (subway is $2.75 each way).  I would not recommend driving there if you have a car, traffic and parking I’m sure are atrocious.

 

Resources:

Mermaid Parade FAQ

Be a  judge at the next Coney Island Mermaid Parade

Be in the Coney Island Mermaid Parade

 

Oregon Coast Summer 2018: Lincoln City, Newport, and Pacific Beach

Oregon Coast Summer 2018: Lincoln City, Newport, and Pacific Beach: Summer getaway with friends to the beautiful Oregon Coast. Attractions and Activities from Astoria to Newport on Highway 101.

 

We are part of a small group of friends who like to do a 5 day group vacation together every summer. The last few years we have all rented a house somewhere in driving distance from Seattle, and this year the Oregon Coast was suggested as a destination.

I’m the planner in the group, so I scouted out rental houses in our budget up and down the northern Oregon coast on HomeAway, VRBO.com, AirBNB, etc. Our budget wasn’t huge, and the time of year was peak season. We wanted something close to the beach if not on the beach, and found nothing that fit our budget and required house size in Cannon Beach, Seaside, or the northern coast areas.

We finally found a nice house one block from the beach in the Roads End area in Lincoln City, Oregon. It was a little bit further of a drive than we had hoped for, but since none of us were super familiar with that part of the coast, we decided to make an adventure out of it. Turns out, there are a lot of fun things to do up and down the northern Oregon coast, and we had a great time.

*Tip: As we quickly discovered, the temperatures on the coast are a lot lower than further inland. While it was between 85-95 degrees in Seattle and Portland, the temperatures on the coast stayed between 65-69 as a daytime high. Pack lots of layers!

 

Day 1:

We all set off from the Seattle area around 8:30 AM, breezing down I-5 to Olympia, where we branched off heading west on highway 8 towards the 101 south. We all planned to meet in Cannon Beach for lunch at Mo’s Chowder. There were wistful and well-intentioned thoughts of poking around the town and shops in Cannon Beach as well.

Oregon Coast road trip!
Setting off on our Oregon Coast road trip!

Paddy and I made it to Cannon Beach first, and made the mistake of heading into town. It was complete tourist insanity and there was absolutely nowhere to park. It took us about 15-20 minutes just to get back to the highway 101 driving through the main drag. We texted the rest of our party and advised them not to stop in town.

Having been to Cannon Beach a few times, I had suggested Mo’s Chowder in Tolovana Park just south of Cannon Beach town for three reasons:

1. It’s not in downtown Cannon Beach, so it is easy to get to and there is ample parking

2. It is large and caters to large families and groups–easier to get a table for 8

3. Beach views!!

Cannon Beach/Tolovana Park
Cannon Beach/Tolovana Park

As I had hoped, getting a table for 8 was no problem next to windows with lovely beach views. The temperature was a bit of a shock when we stepped out of the car. It was quite windy and only 62 degrees. It was also pretty foggy over the water, so our views of Haystack Rock up the coast were obscured. Either way, we were at the coast and it was awesome.

The rest of our group trickled in shortly after us. Paddy and I shared some oysters as an appetizer, and then I had fish and chips and Paddy had the clam chowder in a bread bowl with bay shrimp. Mo’s isn’t the best seafood I’ve ever had, but it’s pretty good and eating it on the beach is what makes it delicious. The prices aren’t bad either.

Oysters at Mo's Chowder in Cannon Beach
Oysters at Mo’s Chowder in Cannon Beach
Fish and chips at Mo's Chowder in Cannon Beach
Fish and chips at Mo’s Chowder in Cannon Beach
Clam chowder with bay shrimp at Mo's Chowder in Cannon Beach
Clam chowder with bay shrimp at Mo’s Chowder in Cannon Beach
Mo's Chowder in Cannon Beach
Paddy enjoying chowder at Mo’s Chowder in Cannon Beach

After lunch we drove another hour down the 101 to Tillamook, and all made a stop at the newly re-vamped Tillimook Creamery (formerly known as the Tillimook Cheese Factory).

If you’re not from the Northwest, Tillimook cheese (particularly their cheddar cheeses) are a staple in Pacific Northwest grocery stores. They also produce ice cream, yogurt, and sour cream.

Tillimook Creamery, Oregon Coast
Tillimook Creamery, Oregon Coast

The Tillimook Creamery had just gone through a remodel and had recently re-opened a few weeks prior, and it was crazy busy. Our original plan was to check out the creamery and gift shop, and get some ice cream. However, the ice cream line was complete insanity and none of us felt it was worth the wait for a cone.

Tillimook Creamery, Oregon Coast
Ice cream line at Tillimook Creamery, Oregon Coast

Instead, we went upstairs for the self “tour,” viewing the cheese logs being made in the factory below, and purchased a few cheeses and specialty food items in their gift shop.

Tillimook Creamery, Oregon Coast
Tillimook Creamery, Oregon Coast
Tillimook Creamery, Oregon Coast
Tillimook Creamery, Oregon Coast
Tillimook Creamery, Oregon Coast
Tillimook Creamery, Oregon Coast

Thoroughly cheesed out, we continued one last hour down the coast to our Lincoln City beach house.

We had rented the house through Meredith Lodging, and everything was as described in the listing. There was beach access just a very short ways down the road across the street, and the beach was beautiful.

Our rental beach house in Lincoln City, Oregon Coast
Our rental beach house in Lincoln City, Oregon Coast
Roads End Beach, Lincoln City, Oregon Coast
Roads End Beach, Lincoln City, Oregon Coast
Roads End Beach, Lincoln City, Oregon Coast
Roads End Beach, Lincoln City, Oregon Coast
Roads End Beach, Lincoln City, Oregon Coast
Roads End Beach, Lincoln City, Oregon Coast

We spent the evening BBQing, walking on the beach, and enjoying the house’s hot tub after a long day of driving.

 

Day 2: 

On our first full day on the coast, we opted to drive another 45 minutes south of Lincoln City to the town of Newport to check out the local attractions that Newport had to offer. Newport is a bit more touristy than Lincoln City, and has a lot of silly beach town things to do such as a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, and a wax museum. There is also plenty of fudge, salt water taffy, and fish and chips if you feel so inclined.

The main event for us was the Oregon Coast Aquarium, one of the top aquariums in the US. Admission is $22.95 per adult, and there are quite a few exhibits to look at.

Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Piranha, Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport

My favorite exhibits were the jellyfish (they have two different species–the pacific sea nettle, and moon jellies) and the colorful tidal tanks of sea stars and sea anemones. It can be quite relaxing watching the jellies pulsate and swirl around in the tanks. Jellyfish are one of the most fascinating creatures on the planet to me. They are beautiful and terrifying, and I I have a sort of respect for a creature who has stubbornly refused to evolve since the dinosaur days.

Moon jellies, Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Moon jellies, Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Pacific sea nettles, Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Pacific sea nettles, Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Pacific sea nettles, Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Tidal pool, Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Tidal pool, Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport

After the aquarium we were ready for lunch, so we drove a short ways from the aquarium to the Rogue Brewery and headquarters. You might be familiar with their beers such as the famous Dead Guy Ale.

Rogue Brewery Newport, Oregon
Rogue Brewery Newport, Oregon
Rogue Brewery Newport, Oregon
Dead Guy Ale, Rogue Brewery Newport, Oregon
Rogue Brewery Newport, Oregon
Rogue Brewery Newport, Oregon

There was a bit of a wait but not too bad. The upstairs bar and restaurant has a view of Yaquina Bay and a nice lunch menu. I had their clam chowder which was very tasty. You can order a beer sampler if you want to taste a variety of their beers, or just order a full pint if you like.

Rogue Brewery Newport, Oregon
Rogue Brewery Newport, Oregon
Clam chowder, Rogue Brewery Newport, Oregon
Clam chowder, Rogue Brewery Newport, Oregon

After lunch we split up a bit to explore the town. Paddy and  I are always looking for more unique treasures to add to our home Tiki Bar, so we ducked into an antique shop nearby called Pirate’s Plunder with another couple from our group. Pirate’s Plunder had a huge amount of random items and antiques, many nautical in theme. We didn’t find any perfect treasures for our Tiki bar, but it was fun to browse and there were some good photo ops outside the building.

Pirate's Plunder antique store, Newport
Pirate’s Plunder antique store, Newport
Fun in Newport, Oregon coast
Fun in Newport, Oregon coast
Fun in Newport, Oregon coast
Fun in Newport, Oregon coast

Before heading back to the beach house, I wanted to see downtown Newport and the Sea Lion Docks. The Sea Lion Docks are literally just a small collection of docks that sea lions enjoy laying on in piles at the downtown Newport marina. Sadly, the sea lions were elsewhere for the afternoon and all that we saw on the docks were crab carcasses. The marina was nice though.

Newport marina, Oregon Coast
Newport marina, Oregon Coast
Newport marina, Oregon Coast
Newport marina, Oregon Coast

 

Day 3:

On our second full day, half our group wanted to check out the nearby outlet mall, and the other half (including me) wanted to go check out the beach at Pacific City and the Pelican Brewery.

Pacific City is about 30 minutes north of Lincoln City, and it is a gorgeous sandy beach. It seemed pretty popular with surfers and families. There are sand dunes adjacent to the beach that looked cool but climbing uphill in sand is not my idea of fun.

Pacific City, Oregon Coast
Pacific City, Oregon Coast

We decided to stop into Pelican Brewing on the beach to sample their beers before having a picnic in the sand. There was a bit of a wait for a table as it was peak season. Cass and I each had a sampler, which to our delight came in an impressive little spin tray with a large pelican. None of the beers blew my mind, but they were good. Except the IPAs, but I hate IPAs in general. Devin and Heather just had a couple pints.

Pelican Brewing, Pacific City, Oregon Coast
Pelican Brewing, Pacific City, Oregon Coast
Pelican Brewing sampler, Pacific City, Oregon Coast
Pelican Brewing sampler, Pacific City, Oregon Coast

After sampling all those beers we had a buzzy beach picnic and enjoyed watching the surfers and laying in the sun. It wasn’t hot, but it was pleasant. Just about everyone in the water was wearing a wetsuit except for a few kids splashing around on the shore.

Pacific City, Oregon Coast
Pacific City, Oregon Coast
Pacific City, Oregon Coast
Pacific City, Oregon Coast
Pacific Beach, Oregon Coast
Pacific Beach, Oregon Coast
Pacific City, Oregon Coast
Cass flying the world’s tiniest kite, Pacific City, Oregon Coast

We relaxed, ate sandwiches, and watched a seagull feeding frenzy over someone’s unattended bag of potato chips.

Pacific Beach Oregon Coast
Seagull feeding frenzy

Later that evening after we all cooked dinner together, five of us decided to go check out the nearby Chinook Winds Casino. The Chinook Winds website advertised dancing in their upstairs lounge after 10:00 PM.

We arrived around 9:00, and walked around the casino playing a few slots. There were quite a few bachelorette parties roaming around, as well as the usual sad gambling scene amidst a cloud of cigarette smoke.

Chinook Winds Casino, Lincoln City, Oregon Coast
Chinook Winds Casino, Lincoln City, Oregon Coast
Chinook Winds Casino, Lincoln City, Oregon Coast
Chinook Winds Casino, Lincoln City, Oregon Coast

We went up to the lounge just after 10:00 and were somewhat surprised to see almost all men on the dance floor. A few couples and a few bachelorette parties joined in eventually. The music was standard boring top 40, the demographic mostly caucasian. We danced a little, drank a little, people watched a little, and opted not to eat the penis candy given to us by a bachelorette party.

Chinook Winds Casino, Lincoln City, Oregon Coast
Lounge at the Chinook Winds Casino, Lincoln City, Oregon Coast

 

Day 4:

 

On our last day, we decided we should probably actually check out the town of Lincoln City, since we were staying there and all. Paddy and I wanted to go “antiquing” to search for treasures for our home Tiki bar, so we split up from the rest of the group, who walked around a little bit and ended up spending a while at the Game Over Arcade in town.

Paddy and I enjoyed treasure hunting at Granny’s Attic and the Rocking Horse Mall. Rocking Horse Mall had two floors of antiques combined with some newer nautical items such as mermaid Christmas ornaments and new glass floats.

There seemed to be no shortage of creepy Santas.

Creepy antique Santas in Rocking Horse Mall, Lincoln City
Creepy antique Santas in Rocking Horse Mall, Lincoln City

We ended our antiquing excursion at the Little Antique Mall in the north part of town, where we found an awesome mint-condition mid-century glass lamp and a Tiki mug.

Our last stop of the day was at Barnacle Bill’s for some fresh seafood for our seafood boil/clam bake that evening.

Barnacle Bill's Seafood Market, Lincoln City, Oregon Coast
Barnacle Bill’s Seafood Market, Lincoln City, Oregon Coast

Barnacle Bill’s is probably your best bet for fresh seafood in town, although it is cash only so be sure to hit the ATM before you go there.

We had hoped to get some crab, but their dungeness crabs were $20-$25 each which was a lot more than we wanted to spend. We ended up getting some fresh jumbo prawns instead. A couple other seafood-loving members of our group picked up some lobster tails, mussels, and clams at Safeway.

Our seafood boil was a success, and included corn on the cob, andouille sausage, and potatoes in addition to seafood. Kind of a hybrid Northwest/Cajun style clambake. It was delicious.

Seafood boil feast
Seafood boil feast
Seafood boil feast
Seafood boil feast

We had hoped the fog would lift to enjoy a beach sunset for our last night, but it did not. That didn’t stop us from taking a last stroll on the beach before heading home the next day. It was breezy and peaceful, and we were the only people on the beach.

Lincoln City Beach, Oregon Coast
Lincoln City Beach, Oregon Coast
Lincoln City Beach, Oregon Coast
Lincoln City Beach, Oregon Coast
Lincoln City Beach, Oregon Coast
Lincoln City Beach, Oregon Coast
Lincoln City Beach, Oregon Coast
Lincoln City Beach, Oregon Coast

 

Day 5:

Sunday morning we got a somewhat early start heading back to Seattle. Traffic was unfortunately not as smooth as on the trip down.

We stopped for a photo op with a giant inflatable crab in Garibaldi, and lunch at the Fort George Brewery in Astoria, Oregon near the Oregon-Washington border.

Roadside crab photo op in Garibaldi
Roadside crab photo op in Garibaldi (thanks for indulging me, Paddy)

Parking in Astoria turned out to be a little crazy, as were the hills. Astoria could give San Francisco challenge for the most hilly West Coast village. The Fort George Brewery turned out to be pretty busy too, but we didn’t have to wait too long for a table for four. The food was tasty, I didn’t try the beer but was told by the rest of the group that it was good as well. There is a nice upstairs area and deck with a view, but the full menu is not available upstairs.

Fort George Brewery, Astoria Oregon Coast
Fort George Brewery, Astoria Oregon Coast

Astoria is famous for being the town that the Goonies movie was filmed in back in the 1980’s. Don’t try to visit the Goonies house, however. The people who live there are very tired of curious tourists and will call the police if you try to enter their driveway for a photo. There are new strict parking fines for improperly parked cars near the house as well.

Afternoon traffic was less than fun heading back to Seattle, and we didn’t make it home until 6:00 PM. It was a great trip though and worth the long drive. There were a lot of things to do and see on the way down.

 

The Oregon Coast is one of my favorite places in the US. It is big, beautiful, and wild. The rocky Washington beaches don’t live up to the beauty of Oregon’s coast by a long shot. Oregon beaches aren’t going to be a hot, sunny, beach vacation like the East Coast, but their raw natural beauty and the sunsets can’t be beat. I never get tired of watching the sun set behind Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach, or looking at bright-colored sea stars and anemones at it’s base during the day at low tide. It is fun and lively in the summer, but Paddy and I like to visit by ourselves in the winter when it is calm and quiet. Watching the stormy waves or the sunset from a room with a fireplace is one of our favorite winter getaway activities.

Portland’s Tiki Kon 2018

Portland’s Tiki Kon 2018: Dipping our toes into the rum-soaked tropical fantasy-land of the Tiki revival community

 

Both Paddy and I have always been fans of mid-century pop culture. I’m also a big fan of Polynesia and spent some time living in Hawaii and learning about Pacific Island cultures in college. Since then, I had always fantasized about having a basement Tiki bar in my house.

In 2015, we bought a house with a basement and I convinced Paddy that a Tiki bar was of utmost necessity. We found vintage bar at an estate sale, put up some grass matting and bamboo, a grass thatch overhang and invested in a Tiki mug collection. We’ve realized since the initial build-out of our Tiki bar that adding to a Tiki bar can easily become an obsession. I began reading up on Polynesian Pop and Tiki cocktails, and we formed a hobby of scouring antique stores for mid-century treasures and Polynesian art. When we read that Portland, Oregon hosts an annual Tiki Kon every summer, we figured it might be time to check out this cult that we may have inadvertently joined.

Tiki Kon started as a small bar crawl of home Tiki bars in the Portland area in 2003, and has since become a fairly large production. It is run by a couple with the help of volunteers, in addition to their full time jobs. This is no small undertaking and I am very impressed with what they have managed to pull off. It seems that the Tiki revival is growing, which was confirmed when the Tiki Kon website crashed within minutes of tickets going on sale this year.

The site crash was a bit of a mess, and I really felt for the producers as they scrambled to go through transactions by time stamp and sort out over-sold VIP tickets. We had opted to just purchase a la carte tickets to the Friday and Saturday night events, and our ticket purchase made it through and was not part of the oversold ticket group.

The hot item was the VIP ticket, which included all events, a private VIP cocktail lounge, and a Sunday home Tiki bar tour. The home bar tour had a hard limit on the number of guests that could be accommodated on the buses and in the home Tiki bars, so unfortunately there were some folks who were disappointed by having their ticket downgraded or refunded. All in all, it was well handled and the Tiki Kon producers upgraded their website to handle more traffic and ticket sales.

*Tip: Ticket sales happen in March, and they go FAST. If you want to attend Tiki Kon, make your ticket selection before the go-live time and get your purchase in online ASAP. Also, make sure you have a PayPal account. I’m not sure if they plan on taking credit cards in the future, but this year PayPal was the only payment option.

Each year has a theme, and this year’s theme was Fantasy Island.

Tiki Kon 2018
Tiki Kon 2018

Custom souvenir Tiki mugs are produced for each year, but in limited quantities of 100. You can go online before the event and try to buy one for $100 when they go on sale, and invites to buy are sent to ticket holders only. They sell out within 5 minutes of going on sale. The Tiki mugs were really cool, and I understand the whole limited-edition collector mentality, but I’m not so keen on only allowing a small fraction of guests to acquire a souvenir Tiki mug for Tiki Kon. Yes, this makes them more valuable and more coveted, but it makes them nearly impossible to get and extremely exclusive. All in all, we didn’t really want to spend $100 on a Tiki mug regardless–but they were really cool.

2018 Tiki-Kon mug
2018 Tiki-Kon mug. Image from www.tikikon.com

 

Day 1:

We opted to take Friday off of work and left Seattle around 8:30 AM, and made record time down to Portland with no traffic. I would recommend not trying to drive to Portland on a Friday afternoon from Seattle. We did this once and hit Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, and Portland rush hours and it took 5+ hours to get there. Not worth it. Take the day off if you are driving from Seattle and trying to get to Portland on a Friday night, or take the Bolt Bus in the early afternoon.

After arrival in Portland, we went straight to the Hawthorne neighborhood to get lunch and do a little vintage shopping. We opted for sandwiches at Lardo, partly because it looked amazing, and partly because they had frosty cold AC and house-made Arnold Palmers.

I had the Italian Tuna sandwich, which was delicious but a little salty with the olive tapenade. I scraped it off and the sandwich was perfect without the tapenade.

Italian Tuna sandwich at Lardo, Portland
Italian Tuna sandwich at Lardo, Portland

Paddy had the Second Hand Smoke brisket sandwich with pickled serrano peppers, American cheese and smokey mayo, which he loved. He also had a side of their potato salad which tasted just like a baked potato. We would definitely come back here.

Second Hand Smokesandwich at Lardo, Portland
Second Hand Smoke sandwich and potato salad at Lardo, Portland

After lunch, we went swag lamp shopping at the Lounge Lizard up the street. Lounge Lizard is a great place to shop for mid-century modern furniture and lamps, and other antiques. They have a small amount of vintage clothing as well. They have two locations on Hawthorne Blvd, very close to each other. We found a blue vintage swag lamp at the Eastern location on Hawthorne, and Paddy found a very groovy 70’s polyester shirt. He doesn’t know where he will wear it, but there will be some occasion I’m sure.

Lounge Lizard, Portland
Lounge Lizard, Portland

We also made a last shopping stop at Fat Fancy, a used clothing store for plus size people. It’s my favorite store in Portland and has moved from downtown to the Hollywood area of East Portland. They have a parking lot now. I found a couple used Torrid tops and the sales lady was very friendly and helpful. If you are plus size, check this place out.

After lunch and shopping, we were ready to check into the hotel and relax for a bit. We had reserved a room at the historic Palms Motel in North Portland. We chose this hotel for the low price ($120/night), the location across from the Alibi Tiki Lounge and near the Mississippi neighborhood, and for the sign out front. The sign out front was a significant draw. I mean, it has a blue monkey.

Palms Motel Portland
Palms Motel Portland

The rooms were clean, and the beds were decent. It is a cheap motel, no frills. But the AC was nice and frosty and there was a fridge, both being a necessity on the 95-degree July weekend. There was even beer left in the fridge from the previous renters. I suppose that means that housekeeping wasn’t super thorough, but I won’t fault them for leaving free beer. There are worse things to overlook.

Palms Motel, Porland
Palms Motel, Portland
Palms Motel, Porland
Palms Motel, Portland

We checked in and relaxed a bit before getting changed into our Tiki Kon attire and heading across the street to the Alibi Tiki Lounge for food and drinks.

The Alibi Tiki Lounge, Portland
The Alibi Tiki Lounge, Portland
The Alibi Tiki Lounge, Portland
The Alibi Tiki Lounge, Portland

The Alibi is a classic Tiki bar, since 1947. It’s gone through some changes over the years, but the epic flashing neon sign and dark kitschy Tiki atmosphere remain and flourish. The Alibi is mostly known to locals as a karaoke dive bar, but no matter what time of day you go, it’s fun. Be prepared for crowds on weekend evenings.

We opted to eat here, although I can’t say I recommend coming here for the food. The food is alright, if you are drinking and need some fried food to soak up booze. However, we just wanted dinner to be cheap and easy and being able to eat some food along with our Tiki drinks was the ideal situation at the time. It was happy hour, and we had the garlic green beans, the potstickers, the chicken fingers, and the lumpia. It was all average.

The Alibi Tiki Lounge, Portland
The Alibi Tiki Lounge, Portland

They have alcoholic slushies at the Alibi, which on a hot day go down really easy. I had the strawberry daiquiri slushy and Paddy had the Alibi Old Fashioned cocktail. They were selling signature Tiki mugs for $20 with a drink in them, so I got my slushy in a souvenir mug.

Alibi souvenir Tiki mug
Alibi souvenir Tiki mug.

After we had food and drinks, we caught a Lyft to Tiki Kon to check out our first a la carte evening show, which was a “surf and turf” show featuring surf rock bands and a “horror” theme.

We checked in at the Tiki Kon booth and acquired our “passports” with stamps for the events that we had paid for. To enter and exit the event, we needed to show our passports. They were pretty fun little souvenirs and very nicely done, with info inside about Tiki Kon and the events of the weekend.

Tiki Kon passport
Tiki Kon passport
Tiki Kon 2018
Tiki Kon 2018

A few vendors were selling artisan Tiki mugs and other items, and there was a bar with pre-mixed signature cocktails of the evening as well as beer and wine. There was a photo op area, which of course we took advantage of.

Tiki Kon 2018
Tiki Kon 2018

In the main event room, there was a dance floor, stage, and large tables with table clothes and small centerpieces. People-watching was pretty fun, everyone had put a lot of thoughts into their outfits.

The Red Lion event room setting sort of made it feel like we were at a wedding. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was hoping for a little more Tiki atmosphere, which is a big part of what Tiki is all about. However, I can see how challenging creating that atmosphere would be in this location and for an event this size. They did a good job with what they had to work with…but….we still felt like we were at a wedding. I suppose that is the nature of a convention.

We were trying to brainstorm on what they could do to create more Tiki atmosphere at future events that would be cost-effective and easy to put up and take down. I think if they had a large storage space and a lot of theatrically-minded volunteers, they could create some stage set walls on casters with fake lava rock (spray painted black styrofoam?) or jungle foliage or bamboo. These could be constructed and then wheeled in and out and stored somewhere the rest of the year. This would of course require ample volunteers, truck rentals, and a large storage space for the “sets.” But it would be an idea to take Tiki Kon to the next level. Some paper lanterns strung across the space overhead could really add a lot of atmosphere too. Again, this would require a lot of set up and take-down volunteers. Looking at the enthusiasm for the event around us at the event, I think there would be a lot of people willing to volunteer time in exchange for free or discounted tickets.

We knew no one at this event, so we decided to sit at a central empty table and let people sit with us. It worked, we ended up with friendly company quickly. We met two other couples–one who had been to one Tiki Kon before, and another couple who were newbies like us. They had also opted to just do the a la carte Friday and Saturday events to check it out without going full throttle.

Tiki Kon 2018
Performance by MeduSirena Marina Tiki Kon 2018
Tiki Kon 2018
Tiki Kon 2018

There was a dance performance by MeduSirena Marina, a professional mermaid, and then three surf bands: Jon and the Vons from France, The Boss Martians, and Satan’s Pilgrims. All had go-go dancers and put on a good show.

Go-Go dancer for The Boss Martians, Tiki Kon 2018
Go-Go dancer for The Boss Martians, Tiki Kon 2018

Our new friends both left before we did due to the fact that there was no food at the event. The lack of food is my main critique of  Tiki Kon. If you plan on serving people copious amounts of booze, food is essential. I think there might have been some catering in the VIP suite parties, but for us lowly basic ticket holders, there was no food to be found. I think if Tiki Kon could convince the hosting hotel to put some food trucks in their parking lot from 8:00 PM on, it would keep people partying longer and the local food vendors would make a ton of money.

We really wanted to stick around and check out Satan’s Pilgrims, but even we eventually succumbed to the drunk munchies and left a bit early as well. We took a Lyft back over to the Mississippi neighborhood near our hotel and found a taco truck.

 

Day 2:

The next morning, we thought we’d head over to Mississippi Ave and get breakfast at Miss Delta, one of my favorite Portland restaurants. Unfortunately, there was a street fair being set up all along Mississippi Ave and Miss Delta was closed so that they could set up a street fair booth for lunch. There was only one restaurant open for breakfast across the street with a very long wait list.

Our new friends Tom and Sarah from Tiki Kon were local and had suggested the Cadillac Cafe in the Irvington neighborhood as a good spot for breakfast, so we got in the car and drove there.

There was no wait and the food was amazing. We were so happy we took their advice.

Cadillac Cafe
Cadillac Cafe

I had the smoked salmon hash with house-smoked salmon, green beans, leeks, potatoes, eggs, and lemon dill creme fraiche. Paddy had the eggs in purgatory with cheesy grits and a Cajun-Creole sauce. Everything was delicious and the service was great. There is even a real mint-condition 1950’s pink Cadillac on display in the restaurant.

Smoked salmon hash, Cadillac Cafe
Smoked salmon hash Cadillac Cafe
Eggs in purgatory, Cadillac Cafe
Eggs in purgatory and a side of bacon, Cadillac Cafe

After breakfast, we went back up to Tiki Kon for their Saturday Tiki Marketplace.

The Tiki Marketplace is open to the public and free to enter. It ended up being our favorite part of Tiki Kon, as it gave us an opportunity to look at the work of a lot of amazing artists and craftspeople we’d never heard of, and shop for items to add to our home Tiki Bar.

We were immediately drawn into the vintage Aloha shirt and dress racks that were front and center in the market. It was a little intense–people were furiously and aggressively flipping through racks of dresses, kaftans, and mumus. I didn’t see anything in my size and didn’t really expect to, so I quickly lost interest and exited the vintage clothing feeding frenzy while Paddy persisted.

Tiki Kon Saturday Marketplace
Tiki Kon Saturday Marketplace

At the next booth I found a fabulous vintage lamp for only $65, and we also bought several art prints at other vendor booths to decorate our home Tiki bar with.

Tiki Lamp
Awesome lamp we scored for our home Tiki bar at the Tiki Kon marketplace!

Later that afternoon, we met up with our new Tiki Kon friends Tom and Sarah at Portland’s other Tiki bar, Hale Pele.

Hale Pele has been written up as one of the top 10 Tiki Bars in the world by Critiki.com, and we had not been there yet. Just for Tiki Kon weekend, they opened early at 2:00 PM (normally they open at 4:00 PM daily). Sarah and Tom were regulars at Hale Pele, and they had some great food and drink recommendations for us.

Hale Pele is easy to miss from the street, which is sort of a classic Tiki bar thing. The idea is to create a hidden, exotic, transporting environment that assaults your senses when you open the door. Tiki bars are also supposed to be fairly dark, so no windows to the outside world. As soon as we walked in, we knew why it was rated as one of the world’s best. It is small and intimate, with a ton of attention to detail. The owners clearly put a lot of love into this bar, and it shows.

Hale Pele Tiki bar, Portland
Hale Pele Tiki bar, Portland
Hale Pele Tiki bar, Portland
Hale Pele Tiki bar, Portland
Hale Pele Tiki bar, Portland
Hale Pele Tiki bar, Portland

If it is your first time at Hale Pele and you are not driving after you leave, order the Jet Pilot cocktail. It is quite a production and does not disappoint. It also tastes amazing and is super strong. I really liked that Hale Pale divides their drink menu up into sections according to how strong the drinks are, so you know what you are getting into. Paddy opted to be the designated driver, so he chose a cocktail off the weaker list. I ordered the Jet Pilot.

The Jet Pilot comes on fire, and just before it is served, the lights in the bar flicker and thunder sounds are played over the speakers. The bartender brings out the drink and sprinkles cinnamon onto the open flame, causing a large fiery flare. It was really quite exciting (Did you know cinnamon was flammable? Neither did we).

The Jet Pilot, Hale Pele Tiki bar, Portland
The Jet Pilot, Hale Pele Tiki bar, Portland
Jet Pilot, Hale Pele Tiki bar, Portland
Jet Pilot, Hale Pele Tiki bar, Portland

Tom and Sarah told us that we HAD to try the Hawaiian bread, which is grilled and buttered and sprinkled with sea salt, served with a guava jam. It was delicious and yes, you HAVE to order it.

We tried a few of their other small plates as well, and everything was outstanding. We spent some time talking to the friendly bartender/manager Sierra, who was a lot of fun and really seems to enjoy her job. We will be back to Hale Pele on our future trips to Portland for sure.

Hale Pele Tiki bar, Portland
Hale Pele Tiki bar, Portland

For dinner that evening we wanted to save a little money and go somewhere relatively inexpensive. Tom and Sarah recommended Tamale Boy for good inexpensive Mexican fare. I had the tacos de pescado and Paddy had a quesadilla. Both were excellent. Tamale Boy is attached to the LABrewatory brewery next door, and you are welcome to eat your food from Tamale Boy while sampling LABrewatory’s beers in their taproom.

Tamale Boy and LABrewatory on N Russell Street, Portland

 

The Tiki Kon event for Saturday evening was fairly similar to the night prior, with more bands and a cabaret act by the Starella Sisters. When we arrived they were just finishing the Iron TikiTender bar-tending competition, where bartenders from Tiki Bars around the country compete for the Iron TikiTender title and a grand prize trip. The winner was Jeanie Grant from San Francisco’s Pagan Idol Tiki Bar. After the competition, we were able to walk into the main event room and get a view of the three finalists’ over-the-top drink garnishes.

Iron TikiTender
Iron TikiTender finalists’ elaborate drink garnishes made during the competition
Iron TikiTender
Iron TikiTender finalists’ elaborate drink garnishes made during the competition
Iron TikiTender
Iron TikiTender finalists’ elaborate drink garnishes made during the competition

The evening was yet again another big Tiki fashion show and we enjoyed checking out everyone’s fun outfits and accessories. There was a charity raffle with proceeds supporting the people affected by the volcanic lava flows in Hawaii.

We had a few drinks and watched the music for a while (more awesome surf music by a band called Tikiyaki 5-0. It was fun, but we didn’t stay until the end.

Tikiyaki 5-0
Tikiyaki 5-0

On the way back to the hotel we stopped into The Alibi again for a late night snack and another drink. It was packed with karaoke revelers. The Alibi is a hoppin’ place on a Saturday night!

Palms Motel Sign at night
Palms Motel Sign at night

 

There were a lot of Tiki Kon events that we skipped, including a banquet dinner and Polynesian dance show, and several educational symposiums. The VIP package included a home Tiki bar tour on Sunday, which is extremely popular (a tour of Portland’s home Tiki bars including bus transportation). It seemed that the magic of Tiki Kon really is in knowing people in the Tiki revival community, and getting a VIP ticket that includes the VIP lounges and the home Tiki bar tour. We only dipped our toes in the lagoon for this event.

Would we go again? Well…it was fun, but I think the people who have the most fun are the hardcore loyal returnees, who know each other and look forward to celebrating with each other at this event every year. There were a lot of events we opted not to pay for or participate in, so we can’t give an accurate review of the entire weekend. The highlights of the weekend for us were visiting Portland’s Tiki bars the Alibi and  Hale Pele, and the Tiki Kon Saturday Marketplace. I think that if we go again, we may just get a la carte tickets to only one of the evening events and hit the Saturday Marketplace and the local Tiki Bars.

I did just see an announcement that Tiki Kon is moving to the DoubleTree Hilton Lloyd Center, closer to one of my favorite Portland neighborhoods (Buckman) and downtown. It is clear that the interest in Tiki Kon is growing, and I’m curious to see what next year brings. The fact that a couple with full time regular jobs put this event together in their spare time is really impressive, and I think the event will continue to grow.

Other Tiki events that happen annually around the country are Tiki Caliente in Palm Springs, CA, The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale, FL, and Tiki Oasis in San Diego, CA. Of the three Tiki Oasis seems to be the largest event. I’m curious about checking out Tiki Oasis, but it would be a splurge between airfare, hotel, and the event tickets. If we combine it into a vacation to San Diego it might be pretty fun. I also saw something about a second Tiki Oasis going on in Arizona starting in 2019. The Tiki revival continues to expand.

Palm Springs 2018: Tiki Bars, Joshua Tree, and The Salton Sea

Palm Springs, California: A relaxed warm sunny break from the Seattle rain. Tiki bars, mid century modern architecture, Joshua Tree National Park, and a whole lot of desert weird around the Salton Sea.

 

February in Seattle is a time when I really hate life. The cold, gray, dreary weather, the endless rain, and a whole lot of boring. In Seattle, as soon as the New Year is rung in, the countdown to summer begins. And it’s a long one. Last year we tried to escape the rain by going to Las Vegas, but we ended up bringing the rain with us (we still had a great time though). This year, looking at the winter temperatures in Palm Springs, California–we decided that Palm Springs wouldn’t let us down. We were asked by numerous Lyft drivers during our stay what brought us to Palm Springs. The answer: SUN.

Palm Springs is an easy two and a half hour flight from Seattle. We arrived on an evening flight, walking out into the small open air airport at 11:30 PM. We seemed to be the only flight arriving, and had to wait about 5 minutes or so for taxis to show up in the ground transportation area. The Palm Springs airport is right in town, and getting to the hotel only took 10 minutes.

We had chosen the renovated mid-century modern tiki theme hotel Caliente Tropics. Built in 1964 as The Tropics hotel, it was a popular destination for Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. It received a renovation in 2000 and is now a classic historical Palm Springs experience with some modern upgrades and budget-mid range prices.

Our room was a solid budget hotel room. Clean, average-sized, with a large flat screen TV and a mini fridge. We liked the tile walk in shower in the bathroom that had replaced what I’m sure was a crappy budget hotel bathtub shower combo. The decor was fun, and the sink vanity was huge, with lots of space to spread out our stuff. The one complaint we had was that the bed was not very comfortable. The mattress wasn’t terrible, but upgrading the mattresses to high end comfortable models would really make this hotel great.

Caliente Tropics hotel Palm Springs
Caliente Tropics hotel Palm Springs
Caliente Tropics hotel Palm Springs
Caliente Tropics hotel Palm Springs
Caliente Tropics hotel Palm Springs
Caliente Tropics hotel Palm Springs
Caliente Tropics hotel Palm Springs
Caliente Tropics hotel Palm Springs
Caliente Tropics hotel Palm Springs
Caliente Tropics hotel Palm Springs
Caliente Tropics hotel Palm Springs
Caliente Tropics hotel Palm Springs
Caliente Tropics hotel Palm Springs
Caliente Tropics hotel Palm Springs

 

Day 1:

Waking up to the California sunshine put us instantly in a great mood. We took a Lyft into the main part of town (Palm Canyon Drive) to have breakfast at Cheeky’s.

Cheeky's Palm Springs
Cheeky’s Palm Springs

Cheeky’s was clearly a very popular breakfast spot, with a wait even at 9:30 on a Wednesday. We got on the list and the wait was only about 15 minutes for a two top.

The coffee was excellent, as was the service and the food. I had the Blondie’s Eggs Benedict with bacon and arugula on a house baked cheddar scone, and Paddy had a beef hash dish with Argentine chimichurri sauce. Everything was outstanding.

Cheeky's Palm Springs
Cheeky’s Palm Springs–Blondie’s Eggs Benedict
Cheeky's Palm Springs
Cheeky’s Palm Springs–beef hash with chimichurri sauce

After our excellent breakfast, the shops on Palm Canyon Drive were opening and we were ready to explore the town. We started on North Palm Canyon Drive and worked our way south.

Palm Springs is a pretty small town, and the main strip is very walkable. We used Lyft most of the time to get between the main strip and our hotel, but there is also a free shuttle called The Buzz that runs up and down Palm Canyon Drive between 11:00 AM and 1:00 AM Thursday through Sunday. Shuttles go by every 15-20 minutes.

If you like mid century antiques, vintage stores, and art galleries, Palm Springs is a town for you. We saw many amazing relics from the 1950’s and 60’s, retro art, and tons of vintage Aloha shirts. If you are looking for mid century jewelry, glassware, or a one of a kind funky addition to your home, Dazzles is the place to go.

Dazzles Palm Springs
Dazzles Palm Springs
Dazzles Palm Springs
Dazzles Palm Springs
Dazzles Palm Springs
Dazzles Palm Springs
Dazzles Palm Springs
Dazzles Palm Springs

Dazzles is easy to miss, it is tucked back off the street a bit at 1035 N Palm Canyon Drive. You will know you are in the right place when you see the filled-in pool with yard flamingos.

There are quite a few art galleries to visit in Palm Springs, but one of the most renowned is probably the Shag gallery and store. Shag is artist Josh Agle, who paints colorful paintings depicting fun mid-century leisure in a unique style.

Shag store Palm Springs
Shag store Palm Springs
Shag store Palm Springs
Shag store Palm Springs

We eventually ended up in the “downtown” area of Palm Canyon Drive and were feeling like we needed a little break. We stopped into the bar of busy Maracas Mexican restaurant for a margarita.

I checked my phone and had received a voicemail from Avis car rental agency that the rental car reservation I’d made with them months ago was cancelled because they had no cars. We had never rented with Avis before and were not happy. After a terse conversation with  customer service, who told me that they were “very sorry” and that there was nothing they could do, we frantically attempted to reserve another rental car for our desert adventures last minute on a busy holiday weekend.

Don’t rent with Avis. Apparently reservations with Avis don’t actually reserve anything for you. They could have made it right by securing me a reservation with another agency at the same price and doing the search legwork for us, but they did not care to help us in any way.

Enterprise car rental saved the day. I made a reservation through Hotwire and then called to confirm it with a very helpful man in the local office who assured me that he would reserve a car for us the next day. We have rented with Enterprise before and have had good experiences. We will be renting with them again in the future.

We finished walking the strip and exploring and headed back to the hotel to relax.

Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs
Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs
Palm Springs
Palm Springs

That evening we went to have a couple pre-dinner drinks at The Reef tiki bar in the hotel.

The Reef Tiki Bar Palm Springs
The Reef Tiki Bar Palm Springs
The Reef Tiki Bar Palm Springs
The Reef Tiki Bar Palm Springs
The Reef Tiki Bar Palm Springs
The Reef Tiki Bar Palm Springs
The Reef Tiki Bar Palm Springs
The Reef Tiki Bar Palm Springs
The Reef Tiki Bar Palm Springs
The Reef Tiki Bar Palm Springs

It was happy hour, so we ordered two rounds of the Hot Hula Hibiscus from the discounted happy hour menu, which had tequila, hibiscus syrup, and jalepeno. They were strong, and in hind sight perhaps two strong cocktails on an empty stomach wasn’t the best idea, but they sure were tasty. They had a really cool signature tiki mug for sale but it was $65, without a drink in it. It was pretty unique, but a bit more than we wanted to spend on a tiki mug.

The Reef Tiki Bar Palm Springs
The Reef Tiki Bar Palm Springs
The Reef Tiki Bar Palm Springs
The Reef Tiki Bar Palm Springs
The Reef Tiki Bar Palm Springs
The Reef Tiki Bar Palm Springs

It was Valentine’s Day, and we had a reservation at The Purple Palm restaurant in the Colony Palms Hotel. We went to dinner a bit tipsy.

Valentines Day had a prefix menu at $75 per person, which included an amuse bouche, a starter, a main dish, and a dessert. Our big splurge of the weekend.

The Purple Palm restaurant Palm Springs
The Purple Palm restaurant Palm Springs

The amuse bouche was a goat cheese bite (can’t remember what it was), and house baked bread with truffle butter, which we devoured. For our starters we both chose the Heirloom Pumpkin Soup with blue crab, lemon crema, and Thai basil. It was delicious.

The Purple Palm restaurant Palm Springs
Pumpkin soup with blue crab, lemon crema, and Thai basil at The Purple Palm restaurant Palm Springs

For our mains, Paddy had the Golden West Ranch strip steak with mushroom, leek, shishito, broccoli, yam, and black garlic. I was waffling between the quail and the salmon, but upon learning that the salmon was farmed, I went with the quail. We are in the desert after all–seafood isn’t what this area is known for. The quail dish was a brand new dish they were debuting that evening, with asparagus, hazlenut, and blackberries.

The Purple Palm restaurant Palm Springs
Quail dish with asparagus and hazlenuts
The Purple Palm restaurant Palm Springs
Golden West Ranch Strip Steak at the Purple Palm restaurant

For dessert we ordered one of each of the two desserts offered: The roasted pineapple and preserved lemon tart, and the carmelized banana and chocolate custard cake.

Desserts at The Purple Palm Restaurant
Desserts at The Purple Palm Restaurant

Everything was outstanding, and the perfect amount of food. I’m still thinking about that fresh baked bread and truffle butter.

 

Day 2:

On our second day, we had resolved our rental car problems with the help of Enterprise, and they picked us up and got us on the road to Joshua Tree National Park.

On the way to Joshua Tree, we stopped off in Pioneer Town in the high desert to have lunch at Pappi and Harriets Pioneertown Palace. Upon stepping out of the car, we realized that we had severely mis-judged the temperature of the high desert when we were greeted with cold winds. Our shorts and t-shirts/tank top did not suffice. I had a light sweater, but it wasn’t enough. We rushed into the restaurant.

Inside was a cozy, busy contrast to the chilly desolate desert outside. The restaurant was full of lunch patrons enjoying BBQ with a warm fire in a fireplace in the bar room area.

Pappi and Harriets bar and restaurant in Pioneer Town
Pappi and Harriets bar and restaurant in Pioneer Town

Pappi & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace not only has great BBQ, but is well known for it’s music shows in the evenings. Quite a few big name artists have performed at Pappi & Harriets. There is a small stage in the dining area, but the outside appears to be set up for large outdoor shows as well during warmer weather. If you’re in the area, you might check their calendar to see who is playing.

Funky wall with colored bottle windows at Pappi & Harriets
Funky wall with colored bottle windows at Pappi & Harriets
Indoor stage at Pappi & Harriets
Indoor stage at Pappi & Harriets
Many big name music artists have performed here, such as Wanda Jackson
Many big name music artists have performed here, such as Wanda Jackson

Having smelled the BBQ wafting through the restaurant, we figured it would be silly to order anything else. I had the pulled pork sandwich and mac and cheese, and Paddy had the beef brisket sandwich and coleslaw. Both were fantastic. The mac and cheese was very cheesy and homemade. It was extra delicious with a little BBQ sauce mixed in.

Beef brisket sandwich and coleslaw at Pappi & Harriets
Beef brisket sandwich and coleslaw at Pappi & Harriets
Pulled pork sandwich and mac and cheese at Pappi & Harriets
Pulled pork sandwich and mac and cheese at Pappi & Harriets

After lunch, we headed back to the main highway to continue toward Joshua Tree National park. On the way there we stopped off at a souvenir store so Paddy could get a sweatshirt, and at the visitor’s center so that we could get a park map and plan our route. It was a bit warmer in Joshua Tree than it was up in Pioneertown, but it was still not as warm as Palm Springs. Lesson learned–bring layers to the high desert. Admission to Joshua Tree National Park is $25.00.

Joshua Tree was beautiful. We stopped off at many pull offs along the way through the park to admire the trees and the views. I had originally wanted to do a short hike, but given that we hadn’t dressed warm enough and our limited time, we just did a drive through tour this time.

Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park

We detoured to Keys View point, one of the higher elevation points in the park and braved the cold winds for a few photos.

Keys View, Joshua Tree National Park
Keys View, Joshua Tree National Park
Keys View, Joshua Tree National Park
Keys View, Joshua Tree National Park

We kept seeing this sign in multiple places in the park. I think it’s best to stay on the trail…

Joshua Tree National Park
Yikes! Joshua Tree National Park

We went as far as the Cholla Cactus Garden on the edge of the Pinto Basin. It was lower elevation in the basin, so it was a bit warmer down there. We did the short walk through the garden, admiring the unique cholla cacti, which look kind of like they are trying to be mini joshua trees.

cholla cactus, Joshua Tree National Park
cholla cactus, Joshua Tree National Park
Cholla cactus garden, Joshua Tree National Park
Cholla cactus garden, Joshua Tree National Park
Cholla cactus
Cholla cactus
Cholla cactus garden, Joshua Tree National Park
Cholla cactus garden, Joshua Tree National Park

It was getting late, so we began the drive back to Palm Springs, enjoying the sunset along the way.

 

Sunset with windmills outside Palm Springs
Sunset with windmills outside Palm Springs

Every Thursday evening in Palm Springs is VillageFest from 6-10 PM. In the main downtown area of Palm Canyon Drive, the street is closed off and vendors set up along the street. All the shops and art galleries in the area keep their doors open late for visitors. There are food stands, craft vendors, and lots of artists. We ditched the car and took a Lyft to downtown to check it out.

Thursday VillageFest Palm Springs
Thursday VillageFest Palm Springs

We walked around a bit and then saw the Tonga Hut tiki bar which was on our agenda to check out. It was busy but we were able to get a table in the lounge.

Tonga Hut tiki bar Palm Springs
Tonga Hut tiki bar Palm Springs
Tonga Hut tiki bar Palm Springs
Tonga Hut tiki bar Palm Springs
Tonga Hut tiki bar Palm Springs
Tonga Hut tiki bar Palm Springs

The drinks at the Tonga Hut were classic and top-notch. I tried the classic Navy Grog drink, which came with a rock candy swizzle stick so that I could control the amount of sweetness I wanted in my drink. Paddy was excited that there was Hinano beer on the menu, which we hadn’t had since our Tahiti honeymoon in 2010.

Navy Grog, Tonga Hut Tiki Bar Palm Springs
Navy Grog, Tonga Hut Tiki Bar Palm Springs
Tonga Hut Tiki Bar Palm Springs
Paddy happy about being able to order a Hinano

We also ordered the Pupu Platter, which we weren’t expecting to be anything spectacular–but we were surprised at how good everything was. The chicken skewers were juicy and nicely marinated, the coconut prawns tasted homemade, and the egg rolls were shockingly good. Get the egg rolls.

Pupu Platter, Tonga Hut tiki bar Palm Springs
Pupu Platter, Tonga Hut tiki bar Palm Springs

We ended up moving out to the deck and ordering the fried rice with prawns, and another round of drinks. I tried their house special Mohave Punch with hibiscus syrup, rum, passion fruit, and other fruit juices. It was delicious. The fried rice wasn’t my favorite, but it definitely tasted homemade and MSG free.

Prawn fried rice at Tonga Hut tiki bar
Prawn fried rice at Tonga Hut tiki bar
Drinking the Mohave Punch at Tonga Hut tiki bar
Drinking the Mohave Punch at Tonga Hut tiki bar

After getting our tiki bar on, we continued walking the rest of VillageFest. We found a lot of great art booths and bought several affordable small pieces and card prints that we liked. We really liked the variety of modern artists and had to get out before we spent too much money.

 

Day 3: 

Friday was our last day with the car, and we were ready to explore some of the “desert weird” around the Palm Springs area. We grabbed a quick breakfast sandwich and coffee at Koffi, a local favorite  coffee shop two blocks down from our hotel, and hit the road.

Our first stop was the Welcome to Sky Valley sign, which Paddy wanted to see since it is on the cover of a Kyuss album that he loves.

We then headed another hour east to Bombay Beach on the Salton Sea.

The Salton Sea is a lake that was accidentally created in 1905 by an overflowing irrigation canal system created off of the Colorado River. It was built up as a resort area in the 1950’s, including shoreline settlements such as Bombay Beach and Salton City. The lake became increasingly polluted from farm runoff and increasingly salty. Fish began dying, and the pollution and stench of dead fish on the shore dissolved the tourism industry, as you might imagine. Today people still live on the shores of the Salton Sea, but very few. There isn’t much more than a small store and a bar in Bombay Beach.

Bombay Beach now has become a tourist attraction for photographers and curious wanderers, coming to see the ruins of a resort town that once was.

We drove to the beach first, and once we got close to the water we became overwhelmed with the stench of death and pollution. A bit of advice–if you want to walk up to the shore, wear some rubber boots or shoes you don’t care too much about. Also, bring baby wipes and a trash bag to clean up afterward. I got the gross shore mud on my sandals and had to do the best I could with some kleenex and bottled water.

Bombay Beach, Salton Sea
Bombay Beach, Salton Sea
Bombay Beach, Salton Sea
Bombay Beach main drag into “town”, Salton Sea
Bombay Beach, Salton Sea
Bombay Beach, Salton Sea
Bombay Beach, Salton Sea
Bombay Beach, Salton Sea
Bombay Beach, Salton Sea
Bombay Beach, Salton Sea
Bombay Beach, Salton Sea
Bombay Beach, Salton Sea
Bombay Beach, Salton Sea
Bombay Beach, Salton Sea

The town of Bombay Beach itself is pretty interesting. It is a mix of abandoned buildings and houses and inhabited houses and trailers. I can’t imagine living out here, but some people probably enjoy being a bit removed from mainstream society. Residents and artists have had some fun with the ruins of the town.

Bombay Beach, Salton Sea
Bombay Beach, Salton Sea
Bombay Beach, Salton Sea
Bombay Beach, Salton Sea
Bombay Beach, Salton Sea
Bombay Beach, Salton Sea
Bombay Beach, Salton Sea
Bombay Beach, Salton Sea

We moved on to Slab City and East Jesus art commune. Slab City is a community of artists, squatters, and snowbirds looking for a free place to settle. There is no electricity, running water, or sewer system. Most people live in campers with solar panels and generators. It is an anarchist’s dream–no charge to stay, no address, live completely off the grid. As you can imagine, this type of community breeds some interesting art.

We drove down the dirt road off the highway until we reached the East Jesus sculpture park. This is one of the most amazingly unique sculpture parks I’ve ever seen. It’s free, open to the public, and full of political statements and the completely bizarre. I loved it.

East Jesus Sculpture Park
East Jesus Sculpture Park
East Jesus Sculpture Park
East Jesus Sculpture Park
East Jesus Sculpture Park
East Jesus Sculpture Park
East Jesus Sculpture Park
East Jesus Sculpture Park

Down the road from East Jesus Sculpture Garden, we stopped at Salvation Mountain. You really can’t miss it. Salvation Mountain is the work of a man named Leonard Knight, and is an ever-evolving art installation about his devotion to god, and his attempt to spread god’s word to the world. It really is a sight to see.

Salvation Mountain
Salvation Mountain
Salvation Mountain
Salvation Mountain
Salvation Mountain
Salvation Mountain
Salvation Mountain
Salvation Mountain
Salvation Mountain
Salvation Mountain
Salvation Mountain
Salvation Mountain

Our last stop on our tour of desert weird was the International Banana Museum. I discovered this museum while exploring the area on Google Maps prior to our trip, and when I saw that there was an International Banana Museum out in the middle of nowhere next to the Salton Sea, it became one of the top priorities of this trip. Naturally, I wore my banana dress that day for the occasion.

International Banana Museum
International Banana Museum
International Banana Museum
International Banana Museum
International Banana Museum
International Banana Museum
International Banana Museum
International Banana Museum

The International Banana Museum is owned by a man named Fred Garbutt and his wife, next to a convenience store along Highway 111. Something possessed Mr Garbutt to purchase the Guinness World Record’s largest banana-themed item collection on Ebay and open this little museum in the middle of nowhere, and I salute him for it.

The museum is open Friday through Sunday, but possibly Thursdays? Not sure. Hours aren’t posted on the website, but I read that they were open weekends. Entrance fee is $1 cash, which is deducted off of any purchase you make. They sell postcards, some banana items, and banana ice cream. We passed on the ice cream, but I purchased a banana purse and a couple souvenir banana pens.

After satisfying my burning desire to see the world’s largest banana collection (it was everything I dreamed it would be), we  headed back to Palm Springs to do a little shopping.

If you are shopping for Tiki mugs, decor, or clothing, Iconic Atomic is your store. The owner was super friendly, and we recognized him from the Caliente Tropics hotel promotion video (he was an actor playing a guest enjoying a tikilicious vacation). His vintage dresses are all sorted by bust measurement, so it is easy to sort through to find your size. I even found a plus size tiki dress (a reproduction, but still awesome). It is so hard to find plus size vintage fashion, but he had some options in his collection.

Iconic Atomic Palm Springs
Iconic Atomic Palm Springs
Iconic Atomic Palm Springs
Iconic Atomic Palm Springs

That evening for dinner, we wanted something a bit more budget-friendly, so we checked out Tlaquepaque on South Palm Canyon Drive for Mexican food. The margaritas were mediocre, but the food was excellent. Paddy had a chimichanga, and I had the chicken fajitas.

Tlaquepaque Palm Springs
Tlaquepaque Palm Springs
Tlaquepaque Palm Springs
Tlaquepaque Palm Springs

After dinner, we wanted to go to the Bootlegger Tiki Bar on North Palm Canyon Drive. It was a mile and a half up the strip from Tlaquepaque, but we were so full we felt like we needed to walk it off. The walk was pleasant and didn’t seem that long.

Bootlegger Tiki Bar was much tinier than we expected, but the atmosphere and drinks were on point. We found a couple stools by the entrance and patiently waited until some people left and we scored one of the coveted three booths.

Bootlegger Tiki Bar Palm Springs
Bootlegger Tiki Bar Palm Springs
Bootlegger Tiki Bar Palm Springs
Bootlegger Tiki Bar Palm Springs
Bootlegger Tiki Bar Palm Springs
Bootlegger Tiki Bar Palm Springs

The only food served here are some light bar snacks (nuts, banana chips, popcorn)—the main focus is the drinks. I ordered the Desperado’s Downfall and Paddy had the Mind Flayer. Both were flavorful and complex.

Bootlegger Tiki Bar Palm Springs
Bootlegger Tiki Bar Palm Springs
Bootlegger Tiki Bar Palm Springs
Bootlegger Tiki Bar Palm Springs
Bootlegger Tiki Bar Palm Springs
Bootlegger Tiki Bar Palm Springs

Of the three tiki bars we visited in Palm Springs, Bootlegger was my favorite. It was probably the most classic of the three, and I loved the ambiance. The drinks were fantastic and expertly crafted. However, patience is required here due to the limited space. You may find yourself having to wait for a seat. There is an outdoor area to sit in, but the main point of a tiki bar is the atmosphere and feeling like you are in an exotic, tropical destination. It’s hard to feel like that sitting outside on the side of N Palm Canyon Drive watching the cars go by.

 

Day 4:

Saturday was our last day, and we wanted to enjoy some sunshine and pool time before we had to go back to cold, rainy Seattle. But first, boozy brunch.

Pinocchio in the Desert is a local favorite, known for big affordable breakfasts and their bottomless $4.95 champagne special. A nice open-air dining area allowed us to enjoy the sunshine while we ate.

Pinocchio in the Desert Palm Springs
Pinocchio in the Desert Palm Springs
Pinocchio in the Desert Palm Springs
Pinocchio in the Desert Palm Springs

I ordered a bloody mary for $6.95, and the lobster benedict. My bloody mary arrived in an enormous goblet, and I swear there was at least 6 shots of vodka in it. I couldn’t even finish it by the time breakfast was over. I’ve NEVER met a bloody mary that I couldn’t finish, especially if it was my first of the day. I was concerned that if I drank the whole thing, I would have to crawl out of the restaurant.

Pinocchio in the Desert Palm Springs
Strongest bloody mary in the world for $6.95. Pinocchio in the Desert Palm Springs
Pinocchio in the Desert Palm Springs
Pinocchio in the Desert Palm Springs

Paddy had the California omelet, which he said was tasty, and my lobster benedict was delicious as well. The home-style potatoes were awesome. We would absolutely come back here again. Just be sure you don’t have to do anything for the rest of the day if you order the bloody mary.

Pinocchio in the Desert Palm Springs
California omelet–Pinocchio in the Desert Palm Springs
Pinocchio in the Desert Palm Springs
Lobster benedict–Pinocchio in the Desert Palm Springs

We spent the rest of the day lounging by the pool at the hotel. There were plenty of chairs, it wasn’t crowded. There was one couple with a small child and a lady with a baby, but for the most part the pool scene was age 35+ with cocktails. It was the best pool scene I’ve been to. No screaming children doing cannonballs, and no drunk spring-breakers. Just a bunch of adults wanting to chill and have a relaxing time.

Pool time at Caliente Tropics Hotel Palm Springs
Pool time at Caliente Tropics Hotel Palm Springs

 

For dinner, we met up with our friend Andrea, who had just moved to Palm Springs in December. We made a reservation at the popular Tropicale restaurant, which was just my scene. Vintage-looking booths, tropical drinks, and a pink neon sign gave the place a classic Copa-Cabana feel.

Tropicale Palm Springs
Tropicale Palm Springs
Tropicale Palm Springs
Coconut martini, Tropicale Palm Springs
Tropicale Palm Springs
Tropicale Palm Springs

I ordered the coconut martini, because it just felt like the right thing to do. I wouldn’t order it again, it was a bit to sweet for my taste. But it wasn’t bad if you like sweeter drinks. Paddy had the spicy mango mojito, which he enjoyed.

The dinner menu is an eclectic mix of items, ranging from pizza and a gourmet burger to pastas, meatloaf, miso salmon, fried chicken, and filet mignon.

I had the crispy goat cheese and beet salad with an orange vinaigrette, (which was lovely) and the Yucatan chicken sausage pizza. Paddy had one of their pasta specials. Everything was great, and with such a variety on the menu, there’s something for everyone here. I would go back here for atmosphere alone, but the food was great too. Reservations recommended though–this place is popular, especially on weekends.

 

Day 5: 

It was time to go home on Sunday, but our flight left in the afternoon so we had time for one last brunch. We went to the King’s Highway diner in the hipster Ace Hotel next door.

King's Highway diner Palm Springs
King’s Highway diner Palm Springs

The King’s Highway has the bones of a classic 50’s diner, combined with Coachella music festival hipster decor, and serves Portland’s Stumptown coffee and espresso (in hot or cold brewed options). There is a coffee counter serving espresso and pastries to go, or you can sit down and have the full diner experience.

We both had the breakfast burrito, which while tasty, was a bit overpriced at $14 each. It comes on a plate with no sides, no garnish, just a burrito on a plate. Nothing fancy. The ingredients were quality, but it seemed like it should have cost $9.50 at most.

We took a peek at the adjacent Amigo Room bar before we left, which looked pretty awesome. Big round booths and Spanish-style decor. Dark and intimate. And there is a photo booth in the hallway, if you feel so inclined.

 

 

We really liked Palm Springs and the surrounding area. It is the perfect getaway for couples without kids (or who want to leave the kids with grandma), and a great gaycation spot as well. More relaxing than Vegas, with a better chance of nice sunny weather in the winter. Just don’t visit in the summer–I hear it is sweltering hot and miserable. With such a short flight from Seattle, we will definitely be back for another tikilicious good time.

Monument Valley, Utah/Arizona

One day and night in Monument Valley, Utah/Arizona on the Navajo Reservation: One of the most beautiful and magical places in the United States.

 

Monument Valley is one of my favorite places on this planet. When you visit, you aren’t really sure if you are in a Wild West movie or on Mars. It is a magical place. Photos don’t do it justice. We really wished we would have had more time there on this trip to do a tour through the valley with a Navajo guide. Next time, we’ll plan to stay at least two nights.

We visited Monument Valley on a week-long road trip through Colorado and Utah in September 2016. Read about the rest of our road trip here.

 

Excerpt from original post Summer Road Trip 2016: Colorado and Utah

 

Day 1:

We began our day in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, toured Mesa Verde National Park in the morning, and then drove on to Monument Valley in the afternoon. It was a long day, but fun. On the way to Monument Valley as we crossed from Colorado into Arizona, and we passed the Four Corners monument. We figured we should stop and do the obligatory photo op of us standing in four states at one time (Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico).

The Four Corners Monument is part of the Navajo Nation, and requires an entrance fee of $5 per person. Unfortunately, it is out in the middle of nowhere and requires cash payment, no credit or debit cards. We only had $8 cash, so we moved on. If you want to see the four corners, be sure to have cash on hand to cover your group. If you need an ATM, there is one at the Teec Nos Pos trading post store and gas station is about a 10 minute drive away. They also have restrooms.

An hour and a half later, we finally approached Monument Valley. The first time I visited Monument Valley was on my road trip with my friend in March 2004, and I had been so excited to see it. We just did a drive through and unfortunately, there was a dust storm that day. The iconic wild-west views of red buttes were something I had always wanted to go back and experience again, in better weather and with more time.

We had a reservation at The View Hotel in Monument Valley tribal park, which ended up being worth every penny of the high $250/night price tag. It was our one big hotel splurge of the trip.

*Note: The View Hotel is inside the Navajo Tribal park and requires a $20 entrance fee per vehicle for up to two days. This isn’t included in the price of the room.

The View Hotel Monument Valley
The View Hotel Monument Valley
The View Hotel Monument Valley
The View Hotel Monument Valley

The View Hotel is aptly named, as every room has a balcony and a panoramic view of the iconic “Mittens,” The two buttes in the valley that look like right and left hand mittens. It was a stunning view, and my number one plan was to drink some wine on the balcony ad watch the sunset all evening.

*Note about wine/alcohol: The Navajo Nation does not permit the sale of alcohol, so no alcohol can be bought anywhere near or at the hotel. There isn’t a rule against bringing your own and drinking it in your room, however. If you plan on having adult beverages and enjoying the sunset like we did, be sure to stock up beforehand and bring your own. Each room is equipped with a fridge.

The View Hotel Monument Valley
The View Hotel Monument Valley
The View Hotel Monument Valley
The View Hotel Monument Valley
The View Hotel Monument Valley
The View Hotel Monument Valley

The View Hotel has a restaurant, with halfway decent prices and solidly mediocre food. The food isn’t bad, but it’s on par with good cafeteria food. That being said, it is convenient and the view from the restaurant is stunning. If you want to come here just for dinner and are staying elsewhere, be aware that the restaurant serves hotel guests only after 7:00 PM.

The View Hotel restaurant, Monument Valley
The View Hotel restaurant, Monument Valley
The View Hotel restaurant, Monument Valley
The View Hotel restaurant, Monument Valley

We decided to share the Navajo Sampler platter and the fried chicken dinner. The Navajo Sampler platter actually has enough food for two people, and we ended up with leftovers (good thing our room had a fridge). The sampler consisted of Green Chili Stew (be warned, it’s spicy), Red Chili Posole, Sheep Camp Mutton Stew, a mini Navajo fry bread taco, and Navajo fry bread with honey.

We highly recommend getting the Navajo tea, it was delicious. They also sell it in the gift shop.

The Navajo sampler platter: Green Chili Stew, Red Chili Pork Posole, Sheep Camp Mutton Stew
The Navajo sampler platter: Green Chili Stew, Red Chili Pork Posole, Sheep Camp Mutton Stew
Fried chicken dinner at The View Hotel restaurant
Fried chicken dinner at The View Hotel restaurant
The Navajo sampler platter: Green Chili Stew, Red Chili Pork Posole, Sheep Camp Mutton Stew, mini Navajo Taco, and Navajo fry bread with honey
The Navajo sampler platter: Green Chili Stew, Red Chili Pork Posole, Sheep Camp Mutton Stew, mini Navajo Taco, and Navajo fry bread with honey

After dinner, it was sunset and wine time. It was everything I’d hoped it would be. The View Hotel faces east, so while you can’t see the sun going down over the buttes, the sunlight from the setting sun in the west illuminates the buttes in a gorgeous red-orange light. The photos I took don’t even begin to capture the real-life beauty of the valley.

The View Hotel, Monument Valley
The View Hotel, Monument Valley
Sunset from The View Hotel Monument Valley
Sunset from The View Hotel Monument Valley
Sunset from The View Hotel Monument Valley
Sunset from The View Hotel Monument Valley
Sunset from The View Hotel Monument Valley
Sunset from The View Hotel Monument Valley
Sunset from The View Hotel Monument Valley
Sunset from The View Hotel Monument Valley

Once it was dark, the hotel showed an outdoor John Wayne movie outside the restaurant, projected onto the wall of the building.

The View Hotel Monument Valley
The View Hotel Monument Valley–outdoor John Wayne movie

We didn’t stay up late enough to watch the stars come out, but I did wake up in the middle of the night and went outside and looked at them. It was a  surreal glitter display over the dark shadows of the buttes.

We did set our alarms for the sunrise, however. Trust me, it’s worth it.

 

Day 2:

Sunrise over Monument Valley, seen from the balcony in our room:

Sunrise from The View Hotel, Monument Valley
Sunrise from The View Hotel, Monument Valley
Sunrise from The View Hotel, Monument Valley
Sunrise from The View Hotel, Monument Valley
Sunrise from The View Hotel, Monument Valley
Sunrise from The View Hotel, Monument Valley
Sunrise from The View Hotel, Monument Valley
Sunrise from The View Hotel, Monument Valley

Monument Valley was the highlight of our entire road trip. We were sad to leave and wished we’d had another day to go on the slow dirt-road drive through the valley or go on a guided tour with a Navajo guide. I think we’ll be back though. It is a truly magical place.

We had breakfast a 10 minute drive away at Goulding’s Stagecoach. The breakfast there was outstanding, we both had their signature dish of Navajo fry bread huevos rancheros with green chili. We recommend skipping the View Hotel breakfast and coming here. Had we stayed a second night, we would have come back to Goulding’s for dinner as well.

Navajo fry bread huevos rancheros at Goulding's Stagecoach in Monument Valley
Navajo fry bread huevos rancheros at Goulding’s Stagecoach in Monument Valley
Navajo fry bread huevos rancheros at Goulding's Stagecoach in Monument Valley
Navajo fry bread huevos rancheros at Goulding’s Stagecoach in Monument Valley

After breakfast we drove around for a little bit to get some photos, and stopped at a Navajo handicraft stand to buy some souvenirs. We wanted to buy directly from the local Navajo people instead of the hotel gift shop.

The best roadside photos of the Valley are taken on the Utah side facing south. There are many pull-outs along the highway 163 to top and take a picture from.

Monument Valley
Monument Valley
Monument Valley
Monument Valley–classic view

If a tourist from outside the US were to ask me what the top places to see in the mainland United States are, I would put Monument Valley up towards the top of the list. There’s nowhere like it, it is truly an American experience. Not only is it beautiful, but it is a great opportunity to learn about the native Navajo people, their history and culture. Skip the Grand Canyon, go see Monument Valley.

 

 

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

A day in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado. Discovering the lives of ancient cliff-dwelling Native Americans and Pueblo culture.

We visited Mesa Verde National Park on a one-week road trip through Colorado and Utah in September. I had done a Southwest road trip years ago with a friend after graduating college, and we had wanted to visit Mesa Verde but we were traveling in March and it wasn’t open yet. Summer is the best time to visit, as the high elevations and winter snowfall prevent the park from being fully open during the winter season.

We spent the night in nearby Pagosa Springs the night before, which is a good home base for exploring the park and surrounding area.

 

Excerpt from Excerpt from original post Summer Road Trip 2016: Colorado and Utah.

 

Mesa Verde National Park is located in the southwest corner of Colorado, and contains over 5,000 archeological sites and 600 ancient cliff dwellings. Only a few are open to the public. A couple cliff dwellings can be toured with a ranger guide.

We stopped by the ranger station when we arrived, and considered signing up for a ranger-guided tour of the Cliff Palace, but since we only had the morning to tour the park we opted to just do a drive and view tour at our own pace.

The road into the park ascends dramatically, offering beautiful views of the surrounding landscape. There were several viewpoint areas to pull over at.

*Note: The drive down to the cliff dwellings and pit house sites is 45 minutes from the park entrance one way, so allow at least half a day to see the park.

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

We stopped at the remains of some early Anasazi pit houses along the Mesa View Loop road, a few dating back to 600 AD. The houses were dug into the ground, and then walls and a roof built up from the dugout with sticks and mud.

Mesa Verde National Park pit houses
Mesa Verde National Park pit houses
Mesa Verde National Park pit houses
Mesa Verde National Park pit houses
Mesa Verde National Park pit houses
Mesa Verde National Park pit houses
Mesa Verde National Park pit houses
Mesa Verde National Park pit houses
Mesa Verde National Park pit houses
Mesa Verde National Park pit houses

At the end of the park are several cliff dwellings to view. Cliff Palace was the most spectacular one that we saw, and you can get a really great view of Cliff Palace from above on the Cliff Palace Loop Road.

Note that if you decide to tour Cliff Palace, Balcony House, or other open dwellings in the park, they do involve climbing stairs, steep trails, and ladders. Cliff Palace sounded like it was the least strenuous, but all of them are at high elevation. Higher elevations make exercise and hiking a lot more strenuous, so if you have a heart condition or any type of physical disability, you may want to skip the tours.

Canyon where cliff dwellings are located, Mesa Verde National Park
Canyon where cliff dwellings are located, Mesa Verde National Park
Cliff dwellings, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Cliff dwellings, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Cliff dwellings, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Cliff dwellings, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park
Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park
Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park
Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park

It is amazing to imagine these dwellings alive and full of the daily activity of the Anasazi people. Tiny cities tucked into the steep cliffs in the canyon. I wonder if there were more cliff trails along the canyon between the dwellings back in 1300 AD, it doesn’t look easy to access them currently. I’m sure there has been some significant erosion since they were populated.

After checking out the Cliff Dwellings, it was 1:00 PM and we were starving. Mesa Verde has two cafeteria-style restaurants, one at Far View Terrace closer to the entrance, and one at Spruce Tree Terrace closer to the cliff dwellings. Prices were reasonable, with many Southwest-style options. Paddy ordered the Navajo Taco, which was huge. It was a dinner-plate sized Navajo fry bread with chili and all your standard American taco fixings. He said it was really good, but didn’t quite make it through the whole thing. I had the black bean burger and fries which was also good.

Navajo taco at the Spruce Tree Terrace restaurant in Mesa Verde National Park
Navajo taco at the Spruce Tree Terrace restaurant in Mesa Verde National Park

The high elevation (and the big lunch) made us pretty tired, and we still had a couple hours to drive to our next destination, Monument Valley.

We really enjoyed Mesa Verde, but wished that we had a bit more time there. Being from Seattle, we tend to forget how much high elevations can affect your energy level if you aren’t used to it. I would have loved to hike down to the Cliff Palace, but would need to take more time. I’d recommend at least a full day or two days to really see the park. Don’t forget to bring lots of water with you and stay hydrated.

Read about the rest of our Colorado and Utah road trip here: https://childfreelifeadventures.com/summer-road-trip-2016-colorado-utah/

Silver Forest Hike in Mt Rainier National Park

A fun camping weekend and an easy relaxing day hike on the Sunrise side of Mt Rainier National Park. A perfect day hike if you are out of shape or short on time and want some great views of Mt Rainier.

Paddy and I have been to Mt Rainier National Park a few times, but only to the Sunrise Side once and that time we didn’t actually go to the visitor’s center. Every time we go to Mt Rainier National Park we are blown away by how beautiful it is. On this trip we camped outside of the park at Silver Springs Campground, and did a quick and easy trek on the Silver Forest hike from the Sunrise Visitor Center in the park.

The Sunrise side of Mt Rainier National Park is the northern side of the mountain, and is a little less visited then the popular Paradise visitor center. At 6,400 ft above sea level, it is the highest elevation point in the park to visit by vehicle. There are several great hiking trails that start at the Sunrise visitor center parking lot.

Day 1: 

We left Seattle a little before 3:00 in the afternoon on Friday, headed to Silver Springs Campground. We had made a reservation there early in the spring through www.recreation.gov, so our site was all ready and waiting for us. We camped at Silver Springs the last time we visited the Sunrise side of Mt. Rainier, and we like the campground. It is a good close proximity to the mountain and sites can be reserved ahead of time.

*Camping tip: Even though spring  seems way too early to make summer camping plans, the recreation.gov website allows you to make camping reservations up to six months in advance, starting in January. Weekends in July and August fill up fast, so I like to get a reservation in for a good site (you get to pick your site out) around March. If your plans change and you have to cancel, you get a full refund minus the $10 reservation fee as long as you cancel at least two days before your arrival date.

Silver Springs Campground
Silver Springs Campground

The campground hosts have firewood for sale (cash only) or you can purchase it at the Greenwater General Store about 15 minutes away. This is the closest store with provisions, so if you find that you have forgotten something, stock up here.

We set up camp, sprayed ourselves with bug spray, and cooked hot dogs, beans, and corn for dinner with the campfire.

Camping at Silver Springs Campground
Camping at Silver Springs Campground

Day 2:

I set the alarm for 7:00, as it is best to get an early start when hiking at Mt Rainier on a summer weekend. We made coffee with our camp stove and french press, ate hard boiled eggs and granola for breakfast, and set out up the mountain.

Not far down on the 410 highway heading south from the campground is the Sunrise Park Road. The White River ranger station will collect your national park entrance fee of $25.00, good for one week. After passing the fee station, the visitor center is another 40 minutes up the mountain. It is a beautiful drive.

Sunrise visitor center Mt. Rainier National Park
Sunrise visitor center Mt. Rainier National Park

We arrived at the Sunrise Visitor Center at around 9:00 AM. There were lots of cars in the parking lot already, but still a lot of spaces left. The Visitor Center building wasn’t open yet, but a park ranger was standing outside and answering questions from the hikers. He provided lots of helpful info on trail conditions. Even though it was July, some of the higher elevation trails had too much snow still and weren’t suitable for hiking in certain areas.

Everyone there was gung-ho about going up the high elevation trails, but we opted for the easy-breezy Silver Forest hike. The Sunrise elevation is pretty high for us sea-level dwellers with desk jobs, and we prefer to do uphill hiking at lower elevations. The Silver Forest hike is fairly even the whole way. The trail starts from the left side of the parking lot facing the visitor center building. The trail is an out-and-back hike, so you have to hike to the end and then turn around and return back to where you started.

Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park
Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park

For such an easy trail, the Silver Forest hike offered amazing views of Mt. Rainier. If you’re not very in shape or are short on time, this hike offers big bang for your hiking buck (so to speak).

Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park
Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park
Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park
Wildflowers, Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park

After a (too) short amount of time, we reached the end of the maintained trail (about a mile in). We weren’t ready to go back so we continued for a little ways on the not-so-maintained part of the trail, which was really more or less a ditch someone dug. It kept going, but was a bit difficult to walk in as it was deep and narrow. We stopped when we ran into some snow. We could have gone around, but decided to head back.

Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park
Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park

The way back had the best views, as you are facing Mt Rainier the entire time.

Silver Forest Hike Mt Rainier National Park (Sunrise side)
Silver Forest Hike Mt Rainier National Park (Sunrise side)
Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park
Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park
Silver Forest Hike Mt Rainier National Park (Sunrise side)
Silver Forest Hike Mt Rainier National Park (Sunrise side)
Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park
Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park

Overall, the trail was shorter than I would have preferred, but the views were excellent. If you are visiting Seattle and want to do a day trip to Rainier and don’t have time for a big hike, the Silver Forest hike is perfect for a quick dose of “Mt. Rainier-lite.” Your photos will look like you did some major hiking, and all your friends will be jealous.

When we arrived back at the parking lot we checked out the information displays at the visitor center, and then began our descent down the mountain. We left at a little before 11:00 AM, and rangers were already directing traffic into the overflow parking on the side of the road.

Snow pile next to the Sunrise visitor center parking lot
Snow pile next to the Sunrise visitor center parking lot

*Tip: If going to Mt Rainier on a Saturday or Sunday in July or August, GET THERE EARLY. If you are doing a day trip from Seattle, I’d recommend getting on the road around 7:00 AM at the latest to make sure you get a decent parking spot and get on your hike before the trails get crowded.

We stopped at a lookout a short ways down the mountain that provided views of some alpine lakes and Mt Adams in the distance.

Scenic lookout on the way to Sunrise in Mt Rainier National Park
Scenic lookout on the way to Sunrise in Mt Rainier National Park
Scenic lookout on the way to Sunrise in Mt Rainier National Park
Scenic lookout on the way to Sunrise in Mt Rainier National Park
Scenic lookout on the way to Sunrise in Mt Rainier National Park
Scenic lookout on the way to Sunrise in Mt Rainier National Park
Mt Adams
Mt Adams

At the bottom of Sunrise Park Rd, we passed a very long line of cars waiting at the entrance fee station. It looked like about a half hour wait just to enter the park. Again, GET THERE EARLY.

We spent the rest of the afternoon reading and relaxing at the camp site, and listening to the White River. Living in the city near the airport makes us really appreciate the sounds of nature whenever we are able to get away.

The Silver Forest hike wasn’t my favorite hike in Mt Rainier National Park, but it was a nice and easy scenic jaunt. If you are able to do a longer hike that is slightly more challenging at a lower elevation, I’d recommend the Naches Peak loop hike. It is also on the Sunrise side of the park and one of our favorites.

 

Pagosa Springs, Colorado

Pagosa Springs, Colorado: A one-night stop in Pagosa Springs, Colorado on a week-long road trip: Hot springs and great local craft beer

 

Excerpt from original post Summer Road Trip 2016: Colorado and Utah. Read about the rest of our road trip here.

 

We left Fort Collins, Colorado at 7:00 AM to begin our trip to Pagosa Springs, our first stop on a week-long road trip around Colorado and Utah. Pagosa Springs is located in the southern part of Colorado, which was about a 5 hour drive from Denver.

It was a long drive from Fort Collins, but it was a beautiful drive. As soon as we passed Denver, we began an ascent into the Rocky Mountains, heading south.

rocky-mountain-road-trip-colorado-11

rocky-mountain-road-trip-colorado-10

rocky-mountain-road-trip-colorado-13

rocky-mountain-road-trip-colorado-4

rocky-mountain-road-trip-colorado-2

After four hours, we were ready for a lunch stop. We stopped in the tiny town of Saguache at the Saguache 4th Street Diner and Bakery.

Saguache 4th Street Diner and Bakery
Saguache 4th Street Diner and Bakery
Saguache Colorado
Saguache main street, Colorado
Saguache 4th Street Diner and Bakery
Saguache 4th Street Diner and Bakery

The 4th Street Diner and Bakery was a great place to stop for lunch. Tiny and eclectic, with mis-matched tables and chairs and a wood stove for cold winter days, it was homey and welcoming. Paddy had a burger with organic beef and I had a chicken quesadilla. There were a lot of tempting pies in the case at the counter, but we decided to pass and get back on the road.

We made a final stop at Wolf Creek Pass to get a photo at the view point there. The elevation was 10,856 ft, and it made me so light-headed that I stumbled a bit getting out of the car. It was a gorgeous view.

Wolf Creek Pass, Colorado
Wolf Creek Pass, Colorado

We made it to Pagosa Springs around 3:00 PM and checked into the Healing Waters Resort and Spa. It wasn’t really a resort, more of a budget hotel with a hot springs pool, steam room and sauna. It was clean and comfortable, and while I’m sure their pool was nice we were actually staying there because it was an affordable option next to the main hot springs.

Healing Waters Resort and Spa, Pagosa Springs
Healing Waters Resort and Spa, Pagosa Springs

The small town of Pagosa Springs is centered around the developed hot springs resort on the river, with several hot springs pools at various temperatures. They are open until 11:00 PM daily, so we planned on spending the evening soaking our troubles away.

Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado

We walked through the town and poked about in a few shops. We eventually made it up the main street to Riff Raff Brewing, and decided to relax and sample the local beer.

Mural in Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Mural in Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Sampler at Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado: Skallywag English Pale, Ele Duende Green Chili, Stepchild American Red, and the Plebian Porter
Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado

The beer at Riff Raff was tasty and diverse. I did a sampler with the English Pale, the El Duende Green Chili Ale, the Stepchild American Red, and the Plebian Porter. The El Duende was tasty but I expected a bit more green chili flavor. The Skallywag English Pale and the Plebian Porter were my two favorites. The Stepchild Red was a bit too hoppy for me, I’m not a huge fan of hoppy beers.

Pagosa Springs is at a fairly high elevation at just over 7,000 ft (pretty high-especially for us sea-level dwellers). Alcohol effects everyone a bit more at high elevations, and after the beer sampler I was quite buzzed. We stayed for dinner, and the food was excellent. Paddy tried the yak burger, which he really enjoyed. Riff Raff makes their own pickles, which were delicious.

Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Smokey the Chicken Burger at Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Yakkity-Yak Burger at Riff Raff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, Colorado

After dinner, we were ready for the hot springs. It was $30 per person for admittance, which was a little expensive but included a towel and a locker. They have an adults-only terrace with drink service which was very tempting but would have been $23 extra dollars each just to be able to use it. We couldn’t justify that kind of price. I tried to bargain with the guy at the counter, it being a Tuesday evening and all, but no dice.

The hot springs had a large pool (mostly used by children and families), and a series of small pools at a range of different temperatures from 92 to 111 degrees Fahrenheit. We found that we were most comfortable between 90 to 100 degrees. I tried to go in the Paradise pool at 109 degrees, but it was so painfully hot that I didn’t get past ankle deep.

Our favorite pools were Boulder, Aspen, and Serendipity. Serendipity had a waterfall and a good overlook for the river and the rest of the resort. The waterfall was a good shoulder massage. The adults only terrace didn’t seem like such a big deal, as all the kids seemed to be in the big pool and not the regular hot spring tubs. We were glad we hadn’t shelled out an extra $46.00.

Pagosa Hot Springs Colorado road trip
Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Springs, Colorado

There was a Canteen in the center of the pool complex where you could buy drinks and snacks, including beer and wine. We only got one drink each, we figured that high elevation and hot springs and alcohol probably weren’t a great combo. Drinks weren’t too overpriced.

We stayed and soaked our sore muscles until the stars came out. We were able to find a quiet pool that wasn’t too hot with just a couple other people in it. Most of the kids were up at the big pool so we were able to enjoy the stars and the moon without much disruption.

We would recommend Pagosa Springs as an overnight stop on a road trip. I’m sure it is great in the winter as well. There isn’t a whole lot to do in the town itself, but Mesa Verde National Park (our next destination) is pretty close by. This would be a great town to use as a base for exploring Mesa Verde, which would take two days to fully explore if you want to hike to multiple cliff dwellings. When you come back in the evening, you can soak your sore hiking muscles in the hot springs.

Read about the rest of our adventure in Colorado and Utah here

 

Las Vegas 2017: Getting off The Strip–Downtown Las Vegas and the Arts District

Las Vegas 2017: Getting off The Strip–downtown Las Vegas and the Arts District. Checking out local spots and culture in Las Vegas’ historical downtown and the up-and-coming arts scene.

 

The last time we were in Las Vegas, when we left we decided we’d had enough of Las Vegas and probably wouldn’t be back any time soon. But…..Las Vegas always has a way of seducing you back. The inexpensive and easy 2.5 hour flight from Seattle, the escape from the Seattle rain, the abundance of cheap, nice hotel rooms, the ability to walk around the street with a drink in your hand, and the great restaurants are ever enticing. We needed a quick winter getaway to lift our spirits (January through April in Seattle is a miserable, rainy, cold, awful time) and decided that Las Vegas would be quick and affordable. We had also never made it to downtown Las Vegas during our first two trips, and decided that this time we would stay in downtown Las Vegas and avoid The Strip altogether.

It was a wonderful plan. We had a fabulous time exploring historical downtown Las Vegas, the Arts District, and a few other local spots. Not once did we go to The Strip, and we left Las Vegas with a new appreciation for Sin City. Our trip was made even better by reuniting with an old middle school friend of mine who was living in Las Vegas and producing a local burlesque show through the winter.

Day 1:

Our flight landed at 7:00 PM, but sat on the runway for 25 minutes because our gate was occupied by a delayed flight. Fortunately we had not checked baggage, so when we finally got off the plane we were able to dash down to ground transportation to catch our shuttle.

We had reserved a round trip shuttle through the aptly named shuttle service Airline Shuttle. It was very inexpensive at $18.00 per person round trip with direct hotel pick up and drop off. Online booking was easy. Be sure to print off your confirmation, however. They do not accept phone screen confirmations, you must print a copy with the bar codes. Their website made this pretty clear, so I printed two copies, just in case.

There are other transportation alternatives such as buses and taxis. A taxi to downtown Las Vegas will run around $40-$50 from the airport one way, and a bus will take a long time. The shuttle was definitely the easy and affordable option.

The Golden Nugget, downtown Las Vegas
The Golden Nugget, downtown Las Vegas

Finally , we arrived at our hotel, The Golden Nugget. After a bit of confused wandering around in the huge casino we made it from the back entrance where the shuttle dropped us to the front desk to check in. We had reserved the most inexpensive room through Booking.com –a Carson Tower King, non-smoking. We were informed that the only non-smoking rooms available had two double beds. Upon presenting the front desk lady with our printed confirmation for a king room, and informing her that I am allergic to cigarette smoke so a smoking room was not an option, she upgraded us to a Rush Tower king room at no extra charge. (This is why I’m old-school and print my confirmations, it’s easy to whip out and show at check in if something doesn’t match what you were promised.)

The Rush Tower rooms were NICE. The Rush Tower was clearly the newer, upgraded side of the hotel. Our trip was off to a great start.

Rush Tower room at the Golden Nugget
Rush Tower room at the Golden Nugget
Rush Tower room at the Golden Nugget
Rush Tower room at the Golden Nugget

After a speedy luggage drop and clothes change, we were dying for a drink and a snack. It was already 8:30. We headed down to the casino and into the Cadillac Tequila Bar.

Cadillac Tequila Bar Golden Nugget
Cadillac Tequila Bar Golden Nugget

The drinks and food at Cadillac Tequila Bar are a bit upscale Mexican, not outrageously expensive but not cheap. I ordered the Elote (Mexican street corn) and the Ahi Tuna Tacos appetizer and a guava margarita. Paddy ordered the Queso and chips, a beer, and a shot of tequila. The tequila menu was extensive, but the cheapest shot was $9.00. Whatever, we needed to get our night going. The tequila was high quality.

Cadillac Tequila Bar Golden Nugget
Paddy at Cadillac Tequila Bar Golden Nugget
Ahi Tuna Tacos at the Cadillac Tequila Bar in the Golden Nugget
Ahi Tuna Tacos at the Cadillac Tequila Bar in the Golden Nugget

The food was great. Paddy was particularly impressed with the queso dip–real cheese (no Velveeta) and great flavor. The ahi tuna tacos were also very tasty. There was an Asian ponzu-style sauce to pour on them, and the shells were made from wonton wrappers. My guava margarita was delicious, but didn’t seem to have much booze. I ended up ordering another $9.00 shot of tequila to add to it.

After snacks and a couple first drinks, we were ready to check out Fremont Street.

Fremont Street is the heart of downtown Las Vegas, and the original thoroughfare through the city. Many of the casinos on Fremont Street including the Golden Nugget are still there, but with a modern makeover. The west portion of Fremont Street is the renowned Fremont Street Experience.

Fremont Street Experience, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street Experience, downtown Las Vegas

The Fremont Street Experience is a covered pedestrian-only section of the street. At night, a light and music show happens on the ceiling every hour. Cover bands play at two different stages on opposite ends of the covered street, tourists zip line over the crowds and under the covered light show, and various street performers and people in costume are stationed around the street providing photo opportunities for tips. There are flashing neon lights and alcohol for sale from street side bars everywhere you turn. I was able to procure a keg cup of cheap white wine for $6.00 (don’t judge).

Fremont Street Experience, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street Experience, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street Experience, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street Experience, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street Experience, downtown Las Vegas
“Vegas Vickie,” Fremont Street Experience, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street Experience, downtown Las Vegas
“Vegas Vic,” Fremont Street Experience, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street Experience, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street Experience, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street Experience, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street Experience, downtown Las Vegas

The Fremont Street Experience was fun for approximately 15 minutes. After that, we were ready to get out of neon tourist fun-land. We kept walking down to the east part of Fremont Street, which was a much mellower and quieter experience. The covered pedestrian street turns into a regular downtown street with fewer large casinos and more small bars and restaurants.

Fremont Street Las Vegas
Fremont Street East, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street East, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street East, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street East, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street East, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street East, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street East, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street East, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street East, downtown Las Vegas

Fremont Street East was recently re-vamped in 2002 and new, hip bars and restaurants have been popping up to revitalize the local downtown Las Vegas scene.

We wandered into Commonwealth, a hipster speak-easy style bar with dim lighting and 1920’s decor. The music was modern and the cocktail menu was fancy. We ordered drinks at the bar and walked around. It was about 10:00 PM, so the night was just getting started for the 20-something crowd that was beginning to trickle in.

Commonwealth bar downtown Las Vegas
Commonwealth bar downtown Las Vegas
Commonwealth bar downtown Las Vegas
Commonwealth bar downtown Las Vegas
Commonwealth bar downtown Las Vegas
Commonwealth bar downtown Las Vegas

We wandered upstairs to the rooftop patio, which had a DJ and another outdoor bar. A server came around with free shots of knock-off Fireball whiskey and tiny complimentary cupcakes. Who doesn’t  like free shots and cupcakes?

I had read that there is a speakeasy within Commonwealth called The Laundry Room. The only way to get into the Laundry Room is to send a polite reservation request via text to (702) 701-1466. We sent a text to see if we could get in while we were there, and waited a little bit. We finished our drinks and about 10 minutes later received a response with an offer of a 12:15 AM reservation. It was 11:00 PM, and we were tired from working earlier that morning and then traveling, so we thanked them and declined the offer. We’d been to “speakeasies” in Seattle and New York and weren’t feeling like getting into the Laundry Room was that important to us. Maybe next time.

We wandered around Fremont Street a little bit more before calling it a night.

Fremont Street East, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street East, downtown Las Vegas. We never found out what was in that big blue dome.
Fremont Street East, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street East, downtown Las Vegas

 

Day 2:

 

Friday morning we were greeted by 58 degree drizzle, very reminiscent of the Seattle weather we were trying to escape. Se la vie. We took that as a sign that we should go ahead and sleep in a bit longer.

Eventually, we were hungry. I had read that the buffet at the Main Street Station casino around the corner was supposed to be one of the best cheap buffets in town, a local gem. We put on our raincoats, walked to Main Street and got in the buffet line.

Main Street Station Casino downtown Las Vegas
Image from www.lasvegas.com

We waited in line for about 10 minutes, only to be told when we got to the front of the line that they would be closing at 10:30 (it was 10:15) for half an hour to switch over to lunch, at which point everyone in the dining area will be forced to leave. We decided that 15 minutes was not the time frame that we wanted for breakfast, so we opted out.

*Note–we learned that this is Main Street Station buffet’s weekday schedule. Saturday and Sunday have a champagne brunch buffet from 7:00 AM to 3:00 PM for $11.99. We didn’t make it back to try this, but will definitely consider it for our next trip.

We were starving, so we wandered into the Plaza Hotel and casino next door on Main Street to see what they had going on. We found Hash House a Go Go inside the casino, which had a 15 minute wait but looked really good. We gave the host my cell number and walked around the casino until we got a text that our table was ready.

At first look, the prices at Hash House a Go Go seemed a bit high–most plates in the $16.99 range. But then we saw the food coming out of the kitchen—it was HUGE. We were hungry, but the portions this place was serving wouldn’t be something either one of us could finish individually. So we found a dish we both wanted to try and split it. We were really glad that we did.

We ordered the Andy’s Sage Fried Chicken Benedict, which the menu bragged to have been featured on Man Vs Food.

Andy's Sage Fried Chicken Benedict at Hash House a Go Go
Andy’s Sage Fried Chicken Benedict at Hash House a Go Go, downtown Las Vegas

Andy’s Sage Fried Chicken Benedict is a split biscuit with two fried chicken breasts, bacon, mozzarella cheese, tomato, tomato, spinach, scrambled eggs and chipotle cream sauce, served on a bed of mashed potatoes. It was delicious, but massive. Eat this one with a buddy. I couldn’t even make it all the way through my half.

All things considered, the prices are pretty reasonable after all at Hash House a Go-Go, considering the portions. I think we’ll have to come back again on our next downtown Las Vegas trip and try the crab cake benedict.

After breakfast, we called a Lyft and took a short ride over to the downtown Las Vegas arts district.

The downtown Las Vegas arts district is a rapidly up-and-coming neighborhood comprised of several bars, restaurants, art collectives and galleries, and vintage shops. It is also the new home of the Burlesque Hall of Fame, which was our first stop.

Burlesque Hall of Fame, downtown Las Vegas arts district
Burlesque Hall of Fame, downtown Las Vegas arts district

We caught the Burlesque Hall of Fame during a transition period. It had previously been located on Fremont Street, but had recently moved to the arts district and was in temporary art gallery space while their new location was being renovated across the street.

The gallery was a small space, but had a few costume pieces on display from burlesque legends, and a well-constructed timeline of the history of burlesque with many photos and other memorabilia. The man at the front desk was more than happy to answer our questions.

You would think that a town like Las Vegas, with all it’s glitz and glam would have a great modern burlesque scene. Sadly, we were informed that has not been the case. In Las Vegas there are showgirls, and there are strippers. The art of the rhinestone-encrusted shimmy and a wink with costumes and dancing has been a little lost on sin city. It’s not large-production enough to compete with the big-time casino shows, and it’s too classy to be a raunchy modern striptease.

There are local burlesque performers who are trying to change this, however. Small-venue burlesque shows are becoming more frequent and the local arts scene is growing. The gentleman at the Burlesque Hall of Fame informed us that there were big plans in the works for their new space. He said they have tons of costumes, vintage marquees, and lots of other items in their collection that they are excited to exhibit. Check http://www.burlesquehall.com/ for updates.

Here are some burlesque show posters from current local burlesque troops. Look them up if you’re planning a trip!

Majestik Burlesque Las Vegas
Majestik Burlesque Las Vegas at the Royal Resort  https://www.facebook.com/MajestikBurlesqueLasVegas/?ref=page_internal
Leather and Feathers body positive burlesque Las Vegas Leather and Feathers body positive burlesque Las Vegas https://www.facebook.com/Leather.N.Feathers.Burlesque/
Leather and Feathers body positive burlesque Las Vegas at the Erotic Heritage Museum https://www.facebook.com/Leather.N.Feathers.Burlesque/
nerdlesque las vegas
“Nerdlesque” burlesque at the Artifice Bar in Las Vegas– new themed shows every third Saturday of the month http://www.artificebar.com/event/nerdlesque-burlesque/

We moved on from the Burlesque Hall of Fame to S Main Street to explore the vintage and antique shops.

If you are looking for vintage furniture, clothing, or random kitschy knick-knacks, S Main Street in the Arts District is the place to be. The only thing stopping us from blowing our tax return on a lime green 60’s sectional sofa at Retro Vegas was that we couldn’t take it on the plane home. And maybe a little common sense.

Retro Vegas on S Main St.
Retro Vegas on S Main St.
S Main Street Arts District, downtown Las Vegas
S Main Street Arts District, downtown Las Vegas
Vintage beer can collection
Vintage beer can collection

We had a lot of fun looking at all the shops on S Main Street. There was so much to explore. I really wanted to go to the Rockin’ Bettie store, a boutique with retro-style dresses and clothing, but sadly they were closed because they were at a rockabilly convention. Next time.

Later that afternoon we went and got foot massages at the Happy Feet massage place in the El Dorado casino on Fremont Street. $15 for 30 minutes. It was money well spent, we felt revitalized and ready to take on the evening.

After our foot massages were over, we got take out from the Cousins Maine Lobster food truck on Fremont Street. Their menu looked amazing (lobster tots!) I got a lobster roll, Paddy got the lobster grilled cheese, and we got some smothered tots to share–tots smothered in a creamy salsa sauce.

Cousins Main Lobster food truck, downtown Las Vegas
Cousins Main Lobster food truck, downtown Las Vegas
Cousins Main Lobster food truck, downtown Las Vegas
Lobster roll, Cousins Main Lobster food truck, downtown Las Vegas
Cousins Maine Lobster smothered tots
Cousins Maine Lobster smothered tots

Overall everything was tasty and the lobster was great, but we both felt like our sandwiches were a little small for the price.

After dinner we got dressed up and headed to Atomic Liquors on Fremont Street to meet up with L, a long lost middle school friend of mine and her husband Sam (I am just using her first initial to protect her privacy). L had been living in Las Vegas since the fall, producing and performing in the Leather & Feathers Burlesque Cabaret show at the Erotic Heritage Museum. I grew up with her, but hadn’t seen her since middle school.

Atomic Liquors downtown Las Vegas
Atomic Liquors downtown Las Vegas
Atomic Liquors downtown Las Vegas
Atomic Liquors downtown Las Vegas

Atomic Liquors is the oldest free-standing bar in Las Vegas. It was formerly a cafe, originally built in 1945. The cafe customers used to watch atomic blasts at the nearby atomic test site from the roof of the cafe . In 1952 the cafe owners Joe and Stella Stobchik turned it into a bar. Rumor has it that the Rat Pack and the Smothers Brothers used to drink there after their nightly shows.

Slightly divey, but with a classy signature cocktail menu and a bartender who looks like she stepped out of a 1940’s pin-up magazine, Atomic Liquors was a great place to start the evening.

Atomic Liquors, downtown Las Vegas
Paddy at Atomic Liquors, downtown Las Vegas

It was fun reuniting with L, who gave us the scoop on what it was like to live in Las Vegas. She said that everyone she’s met in Vegas has been surprisingly friendly. She thinks that it is because everyone she meets isn’t from Las Vegas. Most people are transplants from elsewhere, and know what it’s like to move to a new city and have to find new friends. She is also a huge fan of the plentiful cheap Sunday champagne brunch deals.

After a couple drinks at Atomic, we headed over to the Beauty Bar on Fremont Street to see a local band, Franks and Deans. There were many interesting photo ops along the way. And we found Vegas Santa! In February! He was urinating on the motel sign that advertised that llamas stay free.

Fremont Street, downtown Las Vegas
Fremont Street, downtown Las Vegas
Vegas Santa!
Vegas Santa!
We hot
Weasels!
We didn’t know what this was, other than an empty store full of mannequin heads with creepy green flickering lights.

We eventually made it to the Beauty Bar. The Beauty Bar is a chain bar, the original Beauty Bar is in New York. The bar offers booze and manicures during the day, and booze and live music at night. The walls were covered in pink and red glitter, and the bar and furniture are all vintage 1960’s beauty salon style.

Beauty Bar downtown Las Vegas
Beauty Bar downtown Las Vegas

The bands and atmosphere were great, the drinks were not. Weak, overpriced cocktails were served in crappy plastic cups and they didn’t serve wine. (Um, if I owned a bar plastered in pink glitter, there would definitely be wine on the menu. Possibly even mini bottles of Cooks served in a paper bag with a straw. Just sayin’.)

The bands made up for the lame drinks. The opening band was The Swamp Gospel, and they were great. Gritty, Southern-style blues-rock, complete with rubber snakes thrown into the audience.

Swamp Gospel playing at The Beauty Bar, downtown Las Vegas
Swamp Gospel playing at The Beauty Bar, downtown Las Vegas
Swamp Gospel playing at The Beauty Bar, downtown Las Vegas
Swamp Gospel playing at The Beauty Bar, downtown Las Vegas

Franks and Deans went on last, and they were fantastic. It doesn’t get much more modern, local Vegas than Franks and Deans. They do punk rock style covers of old crooner songs (their name is a play on Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin if you hadn’t put that together already). They put on a great show, complete with a go-go dancer.

Franks and Deans at the Beauty Bar, downtown Las Vegas
Franks and Deans at the Beauty Bar, downtown Las Vegas
Franks and Deans at the Beauty Bar, downtown Las Vegas
Franks and Deans at the Beauty Bar, downtown Las Vegas
Franks and Deans at the Beauty Bar, downtown Las Vegas
Franks and Deans at the Beauty Bar, downtown Las Vegas

We ended the night by soaking up the booze with pizza from Evel Pie across the street. The name is an homage to stunt performer Evel Knievel, and they always offer a $5.00 pint of PBR and a slice special. Open until 4:00 AM on weekends, it’s a good place for late night munchies.

Sam at Evel Pie, downtown Las Vegas
Sam at Evel Pie, downtown Las Vegas

 

Day 3: 

Saturday started pretty late, on account of the alcohol-soaked late night before. The weather was also even worse than Friday’s, cold and pretty rainy. We took our time getting out of bed. Eventually, we got pretty hungry so we grabbed some coffee at the Starbucks downstairs and then headed down Fremont Street to the Container Park Mall.

The Container Park Mall is on the East portion of Fremont Street, and is built entirely out of recycled shipping containers. There are lots of little shops, a couple restaurants, a coffee shop, and even a little wedding chapel on the third floor. There is an outdoor stage in the center of the mall, and lots of tables and places to view live music should a show be going on.

Container Park Mall, downtown Las Vegas
Container Park Mall, downtown Las Vegas
Container Park Mall, downtown Las Vegas
Container Park Mall, downtown Las Vegas. Large foam blocks for kids to build things with (in better weather)
Container Park Mall, downtown Las Vegas
Container Park Mall, downtown Las Vegas–sculpture with padlocks. Always a work in progress.

We found sustenance at Cheffinis Hot Dogs on the ground level. Their hot dogs are some of the best we’ve had, with lots of options and toppings. I loved that they offered a turkey dog option in addition to beef and veggie dogs, since I don’t eat beef.

Cheffinis Hot Dogs, downtown Las Vegas Container Park Mall
Cheffinis Hot Dogs, downtown Las Vegas Container Park Mall

I had the Moshi Moshi dog with a turkey frank, which had caramelized onions, seaweed, jalapeño, wine sauce, and spicy mayo. Paddy had The Grandfather with a beef frank, piled with chopped pork belly, red bell peppers, caramelized onions, crushed potato chips, spicy mayo, basil aioli, pickled mango, and topped with a fried quail egg. They were delicious.

The Grandfather dog at Cheffinis hot dogs
The Grandfather dog at Cheffinis hot dogs
Moshi Moshi dog at Cheffinis Hot Dogs
Moshi Moshi dog at Cheffinis Hot Dogs

We then explored some of the container shops and admired the murals on Fremont Street.

Hunter S Thompson, Mural, downtown Las Vegas
Hunter S Thompson mural, downtown Las Vegas

On the way back to our hotel, we stopped off at The D Casino and went up to the second floor to check out their collection of vintage slot machines. We played a couple for fun, no wins. They are the classic kind with the pull lever on the side and the cherries, numbers, and other little pictures that spin and you try to get a match.

Vintage slot machines at The D Casino, downtown Las Vegas
Vintage slot machines at The D Casino, downtown Las Vegas
Vintage slVintage slot machines at The D Casino, downtown Las Vegas
Vintage slot machines at The D Casino, downtown Las Vegas

Later that afternoon, we headed to Chinatown for food and drinks. A lot of people (including us before doing research for this trip) don’t know that Las Vegas has a Chinatown, but it does. It isn’t the type of Chinatown you see in other cities, however. You won’t find a cute downtown area with hanging lanterns, Chinese archways and funky little side streets to explore. Las Vegas’ Chinatown is essentially one big long strip mall extending for miles west of The Strip on W Spring Mountain Road.

Don’t be put off by the strip mall appearance. If you like Asian food, there are many great restaurants here to explore. And one really great tiki bar.

If you’ve read much of our blog you probably have figured out that I have a tiki bar fascination. There are two great old-style tiki bars in Las Vegas, one of which is The Golden Tiki.

The Golden Tiki, Las Vegas
The Golden Tiki, Las Vegas
The Golden Tiki, Las Vegas
The Golden Tiki, Las Vegas

The Golden Tiki’s strip mall location gives a deceiving outward appearance, but once you step inside the large double doors, you enter another world. Clamshell fountains, dark, intimate booths and tables, a large wrap-around bar, and a ceiling covered in tiny LED star lights that flicker all create an exotic tropical wonderland. Tiki kitsch and tropical memorabilia abound, with the 1960’s exotica sounds of Martin Denny playing on the bar surround sound system.

The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas
The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas
The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas
The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas
The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas
The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas
The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas
The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas
The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas
The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas

We cozied up in a little side table and got out our cell phone flashlights to read the menu. Don’t expect food here. Their kitchen offers only 15 pupu (appetizer) platters each Friday and Saturday night that serve four people each, sold until they are gone. There are many other great food options in the area, so eat first and come here for drinks.

Since I’m a bigger fan of tequila than rum, I ordered the Coconut Sunrise, with coconut and aloe liqueurs, tequila, lime, orange juice, honey mango syrup, and grenadine. It was sweet but fruity and delicious.

The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas
The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas
The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas
“Coconut Sunrise” at The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas

You can also order a drink in a souvenir tiki mug, which was tempting but we didn’t want to carry it around for the rest of the evening. We had some time to kill, so I tried the Dole Whip, a soft serve pineapple sorbet. The Dole Whip was delicious, albeit a HUGE serving. I could only eat a portion of it.

Dole Whip at The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas
Dole Whip at The Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas

Eventually, we were getting hungry, so we settled up and headed out to dinner. I couldn’t resist the photo in the giant clam shell before leaving, however.

Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas
Golden Tiki bar, Las Vegas

Prior to our trip to Vegas, I had been browsing through restaurants on Yelp and Tripadvisor, and came across District One Kitchen on the outskirts of Chinatown on S Jones Blvd. We love Vietnamese food, and their menu looked enticing. The menu is more Vietnamese-fusion than straight Vietnamese, combining flavors of Japan, China, Thailand, and a little French.

District One Kitchen, Las Vegas
District One Kitchen, Las Vegas

We started with the oysters, which came with a light soy-ponzu sauce and caviar. They were delicious. The sauce wasn’t too much to overpower the flavor of the oyster, and the caviar was a nice touch, adding texture and a little boost of flavor.

District One Kitchen, Las Vegas
oysters, District One Kitchen, Las Vegas

Paddy tried the beef carpaccio, which he said was amazing (I don’t eat beef so I’ll take his word for it). We also shared the whole grilled squid with a spicy aioli, the Vietnamese-style green papaya salad with prawns and pork, and the “Belly Buns,” (pork belly pinch buns). We are suckers for pork belly pinch buns. Everything was outstanding. We would highly recommend the trek out to District One, it is worth it. The prices were reasonable for what we got.

Grilled squid at District One Las Vegas
Grilled squid with spicy aioli at District One Restaurant, Las Vegas
Green papaya salad with prawns and pork at District One Las Vegas
Green papaya salad with prawns and pork at District One Restaurant,  Las Vegas
Beef carpaccio at District One Restaurant, Las Vegas
Beef carpaccio at District One Restaurant, Las Vegas
Belly Buns at District One Restaurant, downtown Las Vegas
Belly Buns at District One Restaurant, downtown Las Vegas

We had tickets that evening to see my friend L perform as a guest in the Artifice Bar’s “Nerdlesque” show in the Arts District, so after dinner we caught a Lyft over to The Velveteen Rabbit on S Main Street to have some drinks before the show.

The Velveteen Rabbit is so hipster that if I didn’t know where I was, I would guess that I was in Portland.

The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas
The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas
The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas
The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas
The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas
The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas

There were antique velvet couches and chairs, chandeliers made from old bottles and canning jars, and a craft cocktail menu made zine-style in a booklet including poetry. You can cake the zine/menu home as a souvenir for $1.00.

I ordered the “Fireside” cocktail from their seasonal winter menu, which consisted of roasted marshmallow bourbon, salted hazelnut peppermint orgeat syrup, lemon heavy cream, and aztec chocolate bitters. It came in a teacup with a roasted mini marshmallow on a cocktail pic. It was impressive.  Paddy tried the “Smoke & Cinder,” with rye whiskey, averna, cherry heering, black walnut bitters, ginger, and laphroaig mist. Don’t ask me to explain any of those ingredients to you, because I have no idea what they are. Paddy gave a rave review of the Smoke & Cinder. It seemed like the right thing to drink while wearing a red velvet blazer.

The Velveteen Rabbit makes a lot of their cocktail ingredients in house (I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to find salted hazelnut peppermint orgeat syrup in the store), and they do an excellent job.  Their website even advertises cocktail making classes every other Saturday afternoon, if you’re interested in taking your cocktail skills to the next level.

It was early, so there weren’t many people in the bar yet. There was a small DJ booth in the corner and a small dance floor area, along with a projection light show on the brick wall near the dance floor. I did not see an event calendar on their website, but it looks like The Velveteen Rabbit is set up for some late night fun.

The "Fireside" cocktail at The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas
The “Fireside” cocktail at The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas
The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas
The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas
The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas
The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas
The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas
The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas
The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas
Paddy enjoying his “Smoke & Cinder” cocktail, The Velveteen Rabbit, Las Vegas

When it was time, we settled up with the bartender at the Velveteen Rabbit and walked up the street to the Artifice Bar for the Nerdlesque Show.

Artifice Bar, downtown Las Vegas
Artifice Bar, downtown Las Vegas

The Nerdlesque Show happens every third Saturday at the Artifice Bar in the downtown Las Vegas Arts District, and has a different, unique, and “nerdy” theme for every show. I was told that last month’s theme was Alice in Wonderland, while this show’s theme was DC Comics.

My friend L was a guest performer in this show and got special permission for me to photograph her act, which was a burlesque Joker theme. Other acts were based on Cat Woman, Poison Ivy, Raven, Harley Quinn, Superman (a fantastic male burlesque act), and a couple of characters that I wasn’t quite nerdy enough to know.

When we got to the Artifice Bar we met L, who introduced us to a friend of hers and we found seats along the side wall of the room. I sat down next to a petite older lady with big, beautiful copper red hair.  After seeing a couple people talk to her and call her “Tempest,” I turned to L’s friend and asked if she was Tempest Storm. She was.

Tempest Storm is one of the greatest classic burlesque legends of all time, her exotic dancing and burlesque career spanning decades. She is still active in the Las Vegas community at 89 years old. I introduced myself to her and told her it was an honor to meet her. After the show, my friend L asked if we could have our photo taken with her, but she declined. It was a little disappointing, but I’m sure she is tired of having her photo taken all the time.

Tempest Storm
Tempest Storm at the height of her burlesque career

Tempest was soon moved by the show producer from the chair next to me to a nicer table location with a better view, but it was exciting to meet her.

The DC Comics Nerdlesque show was great. Each performer put a lot of effort into their costume and routine, and many included props. My friend L (stage name Katerina HoneyBunny) did a great Joker Routine to “Psycho Killer” by the Talking Heads, complete with a straight jacket. It was a fun show.

DC Comics Nerdlesque show at the Artifice Bar, downtown Las Vegas
DC Comics Nerdlesque show at the Artifice Bar, downtown Las Vegas

 

Day 4:

Sunday was a no-plans day. We had a dinner reservation later that evening, but other than that the day was scheduled to be a do-whatever-we-feel-like day. I’m a planner, but I always like to plan for no-plans days on trips.

We slept in again, and then made our way down to the Container Park Mall to have brunch at The Perch restaurant inside the park. A no-plans day seemed like a good time to take advantage of their unlimited bloody Marys, bellinis, and mimosas for $15.00.

Apparently, everyone else had the same plan so we had to get on a list for a table. It was a 30 minute wait, but it was worth it.

The Perch restaurant, downtown Las Vegas
The Perch restaurant, downtown Las Vegas Container Park Mall
The Perch restaurant, downtown Las Vegas
The Perch restaurant, downtown Las Vegas

Paddy had the Short Rib Hash, and I had the Smothered Egg Biscuits, which was basically biscuits and gravy with scrambled eggs and cheese on top. Good dishes for a hangover.

The Perch restaurant, downtown Las Vegas
Short Rib Hash, The Perch restaurant, downtown Las Vegas
The Perch restaurant, downtown Las Vegas
Smothered Egg Biscuits, The Perch restaurant, downtown Las Vegas

The bartender was our server, and he was great. He kept our bloody Marys and bellinis full. We even got a couple bellinis for the road–although we learned that we weren’t allowed to take them out of the Container Park. It didn’t really make sense, considering that Las Vegas has allows open containers, and there were people walking around with drinks on Fremont Street right outside the Container Park entrance. But the security lady wouldn’t let us leave until we finished our drinks.

We considered going to the Mob Museum, which sounded interesting, but the ticket price of $23.95 per person seemed a little steep. That, and we had a pretty good bloody Mary/bellini buzz going and weren’t really in a museum mood.

So we walked back to the Golden Nugget and poked around. We looked at the pool and the big fish tank (formerly a shark tank with a water slide that goes through the tank in a clear tube, but there were no sharks and the slide was closed for repair). I’m not sure if they plan on replacing the huge tunas in the tank with sharks again, or if they learned that reef sharks shouldn’t be kept in small tanks. I hope it is the latter.

Pool at Golden Nugget, downtown Las Vegas
Pool at Golden Nugget, downtown Las Vegas
Pool at Golden Nugget, downtown Las Vegas
Pool at Golden Nugget, downtown Las Vegas
Shark tank without sharks at The Golden Nugget, downtown Las Vegas
Shark tank without sharks at The Golden Nugget, downtown Las Vegas
Shark tank without sharks at The Golden Nugget, downtown Las Vegas
Shark tank without sharks at The Golden Nugget, downtown Las Vegas

It wasn’t really warm enough to swim, but the pool was heated and a few people were swimming anyway. Up the stairs from the pool to where the top of the water slide was, were a bunch of fancy pool cabanas for rent (all empty) and a smaller adult pool with a bar where a bunch of drunk adults were partying.

Back in the casino we played a couple slot machines for a minute, but only because they had Gremlins on them. $2.00 down the drain. I’ve never been very lucky with slot machines, but I’m also not really a big gambler.

Gremlins slot machine at the Golden Nugget Casino
Gremlins slot machine at the Golden Nugget Casino

Finally, we decided to sit at the fancy fish tank bar near the Rush Tower elevator and have a drink and watch the fish.

Chart House fish tank bar, Golden Nugget
Chart House fish tank bar, Golden Nugget

As always happens with day drinking, we eventually needed a nap time.

That evening, we had made a reservation at Las Vegas’ most famous Thai restaurant, Lotus of Siam. I highly recommend making an online reservation a week or more in advance, this place is POPULAR. It’s been around for over 20 years, and has been given even more notoriety in recent years by being featured on Anthony Bourdain’s show Parts Unknown.

Housed in an unassuming strip mall location east of The Strip on East Sahara Avenue, Lotus of Siam specializes in serving Northern Thai cuisine.

We had read reviews and seen Parts Unknown, and knew two of the dishes we wanted. The menu was a bit overwhelming, however. Everything in the front of the menu is your standard Thai restaurant fare, while the Northern Thai dishes and house specialties are all towards the back. It was a huge menu. I think that a menu makeover might be a good idea–feature their house specialties right up front, and the Pad Thai and other standard Thai dishes that are not northern towards the back. Kind of like the hamburger at the back of the Chinese restaurant menu…”Yes, we have it. But it’s not what you should be ordering here.”

Lotus of Siam, Las Vegas
Lotus of Siam, Las Vegas

The server helped us locate the two dishes we were after–the Garlic Prawns and the Crispy Duck Khao Soi. We also ordered the Nam Prik Hed, described as a spicy mushroom dip with fresh vegetables. We were looking for a veggie dish to add and it was something we’d never had before, so we gave it a go.

The Garlic Prawns came out first. Deep-fried in the shell with garlic and black pepper. They lived up to the hype. We couldn’t stop fishing out forkfuls of the fried bits of garlic and cabbage at the bottom of the dish, it was delicious.

Crispy Garlic Prawns at Lotus of Siam, Las Vegas
Crispy Garlic Prawns at Lotus of Siam

The Crispy Duck Khao Soi and the Nam Prik Hed arrived next. The Khao Soi came with an assortment of lime wedges, red onions, and pickled veggies on the side to add to our taste. We added it all. The noodles were flat egg noodles and the broth was a curry base. The duck was cooked perfectly with delicious crispy skin.

The Nam Prik Hed was a dip made from green chilis and pickled mushrooms. It wasn’t a very exciting dish, but it provided the perfect fresh vegetable component necessary to balance out the heavy fried prawns and crispy duck.

Crispy Duck Khao Soi at Lotus of Siam
Crispy Duck Khao Soi at Lotus of Siam
Nam Prik Hed (spicy mushroom dip with fresh vegetables) at Lotus of Siam
Nam Prik Hed (spicy mushroom dip with fresh vegetables) at Lotus of Siam

We were painfully stuffed when we left. Don’t miss this place if you like Thai food–it is worth the Lyft ride. Also, don’t forget to make a reservation. When we left the doorway was full of hopeful, hungry, reservation-less people, waiting for a chance at a table. If you do make a reservation, know that they will only hold the table for five minutes past your reservation time. Then it becomes available for someone else. And it appeared that there is always someone else.

After dinner, we called another Lyft to cap off the night at the other classic tiki bar in Las Vegas, Frankie’s Tiki Room.

Franki’s Tiki Room is on the outskirts of the Arts District in downtown Las Vegas, on W Charleston Blvd. It’s dark, open 24 hours, and serves only drinks (no food).

Frankie's Tiki Room, downtown Las Vegas
Frankie’s Tiki Room, downtown Las Vegas
Frankie's Tiki Room, downtown Las Vegas
Frankie’s Tiki Room, downtown Las Vegas
Frankie's Tiki Room, downtown Las Vegas
Frankie’s Tiki Room, downtown Las Vegas

Tiki drinks are $10.00 each, or $25.00 if you want it in a souvenir tiki mug to take home. They had a lot of souvenir tiki mugs, all with the Frankie’s Tiki logo engraved into them on the back. We met a couple in the booth next to us who come to Las Vegas from LA a couple times a year and had collected almost all of them.

I ordered the Nakalele Knockout, which was said to be a tangy, refreshing blend of rum, hibiscus, and lime. All I tasted was rum–it was strong. Paddy had the Green Gasser, a mix of citrus rum, Red Bull, melon liqueur, and Bacardi 151 that was also really strong. The bartender wasn’t the friendliest, but he made some stiff drinks.

Frankies tiki
The Nakalele Knockout in a souvenir tiki mug at Frankie’s Tiki Room, and the Green Gasser.

L and Sam joined us at Frankie’s. Sam liked the Frankenstein, and I had the Kapu I’a which was the one tequila cocktail on the menu. I liked it a lot better than the Nakalele Knockout, but I am partial to tequila. My third and last drink was the Scurvy, which was a pineapple and coconut sugar-bomb that I couldn’t finish (and was glad I didn’t). We all ended up with a bit more of a buzz than we intended.

At Frankie's Tiki Room, downtown Las Vegas
At Frankie’s Tiki Room, downtown Las Vegas
At Frankie's Tiki Room, downtown Las Vegas
Bathroom graffiti at Frankie’s Tiki Room, downtown Las Vegas

 

The next morning, all the rum and sugar from the night before was making us a little green around the gills. It didn’t help that we had a 9:30 AM flight to get up early for.

Our shuttle arrived at airport terminal 1, which was a complete madhouse. Everyone in Las Vegas seemed to be taking a Southwest Air flight out that morning. Our driver told us that our terminal was the next one, terminal three. Everyone else in the shuttle got off at terminal 1 to battle the long security lines.

Terminal three was the complete opposite. We flew Alaska Air, and terminal  three was quiet and mellow. We barely had any lines at security, and it was fabulous. The other domestic airlines at terminal three were JetBlue, and Virgin. Our shuttle driver said that terminal three is usually not as busy as terminal 1.

Moral of the story: If you are going to Las Vegas, try not to fly Southwest–try to get a flight with Alaska, JetBlue, or Virgin. Everyone seems to fly Southwest and terminal 1 is very busy.

We had the perfect ending to our trip at terminal three. Before we left for Vegas, my friend Keith told me that if I saw a Dolly Parton slot machine, I had to play it. I promised I would. I didn’t really expect to see a Dolly Parton slot machine… but low and behold, this is what was next to our airport departure gate:

dolly parton slot machine
Dolly Parton slot machine–I found one!

I had spent almost all of my cash, but had one last dollar in my wallet. Dolly Parton took my last dollar like a cold-hearted temptress.

We didn’t win big in Las Vegas, but we didn’t really try. Gambling has never been our thing. There are many other fun reasons to go to Las Vegas, and we really enjoyed getting off of the strip and seeing downtown Las Vegas. We didn’t leave feeling like we were “over it” this time. We want to come back. On our next trip, we’d like to make it to some of the other local places that we missed, and maybe see a show. We still have yet to see an Elvis impersonator (although I think they are ore scarce these days). Coming back in warmer weather and spending more time at the pool sounds nice too. Not to mention all the unexplored restaurants in Chinatown.  Las Vegas is a great, quick and easy and a relatively inexpensive grown-up trip. We will definitely be staying in downtown Las Vegas again on our next trip.