First rain

2013-14 was a bad rainy season, with a very dry December, January, and February. So when we got our first big storm of the season in March, I had to get out on the streets and experience the freshness. Off to the Colorado bridge, then. With views of the San Gabriel mountains to the northeast, the Rose Bowl to the north, and the Arroyo Seco watershed to the south, it is one of the prettiest locations in the LA area. The bridge is across the Arroyo Seco, just west of Old Town Pasadena. Many LA Metro lines serve this area: lines 180, 181, 256 and 780 stop at (or near) the intersection of Colorado Blvd. and Orange Grove Ave., as does the Pasadena ARTS Route 10. Another option is to take the Gold Line to Memorial Park, and walk through Old Town Pasadena, past Norton Simon Museum, through Carmelita Gardens west of Orange Grove Ave., and to the bridge. Or hop on a bike, and ride around the beautiful Rose Bowl and all the way down to South Pasadena on Arroyo Blvd.

Arroyo Seco is "dry stream" in Spanish - it is a torrent today

Walking on the Colorado bridge, the rain is heavy and horizontal. Another person is walking on the bridge, towards me. There is no room for two umbrellas on the narrow sidewalk. Both of us lower our umbrellas at the same time. We get drenched in two seconds, but it seems like both of us were already soaked anyway.

"Glad I'm not the only one crazy enough to be out here."

"No, how can you miss the first rain of the year?"

"I know, it is so beautiful."

"Yeah, it is."

"I'm miserable, but happy!"

"I'm just happy :)"



*And we put our umbrellas up*

Down below the bridge now, dodging the spray from cars going through puddles. Linda Vista bridge, with its own history. It must have been fun being a student at Caltech and blowing up bridges with TNT.

Barrier on Linda Vista bridge

South on Arroyo Blvd., back under the Colorado bridge, and to the Lower Arroyo Seco Nature park.

Under the Colorado bridge

Lower Arroyo Park (No bicycles allowed!) is home to the Pasadena Roving Archers and the Pasadena Casting Club. Sticking a hook into a fish, dragging it out of the water, and then cooking it or perhaps releasing it—none of this is all that appealing to me. On this rainy day, though, there are no arrows flying or anglers fly-fishing.


Mallards in the casting pond

Rain or shine, people have to be wedded.

Wet wedding in the park

It is possible to follow the Arroyo Seco trail and the Arroyo Seco river all the way down to South Pasadena or Highland Park, and connect to the Gold Line there, but too cold for that now. Quick trip on the 180 to Eagle Rock for some phở to round off an excellent day.


Summertime fun at the beach

Summer is just around the corner and as Angelenos, we love our beach time fun. With so many beaches to choose from in LA, it could be a daunting task to decide which is the ideal beach for you to go to. You could consider a couple of factors, such as safe for kids, or pet friendly, but parking should never be one of those factors that stops you from hitting your favorite beach. Especially during summer, the beaches can get really crowded and parking is a big problem. I have friends who love the beaches but hesitate to head down there because they know they will not find a parking spot. In this post, I'm going to tell you how to get to most beaches in LA county using public transportation.

1. Santa Monica beach

Santa Monica beach is one of the most sought after beaches in LA. Almost all throughout the year, crowds flock here in plenty. The pier is also a favorite tourist spot, so expect to have a lot of company if you decide to choose this beach.



Transit: There are a number of ways you can get to the beach. Most routes drop you off somewhere between Santa Monica/ 3rd or 2nd Street.


  • Fastest route: The Big Blue Bus (R10) from Union Station, Downtown LA. Drops you off at Santa Monica/Lincoln. Takes about 1 hour 10 mts without traffic. Caveats: Bus comes only once every 30 mts. Runs only from Mon-Sat.
  • Metro Purple line towards Wilshire/Western from Union Station, Downtown LA. Take Line 720 from there till Ocean Ave, right across the Pier. Takes about 1 hour 30 minutes.
  • Line 704 from Union Station, Downtown LA. Drops you off at 2nd Street/Santa Monica. Caveat: Takes nearly 2 hours.
  • Line 720 from Commerce center, East LA. Drops you off at Ocean Ave, right across the Pier. Caveat: Takes nearly 2 hours 10 mts.
  • Line 733 from Union Station, Downtown LA. Drops you off at Ocean Ave, right across the Pier. Takes about 1 hour 40 mts.

Things to do: Santa Monica beach is a great place to hang out and spend the day. Other than sun bathe or lounge lazily on the sands by the beach, you can walk on the pier, eat some sea food at Bubba Gump, or walk around the 3rd street promenade.

Bike: One of the fun things to do at any of the beaches in LA actually is to take your bike/rent a bike and bike along the PCH. The views are gorgeous. If you bike South from Santa Monica, you will reach our next beach destination: Venice Beach.

2. Venice Beach

This beautiful, gorgeous, and absolutely fun beach lies 2.5 miles South of Santa Monica Pier. You can walk along the beach from Santa Monica and get to Venice, or you could bike along the PCH. There are also a couple of buses that will take you there in half hour.

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  • Fastest route: The red DASH downtown E from 7th/Spring, Downtown LA. Drops you off at Marina and Marquesas Way. From there, you can walk along the Venice Canal to the Venice pier and boardwalk. This should take you 15 mts.
  • Line 733 from Union Station, Downtown LA will drop you off at Venice/Abbot Kinney. Trip takes around 1.30 hours.

Things to do: The walk along Venice boardwalk is a very interesting one. There are many eclectic shops along the way. You can get a tattoo, a henna design, get your hair braided, or buy some surfboards. There are a couple of nice restaurants and cafes overlooking the beach as well, if you want to get a bite or a drink.

Bike: From Venice beach, you can bike down to Marina del Rey, and visit the Ballona Wetlands ecological reserve.

3. Marina del Rey and El Segundo

If you continue biking along the PCH on Venice beach, you will reach Marina del Rey. People often come here to do outdoor recreational activities such as parasailing, surfing, and paddling. From here, if you are biking you can proceed to El Segundo beach which is about 8 miles from Marina del Rey. This beach has fire pits which allow you to BBQ and have a picnic on the beach. This could be a lot of fun, especially if you go with a bigger group.


4. South BayManhattan Beach/Hermosa Beach/ Redondo Beach

This trio of beaches are located very close to one another and offers you a lot of exciting things to do if you head down here one weekend.

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  • Fastest route: Hop on the Metro Silver line 910 from El Monte Busway/Almeida, Downtown LA towards Harbor Gateway transit center. This should take you 40 mts. At the Gateway Center, hop on to Metro 130 towards Redondo Beach. This bus will take half an hour to reach Artesia/Peck. From here, Hermosa Beach is a 20 mt walk.
  • From 7th street/Metro Center station, take the Metro Blue Line 801 towards Downtown Long Beach Station. After about 20 minutes, get off at Willowbrooks/Rosa Park station. Here, take the Metro Green Line 803 towards Redondo Beach. Get off at Mariposa Station in about 15 mts. From Nash/Mariposa Station, take Metro 232 towards Downtown Long Beach. Get off at Sepulveda/18th. Walk West to Manhattan Beach Blvd/Poinsettia Ave and take Metro 126 towards Manhattan beach. This should take 10 mts. Caveat: Too  many connections, travel time could take 2 hours.

Things to do:

The trip down here is totally worthwhile if you plan on spending ample time checking out the Manhattan, Hermosa, and Redondo neighborhoods. The beaches are very close to each other. Hermosa Beach is less than 2 miles from Manhattan and Redondo is about 3 miles. Get a bike and bike around, that is the best way to see the place. If not, walking can also get you around, but remember to take a nice summery hat to ward off the heat.

In Manhattan beach: Play some volleyball on the  beach or take your surfing board along to enjoy a surf. You can also take lessons and rent a surf board. Take a walk along the strand, check out the quaint shops in Manhattan downtown, or stroll on the prettiest pier in SoCal.

In Hermosa beach: Apart from the usual beachy stuff, head over to the Comedy and Magic Club. Psst, Jay Leno used to perform here every Sunday trying out new material.

In Redondo beach: This one can be your favorite if you love sea food. Lots of amazing little places which serve you the best sea food in the neighborhood. A friend and I trekked down here one day and he ate these sea urchins which were alive! You can pick the fish you want and they will cook it for you the way you want it to be cooked. It doesn't get better than that.

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There are many more beaches in Los Angeles, such as Long Beach, Newport Beach, and Laguna Beach. These require longer amounts of travel and you need to take the Metrolink to get to most of them. More on how to do this in my next blogpost. Stay tuned!

Happy exploring! ~M


Lake Avenue: Echo Mountain, Inspiration Point, and Beyond

Some of the most easily accessible hikes in the San Gabriel Mountains begin in Altadena, at the northern end of Lake Avenue. There are hikes with varying degrees of difficulty, from moderate hikes suitable for beginners looking to get into hiking, to strenuous hikes that can keep you on the trail all day. There are well-travelled popular trails, where you will not lack for company, and there are more adventurous use-trails and routes if you want to challenge yourself. The mountains can put up very beautiful wildflower displays in the spring, or be covered in the snow for some beautiful vistas in the winter. And the trailheads are only a mile from the bus stop!

Transit: A number of LA Metro bus routes end at the intersection of Lake Ave. and Altadena Dr. in Altadena:

  • Line 180 from Hollywood. (This is the most convenient route, since the last bus going back downhill is at midnight)
  • Line 485 from Downtown LA (weekdays only, express fare from Downtown)
  • Lines 267 / 264 from El Monte Station / City of Hope respectively
  • Line 256 from Commerce / East LA. This line ends on Lake Ave. at Mendocino St., a couple of blocks south of Altadena Dr.
  • All of these bus lines pass through various parts of Pasadena, making this hiking destination easy to access from Pasadena. You can also take the Gold Line to Lake Ave., and transfer to the 180 or the 485.

Bike: The trailheads are about a mile from the bus stop, and a bike can be useful to get to them. However, it is important to know that Lake Avenue is quite steep north of Altadena Drive—it climbs about 500 feet in the last one mile. Alternatively, you can skip the buses altogether, and bike up Lake Avenue from Pasadena, for a workout on the bike.

The Hikes:

Bottom Line: Good "staple" hikes or bike rides for me since I'm in Pasadena, excellent views of the San Gabriel Valley and the entire Los Angeles metropolitan area (all the way out to Catalina Island) on good days, good place for full moon hikes, a lot of history with the remnants of the Mt. Lowe Railway.

Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous depending on which hike you choose and how far you go. The less-used trails, particularly in Rubio Canyon, can be very treacherous.

Best seasons: Year-round. Beautiful wildflowers in the spring, cool hiking temperatures in winter. Watch out for snow and/or ice above Echo Mountain in the winter, particularly after storms; and hike early in the morning or late in the evening on summer days to avoid the heat. Use-trails and off-trail routes can be slippery after rains, and it is best to avoid them at these times in order to prevent erosion.


Two main trailheads lead to a network of trails up the mountains (there are other trailheads, but not as convenient):

  • Cobb Estate / Sam Merrill Trailhead: Cobb Estate is at the northern end of Lake Avenue, where the road ends at the intersection with Loma Alta Drive. To get to the Sam Merrill trail, walk east into Cobb Estate, and continue straight where the estate road turns northwards. There is an old sign that says "Trail" as well as a water fountain, the last water available on the mountain. Once you get to the trail itself, you should see another sign confirming that you are on the right trail:

Sam Merrill Trailhead

If you arrive at a large reservoir, you missed the trail and should backtrack to the bend in the road.

  • Rubio Canyon Trailhead: The access point into Rubio Canyon is between two houses in a residential neighborhood. From Lake Ave., turn east on Palm Drive, and navigate towards this point on the map:
The trail begins next to the fence of a house on Rubio Vista Road, watch for a trailhead sign along with a Hazard Area warning.

Hiking destinations and options

Several hiking routes begin at these two trailheads, and it is not the intention of this post to describe them in detail. I'll just point out some interesting destinations, and let you figure out where you want to go! It is your responsibility to better research these routes—they can all be dangerous and may sometimes require scrambling. Do not attempt any of the Rubio Canyon trails if you are an inexperienced hiker or not comfortable with navigation!

  1. Echo Mountain: Echo Mountain is the first major destination at 3207', with some pretty cool history about attempts to build a hotel, railroad and observatory, and nature reclaiming the mountain. There are several routes up to Echo mountain, some easier than others. The simplest route is to follow the Sam Merrill Trail from Cobb Estate, a moderate hike that gains 1400' over 2.5 miles. This makes an excellent introduction to moderately difficult hiking for beginners.

    Yucca flowers in the spring

    Partying circa 1900

    Remains of the old Mt. Lowe railroad

    View from Echo Mountain at night

    You can also hike up to Echo Mountain from the Rubio canyon trailhead, either using the Lower Old Echo Mountain Trail to the Sam Merrill trail, or using the Incline trail  (see map below). Both these trails have loose and crumbly soil and rock, and require careful hiking.

    Trails from Rubio Canyon to Echo Mountain

  2. Inspiration Point:  Inspiration Point is the next stop up the mountain at 4500', with several trails leading to it from Echo Mountain. It is a viewpoint from which you can see all the way out to the Pacific Ocean and Catalina island on clear days. My favourite option is to go up Castle Canyon trail (steep, good workout) and come down the Upper Sam Merrill trail (watch out for mountain bikers!) for a nice loop.

    There are other routes up to Inspiration Point too, if you want to avoid the crowds on the Sam Merrill trail. From the top of Lake Avenue, you can directly climb the prominent ridge going north, and connect to the Mt. Lowe fire road to Inspiration Point. I believe this is called the Altadena Ridge route. Bear in mind that this involves hiking on a  use-trail and scrambling over some steep sections of loose rock.

    Altadena Ridge

    Another alternative trail to Inspiration point is the Lone Tree / Idlehour trail—see here for details. Muir Peak is the small bump right next to Inspiration Point, not all that special.

  3. Mount Lowe: If you made it to Inspiration point, and the weather is cool, and you're not really that tired, why not stretch a little more and climb to the summit of Mt. Lowe? Mt. Lowe is the peak immediately north of Inspiration Point, and at 5603', it adds another 1000 feet of elevation for a total elvation gain of 3800' from the trailhead, 4300' from the bus stop. You'll be rewarded with views of Inspiration Point and Los Angeles, as well as the other peaks of the San Gabriels (Mt. Wilson, San Gabriel Peak etc.) to the north. The trail to Mount Lowe turns off about 0.2 miles from Inspiration Point. It was a mildly snowy day when we went, following just one set of footprints in the snow, and it was truly magical.

    Inspiration Point from the Mt. Lowe trail: Looking from the back

    Up in the clouds on the summit of Mt. Lowe

  4. Rubio Canyon: Finally, there are a number of cool waterfalls to explore in Rubio Canyon from the Rubio Canyon trailhead. Check out the Arroyo and Foothills Conservancy website and Dan Simpson's blog as starting points for details. The AFC has done, and continues to do, a great job in maintaining trails and looking after the Rubio Canyon area.

    Thalehaha Falls

    Leontine Falls

There are a number of different hikes, therefore, by choosing different routes going up and coming down. Since you don't have to worry about a parked car, you can go up from one trailhead and come down another.

Wildlife: This area of the San Gabriel mountains receives a lot of foot traffic, and wild animals tend to be shy. There are bears and mountain lions throughout these mountains, but they are not keen on meeting people. I routinely hear owls in Cobb estate at dusk, but wildlife sightings are infrequent. That said, two of my most memorable wildlife sightings have been on the Sam Merrill trail.

On the first occasion, a friend and I hiked up to Echo Mountain at night to watch a total lunar eclipse. We were the first ones up that night, and as we came into view of the remains of the old railway terminal, there was this magnificent stag on the platform in the moonlight, great big horns, silhouetted against the city lights in the background. An image that is etched in my mind.

The second cool sighting was a huge Southern Pacific rattlesnake that made its way across the trail one evening around sunset. It had just had a meal, with a rabbit sized lump along its midsection, and it was in no hurry to cross the trail. I gave it its space, but got good looks at it from 10 feet away for some 3 to 5 minutes as it slowly made its way across. Fantastic.

If you hike at night, you'll sometimes come across groups of school kids mostly up to no good at Cobb estate and the lower reaches of the Sam Merrill trail. Their loud partying and shouting spoils the beauty and solitude of the wilderness, and I disapprove of getting high on nitrous oxide on hiking trails. But this is otherwise a remarkably well-maintained and litter-free area, given the heavy traffic it receives.

Ice cream bonus: Finally, I think ice cream is a great reward for a nice hike or bike ride. Some people like to celebrate with beer, but beer must be the least tasty idea mankind has ever come up with. Anyway, Lake Avenue also has one of the best gelato places around: Bulgarini gelateria on Altadena Drive at Lake Avenue. Great as the destination for midnight bike rides up the hill, or to grab a couple of scoops of pistachio or their seasonal flavours before getting on the bus going back down the hill.

Lake Avenue Bike Ride