Thursday, April 24, 2014

Sating wanderlust: Malibu and Laguna Beach

Hello loyal followers! If you'd like to stay current with my travels, feel free to check me out on Instagram: parkerbunch. Hope you enjoy the blog!


For the past six months or so, I have had a Post-It note taped to the wall by the side of my desk. On it I have written -- and later crossed off -- the Southern California beach cities I wanted to visit. It's a sticky blue bucket list, if you will. This past weekend, I had the chance to cross of two of my most anticipated adventures.

During the school year, the PLNU bubble is palpable. Students, especially underclassmen without vehicles, often feel contained to the immediate vicinity of campus. Those who live in and around San Diego and who have cars are more free, but often they only travel back and forth between campus and home. Over the past four years, I've found that the most adventurous Lomans tend to be upperclassmen from out of state. By senior year, countless hours spent sifting through picturesque Instagram feeds and reading Buzzfeed articles listing various dream vacations, best drives, or top things to do in California have sparked some serious wanderlust. Complement that with fairly pervasive senioritus, a car, and an expansive interstate system, and you find parking spaces by senior abodes to be vacant more often than not.

I left Wednesday evening (we had Thursday, Friday, and Monday off for Easter Break) and headed up to Los Angeles to meet one of my oldest friends from high school. I, still naive when it comes to Southern California traffic, almost left at 3 pm and suffered through what would likely have been four hours of banging my head on the steering wheel in gridlock traffic on the 5 and 405. Thankfully, three friends who were all natives of LA convinced me to wait, or I might not be here to write this post. Regardless, I made the 130-mile trip in about two hours and some change with a fairly gentle right foot and a viscous traffic flow. My friend and I caught a late dinner that night before heading to bed early in anticipation of the next day: Malibu.

I wrote about our previous trip to Malibu in another post, so I'll keep this version short, as it is almost exactly the same. We ate at the Carbon Beach Club -- which I highly, highly recommend -- before heading over to El Matador State Beach to relax and speculate on how many tens of millions the nearby homes cost. Both times we've gone to El Matador, there have been photo shoots taking place on the beach. The first time it was two girls doing a bikini shoot with some tattooed photographer with a beard and a fedora. This time, they had the works. Tents sprouted from the sand, lights and tarps and cameras were mounted on tripods, and about a dozen people were involved both in front and behind the camera. I pity whatever poor intern had to carry all that equipment down the tiny, rocky, uncertain steps of the cliff to the sands, and pity them more for having to haul it back up.

The view from Carbon Beach Club.

After we returned from El Matador, we cleaned up and headed out to dinner in downtown LA. Our destination was Bottega Louie -- a high-ceilinged, expansive, incredibly popular restaurant that exceeded its 4-star rating on Yelp (it's been reviewed more than 7,000 times). We had a relatively light dinner: truffle fries and a pizza, which were both tremendous. I was told it's always crowded and bustling. Though I usually don't care much for that kind of chaotic ambiance, I accepted that in LA, that's to be expected.

After Bogetta, we headed to Westwood near UCLA for dessert at Diddy Reese. I'm not an economics major, but how a business can sell ice cream sandwiches for $1.75 and make money is beyond me. The line was about half a block long, so maybe that had something to do wit it. Regardless, the ice cream and cookies are tremendous, whether you get them in ice cream sandwich form or not. After Diddy Reese, we headed back to go to bed in anticipation of our next day: Laguna Beach.

I should clarify that I've been to Laguna before. I've driven through it, and, a couple years ago, I went to Salt Creek Beach in Dana Point, just south of Laguna proper. This time, we had lunch reservations at the Ritz Carlton, which overlooks Salt Creek Beach. In a way, I was going back.

The entrance to the homes in the Ritz's community is one of the most impressive entrances I've ever seen. There are eight waterfalls arranged in a semi-circle around a fountain along a circular driveway, which leads to two imposing, intricately-designed gates. It's stunning.

The Ritz itself is equally as impressive. As you enter the front doors you're greeted by cool hues of gray and blue marble, punctuated here and there with vivid flowers and artwork. We walked past the concierge desk and toward the restaurants at the rear of the hotel -- a trip that was surprisingly short, as the hotel is much longer than it is wide, and sits along the edge of a 150-foot cliff. Naturally, we ate outdoors, and were lucky enough to grab the table with the best view. We each ordered the open-face Laguna Burger with some kind of truffle fries (much different than at Bogetta), which was delicious.

After we left the Ritz behind, we headed for the main beach right in the middle of Laguna. In retrospect, we probably should have gone to one of the beaches the locals frequent, but Main Beach was still quite nice. Since we didn't want to leave at 5 pm and end up bumper-to-bumper on the 405 for 40 miles on the Friday before Easter, we headed to Irvine to grab dinner, and then drove up to Newport Beach for dessert. We went to Alta Coffee, a small coffee shop in Balboa, about four blocks from the ocean. We picked up two slices of cake and some coffee and walked out toward the sand, just in time to catch the sunset -- the perfect end to an incredible two days.

When I returned to campus, I crossed Laguna and Newport Beach off my beach city bucket list, thankful that before I graduated, I had the opportunity to experience them fully.

Until next time. Thanks for reading.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Opening Night at Petco Park

When I say San Diego Padres baseball, you might think of the small market, under-performing team that finished 2013 ten games under .500 while playing in one of baseball's weakest divisions.

Or, you might think of the scenic Petco Park, conveniently located downtown and within walking distance of dozens of restaurants and nightly soirees, which just happens to host said under-performing team. If the Padres do end up fighting to play .500 ball, Petco will help make it a little more tolerable.

I attended the Padres' Opening Day -- though Opening Night was what was branded on the field -- yesterday against the Los Angeles Dodgers. San Diego natives are aware of the heated rivalry between the two Southern California teams, which escalated last year thanks to a feud -- and bench-clearing brawl -- between Carlos Quentin of the Padres and Zack Greinke of the Dodgers. San Diegans will also testify to the Dodgers' enormous fanbase in San Diego. Match-ups at Petco become a veritable homegame for the Dodgers, with cheers for the men in blue often drowning out those for the men in white.

Because it was Opening Day and I didn't want to have to park in National City and take a burro cart to the game, I left PLNU about two hours before first pitch. Parking around Petco isn't terrible, but I wanted to avoid the Opening Day price gouging on parking. Where ever you do end up parking, your walk to the park will be gorgeous. Downtown is impressive without being overbearing, and urban without being cluttered and dirty.

The Opening Day ceremonies included parachuters landing on the field, numerous military recognition events, and tributes to the late Jerry Coleman.

I sat in Section 318, on the first row of the upper tier down the thirdbase line. Field-level seats can be obstructed by the overhang the farther they recede from the field, so don't be adverse to purchasing tickets in the upper levels. The panoramic views of the field and skyline are well worth it. I enjoyed my seat, especially since the Dodgers fans and Padres fans that flanked me didn't engage in any fisticuffs and didn't dump their beverage in my lap.

The Padres ended up winning in comeback fashion, thanks to a pinch-hit homerun by Seth Smith, but the real treat was seeing the Dodgers stars.

Seth Smith's go-ahead homerun in the 8th. Fireworks and pyrotechnics shoot out every time a Padres player hits a longball.

Watching former-Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and superstar outfielder Yasiel Puig would have made the trip worth it even if the Padres got blown out. Even if you're not a Padres fan, Petco is a great place to catch outstanding teams -- the Cardinals, Nationals, Dodgers, and Reds, for instance -- without paying an arm and a leg. Interleague play brings even more exotic teams to San Diego, so keep an eye on the schedules of the Tigers, Red Sox, Yankees, and Angels.

Petco is a great venue for a relaxing afternoon or evening, despite the $7.25 slices of pizza and $10 burritos that Chipotle puts to shame. Take advantage of its easy accessibility, convenient downtown location, friendly atmosphere, and savor the homestands where you get to see some superstars in action.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A return to Los Angeles -- this time, doing it right

The first time I went to Los Angeles, I was a wee freshman with a decidedly smaller worldview and a prematurely negative disposition toward the city. I had convinced myself it was San Diego's crowded, smoggier older brother. I had boarded the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner and voyaged up the coast to spend a couple evenings crammed into a dorm room with six of my other friends. It was joyous, but mostly because the company I held. I unfortunately hadn't had the opportunity to explore and experience LA's famous beaches. This January, I had the chance to go back.

This time, I got to experience either the blessed brevity or the mind-numbing tragedy that is travelling by vehicle from San Diego to Los Angeles. The 5 is fought with perils -- from potential traffic accidents, insane bikers, and the ominous, ever-present fear that you have chosen to travel at the same time as 60,000 other people. Thankfully, my gridlocked gauntlet didn't occur until I was 30 miles from my destination. A semi had flipped and skidded across the five lane highway, backing up traffic to a standstill. It took almost 30 minutes to go one mile. I don't have pictures of the accident scene because I had been banging my forehead on the steering wheel too hard to be confident enough in my motor abilities to do anything but work the gas and brake pedals.

After I had arrived though, it was smooth sailing. I met my friend Zach and we headed (in his car, thankfully) to Manhattan Beach for the day. Manhattan Beach is not a New York, New York-esque replica of the Big Apple interspersed with sand and volleyball nets, but a highly affluent beach community homes to celebrities and famous athletes. While I personally did not find the beach as nice as those on Coronado Island or in Orange County, it was very pleasant and mercifully depopulated. I included two pictures below: one of the boardwalk, and one of a $300,000 car we spotted, a McLaren MP4-12C Spyder.

The next day, we decided to one-up Manhattan Beach in wealth and prestige. We headed to Malibu, and that of course meant taking Pacific Coast Highway. Arguably one of the most scenic stretches of pavement in the world, this portion of PCH runs parallel to gorgeous mansions on one side and overlooks beaches and a coves on the other -- very reminiscent of travelling through Laguna Beach via the 1. The drive would have been enjoyable on its own, but Zach had a BMW M5 -- a 500-horsepower super sedan -- that occasionally turned the sublime scenery into a wonderfully sonorous beige, green, and azure blur.

After 40 minutes, we stopped at the Malibu Beach Club for lunch. It was probably the most scenic luncheon I've ever had. We ate on a glass-sided balcony above the water with beaches and beautiful homes extending on either side. The food was tasty and, shockingly, reasonably priced. We had big entrees, coffee and dessert and got out of there for less than $50 -- great value considering the location and the quality.

After lunch, we headed farther up the coast to one of Malibu's exalted beaches. We stopped at El Matador beach, and after walking down the cliffs (very reminiscent of Point Loma's Sunset Cliffs or La Jolla Cove) we found ourselves nestled on a thin stretch of sand between amazingly clear waters and eight-figure beach homes. El Matador was wonderfully private, and again had a much more La Jolla or Laguna Beach-esque feel to it than the more open sands of Coronado, Mission, or Manhattan Beaches.

After we returned from the beach, we went out and explored Santa Monica and Hollywood. Both had a lively nightlife, and vibrant, youthful atmospheres.

Los Angeles proved me wrong. Though unmercifully crowded at times, it was a relaxing trip rife with eye-opening scenery and tremendous memorial value. Though I still prefer San Diego, I can easily see the appeal of the bustling City of Angels.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

December Nights at Balboa Park

Good evening readers. I imagine many of you who are reading this on the East Coast or in a remote igloo in northern Russia fleeing from US intelligence agencies are fighting off vestiges of the frostbite or are planning your clan's next caribou hunt. Either way, you should check out San Diego in the winter. It's pretty hard to beat. One of the highlights -- besides Christmas shopping in an open-air mall in January -- is the December Nights festival in Balboa Park. Thousands crowd the promenades of San Diego's expansive park to see the lights, visit the museums, taste the food (don't do this lightly) and purchase lord knows what kind of trinkets at the kiosks and tents that line the streets.

I had the opportunity to third wheel the festival with a friend and his girlfriend. If people asked where my girlfriend was, I usually pretended I was a foreign exchange student from Sweden who spoke very little English. Instead I'd just toss out quips about welfare states and skiing and the like. They seemed to buy it.

My friends and I had a great time on the San Diego Zoo's gondola ride, which was the only part of the zoo open during the festival. For $4 each we got to ride in a basket hoisted a hundred or so feet in the air and take in the city lights and the festival below us. The sign says not to spit, so don't or they'll release the zoo's guard hawks to attack you. That's probably not true, but still don't do that.

Below is a picture of the entrance to the December Nights festival. The white tower on the left is an amazingly intricate piece of architecture and makes up a part of a museum.

Until next time!

As promised, Parker Spielbunch presents his masterpiece

Good afternoon readers, today I've got a special treat for you. Cinematic master smith and revered method actor Leonardo DiBunch is proud to present "Washed Up," his theatrical magnum opus produced in a the fall 2013 Intro to TV & Film Production class:

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Parker becomes a scriptwriter, producer, and director

Good evening readers. Tonight, instead of a typical "things are good I haven't blown up anything in chemistry class hi mom send more chocolate" kind of post (which, thankfully, there are few), I would like to shed some light on one of the cool classroom opportunities PLNU offers.

As a journalism major, I am required to take an introduction to TV and Film production class. The nature of the field of journalism is such that young journalists are often required to produce and edit their own news packages. Think of this like an editor-in-chief telling Craig -- a recent gruduate of PLNU -- to grab an HD camera, some microphones, and a few lights and go shoot a news package about Timmy falling into a well. Craig, because he is a graduate of PLNU, knows exactly what he needs to grab, and what to do with it once he's on location, and hopefully he makes sure to interview Lassie. In essence, that's what my COM243 is teaching me to do.

For other, non-journalism majors the class teaches the basics of film production. Many PLNU grads have gone on to work at top production companies, such as Pixar and Dreamworks. Additionally, our grads have won awards for the short films they made in the advanced film-making classes at PLNU.

For a noob such as me, though, trying to learn all of the terminology, techniques and procedures is difficult and time-consuming, but putting this knowledge into practice has been very entertaining. The major component of our grade is a small film we create as part of a group. We have the full (and impressive) repertoire of PLNU's film studio equipment at our disposal, and have several weeks to produce our product. I had the opportunity to write the script for our film, and this weekend our group began shooting. Though the project is far from complete, it was a unique experience for me, and one I really enjoyed.

Because our film is about surfers and has several long beach scenes, we had planned to shoot below the cliffs by PLNU. Unfortunately, the specific lighting we needed required us to be on scene at just after 7:00 am. On a Saturday. For college students, this is like donating a kidney.

Below are a few pictures from our shoot. I'll be sure to post our short film here on my blog when it's finished. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

A Saturday Getaway: La Jolla Cove

In response to the positive feedback from my last entry (thanks Mom), I thought I would stick with great beaches for at least another post. My latest adventure took me to La Jolla Cove.

Only about a 20 minute drive north of PLNU, La Jolla is a relatively secluded, very affluent beach suburb of San Diego. There are two ways to get from PLNU to La Jolla: the I-5 or by taking Sunset Cliffs Boulevard. Having tried both, stick with I-5.

When you take the exit for La Jolla off of the freeway, you come over a large crest that overlooks the community and the ocean. From there to the water, it's a downhill expedition made difficult by the constant distraction of the Pacific.

The Cove is located on the west and southwestern part of La Jolla, curving inward as the coastline continues south. Parking was scarce, but I was able to find a comfortable space farther south than some of the more desirable locations.

I expected the Cove to be nice, but my expectations were exceeded. The beaches are amazing and everything Yelp or other websites claim them to be. The sand is smooth and clean and the water seemed clearer than in Point Loma or Coronado. Thankfully I had gone on a beautiful sunny day, and had the opportunity to walk around.

The first thing I noticed was that this area of La Jolla seemed almost a perfect combination of Point Loma and Coronado; if one were to combine the cliffs and beaches of Point Loma with the affluence, architecture, and ambiance of Coronado, such a product wouldn't be far off. There are expansive parks reminiscent of Coronado, and the Point Loma-esque cliffs make for a very striking coastline. The beaches are less accessible than Coronado, in that you have to climb down some stairs to get to them, but once down there you likely won't want to leave.

I took this picture from the cliffs above the water. When the tide is too far up for significant beach lounging, the cliffs make a great place to suntan.

This shot was taken facing a small bay in what I believe is more central La Jolla. How great would it be to work in one of the offices overlooking the water?

After a few hours at the beach, I headed along the coast in search of some lunch. I found a great sandwich shop and deli via Yelp just south of the Cove called Cafe Vahik. I ordered my sandwich directly from the owner, who couldn't have been nicer. He insisted I wait to pay after I had eaten, and brought my food to where I was sitting outside. I had a sandwich featuring a relatively boring combination of ham, bread, cheese, sauces and lettuce, but he managed to make it taste great. The prices are also extremely reasonable.

Even after spending just a few hours in La Jolla, I can see why it is a highly-desirable community both to reside in and visit. From the wonderful beaches to the relaxing, confident atmosphere, it's a great alternative to Coronado if one is looking for a calm, clean beach day.

Thanks for reading! Until next time.