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Saturday, April 29, 2017

Wurstküche Restaurant: Arts District, Downtown Los Angeles

Last month, I joined my co-worker Brian, along with his wife and kids, for dinner in Arts District - downtown Los Angeles. A stop sign outside where we ate was covered in both graffiti and stickers. Looks a bit more like political commentary than gang activity.   

Dinner was at Wurstküche, located at East Third and Traction Streets, with outdoor dining along the East Third. 

Inside, Wurstküche specializes in grilled sausages and imported  beer. 

Lots and lots of choices: Vegetarian Italian. 

Vegetarian Mexican Chipolte. 

Kielbasa, which is pretty standard. My relatives - proudly Polish American - would probably go for this. 

There's also higher end: Duck & Bacon with Jalapeño Peppers. 

Or if you're really adventurous: Rattlesnake & Rabbit with Jalapeño Peppers.

Once you order, they grill it up for you. 

$75 for a bottle of Belgian "2012 St. Bernardus"? Seriously?

While most beers are $9-$12 - which still seems like a lot - they also feature $3 Pabst Blue Ribbon for the rest of us. 

Inside, waiting for dinner. 

I LOVE being not only with co-worker Brian and his wife Christina, but with their three kids. 

They work as campus ministers at USC, located just south of downtown Los Angeles, and made the intentional choice to live close to campus and students. And, yes, the fact that there were crayons and butcher paper was a smart choice with kids. 

This wasn't the kids - apparently, who ever was the table before us had a bit of artistic talent. After all, this is the Arts District, right?

Outside Wurstküche. Here's a link to their website. 

Brian and his family wanted to get dessert down the street, giving me a few minutes to explore the neighborhood. More on that next time. 

© 2017

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Ignatius Cafe, West Adams

"Meet at Ignatius Cafe, 1451 Dana Street."

Last I month I was in Los Angeles for a few days. A co-worker suggested we meet at a coffee shop called the "Ignatius Cafe." Never heard of it.

About a mile west of USC, I turned off of Vermont Avenue on to Dana Street. I honestly thought I made wrong turn turn. I imagined the coffee shop would be in a strip mall or commercial center. Dana was a residential street - no coffee shop or other businesses.

I re-check the address: 1451 Dana Street. Looked like some homes behind a large hedge. The sign at the front said St. Agnes Korean Catholic Church. Didn't look like a church or a coffee shop. 

More signs for the church - but still, no coffee shop.

Behind the hedge were three beautifully restored Victoria-era homes. This is not what I expected. To say that I was amazed by the landscape and surroundings would be an understatement. 

Umbrellas, tables, and people enjoying coffee let me know I probably was in the right place.

Ignatius Cafe is located in the ground floor of the last of the three restored homes.

It's run by St. Agnes Korean Catholic Church. This didn't look or feel anything like I would have expected.

Outside on the front porch was the USC campus ministry staff - getting together for a planing meeting. I'd be joining them in a bit.

Inside, Ignatius Cafe has restored the beautiful 100+ year old home. There were a few older men and women inside, sitting at tables and speaking in Korean.

Coffee for sale.

Information in Korean about an upcoming event for their church.

I'm not Korean. I'm not Catholic. That said, St. Agnes has done an outstanding job in both restoring and improving the property.

Behind the homes was a large outdoor fellowship area, as well as areas of for food preparation.

God's Wonderful World. I LOVE this artwork outside of the small classrooms used for children's Sunday School. 

Such a great creative and whimsical style. 

Fruit trees planted alongside on of the buildings out back.

Apparently, the property continued to extend back to Adams Blvd. I'm assuming these apartments are used by church staff. These are obviously newer building - and, like the rest of the property, fantastically maintained. I didn't want to overstay my welcome so I headed back up front. 

More tables and chairs out front. 

Several people were in smaller tables along the large hedge in front of the property. 

Isn't this incredible? Beautiful, private seating areas sheltered from the street by a trained hedges. 

Great time connecting with the USC campus ministry staff team. What an amazing group of people. 

After our meeting, everyone hung around getting work done. Ignatius Cafe, of course, has wifi. 

I was planning on meeting friends on the westside, but didn't want to leave. It was a combination of perfect afternoon weather, and getting a lot done with a great group of people. Can a place be described as both "peaceful" and "productive" at the same time? 

Here's a few quotes from some Yelp reviewers: 

- Serene and idyllic place to relax, study, or meet with friends. It brings me back to my childhood and imagining being in the secret garden.

- Ignatius is a beautiful green oasis tucked in the urban neighborhood near USC. 

- This is a hidden secret garden in the middle of a bustling and busy city.

- You just feel so welcomed here like it's the house my grandma I never had.

After years of living in, and being in and out of, Los Angeles - it's so cool discovering a place I never knew existed. Looking forward to visiting again. 

© 2017


Friday, April 14, 2017

Experiencing Los Angeles: What Makes Friday "Good"?

What makes the Friday before Easter "good"?

Here's a repost from syndicated cartoonist Johnny Hart. 

Johnny Hart died of a stroke in 2007 - the Saturday before Easter. He was 76 and was at the drawing table in his home when he died.

I especially appreciate how he creatively and intentionally brought his faith into the public square. Here's his obituary from the Los Angeles Times, where his work was regularly featured. 

This Easter season, Christians around the world will celebrate the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Listen to what British scholar N.T. Wright has said about Easter: 

"The message of the resurrection is that this world matters. That the injustices and pains of this present world must now be addressed with the news that healing, justice, and love have won … If Easter means Jesus Christ is only raised in a spiritual sense – [then] it is only about me, and finding a new dimension in my personal spiritual life. But if Jesus Christ has truly risen from the dead, Christianity becomes good news for the whole world – news which warms our hearts precisely because it isn’t just about warming our hearts."

"Easter means that in a world where injustice, violence and degradation are endemic, God is not prepared to tolerate such things – and that we will work and plan, with all the energy of God, to implement victory of Jesus over them all. Take away Easter and Karl Marx was probably right to accuse Christianity of ignoring the problems of the material world. Take it away and Freud was probably right to say Christianity is wish-fulfillment. Take it away and Nietzsche was probably right to say it was for wimps."                                       

Christos Anesti - Christ is Risen. 

Happy Easter from Experiencing Los Angeles. 

© 2017

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Gridlock in Another Day of Sun

The recent film La La Land opens with the impressibly choreographed number "Another Day of Sun" - featuring a hundred or so people singing and dancing in L.A. traffic. 

That's exactly how most people's daily commute is in Los Angeles. Well, except for the singing. And the dancing. And the jumping on cars. 

My wife, kids, and I generally enjoyed the film, but watching this opening scene I thought, "if I got out and touched - let alone jumped on - someone else's' car, I'm afraid I'd get shot." 

According to one study, Los Angeles has the distinction of having the worst traffic, not just in the country, but in the world. On average, the average Angeleno spends 104 hours a year stuck in traffic - at a cost of $2,408 a year in lost productivity and fuel. There's 16 million people in metro Los Angeles, so you do the math. 

These two photos are from the Pacific Coast Highway, the PCH, in Santa Monica last month. Traffic was particularly bad that afternoon. If you're going to be stuck in soul numbing, gridlock traffic, at least you can enjoy sunshine, palm trees, and - a bit farther up the coast - the Pacific Ocean. Most freeways are concrete canyons. At least the PCH offers interesting stuff to look at as you waste your life inching along in traffic. 

When my wife, kids, and I were living in L.A., we were stuck similar traffic a mile or so from here. My kids had to use the bathroom, and it was pretty miserable. As I looked out at the ocean, I saw an amazing pod of dolphins swimming right off the coast. "Look kids, dolphins!" I said, pointing them out to my kids. 

It was this weird combination of being both so awesome, and - stuck in traffic - so awful at the same time. Another day of sun. Another day experiencing L.A.

© 2017


Saturday, April 1, 2017

Universal Studios, Hollywood Part III: Headaches and Disappointment

The past January, my wife kids and I were back in Los Angeles for a couple days. We got a chance to see the Rose Parade, Space Shuttle Endeavour, and finally Universal Studios, Hollywood.

Here's a link to Part I and Part II of our time at Universal.

The time that worked for our family to visit was also the very busiest time of the year. Apparently, the day before - January 2, 2017 - was the busiest day in Universal Studios Hollywood's history. The day we visited - Tuesday the 3rd - was almost as busy. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (above) was very manageable when we arrived at 8am, but packed by mid day. 

Still, despite the crowds, it's very well themed - and it a HUGE reason why people visit. 

My wife kids and I had the chance to visit the Orlando version of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in the summer of 2012. It's fun to have the same thing here on the West Coast.

photo credit:

We had lunch at The Three Broomsticks restaurant. Again, very well themed. Despite the crowds on the day we were there, they kept the line moving and the food was pretty good. 

Universal offered two shows which we took time to see: an indoor special effects show and an outdoor animal show (above). Despite the relative simplicity of these shows, they were entertaining and really gave us an idea of how movies are made. 

There was a problem when we showed up before the park opened with our admission tickets - and took about 10 minutes to resolve. Universal kindly gave us front of the line Priority Passes to use later in the day. Nice. 

My daughter is a big "Minions" fan, so we decided to use our Priority Passes on their "Despicable Me Minion Mayhem" ride. The theming for the line was very well done. 

Unfortunately, the actual "ride" was, you guessed it, yet another motion simulator. Ugh. 

Universal: where the rides aren't rides - they're motion simulators. 

By this time, we all felt sick. Advil and some instant coffee pretty much sums up how I felt. My kids had the Advil minus the coffee. 

We had Priority Passes to go back on the Harry Potter ride. Despite the fact this is the most popular attraction there, my teenagers had no interest in going on another motion simulator, and just gave the passes away to some random strangers. 

The two weeks vacation period around Christmas and New Years' is the very busiest for Universal and the other area theme parks. As stated earlier, the day before was the busiest in Universal Studio's history. So, during the busiest time of the years, you'd expect all their rides, shows, and attractions to operating, right? That would make sense. Instead, months before someone at Universal made the decision to close their largest and most popular show during the Holiday crunch for annual refurbishment. Are you kidding? Didn't anyone look at a calendar? They couldn't wait a week till kids were back in school and the busiest crowds of the entire year died down? 

Yep, someone in management decided to close the popular WaterWorld Stunt Show immediately after New Year's Day, despite the fact that the following few days were some of the busiest in the parks history. Really? Left a bad taste in my mouth. 

We took the escalators down to the "Lower Lot" part of the park. There was a Transformers Ride, but none of us have ever seen a Transformers movie, and have no interest in this. And, apparently, it was another motion simulator. There was also a "Mummy" themed ride, which is actually an indoor roller coaster. This another movie we've never seen, and the theming creeped out my daughter, so this was another pass.

We opted for the "Jurassic Park" water ride. We were a bit concerned about getting really wet - not a good idea where much of the day was in the low 50's - and decided this would be our last ride of the day.

photo credit:

While it was no Pirates of the Caribbean, it was still a fun, enjoyable ride. The big thrill is the impressive drop at the end. 

Was it worth an hour wait? 

By myself? No. 

With my kids? Absolutely.

I thought we might stay until 8pm or so. Instead, by 4:30pm our kids were ready to drive home. Above, heading up the escalators to the upper lot, and exit. 

A final look at the Simpsons. Maybe we're in the minority, but we wish it was an actual ride, rather than film based motion simulator. 

Final family photo, the Universal backlot, plus the Warner Brothers Studios and Disney Studios in the distance.

Sorry Universal, but if you want to experience a real hands on Studio Tour, I'd recommend the one over at Warner Brothers. If you want to experience the theme park that started it all, I'd recommend Disneyland down in Anaheim. 

I realize that a less than stellar day at an amusement park is really a "First World Problem." Along the lines of the popcorn setting on my microwave breaking, or not being able to find anything in the refrigerator because there's too much food in it. Stuff like that. And I realize that's probably true for other posts on this blog. None the less, we enjoy passing along what experiencing Los Angeles is like - especially for those wondering if $100+ per person for the gate admission at Universal is worth it. 

Walking back to our car through Universal's City Walk. 

It's an outdoor shopping center, with the usual suspects like Bubba Gump's ... 

... and the Hard Rock Cafe. City Walk is free to walk around (parking, of course, costs). 

Those four drops of blood on the parking lot sign pretty much say it all - and why I would have a hard time recommending Universal Studios to anyone with kids under age 12. Too intense. Too scary. Too inappropriate. Too "adult."

Of course, some people love Universal. Good for them. But for my wife and teenage kids, there were just too many movies and intellectual properties we could care less about. Not enough to see. Not enough to do. Too many motion simulators - too few rides. 

© 2017