Vacation 2010, pt. 2

Our trip continued with Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs as an apt backdrop and soundtrack; a constant CD and theme repeated throughout our three week trip.

California brought us two extremes (and everything in between): the complete and utter silence of the desert in Joshua Tree National Park, and the un-nerving rush hour traffic of Los Angeles. The former was like a last breath before diving into the non-stop lifestyle of Southern California. While I love my sisters dearly, I think living in the Long Beach area—the heavy population, ever-present traffic, etc.—would make me a little uptight (or more so than I already am, which is probably not a good thing). It was perfect for visiting family, however, and we had many nice food adventures, including In-N-Out Burger, Sophy’s for Cambodian food (one of my favorite meals on the trip), and a nice impromptu picnic on Seal Beach comprised of some fine barbecue from Beachwood BBQ. We also had the chance to visit the Getty Museum, which had an amazing exhibit on Documentary Photography since the Sixties.

One of the most anticipated legs of the trip, driving up the Pacific Coast Highway, proved to be somewhat of a disappointment. It was our bad fortune to be in the area during the Labor Day weekend, so we ran into heavy traffic leaving the Los Angeles and by the time the traffic started to thin, the highway (and ocean) was engulfed in heavy fog. Uneventfully we made our way to Monterey and to my childhood home of Salinas. The fog lifted enough the next day for a nice visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and a stroll down Fisherman’s Wharf, where we happened upon the Monterey Greek Festival and a very nice lunch—lamb off the spit and a gyro. The nicest surprise for me was the opportunity to watch sea otters in the bay, a sight you don’t often see in Columbus, Ohio.

A late start lead to a late arrival in San Francisco which, in turn, resulted in a hastily chosen restaurant and much regret of what should have been a nice meal, dockside. Our disappointment was quickly trumped, however, by the discovery of the Musée Mécanique, a collection of original mechanical  arcade games, machines, and instruments from the turn of the century.

A little jaunt up the coast and we arrived in what was to become our favorite stop of the trip: Portland, Oregon. I had always liked Portland and had visited a friend there several times in the past, but this trip cemented my opinion of the City of Roses. After a quick tasting at the conveniently-located Willamette Valley Vineyards, we drove into the city and found our hotel (secured at a very reasonable price via Priceline.com), The Benson Hotel. While not one to generally promote a hotel, the Benson is different than your average stay: it has charm, personality, and class. And a great bar. I highly recommend it.

Our first stop was the ever-famous food carts. Upon careful consideration of all open vendors, we chose something we had never had: Peruvian. We shared an order of tallarín saltado, a variant of lomo saltado, which is basically a beef stir fry, the tallarín variation using spaghetti noodles. It was incredibly delicious and hit the spot for the weary, hungry travellers we were.

With full bellies, we proceeded on to the obligatory visit to Powell’s Books and several breweries, including my favorite, Deschutes Brewery. We also found a really nice bar right next to our hotel that had one of the most amazing beer selections on tap I’ve ever seen: Bailey’s Taproom. And as much as I didn’t want to (because of all the hype), we had to make a stop at Voodoo Doughnut. The bacon maple donut is probably the best thing I’ve ever eaten in my life. Seriously.

While Portland pretty much wore us out for the last two days of vacation (not to mention raise the bar pretty high for Seattle), we managed to have a really great meal at Capitol Hill’s Poppy. For a more detailed read about the actual meal, click here. And on our last day, I was able to revisit an old haunt from college days, Seoul Restaurant. New owners, but the same nondescript building and charm I remember from way back when.

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