Monday, February 9, 2015

Griffith Park & The Hollywood Sign

One of the most photographed areas in the LA area has to be the Griffith Observatory and the Hollywood Sign, so of course I had to make a day trip to Griffith Park to experience this classic tourist destination. I did a lot of research ahead of time to figure out the closet place to park and the trail that goes up behind the sign. I found that the fastest way to the sign would be to park on Beechwood Drive and use the Hollyridge Trail. I also found out that this trail has been closed on and off recently, so I didn't want to risk it possibly being closed. I decided instead to park at the Griffith Observatory and hike to the sign from there. 

To get there I put 2800 E Observatory Rd into my GPS, and it took me right into the entrance for Griffith Park and Observatory. Traffic began for miles outside of the park, and I didn't think I would find a parking spot in the small lot at the top where the observatory is. We took a chance and just parked at the bottom of the hill on Vermont Canyon Rd (free) and walked up the hill to start the hike. When you get to the observatory you can see the Hollywood Sign in the distance as well as downtown LA. We explored the observatory for a bit then decided we would hike to the sign first then come back for sunset. There are trails at the opposite end near the parking lot that will take you over to the sign although they can be hard to find. 
Front of the Observatory
Deck above
View of Downtown LA 
I love this view
View of the sign in the distance
We started on Fire Rd in the parking lot then eventually hopped onto Mount Hollywood Dr and then Mulholland Hwy which brings you in front of the sign. Pretty much the entire time you are hiking towards the sign, you can see it in the distance. I think being able to see what we were hiking towards played games with my head. It doesn't seem that far away, but in reality from the start of the hike to the front of the sign is about 4.5 miles. You can get some great pictures in front of the sign once you come to the gate and houses on Mulholland Hwy. 
View of the sign from Mulholland Hwy
We're so Hollywood 
If you want to hike up behind the sign you have to go back down Mulholland Hwy till you get to Mount Lee Dr. This is the only part of the hike with any elevation. The hike from the start of Mount Lee Dr till you get to the sign is only about a mile, but after the first 4.5 miles it was difficult for me. Once we finally came around the corner and I could see the letters, it was all worth it. The letters are HUGE and a lot bigger than I expected them to be. There is a fence that separates you from getting too close to the sign and a ton of cameras, so you will have to enjoy the view from a distance. At one point someone tried to jump the fence, and immediately security came over a loud speaker and threaten him. If you keep going towards the cell towers you will see a small trail that allows you to gain a little more elevation and see the entire Hollywood Sign, downtown LA, the Griffith Observatory, the Hollywood Reservoir, and the ocean on a clear day. 
View behind the sign of LA in the distance
All of the sign
I really didn't want to leave the amazing views behind the sign, but we eventually hiked the same way we came back towards the observatory. Once we made it to the observatory the sun was just setting. If you can stick around till sunset you will be in for a real treat. We tried walking around inside the observatory afterwards (free), but it was so crowded that we gave up and just went home. Round trip this hike was about 12 miles when we got back to the car.
Observatory and LA
Downtown LA back at the Observatory
Amazing sunset
Everything is free including entrance to the park, parking, and the observatory. There are bathrooms outside in the parking lot. The views from the observatory are spectacular. Warning, the trails are open to horseback riders so they are covered in poop, and it really smells. The park is really crowded and parking can be hard to find. Next time I want to go back to the Griffith Observatory at night to watch the stars. Overall, a must see in LA! I am so happy that I finally got to check hiking to the Hollywood Sign off my lifelong bucket list. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Aliso and Wood Canyons

Since I know that our time in California is not permanent for us, recently I've really been trying to complete everything on my Cali bucket list. I still have over 200 things I want to do before leaving most which are hikes, famous restaurants, and tourist attractions. Since I now love hiking and have always loved the ocean, what could be a better way to spend a Saturday than hiking to the ocean? I went to Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park in Laguna Niguel last summer, but we never actually hiked any of the park. Previously we only drove up the mountain and parked at the "top of the world" for a panoramic view of the ocean, hills, and houses (blogged about this before). Although beautiful, the view was not as rewarding since we didn't have to work for it. Parking then walking 100 feet is not very difficult or satisfying. This time we decided we would start from the bottom of the mountain and work our way up by sunset.

I used the address listed yelp (28373 Alicia Pkwy), but we parked on Awma Road off Alicia Parkway right in front of the church since the park parking lot is currently closed for renovations. We then walked across the street and used Awma Road to begin the hike. The first 1.5 miles of this hike is a paved road that runs along a stream. I read people complain about the start of the hike not being very enjoyable, but my boyfriend and I didn't mind. We loved hearing the sound of running water, and at one point there was even a cool man-made waterfall. 
The start of the trail, houses above
Awesome waterfall
So relaxing
After 1.5 miles the trail splits where you can stay straight on the paved road or turn right onto Lower Wood Canyon Trail to get to Dripping Cave and Cave Rock. We went right and hiked another 1.5 miles until we got to the Dripping Cave. The path to enter Dripping Cave is clearly labeled, so you won't be able to miss it. Legend claims the cave was one a hide out for thieves after robbing livestock. In rained a few days before we went, so when we got to the cave, there was actually water dripping down. We spent a good 15 minutes exploring the cave and taking pictures before heading back to the trail. Instead of going back the way we came up to the cave, there is an alternate trail that we decided to explore. It ended up looping back to the original trail about a mile later, but the views from this lop were really beautiful. 
Sign explaining the legend
Opening to the cave
It is really a lot bigger then I expected 
I seem so small
The Dripping cave is actually dripping 
Once back on the original trail, we hiked back the way we came past the entrance to Dripping Cave when we got to the entrance of Cave Rock, again nicely labeled. Although not as cool as Dripping Cave, Cave Rock was a nice place to sit, eat some snacks, and enjoy the views around us. There were a ton of small caves all along this loop which is where it gets its name. 
The first cave at Cave Rock
Where we ate some snacks
More caves
On the trail to Cave Rock
Enjoying the views
Hanging in some trees
I'm so small
After we had our snacks at the top of Cave Rock we were fueled and ready for the last part of our journey to hike to the top of the mountain and watch the sunset over the ocean. We got back on to Lower Wood Canyon Trail until we came to Meadows Trail on the right side. Meadows Trail was a lot more difficult than it initially looked. The trail kept winding around the mountain and was on an incline pretty much the entire way up. I wanted to give up, but I knew the view from the top would be worth it. Finally we made it to the top and ended up on Aswut Trail which is at 817 of elevation. The view from the top was very similar to the "top of the world" but this time it was much more rewarding since we worked hard to see it. We sat in the grass and watched as the sun slowly starting to fade into the ocean. 
What a view
Sitting in the grass
Once the sun had pretty much set we hiked back down the mountain using the Mentally Sensitive Trail. This trail was really crazy. I felt like I was going to tumble down the mountain pretty much the entire time. I wouldn't suggest taking this trail unless you are an experienced hiker. By the time we made it down the mountain and back onto Awma Road, we still had over 2 miles to go back to the car where we parked. It was getting pretty dark and cold, so we really hustled. I recommend either leaving before the sun sets or bringing a flashlight with you since there is no light around anywhere. By the time we got back to the car, our entire round trip was about 10 miles.

This park is great for running, hiking, and mountain biking. The trails are well maintained and labeled. Bring plenty of water and snacks in your backpack. Parking is free on the street or $3 when the parking lot opens back up. The park is open from 7AM to sunset. This park is truly diverse with different trails and many different features to explore. There is a steam and small waterfalls, caves, mountains, and even a view of the ocean. Overall, this was an awesome hike in Orange County, and I  definitely would do it again. 

Christmas 2014

Yes I know that Christmas was over a month ago, but sadly I am just now getting around to writing about it. I figured I would write a quick post about the holiday back at home with my family. My boyfriend and I made the 3,000 mile trip back to Pennsylvania for the week of Christmas. Although a week is never really long enough, I always try to fit in as much as possible. I was able to go to dinner for my sister's 8th birthday, take new family photos, watch my sister's basketball game, reconnect with my high school friends, celebrate Christmas Eve with my Mom, and enjoy Christmas day with my Dad. I was back in California for the New Year and appreciated a nice night relaxing on my couch. I hope you all had a wonderful holiday and a great New Year. 

Check back soon because I am working a bunch of new blogs about what I've been doing the last month.

XoXo,
Valerie
Family photos
Joe's Crab Shack
Logan's basketball game
Love these guys <3
My favorite ladies 
Reece in her Cali shirt
Mom on Christmas Eve
Girls on Christmas morning

Friday, December 12, 2014

Falling into Fall

Hello blog family,
I apologize for my long absence over the last few months. I can't believe it's already December which means winter and the new year are just around the corner. Since I haven't posted since my birthday in September, I'll just start from where I left off. 

October:
October to me typically means leaves changing color, sweaters, boots, fireplaces, hot cider, cool breezes, and pumpkins. The beginning of fall in California had me worried. It was still too hot to really be considered fall or do any of my favorite fall activities. Despite my refusal to accept that it was truly fall, we decided to go to a local pumpkin farm and get small pumpkins to decorate our new apartment. In my sundress and sandals we made the drive to Tanaka Farms in Irvine, CA. This farm is great because they grow and sell lots of different fruits and vegetables that are locally grown and affordable. Not only did they have a great pumpkin patch with the mountains as a backdrop, but they also had a small shop where they sold Halloween decorations and other cute knickknacks. We ended up spending a long time walking through the many fields, finally picking out the perfect pumpkin, although we never actually had time to carve it. We also picked out around 35 small pumpkins for decoration. Including a pumpkin carving kit and the entrance fee, it all was around $50. 
Pumpkin patch
Tanaka Farms
Apartment Tour: (its 90% done)
After my pumpkin picking adventure I was really missing home and the real fall weather. It just shouldn't be 90 degrees while kids are getting ready for Halloween. Luckily two of my best friends from high school got married in October, so of course I made the trip home. It took me a combined 2 planes, 10 hours, and 3,000 miles to get home for less than 48 hours, but it was well worth the hassle. Everything was absolutely beautiful, and it was great to spend the night with my closest friends from high school since I don't get to see them very often. The wedding was fall themed, so I definitely got my fill of fall in while I was there (thank you!). The bride and groom have been together since Junior year of high school, and I couldn't be happier to have been part of their special day. 
Love you guys, I can't believe you are married! 
November:
Since I went home in October and I will be going home again in December for Christmas, I decided to stay in California for Thanksgiving this year. This was my first Thanksgiving in my entire life that I wasn't with my Mom or Dad. I was definitely sad about the fact that I wouldn't spend the day with my family, but I was also excited that I would have the opportunity to cook Thanksgiving dinner myself. I spent weeks ahead of time planning, getting my favorite recipes from family members, and shopping to make sure my boyfriend and I had an amazing dinner just like I would have had if I were home. I am really proud of myself because everything turned out just as I hoped it would. We had a great day watching football (Eagles beat the Cowboys), drinking wine, laughing, and eating turkey and pie. Hopefully this is my only Thanksgiving not at home in PA with my family, but I am thankful we had such a perfect day and that I got to spend it with my love. 
Cheers before the game
My completed meal
I did it!
Our first Thanksgiving just the two of us
Before moving to California I really hated the outdoors. I was always the type of girl who was more concerned about breaking a nail or getting my designer sneakers dirty. Well after moving here, I am happy to say this has all seriously changed. California has so much natural beauty that it is impossible to want to be inside and stay clean. Now all I want to do is be outside, go hiking, and explore our backyard. I have a list of over 30 different hikes and national parks I want to see while living on the West Coast. One of the parks on that list was Irvine Regional Park which is about a 10 minute drive from our apartment. This park is only about 160 acres but has a lake, hiking trails, outdoor sports, and even a zoo. We first made a stop at the zoo since I absolutely love animals. The entrance fee was $2.00 per person and well worth the money. I expected this small zoo to have only animals I would normally see on a farm like goats or pigs. In addition to farm animals they also had a black bear, a bald eagle, and even three mountain lions. Since my boyfriend and I went to Penn State and our mascot is the Nittany Lion (aka mountain lion), we spent a good 30-40 minutes here. Most of the time when I've gone to a zoo the animals are sleeping and not being very fun or active. Here they were completely energetic running around, chasing each other, and playing with a large green ball. We even got to watch the zoo workers feed and train the two younger siblings which was such an amazing experience. If you are ever looking for a cheap, fun activity to do that kids will enjoy, the OC Zoo is perfect.  
video
Feeding time
Don't mess with a Nittany Lion, seriously
After our awesome zoo experience we decided to get some ice cream and sit by the lake while planning which hiking path we would try. We ended up deciding on the Puma Ridge Trail which is considered difficult because of the incline, but I didn't think it was bad. The trail was beautiful and included views of the entire park and even of the city in the distance. We hiked about 4 miles before we decided to sit and enjoy the sunset over the mountains. This was the perfect way to enjoy our Friday off and spend time together in nature. The entire day ended up costing less that $15 including parking ($3.00), the zoo entrance ($4.00), and ice cream.
Eating ice cream by the lake, it's beginning to look like fall
View of the lake below
Horseback riders and a blimp in the distance
Amazing sunset
Panoramic 
I love the colors on the mountains 
After we went hiking on Friday at Irvine Regional Park we were officially hooked and decided to go again on Sunday to close out the long holiday weekend. It was actually raining early Sunday morning (which never happens in CA) and cloudy for the rest of the day, so we again did a local hike at Peter's Canyon Regional Park. Still a small park at 350 acres, Peter's Canyon offers views of a lake, the Irvine skyline, and scenic OC mountains. Even though it was spitting rain on and off, this trail was surprisingly busy. On a sunny day I imagine the park would be pretty crowded. We hiked on the East Ridge View Trail which again was labeled as difficult. Besides one steep part of the trail up the tallest mountain in the park, I would consider this a great trail for beginners. I loved the 360-degree views from the top where we stopped to enjoy our triumph of finally making it up the mountain. We completed the 5-mile trail loop in less than 3 hours and were able to get back to our car before sunset (the park closes right at sunset with no exceptions). We completed two of the hikes on my list in only one weekend, and I was already on to planning our next adventure. 
Just hanging around in nature
The lake, we need more rain
It is a lot more steep than it actually looks
Sun peaking through the clouds
City in the far distance
With my boo 
December:
When we first moved into our new larger apartment, I knew I wanted to get our first real Christmas tree together. We went to Home Depot over the weekend to pick out the perfect 6 ft tree, ornaments, lights, and a tree topper. Can you guess what theme we chose? Penn state colors of course! We made a night out of decorating the tree (we named her Holly), drinking wine, and cleaning up the ridiculous amount of glitter that covered our floor. I'm really happy with the way our first tree turned out.
Which one should we choose?
Ready to go home!
Our Penn State tree
Love these colors
Our most recent hike was in Foothill Ranch, CA at Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park. This park is much larger than the others at 2,500 acres. This has been by far the best hike we've done so far but also the most challenging. We first went on Mustard Road Trail which splits to Vista Lookout Road Trail. This is the part of the park with the most elevation. We stopped many times to enjoy the view but also to catch our breath. Finally when we came to the top and could see what we'd been working feverishly towards, I was simply speechless. At 1,500 ft of elevation, it was absolutely breathtaking. There is a picnic table at the top where we sat and ate a snack taking in the natural beauty that surrounded us. 
The beginning of the trail
Clouds above the mountains 
So beautiful 
After our snack we ventured back down the mountain to our next stop on the trail. The mountain was so steep that it was easier to run down rather than try and slowly work our way down, although running is not advised when there have been mountain lions spotted in the area. Once at the bottom, we then took Red Rock Canyon Trail which was much easier and had almost no elevation. When we got to the Red Rocks it reminded me of Joshua Tree which I've blogged about before. Although the view from the first trail was stunning, I really enjoyed climbing in the rocks more. We could have spent hours here but after the hike up the mountain we were pretty exhausted and decided to hike back to the car. I want to go back soon and hike some of the other trails that we didn't get to do. Whiting Ranch was really amazing but much more advanced than anything we've done before. After the 6.5 mile hike we gorged on In-and-Out and then crashed on the couch for hours.  
Rock walls
Playing in the rocks
It rained earlier in the week and things were still wet
We will be going home next week back to PA for Christmas, and I can't wait to see my family and friends! I hope all of you have a great holiday with your loved ones.

XoXo,
Valerie