We had to get up really early next morning and hightail it back to LAX so I could return my Silvercar and swap it for a new 2 day reservation under my wife. She also got the same $78 rate, plus I referred her, so that netted each of us an additional $25. We ended up being late of course, and we got there about 80 min. after my rental ended. I was all worried that they would charge us extra, but luckily they were really nice about it and didn’t. It helped that we got a little lost at the end and called them for directions; they probably assumed that’s why we were so late. (They preset their location in the GPS so you can easily return the car, but problem was it was the wrong address, so that part was sorta their fault).
We still didn’t know where we were sleeping that night. First we were starving so we headed to Shwartz’s bakery/Circa NY (3/5) in Pico for some lunch. I got a quesadilla- one of my favorite foods- which was so so, my wife got a giant salad which was… also so so. Back in the car, after lots of back and forth, we ended up booking the Sheraton in Universal City for 2 nights for 10K SPG/night.
Coming from paradise in San Diego, initial impressions of the hotel were very disappointing. We got a room on the 3rd floor, overlooking a mildly pathetic pool. The room itself felt very old, as opposed to a beautiful modern room in the Hyatt. They did consider themselves a fancy-ish hotel, and we were going to get ripped off either way with parking (nowhere to park on street), so we just did the valet parking.
Overall over the whole vacation, I started getting pretty overwhelmed about who/when to tip and who/when not to tip. I mean, I wasn’t gonna tip every time the valet pulled up the car, but I wasn’t always sure what was protocol. Also, partially as a result of the credit card game, I never have cash on me, so it was very annoying.
Anyway, I still hadn’t gotten through my food bucket list, so that night we went to La Gondola (4.5/5). I was pretty impressed by the neighborhood it’s in- very upscale street, with a Maserati dealership across the street. Traffic on the way there was horrible, so we took Google Maps’ alternate route through the Hollywood hills. Lots of little streets and turns, but really nice area.
The service was excellent there. Of course we ordered avocado eggrolls (the waiter said it’s one of the most popular menu items), but I was kinda surprised that I didn’t really like them and neither did my wife. My steak and her chicken though, were excellent.
In the hallway to the bathroom they have an article framed on the wall about the owner and how he was flown to Dubai to prepare uber-luxurious dining for a fancy Jewish fundraiser there. Was a really cool article IMHO, I mentioned it to the owner on the way out.
We drove around Beverly Hills afterward, looking at all the mansions, passing the famous Beverly Hills Hotel and Rodeo Drive. A cool fact I read on Wikipedia is that one of the largest population segments of Beverly Hills is Iranian Jews!
Back at the Sheraton, I had just read online that one of the new changes to the SPG Business card was that it now included Sheraton Club access, so I went to the front desk (before dinner) to ask them about it. The first guy had not heard about it and tried to charge me for it (“$40- but for you I can give you for $30”), so I said no thanks and headed out to La Gondola. When I tried again the next morning the new guy was much better, took care of it for me no prob. And… after all that, the club sucked. Very old, small, and I missed breakfast so there was nothing there but coffee, water, and granola bars and fruit. But at least the views (9th floor) beat my room’s view, although not by much.
So that morning (Wednesday), after bumming around in the hotel room watching Law and Order, we finally dragged ourselves out to go to City Walk by Universal. We foolishly tried driving there, then realized 1. It was up the block 2. Parking was $17 3. The hotel had a free shuttle. Oh well. So we gave our car BACK to valet (lots of back and forth with them), and took the shuttle. Shuttle driver said we had to fold up the carriage and hold the baby cuz someone had sued them when their baby got hurt on the bus from a short stop or something. I personally thought it was B.S., he just wanted us out of the aisle, but he ended up being a really nice guy so I took that back in my head
. [Random funny moment- as we were passing through another hotel parking lot to pick up more passengers, the bus slowly labored down the road and right in front of some photographers trying to get a shot of the scenery. Bus driver remarks- “best photo bomb ever.” Hilarious! It ended up being a wedding party, we saw them on the way back… and it was frum. Weren’t expecting that.]
City Walk in my opinion is totally a tourist trap (like half of LA
), we just walked around looking at stores, ate ice cream and coffee, and bought some souvenirs. We were too cheap do the actual Universal tour, and my wife anyway had done it a few years back and thought it was way overrated.
Then it was off to… Tierra Sur. In a DDMS/DDF universe, the map would look like this. Chicago has 2 buildings- Shallots and Milts. Hawaii is roughly the size of Asia. Buses have gone the way of the dodo. And- Oxnard/Tierra Sur is a state and it houses the small city of Los Angeles La Gondola/SLS hotel.
All in all, I had way too much DDMS/DDF propaganda in my head about Tierra Sur, so I was waaaaay too psyched, but to be honest it really was a fabulous experience. First, in a clear act of God, the Living Social deal reappeared just long enough for me to snag it before it died again. The deal was a $50 Tierra Sur credit, wine tasting, free bottle of wine, and Herzog wineglasses for $50. I used a code to knock off $7.50 and I had $10 deal bucks in my account, so total was $32.50. I think it also included a self-tour but we didn’t do that.
Oxnard is a nice area, although the mystique of it was somewhat dampened over Shabbos when our host told us that they don’t really grow the grapes there, they do in Napa (northern California), and the Oxnard location is just for processing. I took that to mean tourist trap
but maybe I am too paranoid.
The wine tasting was fun. My wife and I got pretty buzzed/tipsy/happy, which made everything more fun. They give you 6 different wines to taste in a specific order, and some water on the side. We were also starving so we ordered a snack of seasoned fries ($4). Going in, we always loved the Late Harvest line of wines, and it was the last one in the tasting. We tried to get a bottle of that as our free bottle, but alas it was too expensive to be one of the choices, and they didn’t even let us pay the difference. So we got a Jeunesse Black Muscat instead, also one of our favorites.
Then it was time for Tierra Sur…To be continued...