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Author Topic: Shoobi's LA/SD/Oxnard Summer Trip  (Read 9968 times)

Offline shoobi

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Shoobi's LA/SD/Oxnard Summer Trip
« on: August 23, 2015, 07:02:14 PM »
Part One:

This is my first TR I’ve written, so here goes.

Background: I’ve been playing the miles game since August 2012- I was working as an office guy in camp and was really bored… and I started reading up on all this stuff. It was right before the El Al glitch that catapulted Dansdeals into fame. I even created a DDF account almost a year later to get the Google Wallet penny (remember that?), but I never participated in the forums because it all seemed too disorganized and confusing. I tried a few times but gave up. Then, after coralsnake’s 150K Amex Biz Plat code made it to the main DansDeals site, I was inspired to give it another try, and this time I got the hang of it. It opened up a whole new dimension in the game for me, and inspired me to try things I never had the knowledge/courage to do before. And I really got a lot farther through DDF.

Anyway, I set about planning my summer vacation. This wasn’t the first miles trip I had done. Some trips included:

Last summer I flew to Israel for 3 weeks. One way in Iberia business class (with the help of the Citi AA 100K offer), one way in US Airways economy (when you could use Avios on that route without fuel surcharges), rented a car for a week and a half (Barclays Arrival Plus), and had a great time.

2 years ago flew back from Israel in Lufthansa business class, but alas as I was still pretty new in the game I didn’t know better and ended up with the old not-lie-flat business class.

I got the Southwest Companion Pass and have used it numerous times, as well as numerous Avios tickets in the US.

Anyway, this time I wanted to ratchet it up a notch.

[Disclaimer- not a lot of pics in this TR, sorry.]

I planned a trip to Los Angeles/San Diego/Oxnard. I looked at going for about a week.

Using 80,000 Singapore miles (2 Citi TY cards, with some left over), I booked JFK-LAX roundtrip in United business class for 2 people. The fees were around $26 total, which is great, but I had to wait almost an hour on hold to get to a Singapore rep to book the flight. I booked about 3 weeks before the trip, so the only flights available showing were the 6AM flights on both legs. Not great, but I was willing to do it to try the United p.s. flights.

I was traveling with my wife and 9 month old daughter. We got to JFK pretty exhausted, having gone to bed after 1AM, and thank god we stopped at Dunkin’ Donuts on the way for food and coffee… After check-in we headed to the United lounge in Terminal 7. We only had a few minutes there before we boarded, and my impression was it’s old and rundown and anyway they’re moving out of there in a few months so I shouldn’t expect any improvements anyway.

The seats on the plane were a mixed bag. It was definitely really nice to have lie-flat on a domestic flight. On the other hand, the seat felt slightly old and well-worn. The IFE was pretty good though, with a big screen, lots of options, and responsive controls.

It would have been a quiet, peaceful, and enjoyable flight, except… We had our daughter. She was overtired and hyper, and we took turns holding her until she finally fell asleep. The seat is pretty narrow: I am a thin guy, and still I barely fit in there with my daughter wedged in next to me.

They didn’t have a kosher meal for us but there was an extra one from economy, it was ok. We also finished off our DD stuff.
After landing in LA, we picked up our car from Hertz, a Volkswagen Passat (full size car). I used Hertz points for 3 free days, and paid a total of $65 for the car and car seat. I used the Amex insurance because I wasn’t sure the Sapphire Preferred one covered if I didn’t pay for the whole thing with money.

We had a reservation at the 4 Points Sheraton in Culver City (7K SPG) for Thursday night, but as it was still 11AM they didn’t let us check in yet, so we headed to Coffee Bean for some iced coffees and pastries(4/5) and then to Meshuga 4 Sushi in Pico for some lunch. They took forever to make my sushi- they cooked the salmon on the spot. However, it was delicious. (4/5)

Hotel was nice, nothing special. We kinda just slept the whole day... and continued eating our way through LA by heading to Jeff’s in Pico for a late dinner (they’re open late). I was there once a few years ago, and my impression was the same this time- the food is AWESOME (5/5)!! I got a corned beef sandwich and wife got a steak wrap, both very very good. The place really reminds me of Romanian (10/5) in Chicago- the best deli in the world.

The hotel wanted to charge us for breakfast on Friday morning, and there was really nothing there anyway, so we went to Bibi’s Bakery (3/5), a café we saw next to Jeff’s. It’s basically mostly a bakery but they also serve food, we got the “breakfast special” i.e. bagel, eggs, and salad (can you tell it’s run by Israelis?). In general, many parts of LA feel like Israel- the climate, the Israelis who run half the restaurants…

The rest of Friday was spent driving around Hollywood and enjoying the Grove.
We spent Shabbos at friends in La Brea.

To be continued...

Offline Yaalili

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Re: Shoobi's LA/SD/Oxnard Summer Trip
« Reply #1 on: August 23, 2015, 07:08:25 PM »
Nice.

Offline TimT

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Re: Shoobi's LA/SD/Oxnard Summer Trip
« Reply #2 on: August 23, 2015, 07:09:02 PM »
So far you're doing great. Looking forward to the rest.

Offline sam28

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Re: Shoobi's LA/SD/Oxnard Summer Trip
« Reply #3 on: August 23, 2015, 08:12:01 PM »
keep it coming .

Offline Super Speed

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Re: Shoobi's LA/SD/Oxnard Summer Trip
« Reply #4 on: August 23, 2015, 08:20:23 PM »
Excellent!

Offline DMYD

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Re: Shoobi's LA/SD/Oxnard Summer Trip
« Reply #5 on: August 23, 2015, 08:52:19 PM »
Good job. But no pictures :'(?

Offline @Yehuda

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Re: Shoobi's LA/SD/Oxnard Summer Trip
« Reply #6 on: August 23, 2015, 10:29:02 PM »
Nice beginning to your first TR! Keep it coming!

Offline coralsnake

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Re: Shoobi's LA/SD/Oxnard Summer Trip
« Reply #7 on: August 24, 2015, 05:52:32 PM »
Good job so far!
"Here at DansDeals we don’t do buses." -Dan

Offline hyman.chaim

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Re: Shoobi's LA/SD/Oxnard Summer Trip
« Reply #8 on: August 25, 2015, 12:53:00 PM »
Good stuff.
I'm headed to California from NY tomorrow morning and I am inspired to make some sort of journal like this. I will be there until 9/10

Offline Yehoshua

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Re: Shoobi's LA/SD/Oxnard Summer Trip
« Reply #9 on: August 25, 2015, 07:05:13 PM »
We had a reservation at the 4 Points Sheraton in Culver City (7K SPG) for Thursday night, but as it was still 11AM they didn’t let us check in yet, so we headed to Coffee Bean for some iced coffees and pastries(4/5) and then to Meshuga 4 Sushi in Pico for some lunch. They took forever to make my sushi- they cooked the salmon on the spot. However, it was delicious. (4/5)
OP, great TR! Keep it coming.

Hey Dan, I guess someone not from LA also likes Meshuga. Would you look at that?!  :D ;)

Offline shoobi

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Re: Shoobi's LA/SD/Oxnard Summer Trip
« Reply #10 on: August 25, 2015, 08:09:57 PM »
Part Two:

On Motzei Shabbos, after planning to attend a DDF DO, I decided to be a good husband and forgo the DO in light of my wife’s opposition and we headed to Nagilla Pizza… it was PACKED, even at 11:30PM… service was really slow, but the pizza and fries were solid (3/5).

Am I the only one who HATES the parking rules in LA?

Sunday morning I returned the Passat to Hertz and instead got a (drumroll)… Silvercar Audi. I did a 2 day reservation, with a free day code, so it ended up being $78 for 2 days, and I got a $25 Paypal credit for my first time rental (as did Dan  :) ).

Some observations:
 
Pros: Really fun to drive, great pickup and handling, free car seat, good GPS built in, free built in wi-fi (which we didn’t end up using), great customer service.

Cons: No backup camera, no aux port, no USB port, a little tight (smaller than a full size, my daughter’s car seat pushed the passenger seat in front up too much so it was pretty uncomfortable).

Was fun, but next time I’ll be traveling with my daughter, I think I’ll stick with a bigger car from Hertz.

We drove to San Diego on Sunday morning/afternoon. We were going like 90 and it felt like 60. Really.

The coast and scenery are just fabulously beautiful, and we stopped at a scenic spot to take pictures on the way.

We stayed at the Hyatt Regency in La Jolla for 2 nights, for 15K Chase UR/night. It was a GORGEOUS hotel! We absolutely loved it, definitely one of my favorite hotels I’ve stayed in. It’s in a really suburban neighborhood, and there is a health club that shares grounds with the hotel. The grounds are stunning, they have a great pool, the scenery is beautiful, and the service was top notch. (I committed a rookie gaffe- I went down to get a luggage cart when we were checking out and saw they were locked up by the entrance, so I asked the doorman for one. He looks at me strangely and says, “you dumb farmboy, this is a fancy hotel, we get your bags for you.” “Ok, I’ll send someone up to your room.”)

We got a room on the 9th floor with great views… and they wanted a fortune in parking, so I simply parked down the block.
My wife took my baby daughter to the pool for a little bit; she (baby) absolutely loved it.

We went to the Grille (3.5/5) for dinner, it’s an outdoor restaurant/BBQ in the patio of a shul there. I had been there a few years ago and remembered the food to be really simple, so I was pleasantly surprised that they had improved the décor and food a bit since then. I got a steak and my wife got grilled chicken and veggies. Portions were smallish but food was great. They kinda nickel and dime you there, but it IS kinda in middle of nowhere kosher-wise, so I was just grateful to be eating pretty great food there.

Afterwards we drove around San Diego, just looking around. It’s really a beautiful city, and a lot bigger than most people realize- officially it’s the 8th largest city in the US (bigger than Miami, Seattle, San Francisco, Cleveland, Detroit, etc.). Downtown is especially nice. We passed another Hyatt downtown and went inside to use the bathroom. That hotel is stunning too, but in a much more urban way… Beautiful exterior, huge intricately designed lobby, lots of conference rooms. It’s 20K/night.

Anyway, we stopped in Ralph’s for some groceries (it’s 2 min. from our hotel) and called it a night.

Next day my daughter took another quick dip in the pool (with parental supervision), and then it was off to Sea World!
My wife got good tickets through her job; we paid $114 for 2 day pass for 2 people, although we only used it one day.

We had a great time. First we went to the sea lion show. It’s designed to be funny and mocking lots of TV shows, but our personal highlight was the “pre-show” while everyone was being seated… An incredibly talented guy miming popular songs and dancing at an extremely high level.

Additional activities we did: the dolphin show, the Shamu show, and the cable car ride over the bay (stunning views!).

After discovering that a nice café I had went to a few years ago had closed down, it was back to the Grille for dinner again, only this time we had hamburgers (also pretty good). Then we went for an extended night swim/hot tub/spacing out. The atmosphere at the hotel at night is also really nice, was one of the most “vacation-y” parts of the trip.

To be continued...

Offline shoobi

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Re: Shoobi's LA/SD/Oxnard Summer Trip
« Reply #11 on: August 25, 2015, 08:10:24 PM »
Sorry but having problems uploading photos, I do have some.

Offline Yaalili

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Re: Shoobi's LA/SD/Oxnard Summer Trip
« Reply #12 on: August 25, 2015, 08:17:55 PM »
Great installment. Is the grill that all you can eat place, I remember food being not too good.

Offline shoobi

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Re: Shoobi's LA/SD/Oxnard Summer Trip
« Reply #13 on: August 25, 2015, 08:19:42 PM »
Thanks... No, you pay per portion like regular.

Offline Yehoshua

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Re: Shoobi's LA/SD/Oxnard Summer Trip
« Reply #14 on: August 25, 2015, 09:49:40 PM »
Welcome to parking in LA.

Offline shoobi

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Re: Shoobi's LA/SD/Oxnard Summer Trip
« Reply #15 on: August 30, 2015, 02:11:07 PM »
Part Three:

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...

Offline Yehoshua

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Re: Shoobi's LA/SD/Oxnard Summer Trip
« Reply #16 on: August 30, 2015, 03:32:58 PM »
Sounds like your time was nice so far. I like your DDF map of the world image.

Offline Matovu

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Re: Shoobi's LA/SD/Oxnard Summer Trip
« Reply #17 on: August 30, 2015, 04:29:04 PM »
DDF MAP
Pretty funny comment.
Should be a signature or the motto here.

Offline AJK

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Re: Shoobi's LA/SD/Oxnard Summer Trip
« Reply #18 on: August 30, 2015, 04:52:07 PM »
Nice!

Yup, funny comment re: DDF Map.
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Offline yakrot

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Re: Shoobi's LA/SD/Oxnard Summer Trip
« Reply #19 on: September 02, 2015, 02:34:35 PM »
Sounds like your time was nice so far. I like your DDF map of the world image.
+1