First-Time Traveler: Finishing an East Coast tour in Washington D.C.


The first time I traveled thousands of miles away from home was three years ago. In my 20-odd years, I had never left the country until my trip to study in Taiwan.

With a poor grasp on Mandarin, no where to stay for my two-month study and still awaiting an acceptance letter from a local university, I bought my airplane ticket anyway. My dad was excited for me to visit his hometown, Taipei, but concerned that my answer to his many travel questions was “I don’t know.”

I really didn’t know what I was going to do for lodging and how to navigate around, but my want to have an adventure made not knowing okay.

And although this East Coast trip was a lot more “local” and better planned than my overseas trip, my travel buddy and I had the same desire for adventure — to explore new surroundings and experience its culture.

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First-Time Traveler: Touring Philadelphia landmarks


Just when we thought the weather couldn’t get any nicer, it
did. Philadelphia was in the mid-50s to mid-60s all day, perfect weather to go
jacket-less and sit in the open for a double decker bus tour.


We used our Philadelphia CityPass for the Big Bus and
Trolley Works tours, which took us to many of the city’s coveted sites –
Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Betsy Ross’ House and the likes. Our tour
guide gave us information on all of these landmarks, plus tidbits about local
architecture, outdoor artwork, etc.


Best of all, the hop on, hop off tour took us to the sites
in the CityPass booklet – all except the aquarium. It was nice to be lazy for
once and let the bus take us everywhere – even back to our hotel (one of the
stops) – after six days of constant walking. 

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First-Time Traveler: Hunting for pizza on the last days in New York


Leading up to this trip, New York was like a fairy tale. The
city, in my head, was constructed by word-of-mouth tales — rumors of sites,
sounds, lifestyle and, oh, yes, even the large subway rats was a part of the


For my travel buddy, I believe his idea of the city was
built around hot dogs and pizzas.

To satisfy his love for these foods, we
squeezed in many searches to find the illustrious street dogs and New
York-style pizzas for our last two days. It made me laugh every time we were at
a site and he would turn to me to ask, “Are you hungry?” This just meant he

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First-Time Traveler: Crossing over to fast-paced New York


As a Californian frequently visiting family in Wichita, Kan., I’m always fascinated by how laid back the lifestyle is there. You can park at a green light for several minutes and no one will honk. Everyone takes their time in going about their day. No one’s in a rush to do anything.

As a Californian, it would drive me crazy. I needed to get things done quickly because I was always in a rush to get somewhere. So you can imagine I had to learn patience every time I visited.
I used to think California was fast-paced, but how wrong I was. New York blows the Golden State out of the water. Everyone is always in a rush, honking is frequent and it’s very overwhelming, especially for us tourists. My travel buddy says it best, “It’s fast-paced and the most complicated place I’ve ever been.”

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First-Time Traveler: Walking America’s history in Boston


My travel buddy and I arrived in Boston at 8 a.m. today. I can’t say that we were very enthusiastic to go anywhere yet because we were so tired. 

But the moment we stepped out of Logan Airport, both of us were awakened by the frigid weather. It was about 28 degrees outside, a temperature I don’t ever recall experiencing in Los Angeles. 
Before the trip, we used Yahoo! Travel to map out the locations of the sites we wanted to see. I typed up an itinerary for hotel and transportation for each city, while my travel buddy put together a very intricate (and extremely impressive) spreadsheet that outlined each site we wanted to visit (down to the hours of operation, addresses and descriptions). Needless to say, we were very prepared.

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Valentine’s Day in downtown LA

Valentine’s Day – in all its red and pink heart glory– is right around the corner. 


For those still looking for ideas on just what to do for V-Day, the Downtown Center Business Improvement District has compiled the top five ways to have a great time on February 14th – couples and singles alike.  For the full list of ideas, visit  


Dining for all tastes

With the abundance of top new restaurants in Downtown Los Angeles, and the fact that Valentine’s Day is on the 14th
of February EVERY YEAR, the excuse “I couldn’t get a table!” is really
not going to fly.  Downtown is increasingly becoming L.A.’s culinary
capital.  Elegant dining is sure to please at the Millennium Biltmore. 
And with places like Border Grill, First & Hope, LA Prime Steakhouse and Chaya Downtown offering a tantalizing range of prix-fixe menu options, no love bird can go wrong.


Gifts, both thoughtful and hasty

It’s approaching lunch time on February 14th,
and suddenly you realize that nagging feeling that you’ve had is
because you forgot it was Valentine’s Day.  Never fear.  Downtown L.A.
has plenty of places to find unique gifts that look like you spent
months trying to find them. One-of-a-kind items can be found at the Museum Shop at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, the gift store at the Los Angeles Central Library, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Store.


For traditionalists, Downtown L.A. also has you covered. The Flower District has six blocks of beautiful flowers to choose from, with 200 wholesale flower dealers.  The Jewelry District
is the largest in the U.S. – whether it’s earrings, cufflinks or the
coveted diamond ring- there is something shiny for every taste.  For
sweethearts who love sweets, Bottega Louie, Big Man Bakes or Casa de Dulce at Grand Central Market can satisfy your mutual confectionary interest.  


Working for the weekend

Valentine’s Day on a Monday this year, why not skip the after-work rush
and have a relaxing extended weekend celebration?  Enjoy a “Sweet
Rendezvous” at the Omni Los Angeles Hotel –
a decadent affair for two over sparkling wine, truffles and breakfast
with morning cocktails.  For a more unconventional romantic retreat,
“From Russia with Love” at the Los Angeles Athletic Club includes a 3-cours Russian dinner and morning Russian aerobics.  Or shack up at The Standard Downtown LA for “The Love Inn,” with champagne, chocolate-dipped strawberries and a long breakfast in bed.


Single and ready to mingle

cupid’s arrow seems to have missed the mark, you can still have a good
time this Valentine’s Day weekend – or even snag a date before the 14th.
Ladies, begin with a spa day with the girls at either Neihule or Hilton Checkers spa.  Gentlemen, start with male bonding time at the hunting-lodge themed whiskey bar, Seven Grand or the tequila bar at the newly opened Mas Malo.  Then, with mere hours to get caught in a bad romance before V-Day, singles will find parties full of potential at The Edison or J Lounge.  Be sure to scowl at the happy couples.


Singles looking to move a bit quicker can partake in the Downtown Speed Date at Magnolia on February 12th. More info here.


A decent proposal

never been so sure of anything in your life – you’re ready to take the
plunge and pop the question.  For a special place to propose, Downtown
L.A. is the spot: 

of all the gin joints…in all the world…” Reenact one of the most
romantic love stories of all time–Casablanca–at Rick’s Place at the
Moroccan-themed Hotel Figueroa.  Only this time, make it a happy ending.

        Your beloved is truly out-of-this world.  So maybe The Standard Downtown Rooftop Bar, with its space pod-shaped water beds, is perfect for a proposal under the stars.

head spins when your love walks into a room, so it’s only fitting that
you propose at L.A. Prime or BonaVista Lounge, both located on the
360-degree, revolving 34th floor of the Westin Bonaventure Hotel.

        The classic luxury of the Millennium Biltmore Hotel
with its cool marble walls, elegant tapestries, quiet fountains and
intricately painted ceilings, is the perfect representation of your
fairytale romance.  Propose in style.

        There’s something romantic about riding the rails – especially with your angel in tow.  Angels Flight,
a funicular railway in Bunker Hill built in 1901, offers the
opportunity to propose as you ride toward the heavens up the shortest
railway in the world. Movie buffs might also consider the famous bench
from the Downtown L.A.-based “500 Days of Summer” located at the nearby
Angels Knoll. 

First-Time Traveler: Travel without breaking the bank

I’ve been counting down the days when I will finally step foot in Boston, where my small adventure begins. I have a little more than 18 hours before I board my flight from Los Angeles International Airport.

From the start, my travel buddy and I have been on a mission to save as
much as possible. We’ve been searching the Internet for hours on end to
find the best prices to travel.

for us, people don’t really like traveling to the East Coast during the
winter, especially if there are looming threats of winter storms.
However, from reading several travel guides, most tourists are willing
to brave harsh weather when it’s major holiday traveling (ie. Christmas and New Year’s). It seems that Valentine’s Day isn’t as big a hit.
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First-Time Traveler: Any suggestions for Boston, NYC, Philly and D.C.?

I’ve always had the adventure bug. As early as I can remember, I was the daring one among my siblings who was quick to venture away from mom’s side to explore my surroundings. I loved observing, experiencing firsts and just plain going. Needless to say, I got lost a lot.

And although I love travel, my wallet and I have never seen eye-to-eye. I guess you could say I love the idea more than my passport or “Places I’ve Been” map can show for.

Lucky for me, I’ve built up a little time and money to take a quick trip somewhere. So, I’ve decided to visit the East Coast — Boston, New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., more specifically. These are all places I’ve longed to experience in the United States.

A travel buddy and I will be there from Feb. 11 to 20. We are starting in Boston (one day), making our way down to New York City (four days), then Philadelphia (one day) and finishing in Washington, D.C. (two days).

Any seasoned travelers have any suggestions or tips?