California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco

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To start off the day, here’s a fluffy fat cat. 🙂 His name is Apu Jukkai. Look at that majestic white beard and white socks awww.

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So here we are again in San Francisco!

I was glad that we got to visit and take a complete picture of the Golden Gate Bridge the day before, because on our second day, most of the structure disappeared under a cloud of dense fog. It felt like entering Silent Hill as we drove into the city.

Golden Gate Park is located just next to the bridge.With beautiful, shady trees and flower gardens, this sprawling 1,000 acre park is also home to several attractions such as the California Academy of Sciences – our stop for the day.

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Dubbed the world’s ‘greenest museum’, the Platinum-certified building is one of the largest natural history museums in the world, with its own planetarium and aquarium.

I’d recommend spending at least half a day here, because there are lots of fun things to see and do, especially for families with kids. Educational and fun!

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As befitting of Californian museums, a dinosaur fossil replica greets visitors at the entrance.

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The first section of the museum is dedicated to the ecosystem, with realistic displays of animals such as zebras and apes. There is also a tank with live penguins.

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An open pool with stingrays and fish.

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Moss and other water plants thriving in clean, filtered water.

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Stuffed possum and babies.

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San Francisco sits on a fault line, and a major quake in 1906 killed over 3,000 people and destroyed 80% of the city. A section of the museum is dedicated to explaining the geology of San Francisco and info on earthquakes.

We got into an earthquake simulator where you stand in a room and it shakes. I wasn’t scared because I knew it was just a simulation, but it would have been terrifying in real life!

There were interactive quizzes to test visitor’s knowledge, such as what to do during an earthquake, etc. I learnt a lot. For example, water in a toiletbowl’s tank is safe for drinking in case of emergency and if you’re trapped in the house while waiting for rescue.

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We caught the Planetarium show, which took us through a show on the Bay Area’s biodiversity. It was my first time in a planetarium dome, and it was a great experience. You really feel like the images are popping out at you and the surround sound makes it more realistic. It’s like you’re flying through space and time.

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Downstairs is the aquarium section.

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Fish of all colours and shapes in the Philippine Coral Reef Tank. The Phils has one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world, with many species of marine aquatic life in its waters.

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Glow in the dark polyps.

Museum staff are stationed all around the aquarium to help visitors with interesting and informational tidbits on the exhibits 🙂

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So pretty and colourful! 🙂

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These poisonous blowfishes were adorable.

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“Gimme a kiss there, handsome boy.”

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The Academy also boasts a gigantic, multi-tiered Rainforest ‘dome’, with real birds and butterflies flying around! The air was humid and warm on the inside, just like the tropical jungles of Malaysia.

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A mini ‘river/lake’ ecosystem.

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Glass cases with vividly coloured frogs. The bright colours tell predators that they are either poisonous or taste bad.

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A ‘Tomato’ frog. No points for guessing where it got that name.

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Birds flocking to a dish full of food. 🙂

I really enjoyed my visit to the museum because there are lots of things to see and do and I think kids (and adults!) can learn interesting things about our planet and ecosystem.

CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES

55 Music Concourse Dr, San Francisco, CA 94118, United States

Daily:  9:30 am – 5 pm
Sundays: 11 am – 5 pm

Ticket price: $34.95 (Adult) & $24.95 (child). 

If you’re travelling around SF for a couple of days and visiting various attractions, I recommend a GO San Francisco card. We booked that in Los Angeles and it helped us a lot in saving up on tickets.

 

Los Angeles Zoo

I have a love-hate relationship with zoos.

While it’s great that I get to see the animals up close, it’s not good to keep them fenced up in cages either. They should be roaming free; wild and happy. But then again, habitat destruction and the eradication of various species is so common that people have started justifying the actions of ‘protecting’ animals by keeping them in zoos, where they are safe, well-fed and cared for.

Is life worth living behind bars?

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Not everything is bad about zoos though. I think it’s a great place to take young children, to educate the next generation about the importance of caring for the environment, lest these amazing creatures become extinct in our time. People learn from seeing, observing and experiencing much better than from reading about tigers in a text book.

Anyway, we visited the Los Angeles Zoo during our stay in the city. Founded in 1966 and sprawled across 54 acres of land, the place is pretty old.  And huge. Allocate at least a day if you’re planning to visit while in LA.

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Palm trees! Why am I not surprised? Palm trees are everywhere in LA.

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Just at the entrance is a large tank with a resident manatee. They look fat and tubby but are super graceful and fast swimmers. I can see why sailors (who were probably dehydrated/famished/hallucinating while on dangerous journeys) would mistake them for being mermaids.

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“Reggie” – a gator that became a media sensation after irresponsible owners let him off in a lake in Cali. He was captured after two years of eluding the authorities, and became an unofficial zoo mascot. They even have an eatery in the zoo named after him.

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Bad composition photo lol.

It was a weekday and there were lots of elementary kids running about on school trips. We (evilly) nicknamed them little zombies because they seemed to go to each exhibit in droves, screaming. I applaud teachers the world over – how do you guys handle it?

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Also within the zoo is a botanical garden with lovely roses.

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It’s Timon!

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“Some day, I shall gaze at the sun from the vast fields of Africa instead of this small excuse of a ‘habitat’.”

Well, a meerkat can dream.

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Flamingoes. The ones here have a healthy colour – bright pink/orange. I’ve been to a lake in Putrajaya back in Malaysia where they kept flamingoes, and their colours were pale and sickly-looking.

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An indoor area with small animals like reptiles and frogs.

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We had to wait for the horde…I mean, the school kids to pass through the area before we could take pictures and look at the animals.

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More gators

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All the way from Down Under, the Kangaroo…

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And fluffy koala bears.

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Bougainvilleas in bloom.

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Mountain goats. They made a hill-like structure to simulate their natural habitat.

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It is hard to see stripey zebras behind foliage. #theoryproven

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Mountain gorillas

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A type of African gazelle which can stand on its hind legs to eat high shoots and leaves. We waited for a long time but they didnt do it ._.

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Okapi – a shy animal that looks like a cross between a tapir and a zebra.

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They also have large animals like hippos, rhinos, giraffes and Asian elephants.

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The zoo is relatively well kept on the most part, but it is old and needs upgrading. I had a nice time exploring the place and there is lots of greenery even when you’re not looking at the animals.

LA Zoo

5333 Zoo Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90027, United States

10am to 5pm (daily)

Admission Adult: 19$
Getting There 
Take the Bus line 96 route, which originates in Burbank and Downtown.

Los Angeles Natural History Museum

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A must-visit while you are in Los Angeles is the Natural History Museum at Exposition Park – the largest of its kind on the American west coast, with over 35mil specimens and artifacts.

We took a bus from our hostel near The Grove. On the way to our destination, we passed by a couple of affluent neighbourhoods and the famous University of Southern California campus. This was a far cry from the more gritty, ghetto-ish pockets in downtown LA.

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Walking through Jesse Brewer Jr Park, a well-kept neighbourhood green space with sparse trees.

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The museum’s back entrance looked impressive, with a couple of dinosaurs (LA loves dinos – I’ve seen them at almost every museum!) and large leafy plants lining the avenue. We got in with our discounted GoLA tickets. If you want to skip the long waiting line for tickets, you should try the back door.

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Greeted by bones of  what looked like a Mosasaur.

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The museum is divided into two floors. Allocate at least half a day to explore everything. 🙂  The first section we popped into was the geological gallery where they have all sorts of natural stones and minerals on display.

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The room is dark to protect the minerals and precious gemstones from overexposure.

 

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The boom in California is due to the gold rush, so no museum would be complete without a section detailing its history.

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We also went into a safe room where they had all sorts of beautiful gemstones on display. There were stones that reflected the light in dancing rays; ones shaped into ovals, globes or squares; shiny and opaque gems, and others that were solid with a matte-like texture. Some exuded an aura of unearthly loveliness. It makes one wonder about the power of the earth and its amazing creations.

Moving on to more bimbotic topics, we were looking for our birthstones – mine is sapphire, and E’s is peridot.

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Having had our fill of stones, we moved on to livelier things – the Age of Mammals Hall. The spacious place houses lifelike exhibits of animals from all over the world.

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The detailing on the animal exhibits was amazing. I wonder if they were stuffed? You could even see folds and creases on the animals’ hides.. if these were purely man made, then the craftsmanship is superb. The background paintings were also done well together with 3D props such as grass and trees.

In Malaysia, our animal exhibits are often dead-looking, with glassy bead eyes and are very obviously fake.

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I was very impressed with the quality of museums in LA. Many Southeast Asian countries do not invest in museum upkeep. We don’t get donors to keep the place running, resulting in their sorry state. Sometimes I find myself wishing that Malaysians would be more appreciative of art and our own history, instead of spending all our free time shopping and chasing the capitalist dream and material comforts.  There is so much to be learnt from the past, for a better future.

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The main hall has two large dinos – a T-rex and a triceratops. It reminded me of the movie The Night at the Museum. There are no dinosaurs in the South East Asian region, so our museums often feature cultural exhibits instead.

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The modern section of the museum details the history of Los Angeles in more recent times, such as how it was founded and the boom of the Hollywood industry. There was also a small scale model of the entire city, so E and I tried to locate streets that we have driven through and other familiar buildings.

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All over the museum were interactive touch screen boards. They didn’t only tell information, but encouraged visitors to participate. For example, the above board had us matching the different species of prehistoric animals and plants to the correct era. It would be fun for families with children and as a tool to teach kids.

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More dinosaurs

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A hall designed with Greek statues and European architecture.

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A ‘play’ room where visitors get to interact with various exhibits, like a made-to-scale polar bear with dirty white fur, faux fossil samples, and even deer antlers. Have fun taking quirky pictures! 🙂

We also dropped by a new building called the Nature Lab, which explores urban wildlife in Southern California. Samples of plants, animals and earth/minerals are kept in glass displays, some of which are available to smell, touch and feel.

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We went out the front door. If you don’t like lining up for tickets, you should try going through the back door. For this attraction, we used the GoLA card as well for 15-20% off our tix.

The LA Natural History Museum is an informative, interactive and lots of fun with many exhibits within its two floors. This is what I think about when one mentions a world-class museum – not drab and static stuff packed with info boards written in tiny letters. Worth the visit!

Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
900 Exposition Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90007
Phone: (213) 763-DINO

Open daily from 9.30am – 5pm

Tickets (Adults) 12$! Cheap and worth the price.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art, LACMA

ONE thing I really like about Los Angeles is the abundance of museums and art galleries within the city. In Malaysia, ‘art’ is not as appreciated as it is in the United States, and there are not many large art galleries around.

Whereas in America, a lot of money is pumped into preserving old art pieces and turning these places into tourist attractions. It drives a culture of promoting self expression. At least people can hang out at these galleries in their spare time, whereas back in KL, the only spot to go to is usually just the shopping mall.

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We visited one of the largest art galleries in the American west coast – the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Just outside is an art installation dubbed ‘Urban Light’ – comprising 202 restored street lamps from the 1920s and 30s. They were collected by an artist called Chris Burden, who salvaged them from various places in South California.

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The rows of uniform gray street lamps form a ‘forest’ of sorts. I was told that they look pretty at night, but unfortunately we did not manage to come back to the spot after dark.

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Food trucks lining the opposite side of the road.

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With a whopping 120,000 art pieces from various eras, LACMA was established in 1961 and is divided into three buildings. They later added on a building exclusively for Japanese art.

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We managed to get free tickets thanks to a hippie guy behind the counter, who kindly gave them to us after I asked him if I could use my international press card. Perks of working for the media!

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Another art installation within the compound. This was very popular with the kids! And that big kid over there 😛

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The museum is massive. I can’t claim to know much about art, but it was nice to look at the beautiful paintings and their interpretations. Apart from paintings there were also sculptures and other ‘contemporary’ art pieces.

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Art I do not understand.

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We actually didn’t stay long because I developed a massive headache and slight fever so we went back early. It was a pity since the entrance fee wasn’t cheap and I would have liked to spend more time exploring all the different sections.

LACMA

5905 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles,

CA 90036, United States

Monday, Tuesday, Thursday: 11 am–5 pm
Friday: 11 am–8 pm
Saturday, Sunday: 10 am–7 pm

Closed Wednesdays

Entry : 15$

 

La Brea Tar Pits, Los Angeles

IT might seem odd to have a bunch of really, really old tar pits smack in the centre of Los Angeles, but that’s La Brea Tar Pits for you. The pools of oily black tar were formed from seepage of crude oil and other natural substances for thousands of years.

The pits were often covered by dust and falling leaves, and unwitting animals would fall in. The tar would then harden and form asphalt, thus preserving said animals into fossils.

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The batch of pools that are visible today were trapped below the earth’s surface until excavation was done in the early 1900s. Excavators found many fossilized bones of mammals, birds and plants in the tar, perfectly preserved thanks to the layering of protective tar.

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All of the excavated materials are displayed at the nearby George C.Page Museum. More on that later though, let’s explore the park around it, Hancock Park.

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The largest ‘pit’ in the area has a couple of life-sized models of extinct mastodons; one among many species found there. The pond looks sludgy and black, and occasionally methane gas formed from the tar pits bubbles up onto the surface, giving an illusion of boiling tar.

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We saw some local wildlife, like this adorable grey squirrel!

It was unafraid of humans and we were able to get quite close to it for a picture.

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A smaller tar pit. The tar is hardly visible as it is covered with dried leaves. Excavation is still being carried out until this day as there are still many unearthed specimens trapped within.

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Fossils packed away in large crates.

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Nicely maintained park with all sorts of trees, shrubs and flowers.

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After walking around the park, we pop into the nearby George C.Page Museum for a visit. On the outside, it looks like any regular building, but visitors will be taken through an interesting journey to understand the history and formation of La Brea. There are hundreds of fossilized specimens on display.

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A sabre-toothed cat fossil. The fossils are stained brown by the asphalt in which they are preserved. The oldest fossils found in the La Brea Tar Pits are a coyote (46,000 years) and wood (55,000 years). That’s longer than mankind’s oldest civilisation!

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It’s not easy to get out of tar once you’ve fallen into it due to its extremely viscous consistency. To demonstrate this, the museum has a few containers with tar in them where visitors get to try their hand at pulling the bar up. Even with all my strength, I could barely get it to move – so the fate of the animals that have fallen in = certain death.

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Dire wolf skulls, which were found in abundant quantities. They were smaller than modern day wolves but heavier built. In total, some 4,000 dire wolf remains were found in the pits.

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A laboratory where they do research and clean up the found fossils. There are also storage rooms where every fragment and bone is cataloged and painstakingly put together. So much respect for researchers in this field. 🙂

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Part of ‘Zed’s Skull’. Zed was, apparently, a woolly mammoth.

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A tropical garden sits in the centre of the museum. Temperature is considerably warmer in here.

Overall I think it was an educational excursion to the Tar Pits, and a must-see when you’re in LA. There aren’t too many tar pits around the world, you know! 😀

LA BREA TAR PITS

5801 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90036, United States

9:30 am – 5:00 pm (Daily)

Entry price: $12.00 (Adults)

Phone: +1 323-934-7243

 

 

Farmers Market & The Grove, Los Angeles

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Our hostel along Fairfax Avenue is fairly convenient – there are buses that go to the city and surrounding suburbs.  Whenever I see the long line of palm trees along the road, it always makes me feel like I’m really in California, you know?

It’a s 10-minute walk to the nearby Farmer’s Market, a historic landmark in Los Angeles with over 100 restaurants, grocers and souvenir shops that has been operating since 1934.

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From afar, one of the most visible landmarks within the area is the clocktower. It was lit by soft, yellow lights at night.

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A tourist tram service operates to the Grove, an outdoor shopping mall located just next to the market itself. It’s really just for the experience, because the place is within walking distance.

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The Gilmore Oil Co. gasoline station within the area has historic significance. Although the pumps are not operational, the structure is a reminder of how the company was founded in LA.

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First opened in 1934, the Farmer’s Market is a medley of alleyways, hosting over 100 low-roofed shops that sell everything from food and souvenirs to groceries. The fringes of the market are reserved for meat and seafood shops, whereas the centre has things like candy, small cafes and taco stalls.

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Caramelised apples are not common in Malaysia – but neither are a host of other candies – some of which I’ve never seen before in my life. Americans, you sure are spoiled for choice!

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We got ourselves some chocolate-covered gummy bears and nonpareils to snack on.

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For dinner, we grabbed a quick beef hotdog from FritziDog. It was pretty good. I like how the hotdogs in America taste like sausages ie they have this chewy skin on the outside. In Malaysia, ‘hot dogs’ are the processed type with a consistent texture throughout. Also, since Malaysia is a Muslim-majority country, many restaurants and cafes do not offer pork, so it felt quite… surreal to see pork options on the menu everywhere I went. 😛

Farmers Market LA

6333 W.3rd St. Los Angeles, CA 90036

Regular Hours –
Monday – Friday: 9 am to 9 pm
Saturday: 9 am to 8 pm
Sunday: 10 am – 7 pm
Telephone: (323) 933-9211
Toll Free: (866) 993-9211

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The outdoor shopping area, The Grove, is just next to the market.

In most parts of South East Asia, outdoor malls are not practical due to our tendency for rain, extreme heat and humidity, and thunderstorms. Otherwise, the shops are standard brands that you can find in most parts of the world.

There is a figure of an angel in the middle of the square, an outdoor fountain and cafe patios shaded by large green trees.

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The inside of the Grove Cinema felt more like a ballroom than a movie theatre! We wanted to go in for a movie coz E had free tickets, but guess what? He left them in the hostel….We ended up snooping around Barnes and Noble for books.

Til next post!

Candy and Buffalo Wild Wings in Hollywood

Hi guys! Here’s the next part of my excursion to Tinseltown 🙂 We left the Hollywood Guinness Museum and continued our pavement star-spotting: alternating between looking at the flashy neon-lit buildings and the ground.

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The road was lined with sightseeing vans and tour guides, brandishing brochures in our faces. We were approached by some Scientology preachers who offered us a free session to a Scientology movie… which we promptly declined. It would have been interesting to watch one, though.

 

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We popped into Sweet Candy LLC, dubbed the ‘World’s Greatest Candy Store’. As cliche as it sounds, I was like a kid in a candy store! *ba dum tsh*

The place was huge and divided into several themed sections, including a Route 66 theme complete with mini gas station. Upon entering, we were greeted by a real life red Ferrari vending machine. There were candy dispensers from above the ceiling which will drop sweets into the vehicle. Unfortunately it was not in working order when we went.

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An Eminem portrait made entirely out of different-coloured MnMs!

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They had a ‘lab’ area where you can experiment with different sweets and chocolates to make your ultimate mix for only USD6.99.

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Piano decor and the ‘Tinseltown’ area.

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It wasn’t just a candy store, as they had souvenirs and other items for sale, like these unique pop art pieces. Really liked the Jesus Mickey!

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Of course, being a candy store, there was a wide variety of candy and chocolates to choose from, but I felt that the store’s concept was more interesting to write about. 🙂 You can take lots of pictures and interact with the displays, so it was a fun and engaging shopping experience.

CANDY LLC

Hollywood & Highland, 6801 Hollywood Blvd #201, Los Angeles, CA 90028, United States

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All that candy and adventure left us hungry, so we walked a short distance down from the Walk of Fame to a sports-themed bar/restaurant called Buffalo Wild Wings. It was a Thursday and they have a promotion every week where the  wings go for only 80c per piece.

It was dark in the premises and the walls were lined with baseball paraphernalia and large screens. Apparently it gets packed during baseball season and nights when there are games.

Buffalo Wild Wings was where I experienced American service, diner style, for the first time. It was impressive!

We were shown to a table promptly after arriving, and had a server assigned to our table. She introduced herself and got us drinks, before recommending the specials. Throughout our meal, she checked up on us and made sure we had everything we needed, returning to ask if we needed anything extra, or any sauces/condiments to go with our meal, along with a friendly ‘I hope you’re enjoying your meal’!

In Malaysia, it’s hard to get this level of service. Servers usually just hover around until you are ready to make an order, and there is no introduction to establish a connection with the customer. Some can be downright rude. But then again, we don’t practice tipping in Malaysia so there isn’t an obligation to work for that extra money.

 

 

 

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The food was good, albeit a little salty. We ordered a pork slider meal, which came with fries and coleslaw. The pork was tender and cooked in a savoury barbecue sauce, while the buns were toasty and fluffy.

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The star of the meal was the buffalo wild wings – an American specialty. You get to select different rubs for your boneless wings. We tried Parmesan Garlic, Honey BBQ, Spicy Garlic and  Lemon Pepper. They were all VERY well flavoured and some were a tad too salty but I couldn’t stop eating, lol. I liked the Parmesan Garlic and Honey BBQ best. If you’re a tourist in America for the first time, I’d recommend trying it at least once for an all American experience (I mean, sports + wings, right? Can’t get more authentically American than that!)

BUFFALO WILD WINGS (HOLLYWOOD)
7060 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028, United States

Guinness World Records Museum Hollywood

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There are countless museums and attractions along Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, designed to rip off the consummate tourist. However, once in awhile, the experience is worth the overpriced entry fees.

To save on admission, we got a Go LA card, a very useful online discount travel website that allows you to save on entry fees to attractions all around the United States. You can choose to buy a one week all access pass to many attractions, or tailor-make one for your own itinerary that helps you cut back up to 20%. 🙂

One of the places we popped into was the Hollywood Guinness World Records Museum. You won’t miss it while walking down the avenue – it’s the blue building with flashy neon signs.

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Upon entering, visitors were greeted by several mannequins of music stars that have achieved world records: Michael Jackson and Elvis among them (for breaking CD sales or having most number of 1#hits…etc).The place was smaller than we anticipated and was close to deserted on a weekday.

Since we basically had the venue to ourselves, we had fun taking pictures with the models. I hate waiting in line, especially at tourist places where everyone wants nice shots, so this was great.

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The place was divided into several sections. We read up interesting info on people with bizarre achievements, such as longest beard, shallowest dive, most tattoos, etc. which were accompanied by static models.

I was quite disappointed as the exhibits were old, and some of the interactive quiz machines weren’t in working order. But then again, this place has been around since 1991, so..

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(Left) Most tattooed woman and the ‘World’s Hungriest Sword Swallower’.

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A newer room where you get to test your knowledge of Guiness World Records against your friends and other visitors.

Overall, I’d say that the Guiness World Records Museum fell short of expectations. We spent about an hour in the place, because there wasn’t much to see or do. Definitely not bang for your buck, and there are other museums around the area which are better.

GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS MUSEUM

6764 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028, United States

Phone:+1 323-463-6433

Hours10:00 am – 1:00 am

Admission (Adult): 16.99$

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Just opposite the museum is a The Hollywood and Highland, a mall area with a mixture of ‘exotic’ decorations, including an ancient Egyptian inspired arch and elephant columns. If you’re not up to a trip to the Hollywood Sign lookout point, this is a good place to take pictures (with super zoom).

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The famous Hollywood sign! 🙂

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There is a nice mix of clothing and food stores here to stop by for lunch after your star-spotting on the pavement.

HOLLYWOOD & HIGHLAND

6801 Hollywood Blvd #170,

Los Angeles, CA 90028, United States