San Diego Day Trip #1: Balboa Park, Homestyle Hawaiian, and the Body Rock Dance Competition

When I was a little, like many young girls, my mom enrolled me in dance classes. I loved them, but eventually I decided it wasn’t for me to pursue long term. However, the love for dance never left. Growing up with the internet, I discovered dance videos through YouTube. I would/could watch hours of videos from hip-hop dance classes and competitions. I never imagined that I would get to see it in person, but it has come to fruition.

I don’t remember how I saw an advertisement for the event, but I bought a ticket for around $30 to the Body Rock Dance Competition. It was in San Diego, which is about a 2 hour drive for me, but it was completely worth it. Even on a busy Saturday evening.

img_8708.jpgOnce I got the ticket, like many other events, I searched the area for good food. I came up with Homestyle Hawaiian, which is a local chain of Hawaiian BBQ. I literally picked based off of the Yelp reviews and photos. There are a few locations, so I chose one that was on my way towards the competition venue (off of Mesa College Dr.). I ordered the Teri Chicken Plate for around $8. Completely worth every penny. It was so much food, I got two meals out of it. It was a generous portion of teriyaki chicken breasts with a scoop of white rice and a scoop of macaroni salad. All of it was delicious. I want more events in San Diego, just so I can eat there again.

Then I had about three hours to kill before the show, so I decided to go to Balboa Park. I had always heard of it, but I never new how big the park actually is. Finding parking took me about 20 minutes of driving around different parking areas. I ended up parking behind the Air and Space Museum. Luckily there are shuttles that go back and forth from parking lots to the center of the park, the Plaza de Panama, where the main buildings and museums are located.

From there, I just wandered. There were a few street performers doing a stunt. I wouldn’t call it a dance routine, but rather a giant build up to a guy leaping over a bunch of people from the audience. Literally the build up is about 20 minutes for a 3 second act. They are entertaining as far as the comedy aspect of picking people from the audience to be the ones who are jumped over. They’re so good that even at the end when they ask people for money for watching them for the past 20 minutes, you genuinely feel the need to give.

Then I walked around the grounds and took some photos, mostly of the Spreckels Organ Pavilion. I strolled down Pan American Way through what seemed like a tiny international village. And ended up near the Automotive and Air and Space Museums again. I was unaware of how close the San Diego Zoo was or else I may have gone there. I was aware of the Natural History Museum and Museum of Art nearby, but I didn’t think I had enough time to really enjoy them.


From there, I continued my drive to the San Diego Civic Theater. Again, I didn’t really know where to park, even though I used my favorite parking app. I couldn’t really find where I was trying to go, so I just ended up using the Civic Theater parking. I’m glad I did because at no point was I charged for the parking even though it said $10. There was never a kiosk to take a ticket from or a person at a booth collecting money. From there I rode an elevator down to the ground floor and was among all of the dance teams practicing outside before the show. It was kind of cool getting a first hand preview.

Body Rock CyferThen I noticed a small black and white checkered mat on the ground. Some people were gathering around it, and those who were on it were doing some break dancing moves. So I decided that’s where I would hang out until the show started. As I watched, more and more people started to join me in the crowd. Eventually it was shoulder to shoulder and what’s called a cypher competition. I had never heard of it until that point, but basically it’s what you imagine when rappers have a freestyle battle, but it was dancers showing off their moves. There were legitimate rounds where people were eliminated via judges. In the end a very young girl actually won. They were saying how in the past, people who have become famous in the dance industry got their start at Body Rock cyphers.

When that was over, the doors were open around 5:30pm, and we found our seats. I sat next to these two guys, and in listening to their conversation, one guy was explaining things to the other. So I decided to ask if this was their first time. The guy explaining, he had been to a few. The other, like me, it was his first time. I wish I could remember their names, but let’s just call them Mike and Tim for the sake of distinguishing them. So Mike, the explaining guy, let me know that this was the last year Body Rock would be happening until further notice, which is why it was called Body Rock: Homecoming. The routines were to feature past famous acts that stood out in the 18 years it has been going on. Mike also let me know that Vibe was more like what you see on YouTube and that I should go in February, which is usually when it happens.

As we sat there, Mike pointed out more people in the audience who were famous. I recognized some of them from movies like Step Up and tv shows like So You Think You Can Dance. So that was pretty cool, and the dance community in Southern California seems pretty tight. In fact after watching the performances, it seemed like they were similar to famous baseball teams. People knew crews and their standout players, and they had fan bases, like being part of the popular group in high school.

Not really knowing who the crews were, I was just there to watch dance. I wasn’t rooting for anybody in particular, but I knew at the end were the Jabbawockees, from original MTV fame of America’s Best Dance Crew. As I sat there, I was amazed. It was everything I had hoped it would be and more. When you watch the videos online, you see how great the dance is, but what you can’t understand unless you’re in person is they hype from the audience. It is electric. You become a part of it and you can’t even control it.

geisha-crew-e1522277592314.jpegMy favorite performances, and the ones that stuck with me the most, were by Geisha Crew, TwoFourSeven, and Kyle Hanagami. Geisha Crew ended up getting third place. They are a small crew of all females from Japan, where they specialize in animation. They had to honor a past performance where a set production member was taken on stage and basically given a lap dance as part of the routine. I was mostly struck by their syncopation and creativity.

TwoFourSevenNext was TwoFourSeven. They’re a group from Canada and their piece actually made me tear up. The concept was going to war and what it is like for people on both sides. There was a romantic tone to it with each side featuring couples and how it affects them during war. The best part of the entire thing was the storytelling. They not only danced well, but they acted well. I was completely sold and for a few minutes forgot I was in a theater full of people, but felt like I was there part of a movie or show.

Finally, my absolute favorite piece was an exhibition number by Kyle Hanagami. It was similar to something I had seen on SYTYCD, as far as using props that were basically floor lamps without the hood on top.  The concept was centered around Kyle’s diagnosis with Leukemia and how there’s always light/hope in the dark. It was so beautiful, not only in the presence, but also in the dancing. It was a nice break from the hard hitting hip-hop of the other routines in the competition. I didn’t get a photo or video because I was so mesmerized that I didn’t want to interrupt my own viewing, but you can see the produced version of it in the link.

The final act was the Jabbawockees, and everybody was hyped at that point. The sad part is that I was completely let down by them. Only three of them performed, and it was a very melancholy piece with an oddly abrupt ending. After we realized it ended, we all were thinking ‘what the heck,’ and ‘was that it?’ It wasn’t a short piece, just lacking something.

As I walked back to my car, my heart was so full of pure joy and adrenaline. I am not a hip-hop dancer, but I felt like I could be. It was around 10:00pm when the show let out, and I didn’t plan on staying the night in San Diego, so I drove the 2 hours back home. The entire ride I called people and tried my best to explain what I just witnessed. I wish I could share that experience in-person with everyone. So if you ever want to go to Vibe with me, let me know!

*The Balboa Park pictures are sharp because I used my camera, whereas the dance ones are not because I could only take stills from video off of my iPhone.

Todrick Hall at the Saban Theater

Since being in LA, I thought I’d look for events online. I didn’t really know exactly what I was looking for, but there are a few apps that helped narrow my search down by date or type of event. I referenced Eventbrite in a previous post, but this time I went with Groupon.

I stumbled upon a Todrick Hall show titled Straight Outta Oz. I’m a huge fan of The Wizard of Oz, and I watched Straight Out of Compton and enjoyed it. So I thought this would be an interesting concept. Instead of Googling his show, I just looked up Todrick Hall’s YouTube videos. He is famous for his singing, which I knew. The more I watched his popular videos, the more I was intrigued. So I bought a Groupon ticket to the show.

It was appearing at the Saban Theater, which I also knew nothing about. So naturally, I researched that as well. Really, I did it to understand the location so I could figure out parking, but I also wanted to know how to dress since this was my first show in LA. I had been to shows in New York City and Charleston before, so naturally I thought I should dress up for the show. That’s what you do in major cities. Spoiler alert: this assumption does not apply to LA. More on that later.

So I decided, let’s make an afternoon of this. First, I found parking via my favorite parking app called BestParking. It led me to a garage that was not filled very much at all, open until 11pm, and had green/red lights to signify that a parking spot was full or open. I can imagine during busy times, that would come in handy tremendously. It was one block from the theater and half a block from the restaurant where I was going to eat.

Near the theater there are little restaurants on S. La Cienega Blvd. I settled on a small Italian restaurant called Tutt’a Post’ Trattoria. At first I couldn’t find it, and had to call the restaurant for them to describe exactly where it was. Eventually the man on the phone literally walked out of the restaurant onto the sidewalk and waved until I saw him. Slightly embarrassed because normally my sense of direction is really good, I noticed the thing that threw me off was the Subway.

My reservation was at 5:00pm because the doors for the show opened at 7:00pm. Thinking I was giving myself a good amount of time on a Saturday in Beverly Hills, I was not expecting the incredible service at the restaurant that I received. It was most in part to the fact that I was the only person in the restaurant at that time, so I literally had the entire staff working for just me. I ended up going off of the menu, which I also never do because I used to work in the restaurant industry and I know that is frowned upon a lot of the time. I was craving pesto pasta, so I asked if they could do that, which they could, and they asked me which type of noodle I would prefer. I just went with their regular spaghetti, and it was a great idea because my craving was fulfilled.

After, I realized I still had about an hour to kill before the doors opened. So I sat a little while longer at the restaurant, and they were fine with that because again, nobody was really in the restaurant. If it had been busy, I wouldn’t have sat there because usually servers are working for tables and tips. I also tipped well for the extra time.

On a side note regarding tipping, I have two general guides that determine how I tip.  The first is that I’m Asian, and there is a stereotype of Asians being bad tippers, mainly because they’re typically thrifty in their spending. So I always give 15% as the minimum. The second is because of that, I start at 20% and if service is bad is when I only give the minimum of 15%. Again, I know that tips are the main source of income for servers because the hourly wage is usually around $2. If the service is really great, that’s when I give more than 20%.

Anyway, the only odd thing about the restaurant is their bathroom. You have to go out back behind the building to get to it, and the ambiance of the restroom does not equal that of the dining area. It almost seemed like what you would experience at some gas stations.

From there, I walked to the Saban Theater. There was construction going on around it that forced all the patrons to go around the block and enter off of S Gale Dr. near a restaurant called The Flats. When I turned the corner to round the makeshift 7ft tall wooden wall to block the construction from the street, I saw a small line forming towards the entrance of the Saban. I stood at the end for a few minutes before realizing I didn’t really know what line I was standing in. So I walked to the ticket window and found out I was in the right place.

This is where my choice of show attire comes into the equation. So I wore a dress and heels to the show, because like I mentioned before, at NYC shows, you dress up. So I figured at an LA show it would be the same. People in line were wearing jeans and t-shirts, flannels, and really relaxed clothing. After standing in line until 7:30pm (yes, doors were supposed to open at 7:00pm and didn’t), my feet were dying in the heels. At that moment, I swore to never wear heels to an LA show again. Then we got inside the building, and again had to wait in line at the doors that open to the actual theater seating, for another 15 minutes.

Now, the only thing that kept me entertained in line was who I was in line with. When I first stood in line, I started speaking to the boy and mother standing in front of me. About 30 minutes in, he kept looking at his mom saying, “That girl keeps looking at me, she knows.” Then “that girl” walked up to him and said, “Are you the boy from the film?” With the answer being yes, they got a picture together, and went back in line. He turned to his mom and said, “You owe me $5.”

Brandin StennisHaving no idea what they were talking about, I pressed them for answers. Ends up I was standing in line with a child star. I didn’t realize when I bought the tickets that this show was based off of a feature film Todrick Hall made on YouTube that’s an hour and 11 minutes long. The concept is the path Todrick Hall took from growing up in Texas to his fame today. So this boy in front of me was “Young Todrick,” and his name is Brandin Stennis. Throughout our hour and a half wait time, people kept recognizing him, and so right before we entered the theater and took our seats, I had to get a picture with him. I’m glad I did because it’s the only picture from the event that I took. The only other famous people I saw while I was there was Ru Paul. As I was waiting in line at the top of the stairs, I could look down at the foyer and saw him walk in. After the show, I saw on social media that there were a lot of famous friends of Todrick in attendance as well.

Now, when I got the Groupon ticket, I did have to go to the ticket counter again and actually check in. From there, I got a physical ticket that let people working there know that I could only go in a certain section of the theater. It was a first come, first serve section, so I wasn’t assigned a specific seat. We were at the top of the theater, but the view was still pretty great. I managed to snag a seat in the most front row of the section, and it only had one other chair next to me. Eventually it got filled by a nice man from Orange County who also was there just to check it out. As we sat waiting for the show to begin, Todrick’s most famous singing videos were playing on a giant screen hanging over the stage.

Since I hadn’t watched the hour long YouTube video, I really didn’t know what I was getting into. The guy next to me was the same. We both just bought the ticket off of Groupon interested, but he had less of an idea than I did. He thought it would be more like Straight Outta Compton, and was surprised when it was more musical than he imagined. I don’t want to assume he was in the LGBTQ+ community, but he did say he turned down going to Long Beach Pride to see the show.

Finally, what you’ve all been waiting for, the actual show. I’ll be honest, it seemed like Todrick was performing versus emoting. I wasn’t ever sucked into the show to the point where I didn’t realize I was sitting in a theater watching people perform. I love the fact that he went from small town Texas and eventually fulfilled his dreams to have his own Broadway-style musical about himself, but it just wasn’t a tremendous performance. Could I have done better? No way, but I just wasn’t thrilled by it. The second act, after intermission, was definitely better than the first half. Also, the best part of the whole show were the black women singings that intermittently had solos. They were the stars of the show for me. Also the set design was pretty good for what seemed like a low-key show, even though it did travel on a national tour. The guy next to me agreed with all of that. There was something missing for both of us, but we were both glad we saw it on a Groupon.

The show didn’t change my opinion of him. I am still a fan of Todrick Hall. I actually wish I could see it again to see if during my viewing, maybe he was having an off night. The best way I could put it is similar to judges on singing tv shows. The voice was there, but I was missing the connection factor. The only time it was really present was when he was in drag (see the feature photo, in the spotlight on the left).

I really hope I can see more of his stuff in the future because it seemed like he was just getting started and the pressure of performing in front of his best friends may have been a small factor. I am on the lookout currently for more of his shows. In a way I consider myself lucky that I got to see his major performance on a Groupon because it may not be like that in the future. I can see him becoming more popular than he already is.

Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, and Redondo Beach

After one of my LA Lyft drivers told me her favorite thing to do on a day off was go to Manhattan Beach, I thought I should check it out. I also decided to check out all the major Beach Cities piers while I was at it since they’re not too far from each other.

There is a bike/running path that is 22 miles long and passes from the Redondo Beach Pier and extends through Hermosa and Manhattan Beach. While it continues all the way up to the Pacific Palisades, it too has a nickname from locals, The Strand. It’s technically not a boardwalk because it’s not made of wood, but outsiders sometimes refer to it as such.

When asking people which of the three beaches is their favorite, the response was practically unanimous that Manhattan Beach has the best sand. Now I’m from Charleston, South Carolina, which is also considered a beach town. At no point has anybody asked me when wondering which beach to go to in that area, “Well, which one has the best sand?” That really isn’t a factor in making that decision.

So naturally I needed to find out what the heck everybody was talking about. I started with Manhattan because it was the most northern of the three. I entered Manhattan Beach Pier in my GPS and it took me on Manhattan Beach Blvd, which leads you directly too the pier. Knowing that parking near the ocean is hard to come by, when I passed an area with parking signs, I followed them. There are two garages I’ve used. One is outdoor, multi-level, and painted green. The other is across the street from that one, and is underneath buildings. Both are run by meters, which you will take your credit card or change. The meters typically only go up to two hours at a time though, so you do have to go back to the meter to feed it if you are sticking around longer than that amount of time.

Then I headed down Manhattan Beach Blvd., which is lined with coffee shops, restaurants, and boutiques. It’s also definitely a hill down to the pier. There is parking right off the pier, however every time I’ve been, it’s been full. The pier has teal railings with coral benches scattered throughout. At the end is a cafe with standing room only. On the other side of it is the Roundhouse Aquarium, but I honestly wouldn’t consider it a typical aquarium. It’s more like a room with some tanks of water and people to answer questions. I haven’t officially gone in it, but I have seen inside of it, it’s that small. They also don’t charge, but rather accept donations (They mention $2 an individual and $5 for a family). There is a shark sculpture that sits outside of the door that looks perfect for a photo opportunity, but they have signage letting you know not to climb on top of it. I’m always tempted.

I’ve gone to each pier by myself first, and then when guests come into town, I try to take them to the piers as well because they’re usually landlocked or want a nice way to see the ocean without getting in the water (so far I haven’t had summer guests who wanted to take a dip, but “winter” guests who are surprised when they touch the water and it’s freezing). I mention this because I also let them know there is a weird comparison that goes on in the area where people think the sand at Manhattan is the best. My visiting friend Natalie best described it through mashed potatoes. She said Manhattan is when you get nicely whipped, smooth mashed potatoes. We’ll come back to her analogy at each of the other beaches.

IMG_0415So after walking the pier and touching the sand, I went under the pier, which has a really simple structure. Many people take pictures underneath or beside it. Then it was time to head back to the car because I only put an hour on the meter. This is where you realize you parked uphill. It was easy going down on the way to the pier, and then it’s like you’ve never worked out a day in your life on the way back up.

Travel a few minutes down the road, and you’re in Hermosa. This has been described to me as the “young people beach.” At first I didn’t understand that description, but now I know it’s because of the night life. Manhattan is on the richer side, and is boutique-y. Hermosa is not as fancy, but it has a cool vibe to it. It’s definitely a hangout for 20-30-year-olds. The main area is blocked off from cars and has string lights going back and forth between the buildings. It’s lined with restaurants that feature bars, and every night of the week there are people enjoying the patio of each one.

Again, I walked on the pier and again I tested the sand. This pier had more benches than Manhattan, which is nice because each time I’ve gone, I’ve been able to hang out on a bench and take in the scenery (whether that be the landscape or everyone’s favorite crowd hobby, people watching). One time I saw a lady with a backpack walk up to the water, pull out a salad, and stand in ankle deep in the water eating her lunch for about 30 minutes. Then she put it away and left. That’s a dream lunch break. On the end of this pier is just a giant open area. At all hours of the day there are people fishing there. On the sides of the pier are what seem like dozens of beach volleyball courts.IMG_0414

The interesting part of the sand at this beach is they made giant dunes right next to the pier and pretty close to the water. Kids boogie board down it instead of in the water. At one point the sand was so high, you could climb over the pier railing and onto the top of the mound. It’s stretches from the pier to the first lifeguard stand on each side, and I have no idea why it’s there. Anyway, back to Natalie’s analogy. She described Hermosa sand as the mashed potatoes where the skin is left on when beating them in the mixer. It’s slightly textured, even though the potatoes are finely whipped.

Some fun facts about Hermosa before we move on to Redondo. When you go under this pier, the height isn’t nearly as tall above you as Manhattan. The pier is where a scene from LA LA Land was filmed (Ryan Gosling whistles his theme song after catching a guy’s hat in the wind and dancing with his wife). One of the building in the plaza area before the pier is also in the movie. However you have to go around back to find the neon sign for the Lighthouse Cafe.

For Redondo, lets start with the fun facts. It is the pier that was in the tv show “The O.C.” There are four major locations used in the filming: the pier cafe (Redondo Coffee and Bait Shop), Sandy Cohen’s beach office, the Bait Shop (which on the show was a music venue), and the pier itself where Ryan rides his bike and Seth skateboards. It also has two churro shops. I’ve only been to one, which was very highly praised, and I agree. Oddly both are called Pier Bakery, but the one I went to is off of Fisherman’s Wharf. There’s a really interesting, old arcade called the Redondo Beach Fun Factory. The games are all old, and the prizes are odd. You can cash in your tickets for bottled water, mystery boxes, and the highest ticketed prize is a meat slicer. Yes, a real one.

IMG_0170The pier itself smells like fish everywhere you go. It’s definitely the grungiest of the three locations. The water below isn’t as clear, and the people on the pier are what Natalie described as “her kind of people.” She liked that she could wear sweatpants, a hoodie, a backpack, and have her hair tied up and not feel judged. It’s the longest pier of the three, and it’s in a triangular shape. People were also fishing at certain spots of the walkway. Again there were benches scattered throughout. The main attraction compared to the others is the fact that there are shops and restaurants all along the pier. Families can spend all day fishing on the pier and grab food in the midst of it, for pretty cheap means of entertainment.

Finally the sand test. It was described a lumpy mashed potatoes. After all the accounts, I agree with Natalie and really appreciate her analogy whenever I have to explain the difference to other visitors or friends who aren’t from the Beach Cities.

Personally, I find myself gravitating toward Hermosa because there is a Starbucks, pizza shop, gelato shop, and ice cream shop all within walking distance that doesn’t involve a hill. Reading that back, it makes me sound fat, but hey, I like simple things and am a creature of habit. There’s a parking garage behind Starbucks that’s relatively cheap. Sometimes after work, I’ll grab a Peach Green Tea Lemonade, walk about a block and grab a giant $2.50 slice from Paisanos (I prefer the Hawaiian or BBQ Chicken), and have dinner on the pier for $7 or less. Before I head back to my car, sometimes I stop at either Paciugo for their mint chocolate chip gelato or Paradis for their vegan hazelnut ice cream. There’s also a guy who rides a bicycle that he completely decked out with lights  and a sound system. What more could you ask for in a beach city?