When you travel or live abroad long term, it’s inevitable that you’re going to miss a lot of the important little holidays and events that you don’t really realize are so special until you don’t have the choice to be around for them. Like Father’s Day, for example. Ever since I started spending more of them away from my dad than with him, the ones we do get to celebrate together have become infinitely more significant.
Four years ago, all four of the Baackes sisters gathered in Philadelphia for a weekend of fun. Two years ago, my younger sister and I flew to Los Angeles for the first time to help my dad settle into his recently purchased house. Last year, I made my way back to LA, but I was on my own. I knew I had to plan something epic.
And what could be more epic than a surprise helicopter ride over my dad’s new city?
I had considered plenty of other options for the day before settling on this particular aerial adventure. An architecture tour of downtown? (Already booked up.) A paraglide from Malibu? (Perhaps a tad too adventurous.) A brunch cruise from Santa Monica? (Ugh, beach traffic.)
But a helicopter sightseeing tour with a mountaintop landing and a champagne toast? Couldn’t find any complaints there. Best of all, the departure point of Atlantic Terminal in Burbank was less than a thirty minute drive from my dad’s home base in Koretown — in Los Angeles, that made them practically neighbors.
I was thinking of keeping my dad in the dark until we pulled into the airport, but it was too tricky — I ended up spilling the beans that morning so he would know what to wear and how to prepare. Speaking of what to wear, here’s a tip from a girl who has found herself on many a helicopter: wear black! It doesn’t reflect into the windows, allowing you to get much clearer photos.
He was so excited! As an architecture buff, geography nerd and all around lover of all things mapped and gridded, getting to see his new home from an aerial viewpoint was just perfect. I was thrilled. After a quick check-in and weigh-in and introduction to our pilot, we were off!
First, we made our way toward Downtown Los Angeles, passing over Universal Studios California, The Hollywood Sign, and Griffith Observatory. I was I was on the lookout for hikers at the Hollywood Sign after my own adventure doing so the year prior, but apparently the 109 °F temperatures that record-breaking day kept them away — we didn’t see a single one.
Our pilot was super accommodating — while he couldn’t get close to my dad’s downtown office building for zoning reasons, he was more than happy to hover around and let me get a great photo when I realized we were right above my friend Lindsay’s house off the Sunset Strip. It was super fun to send her the below photo after with a creepy message that I was watching her.
Thankfully, she shares my sense of humor — and loved seeing her house from above!
And that was only the start of the house peeping. From there, we flew onward to the mega-mansions of Beverly Hills and Bel Air, and I knew there was no way any dinky celebrity homes bus tour could ever top what we were seeing. We just gaped at the compounds below, wondering how much the electricity bills must be on such palaces.
I also knew I was really starting to think like an Angeleno when I mused that lovely as those houses were, the traffic to get anywhere worth going must be really killer.
My favorite sighting of the day? The Playboy Mansion! I admit, repeat viewings of The Girls Next Door when I was in high school made the place feel larger than life — it almost seemed too normal looking down on it with it’s super close neighbors, and its pool that seemed way too small for the legendary parties that were held there.
Soon, we were swooping down the coast to the famous Santa Monica pier — an LA landmark I’ve yet to see from sea level. This was to be my favorite part of the whole day. The beach was packed, and it made me smile to look down and see so many people outside and enjoying the beautiful ocean!
I think I’d like to canvas wrap the above photo someday and hang it above a couch somewhere.
The final stretch of our ride followed the coast up to Malibu, and then turned east and up into the hills.
Then came the really special part — landing in the Malibu Hills. This particular helicopter operator is the only one with a permit to land in this particular location, making it an incredibly exclusive experience.
We marveled at the views… and the heat. Did I mention it was literally one hundred and nine degrees? While our pilot broke out the bottle of champagne, I munched on ice chips from the ice bucket. It was another level of heat.
We toasted to Father’s Day, of course!
As I’ve mentioned before, I was skeptical of my dad moving to Los Angeles — I was happy for the exciting opportunities that awaited him there, but I was worried we’d see each other less and that he was maybe taking on too much. A year later, I felt he couldn’t have made a better call. My sun-worshipping dad is a perfect fit for California, and so we toasted, too, to his ne
On the return ride, we chatted over the intercom and agreed we’d made the right call not bringing our beloved cocker spaniel, Tucker. I’d waffled back and forth all week after calling the helicopter company and getting the okay to do so — would he like it?
He’s an easygoing dog who loves nothing more than a long car ride, but we were worried the noise would have gotten to him. Once the day ended up being such a scorcher, we were relieved we hadn’t chanced it!
Canine companions aside, us humans had a blast. While this was, I believe, the most expensive helicopter tour I’ve ever taken, it was also a memory we will have for the rest of our lives. If you are looking for a seriously wow way to celebrate a special occasion in Los Angeles — this is it.
It was already the perfect day, but I had one more trick up my sleeves — pancakes! One of my most resounding memories of my childhood is my dad making pancakes for us on Sundays, which my sister and I obsessed over. So I knew I wanted to take my dad somewhere fun for pancakes to celebrate our flight. Imagine my excitement when the internet informed me that the best pancakes in Los Angeles were right in Burbank at Bea Bea’s!
With flavors like S’mores, Thai Iced Tea and Super Pumpkin, I knew we were in for a treat. My green tea version were fantastic, as were my dad’s classic buttermilk. The staff couldn’t have been sweeter or more friendly, and it was the perfect nostalgia bomb to cap off a day of thrills.
Okay, now here’s the real dilemma… how will I ever top that?!
I am a member of the Viator Ambassador initiative and participated in this tour as part of that program.
When I decided to spend Halloween in Los Angeles over New York, I had one major motivation. Yes, memories of cold, rainy nights in a damp costume certainly dissuaded me from my East Coast option. But Los Angeles? Los Angeles had Tucker. Game over.
Tucker has always been pretty down for dress up time — or perhaps he’s just learned to humor us after a lifetime of it. Easter? We’ve got a pair of bunny ears on him. Graduation? He needs a cap and gown too! Prom? Don’t worry, I got rush shipping on the cocker spaniel tuxedo I ordered.
So it always really burned at me that we rarely got to spent Halloween together anymore. When I was living in Brooklyn I used to go to the Tompkins Square Park Dog Parade, but I’d always leave wistful that I didn’t have my own little man with me. (Wondering where I find all these events? Bring Fido is my go-to — and no, they are sadly not a sponsor of Alex in Wanderland, at least not anywhere other than my dreams.)
Hence, I was more than willing to plan my Los Angeles weekend around attending the Haute Dog Howl’oween Parade in Long Beach. Tucker was pumped.
We went for a sea creature costume theme, inspired by an old lobster costume Tucker had lying around and a pair of gold mermaid legging I’d recently purchased. I spruced up Tucker’s look by dying the lobster suit a more sophisticated color and adding some painted shell eyes, while a trip to the local craft store whipped me into a frenzy of spray paint, shells, hot glue and inspiration for our human ensembles.
Honestly, I thought we were looking pretty cute, but little did I know we were amateur hour compared to the creative canines that were about to strut their stuff. My friends Lindsay and Asher had joined my dad and I for this fabulous furry day, and so we’d all decided that rather than walk in the parade, we’d instead snag front row seats and enjoy being spectators. Seats are $10 in advance or $5 on the day of, if there are any left. Dog registration runs $10 per dog in advance, $20 on the day, and $35 for Very Important Pooch registration. Best of all? It’s all a fundraiser for a local animal non-profit!
We settled in and got ready to be wowed.
And dang, were we ever. I can’t believe the creativity and energy that went into some of these costumes! It made me so heartwarmed and happy to think of families and friends and fluff-balls all hanging out, dreaming up and bringing to life these lovely creations.
The Frenchie Fries, above, was one of my favorites of the day! I absolutely adored watching Tucker watch the parade — he was so alert and attentive, carefully watching each and every group go by. Nine out of ten he’d just track with his eyes, but then every so often he’d burst up out of his seat to go wag at and sniff a dog walking by in the parade. It was so sweet!
Isn’t it amazing what a fabulous job these women in the purple did dressing their dog up as a chicken? It’s uncanny! (In case you’re reading this on a phone or other tiny device, I’ll just go ahead and explain the joke: it’s not a dog. It’s an actual chicken. That is, for better or for worse, all the information I have.)
It was fun to watch some of the themes emerge. We saw many costumes based on Star Wars, several inspired by the show Stranger Things, and quite a few riffing on the (then) upcoming election. Angelenos are a creative bunch!
I have to give kudos to the organizers of the event, it was awesome to really be able to get a good view of the costumes and the adorable pups! The parade route was long and winding and lined with a row on each side of official seating, and onlookers were welcome to bring their own chairs to set up behind those, or just to stand and watch. There was quite a crowd, and it didn’t look like anyone was straining to see.
With over 400 dressed up dogs, they claim to be the largest Halloween pet event in the world!
I couldn’t help but whoop for the above costume, inspired by the Dia de los Muertos celebration I’d attended the night before! They would have fit right in.
Pupperoni pizza? Sign me up for a slice!
And even more Dia de los Muertos fun — you definitely feel the Latin American influence in Los Angeles.
And how cute is this mother daughter pair? My heart melted!
However, there’s only one group that can take home the ultimate grand prize, which in this case was a year’s supply of dog food. And from the moment we lay eyes on them, we knew who it would be.
Behold, The Boston (Terrier) Tea Party. I salute these fabulous patriots for creating a masterpiece.
However, I think if the Baackes family ran the voting committee there’s no question who would have won. In our hearts, the Cutest Dog Around Competition will always be no contest.
After the parade, we spent an hour or so wandering around the various vendors (pet photographers, pet psychics and organic vegan dog treat makers were all present) and contemplating adopting a rescue puppy, and eventually capped off the day with cheap tacos nearby. While we’d sadly missed the big pumpkin drop due to our late arrival, we definitely feel we made the most of the day otherwise.
And I have to admit, the day started as a total disaster. We were late. We brought the wrong dog collar. The masks I made started to fall apart. My phone was dying. I was running late (as usual) and underestimated how much time I needed to get ready (as usual) and ended up running out the door in a complete frenzy with my hair half crimped, planning to finish it in the car, a plan that was crushed when the mobile outlet wouldn’t turn on.
Thankfully my dad has survived raising four daughters so it’s probably not the first time he’s been stuck in the car with one of us having a mental breakdown over having a half-crimped, half-straight head of hair, having packed incorrectly, and beating ourselves up over why we can’t be on time to anything in our dang lives even things that are important to us and we weren’t even doing anything significant anyway before we left! Ah, family.
But all is well that ends well, right?
The next day was actual Halloween, and the day of the big West Hollywood parade that had inspired me to be in Los Angeles in the first place. All day, I planned to go. But I’d been feeling extremely overwhelmed and frazzled by work, and just having one of those weeks where I felt I was half-assing everything. And so rather than half-ass one more event, I made a last minute call to stay home and have one low-key last night at home with my dad and Tucker before flying back to New York.
We put Tucker in his back-up hot dog costume to bark at Trick or Treaters, and agreed that we’d really had all the Halloween fun we’d needed to over the weekend, anyway.
In short, I think Los Angeles may be my new Halloween home base from here forward! Between Dia de Los Muertos, Howl’oween, and the promise of someday — in a less frazzled state — attending the West Hollywood Parade, I don’t think I could imagine anywhere better to be. My dad and I have already started brainstorming ideas for our next set of costumes.
Any ideas? Leave them in the comments!
Aside from Tucker (duh!), who would you give the Howl’oween grand prize to?
Jumping ahead to bring you some close-to-real-time coverage of my favorite holidays, since apparently some people don’t like reading about Christmas in July.
When I was messing around with my fall calendar, trying to figure out when to be where, one date stuck out to me as important: October 31st. As one of my favorite annual explosions of creativity, I wanted to spend Halloween somewhere special. I settled on Los Angeles.
Once the tickets were booked, I started researching for the best ways to celebrate. The famous West Hollywood Halloween party would fall on the actual holiday of Monday, October 31st, which left the weekend wide-open for alternative ideas. As I’m sure you can imagine, in a city like Los Angeles, I had plenty of options!
When I stumbled across the LA Dia De Los Muertos celebration at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, just a ten minute drive from my dad’s place in Koreatown, I knew I couldn’t miss it.
And yet I actually almost did miss it. My first few days back in Los Angeles were spent more or less in hibernation and to-do list mode: sleeping off my Hawaii jetlag, procuring my Thai visa, crafting costumes, and catching up on work. So by the time Friday night rolled around, I was pretty ready to let loose and enjoy the weekend I’d rechristened “El Fin De Semana de Los Muertos.”
And let loose I did at the cocktail tasting at The Walker Inn, where my badass friend Amy is one of the bartenders. The two hour tasting menu changes every two months or so, and the current theme is “childhood science experiments,” hence our stylish lab goggles. I went with my friend Amanda, a fellow blogger who I met in Bangkok last year at TBEX and immediately clicked with. She went from one City of Angels to another, and I couldn’t be happier to have another friend in my West Coast HQ. We were seated with two other cute girls who we loved chatting with and getting to know. It was perfect.
I went into The Walker Inn literally knowing nothing other than the fact that my friend Amy works there and was surprised and was so delighted by the whole experience — and I don’t want to ruin the surprises so you can feel the same way. If you are heading anywhere in Los Angeles anytime soon, just trust me. Make this a top priority. Reservations are tough to get so snap one up early — it’s one of the coolest things I’ve done in the city!
However, I paid for it dearly. I woke up on Saturday with one of the worst hangovers I’ve had all year, which I attribute to the wine I consumed when Amanda and I stuck around until well after closing. I had planned to hit up Hollywood Forever around mid-afternoon, but when finally peeled myself out of bed I was thinking more like maybe 2017 would be a more realistic goal.
I tried to find strength in donuts.
I’ve been wanting to check out California Donuts for a few different trips now, and Halloween weekend was the perfect excuse to finally indulge in their fancifully decorated creations. This retro bakery is walking distance from my dad’s place — though like true Angelenos we drove — and we were not disappointed by the festive results.
Around 3pm — you know, the time I’d planned to actually arrive at Hollywood Forever Cemetary — Amanda and I exchanged guilty texts and decided to rally.
She headed over and we quickly abandoned all hope of digging deep into our artistic souls and creating beautiful face paint masterpieces and instead pretty much copied my previous Dia Del Los Muertos look with a half-hearted change in color scheme. Our barely-clinging-to-life moods at least matched the theme of the night!
The sun set right as we were finishing the last touches of our face paint, dashing my hopes of arriving in time to get daylight photographs. But alas, my disappointment was quickly replaced with excitement as we approached the cemetery and were suddenly surrounded by face-painted revelers as we inched towards the entrance in traffic.
As we made our way through the gates, I felt I’d left Los Angeles entirely.
Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead in English, is not Halloween — it just happens to be around the same time, and also involve dressing up. The holiday originated in Mexico, though it is now celebrated throughout Latin America — and beyond. Los Angeles, with its large Latin American population, was the perfect place to get a primer. As I’d learn throughout the night and the through the reading I was inspired to do later, Dia de los Muertos is a rich, beautiful tradition that celebrates the lives of those who have passed — but who return to the community for one special night per year for a post-mortem party with their loved ones. Personally, coming from a culture that fears and dreads death, I found the concept of embracing and accepting it as part of the natural cycle of life to be refreshing and beautiful.
We spent our first few hours at Hollywood Forever wandering the gorgeously manicured grounds, soaking in the ninety or so detailed altars. While some were created in honor of the creator’s friends or family members, others were tributes to groups that have made tragic headlines — victims of police brutality, animals that have died in cosmetics testing labs, the victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting, undocumented workers who have died without access to health care, and the victims of the San Bernadino shootings were just a few that moved me to tears.
As we were staring reverently at one altar in particular, I felt a tap on my shoulder and someone asking me if I spoke Spanish. “Un poquito,” I replied apologetically, thinking I was about to be asked for directions.
“Bien,” was the reply, as the lights of a news camera suddenly blinded me and a beautiful woman shoved a microphone in my face and asked me about my night and my understanding of Dia de los Muertos. I did my best, and then later laughed imagining myself as the punchline on a Late Show-esque compilation of silly gringos struggling with Spanish.
I remarked to Amanda many times that I couldn’t stop thinking of Burning Man. The alters reminded me of the heart-wrenching and beautiful notes left behind in The Temple, while the elaborate costumes left me reminiscing about the wild acts of self-expression on The Playa.
Eventually we found a spot in the grass to relax and take in some of the performances and music taking place on the half a dozen stages dotted throughout the event. We gorged ourselves on taquitos, churros, agua fresca, horchata, and as many other delicious Mexican treats as we could get our hands on. Meanwhile, festival vendors and talented face painters tended to the masses.
Dia de los Muertos was, truly, a celebration of so many things I cherish in life. And — due to our delicate states — there was so much more we didn’t even experience! The doors are open from noon to midnight with a procession starting at 2pm and music on the stages firing up around 3pm. Next time, I vow to get there around 1:30 to take it all in. While the atmosphere at night was magical I think we missed out by not getting to admire the altars in the daytime, as well. And we simply didn’t have the energy to wait in line to see the Cathedral Art Exhibit inside the Cathedral Mausoleum, a wait I’m sure would have been much shorter had we arrived earlier. Moral of the story? You’re going to pay $20 to get in, you might as well make the most of your money and arrive as early as you can.
Other tips? Buy your tickets online ahead of time to skip at least one line. Come hungry and bring small bills for snacks — some booths accept credit cards but lines are long and you’ll speed things up by paying with exact change in cash. Take an Uber or Lyft rather than attempting to park. Definitely get in the spirit by dressing up — almost no one was not in costume, although levels of wow-dom obviously varied. Get your face painted onsite if need be. Prices ranged from $25-40. And once you’re looking fresh, get in line for the free photobooth!
While I was disappointed by our late start at my half-hearted costuming, I’m so glad we went. The night really summed up everything that has slowly won me over to Los Angeles — diversity in culture, an atmosphere of creativity, and a flair for the unique. I learned so much about this special holiday and fell in love with this event which I hope to attend over and over again.
And it was just the beginning of the weekend’s festivities. Need more? Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post on Dia de los Doggies.
Happy Dia de los Muertos, amigos!