California: Thanksgiving 2018.

I probably run away from my big family for holidays/events more often than not these past few years and opt to travel with my little family. This year, we decided to head to Los Angeles and San Diego. We were in LA in January, but Liv has never been to SD (the last time we were in SD, I was pregnant with Olivia).

Los Angeles

I’ve been all about trying something new and not doing the same old thing we always do, so we stayed at the Hyatt Regency in Huntington Beach. Away from the city, on the beach, and near good eats in Orange County.

The Hyatt was huge. It was too cold for us Floridians to swim, but they did have a few pools (a kid pool too). The grounds were beautiful and they were putting up Christmas decorations. There was a direct overpass to get to the beach from the hotel.

For breakfast, we always love a good Hawaiian meal. Da Hawaiian Kitchen had good reviews and it was in Huntington Beach.

My kids can eat spam musubi day or night so they never complain about that. We liked the chicken and the beef short ribs, but the loco moco wasn’t as flavorful as we’re used to. We tried the poke too and it’s a little on the sweet side.

Olivia really wanted to check out the Hello Kitty Cafe at the Irvine Spectrum Center. Our verdict: cute space, but one and done. The cake was mostly cream and mushy inside. Liv only ended up eating the strawberries. Everything else was mediocre at best.

It was an unexpected surprise that the Spectrum is so kid-friendly! They had a ferris wheel, a carousel, an ice-skating rink, and a playground. We appreciated the family bathroom too; it had play tables and nursing stations.

We tried Afters for the first time. Their branding is impeccable. Liv went for mango. Bubs went for chocolate. I went for Vietnamese coffee. We’re pretty predictable. Niti tried the donut bun thing that they’re not allowed to call a donut bun with milk and Vietnamese coffee ice cream. It’s ice cream.. you can’t really go wrong.

For lunch, we stopped at Oc & Lau. This place has lines all day long. They are a machine. Don’t forget to join the Yelp waitlist online while you’re on the way here (and to check in when you arrive to stay in line). The line moves pretty quick regardless. Food comes out quick too. I’ve been here once before, but with somebody who knew how to order. Their menu is pretty daunting. I have no idea what we ordered (yep.. real helpful). We really liked the salad thing. Not so much the oyster dish. We love soups and hot pots, but the canh chua was too sweet for us (In Vietnamese talk: I’m Hue.. we like our flavors more on the salty side). The kids chose to eat the noodles with fish by itself (with no broth) and just dashes of fish sauce. Definitely my kids.

I’ve always wanted to stop by Shop Sweet Threads and never got the chance before because we usually stayed in the city. I follow her on instagram and just love the whole vibe. The store is so whimsical and fun. I knew Liv would love everything there. She brought home a few t-shirts and a Sago Mini play house (they’re her favorite characters from her projector books from Moonlite World too).

On Sunday, we woke up early to eat breakfast at the original Pho 79. Honestly, I don’t get the lines and the hype (we arrived before a line started forming). One of our dishes was Pho Tai Gan with a side of oxtail. I’ve had much better pho at home or in Wichita, KS. I judge a good pho by whether I need sriracha or not.. I needed a lot here. With a good pho, I only need to ask for meat on the side.. sprinkle it with lime, marinate with fish sauce, black pepper, and fresh chili peppers, then dip it in the broth to lightly cook it. I was spoiled growing up because my elders can cook. Not worth the wait if you have to stand in line.

After, we checked out the Long Beach Antique Market. We parked in the garage diagonal of the market and walked to/waited in a short line. It was $7 per person (kids under 12 are free). It was our very first flea market experience together. We walked around and were so excited to find vintage Barbie stuff all around. Olivia brought home accessories, of course! Bubs really enjoyed taking a step back into time too. He love spotting old comic books. There were bathrooms and snack stands on the grounds.

Our goal for the day was to make it to Pasadena to check out the Kidspace Museum. Such a cute place! Very interactive. Liv was running around the entire time, with Bubs following her. They both got a good work out here. There were climbing structures indoors. Bicycle riding outside. You might catch a show in the amphitheater. Olivia loved climbing up the treehouse thing. In the “flood and erosion” area, we saw a toddler in swimsuit + water shoes splashing around. Their favorite side might’ve been the Physics Forest. It had pulleys, levers, a ball range, a rollercoaster for balls, and foam blocks for building. The museum is a great place to expend some energy.

There was a playground outside of the Museum too! Perfect way to spend a day with the kids. If we ever planned anything in advance, a picnic would’ve been amazing too.

Our lunch for the day was Boston Lobster. There was a short line and we waited about 15 minutes. The food was brought out fairly quickly. It’s a good Chinese seafood spot and their speciality is the garlic lobster. The lobster came out layered on noodles. They executed it pretty well and we enjoyed our meal.

We drove to Little Tokyo after lunch because we always stop here during our visits. Both kids love checking out the shops here. They both love Tokyo so it makes sense. We had the most delicious popsicles from the Merci Clement truck. Liv had mango, Bubs had something chocolate, and I had pistachio.

With no other agenda for the rest of the day, we drove around Fairfax and La Brea. Briefly considered walking around The Grove to see the decorations, but there were so many cars going in, we opted not to. We had dinner at Beverly Soontofu and realized we’ve been here before. We got there at the right time without waiting because as soon as we sat, a line formed outside. It’s okay here.. I prefer our Korean spot in Weston, FL (Myung Ga).

On Monday, we took it easy and hung around our area. We had breakfast at Trang Tien. I was craving little Vietnamese bites like banh beo and banh bot loc. We read reviews and gave it a try. I would stick to the little bites. The banh canh and bun bo hue weren’t my fav.

We stopped by Mitsuya Japanese market/food court to pick up some snacks and then headed back to the hotel for a walk on the beach.

For our last dinner on this leg of the trip, we ate at Vientiane Lao Thai. A Laos food fix is hard to find. It’s not as good as home made, but whenever we find a place, we like to try it out. It was good enough, but not the best. I would skip the shrimp ceviche.

PS. I did ask one of my cousins for an LA food list she compiled:

Mokkoji Shabu Shabu 
Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong
Di Tai Fung
Tan Cang Newport Seafood
Tan Hoang Newport Bakery
Tan Hoang Huong Sandwiches & Coffee
Royal King Elephant 
Garlic and Chives 
Seafood Cove
Phnom Peng Noodle Shack
Paderia Bakehouse
Eiswelt Gelato
Banh Canh Que Em & Que Anh
Baos Hog
Boiling Point
Project Poke
Wingman Kitchen
Red Envelope
Pig Pen Delicacy 
Cravings by 99 Ranch Market 
Hajime Restaurant


Midori Matcha and Cafe
Half & Half
The Loop
Dough & Arrow
Sweet Combforts
California Donuts

San Diego

On Tuesday, we stopped by Mitsuya again to eat at their food court. One of Bubba’s favorite meals is ramen. Then, off to San Diego we went to meet my cousins. We spent our first evening walking through Balboa Park and grabbing a quick bite of tacos. My kids love their cool aunties; one is based in SD and the other is based in SF.

We ended our first night with dessert at Up2You. We tried the honey toast and the affogato. What I liked about a lot of places in SD is that they have bins of activities/games for patrons to play with.

The next morning, we had breakfast at Snooze (recommended by a lot on my instagram). It’s a running joke amongst my people that I should start day-drinking so I did; I tried their Bangkok Bloody Mary (they even put fish sauce in it). I prefer Blood Marys with the pickled green beans and okra, but this one was okay. We tried the pancake flight, shrimp and grits, and the OMG french toast. They also do the Yelp waitlist thing, so register on your way there because lines do form.

We drove 30 minutes outside of San Diego to check out the Safari Park. Loved this place. So open, but not overwhelmingly large. We went on our first air balloon too! I was nervous that Liv might freak out on the way up, but it was all me. She had so much fun. She’s fearless.. as for me, momlife involves always being worried about the what-ifs.

We took the kids to see the seals at La Jolla. Liv loved the seals, but did not love the fishy smell right by the cove.

We ended our time at Coronado Beach walking along the shore. It’s so beautiful here.. the sand has specks of gold glimmer. Olivia found handfuls of tiny mussels (that she put back). Bubs found a sand dollar.

My awesome cousins took Bubba out to an escape room too! They go out with 12 minutes to spare. Bubs really appreciated the time spent with them. So did Liv.. she calls them her sisters now.

It was so beautiful at Balboa Park that we had to see it in the day too.

Other places we ate:

We spent Thanksgiving at my cousin’s house with a combination of turkey and papaya salad!

Friend’s House - Calbi was good (tastes just about the same everywhere). Soondubu was a bit bland.

Ubereats Chris Ono Grinds - The kids wanted spam musubi. Meh.

Ubereats Refill Cafe - Crepes! We enjoyed.

Ubereats Banh Mi Bakery & Cafe - Bread was very soft.

Tasty Pot - It hit the spot. We tried several flavors of broth (beef, Taiwanese supreme spicy, seafood lobster). The Taiwanese one was our fav (it wasn’t spicy though.. we added more on the side). I didn’t like the milk tea.. it was different.

My cousin said carne aside fries was a San Diegan thing so we had to try. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the chance to try my cousin’s favorite taco place, El Gordo. We were on a time crunch to get to the airport. We stopped at The Taco Stand on Upas St. instead.