Birthdays, Brunches, Beaches and Bulldogs

Renea, Donna, Ariel and Jennifer at the Mud Hen Tavern.
Renea, Donna, Ariel and Jennifer at the Mud Hen Tavern.

When I asked my girlfriend Donna what she wanted to do for her birthday, she provided me with a list of ideas and naturally, we did all of them. The week-long birthday celebration started with Sunday brunch, accompanied by a few close friends at The Mud Hen Tavern in Hollywood. The Mud Hen is owned and run by chef and restauranteur Susan Feniger. They were more than happy to accommodate our sizable group and even asked us in advance if we would like to split up the bill into separate checks. The restaurant has a semi-open floor plan with an outdoor seating area, numerous craft beers on tap and a fantastic menu. I opted for the Hangover Burger, a classic cheeseburger topped with a fried egg and Neuske’s thick cut bacon. Absolute deliciousness!

A few days later, there was a mid-week mini-celebration that involved a quiet dinner at home, some poorly chosen desserts (my fault, completely) and several bulldog videos on YouTube. Donna has a well-documented obsession with English bulldogs — more on that later — and I did my best to entertain her while we ate our desserts on the couch.

The Mission at San Juan Capistrano.
The Mission at San Juan Capistrano.

The following weekend was the two day, three-pronged grand finale. On Saturday, we drove down to San Juan Capistrano to visit the Mission. Although the grounds are very beautiful and the Mission is a large part of the history of California, visiting this place was a bit odd for me. I do not believe in organized religion and do not want to glorify Spain’s efforts to expand their territories or convert the native people of California to Christianity. If you enjoy history or are religious, I can certainly understand the appeal of this place, but I was kind of just along for the ride on this one.

After strolling the Mission grounds, we drove to Dana Point and checked in to our hotel. Once we dropped our bags and washed up, we got right back in the car and drove over to What A Dish Cafe for a fundraiser organized by Southern California Bulldog Rescue. As I mentioned earlier, Donna has an intense, life-long love of English bulldogs. I’m not quite sure where this stems from, but even the sight of a bulldog on TV makes Donna squeal like a little girl. We arrived at the fundraiser right at the scheduled start time and within a few minutes, there were about a dozen bulldogs waddling around the patio area. I’m kind of amazed that Donna’s head didn’t explode.

Brooklyn, Penelope and Tonka at the SoCal Bulldog Rescue fundraiser.
Brooklyn, Penelope and Tonka at the Southern California Bulldog Rescue fundraiser.

Between head scratches and belly rubs, we tasted some appetizers and met some really nice, but also bulldog-obsessed people. Many of the people in attendance brought their own bulldogs, or bulldogs they were currently fostering, to the event. They were all extremely welcoming and didn’t think it was at all strange that two non-bulldog owners drove all the way from West Hollywood to Dana Point, just to play with other people’s bulldogs. If we ever move to an apartment that doesn’t prohibit pets, I am in serious, serious trouble.

Post-fundraiser, we found ourselves still wanting something to eat, so we stopped at The Shwack Beach Grill. Don’t let the goofy name or the surfer speak on the menu fool you. This. Place. Is. Awesome. We snagged two seats at the bar and a few minutes later, the line was out the door. I’m fairly certain that the vast majority of the crowd were locals and that is always a good sign. I ordered the fish tacos and although the “mild” salsa that accompanied them was not quite mild enough for me, I enjoyed them nonetheless and would definitely go back.

After dinner, we walked along the beach for a while and enjoyed the cool night air. Neither one of us slept particularly well, due to an uncomfortable mattress, but we were still excited to get up early the next morning for Sunday’s drive to Huntington Beach and the Surf City Surf Dog competition.

The Surf City Surf Dog competition at Huntington Beach.
The Surf City Surf Dog competition at Huntington Beach.

Dogs on surfboards. It was ridiculous. And I mean that in the best way possible. English bulldogs like Tillman seem to have a natural propensity for skateboarding and surfing, probably due to their low center of gravity, but I was amazed to see all kinds of dogs getting in on the action. Smaller dogs like Brandy The Surfing Pug and even larger dogs, including labradors and pit bulls, were visibly excited to get in the water with their owners. We stood on the beach for almost four hours just watching them go. It was a beautiful day and the turnout was fantastic. In addition to the competitors, many of the spectators brought their dogs to the beach for the day. The Huntington Beach Junior Guard was on hand to make sure that dogs and people alike remained safe, there was an observation platform built right on the beach for the announcer and judges, and you couldn’t walk without tripping over a photographer wearing a “Puparazzi” tag. It was awesome.

On the ride home, I asked Donna if she had seen enough bulldogs and of course, she replied “NO! There can never be enough bulldogs!”

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