I know, I know - I am writing about a series of travel adventures that happened six months ago. Why did it take me so long to finally write and publish these words? Keep reading, and you will understand why.
Two trips. 16 days. 644 photos. 1,376 miles (back and forth) by car, by train, by bus, and sometimes on foot, passing through 11 counties, which resulted in at least 15 adventures. That's right - It's not really an exaggeration to say that I explored all over the place throughout Southern and Central California in November and December 2015, including with my sister/best friend/travel-partner-in-crime, Rebecca. Here it goes…
Day 1 - Backpacking in L.A.
A few changes of clothes, a small bag of travel-size toiletries, an iPad & camera, and a book I purchased at the airport - I arrived in L.A. with everything I needed for the next week-and-a-half strapped to my back. It felt great to be home and away from home all at the same time. Simultaneously free & ready to go anywhere, while also feeling excited to be back in one of my favorite places. And in that moment, from my perfect perch in Barnsdall Park gazing out at the Hollywood Sign, the Griffith Observatory, and my beloved neighborhood hangout Los Feliz, I just felt happy and grateful to be there.
Searching for an Abandoned Zoo in Griffith Park
This is exactly the type of thing I love to come across in my travels. When I found out that the structural remains of the Old L.A. Zoo is something you can actually visit within L.A.'s lovely, monstrously huge Griffith Park, I knew I had to go. So one morning after breakfast, I randomly decided to try to find it…on foot, without a map in hand. Not the smartest idea. I got lost on the eastern edge of the park, but hey, it was a nice, scenic detour.
Red Carpet Sneak Peek in Hollywood
After browsing the Amoeba Music store, I walked to nearby Hollywood & Highland to get a cup of coffee and to window shop. From inside one of the stores, I looked out onto Hollywood Boulevard, and there I saw a carpet in the middle of the street…a red carpet. I tried inconspicuously to figure out what was going on, and more importantly, for whom. Upon closer look, I saw the crew dismantling the set up, so whatever the event was, it had already passed. Nonetheless, it was exciting to see the partitions and the flurry of activity up close.
Culture and Art in Downtown L.A.
The last time I spent any time in Downtown L.A. (besides tons of train layovers in Union Station), I was in college doing research in the Garment District for a class project. This time, I was surprised by how much cool, fun stuff I came across in the city's core. First stop: The Last Bookstore, which is self-described as the biggest new & used books and record store in the state…it is quite massive and impressive. There's even a book tunnel/archway upstairs. After seeing lots of advertisement signs around town, I spontaneously decided to visit the brand new Broad museum, which features some incredible contemporary art…and massive lines to get inside; I lucked out as a walk-in, but I strongly recommend making a free advance reservation. At the (extremely crowded) Grand Central Market, I got a good cup of coffee, and I also passed a few other notable landmarks, including Angels Flight, the Bradbury Building and the L.A. Times office building.
Diving into the (Chilly) Ocean in Santa Barbara
Still at a safe distance close to the shallow shore, I momentarily surrendered, allowing the salty waves to rock me back and forth. It was an amazing feeling to enjoy the crisp air and gregarious sunny skies of the lovely Santa Barbara coast. After a nice day at the beach, exploring the shops at nearby State Street, and eating a really good Brazilian brunch, my sister and I headed back towards L.A., saw a movie, ate dinner (barely awake at this point) and then crashed at her place in the Valley.
Seeking Salvation near the Salton Sea
The very next day... My sister and I drove 200 miles southeast to see an art installation deep in the Southern California desert…almost to Mexico. You drive for miles and miles, and then Salvation Mountain is just there - like a mirage you can't believe really exists in such a remote location. The bright colors, the tunnels and secret passageways - it's quite cool, no matter your religious views. Until my sister reminded me, I had forgotten that Salvation Mountain makes a cameo in the movie Into The Wild. (Of course I re-watched the film when I got home.)
Holiday Decor and Palm Trees near Miracle Mile
Located south of West Hollywood and east of Beverly Hills - when I visited this area a few years ago, I saw the La Brea Tar Pits and the Craft and Folk Art Museum (which I highly recommend). This time, I wandered around the ginormous L.A. County Museum of Art (also known as LACMA), which is instantly recognizable on Wilshire Blvd when you see the dense maze of old-timey street lamps outside of the front entrance. Also, I had a feeling that the nearby shopping center The Grove would have some pretty holiday decorations, which of course it did. Thus, I got treated to a nice mixture of art viewing, early dinner at the nearby Farmers Market, and window shopping.
Full Circle - Barnsdall Park to Union Station
Back where I started...and also moving forward into the next phase of my journey. With a cup of hot coffee in hand, I lazily watched the remaining hints of daylight wane into the twinkling night skies of Hollywood. It was my last evening in L.A. for this particular trip, but I knew I would be back in only one month. It's a strange, magnetic pull - the relationship I have with Los Angeles. I always feel compelled to come back, and I love wandering around, within and to/from like a homely tourist. And round and round, the cycle continues. The next morning, like I've done so many times prior (and always immensely enjoy), I ventured to Union Station, where I boarded the train to lovely San Diego.
Ghosts of Old Town
Do the shoes really shift positioning around the room? Did you hear an unexplained sound across the room, or feel an extra presence close by? A historic institution preserved in Old Town San Diego, the Whaley House is also the sight of alleged hauntings. Not just a private residence, the house also once served numerous town functions, including a court house and the first commercial theatre in San Diego. I loved viewing the 19th century home decor up close, and the friendly docents (dressed in period clothing) are very welcoming and approachable, happy to answer any questions.
Green Line Trolley Tour of San Diego
After visiting the Whaley House, I walked around the rest of Old Town San Diego, including stopping for lunch at Casa Guadalajara (because guacamole enchiladas is always a given) and browsing the colorful shops at Bazaar del Mundo. Next stop, cappuccino and a piece of tiramisu in Little Italy. Lastly, I did a quick sprint along Seaport Village where I got to see the lovely shoreline, the ships, and the touristy shops. All of these sights easily accessible on one trolley line - it was awesome.
Brunch in Pasadena - (Back in L.A., one month later)
Conundrum: What's the best way to spend a free day in L.A. when there's a chance of rain? Here's the solution I came up with: Old Town Pasadena. Accessible by Metro, filled with lots of shopping on Colorado Blvd, and walking distance to nearby museums, I knew I would keep entertained and have a convenient means of shelter from the elements. Though I love my usually fast-paced method of sightseeing, the inclement weather on this particular day provided a nice excuse to slow down and enjoy one of life's most amazing treasures: Brunch. Sitting at a modest table near the window, I slowly sipped my large coffee and savored every delicious bite of the Apple Walnut Cheese Omelet at Aux Delices, a wonderful French bakery/cafe.
Road Trip 101: Driving up the Coast
With tunes, coffee and Christmas candy, my sister and I embarked on one of our ultimate "Adventure Day" excursions. Actually, this particular journey spanned two days on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day driving up the 101 Freeway and Pacific Coast Hwy (PCH) with the aim to reach Big Sur.
Christmas Eve: Antique Shopping in Cambria
Halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Cambria is a very cute little town near the Hearst Castle. The moody Central California coast dumped plenty of rain on us periodically throughout the afternoon, but the cloudy, damp, cool atmosphere added a strangely comforting feeling to the surroundings. After eating lunch at a nice restaurant (next to a much appreciated warm fireplace, by the way), we walked around the small shopping district, including one really huge antique store where we found some delightfully strange treasures. An awesome way to end the day, we checked into our hotel room (with a spot-on ocean view!) in the nearby town San Simeon (which is cheaper to stay, by the way). After walking across the street to spend some time at the beach, we returned to our hotel room, ate dinner and watched the looped TV re-runs of A Christmas Story.
Cows and Seals near the Central California Coast
Just a few miles north of San Simeon, there is an outlook post where you can view the seals waddling along the shore. And if you turn your head 180 degrees…you see the cows grazing in the grass on the other side of the highway. Seals on one side of the road…and cows on the other. It's a funny visual.
Christmas Morning in Big Sur
We reached Big Sur early in the morning before the crowds of other tourists swarmed. First stop, the Overlook Trail in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, which has a spectacular, cliffside panoramic view of the vibrant turquoise ocean and dramatic coastline. Also, I will never forget exchanging Christmas presents/stockings (items we picked up for each other at antique shops at previous points of our journey) in the parking lot at the nearby Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and then walking around amongst the beautiful redwoods. We kept driving northward, debating where/when to turn around, and of course, realizing that we were only 120 miles from San Francisco. I was the party pooper who nixed the spontaneous idea of staying another night on the road so that we could spend time in the Bay Area (because I had a flight to catch from LAX back to Dallas). Instead, we drove all the way back to L.A. from Salinas and had Korean BBQ for dinner.