I know some people hate reading travel posts months after the fact but, between you and me, I really love blogging about a trip a little while after I’ve returned. That space allows me to reflect on which bits of the holiday have made an impact on me and which places were most memorable. Plus, who doesn’t love flicking back through old travel pics? At the end of August, James and I flew across the Atlantic for our road trip up the coast of California. Our first stop was LA, where we spent a leisurely 4 days. I was really looking forward to LA but all of my American friends are ambivalent about the city at best, so I didn’t know what to expect. It turns out I completely love Los Angeles. It has its downfalls of course – the traffic is terrible and the freeways are terrifying – but between the sunshine, beach, friendly people and excellent food, it’s heavenly. We stayed in Venice, which was a dream. The first time we cycled onto the board walk, I welled up. I couldn’t believe I was finally in this place with my best friend. Self-confidence isn’t something that comes easily to me, and just the idea of holding down an adult job that allowed me to afford a holiday like this once seemed out of reach. I have been dreaming and saving for this trip for a couple of years, and a small part of me thought it would never happen.
It’s hard to explain why I felt so drawn to California in the first place. I think a large reason is that a lot of the culture (films, TV, music and, of course, blogs) that I grew up with, and take comfort in, comes from the West Coast. It felt strange to know so much about a place without ever having spent time there. There’s also a brilliantly hippie / weird vibe in California that I wanted to experience for myself. I wanted to drive down the 101 and stop off for a cup of Joe in a diner and watch the sun set behind the palm trees in the Hollywood Hills and get my palm read by a psychic. One of my favourite books of all time is Francesca Lia Block’s Dangerous Angels (I know it’s meant for teenagers… but that’s a pretty accurate representation of my taste in literature.) She perfectly described the magic of the City of Angels to me, and I couldn’t wait to soak it all in. I drove down the Pacific Coast Highway whilst listening to Hole’s Pacific Coast Highway, so I can tick that one off my bucket list. James and I are still pointing out lyrics in songs to each other that we finally understand having been to California (“work zone double fines”).
We rented a Spanish Bungalow in Venice through Air Bnb which came with bikes, and a tandem. It was perfect being able to cycle around Santa Monica and Venice, and meant (being the only driver) that I could have a drink during the day. We even managed the tandem bike without knocking over too many pedestrians. There really is no better way to experience the Venice boardwalk than by bike, cushioned by the balmy breeze. We had a lot of fun in the sea, diving in and out of the waves and then pedalling up to Thai Vegan for an Iced Tea and Pad Thai, our salty legs drying in the sunshine. I adored the Santa Monica Pier, with its candyfloss and old fashioned carousel. We were definitely the oldest people on the rides without children but I wanted the full experience… Outside of Venice, we spent one full day driving around the city on a self-guided Buffy tour of LA. I have a lot of photos from that day, so I’ll save them for a separate, Buffy-heavy blog post, with addresses in case any of you are super-fans and want to follow our route.
As soon as I started dreaming about a holiday to LA, I knew I wanted to visit the Miracle Eye shop in Chinatown. Miracle Eye is probably my favourite brand – groovy, dreamy, 70s inspired apparel, handmade, sweatshop free, and independent women-owned. They’re the most beautiful clothes and there’s no guilt associated with shopping there, although they do come with a (well deserved) hefty price tag. The shop was just as beautiful as I imagined, and they had a large stock of reasonably priced vintage alongside the handmade stuff. It was ridiculously hard to choose (I was trying on things for a couple of hours…) but I eventually settled on a terracotta tapestry jacket, velvet snake print halter top and sheer tiger print shift dress. I feel like that experience really made me value the clothes so much more. So much thought went into my shopping decision – perhaps it should always be like that. In the end, we didn’t do many of the typical Hollywood activities. We didn’t see the stars of fame or visit any of the movie studios. I’m pleased with that choice, I felt like we avoided the tourist traps and some of the more obnoxiously wealthy areas.
Before we arrived, probably the thing I was most nervous about was renting the car. I was worried about driving on the wrong side of the road, and of the hire car not working out (with accommodation pre-booked and no other way of getting there.) I think I did a pretty good job but LA was an interesting place to start. They should give you a handbook for Californian driving before they give you the keys. It took me a while to realise you can turn right even though the light is red (sorry cars behind me…) and to adapt suitably aggressive merging techniques on the freeway to avoid being taken back off when you enter into the “exit only” lanes. We even got fined for parking facing the “wrong way”, thanks Santa Monica. Now I understand why so many Americans selfie whilst driving – what else do you do with your spare hand when you have no gear stick?
A couple of people, surprisingly, asked me if I was worried about eating vegan in the US. Uh, no, California is a haven for vegans. I started out with intention of writing a vegan-guide to LA but I quickly got dinner-photo fatigue (who knew it was possible?) so you’ll just have to take my word for it that the food was incredible and there are so many fully vegan restaurants. Thai Vegan was my favourite foodie place, but I also loved Veggie Grill (a vegan fast food chain), Cafe Gratitude, Real Food Daily, and Cruzer Pizza. If only every country could take note, the world would be a happier place.
I found the quality of light in LA so striking – it is beautiful at all times. No wonder so many Californians blog, ha! The sunset lasts for hours and soaks everything in a never ending golden glow. If I could take one thing back to Scotland with me, it would be that. I could write about LA for days, but I’ll stop now. Next up are snapshots from Palm Springs and Joshua Tree! Have you ever been to California?