California here I come…but not right back where I started from! For a Midwesterner thoughts of the coasts is always wrapped in romance and adventure. I am not immune to either sentiment. I love the West. I need to spend more time out there. A person in love with nature, with rocks and clouds, with trees and animals, the West was made for me!
So, here I am…on a trip to CA for a wedding, but relishing the opportunity to expand that into two weeks of national parks and the Pacific Ocean.
I flew to Los Angeles on Monday, July 18th, arriving in the late afternoon. LA traffic, noted and accounted for, I set out for Santa Monica in a rental car. My hotel is right on Ocean Boulevard, in front of the ocean. The Santa Monica Pier is visible from my window. I’m in heaven, and if that’s too lofty, call it Paradise. Sunny and cool, breezy and bright – what isn’t to love?
This trip is a mix, tourist-ing with a generous dose of family and friends. I hope to describe to you, as usual, “what I think about where I go,” in the hopes of entertaining you, and if not edifying you, at least imparting information!
So let’s get started.
Our first evening in Santa Monica was dedicated to family. My nephew lives in Santa Monica and we met up with him at his house. We caught snippets of the RNC over wine and went to dinner at Gracias Madre, a vegan restaurant that was packed! Yes, this is CA, but I am always one to suggest that vegan food can be delicious, appetizing and also nutritious (i.e. salad can be vegan, but it isn’t “food.”) We not only had a delicious meal, but a hearty one, too! Doggie bags! And no one complained. Gracias Madre had a special three course tasting menu for a “restaurant week” event, and we tried that. Excellent place – I highly recommend it!
My first full day, (Tuesday, July 19th) we set out in the early morning to explore the Santa Monica Pier. It was deserted but for a few souls who either hadn’t yet gone to sleep or, unable to sleep, were already up and about like we were, suffering from minor jet lag that hadn’t reset the body clock from the two-hour time difference.
To say deserted, however, means that I have discarded the presence of the myriad homeless people sleeping in Palisades Park, the park that runs the long bluff above the beach. Their plight is not lost on me, and it would be a topic of discussion throughout the day.
The pier is old and massive, still sporting the amusement park and facilities which were built in its original heyday, some more modernized than others. It is eclectic. It has restaurants, too. Fisherpeople occupy the wooden benches, poles out in the water, catching I don’t know what. No one brought in a fish while we were there.
On a leisurely walk along the beach southward (what’s the hurry when it’s 6:00 am?) we enjoyed the sights: Lots of colors, people with dogs and jogging alone, sand brushed into patterns… Finally, we stopped for breakfast in a hole-in-the-wall (actually there were no walls) little place called Cora’s Coffee Shop. It was a good breakfast, with nice strong coffee and lovely table-neighbors. The walk back to the hotel was along Ocean Boulevard and gave us an opportunity to enjoy the shops and the bustle of Santa Monica.
Later in the morning we met up with my nephew, Alex, and turned the itinerary over to him. We drove to Venice – First stop: the canals. I found the concept strange until I thought. Venice. Canals. OH!!! (Or AHA!) Lights go on. Yes, just a bit too literal! From the canals we meandered down to the beach. We saw “Muscle Beach” minus most of the body builders. We enjoyed the skateboard park! What a playground that is, and we got to see lots of action. The beach was beautiful with its tall palms and white sand and blue skies, and so fun with everything that was going on.
After this stroll, we returned to the car and drove to Hollywood. This is the west coast version of Times Square. There were so many tourists, and all of them doing what we were doing. Just gawking! I am told that there is no Hollywood in Hollywood anymore (for that you go visit Universal Studios) but that was OK for me: I was there to see the Walk of Fame and the Grauman Chinese Theater. It was jostling but still entertaining to elbow our way along the crowds on the sidewalk, scanning the stars in the pavement at our feet – marveling at how many names we actually knew! I was surprised that the stars were not just for movie people, but
for people in lots of entertainment fields, and they weren’t even all “people.”
It had been a full morning of activity, so for lunch we tried a famous taco place, Guisados. There is a really famous branch elsewhere in LA (I am guessing here) but we went to the branch closest to Hollywood. The menu focuses on stewed meat tacos on homemade tortillas: The sampler of the famed stewed meat options – pulled pork, guanchiales (cheeks), cracklings (chicharones) – was the highlight. Mine were vegetarian.
After lunch we drove through the high rent districts of Beverly Hills, Belair, and Homby marveling at the size of the houses that must be hidden behind the huge fences and imposing gates!
That evening we had dinner with friends we meet in Umbria. Imagine – we were on a trip in Umbria, having a wine tasting and dinner in a cellar in Spello. The owner of that wine shop has a brother with a restaurant in LA. We made a pact with a couple from LA, Peter and Marilyn, that we would meet again and have dinner at the restaurant owned by the brother. At the time we didn’t imagine that it would be just 9 months later! We opened a couple of the bottles of wine they purchased at the wine shop in Umbria and enjoyed a delicious dinner in LA! The restaurant is the Osteria Angelini.
The following day, we had breakfast on the front porch of our hotel, The Georgian. We also took a short walk on the palisade (Palisades Park). Unfortunately, the stench of urine, as well as the sight of humans urinating in public along the fence that protects park-goers from falling over the bluff, mars what is otherwise a beautiful view and lovely walk. That there are public restroom facilities in the area is evidence that the issue of homelessness is complicated.
Today we met up with Alex again and he took us to the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens. (What a mouthful!)
“The Huntington” is about an hour’s drive from Santa Monica (Nothing is close in LA.). It is a fabulous estate turned into research library, botanical gardens and art museum (obviously!) It is very well done. By that I mean that as an experience nothing seems to detract from the enjoyment you choose to pursue on your visit, whether it is perusing the gardens and plantings, contemplating the art or architecture, or just enjoying a meal and working on your computer under the arbors. Visually all the service facilities are well-integrated into the feel of the estate. They are clean and convenient. Docents and guards are helpful, yet unobtrusive. They are right where you need them when you have a question.
The cactus garden was a highlight for us, and especially in the heat (very near 100 degrees) it seemed just perfect for our visit. We also walked through the Japanese and Chinese gardens. We had lunch there, too. We took the time to watch a film about the history of the place and the family before we went to see the European art galleries which are in the original house. As it was after lunch on a very hot, energy-draining day my usual enthusiasm for art was not at a peak, but my curiosity about the house was amply satisfied. I could so live like that! (In my imagination, of course! Just the thought of the up-keep prods the practical side of me to say “I could so be a guest in a house like that!”)
As to art, I will say that “The Blue Boy” is a very arresting painting. It is a real pleasure just to sit and stare at it…the “boy” looks at you so directly he almost seems alive. He certainly seems to be telling you something, though I could not discern exactly what he was saying to me…Maybe “You’d better get on the road. You have a long drive.”
From the Huntington, we left to drive to Joshua Tree National Park, a 2 1/2 hour drive. Click here to continue reading about our days in Joshua Tree.