Back in May, I went on a two week trip to the golden coast. A much anticipated vacation to a place I have always only dreamed of visiting. My aunt was vacationing there from her home base in France, so I decided it was the perfect excuse to plan this exciting trip. My sister spends most of her time away at school, and since we are very close and have always spent our entire lives together, being away from her for the first time in a while has been unfamiliar, to say the least. She also had plans to go abroad for a summer internship soon after she came home from school, so I knew this trip would have been our only time together in a while. I called a friend who had moved to Pasadena and asked if we could spend a few days in the LA area to visit; and just like that I had purchased plane tickets! All I had to do now was make the itinerary. Naturally, I sat down to research the area, places I would be interested in visiting, and the food I would be excited to taste. Obviously I had to see the touristic landmarks, but also figured I would call up some people I knew lived there to spend some time doing what the locals do. The months passed, and finally we had set off to Los Angeles, where we stayed for about five days. After which, we drove up through the coast to Santa Barbara for the remainder of our trip, to spend some time with our family.
As soon as we arrived at the Burbank airport (which I highly recommend for cheaper flights, and less chaotic airport bureaucracy), we walked outside to really feel a completely different side of the country- the amount of palm trees was unreal! I am pretty sure my first 50 photos taken in California were of palm trees and blue skies... And I am not at all mad about it. These have been great cover photos and screen savers, and I know they will be even more cherished during the miserably cold New England weather.
The touristic landmarks we crossed off our list include:
- Downtown LA (Little Tokyo, Chinatown, and the Arts District)- I recommend you try out a burger joint called Umami Burger while there, they have really cool and different types of burger flavors and their fries are very crispy!
- Hollywood Sign and hike= TIP = Many just type into Google Maps, "Hollywood sign." However, during my pre-trip research I found a very informative video by Circa News that can be found here that explains why you should NOT do that. Residents near the Hollywood hills have recently taken action to send tourists through a different path that only reaches an area far from the sign, so that classic money shot photo of the sign cannot be taken.
- Beverly Hills (Including Rodeo Drive...where you at, Julia Roberts?!)
- Sunset Blvd. (During our day checking out the road with the classic picture-worthy row of palm trees, we met up with our cousin in the Grove Farmer's Market, which is essentially just a big outdoors area with little stands of foods and some restaurants. They offer varying types of restaurants from Japanese and Brazilian, to French and American Barbecue. We tried out one of the classic French restaurants and the food was on point.
- Walk of Fame (accidental during our night out, which to be honest, made this even cooler to see under the night lights of Hollywood)
- Santa Monica Pier
We also got the chance to try some great restaurants and bars and did a very nice wine tasting- I highly recommend Urban Press Winery (I found a discount package for it on Groupon and it cost me about $15 to get completely wine wasted). Their wine is very high-quality and varies from body to different aromas and flavors. We even got to taste a young wine directly from the barrel. A unique experience in my books for sure!
Right down the street from our friend's apartment in Pasadena, there was this hidden gem of a coffee shop that we walked to most mornings for breakfast, called Lincoln Pasadena. The aesthetic of the place is clean, chic, and modern. There are tall glass windows that allow you to sit down and watch the Californian blue skies covered in palm trees and they offer a wide selection of tasteful coffees, pastries, and breakfast sandwiches. I felt like I was in the Brooklyn area of Hollywood inside that coffee nook, if that existed.
For a memorable (or not so much) night out I highly recommend visiting either Hollywood or West Hollywood for different and interesting bars that are not normally found in every city. Some extraordinary bars are The Abbey, recognized as the world-famous best gay bar located in West Hollywood, and Good Times at Davey Wayne's in central Hollywood. Davey Wayne's is definitely a whole lot of an experience. It is a 70's themed tribute bar to the Houston brothers' father, Davey. The 70's vibes are very well perceived here, with the unique wallpapers, different in every room as well as the very dim lighting, outdoor patio and 70's blues, rock, and R&B. Meanwhile the Abbey was extravagant and elegant.
Going from the LA area to Santa Barbara was very refreshing. We drove down the Pacific Coast Highway, stopping at various beaches including Venice Beach and Malibu. Venice Beach was exactly what you see in movies- and what one thinks of when picturing the stereotypical California "beach babes and surfer dudes." The beach was vast, with many outdoors gyms in the muscle beach area, little restaurants, and souvenir shops. I was also amused at the amount of marijuana dispensaries in every corner. The air definitely had a relaxed and peaceful aroma, to say the least. When we arrived, we sat down at the beach and ate a few sandwiches my aunt had packed for the road trip. Then, we took a look at a few of the stores. It was very easy to get carried away by those souvenir stores. We decided to walk away from the shoreline, into town, and encountered an almost perfect replica of Italy's Venice. A group of colorful little houses that were only reachable by boat. Then it all clicked as to why this place in California was called Venice... It was honestly, such a mental trip to feel like I was in Europe, but in fact actually being in the West Coast.
After this, we decided to head off and continue our road trip. When we arrived in Malibu, we parked and walked down the boardwalk to check it out. It is really just about a mile of a beach-side hill with beautiful modern houses overlooking the ocean and a couple of restaurants and shops near the pier. Not much there, but the feel of the place is definitely very modern-chic. It was the perfect spot for Instagram-worthy photos! The restaurant we tried there was gorgeous! Called the Malibu Farm Restaurant which is at the very beginning of the pier. With a modern, clean aesthetic and trendy, healthy, fresh, and organic menu options; this was the perfect place to end the day. I ordered a passion fruit pina colada, which was a bang for my buck! My sister ordered a watermelon and vodka drink which was also tasty and strong- the drinks were definitely my favorite there. To eat, I tried the Swedish meatballs made out of farm-fresh chicken, cranberries, ricotta and paired with roasted baby potatoes. As we got closer to our destination in Santa Barbara, sitting at this laid back spot after eating some good quality food, all while watching the sunset over the vast Pacific Ocean felt like the perfect ending to the perfect day. Nothing like a good seaside road trip, breathing in some sea breeze, and getting some sunlight to get a break from the fast-paced city life in Los Angeles.
When we arrived at our Airbnb in Santa Barbara, we were exhausted and it was very dark outside. We took a small walk around the block to get a feel for the area. Our aunt toured us, since she had been staying there for around a month already, and then naturally we fell asleep to wake up fresh and enjoy the beaches the next day.
The next day we went to Arroyo Burro beach, also know as Hendry's beach, which was a few miles away from the Airbnb we stayed in, but a short Uber ride away and the day could not have been more beautiful. At this beach, both humans and dogs are welcomed. Almost everyone at that beach brings their dog, and with the vastly opened area, it is a true breath of fresh air to meet a bunch of furry friends during a visit to the beach. The only thing about Arroyo Burro was the fact there is only one restaurant there, the Boathouse restaurant which was a little pricey, but the food was very high quality.
We continued the week with visits to Leadbetter beach, followed by a visit to the Shoreline Beach Cafe located there. They had a pretty good happy hour menu with $2 off select drinks and some tasty appetizers and fish tacos. Down by Leadbetter beach there is also a very nice, upscale restaurant, ideal for splurging on a special dinner. If you have an important occasion to celebrate, I recommend this Italian restaurant called Toma. Since I lived in Italy a few years ago, I can attest that their dishes are the closest to truly authentic Italian meals here in the United States. A must try!
If you have time to explore downtown Santa Barbara, I highly recommend taking a walk down State Street, where all the boutiques and shops are located. There you can find my all time favorite sandwich shop for a quick bite, the South Coast Deli, where the options are endless. My favorite there is the eggplant Sammie made with breaded and fried eggplant slices, melted provolone, mayo, mustard, lettuce, tomato, pepperoncini and red onion. To die for!!! Finally, you have to check out the Chocolate du Calibressan chocolate boutique which sells unique, hand crafted French chocolates and gelato. YUM. Last but definitely not least, the daily farmer's market in Santa Barbara is the absolute best scene. They have fresh and beautiful produce and local hand made products every single day, and although the location of the market changes daily, it is a million times worth the trip. Locations and times can be found online.
Santa Barbara was truly mesmerizing; in the seven days we were there, there was not a single cloudy day. Not a single drop of rain fell from the sky. Many of the locals in Santa Barbara argue the lack of precipitation hasn't helped with the many droughts and wild fires in the West Coast, but for my short week there, it was an absolutely amazing break from the bipolar New England weather. All the shops, restaurants, people, and energy was invigorating to the senses.
We even visited our Airbnb host's private home for drinks and got to meet her and her husband, which was very refreshing to do and learn more about the locals. I noticed in a lot of places in California, it was much easier to make friends, or at least feel welcomed. People there have such a good energy and seem like they are always having a nice, sunny day, which is fitting. But besides the weather, I am not sure what makes humans in the West Coast friendlier. All I know is the West Coast is a must-visit location, and maybe even a must-live part of the country. The combination of cultures encountered there, the difference in the way people walk, speak, and look at you all add to the aesthetic of the state. My next trip there is already under construction.