Do you know how many songs have been written about California? No? Nor do I…
…There are a lot though, this is what I find out from my partner Henry, who is bursting into song at pretty much every interval. NWA’s ‘Straight Outta Compton’ has featured heavily, as has ‘California’ by Phantom Planet and of course ‘California Dreaming’ by The Mamas and Papas, who needs a radio, right? California is certainly a place worthy of its muse-like status. The land where anybody can be a star in the shadow of the all powerful Hollywood sign.
We landed in LAX at about 6.30am, giving us ample time to clear the world’s scariest customs (that’s a fact, I practically forgot my own name) and collected our baggage. We then picked up our car, a very stylish and American Chevrolet Cruse, and headed on to Venice Beach. My partner was superb at negotiating the alien highways and we arrived in no time – we realised we better get used to turning right at a red light pretty fast – Los Angelino’s don’t need much encouragement to use their horns!
Adventures in…Venice Beach
Our base for the next two nights was the amazing AIR Venice On the Beach (www.airinvenice.com), a cool oasis of beach-side living, with minimalist bedrooms and a glorious view of the sea, just footsteps from the front door.
Venice is a very interesting area, full of artists, fitness fanatics, surfers, skaters and vagabonds. The Boardwalk spills over with people, some browsing the many stalls, others trying to roller blade through the throng of people. The sea air helped shake the jet lag from our bones as we headed up the street, food on our minds. As we were in an area known for its fresh Latin American food, we headed to the Flying Jalapeño for some amazing, and enormous, breakfast burritos which were filled with scrambled eggs, black beans, pico de gallo salsa, cheese, bacon and guacamole.
We then waddled out onto the Boardwalk to find Victoria, my friend from school and ex-LA resident. She was an excellent guide and suggested a walk down to Santa Monica Pier in the bright sunshine and sea air. The day was so clear we could see the far off pier as we converged on the original site of Muscle Beach. My goodness you feel fat in LA. Where were all these obese Americans I had heard so much about? Well, they’re not in LA. In LA people have muscles on their muscles and seem to have found new ways to be fitter, bendier and more beautiful than us mere mortals. We saw acrobatic swinging on the Olympic Rings (no not from Henry), tightrope walkers doing flips, yoga buffs and kick-boxing. Just watching made you feel tired, so we headed for the lights and noise of the pier.
It’s a great place to spend some time, with some classic fairground rides, food stalls, buskers and the deep blue of the Pacific Ocean all around you. We enjoyed a funnel cake (deep fried batter in swirls coated in icing sugar) with Arnold Palmers – a mix of iced tea and lemonade. We then began our walk back across the beach to our hotel, Air Venice for a quick nap before dinner – neither of us had really slept on the plane so we were running on empty.
LA has got a really vibrant food scene and one which reflects the consciousness for healthy eating, seasonal produce and the melting pot of cultures in this metropolis. That evening we headed over to Gjadi, a hotspot for trendy young things which also happens to serve great food. We ordered the mushroom, goats cheese pizza and the sunblush and burrata pizza (incredible) with sides of horseradish roast potatoes and kale with fennel (easily the best kale dish I’ve tasted).
I wish I could tell you that we painted the town red that evening, but the only thing either of us wanted was a long sleep and I think we were down before our heads hit the pillows.
Oh how the other half lives. When you’re in Venice Beach you could be forgiven for thinking the glitz and glamour only extends as far as the movie sets. This changes as you drive into Beverly Hills. This private and illustrious community occupies the hills of West Hollywood and is the realm of the super rich and super famous. If you want to, there are many tours available which will take you on a tour of the Stars’ homes, but we elected for a drive around the hills to try and find the best view of the city below and a peek at the iconic Hollywood sign. It is also worth driving through the famous shopping areas like Rodeo Drive, where some stores charge sums of $1000 just to browse the rails. Our oggling was conducted from the car!
After all of that staring, you can work up an appetite, so we headed to Blu Jam Cafe on Melrose Ave. This is a place loved by locals, tourists and the glitterati alike who come to enjoy their signature dish – crunchy French toast with berries and vanilla sauce. It was delicious, but of course Henry and I being our gluttonous selves we ate that as a pudding to go after our Mexican huevos rancheros and quesadilla breakfasts. Needless to say we could barely walk out of that cafe, so it was back to the car to enjoy some sight seeing without having to waddle around.
Not caring much for the walk of fame, we decided to head to a lovely shopping area called The Grove. It was a perfectly manicured little world, with shops framing a pond and grassy verge filled with picnic blankets and people munching on food purchased from the adjacent farmers’ market.
We then headed back to Venice to enjoy the sunset on the beach. Watching the sun set over the ocean with the silhouettes of surfers and pelicans creating dark marks across the shimmering blue was spectacular. Quite aptly, that evening we ate Poké Poké – ‘surfers’ sashimi’. This is a delicious fresh bowl of sticky sushi rice with chunks of tuna in soy and sesame. It was wonderfully light, and a great antidote to the breakfast gorging.
Before the last light faded, we saw the mounted police force pose for a group photo which went swimmingly until the coast guard helicopter decided to photobomb the back of the shot, causing the horses to spook and the session to come to an end.
The Californian coastline was stunning, and this was before we even started the coastal route of the Big Sur. After dropping Victoria in West Hollywood, we began our journey to Santa Barbara. On the way we were able to stop at Gladstones in Malibu, a perfectly situated restaurant with stunning oceanic views. We were able to watch the myriad of sea birds coast effortlessly above the waves whilst dogs paddled in the surf.
The drive to Santa Barbara was longer than expected, so dinner consisted of some Trader Joe (a great whole food supermarket) salads enjoyed in the comfort of our motel room – very glamorous!
The adventure continues up the coast to San Francisco in our next post.