California · California · Laguna Beach · Travelling · USA

Days 46 to 53 – Laguna Beach and Southern California

Day 46 – Hawaii to Laguna Beach

After ten days in the beautiful islands of Hawaii, I headed to Kona ‘International’ airport to fly east to California. First a quick word on the airport…..quite the weirdest international airport I have ever flown from! It is ‘international’ due to the one flight a day to Japan. The entire airport is a series of sheds joined together. I was surprised there weren’t chickens running around departures. Hilarious.

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Anyway, after five hours in the air, I touched down at LAX. The landing was amazing as we came into land during a fantastic sunset and had the best views I have even had across LA. My best girl Liz was there to greet me and whisk me south back to Orange County and my second home, Laguna Beach.

Day 47 – Laguna Beach

So I am staying here with Liz for three weeks. As many people who know me may recall, I have been here a few times! I regard it as my second home, so after seven weeks on the road, it is fabulous to be able to unpack my suitcase and chill for a while. After a morning spent nattering and catching up, we headed down to the beach and caught up with some good friends. West Street Beach in Laguna is a glorious stretch of ocean. I jumped in the sea, and whilst not quite as warm as Hawaii, it was great to be back! I also caught up with my friends Jody and Damien. Damien has been unwell and it was so nice to see him looking much improved and to see Jody’s ever smiling face too!

We ended the day with dinner at a favourite dining spot called ‘La Sirena’, which does fantastic Mexican food. It has been so lovely slipping back into familiar routine with good friends.

Day 48/49 – Hanging out

Combining these two days as haven’t done very much! Liz worked all day Monday so I was flying solo again. I did some exploring in Laguna to what had changed. Mainly a few new houses being built and unfortunately a few businesses gone under too. I think the shop rents here are very expensive and some local businesses can’t afford the rents. Quite a common story.

There is a great library-run bookshop I always visit, to look for bargains. Partly because I think it is the shop that someone recently bought a first edition book that appeared on the Antiques Roadshow and sold for £100,000s! So I intend to find such a book myself. Still looking…

Also been hanging out at the beach and swimming, though the water here is very different to Hawaii and the waves are a lot bigger with additional rip-tides so I have to be careful. It is now in full summer mode here so it is very busy. However where I am staying is up in the hills so it is nice and cool and devoid of tourists!

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Haven’t done much else! Mainly reading and swimming in my hammock. it is a hard life. No, it is.

Days 50/51 – Drag shows and Independence Day

Wednesday’s highlight was going to the weekly drag show! I never really see much drag at home but seem to much prefer it here. Was a great show with five performers, my favourites being Wilhelmina Caviar and April Showers! Everyone here lip-syncs whereas UK performers tend to sing live.e14e4537-fb7e-4bdc-b6a6-e3bac5b3c5cb

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Wilhelmina Caviar, April Showers, Nomi B

I also walked up to the the gorgeous Heisler Park. Considering the value of land around here, it is is nice that there are still some great sports on the coastline to sit and admire the view. There is also a 9/11 memorial in the park that I always find very moving to see, as it is a part of the girder of one of the towers.

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Heisler Park, Laguna Beach
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The 9/11 memorial in Heisler Park, Laguna Beach

Thursday was Independence Day. I had often heard that it was a big holiday where everyone goes to the beach, well at least here in California that is, and they weren’t wrong! The photo below shows the volume of people down on the sand! However, the day started with a jolt and I experienced my first earthquake. Was a pretty surreal experience, we were sitting outside on a wooden deck, on stilts, overlooking a canyon and the ground started shaking! Not the safest place to be perhaps! The house shook side to side for about 6-8 seconds. The epicentre was up in rural California, east of LA, so even though it was a 6.4 magnitude it wasn’t felt particularly strongly here.

After that, I slipped into my stars and stripes vest and headed down to West Street Beach with Liz. After finding a small square inch of sand, we settled down for the day with our towels and picnic. We must’ve appeared very amateur compared to others who had bought huge tent constructions, sound systems, cool-boxes, you name it!

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West Street Beach on the 4th July

The waves were huge so unfortunately I could not swim. However because quite a few people were drinking, lots of people did attempt to go into the water, and that caused many headaches for the lifeguards, who had to keep stopping people from going in. In fact one person got into trouble and a helicopter had to land on the beach to rescue them.

In the evening we went to see some more drag and watched the fireworks on the beach. In the US, every city has their own display, and they all coincide at 9PM. Sitting on the beach, looking up and down the coast, you can see multiple displays at once which was pretty cool. There is certainly a huge amount of patriotism here, way more than you would ever see in Europe. At times it does seem pretty OTT, but it is very much in the American psyche that they are the best country in the world and that they should celebrate its, which I guess isn’t such a bad thing. It certainly was an experience to witness it!

Days 52/53 – more earthquakes, a trip to San Clemente and art

Friday I jumped on the bus with the other losers and dropouts (who doesn’t have a car right?) and headed south down the coast to the small town of San Clemente. It is similar to Laguna, a nice seaside town, with a pier, lots of surfing and local shops. As rubbish as the public transport system here is, at least it is cheaper, it was $2.00 for a 45 minute journey on the bus, at home it is about £5 for a return to town.

In the evening I scored a free ticket to ‘The Pageant of the Masters’. I went last year and it was amazing so was glad to go again. The premise of the show is that famous paintings are recreated on stage using real people. It is difficult to explain and you can’t take photos, but it truly amazing how they present these paintings that look incredibly realistic. The theme was HG Wells’ ‘Time Machine’. A couple travel back through time using Leonardo Da Vinci’s notebook as a guide to visit paintings through history.

The evening however started with another earthquake! Still focussed up in rural California and this time a 7.1 magnitude quake. I was at the theatre at the time and you could see the lighting rigs shaking. Let’s hope that the end of them!

I also got some great shots of the local hummingbirds feeding at dusk. People put out sugar water for them and they go crazy for it!

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Saturday was art day. I realised I hadn’t been to a gallery in weeks! Withdrawal. There is a great gallery called the Laguna Art Museum here in town. Laguna is famous as an artists colony, dating back into the early twentieth century. Artists relocated here, predominantly from the east coast, to take advantage of the light and surroundings and to paint ‘plein air’ (outdoors). The ‘Laguna Beach Art Association’ was formed in 1918, with the art museum following in 1929.

The museum has a great collection of American impressionism, with William Wendt and Anna Hills two particular favourites. Both artists were instrumental in establishing the art colony and the museum.

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I then headed down to ‘Treasure Island’, perhaps not as exciting as it sounds however! There is a huge hotel here called The Montage, surrounded by public beach and gardens, which is Treasure Island. It’s a nice place to hang out, people watch and look across the Pacific.

My final thought for the day is fruit! Now I like a smoothie, as anyone who knows me will tell you. The fruit here in California is so amazing, and tastes so great in a smoothie. The grapefruit and oranges are so sweet, and luckily a friend of Liz and mine called Jody recently delivered a huge box of assorted goodies so we have been working our way through that!

California

Weeks 16 & 17 – a Californian Christmas and New Year

I flew back into LAX from Auckland on Thursday 22 December, arriving approximately 10 hours earlier than when I took off. LAX is quite the assault on the senses/worst airport ever/full of the rudest people known to mankind. Luckily my friend Liz was ready and waiting to whisk me off to the relative calm of Orange County.

It’s been great being back in Laguna Beach, particularly at Christmas time. People really make an effort to decorate their homes and it’s great walking around at night seeing the lights.

However, adjusting from the height of southern hemisphere summer daylight to the depths of northern hemisphere short days has been quite tricky! I went from the sun setting at 9.45pm to the sun setting at 4.30pm in the space of 24 hours. I immediately felt the need to hibernate.

Christmas Day

A Laguna Beach Christmas Day was sort of like a British Christmas day, in that we opened presents in the morning, played Christmas songs and went for a walk. And ate too much. Main difference was it was nice and sunny and we walked on a lovely sandy beach. But pretty similar. Christmas in the US kind of ends on the 25th, which is a shame I think, as they do not have Boxing Day, everyone goes straight back to work. I tried to explain Boxing Day to an American friend and failed miserably. What is it??

 

California · Laguna Beach

Week 6 – Pumpkins, Mexicans and Trump

Pumpkin time

Pumpkin time, otherwise known as Halloween, is big business here in America. Pumpkin soup. Pumpkin muffins. Pumpkin latte. If you can or drink it, chances are someone is serving it pumpkin-style around about now! Halloween is so much bigger here, it is like Christmas, in fact I think it is bigger.

I arrived a month ago and preparations were in full swing then! So to get into the pumpkin spirit I decided to try a pumpkin spiced latte today, see photo below. Well, apart from being extraordinarily sweet, it was kind of nice, in a weird sort of way! I won’t be here for the actual day, which is a shame as I think it would be crazy/fun/scary/bemusing.

Pumpkin spiced latte
Pumpkin with my yog(h)urt

Buy the best you can be

California is the home of the body beautiful. There is every kind of treatment here to make you thinner, improve your skin tone, give you shinier hair and permanently tattoo on your makeup. An interesting place I saw today was a flotation tank lounge. I laughed as it reminds of the episode of Ab-Fab when Edina buys one and gets locked in!

There are many women here in Orange County with bad plastic surgery, huge hair and bulging purses, looking for something to spend it on. So I guess flotation spas probably do pretty well!

The Float Lounge
The Float Lounge

El dilema Mexicano

The Mexican dilemma. You can’t go anywhere at the moment without someone talking about Mexicans in America. It seems to me that America has a somewhat conflicted relationship with the Mexican people living here.

Donald Trump brought the whole issue to a head when he called for a wall to be built along the Mexican/American border. Hispanics in America are an increasingly important voter block, and how they vote matters. One of the things about California I love is the Mexican influence. The food here is great, I went to a great place called ‘La Sirena Grill’ today, and had the best veggie burrito. The business seems to run entirely by Mexicans which was good to see.

However, I then turn a corner and see some wealthy white woman tearing a strip off some Mexican workmen, shrieking at them in an entirely patronising manner. It would be hard to argue that there a significant percentage of white Americans would be perfectly happy if American Mexicans carried on being their gardeners, their waiters and their builders. It is so apparent when you look around how Mexicans seem to be treated like second class citizens here, it really is quite shocking. I can only hope the politics of fear that Mr T. spouts out on a daily basis are rejected by the majority of Americans and that the politics of acceptance and inclusion win out. That goes for the rights of women and the LGBT community too!

La Sirena Grill
La Sirena Grill
California · Travelling · USA

Week 5 – Bears and vegans and chickens, oh my!

My second to last week in the USA – for now. I have seen lots of different sides to California, from the hippy lefty liberal dropout side, to the extraordinary wealthy side, as well as the great outdoors!

A trip to Ojai – vegans, hippies and wine

Ojai is a small community near to Ventura, California. It is up in the mountains and has become a magnet for vegans, hippes, dropouts and wine drinkers. My kind of place.

I visited a great wine tasting place called ‘Casa Barranca‘. My friend Liz and I tried lots of whites, roses and reds, and learnt lots about vegan and organic wines too. Did you know what kind of weird things winemakers use to filter wine? Fish swim bladder anyone? Hmm, tasty. Photo below explains more about vegan wine if you are interested. The wine we tasted was all vegan and organic and very tasty too!

Hip vegan

We visited a great cafe called ‘Hip Vegan‘ and had some lovely tempeh, Vietnamese coffee with coconut cream and a great lentil dahl. Plus another place called ‘The Farmer and the Cook‘ in Meiners Oaks, where we has a cacao, almond milk and banana smoothie 🙂

Stayed in a great place called ‘The Hummingbird Inn‘, recommended if you’re ever out that way! Though the pool is so icy you may never feel your toes again!

The Hummingbird Inn, Ojai

What is vegan wine?

Wine tasting in Ojai

Malibu – money, money, money, it’s a rich man’s (and woman’s) world

The Malibu coastline
Malibu summons up images of wealth, sunshine and beautiful beaches. And ‘Baywatch’. Having experienced it, that’s pretty close to the reality of the place. Minus ‘Baywatch’. Having driven the coast road along what makes up about twenty miles of Malibu, I can confirm there’s a lot of money there! Huge homes with private beaches hug the cliffs, with big gates to keep the riff-raff like me out. Not all of it is private though. A trip to ‘Paradise Cove‘ will put you back a mere $40 to park…!

I half expected to bump into Gwyneth Paltrow or Kim Kardashian. I’m sure they must live there, it’s their kind of place. Afterwards I decided Liz and I needed to look more glam, hence the fetching facemasks haha!

The Hanibal Lecter style facemasks

The Great Outdoors – bears and snakes and chickens, oh my!

There are lots of things that want to kill you in California. Huge killer bears. Venomous snakes. Massive vicious chickens. Never go to ‘Chicken Headquarters’, it’s where the worst ones live :-0

Chicken HQ

Bear country, Ojai style

Snakes alive!

I also encountered my first wild snake this week! Firstly I nearly trod on it, then I nearly picked it up thinking it was an old piece of rope! Well, imagine my surprise when I saw two eyes staring intently at me! Well, after a stare off, which the snake won, I ran off to recover, and returned the scene about ten minutes later to find no trace of the snake. It was no doubt some killer snake variety and I was probably inches from death. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Over and out 😉

California · Laguna Beach · Travelling

Week 4 – California love

I’ve been away for four weeks now, and the relax button has well and truly been pressed. Took me a while to get into the travelling mode, but I’m there now. It has made me realise how in my everyday life I am always looking for something to do, somewhere to be, whereas now I just wake up and think, what will I do today? Nothing? Ok then.

California love

So I admit it. I’m having an affair. It’s been going on for years, but I finally have to tell you. I am in love with California. What’s that you say? You knew already!

It’s not just because my bestie lives here. Though that helps. I just love the lifestyle, the weather, the people (particularly my new pal Jody!), the beaches, the mountains, the rivers, the lakes, the food, the wine, the sunsets….shall I go on?

I am here for two more weeks then I come back again for Christmas 🙂

Here are a few photos from my last week in the golden state.

Well I can’t see it, can you?
Pumpkins, big & small – Halloween is coming!
Laguna art walk
Laguna sunset
Sunset on West Street beach, Laguna Beach
On the beach with Liz!
Sunset on Thalia Street beach, Laguna Beach
‘Enjoying’ my mud pack…
Liz & I covered in mud

 

MacDonald sculpture garden, Laguna Beach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

California · Laguna Beach

Week 3 – Life in the O.C.

After a ten-day mammoth road trip (quite literally as I went to Mammoth Lakes!), I arrived back in my second home, the O.C. Which stands for Orange County, California, in case you didn’t know. I think in the 90s there was a TV show called the O.C. so lots of people know it from that.

I am staying with my best friend Liz, who lives here in Laguna Beach. We went to school together and worked out this week that we have known each other for thirty years! Guess that’s why we can live together for a number of weeks and still get on.

Life here in late summer is starting to flown around me. Gone are the days of thinking, hmmm, I should be doing something! Getting into beach life is pretty easy. Especially when you take a look at some of the beach photos below.

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The American drag show

One of the fun things I always do when here is indulge is some American drag. Which is quite different to UK drag. In the UK, most drag acts sing live. Here, noone does. Which actually I prefer. TBH lots of drag acts can’t sing that well, whereas as all the drag acts here mime, it means you get to see a wonderful performance, usually with some great dance moves and some spot-on lip-syncing.

I’ve made a video below of some of the great acts we’ve seen!

California · Travelling

Week 2 – San Luis Obispo, The Big Sur, Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Francisco & Alameda

The sights & sounds of California – BHJ style…

Week two is underway and mainly consists of a lot of driving! The quintissential roadtrip you might say. Everytime I have come to California I have done some kind of road trip. Mainly because there are so many great places to see!

San Luis Obispo

This was the second visit to SLO, as the locals call it. It so happened that we arrived on a Thursday, a great day to visit so it turned out, as Thursday is the weekly farmers market.

Look who I stumbled upon at SLO farmers market…
The farmers market is a great mixture of local farm produce, political activism, gymnastics displays and sizzling hot BBQs! Loads of friendly people, and families, great atmosphere, a definite must if you find yourself in SLO.

The town also has one of the original California missions, which is great to look around.

The Big Sur

The Big Sur is famous the wold over as one of the most spectacular drives in the world. And rightly so. You drive along miles of roads cut out of the side of huge cliffs. Spectacular scenery everywhere, as the road hugs the coast for miles and miles.

Elephant seals on the Big Sur
The Big Sur
One of the sights I saw were about 100 elephant seals lazing on the beach! And you can get really close to them. The beach is a few miles away from the entrance to Hearst Castle.

Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle is an explosion of wealth and extravagance. The land it is built on was bought by the Hearst family in the 1800s. Originally a simple ranch, it was turned into the huge house that you see today by the famous media magnate William Randolph Hearst.

Hearst Castle
We only got to see about five of the grand rooms but what an eclectic mix of styles they are! Choir stalls from Spanish churches sit alongside 1930s style sofas, ornate wooden ceilings and crystal chandeliers.

It is relatively expensive ($25) to visit, but definitely worth it. You learn about the history of the estate in the twenty minute ride up which was very interesting.

Hearst Castle
We also saw wild zebras, descendants of the original herds that Mr Hearst kept on the estate. The gardens are beautiful and the views are stunning. Apparently every movie starlet and celebrity that was of note stayed at the castle, from Charlie Chaplin to Marlene Dietrich. If you get the chance, it’s worth a visit for sure.

The ornate indoor pool at Hearst Castle

Monterey and Santa Cruz

Monterey consisted of a two hour stop, but it’s worth longer if you have the time. It’s very famous for it’s huge aquarium, which is stunning, as it the location of the town. We walked down through fishermans wharf and admired the view out across the Pacific Ocean.

We stayed overnight in Santa Cruz. Apparently it is a big university town, and it shows, as there are lots of interesting characters around. We ate dinner at fabulous vegetarian diner called Saturn Cafe, and during the course of the meal, two people decided to cycle a bike around the place, as you do. It feels like Brighton in many ways.

The town has a large boardwalk full of rides, and a long pier. We walked down the pier and encountered a whole host of squabbling seals, making the funniest noises! How any of them get any sleep is anyone’s guess!

Santa Cruz boardwalk
There was also an early morning prayer meeting happening on the beach for well over 200 children. We listened for a while, and it seemed pretty full on! But the kids seemed to be enjoying it and lots were there alone, so probably weren’t there just because their parents made them! Not a site you would see very much in the UK I feel.

I liked Santa Cruz, more run down than Monterey but more a reflection of the real America perhaps too.

Alameda Island and San Francisco

Alameda Island is on the east bay of San Francisco bay, near to Oakland and it is probably not somewhere you necessarily think to visit. I have spent two days here visiting my friends Paula and Mike and their two children Freya and Bethan. It is a lovely little island, very suburban, but drive five minutes away and you literally ‘cross the rails’ and you are in a rough part of the city of Oakland. I think that opitimises a lot of America, rich areas sat right next to poor ones.

San Fran skyline from Alameda

We went to Oakland to get the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) to see a baseball game (San Francisco Giants). Well, it was fun but I really had no clue what was going on ha!

Most people did not even seem to be watching the games, though there was the occasional cheer! Mostly people ate and talked. It is more a social event than a sporting event. The stadium is amazing though with a stunning view across the bay.

AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants