California · Laguna Beach · Travelling · USA

Days 54 to 70 – Laguna Beach and Southern California

This blog is a bit different from the others. Partly because I haven’t done a huge amount! But mainly because my computer was in for repair and I only just got it back.

My time here in Laguna Beach was always going to the downtime in the middle of my trip and so it has come to pass! As I am minutes away from the beach, with great weather and good company, it really is a great place to unwind. I have done a few things however…

Balboa

Balboa is a small area north of Laguna, technically I think it’s part of Newport Beach. It was created in the late 19thC by dredging the sandbars to create a holiday destination island. There is a small ferry that carries a maximum of three cars plus passengers on the three minute journey to the island. It’s really nice wondering through the lanes of the island looking at the beautiful and undoubtedly multi-million dollar homes. One of them was flying a ‘Trump 2020’ flag! Urgh.

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Welcome to Balboa Island

This whole area is dripping with money. This is the real OC. It does however have its contrasts. I mainly use the bus to get around and that’s when you see the real wealth and ethnic divides in California. I usually am the only white person on the bus, and there is usually a number of homeless people using it too. When I got off at Newport there were homeless people camping in the bus terminal, right next to multi-million dollar homes.

California generally has a very scant public transport system, as most people who can afford cars just drive everywhere. There is a bus that goes up and down the coast but really it is almost impossible to use public transport to venture inland.

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On the Balboa ferry and the pier

Anyway, back to Balboa. Once you venture off the island onto Balboa Peninsula, you are greeted with miles of golden sand beach and two piers to explore. It reminds me of Victorian British seaside towns, with amusements, candy floss and piers. Very cool.

Encinitas

I heart Encinitas 🙂 Liz and I have been coming here for years. It is a small town about one hour south of Laguna. It’s very laid back, lots of surfers, hippies and vegetarians – what’s not to like! We always eat at this great veggie restaurant called the Lotus Cafe. It is connected to the nearby ‘Self-Realisation Fellowship’ temple and gardens.

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Cacti at the Self-Realisation Meditation Gardens

The gardens are perched on the top of a cliff overlooking the ocean and they’re spectacular. The temple was founded in the early 20thC by Paramahansa Yogananda. The original building fell into the sea but the gardens remain. There is a newer temple here now and you can come and stay at the retreat.

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Flowers at the Self-Realisation Meditation Gardens

Sawdust arts festival

The Sawdust arts festival happens in Laguna twice a year, during the summer and at Christmas. Laguna has a long history of art, as I mentioned in my previous post, it was established in the early 20thC as an artists colony.

This artistic legacy led to this festival being established in 1965. It is a place for local artists and craftspeople to display and sell their pieces. You pay a small fee to enter and then you can wander around the stalls, and listen to local bands sing, and buy food from local restaurants and cafes. What a great idea!

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My main reason for going this year was to buy some specific artworks. There is a local artist in Laguna called Hedy Busan who mainly works in impressionist art styles. I saw her work at the festival last year but didn’t buy anything and regretted it. So this year I bought three original pieces from her. I can’t wait to hang them in my art gallery at home!

Liz’s birthday

For the second year in a row I got to spend a special day with my special friend Liz. Her 45th birthday. Yes. 45. We drank the finest French champagne on the cliffs overlooking Treasure Island beach with good friends. Ate an inordinate amount of crisps. We then ended the evening at a nearby asian restaurant called ‘Starfish’. Happy birthday my lover! X

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Champagne for everyone!
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Liz’s birthday drinks

Temecula

Temecula is a small town about 90 minutes inland from the Californian coast and the centre of an emerging wine growing industry. I visited three vineyards there – Calloway, Leoness and Weins. You pay a fee and then get given a card allowing you to taste any six wines. Good job I ate lunch before I went because I (and Liz) felt rather merry by the time we were onto our 13th and 14th glasses hahah!

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The scenery in the area was very reminiscent of the Mediterranean and with good reason – the area was chosen because the climate is virtually identical to the Med and therefore excellent for grape-growing. Whilst not as large or well known as other areas in California, such as Sonoma and Napa, it is definitely worth a visit if you are in the area.

Tomorrow I fly north to Seattle, to spend eight days driving around Oregon and Washington states, which I am looking forward to immensely! I will however miss my second home and my best girl Liz too 😦 Until we meet again X

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 · 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 · Uncategorized

Week 1 – London to Laguna Beach

It was quite a momentous day for me to start my trip. Sunday 11 September. Not necessarily because it was the day I left the UK, but because it was the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11.

9/11

At Heathrow, the news channel in the lounge was showing live coverage of families remembering their lost loved ones at Ground Zero. Whenever you think of that awful day, you can’t help but remember where you were when you first heard about what was happening. I went to Ground Zero in 2013 and it’s a very emotional and sombering experience. If you ever get the chance, I recommended you visit the site too.

In Heisler Park, in Laguna Beach, the community have created their own 9/11 memorial – two girders from one of the towers that fell, welded together. I visited the memorial yesterday and there was a simple tribute left there, with a simple but powerful message – ‘Never Forget’.

I have been to Laguna Beach many times in my life, and it feels like home from home. As you can see from the photos below, it’s a beautiful and quirky place!

Liz & Sarah looking across to Laguna Beach from Heisler Park

Heisler Park, Laguna Beach

Tsunami evacuation route! Hopefully I won’t need to obey it…

The safe (and only) way to cross the road in Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach lifeguard tower

A very tired Ben on the first morning:-(

Smile 🙂 You’re amazing. This was a sign I saw in Laguna Beach

Jetlag

Jetlag is a killer. A little tip though – melatonin. I don’t think you can buy it in the UK, but you can in the US, and it is a godsend! It helps you stay sleep when you body actually wants to wake you up at 4am!

I am still adjusting to life away from home, both physically and mentally. But as I sit here, looking out at the sun setting across the horizon of the Pacific Ocean, I am optimistic this is the beginning of a fantastic experience for me…