Let me just say it up front: I didn’t love LA. I expected to instantly fall in love with the city (I tried! I really did!), but I was disappointed that it was so different from my expectations (more pavement and less palm trees). It did grow on me during my time there, and I’d probably go back given the chance (especially if it means seeing my dear friend, Randi, who’s featured in a later Taste of California post).
That said, if you’re still with me, LA did offer some real delights.
On our first day in the Golden State, we fittingly visited the Golden Road Brewery for lunch, high up in the hills, practically out in the suburbs near Pasadena and Burbank. Our first tastes of California’s brewery and foodie movements were worth the long trip.
From there we wound our way up twisting, tree-lined roads to the Griffith Observatory. I had my doubts about the place because I’m not especially interested in astronomy or telescopes or observatories, especially not in the middle of the day. I stand fully corrected because this place is spellbinding.
It’s from the Griffith Observatory that you have one of the best views of the Hollywood sign. There’s an extensive “trail” (it’s totally flat and smooth, partially paved and partially made of groomed sand and pebbles) that leads closer to the sign, so we set out on an impromptu hike.
(By “hike” I mean a leisurely walk, but a local friend assured us that this is considered hiking by LA standards. Not, we would learn, by pretty much anyone else’s standards.)
The following day we spent lazily strolling the Santa Monica boardwalk as well as the waterfront path that connects Santa Monica and Venice. The boardwalk was empty when we arrived at 10:00 am, but by noon it was buzzing with tourists, kids, and street performers. The salty ocean breeze mingled with the sweet smell of funnel cakes, whisking us back to childhood. We played loud, flashing arcade games, held hands in the sun, and—despite the deceptively cool air—got serious sunburns on our shoulders.
But the real gem of the LA leg of our trip wasn’t spent in LA proper. On our third day in California, we drove up Highway 1 about 25 miles, which is a scenic adventure in itself. The narrow highway twists and turns along with the jagged coastline; it passes through little collections of dive bars and surf shops, only to turn a corner and reveal glimpses of the sleek, ultra-modern mansions hundreds of feet up in the hills.
Having spent just two days in LA, I wondered why so many celebrities live there full-time (you know, besides the fact of work and all). Then when I got my first peek into Malibu, I understood the appeal.
Our destination was the Solstice Canyon Trail, a moderate 6-mile-loop hike. The weather was plenty cool at the trailhead—70 degrees, dry and breezy, not a single cloud in the sky—but once we got moving and noon hit and we were hundreds of feet closer to the sun, the day became a scorcher. A pleasant scorcher, of course, because of the dry heat and the fact that it’s Malibu.
We visited a house that had been destroyed by a wild forest fire; all that remained were the stone elements—courtyards, patios, fireplaces. It had a skeletal, almost ghostly feel; I could envision the grandeur of the original home, with children running from room to room or the whole family sitting in front of the fire on a cool desert night.
We wound our way up the sides of the hills, the trail more steep than during the first half of the trip. Every time we thought we were at the pinnacle—How can the views get any better? This must be the point! Let’s take pictures.—we’d round another corner, only to be faced with an even steeper portion of the trail that would disappear around another bend.
Eventually, we quite literally stopped in our tracks.
Around another seemingly ordinary bend, we were greeted by an astonishing panorama: behind us to the east was the expansive canyon we’d just spent hours winding our way up, and straight ahead to the west was a deep valley between two hills, the ocean winking from between them, sparkling and dancing in the sunlight. I had never experienced the beauty of Creation quite this way before, never felt the accomplishment of a real hike and all of the sweat and the soreness and the rush that come with it.
I was caked in desert dust, my dripping sweat cutting tiny streams through the dirt. My belly cried out for sustenance and my feet ached from the expedition. But I was high on hiking, and I couldn’t wait to get more.
I inhaled the fresh earth and marveled at the sight, only later realizing that this moment was nearly silent. It didn’t register with me at first, and I think it’s because Creation was singing out the glory of God. To my ears, all was quiet, but in my mind, the trees clapped and the ocean danced and the rocks shouted His praise.
And all too soon, the holy moment ended as the exhaustion and sore muscles took over. We finished the steep climb down to our car and feasted on protein bars and trail mix. We made our way back onto the Pacific Coast Highway, stopped to change and wash our faces at a public beach, and spent our afternoon at the Getty Villa. More about this on the next TBT Travel post!