A Glimpse: Kaleidoscopic Kalifornia

Looking at the world through rose-tinted glasses…

Well, any pair of sunglasses will do as a sun-drenched Southern California – affectionately referred to as SoCal – naturally dons a pink tinged hue.

Having lived in San Clemente and Los Angeles for two years, it was exhilarating to return to the old stomping grounds after over a year-long absence. Complete immersion meant a daily embrace of the great outdoors; watching the changing colours of an always spectacular sunset; and falling, with ease, into a laid-back lifestyle that included much coffee-and-carb indulgence by day, and pressing of lip-to-champagne flute by night.

Sun-soaking and gastronomy aside (these activities were/are by no means mutually exclusive), admiring SoCal’s vistas was a soul-awakener. Appreciating its wild and urban landscapes through a fresh pair of eyes inevitably brought to mind the cliché: “The grass is always greener…”

What I love about SoCal are those pops of colour that are woven into its fabric, be it natural or with compliments of a street artist. Like a daily vitamin boost, the bright paintbox used to decorate the region provides a natural high; the various shades of bright-against-brighter are a quick fix to lift the spirit, even when rolling out of bed to welcome a fog-induced or overcast day.

All the while, a predominance of pink against green abounds.

During my travels in SoCal, I attempted to throw any, and all, of its stereotypes to the wind. I wanted to appreciate it from a grass-roots level; at the same time, acknowledge those industries – film, architecture, arts – that put its cities on the map.

I achieved that as best I could in a short space of time. The evidence is in the details.

Enjoy the prologue to a series of posts that I’m looking forward to dedicating to SoCal’s natural and urban palette. Starting from the southermost point of the trip, in Carlsbad, and ending in Los Angeles County – to the north, I hope you’ll join me on this trip.

A note of caution: the communities of SoCal are so diverse and spread out, you may feel as if you’re jumping from town, to ‘hood, to hilltop – all in one post. No fear: this is simply an introduction.

I’d be interested in your feedback – opinions, perceptions, and experiences – of Southern California. What you love about it, and what you don’t; what you may associate with it, and what may come as a surprise to you.

“Every time you can walk in another person’s shoes, the world is a slightly better place.” ~Anthony Bourdain

For now, enjoy an introduction to the makeup of SoCal!


A blindingly bright sun, vast spaces, and the smell of a nearby ocean are instant reminders as to why Southern California is one of the best places to live well.


The Flower Fields are located in the coastal city of Carlsbad – a necessary stop for those who have always dreamt of being engulfed in a mass of blooms, not unlike those of Dutch tulip fields. Here, the slopes of the hills at Carlsbad Ranch are painted in stripes of yellow, white, purple, orange, and red, in a grid-like formation; crops of ranunculus flower for 2 months of the year during the spring. Symbolic of new life – regeneration through replanted bulbs – this sea of blooms set against a backdrop of infinite blue is a dazzling sight.

Flowers are restful to look at. They have neither emotions nor conflicts. ~ Sigmund Freud

I’ve always thought my flowers had souls. ~ Myrtle Reed

A scenic drive, further up the coast…


… along Route 5, a highway edged by palms and decorated with a glistening ground-cover of the flowering evergreen Purple Ice plant; past the military site of Camp Pendleton, after which the road eventually leads into the Nixon-associated town of San Clemente, in Orange County (OC).

The hot pink of Bougainvillea is so prominent; the plant’s foliage and blooms spill over the terraces of Spanish Colonial styled villas and fringe the pathways of San Clemente’s residential streets.

A sparkly ocean mesmerises visitors and residents; its waves seduce surfers. Located close to the equator, the sun always shines brighter in this vacation town.

A little more north…


A leisurely twenty minute ocean-side drive ebbs and flows as the road leads into luxe Laguna Beach. Inspiration for artists since the 1800s, its steep cliffs are testament to the beauty of an unspoiled landscape; their rugged faces filled with homes, as well as an assortment of native shrubbery and flowers, punctuated by statuesque palms along the upper edges.

Laguna: a retreat for writers, Hollywood stars, and artists. Charlie Chaplin, Judy Garland, Rudolph Valentino, John Steinbeck, and Mickey Rooney escaped here. The house below is located in the space where Bette Davis’ former home stood.

The expanse of blue hues viewed from the Rooftop Lounge of the historic La Casa del Camino Hotel call for endless champagne toasts. Twist my arm.

I’ve always found that seafood served near the ocean tastes better. Decadent eel sushi and cold bold sake at Hapi Sushi; the restaurant’s name, perhaps a spin on the oft-felt emotion of travelers and residents who wrap themselves in Laguna’s lush surroundings.


Traveling a couple of hours, away from the OC and into Los Angeles County. The freeway traffic flow is a steady one, for the most part.


In an inland direction: LA’s urban sprawl is made up of a number of vastly different communities. The city boasts an enviable sunset – its brush stroke of pink, yellow, purple and gold along the horizon is best seen from Griffith Observatory, up in the hills near Griffith Park.


Minutes away – say 15 or so, sans traffic – downtown LA bustles. Surprisingly easy to navigate, this part of the county is undergoing a revival. Art galleries, historic architecture, and new dining spots feed off of one another in an area on the up. Downtown living means escapism in the midst of skyscrapers. Perfect example: Figueroa Hotel’s pool terrace is a resting spot for the uninhibited in the midst of surrounding commerce.

Nearby, the fruits borne by a neighbourhood undergoing gentrification: lofts, Porshes, and blushing blooms.

In the midst of it all, a creative community resides; its art colours a still-industrial neighbourhood.

In another part of downtown, more art abounds. Amongst institutions dedicated to contemporary works and music, stands an undulating design by Frank Gehry: the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Reminiscent of SoCal’s natural surroundings, a part of its architecture takes on the look of an unopened tulip; even a rosebud, nipped.

Further afield, close to downtown LA…


Los Angeles County Museum of Art makes for a bold statement through design, colour, and a palm-dominated landscape. Its exterior is as beautiful as its art filled interior.

Better still: the Renzo Piano designed outdoor/indoor dining space – Ray’s and Stark Bar – doesn’t shy away from serving up heady liquid artworks of its own. Tequila, orange, and ice – such are the beverages prepared by innovators manning the liquor cabinet.

Onwards toward creative pastures of a different nature, not too far away…


Overcast skies don’t darken or dampen the ambiance of bohemian Silver Lake; the neighbourhood brims with street art, reflective of a creative community, alongside modern architecture. Case in point: modern architect Robert Neutra’s former office is located here, by Silver Lake Reservoir.

What’s more, the resident trend-setters take their coffee very seriously. Artisans on the rise.


The plush and posh Beverly Hills is emblematic of hedonism and history; well tended gardens, magnificent mansions, grand tree lined streets; once home to Marlon Brando, Lucille Ball,and Doris Day, and now home to Bill Cosby, Rod Stewart, and Diane Keaton.

Along its wide streets, playful architecture draws on LA’s cinematic roots….

.. and gives way to classic icons -pretty in pink, the famed Beverly Hills Hotel graces Sunset Boulevard.

Close by…


A place where all the touristic action takes place. Yes, one may immediately think: Walk of Fame, the Wax Museum, and the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, with handprints of celebrities implanted by its entrance. Think this once: see it all, appreciate it for what it’s worth, and move beyond the crowds.

Seek out the Cirque du Soleil, Kodak Theatre, Capitol Records Building, Amoeba Records; perhaps make some time for a glass of bubbly at the historic Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Hike even, and be wowed by viewing the Hollywood Reservoir and landmark Hollywood sign, up close.


Spectacular architecture is built into Hollywood’s hilly backdrop; the Hills are alive with modern homes, Mediterranean inspired villas, and imaginative designs of a whole other level – Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House made famous by Bladerunner, and John Lautner’s Chemosphere House (below), are a couple of impressive name-droppers.

Meanwhile, modern lines and pink storefronts dominate on nearby Melrose Avenue, in West Hollywood.

Back to the coast…


Dr Feelgood: breathing in the salty air, courtesy of the Pacific, does the soul alot of good.

In this part of LA, multi-million dollar homes line the water’s edge and are set into its steep hills. Malibu Pier offers spectacular 360 degree views – for free.

Malibu – home to alcoves and private beaches, wineries, acclaimed Nobu restaurant, and the delightful Mediterranean-inspired Getty Villa. From this museum, you can view the ocean whilst staying cool in the mountains.

Its gardens are worthy of a visit alone.

Down South from Malibu…


This is the place for beachside city living and a haven for outdoor exercise pursuits – located only a half hour away from the Hollywood Hills. It’s expanse of beach is interrupted by a few volleyball courts, lifeguard huts, and a boardwalk catering to cyclists, dog-walkers, joggers, roller-bladers, and leisurely strollers.

The Santa Monica Pier can be seen from miles away; so much larger upon closer inspection. A few streets back from the beach, the city offers boutique shopping and a location of the ever-popular Urth Caffe – this is an excellent spot for coffee and farm-to-table dining.

Adjoining Santa Monica is the trendier…


Art colours the streets; restaurants are full at noon; galleries, boutiques, and homewares stores are made for window shopping and browsing. Whilst it may be known for the famed boardwalk along its Muscle Beach, a stroll along Venice’s main street, Abbott Kinney, and a meander alongside the town’s canals is a much more pleasurable experience.

In closing…

Southern California, from sunrise (if you’re up) to sunset is a beautiful area of the US. By virtue of geographic location alone, the light that colours the horizon is sublime; its ever changing hues gently unfurl from pink, to purple, to burnt yellow, to gold. Yet it is the added drama of the region’s bold urban and natural landscape that makes the experience all the more unique and memorable.

From one community to the next, colour abounds – in its architecture, natural landscaping, art, people. An entertaining kaleidoscope.

This is a sampler of SoCal; a taste of things to come.


93 thoughts on “A Glimpse: Kaleidoscopic Kalifornia

    • I agree – I am reminded of Oz when in SoCal. The beaches and the relaxed vibe. I am a huge fan of Gehry’s work too – I stumbled on some ‘street art’ by him in Venice too. I look forward to sharing it with you! Thanks Jenny!

    • Thanks 2 Rivers! So great to read your comment – a fellow SoCal-sider! I love La Jolla and wanted to get there, as well as San Diego, though there wasn’t time; the cities were a bit too south! If I had an extra 2/3 days, I would have included them in the itinerary for sure! I hope you’ll share some of your images from the new spots you check out?!

  1. Marina, thanks for the post. As much as I love to travel and see the world, there is no place like home, and for more than 30 years, LA has been home. While we struggle with traffic congestion and the smog, among other things, Angelenos are also lucky to live in such a beautiful place.(Cue Randy Newman’s “I Love LA” ). Thanks for capturing the beauty of SoCal.


    P.S. Did you ever frequent La Galette Creperie down by the SC Pier? It’s my cousin’s restaurant.

    • Hi daisy! It’s lovely to hear from an LA-insider and I am so glad to have shared some of its beauty with you! When I lived in San Clemente, the trip to LA seemed a tad long. This time around, I didn’t give the traffic a thought because NYC is just as bad… except the time getting from say, Brooklyn to Manhattan, should be shorter given the distance! As for the smog – apart from a general haze over the city, it wasn’t noticeable; the same haze is seen in NY. LA even felt cleaner for its trees, plants, sea breeze, and open spaces. YES – my husband and I used to go to La Galette many times. We really enjoyed it though someone new took over just before we left? Is that right? I’d always order a croissant and a coffee, Ali would order a crepe. The waiter there was so lovely. PS Ali, my hubby, works in the restaurant biz and was so envious for La Galette’s early closing time at 3pm!

    • Hi sweetkitten! The sun is so bright in SoCal and the colours too. Especially in Laguna Beach where the coastline is really spectacular. I look forward to sharing some more colour in upcoming posts! Thank you.

  2. I love your pictures and perspective on things. I never gave LA much thought – beauty wise but I guess I was wrong. Some pics also remind me of Oz where I lived for a while.

    • Thank you so much mamifi. That’s such a lovely compliment and it has made my day 🙂 I think LA has a certain stigma about it, and it might be hard to get past the generalisations… but when you’re there, you realise that the focus isn’t on what it is ‘known’ for; there’s so much more! I am from Sydney, AUS and think that it may also be a contributing factor to my love for the region. That said, its natural beauty is really something else. Where did you live in Oz?

      • I think you’re right about the stigma and generalizations about LA. Eps since I have never been there.
        I lived in Melbourne and travelled around a bit (Sydney and then the Western Australia). I still miss the place. Australia seems so much more relaxed a place to live in comparison to Europe sometimes.
        Looking forward to more pictures! 🙂

    • Mamifi – that’s so cool that you traveled through the Australia. If you like Melbourne, you’ll like Brooklyn; if you like Sydney; you’ll like LA. if you like both – you’ll also love California! Where do you live in Europe? I felt so relaxed in Barcelona and Cannes when I was there last year, though I understand the feeling about Australia… it is very much laid-back. It may be because the country is so far away from everything else!

    • Thank you so much Val! The Flower Fields as well as the sun, on the day we visited, were so bright – it was hard not to take photos 🙂 I am glad you enjoyed it; the vibe in NYC and LA/OC is just so different. I embraced the West coast with way too much ease 🙂

  3. Gorgeous! One of these days, my husband and I plan to to take a a couple weeks, rent a car and travel along the California coast. This is inspiring me to get my plans going! Thank you!

    • Thank you Christy! A road trip along SoCal’s coastline is spectacular, and I really hope you may start an itinerary. I am happy to help with any advice, and will try and include some tips in my upcoming posts!

  4. Wow, great to visit SoCal with you; cannot wait to see more if it!
    Beautiful & colorful photos as always, some brought back memories of my visit couple of years ago, thanks.

    • Thank you Rondje! I am so happy to read your comment 🙂 SoCal has an overabundance of colour and light – those floral photos at the start of the post just popped off of my camera! I am glad to have brought back memories; it’s nice to share with you!

  5. Oh dear, all that sounds just wonderful! This is why I don’t just want to go NYC (but of course I will if I have a chance:D), I want to travel around the country and see more, see beyond! We had a chat with Charlie the other day about travelling and where would we like to go… well, the list is long, at least mine 🙂 Charlie has done a lot of travelling after uni and has been to lots of places, but I haven’t seen much outside Europe 🙂

    Your post reminds me of all these movies I used to watch, Beverly Hills 90201, oh dear… I was a teen back then… and The OC 🙂 I bet lots of people still don’t know what the OC stands for 🙂

    Thanks for sharing, I am ready for your virtual tours and looking forward to discovering more wonderful things through your blog! 😀

    • My pleasure Kristina! Thank you for your wonderful comment. I share in your long list of places to see in the world; it is so hard to pick and choose. For me, it is the same thing with Europe – it is so vast and it hurts to be in Italy and not see, for example – Greece, just around the corner. But like you, I try to hold onto the memories of wherever I go and I am glad I could bring you back reminders of Cali through the post. that said, if you need travel tips of the US, I can try and help! Just let me know. PS> I would love to see many places you have seen in the UK and Lithuania!

      • This is exactly how I feel about the USA 🙂 It’s huge! Where do I start??? And if I am there, I will really want to go to Mexico! 😀
        You will be my number one to ask for some tips 😀

        UK is really amazing, lots of people underestimate it, they go to London and think they’ve seen it! 🙂 The landscape of the country is amazing and they have so many beautiful places to go, the coastline is absolutely beautiful 🙂 I never knew something like St Ives existed until I went there 🙂 I am hoping to go back to Cornwall 🙂 If you come here, let us know 🙂 Charlie will give you the best advice 🙂

    • Kristina, you and Charlie will be the first people I go to for 1.advice, and 2. a tour! How fun – I look forward to that. I have been to London, Henley-on-Thames, and Oxford though I need to revisit, to feel the places again. I can understand why you’d like to visit Mexico; it’s so beautiful and has stunning scenery – like an extension of California. A drive down West Coast USA and into Mexico over 3/4 weeks (to be realistic) would be heaven!

      • Ohh sounds like heaven 🙂 Sometimes I just like to leave everything and go travelling 🙂 Maybe next year, in January or February, when it’s cold and miserable in the UK, we go to Thailand, India, Morocco, Brazil or Australia 😀

      • kristina, can you imagine how inspired you will be after visiting any of those countries!? Especially with your love of handmade lotions and potions! All those countries are so rich in spices, flora, natural beauty. I’d be so interested in what you would create! Rosewater, the gorgeous smell of frangipanis,; cocoa beans, coconuts, hibiscus! I love the tropics! Let me know what you decide on 🙂

      • HMMMM frangipani is wonderful! I am worried going to Morocco, I would buy so much clay there that the customs wouldn’t allow me to leave the country 😀 I love rosewater, I made a face cream to myself with rosewater, and it’s beautiful 🙂 I am not sure I would want to come back to London 🙂

      • That’s always the fear – the land of no return! Frangipanis are perhaps the most deliciously scented tropical flowers in the world – I think Hawaii when I smell them. Yes, check customs rules Kristina! Otherwise, you might need to work with an exporter/importer 🙂 Good for biz relations.

      • When I was at one of the skin care courses, we got to sniff a frangipani essential oil (absolute), the whole class went: ahhhhhhhh 🙂 the smell is absolutely gorgeous and so expensive to buy 🙂 I image body lotion scented with this flower… 🙂

  6. Beautiful post and photos! I just spent a month living in LA and I was pretty sad about returning to Brooklyn. The natural light there is gorgeous. Your photos make me want to go back…now!

    • That store is a showstopper on Melrose – for branding, size, and colour. It’s probably the largest store of his that I have seen. Glad to share this one with you… Have you seen the one in downtown NYC? Thank you!

  7. Reading this post is like living out the places where most American TV series take place. Such a great perception to share. I love all about the colors and brightness of SoCal that you’ve shown in this post. I can associate the vigorous life of the inhabitant with the beautiful weather and sights.

    • Thank you Rob! As soon as you step into SoCal, especially Laguna Beach and San Clemente, you notice the sun, the light, the ease. It’s as if a weight has lifted off of your shoulders, and you can breathe in the open spaces. There have been some shows filed at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel and at Urth Caffe in Santa Monica… but I am sure that alot of the ground has been covered by film crews. i spotted quite a few truckloads of them during the week.

  8. Spectacular – I haven’t the time to adequately soak this all in just yet – but the coffee! The poppies! The sunsets and ocean…
    My oh my – just gorgeous. You’ve really captured a beauty here…..makes me long for the warmth..
    Wonderful Marina!

    • My pleasure to share with you, Shira! It’s a completely different vibe in SoCal, from NYC, and was a needed time to recharge the batteries. I hope you enjoy the words and pics when you have a moment. NB: one commenter pointed out to me how much better the photos show details when you click and enlarge them – it’s so true! Thank you!

  9. Great Photos and a wonderful tour Marina. Thank you. I am so envious you have lived in the two places I wish I’d been born, SoCal and Sydney. It’s the sunshine and the lifestyle that goes with it that I feel I should have been born to.. 😉 I love your picture of Griffith Park and your last picture particularly. Really looking forward to the posts to come.

    • Thank you Adrian! Now, if I had the opportunity to live in the UK and Japan, like you, then I would be very happy. We could trade for a while?! I am so glad you singled out those two photos – they bring back good memories. The sunsets are so noticeable in SoCal because of the open spaces and the low leveled buildings – and the setting sun makes itself known, especially when facing it on a freeway. Sunglasses are necessary! I look forward to sharing more posts soon!

      • And I look forward to reading them! Trading for a while would be fun but don’t get me wrong, I moved to Cornwall for a reason, it’s beautiful and green and lush and it’s the weather that keeps it as it is.. A bit more sunshine wouldn’t go a miss though 😉

      • I hear you – and I am looking forward to sharing some ‘fog’ images with you, from Laguna Beach. What a sight it was! That’s something I miss – the foggy mornings that clear to reveal a sunny day. 🙂 I look forward to seeing your spring/summer shots from Cornwall, thought the weather – sunny or not – does inspire in creative pursuits. I love embracing that these days!

  10. Just a superb glimpse Marina! All those saturated California colours – it’s so brown here this is a welcome sight!
    Your photos are gorgeous and make me want to head straight there. Oh for a sunny hot beach…

    • Thanks so much Karen! It was fun taking photos there, and I can appreciate why so many artists have congregated in the Laguna Beach area – it’s stunning. There’s no other word for it – well, maybe “spectacular”. I know you would love it along this coastline though I am enjoying seeing the landscape in Canada, on your blog 🙂 Thank you again!

  11. What an awesome post! You take great travel pictures, and you write fabulously. Even though I live in SoCal, I feel like I’m seeing it for the first time. I look forward to the rest of the series!

    • Hi Joanne! thank you very much for your comment; it means alot as I am glad to have shared my experiences with a SoCal resident. I fell back into the SoCal lifestyle so easily – I see it in my future 🙂 Thanks again!

    • Thanks so much! I heard the A.B. quote, in anitcipation of his upcoming new season. Are you a fan of his show, No reservations? He blows me away with some of his quotes; they are just spot on.

    • Thank you so much! Pops of colour was the only way I could describe the landscape.. I would be walking along a street and suddenly a rose garden, or a wildly painted house, or a gold sunset would appear. I love that, and I am glad you liked the tour 🙂

  12. Stunning photos, as always. And I like how there seems to be more and more cafés in your reviews 😉
    P.S. We are getting a late march snowfall in Stockholm today. Your photos are like a promise of better days to come!

    • Thanks, I am glad you enjoyed the photos! That’s why i enjoy your blog; my husband, Ali, and I are coffee lovers from birth! Except I grew up on instant and migrated to espresso based; Ali grew up on espresso and migrated to brewed! Ali used to run his own cafe in Brooklyn, and is looking for the opportunity to open another one. NYC is chilly today – perhaps we’re getting some late winter? It’s always warmish in California though 🙂

  13. Lovely selection of photos – I feel like I’m on a California tour from a cold English Sunday! Love the beautiful bright colours and recognise a few spots from my California road trip a few years ago, though looks like I only scratched the surface!

    • Thank you Lucy! Yes, it seems NY took a turn to the colder temps too. I am glad to have brought back some memories on a cold day; California is always so bright, even under fog! I empathise with you as I always feel that I have so much more to learn about any place I visit. No length of time is ever enough!

    • Thank you so much! I so appreciate that. I understand your feeling to move there – sunshine, ocean, sand, colour. It’s a place I feel great in too! Keep me posted of your plans 🙂 I have a few more posts coming up so hope to provide more inspiration for you!

  14. Each of your posts is like a whole book… There are a number I’ve put aside to look at later… because I just didn’t have the time. This one, in particular, really covers a lot of ground… and is somewhat familiar, because many years ago, I found myself in southern California for my studies. It had a strong effect on me. Thank you for all the pictures, and the thoughts…

    • Hi Shimon – I do tend to try and fit quite a bit of information into one post, don’t I?! I hope you may have the time to read them, especially if they bring back memories. Where did you study, and what course did you take? How interesting! It’s nice to share experiences with you. Thank you!

  15. Pingback: An Anthology: The Journey So Far « A Certain Slant of Light Photography

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