The blazing bright light, the wide open spaces, the sapphire blue ocean — this mix gives Southern California its allure. Its wilderness is layered with stories. If only the palm trees could talk.
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.
CARLSBAD, SAN DIEGO COUNTY
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.
SAN CLEMENTE, ORANGE COUNTY
… 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).
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.
LAGUNA BEACH, ORANGE COUNTY
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.
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.
LOS ANGELES COUNTY
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.
GRIFFITH PARK, LA
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.
DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES
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.
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.
MUSEUM ROW, 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…
SILVER LAKE, LA
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.
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….
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.
HOLLYWOOD HILLS, LA
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.
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…
SANTA MONICA, LA
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.
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.
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.