The neighbourhood of La Jolla was our first stop in San Diego, this hilly seaside community is a stark contrast to the middle America we had become use to. Sun kissed promenades adorned with hip cafés, chic restaurants and boutique shops, are lined with palm trees swaying in the coastal sea air. And of course there is the rugged yet beautiful coastline, giving breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. Take a stroll along La Jolla Cove and you will find yourself sharing the beach with locals basking in the sun, although these local inhabitants happen to be wild seals.
Driving south along Highway 101 takes you through the neighbourhoods of Pacific Beach (popular locals surf spot), Mission Bay (largest man-made salt water lagoon in the country) and Ocean Beach (where you find ageing hippies soaking up the sun and surf, as well as the faint smell of marijuana mixing with the fresh ocean air). It’s at Ocean Beach that the legendary Hodad’s still draws crowds for their burger creations. I chose one of the more modest items off the menu which includes an “All You Can Eat” option for $99.25 (apparently the 25 cent is inflation for 2013). My single bacon cheeseburger came dressed with the usual fixings of ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, sliced pickles, raw onion, fresh lettuce and tomato.
To say the fixings are generous would be an understatement, perhaps the overly generous amounts of sliced raw onions wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste, I opted to remove half from my cheeseburger. The burger was juicy, and cooked to a blushing medium pink (just the way I like it), but the real star of the show here is the bacon. This isn’t just your run of the mill bacon strips cooked on the flat top and added to your burger. Our server informed me that strips of streaky bacon sit in a fry basket above a pot of simmering water, gently steaming the bacon while ensuring it retains its salty juices. When an order comes in the cook takes a fist-full of the steamed bacon and flattens it on the flat top to form a crispy bacon patty which is placed atop your cheese dripping burger. Make it bacon baby!
No visit to San Diego is complete without an afternoon (at least) spent at Balboa Park, a 200-acre urban cultural park encompassing natural vegetation, beautiful gardens, museums, theatres, and the world-famous San Diego Zoo. The 1965 established fine art museum, Timken Museum of Art, was particularly interesting, not only for its contents but for the building’s wonderful architecture. As well as the Botanical Building containing more than 2,000 species of foreign and exotic plants.
The now Historic Highway 101 is one of the oldest (established in 1926) and last remaining stretches of continual highway in the United States, although if you have time on your hands California State Route 1 is the road to travel. The majority of this scenic coastal road yields breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean while winding in tandem with the coastline. Heading north from San Diego took us through a number of beach towns and surfer communities, before arriving at the southern side of Los Angeles County.
If you’ve ever visited Los Angeles you’ll know that this city is big, in fact the city can be broken into over 80 districts and neighbourhoods. Our first stop was the Orange County’s affluent neighbourhood of Newport Beach, for no other reason than a visit to Sprinkles Cupcakes. A friend first introduced me to Sprinkles a few years back after flying into London with a box full of cupcakes from the iconic Manhattan bakery. Sprinkles’ salty caramel creation was to die for, and I was left craving more after each and every bite. Fortunately not only was I able to get my cupcake fix at Newport Beach but I was also able to further fuel my love for Sprinkles at one of only two Sprinkles Ice Cream shops across the United States. The ice cream is handcrafted daily, using only the finest Californian organic dairy and locally sourced ingredients. Sprinkles ice cream is slow churned to incorporate less air resulting in a densely creamy and intensely flavourful ice cream experience. Ice cream can be piled high atop your choice of house baked crispy waffle cones (including a red velvet waffle cone) or sandwiched between an equally impressive range of house baked cookies (flavours include peanut butter pretzel chip, snickerdoodle and salted oatmeal cornflake, as well as the usual chocolate chip). I indulged on salty caramel (caramel flavoured ice cream, with chunks of house made caramel and liberal sprinklings of fleur de sel crystals) piled in to a traditional waffle cone. Honestly, it really doesn’t get better than this!
Loaded up on sugar we pushed further up the coast through the famous Huntington Beach (surfer central) and Long Beach, before settling for the evening at Hermosa Beach, a hip, youthful community, known for its vibrant nightlife with many bars sporting signs that read, “No Shirts, No Shoes, No Problem”. A great place to grab a couple of beers and waste an evening, although this laid back, party lifestyle motto is even more present at than the infamous Venice Beach on the westside of Los Angeles. Venice’s Ocean Front Walk is a veritable circus of activity and spectacle. We witnessed ripped bodybuilders lifting indecent sized free weights at Muscle Beach, local “streetballers” playing heated basketball matches on the public hard courts, young kids (we’re talking 10 years and younger) performing dramatic aerial tricks in the concrete skatepark, and various misfits roller dancing to R&B blaring from a 90s style boombox. Not only this but the boardwalk is filled with “Green Doctors” handing out prescription marijuana cards to anyone claiming general aches and pains, bars overflowing with liquor and beer deals and fast food vendors only too happy to serve you their latest deep-fried creation. Venice Beach is somewhat reminiscent to any given moment inside the gates of Glastonbury Festival, although the beautiful sandy beach and perfect temperatures are a ‘slight’ contrast to the muddy fields of Worthy Farm. Venice Beach, ah, what a great place.
The last neighbourhood we managed to visit during our time in Los Angeles is the land of the Motion Picture, Hollywood. The drive down Sunset Stripe takes you past the legendary Whiskey A Go-Go (music venue that famously catapulted many bands to stardom, such as long time house band The Doors) and The Viper Room (founded by Johnny Depp, and the infamous celebrity hangout where River Phoenix died from a drug overdose in the early 1990s). Parallel to Sunset Strip is Hollywood Boulevard, home to the Walk of Fame and Chinese Theatre with its concrete forecourt filled with autographs, handprints and footprints of Hollywood’s finest. Driving back to the coast we took a detour through Beverly Hills, where many big name celebrities own homes, and the famous Rodeo Drive shopping district, home to the usual high-end luxury goods stores like Louis Vuitton and Channel.
Returning to California State Route 1 we drove further north through Malibu and out of Los Angeles county into the stretch of the Californian coast referred to as the Central Coast, known for its rich agriculture including strawberries, peaches, avocados and artichokes, as well as the fantastic Santa Ynez Valley wine region responsible for producing a range of fantastic wines that have won numerous global awards and attention.