Instead of powering through my first series of planes all at once, I instead opted for a dayover (one day layover) in Los Angeles before traveling abroad. I was so glad I was able to catch up with my friend Ming Mei. She's one of my favorite former students from Miami Ad School in Hamburg and a former travel buddy. Together we explored Berlin, Germany, Stockholm, Sweden and Oslo & Bergen in Norway.
I'm convinced she could start a lucrative side business as a tour guide because I thoroughly enjoyed my mini tour of the California coast yesterday. I arrived at LAX around 10:30 PST which was 1:30 EST so I was starving. I went all meta and ate a veggie pizza from California Pizza Kitchen actually IN California. After grabbing my rucksack from the carousel I hopped on a shuttle to Westwood, only because Uber drivers aren't allowed to pick up passengers from the airport here. We walked around the area for a bit, stopping at Whole Foods Market (old habits die hard) and a yummy vegan restaurant called Native Foods Cafe where we nibbled on guacamole, salsa & chili, all of which would occasionally assault our tastebuds with little bits of jalapeño shrapnel.
We took the bus out to Santa Monica where we strolled down the Third Street Promenade and listened to some rather talented local street performers. We made our way to the famous Santa Monica Pier, complete with Arcade, Restaurants, Shops and a Theme Park. We didn't actually patronize any of these places, just mostly enjoyed the view. And by view I mean both the ocean and Malibu in the distance and the people watching.
I couldn't come all the way to the West Coast without dipping my toes in the infamously freezing cold Pacific Ocean, so we walked down onto the sand and under the pier towards Venice Beach. After several hundred meters on the sand, we decided to switch to the paved boardwalk and started rinsing our feet only to discover they were covered in tar. We tried to scrape the sticky, black stuff off our feet, but then it just spread to our fingers and under our nails. After searching the public bathroom in vain for soap I wondered aloud "How do we get it off?!" A local dude overhead me and replied "Baby oil," with a smile that implied "Ha, silly tourists." So we started our quest for somewhere to buy baby oil. I was barefoot since all I had were my Birkenstocks and I was not about to ruin them with tar stains. The nearest drugstore was not very near at all so we walked for a while and the whole time I kept scanning the ground for syringes and broken glass.
We came upon a surf & skate shop where I bought a pair of rubber flip flops for $15 to wear in the meantime because my feet were starting to protest. We asked the shop owner if he knew any other ways to remove tar and he said to go to any of the lifeguard stands on the beach and they should have some oil. Facepalm. We should have done that in the first place. So we trekked back across the sand to the nearest stand and convinced our new Lifeguard Friend Wadley to share some of his personal stash. He gave us each a piece of baby oil-soaked gauze and it worked miraculously. He even gave us wipes to clean our hands afterwards. And we were eternally grateful.
We walked the rest of the way to our final destination. Venice Beach is a weird and wonderful place where everything smells like weed and everyone is cooler than you. There is an impressive collection of shops, tattoo parlors and street art and you will see members of every Cali clique represented here: the hipsters, the skaters, the bodybuilders, the surfers, the lifeguards, the valley girls, the streetballers, the aspiring rappers and singers and of course swarms of tourists. We wandered around and lingered in several locations like Muscle Beach, the basketball courts, the skate park and graffiti beach. It just seems like this place has an endless amount of energy. Then MM showed me the more elusive canals which were tucked away just a few blocks off of the beach. There were a few foot bridges strategically spaced out across the canal that connect two rows of eclectic houses on each side. I love this place and I could totally see myself living in such a lively, creative environment. (But I doubt I'll be able to afford any of those adorable canal houses any time soon.)
In the 1950s and 60s several famous poets, artists and other creative types lived and/or worked in Venice including Charles & Ray Eames (my fav mid century modern designers) and was the birthplace of the band The Doors. Then it degraded in the 90's due to gang-related turf wars between the V-13 and the Shoreline Crips but it has since been pretty gentrified and is much safer thanks to increased police presence.
After all this walking, we found ourselves needing nourishment so we ate at an organic, vegan, macroboutique called Seed Kitchen. The food was incredibly flavorful and even the free jug of water on the counter was infused with floating bits of lemon and basil. I had a blackened tempeh burger with mango salsa and a side of sweet potato fries and MM ordered the daily special of Japanese curry with brown rice and added tofu. Many satisfying noms were had before we traversed an unruly sidewalk to get to our bus stop and head back to Westwood to call it a night. I've been told by some people before they could see me living in California, and now I kind of agree.