Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Return to California Part 1: SoCal

Last week, I shared some of my memories from when I was living in California. That was such a big part of my life that it is hard to believe I have been living back in Michigan for almost twice as long as I lived there. I've lived in Belleville alone for longer! (Sob.) My fiancé Greg had never been to California and had no interest in visiting until a good friend of his from college and her boyfriend moved out to my old haunt, the San Francisco Bay Area, last year. I seized my opportunity. Also after two March vacations in a row to cold places (Montreal and Massachusetts), I felt I was owed some place warm.

Greg has to take half of his vacation time in March, which happens to be a lovely time to visit California! Trust me, avoid LA in June at all costs unless you actually enjoy inhaling car exhaust. It's called the June Gloom and it hangs over the city in a thick, brown fog, but not fog. San Francisco also has problems with poor air quality in June, so really, don't take your California vacation in June. July and August are also out. LA is at its hottest and San Francisco is at its coldest. San Jose and Oakland are also oppressively hot. San Diego is probably fine. San Diego is fine pretty much whenever. Summer is tourist season, though, and it's always best to avoid the crowds, especially when dealing with SoCal traffic. 

Funny thing about the terms SoCal and NorCal. Many San Diego residents resent LA being called SoCal, insisting that they are the Real SoCal. LA is just too damn far north! (It isn't. Look at a map.) Likewise, people of the North Bay and north (Humboldt and neighboring counties especially) can become quite irate when San Francisco and Oakland are referred to as NorCal. Humboldt is the True NorCal. (Again, I direct you to a map.) So not only is there plenty of fighting between the north and south, there is also lots of infighting in the north and south. (Just split into 4 states already.)

Greg and I began our journey by flying into LAX. Previous to this, I'd never had a problem at LAX, and really, considering all my trials at Ohare, this was minor. Contrary to what the website leads one to believe, there is no food outside the terminals of LAX. At least not where we went. We thought it would be easy to grab some food, then hop on the bus I'd looked up ahead of time on Google and check out some sights before heading to our AirBnB check-in appointment at 3pm. It took over half an hour to get food, burgers and fries at a cafeteria that seemed largely utilized by airport staff and was located in a building that resembles a UFO.

I don't know how long we ended up spending at LAX, but it took numerous trips to the Info desk, a laptop, an tablet, and a phone call to get us out. A taxi would have been about $100, so we contrived to take an express bus to Union Station, then a taxi from there to the AirBnB in Atwater Village, a fun little neighborhood in Los Angeles. This was our first time using AirBnB, and it was extremely positive! The neighborhood was great and the house we stayed at happened to be vacant at the time. (There was a full kitchen had we spent more time there and wanted to save money by cooking our own meals.)

The first night we hooked up with our friends Kimmy (my cohort in adventure before she moved back to California) and her new beau Aaron, then headed over to Griffith Observatory. I am sorry that I never made it there sooner. Entry is free and there are many and varied displays about space, the earth, and more. We got to see a Tesla coil in action! It was very pretty. There are also shows in the theater for a modest fee, and the views of the surrounding area are quite lovely! You can see the famous Hollywood sign and look down on downtown Los Angeles.

The next day, the four of us regathered and headed to Disneyland. This is a place that I have been to many times! I had a yearly pass while I was living in California because if you go twice in a year, the thing has paid for itself. It also freed me up to visit just for the heck of it for only a few hours and not have to worry about wasting money. The park closed early that night, which was disappointing at first, but turned out to be perfectly ok with me and Greg, who were still on East Coast time, so 8pm felt like 11pm and we were pretty exhausted. We had dinner at the Blue Bayou and got a free dessert in celebration of our engagement. I proposed last month, but Greg gave me a ring while we were on the Haunted Mansion Ride, where he'd intended to propose to me before I beat him to it. It was a wonderful dinner! And a really fun day. I only wish we could have spent another day or two exploring the park. Maybe next time!

The next day we got up early again and walked to the nearby Enterprise center to rent a car. Greg and I drove down to San Diego to meet up with my friend Ginger, whom I've known since 5th grade. The three of us spent the day at the San Diego Wild Animal Park. It turns out March is a great time to visit because there are so many baby animals! We also saw a cheetah run. I don't know if she hit full speed, but she was fast!  Cheetahs are endangered and I was once told they very well might go extinct in my lifetime (I have not attempted to confirm or deny this). So to get to see one run was pretty special.

Our last day in SoCal was mostly spent in the car. (Sigh.) We picked up some fun steampunk items at Clockwork Couture (and took pics with their TARDIS), had lunch at a steampunk coffee bar, tracked down Lillian Leitzel's grave, drove to Venice Beach, failed to see the freak show (though we did see a crazy cool goth-type house), then turned around and drove through rush hour traffic back to meet up with Kimmy and Aaron at Game Haus in Glendale.

Our GPS that we brought from home did not have a California map, so we used our new tablet's map app to get around. It was a little frustrating because we got off track a few times and struggled to find our way back on, but it worked. Next time we visit, we'll have to make more time for SoCal. And rent a car right off the bat, and make sure our maps are loaded on the GPS.

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