California Dreamin' in Venice Beach and Joshua Tree National Park – Borrowing Britain

California is a magical place, let’s start there. It’s full of character, sunshine, diversity and above all, FOOD. So naturally, I was in complete paradise on my recent visit to Los Angeles to catch up with a couple of my friends. Like a kid on Christmas Eve, I couldn’t sleep the night before. I was so excited to get back to Disneyland (obvi), explore the Venice canals and make my pilgrimage to the Father of the Bride house with some of my best friends by my side. And boy, did this quick 5-day trip deliver.

I began my journey with… sleep. Unfortunately, my planning skills were not at their best when I booked my flight to California for 2 days after my return from England. That put me in jet lag HELL. My body never recovered from European mode, which was about 8 hours ahead of the west coast. My friends were kind enough to let me crash immediately in preparation for our Disney day following.

We conquered both California Adventure and Disneyland, literally jogging between them to catch all our fast passes, shows and parades. My friend, Sarah, works for Disney’s Creative Costuming and let’s just face it, that’s pretty inspirational. It’s always amazing seeing projects she or her colleagues have literally had their hands on! The Disney magic lives on.

The next day was Cinco de Mayo (woop woop!), so we spent the morning exploring the town of Venice. Kitschy, colorful and totally unique, there was not a single moment of boredom in this indie paradise that sits right on the coast. It was like walking through an Urban Outfitters that had no limit, which was great because the search for bougainvillea was ON.

We fueled up on a D-E-L-I-C-I-O-U-S brunch at Gjelina where my soul was treated to everything from maple glazed bacon and crispy eggs topped with prosciutto to rosemary sea salted potatoes that quite honestly made me cry. The ambiance in this place is indescribable, but also the exact reason I’m dying to move to California one day. Tasteful and relaxed, these people know how to spend their weekends. Side note: for about 30 minutes I was entirely convinced Ben Affleck was sitting 2 tables down, but don’t worry. No actual celeb sightings on this trip. Not that my eyes were peeled for baseball hats + sunglasses everywhere we went. Total tourist, I know!

We wandered along the famous Abbot Kinney Blvd for hours, admiring found pieces and graffiti art along the way. Per visitor’s duty, we stopped in Salt & Straw where my tastebuds were welcomed into a whole ‘nother level of Heaven. This adorable ice cream parlor serves up seasonal farm-to-cone flavors you’d never find elsewhere: duck crackling with cherry preserves, jeweled brown butter and honey lavender just to name a few! I myself had 2 scoops of sea salt with caramel ribbons served over a warm waffle cone, not regretting a thing. I’ll even say it was on par with Mary’s Milk Bar in Edinburgh! As we sat outside, people-watching with our cones, my favorite dog in the world walked by. A breed so rare, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen one in the flesh. The Bedlington terrier is misunderstood (lol), though I’ve always had an affinity for its lamb-like demeanor. The owners were kind enough to let me visit with him for a while!

Chasing the sun, we made our way to the Venice Canals to admire the waterside architecture and wander. This is exactly the place I’d park my life (if I had a million dollars/month in cash flow, that is), and it was neat to get such an idyllic taste of Italy in the US. Can you imagine a sunrise canoe ride as part of your daily routine?

We drove for a bit towards Pasadena so I could finally pay my respects to the house in my favorite movie: Father of the Bride. It’s a film my dad and I have watched together every time I’ve come home for as long as I can remember, so it holds a pretty special place in my heart. I showed him via FaceTime as I stood in front of it, praying the owners weren’t about to walk out – ha! It was a moment I’ll remember the rest of my life.

Don’t worry, we got margs somewhere in there! But the real highlight was dinner at Bestia – an Italian TREASURE located downtown. ‘Twas some of the best pasta I’ve had stateside, so it should be at the top of your bucket list if you are a fan of food. Silly Sarah and I waited too long to make a reservation (and you’ll need one here), but we did snag a couple seats at the bar where we had the lucky opportunity to flirt with bartenders and sample free drinks. So who needs a table anyways?

The next day, we decided it was time to conquer Joshua Tree National Park. Don’t worry… by car. Little did I know, Joshua Tree is a huge expanse in the Mojave dessert spanning 1235 square miles. It took us about 3.5 hours to get there from LA, and another hour to drive through the park enjoying the scenery from our air conditioned seat. We marveled at the crazy rock formations that seem to settle where they do thanks to God’s holy grace and nothing else. We’re talking precarious stacks of building size boulders. The joshua trees scattered throughout were equally as mesmerizing with their twisty branches and yucca palms.

We drove through high and low desert zones, with an altitude spanning 1300-5900 feet. Towards the lower zone, we stopped to explore the Cholla Cactus Garden, filled with desert-loving plants that are actually a little poisonous. There were signs everywhere tempting anyone that doesn’t like to be told “don’t do something” to touch one and find out what happens. But since I am here writing this now, I obviously played by the rules. ‘Till next time 😉

I’d love to go back and explore more one day. You can easily spend a weekend here camping, rock climbing, hiking and catching the constellations at night. But I will tell you, it gets HOT. They recommend 1 gallon of water per person for a single visit, and I’d have to say you should stock up on food before too. There are plenty of cute restaurants on the main road before the entrance.

We sang Disney songs at the top of our lungs and drove through a wind power plant on the way back. And I couldn’t think of anything more I’d rather do in that moment. All in all, my visit was affirmation that this is exactly where you should plant yourself if you have a thing for amazing climates, beautiful natural scenery and serious quality of life.

‘Till then, I’ll be kicking it here in Charleston planning my European adventures for the fall!