There has been no shortage of surprises during our four months in the USA, and the southern California coast itself has had a few to offer: friendly people, foreign languages, free activities, funky horticulture. For some reason, this feels like one of the happiest places we’ve been so far.
We finally said goodbye to the roasting hot central valley. We spent one night in a Walmart parking lot in Visalia (though the security guard was very nice) and then we cruised down to cute Agua Dulce winery outside of Santa Clarita. In a morning’s drive we were down on the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu.
We ended up hanging out at Venice Beach for the afternoon (I feel this is the beach that you see in every movie about California). It was very full of bums, hipsters, punks, sunglass sellers, fortune tellers, skateboarders, longboarders, joggers, gymnasts, artists, and international tourists! As a teenager I was here and thought it was pretty sketch. Well it still is, but the sketch vibe now seemed so refreshing compared to San Francisco. The beach was bigger than I remembered too.
It was really fun to get exercise, too. We rode our bikes down a small portion of The Strand, the 22-mile long bicycle path which runs alongside the ocean. It was a joy. We swam in the waves near Dockweiler Beach. Then on the way back through Venice, we walked through what is left of the Canal Historic District, where hundreds of lucky residents live.
To top off the chilled out day, we even found a public parking lot where we parked overnight, for free, just a block from the promenade!
The next day, we drove down to Long Beach to meet Ronjini and Beno, friends from back in Spain! They worked with Edd and me at the summer camp where we met. They now have two beautiful children, Aarya and Anik, and Ronjini has her own PR company, which Beno works for too.
They invited us for dinner and cooked us up a huge spread of food! Which of course, was accompanied by delicious drinks. Beno even got Guinness for Edd. I tried making a cherry custard pie for dessert! We reminisced about Spain and got caught up with their lives.
Aarya, who is three, was so funny and even drew us each a picture. When I asked if mine was of stars, she was very clear that they were just dots and circles. Anik, who is six months old, will be having a feeding ceremony next weekend, a Bengal tradition where a child eats his or her first solid food!
Beno and Ronjini are travelers too. They are in the midst of selling all of their belongings to go live in Europe for a few months! They’ll continue to work online. Two kids, full-time jobs, and they manage to do it. The rest of us don’t have any excuse!
The next day Ronjini made us all mochas and French Toast, or as the English call it, “Eggy bread” (they must really hate the French). It was Edd’s first time! We had showers at theirs (nice) and walked with them to the nearby beach at Colorado Lagoon, where we said goodbye. We had a really nice time with these guys, and hope to see them in a third country!
We spent the next couple of nights in affluent SoCal suburbia. In the evenings we stayed at wineries, and during the day we organized the van, donating extra stuff to Goodwill. We also made time for a matinee showing of Wonder Woman! Loved it!
On Tuesday afternoon, we drove straight into Balboa Park in San Diego. The park holds many of the city’s museums and also its world-famous zoo. Most of the buildings in the park are old by American standards, built for international exhibitions in the early 20th century. Many were temporary and destined for demolition, but residents have kept fighting throughout the decades to preserve them. We definitely saw why. We didn’t expect a public place to be so magical. It’s corny, I know, but it really looks like a Spanish Disneyland or something.
Wonderful sights, smells and sounds abound in the park, and they’re all free! This is what we did without spending a dime: First we went to the Timken Art Museum, which holds a private collection, of western artists and Russian icons. Then strolled over the lily pond near the Botanical Garden. Then through a desert garden where, according to a guy on a bench, Dr. Seuss derived his botanical repertoire. Then we sniffed our way through a fabulously full rose garden. Then we walked through buildings that could be mistaken for Spanish monasteries and Moorish courtyards. In the evening, we went to the Organ Pavillion for a free hour-long concert by a bonafide Navy brass band.
We parked at a truck stop near the border that night to sleep. But first we shopped at “Food 4 Less”. Notice anything strange here?
We didn’t spend a long time in San Diego, or Southern California for that matter, but the mood here–maybe from the mix of people, landscapes, culture–captures exactly what makes my country wonderful. I couldn’t think of a better way to end our time in America.