My Morocco trip set me up well for enjoying California. I was already in a wistful, romantic mood of the Arabian nights sort, so I was happy to once again drive down palm tree-lined streets (though these do not seem to bear juicy dates as the Moroccan ones do).
The more I go to LA, the more I like it. At first I was turned off by how old-new it is: rather than olde time images of the Gold Rush and cowboys and wagons and such, it's full of mid-20th Century, falling down 50s commercial design oldness, with peeling paint and a few lightbulbs having gone out. It's all donut shops and bowling alleys and motels and car washes and atomic cocktail fonts, which I've become a little obsessed with after being initially turned off by it.
I guess I originally expected LA to be more modern, more glamorous, like Miami or even New York or London or something. But it's a city that's not a city, a sprawl of canyons and shrubbery and beaches and cars, oh my, the cars. With the traffic there, it's no wonder they need so many motels and car washes.
I don't always drive when I'm there, but I rented a car this time to get myself around for work and to have a way to get myself down to San Diego for more work. Immediately from picking the crappy compact up from the airport, I was happy I did, because I stumbled upon the holy grail of road food: Randy's Donuts (the building with the big donut on the roof) and Louis' burger joint next door which has been previously untrackable on the internet despite my blog-related efforts. A colossal cheeseburger and jelly donut later, and I was ready for El-A.
I felt comfortable enough this trip, and brave I suppose, to venture outside of my beloved Sunset Strip for meals, so I dragged Kevin to Mario Batali's Pizzeria Mozza, which, after an hour wait and a Jaclyn Smith celebrity sighting, was totally worth the wait. I also ventured to BLD for brunch on Friday for a bruleed grapefruit and blueberry ricotta pancakes which were pretty colossal in their own right.
Despite being on the go all the time in LA, because you're stuck in traffic most of the time, you feel pretty sedentary. I was happy to take a long, scenic drive down to San Diego today, on the Pacific Coast Highway and a stretch of the Historic Highway 101, through darling beach towns and past breathtaking waves breaking on the shore and breaking my heart for having to go back to the East Coast. After seeing Huntington Beach through my windshield, and spotting two horses taking a dip in the water in Laguna Beach, I almost drove my car into the ocean to become one with the sea. I was brought to tears at every pass.
Of course, my drive was so scenic that it took me about six hours (as opposed to the predicted 3.5-4). But I was sailing down the Freeway in the late afternoon with my spirits high, just in time to veer off into Old Town San Diego, which I'd only seen at night during my spring vacation here. It's actually pretty awesome - because it's a state park, they've done their best to try to restore or recreate the original "town," walking through which has a similar feeling to a ghost town only most of the buildings are a museum/shop combo. You can actually find great Mexican art (and food!) there, with great handiwork - not from Taiwan. I bought a little Christmas tree ornament from the tinsmith (resisting every cute little box, mirror, candleholder, lantern and figurine) and some nice hammered silver earrings from another shop, somewhat satisfying my desire for handmade jewelry that I didn't seem to find in Fes.
After a quick stop in the Catholic church (whose mission-style architecture reminded me of the kasbahs), I wandered down the more commercial row of souvenir shops and restaurants on San Diego Avenue, resisted a $32 trolley tour, and got back in my car to go get some food at El Indio, a Guy Fieri-recommended Mexican diner nearby. Their tortilla chips are to die for (and available for sale by the bag), and the slow-cooked pork in my carnitas was about the softest I'd ever eaten. Too bad they don't serve margaritas there...I'm still dying for one.
On my way to my downtown hotel, I took a detour and ended up on Harbor Drive where all the tourist cruise ships dock, as well as a historic aircraft carrier and a bunch of boats that look like pirate ships. The sun had begun to set so I wandered down the scenic walkway towards the sun, breathing in the sea air and trying to avoid being clobbered by the many pedicabs whizzing by. I found myself at the most romantic place in the harbor: right by the statue rendition of the famous World War II portrait of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square. There were couples around me everywhere recreating the portrait beneath the larger-than life statue, for posed photos or just for the heck of it. I sat on the grass alone, watching the sun go down behind lazy sailboats and excited children running past, during quite possibly the most romantic sunset I've ever seen.
There is so much I wanted to do during my last San Diego trip, so I'm trying to cram it all into this one, but I think I'm just going to have to come back for like a week. I am here for work, after all, which means an early morning tomorrow and possibly a late evening. And hopefully more romance, even if it's only in my own head.