I love taking holidays after the stress of November/December… and I especially like it when we go somewhere warm… and meet up with friends. So maybe California in January isn’t that warm sometimes, but it was definitely warmer than here and there was definitely friends involved.
Uneventful travels put us in CA before lunch, even though we had been up for about 12 hours by then. Our most excellent friends Alice and Bill picked us up as LAX and we were off to find some lunch and beers. We ended up at the Baja Cantina near Venice Beach. After lunch, since it was nice out and we found easy parking, we explored the pier and some of the canals (admiring their most snazzy Christmas decorations… which even after seeing a lot of them, all look weird to me because they don’t really have winter in my world), found coffee and beer to go, and then hit the road for our hotel in Mission Viejo. Might as well enjoy some LA traffic en route, right? Drive to the hotel took about 2 hours.
We stayed at Ayres Hotel & Spa in Mission Viejo… there was a wedding guest group rate and it wasn’t far from the wedding venue. The hotel itself was nice, the rooms were big, and the rate was fine. Mission Viejo is most definitely a sleepy little place and there’s not much going on around there… thankfully we had wheels (good work Alice and Bill). We didn’t get up to much else in the evening… cleaned ourselves up, ate at the hotel, and sat around drinking beer. Dionne arrived later in the evening and we saw her for about 30 seconds before we headed off to bed.
New Year’s Eve day – seemed like a good idea to start off the day with something active… in case of debauchery to come. We had some breakfast at the hotel (free hot hotel breakfast, nothing special, but better than a lot of places we’ve stayed). Then we checked out Florence Joyner Olympiad Park, which on a map looks like it has much better trails than it does… but we made it work for a run (well, I walked/ran after a lazy December). And learned that CA parks have a pretty substantial dog shit problem. Yuck! (I didn’t walk in it, but you could smell it a lot)
Newport Beach for the afternoon, exploring the pier, walking around and basking in the sun like lizards, Mutt Lynch’s for lunch and beers… can’t go wrong with a place decorated with inflated condoms, advertising for breaking your new year’s resolutions… (way to go on your excellent craft beer and IPA scene Cali… my liver may or may not thank you, but it was a super fun ride) and coffee… always coffee. Thanks for funding most of our caffeine needs for the trip D!
Quick stop at Target for more beer and associated stuffs (I may not have packed enough socks) and we tucked into the hotel for the night. The troops arrived gradually throughout the afternoon, Kathy opened her martini bar, we stocked the beer fridge, and just enjoyed hanging out. Pre-wedding activities started that evening, and we were slightly social in meeting some of Herb and Gel’s family and friends from our room or the lobby… it was a lovely afternoon and evening of sitting around sipping, while struggling to stay awake long enough to call it New Years on the West coast (with it really being 4am for us). We made it. But just barely. We were going strong at East Coast New Years though! We also learned that people in Mission Viejo don’t eat takeaway on New Year’s Eve after 9pm… as evidenced by calling several pizza places and finally settling for Domino’s only because it was open.
Happy New Year! We started 2016 off right, spending the morning hiking around O’Neill Regional Park. There was a lovely view from the top, everyone we crossed paths with wished us Happy New Year, and we even watched a parade of fancy cars at the end while we made our way back to the car. Hooray for doing stuff outside! Lunch at BJ’s Brewhouse, a quick stop at Bevmo (for rum instead of beer), and back to the hotel to get ready for the main event.
We were super touched to be invited to Herb and Gel’s wedding… and finding a seat sale flying out of the city where we live/never needing much of an excuse to escape winter pretty much sealed the deal. I may have even suffered through many, many stores across two countries to find a pretty dress and shoes for the event. The wedding was held at Rancho Los Lomas late afternoon and it was a super snazzy event. After a slight snaffu with the wedding shuttle company (i.e. we waited well over an hour for them to show up in numbers enough to pick up all the people at the hotel who were waiting for them and arrived only minutes before the wedding was actually supposed to start), we made it to the venue… and all was well from there.
I’m all for an outdoor wedding on January 1st, but the poor Californians (and others) were freezing – winter coats, and gloves, and all. The ceremony was lovely, the stars of the show looked amazing, and I suspect there was barely a dry eye in the place. Herb did not, however, ride in on a white tiger sporting guns with an eagle overhead as we requested. There was a lovely reception after the ceremony (with heating lamps) along with time to explore the grounds (there are animals on site, but I’m not really sure why an event venue needs caged tigers and zebras, so I didn’t really look around).
The reception was jam packed, the speeches were touching, we were fed and watered excessively with free beers, had chocolate and cake, enjoyed the party, and made sure Dionne had friends to play in the photo booth with. I even danced. Without a gun to my head (Herb and Gel – you missed it)… but not during any of the high pressure dances where everyone seemed to know all the steps. Hip hop line dancing is weird.
Herb, Gel, and Ingrid: Thank you for inviting us to share in such a special day. It was beautiful from beginning to end. We had an amazing time. Many of your friends and family stopped to visit with us and made us feel welcome. Gel – you were absolutely stunning! Ingrid – so were you! Herb – you clean up OK too.
The next day we moved the party from the not-so-happening area of Mission Viejo to Long Beach instead. Kathy – thanks for the help with operation “we had too much stuff to fit in the trunk of the rental car”! We had rented a loft in Long Beach for the rest of the trip. The location turned out to be super convenient, the loft itself was nice (with some minor wear and tear of normal rental for the most part, minus the leaky sink and the broken door)… but the owner definitely falls into the socially awkward and not to be trusted with loft decorating categories)…my precious!! The picture window in the living room provided hours of entertainment, like potential car burglars and dancing queens.
We got there early afternoon, unloaded, and chilled out for a while. Visited with our unexpected new roomie Charlie the turtle, and then wandered off to find some food… like delicious eats at Thai District. Spent the rest of the day wandering around Long Beach by the beach, with later night eats and beer at Beachwood Brewpub. It was a bit of a long wait, the BBQ was only ok, but great beer 🙂
And that brings us to Sunday Funday… Greg never quite got switched over to CA time and was up most mornings by 4am. So we hit the Starbucks right by the loft each morning, scoped out El Super (super cheap grocery store right next door… 5 avocados for 97 cents and 2 pineapples for $1… jealous!! Though we did also see strawberries that would be $4 here for $8 there), and chilled out for a bit. We hit the Long Beach farmers market for some eats and groceries (local citrus for the win), and then it was pretty much lazy day all around. It was beautiful and sunny, so I wandered off outside for a couple of hours while everyone else watched football and chilled. Greg cooked us a delicious supper, which was a nice break from the constant eating out… and Bill and I escorted Dionne to a decidedly un-Packers bar called The Stache. I’m not sure you should advertise yourself as a sports bar if you don’t have any real sport memorabilia, and when you refuse to turn down the music for people to watch the game. We lasted a quarter and then directed D to a place I had seen while wandering around in the afternoon. Greg and I met her back at Shannon’s on Pine after supper to finish the game and have a beer.
Monday’s plan was to get a little exploring in at the El Dorado nature reserve and just plain enjoy the outdoors, but it was not to be… closed on Mondays. Thanks Internet for lying about that! So iHop for lunch (my American guilty pleasure… mmm harvest grain and nut pancakes)… and then we explored some other parks we could find nearby by Googling (and without gates) to get some walking in. Cali loves its gates. Then off to visit Herb and Gel… pre-dinner drinks at some random place near their house, and then met up with Ingrid as well for supper at Amor Y Tacos in Cerritos… left that place so full (that may be the theme of our California adventure… being full)….thanks Ingrid! … and somehow the night ended in bowling. Weird, big ball American bowling. And Greg won (sorry Herb), and the rest of us got the hang of it eventually.
So it’s supposed to be warm and lovely all the time in California, right? Yea… someone lied to us all. It was a bit chilly sometimes (I mean, not Canadian winter chilly, but chilly enough to need a hoodie or jacket)… and we spent Tuesday and Wednesday dodging torrential downpours. Especially tricky on their busy freeways – great work Bill, rock star driver extraordinaire! I filled in only for beer break. Started the morning at the Grand Central market (which, while it opens at 8, wasn’t really all that open near 10 when we got there)… got some juice which was nice… was dying for some nutrients. Hit up Eric Greenspan’s grilled cheese place – delish – and a great place to hide from the rain. Then off to Charm City Cakes West… which is about as close as I get to celebrity infatuation. I started decorating cakes after watching Ace of Cakes what seems like a million years ago. You can’t go into the bakery (they were filming in there, but don’t open to the public unless you are ordering a big, expensive cake), but we could see in the windows which was cool. And they have a decorate it yourself kind of shop next door. It’s crazy expensive… but my awesome friends thought it would be a nice place to wait out the rain. So Alice and I decorated up some cupcakes for everyone to eat (Duff’s Cake Mix – your prices are too high!)… and by then the rain had pretty much stopped. Hooray!
Hollywood area next for some pop culturing… so we walked around the Walk of Fame, which was parts exactly what I expected and not at all what I expected. There’s A LOT of stars… crazy! A lot of them, I didn’t even know who they are… but that’s not the least bit surprising, really. Saw Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (I think it’s called something else now that I am too lazy to Google), but the foot and handprint area was closed at the time because of something having to do with Quentin Tarantino… but it opened back up by the time we circled back. Viewed the Hollywood sign from a distance – not really that exciting (thanks for hitting this area twice so we could see it cool kids).. and then sadly we had to take Dionne to LAX. BOO!!!! Miss you D! Post airport, we were invited to join Herb, Gel, and her family for supper. Thanks for the eats and lovely visit! Mmmm chips and salsa…
Wednesday – torrential downpours again. WTF Cali? I hope it at least helped your water supply! Met up with Herb, Gel, and Ingrid for breakfast at the Blackbird in Long Beach (thanks again Ingrid… you spoil us)… and then Herb and Gel came back to check out “our place” while we made plans for what to do in the rain. Back to LA and it was sunny by the time we got there… we spent a few hours checking out snazzy cars at the Peterson Museum (including a Batmobile and the VW van from Little Miss Sunshine… look at me pop culturing)… raining again when we left. Went to see all the lamps in front of LACMA (still raining)… and then it was time for eating and visiting the original farmers market (starting to stop raining)… mmm Cajun food and beer and baked goods and ice cream!!!
Rain was over by the time we left, so we headed out to check out Santa Monica pier. It kind of loses something when it’s been raining all day and all the shops/etc but the arcade are closed, and the rides aren’t running… but now we’ve seen it. So we went to The Commons Alehouse for beer instead. We’ve mastered the art of beer and chilling with our friends! And being able to choose from several beer I actually like at every stop was pretty friggin awesome I have to say. Last stop of the day – The Boiling Crab in Garden Grove for supper. This place is pretty awesome (except for a fairly shitty sounding beer selection)… delicious seafood served in a bag with sides… messy, fun, and delish! First time trying King Crab… you earn every friggin bite of those buggers!
Last full day in Cali… and the sun was back. Handy, since the four of us planned to spend it at Disneyland. Packed up the loft, found coffee, and headed out. I have never been anywhere Disney, but I think we got lucky, at least in the morning. The crowd wasn’t bad at all when we first got there. Minimal waits for rides and easy to walk around and explore.
This is a place that totally fries the logical part of my brain. It’s stupid expensive and apparently it’s busy most of the time (great for Disney, maybe not so much if you are going there). Paying a lot of money to stand around in long lines to wait for rides seems weird to me. But it is nice that they post the wait times for the rides, and the fast pass concept kind of works. I don’t have any other theme park to really compare it to (I’ve been to Dollywood and that’s it). I’m not really sure what I expected it to be, but it mostly hit the bill. There were things I liked (you could take pictures with your own camera without them needing to sell you stuff), the bathrooms are super snazzy, the place is in great shape, and some of the stuff there is pretty cute (Toontown)… and things I didn’t like (the price, line-ups, the crazy commercial part of it all). All in all, it was a fun day and I would likely go to another… we hit a few rides – Thunder Moutain, the Matterhorn, the Jingle Cruise (repurposed from Jungle Cruise for Christmas… and kind of terrifying in a tacky way, including a crime scene of busted up plastic reindeer, some with no heads), It’s a Small World (also Christmasy – total sensory overload), the train, and the Haunted Mansion (that had been all done up Nightmare Before Christmas style)… Greg and Bill did Splash Mountain and the Indiana Jones ride as well… I forget if we did any others.
By the time we got over to the Tomorrowland section where the Star Wars and Marvel stuff was, the park was a zoo and the wait times were longer than we would still be at the park for. We did stop for a photo break so Darth Vader could flirt with Bill though. It would be neat to see the park at night all lit up, and sans Christmas having thrown up on it. Late afternoon, we got out of dodge and headed towards Burbank.
Supper at Islands (meh) and coffee in Burbank and then we hung out at our hotel for a little while. Alice and Bill were flying out of LAX in the wee hours of the morning, so they had to head back out. We spent the night in Burbank at an airport hotel and caught the shuttle later in the morning. Extra long travel day – left the hotel at 5am Cali time and got to our house just before 2am our time. Our luggage even spit out first when we got to our airport. But it was nice to have no travel-related incidents coming and going, and no snow or ice related problems once we got home.
This may be another one that doesn’t necessarily translate to the most interesting blog ever… but two thumbs up for another fun adventure and chances to spend time with friends from away. So long California, and thanks for the all beer.