Cruising in Cali – Part I

Against my better judgement, I have returned to the East Coast where it feels like spring may finally have arrived…I hope for good this time! It has been an adjustment getting back into the swing of work and emails, but I’m managing. Since I still find myself daydreaming about California life, I thought I would share some of the highlights from my trip. I spent the first two days in Los Angeles seeing as much as I could in the time allotted. Read on for my adventures!

My first day in Los Angeles was wonderful. It was a cloudless, breezy day, which was perfect for walking around. First up on the agenda was a visit to the Hollywood Walk of Fame to see the stars. It was crowded, as there was a movie premier for Furious 7, which blocked a section of the street and made seeing parts of the Walk of Fame virtually impossible. But I managed to locate the stars of Joan Rivers, Judge Judith Sheindlin (fellow American University alumna) and Pierce Brosnan.

Hollywood Walk of Fame

After some sightseeing, and stops in a few tourist shops (I’m a sucker for souvenirs), it was off to Runyon Canyon. I’ve heard a lot about Runyon Canyon and it was a place I wanted to see. It’s a bit of a trek from the Walk of Fame, but still manageable. I’m not going to lie. The hike up the Canyon was serious exercise, and I certainly earned my high-calorie lunch afterwards. You can take the hike at your own pace, but it is very hilly and steep in some places. Being the adrenaline junky that I am, I wanted to hike every peak and valley that I could. I took great shots of Los Angeles, and only managed to slip twice on the rough terrain. If Runyon Canyon is in your future, I would advise you to bring water along on the hike. There is a convenient station at the main entrance that has snacks and bottled water for sale on the honor system. Also, make sure you have sunscreen. I didn’t heed that warning and ended up with a nasty sunburn thanks to the deceptively breezy day (and the fact that it was April and all). A good pair of sneakers or hiking shoes would serve you well. I wore my running shoes, which did the job, but probably weren’t the best for the terrain.

Runyon Canyon - LA

Runyon Canyon - LA

Runyon Canyon - LA

I could have called it a day when I finished Runyon Canyon. My legs felt like Jello from all of the hiking, but the Griffith Park Observatory was up next. From there, you can get a glimpse of the infamous Hollywood sign, as well as more scenic views of Los Angeles. The building itself is a work of art and inside you can learn about constellations, planets and star gazing. Once through the front door, take a look at the beautiful murals on the walls and ceiling.

Griffith Observatory

Griffith Observatory

View from Griffith Observatory

Griffith Observatory

And if you are going to go to the Observatory, you might as well continue the journey and see the Hollywood sign. You can drive about a mile up from the Observatory before you have to park and make the rest of the voyage on foot. This was my second hike of the day. I would say it is approximately two and half miles each way to see the sign. Thankfully, it’s not as hilly as Runyon Canyon, but you would be wise to have hiking shoes and water with you. I did it later in the day, so the sun was not much of an issue (but my sunburns were already setting in!). There is also a stable in the area that offers trail rides. I saw a lot of people on horseback and wished I had time to do that as well. It was the perfect place for a leisurely trail ride! Follow the path to the very end where you will be greeted by the Hollywood sign. You can only get so close (about a half mile under the sign), but it is still an impressive thing to see in person.

Horseback Riding in LA

Hollywood Sign - LA

LA Sunset

The adventure continues….

I woke up sore from all the hiking I had done on the first day. I must have hiked more than ten miles! My sunburn was quite visible, ruining any hopes I had of lounging at the beach. The morning involved a visit to Sony to tour the building and sets. If you are interested in touring Sony Pictures Studios or Paramount Pictures Studio, I would recommend getting tickets in advance as the tours sell out quickly.

Sony Pictures Studios

The Sony tour was about two hours and involved a short movie about the studio’s history before our guide walked us through sets of popular shows such as Breaking Bad, The Goldbergs and Ray Donovan (sorry, no photos allowed!). It was fascinating to learn how the sets are constructed and to be able to walk through some of them. As a Jeopardy fan, the highlight for me was seeing the actual stage where the show is taped.

Jeopardy Set

The property itself has quite a history with famous singers and actors, from Barbra Streisand to Brad Pitt walking its halls. Unfortunately, there were no stars to be seen on the tour, but it was fun to imagine what the place must have looked like during the days of Marlon Brando and Rita Hayworth. Much of the old glamour remains to this day despite various divisions and additions.

Once the tour at Sony concluded, I was off to Pasadena where I met Jenna, an editor whom I contacted for coffee at Copa Vida. We chatted for a bit over our lattes and I mentioned to her that I wanted to head to the beach. She suggested Manhattan Beach for its shopping and dining.

Copa Vida-Pasadena, CA

The drive from Pasadena to Manhattan Beach took a while thanks to LA traffic, but it was absolutely worth it once there. Oh, what I would give to live in a house by the beach in a warm climate! Manhattan Beach is a great place to eat, shop, and of course, lay out in the sun. It has a beautiful pier with panoramic views of the ocean and is a nice place to walk around and experience the California beach life.

There are no shortage of restaurants to choose from in the area, but Jenna recommended The Strand House and after one look at the swanky restaurant, I could see why. The modern building, with floor-to-ceiling windows, is a block from the beach. I ordered the C’est la Veev cocktail, which contained Veev açai, yuzu, blackberry, mint, lime and ginger beer. It was refreshing after a long day out and about, and a great choice to enjoy while people-watching and waiting for my food. For my entrée, the margarita pizza struck my fancy and did not disappoint. The sauce was one of the sweetest I have ever had!

The Strand House - Manhattan Beach, CA

I was eager to dip my toes into some California sand after admiring the views from the restaurant. Unlike the rocky North Shore beaches that I am used to on Long Island, the sand was soft and lush. Despite warm temperatures during the day, the beach was too cool for swimming or lounging. But it was still nice to take in the ocean and the beach air.

Manhattan Beach, CA

Manhattan Beach, CA

Before heading back to the hotel I wanted to stop in some of the shops. Manhattan Beach had a nice mix of retail stores and small local establishments. I found my way into Trina Turk, Splendid, Free People, Michael Kors and Lucky Brand, but managed to walk out empty-handed. However, all bets were off when I spotted the Bonaventura Gelato Lounge. I ordered a cup containing four flavors: Nutella, double brownie, salted caramel and white chocolate. It was decadent and more than I could eat after my meal.

Gelato Lounge - Manhattan Beach, CA

By the end of two action-packed days, I was tired and looking forward to an early retreat to the hotel room.

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