It's mid-winter, but today in Sydney feels just like this. I can feel a taste of the warm rays of the seasons ahead, spring especially. I have all the doors and windows open, bought a bunch of lavender for the dining table and am basking in the sun pouring through into my attic room, in bare feet and it isn't a bit cold (though I am folding a veritable mountain of clothes). My street is lined with jacarandas so I'm desperate for warmer days and the bright flower of knowing Christmas is just around the corner when they're in season. Jacarandas and bougainvillaea are my dreamiest favourites, all afire with colour and life. The picture here is from LA photographer Chantal Anderson. I've been browsing through her work and falling in all kinds of love. The California ones are especially lovely, I felt so at home in LA and surrounds because of the gold light and rambling landscape, so similar to home, a feeling captured beautifully in her work...
I'm sitting here in sunny old Sydney (and by 'sunny' I mean a revoltingly sticky 40-odd degrees, which is just over 100 if you're in the fahrenheit world) and working through the last of my pictures from our trip. Trying to file and organise them and work some order into my life and onto my computer. I'm kind of liking it, because it means I get to go back to LA - in my head, anyway. LA was a city I wasn't certain about when we embarked on our road of plenty, a city I didn't expect to like, but it has grown on me considerably. We landed there back in October, spent weekends there between our east coast and west coast drives in November, said goodbye to the year just past there in December, and managed to see a whole lot of wonderful there in January. It's one hell of a town.
It's also one big, sprawling, dirty and busy town, but kind of wonderful between all that. I have known a lot of friends to visit LA and say how awful and ugly it was, how difficult and overwhelming they found it. Which I get. But I'm certain that with a car, a GPS, a little time and some of the gems on the list below most people would fall a bit in love with it too.
Happy LA-ing folks...
- We had a pretty big and wonderful night with family and friends and several jugs of sangria at Jordy's local favourite, Cha Cha Cha - super relaxed and homely, with killer jerk chicken and yummy plantains.
- Heywood is heaven for grilled cheese - all kinds of cheeses grilled up juicy and oozy with a side of thick tomato soup, making for a wonderfully indulgent mid-week lunchdate (not to mention they serve huckleberry soda - I didn't even know that was a thing).
- We had one of our best dinner's of the trip at Son of a Gun on 3rd St with some dear friends and quite a few cocktails - it's super cute and the quality was amazing. We feasted on mussels, oysters, king prawns and crab rolls very happily.
- The Gjelina take away bar (GTA) on Abbot Kinney is a real charmer of a spot - we had a late lunch of ginger beer, Brussel's sprout salad and a spicy pork meatball sub thingy in the lovely shade of their courtyard.
- Jordy and I had our last meal of 2012 at Saito's, a small and unassuming sushi restaurant behind a carpark in Silverlake - I can't tell you how amazing, fresh and delicious it was. The chef is a very sweet and old Japanese man who knows his stuff.
- Ricky's Fish Tacos are probably the second reason I want to move to LA - it was our very first stop after we landed there in October and it changed my life. I'll never look at a food stand in a parking lot the same way again, or a taco for that matter. Ricky sets a standard that is hard to beat, fresh, full of flavour, spicy and so cheap. This place is a MUST...
- I loved the Egg Slut food truck, which we sampled downtown near Mateo Street. So simple, so creamy, so eggy, so good.
- In-N-Out Burger is my one concession to fast food and a delight at that. It feels like 1950s California and tastes like a burger should taste - enough said.
- Proof is a sweet little bakery cafe with about the best croissants I've had outside of Paris, and dreamy and creamy lattes. Intelligentsia at Silverlake and Venice treated me well, as did Sqirl, Lamill and Handsome Coffee Roasters (who, FYI, are lovely and professional and make a brilliant latte but don't serve tea or juice, JUST coffee, which I found rather pretentious - it was mighty good coffee and I do appreciate the idea of doing one thing and one thing well, but a cold juice wouldn't go astray some days).
- I loved the odds and ends at Mohawk General Store in Silverlake - eclectic, warm and full of far too many sweet things I wanted.
- Reform School was a fun place to buy presents and browse quirky finds - such brilliant displays, too.
- I bought some lovely things for my little nieces Harriet and Daisy at Tomboy, including a wonderful book by a local artist which just happens to be their new favourite read.
- I'd been haunting the Clare Vivier website for a long while, so almost burst at their beautiful collection of handmade bags and purses in the flesh.
- Steven Alan is another online favourite that I loved in real life, especially the floral silk dress I picked up at their Venice store on super-reduced sale.
- Madewell is all over the country, but a must-mention because I love about everything they do. Bold colours, stripes, spots, prints, and denim make me happy.
- Sadly I didn't make it to Creatures of Comfort (though I've ordered from then online to great success) or Dream Collective but both are quite wonderful.
- Poketo is in downtown and another fun place to browse for gifts and interesting things. I fell in love with their ceramics, but (due to the long flight home) just left with some stationery and a paper aeroplane kit, as you do.
- We hit LACMA on the last day of the year and while it was busy, we had a ball taking in both the Kubrick and the Caravaggio exhibitions (the former I usually find intense, though appreciate the mastery and scope of his work after this show).
- The Getty is a whole other world and one of the best things we did in town. Aside from the epic and sprawling collections (we saw 15th century French tapestries alongside Robert Mapplethorpe photographs) I'd happily go for the grounds alone - the view of the city and the coast is spectacular and the gardens are ripe for picnics and wandering.
- The only true touristy thing I managed was a walk in Griffith Park on new years day - feeling a little tired and delicate from the night before, this was a lovely way to kick off 2013 right. I love how the park is relatively raw - the paths are rough dirt and the wilderness is mostly left to itself. We hiked the 'other' side, away from the Hollywood sign where the evening was quiet and the sunset was golden.
* Image from our afternoon at Handsome Coffee Roasters...
I think one of the reasons I loved LA so much was Silverlake. I'm biased, as Jordy has a house there and knows the parts worth knowing, but it somehow feels different than the rest of LA. It feels a bit more like a community, a bit more like a small town and a lot more like somewhere I'd like to live. It's all cracked pavement and climbing vines and bright flowers, hidden stairways and hilly streets. And of course, there is the reservoir. We went by just before dusk, watching the light change and the long shadows from the hills fall slowly as families and runners and people with dogs circled the silverly water.
I loved all the Mexican markets and the army supply thrift store, and was happy to line up with all the locals to get my fix of Intelligentsia. I bought birthday presents for old friends at Mohawk General Store and Reform School, and a little something for myself from the always amazing Clare Vivier (a little something I'd had my eye on for a long while, actually).
French Laundry is the kind of place you never expect to actually go. It’s a restaurant that exists in glossy magazines and the neat reviews of well-regarded newspapers. It’s a restaurant that books out daily in ten minutes, a restaurant some very fine people have been trying years to get into. It is so fancy, so expensive and so wonderful, that people all over the world regard it as the best restaurant. Ever.
And we had dinner there yesterday.
How we managed it remains to be seen, but thanks go in large part to Jordy’s friend Elliot who happens to be a chef there, and my folks, who so kindly sent us some money instead of a Christmas present this year, in the hope that we’d have ourselves a nice meal on them. And how.
I can’t begin to describe the food, but I will say that it was the most spectacular thing I’ve ever eaten. The Maine lobster tail, the Thomas Keller signature ‘oyster and pearl’ (fresh raw oysters on a bed of silk-like tapioca with sturgeon caviar), the hand rolled tagliatelle with shaved truffles which were grated over - fresh, heady, woody truffles - at the table. They were my favourites, and I could say more, but I couldn’t near do it justice. It would probably go without saying that the service was impeccable, but I have to say it because it was impeccable but charming and personable all at the same time. The linen and table settings and open fire were a picture, and the wine… THE WINE. If the bottle of French champagne on arrival wasn’t enough, the local Konsgaard chardonnay was. It is above all else the loveliest thing I’ve ever drunk. We finished with a California pinot, a rather fine port for Jordy, and a ’97 Sauternes for me. Obviously.
The very idea of decadent and spoiled and blessed doesn’t begin to cover it. We were so full and so happy we slept most of the next day away, rising only to inspect the amazing gardens that feed the French Laundry, just over the road from the restaurant. Most of their vegetables come from their own garden, and the menu changes daily, depending on what is in season and on hand. Their head gardener posts some of the amazing home-grown fare on his Instagram feed, and it’s a must-follow in my book.
I have a feeling it’s an evening both Jordy and I will remember for all our days.
San Francisco was a whole lot of fun, staying with old friends (again) in Oakland, we drank Blue Bottle coffee, got the ferry to Sausalito and looked for crabs in the rocks by the bay, wandered the galleries and the Mission, bought vintage clothes and Pirate Supplies and generally lived it up. We drank pitchers of beer and lemony ale and played pool in a dive bar. We enjoyed a miraciously sunny mid-November afternoon and to celebrate ate amazing margherita pizza and tried pigs ears with lime and chilli oil at Pizzeria Delfina (highly recommended). We washed it down with root beer and pomegranate mimosa and a whole crowd of friends squeezed into one tiny booth.
It was only a few days, but it gave me a taste of this town and I have to say I liked it a lot.
This tree is older than all the towns I've lived in, and all the books I've ever read. Its age is measured in centuries - weathered rings bound in the breadth of its trunk. It's wider than both my arms stretched nine times around and it's taller than any tall I've known. It is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen.
* picture taken at Montgomery Woods, California.
We’d hoped to head out along Big Sur, taking the One north all the way to Santa Cruz from SLO. The storm had been heavy though, and we were warned that the One would be closed and the visibility no more than a few feet. The idea of driving one of the most spectacular coastal highways in the world and not being able to see six feet in front of us, let alone the actual coast, was a little heartbreaking. Not to mention it would take an age. I was worried and grumpy, but Jordy, being the calm and wonderous being he is, said we should take it a few miles and just see how the weather faired. And I’m so glad we did. The road cleared through the hills and as we wound down to the coast, and the miles of beach ahead, the fog was lifting and the view could not have been more amazing. A clear, blue day has nothing on the atmosphere of the silver sky we beheld, melting into the ocean and glimmering away on the rough waves as the sun peaked through the clouds. It was truly something. The Big Sur drive itself is slow and winding at the best of times, but I hung out car windows taking pictures and we pulled in at tidal pools to watch herds of elephant seals nap on the dark sand. The road becomes steep and winding as it heads to Monterey, and the rugged edges and cliff tops, old stone bridges and deep canyons down to the coast feel timeless. Few were out on this stormy day and it made for a very special afternoon, being the only two souls on a grey beach. We made it slowly to Santa Cruz where we were staying with an old friend of Jordy’s. This particular friend grows chardonnay and lives out in the redwoods. We arrived long after sunset, winding our way north of the town and not knowing quite where we were, so waking up to a view of these trees stretching high and mighty outside the kitchen door was breathtaking. I know of no better way to get through a night of too much wine than the cool fresh air and sight of the redwoods in the morning mist.
North of San Francisco (a town deserving of a whole other post), we wound through the lovely Point Reyes National Park. We’d hoped and planned to take lunch at the highly anticipated Marshall Store, for what we’re told are the best oysters in the country, but it was closed for the day. We’d know this if we’d bothered to check their website or phone ahead, but in the end were not so worried, as it was a drive worth taking and a coast worth seeing. Nor were we worried that the ‘clothing optional’ hot springs we’d hoped to visit further north were closed due to the weather, as it meant we got to spend a whole morning deep in Montgomery National Forrest, marveling at redwoods and rambling green ridges, thick with lichen and deep in fog. We took a hundred pictures between us but none of them quite capture the light or freshness of the day.
The stretch of California, climbing along most of the west coast makes for some of the most varied and lovely parts of the States I’ve seen, and we barely touched the surface in the few weeks we were there. My big dream is to hit Yosemite one of these days, though certainly not in mid-winter, as it is now. This weather is fine, but it suits raincoats on the coast and the climbs of the north and travelling with your favourite guy.
From the always sunny southern stretches of California, we started out on the road again. Heading north, we skimmed LA and the especially grey expanse of Malibu, and set our eyes on Santa Barbara. It was rainy and dusky by the time we arrived, but if ever there was a perfect welcome, Municipal Winemakers must be close. They’re a kind of cellar-door-come-bar, with tastings, wine by the glass or bottle, a big open fire, some board games, and a very kindly server. We started out with a tasting of their range, but stayed for another glass so Jordy could beat me in our third round of checkers (since I don’t know how to play chess). We would have stayed so much longer, but were hungry and very soon ended up at a nearby restaurant for dinner - cracking shells, making a mess and picking our way through half a local crab, a roasted squid salad, a big bowl of mussels and another glass or two of wine. We were pretty happy with that, for a Tuesday.
We said goodbye to SB after the best granola and fruit salad ever there was, and a mighty creamy latte from the good people at French Press. Our late start proved for the best, as we ended up wine tasting just out of town at a place called the Wine Ghetto. It’s actually called that, I promise.
The Wine Ghetto is, essentially, a big group of warehouses where small vineyards and wineries hold their own cellar door for local tastings. It’s a pretty sweet way to bring together wineries that would otherwise be too small, too remote or too quiet to sustain their own on site. And it means you can park the car and wander around for an hour or two, tasting away your afternoon. Seeing as we were driving, sensibly, and hoping to make it up to San Luis Obispo that evening, we tasted just a few and bought some bottles to try later with friends.
Encinitas is just an hour or so south of LA but it felt like another world. It felt like summer vacations when I was 12, even though it was the middle of November. Southern California in November, it seems, is sunny. I have a feeling Southern Caifornia at almost always sunny. It made for a wonderful week, if a little less traditional than the Thanksiving I had imagined (people wearing busy knits, lots of wood paneling and candles, autumn leaves everywhere). As it was we sat by the pool, watched the sun set over the ocean, played old-fashioned corn-toss games in the twilight, and ate the hell out of some turkey. Two turkeys to be exact, as we were a very happy table of nine. Jordy’s brother is an amazing chef and together with his mum, a prodigious home-cook, we feasted on a brussel sprout and hazelnut salad, sweet yam mash, piles of potato, green beans coked to perfection, a mountain of home-made stuffing that smelled like very heaven, and soft clouds of warm bread. We had quite a few bottles of wine and, to follow, our choice of pies baked by dear friends that morning. I tried a little of the cinnamon laced pumpkin pie, the sweet, sticky pecan pie and the rhubarb and apple pie (yes, this means I tried all the pies).
I’ve taken to this holiday as happily as you might imagine and have an idea to bring it back to Sydney next year. I don’t know any friends who wouldn’t be want to share a table and a meal and give thanks - it really is the best kind of day.
While most of Jordy’s family drove back to LA and real-life and work-days, we stayed on to rest. Five weeks of driving around the country, eating and drinking to your heart’s content is actually pretty exhausting. So we stayed, ate a lot of fruit and bowls of healthy soup, slept late, caught up on washing, napped in the afternoon and had early nights in front of the telly. It was another kind of wonderful and the salty sea-air did us good.
I read once that Palm Springs is where people go to retire - old people who like golf and a thing called Shuffleboard (which I assume is some kind of card game). Well if Palm Springs is what retiring is like, I’m ready. Sign me up. Long, slow, sunny days spent by the pool drinking almond and sticky date milkshakes and reading the paper is my kind of life. Please and thank you. We stayed at the ACE Hotel for just a night, but it felt restful. After a long, tedious flight from New Orleans to LA, the drive down to Palm Springs felt like we were running away from it all. It was just what we needed after walking and dancing our way around Louisiana, a little quiet and some cold beers in the desert. And I do love the ACE.
Having stayed at their New York hotel a few years ago I was already enamored by their sense of fun and attention to detail. Staying at the ACE is like staying at the home of the coolest person you know, with all the glory of a well-stocked hotel and a lovely team of staff. And being in the dessert, waking up to palm trees and a full sun, and feeling the already warm cement under my bare feet as we took a walk in the early morning felt amazing. It warmed us inside and out.