In April, Gene and I took a trip down California’s Highway 1. We started with 36 hours in San Francisco and packed as much as we could into that short span. We climbed Telegraph Hill, traipsed up and down Columbus Avenue, shopped at City Lights Bookstore and hung out on Haight Street. Read my account of that lightning trip to San Francisco.
Our flight home leaves at , so we have just enough time to pack and eat breakfast leisurely.
We decide to walk up the hill they call Palm Street to Sunset for breakfast. Once up the hill, we reject the counter-style coffee-and-pastry places and realize we don’t have time to wander far.
The walk downhill is much easier and I enjoy the palm trees and the simple red flowers I’ve seen all over Los Angeles. I’m not sure what they are called. Close up, they are simple, but clusters of them create a magnificent swath of color.
I will remember those flowers, manicured lawns and the landscaped yards as the classic Los Angeles image in my mind.
Gene and I eat breakfast in the Le Petite Hotel’s roof garden. The dainty buffet counter offers lox, dill and capers on tiny bagels, scrambled frittata with mushroom and zucchini, muffins, and fruit.
A muffin made its way onto my plate—during the few seconds I blacked out—but it wasn’t the sweet, dessert kind. Vacations will do that to me—I wouldn’t touch a muffin with a ten-foot pole in real life.
Cousin Bill invites us to visit Warner Brothers Studios today where he is working. Our names are at the special visitor’s gate and we are instructed to park in special Parking Lot V. Having a Parking Lot V implies there are Parking Lots A thru U and underscores the vastness of Warner Brothers.
Bill and his colleagues are waiting for a revised version of the movie he is working on, so the version he received yesterday is useless. In his hurry-up-and-wait vocation, Bill has time to walk us around the lot. When we were in LA a few years ago, we took the official WB tour, but now we get a behind-the-scenes tour. We see the ER sets being torn down, since the final episode just aired.
Bill shows us the parking spaces belonging to the bigwigs. To a WB employee, this hierarchy is important to know. Bill points out the former offices of the Hollywood mogul and studio founder Jack Warner, and the bungalow where Clint Eastwood works, and of course, Clint’s parking spaces.
After Warner Brothers, we do some quick shopping at the BeverlyCenter, a huge mall just a mile from our hotel.
Bill recommended a Japanese restaurant to us, but we are tired and decide to go to the rooftop one more time for dinner. We have a cocktail shaker of Calamari with a sweet red sauce, and tomato-and-mozzarella skewers. I have Penne Pomodoro and Gene has a slab of Ahi Tuna with a sauce of avocado bits, olives and tomatoes in a vinaigrette sauce. This meal is worth replicating at home, if we can.
Gene and I are meeting his cousin Bill and Bill’s girlfriend Aura in Koreatown for dinner.The restaurant is seven miles away and we decide to take a taxi so we can enjoy drinks with dinner.
The Beverly Hills Cab Co. taxi waits outside our hotel behind a long, gray limo intended for the couple we shared the elevator with. The blonde girl spoke of the scenes she has to shoot tomorrow and I wonder if she is a big actress. In Los Angeles, anyone or everyone may be an actor or star.
As we ride out to Koreatown, we pass “malls” look like office buildings, reminiscent of many buildings we saw in South Korea. Each mall level has signs all around the perimeter of the building, but no display windows.
We meet Bill and Aura at the Beverly Soon Tofu House, decorated in Korean-rustic. They are waiting for us with a spread of side dishes on the table. Aura offers us some of her jug of Barley Tea. I order two Sojus, but I forgot that Soju is the strong vodka-like drink and not the semi-sweet wine drink I thought it was. “(Bek se ju” is the Korean wine drink that I couldn’t think of.)
Aura asks me if I like Babimbop, and I think it is the dumplings we got at the little Korean storefront in Changwon. Turns out, Babimbop is a big bowl of salad fixings with a fried egg on top. I copy Aura as she adds a sweet red sauce, rice and soy sauce to the salad and tosses it up with her chopsticks. We also get a bubbling soup in which the waitress cracks a raw egg, one-handed. We ordered it medium-spicy, but it is still too spicy for our taste.
Gene and Bill spend the dinner riffing from topic to topic, making segues that only make sense to them, but they are having so much fun, it is great to watch.
I have waited five years to return to Burke Williams, the sumptuous California spa chain. Five years ago on my birthday, I scheduled a basic $99 facial at Burke Williams on Sunset.
The experience was finer than any facial I’ve had at Bliss or anywhere. On the bed with a cooling mask on my face and my parrafim-waxed hands inside terry oven mitts, I thought I must be getting the deluxe package. Whatever this cost, I would pay it. It was my birthday, after all. But the mind-blowing pampering was the $99 facial after all.
Today I make an appointment for a basic facial (now $105) and a half-hour Japanese Shiatzu massage. Only my second massage, I’m not sure the difference between Shiatzu and the massage I got at Milk and Honey in Austin.
I am led down the carpeted corridor and into the lush spa area. I am given a robe and slippers and I consider a dunk in the Jacuzzi, but a nude woman leans against the wall with her feet in the water. I can’t see what she is doing with her hands.
I opt for a few minutes in the Quiet Room instead. The long, narrow Quiet Room holds a row of pods with plush seats the size of a first-class airline seat with rounded seclusion barriers. I sink into the end pod and start writing in my journal. The stillness reminds me how infrequently I experience true quiet and I am able to write quickly. But too soon, it is time to go into the main lounge and meet my facial technician.
The main lounge is like a dark, cozy living room with plush couches and a fireplace. Melka, my technician, retrieves me after only a minute or two. She examines my skin and notices a little dryness, a few broken capillaries, a little sun damage on the sides, but overall I get a favorable review. She talks me into a peel ($20). Under the warm blanket and hearing her expert, soothing voice, she can talk me into anything at this moment.
She advises a separate moisturizer with an overlay of sunscreen no less than SPF 30. She also suggests a Vitamin C serum. After the pampering (I am blocking the few extractions she did), I go to my massage.
The masseuse, a small Japanese man gives me a choice of pressure. Like picking the heat of your salsa, medium always seems a safe choice. The Shiatsu feels good, a lot of pressing on a single point. After the service, I shower and step into one of the Jacuzzis since the busy nude woman and everyone else is gone.
After another great spa experience, the California sunshine feels like it is warming a worthy being. Leaving Bliss in New York and hitting the crowded noisy sidewalk, some of the newly purchased bliss gets left behind.
Lily takes us to The Hall, a French restaurant in West Hollywood.
Gene has a poached-egg caviar appetizer and Lily and I both have a layered salmon-potato thing. Lily and I think along the same lines—we both select the black cod on fava beans for our main course. Gene orders the Kansas steak (from Kansas, France?). Lily gives Gene’s steak high praise: it is better than the steaks served where she works, she says.
Lily takes us to see her apartment, new since we last visited LA. She lives next door to Paramount Studios. Cool.
Her building gate opens into a courtyard with a fountain. Since she lives on the first floor, Lily can feel like the courtyard belongs to her. Lily’s cat Tiggy looks out onto the courtyard, stretches his arms on the screen and gets his paw stuck. He does this several times.
A dramatic Indonesian four-post daybed filled with brown, plush pillows dominates her living room. An orange lamp curves behind it. Her coffee table is so large she practices yoga on it.
The rest of Lily’s apartment is just as dramatic as the living room. Built in 1923, the ceiling meets the walls with curves rather than 90 degree angles. Her bathroom holds a separate shower stall and a deep tub with a sloped back. Sea-green tiles go up two-thirds of the wall and a gold-framed mirror hangs above the tub.
Lily has large mirrors all over the apartment, one hangs over the fireplace, and several tall, heavy ones with thick dark frames are propped against walls. The place feels like lush 1930s. If it were seventy years ago, Lily could be packing for a weekend as a guest at the Hearst castle (after leaving work at Paramount!).
Heading back to the hotel, we stop at a grocery store to pick up some bottled water for the room. Los Angeles tap water tastes yucky and I am accustomed to the good-tasting New York City tap water. Our tap water may taste good, but New York City grocery stores are tiny and filthy. I love visiting real grocery stores—anywhere. Walking up and down the wide aisles, I am always overwhelmed by the number of choices. The wine aisle distracts us from our water mission and we buy a couple bottles of vino.
Lily circles and circles, looking for a parking spot; it takes almost a half hour to find a bank lot where she pays eight dollars. It is about six blocks from the hotel. Nothing like jumping out of a cab and letting it drive off.
The three of us hang out in our room, drinking wine, looking at photos and watching videos on You Tube.
We move at a crawl down the long Santa Monica Blvd, looking for our turn-off, San Vincente. We booked a room at Le Petite Hotel, a boutique hotel on residential Cynthia Street, a few blocks from Sunset and close to Lily’s apartment.
The hotel entrance is framed by a semi-stained glass awning with floral curves against clear glass. The garage door is hidden behind a blanket of ivy. The actor/desk clerk stands behind a rich, dark-wood topped counter in a tiny lobby. He wears a vaudevillian jacket of black and white vertical stripes. Wooden cubbies—old-fashioned room key holders—line the wall behind the desk.
Original paintings, one after another, fill the walls going down the corridors, which are painted with gold-leaf curlicues. The room doors are covered in puffy orange leather and the room numbers are branded onto a leather rectangle.
Our room has a dining nook with a refrigerator, sink and counter top. The sunken sleeping area is a step down and a tiny wrought-iron railing separates the two, making the room feel like an apartment. The bathroom is tiled in tiny squares of green shades. The bathroom vanity is the only piece that doesn’t work for me, painted a distressed blue-green with yellow knobs.
Lily comes by to pick us up for dinner and to have a look-see at the hotel. We walk up to the roof of the four-story building. We walk around the elevated saltwater pool and its orange lounge chairs, white umbrellas and some orange cushioned chaises as large as double beds. There is a sunken cocktail level area that has heat poles for chilly nights.
A garden restaurant runs along one side of the building.
We are 240 miles from Los Angeles and we are eager to get there early to spend time with Gene’s cousin and our friend Lily. We fortify ourselves with the complimentary breakfast at the Pelican Cove Inn, serving hot food as well as pastries and toast. Though not fancy, the Pelican Cove Inn takes good care of its customers.
We plan to have lunch in Santa Barbara today, but it is too early to eat when we approach town. We will just walk down the pier, we think. Getting off the highway is confusing. There is Carrillo, Cabrillo and Castillo streets.
We park in an open lot and start walking toward the pier. The weather is cold, foggy and clammy and we are not getting an impression of the real Santa Barbara. Under the fog is a beautiful seaside town, but it is not making an appearance for us today. At this point, I just want a bathroom and a Starbucks. We settle for a gas station for both needs.
On the highway near Ventura, we see a huge shopping mall. So huge, the mall is more like a little city. We are trying to get back on Highway 101 after the gas stop, but we end up on the service road that parallels the highway. We wind through the mall-city.
We wonder if this Ventura Highway of the 1972 hit song by America. Is it Ventura Boulevard? Ventura Avenue? Ventura Street? Most likely, it’s Ventura Freeway.
We are coming upon LA fast and, anxious to get there, we decide to skip Highway 1 through Malibu. I may regret the shortcut later, but today I am tired and focused on our destination.
The beach motels are only a mile or two from town. So unlike last night, we will have no trouble getting to a restaurant there.
A middle-aged man with white hair checks us in the Pelican Cove. Eager to play concierge, he describes the town’s restaurant options. A thin woman—his wife, perhaps—works the switchboard.She throws in her more ornery two cents from time to time without looking up from her work.
We ask about taking a taxi to town and the Pelican proprietors give us the number of Cambria’s only cab driver. Rob also owns the local towing company. He sometimes picks up taxi customers in his tow truck.
Our room is fussy-cute with a ceiling fan, a fireplace and maroon flowered curtains. A lonely hot tub sits behind a green plastic fence in the corner of the parking lot. The fence helps you not remember you are soaking in the parking lot. We take a fast dip.
Gene and I call the two recommended restaurants and of course, both are closed on Tuesdays.
We go with what might have been our first choice without outside advice, Robin’s, whose menu offers vegetarian dishes.
Taxi Man Rob says he won’t be able to pick us up for an hour and a half.
Forget Robin’s, we will walk to the Moonstone Beach Bar & Grill, two doors down from our motel. Our front-desk friends gave this one a middling review initially. Gene rings the front desk to see if Cambria has an alternative to Rob, and they up their rating of the place.
Looking for a job? Start a competing taxi business in Cambria, California. You only need one taxi, two if you want to have the biggest fleet in town.
Gene and I sit inside next to the window overlooking the water. The night is a little chilly to sit on the porch.
We order a bottle of Harmony Cellars Chardonnay, made ten miles away in San Luis Obispo. The Oysters Rockefeller look oddly cheesy, but Gene says they are delish. Good food doesn’t have to be pretty.
We both order grilled Mahi Mahi. The fish lies under a light tomato cream sauce with shrimp. The food, good and hearty, deserves a better rating from the Pelican Cove Inn. Too cold for a walk on the beach, we return to our room to watch The Biggest Loser.
The Hearst Castle tour is trip back in time to the 1930′s, Hollywood’s glamour days, when an invitation to spend a weekend at William Randolph Hearst’s “ranch” was coveted by celebrities.
As our tour bus chugs up the five-mile hill, we pass the grassy fields where Hearst housed the largest private zoo in America. The bus drops us off in front of the Castle, where Bob, our tour guide, waits to greet us.
Bob talks to every guest, noting their hometowns and working that information into his Castle commentary. (“No pool as big as this in Podunk, right?”) A large man with a ranger hat and squishy black tennis-shoes-disguised-as-dress-shoes, Bob sucks us all in with his booming voice and love of Hearst’s Castle and grounds. He has the special personality of a long-time tour guide—thirty-one years—infinite patience and charm.
Hearst’s Neptune Pool, as dramatic as I have seen in photos, glimmers in the heat. The pool is surrounded by Greek or Roman pillars and marble statues. The confluence of scents mingling in the garden rises up to my nostrils, creating a single, pleasing perfume. The tour group walks through one of the four-bedroom guest houses, Casa del Sol. Period clothes are hanging in the bathrooms or lain out on the short beds. (Were people that much shorter in the thirties?)
In the main house, Casa Grande, Italian church chairs are built into the walls of the long living room in the main house. Above the chairs hang grand tapestries, all hundreds of years old.
The dining room features an endlessly long, set for ten guests in the center. The packaged HearstCastle tour does expose a weakness of the man, lest we think they are covering something up. Bob reveals Hearst’s scandalous love of low-brow ketchup. The elegant table is set up with ketchup and mustard at reachable intervals on the table to prove it. Would he have used the more sophisticated “catsup”?
We walk through the billiard room and the indoor pool, magnificent with blue and gold leaf tiles. The indoor pool, built underneath the outdoor tennis courts, is empty, exposing the delicate blue tile pattern on the bottom.