One advantage of arriving in LA in Spring is the clear air. The vistas from the aircraft as it came into land were stunning. The infamous smog was no where to be seen, and instead clear blue skies afforded views across down town, the beaches and even across to the iconic Hollywood sign.
We came in on a domestic AA flight, so we were quickly out of the terminal and on the freeway. Despite the myriad of 12 lane motorways and intense traffic, LA for me is a gate way to relaxation and good times.
It’s a familiar part of the world, as I have been coming here for over 20 years, so there isn’t the compelling need to rush around ticking off the sights like The Hollywood Chinese Theatre or Universal studios. I was last here for Christmas 2010 and I managed to make my usual pilgrimage to The Getty Centre, a stunning, contemporary, travertine marble and white steel citadel designed by Richard Meier. It’s amongst my favourite places – as well as the architecture and gardens (which for me eclipse the treasures housed within the expansive galleries), I love its 360 commanding views that help put the huge sprawling mega metropolis of LA into some kind of perspective.
Rafa & I were also here in 2008, when we took the remarkable Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco down to Santa Barbara.
So for this trip it has been a pleasure to explore the southern part of California, and we could not have asked for a better guide than our dear friend Anne, with whom we stayed. And there is no better way to enjoy southern California than just getting out in the great outdoors on a hike.
So the three of us headed out to enjoy a popular trail in the foothills of Santa Clarita, near Anne’s Valencian home.
When we later headed south to La Jolla and San Diego, the influence of Spanish culture becomes undeniable. Spain colonised California for some two hundred years and established a network of ‘Missions’ along the west coast, as part of the imperial power’s strategy to consolidate its political, economic and religions presence in the area, against the Brits, the Russians and Mexicans. We visited The San Juan Capistrano Mission, established in 1776 (later partially destroyed in a major earthquake in 1812).
It was so good to enjoy the gardens, cloisters and buildings of the Mission; the whole place is impeccably maintained and gives a really fascinating insight to this period of California’s history. The Mission is famous for its annual celebration of the return of the migrating swallows on March 19, but for me, it was more interesting to learn that California’s first ever wine was produced by the Mission’s very own winery.
Continuing south we stopped off in the up scale beach-side community of La Jolla. Despite its development over the past few decades, with the growth of San Diego’s university faculties and private research centres specialising in all manner of things from stem cells to research into outer space and the depths of the oceans, it has retained its charm and exclusivity. Enjoying breakfast overlooking La Jolla cove and the Pacific is a great way to start any day. We discovered The Brockton Villa, an original 19th century California beach-side bungalow that is now a quaint eatery, decorated with shells and lanterns.
This is one of California’s most beautiful towns and is home to some of my relatives; Sheila Palmer and her family. Sheila is an acclaimed interior designer in the area, with her Sheila Palmer Design Associates business and charming interiors store on Avenida de la Playa. Her daughter Anna Palmer creates luxurious hand-turned finals, rods, brackets, lamps and wrought iron hardware in a range of bespoke hand crafted finishes. It was so good to see them both.
Practically at the border with Mexico we eventually came to San Diego; a US city that must boast one of the best locations in the country. Heading up to the Cabrillo National Monument, we were rewarded with a panorama that took in the city, its airport, naval base, the sierra beyond and Mexico to the south.
Following Mexico’s independence from Spain, the country dominated this area until California was ceded to the United States. So there is little need to cross the border to enjoy some tasty Mexican cuisine (which UNESCO now recognises as part of the planet’s Intangible World Heritage!) San Diego’s Old Town is a little bit of a tourist trap but it is charming and has some excellent Mexican restaurants with beautiful courtyards, and it’s much easier compared to heading across to Tijuana, which is sadly getting increasingly tricky for foreign visitors.
This chilled escape in southern California was finished off with a trip to Santa Barbara, the exclusive enclave north of LA. It’s home to stars like Rob Lowe and celebrities like Oprah Winfrey. Anne took us to an old favourite, a ocean side restaurant that is popular with the locals; The Boathouse on Hendry’s Beach – I took the Ahi Tuna Club sandwich with a Pomegranate Mimosa! I’ve packed on the weight over the past two weeks since living Spain – for me, eating in a place is the best way to get to know it and, well chill out!