California Love

by Lia
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View of the Pacific Ocean from the cliffs at Torrey Pines

I spent the beginning of July back out on the West Coast in Southern California, splitting my time between San Diego and Los Angeles — two places I would gladly call home in a heartbeat. I feel lucky that I was able to head back to California for a second time this year (after being there just a few months ago) because being in Cali means getting to see family and friends that I typically see once every few years (if that!).

When I first arrived in San Diego, I spent a day in Coronado, which is an island in San Diego County connected to the main city by the famous Coronado Bridge. It’s also the home to the Hotel del Coronado, one of the oldest luxury resorts in California that used to be one of the world’s largest resorts back when it was built in the late 1880s. I didn’t stay there though it would’ve been very nice. (Next time, right?)

I pretty much beach bummed while in Coronado, which is the perfect thing to do. There were surfers and paddleboarders everywhere, families in beach chairs under beach umbrellas, children and adults building sand castles, people eating ice cream and shaved ice. You know, just doing summery things on a sunny beach in Southern California, where the weather was perfectly warm and breezy. Ahhhh… the weather.

The view from my Coronado hotel.

After time in Coronado, I made my little San Diego home base in the Gaslamp Quarter, right in the heart of downtown (hello, nightlife!) and a quick walk to the harbor. One morning, because I was still operating on East Coast time, I woke very early and decided to jog from my hotel all the way around the harbor and back up through the Gaslamp Quarter.

I passed great landmarks like the USS Midway, the Bob Hope Memorial, Kissing Statue, and ran all the way down to Embarcadero Marina Park, where I found myself in the middle of a 5K — I finished with the group! — and in the middle of a little celebration and bunches of food trucks around the park.

I explored Seaport Village, where I found the cutest bakery in a tiny lighthouse, and gawked at the expensive yachts and sailboats docked in the marina behind the towering hotels at the port. And after panting my way around the hotels, I was at the south entrance to the Gaslamp district, and did a cool down walk back up to my hotel (which used to be an old timey bank with big vaults).

I met up with friends for lunch at a little Caribbean restaurant called Andrés, which serves Cuban and Puerto Rican cuisine. After visiting Miami back in June, I can say that I’ve developed a fondness for Cuban food, so I was more than excited to order the “ropa vieja” with a side of plantains. We also ordered some “papas rellenas” — deep fried potato balls filled with seasoned beef. That’s right. Deep fried potato balls. Me gusta mucho!

My friends love food as much as I do, and the night before this Caribbean feast, we devoured traditional Mexican food at Café Coyote in Old Town, where I indulged in “Famous Old Town Carnitas” and a fishbowl-sized cilantro margarita. Don’t even plan on wearing a belt with your pants if you go there for dinner.

To burn some of the calories from the deep fried potato balls, we took a stroll around Mission Bay Park. There were crowds of people grilling out, playing volleyball, and splashing around in the water. I fell in love with the gigantic palm trees and even gave one a huge hug. Have you hugged a palm tree today? 

After spending the night exploring the bar scene with buds and sampling amazing San Diego craft beer — my favorite of the trip being Ballast Point Sculpin IPA — we met up for brunch at the most adorable restaurant called The Cottage in La Jolla.

I had the “Eggs La Jolla,” which was their take on eggs benedict with Canadian bacon, mushrooms, spinach, roasted tomato, garlic, and balsamic vinegar. It came with a heaping side of Cottage potatoes and was smothered in the creamiest hollandaise I’ve ever seen and tasted. The wait to get a table was incredibly long (nearly an hour and a half), but it was worth the wait. Plus, waiting meant standing outside the cottage in the sun and breeze and eating Cottage coffee cake and sipping freshly brewed hot coffee. You can’t complain.

Eggs La Jolla from The Cottage

After brunch, we hiked the cliffs at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. The land is wild, the cliffs jagged, and the view of the ocean from the cliff edges and the beaches is breathtaking. See for yourselves.

In the evening, we hit up the Gaslamp District and peeked into the various pubs until we found The Hopping Pig, which is a gastropub that specializes in tasty pork treats and craft beer. Heaven! We literally pigged out on fried pork belly, and I also had the Hopping Pig Burger that has a pork and beef patty smothered with cognac mushrooms, caramelized onions, pepper jack cheese, and roasted bell pepper aioli. Plus a side of garlic parmesan fries. (*drool*) And I washed down all of this porky goodness with some Ballast Point. 

But the highlight of the night was when we happened to be at a crosswalk with a little Pomeranian driving a tiny car. Yep. The “Pimpin’ Pomeranian” is for real.

And while we’re on the subject of furry animals, we also spent a day at the famous San Diego Zoo. The last time I was there was back in 2005, when I was in the city to present a paper at a pop culture conference. After my presentation I decided to take a short walk, and somehow that turned into walking from the convention center on the bay all the way to the zoo.

The San Diego Zoo is impressive, and I recommend that anyone who goes there should plan on making an entire day out of it. There are so many animals to see and so much to learn. I don’t know if I have a favorite exhibit, but there’s no denying that the pandas are worth waiting in the long line to see. During this visit, we caught the mama panda playing with her silly cub. 

We left that night for Los Angeles, and even with the freeway traffic we got to our hotel in just a few short hours. For dinner, we hit up Santa Monica and ate at the very chic and flavorful Blue Plate Taco on Ocean Avenue. We had guacamole and salsa with housemade tortilla chips, and I stuffed my face with grilled tilapia tacos. Then to burn off some of those calories, we wandered down to the famous Santa Monica Pier, only to find ourselves surrounded by fried carnival food and sweets galore.

The next day, we explored Manhattan Beach and had lunch at Lemonade with my cousin and her beautiful daughter. Have I told you how much I love Lemonade? And then after lunch, we sped up the freeway to Burbank for the Warner Bros. VIP Studio Tour. Because of the traffic and a wrong turn on my part, we almost missed our tour! But we got there just in time to watch the end of the orientation video and join our group. We spent almost three hours exploring the lots and the sound stages, including the sound stage for the very popular Big Bang Theory. (Confession: I’ve never watched that show.) It was so interesting to learn about the way sets are designed and built. Nothing is real! We also drove by the offices of some very famous and funny television hosts, like Conan O’Brien and Ellen Degeneres. 

And of course, we visited this very famous coffeehouse, which will live forever in a special building on the Warner Bros. lot: 

Ah, yes. Central Perk. And now you’ll have the theme song to “Friends” on loop in your brain for the rest of the day. “I’ll be there for yooooou…” Clap, clap, clap, clap. 

The tour was great and worth the price of admission. I even learned about “forced perspective” when it comes to set design, and I found out that you can attend the taping of a pilot episode for a show for free and get fed while you’re there. Although it means sitting through a taping for a few hours (and maybe more!). 

We left the Warner Bros. campus and headed back to Hollywood for some dinner and to catch a show at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, where Charlyne Yi was doing a puppet show. Yeah, that’s right. Puppets. 

I love the UCB. When I was there in May, I saw Chelsea Peretti perform for $5. (I saw her in Asheville last year when she opened for Aziz Ansari, and she killed!) Performances are intimate and inexpensive at the UCB theater, but the place hosts some pretty amazing comedians regularly.

Before the trip, I checked the Los Angeles UCB calendar and flipped out when I saw Charlyne Yi on the schedule. She’s been a favorite of mine since I saw her in “Knocked Up,” and of course “Paper Heart” is one of my favorite movies. Apparently people are reminded of me when they see her. That’s a good thing, right? Because quirky and awkward is cool.

The puppet show, called “The Dodo & the Donkey,” was written by Charlyne. She also wrote the music and provided the voice for the flapper “Dodo.”  Here’s a trailer so you can get an idea of what the story and the feel is all about:  

I’m so happy I got to be in the audience for this. Plus, I got to hang around and meet Charlyne after the show! She is so freakin’ cute. After we got this photo taken, she said, “Oh, I’m sorry! I made a crazy face.” But I couldn’t imagine her not making a crazy face. 

By the way, I started a little page on my site called “Lia’s Celebrity Scrapbook,” and it’s where I’ll be collecting photos of me with some pretty recognizable folks. There are a few in there already. Including a picture of me with someone with huge… hair. 

We spent time in Venice, too, and after my trip there in May, I decided that I would love to live in Venice on Abbot Kinney Boulevard. That’s one of my favorite streets in Southern California. I like the residences, the shops, the people. And I discovered an amazing store called Will Leather Goods, where I totally splurged on this bag. It’s so beautiful.

Then after spending the morning in Venice, we headed over to the Griffith Observatory for a quick walk around the park and to get a good view of the Hollywood sign. Then we spent the rest of the night at the taping for the season premiere of The Jeselnik Offensive on Comedy Central.  I love comedy, and Anthony Jeselnik is one of my favorite comedians today. Amy Schumer and Jim Norton were on the panel for the show, which made for nonstop laughter. If you watch the episode online (it might still be there), you can see me over on the left corner of the screen, front row, during Anthony’s monologue. Wow. So much fame this summer!

Because the taping lasted longer than expected (due to it being the first shoot for the season after being on break for a few months), we had a late night dinner of double-doubles at an In-N-Out. Gross in a good way.

While we were in Los Angeles, we also visited the famous farmers market at The Grove and ate some Brazilian food. Plus, we cruised around Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive, but only window shopped! 

We wrapped up our SoCal trip back in San Diego, where we celebrated the Fourth of July on the bay with friends. Last year, San Diego had that fireworks fail — when all of the fireworks went off at the same time — so there was a lot of pressure for a good fireworks show this year. And they delivered. Way to go, Big Bay Boom!

We had dinner with friends in La Jolla. We walked all over Balboa Park. And we sampled even more craft beer. 

I love Southern California. The traffic sucks, but I don’t mind it too much because everything else, from the weather to the food to the culture and action, is perfect and exciting and fascinating to me. Plus, it makes it even better that there are people I love who live there.

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