We’re back in California to visit our old friend Danny and his girlfriend Frances and stay with them in Venice Beach. Missing his old dog Roscoe but great to meet newcomer Moogie. It’s a bit colder than previous years but the sky is still the same amazing blue.
Santa Monica boardwalk is as crazy as ever and it’s always great to wander around the local neighbourhood and see the houses and American cars. We’ve visited several times over the years so Lincoln and Rose, the Casablanca restaurant…the quirky boutiques of Abbot & Kinney all have a familiarity on return trips. In Venice the old 99c stores across the road from Danny’s street have gone in the past few years and the camper vans moved on that the homeless folks used to permanently park in the lot outside the launderette; the laundromat is still there but the 99c stores replaced by a huge Wholefoods. The Lanes and the Venice Canals are still favourite places to wander and there are lots of wonderful eccentricities in this part of LA.
We had a fantastic Sunday hanging out with Garth and Marie; now moved in to their new home in East LA. Garth gave me the most amazing gift of a signed Shepard Fairey book that he’d actually queued up for at the book signing whilst on a business trip to New York York. He’d asked Fairey to sign it to my name…I was totally floored by this incredibly thoughtful and personal gift. Good friends know you well! It will be forever treasured. After lunch we had a wander around the area and stumbled across a really impressive car meet; parked up in two rows facing down a long street. The car culture in the US is huge as are the distances they need to cover in this vast country…you can criticise it and the gas they guzzle but when you see American cars like this you can’t help but be in awe of the work put in to them.
Lots of great graffiti in this area. The four of us are pretty big fans of street art and Shephard Fairey is based in LA so it was great to see one of his pieces on the side of a building as well as another of the Chinese contemporary artist Ai Weiwei.
For a change of scenery we drove up the Pacific Coast Highway to Pismo Beach. It’s an older feeling seaside town, lots of great old signs. It’s a pretty place, small and very easy to explore…and after staying one night we didn’t think we needed much longer here.
So we turned around and headed back down the PCH, past LA and headed further to one of our favourite places Joshua Tree National Park. We have been here before a few years ago but one trip is never enough to appreciate the wild natural beauty and eeriness of this place. The drive towards it is stunning.
And once inside the park the scenery is jaw-dropping. The sky changes minute by minute; one side can be dazzled by sunshine whilst a slight turn of the head and you’re afforded views of dramatic dark cloud whilst fast moving shadows play at your feet. The infamous Joshua trees reach upwards whilst other trees burnt silver scarred and gnarled lean in to the wind. It funnels through the huge rocks. Colours are luminous here; vivid greens and grasses in gold, purples and silver. Despite its many visitors, there are always large areas you can roam by yourself. It is vast beautiful and spellbinding…one of my favourite landscapes in the world.
Crazy drive in to Palm Springs…we even saw dinosaurs. Hah! Fabulous giant cacti everywhere in this desert landscape. Last time we were here a few years back we didn’t reckon much to Palm Springs; a lot of it was (and still is) very overpriced restaurants selling pretty basic food and a lot of modern brick strip malls selling equally overpriced tourist stuff and clothes. We came back mainly for a second trip to Joshua Tree but I did a bit more research and found an App called Palm Springs Modern which made this visit such a better experience. It gave you a couple of different routes to follow in your car directing you to all of the wonderful Mid Century Modern architecture; some in the centre of town but plenty of it in the outlying streets that you possibly wouldn’t find unless you had the App to follow. It really made the trip. Elvis Presley’s honeymoon house looked like it’s winged roof had safely landed the building, Sinatra’s house 2nd row left; isn’t open for you to go in but was great to see, the fabulous sloping span roofs of the visitors centre and a garage were stunning. We fell in love with the beautiful private houses and desert garden landscaping.
The highlight of the driving around was when we turned around from Sinatra’s house to see crazy colourful plastic robots surrounding the fence of a huge house and garden on the opposite side of the road. This wasn’t mentioned on the App but after doing a search and reading signs at the property we learned that this was the house and art of Kenny Irwin Jnr. Sadly it was closed to the public but a walk around the outside of the property affords some crazy views through the chain fence. It’s The Beatles Yellow Submarine meets Disneyland…. on shed loads of acid. It was definitely a highlight for us; we love stumbling across eccentricity.
Another great place to visit is the achingly hip Jonathan Adler designed Parker Hotel. We loved the orange geometric carpets on the landings to the rooms…reminded us of The Shining. The Firepit lounge with the retro screen and leather pouffes. They had no objection to us coming in for a wander through and there’s a bar open to non guests. https://www.theparkerpalmsprings.com/home/
We stayed at The Ace Hotel…a favourite chain of ours with a design kookiness that we both enjoy. It’s not the best one we’ve stayed in as the rooms are just a little too spartan but the diner was fantastic. The stay would have been more enjoyable if the hotel hadn’t accused us of breaking the screen of one of the in-room flatscreen TVs…which we’d actually reported to them as broken when we checked in (there were two in the room as we’d paid for a suite). That combined with the air-con/room heating not working and a couple of pretty rude staff members would actually prompt me to encourage folks to stay elsewhere. To add insult to injury, after acknowledging at check out that the TV hadn’t been damaged by us, they called us a couple of times a few days later when we were back at Danny’s in LA to accuse of damaging it again. Go use the diner – but don’t stay there. The New York, London and Panama City branches are way better with fabulous staff. I did love the large woven wall art in the diner.
From being amused by the palm tree haircuts (that must be a very specific job interview) to absolutely crazy weather. We experienced an earthquake of around 4.8 which woke us at 6.45 one morning. The room shook and the bed moved a little but nothing fell over. I was excited more than scared but that may have been different if everything had hurtled around the room. Our friends in LA had been telling us about the severe droughts in California and just a few days later we got caught in a massive storm returning from a trip to the movies; it flooded the main roads and closed several to traffic. Storm drains were overflowing and the cracked baked riverbed of a few days before, a stark reminder of the drought, must have sighed in parched relief. But such stark contrasts in weather is alarming and one would imagine a significant sign of global warming as temperatures worldwide increase.
We drove back to LA to spend the last few days with Danny and Frances and catching up with our re-located English mate Dan. We went up to visit him at his place and took a long walk around Lake Hollywood; watching as a nervous deer grazed on the other side of a chain link fence. Walking Moogie again with Danny on the beach and a last look at the ocean and bright blue skies before we headed back to our English winter.