Our Southern California adventure began in the desert and ended at the beach. The great thing about SoCal is the diverse terrain. You could be hiking up a mountain in the morning, exploring the desert in the afternoon and swimming at the beach by sunset.
From Lake Havasu, we drove to our Casita in Joshua Tree, which I’d booked through Air BnB months before. It was situated some miles back from the main highway, along bumpy, dirt track roads, into what felt like the middle of nowhere.
On booking the Casita, I was clearly distracted by the seductively, artsy photographs online and completely ignored the house instructions. Here’s their other property, just next door, which looks equally as trendy. Had I read the instructions, I would have seen the note that said: “watch out for snakes, especially the rattlesnakes.” Agh.
So, I messaged to ask: “On a scale of 1-10, how likely is it that we’ll see a snake?” The host must have thought I was crazy and a complete wuss; we were in the desert after all. I was reassured when she replied: “very unlikely, we’ve never seen one one here and there’s a snake proof fence around the property.” Phew.
Strolling through the garden, what’s the first thing we see? A long, speckled California Gopher, slithering its way along the fence inside the property. What a sight we must have been, four adults tip-toeing into the garden, and then the house, eyes fearfully darting everywhere and lightly pushing doors open ahead of us in case another snake lurked just on the other side.
Thankfully, after a thorough check, we were all clear.
It would be a lie to say we weren’t slightly on edge that first night but we didn’t want to let the possibility of coming into contact with a snake ruin our stay. We had to man-up and enjoy the serenity of our surroundings. As far as the eye could see stretched desert lands, dotted with cacti, huge boulder clusters, and those infamous Joshua Trees. At night, the stars came out in their millions. It’s truly a magical sight.
We have only just got a tripod for the camera so no epic shots of the starry-nights but hopefully lot’s more to come!
We decorated the patio with balloons, glitter, and banners on the first night, to celebrate Lauren’s 30th. I’m sure the party she had on her return to England was much better than what we could muster up in the desert but Tim had put together a family video with us all singing along to her favourite Beatles song…and the four-flavoured cake can’t be beaten!
We spent the next few days exploring the quirky town of Joshua Tree and chilling out at the Casita. We attended a couple of yoga classes. One included a ‘Sound Bath’ where the teacher comes around and places gongs and crystal bowls on your body, then plays a few notes in time with your breath. During savasana, at the end of the practice, the gongs are played again and you’re bathed in the vibrations, to reach a deep state of relaxation. It was a new experience for us all. I think we all left feeling calm and rejuvenated.
We ate the best pizza of the trip so far at Pie for the People. It took me a while to realise that ‘pie’ to American’s means ‘pizza’. I kept asking to see the pie menu and she kept pointing to the pizza menu…and giving me a weird look. We got there in the end.
On our last evening, we drove into Joshua Tree National Park to watch the sunset. We found a great spot, high up on a boulder, overlooking the desert park. You can’t beat sharing a perfect sunset with some of your favourite people.
After sunset, we drove to Pioneertown about 20km out of Joshua Tree. We’d been recommended by our Air BnB hosts to go to Pappy + Harriet’s bar. As we drove along pitch black desert roads, for what felt like ages, we began to worry if it would be worth it. We should have just got Pie for the People again. But then, out of nowhere, pops up a booming saloon bar. It has to be the most American bar we’ve been into. People wearing cowboy boots and hats (and they weren’t in fancy-dress) were seated along the bar drinking, watching a country band play. We instantly loved it. We ordered some food and drinks and listened to another band, The Adobe Collective. It’s the perfect music venue and is, in fact, a popular gig spot for many artists who tour the desert states, despite its remote location. The one and only Paul McCartney has played there! If you’re ever in the Joshua Tree area, Pappy & Harriet’s is a must visit.
Our next lodgings have been the coolest yet. In Newport Beach, we were staying on a 30ft Catalina Sail boat for three nights. I was obsessed (and maybe still am) with the T.V. show The O.C. in my teens and we were staying right where it was filmed! It’s certainly the land of the rich and beautiful; mansions with pools line the cliffs and beaches and we lost count of the number of flash cars we saw. It was fun pretending we were part of that world for those few days, although, the dirty hiking bags, crumpled clothing and waiting at the bus stop might have given us away.
We spent our last night with Lauren and GG in at the beach. After a quick swim in the ocean, we ate dinner at a Newport institution ‘Mama D’s’ (courtesy of Cazza P – thanks, Mutti!) and were served by the most enthusiastic waiter of all time. He made sure we “had the most incredible, awesome experience ever” and would “personally make it his mission to send us home satisfied.” He remembered all of our names (we’ve forgotten his!) and – of course – just loved that we were from the U.K. and N.Z. Props to his enthusiasm. When you’re working for tips, you have to give it your all!
Our goodbyes in the morning were sad but it wasn’t too long before we saw them both again…I left my passport in Lauren’s bag so we had to drive all the way into L.A. (about 1.5 hours) to meet them before they got on their flight. It really wasn’t how we’d planned to spend the day, driving on the chaotic highways of L.A., which at any point of the day is a horrendous, white-knuckle experience but on the plus side, we did get to explore Venice Beach.
After three nights on the boat, we moved only a couple of miles to our next Air BnB; a room in Nathan & Jennifer’s house, in Costa Mesa. We loved it here! They’re such a warm, welcoming couple who made us feel right at home and they have the cutest dog, Indiana Jones, and cat, Annie. This was the first Air BnB we’ve stayed in where we haven’t rented the whole place and we didn’t know what to expect. If they’re all like this though, we have nothing to worry about.
We stayed this extra week in Newport/Huntington Beach primarily for the US Open of Surfing. Every day we got up early and headed down to the beach to watch a day of surf competition and a few of the nights hung around until sunset for a picnic dinner on the beach. Our boy Ricardo Christie, from NZ, made it to the quarterfinals but both champs this year were actually locals of Huntington Beach.
It was such a relaxing, holiday-feel week and a great way to end our tour of the West Coast.
Oh yes, the way to commute in SoCal (it seems) is by bike or skateboard. We were inspired so bought ourselves some cheap skateboards! Tim can already skate but I’m a 100% learner. The idea is that I’ll pick it up quickly (no pressure) and it will be a great way to travel around towns in South America…which is coming up fast.
Next stop is Pennsylvania where we’ll be staying with Aunty Jill and Uncle Kenny (JillyKen) for some more R&R…
More pics from SoCal here