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Los Angeles from the Sea

Author: Mariah G.
Date of Trip: July 2008

We have always been a Wisconsin family — until the next generation of kids began turning their career sights on Hollywood. We decided a trip was in order to check out what was really going on when a Wisconsin Badger became a Hollywood Badger.

Just a few weeks ago, my husband and I finally embarked on a trip to Los Angeles to see exactly what the kids were experiencing. We were fortunate to stay at our sister, Kate’s warm and relaxing apartment overlooking a channel of yachts at Marina Del Rey. (However, when we need to, we use as our resources for places to stay when we travel.)

We loved the lifestyle in Marina Del Rey. It is a compact lifestyle built around a love of boats! Our favorite thing to do was to simply pick up the water taxi in front of Kate’s apartment and go for an evening ride around the harbor. Tickets can be purchased right at the dock. The water taxi made several stops around the harbor, one of them, Fisherman’s Village, a pier of several welcoming restaurants and shops. Shanghai Reds was our favorite, an especially welcoming place to view the sailboats going in and out of the channel to the Pacific.

The channel was alive with life. We could hear boaters hailing greetings to each other over the water. UCLA has a marine aquatic center just beyond Fisherman’s Village where you can rent sit- on- top kayaks, (with no experience necessary), and sailboats. Then it is just a short paddle past the jetty out into the Pacific.

The channel seemed to be a constant motion of pleasure — kayakers and rowing crews, gorgeous ocean going yachts and fisherman; truly we could have sat there together for hours to watch the boats go by. Dinner at the waterfront restaurant was outstanding.

After dinner, we took the water taxi back across the channel and took a short walk, down enchanting little streets, lined with flowers and trees, over a bridge covering the Venice Canal, to a quiet Pacific beach with a sparkling view of the Santa Monica mountains. It became the place we returned again and again, sometimes going early in the morning, other times making it our ritual at sunset. One morning we took short boogie boards to the beach, rushed boldly into the waves and flopped down, to be thrown to the shore — a Midwesterner’s form of surfing! We loved walking on the beach together, watching the little sandpipers on the beach scurrying along the waterline and then running away from the waves as they washed the shore. The sunsets were dazzling!

And of course, nearby Venice Beach — one must be prepared for Venice Beach — so often seen in movies, but a place that must be experienced with all of the artistic and eclectic character of the locals. It is unlike any place on earth, artists, street performers and funky atmosphere. It is a virtual carnival due to the constant input and creativity from Venice residents. We loved the bizarre ocean front walk that has fortune tellers — and vendors and crazy shops and the locals! The boardwalk has entertainers and it is the greatest place to watch muscle building at the beach. Now, it has become ” Venice, our dear Venice”, where we found several open air cafes with the best breakfasts, and places to watch the early morning surfers barefoot, wetsuits half off, walking in pairs from the beach in their wetsuits carrying their surfboards.

We decided to tour the ocean walk to the Santa Monica pier with bikes. There are many places along the boardwalk to stop and rent bikes and skateboards. We chose retro-bicycles, the old fashioned bikes with wide tires, and bright colors, pink, blue and green with baskets and hats to match. We loved this part of our experience — riding along the bike path that skirts the ocean from Marina Del Rey to the Santa Monica Pier. No trip to LA can miss the Santa Monica Pier with its new Ferris wheel, the only one of its kind in America.

We also enjoyed browsing through the Abbot Kinney Boulevard shops which offered antiques and eclectic treasures, which we never need, but cannot live without. For a fun, atmosphere we recommend Hal’s Bar and Grill , a place praised as being the ultimate neighborhood meeting place for locals in Venice. We liked it because we love jazz music, and this is a place that has jazz on Sunday and Monday nights. The walls welcome visitors with a display of paintings from local artists. We recommend one of their signature recipes, grilled half chicken, salad, french fries and an ice cream sundaes and bread pudding to share together. Bon Appetite recently hailed Hal’s as one of the top ten neighborhoods in America! It certainly is one we will return to visit!

We wanted to spend some time exploring the city and found that the best way to explore LA, in a unique way is on sightseeing and Hollywood narrated tour on a Double Decker Los Angeles Bus. We did — it was another sunny day in southern California, so we took the top berth, and explored the city with a narration on the history and culture of such sites as the Hollywood sign, Paramount Studios, Capital Records, Pretty Woman Hotel, Charlie Chaplin Studio, Melrose Place Shopping, the Happy Days House and over 30 filming locations in Hollywood. The trip ended with a stop at the Grove and the Farmers Market for shopping and a drink. We recommend this way of visiting the city, it is effortless and fun!

After a day of sightseeing we wanted a relaxing ending to our day in the city — and an early dinner! So headed out Ocean Drive to Dukes in Malibu, a place rich in history. Her earliest inhabitant, the Chumash Indians name the area Humaliwu, meaning “where the surf sounds loudly”. And that is certainly true. There is a gorgeous view of the Channel Islands, including Catalina and even more delightful, we could see a school of dolphins leaping through the waves. Dukes truly is a relaxing atmosphere in the true spirit of “Aloha”. And the view of Catalina inspired us to a plan of action for the next day.

The next morning we were up early and headed down to the end of her pier to catch the Catalina Island Express ($75/Round Trip). The day was crystal clear and slightly windy — perfect for a visit to the island getaway. We arrived in Avalon, a small touristy village on the island, without even getting in a car! We rented a golf cart at the pier and drove up into the hills to the Botanical Gardens and onward and upward into the hills and then down again. There were several open pier bars on the harbor to stop for refreshments before exploring the cutest shops and art galleries for more treasures. At the end of the main street we visited the pavilion that has a movie that tells the history of the island and behind the building, one of the best diving coves in California—to watch the divers–perhaps in a few years to dive ourselves!

We found Catalina to be a quiet romantic place, perhaps a place to rent a quiet villa in the years ahead — however, this day was a very enchanting one, before we had to leave to catch the last 6:00 return trip back to homeport. It was a wonderful experience to see Catalina and the surrounding area from the sea. There were seals all around, and we learned about the history of the area while at sea. We highly recommend this experience.

Sunday morning was the last day of our trip. We took the water taxi to the Jer-ne (meaning “journey to a higher state”) at the Ritz Carlton, with a picturesque view of the harbor. Brunch was served in either the dining room or on an open air patio with the most cheerful and gracious staff. The food was delicious, and we had a wealth of California recipes to sample. We cannot say enough about the staff and beauty of the Ritz Carlton, truly a gracious home away from home.

After brunch, it was just a short drive along the ocean to the Lake Shrine Temple, an ashram on top of a high hill, overlooking the blue ocean in Pacific Palisades. Lake Shrine is the main temple of the Self Realization Fellowship. We attended a meditation and sermon service that was multi-cultural, led by a monk in an orange robe. After the service we had the opportunity to take a class in meditation, which we chose to do, and then we walked around the lake on the grounds that the monks had created themselves. The lake is enchanting, with swans, a windmill chapel and little place to shop. The grounds are gorgeous and well tended a place that is clearly loved, nurtured and appreciated!

Santa Monica Mountains are very close to the Lake Shrine Temple. Drive out of the parking lot, turn right to the first stop sign, turn left and you will see several places to stop to enter the trails to hike for a tremendous view of the sea and surrounding area. There are books and maps that can be ordered online ahead of time if you really want to explore the place for hiking and views. We took a short hike together for one last look at the ocean and anchor this mountain and sea experience we had all shared together.

We had time for one last adventure before preparing to head home. A stop at the Getty was the perfect ending for our trip. We arrived in time to eat at one of the restaurants overlooking the gardens. The Getty Center presents a collection of Western art from the Middle Ages to the present against a backdrop of dramatic architecture, tranquil gardens, and breathtaking views. We took time to browse through the exhibits, and especially enjoyed the exhibit on “Women in Science” and the children’s exhibits. We will have to return again and again to visit this breathtaking place to learn more about the European paintings, drawings, manuscripts, sculpture and decorative arts, and European and American photographs that were such a generous gift to the city.

We cannot say enough good things about our LA beach, mountain and city adventure. There is so much to do, and such a range of experiences to pack in one encounter, and best of all, our Wisconsin Badgers are well cared for, protected and seem to have a brilliant future. We most certainly will return, again and again and again!

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