Solo in Cali part 4 (LA + Santa Barbara)

Los Angeles—to be honest—was the city that held the least allure for me—as a destination–on my journey. Still, I looked forward to it greatly as I was to see an old friend and colleague (full disclosure, she was my boss), Andrea, who now lives and works in the Bel-Air section of the sprawlingest and most highly trafficked of cities. She’d invited me to basically move in with her for a while and hang out, see the sights, and catch up on every little thing.

Lucky for me, I could ditch my rental car at LAX and spend the rest of my 5 days in the area tagging along with Andrea and not having to drive among the hard core risktakers of LA.

In addition to the great pleasure of Andrea’s always stimulating and/or funny and/or comfortable conversation/company, there was the great pleasure of not eating out every meal, and instead of trying to figure out all by myself what I should do and see, I had an expert touring me around and making the big decisions. It was a relaxing change.

After a couple days in LA we drove to Santa Barbara where Andrea had a conference to attend and I just got to tool around and see the sights. #timingiseverything

Highlights of my LA/SB interlude:

The nighttime skyline of downtown LA. Pretty.


The Getty Museum. Gorgeous. Free. Perched beautifully at the top of an LA high point of land, thus 360o views. We went one evening, and had to wait in a long line to get on the tram that takes people to the top of the hill where the museum is. The museum was packed (but not overly so— we could still move around and find a table to sit and chat and drink overpriced beer). I was heartened by the enthusiastic crowds. LA takes advantage of this glorious gift and that made me happy. Young and old wandered the galleries, full of very good art by superb artists though not typically the famous pieces (refreshing) and the gardens, which were, to be honest, some of the most beautiful I’ve seen. The sun set. The moon rose. Soft ambient light infused the white stone spaces, all but the art galleries open to the sky. Music played—it was a little weird but people seemed to like it. Getty is now way at the top of my list of great museums.

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One of many Getty views.

One of many Getty views.

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The Culver City Hotel. Very old and historic. We met up with some of Andrea’s friends for happy hour one early evening and sat in the spacious bar, suffused with late day light and jazz music.

Great happy hour compatriots.

Great happy hour compatriots.


The long beach walk. We drove to Santa Monica one morning before breakfast and walked the beach heading north, or maybe south. Not sure. Passed from one neighborhood to the next. Saw Muscle Beach—or at least what it has become now. Watched people who like to be watched do amazing things on the equipment permanently installed for just this purpose. Rings and parallel bars and some other cool stuff. It was impressive, and I’m just relieved I get to do my work-outs inside with just a few nice people who don’t take my sweaty picture and don’t judge. This walk helped me understand that LA is also a city of neighborhoods and pedestrians, as much as it is a city of cars and traffic.

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The Mission at Santa Barbara. While we were in Santa Barbara, I headed to the Mission with someone Andrea introduced me to. Barbara, a retired teacher and Cali native, was able to give me great background and fill in details of the mission system. The place was beautiful and fascinating. It is worth noting that the propaganda was laid on very thick by the materials available there—the video, the brochures, and the museum write-ups. Composed by the Catholic church, which owns the mission, these materials serve to rationalize and whitewash its incredible subjugation of the native people throughout CA. Indigenous slaves (from the Chumash tribe now all but extinct) were referred to as “native people inclined toward physical labor” who were “instrumental in helping build the missions and farm the land around them.” (AKA they were enslaved and did all the work.) The padres “worked alongside the Chumash.” (AKA they supervised the labor being done. There exist numerous primary documents recounting beatings and other brutalities perpetrated against the Chumash by their devout overseers—but not mentioned at the mission.) I understood what was happening (historical denial) but understanding doesn’t make it easier to take.

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La Super-Rica Taqueria. Best food of my trip. Totally local place with a crew of cooks furiously making homemade tortillas and heavenly, flavorful, authentic food in a tiny kitchen and serving an endless stream of happy people.


The Four Seasons. Where we stayed in Santa Barbara. Yeah, it was really nice.


  • $75.00 manicure. Seriously people? That does not include tip.
  • $15.00 beer (admittedly at the Getty).
  • If the automobile had been invented when Dante wrote the Inferno, a circle of hell would have been reserved for LA traffic.
  • Interpretive driving. Like people who don’t entirely drive on their designated side of the street. Especially when traffic is not heavy, or you are on a side street, the rules get vague.
  • Rodeo Drive. Not really a lowlight, but an unpleasant reminder of the consumer culture in this country. I was there before the shops opened, early in the morning, and though I could appreciate the iconic sight of the palm-lined street (nod to Julia Roberts), I was stunned by the sheer critical mass of designer/high-end shops in one place. My imagination was not quite able to come up with a guesstimate of how much money is exchanged there on a given day.
    IMG_5129 IMG_5151 Rodeo

On Thursday the 23rd of June, I made my way to Union Station, as famous in films as Grand Central (well, almost), and caught a train to San Diego, my final destination. I sat on the top level of a double-decker train (something I did not know existed) and enjoyed great comfort as we passed the stations and towns that dotted the southern California landscape.



Solo in Cali part 3 (Pacific Coast Highway)

Before I left Clementine Cottage in Monterey, I accepted my hosts’ challenge to use the little manual Royal typewriter in the room to produce a story. Using the characters, Oob and Oona, from the delightful storybook written by my hosts for their guests, I wrote “page 134 of Oona’s memoir.” Using the manual typewriter was like giving my fingers an advanced calisthenics class but it was fun to participate in a quirky Clementine Cottage tradition.

Royal typewriter

After coffee and a breakfast burrito as large as my head, enjoyed at a coffee shop in Carmel-by-the-Sea, I wended my way to the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. Glory be!


I live in a part of the world with amazing green space—state parks, walkways, rail trails, mountains, streams, the Hudson River, vistas, valleys. And it is beautiful. But it’s my “usual” beautiful, the beautiful I must remind myself to appreciate at times when life gets heavy. “Look around you, Vanessa, and be grateful.” And I am.

But as a north-easterner walking the sandy trails of (for example) Point Lobos for the first time, coming upon cliffs overlooking a boiling whirlpool churning with white foam, with deep turquoise water stretching out to the horizon, rocks cropping up in picturesque spots to create more of white water so flawlessly juxtaposed against the vivid blue… well let’s just say my heart beat faster. I realized I was holding my breath. My fingertips tingled a bit. I walked a trail that circled a large point of land. The paths skirted the very edge of drop-aways (there were little rope “barriers” to alert hikers to be mindful). The sound of barking seals and breaking waves washed over me on ocean gusts that blew my hat off my head.

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In another part of the park I tiptoed across worn stone expanses and pebble beaches to peer into tide pools and watch microcosmic galaxies of life busily conduct business a mere quarter mile from where whales might at any moment show up as they passed through. (I never saw them.) The Point Lobos adventure occupied me for most of the morning, but I realized I had several hours to drive before arriving in Los Osos where I would stay for the night.

Along the way I explored Palo Colorado Canyon Road that wends up a dark crevice in the towering hillsides along Route 1. Shaded by massive redwoods, the road is dappled with green light and to each side ancient wooden homes on stilts teeter, with long stairways and bridges giving access to inhabitants who live in this hidden spot just a stone’s throw from the Pacific coastline.

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I stopped for lunch at the Rocky Point Restaurant to enjoy a meal and a view—it never gets old. Then I embarked on my journey south on Route 1/Pacific Coast Highway also known as Cabrillo Highway (which is what my GPS insisted on calling it).


Heading south I was on the ocean side of the highway—the proper side for mentally reenacting every Hollywood movie scene where someone speeds along the hairpin turns with tires spitting gravel to the crashing surf below. Needless to say, I drove very slowly and deliberately (everyone did), and rather than rubbernecking and putting my life in danger, I merely stopped at every single solitary turn-off along the way to gawk, snap pix, and realize my ETA would have to be adjusted. Again. And FYI—there are a lot of turn-offs.


I kept thinking, “Maybe I’ll get inured to all this glory and not have to stop so much.” Nope.

Wildflowers. Not like the wildflowers in New England or the Hudson Valley. These were rugged flowers that survive the vicissitudes of even the current California drought. Bright cheerful things that wave and bob in the constant off-shore winds.


Drop-aways, crevices, outcroppings. If a landscape can be a drama-queen, this one is. I mean that in a very admiring way. The landscape sang opera, not folk music. It was Matisse, not Rembrandt. Isadora Duncan, not Margot Fonteyn.

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It dawned on me at one point that not having a full tank of gas could end up being a problem. As could the need for a restroom. Places to stop were few and far between. And when I did stop a bag of chips cost 5 bucks and gas was almost $6.00. Seller’s market for sure.

I stopped off at Big Sur. Though I did not have time to enter the Pfeiffer State Park and hike as I would have liked, I left my car in the lodge parking lot and strolled into the woods nearby. The redwoods (the “small” species that “only” gets to 250 or 300 feet tall) had a delicious smell, completely different from any woods smell I know. The air was cooled by eternal shade and I quickly came upon a brook like many I’ve walked beside in New York, Vermont, Pennsylvania and other states in my part of the world. Again I was struck by the way this hidden world of old wood, nesting birds, trickling streams existed mere moments from the blue glory of the Pacific.

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My journey ended that day—Thursday (a mere four days after I landed in California)—with the best part yet. The elephant seals rookery.

There were signs for yet another “vista point” or “turn off” for curious, awe-struck travelers like me to enjoy, but this time the words “elephant seal” definitely indicated I was in for a different kind of view. Coming out of the long and twisting few hundred miles of Route 1 onto something that resembled a “normal” road, I saw a rather large parking lot ahead.

Walking from the lot to the chest-high stone wall that separated it from the beach, I noticed everyone returning to their cars was smiling. Grinning. I pointed myself at an unoccupied section of wall. From a distance the resting bodies of the seals were sandy mounds, like large-scale, beachy moguls. When I got closer and could lean up against the wall, I thought I might want to stay forever, watching these placid sleeping giants. Now and then one of them would flick some sand over herself, or use one flipper to scratch the other, or an itchy spot on her tummy. A few bulls by the water postured with mock aggression (I’m sure the aggression can get quite real when it needs to), the top parts of their bodies raised, heads aloft, waving back and forth together. A few seals moved from one spot to another, in the ungainly way that sea mammals operate on land. They looked like amateur break dancers doing the “Worm,” with their flubbery body mass shifting in undulating rhythm.

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It was impossible to watch them without smiling. These animals are endangered, and their habitats threatened. Another of Earth’s beloved creatures disregarded by human “progress.”

A tiring day, long and full of twists and turns (the literal kind), some over-the-top visual dazzle (except for the guy with the mullet standing in line for the rest room at one point), and a few more (like 200) photos for the album.

Mullet alive and well. 2016, somewhere on Rt. 1.

Mullet alive and well. 2016, somewhere on Rt. 1.

Solo in Cali Part II (Monterey)


Coming up with a strategy for the first half of my trip was a combination of getting advice from everyone I knew, browsing AirBnB listings, looking at maps despite being a little map-disabled, and then making well-informed but ultimately random snap decisions. So after my second night in San Francisco, I woke up Wednesday morning, got an early start in my trusty rented Toyota, and headed south towards Monterey.

I found parking near what seemed an interesting spot—Cannery Row of Steinbeck fame. The woman at the parking lot I chose (mostly for its location and the availability of empty spots) decided I was a potential best friend. Greta was her name and she quizzed me on my trip, exclaimed at the fact that I was on my own, said she never could do a trip to New York alone, and made me feel kinda badass. She proceeded to tell me about her kids. Her daughter’s ex-fiancé who turned out to be gay. Her horrid ex-husband who wronged her in these specific ways (she then listed them in detail). Her dogs and two jobs. Greta demanded a hug before I walked off in the direction of Cannery Row.

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Despite being the setting of Steinbeck’s novel, the Row nowadays lacks cans, canning, or any evidence of seafood processing. The only seafood in evidence was on overpriced lunch menus, but my desire for a cold drink and my phone’s desire for a charge (I had not yet realized the car had a USB port that I could plug my house charger into) led me to a touristy restaurant with a view of the water.

After lunch, a quick perusal of the Row led me to walk swiftly away from it in search of a place to relax by the water. I found some tables outside a hotel about a half mile away. It was peaceful and uncrowded, unlike the clogged thoroughfares and souvenir shops of the Row, and I went back to my car to retrieve my journal and a pen. I got sucked into another long conversation with Greta who this time walked to her car to retrieve her two tiny fluff-dogs. She introduced me to them, and told me some more stories. I really wanted to go sit in the sunshine and look out at the water, but that was not to happen until some more bonding took place. I had to borrow a pen from her and on account of that, plus just because, I could not be rude to her. So we talked some more. Then she gave me the pen. A “really good pen” she said. I was grateful. She asked for another hug.

Back at the seaside table, there were now two large men leaning on the railing directly in front of me, blocking my view. I turned to the side, adjusting my seat to allow me a view, and set to catching up in my very neglected (of late) journal. The pen broke pretty darn quick but I did manage to limp along using just the skinny thing inside the pen that actually writes, but that is hard to hold onto. No biggie. I wasn’t writing a novel.


At some point my AirBnB host called to welcome me to Monterey and give me the code to retrieve the key at Clementine Cottage, possibly the cutest AirBnB accommodations ever. I eventually moseyed over there and had time to read the amazing book my host and her husband had put together with an original fictional account of guests from another planet, Oob and Oona, as well as more fun things to do around Monterey than I’d ever get to.


That relaxed and sunny evening I got dressed up, headed to Fisherman’s Wharf to see the boats in the harbor and watch the sun lowering in the sky as people fished off the pier. The sun made long stripes of light on the water and the breeze—like that in San Francisco but fishier—was a perfect reminder that it feels good to have skin on my bones. My hair flew up and over and into my face and eyes and I felt happy.

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Next I drove to a nearby town—Pacific Grove (home of the butterfly parade)—recommended by my host as being home to a restaurant with okay food and great views. At this point the views were more important to me than food. I’d made a reservation, but got there early to wander Lover’s Point, a small peninsula that thrust into the water and offered more California eye candy. Pretty soon I went in to await my table at the bar, drinking a yummy basil infused cocktail. The dinner was rather mediocre and the glass of wine nothing to write home about, but I did-not-care-one-bit because I was on the California coast and it was almost sunset.


Dinner view

Dinner view

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I sat outside after dinner, watching the sun go down and feeling the temperature drop from cool to cold. Hustling back to my car and then to my cozy Clementine Cottage I thought about Greta. She lives in a lovely part of the world. So do I. She probably won’t make it out to see my lovely corner of Earth. How lucky I am that I got to see hers.


Saw this at Monterey beach as I drove in from the north. A man in flight. That's on my bucket list.

Saw this at Monterey beach as I drove in from the north. A man in flight. That’s on my bucket list.

Solo in Cali part 1 (San Francisco)

SF skyline

SF skyline

California had not been on my top-ten list of places to see and I feel bad about that now. Because California is as foreign and fascinating as anything outside the borders of this country. (Well maybe not anything, but it really is very cool and has a major “wow” factor for a northeastern gal like me.)

Cali became my destination because the PSI conference was in San Diego this year and, as a board member of Postpartum Support International, I am expected to go to the conferences. And why wouldn’t I go? They are awesome! So if (I thought to myself) I was going to go all the way across the country for a three day conference, why not extend the three days to two weeks and see some stuff.

Starting the trip solo was an adventure all in itself. I had to make all my own decisions about what to do, where to go, what to see. Doing this kind of “highlight” trip was a challenge to me because I wanted to miss nothing, but knew I had to. Once I released the anxiety of “what if I do the wrong thing?” (meaning what if this choice is not going to be as awesome as that choice would have been?) I just had fun.

I saw this as I drove into SF for the first time and thought it was there just for me. My great adventure.

I saw this as I drove into SF for the first time and thought it was there just for me. My great adventure.

My first stop was New York where I was to launch early on a Monday morning. The trip started off with my Uber driver picking me up at 5:00 a.m. then proceeding to Union Square to fetch my ride share, and driving him to JFK, even though my destination was LGA. Huh? Good thing I leave nothing to chance and had given myself an hour’s wiggle room. Still, I barely made it.

My first stop in CA was San Francisco. I was destined to love it, and I did. It’s a city, for one thing. Walkable and vibrant, like the city of my childhood, NYC. It is on the water – I almost cried when, driving my rental car from the airport, I went around a slow curve and saw an expanse of blue stretching out before me. It’s the perfect temperature. I wore a light sweater and sometimes a light scarf around my neck the entire time I was there. If the sweater came off, it always went back on. Constant breeze to cool and refresh.

I sensibly parked my car in a garage for the two nights I’d be there, walked a few blocks with my absurdly heavy suitcase, giant purse, and computer bag to the AirBnB I’d booked. It was completely barebones accommodations. But the room I stayed in had furniture! And my host left me towels and a key. Why would I need more?

First off, I learned quickly that when in a city for just one day, don’t bother to learn the public transportation system. A week, yes. A day—Uber. Despite my Uber-glitch in NYC I am basically in love with it.

So what I saw in San Francisco (in one day):

  • The water. Coffee on a park bench beside the water, with the Golden Gate down to my left and the breeze keeping me delightfully cool.
  • The Presidio. Entirely by accident. I walked for two hours or so in the vague direction of the bridge, came upon the beautifully maintained Presidio district as realization dawned: the Golden Gate Park is nowhere near Golden Gate Bridge. So I got my first Uber.
  • Golden Gate Park. My driver became a tour consultant and we set the agenda for my day as he drove me to the part of the largest urban park in the US that he thought I would like: Stow Lake. I chatted with some elderly Japanese American men who remembered the days of the internment camps. That was humbling. And the park is exquisitely beautiful. So I spent an hour there. IMG_4642 IMG_4639
  • Sausalito. Next stop, the ferry terminal. The first Uber driver I called gave up. He said he could not find the boat house where I waited. So I tried again. This guy got to me and took me to the Embarcadero—a lively waterfront neighborhood—where I caught the ferry. Like the Staten Island Ferry from lower Manhattan, this ferry offered the perfect view of the SF skyline, as well as excellent views of both the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate.  Sausalito is a small city built on a hillside with a gorgeous waterfront “downtown” jammed with shops and restaurants, of course. By this point I was fairly obsessed with getting the views, and from my restaurant on the water I had nothing but.
    Ferry ride view.

    Ferry ride view.





  • Starbucks. While in Sausalito, I did have to stop off in a Starbucks to charge my phone for a bit, as being Uber-dependent meant I was phone-dependent and since I was taking about 300 pictures a day and texting them to my kids (and my friend Jim, of course)… well, I was using up a lot of battery. So forgive me.
  • Embarcadero. When I returned on the ferry I had my first encounter in CA with someone I knew. Pat Dunn, my son’s dear high school friend, lives and works out there. I had not seen him in ages and it was like seeing a long lost family member. We had a drink in the sunshine and caught up. I gave him a hug from his mom, and one from me, and we parted ways.

    This is Pat! The coolest.

    This is Pat! The coolest.

That night, my second in SF (I’d arrived at 7:00 the evening before), and after the epic day in which I did all of the above—I feared I was getting sick. I was flagging big time, felt clogged up and achy. I bought some empanadas at a stall in the Embarcadero, some NyQuil at a Walgreens, and headed to my AirBnB to eat in bed and put pix on Facebook. Slept a thousand hours and woke up in the morning feeling grand, ready to schlepp my not-lightly-packed belongings back to the garage and drive south.