Consider me a changed woman. (No, seriously.) In other words? California was just that good. I’ve barely been back, only home for a few days, and I’m having trouble containing my giant boatloads of excitement. So, without further ado, allow me to tell you the most wonderful bits about Los Angeles.
I have to start with Catherine Just. While she’s a woman who technically needs no introduction, I’m going to give you one anyways. (Wink.) At her core, she’s an award-winning photographer who I had the absolute privilege of working with during my stay in LA, and has quickly become someone really, really dear to me. Her humour and honesty wash over you the second you stroll through her doors, and if you haven’t checked out her work, I hiiiiiiiighly recommend it.
Besides photographing Danielle LaPorte and Carrie Ann Moss (do I actually need to say more?), Catherine’s work has been featured on huge sites that made me feel special and a little fancy during my shoot. Her entire team was a blast to work with (and I have the dance video to prove it!), and the photo shoot happened amidst bottles of Smart Water and Green Juices, yummy goodies, and Madonna & Prince blasting in the background. Our day was dedicated to Prince, actually (God bless his soul), as we heard of his passing right as my shoot began. It was incredibly great vibes all around, and I walked away with epic photographs—and a beautiful friendship.
During my stay in LA, I stayed in an AirBnB along Venice Beach. I never, ever could have expected how quickly I’d settle into the area and fall wildly, irrevocably in love. As soon as I stepped into the beautiful loft my son and I were sharing for the week, I knew I’d made the right choice. (The loft was so great my son actually preferred camping out at home instead of exploring.) We navigated our way through the streets of Venice Beach and Santa Monica on rented bicycles from Jay’s Rentals, stopping here and there for nonnegotiable ice cream breaks.
And if we’re going to talk about ice cream, we need to talk about Salt and Straw on Abbott Kinney Boulevard. I devoured a delicious concoction made of goat cheese and olive brittle while my son surprisingly chose the honey and lavender flavour. The line on the weekends gets kind of long, but there’s even a tasting bar. My mind (and taste buds) were blown.
Actually, Abbot Kinney Boulevard on the whole is a little slice of heaven. My crazy bohemian spirit went nuts in such a culturally-rich area, packed with restaurants, cafes, and boutiques. Add in the fact that pressed green juice and gluten-free goodies aren’t just the novelty in California, but the norm, and I was grinning ear-to-ear like a mad woman possessed. (I was possessed—possessed by vitamins and nutrients and great flavors—oh, my!) I was lucky enough to hit a bunch of different spots, mostly thanks to research, Catherine! and chatting it up with random local strangers, and here’s my list of MUSTS:
1 | Gjelina. Our first night in LA, my son and I treated ourselves to the trendy Italian food that’s served alongside a breezy and chic vibe. My son, being just as much of a foodie as I am, devoured his meal and looked around for seconds. It is THE place to be on Abbot Kinney, so book in advance to make sure you score a table. Apparently their brunches are drool-worthy too, but with so much to see and do, we never made it. As I like to say, there’s always a next time.
2 | Tom’s Flagship Store. It usually takes me no time at all to find my morning happy nook in a new place. I’m a total early bird, and my sacred time with myself is nonnegotiable. Luckily for me, my teen sleeps in. (We’re all shocked, I know.) During my early morning exploring, I quickly fell in love with Tom’s, nestled among all the other cafes and boutiques. The energy alone is just incredible, not to mention the fact that it took a shoe store in the middle of a cafe to deliver the best tasting drip coffee and cappuccino I’ve had in a good long time. The open, airy patio with comfy couches and blankets to cuddle up with fits with Tom’s philosophy just perfectly. Vanilla coriander latte, anyone?
3 | The Butcher’s Daughter. I’m not kidding when I say there are coffee shops as far as the eye can see, but this was one of my favs. I liked the beautiful setting, but I L-O-V-E-D that my morning cappuccino came with a nice dollop of conversation with the staff. The benefit of showing up early in the morning is that you get to converse 1:1 before the spot transforms into a bustling hub of business and chatter.
And while they’re on Rose Avenue, not too far from Abbot Kinney, I have to cheat a little bit and also mention:
4 | Café Gratitude. Obviously, the name alone sucked me in, and the stunning setting only added to the appeal. The best part? Every dish is named after an affirmation, and that affirmation is repeated to you when your server delivers your delish meal. The server also leaves you with a question of the day to ponder while you wait for your food. My question was: What inspires you most in nature? The word of the night was wholesome.
5 | Moon Juice. Tonics. Need I say more? I bought enough stock to last me a lifetime…and by “lifetime” I mean enough to last me through my trip. (The damn airlines wouldn’t let me sneak these magic potions back to Toronto.) Me thinks that Moon Juice really needs to open a location in Toronto. I’d be their most devoted customer, and even start a fan club. (Don’t doubt me.)
Obviously, a trip to LA isn’t a real trip to LA without some shopping involved. (I have a tendency to go overboard. Budgets? What are those!? All I’m saying is don’t follow my exact lead on this one. Wink.) That said, I have a great reason for it. Nearly every single store carried crystal jewelry, which is a huuuuuge obsession of mine. While there are tons of boutiques on Melrose Avenue, Beverly Hills, and Santa Monica, I haven’t won the lottery quite yet, so I stuck to the one-of-a-kind boutiques on Abbot Kinney while talking with the staff (which is my favorite thing to do!) The Piece Collective, Skylark, and Ananda were my favorites, and I can’t get the crystals that I found at Made In Earth out of my head. Swoon!
And don’t even get me started on the market. I was lucky enough to spend part of my weekend with the local artisans on Abbot Kinney, and had to stop myself from squealing out loud in pure, full-body excitement. I knew immediately where my next few hours (and funds) were going to be spent on that sunny, bright, warm Saturday afternoon after brunch: chatting and connecting with the brilliant minds behind the gorgeous creations, all while sipping on a bottle of green goodness from the food trucks.
Before we headed out, I managed to squeeze in a drive to Malibu from Venice. While Duke’s wasn’t all that and a bag of chips, the ride on the Pacific Coast Highway was so worth it. It’s even better if you can manage the long bike ride. (For the record, I was totally game, but my 16 year-old was having some hefty lazy moments. Isn’t he supposed to be the jock?) I blame it all on the fresh air, clean food, and sunny days. Mother nature nurtured us well.
Simply put, California was a dream come true. You can bet I’ll be back, not just to visit, but maybe to look at beach houses. (Sooner rather than later, hopefully.) What’s your favorite vacation you’ve ever taken? What made it so special? Was it the sun, the sand, the city, the people you were with, or all of the above? When you keep a travel log (like I’ve done above), you’re not just honoring your trip and time, but preserving the experience forever. And on a personal note? I can’t wait to read about your adventures.