……Leading on from Claire and our night in a caravan park……We wake up early – super early ! in our retro Wayfarer caravan in Ventura as a result of a combination of sunshine streaming through a glass roof light, the sound of a hooting train passing on the track running adjacent to one side of the park and the roar of engines from construction vehicles which are building a new housing complex on the other side of the park.
Given this we decide that getting back to sleep is not going to be an option so we get up, load up the bikes and go in search of breakfast . Based on a local recommendation we find a bakery, which is located opposite the Majestic Ventura Theatre. We sit sipping coffee and then notice the billboards for the venue are advertising a series of forthcoming concerts, one of which is to take place on 31st October at which Morrissey will be the headline act ….could this be the man himself ? … we googled and yes it is true Morrissey is doing a short, solo 14 night US and South American tour playing, opening in Ventura …. gosh how good would that be to see the big M again or then on second thoughts maybe it is best to leave these things and keep ones image of the Smiths and Morrissey as a ‘charming man‘ performing at a university concert some 30 years ago rather than watch a middle aged angry man and I suspect a largely middle aged audience try to recapture their yoof!?
… After a drift down memory lane and a discussion of all matters Smiths and Morrissey over breakfast it was time to return to the task in hand for the day… our ride to Malibu. Our trusty digital mapping system, Komoot had decided that the best route for us to follow would be inland, away from the coast road and over the hills behind Malibu. The profile showed some hefty climbs, which we did not much fancy so we tried to adjust the given route manually to follow the coast road. Komoot, however had other ideas and would not allow any such human interference and given past experiences when we have forced it to adjust we have learned to our cost the reason why it stubbornly resists adjustment i.e road collapse and no way through or gravel roads not suitable for road bikes. In this particular case we assumed shere volume of traffic, lack of a hard shoulder and extreme danger and hence we decided to follow the suggested inland route.
The first part of the trip was flat and took us through Oxtenad, a rapidly expanding new city. Nothing remotely interesting to note apart from the fact it reminded us of cycling through somewhere like Swindon or Slough but with more car showrooms. The built up area eventually gave way to fields and fields of agriculture that seemed to go on for miles (a theme already described by the small blond one) and because of the layout of said fields we found ourselves criss crossing the landscape following field boundaries. Eventually the landscape changed and we started to climb rapidly. The landscape became more rugged comprising rock outcrops and succulent desert plants and cacti. The heat was intense and the climbing was surprisingly tough. Partly I think because we are starting to fatigue from so much cycling (yes, it’s possible!) and this together with the heat slowed us to a snail‘s pace. We crossed over the top of the elevation and as we rode deeper inland the landscape started to become punctuated by large and spectacular houses and ranches. Huge and elaborate gates on the highway announced the presence of each ranch and long tree lined driveways beyond led the visitor to the homes of what we could only imagine to be Hollywood superstars or other oligarchs.
As we cycled along we both (so we discussed later) fantasised about being rescued on the road by some superstar and driven in their air conditioned swish motor to some palatial ranch in the hills where we would be looked after and resuscitated with the spoils of Hollywood stardom. This daydreaming helped distract us from the pain of pushing bike, luggage and body up hill and through desert.
The arrival of the LA suburb of Westlake, provided a welcome lunch spot and respite. A strange manufactured and I think probably a highly unsustainable place comprising clusters of condos built around lakes and set within a manicured and over watered landscape. Having said this a lovely spot to sit under a tree and eat nice things !
After lunch , more ups and downs and many more swanky houses perched on hilltops well out of reach of any unwanted visitor. After much huffing and puffing we drop down dramatically (and scarily) to the coast and rejoin the Pacific Coast Highway, which took us along the beach into the heart of Malibu.
We found ourselves a small but overpriced room in what seemed like the heart of the Malibu strip. We showered and then decided to take ourselves to Nobu. We fancied a bit of light Sushi and Nobu was a familiar spo’ and more importantly was within staggering distance. The restaurant overlooked the beach and is situated in a cool contemporary flat roofed building made of wood, glass and steel. It sits next to the recently opened Soho House Malibu. Both places were buzzing. Flash car , after flash car arriving , disgorging their beautiful international occupants before being parked by young surf dude looking valets. All very urban, twinkly lights, music pumping , much chitter chatter, beautiful waiting staff clad in black and beautiful interiors.
After being ushered to our table we both agreed that we were perhaps not really comfortable with or ready for this slick international dining experience. We ate , paid the huge bill, made a quick exit and breathed a sigh of relief when we stepped into the darkness and could hear only the noise of waves and the crickets in the hillside behind.
Next morning we prepared for a very short ride to Venice Beach. We breakfasted on Malibu Pier at the Malibu Farm Pier Cafe. A lovely spot at the end of the pier, owned and operated by a Swedish model, turned restaurateur serving all things local and organic (obvs! ). We sat outside a simple wooden blue and white painted cafe building situated at the end of the pier watching the early morning surfers, drinking coffee and eating the obligatory muesli, fruit and yoghurt. As we sat taking in the moment we began chatting to an American guy from Florida and an Australian girl from Melbourne who are in the process of making a very long distance relationship work and who had both just stepped of their respective planes earlier in the day and were about to enjoy a two week road trip to San Francisco together. Over the next hour or so we swapped our stories, wished them well and began the cycling day.
We got back onto the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) and set off to LA. I have to say Malibu and the road is a tad disappointing as it is not possible to view the sea due to the many houses that run along the road. They get great views but for those on the road it is just miles of garages and housing backs and staff going about their tasks. Exceedingly disappointing ! The route , however eventually hits the beach and a lovely bike and pedestrian track allows you to ride literally on the beach and to stop off at various beach cafes.
At Santa Monica the route turned away from the beach and took us to higher ground and onto Main Street. We followed the route to our home for the next three days near to Abbot Kinney Boulevard in the Venice Beach neighbourhood.
This time our home is a lovely apartment in a residential street. We unload and shower and begin our stay in LA.
LA stay, part one….
Both of us were a little bit apprehensive and I have to say a bit non plussed about LA. I for one could not really get my head round the city or how it worked. I thought it would be all freeways, traffic jams, pollution and faceless low density suburbs.
The powers that be in the city are, however putting serious, serious effort into transforming this car orientated city and shifting the balance away from the car to other public transport modes, bicycle and walking.
Los Angeles Department of City Planning are in the process of implementing their Mobility Plan 2035, which was adopted in 2015, after lengthy and contentious debate. The Plan is an holistic plan, which seeks to balance uses of the streets and use of the city from many different aspects. Plans include the designation of hundreds of miles of bicycle and bus lanes, and incorporates changes to many of the City’s main arteries such as Sunset, Hollywood and Wiltshire Boulevards. Plans see lanes used by vehicles become cycle lanes, pedestrian walkways , bus lanes and parks. A process known as ‘road-dieting’, great thought. Sadly though the plan is meeting much political resistance and opposition as people think their journey might be slowed or it might lead to more congestion.
The Transport Plan sits alongside policies with an emphasis on densifying development and introducing mixed use zoning policies.
A very exciting and positive Plan, which is starting to take shape. But still, we read that 84% of trips under three miles are taken by car in LA and whilst we cycled around the City we were very much in the minority.
Helpfully in terms of orientation, we met a guy on our first day in Venice Beach who was a New Yorker and who had lived in London for a long time. He told us to view the city as a series of islands and to break the city down and visit each island in turn then ‘sail’ off to the next island via the many highways that criss cross the city.
With this in mind we decided that we would do the city in two visits . Visit one : Venice Beach and Santa Monica and then Beverley Hills, Hollywood and West Hollywood and Visit two which will happen just before we fly home: Los Feliz and Downtown.
So in terms of Visit one Venice Beach, the canals, Abbot Kinney Blvd and Santa Monica was done on foot and Hollywood and Beverley Hills on bicycle. The latter of which involved a 50km round trip cycle ride from Venice Beach. We thought the two areas looked pretty close on the map but as we learned they take quite a lot of riding to take everything in! However we did manage to experience first hand the work of the transport plan on Sunset Boulevard, which was a very positive experience involving wide safe new bike lanes and a new linear park, which was being beautifully landscaped.
So from visit one we can safely say our view of the City has completely changed and in terms of what we did/loved on our first visit:
1. The architecture no two buildings are the same and it is clear that architects and their clients are not afraid to experiment , explore their creativity and express themselves. We took in some early Frank Gehry in Venice beach , which was a treat and strolled around looking at the many lovely homes that comprise the neighbourhoods.
2. Abbot Kinney boulevard, which I think takes its place as one of my favourite streets ever (on a par with Bermondsey Street even! ). Unique buildings, great street art, an eclectic mix of shops and small businesses and great restaurants, cafes and bars to sit and let the day drift by. Like many good streets there was not one major chain store and every business had taken great care in terms of how they presented themselves on the street.
3. An absolute delight were the Venice canals. Who’d have thought canals in LA. The Venice Canal Historic District was developed by the man himself, Abbot Kinney in 1905. We learn that he was a tobacco millionaire who wanted to bring a taste of Venice in America. A lovely vision but in 1924 the city decided it needed more roads and most of the canals were filled in to create streets. After lots of court hearings from residents about whether it was legal to fill them in, the Supreme Court ruled it was in 1928. By the end of the year, almost all of them were gone, save the ones that remain today.
It was said that the remaining canals were saved by the Depression and the contractor’s bankruptcy. Hurrah for that as the area is simply delightful. We strolled up and down for several hours through this serene place, walking the canal side routes and crossing bridges. An eclectic mix of houses line the canals, which are probably some of the most appealing (in our view) real estate in the city. The planting in the gardens is also lovely. A great haven in the city!
4. Then, as always there was the food. This is a place where there is absolutely no excuse not to be super healthy and to understand what it means to be super healthy! Being vegan or at least vegetarian is pretty much essential. Health brews, bowls and mixes of every kind prevail.
Some notable and eyebrow raising examples for the cynical Londoner.
For breakfast we were asked if we would like a shot of chlorophyll in our water (to help us turn green possibly ?….who knows!)…. Then at lunch we went to a restaurant called Cafe Gratitude, a group of plant based restaurants that operate in a number of Californian cities. All meals, which consisted of carefully constructed (curated even!) salads or bowls of organic and raw things, grains, seeds etc were assigned titles including ‘humble,’ ‘connected’ ,’pure’, ‘dazzling’ , ‘whole’, ‘evolved’…. you get the picture. We were encouraged to say when we ordered… ‘I am ‘humble’ etc … I was in fact ‘humble’ and the small blond one was ‘gracious’…. despite this the food was rather lovely!
We were then asked by our waitress to think about the question of the day, which on the day of our visit was: ‘what is most important to you?’…. we obviously discussed and after these three months on the road and thinking about our families and friends we came to the joint conclusion that our health and wellbeing and that of our friends and family would be our answer.
In addition everywhere served super healthy smoothies, juices and immune shots which sought to cure hangovers (not so healthy! ), liver health, brain health, joint health etc etc.
Other notable good moments included reuniting with Salt and Straw. Weird flavours first encountered in Portland and produced by a small and perfectly formed business. My favourite ice creamier of the tour, which is saying something in the context of the amounts consumed, and the discovery of Açaí bowls. Now this has featured large. A typical Brazilian dish made of frozen and mashed açaí palm fruit. It is served as a smoothie in a bowl or a glass, and topped with coconut, granola and banana. We will definitely be bringing this back!
Other super dooper restaurants included Butcher’s Daughter. Lovely interiors, more great healthy food and a lovely place to dwell!
5. ….and so to Beverley Hills and Hollywood. In summary and in response to the question so what was this are like I think both of us would shrug our shoulders and say hmm ok. Expensive shops, familiar designers, expensive cars and big houses. Just what we expected. It was fun to cycle around and observe the scene. From our limited observations it seems that the local population nearly all drive to their shop, restaurant, hairdresser destination in an expensive car with blacked out windows (star or wane-bee), pull up outside and walk into chosen shop etc. A valet then parks said expensive car until the owner needs it.
We tentatively cycled around the area dodging heavy traffic. Very annoying for cyclists as you cannot see the driver behind dark glass and hence can’t make eye contact as they come out of junctions, or wave!
One street we liked was Melrose Place. Very like Beauchamp Place in London, a smaller tree lined street off the main highways and hence quieter and less traffic and a place you can sit in a cafe and dwell.
We then spent the afternoon looking around the ‘bird streets’ of Beverley Hills and cycling down all the streets one has heard about in the movies: Hollywood Boulevard, Sunset Boulevard, Mulholland Drive.
In summary, however a place to visit once but not somewhere we need to go back to.
So that was LA part one … we shall return for part two at the end of the tour. Now time to head south to San Diego and our final destination at the Mexico border!