The challenge: taking two teens, Mikaela 13 and Gabrielle 17, to California and planning excursions they will enjoy. It is a big challenge. What will they think is fun? Where to eat? Mikaela has not traveled to Italy and Spain like her big sister, so will their impressions be influenced by that? There is a big generation gap, as what I think might be fun may not be what a teenager wants to do. But, I have been there and done that with my past foreign exchange daughters, so I might pull this off. Let’s go.
Day One Excursion
A stay-on-home turf sort of day. The girls walk the Moonstone Beach Boardwalk and into the west end of Cambria with its boutique shoppes while my generation catches up on mail after being gone for three weeks. It is partly cloudy but comfortable weather for these Minnesotans.
I booked last minute tickets to Hearst Castle. We drove ten minutes north to directly board a bus for the top. Great day to visit the Enchanted Hill with spectacular views of the Pacific. William Randolph Hearst spared no expense as his architect, Julia Morgan, designed Hearst’s massive main home and surrounding bungalows to house his art collection. Only disappointment is the castle is repairing the Neptune Pool so it lacks water highlighting its awesome blue tiles and Greek columns.
We end our day on San Simeon pier where fishermen aren’t having much luck but are willing to share their fish stories.
Teen rating of 1 to 5 with 5 being a real winner:
Mikaela: 2 for Cambria walk and a 3 for Hearst Castle as it was “kinda overwhelming.”
Gabrielle: 4 for Cambria even though it was “just old people” and Hearst gets a 5.
Me: Cambria is a retirement community with lots of boutiques and restaurants filled with tourists, mostly older. Hearst Castle is always fun to explore and ogle the beautiful architecture and many works of art. The mountain goats and zebra are always fun to spot.
Day Two Excursion
We drive fifty miles north weaving along scenic Highway One and the Pacific Coast from Cambria to Nepenthe. Along the way we brake for the zebras at Hearst Ranch and elephant seals near Piedras Blancas. We stop at art galleries, walk the short path leading to the picturesque waterfall at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, and walk the trail under the sequoias at Limekiln State Park. The weather is clear for a summer day, the traffic is light, and we are able to enjoy one of the most scenic drives in the world. Lunch is at Nepenthe where our wait is long but the food good and views awesome under clear CA blue skies and two condors soaring over the coastline.
Mikaela: 5 for Limekiln. As one who suffers some motion sickness, riding in a car along the winding Highway 1 is a challenge she managed well. She gave the drive a 2.
Gabrielle gave the sights a 5 but “don’t like that windy road, nope!”
Me: If I weren’t driving, I’d probably complain too. The views were spectacular for a summer day when normally it can be very foggy along the CA coast. The state parks at Julia Pfeiffer and Limekiln are wonderful any time of the year.
Day Three Excursion
Kayaking in Morro Bay under semi-cloudy skies with little wind is ideal. We put in our kayaks at Tidelands and paddle the bay while observing diving pelicans, noisy seal lions, and adorable rafts of sea otters. A couple hours on the bay are relaxing and good exercise. We paddle among the boats and listen to the ever-complaining seals. A pelican dove for a fish just feet from Gabrielle’s kayak. Picturesque Morro Rock hovers above and the sand spit is to our side. Afterwards, we return to our friends’ house for delicious clam chowder.
Teen rating: Mikaela and Gabrielle agree “That’s a 5.” Me too.
Day Four Excursion
What would a trip to CA be without experiencing true heat and desert? Today, we quickly leave our coastal climate to drive inland through the heat and desert of the Central Valley. Our first stop is Greenhorn Mountain and the location of my previous cabin. However, to reach the tall trees and 6000′ altitude, we travel thru dry, tumbleweed-infested country. It reaches 104° and tarantulas are on the move. One begins to understand the “Golden Hills of California,” as there is little green beyond irrigated fields of grapes, cotton and orchards. Greenhorn shows signs of drought-dead trees and lingering fires about Lake Isabella. I miss its blue sky, tall sequoias and forest smells.
We turn back west to drive the curvy Kern Canyon Road to Bakersfield. After living there for 35 years, I feel the nieces need to be exposed to the “real” landscape and life of CA. Heat, dry, terrible air quality, but a meal at one of our best Basque restaurants, Woolgrowers. We stay near the mouth of the canyon with my friend Martha where the girls can take a dip in a gorgeous pool.
At Woolgrowers, we dine on the usual soup, beans, salsa, salad, sourdough bread, spaghetti, corn, fries, and pickled tongue. Then comes the garlic chicken and oxtail stew. I am proud of the girls who try the pickled tongue. Both decided it was better eaten by me.
Teen rating: Mikaela gave the “hot!” drive a kind 1-2. Gabrielle said a 2 because the migrating tarantula at least made it bearable. Both girls agreed Woolgrowers deserved a 5.
Me: I did this drive for years and it is hot and dry but typical of central California. For those who never leave the big cities or coast, they never see what much of CA is really like. We aren’t called the “golden hills” for nothing. And Woolgrowers will always get a 5 from me, including dinners with pickled tongue.
Day Five Excursion
We drive through Lamont and past John Steinbeck’s locations for telling the tale of “Grapes of Wrath” and through more agricultural landscape to turn south for Los Angeles. Terrain stays California brown over Tejon Pass and into the LA basin to meet true traffic as we drive the 405 to Santa Monica.
Our room is at the corner of Ocean and Broadway with views of street activities and the Santa Monica pier. Our evenings are spent strolling busy 3rd Street Promenade where the girls get their first taste of Southern California lifestyle. After a good Italian dinner, I turn the girls loose to explore. There is lots of activity and strolling, shopping and people-watching to be had.
Teen rating: Mikaela rates the promenade with a 4.5. “Busy, good dogs,” she says.
Gabrielle rates the promenade a 5 and “the best is the amateur musicians.”
Me: I couldn’t resist exposing the girls to a little history of the Central Valley and the area in which I taught for over 30 years. I have always loved heading to LA for a break and Santa Monica and its bustle of activity and good weather are an ideal getaway.
Day Six Excursion
Venice Beach. Oh my. What can one describe about Venice Beach? It remains iconic California surfer-Rastafarian-toking beach life with weight lifters and beach volleyball, odd shops and ‘what the hell?’ attitudes. Venice Beach is always a fun day where the sky is blue, temps a perfect 75 or so, lots of kiosks of what-nots, and a great spot for people watching. Beaches are wide and spectacular. I defy anyone to not enjoy a day here. Lunch, shopping for vintage clothing, sun glasses and a henna tattoo, dodging the numerous bikes, roller skaters and skateboarders – what isn’t there to like?
Evening, we dine at the very busy and slow Cheesecake Factory. Food is good and who could possibly complain about the cheesecake?
Teen rating: Mikaela rates the “strange people” and Venice a 5.
Gabrielle rates Venice’s atmosphere a 5, mentioning the “pot heads.”
Me: I have always loved hanging out in Venice. It is fun, relaxed and reminds me that we in California are not all alike. Though Rodeo Drive accomplishes the same vibe.
Day Seven Excursion – The Fourth of July
The teens need a break. With so much beach, shopping, street scene and movies in the area, it is a good day to chill. A cacophony of sounds attack the ears as sirens, horns, whistles, conversations, prop planes flying advertising banners along the coastline, and endless car radios blast songs across the musical spectrum. Each car and street performer tries to outplay the next guy in a kind of “my music is better than your music” competition. A walk down the beach sounds good to me.
In the evening, we walk over to the pier and ride the Ferris Wheel with YouTuber and singer Ricky Dillion, who Mikaela recognizes. It makes the ride bearable for her as its height is not something she is eager to experience. From the pier, the sisters enjoy watching the fireworks down the beach at Marina del Rey.
Day Eight Excursion
LA is a plethora of museums, amusement parks, and tourist sites. Which ones should we see?
We walked a popular circuit of sights around the La Brea/Fairfax area. The interesting Berlin Wall Project is on Wilshire across from the art museum and consists of 10 segments of the Berlin Wall. This is the longest display of the original Wall outside of Germany. We also visit two museums that are very different from each other: the La Brea Tar Pits and the LA County Museum of Art. Exhibits vary from fine art and artistic mediums in the LACMA to a mammoth stuck in the tar pits and displays of saber-toothed cats, wolves and giant sloths that once dotting the landscape of Los Angeles. The freeways and skyscrapers came much later.
Within a short walking distance is the Farmer’s Market. Operating in this same spot since 1934, the market offers over 100 kiosks of food and shops. Right across the street is CBS television studios, so you never know who you might see grabbing a snack. There is some filming going on around the market and there are countless places from which to choose a snack. Just outside the market is the huge, relatively new, outdoor shopping mall The Grove. Easily one could spend the day here, if one could afford it.
Teen rating: Mikaela rates the Tar Pits a 2 as it was “kind of a let down” but the LACMA a 5 and the Farmer’s Market a 4. The ability to sit down and draw in the LACMA was especially enjoyed by Mikaela.
Gabrielle rated both the Tar Pits and the Farmer’s Market a 4; the art museum got a 3 as “I’ve been to Europe.”
Me: The Tar Pits are fascinating to see below the 21st century skyline of LA and the LACMA is large and quite good with a wide selection of famous works. I haven’t been to Farmer’s Market since The Grove opened in 2002 and am impressed with the shops and atmosphere.
Day Nine Excursion
I begin the day’s excursion with another curvy drive, this time leaving Highway 1 to drive east using Sunset Drive to get to Hollywood. It is a pleasant, often pretty drive through expensive zip codes. And it is probably faster than using the 10 or 405 Freeways. We arrive near the corner of Hollywood and Vine. Walking Hollywood Blvd, one can see almost everything. It is a tourist mecca for this area and lined with souvenir shops, questionable smells, and adult stores. Its highlight probably is the Hollywood Walk of Fame with its countless stars and the numerous hand and footprints in blocks of concrete at the Chinese Theater (forever known as Grauman’s to me).
On the corner of Highland and Hollywood is the fascinating Hollywood Museum. Located in the old Max Factor building, its four floors are filled with artifacts, costumes, photos, props and electronic displays of Hollywood and its stars. I know the big screen makes people look larger, but I was continually amazed by how small most stars are. Did any of those women ever eat?
After a lunch at Johnny Rockets, we stopped at Ripley’s Believe It or Not. The building is filled with Ripley’s bizarre collection. Or, as I would describe it, “overpriced collection of crap and stupid stuff.” It is a place made for young kids, who seem to love it. To me, it appears Ripley collected anything that was free or available to drag inside, put a placard on, and charge a fee to see. Sort of a bunch of your county fair carnival shows under one roof.
We end our day playing “pretty woman walking down the street” of Rodeo Drive. This is always a humbling experience no matter how one prepares. I guess you can take the girl out of down-home but never down-home out of the girl. But it’s fun to see how the other .05% shop and live.
Mikaela gave the Walk of Fame a 2; Gabrielle gave it a 3. Hollywood? Gabrielle felt it was “Hot (79º but these are Minnesotans), dirty and lots of people and not as glamorous as expected.” Both girls gave the Hollywood Museum a 3. Ripley’s deservedly received a 1.5 from Mikaela and a 4 from Gabrielle. Rodeo Drive? A 3.5 from Mikaela but a 2 from Gabrielle who says “It’s hard to fit in.”
Me? I highly recommend the Hollywood Museum and one has to tolerate the crowd at Graumans. However, the general area of the Walk of Fame and Hollywood Blvd. remains dirty and seedy. Ripley’s is a ridiculous price and better meant for kids. I used to read this stuff on the backs of comic books and cereal boxes. I thought it was pretty stupid then and my opinion hasn’t changed. Rodeo Drive would have been more fun had we arrived earlier and stores were more active.
Overall, I think California was a star. I know I had a great time showing the nieces my side of the country and just a fraction of what it has to offer. Both were able to feel some freedom and responsibility. Hopefully there will be more future trips. As Mikaela wrote: “thank you for bringing me on this trip to prepare for the international trip.” I guess that’s a plan!
For a teen’s perspective, read Gabrielle’s blog about California.
I’m proud of her. Not only is she a terrific photographer but developing into an insightful and interesting writer.