california dreaming: san diego & la travel blog
Happy finals week, everyone! To all of the seniors...happy last finals week ever :').
Last weekend was Memorial Day Weekend, so while all my friends went to Vegas or LED USA (both of which I am way too broke for rn), I took Daniel for a mini-roadtrip down to San Diego to play tourist in my own city, and then stopped by LA on the way back up to Santa Barbara.
I realized the only time I am ever in LA is to go to the airport or for some similarly specific errand, and I never really get the chance to explore, so I figured this would be a good opportunity. Plus, it was a nice break from Isla Vista.
DAY 1: SAN DIEGO
It's a very grey day today in San Diego, so the beach doesn't seem like the best option. Instead, we get traditional San Diego cuisine (Mexican food), and I take him up to the Torrey Pines Gliderport, one of my favorite spots in the city. My friend used to take me up there all the time, usually really late at night, when everything is dark but you can still see lights all the way down the coast, from Del Mar to La Jolla. It overlooks the ocean, and on good days, you can see the sun sparkling off the waves for miles, and the gorgeous cerulean water looks as translucent as seaglass from high up. It's the definition of breathtaking. I like to just watch the people paragliding; it looks so relaxing being up that high and kind of floating around on the breeze. It reminds me of the time we impulsively went parasailing in Mexico, although this seems much freer.
We go to dinner with my family later, watch a documentary, and sleep early (slowly training him to be a grandma).
DAY 2: LA
We drive up to LA in the morning. It's a long drive, and not quite as scenic as the one I take up to Santa Barbara every couple of months.
The very first thing we do is go to one of the places on our long list of food recommendations: Honeyboba! I feel like the food in LA is very hit or miss...the boba is good but too sweet, and I get tired of it halfway through.
You can customize your bowl by choosing the hardness of the noodles and the richness of the soup, which I found interesting and I kind of liked. They rely purely on the quality of the soup and the ramen; they're not trying to compensate for taste by putting as many things into it as possible. It's as simple as you want it to be.
Very full and a bit sleepy, we check into our Airbnb in the heart of Arcadia, which is about an hour away from Downtown LA. We have to use Google Maps frequently on this trip, because neither of us have really been to LA. As it turns out, Arcadia is bordered by six other communities: Pasadena, Sierra Madre, El Monte, San Marino, Monrovia, and Temple City. The Airbnb is just a modest room in a cute little brick house, and our host is a nice woman named Mary, who immediately asks us if we speak Chinese (I guess it's the norm here).
Post-food-coma-nap, we head to Downtown LA to see the Walt Disney Concert Hall at sunset. It's gorgeous, all curves and brushed metal, with the fiery colors of the sky painting the panels. It looks just as whimsical as something Walt Disney would dream up. We feel very underdressed, as everyone is all dolled up to see a Mozart organ concert.
We notice a lot of people dressed really nicely and taking photos; apparently this is a popular time for photoshoots because the light is just right and the city backdrop makes for really nice pictures. The streets are relatively empty, most likely because we're in the middle of the Financial District and everyone has gone home for the day, but I kind of like the quiet rhythm of it all, the modest hum of the cars going by every once in a while.
Afterward, we walk to Little Tokyo, which is kind of nearby. I've actually been here once before, when I stayed with my friend James in LA a couple of years ago. I can't say it reminds me too much of actual Japan (there's a guy doing a particularly enthusiastic rendition of "Bohemian Rhapsody" solo for a crowd on a pavilion stage), but I like it nonetheless, especially the beauty stores and the Japanese markets. The last time I was here, I had fried octopus-filled dough balls, which are apparently a popular snack food in Japan. So, always an interesting time.
We have shabu shabu, the Japanese version of hot pot, which is honestly pretty mediocre, although I will say that there's very little to dislike about being handed a platter of beef.
You know those brief, fleeting moments that evoke a particular feeling? It's right about now, strangely, surrounded by not-quite-so-tall buildings and standing under bright streetlights, that I begin to miss the familiarity of New York. New York is a city that holds a very special place in my heart, and I've always treated Manhattan like it was a second home, feeling more comfortable walking down 86th at night than on some of the streets in IV. It occurs to me that I probably won't be back there for a while. LA is nice, but it's too much noise, too much traffic, too much interaction. It lacks some of the richness that I love about New York, the sense of isolation that feels oddly comforting, knowing that everyone is living their own lives and the world is constantly moving around you. I somehow feel a bit crowded here, just the two of us in the middle of an empty street.
We buy (okay, I buy) sour Ramune gumdrops, chocolate-covered grape candies, fizzy Ramune candies, Heroine mascara, matcha Oreo cookie bars, and face masks. Ramune is that soda with the really indescribable taste and the marble in it. My sister and I call it "whale water" because it used to have a cute lil whale on the packaging. FUN FACT from Wikipedia: The name is derived from the English word "lemonade" translated into Japanese.
DAY 3: LA
We are hungry and ambitious, so we order a total of 26 dumplings: juicy pork, crab and pork, and shrimp and pork. Daniel wants the Shanghai-style chow mein, so we get that too, and almost immediately we realize our mistake. This is not a place for amateurs.
But we finish the dumplings (all except for one!) and a good portion of the chow mein, and just like that, we're out the door. Quick and simple. Chinese efficiency at its best.
Afterward, we go to the Getty Villa, which I really like. It looks very much like the ruins I'd seen in Rome and Turkey, with large white pillars and an ampitheater. The architecture is surrounded by Roman-style gardens, which include vine-covered archways and fountains (most of which are dry due to the drought...meep). While the structures are unmistakably Roman, the ornate rooftops and pretty lattice windows remind me of the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace in Beijing, two of my favorite places that I visited a couple of years ago. It makes me grateful that I've been lucky enough to see all of these things, that I have the ability to make these comparisons.
Backstory: In 1954, this very wealthy guy named J. Paul Getty purchased sixty-four acres of land and just up and decided he wanted a replica of a Roman villa in his backyard. Okay. So he opened a gallery. The design was inspired by the Villa of Papyri at Herculaneum, and incorporated details of other Roman villas as the time. After his death, the museum received a large grant (as in $661 million) and the collection overflowed, so they split it into two parts—the Getty Villa and the Getty Center.
The art is arranged into themed wings, like Gods and Goddesses, Stories of the Trojan War, and Molten Color: Glassmaking in Antiquity. A lot of people find museums dry or boring, so I'm lucky to have someone who likes Greek/Roman mythology as much as I do and will patiently walk around all of the exhibits with me.
But the nice thing about the Getty Villa is that it's honestly just a really beautiful place to be. Even if you don't like art or museums, it's a nice, peaceful place to just hang out and relax. It overlooks the ocean, has all of these lovely gardens, and there's a little café that serves food and drink. It could be mistaken for a resort. It's just a pleasant way to spend the day, and admission is free, except for the $15 parking.
My favorite part of Greek and Roman art is the statues. It's interesting to see what they think their deities looked like. Unlike in any other religions, Greek gods and goddesses were very flawed. They were jealous, petty, irrational, and they were very, very human. But the best part of the statues are the clothes. I could spend hours just looking at them. It's insane that they could carve out these beautiful, soft, sheer-looking fabrics that appear to cling to the bodies out of solid marble with only hand tools. Like how. They're so beautiful and elegant.
The amount of detail that goes into all of this art is pretty amazing, and it's interesting that all art had such a common thread—praise of gods and goddesses and depictions of myths and legends. It was very much focused on other people. But now, it's very much about the artist, about what he feels and thinks and how he sees the world. I wonder what that says about us.
Seeing all of this art reminds me of the documentary we watched last night, Why Beauty Matters, which is described as a "provocative essay on the importance of beauty in the arts and in our lives." In it, the philosopher makes the claim that the purpose of art has been twisted to "disturb, to break moral taboos. It was not beauty, but originality, however achieved, at whatever moral cost, that earned the prizes."
He argues that beauty is an intrinsic human right, just like truth and freedom, and that modern art has become a "cult of ugliness" leading to a "spiritual descent". Definitely dramatic and perhaps misdirected (he uses extreme examples of postmodern art to back up his claim), but I feel like he does make a point. Art is so undervalued these days, and the only way to be appreciated is to come up with something novel. I remember seeing a video posted on Facebook about a guy who paints intricate scenes on his hand. While they were very beautiful, people were criticizing him for being "nothing special" and using his medium to make himself stand out. I think that's where the shock value in art comes from, the need to "disrupt" and make an impression. Art now is often about competition, rather than simple expression, which I think makes a very good statement about our culture in general. But the ancient Greeks weren't concerned about who had done it first; it was about admiring the craftsmanship of it.
There was a little hall with a bunch of statues in it; I thought at first they were deities, but they were muses. The plaque explained that the muses were often used as artistic inspiration, and that there was a muse for each form (history, dance, astrology, comedy, tragedy, song, poetry). The word "museum" actually refers to them as such.
From the placard: "In about 350 B.C. the Greek sculpture Praxiteles carved a statue of Aphrodite (Venus to the Romans), the goddess of love, depicted nude and ready for her bath. The sculpture was the first full-scale female nude to be produced in Greek art, and it was placed in a specially constructed temple that allowed it to be viewed from all sides...Numerous smaller versions of the sculpture, such as this Roman one, were made due to its fame...The small scale of the figure suggests that it stood in the home of a wealthy Roman."
After we are done with the museum (there are only so many vases and coins you can look at), we walk around the gardens. It's been very grey in Santa Barbara lately, so the sunny weather was a nice change.
The gardens are also convey Roman influence, with large, ornate columns, a beautiful fountain the middle, statues among the plants, and pathways marked by clean, angular bushes.
Driving back up to Santa Barbara along the Pacific Coast Highway was another highlight of the trip; it always reminds me how nice California really is.
It was a pretty rad weekend, leaving us very full and culturally enlightened (ha). Definitely liked the Getty Villa the best, and now I want to go back to LA in the future to see the Getty Center and try more of the boba places and ramen shops that LA is famous for. And more museums! I wanna go to The Broad next (I've seen so many Instagram pictures) or maybe the MOCA. The possibilities are endless.
There's that saying: "Here's to good food and good company."