I went to Southern California for the first time in 2014 and was lucky enough to go again for an engagement shoot in 2016. I have a serious love affair with California and Hawaii. There’s just nothing better than palm trees, warm weather, and the beach. I think I was born in the wrong place to be honest. Haha!!
As always, I travel more in the winter during my down season and I had been thinking of planning a trip back to San Diego for a while but was waiting for flights to go down. One of my photographer friends who I met back in 2016 was kind enough to offer to let me stay with her since her husband was on deployment. That made it more enticing and then when I found flights for $130 round trip from Baltimore to San Diego with Spirit, I knew I had to go! I hadn’t heard great things about Spirit and it certainly wasn’t my first choice of airline but it was going to be a leisure trip so I had low expectations and knew I could afford something going wrong. I immediately texted my travel buddy Hannah who I knew had been dying to visit CA and a few days later, things were booked!
Keep scrolling for the rest of the story + my Southern California travel guide!
The week finally arrived to go so I drove up the night before to D.C. where Hannah lives since our flight was an hour away from her house and was scheduled to leave at 6AM the next morning. I went to bed early knowing a 3AM wakeup call was on its way and for some reason when my alarm went off at 3, the first thing I did was check my email…. This is where the story goes downhill a bit. I had an email saying our flight was delayed by 2 hours. I panicked slightly but chose to look on the bright side that we’d get to sleep for a little longer. So we went back to “sleep,” except I couldn’t sleep because I had a sinking feeling that something was wrong. We left about 45 minutes later and after driving an hour in the dark, parking in long term parking, and catching the shuttle in 3 degree weather, we were on our way to the airport. But then I checked my email one more time… to find that our flight had been CANCELLED. I’ve never had a flight cancelled and I honestly didn’t know what it meant but I assumed the worst — that we weren’t going to get to go.
We finally got to the airport and were placed in the back of a line of about thirty people who also had their flights cancelled. We stood in line for two hours not knowing whether we’d get on another flight. They were rebooking people to other airlines at no extra cost but we could overhear a lot of people being told they’d have to fly out of a different airport or leave the next day. Hannah and I were laughing at this point because we were going insane so I think that’s the only reason we made it through. We finally got to the desk while praying the whole time and after a few minutes of silence waiting to hear the news, the lady said, “Okay I found a flight for today to San Diego but I can’t guarantee it’ll book so just hang on.” We waited another grueling minute and she says, “Okay I think it went through but go to check in at Southwest to make sure. Sometimes our system says a flight is booked but it doesn’t go through on the other end.”
With a glimmer of hope at this point, we ran to Southwest and miraculously got checked in for our flight that was leaving in an hour. PRAISE THE LORD! I’ve never been so happy to go through security in my life. Haha!! It all worked out because Southwest is way better anyway and I learned my lesson to never fly Spirit again. To say we were relived when we finally got to San Diego that afternoon would be an understatement.
It did rain a lot while we were there which is unusual for Southern California but we made the best of it! We spent so much time exploring the coast all the way from San Diego up north to Malibu. We drove over a thousand miles, made two trips to Los Angeles, and visited as many places as we could in a week’s time. My top 3 highlights are below!
- Walking Abbot Kinney Blvd. I had never been to Venice so this was new for me! We went to the Venice boardwalk first and although the Venice sign was super cool to see in person, the boardwalk was not a place I’d want to spend my time. We left pretty soon after taking a couple photos and drove over to Abbot Kinney which was an entirely different vibe. It’s an entire street of quaint boutique shops that’ll leave you wanting to decorate your whole house with plants and redo your whole wardrobe. The shops were unlike any I had ever seen and all of them were unique in their own way!
- Being on Dr. Phil. I have always dreamed of being in the audience of Ellen or Dancing with the Stars but unfortunately both shows weren’t airing at the time of our trip. The only one that I was remotely interested in was Dr. Phil and it was easy to get tickets so we reserved them right away! The showing was scheduled to start at 9AM and San Diego is a three hour drive from Los Angeles so we had to get up at like 4:30AM. It was pouring when we left and for some reason the traffic to LA was even more insane than normal this day. We were in standstill traffic half of our drive and I watched as my GPS arrival time kept going up. It was 8:30, then 8:40, then 8:55, and soon it surpassed 9 and I thought we were going to have driven over 3 hours to miss what we went for. We arrived at the parking garage, assuming to be told we were too late but were told they were still letting people in. OMG, thank goodness! So we walk from the garage to Paramount Studios in the pouring rain and when we get in line, they asked if I had tickets. I said they were on my phone and the guy checking us in was like, “Oh you have to have printed tickets.” I was like, “WE ARE TRAVELING. I DIDN’T HAVE A PRINTER.” The guy just looked at me and said sorry and after my panicked reaction, he was like, “Just kidding!” and the entire line of people laughed at me. 🙂 AS IF I HADN’T BEEN THROUGH ENOUGH ALREADY. Haha!! So long story short, we got to be on the show and it was such a blast!! Highly recommend!
- Our photoshoot at Sunset Cliffs in the fog. Every time I travel, I try to plan a shoot just for fun. Shooting in new places always fuels me creatively! Hannah and I had been trying to find a couple but didn’t find someone until a couple days before we ended up doing the shoot, thanks to our friend Joelle who we stayed with posting in a local Facebook group. In my head, I envisioned the bright blue water, sunny skies, and the most perfect weather but instead we showed up to heavy fog with a nonexistent view of the ocean! HAHA! At first I was a little bummed but it honestly ended up being one of the coolest shoots! It was so unusual for California to look like it did this day and it made it so dreamy and mystical! Amanda and Daniel were a DREAM couple and it made my heart so happy to do a creative shoot with Hannah and Joelle!
It’s obvious that the theme of our trip was to have an open mind because I was reminded that things usually don’t work out the way you want but it’s always worth it in the end! I say this all the time but traveling is an adventure and never goes as planned. You have to go into it with the ability to adapt and not get too upset when your schedule doesn’t work perfectly. And that’s really what makes it fun. You always walk away with the funniest stories and let me tell you, there are SO many more from this trip that I don’t have time to share. But what I really wanted to share was my itinerary! I did a LOT of research for this CA trip and I wanted to share everything that I ended up finding to do/eat/see/drink. We didn’t go to ALL of these places but we did go to the majority! If you have questions, let me know! The list is at the end of the post!
Hotel del Coronado
View of San Diego from Coronado
Sundeck Bar & Grill
Slater’s 50/50 (burgers)
Pacific Beach Ale House
Better Buzz Coffee
Hammonds Ice Cream
Fairweather (cool bar)
The Cottage (drinks)
Dukes (will need reservation)
Shorehouse Kitchen (breakfast — closes at 3:30)
The Taco Stand
Bird Rock Coffee
Kayak tour (check Groupon)
Parking along Coast Blvd. or Prospect Street
Pick up food at the La Jolla Open Aire Market (Sunday)
Torrey Pines Gliderport
La Sirena Grill
Laguna Coffee Company
The Rooftop (drinks)
Malibu Beach pier/Malibu Farm
Paradise Cove (private beach where parking is $30 unless you spend $30 at the restaurant/bar)
Ace Hotel rooftop
Beverly Hills hotel
Lake Hollywood Park (Hollywood sign)
LA Observation Deck
Santa Monica ferris wheel
Gracias Madre (food)
The Grove (shopping)
Bike the Venice Beach Boardwalk
Amazebowls (acai bowls)
Blue Star Donuts
Salt & Straw
Gjelina (pizza + pasta)