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Los Angeles and its beaches

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Los Angeles and it's beaches

Today, we’re heading for Los Angeles and its beaches! Our hotel is located on the edge of the Pacific Coast Highway (CA Route 1), and in Huntington Beach, there’s quite a bit of traffic on the PCH. That’s how I woke up at 6:30 am. This morning, I promised Sarah I’d take her out for a breakfast she’ll remember for a long time. I’m going to introduce her to Nick’s Cafe.

Nick’s Café

This restaurant, opened in 1948 in the Chinatown district, doesn’t look like much when you see it, yet the experience is unique. Oddly enough, it’s one of my favorite places in L.A.

It doesn’t look like much!

Getting around downtown Los Angeles (DTLA) isn’t easy, especially if you’re coming from the south during rush hour. It’s 9:00 a.m. and to avoid any misunderstandings, I take care to warn Sarah about the restaurant’s “roadiness”. We park on the street opposite Nick’s Cafe, as the parking lot is already full.

When we arrive in front of the small, white, single-storey establishment, a fictitious pig is carrying a sign that reads “OPEN”: I’m relieved. The space in front is busy, the facade isn’t clean, the blinds are down, and yet I’m extremely happy to be back here.

Nick, the pig

The pig with only a “Nick’s Cafe” apron and a spatula in his right hand/leg, drawn next to the entrance, seems just as happy to see us arrive. My memories of the place, whether of the ambience, the place itself or the food served, are intact and powerful. I hope to experience similar emotions once again!

Visit and eat at a simple restaurant in Los Angeles

As you push open the door, you realize that the restaurant is divided into two sections. The first, at the back, is the kitchen, where the chef and his team prepare delicious dishes for breakfast – or brunch, as the case may be – based mainly on pork. In fact, Nick, the mascot we saw at the entrance, is a pig whose guests have made all sorts of drawings that can be found taped behind the counter.

The second part brings together the guests in comfortable chairs – fixed to the floor – arranged in front of the U-shaped counter.

The waiters and waitresses are in the middle, bringing the food and refueling us with water and coffee when the level of our glasses and cups seems too low.

Nick’s Famous Ham’n’Eggs and Pan San Hot Cakes

We consult the menu and I tell Sarah that I won’t be choosing the traditional pancakes here, but the same menu as the last time I was here, namely Nick’s Famous Ham n’Eggs. A large slice of ham served on a huge plate with mash potatoes, scrambled eggs and two slices of bread spread with red fruit jam. Sarah, on the other hand, opts for the Pan San Hot Cakes for once. It is three pancakes, a knob of butter, two scrambled eggs and a nice slice of ham.

She can’t finish her pancakes, so I grab her one – they’re exquisite. While the food is delicious, I think the atmosphere of the place makes this breakfast a very special moment.

A $5 souvenir

While my taste buds are enjoying themselves, my mind is drawn to the coffee mug bearing the restaurant’s logo. It says they sell them for $5. No sooner said than done: I’ll have one! I’ll have to try another of the dishes offered here, one of these four… But I’m sure that next time, I’ll have the same one again, as it seems so perfect! It’s 10:30 when we emerge, satisfied and with full bellies. Sarah agrees: it’s a very good address indeed!

Visit the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles

Our next stop is the Griffith Observatory. Of course, we don’t go there to see the stars, as it’s mid-morning. But rather to admire the view of Los Angeles from this spot high above Hollywood, right in front of the famous sign seen in a large number of Hollywood films.

A few regrets…

During my last trip, I didn’t know this place. When I discovered it a few months later, I was very disappointed to have missed it without actually visiting it. So I’m making amends this time. We park in a sunken parking lot near the “Vermont Canyon Rd (Greek Theater)” bus stop. We then walk the short mile to our destination. The view is beautiful. We can see the object of our visit in front of us behind its impeccably mown lawn. The Astronomers Monument stands in the middle of the lawn.

Griffith Observatory

Today, a class is on a field trip here. The children are preparing to have a picnic on the lawn in front of us. We make our way around the large building to make sure we don’t miss any of the wonders this place has to offer. The views from both sides are splendid.

Hollywood sign

We can see the Hollywood sign, the hills and also the city itself. In the photos, we see greenery in the foreground – coming from the park where the Griffith Observatory is located – and then buildings, relatively low-rise, that look ridiculous compared to the buildings of the Los Angeles skyline, which can be seen in the background.

Upside Down

On the hills, we can see many houses “upside down”, as they say here, with an entrance on the upper level and an extra floor on the lower level. After a long moment of contemplation, we walk back down to the parking lot and get back in the car.

Los Angeles and its beaches: Santa Monica

This time we headed for Santa Monica, where we planned to spend the rest of the day. In Santa Monica, we found one of the most famous Los Angeles’ beaches. It’s funny, because when I went there five years ago, one of my days was spent in the same way. The morning was devoted to the Hollywood Sign and the afternoon to Santa Monica!

Sportsmen and women in Santa Monica and Venice Beach

Forty-five minutes after leaving the Griffith Observatory, we pull into a paid parking lot in Santa Monica, near the beach. We leave our pants and sneakers in the car and put on our bathing suits and light shoes. The beach is busy, but no one is stepping on each other’s toes. While some are looking to perfect their tan in anticipation of summer, they’re not in the majority. In fact, many are doing sport, whether it’s to build muscle like the bodybuilders of Muscle Beach. Others, relax with a yoga session right next to the ocean or are out for a stroll. Many are cycling, walking or running. We reach the Santa Monica Pier.

Santa Monica Pier

Nothing seems to have changed since my last visit. I find the famous Route 66 sign “Santa Monica 66 End of the Trail” in front of which tourists crowd to immortalize their silhouettes with it – I was one of them five years earlier.

I also recognize the end of the pier with the first-aid station. We linger a moment on this part of the pier to simply enjoy the moment. Then, we pass a bilingual (American-French) school of children visiting here.

The previous time, a man was singing the song Hallelujah, which made the atmosphere even more special. We’re not lucky enough to feel those same emotions today, but we’re looking forward to it all the same.

Los Angeles and its beaches: Venice

Muscle Beach

Venice is another location where we find one of the most famous Los Angeles’ beaches. We head back towards the beach, take in the “Pacific Park” amusement park and the few restaurants here, and cross the pontoon parking lot to Muscle Beach. I don’t try to be clever with the body-building equipment on hand this time – after my dismal failure five years earlier, when, as luck would have it, I was alone – and take photos of the few tightrope walkers and bodybuilders here.

Ocean Front Walk

We continue our stroll south-east along the coast. We finally set foot in Venice and its famous Ocean Front Walk, where one store follows another along the beach and artists put on extraordinary performances. I had bought a “LAPD” t-shirt during my first visit and, as it doesn’t last forever, I try to buy another one, identical but brand new… I visit several stores, but unfortunately can’t find it.

The canals of Venice

We then head in the opposite direction to the ocean and into the streets of Venice. Our objective is simple: I’m once again looking to see a must-see that I missed the first time around: Venice’s canals. Sarah had seen them on her first trip here, I hadn’t. There’s no doubt when we arrive that we’re in the right place: there’s no mistaking the surfers’ houses – or not – the canals and the boats parked alongside the houses. Once again, it’s an opportunity to take some great photos and enjoy the peacefulness of the surroundings. I’d never imagined that Venice’s canal district was so vast, and that it would take us so long to get around it.

Back to Santa Monica

Bad hot dogs

Despite our hearty breakfast, hunger sets in around 5.30pm. We order a hot dog each and some fries to share at a “restaurant” whose name contains “Burger”. Yes, it’s a burger joint, and hot dogs are definitely not their specialty, we should have known.

Lifeguard towers

Then it’s back to the beach, where we’ll be waiting for the golden hour, that moment about an hour before sunset when the colors sublimate this already magnificent place. We first settle in on the beach, then take “possession” of a lifeguard tower, now empty and closed, for a few shots. We take the same photos, then, on the Venice Pride Flag Lifeguard Tower, another lifeguard tower, this one in rainbow colors. Then we decide – finally – to step into the water. It’s cool, but still decent, and we manage to submerge our bodies up to waist level.

Photos of sunset on the beach

Then, finally, the long-awaited hour arrives, and it’s the right time for my Olympus to spring back into action. Last time, its two batteries were almost empty, as was that of my iPhone when the time came, but this time I was better prepared with three different batteries and a smartphone with a 50% charge. I made the most of it, taking in both the sunset itself and the pier with its Ferris wheel, but also the various individuals practicing their daily sport, those simply chatting amongst themselves, the walkers and the dogs on the beach.

Among the dozens of photos taken in these few minutes, there are bound to be a few that satisfy me. Maybe I’ll even be able to replace the wallpaper on my MacBook, made from a photo taken here shortly before the end of the day, which I think exudes something special.

We fear the worst with our AirBnB!

At 7 p.m., we leave the $14 parking lot where we’d parked the car for the day. Direction DTLA. The AirBnB apartment we’d booked in March got some very bad reviews in April, and Sarah only discovered them a short while ago. She’s stressed, especially since the host is slow to respond…

Finally, we arrived at around 8.40pm, and she made us feel very welcome. She’s originally from Turkey and lived in Miami for a while before moving to Los Angeles. The room looks okay, despite what we’ve read in the reviews. And the best part: we’re right in the middle of downtown Los Angeles!

Today, we drove 88 miles and walked 14.3 miles.