Oh that's right... I guess it's mine these days. I'm not usually one for luxury travel or doing things the fancy way. Not by any stretch of the imagination. I'd rather hop in an old jeep and roadtrip with my best friend to Mexico. Or fill a backpack and disappear to a random music festival in the middle of nowhere. But I somehow found myself hopping on a plane last-minute, bound for the sunshine state. With a party invite in one hand and the walk of stars already reflecting in my slick aviators (those things go everywhere with me, dude). My suitcase was packed to the hilt with Texas' finest booze; a suitable contribution to the Christmas party gift pool. I definitely got the stink eye at the airport check in counter when my suitcase registered just shy of 300 lbs (okay, not quite... but still). You're welcome for your bulging new biceps, Jennifer. No more pilates for you, you sexy fitness model. Now lift it another three times.
Crowning moment on the trip out was arriving in Orange County to discover Avis had comped me an upgrade to a blue mustang convertible. I guess John, Bob and Frank ahead of me had taken all available Ford Focuses. I swore I could hear the angels singing. Turns out that was actually just the Christmas carolers in the airport arrivals lounge blessing us with their flawlessly tuned holiday spirit. And thank you, Avis, you never let me down. I hopped in that fancy little car almost afraid to drive, and fell instantly, head-over-heels. This slick little vehicle even projected brightly lit ponies on the ground under each door... and man oh man, I may have driven a little bit like Paul Walker in his first installment of The Fast & The Furious. Minus the fury, since I was giggling like a schoolgirl, flooring it after every red light turned green. Mustang, I do love you. But nobody ever give me one of these again; I will get pulled over.
I retired for the evening at Orange County's finest big-box hotel; specializing in the particular flavor of concrete jungle business-park glitz that gives mediocrity a run for it's money. I woke up Friday and partied like a corporate rockstar. Or I attended the swank little affair like the well-mannered and appreciative guest that I was, schmoozing and networking to an appropriate level with other equally pleasant and lovely friends. I'll let you decide which way that actually went down...
The highlight of my world was getting up at the asscrack of dawn the next morning, surprisingly sans hangover; and bundling myself, a large jacket, a camera and an assortment of lenses into that fancy little car and cruising down the Newport coastline in search of a suitably stunning vista for a sunrise photo sesh. Success beyond all reasonable expectations; I discovered the immaculate Newport Bay and found myself in the little cove of Corona Del Mar State Beach. Mother Nature gifted me with a spectacularly dramatic rainbow of sunrise colors over sandy beach cliffs, along with a handful of strategically placed seagulls and just the right number of waves. I'll shut up here and let the photos speak for themselves, since nobody honestly cares how my little photographer's heart was set aglow...
I wrapped an ambitious morning with a run just a few miles away, along the paved beachfront paths of the Balboa Peninsula. Whoever thought to provide us with clean, wide, concrete paths along the entire beach clearly understood the flopping, desperate, sand-stuck-to-beading sweat as you slog your way through loose sand over your ankles... that slow-motion ill-fated struggle that only Baywatch can give a positive spin on. Seriously, I tried it once and between the agony in my calves, sharp shells embedded in my soles and the metric ton of sand I carted home after realizing I'd only made it a half mile in 45 minutes, it proved a less than enjoyable experience. But running is one of my favorite pastimes while traveling. It allows you to get outside, slow down (err... speed up?), savor and explore a location; seeing, by foot, some of the most beautiful natural features of the places you visit. Running on a paved beachfront path? Unbeatable. I completed a pleasant 4-mile loop along the beach and harborfront before grabbing a cold brew and sitting above the waves, warm sand beneath me, salty spray, crashing waves and the sun on my face. I closed my eyes to breathe, relax and focus on the warmth of the sun, the pleasant post-run heaviness in my legs. Heaven...
Out of nowhere, a sandy, furry force smashed into me sideways, spilling the last dregs of cold brew. What appeared to be a slobbery, effervescently excited Ewok had slipped his leash and sprinted a hundred feet to greet me enthusiastically, in the only way he knew how. I attempted to spit out the sand flying in my face as I was attacked -nay, mauled- slobber-first by this bucket of golden-doodle fuzz. It's a good thing the damn dog was ridiculously cute. After the mauling was over, he sat patiently at my crossed legs and placed a sandy paw on my knee, gazing those adoring brown eyes into my own, along with breath that could kill a small animal. The owner did that awkward "can't quite sprint in this sand, but I'm desperate to make sure nobody is going to sue me over there" maneuver and made it over to wrestle my assailant back into his collar and leash. I chatted with the owner, shook off the sand, accepted his offer to buy a less sandy cold brew replacement and headed back to my little blue wondercar. I was overdue for a trip up PCH with the top down, and I had a spot to fill at Kimpton's Everly Hollywood; one of the newest hotels to grace the legendary locale.
I got inexplicably lost not once, but four times, attempting to navigate the highways and neighborhoods of the greater Los Angeles region. Driving in L.A. is no joke. Success requires the savvy and steady handy of a brain surgeon, the assertiveness of a used car salesman and also possibly an advanced degree in rocket science. There are zero straightforward highway on-ramps that don't require eight left turns, two slight rights, a dizzying array of stoplights, meters and yield signs. Oh and don't forget to select the third-middle-to-slight-left overpass when you reach 101 from the 405, and definitely make sure you don't take the second-to-the-left middle overpass lane, or you'll land yourself in mordor, on fire, mandating a complex navigational feat that will require three hours, an additional NASA degree, eighty-three red lights and an equal number of frustrated drivers willing to drive straight over this outsider who clearly just doesn't get how to drive in Los Angeles. I lost count of how many times I was honked at in the first five minutes. I fired Siri in the first three and hoped, for the sake of my life, that Waze would scrape me through the experience.
Found on @OverheardinLA later that day: "It's important to be aggressive and not let anyone get in your way. You have to be determined out there, not a lot of people give a helping hand. Honestly, it's survival of the fittest." "Are you talking about your job?" "No, driving on Sunset." If you haven't already followed their IG, I highly recommend. If you've been to LA recently, an absolute necessity.
Landing at the valet of the Everly Hollywood was a blissfully grateful moment.
I was tasked with a review of Kimpton's new fifteen-story, 216-room attempt at bringing a "fresh take to the Hollywood hospitality scene." I should preface this by admitting I'm quite a fan of the Kimpton brand, and will stay with them when I have an opportunity to do so. Reviews of this property were mixed, so I was suitably curious. The Everly promised a chic, minimalist upscale escape from the hustle and bustle of Hollywood.
My arrival was nothing to write home about; a predictable valet and drab check-in experience that made it clear I was just another guest. I was soon in my cityview room on the 10th floor, questioning whether I'd checked in to a Kimpton or a drab, big-box grey-and-beige chain hotel. Kimptons have always proven to be a brand above the rest; luxury, personality, and a certain artsy laissez-faire playfulness in their design, decor and hospitality. But Everly was none of these. If minimalist was the intent, the decor screams "we barely even tried." Chic translated to "mismatched throw pillows and a cool translucent bathroom door." Upscale was really nowhere to be found, unless you count the extra tray of $15-a-piece pre-made cocktails arranged around our faux-leather ice bucket. A room entirely lacking in any personality and a view that left a lot to be desired. Wall art included two very small, ill-placed framed images and two pieces of line-art on flimsy cardboard tacked to the bathroom wall. There didn't actually seem to be a theme or color scheme. The lobby, entrance and interior were similarly bland. Industrial concrete, large expanses of plain glass and horrible carpeting did little to distract from a sense of being in an overpriced, gloomy and slightly more stark Holiday Inn. Decidedly Hipster Nouveau. Nothing about the property really screams luxury; not even the cheap knockoff clawfoot bathtub to which I committed some serious soaking time along with the $36 half bottle of cheap wine on the minibar menu.
Their saving grace was quite possibly the social wine hour hosted on their fifth-floor "rooftop" deck at sunset overlooking the Los Angeles skyline. Because who could turn down free wine in a pretty setting, distracting you from how disappointed you are in the hotel itself? I eagerly headed down, anticipating a nice glass of red, flirty conversation and riveting stories about crazy Hollywood escapades. A hallmark of the Kimpton is their promise of "social staff" who are there to entertain and schmooze, as much as maintain order. Employees with personality? Not so - bored faces matched none of the warmth and chattiness I've come to expect of Kimpton staff. Though one of them was wearing a deliciously gauche pineapple shirt. I chatted with other friendly patrons about dinner options, traffic horrors and who had the best Instagram feed (uh... clearly me...?) before topping up my glass and heading upstairs to prepare for dinner.
By contrast, our dinner at renowned sushi spot Sugarfish was something to write home about. Their menu offers a-la-carte ordering as well as three "Trust Me" multi-course tasting options that fulfill every palate. I tried the Trust Me Lite (Tuna sashimi, albacore, salmon and yellowtail sushi, Nozawa-style shrimp and a toro hand roll) and an addition of salmon cut rolls, since this is not only my favorite thing on the planet, but a great benchmark of the quality of their staples. Not a single ounce of their sushi was anything but spectacular; it was clean, simple, incredibly fresh and expertly prepared to showcase the beautiful and subtle flavors of every dish. Highlights were most definitely the delicate Tuna sashimi, flawless salmon nigiri on warm rice and buttery clean toro hand rolls wrapped in crispy fresh seaweed. Everything was light, melt-in-your mouth deliciousness. If you're crazy about sushi like I am, I highly recommend Sugarfish if you ever have the opportunity.
After a jaunt through the city streets of Hollywood, we headed to check out the Miracle pop-up Christmas bar takeover at Ever Bar. Promising kitschy holiday decor, office-party nostalgia, live music and crafty festive cocktails so good that they force the holiday spirit to ooze out of every pore. Icing on the cake? Pun-tastic names for each cocktail and cute glassware that I actually almost ran off with. Surrounded by decor so festive that even Mrs. Claus might be jealous, we began our evening with the Christmaspolitan and fuzzy-toy-adorned Koala-la-la-la-la cocktails. These hit the spot. Folks, there's still some hope left for koala-ty festive beverages accompanied by the punniest of bar menus. We sat next to a 20-foot pile of Christmas presents sandwiched in between an over-decorated slouching Christmas tree and an inflatable Santa hosting a red-and-green giant Jenga table, game half complete. I can only imagine the holiday "spirit" was so overwhelming that games were forgotten. We savored the scene, taking in other favorites such as the Snowball Old-fashioned and the Christmas Carol Barrel. A band deliciously reminiscent of a pre-pubescent Brendon Urie leading two Backstreet Boys complemented the seasonal masterpiece appropriately. We soon found ourselves in the possession of copious Christmas spirit.
In the morning, the only real option was a lazy Sunday start; a sleep-in and room service breakfast-in-bed courtesy of Jane Q, the Everly's onsite restaurant. Jane Q provided an impressive spread of reasonably-priced breakfast options that proved hearty. We picked two classic staples; steak and eggs and a regular old eggs easy-over with hash brown and sausage. They were as delicious as they were sizable, albeit a little more greasy and salty than desired. My only gripe was the pot of coffee that tasted bitter and burnt. Anyone who knows me, knows the importance I place on a decent cup of brew. But for the price and the luxury of breakfast in bed? Zero complaints.
We rounded our morning with a top-down drive through the sunny Hollywood Hills and Griffith Park to marvel at mansions, views and gawking tourists, before hitting the LA traffic to get suitably lost (again) before a melancholic return to the airport for my flight home. I cried saying my final goodbye to that little mustang...
'Til next time. Stay hungry, beware of those LA roads and Happy Holidays y'all!
Here you'll find archived band, festival and concert stories... plus blog entries from Team dRiFFt as they travel, photograph, interview and adventure!