Our family recently had a big birthday – we now have a 10-year-old! – and to celebrate we took a surprise trip to the kingdom of a certain mouse in Anaheim. But before our two-day immersion into the crowds and all things Disney, we spent a half-day in Los Angeles, where our family travel goals were to fill up and fortify ourselves with nature, art, and a delectable meal.
We landed in Los Angeles as the morning began to warm. Our rental car was a brief bus ride away, right near the famous Randy’s Donuts, which has been featured in various films including “Iron Man 2.” My kids were thrilled to see the giant donut, and I never say no to a crispy, sweet bit of deliciousness after a morning of family travel.
We drove up the coast feeling free to be on an adventure and excited to find somewhere new. After the past few years, I no longer take for granted the feeling of exploring a fresh place. The sensation is one of blowing dust from my eyes, from all my senses. We headed toward Venice Beach and reached the sandy coast just as shops and vendors were setting up for the day. We walked along alleys transformed into avenues for pedestrians, where we were treated to an eclectic host of sights including an artist’s metal robots and a gray long-bearded man in a wetsuit, riding a bike complete with a surfboard rack.
Our senses piqued, we journeyed up the street to The Rose, a restaurant bright with a doorway enveloped in a painting of rose petals, graffiti on the walls and hanging succulents in macrame. The outdoor patios were expansive and centered around the rolling branches of a tree; our little people grieved when they spotted the “No Climbing” sign. We were ravenous, our meager, early morning airport fare long forgotten.
The food was fresh and filling. We enjoyed a selection of warm bread, vibrant, Mediterranean-style dips, pizza, fresh biscuits and an especially perfect cup of chai with a dusting of spice on a white cap of froth. I had one of my favorite sensations sitting in the cool air: delighted disbelief that I had woken in the comfort of my own bed and was now in a brand new place.
We drove north with palm trees lining either side of the street until we reached Palisades Park, a stretch of walking trail surrounded by green in Santa Monica. Emerald grass, trees, plants and a welcome row of food and coffee trucks welcome us there, and the view was breathtaking. The beach spread out below the cliffs, which continued up the coast to the north.
To reach the beach, we took a trail down the cliffs, descending soft wooden steps so worn they seemed to be made of earth. At the bottom, we crossed a pedestrian bridge toward an open expanse of beach and dropped our shoes to stroll through the sand. A breeze, thick with moisture, blew my hair back from my face and the cold water hit our toes and ankles in shockingly brilliant little smacks as we walked along the sandy expanse, open shells scattered like butterflies in the sand.
We spent several hours relaxing, walking and crafting sand castles. What is it about the beach where everything seems to smooth my edges? The sounds file away my thoughts; the wind pulls grief from my heart and lungs. The sand makes my feet more tender, my body more receptive. I discover, beneath my feet, a living sand dollar with a dark, tentacled bottom.
If you have a bit more time, my favorite beach, El Matador, is a short drive north toward Malibu. At El Matador, the water flows into caves, pooling around your feet, making it perfect for filling a cup and dumping or splashing hands with the wet. I found it ideal for kid exploration and glorious for climbing.
Sandy and satiated, we trekked up the steps toward our car and headed further into the hills to the Getty Center. The kids were excited that we needed to take a little tram up the steep hill to the building. The engaging modern architecture was a joy to explore, the star being a circular garden with a view of the city beyond. Bouquets made of massive wrought-iron stems that encircled pink flowering vines towered over our heads.
A stream of water poured down over boulders and craggy rock, nourishing a thriving little pocket of succulents. On a warm day, there are spots for picnics, and a restaurant is available inside the building. Music in the courtyard made for a dreamy late afternoon. We enjoyed an exhibition of 19th-century paintings and sculptures that showcased Vincent van Gogh’s Irises as well as pieces by Rodin and Monet. The Getty Center also hosts a rotation of exhibitions, allowing us to view portraits by the German artist Hans Holbein the Younger and a selection of illuminated manuscripts. On our wish list for future family travel is the Getty Villa, a separate facility closer to the coast that hosts an impressive collection of ancient Greek and Roman art.
My arms were all goosebumps as the air turned cold on the ride down the tram to the parking garage, the view of the hills beyond slowly edging out of sight in the vanishing light. Our pockets heavy with shells and sand, the dark suddenly curtaining us, we left the Getty to drive down the coast toward Disneyland.
If You Go
The Rose in Venice Beach, https://therosevenice.la
Palisades Park in Santa Monica, https://www.santamonica.com/what-to-do/palisades-park/
El Matador Beach, https://www.californiabeaches.com/beach/el-matador-state-beach/
The Getty Center and Villa, https://www.getty.edu