After we rang in the New Year with some close friends, Luke and I flew out to Los Angeles to surprise his friend for his birthday and spent a week and a half exploring Southern California. We spent the first weekend at Big Bear Lake, hiking, drinking and hanging out. It was a lot of fun with a gorgeous view as a bonus! And on top of that, Luke got the opportunity to test out his new drone! The following week, we rented a car in San Diego to adventure around Southern California.
Luke showed me Blacks Beach that morning since it was a little cloudy and spitting rain throughout the day. As we sat on the cliff, we saw some porpoises swimming near the shore that were "shore"ly out to get a fish or two in the water. ("Sea" what I did there?) That afternoon we went to Birch Aquarium and I loved that it was interactive instead of just a ton of tanks you walked past. We learned more about the underwater world through demonstrations and hands on activities which made it easier to understand and kept us interested.
Day 2 ended up raining even harder and with all of our initial plans being outside, we had to shift gears a bit and decided on touring a couple breweries! Stone and Ballast Point did not disappoint. Both were very different but left us happy and a little more appreciative of their brand. Stone Brewing greeted us with a warm welcome, a $5 ticket per person and started the tour promptly at 2:00 PM. They talked about the company's history, size and how beer is made. The tour lasted about 30 minutes and afterwards we each tried 4 different beers. It's a tough choice but I think my favorite was the Double Barrel-Aged Arrogant Bastard - very smooth but strong without too much of a bourbon bite. We walked away with two taster glasses and a thorough appreciation for the company. At Ballast Point, we walked in as it was pouring rain outside. It wasn't packed but the people there all seemed like regulars as they were hanging out, watching the game and joking around with the bartender. We were the only two on the tour except for the guide's buddy who tagged along for the fun of it. Our guide talked about some of their history as well as showed us where each step of the brewing process occurred. It was very relaxed and informal but informative nonetheless. When finished, we decided to each get a flight of four beers and stay awhile. Their selection was incredible! One of my favorites was the Victory at Sea (Orange and Chocolate) beer. It tasted almost exactly like one of those chocolate candy balls with orange flavoring in the center. Delicious, but definitely a dessert sipping beer.
Slab City and Joshua Tree National Park
On Wednesday, the weather finally started clearing up so we planned on doing a short 2-night camping trip. We headed out to Slab City a little later than we were hoping but still got to get a good view of Salvation Mountain and East Jesus. Slab City is a no-charge community of people living in their van, RV or tent without electricity or running water. Salvation Mountain is a creation by Leonard Knight as a tribute to God with the core message being "God is Love". It had a very Dr. Seuss-y vibe to it but was really neat. Unfortunately, more was being painted that day so we were not allowed to walk on it. We headed to the East Jesus area which is where art has been built outdoors with various items and "junk". It was incredible to just drive up and walk right through the amazing things people were able to create. After we took a few pictures, we got back in our car and headed to Joshua Tree National Park to camp for the night. As we drove past the Saltan Sea, we decided to pull over and enjoy the beautiful sunset.
As we drove up to our campground, we drove around and realized everything was already taken. We drove through 5 more campgrounds and not a single one was available - and on a Wednesday night in the middle of January! We finally broke down and got a nearby hotel room for the night. In the morning, we grabbed some firewood that we needed and successfully snatched up a campsite right away. That day, we hiked Ryan Mountain, went bouldering through Hidden Valley Nature Trail which we considered an adult playground, and saw one of the most incredible sunsets from the top of Keys View. It was a packed day full of spectacular sights from desert ground and boulder mountains to snow-capped mountains in the distance and various cactus plants everywhere we went. It was an amazing day!
Friday morning, after packing up our gear, we went back to the Hidden Valley adult playground to climb up one specific mountain that Luke was drooling over. Turned out it wasn't the simplest trek to the top, so he chose a different one to climb while I sat at the bottom, people watched and took his picture from afar. We drove a couple hours back to San Diego and stopped at Mount Woodson along the way to hike the Instagram-famous Potato Chip Rock. We had only a few hours left until the park gates closed so we were on a time crunch. We made it up and back down in about 3 hours, but made the terrible mistake of only bringing one large bottle of water between the both of us so we were pretty dehydrated by the time we even got to the top. I have to admit I was a bit scared to jump over to the "Potato Chip Rock" for a picture but I successfully made it without too much difficulty. It was yet again, another incredible hike but unfortunately we had to book it down to the bottom without truly enjoying the scenery.
Our Final Weekend
After another full day, we got back to our friends' apartment to hang out with them for another weekend. We showered and powered through the slight exhaustion and had a great weekend going out to the bars and eating delicious food! On our last morning, we went on an early morning walk behind their apartment to see the sunrise. We brought hammocks and coffee and saw an absolutely beautiful sunrise which made for a perfect end to our trip. I had no doubts that California would be gorgeous and fun but it was even more so than I had imagined! Just one more adventure for the books :)