I've been low-key obsessed with California since I was 12 or 13. That was the summer that our family took a trip, which found us Buryks skipping around to the La Brea tarpits and Grauman's theater, up the coastal highway to the aquarium at Monterey (seals sunbathing on rocks, Clint Eastwood's house), then over and down the absurdly mountainous hills of San Francisco, by foot, trolley, and car.
I remember that dry heat, the rocking curves of Route 1, and thinking: someday, I want to live here. At that time, I wanted to be an actress, so it all checked out in my mind. First, I would conquer New York, and then Hollywood would follow close behind.
It's been over a decade since then, and although I haven't lived in California for more than a month at a time, the state and its cities (and humans, of course) have wended their way into my heart and internal narrative. I've gone for conferences, and to visit friends. I went for my first wedding anniversary trip with my husband (plane tickets count as a paper gift, right?) And I went for a month long physical theater program that I affectionately refer to as "clown school," the summer I quit my desk job and committed to live a life of creative pursuit and human connection, paving the way for City Love Photography to exist.
That summer, California was there for me, shaping indelibly what it means for me to be creative, ambitious, ever curious and free.
I blame the palm trees.
This past trip was vacation, pure and simple. A chance to reconnect with dear friends, see San Francisco, Oakland, and Los Angeles, and to support my former client (and now friend!) Hala Alyan on her book tour (I'm basically a literary groupie).
In Berkeley and Oakland, I was blown away as usual by the mellowness of the energy. SF looms large and frenetic, while East Bay plays it cool and calm. In NYC, I rarely stop to consider the natural world; in Berkeley I stared at the pink flowers above for a solid ten minutes, wondering how in the hell such a color could exist in nature. East Bay tickles my hardcore hippie heart, something that doesn't always surface out here in New York.
On campus, Berkeley was abuzz with graduation and move-out day activities. The shopping on Telegraph is quirky and includes such delights at the Mad Monk Center for Anachronistic Media, so how could you not love it?
Of course, at some point I hear, "Hey, take MY picture!" and turn to see the gentleman above posing for me. Clowns: they follow me everywhere, especially in northern California.
I laughed, and snapped the photo.
I mean, there's just clearly something about the East Bay sense of humor that appeals to me deeply. A LOL lawn gnome, set against a plant that echoes directly his little lime green hat?! I walked past this to and from my AirBnB in Rockridge every day, and wondered what kind of amazing people lived inside a home so thusly decorated.
In San Fran proper, I hopped around the Mission, Dolores Park, and the Castro. I bought amazingly fragrant chocolate at Dandelion, noshed quiche from Craftsman and Wolves at the park whilst people-watching, and made sure to visit the fantastic Dog Eared Books and GLBT History Museum in the Castro.
I can't ever get enough of the Bay Area.
When it came time for the LA portion of my trip, I was mostly looking forward to seeing friends. I'd been to LA twice, and as a New Yorker and person who primarily understands and appreciates cities by walking, I had some hard and fast opinions (read: jaded hangups) on this "Los Angeles" place.
(Photos Above: When your best friend, Jessie, secretly makes you a dinner reservation at the restaurant of your shared favorite reality television program [yes, SUR, yes, Vanderpump Rules], and you ask her to smile for a photo, but first she insists on hugging a honeysuckle bush...you know she's a keeper.)
I was so pleasantly surprised to find myself enamored by LA. Having great friends in a place certainly contributes to warm vibes anywhere, but this visit to LA I tried to stay open-minded and know it on its own terms. I found it to be a place where the unapologetically laidback meets the unapologetically ambitious. I was struck by the amazing landscape of mountains meeting desert meeting ocean, and the small-but-cool downtowns at the center of every neighborhood, each one unique and with its own quirky character.
The "city" as a whole is not walkable by any stretch of the imagination. But for the first time, I was able to get over my New Yorker-ness, and I could definitely see why people love LA.
I was tickled to feel in myself, in my deeply chrome-and-sunset-over-the-Hudson heart, a pang of missing the place and wanting more as my plane sped off the runway at LAX.
So here's to getting out and about, to finding new selves in new places.
To reconnecting with old friends, to keeping our circle of community ever-widening.
And to falling in love with a city as it is, and not as we expect it to be.
California, you're a total babe. Hope to see you again soon.