California is the cure for everything. This past trip was all I could have wished for and more: endless birthday celebrations, love and affection, good food, bubbly and exquisite cocktails.
I visited three places I've been before - San Jose, San Francisco, and Los Angeles - but discovered new places in all of them.
I thought I would share my trip with you in the form of mini guides that capture my experiences. Let's go.
My trip began in San Jose.
I woke up bright and early on my birthday so that my beau could get to class and I could enjoy the day.
We grabbed a coffee together at Philz - where a selection of friendly baristas make the best drip coffee to the beat of funky music - then I headed off to explore on my own.
I'm a true believer in spoiling yourself for your birthday, so I started with a massage at the Fairmont spa. After a quality rub down, I headed over to Muji and stocked up on notebooks and pens, then over to Oscar Beauty Salon and Nail Care to keep these writing hands looking fresh. Vicky, the owner, did my nails and made me feel beautiful in every way.
For my birthday feast we went to San Pedro Square Market, my favourite place in San Jose. This indoor market is filled to the brim with different bars, food stands, and has outdoor seating under fairy lights. I had a giant baked potato with all the fixings, and called my Irish mama to tell her I was making her proud.
When a band at one of the bars played Stuck in the Middle with You, I couldn't resist dancing under the moonlight. 29 was off to a mighty fine start.
The next morning we drove into San Francisco under sunny skies and checked into the Meridian. We lucked out and were upgraded to a suite with a beautiful view of the city. After a quick happy dance, we left our bags and set out to meet some friends.
Our original plan to meet in Crissy Field was taken over by a marathon, and we ended up at Off the Grid, a blessing in disguise. Off the Grid is a roaming mobile food extravaganza - with delicious food, music, craft and soul. For hours we lay in the grass, soaking up the sun, playing and eating.
Eventually we said some sweet goodbyes, and set off to play tourist. We walked around Fishermans Warf, played the penny arcade games at The Musée Mécanique, and stopped in Ghirardelli Square to admire the space and score some chocolate samples.
As the sun set, we hurried back to our hotel, grabbed some cocktails to take up to our room, and enjoyed the view before getting ready for dinner.
By my request, we had a simple but delicious Mexican feast at Tropisueño, which ended with an incredible flan with a candle on top.
My birthday surprise was reservations at Bourbon and Branch, a speakeasy where Derek had reserved us a table a month in in advance. We buzzed a mysterious door, gave our password, and were led to a hidden back room where we were given a booth and an extensive cocktail menu. The Gypsy, of course, was my favourite drink of the night.
The next day we shopped (I fell in love with Iron and Resin), walked, rode the trolley, took a leisurely lunch at the Ferry Building before my love drove me to the airport. It was time for my next adventure.
I was greeted in LA with flowers and balloons by my best friend and my heart set on fire. She sweetened the deal by taking me out for freshly made tortilla chips and a spicy margarita at El Carmen, and surprising me with a bed covered in balloons back at her place.
During my short stay I fell a little more in love with the city. Far from the land of plastic Kardashians, I was reminded that there is so much colour and creativity to LA.
We started the evening with a Champagne cocktail at the exquisitely Parsian themed Pour Vous (on the weekends Burlesque dancers swing from the ceiling and hot crepes are sold outside.) After watching some live bands perform, we spiced things up a bit at the cuban themed La Descarga, a speakeasy where you enter through a closet. This place was alive with music, salsa dancers, and great ambiance. We shared dark n stormies and a smooth cigar before capping off the night at Chateau Marmont.
For my last day we drove around in the sun with her beautiful mama, had a French brunch outside at Figaro, looked over the entire city at the Griffith Observatory, and refueled with chocolate banana muffins and smoothies at the very hippie, sweet and delicious Elderberries Cafe before heading to the airport.
I flew home feeling very lucky. A little more in love with California and the people in my life. They are all some kind of magic.