Los Angeles - Surfing Solo
It's been a while since I've taken a trip of this magnitude by myself, and while I'd always pick the company of good friends or family over going alone I find solo travel incredibly rewarding. It's empowering to have the confidence to go somewhere new by yourself and very enjoyable to have the freedom to do whatever you feel like doing rather than trying to balance everyone in a group's wants and needs.
There are of course drawbacks and limitations, and I won't lie and say I never have nerves about it - but overcoming that anxiety is a great personal challenge in itself. I'm of the opinion that if you're not leaving your comfort zone when you travel, you might as well stay at home.
While I wish it wasn't, safety is of course a concern and has to be considered - particularly as a woman. Let someone know where you're going to be and when you expect to be back to your base or next be in contact. I always have Find My Friends turned on so my family and partner can check up on me if they're curious or concerned, and send people notifications when taking ride services like Uber. While spontaneity is great, I'll usually consider things like modes of transport a bit more than I would usually to make sure I don't end up in a sticky situation. These general rules have also gone for when I've travelled a bit more off grid like filming in the Highlands where I know I'll be largely untraceable for a lot of the time due to signal, but I still let family know roughly when to expect my next call and how to get in touch with the last place I've been. This all might seem a tad excessive and dull, but do it for your loved ones if not for yourself.
In any case, Los Angeles was hardly going off grid. After working in Anaheim on the outskirts of the city, I only had about 3 days to pack everything in that I wanted to do. Namely to see Hollywood, to visit the hills and to go surfing.
After a morning spent travelling to my new accommodation - a lovely guest house cross hostel right by Venice Beach - I decided to spend the remainder of the day by heading up to the Griffith Observatory followed by making my way down to Hollywood Boulevard. I usually try and use public transport as much as possible but LA is of course infamous for needing to drive everywhere and the resulting traffic, so I dropped a bit more cash than I usually would and got a ride share up to the Observatory. I had been warned by a local friend that the Hollywood sign is actually a fair hike but you could see it really well from the Observatory as well as panoramic views of the city and surrounding hills, so I was satisfied. After a quick once round of the Observatory (definitely worth a visit) I figured out a short walk back down to nearer the city and decided to see how far I could get before calling another cab. The walk was great, I saw a few lizards and birds of prey and the path was well populated and signposted, just make sure you have plenty of water before setting out as there was little to no cover.
After reaching the bottom of the hills I decided not to test my luck and used cafe wifi to call another ride to the Boulevard so not to waste too much time, as even the taxi driver had gotten a bit lost on our way up through the residential area surrounding the hills.
Hollywood Boulevard was definitely an experience. I walked along the lines of stars on either side admiring the famous theatres from afar as unfortunately there was a film festival on while I was there, although it did add to the bustling atmosphere on the street. I dipped in to The Hollywood Museum in the Max Factor Building, which was more a shrine to Hollywood old and new than a museum as it seemed rather purposefully ambiguous about what were actual film props or replicas, but was fun to look around nonetheless! Due to my lack of time in the city and it already being quite an expensive trip, I opted not to visit any of the studios as they were quite expensive and really a full day affair to do right. After a few hours I tired of the crowds and decided to head back to Venice Beach, which was a fantastic choice as I got to sit barefoot on the beach watching dolphins play in the surf at sunset! Does it get much better than that?
On the second morning, my only full day in LA, I had booked a surf lesson. This was the thing I was most excited about, and something I had been trying to find an opportunity to do for years. After researching a few companies I decided on the friendly looking company Kapowui, and picked my accommodation so that I could stroll out in surf wear and meet them at their van parked up on the stretch between Venice and Santa Monica almost within sight of my front door. They said on the website this stretch was perfect for beginners and I paid for a couple of hours for a private instructor.
My instructor built up trust and rapport with me pretty quickly while we practiced the basics on the beach. I was super impressed at how much he paid attention to any minuscule thing I was doing during our on-land practice that might build into a bad habit out in the water, preventing me getting on my feet. Having spent quite a few years snowboarding I really appreciated this kind of feedback from the start, although I was going to consider it a victory if I even momentarily scrambled to my feet. I was fully anticipating this being hard.
To my great surprise, his great teaching paid off! Although my first go was a fateful of salty water, second time I managed to get on my knees until the beach and a few goes later I was standing for the rest of the lesson! Although we were the only people from that company having a lesson, the environment was super supportive as other surfers and people on the beach cried support and whooped when I got on my feet. The exhilaration was a huge payoff, even if we were on pretty small waves.
Bless the instructors, as learning to surf was already pretty exhausting work even with them being in the water with me, giving me tips, helping me turn around and line up and yelling cues, all the while getting battered by waves. I was thoroughly exhausted by the end of two hours and they must have been too. In fact, after paddling out to him I asked if I could just sit on my board for a minute, catch my breathe and enjoy being out in the water. I'm super glad I took this moment, as a few seconds later I heard a very familiar noise - a small exhaling blow. Dolphins! They travelled past us, obviously investigating as they were maybe 15-20ft away, close enough for me to see their eyes and the grey washes of colour on their skin. It was the surfing experience I had always imagined and it couldn't be any more perfect.
After heading back to my accommodation for a quick shower and lie down to judge just how achey my muscles might be (I fully underestimated this, the next day I had to tip my stiff out of bed!) I headed out again to investigate the famous Venice Beach Boulevard.
After walking for a while amongst the fun-filled chaos that is Venice Beach, I decided that I was doing this wrong. I jumped on one of the electric scooters you'll find around Californian cities and took to the bike path. Best decision! After heading down to Muscle Beach, I decided to turn around and head up to Santa Monica for some more chilled beach vibes. It was great being able to jump off, explore any areas of beach or town that I fancied, take some pictures and jump back on either the same or a different scooter. I ended up doing nearly 15 miles on the scooter up and down the coast before coming back to explore Santa Monica on foot.
The freedom that the scooter allowed was very welcome, and I would totally recommend them for anywhere with a good bike bath. However, for scooting around the roads in the city I'm not sure I'd recommend them unless you're already a city cyclist and on a familiar road system. They don't come with helmets and they're quite hard to control one handed so indicating is tricky, plus they can go up to a fair speed. However, they are an eco-friendly and cheap way to cover more ground.
After waking up to intensely sore muscles and tipping myself out of bed, the decision between a few potential day plans was made for me so I booked a whale watch company I had already researched down in Long Beach. I was flying out in the evening so while Long Beach was a trek from Venice Beach, it was a good way to use the short day even if it was an expensive taxi fare.
The whale watch was great, I happened to meet another solo Brit in the queue (by asking them for sun cream - typical British behaviour) and we ended up keeping each other company for the duration which was really nice after spending the week largely by myself. Travelling alone does make it a lot easier to meet people you may not have met otherwise. We saw heaps of dolphins, diving pelicans and a fin whale - the second biggest creature on earth - which was fantastic, even if the famously curious greys didn't make an appearance.
I got dropped in Venice on my way back to explore the many independent, quirky shops and get something to eat before jumping on another scooter to get back to my hotel and pick up my bags. My time was up, but I'd used it all wisely.
The flight back was the bumpiest ride of my life, with what was probably a few seconds (but felt like much longer) of free-fall with the lights flickering, bags dropping out of the overhead and people screaming. I'm a really comfortable flyer, but this was a real shock even for me. Gladly, once again I had a friendly person next to me and we managed to laugh about the situation and keep each other's spirits high even if we were tense for the duration of the flight, since this had been in the first hour. There had been bad storms across central and eastern US, so I guess we maybe hit an air pocket or something like this, but it certainly was the worst flight I've ever been on.
That being said, I think LA was the most rewarding trip I've been on in many years, and has renewed my love of travelling alone. If you are the sort of person who has the confidence to it and the drive to make it happen, I would thoroughly recommend it. I can't wait to get back to California again in the new year.
Where to stay:
I had actually planned to stay in Santa Monica, but I'm glad I stayed nearer Venice as there's more going on. I'd really recommend The Rose Hotel where I stayed, which had a luxury beach vibe while being affordable and steps away from the Boulevard. It also had a really great sustainable ethos, with no single use items.
Where to eat:
Food was mostly out of convenience, but I did take the time to make sure to visit Tocaya, the same brand I raved about in San Diego, which has a few locations around California. Any excuse for Mexican food!
This is LA. They will have options for any kind of diet!
Would I go back?
100%, but more than finding an opportunity to go back to LA, I can't wait to find another opportunity to surf again!